Albus gazed, nonplussed, at the ominous-looking plant with its black flowers and pulsing veins. Those wide leaves branched out widely from the base, but the flowers themselves grew from the central stem, deep in the centre of the plant, almost as if it was keeping them as far away as possible from prying fingers. Albus had imagined that something called Angel’s Trumpet would be elegant and majestic. Instead, there was a deadly, poisonous look about the thing.
Scorpius, who seemed enraptured by the plant, stepped closer, his gaze hungry. In all Albus’s shock over the sight of the Angel’s Trumpet, he had almost forgotten about the silver wolf, but it made its presence known with another angry snarl. Its muzzle was pulled back, its eyes threatening.
“Scorpius,” Albus said warningly. “We should leave here.”
Scorpius had gone very pale under the light of his wand-tip, but his eyes were fixed on one of the black flowers. There appeared to be some internal struggle taking place inside him. He teetered on the spot, one moment his muscles tightening as if about to make a grab for the plant, the next falling slack in hesitation.
Albus was amazed the wolf still hadn’t attacked them. It was snarling angrily, a deep rumble that resonated through the ground and sent shivers up Albus’s spine. Surely, they were pushing their luck if they stayed here much longer. The wolf looked ready to attack any moment.
To Albus’s dismay, Scorpius took another step forward so that he was within reach of the plant. In response, the wolf staggered onto its paws, its snarls turning into a guttural growl of warning. “Scorpius, don’t!” Albus said. “The wolf’s guarding it!” It was then that Albus noticed the wolf was injured. One of its back legs was bleeding. “It’s hurt, Scorpius. We should go back.”
“They’ll destroy it, Albus,” Scorpius said quietly. “They’ll burn it. I can’t lose this chance…” He waved his wand through the air. “Coagulous,” he murmured softly. Albus watched the air between Scorpius and the wolf thicken into a solid wall. With cautious steps, Scorpius walked right up to the plant. The wolf howled with rage and agitation. It sprang at Scorpius, its body slamming into the wall of air, buffeted backwards by Scorpius’s spell. But it wasn’t giving up. It swiped and charged at the barrier, its howls growing louder and more frantic with each moment. Then, as Scorpius reached for one of the flowers, the wolf’s eyes flashed. It reared back and pounced with all its force.
“Scorpius!” Albus shouted. He raced towards the platinum-haired boy. Albus knocked Scorpius out of the way. At the same moment, the wolf broke through the wall of air. It slammed into Albus. There was a hot, slicing pain down Albus’s arm. The world went spinning away from him. He hit the ground and the back of his head smacked against something hard.
Bleary-eyed, Albus lifted his head. A dark shape was coming towards him. He raised his hands to protect himself, but then soft fingers were pressing against his forehead. Scorpius’s voice came to him as if from a long distance away. “Albus!” he exclaimed. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry, Albus!”
Albus was on the ground. Scorpius was leaning over him, his eyes wide with shock and fright. Quickly, he grabbed Albus under the arms, trying to pull him to his feet while, in the background, the wolf continued to growl menacingly. Albus felt light-headed and dizzy as he staggered upright. He wobbled precariously on his feet, only regaining his balance after several long moments of swaying drunkenly on the spot. His gaze drifted hesitantly towards the wolf. It was staring at them intently, standing guard over the plant, those ghostly grey eyes full of warning.
“Did you get one of the flowers?” Albus asked.
Scorpius shook his head. “No,” he replied gravely, “but that doesn’t matter now. You were right, Albus. We should’ve left…” His voice trailed off. When he next spoke, he sounded panicked. “Your arm!”
Albus, whose vision kept going blurry, looked down at his arm and was shocked at the sight of it. Blood was pouring from deep claw marks that had been gouged deep into the flesh. But, for some reason, the wound didn’t hurt. In fact, his arm felt numb.
“Quickly!” Scorpius said. He waved his wand at the mossy ground and uttered, “Sequistrum vestigium.” The blue glow of the wolf’s pawprints lit the ground, shining a path back to the castle. “This is all my fault,” Scorpius muttered in a crazed voice as he helped Albus towards the edge of the clearing. When they reached the line of trees, they had to stop so that Scorpius could swipe aside a thorny vine with his wand. With trepidation, Albus glanced back at the wolf. It was gazing after them, its ghostly eyes shimmering. To his surprise, Albus could almost imagine that it looked sad, but then it lowered its head to its rear leg and began licking its wound.
The walk through the forest was slow and painful. Feeling was returning to Albus’s arm and it was blazing hot, searing like a white-hot brand was being pressed into his skin. As such, it was a struggle just to stay upright, and Albus found himself leaning more and more heavily on Scorpius’s support.
The further they walked, the more his arm ached and the heavier his limbs seemed to become. Scorpius slashed at the undergrowth with his wand, cleaving a path for them as he half-carried Albus through the forest. It seemed to take an age for the canopy to thin, the light to slowly return. Eventually, Scorpius was able to extinguish his wand-light. He could not, however, let go of Albus, who was starting to feel very light-headed again. The forest was becoming a fuzzy blur.
“Not much further, Albus,” Scorpius kept saying, over and over. “We’ll be back at the castle soon. Madam Pomfrey will fix you up.” But, by the time they reached the forest’s edge, the sun was low in the sky and Albus couldn’t go any further. He sank onto the grass, his head spinning.
“Albus!” he heard Scorpius shriek anxiously. “Vermillious!” Scorpius yelled. “Vermillious!” Albus was vaguely aware of flashes of red light shooting into the sky. “Help will come soon,” Scorpius said. “Help will come soon. Help will come…”
But Albus couldn’t hold onto the sound of Scorpius’s voice any longer. It faded away into the distance and Albus slipped into unconsciousness.
Albus woke up to the disapproving, matron-like expression of Madam Pomfrey. He was in the Hospital Wing, wintry morning light streaming in through the high windows.
Madam Pomfrey was in the middle of bandaging his arm when she saw his eyes blinking open. “Good morning, Mr Potter,” she said in an officious voice. “I’m glad you’ve woken up. You’re due for another Blood-Replenishing Potion.” She handed him a goblet filled with dark red liquid.
“The Malfoy boy is fine,” Madam Pomfrey said coolly. “Now drink your potion. With any luck you’ll be able to leave here this evening.”
“How long have I been here?” Albus asked as he took a sip of the potion. It had a metallic taste to it.
“You were brought to me late yesterday afternoon,” she replied. “We were worried, at first, that the slashes on your arm might’ve been cursed, but you were extremely lucky. The wolf that attacked you seems to have been an ordinary wolf.” She finished bandaging his arm and sent him another of her disapproving looks. “Since these are just your run-of-the-mill scratches, they’ll heal very quickly. Your worst injury was blood-loss, but that potion your drinking will be your second Blood-Replenishing Draught since you were brought to me. It’ll set you right in no time.”
“Thank you,” Albus said weakly.
Madam Pomfrey raised an eyebrow at him. “You needn’t thank me, Potter. It is my job.” She smiled in any case. “Now get some rest. And finish that potion.”
He did as she asked, having no trouble slipping back into unconsciousness.
He was woken up when Pan and Scorpius settled themselves down in the visitors’ chairs beside his bed.
“How are you?” Scorpius asked. His hands were knotted together, his usually perfect hair in messy tangles.
“I’m okay,” Albus replied. “I feel fine.”
Scorpius’s brow furrowed. “I’m really sorry, Albus,” he said.
“Look,” Albus said firmly, “we both decided to go into that forest and follow the wolf. I got hurt, but you got me out of there and now I’m fine. So, let’s just forget about it.”
Scorpius was frowning, but he gave a shallow nod.
“Well, I was right,” Pan said. “All Slytherins are brainless. You two included.”
Albus didn’t try to argue. “What about the teachers?” he asked. “What did you tell McGonagall?”
Scorpius bit his lip. “Well,” he said, “I couldn’t tell them the truth – that we’d gone into the forest on our own. So I said that the wolf jumped out and attacked us while we were out for a walk in the grounds.”
“And?” Albus prompted. “What did McGonagall say? Did she believe you?”
“Yes,” Scorpius replied, “but Thorn wasn’t convinced. Actually, he got really angry. He went so red I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel.”
At these words, a thought came to Albus in a moment of sudden clarity. It made him sit up straighter. “He knows the wolf guards the plant!” Albus exclaimed.
Pan and Scorpius eyed him in confusion.
“If Thorn’s after the Angel’s Trumpet,” Albus said eagerly, “then he must know there’s one growing in the Forbidden Forest. The reason he hasn’t been able to get one of the flowers is because the silver wolf has been guarding it! And the wolf only seems to attack people when they try to go near the plant. So he knows we found the plant because otherwise the wolf wouldn’t have attacked us. That’s why he got angry – he knew Scorpius was lying.”
“So, you think the thing that attacked Sprout wasn’t Thorn or the plant,” Scorpius replied, his eyes widening, “but the wolf?”
“I bet that wolf guards the Angel’s Trumpet,” Albus said, “like a kind of magical defence system.”
“A Patronus for plants,” Pan put in, looking impressed. “I bet Thorn doesn’t want McGonagall knowing too much about the wolf, otherwise she might figure out what he’s up to.”
“But what about Greenhouse 9?” Scorpius said. “If the Angel’s Trumpet is in the Forbidden Forest, why was Sprout injured near the greenhouse?”
“They tried to grow their own plant,” Pan said. “That must be it. They couldn’t get past the wolf so they took a cutting and grew some of their own.”
“The leaves are much easier to reach,” Scorpius conceded. “If they couldn’t get to the flowers, maybe you’re right. They cut off one of the stems and tried to grow their own Angelus Mater.”
“It all fits,” Albus said.
But Scorpius was frowning.
“What is it?” Albus asked him.
“It’s just,” Scorpius said pensively, “I keep thinking about Thorn’s fire spell that day in Potions class. I know the wolf is strong, but I can’t imagine Thorn having much trouble with it. I mean, he part-melted solid stone.”
“The wolf might have hidden powers,” Pan suggested. “It is silver, after all. And you said it glows…”
They fell into silence, each of them wearing thoughtful expressions.
Unfortunately, they didn’t get a chance to discuss the matter further as a minute later, Madam Pomfrey came bustling out of her office and told Pan and Scorpius visiting hours were over.
With his friends gone, Albus quickly became bored of the Hospital Wing. There was nothing to do except lie there twiddling his thumbs. He was thankful he would be allowed to return to his dormitory that evening.
By late afternoon, he kept glancing at the door to Madam Pomfrey’s office, hoping she’d come out and tell him he was free to leave. As time went on, however, he became less and less hopeful. The sun had begun to set when the sound of footsteps drew his attention to the Hospital Wing’s entrance. It was a red-haired girl, carrying a bunch of flowers. Madam Pomfrey, upon hearing the arrival of a visitor, bustled out of her office to block the doorway. There was a short exchange, then the red-haired girl approached Albus’s bed, anxiety clear in her expression.
Rose sank into one of the chairs, looking distraught. “Oh Albus,” she said, lying the flowers on the bedside table. “What happened to you? People are saying it was some kind of animal attack.”
Albus had never been the best liar. He tried to think of a plausible reason for his arm getting mangled. “Flying!” he said abruptly, making Rose jump. “I was doing some flying practice with Scorpius and I fell off my broom. Crashed into a branch.” He gestured to his arm. “Got loads of splinters.”
Rose didn’t seem at all appeased by this explanation. If anything, her expression became more worried. She leaned forward and took Albus’s hand in her own. “What really happened, Albus?” she asked gently. “You can tell me. If something’s worrying you, you know you can tell me…”
“No, nothing,” Albus told her, his voice going very high-pitched. He cleared his throat. “Honestly, Rose. I’m fine.”
“I’m fine!” Albus repeated with finality. “Actually, Madam Pomfrey keeps telling me I need to rest, so…”
“Oh right,” Rose said meekly. She stood up, lingered for a moment, then turned around and marched out of the Hospital Wing. She glanced back at him at the door, looking pained. There was a pause, then she vanished from sight.
With little else to do, Albus ended up falling asleep again. It wasn’t until late in the evening that he woke up to the sound of footsteps. He sat up and looked about, searching for the source of the noise. To his surprise, there was no one around. A few moments later he heard a distant sound of smashing glass. Realising it was probably Peeves playing his usual tricks, he rested his head back against the pillows.
What’s the time? he wondered. Checking his watch, he saw that it was gone ten o’clock. At once, he gathered up his things and headed to Madam Pomfrey’s office.
She wasn’t pleased at his insistence on returning to the common room. “It’s very late,” she told him. “You might as well stay until morning.” But Albus wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Eventually, she gave in. “Fine,” she said brusquely. “Make sure you remove the bandages in the morning. If there’s any swelling, come straight to me.” Then, with folded arms, she escorted him out of the Hospital Wing, tutting loudly as she did so.
Just as she was about to head back inside, her gaze caught upon something on the floor nearby. She paced further up the corridor. Albus followed her, noticing there was a small puddle on the stone flagons along with some smashed glass. It looked like someone had dropped a bottle of what appeared to be black tar.
“If I’m not mistaken,” she said, “that’s the Draught of Living Death. Who on Earth would be carrying that around?”
“Peeves,” Albus said. “I think I heard him earlier. I bet he stole it from Professor Slughorn.”
Tutting, she waved her wand over the broken potion and muttered, “Evanesco.” The black liquid and the shards of glass vanished.
“Right then,” she said, turning to Albus. “Off to bed, Potter. And make sure you get lots of rest.”
He left her standing in the middle of the passage, staring at the spot where the spilled potion had been, a contemplative expression on her face.
The castle corridors were empty as Albus headed to the Slytherin common room. The place felt spooky in the dark, the suits of armour menacing, every flickering shadow a possible threat.
He was just descending the stairs to the dungeons when he heard footsteps around the next corner. Wondering who else would be walking about the castle this late, he picked up his pace. But when he reached the next corner, he saw that no one was there. Pausing to listen, he was surprised to hear that the footsteps had grown quicker, moving away from him. He peered into the dimly lit corridor, bemused.
Again, he sped up, following the sound of the footsteps, which were growing heavier and faster by the minute, as if trying to get away from him.
No matter how quickly Albus ran, he didn’t seem able to catch up. He never even caught sight of the hem of a robe disappearing around each corner.
Finally, he came upon the Slytherin corridor, the secret doorway to the common room at the opposite end. To his surprise, he heard a distant voice whisper the password, “Galleons.” He gazed at the empty passage in disbelief. There was no one around! Despite this, the hidden door slid open, revealing the green glow of the Slytherin common room.
Albus understood in a moment of stunned realisation. They’re invisible!
He shook himself into action. Fuelled by eager anticipation, he pelted towards the doorway, slipping through it just as it slid closed. Clicking shoes dashed across the common room. Albus followed after them, listening hard as they headed for the dormitories. A moment later, he heard footsteps stomping down the spiral staircases, but it wasn’t the boys’ dormitories they were heading for, it was the girls’.
He jumped down the steps, taking three at a time, barrelling downwards. But, within seconds, a loud, blaring alarm sounded. Red lights flashed in the passage. Right in front of him, a block of stone, the width of the stairwell, rose out of the ground all the way up to the ceiling, obstructing his path. “No!” Albus shouted above the din of the alarm. “Move! They have my Cloak!” In response, the block of stone did move, but not out of the way. It started inching upwards, towards Albus, climbing the stairwell so that he had no choice but to back away. He tried pushing against it, but it was hopeless – the wall would not be slowed.
The block of stone continued to travel up the staircase moving like a faceless golem, until it had forced Albus back to the very top – back to the common room.
The blaring alarm died and the block of stone sank back into the floor.
Moments later, a flock of Slytherin girls ascended the stairs, all dressed in nightclothes or dressing gowns.
“What was that noise?”
Albus waited for Pan to appear, but she hadn’t joined the other girls. Albus could just imagine her rolling her eyes at them all and pulling the sheets over her head in exasperation.
Hardly believing how close he’d been – how very nearly he’d caught up with the thief of his Cloak – he trudged into the boys’ dormitories, rubbing at his injured arm as he went. Thankfully, Scorpius hadn’t cast any enchantments on their door tonight. Albus went inside and collapsed into bed without even bothering to take off his shoes.
How stupid had he been? He should’ve known the person was invisible straightaway! And now he’d missed his chance. The thief had got away.
I have learned one thing, though, he thought. The person who stole my Cloak is definitely a Slytherin. And what’s more – she’s a girl.
“It’s Missy,” Pan said the following morning as they made their way across the grounds towards Double Herbology.
Albus, who had removed his bandages upon waking, was flexing his arm, the skin of which felt tight and itchy. Thankfully, there had been no swelling or else it would’ve meant returning to the Hospital Wing – a sure-fire way to add fuel to the string of rumours now circulating about him.
Somehow, the news that Albus had been in some sort of accident had spread through the entire school overnight. He’d received many curious looks at breakfast that morning. The rumours about what had happened to him ranged from silly to outright ridiculous, but the most popular was the story that Scorpius had turned into a werewolf and attacked him. The fact that the full moon wasn’t for another week hadn’t factored into the theory, it seemed.
Scorpius had shown his usual resilience against this most recent blow to his hair-thin reputation. And unlike previous rumours, not everyone was buying into the werewolf story. Albus had been slightly irritated when Gregory Wood made a point of coming over to speak to Scorpius at breakfast that morning. Apparently, they’d made plans to hang out in the library tonight and Wood was checking it was still going ahead.
Albus had watched Wood’s hand resting casually on Scorpius’s shoulder. The boy had been flashing his peroxide smile, running a hand through his messy hair.
Currently, Scorpius was staring towards the distant greenhouses, eyebrows drawn together. “Tell us what happened again,” he said to Albus. “From the beginning.”
Albus snapped out of his musings on Gregory Wood and began to recount last night’s events, starting with the moment he was woken up by Peeves in the Hospital Wing. When he got to the part about the broken vial of black potion, his voice trailed off.
“What?” said Pan.
But Albus didn’t reply. A thought had suddenly occurred to him. What if the smashed potion hadn’t been Peeves at all? He remembered the disembodied footsteps that had woken him, thought of the Draught of Living Death abandoned in a puddle in the corridor.
How had he not made the connection before? It was so obvious! Peeves hadn’t woken him up. It had been the thief!
Seeing the look of understanding dawn on Albus’s face, Scorpius nodded. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“It wasn’t Peeves,” Albus replied. “It was the thief.”
Pan crossed her arms. “What are you two talking about?”
“The footsteps that woke up Albus didn’t belong to Peeves,” Scorpius said. “They belonged to whoever stole the Cloak.”
Pan took a moment to absorb this. “But why did they smash a potion bottle…?” Her voice faltered. She raised one eyebrow in a rare show of surprise. “Just a few drops of that potion would kill someone.”
Albus felt his stomach plummet. “Exactly,” he said, a hitch in his voice. “And it wouldn’t have been hard to get hold of the Draught of Living Death. Slughorn had a whole cauldron full of it in his classroom.”
“It does seem highly likely that the thief was trying to kill you,” Scorpius said. “And either they changed their mind at the last minute, or you woke up before they could do it.”
“Why is everyone always trying to kill me?” Albus said, his voice going very high-pitched. “First Thorn, now a girl from our house.”
“Don’t get hysterical, Albus,” Pan said.
“Hysterical?” Albus repeated aghast. “Someone’s trying to bump me off!”
“Yeah,” she said, “but it’s only a girl.”
Scorpius let out a disapproving sigh. “Poison in the hands of a woman is just as powerful as it is in the hands of a man,” he said contemptuously.
“Okay, I’ll rephrase,” Pan replied. “It’s only a Slytherin girl. I’m surprised she didn’t accidentally drink it herself. In fact, we better check there’s no one lying dead in one of the girls’ dormitories.”
“Pan,” Scorpius said, frowning, “you do know you’re a Slytherin girl.”
“It’s a fact I’m deeply ashamed of,” she told him.
“What about Thorn?” Albus said impatiently. He couldn’t help feeling that his friends were being incredibly blasé about his possible murder. “He’s after me too.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Scorpius replied pensively. “I just don’t think it’s likely that two people in this castle are trying to kill you.”
“But I overheard Thorn admit it at Slughorn’s party,” Albus reminded him. “My uncle confronted him about setting Arty loose. And I saw Thorn going into Slughorn’s store cupboard where the Wolfsbane Potion was being kept.”
“Actually,” Scorpius said, “you told us you overheard Thorn and your uncle talking about a wolf.”
“Yes!” Albus replied, exasperated. “They were talking about Arty!”
They’d almost reached the greenhouses, but Scorpius stopped walking. Albus and Pan stopped as well, both looking at Scorpius impatiently.
“Arty wasn’t the only wolf at Hogwarts this year,” Scorpius told them.
Albus and Pan exchanged confused glances.
In response, Scorpius nodded towards the Forbidden Forest. “The silver wolf,” he said.
Scorpius lowered his voice as he continued. “I think you overheard Thorn and Professor Longbottom talking about the silver wolf,” he said to Albus. “It makes sense. If Thorn and Sprout were growing another Angel’s Trumpet plant in Greenhouse 9, they would’ve attracted the wolf to the castle.”
“Putting students in danger,” Pan added. “And Albus’s uncle must’ve guessed what was going on.”
“So, Thorn wasn’t the one who sabotaged Arty’s potion?” Albus said, hardly daring to believe it.
“Precisely,” Scorpius replied. “I think it’s much more likely that the person who tampered with the potion was the same person who stole your Cloak two weeks ago and attempted to kill you last night.”
Pan shook her head. “So all this time, it’s been a Slytherin?” she said. She let out an exasperated breath. “Slytherins really are slimeballs.”
“The attacks have been well-planned,” Scorpius told them in a serious tone. “We’re dealing with someone cunning and opportunistic. And now they have the Cloak, which only makes them more dangerous.” He looked at Pan pointedly. “So much for Slytherin girls being idiots.”
Albus spent most of Herbology thinking about what Scorpius had said. The revelation that Thorn hadn’t been the one who’d tampered with Arty’s Wolfsbane Potion was so unexpected that he found himself unable to concentrate on the Dreamweed plant he was supposed to be repotting. Scorpius, on the other hand, seemed completely enraptured by the yellow-stemmed, orange flowers. He managed to re-pot a dozen of them by the end of the lesson, earning him a begrudging five house points from Uncle Neville.
“Can I take a few leaves to send to Hugo, Professor?” Albus overheard Rose ask at the end of the lesson. “He’s been having trouble sleeping. James played some kind of trick on him over Christmas and he’s been having nightmares.”
Neville had nodded his approval, but Albus had a feeling his uncle wasn’t even listening to Rose. As per usual, his gaze was faraway as if his mind was on other things.
Rose, it turned out, wasn’t the only student impressed with the plant. “Dreamweed is absolutely fascinating,” Scorpius told Albus and Pan as they made their way to Astronomy. “I always thought it just enhanced dreams, I didn’t realise it doubled the dreamer’s sleep. If you think about it, Dreamweed could make Sleeping Draughts obsolete. Although, Dreamweed doesn’t take effect instantly like a potion does. No wonder Professor—”
He was interrupted by the appearance of Salmer, Zabini, Missy and Julia from a side-passage. “Oh, it’s the werewolf, the troll and the cripple!” Salmer crowed. The others sniggered. “What was it?” Salmer continued, gaze fixed on Albus. “A lover’s tiff? Or did Scorpion think you’d look more manly with a few scars?”
“Shove off, Salmer!” Albus spat angrily.
Salmer laughed. “A bit touchy, aren’t you,” he said. “I’m not surprised. As if it’s bad enough you’re dating a werewolf loser, he doesn’t even appreciate you.”
Before Albus could respond, Professor Sinistra appeared in the doorway of her classroom. She motioned the Slytherins inside with an impatient gesture.
Pan grunted irritably. “Dreamweed sounds interesting and all that,” she said to Scorpius. “But is there a magical plant that makes people vomit up their internal organs?”
Scorpius sighed. “Unfortunately not.”
That evening at dinner, McGonagall announced to the whole school that there was now an evening curfew and a ban on students being within a hundred paces of the Forbidden Forest. This led to an outbreak of fierce muttering as the students tried to figure out the reason for these new security measures. Eyes slowly turned to fix upon Albus as students made the link between his mangled arm and McGonagall’s announcement.
Indeed, over the next few days rumours about Albus’s attack were flying around like an exploded crate of Weasleys’ fireworks. Many of the students were under the impression that there was some kind of wild creature roaming the grounds.
“It wasn’t Scorpius that attacked Potter, it was a troll.”
“No, I heard there’s a vampire living in the forest.”
“Not a vampire, you idiot, a Vampyr Mosp – they’re giant wasps that sting you.”
Having been accosted by questioning students several times since McGonagall’s safety measures had been introduced, Albus made pains to avoid any crowded spaces as he moved around the castle.
“What attacked you?”
“Was it another werewolf?”
“Was if the Malfoy kid?”
The Gryffindors seemed especially eager to figure out what kind of monstrous creature they were up against. They sought him out in droves, each of them giving the impression they wanted to deal with the threat personally. But, unsurprisingly, none of them were even close to the truth – that a silver wolf was roaming the forest, guarding a magical healing plant. Albus highly doubted anyone would come to that conclusion on their own.
For his part, Albus had much more pressing worries than a silver wolf that lived in the forest. Armed with the knowledge that a Slytherin student was trying to do away with him, he kept his eyes peeled for suspicious behaviour whenever he was surrounded by Slytherins (which was fairly often). At meals, during classes and whenever he was in the common room, Albus surveyed the other members of his house, trying to spot something – anything – that might give the culprit away. This was turning out to be fairly pointless as he had no idea what kind of behaviour he was looking out for.
Pan was spending her evenings on the Quidditch pitch, preparing for Sunday’s match against Hufflepuff, but during mealtimes and lessons, she kept her eye on Missy Groombridge, certain that she was the murderer. Scorpius was taking a different tack. He spent most of his time reading up on wizard genealogy, trying to find out if any of the current Slytherins were related to Rabastan Lestrange in some way. “It might give us a clue about who’s working with him.” But it wasn’t long before he hit a rather major snag. “There’s so many!” he complained. “The pure-bloods are so inter-bred that a third of the Slytherins are related to the Lestranges in some way. Including me!”
“I can tell you one thing,” Pan said as they practised the Heavy-Dense Charm at the back of Thursday’s Charms lesson. “It’s definitely not Julia. I would’ve noticed her leaving our room in the middle of the night to go commit murder.” She waved her wand at the feather on her desk. “Gravis gravitas!” she said. But instead of becoming heavy, the feather started smoking.
“It’s a shame I couldn’t follow whoever it was that night,” Albus said. “But that stupid alarm stopped me.” He waved his wand at his own feather and spoke the incantation, but the feather merely flipped upside down and then sat limply on the tabletop.
“It’s incredibly sexist really,” said Scorpius. “The boys can’t go into the girls’ dormitories, but there’s no magical alarm-system protecting us from them.” He flicked his wand and said, “Gravis gravitas.” At once, there was an odd groaning noise, and then their desk buckled, the legs giving out, the wood cracking into two halves. The feather sat amidst the wreckage. Albus tried picking it up, but it was as if the thing was stuck to the floor. “Finite,” Scorpius said, undoing the Heavy-Dense Spell. Then, he picked up his feather before muttering, “Reparo.” Immediately, the desk fixed itself as if he’d magically rewound time.
Albus, who had set his wand aside in defeat, let out a sigh. “I reckon the boys don’t get a dormitory alarm because the Hogwarts founders never expected any of the male students to be pathetic enough to get murdered by a girl.”
Scorpius sent him a reproving look. “You don’t have to be physically strong to be dangerous,” he said. “Girls have just as much magic as boys. Take Professor McGonagall. I’d like to see any of the male teachers take her on.”
“And I’m pretty sure I could beat you up, Albus,” Pan said. “Though probably not with magic.” She was eyeing her feather, which was now releasing a putrid smell like mouldy fish.
“You probably could,” Albus said. “It’s just that when my dad was at school, he had Voldemort trying to murder him. Me? I have a girl from Slytherin.”
Scorpius cleared his throat. “Albus…” he said tentatively, but then he let his voice trail away.
“What is it?”
He hesitated. “Well,” he said nervously, “you’re not your father, you know. You don’t have to follow in his footsteps.”
There was a pause. “I know that,” Albus told him, his tone a little defensive.
“Okay,” Scorpius said quietly. He didn’t say any more on the subject, but Albus found Scorpius’s words weighing on his mind for the rest of the day. Albus knew he didn’t have to follow in his father’s footsteps, knew that he could take his own path. It wasn’t as if he wanted another Voldemort to rise up so he could fight him – quite the opposite. But, at the same time, Albus couldn’t deny the voice in the back of his mind that often whispered, What would Harry Potter have done? And, more often than not, Albus didn’t live up to the answer.
A week of torturous lessons was finally coming to an end. The Slytherin first-years were relieved when Thorn dismissed them from Double Defence Against the Dark Arts on Friday, knowing it was their last lesson of the week (since flying practice had been cancelled once again). Albus, Pan and Scorpius were smiling as they left Thorn’s classroom, entertained by an amusingly-placed burn-hole in Scorpius’s robes from one of Rose’s spells, which had left his right nipple visible through the gap in the fabric. Their smiles vanished, however, when Thorn’s deep roar-of-a-voice growled from the front of the classroom. “Malfoy! Potter! You two stay behind!”
Pan sent them an intrigued glance as she followed the rest of the class outside, miming that she’d wait in the corridor.
Thorn gestured for Albus and Scorpius to come closer to his desk. As they did so, he walked around it to lean against its edge, watching them with menacing eyes. “So, your arm is healed, Potter,” he said, fixing his fiery gaze on Albus. “A lucky escape by the sound of it.”
“Yes, Professor,” Albus said. “The wolf just came out of nowhere.”
Thorn’s nostrils flared. “Did it now?” he said, his tone making it clear he wasn’t at all convinced. “It just came out of nowhere? You’re telling me you were walking in the grounds and it attacked you, unprovoked, for no reason?”
“Yes, sir,” Albus said, trying very hard not to look away from the man’s angry stare.
Thorn straightened to full height, towering over Albus and Scorpius, the latter of whom was even paler than usual. “You’re lying, Potter,” Thorn said, his voice vibrating with anger. He leaned forwards, his face inches from Albus’s. “You went into the forest. You found a plant. And the wolf attacked you.”
Albus gulped, but he said nothing.
Thorn turned on Scorpius, whose hands were visibly shaking. “What do you know about the plant?” he demanded.
“Nothing,” Scorpius squeaked.
Thorn’s eye twitched. “If either of you go anywhere near the Forbidden Forest again, I’ll have you both expelled from this school and your wands snapped in half. Do you understand me?”
Scorpius nodded vigorously. Albus narrowed his eyes, but reluctantly he inclined his head.
“You will tell no one about the wolf you saw,” Thorn continued in a low snarl. “There’s no need to spread unnecessary panic.” Thorn didn’t wait for a response to this last request. He turned away from them both as if he was sick of the sight of them. “Out!” he bellowed. “Get out!”
Scorpius hurried from the room. Albus followed after him, sending one last glance back at Thorn, who was facing the back wall of the classroom, breathing heavily.
“I overheard,” Pan said when they met her in the corridor. “So, he knows about the Angel’s Trumpet then.”
“And the wolf,” said Albus.
Scorpius looked shaken. “He was so angry,” he said. “Just like when I first told him and McGonagall about what happened. I can’t believe he threatened to snap our wands… He must be worried we’re going to ruin his chance of getting his hands on the Angel’s Trumpet. Clearly, he wants it desperately.”
“But what does he want it for?” Pan asked.
“There must be someone he really needs to heal,” Scorpius said. He looked guiltily at Albus. “People will do stupid things if they’re trying to save someone they love…”
The weekend finally arrived. On Saturday, the common room was practically empty: most of the older students had taken the chance to go to Hogsmeade (the local, all-wizarding village). Making the most of the quiet, Albus and Scorpius caught up on some of their homework. Pan, meanwhile, was on the Quidditch pitch. She’d now fallen so far behind with her work that she’d bribed Scorpius into completing Binns’ most recent essay for her. “I’ll make more effort with the cat,” she’d told him.
“You’ll have to stroke him,” Scorpius had replied. “And give him kisses.”
Pan had looked stony. “Stroking and belly-tickling,” she said in a negotiating voice, “no kisses.”
Scorpius had looked as if he wanted to hold firm on the kisses, but he noted the flash of warning in Pan’s eyes and quickly agreed.
It was late evening when she returned from practice, her robes mud-splattered, her hair damp from the rain. She didn’t smile exactly, but there was an air of triumph about her. “Reckon we’ve got a chance,” she said as Moo sprang into her lap. At a pointed look from Scorpius, she reluctantly began stroking the cat’s silky, white fur. “Humphries is determined to win,” she continued. “Thinks he messed up the last game.”
Scorpius glanced towards the burly Quidditch captain with a sympathetic look. “He’s being a bit hard on himself if you ask me,” he said. “It’s only Quidditch after all. Have you even had dinner?”
Pan stopped stroking Moo at once. “Respect the game,” she said to Scorpius. “It matters. And yeah, the house-elves made us some sandwiches.”
“You know what?” Scorpius replied. “I have been enjoying Quidditch more since I came to Hogwarts. It really makes a difference when you’re supporting a team.”
“Me too,” added Albus. “I hope we win tomorrow.”
“Oh, we’ll win,” Pan said, “if I have anything to say about it.” Moo purred contentedly as she tickled behind his ears.
Scorpius smiled. He opened his mouth to say something else, but he was interrupted by the appearance of Danielle and Aberfa. They were both carrying brown glass bottles in their hands. Peering closer, Albus saw they were bottles of Butterbeer. “Anyone want a drink?” Danielle asked, her cheeks going pink. “My cousin’s in fourth-year and I asked her to bring back some beers from Hogsmeade – for me and some friends…” Her voice trailed off self-consciously. “Erm, we have enough for one each.”
“Thanks Danielle,” said Scorpius, grinning broadly. “I’ve never tried Butterbeer. My dad doesn’t like it.” Danielle handed him a bottle.
“You didn’t fancy sharing a beer with Salmer and Missy then?” Pan said.
“No, not really,” Danielle replied, handing Pan a beer.
“I’m shocked,” Pan said in a deadpan voice.
“Albus?” Danielle asked, and here her voice went up several octaves. The flush of her cheeks went from pink to scarlet.
“Yes, that would be truly brilliant,” he said. The moment the words were out of his mouth, Albus’s heart sank at the geekiness of them. Truly brilliant? he thought, inwardly cringing. Why not just say ‘I’m a loser’ and be done with it?
“Oh, good,” Danielle said, frowning slightly. She handed Albus her last beer, then took one of the two bottles Aberfa was holding. They each pulled up a chair and joined the table. Danielle and Aberfa’s attention was soon taken up with doting on Moo, who they both petted adoringly, remarking on his soft fur.
Scorpius was wearing a very proud expression.
Albus sipped at his Butterbeer, savouring the creamy, sugary taste of it, trying not to drink too much of the frothy top, which he liked to save for the end.
“I’m glad your arm healed okay,” Danielle said to him after a while. “I heard you got hurt pretty bad.”
Aberfa had paused in her stroking of Moo to listen to Albus’s response, apparently hoping to get some details about the mysterious attack.
“It wasn’t as bad as people are saying,” Albus replied, trying to sound brave, as if injuries like this happened to him all the time.
“He fell off his broom,” Pan said, cutting through Albus’s words like a pin popping a balloon. “Went down like a bag of dungbombs. Hit a tree. Cut his arm up.”
Albus sank into his chair with a deep sigh.
“You hit a tree?” Danielle asked. “It wasn’t the Whomping Willow, was it? I’ve heard it can be really brutal.”
“No,” Pan cut in. “Just a normal tree.”
Albus glanced up at the ceiling, searching for strength. Scorpius, meanwhile, was letting out a moan of delight. He’d just taken his first sip of Butterbeer, his face lighting up in childish wonder at the taste of it. Albus couldn’t help smiling at the sight, remembering his own first experience of Butterbeer. It had been Christmas and his dad had poured him half a glass to try. Albus thought he’d never tasted anything as rich and wonderful as that first sip of Butterbeer.
“It’s so good!” Scorpius said after a second swig.
Pan shrugged. “You should taste the Butterbeer we have at home,” she said. “We get it imported from Germany – they make it best.” She lifted up the dark brown bottle, inspecting the label. “This one has a weird twang to it.”
“Tastes all right to me,” said Albus.
Danielle was frowning at Pan, perhaps a little put out that her gifted beers were being insulted. The expression left her face, however, as she watched Scorpius down the rest of his beer, his top lip gaining a thin layer of foam in the process. “Scorpius,” she said in amusement, pointing to her own top lip.
“What?” Scorpius replied, not catching on.
Albus did it without thinking. He reached across the table and brushed his finger across Scorpius’s top lip, wiping away the foam. Once he’d sat back down, Albus realised the whole table was staring at him, including Scorpius, whose cheeks had turned pink. Albus cleared his throat, then turned to Danielle. “So, your cousin is in fourth-year?” he said, eager to move on from the awkward moment. Mercifully, Danielle cooperated. She was happy to talk about her cousin, who was entering a transfiguration tournament at the end of the year and who owned a huge mansion in the north somewhere that Danielle used to visit as a child. Eventually, the conversation turned to Albus. Danielle was intrigued about his family, asking about his brother James. When Albus told her about Lily, she questioned him about how old she was, her interests and if she was excited about Hogwarts. “Oh, she can’t wait,” Albus told her. Meanwhile, Aberfa was asking Scorpius about Moo. Pan, on the other hand, seemed lost in thought – probably thinking about tomorrow’s Quidditch game.
As such, it wasn’t long before Gerald Humphries came over to their table and instructed Pan to go to bed. “You need your rest,” he told her. “We’re relying on you tomorrow.”
She finished off her Butterbeer, thanked Danielle, then headed to the girls’ dormitories, leaving Moo to settle down in her vacated chair, his princely features looking entirely miffed at being left behind.
Albus, who had got caught up talking to Danielle, hadn’t realised the time. Scorpius was yawning, glancing in the direction of the dormitories. His silvery eyes fell upon Danielle’s hand, which was currently resting on Albus’s shoulder as she told him about her Christmas holidays. Albus could barely concentrate on what she was saying, most of his attention drawn towards the warm feel of her hand on his shoulder. She smelled very nice, a mixture of Butterbeer and flowery perfume.
After a moment, she seemed to notice where her hand was and quickly returned it to her lap, an embarrassed look on her face. “I suppose I’d better go to bed,” she said. Her gaze lingered on Albus before sweeping across the table. “Night everyone.”
“I’ll come too,” Aberfa added as she got to her feet. “Night, Albus. Night, Scorpius.”
Once they were gone, that familiar frown-line formed between Scorpius’s eyebrows.
“What?” Albus asked.
“Danielle’s really nice, isn’t she,” he said.
“I guess, yeah,” he replied, “she is very pretty.” He thought about her smooth hair, the flowery smell of her perfume.
A sadness seemed to come over Scorpius’s face at this. “I meant because of the Butterbeers,” he said. “But, yes, she is very pretty.” All of a sudden, he stood up. “I’m going to bed. Night, Albus.” Before Albus could even attempt a reply, Scorpius had hurried towards the boys’ dormitories, Moo following in his wake, the cat’s tail swishing from side to side.
What was that about? Albus thought, bemused. He sipped at the last frothy dregs of his beer and followed after Scorpius, his mind distracted by the memory of Danielle’s hand on his shoulder.
She is very pretty, he thought. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he descended the stairs to his room.