Whether or not it was a coincidence that Rita Skeeter’s callous instructions had fallen into Alexander’s hands, Albus’ prediction proved correct, and the journalist’s daughter – whilst hardly civil – was no longer outwardly hostile to the first-year boys. The story of the confrontation in the Defence lesson had quickly spread across the school, raising the boys’ profile amongst all four Houses.
Albus’ actions even drew approval from his older brother, who termed the eleven-year-old’s bravery his “Gryffindor Streak”. James did, however, qualify his praise by reminding Albus that he still held the family record for the earliest detention in a school year, a claim that made Professor McGonagall chuckle as she overheard it amongst the two brothers’ banter.
That first detention, assigned by Dylan Jenkins, the Defence Professor, consisted of nothing more than the tedious copying-out of lines that repeated, “I will not attack another student.” Whilst monotonous, it did at least allow the eleven-year-old to affirm his friendship with Scorpius Malfoy, as the boys wrote messages to one another on a third sheet of parchment as they completed their lines.
Albus’ second punishment was left to his own Head of House, who opted to task the boy with assisting his NEWT students in an additional Transfiguration class one late evening: to do “the incredibly dull bits of this practical that nobody else has the time or inclination to bother with”. This was a chore that stretched to fetching and carrying equipment – the summoning charm proving hazardous in a cramped classroom – and cleaning up the mess of experiments gone wrong.
‘Albus?’ Professor Bennett called the boy over as the seventh-years filed out of the room. ‘Thank you for today.’
The boy blinked. ‘Sir…?’ He stuttered. ‘I was in detention?’
The teacher smiled. ‘I know that, mate. You were still a great help. Take five points for Slytherin.’
‘But…’ Albus reddened.
‘You stood up for a boy you didn’t know,’ Greg summarised. ‘You might not have picked the best way to do it,’ he grinned, ‘but you still did it, and when I think about the last time I talked to you, it’s such a world away. I’m proud of you, Al.’
The eleven-year old reflected the teacher’s smile. ‘Thank you, sir,’ he beamed.
‘No problem,’ Greg acknowledged. ‘I see you guys have made firm friends with the Ravenclaws,’ he observed.
Albus nodded. ‘They were the first ones to, to…’ he swallowed, realising what he was about to say, before taking a deep breath. ‘To stick up for Louis when me and Dan were being idiots.’
‘If I hadn’t have given you five points just now, I’d be giving you another five for that,’ the teacher rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder. ‘How much have you grown up these last few weeks?’ Greg asked, rhetorically.
Albus blushed again. ‘Thanks, sir…’
‘Just remember,’ the man cautioned, ‘don’t grow up too fast,’ he deadpanned. ‘Otherwise you won’t appreciate just how funny “PIES” is.’
Albus laughed. ‘I think it’s too late for that, sir!’
With the squabbles of the start of term resolved – or, at least, observing unwritten truces – the first-years attention could turn fully towards their school life, in and out of the classroom. Each of the boys found that different subjects suited their skills and their wands in different ways, and with a little teamwork, all the children were regularly achieving passing grades or better in all of their classes.
As the term wore onwards, and the nights drew in towards Halloween, the school’s thoughts began to turn towards Quidditch. The school season would begin at the weekend with the traditional opening fixture between Slytherin and Gryffindor, but before that there was the small matter of the Dorset Derby.
Puddlemere United had played the Wimbourne Wasps on Halloween evening for as long as anybody at Hogwarts, staff or student, could remember, and with the two sides setting the early-season pace in the British and Irish Quidditch League, few Dorset Derbies had been anticipated quite as eagerly.
The Slytherins were no exception, and having settled in to the routine of boarding school life, the Weasley cousins had encouraged enough interest in the two muggle-borns for both Nathan and Daniel to paying close attention to the crackling radio that sat in one corner of the room.
There were, in fact, seven children gathered in the first-years’ dormitory – at Professor Bennett’s suggestion, the four Ravenclaw boys had been invited into the dungeon for the evening. The only absentee was Louis, for Tuesday night was Slytherin’s scheduled practice night, and with the first game of the season only four days away, Sammy had insisted on his whole squad’s attendance.
‘How come you’ve brought that massive book with you, Xan?’ Nathan teased his friend as the children waited for the pre-game adverts to give way to Dean Thomas’ familiar voice.
The black-haired Ravenclaw shrugged. ‘You know I don’t like Quidditch that much,’ he explained, ‘and it’s really interesting, too; it’s all about how people turn out magical or not, and where squibs come from, like what we’re doing in History at the minute.’
‘Don’t let him get started!’ Toby, Alexander’s housemate and best friend, laughed. ‘He goes on about it for hours! He’s even started drawing family trees, covered with all sorts of things I don’t understand...’
Alexander rolled his eyes. ‘I keep telling you, it’s easy, everyone gets half their genetics from their mum, and half from their Dad…’
‘Hey, Xan, school’s finished!’ Albus turned up the volume dial on the old radio. ‘Quidditch is on!’
‘You’re listening to the Wizarding Wireless Network – WWN 5 – the home of the British and Irish Quidditch League. I’m sure tonight’s game needs no introduction, but I’m paid to do this part of the job, so you’re getting one anyway.’ The enthusiasm in Dean Thomas’ voice drew the attention of all the boys – even Alexander – towards the radio.
‘We’re live on the Isle of Purbeck for what is, without doubt, the biggest game of the league season so far. The Wimbourne Wasps, arguably the form team of the division with six wins in their last seven games, take the short trip across Dorset to meet their fierce rivals, league leaders Puddlemere United. A win tonight could send the Wasps top of the table for the first time in four years, and with their Champions League campaign in full swing, it’s a brave man who’ll bet against them.’ Dean took a breath. ‘Now, the players are ready, the crowd is too, so it’s time for me to hand you over to our commentary team of Dan Beretta and Dan Buckley.’
Greg Bennett laughed aloud as the two commentators were introduced to the radio audience. ‘They’re just the same as ever,’ he grinned.
Oliver Wood shook his head in resigned amusement, reaching for a bottle of butterbeer as he settled into a deep recliner near the staffroom bar. ‘They were ridiculous,’ he recalled. ‘Utterly bloody mental. I don’t know how you concentrated with them going on and on all the time.’
‘I just blocked it out,’ Neal Kennedy thought back to his own experience as a player at Hogwarts. ‘Like the weather, like the noise of the crowd.’
‘Like everything but the snitch,’ Greg nodded his agreement. ‘Lose concentration on that for one moment and you might just lose the game.’
Wood smirked. ‘Not that you did that very often, eh Bennett?’
Greg grinned. ‘We won a few games,’ he admitted, ‘a trophy or two.’
The Quidditch coach sighed. ‘I still haven’t seen a better team flying here than the seven you could put out in your final year… you could all have turned pro if you’d wanted to.’
Greg paused, quickly counting on his fingers. ‘Four out of seven’s not bad,’ he protested. ‘There are other jobs in the world worth doing as well as playing Quidditch, you know.’
‘Four?’ Wood queried. ‘Obviously Zac and Theo are playing tonight, and Morgan’s playing for the Catapults, but…’
‘Leif,’ Greg answered simply. ‘Karasjok Kites. He’s already played for Iceland.’ The Slytherin turned to his fellow Housemaster. ‘What about you, Neal?’ He challenged, playfully. ‘How many of your old team-mates are playing pro?’
Neal frowned. ‘Charlie Sullivan’s still at the Arrows,’ he argued, ‘and Tommy Kelly had a couple of years at Falmouth…’
‘So one, then?’ Greg grinned, before coughing on his own butterbeer as the Ravenclaw hit him with a tickling charm. ‘Bloody hell, Neal,’ he giggled, ‘grow up!’
‘You’re one to talk,’ Wood regarded the squabbling teachers with an expression of utmost mirth. ‘Now, both of you, knock it off or you’ll find yourselves cleaning cauldrons.’
Neal saluted his colleague deferentially. ‘Sorry, sir,’ he intoned, releasing Greg from the effects of the charm as he did so, and letting the three adults, like so many other children across the school, listen to the two Dans’ analysis of the line-ups.
‘Well, Dan,’ Beretta began his piece, his voice no less excitable than it had been from the tower of the Hogwarts Pitch during his own schooldays. ‘I know the Wasps are hot at the minute, but I just can’t see past this United chaser line on home turf. Zakis and Kyle have been playing here on Purbeck for so long I could swear they’re almost telepathic, and Zac Davies has slipped into the gap left by Silas Webster’s retirement more smoothly than anyone could ever have wished for.’
‘Maybe, Dan,’ Buckley responded, the Northern vowels that slowed his speech all the more noticeable when paired with his partner’s energy, ‘but you’re forgetting one thing. If there’s anyone on the circuit who knows Zac Davies’ play well enough to take him out of the game, it’s the man with the Wimbourne Wasps’ beater jersey on his back, Theo Forrest. Don’t forget Forrest went to school with Davies, playing on the same House team for seven years.’
Beretta acknowledged his colleague’s point. ‘Well said, Dan, well said. But will he be able to put those years of friendship behind him and land the killer blow if his team needs it tonight?’
Greg snorted. ‘You can tell he wasn’t in our House,’ he observed. ‘Theo’s not going to need any encouraging to take Zac down, you can trust me on that.’
‘So you’re backing the Wasps tonight, then?’ Wood challenged his colleague, and Greg grimaced.
‘Not backing them in that I’m going to put money on them against you,’ he correctly second-guessed the Quidditch coach’s intent, ‘but I’m supporting them tonight! Theo’s my best mate… and I’ve lived with him for five years – twelve if you count Hogwarts, too.’
‘Fair enough,’ Oliver conceded. ‘What about you, then, Kennedy?’ He turned his attention to the Head of Ravenclaw. ‘Where’s your money tonight?’
‘In my pocket, mate,’ Neal grinned. ‘I’m just gonna sit here and enjoy the fireworks.’
The commentary for the second period had just begun when Louis Weasley forced his way into the first-years’ dormitory with an exhausted groan.
‘Louis?’ Alexander was the only boy to look up at the redhead’s presence. ‘You alright?’
Louis grunted an acknowledgement of his friend’s concern. ‘Need a shower,’ he mumbled. ‘Can you throw my PJs?’
Alexander complied with the other boy’s request, tossing a pair of red and blue shorts across the room, before settling back into his textbook, oblivious to the shouts and cheers that echoed from the wireless, as well as the hiss of running water that droned behind the bathroom door.
‘Louis?’ The Ravenclaw repeated his wary greeting as his friend returned to the dormitory a handful of minutes later, cagily holding his mud-stained Quidditch robes over his right shoulder.
Alexander lowered his textbook, making eye contact with the other boy. ‘Good practice?’
‘Yes,’ Louis answered, gruffly. ‘Fine,’ he turned away, making to join the crowd around the wireless, only for the robes to catch on the handle of the closing door and fall to the ground.
‘Louis!’ Alexander shrieked, loudly enough to attract the attention of the other boys, who turned to see a deep gash scored along the redhead’s upper arm, and reacted with a chorus of shock, concern and no little bad language.
‘Shit, mate,’ Albus’ exclamation was one of the more restrained responses. ‘What happened?’
Louis reddened. ‘I’m fine,’ he muttered. ‘It’s just a scratch; I fell off…’
‘That’s a fucking awful lie, Louis,’ Daniel observed, crudely, and the seeker’s face fell. ‘Who did you think would believe that?’
Louis shook his head, despondently, as his eyes began to rim with tears. ‘I don’t know…’ He spluttered. ‘I…’
‘Sit down, Louis,’ Scorpius stood up, vacating a space on the bed nearest the wireless, and the Slytherin was in no state to disobey the instruction. ‘You can’t leave it like this,’ he concluded quickly, running his eyes up and down his friend’s arm. ‘Would you mind if I tried cleaning it up? I know a couple of spells…’
The redhead nodded. Nobody had argued with Scorpius over spellwork since his duel with Miranda, and the little Ravenclaw cleared his throat as he lifted his wand.
‘Tergeo,’ he whispered, holding his wand six inches above Louis’ cut and running it slowly along the length of the injury. ‘That’s better,’ he smiled, thinly, as the dried blood along the other boy’s arm melted away, leaving only the scar itself. ‘Episkey,’ Scorpius circled his wand above the Slytherin’s arm, before gently touching it against the wound.
Louis screwed up his eyes, wincing with pain as fresh tears escaped from them whilst the cut slowly sealed itself. ‘Ow… Ah… Ouch…’ He grimaced, struggling to silence himself.
‘Sorry,’ Scorpius whimpered, stumbling back from the injured boy. ‘I’m not good enough yet, I can’t always stop it hurting when it heals up,’ he blinked, feeling moisture in his own eyes.
Nathan held out an arm, blocking the blond Ravenclaw’s untidy stumble. ‘That was amazing, Scorp,’ he breathed. ‘It hurts when you wash a cut, doesn’t it, so healing it like this must hurt a bit…’
Louis exhaled sharply, forcing a deep breath as he forced his eyes shut. ‘It’s fine,’ he insisted, clenching his fist as the last traces of the injury faded away. ‘Episkey always hurts when my Mum does it.’ The redhead shuddered. ‘Thank you, Scorpius,’ he smiled, weakly.
‘Yeah,’ Albus agreed, ‘that was incredible.’
‘How did you learn it?’ Felix Ashworth had watched the whole process with rapt attention.
The blond boy shrugged. ‘Same way I learnt the other spells,’ he looked down. ‘I read about them, then I had lots of practice…’
‘But when…?’ Felix pestered.
Scorpius looked sharply up at his housemate. ‘I didn’t have many friends, alright?’
Felix swallowed, abashed. ‘Shit,’ he mumbled to himself. ‘Sorry, Scorp, I… I didn’t…’
‘It’s okay,’ Toby talked over the other Ravenclaw. ‘You have now, right?’
Scorpius beamed, and Felix let out a quiet sigh of relief.
‘Finished?’ Daniel interjected. ‘Cause there’s a Quidditch match on, in case you’ve all forgotten…’ He turned back to the wireless, reaching for the volume dial.
‘Ugh,’ Louis groaned, ‘I’ve had enough Quidditch for one night,’ he watched his friends’ attention scoot back across the dormitory towards the radio as his own eyes headed in the opposite direction. ‘What are you reading, Xan?’ He lowered his voice.
‘Stuff…’ the Ravenclaw grumbled.
Louis bit his lip, remembering how bluntly he’d shrugged off the other boy’s greetings moments before. ‘Sorry I sort of ignored you, Xan,’ he confessed.
The dark-haired boy brightened. ‘That’s okay, Louis,’ Alexander acknowledged. ‘I’m reading about genetics,’ he offered, cagily. ‘About what happens when you’re born, what you get from your Mum and Dad.’
Louis’ eyes widened, his interest piqued. ‘Like,’ he swallowed. ‘You mean, like, being half, half…’
‘Half-Veela?’ Alexander correctly predicted the end of the other boy’s question, and the Slytherin nodded, bashfully. ‘Yeah.’ The Ravenclaw took a deep breath, flicking back a few pages in the textbook as he strove to find an explanation for his friend.
‘We’re all made up of something called DNA,’ he began. ‘You get half of it from your Mum, and half from your Dad. One part of your DNA, called a chromosome, decides what sex you’re going to be, boy or girl. All girls are XX, and all boys are XY. Like I said, you get half from your Mum, so that’s always an X, and half from your Dad, so that’s X or Y, and that decides if you’re a girl or a boy.’
Louis nodded, guardedly. ‘I think I get it,’ he pronounced, ‘but what’s that got to do with Veelas?’
Alexander flicked forwards a couple of pages in the book. ‘Well, what they think is that Veela chromosomes are special. They can either be VV, which is a full Veela, or VX, which is half-Veela.’
‘But my Mum’s quarter-Veela…’ Louis began to protest, but the Ravenclaw cut him off.
‘She can’t be,’ he observed, coolly. ‘Her Mum must have given her a V, and her Dad must have given her an X – so she’s VX, half-Veela.’
Louis blinked, staring at the diagram on the pages in front of him. ‘Um,’ he swallowed, ‘I guess that makes sense,’ he theorised. ‘She’s got the same powers as Grandma…’
‘What about your sisters?’ Alexander pressed. ‘Are they the same too?’
Louis nodded. ‘So they must be half-Veela, too?’
‘Yeah,’ Alexander agreed.
‘What about boys, though?’ Louis grew more interested. ‘What does it say about them,’ he corrected himself, ‘about us?’
Alexander grimaced. ‘Well…’ he began, only for a huge explosion of sound to echo from the wireless in the corner of the room, and cut his explanation short.
‘What the fuck?’ Daniel swore badly, suddenly panicking as the familiar commentary fell silent. ‘What the fuck was that?’
Across the corridors of the school, the staffroom had also fallen completely silent, except for the now-redundant hiss from the otherwise voiceless radio set.
Greg swallowed, feeling his mouth drying out, and hastily grabbed for his butterbeer. ‘Please tell me that wasn’t what I think it was,’ he stammered.
Neal glanced hurriedly towards Oliver, who shook his head. ‘I think we all know what that was, Greg,’ he reasoned. ‘I’m sorry…’
‘Fuck!’ The Slytherin lashed out, bringing his fist crashing down on the arm of his chair as he swore, loudly, before taking a deep breath as he gathered his composure. ‘We need to go to our Houses,’ he announced. ‘Imagine how many of them were listening to that,’ he shuddered, ‘and how many of them have got family there. Now imagine…’
Neal cut his colleague off, mid-sentence. ‘Okay, mate,’ he nodded, ‘we get the picture. Come on,’ he flicked his wand towards the staffroom wireless, silencing its hiss. ‘No time to lose.’
‘Well said,’ Oliver roused himself, regarding the Slytherin teacher with a stunned gaze, ‘but what about Theo, and…’
‘They can look after themselves,’ Greg declared, getting to his feet. ‘It might be the Gryffindor thing to do to go rushing in, but as a Slytherin I’ve kind of figured out that Apparating into the middle of what’s probably a mass panic is not the smartest idea in the world.’
Oliver nodded, abashed. ‘Sound advice, mate,’ he acknowledged. ‘Just what I wanted to tell the little lions when they demand to do something about it,’ the Gryffindor managed a thin smile.
Greg looked back at his colleague, incredulous. ‘Sure, Oliver,’ he smirked, struggling to contain a giggle. ‘Glad to be of assistance.’
It took the Head of House less than three minutes to skirt the perimeter corridor of the castle and twist down towards the dungeon passageway. ‘Kingskerswell,’ he held his wand against the marble wall, bracing himself for the anarchy that he knew would almost certainly lie behind. What he hadn’t expected was for his entrance to be greeted by a wall of wands.
‘Professor…?’ Sammy stuttered, glancing quickly to his left and right to check that his fellow seventh-years still flanked him. ‘Carl, Ollie,’ he commanded his Quidditch team mates. ‘Don’t lower your wands.’
‘What?’ Ollie Marsh, the blond keeper gasped. ‘Are you mad?’
‘Just do it,’ Sammy snapped, and the other boy was too stunned to argue back. ‘Professor,’ the captain dwelt on the man’s title. ‘Focus, Understanding, Concentration…’
Greg’s eyes widened. ‘Knowledge,’ he answered the teenager’s riddle, and watched in impressed relief as the seventh-year lowered his wand. ‘Well done, Sam,’ he nodded, aware that the common room had fallen silent.
‘Thank you, sir,’ the boy mumbled, his earlier confidence seemingly having evaporated.
‘Sorry,’ Ollie Marsh interrupted, still unsure whether or not his wand ought to be raised, ‘but can somebody please explain to me what the bloody hell is going on?’
The professor allowed himself a smile. ‘Mr Kerrigan was making sure I was who I claimed to be,’ he explained, ‘and fair enough, I’d say, as I assume most of you have just been listening to the Quidditch on WWN.’ A quiet murmur of agreement rippled through the common room. ‘Well done,’ the man repeated. ‘Twenty points to Slytherin,’ Greg took a deep breath, calming himself as his eyes darted around the room, ‘and time for a House meeting too, don’t you think?’
The professor took his chance to drop onto the nearest sofa as he watched a handful of prefects head for the spiral staircase to flush out any children who remained below. ‘Sam,’ he called, quietly, beckoning the seventh-year towards him. ‘I had expected chaos,’ Greg confessed.
The boy smiled, thinly. ‘We’re Slytherin,’ he offered. ‘We don’t do chaos. It’s Weasley and Jenkins who’ve got problems.’
The teacher nodded, approvingly, the shadow of a grin crossing his lips. ‘I see I needn’t have worried.’
‘We sort of get used to looking after ourselves down here, sir,’ Sammy began, only for Greg to cut him off.
‘I know that, mate,’ he acknowledged. ‘I know that as well as anyone.’
‘Oh,’ the seventh-year’s head dropped. ‘I’m sorry, sir, I forgot…’
‘It’s why we end up Sticking Together,’ it was clear to the boy listening that the man’s last two words would have been written with capitals, ‘and I’m proud of it.’ Greg clapped a strong arm across the seventh-year’s shoulders, unconcerned by the fact that the boy was now taller than him, and got to his feet as one of the prefects ushered the last of the stragglers up the staircase.
‘Evening, all,’ the teacher addressed the impromptu gathering. ‘Ravenclaws?’ He acknowledged the four first-year boys, huddled nervously together amidst their Slytherin friends. ‘I can promise you chaps this doesn’t happen every night down here.’ He smiled as he watched the blue-clad children relax at his remark, and took a step backwards so that he could view the whole common room. ‘Now,’ his voice grew more serious. ‘I trust you’ve all worked out why we’re here. Something has happened in Dorset, at the Puddlemere-Wimbourne Quidditch match. I don’t know what. You don’t know what.’ He paused, expecting a whisper of conspiracies, before reminding himself that his House were unlikely to jump to conclusions without any evidence.
‘I do know, however,’ he continued, ‘that whatever has happened, that Aurors and Healers will now be there, and that if anyone’s family – or friends,’ the man faltered briefly, ‘have been affected, then you will know the details as soon as it is feasible for us to allow it.’ He stopped short of any further promises, unwilling to lie and equally positive that the Slytherins would fully appreciate his choice of words. ‘Congratulations on your calm behaviour this evening,’ he changed the subject subtly. ‘You have made my job very easy,’ he smiled. ‘Now, I will be here for the next hour or so in case there are any further… developments… or if anyone wishes to talk. Perhaps it would be a good idea to see if the wireless is back on?