Albus couldn’t believe it. The Cloak was gone.
Scorpius came to sit at Albus’s side while Moo curled up on Scorpius’s pillow and fell asleep. “What’s missing?” Scorpius asked.
Albus could barely speak. His throat was tight. “It’s… my dad’s Invisibility Cloak… he gave it to me for Christmas.”
Scorpius gasped. “I’m so sorry, Albus,” he said quietly.
“He entrusted it to me,” Albus replied. He was trying very hard to keep his voice from wobbling. “I’ve barely had it for a week and I’ve lost it already.”
“You didn’t lose it,” Scorpius told him firmly, “it was stolen.”
Albus stood up, unable to sit still any longer. A sick feeling was rising up his throat, like acid was bubbling in his stomach. He paced up and down the room, kicking bits of clothes and brushes out of his way as he went. “But it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “The only person who knew about the Cloak was Pan. I haven’t told anyone else.” He rubbed his forehead, trying to think who else might have known, who else might have taken it. “The last person in here was…” Albus had been about to say himself, but that wasn’t true. He looked at Scorpius. “You were the last person in here. You came in to drop off your things and pick up the library books…” Albus wasn’t sure why this information was important, nor why he was staring at Scorpius so intently.
Was it Albus’s imagination or did Scorpius look paler than usual?
Unbidden, his cousin’s words rang in Albus’s mind, If Rita Skeeter’s correct, and someone really is coming after your family, I think Scorpius is a prime suspect.
Albus knew it was impossible that his roommate had stolen from him. Scorpius hadn’t known about the Cloak. And, even if he had, he would never have taken it…
As Albus gazed at him, Scorpius’s expression turned from concerned to anxious, and finally to hurt. “You… think it was me…” he muttered.
“No!” Albus replied quickly. “I don’t think that. I know you wouldn’t.”
“But you’re not totally sure,” Scorpius added, his tone bleak. “You have suspicions—”
“No!” Albus repeated. “I trust you.” But even to his own ears, his voice sounded unconvincingly high-pitched.
“It wasn’t me, Albus,” Scorpius said. “When I came in here earlier to drop off my things, everything looked normal. Whoever took your Cloak must’ve done it while we were in the kitchens.” He took out his wand, pointed it downwards and swept it in a graceful arch across the floor. “Sequistrum vestigium,” he said. He waited, gaze fixed on the stone flagons. He moved towards the door and muttered the spell again. Once more, nothing appeared to happen.
Albus watched, intrigued. “What are you doing?”
“It’s a spell that reveals footprints,” he said, “but the floor’s too clean. It really only works on soft ground, but I thought it might give us a clue about who the thief is.” Sighing, he waved his wand and said clearly, “Tersundus integrium.” Instantly, all of Albus’s things marched back into his wardrobe, the clothes folding themselves, his art supplies lining up in neat order. Last to fly into the wardrobe was his painting of the Black Lake. Scorpius pointed his wand at the canvas and it froze in mid-air. His mouth had fallen open in shock. It seemed he was about to say something, but he caught himself and sent the painting into the wardrobe with another flick of his wand.
“One more thing,” Scorpius said. He pointed his wand at the door. “Colloportus,” he said, followed by, “Promunio.” There was a sucking sound as the door sealed itself shut. “I’ve locked it and put an imperturbable charm around it. We shouldn’t get any night time visitors.” With that, he gathered up his nightclothes and turned away from Albus to get changed. “I’m going to bed. Goodnight, Albus.”
Albus tried to think of something to say, but Scorpius was already getting undressed. Albus turned quickly away, cheeks flushing.
If he was being honest with himself, he had suspected Scorpius at first. It was a stupid, thoughtless reaction, but it was done now and he couldn’t undo it. The problem was, he wasn’t sure there was anything he could say to put it right.
Albus got changed and climbed into bed. Scorpius didn’t bother singing to his blessboom. He was already lying down, facing pointedly away from Albus. It wasn’t long before his breathing slowed and he fell asleep. Albus, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep. He felt sick over the loss of the Cloak and guilty over his reaction towards Scorpius. His mind couldn’t seem to get around the notion that someone had broken into his room and stolen his most treasured possession. Somehow, the culprit had known his father had given him the Cloak, but most strangely, they’d known it was in Albus’s wardrobe – for nowhere else in the room had been checked. His bedside table was untouched, as was his chest of drawers and the space under his bed.
How was it possible that someone else had found out about the Cloak? Had Albus and Pan talked about it too loudly in public? He was sure they hadn’t.
It took Albus a long time to fall asleep, and when he finally did, his dreams were full of giant spiders, man-eating plants and scenes of his father angrily demanding where his Cloak had gone.
The next morning, it took a couple seconds for Albus to remember what had happened. As soon as the truth hit him, his stomach clenched painfully. He got dressed in a sort of daze. Scorpius had to remind him several times which books he needed to pack; it was the first day of lessons after the Christmas break.
Once they were both ready, Scorpius reversed the spells he’d placed on the door and they made their way down to the common room, Moo following after them. There was an awkward silence between the two boys. Albus was trying to think of some way to repair the damage he’d done last night, but he wasn’t sure what to say.
Moo purred happily when he saw Pan waiting in the common room. He rubbed his white fur up against her robes, weaving in and out of her legs. Pan rolled her eyes, but there was the barest hint of a smile on her face. “What’s up?” she said, looking at Albus.
On their way to the Great Hall, Albus told her about their ransacked room and the missing Cloak.
Pan was speechless for quite some time before finally forming words. “I bet it was Missy,” she said. “She must’ve overheard us talking about the Cloak.”
“Why would it be her?” Scorpius asked.
“She was here over Christmas,” Pan said. “And we found out Missy and her brother were in Switzerland over the summer – the same place Rabastan Lestrange was lying low.”
“She’s never mentioned that before,” Scorpius replied. “Probably to avoid suspicion. But why would she want the Cloak?”
“To give it to Lestrange,” Pan said. “I can imagine the two of them being best pals.”
Scorpius pondered this for a moment. “I suppose it’s possible it was her,” he said. “Whoever it was, they had to be a Slytherin – no one else could’ve entered our common room.”
“It’s Missy,” Pan said confidently.
Scorpius turned to Albus, his expression serious. “I think you should go to McGonagall. I don’t think we’ll get it back without her.”
“No,” Albus said firmly. “If I go to McGonagall, she’ll search the dormitories. Everyone will find out about the Cloak.”
“But what if we aren’t able to find it?” Scorpius questioned.
Albus sighed. He knew that going to the Headmistress would probably be the fastest way of getting to the bottom of what happened, but for some reason it felt wrong. The Cloak was meant to be secret, something not many people knew about – just like it had been for his father. “We’ll go to McGonagall as a last resort,” Albus told them. “Until then, we try to find it ourselves. We already know it was taken by a Slytherin.”
“There are nearly a hundred Slytherins,” Pan said. Then, seeing the look of despair on Albus’s face, she quickly added, “But I’m sure it’ll turn up.”
“I’ll start researching the Cloak further,” Scorpius said. “It might help us with the search.”
Pan let out a groan. “Not more research.”
“Don’t worry, this’ll be a solo project,” he said. He cast his gaze down at his cat who was trotting along at Pan’s feet. “You’ll be too busy looking after Moo, anyway.”
On their way to the Great Hall, Albus kept thinking about what Scorpius had said, Whoever it was, they had to be a Slytherin. The person who’d stolen his father’s Cloak was a member of his house, was probably someone he knew. It made his blood boil.
The Great Hall was packed. It was strange seeing it so full-up after a fortnight of no more than a dozen students being in here at any one time. Albus’s eyes swept the Slytherin table, knowing that someone here was the thief who’d taken his father’s Cloak. No one looked particularly shifty, at least not any shiftier than the Slytherins usually looked. Did Missy seem edgier than usual? Was that fourth-year at the other end of the table watching him guiltily? Was Danielle Varda smiling at him because she was hiding something…?
Now you’re being ridiculous, he told himself. Then, it dawned on him that Danielle Varda – the incredibly pretty, silky-haired Danielle Varda – was smiling at him. Albus hastily smiled back, but too late, she’d already turned away.
Albus groaned at the sight of Drake Salmer, who he’d been hoping would fall down a well or be hit by a falling piano over the Christmas break. Salmer sneered maliciously at Albus, Pan and Scorpius as they sat down. He was wearing a brand-new set of robes, he’d had a stylish new haircut, and his neck was adorned with a gaudy golden chain.
Many of the older Slytherins nodded respectfully to Pan as she took her seat. Ever since the match against Gryffindor, it had been universally acknowledged that Pan was the best player on the Slytherin team. It had earned her a grudging respect from most of the students. Drake Salmer was not one of these, however. At the sight of her, he nudged Prince Zabini and pointed at Pan, who currently had Moo sitting in her lap. “Oh look!” he said. “The troll has a new friend.” His smile widened. “Is that your sister?” he asked Pan.
“No, it can’t be,” Salmer continued, “the cat’s much too pretty to be related to a troll like you.”
“The cat’s mine,” Scorpius cut in, glaring at Salmer, “and he’s a boy.”
“He’s adorable!” This was Danielle Varda, who’d come to sit next to Pan. She stroked the cat indulgently.
“So pretty!” agreed Julia Hopkirk, reaching across the table to pet his head.
Moo barely acknowledged either of them. His face was as implacable as ever.
Salmer’s lip curled. “I should’ve known you’d have a pet like that,” he said to Scorpius. “A pretty, white cat for prettyboy Scorpius Malfoy, Albus Potter’s girlfriend.”
Prince, Missy and Julia burst out laughing. Julia’s cackle was so shrill that Moo ended up hissing at her. Albus felt his cheeks turn pink. “Me and Scorpius are just friends,” he said for what felt like the hundredth time.
“Not what I’ve heard,” Salmer replied, grinning. “There’s a rumour going around that Scorpion here has you under a love spell.”
Laughter erupted around the table again, becoming increasingly hostile. Salmer was gazing at Scorpius with undisguised loathing. Meanwhile, blotches of red were rising up Scorpius’s cheeks. “You’re the one calling me, prettyboy,” he said. “Sounds to me like you’re jealous.”
There were jeers and oohs from Salmer’s gang of Slytherins. “Watch it,” he murmured. “I could ruin you, Scorpion. My father—”
“Do your worst,” Scorpius interrupted. His voice sounded confident, but Albus could feel that he was shaking.
“I might just do that,” Salmer replied coldly.
There was a tense silence. Albus glanced between Salmer and Scorpius, unease stabbing at his insides.
“Seriously though,” said Danielle in a lighter voice, “this cat is beautiful.” She called across the table to Aberfa. “Berfs, come and stroke his fur. It’s so soft.”
“You shouldn’t provoke him,” Albus told Scorpius as they made their way to Herbology ten minutes later. “You heard what McGonagall said to our parents, Salmer’s dad has a lot of influence.”
Scorpius scoffed. “I don’t care what his father puts in the papers about me,” he replied. “Everyone already thinks I’m Voldemort’s son and a werewolf.”
“What about me?” Albus asked. “I don’t want the whole world thinking I’m under your love spell.”
They passed through the giant double-doors to the school grounds, their feet sinking into a thick layer of snow. Moo took one look at the cold, blustery grounds and sauntered back into the castle.
“You don’t actually think anyone would believe that, do you?” Scorpius said incredulously.
“That’s not the point,” Albus replied. He tried to imagine his dad’s reaction to the news that Scorpius Malfoy had bewitched him with a love spell. He could see the headlines now, Harry Potter’s Son Hoodwinked by Boyfriend. “I’m famous and you’re…”
“What?” Scorpius prompted coolly.
Albus faltered. The conversation was getting away from him. He looked to Pan for support, but she’d become incredibly engrossed in the clasp on her bag, humming quietly to herself. “You’re…” Albus said, trying to think of a way to phrase it that sounded remotely flattering, “… flamboyant.”
“Flamboyant?” Scorpius repeated.
“Well, it’s like Salmer said,” Albus continued quickly, “you’re sort of pretty, and your dress robes are very stylish, and you do that thing with your hair…”
Pan was running a finger across her neck in a ‘stop talking now’ gesture. Scorpius was gazing at Albus as if he’d never seen him properly before. “There’s something I need to ask Professor Longbottom before the lesson starts,” he said briskly. “I’ll meet you there.” With that, Scorpius hurried off towards the greenhouses.
Albus winced. “That was bad,” he said in an undertone.
Pan was shaking her head. “It was like watching a flobberworm drowning in a vat of Manticore vomit,” she said. “And what’s so bad about Scorpius being flamboyant anyway?”
“Nothing,” Albus replied. “I just don’t want people to think I’m…”
“Different,” Pan finished for him. “You know, you can be a real prat sometimes, Albus.”
Albus’s heart sank. If Pan thought he’d been rude, then it must’ve been really bad. It was just that he couldn’t bear to think of his dad finding out that not only had Albus lost his infamous Invisibility Cloak, but he’d fallen in love with a boy who also happened to be the son of Draco Malfoy.
He hung his head in shame. He knew it shouldn’t matter what people were saying about him. He knew Scorpius was right not to care, but it was different for Albus. Scorpius’s father was an ex-Death Eater. Harry Potter, on the other hand, was a hero – the wizard who defeated Lord Voldemort. How was Albus ever going to live up to that?
Scorpius didn’t take his usual place next to Albus during Herbology. Instead, he worked at Danielle’s bench. Albus watched him miserably, his insides twisting. Uncle Neville had them practising the defrosting spell again, but Albus was so distracted by his thoughts that he ended up missing the plant entirely and hitting one of the greenhouse windows. It cracked from the impact. Neville repaired it with his wand. “Focus, Albus,” he said distractedly, which Albus thought was fairly hypocritical since his uncle seemed to be on another planet entirely.
They had Double Astronomy next with the Ravenclaws. The Slytherins bundled into the Astronomy classroom, where Professor Sinistra stood waiting for them. To Albus’s chagrin, Gregory Wood flashed Scorpius his toothy smile, and asked if he’d sit next to him. Scorpius, looking disbelieving, took the offered seat enthusiastically.
Throughout the entire lesson, Wood and Scorpius chatted to one another under their breaths, Wood frequently laughing at something the platinum-haired boy said to him.
Albus spent so much time watching them that he didn’t finish his star chart.
That evening at dinner, Albus and Scorpius barely exchanged more than a couple of words. On the way out of the Great Hall, Gregory Wood caught up with them, his rimless glasses almost at the very tip of his nose. “You still want to go to the library to research the Andromeda essay?” he asked Scorpius.
“Yes,” Scorpius replied, a little breathlessly. “I’ll meet you there in a bit.”
Wood grinned before heading back to the Ravenclaw table.
“You’re not doing Sinistra’s essay with Pan and me?” Albus asked sharply.
Scorpius hesitated. “Gregory suggested I work on it with him in the library,” he replied. “I didn’t want to be rude.”
For some reason he couldn’t put his finger on, this irritated Albus. “Well, what about us?” he said, gesturing to Pan and himself. “We might need your help.”
Pan was saying nothing. In fact, she was hanging back. “I need to speak to Humphries about Quidditch practice,” she said. “I’ll catch up with you.” She turned around and disappeared into the Great Hall.
“Gregory’s been really nice to me,” Scorpius said, glaring at Albus. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”
“I am,” Albus blustered, “but I just don’t think it’s fair that you’re helping him and not us. He’s a Ravenclaw, isn’t he? They’re meant to be brainy.”
“I know what this is about,” Scorpius bit back, lowering his voice. “This is about the Cloak. You still think I’m the one who stole it.”
Albus gaped at him. “That has nothing to do with it!” he said, his volume rising. “This is about you being my friend and not Gregory’s.”
“Earlier I was too flamboyant to be your friend!”
“I don’t care about that!” Albus told him loudly, he was almost shouting now. “I just don’t want people to think we’re a couple!”
“Would that be so terrible?” Scorpius asked.
“Yes!” Albus retorted. “It would be a nightmare!”
Scorpius blinked, his eyes flashing with hurt. “Well, if that’s how you feel,” he said, “I don’t know why you’re bothering to be friends with me. I thought you asked me to Slughorn’s party because you didn’t care what people said about you.”
“I’m Harry Potter’s son!” Albus snapped.
“Right,” Scorpius replied quietly, “and I’m the son of Voldemort.” He checked his watch. “I’m going to the library to see my friend.” He stormed off up the staircase to the first-floor.
Albus was breathing heavily, trying to calm down.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, none other than Rose Weasley came striding up to him from the opposite side of the Entrance Hall. She wore a deeply worried look. “Albus, are you okay?” she asked. “I heard you arguing.”
“I’m fine,” he said.
“But you and Scorpius—”
“I’m fine, Rose!” Albus barked. “Just leave me alone!”
He realised there were a handful of students lingering in the Entrance Hall, watching him and muttering to each other. Albus quickly escaped down a secret passage. He descended the countless stairs into the dungeons, all the while thinking about Scorpius and Gregory Wood in the library together. He clenched his fists.
As predicted, Albus and Pan struggled to complete the Andromeda essay without Scorpius. Pan didn’t ask Albus why he kept gazing out of the window and staring off into space. She did whack him on the arm with one of the heavier Astronomy books, however. “You think I can do this on my own?” she said irritably. Moo, who was sitting in her lap, hissed at him.
At last, Albus couldn’t hold it in any longer. “I shouted at him,” he said weakly.
“I gathered,” she replied.
“He says I care about what people think too much.”
“You’d be best friends with Salmer if that was true,” she told him. “Look, you were both upset. Say you’re sorry. It’ll blow over.” She folded up her essay and shoved it in her bag. “I’m giving this up as a bad job,” she said, then she pulled out her wand. “Let’s practise the feather-light charm for Flitwick.”
For the next hour, they took it in turns to enchant the table, trying to make it lighter. Neither of them had any luck. At one point, the table wobbled slightly when Pan cast the spell, but that might have been Moo knocking into one of the legs.
“You’d better make it up with Scorpius,” said Pan after her twentieth failed attempt, “otherwise we’ll never get any of our homework done.”
That evening, once Albus and Scorpius had both climbed into bed, Albus cleared his throat nervously. But, to his surprise, it was Scorpius who spoke first. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You were right. I know there’s a lot of pressure on you.” He sighed. “It can’t be easy being friends with a Malfoy.”
Relief spread through Albus like Pepper-Up potion. “I’m sorry too,” he replied. “I know you didn’t take the Cloak. I don’t even know why I reacted the way I did. I think I was just in shock.” He looked down at his duvet, picking at a loose thread in the green material. “And I’m sorry I got annoyed that you and Wood are friends.”
Scorpius looked equally relieved. “Thanks,” he said. “Gregory’s really nice, you know. I think you’d like him. His friends Cole and Ian are nice too.”
“Oh,” Albus said. “So it wasn’t just you and Wood in the library together?”
“No,” Scorpius replied. “Cole and Ian were there too.”
Albus found his mood lightening at this piece of information. Inexplicably, he was grinning. He laid down, resting his head against the soft pillows while Scorpius took up his blessboom and began singing. Albus listened to the soft rise and fall of Scorpius’s voice as he fell asleep.
That night, Albus didn’t have any bad dreams.
The next morning, Pan looked relieved to find Albus and Scorpius had settled their differences. As usual, Moo followed her around as if he was magnetically drawn to her, sitting on her lap during breakfast and begging scraps of bacon off her plate by purring loudly and swiping at her fork.
“He really loves you,” Scorpius told Pan as they made their way to Double Potions with the Hufflepuffs.
“Shoo!” Pan said to the cat, who was still doggedly following her. “You can’t come to lessons with me!”
As it turned out, Moo didn’t show any inclination to enter the classroom when they came to a stop in the Potions corridor. As soon as they reached the dungeon passage, a mixture of weird and stomach-churning smells battered their senses. Moo seemed entirely put off. He turned gracefully on the spot and trotted away, head in the air.
“I don’t blame him,” said Albus, covering his nose with his sleeve.
Most of the Hufflepuffs had already arrived. They too were covering their noses. Apolina Spinnet and Skye Fortescue were eyeing the open classroom door with obvious trepidation.
When Albus, Pan and Scorpius came to a stop beside the Slytherins, two Hufflepuff boys separated themselves from the rest of their house and came towards them. Lance Chopra, a clever and popular boy, was flanked by Beau Nye, who, as usual, was garnering the stares of most of the Slytherin girls. Pan rolled her eyes at them. Albus had to admit that Beau Nye was very attractive, but he wasn’t sure why all the girls seemed so obsessed with him.
To Missy Groombridge’s obvious affront, it wasn’t her and her group of girls who Lance and Beau were approaching. Instead, they came to stop in front of Pan, Lance holding out his hand. Pan shook it, her expression impassive.
“Just wanted to say well done on that match against Gryffindor,” Lance said. “I’ll be honest, I was glad Gryffindor won, but you played like a pro – really put Henry Wood in his place.”
Beau was nodding. “Never seen someone weave through a whole team like that and score,” he said. “You went from one end of the pitch to the other without a challenge.”
Pan didn’t seem to know what to say to this. She shrugged, hesitated, then gestured towards Scorpius and Albus. “These are my friends,” she said. “The speccy one is Albus and the pretty one is Scorpius.”
Albus and Scorpius exchanged mortified glances.
Lance and Beau chuckled. “Yeah, we know who they are,” Lance said. “I think the whole school does.”
“Don’t cast any love spells on us,” Beau joked to Scorpius, holding his hands up in mock-surrender.
Scorpius laughed. Albus too. He realised suddenly how ridiculous the love spell rumour was. Had he been stupid to think people would take it seriously? Salmer had joked about it being true – but that was Salmer, everyone knew he was a git.
“Anyway,” Lance said to Pan, “my brother’s Captain of the Hufflepuff team. He can’t wait to play you – reckons he’s gonna be the one to get the Quaffle off you.”
“We’ll see,” said Pan.
Lance, looking thoroughly impressed, backed up and turned to re-join the Hufflepuffs, Beau following him.
“Pan,” Scorpius said in amazement. “I think you’ve become cool.”
“I’ve always been cool,” she replied.
The Slytherins and Hufflepuffs braced themselves as Slughorn called them into the classroom, most people holding their noses or raising their sleeves towards their faces, ready to block out the smell if it became too much.
Instead of sending them to their benches, Slughorn called the class up to the front, where half a dozen cauldrons were bubbling manically, giving off all manner of odours. Albus realised, with a jolt, that Slughorn wasn’t the only teacher in the room. Professor Thorn was sitting in the corner, a clipboard in hand, watching proceedings. He appeared to be observing the lesson. Albus scowled at the red-robed man, wishing one of the jars of cockroaches above his head would fall off its shelf. The other students appeared to have noticed Thorn’s attendance as well; they glanced in his direction, whispering to one another.
Drawing their attention back to the lesson, Slughorn indicated the bubbling cauldrons in front of him with a great sweeping gesture. “I have a treat for you, today,” he said, smiling rather manically, his booming voice coming out far livelier and more exuberant than usual. “I have brewed several very complicated potions to give you a taste of what some of you may be able to achieve in the future.” He looked at Albus and winked. “There will always be wizards who question us potion-masters, jealous possibly of our prowess, our superior skills. Some people wouldn’t know a good potion if it slapped them in the face with an Erumpent Horn.” Albus had the distinct impression this little speech was meant more for Professor Thorn than for them. But the Deputy Headmaster showed no reaction to Slughorn’s words other than a tightening of his lips.
Slughorn pointed to the first of the bubbling cauldrons, which contained a deep purple liquid. “Can anyone tell me what this potion is?”
Scorpius tentatively raised his hand.
“Yes?” said Slughorn.
“It looks like a Freeze-Fire Potion, sometimes called an Ice Potion,” Scorpius replied. “It protects the drinker from being harmed by fire, but it makes you feel like you’re full of ice.”
“A perfect answer!” Slughorn bellowed. “Five points to Slytherin.” Slughorn came closer to the potion. “Perhaps a demonstration…” He conjured a vial from thin air, ladled some of the potion into it and took a long swig. A shiver went through him as he swallowed.
Slughorn turned to Thorn. “Professor, perhaps you’ll help me,” he said. “A good jet of fire, if you please. The bigger the better.”
Thorn, who seemed slightly put out at being called forth from his task of observing, stood up and withdrew his wand. “Stand back,” he said to the class. The students backed away nervously. There was a collective inhalation of breath as Thorn pointed his wand at Slughorn and said clearly, “Incendio.” A jet of orange flames shot towards Slughorn, splaying off his chest as if he was made of stone. Thorn lowered his wand and the flames vanished. Slughorn had not moved. He was completely unharmed – not even his clothes had been affected.
“Come now, Professor!” Slughorn bellowed at Thorn, his belly wobbling as he spoke. “You can do better than that. I am an expert potionmaker. There’s no fire you can create that can harm me. I’ve been doing this job for almost half a century after all, I know how to brew a Freeze-Flame potion.”
Thorn clenched his jaw. He waved his wand towards the class and muttered, “Protego totalum.” At once, a blueish magical barrier appeared before them, partitioning Thorn and Slughorn on one side from the students on the other. The Slytherins and Hufflepuffs watched through the blue haze of the barrier as Thorn met Slughorn’s confident smile with narrowed eyes. A chill went down Albus’s spine as Thorn raised his wand once more and said, “Draconus anima!”
A tornado of flames burst from Thorn’s wand like some kind of fiery stampede, engulfing Slughorn like an ant caught in a whirlwind. There were several shocked gasps from the students. Salmer and Zabini actually stepped backwards. Many more students did the same as the swirling fire crashed into the magical barrier protecting them, causing it to sizzle ominously. The stone ceiling and floor were turning molten red. As for Slughorn, he had completely vanished among the giant lasso of flame. Then, as quickly as it had come, the fire sputtered out of existence, extinguished as if all the air in the room had been sucked out.
The Slytherins and Hufflepuffs gasped at the sight of Slughorn standing serenely in the exact same spot he’d started, an easy smile on his face. “Clever, using dragon’s fire,” Slughorn said to Thorn, “but the Freeze-Fire Potion is formidable when brewed by an experienced wizard.”
The class clapped, more out of relief than anything else. Many of them were looking at Thorn and Slughorn with renewed respect.
“He nearly melted the stone!” one of the Hufflepuff girls whispered.
“I know, I’ve never seen fire like that!” her friend replied.
Thorn’s lip curled at the sight of Slughorn’s smug grin. “Frigidis,” he said, sweeping his wand through the air. The molten stone cooled instantly. With another wave of his wand, the magical barrier vanished.
“Thank you for your help, Professor Thorn,” Slughorn said straightening his smoking jacket with the air of someone who’d just finished making a point. Then, he returned his attention to the class.
Slughorn approached the second cauldron. This one contained a golden liquid which seemed to be the source of the awful smell that had infiltrated both the classroom and the corridor. “And this potion?” Slughorn asked the class.
Again, it was Scorpius who raised his hand. “It’s a Girding Potion,” he said. “I can tell by the colour and… the smell. It’s meant to increase endurance.”
“Fantastic, Mr Malfoy,” Slughorn beamed. “Five more points to Slytherin.” From behind Slughorn, Thorn gave an audible tut, but Slughorn pretended not to hear it. “The Girding Potion makes the drinker far more capable of enduring hardships, both physical and mental. Overdoing it, however, can lead to bodily harm.”
Slughorn approached the next cauldron, which contained a potion unlike any Albus had ever seen before. It was multicoloured and gave off silver and gold bubbles. This time, it was Missy who raised her hand. “It’s a Beautification Potion,” she said. “It makes the drinker more attractive. I looked it up because I was going to brew one for Pan.”
Salmer, Zabini and Julia sniggered. Zanzibar Smith, a Hufflepuff boy, scoffed.
To Albus’s relief, no one else seemed to find the comment funny.
Slughorn nodded mildly. “Yes, it is a Beautification Potion,” he said. “Tricky to brew and can have varying degrees of success depending on the potionmaker’s prowess. It tends to last a few hours at the most.”
Slughorn informed them that the next potion, a black, tar-like concoction, was called the Draught of Living Death and could kill the drinker with just a couple of drops. The cauldron after that he told them contained an Invisibility Potion, the effects of which were more like camouflage than true invisibility. Finally, he came to the last cauldron. It contained what looked like thick, bubbling mud. Scorpius’s eyes had widened. He raised his hand at once.
“Yes, Scorpius,” Slughorn prompted.
“That’s Polyjuice Potion,” Scorpius said. “It’s one of the most difficult potions to brew.”
“Very good,” Slughorn replied. “And do you know what it does?”
“It allows the drinker to take the shape of another person for a short time, but you have to have a lock of their hair or a fingernail for it to work.”
“Once again, you are correct,” Slughorn said happily. “Ten points to Slytherin.” There was another audible tut at this, which only made Slughorn smile more widely. “Now, it’s your turn.” At the looks of concern from the class, he chuckled. “Oh, you won’t be brewing any of these potions, don’t worry,” Slughorn assured them. “Today, you’ll be making the Pompion Potion. Instructions are on the board. Get going!”
By the end of the lesson, the potions classroom was thick with smoke, either from finished potions, burnt ingredients or Beau Nye’s singed robes (he’d caught his sleeve on his burner). Albus, Scorpius, Lance and a Hufflepuff girl called Josie Cotton were the only ones to successfully brew the Pompion Potion, an orange-coloured mixture that turned the drinker’s head into a pumpkin.
“Should we drink it?” Lance asked dubiously.
“That’s up to you, Mr Chopra,” Slughorn replied merrily, clearly pleased that so many of his students had succeeded in brewing their potions while Thorn was in the room watching.
Lance decided not to drink it. Instead, Albus watched him sneak a vial of it into his bag when Slughorn wasn’t looking. He reminded himself not to take any drink offered by Lance for at least a week.
Pan was scrubbing at the front of her robes as they made their way to their next lesson, History of Magic. Despite Scorpius’s whispered instructions, her potion had exploded at the last minute, dousing her in sticky yellow liquid.
“You were really close,” Scorpius told her comfortingly. “The yellow stage was the last one before it turned orange.”
“It would be a bit easier to swallow if my two friends weren’t both potions prodigies,” she said.
Albus pointed his wand at her robes and muttered, “Tergeo.” The cleaning spell let him siphon off most of the dried, gloopy liquid.
“You can’t be a Quidditch prodigy and a potions prodigy,” Scorpius said to Pan. “That wouldn’t be fair.”
“What’s really not fair,” Pan replied, “is that we have a whole hour with Professor Binns coming up.”
Indeed, the hour that followed was mind-numbingly dull. Binns seemed incapable of talking about anything moderately interesting. As such, Albus spent most of the lesson thinking about his lost Cloak, wondering who the thief could be and how he would go about catching them. Pan was certain it was Missy, but for one thing she had no way of knowing Albus had been in possession of the Cloak, and for another, what would she want with it?
He glanced around the room. His gaze fell upon Drake Salmer. Albus wouldn’t put it past him to steal something, but surely, if Salmer wanted an Invisibility Cloak that badly, he’d just get his father to buy one for him.
Maybe it’s someone in a different year, Albus thought despondently. If that was the case, he stood little chance of finding them out.
By the end of the lesson, he felt utterly defeated. The sick feeling was back in his stomach again as he imagined telling his dad that the Cloak had been taken. Binns gave them an essay on troll subjugation to be completed by their next lesson, then sent them on their way.
The Slytherins had a free period after History of Magic, which Albus, Pan and Scorpius spent in the library – Scorpius looking up information on invisibility cloaks while Albus and Pan came up with possible culprits. None of their theories seemed very likely, however. The fact was, the only likely thieves were Pan, Scorpius or Albus himself. And since none of them were the perpetrator, they had nothing to go on.
Albus, Pan and Scorpius continued their library visits throughout the week, though Pan was often absent due to Quidditch practice. The game against Hufflepuff was fast approaching. Humphries, the Slytherin captain, was drilling his team every evening and at weekends. Pan never complained of course. Albus was sure that if she had the choice, she’d happily stay out on the Quidditch pitch all day every day; she’d sleep on her broom if she could.
As the days passed with no sign of his Invisibility Cloak, Albus began to feel more and more hopeless about ever getting it back. As far as he knew, it had been sold into some Underground Market or was currently in one of the shop windows on Knockturn Alley.
Despite Scorpius’s singing and the protective spells he placed on the door, Albus had been struggling to get to sleep recently. It was strange – Thorn had tried to kill him not long ago, but Albus hadn’t been nearly as affected by that as by the loss of the Cloak. It ate away at him, playing on his mind at all times – a fact that was no more evident than in class. Throughout the following week, he struggled to pay attention to anything his teachers said. In Charms, he set fire to his own bag when they were learning the fire-making spell; in Transfiguration his twig grew eight legs and frog-jumped off the table; in one of their flying lessons, he accidentally bumped head-first into Rose, knocking her off her broom; and in their most recent Potions lesson, he’d absentmindedly poured a whole jar of Wiggentree Bark into his Skin-Soothing Potion, which promptly vomited a stream of purple mushrooms over both himself and a startled Scorpius.
The worst of his daydreaming happened two weeks after the Cloak had been stolen. It was Friday’s Double Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson with the Gryffindors, and, as usual, Thorn told them to put their books away and get out their wands.
The Deputy Headmaster stood lecturing them at the front of class for some time, talking about the importance of wand-action and keeping focussed when it came to duelling. Albus tried to listen, but it wasn’t long before he was daydreaming about his lost Cloak. He was startled awake, however, when a flash of light illuminated the classroom like a bolt of lightning. Albus blinked up at Thorn, whose wand was now glowing faintly. “Slytherins are to pair with Gryffindors,” he said. “Begin!”
Albus, who had barely listened to a word the man had said, gaped at the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, having no idea what they were supposed to be doing. Thankfully, it wasn’t Ace McLaggen or Berwick Cross who approached him to pair-up. Instead, it was Rose, a determined look on her face. “I think we should be partners today,” she said, her tone gentle. Berwick Cross, who had been eyeing Albus menacingly, shuffled off to find another Gryffindor to battle.
Albus was about to ask Rose what spell they were supposed to be practising, when Thorn came to a stop beside them. “Well?” he said. “Begin!”
Rose raised her wand, opened her mouth and—
“No, Miss Granger,” Thorn interrupted her. “Potter can go first.”
All around the classroom, flashes of light were going off like camera bulbs. Clearly, Albus was supposed to be performing some kind of lightning spell, but he had no idea of the incantation. He strained to listen to his classmates’ voices above the general din. His gaze fell upon on Ace McLaggen, who had just raised his wand to attack Scorpius.
“Well?” Thorn pressed. “Are you going to just stand there?”
A flash of piercing light erupted from McLaggen’s wand, but whatever he’d said had been drowned out by Thorn.
“I…” Albus said weakly.
“You weren’t listening to me, were you, Potter,” Thorn noted darkly. “Twenty points from Slytherin.” He glanced at Rose. “Miss Granger will catch you up.” He walked off to another pair, his red robes sweeping the floor.
Rose was watching Albus with a look of deep concern. “Are you feeling okay, Albus?” she asked. “You’ve been acting strangely all week. Every time I see you, you’re gazing off into space…”
Not wanting to tell her about the Invisibility Cloak, he shrugged. “I’m fine,” he said, though he couldn’t meet her eyes.
An hour and a half later, Albus, Pan and Scorpius left the classroom, blinking rapidly to clear the white spots on their vision. The lightning-flash charm gave off such a bright burst of light that most of the Slytherins and Gryffindors were rubbing their eyes or massaging their temples to clear headaches.
“That was horrible,” Scorpius said. “And I’m pretty sure the spell is useless. Yes, you can blind your opponent, but unless you remember to shut your own eyes, you blind yourself too.”
Pan was squinting as if even the dim light of the dungeon corridors was too much for her. “Evil spell,” she muttered.
Scorpius didn’t follow them to the Slytherin common room. As he’d done all week, he headed to the library. Albus and Pan had given up hope that a book was going to tell them the identity of the Cloak thief. Instead of poring over books, they’d been sitting at their usual table in the common room, trying to get their homework finished while surreptitiously watching the other Slytherins.
“I don’t know what we’re expecting to see,” Albus said hopelessly that evening. “I doubt the thief is going to whip my Cloak out in front of everyone and give us all a demonstration.”
“Slytherins aren’t the smartest, remember,” Pan replied distractedly as she struggled to get her button to turn into a beetle. She let out a groan of annoyance. “Winter’s going to skin me alive if I don’t get the hang of this stupid spell.”
A short time later, they moved onto their essay from Flitwick – The Uses of the Fire-Making Charm Throughout History. They’d only been at it for a few minutes when Scorpius came rushing into the common room, Moo at his heels. As was the cat’s habit, he leaped instantly into Pan’s lap. This had become such a common occurrence that Pan didn’t even bother protesting.
“I’ve figured it out!” Scorpius said excitedly as he sat down. There was a book in his hand titled, Spells and Charms for the Experienced Wizard, Volume III.
Albus jolted upright. “You know who took the Cloak?” he exclaimed, elation bursting through him.
Scorpius’s face fell. “Oh…” he said, looking alarmed, “Albus I’m so sorry. No, I was talking about the Angel’s Trumpet…” His voice trailed off weakly.
Albus slumped in his chair, despair quickly drowning his brief moment of excitement.
“Albus, I’m sorry, I didn’t think,” Scorpius said.
“No, it’s fine,” Albus told him, trying to keep his voice light. “What have you figured out?”
“Well,” Scorpius said, “I found a spell that I think will let us get our hands on Angelus Mater, the Angel’s Trumpet plant.”
Albus sat forward. Pan did a double-take.
“I think,” Scorpius continued, “that Sprout was growing Angelus Mater in Greenhouse 9, which is why McGonagall sealed it off with magic, but I found this spell…” Scorpius opened the book he was carrying and read aloud. “The Liquid-Glass Spell is a tricky enchantment that bestows water-like properties onto a pane of glass, allowing people or objects to pass through it.” He closed the book with an eager gleam in his eyes. “I have a feeling McGonagall’s enchantment only stops people from forcing their way into the greenhouse – possibly an imperturbable charm – but with this spell we don’t need to break in. We can simply pass through the glass.”
Pan folded her arms. “McGonagall locked that greenhouse for a reason,” she said, peering at Scorpius shrewdly. “It’s probably dangerous. You’re risking a lot just for a plant. And what would you want it for anyway?”
Scorpius averted his eyes. “Research purposes,” he said, though Albus had a strong suspicion it had much more to do with the miraculous healing powers of the Angel’s Trumpet than simple research. Albus thought of Scorpius’s mother, afflicted by fits and memory loss. Yes, Scorpius would want to get his hands on a cure-all.
Albus’s thoughts turned to his own family – to his sister. Could the Angel’s Trumpet be powerful enough to restore her voice?
Pan didn’t seem convinced by Scorpius’s answer, but she didn’t press the issue. Instead, she simply shook her head. “No.”
“But it could help us figure out what happened to Sprout,” Scorpius replied.
“Or it could kill us,” Pan said. “It’s reckless. I’ve got a Quidditch match to play in a week’s time. I’d rather not be wheeled onto the pitch in a stretcher.”
Scorpius’s shoulders slumped. He turned to Albus, his eyes pleading.
“It’s dangerous,” Albus said. “You didn’t see Sprout when we found her. She was almost dead. What if we go in that greenhouse and the same thing happens to us?”
Scorpius sank back in his chair. He let his fringe fall over his eyes to hide his expression. Albus felt a surge of pity rise up inside him. He tried to imagine how he’d feel if it had been his own mother who was sick. Would I care how dangerous it was? he thought. Would I risk my life to cure her?
He had a feeling he would.
Saturday morning dawned cold and grey. The snow had melted over the past couple of weeks, only to be replaced with drizzling rain and dark clouds. Winter had truly set in. The castle was cold, the grounds were windy and there was an almost constant threat of downpour.
Pan wolfed down her breakfast, keen to get to Quidditch practice with the rest of the Slytherin team. She left the table with her mouth full of bacon, Moo in her wake. She was shortly followed by Scorpius, who needed to check something in the library. “I’ll meet you on the Quidditch stands,” he told Albus as he hurried out of the Great Hall. With both his friends gone, Albus moved along the table so he could talk to Aberfa and Danielle while he finished his porridge.
“I hope we win against Hufflepuff,” Danielle said hopefully. “Though I’m not sure the rest of the school would be very happy about it.”
“We have good chance,” Aberfa replied. “Pan is excellent player.”
“Yeah, she is,” Albus agreed. “Even the Hufflepuffs think so.”
“Oh, that’s right,” said Danielle, “I saw Lance and Beau talking to you outside Potions.”
Missy’s interest had been peaked by this last comment. “Beau?” she said. “Are you talking about Beau Nye?” Missy ran her fingers through her hair. “Him and Lance are dreamy, aren’t they. Especially for Hufflepuffs.”
“Handsome,” Aberfa agreed.
“I suppose so,” Danielle said, “but Slytherin has some attractive boys too.” Her eyes flickered to Albus and her cheeks went very pink. She quickly fixed her attention on her plate of toast.
Missy, who never missed an opportunity to cause embarrassment, let out an ooh of interest. “Tell us,” she said. “Who do you think’s attractive then, Danielle?”
Albus, who couldn’t help being equally intrigued by the question, was slightly disappointed when Julia Hopkirk spilt her pumpkin juice all over the table, distracting Missy and the other Slytherins from getting their answer.
Once Albus finished his porridge, he waved an embarrassed goodbye to Danielle and headed towards the Quidditch pitch to watch the Slytherin team’s practice session.
On his way past the Herbology classrooms, however, Albus gaped at the sight of Scorpius emerging from behind one of the greenhouses, a guilty look on his face. Scorpius was glancing around, clearly fearful of being seen. After a moment, he stood up straight and began marching purposefully towards the Quidditch pitch.
Albus ran to catch up to him. “Are you mad?” he shouted the moment he was at Scorpius’s side.
The platinum-haired boy almost jumped out of his skin. “Albus!” he said, shocked, a hand pressed to his heart. “You frightened the life out of me.”
“You went in Greenhouse 9!” Albus shouted. His eyes roamed his friend’s body for signs of injury, for tears in his robes or splotches of blood on the fabric. There was nothing. But this fact didn’t do much to cool his rising anger. “How could you be so stupid? You could’ve died! What if I’d come down here and found your dead body? What if you ended up like Sprout?”
Scorpius shrank under Albus’s gaze. “I know,” he whispered. “I’m sorry, but I had to try, Albus.” Scorpius let out a great, shaky sigh. Albus saw there were tears in his eyes. “It didn’t work. McGonagall’s sealing spell is stronger than I thought. I couldn’t get past it.”
Albus felt his anger drain away somewhat. “You’re supposed to be clever, Scorpius,” he said. “That was the most foolish, stupid thing you could’ve done.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again, “but I had to.”
Albus shook his head. He placed his hands on Scorpius’s shoulders. “I know why you want that plant,” he said. “I understand. But its not worth risking your life.”
Scorpius shrugged him off. “Okay, Albus,” he said, wiping at his eyes, “you’ve made your point.”
Albus didn’t feel like he’d made his point at all. In fact, he’d barely begun, but there was something fragile about the way Scorpius was looking at him. Reluctantly, he let the subject drop. As they carried on towards the Quidditch pitch, Albus caught sight of his cousin sitting by the lake, her gaze fixed on him and Scorpius. Even from this distance, Albus could tell she was frowning with worry.
Albus didn’t bring up Greenhouse 9 again while they watched the Slytherin team practise. Scorpius was in a quiet, solemn mood – giving him another telling off wouldn’t do any good.
Albus thought about the way he’d reacted when he’d seen Scorpius emerging from among the greenhouses. He couldn’t remember feeling that angry in a long time. The truth was, the thought of Scorpius lying on the ground lifeless – just as Sprout had been – made all his insides twist themselves into knots. He couldn’t bear the thought of it.
I’ll have to keep a closer eye on him, he thought. In case he tries again.
Albus’s thoughts were scattered when he received a hard nudge in the ribs. Scorpius was pointing towards the Forbidden Forest, eyes wide. “There!” he gasped. “It’s there again! The silver dog!”
Albus followed Scorpius’s line of sight towards the edge of the forest, where the line of trees met the sloping lawns of the Hogwarts grounds. A moment later, Albus spotted it. The fox-like snout, the silvery fur. The dog was pacing along the forest’s edge, sniffing at the ground. Then, suddenly, it darted into the trees and disappeared.
“Come on!” Scorpius said abruptly, jumping out of his seat.
“What?” Albus spluttered.
“We have to follow it!”
Albus hurried to keep up with Scorpius as he descended the stairs and then rushed across the grounds towards the line of trees. When they reached the forest’s border, Scorpius paused, eyes searching. “There!” he said at once, pointing to a knobbly tree stump. “The dog entered there.” Scorpius peered through the trees, frowning.
Hesitantly, they stepped beneath the shadowy canopy, eyes peeled for any sign of the dog.
Scorpius let out a sigh. “It’s long gone,” he said. “And if we go any further, we might never get back again.”
“Wait,” said Albus, “what about that spell you used – the one that shows footprints? Does it work on dogs?”
Scorpius’s eyes lit up. He drew out his wand, pointed it at the ground and said, “Sequistrum vestigium.” As soon as the words left his mouth, pale spots of blueish light charted a path along the forest floor, leading deeper into the shadows. Peering closer, Albus saw that the spots of light were in the shape of pawprints.
Albus and Scorpius looked at each other. There was uncertainty on both their faces. Albus knew they were thinking along the same lines, Is this a good idea?
Then, Albus thought of Thorn, thought of his weird reaction when Albus told McGonagall about the dog. Thorn had known something. What if following the dog finally revealed what he was up to?
“I think we should keep going,” Albus said.
Scorpius paused, bit his lip, then nodded.
Side-by-side, they walked through the forest, following the glowing tracks left by the silver dog. Every now and again, Scorpius would have to recast the spell as the prints began to lose their shine.
Darker and darker the forest became. After some time, the canopy grew so thick that it may as well have been night. The roots became so large that Albus and Scorpius had to step or jump over them. And still, the pawprints went on, weaving between trees and passing through undergrowth.
Albus was just beginning to think they were on a wild goose chase, when suddenly the pawprints brightened. Scorpius dashed forwards, Albus on his heels.
All of a sudden, they burst into a wide clearing.
Both of them stopped at once.
The ground here was covered in a layer of moss like a blanket, and there, in the very centre of the clearing, lay the silver dog, its fur shining magically in the darkness. Albus and Scorpius crept towards it. Albus was hardly daring to breathe.
When the dog lifted its head, the boys froze on the spot. It gazed at them with ghostly, silver eyes. A snarl rumbled from its jaws.
“Lumos,” Scorpius whispered. His wand-tip lit up the scene with pale light, a light that spilled over the creature in front of them, illuminating it fully. Albus drew a surprised breath. It wasn’t a dog at all.
It was a wolf. A small, silver wolf.
“I think we should go,” Albus whispered, pulling on Scorpius’s sleeve. But Scorpius wasn’t moving. His eyes were transfixed, but not by the wolf. He was gazing at something behind it, something that, up until now, Albus hadn’t noticed. It was a plant, a plant with black flowers and broad green leaves, curious pink and black veins running through them.
“I don’t believe it,” Scorpius gasped in an awe-filled whisper.
“What?” Albus said, pulling harder on Scorpius’s robes, an uneasy feeling in his stomach.
“That plant,” Scorpius replied. “I recognise it from the descriptions in all the books we read.” He turned to Albus, grinning. “It’s Angelus Mater. We found it – Angel’s Trumpet.”