Chapter 11 : Slytherins Stick Together
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The eleven-year-old edged across the room as the teacher indicated another chair.
‘Take a seat,’ Greg instructed. ‘Now, when I finish talking, I’m just going to listen. I’m not going to interrupt. I want you to tell me everything that happened after Transfiguration this afternoon.’
Albus stared blankly back at the man.
‘Albus?’ Greg prompted. ‘Well?’
The boy shrugged, and his teacher sighed.
‘I’m disappointed,’ the man stood up, taking a couple of steps across the room towards a cluttered kitchen worktop. ‘I’m disappointed that you can’t tell me the truth.’ He waited for a reply that never came, and turned back around to face his student. ‘I have a very good idea of what happened this afternoon already, Albus, and it’s not a story that paints you in a very good light. I could have jumped to conclusions, but I thought I ought to let you have your own say first up. I thought that the fact that your cousin – your housemate – was in the hospital wing might have been enough to make you think about some of the ways you’ve behaved this last week, but apparently it isn’t.’ Greg maintained his gaze, even as Albus’ head dropped, breaking his eye contact. ‘I guess this is the part that McGonagall warned me about – when a good first impression turns out to be wrong.’
The teacher poured himself a glass of water, before retracing his steps to the hearth. ‘I remember the first time we met, Albus, sat on the grass at Cutteslowe Park in Oxford, when I told you about Slytherins sticking together. What made you change your mind?’
Albus blinked, staring determinedly at the ground in front of his feet. ‘I didn’t mean to,’ he mumbled.
‘You didn’t mean to?’ Greg echoed. ‘You didn’t mean to do what, Al?’ He shortened the boy’s name, softening his tone of voice. ‘I’ll repeat what I said when you came in. It’s over to you: just tell me what happened after that Transfiguration lesson, and I’ll just listen.’
‘Okay,’ Albus nodded. ‘Could I have some water first?’ He swallowed. ‘Please?’
‘Of course you can, mate,’ Greg stood up, returning to his kitchenette to pour the eleven-year-old a drink before settling back into his armchair. ‘Whenever you’re ready.’
Albus swallowed a long mouthful of water before beginning. ‘I called him a Veela,’ the boy admitted, glancing up at the teacher.
Greg stared impassively back, remembering another piece of advice McGonagall had given him. ‘They’ll crack before you do. They don’t know you’re bluffing just as much as they are.’
Albus’ head dropped again, and the teacher allowed himself a wry smile.
‘I said he should be in a zoo,’ the eleven-year-old added, his voice dropping as he spoke. ‘Then Daniel started a chant… we all joined in, saying “Veela Boy, Veela Boy”… but we heard someone coming and everyone ran off.’
Greg nodded, imperceptible to the first-year, before settling back in his armchair and refocusing his gaze without another word.
Albus looked up. ‘Sir?’
‘Um, I’m… um…’ He stammered.
‘I didn’t ask what you did,’ the teacher clarified. ‘I asked for what happened. From the point where you left Sammy’s classroom.’
The boy’s face fell again, and he reached for the glass of water, thirstily downing its contents before staring down at the laces of his shoes.
‘Aguamenti,’ Greg mouthed, watching the glass fill up again at his demand and subconsciously repeating McGonagall’s advice as Albus fidgeted nervously on the seat opposite him.
‘Me and Rose were arguing,’ he began, pausing before realising that the teacher was not about to interrupt, ‘about who was better at Transfiguration, because we both had to demonstrate Acus Evoco in the classroom and she couldn’t do it.’ Albus took a breath. ‘Then I said she was going to get a “T”, and then she got really pissed off with me, and started saying that now she knew why I belonged in Slytherin… and I said Slytherin wasn’t all bad, cause Merlin was a Slytherin… then Daniel and one of Rose’s friends got involved…’ He blinked, daring to look upwards, and realised that the professor had refilled his drink. ‘Thank you, sir.’
‘That’s alright, Al,’ Greg acknowledged.
The first-year took another deep breath. ‘Then Rose’s friend – I don’t know her name – said something about snake charmers, and… and then Louis told her to… to f…’
‘To fuck off?’ Greg guessed at the source of the boy’s discomfort, and Albus nodded. ‘Say it if you need to say it, Al,’ the teacher reassured him.
‘He told her that,’ the eleven-year-old winced, ‘then I said he was a Veela. Daniel said he wasn’t safe to be in a school, Rose said he should be in a laboratory instead, I said he should be in a zoo, and that’s when we started chanting.’ The boy’s voice began to strain. ‘He told us to fuck off again, but it didn’t stop us. We kept on chanting until we heard someone coming and then we all ran off…’ Albus tailed off, looking pleadingly across to the teacher for a sign that his story had been accepted.
‘Thank you, Albus,’ Greg nodded. ‘Now,’ he spoke slowly and clearly, ‘if you were me, what would you be thinking right now?’
The boy shrugged. ‘I don’t know,’ he mumbled. ‘Cross?’
The teacher smiled, sadly. ‘A little, perhaps,’ he admitted, and the boy reddened at his confirmation, ‘but more than anything, I’m disappointed.’
Albus shifted uncomfortably on his seat.
‘I’m new to this job, Al, you know that,’ Greg mused, ‘and after that first day I met you, I thought I’d figured you out… I thought you were someone I wanted in Slytherin.’ He paused, watching the boy struggle to hold eye contact. ‘Now, I’m not so sure.’ Albus’ head jerked downwards. ‘I don’t know if I was wrong about you… or if I’ve done something wrong since you boys started…’ He took a deep breath. ‘I just can’t work out why you’d treat Louis like that. Do you know what’s happened to him?’
Albus looked up, his eyes beginning to water, and shook his head.
‘Part of his face has shifted… transfigured into part-Veela form. Madam Pomfrey has never seen anything like it before. She doesn’t know how long it will be set like this… It doesn’t seem like Louis has got any control over it.’
Albus shuddered, involuntarily. ‘Oh, Merlin…’ he whispered, rubbing the back of his hand across his face. ‘He will be alright, won’t he?’
‘I hope so, Al,’ Greg answered the boy’s question. ‘I hope so. That’s all I can say right now, though.’
Now the eleven-year-old’s composure broke. He slumped back on the old armchair, hiding his head beneath his hands as a series of sobs began to overwhelm his body. ‘I didn’t mean it… I didn’t mean it… I swear I didn’t…’ His words tumbled over one another. ‘I swear it,’ he repeated, as Greg got gently to his feet, padding across to crouch beside Albus.
‘Al,’ the teacher offered, placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder, ‘we all make mistakes. That’s what experience is – a long list of screw-ups – and when we screw up, there’s always a way we can make up for it. I remember my first year… the first time I got detention… when Professor Slughorn talked about how we often have to choose between what is right and what is easy.’
Albus nodded, slowly lifting his head and wiping the back of his hand across his eyes once more. ‘Sorry,’ he swallowed.
‘That’s alright, Albus,’ the teacher accepted the apology without hesitation, ‘but I don’t think I’m the only one who needs to hear that.’
Wednesday morning’s lessons sent the first-year Slytherins to Charms, alongside Hufflepuff, and Potions with the Gryffindors. Louis had not returned to class yet, and all of Albus’ attempts to talk to Nathan had met with a stony silence – rebuffed, as he had been when he had asked to visit his cousin in the hospital wing. His only comfort had been the fact that the timetable had kept him away from Rose and her fellow Ravenclaws, but as the first-years headed to the Quidditch pitch for the final class period of the afternoon, even that was to change.
‘Where’s your little Veela friend?’ Miranda Skeeter called out to Nathan as soon as she set eyes on the blond boy. ‘Have they finally sent him to the zoo where he belongs?’
Albus shuddered as he heard the girl’s taunts, remembering acutely that he too had been dishing them out the previous day. ‘Just ignore her, Nathan,’ he tried to support his housemate as the two Slytherins lined up alongside a neatly arranged row of broomsticks.
‘Yeah, I can do that myself, thanks!’ The blond boy snapped. ‘In case you’ve forgotten, you’re the one who told her Louis was a Veela!’
Albus’ head dropped. ‘I know, and I…’
‘Piss off,’ Nathan crudely interrupted the other boy’s weak apology. ‘You’re as bad as her.’
Albus fell silent at his housemate’s riposte, but there would have been no chance for him to reply even if he had wanted to, as Oliver Wood began his well-worn introduction to flying.
The basics of getting into the air, however, were not something that any of the three Slytherins needed to hear, as – in their own individual ways – they had all already mastered the art of becoming airborne. Wood’s time needed to be devoted to Li Yuan, the other muggle-born first-year, who had never so much as sat on a broomstick before the lesson began.
‘Go on then, where is he?’ Miranda pressed Nathan, hovering outside the professor’s earshot. ‘You must know, you’re his only friend.’
Nathan felt his eyes start to burn, and they reddened further as the girl continued her teasing.
‘Hang on,’ she sneered, ‘isn’t he your only friend, too? Who’ve you been hanging around with today? Have you even talked to anyone all day?’
Nathan couldn’t stand it any longer. ‘Fuck off,’ he retorted, ‘it’s none of your business!’
‘Oooh,’ Miranda crooned, ‘a naughty word! That’s not very nice, is it?’
‘So what?’ Toby Stretton gathered the courage to speak up in Nathan’s defence. ‘You deserve it.’
‘No one cares what you think!’ The girl spun around sharply on her broomstick, staring down her housemate. ‘Stupid little snake charmer.’ She held her glare in the silence that followed. ‘See; no one gives a shit.’
Daniel could not let this pass unchallenged. ‘Since when have you been in charge?’ He flew casually towards Miranda.
‘I’m only telling the truth,’ she simpered. ‘Can’t have him thinking anyone’s interested in what he’s got to say.’
Daniel snorted. ‘And you think I care about what you say?’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Why?’
Miranda’s voice grew darker. ‘Do you even know who my mother is?’
‘No,’ Daniel retorted, ‘and you know what? I don’t care, either!’
‘It doesn’t matter, does it?’ Albus gathered the nerve to interrupt. ‘And anyway, if we’re doing that, I think I’ve got the most famous Dad out of anyone.’
Daniel stared back at his friend, perplexed by the other Slytherin’s claim, but Miranda gave him no time to dwell on the surprise.
‘Well,’ she changed the subject abruptly, ‘let’s see who the best flier is. Round that tree and back again.’ Miranda pointed into the middle distance, where a lone pine protruded above its neighbours.
‘But that’s the Forbidden Forest…’ Albus began to protest.
Miranda sniffed, haughtily. ‘So what? Nobody’s going in.’ She spun on her broom, aiming towards the distant target. ‘Well? Anyone?’
‘Come on, then,’ Daniel didn’t back down, copying the angle of the girl’s broom.
‘Go!’ Miranda shouted, taking advantage of the moment’s surprise to pull out a lead before the boy could respond, slotting into her slipstream and biding his time as the other first-years watched, open-mouthed.
Daniel gritted his teeth, focusing fiercely on the girl’s back as he held his position behind the girl, feeling the rush of the wind against his face and instinctively hunching ever lower against his own broom as they neared their target of the not-so-distant pine. Miranda adjusted her line, sitting up a fraction and pulling wider to give herself a gentler route around the corner. Daniel saw the narrow gap open up between his rival and the branches of the tree and, unthinkingly, went for it.
‘He can’t be…’ Albus gasped, breaking the silence amongst the watching first-years. ‘Not on the school brooms… it’ll never stick…’
Nathan nodded his agreement. ‘Like the blue corner,’ he mumbled, in spite of the knowledge that Louis would have been the only one to understand his reference to Sammy’s practice course.
Back on the broomstick, however, no such thoughts had filled Daniel’s head: at least, not until he heard the wooden beam begin to creak, warping under the stress of the corner and catching against the outer branches of the giant tree. ‘Shiiiiiit…’
‘Where’s Daniel?’ Albus blinked as Miranda rounded the pine tree, with the boy nowhere to be seen. ‘Oh Merlin… He’s fallen off… Nathan!’ The eleven-year-old called out, aghast, as he watched his other housemate set off towards the forest. ‘You can’t… We should get Professor Wood… I… I…’ he shivered, his broom slowly circling to the ground. ‘Shit…’
Nathan blanked out Miranda’s crowing return as he flew past the Ravenclaw girl, his mind fixed completely on the pine tree where Daniel had fallen, with Professor Bennett’s insistent demand, Slytherins Stick Together, echoing in his ears. ‘Daniel?’ He called, hovering nervously by the treetop and peering into the darkness of the canopy below. ‘Daniel?’
A muffled yelp echoed from the forest floor, and Nathan swore to himself as he strained to hear the other boy’s pleas, steeling himself to duck into the depths of the trees. ‘Slytherins stick together,’ he reminded himself, drawing a deep breath and dropping down into the unknown. ‘Daniel?’ He repeated, blinking as his eyes struggled to adjust to the half-light. ‘Daniel?’
‘Help…’ The pained shout came back, clearer than before, directing Nathan down towards his housemate. ‘Please…’
‘I’m coming,’ Nathan called out a reply, all the while privately wondering what he could do even if he did find the other boy, and wondering fearfully just what he might find within the depths of the forest. It was only seconds before a blast of heat and light told him.
Daniel had managed to shin several feet up the gnarled branch of a broad tree, around which were gathered a circle of creatures unlike anything either of the boys had ever seen before. Squat and ungainly, they scuttled beneath thick, jewel-encrusted shells, taking turns to shoot jets of flame at the base of Daniel’s tree, which was beginning to flicker and smoke beneath the panicked boy, who only clung on with his left hand as his right arm fell limply across his chest.
‘Do something!’ Daniel implored. ‘Help!’
‘What?’ Nathan shuddered. ‘I can’t fly there, they’ll set me on fire!’
‘Well, can’t you get rid of them?’ The other boy pleaded frantically. ‘Don’t you know any spells?’
Nathan racked his brain, struggling to recall anything that might prove useful, when his thoughts turned to the previous afternoon’s Transfiguration lesson, and the way that Alexander had extinguished his burning match. ‘Aguamenti!’ He shouted, only to watch a pitiful trickle of water leak from his wand.
‘Is that it?’ Daniel baulked. ‘That was shit!’
‘I know,’ Nathan muttered, ‘I’m trying, honest I am…’ He shut his eyes, willing himself to remember the Ravenclaw boy’s wandwork, drawing a deep breath before flourishing his own willow wand, and yelling with all of the conviction that he could muster. ‘Aguamenti!’
For a moment, nothing happened, until – with a sudden crack that sounded like a thunderbolt – a vast torrent of water streamed from Nathan’s wand, the force of the recoil knocking the blond boy backwards. The flood doused the flames of the creatures, washing them back into the forest and drenching Daniel as he held desperately onto the sodden bark with his good arm.
‘Wow…’ Daniel stammered, gingerly edging his way down the tree trunk. ‘That was awesome…’
Nathan nodded, uncomfortably. ‘I don’t know how I did it,’ he muttered. ‘It was like that time in the wand shop…’ He shook himself. ‘Come on,’ he implored, picking up his broom from the forest floor behind him. ‘Let’s get out of here before they come back. Can you get on this with me?’
Daniel shrugged. ‘I’ll try.’ He swung a leg over the broomstick, wincing as his right arm caught against Nathan’s back.
‘Is your arm alright?’
Daniel thought about lying for a moment, before shaking his head sadly.
‘Try and wrap it up under your t-shirt,’ Nathan suggested, ‘fold it over your elbow,’ he showed his housemate. ‘They showed us this at school; it’s easier than trying to do a sling…’
‘Thanks,’ Daniel mumbled, taking a firm grip on the broom with his left hand and shutting his eyes, blocking out the pain, as Nathan began to pilot his way slowly upwards, edging towards the thin shards of sunlight visible in the canopy above. The first face the boys saw as they emerged back into the open air was that of Oliver Wood.
‘Mr Llewellyn,’ he greeted Nathan, his voice stern. ‘Mr Hamilton. Exploring, I see?’
Nathan glanced over his shoulder, towards Daniel, who shook his head.
‘I fell off, sir…’ he began. ‘I…’
The teacher waved away his explanation as his eyes fell on the first-year’s strapped arm. ‘I’ve heard the story, Mr Hamilton,’ he supplied, bluntly. ‘Now, I take it you might need the services of Madam Pomfrey?
When Daniel next opened his eyes, in the hospital wing later that evening, he found that couldn’t remember anything else after leaving the forest. ‘Al…?’ He blinked, as the shape of his housemate swam into focus beside his bed. ‘What… what happened…?’
‘It’s alright, mate,’ the other boy calmed his friend. ‘You’ve just had a sleeping draught,’ he explained, ‘to help your arm heal.’
Gingerly, Daniel clenched his right fist, before slowly moving his arm beneath his sheets. ‘It’s still sore,’ he admitted, ‘but better. Much better.’ He pushed himself up, shifting his pillows around as he felt the cold of the steel headboard against his back. ‘Where’s Nathan?’
Albus’ answer was quiet. ‘With Louis,’ he nodded towards a screen at the far side of the room. ‘Over there.’
Daniel winced again. ‘Shit,’ he muttered. ‘We’ve fucked this up, haven’t we?’
‘Just a bit,’ Albus sighed. ‘Just a bit.’
‘Ah,’ the curtains that surrounded Louis’ hospital bed ruffled, and a man emerged.
‘Professor Bennett…’ Daniel stammered.
‘Dan,’ the teacher returned the eleven-year-old’s simple greeting. ‘Alright?’
The boy blushed, certain that the teacher had overheard his bad language. ‘I think so,’ he mumbled. ‘I…’
‘You’re right,’ Greg cut Daniel off, ‘you have messed things up, but – like I told Al yesterday – every time you mess up there’s always a way to make up for it.’
Daniel nodded. ‘Is… is Louis alright?’
The teacher shrugged. ‘I think you should probably go and see for yourself.’
Slowly, the first-year got to his feet, brushing the duvet off his shoulders and edging across the room, following the teacher to the other side of the curtain, where Nathan sat on a basic metal chair beside a bed which held a face that Daniel barely recognised.
‘Louis?’ He breathed, gaping at the dark, wide eyes and sharp, tapered nose.
‘Yes,’ the red-haired boy answered, emptily. ‘What do you think?’ His voice was heavy with sarcasm. ‘Do you like the beak? It’s much smaller than it was last night. I can actually eat now.’
Daniel shook his head. ‘I… I…’ He turned away, hiding his eyes behind his fringe as his forehead dropped against his forearm that rested on Albus’ shoulder.
‘Veela boy, right?’ Louis noted, acidly.
‘Don’t remind me,’ Albus begged, ‘please. I’m sorry,’ he swallowed. ‘We’re sorry.’
‘That’s easy for you to say,’ the redhead shrugged. ‘You don’t look like this.’
Albus shivered. ‘I know,’ he whispered. ‘I didn’t want this to happen,’ he took a deep breath, fighting against the prickle of moisture at the backs of his eyes. ‘I’m sorry… really… I’m not just saying it...’
‘Well done, Al,’ Greg intervened. ‘It takes a lot of guts to admit you were wrong.’
‘I’m sorry, too,’ Daniel put in, wiping the back of his arm across his forehead. ‘When I said you weren’t brave, Nathan, that wasn’t true,’ he swallowed. ‘Why did you come in after me?’
Nathan reddened. ‘I don’t know,’ he mumbled. ‘I guess, what Professor Bennett said… about Slytherin sticking together.’
‘Thank you,’ the brown-haired boy smiled, weakly. ‘I’ve never been so scared,’ he admitted. ‘What were those things?’
‘Hagrid said they were Fire Crabs,’ Nathan shuddered, ‘or maybe something like Blasting Skrewts?’
The teacher grimaced. ‘I remember those things from Magical Creatures in my third year… horrible…’
‘At least you weren’t surrounded by them,’ Daniel’s face paled. ‘Good job you knew that spell.’
‘What did you use?’ Louis had calmed down sufficiently to ask a civil question.
‘Aguamenti,’ Nathan answered. ‘At least, that’s what I meant to do. It was the only thing I could think of. It didn’t work the first time, and then the second time it was just like a flood… like that time at the wand shop.’
Albus let out a low whistle. ‘Wow…’
‘Cool,’ Louis grinned, the wide pupils of his eyes visibly shrinking as Nathan reflected his smile.
‘Well, then,’ the teacher interrupted, ‘I suppose that’s enough excitement for one day.’ He talked over the beginning of a protest. ‘I can’t imagine that any of you have done your homework either. Back to the dungeons, please.’
Nathan watched Louis’ shoulders sink, and the boy’s pupils grow wider again, as he heard the professor’s instructions. ‘Louis too,’ the blond boy insisted. ‘We can’t leave him here another night.’
‘Yeah,’ Albus nodded forcefully. ‘Like you said, sir, Slytherins Stick Together. Let him go back where he belongs,’ he took a breath. ‘Where we all belong.’
Greg paused for a moment, looking back from Albus’ plea towards Louis’ face, double-taking as he noticed the blue irises of the boy’s eyes for the first time that evening. ‘Well, you know,’ he smiled. ‘Now that I think about it, I reckon that’s the best thing he could possibly do.’
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