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Snakes and Ladders by Sheriff
Chapter 8 : Water Leapers
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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 ‘What do you think he’s got in store for us this week, then?’ Isaac greeted the second-year Gryffindors outside Professor Jenkins’ classroom the following Monday.

‘I don’t know,’ Joshua responded, grimly, ‘but I’m keeping my wand in my pocket if I can help it.’

‘I don’t blame you, mate,’ Greg sympathised with his friend’s decision, but was stopped short of adding anything extra by the slow creak of the door hinges.

Dylan Jenkins’ bald head appeared in the doorway. ‘Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.’ He stepped backwards, pulling the door inward as he did so, and allowed the children to enter a room that couldn’t have been much more different to the battlefield they had left a week earlier.

‘What’s that?’ A disjointed chorus of voices asked much the same question as the second-years noticed the room’s lighting reflecting back from one side of its floor.

‘It’s water.’

‘What, inside?’

‘He had a forest last week.’

‘It’s like a swimming pool…’

Claim and counter-claim jostled for volume, before each fell silent under the teacher’s raised voice.

‘Last week we learned a number of lessons,’ the professor intoned, ‘and I will be interested to see how many of these have truly been taken on board. Today, we look at another part of our surroundings that you underestimate at your peril.’

‘Water?’ Aidan asked aloud.

Jenkins answered by repeat. ‘Water,’ he echoed, his tone carrying far more finality than the boy’s question had done. ‘Any volunteers?’

The crowd of children shuffled fractionally forward, towards the point where the panelled floor of the classroom dipped slowly beneath the murky surface. The pool stretched back almost a dozen metres, filling all but half of the low, wide room, and as the second years peered into its surface, they discovered they couldn’t make out much beyond the first few feet.

‘To go in there?’ Greg checked he had properly understood the man’s question.

Jenkins nodded.

Greg exhaled, sharply. ‘We can’t see!’ he protested. ‘We don’t know how deep it is, what’s on the bottom, what’s in there…’

A thin smile spread across the teacher’s face. ‘Correct, Mr Bennett. Five points to Slytherin,’ he paused for a moment. ‘Now, there are further house points hidden within the water. Your task, in teams of four – teams I have chosen, I add, with a mix of boys and girls, Slytherins and Gryffindors,’ the teacher ignored the groans around him, ‘will be to collect them. You have ninety minutes, after which one student from each team will be allowed ten minutes in the water. There will be three seventh-year NEWT students present to intervene should it be necessary.’

*

A moment later, Greg found himself in one corner of the room, with Joshua, Ciaran and a blond Gryffindor girl whom he knew by name as Ingrid Nyren.

‘Does anyone want to do it?’ Greg looked around the group as a nervous silence followed his question. ‘I mean, I will if no one else does…’

‘Thanks, Greg,’ Joshua nodded. ‘Usually I would, but…’

Greg managed a thin smile. ‘It’s okay, mate,’ he acknowledged, simply. ‘So, we’ve got an hour and a half to come up with a plan.’

‘I’ve got some waterproofed boots,’ Joshua offered, quickly, ‘back in… in my…’

‘Cool,’ Greg smiled.

‘I’ll go and get them if you want.’

The Slytherin boy got to his feet. ‘I’ll come with you. Thanks.’ Greg followed his friend out of the classroom and into the relative privacy of the corridor. ‘Have you got anything else?’

Joshua shrugged. ‘I’ve got some swimming trunks if you want those?’

Greg winced. ‘I don’t know,’ he shook his head. ‘I’d kind of like a bit more defence than that.’

‘What, though?’ Joshua retorted. ‘You can’t wear your robes, can you?’

‘Guess not,’ Greg admitted. ‘You haven’t got a wetsuit, have you?’

‘A what-suit?’

Greg laughed. ‘Never mind. I guess they’ll have to do. What do you think there’ll be in the water?’

‘I have absolutely no idea,’ Joshua dug into a drawer in the corner of his untidy bedroom, dragging out a baggy pair of swimshorts, before retrieving a heavy-looking pair of boots from beneath his bed. ‘They’re not as heavy as they look.’

‘I hope not!’ Greg took the boots from his friend, before turning to head back to the Defence classroom. ‘Thanks.’

‘What’s your plan, then?’ Joshua caught up to the other boy.

‘See what Ciaran and Ingrid have worked out first,’ Greg answered, ‘and take it slow when I get in there… real slow.’

*

‘Your ninety minutes are almost up,’ Jenkins’ voice echoed around the classroom. ‘If you need to change clothing, please do so now,’ the teacher pointed out a set of screens against one wall of the room, and Greg got to his feet to cross the room.

‘I guessed it was going to be you,’ Theo greeted him a moment later.

Greg smirked. ‘How did you manage that?’ he pulled his shirt over his head. ‘I wonder…’

‘At least our groups were alright,’ Theo continued, ‘I’d hate to have been in Zac’s,’ he observed, watching the brown-haired boy stand up and make his own way towards the changing area. ‘Holly and Megan…’

Greg shook his head. ‘Alright, Zac?’

‘What do you think?’ the new arrival rolled his eyes. ‘I got to spend an hour and a half with the bitch queen from Hades.’

Theo snorted. ‘They come up with any ideas?’

‘The best they had was leaving me there to die,’ he shook his head. ‘Me and Aidan just ignored them, but we couldn’t think of much.’ Isaac took a deep breath. ‘Can we stick together in there?’ he asked, his voice dropping.

‘Of course,’ Greg answered in an instant. ‘Whoever’s on the sides, look out and cover,’ he took a breath. Did anyone come up with any decent plans?’

‘Not really,’ Theo admitted, ‘I just practised some simple charms – Protego, Stupefy, you know.’

‘We figured there’d be stuff from last week down there,’ Greg ventured. ‘Things where you’ve got to work out your surroundings.’

Isaac nodded. ‘Me and Aidan thought we should start at one side, that way we know there’s nothing coming from where the wall is.’

‘We think there’s nothing coming from where the wall is,’ Greg corrected his friend. ‘Well,’ he forced optimism into his voice, ‘let’s do this. Wands out!’

With the exception of Holly and Megan, the other second-years had gathered by the makeshift shoreline by the time the three Slytherins set foot in the murky water.

‘Good luck, Theo!’ a girl’s voice called out, and Isaac nudged his friend in the back as he heard.

‘At least you’ve got something from today… even if we get attacked by one of the giant squid’s grandchildren,’ he teased.

Theo blushed. ‘Shut up, Zac,’ he hissed. ‘Lumos!’ the blond boy pointed his wand into the surface of the water, watching a beam of light dart away before fading into nothingness.

‘I’ll duck under,’ Greg offered, taking a lungful of air before squatting down low and repeating his friend’s charm. ‘It’s clear,’ he answered, seconds later, shaking the water from his hair. ‘Nothing around but one of the points balls.’

‘Go get it,’ Theo suggested, quickly. ‘I’ll guard you… Isaac, stay above the water.’

‘Okay,’ the other boys followed their friend’s suggestion and quickly retrieved the first set of house points, a small orb that glowed a dull yellow as Greg tossed it to Josh on the shoreline. ‘Now what?’

‘Stick to the side,’ Isaac insisted. ‘Stick to the plan.’

The three boys made steady progress along the edge of the classroom, throwing a couple more of the tennis-ball sized orbs back to their fellow second-years, before a large air bubble caught the Slytherins’ attention.

‘What was that?’ Isaac noticed it first.

‘What was what?’ Theo echoed.

‘There,’ Isaac pointed as another air bubble broke the surface.

‘No idea,’ Greg followed his friend’s arm, watching another two bubbles break the surface. ‘Stick together…’ he whispered. ‘What the hell…?’

A wide head lifted above the water surface, two yellowing saucer eyes, at least a foot apart, blinking at the three boys, who drew closer together as a grey-green, scaly and froglike head emerged from the water, followed by a bulbous mouth that covered the width of the creature’s face.

‘Wands…’ Greg noticed that his arm had begun to shiver despite his best efforts to keep it still. ‘On three…’

Before the twelve-year-old could add anything else, however, the creature opened its cavernous mouth, letting loose a shrill squeal that instantly forced the boys to jam their hands over their ears and reducing them to spectators as the head rose upwards, accompanied by long skeletal wings and a curving, lizard tail topped with a sharp, razor point. The creature reared up, breaking the water surface before diving down at the second-years, its mouth spreading to swallow the boys.

‘Stab it…’ Theo forced his wand arm up towards the creature’s open mouth, and his two housemates copied wordlessly. Their wands sliced up through its throat and into the back of its neck, joined at the last instant by a purple beam that shot from Theo’s wand and through the beast’s skin, leaving a leathery carcass spread across the boys’ heads, before the hole widened and the creature’s body slipped down to the waterbed.

‘Shit,’ Isaac choked, feeling the scales drop down his shoulders, before yelling out in pain as the sharp point of the tail dug into his ribs.

‘Zac!’ the other two boys shouted in unison, watching aghast as their housemate lose his balance with a stagger, his eyes glazing over as Greg lunged to grab his arm. ‘Come on, Theo,’ he urged, ‘we’ve got to get him back!’

Theo had no hesitation in copying his friend, snatching Isaac’s other arm and striking out for the edge of the pool. It took less than twenty seconds for the two boys to drag the third ashore, dropping him at the feet of his classmates, before another panicked shout distracted the two Slytherins.

‘Greg!’ Ciaran’s voice rose sharply. ‘Your legs!’

Greg looked around suddenly, yelling out in surprise as he noticed a set of spindly arms grasping his knees, and before the twelve-year-old could work out what was happening, he had been hauled to the ground.

‘Greg!’ Theo echoed the other boy’s shouts, pulling his friend back to his feet, an unwitting rope in a lethal tug-of-war.

‘Reducto!’ Joshua’s yell shook the classroom. ‘Reducto!’

Two bursts of blue light shot from the Gryffindor’s wand, striking the creatures that clung on to Greg’s legs and blasting them backwards, detaching them from their would-be prey and allowing Theo the time he needed to drag his friend from the water and onto the shoreline beside Joshua.

‘Thanks, mate…’ Greg breathed, picking the bony arms away from his kneecaps and wincing as he felt a raw burn around the joints.

‘Well, then,’ Jenkins drew the students’ attention back to Isaac’s prone body, as the brown-haired boy squirmed and coughed on the ground in front of them, his right arm blotching as an angry rash grew along his skin. ‘Anyone think they can handle this young man’s problems?’

Lucas shuffled forwards. ‘I can try,’ he offered, kneeling down next to his housemate and resting his wand on the boy’s neck. ‘Anapneo,’ he murmured, closing his eyes and listening as his friend’s breathing grew calmer and steadier. ‘That’s all I know…’

‘That’s enough, Mr Brand,’ the professor’s voice rose again. ‘Ten points to Slytherin. I’ll take it from here.’ He dug a thin vial of liquid from the pocket of his robes and, using the thin end of a pipette, sprinkled it across Isaac’s swollen arm. ‘You seem to attract trouble, Mr Davies,’ the man remarked.

Isaac could only manage a low grunt in reply, before struggling to a sitting position. ‘That’s how you get experience, right…?’

Theo smiled. ‘Just a whole load of bad decisions…’ he repeated a phrase he’d first uttered the term before. ‘That’s what…’

‘…your rugby coach says,’ the other Slytherin boys completed their housemate’s sentence.

‘It does help if you survive them, nonetheless,’ Jenkins observed, drily. ‘Now, I wonder,’ he continued, ‘what have we learned this week?’

Greg shook his head, still gingerly feeling the raw skin on his knees. ‘I don’t even know what they were… did they do this?’ he pointed to the red marks around his legs. ‘Or was that…’

‘It was me, wasn’t it?’ Joshua grimaced, and the teacher had no option but to nod slowly.

‘It was, Mr Tregeagle,’ the man confirmed, ‘but they are nothing a short trip to Madam Pomfrey’s won’t fix up… and in my book, a few burns are a much better alternative to being dragged to the depths by a Grindylow. Five points to Gryffindor for your initiative,’ he continued, ‘but next time, you’ll find it easier to break their fingers. As for Mr Davies’ nemesis, that was a Llamhigyn y Dŵr,’ his tongue rolled over the Welsh vowels, ‘a Water Leaper. Your assignment for Wednesday is to find out a great deal more about this little-known beastie.’

*

‘Water Leapers…’ Glyn shook his head. ‘I still can’t believe he made you face one of them.’ The Hufflepuff boy had joined his friends in the Slytherin dungeon the following evening as they struggled to catch up with two days’ worth of homework on top of a long Quidditch practice. ‘I wasn’t even sure there were that many of them left…’

‘I know what I’m starting with,’ Isaac snorted. ‘Water Leapers are scary little bastards that look like a cross between a bat and a frog with a lizard’s tail and a stinger that stops you breathing…’

‘Dare you,’ Theo teased, ‘go on.’

Lucas ignored his housemates’ chatter. ‘If they’re as dangerous as that, how come we can’t find anything in any books about them?’

‘No,’ Glyn interrupted, ‘you can. You just have to look hard enough,’ he planted a finger on a double page that sat on the desk in front of him, pointing out a picture of the ugly creature. ‘Oh,’ he added as Greg peered over his shoulder. ‘It helps if you know Welsh.’

‘I know what the Welsh is for “slow”, if that helps…?’ Greg volunteered.

‘That’s only because it’s painted on the roads all over Harlech!’ Glyn laughed. ‘Anyway, it says here that Water Leapers are found in the mountains of North Wales, particularly the high lakes, or cwms, of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.’

‘Harlech’s in Snowdonia, right?’ Lucas checked.

Glyn nodded. ‘Yeah, but just on the edge,’ he confirmed. ‘Most of the mountains are further north than us.’

‘Have you ever seen one?’ Theo, like his housemates, was now paying total attention to Glyn’s translation of the old book.

‘No,’ the Welsh boy shook his head. ‘Dad used to tell me and Iestyn stories about all the creatures that lived in the mountains, though, and the Leaper was one of them. I remember it was one that scared Iestyn the most…’ he returned to the book. ‘It has the body of a giant toad, wide batlike wings and a long tail capped with a sharp stinger. It preys mainly on fish, but has also been known to feed on sheep that stray too close to its watery homes. Attacks on humans are rare but not undocumented.’

Glyn took a deep breath. ‘The sting contains a poison that, whilst not fatal to adults, can cause a painful rash on contact, as well as muscle contractions that can lead to shortness of breath.’

‘They got that bit right,’ Isaac supplied.

‘Well,’ Glyn continued, ‘the rest of it talks about how you should deal with them, and the counter-spells and cures you should use if you get stung.’

‘Was Anapneo right?’ Lucas asked.

Glyn nodded. ‘Where did you learn that one?’

The redheaded boy shrugged. ‘I was reading up on basic healing spells last week, after what happened with Josh and Zac,’ he explained. ‘Like Jenkins said, I wanted to try and learn some of the simple ones like Tergeo, for cleaning wounds, and Episkey, but the book said that the most important thing was making sure someone could breathe alright.’

‘Yeah,’ Theo added, ‘it’s the same in muggle first aid: the first thing we’re meant to check is ABC… airway, breathing and circulation.’

‘Can you teach us those spells, Lukie?’ Greg asked. ‘Jenkins is right, we need to know them.’

‘I’ll try,’ Lucas agreed.

‘Thanks, mate,’ Greg smiled. ‘Is there anything else in that book, Glyn?’

The Welsh boy shrugged. ‘Not much,’ he admitted. ‘It says they have pretty thin skins, and a well-aimed Diffindo spell can cut right through them.’

‘What did you cast, Theo?’ Isaac asked. ‘When it jumped at us?’

‘I’ve got no idea,’ the blond boy admitted. ‘It was like Josh last week, accidental magic.’

‘It was good accidental magic, though,’ Greg reassured his friend. ‘No way would I have wanted to end up inside that thing’s mouth.’

‘Well, that’s it,’ Glyn let the book slam shut. ‘I guess I know what we’ve got to expect on Thursday,’ he forced a thin smile. ‘I guess I’d better get back now.’

‘Fair enough,’ Greg nodded. ‘I’ll go get Ossie,’ he pushed himself to his feet, leading the Hufflpuff across the common room to the fifth-year prefect. ‘Thanks for helping us out, mate,’ he acknowledged the other boy. ‘Maybe Slughorn really does know what he’s talking about inviting you to his little club.’

Glyn snorted. ‘Yeah, right,’ he shook his head as Oscar Symons stood up to guide the second-year back to his own dormitory. ‘See you, mate.’

*

Greg hooked his thumb into the stiff collar of the white shirt that Professor Slughorn had supplied him, giving him a moment’s breath from the black tie that stymied his breathing. He stood in one corner of the Potion Master’s quarters, holding a silver platter arranged with small portions of snacks and finger foods, none of which he could identify, waiting for the professor to allow Glyn to escape from his clutches and offer him some company.

The September evening was overcast and stuffy, and Greg soon felt beads of sweat beginning to mix with the wax that his Head of House had insisted he combed into his hair. As he glanced around the room, he noticed very few children near his own age. Glyn was still cornered by the teacher, surrounded by a handful of older students, but he could not identify any other second-years. He took a step to one side, trying to peer around the gathered pupils, and blinked as he noticed a short boy sitting on a bench at the far side of the room with his head buried in his hands. ‘Who’s that?’ he turned to the boy beside him, but his waiting colleague could only shrug. ‘Some first-year,’ the teenager dismissed Greg’s question, before turning his back on the twelve-year-old to refill his own silver platter.

Greg sighed, stepping back to his own post and resigning himself to counting the minutes until Glyn worked free of Slughorn’s attention, and trying to work out what any of the food on the tray in front of him used to be. It was nearly half an hour before the other second-year managed to join his friend.

‘Having fun?’ Greg couldn’t keep the bitterness out of his voice, and Glyn noticed.

‘Hey,’ he snapped, ‘I didn’t ask to come here, remember!’ the Hufflepuff glared at the other boy. ‘And did it look like I was having fun?’

Greg’s head dropped. ‘I guess not,’ he admitted, ‘but at least you haven’t been standing here with a plate of crap that no one wants to eat.’

Glyn tried, and failed, to suppress a laugh. ‘Go on, I’ll have some. What is it?’

‘Do I look like I know?’ the Slytherin managed a thin smile of his own. ‘They smell like some kind of fish…’

Glyn picked up a serving, holding it up to his nose and checking its aroma for himself. ‘Woah,’ he gagged, ‘it must be some very old fish.’

‘Maybe it’s that Water Leaper,’ Greg suggested.

The Welsh boy paused, his mouth half-open. ‘Do you think so? Really?’

‘How should I know?’ Greg shook his head. ‘Do I look like a house-elf?’

Glyn’s raised his eyebrows, his smile growing wider, and the Slytherin punched him playfully in the side as he turned away.

‘Piss off, Welshy,’ Greg echoed his friend’s laughter. ‘Go on, try the Water Leaper.’

‘I will if you do.’

‘Fine,’ Greg accepted the challenge. No backing out, you’ve got to swallow it. On three, two, one…’

The twelve-year-olds screwed their eyes shut, feeling the leathery texture of the fish squeeze down their throats and leaving a bitter taste as it forced its way into their stomachs.

‘That’s disgusting,’ Greg managed, sticking his tongue out and gasping for fresh air. ‘Why would anyone want to eat that…?’

Glyn shook his head. ‘I’ll get some water,’ he offered, shuttling across the room to grab two glasses, which the boys downed without hesitation. ‘Ugh.’

‘What was Slughorn talking to you about, then?’ Greg changed the subject of their conversation, and his friend winced at the memory.

‘He kept going on about the Heir of Merlin thing,’ the Hufflepuff explained, ‘asking me about my grandparents and my great-grandparents, like he was trying to work out if I was really descended from Merlin.’

‘You are, right?’ Greg checked.

‘I don’t know!’

‘You’ve got to be, haven’t you?’ the blond boy insisted. ‘Otherwise none of that bloodline thing would have worked last summer, and the Hunt would have killed you…’

Glyn shrugged. ‘I don’t know,’ he repeated emptily. ‘I told you, I have no idea why I said it,’ his voice dropped. ‘I don’t remember thinking it. It just happened.’

‘We’ll figure out why, mate,’ the Slytherin insisted. ‘We worked out the Wild Hunt, didn’t we? We’ll work out this as well.’

‘I hope so,’ the Welsh boy managed, ‘but not now,’ he shook his head, ‘not after Slughorn’s been going on at me about it.’

‘Alright,’ Greg didn’t force the issue. ‘Do you know why that first-year’s here?’

Glyn looked around. ‘Which first-year?’

‘Over there, sat on his own,’ Greg gestured. ‘He’s been there for ages.’

‘Not sure,’ Glyn admitted. ‘I’ll go ask him.’

The Hufflepuff set out across the room, and as he returned moments later Greg knew that he wouldn’t have to ask the younger boy’s name.

‘Hey, Tom,’ he recognised the first-year, realising that the younger boy’s hair was, like his own, slicked back unnecessarily, pressing the brown curtains down onto the sides of his face and revealing a forehead scattered with freckles.

‘Hi,’ the first-year murmured.

‘You alright?’

Thomas shrugged.

‘How come you got invited, then?’ Greg persisted.

The younger boy looked down at his polished shoes and mumbled something that neither of the second-years could hear properly.

‘What?’

Thomas sighed. ‘He thought I might have been related to someone he taught once,’ he spoke slowly. ‘Turned out I wasn’t… and he kind of lost interest after that.’ The eleven-year-old looked back up at the older boys, trying to force a smile but only succeeding in biting his bottom lip.

‘Don’t let it bother you,’ Glyn let his hand rest on the first-year’s shoulder for a moment. ‘Anyone who’s only interested in you cause of who you’re related to isn’t worth worrying about.’

‘Thanks.’ This time the younger boy’s smile was genuine.

‘It’s okay,’ Glyn nodded, sitting down on an old chair beside the platter of unidentified fish. ‘It’s the only reason Slughorn’s bothered about me.’

Thomas bit his lip again. ‘Oh,’ he managed, glancing around the corner of the room, before his eyes fell on the discarded tray of canapes. ‘What are they?’

Greg shook his head. ‘We have no idea,’ he admitted. ‘They’re weird. Nothing like anything we’ve ever tasted before.’

The first-year picked up a portion, biting down on the strange fish before grimacing as he gagged on its taste.

‘Told you,’ Greg smirked. ‘Nothing like anything…’ he laughed as Thomas tried, and failed, to prevent himself from retching as several dozen eyes turned towards him.

Thomas coughed and spluttered, snatching for a handrest to support himself as he struggled to hold his balance, before finally regaining his composure and staring at Greg with a pale face that registered an obvious, embarrassed hurt.

‘Tom…’ the blond boy began, but the first-year didn’t let him finish speaking, heading straight for the door and letting it slam behind as the other guests dissolved back into their own conversations. ‘I didn’t mean that,’ he swallowed. ‘Shit…’

‘Come on,’ Glyn stood up. ‘We’d better go after him.’

‘Yeah,’ Greg nodded, distractedly, before turning to follow his friend to the door. ‘I bet he’s gone the long way round,’ he suggested. ‘He won’t know the shortcut back to the dungeon.’ Greg unfastened the top button of his shirt and dragged the thin black tie free from his neck. ‘Tom?’ he called. ‘Thomas?’

‘He’s not going to answer,’ Glyn predicted.

Greg sighed. ‘I never thought he’d throw up.’

‘I know…’ Glyn’s reply was cut off by a high-pitched scream that echoed from the hallway above. ‘Shit...’

‘That was him, wasn’t it?’

Glyn nodded.

Greg swore again. ‘What are we going to do?’

The Hufflepuff stared back at him. ‘Depends if you ever want him to trust you again.’

Greg winced, before setting his face into a mask of concentration. ‘Let’s go.’ He broke into a run, hurrying up the stone stairwell ahead of him and around into the corridor above, only to come face-to-face with a pair of fifth-years as they towered over Thomas’ shivering form, trapping him in an arched alcove. ‘Hey!’ Greg yelled without pausing to think. ‘Leave him alone!’

‘Or what?’ the shorter of the two bullies sneered. ‘What are you going to do?’

Greg stared, wordlessly, at the fifth-years, clenching his hand around his wand as the older boys glared back at him. A flash of green light shot suddenly in the twelve-year-olds’ direction, only to jolt straight back as the purple pulse of a shield charm curved around the second-years. The curse deflected away from Greg and his friend, striking the taller boy above the eye.

Thomas let out another squeak of shock as an eruption of lurid, green-brown boils bubbled onto the fifth-year’s face.

‘What are you looking at?’ the curse victim turned to face the first-year, letting loose a furious right hook that struck Thomas squarely across the nose, instantly yielding a fountain of crimson blood, before the older boys turned to run.

‘Tom…’ Greg sunk down beside the eleven-year-old as the first-year jerked his head away. ‘It’s safe now, they’ve gone…’

Thomas buried his face in his hands, fighting to hide his tears but only managing to smear a trail of blood across his forehead and dishevel the curtains of his hair.

‘Are you going to be alright?’ Greg lowered his voice. ‘How’s that cut?’

‘Aren’t you just gonna laugh at me again?’ Thomas’ raw voice was muffled by a barrier of his fringe and his fingers.

Greg felt his stomach tighten as he heard the younger boy’s accusation. ‘I won’t,’ he insisted. ‘I promise.’

‘Really?’

‘Really.’

The first-year lifted his face slowly, revealing a heavy swelling across one cheek, dwarfing pale skin where his natural freckles mixed with an equally busy scattering of blood.

‘Shit…’ Greg muttered.

‘Is it bad?’ Thomas’ voice caught in his throat.

Greg hesitated for long enough for the younger boy to answer his own question.

‘Please don’t tell anyone,’ Thomas blinked back a fresh burst of tears. ‘They’ll just let my parents know, and, and…’ the first-year dissolved again.

‘We won’t tell,’ Greg put an arm across the boy’s shoulders, ‘and I can try to heal that up for you if you want.’

Thomas looked up, timidly.

‘We’ve been practising healing spells in Defence,’ the second-year explained. ‘I only know the simple ones, but it should be enough.’

‘Alright,’ Thomas nodded.

Greg swallowed, lifting his wand to sit on the bridge of the eleven-year-old’s nose. ‘Tergeo.’ He watched as the rash of blood first thinned and then faded completely. ‘Episkey…’

Thomas winced, forcing a sharp intake of breath into his lungs and blinking twice, then three times as he steeled himself to avoid any further tears. ‘Thanks,’ he managed a weak smile.

‘That’s okay,’ Greg acknowledged. ‘Slytherins Stick Together.’


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