Chapter 9

As September turned to October, the last of the sunshine vanished behind grey clouds. The Hogwarts grounds were scattered with autumn leaves, but the Forbidden Forest was untouched by the change of season, murky as ever with its evergreen trees and ominous shadows. The Black Lake sloshed and splashed against its banks and the Whomping Willow swished threateningly in the breeze, often swiping at any poor creature that approached it.

Within the castle, the panic around Rabastan Lestrange had not lessened. If anything, the students were becoming more frenzied. Since the first article about the death eater’s return to Britain, there had been several more sightings and stories about him in the Daily Prophet (several written by Albus’s mother).

Albus received two more letters from her in the weeks that followed. He still hadn’t written back. In truth, he wasn’t sure what to write. I’m in Slytherin. The whole school hates us. I tried making friends with Scorpius Malfoy, but now he won’t even talk to me. Oh, and my best friend is a girl called Pandora Parkinson, whose aunt, Pansy, I’m pretty sure you all hated when you were at school.

            His mother’s letters had been fairly brief. She’d told him that his father had been away from home a lot, the Auror Office busier than ever what with Rabastan’s return to the country. She hadn’t said much about their trip to Canada, but it seemed they hadn’t learned much. Lily, by all accounts, still wasn’t speaking. When he’d read this, he’d felt his throat tighten. Was there no-one who could help his sister? Was there no healer who could help her to talk?

He’d thought of what Scorpius had told him about the Angel’s Trumpet. He’d said it could cure any illness.

Then why had the ministry destroyed all traces of it?

His mother’s most recent letter had been the shortest yet. But in it, she’d managed to remind him no less than three times that he wasn’t to go wandering around the castle after hours. Your father liked getting up to mischief at school, but he wants you to be careful, she’d written. With everything that’s going on, we think it’s best for you and James to keep yourselves safe. Her letter had given the impression that Rabastan Lestrange was lurking in the Forbidden Forest, waiting to jump out on unexpecting students.

All students? Albus thought, his blood turning cold. Or just the children of Harry Potter?

            But how could Lestrange get into the Hogwarts grounds?

It was as Albus was studying his mother’s letter with a deepening frown, that Missy Groombridge sent him a contemptuous look over her half-eaten breakfast. “My parents are far too busy to write to me every five minutes,” she announced to the other first-years. “And what am I? Six years old?”

A few nearby Slytherins nodded in agreement.

The truth was, Albus was one of the only Slytherins to ever receive mail. Whenever the post owls arrived with the morning’s deliveries, the Slytherin table was consistently quiet.

Pan was no exception to the Slytherin rule. To Albus’s knowledge, she was yet to receive a single letter from home. The only post she ever got was a weekly subscription to Which Broomstick?, a periodical containing all the latest news and reviews of racing brooms.

Out of all the first-year Slytherins, it was Scorpius who received the most mail. Almost every day, his snowy owl brought him letters or packages. He never opened them at the table, but Albus knew they were mostly treats and confectionary from home as he’d overheard Salmer gossiping about the piling amount of food parcels building up in his room. “Not only do I have to share with a freak,” he’d said harshly, “but my room is becoming a sweet shop.”

“Doesn’t sound so bad,” Prince replied.

“You think I’d eat anything that belongs to Scorpius Malfoy?” Drake said haughtily. “I’d probably get diseased.”

The thought had occurred to Albus that perhaps Scorpius would have been better sharing a room with Arty. Most mornings, Albus would wake up to find cake crumbs, sweet wrappers or half-drunk goblets of pumpkin juice scattered around his room. Arty’s penchant for midnight snacks was getting ridiculous. Every night, Arty sneaked food out of the Great Hall. Scorpius, with his packages of snacks and sweets, would’ve been the perfect roommate for him. The upshot of all the mess, however, was that Albus was becoming very good at casting the cleaning charm. Now, when he performed the spell, every single trace of crumb or dirt would vanish without a trace. With an extra flick, Albus could even get Arty’s clothes to fold themselves into a neat pile.

Arty never mentioned Albus’s cleaning. Perhaps he thought the house elves were doing it all. Equally, Albus never mentioned Arty’s untidiness. In fact, he found that the mess no longer annoyed him. After all, Arty had been turned into a werewolf at five years old. There were more important, more life-threatening things to worry about than having a tidy bedroom.

“I think you love it really,” Pan said to him one afternoon as they sat in the common room practising the leg-locker curse for Thorn. “If Arty wasn’t so messy, you’d never get a chance to clean.”

Albus threw her a look, then said, “Locomotor mortis!” Instantly, Pan’s legs went rigid and snapped together, making her topple backwards in her chair.

“Well done,” Pan said, rubbing the back of her head. She pulled herself into a more upright position, then pointed her wand at her frozen legs. “Locomotor mobilis!” she said. Her legs came unstuck at once. “Well, I think we’ve mastered that one.” Her voice wasn’t overly enthusiastic. Neither of them had been looking forward to their next bit of homework: a particularly boring essay on the Soap Blizzard of 1378 for Professor Binns. Since they had not listened to Binns’ lecture on the subject, it was going to require a lot of reading from textbooks.

Partway through the essay, by which time Danielle Varda had come to join them (she too struggling with Binns’ homework), Pan shot out of her chair, eyes glancing at the grandfather clock. “I have to go,” she said abruptly. Without another word, she dropped her quill and parchment onto her chair and marched out of the common room.

Albus watched her go, frowning.

Danielle was shaking her head.

“What is it?” Albus asked her. “Where’s she going?”

“It’s Julia Hopkirk,” Danielle replied. She glanced over at the fireplace where Julia, Missy, Drake and Prince were lounging in armchairs, taking it in turns to shoot sparks into the fire. With each spell, the flames shifted colour, first green, then blue, then deep red. “She went with Missy to McGonagall. They told her Pan’s been bullying Julia.”

“What?” Albus said, perplexed.

“Well, they’re roommates, aren’t they – Pan and Julia,” replied Danielle, lowering her voice. “Apparently, Julia’s been getting upset, you know, homesick. She’s been crying at night.” Danielle rolled her eyes at Julia, who was laughing merrily as a spark leapt from the fireplace and caught light on Prince’s robes. He quickly stamped it out, but Julia, Missy and Drake continued to laugh in unrestrained amusement.

“Yeah,” Albus said, narrowing his eyes at Julia, “she looks really homesick.”

“According to Julia,” Danielle continued, “Pan hasn’t been very supportive during this ‘difficult time’.”

“So that’s where Pan’s off to?” asked Albus. “She has detention with McGonagall?”

Danielle shrugged. “I don’t think it’s detention,” she said, “but I know McGonagall asked to see her.”

“Pan never told me,” said Albus, feeling slightly hurt.

“Oh, she didn’t tell me either,” Danielle replied. “Julia did. She’s not exactly been quiet about it.”

They lapsed into silence, both of them returning their attention to their essays. Danielle offered up Magic Meets Muggles: Wizarding Secrecy Pre-15th Century. Albus flicked through the pages until he came to a short chapter on the Soap Blizzard, then began copying down chunks of text.

Half an hour passed before the blank stretch of wall that marked the entrance to the common room slid open and someone walked inside. Expecting to see Pan, Albus glanced up, but his heart leapt at the sight of platinum hair. Scorpius came hurrying through the common room, satchel packed to bursting with books, then disappeared down the stairs to the boys’ dormitories.

“You still haven’t made up with him then,” Danielle noted.

Albus put down his quill and set his essay aside. He’d managed to write a roll of parchment – that would have to be enough. “He won’t talk to me,” Albus told her. “And can you blame him?”

“You’re being too hard on yourself,” she replied. “We’re all guilty of treating Scorpius unfairly.” She shot a dark look at Salmer and his cronies. “I just can’t believe Drake spread that rumour. And people seriously believe Scorpius is the son of Voldemort?”

“I think anything to do with Voldemort makes people lose their heads,” said Albus, remembering what Pan had told him. “A lot of people lost relatives back in the Dark Days.”

“But not us Slytherins,” said Danielle. “My family stayed out of the war against Voldemort.” She hugged her chest. “I bet most of our families kept themselves out of it. Except yours, of course.”

“I can’t take credit for that,” Albus said. “My dad did those things, not me. I’m nothing like him. I definitely didn’t inherit his quidditch skills that’s for sure. And he was a Gryffindor, whereas I’m…”

“You’re more like him than you think,” she said. “For one thing, you have the same green eyes…” Her voice trailed off and her cheeks turned slightly pink.

There was an awkward silence, broken when the entrance to the common room opened once more and Pan came lumbering inside. Julia and Missy turned in their seats to watch her, both smirking. Albus wasn’t sure if it was the flickering torchlight or the sparking fireplace, but he thought for a moment that Pan’s eyes had a watery, glistening quality about them.

A moment later, however, she plonked herself between Danielle and Albus, picked up her half-finished essay and scanned what she’d written. “You done yours?” she asked Albus.

He nodded. “I don’t think it’s good though.”

“Who cares? It’s a stupid subject, anyway.” She took his piece of parchment and began copying it.

Danielle sent Albus a significant look, then grabbed her things and bid them goodnight. Albus watched her go, noticing for the first time the way her plait swished side-to-side across her back. His insides did a faint little leap.

“Put your eyes back in your head,” Pan said without glancing up.

“What?” replied Albus, abashed.

But Pan didn’t elaborate, her attention was fixed on her essay.

“You went to see McGonagall just now, didn’t you,” Albus said to her.

Her quill froze. “Who told you?”

“Danielle.”

Pan sighed. “Julia thinks I’m a bully,” she said.

“You’re not,” Albus told her.

“I know,” she replied. With that, she gathered up her things and told Albus she was going to bed. But as she walked towards the girls’ dormitories, he was sure he heard her mutter “tenacio,” under her breath.

Albus began to read through his History of Magic essay to check for mistakes, but his vision was going blurry. He decided to call it a day: he was too tired for homework. He packed up his things and headed to bed, but before he’d descended the first stair to the boys’ dormitories, he heard a ripping sound (as of tearing cloth) and an anguished cry came from somewhere behind him. Glancing back, his eyes widened at the sight of Julia Hopkirk clutching her robes tightly around her, robes that had been significantly ripped. Albus saw, with dawning comprehension, that most of her robes were stuck to her chair, as if someone had painted glue onto it (or used a sticky charm). When she’d got up, the material must have torn. Chuckling to himself (and mentally rolling his eyes at Pan), Albus headed to his room.

 

In the Slytherins’ Herbology lesson the following day, Uncle Neville handed each of them a flowerpot and a bright purple bulb, some of which already had tiny stems growing out of the top. “Now this is more like it,” said Danielle, peering at her purple bulb. “After the greasgrubs and then those puffapod things, I was starting to think Herbology was just a lot of ugly plants that want to strangle you.”

“The puffapods weren’t that bad,” said Albus, remembering the green and yellow plants that had contained glowing pink seeds. “They only made us sneeze.”

Pan was looking at her little, purple bulb with distaste. “At least greasgrubs are useful,” she said. “What does this thing do other than look pretty?”

Before either of them could respond, Uncle Neville called the class to attention. His voice, which sounded thin and strained, barely rose above the chatter. His creased robes hung loosely off his frame, which was remarkably skinnier than it had been a few weeks previously, and the shadow of a beard darkened his jaw. In fact, with each passing Herbology lesson, Albus was sure his uncle had looked more and more haggard. Albus just wished he knew why. Was it simply that Neville was missing Luna? Or was there something else going on? Something darker?

Something to do with Thorn, Albus thought.

“Today,” Neville said, breaking Albus out of his thoughts, “we will be starting a project of sorts. I’ve given each of you a bulb from a blessboom plant. They are usually found growing in magically enhanced land like wizard graveyards. In the wild they do not grow fruit, but if cultivated correctly, they can produce berries. To pass this project, I will be giving you three weeks to grow at least one boom berry on your plant.”

Boom berry… thought Albus. He recognised the name. In fact, he was sure it was one of the ingredients in the most recent potion Slughorn had set the class to brew. The wiggenweld draught had been Albus’s first Potions failure. Even Scorpius hadn’t managed to make it correctly, though perhaps that had been due to Prince Zabini levitating random ingredients into his cauldron while he wasn’t looking.

“Before we can grow berries,” Uncle Neville continued, “we need to get the bulb to sprout.” He demonstrated filling an empty flowerpot with soil, then made a well for the bulb, which he placed inside. Once he patted down the earth on top of it, he pulled out his wand and held it above the pot. “Blessboom plants are difficult to grow without magic,” he said. “To get a good-sized plant, you need to use the growing spell, herbivicus. A simple wand movement is needed — Watch closely. Herbivicus!” A faint green light began to glow at the end of his wand, which he waved in upward spirals. Then, a shimmer distorted the air between Uncle Neville’s wand tip and the dirt within the flowerpot. Within moments, a purple shoot emerged from the soil, its growth magically quickened by Neville’s spell. Thick, waxy leaves sprouted from the plant, which had begun to take on a shimmering appearance, as if it had been doused in glitter. A few of the girls ‘oohed’. Pan was not one of them.

When the green light faded from Neville’s wand and the distorted air returned to normal, the stem of the blessboom plant had lengthened to the height of a candle.

“Don’t overgrow it,” Uncle Neville warned them. “If you hold the growing spell too long, you might turn the plant wild. And plants that can think for themselves are usually dangerous. I don’t want to hear that any of you have been throttled in your sleep by your blessboom.”

There were murmurs of unease through the greenhouse at this, but Neville appeared not to notice. He waved a hand, motioning for the first-years to make a start on their plants.

Pan drove her bulb unceremoniously into the soil of her flowerpot and beat down the earth, a sigh of contempt escaping her. On Albus’s other side, Danielle had quite the opposite attitude. She planted her bulb like it was a newborn baby. When she patted down the soil, she smiled contentedly to herself. Albus, like Pan, found the prospect of looking after a purple, glittering plant a bit of a waste of time. It was true that the berries were used to make potions, but Albus had seen an enormous jar full of the things in Slughorn’s classroom the other day – clearly, they weren’t rare.

On the other side of the greenhouse, Scorpius had finished his potting and was already casting the growth spell. The green light emanating from his wand cast a sickly shade across his pale face. The workspaces on either side of him were conspicuously empty, but Drake Salmer, who was working further along the same bench, kept shooting menacing looks at Scorpius.

Albus started when Pan elbowed him. “You’re staring again,” she whispered.

“Am not,” Albus replied irritably. With a sharp wave of his wand, he muttered, “Herbivicus.” Instantly, the spell tugged at his wand arm. The air above the pot distorted, and a purple shoot began to grow from beneath the soil. Soon, the shoot had developed a glittering glow and several waxy leaves had unfurled from the stem.

The stem of Albus’s plant was thinner than Pan’s, which was much squatter and dwarf-like than many of the others in the greenhouse. Danielle’s was tall with extra-thin leaves. Scorpius’s shimmered so brightly that it seemed to be emitting its own purple light, the ends of its leaves curled elegantly upwards. Uncle Neville raised an eyebrow at it. With apparent reluctance, he gave Scorpius a house point.

Once everyone had finished growing their blessboom, Uncle Neville cleared his throat and the class fell silent. “Now, there’s only one way to get a blessboom plant to flower and grow fruit,” he told them. “Can anyone tell me what it is?”

Scorpius was the only person to raise their hand. Uncle Neville waited, as if hoping someone else would offer an answer. When no one did, he nodded sharply at Scorpius.

“Blessboom plants like music,” Scorpius said. “They won’t grow fruit without it.”

Uncle Neville nodded briskly. “That’s right,” he said. Then, his gaunt features broke into an unexpected grin as he surveyed the class. “If you want your blessboom to grow fruit, you’ll have to sing to it.”

On the way out of the greenhouse (the Slytherins carrying their purple, glittering plants) Pan shoved the blessboom indelicately into her bag, where it stuck out at an odd angle, then eyed the greenhouses with a withering look. “Sing to it!” she exclaimed in outrage. “We have to sing to a glittering plant to make it grow berries!”

Danielle clicked her tongue at Pan. “Well I think it’s the best homework we’ve had for ages.”

“It’s flying practice next,” Pan said. “Maybe I’ll find a way to drop the ugly thing from my broom.”

Albus didn’t catch Danielle’s reply. He’d just glanced back at Greenhouse 1 and caught sight of Neville. His uncle hadn’t moved. He was leaning over one of the benches, his head in his hands. The sight of him looking so despairing made Albus stop in his tracks. “I left something behind,” he lied abruptly.

“Oh, okay,” Danielle said. “We’ll wait for you.”

“No, don’t bother,” Albus replied. “I’ll meet you at flying practice.”

Albus hurried back towards the greenhouse, then halted outside the door. Hesitantly, he entered. “Uncle Neville?” he said in a cautious voice.

Neville sprang upright and turned on the spot. “Albus!” he said in surprise. “Everything all right?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” replied Albus. When Neville’s sallow face constricted, Albus quickly carried on. “I just meant… Well, we haven’t spoken much since I started Hogwarts.”

Uncle Neville’s taught expression relaxed slightly. “How are you finding Slytherin?” he asked, a note of sympathy in his voice.

“It’s okay,” Albus replied. Then – a thought striking him – he added, “Professor Thorn doesn’t like us Slytherins much though.”

Uncle Neville frowned, but did not answer.

Albus ploughed bravely on. “What do you think of Thorn?” he asked.

Professor Thorn,” Neville said reproachfully, “is a Hogwarts teacher.”

Albus knew his uncle’s tone meant he should probably let the subject drop, but he thought suddenly of the argument he’d witnessed between Neville and Thorn that had ended in the door of this very greenhouse being severely cracked. “But you and Professor Thorn don’t get on very well,” he said.

Neville’s eye twitched. “Professor Thorn and I don’t always see eye to eye,” he replied. Then, as Albus opened his mouth to ask, Uncle Neville put up a hand to stop him. “I have to go, Albus,” he said. “Professor Sprout isn’t feeling well. I need to check on her.”

“Is she okay?” Albus asked. He thought suddenly of the deputy headmistress running out of Thorn’s classroom. Feeling troubled, he eyed his uncle, trying to read his expression. Now that Albus thought about it, he hadn’t seen Professor Sprout at mealtimes for a while. He’d assumed her duties as deputy headmistress were keeping her busy. After all, McGonagall wasn’t often in the Great Hall either. But was Sprout’s absence due to something sinister?

“It’s nothing to worry about,” replied Neville. “Professor Sprout is just under the weather. She’ll feel better once her granddaughter is born. I know she’s excited about it.”

Albus raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t known that Sprout had any children, let alone that she was expecting a granddaughter.

Uncle Neville turned to the door. “Good luck with Professor Thorn,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll warm to you once he knows you’re not like the other Slytherins.” With that, he left the greenhouse, his dark robes fanning out behind him.

Albus lingered in the greenhouse for a moment. He had no desire to hurry to his flying lesson and he felt slightly annoyed at being given the brush-off by his uncle. There was definitely something going on between Neville and Thorn. But more worrying, was Neville’s words about Professor Sprout.

Is Thorn the cause of her illness? thought Albus. Is he the reason she’s not well?

            Outside, the sun had begun to set, casting an orange glow over the Hogwarts grounds. Knowing he could delay no longer or risk being late for flying practice, he stepped out of the greenhouse. But a distant clanking noise made him pause. A shape was emerging from the furthest greenhouse, the one Albus knew to belong to Professor Sprout. But it wasn’t Sprout who had come out of it. As the figure approached, Albus backed into Greenhouse 1, crouching low so as not to be seen. Close-to, Albus’s eyes widened at the wild, mane-like hair and square-jawed countenance of Professor Thorn. He was glancing shiftily about. His robes, Albus noted, were torn at the sleeves as if he had been handling some kind of wild creature. When he disappeared across the lawns to the castle, Albus let out the breath he’d been holding.

Cautiously, Albus crept towards Sprout’s greenhouse. Peering inside, he searched for a sign of something out of place, something suspicious, but in the failing light, he could see nothing but shadows. Albus tried the door, but it was locked.

Reluctantly, he turned his back on the greenhouse and headed to his flying lesson, his head buzzing. What exactly was in there? And what did it have to do with Professor Thorn?

“Maybe he just really likes plants,” said Pan the following morning. They were at the back of the Charms classroom where the class were practising the calming charm, a spell they’d been working on for over a week without much success. Pan raised her wand above the mouse dashing across their desk and said, “Serenius!” Instead of falling into a calm stupor, however, the mouse did a little leap, then carried on scurrying.

“But why were his sleeves all torn?” Albus said. “And why did he look so shifty?”

“I don’t know, Albus,” she replied. “I don’t like Thorn either, but—”

“He’s up to something,” Albus told her. “He argues with Nev- Professor Longbottom, Sprout runs out of his classroom upset, then he leaves her greenhouse with his robes in tatters. Don’t you think that’s suspicious? Not to mention, Sprout’s ill. I haven’t seen her around the castle for weeks!”

“It’s a greenhouse, Albus,” Pan replied sceptically, then she gave her wand another wave and said, “Serenius!”  The mouse’s tail twitched, but it didn’t stop its mad run around the desk. If anything, it sped up. “And Professor Sprout is pretty old. She’s probably just got a cold or something.”

Albus sat back in his chair and folded his arms. There was something sinister about Thorn, he just knew it.

All around the classroom, students were uttering the calming charm, trying soothe their mice into stillness. So far, only Danielle and Scorpius had been successful. Scorpius’s calming spell had been so effective that he was holding his mouse in his hands, the little animal fast asleep.

Serenius!” Pan said again, her tone becoming impatient. This time, nothing happened at all, not even the twitch of a tail. She threw down her wand. “Useless thing.”

“It’s not just about a greenhouse,” Albus continued doggedly, unable to let the subject go. “Scorpius and I overheard Thorn asking about the wolfsbane potion. What if it’s not a plant he’s keeping in there at all? What if it’s—”

“A werewolf?” Pan finished cynically. “Albus, if you’re going to worry about anything, worry about Lestrange.”

Albus stared at her.

“Your mum’s letter,” she said in answer to his quizzical look.

Albus hugged his arms tighter against his chest. He suddenly regretted telling her about his mum’s warnings. “She’s just worried,” he said, trying to insert an air of lightness to his tone despite the worry nagging at his insides.

“She works for the prophet,” Pan reminded him.

Albus frowned at her, questioningly.

“She knows something,” Pan told him. “I bet there’ll be another article about Lestrange in the paper soon.”

Despite Pan’s prediction, there were no Daily Prophet articles about Rabastan in the days that followed.

As October wore on, the overcast skies remained bleak. Cold winds blew across the Hogwarts grounds, making both flying practice and their night time astronomy lessons almost unbearable. Gripping a broom or fiddling with a telescope whilst biting winds lashed against your fingers was not a pleasant affair. Pan and McLaggen had become outright nemeses when it came to flying practice, the competitiveness between them growing with each successive lesson. Pan’s expert flying clearly hadn’t gone unnoticed by Madam Hooch either. When Slytherin chaser, Grace Laffergy, had suffered a twenty-foot fall during quidditch practice and her parents had banned her from playing, Madam Hooch had put forwards Pan’s name for the Slytherin team.

“Hooch recommended you a while ago,” Gerald Humphries (Slytherin Quidditch captain) told Pan at breakfast, “but I’d already chosen the team then. Now I’ve lost Grace… You can play chaser, can’t you?”

Pan seemed lost for words. Her round eyes were wide, her mouth slack.

“Yes,” Albus answered for her. “She can play.”

Humphries nodded, looking slightly perturbed. “Our next practice is Saturday morning,” he said. “I’ll see you there.”

Pan didn’t speak for some minutes. When she finally managed to say something, her wide-eyed expression was still firmly in place. “Did I dream that?”

Albus laughed.

Later that day, they headed for yet another gruelling flying lesson in the icy wind, and Albus couldn’t be further from laughing. Thursday afternoons were never good for the Slytherins. They had already suffered a lecture from Winter about their abysmal transfiguration skills (as hardly any of them had managed to turn their handkerchiefs into cushions), their Charms lesson had ended with Professor Flitwick bidding them all practice the calming charm as he would be conjuring riled snakes for their next lesson, and Thorn had made them practise the smokescreen spell, which produced a wide range of horrific results, some students conjuring green smoke that stank of fish, others black smoke that clogged in everyone’s throats when they breathed it in. Albus’s spell had produced a thick, grey smog that made everyone’s eyes water. Pan’s smoke, to her dismay, was a similar shade of purple as the blessboom plants. Scorpius’s was pure white.

Ace McLaggen clenched his fists when Albus and Pan arrived on the flying lawn.

Snatches of “Quidditch team” and “ridiculous” could be heard from him and his friends as they shot glances over at Pan. After that, Ace remained stoically grim-faced throughout the lesson, his usually brutal flying becoming positively violent. Scowling with concentration, he whizzed through the air, pushing the school broom to its limits in an attempt to fly faster and more nimbly than Pan. Albus looked on from his safe height of five feet and tried to ignore the coldness that prickled his fingers. Rose, too, was watching the pair, her brow furrowed. Pan and Ace tumbled and twisted through the air like a pair of dragonflies, each trying to unsteady the other. Then, after several minutes of their aerial dance, Pan spun behind Ace and knocked the tail of his broom, sending him into a dizzying spin. The Slytherins jeered appreciatively.

Madam Hooch blew her whistle for the end of the lesson and the first-years began descending towards the ground. The Gryffindors looked irritable, all except Ace McLaggen who had a determined look on his face. While Pan headed slowly towards the ground, Ace raced towards her from behind.

“Look out!” Albus shouted. But too late. At least fifty feet above the ground, Ace slammed into Pan like a cannonball. There was a crack of splintering wood, a grunt of pain, and Pan was, thrown off her broom. She plummeted towards the ground, somersaulting as she went. The first-years gasped and shrieked. Albus’s heart was in his mouth, his pulse racing. He ran forwards, hardly knowing what he was going to do, but she was falling so fast. She’d hit the ground soon. And when she hit, could she possibly survive such a deadly fall?

The whistle had fallen out of Madam Hooch’s mouth, who seemed frozen on the spot.

Before Albus knew what was happening, Scorpius had charged forwards, his wand in his hand. He sliced it through the air and shouted, “Arresto momentum!

At once, Pan’s dizzying fall began to slow. Ten feet from the ground, she seemed to pass through a layer of thick, invisible jelly that brought her meteoric descent to a near-stop. Then, finally, her body sank with a soft thud onto the grass.

Albus dashed towards her, Scorpius at his side, Madam Hooch coming up the rear. “Back! Back!” she bellowed as the class descended upon Pan. “Give her room!”

Pan was lying face-up, her eyes closed. Albus came to kneel by her head, gaping at the sight of her. Her face was bloodless, her hair slick with sweat. “Is she okay?” Scorpius asked as he crouched down beside Albus.

“She’ll be fine,” Madam Hooch barked, bending down and scooping Pan up in her arms, displaying a strength Albus would not have expected from her. Madam Hooch sent Scorpius an assessing look, as if she was seeing him for the first time. “Thirty points to Slytherin,” she said. “Fastest spellwork I’ve ever seen from a first-year. You may well have saved her life, Mr Malfoy.”

Scorpius swallowed.

A few paces away, Ace McLaggen dismounted his broom, a scared, hesitant look on his face. When his eyes fell on the unconscious Pan, he blanched. Madam Hooch barely spared him a glance. “Up to the headmistress’s office with you,” she commanded. “You can explain to her why Miss Parkinson is in the hospital wing.” She turned to the class at large. “Class dismissed!”

When Albus and Scorpius tried to follow her up to the castle, she sent them away. “You can visit her later,” she said to them. “For now, Madam Pomfrey will be more than capable of looking after Miss Parkinson. Off with you!”

Once she’d vanished up the stone steps, Albus turned to Scorpius, not sure what he should say, but knowing he had to thank him somehow. Scorpius, however, had already disappeared into the castle without so much as a goodbye.

 

Albus visited Pan that night after dinner. He brought her a bowl of treacle tart – her favourite – and a goblet of pumpkin juice. She sat up eagerly at the sight of the food. “About time,” she said, taking the bowl from him and hurriedly tucking into the tart.

“How are you feeling?” Albus asked her, his eyes searching for signs of injury.

“Bored,” she answered between mouthfuls. “But I’ve been entertaining myself imagining Ace McLaggen facing McGonagall.”

“Hopefully, he’ll get expelled,” Albus said.

“Don’t bet on it,” grunted Pan. “He’ll have some story.”

“He could’ve killed you,” Albus said.

She set down the now empty bowl and smirked. “He’s a Gryffindor, Albus,” she told him. “They don’t expel Gryffindors.”

Albus frowned. Pan drained her goblet of pumpkin juice, set it aside, then hiccupped. “So, what exactly happened?” she asked. “How did I survive?”

“It was Scorpius,” Albus answered, grimacing. “He cast some kind of spell. It made you slow down before you hit the ground.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Scorpius…” she said, as if weighing the word, testing the sound of it. “You realise this means you’ll have to make up with him.”

“I thought you’d say that,” Albus replied. “But I don’t think he’s interested.”

“Then you’re going to have to make a bit more effort,” she said matter-of-factly. She picked up the empty bowl and handed it to Albus. “Some more treacle tart would be nice.”

“Get it yourself,” he said, chuckling.

A half-smile tugged at her lips. “If you’re not going to get me food, then leave. I need my rest.”

Albus bowed to her in a mocking way. “Whatever you say, Your Majesty.”

She threw a pillow at him as he left.

When Albus arrived back in his empty room, he sighed at the mess of clothes and general detritus left by Arty. He cast a cleaning spell and rearranged the items on Arty’s chest of drawers, lining up his chocolate frog cards and propping up the fallen mirror given to him by Aberfa.

Before he got into bed, Albus took his sketchbook out of his closet and turned to a new page. Without thinking, he began to sketch. As the lines of a familiar face took shape, silvery eyes gazing up out of the paper, Albus shut the sketchpad with a snap and threw it back in the closet.

The purple blessboom plant on his bedside table juddered slightly as he climbed into bed. Its leaves seemed to reach towards him in a beseeching sort of way. Albus sighed. He wished he’d brought his radio to Hogwarts. The Wizarding Wireless Network would have been a good way to avoid singing to the blessboom every night. Surely a tune on the radio would be just as good (if not better) than Albus’s thin, off-key voice?

In the couple of weeks since he’d been given the blessboom, just one droopy flower had grown on it; the purple petals were limp, lifeless.

In lieu of real music, Albus drew in a deep breath and began to sing, hoping Arty wouldn’t be back any time soon.

At breakfast the following morning, Albus noticed that McLaggen was unusually quiet. He sat at the Gryffindor table, pondering his food. He wasn’t so quick to join in with the jokes and laughter of his fellow Gryffindors and there was a sombre note to his expression.

Albus was glad to see that McLaggen at least looked remorseful. After all, without Scorpius’s intervention, Pan could’ve died.

If Albus thought Scorpius’s actions would earn him some respite from the hate campaign against him, however, he was wrong. Albus heard snatches of “too powerful” and “advanced magic” as he sat quietly eating his porridge. It seemed the other students were not impressed by Scorpius’s feat – quite the contrary – they were fearful.

 

Pan was waiting outside the Potions classroom when Albus arrived. Clearly, she had been discharged from the hospital wing. Her face was slightly pale, but otherwise she had the appearance of full-health.

Danielle Varda extricated herself from Julia Hopkirk, who had been talking her ear off, and came to stand with Albus and Pan. “How are you feeling?” she asked.

“I’m fine,” Pan replied distractedly as she peered around at the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs. She appeared to be looking for someone.

“Glad you’re okay,” Danielle said. “That McLaggen is a real sod.”

“I’d have to agree with that one,” came another voice. Drake Salmer smirked at them as he approached. “I heard you made the house team,” he said to Pan. “First match is against Gryffindor. You’d better beat them into the ground.”

“That’s the plan,” replied Pan, still glancing about. At that moment, Argus Filch descended the steps into the Potions corridor, followed soon after by Scorpius Malfoy. Argus grunted, then marched back up the stairs. Pan didn’t waste a second before striding up to Scorpius. The Slytherins and Hufflepuffs went quiet, watching. Pan held out her hand towards him, then waited.

Nervously, Scorpius shook it.

“Thanks,” she said, her tone sincere.

Scorpius blushed.

She tugged on his arm and pulled him over to Albus, Danielle and Drake. “Let’s make a deal,” she said to him. “You help me in Potions and I’ll make sure no one levitates ingredients into your cauldron when you’re not looking.”

After a pause, Scorpius agreed. “Deal.”

When Slughorn called them into class, Scorpius set up his cauldron next to Pan. Albus was on her other side.

“Today, we are having another go at the wiggenweld potion,” Slughorn told them, his walrus moustache bouncing up and down as he spoke. He waggled a finger at them all in a mildly reproachful way. “We didn’t do so well with it in our last attempt. So concentrate, all of you. Begin!”

As the lesson wore on, it became clear to Albus that he was about to experience his second Potions failure. He kept getting distracted, glancing over at Scorpius. Meanwhile, Scorpius stridently refused to meet Albus’s gaze.

With his mind distracted, Albus ended up adding his flobberworm mucus too early, causing his potion to take on a mint-green colour when it should have been yellow.

Pan, on the other hand, was having a great lesson. Scorpius whispered instructions to her while she kept guard of his cauldron. Although, her task wasn’t particularly difficult: it seemed that her mere presence at his side was enough to keep his potion safe.

Slughorn patted Albus consolingly on the shoulder at the end of the lesson. “Better luck next time, my boy,” he said.

Once he had passed by every student, Slughorn’s wide shoulders drooped with disappointment. Apart from Scorpius, who had made a perfect wiggenweld potion, and Pan, whose potion Slughorn had noted was passable, the class had once again failed dismally. “Remedial potions, I think,” he said grimly. “All except Mr Malfoy and Miss Parkinson. My classroom, next Friday. We will practise until we get the wiggenweld brew right.” In unison, the first-years groaned.

“But sir!” cried Hufflepuff, Zanzibar Smith. “Next Friday’s Halloween.”

“Then you’d all best brew the potion quickly,” Slughorn replied, “unless you want to miss the Halloween feast.”

There was much irritable murmuring at this, but Slughorn ignored it, his wide, indulgent smile firmly in place. “Off you go then!” he boomed.

As Scorpius gathered up his things to leave, Pan sent Albus a meaningful look. Albus nodded in acquiescence, then stepped past her. “Scorpius,” he said, his voice croaky, “do you want to spend break with—”

“I can’t,” Scorpius interrupted, shouldering his bag. “I’m going to the library.” He swept towards the door, where Argus Filch stood waiting to escort him.

“I tried,” Albus muttered to Pan.

Before she could answer, Slughorn appeared at their side, hands resting on his giant belly. “My boy!” he said, beaming. “I hope you’re not too cross with me for giving you remedial potions!”

“No, not at all,” Albus replied.

“Knew you’d understand!” he said. “A potion master like yourself will figure the wiggenweld out soon enough, I’m sure. Now, Albus. I’m throwing a party next Saturday – day after Halloween. You’ll be coming, of course!” Without waiting for an answer, Slughorn thrust a gold slip of parchment into Albus’s hand and waved him off.

Pan snorted as they left. “Two nights in a row with Slughorn,” she said. “Have fun.”

Albus grimaced.

As they made their way to the main courtyard, Albus considered the prospect of Slughorn’s party. He found himself wondering if Scorpius had been invited.

I bet McLaggen will be there…

             As they turned onto an empty ground-floor corridor, Albus froze at the sight of a familiar mane of hair. He yanked on Pan’s arm, then pulled her behind a suit of armour. Further down the corridor stood none other than Thorn. There was a furtive look on his face as he glanced about him. Then, with a sharp intake of breath, he pulled aside a dusty tapestry and disappeared behind it, seemingly into a hidden passage.

“You want to follow him, don’t you,” Pan said in a resigned tone.

“Come on,” he told her.

Behind the tapestry was a thin staircase. At the top, was another tapestry. Albus peered through it. The shortcut had brought them to the fourth floor. Albus caught sight of Thorn’s robes disappearing through a door further along the corridor. His breath quickening, Albus raced towards it, slowing down when he was a few paces away. He crept to the door and pressed his ear against it, Pan following his lead.

“You promised me!” Thorn yelled from inside, his voice rough with anger.

“I-I know,” came the unmistakeable voice of Professor Sprout, though she sounded groggy, her voice thick with emotion. “But I—”

“You’re a fool!” Thorn shouted, no trace of sympathy in his voice. “Do you think I will stand by and let you—”

“I am deputy headmistress.”

“That won’t save you,” he said ominously. “Deputy headmistress or not, you are still vulnerable.”

“D-don’t you threaten me!” Sprout retorted, sounding both afraid and angry.

“Threaten?” Thorn repeated. “I gave you the choice. You’ve brought this upon yourself.”

“Please,” Sprout said, her voice turning to a whimper “You said… You said you would h-help me.”

“I cannot help you,” he said coldly. “We are done.”

“No!” she moaned. “Wait!” But Thorn was not waiting. By the sound of his footsteps, he was striding towards the door. Pan tugged on Albus’s arm. They ran down the passage, entering the first door they came to. Moments later, they heard Thorn’s shoes tapping on the stone flagons outside. His footsteps passed the door, then drew away into the distance.

Albus realised he and Pan were in an empty classroom. By the pictures of animals on the walls and the numerous empty cages around the room, Albus presumed it was used for transfiguration. He turned to Pan. “Well, you heard him,” he said. “Thorn threatened her.”

“I heard,” Pan replied.

“It has something to do with what’s in that greenhouse,” said Albus.

“Sprout sounded mad,” Pan said, leaning back against a nearby desk. “She was pleading with him.”

“It didn’t do her much good,” Albus replied. “Thorn said he was done with her.”

“It sounded like they were working together,” Pan said in a disbelieving tone. “But what would she be helping him with? And why?”

“Maybe he threatened her,” Albus said. “For all we know, Thorn is growing some kind of monster in that greenhouse.”

Pan looked sceptical, but she didn’t argue. When the bell rang for the end of break a moment later, they both jumped.

“Defence Against the Dark Arts next,” Pan said portentously. “With Thorn.”

As always, their Friday DADA lesson was with the Gryffindors. From the beginning, Thorn glowered and snapped at them. With an air of impatience, he demonstrated the ventus spell, which caused a jet of spiralling wind to shoot out of the end of his wand. A stack of papers were caught in the draught and several of the girls’ hair whipped around their faces. “Why am I teaching you this spell?” Thorn growled at them.

No one dared raise their hand, not even Scorpius.

With a flick of Thorn’s wand, the cyclone of air ceased, then he said clearly, “Fumos!” A cloud of black smoke engulfed him at once, blocking him completely from view. A moment later, they heard his voice from amidst the smog. “Ventrus!” Instantly, the smoke was blasted away by the spinning tornado of air, unveiling Thorn, who was looking no less surly than before. “Your turn,” he said. “Pair up. One of you create a smokescreen, the other one dispel it.”

Soon, the classroom was thick with smoke in a horrid range of colours and smells. This was followed by an intense chill, caused by the uncontrolled jets of air that began shooting from students’ wands. Albus pressed his sleeve to his nose and mouth, his eyes watering from the combination of badly cast smokescreen spells. He momentarily pulled his sleeve away from his mouth to shout, “Ventrus!” A pitiful wisp of air puffed from the end of his wand.

Great, he thought.

After several more attempts at the spell, Albus only managed to produce one blast of air that lasted less than a second.

At the end of the lesson, Thorn bellowed, “Ventrus!” Albus shivered as a powerful gust of wind swept across the classroom, tearing at the plumes of smoke and clearing the air. “Practise!” he yelled, then gestured for them to leave.

“Not very happy, is he?” Pan said as she left the classroom with Albus.

“He’s annoyed at Sprout. She—”

Albus stopped talking as Ace McLaggen stepped in front of them, blocking their way along the corridor. Rose lingered by a suit of armour, watching.

“Look,” McLaggen said to Pan, not quite meeting her eyes, “I’m sorry.” The words seemed to cost him. His lips formed a taut line.

“You could’ve killed her!” Albus said, firing up.

“I know,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Well we don’t accept your apology,” Albus retorted.

Rose stepped forwards. “That’s enough Albus,” she told him. “Ace said he’s sorry. Holding it against him isn’t going to help anyone.”

Albus gaped at her. “How can you defend him?”

“He made a mistake,” Rose said. “McGonagall’s spoken to him. It’s not up to you to hold a grudge. And, honestly, I thought better of you, Albus.”

He opened his mouth to issue a scathing comment at her, but Pan shook her head. “It’s fine,” she said. “Ace can’t help it if he can’t control his broom.” She smiled at him, a sweet sort of smile Albus had never seen on her face before. “If you need some help improving your skills,” she continued, “I’d be happy to give you lessons. But I might be busy. I’m on the Slytherin quidditch team, you see.”

Ace looked like he’d been slapped. Rose was frowning.

With another smile, Pan led the way past Ace and Rose, and Albus followed, leaving the two Gryffindors open-mouthed in their wake.

“That was brilliant,” Albus said to her once they were out of earshot.

“It was petty,” she replied, looking annoyed with herself. “Rose just gets under my skin.”

Albus, who couldn’t understand why Pan was annoyed, grinned at her. “But when you offered to give him flying lessons,” he reminisced, “the look on McLaggen’s face!”

Pan didn’t appear amused.

“Actually,” Albus said hesitantly, “talking about flying lessons. I was wondering… You wouldn’t mind- I mean, if you have time…”

“Spit it out, Albus.”

He took a deep breath. “Could you teach me to fly?”

Pan’s annoyed expression cleared at once. “I thought you’d never ask,” she said.

 

Pan wasted no time in starting their lessons. After dinner, she went to her dormitory to get her broom, then headed down the stone steps with Albus towards the flying lawn. As they walked, the night air snatched at their cloaks. Albus wished he’d thought to put on his scarf. They passed the Herbology greenhouses, the glass walls glinting in the starlight, then onto the smooth, neatly trimmed lawns at the edge of the forest. It was a crisp, cloudless evening. “Perfect flying weather,” Pan stated as they came to a stop.

She offered him her broom, watched him mount it, then altered his grip, tutting and clicking her tongue. “You’re too nervous,” she said to him. “The broom can sense it. You have to be confident.”

“Easy for you to say,” Albus replied, trying not to sound too bitter.

She whacked the broom like a trainer slapping a horse’s rump, and in response it shot forwards like a speeding train. Albus gripped on for dear life. His heart flew into his mouth as icy air slammed into his face. He almost slipped off. Once the broom began to slow down, he leaned sideways and turned around, heading back towards Pan. “Don’t… do that… again,” he said between panting breaths.

“You did well,” she replied. “I was expecting you to fall off.”

It wasn’t long before Albus’s fingers were numb with cold, his feet not much warmer. The muscles in his face had frozen from the constant lashing of the wind as he tore across the lawn on Pan’s broom, a broom that Albus had quickly concluded was unnecessarily fast.

Pan was so engrossed in her tutorage that she didn’t appear to notice the cold, nor Albus’s growing discomfort. It was only when the distant light from the Entrance Hall suddenly vanished that Albus leapt off the broom and pointed towards the castle. “They’ve shut the doors!” he exclaimed. “We’re going to be locked out!”

Pan followed his gaze and groaned. Together, they raced back towards the castle, shoes pounding the dewy grass. But as they passed the Herbology greenhouses, something made Albus come to a skidding halt. A distant whimpering sound had reached his ears, as of someone in pain.

It sounded like a woman.

A few paces ahead, Pan stopped running. “What’s wro—”

“Shh!” Albus hissed, listening intently. The moaning, whimpering sound continued, but it was getting quieter.

Pan seemed to have heard it too. Deep lines were etched in her forehead.

They turned towards the greenhouses. Albus’s heart was racing as his steps grew quicker. The whimpering had faded to a barely audible gurgling noise, but he was sure it was coming from somewhere around here…

Then, Albus saw her. Her short, stout body was lying face-up on the ground a few paces in front of Greenhouse 9. Her legs were sticking out at an awkward angle. Her face was contorted with pain. Her chest rose and fell in sharp, juddering movements, but her eyes – they were open and staring dazedly up at the sky.

“Professor Sprout!” shouted Albus and Pan, coming to kneel on either side of her.

She glanced between them unseeingly. “Don’t… go in… there!” she said between rasping breaths.

“We have to get help!” Albus exclaimed. His eyes fell upon Pan’s broom. “Fly up to the castle,” he said. “Get a teacher!”

At once, Pan leapt onto her broom and shot out of sight, faster than Albus had ever seen her fly. Meanwhile, Sprout had gone disconcertingly quiet. “Professor?” Albus said, placing his hand on her forehead. She felt hot and clammy. His heart plummeted.

Pan, please hurry, he thought.

Albus started as Sprout began to speak again, her words gravelly. “… couldn’t wait… don’t go in…” She raised her arm and pointed feebly towards Greenhouse 9, the door of which, Albus had just noticed, was open. “Thorn knows… danger… I had to… no choice…”

Her eyelids fluttered and her breathing slowed.

“Professor!” Albus shouted, alarmed. “You have to stay awake!”

But Professor Sprout didn’t seem to hear him.

He took her hand, which was burning hot, and held it tightly. He didn’t know what else to do! He wondered if there was a spell he could cast to help her, but they hadn’t been given a single lesson on healing magic. And even if he did know a spell, he wasn’t sure he’d trust himself to get it right.

Just as Sprout’s head lolled sideways, her chest coming to an awful stillness, Albus heard footsteps approaching, muffled by the grass. His heart leapt. Pan had found someone!

But as he looked up, he saw a tall, dark figure emerging from between greenhouses, head bent low, hood pulled up. Albus reached into his robes for his wand. But after coming a few paces closer, the figure stopped dead. A hand pulled back the hood, revealing a mane of dark hair and a square jaw.

“Thorn!” Albus gasped.

“Potter!” he growled, eyes narrowing. Then, his gaze fell upon Sprout. Instantly, he drew out his wand and knocked Albus aside. Running the tip of his wand across Sprout’s chest, he muttered, “Fianto Sanentur, medeora totalus, fianto sanentur, medeora maxima, fianto sanentur, medeora horribilis…

Albus watched as pale tendrils of silvery light wisped through the air around Sprout’s body. Thorn continued to mutter frantically, whispering the spells over and over again. Meanwhile, Albus crouched frozen. His hands were gripping clumps of grass, the blood drained from his face. What if she didn’t wake up? What if she was…?

Then, Sprout drew in a sharp, shuddering breath. Thorn stopped muttering spells, and leaned over her. “Pomona?” he said gruffly. “Pomona? Can you hear me?”

She said nothing. Her eyes were closed, her face slack, but she continued to breathe, even if her breaths were raspy and uneven. Without wasting a moment, Thorn rounded on Albus. “What happened? What are you doing here?”

Albus’s racing heart thumped harder, but with it came an overriding feeling of dislike and suspicion. “I found her lying on the ground,” he told Thorn. “What are you doing here?”

As if subconsciously, his eyes glanced towards the door to Greenhouse 9.

“What’s in there?” Albus asked.

Thorn stared at Albus, an unreadable expression on his face. Before he could answer, footsteps announced the arrival of none other than Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick and Pan, who was leading the way.

Thorn stood up. “Minerva,” he said with a slight bow of his head.

At the sight of Professor Sprout lying on the ground, McGonagall paled. “Lumos maxima,” she said. With a flick of her wand, a sphere of light flew above their heads and hovered there, illuminating the scene. “Potter!” she exclaimed. Then, she turned to Flitwick. “Take Pomona up to Madam Pomfrey,” she said. “And make sure Miss Parkinson gets back to her dormitory.”

“Yes, Minerva,” squeaked Flitwick. He waved his wand and Professor Sprout rose gently off the ground. Her body proceeded to drift after Flitwick as he tottered towards the castle. With a last questioning glance at Albus, Pan lumbered reluctantly in his wake.

McGonagall turned on Thorn. “Orion, what happened?”

“I was out for a walk,” he answered, “when I came across Pomona and Potter. She was unconscious, but I managed to revive her.”

“Will she recover?” Minerva asked.

“I can’t say,” Thorn replied. Then, he threw a cold look at Potter. “It seems Potter has some explaining to do.”

“There’s something in that greenhouse!” Albus blurted, pointing towards the open door of Greenhouse 9.

McGonagall frowned, then stepped towards the greenhouse, but Thorn blocked her path. “I wouldn’t do that, Minerva,” he said, his voice strained. “It is clearly dangerous.”

“We cannot just leave it, Orion,” she replied crisply.

“I will check on it,” he answered. He sent a meaningful glance at Albus.

McGonagall frowned, but did not argue. “Come to my office when you’re done,” she told Thorn. “Potter, come with me!”

Albus hesitated. If they left Thorn to check the greenhouse, he could hide whatever evil creature he’d been keeping inside it. “Professor,” Albus said to McGonagall, “I think we should—”

“Go, Potter!” Thorn snapped. “Now!”

McGonagall motioned for him to follow her, then marched in the direction of the castle, her sphere of light floating above her.

Still, Albus did not move. But Thorn was already backing into the greenhouse. Glowering at Albus, he shut the door with a snap.

McGonagall led Albus into the school, through the deserted, torchlit corridors and down to the entrance of the Slytherin common room. Before he went inside, Albus paused. “Professor,” he said shakily, “I think there’s some kind of animal in that greenhouse.”

Her brow creased, her glasses digging into the skin around her eyes. “An animal, Potter?”

“And I think Thorn knows about it,” he continued. “I heard him talking to Professor Sprout. They’ve been working on something together. She sounded upset… distraught…”

McGonagall said nothing for a moment, then placed a hand on his shoulder. “You are so like your father,” she said. “Thank you for telling me this, Potter. But believe me, I am watching the situation.” Without another word, she headed back up the steps.

“Professor!” Albus called after her.

She stopped. “Get some sleep,” she told him.

Then, as she disappeared, someone emerged from the shadows at the other end of the dungeon corridor. His scruffy hair was even messier than usual. When he saw Albus, he gazed at him wonderingly. “What are you doing out this late?” Arty asked.

“I was just…” Albus’s voice trailed off. “Where have you been?”

“Wolfsbane potion,” he answered. “Full moon’s a week today.” A shadow passed across Arty’s face at these words.

Albus was quiet as they headed to their dormitory. He listened to Arty complaining about the wolfsbane potion, then moaning about his blessboom plant, which hadn’t managed to grow a single flower. Appearing to notice Albus’s distraction, he fell into silence as they changed into their pyjamas.

Albus didn’t sing to his plant that night. He lay awake, staring out of the window at the murky depths of the Black Lake. Something had attacked Sprout, something powerful enough to almost kill her, something that lived inside that greenhouse. And Thorn knew about it.

Thorn had told McGonagall he’d been out for a walk. A walk?

            He hadn’t been going for a night time stroll! He’d been heading for Greenhouse 9 – Albus was sure of it. But Sprout must have got there first. The creature must have attacked her. And now Thorn was probably destroying the evidence, moving the creature somewhere else.

I am watching the situation. That’s what McGonagall had said. But what had she meant? Was it possible she already knew about the thing inside that greenhouse? Did she already suspect Thorn?

The image of Sprout’s pale, slack face reared up in Albus’s mind.  He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to get to sleep, hoping that somewhere in the Hospital Wing, Professor Sprout was being nursed back to health.

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