Chapter 6

On Friday morning, Albus ate his porridge in silence. Most of his concentration was focussed on staying awake: last night, Arty’s snores had been louder than ever. It was like sleeping next to a dragon that had a permanent cold. It didn’t help that Albus had been going to bed late owing to the masses of homework the Slytherin first-years were being set.

In Charms, they’d moved onto the wingardium leviosa spell, which caused objects to float. In their third lesson, Pan, who tended to be heavy-handed with her wand, had levitated a cushion with such force that it had hit the ceiling and exploded in a shower of feathers. Last night, after an hour of practising in the Slytherin common room, she’d managed to destroy only two cushions. Albus, on the other hand, was having trouble with the coagulous charm. Pan practised levitating cushions towards him so that he could block them with the thickening charm, but instead of the air thickening like amber, it only ever managed to take on a thin custard-like consistency. The cushion kept passing through Albus’s spell and smacking him in the face (much to Pan’s amusement).

Transfiguration was the direst, however. Neither of them had bothered practising on their matches for more than five minutes. No matter how many different ways they pronounced the spell or waved their wand, the little sticks of wood refused to turn into needles.

“We have until next Tuesday,” Pan had said as they made their way to their dormitories the previous evening. “We can practise the spell at the weekend.”

Albus had nodded, too tired to reply. He’d hobbled off to bed with a headache.

If only he’d managed to get some sleep. Now, as he ate his porridge, it was an effort just to lift his spoon to his mouth. Their first lesson was double Potions with the Hufflepuffs, followed by double Defence Against the Dark Arts with the Gryffindors. Albus wondered if he’d be able to repeat the success he’d had in his first Potions lesson. He had a horrible feeling it had all been a complete fluke. As for Defence Against the Dark Arts, he’d be keeping an eye on Professor Thorn. There was something suspicious going on. Why had Sprout run out of his classroom looking so distressed? Why had he been arguing with Uncle Neville? Albus got a feeling the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher was hiding something, and he wanted to find out what it was.

“I’ve heard Thorn hates Slytherin,” Julia Hopkirk said as if she’d read Albus’s mind. She was sipping her tea, her wide, bulging eyes gazing around at the other first-years.

“Thorn was all right in our first lesson,” said Pan dismissively.

“Fancy him, do you?” Julia replied, her bug-eyes threatening to pop out of her head.

Pan ignored her. “Remember we’re with the Gryffindors in Defence Against the Dark Arts,” she told the first-year Slytherins at large. “Be on top form.” She sent Arty a satisfied nod. “You brushed your hair. Looks better.”

Arty shrugged. “Can’t promise I’ll keep it up,” he said.

Albus peered down the long table to the place where Scorpius Malfoy was hurriedly eating his breakfast, an open book in his free hand. Following Albus’s gaze, Danielle Varda scoffed. “Does he ever stop reading?”

Albus said nothing.

“I wish he wasn’t in our house,” Danielle continued. “We’ve got enough bad karma as it is.”

Albus wished, not for the first time, that Scorpius would look up, look anywhere besides at his book.

He didn’t.

A few minutes later, Scorpius left the Great Hall, bag overflowing with books. The rest of the first-year Slytherins waited until the last possible moment before making their way to the Potions classroom. When they arrived, Slughorn stood waiting for them at the front of class, a vial of blue-coloured potion in his hand. “Cure for Boils,” he said. “Does exactly what it says. The recipe is in your textbooks. Begin.”

The Slytherins and Hufflepuffs spent the first few minutes gathering the ingredients they needed. Lance Chopra (one of the Hufflepuff boys) dropped his cauldron before he’d even started, resulting in an enormous crack in the pewter and a stern look from Slughorn. Albus surveyed the ingredients, wrinkling his nose at the bowl of flobberworm mucus.

It wasn’t long before the dungeon classroom was filled with smoke and steam. Pan swore under her breath when she added the horned slugs too early to her potion, causing it to take on a peculiar frogspawn-like consistency. After that, Albus made sure he read and re-read every instruction at least twice before he added any of his ingredients.

By the end of the lesson, pink steam was rising out of Albus’s potion, which had turned a reassuring blue colour. The only other person to have achieved this feat was Scorpius. Drake Salmer’s potion, on the other hand, had burned a hole in the bottom of his cauldron and Appolina Spinnet (the Hufflepuff girl whose potion had sprouted jelly-like hands the previous lesson) had completely gone to pieces. Her concoction had grown an enormous bubble that had lifted the cauldron off the counter as if it was a hot-air balloon.

At the end of the lesson, Slughorn proclaimed both Albus and Scorpius potion-masters in the making. He waved them all goodbye at the door. But before Albus could leave, Slughorn presented him with a sealed envelope of silvery parchment. “Invitation, my boy!” Slughorn boomed. “I’m having a little dinner party tonight”—he leaned closer, his liquorice breath puffing in Albus’s face—“open only to a select few. I expect to see you there, Albus.”

Pan rolled her eyes once they were out of sight of Slughorn. “He thinks the sun shines out of your backside,” she said.

“I’m not sure I want to go,” Albus replied. “I wonder who else he’s invited.”

“I bet Ace McLaggen’s there,” said Pan with disdain.

Albus groaned. “Now I definitely don’t want to go.”

They spent break huddled in their usual spot in the corner of the courtyard, where it was slightly less windy. Considering it was early September, the weather was miserable. Pan and Albus glanced jealously over at a group of third-year girls who were gathered around a jar of bright blue flames that kept them warm despite the icy wind.

“Don’t happen to know any fire spells, do you?” Albus asked Pan.

She grunted. “Why don’t you just brew us both a warming-up potion or something? You’re the master potion-maker after all.”

Albus laughed. “Do you think a warming-up potion actually exists?” he asked. “I’d definitely consider making a batch.”

“No idea.”

There was a pause in which they both shivered, their teeth chattering. “Look,” said Albus, “shall we head to Defence Against the Dark Arts early? I’m freezing.”

Pan nodded. Once they came to a stop outside the classroom door, Albus leaned casually against it, trying to listen. For all he knew, Sprout and Thorn could be inside right that moment.

“So there’s another reason you wanted to get here early,” she said.

“Thorn’s up to something,” Albus told her. “I know it.”

As hard as he strained to hear, however, he could make out nothing.

Suddenly, Pan jabbed him in the arm and he stepped away from the door, noticing as he did so that Professor Thorn was pacing along the corridor towards them looking harassed. When he caught up to them, he fixed Albus and Pan with suspicious looks. “A bit keen, aren’t you?” he said.

“Defence Against the Dark Arts,” replied Pan. “It’s very important.”

Thorn’s jaw clenched. “You know what Slytherins were called when I was at school?” he asked. “Slimeballs. Sneaking around outside classrooms”—he scowled—“you don’t want to give the wrong impression.” He waited for a moment and then raised an eyebrow at them. “Well?” he said. “Get out of the way!”

Albus hurriedly stepped aside. Thorn swept past him and disappeared into the classroom, slamming the door in his wake.

“So much for him being all right,” Albus said.

Pan’s eye was twitching. “Slimeballs? Well, he’s just a—”

Whatever he was, Pan didn’t get to say. At that precise moment, the Gryffindors appeared around the corner.

Ace, Berwick and Rose were walking at the head of the group of Gryffindor first-years, Ace and Rose looking like models compared with the troll-like countenance of Berwick. Francesca Nott and Bryce Acridson sauntered along behind them, matching blonde hair styled in French plaits. Lucas Jordan walked at their side. His afro had been stylishly shaved at the sides. It bobbed up and down with each step.

Rose pretended not to notice Albus and Pan. In fact, not one of the Slytherins acknowledged their presence.

Once the rest of the students had arrived, there was a definite tension in the air between the two houses. Ace surreptitiously glanced over at the Slytherins every now and then, a distrustful look on his face. When he locked eyes with Danielle Varda, however, he raised an appreciative eyebrow.

Finally, Thorn let them inside. The desks and chairs had already been moved to the sides of the room, leaving an empty space in the middle. Thorn stood at his desk, watching the Gryffindors and Slytherins arrange themselves on opposite sides of the room. “Now, this won’t do,” he said. “We should be working together.” He grinned humourlessly. “Today, we’re practising the thickening charm. Instead of wool, we’ll be using stones.” There was a murmur of chatter at this.

“You were actually serious?” asked Drake Salmer.

“We’re throwing stones at each other?” Rose added sceptically.

“Yes!” Thorn said. “I was serious. You will be throwing stones at each other. But there are rules: no aiming for the head, no aiming for sensitive areas, no excessive force. If I see anyone breaking these rules, it’ll be detention.”

The class watched him in shocked silence.

“Get on with it!”

Instantly, the students paired up, Slytherins sticking to their side of the room, Gryffindors to theirs.

“Oh, I forgot to mention,” Thorn announced to them, that humourless smile firmly back in place, “you have to pair up with someone from the other house.”

There was a collective groan. Scorpius, who’d been paired with Thorn in their last lesson, now found himself face-to-face with Ace McLaggen, who’d made a beeline for him the moment Thorn had finished speaking. Ace smirked, expression eager. Scorpius seemed to shrink where he stood. Meanwhile, Rose strutted over to Pan. The two of them sized each other up, Rose with her bouncy red hair and glasses, and Pan with her big eyes and boyish frame. It was Berwick who approached Albus. Albus couldn’t help feeling insignificant next to his huge bulk.

Thorn handed out small, round stones to every pair and repeated his warnings about aiming for the head.

The moment Thorn signalled for them to begin, Arty Oakes took a clumsy shot at his partner, hitting the Gryffindor boy in the cheek.

“Detention, Oakes!” Thorn bellowed.

“Idiot,” Berwick muttered. Albus eyed the stone in Berwick’s sausage-like fingers. At the sight of the boy’s eager expression, a sense of dread washed over Albus. He clutched his wand tightly, practising the coagulous spell in his head over and over. Without warning, Berwick took aim and threw the stone straight at Albus’s chest. “Coagulous!” shouted Albus. The air around him shifted, the stone juddered, came to an almost-stop, and then passed through the thickened air and hit Albus hard in the rib. A gasp of pain escaped him. Albus rubbed at the injured spot.

He’d definitely have a bruise.

“One nil,” Berwick grunted. He laughed, snorting as he did so.

As Albus picked up the stone, he caught sight of Ace pelting a particularly large stone straight at Scorpius’s head. Wide-eyed, Scorpius quickly mouthed the thickening spell and raised his wand. A column of distorted air materialised in front of him. The stone froze inches away from Scorpius’s pointed nose.

Albus released the breath he’d been holding. So, it seemed, did Scorpius.

Instead of yelling, Thorn waggled his finger at Ace. He muttered something, but he was too far away for Albus to hear it.

“Oi! You going to throw the stone, or not?” demanded Berwick.

Albus straightened up and threw the stone at the troll-like boy, his attention half-focused on Ace and Scorpius. On the other side of the room, Ace cast a perfect thickening charm, blocking Scorpius’s throw. Albus watched as Ace plucked the stone out of the air and prepared for another attack. This time, he pulled back his arm, sneered, and pelted the stone with what must have been all his force. It shot like a bullet, straight for the blonde boy’s forehead. Albus reacted before thinking. “Wingardium leviosa,” he muttered, swishing his wand. At the last second, the stone was thrown off-course, slamming into the wall behind Scorpius, whose mouth was gaping in shock. Then, two things happened at once. The first: Scorpius locked eyes with Albus. The second: a blinding pain erupted in Albus’s shoulder and he fell to his knees, clutching at the injured spot.

“Two, nil,” Berwick grunted.

“Get up, Potter!” commanded Thorn, a look of derision on his face. “Keep your eyes on your opponent.”

Albus nodded as he rubbed his shoulder. His cheeks were flaming. He could feel that Scorpius was still watching him, but he didn’t want to look.

Hours seemed to pass before the lesson finally came to an end. Thankfully, Ace didn’t attempt another deadly throw at Scorpius, perhaps realising how close he’d come to killing the boy.

Albus was the first out of the classroom, his body aching from several bruises. He limped along corridors until he came to an old tapestry of a portly wizard dressed in green robes. He stepped into the hidden passageway behind it. Leaning back against the stone wall, he drew in a deep breath. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling. He’d saved Scorpius from a stone to the face. That was all.

He wondered if Scorpius had realised what he’d done. Part of him hoped he had. Perhaps it would make up for the incident on the train. Another part of him kept hearing Pan’s voice in his head, He’s Malfoy’s son. He’s trouble, Albus. Stay away from him.

It’s not like I want to be his best friend, Albus thought. I just… What? What do I want?

He found himself staring into space. It took him a while to shake himself out of it. Pulling back the tapestry, he reappeared in the corridor. Students were filing past him towards the Great Hall.

“Well that was stupid.”

Albus jumped in fright. Pan had appeared at his shoulder, as if out of nowhere. There was a familiar disapproving expression on her face. A very noticeable bruise had blossomed on her neck.

“Are you okay?” Albus asked.

“I’m fine,” she replied. “Why wouldn’t I be? Anyway, it’s Scorpius we should be talking about. I saw you cast that spell.”

“Scorpius wouldn’t have stopped the stone in time,” said Albus as they followed the crowd towards the Great Hall. “You think I should’ve let it hit him?”

At that moment Scorpius hurried past them. The sea of students parted for him like he was carrying dragon pox.

Pan gestured at the blonde boy’s back. “Do you really want to be friends with the most-hated boy at Hogwarts?” she asked.

“Don’t you feel sorry for him at all?” Albus said.

Pan rolled her eyes. “It’s not about feeling sorry for him. It’s about staying away from trouble. Being his friend will cause us grief.”

“I don’t want to be his friend,” replied Albus, his voice going up an octave.

Pan didn’t say anything. She stayed silent until they entered the Great Hall, where they found Ace McLaggen and a group of Gryffindors in the midst of a baguette swordfight. McLaggen was brandishing his baguette as if he was a fencing champion, thrusting it at the students around him while he laughed heartily. Several girls were watching him with interest. Pan was not one of them. She looked like she’d swallowed a lemon. “Show-off,” she muttered.

As they headed towards the Slytherin first-years, Ace jumped onto the nearest table and brandished his baguette. His gaze was fixed upon Pan. “Look!” he shouted, pointing it at her. “An ogre has infiltrated the castle!”

The other Gryffindors jeered.

Albus stepped forward, his hands bunched into fists, but Pan placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. Without betraying a flicker of emotion, she carried on walking, pulling Albus along behind her. After only three steps, however, Ace leapt from the table and landed directly in their path. “What’s up, ogre?” Ace taunted Pan. “Are you deaf?”

Pan made to step around him, trying to drag Albus too, but Albus refused to budge. “What’s your problem?” he said to Ace, his voice coming out irritatingly high-pitched.

Ace shrugged. “I’m not the one with the problem,” he replied. “And why are you sticking up for her? Have you seen what she did to Rose?”

“What do you mean?” asked Albus.

“There’s a massive bruise on Rose’s arm.”

Pan eyed Ace darkly. “Move out of the way, McLaggen.”

He laughed. “What are you going to do, ogre?” he mocked. “Hit me with your club?”

Before Pan could reply, Rose appeared at Ace’s shoulder. She placed a restraining hand on his chest. “Ace, it’s fine,” she said. “Throwing stones was part of the lesson. Stop calling her an ogre.” Rose sent Pan an apologetic look. “She can’t help the way she looks.”

Albus scowled at Rose. “Come on, Pan,” he said.

Pan didn’t move. She was glaring at Ace. It seemed that most of the Great Hall was also watching him, waiting to see what would happen next. With a lopsided grin, Ace lowered his baguette, shrugged and headed back towards the Gryffindor table. Rose tucked her frizzy red hair behind her ears, her cheeks pink. “I’m sorry about that,” she said to Pan. “He’s nice really. He’s just protective.” She gestured vaguely at Pan’s face. “I’ve told him about judging people by their appearance. I know what it’s like. My hair’s pretty mad.” She pulled on a strand of her frizzy red locks. “People used to make fun of me.”

Pan didn’t respond. Her face had gone white.

“I’m going to use sleekening potion as soon as my mum lets me buy it,” Rose carried on. “It’ll sort out my hair. I’m sure there’s a potion you could use too. I’ve heard shrinking potions are good for, you know, reducing certain features…” She gestured vaguely at Pan’s nose. “So don’t let Ace get to you, really. He doesn’t mean it.”

Pan was clenching her jaw so tight, Albus was afraid her teeth might shatter.

“See you later,” Rose said before skipping off towards the Gryffindor table, where Ace was waiting for her, chomping on his baguette.

Pan didn’t move.

“Are you okay?” Albus asked her, frowning. Her face had regained some of its colour, but she was wearing an odd expression. Albus could’ve sworn she was about to cry. A second later, however, she seemed to shake herself out of her trance and shot Albus a withering glare. “Stop asking if I’m okay,” she said. “You sound like my auntie Pansy. She’s a worrier too.”

“I’m not a worrier,” Albus retorted, remembering with a feeling of annoyance, his brother calling him the exact same thing less than a week before.

“What is with your family?” Pan continued as they made their way towards the Slytherin first-years. “Your brother’s a git and your cousin’s a—”

“Know-it-all,” Albus finished.

Pan snorted. “That’s not what I was going to call her.”

They joined Arty, Aberfa and Julia at the Slytherin table. All three of them were showing off their many bruises from Thorn’s lesson. Arty had a particularly nasty one on his chest, a great purple blotch. Julia’s bug-eyes widened dramatically when she saw it. Following this, Aberfa revealed a dark red bruise on her wrist that she’d received from Bryce Acridson.

“Bryce did that?” asked Arty in shock. “The cute girl with the plaits?” He peered over at the Gryffindor table and shook his head in disbelief. “That’s Bryce over there, isn’t it? Is she a triplet or something?” he asked.

Albus followed his gaze to where three girls, all with the same blonde pigtails were chatting on the Gryffindor table.

“Well,” replied Julia, “Francesca and Bryce are just friends even though they look alike. But Ileana is Francesca’s twin. She’s in Ravenclaw.”

Arty continued to stare longingly at the three girls. Julia continued to compare bruises with Aberfa. Julia chatted incessantly while Aberfa, as usual, said very little.

Despite Pan’s earlier assurance that she was fine, she didn’t join in with the conversation. She ate her onion soup in silence, her eyes fixed upon the polished wooden table.

“I’m going to see Hagrid in a bit,” Albus told her once they’d finished eating. Arty, Julia and Aberfa had all left to study in the library. “Do you want to come with me?”

“Okay,” said Pan. Her tone was casual, but Albus caught the hint of a smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth.

At five to two they left the castle and made their way across the grounds. Hagrid lived in a small wooden house on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. A crossbow, a pile of dead ferrets and a shovel were outside the front door.

When Albus knocked, they heard a frantic scrabbling from inside, followed by several booming barks. “Down, Sandy – down!” came Hagrid’s deep, gravelly voice.

A moment later, the door swung open, revealing Hagrid’s big hairy face. “Back, Sandy,” he said, struggling to keep hold of the collar of an absolutely gigantic great dane. True to her name, Sandy’s fur was sand-coloured. Her ears and snout, however, were chocolate-brown. The dog leapt at Albus the moment she saw him, licking at his face with her sandpaper tongue.

“Hello, Sandy,” Albus said, giving her long neck a hug. As usual, she smelt of the fishy treats Hagrid liked to feed her. Albus remembered the day Hagrid had first brought Sandy to the Potter house. She’d terrified their owl, Aldwin, and weed on the carpet. But Lily, who’d been two at the time, had loved her from the first moment.

Once Sandy was done greeting Albus, she rushed to Pan, almost toppling her over.

Down, Sandy!” barked Hagrid, pulling at the dog’s collar and then leading her over to an enormous dog-bed complete with cuddly toys and what looked like cattle bones.

There was only one room inside Hagrid’s hut. Hams and pheasants were hanging from the ceiling, a kettle was boiling in the open fire and in a corner stood a massive bed with a patchwork quilt over it. Sandy’s dog-bed was arranged on the floor beside it.

“Make yerselves at home,” said Hagrid, indicating the table and chairs near the fire. It wasn’t long before Sandy got up. She sat beside Albus’s chair, her head resting in his lap while he stroked her around the ears. She sniffed at the air as if wondering where the rest of the Potters were.

“This is Pan,” Albus told Hagrid, who was pouring boiling water into a large teapot and putting rock cakes onto a plate.

“Nice ter meet you, Pan,” said Hagrid, smiling. “A Slytherin too, I suppose?” Hagrid didn’t frown as he said this, but there was a definite awkwardness to his tone.

Pan nodded as her eyes continued to glance about the hut, taking in the straw-covered floor, the bucket of giant maggots and the newspaper clippings pinned to the wall. Albus found himself following her gaze to the clippings. There were pictures of his dad after the Battle of Hogwarts, articles written by his mum, the public announcement of James’s, Albus’s and Lily’s births, along with several other features on his dad’s work at the Auror Office.

“It’s not much,” Hagrid said to Pan, noting the way her eyes roved around the room, “but it’s me home. It’s not a mansion or an estate like some people can afford…”

Pan sent him a searching look as he poured her a cup of tea. “You don’t like Slytherins much,” she said. It wasn’t an accusation, rather an observation.

Albus inwardly groaned. Hagrid nearly choked on his tea. “I never said that!” he replied, glancing over at Albus. “I’m sure yer not all—I mean, I’m sure there are some good’uns.” He winced and gestured at Albus. “Well, I know there are! Albus is one! Couldn’t meet a finer kid, yer couldn’t!”

Pan took a sip of her tea, set it down, then crossed her arms. “There’s food, a sink, a bed, a fire. That’s all you need,” she said matter-of-factly. “This place is warm too. My house is big, but most of the rooms are cold. We don’t have a dog and there’s never any cakes. I like it here.” She picked up a rock cake and took a bite. The thing crunched loudly as if it had actually been made out of gravel. Pan swallowed it with an effort.

“Well if Albus has made friends with yer,” said Hagrid, his cheeks having gone very red, “then yer must be all right.”

“We’re Slytherins,” said Pan, “not slimeballs.”

Hagrid looked puzzled at this. “Er, more tea?” he asked.

Albus and Pan let him top-up their cups. They pretended to enjoy the rock cakes as they told Hagrid all about their first lessons. They were delighted to hear Hagrid moaning about Filch, who he called ‘an old codger’. He also bemoaned Mrs Norris, the caretaker’s cat. “Lived too long, she has. Somethin’ unnatural ‘bout her, mark my words.”

Unsure whether or not it was wise, Albus mentioned the argument he’d overheard between Thorn and Uncle Neville. At Hagrid’s sceptical look, he went on to tell him that Professor Sprout had run out of Thorn’s classroom the other day looking upset.

“Thorn’s a hothead that’s for sure,” Hagrid said, “but he wouldn’t upset Professor Sprout. The two of ‘em ‘ave been quite chummy recently if you ask me.”

“What about his argument with Uncle Neville?” Albus pressed.

“Not everyone gets along, Albus,” Hagrid said. “Even teachers. And Neville’s been under a lot of stress of late what with Luna and him ending things.”

“Mum said Aunt Luna is a maleditis,” said Albus. “Do you know—”

“A maledictus?” Pan cut in, eyes wide. “Your aunt has a blood curse?”

“Um, I think so,” Albus replied. “She’s not really my aunt, just close friends with my parents. Mum said that Luna can turn into an animal and one day she won’t be able to turn back.”

Hagrid had gone pale. “Ay,” he said, “it’s a foul curse. Only affects witches, passes down the female bloodline.”

“So if Luna has children…?” Albus asked, his insides squirming.

Hagrid nodded. “The girls would inherit the curse too,” he said.

“Poor Luna,” said Albus. “And Neville too.”

Hagrid nodded sadly.

“What animal does she turn into?” Pan asked into the silence.

“No idea,” replied Hagrid. “Don’t like ter ask.”

“My parents don’t know either,” said Albus.

“Neville’s right cut up about it,” Hagrid told them. “I’ve never seen him so down. No wonder he’s pickin’ arguments with people.”

“Uncle Neville wouldn’t pick a fight,” said Albus. “It’s Thorn.”

“Thorn has a temper,” Hagrid agreed, “but he’s a good man. Very ambitious.”

“Ambitious?” Pan asked. “What do you mean?”

“Well, he’s only been here two years ain’t he,” replied Hagrid. “Already, he’s head of Gryffindor. Wants to be headmaster one day, I reckon.”

Without warning, a distant, earth-shaking thud echoed from outside the cabin. It was followed by another, and another, as if an enormous foot was stomping the ground. Both Albus and Pan glanced out of the window towards the Forbidden Forest. Birds were flapping out of the trees, disturbed by the noise.

Hagrid let out a long sigh.

“What is it, Hagrid?” asked Albus.

“It’s Grawp,” he said sadly.

“What’s Grawp?” Pan asked.

“He’s me brother,” Hagrid replied. “He’s been a bit lonely, see. Me and Olympe, we don’t see each other much, but at least I have someone.” Hagrid’s face reddened slightly at this. “Poor Grawpie don’t have no-one, so I thought…”

Albus eyed Hagrid warily. Hagrid’s thoughts and plans often tended to have terrible consequences.

“Grawp helped in the Battle of Hogwarts, so the ministry sort of owed him a favour,” Hagrid told them. “They agreed ter find Grawp a—Well, a—A lady giant.”

“Wait,” said Pan, “Grawp’s a giant? And you’re going to bring a giantess down from the mountains to be his girlfriend?”

Hagrid shook his head. “Already done it,” he said. “Gallimead’s been ‘ere since the start of summer. Ministry took a while to find a giantess they thought was ‘suitable’.” Hagrid rolled his eyes at this. “Well, I’ve never seen a giant like her. I thought Grawp was a runt. But Gallimead’s tiny. Fourteen feet if you can believe.”

“Oh, is that all?” said Pan sarcastically, gazing at Hagrid in disbelief.

“I know,” he said. “Tiny. But she’s a lovely thing. Bit irritable at firs’ like. Got a few bruises off her, I can tell yer. But she’s settled in beautifully.” Another sad look passed across his gigantic features.

“So what’s the problem, Hagrid?” asked Albus.

“It’s Grawp,” he said. “He’s not interested. Won’t even hold hands with her. Oh and she’s quite taken with him.” Hagrid leaned conspiratorially towards Pan. “Handsome fella, Grawp is.”

“Maybe he needs some time to get to know her better,” Albus suggested.

Hagrid sighed again, deflating like a balloon. “I jus’ want him ter be happy,” he muttered. “But Grawp’s havin’ none of it.”

As Albus and Pan walked back to the castle for dinner, Albus couldn’t help thinking about Thorn. Hagrid had said he was a good man, but he’d also said Thorn was ambitious. Was he looking for another promotion? Sprout was deputy headmistress. Apart from McGonagall, she was in the best position to move him up the school. Was that the reason he’d become so ‘chummy’ with her?

I need to keep an eye on him.

 

Albus and Pan parted ways in the Entrance Hall. Albus was having dinner at Slughorn’s party and needed to return to the common room to get changed. Pan waved him goodbye and headed into the Great Hall. Albus wished his invitation had come with a plus one, then he could’ve invited Pan along with him. As it was, he would have to suffer the Slug Club alone.

In his dormitory, Albus rifled through his trunk for his dress robes. He couldn’t remember where he’d packed them. He pulled out his posters of Gonçalo Flores, his canvases, paints, sketchpad and charcoals. He found the dress robes at the very bottom, a set of bottle green robes embroidered with gold. The moment he’d seen them in Madam Malkin’s shop, he’d known they were the ones he wanted. Gold and green – the colours of the Brazilian quidditch team – the colours of Gonçalo Flores. Green, it turned out, had been a fitting choice. He was, after all, a Slytherin. Perhaps, deep down, Albus had always suspected he’d belonged in the house of the serpent. Red had never been a favourite colour of his. As for lions, they were animals for boys like Ace McLaggen – brutish and powerful.

My animal is a snake, he thought sadly.

A few minutes later, he stepped out of his dormitory, re-checking the invitation as he did so. It said the party was taking place in Slughorn’s office on the sixth floor. Albus checked the back of the parchment to see if there were more detailed directions. There weren’t.

Before he’d taken another step, Albus paused. The door opposite him, upon which the plaque read Drake Salmer and Scorpius Malfoy, had just opened and none other than Scorpius Malfoy had just stepped out. He was wearing black dress robes with silver embroidery, complete with a shimmering cloak that looked as if it was made of liquid silver. Scorpius froze mid-movement at the sight of Albus. His eyes widened and then he turned towards the staircase without a word.

“Wait!” Albus blurted out, following after him.

Scorpius halted.

“Are you going to Slughorn’s party?” Albus asked him.

A frown line formed between Scorpius’s blonde eyebrows. But after a pause, he nodded.

“Me too,” Albus said, an unexpected feeling of relief washing through him. “Do you want to walk together? I don’t know the way.”

Scorpius nodded again, the frown line deepening.

The two boys walked together in awkward silence, Scorpius, as was his habit, refusing to even glance in Albus’s direction. By the time they’d reached the fourth floor, Albus couldn’t stand it any longer. “How’s your first week been?” he asked as they walked past a suit of armour with its helmet on back-to-front.

Scorpius narrowed his eyes. “Is that a joke?” he asked defensively.

“No!” Albus replied quickly. “I meant—I guess it was a stupid question.”

Scorpius stopped walking. He moved towards a nearby window and looked out at the Black Lake. The Forbidden Forest stood ominously in the distance. “Going to this party was a mistake,” Scorpius said suddenly. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“If Slughorn gave you an invite, I don’t think you have a choice,” said Albus. Seeing Scorpius framed in the window, Albus had the familiar urge to sketch him. He wondered if he’d be able to capture the mirror-like quality of Scorpius’s cloak or the way he held his hand against the window frame.

“The Black Lake has a colony of merpeople, you know,” Scorpius said abruptly. “The first writings of merpeople originate in Greece. The Greeks called them sirens because they were so beautiful.”

“Yeah,” replied Albus, “my dad told me about the merpeople in the Black Lake. He met some of them in the Triwizard Tournament. He didn’t describe them as beautiful though.”

“There are different species of merpeople,” said Scorpius. “Some are more wild than others. But they still build homes for themselves, wear jewellery and they’re said to love music. They even have their own language.” Scorpius turned to look at Albus. “Did you know that merpeople aren’t classed as beings? The Ministry of Magic defines them as beasts. Don’t you think that’s strange?”

Albus nodded. “Some people think Hagrid’s dangerous. They don’t like him because he’s half-giant. But he’s the kindest person I know.”

Scorpius turned back to the window. “People shouldn’t judge others before they get to know them.”

Albus approached Scorpius with hesitant steps. Uncertainly, he reached out and took Scorpius’s hand. “Are you coming to the party then?” he asked. “We don’t want to be late.”

Scorpius pulled his hand away, then nodded. As they headed along the corridor, Scorpius checked his watch. “We won’t be late,” he said. “We’ve got a while before the party starts.”

As predicted, they arrived at Slughorn’s office with fifteen minutes to spare. Voices drifted along the corridor as they approached. Scorpius was about to knock when Albus put up a hand to stop him. Slughorn’s office door was ajar and a familiar rumbling voice was emanating from inside.

It was Thorn.

“What is it?” asked Scorpius.

Albus put a finger to his lips and pushed the door forward an inch or two, revealing an expensively furnished room with purple hangings and a highly-polished dining table. The table was set with white and gold china, glass goblets and glittering cutlery. Standing a little way from the door was Professor Slughorn, hands resting on his enormous stomach. Thorn stood opposite him, a look of intense interest on his face. “…knew the potion would need to be made,” Thorn said, “but I didn’t realise you were the one—”

“Yes, oh yes, difficult potion to brew,” said Slughorn, checking the clock on the wall. “Challenging. Most challenging.”

Thorn leaned closer. “But only a handful of wizards can brew the wolfsbane potion. I thought we would send for it.”

            “No, my boy,” Slughorn replied, puffing up slightly. “I may be old, but I’m Potions teacher for a reason. I can brew wolfsbane. I’ve done it dozens of times.”

Thorn’s face seemed to brighten at these words, as if a match had been struck behind his eyes. “Then you must know,” he said. “What is it about that potion that gives werewolves their minds when they transform? What is in that potion that keeps them acting as humans?”

Slughorn, who kept glancing over at his perfectly set dining table and then up at the clock, splayed his hands. “I am afraid to say that although I am able to brew the potion, I am woefully ignorant as to how it works. There are many books on the subject if—”

“I have no time for books,” Thorn growled, the eagerness in his voice turning to annoyance. “You’re telling me you know nothing about how the wolfsbane potion actually works?”

Slughorn gaped. “Well, I-I know that wolfsbane is the crucial ingredient,” he said. “It is a poison really, but it has certain properties that enliven the mind. Perhaps it is this that allows the human mind to overpower that of the wolf when the werewolf transforms.”

Thorn grunted. “Is there nothing else?”

Slughorn straightened his purple robes and sent Thorn an indignant look. “I’m afraid not,” he said. “And I will have to ask you to leave. As you can see, I’m hosting a party and the guests are due to arrive any moment.”

Albus backed away from the door. He and Scorpius crept along the corridor. They’d only just hidden themselves behind a suit of armour when Thorn came striding out of Slughorn’s office and disappeared down a side-passage.

“I wonder what that was all about,” said Scorpius.

“Strange,” Albus replied. “Why was Thorn so interested in the wolfsbane potion?”

“Maybe he has a friend who’s a werewolf,” Scorpius suggested. “The potion lets them keep their humanity when they transform.”

“Then why didn’t he just ask Slughorn to brew some for him?” said Albus.

Scorpius shrugged. “I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’m more interested in why Slughorn’s making a wolfsbane potion in the first place.” He frowned. “Who’s it for?”

When they knocked on the door a minute later, Slughorn greeted them with a delighted smile. “Ah two of my newest members,” he said. “Come in! Come in!” He then called out towards the far wall. From behind a door came a waiter in black and white, high-collared robes. “Bring out the drinks tray,” Slughorn commanded, not even looking at the boy, who Albus vaguely recognised as a fourth-year Ravenclaw student.

Albus and Scorpius were ushered into chairs. Slughorn chatted to them until the other members of the Slug Club began to arrive. “Top in almost every subject, or so I’ve heard,” said Slughorn to Scorpius. “And that mirrormind potion you made – astounding, I tell you.”

Slughorn sprang out of his seat when a couple of sixth-years arrived, one of them wearing exotic brightly patterned robes. They were followed by a fifth-year Slytherin girl who gave everyone around her disdainful looks, three seventh-years (including Henry wood, the quidditch prodigy), a third-year Hufflepuff boy and none other than Albus’s cousin Rose who walked in side-by-side with Ace McLaggen. Scorpius averted his eyes to the empty plate in front of him. Rose smiled briefly at Albus and then took a seat next to Ace.

The first course was soon brought out. Slughorn chatted away, never letting the dinner party fall into silence. He told stories about the many famous witches and wizards he was in contact with and reminisced on past students. When the main course arrived, he asked each new member to introduce themselves to the others. Ace was first to be chosen. He didn’t waste a moment. He gave a detailed description of his father’s job and of the likelihood that he would be the future Minister of Magic. He then went on to describe his quidditch skills. “I’ve played in the junior leagues for years,” he said, “but my father pulled me out. They weren’t challenging me enough. He’s been training me himself. A close friend of his plays for the Wimbourne Wasps. Very interested in signing me actually.”

Albus tried to imagine what Pan would say if she was here. No doubt she’d be muttering under her breath and rolling her eyes.

Rose talked for far longer than McLaggen. Even Slughorn was glassy-eyed by the end of her monologue. She’d included an in-depth rundown of her revision timetable and how she’d revolutionised time management for herself.

“I’ve heard you’re top in every class,” Slughorn told her. He looked over at Scorpius. “It seems you have competition, my boy.”

Rose eyed Scorpius intently at this comment. Scorpius blushed.

When it was Albus’s turn to introduce himself, he really didn’t know what to say. I’m Harry Potter’s son kept springing to mind. For that’s why he was here, wasn’t it? He’d brewed a couple of good potions, yes, but he was sure there were plenty of other students in the school who could do the same. No, he was here for one reason only.

Scorpius nudged him gently.

“I like art,” Albus said at once. “Painting, sketching… And I’m not bad at Potions either.”

There was silence. It seemed that after Ace and Rose’s ten-minute presentations, the table had been expecting the same from him.

“Art!” Slughorn boomed unperturbed. “How wonderful! Getting the objects and people you paint to move around is so tricky. A real skill that. Any techniques for us novices?”

A thin layer of sweat was now building up on Albus’s forehead and around his collar. “I, uh—I actually just paint still art.”

“Still art, my boy?” Slughorn questioned, bemused.

“Yes,” Albus replied, his neck extremely hot, a heat that was rising up to his jawline, “the objects don’t move in my paintings.”

“How intriguing!” Slughorn exclaimed. Everyone else at the table seemed far less impressed by this fact. Rose was shifting awkwardly in her seat.

Finally, Slughorn moved on, turning his attention to Scorpius, who gave the appearance of a rabbit cornered by wolves. “I’m Scorpius,” he said, “and when I’m older, I want to take over the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.”

Some of the older students snickered. Slughorn, on the other hand, seemed impressed. “Already know what you want,” he said. “I like a young person with goals!”

Ace snorted. “Round up all the dangerous creatures and cull them, that’s what I say,” he said to Scorpius. “I hope you plan on doing something about the goblins. They’ve been ripping wizards off for years. My father’s always complaining about it.”

“That’s not exactly what I have in mind,” Scorpius muttered, but Albus wasn’t sure anyone else heard him.

When the party was over, Albus and Scorpius headed back to the common room together, Scorpius pointing the way to Albus every time he tried to take a wrong turn.

“So you like art,” Scorpius said. “What sorts of things do you draw?”

“Most things,” replied Albus vaguely. He wasn’t sure if he should tell Scorpius he liked drawing Gonçalo Flores. “People mostly.”

“Who have you drawn?”

“Loads of people,” said Albus. “I like drawing my mum. She’s got this warmth about her. I think it’s her red hair.”

“What about your dad?” Scorpius asked.

“I don’t really draw him much,” Albus replied. “He’s pretty busy. And his face is too similar to mine.”

They carried on walking, Scorpius’s silver cloak swishing around his feet, his platinum hair taking on the golden glow of the torches.

“So you want to be head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures,” Albus said as they made their way down the steps to the dungeons.

“That’s the plan.”

“Why?” Albus asked. “So you can protect the merpeople?”

“No,” he replied. “I want to put magical creatures on the committee so they can make choices for themselves.”

They stopped outside the wall of stone that hid the Slytherin common room. “I can’t believe people think you’re the son of Voldemort,” Albus blurted.

Scorpius reddened. He spoke the password and they headed inside. They passed through the green light of the common room and down into the green depths of the dormitories. Outside their rooms, they stopped. “There’s an art class you can go to,” Scorpius said. “I was planning to go to a club myself, but I didn’t see one that I liked. There was an art class on the sign-up sheet though. You should go to it.”

Albus smiled. “Thanks,” he said. “Maybe I will.”

Scorpius blushed. “Night, Albus.” He entered his room and closed the door with a quiet click.

“Sleep well, Scorpius,” Albus whispered into the night.

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