‘Looks different from up here, hey?’ Greg leaned across the staff table at the head of the Great Hall towards Neal Kennedy, whispering to his colleague as the teachers watched a knot of first-year children tread timidly along the centre of the room.
‘Bet it brings back some memories, though?’ The older man replied. ‘I remember my Sorting,’ he mused. ‘It was only a year after the war... you could still see the damage around the castle.’
‘I don’t think I’ll ever forget mine,’ Greg nodded. ‘Not as long as I live.’
‘I don’t reckon anyone will,’ Neal agreed. ‘Did you expect Slytherin?’ He tried to sound casual. ‘I mean, I don’t think I ever asked you.’
‘Sort of,’ the other man admitted, ‘because of Matt and Ossie. I wanted to be with them... I knew that Slytherins weren’t all bad.’
Neal smiled, knowingly. ‘Then then fun began, right. What a year that was...’
‘Yeah,’ Greg grinned. ‘We had some really boring History of Magic lessons though, this seventh-year bloke...’
‘Ha, ha, Greg,’ Neal groaned. ‘Very funny. You loved it, really.’
‘Yeah, you were alright,’ the Slytherin laughed, ‘better than Binns, at least.’
Neal sighed. ‘Thanks, mate,’ he rolled his eyes. ‘Real ringing endorsement, that.’
‘What about your Sorting?’ Greg changed the subject subtly as the gaggle of first-years came to a halt at the front of the Hall. ‘Did you expect to be in Ravenclaw? What did the Hat say to you?’
‘It said I was the cleverest head it had ever sat on,’ Neal grinned, ‘and that there was only one place that I could possibly go...’
Greg snorted into his glass of pumpkin juice, only to be silenced by a sharp glance from Hermione Weasley as she stood up at the front of the stage. ‘When I call your name,’ she announced, ‘you will step forward and try on the Sorting Hat, and then join your House Table.’
‘Five galleons says we’ll get more first-years than you,’ Neal lowered his voice.
‘Yeah, you’re probably right,’ Greg shrugged. ‘We don’t just take anyone who likes to read. We’ve got standards.’
This time Neal had to conceal a snigger, hiding his mouth behind his hands. Greg just smiled, before turning his attention away from his colleague as the Hat in front of them began to quiver into life.
Welcome, welcome, one and all
To Hogwarts, and to our Great Hall
Beneath its roof sit our Houses four
Ambitious Slytherin, Brave Gryffindor
Loyal Hufflepuff, Wise Ravenclaw
Each awash with honour and more
No matter what I choose to do
I will find the right path for you
You may think that you know the right place
But I can see deeper than just your face
Bravery is not simply rushing straight in
Or stepping forward when the ice is thin
It’s being the one who is there at the end
Standing beside those you call your friends
Loyalty, too, is deeper than words
It’s action when the pot is stirred
And wisdom is more than just reading a book
It’s about knowing all the best places to look
As for ambition, the will to win the Cup
It’s easy to say, but easier to give up
Yes, you may think that you know the right place
But I can see how you will fare in a race
Let me in, let me explore your mind
I’ll do my best with the knowledge I find
‘That Hat’s getting creepier, I swear it,’ Oliver Wood leaned across from Neal Kennedy’s other side. ‘When’s the last time it said something that didn’t freak you out, just a little bit?’
‘It’s just trying to scare the first-years,’ Greg shook his head. ‘Nothing much has happened for a few years, has it? It’s just having a bit of fun.’
‘Hey, Oli,’ Neal cast his eyes back to the silent bunch of eleven-year-olds as the first of their number inched nervously towards the Hat. ‘Do you ever remember any of the firsties fainting?’
‘Are we counting your lessons?’ The Scotsman shot back, a wry grin on his face. ‘No, not until they get a bit too high on their brooms, anyway.’
‘That one doesn’t look too good, though, does he?’ Neal pointed out a pale-faced boy at the back of the group.
‘Oh, shit,’ Greg remarked, following the other man’s gaze. ‘That’s Nathan. One of the muggle-borns,’ he explained.
‘Done a good job with him, then, mate,’ Wood laughed. ‘Looks right prepared for it...’
‘What’s his surname?’ Neal asked, quickly. ‘How long’s he got to wait?’
‘Shouldn’t be too long,’ Greg answered, dully. ‘His name’s Llewellyn.’
‘Where do you think he’s...’ Neal broke off from his question to applaud as ‘Corner, Alexander’ became the first new Ravenclaw. ‘Sorry,’ the Head of House turned back to Greg. ‘Where do you think that boy’s going to sort?’
‘No idea,’ the Slytherin slumped back in his chair, considering his answer. ‘I know it’s hard to tell sometimes, but I hardly know the kid. He’s bloody powerful, I can promise you that – I’ve seen him cause a thunderstorm, for Merlin’s sake – but he just seems shit-scared of everything with it.’
‘Not a Gryffindor, then?’ Wood remarked.
Neal snorted. ‘Doubt it, mate,’ he shook his head. ‘Besides, you’ve got more than half of them already, and we’re only down to ‘G’.
‘This one’s mine,’ Greg whispered.
‘Told you,’ the teacher smiled, nodding to Daniel as the eleven-year-old chanced an upward glance at the staff table. ‘He’s the other muggle-born.’
‘Good call, mate,’ Neal conceded. ‘That’s your first kid, though, right?’
‘Right,’ Greg had to admit, ‘but like I said, we’ve got standards,’ he grinned, slyly, as a short girl became another Ravenclaw. ‘We don’t just take little bookworms.’
‘Place your bets,’ Neal murmured. ‘Sounds like a Hufflepuff to me.’
‘Well I don’t reckon I want him,’ Wood whispered as the Sorting Hat fell down over Nathan’s blond fringe. ‘So I’ll call Ravenclaw. You can have him, Kennedy.’
‘So what am I left with?’ Greg questioned. ‘Gryffindor or Slytherin?’ He baulked. ‘That’s a crap bet, isn’t it. I’ll go Gryffindor, just to see the look on your face...’
‘One galleon each?’ Neal suggested, and the other men agreed. ‘And if he gets stuck under the hat and it decides he’s too wet to bother with, then we stick it all in the Christmas party fund.’
Louis Weasley couldn’t take his eyes off the boy underneath the Sorting Hat. ‘Please let him be Gryffindor, please let him be Gryffindor...’ he whispered to himself, glancing around to check that Albus wasn’t close enough to overhear.
‘Is it meant to take this long?’ Another unsorted first-year whispered to a boy next to him.
‘I don’t think so,’ the other child shook his head. ‘What do you think’s happening?’
Louis flicked the fringe of his red-brown hair from his eyes, biting his bottom lip as he stared at the other boy, still motionless on the stool beneath the Hat. ‘It can’t make its mind up,’ he shivered.
‘So what happens next?’
‘I don’t know,’ Louis mumbled, feeling a rash of sweat against the collar of his robes. ‘He has to have a House.’
‘Well I wish it would just get on with it!’
Louis’ mouth dropped open as Hermione Weasley lifted the Sorting Hat from Nathan’s head, nudging him towards the green and silver of his new House table.
‘Fucking Slytherin, right?’ Louis felt Albus elbow him in the back before hearing his taunt, but simply turned away from his cousin without uttering a word of his own in reply. Louis glanced over his shoulder towards the Slytherin table, searching out Nathan’s pale face, oblivious to ‘Malfoy, Scorpius’ sorting into Ravenclaw.
‘What’s happening?’ He whispered to himself, edging further away from his cousin. ‘Why’s he in Slytherin? I don’t understand...’ He bowed his head, as the clamour of the Sorting faded to dull background noise behind him, punctuated only by the shuffle of bodies around him as the remaining first-years took their turns to be sorted.
A gasp echoed around the Great Hall, but Louis only sighed, hearing a verdict he had half-feared and half-expected ever since their argument on the train. He had never been particularly close to Albus, but neither had he ever really fought with his cousin... until that morning. He glanced around, watching Albus squeeze beside Daniel on the Slytherin table, as Nathan shrunk away from the other first-years.
‘Can you believe it?’ Rose Weasley shook her cousin back to the moment. ‘Albus, in Slytherin? I know James was saying it but I never really believed he would end up there, did you? Louis, did you?’
‘Did I what?’ The redhead blinked, his mind still distracted.
‘Did you think Al would end up in Slytherin?’ Rose persisted.
‘I’m not that surprised,’ Louis admitted, softly. ‘He can be pretty harsh sometimes...’
‘Al?’ Rose’s voice squeaked. ‘You can’t mean that! He’s so sweet and kind...’
Louis coughed. ‘You asked me what I thought, didn’t you?’ He snarled. ‘If you don’t like it, fine, whatever. It’s true, though.’ Louis watched coldly as another of his cousins turned their back on him. ‘Great,’ he thought to himself. ‘Two cousins down...’
‘Shit,’ the eleven-year-old muttered. ‘Here goes nothing.’ He trudged up to the stage, planting the Sorting Hat over his long fringe. ‘Come on then,’ he grumbled. ‘Do your worst.’
‘Temper, temper, my man,’ the Hat’s voice came back, startling the boy slightly. ‘I’m here to do my best for you, not my worst.’
‘Then why did you sort Nathan into Slytherin?’ Louis countered. ‘He’s not a Slytherin!’
‘He is what I say he is,’ the Sorting Hat brooked no argument. ‘As for you, to come up here and to think you know better than I do...’
‘I’m just worried about him, that’s all,’ Louis protested. ‘He’ll be there on his own with Albus and that other boy, and they’ll make his life miserable.’
‘There could be others,’ the Hat suggested.
The Hat snorted. ‘Like you, fool. I guess that rules Ravenclaw out.’
‘Get with the program, kid,’ the Hat’s voice growled. ‘You sit here, I tell you what House you’re in. You’re not sorted yet, so you could be a Slytherin. Now that I think about it, with your attitude, you’re not a Hufflepuff...’
‘But my family’s always been in Gryffindor...’
The Hat harrumphed. ‘And my family had always been a perfectly happy herd of Angus, but things change. SLYTHERIN!’
‘Four out of four,’ Neal whispered in Greg’s ear as Louis Weasley stumbled towards the Slytherin table. ‘You only had a week to brainwash them, as well. Whatever you said must have been good stuff...’
Greg shook his head. ‘I don’t believe it,’ he muttered. ‘Dan and Albus I can understand, but Louis... and Nathan...’
‘At least it means you got some,’ Neal retorted, ‘it was looking a bit slim again this year otherwise. You don’t seem to get the girls, do you?’
‘What, me personally?’ Greg ignored the jibe. ‘I see you haven’t got that problem,’ he remarked as ‘Yuan, Li’, Rose’s muggle-born partner, followed her buddy into Ravenclaw.
‘That Hat will have some stories to share with you later, I dare say,’ the two new Heads of House looked up sharply at the sound of their Headmaster’s voice as he walked past their seats. ‘My office, after the feast,’ he added, turning his back as he approached the podium in the centre of the Hall. ‘Welcome, welcome, one and all,’ he beamed, echoing the Sorting Hat’s opening line. ‘Now, I know you’re all eager to start the feast, so I’ll keep things as brief as possible.’
‘Let’s start with the staff,’ Longbottom took a breath. ‘Tara Lyttle – Potions. Hermione Weasley – Charms, Head of Gryffindor, Deputy Headmistress. Greg Bennett – Transfiguration, Head of Slytherin. Neal Kennedy – Head of Ravenclaw.’ He exhaled, showily. ‘Other than that, the Forbidden Forest is still forbidden, and Weasley Products are still banned. Now, let’s eat!’
‘It’s just as good as I remember, hey?’ Greg smiled broadly as he dug into a thick steak. ‘I don’t know how I lived off my own cooking.’
‘Explains why you’ve got less meat on you than that steak, anyway,’ Wood grinned.
‘That’s only cause Theo makes me do his fitness regime, too,’ Greg complained, through a mouthful of food. ‘I thought we had to do a lot here, but the Wasps are slave-drivers...’
‘Pro sport for you, Greg,’ Wood shrugged. ‘I’ve been there. Ten years at Puddlemere, don’t forget.’
‘How could I?’ The other man grinned, ‘I think you mentioned it once or twice when I was here...’
‘Touché,’ Wood smirked. ‘Feel free to join in with some of the senior workouts, if you’re around,’ he offered, looking up and down the staff table. ‘We might even be able to muster a team for the works league this year... borrowing the odd seventh-year...’
‘Works league?’ Greg’s voice echoed.
‘Wednesday nights,’ Wood answered. ‘One hour, fifty points for the snitch, but the game doesn’t stop, it gets released again. The home team has to put on a spread of food afterwards.’
Greg grinned. ‘Sounds perfect. Count me in.’
‘Me too,’ Neal added, ‘you always need a seeker, right?’
‘Sorry, mate,’ Greg blinked. ‘How many House Cups did you win as a seeker again?’
Wood laughed. ‘Honestly,’ he shook his head. ‘You guys are as bad as the kids. You’ll be spending more time in Nev’s office than just chatting with the Hat if you’re not careful.’
‘What? Greg in trouble?’ Neal baulked. ‘I don’t think that ever happened in seven years, did it? Did you ever even get a detention?’
Greg rolled his eyes. ‘Try my first week.’
‘He’s got you there,’ Wood laughed again.
‘That’s alright,’ the Head of Ravenclaw shrugged. ‘It means he’ll know how to deal with his little snakes when they spend their evenings cleaning cauldrons...’
The Gryffindor shook his head, a wide grin still covering his face. ‘Where’s the popcorn when you need it?’
A handful of yards away, on the end of the Slytherin table, there was much less humour as the four eleven-year-old boys eyed one another warily.
‘How did you end up here, then?’ Albus was the first to break the silence, glaring at his cousin over a side of ham.
Louis stared back, his eyes narrow. ‘None of your business,’ he spat. ‘No surprise that you’re here, though, is it?’
Albus snorted. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘You know what I mean,’ Louis shot back.
‘Whatever,’ Albus rolled his eyes, turning away to talk to Daniel. ‘Sorry about him,’ he made sure he spoke loudly enough for his cousin to overhear. ‘I told you Veela had short tempers.’
‘Maybe you should put them in a cage,’ Daniel suggested. ‘Do they bite?’
‘I’m not sure,’ Albus dug into a chicken leg, ‘but I think they breathe fire.’
‘Maybe that’s what happened to his hair, then?’ Daniel smirked, copying his friend in making a start on the feast. ‘Maybe he set it on fire, and it’s never gone out?’
Louis shuddered as the other boys’ words hit him. He blinked once, twice, three times, steeling himself to ignore their taunts.
‘What’s a Veela?’ Nathan asked, timidly.
‘They’re a magical creature...’ Louis sighed. ‘I guess you’ve heard of the Sirens? They’re a bit like them. My great-grandma was one.’
‘So...’ Nathan stammered. ‘You’re not human?’
Louis swallowed. ‘Well...’
‘You’re not, are you?’ Nathan repeated, edging away from the other boy.
‘I’m seven-eighths human!’ Louis protested, desperately, as Nathan shook his head. ‘What difference does that make, anyway?’ He felt his eyes beginning to water, before burying his head away underneath his folded arms.
‘Looks like your new boys are getting on well,’ Neal whispered to Greg as the Headmaster got to his feet, pointing out Louis’ slumped figure and Nathan’s glum expression.
‘First night,’ Greg muttered, ‘that’s normal, right?’ He winced. ‘I take it we’re meant to go down to our Houses now?’
‘After you talk to the Hat,’ Neville turned from the podium, having directed the school’s prefects to lead their Houses to their respective dormitories. ‘It might make all the difference.’
‘I remember the last time we were in this office together,’ Greg looked around the Headmaster’s room. ‘I think the Hat was involved as well, then, wasn’t it?’
Neal nodded. ‘Not quite so much life-and-death this time, though, mind.’
‘I hope,’ Greg smiled, wryly, following the Headmaster’s instructions to take a seat.
‘We all hope,’ Neville added, warmly, as he settled behind his desk. ‘Would you like to go first?’ The Headmaster asked. ‘Newcomer’s privilege.’
‘Sure, alright,’ Greg didn’t argue, reaching out to take the Sorting Hat as it was offered to him.
‘Aha,’ the familiar voice echoed inside Greg’s mind. ‘Mr Bennett,’ it continued, ‘a long time since I’ve had the pleasure. Welcome back to Hogwarts.’
The teacher grinned. ‘It’s good to be back,’ he concurred. ‘What can you tell me about my first-years, then?’
‘All boys,’ the hat answered him. ‘Two muggle-born, the other two magical, to some extent...’
Greg groaned. ‘What can you tell me that I don’t already know? I think I understand why Al and Dan are in Slytherin, but Louis, and Nathan?’
‘You think right,’ the Hat concurred. ‘Potter and Hamilton have the steel that characterises a true Slytherin. As for Weasley, well, he is a boy who knows what he wants. The first thing he did was tell me I’d put Llewellyn in the wrong House.’
‘Well...’ Greg began to argue. ‘I never saw that coming with Nathan, I’ve got to say.’
‘So where would you have placed him?’ The Hat retorted. ‘Not Gryffindor, I sense...’
Greg shifted on his seat. ‘He doesn’t seem the boldest type... but what about Ravenclaw?’
‘A Ravenclaw values the pursuit of knowledge above all else,’ the Hat replied. ‘He is an intelligent boy, I grant you that, but it does not define him.’
‘Slytherin, though?’ Greg echoed.
‘What about Slytherin?’ The Hat wouldn’t be distracted. ‘What defines Slytherin?’
‘Slytherins Stick Together,’ Greg recalled the three words that had seen him and his friends through the trials of their first year.
‘Exactly,’ the Hat confirmed, before talking over Greg’s effort to interrupt. ‘He needs more than the soft loyalty of the Hufflepuff.’
A look of realisation crossed the teacher’s face. ‘Which is why you made Louis follow him...’
Greg pulled the hat off his head, handing it back to the Headmaster. ‘May I go down to the dungeon now, sir?’
‘Certainly, Greg,’ the older man smiled, ‘and please do call me Neville.’
‘Thank you, s... Neville,’ Greg nodded, standing up to begin the familiar journey along the winding passageways that he knew would lead to the black marble corridors of the Slytherin dungeon. ‘Newton Abbot,’ he pronounced, holding his wand against the wall as its bricks faded into a doorway. ‘Maybe I’ll use Kingskerswell next...’
‘Professor Bennett?’ An older boy looked up, sharply, silencing the easy chatter of the common room.
‘Sammy Kerrigan?’ The teacher blinked, taking in the boy’s thin face and short, thick black hair, and breaking into a smile. ‘I remember you being this big...’ He held out his hand at chest height. ‘Now you’re taller than me.’
Sammy smiled, thinly. ‘My first year,’ he recalled. ‘When you guys let me help out at Quidditch practice because it was the only way you could get rid of me...’
Greg laughed. ‘Our lucky mascot.’
‘I don’t think you needed luck,’ the seventh-year shook his head. ‘That team was incredible.’
The teacher grinned at the memory. ‘That’s cause four of us had been playing for seven years, and the others weren’t far behind.’
‘Wish we were half as good,’ Sammy sighed. ‘So, sir,’ he swallowed, glancing around the room as the other students stared back at the conversation. ‘What are you down here for?’
Greg hesitated. ‘Do I need a reason?’ He forced a smile onto his face. ‘You guys are my House, right? I thought I should try and get to know you. I take it you never saw much of Slughorn?’
‘No,’ Sammy relaxed. ‘Sorry...’
‘Don’t apologise, Sam,’ the teacher smiled. ‘I know you were only sticking up for the others. That’s the captain’s job, right?’
‘I’m glad it’s in good hands,’ Greg headed over towards the seventh-year. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’
‘Sure,’ Sammy shuffled along his sofa, opening a space for the teacher. ‘Quidditch team meeting, but I guess you can listen in. Do you remember the others in my year?’
‘Let me think...’ Greg looked around, scanning the faces of the teenagers across from him. ‘Ollie Marsh,’ a tall, blond boy smiled back, ‘and Carl... Jenkins?’
‘Jennings,’ the boy corrected his teacher, brushing the fringe of his mousy hair across his forehead. ‘Close.’
‘Not bad for six years ago?’ The teacher defended himself, jokingly. ‘You’ll have to introduce me to the others, though.’
Sammy nodded, pointing to the smallest of their group, a boy with floppy blond hair that reminded him of a younger version of his flatmate, Theo. ‘This is Malachi Archimedes Xanthus Deverill...’
‘Max Deverill,’ the blond snapped. ‘Don’t you ever fu...’ He cut himself off suddenly, blushing bright red as he remembered the teacher’s presence.
‘Don’t ever what, Max?’ Greg asked, politely.
‘Don’t call me that,’ the boy stared at his feet. ‘Just call me Max. Please.’
‘Sorry, mate,’ Sammy apologised, shaking the boy gently on his shoulder. ‘Max is our seeker. He’s only a fourth-year, but he’s brilliant. Then there’s Marius,’ the captain introduced a fifth-year boy. ‘I reckon he’ll have Zakis’ place in the Latvian team when he retires,’ he grinned, ‘and finally the twins.’ He nodded to a pair of girls, each with tanned skin and dark hair that was pulled into a bob. ‘Laura and Ella Rosier. Don’t mess with them if you value your life!’
‘Looks like a good team to me, Sam,’ the teacher concluded. ‘Nice to meet you all,’ he smiled. ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you. I’m going to go check on the first-years.’
‘Thanks, sir,’ Sammy nodded. ‘They’re downstairs in their dorm,’ he noted. ‘I hope you have better luck getting anything out of them than we did.’
Greg smiled, wryly. ‘Thanks, Sam. See you around.’ He stood up, leaving the Quidditch team to resume their meeting, and making his way down the ornate staircase that led to the Slytherin dormitories. ‘Welcome home,’ he murmured, reaching out to rest his hand on the handle of the first-years’ room.
‘Evening, boys,’ Greg called out, pushing the door open, only to stop in his stride as he stumbled forward into the darkness of the room in front of him. ‘Boys? Lumos,’ he muttered, holding out his wand. ‘Anyone up?’
‘Professor Bennett?’ A voice in the bed nearest to the doorway stirred.
‘Louis?’ The teacher blinked. ‘Are you alright?’ He asked, squatting down to bring himself to the boy’s eye level, noticing the red rims of his eyes and working out the answer to his question before Louis could shake his head. ‘Oh, mate...’ Greg edged along the side of the boy’s bed, before crouching beside the eleven-year-old. ‘What happened?’
Louis sniffed, his eyes beginning to water as he struggled to answer.
‘Come on,’ Greg cajoled him, ‘come outside. Let’s have a chat.’ He reached an arm out, helping the boy to his feet, and out into the corridor, where the teacher quickly conjured a chunky beanbag for the boy to collapse upon. ‘Louis,’ he offered, tamely. ‘What’s up...?’
‘Everything,’ he moped. ‘Everyone hates me,’ his head sunk under his arms.
‘That’s can’t be true,’ Greg reasoned.
‘It is,’ Louis shot back, without lifting his head. ‘It is,’ he repeated. ‘Albus and me had a fight on the train,’ the boy began to sob. ‘They were being mean to Nathan. Then I said to Albus, I bet he’d end up in Slytherin, and one of the prefects told me off...’
Greg’s eyes narrowed. ‘Told you off for that?’
Louis, who had looked up briefly, dropped his head away again. ‘I swore too,’ he whispered. ‘We didn’t sit with each other on the train...’
‘What about Nathan, though?’ Greg ventured. ‘You looked like you were getting on alright.’
‘We were,’ Louis mumbled. ‘Then Albus told him I was part Veela.’ He looked up again, his eyes burning red above pale cheeks. ‘He hasn’t talked to me since.’
Greg took a deep breath, digesting the boy’s last statement. ‘You’re sure?’
‘Of course I’m sure!’ Louis snapped. ‘You don’t believe me either, do you?’
‘I believe you, Louis,’ Greg tried to reassure the boy, only for the eleven-year-old to shake the teacher’s hand away.
‘You’re just saying that,’ he sniffed. ‘Why would you believe me?’
‘Cause, Louis,’ Greg swallowed, ‘we’re Slytherins, and that’s what Slytherins do. Slytherins Stick Together. That’s why you’re in this House, that’s why the Hat put you here, to help Nathan.’
Louis gulped, rubbing the back of his arm across his raw eyes. ‘How did you know?’
‘The Hat told me,’ the teacher admitted. ‘There aren’t many boys who’re strong enough to go up to the Sorting Hat and tell it off.’ He paused. ‘Does Nathan know any of this?’
Louis shook his head, blushing slightly.
‘Well, I think it’s time he did know.’ Greg stood up, lighting his wand again, and pushed his way back into the first-years’ dormitory. ‘Nathan?’ He cast the beam of light around, before bringing it to rest on the blond boy’s head. ‘Nathan,’ he repeated the boy’s name, crossing the room towards his bed. ‘Get up,’ he instructed, hissing in the eleven-year-old’s ear. ‘I need to talk to you.’
‘What...’ Nathan stammered.
‘Outside,’ Greg insisted, coldly. ‘Now.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Nathan nodded feebly, stretching to his feet before stumbling out of bed.
‘Take a seat,’ the teacher directed, pulling the door closed and gesturing towards the beanbag at the side of the corridor. Sleepily, Nathan followed the instructions, oblivious to Louis’ frosty stare. ‘Tell me what you know about prejudice, Nathan,’ Greg ordered.
‘Um,’ Nathan shivered, holding his arms across his bare chest. ‘It’s when you treat someone differently because of who they are.’
Louis’ eyes narrowed. ‘Like if they have a Veela great-grandparent.’
Greg sighed. ‘Yes,’ he admitted. ‘I had been hoping to be a bit more subtle about it, but like that.’ He watched Nathan’s face drain of its colour, as the boy’s mouth opened and closed helplessly, without a sound coming out. ‘I understand that this place can be a bit of culture shock, Nathan,’ the teacher continued, ‘and that there are plenty of things that seem too strange to ever believe... and plenty of things that are frightening, too.’
Nathan blinked, nodding slowly.
‘Some things are still the same, though, and I would have thought that if someone stands up for you, then they deserve rather better than a cold shoulder in return,’ he swallowed. ‘No matter who their great-grandmother was.’
‘Yes, sir,’ the blond boy murmured. ‘Sorry, sir.’
‘It’s not me you should be apologising to, Nathan!’ Greg’s eyes flashed. ‘It’s not my evening you’ve ruined. It’s not my trust you’ve thrown back at me!’ He felt his breathing hurry and stood up, turning around. ‘I can’t make you guys be friends,’ he sighed, pacing in a circle in the candlelight of the marble corridor.
‘I know, sir,’ Nathan coughed, ‘but we wouldn’t have met without you.’
Greg paused, thinking for a moment about correcting the boy’s misunderstanding, but decided against it.
‘You’re right, too,’ the boy breathed, ‘and the others were as well. It’s like I’m scared of everything,’ he swallowed. ‘I didn’t know what a Veela was. I didn’t know if it was safe or not. Not when Albus said he might breathe fire...’
Greg snorted, in spite of himself. ‘Nathan,’ he shook his head. ‘Did you never think to ask him? Do you think Albus would dare say that if he really could breathe fire?’
Nathan blushed again, as Louis managed a thin, watery smile.
‘I promise you I can’t breathe fire,’ the redhead explained. ‘Or sprout wings, or grow an extra head, or see in the dark... or anything weird like that. All that happens is I have a kind of short temper,’ he admitted.
‘I’m sorry,’ Nathan repeated his apology to the other eleven-year-old. ‘I was just scared...’
‘That’s okay,’ Louis held out a hand, ‘but please just talk to me next time,’ he implored. ‘I don’t bite. Really.’
Greg exhaled, deeply, as he watched the two first-years shake hands. ‘Slytherins Stick Together, boys. Don’t you forget that. Now, Louis,’ he decided to risk a gentle joke. ‘Are you sure that your temper isn’t just because you’re ginger?’