Chapter 26 : Farewell Slughorn
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Although Dora’s punishment wasn’t made public, it wasn’t long before at least parts of it because clear.
“Though I don’t know why I’m telling you this,” Scorpius said. “It’s not like you told me just how successful your plan was. The first I heard was when I was called to McGonagall’s office to hear Dora apologise.”
“Sorry,” Rose said. “We weren’t sure how much we were allowed tell. McGonagall basically told us to keep quiet. Um, how much were you told?”
“Nothing really. McGonagall just sent for me, which was a bit scary, let me tell you. I was wondering what I was supposed to have done this time. But when I got there, Dora was waiting and she apologised to me, pretty ungraciously; you could tell she was only doing it because McGonagall said she had to. Not that I care.” For the first time since Albus had known him, he grinned. “She promised to pay for my broom.”
“That’s great,” Albus said.
It wasn’t much of a punishment though. No twelve year old could possibly afford to pay the cost of a Golden Arrow. It’d be her parents doing that. Then again, if they’d raised her to support Voldemort, maybe they deserved as much punishment as she did.
Scorpius didn’t care anyway.
“I’ve written to my parents,” he said. “And they say I can spend the money however I want to, since it was my Christmas present after all. So I’m going to get a new broom and come September, nobody’ll be able to stop me bringing it with me.” He sounded triumphant.
“Are you going to get another Golden Arrow?” Albus asked.
“I think so. But I’m going to check out the broom shops first. Maybe there’ll be something even better on offer.” He shuffled his feet awkwardly. “I’m really glad your plan worked, you know. It was a good one.”
“It was all Rose,” Albus said. “I just did what I was told.”
“Don’t mind him,” she said. “He was the one who got her to confess.”
Scorpius shrugged. “Well, whatever you did, I’m glad of it. You know?”
Dora’s fellow Ravenclaws were less pleased. Between her various transgressions, she’d lost them almost two hundred points, leaving them in last place. The twenty-five points each Albus and Rose had received for solving the mystery seemed paltry in comparison.
Everybody seemed to know who’d lost them the points. Not only had Scorpius been telling everybody who’d listen about being able to replace his broom, but Dora, Albus and Rose had been seen heading to McGonagall’s office with Professor Blackburn the previous evening and as Dora’d been going around with a scowl on her face, casting baleful looks at Albus and Rose ever since, it probably wasn’t difficult to fill in the blanks.
Albus cringed every time she looked at him. Even though he knew she’d deserved it, he couldn’t help feeling slightly awkward about getting her in so much trouble.
And he dreaded to think what she might do next. She’d more reason than ever to torment them now.
At least he wasn’t the one who had to share a dormitory with her. If he did, he thought he’d be afraid to ever go to sleep. He’d be constantly worrying what she might do when he did.
“I’m not afraid of her,” Rose said, when he raised the topic tentatively. “What can she do to me anyway?”
He didn’t answer, although a long list occurred to him. He didn’t want to worry her.
“Don’t worry about her, Albus,” she continued. “She’s a coward. She won’t dare do anything now we know who she is.”
“I hope you’re right,” he said quietly.
“I usually am.”
The exams were approaching and all of Ravenclaw seemed even more determined than ever to get the highest grades possible.
The same prefect who’d encouraged them to make every effort to win the House Cup addressed them once more.
“All right, we’ve just suffered a major disappointment.” It seemed as if all eyes in the common room turned to Dora, who turned and stormed out of the room. “But we can’t give up now. We’re the smartest house in the school, right? We know that. So let’s play to our strengths and try and get top marks in every single subject in every single year and regain as much as possible of the ground we’ve lost.”
A cheer went up, but it sounded hollow. Everybody knew it wasn’t really possible to make up nearly a hundred and fifty points in the few weeks left in the year.
“Let’s do the best we can, though,” Rose said, when she, Albus, Derek, Rasmus, Nathan, Fionnuala and Angie gathered in the library to study. “We’ll show everybody the rest of the first years aren’t a disgrace to Ravenclaw.”
Nathan looked down.
“I know I’m going to make a mess of things,” he mumbled. “I’m sure I’ve failed Herbology anyway.
“Why? What’d you do?” Angie asked in amusement.
“I knocked over the bush when I was watering it,” he admitted. “And I’m not sure I put it back properly. Professor Longbottom called me out afterwards and asked me what happened. He was very nice about it, but he’s bound to fail me after that, isn’t he?”
“Not necessarily,” Albus said. “I don’t think he’d fail you because of one mistake, do you Rose?”
She shook her head.
Madame Pince, the librarian, glared at them.
“Quiet, please. People are trying to study.”
The following day, Neville collected their projects.
“I wonder if I should dock you a few marks for basically using them as bait,” he teased Albus and Rose.
Albus’s face fell.
“Don’t worry. I’m only joking. In fact, Professor Slughorn specifically mentioned how quickly you collected those Leaping Toadstools he asked for. He was very impressed.”
Albus breathed a sigh of relief.
The truth was the exams were turning out to be rather less difficult than he’d feared. He might not be as smart as Rose or Rasmus, who he knew would be competing for their year’s top marks, but he’d worked hard in all his subjects and found most of the exams manageable.
Even the History of Magic exam wasn’t as impossible as he’d expected it to be, thanks to Rose and Rasmus, who’d started explaining the lessons afterwards to their classmates. Rasmus in particular had a knack of making historical events sound really interesting, causing Albus to wonder why they sounded so boring in class.
Nathan was almost as good as Rasmus and probably better than Rose at History of Magic, but nobody would ever have asked him to explain anything. He was almost as confusing as Binns.
“It makes sense when I write it down,” he’d said once, “but when I try to explain it, I just get confused.”
It was, however, one of the few exams he left smiling.
“I’m pretty sure I did well on that one,” he said. “And I think I did OK in Defence Against the Dark Arts too. I completely messed up the spell, but Professor Jones did say the majority of marks were going for the written exam, didn’t she?”
“She did,” Albus and Rose confirmed simultaneously.
“I wish Slughorn would,” he said worriedly. “I can’t believe he’s not giving us a written exam at all. And I’m so completely useless at Potions. I know I’m going to make an absolute mess of it.”
Although he’d never say so, Albus couldn’t help thinking he probably would. Nathan’s potions were abysmal. It wasn’t unusual for his cauldron to melt or his potion somehow explode.
“Oh dear,” he’d say miserably. “I’ve no idea how that happened.”
Slughorn would then impatiently fix whatever damage he’d done. Unlike Neville, he never reassured Nathan.
Potions wasn’t Albus’s best subject either, but unlike Nathan, he found it easier to actually make the potions than to answer questions on them. It was so much easier to remember what ingredients to use and what order to add them to your potion in when it was all right in front of you.
A certain amount of cheating took place in the Potions exam, as Slughorn never supervised too closely. Instead he walked around, chatting to various students and complimenting the more successful ones on their work.
“Oh, wonderful work, Rose, wonderful. That’s well on its way to gaining you full marks, I’d say. Still what should I expect from the daughter of Hermione Granger?”
Across the room, Abric slipped his Potions book onto his lap.
Albus couldn’t imagine cheating. Apart from anything else, he was absolutely certain he’d be caught if he tried and that would be even worse than failing.
Just watching Abric made him nervous.
Slughorn, however, didn’t appear to notice or if he did, he gave no indication of it.
“Well, I thought that was fairly easy,” Rose said, as they left the classroom. “Didn’t you?”
“Not really,” Albus mumbled.
He’d found it one of the more difficult of their exams.
“Well, I made an absolute mess of it,” Nathan said miserably. “My potion turned green. Green! They were meant to be silver. I can’t think what I did wrong. I suppose I must have knocked something into it when I stumbled that time.” He sighed.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about them now,” Derek said sensibly, “so there’s no point in worrying. We’ll find out how we did soon enough anyway.”
In fact, Neville returned their Herbology projects that very evening.
“Good work, Albus,” he said, smiling.
Albus flicked his project open and grinned broadly. He’d got ninety-three percent.
“How did you do?” Rose leaned over to see his mark. “Oh, well done.”
“How’d you do?” he asked.
“Ninety-seven percent.” She grinned. “Pretty good, eh?”
Their other results were equally satisfactory. Rose got the highest marks in the class in Herbology, Astronomy, Defence Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration, with Rasmus topping the class in History of Magic, Charms and Potions.
In addition to Herbology, Albus had also done particularly well in Defence Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration.
“Well done, Albus.” Professor Blackburn turned the sides of her mouth upwards in an attempt at a smile as she handed his test back to him. She looked tired.
“Um, thanks Professor.”
“Excellent work, Rose,” she continued. “Highest mark in the class.”
She paused for a moment and the class applauded politely.
“Thanks,” Rose said. “Em, are you all right, Professor?”
“I’m fine, Rose, thanks. I’m just tired. Exams mean a lot of work for us too, you know.”
She moved on to hand back the rest of the tests.
Rose turned to Albus and shrugged.
He didn’t know what she expected. Professor Blackburn was a teacher. She was hardly going to tell them her business. He wasn’t even sure he’d want to know anyway.
Once they’d received the last of their results, all that was left of their first year was the end of year feast.
“Can you believe we’re almost second years?” he asked Derek as they sat down.
“God, I hadn’t even thought of that. When we come back in September, we won’t be the new kids any more, will we?” He paused. “It’ll be fun to see the Sorting, knowing what’s going to happen.”
Their conversation was interrupted by Professor McGonagall clapping her hands for silence.
“Another year is coming to an end. I hope it’s been a good one for all of you, particularly those of you for whom it’s your last. I’ll be talking to you specially later, but for now, I’d like the school to give you one last cheer before you say your final goodbyes.”
A cheer went up around the Hall. Albus glanced across to the Gryffindor table in an attempt to catch Victoire’s eye, but she was surrounded by James and her younger siblings, who were obviously congratulating her on completing her years at Hogwarts.
Once the excitement died down, Professor McGonagall began to speak again.
“Now, before I continue, I should probably announce the results of the House Cup.”
Around the Ravenclaw table, faces fell. They’d succeeded in gaining a little of the ground lost, passing Slytherin in the process, but it was still disappointing to have lost after they’d been so close to winning.
“In fourth place, we have Slytherin, with three hundred and seventy-five points. In third place, Ravenclaw, with three hundred and eighty-seven. In second place, Hufflepuff with four hundred and forty-two. And our winners are Gryffindor with four hundred and ninety points.”
The Gryffindor table erupted with cheers, as McGonagall waved her wand and the Hall was instantly decorated in red and gold.
She allowed the cheers to continue for a while, before clapping her hands for silence. She was still smiling, however, and Albus remembered she’d been Head of Gryffindor before becoming Headmistress.
“We’ve said goodbye to our seventh years, but there’s one more person leaving us this year, somebody who’s given more years to Hogwarts than most of us can even imagine. I’m sure you are all as sorry as I am that Professor Slughorn has finally decided to retire.”
Professor Slughorn rose from his seat.
“If I may be permitted to say a few words.” He glanced at McGonagall.
“Of course, Professor Slughorn.”
She sat down.
“I began my career at Hogwarts in nineteen-twenty-seven, long before any of you or your parents or even many of your grandparents were even thought of. And I spent fifty years, educating numerous generations of young witches and wizards in the fine art of Potions, before I finally decided the time had come for me to retire.”
“He retired before?” Derek leaned over to Albus, looking confused.
“To be entirely honest, I had no real intention of ever returning to teaching,” Slughorn continued. “The years following my retirement were good ones. I was regularly visited by old students, expressing their gratitude for certain little favours I’d been able to do them over the years. Some of them even said they owed their careers to me.” He permitted himself a little chuckle. “I went on hunting expeditions, fished, attended Quidditch matches and dinners. Life was good. But then, as you know, the war came and Albus Dumbledore, who was Headmaster here at the time, began to have some difficulty replacing teachers he’d lost. We’d worked together for many years. He was a very old friend of mine. So when he asked me to return, I agreed to do him a favour.
“I only intended to remain for a couple of years, just until my dear friend, Albus could find a replacement, but then he died, as did another Headmaster - Severus Snape, a war hero and probably the best Potions student I ever taught.”
The atmosphere in the Hall began to get uncomfortable.
“Of course I couldn’t desert the Headmistress then, not when I was obviously needed to help return Hogwarts to its former glorious reputation and after that, there was always another reason to delay retiring - a class about to take their N.E.W.T.S. or a new student I’d taken an interest in and wanted to help succeed. At regular intervals, I’d say ‘once all the current Slug Club have graduated, I’m definitely retiring’, but then another student with promise would arrive and I’d think ‘I just have to see how he or she progresses’.
“Even now, there’s a part of me that regrets leaving. There are so many of you I’d like to get to know better and so many students due to arrive over the coming years, I’d love to teach. But, as in nineteen-eighty-one, I know the time has come. I’m an old man now, have been for a long time. It’s time to return to my comfortable retirement.
“I hope you’ll all come to see me and if I can help you in any way, particularly my old friends in the Slug Club, don’t hesitate to get in touch.”
He sat down and a cheer went up around the Hall. Slughorn could be irritating, but there was a genuine fondness for him, nonetheless.
Professor McGonagall stood up again.
“Thank you, Professor Slughorn. I know I speak for everybody here when I wish you a long and happy retirement. And now, I think we’ve had enough speeches. Time for the feast to begin.”
A variety of delicious foods appeared on the dishes at the centre of the tables and the students wasted no time in tucking in.
The feast continued on late into the evening and the following day, students prepared to return home for the holidays. As his parents had predicted, Albus had more belongings than would fit in his trunk and had to send some lighter items on ahead by owl post.
Eventually, however, he was packed and ready to leave.
“Well, I guess that’s our first year at Hogwarts over,” Rose said, as they waited to board the Hogwarts Express. “I wonder what adventures next year will bring.”
“Hopefully, none at all,” Albus said. “I could do with a nice, peaceful year, thank you very much.”
But even as he said it, he realised how unlikely that was. A peaceful life didn’t seem to exist at Hogwarts.
Thanks to everybody who's followed this story from the beginning. I hope you've enjoyed it.
Special thanks to everybody who's reviewed, particularly Pheonix Potioneer and water_lily43175, who've reviewed so consistently. But you've all been magnificent. I've loved hearing all your thoughts and views and your constructive criticism has been really helpful.
I hope you'll all join me for year 2, which is now also posted under the title The Rise of the A.W.L.