Albus didn’t sleep well that first night, the sound of Arty’s snores filling the echoey space of the dormitory. Even though the sheets were soft, the room was warm and the sloshing of the lake was soothing, Albus found himself lying awake, the green flames of the lanterns casting shadows on the ceiling above him.
When Albus finally did fall asleep, it wasn’t long before his Gonçalo Flores-shaped alarm clock woke him up again. Murky, rippling light streamed into the room, glittering off dust motes in the air. He wondered for a moment why he was in a room decorated in green, why the view outside the window was of an underwater lake and why the lanterns flickered with emerald light. Where were the red hangings of four-poster-beds? Where was the spectacular view over the Hogwarts grounds from Gryffindor Tower? It hit him like a club that he would never get to see these things. He was a Slytherin. He lived below Hogwarts, underground.
It’s done now, he told himself. I have to get on with it.
Albus stretched his tired limbs and forced himself out of bed. Arty hadn’t even stirred. His mouth was open, dribble running down his cheek and onto his pillow.
The room felt slightly less oppressive in the light of day. Albus was surprised at how far he could see into the distance of the Black Lake: at long ribbons of lakeweed swishing in the currents, at schools of fish darting this way and that, and at occasional flashes of other, stranger, creatures in deeper depths. He had to admit that it was quite a stunning sight. In fact, he was tempted to grab his art supplies and start sketching the scene there and then.
As Albus changed into his robes, Arty began to stir. Arty barely acknowledged the view. He rubbed his eyes, groaned and rolled over. “Is it morning already?” he said into his pillow.
“Yes,” Albus replied. “Are you coming down to breakfast?”
Arty turned over the other way and pressed the pillow over his head. “I’ll eat later,” he said.
Feeling slightly deflated, Albus left the dormitory. He wasn’t sure he wanted to go down to breakfast by himself. What if none of the other first-years were there yet? What if he bumped into James? But when Albus entered the common room, he was surprised to find Pan waiting for him. She was sprawled in one of the leather armchairs, her feet up on a nearby coffee table. When she saw him, she tapped her wrist. “What time do you call this?” she said. “I’ve been waiting ages. I’m starving.”
A nervous laugh escaped Albus. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t sleep much.”
“I can see that,” she said as she got up. “Looks like you’ve been punched in both eyes.”
Albus brushed at the puffy bags under his eyes. “Great,” he said under his breath.
Together, they walked to breakfast. It soon became clear that they had absolutely no idea where they were going. Pan, who kept reminding Albus how hungry she was, became more and more irritable the longer they wandered aimlessly along the maze-like passages. It was with moans of relief that they finally stumbled upon the Entrance Hall. They passed through the enormous double-doors to the Great Hall with rumbling stomachs and panting breaths. Albus, who hadn’t eaten since the previous morning, was ravenous.
The Great Hall was busy with students. Slytherin table was the most subdued, the students nodding mutely to Albus and Pan as they headed towards the clump of first-years. Drake Salmer and Missy Groombridge immediately shuffled further along the table when they saw Albus and Pan approaching. Pan scoffed, plonked herself on an empty bench, and began shovelling food onto her plate. Albus paused before he sat down. He’d been scanning the room, first for his brother, who didn’t seem to be there, and second for Scorpius Malfoy, who was also absent.
“Sit down then!” Pan barked at him, her mouth full of half-eaten sausage. “You’re making me nervous just standing there.”
Albus took the empty place beside her and proceeded to pile his plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, baked beans and sausages.
“So what are our first lessons?” asked Danielle Varda to the group. In all his fear the previous evening, Albus hadn’t noticed how pretty she was. She had a petite nose and chestnut-brown hair, which she’d arranged into a single plait over one shoulder.
“Double Herbology first,” piped up Prince Zabini, flashing his golden eyes at her.
Albus felt a little thrill of excitement at the mention of Herbology, an excitement that quickly turned to nervousness. On the one hand, it would be his first lesson with Uncle Neville. On the other, it would be the first time he’d spoken to Uncle Neville since the Sorting Hat had put him in Slytherin.
Danielle’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, I love plants and flowers,” she said. “I wonder what we’ll be doing.”
Pan groaned. “Prince forgot to mention an important detail,” she said.
“What?” Albus asked.
“We have Herbology with the Gryffindors.” She spoke the word ‘Gryffindor’ as if it was a foul curse word.
“What’s wrong with Gryffindor?” Danielle asked.
Pan gestured lazily over at the Gryffindor table, where several students were currently gathered around watching an arm wrestle. The rest were chatting noisily.
“They look happy,” Danielle remarked.
“They look smug,” Pan corrected her. “They’ve been quidditch champions seven years in a row, they’ve won the House Cup for the last nine years and they have Henry Wood in their house team.”
“Henry Wood,” said Prince, mulling over the name. “He’s the one who’s been signed onto The Holyhead Harpies, isn’t he?”
Pan nodded. “Quidditch prodigy, that’s what they call him.” She stabbed at a sausage and tore off a great chunk of it with her teeth. With her mouth full, she carried on talking. “Slytherin needs some good players.” Her gaze fell pointedly upon Albus. “Hopefully, this year, Slytherin will have some strong quidditch blood in its numbers.”
Albus shrank slightly under Pan’s intense gaze. He continued to shovel food into his mouth, even though his hunger had suddenly diminished.
Strong quidditch blood, he thought despairingly. She’ll soon see how ‘strong’ my blood is when we have our flying lessons.
When they finished breakfast, Pan was unimpressed to discover that Albus hadn’t brought his school things to breakfast.
“I’m not coming all the way back to the common room with you,” she said. “You’ll have to find your own way. I’m heading to Herbology.”
It took Albus a long time to find the common room. When he got to the dormitory, he sighed at the sight of his weekly timetable tacked to the back of his dormitory door. He hadn’t noticed it earlier. Giving the timetable a quick glance, he saw that on Mondays the first-year Slytherins had double Herbology (with Gryffindor), double Astronomy (with Ravenclaw), Charms, then History of Magic. Stuffing the timetable into the pocket of his robes, he walked into his room. Arty had left it in a mess of strewn clothes. Albus gathered up ink, quill and books and shoved them into his satchel, then he dug out his wand from the bottom of his trunk before heading back along the confusing maze of passages. He was already ten minutes late by the time he located the path to the Herbology greenhouses.
When Greenhouse 1 finally came into view, he was surprised to see that Uncle Neville wasn’t inside teaching. Instead, he was standing outside the door talking animatedly with the same muscly professor he’d been arguing with the previous evening. Inside the greenhouse, Albus could see the Slytherin and Gryffindor first-years busy potting what looked like dried elephant trunks into enormous clay pots. Albus paused. He knew he should’ve carried on walking and simply apologised for being late, but the fact that his calm, kind Uncle Neville was arguing with another member of staff (for the second time in two days) made him curious. Albus approached slowly, keeping close to the side of the greenhouse so as not to be spotted by either professor.
When he was close enough to hear them, he crouched down behind a particularly dense shrub and listened.
“Just tell me what you were doing in that greenhouse, Thorn!” Uncle Neville said in an uncharacteristically fierce voice; the unfortunate effect was that he sounded squeaky and hysterical.
The other man, apparently named Thorn, harrumphed. “I don’t have to tell you anything, Longbottom.”
“As the professor of Herbology, these greenhouses are my responsibility,” Uncle Neville spluttered.
“Not Greenhouse 9,” Thorn told him in a gloating voice. “That one belongs to Sprout. So she is the only person I have to answer to.”
“You don’t even know anything about plants!” spat Uncle Neville. Albus could imagine the red flush that would be rising up Neville’s neck as he got angry. “Why would Pomona give you permission to root around inside Greenhouse 9?”
“You’ll have to ask her,” Thorn replied.
“The truth is, you broke in there looking for something,” Uncle Neville accused coldly. “Pomona would never—”
“Sprout and myself happen to be good friends,” Thorn interrupted, his tone icy.
“What rubbish!” Uncle Neville said indignantly. “She knows what you did! You’re nothing but a—”
There was a grunt and then a cracking sound, as of breaking glass. The faces in the greenhouse turned towards the door at the same time as Albus shot to his feet. A moment later, Thorn was striding away, following the path towards the school, hands brushing at his robes. Albus hurried to the front of the greenhouse, where Uncle Neville was pressed against the door, his robes ruffled and the pane of glass behind him cracked in a spiderweb.
“Nev- I mean, Professor Longbottom!” Albus said as he approached his uncle. “Are you all right?”
Seeing Albus, Uncle Neville seemed to rouse himself. He stood upright, smoothed out his robes and smiled an unconvincing smile. “I’m fine, Albus,” he said. “I just slipped and fell against the glass, that’s all. Now, inside quickly. You’re late.”
Albus had no choice but to obey, though he sent his uncle an inquiring glance. The glass panel in the greenhouse door was badly cracked. Thorn had done that. He’d shoved Uncle Neville into it. Albus didn’t understand it. He’d never known anyone to dislike his uncle. He was a genuinely good, kind person, always willing to help people. Albus remembered when Uncle Neville had taken James all the way to Austria to see the Ballycastle Bats play the Cackling Crows all because Dad had been too ill to go.
Albus saw that Pan had saved him a place next to her.
As he came to stand by her side, Pan opened her mouth to speak, but Uncle Neville called the class to order. “As I was trying to explain earlier,” he said, “we are going to be potting these trunk-like things. Well done to those of you who’ve already started.” He gave a tight smile to the class as a whole. “Now, can anyone tell me what we call these?” He held up one of the elephant trunks.
The first-years looked at one another in bemusement, some shuffling their feet. In the end, there was only one student who raised their hand – Scorpius Malfoy.
After a pause, Uncle Neville nodded for him to answer.
“They’re Greasgrubs,” he said. “They’re used to make an expensive wand polish. It’s sought-after because it’s said to strengthen the bond between the wizard and their wand.”
Uncle Neville gave a sharp nod. “Yes,” he said, “that’s right. I suppose you’d better have a house point.”
After telling the class that the Greasgrubs were also very tasty when boiled for seven days and seven nights and then sprinkled with truffle shavings, Uncle Neville asked them to carry on with the potting. Uncle Neville turned out to be a pretty good teacher. He certainly knew a lot about plants. He even told them about his travels abroad to study foreign herbs and plants, including Albus’s favourite story of the time Neville had angered a willow tree and got trapped in its branches for two days.
“Watch out!” Uncle Neville called to one of the Gryffindors when they prodded the end of their greasgrub. “If you tickle it, it’ll get angry. Greasgrubs tend to strangle. Trust me, it’s not nice.” He rubbed subconsciously at his neck.
As the lesson passed, there was a lot of quiet muttering, but it wasn’t about the Giant Greasgrubs. Eyes darted and fingers pointed towards the cracked glass in the greenhouse door.
“Did he fall over?”
“I thought I saw Professor Thorn!”
“Professor Thorn? No way. He’s the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. He wouldn’t be out here in the greenhouses.”
Pan, who had already potted three of the greasgrubs, helped Albus lift his massive greasgrub into its pot and then pat down the soil. “You see what happened out there?” Pan whispered under her breath. “I definitely caught sight of Thorn. He looked furious.”
“They were having an argument,” Albus muttered back, careful not to let Ace McLaggen overhear him; Ace was at the next bench, showing off that he could carry four of the enormous grubs at once. Under his breath, Albus told Pan about Thorn visiting Greenhouse 9.
“Why would the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher want to visit a Herbology greenhouse?” Pan asked.
Albus shrugged. “I get the feeling he might have done it just to annoy Nev- Professor Longbottom,” Albus said. “The two of them really don’t like each other.”
Pan had stopped listening, she was staring, narrow-eyed, at Ace McLaggen, who was now lifting up no less than eight of the long, grey, wrinkly grubs. “Look at him,” she said in disgust. “I hope one of them strangles him.”
It wasn’t Ace that ended up being strangled, however. From the other side of the greenhouse, there came a sudden shriek. Scorpius Malfoy was battling with a particularly large greasgrub, which had wrapped itself tightly around his neck. Scorpius’s usually white face was red and turning redder. Beside him, Rose and a Gryffindor girl called Francesca Nott (who Albus remembered had a twin in Ravenclaw House) were giggling as they watched Scorpius struggle. The long piece of bamboo in Francesca’s hand would, no doubt, have been perfect for tickling someone else’s grub without them noticing.
After much tugging, Uncle Neville finally managed to pull the grub off Scorpius’s neck, which was now covered in angry welts. “Will someone walk Scorpius up to the Hospital Wing?” Uncle Neville asked the Slytherins and Gryffindors. There was an awkward silence. People averted their eyes.
No one volunteered. Not one person.
Scorpius’s eyes were watering. Whether it was due to being strangled by the grub or due to the cold reactions of his classmates, Albus couldn’t tell. Either way, Albus couldn’t bear to watch it. He began to raise his hand. Pan stamped on his foot. “Don’t,” she breathed.
Albus gaped at her. “He’s just been strangled,” he whispered back.
“Stay out of it, Albus,” she said.
Another excruciating moment passed. “No volunteers?” Uncle Neville asked. “Okay then, off you go Scorpius. I’m sure you can make it by yourself. Up to the Hospital Wing.”
To Albus’s shock, Uncle Neville didn’t show a trace of pity as he watched Scorpius walk out of the greenhouse alone, his neck throbbing with red blisters. For his part, Scorpius didn’t cry or look upset. His head held high, he left the greenhouse and made his way along the path towards the castle.
For the rest of the day, Scorpius was absent from lessons, not reappearing till dinner that evening. He walked into the Great Hall, his neck bandaged and his arms piled with books. He set them down on the table and began reading. It seemed he’d resigned himself to being ignored and had decided to bring entertainment with him to mealtimes. The rest of the Slytherin first-years were starving and exhausted from their first day of lessons. They also had an obscene amount of homework to do. Professor Sinistra had set them an essay on Saturn’s moons, Professor Flitwick, seeing their dreadful efforts at the lumos spell, tasked them with practising it in time for their next lesson and Professor Binns had asked them to write an essay on a historical figure of their choice from Slytherin House.
Arty was rubbing his eyes between mouthfuls of dinner. His whole body was sagging. Even his skin seemed to be drooping from fatigue. “I want to go to bed,” he moaned “I don’t want to do homework. Fancy setting us two essays in one day!”
To everyone’s amazement, it was Aberfa Bullstrode who replied. “This is nothing,” she said, a faint European accent to her voice. “The homework at my last boarding school was harder than this.”
“But this is Hogwarts!” Arty said. “We’re meant to have fun, do some spells. We’re meant to SLEEP.”
Pan sent him a repressive look. “Stop moaning,” she said. “You’re bringing the mood down.” She pointed over her shoulder. “Do you see Gryffindors crying over their workload?”
Arty shrugged. “No,” he said.
“Pull it together,” she told him.
He grunted, but said nothing.
“Oh and brush your hair,” she added. “We’re Slytherins.”
Albus didn’t hear Arty’s response because, at that moment, James appeared at Albus’s shoulder. At first, they stared at each other awkwardly, then James finally spoke. “So, Slytherin…” he said.
“Yeah,” Albus replied, his cheeks turning hot, “Slytherin.”
“It doesn’t change anything,” James said with an unusually self-conscious smile. “You’re still my brother. Just means we cheer for different teams on the quidditch pitch. Oh and that you’ll never win the House Cup.”
Pan spun to face James. “We’ll see,” she said. “Henry Wood’s only here for two more years. Plus, we have the other Harry Potter son in our house now.” She nudged Albus.
James raised his eyebrows but said nothing.
Pan continued to eye James. “Heard you’re pretty good on the quidditch pitch, yourself,” she said.
James nodded, grinning. When he caught Danielle Varda looking at him, he ran his hand through his hair and flashed a toothy smile. Pan’s jaw clenched. She ran her finger across her mouth. “You’ve got something in your teeth, by the way. Right at the front.”
“Have I?” James asked, hand flying to his mouth. Looking disconcerted, he waved goodbye to Albus and headed back to the Gryffindor table.
“Your brother’s a git,” she said.
Albus gazed at her, stunned. Then, his face broke into a smile and he found himself laughing hysterically. It felt good. He was sure he saw the corner of Pan’s mouth twitch ever-so-slightly, but she didn’t laugh. She rolled her eyes and carried on eating her pie.
Over the next two days, Albus and Pan tried to learn the twisting, labyrinthine passageways of Hogwarts. All the while, they struggled to avoid Peeves, who enjoyed pelting the first-years with ink bottles and dungbombs. They also had to memorise the many trick-steps, hidden doorways and moving staircases (of which there were a hundred and forty-two), and soon learnt not to rely on the Hogwarts ghosts for directions – it seemed they weren’t disposed to helping Slytherins find their way around the castle. Even the Bloody Baron refused to help them. When they asked him for directions to the library, he told them (in irate tones) that he had not yet stooped to the level of a tour guide and that they should bother someone else. Filch, the caretaker, and his cat Mrs Norris were also to be avoided at all costs. Mrs Norris was a scrawny, dust-coloured creature with bulging, lamp-like eyes. If she so much as caught a whiff of rule-breaking, she’d rush off to fetch Filch, who’d appear at the scene within minutes, panting heavily and ready to dish out detentions.
On top of everything else, Albus and Pan also had to suffer the constant stares and whispers that followed Albus wherever he went.
“Looks just like Harry Potter.”
“I wonder if he’ll be as good as James?”
“Why’s he hanging around with that ugly girl?”
If Albus was drawing attention, however, it was nothing compared to Scorpius Malfoy. The whole school was buzzing with gossip about the boy who might be Lord Voldemort’s son. Albus was certain that most rational people didn’t believe it was true that the Dark Lord had fathered a child. But the gossipers were relentless. As a result, Scorpius was becoming something of a recluse, seen only in lessons. Even at mealtimes, he would wolf down his food and disappear as soon as possible. Despite his lack of popularity, Scorpius was undeniably clever. There was hardly a moment when he didn’t have a book under his pale, pointed nose. Sometimes in lessons, Albus found himself staring at Scorpius as he cast spells or listened to the teacher. At those times, Albus’s fingers would itch for a pencil, a piece of charcoal, anything.
The gossiping students, the prank-loving Peeves, and the cantankerous Filch made arriving at lessons on time a real mission. And the lessons themselves presented their own challenges. History of Magic was the most boring class ever invented. Professor Binns lectured them in his stuffy classroom without pausing for breath. His ghostly body floated a foot off the ground, bobbing up and down as he droned on and on in a flat, monotone. Transfiguration, on the other hand, was a complicated subject that required everyone’s full attention. The teacher, Professor Winter, who had white hair and wore grey robes, was well-known for being horribly strict and filled every single first-year with dread. During their first lesson, he’d made Julia Hopkirk cry just by looking at her. This, it turned out, wasn’t much of a feat as Julia Hopkirk tended to cry at most things. Pan had no time for her.
“Useless,” Professor Winter had said to the Slytherins at the end of their first Transfiguration lesson. “Only one person has managed to make any difference to their match.” He had swept over to Scorpius’s desk and lifted up a match for the class to see. It was brown, but at one end it had a sharp point and its surface was strangely shiny. “Five points to Scorpius,” Winter said to the class. “You see how his match is beginning to take on the appearance of a needle? I should have seen the same from all of you. Your homework is to practice this spell for next lesson. I want to see a classroom full of needles.”
The Charms teacher, Professor Flitwick, couldn’t have been more different to Winter. Flitwick was a little wizard who bustled around the classroom, encouraging the first-years in his squeaky voice, generously handing out house points. It had become fairly evident by their second lesson that Flitwick favoured Albus over the other students, giving him house points for things like tucking in his chair at the end of the lesson, or for helping Pan pick up her wand when it flew out of her hand due to a backfired slip-slick charm.
To Albus’s relief, flying lessons didn’t start until the second week of school. Pan had been outraged when Madam Hooch had revealed this fact to them at breakfast on Tuesday morning.
“We need to practise,” Pan had said. “I’ve not been on my broom since we got here. It’s going to affect my form.”
Madam Hooch waved off Pan’s comment and strolled away, leaving Pan muttering angrily over her plate of bacon and eggs. She continued her rant for several more minutes, only interrupted by the appearance of Albus’s owl. “Salvador!” he said, happily, stroking the bird’s feathers. Salvador pecked Albus’s finger affectionately and then raised his leg, on which had been tied a small piece of rolled-up parchment. Once Albus unclipped it, Salvador picked up Albus’s toast and took a great chunk out of it.
Sighing at his despoiled toast, Albus opened the parchment and read the note (which had been written in an untidy scrawl).
I know you have a free period Friday afternoon, so would you like to come have a cup of tea with me around two? I want to hear about your first week. Send an answer back with Salvador.
Albus quickly scribbled ‘I’ll see you then’ on the back of the note and sent Salvador off again.
Pan was still fuming about the delayed flying lessons as they walked to double Potions later that morning. Albus wasn’t really listening. He was distracted by the thought of their upcoming Potions lesson. Dad had made it plain over the years that Potions had been his least favourite subject at school. He’d also told Albus that the teacher, Horace Slughorn, liked ‘collecting’ famous or wealthy students into his ‘Slug Club’. Albus couldn’t think of anything worse than being part of an elitist club of rich kids. Therefore, it was with trepidation that he walked into the dungeon classroom.
“Albus, my boy!” Professor Slughorn boomed the moment Albus walked inside. The man’s hands were resting on his protuberant belly, his walrus moustache twirled at the ends. The velvet purple robes he wore barely contained his bulk. “Uncanny! Uncanny how much you look like your father! Except for your eyes, you have—”
“My mother’s eyes,” Albus finished.
“Indeed,” he said. “Now, take a seat.” He moved to the front of class, which was made up of first-year Slytherins and Hufflepuffs, and then gestured around the room at the shelves of vials and jars and cauldrons. “When making potions, technique and skill will help you greatly, but I believe there is no better potion-maker than the one with natural talent. So, today you will be brewing blind. No recipe, no instructions, no guidance. Most of you will make slop. Some of you may make something marvellous. Use any ingredients you like. I have cast an Imploding Charm on the cauldrons so that if you accidentally brew anything explosive, it won’t harm any of you.” At these words, there were looks of alarm on many of the students’ faces. Slughorn was beaming. “Off you go!”
As it turned out, Potions wasn’t too bad. It reminded Albus a little bit of painting, except that instead of adding paint to a canvas, you had to add weird, gruesome ingredients to a cauldron of liquid. Albus had never made a potion in his life. He’d never even seen his parents making one – they always bought potions from Diagon Alley if they needed them. Following everyone else’s example, he started with water and then began adding ingredients. Beside him, Pan was ruffling her nose in obvious distaste. “What a waste of time,” she said. “Apart from the wolfsbane potion, this branch of magic is pointless.” She chucked a fistful of fish eyes into her cauldron and it released a puff of custard-yellow steam.
“I quite like it,” Albus said, sprinkling some powdered moonstone into his cauldron and stirring it clockwise.
Pan began adding drops of honey water to her concoction. Nothing happened. Shrugging, she poured the whole lot in. The liquid bubbled fiercely, letting off green sparks and purple smoke. “This is ridiculous,” she muttered. Her look of distaste turned to utter disgust when her potion turned bright, bubblegum pink. “I hate this,” she said.
Albus’s mixture was now an insipid grey. Hoping to deepen its colour, he dropped in some porcupine quills and stirred. On the other side of the room, one of the Hufflepuff girls was having trouble with her potion. It had grown gloopy, green hands that were trying to grab at anyone who approached. Scorpius Malfoy was stirring a glimmering silver liquid that seemed to be giving off a pleasing smell; several of the nearby students were leaning towards him and sniffing the air. Albus wished he was close enough to smell it too. Arty’s potion was giving off a potent odour of rotten eggs that was getting stronger by the minute. Slughorn covered his nose with his sleeve when he passed by and didn’t approach Arty’s part of the classroom again until it was time to test the potions.
When Slughorn called an end to the lesson, Albus was shocked to discover he’d made a close imitation of something called the Draught of Peace. Slughorn had clapped him on the back and announced to the class that he had his father’s talent for potion-making. The only other person to get a glowing review was Scorpius. Slughorn peered over Scorpius’s potion for a full minute before standing upright and shaking his head in bewilderment. “A mirrormind solution. A potion that allows two wizards to share thoughts. A tricky brew. Very tricky.”
Scorpius smiled, then he saw the sea of hostile faces watching him and the smile faltered. Albus was getting used to keeping quiet in moments like this. His instinct was to clap, to do something to bring back that brief glimpse of a smile. Instead, he tried to meet Scorpius’s eye. Scorpius didn’t glance in his direction, however.
On their way out of the classroom, Pan studied Albus with an assessing look. “Didn’t have you pegged as a potion-maker,” she said. “You better be as good on the quidditch pitch as you are at stirring a cauldron.”
Albus tried to smile, but he was pretty sure he didn’t pull it off.
Thankfully, Pan proceeded to carry on her rant about their cancelled flying lessons and Albus was saved from having to speak.
That afternoon, the Slytherins had the lesson everyone had really been looking forward to – Defence Against the Dark Arts. After the incident between Professor Thorn and Professor Longbottom, the Slytherin first-years were eager to find out what sort of teacher Thorn was.
“I bet he’s mad.”
“What if he loses his temper and throws a chair or something?”
Even Pan seemed curious. “Thorn’s head of Gryffindor,” she told Albus as they came to a stop outside the door to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. It was Thursday morning, over halfway through their first week at Hogwarts, and for the first time they had arrived early to a lesson. “I hope he loses his temper again. We could report him. Get him demoted.”
Despite hardly knowing the man, Albus couldn’t help feeling resentful towards their Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Thorn clearly had a problem with his Uncle Neville. Maybe he only liked tough guys who stomped around like gorillas. Whenever Albus had seen Thorn in the corridors, he’d looked confident, domineering. The man moved with a similar arrogant strut to Ace McLaggen.
“At least we’re not with the Gryffindors today,” Pan said. “That’s tomorrow’s lesson.” Her lip curled.
At that moment, the classroom door opened. But it wasn’t Professor Thorn that appeared in the doorway. Instead, it was Professor Sprout. Her eyes were bloodshot and her skin was pallid. There was a faraway, desperate look on her face. She didn’t even seem to notice Albus and Pan. She hurried off along the corridor, her dirt-stained robe swishing behind her.
“What was that about?” said pan.
“I don’t know,” Albus replied. “She looked ill.”
“Well, she didn’t look brilliant on our first night here either,” said Pan, “but she looks even worse now.”
“I wonder if it has anything to do with the greenhouses,” suggested Albus. “Thorn mentioned he had permission from Sprout to use Greenhouse 9.”
“What’s that got to do with her looking unwell?” asked Pan.
“Maybe she only gave Thorn permission because he’s been threatening her.”
“Threatening the Deputy Headmistress just to enter a greenhouse?” said Pan sceptically. “What’s in there? Galleon trees?”
Albus shrugged. He didn’t know what was in that greenhouse, but it was important enough for Thorn to conceal it from Uncle Neville.
A few minutes later, when most of the Slytherin first-years had arrived, Professor Thorn opened the door to his classroom and growled for them to enter. His voice was deep and reverberating. It reminded Albus of a lion’s roar.
“Wands out,” he said once they’d all sat down. “Books away.” He picked up a ball of wool from a pile on his desk and began juggling it between his hands. Without warning, he threw it at Drake Salmer, who caught it with a start.
“Throw it back,” commanded Thorn. Drake Salmer did as he was told. Thorn held it up above his head. “I want you to imagine that instead of a ball of wool, I have a heavy rock in my hand. Mr Salmer just caught the ball, true. If it had been a heavy rock, his fingers likely would’ve been crushed.” Thorn raised his wand, pointed it at the ball of wool, and instantly it became a rock. With a flick of his wand, the rock pelted across the room and hit the far wall with an almighty SLAM, leaving a deep crevice in the stone. The whole class stared at the hole in the wall, transfixed.
“Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Thorn said in a ringing voice, bringing the class’s attention back to him, “begins with defending against projectiles. Even an inept wizard can send objects flying at you with the simplest spell. So, how can we defend ourselves?”
A few students shook off their stunned expressions and raised their hands. Thorn chose Prince Zabini to answer. “You could use protego,” Zabini said.
“Good against jinxes and some minor curses,” Thorn replied, “but a waste of energy against a moving object. Any other suggestions?”
Everyone else lowered their hands.
Thorn sighed. “Today, I’m going to teach you a very simple spell. The thickening charm.” He raised his wand. “Coaguluous!” The class held its breath, waiting. After the rock-throwing incident, they were expecting something equally as shocking. Nothing appeared to happen, however. But then Albus noticed that the air in front of Professor Thorn looked different, distorted.
Thorn flicked his wand. There was a collective gasp as the rock came flying from the other end of the classroom towards Thorn’s chest. At the last moment, there was a weird thunk and the rock slammed into an invisible wall, it vibrated a bit like it was caught in jelly, then it slowly slid to the floor.
“Thickened air,” Thorn said. “Now it’s your turn. You won’t be using rocks, of course. In pairs, take a ball of wool and practise protecting yourselves with the thickening charm, coagulous. Get going!”
The thickening charm turned out to be a lot harder than it looked. There was a sort of jabbing motion you had to do with your wand to get it to work and, even then, the results were alarmingly inconsistent. One time, Pan managed to stop the ball of wool completely. Another, it slowed down a bit and then passed straight through her thickened wall of air and hit her in the face. She’d hastily pelted it back at Albus before he could utter the spell so that he too received a direct hit to the face.
By the end of the lesson, no one had mastered the spell. “Practise!” Thorn bellowed as they made their way out of the classroom. “Next lesson we move onto small stones!”
“He didn’t seem insane to me,” said Pan sadly as they walked along the corridors back towards the Slytherin common room. “Not a bad teacher, actually.”
Albus didn’t say anything. He didn’t trust Professor Thorn, and he was going to find out what he was up to.
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