Connor Norris’ eyes darted furtively left, and back right, before the eleven-year-old burst into a sprint, vaulting the ticket barriers at the edge of Ascot station and hurrying for the open doors that led out into the car park. His eyes skated around a second time, quickly locating Charlie Riley’s outstretched hand, and Connor wasted no time in scurrying over to the other boy.
‘Hi, Connor,’ Charlie smiled as the shorter of the two children forced a black beanie hat over his floppy blond hair. ‘Alright?’
The blond boy nodded, sharply. ‘Yeah,’ he muttered. ‘Come on, let’s go!’
Charlie’s eyes narrowed, regarding the other boy with suspicion. ‘It’s not that cold, is it?’
‘Shut up,’ Connor shot back, heading across the vacant tarmac towards a town he didn’t know. ‘Come on,’ he repeated, urgently.
‘What’s wrong?’ Charlie followed, warily, before quickening his step as he noticed the fluorescent jacket of a station attendant peer out of the double door. ‘What did you do?’ He caught up with Connor, finding the blond boy hiding behind a brick wall on the corner of the main road.
Connor glared back, coldly. ‘What are you talking about?’ He challenged the taller boy, holding an unblinking stare.
‘I’m not stupid, Connor,’ Charlie wasn’t cowed by the aggression. ‘You can’t wait to get away from there,’ he lowered his voice, ‘and that guy in the yellow jacket was obviously looking for someone.’ He swallowed. ‘You didn’t steal anything, did you?’
Connor snorted. ‘Is that what you think of me?’ He snarled. ‘He’s poor, so he must be a thief?’
‘I didn’t say that…’ Charlie began to protest. ‘I never even…’
Connor didn’t let him finish his sentence. ‘It’s what you thought, though, isn’t it?’ He felt his fists balling up, and turned away from the boy whom he hadn’t seen in more than a month. ‘It’s what everyone thinks.’
Charlie sighed. ‘Connor…’ He offered, limply. ‘I don’t think that,’ he took a deep breath, ‘but I do know something’s wrong.’
‘Why do you care?’ The blond boy spoke almost entirely to the cold brick beside him. ‘Why do you give a shit what’s wrong?’
‘Cause I thought we were friends!’ Charlie lashed out, shoving the shorter boy away. ‘Obviously not, though.’ He turned his back, hiding his reddened eyes from Connor as he made his way back into the centre of Ascot.
Connor braced himself, wrapping his arms over his head as he prepared for a second assault, before lowering his hands as he realised it had not arrived. ‘Charlie!’ He yelled out, watching the other boy’s head fade into a crowd of half-term shoppers. dashing after him as he called his name again.
‘What?’ This time it was the taller of the two eleven-year-olds who snapped a response. ‘What do you want now?’
Connor closed the gap between the two children, beckoning the dark-haired boy away from the bustle of the pavement and towards an alleyway that led onto a quieter side street. ‘We are friends, aren’t we?’
Charlie stared back, open-mouthed, as he watched Connor’s skin pale. ‘Are we?’ He echoed. ‘Then why…’ He tailed off, suddenly wary of pressing the point that had angered the blond boy just minutes before.
‘I didn’t pay for a train ticket,’ Connor confessed, unprompted. ‘That’s why. I couldn’t afford it, not twenty quid, and the bus doesn’t get anywhere near here. It’s not stealing,’ he panted, his breathing growing shallow. ‘I’m not a thief,’ he insisted, realising as he uttered the words that he was reassuring himself just as much as he was trying to convince the other boy.
‘Connor…’ Charlie stammered. ‘I… shit,’ he shook his head. ‘I didn’t know,’ he whispered. ‘I didn’t know.’
‘Well, you do now,’ Connor replied, coughing as he snatched for another quick breath. ‘So, are we friends?’
Charlie shivered. ‘Do you want to be friends?’
Connor nodded. ‘I should have told you,’ he mumbled.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Charlie shook his head. ‘It doesn’t make a difference.’
‘I wish it didn’t,’ Connor’s face paled, ‘but it does, really it does.’ He glanced up and down the taller boy’s neat jacket and new trainers, suddenly feeling all the more aware of his own scuffed shoes and second-hand jeans. ‘Sorry.’
‘It’s fine,’ Charlie repeated. ‘What matters is we trust each other,’ he sighed, ‘because, let’s face it, no one else does.’ He angled his head along the alleyway. ‘We can get to my house down here,’ he explained, changing the subject.
‘Thanks,’ Connor acknowledged, clumsily, ‘and I am telling the truth about that van, I swear it.’
‘I know,’ Charlie replied. ‘I know.’
The two children made their quiet way through the back streets of Ascot, twisting through leafy lanes and narrow footpaths, linking one empty cul-de-sac with another. Connor forced his hands into the pockets of his jeans as he walked past houses into which his own family’s whole terraced block would have fitted twice over, and gardens that reminded him more of Cutteslowe Park than his own yard.
The boys’ stroll was interrupted, however, when Connor grabbed his friend on the elbow. ‘Stop,’ he hissed. ‘Look, there.’ He pointed over Charlie’s shoulder.
Connor swallowed. ‘It’s the van again. There, at the end of the road, near the church.’
Charlie’s eyes followed the other boy’s outstretched arm. ‘Just Like Magic,’ he read the gaudy green lettering along its side. ‘Just like you said…’
‘Yeah,’ the blond boy exhaled, biting down on his bottom lip. ‘What should we do?’
Charlie looked quickly around. ‘There’s no one else here,’ he observed, ‘and it’s not like they’d believe us, anyway, if we told anyone.’
‘Shall we go and have a look?’ Connor thought aloud. ‘See if there’s anything obvious inside?’
Charlie grimaced. ‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea,’ he argued. ‘I mean, what if someone comes out? No one will even know we were here, or what might have happened.’
The blond boy nodded. ‘You’re right,’ he agreed with his friend’s statement. ‘What if I go and see if I can see anything, and you stay here?’
‘No,’ Charlie shook his head. ‘It’s too open,’ he gestured towards the wide road. ‘If they see you, they’ll see me, too. I’m going into the cutting over there, into the trees.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Be careful, Connor.’
Charlie hastened towards his hiding place, staking out a position tight against a thick tree-trunk. Subtly, he reached for his mobile phone, activating its camera and recording a burst of pictures of the suspicious van. ‘Just Like Magic,’ he muttered to himself. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ He watched, eyes fixed on the black hat on his friend’s head, as the blond boy tiptoed up to the van’s cab, peering through one of the front windows before edging around to the other side of the vehicle.
‘Hey!’ A loud yell echoed over the sleepy lane, sending Charlie tumbling down out of sight, into the shelter of the branches. ‘You!’ It was clearly a man’s voice, Charlie realised, worrying about his friend even as he fought to keep his breathing level and avoid betraying his own presence. ‘What are you doing?’ The voice snarled.
‘Me? Nothing.’ Connor’s feeble answer was as predictable as it was dishonest. ‘Just looking,’ he snatched at an answer. ‘I, um, I…’ He stumbled backwards.
‘Well you should keep your snotty little nose out, then,’ the man sneered. Charlie felt his fists silently clench as he heard the stranger’s abuse, before a sudden flash of white light illuminated the end of the street, instantly followed by a dull thud. ‘That’ll fucking teach you, you dirty little shit.’
Charlie felt his stomach retch, immediately realising what the noise must have been, and his breathing hurriedly quickened as he waited for the gruff roar of the van’s diesel engine to signal its departure. Waiting only long enough to be sure that its driver would not see him in his mirrors, Charlie jumped to his feet and scrambled to the aid of his stricken friend.
‘Connor!’ The eleven-year-old yelled, sliding to his knees beside the other boy. ‘Are you alright? What happened? What was that flash of light?’
‘Ugh…’ the shorter boy rubbed his eyes, groggily. ‘What light?’ He muttered, struggling to sit up. ‘Where am I?’
‘North Ascot,’ Charlie answered simply, reaching out to support his friend’s shoulders.
Connor groaned. ‘Charlie…?’ He blinked. ‘I don’t know what happened… I can’t remember anything…’
‘What about the van?’
‘Van?’ Connor blanched. ‘What van?’
Charlie let out a long, low whistle. ‘Shit,’ he whispered. ‘What van do you think?’ He snatched his mobile phone from the pocket of his jacket, thumbing over its screen before holding the most recent picture up for his friend.
‘That was here?’ Connor shuddered. ‘Shit,’ he echoed his friend’s bad language. ‘So why don’t I remember it?’
‘How much do you remember?’ The dark-haired boy scanned around the cul-de-sac, suddenly interrupting the other child’s answer before it had fully begun. ‘Actually, tell me later,’ he decided, his voice suddenly serious. ‘We need to go, before anyone comes back.’
The Riley family’s detached house stood less than a hundred metres away from the road in which the van had been parked, and the children walked the short distance in less than two minutes. Charlie did his best to avoid his friend’s gaze, punching in combination of numbers into a keypad and unlocking the front gates that led onto the wide gravel drive.
‘This is your house?’ Connor asked disbelievingly as the black iron gates slid slowly open. ‘So why do you want to be friends with me?’
Charlie shivered. ‘You really don’t remember anything, do you?’ His voice barely broke a whisper. ‘Come on,’ he begged. ‘Please.’
Reluctantly, the blond-haired boy followed his darker companion along the driveway and towards the three imposing stories of the red brick structure, through the glass-framed porch and up an angular staircase into Charlie’s bedroom.
‘This is fucking massive,’ Connor observed, tactlessly, settling on the black leather of a swivel chair beside Charlie’s desk as the room’s owner dropped down onto his bed.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Charlie shook his head, recalling the awkward stand-off he had endured in the station car park less than an hour earlier. ‘What’s the last thing you remember happening this morning, Connor?’
‘Um,’ he shrugged, pulling the beanie hat from his head. ‘I don’t know,’ he muttered. ‘I guess it was changing trains at Reading.’
Charlie shut his eyes. ‘Oh, God,’ he groaned. ‘I can’t do this again,’ he shook his head, before slumping, head first, into his pillow. ‘I really can’t.’
‘You can’t what…?’
Charlie grunted. ‘We had an argument this morning,’ he recalled, his voice cracking as he spoke.
‘Really?’ Connor’s voice dropped. ‘Why?
Charlie rolled over. ‘Do you trust me?’ His voice barely rose above a whisper.
‘Yes,’ Connor answered, decisively. ‘You always believed me about the van in Oxford.’
Charlie nodded, slowly. ‘You said that I thought you were a thief, just because you were poor, but I didn’t,’ his voice tightened. ‘I didn’t, I never said that. I didn’t even know… and I don’t care, it doesn’t matter…’
Connor shivered. ‘Why did I say that?’
‘I asked you if you’d stolen something,’ Charlie remembered. ‘I could tell something was wrong. Someone was looking for you,’ he sighed. ‘You never paid for your ticket.’
‘That’s not stealing,’ Connor stared at the floor. ‘I’m not a thief,’ he muttered, hoarsely.
‘I know,’ Charlie dragged himself to his feet, ‘you said that before. I believe you.’
‘Did I say anything else?’
Charlie forced a smile. ‘That we were friends.’
‘Did you believe that?’ Connor grimaced.
‘Yes,’ Charlie swallowed, ‘no matter what, because we trust each other.’
Connor managed a thin smile of his own, holding the other boy’s gaze for a moment, before nodding his agreement with the dark-haired boy’s assertion. ‘I guess we found the van after that, right?’
‘Yeah,’ Charlie echoed, still half-expecting Connor to make another comment about their respective houses. ‘You went to go and see if you could find anything, and I hid inside the trees just in case something happened… You were looking through the window, and then I heard a man’s voice, shouting at you, then there was a big flash of light… and that’s everything.’ He tailed off.
‘Shit,’ the blond boy shook his head. ‘It’s like Oxford all over again, isn’t it? At least we know now that we were right about that,’ he sighed. ‘I kind of wish we weren’t, though.’
Charlie nodded. ‘Sometimes winning can be just as bad as losing. Like Pyrrhus.’
Connor stared back at the taller boy. ‘Pyrrhus?’
‘Pyrrhus of Epirus. We did him in Classics this week,’ Charlie explained. ‘He fought against the Romans, and even beat them in some battles, but he lost so many men that it meant he lost the war. That’s why it’s called a Pyrrhic victory, when you win but it’s not really worth it.’
‘Right,’ Connor blinked. ‘I don’t even do Classics,’ he responded, looking around the bedroom as he spoke. ‘It’s like you live in a totally different world,’ he decided, searching to change the subject and lighten the mood. ‘I do kind of like your house, though.’
Several hundred miles away, Louis Weasley was also worrying about Houses, but in an altogether different way. He sat stiffly on the wooden benches of the Slytherin changing rooms, trying his best to stifle a yawn. As much as Louis had been desperate to follow his captain’s orders overnight, his longed-for good night’s sleep had never arrived.
Sammy Kerrigan stood alone, staring fiercely out into the room. ‘We’ve worked for this every week since the summer, and every day this week. We can’t let anything get in our way now. Laura, Ella, you’re the best in the business. Ollie, you seem like you know where the shots are going before we even take them. Carl, Marius, you’re as good as any pair of chasers I’ve ever played with, and Louis, for a first-year your flying is incredible. We all know our plans. Keep it tight, keep it simple, and then hit them had and fast when we even get half a chance. Louis, don’t let Anthony out of your sight. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get the snitch, just make damn sure that he doesn’t!’
Louis nodded, mutely, feeling smaller than he could ever remember.
‘Well, this is our chance, then,’ the captain exhorted, ‘show everyone what we can do today, and let them spend the rest of the year worrying about us. COME ON!’ Sammy raised his voice, imploring his team mates to join him on his feet. ‘Let’s get out there!’
The other three Slytherin first-years got to their feet as they watched their housemate fly into the arena, at the tail end of his team’s narrow formation.
‘Come on, Louis!’ Albus yelled at the top of his voice. ‘Come on, Louis!’ He grinned as his two friends joined in with the beginnings of a simple chant, before Daniel led a loud cheer as the redheaded boy waved shyly back at the crowd.
‘He’ll be alright, won’t he?’ Nathan asked, timidly. ‘I mean, no one gets really, properly hurt, do they?’
Albus grimaced, looking around to the pure-blooded and half-blooded Ravenclaws around him. ‘Well…’ he began, hesitantly. ‘Not usually,’ he fudged his answer.
Nathan blinked. ‘What’s that mean?’
‘Well,’ Albus struggled to word his reply. ‘Obviously it’s a bit dangerous. If you fall off your broom, or get hit by a bludger, then it’s going to hurt, of course it’s going to hurt. You saw what happened to Dan, didn’t you? He was alright in a couple of days, though, wasn’t he? No-one’s died playing Quidditch…’
‘Not for ages, anyway,’ Scorpius interjected.
Toby groaned. ‘Really helpful, Scorp.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘I’m sure he’ll be fine,’ the tawny-haired boy insisted, noting Nathan’s nervous face.
The blond boy nodded, obviously unconvinced by the others’ flimsy reassurances as he watched Louis join his teammates in surrounding the centre circle. ‘I hope so,’ he muttered. ‘I hope so.’
Nathan had no further time to worry in quiet, however, as the magnified voice of a seventh-year boy echoed around the ground. ‘The quaffle’s up, and the 2018 Quidditch Cup is underway!’ The commentator took a deep breath, before launching himself into his task once more. ‘I’m Joe Warnock, and, as always, it’ll be Slytherin and Gryffindor who start proceedings. They were second and third last year, but with Ravenclaw losing five of their title-winning team, this is a game that’s already being billed as a potential title decider. Both squads are full of experienced faces, with one exception: Max Deverill is missing for Slytherin, and in his place the snakes will give a debut to Louis Weasley, rather than long-time number two Amy Donovan…’
‘Because Donovan’s a stupid bitch,’ Daniel commented. ‘She’d have been playing if she hadn’t have been too proud to be the reserve.’
‘Of course, everybody needs to start somewhere,’ the commentator continued, ‘and for Weasley, it all starts here.’
‘Well, I suppose it’s impossible for every game to be a classic,’ Joe remarked, acidly, as Professor Wood’s whistle signalled the end of the second period, ‘but it would be nice if we could get through more than two minutes without a stoppage.’
‘At least we’re winning,’ Daniel noted.
Albus shrugged. ‘It’s a crap game, though,’ he shook his head. ‘It doesn’t even look like Louis is trying to get the snitch!’
The dark-haired boy’s body language was obvious to his cousin as the seeker glanced across the pitch towards the stands, and the redhead sighed. Slytherin were leading, 110 points to 80, but Louis didn’t think he’d been within twenty yards of the snitch. The commentator had hardly exaggerated the extent of the foul count, either, and the first-year knew he’d been responsible for more than his fair share.
Neal’s team talk was brief, and all that the first-year could recall as he watched Professor Wood start the final period was his captain’s insistence that his side shouldn’t give the opposition even the smallest opportunity to get back into the game.
‘Half a chance for Gryffindor…’ Joe Warnock’s voice rose in anticipation as a red-robed player streaked forward, ‘but Jennings cuts him off, and Rosier’s there with the bludger. No way past.’ A collective groan from the crowd followed the dead-pan description of the end of Gryffindor’s attack. ‘Still thirty points in it, Slytherin with the lead… but Brett Anthony’s on the move… and…’
The shrill blast of Wood’s whistle cut off the commentator mid-stream. ‘Blatching. Louis Weasley. Penalty to Gryffindor.’
Louis hung his head as a echo of boos reverberated around the stadium, knowing full well that the supporters’ ire was directed at him.
‘Ignore them, kid,’ Carl Jennings rested a hand on his team mate’s shoulder. ‘You had to do it.’
‘Yeah,’ the first-year mumbled, wondering privately whether he agreed with his team’s tactics and hoping ardently that his friends’ voices were not part of the chorus.
‘Final warning, Weasley,’ the teacher flew towards the two Slytherins.
Louis nodded, mutely.
‘Same for both sides, sir?’ Carl interjected. ‘He’s not the first one who’s done that.’
Wood’s glare turned cold. ‘You worry about the quaffle, Mr Jennings, and I’ll worry about the whistle.’ His eyes narrowed, ‘and perhaps we might see some Quidditch break out.’
Albus kicked out at the iron base of the barrier in front of him as Gryffindor’s captain reduced the deficit to twenty points, sending Ollie Marsh the wrong way with his penalty shot. ‘What the hell are they doing?’
‘How should I know, mate?’ Daniel shook his head. ‘What was wrong with that, though?’
‘You’re not allowed to fly into someone,’ Toby explained. ‘At least not on purpose.’
‘But what if he was about to get the snitch?’ The muggle-born boy protested. ‘Then Gryffindor would have won!’
‘I know,’ Albus couldn’t argue, ‘but that’s, well, you just don’t do that.’
‘What?’ Nathan spluttered. ‘This is a game where four players spend the whole game trying to smack people off their brooms, but everyone gets mad if Louis does that?’ He shook his head. ‘That’s stupid.’
Felix shrugged. ‘That’s just how it is.’
‘I told you it was a stupid game,’ Alexander observed, barely shifting his glance from the book he’d long since turned his attention toward. ‘Special treatment for the seeker. It’s not like the game isn’t already all about them anyway…’
Toby rolled his eyes. ‘Shut up, Xan,’ he groaned, shoving his friend playfully on the shoulder. ‘We don’t tell you your stuff’s stupid.’
‘That’s cause it isn’t!’ The dark-haired boy’s eyes sparkled as he grinned back, mischievously.
The other Ravenclaw was saved the trouble of arguing back, however, as Albus’ frantic yell of recognition segued into a rapid-fire stream of commentary, with Joe Warnock sensing a crucial passage of play.
‘Just moments after Weasley brought down Anthony with a cynical piece of blatching, the two seekers are off in hot pursuit of one another once again. They’re dropping low, only feet from the ground now as they level out and look to tease every last inch of speed from their brooms: the snitch must be in range by now… Anthony has the edge, he’s stretching out ahead of Weasley as the two seekers dart around: one turn, two turns, back on themselves. Anthony stretches out a hand, so does Weasley…’
‘Oh, fuck!’ Albus’ mouth fell open as he watched his cousin’s arm grab, not for the snitch, but for the broom of the Gryffindor seeker, sending both players tumbling to the floor in an undignified heap as the golden snitch flitted into the distance, forgotten beneath the outraged jeers from the red and gold sections of the stadium.
Daniel blinked. ‘I guess he wasn’t meant to do that either.’ He shivered, watching the Gryffindor seeker force himself back to his feet and turn on his opponent, unwinding a right fist into Louis’ jaw as the redhead tried, and failed, to regain his balance.
‘Hey, HEY!’ Wood’s whistle burst above the din, the referee rapidly descending to stand between the two seekers. ‘Cut that out, this instant.’ The teacher’s voice barely needed the magical amplification of its Sonorous charm to halt the boys’ scuffle. ‘This kind of behaviour has absolutely no place on the Quidditch pitch. Off, both of you.’ His tone of voice invited no argument. ‘Captains,’ he turned, pausing momentarily. ‘You finish the game with six, and any repeat of this will end the match, and – quite possibly – end your seasons. Please make sure your teams understand.’ He paused again, this time almost certainly for effect. ‘The restart will be a Gryffindor penalty for blagging.’
‘Bloody hell,’ Albus swore again. ‘I don’t think anyone’s ever been sent off at Hogwarts.’
‘Some debut,’ Daniel murmured. ‘Some debut.’
Nathan felt himself shiver as he watched his friend and housemate trudge slowly across the mud and grass of the arena floor towards the Slytherin changing room. ‘Just like Belvoir House…’
‘What?’ Daniel blinked.
‘The cricket game,’ Nathan answered bluntly as he got to his feet. ‘I’m going to talk to him.’
‘See you later, mate,’ Albus nodded, ‘and tell him that none of us are… um… that we don’t…’
‘I get it, Al,’ Nathan acknowledged his friend’s clumsy sympathy. ‘I know.’
It came as no surprise to the blond first-year that the creak of the Slytherin changing room door sounded all the louder for the silence that hung behind. ‘Louis?’ Nathan called out, edging onto the cold tiled floor whilst the door swung shut behind him. ‘Louis, are you there?’
‘Go away,’ a voice answered back.
‘Fine, fuck off then!’ Nathan heard a crashing noise echo from behind a row of lockers and sighed to himself.
‘No,’ the blond boy repeated, his voice much louder than he had expected it to be. ‘I know what this feels like, Louis, like you’re all alone and the whole world’s against you, but it isn’t, and you’re not!’ He edged around the steel cages to find his friend, his head hidden between his knees, slumped on a wooden bench in the shadow of the racks.
‘You know what this feels like?’ Louis snorted, slowly lifting his head to face the other first-year. ‘Really? This?’
Nathan bit his bottom lip as he recognised the all-too-familiar wide, black eyes that stared back at his own from either side of a sharp, hooked nose.
‘Look at me!’ The redhead snapped, jerking to his feet and standing only inches away from his friend. ‘I’m a fucking freak! You’ve no idea what it feels like!’
Nathan willed himself to hold his housemate’s glare. ‘Last time you heard someone say that,’ he swallowed, his voice dropping to a hoarse whisper, ‘it was me who said it.’
‘Oh,’ Louis dropped onto the bench again, the venom in his voice evaporating as he remembered the way he had first met Nathan. ‘I guess you do get it, then,’ the redhead offered, weakly, his pupils shrinking back into their blue irises.
‘Yeah,’ Nathan nodded, slipping into the place beside his friend, ‘and I know I was wrong then, just like you’re wrong now.’
Louis mumbled something that was too quiet for the other boy to hear, turning away and staring back down at his feet.
‘You know why I know that?’ The blond boy continued, resting an arm around the redhead’s shoulders. ‘Cause you showed me.’
Louis made no effort to hide the red rims of his eyes as he looked back up at his friend. ‘Thanks, Nathan,’ he murmured, letting himself sink against the other boy’s arm. ‘Where… where are the others?’
‘Still watching,’ Nathan answered, softly, ‘and they all think… they all know this doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t change you.’
The seeker nodded. ‘What about Professor Wood?’
‘I bet he’s been sent off before,’ the other first-year reasoned, ‘and even if he hasn’t, I bet he knows people who have.’
‘Not when they were eleven, though.’ Louis shifted awkwardly on the bench, shuffling free of Nathan’s arm.
‘Only because they weren’t good enough to play when they were eleven.’
Louis smiled weakly, but any chance he had to reply was cut short as the doors at both ends of the changing rooms burst open, and the older team members suddenly found themselves face-to-face with their Head of House.
‘Congratulations,’ the teacher acknowledged the seventh-year’s arrival, but his voice was cold.
Sammy swallowed, recognising the chill in the man’s tone. ‘We won, didn’t we?’
Greg shrugged. ‘You won the battle,’ he noted, ‘but what about the war?’ He nodded towards Louis’ obviously distressed figure, as Nathan drew instinctively closer to his friend. ‘What about today’s casualties?’
‘He had to do it,’ the captain countered. ‘He had to do that if we were going to win.’
‘Is that what it’s all about, then?’ Greg argued back. ‘Win at all costs? He shook his head. ‘Is that why you started playing Quidditch?’
Sammy grimaced. ‘You know what I mean, sir.’
‘Do you know what he means, though?’ Theo, who had so far stood silently beside Greg, chose his moment to interrupt. ‘Do you know the reputation that Slytherin used to have?’ He challenged the boy. ‘Do you know the way we used to get treated?’
‘Yes,’ Sammy nodded as he begun to protest, ‘but it’s not like that any more…’
Theo snorted. ‘You could have fooled me,’ he glared at the captain. ‘Did you hear the crowd today? Do you think they’ll forgive you for ordering a first-year to cheat his way through his first game? Do you think anyone else out there wanted you to win that?’ He sighed. ‘We spent too long rebuilding Slytherin for you to tear it down again.’
‘Alright, mate,’ Greg held an arm across his lifelong friend. ‘That’s enough.’ He took a couple of steps across the changing room. ‘I know why you did that, Sam,’ the teacher’s voice softened, ‘why you went all-out for the win, and I think I might have done the same when I was younger.’ The teacher took a deep breath. ‘But I guess one of those things about growing up is when you start realise that sometimes you’ve got to think about playing the long game, that sometimes winning isn’t everything.’ He paused. ‘Have you ever heard of Pyrrhus of Epirus?’