The door burst open.
Standing in the doorway, silvery eyes wide with shock, was Scorpius. He gazed at the snarling wolf, apparently frozen on the spot.
“Run!” Albus yelled. But it was too late. With a guttural growl, the wolf turned its yellow gaze upon the blonde-haired boy and sprang across the room.
Scorpius leapt out of its path, tumbling into the wardrobe. At the same time, the wolf crashed into the door, which slammed shut upon impact. Shaking its furry head in disorientation, the wolf reared up, then turned on Albus.
Before it could attack, Scorpius pulled his wand from his robes and screamed, “Tenacio!”
The floor beneath the wolf’s feet suddenly shifted. The stone lost its shine. The wolf howled, but it wasn’t in anger; it was a howl of pain. Its muscles quivered. It seemed to be trying to move. With a tugging motion, it lifted its front paw, but as if it had been glued to the floor, tufts of fur stuck fast to the stone flagons. A shiver ran along the wolf’s body. Angrily, it threw back its head and howled at the ceiling.
It was as if that howl broke the spell of terror upon Albus. He roused himself into movement and snatched up his wand from his bedside table. Crawling across the bed, he reached for Scorpius, whose hand shook as Albus took hold of it. Not wasting a moment, Albus pulled Scorpius away from the door. They jumped over the broken bedpost towards the window, but Scorpius’s feet tangled in the ripped bedsheets. He stumbled to the floor. As he hit the stone, his wand flew out of his hand. Albus watched as it skittered under the wardrobe. Albus’s already racing heart skipped a beat.
Behind them, there came a high-pitched squeal. They span in the direction of the sound, gasping in unison at the sight of the wolf pacing towards them. It had freed itself from Scorpius’s sticky spell, but its paws were bleeding, several of its claws ripped out.
“Get your wand!” Albus shouted at Scorpius.
Scorpius dropped to his knees beside the wardrobe, reaching blindly for his wand. Albus stepped in front of him, blocking him from the wolf. He pointed his wand towards the oncoming creature. But his mind was blank.
“I need a spell!” he exclaimed.
“Knockback jinx!” Scorpius replied in a hysterical, high-pitched voice.
Knockback jinx, thought Albus, panic coursing through him like fire. You can do it!
“I-I’m not very good at that spell,” he said.
“I can’t reach my wand!” Scorpius exclaimed. Then his voice became a shrill squeak. “Albus!”
The wolf had pounced. A jolt of pure terror coursed down Albus’s arm, the same arm that, as if of its own will, slashed his wand through the air. In a high-pitched quaver, Albus shouted, “Flipendo!”
Mid-leap, the wolf was thrown backwards. It smashed through two bedposts, collided with the wall, then hit the floor with a thud. Albus’s sigh of relief turned to a gasp of horror as the wolf staggered up again. It fixed its angry gaze upon Albus, then pulled back its muzzle, revealing a set of horrifically sharp teeth. With slow, lumbering movements, it climbed up onto Albus’s bed, above which hung the ripped green drapes. Splinters from the broken bedposts were scattered across the sheets.
Albus raised his wand again. “Flipendo!” he shouted.
There was a moment of horrible stillness. Then, the wolf leaned back on its haunches and sprang. Albus’s mind went blank. He slashed his wand through the air, but no words came out of his mouth.
There was an image of fangs, of dripping saliva, of acid-yellow eyes.
“Flipendo!” yelled Scorpius. The wolf rebounded in mid-air, struck another bedpost, then came to land on its injured paws, letting out yelps of pain. “Coagulous!” Scorpius shouted. The air in front of the wolf became distorted. Then, as it tried to approach them, it was buffeted backwards, the wall of air blocking its path.
Albus glanced from the wolf to the door behind it. “We’re trapped!” he said. “We have to get past him!”
The wolf swiped at the thickened air. When it was unsuccessful, it began to throw its whole weight against Scorpius’s spell, trying to break through the magical barrier.
Scorpius, who was watching the wolf with a look of growing panic, began to back away towards the window. “My spell isn’t going to last much longer,” he said, his voice rising several octaves as he spoke.
“We need to get Arty out of the way,” Albus replied.
“We could use the vermillious spell,” said Scorpius, “but that would hurt him.”
“No,” said Albus, “there must be a way of stopping him without hurting him.”
Scorpius’s eyes widened. “The calming charm!”
“Will that work?”
“Maybe,” said Scorpius, “if we say it at the same time…”
There was a sound like a thunderclap. A whoosh of air swept the room. The coagulous spell was broken. The wolf bounded forwards.
“Now!” Albus shouted.
“Serenius!” they yelled. Their voices echoed around the room, chiming together like a harmony.
Albus thought the wolf’s eyelids might have grown slightly heavier, but it didn’t slow its charge. Albus pulled Scorpius out of the way. The two of them tumbled onto the nearest bed. Behind them, the wolf hit the wall. It spun around, then drunkenly padded in their direction, its head drooping lower with each step.
Albus and Scorpius faced it, both breathing heavily.
“One more time!” Albus said. “Now!”
“Serenius!” they chorused.
As if struck dumb, the wolf’s eyes rolled into the back of its head, its legs gave out from under it and it sank to the floor, unconscious.
At first, Albus and Scorpius didn’t move. They simply watched the sleeping wolf, trying to catch their breath.
“We have to go,” said Albus at last. “We have to get a teacher.”
Scorpius didn’t reply. His eyes were fixed on the wolf, his chest heaving. In fact, his breathing wasn’t calming down, it was speeding up. He looked like he was going into shock.
Albus took hold of his hand. Scorpius’s skin felt hot and clammy. His fringe, which was half-covering his eyes, was slick with sweat. “Scorpius?” Albus said. He grasped the boy by the shoulders. “Scorpius, we have to go.”
Behind Albus, the wolf grunted in his sleep.
“Come on,” said Albus, “before he wakes up!”
There was another grunt – louder this time.
Scorpius seemed to come back to himself. He shook his head as if to clear it. Albus didn’t waste a moment. He pulled Scorpius across the room. They stepped over the detritus and ducked under one of the collapsed bedposts before racing towards the door. It creaked as Albus yanked it open. Once they were on the other side, Scorpius paused. He pulled the door closed, pointed his wand at it, then said, “Colloportus!” There was a sucking sound and the edges around the door sealed, merging with the wooden frame. At Albus’s puzzled look, he shrugged. “Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1,” he said. “Locking spell. Now, Arty won’t be able to get out.”
“Good thinking,” Albus replied.
They ran up the stairs, but Albus stopped before they reached the top. His heartrate had slowed down and with it some of his sense had returned. “You saved me,” he said to Scorpius. “You came in at just the right moment…”
“I heard growling,” he answered.
“But why were you up so late?” asked Albus.
Scorpius dropped his gaze, letting his fringe fall over his eyes. “I was walking,” he said cryptically.
Scorpius folded his arms. “It’s nice to wander around the castle without Filch for a change,” he said. “At night, I don’t have to worry about someone jinxing me in the corridors.”
There was something awkward in Scorpius’s voice. Albus couldn’t help feeling that he wasn’t being entirely truthful. But Albus couldn’t deny that Scorpius had saved his life. Without him, werewolf-Arty might have ripped him to shreds.
Scorpius’s expression hardened. “So, Arty is the werewolf,” he said. “It all makes sense now.”
“What makes sense?” Albus asked.
Scorpius’s grim expression became accusatory. “I’m guessing it was your idea to tell people the werewolf wasn’t Arty,” he said. “A good plan – making everyone think the werewolf was me. No one questioned it.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” Albus said.
“Right,” Scorpius replied dismissively. He gestured ahead of them. “We should go get an adult. Arty could wake up at any moment.”
Albus wanted to say more on the subject, but there was a cold, stone-like look on Scorpius’s face, a look that said the conversation was over. Frowning, Albus nodded, then continued climbing the stairs to the common room. After a few steps, however, another figure loomed above them, tartan dressing gown swishing around fluffy slippers. “Potter!” exclaimed a familiar, sharp voice. The clipped tones made Albus halt in his tracks.
Professor McGonagall was glaring at him, her usually slicked-back hair in disarray, her eyes slightly bloodshot. Behind her, hurrying down the steps, came Drake Salmer, an uncharacteristically sober expression on his face.
“Salmer heard growling,” McGonagall said without preamble. “Is it…?” Her voice trailed off, but Albus understood her meaning. Is it Arty?
“Yes,” he answered, glancing over at Salmer who was listening intently. “I don’t think the potion worked.”
McGonagall raised a hand. “I understand, Potter,” she said. “Salmer, go to the Potion-master’s office. Wake up Professor Slughorn and tell him to evacuate the Slytherins to the Great Hall. Then go to the second-floor corridor and wake Professor Thorn. Bring him here.”
Salmer didn’t answer. Scorpius had stepped forward and Salmer’s gaze had fallen upon him for the first time. Mouth falling slack, he pointed at the blonde-haired boy. “Malfoy- M-Malfoy’s here!” he said. “He’s the werewolf! He wasn’t in our room tonight when I woke up. I-I heard him growling! He was in Albus’s room!” Salmer backed up several steps.
“Did you hear me?” McGonagall snapped. “Thorn and Slughorn—”
“But where’s Arty?” Salmer interrupted, eyes widening. He shot a disgusted look at Scorpius. “You attacked him, didn’t you!”
“Fetch Professor Slughorn and Professor Thorn!” McGonagall commanded. “Now!”
Salmer looked as if he was about to argue, but her glare seemed to cow him. With obvious reluctance, he retreated up the stairs, glancing back over his shoulder in accusation.
When he was out of sight, McGonagall gestured for Albus and Scorpius to head back down to the dormitories. As Albus approached the door to his room, he listened intently for the sound of growling, of scratching claws, but there was nothing.
Professor McGonagall made no attempt to enter. She ran a finger along the edges of the door, then sent Scorpius an appraising look. “Locking spell?” she asked.
“Tell me what happened,” she demanded. “I want to know everything.”
Albus cleared his throat. In a croaky voice, he explained how he’d woken up to find Arty in his werewolf form, how Arty had tried to attack him, how Scorpius had saved his life. He told her about the calming charm, about fleeing the room, then finally about Scorpius locking the door behind them.
“So neither of you got hurt?” she asked. “Bitten? Scratched?”
They shook their heads.
Her body, which until now had been rigid with tension, seemed to relax slightly. A long, slow breath escaped her. “You were very lucky,” she said. “Both of you.” She pulled her dressing gown tighter around her, the wrinkles in her face deepening. “I’m sorry, Potter. I thought the safeguards we had in place would be enough.” She rubbed her forehead. “But what about Riley?” she asked. “Where was he?”
“Riley?” asked Albus, confused.
“The prefect,” she said impatiently. “Riley Groombridge. He should have been here.”
Albus frowned at her. He’d never asked the name of his prefect protector. He’d certainly not expected him to have the surname Groombridge. “He’s related to Missy?” Albus asked.
“He’s Missy’s brother,” McGonagall clipped, “and clearly not as reliable as I’d thought. I take it he didn’t turn up?”
“No,” Albus replied, “he didn’t show…” All at once, it struck Albus how coincidental it was that on the one night Arty lost control of his transformation, Riley Groombridge was mysteriously absent. “Professor, what if someone—”
Albus was interrupted when Thorn came hurrying down the stairs. His red robes were ruffled as if hastily put on. Albus scowled at the deputy headmaster, but the man didn’t spare him a glance.
“Potter, Malfoy,” McGonagall said, “up to the Hospital Wing. You need to be checked over.” She clicked her fingers at Scorpius. “Lend Potter some shoes and a cloak, he can’t walk about the castle in bare feet.”
Scorpius quickly disappeared into his room. When he came back out, he handed Albus a pair of plain, black shoes and a thick winter cloak that smelt faintly of flowers – honeysuckle or jasmine.
“Off you go, then,” McGonagall commanded.
Albus made no move to leave. He didn’t like the idea of leaving Thorn alone with Professor McGonagall, especially while there was a dangerous werewolf nearby.
“You heard the headmistress,” said Thorn coolly. “You may have been lucky enough to survive one werewolf attack unscathed”—the muscles in his neck twitched at this—“but we wouldn’t want to tempt fate a second time.”
“Go, Potter,” McGonagall repeated.
Thorn was watching Albus intently. His expression was unreadable, and yet Albus thought suddenly of Slughorn’s backroom, of the moment Thorn had disappeared behind the door, the moment when he had been alone with the wolfsbane potion.
It wasn’t like Arty to miss a dose. As much as he hated the taste of it, Arty had said himself that the voice of the wolf was in his head. How much stronger were those whispers without the power of the wolfsbane potion to control them?
So, if he had indeed taken the potion as normal, then why hadn’t it worked?
Who had tampered with it?
Scorpius nudged Albus, pulling him from his thoughts. Reluctantly, Albus followed Scorpius up the stairs.
He glanced back at Thorn. He and McGonagall were talking indistinctly, both facing the sealed door. Was it safe to leave her here with him? Had it been coincidence that Thorn had been in the same room as the wolfsbane potion on the night it hadn’t worked?
Albus shook his head. Thorn wouldn’t have tampered with it, he thought. Arty could’ve killed me…
Then, another voice rang through his head, a voice that sounded a lot like his mum’s colleague Rita Skeeter, Rumours abound that Lestrange has an accomplice at Hogwarts just waiting to put an end to the children of Harry Potter, just waiting to carry out his revenge.
Albus shoved the voice to the back of his mind.
It would’ve been good to be able to talk to Scorpius to distract himself, but Scorpius’s silence was uncomfortably stormy. As they made their way to the Hospital Wing, they didn’t exchange a single word. All the while, Albus wondered what McGonagall and Thorn would do about Arty, wondered if McGonagall was safe on her own with the deputy headmaster…
When they arrived at their destination, Madam Pomfrey wasted no time interrogating Albus and Scorpius. She bustled out of her office, glaring, as if they’d committed some sort of crime. When Scorpius told her what had happened, she checked them for wounds, then sent them both to separate hospital beds.
Albus was certain he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He felt shaky, his muscles juddering beneath his skin.
As he sank onto the soft sheets, however, his eyes began to drift closed. In the next bed, Scorpius was breathing deeply. Albus felt comfortable. He felt exhausted…
He woke up with a start. He blinked around at the Hospital Wing, noting as he did so that pale daylight was now streaming through the windows. Scorpius was leaning over him. Up close, Albus could smell that flowery smell again, sweet and subtle.
“Professor Winter’s here,” he said.
The transfiguration teacher was, indeed, waiting by the door, his blue robes not as pristine as usual. He snapped his fingers at them. “Quickly,” he said. “We’re to meet the headmistress in her office.”
Albus slid out of bed, slipped on his borrowed shoes and cloak, then he followed Winter out of the Hospital Wing, Scorpius at his side. Madam Pomfrey watched them go with a disapproving look.
When they arrived in McGonagall’s office, Winter sat himself in her chair. At the sight of him there, Albus found himself wincing at the idea of the blue-robed, bird-like teacher ever becoming headmaster.
“Since the headmistress is not here yet,” he said, “tell me: what exactly brings me to this office so early on a Saturday morning when I should be sleeping?”
Albus wondered how much Winter knew about Arty, if he knew anything at all. “There was a werewolf incident,” he said vaguely.
“Mr Oakes lost control,” Winter surmised. There was no surprise in his voice. “I warned Minerva against letting dangerous half-breeds into Hogwarts.” A ghost of a smile curved at his lips. “I hate to say it, but I was right. School is no place for werewolves.”
“Everything was fine on the last full moon,” Albus argued. “Arty was harmless.”
“And yet, tonight I am here,” he replied, “and the headmistress is having to placate a crazed werewolf.”
“He’s not crazed,” Albus retorted, his anger rising.
Winter placed his talon-like fingers upon the desk, then pushed himself to his feet. “Werewolves belong in one place and one place only,” he said, “and it isn’t at Hogwarts.” Swatting his hand at the air, as if swatting the subject away, he glided over to Scorpius, his beak-like nose turned upwards. “And how are you involved in all this, Mr Malfoy?” he questioned. “It seems your luck just keeps getting worse.”
Scorpius didn’t respond.
“One hears so many things,” Winter continued. “Your mother, for instance. The rumours about her—”
“Lies,” Scorpius interrupted, not meeting Winter’s icy stare.
Winter clicked his tongue. “Oh, I don’t mean that ridiculous business about Voldemort being your father,” he said. “Quite absurd.”
Scorpius was silent.
“I heard your mother has been quite unwell,” Winter continued. “Disturbing reports have reached me – episodes of erratic behaviour, even talk of her being sectioned.”
“She wasn’t sectioned,” Scorpius said, his voice a low mumble.
“Your mother is an animagus,” Winter carried on. “These episodes make her dangerous, do they not?”
Again, Scorpius said nothing.
Winter continued speaking, but this time he appeared to be talking to himself rather than Scorpius. “Animagi,” he said, “half-breeds, giants. We have to be cautious. Minerva should’ve listened to me.”
Albus came to stand beside Scorpius, his arms crossed. At that moment, the door opened. McGonagall strolled into the room, her imperious stride marred somewhat by her dressing gown and fluffy slippers. Behind her came Thorn. She went to sit at her desk, then gestured pointedly to the two chairs on the opposite side of it. “Sit!” she commanded. Albus and Scorpius did as she asked. Winter and Thorn came to stand on either side of McGonagall. It struck Albus how different the two male teachers were in appearance – like fire and ice. Thorn’s wild auburn hair and red robes suggested heat, anger, whereas Professor Winter’s white hair and blue robes gave off an aura of coldness, of sterility.
Without explanation, McGonagall raised her wand and gave it a flick. Another chair popped into existence beside Albus’s. He stared at it in puzzlement, until he heard another set of footsteps enter the room. Albus started as Arty came into view. He took the conjured seat, his head down. His scruffy hair was even scruffier than usual. His palms were blistered, his nails chipped.
Albus thought of the sticky spell Scorpius had used to make Arty’s werewolf paws glue themselves to the floor. It seemed the damage had crossed over into his human form. Albus felt a pang of guilt.
“We have some decisions to make,” McGonagall said. “First, we need to get to the bottom of how this happened.”
Once more, the office door opened. Albus turned to see Slughorn waddling inside looking distinctly ruffled. His smoking jacket had been traded for an oversized nightgown.
“Professor Slughorn,” McGonagall said. “Thank you for coming.”
He nodded, came to lean against one of the shelves, and folded his arms over his chest. There was something strangely defensive about his stance. Even more strange was his refusal to meet anyone’s eye.
“Arty,” McGonagall said, her tone business-like, “did you take your potion tonight?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“And every other night this week?” McGonagall pressed.
McGonagall glanced over at Slughorn. “You can confirm this?”
He nodded brusquely.
Thorn cleared his throat. “Perhaps,” he said, “the cause of this incident wasn’t due to Arty missing his doses. Perhaps there was a fault with the potion itself.”
Slughorn’s walrus moustache seemed to quiver with indignation. “If you are suggesting I didn’t brew the wolfsbane correctly,” he replied, “then you are mistaken, professor.”
“Well, I see no other explanation,” said Thorn smoothly.
“I do,” interjected Albus, eyeing Thorn coldly. “Someone could’ve tampered with the potion before Arty drank it.”
To Albus’s surprise, Thorn seemed unfazed by this suggestion. “But I’m sure,” he said, “that Professor Slughorn would not have been so careless as to leave the wolfsbane potion lying around for anyone to sabotage.”
Slughorn paled. There was a horribly triumphant look on Thorn’s face.
“Horace?” McGonagall said, eyebrows drawing together.
“The potion was kept secure,” Slughorn replied vaguely.
“Could someone have tampered with it?” McGonagall asked him.
“No,” Slughorn replied, not quite meeting her gaze, “I don’t believe so.”
“Then that settles it,” said Thorn. “You must have brewed it incorrectly.”
Slughorn looked as if he’d swallowed vomit, but he didn’t contradict Thorn.
McGonagall was shaking her head in obvious disappointment. “Mr Oakes,” she said, “I can imagine you’re feeling—”
“I want to leave,” Arty said, speaking for the first time. His voice was hoarse, as if from overuse.
“Of course,” McGonagall replied. “We’ll send you to the Hospital Wing shortly, but first—”
“No,” he said. “I mean, I want to leave Hogwarts. I don’t want to be here anymore.”
McGonagall’s brow creased. “I can assure you,” she told him, “we will do everything in our power to prevent something like this happening again.”
Arty picked at the blisters on his palms. “I can’t,” he said, his voice cracking. “I don’t want to be here. I shouldn’t be here.”
Winter cleared his throat. “Perhaps we should listen to the boy,” he said. “There are no guarantees with werewolves. However we look at it, the boy is dangerous.”
“Please,” Arty said. “I want to leave. I want to go home.”
McGonagall didn’t look convinced. “Mr Oakes,” she said, “Professor Winter will take you to the Hospital Wing. While you’re recovering, you’ll have time to think about what you want to do. There’s no need for you to rush into a decision.” She nodded at Winter who proceeded to walk Arty out of the office. Albus tried to catch the boy’s eye as he left, but Arty didn’t look up.
Once the door closed, Thorn turned to McGonagall. “What we discussed before—”
She held up a hand to stop him, then she gestured at Albus and Scorpius. “Boys,” she said, “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how important it is that you keep last night’s events to yourselves.”
They both nodded.
“You have both proven yourselves brave and industrious,” she said. “Scorpius, this is the second time your spellwork has saved the life of a fellow student. You are a credit to your teachers. For your actions tonight, I award twenty points to Slytherin. I only hope you do not find yourself in a situation like this again.” She cracked a brief smile that quickly faltered. “You’re free to go. Both of you.”
They left the room, but Albus didn’t step onto the moving staircase. Instead, he pressed his ear to the door, listening. At first Scorpius sent him a puzzled look, but then, with a quiet sigh, he too leaned against the door.
“…let this happen?” came McGonagall’s voice, muffled and indistinct, yet clearly annoyed. “Horace, Albus could’ve died. Or worse – if Arty had escaped that room, he could’ve harmed countless students. Last night, we narrowly avoided a complete disaster.”
“It won’t happen again,” Slughorn replied stiffly.
“You know my thoughts on this, headmistress,” came Thorn’s voice. “Changes are needed.”
“Changes?” rumbled Slughorn.
“Improvements,” amended Thorn.
“Horace,” McGonagall cut in, “you are on probation.” At this, Albus and Scorpius exchanged shocked glances. From inside the room, there was a lot of blubbering and blustering, but McGonagall spoke over it. “Orion and I have things to discuss. There’s nothing more to be said on the subject.”
“You have put the lives of our students in jeopardy,” she said. “Now I have work to do.” The dismissive note in her voice was unmistakeable.
Albus tugged on Scorpius’s arm and they hastened down the spiral staircase. Behind them, the office door opened. They sped along the corridor, then turned into an alcove. Shortly afterwards, Slughorn plodded past, mumbling and muttering indignantly to himself.
It dawned on Albus how close he was standing to Scorpius. The boy’s hot breath brushed against Albus’s skin. Again, Albus smelt that sweet honeysuckle scent. As soon as Slughorn was out of earshot, Scorpius squeezed out of the alcove and began to walk away.
“McGonagall was right,” Albus called after him. Scorpius stopped in his tracks. “You saved my life.”
Scorpius crossed his arms protectively.
Albus waited for a response, but none came. “You’re still angry with me,” he said, his heart sinking. “But it wasn’t me who told people you’re a werewolf, I swear.”
“Look,” replied Scorpius quietly, “what Winter said about my mum. It’s not true. She’s not crazy.”
“I didn’t think—”
“Please don’t tell anyone,” Scorpius interrupted. His pleading tone made Albus want to flinch. “I don’t care about the werewolf thing. I don’t care that people think Rabastan Lestrange is in my cellar. Just please, don’t tell anyone about my mum. Winter doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“Scorpius, I wouldn’t do that,” Albus replied, his throat tight. “I know I haven’t been the best friend to you, but I’m not… I’m not like that.”
“Then prove it, Albus,” he said. “I don’t want people to know about my mum. So please, just keep it to yourself.”
“I-I will,” Albus replied, but Scorpius had already turned away.
Albus’s heart clenched, as if a hand had passed through his chest and was squeezing it. He really hates me…
Albus walked dazedly through the castle, thinking about what Scorpius had said. He’d never realised before how much the other boy disliked him, distrusted him. Scorpius thought he was vindictive, the kind of person who’d tell everyone about Scorpius’s apparently ill mother just to spite him. Albus was so lost in thought that he walked aimlessly, not sure where he was headed. He was forced out of his musings, however, when he reached the main courtyard. The cold seeped easily through his pyjamas and he drew Scorpius’s thick cloak tighter about him.
Several students were walking across the courtyard. It wasn’t long before each and every one of them was either pointing at him, whispering or, in some cases, heading in his direction. “Is it true?” an older Ravenclaw student asked. “Did Scorpius Malfoy really turn into a werewolf and attack your roommate?”
“Who told you that?” Albus questioned, his stomach turning over. This was all Scorpius needed – another false story about him.
“His roommate’s in the Hospital Wing,” said a second Ravenclaw to the first, “of course it’s true!”
“Arty’s in the Hospital Wing because he isn’t feeling well,” Albus lied coolly. But the Ravenclaws didn’t look appeased. In fact, they burst out with more questions. Albus made his excuses and hurried away towards one of the passageways that would lead him to the dungeon corridor, but soon it wasn’t just a few Ravenclaws hounding him. Before he’d crossed the courtyard, Albus had gathered a whole crowd of students around him, all feverishly asking questions about the rumoured werewolf attack.
Again and again, Albus repeated that Arty hadn’t been attacked by Scorpius, that he was simply feeling ill. His words fell on deaf ears.
There were now so many people surrounding him that Albus found himself trapped.
If they had all been first-years, he might have barged them aside, but many of his questioners were much older students, far bigger and stronger than he was.
“It’s Scorpius Malfoy!” shouted a familiar voice from somewhere nearby. “Look, over there! On the other side of the courtyard!”
At once, the crowd began to thin as students made their way across the courtyard to harass a juicier victim. When it became clear that Albus was going to reveal no real details of what had happened the previous night, the rest of the crowd started to disperse as well, leaving a lone figure behind. Pan was in her pyjamas, her hair in disarray. She was rubbing at her hip as if it was causing her pain.
Albus pointed over at the distant pack of students. “Thanks for saving me,” he said. “Scorpius isn’t really over there though, right?”
“Nope,” she said simply. Then, she eyed him closely. “You look terrible.”
“I was going to say the same about you,” Albus replied. “Why are you wearing pyjamas?”
“I just left the Great Hall,” she said. “The Slytherins slept in there last night. Well most of us, anyway.” She scowled at Albus. “The prefects woke us up in the middle of the night, then Slughorn marched us out of the common room and into the Great Hall. No one knew why at first. But the boys in your dormitory were saying they’d seen McGonagall and Thorn standing outside your room, guarding it.” She rubbed her hip pointedly. “I’m never sleeping on a stone floor again.”
“People think Scorpius attacked Arty,” Albus said.
She nodded. “Everyone knows Arty’s in the Hospital Wing. And they think Scorpius is a werewolf.” She crossed her arms. “So, what did happen last night?”
Albus led her towards the secret passageway. Once they’d entered the thin opening in the wall behind one of the suits of armour, Albus told her everything that had happened, starting with the werewolf attack.
“So Scorpius saved you,” she said. “At least I’m not the only one who owes him my life.”
Remembering Scorpius’s last words to him, Albus winced. True, Scorpius had saved him, but not because he’d valued Albus’s life. He’d done it because it was the right thing to do. Scorpius doesn’t care about me at all…
Not wanting to dwell on that thought, Albus carried on relaying the events of the previous night, ending with the moment he’d overheard McGonagall put Slughorn on probation. But – as Scorpius had instructed – Albus said nothing of Scorpius’s mother.
“Arty’s potion doesn’t work and your prefect doesn’t turn up on the same night,” Pan mused, a thoughtful look on her face. “It’s like someone planned it.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
Pan frowned. “But who?” she asked. “Who would be able to tamper with the wolfsbane potion and also convince the prefect not to come to your room?”
“Thorn,” Albus answered without hesitation. “When I was at remedial potions, I saw the wolfsbane potion. Slughorn had left it in his storeroom. Thorn went in there to get something. I bet he saw the potion and took his chance. It would’ve been easy to sprinkle something in that goblet.”
“And he says we’re the slimeballs,” she scoffed, an incredulous expression on her face. “If only we had some actual evidence.” Abruptly, she stopped walking. “The prefect,” she said. “I bet he knows something. I think we should have a little conversation with him. What’s his name?”
“Oh yeah, that’s the other thing,” replied Albus. “He’s Missy Groombridge’s older brother. His name’s Riley.”
“Missy’s brother is a prefect?” Pan asked in disgust. “Well no wonder he didn’t show up. If he’s anything like her, he was probably too busy styling his hair or plucking his eyebrows.”
“Either way,” Albus replied, “you’re right. We should talk to him — see what he knows.”
Riley Groombridge wasn’t in the common room. Pan and Albus asked around, but it seemed no one had seen him. Disheartened, they headed to their dormitories to change out of their pyjamas. Albus was surprised to find his room had been returned to normal, no trace of the previous evening’s carnage – not even a stray splinter had been missed. It was as if the werewolf attack had never happened. Even the four-posters were repaired, their wooden beams as smooth and polished as ever.
Albus gently laid Scorpius’s cloak on his bed and placed Scorpius’s shoes by his bedside table. He changed out of his pyjamas, then fixed his own cloak about his shoulders. Before he left the room, he glanced around at the scene of his almost-death. It was strange – already the events of the previous night felt like they’d been a dream. Had he really come so close to dying? Had he really fought off an angry werewolf?
Shutting the door, he took a deep breath, then headed back up to the common room. There, he found Pan standing at the top of the stairs directly in front of none other than Riley Groombridge. Apparently, she’d cornered him as he’d emerged from the dormitories.
“You’re sure?” Pan asked the prefect as Albus came to stand beside them.
Riley was nodding. “I never saw Thorn last night,” he replied, an impatient edge to his voice.
“Then tell us who you did see,” Albus said.
Riley started. It seemed he hadn’t realised Albus was there. The prefect grimaced at the sight of him. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t show,” he said. “I fell asleep. I can’t explain it. I was so tired, I couldn’t stay awake. Then, when I finally woke up, I was sick, vomited everywhere.” He scowled. “It’s not been the best morning.”
“Did you speak to anyone before you went up to your dormitory?” Albus pressed.
“McGonagall’s already hounded me about this,” he said.
“Just answer the question,” Pan told him.
He shrugged. “I ate dinner with my friends,” he said. He paused as if trying to remember. “My sister got to the feast late so I sat with her and her friends for a bit. They’d had remedial potions or something.”
Albus and Pan exchanged glances. “You sat with Missy?” Albus repeated. “Who was with her?”
Riley looked perplexed by the continued questioning. It seemed he thought he’d provided more than enough information. “How should I know who they were?” he asked. “I’m not my sister’s keeper.”
“Then you went back to your room and felt so tired that you fell asleep,” said Pan.
“Yes,” he answered in exasperation. “Then I was sick. But now, I’m rather hungry. So if you don’t mind…” He pushed past Pan and hurried out of the common room.
“You think Missy or one of her friends did something to Riley?” asked Albus.
“They don’t have enough brains,” she replied.
“They could’ve given him a sleeping potion,” Albus replied. “It wouldn’t be that difficult.”
“Then why was he sick?” Pan asked. “Sleeping potions don’t make you throw up.”
“Maybe he just ate too much at the feast,” Albus suggested.
“But do you really think Missy could have organised a werewolf attack?” she asked. “Putting her brother to sleep is one thing, but tampering with the wolfsbane potion?”
A memory struck Albus and he gasped. “She went in the storeroom too,” he said. “Missy, Julia, Aberfa and Danielle all went into the storeroom where the potion was. Salmer and Zabini too.”
“Do you really think one of our classmates is responsible for making a werewolf attack you?” said Pan. “And what about Thorn?”
Albus rubbed his forehead. He didn’t know what to think. It did seem ludicrous that one of the Slytherin first-years had tried to arrange an attack on him. For one thing, Missy and Julia were the only ones who knew Arty was a werewolf, which meant it had to be one of them who organised the attack.
Missy and Julia planning murder? thought Albus. It’s more likely that McGonagall’s behind it than those two.
“No, you’re right,” he said. “It can’t be one of the Slytherins.”
“So Thorn’s still our number one suspect,” she replied. “Now all we have to do is find a motive and some evidence.” She sighed. “Easy-peasy.”
The day continued much as it had started. At breakfast, Albus found himself berated by eager swathes of students, all trying to find out what had really happened the previous evening. The story circulating the school that Scorpius had lost control of his werewolf form and attacked Arty Oakes was not abated by Albus’s insistence that there had been no such werewolf and that Arty was simply unwell.
“Malfoy’s a werewolf, isn’t he!”
“McGonagall’s told you to keep it a secret!”
“What did Malfoy look like as a werewolf? Did he try to bite you too?”
“Will Arty be a werewolf now as well?”
Albus did his best to ignore it. None of the students listened to what he had to say anyway. Meanwhile, Pan questioned Missy on what had happened at the Halloween Feast. Had she seen her brother? What had he been eating? What had he been drinking? But Missy quickly became irritable and suspicious.
“What’s with the Goblin Inquisition?” she spat. Then, her eyes widened and a cruel smile darkened her features. “Oh, I see,” she purred. “All these questions about my brother – you fancy him, don’t you.”
Pan was so taken aback by this response that she faltered.
Missy seized on this moment of weakness like a cat snatching at a mouse. “You do!” she gasped. “First ‘Berfa and now you! I mean, at least ‘Berfs has good family stock! But a Parkinson and a Groombridge?” Missy laughed. “Also, you might want to consider some cosmetic magic. In fact, it might be best if you just turn yourself invisible. Much more likely to get a man that way.”
The combined laughter of Missy Groombridge and the squawking questions of the crowd gathered around Albus seemed to be the last straw for Pan. Without finishing her breakfast, she shot out of her chair and nodded towards the doors. “Let’s go,” she said to Albus.
Without argument, he followed her out of the Great Hall.
“I’m starting to think Missy might be the culprit after all,” Pan said. “She’s evil enough to arrange a deadly werewolf attack.”
“If it was her, she would’ve looked more worried when you were questioning her,” Albus replied.
“Maybe,” she said, “but sociopaths don’t show emotion like the rest of us – remember that.”
They spent the rest of the morning in the common room, secluding themselves in a dark corner, where they hoped to go unnoticed. At first, the plan worked well. They managed to finish their essay on the origins of the Calming Charm for Flitwick – a spell that Albus was much more inclined towards now that it had saved his life. They also perfected the quill to ribbon transfiguration for Professor Winter. When it came to practising the vermillious spell, however, the red sparks quickly attracted the attention of the rest of the Slytherins, who wasted no time approaching Albus to ask more questions about the alleged werewolf attack.
Albus and Pan promptly left the common room. “Can we go to the Hospital Wing?” Albus asked. “I want to see how Arty’s doing.”
“Okay, but they might not let us in. I bet other students have tried to visit him so they could ask him those all-important questions we’ve been getting all morning, like how long Scorpius’s fangs were or which exact shade of brown his fur was.”
Not unexpectedly, Madam Pomfrey was suspicious and irritable at the sight of them at her door. She looked rather harassed. It seemed Pan had been right – they weren’t the first students to come knocking. “Arty is ill,” she said. “He doesn’t want visitors.”
“Please,” Albus said. “We’re his friends. I’m not going to ask questions.” He lowered his voice. “After all, I know what actually happened.”
She narrowed her eyes, then let out a breath. “You have five minutes.” She stood aside to let them pass, watching them with hawk-like intensity as they made their way to Arty’s bed. He was currently Madam Pomfrey’s only patient. He was sitting up, picking at the blisters on his palms.
“You must hate me,” he said before Albus or Pan had even sat down.
“Of course I don’t,” Albus replied.
“You should!” he spat harshly. “I could’ve turned you into a wolf like me. I could’ve cursed you to be a monster.”
“Arty, you’re not a monster,” Albus told him firmly.
Arty didn’t seem to be listening. “Or it could’ve been even worse. I could’ve killed you. Scorpius too.”
“But you didn’t!” Albus said, his volume rising. “It’s not your fault! You took the potion – you did everything you could to make sure I was safe.”
“But it wasn’t enough,” he replied, his tone void of emotion. “Just leave me alone, Albus.”
“I’m not leaving—”
“Go away!” he yelled. “Go away, Albus! I’m done with school. I’m done with Hogwarts.”
“But no one knows—”
Pan tugged on Albus’s arm. “Come on,” she said.
“What’s all this shouting?” demanded Madam Pomfrey, who had come running down the aisle, wand in hand. “Why are you harassing my patient?”
Albus was too dazed to respond. He was staring at Arty, trying to understand what was going through his head, but the boy wouldn’t look at him. Arty picked at his blisters, saying nothing.
“Sorry,” Pan said to Madam Pomfrey. “We’re going.”
Tutting, the matron rested a hand against Arty’s forehead, then straightened up and watched Albus and Pan leave, eyes narrowed.
Once the door to the Hospital Wing clicked shut behind them, Albus paused. “He said the same thing earlier this morning,” he told Pan, “but I didn’t think he meant it.” Albus frowned. “How can he want to leave Hogwarts?”
“He nearly killed you.”
“But it wasn’t his fault.”
Pan sighed. “I don’t think he sees it like that.”
Not wanting to return to the common room just yet, and having no desire to go to the Great Hall for lunch, Albus decided to head to the Owlery. “I need to write a letter to my mum,” he said to Pan, “explain what happened last night. That way you can go have lunch without being bombarded with questions.”
“Actually, I think I’m going to get my broom,” she replied. “It’s our first quidditch match in two weeks. I need to do some flying practice.” She turned down a side passage towards the common room. “See you later!” she called as she disappeared from view.
The Owlery was bitterly cold. Up so high, the wind was fierce, slamming an icy gale into the tall tower. Albus pulled his cloak tight about him, his body shivering. As soon as he walked inside, a familiar, reddish-brown shape came swooping down from a high perch and landed on Albus’s shoulder.
“Salvador!” he said, through chattering teeth.
Affectionately, the owl nipped Albus’s ear. Then, he flew to one of the lower perches, waiting expectantly. “I need you to send a letter,” Albus told him, “but you’ll have to be patient. I haven’t written it yet.”
When Albus pulled parchment and quill out of his bag to write his mother’s letter, he realised there was a flaw to his plan. As he pressed the parchment to one of the bare stone windowsills and began to write, his fingers shook so much that his letters were barely legible. Added to this, after the initial, ‘Dear Mum’, he realised he didn’t even know what he wanted to say. After all, it was the first letter he’d written home since he’d started at Hogwarts.
I miss you and Dad and Lily and Mrs Figg.
I don’t know where to start.
I’m glad you’re all okay after the break-in. Rita Skeeter’s article was – Albus paused. What was her article? Illuminating? Worrying? – eye-opening. She didn’t hold back, did she. I’m trying not to worry. I’ve made a friend called Pan. She tells me to worry less. I’m trying.
It turns out you’re not the only one who’s been in danger recently – danger? Was that too strong a word? – Last night, Arty lost control of his werewolf form. Something went wrong with his wolfsbane potion. He tried to attack me. I wasn’t hurt though, not even a scratch. Actually, it was because of Scorpius Malfoy that I – survived? Wasn’t mauled to death? No, definitely couldn’t say either of those things – got away. We managed to stop Arty together.
I don’t think Scorpius likes me much. I did something that made him distrust me. But I think I should try to make up with him. I know you and Dad – don’t like him? Think he’s a git like his father? Nope. Tone it down – think I should be careful around him, but he’s not like everyone says he is. He’s good. I think Aunt Hermione would like him a lot.
I’m sorry I haven’t written to you before now – Again, Albus paused. He wanted to say why he hadn’t written before, but he wasn’t sure what the reason was. There’d been so many distractions. So much had gone wrong…
He’d done so many disappointing things – becoming a Slytherin, befriending Scorpius, befriending Pan, being a terrible flyer…
He put quill back to parchment. I wanted to write sooner – The truth was Albus had wanted to wait until he’d had some good news, something impressive to write about, something to make his parents proud. Instead, he was telling them he’d almost been killed by a werewolf and had been saved by the son of Harry Potter’s school nemesis.
I would’ve written sooner, but I’ve been busy – that didn’t sound good at all, but Albus wasn’t sure what else he could write.
Love and miss you all,
His fingers were now like blocks of ice. He glanced down at the messy parchment. It was readable – that would have to do. Quickly, he shoved the parchment into one of the envelopes stacked on shelves against the wall and carried it over to Salvador.
“Send this home,” he said to the owl, stroking his soft feathers.
Salvador hooted happily, spread his auburn wings and took flight, soaring out of one of the glassless windows and off into the murky November sky.
As Albus made to leave the Owlery, he heard footsteps coming up the stairs outside the entryway. A moment later, the familiar, rotund profile of Aberfa Bullstrode appeared from below, an envelope in her hand. She started at the sight of Albus, then placed a hand on her chest to calm herself down. “Albus,” she said in her European accent. “Sending a letter?”
“Yes,” he answered, “to my parents.”
She smiled awkwardly, then moved over to one of the school owls, attaching the envelope to its leg.
Albus waited for her. It had dawned on him that perhaps Aberfa was one of the girls who’d been with Missy the previous evening. Perhaps she had seen something. If Thorn or Missy or someone else had spiked Riley’s drink, she might be able to give him a clue as to who it was. “Who’s the letter to?” he asked her as she carried the owl over to the window. With a hoot, it launched itself into the air and flew away.
Aberfa didn’t answer him. It seemed she was lost in thought, staring off after the owl.
“Aberfa?” Albus prompted.
She turned to face him. “What?” she asked. “Sorry, I didn’t hear. My English sometimes is slow.”
“Who’s the letter to?”
“Oh, my parents,” she replied. She glanced back at the distant owl, then came to walk with Albus towards the stairs.
“Are they far away?” Albus asked, still unsure where exactly Aberfa was from.
“Not really,” she replied. “I used to live in Germany, but now the UK is my home. My parents are from England originally, but they moved to Germany when I was little.”
“That’s where you went to boarding school,” Albus said, remembering what Aberfa had told the other Slytherins during their first week at Hogwarts.
She nodded. “When I got my Hogwarts letter, my parents decided to come back to the UK.”
The wind lashed at them as they descended the outer staircase to the grounds. Aberfa’s mousy brown hair was blown into a frenzy. Albus struggled to keep his cloak wrapped around him. “Aberfa,” he said after a pause, “you were with Missy last night at the feast, weren’t you?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she answered. “The food was good. We could only have dessert because everything else had been cleared away, but I didn’t complain. Who says no to dessert for dinner?”
Albus smiled absentmindedly. “Right,” he said, “but who else was with you at dinner?”
“Why?” Aberfa countered defensively. “What have people told you?”
Albus stopped in his tracks. He turned on Aberfa, trying to read her expression. “Riley Groombridge was there, wasn’t he – Missy’s brother.”
Aberfa turned bright red. “Missy has been telling people… But she is not telling the truth. It’s not true!”
“What’s not true?” Albus pressed, a thrill of expectation coursing through him.
“I don’t fancy her brother!” Aberfa blurted. “She keeps telling everyone that I want to go out with him. But I don’t. He’s in sixth year! And it’s not true…” She covered her face with her hands. She appeared to be crying.
Albus, who had been sure he was on the verge of a werewolf-related revelation, stared at Aberfa in surprise. “No!” he said at once. “She hadn’t told me that at all. I was just curious about the feast.”
Aberfa drew her hands away from her face. Albus was glad to see there were no tears in her eyes. “She didn’t say anything?”
Now that he thought about it, Albus did remember Missy mentioning something about Aberfa liking her brother, but he thought that now wasn’t the best time for honesty. “She didn’t say anything,” he told her.
She seemed appeased. They carried on walking down the stairs. By the time they reached the bottom, Aberfa’s reddened cheeks had returned to their normal colour. “You’re going to Slughorn’s party tonight, aren’t you,” she said out of the blue.
With a jolt, Albus remembered that he was, indeed, going to Slughorn’s party that evening. In all the drama, he’d completely forgotten about it.
“I think it’s supposed to be a really big party,” Aberfa continued. “Everyone wants to go. I wish I was going…”
Albus didn’t know what to say to this.
Aberfa didn’t seem perturbed by his silence. “People with invitations get to take someone with them,” she told him. “Have you…? Have you asked someone yet?”
Had he asked someone? He hadn’t even remembered he was going to the party himself, let alone thought about who would be going with him. “I’ll probably just take Pan along,” he said.
“Oh,” Aberfa replied. Albus thought he heard a note of disappointment in her voice. “I didn’t realise you two were going out. I thought you were just friends.”
Albus made a disbelieving sound. “We’re not going out,” he said. “We are just friends.”
“But you’re taking her to Slughorn’s party,” Aberfa said, confused.
“Yes, but as a friend,” Albus reaffirmed. He didn’t want to imagine Pan’s reaction if it got around that the two of them were going out.
She’d kill me for starting that rumour, he thought, even if it was an accident.
“Pan and I aren’t going out,” he said again, his tone brooking no argument.
“Okay, Albus,” she replied. “My English isn’t perfect, but I don’t need you to repeat it ten times for me to understand you.”
“Right,” Albus replied. Utterly perturbed, he left her as they approached the steps to the castle. He’d noticed a lone figure in the distance zooming above the flying lawn, body bent low over her broom. He made his way towards her.
Pan came in for landing as Albus approached.
“Want another lesson?” she asked, holding the broom towards him.
Albus inwardly cringed. “It’s too cold for flying,” he told her. “Aren’t you frozen?”
“The cold keeps you focussed,” she said. “Keeps you sharp. Maybe you’ll be able to stay on your broom if we wait for a blizzard to come.”
“Very funny,” Albus retorted.
Pan shook her head as they made their way towards the castle. “You were meant to be Slytherin’s quidditch saviour,” she told him, a wistful expression on her face.
“No,” Albus said, “you’re Slytherin’s quidditch saviour.”
She scoffed. “Well, obviously I am,” she replied, “but there were meant to be two of us! Me: chaser, and you: seeker.”
“Well, with you to teach me, who knows what will happen.”
“I’m a good teacher, Albus,” she said, “but I’m not a miracle worker.”
Albus was forced to retreat to his dormitory for the rest of the afternoon. Pan tried to reassure him that she didn’t mind being accosted by nosy Slytherins every five minutes, but Albus could tell it was winding her up just as much as it was him.
When he entered his room a few minutes later, he was surprised to see Scorpius’s cloak lying on his bed, Scorpius’s shoes on the floor. Albus had forgotten he’d left them there. Picking them up, he walked across the hallway and knocked on Scorpius’s door. With the cloak in his arms, Albus could smell that flowery scent. He had a sudden urge to bury his nose in the material. Thankfully, he managed to resist it, as at that moment, the door opened.
Scorpius looked surprised at the sight of Albus.
“I have your things,” Albus said, holding them up.
“Thanks,” Scorpius replied, taking them from Albus. Unceremoniously, he made to close the door.
“Wait!” Albus blurted. Immediately, he felt his cheeks flush. “Wh-what are you up to?”
Scorpius hesitated. “Just reading.”
“What are you reading?”
Scorpius flicked his fringe out of his eyes, eyes that were studying Albus with silvery mistrust. “A book about werewolves,” he said. “I wanted to find out more about them. I’m supposed to be one of them after all.”
Albus shifted uncomfortably. “What have you found out?”
“Not much,” he said, “but there’s one thing that’s pretty interesting…” His voice trailed off. “Do you really want to know about this?” he asked, as if he thought Albus was trying to trick him in some way.
“Yes,” Albus replied, “I do.”
“You do?” Scorpius pressed, a deep line forming between his eyebrows.
“I do,” Albus repeated.
“Well,” Scorpius said, still looking suspicious, “if a male and female werewolf meet when they’re in their wolf state, the female wolf can actually become pregnant.”
Albus’s eyes widened. “But would the child be wolf or human?” he asked.
“That’s the interesting thing,” Scorpius continued. “According to the book, the female werewolf would give birth to a pack of wolf cubs, actual wolf cubs. Apparently, they become very beautiful wolves, but they aren’t like normal wolves. They’re as intelligent as humans.”
“So they’re not feral like normal werewolves?” Albus asked, amazed.
“No, not at all,” Scorpius replied. “The way the book describes them. They sound like higher beings. It’s so interesting.”
They fell into silence. Albus hesitated in the doorway, knowing he should probably go back to his room, but not really wanting to. He searched his mind for something to say and said the first thing that occurred to him. “Are you going to Slughorn’s party tonight?”
“No,” Scorpius replied. “I didn’t get an invite. I think I’m too controversial for Professor Slughorn now.”
“Oh,” said Albus. Disappointment seeped through him. He’d just assumed that Scorpius would be there; Slughorn had invited him to the last Slug Club event.
“Well, thanks for returning my stuff,” Scorpius said, and there was a clear finality to his tone.
“No problem,” Albus replied, but he’d barely got the words out before the door shut on him. “Bye then,” he whispered to himself.
Albus stayed in his room until the watery light glimmering through the window had faded. When he could delay no longer or risk being late for dinner, he set his canvas to one side. He’d been adding a few final touches to his Black Lake scene, trying to capture the shine of the pondweed and the shadows of the deeper depths. Washing his brushes in turpentine, he packed them away, along with his paints, and placed them at the bottom of his wardrobe.
The Great Hall was already packed by the time Albus arrived. Students were tucking into the decadent fare displayed along the centre of each of the house tables. Looks and whispers were directed his way as he walked towards the Slytherin first-years, but under the watchful eye of Professor McGonagall at the staff table, no one approached him. Albus caught sight of Uncle Neville who was stabbing at his food with apparent irritation. There was the shadow of a beard on his jaw as well as a general unkemptness about him. Further along the table, it aggrieved Albus to see Thorn in an opulent, self-satisfied demeanour. He sat upright, his fierce, imperious gaze sweeping the hall as McGonagall chatted in his ear. Her black robes seemed somewhat diminished by Thorn’s lurid scarlet ones.
Doesn’t he realise he looks like a haughty wizard Santa in those robes? Albus thought. Only he doesn’t have the white hair or the lovable personality.
Albus sat down next to Pan, Danielle opposite him, Aberfa by her side.
“Hey Albus,” Danielle said, smiling shyly.
Albus felt his face grow hot. “Hi,” he replied.
A little further along the table, Drake Salmer was picking at his food with an unimpressed expression. Missy was mirroring him, her nose ruffled. Julia and Zabini looked bored.
Albus spooned casserole and potatoes onto his plate, breathing in the rich, beefy smell with relish.
“Don’t eat too much, Potter,” Salmer said, leaning in his direction. “You don’t want to be too full for the party. Got to look good for your date.” He turned towards Pan. “On second thoughts, eat the whole banquet. There’s no way you could look worse than that.”
“Date?” Pan repeated, confused.
Aberfa was keeping her gaze fixed resolutely on her plate. Albus glared at Salmer, then turned to Pan. “I was going to ask you to Slughorn’s party,” he told her. “Not as a date. Just as friends.”
Salmer shrugged. “Makes sense,” he said, “no one would want to date that thing.”
Albus clenched his jaw. When he spoke, it was through gritted teeth. “We’re just glad you’re not going, Salmer.”
The boy smiled triumphantly. “Actually, I am,” he replied.
“And I’m going with him,” piped up Missy. It was clear she was trying to conceal her excitement, but she wasn’t succeeding.
“Wonderful,” Pan said in a deadpan voice. “I can hardly wait.”
“Well, I’m going to get ready,” Missy announced. “I think at least one Slytherin girl should look good at this party.” She clicked her fingers at Julia. “Let’s go.”
As if she was a dog called to heel, Julia hurried to follow Missy as she rose elegantly from her seat and sauntered out of the Great Hall. They only paused when they caught sight of the boy coming towards them from the other direction. Albus’s insides did a little leap at the sight of Scorpius Malfoy. He passed Missy and Julia without sparing them a glance, then sat down in his usual place at the very end of the Slytherin table.
Salmer shot him a malicious look. The other Slytherins did their usual trick of pretending not to notice him. There was a tangible feeling of tension in the hall. Albus reminded himself that most of the school thought Scorpius was a dangerous werewolf who had attacked Arty Oakes. Perhaps they had expected him to be expelled. Perhaps they were wondering what exactly he was doing in the Great Hall, eating with the rest of them like he was a normal student.
The teachers seemed to have noticed the change too. McGonagall had stopped talking to Thorn, Uncle Neville was no longer stabbing his food, and even Hagrid had lowered his knife and fork, a troubled look on his face. Scorpius kept his expression blank, a stoic, defiant aura about him. As was his habit, he took a book from his bag, then proceeded to read it while he ate.
The noise in the hall gradually began to return to its usual clamour.
Albus stared at Scorpius for a long while, at the silvery-blonde hair, the delicate fingers, the pointed chin.
Albus wasn’t sure how the idea came to him, wasn’t sure if it was madness to even consider it, but he realised it was the only way to make things right. He didn’t want to think about how people would react. He couldn’t let himself imagine his brother’s reaction.
He turned to Pan. “You don’t really want to go to Slughorn’s party, do you,” Albus said.
“I’d rather eat cat sick,” she replied.
Albus nodded. “Thought so.”
Without another word, he got out of his seat, walked along the table and came to a stop in front of Scorpius, who, in Albus’s shadow, looked up quizzically. By this time, the entire hall had gone silent. All eyes were fixed on the two boys, no doubt wondering if Albus was going to take revenge on the werewolf who had attacked his roommate. A couple of the teachers had stood up. McGonagall wasn’t one of them. She peered at Albus over her square-shaped spectacles, perfectly composed.
“Scorpius,” Albus said, struggling to get his mouth to form words. To his dismay, his voice carried across the entire hall. His heart began to race.
I must be mad, he thought.
“Yes?” Scorpius replied in a small voice.
“Scorpius,” Albus repeated, his face so hot he thought his cheeks might burst into flames. He took a deep breath, clenched his fists and let the words ring out across the hall. “Will you come to Slughorn’s party with me?”