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Snakes and Ladders by Sheriff
Chapter 7 : Curse Words
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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There was a hush at the Slytherin table as the four second-years headed to the Great Hall for lunch that Monday, and as the boys glanced across the room they knew there was barely any more vigour amongst the red and gold ties.

‘Josh isn’t there,’ Lucas whispered to his friends as they began their meal.

‘Really?’ Isaac craned his neck, looking back over his shoulder. ‘Wonder where he is...’

Greg followed his friend’s glance. ‘I hope he’s alright,’ he thought aloud.

‘Excuse me?’ Isaac baulked. ‘He’s alright? He wasn’t the one who had his leg ripped apart...’

‘You’re fine,’ Greg dismissed the brown-haired boy’s complaint. ‘You should have seen his face after that spell hit you. It was like that night when the Hunt came back all over again.’

Theo nodded. ‘Mental scars can be worse than physical scars,’ he offered, through a mouthful of turkey. ‘That’s what...’

‘Your rugby coach said, right?’ Isaac finished. ‘Let me guess, he’s got plenty of experience with curse scars?’

Greg smirked. ‘More than he thinks, after this summer. That reminds me,’ he took a breath, ‘have you seen Morgan today?’

‘No,’ Theo shook his head. ‘Him and Leif seem alright, though, don’t they?’

‘Have they said much to you?’ Greg enquired.

‘Not really,’ the other boy shook his head, ‘but it looks like they’re sticking together, doesn’t it?’

‘Maybe,’ Greg swallowed, thoughtfully, ‘but we should check on them, shouldn’t we? Make sure they’re okay?’

‘Probably,’ Isaac answered, ‘but we should have started on that defence essay during that free period, and we didn’t.’

Lucas rolled his eyes. ‘Speak for yourself, Zac’ he grumbled. ‘I did eight inches, and you’re not just copying it.’

‘Aww, Lukie...’ Isaac put on a pleading voice. ‘Can’t I even have a look?’

‘No!’ The redhead snapped. ‘Do your own work for once!’

Greg shook his head, grinning as he watched his two friends squabble over their homework, whilst he finished off his meal. ‘I’m going to go see whether they know where Josh is,’ he related, getting to his feet. ‘See you in Transfig, right?’

‘Right,’ Theo’s reply echoed absently in Greg’s ears as he stood up to cross the room, nodding in greeting as he approached the Gryffindor table.

‘Hey, guys,’ he offered.

‘Hey, Josh,’ Ciaran Abercrombie looked up. ‘Some lesson, wasn’t it?’

Greg managed a thin smile. ‘You could say that,’ he reflected. ‘Particularly if you were Josh.’

 ‘Yeah,’ Ciaran nodded, slowly.

‘Do you know where Josh is now?’ The Slytherin continued.

Ciaran shook his head, shaking the fringe of his sandy hair with it. ‘We just had Potions,’ the boy explained. ‘He was with us then. He said he needed to go somewhere...’ Ciaran added, cryptically.

‘Right,’ Greg acknowledged. ‘Thanks. If you see him, tell him I asked. See you later.’ He turned away, his thoughts instantly jumping to the Room of Requirement as made his way towards the double doors at the edge of the Great Hall. ‘Now how do I get there?’ Greg whispered to himself. ‘I know it’s on the seventh floor, but...’

It was a month since Greg had set foot in the Room of Requirement, and he doubted that he could have described the route he took from the castle doors, but the twelve year-old’s instinct quickly brought him to the easily recognisable painting of the ballet-dancing trolls. He glanced left and right, quickly drawing back against the stone wall as he heard the sound of footsteps echo from the far end of the corridor, before emerging again as the noise died away.

‘Now,’ he murmured, standing out in front of the brickwork, and beginning to pace to and fro, ‘I need to see the room where Josh is hiding...’ Greg smiled to himself as a doorway blurred into his vision. He reached out and took its handle, finding himself back in the games room he had shared with his friend during the first weeks of the summer holiday. ‘Josh...’ he called. ‘I know you’re in here.’

A loud sniff answered Greg’s appeal, and the blond Slytherin turned around, his gaze falling upon the room’s deep recliners.

‘Josh,’ he repeated, weakly, as his eyes fell upon the other boy’s blotched face. ‘Zac’s fine,’ he told his friend. ‘No one blames you. We know it was only accidental magic.’

Joshua shook his head, morosely. ‘That’s not it,’ he whispered, barely lifting himself to make eye contact with his friend.

Greg crossed the room slowly, sitting down on the chair opposite Joshua. ‘Then what is it?’ He pressed, before wishing he hadn’t as the Gryffindor shivered. ‘Sorry,’ he apologised, letting the room fall quiet and allowing his own attention to drift away, before finally settling on a thick, tattered book that was resting on a low table between the two boys’ chairs.

‘Magick Moste Evile,’ Greg lifted up the book, glancing at the title along its spine before beginning to read to himself from the open pages. ‘The Sectumsempra curse is capable of causing deep flesh wounds that are impervious to common healing spells. When uttered, its effect is the equivalent of an invisible sword, slashing the target repeatedly. The injuries follow the movements of the caster's wand, and the spell inflicts the most damage if cast with rapid waving movements...’ The twelve-year-old swallowed, re-reading the paragraph once again. ‘Josh... You don’t think...’

‘What else could it be?’ The Gryffindor suddenly snapped. ‘Look at the counter-spell it gives! It’s the same on that Jenkins used!’

Greg swallowed, lifting up the heavy volume. ‘There is no known counter-spell at present, however the healing charm Vulnera Sanentur is known to repair any wounds inflicted by the curse. It is not sufficiently powerful, however, to reattach any severed body parts.’

‘See,’ Josh moaned. ‘That is it,’ his head dropped back into his hands. ‘If Dad ever finds out...’

‘You didn’t mean it, though,’ Greg tried to reason with his friend. ‘It was accidental magic, even Jenkins said so.’

‘Accidental Dark magic,’ Joshua corrected the other boy, as a fresh burst of tears threatened to spill from his eyes. ‘I’m turning into a Dark wizard,’ his voice began to grow hysterical, ‘I’m only twelve! I don’t want to go to Azkaban...’

Greg struggled to keep his mouth from falling open as he watched the Gryffindor losing the last shreds of his composure. ‘You’re not...’ he stammered, before Joshua turned away, disconsolate. ‘You’re not going to Azkaban,’ Greg insisted, knowing full well he was unlikely to hear a reply, ‘and you’re not a Dark wizard, just because you used one Dark spell, by accident.’ He sighed, looking down at his watch. Transfiguration, the final lesson of the day, had already started. ‘Remember what the Sorting Hat said about choices. Dark wizards set out to hurt people, to make them suffer, on purpose. That’s not you.’

‘It was, last year.’

‘It’s not any more!’ Greg shouted. ‘I know it isn’t, Josh, so don’t try telling yourself it is, not after everything that happened, don’t try telling me nothing’s changed!’

‘I’m sorry,’ Joshua mumbled. ‘It’s just...’

‘Don’t, Josh,’ Greg cut his friend off. ‘I know.’

A thin, watery smile edged onto the Gryffindor’s face. ‘Thanks, Greg.’

‘It’s okay,’ the Slytherin returned his friend’s grin. ‘Have you got any lessons left today?’ He asked, only for Joshua to shake his head. ‘Well, I have,’ Greg explained. ‘So I guess I’d better get going.’

‘Alright,’ Joshua nodded as Greg turned away. ‘See you at supper.’

The Slytherin found himself greeted by an unfamiliar, icy voice as he pushed open the door of a second-floor classroom a few minutes later. ‘Mr Bennett,’ it sneered. ‘I’m so glad you could grace us with your presence.’

‘Uh...’ the boy blinked, his eyes slowly focusing on the figure of Joanna Holte, the “cover” teacher that McGonagall had introduced at the welcome feast. She was standing at the front of the classroom, in front of a blackboard, stretching the length of the wall, which was already more than half-covered with notes. ‘Sorry.’

‘Sorry, Professor Holte,’ the teacher corrected him. ‘Would you care to enlighten us as to why you are,’ she checked a pocket watch, ‘nearly half an hour late for my lesson?’

Greg shook his head, sliding into a desk beside Theo at the rear of the room.

‘I’m sorry?’

‘No,’ the twelve-year-old glowered. ‘No, Professor Holte,’ he emphasised the teacher’s name. ‘I wouldn’t.’

Holte tutted, dismissively. ‘Ten points from Slytherin, for your tardiness,’ she snapped, ‘and a detention for your cheek. Whatever it was that made you late, I hope it was worth it.’

*

‘What the fuck was her problem?’ Greg waited until the four Slytherins were back in the safety of their own dungeon before letting go of his anger, hurling himself down onto one of the long, black sofas in a fit of rage. ‘What did I do?’ He threw his school bag down onto the floor beside his seat.

‘I dunno, Greg,’ an older voice called from the other side of the common room. ‘What did you do?’

‘Detention, Matt,’ Lucas answered, quietly. ‘From Holte, because he was half an hour late.’

Matthew Sawyer smirked, getting to his feet as he heard the second-year’s reply. ‘First day of school, Greg?’ He strolled across the room, leaning over the sofa and dropping his arms over the younger boy’s shoulders. ‘I thought you set the record last year, and were going to have trouble beating that...’

‘Piss off, Matt,’ Greg knocked the teenager’s arms away. ‘It’s not funny.’

Matthew grinned. ‘It is, a bit...’

Theo snorted, in spite of himself.

‘So you think it’s funny, too, do you?’ Greg jerked upright, turning on his best friend. ‘It wouldn’t have been so funny if it was you, would it?’

‘Greg...’ Theo held his hands up. ‘I didn’t mean it like that, mate. Holte’s a bitch, we all know that.’

‘I bet it turns out she’s a shit teacher, too,’ the blond boy’s rage had only slightly dulled. ‘If she had any idea why I was late...’

‘Greg,’ Theo ventured, glancing around the other boys. ‘None of us know why you were late, either.’

‘Oh,’ Greg swallowed, following his friend’s lead in looking around the room. ‘You knew I was going to look for Josh, right?’

‘Yeah,’ Isaac answered, ‘but you were gone for nearly an hour. What happened?’

‘Oh,’ Greg echoed, emptily. ‘Shit.’ He crumpled backwards, sinking back into the sofa behind him. ‘I found Josh,’ he mumbled, remembering the two boys’ promise to keep their discovery quiet. ‘He found out what curse he’d used on you earlier,’ Greg looked up, making eye contact with Isaac for a split second. ‘Sectumsempra,’ he whispered.

‘Sectumsempra?’ Isaac echoed, loudly.

‘Shh,’ Lucas glared at his friend, quickly silencing the other second-year. ‘It’s Dark Magic,’ the redhead mumbled. ‘It was one of the Death Eaters’ favourite spells...’

Greg blinked. ‘Lukie? How did you know...?’

‘Kevin,’ the redhead answered, simply, and the room fell silent around him.

‘What happened?’ Oscar Symons, the other Slytherin fifth-year, greeted his friends as he climbed the staircase that led from the dormitories in the dungeon’s basement. ‘You guys look like someone died.’

‘Isaac could have,’ Lucas winced.

Oscar halted. ‘What?’ He exclaimed. ‘What do you mean? What happened?’

‘Defence,’ the second-year began to explain. ‘Jenkins had us doing Last Man Standing... and Josh cursed Isaac.’ His voice dropped. ‘Sectumsempra. A Dark curse.’

Oscar gasped. ‘What?’ He repeated himself. ‘Josh did that, on purpose?’

‘Not on purpose,’ Greg interrupted, defending his friend. ‘It was an accident,’ he maintained. ‘He didn’t even say the incantation. Zac had just tried to burn down the tree he was in...’

‘Are you alright, Zac?’ The older boy turned to the other second-year.

Isaac nodded. ‘Fine,’ he assured the prefect, lifting up the leg of his canvas shorts. ‘Not even a scar.’

‘I don’t think Josh is, though.’ Greg sighed.

‘Why?’ Isaac queried. ‘I don’t get it...’

‘Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Zac,’ Oscar rolled his eyes. ‘You aren’t half thick sometimes. Think about who his Dad is, and what he must have got told whilst he was growing up.’

‘Remember our first Defence lesson last year, Greg grimaced, ignoring Theo’s involuntary shudder. ‘Dark magic comes from everywhere... Anyone could become a Dark wizard.’

‘So he thinks that it’s him, right?’ Oscar surmised. ‘He thinks he’s a Dark wizard?’

Greg nodded. ‘Pretty much.’

‘Shit,’ Matthew shook his head, ‘as if he didn’t have enough going on already. So,’ he continued, changing the subject. ‘What’s your detention?’

‘Don’t know,’ Greg shrugged. ‘She said she’d let Slughorn deal with it. I guess I’ll find out in Potions.’

*

It was no surprise, then, when Greg heard his his name at the end of the following Friday’s lesson.

‘Mr Bennett,’ Slughorn had called as his pupils stood up to clear their belongings away. ‘Could I have a moment of your time, please?’

Greg winced. ‘See, told you,’ he sighed, whispering to Glyn as the Welsh boy got to his feet alongside him. ‘Time to find out what Holte’s got in store for me.’

‘Oh, and Mr Jones?’ The teacher added as the Hufflepuff squeezed past his friend. ‘You too, please.’

‘What have I done?’ Glyn glanced nervously at the other second-year.

The Slytherin shook his head. ‘I don’t know,’ he shrugged. ‘Wait and see what he says.’

‘Mr Bennett,’ Slughorn repeated the boy’s name. ‘I hear you’ve been getting yourself into trouble again, young man.’

‘Yes, sir,’ the boy shuffled towards the professor’s desk, staring down at his feet.

The teacher took a deep breath, scouring his desk for a yellow slip of paper. ‘Poor punctuality and an insubordinate attitude,’ he raised his eyebrows.

‘I was late,’ Greg mumbled, without lifting his head, ‘and I didn’t tell her why.’

‘Then will you tell me why?’ The tone of Slughorn’s voice didn’t alter, and Greg shook his head.

‘I’m sorry, sir,’ he swallowed, ‘but it’s private.’

The professor allowed himself a small chuckle. ‘I expected as much. Slytherin through and through, eh?’ Now,’ he smiled, wryly, changing the subject, ‘as for the matter of your detention. There’ll be no more cauldrons, you’ll be pleased to hear.’

Both second-years managed a short snort of laughter, recalling the Sunday morning they had spent in the potions classroom almost twelve months ago.

‘You see, I used to hold these little evenings, dinner parties if you will,’ Slughorn began to expound. ‘Collections of the best and brightest at Hogwarts,’ he continued, ‘and I rather need some waiting staff. House-elves aren’t the best conversationalists.’

Greg blinked, lifting his head to make eye contact with the teacher for the first time. ‘You want me to come and be a waiter?’ He stammered. ‘For my detention?’

‘Madam Holte tells me here to deal with you as I see fit,’ the professor indicated a scrawl on the yellow parchment.

A smile began to spread over Greg’s face. ‘So you thought you’d get a bit of use out of me whilst you were at it,’ the boy grinned. ‘Slytherin through and through.’

‘I thought you’d understand,’ Slughorn nodded, before turning his attention to the other second-year. ‘As for you, Mr Jones, as the son of a former member of the Slug Club, well, you are more than welcome to attend!’

‘Sorry...?’ The Welsh boy faltered. ‘Me?’

Slughorn laughed, jovially. ‘Yes, you! Son of Gwenog Jones, captain of the Holyhead Harpies!’ He gestured grandly towards a photograph of Glyndwr’s mother, sitting proudly on a mantel behind him. ‘It would have helped our Quidditch teams no end if Gwenog had been a Slytherin. That’s not all, though,’ the teacher shook himself. ‘I hear you’re a rather special wizard in your own right... The Heir of Merlin?’

Glyn blushed. ‘I just said that. I didn’t mean it.’

‘It worked though, didn’t it?’ Slughorn’s eyes sparkled. ‘How many twelve-year-olds have faced the Wild Hunt and lived to tell the tale?’

‘It was just lucky,’ the Hufflepuff insisted.

‘All the same,’ the teacher would not be dissuaded. ‘I believe you make your own luck. There’s something out-of-the-ordinary about you, young man,’ he insisted, ‘and I’d like to get to know you rather better. What say you?’ Slughorn pottered across the room, peering into Isaac’s cauldron and nodding approvingly. ‘Next Friday evening?’

Glyn glanced towards his friend. ‘What do you think, Greg?’ he asked, timidly.

The Slytherin shrugged. ‘What have you got to lose, mate?’ He paused. ‘Besides, I could use some company.’

‘I suppose,’ Glyn managed a thin smile, before turning to announce his decision to the professor. ‘I’ll come,’ he declared.

‘Excellent,’ Slughorn beamed. ‘I shall let you know the time and the place next week. Off you go now,’ he dismissed the two boys with a wave of his hand. ‘Oh, and Greg,’ he added, just as they reached the door, ‘do try to avoid getting into any further trouble, will you? It will be awfully hard to arrange a second detention that’s so, how should I say it, profitable.’

‘Yes, professor,’ Greg called out over his shoulder, as he left the classroom. ‘Thank you, Professor... Ow!’ His attention snapped back to the corridor in front of him. ‘Thomas?’ He gasped, as where his eyes blurred into focus on one of the Slytherin first-years.

‘Sorry...’ the younger boy mumbled, picking himself up from the dusty ground. ‘Wasn’t looking...’

Greg blinked, offering an arm to help the eleven-year-old up. ‘Where were you going?’

‘To see Slughorn,’ Thomas Fitch stared at his feet. ‘I’ve got Potions next,’ he added. ‘I wanted to ask him something.’

‘You could have asked Isaac,’ Greg suggested. ‘He got an O in Potions last year.’

Thomas shook his head, firmly. ‘I want to see Slughorn,’ he repeated.

‘Fine,’ Greg rolled his eyes, standing to one side to let the first-year hurry past. ‘First-years,’ he groaned. ‘Tell me we weren’t like that.’

Glyn shrugged. ‘Let’s see if he ends up scrubbing cauldrons all weekend,’ he reasoned, ‘then we’ll know if he’s like you or not.’

‘Ouch,’ the Slytherin smiled. ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have asked for your company after all...’
 


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