Albus’s dreams were haunted by the pale, bloodless face of Professor Sprout. He kept seeing the dirt clinging to her grey hair, kept reliving the moment when her body went still and her breathing stopped.
When he woke, Albus felt as if he hadn’t slept a wink. In the next bed, Arty was tossing and turning, growling in his sleep. He didn’t wake as Albus got dressed. Neither did he stir when Albus left the dormitory, shutting the door quietly behind him. Albus climbed the stairs to the common room, intending to go straight to the Hospital Wing, but halfway towards the dungeon corridor, Pan rose from a nearby chair and came to walk beside him.
“Sprout?” he whispered to her questioningly.
She shook her head, then gestured meaningfully towards the fireplace, where Julia Hopkirk and Missy Groombridge were watching them. She waited until they were in the dungeon passage before answering. “Sprout didn’t look good,” she said, “but Flitwick wouldn’t let me come with him to the Hospital Wing. He sent me straight to the common room.”
“Do you think she’s…” Albus couldn’t bring himself to say the word dead. To think he might’ve been one of the last people Professor Sprout ever spoke to…
They made their way to the Hospital Wing.
“What happened with Thorn and McGonagall after I left?” Pan asked. “Did they check the greenhouse?”
“No,” Albus replied. “McGonagall left Thorn to do it by himself.”
“So if there’s something dangerous in that greenhouse…” Pan said.
“Thorn’s had time to get rid of the evidence,” Albus finished bitterly.
“But there were no marks on Sprout’s body,” said Pan. “Not that I saw, anyway. What kind of creature attacks without leaving any damage?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” Albus replied. He knew, even as he said it, how risky it was – too risky, perhaps. But how else were they going to discover the truth?
“That greenhouse is dangerous, Albus,” Pan told him.
“But there might be a clue in there about what happened to Sprout,” Albus replied. Their footsteps slowed as they approached the double-doors to the Hospital Wing, doors that, as they drew closer, were pushed open. Albus and Pan stepped back as none other than Thorn himself stepped out, his grey robes ruffled and dirt-stained; apparently, he hadn’t changed clothes since the previous night. Had he even gone to bed? As soon as he clapped eyes upon Albus and Pan, his jaw tightened. “You two should be at breakfast,” he said testily.
“We want to see Professor Sprout,” Albus told him.
Thorn, whose wand was gripped tightly in his hand, eyed Albus coldly. “Professor Sprout isn’t here,” he said. “She’s been sent to St Mungo’s.”
St Mungo’s? Albus’s insides twisted.
There was a horrible silence. Thorn folded his arms across his chest, drawing his robes about him like a shroud. “Professor Sprout is incredibly ill,” he told them.
“Will she recover?” Pan asked.
“I am not a healer, Miss Parkinson,” said Thorn, “but suffice to say none of the magic we possess here was strong enough to help her.” He nodded dismissively towards the opposite end of the corridor. “Away with both of you.” He leaned forwards, the broad lines of his face wrinkling with suspicion. “No one likes it when Slytherins sneak around the castle.”
He brushed past them and swept along the corridor.
“He really doesn’t like us Slytherins,” Pan commented, eyeing the spot where Thorn’s robes had just whipped out of sight. “Sneak?” She said the word with both contempt and affrontery. “We’ll show him sneaking”—she smirked at Albus—“when we break into his precious greenhouse.”
“Right…” said Albus, gulping down his unease.
Pan seemed to notice his discomfort. “Albus, this was your idea,” she reminded him.
“I know,” he said. “I’m just—”
“Worried?” Pan put in.
Albus looked out of a nearby window at the overcast Hogwarts grounds, at the Whomping Willow as it shook rain from its branches and then at the greenhouses. He remembered what McGonagall had said to him the previous evening. You are so like your father.
Had she been right? Was this the kind of thing his father would have done? Harry Potter had solved the mystery of the Philosopher’s Stone in his first year at Hogwarts. He’d got past a three-headed dog, a jungle of devil’s snare and a malicious life-sized chessboard. Would he have been scared to enter a greenhouse?
No, he would’ve done anything he could to find out what hurt Professor Sprout.
“I think we should do it today,” Albus said abruptly.
“I agree,” replied Pan. “We can do it before my quidditch training starts. But we’re eating breakfast first. I’m starving.”
Albus eyed the platters of pastries, bread, pancakes and oatmeal without much desire to eat. He kept thinking about their plan to sneak into Greenhouse 9, wondering what they’d find in there – if anything. By the time Pan suggested they head back to the dormitories, he’d barely taken a bite of toast. Taking his toast with him, he walked with her out of the Great Hall, heading towards the common room. They needed to get their cloaks and scarves. If they were going to sneak out of the castle in this icy weather, they’d need thicker clothes.
When Albus arrived in his dormitory, he paused in the doorway. Arty was sitting at the end of his bed, staring out at the undulating pondweed and darting fish of the Black Lake, his shoulders drooped.
Albus lingered on the threshold, not sure whether he should enter. But as if in answer to his thoughts, Arty cleared his throat and wiped furiously at his eyes. “You can come in,” he said.
Albus shut the door and walked inside. He stood awkwardly by the chest of drawers, frowning down at Arty.
“Albus,” the boy said, his voice quiet, “are you… Are you afraid of me?”
The question caught Albus off-guard. Before he could muster a response, Arty’s shoulders drooped lower. “You are,” he said.
“No,” replied Albus quickly. “Why would you say that?”
“Julia’s scared of me,” he said. “I think she knows. She was outside the room when McGonagall told you about my curse. Missy too.”
“Julia’s scared of everything,” Albus assured him. “She’s always crying about something.”
“She won’t come near me, Albus,” he said. “She doesn’t even want to speak to me.” His face twisted into a look of anguish. “This is exactly what I was afraid of. If people start finding out… If she tells anyone…”
“Arty,” said Albus, coming to sit at his side, “who cares what people think? If Julia doesn’t like you just because you’re a werewolf, then she’s not worth knowing.”
Arty stood up. He paced over to the window, arms folded. “You think I want to become the next Scorpius Malfoy?” he asked harshly. “Have you seen how they treat him? I don’t fancy being cursed in the corridors.” He rounded on Albus, eyes narrowing. “And I don’t want rumours spread about me either.”
Albus flinched. When he spoke, it was in a quiet mumble. “I was wrong to help make up that rumour about Scorpius.”
“But you still did it, Albus,” Arty said. The anger seemed to drain from him so that he looked sunken and defeated. “I don’t want that to happen to me.” Shaking his head at Albus, he left the room, his shoes thudding on the stone flagons.
In his wake, the dormitory felt cold and quiet. The watery sunlight had no warmth to it and the green torchlight was as eerie and lifeless as ever. If I was in Gryffindor, I’d have a view of the Hogwarts grounds, Albus thought sadly, not the bottom of a lake.
Albus sank onto his bed. How could Arty think Albus was afraid of him? Okay, yes, on the night of the full moon, Albus had indeed felt scared. But that was natural when a wolf was sleeping in the next bed. As for any other time, Albus couldn’t say he really thought much about Arty’s curse.
Albus shook his head at Julia Hopkirk.
If I was in Gryffindor, a lot of things would be different. For one thing, I wouldn’t have to share a house with girls like her. Then, another thought struck Albus. If I was in Gryffindor, Professor Thorn would be my head of house…
He winced, then he suddenly remembered what he’d come in here for. He grabbed his cloak, a scarf and some gloves, then hurried back up to the common room.
Pan stood waiting for him, broomstick in hand. She pointed over her shoulder at Arty, who was hunched in a chair by one of the floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto the Black Lake. At that moment, a shoal of grey fish shimmered in front of the glass. “What’s up with him?” she asked as they made their way across the room.
“He’s worried people are going to find out about his curse.”
“Well, it’s not surprising,” said Pan. “Julia and Missy are the two biggest blabbermouths in the school.”
“Missy said she wouldn’t tell anyone,” Albus reminded her.
“Maybe,” said Pan with a grimace, “but Julia’s another story.”
Albus wished he could contradict her, but the truth was, Julia Hopkirk had done well to keep the secret to herself for this long.
On the pretext of more flying practice, Albus and Pan descended the steps to the castle lawns, Pan keeping her broom conspicuously visible. As they neared the greenhouses, however, their steps slowed down. In the near distance, a group of third-year Ravenclaws were studying by a knot of trees and a couple of older students were walking by the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Thankfully, the lawns near the greenhouses were deserted. As they slipped along the path that weaved among them, Albus froze, tugging at Pan’s cloak. A figure in black robes was standing in front of the furthest greenhouse, both arms raised, a wand in one hand. The figure’s hair was pulled back into a tight bun and the shoulders of her robes tapered to sharp points. Pan’s eyes widened when she followed Albus’s gaze and saw McGonagall. At once, they hid behind a nearby shrub, the leaves of which were moving of their own accord.
“What’s she doing?” Pan asked.
“I’ve no idea,” replied Albus.
A moment later, McGonagall let out a satisfied sigh, lowered her arms and marched along the pathway towards them. Albus held his breath as she passed his and Pan’s hiding place.
Before she left the greenhouse path, however, Argus Filch came lumbering into view, breathing wheezy breaths. “I came… to take over guard duty… headmistress,” he panted.
“No need, Filch,” she answered. “I’ve sealed the greenhouse. Nothing can get in or out.”
“Sealed?” Filch repeated. “But I thought Thorn wanted—”
“I am headmistress, Argus,” McGonagall interrupted, “so I think you’ll find that it is what I want that matters. The greenhouse is no longer a danger, so I suggest you go and sort out that tapestry on the third floor.” Without further ado, she marched away, Filch trailing behind her.
“She’s sealed it?” Albus said, his heart sinking.
Slowly, they made their way towards the greenhouse. Albus reached out for the handle, but Pan pulled his arm back. “Wait!” she said. She picked up a nearby stone and threw it at the building. Albus winced, expecting the glass to break, but that didn’t happen. Instead, there was a shimmer of blue light and the rock bounced off the greenhouse as if it was made of rubber.
“We can’t get in,” Pan said.
Albus peered inside: empty plant pots, piles of compost, trays, workbenches, some old bulbs…
“How will we find out what happened to Sprout if we can’t get in there?” he asked Pan.
“Maybe we won’t need to,” Pan said. “If McGonagall knows what he’s up to, maybe she can stop Thorn.” Her tone became hopeful. “Or at least fire him.”
Albus spent the rest of the morning in the common room, his mind whirring with thoughts of Sprout. He’d suggested coming with Pan to the quidditch pitch to watch her practice.
“Albus, you hate quidditch,” she’d reminded him.
“I-I don’t hate—”
“Yes, you do,” she’d interrupted. Then, she’d sighed. “It’s okay. I’ve come to accept it.”
While Pan was at practice, Albus tried to distract his mind from thoughts of Sprout by practising the smokescreen spell.
“Fumos!” he said. Grey fog plumed from his wand tip easily enough. But it was the vortex spell (meant to clear the smoke away) that he had trouble with. “Ventrus!” he said again and again, trying in vain to summon a cyclone of air strong enough to dissipate the thick smog around him.
In the end, he had to simply wait for the smokescreen spell to wear off on its own. When the smog finally cleared, Albus caught a familiar glint of platinum hair across the common room. He hardly dared move as he watched Scorpius lean over an open book resting on his knees where he sat in the alcove of one of the windows. In his free hand, he held a quill, which darted across a piece of parchment, feverishly scratching words.
Albus wondered what had brought him into the common room. It wasn’t like Scorpius to spend time here.
Apparently, Albus wasn’t the only one who’d noticed Scorpius’s presence. Several older students were shooting him distrustful looks where they sat by the stairs to the dormitories. Without thinking, Albus approached the blonde boy, trying as he did so, to come up with something to say.
Scorpius’s fringe fell into his eyes as he looked up at Albus.
“It’s nearly lunch,” Albus said vaguely.
Scorpius stared, saying nothing.
Albus waited for some more words to filter into his brain. None came. Where were all the words? Albus cleared his throat. “Um… The lake is dark today…” His voice trailed off pathetically and he winced. When there was no reply, he soldiered bravely on. “What are you writing?” he asked.
“More research,” Scorpius answered, “on merpeople.”
A fish with curved fangs swam past the window. “What have you found out?” asked Albus.
“It turns out it was the merpeople themselves who wanted to be known as beasts instead of beings. It was their choice.”
“Why would they choose that?” Albus asked.
“I don’t know,” said Scorpius as he began to gather up his things and shove them in his bag. “I guess they knew they’d be feared and misunderstood either way.” He gazed at Albus. “Maybe it’s easier to be a beast. That way, they don’t have to pretend to get along with everyone else.” He finished packing his things and stood up. As he made to leave, Albus moved in his way.
“Maybe merpeople should give the rest of us a chance,” Albus said. “See what it’s like to be a being. I think they’d fit in if they tried.”
Scorpius blinked at him. “You think it’s the merpeople’s fault that they don’t fit in?” he asked coldly. “You think they chose to be outcasts?”
Without waiting for an answer, Scorpius brushed past him, heading for the dormitories.
“Wait!” Albus called after him, but to no avail. Scorpius was gone.
Albus stood frozen where Scorpius had left him.
Well that went well, he thought.
There was a strange mood in the Great Hall at lunch. Albus couldn’t put his finger on what it was, but people just seemed… quieter. Pan wolfed down her pie apparently oblivious to the weird atmosphere, going back for second and third helpings, all the while being watched by a disdainful Missy Groombridge who was daintily eating a sandwich triangle. Missy’s austere expression brightened when Drake Salmer and Prince Zabini came to sit down, both looking smug.
Drake picked up a baguette and tore it savouringly into two doughy halves. “It’s a shame, really,” he said to no one in particular, but loudly enough for all the first-years to hear him. “Such a shame…”
Missy shoved Salmer playfully in the chest. “If you have something to say,” she told him, “then spit it out.”
“Prince and I just heard some disturbing gossip,” he said, though he didn’t seem at all disturbed. On the contrary, he appeared excited.
Albus and Pan exchanged glances.
“Apparently,” he continued, “old Sprout was seen being stretchered out of the castle last night. Covered in blood. Mauled, people are saying. Mauled by some kind of animal.”
Albus narrowed his eyes. Covered in blood? Mauled? Where had he got that information from?
Or did he just make it up so the story would sound better?
Further along the table, Arty’s fork clattered onto his plate. He’d gone quite pale. Meanwhile, both Julia and Missy had turned to stare at Arty with undisclosed suspicion and fear on their faces.
Albus felt his insides jolt. Of course, Julia and Missy would swallow Salmer’s lies about an animal attack – and what was worse, they’d no doubt suspect Arty.
“An animal?” Missy asked in a high-pitched voice. “What kind of animal?”
“There are lots of rumours buzzing around,” Salmer answered. He nodded at the other tables. “Just look…”
Albus turned in his seat. Salmer was right; all across the Great Hall, heads were bent together, people whispering in low, agitated tones. Albus inwardly groaned. He tried to catch Arty’s eye, but the boy was gazing down at his plate, upon which oozed a half-eaten steak and kidney pie and some gravy-soaked chips.
Danielle put down her cutlery and laced her fingers together. “Poor Professor Sprout,” she said. “And she had to leave on a stretcher? Covered in blood?”
“I doubt it,” Albus said, glaring at Salmer. “Someone’s probably just exaggerated.”
“No,” said Zabini. “It was a group of Ravenclaws who saw her. They had a midnight astronomy lesson. They saw nurses from St Mungo’s rushing Sprout out of the castle.” He filled up a goblet with pumpkin juice. “Never known Madam Pomfrey to fail at healing someone before. Must be serious.”
“That doesn’t prove Sprout was covered in blood,” said Albus.
Salmer eyed him. “No,” he said, “Filch proves that. I heard him complaining to Scorpius, something about mopping blood off the Entrance Hall floor.”
“You’re lying,” Albus said through gritted teeth.
But Salmer nodded pointedly towards the double doors, where, at that very moment, Scorpius Malfoy was hurrying inside. Behind him hobbled the old caretaker. “Speak of the devil,” Salmer said. “Scorpius!” he called to the blonde boy, who stopped in his tracks, eyeing Salmer like a fly would a spider.
“Filch was late collecting you this morning, wasn’t he,” said Drake. “He was cleaning something up.”
“What was it again that he had to clean?” Drake pressed, gaze flickering towards Albus.
“He said fawn blood was spilt in the Entrance Hall,” Scorpius replied. “Someone dropped it on the way to the Potions dungeon.”
The Slytherins tensed.
“Fawn blood?” Salmer repeated, throwing extra emphasis into the word ‘blood’. “How coincidental!”
Albus felt his heart wrench. In his mind’s eye, he saw the Entrance Hall spattered with blood – Sprout’s blood.
But how could it be possible? She hadn’t been bleeding last night. Albus hadn’t seen a single injury…
Scorpius’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. Flicking his fringe across his eyes, he walked to the end of the Slytherin table and took his usual seat, eyes downcast.
Albus pushed his plate away. Perhaps Sprout’s wounds had opened up overnight. It had been dark, after all. It was possible Albus had missed her injuries.
Pan had stopped eating as well. “Girls,” she said to Julia and Missy, “you’re staring.”
Indeed, they were staring – at Arty. They blushed and exchanged meaningful glances. Albus didn’t like what he saw on their faces.
“Ladies,” drawled Salmer, eyeing Julia and Missy in obvious intrigue, “is something wrong?”
Without waiting for their answer, Arty shot to his feet. He hurried out of the Great Hall, his rucksack swinging from his shoulder. Salmer watched him leave, eyebrows raised. “What’s wrong with little Arty?”
Julia opened her mouth to answer, but Albus cut across her. “He’s not well.”
Before anyone else could speak, there was a stirring on the Gryffindor table – raised voices. Their attention diverted, the Slytherins watched as one of the Gryffindors climbed onto the table, hands on his hips, white teeth flashing. His familiar voice carried boastfully across the hall. “If there’s a monster in the castle, it’s up to us Gryffindors to slay it!” he yelled.
Pan groaned. “Ace McLaggen to the rescue,” she muttered darkly.
“Better watch out,” said Salmer, leaning towards Pan, “you might want to put on some makeup or something, otherwise Ace will think the monster’s you.”
“There is no monster,” Albus retorted.
Julia and Missy glowered at him, but they said nothing. Like a pair of twittering birds, they left the Great Hall, jabbering madly to one another. Albus and Pan followed shortly after them.
“Speak to Arty,” Pan said as they headed in the direction of the common room. “He’ll be worrying.”
“I don’t think he’ll want to talk to me,” replied Albus, remembering what Arty had said to him in the dormitory. “He thinks I’m scared of him.”
She stopped walking. They were in a narrow passageway that led to one of the dungeon staircases. “Scared?” she said. “Are you?”
“No, course not,” Albus replied, “but it isn’t just that…” Albus grimaced. “He thinks I’ll treat him the same way I treated Scorpius.”
“Well, he has a point,” she said.
“Talking of Scorpius,” she continued, pretending Albus hadn’t spoken, “have you made up with him yet?”
Albus bristled at her, then he remembered his last conversation with Scorpius and winced. “I tried…”
“I messed it up.”
When Albus entered the dormitory ten minutes later, Arty was nowhere to be found. The only sign of him were the usual food crumbs and piles of clothes on the floor. Returning to the common room, Albus joined Pan by one of the windows. “How was quidditch practice, by the way?” he asked her.
She leaned back in her chair, shaking her head. “We’re dire,” she said. “Humphries – our keeper – he’s the only person who knows what he’s doing. Our beaters – they’re like two mountain trolls. And don’t get me started on our seeker – I’ve seen faster slugs.”
Albus laughed. “So a great team then,” he said.
“Let’s not talk about it,” she told him. Then she nodded towards the dormitories. “Arty wasn’t there?”
Albus shook his head.
“When he transforms…?” She looked out at the depths of the lake. “What’s it like?”
Albus searched for the right word. “Quiet,” he said simply.
Silence fell between them, broken when Pan pulled out a length of parchment from her bag and then withdrew a thick textbook with three crudely drawn planets on the front cover, which she slammed onto the coffee table. Albus sighed.
They spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on homework, namely Sinistra’s astronomy essay about the movement of Jupiter with a focus on three of its moons. Albus and Pan soon agreed that Jupiter and its moons were entirely pointless topics of study that were only invented to make students want to fall into comas of boredom.
They hadn’t even finished half the essay when it was time to go down for dinner. They weren’t the only ones leaving the common room: McGonagall had called a whole-school assembly – everyone was to gather at six o’clock in the Great Hall. When Albus and Pan arrived, every table was full. Despite the vast number of students, the room was unusually quiet. People ate in expectant silence or conspiratorial muttering.
Albus’s eyes were drawn to the staff table, sweeping left to right, coming to fix upon the two empty chairs. One of them was Sprout’s. The other belonged to…
“Thorn’s not here,” Albus said as he and Pan made their way to their usual seats.
“You think McGonagall’s fired him?” Pan asked.
Albus’s heart lightened. “Let’s hope so.”
Dinner was a tense affair at the Slytherin table. Arty was silent and brooding. Julia and Missy picked at their food, both sour-faced.
Every student seemed to draw an expectant breath when the meal ended and the food vanished. Professor McGonagall stood up. Her voice rang clearly across the hall when she spoke. “Good evening, students,” she said. “You may be wondering why I’ve called you all here.” A soft mumbling swept the hall at this. McGonagall carried on as if she hadn’t noticed it. “As you can see, the deputy headmistress’s chair is empty. I’m afraid to tell you that last night Professor Sprout was taken ill. She’s been sent to St Mungo’s.” The mumbling rose to a clamour of chatter. McGonagall waited for it to die down before continuing. “Another chair is also empty,” she said. She pointed to the place usually taken up by Thorn. “Professor Thorn is not here. After speaking with the governors and taking into consideration everything that’s happened, I’ve come to a difficult decision.”
“This is it,” whispered Pan. “She’s got rid of him.”
“I’ve decided,” McGonagall continued, “that while no one could completely fill the void Professor Sprout has left, Hogwarts must move forwards.” At that moment, the doors to the Great Hall opened. Professor Thorn himself marched inside, his blood-red robes drawing the eye of every student in the room. When he reached the staff table, he came to stand at McGonagall’s side, in the exact place where Professor Sprout should have been.
“Ah, Professor Thorn,” McGonagall said, “perfect timing.” She gestured widely at the students. “In Professor Sprout’s absence, I need a new deputy. Let us welcome our new deputy headmaster, Professor Thorn!” At once, the Gryffindors cheered enthusiastically. The rest of the students merely clapped. On the Slytherin table, most of the students scowled.
Albus’s heart plummeted. “She promoted him!” he hissed to Pan.
Up at the staff table, Uncle Neville looked stricken. His hands were bunched into fists. Thorn, meanwhile, gazed around at his audience, a satisfied smile on his face.
Albus glared at him.
“As to Professor Sprout’s illness,” McGonagall continued, her tone turning fierce, “there have been a lot of theories”—she said the word like it was a curse—“about what happened to our deputy headmistress. But I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that spreading gossip about members of staff, particularly members of staff who are unwell, is not the kind of conduct we allow at Hogwarts.” She clapped her hands twice, then gestured towards the doors. “To bed with you!”
Seething, Albus walked out of the Great Hall with Pan. “Deputy headmaster!” he snapped. “It’s a joke!”
“It’s not a very funny joke,” Pan replied.
As Halloween approached, the nights drew longer. The windy skies, which had been blustery in recent weeks, grew calm. An eerie stillness fell over the castle. The grey sky was oppressive, muting the light, casting everything in colourless tones.
Despite McGonagall’s words during the assembly, over the next few days Hogwarts became a breeding ground of gossip. Students seemed convinced that there was some kind of monster roaming Hogwarts. The rumour that Sprout was bleeding when she left the castle had taken on a life of its own. The Gryffindors in particular were throwing around theories about her illness, several of them keen, it seemed, to find the creature responsible. There were even rumblings that there was a werewolf on the school grounds. The Hufflepuffs, who had been most affected by the news of Sprout’s injuries, were not so quick to believe the rumours. Instead, they insisted the gossip was ridiculous.
“It’s disrespectful,” said Hufflepuff, Hunter Okoye, during their Tuesday morning Potions lesson with the Slytherins. “Professor Sprout wasn’t mauled by some monster. She was ill.”
“Eyes on your cauldrons!” rumbled Slughorn as he plodded past Okoye’s bench.
But there is a monster, thought Albus bitterly, and it was Thorn who set it on Sprout.
Thorn – their new deputy headmaster.
Albus was still reeling over the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher’s promotion. How could McGonagall have given him extra responsibility, extra power? It was a question he’d kept asking himself over and over. As a result, Albus’s concentration in lessons had taken a severe nosedive. Today was no different. While Scorpius may have been helping Pan to make her collagenous draught, a potion that gave the drinker healthier hair and nails, Albus was not so lucky. So far, he was pretty sure he’d missed out one of the ingredients and may have added an extra clockwise stir after he’d sprinkled in his shredded pig trotters.
“Keep trying, my boy!” Slughorn trilled at the end of the lesson as he looked into Albus’s congealed, fish-scented brew.
Unsurprisingly, Scorpius’s collagenous draught turned out to be perfect. By far the worst potion in the room, however, was Arty’s. The mixture had actually melted part of his cauldron and was giving off a potent aroma of dirty socks. Even this poor show was an improvement on the day before, however. Arty had been vacant and unresponsive in Herbology and he hadn’t bothered showing up for Charms or History of Magic. When Albus had returned to the dormitory after dinner, Arty had been nowhere to be found. In fact, Albus was sure the boy was avoiding him.
After break, it was History of Magic. Again, Arty didn’t show up. Albus attempted to listen to Binns’ rambling, but he ended up spending most of the lesson doodling the glass-paned doors of Greenhouse 9 in the margin of one of his textbooks. There was no doodling during Transfiguration, however. The moment the Slytherins entered the classroom that afternoon, Professor Winter snapped at them to sit down. He sat perched at the edge of his throne-like chair. His robes were powder blue, his legs crossed, his pointed nose up in the air like the beak of some proud bird. In fact, now that he thought about it, Winter reminded Albus of a blue flamingo. “Quills out!” he said, his voice cracking across the room like a whip. “Wands out! You’ll be needing both in today’s lesson.”
As it turned out, they were transfiguring their quills into ribbons. Winter demonstrated by turning his quill into a long length of opaline blue ribbon with glittering sequins running down the middle of it. The silky strip of fabric twirled around him in a spiralling motion, then came to rest on his shoulders. “After your abominable attempts to turn handkerchiefs into cushions last week,” he said, “I don’t hold out much hope.” He clicked his tongue. “But since the lot of you are having to do remedial potions with Professor Slughorn, I know it’s not just transfiguration at which you all spectacularly fail.”
It came as no surprise to Albus or Pan when both of them struggled to get their quills to transform. Instead of becoming a ribbon, Pan’s quill simply turned all floppy like a rubber chicken. Albus’s quill went glittery. “Very pretty,” Pan quipped.
Albus groaned. A few desks in front of them, Scorpius was already twirling a silver ribbon through the air, its surface so shiny it was mirror-like.
Winter didn’t leave his throne for the entirety of the lesson. The only time he moved at all was to flick his wand at Scorpius’s ribbon and transfigure it into a walking stick. “Turn it back into a quill,” he commanded.
By the end of the lesson, Scorpius had been tasked with transfiguring books to bricks. Albus and Pan hadn’t managed to create so much as a cotton thread from their quills.
Albus caught Arty’s eye on the way out of the lesson, but he disappeared into the crowd before Albus could even attempt to speak to him. Arty didn’t turn up at dinner. In fact, Albus didn’t see him until he returned to his room that evening. Arty was sitting on the floor at the end of his bed, hunched over as if he had a stomach ache.
“Arty? Are you okay?” asked Albus. “Is it the full moon? Are you worried about the transformation?”
Arty didn’t look up as he replied. “It’s not that. It’s Julia.”
“Has she told someone?”
Arty let out a mirthless laugh. “The whole school’s talking about monsters, Albus,” he said. “Julia will tell someone soon.”
“If she does, I’ll be behind you,” Albus said. “Pan too. And I bet Danielle—”
“It’s fine,” he said. “I’ve sorted it.”
“But I thought you were worried about people finding out,” replied Albus, confused.
“I was,” he said, “but people already know there’s a werewolf at Hogwarts.”
Albus crouched down beside Arty. “Do they know it’s you?” he asked.
“No,” he said. At this, he turned his face away from Albus.
“Let’s hope they don’t work it out.”
“They won’t,” Arty said. Then, he drew his knees up to his chin.
“How can you be so sure?”
Finally, Arty met Albus’s gaze. He looked pale. “Because I started a rumour of my own,” he said. “I had to make sure everyone thought the werewolf was someone else.”
Albus stood up, then backed away a step. “Who?”
“Don’t look at me like that, Albus,” he said. “I had to protect myself.”
“Who?” Albus asked again, but he had a horrible feeling he already knew the answer.
“Who else?” Arty replied. “Scorpius.”
Albus shook his head, then turned his back on him.
“Scorpius is already hated,” Arty continued. “I thought it wouldn’t make much difference to him if the school thinks he’s a werewolf.”
“You shouldn’t have done it,” Albus replied, still unable to look at his roommate.
“Whatever,” Arty said. “I have to go. I have a potion to take.”
The door slammed, making Albus jump. He crawled into bed and hoped sleep would come soon. For the fifth night in a row he didn’t sing to his blessboom. He was in no mood for singing.
The following two days brought darker skies to Hogwarts. Excitement increased for the Halloween Feast. Alongside it, grew an ever-increasing hatred for Scorpius Malfoy. Arty’s rumour was now a well-acknowledged fact. Even Julia Hopkirk hadn’t contradicted it, happily agreeing with Drake Salmer and Prince Zabini that she’d always known there was something strange about Scorpius Malfoy. If it was possible, Scorpius had become even more hated than before. But it seemed that his new status as ‘school werewolf’ meant people were much less inclined to hex him in the corridors. As if he had the plague, students avoided going anywhere near him.
Albus was sickened by it; he found he couldn’t bring himself to talk to Arty. Although they shared a room, they didn’t spend any time together.
Pan, who hadn’t forgotten that Scorpius had saved her life from a potentially fatal fifty-foot fall, frequently reminded Albus that he should attempt to make amends with him. Having failed miserably on every previous effort, however, Albus had decided to wait until he had some sort of plan before he made a fool of himself again.
Albus was also making pains to avoid Professor Thorn. At breakfast on Thursday morning, he knew his mission to keep away from the new deputy headmaster was about to be thwarted. The Slytherins had a Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson that very morning. First, however, it was Transfiguration – bound to be a torturous affair, as Albus hadn’t been able to turn his quill into a ribbon despite Winter’s instruction for them to practice.
However, any thoughts of Scorpius, Thorn or Winter were wrenched from Albus’s thoughts when the post owls arrived. To his surprise, Aldwin landed on the table in front of him. He extended his leg, to which was attached a letter. Albus untied it, stroked Aldwin, then watched the old owl fly off again.
The letter was from his mum. Her script looked uncharacteristically untidy, as if she’d rushed to write the address. Frowning, he tore it open.
It’s Halloween soon. I expect you’re excited for the feast. As I haven’t heard from you, I can only assume you’re settling in well at Hogwarts. Back at home, we’ve had an eventful couple of weeks. In fact, I have some news. I was hoping you wouldn’t find out until you came home for Christmas, but Rita has refused to hold the story any longer. It will appear in the Daily Prophet soon. Therefore, I must tell you in writing.
Our house was broken into a few weeks ago. None of us were hurt and nothing was taken. We were in Canada at the time with Lily, but Mrs Figg was watching the house for us. She caught a glimpse of the intruder. Albus, I don’t want you to panic, but at first, she was certain it was Rabastan. But you know how she is. She’s old and her eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Not to mention, the intruder didn’t so much as raise his wand against her. As soon as he saw her, he fled.
I wish I was with you to tell you this myself. I can almost imagine your worried face. You’ve always been a thinker, maybe an overthinker. But I want you to know that we’re all absolutely fine and the security measures around the house have been strengthened and reinforced since the break-in. We’ve had ministry wizards coming and going every night.
Be at ease, Albus.
Before I end this letter, there is one more thing I have to write. And it gives me no pleasure. At the weekend, I received a letter from McGonagall. I didn’t believe it when I first read it. According to her, you’ve been out in the Hogwarts grounds after dark. Albus, there is a death eater on the loose. And you, of all people, should know to be cautious. It was foolish to go out so late, especially when I’d already warned you against it in my last letter.
Albus, if I hear you’ve been going for night time wanderings again, it’ll be a howler next time. Please don’t make me one of those mothers who have to send howlers to their children.
Keep yourself safe
All my love
Albus re-read the letter several times, his chest tightening with each reading. It felt as if a taut web had been knitted around his lungs, constricting his breathing. Someone had been in their house. And Mrs Figg thought it was Rabastan Lestrange. Suddenly, his mum’s previous warning to stay inside the castle after hours made sense. The break-in must’ve already happened when she sent her last letter.
He thought back to what Pan had said the other day. If you’re going to worry about anything, worry about Lestrange.
Ever since he’d learned of Rabastan’s return, Albus hadn’t let himself think too much about him. Now, however, he couldn’t keep the death eater from his mind.
He tried to calm himself. Mum said Mrs Figg got it wrong, he thought. She said Mrs Figg is losing her eyesight.
Albus tried to believe this. Yet, while Mrs Figg did require glasses for reading, she was more than capable of telling the difference between a random intruder and Rabastan Lestrange. Mrs Figg was as sharp as a tack.
The net over Albus’s lungs cinched tighter. Around him, the other Slytherins chatted. Above him, owls hooted and flapped across the Great Hall, delivering mail or returning to the owlery. He barely registered any of it.
Rabastan was in my house, he thought.
The question was: why?
What had Rabastan wanted? And if he really had been the intruder, why hadn’t he harmed Mrs Figg? The thought that his family’s harmless old nanny could have been killed by a death eater made Albus feel more than a little sick. Then, a darker thought struck him. What if Lily had been home? What if she’d been alone with Mrs Figg? If she hadn’t been in Canada, perhaps she would have been.
Was that Rabastan’s intent? Albus thought. To harm Lily?
With a shiver, he put the letter down and stared at the tabletop.
“Albus?” Pan said.
After a moment’s hesitation, he passed her the letter. Quickly, her eyes darted across the parchment, her brow furrowing more and more deeply the further down it she read. When she finished, she folded the letter neatly and placed it back in front of Albus. “What do you think?” she asked.
“Mrs Figg isn’t blind,” Albus replied, “or stupid.”
Pan leaned closer, dropping her voice. “So what was Lestrange doing in your house?”
Albus flinched at her words. When he spoke, his voice came out hoarse. “I- I don’t know.”
“Your mum’s worried he’ll come here,” Pan said, eyes glancing towards the letter. “She might not have said it, but she is. We need to be careful.”
“I’m more worried about my sister,” he told her weakly.
“Lily?” she said.
“She’s… not well,” Albus said. “She doesn’t speak. And she’s so young. She doesn’t have a wand. How would she defend herself?”
Pan’s expression hardened. “Your parents and the entire ministry will look after your sister,” she told him firmly. “There’s no point worrying about her.”
“I can’t help it,” replied Albus.
“Yes, you can,” she said simply. She grabbed a bowl and filled it with porridge. Roughly, she shoved it in front of him. “Eat.”
Albus had half a mind to snap a retort at her, but he stopped himself. Pan, like his mother, was only trying to stop him worrying. If only it were as easy as that.
He picked up a spoon and dipped it into the porridge, but as he lifted it to his mouth, his stomach turned over. With a sigh, he let the spoon drop back into the bowl. He wasn’t hungry.
Albus’s dark mood endured all day. He was so distracted that he barely registered Winter’s scathing comments about his subpar transfiguration skills as he glided around the classroom, turning his nose up at every student he passed. During Defence Against the Dark Arts, it was easier than Albus had thought to ignore Professor Thorn. Since the deputy headmaster tasked them with practising the smokescreen spell, Albus had plenty of time to get lost in his thoughts, hidden by the thick swathes of smoke.
By the afternoon, Pan had given up trying to talk to him. Albus couldn’t blame her – he hadn’t exactly been chatty.
During their Charms lesson, in which Flitwick had conjured each of them an angry snake that they were supposed to calm with the serenius spell, Albus got bitten twice, then had to be saved by Pan when his snake tried to wrap itself around his waist. “Not to worry!” Flitwick squeaked at the disgruntled Slytherins when the lesson finally came to end. “The bites aren’t venomous! See you next lesson! Remember, a foot-long essay on the origins of the calming charm and its practical uses in medicine and defence, due next lesson.”
Albus was incredibly tempted to skip flying practice. For one thing, his arm was aching from deep punctures caused by Flitwick’s snake and for another, besides Scorpius Malfoy, Albus was quite possibly the worst flyer in the whole school. He was pretty sure that with his mind full of disturbing thoughts of Rabastan Lestrange, his already shoddy flying skills would be made even worse. “I hate flying,” he said aloud.
“He speaks!” Pan exclaimed.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m just—”
“Worried,” said Pan. Albus was sure she suppressed an eye-roll.
“Let’s just get this lesson over with,” Albus told her in an undertone.
True to form, Albus managed to fall off his broom twice and even succeeded in colliding headfirst into another student. “Sorry!” he gasped.
Scorpius Malfoy climbed back onto his broom, brushing at his robes.
“Scorpius!” Albus gasped.
“Be careful, Potter!” shouted Ace as he whizzed past. “He might bite you!”
Scorpius rose off the ground, leaning into the handle of his broom. “I guess now I know what it’s like,” he said, “to be a beast.” With that, he flew off.
Scorpius didn’t speak to Albus again that lesson, nor did he show up at dinner that evening. Even in his absence, the whole hall appeared to be talking about him – and the Slytherin table was no exception. Salmer had a look of such intense smugness on his face that Albus was having trouble not hitting him. “Makes sense,” he said, combing his fork through his battered fish, “Malfoy’s always been a weirdo. Is it any surprise he’s a werewolf?”
“Werewolves aren’t evil,” said Albus, struggling to keep his voice calm.
“Yes, I’m sure they’re like cuddly bunnies,” Salmer smirked. “We’ll see how much you love them when the full moon comes.” He frowned. “When is the next full moon?” he asked the Slytherins at large.
“Tomorrow,” Arty replied. At once, his cheeks reddened.
Julia Hopkirk’s hand flew to her mouth. “But tomorrow’s Halloween!” she exclaimed. “A full moon on Halloween! It’s a bad omen!”
“Calm yourself,” Pan said repressively. “That’s just superstition.”
Julia shot daggers at her. “We’ll see,” she said ominously.
“You’re right,” Salmer replied, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Tomorrow night would be the perfect time to attack. If Malfoy really is working with Lestrange, maybe someone else will be joining Sprout in St Mungo’s.”
“Oh, don’t start crying,” muttered Pan impatiently.
Salmer and Zabini were chuckling in amusement.
“No one’s going to be attacked!” Albus said. “Why would Lestrange want to hurt someone at Hogwarts…?” Albus’s voice trailed off as he noticed one of the Gryffindors coming towards him, his freckly skin and brown hair shining with sweat – James.
He scowled at the other Slytherins before addressing Albus. “I need to speak to you,” he said. “Now.”
Albus followed him to the Entrance Hall, where James pulled him into a corner, glancing around as if afraid of being overheard. “You got Mum’s letter?” he asked.
“Then you know,” he continued darkly, “if the rumours about Scorpius are true, then it’s one of us he’s going to come after.”
Albus stared at his brother. “You don’t actually believe all that stuff about Scorpius, do you?”
“Rabastan broke into our house, Albus,” he said. “We need to be careful. And Scorpius is a werewolf.”
Albus’s heart sank, but his expression hardened. “Scorpius isn’t a threat,” he said, “trust me.”
“Just be careful,” James told him. “Mum’s scared.”
Albus watched his brother walk away and let out a sigh. If James Potter was beginning to worry, then things really were bad.
PERIL AT THE POTTERS
Rabastan Lestrange, the death eater who escaped Azkaban, infiltrates the home of Harry Potter, the boy who lived.
If the wizarding community thought the recent string of blunders committed by the Ministry of Magic were nothing but anomalies in an otherwise strong and stable government, they are beginning to realise that Rabastan Lestrange’s escape from Azkaban may have just been the tip of the iceberg. Lestrange, a powerful dark wizard known to have worked with Voldemort during the Dark Days, has returned to England and it seems he is not content to lie low and avoid capture.
After breaking into the wizarding hospital, St Mungo’s, reports now suggest that he has managed to overcome the powerful enchantments surrounding the home of wizarding legend, Harry Potter. The Potters’ humble two-storey house in the Devonshire countryside had its magical protections blasted apart in the early hours of October 7th, an event that the Ministry of Magic has been keen to keep under wraps ever since. The Daily Prophet can exclusively reveal that the Potters’ nanny, Arabella Figg, was present in the house at the time of the attack. It is reported that when Healers came to check her over, Mrs Figg claimed that the intruder was none other than the infamous death eater who broke out of Azkaban so many months before.
Ever since Rabastan’s escape, the wizarding community has been questioning the motives of this crazed man. Is his plan to settle down quietly and live out the rest of his days? Or does he have a darker purpose in mind?
My dear reader, it has been my mission to get answers to these questions. And it seems the new lax security at Azkaban prison offers its advantages. Without the constant presence of dementors, the inmates are far more lucid than they’ve ever been before. One inmate, who wishes to remain anonymous, revealed that Rabastan Lestrange had been “talking in his sleep for months before he escaped.” Reportedly, the death eater had spoken several times of his hatred of Harry Potter, blaming him for the tragic circumstances that befell his wife. “He kept saying ‘Potter’ in his sleep,” the inmate revealed. “Lestrange wanted revenge, mark my words.”
Chilling as this news is, it can hardly be considered surprising. Fanatic supporters of Harry Potter landed Lestrange’s wife in a sick bed in St Mungo’s for the rest of her life. Rabastan’s lust for revenge will shock no one. The question is: what has the ministry been doing to safeguard the boy who lived against this madman? According to reports, protections around the Potter house have been reinforced, but it mustn’t be forgotten that not all members of the Potter family are currently residing in their Devonshire home. James and Albus Potter, the eldest of the three Potter children, are attending Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry at this time. Has the ministry implemented extra safety measures to protect the castle? Officials at the school refused to answer questions on the subject, but it seems the students are already worried about a possible threat. Rumours abound that Rabastan Lestrange has an accomplice within the castle.
Drake Salmer, a bright young boy, known by many of the teachers as a high-flyer, commented, “There’s a werewolf at the school. We think he’s working for Lestrange. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but the whole school is talking about it. They’re all saying it’s the Malfoy boy.”
Scorpius Malfoy, long rumoured to be the son of Lord Voldemort himself, was not available for comment. For further information on the Malfoy family, including their supposed connections to missing dark wizards as well as several brutal werewolf clans, see page 7.
As for Harry Potter himself (head of the Auror Office), he has refused to comment on the attack on his home. No doubt, many readers will find it highly disturbing that our top dark wizard catcher was unable to sufficiently protect his own place of residence from dark forces. How long will it be before one of the Potters falls foul of Rabastan Lestrange? Or will the ministry finally step up to the task of defending us against the last remnants of Voldemort’s reign of terror?
Daily Prophet Reporter
The stillness around the castle had broken. Halloween had arrived and with it came an autumn storm, wailing winds, clashing thunder and flashing lightning. As for Rita Skeeter’s article, within a few hours of the morning post, it was being quoted by half the Hogwarts students. Salmer had become a mini-celebrity owing to his little interview. Apparently, Skeeter was an old friend of the family. He had been only too pleased to write back to her when she sent him a letter asking about the goings-on at Hogwarts.
James could be seen blustering unconcernedly with his friends, loudly telling anyone who asked that he’d have no problem hexing any creature that tried attacking him.
For his part, Albus was doing his best to avoid questions. As soon as he read the article, he went to the library with Pan, where they hid themselves in a quiet corner until their first lesson began.
“So, now the wizarding world thinks Scorpius Malfoy is in league with Lestrange,” said Pan.
“And that he wants to kill me and my brother,” said Albus.
“But what if Skeeter’s right?” Pan asked. “What if Lestrange really does have someone in the castle?”
“You mean someone to kill me?” Albus asked.
“It’s possible,” said Pan. “But don’t get how you get.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t get all quiet and worried,” she said.
Albus tried not to sound too sulky when he replied. “I won’t.”
Scorpius didn’t show up for any of their lessons that day – much to the chagrin of Pan when she completely failed to brew the dociliox draught, a potion that made small animals fall asleep. Albus, on the other hand, benefitted from Scorpius’s absence. Without him in the Potions dungeon, Albus managed not to make any silly mistakes. By the end of the lesson, his dociliox draught was the correct shade of green and even gave off the correct smell – citrus mixed with lavender.
Albus wasn’t so successful during their Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson with the Gryffindors. They started learning a new spell – vermillious, which conjured red sparks from their wands. “It can be used to call for aid in a tight spot,” Thorn told them, “or, if properly focussed, it can be used offensively.” He pointed his wand at the wall and said, “Vermillious!” Three spear-like jets of red light blasted into the wall, gouging three crater-like holes in the stone. Thorn indicated a pile of what looked like archery targets, near the door. “Take a target,” he said. “Practice the vermillious spell. Chocolate frogs for anyone who manages a bullseye.”
In Scorpius’s absence, Rose was the only one who managed to win a chocolate frog. Her red sparks completely shattered her archery target, which had to be repaired with a wave of Thorn’s wand.
There was a definite smugness about their Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher as he prowled around the classroom, his scarlet robes so bright that they seemed to emit their own fluorescent glow.
Albus was glad not to have to look at it any longer when the lesson finally ended. As Albus and Pan strolled away along the corridor, they were surprised to hear someone calling after them. Turning around, Albus’s eyes widened at the sight of Ace and Rose. They were smiling as they approached, their group of cronies strolling along behind them. “We just wanted to say,” Ace said to Albus, “that we’ve got your back. All us Gryffindors.”
Rose was nodding. “It doesn’t matter that you’re a Slytherin,” she said. “You’re my cousin. And if there’s a monster in this castle, we’ll be there to stop it.”
Albus didn’t know what to say. His mouth was open, but no sound was coming out.
“Thank you,” said Pan. There was no hint of sarcasm in her voice, but Albus still had to suppress a grin.
Ace and Rose didn’t appear to realise she wasn’t being entirely sincere. “You’re welcome,” they said. Like some kind of vigilante justice group, they strutted off down the corridor, robes swishing.
“All they need are capes and masks,” said Albus.
“And code names,” replied Pan. “They could be the Gormless Griffins.”
“Or the Stupid Stooges.”
They both laughed.
“Well, at least they’re entertaining,” said Pan.
“Maybe,” Albus replied, “but you won’t have to spend the rest of the day with them. After flying practice, I’ve got that remedial potions session with the Gryffindors.”
“At least if your potion goes wrong and tries to attack you, your bodyguards will be there to rescue you!”
Slughorn beamed at the Slytherins and Gryffindors as they entered his Potions classroom that evening. It was as if they were all there for a party rather than for a punishment.
Albus grimaced when Arty placed his cauldron beside his. “I was wrong,” the boy said without preamble. “I shouldn’t have done it.”
“Tell that to Scorpius,” Albus replied cuttingly.
“I feel bad,” he continued. And Albus had to concede that he looked it. Arty’s eyes were sunken, his hair even scruffier than usual.
Albus remembered that tonight was the full moon. “It was in the Prophet, Arty,” he said. “The entire wizarding world thinks Scorpius is a werewolf.”
He hung his head. “I know,” he said. “I didn’t think it would go so far.”
“Look, I don’t have time for this. I need to concentrate.” Albus carried his cauldron over to the tap and filled it with water. When he returned to the bench, Arty was gazing into his empty cauldron as if in a daze. Knowing he had to concentrate, Albus drew in a deep breath, opened his Potions textbook and read through the ingredients list. He did this twice to make absolutely certain he hadn’t missed anything.
Once he started brewing, Albus felt a growing sense of confidence. He may have failed at this potion twice before, but today there was no Scorpius to distract him. Upon adding his third ingredient, however, Albus faltered. Arty, who still hadn’t made a start on his potion, was leaning over his cauldron with a morose look on his face.
It seemed Arty had noticed Albus was watching him. “You don’t know what it’s like,” he said. “Being a monster…”
“You’re not a monster, Arty,” Albus told him.
“The first time I transformed, I almost killed my mum,” he replied coldly. “But even with the wolfsbane potion, I can hear the wolf in my head. The potion puts it to sleep, but it’s like it whispers to me. Even now, I can hear it…”
Albus gazed at the boy, lost for words.
“You have no idea,” Arty said. With a growl of anger, he flung his cauldron onto the floor, where it smashed into black shards, then he stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
“Oakes!” Slughorn bellowed after him, looking scandalised. “What on earth was that about?”
Albus’s stomach clenched. “He’s not feeling well,” he said.
Slughorn leaned closer, lowering his voice. “But I’ve already poured his wolfsbane potion to cool,” he said. “I was going to give it to him before he left.”
“I’m sure he’ll come back for it later,” Albus told him.
“Yes,” Slughorn replied, “but it’ll be stone-cold – won’t affect the efficacy of the potion, of course. But it won’t make it taste any nicer. It tends to thicken as it cools, like eel jelly.”
After Arty’s disappearance, any Potions brilliance Albus had been experiencing suddenly vanished. He added ingredients in the wrong order, forgot to stir the potion the correct number of times and even managed to overheat the mixture, causing it to smoke and burn. As a result, he had to chuck the whole thing away and start again. All the while, his mind was spinning with what Arty had told him. Albus had never heard a werewolf talk about their curse before, had never expected Arty to describe it like a voice inside his head. It was as if the curse was some kind of evil being, one that not only affected Arty’s body, but also his mind.
That doesn’t make it okay that he used Scorpius as a scape goat.
Yet, Arty didn’t deserve to have the whole school turn against him. And maybe he was right. Scorpius did seem unusually resilient when it came to being disliked. Perhaps Scorpius was indeed better at handling the infamy of being a werewolf than Arty would’ve been…
Reading through the recipe one more time Albus prepared for his second attempt at the wiggenweld potion. When he glanced around the room, it seemed he wasn’t the only one having trouble with it. Someone had managed to get in such a dither that they’d knocked over a whole jar of sloth brain mucus, splattering the horrible grey ooze across the floor. “We need some more mucus for our potions, sir,” Julia said to Slughorn.
“Yes, yes,” Slughorn replied. “Get some from the backroom. The jar’s heavy. Take a friend with you.”
Julia gestured frantically to the Slytherin girls. Danielle, Missy and Aberfa followed her through the door at the back of the classroom to collect the sloth brains. They returned a minute later, empty-handed. “It was too high up!” said Missy.
Slughorn clicked at Prince and Drake, who were closest to the room. “Boys,” he said despairingly, “there’s a ladder.”
They smirked over at the girls, then disappeared into the backroom.
Albus checked and double-checked every step of the instructions as he brewed his wiggenweld potion for the second time that evening. He was very aware that the Halloween Feast was due to start soon and he did not plan on missing it because he was stuck doing remedial potions.
It took another half an hour before the liquid in his cauldron finally turned the right shade of pea-green. As he brought a vial of it up to Slughorn’s desk, Albus stopped short. The door to the backroom was ajar and sitting on a desk pushed against one of the many sets of shelves, was a goblet full of steaming liquid – the wolfsbane potion.
Albus found himself staring at it – the one thing that kept Arty from becoming a soulless animal during the full moon.
Slughorn beamed at Albus as he handed him his vial of wiggenweld potion. “I knew you’d get there in the end, my boy!” he exclaimed. “And I think you’ve only missed about ten minutes of the feast.” He held up the vial and his smile widened. “An expert brew! I can tell by the colour.” Without warning he pointed at something behind Albus. “Ah, Professor Thorn!” he called. “Just in time to bear witness to young master Potter’s expert potion making.”
Albus span around. His eyes fixed on the deputy headmaster, whose scarlet robes took on a sickly purplish colour beneath the green light of the torches.
Thorn scowled at the room. “What are all these students doing here?” he asked. “Why aren’t they at the feast?”
“Remedial potions, I’m afraid,” Slughorn replied.
Thorn sneered at Albus. “And I’m supposed to believe that Potter is a potions expert when he is being kept back for extra lessons?”
Slughorn clapped his hands together once. “Now, now, Thorn,” he said. “Every master has his occasional blunder.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Thorn replied stiffly. “Now, I’m afraid I can’t stay and chat. I just came to collect the chicken feet.”
Slughorn gestured towards the backroom. “Go ahead, go ahead,” he told Thorn.
Albus felt a sense of disquiet wash over him as Thorn disappeared into the backroom, closing the door behind him.
“Feast, my boy!” Slughorn bellowed. “Off you go! Off you go!”
Tamping down his unease, Albus attempted a smile. He grabbed his things and left the classroom, heading quickly towards the Halloween Feast.
The Great Hall was hardly recognisable. Huge silken spiderwebs were strung across the walls, many of the candles that floated beneath the magical ceiling were now surrounded by carved pumpkins and the tables were adorned with bat-patterned tablecloths. That wasn’t to mention the food itself. Every dish had been given a Halloween twist, the pastry on the top of the pies was decorated with spiders, the sausages were made to look like fingers, the mashed potato styled in the shape of brains. Albus gaped wonderingly at it all, his mouth watering.
Pan was in her element. She grinned broadly when Albus sat down next to her, holding up a breadstick that had been made to look like a skeleton bone. “This is awesome,” she said. “But you know the best part?”
“What?” asked Albus.
“There’s no Drake, Missy or Julia to spoil it,” she said.
She was right. In fact, she and Albus appeared to be the only first-year Slytherins at the feast. The rest were still in remedial potions with Slughorn. All except Arty. Albus glanced around searchingly as he realised there was someone else missing too. “Where’s Scorpius?” he asked.
Pan shrugged. “Haven’t seen him all day,” she said. “Must be ill.”
“Or he’s worried about that article in the Prophet,” replied Albus. “I probably would’ve hidden too if it was me.” Albus banged his fist against the table. “The worst part is he’s innocent!”
Pan offered him a breadstick. “Halloween Feast!” she said, looking aggrieved. “Please can we just enjoy it?”
Albus sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. I am hungry.” He ladled a piece of spider-decorated pie onto his plate and then scooped up some brain-shaped mash.
“Want some blood to go with your brains?” Pan asked, handing him the tomato sauce.
Albus felt like he’d eaten his weight in food by the time he returned to his dormitory that evening. He rubbed his bloated stomach as he changed into his pyjamas, wishing he hadn’t eaten that third piece of pumpkin pie. He was surprised the bed didn’t snap from the weight of him when he climbed into it.
It was only when Albus turned over and his eyes fell upon the empty chair in the corner of the room that he felt a twinge of unease.
Tonight was the full moon. So where was the prefect? He should’ve been here by now.
He’s probably just enjoying the feast, Albus told himself. He’ll be here soon.
When the door opened ten minutes later, however, it wasn’t the prefect who walked in. It was Arty. He stumbled into bed, pulled the duvet up over his head and fell instantly into a deep sleep. His rumbling snores echoed around the dormitory almost instantly.
Albus wished he could’ve fallen asleep as quickly. He wasn’t sure how long he lay there, trying to drift off. Part of his mind was fixated upon listening for the door to open, but it seemed the prefect had forgotten about his monthly guard duty.
It’s fine, Albus told himself over and over. It’s fine…
He didn’t remember falling asleep, but when he woke it was with a sharp jolt. He sat bolt upright, his heart hammering in his chest. For a moment, he wasn’t sure why he felt so terrified, but then he saw the shredded bedsheets, the scattered feathers and the splintered bedpost of Arty’s four-poster that had been snapped in two. That’s when he heard the growling. It wasn’t the soft, rumbling growls of Arty’s snores, it was a louder, angrier noise that rent the air, piercing through Albus like bolts of lightning.
It didn’t take long for him to locate the source of the dreadful noise. There, in the corner of the room, prowling back and forth, sniffing at the air, was a wolf. It had yellow eyes, thick muscles and glistening fangs. Its brown fur was the same shade as Arty’s hair, but it didn’t have the calm, docile look of the wolf Albus had seen on the previous full moon. This one was wild, frenzied.
This one was out of control.
Suddenly, its gaze fixed on Albus and it let out a sharp howl.
As it prepared to spring forwards, Albus’s heart skipped. His hands gripped the sheets. His muscles froze as if turned to ice. He realised in a heart-stopping, breathtaking moment that he was going to die.