Chapter 8 : 1692
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‘I’m sorry if you were expecting a ghost,’ he deadpanned, ‘but I’m afraid you won’t be able to catch up on your sleep in my lessons this year.’ Neal waited, glancing around the nervous roomful of Slytherin and Ravenclaw children, half-expecting one of the eleven-year-olds to attempt a retort. ‘Not that a Ravenclaw would do that, of course. Slytherin, on the other hand...’ He smiled as the four green-robed children stared stonily back at him, and found himself wondering quite how hard it was safe to poke these particular serpents. ‘So,’ he clapped his hands, pushing himself to his feet. ‘The History of Magic,’ he echoed himself, ‘why do we learn it?’
Rose Weasley’s hand shot upwards, and Neal pointed in her direction. ‘So we know what happened,’ she pronounced.
The professor nodded, repeating the first-year’s statement. ‘In 1811, Grogan Stump passed the Classification Act, creating the Beast and Being Divisions of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures...’ He exaggerated a yawn. ‘Anyone interested in that?’
Rose raised her hand eagerly again, before self-consciously realising that she was in a minority of one.
Neal allowed himself a grin. ‘Nope? Me neither.’ His eyes sparkled. ‘So, why do we learn History? Why do I want to teach you History?’ Now he had the room’s attention, he recognised, as he noticed the children’s eyes widening. ‘Anybody?’
A boy with dark hair that fell across his eyes, nearly obstructing his vision, offered a suggestion. ‘So we can try to work out why things happened?’
The teacher smiled. ‘Well said, Mr... Corner?’
‘Yes,’ the eleven-year-old nodded, flicking his fringe away from his face. ‘Alexander Corner.’
‘Alright, then,’ Neal continued with his lesson plan, ‘what’s the difference between what Mr Corner just told me, and what Miss Weasley said just moments before?’ He paused. ‘I’ll give you a clue,’ he hinted. ‘It’s a one-word answer... Yes?’ He turned, noticing a hand on the opposite side of the classroom. ‘Mr Weasley?’
Louis swallowed. ‘Why.’
‘Excellent,’ Neal acknowledged, pausing again. ‘Why, indeed? Why did Grogan Stump think we needed the Classification Act in 1811? Why do we have the Beast and Being Divisions? Why did the Spirit Division only come along five years later?’ The teacher began to pace around his classroom. ‘The History of Wizardkind is littered with questions like these; questions that need more than a quick Revelio to find their answers.’ He paused, leaning against one of the arched windows of the circular classroom. ‘Well, guys,’ he began to ask, ‘how about it, then? What questions would you like answering?’ He grinned as he noticed Rose Weasley’s hand shoot up for a third time in as many minutes. ‘Miss Weasley,’ he nodded. ‘I get the feeling this might be something of a theme.’
‘Why did people ever follow Voldemort?’ She asked, boldly. ‘Everyone knows he was evil, so why didn’t they stop him before he started?’
Neal smiled, wistfully. ‘Hindsight is 20/20, Miss Weasley,’ he replied. ‘It’s all very well talking about what we know now, sitting here in a safe, warm classroom in the year 2017, but when you look back at History, you must remember that much of the information that we rely on today only comes to light after the event. When was Voldemort born?’ He paused, waiting for a response that never came. ‘I’ll answer that one for you – 1926. He committed his first murder in 1943. Then what happened in 1944?’ Neal knew his question was rhetorical, but asked it anyway. ‘He became Head Boy.’ The teacher waited as a strangled gasp escaped a few of the children’s mouths. ‘History,’ he repeated, pushing himself away from the window ledge and beginning to pace once again, ‘isn’t split into good and evil, but into a hundred shades of grey in between.’
Alexander Corner whispered something hurriedly into the ear of the boy sitting alongside him, before lifting his hand pensively into the air. ‘What about when all the Death Eaters came out? Surely people knew they were evil?’
‘When did the Death Eaters start to become conspicuous?’ Neal was used to answering his students’ enquiries with questions of his own, regardless of whether he expected his classes to know the answers. ‘The First War, around about 1970. How long had Riddle been gathering his followers? Since his schooldays.’
‘Thirty years,’ Alexander muttered, and Neal nodded a confirmation.
‘They did not tie their colours to the Death Eaters’ mast until it was clear that Riddle was in the ascendancy,’ the teacher explained. ‘Once again, the stories that played out in private tell us so much more than the public knew at that moment. Politics was the name of the game, and for all his faults, Riddle was a master politician.’
The first-year boy nodded, solemnly. ‘Then the Second War...’ he began to think aloud. ‘When the Death Eaters took over the Ministry – they would have been in control again.’
‘Correct again, Mr Corner,’ Neal acknowledged. ‘Leaving the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore’s Army – your father amongst them, I believe – to fight on as an underground resistance.’
‘They would never have got that far if Fudge hadn’t have ignored Dumbledore when he said Voldemort was back!’ Rose interrupted the teacher, shrilly.
‘Hand up if you wish to speak, Miss Weasley,’ Neal reminded the girl, ‘and never is a dangerous word.’ He paused. ‘There is no such thing as certainty when there are more factors in play than any one person can consciously recognise. Yes, one can argue that more prompt action from the Ministry would have hindered the Second Rising, but you cannot claim that the Ministry would never have fallen: we simply do not know.’ The teacher clapped his hands together, retracing his steps to the front of the room. ‘That, however, is a story for another time, and if we are to gain a proper understanding of all the forces at work there, we need to start much earlier on,’ he paused for effect. ‘In 1692, to be precise, with the signing of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy.’ Neal scanned the room, making sure that every other pair of eyes in the class was fixed on his own. ‘This is where I need a little help from our muggle-borns. Miss Yuan, Mr Llewellyn, Mr Hamilton,’ he name-checked the three children. ‘What did you know of magic before you learned of our world?’
‘Nothing,’ Daniel answered, brusquely. ‘Nothing, till Professor Bennett turned up and showed us it was real.’
‘So you had never heard of wizards, or witches?’ Neal challenged the boy with a question which he knew would only provoke him.
‘No,’ Daniel scowled. ‘I never said that. I knew what a wizard was – just they were only in fairy stories, like the Lord of the Rings.’
‘Only in stories?’ Neal turned his attention to Li Yuan, the muggle-born girl that Hermione Weasley had assigned to her own daughter.
‘Well,’ she began, fiddling with the dark ponytail that fell over her left shoulder, ‘there’s people like witch doctors too, in Africa... but I don’t know if they’re real or not.’
‘Shades of grey, Miss Yuan, shades of grey.’
‘What do you mean, sir?’ The first-year blinked.
‘Sir?’ Alexander Corner’s hand edged upwards. ‘Do you mean that some of them are going to be real wizards, and others muggles?’
The teacher nodded. ‘Indeed I do, Mr Corner. Take five points to Ravenclaw. The witch doctor, or voodoo, cultures of indigenous tribes are still a mystery to a lot of historians, both wizarding and muggle. You have some wizards, who knowingly do just enough to hold their power over the tribe without betraying the Statute, and some muggles who know that they’re frauds, yet do sufficient to convince the tribe of their reality. Further still, I believe there may be some wizards who do not even know they’re wizards, undiscovered by incompetent or corrupt ministries, and living as part of the tribe. As usual, there is no simple answer.’
Alexander looked up from the sheet of parchment that he had covered with hurried notes, ‘Thank you, sir,’ he breathed.
‘My pleasure.’ Neal paced, slowly, across the room towards Nathan and Louis’ desks. ‘Mr Llewellyn,’ he began, ‘I haven’t heard from you yet.’
‘You won’t,’ Daniel interrupted.
‘Thank you, Mr Hamlton,’ Neal glared, coldly, at the boy. ‘If I want your opinion, I will ask for it.’ He turned back towards Nathan, his voice much gentler this time. ‘Have you ever heard of witches or wizards in the muggle world?’
‘Well...’ Nathan whispered. ‘There were witch trials, weren’t there? Like at Salem in America?’
A broad smile crossed Neal’s face. ‘Five points to Slytherin. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 were one of many cases of persecution in the early modern period, and arguably the final straw that led to the global ratification of the Statute of Secrecy that very same year. Indeed, you can go back further still and find evidence of a magical presence in muggle life. As far back as pre-Roman times, you can find druids wielding ancient magic as part of a culture that still persists today in pagan worship. The magical and muggle worlds are, and have always been, closer together than many people realise.’
‘How come I never knew, then?’ Daniel pushed. ‘How come I always thought all of this was just stories?’
‘Because,’ Neal emphasised the word, ‘our Ministry do an exceptional job of covering up the truth. History is written by the winners, Mr Hamilton, or by those with the most power – and we do a very good job of keeping our tracks covered. Even when the Statute is broken... such as when that damned Kelpie down the road sticks his head out of Loch Ness again... we have been able to convince the muggle world that they’re seeing things.’
‘Why, though?’ Rose asked, suddenly.
‘Ah, Miss Weasley,’ Neal smiled again. ‘Now you are asking the right questions – but I believe we have already heard the answer. Mr Corner?’ The teacher challenged the dark-haired boy, currently busy scribbling away on his parchment.
‘Sir?’ Alexander looked up, shaking his fringe out of his eyes.
‘Why?’ Neal picked a one-word question. ‘Why do you think the Statute of Secrecy came into effect in 1692? Why do you think we covered up our existence from that point forwards?’
Alexander swallowed, looking back down to his parchment. ‘Well, they weren’t the only witch trials, were they? It must have had something to do with that – was it to protect witches?’
‘A good effort, Mr Corner, a good effort,’ Neal acknowledged, ‘but no competent witch was ever in danger of being caught by the hysterical mob justice that prevailed in the seventeenth century: Apparition would have seen to that. Even if a witch was caught, the preferred method of punishment was burning at the stake – something which the most basic of flame-freezing charms would have rendered harmless. No, the seventeenth century was a time when religious extremism was on the rise, and more often than not, anything different was seen as something wrong, something to be eliminated. Those in the greatest danger from the spectre of the witch trials were innocent women on the wrong end of a grudge.’ He paused. ‘The muggle world was approaching a turbulent time, a time of extremism, conflict and repression, a time when wars would begin over the slightest disagreement. The wizarding community wanted no part of it all – to give the muggles one fewer reason to point their guns at each other.’
A small murmur edged across the classroom as Neal allowed the children time to take in his assertions.
‘But, Professor,’ Louis ventured. ‘Couldn’t the wizards have just defended themselves if they’d have been attacked?’
‘Indeed they could, Mr Weasley,’ Neal agreed, ‘A reasonable idea, no?’ The teacher waited for a handful of children to mutter their half-hearted agreement. ‘A number of wizards have felt the same way through the years – that the statute of secrecy is an admission of weakness on the part of the magical community... and, by extension, that the muggle world must accept the superiority of magical blood. One such group began by calling themselves the Knights of Walpurgis.’ The teacher paused, before opting to continue by asking another question. ‘Can anyone tell me when they were founded? No? We’ve heard of them already today, although by another name.’
Alexander’s eyes scanned his parchment furiously, before falling still as they picked out an untidy paragraph. ‘Were they the Death Eaters?’
Neal nodded solemnly. ‘Yes, Mr Corner. The Knights of Walpurgis became the Death Eaters.’ He allowed the room to draw its collective breath. ‘I think we can all agree that Louis’ idea – of self-defence if attacked – is fundamentally sound. Yet it did not take that much of a stretch for this ideal to become warped by hatred and fear, into the Death Eaters’ destructive philosophy. History as it happens is much more complicated than history as we see it today.’
‘Maybe that’s why you sorted into Slytherin?’ Albus glanced along his House’s long table as the lunch break began. ‘You had the same ideas as the Death Eaters?’
Louis rolled his eyes. ‘Oh, get lost, Al,’ he shook his head, reaching for a slice of meat.
‘I guess I better watch out that you don’t breathe fire at me, now, cause I’m a muggle-born?’ Daniel picked up on Albus’ teasing. ‘Are they any magic spells for putting fires out? You better look out too,’ he gestured towards Nathan.
‘Just ignore him,’ Louis whispered to the blond boy. ‘Remember what Professor Bennett said... stick together. I’m not like that, I promise.’
Nathan nodded, slowly. ‘I know,’ he whispered.
‘Thank you,’ the redheaded boy smiled in return, picking a roll of bread from a basket in front of him before slicing it open and stuffing his ham inside. ‘Come on, Nathan,’ he ventured. ‘There’s no point sitting here listening to them. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Okay,’ the other boy copied his friend, reaching for a bread roll of his own as he stood up to follow Louis out of the Great Hall and into the castle’s grounds.
‘Sorry about him,’ Louis offered, as the two boys picked their way over the grassy bank that led down towards the Black Lake.
Nathan shrugged. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he murmured. ‘I’m just going to ignore him.’
‘Cool.’ Louis smiled, watching his friend scramble across a stack of water-polished boulders by the lakeside. ‘Have you got any cousins?’
The blond boy shook his head. ‘I’ve only got one Auntie, and she hasn’t got any children. Dad hasn’t got any brothers or sisters,’ he paused, sighing. ‘Like me.’
‘Well, you can have some of mine!’ Louis picked up a pebble from beside his feet, flinging it low into the water in front of him. ‘I’ve got hundreds!’
Nathan managed a thin smile of his own. ‘Charlie had lots of cousins,’ he mused. ‘Enough to make a whole cricket team, he said.’
‘We play Quidditch together sometimes,’ Louis recalled his own family gatherings. ‘Well, the older ones do. I usually end up watching.’
‘I don’t know much about Quidditch,’ Nathan admitted. ‘I mean, I know I saw those brooms in the Quidditch shop that we went to... and those jerseys too... but I don’t know the rules.’
‘Shall we go see the pitch?’ Louis suggested, his expression immediately brightening. ‘I can try and explain some of the rules.’
‘Sure,’ Nathan agreed, quickly, and his friend eagerly led the way towards the banks of terracing that surrounded the Hogwarts Quidditch Pitch. ‘Cool...’ he breathed, blinking as he took in the height of the stands. ‘How come it’s that big?’ He asked, naively. ‘There aren’t that many people here, are there?’
‘Sometimes families come to watch, too,’ Louis offered an answer, ‘and scouts from the professional teams...’ He headed for the low, wide archway that funnelled any visitors into the stadium, and grinned as he watched the other boy stare, open-mouthed, at his new surroundings.
‘All the seats are up there...’ Nathan gaped, stating the obvious. ‘It’s not like a muggle stadium, where the seats come right down to the ground...’
‘Muggle sports get played on the ground, though, don’t they?’ Louis pointed out. ‘Quidditch doesn’t.’
Nathan blushed. ‘Oh, yeah,’ he grinned, sheepishly. ‘I knew that.’
The redhead laughed, before his attention was distracted away from his friend.
‘Hey there,’ a deeper voice interrupted the two first-years, who instinctively drew closer together as the stranger approached. ‘You guys alright?’
‘Yes,’ Louis answered for the pair, regarding the new arrival with suspicion. ‘Just looking.’
The older boy drew closer, before a dawn of recognition spread across his face. ‘Oh,’ he smiled, ‘you guys are two of our new first-years, aren’t you?’ He patted the badge on the chest of his robes with pride. ‘Weasley...?’
‘Louis,’ the first-year insisted, his features still stern. ‘I’m not just another Weasley.’
‘Fair enough,’ the newcomer held his hands up. ‘Sorry, Louis,’ he emphasised the boy’s name to make his point. ‘And...’
‘Nathan,’ the blond boy whispered. ‘Llewellyn.’
The older boy nodded. ‘Should have remembered that,’ he chastised, before introducing himself to the eleven-year-olds. ‘Sammy Kerrigan. Quidditch Captain... and I think I’m taking you guys for your Transfiguration study lessons, too.’
‘Oh,’ Louis visibly relaxed. ‘Hi.’
Nathan echoed his friend’s quiet greeting.
‘Are you lads Quidditch players, then?’ Sammy tried to extend the conversation, despite the first-years’ stilted, one-word answers.
‘Sort of,’ Louis mumbled his answer, whilst Nathan shook his head apologetically.
‘I’m muggle-born,’ he explained, staring down at his feet. ‘I’ve never been on a broom.’
Sammy smiled. ‘Time to learn, then, hey? Lots of muggle-borns played Quidditch here – some people say that it’s an advantage to have played other muggle sports before starting Quidditch.’
‘I played cricket,’ Nathan admitted. ‘I was in the A’s at school.’
‘Well, that’s a start, isn’t it?’ The seventh-year tried to raise the boy’s spirits. ‘You have to hit a ball in cricket, right? Maybe you’ll make a beater?’
Nathan shook his head, glumly. ‘I couldn’t bat very well,’ he sighed. ‘I was keeper.’
‘Then that’s better still!’ Sammy beamed. ‘We have a keeper in Quidditch, too!’
The first-year shrugged. ‘I bet it’s not the same.’
‘You’re hard work, aren’t you, hey?’ The seventh-year laughed at the younger boy’s defensive expression. ‘Why are you talking yourself out of it before you’ve even had a go?’ Sammy grinned again as he watched Nathan swallow, in search of a reply that never came. ‘Max is going to be down here in a few minutes for some seeker practice, so how about you two chuck a quaffle around for a bit? We’ll have the balls out, anyway.’
Nathan looked nervously across to his friend, who eventually answered for the pair of eleven-year-olds. ‘Alright,’ Louis nodded. ‘Might as well.’
‘Good enough for me,’ Sammy conceded. ‘Back in a moment; just getting the box.’ He held his wand against a low doorway that had been set into the side of the archway, ducking his head into what the younger boys assumed was a storeroom beyond, before emerging moments later with a wooden box under one arm and two ramshackle brooms under the other. ‘They’re not much, guys,’ he apologised, ‘but they’ll do you, hey?’
‘But...’ Nathan stammered, ‘I told you, I’ve never been on one before...’
The older boy dismissed his Housemate’s complaint. ‘Well,’ he concluded, ‘better to learn it now where there’s no one to laugh at you. Go on,’ he smiled, turning to greet Max Deverill as the seeker arrived. ‘Get on with it!’
‘Come on, mate,’ Louis held an arm around his friend’s shoulders, feeling the other boy shivering as he did so. ‘It’s alright, I promise.’
Nathan blinked, nodding mutely as the other first year casually stood astride one of the school brooms.
‘You’ve just got to say up,’ Louis instructed, allowing his ride to snap into his hands, before kicking off into a slow spin and hovering back to the ground.
‘I c... can’t...’
‘Sure you can,’ the redhead persisted. ‘Just try, Nathan, please...’
Nathan shook his head, the rims of his eyes beginning to redden as he did so. ‘I can’t,’ he repeated, stumbling onto the ground and hiding his head under his arms.
‘Nathan,’ Louis begged, ‘we’ve got a flying lesson tomorrow. You can’t do this then. Imagine what they’ll say to you...’
‘That I’m a coward,’ Nathan didn’t look up, ‘and I don’t belong in Slytherin,’ he gasped for breath, ‘and they’re right!’ His voice rose to a shrill shriek. ‘I should be in the leftover House.’
‘No,’ Louis insisted, even as part of him began to wonder if the other first-year’s self-doubt might not be based in truth. ‘Please just try!’ His appeal grew more desperate. ‘Or at least, just sit on the broom, and give us some practice quaffles to catch...’
Nathan rubbed the back of his right arm over his eyes. ‘Alright,’ he whispered. ‘I can do that.’
‘Cool,’ Louis kicked off again, tossing the quaffle to his friend. ‘Try and get used to catching it in one hand,’ he suggested, ‘keep the other one on your broom.’ The redhead watched the ball loop gently back into his hands. ‘Come on,’ he grinned, ‘harder!’
The boys’ game continued for several minutes, as Nathan made Louis’ life progressively more difficult, whilst the redhead’s return throws edged further and further from Nathan’s stationary broom. The blond boy found himself reaching ever higher as he chased each one of his friend’s returns, before realising – with a startled yelp – that he too had taken off from the ground below.
‘Shit,’ he stammered, dropping the quaffle and desperately clasping at the broom with both hands as he tumbled back to the floor.
‘You alright?’ Louis dropped down to dismount his own broom.
‘I... I was f... flying...’
‘Yeah,’ the redhead acknowledged, dismissively. ‘You have been for about five minutes,’ he grinned. ‘I just didn’t want to tell you, cause I knew you’d just panic and fuck it up, just like that.’
‘It doesn’t matter, though, does it?’ Louis insisted, clapping his friend on the back. ‘You know you can do it now, don’t you... so long as you don’t think about it too much. That’s what my cousin Teddy said, when he taught me how to fly... don’t think about doing it – just do it.’
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by Woodrow Rynne