Chapter 18

Monday morning arrived grey, cloudy and miserable. The Great Hall’s enchanted ceiling rumbled with thunder as Albus, Pan and Scorpius ate their breakfast. The Slytherin table was noticeably subdued, many of the students shooting dark, angry looks at Pan, who was keeping her head bowed, her eyes on her plate of bacon and eggs. She hadn’t eaten much, pushing her food around her plate, the rashers of crispy bacon leaving grease stains in their wake.

Unlike the Slytherins, the Hufflepuff table was jubilant, students jittery with excitement, chatting eagerly with one another, patting the members of their house Quidditch team on the back or giving them elated high-fives. Yesterday’s match was fresh in the minds of all the students. Even the teachers seemed affected. Slughorn was noticeably mawkish while Professor Sinistra (Head of Hufflepuff House) was smiling brightly while she ate each mouthful of her jam-smothered toast.

With each moment that passed, Pan seemed to shrink lower in her seat. Scorpius, on the other hand, was becoming tenser and tenser by the minute, shooting Pan frequent worried looks over the top of the book he was reading, Nature’s Nobility, A Wizarding Genealogy.

Drake Salmer was one of the only Slytherins who appeared to be unaffected by the disastrous outcome of the previous day’s match. If anything, he looked just as happy as the Hufflepuffs. “I suppose,” he said loudly, so half the Slytherin table could hear him, “it was only a matter of time before the troll’s broom crumpled under her weight. I mean, you can’t really blame her for scoring zero goals and dropping the Quaffle every time she held it – it was like watching an elephant try to zoom around on a twig.” There were howls of laughter from his usual gang of friends as well as guffaws from some of the older Slytherins. Julia’s cackle set Albus’s teeth on edge. Prince Zabini was sneering, his eyes catching his reflection in the gold surface of his goblet.

Albus’s grip tightened on his fork, but it was Scorpius who spoke, his voice coming out cold and sharp. “Pan is twice the flier you are,” he said to Salmer. Albus sent Scorpius a warning look, but the platinum-haired boy didn’t back down. His silvery eyes were hard, fixed upon Salmer with dislike.

Salmer scoffed, then turned to Albus. “Control your girlfriend, Albus,” he said. “Oh wait, I forgot. You’ve had a little lover’s tiff. That’s what you get for dating a filthy werewolf, I suppose.”

“We’re not dating!” Albus snapped.

Salmer laughed. As he rose from his seat, the rest of his cronies hurried to do the same, Missy clicking for her gang of girls to follow along. Danielle Varda was the only one who stayed behind. She’d been silent throughout breakfast, sending covert glances towards Albus every few minutes. There was a guilty expression on her face. When she spoke, it was in a very small voice. “Rose told me—”

“You shouldn’t have done it,” Albus interrupted her.

“I thought…” She looked at Scorpius and her body sagged. “Rose came to me so worried. She made it sound like Albus was really in danger. I didn’t know what to do.”

Scorpius was stone-faced. “So you drugged Pan and me with Dreamweed,” he said. The contempt was clear in his voice.

Danielle had gone pale.

Albus cleared his throat. “Scorpius wasn’t the one who mauled my arm,” he told her.

She winced. “I know,” she said. “It was stupid of me to think it could be true. But the whole school was talking about it. Rose told me the gashes in your arm were really deep. Did you honestly expect me to believe you were hurt in a broom accident?”

Albus sighed. “You’re right,” he said, “I didn’t hurt my arm crashing into a tree, but I can’t tell you what really happened. Just know that it wasn’t because Scorpius tried to maul me to death.” Albus lowered his voice. “I mean, the rumours about Scorpius putting me under a love spell are just stupid. You know that, right?”

Danielle flushed, but didn’t answer.

Her silence made Albus’s insides squirm with embarrassment.

Scorpius shut his book with a loud thunk, stuffed it into his bag and stood up. “I’m going to Herbology,” he said. He hurried from the Great Hall. As he went, his platinum hair was like a beacon, drawing the attention of almost every eye in the room.

Danielle looked like she was about to call after him, but her voice seemed to fail her. She turned to Albus, grimacing. “I’m really sorry,” she said, then her gaze fell upon Pan and she bit her lip. “Pan?” she said cautiously.

Pan put down her knife and fork. She met Danielle’s eyes with an impassive, emotionless expression.

“I’m really, really sorry, Pan,” Danielle muttered. “I feel terrible. The Quidditch game… What McLaggen did…”

Pan said nothing for a long moment. Albus wondered whether she, like Scorpius, was going to simply get up and leave the table, but when she spoke, her tone wasn’t angry or resentful as Albus had expected; it was calm. “Scorpius has a terrible reputation,” Pan said. “It makes being his friend difficult. He also has a really annoying cat. But he makes up for those things by being clever and helping to write essays. He saved my life once too. His positives outweigh his negatives.” She began gathering up her things. “You drugged me – that’s a negative.” She stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder. “I’m not mad at you,” she continued smoothly, “but you owe me a favour.”

“A favour?” Danielle repeated in surprise.

Pan smiled. “Yep,” she said. “It’s a world of give and take, Danielle.” She prodded Albus on the shoulder. “You coming?”

Albus stared at her, then cleared his throat. “Yeah,” he said. Albus turned to Danielle. “Er, see you in Herbology.”

After he left his seat, Danielle’s voice made him pause. “Albus,” she said. “You’re not mad, are you?”

Albus pondered her question. Was he mad? Danielle, who was supposed to be his friend, had thought he was being controlled by dark magic, thought he was under Scorpius’s spell, and she’d drugged his two closest friends because of it. Conflicting voices argued in his mind.

She was trying to save me.

She was being an idiot.

She’s very pretty.

What does that have to do with anything?

I don’t know. But she’s very, very pretty.

Not knowing what to say, Albus merely shrugged. Then, in a moment of inspiration, he sent her a lopsided grin, hoping he would seem rakish and indifferent. But with his next step, he managed to trip on the hem of his robes and landed face-first on the cold flagstones.

The nearby students sniggered. Albus quickly got to his feet and caught up with Pan, his cheeks burning. Why he’d thought he could pull off being cool and nonchalant, he wasn’t sure. When had he ever been either of those things?

Eyes didn’t linger long on Albus. They switched quickly to Pan. The Slytherins watched her with creased brows and thin lips. For her part, Pan kept her head down, avoiding the judgemental, almost hateful looks. She could not ignore Gerald Humphries, however. He came striding towards her along the aisle, with the appearance of someone who was both determined and uneasy.

Across the Hall, Ace McLaggen was on his feet, watching Humphries and Pan with an eager, satisfied expression on his face. Albus glared at him.

“I need to speak to Parkinson,” Humphries said, dismissing Albus with a sharp gesture.

“He can stay,” Pan said in a low, deadened voice.

Humphries took a breath. He seemed to be steeling himself for what he was about to say. “You rushed off after yesterday’s game,” he told her. “Didn’t even stay for the de-brief. I called after you, but you ignored me. I’m your captain, Parkinson.”

“Sorry, Captain,” Pan murmured. Albus had to clamp his mouth shut so as not to speak up in her defence. Of course, it hadn’t actually been Pan who’d run off at the end of the match, ignoring orders. It had been an impatient McLaggen, afraid his Polyjuice Potion would wear off before he had the chance to get out of sight.

“What happened to you yesterday?” Humphries growled under his breath.

“I had to get back to the castle,” Pan replied. “I wasn’t feeling well.”

“I’m not talking about the end of the match!” Humphries said. “I’m talking about the fact that you didn’t score a single goal! I’m talking about the fact that we lost by two hundred and eighty points! What happened to you? Not one goal, Parkinson! Not one goal! When you knocked Buhari off his broom, I thought that was the worst of it, but then you threw the Quaffle at Flint’s head and took him out of the game! What were you thinking?”

At these words Pan went as still as a statue. She may as well have been carved from ice. Across the hall, McLaggen muttered something to Berwick Cross. The burly, ogre-like boy chuckled cruelly.

“I’ll play better next time,” Pan said, her voice barely more than a whisper.

Humphries scratched at his forehead. “There’s a lot of pressure on me,” he said, glancing over at the Slytherins. He lowered his voice. “People are pretty mad. The way we lost… It was bad, Pan.”

“It won’t happen again,” Pan told him. She sounded so sure and certain that Humphries seemed to waver for a moment.

“You’re a good player,” he said. “I can’t deny it. You were amazing in the first game – and in every practice. But…” His eyes clouded.

“You have to give her another chance,” Albus said.

“Shut it, Potter,” Humphries snapped. “This has nothing to do with you.”

At Pan’s repressive look, Albus remained silent. “I’ll do better,” she told Humphries.

Humphries opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it once more. “I’m sorry, Pan. You’re off the team.”

Albus’s eyes widened. He was about to argue, but Pan shook her head pointedly and he stayed quiet. She nodded to Humphries. “Fine,” she told him, “if that’s your decision.”

“It is,” he replied. “Sorry, Parkinson.” He strode off without another word, leaving Albus and Pan in the centre of the Hall, all eyes upon them. The Slytherins nodded to one another. Clearly, they were appeased. McLaggen and his friends, meanwhile, weren’t making any effort to hide their pleasure. Only Rose gave any indication of guilt. She kept her head down, her bushy red hair covering her face.

On their way to the Herbology greenhouses, Albus and Pan didn’t speak. Albus kept trying to come up with something consoling to say, but he had a feeling Pan wouldn’t react well to any attempt to comfort her. She had a blank, stone-like air about her.

The wind was cold and biting. Their cloaks billowed behind them as they walked across the castle grounds. Thunder rumbled, the sky threatening rain. Most of the Slytherins were already waiting outside Greenhouse 1 when Albus and Pan arrived. Scorpius’s face was buried in a book, his nose red from the cold, his hands wrapped in his white velvet gloves, his white earmuffs fixed around his head. “What did Danielle say after I left?” he asked without raising his eyes from what looked like a diagram of a family tree inscribed on one of the pages of his book.

“She apologised,” Albus told him.

Scorpius harrumphed. He opened his mouth as if to say more on the subject, but then his gaze fell upon Pan and he faltered. At the sight of her, his face fell. “Pan?” he said gently.

“What?” she replied.

Scorpius eyed her. “Is something wrong?”

She shrugged. “I’m not on the Quidditch team anymore.” She said it matter-of-factly as if she was talking about the weather.

Scorpius’s hand flew to his mouth. “But… they can’t!”

“They can,” she said calmly. Despite the indifference in her voice, Albus was sure he caught a flash of despair in her eyes, a downward twitch of her lips. With a grunt, she waved the conversation away. “It could be worse. It’s not like I have a crazy Slytherin girl trying to do me in.” When she smiled, it seemed forced, as if the expression had been painted on.

Albus and Scorpius exchanged glances. Scorpius was frowning.

Pan scowled at both of them. “You have any leads?” she asked Scorpius, gesturing to his book. It was obvious she was keen to change the subject.

Scorpius paused, as if he wasn’t ready to let the conversation drop, but at the fierce expression on Pan’s face, he relented. “No,” he said. “Not one lead.” The gold-embossed title of his book, Nature’s Nobility, A Wizarding Genealogy gleamed dully in the cloudy, storm-grey light. “There’s nothing helpful in here. It mainly talks about pure-blood family names that have gone extinct along the male line.” He snapped the thick tome shut. “But I did find out from one of the other texts I read that the name Varda is linked distantly to Lestrange.”

“Danielle?” Albus said sceptically. “You don’t really think she’s the one trying to kill me?”

“She drugged Pan and me,” Scorpius replied. “Clearly, she’s capable of anything.”

“She only did that because she was worried about me,” Albus reminded him, “not because she was trying to kill me.”

He shrugged. “Maybe she’s a good actress,” he suggested. “If she’s trying to kill you, it would benefit her to pretend she cares about you. And maybe she wanted to test how effective Dreamweed is. For all we know, she plans to use it again.”

“It isn’t Danielle,” Albus said firmly. “I just know it.”

Scorpius flicked his hair out of his eyes. His pupils were wide, the silver of his irises swirling like liquid steel. “Don’t forget that Missy is Danielle’s roommate,” he said. “Missy knew Arty was a werewolf. She could’ve told Danielle – and Danielle could’ve tampered with the Wolfsbane Potion. It’s possible she was the one who took your Cloak and tried to poison you in the Hospital Wing.”

“I doubt it,” said Pan. “Danielle might be naïve and gullible, but she’s not a killer.” Pan gestured towards the rest of the Slytherin first-years who were stood around Missy. She was holding court, chatting away to her crowd of followers like some kind of queen. Salmer was among them, watching Missy with a mixture of appreciation and jealousy. Julia was entranced. Aberfa, on the other hand, seemed reluctant to meet her eyes. “It’s Missy,” Pan continued. “I’ve said it all along. If you’re looking for a cold-hearted killer. She’s your girl. You just have to…” Pan’s voice trailed off. The Gryffindors were trudging across the grounds from the direction of the castle. Their cloaks—embroidered in red and emblazoned with the golden lion—were wrapped tightly around them, their gazes scanning the Slytherins mistrustfully. Rose’s bushy hair was flyaway in the blustering wind. Ace McLaggen, with his high-backed, wide-legged stance, blazed with arrogance. Much in the way the Slytherins worshipped Missy, the Gryffindor first-years seemed to defer to McLaggen. He led the way like a warrior chief at the head of an army.

Scorpius’s hand lingered over his robe pocket, inside which, Albus knew, he kept his wand. He stared daggers at McLaggen, who chuckled as he passed. Scorpius looked like he was about to reach into his pocket, but Uncle Neville appeared from within Greenhouse 1 and Scorpius dropped his hand. “Inside,” Neville commanded. “Quickly.”

Albus let Pan move ahead before gripping Scorpius’s elbow. “Are you mad?” he muttered under his breath. “You can’t just go attacking McLaggen.”

Scorpius huffed. Some of the light seemed to fade from his silver eyes. “I know,” he said. “But McLaggen just… He gets under my skin.”

“I know the feeling,” Albus replied in an undertone.

They headed into the greenhouse, which provided no more warmth than the icy chill of the wintry grounds. The first-years were quieter than usual, staring at something in the centre of the room. Albus followed their gazes. A pile of plant pots stood beside a bowl of crystalline, amber-like seeds the size of eggs that had been placed on a bench in the centre of the greenhouse. Standing behind the bench was Uncle Neville, his dark robes stained with dirt. Next to him, stood an older man Albus had never seen before. It was he who was garnering the stares of the students. He had a round, open face, a short chestnut beard streaked with grey and a wide-brimmed straw hat that clashed with the dark, matted fur of his cloak. His moss-green eyes and tanned skin gave him a youthful air despite his obvious age. The first-years began to whisper.

“I know him!”

“He has a column in the Prophet.”

“He’s on the Wireless Network!”

Uncle Neville cleared his throat for silence. His voice was faraway, distracted when he spoke. His gaze flickered regularly across the grounds, towards the forest. Was he looking for the silver wolf? Was he thinking about the Angel’s Trumpet? “First-years,” he said. “This”—he gestured towards the man—“is Sir Toots. He is here to observe the Herbology teaching at Hogwarts. He is an old friend of Deputy Headmaster Thorn.” Neville said the words ‘Deputy Headmaster’ with contempt.

“Toots is a renowned Herbologist,” Scorpius whispered to Albus and Pan. “His plant potions are famous.”

“Does this mean Longbottom’s on probation if his lessons are being watched?” wondered Pan.

Albus’s heart sank. Surely not! McGonagall wouldn’t have put his uncle on probation. Would she? “Thorn observed Slughorn’s lesson himself,” Albus replied under his breath. “Why would he get someone who isn’t even a teacher to check up on my uncle?”

Before the others could reply, the bearded man – Sir Toots – spoke. “I’m ‘ere to watch and listen,” he said. “Yeh’ve got a treat today. Glesarious Seeds are always good fun! All I’ll say is watch yer tongue. Glesarious Plants are heady things.”

Uncle Neville filled one of the plant pots with soil and buried a shiny, amber-coloured Glesarious Seed inside it. “Today, you will need to give your full attention,” he said. Albus thought this was a bit of a joke considering how inattentive his uncle seemed to be. “Sir Toots has provided us with Glesarious Seeds. I wouldn’t usually tackle these with first-years, but the Flutterbye Bulbs I was preparing for today’s lesson…” He frowned into the distant grounds. “The frost got to them…” Uncle Neville blinked, then looked around at the class dazedly. “Well, off you go, then.”

Many of the students exchanged confused glances, some stepping towards the seeds and plant pots with uncertainty.

Sir Toots coughed pointedly, eyes on Neville. But the man didn’t seem to notice him. He was staring out of the window.

“Um, well,” Sir Toots said to the class at large. “To grow a Glesarious Sapling, you need to speak a number of complex spells as well as use several drops of the Draught of Peace, which I will bring to you when you need it.” He looked over at Neville expectantly, as if waiting for him to take over the instructions. Uncle Neville wasn’t paying him the slightest bit of attention, however.

Looking quite put out, Sir Toots placed the seeded plant pot in front of him and withdrew his wand. He proceeded to demonstrate a long sequence of spells and incantations, all of which had to be spoken in precise order. Albus recognised the Calming Charm and the Growing Charm among the plethora of incantations, but the rest of the spells were alien to him.

Under Sir Toots administrations, his Glesarious Seed grew into a glowing, amber-coloured plant that had the appearance of a fully-grown tree but in miniature – like a glowing, golden Bonsai.

As Albus watched the tree, he felt suddenly light-headed. In spite of himself, he was smiling. Scorpius gasped, a grin curling his lips – an expression that was mirrored on the faces of the rest of the class.

“Remember,” said Sir Toots, “watch yer tongues. Glesarious plants are heady.”

As the lesson wore on, however, Sir Toots’ warning proved mostly unnecessary. Only two students managed to grow their Glesarious Seed into anything more than a fragile sapling. Try as they might, most of the first-years couldn’t successfully cast half of the charms and spells required to grow the plant. After an hour and a half, only Rose and Scorpius were tending fully-grown Glesarious Plants, the students nearest them laughing and joking. The atmosphere in the greenhouse had changed, as if happiness was suffusing the very air. The plants indeed gave off a heady feeling. Albus felt like he would never be sad again. “They can be used against Dementors,” Scorpius said, his voice lilting, his smile lazy. “They work like a Patronus. If they weren’t so hard to grow and maintain, I think the Ministry would use them more often.”

“This feels strange,” said Pan. The golden light of the Glesarious Plant was reflected in her large, round eyes. She giggled in a very un-Panlike way, girlish and silly. She pressed her hand to her mouth as if disgusted with herself. Nearby, the other Slytherins were leaning towards Scorpius’s bench. Missy and Salmer were peering inconspicuously over his shoulder, trying to soak up the plant’s giddy power, their own withered little saplings barely flickering with light.

Albus’s attention was drawn away from the Slytherin first-years, towards the round-faced Sir Toots, who was speaking in quiet whispers with Uncle Neville, both their faces glowing in the light of the Glesarious Plant on the bench before them. What were they talking about? Was it true that his uncle was on probation as Pan had guessed?

“I’m going to get another seed,” Albus said. “I want to try again.” Pan and Scorpius nodded vaguely, bleary-eyed. Albus sneaked between benches until he was standing behind Uncle Neville and Sir Toots, just close enough to hear their whispered conversation.

“…brings back memories,” Sir Toots was saying in languorous tones. “Glesarious Plants are a favourite o’ mine. I’m surprised any of ye kids were able ter grown ‘em though. Tricky oddities, aren’t they.”

“Yes,” Neville agreed, grinning. “I’m glad you brought them. I haven’t felt like this in… Oh, it feels like an age.”

Sir Toots clapped him on the back. “My good man,” he said, “what are plants and magic for if not ter heal and hearten? To bring joy. It’s the source and gift o’ magic.”

Uncle Neville, put his arm around Sir Toots’ shoulders. “You aren’t what I expected,” he told the older man frankly. “When I heard you were a friend of Thorn, I thought you’d be an arrogant—”

“Thorn can be intractable,” Sir Toots interrupted, “but the man has a good heart.”

Neville scoffed. He took a step back, retreating from the golden light of the plant. As soon as the glow left his face, his smile vanished. “You really think Orion is a good man?” he asked. “Even when you know what’s in that greenhouse…? You know why he brought you here. His experiment almost killed one of our professors.”

Sir Toots laid a reassuring hand on Neville’s arm, his face calm and serene beneath the Glesarious’s golden light. “Intractable, like I said,” Sir Toots told him. “Obstinate, irritable, a bloody pain in the backside. I won’t deny it. And yeah, I reckon he was wrong to meddle with something so dangerous, but he had his reasons. Wouldn’t ye have done the same?”

Neville’s face had gone pale. “Thorn’s troubles do not concern me,” he snapped. He turned to the class at large. “Lesson’s over!” he shouted. He stormed out of the greenhouse, his dark, muddied robes billowing behind him.

His head buzzing, Albus returned to Pan and Scorpius, who were packing away their things, swaying languidly, smiles plastered over their faces. At the sight of Albus, Scorpius let his bag fall to the floor, his gaze transfixed upon him as if he’d never seen him properly before. “Albus,” Scorpius said, his eyes sparkling with golden light, “you told me I had an interesting face once, you remember?” He let out a drunken laugh. “Well, I think your face is interesting too. I think you’re handsome.”

Albus’s heart fluttered. His cheeks warmed.

Missy and Salmer stopped in their tracks on their way towards the greenhouse door. “Hear that, Drake?” Missy said. “Sounds like Potter and the Scorpion are back together again.”

“Young love,” Salmer replied, curling his lip.

Albus shoved the Glesarious Plant away from Scorpius, but it toppled over the edge of the bench. There was a crash as the ceramic pot hit the dirt floor below. Scorpius came back to himself at once. His smile vanished.

Salmer raised his eyebrows at the broken plant pot. “So tetchy,” he crooned. He led the rest of the Slytherins out of the greenhouse, Missy by his side, Danielle and Aberfa trailing along in their wake. Albus wasn’t sure if he imagined it, but he thought Danielle might have sent a brief, irritable glance towards Scorpius before disappearing out the door.

Pan was grimacing. “Dumb plants,” she said. Then she poked Scorpius in the arm. “So, Albus is handsome? And what am I? Dragon’s liver?”

Scorpius shoved on his earmuffs, pulled on his gloves and hurried out of the greenhouse.

“Scorpius!” Albus called after him. But the boy did not turn around. Through the misted glass of the greenhouse walls, they watched him fighting the battering winds, making a beeline for the castle.

Pan sighed. Albus felt troubled.

I think you’re handsome. I think you’re handsome.

But Scorpius was his friend. They were just good friends, that was all…

Albus hadn’t realised Sir Toots was still in the room until he came to stand at their bench. To Albus’s astonishment, when he spoke, it was in a sing-song voice,

            “Glesarious root, bud and leaf,

            Brighten all that stand beneath.

            When golden glow and glittering light,

            Drain all anger, dawn from night,

            The gladdened heart speaks strong and stout,

            But judge not those whose truth spills out.”

Toots nodded to Albus, his moss-green eyes soft and kind. “Don’t always take Glesarious-inspired talk too serious,” he said. “If I were you, I’d let it go.” He gestured towards the door. “Best be off,” he said. “Or yeh’ll miss yer next lesson.”

Albus thought of the conversation he’d overheard between Toots and Neville. He spoke up before he could think better of it. “What brought you to Hogwarts, sir?”

Toots studied Albus for a moment. “Professor Thorn asked me ter come,” he said simply.

Albus thought he should let the subject go, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself from asking, “Why, sir? Why did he ask you to come?”

“For that,” Toots replied, a glint in his eye, “yeh’ll have ter ask Professor Thorn.”

Albus opened his mouth to press further, but the man cut him off. “Goodbye, Mr Potter.”

Pan was watching Albus as they left the greenhouse, her gaze questioning. “What was that about?” she asked once they were out of earshot, the wind blasting into them.

“I overheard my uncle talking to Toots,” Albus told her. “He said Thorn’s been ‘experimenting’ and that Sprout died because of something in the greenhouse. They must have been talking about the Angel’s Trumpet.”

“So that Toots guy knows about the plant too?” she asked.

“I think so,” Albus replied. “It sounded like Thorn brought Toots here to help him sort it out.”

Pan was nodding. “Scorpius did say Toots is a famous Herbologist,” she said. “If there’s Angel’s Trumpet in Greenhouse 9, he’ll know how to help Thorn destroy it.”

“Or help him grow it properly.”

Silence fell between them. Albus was lost in thought.

They were halfway to the Astronomy classroom when Pan broke the silence. “What are you going to do about Scorpius?”

Albus rubbed his glasses with his sleeve. “I… Do I need to do something?”

Pan shrugged. “He’s probably feeing pretty embarrassed.”

“But he didn’t mean what he said,” Albus told her. “The Glesarious Plant was affecting him.”

“Probably,” Pan replied. “I mean – calling you handsome? He must have been out of his mind.”

Albus shot her a look. “I notice he didn’t say anything about you,” he said.

“Scorpius has bad taste.”

As it turned out, Albus didn’t need to say anything to Scorpius. They arrived in the Astronomy classroom to find the platinum-haired boy sitting next to Gregory Wood, the two of them deep in conversation. Wood kept ruffling up his hair, his stylish, rimless glasses glinting in the light. Albus took off his own glasses to clean them, frowning at the plain black frames.

Professor Sinistra called the class to attention. She waved her hand and blinds fell over the windows. With another wave, the ceiling shimmered, turned black and filled with stars. “Today we are looking at Alioth in Ursa Major,” she said, pointing upwards. “Alioth is the brightest star in the constellation and is third from the end of the Big Dipper’s handle. Its name comes from the Arabic for ‘black horse’, which is indicative of both its mystery and its power.” She pointed a finger at a stack of parchment on her desk. The sheets zoomed across the classroom, one landing in front of each student. “Today, you’ll be taking notes,” she told them. Once everyone had pulled out quill and ink, she continued speaking. “Historically, Alioth…”

Albus found his concentration drifting. He turned his attention to Scorpius, who was gazing up at the ceiling in awe.

I think you’re handsome.

Would this affect their friendship? Would it make things awkward?

Well, it wasn’t awkward at the moment. Scorpius hadn’t even looked over at Albus since he’d entered the classroom. In fact, he didn’t look Albus’s way at all during the lesson. When Sinistra finally dismissed them, Albus and Pan lingered by the door while Scorpius gathered his things. Gregory Wood, who had been staring at Scorpius for most of the last hour was now chatting animatedly to him. After a minute or two, Scorpius waved him a hasty goodbye and headed for the door, Wood calling after him, “I’ll see you in the library!”

Albus felt awkward at Scorpius’s approach. But Scorpius smiled easily. “That was so interesting,” he said. “It’s impressive how much Sinistra knows about the stars.”

Feeling relieved, Albus happily listened to Scorpius chattering away about Ursa Major and the other constellations as they headed to lunch. When Scorpius paused for breath, however, Pan interrupted his musings, her tone serious. “Albus overheard something during Herbology.”

Scorpius’s cheeks reddened. Clearly, he was remembering what he’d said under the influence of the Glesarious Plant. To save Scorpius’s embarrassment, Albus quickly explained about Toots’ and Neville’s conversation.

When he was finished, Scorpius nodded. “It makes sense,” he said. “If Thorn was trying to regrow Angel’s Trumpet in Greenhouse 9, I’ll bet there were unforeseen consequences.”

“Consequences?” Albus and Pan said.

“The plant only grows in places where old and new magic have clashed, remember,” Scorpius told them. “The question is – what happens when you try to grow Angel’s Trumpet in normal, run-of-the-mill soil?”

“Well,” said Pan, “a silver wolf comes and attacks you. That’s what happened to Sprout.”

“Or so we think,” Albus amended. He turned to Scorpius. “Do you reckon Toots will be able to help Thorn? Do you think they’ll be able to grow more of the Angel’s Trumpet together?”

“I doubt it,” Scorpius replied. “Angelus Mater is incredibly rare. If there was a way to regrow cuttings from it, then everyone would be doing it. People would be taking it all over the Wizarding World.” He lowered his voice. “A cure-all can heal anything except death. That includes permanent curses. I bet even the werewolf curse can be undone by Angel’s Trumpet.”

“Then why did the Ministry destroy all traces of it?” said Albus.

“The Ministry are idiots,” muttered Pan.

Albus shook his head. The Ministry weren’t exactly perfect, but they weren’t stupid. “They must have had their reasons,” he said. “There’s something off about that plant.” When he met Scorpius’s eyes, the boy’s face was lined with tension.

“I’m with Pan,” Scorpius said. He looked unsettled. “The plant’s a cure-all, not a poison. The Ministry are idiots.”

 

It wasn’t until their next Herbology lesson on Wednesday that they got an answer to their questions about Toots. Pan had nudged Albus in the elbow as they made their way along the dirt-path towards the greenhouses. She was pointing at the opposite end of the track, where the door to Greenhouse 9, which had been so firmly locked for so many weeks, now stood open. Even from here, Albus could tell there was something odd about the glass walls. They looked stained. He was sure there was a faint trace of smoke rising up from the doorway and the open windows.

Bypassing their Herbology classroom, Albus, Pan and Scorpius headed towards Greenhouse 9, their eyes widening as they took in the scorched windows, the twirling smoke. Peering inside, they saw the burnt, ash-covered floor, the cracked benches, the black soot thick in the air. Whatever had been in here was now nothing more than cinders and dust.

“They burned it,” Scorpius said.

“Yeah,” said Pan.

Scorpius looked out towards the Forbidden Forest, his eyes troubled. “I wonder what they’ll do with the original plant.”

 

Over the next few days, Scorpius—like Uncle Neville—seemed permanently distracted, half his attention fixed upon the distant forest. He never mentioned it, but Albus could almost see the thoughts swirling through his mind. Albus was certain that Scorpius wanted to visit the Angel’s Trumpet again – before it was too late. If Thorn and Toots had destroyed all trace of the plant from Greenhouse 9, how long would it be before they attacked its source? Had they already entered the forest clearing and obliterated all evidence of the plant?

Scorpius’s distraction was such that even his work during lessons was suffering. Albus and Pan, who had come to rely on Scorpius for help on the regular occasions when they struggled in class, were having to concentrate doubly hard now that Scorpius’s head was in the clouds.

During Transfiguration on Thursday morning, Professor Winter tasked them with turning a bone into a comb since everyone had now managed to successfully transfigure a twig into a millipede. “This,” he told them, “is simple object-to-object transformation. The difficulty comes in the complexity of a comb. I don’t want a wide-toothed blunder. I want thin teeth on your combs, evenly distributed.”

This proved immensely difficult. Getting the bone to transform was easy enough, but Albus’s comb looked like it had tried to tame Hagrid’s wiry mane, its teeth pointing in all directions. Pan’s comb was so small it would only be good for a child’s doll. Scorpius didn’t attempt the spell for a while. He was tapping his wand on his knee, apparently lost in thought. When he cast the spell, his bone turned into an elegant silver comb.

“There’s a tooth missing,” Winter remarked coldly, pointing a long bony finger to the middle of Scorpius’s comb. “Sloppy work. Five points from Slytherin.” He strode off, his blue robes trailing over the flagstones.

Later that day, during a particularly loud and chaotic Charms lesson, in which they were learning the Amplifying Charm, Pan pointed her wand at her throat, muttered the spell, “Sonorus” and her throat swelled up like a balloon, red and pulsating. Professor Flitwick rushed over to them and flicked his wand at Pan’s neck, which promptly deflated back to its normal size. “Pay attention, Miss Parkinson!” he squeaked.

Across the room Missy Groombridge and her Slytherin gang laughed nastily in Pan’s direction. Salmer pointed his wand at his throat. When he spoke, his voice echoed around the classroom like a foghorn. “Prince!” he boomed at Zabini, who was sitting next to him. “I think you’re handsome!”

Zabini smirked. He placed his own wand to his neck. “No!” he bellowed. “I think you’re handsome!”

The Slytherins fell about laughing, sending Salmer appreciative glances and shooting menacing looks at Scorpius, who had turned beetroot red.

As soon as the lesson was over, Scorpius rushed out of the classroom.

Friday morning’s Potions class began with a very smug-looking Slughorn ushering the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs inside his dungeon classroom. There was a palpable tension in the air between the rival houses, the Hufflepuffs undisguisedly happy about their recent Quidditch win, while the Slytherins were defensive and irritable. Lance Chopra frowned over at Pan. It seemed, like the rest of the school, that he no longer ranked her quite so highly in his opinion. Pan pretended not to notice, but Albus caught the tightening of her jaw.

There was no Thorn observing Slughorn today, something that appeared to have greatly pleased the Potions Teacher. He waddled jovially around the room while the class tried to brew a Bright-Eyes Potion. By the end of the lesson, Albus’s brew was good enough to earn him ten house points for Slytherin. Scorpius, however, who’d spent most of his time helping Pan to make a passable mixture, was left with nothing but a smoking mess bubbling in his cauldron. Shockingly, Scorpius didn’t seem to care about his poor performance. He tapped his wand on the workbench, silver sparks erupting from its tip. He remained lost in thought until they arrived outside their next lesson – Defence Against the Dark Arts, where Ace McLaggen and the other Gryffindors were already waiting.

“Wood says he wants me on the team,” McLaggen was boasting loudly. “My father was a Keeper when he was at Hogwarts – it’s in the blood, you see. Henry Wood reckons I’ll take Lum’s place as Chaser when he leaves next year.”

Pan became engrossed in one of her bag buckles, which was slightly loose, and didn’t look up again for some time.

“Inside!” commanded a voice from the classroom doorway. Thorn disappeared into the room. The Slytherins and Gryffindors followed after him. As usual, the desks and chairs had been pushed against the walls.

“Remind me,” Thorn said once everyone was gathered in front of him. “What defensive spells have I taught you since the start of the year?”

Several hands went up.

“Miss Granger.”

“You’ve taught us the air-thickening charm for stopping projectiles and the smokescreen spell for concealment,” she said succinctly.

“Ten points to Gryffindor,” said Thorn. “Today we will be learning another defensive spell. The coagulous charm may be good for stopping objects, but it isn’t very effective against offensive spells. Today, we will be learning a minor shielding charm.” He turned to face Rose. “Miss Granger, cast vermillious at me.”

She didn’t hesitate. “Vermillious!” she cried. A flurry of red sparks shot from her wand.

Defendo,” said Thorn. The sparks pattered against a ghostly, shimmering shield. It didn’t look overly powerful, especially compared to the magical barrier Thorn had summoned in Slughorn’s Potions class the week before, but it managed to stop the red sparks all the same. “Thank you, Miss Granger,” said Thorn. “Another ten points to Gryffindor.” He swept the class with his gaze as if sizing them up. “Defendo is one of the weakest of all defensive spells, but as of yet, I doubt any of you could summon anything stronger. Protego will have to wait for later years when your magic is more potent.”

He swept his gaze across them. “For today, you will be perfecting the defendo spell. One of you will attack, the other will defend. Attackers, you’ll be using vermillious. If you have perfected this spell, you may attempt a stronger version, a curse that produces green sparks instead of red. Does anyone know its incantation?”

Both Scorpius and Rose raised their hands.

“Miss Granger,” Thorn said.

“The incantation is verdimillious,” she told the class.

“Another ten points to Gryffindor,” said Thorn. “You’re on a roll, Miss Granger.”

“Yeah,” said Pan in an undertone, “because he keeps picking her.”

“Get into pairs,” Thorn commanded. “The attacker uses red or green sparks, the defender uses the shielding charm.” He clapped his hands together. “Begin!”

When McLaggen headed towards Scorpius, the blond-haired boy didn’t wear his usual apprehensive look. He appeared determined, his gaze fierce. Albus paced forwards, eager to get between them, to face McLaggen himself. He knew—he was certain—that Scorpius was going to try to get back at McLaggen for what he’d done to Pan. No doubt Scorpius would throw all his anger into the duel, and Albus dreaded to think how McLaggen would respond. But Berwick Cross was stepping in Albus’s path. Berwick, with his bushy eyebrows and bulbous nose, cracked his knuckles. “Where you think you’re going?” he grunted.

Albus tried to push past him, but Berwick was a lot bigger and bulkier than he was. Berwick shoved Albus back and withdrew his wand. “Vermillious,” he shouted and red sparks shot forth like dazzling rockets. Albus hadn’t even drawn his wand. Thankfully, the spell was so poorly aimed that it struck the flagstones at Albus’s feet, leaving tiny scorch marks.

Albus pulled out his wand, but he didn’t attack: his eyes were focussed on the two duellists behind Berwick. McLaggen was grinning. Scorpius was pale, but determined. All around them, shouts of vermillious and showers of red sparks filled the air.

Vermillious!” Berwick barked.

Defendo,” Albus said distractedly. The shielding charm didn’t work, but it didn’t matter. Once again, Berwick’s attack missed.

Albus’s heart skipped as McLaggen raised his wand. The square-jawed boy smirked as he shouted, “Verdimillious!” The sparks that burst from his wand were emerald green, brighter than any other in the room, pulsing and dazzling. If they hit Scorpius, Albus was sure they’d do a lot more damage than Berwick’s pathetic sparklers.

Defendo!” Scorpius said loudly. The shield materialised just in time. The green sparks slammed into it. The ghostly barrier shuddered and flickered and then faded from sight. Scorpius didn’t waste a second. As soon as his shield was gone, he said, “Verdimillious!” A plume of equally green, equally bright sparks flew from his own wand, soaring across the space between him and McLaggen. The latter yelled the Shield Charm, but scowled when one of the sparks broke through his barrier and sailed over his shoulder, missing him by inches.

Closer at hand, Berwick Cross cast another shower of sparks at Albus. For the third time, he missed. Albus was no longer bothering to say the incantation to shield himself: he was too caught up in Scorpius’s battle.

McLaggen was raising his wand again, but he paused when Thorn came to stand by his side. The Deputy Headmaster leaned forwards and muttered something in McLaggen’s ear. The boy nodded, his expression turning greedy. He smiled cruelly at Scorpius as he slashed his wand through the air and yelled, “Verdimillious forctis!”

The green sparks were hotter and brighter. They crackled with glittering energy. This new spell was stronger than the last. Scorpius acted so quickly his arm became a blur. With a stab of his wand he yelled, “Incendio!” A jet of orange flame crashed into the first sparks, throwing them off course or obliterating them mid-flight. Next, he swept his wand in an arch before him. “Defendo!” The last few blazing sparks crashed into the magical barrier – a barrier that clearly wasn’t strong enough for this level of attack. The shielding charm crumpled. The final spark broke through. It hit Scorpius in the shoulder.

“No!” Albus shouted, racing past Berwick towards his friend, who was lying on the floor, clutching his shoulder. His robes had been singed. His skin was burned.

“Get back to your partner!” Thorn barked at Albus, but Albus did not move. Thorn came to stand over Scorpius, his eyes impassive. He waved his wand at Scorpius’s burn. “Sanaris amburo,” he muttered. Scorpius gasped, his body tensing. In a matter of moments, his burn had vanished, healed by Thorn’s spell. “Get up, Malfoy,” Thorn said sharply. “And Potter, unless you return to your partner this instant, I will take thirty points from Slytherin for pure disobedience.”

As Albus stood up, he realised all the other students were watching him.

“On second thought,” Thorn said from behind Albus. “I think Malfoy’s partner is a bit too much for him.” Albus turned to face the Deputy Headmaster, who was sneering. “And it seems Potter is incapable of staying away from his friend. McLaggen, you pair up with Cross for the rest of the lesson.” Thorn nodded at Albus. “There you are, Potter. You got your wish. Mr Malfoy is all… yours.”

The students were sniggering. Salmer was gazing at Professor Thorn with renewed respect.

Albus’s face scorched hot. Scorpius got to his feet. His eyes were on the floor.

As the lesson resumed and red sparks went flying through the air once more, Albus and Scorpius began sending half-hearted spells at each other, Scorpius purposefully letting his attacks fly off course until Albus got the hang of the Shielding Charm. The rest of the class glanced in their direction every now and then as if hoping for another injury or another outburst from Albus.

As far as Albus was concerned, the lesson couldn’t finish quickly enough.

When Thorn dismissed them, setting them an essay on the uses and drawbacks of Shielding Charms, Albus, Pan and Scorpius didn’t hang around. They were the first ones to leave the classroom. “That git,” said Pan once they were in the corridor. “He’s really got it in for you two.”

“We know about the Angel’s Trumpet, that’s why,” said Albus.

“As long as McLaggen doesn’t tell too many people about the Silver Wolf,” Scorpius murmured. “Thorn told us to keep it a secret. I dread to think what he’ll do if word gets out.”

That evening at dinner, the Great Hall buzzed with its usual chatter. The platters were piled high with food, goblets flowing with pumpkin juice, pomegranate juice and gillywater.

Once the dessert platters and bowls were cleared away, Professor McGonagall rose from her seat and silence fell across the Hall. “Good evening, students,” she said. “I have a few notices.

“Firstly, we must bid farewell to Sir Toots, who is leaving us today.” She clapped her hands, setting off a brief round of applause. “It has been a pleasure to have him join us at Hogwarts this last week. His knowledge of Herbology is unmatched.” She nodded to Sir Toots, where he sat at the end of the long staff table.

“Secondly,” she continued in a haughtier voice, “I must remind students that the evening curfew is still in place and that the Forbidden Forest remains out of bounds.

“And Finally, I have some… sadder news.” Her brow wrinkled, pressing into her rectangular spectacles. “Professor Sprout’s condition is unchanged. She remains ill and, unfortunately, has decided to retire. As such, she will not be returning to Hogwarts. She wishes all the students of Hogwarts the best, and wanted me to let you know she will be enjoying her retirement, finally having the chance to tend to her garden and fill her greenhouse with plants.” McGonagall’s eyes glistened, but she did not cry and her voice did not waver. “Off to bed with you, then. Goodnight.”

The Hall was filled with sombre muttering. At the staff table, Professor Sinistra was hardmouthed. In contrast, Albus rather thought Thorn looked quietly pleased. With Sprout retiring, he was guaranteed to keep his post as Deputy Headmaster. There was no one to challenge him. Not to mention, Sprout had known about his ‘experiments’ in Greenhouse 9. Yes, he’d be very happy to know she was out of the way.

There was a scraping of benches as people got to their feet. The Hufflepuffs moved sluggishly, murmuring to one another. Sprout, Albus knew, had been a Hufflepuff herself when she was at Hogwarts. Albus glanced over at Professor Sinistra, wondering if she too had been a Hufflepuff when she studied here.

On their way back to the common room, Albus, Pan and Scorpius huddled together, talking about what they’d just heard. “She must be really ill to have to retire,” said Pan.

Albus was watching Scorpius. “Yes. She’s ill enough that the healers haven’t been able to fix her,” Albus said, his tone pointed. “Whatever hurt her is lethal. And if it was the plant—”

“It’s not the plant,” Scorpius interrupted. “We already agreed, it’s the wolf that attacked her.”

“No,” Albus argued. “I was fine after the wolf attacked me. Madam Pomfrey fixed me in a day. Sprout’s been in St Mungo’s for months and she still hasn’t recovered.”

“What are you saying?” Scorpius asked, shaking his head. “That the plant is a deadly weapon? It’s meant to be a cure-all.”

“The Ministry keeps burning it down,” Albus reminded him.

“It could save so many lives!” Scorpius retorted. He turned to Pan. “What do you think?”

Pan shrugged. “I think the plant and the wolf both sound dangerous,” she said. “I definitely won’t be going into the forest anytime soon.”

Scorpius didn’t seem appeased by this answer. As they passed through the hidden door into the common room, he looked like he was about to make another case in the plant’s favour. He was building up, Albus was sure, to suggesting they return to the clearing to collect one of the flowers. Scorpius was forestalled, however, by Gerald Humphries. The moment they stepped through the hidden door, the Quidditch Captain rose from one of the leather armchairs and came striding towards Pan.

For a brief moment, Albus’s heart leapt. Could it be that Humphries had changed his mind? Was he about to offer Pan the chance to return to the team?

Pan lifted her head, her expression revealing nothing.

“Pan,” Humphries said. “I need your Quidditch robes. We’ve found your replacement. She’ll need your uniform.”

Pan blinked. “Right,” she said. “I’ll get them.”

“Who’s replacing her?” Albus asked.

Humphries pointed towards a second-year Slytherin girl sitting with the rest of the Quidditch team by the fire. “Darla Mistlemitch,” he said. “Not as good as Pan. But she’s quick and not a bad shot.” As if Darla had heard him, she glanced over at Humphries, then her gaze flickered to Pan. She was pretty with long dark hair and freckles. She smiled shyly and perhaps somewhat guiltily before turning back to talk to the rest of the team. Humphries went to sit at her side, leaving Albus, Pan and Scorpius standing by the door.

They settled themselves at a table by the window and drew out their homework. As they attempted to finish Thorn’s essay on Shielding Charms, Pan was noticeably quiet. It wasn’t even nine o’clock when she got up and trudged off to bed.

Scorpius watched her go, his eyes full of sympathy. “I’ll get McLaggen,” he said.

Albus gestured to the large burn hole in Scorpius’s robes. “Leave McLaggen,” he told him.

“I’m fine,” Scorpius replied, pulling his cloak over his shoulder to cover the burn. “McLaggen isn’t exactly dangerous. He’s just an arrogant buffoon.”

“You think you can beat him in a duel?” Albus asked. “Look, I know you’re mad – I am too. But McLaggen would love an excuse to hex you, or to get you expelled. It’s not worth the risk.”

Scorpius stood up. “Some things are worth the risk, Albus.”

“Like going into the forest?” Albus replied, careful to keep his voice low. “Like trying to take an Angel’s Trumpet flower?”

Scorpius shoved his things into his bag and frowned down at Albus. “I don’t need your permission.” He headed for the dormitories, but Albus quickly picked up his bag and his half-finished essay and raced after him.

“It’s too risky, Scorpius.” Albus told him as he followed him down the stairs.

Scorpius flicked his wand and muttered the counter-spells to unseal the door to their room. He barged inside, Albus at his heels. “Scorpius,” he said, coming to stand beside his friend. He spun Scorpius to face him. “Promise me you won’t go after the Angel’s Trumpet again. At least, not until we know more.”

“But Thorn could destroy it any day now,” Scorpius replied. “He might’ve done it already for all we know.”

“It’s not worth the risk.”

“But, my mother…” Scorpius’s voice seemed to fail him. There were tears in his eyes.

“I don’t think she’d want you to risk your life,” Albus told him. He took Scorpius’s hand in his own. It felt cold. “Promise me you won’t go back to that clearing.”

Scorpius pulled away from Albus. When he spoke, he sounded exhausted. “Fine,” he muttered. “I promise.”

That night, they got into bed without speaking. The torches dimmed. The sea creatures flitted past the window. Albus set his glasses on his bedside table and pulled the sheets up to his chin. But time passed and he did not sleep. In the next bed, Scorpius was breathing deeply. His eyes were closed, his face smooth and unlined. Albus sat up, slipped on his glasses and took out his sketchpad. He drew late into the night, meaningless shapes, the outline of a greenhouse, the castle, a face… Scorpius’s face. Again and again, he sketched those features, trying to get them right. He wondered how Scorpius could ever find Albus interesting to look at when his own face was so perfectly imperfect – the silver eyes, the sharp but elegant lines, the angular nose, the pale, pale skin.

When Albus’s head began to droop, he set his sketchpad beside his failing Blessboom Plant and sank against his pillow.

He drifted into sleep and his dreams were strange and delirious, peppered with images of Scorpius running through a forest, of Danielle entangled in weeds. And lastly, he dreamed of his sister, who said nothing, standing in the centre of a clearing, draped in veiny leaves and black flowers. As one of the flowers brushed her cheek, her mouth opened. Help me, Albus!

Then, all was quiet.

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