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Snake Bites by Sheriff
Chapter 10 : Eagle Eyes
 
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Louis had no idea how long it was until the sound of his own name stirred him, and although he ignored it at first, the insistent – if hesitant – sound was enough to rouse him from his stupor.

‘Alexander?’ He blinked, as the sharp features of the Ravenclaw boy swam into his vision. ‘Oh no…’

‘Louis?’ The black-haired boy repeated. ‘What’s happened?’

‘I didn’t do anything…’ Louis muttered defensively, letting his fringe fall over his eyes once again. ‘I swear…’

Alexander Corner snatched a glance back over his left shoulder towards the tawny hair of Toby Stretton, another first-year Ravenclaw. ‘So,’ he swallowed, ‘what’s wrong, then?’

‘You know,’ Louis didn’t look up. ‘You must know,’ he stuttered. ‘Rose must have said…’

‘Rose?’ Alexander swallowed. ‘What? Sorry,’ he stuttered, ‘I don’t get it…’

Louis sniffed, lifting his head up and blinking again as he shook his hair from his face. ‘Didn’t Rose tell you? Isn’t that why you came back?’

‘No,’ Alexander answered. ‘Toby forgot his quill…’

‘So…’ Louis stuttered, ‘then you didn’t hear what happened? You didn’t her what she said?’

The Ravenclaw shook his head.

‘So you’re not… you’re not…’ Louis checked himself. ‘Sorry.’

‘What did she say to you?’ The black-haired boy pressed. ‘I suppose it wasn’t good.’

Louis laughed, emptily. ‘You could say that.’

‘She doesn’t seem that pleased that you and Albus ended up in Slytherin.’

‘You said you didn’t know what happened!’ Louis spluttered.

‘I don’t…’ Alexander took a step backwards. ‘That’s just what she’s like in the Tower…’

Toby nodded. ‘She won’t shut up about it,’ he backed his friend. ‘Her and Miranda,’

Louis sighed. ‘She said I was an attention-seeking little bastard who’d betrayed our family.’

‘Oh,’ Alexander could manage nothing more than a single word.

‘Yeah.’ Louis attempted an ironic smile. ‘All because of what some old Hat said.’

‘Kennedy said it shouldn’t matter what house you’re in,’ the Ravenclaw persisted.

‘Do you think that’s true?’ Louis fixed a piercing stare on the other boys. ‘Do you think it doesn’t matter what House someone’s in?’

Alexander took a breath. ‘It shouldn’t,’ he murmured, before breaking off eye contact with the Slytherin boy. ‘It shouldn’t.’

‘But it does, though, doesn’t it?’ Louis felt his voice rising beyond his control. ‘It still matters to everyone that I sorted into Slytherin!’

‘It’s not everyone,’ Toby interrupted.

Louis snorted. ‘It is, pretty much.’

‘That’s not the same thing,’ Toby swallowed. ‘Kennedy doesn’t care what House you’re in. Neither does Bennett.’

‘Rose does.’

‘So?’ The brown-haired boy held the Slytherin’s stare. ‘Why does that matter? You know she’s wrong. I know she’s wrong. Xander knows she’s wrong.’

Now it was Louis’ gaze that faltered. ‘Because… I… I…’ He brushed the back of his right hand over his face. ‘Cause she’s family… shit…’ He swore as he felt his eyes begin to water again. ‘Sorry.’

Toby glanced nervously at his best friend, silently willing Alexander to break the awkward quiet.

‘Look, Louis,’ the taller of the two Ravenclaws ventured. ‘Like Toby says, we all know that it doesn’t matter what House you’re in, and anyone who says different is just plain wrong. Even if they are family.’ He paused, sensing it was time to change the subject. ‘Hey, we were going to head to the library and try to start on that essay Kennedy asked us to do. Do you want to come?’

Louis rubbed his eyes once again. ‘Yes, please,’ he smiled. ‘I guess the Hat still works out who the proper Ravenclaws are.’

Alexander returned the other boy’s smile. ‘And there’s nothing wrong with that!’

*

It was with a smile on his face, and a full scroll of parchment clutched in his left hand that Louis returned to the Slytherin dungeon just before lunchtime, almost bumping into Sammy Kerrigan as he opened the concealed doorway.

‘Hey, Louis,’ the seventh-year recognised him. ‘You coming down the Quidditch pitch again today?’

The eleven-year-old stumbled, caught unaware for a moment. ‘Um, maybe,’ he stalled. ‘Let me see if Nathan wants to come, too.’

‘Alright, mate,’ Sammy grinned. ‘See you around.’ He slapped the first-year playfully on the back as the doorway closed behind him, leaving Louis’ eyes to adjust to the lantern-light of the Slytherin common room.

‘Nathan?’ He asked aimlessly, glancing around at a scattering of older students who paid him no more attention than they would do a passing insect, before making his way to the staircase that wound down towards the dormitories. ‘Nathan?’ Louis repeated his friend’s name as he pushed open the dormitory door. ‘You alright, mate?’

The blond boy stirred on his bed, pushing away a copy of Hogwarts: A History. ‘Yeah,’ he shrugged, ‘I was just reading this.’

‘Oh,’ Louis acknowledged. ‘Cool. Have you started your essay for History yet?’

Nathan nodded, rolling over to pull a sheet of parchment from beneath another pair of textbooks on top of a cabinet beside his bed. ‘I did it this morning…’ He took a breath, holding the essay out towards his friend. ‘Does it make sense?’

Louis took the parchment. ‘Why are you asking me?’ He protested. ‘I’ve never been any good at writing.’

‘You’ve been a wizard all your life,’ Nathan’s voice dropped to a whisper. ‘You know what’s normal and what isn’t.’

‘Oh,’ Louis repeated, ‘yeah. That.’ He scanned through the essay, nodding once or twice, before handing it back to his friend. ‘It makes sense to me.’

Nathan smiled. ‘Thanks.’

‘Hey,’ the red-haired boy changed the subject. ‘Sammy just asked me if we were going down the Quidditch pitch again this lunchtime. Do you want to come?’

‘Are you going to make me fly again?’

Louis’ eyes sparkled. ‘I reckon you’ll get bored if you just stand there and watch.’

‘We’ll see,’ the blond boy laughed. ‘We’ll see.’

‘Cool,’ Louis grinned. ‘In a few days, I bet I won’t be able to stop you. Let’s get something to eat first and then get down there.’

The two first-years arrived at the Quidditch pitch shortly afterwards, meeting their House captain beneath the archway as they had done the previous day.

‘Hi, guys,’ Sammy greeted them, casually. ‘Have you seen Max around?’

‘Max?’ Louis blinked, shaking his head. ‘Sorry.’

Sammy sighed. ‘He was meant to be here fifteen minutes ago.’ The seventh-year shrugged. ‘I guess there’s nothing you can do about it, though.’

‘Do you always start training this early?’ Louis asked, glancing over his shoulder to check for any sign of the Slytherin seeker.

‘Not always,’ Sammy replied. ‘Just…’ he shook his head. ‘Max wanted some extra practice. Still,’ he continued, ‘he’s not here, and you guys are. You don’t fancy helping us with some chaser practice, instead, do you?’

‘Yes!’ Louis replied in an instant, before turning to gaze imploringly at his friend. ‘Come on, Nathan…’

The blond boy smiled, nervously. ‘I’ll try,’ he offered, ‘but you know I’m not very good.’

‘That doesn’t matter,’ Sammy patted the boy on the shoulder. ‘Everyone’s got to start somewhere. I’ve got the kit out already,’ he indicated a stack of brooms laid up against a wooden trunk. ‘I just need you guys to throw quaffles at me to start off with, whilst I fly round these markers.’ The seventh-year cast his wand towards the pile of equipment, sending a set of poles darting across the pitch, into the ground and upwards to hover in the sky. ‘Nathan, you don’t even need to get on a broom. Can you stand there, and just give me some low catches when I come round that pole? Louis, can you fly over there to that red marker, and throw some when I get to the top of it?’

‘Thanks,’ the older boy signalled a thumbs-up to Louis a few minutes later having completed a few circuits of his improvised course. ‘Do you fancy a quick go?’

Louis couldn’t say yes quickly enough, and Sammy laughed aloud at the first year’s shameless enthusiasm. ‘Alright, mate,’ he smiled. ‘You know what you’re doing?’

‘Same as you, right?’ Louis nodded.

‘Right,’ Sammy agreed. ‘Let me get up by the red cone,’ he instructed, ‘now just keep it slow first time out…’ The seventh-year lowered his voice, speaking in an undertone to Nathan. ‘No chance, is there? Watch him stack it on that blue corner.’

A couple of minutes later, Sammy’s prediction had proved correct, as Louis sent himself tumbling from the broom and skidding across the dry grass as he tried to twist back through a narrow gate at a speed that was far too fast to safely negotiate the corner.

‘Told you!’ Sammy called out to Nathan, as the blond first-year ran across to check on his friend.

‘Ouch,’ the other boy picked himself up gingerly from the turf. ‘Shit,’ he rubbed his left elbow, where the skin had broken.

Everyone stacks it on that corner the first time they try it,’ Sammy landed beside the two first-years. ‘It gets tighter than you think it’s going to be, and then you discover that you’ve got to go up as well… and you just end up on your arse.’

‘Or your elbow,’ Louis observed.

Sammy grinned. ‘I was hoping you could tell them two apart,’ he laughed as the first-year shoved him away. ‘Hang on,’ his attention wavered. ‘Here’s Max.’

‘What are you doing?’ The fourth-year demanded. ‘I thought we were doing seeking?’

‘I thought we were meeting at half one,’ Sammy gritted his teeth, ‘but seeing as you’re here, let’s get on with it. I’ll leave this up for you two,’ he nodded to the first-years before leading his team-mate away.

‘Do you want a go?’ Louis looked to his friend.

Nathan shook his head. ‘No,’ he reddened, before qualifying his answer. ‘Maybe later. You have another go. Just be careful with that blue corner.’

*

Safe in the knowledge that they couldn’t be late for their next period whilst the taker of their study lesson was occupied by a golden snitch, Louis and Nathan kept themselves occupied with Sammy’s obstacle course for the rest of their lunchbreak. Louis’ accident at the now-infamous blue corner hadn’t deterred him from tackling the bend at as high a speed as he could dare, and it hadn’t surprised his friend to see the redhead tumbling to the ground on more than one occasion. For his part, Nathan had worked up the courage to complete two faltering laps of the circuit, almost coming to a halt as he rounded the blue corner both times.

‘Sorry I had to cut you short a bit there, guys,’ the seventh-year explained as the three students headed back to the castle. ‘Can’t take any chances of being late for my first lesson! Enjoy yourselves?’

‘Yes!’ Louis answered eagerly, and Nathan managed a quiet nod of agreement. ‘I love it, even that blue corner!’

Sammy laughed. ‘How many times did you end up stacking it there?’

Louis blushed. ‘Three.’

‘Standard,’ the seventh-year grinned. ‘There’s a skill to it, which comes in bloody handy when you’re trying to avoid some big oaf with a beater’s bat.’

The first-years laughed.

‘How about you, Nathan?’

‘He got round twice without crashing,’ Louis answered for his friend.

‘Only really slowly…’ the blond boy played down his achievements, ‘and I nearly stopped at the blue bit.’

‘Nathan, that’s fantastic,’ Sammy slowed down to ruffle the younger boy’s hair. ‘Yesterday was the first day you even got on a broom, and you’re already doing my circuit. That’s awesome.’

‘Thank you.’ Nathan blushed, and Louis grinned, throwing his arm around his friend’s shoulders as the trio turned the corner into the corridor which held Sammy’s classroom.

‘People here already,’ the seventh-year exclaimed, setting his eyes on the blue-tinged robes of two boys. ‘You guys are a bit keen, hey?’

The two Ravenclaws turned around, looking back at Sammy as the older boy approached, before glancing nervously at each other, daring one another to speak first. They were saved the peril of a reply, however, when Louis recognised their faces and remembered their kindness earlier that morning.

‘This is Toby Stretton and Alexander Corner,’ he introduced the two boys. ‘They’re Ravenclaws, but they get it,’ he explained, ‘they’re not bothered that we’re in Slytherin.’ Louis smiled.

‘That’s good to hear, hey?’ Sammy grinned, holding his arm out and briskly shaking hands with the two first-years, both of whom were still too shell-shocked to do anything but nod feebly in response. ‘Come on, then,’ the seventeen-year-old continued, ‘no point standing around outside. Might as well come in and wait for the others in here.’

The seventh-year pushed open a classroom door, leaving the four younger boys to filter in behind him, and settle onto a table near the front of the room.

‘It’s alright if we sit with you, right?’ Louis prompted the Ravenclaws, before pausing as he watched Toby and Alexander share another tense glance. ‘Right?’ Louis repeated, his voice suddenly wavering.

‘I don’t mind,’ Toby, the shorter of the two boys, answered weakly. ‘It’s just…’ he swallowed as his friend hid his head behind folded arms.

‘He does?’ Louis’ voice rose in surprise, only for Toby to cut him off quickly.

‘No,’ the Ravenclaw shook his head, his eyes darting anxiously around the classroom. ‘It’s the others,’ he sighed. ‘When we got back to the tower at lunchtime… people had seen us in the library… with you.’ His explanation came as a broken sentence.

‘What?’ Sammy dropped the stack of parchment he had been carrying and spun around with a start.

‘Me and Xander went to the library with Louis this morning,’ he expanded.

‘And the rest of your House are picking on you because of that?’ The seventh-year checked, before pulling out his wand with an angry flourish. ‘Colloportus!’ Sammy yelled, brandishing it towards the classroom door. ‘Muffliato!’ He let the wand fall, before lashing out, kicking at the legs of an empty desk. ‘For fuck’s sake! When are people going to bloody grow up?’

The silence that followed the older boy’s angry exclamation was only broken by the sound of a quiet sob from beneath Alexander’s folded arms.

‘He’s not mad at you…’ Louis tried to reassure the other boy. ‘You’ve done nothing wrong,’ he swallowed, ‘and I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t helped me this morning. You as well,’ he looked at Toby, noticing that the other Ravenclaw’s eyes had reddened even as he managed a half-smile.

‘Thank you,’ he mustered.

‘That’s okay,’ the redhead returned the other boy’s tentative grin. ‘I’m sorry the others are having a go at you.’

‘It’s going to happen again, though, isn’t it?’ Sammy concluded, sharply. ‘If they sit with you.’

The Ravenclaw nodded.

‘So,’ Louis swallowed, his expression suddenly cold. ‘Are you going to move?’

Toby’s eyes began to water. ‘I don’t want to…’ he struggled, ‘but, but…’ he glanced over his shoulder towards the classroom door.

‘It’s locked,’ Sammy observed, ‘and muffled. Nobody can hear what you say.’

The eleven-year-old grimaced. ‘They… they called us snake charmers. ‘Miranda Skeeter…’ He shook his head. ‘Sorry… just…’ Toby sniffed, hard, as his words scrambled into nonsense.

‘It’s like my old school,’ Nathan spoke for the first time, ‘after it happened. No one would talk to me because of what the others would say.’

Louis put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘I don’t care what the others say. You said it yourself this morning, Toby… it shouldn’t matter what House somebody’s in. Let’s see if you really believe it.’

Toby flinched. ‘I want to,’ he echoed his own stuttering words from moments before. ‘It’s just…’

‘It’s just a lot harder to actually do something in real life than it is to talk about it, right?’ Sammy guessed at the first-year’s fears. ‘Actions speak louder than words, hey?’

Alexander Corner lifted his head up, rubbing his forearm across his face as he did so. ‘Like Dad during the war,’ his face hardened. ‘I’m not moving.’

A thin smile spread across the seventh-year’s lips. ‘Well said, kid,’ he uttered. ‘Five points to Ravenclaw. Just hope your Housemates don’t cost you them again.’ Sammy strode across to the classroom door. ‘Alohomora.’

None of the boys were the surprised in the least to see Miranda fix Toby and Alexander with a malevolent glare as she strutted into the classroom. ‘Snake charmers,’ she hissed, under her breath, as she passed their table.

‘Told you,’ Toby whispered sadly.

Louis shook his head. ‘Ignore her,’ he shook his head. ‘Stupid bitch.’ He looked over his shoulder, tracking his cousin as she settled down into a seat beside the tall blonde. ‘She’s no better…’

Sammy clapped his hands, grasping the attention of the class as Albus and Daniel hurried through the closing door. ‘Alright, then,’ he summarised. ‘First thing this morning. Your first Transfiguration lesson. What did you learn?’

Louis lifted his hand. ‘Pies,’ he ventured, struggling to keep a straight face. ‘Preparation, Incantation, Expectation and Separation.’

‘Correct,’ the seventh-year smiled, over a derisive snort from the Ravenclaw girls. ‘Five points to Slytherin. The secret to any good Transfiguration  is a clear mind, and Acus Evoco – or match to needle – is no exception. Do we have any volunteers to demonstrate?’

Rose’s hand shot skywards before Sammy had even finished his question.

‘Miss Weasley,’ Sammy acknowledged the girl’s enthusiasm. ‘Anybody else?’

Daniel nudged Albus on the elbow. ‘You can’t just let her stand there and take all the glory, mate,’ he insisted. ‘Show her you’re better than she is.’

The other Slytherin nodded. ‘Alright, then.’ He raised his hand, waiting for the older boy to invite him to challenge his cousin before following Sammy’s instructions to head up to the front of the classroom.

‘Acus Evoco,’ the seventh-year repeated the incantation, placing a matchstick in the centre of his own desk before transforming it into a needle with one flourish of his wand. ‘For me, the most important thing is to visualise the head of the match becoming the eye of the needle. Albus, Rose,’ he nodded to each of the first-years in turn. ‘Over to you.’

‘Acus Evoco.’

‘Acus Evoco!’

‘Acus Evoco! GOT IT!’ Albus picked up his needle exultantly, holding it inches from his cousin’s face. ‘Ha!’

‘Albus,’ Sammy cautioned, ‘let me inspect it first, please,’ he took it from the boy, peering closely through the metal before returning it to the eleven-year-old. ‘Well done,’ he confirmed, ‘although you would be well served to remember that grace in victory goes a long way. You can sit back down now.’ Sammy gestured towards a stack of matchboxes, distributing them across the classroom with a flick of the wrist. ‘This should be more than enough to be going on with for today,’ he explained. ‘Let’s see how you get on – and if you do master it, let’s see how much control you can manage over the size and shape of your needles. Go!’

*

‘I really don’t like this,’ Alexander Corner complained aloud as his seventh match of the afternoon dissolved into sawdust on the boys’ increasingly messy table.

Louis grunted his agreement, watching his own attempt perform a backflip rather than changing form.

‘At least yours hasn’t caught fire yet,’ Nathan groaned, drawing a laugh from the other boys.

‘Good thing Xander knew Aguamenti,’ Toby observed, caustically. ‘Anyway, I don’t know what you’re all complaining about. This isn’t that hard if you concentrate properly.’ He took a deep breath, pointing his wand at Louis’ displaced match. ‘Acus Evoco,’ he intoned. ‘See?’

Louis rolled his eyes as the matchstick shifted in front of him. ‘Show-off,’ he muttered.

The Ravenclaw grinned as his housemate shook his head in exasperation.

‘I am concentrating,’ he complained. ‘I always concentrate, in every lesson!’

‘Well, then,’ Sammy interrupted. ‘Maybe you’re concentrating too hard?’

Alexander blinked. ‘What?’ He stammered, repeating the older boy’s words. ‘Concentrating too hard?’

‘Yep,’ Sammy nodded. ‘If you just think about the eye of the needle or the head of the match, you’re not going to get anywhere. You’ve got to think of everything, all together, all at once…’ The bell rang out before the seventh-year could add any more. ‘See you next week,’ he announced, rising to his feet, ‘and well done.’

‘Still think you’re better than me?’ Albus challenged his cousin as she followed him out of the classroom, shoving past him rather than rising to his taunt. ‘No? Me neither!’ He shouted after her, before Daniel joined in with the teasing.

‘Did you even get it to change once? The boy called. ‘Or was it just a fluke that you got it this morning?’

‘Maybe you don’t belong in Ravenclaw.’ Albus pushed things even further. ‘What’s your Mum going to think when you don’t get an Outstanding? What about when you get a “T”?’

That was enough. Rose whirled around, furious. ‘I didn’t know why you were in Slytherin at first, Albus, but I know now!’ Her voice edged upwards.

‘So what?’ Albus snapped back. ‘What’s wrong with Slytherin?’ He drew a breath. ‘And don’t just tell me that it’s all evil. Did you know that Merlin was a Slytherin? He’s the most famous wizard of all time!’

‘So was Voldemort!’ Rose argued back, irrationally. ‘He’s the most evil wizard of all time!’

Daniel feigned a yawn. ‘I guess that just means that when Slytherins do something, they do it properly.’

‘You couldn’t do the match either…’ Rose turned her attention to the other boy.

Daniel shrugged. ‘I didn’t get up in front of the whole class and say I could, though, did I? I’m not the one who looked stupid in front of everyone because it turned out you weren’t as clever as you thought you were.’

‘Who asked what you thought?’ Miranda Skeeter waded into the argument on Rose’s side.

‘Same person who asked you,’ the muggle-born boy shot back. ‘So keep that ugly nose of yours out of it!’

‘Cause you’re so good-looking, aren’t you?’ she sneered, before turning attention to a new target as Daniel ignored her barbs. ‘I bet the snake charmers like you, though.’ Miranda emphasised her nickname for Toby and Alexander as the two boys exited the classroom, their Slytherin friends in tow.

‘Fuck off,’ Louis wasn’t prepared to let her insults go unchallenged. ‘At least come up with something new!’

A sickly smile spread across the blonde girl’s face. ‘I just want to know what on earth they see in a dirty little Slytherin like you.’

‘I don’t know,’ Albus replied, deadpan. ‘Maybe they want to see if Veelas make good pets?’

‘He’s a Veela?’ Miranda’s voice scarcely concealed her glee. ‘A real life Veela?’

‘Oh, yeah,’ Daniel smirked, ‘I don’t know if he’s house-trained yet, though…’

‘You can fuck off, too.’ Louis turned on his housemate. ‘You don’t know anything about it.’

‘I know you’re not fucking human, that’s what I know,’ Daniel refused to back down, ‘but you’re right, I don’t know anything about you, like whether it’s safe to have you in a school, or anything.’

‘In fact, no one knows anything about male Veelas at all, do they?’ Rose eagerly shifted the focus onto her cousin. ‘Maybe you should be in a laboratory, not in a classroom?’

‘Or a zoo?’ Albus added. ‘Look how red he gets when he gets angry! He’s even redder than his face! Look at his nose!

‘Veela Boy!’ Daniel started a chant that quickly grew louder as several other voices joined in. ‘Veela Boy! Veela Boy! Veela, Veela, Veela Boy!’

‘Fuck off!’ Louis protested, his eyes burning, but it made little difference as the voices grew louder, closing in around him and refusing to let go until the eleven-year-old collapsed into a distraught ball, before scattering as the sound of approaching footsteps drove them away.

‘Louis…?’ Nathan ventured, tapping his friend on the shoulder as the boy’s tormentors scarpered. ‘Louis?’ He repeated. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

‘Where?’ Toby Stretton’s face was pale.

‘Anywhere,’ Alexander answered the other Ravenclaw. ‘Anywhere they’re not going to be.’

Louis sniffed. ‘I can’t…’ he wept, ‘I just can’t.’

‘Why not?’ His housemate pressed. ‘We can’t stay here.’

Another heavy sob wracked the boy’s body, before he slowly lifted his head to face the other children.

Nathan was the first to scream.
 


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