‘Thanks for sticking up for me,’ Louis pulled his hood down, breaking the silence that had filled the Slytherins’ journey back to their common room, their Head of House having escorted the boys back to the dungeon door.
Albus reddened as Daniel, the last of the first-years, pushed their dormitory door shut behind him. ‘I had to,’ he muttered. ‘After yesterday…’ The eleven-year-old slumped onto his bed. ‘When I…’
‘Don’t,’ his cousin interrupted. ‘It’s alright.’
‘I don’t know why I said it at all,’ Albus continued, miserably.
Daniel shivered as he pulled his t-shirt over his head. ‘It’s just what happens, isn’t it? When someone’s getting picked on, it’s easy to join in.’
‘I know,’ Nathan agreed, quietly. ‘That’s what happened at Ascot.’
‘Well it’s not happening here!’ Albus insisted, thumping his mattress with vigour. ‘Not any more!’
Nathan sighed, huddling underneath his own duvet. ‘She won’t stop, though, will she?’
‘Who?’ Daniel blinked. ‘Miranda?’
‘Or Rose,’ Louis and Albus added in unison, before turning to face one another with an awkward smile and a half-laugh.
‘Well, she can get lost, then!’ Daniel insisted, boldly. ‘Just cause she’s your cousin doesn’t mean you have to listen to her.’
‘But…’ Albus grimaced. ‘Ever since we were little, we always used to say that we’d go to Hogwarts together…’
Daniel’s voice grew cold. ‘I used to think that my Mum was bothered about me, too,’ his eyes narrowed, ‘and look where that got me.’
‘Dan?’ Albus stuttered.
‘Oh, shit.’ Daniel swallowed, sinking beneath his sheets.
‘Dan?’ His friend repeated. ‘I know your Mum wasn’t happy when we saw you for the first time, but…’
The brown-haired boy laughed, emptily. ‘You could say that,’ he shook his head. ‘Do you know what she said when I came back from Diagon Alley?’ He asked, rhetorically. ‘She said, “Go to your fucking school, you treacherous little shit.”.’
The boys’ dormitory fell silent as they heard Daniel’s revelation, and the other children turned their heads away.
‘I stayed with Professor Bennett for the rest of the week,’ Daniel explained, before any of his housemates could ask him what had happened next.
Albus shuddered. ‘Sorry, mate,’ he offered, weakly. ‘I didn’t know…’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Daniel looked down. ‘I was just saying, just because someone’s family, it doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.’
Louis shut his eyes, letting his head fall back onto the cool of his pillowcase. ‘And I thought I had it bad…’
Daniel managed a weak grin. ‘You only turned into some weird bird thing, what’s so bad about that?’ He smiled at Louis, making sure that the redhead knew he was joking. ‘So, what about you, Nathan?’ He propped himself up on his bed, looking across the room. ‘Any crazy shit that we should know about you whilst we’re sharing?’
‘Not really,’ the blond boy whispered. ‘There was the thing with the cricket stump…’ he sighed. ‘I think it was the first time I did accidental magic. I made a cricket stump fly across the changing rooms so fast it went through the wall… it nearly hit my b… one of my friends in the face.’
‘That was at your old school, right?’ Louis asked. ‘At Ascot?’
Albus grimaced. ‘I guess I shouldn’t moan about Rose not talking to me, then.’
‘I don’t know,’ Louis smirked, ‘you’ve got it pretty tough; nothing like the sort of time your Dad had at school…’
‘All right!’ Daniel snapped in mock anger as Louis ducked away from his cousin’s playful jab. ‘That’s enough! Will somebody tell me what Albus’ Dad did?’
The two cousins shared a long, meaningful gaze, before Albus spoke up. ‘Fine,’ he groaned, ‘but this is going to be a long night…’
A handful of corridors away, Greg Bennett collapsed into the low armchair that sat in front of his fireplace. ‘Bloody hell,’ he shook his head, talking to himself. ‘Three days in…’
The teacher reached into a terracotta dish on the table beside his armchair, picking out a handful of silver-green powder and tossing it into the hearth. ‘6B, Flint Avenue, Richmond!’
The low fireplace at the teacher’s London flat sparked into life as the image of Greg’s face flickered on the coals that otherwise lay dormant within its grate. ‘Theo?’ He called out. ‘Theo? You here?’
‘Greg?’ A shout echoed back across the flat from the kitchen on its opposite side. ‘That you?’
‘In the Floo,’ the other man answered back, as his housemate strolled across the reflections that glinted in the room’s wooden floor to squat on a low stool opposite the grate.
‘How’s things?’ The Quidditch player asked, setting a glass of water down on the floor beside his seat.
Greg shook his head. ‘Mental, mate,’ he sighed. ‘Utterly bloody mental.’
Theo laughed. ‘Hasn’t changed too much, then, has it?’ He grinned. ‘Are the dungeons still as we remember them?’
‘Busier,’ the teacher replied, flatly. ‘Only four boys in the first year again, though.’
‘Just like old times, right?’
Greg winced. ‘We didn’t have any boy Veelas, though, did we?’
‘Boy Veelas?’ Theo blinked. ‘I didn’t know you could get those.’
‘Well I can promise that you can,’ the teacher managed a half-smile. ‘You never paid attention in CMC, anyway, did you?’
The other man rolled his eyes. ‘Not biting, mate,’ he smiled. ‘You’ll have to do better than that.’
‘He’s not a full-blown Veela or anything,’ Greg continued, ‘just one-eighth. I think that’s the problem, though, that’s what scares him… he can’t control it properly.’
Theo nodded as he listened to his friend. ‘How about the others? What about your crazy little man?’
‘Yeah,’ Theo swallowed a mouthful of his water, ‘him.’
‘Coping,’ Greg answered cryptically. ‘Would have been better if he hadn’t have started chanting “Veela Boy, Veela Boy” at Louis, though.’
Theo snorted into his glass. ‘What lessons are you running there, Greg? How to win friends and influence people, the Isaac Davies way?’
Greg managed a dry chuckle. ‘At least he won’t be calling anyone a mudblood,’ he recalled one particularly fractious night during his own first year.
‘Are they still at each others’ throats, then?’ Theo pressed, but Greg shook his head.
‘Not since tonight,’ the teacher concluded. ‘It was their first flying lesson today. Somehow Dan managed to fall off his broom into the Forbidden Forest, and then, Nathan, who’s been scared of his own shadow since Diagon Alley, had the courage to go find him… and fight off a bunch of fire crabs along the way. I think they’ve got the idea of Slytherins Stick Together now.’
Theo laughed again. ‘You’re right, mate,’ he observed, ‘that place is mental. I guess it’s like one of our coaches was saying today… you’re going to have ups and downs but as long as you know you’re on the right track, it’s not worth worrying about them.’
Greg smiled. ‘If only you’d listened to your teachers half as much as you listen to your coaches…’
‘Oh, bugger off!’
This time it was the teacher’s turn to laugh. ‘Now you’re biting!’ He grinned. ‘Anyway, mate, how’s it with you? How’s the real world?’
‘Nothing special,’ Theo shrugged. ‘Apparently there was a disturbance or something in the Leaky Cauldron yesterday – Jack O’Hanrahan said something at training, I can’t remember what,’ he began to ramble. ‘You know how it is in the season – train, train, train, train, train, matchday… It all merges into one in the end. We’re up in Montrose on Saturday, actually. You should come along. It’s not far, is it?’
Greg grimaced. ‘As far as you are from a day out in Cambridge,’ he retorted, before his expression brightened. ‘I’ll see if they’ll let me out, mate. Would be good to stop thinking about the job for a moment or two…’
‘You’ll get through it, Greg,’ Theo replied instantly. ‘You always do. You think too much.’
‘And you don’t think enough,’ the teacher smiled. ‘That’s why we make a good team.’
Theo laughed. ‘See you Saturday, mate.’
‘See you Saturday.’
Whether it was the distraction of the upcoming weekend, the end of the infighting in the first-year dormitory, or just the fact that he had finally begun to settle into his job, Greg found that the second half of his first week passed much more easily than the first part had done.
In fact, he was so deeply engaged in a conversation with Oliver Wood about the Wasps’ eventual win over the Montrose Magpies that he barely noticed the cacophony of noise, both human and avian, that greeted the arrival of the post owls in the Great Hall the following Monday. He certainly didn’t notice the front page headline that caught Albus’ eye as soon as his copy of the Daily Prophet thudded into his left elbow.
‘Oh, bloody hell.’ Albus dropped his fork with a clatter as the newspaper fell open beside his plate. ‘Guys, have you seen this?’ He asked, ignoring his food as he began to read from the front page.
MUGGLES SIGHTED IN DIAGON ALLEY
The Magical world finds itself facing up to a series of awkward questions this morning, writes Morag Crooke, following the sighting of two unnamed muggle individuals at the Leaky Cauldron last Thursday, and the subsequent efforts of the Ministry of Magic to conceal the incident from the public.
Daniel looked up from his own breakfast. ‘Is that bad?’ He asked, blankly. ‘Al?’
The black-haired boy shook his head. ‘I don’t know, Dan,’ he mumbled, ‘but it’s not normal.’
‘Didn’t you tell us that muggles couldn’t go into Diagon Alley?’ Daniel queried. ‘That day, when we went in through the pub in London?’
‘No,’ Nathan interrupted. ‘That’s not right,’ he spoke with unusual certainty. ‘My Dad’s a muggle, and he got in alright.’
Louis nodded. ‘That must be because Professor Bennett told him it was there. So,’ he theorised, ‘that means someone must have told the muggles where the Leaky Cauldron was – and how to get in.’
Daniel shuddered. ‘Now that’s got to be bad.’
‘Yeah,’ Albus agreed, ‘it does.’
‘Is there anything else in the Prophet?’ Like the rest of his Housemates, Louis had forgotten about his breakfast.
‘Let me have a look,’ Albus picked up the newspaper again, scanning the second paragraph of the article, before drawing a breath.
Shortly before one o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, the two unidentified individuals were sighted entering the tavern through its Charing Cross Road entrance. They were challenged by landlady Hannah Longbottom, 37, and when it was established that neither was of wizarding stock, she detained the intruders by means of the Petrificus Totalus charm until Obliviators from the Ministry of Magic arrived.
‘Obliviators?’ Daniel questioned, and Albus nodded, scanning the rest of the article before letting the paper drop.
‘Yeah,’ he confirmed that his friend had heard properly. ‘They work at the Ministry. They wipe muggles’ memories if they see something that they shouldn’t have seen.’
Nathan swallowed. ‘I hope they never do that to my Dad,’ he whispered.
‘Don’t worry, mate,’ Louis placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘They won’t. He’s allowed to know, because of you.’ Louis shook his long fringe away from his eyes. ‘Is that it, Al?’
‘Pretty much,’ the other boy nodded. ‘The rest of it is all about the Ministry trying to cover it up, trying to stop the Prophet from reporting it.’
‘Dad says that lots of the muggle newspapers just print lies to get people worried about things,’ Nathan spoke up again. ‘I guess I can see why the Ministry didn’t want them to publish this.’
‘Yeah, you’re right,’ Albus assented. ‘This does fit in well with what we’re studying in History, though, doesn’t it?
Monday’s timetable took the Slytherins to Professor Kennedy’s penthouse classroom after morning break, and – after their conversation at breakfast – none of the boys were at all surprised to see their teacher holding up a copy of that morning’s Daily Prophet.
‘Morning, all,’ Kennedy greeted them, perched on the front of his desk. ‘I imagine many of you will have read today’s front page.’ A murmur of agreement bubbled around the room. ‘Interesting, don’t you think?’ He picked up a drawing pin from the desk beside him and fastened the newspaper to the classroom wall with a flourish. ‘Now, tell me what you think when you read that headline. What questions does it make you want to ask?’
Daniel raised his hand first. ‘Who were they?’
‘A fair question, Mr Hamilton,’ the teacher assented, ‘and one that the Prophet is furious it cannot answer. Mr Stretton?’ Kennedy turned to the tawny-haired Ravenclaw.
‘How did they get in?’
‘How do you think?’ Miranda Skeeter interrupted, sarcastically. ‘Through the door, can’t you read?’ The girls seated around Miranda snorted with spiteful laughter, and Toby reddened instantly.
‘I knew that,’ he defended himself. ‘That’s not what I meant, I meant… How did they know it was there? Isn’t it protected?’
‘Indeed it is,’ Kennedy confirmed, casting a derogatory gaze towards Miranda and her cronies. ‘Take two points to Ravenclaw, Mr Stretton,’ he swallowed. ‘It could have been five, had certain individuals learned a little more respect for mistakes.’ The teacher shook his head. ‘We all know the location of the Leaky Cauldron, but it’s invisible to muggles; nothing but a rotten old door next to Macari’s on the Charing Cross Road. Does anyone know what the name of the spell is that protects it from Muggle eyes?’ Rose’s hand shot upwards before the teacher finished his question, but Kennedy opted to ask Nathan instead.
‘Is it Fidelius?’ The blond boy offered, tentatively. ‘When someone has to tell you about it for you to know that it’s there?’
The teacher smiled. ‘Most impressive knowledge, particularly for a muggle-born,’ he nodded. ‘Five points to Slytherin. So, the first part of our question has been answered, however… Louis?’
‘We know how they got in,’ he summarised, ‘but we don’t know who told them how to do it.’
Kennedy nodded. ‘Or…’
Alexander raised a hand. ‘Why they did it?’
‘Now you’re thinking like a Historian,’ the teacher concluded, a wide grin spreading across his face. ‘As usual, it’s all about that one key question – Why? Why would anyone want to tear up the Statute of Secrecy like this?’ Kennedy sat back down on his desk.
‘What usually happens when someone’s guilty of breaking the Statute?’ Albus spoke for the first time in the lesson.
‘That depends,’ the teacher acknowledged the boy’s question, ‘on how big the breach is. Does anyone know which part of the statute is most commonly breached?’
‘Correct,’ Kennedy nodded, ‘and another two points to Ravenclaw. Clause 73 – also known as “Keep Your Bloody Monster in the Loch” – generally leads to a fine of a few hundred galleons, and a slap on the wrist, but deliberately exposing our world to Muggles… well, that’s a different kettle of kelpies altogether,’ he paused, musing. ‘I imagine that enough of you collect chocolate frog cards to be familiar with the life of Carlotta Pinkstone?’
A few boys murmured, and Toby raised his hand to double-check his understanding. ‘She kept doing magic in front of muggles, didn’t she, and ended up in Azkaban for it?’
‘There are a few finer details, Mr Stretton, but you have the general idea spot-on,’ the teacher confirmed, beginning to lecture. ‘She is the most recent, and perhaps the most famous, public opponent of the Statute in the 325 years since it passed into law…’
‘Hey, Snakes!’ Miranda’s distinctive cackle echoed down the staircase outside the classroom after Kennedy had dismissed the class. ‘I don’t really care about the Statute of Secrecy, but have you read what was on Page 9?’ She strutted towards the boys, flicking through the newspaper before holding up a bold headline that ran across the lower half of the page.
EXCLUSIVE: WHAT’S YOUR CHILD GOING TO SCHOOL WITH?
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has once again endangered the health and welfare of its students through the admission of pupils of non-human origin, writes Rita Skeeter. This newspaper can exclusively reveal that this year’s intake of students counts amongst its number a boy of Veela origin, a genetic rarity for which there is very little recorded precedent.
‘Oh, fuck…’ Albus staggered backwards as he read the start of the article, immediately realising that he was to blame for the journalist’s scoop.
‘Enjoy your bedtime reading, half-breed!’ Miranda crowed with laughter, thrusting the story toward Louis’ face before striding on, past the boys and down the staircase. Daniel reacted first, grabbing hold of the newspaper, crumpling it up into a ball before hurling it after the Ravenclaw girl, only to see it disintegrate into pages as it floated down the staircase.
‘Ignore her,’ Nathan hissed, taking hold of his friend’s hand, before recoiling as he felt the sharp prick of nascent talons that were once the boy’s nails. ‘Louis,’ his voice squeaked. ‘We don’t care,’ he grabbed the redhead’s wrist, steeling himself to stare into what he knew would be wide, black eyes. ‘It doesn’t matter what she thinks. Slytherins Stick Together.’
Albus nodded, clearing his throat before adding his voice to his housemate’s defiance. ‘Nathan’s right, Louis,’ he insisted. ‘You can’t let her win like this. Slytherins Stick Together.’
‘It’s not just Slytherins,’ Toby Stretton gathered the courage to speak out. ‘Like we said before, it doesn’t matter what House you’re in… and we mean it. I don’t care if that bitch is in Ravenclaw with us, she’s nothing like me!’
‘And it doesn’t matter if you’re half- or quarter-Veela,’ Alexander Corner backed his housemate. ‘You’re still you, you’re still Louis!’
Louis blinked his wide eyes shut as he heard his own name, opening them again to reveal the flash of blue irises.
‘Louis!’ Nathan repeated, refusing to let go of the other boy’s wrist. ‘Louis! We’re not going anywhere! You’re still our friend!’
The redhead choked on a lungful of breath, slipping into a coughing fit as he stumbled into an alcove on the side of the stairwell, before slowly edging the red rims of his eyes open again.
‘Shit,’ Louis mumbled, nervously looking at the still-sharp tips of his fingernails. ‘Sorry, I…’
‘Don’t apologise,’ Daniel cut him off, abruptly. ‘Nothing here’s your fault.’
‘Thank you,’ the other boy smiled, weakly.
‘It’s okay,’ Albus answered for his friend. ‘We got you into this mess. We’ll get you out of it.’