Chapter 19

The weeks passed, January fading into February, February to March. The Black Lake rippled and wavered in the wind. The castle creaked and groaned. The Forbidden Forest danced, those thick, leafy branches waving like stiff, knobbly arms. As winter gave way to spring, a change began in the weather – a gap in the clouds, a whisper of sun.

Although the weather had brightened, darkness and horror had come to Albus’s dreams. Almost every night, he would run through forests in his sleep, Lily racing ahead of him, always too far to reach. She would dart between the trees, turning into shadows and then back into a girl. Sometimes she would disappear and an Angel’s Trumpet plant would sprout from the ground in her place, growing long thorny vines that shot towards Albus, wrapping around his arms and legs like shackles.

After each dream, Albus would wake with a start. Over time, he began to dread the evenings. To delay falling asleep, he would spend as much time as possible sitting up in bed sketching. As a result, his drawings of Scorpius were becoming more and more detailed. He’d managed to perfect the angular nose with those delicate nostrils and the sweep of his platinum hair. The shape of his jaw, however, still wasn’t right.

Some nights, while Scorpius slept, Albus would peer so close to his friend’s face that he could make out the detail of each and every eyelash.

During the day, Albus found himself the subject of less and less stares as the rumours around his injured arm slowly faded from people’s minds. Despite a curfew remaining in place, it seemed that the students had given up on the idea that a monster of some sort was roaming the Hogwarts grounds. All except for McLaggen, of course. Albus, Pan and Scorpius had overheard him boasting to Rose that he was going to personally destroy the silver wolf.

Thankfully, Albus’s injured arm wasn’t the only thing that had passed out of school gossip. The Slytherins’ anger at Pan for her poor Quidditch performance had been all but forgotten. Only Salmer enjoyed bringing it up at any opportunity, still revelling in what he had dubbed the worst Quidditch performance in Hogwarts memory. Pan herself gave every impression that she too had moved on, but Albus caught the way she watched the Slytherin team as they trudged in out of the common room in the evenings for Quidditch practice. There was a definite envy in her gaze and, if Albus hadn’t known her better, he would’ve thought he saw a touch of sadness there too.

Scorpius encouraged Moo to sit with Pan whenever they were in the common room (not that it took much encouragement) in an effort to cheer her up. Pan grumbled and groaned in complaint, but she allowed Moo to sit on her lap in any case, even going so far as to stroke him between the ears every now and then. At this, he would purr contentedly, a shiver running down his sleek, white fur.

Scorpius himself continued to spend much of his time gazing towards the Forbidden Forest whenever it was in sight, his mind clearly fixed upon one thing – the Angel’s Trumpet plant. He’d become so distracted that his reputation with the teachers had taken a hit. In one particular Charms lesson, Professor Flitwick commented that the place he had been reserving for his top student at Madam Beetlebone’s Summer Charms School had been given to Rose Granger-Weasley. Flitwick had glanced over at Scorpius as he made the announcement, a meaningful look on his small, slightly wrinkled face.

This event appeared to have shaken Scorpius to his core. The notion that he was no longer the top student in the year had renewed his efforts in class. He was now spending double the time on homework, making frequent trips to the library and dedicating several hours every evening sitting at their favourite table in the common room, poring over books. But schoolwork wasn’t the only thing Scorpius had become a little obsessed with. During Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons, Scorpius was now enacting his own, rather feeble, vendetta against none other than Ace McLaggen.

“I said I’d get him back, and I will,” he’d told Albus. “I’m not letting him get away with what he did to Pan.”

Every lesson, he would pair himself with Ace, Professor Thorn turning a blind eye to the violence of their spells as they duelled viciously against one another. McLaggen seemed intent on blasting Scorpius into smithereens. Scorpius, for his part, gave as good as he got – most of the time.

Albus had tried stepping in on several occasions, but Thorn had already announced that there was to be no more partner-swapping. And so, Albus was stuck duelling Berwick Cross, who, mercifully, was so useless that it didn’t matter that Albus spent most of his lessons nervously watching Scorpius and McLaggen.

So far, the worst injury Scorpius had sustained was a crack on the back of the head when he had been hit by a particularly powerful knockback jinx. He’d passed out for at least five minutes.

“Albus, I’m fine,” he’d said over and over again when Thorn had finally revived him.

Albus hadn’t been convinced.

He’d pulled Pan aside after dinner that night. “He’s going to get himself really hurt,” he’d said under his breath.

She’d shrugged. “Let him fight McLaggen if he wants. He’s got a better chance of beating him than the rest of us. And it’s not like he always loses. Don’t you remember the Unbalancing Charm he cast on McLaggen last week?”

Albus did remember it. McLaggen hadn’t been able to stand up straight for two whole days. Albus also remembered that McLaggen had got Scorpius back the next lesson by casting a StickySkin Charm that caused anything Scorpius touched to stick to him like he was covered in octopus suckers.

“Albus, it’s up to him,” Pan said, noting the look on his face. “How about instead of telling him what to do, you offer to help him?”

“Help him?”

She grunted. “Practice makes perfect,” she said. “And let’s face it, he’s not the only one who needs to work on their duelling skills.”

That night, after they’d returned to their room, Albus picked up one of the pillows from his bed. “Catch!” he shouted, throwing it at Scorpius’s head.

The boy had barely raised his arms when the pillow struck him in the face. “What was that for?” Scorpius asked, picking up the pillow and lobbing it back at Albus.

Albus caught the pillow. He was about to tell Scorpius about Pan’s suggestion to help him practice his duelling, but he stopped himself. He had a feeling Scorpius wouldn’t react well to the news that Albus thought he needed help.

“What?” Scorpius pressed.

“I… er… I need help with my duelling,” he said. “I thought we could practice.” Albus waved his wand and sent the pillow shooting once more at Scorpius.

The boy was ready this time. “Coagulous!” he yelled. The pillow struck a wall of solid air. “Verdimillious!” Scorpius intoned. Green sparks shot from his wand.

Defendo!” Albus shouted. The sparks hit his ghostly shield, which soon petered out and died. Albus reached for another pillow.

Gravis gravitas!” Scorpius cried. At once, the pillow became heavy as a boulder, slipping from Albus’s fingers.

Ventus!” Scorpius said, pointing his wand at Albus. A gust of spiralling wind soared towards Albus, so powerful that it threw him against the wall, air slamming into his face so that his hair flew wildly about.

Albus tried to think of a spell, anything that he could use to stop the wind.

He needed to distract Scorpius somehow. “Lumos exarcis!” he said at last, pressing his eyes shut. A flash of horrendously bright light lit the room. Scorpius’s spell ended at once.

Albus opened his eyes to find Scorpius blinking furiously.

“Flipendo!” Albus shouted.

“Defendo!” Scorpius responded.

Albus’s spell bounced off Scorpius’s shield. It struck him hard in the chest and he was thrown onto his back, groaning as he hit the flagstones.

Scorpius came to stand over him, still rubbing his sore eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“That was just… round… one,” Albus said breathlessly.

Scorpius chuckled. “Best of three?”

“Best of five,” Albus said.

 

Scorpius’s duelling skills definitely seemed to be improving. In their subsequent Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons, he wasn’t knocked unconscious once. In fact, he managed to put up a formidable fight. One time, he pulled off a repelling spell so powerful that McLaggen’s Quicksand Curse bounced right back at him. McLaggen sank up to his chest into the floor, floundering with panicky shouts of terror.

“I think I’m getting better,” Scorpius told Albus and Pan after the lesson. The fact that he had a black eye slightly undermined these words.

“You look like a panda,” Pan reminded him.

“That may be true,” he replied, blushing. “But at least this time, McLaggen looks worse off than me.”

The three of them turned at the same time to look at McLaggen, whose clothes were covered from head to toe in quicksand.

“And anyway,” Scorpius continued, “there are bigger things to worry about than McLaggen.”

Albus sighed. “If this is about my would-be killer—”

“We still don’t know who she is,” Scorpius interrupted. “She has the Invisibility Cloak and let’s not forget she’s already tried poisoning you once.”

“I reckon she’s given up,” Pan said. “Lost her nerve.”

Scorpius sighed. “I don’t think we should be complacent.”

Albus winced.

He just hoped, like Pan, that whoever this murderous girl was, she’d had enough of trying to do him in.

 

As time passed and there were no new attempts to kill him, Albus began to wonder if the Slytherin girl really had given up. Perhaps she’d decided that being the owner of the Invisibility Cloak was good enough. Killing Albus had, hopefully, turned out to be too much hassle for her. Albus focussed on that last thought, trying to get himself to believe it.

 

Spring came to Hogwarts. Albus found himself worrying less and less about who the Slytherin girl might be. With the sun shining and the sky blue, he felt less on edge. In fact, the whole school seemed to be in better spirits.

The first-years found their outdoor lessons more enjoyable. For one thing, it made a nice change to no longer worry about losing their fingers to frostbite during Herbology. It was just a shame that Uncle Neville wasn’t in quite such high spirits. He remained short-tempered and irritable. Albus didn’t understand it. Was he still angry about Thorn becoming Deputy Headmaster? Was Thorn making his life difficult in some way? Or was this still about Aunt Luna?

Whatever the reason, Uncle Neville was becoming surlier by the day. He no longer acknowledged Albus. In fact, he didn’t seem to notice Albus at all, nor any of the other students for that matter. Their last three Herbology lessons had involved pruning the hedgerows around the castle walls, a task that seemed so boringly mundane, the first-years were under a strong suspicion that it wasn’t part of the syllabus.

The warmer weather also brought with it extra flying lessons. For this fact, Albus was not grateful. If anything, he seemed to be getting worse at flying. Scorpius had marginally improved, able to get more than ten foot off the ground without losing his balance. Albus, on the other hand, only had to lose concentration for a moment and he’d find himself slipping sideways off his broom or else flipping headfirst over the handle.

Albus was faring just as poorly in Transfiguration. In their most recent lesson, Professor Winter had tasked the Slytherins with turning a rope into an adder. So far, Albus had managed to turn the rope into a slightly smaller rope. He’d then made it disappear in a puff of smoke and, finally, he’d managed to bring it to life. It had wrapped itself around his neck and tried to strangle him. He’d been sent to the Hospital Wing with severe rope burns.

Thankfully, there was one lesson in which Albus wasn’t a complete failure. Potions remained his best subject. When he, Pan and Scorpius waited outside the dungeon classroom on Tuesday morning, Albus was actually looking forward to it. They’d been preparing to make their Buoyant Brew last week and today they would finally be concocting it.

The Hufflepuffs arrived in one large group, Beau Nye and Lance Chopra at the head of the throng. Beau sent Danielle an embarrassed smile before turning back to his friend. Danielle went slightly pink. Missy Groombridge was scowling. “Love your hair today, Danielle,” she said, her tone cutting. “It looks like a muggle did it. Was that the look you were going for?”

Danielle blushed even pinker.

Drake Salmer was chortling. “Well,” he said, “if scruffy is the muggle style, then yes, I’d say she’s got the look down to perfection.”

At this, a couple of the Hufflepuff girls turned in his direction. Apolina Spinnet and Skye Fortescue scowled. “My mother is a muggle,” said Skye, whose turquoise eyes were narrowed in dislike. “Do you think I look scruffy?”

Skye, who was a very pretty, chestnut-haired girl with long eyelashes and fitted robes, eyed Salmer in cold interest, waiting for a response.

Salmer looked her up and down. His voice stuttered for a moment before he managed a feeble, “No. N-not exactly. You er… Your hair is very…” He chuckled awkwardly.

Missy cleared her throat. “Of course, your hair is lovely, Skye,” she simpered. “There are some very attractive muggles out there, I’m sure. Just like there are ugly wizards.” She turned to look at Pan. “Isn’t that right, Troll?”

Skye went pale, whether out of anger or mortification, Albus couldn’t tell. Pan didn’t react. It was as if Missy hadn’t spoken.

Before Missy could say anything else, Slughorn appeared in the doorway to his classroom, beaming as usual. His walrus moustache had been immaculately combed.

Once they were all inside, he set them to work on their Buoyant Brews. It was such a complex potion that Scorpius had to devote most of his focus to his own cauldron in order to make it, leaving Pan to her own devices.

Albus read and re-read every line of the instructions before carrying them out, frowning at the minutely precise detail of each one. He had to add the eel slime with his right hand, pouring the liquid in a spiralling motion. The squid ink had to be mixed with juniper berries and flobberworm mucus before being shaken twelve times and then added to the cauldron. Every step seemed to be more complicated than the last.

Indeed, many of the first-years were struggling. Julia Hopkirk’s cauldron had turned itself inside-out, spilling her potion all over the floor. Meanwhile, Zanzibar Smith’s brew had started sparking with electricity, sparks that soon turned to a full-on storm. Slughorn had to throw a bucket of water over the cauldron to put a stop to it.

When the time was up, Slughorn rapped on the blackboard and asked the class to decant their potions.

Albus was sweaty, his hands covered in squid ink. Nevertheless, his Buoyant Brew was just the right shade of pea-green. In fact, when Slughorn came to inspect it, his smile widened in delight. “That’s my boy!” he exclaimed. Albus earned ten points for Slytherin.

To the class’s surprise and delight, Slughorn announced that since they still had half an hour of the lesson left, they would be going out to the Hogwarts grounds to test their potions.

They took up their equipment, bags and potions and followed him out of the classroom, Scorpius practically skipping with excitement.

Slughorn led them to the Black Lake. “Take a sip of your Buoyant Brew,” he told them. “Then, step into the lake.”

After taking a gulp, Albus dipped his toe into the water. But it was as if the water was suddenly made of marble. Taking a hesitant breath, he set his foot fully upon it, marvelling in wonder as he did not sink below the surface. He set his other foot upon the water, wide-eyed. He didn’t drop an inch. Ripples spread out across the lake as he began walking – walking on water!

The soles of his feet weren’t even wet.

Shortly, Scorpius caught up with him. He too was able to walk on the water, though his feet looked slightly wet.

The rest of the class had sunk, knee-deep, into the lake, many of them shouting or screaming from the cold.

Pan was grimacing, shaking her head as she sank waist-deep into the icy water.

Albus and Scorpius sent her apologetic glances, but she rolled her eyes and waved them off, as if to say – well you two may as well enjoy yourselves.

Grinning at each other, Albus and Scorpius headed off towards the centre of the lake, leaving the rest of the class at the bank.

As they walked, Albus gazed at Scorpius, at the way the morning sunlight was reflected in the platinum blond of his hair. For his part, Scorpius only had eyes for the Forbidden Forest.

“You’re still thinking about the Angel’s Trumpet,” Albus said.

Scorpius sighed. “I promised you I wouldn’t go looking for it again,” he replied.

“It’s dangerous.”

Scorpius crouched, running his fingers through the water beneath them. Albus wondered if the Giant Squid was nearby, whether one of its tentacles would pop up out of the water at any moment. Shoving that thought away, he sat himself beside Scorpius, the water cushioning him like a mattress.

“I’m trying, Albus,” Scorpius said abruptly, his tone sad. “I’m trying not to think about the Angel’s Trumpet. But I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t make myself forget about it.”

“You have to,” Albus said gently.

Scorpius tilted his face away from Albus. He took a deep breath before he spoke. “When I was five years old,” Scorpius said, “I asked my dad why Mum spent so much time in bed, why she always looked so pale, why whenever she did manage to get out of bed, she would shuffle and stumble.” Scorpius let his fingers sink below the surface of the lake. “My father didn’t answer the question. It wasn’t until I turned eight that my mother and father sat me down and told me what was wrong with her.”

Albus watched his friend, not wanting to move or even breathe too loudly in case it put him off his story.

“But of course,” Scorpius continued, “I already knew something was wrong by then. My mother is an animagus. She can turn into a panther. And sometimes she would have these… episodes. She would forget who we were, she would even forget her own name. And then, if she transformed, she would be dangerous.”

Scorpius pulled his knees up to his chest, hugging them tightly. “They told me that my mother had a blood curse – the kind of curse that can’t be broken. It drained her strength and messed with her mind.” Scorpius looked at Albus, his face full of sorrow. “As she got older, the blood curse worsened. And now, there are days when she doesn’t remember anything. But, every now and then, there’ll be a day when it’s like she’s back to her old self again.” He sighed. “I hate seeing her stuck in that bed, wasting her life away.”

Albus cleared his throat. “I’m sorry,” he muttered. He winced at the hollowness of his own words. They sounded so pathetic.

“The Angel’s Trumpet,” Scorpius said, his voice stronger than before. “It will heal her, Albus.” He stood up. “I know it’s dangerous and I know you got hurt the last time we went into the forest, but I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“You promised not to go back,” Albus said.

Scorpius nodded. He took a breath, then forced a smile onto his face. “It’s peaceful out here.”

He looked towards the distant bank, where Slughorn was trying to stop a water fight that had broken out between the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs.

Scorpius took out his wand and waved it through the air. “Aquarum soltanimalis,” he said softly. At first, nothing happened, but then shapes, made entirely of water, rose out of the lake. First, a lion, then a monkey, then a crane. More and more animals appeared, dancing around on the water, an owl flapping cheerfully in circles, a horse galloping. Next, came a hippogriff, a unicorn and a giant spider.

“Neat spell,” Albus said.

“I’ve never tried it before,” Scorpius said. “But it’s one of my mother’s favourites. She used to cast it on the pond in our garden.”

Albus considered the animals. “I like the horse,” he said. At his words, the water horse galloped to his side, bowing its head to him.

Scorpius laughed softly. A moment later, the unicorn had come to stand beside him, it’s watery muzzle, nuzzling at his blond hair. The rest of the animals disappeared back into the lake. “Well, I think the unicorn likes me,” Scorpius said.

The two animals nodded heads at each other, then, out of the blue, they began chasing each other across the surface of the lake, their watery manes dancing in the wind. They glittered and glistened in the light, the unicorn’s horn giving off a pearly glow.

After a while, something strange happened. The two animals stopped running. They turned to face one another, then leapt into the air. Their bodies turned into two streams of water that spiralled around each other, twisting upwards. They dropped like a stone back into the lake, one singular stream of water.

“They merged together,” said Albus in surprise.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Scorpius agreed. He was blushing.

There was a moment of awkward silence before Scorpius turned away from Albus and led the way towards the bank of the lake. Neither of them spoke. Scorpius looked thoughtful. Albus wondered if he was thinking about the Angel’s Trumpet plant again. But it wasn’t the forest the blond-haired boy kept glancing towards. This time, his eyes were drawn to Albus.

“What is it?” Albus asked as they approached the rest of the class.

“Nothing,” Scorpius replied. “I was just thinking…” He trailed off. “I need to go to the library after break. There’s a couple of books we need for Flitwick’s lumos essay.” Albus had the impression that this wasn’t what he’d been thinking about at all.

Slughorn dismissed them at the edge of the lake, setting them an essay on the properties of beetle wings before waving them off, grimacing at the splotches of mud on his once perfect green robes.

Pan, who was completely soaked from the water fight, was shivering as she walked with Albus and Scorpius towards the castle. “I see you two were having a nice old time swanning around on the lake,” she said coolly.

“Here,” Scorpius said. He pulled out his wand and gave it a complicated little wave so that hot air streamed out of the tip; he then pointed this at Pan’s robes, which began to steam as they dried out.

“Thanks,” Pan said. “You two missed all the entertainment. You should’ve heard Missy. You’d think the lake water was acid the way she was screaming.”

As they climbed the steps to the Entrance Hall, they bumped into Hagrid, walking out of the main doors. He seemed to be in a hurry. The pockets of his coat were bulging. “Yer all right?” he said to them. “I’ve jus’ been up to the Hospital Wing, needed some supplies.” He patted his pockets distractedly, looking towards his cabin. “Anyway, gotta go! See yer around!”

“Wait!” Albus called after him as he marched off towards the grounds. “We haven’t seen you in ages!”

Hagrid stopped, trudged back over to them and lowered his voice. “Can’t talk now, I’m in a rush.” He looked about nervously. “The three of yeh come ter me cabin after school. We can talk then. Yeh’ll be glad yer came, I tell yer. I’ve got something amazin’ yeh’ll want ter see.”

Before they could ask any questions, Hagrid turned on his heel and stomped off towards his cabin, his boots sinking into the grass as he walked.

“I wonder what that was about,” Albus muttered.

“As long as he doesn’t want to introduce us to his brother’s new girlfriend,” said Pan.

“That would be fascinating,” Scorpius remarked. “I’d love to meet a giantess.”

“You won’t be saying that when she steps on you and squashes you flat,” said Pan.

Albus had to admit he wasn’t overly excited with the idea of meeting Grawp’s lady friend. He only hoped that Hagrid’s surprise would be something a bit less life-threatening. But knowing Hagrid, he didn’t hold out much hope.

When they got to the library, Madam Pince fixed them with her usual haughty stare. Scorpius wasn’t put off. He strode towards her and, after a short conversation, had a list of books that would be useful for their Charms essay.

Albus and Pan followed him around the library, Pan muttering irritably under her breath. There were students flying around outside the windows, darting this way and that on their brooms, robes flapping in the wind, their hair plastered to their heads. A look of longing passed over Pan’s face.

Scorpius led them along aisle after aisle, checking books off his list until they found themselves near the restricted section. A similar look of longing passed over Scorpius’s face, but it wasn’t directed towards the fliers outside, it was focussed upon the hundreds of books that were kept under lock and key, out of his reach.

When he’d taken down the last book from high on one of the shelves, dropping it into Pan’s already laden arms, he pointed back towards the front desk. They were about to move off when there came a clacking of heels on stone.

Madam Pince and Professor Thorn were striding down the central aisle of the library, heading towards them. They were talking in hushed voices, their faces intense. Albus pulled Scorpius and Pan into the shadow of a nearby alcove. They sent him questioning glances, until their eyes fell upon the harried figures of Pince and Thorn.

“Gone, Professor!” Madam Pince cried in a fierce whisper. “I have no record that they’ve been checked out. Someone has taken them.”

“And you say they were books on dangerous and rare plants?” Thorn asked.

“Yes, precisely, Professor,” she said. “Three of them! I thought I was going mad at first, but my last inventory check couldn’t account for them. Those books have gone missing. And if I’m not mistaken, they’ve been taken by a student.”

Thorn had paused at the entrance to the restricted section. His eyes roved about the library and Albus pressed himself and the others further into the alcove to avoid being seen.

When Albus peered around the stone again, Thorn had a shrewd look on his face. “I think I know exactly where to find those books.”

“What do you mean?” Madam Pince asked, her tone sharp.

“Forgive me,” Thorn said, “but I need to pay a visit to Professor Slughorn.”

“Slughorn?” Pince replied in surprise as Thorn turned on his heel and began walking away. “Professor Slughorn took those books?” she called after him.

“No, Madam,” he replied over his shoulder. “Not Slughorn. Students in his house.”

Thorn vanished from the library, Madam Pince bustling in his wake to take a seat at her desk. She looked incredibly put out.

Albus rested his head against the wall, his heart sinking. Scorpius, meanwhile, was looking panicked. “We never returned the books!” he gasped. “The ones you took from the restricted section!”

Albus cursed himself. He’d totally forgotten about them. At this moment, they were hidden in his wardrobe beneath the piles of robes, art supplies and potion equipment he kept stored in there. They certainly wouldn’t be hidden well enough to go undiscovered if Thorn decided to do a search of his room.

“How does he know we were the ones who took them?” Pan asked.

“He knows we went into the forest looking for the Angel’s Trumpet plant,” Albus said. “He’ll think we took those books for research.”

“Well, he’s right, isn’t he,” Pan replied. “Too bad for him that he doesn’t have any proof.”

Scorpius was nodding. “Pan’s right,” he said. “Thorn can’t search our room just because he has a hunch. McGonagall won’t allow it.”

“Still,” Albus replied. “I’ll have to take the books back tonight.” He thought about what Madam Pince had said and frowned. “Did she say that three books had gone missing?”

Scorpius nodded.

“But I only took two,” Albus said.

Pan frowned. Scorpius glanced out of the nearest window, towards the Forbidden Forest. “Someone else is researching dangerous plants?” he said, concern clear in his voice. “I wonder who it could be…”

Pan scoffed. “Who would be sad enough to steal a book about plants?” she said.

Scorpius harrumphed. “Books can be very valuable you know, Pan.”

“Yeah, maybe a book about magicking gold or transfiguring diamonds,” she replied, “but not a boring book about plants.”

“You think a plant that can cure any illness is boring?” Scorpius asked. “What about Gillyweed or Preening Pollen or Cander-Root? Are they boring?”

“I don’t even know what Preening Pollen or Cander-Root is,” Pan replied.

Sensing the beginning of an argument, Albus spoke up. “We should head to History of Magic or we’ll be late.”

Scorpius bit his lip. “What about the stolen books?” he asked.

“I can’t return them until tonight,” Albus replied. “I just wish I still had the Invisibility Cloak.”

Scorpius looked thoughtful for a moment. “There might be a way around that…”

 

History of Magic was as boring as ever. Scorpius was the only one who managed to stay awake through the entirety of the lesson. When it finally ended, he didn’t stick around to wait for Albus and Pan. He rushed off to the library, his already overflowing bag banging against his hip as he ran.

Albus and Pan didn’t see him again until the start of their double Transfiguration lesson that afternoon.

“I was doing research,” he told them as they each tried to turn their length of rope into an adder. “I think I may have found a way for Albus to return the library books without being seen.”

“How?” Albus and Pan asked.

Scorpius’s answer was interrupted by the appearance of Professor Winter. He stood over the three of them, his eyes piercing. “I should see three adders on your desk,” he said. “At the moment, there are only three lengths of rope.” He watched them expectantly.

Scorpius waved his wand over the rope in front of him. It shuddered for a moment, then transformed into a brown snake, a black pattern along its length. It hissed at them all, then curled into a spiral, tucking its head out of sight.

Professor Winter didn’t react. It seemed there was nothing negative to say.

Pan eyed her own piece of rope as though it was already a snake. She cleared her throat, then waved her wand. The rope shivered, wriggled, then turned into an earthworm.

Professor Winter scowled. “What a fearsome snake,” he said with cutting sarcasm.

Pan pretended not to hear him.

It was Albus’s turn. He focussed all his attention on the rope, conjured up a picture of an adder in his mind, and waved his wand. To Albus’s amazement, the rope did transform. But instead of turning into an adder, it became a bright green snake with lurid, yellow eyes.

Professor Winter didn’t bother to pass comment. His face said it all. He turned his back on them and stalked over to another desk, blue robes swishing, white hair catching in the afternoon sun.

The rest of the class were struggling just as badly as Albus and Pan. Drake Salmer managed to turn his rope into a miniature hot-air balloon, while Missy Groombridge transformed hers into a rusty chain that tried to shackle Julia Hopkirk’s wrists together.

Professor Winter addressed them all at the end of the lesson. “Transfiguration requires discipline and practice. In essence, it requires effort. Something that this class seems to be severely lacking in.” His thin mouth grew taught. “Therefore, until I see some improvement, I will be setting you double the amount of homework. By next lesson, I expect two rolls of parchment on vertebrate to vertebrate transfiguration. And, unless they are up to scratch, I will be keeping each and every one of you in detention.”

The Slytherins left Transfiguration uttering groans and irritable whispers. Salmer threw Professor Winter a particularly nasty look before sauntering out into the corridor with his gang of cronies.

Albus, Pan and Scorpius hurried to the Great Hall for dinner. They ate quickly, eager to get to Hagrid’s before evening curfew began. As soon as they were done, Pan snatching up two custard tarts for the journey, they made their way to Hagrid’s cabin. Pan hung back as they trudged across the grounds, muttering about giants and squashed wizards.

“I’m telling you,” she called to them, barely shuffling her feet, “if he tells us he’s introducing us to a giantess, I’m going straight back to the castle.”

Albus and Scorpius stopped to wait for her.

“Pan, don’t be so closed-minded,” Scorpius told her. “Giants have been persecuted throughout history. Just like werewolves and merpeople and vampires—”

“Vampires!” she said, almost choking on the word. “Okay, maybe merpeople are pretty harmless, and werewolves are all right as long as it isn’t the full moon – but vampires? You do know they drink blood, don’t you?”

“I think they’re misunderstood,” Scorpius said.

“You sound like Hagrid,” she told him.

It was at that moment that Hagrid emerged from his hut. He was carrying a wooden bowl of water, which he slopped onto the grass before heading back inside.

“Hagrid!” they called out to him.

He jumped in fright, then placed a massive hand over his chest. “Oh, it’s jus’ you three!” he called out. “Come in, then!” He gestured them into his cabin with a look of eager anticipation on his face.

“So what is it that you wanted to show…?” Albus’s voice faded into nothing as his eyes fell upon the shape lying on a pallet in the corner of the room. Covered in blankets, its head resting on its front paws, a horribly familiar, silver-furred animal was watching them with ghostly eyes.

The silver wolf.

Scorpius leaped back. Pan froze. Albus’s mouth dropped open. He turned to Hagrid. “It’s…” he said, his voice squeaky. “Hagrid, you can’t keep that animal here. It’s dangerous!”

“Dangerous?” Hagrid replied, waving the word away like it was a gnat. “Don’t talk rubbish! Found the poor beast in the forest. Leg’s hurt pretty bad. I weren’t abou’ to leave her there.”

Her?” Pan said in surprise.

“Yer, it’s a female wolf, alrigh’,” Hagrid said. “Can tell by the muzzle – shorter, see?”

Albus’s hand flew to his upper arm, to the place where the wolf had clawed him, tearing great gashes in his flesh. And now, Hagrid was keeping it as a pet!

“This is the animal that attacked me, Hagrid,” Albus said.

Hagrid didn’t appear to hear him, he was making soft mewing noises as he approached the wolf. One of his enormous hands came down to pet the wolf’s head, stroking between its ears and through its silvery fur. The wolf made no move to attack. In fact, it yawned contentedly. Hagrid lifted one of the blankets to reveal a bloody wound on its leg. “Jus’ finished cleaning it,” he said. “Don’t want it ter get infected. I’ll bandage it again once the antiseptic dries.”

Scorpius was the first one to move closer. He seemed mesmerised by the animal. “But, what is she?” he asked. “She can’t be an ordinary wolf.”

“I don’t rightly know, truth be told,” Hagrid said. “I reckon she’s a wolf all right. But she might’ve been marked by a unicorn. That can happen sometimes. It’s rare though. Unicorns don’t often bless animals.”

Scorpius tentatively reached out to pat the wolf.

“Scorpius, don’t!” Albus cried.

But the wolf didn’t attack. It closed its eyes and let Scorpius stroke it. Albus could hardly believe what he was seeing. Could this really be the same snarling, vicious animal that had attacked him in the forest? And now Scorpius was stroking it! In fact, it was happily wagging its tail.

There must be more than one, Albus thought. This can’t be the same wolf.

And yet there was something in its eyes, a familiar pale, ghostly light that he was sure could belong to only one creature. This animal, it seemed, really was the same wolf that had attacked him.

Albus was shaken from his thoughts by Hagrid.

“Tea, anyone?” the enormous man asked brightly. As he strode towards the stove, he pointed at Albus and Pan and then at the wolf. “You two gonna stroke her then?”

“Maybe later,” Albus told him.

Scorpius was quiet while they drank their tea. His eyes, however, kept flickering out the window, towards the nearby forest. Albus had an idea of what might be on his mind and it made him uneasy.

“So,” Scorpius said to Hagrid, “the wolf is staying here with you for the time being? She won’t be going back into the forest?”

Hagrid shook his head. “Nah, I’d love ter set her back in her natural habitat o’course, but she can hardly walk. She won’t be ready to go back to the forest for another week, I reckon.”

“Oh, that’s a shame,” Scorpius replied, though by the way he said it, it didn’t sound like a shame at all.

Albus narrowed his eyes. “One of the reasons the wolf can’t go back into the forest is because of all the dangerous creatures in there that could attack her,” he said pointedly. “That’s why students aren’t allowed in there.”

“Most of those dangerous creatures are just misunderstood,” Scorpius responded obstinately.

“Tha’s right,” Hagrid agreed.

Albus wanted to say more on the subject, but a shadow in the window caught his eye. A second later, it was gone, but Albus hurried to the window and looked out.

In the distance, the unmistakeable figure of Ace McLaggen was racing up to the castle.

Albus’s heart sank.

“Albus, what is it?” Scorpius asked.

“McLaggen,” he replied with a sigh. “He was looking inside. And I think he saw the wolf.”

 

The daylight was fading as they made their way back to the castle, following in McLaggen’s path.

“McLaggen knows the silver wolf attacked me,” Albus said. “Now he’s going to think it’s Hagrid’s pet or something.”

“He won’t tell anyone about it,” Scorpius said. “He won’t want other people going after the wolf before he gets the chance. You heard him before – ‘I’ll slay the beast’ he said.”

“Maybe he should,” Pan muttered.

Scorpius gaped at her.

“What?” she said. “It mauled Albus.”

“You saw her just now,” Scorpius replied. “I was stroking her and she didn’t make any move to hurt me.”

“It’s injured, that’s why.”

“She’s just an animal!”

“Then why was it guarding the Angel’s Trumpet?” Pan asked. “Why did it attack Albus?”

Scorpius stalled for a moment. “Well…” he said. “I guess… maybe she had a litter nearby and it was her pups that she was guarding.”

Albus took a hold of Scorpius’s arm and pulled him to a stop. “There’s something strange about the Angel’s Trumpet plant,” he said. “Something sent the wolf wild, something made Professor Sprout ill. There’s a reason they burned every last scrap of whatever was inside Greenhouse 9. Those flowers are dangerous.”

Scorpius glanced towards the forest. “We don’t know that for sure,” he muttered.

 

That night, Albus and Scorpius had another practice duel. They sent pillows and cushions flying across the room at each other, casting smokescreens, miniature cyclones and shooting bolts of green and red light in all directions. The air thrummed with magic. Albus’s shoes were stuck to the floor. Scorpius had pillows trying to whack him from all sides.

Their spells were stronger tonight. It was as if the winner of the duel would win their argument over the Angel’s Trumpet.

Albus didn’t want to give in. For once, he didn’t want to lose.

But, at last, Albus dropped his wand in defeat. Scorpius had brought his robes to life and they’d wrapped around him like a straight-jacket.

Scorpius undid his spell and then let Albus do the tidying-up. When everything had magicked itself back to its place, Scorpius checked his watch. “I think it’s late enough.”

They took out the stolen library books from the wardrobe and tucked them in Albus’s bag.

“Come with me,” Albus said.

“I can’t cast this spell on myself,” Scorpius replied. He picked up a book resting on his bedside table. He’d taken it out of the library at lunchtime, having found a helpful enchantment inside it – the Shadow Charm.

“Then let’s just go together without the spell to hide us,” Albus suggested.

“And get expelled if we’re seen?” Scorpius replied.

Albus scowled at him. “I know why you don’t want to come,” he said. “I know you’re planning something.”

Scorpius tilted his head down, his platinum hair hiding his eyes.

“You can’t go into the forest,” Albus implored him. The thought of it made his insides twist. “Just because the wolf isn’t there anymore, doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.”

“I’m not going to go into the forest,” Scorpius said, but his cheeks were flushed and he still refused to meet Albus’s gaze.

“Promise me,” Albus said, his tone firm.

Scorpius hesitated a moment, then he said quietly, “I promise.” Then, he raised his wand. “Can I cast the spell now?”

Albus nodded, satisfied that, at least for tonight, Scorpius wouldn’t try anything foolish.

“Now, remember, it won’t make you invisible,” Scorpius told him firmly. “It will make you like a shadow. As long as you’re completely still, no one will notice you. But whenever you move, the spell fades and you’ll be easier to spot.”

“I’ll look like a shadow?”

Scorpius nodded. “That’s why it’s really only good for night time. You’ll be like a patch of darkness in the room, but the stiller you are, the more powerful the shadow and the better you’re hidden.” He brushed something from Albus’s shoulder, his fingers lingering there a moment. “Ready?” he asked at last.

Albus nodded.

Scorpius tapped his wand on both of Albus’s shoulders, then the crooks of his elbows, his knees and finally his ankles. “Ambula umbra,” he muttered each time his wand met with Albus’s body. “Ambula umbra, ambula umbra, ambula umbra…”

A strange sensation swept through Albus. It was like cold vapour passing under his skin. He shivered involuntarily.

The sensation passed over his eyes and he blinked several times until it was gone. When it had faded, he looked down at himself with a mixture of unease and wonder. He was, for all intents and purposes, a shadow, but whenever he moved, he shifted back into solidness.

“Remember,” Scorpius said, his voice oddly distorted, as if Albus was underwater, “if you come across Filch or any teachers, stop moving at once, then you’ll be best disguised.”

Albus held himself completely still, then glanced down at his body to check the result. Sure enough, he was nothing but shadowy darkness.

“Oh,” Scorpius continued, “and don’t take too long either. The spell will only last an hour.”

“You’ll be here when I get back?” Albus asked, noting with uncertainty that even his own voice sounded distorted. It was as if he wasn’t quite part of reality anymore, like he was hearing and seeing everything through a pane of glass.

“Of course,” Scorpius replied after a moment’s hesitation. “I promised.”

Albus nodded. He tapped the bag of library books hanging from his shoulder and then backed towards the door.

“You promise?” Albus repeated, one last time.

Scorpius’s jaw tightened. “Yes, Albus.”

With that, Albus left the room, heading off into the night and the torchlit corridors of the Hogwarts castle.

 

It was eerie walking the castle at night, particularly when every sound was strange and distorted, affected by the peculiar shadow spell Scorpius had cast on him. It was also incredibly disconcerting to see his own legs flickering in and out of sight, changing from shadow to solid to shadow again as he walked.

The air was cold, a night breeze rattling the corridor windows. Albus could feel goosebumps rising on his shadowy skin.

Twice, he almost made a wrong turning, the castle looking so different at night with the lanterns turned low. When he finally arrived at the library, his heart was beating fast. He kept checking his watch, noting that twenty minutes had already passed since Scorpius had cast the Shadow Charm.

What if the magic ran out before he got back to his dormitory? What if he was seen by a teacher?

He was pretty certain he would be expelled.

Well, there was no point lingering on those thoughts right now. He had a job to do.

The library was ghostly quiet. None of the torches were aflame. The cavernous space was lit only by the light of the moon streaming in through the windows.

Albus crept on tiptoe along the central aisle, heading towards the restricted section. His steps, even while he took care to keep quiet, sounded horrendously loud. He only hoped Madam Pince hadn’t decided to start patrolling the library at night now that some of her precious books had gone missing.

He passed quickly along the aisles of the restricted section, heading towards the bookcase he needed. But it was as he passed the next shelf that he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He froze on the spot, his heart skipping a beat. He hardly dared to move his head, but his eyes flickered towards the source of the movement. There was someone standing in the next aisle.

Albus’s eyes widened. The person, whoever they were, was stood in front of the exact bookcase he needed.

Moving as slowly as he could, Albus crept closer to the end of the aisle, noting how his body flickered in and out of visibility as he did so.

He peered around the nearest bookcase, suppressing a gasp when the person came into view.

That mane of hair and those red robes were unmistakeable, even in the thick darkness of the night. It was Thorn.

What is he doing here?

A thrill of fear coursed through Albus. Had Thorn known Albus would come to return the books. Was he waiting here to catch him?

But, no – Thorn wasn’t simply waiting. He was taking something out of the folds of his robes. It was a book – a small, journal-sized book. He reached upwards and slotted it into place in the bookshelf.

The third book! Albus thought. He’s the one who took it!

Thorn glanced about furtively. It seemed that he too did not want to be discovered wandering the library late at night.

Every muscle in Albus’s body tensed as Thorn’s gaze swept over him. Albus didn’t even let himself blink.

Thorn’s eyes slid past Albus, who silently sent his thanks to Scorpius for having the wherewithal to search out the Shadow Charm.

Thorn adjusted his robes, then took up a lamp from a nearby shelf. As he lifted it up, the flame inside it flickered to life, illuminating the aisle, light falling upon Albus’s shadowy body.

Albus looked down at himself. He wasn’t quite so shadowy now.

He’ll see me! Albus thought in terror.

Thorn was now walking towards him, heading for the main passageway, his lanternlight getting closer, stronger.

Albus backed away, his body flickering solid as he moved.

Thorn stopped dead in his tracks, raising his wand. Albus disappeared down the next aisle, pressing himself into the bookshelf.

Suddenly, the lanternlight vanished. There was the sound of slow, heavy footfalls, each one coming closer to Albus, who was pressing himself so hard against the bookshelves that the spines of the books were digging into his back.

“Who’s there?” came Thorn’s deep, rumbling voice.

He appeared from around the corner, wand held high, red robes muted by the pale moonlight. His eyes darted about the aisle in which Albus stood. He stepped closer.

There was suspicion in the man’s face, deep lines carved into his forehead. “I know someone’s there,” he said quietly. “It would be better to come out now than to continue hiding.”

Albus held his breath as Thorn took another step closer. The man’s robes were inches from brushing against the toe of Albus’s shoe.

“Who’s there?” Thorn repeated.

Albus’s lungs were burning. He needed to pull in a breath, but if he did, he would be revealed.

Thorn moved to take another step, but, just then, the distant sound of a door slamming stopped him mid-movement. He turned on his heel, glancing along the passage towards the library’s entrance.

The man took one last look in Albus’s direction, then, scowling, hurried off into the darkness of the library.

Albus finally let himself take a breath, his throat raspy.

In the distance he heard another door open and shut – Thorn leaving the library. At least, Albus hoped that’s what it was.

I have to get out of here, he thought.

Hurrying back towards the aisle in which Thorn had stood a few moments before, he pulled out the two books in his bag. It was as he was sliding the second one into place that he noticed a small, journal-sized book on the same shelf – the book Thorn had returned.

Albus faltered. Did he dare take it? The whole reason he was here was to return stolen books, not to steal more. And yet, this was the dangerous plants section, and here was a book that Thorn had taken for himself.

Albus would’ve bet a hundred galleons that that tiny book contained information about the Angel’s Trumpet.

His breath quickening, he took down the book and pulled out his wand.

Lumos,” he whispered.

At once, his wand-tip lit up with white light. He passed the light over the book while, one-handed, he opened it to the contents page.

Sure enough, with its very own chapter heading, there it was – Angelus Mater.

Albus knew he couldn’t risk reading it now, knew he was on a strict time schedule, but it was like something had taken possession of him. He flicked to the page titled Angelus Mater and began scanning through the text. There was a picture of the black-flowered, green-leaved plant with those horrid pink and black veins running through it taking up one corner of the page. In another corner, an unfamiliar picture had been drawn. It was of a plant with golden leaves and white flowers. Underneath the second picture was a caption, Angelus Mater in full bloom.

Albus began to read in earnest.

Beware the Trumpet of the Angels, the flower sometimes known as Deathsinger and Sweetshade. The plant cannot be grown by man and nor can its power be obtained through artifice. Angelus Mater will grow only where the most powerful of ancient magic has been invoked.

Legendary status has been granted to this most rare specimen – a plant with unmatched powers of healing. When in full bloom, its flowers can remedy any ill. But, reader, be warned: the flower’s nectar must be consumed within seven hours of picking, else its magic will sour. The nectar cannot be stored, cannot be replenished and cannot be recreated. Terrible consequences await the wizard who attempts any such feats.

These are not the only drawbacks of this dreadful plant. Unlike any other of its kind, Angelus Mater enters full bloom only once a year – on the vernal equinox. At any other time, the wizard who encounters it, is recommended to keep their distance. The plant, when its leaves are green and its flowers black, releases a poison which kills all who are not treated immediately. It is said that even those who are revived never truly recover.

Albus stopped reading, his heart thudding in his chest.

Professor Sprout! he thought. That must’ve been what happened to her! The plant poisoned her…

He re-read that last sentence. It is said that even those who are revived never truly recover.

Sprout couldn’t be healed, not even by the healers at St Mungo’s.

Albus continued reading.

Flowers must only be picked from this fickle flora when its leaves are golden and its flowers white. This is the Angelus Mater in full bloom, the only time it will not harm any who come near it.

Angelus Mater may be legend, it may well be the stuff of dreams, but one must be careful, else this wonder of wonders becomes the darkest of nightmares.

Albus had come to the end of the passage. Scanning back through the text, he re-read one of the lines. Unlike any other of its kind, Angelus Mater enters full bloom only once a year – on the vernal equinox.

The vernal equinox. If they wanted a flower from that plant, there was only one day they could get it.

Albus closed the book and slid it into his bag, muttering, “Nox.” His wandlight went out.

Albus’s head was racing with thoughts as he hurried back to the Slytherin common room. He could hardly believe what he’d learned. It hadn’t been the wolf that had attacked Sprout after all. It had been the plant itself. The book said that no man could grow it. She must’ve tried growing her own plant in Greenhouse 9, but it had released its poison…

She hadn’t waited until the vernal equinox. She hadn’t waited for the leaves to turn golden and the flowers to turn white.

Albus couldn’t wait to tell Scorpius what he’d learned, to show him the book. He was practically running through the corridors, eager to get back to his room. They had a way to get their hands on those magical flowers. They just had to pick them on the right day.

Albus might not have known when the vernal equinox was, but he had a feeling Scorpius would.

But so will Thorn…

Was Thorn, even now, simply waiting for the day to come when he could take one of the flowers? What would he do once he got one?

Albus thought of the blackened interior of Greenhouse 9.

He’ll burn it to ash.

Albus muttered the password to the common room, then ran to the staircase, taking the steps two at a time as he descended.

He was breathing heavily by the time he reached the door to their room. As he reached for the door handle, he realised his hand was solid once more – no longer translucent as shadow.

His spirits lifting with anticipation, he opened the door and rushed inside.

“Scorpius, I have good news!” he said.

Then, his eyes took in Scorpius’s empty bed. He looked about, his insides turning to stone as he realised his roommate wasn’t there.

He knew, at once, where Scorpius had gone, the truth hitting him like an unforgivable curse.

No! Albus thought desperately. He’s headed into the forest!

Albus shuddered at the thought of Scorpius touching one of those cursed, black flowers.

The breath died in his throat.

It’ll kill him!

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