That same night, Morwena Felwich was cornered by her prefect and pulled into an unoccupied study. Rebecca Gallstone had dark hair and very pale skin. Behind her backs, the other Slytherins called her a vampire.
"What were you doing to that little Ravenclaw girl?" hissed Rebecca. Morwena made no answer. "Sarah said it was some sort of Dark Magic enchantment. What do you think you're doing, trying to pull off something like that! You are a First Year! A novice! I have half a mind to turn you over to Gregor this instant!"
Morwena made no response. She knew Rebecca would not get Gregor involved in this. Gregor would only question why Rebecca wasn't keeping closer tabs on the First Year Girls. Morwena stayed silent and let the anger of the older girl wash over her.
"Stay away from that kid for the rest of the term! And, I better not hear of you dueling in the hallways with that Roycester girl, either!"
Morwena gazed undaunted at the Prefect. The longer that the younger girl remained silent, the angrier the older one got. Finally, Rebecca shouted, "Get out of here!"
Morwena left the room, but paused outside the door and let Rebecca storm past her, heading for the dormitory. Waiting alone, leaning against the stone wall, directly in front of Morwena, was Umberto.
She eyed him cautiously. In truth, she was much more apprehensive about this encounter than she had been facing Rebecca. Morwena had tried to gain a foothold onto one of Umberto's conspiracies, but she had failed when the Gryffindor girl had suddenly shown up. It was now Umberto's turn to gloat.
That's what Morwena would have done, had their roles been reversed. She would have punished the interloper severely for interfering with her plans. Umberto, however, took a different tact.
"You had the right idea, Morwena," he said, a touch of sympathy in his voice. "Sadie could have been a goldmine of information for you. But, you underestimated her. She's too independent, too strong-willed to be bullied or enchanted. You would have never held her down. Even if Gillian had not interfered, Sadie would have fought back.
"You should have confided in me," he added, with a hint of rebuke in his voice now. "I would have sent Pauline, alone, and had her feed Sadie a story about the poor, abused, rejected, Muggleborn Slytherin. Sadie would have believed it without question. She would have taken Pauline in like a hungry stray. They would have become best friends, and Pauline would have been whispering Sadie's secrets to you every night.
"Too late now, unfortunately. Sadie will never trust any of you, ever again. But, that's what I would have done."
This made Morwena far angrier than anything that Rebecca had shouted at her. She stepped close to Umberto and took a handful of his cloak into her fist. "What are you planning?" she whispered, her voice as low and soft as a snake. "What have you set in motion? What is it about Wren that's so important?"
Now it was Morwena's turn to have her anger wash over an undaunted opponent. Umberto touched her hand lightly, and she immediately released his cloak. Her hand fell to her side. "My dear, you simply give me too much credit. I didn't set these events in motion - Cyrus did. He's the one that made Wren important, not me. And, as for your next question, what will happen next? I have absolutely no idea."
"You know what will happen as well as I do," hissed Morwena. "Cy is planning to attack Wren. It's the only way he can save face, and win back the prestige he lost at the dinner Christmas Eve."
"Yes, that's true. He will attack Wren, possibly as soon as Monday morning. But what will happen then? Cy has been warned, but I don't think he understood the warning. There is more at work here than he realizes. But it's far beyond any of us to control what is happening. I am just learning myself."
Umberto held up a book he had been holding in his left hand. It had been hidden in the folds of his cloak, and Morwena hadn't noticed it before. She caught just one word, "Stilgrevsen," before Umberto lowered the book back down again.
"Good night, Morwena," he told her. "See you in the morning."
Umberto walked away, towards the boy's dormitory. For a moment, Morwena was alone. She closed her eyes and buried the rage that was just beneath her skin. Silently, out of the shadows on each side of her, came the rest of her coven. The girls were wide-eyed. Morwena knew they had overheard everything that was said between her and Umberto.
"Follow me," she told them, and she led them back into the small study. Rhiannon closed the door behind them and leaned against it.
"We heard," said Tess. "Cy will attack Wren on Monday. What shall we do?"
"Umberto is guessing," said Morwena, sternly. "He doesn't really know what Cyrus is planning, and neither do we."
Rhiannon turned to Pauline and said, "So, if Cy does do something stupid, that's what we say - We didn't know."
Morwena nodded. "But, we will watch him and be ready. And when he acts, so will we."
Liam and his friends spent Sunday afternoon sitting in the bleachers of the stadium, watching Quidditch practice. Liam's first experiences with a broom had not gone terribly well - his broom was reluctant to rise up off the ground, and when he did get on it, it seemed to drift slightly to the left of wherever he thought he was heading.
To see the Chasers, one hundred feet in the air, racing by and tossing the Quaffle back and forth, amazed him. Archie, meanwhile, sat on his broom in front of the big rings and tossed golf balls one by one into the air. His friend Eric raced around and caught each one on the fly.
The boys tried once again to explain Quidditch to Liam. It was a little easier to understand, watching everybody practice, but he still wanted to see a game in action.
Monday morning, they went up the stairs for a hearty breakfast before setting off for Defense Against the Dark Arts. Professor Gregor lectured them, then assigned some reading for homework.
As Liam headed for the hallway where everybody congregated, waiting for Charms to start, he began to feel a little uneasy. I need to see Sadie, he reminded himself. He had meant to talk to her before the start of DADA, but after breakfast he had forgotten, and he didn't remember until he saw her sitting with Gillian. By then, class had already started.
Sadie looked well and happy - she smiled at him when she noticed he was looking at her. Still, he wanted to make sure she was okay.
Sadie and Gillian got out of class ahead of him, however, and they went into the girl's bathroom together. Liam, with his friends in tow, went to stand and lean against the opposite wall, to wait for the girls to come out.
His anxious mood was deepening, but he attributed it to the start of the new term. Liam often struggled performing charms on the first few tries.
Fortney asked, "What do you think we're going to learn in Charms this week?"
Liam turned to tell him, "Whatever the next spell is in the book," when something wet hit him in the back, with enough force to knock him into Fortney. His hair, neck and shoulders were covered in a green slime, thick and putrid. Some of it had splashed across Michael and Philip, but Liam had taken the brunt of it.
He whirled around and saw Cyrus and Spencer laughing. There was no doubt in Liam's mind who had cast the spell. He knew the magic and power of the Dragon Wand.
His rage flared, and without a second thought, he thrust out his hand and pointed at Cyrus.
Cyrus abruptly stopped laughing. His eyes went wide, then he let out a loud cry. "Aaugh! Aaugh! Aaaaaaugh!"
Morwena and her friends ran to Cyrus' side. Morwena pulled Cyrus out into the hallway, while Tess and Rhiannon stood between Liam and Cyrus to prevent any further violence. Liam turned his back on them and began trying to shake the slime off of himself.
Gillian and Sadie ran to his side. "Oh my goodness," said Sadie, "what happened to you?"
It's bat boogers, said Gillian. He used a bat boogie hex on you.
"How do you get this stuff off me?" asked Liam, angrily. Sadie, though, had already found the counter-charm. She was using her wand like a vacuum and sucking the slime off of Liam's shoulders.
"Thanks," muttered Liam. "Oh, yeah, I was supposed to ask you if you were okay. I heard you tangled with Morwena and that lot."
I took care of it, said Gillian. She was cleaning the bat boogies off Michael.
"I noticed they were quick to act, as if they knew what was coming," said Sadie.
They sent the little French girl down to get Gregor, but not to Flitwick, who's right there.
Paul and Dave sauntered over to join them. "What did you do to Cyrus?" asked Paul.
"Cause whatever it was," said Dave, "we want to learn it."
"Did I kill him?" asked Liam, glumly.
"No," said Paul, "but he's crying like a stuck pig." Liam could hear the moaning over the hushed chatter around him. "Look sharp! Old Baldy's joined the party."
Professor Gregor had appeared. From the opposite direction, Flitwick had also come to see what was the matter. The two teachers tended first to Cyrus. Gregor bent over Cyrus, drew his wand and waved it over the wound. Gregor then directed Morwena to take Cyrus to the Hospital wing.
Standing fully erect once more, Gregor strode over to Liam and the others. "Which one of you cursed Cyrus?" he asked, his dark eyes glowering down at them.
"I don't know," said Paul. "I thought he dropped a book on his foot."
"Cyrus received a very painful sting. This was definitely a curse, not an accident. Now, which one of you did it?"
"Is it an accident that Liam and I are covered with bat boogers?" shot back Michael.
Professor Gregor did not raise his voice, but the look on his face let them know that further cheek would not be tolerated. "I want a confession, and I want it now, or all six of you will be in detention."
For a moment, no one said a thing. Then, from behind Gillian came Lara's voice. "Professor?"
Professor Gregor turned to her and said, "Yes, Miss Guishar?"
"It was Liam. Cyrus shot the bat boogers at him, and then Liam turned around and pointed at Cyrus with his left hand. That's the hand that he uses for his custom spells."
Professor Gregor smiled. "Thank you, Miss Guishar. That account matches what Miss Felwich reported. Wren, you shall have detention with me tonight, after dinner. Bendrix, I shall see you Tuesday night, and Hewson, Thursday. I don't tolerate cheek, and when I ask for something, I had better get it."
"What about Cyrus?" asked Michael. "Is he getting detention, too?"
"You two have recovered from this incident. Cyrus has not." To Wren, he added, "I tire of mediating the squabbles between you two, Wren. This had better be the last of it."
Liam said nothing. Gregor did not wait for a reply, but strode off to his next class. Michael whispered to his back, "Cy was the one who had a go at us. We didn't do nothing to him. And he didn't even get detention."
That fact, however, was not what was making Liam boil with anger. As soon as Professor Gregor turned out of sight, Liam spun around and stormed over to where Lara and Stacy were standing.
"What did you have to rat me out for?"
Stacy cowered back from him, but Lara stood her ground. "You think you're better than he is, but you're not! You're just another bully!" With that, she brushed passed him and headed for Charms.
Stacy held back a moment, still wide-eyed and pale. Liam closed his eyes, fighting back tears. When he opened them again, she was gone.
Around him, still, were Philip, Michael and Sadie. "That wasn't really fair of her to say," said Philip. "You aren't really a bully."
"You were just angry," said Sadie. "I'm sure you didn't know what that spell did." Gently, they coaxed him out of the hallway and to the Charms classroom.
Liam couldn't focus on the lesson. He just sat and sulked. This is all pointless, he mused. My wand isn't my best friend. It isn't an extension of my arm. I didn't even draw it for my duel.
It's just a stick. It's not powerful like Cyrus' wand. It doesn't have a fancy ring. It doesn't feel warm when I touch it.
My wand hates me. Professor Gregor hates me. And Lara Guishar definitely hates me.
Sadie was smart about most things, but she was wrong about the stinging spell. Liam didn't know exactly what it would do, but he had used it before. It was the spell he had used to kill the fly two summers previous. Liam had never intended to use it on a person. Now that he had, he was feeling a little guilty. This guilt was made worse by the fact that Lara, of all the girls in the school, the one he most wanted to impress, now thought that he was a bully.
Liam, however, was not one to stew in a bad mood for long. By the end of Charms, he was done sulking and ready to take notes again. His friends and Lara's friends made sure that the two didn't cross paths on the way to Transfiguration. Liam took much better notes than he had for Charms.
At the end of class, Meadows said, "Wren, I need to see you for a moment. The rest of you are dismissed."
The room emptied out, except for Philip, Michael and Sadie. Gillian lingered by the door and waited. Michael said, "Professor Gregor's being totally unreasonable! Liam and I got detention and Cyrus didn't get anything!"
"Liam was just protecting himself, Professor," said Sadie. "Cyrus attacked him and Liam countered. He didn't know what that spell would do!"
Meadows sighed. "Michael, I believe your detention was for being disrespectful of Professor Gregor. I don't care what the circumstances - that behaviour will not be tolerated. As for the subject of fair treatment, you may have noticed that Cyrus has been held out of two classes now. He will have two lecture notes to copy plus the homework. On top of that, he was injured enough to warrant medical attention. To say that he received no punishment for his part in this is rather an overstatement."
She turned to Sadie and said, "Miss Thompson, I appreciate your concern and admire your eloquence, but Liam Wren can really speak for himself. Now, I need you all to run along to lunch and let me speak with Liam privately."
Sadie blushed hotly, muttered, "Yes ma'am," and hurried from the room. Michael and Philip reluctantly followed her.
Meadows got up from behind her desk and sat next to Liam in one of the student desks. "So, what happened this time? I just got the curtest of notes from Professor Gregor."
Liam relayed the incident to Meadows in a monotone, but straightforward and truthfully. "Tell me about this spell," she said.
"I didn't know what it did," said Liam.
She gazed at him keenly. "Did it just come to you spontaneously? Had you ever used it before?"
"It came to me . . . but, I've used it before. Not on a person, though. I didn't know what it would do to a person."
"What happened the first time you used it?"
"I used it on a fly that was buzzing around my room. I just got angry and pointed at it."
"And what happened?"
"But I didn't think it would kill Cyrus. I didn't want to kill him. I just wanted to hurt him. 'Cause he covered me with bat boogers."
Meadows set her hand on his forearm. "You felt angry and ashamed, and you acted on impulse." Liam nodded. Meadows leaned forward and gazed into Liam's eyes. "You are not to use that spell on a person again, do you understand? If you do, you will be in big, big trouble."
She gave his hand a squeeze. "Off to lunch with you now."
Liam had an uneventful afternoon. Cyrus was back for Astronomy, and he relished the attention he received from the other Slytherins. The Ravenclaws, too, were quite interested in his wound. It gave Cyrus a chance to brag.
"Professor Gregor thought it might be a variation on the Cruciatus Curse. Only my strong will kept me from being driven mad by the pain."
"I'll be driven mad if he keeps going on," muttered Michael.
Liam shoved his hands roughly into his pants pocket. Even from a distance, he could feel the Dragon Wand. He wanted to hold it again and look at it. Not that Cyrus would ever allow this.
Fortunately, Michael and Fortney started talking about Quidditch. Liam focused all his attention on following the conversation, putting the terms with what he had seen at Sunday's practice. By the time class started, he had put his craving for the wand out of his mind.
After Astronomy, there was nothing for it but to get on the homework. Whatever Professor Gregor had in mind, it was likely to be grueling, and there wouldn't be time or energy to do homework afterwards.
So, the three boys buckled down and got to work in the common room. Fortney went with Kiernan and some of the other second years to watch the Hufflepuff Quidditch practice. The First Year girls brought their work to the library in order to keep Liam and Lara separated for as long as possible.
At dinner time, Liam brought his bag up to the Great Hall with him. In it was his ink, quills, parchment, and his Defense book. Archie had told Liam to expect a writing assignment. (Archie had, apparently, experienced detention with Professor Gregor on multiple occasions during his seven years at Hogwarts).
About halfway through dinner, Liam realized that Professor Gregor was not at the staff table. The last time Liam had detention, he had simply followed Cyrus and the Professor up to Gregor's office. Liam wasn't exactly sure where it was. Somewhere on the fifth floor, I think.
He didn't have much appetite anyway. If he was going to get lost on the way, he might as well get started. He rose, said good-night to his friends, and went out of the Great Hall.
At the foot of the Grand Staircase, he paused and drew in a breath. As he placed his foot onto the first step, a hand grabbed his shoulder and a commanding voice said, "Wait!"
[And on that note, I'm afraid we're all going to have to wait until I get some more chapters written! BTW, back on Chapter 15, I speculated that I was about half way done. Ten chapters later, I think it's time for a re-assessment. I now think it will take me more twelve chapters, after this one, to finish all my material. I hope that's good news for all of you! This will be quite a long book by the time I'm done. Thanks very much for reading! I watch my read counts closely. I would love to hear from more of you. Write me a comment, or Like my Fan page on Facebook. Tell me what you like, and what you'd like to see more of.
It's been a rough couple of days around here, as I missed the cut for the quarterfinals of the Amazon Breakthough Novel Contest, and I had another rejection notice about 12 hours ahead of that.You have to be thick skinned and stoic if your going to play this game, but getting two in one day was tough. I appreciate my HPFF readers sticking with me, Liam and the gang. Thanks again, and spread the word! Fondly, KJ]