It came as little surprise to anyone but the most inattentive student that the following morning’s arrival of owls amidst the breakfast tables was a good deal busier – and noisier – than a typical daily delivery. The bustle was of little interest to the four first-year Slytherins, but the content of the front page of the Daily Prophet definitely was.
DISORDER DOWNS DORSET DERBY
Last night’s table-topping British and Irish Quidditch League fixture between Puddlemere United and the Wimbourne Wasps was abandoned midway through the second period, following a co-ordinated terrorist attack consisting of a number of loud explosions and smoke bombs. Benedict Bryant was covering the game for the Daily Prophet.
Puddlemere were leading, 130-100, when the first of the blasts went off, 25 minutes after the interval. WWN’s live commentary was knocked off the air, and the Martyrs Stadium was plunged into pitch darkness for a handful of seconds. The blackout did not last for long, but the combination of several hundred Lumos spells that followed allowed the gathered crowd to see a series of blasts that shook the arena. Each explosion appeared to detonate on command, and from beneath a veil of invisibility.
The blasts, deafeningly loud in volume, continued for just under a minute, leaving the stadium shrouded in a cloud of thick, white smoke, which hung maliciously in the Dorset air for several minutes until the efforts of the attendant Aurors managed to disperse the fog.
Referee Albert Lassiter was left with no option but to abandon the match, a decision that was quite rightly justified by Puddlemere United officials and the British and Irish Quidditch League as having been made with spectator safety in mind.
Healers from St Mungo’s Hospital have reported that, of the 159 patients admitted following yesterday’s fixture, none have life-threatening injuries. 91 people have been treated for the effects of a crush brought on by panic in one of the stands, 67 for smoke inhalation and one for pouring hot chocolate down his front in his excitement at Zac Davies’ opening goal. The Ministry of Magic have released a statement that their enquiries are ongoing, and that two men have been arrested in connection with the incident.
‘Loud explosions,’ Nathan echoed the words he’d read, ‘and lots of smoke? Nothing else?’ He shuddered. ‘That sounds a lot like…’
Daniel completed his friend’s sentence. ‘Like Oxford,’ he exhaled.
‘I wonder who the men were?’ Nathan thought aloud. ‘I mean, if they’ve caught someone, that’ll be it, won’t it?’
Albus shook his head, sadly. ‘Not if there’s someone else behind all this. They could have sent them in to do it, then wiped their memories of everything else.’ He shuddered. ‘We might just end up with two innocent men in Azkaban.’
Louis sighed. ‘You can tell your Dad’s the Head Auror,’ he observed, sadly, recognising the instant truth in his cousin’s analysis.
‘So what do we do now, then?’ Daniel shivered. ‘There’s got to be some connection with this and Oxford,’ he persisted, ‘and that means Connor.’
‘It might not,’ Albus began to argue, but Nathan cut him off.
‘Coincidence, right?’ The blond boy rolled his eyes. ‘Don’t even think about saying it.’
The only lesson that Slytherin and Ravenclaw shared on Wednesdays was the final period of the day, out on the Quidditch pitch. Flying always gave the boys an opportunity to chat, but equally it offered Miranda, and her band of hangers-on, the chance to stir up trouble.
‘Hey, snake charmers,’ she interrupted the Ravenclaw boys as they joined their Slytherin friends. ‘I’d be careful hanging around them if I were you.’
‘Fuck off, Skeeter,’ Felix snapped back, first, provoking the girl into a typical sneer.
‘Ooh,’ she taunted. ‘Does your mother know you use such horrible language?’
Albus rolled his eyes. ‘Does your mother know you’re an ugly, scheming, manipulative bitch? Or does she think you take after your dad instead?’
‘You want to be careful too, Potter,’ she spat, ‘if what I’ve heard is true. Apparently those two people they arrested last night at the Quidditch game… they were muggles,’ she leered at Daniel and Nathan, who stared furiously back. ‘You might want to keep an eye on them.’
‘Fuck you!’ Daniel yelled, striding forwards towards the girl. ‘Anyway, what about the muggle in your little gang?’
Miranda smirked. ‘Oh, she’s not like you,’ the girl simpered. ‘She’s got no interest in her dirty old muggle friends any more.’
Daniel’s face burned red. ‘You can fucking leave Connor out of this, you bitch,’ he seethed, ‘besides, how the fuck do you know…’
‘Who else would write to you?’ Miranda’s eyes sparkled as she turned around, leaving Daniel to hurl the worst swear word he could imagine across the turf at the departing girl.
‘Mr Hamilton?’ Professor Wood interrupted, arriving on the scene too late to prevent the argument from spiralling out of control. ‘You know that language is completely unacceptable, not only here but anywhere. Twenty-five points from Slytherin,’ his voice cut coldly across the field, ‘and detention.’
Daniel slunk back towards his friends, the flush on his face shifting from anger to embarrassment.
‘It’s okay, mate,’ Louis consoled him. ‘I bet she’s gonna try doing this to all of us.’ He swallowed, turning to face Nathan, pale and shivering despite Toby’s efforts to reassure him. ‘Ignore her, Nath,’ he insisted. ‘Even if she’s telling the truth, and they are muggles, that doesn’t change anything. You stuck with me and I’m gonna stick with you.’
‘Thanks, Louis,’ Nathan managed a thin smile, noticing that a couple of the other boys had drawn closer to him, ‘and everyone.’
Toby nodded, uncomfortably. ‘Guys,’ he stuttered. ‘Do you mind if we come and do our homework in the dungeon tonight?’
Albus grinned. ‘Of course you can, mate. Did you think we’d leave you with her?’
Greg had tried to floo-call Flint Avenue three times already before his fourth attempt was answered late on that Wednesday evening. ‘Theo!’ He gasped, sighting his friend as the other man sat, exhausted, on his sofa.
‘Greg,’ the Quidditch player turned, acknowledging his friend’s face. ‘How are you?’
The teacher rolled his eyes. ‘Mate,’ he insisted, ‘you know that you shouldn’t be the one asking me that question.’
Theo smiled, wanly. ‘Well, I just did,’ he answered back, ‘sir.’
Greg breathed a long sigh of relief. ‘I suppose, if you’re well enough to take the piss…’ He caught himself glaring at his friend as if the other man were a disobedient first-year. ‘Can I come in?’
‘It’s your flat, too,’ Theo made no effort to move in acknowledgement, only remembering himself as his housemate clambered through the fireplace and slowly struggling upwards.
‘Sit down,’ Greg ordered, lapsing again into tone of voice more suited to the classroom, and readying himself for the sarcastic reply.
‘Yes, sir,’ Theo muttered.
Greg smirked, deciding to carry on the charade. ‘You had better watch your tongue, Mr Forrest, or you’ll find yourself in a great deal of trouble, young man.’
Theo snorted a laugh. ‘But sir…’ He whined.
‘But nothing,’ Greg cut him off. ‘You need to learn to do what you’re told. Now sit there, whilst I sort us out a nice big curry, and you tell me exactly what happened last night…’
‘Yes, sir.’ Theo added one last smart remark, before letting go of the illusion of the role-play. ‘It was fucking mental…’ he sighed, aloud. ‘It was like everything just stopped in the moment when the first bomb exploded. The crowd started screaming, louder and louder as the rest of them went off, even after people started lighting their wands.’ He took a deep breath, steadying himself. ‘One of the Puddlemere players, I think it was Barry Kyle, realised that a load of kids were getting squashed up against the front of one the stands, so we all ended up flying across the stadium, helping them out and hoping we got there before anyone was crushed.’ The man shuddered, shutting his eyes.
Greg shook his head, struggling to come to terms with his friend’s version of events. ‘Mate,’ he sympathised. ‘That’s awful.’
Theo grunted. ‘It was worse than our first-year,’ he confessed, candidly. ‘When the Hunt came back, and tried to take Josh away, and Glyn did the bloodline thing… it was worse than all of that.’ His sentences began to hurry. ‘That all just happened, almost without thinking about it. This just seemed much more… much more real.’
‘Bloody hell,’ Greg found himself able to do little more than swear in response.
‘Then I had to give a witness account to the Aurors… twice… avoid the media trying to scavenge an interview from someone, and try and fit in time for a warm-down…’
‘When did you get back?’
‘Three o’clock,’ Theo answered , simply. ‘Then up at seven again for a full day’s training.’
Greg nodded, understandingly. ‘Explains why you’re knackered then, mate,’ he concluded. ‘and I don’t blame you for it… Incendio!’ A flame flickered into light beneath a wide, red wok. ‘Give that fifteen minutes, and a little bit of self-stirring spoon action, and we’ll be away.’
‘Thanks, mate,’ Theo acknowledged. ‘So how are your little snakes getting on?’ He changed the subject, and Greg took the hint that the previous night’s game was off-limits as far as the rest of the evening’s conversation went.
‘Not too bad, actually,’ the teacher answered. ‘I went down to the dungeon last night, expecting chaos, and I got the opposite,’ he recalled. ‘Three seventh-years with drawn wands insisting on checking I was who I said I was. Remember Sammy Kerrigan? Our little mascot when we were seventh-years? He was behind it all.’
Theo whistled. ‘Not bad,’ he conceded. ‘I remember Sammy being so excited even to help collect loose quaffles at training that you didn’t have the heart to Accio them all in…’
Greg laughed. ‘I’ll remind him of that, I think. He’s Quidditch captain, now, as well.’ His tone darkened. ‘Sadly, Dan lost us all the points we’d gained this afternoon,’ he sighed, repeating the insult that the boy had used. ‘As much as Miranda Skeeter… yes, her daughter… deserved it, I swear I never knew that word when I was a first-year.’
‘You never grew up with a mother who hated your very existence, though, did you?’ Theo’s voice quietened even as he spoke. ‘You can’t make him stay at that Castle all holiday, Greg. We’ll have him here again if we need to.’
The teacher nodded, simply. ‘I don’t know if it’s gonna be as simple as that, mate,’ he speculated, ‘but thanks for the thoughts.’
‘No worries,’ Theo acknowledged. ‘How’s his Quidditch coming on?’’
Greg shrugged. ‘Alright, I think,’ he offered. ‘Not on any of the House teams, but that’s no surprise for first-years, is it?’
Theo smirked. ‘Not any more.’
‘Louis Weasley’s made the B-Team, mind,’ Greg continued. ‘First games of the season this weekend, too. Gryffindor.’
‘Any spare tickets going?’ Theo raised an eyebrow, and Greg blinked back in surprise.
‘Haven’t you got a match?’
Theo shook his head. ‘Not since about four o’clock,’ he revealed. ‘Whole league’s off this weekend, after, well…’
‘I get it,’ Greg stopped his friend from having to relive the events of the previous evening again, ‘and there’s always a spare ticket for a Quidditch star.’
‘Thanks for helping me out with this, Xan,’ Louis murmured, gazing down at the pages of a Charms textbook.
Alexander smiled. ‘That’s okay, mate,’ he nodded. ‘It’s not like I was going to do anything else tonight, anyway, everyone else is just going to talk Quidditch non-stop.’
‘Yeah,’ the redhead mumbled. ‘Quidditch. The reason I’ve not done any of my homework this week.’ He shivered, stifling a yawn.
‘I guess this is why they never used to let first-years play,’ the Ravenclaw suggested, and his friend didn’t argue.
‘I guess,’ Louis echoed, struggling to focus on a page discussing the differences between the Hover and Levitation Charms. ‘How come I can fly, but I can’t get a stupid feather to?’
Alexander smiled, gently. ‘Why don’t you imagine it’s a broom? Try and think like you do when you’re flying?’
The Slytherin shrugged, gazing doubtfully back at the other boy. ‘You’re serious?’
‘Why not?’ Alexander swallowed, brushing his long fringe of dark hair out of his eyes. ‘I mean,’ he justified his suggestion, ‘it’s not like anything you’ve tried yet has worked, is it?’
Louis winced. ‘No,’ he brushed the back of his wrist across his face, turning away from his friend.
‘Come on, mate,’ the Ravenclaw urged. ‘Give it a try. What have you got to lose?’
‘Alright,’ the redhead gritted his teeth, lifting his wand and angling it towards the single feather that sat on the desk in front of him. ‘Wingardium Leviosa,’ he intoned, only to see the feather roll over limply.
‘Try again,’ Alexander encouraged him. ‘Remember, think like you’re on the broom, think about kicking off the ground when you do the flick.’
Louis nodded, shutting his eyes and taking a deep breath. ‘Wingardium Leviosa!’
‘Louis!’ The Ravenclaw let out an excited yelp. ‘You’re doing it, you’re doing it!’
‘Really?’ He opened his eyes, gasping in surprise, and clutching his wand with both hands as the feather floated unsteadily in mid-air. ‘Wow!’ He hesitated as it wobbled for a moment, but steeled himself to redouble his effort and watch with pride as it edged further upwards. ‘Thanks, Xan!’ The eleven-year-old beamed.
‘It’s fine,’ Alexander acknowledged. ‘Well done, mate.’ He watched the other boy, concentrating fiercely, guide the feather back down to the low table that sat beside the two friends.
Louis exhaled, happily, a wide grin stretching across his freckled face.
‘Hey,’ an idea crossed the Ravenclaw boy’s mind. ‘Do you want to see the rest of that chapter about genetics? You know, the one we were looking at on Tuesday night?’
‘Okay,’ Louis nodded, obligingly, and Alexander found himself reflecting the other boy’s smile.
‘Now,’ he resumed his explanation from the point where the sound of the bomb blast had interrupted the boys’ conversation earlier in the week. ‘You would think that when a Veela gives a V chromosome, and a man gives a Y chromosome, then the child would end up being VY.’
‘That makes sense,’ the Slytherin acknowledged. ‘So that’s what I am, right?’
Alexander shook his head. ‘I doubt it,’ he replied, darkly. ‘If you were, then it would be simple… and there’d be loads, loads more of you.’
‘Oh.’ The excitement that had filled Louis following his successful Levitation Charm ebbed away just as quickly. ‘So what am I, then?’
‘Well,’ Alexander felt his throat beginning to dry out. ‘That’s all that book said,’ he frowned. ‘It said that VY children don’t develop… that the female Veela genes overwhelm the Y chromosome and prevent the embryo from growing at all…’
Louis interrupted. ‘What’s an embryo?’
‘An unborn baby,’ Alexander whispered, ‘but really, really young… maybe only a day old.’
‘Right,’ Louis stared pensively into space. ‘So what you’re saying is that I’m impossible?’ His voice grew fiercer. ‘That I don’t exist? That I can’t exist?’
‘No!’ Alexander snapped. ‘Of course I’m not saying that! You’re there… you’re here, sat in front of me. I just watched you do Wingardium Leviosa!’ He paused, feeling his heart thumping against his chest. ‘You might, you might just be something that nobody’s ever seen before… a black swan.’
Louis bit his lip, forcing himself to hold in the surge of anger that had begun to escape. ‘A black swan…?’
Alexander nodded. ‘Everybody used to think that all swans were white,’ he explained, cautiously. ‘Until they discovered Australia, and someone found a black swan there. A black swan is something that no one expects, that no one thought was possible, something that changes everything.’ He held his friend’s gaze, even as he felt his pulse rushing through his body.
Louis just stared back at the other boy. ‘I…’ he began, clumsily, only for the hurried opening of the dungeon door to distract him from his scrambled thoughts.
‘Louis!’ Sammy Kerrigan shouted across the common room. ‘Thank Merlin…’ he panted. ‘I’ve just seen Bennett… it’s Max Deverill… he’s had to go home to his family, I don’t know why. He can’t play tomorrow…’
The first-year blinked. ‘So…’
‘Louis, you idiot!’ Sammy exclaimed, desperately. ‘Max is our seeker! You’re the reserve!’ He took a deep breath, slowing his voice deliberately. ‘You’ve got to play tomorrow.’
‘Oh, bloody hell…’ the redheaded boy swallowed. ‘Are you serious?’
‘Of course I’m serious!’ The captain barked. ‘What do you think this is, some kind of joke?’
Louis shook his head, hurriedly. ‘No, sir,’ he muttered. ‘Sorry, sir.’
Sammy paused. ‘You don’t need to call me sir, Louis,’ he let his voice mellow, ‘and I shouldn’t have shouted at you. Sorry, mate. I guess this must be a bit of a shock, hey?’
‘Yeah,’ the eleven-year-old had no option but to agree with the older boy.
‘Well, I’m sure you’ll do great,’ the captain smiled. ‘We’ve got a good record with first-years in the team,’ Sammy told him, ‘just ask Professor Bennett.’ The seventh-year’s eyes fell onto the open textbook in front of his seeker. ‘Done all your homework?’ He asked, forcibly casually, before relaxing as he heard the younger boy’s answer. ‘Well, I reckon you want a good night’s sleep, kid. I’m off to find a seeker for the ‘B’s…’
Louis turned his head, watching the seventh-year hurry towards the spiral staircase, before shuddering as he turned back to his friend. ‘Shit,’ he stammered. ‘I guess this is one of those black swan things, too.’
Alexander nodded. ‘That’s just it,’ he observed. ‘You never know when they’re going to come along.’
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