Monday morning brought howling winds and torrential rain to Hogwarts. An autumn storm had struck the castle. Albus found the dark clouds foreboding. He had six days until the full moon, six days until Arty’s transformation, and the prospect of spending the night in the same room as a wolf was beginning to alarm him.
When Arty had returned from McGonagall’s office the previous night, he’d bid Albus not to tell anyone the truth about him – the boy’s usually carefree expression had been both sullen and nervous. “Werewolves aren’t exactly popular,” he’d said. “I don’t want to be known as the Hogwarts half-breed.”
Albus had assured him he would tell no one.
By morning, Arty had left the dormitory before Albus had woken up, his bed left unmade, his duvet half on the floor.
Albus gazed at it, frowning. It wasn’t like Arty to wake up early.
Albus didn’t see him at breakfast either. After Albus and Pan had finished eating, they made their way to the Herbology greenhouses for their first lesson of the week. The wind and rain battered the Slytherins as they waited outside Greenhouse 1, whipping at robes and dampening hair. Arty stood with Danielle and Aberfa, looking morose. Albus wondered how much the boy was affected by the approaching full moon. Could he feel it beginning to change him even now?
Albus’s thoughts dissipated at the sight of the Gryffindors walking towards the greenhouses. They scowled and muttered darkly to one another, keeping a careful distance from the Slytherins as they came to wait outside Greenhouse 1. Pan whispered for Albus to ignore their unfriendly stares, but he couldn’t help narrowing his eyes at McLaggen who was talking animatedly with Berwick Cross and Lucas Jordan, miming punches as if practising for a boxing match. The group of boys glanced repeatedly towards Scorpius Malfoy, who had done his best to shrink into the background. But his distinctive hair, wet and dripping from the rain, made this a difficult feat.
Albus knew why Scorpius was so keen to hide. The rumour (spread ruthlessly by Salmer) that the Malfoy family was harbouring Rabastan Lestrange in their cellar, had spread like enchanted fire through the school. At breakfast that morning, it had been all anyone was talking about.
The appearance of the Gryffindors had drained what little colour there was from Scorpius’s face.
When McLaggen peered into the greenhouse and noted that there were no teachers around, Albus got an uneasy feeling, a feeling that turned to dismay when McLaggen fixed his gaze on Scorpius and stalked forwards. The Slytherins parted to let McLaggen past – Pan pulled Albus out of the way. Missy Groombridge and Julia Hopkirk were wide-eyed with excitement. Salmer looked on hungrily, as did Prince Zabini. McLaggen squared up to the blonde-haired boy, his fierce eyes narrowing. “Rabastan murdered four wizards, did you know that?” McLaggen asked Scorpius, his voice loud enough for the whole class to hear. “Do you even care?” He gazed around at the Slytherins. “Do any of you care?”
Pan gripped Albus’s arm as he made to step forwards. “Bad idea,” she muttered.
“No I didn’t know that,” Scorpius answered defiantly. “I haven’t wasted my time researching him. I’m not exactly a fan of Rabastan Lestrange.”
McLaggen leaned closer so that he was almost nose-to-nose with Scorpius. “You think you’re clever?” he breathed. “You think the deaths of wizards is funny? Rabastan killed more than a dozen muggles too. Did you know that?”
Scorpius said nothing.
Drake Salmer scoffed. “They were only muggles,” he said in his drawling tones.
“My grandparents are muggles,” Rose spoke up. She fixed her eyes on Salmer. “I’d tell you to apologise, but I wouldn’t trust it to be sincere.”
“Me?” replied Salmer silkily. He pointed a finger at himself and then at Scorpius. “I’m not the one hiding Rabastan in my cellar.”
The Gryffindors began nodding, apparently in agreement. Ace pulled out his wand, holding it at his side. “You’d better watch yourself, Malfoy,” he threatened.
Rose laid a repressive hand on McLaggen’s arm, then sent Scorpius a beseeching look. “I know it’s not your fault,” she said to him in a would-be kind voice. “You can’t help it if your family are hiding a fugitive. But, Scorpius, we’re just asking you to think carefully. Think about the things Rabastan is capable of. If you know something, anything, you have to tell someone. He’s a death eater, Scorpius. He’s capable of murder. If you say nothing, more people could get hurt.” She reached forwards and took his hands, a reassuring smile on her lips.
For some reason, Rose’s sweet, kindly words were worse than McLaggen’s anger. Albus had to resist speaking up. He was longing to tell her to keep her nose out of it. And yet, he felt tongue-tied. These were Gryffindors, members of the house of his parents, his grandparents. Albus could almost see the face of his mother, his father, his aunt, his uncle in among the robed students, the red lion gleaming on their chests. Wouldn’t his family have rounded on Scorpius too? Wouldn’t they have been on the same side as Ace?
Albus did not speak.
Scorpius glanced around as if searching for an ally. His eyes lingered on Albus. Then, clearly sensing he was on his own, Scorpius pulled free of Rose’s grip. “My family—”
“Morning class,” came a voice from behind them, interrupting Scorpius’s words. Uncle Neville had appeared from one of the greenhouses. “Inside,” he said, “or you’ll all be drenched.” Scorpius hurried quickly into Greenhouse 1, his head down. He barely looked up again for the remainder of the lesson. The pitiable sight of him did nothing to make Albus feel better.
Throughout the week, the stormy weather grew worse. The sky darkened to a deep charcoal and the wind grew blustery. Unfortunately, Albus’s lessons took an equally dismal turn.
In Charms, they moved onto the cushioning charm, which required a smooth wave of the wand followed by a quick spiralling motion. The incantation was molliare, a word Pan seemed unable to remember. She kept saying mo-laar. Consequently, the section of floor on which she was practising didn’t cushion her at all when she let herself fall onto it, and she winced as she hit the hard, stone flagons. The rest of the class didn’t perform much better. Almost everyone left the lesson with at least one bruise from a failed attempt at the spell. Only Scorpius survived unscathed. At one point, Professor Flitwick even stopped the class to point out how soft and springy Scorpius’s patch of floor had become. “Like a new mattress!” he squeaked. “Five points to Slytherin!”
Professor Binns’ lessons were as dull as ever. He handed back their essays on the Hogwarts founders, for which Albus had achieved a P (poor), then droned on about Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin. At the back of class, Scorpius jotted notes. Pan, on the other hand, spent most of the lesson gazing out of the window at the stormy skies, muttering about flying practice. Albus, who thought the subject matter might have been interesting in the hands of a more competent teacher, used his blank roll of parchment to sketch Binns’ translucent figure rather than take notes.
Transfiguration wasn’t much better. Scorpius was the only one who managed to turn his match into a needle and then moved onto transfiguring a candle into a broom handle. Everyone else received icy glares from Professor Winter. At one point, the bony teacher snatched up Arty’s wand and, with a sharp flick, transformed every match in the room into a needle. “Just checking it works,” he said coldly. “I was beginning to think it was a plain old bit of wood.” He turned to the class at large. “If anyone is unable to transfigure their match by the start of next lesson, they will receive detention.” With another flick, all the needles turned back into matches and Professor Winter took to his throne-like chair at the front of class, peering at them all over his twig-like fingers. Before they left, he set them an essay on the necessity of skilful wand movement for successful transfiguration.
Wednesday evening’s Astonomy lesson (in which they were meant to be stargazing) was cancelled due to the bad weather. Instead, Professor Sinistra took them to a disused classroom and talked in length about the use of astronomy in several branches of magic. They were then tasked with writing an essay about it. “That’s the third one this week!” Pan had complained as they left the dusty classroom for the Slytherin common room. “At this rate we’ll be spending our weekend in the library! As it is, we’ll be working on those stupid matches all evening for Winter!”
Albus’s mind was too distracted to worry about their ever-increasing workload. For the past few days, his thoughts had been focused upon one thing and one thing only – the looming full moon.
Arty hadn’t spoken much about his curse since the night Albus had found out about it. The only time he mentioned it was to complain that the wolfsbane potion tasted foul. Nevertheless, each night, he would quietly take himself off to Slughorn’s office to drink it, returning fifteen minutes later so sleepy that he immediately collapsed in bed.
All week, Albus had wanted to ask Arty questions: What would happen when he transformed? Was it painful? Would he be dangerous? Had he ever hurt anyone? But he wasn’t sure how to do it without sounding rude.
Albus had more prying questions too, like how Arty had become a werewolf in the first place. He was so young…
By Thursday evening, Pan had noticed something was wrong with Albus. As they headed to the common room, loaded with books from the library, she turned to him questioningly. “Out with it.”
“What?” Albus said distractedly.
“You’ve been acting weird all week,” she told him.
“Homework,” he lied. “There’s just a lot to do.”
She eyed him, frowned, then rolled her eyes. “And here I was thinking you had something really dreadful on your mind,” she said.
Albus felt his skin prickle. As she watched him, he half-wished he could tell her the truth. The weight of Arty’s secret was pressing down on him like the weight of the moon itself. Instead, he tapped his overflowing bookbag. “This is the second night in a row we’ll have to do work,” he said.
“Don’t remind me,” she replied.
Albus and Pan slumped into the common room resigned to spending the next few hours catching up on their homework. Having just about managed to turn their matches to needles during that morning’s transfiguration lesson, they now had to turn candles to broom handles. They also had the molliare charm to perfect for Flitwick, a spell Pan was still having trouble pronouncing. On top of all this, Slughorn’s essay on cauldron care was due the next morning.
As expected, several hours passed before they loped towards their dormitories. They’d finished Slughorn’s essay and managed to successfully cast the cushioning charm. Their candles, however, had resolutely refused to transform. Pan thought hers looked a little woodier than when she started, but Albus wasn’t convinced.
When he arrived in his room, Albus groaned at the sight of it. Arty’s clothes were strewn across the floor, his bed unmade, food from the Great Hall on his bedside table, crumbs on the floor. Arty himself was pulling on his cloak. “Where have you been?” he asked.
“Homework,” Albus replied shortly, eyes still lingering on the messy floor. Albus’s irritation ebbed away when he saw the grim look on Arty’s face. There was an uncharacteristic seriousness about him. “I’m going to Slughorn’s office in a bit,” he said, a note of reluctance in his voice. “You’d think I’d be used to the potion by now.” He wrinkled his nose. “But it tastes like eel slime. Have I told you?”
“You might have mentioned it,” Albus answered, trying to keep his tone light, casual. In truth, questions were bubbling up inside him. If there was a time to ask about Arty’s curse, it was now.
But Arty carried on talking as if he’d read Albus’s mind. “Six years I’ve had to drink the potion,” he said gravely.
Albus’s eyebrows shot upwards. Six years! “But that means…” His voice trailed off as the horrible truth of it dawned on him
Arty nodded gravely. “Yep, I was only five when I got bitten,” he said. “My dad worked for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures – as a Rounder. His job was to capture dangerous creatures. He rounded them up and sent them to the ministry for trial. Dad hated magical creatures, but he hated werewolves most. That’s why he didn’t tell anyone when he got bitten…”
Albus felt his mouth fall slack. Surely not! His father hadn’t been the one who…?
For the first time since he’d started speaking, Arty looked up. He met Albus’s gaze. Albus tried to school his horrified expression, but Arty had seen it. The boy’s cheeks flushed. He cleared his throat and stood up sharply. “The first time Dad transformed, I got hurt.” His words were coming out in a rush. “Now I’m a werewolf too.” Arty headed for the door, muttering something about Slughorn’s office. He hurried out of the room without a backward glance.
Albus winced. He was about to run after Arty, but he stopped himself. Someone might overhear their conversation. And, in any case, he wasn’t sure what to say – sorry about your dad turning you into a werewolf when you were five. It must have been awful… Even to his own ears, it sounded pathetic.
He stared at the door for a moment, then turned back towards the dormitory. He kept imagining the faceless figure of Arty’s father transforming into a werewolf and attacking his own son. It made his skin turn to gooseflesh. It was too horrible to think about.
I wonder what happened to Arty’s dad afterwards…?
Albus shook the thought away and began tidying, but his mind turned again and again to what Arty had told him.
He became a werewolf at five years old!
Albus folded Arty’s clothes, made the beds and then, taking out his wand, he spoke the one spell he’d learned by choice since coming to Hogwarts. “Scourgify,” he said, with a neat flick. Instantly, the cleaning spell took effect; the floor became suddenly spotless, the sheets pristine. All trace of Arty’s half-eaten food vanished. There were still thumbprints on the wardrobe, but, overall, Albus was pleased with his handiwork.
If only Professor Winter tested us on cleaning objects instead of transfiguring them, he thought.
Next, Albus turned to his school trunk. It was a mess. He’d been living out of his suitcase since he’d arrived at Hogwarts. For some reason, he’d resisted unpacking. As a result, his possessions, clothes and canvases were now jumbled and disordered. Kneeling on the stone floor, he began emptying the trunk.
Finally, when every last one of Albus’s belongings had been put away in the dark wooden wardrobe or the silver-handled chest of drawers, he glanced around the room, searching for something else to keep his mind busy. The room, however, was spotless.
Sighing, he changed into his pyjamas and laid down in bed. When Arty returned a few minutes later, neither of them spoke. The other boy climbed into bed and was soon snoring.
At breakfast the next morning, the Slytherin first-years were in foul moods. The combination of their mounting homework and a week’s open hostility from the other Hogwarts students made them irritable and exhausted. The school was abuzz with talk of Rabastan Lestrange and everyone seemed to believe the Slytherins were in league with him.
Arty was uncharacteristically surly at breakfast. Not even the thick golden waffles drizzled with sticky maple syrup were enough to lighten his mood.
Albus tried talking to him, but he simply grunted in response. Pan was in inexplicably high spirits. As Albus loaded his plate with waffles, she gazed up at one of the tall mullioned windows, wearing a wistful smile.
“What are you so happy about?” Albus asked her.
“The storm’s passed,” she said.
Rays of sunlight were indeed shining into the Great Hall. Why this had made Pan so happy, however, was a mystery to Albus.
She slapped three waffles onto her plate, drizzled extra maple syrup over the top, then raised her eyebrows at him. “The storm, Albus,” she said. “It’s gone.” At his blank look, she sighed. “Flying practice! Finally, we get a worthwhile lesson.”
Albus felt like a boulder had been dropped inside his stomach. He’d completely forgotten! Their first two flying lessons had been cancelled due to the bad weather, but now that the storm had passed, there was no more reason for delay.
He glanced around at his classmates. What will they say when they see me fly? His eyes lingered on Pan’s smile. What will Pan say?
Before the first-years headed to Potions, Argus Filch arrived at the Slytherin table, scowling. Scorpius, who was sitting at the far end, slung his bag over his shoulder and got up: his escort had arrived. Over the past two days, Scorpius had been the victim of several jinxes in the corridors. Thanks to Salmer’s rumour, the whole school believed Scorpius’s family were hiding Rabastan Lestrange in their manor house. Jinxing Scorpius had become a new school sport. McGonagall had even called an assembly to remind the school about proper wizarding conduct, but when Scorpius was jinxed again that same afternoon (so that his own robes had tried to strangle him), Filch was tasked with chaperoning him between classes.
Now, as the old caretaker hobbled over to Scorpius, he gestured at the boy impatiently. His cat Mrs Norris weaved between his legs, then loped away, seemingly, to catch troublemakers. “Come on!” Filch barked. “I have other things to do besides ferrying students to class! This castle doesn’t clean itself, you know!”
The Great Hall fell silent as Scorpius followed the caretaker out through the double doors. Scorpius let his hair fall over his eyes.
“Doesn’t look too happy, does he?” said Salmer, picking at the half-eaten waffle on his plate. “I reckon we won’t have to put up with him much longer. It’s just a matter of time before he leaves.”
“Good riddance,” remarked Missy Groombridge. Julia Hopkirk nodded in agreement, her bug-eyes bulging.
Albus put down his knife and fork. His hunger had evaporated.
Danielle Varda stroked her side-plait thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s for the best,” she said. “He’s clearly miserable. And he just makes the rest of us look bad.”
Pan sent Albus a penetrating look. “What do you think, Albus?”
Albus blinked at her. “We don’t even know him,” he said after a pause. “Has anyone even got to know him?”
Salmer scoffed. “Why would we?” he asked scornfully. “His family protects dark wizards.”
“You know that’s not true,” Albus retorted angrily. “You were the one who started that rumour.”
Salmer’s eyes flashed. “Be careful, Albus. People will start thinking you sympathise with the son of Lord Voldemort.”
Danielle Varda shifted. “Albus has a point,” she said quietly. “We’ve never really given Scorpius a chance.”
“Oh yes,” said Salmer sleekly, “Albus is our pillar of goodness.” He picked up his goblet and swirled his pumpkin juice thoughtfully. “He’s always sticking up for Scorpius, spending time with him, eating with him… Oh wait…”
Albus opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. He realised with a horrible pang that he had nothing to say, no words with which to defend himself. Salmer was right. As much as Albus hated to admit it, he had done nothing to help Scorpius; he’d stood by and watched as the boy with no friends was ignored, picked on, even threatened.
But he’s Draco Malfoy’s son, Albus thought. Everyone thinks he’s a dark wizard.
Albus remembered his mother’s letter. If Scorpius is anything like his father, then my advice would be to stay as far away from him as possible. That’s what she’d written. That’s what she thought of the blonde-haired boy who was hated by the entire school.
Wasn’t it bad enough that Albus had been sorted into Slytherin? What would his mum say if he became friends with Draco Malfoy’s son as well?
“You’ve gone quiet,” Drake sneered at Albus.
Before he knew what he was doing, Albus found himself standing up. He turned his back on the Slytherin table and headed quickly out of the Great Hall. Behind him, he could hear Pan calling his name. He didn’t look back.
I must be mad, he told himself.
Albus caught up with Scorpius and his chaperone on the stairs that led down to the dungeons. Filch was several steps below. Upon seeing Albus, he grunted irritably. “Offering to take over? Good. Peeves is on the sixth floor, smashing ink bottles. If I go now, I’ll catch him!” With that, Filch turned on his heel and hurried up the stairs (surprisingly quickly for someone so old). He shoved past Scorpius and Albus, then vanished around a corner.
Albus and Scorpius were left alone. Now that he was here, Albus wasn’t sure what he wanted to say.
Scorpius brushed his hair out of his eyes and waited.
The silence between them was deafening. Why had Albus’s mind suddenly gone blank?
“What is it, Albus?” Scorpius asked, finally breaking the silence.
“I want to walk with you,” Albus replied in a rush.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Just do.” He could’ve slapped a hand to his forehead. Surely his brain could’ve come up with a better response than that!
Scorpius frowned. “Okay…”
It was an awkward walk. By the time they had reached the Potions classroom, they’d barely spoken.
When the Hufflepuffs and the rest of the Slytherins arrived, Albus found himself on the receiving end of several questioning glances. Missy Groombridge and Julia Hopkirk actually performed a double-take. Hufflepuffs Zanzibar Smith and Lance Chopra, on the other hand, pretended both Albus and Scorpius were invisible.
When Pan arrived, Albus felt his heart sink. He thought about every time she’d warned him against befriending Scorpius. He doubted she’d want anything to do with him if he was going to hang around with the most hated boy in school. To his shock, however, she strolled straight up to him, shot a defiant look around at the other first-years, then nodded at Scorpius.
Albus stared at her. “I thought…” He let his voice trail away, glancing awkwardly at Scorpius.
She shrugged. “We’re Slytherins,” she said after a pause, “not slimeballs.” Her lip twitched.
Albus breathed a sigh of relief.
Pan looked Scorpius up and down in an assessing way. “He can help with our homework at least.”
Scorpius was looking at Pan like she was a deadly fire drake that might attack at any moment.
When Slughorn called them into class, the pointing and whispering came to an abrupt stop. Albus, Pan and Scorpius took up a bench at the back of class, Scorpius still slightly wide-eyed.
Since both Albus and Scorpius had managed to successfully brew a cure for boils in their previous lesson, they were tasked with moving onto a different potion – the forgetfulness potion. Pan plonked her cauldron down next to Scorpius, opened her textbook and pointed at the cure for boils recipe. “If I’m going to be hanging around with you, you’re helping me.”
Scorpius cleared his throat nervously. “Sure,” he said.
The forgetfulness potion turned out to be much more complicated to brew than the cure for boils. The ingredients had to be added in-between several clockwise and counter-clockwise stirs. Not to mention, the ingredients had to be carefully chopped to specific lengths, sliced to exact thicknesses and squashed with a prescribed amount of pressure. While Scorpius worked, he muttered instructions to Pan, surreptitiously re-chopped her dried nettles when they weren’t small enough and repeatedly stopped her from adding her ingredients in the wrong order.
When Albus had nearly finished, he read the final line of his instructions and frowned. He had to say a spell to complete the forgetfulness draught. Further along the bench, Scorpius was apparently at the same stage in his potion. With a wave of his wand, he spoke the spell “Obliviate!” over the bubbling liquid. At once, it began to let off pale yellow steam, then settled into a calm simmer. Albus steeled himself for the spell, drew out his wand and waved it over his own bubbling potion. “Obliviate,” he said quietly. Thankfully, a similarly odd-coloured steam began rising from the liquid. A moment later, Slughorn was at his shoulder, clapping him indulgently. “Marvellous!” he exclaimed. “Simply marvellous!”
With Scorpius’s help, Pan successfully managed to brew the cure for boils. In return, she offered Scorpius a grunt of thanks and left it at that. As the three of them walked out of the classroom, Albus told a waiting Filch that he wouldn’t be needed. “We’re walking with Scorpius,” he said.
Pan made a slightly pained noise.
In awkward silence, they headed to the library: Scorpius wanted to find a book to help with Winter’s transfiguration essay. When he vanished behind one of the bookcases, Pan rounded on Albus. “I don’t like it,” she told him. “Everyone’s looking at us.”
She was right. They’d drawn the attention of most of the library students. “Sorry,” Albus muttered.
“You should be,” she said. “It’s all your fault.”
“People were cursing him in corridors,” Albus said emphatically.
She folded her arms. “I should never have become friends with you.”
After break, it was Defence Against the Dark Arts with the Gryffindors. Professor Thorn wasted no time getting started. After a brief introduction, he made them split into pairs, then had them practicing the knockback jinx, a spell that, as its name suggested, had the effect of throwing an opponent onto their back. Once again, Ace paired himself with Scorpius, who visibly paled as the tall, muscular boy approached him. Albus caught Scorpius secretly casting the cushioning charm on the floor behind him before the jinxing began. It turned out to be a very good idea; without it, Albus was sure McLaggen would’ve broken Scorpius’s back with the strength of his jinxes. “Flipendo!” McLaggen yelled over and over again, throwing all his power into his spells and causing Scorpius to slam into the stone flagons each and every time.
Professor Thorn didn’t bat an eyelid at McLaggen’s overzealous spellcasting. He did take ten points from Slytherin, however, when he saw Arty trying to fall asleep on the floor after being knocked down by his partner for the fifth time.
Albus, once again, faced Berwick. Thankfully, the strength of the other boy’s spells didn’t match his brawny muscles. Berwick’s knockback jinx felt more like a pitiful nudge than a push. Unfortunately, Albus’s jinxes were equally lacklustre. The thickset boy barely stumbled each time Albus hit him with the spell.
By the end of the lesson, Scorpius was rubbing at his neck. He hobbled over to Albus and Pan, avoiding the threatening glower of Ace McLaggen.
“Worst lesson ever,” Pan said as they hurried out of sight of the rest of the Slytherins and Gryffindors. “I spent more time on the floor than on my feet.”
“Yeah, Rose is pretty good with a wand,” replied Albus. “I got off lucky with Berwick.”
“Good?” Pan repeated. “She didn’t miss me once. And she kept up that annoying smile the whole time.” Pan’s eyebrow twitched. “She better not be a good flyer, Albus, or I might have to murder her.”
At the mention of flying, Albus felt the blood drain from his face.
Scorpius grimaced. “I don’t get on well with broomsticks,” he said weakly. “I was actually quite pleased when our first two flying lessons were cancelled.”
“What is it with Slytherins being terrible flyers?” Pan remarked grimly. “Hardly any of us make it to professional Quidditch.”
“Well, if Albus is anything like his father, then you don’t have to worry about the Slytherin team,” Scorpius put in, his ears turning slightly pink.
Albus felt a particularly harsh stab of dread at his words. So it wasn’t just Pan who was under the illusion Albus was a good flyer…
Scorpius seemed to notice Albus’s discomfort, however. “But in the grand scheme of things,” he continued quickly, “being able to ride a broomstick isn’t all that important.”
Pan rubbed her forehead. She seemed at a loss for words. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“How’s your neck?” Albus asked Scorpius.
“It’s fine,” he replied, rubbing it subconsciously. “I just landed awkwardly a couple of times when I fell. McLaggen didn’t exactly hold back.”
“No,” said Pan, “he’s not your biggest fan.”
“He thinks I’m Voldemort’s son,” Scorpius said. “I mean, I think he actually believes it.”
“He has a brain the size of a pea,” replied Pan.
Scorpius frowned. “And what do you believe?” he asked.
“We’re not stupid enough to think Voldemort is your father,” Pan said matter-of-factly. When Albus nodded in agreement, Scorpius smiled.
“But don’t start thinking we’re best pals,” Pan told him. “Albus feels sorry for you and I’m his friend so I’m going along with it. We won’t be making friendship bracelets or anything.”
Lunch was predictably unpleasant. Scorpius trailed behind Albus and Pan as they made their way towards the Slytherin first-years, all of whom were watching the trio with undisguised trepidation. When Pan and Albus sat down, the other Slytherins exchanged glances. Danielle Varda attempted a smile. Arty was scowling at his plate of sandwiches. Aberfa wore an unreadable expression.
“Sit,” Pan commanded Scorpius.
Hesitantly, he sat down. Without missing a beat, Drake Salmer, Prince Zabini, Missy Groombridge and Julia Hopkirk picked up their plates and moved further along the bench, each of them wearing a sour face as if there was a bad smell in the air.
“Um, hello,” Danielle said to Scorpius.
Scorpius nodded at her self-consciously. Aberfa and Arty remained in stony silence. They may not have moved seats like Drake and his cronies, but they refused to meet Scorpius’s eyes and clearly weren’t overjoyed to have him sitting with them. In fact, they were glancing around the hall, as if checking whether people had noticed they were now sitting with the so-called son of Voldemort.
To break the tension, Pan began talking about their upcoming flying lessons. The others joined in, bemoaning the current state of the Slytherin Quidditch team. Albus ate his roll without comment. Scorpius was equally quiet.
Terror was growing inside Albus at the prospect of getting on a broomstick in front of his classmates. After all, the last time he’d flown (in the garden with his brother and his cousins) he’d fallen off his broom and almost broken his neck.
Aberfa’s voice broke him out of his thoughts. “I just wish our first flying lesson wasn’t with the Gryffindors,” she said with a slight shudder. “I’m not good on a broomstick.”
Albus gaped at her. “The Gryffindors…?” he said, his stomach turning over. He put down his half-eaten roll, his hunger gone.
Aberfa and Danielle looked equally uneasy. Pan, on the other hand, wore an undisguisedly eager expression. “Bring it on,” she said.
Arty tore a great chunk out of his roll and stayed silent.
Soon, the conversation turned to their mounting piles of homework. Danielle Varda sent Scorpius a reassuring smile – marred somewhat by the fact that she wouldn’t look directly at him. “I expect you’re keeping up with the work okay,” she said to him.
“Y-yes,” he replied. “Well, I like reading so it’s not too bad.”
“Speak for yourself,” Arty groaned irritably. “I think Winter’s right. I swear my wand is just a plain old bit of wood.”
“I could help you study, if you like?” Scorpius suggested in a high-pitched, slightly shaky, voice.
“That’s right,” Arty growled, standing up and grabbing his bag, “Arty can’t do anything by himself. Better help him out!” Without another word, he stormed off, leaving the remaining first-years in shocked silence.
“What’s gotten into him?” Pan said.
The full moon, Albus thought darkly.
As the Slytherins walked down the front steps into the grounds for their first flying lesson, Albus felt bile rising up his throat. The sun shone brightly on the sloping lawns that led to a flat area of ground on which had been arranged two neat lines of broomsticks.
The Gryffindors were already there. McLaggen was eyeing up the broomsticks, his nose wrinkled. Rose watched him admiringly. The rest of the Gryffindors were busy throwing scathing looks at the Slytherins.
“… all in league with Rabastan.”
“I heard Draco Malfoy was a death eater.”
“They’re all death eaters.”
Albus surreptitiously placed himself in front of Scorpius. But none of the Gryffindors approached. And soon, their teacher, Madam Hooch, arrived. She had short, grey hair and yellow eyes like a hawk. “Well, what are you all waiting for?” she barked. “Everyone stand by a broomstick.”
Albus looked down at his broom. Like the others, it was old and many of the twigs stuck out at odd angles.
“Stick out your right hand over your broom,” called Madam Hooch at the front, “and say, ‘Up!’”
“UP!” everyone shouted.
Pan’s broom jumped into her hand at once, but it was one of the few that did. Scorpius’s had rolled over. Albus’s hadn’t moved at all, not one jot. Again, he yelled “UP!” but the broomstick remained motionless. Across from him, McLaggen was gripping his broom tightly, triumph in his expression.
Madam Hooch showed them how to mount their brooms without sliding off the end, and walked up and down the rows, correcting their grips. She nodded at Pan as she passed. When she came to Albus, she clicked her tongue and rearranged the placement of his hands.
“Now, when I blow my whistle, you kick off from the ground, hard,” said Madam Hooch to the class at large. “Keep your brooms steady, rise a few feet, hover for a moment, then come back down by leaning forwards slightly. On my whistle – three – two – one –”
She blew the whistle. Albus hesitated. To one side Pan rose steadily upwards, floated in mid-air, then landed again. It was the first time Albus had ever thought to describe her as graceful. Scorpius suffered the exact opposite effect on his broom. His usual effortless elegance was reversed completely when in flight. The broom listed to one side as Scorpius rose upwards, then, when he landed, he stumbled and almost fell. Drawing in a breath, Albus knew he could put it off no longer. He kicked off from the ground, gripped his broomstick hard, leaned forwards and—Albus gasped. He flipped headfirst over the front of the broomstick, tumbled head over heels, and landed in a heap on the grass.
Pain blossomed in his back, but it was nothing to the flush of embarrassment rising up his neck. Several students were laughing.
Albus quickly righted himself, but kept his eyes on the ground. He could feel that Pan was watching him and could only imagine the look on her face. After two more attempts at the move, the second of which Albus’s broom bucked like an angry hippogriff, the third he slipped sideways and hung upside down, Madam Hooch ordered the class to fly higher and further, keeping within their comfort zone. For Albus’s part, he kept himself close to the ground at all times. The old broomstick was making his already feeble flying skills even worse. Many of the other first-years were gazing at him, clearly shocked that Harry Potter’s son could be so utterly terrible on a broomstick. Pan had sighed after his third fall, then rolled her eyes with a look that said her worst fears had been realised.
McLaggen and Rose were now flying above the lawn, weaving expertly around the other flyers, many of whom were slow and unsteady. Pan, however, was faster even than McLaggen. Albus gazed at her in awe. It appeared that he wasn’t the only one who’d noticed her prowess. McLaggen eyed her appraisingly, and when Madam Hooch was distracted helping one of the Gryffindor boys control his vibrating broomstick, he took his chance and shot towards her like a rocket. Albus’s heart skipped as he watched. But Pan didn’t falter. Seconds before McLaggen would’ve knocked her off her broom, she twirled through the air, then came to a perfect stop behind him.
McLaggen turned his broom this way and that until he caught sight of her. His eyes narrowed in dislike.
The final whistle blew not long after. Albus dropped his broomstick with relief. Madam Hooch called for a couple of Gryffindors to help her carry the ancient brooms back to the store cupboard. The rest of the first-years were left on the lawn. McLaggen was scowling at Pan. “You’re not bad,” he said, “for an ogre.”
Pan didn’t rise to his taunt. Displaying her usual indelible restraint, she turned her back on him. Albus and Scorpius made to follow her, but Rose’s voice made Albus stop. “Are you mad?” she called after him, marching quickly in his direction, her frizzy red hair bouncing around her face. She gestured at Scorpius. “I heard you’d become friends with him, but I didn’t think it was actually true! Albus, what will your father say?”
“It has nothing to do with him,” Albus told her angrily. “And it has nothing to do with you either.”
Rose folded her arms. All around them, the other Slytherins and Gryffindors were eagerly watching. McLaggen came to stand at Rose’s side. To Albus’s surprise, Danielle Varda also stepped forwards, but it wasn’t to join Rose. She planted herself next to Albus, scowling at the Gryffindors.
“So,” McLaggen said ominously, “you’re all siding with the son of Voldemort. The new generation of death eaters, are you?”
Drake Salmer scoffed. “Don’t lump all of us in with those losers,” he said. “Malfoy is a freak. Potter is a loser. And the Pan girl… well, can we even call her a girl? I’d say she’s more of a troll than anything else.”
Albus’s anger against Salmer, which had been simmering all week, now boiled over. “Shut up!” he shouted. “You’re just a bully!”
Salmer sneered. “Am I, really?” he drawled. “And what makes me such a bully, Potter?”
“We’d be here all day if I listed every reason,” Albus retorted scathingly.
But Salmer didn’t seem at all daunted. In fact, he began to smile, a cruel smile that made Albus’s insides roil. “I suppose your referring to the rumours I spread about your new bestie,” Salmer said. “Saying his family were hiding Rabastan in their cellar. I do feel a bit bad that people have been cursing Scorpius in the corridors…” His smile widened. “But wait,” he said, eyes fixed on Albus, then flicking to Scorpius, “it was you, Albus, who helped me come up with that rumour, wasn’t it? The bit about the cellar – that was your idea – details like that really help to sell a good lie.”
The blood drained from Albus’s face.
“You said that?” Scorpius asked, his voice so quiet it was almost a whisper.
Albus remembered making the comment, remembered offhandedly telling Salmer to spread the rumour, telling him to add the cellar detail.
Scorpius didn’t wait for an answer to his question: he didn’t need to. The blonde-haired boy took in Albus’s expression, winced slightly, then hurried across the lawns towards the castle, his head down.
Pan grunted. “Well that didn’t last long,” she said.
Scorpius successfully managed to avoid Albus and Pan for the next two days. Albus saw no sign of him all weekend, not even at mealtimes. Pan seemed unconcerned by his disappearance. “He’s not exactly a loss,” she said on Sunday morning as they sat by the lake, writing one of the many essays that were due the following week. “Scorpius is a social pariah.”
Albus flinched. It was true; Scorpius might as well have been Rabastan Lestrange himself the way people were talking about him. There was a level of hysteria spreading through the school that both shocked and alarmed Albus. “I don’t understand why everyone’s getting so worked up,” he said. “The whole school’s talking about Rabastan Lestrange.”
“What did you expect?” she replied. “Most of us have parents who remember the Dark Days.” She shrugged. “In a sick way, the death eaters have become a sort of legend. You should know that better than anyone.”
“Actually, my dad hardly ever talks about the Dark Days,” Albus said.
“But your mum writes about it,” said Pan. “Now that Rabastan’s back, there’ll be a new story about him every week.”
“I just don’t get why everyone’s taking it out on Scorpius,” he said in a low, irritated voice.
“They need someone to take it out on,” she said.
“And you think that’s okay?” snapped Albus, riling up. “You think it’s okay that one boy is being targeted by a whole school of students?”
“No,” replied Pan, calm and unabashed. She glanced down at her essay for a moment, then asked, “Do you remember the third property of mistletoe berries?”
Albus sighed, felt his anger fizzling away, then opened one of his textbooks, riffling through the pages for the section on fruits and berries.
While they worked, a clump of students practised spells and counter-spells by the lake. Later, a group of third-years whizzed around on brooms throwing apples to each other in a mock game of Quidditch. Meanwhile, in the far distance, under a particularly gnarly oak tree, Arty sat with his knees up to his chest, staring out at the smooth, dark water. Repeatedly, Albus tried to catch his eye, but he never looked up.
Pan saw where Albus was looking and frowned. “Do you know what’s wrong with him?”
“Um, no,” Albus replied quickly (and rather squeakily).
Pan folded her arms, the feather in her quill bending in the crook of her elbow. “You’re a dreadful liar,” she told him. “What is it? Did you finally speak to him about tidying up after himself?”
“Not exactly,” Albus said.
“Did he leave a dirty sock on the floor or something?” she added. “Or, heaven forbid, did he forget to make his bed?”
Albus nudged her in the shoulder. “It’s serious,” he said.
Her jaw tightened as she waited for him to explain further. But Albus said nothing. He’d sworn to Arty that he wouldn’t tell anyone.
“He’s a werewolf,” Pan said – so unexpectedly that Albus’s mouth fell open.
“How did you—”
“Julia told me,” she interrupted. “She overheard McGonagall telling you about it.”
“She knows?” Albus asked, shocked. “And she told you?”
“Obviously,” Pan replied. “Julia’s my roommate, remember. She couldn’t keep a secret like that to herself for long. I thought her fat eyes were going to burst out of her head when she told me.”
“Do you think she’s told anyone else?” Albus asked, alarmed. What if more people found out? What if the news spread around the school just like Salmer’s horrible rumours had done?
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Pan said. “Missy heard too. And I bet she’s told Danielle – they’re roommates.”
How would Arty react when he found out that half the Slytherin first-years knew about his secret? “As long as Salmer doesn’t find out,” Albus said.
“Two words,” replied Pan. “Missy Groombridge.”
They cornered her in the Slytherin common room. “No, I haven’t told Salmer,” she said. “I haven’t even told Danielle.”
“You haven’t?” Albus repeated sceptically.
“No,” she answered. “I wouldn’t do that to hi—” She stopped herself. “We already have Scorpius,” she carried on, her voice taking on a much more Missy-like tone. “We don’t need the school knowing we have another freak in Slytherin house.”
When it was time to go to bed, Albus dragged his feet down the steps to the dormitories. He’d kept Pan up as late as he could, insisting they keep trying to transfigure their candles, but eventually she’d swiped the candle off the table and admitted defeat. Now, as Albus approached the door to his room, the unease that had been growing inside him all week, built to a crescendo of fear. It was the full moon.
I’m about to share a room with a werewolf, Albus thought.
He stood frozen in the middle of the dark corridor, the green light flickering eerily upon the stone walls. Inside his room, there was a boy, who, in a few hours, would turn into a werewolf.
Finally, after what could’ve been seconds or minutes, Albus walked inside. In the corner, a dark-haired prefect had stationed himself in a chair, looking slightly nervous. Albus nodded at him, his mouth dry. Then, his eyes travelled to Arty’s four-poster. It was empty. Albus stood awkwardly by his own bed, not knowing what to do.
A moment later, the door opened and Arty ambled inside. He clapped Albus hard on the back. “I’ll try not to eat you,” he said in a gruff, gravelly voice.
Albus had a sudden urge to run out of the room. But he kept his feet rooted to the spot. He couldn’t leave now. He couldn’t abandon Arty.
Apparently noticing Albus’s distress, Arty arranged his face in a half-smile. “It’ll be fine,” he said. “I’ve done this loads of times.” Once he was changed, Arty climbed into bed, covered himself with his duvet, and, like always, fell instantly asleep. Albus stood transfixed for a while, waiting for the screaming to start, for the sound of breaking bones and tearing flesh as Arty’s body morphed into a wolf. But none of that happened. There was silence – except for Arty’s nasally breathing.
Eventually, Albus settled into his own bed. Sleep, however, refused to come. His mind was too busy with thoughts.
Had it happened yet? Had Arty transformed? When was the yelling going to start?
Albus tossed and turned, brain whirring. Then, partway through the night, when he looked over at Arty’s bed, Albus’s eyes widened: it was not Arty’s head he saw lying on the pillow. It was the head of a mousy-coloured wolf. Its eyes were closed, its snout widening and narrowing as it breathed. The face was thinner and bonier than a normal wolf. There was nothing cuddly about it. And yet it looked calm, docile, harmless.
Albus was shocked. The transformation had taken place without him even noticing!
The rest of the night turned out to be equally uneventful. Albus hadn’t fallen asleep; he’d found himself staring at the wolf, unable to relax. By morning, Arty had transformed back into a boy, mouth lolling, drool sliding down his chin just like always. Somehow, Albus had missed the transformation. Perhaps, he had fallen asleep for a few minutes after all.
At the sight of Arty’s human face, Albus couldn’t help feeling a great sense of relief that the night was over. Even though it had gone smoothly, spending the entire night in the same room as a dangerous animal hadn’t exactly been pleasant.
The prefect on guard duty left before sunrise. Several times, Albus had caught him snoozing in his chair.
When Albus left the room for breakfast, the door opposite opened. Out stepped Scorpius. He stopped short at the sight of Albus, his silver eyes widening. He was about to retreat back into his room, but Albus sent him an imploring look. “Wait!” he said. “Scorpius, I’m sorry.”
Scorpius did wait. He didn’t smile. “I don’t understand you, Albus,” he said.
“It was a stupid comment,” said Albus quickly, trying to explain himself, trying to explain why he’d helped make up that ridiculous rumour. “I don’t know why I said what I said.”
“I do,” Scorpius answered. “You want to fit in.”
Albus stared at him. “I don’t care about fitting in.”
“Our fathers hated each other at school, your cousin hates me, every Gryffindor that knows the Malfoy name hates me too.”
“I don’t care about that,” Albus told him.
“Yes, you do,” replied Scorpius gravely. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have shut the door in my face on the train. And you definitely wouldn’t have helped start that rumour.” He backed into his room and shut the door with a quiet click.
Albus stood where Scorpius had left him, feeling slightly dazed.
How could Scorpius think he cared about fitting in? Albus had tried to be friends with him, hadn’t he? And Scorpius wasn’t exactly popular…
Albus turned on his heels and headed up to the common room.
He decided that between Arty and Scorpius, Albus wanted to be as far away from the boys’ dormitories as possible.