Albus’s heart sank as his father’s words echoed around the headmistress’s office. Scorpius had shrunk low in his chair. Draco, on the other hand, had got to his feet. He stared down at Albus’s father with cool rage. “What do you mean, ‘no’?” he said. “You think my son isn’t worthy enough to share a room with the great Harry Potter’s son?”
Albus’s father stood up to meet Draco’s gaze. He was taller than Draco and much brawnier. “I’ve given you chance after chance over the years to be a better person, but you’ve always stayed the same selfish, self-serving, pompous prat.”
“What are you hiding in that house, Malfoy?” Albus’s father pressed angrily. “Why aren’t you co-operating with the Auror Office?”
Draco had gone pale. “The ministry has searched my home countless times in the past,” he said in a low voice. “They do not need to search it again.”
“You have links with dark wizards.”
“Of course I have links with them!” Draco spat. “I used to be one of them! But those lines of communication closed a long time ago.”
“Then why shut us out of your home?” questioned Albus’s father suspiciously. “Why haven’t you been showing up for work? Why have you rarely left your house since last January?”
“That is none of your business,” Draco replied, his voice barely more than a whisper. He sounded dangerous, like a snake rearing to strike.
“It is my business if my son is involved with your family,” Albus’s father said shortly. “Tell me what you’re hiding in that house. Are you or are you not in communication with Rabastan Lestrange?”
At this, Draco actually laughed. “Are you insane?” he said. “Why would I risk Azkaban, risk the safety of my son, for that madman?”
“Oh, come on, Malfoy,” Albus’s father replied in exhausted tones. “You’ve always sided with the pure-blood fanatics. Tell me who you’re hiding in that house.”
“No one,” Draco seethed through gritted teeth.
“Who is it?” pressed Albus’s father.
Draco opened his mouth to respond, but Scorpius beat him to it. “It’s my mum,” he blurted.
“Scorpius! Don’t!” Draco commanded.
Scorpius ignored his father. “My mum’s ill,” he said. “She has fits. She loses her memory. It wouldn’t be so bad, but she’s an Animagus. Sometimes, during her fits, she transforms… it makes her dangerous.”
Draco had closed his eyes, his face pained. Once his son had finished speaking, he rubbed his forehead and then placed a comforting hand on Scorpius’s shoulder. “When she has her fits, she can become difficult,” Draco admitted, his voice deadened. “It’s got to the point where she needs a full-time carer. I stay at home to look after her. It’s too much for the house-elf to cope with alone.”
Albus’s father lowered himself back into his seat, a faraway look on his face. The wind seemed to have gone out of his sails. Albus’s mother, on the other hand, was building up a storm – Albus could tell. She was going to fly off the handle at Dad when they got home. For the time being, she nodded to Draco and then to Professor McGonagall. “As I was saying, we’re fine for Scorpius and Albus to be roommates. I’m sure they’ll get along brilliantly.”
McGonagall raised an eyebrow at Albus’s mum. After a moment, she managed a thin smile. “Thank you, Ginny.”
Draco hugged his son, then turned to leave, but before stepping into the fire, he sent Albus’s mother a beseeching look. “You don’t owe me any favours,” he said, “but I would appreciate it if the truth about my wife were to stay out of the Prophet.”
Albus’s mum frowned. “Of course,” she said. “I would never—”
Draco didn’t give her the chance to finish her sentence. He threw a handful of Floo Powder into the fireplace and then disappeared into the green flames.
Albus’s mum wished Albus goodbye with a long, drawn-out hug and several kisses. As for his dad, it was a quick, uncomfortable embrace that Albus broke off as quickly as possible. He couldn’t believe the way his dad had acted, forcing Scorpius to reveal the truth about his mother’s illness.
It seemed that Albus’s dad was thinking along the same lines. Before he left, he tried to meet Scorpius’s eye, but the boy averted his gaze. After a moment of indecision, he cleared his throat and gently laid a hand on Scorpius’s shoulder. “Sometimes,” he said gruffly, “adults can be fools.” Scorpius looked up at the man with the lightning scar, frowning thoughtfully. “I’ll do what I can for your father,” Albus’s dad continued sincerely. “It seems he’s better at letting go of the past than I am – it’s something I’ll have to work on.”
Albus’s parents left the office, vanishing into the fire in flashes of green.
“Scorpius,” McGonagall said kindly, “I would like to speak to you for a moment before you return to class. As for you Potter, you may go.”
“He can stay,” Scorpius said. “Albus already knew about my mum. I don’t mind talking about it in front of him.”
If McGonagall was surprised by this piece of information, she didn’t let it show. “Very well,” she said. “Mr Malfoy, I’d just like to impress upon you that if you ever need to talk to someone, the teachers at this school are always happy to listen.”
“I’m fine, Headmistress,” Scorpius replied softly. “My mum’s been ill for a long time…”
“Even so,” McGonagall said, her brow creasing, “sometimes it is helpful to talk. And if not to a teacher, then perhaps to a friend.” She glanced at Albus.
“I’ll try to remember that,” Scorpius told her quietly.
“Here,” she said, holding out a tin of biscuits, “have a shortbread.”
Scorpius declined, but McGonagall insisted. Once he’d taken one, she shook the tin at Albus, who took one without argument. “Off you go, then,” she said, dismissing them.
Albus and Scorpius left her office, shortbread biscuits in hand.
“Are you all right?” Albus asked as they stepped onto the spiral staircase.
A grin stretched across Scorpius’s face. “I am actually.”
“What are you so happy about?” Albus asked.
“I have a new roommate,” he replied, chuckling.
Albus’s insides did a little leap. He’d almost forgotten the whole reason they’d had that awkward meeting to begin with. “I hope you don’t snore,” he said.
Scorpius blushed. “No, but I do talk in my sleep. And I’ve been known to sleepwalk too.”
“Well, as long as you don’t cast any spells on me while you’re asleep,” Albus said, “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Scorpius laughed. “I’ll try not to.”
On their way to the transfiguration classroom, Albus found himself coming to a stop in the middle of the third-floor corridor.
Scorpius looked at him, puzzled. “What is it?”
“It’s nothing,” Albus replied, his hands knotting together. “It’s just… I’m sorry about my dad. What he said…”
“I think your dad’s allowed to get a little paranoid about dark wizards after everything he’s seen and done.”
“Still,” Albus continued, blushing, “he shouldn’t have assumed your dad’s been working with Lestrange.”
“Why?” Scorpius asked. “Everyone else is thinking it.”
“It doesn’t make it right.”
They carried on walking. “And I’m really sorry about your mum too…” Albus mumbled.
A line formed between Scorpius’s eyebrows. “I wish things were different,” he said softly. “I wish she wasn’t ill.”
“It must’ve been hard for you,” Albus said.
“It’s worse for her,” Scorpius replied. “She’s stuck inside that house. My dad too. I guess I was stuck there as well before I came here. We hardly ever went anywhere. We couldn’t. I read a lot of books. I’d spend hours sitting with Mum, reading to her. Sometimes, she’d get me to sing.” He blushed at that last part.
Albus raised his eyebrows. “That sounds lonely.”
“It wasn’t that bad. I had Dad and Trixy (our house-elf), and my aunt Daphne visited sometimes, but I wouldn’t exactly call her good company. Mostly, I passed the time in our library.”
“No wonder you’re so clever,” Albus said.
Scorpius had no response to that other than to flick his hair in front of his eyes to hide his expression. After a time, Scorpius broke the silence with a question of his own. “So, what’s it like growing up as Harry Potter’s son?”
Albus hesitated before answering. “It was fine…” he hedged. In fact, compared to Scorpius, Albus’s life would seem privileged, but the truth was that at all the parties and awards ceremonies and ministry dances, he always felt like the Potter who never quite lived up to the name. Before Scorpius could probe further, Albus changed the subject. “So, you can sing?” he asked.
Scorpius groaned. “I shouldn’t have told you that.”
“Why? I’d love to hear you sing.”
Scorpius eyed him with playful irritation. “As soon as we learn memory charms, I’m going to delete that particular piece of information from your mind.”
“What if the charm goes wrong and I forget you completely?” Albus asked.
“You’d forget me that easily?” Scorpius replied in a mock-hurt voice.
“No,” said Albus, his tone unintentionally serious, “I don’t think I would…”
By the time they got to transfiguration, the lesson had nearly ended. Most of the Slytherins were in the middle of trying to transfigure their books into bricks. Pan, who was struggling to get her book to do more than go a bit bumpy, acknowledged them with an irritable grunt as they came to sit next to her.
“How’s it going?” Albus asked her.
“It’s not a brick yet,” she complained. “I thought I’d almost got it a minute ago, but I ended up setting fire to it.”
Now that Albus looked closer, he saw that the bumps on the cover were in fact burn holes.
“So what did McGonagall want?” Pan asked as Albus pulled out a book and began reciting the incantation.
“Scorpius is moving into my room,” Albus replied. “Salmer doesn’t want to share with him anymore.”
“What?” she said. “How come you get two good roommates – first Arty and now Scorpius – and I’m stuck with Julia Hopkirk?”
“She can’t be that bad,” Albus replied.
Pan sent him a withering look. “She cried again last night because Missy said her feet were too big.” Pan waved her wand at her book and it flew off the table and hit the wall with a thump.
Winter glided over to their desk, his glacial eyes narrowed. “Ten points from Gryffindor for utter incompetence,” he said. When he caught sight of the worm slithering around on Scorpius’s desk, he gave the barest of nods before handing him a button. “Turn it into a beetle,” he commanded. “Scarabious is the incantation.” He walked off, nose in the air.
“That stingy old crone,” Pan said, nodding to Scorpius’s worm. “You should’ve got at least five house points for that.”
Albus was glad there was only ten minutes of the lesson left. He was having about as much success with transfiguring his book as Pan. Although, he at least managed not to set his on fire. They were told to practise the spell for their next lesson as well as being given an essay on the limits and uses of object-to-object transfiguration.
The Slytherins left the classroom incredibly glad the lesson was over. But seeing that the corridors were busy with students, Albus, Pan and Scorpius hung back, debating whether they should hide in a side-passage until the crowds had died down. “We can’t hide away,” Scorpius said. “Pan was right the other day, we shouldn’t act as if we’ve done something wrong.”
Pan hesitated. “That was before I almost had half a tonne of sardines coming out of my nose.”
“I think Scorpius is right,” said Albus. “We haven’t done anything wrong. We shouldn’t have to hide in secret passages like we’re criminals.”
“Fine,” Pan replied, “but if I end up with fish coming out of my nostrils before we reach the common room, I’ll cast the curse of the bogeys on both of you.”
As it turned out, Pan survived the journey through the castle unscathed. Scorpius, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. He was the target of a number of hexes from anonymous casters, and though his reflexes were quick and he knew a great deal of counter-spells, he wasn’t skilled enough to dodge them all. It was after Pan avoided a bright purple spell – tripping over her feet in the process – that, distracted, Scorpius got hit in the face with a powerful stinging jinx. Albus and Pan had to drag him to the side of the passage, neither of them knowing how to undo it. It took a while for Scorpius to pronounce the correct counter-spell from between his grossly swollen lips.
Mercifully, no one else tried to attack them after that. Perhaps they noted the already dishevelled state of Scorpius’s appearance and decided he’d been punished enough for one day. “Next time, we can hide,” Scorpius said as they entered the common room. “Being brave is overrated.”
Albus and Pan nodded their agreement.
They spent the rest of the afternoon practising their transfigurations for Winter, sticking to their usual quiet corner of the common room. Albus, whose book was stubbornly refusing to turn into a brick, was tempted to throw the thing into the fire. In the end, Scorpius took pity on him. He wrapped his hand around Albus’s and guided the movement of his wand, showing him where he was going wrong. Albus was too stunned at first to take in what Scorpius said, distracted by the smooth, pale skin pressing against his own. After a second demonstration, Albus shook himself and tried the spell on his own. To his surprise, his book folded itself into the shape of a brick at once. “It’s all in the wrist,” Scorpius said proudly. “You weren’t twirling enough.”
Pan had given up on transfiguring her book. She’d already opened A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration and was making an attempt at Winter’s essay. Albus and Scorpius joined her shortly after. They hadn’t been at it long when the Slytherin common room began to empty for dinner. Not eager to be hit by any more jinxes, they waited for the rush to die down before packing away their things and heading to the Great Hall.
James was true to his word. As Albus entered the dining hall, his brother didn’t acknowledge him in the slightest. It was the same story at the Slytherin table. Albus, Pan and Scorpius were given a wide berth. Only Danielle Varda made any effort to speak to them. She, at least, didn’t seem to believe that Scorpius was a deadly, student-killing werewolf.
Albus couldn’t help glancing up at the staff table every few minutes. Thorn was eating his dinner like normal, chatting occasionally to McGonagall and surveying the Great Hall with undisguised superiority. He gave no sign that only a few days ago he’d tried to commit murder.
Having been late to arrive for dinner, Albus, Pan and Scorpius were some of the last to leave. Once they were back in the common room, they made an attempt to finish their transfiguration essays, but Albus could hardly keep his eyes open and Scorpius kept getting distracted by the curious stares of the other Slytherins. Pan didn’t seem overly thrilled by the idea of an early night, reluctant to spend any more time than necessary with Julia Hopkirk, but she reasoned she’d need as much sleep as possible for Quidditch practice the next day.
When Albus and Scorpius arrived at the dormitories, Albus paused to wish Scorpius goodnight, but the other boy was already heading towards the door to Albus’s room.
“Oh, I keep forgetting you’re my roommate now,” Albus said.
They went inside, surprised to find that Scorpius’s things had already been brought over. Arty’s old wardrobe had been filled with Scorpius’s robes, dress robes and cloaks. Where once Arty’s bedside table had been littered with half-eaten biscuits and sweet packets, there was now a very healthy-looking blessboom plant, a photograph of Scorpius and his parents and a small pile of books. There were more books stacked in a pile against the wall. A fluffy white blanket had been laid across Scorpius’s bed and at least half-a-dozen pairs of shoes were lined up beneath the window.
“That’s a lot of shoes,” Albus commented. “And a lot of books.”
“You should see Salmer’s collection of shoes if you think I have a lot,” Scorpius replied with a small chuckle. “He had to have an extra wardrobe and a shoe rack fitted for all his clothes.”
Albus rolled his eyes. “You’re kidding.”
“Nope,” he replied. “You should’ve seen how long it took him to choose an outfit for Slughorn’s party. I thought he’d be there all night.”
“I only have one set of dress robes,” Albus admitted.
Scorpius opened his wardrobe, pointing to his own clothes. “I only have two,” he replied, “but I think I’ll just use Flitwick’s colour-change charm if I fancy a change.”
“What will you go for?” Albus asked. “Bright pink and yellow?”
Scorpius looked thoughtful for a moment. “I might just do that, actually. But first…” Without warning, he drew out his wand, aimed it at Albus and said, “Colovaria.” At once, Albus’s robes turned pink with a psychedelic yellow pattern at the ends of the sleeves. At Albus’s look of horror, Scorpius fell about laughing.
“I look like a pygmy puff,” Albus moaned, inspecting his sleeves with distaste.
“Don’t worry,” Scorpius said once he’d stopped laughing, “it’ll wear off by tomorrow.”
“Well, I suppose we’d better go to bed then,” Albus suggested. While Scorpius wasn’t looking, he slipped his hand into the pocket of his robes to grip his wand.
“Yeah, I guess—Wait, what are you—”
Albus pulled out his wand before Scorpius could stop him. “Colovaria!” he shouted. Instantly, Scorpius’s robes turned vomit-green, a shade that clashed horribly with his pale complexion.
“Now we’re even,” Albus said, struggling to contain his amusement.
“I look like a giant bogey,” Scorpius groaned. “What made you choose this colour?”
Albus just laughed, but his amusement soon faded when Scorpius raised his wand once more, a mischievous smile on his face.
“Wait!” Albus said. “We’re even!”
“Wingardium leviosa!” Scorpius exclaimed. The next second, one of Scorpius’s pillows shot across the room straight at Albus’s chest. Albus ducked out of the way. Laughing, he waved his wand and shot a pillow right back at the platinum-haired boy. Scorpius was nearly knocked off his feet as it struck him in the shoulder. “We need more ammo,” Scorpius said, his eyes glinting. From out of his trunk he took a wad of handkerchiefs. “Pulvinium mutatio!” With a flick of his wand, the handkerchiefs transformed into a pile of fluffy, white cushions.
Albus eyed the cushions and smirked. “Bring it on,” he challenged.
Scorpius flicked his hair out of his eyes and raised his wand. “Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you,” he joked.
The battle lasted late into the night, the two boys sending objects flying at one another across the room. On several occasions, Scorpius made good use of the coagulous spell to block oncoming projectiles, the wall of thickened air protecting him from being hit. At one point, Albus cast the fogging spell, which filled the room with thick, grey smoke. By the time Scorpius summoned a miniature cyclone to clear it, Albus managed to get him with no less than three cushions. When both boys agreed to call it a day, cushions, pillows, bedsheets, clothes and books were scattered all over the place. Even one of the sconces was hanging at an odd angle where it had been hit with a wayward projectile.
They looked around at the mess and grinned at each other, but then Scorpius’s face fell. “We can’t leave it like this for the house-elves to clear up.”
“I can sort it,” replied Albus. Scorpius’s eyes widened with surprise when Albus waved his wand and muttered, “Tersundus integrium.” The scattered objects promptly floated back to their rightful places, the wonky sconce righting itself, the bedsheets arranging themselves artfully upon the mattresses, even the transfigured cushions coming to land in a pile in front of Scorpius.
“You’re full of surprises, Albus Potter,” Scorpius told him, admiring the room with undisguised awe. Then, with a wave of his wand, he turned the cushions back to handkerchiefs and placed them on his bedside table.
“I suppose we really should go to bed now,” Albus said.
“Yeah,” Scorpius replied.
An awkward moment followed in which both boys seemed to realise they’d have to get changed in front of each other. It had never felt like a big deal when Albus had shared with Arty, but for some reason, it was different with Scorpius. They both turned in opposite directions as they put on their nightclothes, Albus keeping his gaze fixed firmly on the wall until he was sure it was safe to turn around.
They climbed into their four-posters, the fiery sconces dimming to the faintest glow as they did so. Scorpius picked up his blessboom plant and sent Albus a furtive look. The plant lit up his face with its purple shimmer. “I guess you’ll have to hear me sing after all,” he said. Scorpius’s blessboom had upturned leaves, an elegant, twisting stem that curled at the top and several purple flowers emerging from its shoots. Albus’s plant was an embarrassment by comparison.
“Do you sing to it every night?” Albus asked.
“And in the mornings too,” Scorpius replied. “I was worried, at first, because it’s taken a long time to flower. But hopefully it should produce some berries.” He cleared his throat nervously, sent another covert glance at Albus, and began to sing. He kept his voice so quiet that Albus had to strain to hear him, but still, Albus could see why the other boy’s plant was in such good condition. Scorpius had a light, smooth sort of voice, the kind that would get lost in a crowd and wouldn’t be any good in a choir, but was sweet and calming in its own way. When he was done, his blessboom gave a little shiver and fell still.
“I’ll sing to mine in the morning,” Albus said, having no desire to showcase his vocal talents, which were more akin to a dying cat than a tuneful melody.
They both laid down, Scorpius facing away from him towards the window. It wasn’t long before Scorpius fell asleep, his breathing becoming slow and quiet. He’d turned over so that he was facing Albus, giving Albus the perfect opportunity to stare at the sharp planes of his face. He was half-tempted to grab his sketchpad and draw the other boy, but Albus could feel his eyelids growing heavier and heavier. His eyes drifted closed. Feeling more at home than he’d felt in weeks, he fell into a deep sleep.
The next two weeks brought brief spells of sunshine to Hogwarts. The wind was bitter, but it seemed the sun was having one last gasp before December set in and it was permanently covered in cloud. Albus, Pan and Scorpius spent most of their time together, excluding Pan’s regular quidditch practice sessions and Scorpius’s trips to the library to study. Their popularity hadn’t exactly improved, but since McGonagall had failed to expel Scorpius from school, or to punish him in any way after Arty’s disappearance, many students were beginning to question the accuracy of the rumours about the werewolf attack.
Drake and Missy were not about to let the rumours die out, however. In a desperate attempt to fuel the fire, they’d produced a very crude flyer with a picture of Scorpius’s face on it, titled, How to Identify and Avoid Werewolves.
It included a list of advice and warnings, as follows:
- If they have floppy white hair (like an old man’s) that covers their face they are probably hiding tell-tale scars from their night time transformations.
- As seen in this picture, ugly pointy chins are a sure sign of a werewolf.
- Silver eyes (see above) are common in werewolves. The moon is silver after all.
- Avoid touching them and definitely do not kiss them. The werewolf curse is very contagious.
- If one comes near you, tell it your busy and quickly run away.
- We know the picture on this flyer is very ugly and frightening, but it’s important you know exactly what these dangerous creatures look like. Werewolves are murderous. Be on your guard.
When Albus, Pan and Scorpius had first seen the flyer (given to them by an amused-looking Slytherin third-year), Scorpius had laughed. However, his amusement had slowly died as he read to the bottom of the parchment.
“Are you all right?” Albus asked him. Before the flyer had been shoved in their faces, they’d been enjoying a game of chess in front of the common room fireplace.
Pan screwed up the parchment and threw it in the fire. “Those gits!” she exclaimed. She proceeded to send several rude gestures towards Salmer and Missy, who were both sniggering in their direction, clearly very pleased with themselves.
“This is exactly the kind of thing I hate about wizarding society,” Scorpius said. “What if I really was a werewolf? Does that make me a second-class citizen?” He stood up, paced in front of the fire for a bit, then sat down again. “It’s the same with house-elves and merpeople and centaurs. Wizards always think they’re better than every other magical being. Even my dad wanted to hire a house-elf without paying them, without letting them have clothes and days off.”
“Your house-elf has days off?” Pan asked in shock.
“Of course,” Scorpius replied. “Otherwise it’s just slavery, isn’t it. Although, it did take us ages to find Trixy. None of the other house-elves that came for the job would even hear about being paid.”
Albus looked from Scorpius to the piece of parchment now charring in the fireplace and frowned. “We should’ve kept it to show McGonagall,” he said.
“It doesn’t prove anything,” Pan replied grimly. “Any brainless idiot could’ve made that flyer. And, unfortunately, Slytherin is full of brainless idiots.”
The rest of the school didn’t seem to find the flyer quite as funny as the Slytherins, however. In fact, it seemed to have had the opposite effect than was intended. Instead of increasing animosity towards Scorpius, many students were now openly defending him in the corridors.
For Scorpius’s part, he was spending a lot of time with his nose in textbooks about werewolf history or bestiaries on magical beasts. “I think I’d like to meet this Newt Scamander,” he said one day while he and Albus watched Pan flying around the quidditch pitch, practising for the ever-approaching match against Gryffindor.
“Right,” Albus replied distractedly. He was currently bewitching one of his spare cloaks to guard the hoops against Pan’s attempts to score. The problem was, it was so windy that Albus kept losing control of the spell, his cloak being blown off course and leaving the goal hoops wide open.
There were countless practice sessions like this one in the run-up to the big match. Pan was acting very unconcerned about the whole thing, but Albus was sure she’d been eating less at meal times and spending much more time gazing out at the quidditch pitch than usual.
As for their lessons, potions was the only subject in which Albus felt any confidence. Defence against the dark arts had become especially fraught. Thorn had taught them the stickfast hex, a spell that caused your opponent’s shoes to stick to the floor. He’d paired them up and told them to practise all the spells he’d taught them so far in duels against each other. At the end of each lesson, he chose a pair to come to the front to demonstrate their progress to the rest of the class. So far, Albus had been picked every time. Thorn, who was clearly annoyed that Albus had overheard his conversation with Neville during Slughorn’s party, seemed to relish watching him squirm. Perhaps Albus would’ve fared better had he not been hyperaware of the fact that his teacher had recently attempted to kill him by werewolf attack. His worst duel so far had been against Francesca – one of the Nott twins. She’d shown no mercy, striking before they’d been told to begin, hitting Albus with the vermillious spell, then using the coagulous charm to cover him with a wall of solid air so that he couldn’t get back up again. Drake Salmer had been beside himself with mocking laughter.
Scorpius, who’d fought several mock-duels against Albus in their room, didn’t understand why he was having so much trouble in class. “You’re great a duelling,” he said the evening after Albus had been pulverised by Francesca Nott. They were both sitting up in bed, Albus sketching Scorpius’s blessboom plant.
“Yeah, I’m good at duelling… with cushions,” Albus replied.
“Well, the principles are the same.”
“It’s just… When everyone’s watching, I get all…” His voice trailed off. He sounded pathetic.
“I get nervous too,” Scorpius said, “but I focus on someone in the crowd who wants me to do well and try not to think about the others.”
“So when you’re duelling,” Albus replied, “you just focus on one person. And… pretend the others aren’t there?”
Albus frowned. “Who do you focus on?”
Scorpius checked his watch. “It’s late pretty late,” he said, evading the question, “we should go to sleep.”
But Albus didn’t sleep. As he’d done the last few nights, he sketched late into the evening, trying to capture the angular features of his roommate. And just as he’d done every other night, Albus ended up casting his sketchpad aside in frustration at his poor attempt. Annoyed with himself, he lay down, his failed drawings and his failed duels swirling around in his head.
Defence against the dark arts wasn’t the only class causing Albus trouble. Charms hadn’t been much better, but at least it was a struggle shared by all the Slytherins. Flitwick’s newest spell was the feather-light charm, a tricky bit of magic that made heavy objects far lighter than they should’ve been. It took Scorpius two whole lessons to get the hang of it; it had been very odd watching him lift up a block of solid stone as if it was made of paper. The rest of the class were told to practise the spell for homework.
Professor Winter was even less impressed with the Slytherin first-years. According to him, he’d never known such a pathetically slow class. Scorpius was the only one who’d moved onto turning twigs into centipedes. Most of the Slytherins were still trying to get their hairclips to change into worms. Everyone was shocked when Julia Hopkirk finally managed it, presenting her worm to the class with a boastful smile. The smile quickly vanished when Winter surveyed her work. “Do you think I was born yesterday, child?” he asked coldly.
Julia Hopkirk seemed to shrink.
Winter waved his wand over Julia’s worm and muttered the counter-spell, but the worm firmly remained a worm. “This creature was never a hairclip, you deceitful girl. I suppose you found this thing in the school grounds and thought you’d try to trick me?”
Julia burst into tears. Pan, meanwhile, let out a wearied groan. “Here we go,” she said. “I’ll have to listen to her crying all night now.”
Julia was given a week’s detention and earned the class a long lecture on the importance of student integrity. No one was much inclined to comfort Julia after that.
Pan was struggling more than anyone to keep up with the workload. With quidditch practice taking up most of her evenings, she barely had a moment to focus on homework. Scorpius lent her his essays to copy, but there wasn’t enough time left in the evenings to improve her spellwork.
Therefore, when the day of the match finally arrived, both Pan and Scorpius seemed eager for it to be over with. Unfortunately, the weather had decided not to cooperate. After two weeks of sunshine, a storm had blown in overnight, battering the castle with rain and gales. The Great Hall’s enchanted ceiling thundered above them as they ate breakfast.
The Slytherins at large, who usually ignored Pan’s existence, wished her good luck, though their words bordered more on threatening than encouragement.
“You better not mess this up, first-year. We had to hex Sadie Brownhawk last year when she didn’t score any points.”
“You’ll do great, Pan. It’s that or a broken arm.”
“Win this for us and we won’t have to dismantle your broomstick.”
Pan pretended not to hear them. In fact, she seemed not to hear anything. Albus had never seen someone so focussed. She looked like she was gearing herself up for some kind of death match. Scorpius, on the other hand, was clearly on edge. Throughout breakfast, he repeatedly whispered words of encouragement in her ear, tapped his fingers against the tabletop and checked his watch every five minutes for the time.
“Pan, let’s go,” the Slytherin captain called out partway through breakfast. She nodded goodbye to Albus and Scorpius, then followed after the rest of the team. Albus realised how small she was compared to the other Quidditch players. Even for a first-year, Pan wasn’t tall. When stood next to her older teammates, she was antlike.
Scorpius looked equally troubled. “I hope she’ll be okay,” he said.
There were seven Quidditch stands – one for each year – and all of them were open to the elements. As a result, the seats were already wet when the first-years took their places in their stand. Scorpius admitted he didn’t know a spell for drying things. He did, however, raise his wand once they sat down. “Tempesvia repellum,” he said. Albus blinked in surprise as the wind and rain suddenly relinquished. He looked up to see raindrops tapping against an invisible barrier that hung over the first-years’ quidditch stand like a tarpaulin. Many of the other students looked up at the sky in confusion, bemused at the sudden reprieve from the stormy weather.
“You’ll have to teach me that one,” Albus said gratefully.
Far below, they could make out the two Quidditch teams walking onto the pitch, broomsticks in hand. Madam Hooch was standing waiting for them, Quaffle under one arm. She blew a short, shrill blast on her whistle and the players took flight, racing up to take their positions. The Keepers began circling the goal hoops, the Chasers lined up in arrow-head formations opposite each other and the Beaters hung back, clubs at the ready.
To Albus’s surprise, Pan was smiling. There was a determined, almost manic gleam in her eyes.
“She won’t last five minutes,” came a girlish voice from somewhere behind them.
Albus and Scorpius turned in their seats to glare at Bryce Acridson. She was sitting with the other Gryffindor first-years. As always, she was next to Francesca Nott, the blonde-haired girl who could’ve been her twin. Francesca’s actual twin, Ileana, was sitting with her fellow Ravenclaws.
“My brother’s in the Gryffindor team,” Bryce carried on loudly, pointing towards a blond Beater in red Quidditch robes. “He’s promised me he’ll knock that troll, Parkinson, off her broom in the first minute.”
Scorpius paled. He gripped Albus’s hand nervously.
“She’ll be fine,” Albus whispered to him.
Scorpius seemed to realise he was holding Albus’s hand. His cheeks went pink and he quickly let go.
“Don’t worry too much,” came another voice. They turned to see Gregory Wood, a Ravenclaw boy, leaning towards Scorpius. He was in one of the seats directly behind them, sitting with two other Ravenclaw boys. He wore fashionable rimless glasses, had messy brown hair and irritatingly perfect teeth. “My brother says Dreyford Acridson’s aim is so bad he couldn’t hit a giant if it was stood right in front of him wearing a bright purple dress. And my brother should know, he’s the team captain.”
Scorpius’s anxious expression softened a little. “That’s good to know,” he said weakly. “So you’re Henry Wood’s younger brother?”
Gregory’s face fell. “The very one,” he said, his tone unmistakeably despondent. “Unfortunately, I’m not exactly a Quidditch prodigy like him.” He nodded towards the Gryffindor Keeper, a burly, handsome boy who had an air of importance about him.
“He’s in Gryffindor,” Scorpius noted, intrigued.
“Yep,” Gregory replied. “He likes sport and showing off and I like… books. Typical Ravenclaw.” Colour rose in his cheeks.
Scorpius was eyeing the Ravenclaw boy with renewed interest. “There’s nothing wrong with liking books,” he said.
Albus was quite glad when Madam Hooch blew her whistle for the second time, interrupting whatever Gregory Wood had been about to say. Scorpius spun around in his seat just as the Quaffle was thrown into the air, marking the start of the match.
“And the Quaffle is taken immediately by Vince Magoro of Gryffindor – a fantastic Chaser with a marvellous goal-scoring record for the Gryffindor team…”
Albus was shocked to hear the voice of none other than his brother coming from the speakers. He turned his gaze towards the commentator’s box and felt a twinge of pain at the sight of James happily narrating the game, a host of his friends gathered around him, all of them in apparent awe at both the match and their commentating friend.
“And Magoro is really belting along, a neat pass to Terrence Swift, who ducks out of the way of a Bludger from Slytherin’s Wilma Nettles – ooh she doesn’t look happy, does she. Swift’s going for goal. Does Slytherin Keeper, Dillan Witherly, even stand a chance? Swift shoots. HE SCORES! That’s ten points to Gryffindor!”
The Slytherins groaned. Behind Albus and Scorpius, the Gryffindor first-years were bouncing up and down in their seats in triumph.
“Slytherin in possession – captain Gerald Humphries with the Quaffle – passes to Helena Gobshawe – Gobshawe dodges Huan Lum – she passes to Pandora Parkinson. Come on, Gryffindor! Stop her!”
Albus sat forward in his seat, on tenterhooks as he watched Pan dart and weave through the Gryffindor team. She was like a bullet, a graceful, ballet-dancing bullet.
“Parkinson dodges another Bludger. She gets past Magoro, she tumbles out of Swift’s reach. She’s going to shoot. Come on, Wood! You can stop her! She shoots! She scores!” There was an outcry from the Gryffindors, but it was easily drowned out by the jeers of the Slytherins. “A lucky shot there for first-year, Pandora Parkinson. We’ll never know if she meant to get the Quaffle through that outer goalpost or whether it was a happy accident.”
Albus hardly breathed as he watched the game, his heart in his mouth. Gryffindor scored twice more in quick succession, but then Slytherin scored three goals in a row – all of them by Pan. James’s commentating was becoming more hysterical by the minute.
“Get that Quaffle away from Parkinson!” he yelled as she streaked up the pitch to score yet another goal, feinting to the left and then pelting the ball into the right-hand hoop. Henry Wood was red-faced and spitting swear words as he dived to collect the Quaffle yet again.
Scorpius was struggling to watch, unable to bear the pressure. He kept his gaze fixed far off in the distance, listening to James commentating with a pained expression.
“Gryffindor in possession – that’s Huan Lum there, new to the team this year – passes to Swift. Ouch! Swift is hit with a brutal Bludger from Slytherin’s Ronan Buhari. Slytherin Chaser, Gobshawe, takes possession – passes to Parkinson – passes to Humphries. Humphries loses possession! Great Bludger from Pilkins, straight in Humphries’ face! Vince Magoro takes the Quaffle. He pelts up the pitch, dodges a bleeding Humphries, takes aim at the goalposts. YES! GRYFFINDOR SCORES! Bad luck, Witherly. I’m sure you’ll save one at some point.”
The tension in the crowd had reached new heights. The score was seventy-fifty to the Slytherins, but still there had been no sign of the Golden Snitch. The two Seekers were flying about the pitch, eyes peeled for any glint of it, the pressure mounting for them to make the catch.
“Helena Gobshawe has the Quaffle – passes to Humphries – he fumbles it! Terrence Swift snatches up the Quaffle! There he goes, soaring up the pitch! You can do it, Swift! A Bludger from Wilma Nettles almost gets him – he takes aim. GRYFFINDOR SCORES! Yet again, Witherly dives wide. Slytherin may need to get themselves a new Keeper after this match! And Slytherin in possession – Parkinson with the Quaffle. Someone stop her! She gets past Lum. Magoro, block her! No! She nose-dives out of his way – look at that direction-change – she tumbles sideways to avoid a Bludger – she’s almost at the goalposts. You can do it, Wood. She’s going to feint! She shoots. I don’t believe it! She scores AGAIN!”
The Slytherins were beside themselves. Even Albus, who’d never been overly fussed about Quidditch, was on the edge of his seat. “Go Pan!” he yelled at the top of his voice, his face split with an enormous grin.
That’s when the Quidditch stadium went quiet. The Slytherin Seeker had suddenly broken into a nose-dive. And, sure enough, far below, the crowd spotted the golden gleam of the Snitch. The rest of the players had momentarily paused, distracted by the unfolding events. Play soon continued, however, when Gryffindor Chaser Huan Lum rocketed up the pitch towards a very sick-looking Dillan Witherly, who hadn’t managed to save a single goal so far.
“Slytherin Seeker, Otis Flint is gaining on the Snitch, can Gryffindor’s Lavender Marshbanks catch up to him in time? The Snitch darts upwards – Flint follows, losing ground. And here comes Gryffindor’s Marshbanks! Look at the speed on her Thunderbolt! No wonder she’s known as Gryffindor’s secret weapon! She outstrips Flint easily – she’s gaining on the Snitch. Can she reach it? I can’t see! Has she got it? Has she got it?”
The crowd waited with bated breath as the blur of red jetting across the pitch, slowed down, revealing a grinning Lavender Marshbanks, the Golden Snitch clutched tightly in her fist.
“SHE’S GOT IT! GRYFFINDOR GET ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY POINTS! GRYFFINDOR WINS!”
Albus sank into his chair, deflating like a popped balloon. He turned a defeated look towards Scorpius, but the blond-haired boy didn’t appear to have noticed that Slytherin had just lost. He wasn’t even looking at the pitch. Instead, his gaze was fixed on a point somewhere in the distance. “Scorpius?” Albus said.
Scorpius pointed towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest, squinting in concentration. “Do you see that?” he asked.
“See what?” Albus asked distractedly. His attention had been caught by the Gryffindor first-years as they leaped up and down with glee. Ace McLaggen was loudly boasting that he’d be on the Gryffindor team next year. “I’ll put that Parkinson girl in her place.”
Scorpius had dropped his arm, no longer pointing at the forest. “Oh, it’s gone,” he said. “Disappeared into the forest, I think.”
“What did?” Albus asked.
“Didn’t you see it?” Scorpius said.
“See what?” Albus replied, his voice coming out more harshly than he intended.
Scorpius eyed him in surprise.
“Sorry,” Albus told him. “Ace is just getting on my nerves.”
Scorpius pulled out his wand and waved it upwards. “Finite,” he said quietly. At once, the invisible barrier protecting the stand from the wind and rain vanished. The first-years shrieked and groaned as they were battered by the stormy weather. Ace, Rose and the rest of the Gryffindors made a beeline for the exit.
“Nice one,” Albus said appreciatively. “So, what were you pointing at before?”
Scorpius hesitated. “I’m not sure,” he replied uncertainly. “It looked like a silvery-coloured fox, or maybe a dog. I couldn’t see it clearly through the rain. But I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Maybe it was a Patronus,” Albus suggested.
“No, it was too solid,” Scorpius told him. He shrugged. “I must’ve imagined it.” His shrug turned quickly into a shiver.
“Let’s get out of the rain,” Albus suggested. “We need to go and commiserate with Pan.”
“I had a feeling we might lose,” Scorpius said gravely. “Slytherin always seems to lose.”
On their way down to the pitch, they passed Gregory Wood. He smiled coyly at Scorpius. “Say thanks to your friend Pan for me,” he said. “It was nice to see my brother get taken down a peg or two.”
Scorpius chuckled. “Sure.”
“See you around then, Scorpius,” Wood said. Albus was certain he caught a hopeful note in the Ravenclaw’s voice. For some reason, it set his teeth on edge.
“See you,” Scorpius replied. Once Wood had walked off, Scorpius’s mouth fell open. “Did you see that?” he said to Albus. “A Ravenclaw spoke to me. There’s a Ravenclaw who doesn’t think I’m Voldemort’s evil werewolf son!”
“Great,” Albus replied, trying to sound pleased.
When they reached the pitch, Pan strode towards them wearing a grave expression despite the claps on the back and awed stares she was receiving from the Slytherins around her. Humphries, the team captain, had a wad of tissues pressed to his bleeding nose. His head was bowed in shame. No one was offering him much in the way of appreciation. He’d played poorly and, it seemed, he knew it.
“You were amazing!” Scorpius exclaimed when Pan caught up with them.
“Brilliant!” Albus agreed.
Pan didn’t respond. Her jaw was clenched tight.
“Don’t tell us you’re disappointed?” Scorpius said. “You played so well! You were the best one on the team!”
“We still lost,” she replied dejectedly. “I don’t fancy going back up to the common room right now. You mind if we go see Hagrid?”
Albus heartily agreed. Scorpius, who’d never spoken to Hagrid, seemed a little nervous.
Hagrid greeted them with a beaming smile when he opened the door to his cabin. “Thought yer’d forgotten about me,” he said, ushering them inside. All three of them were glad to escape the howling wind and rain as they stepped through the doorway, especially when they saw the fire blazing in Hagrid’s fireplace, throwing out waves of heat.
Hagrid patted Scorpius on the back as he introduced himself, the force of the blow almost knocking the blond-haired boy over.
Pan settled herself into one of the massive leather armchairs with its fur throws. Her Quidditch robes were sopping wet, the hem caked in a layer of mud. She pulled off her shoes. Her socks were completely sodden. Hagrid pushed her chair closer to the fire so she’d dry off quicker. Scorpius and Albus settled themselves at the kitchen table.
“It’s good ter see ye Albus,” Hagrid said, “and you an’ all, Pan.” Hagrid eyed Scorpius for a long moment before offering them all a cup of tea and one of his homemade scones.
Scorpius, unfamiliar with Hagrid’s cooking, took an eager bite of scone, only to put the rest of it swiftly back on his plate. Once he’d finally swallowed his mouthful, he washed it down with a good glug of tea.
“I watched the match from out ‘ere,” Hagrid said. “Was a close one, weren’t it. Thought we weren’t gonna win for a moment there, but then Marshbanks…” Hagrid seemed to realise halfway through his sentence that neither Albus, Pan nor Scorpius were in Gryffindor. He took in Pan’s Quidditch robes and backtracked. “Slytherin played very well though – very, very well.” He cleared his throat awkwardly and took a sip of his tea.
“Hagrid,” Scorpius said hesitantly, “you’re the care of magical creatures teacher, aren’t you?”
Hagrid nodded stiffly. “That’s righ’,” he said.
“I’ve heard you have a herd of Thestrals in the Forbidden Forest. I’ve read all about them. How did you manage to breed such a large herd of them? From what I understand, they’re almost impossible to domesticate.”
Hagrid swelled with pride. A long conversation followed in which Scorpius questioned Hagrid on all the magical creatures he looked after. Scorpius was especially interested in what Hagrid knew about the merpeople and the centaurs. He listened raptly as the massive gamekeeper answered his questions. Albus didn’t think he’d ever heard Hagrid talk about so many things or for such a long time. By the time Scorpius was done questioning him, Pan had almost completely dried off.
“Yer interested in magical creatures then, Scorpius?” Hagrid asked.
“He wants to become the next head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures,” Albus said.
“Well, yeh’ve got my vote,” Hagrid told him sincerely. “We need someone in the ministry who’ll look after non-wizard folk.” He stood up and trudged over to one of the windows, gazing towards the Forbidden Forest. “I worry what’ll become of me brother if anything were ter happen to me.”
“Hagrid’s brother is a giant,” Albus told Scorpius. “He lives in the forest.”
Scorpius’s eyes widened.
Albus remembered what Hagrid had told him and Pan the last time they’d visited. “How’s Grawp and his… erm… girlfriend getting on?” he asked Hagrid.
Hagrid’s great shoulders slumped in defeat. “Not well, if I’m honest,” he replied morosely. “Not well at all, in fact. He don’t pay her no attention. Gallimead tries ter talk to him, but he’s too busy tryin’ ter catch butterflies or chase squirrels.”
“Maybe he’s just not ready for a girlfriend,” Albus suggested.
“O’course he’s ready!” Hagrid grumbled. “He’s jus’ bein’ stubborn is all. But I’ve told him. Keep ignorin’ Gallimead and she’ll go off an’ find herself a better mate.”
Scorpius spoke up shyly. “Maybe Grawp needs to choose for himself,” he said. “We all have different tastes. Gallimead might not be to his taste. It’s like when my aunt Daphne kept saying she thought I should marry one of the Nott twins when I’m older (she’s obsessed with pure-bloods), but I know I could never do that. I have to make my own choice.”
Hagrid grunted. “Yer might have a point, I suppose,” he admitted grudgingly, “but Grawp’s not got a lot o’ other choices round ‘ere.” He came to sit at the table with a long sigh. “There’s still time. He might change his mind about Gallimead, yer never know.”
“You must go into the forest a lot to see your brother,” Scorpius remarked thoughtfully.
“Every day,” Hagrid replied.
“Have you ever seen a silver animal in there?” Scorpius asked. “Sort of like a fox? I’m sure I saw something like that going into the forest earlier.”
“Silver?” Hagrid questioned doubtfully. “Ain’t nothing silver in the forest ‘cept unicorns, and they wouldn’t venture out into the daylight for you to see ‘em.”
Scorpius’s eyebrows drew together. “I must’ve imagined it…”
Hagrid collected up Albus and Scorpius’s empty cups and went to refill the kettle. It was as he left the table that he knocked a copy of the Daily Prophet onto the floor. As Albus went to pick it up, he saw that an open envelope had been lying underneath it. The letter was poking out of the envelope, and on it Albus could make out the last two lines,
Wishing you well,
“You’ve heard from Professor Sprout?” Albus exclaimed in shock.
“Oh yer,” Hagrid replied as he poured the tea. “She’s doin’ loads better. Still stuck in St Mungo’s o’ course. Doubt she’ll leave there for some time. Very ill, she was, very ill.”
Pan came to stand by the table. “Do you know what happened to her?” she asked.
“Brought it on herself if you ask me,” Hagrid said, handing Albus and Scorpius fresh cups of tea. “Don’t get me wrong, she didn’t deserve what happened to ‘er, but yer don’t got messing with…” Hagrid seemed to remember who he was speaking to and his voice trailed off.
“Messing with what?” Albus prompted.
“Anyone want another scone?” Hagrid asked, evading the question.
Pan was having none of it. “Hagrid. Albus and me were the ones who found Sprout. She was half-dead when we got to her. We want to know what happened.” She folded her arms across her chest. “I’ve also just lost my first Quidditch match.”
Hagrid sighed heavily. “Look,” he said, “the teachers were told ter keep it to themselves. Not many of us even know what really happened. Ter tell ye the truth, I’m not sure I fully understand it meself. Never even heard of Angel’s Trumpet—”
He broke off, shuffling awkwardly. “More tea?”
Albus, whose cup was still full, ignored the question. “What’s Angel’s Trumpet?” he asked. He felt sure he’d heard the term before, but he couldn’t think where.
“I shouldn’t ‘ave said that,” Hagrid muttered to himself. Without ceremony, he pointed at the darkening sky and told them he needed to get his dinner ready. “Off ter the castle with ye,” he said, practically shoving them out the door.
Pan only just managed to grab her shoes and her broom before she found herself being plonked on the doorstep along with Albus and Scorpius. Hagrid’s door slammed shut in their faces.
“Finally, a clue,” Pan said as she pulled on her shoes.
Albus nodded. “Whatever happened to Sprout had something to do with Angel’s Trumpet. Now we just have to find out what it is.”
“But I already know what it is,” Scorpius said to him. “And so do you.”
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