Chapter 25 : Muggle Studies
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‘He didn’t break the law,’ the Ravenclaw insisted, aloud, but privately another voice challenged his public confidence. ‘If he’s guilty, then so are you!’
‘Who didn’t, Alex?’ A man asked, his voice close enough to the twelve-year-old to startle the boy as he spoke.
‘D…Dad?’ Alexander stammered. ‘I didn’t see you there.’
Michael Corner smiled. Like his son, his dark hair extended back beyond his earlobes, but unlike the boy, it was combed neatly into place, betraying a receding hairline that didn’t bother the scientist in the least. ‘Course you didn’t, son,’ he teased. ‘You haven’t looked at anything but that newspaper for the last five minutes. So…’ he drew out his words, ‘who didn’t break the law?’
Alexander sighed. ‘Nathan,’ he tossed his copy of the Prophet carelessly towards his father. ‘Nathan Llewellyn, one of my best friends at school.’
Michael caught the newspaper, casually skimming the lead story before dropping it onto a pile of leaflets on the kitchen worktop. ‘Funny, that,’ he remarked, dispassionately, ‘as I’ve just had a call from St. Mungo’s, asking me if I wouldn’t mind having a look at a boy around your age. Do you fancy coming along? I reckon Nathan could use a bit of moral support.’
Alexander sprung to his feet. ‘Yes!’ he announced. ‘Absolutely, definitely, yes!’
‘Well, if you’re sure…?’ The scientist allowed himself a small smile. ‘You’ve got five minutes to get rid of those pyjamas and put something decent on, and we’ll get going.’
The twelve-year-old needed less than two of his five permitted minutes to scramble upstairs, change into a collared shirt and pair of corduroy trousers, and meet his father beside the fireplace, and before the five minutes were up, the two wizards had arrived at the ground-floor lobby of St. Mungo’s Hospital.
‘Fourth floor,’ Michael told his son, leading the boy across the reception wing and towards the nearest staircase. ‘I think some other boys in your year are going to be there,’ the man narrated, and his suggestion was confirmed as he knocked on the door of the makeshift Auror office outside the Borthwick Ward.
‘Michael,’ Harry Potter greeted him. ‘Glad you could join us.’
‘Morning, Harry,’ the scientist replied.
‘Hi, Xan,’ Greg waved to the first-year boy, noticing the twelve-year-old even as he shied away behind his father. ‘The other boys are down at the end of the ward, if you want to go and see them.’
A smile edged across Alexander’s face. ‘Thanks, sir,’ he replied. ‘I’ll do that.’
Nathan was the first to notice the new arrival. ‘Xan,’ he hailed his friend from his hospital bed.
‘Nathan,’ the Ravenclaw replied, hurrying to see his friend. ‘What happened…?’
The blond boy shrugged. ‘I can’t remember,’ he admitted, ‘but I was in the park in Ascot, with Charlie, and someone attacked us. Dan says that I was trying to hold him off with a shield charm, but I wore myself out…’
Alexander nodded. ‘Are you alright now?’
‘Yeah,’ Nathan smiled, weakly. ‘I think so. Not sure about Charlie though, he’s still unconscious.’
‘Oh,’ Alexander grimaced. ‘Have… have you seen the Prophet today?’
Albus snorted. ‘Yes,’ he rolled his eyes. ‘What a load of shit, hey?’
‘Yeah,’ the Ravenclaw echoed, uneasily, trying to mirror his friend’s dismissive body language. ‘Aren’t you worried about it, at all?’
‘No,’ Nathan answered on behalf of the four Slytherins. ‘We know it’s all lies, anyway. They’ll stop when they find out who’s responsible, and find out it’s nothing to do with us.’
‘Or Veelas,’ Louis put in. ‘Did you notice they had another go at me on the next page?’
Alexander shook his head. ‘Sorry,’ he muttered.
‘Forget it, Xan,’ Louis insisted. ‘Like Nath said, it’s all lies.’ He took a breath, changing the subject. ‘How come you’ve come to see us?’
‘My Dad,’ Alexander answered, simply. ‘Harry Potter… I mean, your Dad… he asked him to come and look at somebody “about my age”. I guessed that must have been Nathan, but it looks like you’re fine…’
‘Your Dad’s a scientist, right?’ Nathan checked.
Alexander nodded. ‘He’s trying to find out what causes muggle-borns and squibs to happen.’
‘Why would that have anything to do with me?’ the blond boy queried. ‘I know I’m a muggle-born, but why would that make a difference to my magic now? I’m just the same as any other wizard, aren’t I?’
‘Maybe he’s not meant to come and see you?’ Daniel challenged his friend. ‘Last night, after we got back to his flat, Professor Bennett was saying something about magical signatures… that Charlie has got one now?’
‘Charlie?’ Nathan echoed, peering across the hospital to ward to see where his old friend still lay, motionless, in his bed. ‘Charlie Riley?’
‘Lucas,’ Nathan turned to the Healer. ‘What’s a magical signature?’
The man raised his eyebrows. ‘Now, that’s a question,’ he remarked.
Nathan swallowed. ‘That’s why I asked it.’
‘How long have you got for an answer?’
‘Well,’ Daniel resolved to call the Healer’s bluff. ‘I don’t think Connor’s going anywhere soon, is he? How long do you need?’
Lucas smiled. ‘Have it your way, boys,’ he concluded, ‘but seeing as nobody has ever really managed to a decent job of figuring them out, I don’t know how I’m going to try and explain it...’ He shook his head. ‘What do you know about them?’
The first-years glanced at one another.
‘I’ve heard a little bit, I think,’ Alexander ventured. ‘Everything magical has its own signature, doesn’t it, different to anything else? Like a fingerprint?’
‘That’s a good start,’ the man acknowledged. ‘As far as we know, all wizards and witches have their own signature, or imprint, which is entirely unique to them. It affects a great deal of things, from your affinity with the four base elements of Old Magic, right through to your wand choices. We have all kinds of ways of detecting them, but not the first idea where they come from.’
Lucas took a breath. ‘I remember exactly where I was when I first felt a magical signature. It was Wistman’s Wood, in Devon. I was staying at Greg… Professor Bennett’s house for Christmas, and we were trying to research the Wild Hunt. Have you heard about that yet?’
‘A little,’ Louis answered, keen to avoid distracting the teacher from his story.
‘Well,’ Lucas continued, ‘the Hunt is supposed to have been based in Wistman’s Wood, on Dartmoor, and we went to try and see if we could find it. We couldn’t, of course, because it was trapped in a glass case in Professor Tregeagle’s classroom, but we could tell the place had seen powerful magic: even Greg’s Dad, a muggle, could feel it. These imprints linger for a certain period of time after particularly strong magic has been cast – for instance, you can tell when you go into a classroom that’s just had a seventh-year NEWT class in it.’
Alexander’s eyes slipped out of focus as his brain processed everything the Healer had told him. ‘So, if you go to Stonehenge,’ he suggested, ‘that’s what you feel?’
‘Maybe once you would have done,’ Lucas dismissed the boy’s suggestion, ‘but not now, not now you can’t move for muggle tourists and souvenir shops.’ His voice softened as he watched Alexander’s face fall. ‘There are plenty of places in England where you can feel it, though, like the Avebury circle near Stonehenge, or up on White Horse Hill on the Ridgeway…’ He smiled. ‘I’m going off topic, aren’t I?’
‘A bit,’ Nathan nodded, dropping back onto his pillow. ‘None of that explains why Charlie’s got a signature now though,’ he thought aloud. ‘It is his, right? Not just a left-over, like in that wood?’
Lucas shook his head. ‘That’s the first thing we checked when we found out he was supposed to be a muggle, and it’s his alright.’
‘What about Connor?’ Daniel interrupted.
‘Nothing,’ the Healer answered. ‘One hundred percent muggle.’
‘This is weird,’ Albus summarised, bluntly. ‘I guess that’s why they called your Dad in, Xan.’
‘Yeah,’ the Ravenclaw agreed, ‘but if nobody else can work out what’s happening, I don’t think he he will.’
Albus tried, and failed, to suppress a snort of laughter. ‘Why not?’ he asked, playfully. ‘It doesn’t usually stop you!’
Across the fourth floor, an extraordinary meeting was drawing to a close, and Greg Bennett felt like he deserved a medal. For almost an hour, he’d sat in between Philip Llewellyn and Laurence Riley, fathers of Nathan and Charlie respectively, and explained what seemed like every other word that had been uttered. A challenge at the best of times, the teacher thought, but even more onerous when both men had learned their sons had been hospitalised by forces unknown.
‘Then it’s decided,’ Harry Potter concluded. ‘Philip and Michael will lead a full medical investigation into the changes in Charlie Riley’s genetics – is that the word?’
Philip Llewellyn nodded his confirmation.
‘I imagine you would want to be using your own laboratories…?’
‘I’ll work wherever,’ Michael Corner offered. ‘Muggle technology is years ahead of our own when it comes to science.’
Philip managed a tentative smile, which immediately reminded Greg of the man’s own son. ‘Well, I would prefer to work at the Science Park in Oxford.’
‘That’s fine,’ Harry agreed, ‘as for security, you will have an Auror guard at all times.’
‘Harry?’ Greg spoke up directly. ‘The Aurors…’ he hesitated, searching for the right words. ‘After yesterday’s meeting, I’m not sure…’
The Head Auror grinned. ‘I thought you might say that, Greg,’ he conceded. ‘I am, however, quite sure you will be satisfied with the two men I have identified for this task. They will be here shortly. Will you need the boys?’
Philip shrugged, and Michael stepped in, answering on behalf of the two men. ‘We can study their genetics without their presence,’ he replied, ‘all that we would need would be DNA samples, which are simple to collect. That might not be enough, though,’ he cautioned. ‘We might need to monitor them whilst they’re casting spells, or reacting to them… in that case, we would obviously need them.’
‘So you’ll start without them?’ Harry checked his understanding.
‘Yes,’ Michael confirmed. ‘We’ll start with the DNA samples, and take it from there.’
‘Excellent,’ the Head Auror replied. ‘Now,’ he turned to Laurence Riley, a tall, balding man who bore all the hallmarks of having been an outstanding athlete in his youth. ‘Laurence, your son remains in a stable condition, and he has, at his bedside, the best treatment available in the magical world. You are of course at liberty to discharge him from St. Mungo’s to the care of any non-magical institution, but in this situation I would strongly recommend against it.’
Laurence turned, warily, to face Greg.
‘Don’t move him,’ the teacher summarised, wondering when exactly his role had shifted from liaison to legal counsel. ‘Even if he was conscious, I’d keep him here. It’s the safest place he could be.’
‘Fine,’ the man acknowledged, ‘but I want to know straight away if anything, anything at all, happens to him…’
‘We’ll let you know, sir,’ Harry assured him, before moving on. ‘For reference, the parents of Connor Norris have been told that their son has been moved to a specialist unit to continue his recuperation from his injuries.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Meeting closed.’
‘I take it you want to see Nathan and Charlie before you go?’ Greg asked the two muggle men as the gathering broke up. ‘They’re the other side of the corridor.’ The teacher led the way through to the Borthwick Ward, before leaving the two parents to approach their sons.
Once again, Nathan was the first to recognise the arrivals. ‘Dad!’ he called out, and his father hurried to his bedside.
‘Nathan…’ He rushed towards his son, pulling the boy into a hug.
‘I’m alright, Dad!’ the eleven-year-old protested loudly, blushing furiously. ‘I’m fine!’
The man released his embrace. ‘You’re sure?’
Nathan nodded. ‘Sure,’ he insisted.
‘What about Charlie?’ Philip turned his attention to the other Ascot boy, still motionless in the opposite bed.
‘He’ll be alright,’ Nathan’s voice dropped. ‘I know he will. He has to be.’
Philip ruffled his son’s blond hair. ‘This needs cutting,’ he noted, but the boy didn’t rise to the gentle bait. ‘Listen, Nathan,’ his expression turned serious. ‘Mr Corner and I have been asked to do some genetics work with Charlie, to try to work out what’s happened to him,’ he revealed, ‘but to tell you the truth I really don’t know what I’m looking for; I don’t know what I’m comparing him against.’
Nathan blinked. ‘You could compare him with me?’ he suggested. ‘Or the others, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, if it helped Charlie. It might even help us work out why Louis is… um…’ The eleven-year-old stopped himself mid-sentence, suddenly feeling his friend’s eyes turn towards him.
‘Work out what, Nathan?’ Philip pressed.
His son swallowed. ‘I… I’m not sure I should tell you,’ he looked up towards Louis.
‘Tell him what, Nath?’ Louis had overhead.
‘You know what.’ Nathan looked away. ‘Dad was just saying he was going to try and work out what’s happened to Charlie, but that he didn’t have anything to compare him with. I said he could probably try comparing him with us, but then I realised…’ he tailed off again.
‘I’m not human,’ Louis answered Philip’s unspoken question. ‘My great-grandma was a Veela.’
The hospital ward had fallen quiet, and Greg clarified the boy’s assertion for the muggles’ benefit. ‘They’re an Eastern European race of nymphs, near-humans. They have been inter-breeding with wizards for many years, but the offspring have always, and I mean always, been female… until Louis,’ he paused, ‘which, as you can imagine, hasn’t been the easiest thing for him to handle. Fortunately, he’s now got some incredibly loyal friends, who couldn’t care less about his genetics… but not everyone has been quite as tolerant.’
Louis reddened, managing a thin smile as Albus reached a reassuring arm around his cousin’s shoulders. ‘You can do any test you want to,’ the redhead announced, ‘if you think it could help work things out.’
‘Thank you, Louis,’ Philip answered into the silence that followed, before the other first-years echoed their classmate’s pledge. ‘All we will need to begin with is a DNA swab from the inside of your mouths. I will need to fetch the equipment from the lab in Oxford, first.’
‘Well, no time like the present, then?’ Harry Potter approached the group, with two other purple-robed men following closely behind him. ‘I’d like to introduce your security. Joshua Tregeagle and Teddy Lupin.’
Greg’s eyes widened like a first-year who had just caught sight of the giant squid for the first time. ‘Josh…?’
‘Hi, Greg,’ the Auror acknowledged his old schoolfriend. ‘Haven’t seen you in ages.’
‘I shall take it you are satisfied as to his trustworthiness?’ Harry continued. ‘I can personally vouch for Mr Lupin,’ he nodded towards the shorter of the two men, whose hair was busy fading from bright pink to a mousy brown that matched Joshua’s. Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Once his mind is on the job, that is.’
‘Good luck, Dad,’ Nathan offered as his father stood up.
‘Yeah,’ Daniel echoed, glancing back over his shoulder towards Connor, as his friend still slept. ‘Good luck.’ He watched the scientists and their guards head for the ward’s exit. ‘Now, I guess we wait.’
Greg nodded. ‘Yes,’ he confirmed. ‘Unless you wanted to make a start on your homework…?’
The teacher’s suggestion had only been in jest, but by the afternoon, the first-years’ confinement had driven them to tackle their Transfiguration essays – or, in Daniel’s case – his Muggle Studies work.
‘You actually have to do this?’ Connor looked through his friend’s writing. ‘Just write about different sports?’
Daniel smiled. ‘Yeah,’ he nodded. ‘It’s my best subject; I know almost everything before we even do it.’
‘What are your other subjects like?’ Connor asked. ‘What’s your favourite?’
‘Flying,’ Daniel answered quickly, enjoying the look of shock on the other boy’s face, ‘on broomsticks.’
Connor shook his head. ‘For real?’ he asked.
‘Yeah,’ Daniel confirmed. ‘Louis is brilliant,’ he indicated the red-headed boy. ‘He even made the House team,’ he recalled, opting not to tell the story of his sending-off.
‘Cool,’ the blond boy remarked, slumping back against his headboard. ‘Our school football team sucks,’ he complained, ‘and we hardly even play any games, anyway.’ Connor sighed, before changing the subject abruptly. ‘What’s going to happen to me, Dan?’
‘I don’t know, mate,’ Daniel answered, honestly. ‘I guess it depends on what Nathan and Xan’s dads find out.’
‘Is it true that wizards can erase people’s memories?’ Connor persisted.
Daniel nodded, slowly.
‘Is that going to happen to me?’
‘I told you, I don’t know!’
Connor shut his eyes, sinking down beneath his blankets. ‘How shit is my life?’ he asked aloud.
‘Conn…’ Daniel’s voice softened. ‘Even if it does, and you forget everything that happened here, I’m never going to forget that you’re my friend.’
Connor grunted, rolling over and turning his back to the young wizard. ‘I need to go to sleep,’ he declared. ‘Go and finish your homework.’
‘Alright,’ Daniel didn’t argue. ‘See you tomorrow, Connor.’ He stood up, carrying his scroll of parchment across the ward to Nathan’s bunk and setting himself down to finish his essay.
‘How’s Connor?’ Louis enquired.
Daniel sighed. ‘Down,’ he admitted, frankly. ‘He’s afraid he’s going to get Obliviated.’
‘Professor Bennett wouldn’t let that happen!’ Louis responded. ‘Would he?’
‘It’s not his choice,’ Albus answered without looking up from his own essay. ‘It’s Dad’s,’ he paused, ‘and he doesn’t believe what we’ve said about Connor and Charlie, not at all.’
‘Don’t say that, Al,’ Louis cautioned.
This time Albus looked up. ‘He didn’t even stop that guy from calling you a half-breed, Lou!’
Louis’ head dropped. ‘I guess…’
‘We’ll prove it’s true,’ Nathan interrupted, ‘and he’ll have to see it then, he’ll have to…’
‘Maybe,’ Daniel reasoned, ‘but even then, what would he do? He couldn’t come to Hogwarts, could he? He wouldn’t even be able to see it…’
‘Why not?’ Alexander interrupted. ‘If squibs can see it, muggles must be able to, if someone tells him where it is.’
‘He still couldn’t go,’ Albus dismissed the idea. ‘So what if squibs can see it, they’re still not allowed to go there,’ he spoke with enough finality to end the conversation, and the boys settled back to their homework.
Daniel was still in a pensive mood later that evening, as he and Greg took the short Floo ride back to Flint Avenue.
‘My turn to cook tonight,’ the teacher noted, striding into the kitchen and opening the fridge door. ‘Stir-fry suit you, Dan?’
‘Yeah,’ the eleven-year-old mumbled, slumping horizontally onto the black sofa that ran across the living room. ‘Fine.’
Greg picked out a shrink-wrapped pack of chicken breast from the fridge, placing it onto the black marble-effect worktop and turning back to the boy. ‘You’re quiet tonight, mate.’
Daniel muttered something that the teacher couldn’t make out.
‘What’s up?’ Greg abandoned his planned cooking, and sat down in the arm chair beside the eleven-year-old. ‘Dan?’
‘It’s Connor,’ he sighed, shuffling on the sofa to face the man. ‘What’s going to happen to him?’
Greg swallowed. ‘I don’t know,’ he fudged his answer.
An ironic smile spread across Daniel’s face. ‘That’s just what I said to him, when he asked me.’
‘Oh,’ Greg mirrored the boy’s expression.
‘Could he come to Hogwarts?’ Daniel returned to the line of questioning that Albus had dismissed earlier that day. ‘I mean, I don’t want him to get Obliviated, cause that’s what’s meant to happen, isn’t it?’ he began to think out loud. ‘It’s just he doesn’t have any friends at Gosford High. I know he wouldn’t be able to do any of the spells or anything but he knows about the magical world already, and if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t know about the van and everything…’ Daniel tailed off, feeling his eyes beginning to water. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled.
‘It’s okay, Dan,’ Greg reassured him, ‘I know you two were best friends,’ he leaned forward on his seat. ‘You know it’s not going to be down to me, don’t you?’
‘Well, I’ll see what I can do.’
The boy sat bolt upright, sharply. ‘Really?’
‘Really,’ Greg smiled. ‘On one condition.’
‘You come and help me cut some vegetables.’
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