Christmas was coming. One morning in mid-December, Hogwarts woke to find itself covered in several feet of snow. The Black Lake froze solid and several students could be seen bewitching snowballs to attack one another as they hurried between classes. The owls weren’t faring well in the near-Arctic temperatures, many of them having to be nursed back to health by Hagrid before they were able to deliver any more post.
No one could wait for the holidays to start. The Slytherin common room and the Great Hall may have had roaring fires, but the draughty corridors were icy and as for the classrooms, the thin, rattling windows weren’t a match for the blizzard-like weather. Worst of all, were the Slytherins’ Astronomy lessons. The Astronomy Tower, which was cold enough on a mild evening, had become almost unbearable with the temperature drop. The Slytherins shivered, teeth chattering, as they peered through their telescopes at the night sky, searching for some sign of Saturn’s moons and wishing the hour would end.
Herbology wasn’t much better. Greenhouse 1 was like being inside an ice cube. Uncle Neville, who was becoming increasingly crabby with every lesson, showed them how to thaw frozen plants with the defrosting spell. Unfortunately, the spell didn’t produce much heat and so brought little relief to the half-frozen first-years. Albus’s fingers were so cold by the end of their last lesson that they lost all feeling.
“What do you mean, you want to stay here for the holidays?” Rose asked having cornered Albus on the way back up to the castle. Their flying lesson had been cancelled due to the terrible weather and Albus had been looking forward to returning to the warmth of the Slytherin common room. Scorpius and Pan marched on ahead, eager to escape the blustering cold. “James is coming to stay with us,” Rose carried on. “Mum and Dad are only too happy to have both of you for the holidays. Plus, it’ll be good for me to have another first-year to study with. I don’t want to fall behind just because it’s Christmas.”
Albus opened his mouth to speak, but she continued on without drawing breath.
“I’m sure your parents wouldn’t want you staying here on your own, either,” she told him. “I’m sure they feel dreadful about having to go away with Lily to see that Austrian Healer, but if it helps with Lily’s muteness, then I think it’s only for the positive. Honestly, Albus I think it’s a bit childish of you to sulk and refuse to enjoy the holidays just because your parents are prioritising your sister’s health. From what I understand of it, they couldn’t get an appointment at any other time—”
Albus, who had listened fairly patiently up until this point, finally lost his cool. Clearing his throat, he spoke over his cousin, having to raise his voice by several decibels in order to be heard. “I’m glad my parents are going away to help Lily,” he told her, struggling to remain polite. “And I’m not staying at Hogwarts because I’m sulking. I want to stay. Pan isn’t going home for the holidays either. It’ll be good to spend the time here with her and Hagrid.”
Rose blinked, clearly caught by surprise at this response. Her surprise soon turned to suspicion, however. “Does this have something to do with Scorpius Malfoy?” she asked.
“What?” Albus replied, confused. “He’s not even staying here for the holidays.”
“I’m worried about you, Albus,” she said. “A lot of us Gryffindors are – including your brother. It seems to us that Scorpius Malfoy has some sort of hold over you. I mean, he’s even managed to worm his way into becoming your roommate.” She sighed. “I’m not saying the werewolf rumours are true. In fact, I think it’s highly unlikely he’s a werewolf at all from what I’ve read about them, but he is the son of a death eater.”
“Scorpius isn’t like that. He’s—”
“I know you think he’s your friend,” she interrupted, her tone annoyingly condescending, “but don’t you think it’s strange that, of all the Slytherins in the school, he chose to become friends with Harry Potter’s son?” She patted Albus’s shoulder, her expression sympathetic. “If Rita Skeeter’s correct, and someone really is coming after your family, I think Scorpius is a prime suspect.”
Albus cringed away from her touch. “Thanks for the concern,” he said, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice, “but Scorpius isn’t some Death Eater spy trying to kill me. He’s just my friend.”
She leaned closer to him, peering into his eyes as if she was looking for something.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Checking for hexes or charms,” she said. “How can you be sure he hasn’t put you under some sort of love spell?”
“Scorpius hasn’t put me under a love spell!” Albus exclaimed angrily. “I don’t love him! We’re just friends!” With that, he stormed off, leaving Rose alone on the snow-blanketed lawn, gaping after him.
Albus was still fuming when he caught up with Pan and Scorpius in the Entrance Hall. They had stopped to watch Hagrid dragging an enormous fir tree into the Great Hall.
“You need a hand, Hagrid?” Pan asked.
“Nah, I’m all right thanks, Pan,” Hagrid replied from behind the mass of pine needles.
“Potter, I want a word with you,” came a familiar, pompous voice from behind them. Albus turned to find Ace McLaggen watching him. He was standing with his arms crossed, a look of contempt on his face. Directly behind his left shoulder stood Berwick Cross, his small eyes narrowed in dislike. “Rose is upset,” Ace continued. “She says you shouted at her.”
Albus could hardly believe what he was hearing. “She accused me of being under a love spell,” he said impatiently.
Ace chuckled, glancing between Albus and Scorpius. “Hardly an unfounded suspicion,” he remarked. “You know, she was only looking out for you. She’s been worried about your safety ever since that Skeeter article.” He paced closer, Berwick following his lead. “Look, Potter. You need to remember who your real friends are. We’re the ones who want to keep you safe. One day in the future, you’ll be glad Rose was looking out for you.” He turned on his heel and marched off, Berwick plodding along behind him.
Pan was trying not to laugh. “They think you’re under a love spell?” she asked, struggling to keep a straight face.
“It’s not funny,” Albus moaned.
They followed Hagrid into the Great Hall, where Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick were putting up the Christmas decorations. McGonagall directed Hagrid to the corner of the room, where a space had been cleared for the tree. Eleven others were already arranged at intervals along the walls. The Hall looked spectacular, decorated with holly and mistletoe, icicles and floating golden bubbles, the latter of which were blossoming out the end of Flitwick’s wand.
“How many days yeh got left until yer holidays?” asked Hagrid once he’d fixed the giant fir tree in place.
“Just one,” Scorpius replied. “In fact, we should be in the library. I’ll be going home in a couple of days.”
“The library?” said Hagrid, following them out of the Hall. “Just before the holidays? Bit keen aren’t yeh?”
“Oh, we’re not working,” Albus told him. “Ever since you mentioned Angel’s Trumpet, we’ve been trying to find out more about it.”
“You what?” Hagrid gasped. “Listen here – drop it. It’s nothin’ to you what that plant does.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much, Hagrid,” Pan admitted. “We must’ve been through hundreds of books and we can’t find any real details on it. I personally think the library’s a bust.”
“It’s not a bust,” Scorpius replied, sounding a little offended. “We just haven’t found the right book yet.”
“I’m so glad we’re friends,” Pan said dryly, glancing wistfully out a nearby window, no doubt wishing their flying lesson hadn’t been cancelled.
They had indeed been searching for information about Angel’s Trumpet ever since Hagrid had let it slip that the plant was involved in Sprout’s illness. After they’d left his hut that day, Scorpius had hurried them straight to the Slytherin common room, where he’d collected an enormous tome from his room and slammed it onto the table in front of them.
“Angel’s Trumpet,” he’d read. “Thought by some to be a myth, this mysterious flower is said to be an extremely potent cure-all (if not the most potent cure-all in existence). When picked fresh from the plant, Angel’s Trumpet can grant untold healing to whoever drinks from the dew collected inside its petals. Purportedly, the mythical flower was used in the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone, though many magical historians refute this fact…” Scorpius stopped reading. “That’s all it says. It goes on to talk more about the stone.”
“So Sprout was trying to grow a healing plant?” Pan said, sceptically. “Why would that have something to do with her almost dying? Sounds pretty harmless to me.”
Scorpius looked thoughtful.
Albus pulled the book towards him. “Maybe there was only enough healing magic for one person,” he said.
“You think someone else wanted the plant besides Sprout?” Scorpius asked.
“Maybe,” Albus said.
“Makes sense,” Pan agreed. “If Thorn wanted the Angel’s Trumpet for himself, attacking Sprout would’ve got her out of the way.”
“And make room for him to become deputy headmaster,” Albus added.
Scorpius was frowning. “What makes you two so sure Thorn had something to do with it?”
“He was there, skulking around the greenhouses when we found Sprout,” Albus told him.
“And he’s a git,” Pan added.
“Hmm,” Scorpius said thoughtfully. “I’m not sure. Hagrid made it sound as if the Angel’s Trumpet itself had hurt Sprout. What if it was the plant that attacked her?”
Albus and Pan exchanged sceptical looks.
“Well, I think it’s worth investigating,” Scorpius said. “We should go to the library, see if we can find out anything else about the Angel’s Trumpet.”
And so Albus and Pan had found themselves spending far more time in the library than they ever had before. Madam Pince watched them suspiciously as they took down all the books they could find on plants or healing magic. So far, however, they’d been unsuccessful in finding more than brief mentions of the flower.
As they entered the library for what must have been the tenth time in the last week, Madam Pince scowled at them. Her hawk-like eyes followed them around the library as if she expected them to start setting fire to books at any moment. Pan slumped into one of the chairs, setting a pile of books on the table in front of her with a thud. “I want new friends,” she said as she opened the first book, a thick tome entitled, Plants to Enchant, A Guide to Growing Your Way to Health and Happiness. “Can’t we just agree that Thorn tried to off Sprout and forget about the stupid plant?”
“Well, I think it’s fascinating,” Scorpius said brightly.
Albus secretly agreed with Pan, but Scorpius looked so happy he couldn’t bring himself to burst his bubble.
By the time dinner rolled around, they’d found just three mentions of the Angel’s Trumpet flower, none of them revealing any new information, and all of them assuring the reader that the plant was most likely a mere myth.
“I’m starting to think we’ll have to look in the restricted section,” Scorpius said as they headed to the Great Hall.
“All those restricted books,” Pan replied. “It’s a shame we have to have a teacher’s note to get to any of them.” The way she said it, it was clear she didn’t think it was a shame at all.
Scorpius rolled his eyes. “You will continue researching while I’m away, won’t you?” he asked them seriously. “I’ll check the library at home, of course. But I don’t think we have many books about plants.”
“Sure,” Albus and Pan replied, though Albus was quite sure neither one of them had any intention of sticking to their word. It seemed to Albus that there wasn’t much else to find out about the mysterious plant. As far as he was concerned, it was rare and it healed people, and that’s all there was to it.
It was bizarre how desolate and silent the castle became after the start of the holidays. The Slytherin common room was almost completely empty. Quite often over the past few days, Albus and Pan had been the only two in there. Unfortunately (as well as a second-year, who only emerged from the dormitories for meal times), there were two other Slytherins who had stayed at Hogwarts for the holidays: Missy Groombridge and her brother Riley. They seemed entirely put out by their situation – both their parents away on business trips, leaving them to fend for themselves over the Christmas break. Riley, it seemed, had managed to persuade a couple of his fifth-year mates to stay at school with him. But Missy had had no such luck. None of her friends had stuck around. Therefore, she spent most of her time in her room or hanging around with her brother and his friends, looking extremely unhappy.
On Christmas Eve afternoon, as Albus and Pan played a game of Exploding Snap by the fire, Missy strolled over to them, her nose in the air. “Oh,” she said, eyeing the deck of cards, “I didn’t realise people still played that.”
Pan sent her a withering look. “Did you want something?” she asked.
Missy sniffed. “I was wondering how much you two know about what happened to Arty,” she said. “He left school so suddenly.”
“What do you care?” Pan replied.
Missy shifted slightly. “I’m just curious,” she said, averting her eyes. “My brother fell ill that evening. It would be good to know what happened exactly.”
They said nothing.
Missy leaned closer, scowling. “Look, I know Arty was a werewolf,” she said under her breath. “So I’m betting he lost control, didn’t he.”
Albus and Pan exchanged glances, but neither of them answered.
Missy lowered her voice. “Do you know who did it?”
Albus tried not to betray his alarm. “Did what?” he asked, keeping his voice casual. Surely, she didn’t know someone had tampered with Arty’s potion?
But it seemed Albus’s response had answered her question for her. “You two don’t know anything,” she said with a condescending smirk. “Merry Christmas for tomorrow.” She sauntered off to the girls’ dormitories without a backward glance.
Albus was the first to speak. “She knows someone tampered with Arty’s potion!” he exclaimed.
“How could she?” Pan said. “Unless Missy and her brother really are working with Thorn.”
Albus’s eyes widened. “Maybe she wasn’t just asking us questions because she was curious. Maybe she was checking to see if we were onto her.”
Pan scoffed at this. “Not a chance,” she told him. “Missy might not be as brainless as Julia Hopkirk, but she’s not exactly a criminal mastermind, is she.”
Albus wasn’t so sure. There was something calculating about Missy Groombridge, and it seemed too much of a coincidence that her brother was the prefect who’d skipped protection duty on the very night Albus was attacked.
Due to his scattered thoughts, Albus lost the next three games of Exploding Snap. They spent the next couple of hours imagining all the ways they might get Missy and Salmer expelled from school. Albus was particularly tickled by Pan’s idea of tying them to a rogue broomstick and letting it pelt around the castle with them on top of it. “It’ll have to be in the middle of the school day, of course,” Pan said seriously. “Cause as much mayhem as possible.”
That night, Albus went to bed looking forward to the next day, most excited about the Christmas feast, which he remembered his father saying was one of the best meals he’d ever eaten. He couldn’t help wondering about what Missy had said, however. Was it really possible that she was involved in a plot to kill him…?
When Albus woke early next morning, the first thing he noticed was the pile of presents at the foot of his bed. It seemed the house-elves had delivered them in the night.
He was about to open one of them when there was a knock at the door.
“Albus?” came Pan’s voice from outside. “You gonna let me in?”
Albus opened the door for her. It was a good job he had, as he wasn’t sure she would’ve been able to turn the handle by herself, owing to the mass of presents piled high in her arms. She dropped them on Scorpius’s bed. “Good, you haven’t opened any yet,” she said. “Thought we could open them together.”
Albus grinned. “Happy Christmas,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah,” she grunted, “let’s open presents.”
Pan tore at the wrapping paper like she was having a fight with it. Albus cringed slightly as she let the scraps fall on the floor. Albus, on the other hand, was careful with his unwrapping. He even folded the wrapping paper into neat squares. James had always teased Albus for this. Pan merely raised a judgmental eyebrow.
Albus received a knitted jumper from Gran and Grandpa Weasley; a new sketchpad and a set of pencils from Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione; an assortment of brushes from Hagrid, all made with different types of animal hair for varying degrees of softness; a bag of toffees from Mrs Figg; a Fred Weasley’s Basic Blaze Box from his uncle George; a tin of Magical SuperShine Shoe Polish from his uncle Percy; a miniature, moving dragon figurine from his uncle Charley; a set of brilliant blue dress robes from Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur; and finally a book of household spells titled, Spiff and Span, Spells that Can! from his parents. There was a short letter attached to the last gift.
Knowing you, I expect you’ve already taught yourself a few cleaning spells, but I thought you’d enjoy this book. There won’t be a speck of dust left at Hogwarts after you’ve read it, I’m sure.
Your father and I are sorry we aren’t with you today, but we know you’ll be having a lovely time at Hogwarts. It’s stunning at Christmas time, isn’t it!
All our love,
Mum, Dad and Lily.
P.S. Lily is betting you’ve folded and flattened your wrapping paper into neat squares. (She misses you.)
After setting his mum’s letter to one side, Albus realised there was another present half-hidden under the bed. It felt soft. He wondered if it was another jumper from his grandparents. Then, he noticed the note attached to the front of it. It wasn’t written in his grandma’s handwriting. Instead, it was in his dad’s messy scrawl. Frowning, Albus read the note,
I was in my first year at Hogwarts when I received this gift. Now, I’m passing it onto you. I’ll give you the same advice I was given.
Use it well.
All my love,
Albus ripped open the paper, too intrigued to worry about folding the wrapping neatly. Out spilled a fluid, silvery-grey cloak. It lay in gleaming folds in his lap.
Pan gasped. “So, it’s true,” she said.
“Is this what I think it is?” Albus replied, hardly believing his eyes. “An Invisibility Cloak?”
“Definitely,” Pan told him. “And if the rumours are correct, it’s the most perfect Invisibility Cloak ever made.” She looked down at her presents in disappointment. She picked up a dark-green winter cloak. “Want to swap?”
Albus was already standing up. He threw the Invisibility Cloak over his shoulders. He almost choked in shock as his body vanished from sight. “I’m a floating head,” he said giddily.
“Let’s have a try,” said Pan.
For the next half an hour, they took it in turns wearing the Cloak, alternately turning invisible and trying to sneak up on each other.
“I never thought Dad would give it to me,” Albus said as he carefully folded the Cloak and tucked it into his wardrobe. “I was sure James would get it.”
“What makes you say that?” Pan asked. She was currently perusing a broomstick repair kit she’d been given by her great-grandmother (“The only one of my relatives I can stand.”)
Albus wasn’t really sure why he’d assumed his brother would get the Cloak. “He’s just…” Albus struggled to put his thoughts into words. “I’ve always felt like my dad understood James. Whereas, me… I don’t think he gets me at all.”
“Yeah, your brother’s easy to understand all right,” Pan said. “He’s a prat.”
Albus had never in all his life had such a Christmas dinner. There were countless roast turkeys, mammoth helpings of roast and boiled potatoes, platters of fat chipolatas, silver boats of thick, rich gravy and cranberry sauce – and stacks of wizard crackers every few feet along the table. Albus pulled one with Pan and it went off with a blast like a cannon and shrouded them in a cloud of green smoke, while from the inside exploded a pirate’s hat and a flurry of live sparrows. Up on the High Table, McGonagall was observing the scene with an uncharacteristic smile, refilling her goblet on regular occasions with what looked like sherry. Professor Slughorn was laughing at a joke Professor Flitwick had just read him. Hagrid was looking on in confusion, still waiting for the punchline.
Flaming Christmas puddings followed the turkey. Albus watched as Hagrid’s face became redder and redder as he called for more and more wine.
Only Missy Groombridge was managing not to have a good time. She sat with the Slytherins, wearing a sour face, casting foul looks at Albus, Pan, her brother, his friends, and even the second-year boy who still hadn’t spoken to any of them.
“We had a meal like this when we visited our cousins over the summer,” said Riley Groombridge boastfully as he tucked into his Christmas pudding. “Very wealthy, of course. Got a huge mansion in Switzerland. It was—”
Whatever he had been about to say was sharply cut off by his sister. “Let’s not bore everyone with stories of our distant relatives,” she said, sending her brother a repressive look.
He shrugged at her, bemused, and carried on his previous conversation about his career aspirations to be an Unspeakable.
Albus gazed at Missy, his mind whirring. “You were in Switzerland over the summer?” he questioned her.
She hesitated. Her mouth opened in answer, but then she seemed to think better of it and turned to join in her brother’s conversation.
“Switzerland,” Pan said under her breath. “Isn’t that where…?”
Albus nodded. “Yep,” he said. “Rabastan Lestrange was in Switzerland over the summer.”
“Maybe Missy is cleverer than I’ve been giving her credit for,” Pan whispered ominously.
As the Christmas meal came to an end, Albus kept one ear open for any more mentions of Switzerland from Missy’s brother. But none came.
When Albus finally left the table, his stomach was full to bursting and his head was swirling with theories about Riley and Missy and their summertime in Switzerland.
He spent much of the afternoon talking it through with Pan, who was stubbornly refusing to believe Missy and Riley Groombridge were Rabastan Lestrange’s accomplices. “They’re shallower than puddles,” Pan told him. “What would Lestrange want with a pair of airheads like that?”
“You said yourself, Missy could be cleverer than we think,” Albus pointed out. “And I’m starting to think you’re right.”
Pan, who was becoming tired of the conversation, suggested they play a game of chess. Albus agreed, but his heart wasn’t really in it.
Lestrange, Thorn, Missy and Riley. Four people who were somehow linked together. Four people who may well have been involved in the werewolf attack that almost killed him.
And then there was the Angel’s Trumpet to add to the mix. Sprout had either been attacked by the plant or by someone who wanted to take the plant from her…
Maybe Scorpius is right. If we know more about the plant, we might be able to figure out what really happened to Professor Sprout…
When he got into bed that night, Albus lay awake for some time. A thought had been nagging at the back of his mind. He got out of bed and retrieved his father’s Cloak. He let the material flow over his hands, smoother than silk, light as air. Use it well, the note had said.
He had to try it, now. He wrapped the Cloak around himself and tiptoed out of the room. He felt very wide awake all of a sudden. It dawned on him that the entire castle was open to him in this Cloak. Excitement flooded through him as he stood there in the dark and silence. He could go anywhere in this, anywhere.
He crept upstairs to the common room, out through the hidden door and along the dungeon corridors.
Where should he go? He stopped, his heart racing. And then it came to him. The Restricted Section in the library. He could look up Angel’s Trumpet at his leisure under the protection of the Cloak. He set off at an eager jog. It wasn’t long before he reached the library. He slowed his steps to a crawl, keeping as silent as possible. Albus was so used to being quiet here, it would’ve felt strange to make noise. He could almost imagine Madam Pince jumping out from behind a bookshelf to tell him off.
He felt a thrill as he stepped over the threshold into the Restricted Section. It seemed to be ordered alphabetically and by subject. It didn’t take him long to find the Herbology section. Mercifully, it wasn’t large, filled mostly with books about deadly poisons and carnivorous plants. There were only a handful of books that looked remotely relevant. After checking the indexes, Albus found that only two of them mentioned Angel’s Trumpet.
He returned the others to their shelves and took up the books, intending to carry them over to a table. That’s when he heard footsteps coming down the corridor outside – stuffing the books under one arm, he gripped tightly to the Cloak and ran for it.
He passed Filch in the doorway, the caretaker squinting into the darkness, a lantern held outstretched in his hand. Albus slipped past him, hardly daring to breathe, and raced along the corridors, hardly paying attention to where he was going. In his panic, he lost his grip on the books. They tumbled out of his grasp, hitting the stone flagons with two almighty thuds that echoed along the corridor. His heart racing, Albus snatched them up and pelted onwards.
To Albus’s horror, from out of a side-passage up ahead, Filch stepped into the corridor, his menacing cat, Mrs Norris, at his heels. “I’ll get you!” he said into the darkness. “You’re out of bed! You’ll be punished for this!”
Albus stopped running at once. With tiptoeing steps, he backed away from Filch, who was shuffling towards him with an expression of glee on his face.
Albus flattened himself against the wall behind a suit of armour and held his breath.
Filch cast his lantern this way and that, his eyes peeled for any sign of a wayward student. Hidden by the power of the Cloak, however, Albus found that Filch’s gaze slid right over him.
Within a couple of minutes, the caretaker had disappeared down the next corridor, Mrs Norris following in his wake.
Drawing in a long, quaking breath, Albus unpeeled himself from the wall and staggered towards the passage leading to the dungeons. He’d had quite enough rule-breaking for one night. But he’d only taken two steps when he froze on the spot, his blood turning to ice.
There, in the middle of the corridor, not twenty paces away from him, was a silver, four-legged animal, its ghostly eyes peering into the darkness of the passage. In the near-blackness it looked like a fox, or perhaps a dog, only it wasn’t nearly as tame as either of those. It had a wild, angry look about it, and there was something strange about its eyes – something intelligent. The animal was pacing back and forth, saliva dripping from its muzzle. Then, with one easy bound, it jumped through the nearest archway and into the outer courtyard. Albus ran to the opening, gazing at the silvery shape as it bounded across the stone square and out of sight.
Scorpius hadn’t imagined it, Albus thought, stunned. He really had seen something entering the forest. And now…
Now it was in the school.
The next morning, Albus was practically bursting to tell Pan what he’d seen and done the previous evening.
They were making their way to the Great Hall for breakfast as he told her what had happened. Her mouth grew more and more slack while he spoke. She stopped walking altogether when he got to the part about the silver dog.
“In the castle?” she questioned, wide-eyed. “You’re sure it wasn’t just someone’s old pet that got loose?”
“No,” he replied. “I can’t explain it. There was something magical about it…”
They carried on walking, pulling their cloaks tighter about them as they reached the draughtier corridors.
“I think I should tell McGonagall what I saw,” Albus said.
“And get expelled for walking around the castle at night?” she replied.
“I’ll just pretend I saw it in the daytime.”
Pan shrugged. “Up to you,” she told him, “but it is only a dog. Unless it’s infected with Scrofungulus or something, I doubt we’re in any danger.”
A few minutes later, they were eating breakfast beneath a snowing enchanted ceiling. Pan tucked into her porridge, leaning over the steaming bowl in an effort to warm up. “Was there anything in the books about Angel’s Trumpet?” she asked as she brought a spoon of porridge to her mouth.
“I haven’t checked yet,” Albus admitted. “I was so shaken last night, I just sort of collapsed into bed when I got back to my room.”
She swallowed her mouthful. “Let’s wait till Scorpius gets back,” she said. “No point denying him a couple books to read.”
Albus was halfway through his toast when the post owls arrived. Albus was surprised to find his brother’s owl, Lightning, soaring towards him from the rafters. The little bird lived up to its name. As soon as Albus detached the letter from its talon, it wasted no time taking to the air once more, shooting quickly out of sight.
“It’s from my brother,” Albus said, tearing open the envelope.
Happy Christmas by the way! I’m having a great time at Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione’s. We’ve played so many tricks on Hugo, it’s been a right laugh! He started crying yesterday though so we had to stop. Hope you’re having a good time at school. Don’t know why you wanted to stay there instead of being where the fun is, but that’s your shout.
Mainly, I’m writing to tell you about the present Dad got me. You’ll be green when you see it. It’s a map of Hogwarts, only it shows you where every person is and all the secret passages. It’s brilliant!
I know you probably got a book about cleaning or something. Don’t worry too much though, maybe you’ll get a gift like mine when you’re older. Or I guess I could give you the map after I leave Hogwarts. But I’ll have to ask Dad. There might be a reason he doesn’t want you to have it.
Anyway, Merry Christmas!
Albus thought of the Invisibility Cloak waiting upstairs in his dormitory and couldn’t help smiling at his brother’s letter.
“What did the prat say?” Pan asked.
“Just telling me about his presents,” Albus replied.
“Boasting about them, I bet,” Pan said.
Albus’s smile widened. “Yeah,” he told her, “but James doesn’t know I have the Cloak.”
Albus didn’t care that his brother had been given a magical map of Hogwarts. His father had trusted one of his most treasured possessions to him – Albus – and, for the first time in as long as he could remember, he felt like his father was truly proud of him.
After breakfast, Pan took her broom to the grounds for some flying practice. Albus, who couldn’t think of anything worse than flying around in this weather, decided, instead, to go and speak to McGonagall about the silver dog. There was every chance she wouldn’t believe him, but Albus knew he’d never forgive himself if the animal attacked someone in the castle and he’d done nothing to stop it.
The gargoyle that guarded the spiral staircase cleared its throat as Albus approached. “What do you want?” it grunted in a gravelly voice.
“I need to see the headmistress,” Albus told it.
“You have the password?”
“Bagpipes?” Albus said, hoping the password hadn’t been changed since the last time he’d used it.
The gargoyle scowled as if its fun had been spoiled. “Go on up.” It leaped aside so that Albus could step onto the moving spiral staircase.
McGonagall’s voice was crisp when she called for Albus to enter. As he stepped through the doorway, he saw that she wasn’t alone. None other than Professor Thorn was sitting opposite her, the two of them leaning over a stack of parchments on McGonagall’s desk. The headmistress had a quill in hand.
“Albus,” she said, looking up at him through her square-shaped spectacles. “What are you doing here?”
Thorn narrowed his eyes. “We’re busy, Potter,” he snarled.
“I wanted to speak to the headmistress,” Albus said, meeting Thorn’s stare with an equally mistrustful look.
“As deputy headmaster,” Thorn replied, “I’m sure anything you need to say to the headmistress, you can also tell me.”
“Have a seat, Potter,” McGonagall commanded. As Albus came to sit down, she waved her wand and the stack of parchment vanished from sight, but not before Albus caught sight of Professor Slughorn’s name written at the top of one of the pages. “Well?” McGonagall prompted.
Albus was horribly aware of the deputy headmaster sitting beside him, the man’s gaze boring into him like a burrowing Niffler. “I was out for a walk last night, around the castle,” Albus began.
“At night?” Thorn questioned. “That’s against school ru—”
“No,” Albus blurted. “In the evening, I mean.” He tried to arrange his features into a calm expression. “Anyway, I was out walking when I saw something in one of the corridors.”
McGonagall raised an eyebrow. “What did you see?”
“Well,” Albus replied, “it sort of looked like a dog, or maybe a fox. It was dark.”
Thorn had folded his arms. “You’re here to tell us you saw a fox?” he questioned in a mocking tone. “What a good use of the headmistress’s time – hearing about stray foxes.”
“But it wasn’t just a fox,” Albus continued quickly, keeping his attention fixed on McGonagall. “It had silver fur and there was something about it. Something magical.”
McGonagall’s brow creased. Thorn went rigid. “You have a vivid imagination, Potter,” he said through gritted teeth. Albus glanced from Thorn’s taught features to his white-knuckled hand. Why was Thorn getting so worked up all of a sudden?
If McGonagall noticed her colleague’s reaction, she didn’t show it. “Sounds like a Patronus to me,” she said. “But I don’t believe any of the teachers have a dog Patronus…”
“It wasn’t, Professor,” said Albus. “The dog was solid, I’m sure of it. Scorpius has seen it too. He spotted it near the Forbidden Forest after the Quidditch match.”
The lines in McGonagall’s forehead deepened. “In which corridor did you see the creature?” she asked.
Albus was glad that she, at least, seemed to be taking him seriously. “The first-floor,” he told her. “It ran off across the courtyard.”
“Did it seem dangerous?” she asked.
Albus pondered this question for a moment. “I’m not sure,” he said at last.
“It didn’t try to attack you?”
“No…” he said. Though, this wasn’t exactly an accurate answer. After all, Albus had been invisible at the time. Even if the dog had been looking to attack someone, it wouldn’t have been able to see him.
“Well, I’ll let the other teachers know to keep an eye out,” she told him. “Let me know if you see the animal again, won’t you.”
“It sounds like Potter has an overactive imagination to me,” Thorn told her, “but we’ll be on our guard.” The look he sent Albus was scalding.
Not wanting to stay in the same room as Thorn for any longer than he had to, Albus hurried out, his mind whirring with questions.
The way the deputy headmaster had reacted when Albus had described the dog – it was as if he’d known something. But what would Thorn have to do with a silver dog?
Pan was equally mystified when Albus told her what had happened in McGonagall’s office as they ate dinner that evening.
“Maybe Thorn’s an Animagus,” she suggested. “And he got mad because he didn’t want you blowing his cover.”
“A silver dog?” Albus said sceptically. “Thorn would probably turn into a lion or a bear or something.”
“You never know,” she said. “My great-grandfather was a six-foot tall man with a club foot and he was an Animagus – he turned into a bunny rabbit.”
Albus frowned at her. “Is that true?”
“No,” she replied. “But it could be.”
Albus kept an eye out for the silver dog over the next few days, but there was no sign of it. Pan managed to rope him into some flying practice, keen to keep up her skills. Albus only agreed in the hope that he’d catch sight of the dog. He had no such luck, however. The only thing he gained from flying practice were numb fingers and a red nose.
Albus and Pan made several trips to Hagrid’s cabin over the following week. They spent New Year’s Eve in front of Hagrid’s fire while he told them all about his time at Hogwarts. “Some o’ the bes’ years of me life,” he said thickly.
The evening before the rest of the students were due to return to Hogwarts, Albus and Pan trudged through the snow to Hagrid’s cabin for one last visit before lessons resumed.
They found him in high spirits, having just finished planning a set of lessons for his third-years. “Got a real treat for ‘em,” he told Albus and Pan as he poured them tea. “Aragog’s grandson, Ackbog, has finally agreed ter come out of the forest for a couple lessons.”
Albus gaped at Hagrid. “Aragog?” he said, aghast. “As in, the massive spider that nearly ate my dad?”
Hagrid chuckled. “Oh, yer dad always overexaggerates that story,” he said. “After Aragog died, the spiders didn’t want anything ter do with me. Ackbog’s different though. Reminds me of his grandfather, rest his soul.”
“Remind me never to take Care of Magical Creatures,” Pan whispered to Albus in an undertone.
Hagrid carried on talking about Aragog and his massive spider family for several more minutes. Albus couldn’t help remembering his father’s very different description of the giant spider – an ugly, eight-legged monster with white eyes and enormous, clicking pincers.
“…well I’m glad Ackbog finally agreed,” Hagrid was saying happily. “I’ve been a bit worried, see, what with Slughorn bein’ put on probation.” He stopped short and cleared his throat awkwardly. “Erm, best not repeat that.”
“You don’t think McGonagall would put you on probation?” Albus asked in disbelief.
“I dunno,” Hagrid replied. “Things ‘ave been different since Thorn took over as deputy headmaster. I reckon he wants to prune some o’ the older teachers. Got his eye on old Trelawney if you ask me.”
Albus remembered his dad saying that Professor Trelawney, the Divination teacher, was a bit of a fraud. “But you don’t think McGonagall would go along with it, do you?”
“Who knows,” Hagrid replied. “Can’t be easy running a school.”
Pan, who it seemed had only been half-listening, spoke up all of a sudden. “Have you heard from Professor Sprout?” she asked Hagrid.
“No, not since her las’ letter,” he replied miserably. “Poor woman. She was in a bad way even before she fell ill.”
“What do you mean?” Albus asked, remembering the way Sprout had looked tired and harassed in the weeks leading up to her mysterious illness. He thought about the argument he’d overheard between her and Thorn. Did Hagrid know something about it?
“Well, worried ‘bout her daughter, weren’t she,” Hagrid said. “Blood Curse – incurable. Sprout’s known about it for a while o’ course, but then her daughter fell pregnant. Bad business having a baby when you got a Blood Curse.”
Pan was sitting forward in her chair. “Did you say there’s no cure for a Blood Curse?” she asked.
“No, none,” Hagrid replied, “’cept maybe unicorn blood, but yer better off dead than drinking that. Problem is, her daughter’s Blood Curse started affecting the baby. They knew it would, but she didn’t want to give it up. Now, she’s in hospital along with Pomona… Bad business…”
Albus and Pan exchanged glances. They hurriedly finished their tea and left Hagrid’s cabin.
“That’s why Sprout was trying to grow Angel’s Trumpet,” Albus said. “It was the only way to save her daughter and granddaughter.”
“No wonder she was always in such a state,” Pan said. “But that still doesn’t explain how she got attacked. I mean, I know Thorn’s a git, but what kind of monster stops someone from healing their child?”
“I wouldn’t put anything past Thorn,” Albus replied.
“You still think he wanted the plant for himself?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” Albus told her. “But it’s a good job Scorpius is back tomorrow. We can check those books, see if we can learn anything else about Angel’s Trumpet.”
Unfortunately, Scorpius was one of the last students to arrive back at Hogwarts. It was past dinner when he trundled into the Slytherin common room, dragging his trunk along behind him. He waved at Albus and Pan before coming to sit with them at their usual table. Following at Scorpius’s heels, came a perfectly white cat with sleek fur, big cone-shaped ears and piercing blue eyes.
“Oh,” Scorpius said with a banana smile, “this is Moonflower. But I call him Moo for short. He was a Christmas present from Dad.” Suddenly, the cat leaped onto Pan’s lap. Pan started in shock, almost knocking the animal back onto the floor, but he gripped onto her robes with his claws. After a moment, Pan reluctantly settled back down in her chair and the cat snuggled up in a ball in her lap.
She pointed to it, scowling. “Get this thing off me.”
Scorpius looked on in envy. “You’re lucky,” he said. “He never wants to sit on my lap.”
“You can have him,” Pan muttered irritably. She looked most put out. “And what did you say its name was? Moo?”
“Yes,” Scorpius replied. “It’s short for Moonflower, because they’re white, like him.”
Moo had already shut his eyes, sleeping quite contentedly in Pan’s lap. Scorpius looked on mournfully. “So, anything interesting happen while I’ve been gone?” he asked.
Pan, who was too busy glaring at the cat to answer, let Albus fill Scorpius in on everything that had happened. He started at the beginning, telling Scorpius about stealing the books from the Restricted Section (“Ooh, well done!”), seeing the silver dog in the corridor (“So I wasn’t going mad, then.”), Thorn’s weird reaction when Albus told McGonagall about it (“Knowing him, he was probably just annoyed that he wasn’t the one who told her about it.”) and finally, what they’d discovered from Hagrid about Sprout’s daughter.
“That’s awful,” Scorpius said. “Well, now it makes sense why she wanted to grow Angel’s Trumpet.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then shook himself. “So, do you have the books?”
“In my room,” Albus told him.
“Well, I need to unpack anyway,” Scorpius said. “I’ll grab them while I’m there.”
“They’re on my bed,” Albus told him.
Scorpius paused, gazing at his cat. “Come on then, Moo,” he said. The cat pricked up it’s ears, looked vaguely in Scorpius’s direction, then sank back down into a deep snooze. Scorpius sighed, picked up his trunk and disappeared into the boys’ dormitories.
He returned several minutes later, one of the stolen books open in his arms, excitement clear on his face. “I’ve already flicked through them,” he said. “The first one was useless, but this one looked more promising.” He set it on the table. “There’s some really fascinating information in here. I mean, I’ve never even heard of half the herbs it mentions.”
“This cat better not have fleas,” Pan said distractedly.
“Of course, he doesn’t,” Scorpius replied, reaching out to stroke his white-haired pet. Scorpius pulled his hand away, however, when Moo hissed at him. With a morose sigh, Scorpius watched as the cat snuggled comfortably in Pan’s lap, entirely at ease.
Albus cleared his throat impatiently. “The Angel’s Trumpet,” he prompted.
“Yes, right,” Scorpius replied. He leaned over the open book and skimmed through the words with his finger. Halfway down the page, he stopped. “Here it is,” he said, and he began to read. “The Angel’s Trumpet: a rare specimen, once thought to be only myth, is an intriguing and mysterious flower. Grown from the plant Angelus Mater, which has been recently classified as one of the most elusive and difficult to grow of any other flora, the dew gathered in its petals has the power to cure any ill. Old age and death are the only afflictions it cannot affect.
“Angelus Mater will grow only under extremely rare and special circumstances. It blooms naturally on ground that has been blessed by a powerful meeting of the two main aspects of magic, where old has battled new, where the subtle has fought against the overt. As such, the infamous duel between Gellert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore eventually gave birth to Angelus Mater. All traces of the plant were later destroyed by the Ministry of Magic. No other specimen of this rare flower has been seen since then…” Scorpius’s voice trailed off. He turned to the front of the book and leaned close to the page. “This was written in 1972. It’s possible there’s been another sighting of the plant since then.”
“Yeah, at Hogwarts by the sound of it,” said Pan. “What did it mean when it talked about the old battling the new? The subtle against the overt? Sounded like a lot of waffle.”
Scorpius re-read the passage to himself, chewing on the inside of his mouth. “I’m not entirely certain,” he replied. “But I think it’s talking about Old Magic.”
“Old Magic?” Albus questioned.
“Actually,” Scorpius said, blushing, “I mainly know about Old Magic from reading about your dad, Albus.”
Albus was nonplussed. “My dad knows ‘Old Magic’?”
Scorpius’s eyes widened. “Of course,” he muttered, though he appeared to be talking more to himself than anyone else. He stared off into space. Albus could almost hear the cogs turning in his brain.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I bet Angelus Mater grew at your dad’s old house,” Scorpius said to Albus. “The one he lived in when he was a baby.”
“Because,” Scorpius replied, “that’s where a powerful battle took place between old and new magic. Your grandmother’s sacrifice placed an Old Magic spell on your dad, protecting him from harm. The Dark Lord used modern magic against him – avada kedavra – one of the most powerful curses there is. So when the two forms of magic clashed, your dad’s old house became the perfect breeding ground for Angelus Mater.”
Pan looked sceptical. “So you think there’s been a cure-all growing in Harry Potter’s old house for the past forty years and Professor Sprout just happened to know about it and went and took some?”
“No,” Scorpius replied. “By the sound of it, the Ministry doesn’t like Angelus Mater. They would’ve destroyed it years ago.”
“Then, where did Sprout get it from?” Albus asked, growing more confused by the minute.
Scorpius carefully closed the book. “I have no idea,” he admitted, “but I’m going to find out. If there’s a cure-all somewhere at Hogwarts, I’m going to find it.”
Albus’s stomach churned. “But if the Ministry keeps destroying all traces of it, doesn’t that probably mean it’s dangerous?”
Scorpius faltered, then abruptly stood up. “Do you want to come to the kitchens with me to scrounge some food?” he asked. “I didn’t have time to eat before I left home.”
Sliding the stolen books into his robes, Scorpius led the way out of the common room. Albus followed, unable to keep himself from worrying about what Scorpius had said. It seemed to Albus that going after the Angel’s Trumpet was tantamount to writing your own death sentence. Either the plant itself was so deadly it had nearly killed Sprout or Thorn was so protective of it, he’d attack anyone who went near it.
Pan caught up with Albus, brushing cat hair off her robes. Much to her disgust, Moo came trotting along at her heel, his nose in the air, his long tail swishing side to side. “Why me?” she muttered. “I don’t even like cats.”
Scorpius led them to a room full of food-themed paintings. He approached one of them, a painting of a bowl of fruit, and tickled the pear. At once, the picture frame swung outwards, revealing a hidden door that led into a gigantic, high-ceilinged room. Five tables, identical to the ones in the Great Hall above, were arranged in the exact same positions as their counterparts. Large quantities of pots and pans were heaped around the stone walls on counter-tops and stoves. A large brick fireplace at the opposite end of the hall crackled with embers.
Dozens of small, bug-eyed faces turned in the direction of the doorway as Albus, Pan, Scorpius and Moo stepped inside. Albus, who was used to Kreacher popping round for a cup of tea, was accustomed to the way house-elves bent and scraped before wizards. He, like Scorpius, told them they didn’t need to call them ‘Sir’, but the house-elves wouldn’t hear of it. They piled the trio with food and bid them a cheerful farewell.
Even though Albus had already eaten dinner, he found himself unable to resist munching on one of the house-elves’ chocolate eclairs.
Scorpius was enjoying a ham and cheese sandwich. Pan was desperately trying to shoo Scorpius’s cat away from her, to no avail. Once they returned to the common room, they found it almost empty. Deciding to go to bed, the three of them headed to the dormitories. Moo looked on the verge of following Pan to her room, but changed tack at the last minute and chased after Scorpius. He lifted the cat into his arms. “That’s my Moo,” he said, stroking the cat behind his ears. “Good boy.”
When they opened the door to their room, Scorpius dropped Moo in surprise. Albus went cold at the sight before him. His wardrobe was wide open and everything inside it had been scattered in untidy heaps across the floor.
“Oh no,” he whispered, hurrying over to the wardrobe. It was empty. He rummaged through the stuff that had been strewn unceremoniously about the room, checking under piles of clothes, books, paints and canvases. His Christmas presents were spread haphazardly all over the place. He collected them up, frantically searching, his hope fading with every passing second.
“Albus?” Scorpius asked, alarmed at the distraught look on his face.
Albus sank onto the end of his bed, his heart dropping like a stone. Every Christmas present was here. Every present except one – the Invisibility Cloak.
It was gone.