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Al Potter and His Very Epic Plan by Nar

Format: Novel
Chapters: 18
Word Count: 86,402
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: General, Humor
Characters: Scorpius, Albus, Rose
Pairings:

First Published: 08/17/2009
Last Chapter: 07/31/2010
Last Updated: 07/31/2010

Summary:





Intolerance. Discrimination. That's all it is. Al's dad told him that Slytherin was all right, and that means it isn't fair how people treat them. Al's realized he has to fix this, and the return of the Triwizard Tournament to Hogwarts after 23 years might be the perfect opportunity to do so. But it's definitely not going to be easy. (Lovely banner from Somuch at TDA.)


Chapter 1: On The Hogwarts Express (om nom nom food)
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“Albus, why can’t we sit with James?” Rosie demanded, hauling her trunk after her, grunting with the effort and wobbling as the train shook underfoot. Al held the carriage door open for her and then Rosie dumped her trunk on his foot by accident.

“Ow?”

Rosie pushed her frizzy red hair out of her eyes and scowled. Maybe it hadn’t been an accident. “Just because they were teasing you, Albus. That’s no reason to go haring off half an hour into the train journey. Besides, I thought we were looking for somewhere quiet to study? You’ve gone past three empty compartments already.”

Al might have deliberately implied that, sort of. Mostly because he’d wanted Rosie to come with him.

“Actually, I wanted to find some other first-years.”

Rosie glared.

“Or you could go study, and I could look for first-years,” Al suggested. Rosie’s owl was glaring at him too, in a diagonal way. Rosie had used a Sticking Charm to fix the cage to her trunk, and now the owl was sort of tilted sideways and looking very fed up with the whole thing. Al’s own owl was determinedly pretending to sleep.

Rosie muttered something sulky about abandoning Al to certain death and dragged her trunk off his foot. Al looked down the corridor and said, “But I don’t see any-”

“Well they’ll all be in the compartments now, won’t they?” Rosie huffed and grabbed hold of her trunk again. “They’ll all have found other people to sit with by now, and they won’t want-” Then she realised Al was staring and followed his gaze.

“Oh. I know that boy-”

That boy was standing at the other end of the carriage, frozen in the doorway; he was already in his robes, like Rosie, and hanging onto an eagle owl in a huge cage, and the sunlight through the windows glowed on his fair hair.

“Malfoy,” Rosie growled. Al wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, but the boy looked like a first year, so he started down the corridor towards him.

“Hello! I mean, hi! Are you a first year?” Al stopped in front of the new boy, who didn’t answer. “Er,” Al said. “We’re first years, so…if you are one, you could sit with us…we wouldn’t mind? Um, I’m Al. What‘s your name?”

“Albus, that’s Scorpius Malfoy,” Rosie said exasperatedly, puffing up behind him. “Dad showed him to me on the platform.”

“Oh,” Al said, horrorstruck. It must be terrible being named Scorpius. “Do you want to sit with us? We were just looking for an empty compartment.” Rosie called him a liar under her breath.

“Actually, I - I’m sorry, but I had planned to sit with someone back this way,” Scorpius said, retreating.

“But you just came from there,” Al pointed out. Scorpius stopped dead, which was lucky because in another step he would have fallen over his own trunk.

“You ought to sit with us,” Rosie announced. The compartment next to them was empty, so she pointed her wand at it and mumbled, “Adaperius!”

The door clicked and then slowly, squeakily, slid open. Rosie looked at Al.

“Well done,” Al said obediently and grabbed the eagle owl cage out of Scorpius’s arms. He thought he’d heard his dad talking about a Malfoy sometimes, actually. Mostly it had come after ‘that git’. That probably wasn’t Scorpius’s dad’s first name. Maybe they could be friends anyway?

“You first,” Rosie ordered. Al made to move towards the compartment, but she threw out an arm to stop him and said, “No, Malfoy first.”

So he could have the window seat? That was nice of her, he supposed. Al handed Scorpius’s owl cage to Rosie and went to get the rest.

When he’d managed to get both owls and both trunks into the compartment, Scorpius and Rosie were sitting opposite each other, both with arms folded, both staring out the window.

“Er, so, hi,” Al said, flopping down next to Rosie. “So what house do you think you’ll be in, Scorpius?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been Sorted yet,” Scorpius answered. He kept glancing between Al and Rosie. Al looked back at Rosie.

Rosie glowered. “Fine, then. What do you think of Muggleborns?”

That was a weird question to ask. Al looked at Scorpius.

“I’ve never met any,” Scorpius said. “But I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with them.”

Rosie made the huffy noise again and Al looked back at her. “What about Muggles?”

“Um. Rosie?” Al leant over and whispered into her ear “You’re being a bit rude.” Rosie usually needed help figuring that out.

Rosie made the huffy noise. It made Al think of cats sneezing. “Why didn’t you just go and sit with some other Slytherins?”

“What do you think of the houses?” Al asked him, leaning forward a bit. He’d been looking for someone who thought they would be in Slytherin.

“I already told you,” Rosie answered. “Gryffindor is all right, Ravenclaw is best - Mum agreed that was the best house for me - Hufflepuff are a lot of ineffectual duffers and I’d rather be in Hufflepuff than Slytherin.” She glowered over the top of her book in Scorpius’s direction. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Um, I know what you think,” Al said. “I was talking to him. Scorpius, what do you think of the houses?”

Scorpius looked at him a bit suspiciously and said “I don’t have any problems with any of them.”

Al waited for him to be a bit more specific and then realised he wasn’t going to. “So…you don’t think Slytherin’s a bad house to be in?”

“Not especially,” Scorpius said.

Rosie made a comment under her breath about that not being very hard to believe.

“What about Gryffindor and Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw?” Al persisted.

“There’s nothing wrong with Gryffindor and Ravenclaw,” Scorpius said. “And I suppose the Hufflepuffs like Hufflepuff well enough.”

Al nodded slowly and thought he should go look for someone else, someone who wouldn’t be as vague.. He just wasn’t sure how to get Rosie to come with him this time.

“Anything from the trolley, dears?”

It was the most beautiful thing Al had ever seen.

Well maybe there’d been other stuff like sunsets were pretty and Lily had probably been cute when she was a baby but - boxes of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and jars of liquorice wands and stacks of Cauldron Cakes and a plate piled high with golden pumpkin pasties, a tin of Chocoballs, jugs of iced pumpkin juice-

Then Rosie elbowed him in the ribs and said “Albus, you’re drooling.”

“Oh! Sorry!” Al quickly wiped his mouth on his sleeve. The old witch pushing the trolley was chuckling. Scorpius was staring out the window. “Um, can I have a bit of everything please? Rosie, do you-”

“I think your bit of everything will be enough for us, thank you,” Rosie said, a bit muffled because she had her hands over her face.

“Scorpius?”

“No, thank you,” Scorpius said, without looking around.

Al helped the trolley witch pile up his new stash on the seat next to him, handed over eleven Sickles and seven Knuts and then tried to put an entire pumpkin pasty in his mouth at once.

“You’re terrible,” Rosie told him severely. “If you choke on that, it’ll be your own fault.”

Scorpius looked slightly ill.

“B’ff ffo guff,” Al said, spraying the compartment with little bits of pasty. Scorpius’s eagle owl squawked, and he pulled its cage a little closer to him. Al’s snowy owl was still pointedly pretending to sleep. Al’s owl had never seemed very impressed with him.

Rosie opened her bag, pulled out Magical Plants and their Uses and put it up in front of her face, though Al could see she was keeping an eye on Scorpius over the top of the book. Scorpius was still looking out the window. Maybe he was shy, or an amateur landscape painter or something. Al ate a second pumpkin pasty and thought about it while Rosie tried to memorize the book. There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Al licked his fingers, took a swig from the jug of pumpkin juice, and picked up a Cauldron Cake.

Rosie turned a page in a vaguely critical way.

“I missed breakfast,” Al said defensively - which was a lie, but at least Rosie stopped glaring at him.

Rosie huffed and went back to her book, glancing occasionally at him over the top to make sure he knew what she thought of his eating habits. “…Wait, where are you going now?”

“I was going to find some more first-years,” Al said, and added “You don’t have to come.”

Rosie glanced between him and Scorpius Malfoy, who was still staring out of the window. She looked torn.

“I’ll be back in an hour,” Al said experimentally, and showed her his watch. She let him go. Al hurried away before she changed her mind and he had to just ignore her, heading towards the front of the train, where Scorpius Malfoy had come from. Some of the compartments were empty, but most were full of older students chatting - none of them Slytherins - and those first-years that he could find said either “Gryffindor”, “Ravenclaw,” or “Probably Hufflepuff” (with downcast eyes). Al was just thinking that he would never find anyone (and also that he should have brought a Cauldron Cake with him) when a third-year apparently flung a very large tabby cat at his head.

“Pineapple!” the girl barked. “Bad cat! Very bad! Stop attacking people!” She hauled the cat off Al’s robes, pinned it against her chest and said “Sorry about that, he’s a little bugger. Aren’t you, you bastard?” She looked Al up and down. “Awright?” She had a liquorice wand dangling out of the corner of her mouth, and there was a smaller, sandy-haired boy standing a little behind her.

“Er, yes, I’m fine,” Al said. “I’m Al, a first-year? It’s nice to meet you.”

“I’m Faith, and me too,” the girl said, which was a surprise considering the size of her. “This is-”

“What house do you think you’ll be in?” Al asked. “Wait, sorry. I mean-”

“Bloody hell, you get straight to the point, don’t you?” Faith said. “I’m going into Slytherin.” Al almost stopped breathing. “And Lew here,” Faith continued, not noticing his reaction, “-the shrimp behind me that is, doesn’t know where-”

“Why do you want to be in Slytherin?” Al asked quickly, before she could go off-topic.

“Because it’s the best house, I worked that out with logic,” Faith said, putting her cat down so she could make explanatory hand gestures. “See, Slytherin is for people who are cunning and ambitious and resourceful, yeah? And cunning is basically the same as clever, and ambitious people are usually hardworking because they have goals to work towards, so basically Slytherin is Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff added together, yeah? …They aren’t Gryffindor, though, because Gryffindor’s rubbish, they’re just a bunch of smug cocky gits,” she added on, as an afterthought. “If I get Sorted into Gryffindor I’m going to take a flying leap off a Thestral. Luckily there’s not much chance of that because I’m not very brave, chivalrous or heroic.” She glanced quizzically at Al. “You all right?”

Al had been staring at her, transfixed.

“You’ve got a really weird face on,” Faith said, and turned to Lew behind her. “Do you think he’s having a brain problem? I don’t know how to do anything about those.”

“No, I’m not having a brain problem,” Al said. “Are any of your relatives already in Slytherin?”

“My mum was a Ravenclaw. My dad was a Hufflepuff. My dad’s brother Johnny was one, though. Not a very bright one, mind – ran off with my mum’s sister who was a Gryffindor and a total cow. Last I heard they were raising flying sheep in New Zealand. Do you want a chart?”

“…Why flying sheep?” Al asked. They all thought about it.

“…higher-quality wool,” Faith said suddenly, and laughed like a hyena. Lew let her cackle hysterically for a few seconds, then reached up and closed her mouth for her.

“Hey!”

“Right,” Al said. “Are you-” He was trying to think of a way to phrase the next question that wasn’t actually are you evil? or would you like to kill Muggleborns? when Faith scooped her cat up and ended the conversation for him.

“All the questions are getting boring, yeah? So we’re going to leave. See you at the Sorting!” She brushed past him to further down the train. Lew followed her with an apologetic shrug to Al, who just stared after them as they left. Faith hadn’t seemed evil. Painfully honest and a bit weird, yes, but not evil.

Al reached a decision. His dad had said there was nothing wrong with Slytherins, and he’d liked a Slytherin enough to name Al after him. If even a couple of them were good, then it wasn’t fair that people talked about them like they did. And letting people do things that were wrong ought to be a crime; his dad had taught him that. So Al had to fix it.

“That was an hour and seven minutes!” Rosie greeted him as he returned to their compartment. Scorpius Malfoy was reading A History of Magic and didn’t seem to have noticed he was back. “It’s not like you to be unpunctual. What happened?”

“Lost track of time. Sorry,” Al lied, pouring himself a glass of pumpkin juice. Rosie let out a great sigh of half-despair and half-contentment, sat him down next to her, and opened her book again.

Al took sips of his juice, closed his eyes, and rested his head against the seat. He had to fix Slytherin, or fix its reputation, or do whatever it was that would make everything better, because that was what was right and it would make his dad proud. He was just pretty sure that to do it, he was going to have to be in Slytherin.

Chapter 2: SLYTHERIN! (so far so good)
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The sky was turning purple and the train was passing through a deeply forested, steep-sided valley when a voice echoed through the carriages: “We will be reaching Hogsmeade Station in five minutes’ time. Please leave your luggage on the train. It will be taken to the school separately.”

Al dropped his book as his stomach suddenly twisted into knots. Rosie looked at him worriedly. “I haven’t changed yet!” Al explained quickly, and she seemed to believe him.

“I’ll excuse myself, then,” Scorpius said promptly, and exited the carriage at top speed. He’d spent literally the entire time they were in the compartment together reading or inspecting the countryside: Al had tried to ask him about his favourite classes at about four o’clock, but he’d only got vague answers about not having been to any yet.

Rosie marked her page, put her book away, put her notepaper away, put her quill back in its case, stretched, and left the compartment at her leisure while Al tried to hurry her up. The train had pulled into the station by the time Al had managed to get his robes on and cram what was left of his sweets into his trunk.

Once he’d joined Rosie on the platform, they saw Al’s godfather Hagrid looming over the crowds, swinging a lantern and shouting “Firs’-years! Firs’-years over here! Firs’-years- All right there, Al? Rosie?” He clapped them both hard on the back, almost knocking Al down. “Any more firs’-years? Firs’-years, follow me!”

The first-years followed Hagrid down a steep, narrow, dark path as the rest of the students headed for the brightly lit road. If it hadn’t been for the Thestrals, Al would have thought the others were better-off.

“How far is it, Hagrid?” Rosie asked, hanging onto his coat to keep from falling over. Hagrid grabbed her hand, and then Al’s, and said, “Tha’s a surprise. Yer both comin’ ter tea with me on Friday, aren’ yeh?”

“Of course, Hagrid,” Rosie said.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” Al added.

“Ough’ ter be lookin’ forward ter Hogwarts!” Hagrid boomed. “…Don’ fret, Al, nothin’ ter worry about.”

Al forced himself to smile.

“Yer goin’ ter have fun,” Hagrid promised, beaming. “An’…there!”

The trees on either side opened up to leave them standing on the shore of the lake, the Hogwarts castle on a promontory across the water, every window shining like a star. Rosie’s mouth dropped open. Al gasped - they’d both seen the castle before, when his dad and Rosie’s had sent them all to stay with Hagrid, but the view was still stunning.

“Beautiful, isn’ she?” Hagrid asked proudly, and pointed to a flotilla of tiny boats, rocking slightly in the shallow water. “Right - no more’n four to a boat!”

Al would have preferred to go in a boat with Hagrid, but Hagrid had to have his own boat to avoid it sinking. Luckily Scorpius had already got into a boat by himself, so Al gave Rosie a hand in and climbed in after her.

“Everyone in?” Hagrid shouted. “Right then - FORWARD!”

The boats shuddered as they ground over the shingle, and then the beach seemed to fall away under their keels and all the boats glided off the bank at once. Al kept his eyes on the castle as the boats glided across the glassy water and tried not to think words like ‘drowning’ or ‘capsized’ or ‘giant squid.’ As the ships neared the cliff Al wondered if they were going to crash into it, but the boats passed safely through a curtain of ivy in the cliff face and into a dark, narrow passage that seemed to be taking them right underneath the castle, until they beached on a tiny, torch-lit shingle harbour. Hagrid climbed out of his own boat first and came to give Al and Rosie a hand. Scorpius climbed out by himself.

“Tha’ blond kid,” Hagrid said quietly to Al. At least, quietly for Hagrid, which meant that the people in the castle couldn’t hear him. He was looking at Scorpius. “Does he look like a Malfoy to yeh?”

“I think that’s probably because I am a Malfoy,” Score said. “Professor.” The ‘Professor’ had been just a split second too early to be insulting. Al glanced back and forth between them, confused. It made sense that Score would be annoyed by Hagrid getting suspicious about his family, but Al didn’t know why Hagrid would do that.

“Wha’ were yeh in a boat with a Malfoy fer, Al? Not smart, tha’ was. Up the stairs, now, don’ dawdle,” and before Al could ask him about it, Hagrid led them off the beach and up a narrow, winding passage in the rock which came out in the centre of the Hogwarts lawns, in the shadow of the castle itself. Al got separated from Hagrid on the stairs, and found himself walking across the lawns next to Scorpius.

“Are you all right?” Al asked him.

“I’m fine,” Scorpius said. He didn’t sound angry. Maybe Al had been wrong? “Thank you for asking.” Scorpius smiled pleasantly. It was very unsettling, so Al made a hasty retreat.

“Everyone still here?” Hagrid asked, once they’d all gathered around him at the top of the stone steps outside the front door. Al tried to get through the crowd towards him, but there were too many other children.

“Right, then!” Hagrid knocked three times on the castle door.

Al gulped. The doors swung open at once, revealing a tiny, wizened old man in deep blue robes.

“The firs’-years, Professor Flitwick,” Hagrid said. Al would have to give up on asking Hagrid what was wrong with the Malfoys for now, then, but he resolved to do it later.

“Excellent, Hagrid!” Flitwick said, and waved the first-years inside. “I’ll take them from here. I’ll see you later at the high table!”

“Why is that man so short?” Lew whispered, just behind Al.

“An elephant sat on him,” Faith whispered back.

Hagrid nodded and clumped across the entrance hall to the Great Hall, swinging the massive doors open with one hand, and vanished inside. Flitwick trotted across the entrance hall in the other direction, gesturing for the first-years to follow him, and led them into a tiny empty chamber.

“Welcome to Hogwarts!” Professor Flitwick announced, flinging his arms wide. “The start-of-term banquet will begin soon, but first, the Sorting!” He clapped his hands and beamed at them. “The Sorting ceremony is very important because, as our Headmistress says, your house will be like your family within Hogwarts; you will eat with your house, sleep with your house-”

Someone laughed. Al thought it might have been Faith. Flitwick continued unconcernedly.

“-and spend your free time in your house common room - or the library!” He beamed like a Searchlight Charm. “The four houses are Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw - that’s mine! - and Slytherin.”

A faint murmur ran around the chamber, but Al couldn’t make out any words.

“Each house has its own noble history and its own outstanding students,” Flitwick continued.

There was more muttering. This time, Al caught the words You-Know-Who and bit his lip. That was just another reason to be in Slytherin. His dad would never be scared of mumbling first-years.

“While you are here, you will earn points for your house by working hard and helping other students, and lose points for breaking Hogwarts rules,” Flitwick told them, suddenly much more serious. “At the end of the school year, the house with the most points is awarded the House Cup, a great honour. But even if your house doesn’t win the Cup, we’re sure you will be a great credit to them.”

He smiled reassuringly. Not many of the first-years looked reassured.

“The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes, in front of your new schoolmates. I will come back to get you when everything is ready. Please be patient!” Professor Flitwick pattered out of the room.

“How do we get Sorted?” Lew asked.

“You have to fight a troll,” Faith said promptly. “If you run up and kick it in the shins, you’re in Gryffindor. If you cast a spell on it, you’re in Ravenclaw. If you try to give it a hug, you’re in Hufflepuff.”

“If you run away, you’re in Slytherin,” someone put in.

“That’s true, Slytherin wouldn’t take anyone thick enough to try and fight a troll,” Faith agreed, with a laugh. Al turned around. Lew didn’t seem worried at all. Al sort of envied him for that. Rosie had folded her arms and was glowering at Faith.

“Are you quite certain that’s what happens?” Lew asked mildly. Al was just going to tell him about the Sorting Hat when Rosie did it for him.

“Of course it isn’t! You just have to put on a magical hat and then it tells you which house you should be in.”

Lew just looked at her.

“It’s completely safe,” Al told him. “No-one’s ever died during their Sorting.”

“A few people have died immediately after their Sorting,” Faith chimed in brightly. Al wished she’d stop that, because she was making him feel ill.

Then Professor Flitwick re-entered the room. “Everything’s ready now! Form a line behind me, please, and don’t worry!”

Al tensed, and Rosie put a hand on his shoulder and steered him into line, then pushed him across the entrance hall while muttering soothing things into his ear, none of which Al could make out because he was too busy trying not to throw up. His stomach felt like it was full of snakes, which was appropriate but very uncomfortable.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine, you’ll get into Gryffindor,” Rosie whispered to him, which actually wasn’t that helpful because he’d never wanted to be in Gryffindor. He really, really hadn’t wanted to spend six years with James pouring buckets of water over his head every morning. James only didn’t do that at home because Dad would be disappointed - Rosie shepherded him into the Great Hall.

Al was certain that he could feel the other students’ stares boring into him, so he kept his eyes on his boots and tried not to think about the Sorting. He tried to think about happy things, like sunshine and flowers and puppies, but Al didn’t actually like flowers or puppies very much so it didn’t work. Kittens? His dad had promised he didn’t care if Al was in Slytherin, and Lily probably wouldn’t care, but Al’s mum was going to have a fit and James would die of laughter.

That would fix Al’s problem with James teasing him.

Al heard the thump as Flitwick put the stool down in front of them and placed the Sorting Hat atop it. For a few seconds there was complete silence, and then the hat started to sing:

No doubt youve heard some morbid tales

Of how the Sortings done

But have no fear, the answers here,

Ill sort you, everyone.

We dont want you unhappy

You wont learn if youre sour

No need to grouse, Ill find your house

If its within my power

If you want inspiration

From heroes of the past

Expelliarmus! Stupefy!

Brave Gryffindors a blast.

Or if determined on success

And having lots of mates

Then join the team, youll have a scream

Keen Hufflepuff awaits.

If puffed up with ambition,

No need for shock or shame,

Dont fear to try, aim for the sky

Proud Slytherins the name!

If free from misconceptions,

And you like to read a lot

Then know no fear, be of good cheer,

Wise Ravenclaws the spot!

But now Ive run on far too long,

And you all want your tea

So dont be fearful, try me on -

Ill know where you should be!

The students all clapped as the Hat finished.

“When I call your name, you must put on the hat and sit on the stool to be sorted,” Professor Flitwick explained. “Bates, Johanna!”

Johanna Bates stumbled forward. Al was still looking at his shoes, but he could hear her footsteps and the squeak as the stool skidded back a few inches.

“HUFFLEPUFF!” the hat shouted, much louder than the song had been. The Hufflepuffs cheered.

“The table on the right, Miss Bates,” Flitwick said. “Borden, Genesis?”

Genesis Borden - that was a really weird name to give a boy, Al thought - went to Gryffindor. Al glanced quickly over at the Gryffindor table on the far left, and caught sight of James yelling and banging his fists on the table. Kathleen Briggs went to Gryffindor as well, after quite a long time - twenty-seven seconds. Rosie had been counting in a whisper. The first two had been Sorted much faster - maybe some people just took more time? What if Al ended up sitting there for hours and hours and held up the whole feast and they expelled him?

“Cook, Katrina!” Cook, Katrina took a long time to be Sorted as well, at least a minute, but finally -

“SLYTHERIN!”

And then there was so much noise Al thought he would be deafened, as if everyone in Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw were all booing at once. He looked up automatically. Katrina Cook had stood up and taken the hat off, and was staring around the room. She looked frightened. Al’s hands tightened into fists.

Silencio!” Professor McGonagall barked. The booing cut out. The Headmistress was on her feet, wand drawn. “I will not have the Sorting Ceremony interrupted by such a disgraceful display! If it happens again, I will take fifty points from each house!”

Silence reigned. Professor McGonagall looked over the tables, inspecting each one for signs of guilt, then ended the spell and sat back down. “Professor Flitwick, if you would continue the Sorting.”

Professor Flitwick cleared his throat. “D’Engagne, Mirabel!”

Rosie slipped her hand into Al’s and murmured, “Albus, don’t panic. So long as you don’t throw up into the hat, you’ll be fine. You’ll be in Gryff-”

“I’m not worrying,” Al whispered back. He wasn’t worried at all. He just felt incredibly ill for a reason totally unconnected to worry.

“Albus, you’re white as a-”

“Granger-Weasley, Rose!”

“Oh! Oh, that’s me!” Rosie hurriedly pulled her robes straight and tried to tidy her hair. “Albus, do I look-”

Faith, who was standing on her other side, shoved her forward. Rosie stumbled over to the stool, sat down on it, and pulled the Hat down over her eyes. Al counted. It took two seconds to put her in Ravenclaw.

Before she left for the Ravenclaw table, Rosie glanced back at Al, as if she was wondering if she should stay with him until he was called up. He forced a smile and waved. She seemed convinced.

Faith was the next person he knew to be Sorted. She swaggered up - if she was anywhere near as nervous as Al was, she didn’t show it - and flopped down on the stool with the hat tipped forward over her eyes. Perhaps ten seconds passed.

“SLYTHERIN!”

A mutter ran around the room, but nobody booed. Faith grinned cockily and wandered off to the Slytherin table, where Katrina Cook moved up to make room for her.

That was good, Al decided, twisting his fingers together. He was completely certain now. He knew where he ought to be. He just hoped that his dad would be as all right with it as he had said he would be. Also, that P would suddenly switch places to halfway through the alphabet. Keene was Sorted, then Kinder, Lassiter, Lloyd, Maidenway-

“Malfoy, Scorpius!”

“…do many wizards have names like that?” Lew asked. Scorpius marched up, sat down on the stool, and clapped the hat onto his head. It shouted “SLYTHERIN!” before it even had time to slide over his eyes.

Lew had moved up to stand by Al and asked him, “What’s your surname?”

“Potter,” Al whispered back.

“Oh. You’re ahead of me, then,” Lew said, as Felicia Ollivander left for Ravenclaw.

“Potter, Albus!” Al almost fell over.

“A lot of wizards have very odd names,” Lew observed placidly.

“Potter, Albus,” Flitwick repeated, and looked at him inquisitively. Lew nudged him. Al trudged forward, trying not to think about how James was going to have kittens and then a fit, and probably try to blow him up. Flitwick placed the Hat on his head, and then Al found himself staring at the inside of a hat.

For about half a second.

“SLYTHERIN!”

Oh. That had been much easier than Al had been expecting. Some of the Gryffindors had started to applaud when the Hat had first called out, but it died away quickly.

“What,” James said, very loudly and clearly in the sudden silence. Al stood up, gave the hat to Professor Flitwick, and hurriedly scampered off to the Slytherin table before James could make a sudden crazed and vengeful leap.

What,” James said again, even louder and infinitely more annoyed. Behind Al, people had started to talk. It sounded like a wasps’ nest. Slytherin House as a whole was staring at Al suspiciously and in an unfriendly way.

“Hi! Good to see you!” Faith greeted him. “That didn’t take long, did it?”

Except for Faith, who hadn’t seemed to notice anything was off, and Katrina Cook, who was eating a chocolate bar and sniffling into a handkerchief.

“Er,” Al said. “Hello?"

“Faith, did you meet this one?” Katrina Cook asked timidly, mopping her eyes with the handkerchief.

“Yes. Yes, I did,” Faith said. “He ran up, made my cat attack him, interrupted me rudely, made a funny face, cross-examined me for a bit, and then I decided he was being boring and left. That was about it. Oh, he’s making the funny face again, look!”

“He looks like he’s going to throw up,” said a prefect girl on the other side of the table. “Or cry, or wet himself. Possibly all three simultaneously.”

“That’d be amazing to watch, I hope he does,” Faith said, and put an empty tureen in front of him.

“Um, I’m not going to be sick,” Al said, as the prefect girl pulled a flask out of her robes and poured it into a goblet.

“Good, then we can start the interrogation,” the prefect girl said. “Why are you here, Potter? Tell us or die!” She handed him the goblet and made encouraging drinking motions. Al looked at it. Apple juice?

“A minimum of interrogations this year, please, Lia,” someone said. Al looked down the table, but couldn’t see who it had been.

“Yes sir,” Lia agreed instantly. “Potter, drink your Firewhiskey.”

“What?” Al squawked.

“Your Firewhiskey. Drink it,” Lia commanded. “And that was the last I had on me, Potter, so you’d better appreciate it.” She leant forward, elbows on the table, and glared at him.

“...I’d really rather not,” Al said. His dad didn’t want them drinking Firewhiskey. The Auror Guidebook was very clear on the risks of drinking while on duty, and besides Dad had caught James trying to give Lily some once and shouted at him until he’d gone hoarse.

“Trust me, I’m a prefect,” Lia assured him.

“You’re a Slytherin prefect,” Al pointed out, because judging by the joking about killing people she would think that was funny.

“True. Trust me slightly less,” Lia commanded, with a grin. Al was pleased to be proven right, but then she added “I did say that was my last, Potter. Stop being a bastard ingrate and drink up.” She glared ominously, so Al took one experimental sip. He nearly choked and immediately decided to change the topic.

“I’m not sure exactly why I’m here, anyway,” he said, which was technically true. He’d been expecting to have to ask the hat for Slytherin.

“Well, are you a) cunning, b) resourceful, c) ambitious, or d) evil?” Faith asked. “Those are the usual reasons.”

“Could you find the most evil Hufflepuff, and offer to do a trade?” Katrina Cook asked hopefully from the other side, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. “Or does magic not work like that?”

“HUFFLEPUFF!” the hat shouted from behind them. Faith cheered.

“…Wrong house, Harper,” said another Slytherin. Al couldn’t keep them all straight.

“No, that was a boy I know,” Faith explained. “Al, Lew’s in Hufflepuff now. I thought he would be, because I interrogated him subtly on the train and it turned out he was morally opposed to cheating.”

The Hufflepuff table was right next to the Slytherins, so Al twisted around and smiled at Lew as he sat down. Something else was bugging him, though.

“Um,” Al said. “You said Katrina Cook was a Muggleborn? I thought Slytherin only accepted purebloods.” James had told him that they only accepted purebloods.

“We do only accept purebloods,” the prefect girl told him. “All our Muggleborn students are secretly purebloods through various thrilling tales of conspiracy, switches at birth, and baby pirating.”

“Which is the kind way of saying, we take what we can get,” another Slytherin drawled. “Look down the table, Potter.” Al looked. The table was half empty. The Slytherins could only fill it up half-way. How could they only have -

“Our numbers are slightly below average,” the prefect girl agreed. “Four this year, that’s not bad. Our Head of House was Sorted right after the war - she was the only one that year, and we didn’t get another one until she was a fourth-year. I’m Lia Rookwood, by the way.”

“Who are you, then?” Al asked the prefect boy.

“Grimalkin, fifth-year prefect. Usually Grim, since that's a bit of a mouthful."

"Right," Faith said. "Hey, Scorpius. Do you have a nickname or something? Something people can call you when they want to pretend your name isn’t Scorpius?”

“Score,” Scorpius said, staring at a stack of plates. “Usually.”

“I’m Kitty, usually,” Katrina said.

“Er. Al?” Al offered.

“Yaxley, George just got called up,” Lia reported. “That’s probably the end of the Sorting, thanks be to God.”

“RAVENCLAW!” the hat shouted.

“And Yaxley’s buggered off - and Flitwick’s rolling the list up - yeah, that’s everyone,” Grimalkin said. “Hurrah, food!”

Professor McGonagall pushed back her chair.

“I will not keep you from your food for very long,” she said. “Firstly, first-years should note that the forest in the school grounds, habitually referred to as ‘The Forbidden Forest’, is still out-of-bounds to all students, and that magic in the school corridors is not permitted. Secondly, I am pleased to announce that following Professor Vector’s retirement, Professor Longbottom is the new Head of Gryffindor House.”

The Gryffindors erupted into cheering. Neville hadn’t told Al that! Al leant back to see; Neville - Professor Longbottom, he was supposed to call him - was staring intently downwards at his empty cup. His face had gone bright pink.

Thirdly,” Professor McGonagall continued, “as many of you will know, the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year.” Al had known that. He’d just been a little distracted.

“What’s the Triwizard Tournament?” Kitty whispered.

“The Triwizard Tournament is a contest between the three great magical schools of Europe,” McGonagall explained. “Three champions, one each from Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, compete in three trials to ascertain which is the most skilled. The delegations from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons will be arriving on the 27th of October, and the champions will be chosen shortly after their arrival. The Triwizard Tournament is generally considered to be an excellent way of strengthening the ties between our schools and enabling friendships between young witches and wizards of different nationalities; I am therefore sure that you will welcome our foreign friends to Hogwarts, and treat them well while they are here. I regret to tell you, however-”

The corners of her mouth turned sharply downwards.

“-that owing to the difficulties involved in hosting the Tournament, and the extra work that will be required from the teachers-” Her voice almost cracked. “The Quidditch Cup will not be held this year.”

The booing shook the hall, even though everyone should have known that would happen. Al’s mum had told him and James, at least. Al almost cheered - he’d never liked Quidditch - before remembering that might not go over well. Lia was booing and thumping her fists on the table.

“Silence!” Professor McGonagall barked. “I realise that this is upsetting for everyone-” It was probably very upsetting for her. Al knew Professor McGonagall was Quidditch-mad from the sheer number of letters she and his mum wrote to each other about fainting wonkily or something. “-but that is no excuse for this behaviour and it will not be tolerated!” She glared sternly at the entire student body, which obligingly shut up. Professor McGonagall seemed slightly mollified. “I hope that despite this unfortunate news, you will all be able to enjoy your dinner.” She sat down.

Al looked at the table. It was suddenly filled with food - roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, towers of roast and boiled and mashed potatoes, mint humbugs - actually the mint humbugs were a bit strange. Al piled his plate high with sausages and mashed potatoes, drenched it in gravy, and started eating.

“Mrf foof Ffcore, eaff iff!” Faith ordered, wolfing down a Cornish pasty.

“I don’t feel very hungry,” Score said. He was pushing a single roast parsnip around his plate and frowning at it as if it had wronged him in some way. Was what Hagrid had said still bothering him, or was it something else?

“Suiff yourseff,” Faith said, spraying tiny bits of pastry everywhere, and started demolishing a huge pile of roast potatoes. Katrina was putting jam on her peas. That must be a Muggle thing.

Then a paper plane landed point-first in Al’s mashed potatoes. Al watched it apprehensively. It was probably from James, in which case it was going to explode. He picked it out of his food with his knife and fork, set it down in about the middle of the table, and prodded it with his wand.

Nothing happened. So whatever it was would happen when it was read.

Al unfolded the letter with his cutlery, leant back further away from it, and then looked at the writing.

AL YOU NIT

WHAT DID YOU GO AND DO THAT FOR?

THE PARENTS ARE GOING TO BE REALLY MAD AT YOU WHEN I TELL THEM

Al winced. He was sure his dad wouldn’t be mad - his mum might be, though. Al couldn’t be certain, because he didn’t know her as well as he knew his dad. James was probably trying to sneak out to the Owlery to write to them right -

“James Potter, sit down!” Professor McGonagall barked.

-now. Al sighed. Another paper plane landed in the gravy boat. Al salvaged it hurriedly and unfolded it, again with his cutlery.

YOU HAVE BROUGHT SHAME UPON OUR FAMILY

SHAME, AL

I WILL NEVER SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN NOW

That would be nice if James could follow through on it, but - Al couldn’t really be bringing shame upon his family, could he? His dad had said he wouldn’t think any less of Al, but - a sudden terrible thought struck him - if his dad’s colleagues at the Ministry did, would that make his dad look bad? Al twisted his fingers together, took deep breaths and tried not to panic.

Another paper plane landed in the parsnips.

THAT WASN’T EVEN HALF A SECOND

I MEAN IF THE HAT HAD AT LEAST HAD TO THINK ABOUT IT

YOU STUPID NIT AL

Another paper plane almost landed in the casserole dish. Almost, because Lia Rookwood grabbed it out of the air.

“That’s my letter!” Al protested.

Lia unfolded it, raised an eyebrow, and said “Your parents are going to murder you. It’s nice that you got a warning. Many murderers don’t have that sense of courtesy.”

Al made a noise a bit like a wounded hippopotamus.

“And your brother can’t believe what an idiot you are,” she added, and handed it to Grimalkin so he could read it too.

Al sighed and tried to talk to the Slytherins. Score was exactly as vague as he had been on the train. Faith and Kitty were easiest to talk to, even if most of what Faith said was unintelligible and she kept making enthusiastic hand gestures that flung forkfuls of mashed potato everywhere. The feast passed quickly, and when they had all eaten as much as they wanted, Professor McGonagall bid them all good night and one of the older prefects, a tall thin boy with dark hair and hooded dark eyes, led Al and the Slytherins out of the Great Hall down a flight of stairs and into the dungeons.

“You should try to memorise the route now,” he added to them over his shoulder. His voice sounded familiar - Al thought he might have been the one who‘d ordered Lia not to interrogate people. “It’ll save you trouble in the long run.”

“And it will reduce your chances of getting lost and starving to death by up to forty-three percent!” Lia put in cheerfully. Eventually they all stopped in front of a plain stone wall and the prefect at the front said to it, “I fancy a biscuit.”

The wall slid open.

“Avery!” Lia wailed. “What did you do that for?”

“It’s the common room. I wanted to be inside it,” Avery said coolly, stalked in and collapsed into a carved wooden chair by the fire.

“Grimalkin and me were going to pretend we’d forgotten where the common room was,” Lia grumbled, and herded the first-years inside.

The Slytherin common room was long and low-ceilinged, lit with hanging lamps that gave off a murky green light, and stuffed with green leather sofas and carved wooden chairs. Most of the Slytherins left for their dormitories, by a spiral staircase at the end of the common room.

“First-years, a word,” Avery announced from his chair. Lia and Grimalkin stood on either side and grinned identical evil grins.

“We’re not in the mood for the first-year threatening speech, so we’re going to bed,” the other three prefects explained, and headed for the stairs. None of the remaining three seemed particularly surprised by this.

“First, introductions,” the prefect who seemed to be in charge said, steepling his fingers. “I am Benjamin Avery, seventh-year Prefect and Slytherin Quidditch Team Captain-”

“At the same time?” Al asked. Weren’t people only allowed one position?

“We’ve only got one boy in seventh year,” Lia explained. “We tried to convince Oddpick to take a Gender-Switching Potion, but she wouldn’t and Avery said we couldn’t just sneak it into her food.”

“Quiet, Lia,” Avery ordered. “The other seventh-year prefect is Mary Wright. The sixth-year prefects are Zachary Nutcombe and Ingrid Warrington. I wouldn’t recommend using Nutcombe for any purpose other than ‘test subject’; Warrington and Wright are both passable in an emergency. The fifth-year prefects-” he indicated Lia and Grimalkin - “are Aurelia Rookwood and William Grimalkin. If you have a problem, you first take it to the fifth-year prefects, and then when they can’t stop mocking you for long enough to help, consult me.”

“Alternatively, you could save yourself time and just ask Avery straight away,” Lia put in. Avery gave her a look and she hid behind his chair.

“Secondly, the Slytherin passwords are changed by the prefects. Occasionally, when we find it hard to reach a decision, we put it to a general vote.”

“We are under no obligation to tell you when we change the passwords, or to what,” Lia drawled, popping up from behind the chair like a jack-in-the-box.

“Avery probably will anyway. He’s a bit soft,” Grimalkin added. Lia glared at him. Avery ignored them both.

“Now, to more serious matters,” Avery said slowly. “You may attempt to kill as many of your housemates as you like within the common room or, during the holidays, in the privacy of your own homes.”

Al was fairly sure he was joking. It was very hard to tell, though.

“However, as far as the rest of the school is concerned, we will not tolerate anything less than the appearance of total unity, and anyone who disobeys that rule will be thrown to the lions.”

“Or the sharks, or the wolves, or the giant spiders, or any other carnivorous animal we feel like,” Lia completed happily. “Piranhas are fun!”

“That is all. Go to bed,” Avery commanded. “Boys’ dormitories are downstairs, girls’ dormitories are upstairs. Boys should not step onto the girls’ staircase, as the consequences are-”

“Hilarious!” Lia put in.

“-usually fatal,” Avery finished.

Al gulped, and was very careful not to go near the first step up as he and Score went down to their dormitory.

Their room had windows looking out over the lake, which surprised Al for a moment until he realised they must be enchanted, like at the Ministry. There were two four-poster beds with green curtains and green bedspreads, and dark, ancient-looking wooden tables by each one. Al found the one that had his trunk at the foot, changed hurriedly behind the curtains, and crawled into bed.

Al had expected to lie awake for hours, fretting and wondering what he was going to do and when a prefect would come in and decide it would be funny to set him on fire. In reality, he fell asleep within seconds.

Chapter 3: The First Day (dammit rosie, quit sucking)
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Al was still sleepy when he and the Slytherins trailed up to the Great Hall for breakfast the next day, late, so they arrived just as the owl post swept in through the windows in a flurry of feathers. Lia and Grimalkin started handing out class schedules. Avery was busy trying to coax Score into eating some cornflakes. Two owls dropped their letters into Al’s bowl, one a Ministry owl and the letter in his dad’s handwriting. Al opened that one first, hurriedly, praying it wouldn’t turn out to be a cleverly disguised Howler.

Al, I just got a letter from your brother saying you’d been Sorted into Slytherin so I wrote to see if it was true. I told you it didn’t matter to me or your mum which house you were in because we know you’re going to do well. (I don’t think being Sorted into Slytherin magically turns people into Dark Lords.) I hope you aren’t worrying.

If there’s anything I can do

Please write back soon.


It was like a huge weight being taken off his shoulders. Al breathed a great sigh of relief, folded the letter up and tucked it into his robes before opening the second. That one was written on Daily Prophet notepaper, which meant it must be from his mother.

Al, James and Hagrid are telling us you’ve been sorted into Slytherin. We’re not angry, but don’t open anything Uncle George mails you because he’ll just be trying to blow up the Slytherin table. Please write back soon. Love Mum.

Al hoped Hagrid wasn’t too upset; still, even if he was, Hagrid was Al’s godfather and Al didn’t think it would be hard to talk him around. He’d have to go down to his house after the lessons were finished.

The Ministry Owl was waiting for a reply right then, though. Al turned the letter from his mum over, reached for his quill, and realised it was in his trunk in the Slytherin dormitory.

“Er…does anyone have a quill?”

Kitty, who was sitting on his right, offered him a Muggle pen. Al thanked her and took it.

“You look happier today,” Kitty commented, pushing a kipper around her plate with her fork.

“What? Oh, I guess - uh. How are you?” She wasn’t sniffling any more, at least.

“Oh, I’m fine. These kippers are lovely!” Kitty said.

“No, I mean - because yesterday, everyone was-”

“Oh, the booing?” Kitty asked. “I was upset, but Avery explained that as soon as I got here. It was only a few people on each table, using Echo Charms or something. He said someone does it every year and it’s best to ignore them.” She twisted a few strands of hair around one finger. “I suppose it’ll be all right in the end. It’d be a bit of a waste of time worrying, wouldn't it?" She smiled very brightly.

“I guess so," Al agreed, and went back to his letter, hiding the paper with his arms so no-one would see what he was writing.

Sorry Mum and Dad, but James was right.

I kind of wanted to be in Slytherin, though, because of what you said about it being all right, and I have a plan. You said that there were good Slytherins, so I thought it wasn’t fair how people talked about them, and I should try to fix it. So obviously I had to be in Slytherin to do that.


Al thought his dad should be proud of that. He tried to think of something else good to say.

Besides, I met two people I liked to the train - Faith Harper and Scorpius Malfoy - and they were both sorted into Slytherin, and I didn’t want to be in Gryffindor or in a house by myself. The dormitories are nice and most of the Slytherins are friendly. Today I have

Al checked his schedule.

double Potions with the Gryffindors, History of Magic, Herbology with the Ravenclaws and double Charms. So I will see Professor Longbottom and Rosie in class. The prefects are a bit strange but none of them have tried to kill me or anything.

Love Al


A paper plane crash-landed in Faith’s orange juice, and she fished it out and handed it to Al without looking away from her schedule. She was scowling.

AL WAS THAT OWL FROM MUM AND DAD

ARE THEY MAD? THEY SHOULD BE

I AM STILL NEVER TALKING TO YOU AGAIN


Al got up on his knees on the bench and looked over at the Gryffindor table, where he could see his brother, head sunk in his hands, brooding over his toast. After a few seconds James looked up to make sure Al was watching him.

Al decided James probably wasn’t that upset.

* * *


Potions was in the dungeons, in a chilly stone room with ten cauldrons set up in rows. Al was a little apprehensive about it to start with, considering that firstly they were sharing the class with the Gryffindors, and that secondly the Potions teacher was the Slytherin Head of House and James usually described her as a ‘cruel, vicious harpy, swooping down to devour the souls of hapless young students!” which suggested that she might not be very nice.

However, when Professor Hunt arrived five minutes later, munching a piece of toast, she turned out to be a fair-haired, friendly-looking woman in pastel-coloured robes, which wasn’t very frightening. After she’d taken the register, she wrote out instructions for an acne-curing potion on the board, showed the students where the ingredients were kept, and paired the class off. All the Slytherins were put with a Gryffindor. Al was paired with a girl named Messalina Sheppard, who had put her hair into five hundred tiny braids all the way down to her waist. Al hoped she’d done that with magic rather than by hand.

Most of the Gryffindors were glaring at them. Al tried to ignore that.

“Do you know much about Potions?” Al asked, trying to be friendly. Messalina, returning from the store-cupboard with three Purgaris beans and an ounce of foul-smelling Bubotuber pus, shook her head.

“I read Magical Draughts and Potions and it didn’t seem too complicated, so I probably missed something,” Al said. Messalina scowled and measured out armadillo bile as Professor Hunt passed by, glanced at their potion, and said with a smile, “Very good, Potter, Sheppard. Keep it up.”

Just in front of them, the Gryffindor boy Kitty had been paired with - Genesis Borden? -  suddenly turned to her and said in a very hostile tone “I’m Muggleborn, you know.”

“Me too!” Kitty said. “Do you think quills are weird as well? I brought fifty biros with me so I’d never have to use one.”

Probably-Genesis-Borden looked a bit shocked. Al grinned, added the dandelion roots and nettles to his cauldron and stirred it counter-clockwise fifteen times, like it said on the board. Not much seemed to be happening. Messalina was boiling the Bubotuber pus and armadillo bile together. That didn’t seem to be doing much either. Kitty and Probably-Genesis-Borden had stopped work altogether and were negotiating a biro swap.

“Wait. Is that supposed to be happening?” Messalina asked. Al looked. Her copper flask was belching brown, soupy fog.

“I don’t know,” Al said, and called across the room, “Professor, is that supposed to be happening?”

Professor Hunt nodded to them from across the room and smiled happily. That was reassuring, Al thought, as he sliced a dozen porcupine quills into tiny pieces.

Messalina slammed her beaker down suddenly and demanded, “Do you even care that you’ve broken your brother’s heart?” Al’s hand slipped and cut an inch-deep gash into the table.

“…I don’t think I have,” Al said, trying to sound as calm as possible. “He gets very melodramatic sometimes. Mostly when he wants attention.” He picked the flask up with his pair of metal tongs. “Can you hold out that gauze for me?”

“He said your parents were going to plunge into despair and melancholy and commit ritual suicide,” Messalina told him sulkily.

“When they wrote to me this morning they said they were fine,” Al said, thought about it and added, “And also that if James started getting dramatic I should ignore him until he stopped doing it.”

Messalina just made a noise like ‘hmf’ and glowered.

“That’s good,” Professor Hunt said suddenly, making them both jump. She didn’t notice their reactions, though, because she’d already moved on to Kitty and Probably-Genesis-Borden, who had stopped chatting and gone back to their potion as soon as the teacher had arrived. Professor Hunt watched them for a few seconds, took Kitty’s biro out of her hand, and left for the store cupboard.

“Did she just steal my pen?” Kitty said blankly.

“I think so,” Al said, frowning. Professor Hunt was head of Slytherin. Having a kleptomaniac for their head of house would make Al’s plan more difficult.

“That’s crazy,” Messalina announced decisively. Professor Hunt returned from the store cupboard carrying a quill and inkpot, placed them on the table next to Kitty, and turned to move on.

“Professor?” Kitty asked timidly. “Can I have my biro back? They’re just easier to write with than quills, so-”

Professor Hunt looked at Kitty blankly and said “In this class you will use a quill.” Then she moved on without a single backwards look. Kitty made a small miserable noise.

“Our prefects told us she was a cow,” Messalina said, a little smugly.

“You have to use a quill in the exams,” Al pointed out to Kitty. “Maybe she just wants you to get some practise and she’s not very good with people?” Lots of Aurors weren’t good with people and nobody minded, at least so long as they didn’t go crazy and start gibbering and setting fire to the office like Auror Philpott did two years ago.

After another fifteen minutes, the potion was finished and had turned clear as glass. Professor Hunt was pacing around the room again, patiently checking everyone’s work.  Faith and the Gryffindor boy she had been working with hadn’t done well at all. Professor Hunt prodded the burnt black mess at the bottom their cauldron with her wand. It went ‘glop’.

“Harper, Lassiter,” Professor Hunt said slowly, scooping up a tiny quantity in a little spoon and staring at it, “In future please follow the instructions on the board. Five points each from Slytherin and Gryffindor.” Faith kicked the table leg.

On the bright side, Professor Hunt declared Al and Messalina’s potion the best in the class and awarded them fifteen points each before returning to the blackboard. The list of instructions was already erasing itself. Professor Hunt picked up the blackboard pointer and turned slowly to face the class.

“Now. Theory.”

One very complicated hour later, Al and the Slytherins were climbing out of the dungeons with headaches and a six-inch essay to do on the uses of Dirigible Plums, which was odd because no-one had so much as mentioned them during the lesson. Faith was looking over her schedule and frowning.

"Um. Faith," Kitty said. "Losing house points... that's bad, right?" She chewed anxiously at the skin around her thumbnail.

“I know, I know, I’ll make it up in Charms, I swear,” Faith said, packing her schedule back into her bag.

“...the next lessons are History of Magic and Herbology,” Score pointed out.

“I know,” Faith said, in a very James-like voice of despair.

History of Magic turned out to be the most boring lesson Al had ever sat through, including Health and Safety Hour at his Muggle primary school. Professor Binns came in through the blackboard, which made Kitty shriek, and started to lecture in a thin, reedy voice about goblin uprising in the seventeenth century.

Al and the Slytherins stared at him for a few minutes, then three of them realised they should have started taking notes and dived for their bags. Faith sat and stared at him blankly, head tilted to one side, mouth hanging open, forehead creased in bemusement. Score leant over and placed a scroll underneath her right hand and a quill in it. This had no apparent effect. Score thumped her on the arm.

“Ow!”

Faith and Score had a brief conversation in gesture and mime, which ended in him shoving his desk closer to hers and putting his notes where she could see them. Al struggled to pick names and dates out of the high-pitched monotone, while Kitty had clearly given up and was just reading the textbook.

Professor Binns didn’t seem to notice any of this.

Lunch wasn’t much better. At first, everything had been going perfectly normally. Al had been eating a sausage and looking through One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi. Score had been staring sourly at a chip, Lia was reading to the whole table from a book entitled Famous Slytherins, Kitty was covering her fried tomatoes with ketchup and Faith had gone over to the Hufflepuff table, where she was chattering at Lew.

Then Grimalkin had turned to Avery and said, “Do you think it’s odd that we haven’t seen His Bloodiness yet this year?”

“No,” said Avery, who was carefully constructing a chip butty.

Then Al felt a sudden sharp coldness, like someone dropping ice cubes down his robes, all along his left arm. He recoiled and looked up automatically. The Bloody Baron loomed over him.

Al cannoned sideways into Kitty, who shrieked and clutched at him. The Bloody Baron stared down at them, grim and gaunt, his robes stained with translucent blood and his eyes like black tunnels.

“He’s our house ghost, Cook. I sincerely doubt that he’s going to kill you,” Score said, not looking up from his chip.

“That’s true. We have no records of the Bloody Baron ever killing anyone,” Grimalkin said.

“He’s covered in blood!” Kitty wailed.

“Don’t leap to conclusions, Cook,” Lia ordered. “For all we know, he died from tripping over in a slaughterhouse.” She went back to her book.

Kitty buried her face in Al’s shoulder and said, “Tell me when he’s gone.” The Bloody Baron watched them for a few seconds, then shifted his gaze to Score, who defiantly ate his chip. Then he vanished.

“He can be invisible?” Al asked faintly. “So he could have been there for ages?”

“An amount of time, certainly,” Grim said. “Look on the bright side. He might have gone now!”

Kitty made a miserable noise but finally let go of her deathgrip on Al’s robes.

“I didn’t think ghosts would bother you so much,” Al said to her. It must be a Muggleborn thing.

“The ghosts are creepy,” Kitty explained miserably into Al’s shoulder. Al didn’t think the ghosts were as bad as the Thestrals. Thestrals might actually eat people.

“And then obviously there’s Voldemort,” Lia finished, snapping the book shut. “He’s not in there, though. It’s focused more on non-evil alumni.”

“None of us want to emulate Voldemort, though,” a third-year pointed out. “I think you forgot the purpose of the talk.”

“You don’t?”

“Well, I don’t,” said the third-year. “Everyone here who wants to be Voldemort when they grow up, raise your hand.”

“Why not?” Lia asked. “Powerful, intelligent, internationally feared, well-read - mind you, I can’t endorse him as a role model whole-heartedly because I have no idea what his dress sense was like, but in most respects he seems all right. I think everyone here should strive to be as much like Voldemort as possible, without the mass murder.” She glanced sideways at Avery, who was contemplating his chip butty and didn’t seem to be paying attention. Al and most of the Slytherins stared at her.

“Well, I have to discourage you from mass murder, don’t I? It’s in the prefect guidelines.” Lia looked at them like they were all a bit thick. Avery added some pepper to his chip butty and continued gazing at it meditatively. Faith bounded back to the Slytherin table, grinning like a lunatic.

“You look happy,” Al said. “What happened?”

“Talked to Lew,” Faith said, jerked a thumb back over her shoulder at him, and grabbed a Cornish pasty. Al looked over at the Hufflepuff table. One of their prefects was leaning over the table to speak to Lew and scowling. Lew was nodding. Al watched them with a vague sense of apprehension until Lew turned around and called, “Faith?”

“Mrf?”

“Are you going to the library after classes?”

Faith nodded and made affirmative noises through her Cornish pasty.

“I’ll meet you there, then,” Lew said, and went back to his soup. The prefect made a frustrated gesture and put her head in her hands. Al would have liked to have gone over and talked to him, but that was when they realised they had to leave to get down to Greenhouse One before Herbology. Al was looking forward to Herbology, mostly because he’d get to talk to Rosie.





Greenhouse One was locked when they got down there, though, and the Ravenclaws were all milling around outside. Al looked through the glass to see if Neville was inside, but all he could see was a long, sunlit room full of colourful plants - well, colourful plants and Neville’s Mimbulus Mimbletonia on the corner of his desk.

Rosie was standing exactly in the middle of the Ravenclaws. Al dashed over to her and opened his mouth to say Hi.

“Professor Longbottom’s coming,” Rosie said, pointing.

“Hello!” Neville – Professor Longbottom, Al corrected himself - greeted them, with a smile for Rosie and Al. Al waved. “We’re not going into the greenhouse today. If you’ll follow me?”

They all followed him over the lawns, towards the Forbidden Forest. Al was a bit worried about that, until Nev – Professor Longbottom stopped them all at the top of a small hill, looking down towards a willow tree in the hollow.

“Could everyone move until they can see the tree clearly?” Professor Neville asked, taking a rock out of his bag. He was eyeing the tree thoughtfully. It was the same sort of look Al’s dad had when he was thinking about range and blast radiuses.

Al took several steps backwards, but managed to stay next to Rosie anyway.

“Shouldn’t you go stand with the Slytherins? You want to make friends with your housemates, don’t you?” she whispered.

“Well, yeah, but I wanted to talk to-”

Rosie hissed at him, because Professor Neville had started talking.

“A lot of people think the only point to Herbology is to grow Potions ingredients. That’s not true. Herbology’s very interesting by itself, really – and it’s useful, because lots of magical plants can be dangerous when you don’t know what you’re dealing with. Like this one.”

He flung the rock at the willow tree, and it vanished through the slender hanging leaves. Then the tree exploded into motion, heavy boughs swinging like fists and the thin branches lashing about wildly. Kitty squeaked, and Faith flung an arm around her shoulders.

“We’re completely safe up here,” Professor Neville said reassuringly. “It’d be very stupid to go closer than this, though. A student here once lost an eye trying to get close enough to touch the trunk.”

Kitty made a noise that sounded sort of like 'eep'.

“Up here we’re completely safe, though,” Professor Neville said, much more loudly and with a worried glance in Kitty’s direction. Faith and Score looked like they were taking good care of her, though.

“Anyway...um...” Professor Neville seemed to lose his thread of thought for a second. “The Whomping Willow – that’s its name – is a good example of the reasons why magical modification of plants is illegal in England. We will be working with species that have been altered in the past, but trying to do it yourselves is against the law.”

Faith made a grumpy face.

“More to the point,” Professor Neville said, and opened his bag to show that it was full of stones. “Would anyone like to throw a rock at a tree?”

As they gathered around to pick a rock, Al tried to speak to Rosie but she just hissed at him.

“Albus, be quiet, I’m trying to work!” Work at what? Selecting a pebble? Al knew Rosie was a bit of a perfectionist, but he hadn’t thought she was that bad.

“Rosie, do you not want to talk to me or something?”

Rosie made an exasperated noise. “Albus, I’m not ignoring you. I just want to do well at this!” She threw a rock down at the Whomping Willow, which creaked and tried to knock the rock out of the air.

“All right,” Al said. “Do you want to meet up in the library after classes?” He picked a rock out of the bag at random and retreated.

“I already planned to study with my housemates,” Rosie answered. That was disappointing, but Al supposed she just wanted to get to know the other people in her house and if she had plans already, it would be bad manners to break them.

“…Do you want to go to the library tomorrow evening, then?” Al asked, tossing the rock up and down in his hand.

“Albus, shouldn’t you be trying to make friends with your housemates?” Rosie asked, watching the Whomping Willow. It seemed to have realised somehow where all the rocks were coming from, and was straining its branches towards them. “We can spend lots of time together over the holidays, so we should both focus on making friends with-” She trailed off, because Al was staring at her. “It’s just that – you remember, Professor Flitwick said that our houses would be like our families here, so-”

“I’m your first cousin. How are they more your family than me?” Al said, a little louder than he’d meant to. He remembered the Hufflepuff prefect. “Do you just not want to be friends with me any more?” Kitty and Faith looked up. So did some of the Ravenclaws.

“Of course not!” Rosie protested. “I mean - I just think we should be spending more time with our housemates, and you should be able to manage without me now anyway so-”

Rosie was probably right. She usually was. Al should get to know his housemates, and obviously if he was spending all his time with the Slytherins then he couldn’t hang out with -  No. He walked away.

“Albus!” Rosie gasped. He glanced back. She was standing with one hand over her mouth, just staring at him. The Ravenclaw girl next to her leant over and whispered into her ear. Al plunked himself down on the grass next to Faith.

He should have seen that coming, really. Rosie liked to fit into a group.

For several seconds Faith just stared at Rosie, mouth open. Then she shook her head and called Rosie an extremely rude word. Kitty squeaked.

“What a cow. You’re better off without her, Potter.” She tossed a rock from hand to hand like she was considering bouncing it off Rosie’s skull.

“Um,” Kitty said. “It’s only the first day. Maybe she just doesn’t want to upset her housemates on her first day? And she’ll relax later?” She glanced up at Faith, saw her indignant expression, and hurriedly apologized.

“Malfoy, it’s your turn to be supportive,” Faith said to Score, and elbowed him in the ribs.

“I don’t know either party very well, so I would rather refrain from commenting,” Score said, apparently completely absorbed in his rock.

“This vague noncommittal rubbish is getting really dull, Malfoy,” Faith said. Al gave them all a weak smile.

After that, Herbology passed mostly in silence. Rosie glanced down to where Al was sitting a couple of times, but the boy on her right distracted her quickly each time. Al tried to concentrate on Professor Neville’s lecture on intelligence in plants, but it didn’t help much. The only bright spot was when Neville came around after taking the register, when they were out of rocks and the tree had settled down, and murmured to him “Don’t worry about Rosie. Ten points to Slytherin.” Unfortunately, immediately after that he deducted five points from Faith for getting careless and nearly braining a Ravenclaw with a stray rock, so it didn’t cheer him up very much.

Al trailed behind his housemates, lost in thought, as they headed back up to the castle. He hadn’t thought he would have to do it without Rosie. But…he hadn’t told her about his plan, had he? He knew she would only have tried to talk him out of it. Rosie liked to fit in, and she would have hated that he was doing anything out of the ordinary. That was why he hadn’t told her he didn’t want to be in Gryffindor.

Al bit his lip. He didn’t know if he even could convince Rosie to be friends with him again. And he wasn’t sure that he even wanted to.


 



 

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Chapter 4: Defence Against The Dark Arts ("Quick! Jump out the window!")
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Disclaimer: Some of the people in this chapter don't belong to me. Most of these people belong to J K Rowling. Some of them belong to random people off the forums, though. Violetta Harbringer is the property of DeaVanity. Dan Gunn belongs to the esteeméd Scooterbug8515. Shayna Cohen belongs to Raielle. Matthew Kennedy and Matthew Kennedy's sister belong to a certain person. Let's see if you can work out who.

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Charms was taught by Professor Flitwick, the tiny, ancient man who’d overseen their Sorting, and who had to stand on a pile of books to see over the desk.

“Professor Flitwick?” Faith asked. “How come you’re standing on a pile of books instead of on a stepladder?”

Professor Flitwick laughed until the corners of his eyes creased up. “Because they’re such terrible books! It keeps them out of the library!” He was still chuckling softly five minutes later as he told them all about Charms, and then set them to propelling squares of paper across their desks with Mobilius.

Half an hour in, Al and Score had both managed to propel their paper a few inches across the desk.Kitty was still trying to get the hang of swishing and flicking. Faith had surprised everyone by sending her paper skidding off the end of the table on her second go, and had earned twenty points for Slytherin. Professor Flitwick was just trying to convince her to join the Charms Club when Al noticed that there was a Ministry owl perching on the windowsill, hooting and tapping its beak on the glass to get his attention.

“Professor, may I-”

“By all means, Albus!”

Al let the owl in and took the letter.

Al, are you sure that’s the best thing you could be doing?



Al clapped his hand over his mouth. He had to be doing the right thing!

You should be working and trying to make friends, not setting out on some epic quest to make everyone love Slytherin. Al, I don’t want you to get yourself into anything you can’t handle.



Dad didn’t think he could handle it? Al bet Dad wouldn’t be telling James he couldn’t handle things.

Can you just concentrate on settling in and making friends for now?

I told your Uncle Ron an hour ago. He said Blimey and went into a state of shock. We had to drag your Aunt Hermione in to sort him out. She thinks we’re making a big fuss over nothing.

If James is being a pain, just ignore him and he’ll stop doing it. Be careful with Scorpius Malfoy, because his father and I never got on and he might have a grudge. If any of the Slytherins are gits to you, they aren’t worth being friends with. Work hard and listen to Rosie. She won’t let you go wrong.

Dad.



But Rosie wasn’t even talking to him! Al spent the rest of the lesson feeling sick and panicky and unable to focus, and as soon as Professor Flitwick dismissed the lesson he ran for the Owlery. Once he was there, he yanked out a scrap of parchment and his quill and scrawled,

Dad, you told me it was cowardly to let other people do bad things. And you said it was wrong to know the right thing to do and not to do it. Why isn’t the right thing always the best thing to do?



He found his owl snoozing next to Rosie’s, prodded her until she woke up, and sent her off with the letter tied around her leg. He watched her dwindle to a speck on the horizon and vanish, and then he sat down under the window and tried to concentrate on breathing calmly. It didn’t work. Al jumped up and paced around the Owlery, tiny bones cracking under his shoes, trying to ignore the sick twisting in his stomach.

Then another Ministry owl burst into the room, circled Al’s head, and dropped a letter at his feet. Across the envelope was written, in his dad’s handwriting, DON’T PANIC. Al scooped it up hastily and tore it open.

I thought the first letter would have given you the wrong impression - Don’t get me wrong, Al, I think it’s good of you to want to help, but I don’t want you to get yourself into trouble. Don’t tell anyone about your plan, work hard, and try to make friends. Dad.



Al sat down hard on the floor and breathed out, more relieved even than when his dad had said it was okay that he was in Slytherin. He read the letter through again - working hard, making friends and staying out of trouble - that had been Al’s plan all along, though, to make friends and do well in class. Become a Prefect, maybe - that ought to make his dad proud, as well.  And he’d never meant to tell people about his idea - people went all funny and suspicious when they knew you had a plan about them, even if it was a nice one.

Al read both letters through again - he hadn’t wanted to upset Uncle Ron, but he was sure Ron would be fine really - and if Score’s dad hadn’t liked his dad, maybe Score wasn’t just shy after all? Al would have to try harder to make friends with him.

Feeling much better, Al stood up, tucked the letters from his dad into his robe, and got out some parchment to write to Hagrid. Then he remembered that he’d just sent his owl to London. He’d just walk down to Hagrid’s hut, then. It took Al about half an hour to find his way down to the entrance hall from the Owlery. He thought a staircase or two had changed around on him, and a door had opened out somewhere it usually didn’t, or maybe Al just wasn’t very good at finding his way around.

When Al finally got down to Hagrid’s hut and knocked on the door, Hagrid flung it open and stared down at Al, who hurriedly stuck his foot in the door so that when Hagrid slammed the door shut - Al screamed. The door burst open again and hit the wall.

“Al! Yeh all righ’?”

Al fell down, clutched his foot, and stared up at Hagrid, letting his lower lip wobble a bit and his eyes get huge and miserable. Hagrid scooped him up, carried him into the cabin, and set him down on one of the chairs, then started pulling Al’s shoe off. Hagrid’s boarhound Spike sidled up to them looking for attention.

“’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Al said in a sad voice, scratching Spike’s ears. His foot did hurt, but he’d been wearing sturdy shoes and he thought the results had been worth it.

Hagrid snorted, yanked off Al’s sock, and glared at the deep red crease that had appeared in the side of Al’s foot just below the big toe. He prodded it.

“Ow!” Al said.

“’s fine,” Hagrid grunted. “Prob’ly won’ even bruise.” He stood up and put Al’s foot down, and went to the kettle.

“I’m sorry, Hagrid, I didn’t mean to ignore you at the Feast,” Al said forlornly. “I was just distracted.” He wondered if he should start sniffling. Al had been able to cry on command since he was seven, but he didn’t want to overdo it.

“Dunno what yeh were thinkin’,” Hagrid said to the kettle, “Bein’ Sorted inter Slytherin, Al. I was countin’ on yeh bein’ in Gryffindor, reckoned James could keep an eye on yeh there-” In the sense that James would be watching intently as he shoved him out of a Gryffindor Tower window, Al thought.

“It’s not too bad,” Al pointed out. “I’m doing well, and I made some new friends - besides,” he added, producing the first letter from his dad from inside his robes, “Dad said he didn’t mind.”

“He did, did he?” Hagrid said grumpily, pouring out two massive mugs of tea and grabbing a rock cake from the cake tin. He dumped the tea and the rock cake in front of Al, took the letter and read it through. Al broke pieces off the rock cakes and dunked them in the tea until they were soft enough to eat.

Hagrid sighed and put the letter down. Al retrieved it hurriedly and tucked it back into his robes.

“Well, if yer dad don’ mind-” Hagrid suddenly sounded much less annoyed. “Dunno what tha’ ruddy Hat was thinkin’, though.” And then, much more seriously, “Al, yeh’d bes’ keep away from that Malfoy.” People kept telling Al to avoid Scorpius Malfoy. Al thought that would be hard considering that they shared a dormitory and all their classes. “Nasty pieces o’ work, the lot of ‘em, summat in the blood-” He shook his massive shaggy head and sighed. Al wondered exactly how nasty a piece of work Score Malfoy was, on a scale of one to Voldemort. He would have to find out. If he was going to make everyone like Slytherin, he’d have to know which of them were especially unlikeable.

“An’ that Professor Hun’,” Hagrid added gloomily. He looked like he was itching to add some Firewhiskey to his tea. “Shouldn’ be tellin’ yeh this, Al-” Hagrid tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially “- but tha’ Professor Hun’ is a bit peculiar.” He leant back in his chair, which creaked unsettlingly, and took a swig of his tea. Al thought about that - if Professor Hunt was a bit peculiar, at least she was friendly. And Hagrid would have mentioned it straight away if she hated Muggleborns and wanted to use them as potions ingredients, so she wasn’t a problem like it would be if Score turned out to be evil. So he had to ask about Score first.

“How exactly are the Malfoys nasty pieces of work?” Al asked. Hagrid eyed him doubtfully for a second, then launched into a long story about how Score’s father had provoked a Hippogriff in a Care of Magical Creatures lesson and been injured, and then Score’s grandfather had tried to have Hagrid sacked and the Hippogriff executed but then Al’s dad had fixed everything heroically, as was traditional. Al wasn’t sure how exactly Score’s granddad is a git + Score’s dad is a git = Score is a git, because his dad was always very clear about not judging people by their families or blood status, but he didn’t want to start another argument with Hagrid when he’d just fixed the last one. Besides, by then it was a quarter to six and Al had to go back to the castle or he’d miss dinner. Al  said goodbye, hugged Hagrid, and set off back to the Slytherin common room to get rid of his book bag.

Grimalkin, who had been sitting on the arm of Avery’s chair watching him write an essay, looked Al up and down as he came in and muttered something to Avery.

“Potter, why are you limping?” Avery said, without looking up.

“A door closed on my foot,” Al told them. Luckily, he didn’t have to elaborate because just then Faith burst in, singing loudly, informed Slytherin house as a whole that she was a rocking ship on a collision course with Mars, a satellite out of control, a sex machine ready to reload, and was going to explode like an alligator. Then she vanished up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.

“Permission to ban Harper from general votes?” Grimalkin asked.

“Permission not granted,” Avery said, and pointed his wand at Al’s foot. “Episkey!”

Al kicked the air experimentally, felt the difference, and said “Er, thank you.” Avery had already gone back to his essay.

“Faith?” Al called up the girls’ stairs, while being very careful not to go near them. “Can I talk to you?”

Faith flung herself back down the steps and demanded, “You know the Muggle Queen? She’s old and wears a lot of hats?”

Score Malfoy, lying face-down on a sofa nearby, made a sudden movement which caught Al’s attention. He’d clenched his fists. Did Score not like the Muggles’ Queen?

“Did you know she used to be in a band?” Faith continued without noticing. “In the seventies and eighties. Yeah, her and this guy called Freddie Mercury grew their hair really long and played guitars and sang all these amazing songs? Lew knows all of them. But then Freddie Mercury died of something so she quit, I guess she was depressed or something. Also she wrote this song about how she used to kill people with guillotines.” Kitty started to giggle, hands pressed over her mouth to muffle it. Faith blithely ignored her. “Anyway what did you want to say?”

“I was wondering if I could come and study with you and Lew at some point,” Al said.

“Sure, tomorrow’s fine.” Oh. That had been easy.

“Also if Professor Flitwick told you when Charms Club is.”

“Wednesdays before dinner,” Faith said promptly. “I’m not going, though. I can practise Charms in the common room and the bonus there is no-one will be like-” She flung her hands out wide and made a comically surprised face. “‘Bwargh! Snake!’ Why?”

“I wanted to go,” Al said, and then lied, “To learn interesting new Charms.”

“We have a device for that, Potter,” Grimalkin said. “It’s called a book. There are large numbers of them in the library.”

“I thought about going too,” Kitty volunteered, kneeling up to look at them all over the back of a sofa. “But I didn’t want to go by myself, so-”

“You won’t be by yourself, we’ll go together,” Al said, pleased to have that settled.

“I’ll come too,” Score said abruptly, still face-down on the sofa.

“Well if you three are going, I’ll come with,” Faith said. “In case something funny happens to you that I wouldn’t want to miss."

“Six o’clock,” Avery informed them all, a bit unnecessarily, and led them up to the Great Hall for dinner. Dinner was delicious. In general, Al thought, his first day had gone pretty well.

* * *

Faith was almost literally bouncing off the walls when they left Transfiguration the next day, because she’d been the best at turning a matchstick into a needle - it wasn’t perfect, since though it was the exact shape of a needle it was still made of wood - and earned fifteen points for Slytherin. Al was pretty sure Faith was the only one who’d understood the complicated theory talk Professor Rabnott had given them, as well. She’d nodded and scrawled notes and asked questions until Professor Rabnott had gotten fed up and just given her a list of books to read, while Kitty doodled over her notes and the rest of them struggled to keep up.

When they got to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the professor - Professor Brand, according to the schedule - was waiting for them just inside the door, leaning against a huge wooden crate. Al knew a bit about Professor Brand, because he was James’s favourite teacher in the whole world. He’d been an Auror until he’d lost his wand arm fighting a serial killer of some sort, and then Neville had suggested he start teaching. So logically, he shouldn’t have been very frightening. Al knew Aurors and he liked most of them, and Neville wouldn’t have suggested he become a teacher if he was secretly evil.

On the other hand, there wasn’t any other way of putting it: Professor Brand was very unsettling. He didn’t say anything as they filed past him into the classroom, just stared at them all, examining Al and Score Malfoy particularly, like he thought they might be a problem. Al looked away from the stare automatically and realised that there was no furniture, not even chairs. Where were they supposed to sit?

Professor Brand broke the silence by slamming his right hand down suddenly on the crate. Al and the other Slytherins all jumped. The crate started to buzz like a wasps’ nest.

“This box is full of Doxies,” he informed them all, in a broad Welsh accent.

“Um, what are-” Kitty started.

“Doxies,” Professor Brand said, much louder, and Kitty ducked her head apologetically, “also known as Biting Fairies, are a type of Dark Creature classed as XXX by the Ministry of Magic. The XXX rating means that any competent wizard should be able to handle them.”

Suddenly Al had a very bad feeling about this. Professor Brand waved his wand and four spray bottles full of a black liquid popped up from behind the crate and dropped onto the lid.

“These spray bottles are full of Doxycide. One squirt should paralyze them. Since Doxies are poisonous,” Professor Brand continued, “you should get to the Hospital Wing within ten minutes of being bitten to avoid serious damage. It takes around fifty Doxy bites to kill a fully-grown wizard.”

Al’s bad feeling got worse.

“That's all,” Professor Brand said, took three steps to the door and pointed his wand at the crate. “Alohomora!” The lid burst open, the spray bottles crashed to the floor, a cloud of Doxies rose buzzing from the crate, and the door slammed shut behind their professor. Kitty shrieked and dived behind Score, who pointed his wand at the window and shouted “Adaperius!” The window swung open silently just as the Doxies dived, between them and the Doxycide -

Al froze up. He couldn’t think, he couldn’t move, and Kitty let out one high piercing scream, and then the swarm was on them. It was like being caught in a sudden hailstorm. A hailstorm with teeth.

“Out the window!” Score shouted, backing towards it and hitting out with his book bag at the swarm. “Cook, move!”

 Kitty just shrieked even louder and the swarm whirled around them like a cyclone, darting in to snap at exposed skin. Al tried to swat away the Doxies roiling around him, but there were too many of them and they were far too fast - Faith leapt onto the window ledge dragging Kitty with her and shoved her out the window.

“Jump, Harper!” Score yelled. She didn’t jump. She dashed back across the room, with her eyes screwed shut and her arms over her face, grabbed Al, and started hauling him towards the window, and suddenly Al could move his feet and was running with her. Score was casting fire spells to clear the air around the window, and for a second Al could smell burning meat before Faith dragged him up onto the windowsill and shoved him, hard.

The ground hurt a lot when it hit him.

Faith landed next to him and yanked her robes off over her head, spitting curses.  “There’s one in my robe still-” She kicked at her robe until the Doxy flew up with its teeth bared, just as Score dropped to the ground.

Petrificus Totalus!” Faith barked. The Doxy stiffened up and dropped like a stone.

“We can’t stand around here. Hospital wing,” Score ordered breathlessly, and Al could see that Score was furious; he had gone stark white and his eyes had narrowed to slits.  The Doxies didn’t seem interested in following them once they’d left the classroom, though. Al thought that was a bit - Then Al noticed suddenly that his hands were covered in bite marks, and held them up to the light to see them better. Kitty had both of her hands pressed over her eyes. That wasn’t going to help her see anything.

Score led them all around to the front door and up the stairs. The stairs were very hard to climb today, and Al had to concentrate on each step. His head felt light and fuzzy, like it was full of Pygmy Puffs, and his hands were itching. Professor Brand was still leaning against the door to the DADA classroom, but he came towards them when he saw them coming up the stairs.

“Congratulations on your speedy exit,” he greeted them cheerfully. Al thought he should be upset about that, but he couldn’t exactly remember why.

Faith rasped something incoherent at him. She was having trouble standing up; she braced herself against the wall and stared slightly to the left of Professor Brand’s head. “You stupid git - stupid git, with a, a stupid face and…” She swayed and lurched forward, one hand raised and in a fist. Score caught the back of her robe, but Al wasn’t sure whether it was to stop her falling or stop her attacking the teacher.

“Twenty points from Slytherin for insulting a professor, and ten for profanity,” Professor Brand said cheerfully. Faith snarled. “Your homework is a foot-long essay on Doxies. The hospital wing is just down the corridor.”

The matron, Madam Zeller, hurried out of her office carrying several jars of mustard-yellow Doxy antidote as soon as they came in. Score was towing Faith behind him because she couldn’t seem to walk in a straight line; her eyes had gone huge and unfocused, and she was whispering soft disconnected sentences and profanity to herself.

“Brand’s class?” Madam Zeller asked, gesturing for them to sit down on one of the beds. They nodded. “Third group today. Don’t know what he’s thinking.”

She  applied the antidote to all of them, with enthusiasm and, as far as Al could tell through the fog, a trowel, and once she’d smeared the stuff liberally over a bite on Score’s left ear she vanished back into the office and reappeared carrying a huge orange bottle.

“Umble’s Brain Unfuzzer. Half a cup each, that’ll do. Drink it quickly. Then lie down until the lunch bell.” She poured out glasses of it for all of them and started back to her office, then stopped dead suddenly and spun on her heel. “What year are you?”

“First,” Kitty said miserably, curled up on a bed with her face in the pillow.

“Hm. Last ones were third-years,” Madam Zeller said, and disappeared into her office.

Al rested his head on the pillow and tried to figure that one out. His head felt better. Like it had been full of cobwebs, and then someone had shown up with a thing that got rid of cobwebs, and then used it. Faith had gone from murmuring to talking angrily, but she still wasn’t making much sense.

That had been awful, how he’d behaved. He’d never been any good at duelling or anything, like that, even though his dad had wasted ages trying to teach him and practising spells with him. James was brilliant at it, obviously; Al just panicked and fell down things or off things and broke his elbows. All Al was good at was talking to people, which wasn’t much use. No-one ever defeated a Dark Lord by talking at him. Al rolled over, face in the pillow, and tried not to think about that.

He was pretty certain Professor Brand had set the Doxies on them because they were in Slytherin. Why would a professor want to do that?  He knew lots of students didn’t like them, but he wouldn’t have thought a professor would - Al swallowed. There was nothing to worry about. His dad would never let one stupid DADA professor scare him. It was just another reason why Al was doing the right thing. Besides, he had much more important things to think about than one stupid professor.

Al turned his head to look at the others. Kitty was curled up with her eyes closed, and he thought she might be trying to sleep. Score Malfoy was lying in the bed next to his, staring at the ceiling.

“Are you all right?” Al asked.

Score turned to look at him and smiled pleasantly. “I’m fine. Thank you for asking.” Al found that hard to believe. Besides, it was far too friendly considering how distant Score usually was. Surely someone who was just shy wouldn’t be faking like that?  It was very annoying, Al thought, how Score could be clever and talented and good-looking and competent and generally the perfect person to help Al with his plan, and so obviously not like him.

When  they stumbled into the Great Hall for lunch twenty minutes later, Grim inspected them and said “You all seem a tad covered in goop. That’s rarely a good sign. Why is that?”

Faith immediately started off on a long furious tirade about Professor Brand and his gitness and jackassery while spooning mashed potato onto her plate. Avery silenced her with a gesture.

“Is that Doxy antidote?”

“Professor Brand set a box of Doxies on us,” Kitty said. She was sniffling. “So we had to jump out of the window, and then we had to go to the Hospital wing and - and then he gave us homework to do on getting attacked by Doxies and - and I think my book bag is still in the classroom and-”

Faith swore and threw her fork down. “She’s bloody right, we left our stuff there! It’s probably crawling with Doxies by now!”

Avery got up and left.

“Doxies are horrible little toerags,” Lia agreed. “We ran into a swarm while we were exploring Avery’s house over the summer. Of course, we hadn’t taken any Doxycide with us so we all ran screaming like tiny girls. Except Avery. He ran screaming like a man.”

“Professor Brand doesn’t like Slytherin,” Grimalkin explained a bit unnecessarily. “He fought in the Battle of Hogwarts back in 1998 and it seems to have left him with something of a grudge.”

“Battle of Hogwarts?” Kitty asked, and Faith started trying to explain the entire Second Wizarding War to her through a mouthful of peas and apparently in mime.

“What should I do about it?” Al asked.

“Ignore him,” Grimalkin suggested. “It won’t stop him, but it’ll seriously get on his nerves.”

“We’ll have to gag Harper, then,” Score said, pushing a chip in circles around his plate. Faith made a rude gesture at him, but in a friendly sort of way. Al wasn’t sure exactly how she did that.

 Any trouble with the Doxies?” Grimalkin asked Avery, as he returned and dumped the first-years’ book bags on the table.

“No. I killed most of them. Hopefully he needed the swarm for another lesson,” Avery said. Al and the other first-year Slytherins immediately showered him with thanks and praise, since that seemed to be what was expected of them.

* * *

When Faith and Al got to the library after lessons, Lew was already waiting for them at a table near, but not too near, the other first-year Hufflepuffs. He raised one hand in a sort of lazy wave as they approached.

“Hi!” Faith said, in a loud whisper, dumping her book bag on the table. “I’m going to get those Transfig books. Back in a minute.”

Al sat down opposite Lew, who was making notes from Magical Theory.

“Er. Hi?”

“Hi,” Lew said. Al glanced over at the other Hufflepuffs, who were muttering to each other.

“They don’t like me talking to you very much,” Lew said. “They’ll get over it.” He turned a page.

“I saw one of your prefects talking to you yesterday,” Al remembered. “What did she say?” He got his copy of Magical Plants and their Uses out of his bag and opened it to the D’s , so not to appear suspiciously interested.

“She told me that Slytherins were in general not very nice,” Lew said. “I said yes, Faith seems quite proud of that. She said that Slytherins were also quite deceitful and asked me how I knew that Faith was trustworthy. I said that she seemed all right to me. She said ‘But how do you know?’” He turned another page. “I felt a bit sorry for her. If she won’t make friends until she can read their minds and decide whether they’re trustworthy or not, she must be very lonely.” He went back to his book.

Al nodded agreeably and unrolled a length of parchment. “Hufflepuff gets that sometimes too, doesn’t it?”

Lew tilted his head slightly to one side without looking up.

“I mean, I’ve heard a lot of people saying that Hufflepuffs are useless,” Al said, dipping his quill into his inkpot. “Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Not especially. Why would it?”

“And the other people in your house don’t mind either?” Al tried, careful to still sound very casual. Lew’s quill paused for just a second, leaving a puddle of ink. Al decided to leave it there for now, since he didn’t want Lew getting suspicious, and laughed.

“I guess most of them are like you…are you going to Charms Club? Me, Faith, Kitty and Score are.”

“I might, then,” Lew said, just as Faith dashed up, yelled “I’m back!” and flung a stack of books across the table. Lew started asking her about Charms and Al busied himself with his essay on Dirigible Plums, like that was all he’d come to do.

* * *

When the Slytherins arrived at Charms Club the next evening, conversation seemed to die mid-sentence and almost everyone in the room turned to stare at them. Lew, standing by a long table filled with jugs and plates of snacks, nodded to them and ate a biscuit.

Al tried to ignore the gawkers, went over to Lew and gave him a brilliant smile. To be honest, Al wasn’t feeling very optimistic, but he knew better than to let that show.

“Hi! It’s good to see you!” That was a little too cheerful. Al toned it down a bit. “Have you had a good day?”

“It wasn’t too bad,” Lew said, and offered him a plate of biscuits. Al took a chocolate one and nibbled on it while he checked out the room. There were only about thirty people there, mostly Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. There weren’t any Slytherins apart from them, but Al had expected that from the hysterical laughter when he’d asked Lia and Grimalkin if they’d ever gone to Charms Club. Rosie hadn’t come, which was irritating; Al had been hoping he could ambush her somewhere and make her talk to him. They’d had another double Herbology today, and she’d pretended he wasn’t there.

The Charms Club members started to talk again just as Faith caught Lew up in a bear hug, and Al took advantage of the distraction to head down to the other end of the table. He overheard snatches of conversation as he paused near one group, and started carefully pouring out a glass of pumpkin juice so he’d have an excuse to stick around.

“-can’t throw someone out because of their house. That’s very specifically against Society rules,” said a Ravenclaw girl with strawberry-blonde hair. Al finished pouring his own glass and decided that Lew and Faith might want one as well.

“What are they doing here anyway? The Slytherins never join clubs! Not that anyone wants them to,” said a redheaded Gryffindor girl. “I bet Rookwood and Grimalkin put them up to this. They’re such ba-”

“I think we should give them a chance,” the Ravenclaw girl announced loudly, in the sort of voice that wouldn’t tolerate arguing.

“Besides, our club’s so terrible, they might decide to leave by themselves,” said a tall Gryffindor boy - seventh-year, Al guessed - elbowing between them. He grabbed a digestive biscuit off the table, balanced it neatly on top of the Gryffindor girl’s head, and left.

Al wandered over as casually as possible and said, “Hi! We weren’t too late, were we?”

“Did Rookwood and Grimalkin put you up to this?” the Gryffindor girl demanded.

Al blinked confusedly, let his cheerful smile waver and said “No?”

“See, Seancey? Not everything is those two conspiring against Gryffindor,” the Ravenclaw girl said. Seancey sniffed, spun on her heel and marched off.

“Sorry about her,” the Ravenclaw girl said, with a sigh. “I’m Violetta Harbringer. Welcome to Charms Club!”

“What do you do, exactly?” Al asked. “I mean, do you just practise Charms that you learn in class, or-”  Rosie liked people to ask her questions, but he wasn’t certain that all Ravenclaws would. Fortunately, it worked on Violetta.

Violetta launched into an actually pretty interesting explanation of the purpose, merits and history of the Charms Club, only interrupted when her watch chimed and said in a tinny, officious voice, “It‘s half-past four! Time for Charms Club!” Violetta excused herself and hurried to the front of the classroom, while Al retreated back to his housemates. Kitty was twisting her fingers together anxiously; she still hadn’t completely got the hang of swish-and-flick. Score just looked blank.

“Welcome to Charms Club!” Violetta greeted them. She had dragged a chair out into the middle of the room and climbed up on it; the tall Gryffindor boy was lurking a little way away, eyeing her thoughtfully, as if he was thinking about Vanishing the chair.  “We spend most of our time in this club practising Charms; every week, three to five people are chosen to find an interesting Charm and demonstrate it to the rest of the Club, so that they can learn it. However, we also discuss contemporary advancements and achievements in the world of Charming - actually if you look on that table-” She waved towards a table under the window and nearly fell off the chair. “-then you’ll see the July, August, and September issues of Incantations Monthly and the British Journal of Charms. Incidentally, Victoria Frobisher has a very interesting article on the development of anti-Colour-Change Charms in the eighteenth century in the September issue of the British Journal; I’d like everyone to read it- copies are still ten Sickles apiece, so if you give the money to-”
 
“Get on with it!” someone shouted. Violetta frowned but dropped the subject.

“As I was saying, this week Daniel Gunn, Shayna Cohen, and Matthew Kennedy-” She ticked them off on her fingers. “-will be demonstrating their chosen Charms for you. Daniel, if you’d like to go first?” Violetta hopped off the chair and joined the crowd.

The tall Gryffindor sauntered into the circle, grinned at them all a little goofily, and said “Geminio mendacia!” to the chair. Nothing seemed to happen.

“Did he do it wrong?” Kitty asked softly, but then Daniel picked the chair up and carried it off to the edge of the cleared space, leaving a perfect, insubstantial copy behind.

“False Gemino Charm. It’s funniest if you can trick your victim into sitting down on it, but testing has shown that it’ll work on anything up to and including broomsticks, textbooks, purses, and beloved pets. Difficulty-” He rocked back on his heels and thought about it, then grinned a terribly wicked grin.

“I think by that he means ‘fifth-years and above’,” Violetta put in hastily. Daniel just grinned and rejoined the crowd. He was replaced by a tall Ravenclaw boy with a prominent grey patch, who waved his wand and said “Oplizakolpo!” The end of the wand exploded, filling the room with acrid-smelling smoke.

“Did you mean it to do that, Matthew?” Violetta asked, as the smoke cleared to reveal him absolutely covered in soot, and hanging in the air before him foot-high letters of fire that spelled out ‘MATTHEW IS SHORT AND PREMATURELY GREYING’. 

“Evidently not,” Violetta said, and sighed. Al edged through the crowd, surreptitiously trying to get nearer to Score Malfoy.

“It’s his own fault for letting his sister get near his wand again,” someone in the crowd pointed out. Violetta ignored that.

“You can go last then, Matt. Try to get your wand working again. Shayna?” A fair-haired Hufflepuff girl near the back of the group tried to retreat quietly towards the door, but Daniel, who had clearly been expecting that, picked her up and deposited her in the precise centre of the cleared space. Al moved a little further under the excuse of watching Dan carry her around and ended up standing right next to Score.

“What do you think so far?” Al asked him chattily, as they watched Shayna Cohen demonstrate a charm to produce unbreakable golden bubbles from the end of her wand.

“I quite like it. I think I’ll probably come back,” Score said, without looking at him. At least that wasn’t as vague as usual, Al thought, clapping with everyone else as Shayna Cohen finished her demonstration and fled hastily back into the crowd.

Violetta looked over at Matthew Kennedy, whose wand was still sending out fiery ‘SHORT’s and ‘PREMATURELY GREYING’s whenever he waved it, and said “I think we’ll have to wait for Matthew’s demonstration. If everyone would pick a charm to practise-” She hurried across the room to help Matthew with his wand.

Al brightened up - only Shayna’s bubble charm had been simple enough for first-years to learn, so he’d have to be in a group with Score and anyone else - but immediately Score went over to talk to Violetta. Al could hear them talking; first Violetta turned around and said “Hello! Are you a new member? What’s your name?” as she waved her wand over Matthew’s, and he said “Score Malfoy.” For a split second, Violetta’s smile faltered, then she grabbed his hand and shook it. “It’s good to see you here! We have a policy of welcoming anyone who wants to join our society, regardless of age, house, talent, or - have you enjoyed the meeting so far?” The two of them looked like they were going to start a whole conversation. Al glanced between Score and the other first-years, who were already working on the golden bubble charm, and realised that he’d have to leave him until later - some time when Score couldn’t run off and avoid him.

Fortunately, it wasn’t all bad news. Messalina Sheppard, whom Al remembered from Potions class, sidled over to tell him that Al’d been right about James being a bit of a melodramatic prat and introduced him to some of her friends in between Faith pestering him to admire her bubbles.  He couldn’t help but notice that none of the other Slytherins got the same treatment, though.

It was ten minutes before the end of the meeting when Al finally thought he’d been friendly enough to enough people and glanced around to find out where Score had gone. Violetta was by the table, talking to Shayna Cohen and dunking digestive biscuits into her tea; Score was practicing the bubble charm next to Kitty. Al wandered over to Violetta, while keeping an eye on Score and trying not to be obvious about it.

Violetta nodded to him as he approached but kept talking to Shayna. Al waited. Shayna seemed pretty shy, so -  She caught sight of him waiting, apologized, and fled.

And now Al felt bad. He definitely hadn’t expected her to leave that quickly.

“You’re Albus Potter, aren’t you?” Score must have mentioned him, then. “What did you want?”

“I just saw you talking to Score and I was wondering what about,” Al said. “I mean, he’s always pretty shy with us but he was talking to you just fine, and I don’t really know how to get him to-” He rubbed the back of his neck and scrunched his eyes shut. “-open up? So I guess mostly I wanted your help.”

“Oh,” Violetta said slowly. “We were just talking about Quidditch. As it turned out, we went to the same game in August. The Wigtown Wanderers versus Puddlemere United? On opposite sides, though. So we were discussing that match.” She glanced over at Score, who was congratulating Kitty on having successfully produced a spray of golden bubbles. “I hope that helps you.”

Al promised her that it would and thanked her extensively and sincerely before heading back to the Slytherins, while Violetta went over to Score and started talking to him quietly. About three words in, Score turned around and fixed Al with a basilisk stare. Al blanched, but he’d already made a decision. Al was going to figure Score out, and then he was going to make him be his friend.

Chapter 5: The Foreign Delegations (all your castle are belong to Durmstrang)
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


Al watched Score out of the corners of his eyes in lessons and listened when he talked to other students: he had had a ‘spirited debate’ about the latest Comet and Cleansweep brooms with a Ravenclaw boy Al thought was called Phineas Whitby, and though they had both seemed pretty angry at the time they had agreed to finish the conversation in the next Herbology lesson.

In Potions, he had shown Genesis Borden the right way to powder lionfish spine, while Genesis made exaggerated gagging noises and Al tried to prevent Faith from accidentally ruining their Scintillating Solution. After that, though, another Gryffindor had said to Genesis, quite angrily, “Don’t you know who that is?” while Score had been washing up beakers in the sink. Al didn’t think Score had heard them, but when he’d smiled at Genesis before leaving Genesis hadn’t smiled back, and Score’d seemed to realise what had happened. 

In Defence Against the Dark Arts, while Professor Brand talked about other wizards being the greatest danger they could face and the Death Eaters, Score had sat silently, white-faced and hands clenched under the desk - but then so had the rest of them, because Professor Brand kept taking points off them every time they breathed loudly. (Faith had spent a quarter of an hour after that lesson in a bathroom, screaming swearwords at the top of her voice and kicking the walls while Kitty sat outside humming with her eyes shut and her hands over her ears, and made them all late for Herbology.)

In their first flying lesson, he had been the best out of all of them, though that hadn’t actually been hard, since Faith hadn’t got her broom off the ground (“It knows I hate it! How does it know?”), and Kitty and Al had both fallen off.

When Peeves had ambushed them after Astronomy the next Wednesday and started lobbing water balloons at them, Score had hit the poltergeist with a Tickling Charm and spearheaded their heroic retreat, and when Al had come back from the library on Thursday, he had caught him explaining the long and embarrassing history of the Chudley Cannons to Faith and Kitty, using silly voices and energetic gestures. Both girls had been laughing hysterically.

On the other hand, all Al’s efforts at making friends so far had failed miserably. Score wouldn’t look him in the eyes, always sat as far away as possible in lessons and the common room and at dinner, and would only give short, vague answers when Al tried to talk to him, when Al knew perfectly well that Score could talk to the other Slytherins just fine.


Al’s research so far therefore showed that Score was a friendly, clever and funny boy who just seemed to loathe Al with every fibre of his being, and sharing that category with Professor Brand didn’t make Al feel any better about it.  And if Al hadn’t had more sense, he would have thought Rosie felt the same way; he saw her a dozen times between Charms Club and Friday afternoon - in the corridors, in Herbology, at meals - but she always ignored him, and despite wanting to go over and talk to her, Al forced himself not to. Rosie was too stubborn, and Al knew bothering her would only make her worse. He’d known that if he had a chance at talking her around, it would be at tea at Hagrid’s on Friday, so right then, the best he’d been able to do was wait. This had been extremely boring, so Al was extremely relieved when three o’clock rolled round on Friday afternoon and he was waiting for Rosie on the steps outside the front door. He waited for about a minute, fiddling with the brand-new Slytherin scarf his dad had sent him and scanning the entrance hall for her, before he thought to look down towards Hagrid’s hut and saw a small red-haired figure crossing the long lawns towards it.

He ran after her, almost falling over on the slope and shouting for her to wait for him, but she pretended not to hear and went into Hagrid’s cabin. Al raced after her, yanking the door open and clattering inside-

“Nice scarf,” Rosie greeted him. She was sitting at the table, head down, arms folded.

“Al!” Hagrid exclaimed, turning away from the fire with the kettle in his hands. “Thought yer weren’ comin’!”

 

Al smiled at him distractedly. “Rosie? Weren’t we supposed to meet at the front door at three?”

“Oh, we were?” Rosie asked, tracing the wood grain with a fingertip. “I thought we were meeting here at three. Sorry, I guess I forgot.” Rosie never forgot anything, and she was a terrible liar.

“That’s all right,” Al lied anyway. He didn’t want to make her mad before he’d even sat down. He’d planned it out carefully – don’t be accusing, don’t act like she’s done something wrong, try to talk her around without her realizing you’re doing it. “How was your first week?”

“It was fine,” Rosie said. She was still staring at the table.

“Mine was fine too,” Al said, deciding not to mention how a professor had set Doxies on him or how one of his housemates seemed to hate his guts. “I went to Charms Club on Wednesday. That was fun. Everyone was really friendly, too. Are you going to go?”


“I might,” Rosie said, so vaguely Score Malfoy himself would have been impressed. Hagrid looked from Al to Rosie and back again as he put two huge mugs of tea down between them.

“Now, now,” he said, looking uncharacteristically serious. “I got somethin’ ter discuss with the two of yer. Rosie, Harry don’ mind it, so I reckon you an’ me haven’ got much business mindin’ either.” He folded his arms and settled back in his chair looking like that should solve everything. Oh no, Al thought.

I don’t care that he’s in Slytherin!” Rosie snapped, instantly on the defensive. “I just want to be friends with my housemates!”

“I’m not blamin’ yeh,” Hagrid continued, hands raised placatingly, while Al waved at him behind Rosie’s back and mouthed ‘shut up shut up shut up!’ “But yeh’re puttin’ Al in a righ’ state, an’-”

“Al’s just being selfish!”

“Rosie, please just-” Al started to say, but Rosie just kept talking. She was bright red under her freckles and her voice had gone very shrill.

“Just because he’s never had any friends he thinks it’s fine for him to stop me from having any!”

“Rosie,” Hagrid said sternly, “yeh’re bein’ childish. Yeh shouldn’t leave your family jus’ because-"

“He shouldn’t expect me to alienate my housemates just because he wanted to be in Slytherin!” Rosie shouted. “I told the Hat not to put me there! I managed that! Everyone in my house managed that!” She flung a sharp, disgusted glare at Albus. That was – what was Rosie actually doing? Was she angry at him for being in Slytherin or just fretting about what her housemates would think or-

“Rosie, please just listen to me, you’re-” What could he possibly say that she couldn’t take as criticism?

As it turned out, though, Al didn’t have to worry about it, because Rosie whipped around and stormed out. Al leapt up and was about to run after her, but froze with his hand on the doorknob. That wouldn’t help.

Hagrid sighed. “Ah, don’ worry, Al. She’ll come ‘round.”  And she’d have come around a lot faster if Hagrid hadn’t been stupid and had let Al get a word in edgeways, Al thought, and instantly felt guilty.

“I guess so,” he agreed, padded over and hugged Hagrid. She would have to talk to him over the Christmas holidays, because their parents would be around. Al just really didn’t want to have to wait that long, though. He was wondering again if it would be easier to just give up on Rosie.





TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT

The delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving at 6 o’clock on Friday 27th of October. Lessons will end half an hour early. Students will return their bags to their dormitories and assemble in front of the castle to greet our guests before the Welcoming Feast.


Al had been pleased when the sign appeared in the Entrance Hall, because it should have meant he had a ready-made topic of conversation with anyone in the castle. It was certainly working for James: every time Al saw him, he was surrounded by a crowd of people from all houses and discoursing loftily on the perils of the Triwizard Tournament – ravening beasts slavering at the mouth, lunging at the Champions to devour their living flesh! death lurking behind every corner! fiendish traps that would destroy the courage, nay the very souls, of lesser men! Unfortunately, he didn't have any lessons with the Gryffindors or Ravenclaws that day, so it wasn’t until Charms Club that evening that Al finally got an opportunity to talk about it. Or, rather, that someone talked about it to him.

“So, Potter, who are you betting on for Hogwarts Champion? You ought to have the best idea of what’s required,” Violetta said as she corrected his swish-and-flick. Al had thought it was fine before, but apparently not.

“Oh, you mean because of Aunt Fleur? She never talked to us much about the Triwizard Tournament,” Al said. “I think it’s just general courage, determination and intelligence.” He hesitated, but then added, “You might be better off talking to my cousin Victoire - she’s a seventh-year in gryffindor. She probably knows more about it than I do.” He was basically telling her to go and find someone else to talk to, but Victoire was friendly and should be helpful, and Al figured pointing her towards someone more useful would earn him points anyway.

Violetta looked at him a bit strangely and said “I didn’t mean Fleur Delacour.”

“Viktor Krum?” Al hazarded. “He’s more of a friend of my Aunt Hermione’s. You should probably ask Rosie Granger-Weasley about him.” Or read any book about Quidditch.

“No, I meant your dad,” Violetta said. “Didn’t you know he was a Champion?”

That was ridiculous. Al’s dad hadn’t been a Triwizard Champion. “No, he wasn’t. I asked him about his Tournament and he said he couldn’t apply because there was an age limit.” Why would Violetta try to convince him his dad had been a Champion? Was this a joke?

“How very …specific,” Violetta said. “You mean you seriously didn’t know?” Al didn’t think this was a very funny joke.

“Hey, Potter!” Dan bounced up to them, grinning ear to ear. “As a former Champion’s son, what are your thoughts on the upcoming Tournament?”


Al didn’t think having more than one person in on it made it any funnier, either.

“It seems he didn’t know his father was in the Tournament,” Violetta explained quickly.

“What? Potter, how did you miss that?” Dan asked.

“Ha ha, very funny. I’m going to go talk to Kitty. See you later,” Al said, and made a quick retreat. He’d thought that would be the end of it, but at dinner, while he was eating a Yorkshire pudding, Grimalkin leant over the table and asked, “So, Potter, as the son of a former Champion, what do you think the tasks will be?”

“Personally, I’m hoping for ‘construct a giant Christmas tree out of Hufflepuffs’,” Lia said dreamily.

“Excuse me, I have to go to the library,” Al said, and left at high speed. He managed to grab a book on the Triwizard Tournament off the Returns trolley behind Madam Pince’s desk before she could hobble out of the stacks brandishing her cane at him, and once he was safely in the corridor he flipped it open to the index.

Potter, Harry: secondary Hogwarts champion, 1994: p 1746-51.

Oh. So his dad had lied to him, then.

Al started the walk back down to the Slytherin common room, trying to find the right page as he did. His must have had a good reason, Al thought, he just had to find out what it was right away. Once he had -

“Voldemort put his name in the Goblet?” Al said in a high-pitched voice, half-way down the stairs in the Entrance Hall. A pair of Ravenclaws going into the Great Hall looked at him very oddly. That must be why Al’s dad had never mentioned it. He hardly ever talked about the war. Still, you’d think he would have mentioned some things, like -

Voldemort had kidnapped him from the third task?! How had he done that? Did they not have security back then, or something? Al told the door “This is serious! I’m covered in melted frogs!”, entered the common room, and flung himself down on a sofa to read his book.

Wait. Someone had died? Someone called Cedric Diggory? Al flicked back a few pages to find out who that was - oh, the other Hogwarts Champion. He’d been murdered by Voldemort.

Al grabbed a piece of parchment and his quill out of his bag and scrawled WHAT across it in big letters, then decided that wasn’t right and tore that piece off.

Dad, why didn’t you tell me you were in the Triwizard Tournament and that Voldemort kidnapped you and killed someone? Were Cedric Diggory’s family all right? Why was security at the Triwizard Tournament so terrible?




 Love Al xxx



Also why does this book keep calling you the Boy Who Lived? Because Cedric Diggory didn’t?



 

Al hurried to the Owlery to post it, and then to the library to get a book on the Second Wizarding War, to see what else his dad hadn’t told him. His dad had always said that he just happened to be one of the people around when Voldemort came back, and that he just happened to be the one who’d finally killed him. Blind luck, mostly. But if Voldemort had specifically wanted to kidnap him from the third task -

 
The book explained most of it. Al had known that his dad’s parents had been killed by Voldemort, but he hadn’t known that Voldemort had tried to kill his dad as well. His dad had always said offhandedly that his mum had made sure he was safe. It was just that Al had assumed he meant that she’d sent him to Peru.

The only person to survive the Killing Curse - Al had asked his dad once how he’d got his lightning-bolt scar. His dad had said “Nasty run-in with a Dark Wizard before you were born, Al,” ruffled his hair, and told him not to worry about it. All this ‘Chosen One’ stuff and talk about prophecies -


Al turned a few more pages, feeling sick as he read about his mum and dad fighting Death Eaters in the Ministry of Magic itself, forget having poor security precautions, these people had no security - wait. One of the Death Eaters had been called Malfoy.

It felt like a block of ice dropping into the pit of Al’s stomach. He checked the name and date - Lucius Malfoy (1954 - 1999). That couldn’t be Score’s dad, because he’d been at the station. His grandfather? There was more in an appendix - Al flicked desperately through the pages until he found Malfoy. Lucius Malfoy he already knew about. Draco Malfoy, just above him - 1980- still living, ‘a Hogwarts student in Harry Potter’s year group during his service to You-Know-Who’ - this must be Score’s dad. Al’s heart was hammering and his mouth was dry. Score’s dad had let Death Eaters into Hogwarts in Al’s dad’s sixth year, leading directly to the death of Professor Dumbledore, Al’s namesake, and collaborated with the Death Eaters in seventh year, when Al knew his own dad had been on the run, and he’d been at Malfoy Manor – Malfoy Manor? Score’s house? – when his dad and Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione had been captured and taken there and they’d hurt Aunt Hermione and - Al hadn’t known that. She was fine now, though, right?

Al jumped up and paced, scanning the rest of the entry, and stopped dead as his dad’s name jumped out at him.

Harry Potter testified in Draco Malfoy’s defence at his trial, stating “I know he’s stupid, and a total git, but he’s not a murderer- I mean, at least he’s not as bad as his father was - you can send Lucius Malfoy back to Azkaban, I wouldn’t mind.” Based on this heartfelt testimony, Draco Malfoy was released on probation.

Al fell back onto the sofa, relief flooding through him. It was like actually talking to his dad, or getting a letter from him - he rubbed his face tiredly, wondering why he’d panicked so much over that. His dad wouldn’t have testified in Score’s dad’s favour if he’d done anything really evil or had anything to do with hurting Aunt Hermione. So did that mean Score couldn’t be a Death Eater?

Actually, he really couldn’t be one because Voldemort had been dead for nearly twenty years. But… Al tapped his fingers on the page. What if Score really hated Muggleborns? But he talked to Kitty and Genesis Borden in Gryffindor and he acted as if he liked them.  Unless it was all some sort of elaborate charade to -

Al realized that this was Hufflepuff Prefect Logic and was making his head hurt, so he decided that Score was going to be innocent until he had solid evidence to prove him guilty. Except if Score really was a devious criminal mastermind enacting a masquerade of fiendish cunning then he might never have any evidence! Unless -

At this point Al’s brain stepped in and reminded him that a) Score was eleven and eleven-year-olds weren’t manipulative geniuses and b) he’d obviously been reading too many Auror reports. (Aurors liked to use phrases like ‘devious criminal mastermind’ and ‘fiendish cunning’ and lots of exclamation marks in their reports. Al’s dad said they did it to make paperwork more interesting and gave out prizes every year for the most exciting ones. Al was pretty sure that this was where James had learnt most of his vocabulary.)  Score was going to be assumed innocent unless Al found some evidence he wasn’t that was up to the standards required by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.  Al underlined that statement and put it somewhere really obvious in his head. Scorpius Malfoy = not a Death Eater in training. There.

Still, it couldn’t hurt to just…watch him. A little bit. Make sure he wasn’t doing anything very evil when people weren’t looking.

He went back to the history of the Second Wizarding War. It was just as he was reading about his dad and Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione breaking into the Ministry at the start of what should have been their seventh year that he remembered a comment James had made last Christmas, when their dad was talking about increased security at the Ministry - threats from goblin radical groups or something - James had said, “Dad knows all the ways to break into the Ministry, don’t you?” and their dad had smacked him with the gravy ladle. Al had assumed he just meant because their dad was in charge of security. Why would Dad have told James and not him? Had James found out from a book, or one of the other Gryffindors? James would try to find out about anything that would get him more attention. Al was going to have to ask him about that.

So, the next morning at breakfast, he did.

“Hi, James.”

James had been sitting between their cousins Fred and Louis, scarfing down toast and babbling happily at them, but when Al appeared he spat out crumbs and swivelled around to stare at him.

“Al!” he announced.

“Yeah. Hi,” Al said. “Listen, did Dad-” James carried on regardless.

“Why are you here? You are not wanted here. Go and never darken my doorway again!” He glanced up and down the table to make sure enough people were watching, while Fred completely ignored him.

“You haven’t got a doorway. We’re in the Great Hall,” Al pointed out.

“Well, go and never darken my table again,” James snapped. “You have brought shame upon me, Al. Shame. I have been mired in despair.”

“No, you weren’t. You were eating toast,” Al said. James folded his arms and brooded. “Did you know what Dad did in the Second Wizarding War?”

“Of course I did!” James announced. “That is, he tried to keep the truth from me, but I realised immediately that he was hiding something-” Considering that it had taken James until ;ast year to figure out that Dad had never actually defeated a giant jam monster by eating it, Al found that hard to believe. “-so when I came here I went immediately to the library and researched our family’s secrets! So that is how I know.” He was lying, Al was certain of it. But he hadn’t said Dad had told him, and if he had then James would have said so as soon as he realised Al hadn’t known.

“That makes sense,” Al lied, and retreated back to the relative safety of his own table, where Lia and Grimalkin were squirting random Slytherins with orange juice.

“Did he actually believe you?” Al heard Fred ask scornfully as he left.

“Al’s not very smart,” Louis pointed out. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.”





The delegations from the other schools were scheduled to arrive at 6 o’clock on Friday, so at five minutes to, everyone in Hogwarts was gathered on the front lawn. It was twilight, and drizzling gently, and a perfect half-moon hung over the Forbidden Forest. Al was trying to watch Score in case he did anything very Death Eater-y and Faith in case she wandered off after a moth or something.  Right then Faith was humming and poking Score in the kidneys, apparently to see how long he could pretend not to notice, but about half a minute into that she got bored and asked “When are they going to get here? How are they coming?”

“It’s always something really impressive,” Kitty answered, flicking through an encyclopaedia of the Triwizard Tournament. “And the schools have to bring their own accommodation with them.  It says in 2012, when the Tournament was held at Beauxbatons, the Durmstrang people mailed Beauxbatons a Persian carpet, and when they unrolled it the students all jumped out. I think that’s cool even if they did nick it from Cleopatra.”

“How’d they bring their accommodation then?” Faith asked, looking around over the sea of heads. “Did they transfigure the carpet into a boat and live on the boat?”

“…no, it was a tent. Why a boat?”

“You know, just because no-one would’ve expected hey what’s Professor McGonagall doing?”

Al turned to look. Professor McGonagall was kneeling down, pushing something deep into the soil.

“She’s planting something - I don’t know what, though.”

Professor McGonagall got up, with difficulty and Professor Longbottom’s hand under her elbow, and retreated back to the rest of the teachers. A stalk appeared, pushing up through the soil like a needle and unfurling spindly branches, and then the ground shook and ruptured as the trunk swelled to the size of a small room. The branches thickened and vanished under the unfolding leaves and, with a loud snapping sound, a piece of bark near the base cracked and fell off, revealing a tall thin door with a knocker in the shape of two crossed wands.

Hagrid hurried forward to open the door and Madame Maxime stepped out. Al had seen her before in a picture on Hagrid’s dresser, but there she had been wearing a simple blouse and standing next to a horse; now she was dressed in billowing black satin and dripping with opals, and her hair was far more grey than it had been then.

Also, she looked much bigger in real life
 
“Minerrva,” Madame Maxime greeted Professor McGonagall. Her voice was very deep, and rumbled the same way that Hagrid’s did. “I ‘ope you are well?”

“Quite well, thank you,” Professor McGonagall replied. “Will you stay to greet the delegation from Durmstrang, or warm up inside?” Twelve Beauxbatons students had followed Madame Maxime out of the tree and were standing shivering behind her, bundled up in scarves and shawls until they looked like mummies.

“We will warm up inside, I zink,” Madame Maxime said. “Étudiants?” The students followed her, all in a line like ducklings. Al took a few steps to the right, and saw that inside the tree there was a hallway stretching for around forty feet, with doors on either side.

The Hogwarts students parted to make way for the Beauxbatons delegation as they went up the steps and into the Entrance Hall.

“Professor McGonagall’s not doing anything else,” Faith told them all unnecessarily.

“Do you think the other schools discuss how they’re arriving?” Al asked. “I mean, Durmstrang probably wouldn’t like to turn up in a way too much like how the Beauxbatons people did.”


They thought about that for a bit, looking around to see if anyone would suddenly appear waving a sign reading ‘HELLO, WE ARE THE DURMSTRANG DELEGATION.’ Professor Longbottom was looking out at the lake. Professor Hunt, next to him, was looking straight down at the ground. Professor Brand was scanning the grounds, slowly and carefully. Professor McGonagall was just waiting, with her hands clasped on the handle of her walking stick.

The front doors swung open again and a Beauxbatons boy barrelled down the steps, through the crowd, and skidded to a halt in front of Professor McGonagall. He was wrapped up in a dozen shawls and wearing two fuzzy hats, as if the rest of his schoolmates had piled their extra clothes onto him before he set out on his expedition.

Professeur! We zink we ‘ave finded ze Durmstrang pupils!”

The professors followed him back into the castle, where he pointed dramatically into the Great Hall. Professor McGonagall went to the doors and stared in.

“Professor Kohut,” she said, in a voice like a glacier. Professor Longbottom returned to the front doors and started waving everyone back in, in groups; the first-years were allowed back in first, so they were able to gather behind Professor McGonagall and look past her.

Twelve teenagers in blood-red robes were sitting around the near end of the Ravenclaw table, with a professor standing over them. Most of the teenagers looked embarrassed. Their headmaster just looked smug.

“They’re insulting us,” Al said quietly to Kitty.

Professor McGonagall put on a polite smile and moved forward to shake the Durmstrang headmaster’s hand. “Professor Kohut. It is, as ever, a pleasure to see you. I hope I find you well?”

“Hale and hearty,” Kohut replied, beaming genially at her. “It is, as alvays, a pleasure to be in your beautiful castle. I hope that you are also quite vell?"

“How did they get in?” Kitty asked softly, as Professor McGonagall and Kohut kept up the small talk.

“Portkey to Hogsmeade?” Al guessed. “If they snuck along the wall from Hogsmeade, climbed over it somewhere we couldn’t see them, crept up behind the castle, climbed through a window- a small well-trained force could do it easily if they used Disillusionment Charms, especially if the usual defences were relaxed to let them get in.”

“...right,” Kitty said. “So what’s a Portkey?”

Professor McGonagall and Kohut finished off their politeness deathmatch and marched up to the staff table with Madame Maxime, and the Hogwarts students went to their tables.

“You do not mind if ve join your table?” a Durmstrang boy asked them. The rest of the Durmstrang students were clustered nervously behind him. "Ze pupils at the blue table said ve vere to sit here.”

“There is more space here,” Avery agreed. “Feel free.”

The Durmstrang students pulled the benches out and sat down just as Professor McGonagall started to speak.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I take great pleasure in welcoming you all to Hogwarts,” she told them, despite all the evidence to the contrary. “And I trust that my students will make your stay here both comfortable and enjoyable.” The unspoken statement there seemed to be ‘Or they will be in detention forever’. “At the end of the feast, the Goblet of Fire will be placed in the entrance hall, thereby officially opening the Triwizard Tournament. Until then, I invite you all to enjoy the feast and make yourselves at home.” She sat down and immediately engaged Kohut in conversation. Al thought she might be pretending she wasn’t annoyed a bit too hard. The Durmstrang students didn’t seem to want to talk to them, though Al didn’t know whether that was because they didn’t speak very good English or because they were embarrassed about their entrance.

“Are you going to enter the Tournament?” Al asked Avery. He was hoping he would, because then Avery would probably get selected and then he would obviously win the Tournament, which would be helpful.

“No,” Avery said, buttering another slice of bread.

Al didn’t try to hide his disappointment; Avery wasn’t automatically going to assume he had sinister ulterior motives, or anything. “Why not?”

“I think you should,” Faith said. “Then we would win amazingly and we could laugh at all the other houses for being rubbish. And then they would all kill themselves in despair, and Slytherin would rule the school!”

“Harper, that’s a highly unlikely sequence of events,” Avery said. “Potter, I’m not entering the Tournament because I have exams this year and I would like to pass them. I’m fairly sure St. Mungo’s doesn’t accept ‘fights dragons’ as a qualification.”

“You’re going to be a Healer?” Al asked, startled. “That’s brilliant! You’d be fantastic at it!” A Slytherin winning the cup for Hogwarts would have helped most in the short-term, but considering long term effects (the Auror’s guidebook was very clear on always considering long-term things) a Slytherin being king of the Healers worked well too. Besides, Al being able to change a prefect’s mind didn’t seem very likely.

Avery glanced at him, obviously startled by the sudden enthusiasm.

“Hell yeah!” Faith said, dropping her fork with a clang. “You should be the king of St. Mungo’s! Or director or whatever it’s called. And then everyone would be all-” She made a strange gesture Al thought was supposed to show awe, shock, and bowing down before the majesty of Avery’s lime green robes all at once.

“You know, that’s exactly what we keep telling him,” Grimalkin said. “But with less mime.”

“I like our first-years this year,” Lia said contentedly. “I think they might be the best group we’ve had in a while.” Al smiled.

When the feast was over and the golden plates had been wiped clean, Professor McGonagall stood again up again as a heavy wooden chest encrusted with jewels was brought in and placed in front of her. Everyone in the Great Hall was staring at the chest, but Professor McGonagall didn’t seem in a hurry to open it.

“Firstly, I would like to welcome Mr Weasley-”

Al’s mouth dropped open.

“-the head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation-”

"That’s my uncle Percy!” Al hissed excitedly to Kitty, pointing at him. Uncle Percy was sitting very primly, with his hands clasped on the table in front of him.

“-and Mr Finwick, the head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports.” Al didn’t recognize Mr Finwick at all, but if he had anything to do with Quidditch his mum probably knew him. Al thought about writing to her for information, in case it would be useful, but then he remembered that he wasn’t very good at talking to his mum.

“They will be joining Madame Maxime, Professor Kohut and I on the panel of judges,” Professor McGonagall continued.

“Great! What’s in the box?” Lia said loudly.

“The format of the Triwizard Tournament is simple,” Professor McGonagall continued. “The champions will have to face three tasks spaced throughout the school year; tasks which are designed to test not only their magical prowess but their courage, their intellect, and their ability to cope with danger.”

The Great Hall was almost entirely silent. Nobody moved or spoke. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on Professor McGonagall, except for Avery’s. He had taken out a book to read.

“The Triwizard Tournament is essentially very similar to the Quidditch House Cup, in terms of scoring. The Champions are awarded points at the end of each task, and by the end of the third and final task, whichever Champion has the most points wins the Triwizard Cup. It hardly need be said that these tasks will be very dangerous, and therefore it has been decided that only sixth- and seventh-years will be permitted to put their names forward for consideration.”

“What? Arse!” said Lia. Most of the students in the hall seemed to have the same opinion.

“You shouldn’t have wanted to put your name forward anyway,” Avery said, without looking up. “You have your OWLs this year. They’re far more important.”

Lia put her head down on her arms and sulked.

“Ha ha, Mum yelled at you,” Grimalkin said absently. He was watching Professor McGonagall, who was still speaking.

“The Champions will, as ever, be chosen by an impartial judge: the Goblet of Fire.” She tapped her wand three times on the lid of the chest, and it creaked open, spilling out flickering blue light. This light brightened slowly as something rose out of the chest. It was a battered wooden cup that looked as if it had been hacked out with a kitchen knife, but it was full to the brim with wavering blue-white flames. A murmur ran around the hall.

“The Goblet of Fire will be placed in the Entrance Hall tonight. It will be protected by an Age Line, which will prevent anyone below sixth- or seventh-year from reaching the Goblet.” Professor McGonagall outlined the rest of the rules for submission, and then added, in a very grave tone, “A Champion, once selected by the Goblet of Fire, is obliged to see the Tournament through to the very end. There can be no turning back. For this reason, before you drop your name into the Goblet, please consider whether you are truly prepared to compete. That is all. Goodnight.” She sat down and nodded to Madame Maxime and Professor Kohut in turn. “If our guests would lead us out?”

The Beauxbatons students pushed back their benches, stood up and started gathering up their scarves and wraps for the long trek down the front steps. They were in luck, Al thought, looking up at the ceiling, as the drizzling from earlier had stopped. Professor Kohut hurried to meet his students and trooped out with them, though Al had no idea where they could be going.

“This could be a problem,” Lia said pensively, tapping her fingers on the table. “I just don’t know who I want to be horribly killed first.”

Chapter 6: Triwizard Related Stuff (chapter titles are hard, okay?)
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As the next day was Saturday, most students would normally have breakfasted late, and then gone back to bed for another three hours. But when the Slytherin first-years came up to breakfast that particular Saturday, they saw about twenty students milling around in the Entrance Hall, some of them munching toast, all of them examining the Goblet of Fire. The Goblet had been placed on a slim marble pedestal where it looked sort of out of place, and a thin golden circle had been marked out on the floor all around it.

“Do you think the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons people have put theirs in yet?” Al asked Faith, once they’d collected some breakfast from their table and returned to the Entrance Hall. Faith was looking out through the front doors, at the Beauxbatons tree - which was rustling softly, though there was no wind - and the log house that had appeared near it, which the Durmstrang students must have built. Al was unfolding the reply his dad had finally sent him.

“Come on, Potter, how would I know?” Faith said as they settled down at the foot of the stairs and Al read through his letter.

Sorry, Al. I just didn’t want you three to get big-headed or have nightmares.
Cedric’s parents were all right in the end. And knowing you, you’ve already gone
to the library and read everything you could find about
Voldemort, so I don’t have to fill you in there.
Love, Dad.

That was very short. Al wondered if his dad was mad that he’d found out. It would have been hard not to, though, unless he hadn’t talked to anyone at all for the whole year. Al hoped his dad wasn’t mad at him.

“Al? You look worried,” Kitty said.

“It’s nothing,” Al lied cheerfully. “I was just wondering which Slytherins would put-” and then James burst in from the Great Hall, teetered dramatically just on the edge of the Age Line, windmilled his arms desperately, and finally managed to hop back away from it. Everyone in the Entrance Hall looked up.

“Jump, you wuss!” Fred shouted at James. He was standing in the doorway of the Great Hall, eating a piece of toast.

“Don’t do it, James! We love you! You have so much to live for!” Louis yelled, standing just as casually next to Fred.

“I’m going to jump! I’m going to do it!” James hollered, dancing around on the edge of the line and looking around to make sure everyone was watching him. They were. James seemed a bit uncertain what to do next, so Al got up and tried to sidle nonchalantly towards the dungeon stairs.

Unfortunately, Fred ambled over to James, prodded him in the arm, and pointed straight at Al. Al tried to run, but James was faster, he always was, and he’d grabbed Al in a bear hug and was dragging him towards the Goblet before Al could go more than ten steps.

“Get off him,” Faith ordered. James ignored that.

“Hey! Who wants me to chuck Al over the Age Line?” he demanded, swinging Al around to face the Entrance Hall.

“Do it!” someone yelled. Al thought it was Louis, Al stamped on James’ foot and tried to twist out of his grip, but it didn’t help, and James had his arms pinned so Al couldn’t get to his wand-

“Expelliarmus!” Fred shouted, putting himself between Al and the other Slytherins. Al didn’t know who had drawn their wand, but then suddenly Faith was across the hall and punching Fred in the face before he could get out more than “Stupe-” Oh. Al should have seen that coming. Faith snatched Fred’s wand, shoved it into his face, and gasped out “Matikleisto!” Fred staggered, shrieking and clutching at his eyes, and Faith whirled away from him. She couldn’t have a clear shot from there - She started towards them anyway. “Al! Kick him in the shins!”

Al tried, he really did, but James had heard her as well and hopped backwards, pulling Al off-balance, and he missed completely. Al could see Louis moving out of the corner of his eyes, but then someone else Disarmed him, not Faith - she hexed Louis anyway and spun back towards James and Al.

“You’d better let him go right now!” she warned, wand pointed squarely at James’s face as he and Al balanced precariously on the edge of the Age Line.

“Why?” James said. Al could hear him grinning. “What are you so mad about? It’s just a j-” He moved to swing Al over the Age Line. Al stamped on his foot, lurched sideways and knocked them both off-balance. Al, and James’s left foot, both landed squarely six inches inside the Line.

For a few seconds, nothing happened except James’ grip tightened around Al’s ribcage. Then some invisible force picked them both up and flung them into the stone floor outside the circle. Al landed hard on his face, and then James landed on top of him, and then the pain in Al’s head was drowned out by a sharp, stabbing sensation in his chin and a popping noise as he suddenly grew a beard.

Faith kicked James off Al and pulled him to his feet. “Hey, are you-” Then she got a good look at the beard and cracked up. James rolled over, face twisted with fury, and almost everyone in the Entrance Hall burst out guffawing.

James was up and mugging instantly, hobbling back and forth clutching an imaginary cane and hunched over like an old man. Al was sure he should pretend to be amused as well, but he didn’t want to go as far as James was, so he just grinned - a bit sheepish, a bit stifled laughter, which wasn’t a very difficult combination to pull off. Faith clapped both hands over her mouth and finally managed to stop laughing.

“James! James, where are you?” Fred shouted. He was still sitting on the floor, hands over his eyes.

“Faith, what did you-” Al started wearily, but was interrupted when his oldest cousin stomped down the steps, grabbed both Al and James by the ears and demanded “Were you two fighting again? Fred, what’s wrong with-”

“Victoire!” Fred shouted. “Victoire, that-” he called Faith something that made Victoire take five points from Gryffindor. “-hexed me in the eyes! Do something!”

Victoire sighed, left Al and James and went to take the hex off Fred’s eyes. “You three should consider yourself lucky Avery didn’t show up. I think he has spells to detect Slytherins in trouble-” Since last time Al had seen Avery he’d been asleep on a pile of Transfiguration textbooks in the common room, the spells probably weren’t working very well. “Louis, I can see you lurking back there. You’d better not have had anything to do with this,” Victoire added.

“I didn’t cast a single spell,” Louis said, with absolute honesty.

“Only because Score Disarmed you, you lying toerag,” Faith snarled, snatching her wand back from Kitty. Al looked at Score, shocked. He wouldn’t have tried to help Al, would he? It was more likely he’d been helping Faith out. Score stared back at him, looking as indifferent as ever.

“Score,” James repeated with a sort of overdone thoughtfulness, stroking his beard. “Scorpius Malfoy?” He tried to advance menacingly on Score, which was completely ruined by the Santa beard. Score didn’t look very impressed. “The Death Eater’s kid?”

“Don’t-” Score spat automatically, and Al could have completed it insult my father, but Score bit the words back and managed to regain his usual blank expression. Total silence reigned in the Entrance Hall. Al could have heard a pin drop.

“That’s Fred taken care of,” said Victoire, who was impervious to tension, and pointed her wand at Al. “Finite Incantatem!”

This completely failed to accomplish anything.

“Oh,” Victoire said. “Go to the Hospital Wing.”

“Do we have to?” James asked, still stroking his beard as if it was a fluffy kitten. Victoire rolled her eyes, physically turned him around and shoved him towards the stairs.

“Louis, Fred, go and make sure James goes to the Hospital Wing. Al…” She looked at the Slytherins. Faith was glaring at her. Score was just standing there like a statue and looking a bit crazy. Kitty looked shocked and confused, but then that was normal.

“Al, who in your house is trustworthy?”

“I’ll do it,” Faith snapped, stomping over to them. “Come on, Potter.” She grabbed him by the upper arm and hauled him off up the stairs. Victoire hustled James, Fred and Louis after them and headed over to put her name in the Goblet.

“Do you do this often?” Faith demanded. “Attack random people in the Entrance Hall?” Al was confused for a second before he realised she was talking to James.

James laughed. “No, just Al. Louis, how do you think I look with a beard?”

“I think you look great,” Louis said immediately.

“You look like crap,” Fred told him. “You look like that dead guy your dad’s always yammer-”

“You shut up, moron,” Faith said. “Why Al?”

“It’s nothing important,” Al said hastily, because he didn’t really want Faith to start up a deathmatch in the corridor. “He’s my brother, he always does that, it’s like a tradition. Don’t worry about - ow!” Faith stopped dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs and whipped around to face James, dragging Al with her. Well, that hadn’t worked.

“What!” She made an exasperated gesture at James that probably represented all sorts of swear words.

“What?” James asked, grinning and twirling his beard. “He’s my younger brother. It’s practically a legal - bloody hell!”

Faith had drawn her wand again, though Al was hanging onto her arm to keep her from raising it.

“Can we please just go to the Hospital Wing without trying to kill anyone on the way? I think that’d be easier-”

“Obviously you don’t have any younger brothers,” James said loftily.

“I have four!”

James looked very taken aback by this. “You know,” he drawled in a very bad imitation of unconcern, “I don’t actually want to go to the Hospital Wing. I like my beard. It makes me look distinguished.”

“You couldn’t touch distinguished with a big stick, Potter, you disgusting git,” Faith snapped, at exactly the same moment as Fred said “No, you look like a prat.”

“Louis thinks it looks cool,” James said sulkily, and sloped off in the direction of Gryffindor Tower with Fred and Louis. Faith obviously didn’t want them getting away that easily, even if they did outnumber her three to one; she started to follow them. Al didn’t really want her to do that, so he fell down on the floor shrieking.

“What?” Faith demanded in a high-pitched voice. “Al, are you all right?”

“A wasp! A wasp bit me! Aaah! Oh God, the pain,” Al wailed.

“Wasps don’t bite people! Wasps don’t even have teeth!”

“Oh.” Al thought for a few seconds. “It was a rare Tibetan Biting Wasp?”

Faith didn’t seem to be convinced.

“Potter, that is the most rubbish lie ever in the entire world. Someday, when there is a museum for lies, that's gonna be in there under a plaque saying ‘Worst Lie Ever’. Get off the floor.”

Al got meekly to his feet. James and his cousins had gone out of sight around a corner anyway, so the distraction had worked, and he didn’t think Faith would be as annoyed if he’d at least tried to make it a funny distraction. “Can we just go to the Hospital Wing? I don’t like having a beard. It’s not any fun.”

Faith glanced down the corridor after James.

“And they’re gone now anyway, and you won’t be able to find them,” Al pointed out. “The Gryffindor common room is really close to here. They’re probably already inside.” This was a complete lie, but Faith probably didn’t know where the Gryffindor common room was. Faith looked torn for a second, but then put her wand away and said “Fine. You can go get your stupid beard taken off.”

She stomped in the direction of the Hospital Wing. Al trailed after her, thinking. It definitely wasn’t going to help his plan any if Faith kept running around hitting people, and she might have just decided to wait and ambush James some time when he didn’t have Fred and Louis around as bodyguards.

“You shouldn’t really have attacked them like that. Didn’t your parents teach you about appropriate times to use violence?”

“’Course they did. They said…” Faith’s voice took on a sing-song lilt as if she was reciting. “-if it was necessary for self-defence or the defence of my friends I should resort to violence immediately and with enthusiasm. Besides, he started it. It’s fine if they start it.”

“Oh. Right,” Al said. “My parents always said I should try diplomatic discussion first.” Well, unless a Dark Lord was trying to kill him. He didn’t have to stay around trying to convince them of the error of their ways then. That would be a bit stupid, Al thought.

“Mine did mention that, yeah,” Faith said unconcernedly, “but then they explained that it was bollocks and never worked and I should probably stick with the violence.” Off Al’s look, she added, “Hey, it’s not like I thump people for saying hi. I’m not a caveman. It’d be cool if I was, though, I could have an axe and fight dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were around at the same time as cavemen, right? Hello! Emergency beard removal?” she added, pushing open the doors to the Hospital Wing.

Madame Zeller darted out of her office, pointed her wand at Al, said “Depellobarba!” and the beard fell off. Madame Zeller vanished back into her office.

“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Faith said, and they headed back down to the Slytherin common room. Avery was still asleep when they got back. Grimalkin had set up a perimeter and was threatening to hex everyone who went inside (which was currently Lia, looking forlorn and begging to be allowed to doodle on Avery’s face). Score was sitting at the end of a sofa looking vague, as usual, and Kitty was curled up at the other end of Score’s sofa reading a comic book.

“Hey, that’s mine!” Faith said, flopping onto the sofa between Al and Score. “Do you like it? I’ve got loads more somewhere.” She bounced back up and dragged Kitty off up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories, babbling loudly as she went about how Al’s brother was a colossal gitface who ought to be set on fire and then shish-kebabbed and fed to pigs and - A door slammed upstairs and cut her voice off. Score looked slightly ill. Al hoped Faith would be over that by the feast that evening.

Of course, she wasn’t, as Al found out when she sat down at their table and glared daggers at James through the entirety of Professor McGonagall’s welcoming speech. For his part, James didn’t notice. He was showing off the beard he still hadn’t removed to the other Gryffindors and laughing. Then, when the food finally appeared, Faith spent ten minutes constructing a James Potter stick figure out of chips and stabbing it repeatedly with her fork. (Not the first ten minutes, though. The first ten minutes she spent furiously demolishing a massive pile of food.)

“Harper, do you have a mental defect of some kind?” Score asked her irritably, once the energetic disembowelling had flicked chip innards all over his plate, and face, and robes.

“Shut up, Malfoy,” Faith said, picked up the stick figure and bit its stick head off.

“What’s upsetting you?” Kitty asked, slipping her hand into the crook of Faith’s elbow and leaning her head on Faith’s shoulder. Faith immediately launched into another long indignant tirade against James Potter and his total lack of sibling loyalty and all the terrible and very violent and graphic things he deserved to happen to him.

“You agree with me, don’t you, Malfoy?” Faith demanded.

“I don’t have any siblings,” Score pointed out, glancing across the table at Al.

“Yeah, but,” Faith said impatiently, “yesterday we were talking about family loyalty and you said it was important, so hurry up and agree with me!”

Score agreed with her because there didn’t seem to be much of an alternative. Faith appeared slightly mollified. Al pretended to be interested in his food and watched Score, who looked as blank as ever. He’d looked at Al before he’d answered Faith, and then he’d come over all vague even though he’d obviously talked to her like a normal person yesterday. Did Score actually hate Al so much he didn’t even want to talk to other people when he was in earshot?

Kitty was trying to coax Faith away from the topic of how she wanted James Potter and his friends to be horribly murdered, but Faith either hadn’t noticed or didn’t care.

“Professor Brand looks very smug up there on the staff table,” Al pointed out to her. Faith looked automatically and wrinkled her nose in distaste.

“Let’s plot to kill him,” Al suggested hopefully. This got Faith’s attention, and they spent a very relaxing ten minutes planning Professor Brand’s horrible death (Al decided that was morally all right so long as they didn’t actually do it) until Grim ruined it by pointing out helpfully that firstly Brand would notice his chair being on fire before he sat in it, and secondly he didn't think either of them were being very cunning.

“Stop ruining everything, Grim,” Faith ordered.

The Feast was really dragging on, Al thought. Maybe because it was the second they’d had in two days. Al and Faith spent a while debating who would win in a fight, Avery or Al’s dad, and Faith finally decided on Avery because while Al’s dad had more skill, more talent and more experience, Avery was a Slytherin and would cheat. (Al was totally sure his dad would win, but he thought Lia would murder him if he said so, so he didn’t mention it.) Faith started constructing a model of Hogwarts out of mashed potato, got bored with that, and tore it down while making troll noises. Al looked up and down the Slytherin table, wondering which of them had put their names in. Most of the Durmstrang students looked close to throwing up, and none of them were eating. Al wondered if the Beauxbatons students were as worried, but they were sitting at the Ravenclaw table so he couldn’t tell.

Long after everyone had stopped eating, their golden plates were wiped clean. The noise level rose immediately, but dwindled away as Professor McGonagall climbed to her feet.

“The Goblet is almost ready to make its decision,” she said. “I would estimate that it requires only a minute more.” Al glanced at Madame Maxime and Professor Kohut on her left and right. Madame Maxime looked tense and expectant, while Professor Kohut looked confident and relaxed, but Al thought he was just faking.

“Champions, when your names are announced, please come up to the front of the Hall and stand facing your fellow students. There, when the selection has finished, you will receive your instructions with regards to the first task.” With a wave of her wand, she extinguished all the candles in the Great Hall, plunging them into darkness. The icy blue firelight of the Goblet was the only illumination, flickering over Professor McGonagall’s face and gleaming off the cutlery of the High Table. Professor Kohut and Madame Maxime were leaning forward, watching the Goblet intently. Al waited, feeling sick. He so wanted someone in his own house to be chosen, but there were barely any of them, so it probably wouldn’t happen…he wondered what he could do to profit from the Tournament regardless of who was chosen.

The fire turned blood-red and a charred scrap of parchment flew up, borne on one long tongue of flame. Professor McGonagall caught it and read out “The champion for Beauxbatons is Anthoine Aquestre.” A deeper patch of shadow detached itself from the Ravenclaws and hurried up towards the staff table. There was no cheering from the Beauxbatons students, Al noted, twisting his fingers together and trying to take deep calming breaths.

Anthoine Aquestre took his place in front of the staff table and waited. Madame Maxime was beaming as the flames turned red again and another fragment of parchment shot up.

“The champion for Durmstrang,” Professor McGonagall read out, and further down the Slytherin table Al heard the benches creaking as the Durmstrang students sat up, “will be Oksana Zelenko.”

One of the Durmstrang students said something in Russian that Al assumed meant “No!” Someone else burst into tears as Oksana went up to the front of the Great Hall. Al couldn’t concentrate on that. His heart was pounding, and his stomach felt like it was full of Doxies.

The Goblet’s fire flared red again and the last scrap of parchment fluttered out of the top. Professor McGonagall caught it and turned it over.

“The Champion for Hogwarts will be Victoire Weasley.”

Lia slammed her fist down on the table, but if she said anything Al couldn’t hear her because everyone in Gryffindor House was on their feet, stamping and cheering until the cutlery rattled.

Very slowly, Al smiled. Victoire wasn’t a Slytherin, but she was family. He was certain he could use that.

Chapter 7: The Daily Prophet (is a lying liar who lies.)
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The Slytherin first-years had just got out of Herbology, so as he went into the DADA classroom Al was trying not to think about how Rosie was still ignoring him, as opposed to watching out for crazed professors making enraged leaps at them. This turned out to be a mistake.

Stupefy!”

Score crumpled to the ground like a rag doll, Faith barked out some angry swearing and Al’s heart missed a beat.

“Score!” Al dropped to his knees beside him.

“Is he dead?” Kitty asked, in a thin, terrified voice. Al shook his head without looking up. There were instructions in the Auror Handbook for treating Stunned people - the best thing to do was ‘wake them up’ but Al wasn’t very good at that spell. What else was there? Clearing the airway? Al didn’t know how to check unconscious people for concussions.

Rennervate!” Professor Brand said, sounding very amused by the whole thing, and for a second Al hated him so much it was hard to breathe. Score twitched and opened his eyes.

“Are you all right?” Al and Kitty asked together. Score sat up and nodded curtly.

“As you can probably tell,” Professor Brand said in his usual cheerful sing-song, “today we’re studying Stunning Spells. These are troublesome little things because it’s very easy to surprise someone with them and once surprised, the victim is totally incapacitated. Malfoy, I’d like you to help me demonstrate further.”

Kitty squeaked, Score climbed grimly to his feet and Faith forgot everything Al had told her about please not assaulting the staff especially not when they’re trained Aurors and started towards Professor Brand with murder in her eyes. Al grabbed her robe.

“Don’t start a fight, you’ll lose us house points,” he ordered quietly, standing on tiptoe to hiss in her ear. “You’re the tallest out of all of us. Go stand behind Score and catch him or he’ll get seriously hurt.” That was a total exaggeration, but since it worked Al didn’t really care. It wouldn’t be any fun if Score wasn’t going to fall on his face, would it?

Faith stomped to behind Score as he dropped his book bag and squared up ready to get Stupefied again, and held out her arms.

“What are you doing?” Professor Brand asked, cocking his head to one side.

“I don’t know, head injuries are bad or some crap,” Faith said, and kicked irritably at the floor. Score glanced at her, then at Al, and then just looked blank.

Professor Brand didn’t show any signs of irritation that Al could pick up on, but he only demonstrated the Stunning Spell once more as opposed to the twenty-seven times he’d demonstrated the Disarming Charm before splitting them up to practise on each other. Al decided to count that as a victory, even if Score didn’t seem happy about it.

Faith, though, clapped Al hard on the back and nearly knocked him over. “Nice one, Potter. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”

Score looked at Al like he was trying to figure out what he was thinking, but with slightly less suspicion or blankness than usual, which was good.

All in all, Al decided, things were going well, and he kept thinking that right up until he saw the Daily Prophet the next day.








Victoire’s most famous cousins, however, are undoubtedly Harry Potter’s two sons, James and Albus. But tragedy may have struck this little family. While James is a Gryffindor, a Quidditch enthusiast and a Defence Against the Dark Arts prodigy, Albus was recently sorted into Slytherin, and has been seen associating with relatives of Death Eaters that his father helped to imprison. It remains to be seen whether Albus will learn to follow in his father’s heroic footsteps.





Al thought this must be what being hit in the face with a Bludger was like, and from the moment he saw that paragraph at the bottom of the Daily Prophet’s articles on the Champions, he was certain it was going to get even worse. Like when his dad was trying to capture someone really dangerous, or the couple of times he’d ended up in St Mungo’s, this awful shaking, twisting fear that something worse was coming and there was absolutely nothing Al could do about it. He tried not to think about it, he tried to throw himself into his classes, but it was like the idea had filled up his brain and all the lectures on Potions and Herbology and whatever else it was they’d had just drifted over his head.

Rosie was still ignoring Al and his housemates in Herbology, and so were the other Ravenclaws. Al tried not to wonder if they’d all seen the bit in the Prophet. Score had tried to talk to Phineas Whitby, that boy he’d talked to before about brooms, but Phineas had just flung him a contemptuous look and moved to the other end of the table.

Al tried to convince himself that everything was fine, or everything would be fine, and that his dad would never be scared of newspapers saying nasty things about him, but it didn’t work. Most of his housemates seemed to think it was all very funny; Lia had renamed him Lord Aldemort by dinnertime and Faith had gone into peals of laughter and immediately copied her.

Al barely slept that night and dawdled on the way up to breakfast - just delaying the inevitable, he knew - until Faith threatened to drag him up to the Great Hall by his intestines. Once he’d got there, though, he wished he’d stayed in the Slytherin common room (or maybe under the bed) forever.

This was because James ambushed them the moment they came in, yelling “Faith Harper!”

“What?” Faith snapped. “Push off, git.”

“I know your name now,” James told her cheerfully, and waved a copy of the Daily Prophet at her. Oh, no. Oh no oh no oh no –

“So?” Faith demanded. “It’s not like a secret, Potter, you idi-”

“Can I see that?” Al interrupted. James handed it to him, open to an article titled

HARRY’S HEIRS





“It’s brilliant! I’ve had people coming up asking me to autograph it for them-”

Al’s heart sank like an anvil. Two huge pictures, one of James sitting on the grass outside the greenhouses surrounded by Gryffindors - telling them a joke, from the hand gestures - and one of Al and Faith stopped on the way back from Herbology, talking to Score. Al glanced at the caption - Albus Potter talking to Scorpius Malfoy and Faith Harper on the Hogwarts lawns.

“You’re in this,” he told Faith, scanning the article itself.

“What?!” Faith said. “That’s where that pillock got my name from? The Prophet?”

“Yeah!” James said. “Clever, right? Ha ha.”

“We have all the same classes, you berk,” Faith snapped. “You could have asked any of the teachers if you wanted to know that. Did you seriously not think of that? Idiot.”

“I thought of that!” James yelped. “I just…chose not to do it because…it would have been too easy. It would have been beneath my standards.”

Faith laughed at him. Al tried to ignore them both and kept reading - it was quite a bit longer than the one yesterday, even if, most of it was the photographs, but it seemed to mostly be the same stuff that had been in Victoire’s profile the day before - James the perfect miniature Dad and Al lurking in dark corners with a cloak on and cackling maniacally. Except for -

“Faith?”

Faith stopped threatening to bludgeon James to death with a chair. “What?”

“The paper says you’re ‘a hulking girl whose ineptitude in classes is matched only by her belligerence’. Sorry.”

James bayed with laughter.

“Whatever,” said Faith, and went straight back to the threats and the bludgeoning. How could she be so calm about this? They had to look good! How was Al supposed to convince everyone Slytherins were nice people when the papers were saying he was evil?

-seen consorting with relatives of infamous Death Eaters
such as Lucius Malfoy, Augustus Rookwood and the Averys-





What? Al glanced over at the Slytherin table. He couldn’t see Avery, but Lia was Transfiguring peoples’ bowls into paper planes and throwing them around the room while shrieking with insane laughter. That was normal behaviour for her, though. Al knew neither of them had problems with Muggleborns, either. If the prefects could be related to Death Eaters and not be seriously evil, did that mean Score wasn’t going to be evil either? Except that Score was all vague and confusing and the prefects weren’t.

He looked back at James, who was happily reciting quotes from the article and oblivious to Faith’s increasingly-horrible threats, and realised why he hadn’t seen Avery before; because he was standing behind James, holding a copy of the Prophet, staring down at James and apparently just waiting for him to realise he was there.

“-boil you into soup and - Hi, Avery!” Faith said, and ruined it. James nearly leapt out of his skin.

“Hello, Potter,” Avery said to Al over James’s head. “How are you?”

“Er, fine!” Al said. “I’m great!”

Avery very obviously didn’t believe him.

“I’ve just remembered,” James announced, with a dramatic arm gesture that was probably meant to demonstrate the suddenness of the remembering, “I have to be in…a different place…right now, so I’d best be off.” He sauntered nonchalantly away.

“Yeah! Run, you wuss!” Faith hollered after him, and cackled like a loon.

“Really, I’m fine,” Al promised. “Er…as fine as possible…” He didn’t think there would be anything even Avery could do about this.

“Back to our table now, please,” Avery ordered, and Al obeyed, scanning through the rest of the article as he slid onto the bench between Faith and Kitty.

“Rookwood, could you please look at the last paragraph?” Avery asked, handing over his copy of the Prophet. Lia flipped it open and Al skipped straight to the last couple lines.

Of course, while all our readers no doubt hope that Harry Potter’s younger son will find his way back to the side of the light, how much hope can there be for a boy already nicknamed ‘Lord Aldemort’ by his fellow Slytherins?



Lia made a very high-pitched noise. “What? Bwuh? Huh? What?”

“My thoughts exactly,” Avery agreed.

“Boss!” Lia protested. “You know I wouldn’t tell any newspaper people bad stuff about any of us! It’d be against house solidarity! You’d kill me!”

“Stop having hysterics, Rookwood,” Avery ordered. “I know it wasn’t you. You have an alibi, and since I’m that alibi I’m inclined to trust it. You were with Grimalkin and me for the entirety of yesterday evening, if you remember.”

“…oh yeah,” Lia said, relaxed, and tensed up again. “Someone did, though. That’s what you’re thinking, right?”

Avery was looking at the rest of the Slytherins as if he was working out which of them had alibis. Lia and Grimalkin traded glances and suggested, in perfect unison, “Let’s kill everyone in Slytherin except us and Potter, and we’ll see if that helps?”

Avery didn’t even bother to answer that. Al looked at his housemates. None of them looked like they would want to tell anyone nasty things about him.

Maybe no-one would believe Rita Skeeter, even if she was writing about him all officially in a newspaper. And maybe she’d been told about it from a Hufflepuff who’d overheard Lia, or something like that. Al hoped that was true. Why would anyone want to say things like that about him anyway? He hadn’t done anything yet.

It really couldn’t get any worse, at least, he decided, as he was leaving the Great Hall a few steps behind Faith and Kitty. Rosie immediately barrelled up to him and whacked him across the head with a newspaper.

“Ow!”

“Al! I told you not to talk to Malfoy!”

“I didn’t! That photo’s made up!” Al lied instantly. Rosie hit him with the newspaper again.

“Stop lying! I asked Violetta Harbringer and she said you’d been all friendly with him at Charms Club!”

Oh, so this was what the Auror’s Handbook meant when it talked about a suspect’s web of lies collapsing around them.

Rosie tried to hit him with the paper again. Al ducked.

“I was only a bit friendly! There’s nothing wrong with that!”

“Everyone told you not to talk to him!” Rosie shouted. “See what happened? You’re in the papers being called the next Dark Lord! I told you this would happen!”

“Rosie, no-one’s going to believe anything Skeeter’s said! It’s all completely ridiculous!”

Rosie carried on as if she hadn’t heard him.

“Why would you want to be friends with a Malfoy anyway?”

“…Professor Flitwick said our houses would be like our families here?” Al guessed, and probably the only reason Rosie didn’t hit him with the Prophet again was because she was too shocked. “I just thought it was important to get on with my-”

Rosie spun on her heel and stormed off.

“Wait!”

She didn't wait. Al rubbed his hands across his face and let out a heartfelt groan.





Hermione hopped out of the lift, struggling with her boots - the high heels helped her to look imposing, but they stopped her moving any faster than a brisk totter. She hissed a Severing Charm at the laces, yanked the boots off and threw them aside as she ran for the Auror’s offices. Harry’s office door was still closed when she flung the great oak doors to the offices open and for a second she thought she would get there before he could read the -

Then the door to Harry’s office blew off its hinges, skidded several feet, and crashed into Ron’s cubicle wall.

So much for that, then.

“Harry!” Ron yelped, leaping to his feet with his wand drawn, along with the rest of the Aurors.

“Harry,” Hermione gasped, hurrying towards him and clutching at his arm. “Ron, help me get him back into-” The assembled Aurors realised their stalwart commander was just throwing another strop and went back to work.

“Harry, mate,” Ron said, advancing cautiously and taking Harry’s other arm. “I dunno what’s going on-”

Harry made strangled furious noises, shook Hermione off and brandished the Prophet at Ron far too fast for him to actually read it.

“That’s awful,” Ron agreed, with a helpless glance at Hermione.

“Harry,” Hermione said as quietly as she could. “Murdering her won’t help, we have to make a plan-” Together she and Ron steered Harry back into his office, and as Harry threw himself down in his chair, Hermione reattached the door with a flick of her wand and cast an Imperturbable Charm. Ron mouthed Blimey at her.

“We don’t need a plan,” Harry said, in a very controlled voice. Ron seemed to take this as a sign he’d calmed down. Hermione was rather less sure. “I’ll tell Shacklebolt - or the Prophet, or the Wizengamot or - or anyone - and then she’ll go to Azkaban. No problem.”

Ron looked at Hermione over Harry’s head and mouthed what? Hermione looked pointedly at the newspaper Harry was still clutching. Ron sidled around behind him, read the headline and the byline and mouthed a word at Hermione that she decided was another Blimey.

“Say something!” Harry barked.

“Harry,” Hermione said carefully. “You can’t just turn Rita in right now - don’t shout at me - because the Wizengamot will want to know when you found out she was breaking the law - it’s been twenty-three years, Harry, they’ll want to know why you never said anything before!”

“We couldn’t have sent her to Azkaban then, it was full of Dementors! Dementors, who were going to join Voldemort!”

“I know, Harry, but then we didn’t tell anyone after the war, either-”

“After the war we had to rebuild Wizarding Britain! And Azkaban! And capture the Death Eaters and toerags like Umbridge!”

“Yes, we know, we were there - but it still won’t look good! It’ll be a scandal, you could lose your job!”

“I don’t care!” Harry shouted. “I don’t know why I took this stupid job any-”

“You took it so that you wouldn’t be as likely to die before your children had even started Hogwarts,” Hermione snapped. “If you want to lose your job, you’re welcome, but please try to hand it on to Ron before you go.”

Harry fell silent, glaring at the desk. Ron mouthed Rosie? at Hermione. She shook her head. Al was the easiest target right now; Rita would start on Rosie and James properly soon. Probably Rosie first - Hermione’s heart constricted.

“We need to stop her as soon as possible,” she said.

“Oh, do we, Hermione? That’s a surprise, I thought we could wait a while, have some tea,” Harry spat.

“Calm down, mate, Hermione’s got a plan,” Ron said, and waited for Hermione to tell them what her plan was. This would have been easier if Hermione had one.

“We need a good excuse to be suspicious of her,” Hermione told them. They weren’t at Hogwarts and they didn’t have a Death Eater with a magical eye around; where were they supposed to get that from? “Once we’ve got that, it should be simple-” except that Rita would tell everyone they had already known as soon as she was brought in for questioning. How were they supposed to get around that?

“Can’t Ginny do something?” Ron asked hopefully. “Maybe she can talk to the editor?”

Personally, Hermione doubted Ginny would be able to help. There were a lot of retired professional players trying to get into Quidditch journalism; simply put, Ginny was more expendable than Skeeter. “I’ll owl her immediately,” she promised anyway, because Harry or Ron would probably miss out the vital advice not to just murder Skeeter outright.

“I need to write to Al,” Harry said, scrabbling for parchment and a quill. “He’ll be upset- Lord Aldemort, what sort of moron would come up with that?”

Someone who had never met Al, Hermione guessed. He was a sweet boy, and earnest, and - though of course she loved Al as her nephew and she would never mention this in front of Harry, she had seen his marks from primary school – he was a little dim. Al could no more be the next great Dark Lord than he could learn to fly.

“Did I tell you what he’s been doing?” Harry asked, uncapping an inkpot. His hands were shaking, and ink splashed over his desk. Hermione cleaned that up with a wave of her wand.

“Panicking,” Ron guessed. Hermione shot him a look over Harry’s head.

“No. You remember I told him Slytherins weren’t all bad so he’d stop fretting?”

Ron and Hermione nodded.

“He decided that the Slytherins were an oppressed minority and he had to save them from the oppression,” Harry said wearily, and put his head down on the desk.

Ron and Hermione exchanged near-identical confused stares.

“That’s mental,” Ron said in a hushed voice. “You let Hermione babysit too often, Harry, it’s the only explanation.”

“That’s very, er, sweet of him,” Hermione said.

“Sweet!” Ron said. “What if he starts wanting to be friends with Scorpius Malfoy or someone like-”

Harry opened the paper to show him the photograph. Ron’s jaw hit the desk. His eyebrows hit the ceiling.

“That’s got to be taken out of context, Ron,” Hermione said exasperatedly. “They were probably having an argument.”

“It’s faked,” Harry said grouchily. “Al wouldn’t go near Scorpius Malfoy. I very specifically told him not to.”

Ron looked only slightly convinced. Unfortunately, Harry noticed.

“Al hasn’t done anything wrong!”

“I know, I know, I’m not having a go at Al,” Ron said. “I’m just saying, Al is a bit-”

“A bit what?” Harry demanded.

Hermione stifled a sigh. “We all have work to do right now,” she pointed out before everyone could start arguing about things Al was and wasn’t. “Let’s just think about ways to destroy Skeeter for now and meet in the cafeteria for lunch?”

“Brilliant idea, Hermione,” Ron said fervently. Harry muttered agreement and stared at his hands. Hermione could see he was embarrassed about getting so wound up, so hopefully he’d have calmed down by lunchtime.

Ron and Hermione left Harry to stew over his letter to Al and then, to Hermione’s surprise, Ron grabbed her arm and pulled her into the hallway to the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts cupboard.

“Look, Hermione,” he said abruptly. “If any of us has to take a fall - getting a new Head for the department would mess everything here up, and you’ve got your oppressed house-elves to look after, so-” He broke off and made a frustrated gesture.

“Ron,” Hermione said quietly, and stood on tiptoe to kiss him. He stooped to meet her. “We can handle this. We’ve handled far worse than irritating journalists. Can you keep an eye on Harry? Try to stop him if he’s doing something stu - impulsive.”

“Harry? Doing something stupid? Nah, couldn’t happen,” Ron said. They kissed again and Hermione headed back to her office, deep in thought.

Chapter 8: All Is Well (al is in denial)
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Al,

I'll fix this. I just need a couple of weeks to find some dirt on her and then she'll be in Azkaban, all right? Rita Skeeter's a complete liar, Al, no-one'll believe her stupid rubbish for a second. Tell your friend Faith that as well.

I'm sorry I

Then there was a thin scrubbed-raw patch on the parchment where it looked like his dad had started to write something and then Scoured it off, over and over again. The untidy scrawl only started again a few inches further down the page.

didn't realise this could happen, Al, but I swear I can fix this. Everything's going to be fine.

Love, Dad

Dear Dad, Al wrote back.

It's really not that bad. You were right, no-one believes her, so you shouldn't worry about it that much. Faith says she doesn't give a crap what the paper says but cheers anyway.

I know you'll sort it out, so please don't worry about that either.

I love you too

Al.

Al was lying, though (well, except about Faith not caring, that part was true). It didn't seem to matter that people couldn't possibly believe Rita Skeeter's article. People still shouted quotes at him in the hallways - mostly Gryffindors - and pointedly moved away from him in the library, and the only difference seemed to be that now they were doing it while laughing. Al was trying to pretend it was funny too, but it was exhausting him, and the constant fake smile made his face hurt.

A lot of the other Slytherins still seemed to think it was funny too, but with the shadow of Avery looming over them they weren't going to be too obvious about it. Al overheard Lia and Grimalkin at lunch discussing whether it would be funny to follow Al around yelling "MAKE WAY, BABY DARK LORD COMING THROUGH!" Lia decided that it would be hilarious. Grimalkin decided that "Avery would kill us. I'm not joking, Rookwood, I'm not exaggerating to be funny, he would literally kill us stone dead." And they both agreed that being dead would not be very much fun.

And that was only at school.

At breakfast the next day he was literally mobbed by owls trying to drop their letters right onto his head.  The first one he opened was written in tiny handwriting and on paper that smelt sweetly of lavender -

To Mr Albus Potter:

When I was at Hogwarts bad boys like you would have been hung up in chains as an example. Harry Potter deserves better than a son who associates with murderers and bigots! You are a disgrace to your family, and you deserve a sound thrashing!

Yours most sincerely,

Henrietta Fawcett

“...I think someone’s granny is sending me hate mail,” Al said.

“I think a lot of people’s grannies are sending you hate mail, Potter,” Lia said, reading his mail.

“My granny sends me hate mail all the time,” a fourth-year girl chipped in. “She doesn’t like that I’m halfblood. It’s all right, you get used to it.”

“This one says he’s going to send you a curse as soon as he can find a big enough box,” Lia said, opening some more of Al’s mail like she didn’t realise that she was committing a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to a hundred Galleons. “What a total amateur. I bet I could fit a curse in a box this big!” She held her finger and thumb an inch or so apart.

Or, possibly, she did realise and just didn’t care.

“This one says you ought to be more like your brother,” Grimalkin said. “We could take a potato masher to your brain, if that would help.”

“As your prefects it is our responsibility to help you become a better person,” Lia agreed. “Look at this one!” She started handing a very long letter that was apparently just a description of what Al deserved to happen to him around the table. Several people made notes.

Al skimmed through another letter about how he should read some history books and learn from his father’s example and squirmed uncomfortably.

“Potter, anybody stupid enough to believe anything written in the Prophet is unlikely to be any danger to you,” Avery said. “Regardless...” He frowned at the letter he was reading. Several words in it seemed to have been enchanted to change colour, and they were throwing erratic flashes of red across his face. “It would probably be best if you refrained from opening your own mail in the immediate future.”

Al put his head down on the table. This couldn’t be so bad, could it? No-one would seriously mail him curses, they had to be bluffing. His dad would never let hate mail bother him. It was going to be fine.

Another owl landed on his head.






When the lessons were over, Al dragged Faith and Kitty off into a corner of the Slytherin common room - well, dragged Kitty, Faith sort of sauntered agreeably along behind him complaining whenever he got too draggy - and got out the last parcel his dad had sent him, before all this stuff with the Prophet started happening.

"What's that?" Faith asked.

"It's a badge-making kit. To make badges supporting Victoire," Al explained. He still had to concentrate on the Tournament, even if other stuff that wasn't very nice was happening.

"...why do I want to do that?"

"Because she's my family and you're my friend," Al said and looked as cute as possible. He'd worked out by now that friends + family + big puppy eyes was the best way of getting Faith to help him.

"Oh, fine," Faith said. "Now stop that. I'm going to put the Colour-Change Charm on them, I don't do arty stuff. No complaining."

Since that had been Al's plan all along - he'd already seen Faith practicing her Colour-Change Charms on her cat Pineapple and she was better at that than at drawing, if the stick-figure versions of James' horrible impending death were any indication - he didn't complain. Speaking of James...

Al had been watching Score for most of the day, in lessons at least. He'd still tried to talk to the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws, but they'd just glared at him and moved away and on one occasion threatened him with their pruning shears. Now he was sitting at one of the tables, pen poised over his parchment but not actually moving, head in his hand.

"I actually need to talk to you both about something," Al said.

"Finally!" Faith said. "Go ahead, Tiny."

"James has been telling people about stuff that Score's dad did in the war," Al said hesitantly, not wanting to provoke a rampage. Auror Dawlish had gone on a rampage in Cornwall five years ago, and it had taken weeks to clear up all the rubble and find the dark wizard who'd sent him crazy in the first place.

"That bastard," Faith said apparently on reflex. "What's he been saying?"

"Bad stuff... like murdering loads of Muggles..."

Kitty blanched.

"I know it's made up, though," Al added hastily, "because my dad testified in favour of his dad at the trial and he wouldn't have done that if Score's dad had really been doing all the stuff James said he'd been doing." He thought about it and added "If Score's dad did all the stuff James said he'd been doing he'd never have had time to sleep."

That made Kitty almost smile, and she looked a bit less worried. Al counted that one as a victory.

"Let's just murder Potter," Faith said. "It'd make everything much simpler."

Al wondered if suggesting murder to solve every problem was a Slytherin thing and if so, if he should be doing it more. On the one hand, he loved his house and he wanted to support it, but on the other hand he wanted to support it with the minimum of homicide.

"I don't think that would work," he said.

"You can't just ask him to stop?" Kitty asked. "When my sisters are annoying me I just ask them to stop it and usually they do."

"...lucky," Al and Faith said together.

"Or start telling everyone it's not true," Kitty said.

Al wasn't totally sure that would help either - James was way more popular than any of them, and it wasn't like they were unbiased and impartial witnesses - but he nodded gamely and said "It's got to be worth a try." Kitty smiled.

"Score's grandad was a total evil tosspot, though," Faith pointed out. "If Idiot Potter had just been talking about his grandad no-one would have been able to prove otherwise. Potter's stupid." Seeing the look Al was giving her, she added defensively, "I mean, I'm upset, Score's my friend. I just wanted to point out that Potter's stupid."

"Um," Kitty said. "So...Score's grandad was evil?"

This wasn't going well. "A bit," Al hedged, and then since she would probably find out on her own he decided to be honest. "Actually, he was pretty bad, he was one of the top Death Eaters when-"

Kitty's face froze into a rictus of horror, which was something Al had read about in Auror reports but never actually seen. He wasn't that pleased to have the opportunity.

"That doesn't make Score evil, though," Al added hastily. "Anyway he died before Score was born, so Score can't have picked anything up off him."

"Unless Score's dad really is evil and just very bad at it," Faith suggested brightly.

"Score is probably not evil," Al said, much more loudly than he had intended. Score looked up.

"Thank you for that touching moral judgement, Potter," Grimalkin drawled.

"Don't listen to him, Malfoy. You can be as evil as you like," Lia ordered. "We're in favour of pointless malevolence in this house."

Score still looked uncertain. Al ducked his head and changed the subject.

"Anyway. Badges." He picked a blank one out of the box and turned it over in his hands. "Can anyone think of any slogans that would be good for Victoire?" He'd thought of HOGWARTS, for school unity, and VICTORY, because it was kind of a pun - maybe just VICTOIRE?

"Victoire," Kitty said, but thoughtfully, not like she was making a suggestion. "Victwa. Twa." She contemplated the word for another few seconds."...Twaaa."

"It's French. It means victory," Al said.

"Oh, French," Kitty said, and thought for a second. "'Don't Surrender'?"

Al quite liked that, but 'Don't Surrender' sounded more like an order than a slogan. "'Never Surrender'?"

"Okay," Kitty said, and started writing that out in big, careful letters.

"Victory?" Faith offered, taking the badge from Kitty. "Coloracambiara!" The writing started to shift between black and emerald green.

Al wrote HOGWARTS on his badge and wondered how to bring up his next topic. The problem was that he didn't really want to. He was having a perfectly nice conversation, so why ruin it talking about how apparently everyone was spying on him?

"Potter," Faith said, casting a spell on the first badge to give it a spiky, intricate border, "you know we could have done this sitting at a table? Instead of, like, on the floor in a corner? What are you playing at?"

"...all right, I wanted to talk about who's been telling Rita Skeeter things about me," Al admitted.

"Wasn't me," Faith said. "Kitty, was it you?"

"Nope," Kitty said, trying to draw a picture of Hogwarts Castle on her current badge.

"I'm out of ideas, then," Faith said. "Oh! Idiot Potter did it!"

"How would James have found out Lia's started calling me Lord Aldemort?" Al pointed out.

Faith looked like she was about to come up with a very complicated explanation involving Polyjuice Potion, time travel and trained elephants. Al cut her off before she could get started.

"He would think it was funny, though. I hope she doesn't try to talk to him."

"Maybe it's the portraits," Kitty guessed. "They can talk and listen, right? ...no, wait, there aren't portraits in the dungeons. Can witches make themselves invisible?"

Faith and Al looked at each other, and then Faith grabbed the box of blank badges and flung the contents out in a wide arc all around them. Badges rained completely unimpeded to the floor.

"Faith!" Al said, a bit exasperated.

"What? Now we know there aren't any invisible people around," Faith said.

"Yeah, but we have to pick them up," Al pointed out, scrambling around on his hands and knees gathering up badges. Rita Skeeter couldn't be invisible, could she? His dad had an Invisibility Cloak, but he'd got it from his dad, they weren't exactly common. And they didn't always work perfectly, but in a dark corridor or the Great Hall at dinner time, no-one would notice a foot sticking out or anything like that.

"Hello tiny children!" said Grimalkin, looming unexpectedly.

"What are you up to?" Lia asked. "Is it evil? If it's not sufficiently evil we're permitted to take disciplinary measures."

"We're making badges," Al explained, showing the prefects the ones they'd finished so far.

"Are they evil badges?" Lia asked, at which point Avery stalked up behind them and returned the badges to their box with an absent-minded flick of his wand.

"They aren't evil," Al said. "We're not going to make them be evil, either. Sorry. Avery, would you like a badge? They're to support my cousin Victoire." He held out the badges they'd finished and looked adorable. Avery picked out the first NEVER SURRENDER one and inspected it thoughtfully.

“They’re not evil even a little bit,” Lia warned him.

Avery ignored that and pinned the badge neatly on his robes.

"Good work, Potter."

Lia and Grimalkin exchanged glances, picked out two reading VICTORY, and grinned like they didn't mean it in a particularly Victoire-supporting way. Still, with those three wearing one everyone else in Slytherin would be wearing one soon, so Al decided that one was a victory for him. He showered some hasty thanks and praise on Avery - it was getting to be habit - and settled back down to making badges.







Al handed the badges out at the next Charms Club, since that was when he saw the most people from another house when they weren't busy with classwork. Everyone was talking about the Triwizard Tournament - it was only a week and three days until the first task now - and Al was hoping he'd be able to get people to wear the badges for the first task, at least.

"Make way! Baby Dark Lord coming through!" Dan Gunn yelled, leaping around in front of him and flailing like a baboon on Bacchanal Brew. Al tried to look on the bright side. At least it would attract attention.

"Gunn, stop that," Violetta ordered, marching over to them. Dan grinned at her, ruffled both her and Al's hair and bounded off.

Violetta sighed and glanced at the box of badges Al was holding. "What are these?"

"Badges!" Al said. "To support Victoire. She's my cousin, you know. So I made badges for everyone to wear so she'll know we're all supporting her." He gave her his sweetest, sunniest smile. She smiled back, and took a HOGWARTS badge.

"This is very nice work - is it yours?"

"The charms are Faith's," Al told her, hoping she would go and talk to Faith - not that he wouldn't normally have liked to talk to Violetta, but he was trying to get to as many people as possible. Violetta pinned the badge onto her sweater and excused herself. Al went looking for someone else to push a badge on to.

"So when do people start actually doing Charms?" Harriet Kendall asked from behind him. "Since that's what we're pretending to be here for."

"It'll start soon, this is just...socializing. Before all the work," Al said. Harriet and Simon Townsend had been a surprise: Al, Faith, Score and Kitty had been heading for the common room door when they had suddenly popped up and said "Hello. We are suffering from a sudden inexplicable desire to learn Charms. Please let us accompany you to your boring club."

Then Simon had pointed helpfully at Avery to explain the inexplicable desire.

It was a bit weird, Al thought. Like he had bodyguards to go to Charms club. Though at least it wasn’t just him. Simon Townsend was over by the refreshments table, apparently trying to see how many digestives he could fit in his mouth in between checking on Score. Al hadn’t thought either of them would need actually bodyguards for anything.

"Bugger socializing, I'm going to get a drink,“ Harriet decided. “Come on, Potter." She dragged him over to the table, which Al didn’t actually mind since that was where everyone else had ended up.

Once they’d got there, Simon greeted them with a wave and something incoherent that sprayed digestive crumbs everywhere.

"Thank you, Townsend, that was completely disgusting. Shouldn’t you be a bit closer to Malfoy?”

Simon choked down the digestives and answered “I can see him from here, I’ll notice if he falls down dead or something.”

That started a squabble, so Al took the opportunity to sidle away from them as nonchalantly as possible. Harriet broke off mid-sentence to say "Stay in sight, Potter," and went back to sneering at Simon, who just peacefully munched on some digestives and congratulated her on all the particularly vicious insults. (Al was starting to suspect that was a hobby of theirs or something.)

Anyway, Al decided he wasn't going to spend any time thinking about how bad he was at Stealth & Tracking and wandered up to Ann Seancey, the Gryffindor girl who was scared of Lia and Grim, while looking as harmless as he possibly could.

"Hi!"

Seancey leapt about fifteen feet into the air with a cry of "Jesus!"

"Sorry," Al said, with his most genuinely apologetic grimace. "Do you want a badge? They're free, and they're to support Victoire, and I thought since she's in your house-"

"Have Rookwood and Grimalkin been anywhere near them?" Seancey demanded.

"No," Al lied, with a little confused frown for good measure. Seancey stared at him for several seconds as if she was trying to read his mind. Al just blinked at her.

"I'll take this one," Seancey informed him, and flicked her wand to make one of the VICTOIRE badges float up out of the box. "But I'm not going to touch it until Professor Brand's checked it for me, so there." She glowered at him, added a "Lord Aldemort" for good measure, and then looked very confused about how she was supposed to get it into her pocket without touching it.

Still, she'd taken one. Al decided that was a victory for him and went bouncing off to look for someone else. He kept count: fourteen people took a badge, though Dan Gunn squinted at him a bit first and asked miserably “What are you going to do to me if I say no, my dark master?”

“...I’ll feed you to the Tibetan Biting Wasps,” Al told him.

He winced exaggeratedly and took a badge.

Seventeen didn't, though: of those seventeen, four claimed they’d just seen someone waving to them on the other side of the room and had to leave immediately, twelve flat-out refused to take one, and one said that wearing a badge with someone's name on it counted as idolatry of false gods and was therefore against his religion. Al decided that he’d at least managed to get fourteen people to take one, so it was a victory for him anyway.

He turned back towards the refreshments table - he was pretty sure he'd gone out of Harriet and Simon's sight by now, but they didn't seem terribly bothered - and found Score, standing in the middle of an almost empty space that had formed around him, talking to Lew.

"Hullo, Al," Lew said casually as he came up. Score just looked blankly at the floor.

"Hi! Do you want a badge?" Al asked. "They're free and they're to support the Hogwarts Champion!"

"'kay," Lew said, and picked one out at random. Al beamed at him  and turned his attention on Score. He hadn't talked to Score since he'd found out what James had been saying, actually. Unless it had been that Score had been avoiding him, because the couple of times Al had tried to talk to Score he hadn't been able to find him. Mostly Al had just been staring at him in lessons trying to figure out what to say, which was a bit rubbish and not practical at all. Plus, Score had looked extremely nervous and sort of creeped out every time he looked up and saw Al watching him.

"Hi, Score! Do you want a badge too?"

Score looked up and just stared at him. His face was blank, but his eyes were burning.

Al took two very quick steps back. "...is that a no?" Score looked really mad. Why was he mad? Al switched back to talking to Lew, hoping Score would relax if Al gave him a couple of minutes to calm down.

"So how are your lessons going?"

"Fine," Lew said. "The James Potter telling everyone about how Scorpius's dad eats babies is related to you, isn't he?"

"He's my brother," Al said. "I hadn't heard he was telling people Mr Malfoy ate babies. Is he telling people your dad eats babies?" he added to Score, understandably concerned.

"No, it's...it's a Muggle thing, eating babies, don't worry about it," Lew said.

"Muggles eat babies?" Score asked, startled out of the blankness and looking completely horrified.

"Do Slytherins actually murder people? It just means evil, don't worry about it, nobody eats babies," Lew said. He looked like he couldn’t believe he’d ever have had to clear that up.

"What's James actually been telling you, then?" Al asked, before everyone could get distracted by Muggles not eating babies.

"Various things," Lew said with a shrug. "I did some independent research and found out it was all a bit made up, but everyone else in my house believes it. I've tried to tell them it‘s not, but they'd all rather stress themselves out, so.” He shrugged again. Al glanced quickly at Score to see his reaction, but he’d just blanked over again.

"Anyone want another custard cream?"

“Is a chocolate bourbon out of the question?" Score asked. Lew shrugged again - this shrug seemed to mean 'I'll see what I can do in the field of chocolate bourbon acquisitions' - and headed off to the biscuit plate on the refreshments table.

"Lew's nice," Al observed, on account of not having anything more useful to say, and looked back at Score.

Score had fixed him with a glare that could have stripped paint.

"Erk!" said Al. "I mean - are you all right?"

Score kept up the relentless glare.

"I'd like a badge, please," Score said coldly. "I'd like to show support for my school." He said it like he actually meant "I'd like to rip off your head and play Quidditch with it'.

Al offered him the box helplessly. Score picked out one of the badges that said NEVER SURRENDER and pinned it onto his robes, darting a quick, defiant look at Al as he did, and stalked off after Lew again.

Al just stood there, clutching his box. What had that been about?

He was starting to wonder if Score might just be completely mental. Being friends with two mental people would be really hard, but Al thought he could manage it.








 

When there were three days to go until the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, Score found himself browsing through the shelves of the Potions section in the library with two particular aims in mind: firstly, to find a copy of Swivenwick's Almanac of Moon Phases and Potion-Making, and secondly, to ignore the Ravenclaws whispering loudly and very obviously at the nearest table.

A copy of the Almanac was not forthcoming. Score straightened up, wondering if he could reserve a copy. He was fairly sure he had heard that reservations were limited to third-years and above - in which case, it would be simpler to just ask his father to buy him a copy.

The Ravenclaws were still whispering, with brief interludes of muffled laughter. Score hated to be paranoid, but he was reasonably certain they were talking about him on the basis that they had been studying in the traditional Ravenclaw fashion - quietly and obsessively - before they had noticed he was there.

This, Score decided, was one of the many, many reasons Slytherin was better than Ravenclaw. Slytherins would have either gossiped far more subtly or just run up, thrown a bag over his head, dragged him down to the dungeons and been halfway through the ritual sacrifice by now. ...obviously the former would have been preferable, but there was no denying that the Slytherins were just more efficient.

By now the whispering had spread to a pair of fifth-year Hufflepuff girls sitting closest to the Ravenclaws: they were darting suspicious glances at him behind their textbooks and either didn't care whether or not he noticed or were not cut out to be superspies.

Score did his best to ignore them. The small matter of his father's war crimes would have come up sooner and later (not to mention his grandfather's and great-aunt's - it would have been nice to have some relatives on his father's side who hadn't been completely evil) and he had firmly decided that it was better to get it over with sooner rather than later.

...Unfortunately, all the blind optimism in the world couldn't change the fact that he had been unwelcome from the start, he was in urgent need of tuition in Defence Against the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, one of Harry bloody Potter's foul brats was spreading lies about his father out of pure vicious attention-seeking stupidity and the other one - Score didn't have the least idea what sort of game Albus Potter was playing, but he was entirely certain he would not like the results. His father had warned him quite enough about the Potters and Score had no intention of trusting one of them in a hurry.

In conclusion, Score's life was wonderful. He feared he might spontaneously burst into song.

He turned away from the Potions section and its infestation of idiots and headed for the Transfiguration section, where there should be firstly a basic guide to the theory of trans-elemental transfiguration which Harper had recommended and secondly a textbook large enough that he would be able to beat himself to death with it if the Transfiguration section was found to be similarly swarming with imbeciles.

Much to Score's relief, it wasn't. He located the textbook he wanted quite easily and proceeded towards Madam Pince's desk, hoping that he would be able to complete the rest of his library-related transactions with the minimum of suicidal impulses. Unluckily, that was not to be the case, as the elder Potter brat and his inept duo of minions chose that exact moment to find out where the library was.

"Oi, Louis," said the Potter, in a voice loud enough that if there was any justice in the world all the books would have leapt from their shelves to bludgeon him unconscious, "where's the Transfig section again?"

It was at about this point that Score remembered that he was in the Transfiguration section. Unfortunately he realised this the moment after one of the Potter minions pointed at him. Even more unluckily, being platinum blond tended to make one instantly recognizable.

Potter looked tremendously pleased by this new turn of events, and while Score hated to run away he suspected he would hate to be thrown out of a window more. He exited the Transfiguration section at high speed and found himself in the Care of Magical Creatures section of the library. Unfortunately for Score, the Care of Magical Creatures section of the library turned out to be a dead end.

Stuff Hogwarts and its endearingly convoluted architecture, Score decided. He glanced around for an escape, allies or, worst-case scenario, improvised weaponry. There were no other Slytherins about, which would obviously have been the best option, but to his surprise he found a potential ally. Oksana Zelenko, Durmstrang champion and, from what he'd overheard at the dinner table, quite a pleasant girl and most importantly quite poor at English, was curled up in a window-seat with a Russian copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Score had intended to keep this as a last resort, but short of a death-defying plunge out of the window there didn't seem to be many alternatives, and that was precisely the situation he was trying to avoid. He glanced up quickly at the highest shelf, spotted a book with a distinctive green leather cover, and sauntered over to Oksana as casually as possible.

"Excuse me-" he greeted her in Russian, pleased to see that it still came easily.

"I asked you all to leave me in peace!" Oksana said, and looked up. Her mouth fell open.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you," Score said, and took a step backwards.

"No!" Oksana put her book down open on the windowseat and stood up. "Your Russian is so good that I mistook you for one of my schoolmates - please, take it as a compliment? How can I help you?"

Score could see into the Transfiguration section from here: he glanced back pretending to be looking back at the shelves and saw Potter and his idiot disciples gathered around one book, pretending to stare at it blankly ("What is this strange device? Can it be used for Quidditch?") while actually watching him with the absolute minimum of stealth.

"I was having trouble getting a book down from the top shelf, and I wondered if you would be able to help me," Score lied.

"Of course!" Oksana loped past him to the bookshelves. "Which is it that you wanted?"

"Three books to the right of the one with the green cover - yes, that one," Score said, pointing exaggeratedly, and Oksana stretched up to get it and passed it down to him.

"Thank you!" Score said, with a slight bow. He was fairly sure it was proper ettiquette at Durmstrang for lower-school students to bow to upper-school students, at least if the lessons his grandmother had given him were accurate.

"Oh, no," Oksana said, blushing. "Really, it was a pleasure to help - our Minister for Foreign Relations lectured us so much about making friends with you all, but very few of us speak English so it has been a bit tricky." She smiled. "How did you learn Russian?"

"Malfoy! Hey, Malfoy!" Potter Idiot Senior shouted, and went off into peals of laughter. Score didn't look around.

"My parents planned to send me to Durmstrang originally," Score admitted. "And having lessons in a language that I didn not understand would have been problematic, so they hired a tutor to teach me. He always said I was doing well, but it is nice to have confirmation from someone not paid to say that."

Oksana smiled, at least. "So why are you-" She looked past him and frowned. "Are these friends of yours?"

Score looked around as though he hadn't the least idea who she was talking about.

"Oh, them," he said dismissively in English, before switching quickly back to Russian. "They're just acquaintances of mine. Ignore them." He kept his voice low and turned away from Potter and the Potterettes as he spoke. His grandmother had taught him very specifically to never reveal anything more than was necessary.

"Malfoy!" Potter shouted, dashing up and skidding to a halt in front of them because he was a savage raised in a cave who didn't know that it was improper to run in a library. He was grinning all over his hideously befreckled face. "Who's that?"

How literally retarded did Potter have to be not to recognize the Durmstrang Champion? Perhaps he had been kicked repeatedly in the head as a child. Score schooled his face into the blankest, calmest mask he could and said "Oksana Zelenko. The Durmstrang Triwizard Champion." Had that been slightly more confrontational than he'd intended? Dammit. In the future, stuff manners, he was going to let Harper get herself out of the trouble she got herself into.

"So...why are you talking to her? Does she even speak English?" Potter prompted, and grinned like he'd just thought of something amazing. Potter thinking at all should qualify as amazing, for that matter. "Are you asking for tips on the Dark Arts?"

Potter Minion Number One laughed obediently. Potter Minion Number Two looked equal parts bored and angry, but then Score suspected that was the only facial expression he had.

"I can recognize their tone, if not their words," Oksana said coolly, and drew her wand. "Leave, children. You are not wanted here." She spoke very clearly and made shooing gestures, to be sure that her meaning would be understood.

Potter and Potter Minion Number One laughed, Potter sweeping his hair about dramatically as he did.

"What, leave? Our own library?" Potter repeated, reconsidered, and added "This is our library and we shall not be parted from it! We shall fight for our library! Go back to the snowy steppes from whence you came, dark shadow of...dark shadow of..." He glanced at his minions.

"She's from Durmstrang," Potter Minion Number One supplied helpfully. Dear God, it was like watching a farce.

"...dark shadow of Durmstrang!" Potter finished, with a flourish. Potter Minion Number One clapped.

And these were the people making Score's life a living hell? Score was deeply, deeply shamed.

"Are they babbling inanely? It is difficult to tell, but I think that they are," Oksana said to him conspiratorially. "At Durmstrang, the lower-school children respect their seniors. Vsegdasmekha!"

Potter fell about laughing, and it took a second for Score to realise that that was the intent of the spell. Oksana aimed her wand at Potter Minion Number Two.

"Tell them to go."

Potter flailed about on the floor in hysterics, and it was glorious to behold.

"I think she wants you to leave," Score said, as blandly as he could. Potter Minion Number One hauled Potter to his feet and draped him half over his shoulder. Potter wheezed and gasped like a landed fish. Score was struck by a sudden desire for a camera.

"Come on, Fred, let's go-"

Potter Minion Number Two glowered at Score and said "You're dead, Malfoy." Oh no! Not unimaginative death threats!

Then Potter Minion Number Two sloped off with Potter (still wheezing) and Potter Minion Number One (still with no discernable personality).

"Do you think I should have taken the spell off?" Oksana asked a little ruefully, slipping her wand back into her blood-red robes. "At Durmstrang we usually don't - it encourages them to find the counter-spell and learn from their mistakes - but in hindsight that was a little undiplomatic of me." Her smile was warm and crooked and fleeting. "Why were - oh." She frowned.

"Is something the matter?" Score asked her.

"I meant to ask why they were so impolite - but they were wearing red ties and yours is green. Is it a problem with your houses?"

"...yes," Score said, deciding to simplify the matter as much as possible. Oksana shook her head exasperatedly.

"We do not have houses at Durmstrang. We just have our years, and all students in the same year should be friends. That is a much better way of doing it, I think, if you will forgive the undiplomacy.” She rubbed the back of her neck thoughtfully. “…Why did your parents send you here?"

"My father didn't want me to go to school so far away," Score said dismally. "It is starting to look like a silly idea, though."

Oksana frowned and was about to reply when a raucous voice shattered the silence: "Potter? What the hell are you doing now, you silly bastard?"

That would be Harper, arriving just after the nick of time. Score was very tempted to just stay there chatting to Oksana and leave her to it, but then he wouldn't be able to watch her kick Potter around the library.

"He got hexed, now go away before I make you regret it," Potter Minion Number Two barked. "Finite Incantatem!"

Score padded back to the entrance to the Transfiguration section and watched intently. Oksana followed him.

"Another fight? Is this normal in your library?"

"That girl's a friend of mine. It's normal for her," Score explained.

Harper was standing over Potter and the Potter Minions, grinning like a loon and holding a stack of books on decorative Charms for God alone knew what reason. Potter was still wheezing helplessly on the floor. Potter Minion Number Two's countercurse obviously hadn't worked.

"Finite Incantatem!" Potter Minion Number One tried. Again, that didn't seem to help.

"...In hindsight, I am glad that I did not take the spell off for them. They look as if they need the practice," Oksana observed.

"Finite Incantatem," Harper said, with a flick of her wand. Potter stopped laughing.

"Haha," Harper added smugly, and stuck her tongue out at the Potter Minions. Score frowned. That was out of character for her...unless...

Potter was getting unsteadily to his feet, Potter Minion Number One having volunteered himself as a crutch. He'd gone bright red. Interesting. Score hadn't known prolonged exposure to the Tickling Charm could have that effect.

"Thank you, Faith." Oh yes. Score had briefly forgotten Harper's first name. "That was... surprisingly nice of you..."

"No, that was showing off," Harper corrected. "Rictusempra!"

Potter went down again like he'd been hit by a ton of bricks, and Harper laughed so hard that for a moment Score thought she'd managed to hex herself as well. Potter Minion Number Two drew his wand and lunged at her, roaring, at which point Harper threw her stack of books into his face.

The consequences would probably have been terrible, but at this point Madam Pince grabbed Harper and Potter Minion Number Two by the ears and hauled them both out of the library. Potter Minion Number One followed with Potter draped over his shoulders, giggling feebly. From the noises from the corridor immediately afterwards, though, Harper and the Potter Minions's squabble had escalated into a full-blown duel. Score fought the urge to go and assist her.

Attending Hogwarts was a stupid idea, easily on par with all the stupid ideas his father had ever had. He almost wished he could just ask for a transfer to Durmstrang.

 

Chapter 9: The First Task (All Three Champions Die)
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The day of the First Task dawned cold but clear, with not a cloud on the ceiling of the Great Hall. Al didn't have much time to enjoy it, though, because he was trying to distract Faith from glowering across the hall at James, who was doing a very inaccurate re-enactment of their fight a few days earlier. Faith had ended up in the Hospital Wing covered in boils after that one. James and Fred had ended up in the Hospital Wing with James’s and Fred unable to walk. Faith was pretty sure she had won. According to James, however, she had been comprehensively defeated - 'comprehensively defeated' was what Aurors said when they'd accidentally dropped a wall on a felon - and ended up fleeing to the Slytherin common room crying like a little girl.

James did a particularly nasty imitation of Faith having a hysterical breakdown, looking across the Great Hall to make sure she was watching. Faith leapt to her feet, snatching up a fork probably for disembowelling purposes.

"Harper, please don't lose us any more house points," Score said. Faith made a rude gesture at him.

"Score has a point," Al said, which only made Score look worried. Al was starting to wonder if there was any way he could win there.

"You'll lose us points and anyway he only wants the attention, so if you go over there and try to beat him up you'll be giving him what he wants - plus, the Gryffindors would be really upset and you'd be outnumbered," he added, and then a package fell out of the sky and landed on his head.

"Ow!"

Al's owl landed on the table in between a jug of milk and the butter dish and preened smugly, clearly very impressed with her aim, as the rest of the post owls started to flood in through the windows. At least the hate mail had stopped by now and no curses had actually turned up, though Avery still glanced up as Al made to open the envelope attached to his parcel.

“My owl brought it and it’s my dad’s handwriting, I don’t think it’ll be trying to kill me,” Al said, which seemed to be satisfactory.

Opening the envelope first turned out to have been a good choice, because the letter said:

Dear Al, DON'T OPEN THE PACKAGE AT THE TABLE.

I'm lending you my dad's Invisibility Cloak. Careful with it, it's been in the family for a while. There's lots of useful stuff you can get up to with an Invisibility Cloak, and I thought it might cheer you up a bit. Hope it does. Use it if you'd ever rather not be seen. (Remember you've got to tell me if you spot anyone doing anything illegal, though.)

Love, Dad.

Al pressed down on the parcel, in a kind of disbelief, and felt cloth crumple under his fingers. His dad had really sent him his Invisibility Cloak? But wasn't that dangerous - what if his dad needed - Al reminded himself that his dad hadn't used his Cloak in a few years at least, and he could do a good enough Disillusionment Charm anyway, and he wouldn't even have sent it if he thought he would need it himself.

Wow. He'd trusted Al with a family heirloom? He'd never given James any family heirlooms, Al thought happily, and slid the parcel into his satchel under his seat. Faith whipped the letter out of his hand.

"Hey, what does - wow! Al, your dad-"

"Shut up!" Al yelled at her. Faith blinked at him, and then opened her mouth like she was going to yell even louder just to be contrary.

"Please?" Al added. That worked better. He motioned for her to sit down next to him again and whispered into her ear, "My dad doesn't want anyone to know I've got it because then it wouldn't be much use - so no telling, please?"

"Oh fine, titch," Faith said. She looked like she was thinking of all the horrible things she could do to James if she had an invisibility cloak, so Al decided not to let Faith use the invisibility cloak unsupervised. At least it had distracted her from stabbing him repeatedly with a fork.

Score's grandmother had sent him another huge box of sweets, and he was handing them around the table. Maybe it was a bit huger than normal this time, because of the First Task, but she seemed to do that every few days anyway. Score's granny was quite nice, Al had decided, and then once he realised this box had blood-flavoured lollipops in he liked her even more.

They all wandered down to the opposite end of the lake after breakfast, Al sucking on a blood-flavoured lollipop and Score carrying the box of sweets, which was still half full. Faith was munching on a Cauldron Cake. Al had offered Kitty a blood-flavoured lolly but she said she didn't think she would like one.

"Wow!" Faith said, as they reached the top of one of the small cliffs around the other end of the lake and saw cut into the earth below tier upon tier of benches and, below all that, a huge rocky amphitheatre on the lakeshore. A deep flooded canyon ran down the centre almost all the way across the arena, and the far side bristled with fir trees. One wing of the seating jutted out into the lake, forming a deep bowl around the arena almost like a harbour. It was very pretty, but...

"It's very poor terrain for a fight," Al said. "Does anyone know what they'll have to do?"

"Er, something really dangerous," Faith guessed happily.

"The Champions won't have to fight each other for the first task," Kitty said, consulting her encyclopedia of the Triwizard Tournament. "It says it's usually something with a magical creature...hopefully something not very scary..." The Slytherins staked out their seats roughly in the middle and to the left and most of them stretched out at full-length along the bleachers to get the most out of the weak sunshine as Avery and Grimalkin cast Warming Charms. Al scanned the students filtering in, trying to work out how many of them were wearing his badges. He'd thought they might be more popular if it wasn't a Slytherin handing them out, so he'd given what was left after Charms Club to Violetta and made another batch to give to Lew, but the problem there was he didn't know how many people had actually taken one.

James, Fred and Louis were all wearing one when they showed up, and so was Rosie, who came in in a big group of Ravenclaws. Al wondered if they knew where the badges had come from, and if it would matter so much that they hadn't been given out by a Slytherin so long as as many people as possible were wearing them. The appearance of unity was the most important thing, Al thought: if he could make that, he could trick people into thinking they really were all united, and after that everything should just fall into place.

He looked back down at the amphitheatre, trying to work out where the champions were. They had to be there already, didn't they? He hadn't seen Victoire at breakfast, and he knew she'd dyed her hair red and gold again for the first task, so she wouldn't have been hard to pick out. The Durmstrang champion definitely hadn't been there either.

Score was looking around too, like he was thinking the same thing Al was.

"Do you know where the Champions are?" Al asked him, in as friendly and non-confrontational a voice as he could manage. Score just shook his head, but he was looking at a bulge in the bare rock below the box that had been carved out for the staff and Uncle Percy. Al supposed that might be it - it was a little bit away from the floor of the arena itself, and there could be protective charms over it.

Time dragged on. More and more people started to pour in - the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang school students, Portkeyed into Hogsmeade that morning, were obviously the biggest groups of guests, but it looked like everyone who lived in Hogsmeade must have turned up. The Slytherins who had been stretched out dozing had to sit up and bunch inwards to make room until they were surrounded by grown wizards and the first-years had to ask the people in front to move so they could see properly. Al could see that being surrounded was making the prefects paranoid, but that didn't seem very reasonable.

Finally, the headteachers, Uncle Percy and whoever was Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports (Finley, Al thought?) showed up, the latter coming up from a flight of steps that had opened up in the professors' box - it looked like Score had been right about where the Champions' tent was, then.

It all started quite anticlimactically, really: Finley cast Sonorus on himself and shouted "Attention! attention!" until people started to pay him some.

"It is my pleasure, witches, wizards and students from abroad, to welcome you to the First Task of the 2017 Triwizard Tournament!" Finley was quite a short man, with stubby little legs, and his head was very bald and very shiny. Al looked at what he'd just thought and hoped that wasn't unfairly judging anyone for their looks. He was pretty sure his dad would never have done that.

"In a few minutes, the first Champion will emerge from the tent below and the First Task will begin: this year, the Champions will be pitted against some of the strangest and deadliest creatures the magical world has to offer-"

"There's a surprise," said Avery, who was reading a book.

"These three valiant young mages have been charged as follows: they are to capture the creature placed into the enclosure with them, with the minimum of harm to either themselves or the animal. Marks out of ten will be awarded by myself, Mr Weasley, and the heads of Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, based on time, skill, courage displayed and, well, anything else that seems relevant!"

Somewhere down below a whistle blew.

"And that's the signal for the first Champion to enter the arena: witches and wizards, I give you Oksana Zelenko of Durmstrang!"





Oksana had drawn the first turn: she walked - walk, don't run and don't dawdle, look calm, look collected - down the steps from the tent to the arena and scanned the terrain, looking for cover and good defensive points and, more importantly, whatever was in there with her. Do not look at the crowd, do not try to understand the commentator, do not be sick: there was only her and the arena and her quarry, and no reason to be afraid. Oksana cemented that in her mind and paced slowly around the edge of the amphitheatre, keeping her back to the wall as much as she could. 

She was examining the treeline for movement when a bubble the colour of ink burst from the surface of the lake, soared high over the wall and fell softly to the ground twenty feet away from her. The animal she was expected to capture must be in there - which meant it was small, by the standards of dangerous magical creatures. That probably meant it was poisonous.

The bubble burst with a quiet pop. It was empty.

What did that mean? Was the bubble a diversion meant to break her focus, or - Oksana crushed the momentary confusion and thought, invisible? Or only Disillusioned?

The creature let out a high scream, like an angry pig, and kicked up a spray of dust as it shot towards the trees and cover. Oksana raced after the animal automatically, not wanting to lose it in the trees, and realized a split second too late that she had let herself be caught with her back to a cliff, just as the animal shot out of the trees and slammed into her stomach like a Bludger. Oksana tumbled backwards, tried to grab at the edge of the cliff but it crumbled under her fingers, and then the water came up and hit her in the face.

It was deeper than she had thought it would be, Oksana thought muzzily, though nowhere near as cold as the lakes around Durmstrang. Was there a way she could use that to -

Then she realized she was sinking slowly to the bottom of a lake. Dammit, she was losing time! There was no point in trying to swim in wet robes, so she flicked her wand as best she could underwater and thought the incantation for the Bouyancy Charm as hard as she could. It worked, luckily: the noise of the crowd came back in a rush as she broke the surface and waded out onto the shore, dripping lakewater, and she blocked it out as best she could. Here, at least, the surface was sand and she would be able to see the creature's tracks if it made another charge.

…'the creature', she thought. Invisible, about four feet high, and it shrieked like a pig. A Tebo, Oksana realized. Knowing what it was helped, actually: Tebos, African warthogs capable of becoming invisible, aggressive when agitated and agitated very easily. But if it was agitated, it wouldn't be able to think.

It seemed that the first step should be to agitate it further, then. Oksana touched her wand to the middle of her forehead and whispered "Puzbira!" The air in a sphere all around her head seemed to solidify like treacle: Oksana checked that she could still breathe it in easily and then set fire to the trees. The branches were still green and living, and as the crowns went up like bonfires they billowed great clouds of stinging smoke across the arena.

The crowd, of course, had started to shout as soon as she torched the trees, and then to cough and choke as the smoke started to drift up into the rows of seats. That was irritating. It would be harder to find the Tebo if she couldn't rely on the sound of its coughing.

Oksana stirred her wand counterclockwise through the air, muttering an incantation that made the wind pick up and blow smoke all around the arena, and then went hunting for the Tebo.

This proved to not be difficult. The warthog, angered or just agitated by the crackling fires, charged at her as she scrambled up onto a higher, more level area near the trees, where the smoke was thickest. Oksana barely spotted it in time to dodge, but the wind throwing the smoke around it and against it made a dusty outline of it she couldn't miss when it started to move. But if she could make it any more visible...

"Accio!" A cloud of soot billowed into the air from the blazing trees and fell over Oksana and the Tebo like a sudden rainstorm, settling on the bubble of air around the top of her head and all along the warthog's back. It charged again, bellowing, and Oksana dived to one side, tearing her knees up on the rocky ground but that was barely worth noticing, and she leapt back onto her feet as the warthog wheeled around, raising her wand-

"Imperio!"

The sudden squalling from the crowd made it hard to concentrate, but this particular spell was mental discipline as much as magic and that was where Oksana excelled, and she forced the Tebo back - her will against its, and no mere animal could hope to match a Durmstrang student in a matter of willpower. The Tebo took a step back, and another, and when it was far enough away Oksana flicked her wand again and shouted "Kietka!"

And that was a spell she knew well too, from the times when Vanya absolutely would not leave her in peace, and it worked as well  now and at Hogwarts as it had at Durmstrang: a cage of black bars like voids cut into space appeared around the Tebo and contracted sharply to pin it in place.

That, Oksana decided, dispelling the Bubble-Head Charm so the soot settled gently onto her hair and shoulders, had gone well. It was a terrible surprise to see how angry some of the judges looked.

Six points from Professor McGonagall, the pinched-faced headmistress of Hogwarts, and five from Madame Maxime. Professor Kohut gave her ten, of course, but that was only favouritism. He looked very angry. Three points from the head of the English Department of Foreign Affairs, and seven from the commentator - Oksana counted that up quickly and got 31. Why so low? She didn't think she had taken that long, she had escaped injury, she had hardly run away screaming - Professor Kohut must have seen her confusion, because he leant over the railing and told her coldly "Points deducted for use of the Dark Arts, Zelenko."

...damn.

Oksana felt an awful fool. It wasn't the worst score on record, she tried to console herself - but still, it was an embarassing defeat. It had never been mentioned in the rules, so how had she been expected to know that the Forbidden Curses were forbid...oh.

Well, Oksanochka my beloved, they probably thought you could work that out from their name, Oksana's little imaginary Vanya told her as patronizingly as he could. Oksana crushed the little imaginary Vanya under a little imaginary anvil, bowed politely to the five judges - all of whom glowered at her stonily - and left the arena for the hospital tent.

That had been a humiliating loss, and all entirely her fault.  Oksana resolved to do better in the next trial. And at least - looking on the bright side for a moment - at least she had destroyed all the cover for when the other Champions took their turn.





"See, that was unfair," Faith said. "The Imperius Curse is bloody hard, she should have gotten more points for doing it well." She was leaning forward to watch Oksana leave the arena. "I've never managed it, at least, and I've practised loads," she added sourly.

"What?" said Al.

"What?" said Kitty.

"Harper," Grimalkin said, "while we're obviously all very pleased with your progress in the pointlessly-evil part of being a Slytherin, you've seriously got to work on your cunning. You aren't supposed to admit to using illegal spells, you know."

"My dad does it all the time," Faith said defensively.

"...that doesn't help your case," Grimalkin said.

"Harper, please try to avoid using the Dark Arts unless it's absolutely essential," said Avery, who had gone back to his book.

"Why would dark magic ever be essential?" Al demanded. "Faith, why were you doing that?”

Faith looked at him like he was a bit dumb and said "Potter, I live on a farm? With horses? How would you go about getting a purebred Aethonan stallion - who by the way has the temperament of a pissed-off weasel - to shut up without it? It's only illegal to use on humans, you know." She folded her arms and flopped down in her seat, then added grumpily. "There's loads of good reasons to use dark magic. Anyone who says there isn't hasn't got any imagination."

"Give me one good reason to use the Cruciatus Curse, then," Avery suggested.

Faith thought about that. "Well, if you really don't like someone..."

Avery turned a page in an oddly skeptical way.

"Well, you know what I mean anyway," Faith said, as the whistle blew again.

"Witches and wizards!" Finley boomed. "I give you... the Hogwarts Champion!"






Several minutes earlier, Victoire had been pacing back and forth in front of the exit to the tent, listening to the commentary on the Durmstrang Champion’s attempt.

"Oh dear, Zelenko’s taken an unexpected bath-" Finley said. That didn't sound good.

"Excuse me?" A tall wizard with a shock of dark hair - one of Uncle Percy's assistants, Victoire thought - slipped into the tent. "I have a message for Miss Victoire Weasley?"
Uncle Percy wanted to wish her luck, then? He could have done it in person. "Yes? What is it?" Victoire crossed the tent towards the wizard, who took hold of her arm, pulled her behind a curtain and kissed her.

"Erk!" Victoire said, shoving him in the chest, and then realised who he must be. "Teddy, you ass!"

Teddy grinned at her, changing his eyes back to their usual hazel but not the rest of his face.

"Don't be angry, Vicky, please...I only wanted to wish you luck..." The woefulness in his voice would have been a lot easier to believe if he hadn't been obviously so close to laughing.

"Shouldn't you be at work?"

"Funny story, that," Teddy said. "I told them I was ill. So if anyone asks you, I'm dying of leprosy right now. Look what I've got!" He held out the badge on his robes - Victoire had assumed it was just a staff badge or something like that, but looking closer –

"VICTOIRE," she read out, and glanced back up at him. "Did you make that?"

"Hah. Me? No. James spotted me as I was coming in and made me take his - made it himself, the clever sod. He's got loads of people wearing them, too."

Victoire smiled despite the butterflies in her stomach. "James’s a sweet kid, yeah." Even if he was a bit of a prat sometimes, though she was quite sure he’d got that from Teddy.

Teddy nodded and took hold of her by the upper arms. "Now. Remember." He stared down at her seriously, changing his eyes to grey for maximum seriousness. "Stay calm, and whatever you do, don't die."

"...wait, aren't I usually the one saying that to you?"

"Well, yes," Teddy admitted, and grinned at her. "I thought it would be funny. Plus-" He pulled a couple of bottles of Butterbeer out of his robe. "I brought these along. See you after you get done with all this?"

Victoire smiled. "Yeah, sure. I‘ll meet you at-"

The whistle blew.

"Oh, hell! That's me!" Victoire whirled towards the door. Teddy caught her arm, pulled her back, and kissed her firmly on the end of her nose.

"Now you can go. Good luck, have fun!"

Victoire waved goodbye to him, dashed out the exit and clattered down the steps into the arena.

Chapter 10: The First Task III (Victoire Dies)
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Suddenly the butterflies had come back in full force - they'd done that as soon as she left Teddy, actually. Victoire tried to ignore them. This couldn’t be any more dangerous than when she’d climbed the east wall of the castle with Dominique, could it? And at least she couldn’t get detention for this.
 

Everyone was shouting, and there seemed to be so many people in the stands - she couldn't resist trying to pick out Dominique or Louis or any of her cousins, but she couldn't see them anywhere.
 
Victoire realised she'd lost her concentration and snapped her gaze back to the arena, half-expecting to see a Hungarian Horntail coming charging at her. It didn't look much like it had when she'd peeked out before Oksana had gone on. For one thing, there'd been trees as opposed to still gently smouldering stumps - at least she could see that whatever she was meant to capture wasn't there yet, but it would have been nice if Oksana hadn't gone and destroyed all the cover.

 

A small blackish bubble popped up from under the lake and bounced over the wall, coming to a stop on the edge of the water. Small - well, at least it wasn't a dragon. It was probably going to be really fast or on fire or something though, Victoire thought gloomily.

 

The bubble popped, leaving seven goblin-sized, goblin-shaped creatures standing clustered together where it had been.

 

Alternatively, there were going to be a whole lot of them.

 

What were they? Not actual goblins, that would be illegal...nothing Victoire had experience with, at least. She moved forwards away from the wall, cautiously, and a few stones came loose under her boots and rattled as they slid across the bare rock. The seven goblin-things' heads snapped up and towards her. For a second, it almost felt like they were taking aim - and then the pack split up, three blurs heading towards what shelter the tree trunks had to offer and four towards the scree at the base of the cliffs. Crap, they were fast!

 

Victoire lashed out towards the trees on instinct - "Reducto!" - and they exploded into splinters. That wiped out their cover, and Victoire could see one of them moving behind the stumps -



"Stupefy!"

 

The red flash missed and cratered the ground, and before Victoire could try again one of the goblin-things leapt at her from behind. She dived sideways but slipped on the loose ground and tumbled down a slope in a shower of scree. On the bright side, the goblin-thing seemed to be fast but not very nimble - it overshot and kept going before skidding around in a wide circle like an old Comet 320. Victoire scrabbled to her feet and got her back against a spur of rock, trying to figure out their weak spot - lack of maneuvreability was all she had so far, but if she could aim right they might turn out to be crap at dodging as well - she'd only been looking out to either side, not above her. One of the goblin-things leapt onto her head.

 

Victoire screamed and grabbed at it on instinct before she even thought to reach for her wand, as it yanked out fistfuls of her hair and clawed at her face. "Stupefy!"

 

She only realized a second later that if she'd missed she would have Stupefied herself in her own face. Luckily, she hadn't, and the goblin-thing went limp and dropped to the ground. Another of the little bastards immediately dashed up, grabbed it by the feet and catapulted itself at her swinging its unconscious friend like a Beater's bat. At least Victoire was ready for that one.

 

"Stupefy!" The second one dropped, too. Victoire left them there and scrambled back up the slope - from higher vantage point she might be able to see them, though the disadvantage was they would be able to see her. All thought of strategic advantages, however, flew right out of her head as she straightened up at the top - wand raised warily - and saw with the little bastards had been doing.

 

Obviously, the two down below had just been stalling her. The other five had been collecting weaponry.

 

The five of them were all gathered by the remnants of the trees. Three of them were holding long sticks - well, long in comparison to whatever the little sods were - which they'd lit from the still-smouldering trees. The other two had collected up piles of loose stones, presumably to chuck at her head. Bugger that. If they were going to stand close together and make themselves a huge target like that, she was bloody well going to hex them, even if she didn't know any spells that worked on a group. Plus, if she could get the little bastards with the rocks to throw them –

 

"Stupefy!" she shouted, aiming for the ones with a torch. "Stupefy!" Both the ones she'd aimed at zipped away to her right, though one zipped in the wrong direction and almost smacked face-first into a rock. The other one dashed off to her left - her right side had better terrain, though, the one on the left would have to get across the lake inlet - they were trying to surround her? Victoire didn't have time to stop them, though, because the two with the rocks had scooped up double handfuls and were flinging them haphazardly at her - they wouldn't do damage like that, it had to be just a diversion. Bugger that.

 

"Protego specula!"

 

The gravel kerranged off the magical shield and reflected straight back at the two little bastards, though Victoire doubted it could do any significant damage (which might technically be a good thing, since she wasn't supposed to injure the animals too badly, but Victoire did have a sudden near-irresistable desire to put her boot through their skulls. She whirled around, running to her right back towards the Champions' tent, hopefully she could get out of the other three's circle that way - bloody hell, she hadn't expected to get anything that good at teamwork - hang on. The little bastards didn't talk. They didn't even chitter, which would have been what Victoire would have expected from looking at them. How were they organizing themselves if they didn't communicate?

 

... they were a hive mind.

 

It was a mad idea, but they were supposed to be facing 'strange and exotic' creatures, and it wasn't as if group-mind entities were unheard-of...Victoire just didn't know anything about fighting them. Still, if that was true then she had an idea.

 

She dived behind a boulder and moved until she was sure one of the little sods at least could see her, then took a deep breath and tapped herself on the knee with her own wand. "Geminio mendacia!" Nothing seemed to happen, but Victoire shifted back barely a centimetre and left behind a perfect static illusion of her own body behind her. Perfect. She muttered the incantation for the Disillusionment Charm and felt the familiar sensation of warm water running down from her head which meant it had worked. Now she should be harder to spot, so unless they turned out to rely mostly on their sense of smell or something –

 

She straightened up, eased out from behind the boulder, slipped on a patch of moss and, though she managed to catch herself, the noise of it rang through the arena and the little bastards' heads all snapped up at once, fixed on her.

 

Or unless she buggered it up by falling over or something, well done, Victoire. Fine, bugger that. Get close, cast a Confundus, and then even if she was wrong about the hive mind one of the little sods would still be walking around running into things which would be bloody wonderful and soothing.

 

She broke into a run, dashing across the arena directly towards one of the little bastards with a torch, still Disillusioned but it could obviously hear her coming; two of the other little sods started to close in on her. Victoire was not in the mood for that.

 

"Confundus!"

 

The spell hit the little bastard square in the gut and it doubled over, wheezing, which was wonderful and Victoire wanted to cherish that memory forever. The two running towards her slowed and stared blankly at the torches they were holding as if they'd forgotten what they were for.

 

Holy crap, her plan had actually worked. That made a nice change.

 

"Stupefy," Victoire said, and one of them keeled over just like Teddy did after a good night out. The other one went down just as easily.

 

After that, it was practically a cakewalk. Victoire tracked down the other two without much trouble and Stupefied one - the other attempted to flee, ran straight into a boulder, and knocked itself out. Hah. She collected all the unconscious little bastards up with a flick of her wand, muttered "Incarcerous" and coils of rope appeared out of thin air and wound around the heap of goblin-things until they looked like a very irritating ball of string.

 

Still, it would have been nice to finish on a dramatic moment; the cheering started off very erratic and hesitant before the rest of Hogwarts picked it up. Victoire stuck her wand back in her robes and trudged over to stand under the judges' box and wait for her marks. The headteachers, Uncle Percy and Finley were all conferring quietly, but there was an interesting spell Victoire's uncle George had taught her to deal with that: "Subausculta!"

 

She cupped her hands casually in front of her and listened to the tinny voices echoing out from between her palms. First, Professor Kohut:

"...have the least idea what the abaasy actually were-"

 

Abaasy, huh?  Victoire added that to her list of species she never wanted to keep as pets, below 'hydra' but above 'Hairy MacBoon'.

 

Professor McGonagall: "Some would say that that makes her discovery of the correct method in dealing with them more remarkable." Victoire loved Professor McGonagall. She really did. She was the most brilliant teacher in the whole of the universe.

 

"But she was trés slow about it," Madame Maxime pointed out. "And ze slipping-"



Victoire winced.

 

Professor McGonagall cut the debate short by getting to her feet and sending an 8 out of her wand. Madame Maxime, next in line, gave her a six. Kohut was a little better - she got a seven from him. Seven from Uncle Percy as well - did he think she'd done badly or was he marking her down so he wouldn't look like a favouritist? Hard to tell with Uncle Perce. Eight from Finwick - Victoire totted that up and came up with thirty-six. Was that better or worse than the Durmstrang champion had got? She couldn't tell from Professor Kohut's face.

 

Still, it was done and she didn't have any injuries worse than scrapes and grazes, that was something to be grateful for. Victoire headed for the exit, where she could see Teddy - his hair back to brilliant bubblegum pink - waiting for her and brandishing her bottle of Butterbeer.

 





Al leant back with a sigh of relief as Victoire left the arena. Not that he'd been seriously worried. Victoire was tough, she could cook edible food and duel and everything, there was no way a bunch of really short goblin-looking things would have beaten her. His dad wouldn't have been worried about her.

It was just a relief to see she'd done well, was all.
 
"So...so far, we're winning," Faith said.

"Oh, hurrah," said Grimalkin. He was leaning against Avery, and Lia was leaning against him. It was kind of like prefect dominoes.

"This is boring. Tell us if anyone starts to die," Lia said, closed her eyes and apparently went to sleep. Kitty looked a bit worried about all the dying.

"I don't think anyone will get seriously hurt," Al told her. "It's very secure."

"...suddenly I want Potter's cousin to die just so I can see the look on his face," Lia said. "Does that make me a terrible person?"

"Yes," Grimalkin said.

"Oh good," Lia said, and shifted so her head was resting a bit more comfortably on Grimalkin's shoulder. Several weeks ago, Al would have found that exchange very worrying and debated for hours in his head over whether they were actually serious.

"Are you all ri-" Al started to say to Kitty, but broke off mid-sentence as he saw a familiar bubblegum pink head advancing up the risers towards him. "That's weird...I think it's my godbrother Teddy!"

"Your what?"

"He's my dad's godson," Al explained, kneeling up on the seats to see better. "And I'm my dad's actual son, so logically he's my godbrother. My sister worked it out." Where was Teddy going? James was all the way over with the Gryffindors - "Teddy!" Al shouted down, and waved his arms. Teddy waved back and continued climbing leisurely towards the little knot of Slytherins while Al hopped up and down and yelled at him to climb faster.

When Teddy finally got up to where they were sitting he raised one hand in lazy acknowledgement and then Al tackle-hugged him in the gut.

"Ow, Al, quit it," Teddy said mildly, gesturing to Faith to budge up and sitting down between her and Kitty, with Al tucked into his side. "Hey, Benj-"

One corner of Avery's mouth twitched a fraction of an inch downwards for a fraction of a second.

"-don't mind me sitting here, no hard feelings, right? Don't wanna butt in on your territory, you know."

Avery kept reading and didn't look up. Teddy apparently took that as consent, though Al wasn't sure why Teddy would have needed it.

"Hey, Al. How're you?"

 

"I'm fine!" Al said, beaming. "How are you?"

 

"I'm miserable," Teddy said, breathing a great sigh of misery. "Ask me why I'm miserable."

 

"Why are you miserable, Teddy?"

 

"Vicky has been stolen from me," Teddy explained. "Cruelly swept out of my arms by Madam Zeller and abducted to the healers' tent before my very eyes. I barely got to give her her Butterbeer." He produced another one from his robes, twisted the top off, and took a swig. "Now mildly-alcoholic beverages are my only solace. Al, don't suppose you want some?"

 

Al shook his head.

 

"Oh good," Teddy said, taking another mouthful. "Who are these people, then? Friends of yours?" He waved a hand at Kitty, Faith and Score. 

Al introduced Kitty and Faith, but when he got to Score he hesitated - he had this vague idea that it might be bad to tell Teddy his name.

 

"I'm Score Malfoy," Score said levelly, looking dead at him.

 

"Cool, nice to meet you all," Teddy said, and drained his Butterbeer. Oh. Well, that hadn't been too bad. Still, Al wanted to get off that subject just to be on the safe side.

"Shouldn't you be at work?" he asked.

"I told them I had leprosy. Pretty sure they bought it." Teddy gazed soulfully out across the arena and said "I would gladly contract leprosy a thousand times for a chance to see my Vicky. Pretty sure of that."

"...I don't think Victoire would want to see you if you had leprosy," Al pointed out, trying to break it to him gently. "She'd probably write you really nice letters, though."


"Think you might be right, Al," Teddy said. "How do you think she did, anyway?"

"The falling down was funny," Lia said dreamily, head still pillowed on Grimalkin's shoulder. "I wish she'd done more of that."

"Right, cool," Teddy said, and then ignored them. "I think she did well - I dunno what they were, doubt she did either, but she figured out their weak point pretty quick." He grinned proudly.

 

"Avery," Grimalkin said, in a tone of scientific curiosity, "what would you have done?" Teddy leant back to look up at them upside-down.

 

"Recalled that abaasy have iron teeth, used the Magnetizing Charm on a convenient boulder and then the Incarcerating Charm on the resultant mess," Avery said absently.

 

There was a long, thoughtful pause, then Teddy said, "Benj, what are you reading?"

 

Avery flipped the book up to show him the cover. Journal of British Studies in Herbology, volume 178.

 

"Damn, I was hoping it would be a bestiary," Teddy said, and added in an aside to Al, "Does the omniscience ever get bor-"

The whistle blew again before he could finish the sentence.

"Beauxbatons!" Lia announced exultantly. "Please God, make something terrible happen to this one and I will be good... reasonably good ... as good as possible for the rest of my life."

Anthoine Aquestre advanced cautiously towards the centre of the arena, blanching as something massive erupted from the lake water - not a bubble like the last two but a structure of black opaque hexagonal panes, like some sort of crystal.

"Oooo," said Lia.

The crystal shattered, every individual pane breaking apart and falling to the ground, and revealed - a lizard, Al thought first, seeing the scaly skin and the long whiplike tail. But then whatever spells had been restraining the creature came apart and what he had thought was just one large head split apart and became nine small ones on the ends of nine long thin necks, jaws almost unhinging to show jagged razor-sharp teeth. It was a hydra.

"Oh hell yes," Lia said.





It was a hydra. It was a God-damned Hydra. Anthoine was actually stuck in an amphitheatre with a hydra and expected to capture it. How in the name of God could he be expected to capture a hydra? Capture a hydra without being injured, even, which was next to impossible -



He was going to be  eaten. There was no other possible outcome. He would be killed and horribly devoured to pieces.



The hydra started to heave its massive bulk up the slope towards him, every head hissing and swaying on the end of its neck, poisonous purple gases spilling from its mouths like water, and Anthoine realised he had just been standing and staring blankly at the thing and attempting to come to terms with his inevitable death for several seconds.



Enough of that. Since he was going to die, he planned to die a Frenchman, fighting to the last.



What would work on a hydra? Stunning Spells would just bounce off. It was strong enough to be able to tear through metal chains. If he only had to immobilize it for a second as opposed to indefinitely, that might just be possible -



He retreated cautiously as the hydra advanced, belching out clouds of poisonous fog that settled slowly to the ground around it. At least he didn't have to fight it in a cave, because then he would be absolutely doomed. How could he incapacitate it without Stupefy or the Incarcerating Spell? He thought he had a basic idea...



He edged forward, wand up, and the hydra hissed and stamped in response. The ground shook.



"Consopio, consopio," he muttered, waving his wand in slow, graceful arcs. "Consopio, consopio, consopio-" He had to be at least twenty feet away for this spell to work right, which wasn't very good, but he thought if he kept his guard up he would be all right. This spell worked better if you could make it sound 'lullaby-like' as well, the Charms mistress had said. Maybe Anthoine should try singing? Then he could capture the hydra while it was distracted by screaming in agony.

 

The charm seemed to be working: the hydra's heads were dipping towards the ground. Anthoine sidled closer, still murmuring the incantation. It couldn't be that easy, could it? The hydra settled its body closer to the ground, and one of its heads actually settled on the bare rock and lay there unmoving.

 

That looked good, then. Would just putting it to sleep be enough to count as capturing it? Anthoine sidled a little closer, and then realised that suddenly the hydra didn't seem as asleep as it had a second ago, and he'd just got within its range. One of the heads was lashing out even as he dived back, but he was too slow and its jaws closed on his leg.

Anthoine screamed as the hydra dragged him forwards, for a second too shocked even to cast a spell, but as the hydra started to haul him up off the ground he flailed at it with his wand and shouted “Relashio!”

 

The hydra’s jaws sprang open and Anthoine fell to the rock below. As the hydra hissed in irritation and darted in for another strike, Anthoine jabbed his wand at it and gasped “Brumenoire!”

 

A black cloud billowed from his wand and gathered around the hydra’s heads as Anthoine scrabbled back. There was blood pouring from the gashes in his leg, and it had already soaked all the way through his robes.

 

The hydra lashed out again, stabbing out with its heads at the area where he’d been and advancing slowly, heads swinging from side to side. Anthoine tried to get up, but his injured leg wouldn’t take his weight and he screamed as it folded up under him and pitched him into the ground again, and then screamed again as one of the hydra’s heads stabbed into the ground next to him. He rolled to one side as fast as he could and waved his wand wildly in the other direction, and the loose gravel on the ground shifted noisily. The hydra lashed out at that instead and Anthoine took the opportunity to cast a nonverbal Silencing Charm on the terrain around him and crawl out of range. The gashes in his leg were starting to burn – hydras didn’t have poisonous saliva as well as blood and breath, did they? It was searching for him even if it couldn’t see him, all nine heads spread out, questing, low to the ground. Anthoine huddled down behind a boulder and did the best he could to fix his leg up, which wasn’t very much. He could stop most of the bleeding, at least, and numb it a little.

 

Anthoine peeked up from behind the boulder – the hydra was advancing towards the edge of the arena, so the noise of the crowd must be confusing it now that it couldn’t see him. God damn it, outsmarted by a lizard – Anthoine climbed painfully to his feet and limped towards the slope down to the shingle beach by the inlet, away from the hydra. Even with the painkilling charms, every step sent pain slicing up right through the top of his skull, and when he’d got to the top of the slope he slipped and half-skidded, half-tumbled down it, mostly on his arse. He sprawled at the bottom, staring up at the sky and wondering if the hydra had managed to hear that.

 

The hydra appeared on one of the cliffs by the inlet, and though its heads were still shrouded in black smoke he thought they were turned towards him. That was a yes, then.

 

Anthoine crawled towards the water – almost his entire leg had gone numb now, and he didn’t know whether that was his own healing spells or hydra poison or if, looking on the bright side, he had managed to go to sleep lying on it in the last half-hour or so.

 

Once he’d got to the water, Anthoine pulled himself up to sitting, propped up on one arm, picked up a few pebbles from the beach and chucked them as far across the inlet as he could. The hydra seemed to hear that, at least, because it half-turned towards the sound. Anthoine threw a few more and scooped up water in his cupped hands to pour over his wound. He couldn’t feel the water falling on his leg.

 

The hydra started cautiously down the slope, testing the ground carefully with each foot before it trusted any weight to it.

 

Accio hillside,” Anthoine said, and an entire layer of earth and rock sprang off the side of the hill towards him, bowling the hydra over and rolling it over and over down the hill. Anthoine cut the spell off before the hillside could actually hit him, then threw rocks at the hydra and laughed as it ended up sprawled nearly upside-down at the bottom.

 

Finite Incantatem!” The cloud of black smoke dissipated and all nine of the hydra’s heads actually shrank back against its body, startled by the daylight. Anthoine threw a rock at it to get its attention, and every head snapped around to stare at him across the water.

 

“Eat me!” Anthoine shouted at it. “I’m injured and delicious! Eat meeeee!” Since he was trying to sound as scared and weak as he could, and most hydras were lacking in the knowledge of French, he didn’t think there was much of a risk of it being alarmed by what he was saying.

“I’m French! French people are naturally more delicious than any other nationality! It's the garlic!” he called across to it. The hydra hissed and hauled itself gracelessly to its feet, heads swaying drunkenly but all nine gazes fixed on him. Anthoine threw another pebble at it.

The hydra took one careful step into the water, and then another. How deep was it? If it was less than five feet all the way across, Anthoine would be in a very great deal of trouble. But why would the organizers have passed up a perfectly good chance to drown them like that?


"Glacio!"



The inlet froze over. First the surface, spreading silently from the tip of his wand like a ripple, and then the water below until save for its heads, the hydra was completely encased in ice.



Oh excellent, for once a plan had worked.



 The ice broke off from the beach with a crack, floating like an iceberg, and yawed to one side so that water ran in a fine sheet over the top. The hydra slammed one of its heads into the ice with a loud thud, but didn't seem to have damaged it at all. The head itself swayed drunkenly for a bit, then fell down and lay stretched out on the ice. Would Anthoine lose marks for self-inflicted damage?



He retrieved his wand, dripping water, from the ice-block, and pointed it straight at the hydra, which shrieked and stretched out its heads towards him, snapping their jaws.



"Euvasi!"



The water rose up, dashing the iceberg against the arena wall and crashing over it. The original ice split apart with a crack, but Anthoine had been ready for that. With another "Glacio!" it all froze solid, trapping the hydra against the arena wall, seven of its heads frozen in the ice and two outside, with their necks twisted at odd angles to reach the air. They snapped at him sluggishly.



Did that count enough as having captured it?



The whistle blew. That seemed to be a yes.



Anthoine tried to push himself to his feet, but his injured leg gave out and he fell back down on his face. That wouldn't do. He got his uninjured knee under him ready to try again, and then one of the animal handlers barked something at him in English, pushed him over and knelt down to examine his leg. The other three had gone over to check on the hydra.

Personally, Anthoine hoped it died of hypothermia.






"Is he all right?" Kitty asked fearfully. She'd scrambled back up the rows of seats when the hydra had caught the Beauxbatons champion by the leg: Avery had caught her, and now she was sitting huddled against his side with her face buried in his robes and his arm around her shoulders.

"He's fine," Avery assured her. "The animal handlers should be more than capable of mending hydra bites, and in any case he'll be taken to the medics' tent as soon as he's received his marks." Kitty relaxed slightly and peeked out at the arena.

"He really is fine, Kitty," Al promised, and glanced at Teddy, who was staring white-faced down at the arena.

"Except that his intestines are all over the floor," Faith said cheerfully. Kitty shrieked. Faith laughed like a drain.

"That's a lie! His intestines aren't anywhere near the floor! Kitty, his intestines are fine too," Al said. "Are you all right, Teddy?"

Teddy came out of his trance with a jerk. "I'm fine, shrimp! ...though to be honest, pretty sure I wouldn't have wanted Vicky to go up against that thing."

Anthoine Aquestre was being helped across the arena to see the judges by the handler who'd been healing him. He still looked to be in a pretty bad way, though. The judges didn't seem particularly bothered by that - Professor McGonagall was first, and she gave him a seven.

"Higher than I expected," Grimalkin observed.

"Here are seven points, for being the only one to get seriously injured!" Lia said.

Madame Maxime gave him nine, though whether that was respect for his perseverance or favouritism Al couldn't tell. Six points from Professor Kohut, seven from Uncle Percy and eight from Finwick - thirty-seven, then, one point ahead of Victoire and six ahead of Oksana Zelenko. Anthoine limped out of the arena as soon as he'd got his marks, headed for the healers' tent.

"I'm going to see how Victoire's doing. They should let me see her now," Teddy said, and stood up. "Al, you coming with me?"

"Yeah!" Al said, added a hurried "Bye, everyone, see you all at lunch," and clattered down the risers with Teddy holding on to his hand. That was a bit embarassing - Al was eleven, he could walk down stairs by himself - but most people in Al's family thought Al was a bit thick, and Al had kind of helped them to think that, so it was his own fault really.



"Al," Teddy said as they reached ground level, so nonchalantly Al was instantly suspicious, "now we're more in private - are you all right? Really?"



"Yes," Al said promptly. "I like my house, I like my housemates, I like my dormitory, I like my lessons, I like the food. It's all very nice."



"Even Rookwood and Grimalkin? Because when I was at Hogwarts my house had a pool going on when they would snap and try to kill us all."

"They're actually quite nice," Al said, and then because Teddy looked disbelieving, "...to us, anyway." Lia and Grimalkin regularly trying to kill the Hufflepuffs would be really not helpful to his plan. He didn't think they could literally be doing that, though.



"Huh. If you say so, shrimp," Teddy said. "And another thing..." He looked very serious for a second. "You don't have to worry about telling me your housemates' names because of my parents."



"Oh. Sorry," Al said, and ducked his head. He'd made Teddy be serious. Teddy hated doing that. Maybe Al should have just straight-out lied... but then Score would have corrected him anyway and Teddy would have known he was lying. Maybe he should have just not started introducing Score at all...but then Score would have felt all excluded and Al didn't want that. Al chewed miserably on his lower lip. Getting on with people was really complicated sometimes.



Teddy ruffled his hair. "Don't worry about it, Al. You'll be careful with the Malfoy kid, though, right?"



Al promised that he was indeed being very careful with the Malfoy kid.



"Cool," Teddy said. "Not that we don't trust you, Al, but people can be kind of deceitful, yeah? None of us want you getting hurt."



"Deceitful people? I don't think anyone in my house is like that," Al lied, to be reassuring.

"Well, yeah, Al, but the thing about deceit is people aren't supposed to know you're doing it," Teddy said, pulling Al after him through the crowds, towards a long tent set up a little way from the seating. They got in without much trouble, though that was probably because Victoire could see them from her bed and was yelling "Teddy! Al! Over here!" There were other people standing around her bed too, though - Professor McGonagall for one, and Uncle Percy, but Al didn't recognize the others.

"Vicky! Dearest! Light of my life!" Teddy greeted her. "I brought Al, because he's quite cute and I thought he might cheer you up. Did you like your Butterbeer?"

Victoire waved the empty bottle at him instead of replying.



"So who is this?" a woman Al didn't know asked, popping up behind Teddy. She was wearing brilliantly pink robes and holding a bright green quill poised over a scroll, and her hair was dyed bright yellow. It kind of hurt to look at her.



"Teddy Lupin," Teddy said. "Nice to-"



"Shove off, you old bat," Victoire said sharply. "Teddy, she's a harpy, don't talk to her." That wasn't like Victoire. What was going on?



"That's a bit rude," Al pointed out.



"So how do you think your cousin did?" the blonde woman asked Al.



"I think she did great!" Al said cheerfully, with a big sunny grin. "And she nearly won, too-"



"Al, this is Rita Skeeter," Victoire said flatly.



There was a long, horrified pause.



"That cow who's been telling everyone you're the next great Dark Lord," Victoire added, apparently mistaking the horror for confusion.



"So how does that make you feel?" Rita Skeeter asked Al. He just stared at her. She didn't look mad at him, or like she hated him, or like anything that would have made her want to say horrible things about him in the papers. She just looked at him through her huge jewelled glasses with a sort of sympathetic interest and made a curious "Hmmm?" sound when he didn't say anything.



"Miss Skeeter," Professor McGonagall said coldly, appearing out of nowhere. "I believe you were asked not to bother the Champions after the task?"



"Freedom of the press, Minerva," Rita Skeeter pointed out, apparently quite unabashed, but she slid her scroll and quill back into her enormous crocodile-skin handbag anyway. "I think I've got all I need here, anyway. I do hope I'll see you around," she added over her shoulder as she left, though Al couldn't tell whether she was talking to him or Victoire.



"Poisonous old-" Victoire said, and then called Rita Skeeter something that made Teddy pull a face and cover Al's ears. "Sorry, Professor McGonagall."



"You are not required to apologize for being correct, Miss Weasley," Professor McGonagall said. "Do you intend to stay for long, Mr Lupin and Mr Potter? I am assured all three Champions will be free to leave momentarily."



"I - actually, I have to go right now, sorry," Al said, and dashed for the exit. Professor McGonagall had talked as if Rita Skeeter wasn't supposed to be around Hogwarts. And if she couldn't get onto the Hogwarts grounds much, maybe she'd want to meet whoever was giving her information while she had an excuse to be around?



When Al got out of the tent, already pulling the package his dad had sent him out of his bag and tearing off the wrapping, he could see Rita Skeeter walking sedately towards the Hogwarts gate along with the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, and he quickly hid behind the tent out of sight of the Hogwarts students walking back up to the castle so he could wrap the Invisibility Cloak around himself. He was pretty sure he could get around under the Cloak undetected, because his dad had given him lessons in doing just that (and in doing it while his mum and dad were fighting evil people and the house was on fire and he was hanging onto Lily, just in case the situation ever came up).



Al cut straight across the lawns towards the path to the gates. He could still see Rita Skeeter very clearly - brilliant pink robes weren't very stealthy. That was why it specifically said in the Aurors' Handbook never to wear them. He followed her down the path, walking on the lawn, until he lost sight of her as she went through the gates and vanished behind the wall, turning down into Hogsmeade. There wasn't a trip to Hogsmeade scheduled that day, though, so did that mean she wasn't meeting anyone? Unless they had an Invisibility Cloak as well and were sneaking out to meet her, but how many Invisibility Cloaks could there actually be?



The Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students were walking in large groups, so Al had to wait for one to go through before he could nip through after them and look quickly down the path after Rita Skeeter. He couldn't see her anywhere, and he could see down to the roofs of Hogsmeade quite easily from there - there were trees on the right-hand side of the path where she could have ducked out of sight, but he crept into there a little way and couldn't see any bright pink robes anywhere.



She must have Disapparated as soon as she got out of the Anti-Apparition charms, then. Al turned back towards Hogwarts, feeling disappointed that he hadn't found out who she'd been talking to. Still. At least she couldn't be making any more trouble for him that way.

Chapter 11: Rosie Continues to Suck
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`"'Our dearest Aurelia'," Grimalkin read out at the breakfast table the next day, completely deadpan. "'Unfortunately, when we went to get the dress robes you asked us to buy for you, we found there was a problem with them. They were hussy robes. Since we know you are not a hussy, we are sure there has been some terrible misunderstanding. We are also sure you will love the set we decided to get you instead. All our love, Mummy and Daddy.'"

Lia put her head down on the table and let out a heartfelt groan.

"And then they've drawn a little smiley face and some kisses," Grimalkin added. Since the First Task was over, everyone in fourth year and above had moved on to talking about the Yule Ball.

"They can’t be that bad,” Kitty volunteered, twisting the hem of her own almost-shin-length skirt between her fingers. "My dad says girls who don't wear enough clothes don't get to go to university and have careers because they end up having five babies before they're twenty and they have to live on food stamps. ...I think that's when you're really poor and you can't buy food so the government has to post it to you."

The Slytherins as a whole looked at her a little weirdly.

"Which is bad, because food probably doesn't taste very nice after it's been through the post," Kitty explained.

"...that would make sense," Grimalkin said.

"Oh Kitty, you're so special," Lia said to the table.

"Which robes did you ask for before?" Faith asked.

Lia sat up, took a deep breath and raised her hands. "All right, so I did technically ask for the tartiest robes I could find in the catalogue-"

"That's probably why your parents thought they were a bit tarty, then," Score said.

"I assumed they would negotiate!" Lia snapped. "I was going to work up to a set that was only a bit past what they'd like! Why wouldn't they negotiate?" She pulled the robes out of their wrapping and stood up to hold them against her and twirl experimentally. Al didn't think they looked too bad - some sort of floaty blue material, with a high stiff collar - and he couldn't really see what Lia was getting so upset over.

“I swear to God they do this to annoy me,” Lia said sourly.

"I think it looks nice," he volunteered.

"Yes, Potter, but you're an eleven year old boy so your opinion on clothes isn't really valid, is it?" Lia said, tugging irritably at the high collar. "No-one'll be able to see my tattoo! What was the point of faking all that identification and bribing the tattooist if no-one'll be able to see it?"

"Send it back to your parents and ask them to get you some robes that'll show the tattoo, then?" Faith suggested, squinting at Lia like she was trying to figure out where it was.

"They'd ask awkward questions," Lia said grumpily, flinging the robes on the floor and flopping back onto the bench next to Grimalkin. "Questions like 'So, Aurelia, when did you get a tattoo? Was it before or after you became a prostitute and started worshipping Satan?" She flicked her hair back irritably and added "'Drat it all, we tried so hard to raise her a good girl and now she's a Satanist. Oh, well, let's stone her to death and try again with another one.'"

"I don't think your parents would say that about you," Kitty said, forehead creasing up anxiously.

"No, that's basically exactly what they'd say and how they'd say it," Grimalkin said, pouring himself out a bowl of cornflakes. "They threaten to stone Lia to death a whole lot. It's fine, though, they've never actually done it."

"What are you wearing, then?" Lia asked him.

"Bear costume," Grimalkin said.

"What? That was my back-up plan! You thieving git!" Lia said, and briefly tried to choke him with a bread roll. Al wondered when Avery's Daily Prophet would show up.

"What are you wearing, Avery?" Lia asked. By that point Grimalkin had pretended to be dead to get her off him.

"I'm not," Avery said.

Lia and Grimalkin exchanged confused, alarmed, and then concerned glances, in that order.

"Avery," Grimalkin said, in a hushed voice, the sort of voice you use to not startle a mental patient, "you can't go to the Yule Ball naked. It's very specifically against the rules, and Professor McGonagall would have a heart-"

"We've changed our minds!" Lia cut in happily. "You can, and you should! I'll bring the camera."

"I'm not going to the Yule Ball. I have more important things to do."

"Important things like studying, right? It's got to be studying. Grim, Avery isn't awesome sometimes, remind me why we minion for him again?"

"Because he is our god," Grimalkin said firmly, through a mouthful of cornflakes.

"...oh yeah, that is a good reason," Lia said.

Then the Daily Prophet fell almost onto Avery's head. Almost, because he caught it.

"What does it say about the First Task?" Al asked, heart thumping.

Avery quickly scanned the article - it looked pretty long. What was normal length for an article like that? - and frowned. “You aren’t mentioned, Potter.”

Al sagged back onto the bench with a sigh of relief as Avery flicked through the pages.

“No, my mistake. There you are,” Avery said, and handed over the paper.

Oh. Great.

LORD ALDEMORT'S ASSOCIATES

Albus Potter, the younger son of the Head of the Department of Aurors, is clearly not aware that a man's character can be judged by the company he chooses to keep. Albus, who was recently and in a shocking twist Sorted into Slytherin, has no qualms about mingling freely with his new housemates - many of them relatives of He Who Must Not Be Named's most diabolical and barbaric servants. He was even seen watching his cousin’s attempt in the First Task of the Triwizard Tournament seated between a prefect who cheered and a rat-faced girl who squealed excitedly whenever a champion came perilously close to death.  Indeed, it must be asked why Professor McGonagall, now midway through her twentieth year as Headmistress, has not yet expunged Slytherin House from her otherwise fine establishment.

If any more evidence of Albus Potter's malignant intentions were required, one would have to look no further than his own first cousin, Rose Granger-Weasley. The daughter of the two famed war heroes, Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, has been strangely reluctant to associate with her cousin since their arrival at Hogwarts, and it must be wondered if she is aware of something that the rest of the wizarding world is not.



"Hey, I'm starting to think Rita Skeeter doesn't like us," Lia said, and laughed.

Al wondered if Rita Skeeter had somehow figured out what he was doing.

She couldn't possibly know. All the stuff about how awful Slytherin was might even just be a cover for the comments about Rosie. That bit was definitely worrying, though. That was how she'd started on him, wasn't it? A few comments at the bottom of an article on something completely different, just testing the water, and then a longer one if she thought the readers would like it.

Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were going to be furious. Actually, Rosie was going to be furious, because she was a little bit crazy about having her parents' approval.

"What's with you, Potter?" Faith asked him.

"It's... I'm sorry?" Al guessed. "I didn't know she was going to start insulting our whole house!"

"Eh," Faith said, with a shrug. "Who cares?"

Al looked up and down the table. Avery was eating a chip butty with a faintly blissful expression on his face, Grimalkin was making another copy of the Prophet into a paper Fwooper and Lia was flicking cornflakes at people to cheer herself up. It was probably a relief she didn't have any rocks with her. Professor McGonagall, at the staff table, was reading a copy of the Prophet, but as Al watched she flung it down and made a dryly-humorous-looking comment to Professor Flitwick. Basically, nobody looked very concerned.

"Well, I care," Al said, a bit defensively.

"If you start having a cry everytime someone takes the mick out of Slytherin you're going to run out of water and dry up like a mummy," Faith pointed out. “And it looks like she's going to start in on your useless cousin now instead of just banging on about you all the time - guess there's not much more she can say about you torching Mudbloods for kicks or anything - so cheer up."

That would be much more convenient, Al thought, and was immediately very ashamed of himself.

"I don't want her to start on Rosie!" he said, at just the second that there was a high-pitched shriek from the Ravenclaw table. Rosie must have just read the article, then.

Faith squinted at him for a bit, and then said “Okay, I give up. Why not?”

"Because she's my cousin!"

"Your cousin who dropped you as soon as total strangers told her to," Faith pointed out. "Good riddance. Family’s important, but not if they ditch you first." How could she be so calm about this?

"That doesn't mean I want her to be getting insulted in the-"

"What've you done!" Rosie screamed at him and whacked him over the head with the newspaper.

"Ow!" Al said.

"Did you see the newspaper?" Rosie demanded. "Did you see what she said about me?"

"What, the truth?" Faith demanded, leaping to her feet, and Rosie was very lucky she was on the other side he table.

"My parents are going to know I haven't been talking to you!" Rosie snapped, and made to hit Al with the newspaper again. Grimalkin caught her wrist. "Get off me!"

"You know, probably the best way to stop your parents from figuring out you haven't been talking to Al would have been to not stop talking to him in the first place," Grimalkin told her. "It's your own fault, so either stop attacking Potter or suffer the hilarious consequences. Your table is over that way if you’d like to go back to it." He let go of her.

Rosie rubbed her wrist and glared ferociously at Al.

“He… sort of has a point,” Al said.

“What?” Rosie exploded. “How is it my fault that you made a spectacle of yourself and dragged me into-”

Avery put down his chip butty, half-turned in his seat and frowned at Rosie. She blanched, stared at Al like he was a complete traitor, whirled round and stomped back to the Ravenclaw table.

“Yeah! Run, wuss!” Faith hollered after her.

"You probably shouldn't worry about Rita Skeeter, Potter. She's quite old, so she'll probably be dead soon," Grimalkin said. "From natural causes, specifically, because Lia and I have our OWLs this year and we haven’t got the  time to murder anyone." He shrugged apologetically and ambled back to his seat.

Al turned back to his half-empty bowl of cornflakes and rested his elbows on the table and his head in his hands. Rosie couldn't have made it any more obvious that she only cared what the papers were saying about him when it made her look bad, could she?

It would almost be a relief, if Rita Skeeter started attacking her instead of him and Slytherin... that wasn't a very cousinly thing to think, though. Rosie was his favourite cousin, and he was her favourite cousin, and they'd been best friends all through primary school.

Yeah. At least as long as he had pretended to be a useless idiot who would make Rosie look better in comparison. Rosie didn't like anyone to do anything better than she could.

That didn't matter, Al reminded himself. She was his cousin and that was more important than whether they were getting on just then.

"Has anyone got any parchment?"

A fourth-year ripped him off a piece from a scroll in their bag and Simon Townsend in third year lent him a Self-Inking Quill. Al settled down to write a letter.

Dear Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione

What Rita Skeeter said in the paper isn't true. Rosie hasn't stopped talking to me, it's just that she has different lessons to me and she has friends in Ravenclaw to talk to, so we haven‘t been spending as much time together. I've made lots of friends in Slytherin, so it isn't a problem.

Love Al



That was the right thing to do, Al decided, and the excuses he'd given should be close enough to the ones Rosie would that there wouldn't be any obvious holes. (He very carefully didn't think about how all he would have to do to reverse it and still come out looking like a nice kid would be to make a tearful confession about not wanting Rosie's mum and dad to be mad at her, because it was wrong to blackmail people.)

Chapter 12: Then Suddenly It Was Christmas
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One of the famed three hundred will provide.





“I think,” Teddy said, after careful deliberation, “that we should find whoever planned this, and destroy them.”

“Destroy them until they tell us where the next clue is, you mean?”

“If you like,” Teddy said.

Victoire contemplated thwacking him with her empty Butterbeer tankard. Though that wouldn’t help much, she realised as she turned the little chunk of metal that had come with the clue over and over in her hands. It looked like a third of a copper sphere of some sort, with a faint sheen of verdigris on the one smooth side and the rest shiny and jagged-edged like it had just been milled. She didn’t have any idea whatsoever what it was for.

"...So we need to go to Sparta and dig up some bodies?" Teddy guessed.

“It can’t be in Sparta. They’d have mentioned it if we had to leave the country. You know, only apply if you have a valid passport or something.” Victoire sighed and pushed her tankard away.

“Don’t be a pessimist, Vicky,” Teddy said, got up, and offered her his hand. “How many house-elves has Hogwarts got? Maybe it’s to teach us an important lesson about valuing our slave labourers-”

Teddy prattled on like that for a while as they left the Three Broomsticks and walked hand-in-hand down the crowded Hogsmeade high street. It was strangely reassuring - not that Victoire would ever tell him that, though partly because she expected he already knew.

Then Victoire’s cousin Al cannoned into them.

“Oh hey, rocket-propelled Potter!” Teddy caught him. “What are you doing?”

Al squirmed out of Teddy’s grip and hid behind him. “When Rosie shows up tell her I’m not here!”

“Alb-” Victoire started exasperatedly, cut off when her other cousin Rose shrieked “AL!” and stormed up to them.

“Have you seen Al?”

Al lurked shiftily behind Teddy. Victoire wished he hadn’t been sorted into Slytherin; Al was impressionable and they’d obviously been a bad influence.

“Can’t say I have,” Teddy said. “Did you argue?”

“He started it!” Rosie protested and stomped off into the crowds, unfortunately before Victoire could tell her where Al was.

“So what did you argue about?” Teddy asked.

“We didn’t argue,” Al said.

“Did you not argue because you’ve been avoiding her?”

“…possibly,” Al admitted, fiddling with his (Slytherin) scarf. “She’ll calm down, I just have to… not get in her way until she does.”  He beamed at Teddy. “What are you doing?”

“We’ve got to find somewhere with three hundred famous things,” Victoire said. “So we’re a bit busy-”

“The Post Office?” Al guessed, tugging at a loose thread on his scarf. “They’ve got three hundred owls.”

“…oh yeah,” Victoire said.

“Bye Teddy, see you later,” Al said, and vanished hurriedly back into the crowd.

“See? I told you Al wasn’t thick,” Teddy smugged, which wasn’t technically a verb but should be.

“Where’s Al?” Rosie demanded, stomping back towards them. Sometimes Victoire wished she had fewer cousins. “I know he’s got to be here somewhere!”

Victoire sighed inwardly. “Rosie, what are you and Al fighting about?”

“We’re not fighting! And he started it!”

“Rosie, love,” Teddy said, deploying the charm, “I’m sure Al never meant to-”

“He did so!” Rosie snapped, reconsidered and rephrased more calmly, “Actually, I think he did.” She folded her arms and shifted from foot to foot, and then her voice shifted lower and more conspiratorial. “He got Sorted in what, half a second? There’s no way that wasn’t on purpose.”

Teddy and Victoire traded glances over Rosie’s head.

“Why would Al want to be in Slytherin? Rosie, you’re being paranoid,” Victoire said.

“I’m not being paranoid! …I don’t know why, he didn’t tell me anything.”

Victoire wasn’t in the mood for one of Rosie’s colossal sulks, so she started off towards the Post Office at a slow saunter and hoped Rosie would get the message. Rosie trailed after them.

“And now he’s complaining I don’t talk to him enough! …I don’t see why he’s allowed to get me into trouble, at least more than he already has, acting like he’s entitled to have everyone supporting him all the time…Madeleine Hudson put rat tails in my bed-”

Luckily, Rosie couldn’t force her way through the crowds like Teddy and Victoire could and they soon left her behind: as much as Victoire knew it was her duty to be responsible for her younger relatives, it was sodding annoying how Rosie sulked and she’d rather get on with the bloody scavenger hunt. 

The line waiting to send cards in the Post Office was so long it wound three times around the room and snaked back out into the street, and all the skylights were flung wide open so the owls could fly in and out. Victoire slid through the queue into the centre of the room, jostling past people examining cards of tinsel-wearing Hippogriffs, and stared blankly up at the rows of colour-coded perches.

“And one of those is the clue?” The owls all looked…well, owly. Wings, beak, general featheriness. Victoire wasn’t particularly expert at owls.

“Possibly. I don’t want to completely rule out my dead Spartans idea, though.”

Victoire nodded distractedly. This was more likely to be an illusion than an outright Transfiguration, in case the clue just flew away…

“Accio clue!”

The owls continued to just sit about the place not visibly being clues. Well, Victoire supposed she shouldn’t have expected something that simple to work.

“Is copper magnetic?”

“I don’t think so.”

Teddy and Victoire stared at the owls.

“Is the manager here?” Victoire asked. “She’d know which one it was, and if we surprised her with a Babbling Hex-”

“Kind of relies on Hogwarts staff telling people useful information, though.”

Oh yeah, that would be a dead loss then.

“Fire alarm? Set it off, see if any owls stay behind?”

“That’s illegal and we could be trampled to death.”

Teddy thought for a while.

“Pass the first piece, would you, love?”

Victoire handed it over, and Teddy gave her a sweet violet-eyed smile. That was always a sign of impending doom. “What are you-”

Teddy tapped his wand on the first piece and then cast the Bludger Hex.

And that was how Teddy and Victoire came to be banned forever from the Hogsmeade Post Office.

“Please don’t be mad, Vicky,” Teddy said, turning his eyes deep doleful grey. “It worked, didn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s wonderful that you managed to grab the clue just before it cratered an old lady’s skull!” Vicky thumped him in the arm.

The new piece of the copper ball was basically identical to the new one, but it had a new piece of paper stuck to one side. Teddy and Victoire ducked into the side street between Honeydukes and the butcher's to read it.

Rouse not the guardian in its emerald lair: three heads will chew thy bones.





“Hagrid’s hellhound? Unless that’s too obvious. What else is there around Hogwarts that has three heads, lives somewhere green and wants to eat people?”

“You’re right. It’s got to be Fluffy.”

Victoire stared at him.

“That is the dog’s name,” Teddy pointed out, all mock-innocence.

Fluffy. Victoire still couldn’t believe Hagrid had found a Cerberus and named it Fluffy. His bloodhound that couldn’t kill a fly (well, maybe accidentally, by licking it) he named Spike. His three-headed hellhound he named Fluffy.

“So how would you suggest we get past Fluffy?” Teddy asked. “Or possibly to Fluffy, or into the general area of Fluffy - without, and this is the important bit, getting our bones chewed on.”

“How do we find him in the first place?” Victoire wondered.

“Oh, that’s easy,” Teddy said. “He’s always near Hagrid’s hut in the winter. Hagrid feeds him. He’s not supposed to, so please don’t tell anybody.” Off her surprised look he added “Care of Magical Creatures for NEWT, remember?”

“Then I’m glad I’m not taking it,” Victoire told him. “Do you know how to find him?”

“Huh,” Teddy said, turning his eyes a thoughtful brown and tapping his fingers on the table. “When Hagrid showed him to us, he used sausages…”

And that was how Teddy came to be wading through knee-deep snow in the Forbidden Forest wearing a string of sausages around his neck and with his hair flashing green and red like festive bait.

“This is a terrible way to be spending my day off,” he said forlornly. “I don’t get another day off until Christmas, you know.”

“I only suggested we buy some sausages! You were the one who chose to wear them as a feather boa,” Victoire said.

“Sausage boa,” Teddy corrected lightly. They trudged deeper into the Forbidden Forest until the trees closed up overhead, shutting out the light until both of them had to light their wands up to see.

“Unbelievable,” Victoire grumbled, kicking snow out of her way as if it had personally offended her. “‘Hello, Victoire, here’s some Russian demons who’re going to try to eat you. Oh, you aren’t dead? Good job, now go and fight a Cerberus.’ What’ve they given Anthoine? A Nundu?”

Teddy put an arm around her shoulders, pulled her close, and kissed the side of her head. “Cheer up, Vicky. This time’ll be different - everyone knows how to deal with a Cerberus.” He waved the harmonica he’d picked up in Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes as a demonstration. “This is just figuring out the clue and finding the dog. We’ll be back in Hogsmeade in time for dinner and you‘ll have a new shiny trinket and hopefully that one will do something.”

Victoire wrapped her arms around herself and leaned against him. “What if the centaurs show up?”

“Then we’ll bribe them with the sausages! They won’t be able to resist,” Teddy said, turning his eyes bright twinkling blue because he claimed that inspired the most confidence. 

Victoire smiled, and Teddy pulled her into his arms and marched her along for a while, with his chin resting on the top of her head.

“Ack!” Victoire said suddenly, squirming out of his grip.

“What? Did you trip?”

She pointed hurriedly and dropped to her knees to examine the footprints in the snow, and Teddy squatted down next to her.

“These are dog prints, right?” Four distinct claw marks and a sort of upwards bulge in the centre of the paw pad. Unfortunately, Victoire didn’t know enough about dogs to be able to tell the difference between a three-headed dog track and, say, a werewolf track.

“They’re definitely canine,” Teddy said. “Could be a werewolf, I suppose. Hopefully not, because they’d probably turn out to be an old family friend and want to show me pictures of their children.” He did a brief energetic impression of a baby werewolf, which Victoire didn’t appreciate that much because she was measuring the size of the claw prints. They were about as long as her hand.

She climbed to her feet, brushing snow off her jeans, and followed the tracks with her gaze to where they wove neatly through the largest gaps between the trees. “Fine. Let’s follow them.”

Fortunately, the tracks did turn out to be Fluffy’s. Victoire wished she didn’t have to end up in situations where the best option was stalking a giant hellhound.

The forest seemed to grow silent as they followed the tracks. There had been no birds to start with, not in the Forbidden Forest and certainly not at this time of year, but the air seemed to grow still and sharp around them and the trees bent inwards as if they were watching. Victoire decided that was her imagination.

When they found the dog, he was in a clearing, halfway through a giant slab of meat that practically had Hagrid Wuvs Ooo Fwuffy written all over it, and he raised his right head to growl at them. The little piece of copper on its collar gleamed in the weak sunlight.

“Teddy? Harmonica,” Victoire said softly, breaking away from him to pace around the edge of the trees with her wand drawn. The left head turned to look at her. The central one just kept eating. Still, even if it could watch two people at once, it couldn't attack two people at once, and Teddy wasn't bad at the harmonica...

Teddy blew on the harmonica. It quacked like a duck.

"...That's not music!"

Fluffy growled and took a step away from the meat, and even though it had just eaten it still looked like it was sizing them up for dinner. Victoire took a few steps forward to protect Teddy if it went for him.

"Huh. Yeah, you're right," Teddy said, examining the harmonica and giving it another experimental toot. It oinked. "Funny. It's not supposed to start doing that for a couple of weeks."

"Did you buy it directly from Uncle George?"

"Yeah, but-"

"Did you tell him what you needed it for?" Victoire didn't look away from Fluffy.

"Yeah...oh."

"That was probably where you went wrong."

"Oh, fine then," Teddy scrunched his face up, added "I spent half a Galleon on that thing," and then lobbed it at Fluffy.

All hell broke loose.

"What was that for?" Victoire shouted as Fluffy charged and Teddy shot up the nearest tree.

"I'll distract him! You get him from behind!" Teddy yelled, climbing onto a large branch just a few feet above Fluffy's jaws.

Victoire hissed between her teeth. Stunners wouldn't work - not only two of them, even if they could synchronize it perfectly. No time for a Lullaby Charm. And it would be very awkward if she killed one of Hagrid's pets-

"Distract him from further away!" she shouted. "Reducto!" The spell cratered the ground next to Fluffy's hindpaws and it half whirled about, one set of eyes on Victoire and another on Teddy.

 "Don't worry! Remember the treehouse I helped James build?" Teddy stood up on the branch and reached for another one as Fluffy howled and clawed at the bark. "It's fine, I'm good at trees-"

The branch he was standing on splintered.

"I might not be so good at this one!"

The branch cracked. Teddy grabbed at another and missed.

"Battuo!" Victoire shrieked before Teddy had even hit the ground. The Battering Hex caught Fluffy under one of its chins and knocked it back, but not far enough.

"Teddy! Move!"

Teddy didn’t move fast enough, and when Fluffy swatted at him with one massive paw it bowled him over like a rag doll. He hit the ground and lay still.

Victoire screamed and took a running jump onto Fluffy’s back. She grabbed the collar on its middle head one-handed and hung on as it bucked and tried to shake her off and shouted "Reducto!" The Reductor Curse couldn't even break the skin, but Fluffy staggered and pitched sideways, eyes rolling.

"Battuo! Battuo!" Victoire clung on and hammered hex after hex down on the hellhound until it gave up and collapsed. She climbed off and dashed to Teddy’s side.

“Teddy! Teddy, are you-”

“Ow,” he said, staring up at her confusedly and wiping blood away from his mouth. “I think I bit my tongue…”

Victoire pulled his mouth open and peered at his tongue. “It looks fine to me.”

“No, I was hoping you’d kiss it better,” Teddy said dejectedly, which in anyone else would have made Victoire start checking for brain damage. She just sighed and let go of his face.

“Accio shiny trinket,” Teddy added, and the copper piece flew across the clearing and into Victoire’s hand. It fitted easily enough with the other two to make a copper sphere that fit neatly into her palm.

“So now what-”

There was a faint click from the sphere and the metal shifted, smoothing over the hairline fractures and unfurling silently like the sped-up rose they'd seen in Herbology class. Two glowing-red words in McGonagall’s crabby handwriting drifted up from the centre before diffusing like breath in the cold air:

Practise dodging.





“...Suddenly I have a really bad feeling about this," Teddy said.







Every single Weasley, Potter and Granger-Weasley in the entire world was currently packed into the Burrow's tiny living room, crowded around the wireless and waiting for Minister Shacklebolt's Christmas speech. It was a bit cramped.

 They always had Christmas at the Burrow, even though Uncle George was like the richest wizard in Britain and the whole of the Weasley clan could have fitted into his bathroom, instead of crowding together like sardines at Nana Molly's house, and then they would all have been able to eat at the same table as well. Rosie thought it was stupid, but Al thought the Burrow was just more of a family place than Uncle George's mansion. Al probably only got it because of his dad, though. His dad loved proper family Christmases.

Proper family Christmases, with traditional family gifts like the Weasley family jumpers. Al's was blue and yellow. It probably didn't mean anything. It was just that James's was red and gold and Lily's was yellow and black and Rosie's was blue and bronze. Not that that meant anything. James and Rosie might have asked for those colours and Lily really liked bees.

He glanced up at his dad, who was asleep with his mouth wide open and wearing the jester's hat he'd got out of his cracker. James was curled up on Dad's other side giggling over his Martin Miggs annual (James would probably prefer 'manly chuckling' but it was definitely a giggle.)  Now that they'd managed to get her out of the chimney and clean the soot off her glasses, Lily was curled up on Dad's lap, and she and Hugo were watching a spider she'd caught up there run over their hands. That was why Uncle Ron was  on the other side of the room eyeing them both suspiciously.

Al was more interested in Rosie, though. She was hovering next to her mum, who was eagerly explaining the history of house-elf enslavement to Aunt Audrey, who was a Muggle and didn't know much about anything. Rosie looked...turned off, sort of. Like she was just waiting for her mum or dad to talk to her.
“Rosie?” Uncle Ron asked, turning to look at her. Rosie put on a happy smile at once. 

“So what’s your favourite subject, Rosie?”

“Transfiguration and Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Rosie said promptly, because those were her parents’ favourites.

“That’s my girl!” Rosie’s dad said proudly, and turned back to Uncle Percy. “And Hugo’s doing very well at his ‘science’ lessons-” He pronounced the word carefully, like a foreign language. “-which Hermione reckons means he’s bound to be brilliant at Potions.” Uncle Ron tipped his glass of mulled wine at Aunt Hermione. “Thank God both of them got her brains!”

Rosie’s smile didn't waver for even a second. “That’s great!”

Hugo looked over from where he was gawping at Lily’s spider and grinned at her, which Rosie would probably take as a smirk.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Rosie told her dad, and fled, so Al got up and followed her.

“Rosie?" He went up to the first landing and, pretty predictably, found her sitting there with a textbook.  "Kingsley Shacklebolt’s speech’ll be on soon, remember? Nana Molly’s setting the wireless up…what are you doing?”

“I’m studying! What does it look like I’m doing?” Rosie snapped, brandishing the textbook at him.

“…but it’s Christmas,” Al pointed out. "And I know you've already done all your homework. You always do."

Rosie threw her book down.  “I have to work, Al! I want to do well at school! What, just because you can’t you think it’s fine to stop other people doing well?”

Al very carefully ignored that. Rosie picked her textbook back up and held it stubbornly in front of her face. 

“Just go away, can’t you?”

Al didn’t move. “Your mum said you’d want to listen to the Minister’s speech, though.”

 Rosie looked up sharply. “You talked to my mum?”

"Not really, she just said you'd want to listen," Al said. Right, time to change the direction of the conversation. "Are you coming?"

"You said she said I'd want to! That means you talked to her!" Rosie leapt to her feet. "Stop changing the subject!"

All right, so that had backfired. "...it means I'm not deaf?" Al hedged, backing away.

"What did you say to her?" Rosie demanded in a harsh whisper, closing the gap between them.

"I didn't say anything, she just said you'd like to listen so I came to get you," Al said, backing away again and nearly falling down the stairs. "If you don't that's fine."

Rosie almost snarled and ran a hand through her hair. "What did you tell her?"

"Rosie, I seriously didn't say anything," Al said, looking back at the living room door. "There's not much time. The Minister'll-"

Rosie hissed between her teeth. "You told her I...haven't been talking to you! Why would you do that? I've been perfectly nice to you all holiday!"

"It'd be nice if you were perfectly nice to me when you weren't surrounded by people who wanted you to," someone said. Al was surprised to find it was him.

Rosie almost gasped, and swung the book up like she was going to thwack him with it.

"Well, that is basically what you're doing and it's not very nice!"

Rosie almost shrieked and flung the textbook to the ground. “It’s not my fault! They said they were going to shun me! I don’t want to be shunned! …If you tell them anything, I'll...I'll tell your dad you've been trying to make friends with that Malfoy!" She glared at him defiantly.

It took a few seconds for that to sink in. "...you're blackmailing me?"

"It's not blackmail!" Rosie snapped. "Everyone in Herbology already knows! You're all over him all the time!" She folded her arms and added sulkily "It's embarassing. Do you know what his family's done?"

Al just stared at her.

"What?" Rosie demanded.

Al turned away from her and went back down the stairs. "Dad? Dad!"

His dad was awake and there like a shot. "Al? What's going on?"

Al came down the rest of the steps before he answered and stared mournfully up at his dad. "...'m sorry..."

"Why? What happened?" Al's dad glanced up at Rosie over Al's head.

"I lied when I said I wasn't talking to Score Malfoy," Al said. "I've been trying to make friends with him really...you aren't mad, are you?"

His dad gaped at him.

"He's not a bad person," Al said. "I know, because I've had him under surveillance for ages and he hasn't done anything suspicious or illegal. And anyway if we're friends he won't want to be a git, so it'll be fine." He gazed anxiously up at his dad, who still looked a bit poleaxed, and let his lower lip wobble. Plus the huge limpid green eyes, those were key.  "You're...you're not mad, are you?"

His dad still looked pretty worried. Al was just about to break out the tears when he swallowed and said, very carefully, "Of course I'm not angry, Al. That's very good of you. Er..."

"And you always told me it was wrong to discriminate against people because of their family," Al added brightly.

"That's true, I did say that," Al's dad agreed with a sigh, and he looked like he was about to say something else when Nana Molly called from the living room "Come quick! Kingsley's nearly on!"

Rosie dashed past them with a suspicious sidelong glance at Al, who shrugged apologetically and followed his dad back into the living room.

In the living room, awkward silence reigned while Nana Molly fiddled energetically with the wireless. Nobody seemed to want to meet Al's eyes.

It was possible that they'd been able to hear him.

"...Al, you stupid nit," James said.

It was completely definite that they'd been able to hear him. Oops. Still, it was better than letting Rosie spill everything to his dad, and Al didn't think he trusted her not to do that.

"Stop it, James," Al's dad said, settling back onto the sofa and pulling Al down to sit between him and his mum. Uncle Ron coughed.

"Er...so what do you reckon old Kingsley'll say about the goblins?"

Aunt Hermione immediately launched into a speech on goblin rights in Morocco or something like that as the wireless announcer started on his introduction, and while everyone was distracted by the aftereffects of the March 2011 riots Al's mum leant over and said, not that quietly "Watch out, Al. Slytherins are deceitful, and just because someone acts like your friend it doesn't mean they really are." Al's mum had never had any Slytherin friends. Al was pretty sure he knew more about the Slytherins than she did.

"But he doesn't act like my friend. He acts like he hates my guts," Al whispered back.

"What?" his dad hissed.

"It's fine, Dad, it's a work in progress," Al said.

"That’s mental," James said very loudly. "Al, listen to Mum, she knows what she's talking-" At least then Kingsley Shacklebolt's deep, reassuring voice echoed through the living room and cut him off.

Chapter 13: James Ruins Everything
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"There she is," James said, glaring as smoulderingly as possible across Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. "My arch-nemesis."

"I can't believe of all the people in Hogwarts the best nemesis you could find was an eleven-year-old girl," said Fred.

That was rubbish because Harper was an amazing nemesis, she was vile and wicked and loathed all that was good and fun in the world and when she was angry she went bright red and looked like an infuriated bowl of strawberries. James flapped his hands at Fred until he shut up and stopped completely ruining his creative flow and went back to glaring. Harper didn't seem to notice, because she was surrounded by a million tiny male versions of her. Or maybe four. James couldn't be expected to count when he was blinded by hate for his nemesis.

"She murdered my parents," James said vengefully, fixing on Harper a stare of utmost hate and hopefully a sort of brooding manliness. She still didn't look at him. "I shall have my revenge. I will hunt her far beyond the furthest deserts, the deepest sea, the highest-"

"Er. James?" his dad said.

"Your parents are fine, jackass," said Fred.

"Fred, shut up, yeah? I'm trying to establish a mood," James said. "You never get moods."

"I think it's a great mood," Louis said because unlike some people he was properly loyal. James gave him a look of gratitude and Fred a look of utmost reproach.

"I don't think I understand how I was murdered by a first-year," his dad said, trying to hide a smile.

"I don't know, base treachery and poison," James snapped, closed his eyes and tried to recapture the properly vengeful atmosphere.  It didn't come. "Fred, you ruined it! I will have revenge on you," he told him, and stomped off to about three feet away.

"We're sorry, James," Louis said promptly. "Please come back! Fred's learnt his lesson-"

"No I haven't," said Fred.

"-and he'll never criticise you again no matter how insane you are," Louis finished.

"Yes I will," said Fred.

"I will not be soothed by your flattery and your sweet lies!" James proclaimed. "You - um - you honey-tongued viper!"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be a honey-tongued viper, it was an accident," Louis said, sounding faintly strangled. James hoped he was choking on his enormous remorse. Hmf. Speaking of viper people, anyway...

"Can you believe Al?" he demanded.

"Oh God, not this again," said Fred, which James ignored in favour of an impassioned rant on Al's family disloyalty that he had been working on for hours.

"Al is a disgrace to us all! Not only is he in Slytherin even though I specifically told him not to be, not only is he mingling with real Slytherins even though everyone knows that's a stupid thing to do, not only does he not like Professor Brand even though he's the best teacher in the whole world: no, it's worse than that. It's far worse than that!" He spun round and raised a dramatic finger at Louis and Fred, who was sitting on his trunk leafing through a comic book because he had no sense of drama. "He is actively seeking to befriend a Malfoy! Fraternizing with our traditional enemies! Publically humiliating his own family! I think we should disown him," he added brightly.

"We're not going to disown Al," their dad said, putting a protective arm around the weaselly little Slytherinish weasel boy.

"Wait, is he talking about me again?" Al asked, looking up confusedly, except that was how Al always looked.

James glowered at them both for not paying attention.

"There's nothing wrong with Slytherin, James, I keep telling you," their dad said.

Oh, yeah, except that they were the only house not to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts and loads of them helped Voldemort instead and their qualifications were practically 'evil wannabe dictator'? It was cute that Dad was trying to pretend Al hadn't messed up his Sorting, but that was probably why the little twit'd thought it was all right to be in the Muggle-Murderer house in the first place. Professor Brand had been in Dumbledore's Army when the Death Eaters had been in charge of Hogwarts and he'd told them what the Slytherins had been up to back then.

"There is so," he informed his dad. "They always cheat at Quidditch and they're rude to Professor Brand and their prefects are insane and keep giggling about murdering the Hufflepuffs-"

"They're not serious about killing the Hufflepuffs," Al put in.

"Avery's the worst one," James said sourly.

"Avery's cool," Al said like a total brainwashed sycophant.

"Avery's a terrible person," Louis said because he was a true friend.

"I don't know who Avery is," their dad said.

"He's our king," Al said, again like a total brainwashed sycophant. Al was so deluded.

"He's the worst one," James announced. "He invented this stupid house solidarity thing where you can't even have one tiny argument with one tiny Slytherin before fifty more of them show up cackling like maniacs and hex you, and-"

"Thank God he's on Al's side, then," their dad said, laughing because he didn't understand the terribleness of the situation.

"Avery didn't invent house solidarity, though," Al said because apparently he'd memorized The Propaganda Version of the History of Slytherin House. "That was another prefect right after the Battle of Hogwarts. Then people stopped doing it for a while after everyone who'd been there for the Battle-"

"More like everyone who'd not been there for the Battle," James said. "Zing!" He raised his hand so Fred could give him a high-five, but Fred just looked at him like he was mental. Al ignored that because he was so in denial he could be eaten by crocodiles any second. Metaphorical crocodiles. James was pretty sure he could handle a real crocodile, though.

"- and Avery just convinced everyone to start doing it again when he was in third year," Al finished.

"Good for him," their dad said.

“He’s not as cool as Al says,” James told his poor misinformed father. “I bet everyone just pretends to respect him because he’s got minions who’re insane.”

“No, we do respect him because he’s got minions,” Al said. “Minions are important. You agree with me, right Dad?”

Al was so delusional! James flung up his hands and stomped off to about ten feet away, then glanced back to make sure everyone was paying attention to him. They weren't.

James checked his watch - still eight minutes until the train went - and stomped further away down the platform, where he stood with his back to his parents and his arms folded. That didn't get a reaction either. Fine, then! James headed further down the platform, looking for a cousin or someone. Maybe Teddy'd be here to snog Victoire again! That was gross, but James liked Teddy. He wished Teddy was his brother instead of Al.

The crowds thinned out towards the end of the platform, where the Apparition area was. James glared at the end of the Hogwarts Express like it had personally offended him. Maybe Harper ran over his parents in the Hogwarts Express. Yeah, that would work. It could be a symbol of his ruined childhood, or the tragic corruption of -

And then a house-elf Apparated in with somebody’s trunk and killed James's train of thought. Typical. He glowered at it balefully and hoped it felt really bad about completely ruining his fun.

Then Malfoy appeared!

"Erk!" said James and hid behind a pillar so he could Conduct Surveillance on them. "Subausculta!" He raised his cupped hands to his face to listen and was nearly deafened when someone else Apparated in as well.

Fortunately, James's eardrums were made of stronger stuff and the Malfoys' wicked plot to deafen him was unsuccessful.

"Thank you, Minny," Scorpius Malfoy said tinnily to the house-elf, as James peeked around the edge of the pillar to Obtain Visual Evidence. "I'll see you at Easter."

"Scorpius, sometimes you remind me of my first cousin," the old woman who'd shown up with them observed, standing well back as Malfoy’s dad picked up his trunk.

"Not the Potter-loving traitor, I hope," Malfoy said sulkily.

"…Sometimes you remind me very much of my only cousin," the old woman said, which James barely heard because he was busy having spasms. Stealthy spasms. The Malfoys were evil! That totally proved it! James had known all along and everyone had said he was being ridiculous, ha ha well they'd all know he was right now. James nearly did a happy little dance before he remembered he was conducting espionage and the Aurors' Handbook was weirdly specific about not dancing during espionage.

The Malfoys headed down the platform, Malfoy and his dad hauling Malfoy's bits and pieces after them and James sneaking along after them like the ninja goons in The Adventures of Milo Blishwick, Superspy! Then he got tired of ninja sneaking and dashed over to them.

"Hi!"

The Malfoys stared at him, no doubt astonished that their vile duplicitous machinations had been revealed. Also, Malfoy's dad was going bald.

"You're going bald," James told him. Mr Malfoy went red. Malfoy went white and started forward, before the old woman put out a hand to stop him and Mr Malfoy gripped his shoulder in a symbolic handing-down of Death Eater values! The Malfoys were so blatantly evil, James was amazed nobody had noticed before.

"Who are you?" she asked James.

"James Potter!" James announced. "James Sirius Potter, even." Because it was important that the Malfoys knew he would fight against their evil forever and ever until the end of time, which both his namesakes had done.

The old woman quirked an eyebrow, which made James automatically hate her because he’d been trying to do that for years and never managed it.  “And I expect you intend to follow the example of your namesakes?”

“Yeah!”

“Then, fortunately, we shall not have to suffer your company for very long,” the old woman said, and turned away. Malfoy blanched.

…was that a joke? James didn’t get it.

The Malfoys were moving away and James was about to go interrogate them about their evil ways some more when the whistle blew. Everything was interrupting him today! What was with that? He chalked it up to an evil conspiracy and dashed off to meet up with Fred and Louis again.

“I saw the Malfoys!” he told them when he finally found them in the train corridor, and leant out the window to wave goodbye to his parents.

“Shut up about the sodding Malfoys,” Fred said.

“And they - look, there they are again!” James hung out the window and pointed to Malfoy. “Look what he’s doing!” Harper was tossing Malfoy’s trunk into the train, and Malfoy himself was hugging the other Slytherin girl who didn’t do much. He was obviously trying to seduce her into the Death Eaters! Malfoy’s plans were so transparent, James would be amazed if any of them ever worked.

“Did you see what Malfoy was doing?” he asked Fred and Louis, because he had this creeping suspicion that they might not have been looking.

“Shut up about the Malfoys. Please,” Fred said. “If you say Malfoy one more time I swear on Merlin’s knickers I will throttle you to death.”

“I don’t talk about the Malfoys that much,” James said.

“Argh!” Fred said.

“All right, I’ll stop talking about them if you don’t want to battle against evil with me,” James snapped.

“I seriously don’t,” Fred informed him. James stared at him reproachfully. Fred didn’t repent.

“Oh, fine,” James said grumpily, climbing down from the window as the train started to move. Malfoy had skulked out of sight by then anyway. “I won’t mention Those People Who Must Not Be Named ever again. Okay?”





“Look at Malfoy over there,” James said sourly at the evening feast. “He looks so smug. Him and his stupid smug ferret face.”

Fred started banging his head against the table.

“Malfoy’s face is terribly smug,” Louis agreed. “With distinct ferretlike qualities.”

“I bet you he’s laughing at us,” James said, rummaging in his pockets for the collapsible telescope he could have sworn he had somewhere. “And at Al. But mostly at us. He is brooding with dark delight over our ignomonimy,” he added. “Have either of you seen my telescope?”

“The last time I did, it was on your floor near your sock pile,” Louis said.

Then no-one was ever going to see it again. And Uncle George’s eavesdropping spell wouldn’t work all the way across the Great Hall, it just got Hufflepuffs blithering about ponies and glitter or whatever it was Hufflepuffs talked about.

“I think we should take revenge on him,” he said.

“You think we should take revenge on lots of people, which is brilliant but confusing,” Louis said. “Do you mean Malfoy or Al today?”

“Please mean Al. Al’s easy to take revenge on,” Fred said to the table. “All we ever have to do is shove him off something.”

“No, I mean Malfoy. For ensnaring Al,” James corrected, and then relented and added “And maybe we can take revenge on Al after. For getting ensnared and being a stupid nit. I warned him not to be in Slytherin, you know.”

“No you didn’t. You told him he’d be in Slytherin and laughed until you fell over. We all saw you,” Fred said.

“Yeah, exactly!” James said. “So he should have worked out that Slytherin is a rubbish house to be in!” He glared across the Great Hall at the Slytherins. The Slytherins, depraved execrable antagonists that they were, didn’t notice. “So we should avenge my family’s honour on him. But first, Malfoy!”

So after dinner they all went to the library to research Evil Malfoys of the Past and also Herbology because James had some homework for that he probably should have done during the holidays. James always did his Herbology homework eventually, though, it wasn’t like Potions or Astronomy or something, it was just sometimes he didn’t do it right away. And he always paid attention in Herbology class, unless he had something else really important to do like when he’d been planning out Harry Potter and the Minotaur of Pompeii and all the complicated themes and symbolism and stuff, because that had been a Masterpiece and it would have been a crime to deprive the Gryffindors of it.  Anyway Professor Neville was Lily’s godfather and one of James’s favourite professors, after Professor Brand of course because Neville was cool but he just wasn’t as tough as Professor Brand was.

So obviously when he found out what Malfoy’s great-aunt Bellatrix had done to Professor Neville’s parents, he had to tell everyone. It would have been a travesty of justice for people not to know.

And then maybe he got a bit carried away. But that was all right, wasn’t it? If it showed everyone what nasty pieces of work all the Malfoys were, it was practically his duty to embellish the truth a little bit.

So the next day, in the entrance hall just after lunch, James took the opportunity to preach the truth.  Enough people had wandered out of the Great Hall and settled in to listen - some sitting on their satchels, some leaning against the walls, some just watching with their hands in their pockets - that he thought he ought to make a proper show out of it.

“So Malfoy’s grandfather collected all the Muggleborn prisoners together - or rather, what he claimed was all the Muggleborn prisoners - and locked them all into one horrible tiny room and went away,” James said, jabbing his finger at the page of his book (not that what he was saying was in the book, but whatever)  and inspecting his audience for interest. “So the Muggleborns waited, confused but relieved that at least they weren’t dead, but when the moon rose and it turned out there were werewolves in there with them…” And James was going to leave the next bit up to everyone’s imaginations because he didn’t think he knew enough synonyms for ‘gore’.  A shocked whisper ran around the entrance hall and James snapped his book shut triumphantly.  He’d been worried that people wouldn’t be impressed if he stopped using what Louis said was his ‘unique personal style’ of talking, but Fred had said it was okay because this was non-fiction and talking like a moron with a thesaurus lodged in his brain (Fred was just jealous that he didn’t have a unique personal style) wouldn’t be very impressive. James guessed Fred was right about some stuff sometimes.

“Can’t believe we’re slagging off Malfoy when we could be eating,” Fred said under his breath. “This is stupid.”

Fred was really wrong about some other stuff, though. So James ignored that and started flicking ostentatiously through the book again. He wasn’t about to let anything ruin this for him.

“Oi, Potter! Hell you doing now?”

Harper stomped out of the Great Hall and glared at James because she was magnetically attracted to people having fun or something. On the bright side, she had Malfoy with her! (And the Slytherin girl who didn’t do much, but who cared, right?)

Malfoy was looking at the audience suspiciously (they were all looking at him suspiciously, too, which James counted as a victory for the side of Good) and drew closer to Harper.

“Potter! You deaf? I said what the hell are you playing at now?”

“He was telling us how his grandfather gave Muggleborns to the werewolves,” a Ravenclaw prefect said coolly and pointed at Malfoy (who just looked calmly and annoyingly blank).   

“Is your name Potter? No? Then shut it,” Harper said, and made a rude gesture at the Ravenclaw. A Hufflepuff girl burst out laughing, but Hufflepuffs were thick like that sometimes so James wasn’t going to hold it against her.

“That’s a lie, in any case,” Malfoy said.

“Is not!” James said.

“Yes, it is. That was Yaxley,” Malfoy said, darting a quick glance at the audience. James thought he saw him take a deep breath. “None of my relatives had anything to do with that.”

“Oh, yeah, Yaxley,” James said, with as much sarcasm as he could muster up and also fingerquotes just to be sure everyone got it. “You know a suspicious amount about what the Death Eaters did, you know that, Malfoy? What, bedtime stories?”

That got a laugh out of Fred. 

“So do you, jackass,” Harper snapped, advancing menacingly upstage.

“I read it in a book,” James said proudly, waving the book at Malfoy.

“Oh well done, you’ve learned to read,” Malfoy said, the calm fracturing slightly. “Whereas I couldn’t possibly have done the same?”

James thought about that.

“…Fred, Malfoy thinks I can’t read!”

“He was being sarcastic. You idiot,” said Fred. James would have complained about Fred being disloyal again, but that was when Al showed up blinking at people confusedly like normal. Excellent!

“Oh fine then,” James said, folding his arms. He‘d been saving this for the finale, but it would work just as well here. “You want to talk about someone who is in your family, then? Like Bellatrix Lestrange?”

All the colour drained out of Malfoy’s face. James mentally clapped himself on the back for getting a reaction out of the stupid ferret and kept an eye on Al, who still just looked confused.

“…who’s Bellatrix Lestrange?” the boring Slytherin girl asked Harper in a whisper. Nobody would have been able to hear her if it hadn’t be so quiet. It was nice she’d given James such a good lead-in, anyway.

“Bellatrix Lestrange, his great-aunt, once tortured a pair of noble and valiant Aurors with the Cruciatus Curse until they went totally insane and ended up dying in St Mungo’s,” James announced. Al’s face scrunched up. There were angry mutters from the crowd, but James wasn’t done yet. “And you know who those Aurors were?”

Malfoy lifted his chin and met James’s stare.

Professor Longbottom’s mum and dad,” James said, with considerable relish.

There was an indignant shriek from some girl in the audience and everyone else seemed to react the same way - gasping and hissing to each other and getting to their feet. Harper swore and started towards James.

“Well, that’s not his fault,” Al said.

“…wait what,” James said, and went undignifiedly high-pitched. “Al! Professor Neville’s Lily’s godfather!” Harper'd stopped and was watching Al. That was annoying. James's nemesis wasn't supposed to get bossed around by his kid brother.

“I know that,” Al said, scanning the audience. None of the audience looked very pleased with him, but Al kept running his mouth off anyway. “It’s still not Score’s fault!”

James goggled at him. Malfoy looked like he thought Al was insane too, but that wasn’t much consolation.

“Dad says you can’t judge people because of their families, anyway,” Al said.

“That’s not right!” Where’d Al’s sense of loyalty gone?

“…are you saying Dad’s wrong?” Al said. Did he look more focused all of a sudden? James decided it was his imagination.

“No, you aren’t getting it - what Dad meant was that you can’t be a git to people because they’re Muggleborn,” he explained patiently. Wow, Al was slow on the uptake.

“And why not?” Al said.

James almost exploded on the spot. “What the hell do you mean, why not? Are you a Death Eater now or something?”

“...that's sort of not what I was getting at,” Al said.

“What were you getting at, then?” a Hufflepuff sixth-year demanded, getting to his feet with his fists clenched.  There was a low mutter of assent: all around the hall people were shifting and turning angry faces on Al. Al blanched, and the boring Slytherin girl squeaked and clutched at his arm while Harper put herself squarely between the sixth-year and Al.

“James?” Louis said softly in his ear. “I think this could get ugly.”

“Nah, it’s fine, I’m winning,” James whispered back, and he was just thinking about what he could yell at Al for next when the bell rang for the end of lunch.

That really had to stop happening. And James was going to make it stop happening except that if he didn’t make a move right then he was going to be late for DADA! He stuffed the book into his bag and added a quick “See you later, Lord Aldemort,” over his shoulder as Fred and Louis grabbed their bags. The Entrance Hall was clearing out pretty quickly, though that might have been because the two loony Slytherin prefects had shown up and were standing behind Al, grinning like a pair of serial killers deciding who to eat first.

“Unbelievable, yeah? I could’ve sworn we had like twenty minutes!” James panted as the three of them dashed along the History of Magic corridor in a desperate race against time. Fred stopped dead.

“Fred!” James wailed, skidding to a halt and hopping up and down. “We’ll be late for DADA!”

Fred was looking at his watch. “You said we had twenty minutes? We’ve got twenty-six.”

…huh?

“Nobody came out of the Great Hall-” Louis said, cottoning on.

“…huh?” said James, not that anyone seemed to hear him.

“-because they didn’t hear the bell go. Potter, we got played.” Fred made an exasperated noise.

“Oh my God!” James exploded. “Bloody Slytherins!”

“And Al and Malfoy’ll’ve sodded off by now,” Fred added sourly.

“They think they’re so brilliant, they think they can just stop anyone from exercising their right to free speech any time they want,” James grumbled, dropping his bag so he could make indignant hand gestures. “And what was Al doing? Did you hear him call Malfoy Score? What is that, a nickname?”

“Nah, Potter, Al just can’t pronounce Scorperius. ‘Course it was a sodding nickname, idiot!”

“That’s unbelievable,” James said, rumpling his hair up and pacing and wishing Hogwarts had some moors. “He’s nicknaming Malfoys! Has he no shame? Does he even know how he’s making himself look? How he’s making Dad look?” Did Dad know how bad Al was making him look, even? “He has besmirched our august father’s noble reputation,” James added darkly. “If any honour yet remained within his weasel soul he would be committing ninja ritual suicide right now.”

“I’m sure that’d be lovely but I really don’t think Al’s going to disembowel himself for you,” Louis said. “Maybe you should think of a different plan?”

James struck a pensive pose, head down, stroking an imaginary beard. Fred and Louis waited (Louis expectantly, Fred with his face in his hands).

“I,” James said, slowly and reverentially (after three minutes and seventeen seconds, according to Fred’s watch) “have had a brilliant idea.”

“Oh God,” said Fred.

“Fantastic!” said Louis. “So what is it?”





Note: Just so everyone knows...

>...because Neville was cool but he just wasn’t as tough as Professor Brand was.

James is delusional. Neville > Prof. Brand. If they ever duelled Brand would get owned so hard Grandma Brand would sit up in her coffin and go 'Crap! What was that?' This is because Neville is the most badass person in the Potterverse and everyone knows it.

Just making sure there's no confusion. Love you all lots!

Chapter 14: Al and Score are Evil Soulmates
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It was a pity that Al’s go at defending Score hadn’t gone so well (it had been a rhetorical question! Why had they all decided he was a Death Eater?) but on the bright side, after everyone had left Score had looked at him strangely, said “Thanks, Potter,” and offered him a handshake.

He’d only known Score for a term and they’d already progressed to handshakes! At this rate they’d be best friends by… about the end of fourth year.

Maybe Al should try to speed it up a little.

Still, he thought things were going well, so of course a few days later he opened the Daily Prophet and found a full page of James telling Rita Skeeter and everyone else in the world that Al was literally the reincarnation of Voldemort. 

He didn’t think James knew what ‘literally’ meant, but nobody could believe him, could they? And James saying that Al had turned into a Muggle-hater who was a Disgrace to his Family (with capitals) and that it was all the Slytherins’ fault!

Al had closed his eyes and put his head down on the table, trying to calculate how seriously anyone would take this. He supposed he shouldn’t have expected James or Rosie to support him all the way, not if it could get them into trouble, but James could at least not be actively working against him!

Faith had responded pretty predictably - she’d stormed over to the Gryffindor table where James had been gloating over the newspaper, hauled him off the bench by the collar and yelled at him. James had said “See, that’s why Al shouldn’t be palling around with Malfoys!” and challenged her to a fight to the death in a volcano. Then Faith had tried to drown him in his own cornflakes. The upshot was that James, Louis, Faith and the Gryffindor fourth-year who’d tried to break them up were now all in the Hospital Wing.

Score’s reaction was a bit odder. Of course, James had taken the time to insult Score as well.

“Are you all right?” Al asked Score, who was reading the bit where James told everyone that nobody liked Malfoy or wanted him at Hogwarts and all the Gryffindor first-years thought he was suspiciously friendly and he ought to go home and eat death all by himself. Score’s gaze was fixed on the paper, his fists were clenched and his teeth were almost bared.

“…You look a bit upset,” Al said.

Score whirled on him, ashen with fury, and snarled “I am not angry!”

Al leapt back automatically, at least as far as that was possible sitting on a bench, and cannoned into Kitty who shrieked and knocked her pumpkin juice over.

“Well, I can’t think of any reason to disbelieve you, Malfoy,” Grimalkin said, mopping up Kitty’s pumpkin juice with a wave of his wand while Al apologised to her.

“Wow, Malfoy’s so zen!” Lia said, “Please give us lessons, Malfoy, we want to be zen masters just like you!”

Score glared at them. The prefects smiled big angelic smiles. Score took a deep breath and put his blank face on. “Sorry, Cook. And Potter.”

“…and you’re all right, are you?”

“Absolutely fine,” Score said, staring death at his porridge.

Al had his doubts about that. Score had gone straight back to blank vagueness, though, and it was impossible to get any other response out of him.

The first lesson that day was DADA, so they waited outside the classroom for Faith before they went in - she was still angry, of course, but at least she wasn’t throwing up slugs any more. She grunted to them and kicked the door open, flinging her bag into the corner of the room as she entered. The others followed her, tossing their schoolbags onto the pile.

Professor Brand was sitting on his desk as usual, but reading the paper. Great.

“You’re all six minutes late,” he told them, setting the paper aside. It was open at James’s interview: Al could see the big photo of him grinning wildly up at them. “Why is that?”

“We didn’t want to come in your lesson because we hate you and you’re stupid,” Faith replied grumpily.

Professor Brand apparently decided to ignore that. He was smiling. That was probably not a good sign.

“Today I thought we’d do a practical test-”

That was also not a good sign.

“-and see how much you’ve remembered from last term,” he finished, while Faith looked around suspiciously for a crate of Doxies. “Pulso!”

The impact to his ribs knocked Al straight off his feet and sent him skidding backwards on the floor, wheezing. Kitty shrieked.

“Remember, Potter, ‘constant vigilance’,” Professor Brand quoted cheerfully. “Let’s try that again, and this time try to dodge - Petrificus Totalus!”

Protego!” Faith shouted, throwing herself between them. The Shield Charm wasn’t very good, but at least it deflected the hex into the wall instead. Score hauled Al to his feet.

Steleus!” Faith shouted. Professor Brand leant casually to one side and the hex shot past him.

“Let’s go, Potter,” Score snapped, grabbing his arm, and they all dashed for the door with Faith bringing up the rear and swearing. Once the door had slammed shut behind them they sprinted away up the corridor towards the North Tower, only stopping when they thought they’d put enough distance between them and the DADA classroom.

“Harper,” Score said a little breathlessly, “I was just thinking that you hadn’t assaulted the faculty quite enough this term. It’s good to see you’re on top of that.” Faith made a face. Score shot Al a look that looked sort of like ‘ha, now we’re even’ and started fixing his hair, which had become slightly dishevelled what with all the fleeing.

“Did we just walk out of a DADA lesson?” Al asked. He didn’t think his dad would be very impressed about that.

“‘Ran screaming’ might be a more accurate way of putting it,” Score said. Al didn’t think he’d heard Score say so many words to him at one time before. He kind of sounded like a thesaurus.

“Wait. Cook?” Score raised his voice. “Cook!”

They all looked up and down the corridor. There was no sign of Kitty.

“Holy crap,” Faith said. “We’re rubbish at this.”

Al wilted. “When did she leave?”

Score leant back against the wall and brushed a few unruly strands of hair out of his face. “I think shortly before we did. I thought she was behind us - let’s split up.”

Faith looked at the pair of them, obviously decided that Al was the more likely to just fall down and die if left by himself and announced that she was going with him. The pair of them headed back towards the DADA classroom while Score investigated the rooms around where they’d ended up.

“We left our bags in there again,” Al pointed out, peeking into an empty classroom. “I don’t think we’re very good at running away.”

“So? I’ll get them later,” Faith said, kicking a classroom door open and discovering, as she put it, sod-all. “Potter, what’s with you?”

Al had stopped outside a girls’ bathroom and was eyeing the door uncertainly. “Can you check in there?”

“It’s just a loo, Potter. It’s not, like, full of dancing naked women.”

“Can you check it anyway?”

Faith rolled her eyes and shoved past him into the girls’ bathroom.

“Holy crap!”

“What? What happened?” Al asked, peeking cautiously around the edge of the door.

“There’s a ghost! It’s in the bog!” Faith said, and laughed like a hyena.

“That’s not very nice of you,” the ghost said plaintively. Al apologised to her hastily and got out of there before Faith could start asking awkward questions about why the ghost would want to live in a toilet. She yelled “Oi! Potter, wait up!” and followed him.

They checked a few more classrooms, or more accurately Al checked a few more classrooms while Faith wandered after him and chuntered quietly to herself about the pros and cons of living in a bog. (There were a lot more cons than pros, but on the other hand one of the pros was ‘It’d really freak people out’ which according to Faith made up for an awful lot of stuff.)

They were just turning onto a new corridor and Al was starting to wonder if Kitty had just run all the way back to their common room when James skidded into the corridor at the other end, collided with the wall, bounced off it and fell over.

Faith and Al both just stared as James scrambled to his feet, leaned as nonchalantly as possible against the wall and held a copy of The Adventures of Harpsichord Rowle, Mad Explorer! right up in front of his face. Then he froze.

“Potter, what the hell is he doing?” Faith asked.

James slowly lowered the comic book and attempted to raise one eyebrow.“Harper. So, we meet at last.”

“I’m here too,” Al said.

“We’ve met already, jackass,” Faith said.

Al had more important things to worry about. “James, why did you-”

“Oh! Did you see my article? Wasn’t it great?” 

Al had never really appreciated before how deeply stupid James could be.

“No, it was crap,” Faith said at almost exactly the same time that Fred shouted “No, it was craaaap,” down the hallway and came puffing into sight with Louis sauntering leisurely behind him. “I hate that Ma - oh crap, those two.”

James stuck his comic back into his bag. “Why aren’t you in class? Harper, are you seducing Al into truancy and wickedness?”

“…no,” Faith said.

“Oh.” James stared at the floor for a few seconds, then brightened up. “Al, are you seducing Harper into truancy and wickedness?”

“He’s eleven,” said Fred. “You’re deranged.”

“You’re out of class too,” Al said. “Why did you tell Rita-”

“We’re only missing History of Magic, Binns won’t notice,” James said. “Binns doesn’t notice if you stand behind him and make faces all lesson, we’ve tried it.”

For a second Faith looked like she was thinking that would be a fun game before she went back to thinking about how much she hated James and hoped he would die.

“It’s not important anyway,” Al said. “Why’d you tell Rita Skeeter I was literally the reincarnation of Voldemort?”

“Because you’re acting like the reincarnation of Voldemort?” James said, like it should be obvious. “And you’re embarrassing Dad and Mum and Nana Molly and you’re letting the whole family down. And now you know how stupid it makes you look, so stop doing it!”

“…So this is for Dad’s benefit?” Al repeated incredulously. “You said I was evil! How’s that for Dad’s benefit?”

“Nuh-uh!” James said. “I mean, again your assumptions have misled you, grasshopper. I very specifically said it was all the Slytherins’ and Malfoy’s fault, so there.” He folded his arms and looked smug for about three seconds before Faith lost her temper and hit him in the nose.

“Ow! Furnunculus!”

That turned out to be a bad choice of jinx for retaliation, because being covered in boils in no way prevented Faith from punching James in the gut. Al, Fred and Louis got out of the way extremely quickly. James got Faith with a Trip Jinx but unfortunately took a few seconds to gloat, which meant Faith could drag him down to the floor with her, pin him to the ground and whack him in the face again.

“Argh! Mordeo!”

“Crap! Matikleisto!”

Al, Fred and Louis exchanged awkward glances while Faith and James yelled and flailed ineffectually at each other. Al was pretty sure neither of them could actually see by now, because James’s eyes were sealed shut and Faith’s face was swelling up and going red and shiny.

“Should we, um, intervene?” Al asked.

“No! This is a battle between me and my archnemesis and nobody is allowed to intervAAARGH,” said James as Faith tried to throttle him with his tie and he apparently tried to poke her eyes out with his wand.

“What, like this? Potter! Stop getting beaten up by an eleven-year-old girl!”

“Um…that’s not exactly what I meant,” Al said, interrupted by a yowl from Faith because James had apparently finally jabbed her in the eye. She fell back with her hands over her face. He scrambled back and onto his feet. Faith bounced to her feet and froze.

There was a brief awkward silence.

“Er,” James said. “I think I lost her?” Faith turned sharply in the direction of his voice.

“She’s about four steps behind you,” Fred told him. James took Fred’s advice and ran face-first into the wall.

“Ow! Fred!”

“Maybe we should go to the Hospital Wing,” Al said, gingerly taking hold of Faith’s arm.

“I don’t need to go to the Hospital Wing,” Faith and James said simultaneously, and both glared in completely the wrong directions.

“If you say so,” Al said, trying to haul Faith away. It was sort of like trying to haul Hagrid.

“Stuff this,” Fred said, grabbing James’s collar. “Move or die, Potter!” He stomped off dragging James behind him while James lectured him on disloyalty. Louis gave Al an apologetic shrug and sauntered after them.

“Wuss!” Faith hollered after James, who yelled something back about Slytherins always running away that Al didn’t actually listen to before Fred dragged him out of earshot.

Well at least he was rid of them. Al turned to inspect Faith properly, standing on tiptoe to look into her face.

“I think I won!” Faith said, and grinned from ear to ear (which made a cut on her lower lip reopen). Her whole face had swollen up and gone tight- and shiny-looking, almost like a burn, and her eyes were reduced to puffy slits. Add to that the angry red boils spattered across her nose and forehead and to be honest, the end result wasn’t very pretty.

“’Course you did,” Al agreed, and took her hand. “Hospital wing, right?” Faith grumbled but agreed. The hospital wing wasn’t far from where they were, and luckily there weren’t any stairs between it and them, but Faith still collided with a few walls on the way.

As it turned out, Kitty and Score had both had about the same luck.

“Madam Zell - What happened to you?” Al asked, stunned, as they went in.

“Eh? What happened to who?” Faith asked.

Score was lying down on one of the beds, with his arm across his eyes, but he propped himself up on his elbow and looked at them as they came in. Kitty was perched at the end of his bed absolutely covered in ink, but she jumped up and ran over to them.

“What happened to you?” Al and Kitty said together.

“Somebody tell me what’s going on? Is that Cook?” Faith said.

“What happened to Faith’s face? It’s not contagious, is it?”

“That’s Cook! Where’ve you been?”

“Why are you covered in ink?” Al asked. Kitty looked at the floor and mumbled something about Peeves and falling down the stairs.

“She’s covered in ink?” Faith said as Madam Zeller dashed up to them and said “Hmm, looks bad. Sit there.” and pushed her towards a bed. Al headed over to Score, who had settled back with his arm over his eyes again.

“What happened to you?”

Score’s mouth turned downwards at the corners,  like he was thinking of how exactly he should phrase it.

“He told me he was accosted by a Gryffindor and Ravenclaw in sixth-year who were somewhat perturbed by his cavalier treatment of Professor Longbottom’s family, despite the fact that he personally had never met them,” Kitty quoted carefully, her forehead creased up.

“What? Bastards!” Faith yelped, and made to jump up. Madam Zeller shoved her back onto the bed and started muttering charms over the boils on her forehead.

Al stared at Score. He didn’t look hurt or anything. But Madam Zeller would have fixed that, right? But if he’d been able to get to the Hospital Wing in the first place…”

“I think he means they attacked him-” Kitty worried her lower lip between her teeth. “And I’m not sure whether he’s got his arm like that because the light still hurts or because Madam Zeller hasn’t turned his eyelashes back to normal yet-”

“Who were they?” Faith demanded around Madam Zeller, who said something snippy about not appreciating her patients running off to ambush people.

“I don’t know, Harper, we weren’t exactly formally introduced. Cook, I can hear you fretting,“ Score said, not moving his arm. “Besides, it’s the latter. There’s no serious injury save to my dignity.”

That was pretty much what Al would have said if he was seriously injured, so he nodded gamely and pretended to believe him.

“And that’s not anything you haven’t injured already, right? Stop being a moron, Malfoy! What’d they look like?”

“Cook, if you murder Harper right now I’ll buy you a pony,” Score promised, which at least startled Faith into hysterical laughter. Kitty looked slightly traumatised. Al was sort of annoyed Score had asked Kitty to murder Faith instead of him, because while he wasn’t a great duellist he was at least better at it than Kitty was.

It occurred to him that Slytherin might have warped his mind.

Anyway. That was more worrying than Score was acting like it was, wasn’t it? Al shouldn’t let him go anywhere on his own from then on. He should reread the section on protective custody in the Aurors’ Handbook, too. It’d probably be more helpful if he got Faith to do it, though, which shouldn’t be difficult to arrange.

“There, done,” Madam Zeller said, and Faith immediately bounded to her feet and charged over to the other Slytherins.

“This is all Potter’s fault! We should kill him. Rookwood’ll know a good place to hide the body-”

“As a staff member? Quit killing people,” Madam Zeller said. “Christ, Slytherins.” She hurried back into her office.

“We don’t always suggest killing people,” Al called after her forlornly.

“Well in this case we should!” Faith said. “Let’s beat him to death with a spade!” She energetically mimed a spade-beating and nearly mime-spaded Kitty in the head. “Oops, sorry, Cook.”

“We don’t need to beat anyone with spades,” Al said. “James’ll…um…get his comeuppance. Soon. I swear.”






James’s comeuppance arrived at lunch, actually.

Score was explaining to Avery that he was hardly discomfited at all by being suddenly assaulted in the school corridors and Lia and Grimalkin were trying to figure out who the culprits were and probably not for benevolent reasons.

“Were they all gross and lovey-dovey?” Lia asked, in a tone of scientific interest.

Score hesitated. “There was some…they might have been a couple? I don’t see why you keep acting as if they gave me a detailed summary of their names, addresses and personal history.”

“To be a proper Slytherin you have to know how to read minds,” Grimalkin explained. Al wondered if there really was a spell he could learn to read people’s minds. That would be useful. (But only when used in strict keeping with the rules on respecting civilian privacy in Appendix G of the Auror’s Handbook.)

Then a snowy owl flew shrieking through the upper windows of the Great Hall and dive-bombed the Gryffindor table.

“What’s that?” Faith asked, kneeling up on the bench to get a better view. “Oh hang on - Al, I think it’s for your brother-”

Al put it together, yelped and stuck his fingers in his ears. Faith turned and squinted down at him looking very confused, and her lips moved as if she was saying ‘What’re you-’

“WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!”


The noise was deafening, almost drowning out the cries of shock all across the hall as the students ducked instinctively and clapped their hands over their ears. Plates and cutlery rattled. Faith almost fell off the bench.

 “YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT YOUR BROTHER LIKE THAT TO ANYONE, JAMES!”


Several Hufflepuffs prudently took refuge under their table as dust showered from the ceiling. Al scrambled up onto the bench and tried to catch a glimpse of James, but could only see the top of his head sunk down between Fred and Louis. Fred was banging his head on the table again. Louis had covered his face with his hands.

“YOU KNOW AL’S NOT EVIL, THAT’S A STUPID THING TO SAY-”


Al was going to write to his dad and say thanks just as soon as his eardrums stopped throbbing.

“- TALKING TO BLOODY RITA SKEETER ABOUT YOUR OWN FAMILY, JAMES, THAT’S COMPLETELY DISGUSTING, I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU’D DO THAT AND IF YOU EVER DO IT AGAIN I-”

The Howler broke off for just a split second. Al guessed because usually when his dad threatened people he was talking to a criminal and it had to be different with James.

“-WILL NOT BE HAPPY!”

The Howler burned up and shrivelled into ashes. Silence reigned again.

“I think,” Lia said carefully, uncurling from where she’d buried her face in Grimalkin’s shoulder and almost died laughing, “I think that deserves a round of applause.”

There was ragged applause from the Slytherins, and scattered laughter from the rest of the Great Hall.

“Oh God, my eardrums,” Score said faintly, face-down on the table. “I think they’ve committed suicide.”

“I’m sorry, he’s very…um…loud when he’s angry,” Al said. His own eardrums were aching. Were they supposed to do that?

“Hey, Potter’s upset,” Faith said, standing up on the bench to look across the Great Hall properly. “Good. I hope he cries. I hope someone has a camera and can take pictures of it for me.”

Al knelt up on the bench again to look across the Hall with her. James had emerged from under the Gryffindor table by this point. He wasn’t crying, but he seemed to be having some sort of bewildered hysterical fit at Louis while Louis rubbed his back soothingly and Fred yelled at them both.

Al tried not to feel sorry for him. The Howler’d made things easier for him, at any rate. Not that everything was magically fixed, but at least it helped…

Speaking of helped. “Were you all planning to go to Charms Club tonight?”
“Yeah, why not,” Faith said, still gazing across the Hall with a look of utmost joy and appreciation while James flailed about in despair.

“Um,” Kitty said, twisting her fingers in her skirt. “Is it okay if I don’t? It’s just, um, I sort of thought I would be less likely to be murdered in our common room.”

“Sweet Jesus, what?!” Lia said. “Why would you think that? Oh my God, Grim, what are we doing wrong?”





Their reception at the Charms Club wasn’t that great, though. Violetta Harbringer looked up already smiling as Al opened the door, and then her whole face seemed to fracture suddenly.

“What are you doing here?”

“We’re here for Charms Club,” Score said.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” Violetta said. Behind the first-years, Grim and Lia smiled slow, mad smiles.

“We’re here for Charms Club,” Grim said.

“And to kill people!” Lia chirped. “…wait. Crap. Did I say kill? I meant hug!”

“We’ve come to hug you all,” Grim intoned, completely deadpan.

“Who wants the first hug?” Lia asked brightly, arms flung wide.

Nobody wanted a hug.

“…oh fine, be like that.”

“Why are you actually here?”

Lia flicked her hair and grinned insanely at everyone. “All right. As you all no doubt know, we are the devoted minions of Lord Aldemort-”

“I thought you were Avery’s minions?”

“Don’t bother us with logic,” Grim advised.

“- sworn to keep him safe, and we shall fight to the death to defend him!” Lia announced. “Should any of you misbegotten curs seek to do him harm-”

“Or do any of the ickle firsties harm, really. We aren’t choosy,” Grim put in.

“-then we shall bring down upon thy head such unholy retribuooooh biscuits!” And Grim and Lia both bounced off to the refreshments table.

“…I don’t think I feel very safe,” Al said.

Violetta was looking after them, frowning. “They don’t have any fireworks with them, have they?”

Al was pretty sure they hadn’t. “I don’t think so?”

“Good,” Violetta said, added defensively to a few stunned onlookers “Well, the Charms Club’s policy is to let everybody attend,” and swept away. 

Al went after Grim and Lia, just to make sure they weren’t going to do anything spectacularly evil.

“Hullo?”

“’ullo ‘otter,” Lia said, making silly faces with a whole digestive biscuit in her mouth.

“Are you going to do evil things with fireworks?” Al asked them both. “Violetta’s worried you might.”

“…‘ire‘orks?” Lia repeated, swallowed, and said “Ohhh. Is this about the thing in third year?”

“We seriously weren’t aiming for Flitwick,” Grim assured him. “Nobody ever believes us when we say that, but we weren’t. Besides, he thought it was funny too.”

“Once he’d put the fire out,” Lia said.

Al would have asked for details, but at that point Ann Seancey came up to the refreshments table for a glass of pumpkin juice, humming contentedly to herself.

“Hullo,” Grim said, raising a hand in lazy acknowledgement.

Seancey stared at him, clearly not aware that she was pouring pumpkin juice all over her hand as opposed to into the cup. Lia turned around.

“What’s…oh, hi!”

Seancey screamed, dropped the cup, dashed the length of the classroom and threw herself out of the open window.

Lia looked at Grim.

“…that was odd,” Grim said. “Who was that?”

“Noooo idea,” Lia said.

“Ann Seancey,” Al said, and frowned. “You don’t know her? She’s in your year. Is she all right?”

“Oh, Seancey? She’s on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, she’ll know how to jump out of a window,” Lia said dismissively.  “Hey, Grim, have we done anything to her in particular?”

“There was that incident in Potions?” Grim guessed.

“Which of the incidents in Potions?”

“…any of them, really,” Grim said.

Lia seemed to consider the possibility, and then shrugged. “Who knows?”

It was a relief that Grim and Lia hadn’t actually done anything terrible to Seancey (or at least, nothing more terrible than they would usually do, and Al didn’t think they were actually that malicious.) So he grabbed a custard cream, so he’d have had an excuse to be over at the refreshments table in the first place, and went looking for someone to socialise wi-

“THE HELL DID YOU SAY ABOUT POTTER?”

Maybe in future Al shouldn’t leave Faith unsupervised.

“SAY THAT TO MY FACE, JACKASS!”

Al hurried over to her, with difficulty since a crowd was starting to form. She was glowering up with arms folded at Matthew Kennedy, the sixth-year Ravenclaw. Hopefully she wouldn’t try to start a fight, because he looked a full foot taller than her.

Matthew Kennedy stooped down and said, very loudly and clearly, straight into her face, “I said I was surprised that Potter’d shown his face here. You got a problem with that?”

Faith stared up at him with a sort of the-bigger-they-are expression and then kicked him square in the kneecap. Kennedy yowled and doubled over, brandishing his wand wildly. “Epistaxo!”

Faith’s nose fountained blood, and she yelled, jumped on Kennedy and  and started pummelling him around the shoulders. He caught her wrists.

“Are you insane? What are you going to do, bleed on me?”

Faith headbutted him in the solar plexus.

“Seven Sickles on Harper!” Dan Gunn shouted, shoving to the front of the crowd, and Kennedy swore at the entire universe as Faith called him some terrible names and kicked him in the shin.

“Hi!” Grim said, appearing from nowhere “Harper, stop being crazy, all right? That’s our job. Why’s she all over blood?”

“She attacked me!”

“By covering herself in blood?” Grim said. “Harper, that’s an unsound and implausible strategy.”

“No, but she was kicking me-”

“Hfffff!” Lia appeared on the other side, chirping something through a mouthful of biscuit and grinning maniacally. At this point Kennedy seemed to realise he was surrounded and yanked Faith’s arms out to full length by the wrists. She stamped on his foot.

“Ow! Stop trying to kill me!”

Faith glared up at him. “So you surrender?”

“…fine,” Kennedy said. “Why not.” He let go of her. Faith rubbed some life back into her wrists, scowled and ordered him to apologise to Al.

“Fine. Potter-”

All heads turned to look at Al, who didn’t really appreciate being the centre of attention.

“I’m sorry I thought you might not have wanted to come to Charms Club. Obviously that was stupid of me.”

Faith accepted that because apparently she was impervious to sarcasm and stomped back to Al, still dripping blood. Al took some very quick steps backwards. 

“Wait, who won that?” Dan Gunn said.

“Harper!” Grim stepped in between them, smiling cheerfully, and grabbed her chin. “Episkey!”

The bleeding stopped. Faith sniffed and wiped her hand across her bloody mouth. Score, who’d come up nearby without Al noticing, made a faintly grossed-out noise.

“What?” Faith asked, advancing towards him as Grim let go of her chin.

“Harper, you’re marinading in your own blood,” Score said flatly. “Get away from me.”

Faith thought about that for a second, looked at her bloody hand, and then shoved it into Score’s face with a “Bwaaaaaaaa!”

Score yelped and retreated. Faith laughed like a drain.

"Harper,” Grim said, obviously completely ruining her fun. “Have you noticed that you’re covered in blood?”

Faith plucked absently at her jumper, which was indeed covered in blood. “I guess? It’s fine, I’ll drop it on the laundry heap when I get back.”

“Or, alternatively,” Grim said, “can you think of any ways of dealing with such a situation where you don‘t get injured?"

Faith stared at him in disbelief and said "Are you saying I should have used diplomacy?"

"What? Oh Jesus, no!" Grimalkin said. "What you should do in this situation, Harper, is to destroy him utterly but in a way where no-one can prove it was you and you don’t get dirty." He tweaked her nose, muttered "Diplomacy," and chuckled.

Al was pretty sure that was a joke, so he left them to their evil plans and went looking for Score. Score’d stopped retreating from Faith and settled into talking to someone, which was good, but as usual, a circle of empty space had developed around him with just him and Faith’s Hufflepuff friend Lew Pritchard at the centre, which was bad. Lew was talking animatedly about a rollercoaster he’d been on over the holidays, and judging by Score’s slightly frozen expression of polite interest he didn’t know what a rollercoaster was.

“-four-hundred-feet-tall top hat-”

Score looked somewhat confused.

“-which is freaky as hell on the way up but awesome on the way - what? You look confused. ”

“No, rolling coasters are very interesting to me,” Score assured him, and glanced around, though whether he was casting around for something to say or looking for a distraction Al couldn‘t tell. Lia and Grim were both back at the refreshments table by now, where they’d declared themselves the Biscuit Pirates and were threatening to send anyone who wanted a drink to Davey Jones’s locker. They weren’t likely to be much help.

 “…How exactly do the mugs stay on?”

“…glue,” Lew said, and changed the subject. “Heard you had to go to the Hospital Wing today?”

“Oh, that,” Score said dismissively. “What exactly did you hear?”

“Just that you were in the Hospital Wing for some reason,” Lew said, with a shrug. “What happened?”

“I had an altercation with a pair of Hufflepuffs who were offended by…by my existence, really,” Score said.

Wait, what?

“I expect you don’t know them,” Score added hastily, because Lew had frowned. “It’s certainly not your fault.”

“I did tell them everything in the paper was made up, but they didn’t listen to me,“ Lew said, with another shrug, and added a bit defensively, “What was I supposed to do?”

“I’m sure you did your best,” Score said. Al, hanging back and listening carefully, thought it sounded just a little like a lie.

“Who were they, anyway?”

“No idea. You probably wouldn’t know them,” Score said. Well that was true, seeing as they hadn’t even been Hufflepuffs. “I wasn’t that badly injured, anyway.”

Lew squirmed. Score smiled at him forgivingly. That seemed to make it worse.

“I’ll just go-” They both looked over at the refreshments table. Grim and Lia had flipped it upside-down, levitated it and were sailing over the heads of the crowd demanding pieces of eight.

“I’ll go somewhere else,” Lew said apologetically, and fled, luckily not noticing Al. Al followed him, ducking as Lia and Grim swept by overhead on their table yelling about shiny dubloons yarr, and caught up with him just as Dan Gunn and Matthew Kennedy showed up with another table and declared war on the Biscuit Pirates.

“Hi! You were talking to Score?” Al looked worried. “How is he?”

Lew frowned and ran a hand through his hair. “He said he was fine…a lot…”

“Oh! Good!” Al said. “That’s much better than before!” He smiled brightly and fixedly. “Hey, I don’t suppose you could talk to the Hufflepuffs about it? I mean, it’d be awful if he ended up in the Hospital Wing again.”

Lew squirmed. “I did try…I mean, I told them your brother was making stuff up, but they ignored me so…”

Al’s smile wavered. “So you gave up?”

“…excuse me,” Lew said, and fled for the door. Al watched him go.

Possibly that had been going a bit too far.

“Potter,” Score said. “You aren’t particularly subtle.”

“I’m subtle sometimes!” Al protested, before his brain caught up and he realised what had just happened.

Oops.

Score was standing right there, arms folded, glaring at him.

Ooooops.

“…hi? Stop glaring at me, I was trying to help you anyway.”

“Considering that you’ve just proven yourself to be highly manipulative, I’m not that inclined to believe you,” Score said.

“You’re really paranoid,” Al said, letting his eyes get big and confused.

“I’m not paranoid, I’m appropriately cautious! You’re trying to…lull me into a false sense of security or something,” Score snapped. “Put the puppy-dog eyes away, Potter!”

It figured Score would be one of the few people in the world that didn’t work on.

Score took a few steps backwards, taking a deep breath and making his face go blank again. Al bet he knew how frustrating that was.

“Can you stop doing that whenever I’m trying to talk to you?”

“Doing what?” Score said pleasantly (and blankly.) “Excuse me, but I must be going.” He turned and slid away into the crowds.

Al pushed his hair away from his face and sighed. Dammit. He’d have to try harder next time.

Chapter 15: The Champions Get Beaten Up By A Tree
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“Teddy! Hey, Teddy!” James hollered, sprinting towards him, Fred hot on his heels and Louis sauntering along far behind. “Teddy Teddy Teddy Teddy Tedd-”

As soon as James got within range, Teddy grabbed the top of James’s head in one hand and his chin in the other and shut his mouth for him.

“Mrf,” James said reproachfully, grabbed Teddy’s arm and hauled him out of the stream of people heading into the stadium.

“Quit doing that,” Teddy said, disengaging James from his arm.

“Sit with us! You sat with Al at the first one, it’s our turn!”

“I was planning to sit with Al this time as well, actually,” Teddy said. “Sorry, James.”

James looked horrorstruck, betrayed, and then despairing, in that order.

“What! Why? Traitor!”

“Well, apparently someone’s been spreading it around that Al’s the literal reincarnation of Voldemort and I thought he might need some cheering up,” Teddy explained, changing his hair to bright red for annoyance, because James was actually not that perceptive and needed obvious clues. 

“…yeah, but I apologised for that and Al’s probably over it by now,” James said. Maybe the clues needed to be more obvious. “Seriously, it was two weeks ago, why is everyone still so mad at me?” He folded his arms and sulked.

“Because everybody hates you,” Fred said.

“Fred, shut up, yeah? Come on, Teddy, Al’s boring and the Slytherins are all evil anyway, you’d have way more fun with us,” James said, grabbed Teddy’s arm again and beamed up at him.

“Al’s not boring and some of the Slytherins aren’t evil,” Teddy said. “James, you do realise that was a horrible thing to do, right?”

“It was only a joke!” James protested, flailing about protestingly as usual. “And I promised Dad I wouldn’t do anything to Al any more even though it’s all his fault and he shouldn’t keep hanging around with Malfoy anyway and he’s making us all look bad. You know Nana Molly killed Malfoy’s great-aunt, yeah? And she got an Order of Merlin First Class for it. Anyway I dunno why everyone’s still mad at me.”

Yeah, it’d be good if James could stop having a go at Al, assuming this wasn’t like all the other times James had decided he was never going to talk to Al again.

“This is about Bellatrix Lestrange, then?" Teddy scrubbed a hand through his hair and decided to go with "You shouldn’t be talking about Malfoy like that, either. He’s Al’s friend and he hasn’t done anything to you.”

“It’s still creepy,” James pointed out, with an air of finality. “His great-aunt and his grandad and his dad killed people right here, you know. McGonagall should have told them to send him to Durmstrang.”

“…You’re right, James. Grand-nephews of Bellatrix Lestrange shouldn’t be allowed at Hogwarts in case they try to eat the Muggleborns,” Teddy agreed brightly. 

James brightened up. “Exactly!”

Teddy sighed, ruffled James’s hair and turned away.

“Teddy? Where’re you going?”

“To find Al, where’d you think?” Teddy said, and flung back over his shoulder as he left “And I don’t think Prof. Longbottom appreciated you telling everybody about his parents, either!” on the basis that that might get to James where logic, common sense and thumping him in the head all failed.

On the one hand, James didn’t know about Teddy's nan’s sisters, and he wasn’t literally stupid. He was good at maths, he was near the top in the two subjects he actually made an effort in and he knew more long fancy words than a kid his age should.  On the other hand, he was really, really thick. 

…Maybe if James started to bother with actually thinking at some point then he’d improve.





“…Do you think he's mad at me?” James said.

“I’m sure he’ll get over it,” Louis reassured him.

“It’s probably a half-werewolf thing. Peculiar relatives and all that,” Fred said.

James shot him a cold look, and Louis a warning one. “No, Teddy’s dad was cool."

"Fine, sorry, very cool," Fred said.

"Anyway, Teddy’s not a half-werewolf.”

“Fine, sorry, don’t get your knickers in a twist over it,” Fred said, and yawned ostentatiously. “Can we go find somewhere to sit now?”

“A half-werewolf’d be someone who turned into half a werewolf every month,” James said. “That’d be stupid. Which half would it even be? Anyway they’d have bits falling out.”

“That would be stupid,” Louis agreed, and started steering him gently towards the stands.

“Unless it was like a minotaur!” James said suddenly.

“You’re right, it could be exactly like a minotaur,” Louis agreed, with a puzzled glance at Fred.

“You know, half-human and half-werewolf,” James explained, with a brilliant grin.

Oh. Fred and Louis, being pretty familiar with how James’s mind worked, waited expectantly for him to start composing (and acting out, and doing dramatic voices for) Harry Potter and the Half-Werewolf and the climactic battle where James’s dad beat the half-werewolf to death with a shark that was on fire. Which, true to form, he did.





Teddy shoved past the train of Durmstrang students winding into the stands and stared up at them, looking for the Slytherins. It was hard to pick them out - for starters there were only about thirty of them, and compared to the couple of thousand people packed in by now that was a very small percentage.

He guessed if he’d come down to the stands before the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang lot had shown up they’d have been easier to find, but he’d been looking for Victoire up at the castle. Not that he’d found her, obviously. That was annoying.

Slightly more annoying was that the stands were set up around the Whomping Willow. Teddy hoped Victoire knew how to deal with that, but since to the best of his knowledge there were about fifteen Whomping Willows in the entire world, the knothole had been put into this one especially for his father’s benefit and she wasn’t taking Herbology for NEWT, he wasn’t holding out much hope.

He examined the crowd again and was about to give up on finding the Slytherins at all when a huge colour-changing VICTOIRE banner caught his eye and, right above that, a fairly distinctive platinum-blond head. Hopefully Scorpius Malfoy was sitting with the other Slytherins, and hopefully his head was still attached to the rest of him, but Teddy thought those were likely enough that he could risk it.

He bounded up through the stands, treading on several dozen people (“Whoops! Sorry!”) until he got up to the Slytherins (and it was the Slytherins, thank God, not that that was a sentence he’d ever thought he’d say) and looked expectantly up and down the rows for Al.

“…Where’s Al?”

“Bugger you, not telling,” said one of the first-year girls, the tall one with the brown braids whose name Teddy couldn’t quite remember.

“Grim! Grim, look!” Rookwood said, elbowing Grimalkin in the ribs and gesturing frantically. “It’s that guy who thought he was king of us last year!”

“Head Boy, I think the term is,” Grimalkin said. “Let’s stab him!”

Rookwood went off into some sort of hysterical babbling fit like she usually did. Teddy ignored her because he’d found it was best to do that when she was in one of her stabby moods. Avery looked up long enough to check that Teddy wasn’t going to be any trouble and then went back to his book.

“Oi! Why’d you want Potter, anyway?” the unexpectedly profane first-year girl said.

“I’m his cousin? Teddy Lupin?”

“Oh! Yeah, you’re that guy!” the brown-haired girl said. “He went to the loo. He said he’d be back before the interesting stuff happens. Wish he’d come back and hold his own bloody banner, though, dunno why I’m doing it for him.” She didn’t look like she was about to drop it, though.

“We’re his friends,” the other girl, the tiny dark-haired one, reminded her conscientiously, holding her own end of the banner up nearly over her head. Teddy took it from her and settled down between her and Scorpius Malfoy, with a cheerful smile at Scorpius (which didn’t help much, because Scorpius was steadfastly gazing into the far distance in the opposite direction to Teddy. Teddy felt all sad and rejected.)

“Hey, Malfoy!”

Malfoy looked up sharply. So did the girl with the brown braids. She was scowling and looking just a wee bit murderous, but Teddy wasn’t particularly concerned about that. So he just grinned at Scorpius and said “Did you know we’re second cousins?”

Going by his expression, no, Scorpius hadn’t known that.

“Yeah, your nan Narcissa and my nan Andromeda are sisters. Small world, huh?”

Then Scorpius did something odd - before, he’d looked startled and confused, just like Teddy would if someone suddenly dropped a new cousin on him, but then his face smoothed over and went totally, icily empty. “I think you’re mistaken. My great-aunt Andromeda died of scrofungulus when she was twenty.”

….ah.  

“It’s quite a common name, so it’s an easy mistake to make,” Scorpius added, the blank face shifting to something very slightly challenging.

“Sure, no problem,” Teddy said, switching his eyes to bright blue for maximum sincerity. That wrecked Scorpius’s careful blankness entirely, which was hilarious. Hey, Scorpius was Teddy’s baby cousin (even if he didn’t know that) so Teddy was allowed to have a little fun at his expense.

“…okay, wha-?” the brown-haired girl started, looking between them, but was interrupted by the second task.

“Witches! Wizards! Visitors from abroad!” Mr Finley shouted, still very reedy despite the Sonorus charm. “Welcome to the second task of the Triwizard Tournament!”

“Sod. Tell me later, then,” the brown-haired girl said, leaning forward to watch.

And Victoire was coming out! Damn, and he’d nearly missed her. That was a shamefully cavalier way to treat the light of his life.

“As you can see, the focus of this task is Hogwarts’ famous Whomping Willow! The challenge facing our three champions is to retrieve their own token, or golden ring, from the topmost branch of the tree!”

Come to think of it, Al hadn’t got back yet. Teddy hoped he’d managed to find a seat with a decent view.

Victoire and the other two champions were spread out in a triangle around the Whomping Willow, and she’d turned to look at Finley when he started talking. She was too far away for Teddy to see her expression, though. Teddy took a look at the tree - it was very still, not even swaying in the slight breeze, and being February the branches were still pretty bare. He thought he could see something glinting right at the top.

“Champions, are you ready?”

Victoire nodded, as did the other two.

“Then let the challenge begin!” Finley said, and blew his whistle.

The  whistle must have been enchanted, because the Willow reacted with a sudden jerk of its limbs and started lashing out wildly in all directions, and Victoire had to dive to the ground and roll to avoid being pulverised. Teddy yelped, and the little dark-haired girl looked up at him concernedly.

Victoire was on her feet again immediately and casting Freezing Charms. The other two champions were doing the same, but they could only freeze one branch at a time and the Willow was much-

Anthoine Aquestre, glancing over at the Durmstrang champion as she fluidly evaded one branch before getting hammered right in the solar plexus by another one and sent flying, got knocked down himself by a bough that swept his legs out from under him. Taking advantage of the tree’s distraction, Victoire darted in towards the trunk, but the Willow wasn’t distracted for long. A branch scythed out and caught her square under the ribs, flinging her back across the grass. She hit the ground with a thud, and didn’t move.

“Vicky!” Teddy shouted, leaping to his feet. The little dark-haired girl squeaked, both hands over her mouth.

Victoire shifted, got one knee under her and climbed slowly - Teddy winced in sympathy - to her feet. Still, thank God she was standing.

“I’m sure she’ll be all right,” the little dark-haired girl whispered to him, and rather timidly offered him her hand to hold. Teddy took it and stared down at the arena. 

Stooped over, one hand on her ribs, Victoire stared at the thrashing branches and seemed to reach a decision.

"J'aimerais suggesté une alliance avant qu'ont se fait tous les deux cogner à tête!" she hollered across to Anthoine, who had fallen back to plan his next move. He started and looked sharply across at her.

“What did she say?” Teddy asked. Sure, it sounded lovely when Vicky spoke French, but it also sounded like ‘le blah blah blah.’

One of the Slytherin girls, probably a third-year, scrunched her face up and said “‘I’d like to suggest an alliance before…before we both…”

“‘Before we both get our heads stoved in’, I think,” Avery said, not looking up from his book.

“…seriously, how have you not murdered him yet?” Teddy asked, watching Victoire. She and Anthoince were huddled together, conferring hurriedly, just out of range of the Whomping Willow. The Willow had switched all its attention to the Durmstrang champion, who honestly didn’t seem very pleased about that.

“Hurry up! Talking’s not going to get anyone killed!” Rookwood yelled, waving her arms as if that would make the champions hear her better.

It might have worked, because that was when Victoire split off from the Beauxbatons champion and dashed towards the Whomping Willow.

“What’s she doing?” Teddy demanded, as Victoire blasted one of the branches with red light. Hang on. Wasn’t that a Stunning Spell? What on earth was she thinking? That’d only annoy it-

The Willow brought one branch crashing down towards Victoire.

Pétrifie!”

Victoire was already diving aside, but the branch stopped a foot from where her head had been anyway.

“It looks like the Beauxbatons champion and the Hogwarts champion have joined forces!” Finley said. Yes, Teddy could see that himself, but thanks anyway.

Victoire scrambled to her feet as Anthoine dashed to her side and blasted another branch with a Stunner and the Willow tried to whomp him.

Deriguo!”

That branch stopped dead a few feet from Anthoine, slanted at a crazy angle across the last one.

At first Teddy didn’t have a clue what they were doing, but gradually something started to take shape - something sort of like a tangle of branches layered over each other, which suddenly looked much more like a ladder when Victoire and Anthoine started to climb up it.

Now Victoire and Anthoine were past halfway up the tree, and the whole Willow was stooping over them like it was being blown in a high wind. Teddy was watching Victoire intently, but a sudden motion caught his eye - the Durmstrang champion had been hanging back, watching the other two, but suddenly she’d pressed her wand against the palms of her hands and cast a spell. Had she just been biding her time? As Teddy watched and Anthoine and Victoire scrambled up their net of branches, the Durmstrang champion made a dash for the tree, jumped and landed clinging to the bare trunk.

The Willow jerked and twisted around, nearly shaking Anthoine off, but the trunk had never been very mobile. The thin twigs whipped at her, and Teddy briefly hoped that would knock her down - hadn’t somebody lost an eye that way? But that close, and with most of the branches already pinned down by the other two champions, it couldn’t get at her, and in one quick scramble she was up the trunk and grabbing her golden ring from the top.

Teddy let out a disappointed groan and sank back into his seat. The little dark-haired girl squeezed his hand consolingly. Finley blew his whistle. Victoire looked up sharply, to where the Durmstrang champion was straddling a branch near the top of the tree, and the Durmstrang champion lifted her hand to show her the ring.

Teddy saw Victoire flinch, but she kept climbing and he was filled with a sudden rush of pride in her.

“That’s my girlfriend,” he told the Slytherins smugly.

“Yes, we know,” Avery said, not looking up from his book.

“What, the one who just lost? Why are you boasting about that?” Grimalkin asked, in a tone of scientific inquiry.

“…you just killed my moment,” Teddy said. “It was such a beautiful moment, and then you killed it. You’re murderers. I hope you’re sorry.”

“Grim, I forgot, do we put abstract concepts on the daily tally?” Rookwood asked, twirling a strand of hair between her fingers.

Oh, well. Teddy should have known better than to have a moment near Slytherins.

Victoire reached the top, closely followed by Anthoine, and held up three fingers, two fingers, one - they both took their ring at the exact same moment, and Finley blew his whistle for the end of the second task.

“That was hardly fair,” Teddy said, settling back into his seat as Victoire and the other two lined up to be judged. “It seems like Durmstrang Girl didn’t really earn it, you know?”

“Durmstrang Girl didn’t do anything wrong. They gave her an opportunity, and she took it,” Grimalkin said, at the same moment as Rookwood said  “Yes she did, she out-thought the other two. Weasley was terrible.”

“…I think she did all right,” Teddy said.

“She couldn’t even manage to die! Some people can do that when they’re in a coma, you know,” Rookwood said, folded her arms and fumed. “Or underwater. With a bag on their head. Tell her to do better next time.”

Teddy promised he would and inwardly resolved not to.

Teddy didn’t know how they decided which order to go in, but Anthoine got his points first. Seven from McGonagall, nine from Madame Maxime, four from Professor Kohut who apparently didn’t have much of a grasp of subtlety, eight from Finley and seven from Victoire’s Uncle Percy, which made for a total of thirty-five and an overall total of seventy-two.

The Durmstrang champion was next, and she only did a little better. Eight from McGonagall, seven from Madame Maxime, ten from Kohut, nine from Finley and eight from Percy, for a total of forty-two  - though, since she’d been quite a way behind them at the end of the first task, that only put her on seventy-three points.

Victoire was most interesting and therefore, inevitably, last. Eight from McGonagall, seven from Madame Maxime, four from Kohut, eight from Finley. Victoire’s Uncle Percy paused for a moment, then raised his wand and sent out one big silver nine. That got a gasp of surprise from most of the crowd, but Teddy figured out what he was doing - now Victoire had thirty-six points total, one more than Anthoine, which since she’d been one point behind him at the end of the last task meant she was now on exactly an equal footing with Anthoine.

That was pretty good, Teddy thought, handing the end of the banner off to the little dark-haired girl and loping down the stands to find Victoire. He kept an eye out for Al, too, but Al being on the small side and not having a very distinctive hair colour, he was always pretty hard to pick out of a crowd and Teddy couldn’t spot him anywhere.

The Champions had gone to a tent in a little grove of trees behind the stands, where Madam Zeller was fixing them up. Victoire had been perched on the edge of a bed, where Madam Zeller was spreading some yellowish foul-smelling paste out of a jar onto her knee, but when she saw Teddy she jumped up (nearly knocking over Madam Zeller) and limped over to him.

“Vicky, my darling, my dove,” Teddy said, sweeping her off her feet in a passionate embrace before she could fall over and carrying her out of the tent despite Madam Zeller’s complaints about people constantly abducting her patients. “Not that I want to disagree with you, but have you considered sitting-” He deposited her under a tree. “-down?”

He flopped down next to her and tried to pull her into his lap, but she squirmed away.

“So how do you think I did?”

“Absolutely perfectly,” Teddy assured her. “You’re very clever and practical and you shouldn’t worry even the tiniest bit about the Durmstrang champion because she’s nowhere near as wonderful as you.”

“No, I don’t want the boyfriend version, I want the true version,” Victoire explained.

“Oh. Well, it’s basically the same,” Teddy said. “Brilliant plan, all about inter-school friendship and co-operation and honour, very Gryffindor of you. Besides, I was surrounded by Slytherins - literal swarms of them, Vicky, a sea of green stabby loons as far as the eye can see - and none of them spotted the problem, which considering they’re chosen for their diabolical scheming says a lot - besides, neither did Beauxbatons Boy. I think you’re a genius, and you have a cute nose-” He kissed the end of it. “-and colourful hair-” He twined a few strands of her brilliant red-and-gold hair around his fingers. “-and you’re an amazing kisser.”

There was a brief, hopeful pause. Victoire’s cute nose wrinkled up.

“Ted Lupin, you are not subtle-” and then she laughed, and kissed him.

* * *

So where was Al?

More importantly, where was Rita Skeeter?

Rita Skeeter had been stretched out on a grassy knoll watching the second task through a pair of enchanted horn-rimmed binoculars, muttering half-sentences to herself and scribbling in an acid-green notebook. She’d actually been pretty easy to find, once Al had started looking. Somebody should have warned her that florescent pink robes weren’t exactly stealthy.

With the Champions leaving the field, Rita Skeeter climbed to her feet, brushing bits of grass off her robes and straightening her glasses before heading towards the medical tent. Al, wrapped up in his dad’s Invisibility Cloak, followed her at a safe distance (which, according to the Aurors’ Handbook, was about twenty feet).

Rita Skeeter strode along quickly and purposefully, making Al scamper along hastily behind her to keep up. Occasionally she flicked sharp glances to either side and behind her, straight through Al, but generally she acted as if she was perfectly entitled to be marching across Hogwarts property. Al could understand why - it said in the Aurors’ Handbook that the best way to get around an infiltrated building without being stopped was to walk purposefully carrying some files. 

Al followed Skeeter all the way to the tent just beyond the stands, where the Champions had gone after getting their marks. Was she trying to sneak in to interview Victoire again? That’d be pretty stupid after how Victoire had reacted the last time, unless it turned out Skeeter was fluent in French and Russian.

It looked like Skeeter wouldn’t need to sneak in, though, because that was when Teddy came out of the tent, carrying Victoire and bent nearly double under her weight. Skeeter stopped dead, so Al did too and watched her closely to see what she’d do.

What Skeeter’d do turned out to be creeping very slowly to behind a tree, where she peeked out at Teddy and Victoire - who were now lying about under a tree of their own probably being mushy at each other.

Skeeter looked around carefully - up at the top of the stands, towards the exit, right through Al who stood ten feet away and watched her owlishly and invisibly - and moved just a little further around the tree, far enough that she couldn’t be seen from the tent but not far enough that Teddy or Victoire would be able to see her.

Then she took a deep breath. Her entire body seemed to ripple, and then she seemed to fall in on herself and dwindle away into the grass, transforming into… something… as she went.

Al yelped.

Rita Skeeter was an Animagus.

Chapter 16: Al Schemes (business as usual, then)
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Al took a couple of quick steps backwards, mind buzzing, until he got behind a tree and out of sight of Teddy and Victoire. What should he do? The Aurors’ Handbook said that a field agent should immediately notify their commanding officer (who was Al’s dad) if they received intelligence of a crime in progress (not that they always did) and his dad had told him to tell him if he saw anyone doing anything illegal. If his dad knew, he could pull her in for questioning.

On the other hand… wouldn’t his dad be a bit embarassed if Al had to ask him for help? If the books were right and he’d really beaten Voldemort in first year all by himself, Al shouldn’t need his help to deal with a journalist. And it’d look better if he could handle it by himself, anyway.

Al pulled the Cloak off, rolled it up tight and stuffed it into his bag, and then sauntered casually out from behind the tree.

“Hi, Teddy! Hi, Victoire!”

Teddy and Victoire had started snogging energetically in the fifteen seconds Al hadn’t been watching them, but as soon as they realised he was there they were suddenly seven feet away from each other and inspecting the scenery like they were contemplating a landscape painting.

“Al! Hi!” Teddy said, while Victoire hastily straightened her blouse and brushed grass off her skirt. “Did you see the task all right? Your not-so-ickle firstie friend told me you’d gone to the loo.”

“Oh good, that’s what I told her,” Al said. “Yeah, I could see fine. I thought you did really well, Victoire,” he added, with a sunny smile, although he actually hadn’t been close enough to see how many points everyone had got. Still, Victoire looked happy about that.

“I was sitting near the Gryffindors,” Al lied, since they’d been closest to the exit. “Where were you?”

“With the Slytherins again. I was looking for you,” Teddy said.

“Speaking of Gryffindor, James been giving you any more trouble?” Victoire asked. “I can have a word with Louis, if you want, get him to distract James with something shiny.”

“I saw James today, actually,” Teddy said to her. “He said he hadn’t done anything to Al lately. That right?” he added, to Al.

Al nodded agreeably because except for last week when James had spent a whole lunchtime observing him through Spectrespecs (presumably that had made sense in James’s head, though Al didn’t think it would in anybody else’s) and Faith had charged over and tried to shove them down his throat, he’d barely seen James at all.

“He said he didn’t get why everyone was so mad at him, either,” Teddy said, sitting back down on the grass. Victoire moved to stand closer to him. “Still, that’s James for you. Can’t say I appreciated his comments about your Malfoy pal, either.”

“What’d he say about Score?” Al asked. Probably just the usual blah blah Death Eaters blah.

“Blah blah Death Eaters blah, essentially,” Teddy said. “Said relatives of Bellatrix Lestrange shouldn’t be allowed at Hogwarts.” He scowled.

“He didn’t mean you, Teddy,” Victoire said. “Just the Malfoys. He doesn’t even know you’re related to her, does he?”

“…wait, what?” Al said.

“That’s true, but that’s not the sort of opinion you should be able to just… switch around, depending on whether you like someone,” Teddy said, and made a helpless little gesture. “You know what I mean, right?”

“Of course I do,” Victoire said, slipping her hand into his.

“Wait, what?” Al said, a bit louder.

“Oh, sorry, Al,” Teddy said. “You know my nan was a Black before they disowned her, right? Well, so was Bellatrix. Twin sisters. And Scorpius Malfoy’s nan was their youngest sister.” He shrugged. “Illustrious parentage I’ve got there, Death Eaters on one side and werewolves on the other.” But he changed his eyes to bright Weasley brown, to show he was just being silly.

Al was quiet, thinking. Mostly wondering if all the nice people he knew were secretly (or not so secretly) related to Death Eaters. Kitty probably wasn’t.

Teddy stretched and sighed. “I could tell James, I guess, but he’d probably just pitch a fit about it and declare war on me.”

“James has fits, yeah,” Al agreed absently - mostly to fill in the conversation while he thought, since he doubted James would ever declare war on Teddy - and then brightened up. “Someone should tell Rita Skeeter horrible things about James. Then he’ll know how it feels.”

Teddy looked at him and very slowly raised one eyebrow.

“Not me, obviously. I wasn’t saying I’d do that. Just that… it would be nice if someone did,” Al said, looked down at the ground and scuffed a shoe through the dirt. Right, time to change the subject. “Anyway, I was going to lunch?”

“Lunch sounds good, actually,” Victoire said, stretching.

“Whatever you say, lovebiscu-,” Teddy started.

“No!” Madam Zeller barked, storming out of the tent. “Weasley stays until the checkup is finished!”

“So how long will that be?” Victoire asked.

“Until I say it’s done,” Madam Zeller snapped, grabbing Victoire’s arm and hauling her back into the tent while muttering something about abductions and ignoring medical advice from trained professionals.

“No! No, you can’t take her away from me!” Teddy said, watching placidly as Madam Zeller took Victoire away from him.

“If she’s not done soon then bring me a sandwich!” Victoire shouted back, and vanished back inside the tent.

Teddy gazed after her forlornly for a few seconds, then squared his shoulders and said “If my Vicky wants sandwiches, then sandwiches she will have. To the Great Hall!”

He marched off resolutely. Al followed him, at a trot because Teddy had a much longer stride than he did.

When they were heading across the lawns, as the last stragglers drifted out of the arena and the lines of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students wound out of the gates, someone shouted “Teddy!” and then a blur hit him in the gut like a Bludger.

“Oh God my intestines,” said Teddy.

“Ooops. Sorry, Teddy,” James said, and added an absentminded “Hi, Al.” Fred and Louis were with him. Fred looked as fed up as he ever did, while Louis had his usual air of standing well back with a tub of popcorn.

“Hi, James,” Al said, calculated the chances of Teddy killing him and decided they were pretty small, and asked “So did you know?”

“Of course I do!” James said. “Um. Know what?”

“Teddy’s Bellatrix Lestrange’s grand-nephew too,” Al explained.

Teddy looked at him sharply. James goggled, literally staggering back a foot, mouth open and gaping like a fish’s.“That’s not true!”

“Learn to lie better, Potter,” Fred suggested sourly. Al was watching Teddy out of the corner of his eye. He’d stuck his hands in his pockets, and his face had scrunched up. Louis scanned Al, Teddy and James quickly and, as usual, settled on saying what James would prefer to hear, which was “Al’s mental. Probably the Slytherins are contagious.”

“That is not true,” James got out, and regained his composure with some effort. “Look, you can’t just magically create great-aunts for people, Al.”

“Nope, it’s true,” Teddy said, sounding resigned. “I’d probably have photos to show you of me and dear Great-Aunt Bella if she hadn’t been such a raving lunatic.”

“…Well, sod off then,” Fred said. Louis thumped him on the arm.

“So Teddy’s got to expel himself from Hogwarts, right?” Al asked. "Sorry, Teddy."

“Teddy’s not going to expel himself from Hogwarts!” James protested.

“He’s the grand-nephew of a Death Eater, so if Score has to then Teddy has to as well,” Al pointed out. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, but… then you’re the god-grand-nephew of a Death Eater, so you expel yourself first!” James snapped.

“James, we’re brothers,” Al said.

“Oh yeah. Crap,” James said, ran a hand through his hair, and gazed distractedly into the distance. “My honour has been besmirched. I will have to go on a quest to regain it. Except Al besmirched his honour worse than I did so he has to do it first.” He brightened up. “Mind you, if I go on a heroic quest I won’t have to do that Transfig test. Fred, what do you think?”

“I think you’re an idiot with the attention span of a gnat,” Fred said, at exactly the same time as there was a distant cry of “Potter’s an idiiooooot!” and Faith came hurtling towards them across the lawns, with Score behind her but at a much more dignified pace.

“What’s going on?” she demanded, skidding to a stop next to Al, and then doubling over and panting. “I saw Potter talking to Potter so I came to tell him he was a moron. What’s he doing now?”

“I’m not doing anything, he started it!” James protested.

“No, you’re stupid, shut up,” snapped Faith, mistress of the witty comeback. “Potter - not you, jerkface - what’s going on?”

Score sauntered up behind her, glancing sharply between the assembled Weasleys, Potters and Lupins, looking mostly blank but also partly annoyed that there were so many of them.

“Teddy’s evil because he’s Bellatrix Lestrange’s grand-nephew and James is trying to figure out what to do about it,” Al explained.

“What?” said Score.

 “It’s really hard so please don’t distract him,” Louis said.

“Eh? Him? Evil?” Faith repeated, and looked at Teddy. “Meh, Cook likes him so I bet you he’s not.”

“Thank you very much, um… Al’s shouty friend,” Teddy said.

“Al should expel himself first!” James said.

“I’ll expel myself if you do,” Al offered. “I’ll help you pack.”

James flapped his hands at him. “It doesn’t count anyway, God-nan Andie got expelled. From the Blacks! Not from Hogwarts.”

“What,” Score said, again.

“If being expelled from the Blacks counted how come Dad gave Teddy Grimmauld Place? He said it was his rightful inheritance and everything,” Al pointed out.

“What!” Score yelped, and seemed terribly put out that nobody was paying attention to him, which Al was sorry about but couldn't really help with just then.

James scrunched his face up and thought about it, and then looked a bit panicky when he couldn’t think of anything. “Well, it doesn’t matter who Teddy’s related to! He’s not evil!” He folded his arms and stuck his chin out like he was daring the whole world to start telling him Teddy was evil.

“Oh. Thanks, James,” Teddy said, looking much happier.

“Well, then how come Score’s evil?” Al asked.

James broke off mid-sentence, and his forehead creased up in sudden deep thought. Al watched hopefully.

“…who?” James asked.

“Him,” Al explained, and pointed at Score, who didn’t seem to appreciate the attention but said “Hullo,” in a voice that sounded like “I’m surrounded by imbeciles.”

James‘s face cleared up instantly. “Oh yeah, him. He’s evil.”

Al sagged. It was exactly like talking to a brick wall.

“Al, you’re completely mental,” James said, in a kindly tone. “He’s a Slytherin, you know. That's just how it works. Teddy was a Hufflepuff. They’re pretty cool, for comic relief.“

“Oh. Thanks, James,” Teddy said again, except this time with more sarcasm, which James didn’t notice.

“And he’s got a pointy face-”

Score twitched.

“-and you must have noticed that Scorpius Malfoy’s a pretty evil-sounding name,” James concluded.

Score twitched again and burst out with “I hope you become an Auror, Potter! No criminal will be safe with you on the prowl!”

“Er, cheers.” James turned back to Al and said “Plus he’s mental. Mental people are always evil.”

“Aunt Luna,” Al said absently.

“Mental people are usually evil,” James amended loftily, like he’d meant to say that all along. “Seriously, Al, what’s with the whole Slytherin love fest thing? Did you forget about Voldemort? And all the Death Eaters? And they cheat at Quidditch-”

“No we don’t, we’re just better than you,” Faith said. “Probably.”

“Speaking as a Hufflepuff, the Gryffindors usually think they’re the same thing,” Teddy said.

“-and Rookwood and Grimalkin are insane and Avery’s creepy and there’s this bloke in my year called Nott who laughs whever I mess up a potion, that’s pretty evil,” James concluded.

Faced with James’s impenetrable defenses of smug, Al decided to drop it and try again later. Maybe he’d be lucky and James would actually think for once in his life. And then maybe pigs would fly.

Al stuck his hands in his pockets and turned away, and therefore came face to face with Score, who was standing there with a face on him like the facial equivalent of “What.”

“Oh yeah,” Teddy said, and scrubbed his hands across his face. “I can explain that-”

No, thank you,” Score bit out, turned on his heel and stalked off towards the castle.

Al followed him, at a distance, with Faith and Teddy bringing up the rear (Faith making rude gestures at James as she went.)

“What’d be the point of having a mind-reading hat if we weren’t using it to sort out the evil people?” James hollered after them plaintively. “Al, you aren’t making any sense!”

Al ignored that. He’d just have to try again later. It was a pity mind-controlling potions were morally wrong. That would have really helped.

When they got up to the Great Hall, lunch had already begun. Teddy made a beeline for the Hufflepuff table and, presumably, Victoire’s sandwiches, while Al and Faith headed for the Slytherin table. Score was already there, sitting arms folded and glaring acidic hatred at the parsnips.

Al decided to let him fume in peace and tucked into his lunch, turning over the Rita Skeeter thing in his mind. He was pretty sure it was Animaging, but he’d never actually seen one do it. It shouldn’t be hard to check.

He stayed quiet through lunch, but about five minutes before it finished - Hogwarts feasts took a long time, but after a while you got a feel for when the end was approaching by how many people had gone into food comas - he let his head hang down and poked absently at his empty plate.

“A problem, Potter?” Avery asked.

Al poked some imaginary food around for a few seconds longer before looking up and asking, too casually to be actually casual, “So what did you think of the judging?” Up at the staff table, Professor McGonagall stood up to make her usual speech before dismissing the students. However, Al had other stuff to do and it was Slytherin tradition never to listen to those anyway, so he didn’t pay much attention.

“It was terrible,” Grim assured him promptly. “All those points when nobody even got seriously injured? McGonagall’s getting old. Losing her marbles.” Lia did a cheerful imitation of Professor McGonagall trying to Summon her marbles back.

Al frowned at them. “I don’t think that can be true. Professor McGonagall’s very clever. Wouldn’t she have an awful lot of marbles to lose?”

Lia and Grim went off into a debate over whether lost marbles were measured in number lost, number remaining, or as a percentage. Al turned to Faith and told her “Professor McGonagall really is very clever, you know.”

“Eh?” Faith said blankly.

Well, Al might as well not have bothered with the believable lead-in then. Up at the staff table, Professor McGonagall had finished her speech – Professor McGonagall’s speeches were never very long – and was leading the other two headteachers and the Hogwarts staff off the dais.

“Did you know she’s an Animagus?”

Faith continued staring at him blankly.

“Professor McGonagall,” Al clarified.

Faith’s face lit up. “Really? Cool!”

“What’s an Animagus?” Kitty asked, forehead creasing up.

Faith grabbed her wrist, scrambled over the table and clattered across to the doors of the Great Hall, just as the headteachers got there. “Hey, Professor!”

Everybody in the Great Hall turned to stare at her. Professor McGonagall turned and inspected her severely over the tops of her glasses.

Huh. Al hoped Faith wouldn’t get detention for this.

“Are you really an Animagus?” Faith asked brightly, oblivious to the atmosphere of impending doom.

“I don’t know what’s going on, she dragged me over here,” Kitty put in apologetically.

Al knelt up on the bench to see better. He’d never had much to do with Professor McGonagall, but he’d heard a lot about her from his dad and Hagrid and most of his older cousins, and he was pretty sure that in a normal situation Faith would just have lost Slytherin a lot of points.

On the other hand, Professor McGonagall obviously couldn’t resist showing off in front of the other headteachers. Her outline rippled and twisted, then shrank down to the floor, just like when Skeeter had transformed. Al let out a relieved sigh and settled back onto the bench. He couldn’t see Professor McGonagall any more because the Hufflepuffs were in the way, but he already knew she turned into a tabby cat. Kitty squeaked. Faith let out a whoop of delight.

McGonagall transformed back, with a faint smile.

“Very impressive, Minerva,” Kohut said, in a glacial tone, with a glance across the Great Hall at the Durmstrang students as if he was personally offended by their failure to be Animagi.

“Thank you, Konstantin,” Professor McGonagall replied, and looked down at Faith and Kitty. Faith gave her a big grin and a thumbs up - “Awesome, Professor!” – and dragged Kitty back to the Slytherin table.

“That,” Faith announced, flinging herself back onto the bench, “was cool.”

“Professor McGonakitty!” Kitty chirped, with a happy little coo and beaming uncontrollably. “That must be really hard, right?”

Faith thought about that, with a faintly speculative expression. “Eh, how hard can it be?”

“It’s really hard,” Al said. Well, except that his dad’s dad and a whole bunch of his friends had done it in fifth year.  “You’d have to be really good at magic. Like, doing fourth-year spells now good.”

“Huh. I bet I could do that."

“Um,” Al said. “Have you tried any spells like that? The Summoning Charm’s fourth-year. Can you do that?”

“I dunno, I’ll find out,” Faith said, and pointed her wand at a jug of pumpkin juice. “Accio!”

The jug didn’t get Summoned even a little bit.

“Okay, it needs a bit of practice.”

“I’m not sure it’ll work,” Al said.

Faith glowered at him and went back to practicing. She practiced for the rest of the day, which lost Slytherin fifteen points in DADA and got her a reproving look in Herbology, and by the end of Herbology she could just about make a flowerpot wobble.

“Still not going so well?” Al asked.

“Shut up, it’s getting better,” Faith said, and kept trying.

She was still practising late into the evening, despite Al’s attempts to convince her to give it a rest and Kitty’s attempt to distract her with cartoons of Professor McGonakitty. At the point when Kitty and Score had decided to pack up and go to bed, she could just about get a cushion to hop towards her across the floor. Unfortunately she’d been at about that point for about three hours now.

“Do you think it might be a good time to take a break?” Al asked hopefully. “Since it’s…you know… gone eleven.”

Faith shot him a filthy look, pushed her hair out of her face and advanced on the cushion with grim determination in her eyes.

Al sighed and looked back down at the Potions essay he was working on. Well, pretending to work on. He’d finished it about an hour ago, after working as slowly as he could, so now he was just checking it through for about the fiftieth time.

“Why are the pair of you still awake?” Avery inquired politely, suddenly appearing out of nowhere as he usually did.

“I’ll go to bed when I’ve got this right,” Faith said, without looking at him.

“I’m… um… checking this essay,” Al said.

“As you have been for the past hour?”

Al squirmed. Avery switched his attention back to Faith and said “Harper, you’re not using the proper wand motion.”

“Eh?” Faith said blankly.

He wrapped his hand around hers, flicked her wand and said “Accio!” The cushion zoomed into his hand. “Like so.”

Faith made an impressed noise and tried it herself, on another cushion, which bounded a little further through the air towards her than the other ones had. Faith made an annoyed noise.

“It’s more of an upwards flick,” Avery said. “In addition, it tends to work better if you name the target. Observe. Accio cushion!”

“Look, can I keep the ones at this end?” the fourth-year sitting on the sofa they were stripping bare asked plaintively, and budged up right into the corner.

Faith was wiggled her wand about, trying to duplicate the motion, and flicked it at Al’s quill.

Accio Potter’s quill!”

That was a definite improvement, Al thought, in that the quill didn’t give up and fall out of the air until it was about a foot from her.  Faith laughed maniacally and had another go. Avery appeared to approve. It was hard to tell sometimes.

“Why didn’t you do that earlier?” Al asked, retrieving his quill.

“Because I had my own work to do and I wanted to see how well she would do alone.”

“Oh. All right, then.”

Faith Summoned another cushion, which sailed gracefully into her knee, and cackled like a loon until it got a little disturbing.

“Go to bed now,” Avery commanded.

Faith stopped laughing. Her mouth set into a mulish line.

“Harper,” Avery said, in a tone that would tolerate no arguments.

Faith looked as if she was about to argue anyway, before something occurred to her. “Can’t. Got a Potions essay or something to do for tomorrow.”

“…you what?” Al said. “Do you want to copy mine?”

“So despite having actual work due in for tomorrow morning, you thought it would be a good idea to spend your evening practising a spell which you will not actually need for another three years,” Avery said.

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Faith agreed.

Avery let out a weary sigh and turned back towards his chair by the fire, adding over his shoulder “Don’t help her, Potter. This is how children learn efficient time management.”

Faith looked like she was considering making a rude face at Avery behind his back before realising that would be simultaneously high treason, blasphemy, and bloody ungrateful.

“Sorry,” Al said.

“Eh, who cares?” Faith said, and flopped down on a sofa before fishing a length of parchment out of her bag with one hand and Summoning Al’s Potions book with the other. It hit her in the stomach. She seemed to consider that a  success. Al went to bed. 

Faith never managed to do the same, though, as Al found out when he came down for breakfast the next morning and found her asleep face-down on the sofa, sprawled across her Potions essay and drooling gently into the seat cushions. He poked her experimentally in the ribs.

“Mrf! Wha?” Faith said, hit him with one of her many accumulated cushions and tried to go back to sleep.

“Faith, it’s morning,” Al said. No response. “You’ll be late for class.” Again, no response. Al thought for a second and hazarded “Breakfast?”

 Faith shifted, propped herself up on her elbows, and broke into a radiant grin.

“I did it! Look!” She pointed her wand at the cushion she’d bludgeoned Al with and said “Accio cushion!” The cushion obediently flew into her face. Al wondered exactly how tired Faith must be to have forgotten she’d already shown off to him.

“I’m a gen-” Faith said happily, broke off into an enormous yawn, and finished “-ius.”

“You’re making us late for breakfast,” Score corrected, retrieving the length of parchment from under her and frowning at it. He, Al and Kitty were all already ready to go.

“Not my fault, Potter dared me,” Faith said, through another yawn, and made a vague attempt at straightening her clothes before clambering to her feet and following them out of the common room.

“I didn’t,” Al said. “I just said you might not be able to do it.”

Faith shrugged dismissively and frowned at Score, who was now looking at her Potions essay as if it was a giant millipede crawling on him.

“Would this be the Potions essay you’re supposed to hand in for the first lesson? Concerning the uses of ground adder stones?”

“Yeah, think so,” Faith said. “Why?”

“It’s… very interesting,” Score said. “Out of morbid curiosity, Harper, what mark did you get for your last Potions essay?”

“Didn’t. Got a note at the bottom saying ‘this is very bad’,” Faith said, with a sleepy chuckle.

“I… I can’t actually say I’m surprised,” Score said.

“Faith!” Kitty squeaked. “You didn’t tell us you were doing that badly! We could help,” she added hopefully, looking at Score. “How bad is she?”

“Oi! I’m right here, you know,” Faith said, mildly enough.

“‘Plus if you stick the adder stone bits in with double-ended-newt spit you get this really awesome explosion, so I guess you could use them to blow up someone you didn’t like’,” Score read out, completely deadpan.

“What’s wrong with that?” Faith asked. “You could. You’d have to run away really fast, mind.”

“Also, ‘cauldron’ has a ‘u’ in it,” Score said, reading on, with an expression of sick fascination on his face. “And you can’t use phrases like ‘bung in’ in an essay.”

“Who says?”

“Everybody says. Everybody sane says,” Score said. “Not that anyone could call you overburdened by sanity. Harper, there are-” He made exasperated hand gestures as he tried to think of the right words. “In an essay, you have to write in a certain way. A certain way which does not include phrases like ‘bung in’ or ‘really awesome explosion’. It’s improper.”

“You know, whenever you start banging on about this decorum stuff I just hear blah blah blah blah blah,” Faith told him cheerfully, at which point Score gave up.

“That’s unsurprising, considering that it’s the precise opposite of your entire personality,” he said, and looked sourly down at the parchment as they came up into the Entrance Hall. “The next time you intend to hand in work of this quality, kindly show it to Cook or me first.” 

“Oh. Cheers,” Faith said.

“So that we can burn it,” Score added. Faith thumped him on the shoulder.

“So how’d it go?” Lia asked as they sat down. She sounded very interested. It was a little suspicious.

“Oh yeah, watch this,” Faith said proudly, and pointed her wand at a jug of orange juice. “Accio jug!” The jug smashed into her forehead. Faith toppled slowly backwards off the bench and landed on the floor.

“Damn you, Harper,” Grim said, and passed Lia a handful of Knuts.

Masterful,” Score drawled, as the last of the orange juice dripped out of the jug onto Faith’s jumper, and offered her a napkin (fastidiously, at arm’s length.)

“I was up all night, I’m tired,” Faith protested, from the floor.

“Could you remind me why exactly you didn’t sleep last night?” Score asked. “It’s strange, but I could have sworn it was of your own free will.”

“Potter dared me, I told you,” Faith pointed out, trying to mop up her face and jumper and basically her entire body with the napkin, which didn’t go so well.

“I hope that nobody ever wants you dead. ‘Hey, Harper, I bet you can’t survive decapitation!’” Score said.

“I’m not stupid,” Faith said grumpily, scrambling back onto the bench.

 “You would hand them the axe,” Score told her, trying to get some of the orange juice out of her uniform with his wand.

Al leant over and caught at Score’s sleeve.

“Hi!”

Score looked at him as if he was trying to think of a decorous way to say ‘Potter, you are wrong in the head and don’t touch me.’

Al gave him his sweetest, sunniest smile. “Can you help me with something?”




James may need some editing. You know, to make him less of a prat. Thoughts?


Chapter 17: Bloody Hell, Finally
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Can you help me with something?”

“No,” Score said flatly.

“Please?”

“No,” Score said, again, and just as flatly.

“It’ll be good for you too,” Al said.

“I doubt that,” Score said, and then gave into curiosity. “What are you planning?”

Al motioned for him to lean closer, leant in himself and asked quietly, “You don’t like Rita Skeeter, do you?”

“Rita Skeeter’s mother doesn’t like Rita Skeeter. Why?”

 

“She’s an illegal Animagus so I was hoping I could use that to make her stop saying bad things about us,” Al said.

Score stared at him. “What? Explain.”

“Which bit?”

“I would settle for any of it.”

Al outlined his discovery and rough plan as quickly and quietly as he could. Score still didn’t look as if he believed him, but apparently dismissed the big problem of thinking Al was a big fat liar in favour of one of the little ones.

“How do you intend to convince her to meet with you? Ask nicely?”

“Actually, I was hoping she’d ask me,” Al said.

“Potter. How?” Score asked, just as the morning post swept into the Great Hall and an envelope addressed in acid-green ink fell into Al’s bowl. Al fished it out hurriedly.

Dear Mr Albus Potter,

I know we’ve had our little disagreements in the past,




Al wasn’t sure if they were really disagreements. Beyond the fact that Rita Skeeter was telling everyone he was evil and he thought he wasn’t.

but after all, there are two sides to every story, and you haven't yet had a chance to tell yours, have you? I'd be happy to remedy that for you, Al. Our readers love a misunderstood hero, after all. Would you like to meet me for a private little chat?

Affectionately yours,
 

Rita Skeeter




Al shifted towards Score to show him the letter and saw that he’d got one of his own, which was written in tidy copperplate handwriting and began:

We’re very sorry. We had forgotten that we had lied to you about that.




Score let out an exasperated huff of air, flipped the parchment over and scrawled across the back (in writing which was still much neater than Al’s):

 

Father, Mother, Grandmother: my kindest regards.

 




 

 




What else did you forget to tell me you lied about? This Lupin hardly counts as a proper relative, does he? If I am expected to lay down my life for an honorary Potter I shall fling myself off the Astronomy Tower and be done with

 

“Potter! It’s exceedingly rude to read other people’s private correspondence!”

 

“Ooops, sorry,” said Faith, who was reading over Score’s other shoulder. Score glared at her. Faith grinned cheerfully back at him. Score gave up.

 

Al offered Score the letter. “Unless you don’t want to read my private correspondence?”

 

Score glowered at him - for some odd reason Score had become a lot more open around him ever since deciding that Al was some sort of evil puppetmaster - and took it.

“I think Rita Skeeter might think I’m a bit thick,” Al observed happily.

“Alternatively, she thinks you’re a Slytherin, and therefore evil, and therefore likely to value revenge on the other Potter over your dislike of her,” Score said.

“His name’s James,” Al volunteered.

“How nice for him,” Score said, and put the letter down. Al was about to ask what he thought of it when Lia chimed in.

 

“Hey, Malfoy’s talking to Potter! Finally! How many sips did we decide that was worth?”

“I think it might have been the entire bottle,” Grim said.

“No, I’m pretty sure the whole bottle was Harper using diplomacy instead of punching someone.”

They thought about it.

“Avery?”

“On the 23rd of September you decided that Malfoy deigning to have a civil conversation with Potter would be worth an entire bottle. On the 11th of November you decided that this would never happen and, in light of Harper’s newfound rivalry with the other Potter, upgraded her development of a basic grasp of diplomacy from three-quarters to the whole bottle.” Avery turned a page of his book and said “You should keep better track of your own decisions.”

 

“We’re not rivals, I just hate his face,” Faith said, not that anyone listened.

 

“Thanks, El Supremo,” the twins said simultaneously, and then just as simultaneously frowned at each other and said “Does he actually remember the dates, or is he just being peculiar?”

 

“More importantly, do we still drink or not?” Grim asked. “Dpending on whether the later decision is interpreted as overwriting the earlier or whether the earlier holds by virtue of being-"

 

“Here’s an easier method: do we want to drink this entire bottle of Firewhiskey?” Lia asked, producing a bottle from her robe like some sort of alcoholic conjuror.

 

They both thought about that and concluded that yes, yes they did.

 

“Hurrah! Problem solved.”

 

“This is hardly a civil conversation,” Score pointed out, a little sulkily.

 

“We’re Slytherins! You’re not stabbing each other, so it’s good enough,” Lia said.

 

“I wouldn’t stab Score,” Al said, in the interests of friendship, and then realised that if he thought that was a declaration of friendship then the prefects must have done something to his brain.

 

Score shot him a cold look and said “Of course. Potters have never been known to resort to such methods of conflict resolution as near-murder.”

 

“…I don’t think we have, no,” Al said.

 

The look Score gave him after that was sub-arctic. Maybe Score was jealous. Al decided to change the subject.

 

“So what do you think?”

 

Score picked the letter back up and tapped his fingers against the parchment. “Is Harper coming?”

 

Faith was Score’s friend as well, Al remembered. So if he was planning to do anything bad to Score, Faith would be mad. Al didn’t think anyone would like having Faith mad at them, except maybe James but that was because James was insane.

 

“Hopefully?”

 

Score considered that, then scowled. “So you convinced her to spend all night practising Summoning Charms instead of doing her homework deliberately?”

 

He’d figured that out faster than Al liked people to figure things out.

 

“I didn’t know she’d get that obsessive about it,” Al said, apologetically.

 

“If she loses us house points it will be your fault,” Score said, and tapped Faith on the arm. “Harper, do you know what Potter’s been up to?”

 

Faith paused with a spoonful of cornflakes in her mouth, thought about it and offered “Mrrfeff?”

 

“…No,” Score said. “He tricked you into learning the Summoning Charm yesterday for his own undoubtedly diabolical reasons.”

 

Faith said something that sounded like an ‘eh?’

 

“You got played, Harper,” Score clarified.

 

Faith’s eyes widened, and she let out a startled “Mrff!”

 

“With vile duplicity, yes,” Score agreed.

 

Faith swallowed her cornflakes. “Potter!” She leant over across Score and thwapped him upside the head. “You could have just asked!”

 

Oh yeah.

 

“I thought if I said I needed it you might be upset if you couldn’t do it!” Al lied immediately.

 

Faith smacked him across the head again. “Quit not having confidence in me!”

 

“Okay, sorry,” Al said, ducking down and coverering his head. “Will you help me anyway?”

 

“Eh? You need help? Sure. What are we doing?”

 

Al looked at Score, who tapped his fingers irritably on the table.

 

“You do want her to stop saying nasty things about you and your family, right?” Al prompted.

 

“Stop trying to manipulate me, Potter.”

 

“I’m not manipulating you!” Al said. “I’m just explaining why helping me’d be good for you.”

 

 Score let out a weary sigh and said, “If Harper’s attending the festivities I may as well join her.”

 

“Oh good,” Al said, turned Rita Skeeter’s letter over and wrote

 

Dear Mrs Skeeter

 




 

 




I think that would be nice. Can I meet you just inside the Forbidden Forest past the Whomping Willow before dinner? Also I am going to bring Scorpius Malfoy and another friend of mine with me. I hope that’s not a problem.

 




 

 




Al

 

 

“Why the Forbidden Forest?” Score asked, though from the way he said it Al thought he might not be thinking about the giant spiders so much as the dirt.

 

“It can’t be that dangerous if we’re only very near the edge,” Al said, and took a jar of jam off the table. “Have either of you got any string?”

 








 

 So later that day, just before dinner, Al, Score and Faith were sitting in the Forbidden Forest waiting for Rita Skeeter to show up (but not too far inside - close enough to still see the lawns through the trees.) Al had found a sort of circular depression surrounded by  a ring of trees, and he was perched on a tree root at the edge, Faith was loitering menacingly (not her fault, Al didn't think she knew any other way to loiter) somewhere between the depression and the treeline, and Score was standing by another tree as thought he would be leaning against it but didn’t actually want to touch any part of the Forbidden Forest. Al would have said something to him, made some sort of small talk, but he didn’t actually know if Rita Skeeter was sneaking around spying on them Animaged into a mouse or something and that made conversation difficult.

 

Finally Rita Skeeter appeared, in eye-searingly orange robes, picking her way gingerly through the Forest towards them. She passed Faith, who was leaning against a tree glowering at her, spinning her wand between her fingers, and who fell in behind her as she went past in a way that would have been pretty intimidating except that Faith was twelve.

 

Rita Skeeter paused at the top of the small root-tangled cliff and eyed it suspiciously, then apparently decided she wasn’t risking it in high heels.

 

“Lovely place for it, dear. Positively cosy-” She examined Al and Score over her horn-rimmed glasses,  gimlet eyes sweeping over them, and drew out her acid-green quill with a conspiratorial smile. “Where would you like to start?”

 

“Er,” Al said, and gnawed on his lower lip. He hadn’t actually planned on small talk. “Faith?”

 

Al had also planned on Faith using a spell rather than a rugby tackle, but that also worked. Rita Skeeter let out a shriek as Faith cannoned into her back, the acid-green quill flew out of her hand, and both of them went tumbling down the bank.



“Amazing, Harper! Encore, encore!” Score shouted.



"Battuo!" Rita Skeeter shrieked, and Faith went flying and crashed to the ground in a heap twenty feet away. Rita Skeeter hauled herself to her feet, glasses askew, robes filthy and a few twigs stuck at a rakish angle in her hair, and pointed her wand at Faith. Al, not being much of a duellist, hurriedly got behind a tree.



"Lingua Evane-"



"Balatus!" Score shouted, and the rest of Rita Skeeter's curse came out as a bleat. "Stupefy! Stupefy!"



Both spells missed by a dozen feet or more, but Al was pretty sure that was intentional. Rita Skeeter bleated a snarl and brandished her wand at her own face, breaking the hex.



"Dirima Scapula!" Rita Skeeter yelled. Score dodged just in time, but the trunk that the hex hit instead burst into pulpy shrapnel and the treetop came down with a crash. Score dashed away from it, arms over his head, weaving between the trees and providing suppressive fire where he could.



Behind Rita, Faith clawed to her feet and instead of doing the sensible thing, which would have been half-hopping half-limping to behind the nearest tree, pointed her wand at Skeeter's back and barked "Matikleisto!"



Skeeter shrieked as her eyes sealed shut, spun round and brandished her wand wildly. "Quasso!"



Something cracked, and Faith went sprawling on her back in the dirt again. Al hissed between his teeth.



"Harper!" Score shouted, dashing forward and blasting Stunning Spells at Skeeter, and she she whirled back to deflect them Al jumped out from behind his tree, ran over to Faith, and tried to drag her back behind a convenient tree with him. This didn't work.



"Mrrf? Potter? Hell are you doing?" Faith scrambled to her feet, grabbed Al and hauled him back behind the nearest tree with her. "Stay there!"



"Are you all right?"



"Fine! Crappy aim!" Faith hissed back, before reaching gingerly into her robe and pulling out the jamjar, which had broken into little pieces. "Well, crap."



"Pependi!" Rita Skeeter shouted. Score crashed to the ground and struggled to get back up, as though there was a weight pinning him to the ground.

"Harper! A bit of help!"



Faith shoved the jar at Al with a curse and went after him. Luckily the string wound around the jar had kept most of the pieces together. Al hissed "Reparo!" and the glass sealed back together.



"Accio wand!" Faih shouted.



Rita Skeeter's wand flew out of her hand, arced gracefully through the air, and Faith snatched it out of the air just before it could bounce off her skull. Skeeter wheeled around to face her.



"Hey, Malfoy! Piggy inna middle!" Faith shouted, and flung Skeeter's wand towards him, high over Skeeter's head. Score caught it and snapped it in half.



Skeeter let out a cry of outrage, but then very abruptly calmed down - too sudden to be real, Al thought. Her eyes flicked calculatingly from one of them to the other - Al was pretty sure he recognised that too: when you can't fight, negotiate.



"What on earth are you three planning?" Skeeter asked, with an amused chuckle, still very calm (which wasn't helpful and which Al didn't like.) "You aren't going to accomplish anything like this - after all, I can just get another wand - and don't expect this to endear you to our readers when I tell them!"



"You won't be able to tell your readers anything, because you'll be dead," Al said cheerfully. "Incendio!"



Skeeter let out a shriek and ducked as the blast of fire shot over her head (five feet above her head, even if she hadn't ducked, and luckily the trees were too green to burn easily). Al tossed the jar to Faith in the second Skeeter wasn't watching him, but Skeeter had already pulled something out of her pocket, crushed it in her hand, and flung the dust into the air. The dust burst into a black cloud that billowed out like ink in water and rushed over Al like a wave, so dark he thought for a second she might have used a blinding hex on him. Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. Great.



Al blundered backwards, trying to get out of the darkness, and fell over a root. "Faith! Don't do anything stupid!"



At the exact same second, Score barked "Harper! Don't do anything! At all!"



"Accio Rita Skeeter!" Faith shouted.



"...Dammit, Harper, what did I just tell you," Score said, as Al scrambled to his feet and found himself half outside the darkness. Faith was standing ten feet away. She waved at him cheerfully.



"Faith! What've you done?"



"What are you complaining for?" Faith asked, and held up the jar. "It worked, didn't it?"



"Is she all right?" Al asked anxiously.



“Well, I’m like ninety percent sure I didn’t accidentally squish her to death.” Faith held the jar up at eye level and stared in, and then shook it hard. “Oh yeah, she’s not dead. I think she’s swearing at me, too.” So Faith swore back at her.



"Wait, did Harper actually succeed at something?" Score asked, from somewhere in the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. "That's remarkable. Mark it on the calen-" There was a thump as Score blundered into a tree. "Ow!"



“Faith, the Aurors’ Handbook has rules on the treatment of prisoners, you really aren’t supposed to shake them,” Al said reproachfully. “What if she gets brain damaged?”



There was another thump from quite close by as Score collided with another tree. "I hate trees."



“I think I’d be okay with that,” Faith said, so Al looked sad and cute at her until she quit grinning and handed him the jar.



"Strange. I could have sworn you were threatening to kill her a few minutes ago," Score called, from somewhere nearby but still inside the cloud. "Ow!"



"That was only intimidation tactics, I can show you the bit in the Aurors' Handbook about them if you like." Al peered in at the beetle scurrying around on the bottom, took the lid off an inch or two and told her “I guess you could just break the jar by transforming back, but considering you haven’t got your wand it might not be a good idea to smash glass with your face right now, and besides, the diameter of the string around the jar is less than the diameter of, um, you, so it might not work out so well. You should probably just sit tight for a minute.” He put the lid back on and handed it back to Faith.



"Score?"



"...I hate trees," Score said.



"Do you want some help?" Al offered.



"No, thank you," Score said. Faith rolled her eyes and went to help him anyway. Then she almost immediately fell over him and brought them both crashing to the ground.



"Harper, stop helping me," Score said. "And then die."



Faith laughed, grabbed Score's arm and dragged him after her (not that Al could see them, but he was guessing from Score's indignant "Harper! Stop that! I want my shoulder to stay located!") Unexpectedly, this worked, as about thirty seconds Faith came back. Score staggered out after her, eyes wild, hair dishevelled and dirt and dead leaves all down his robes.



"I really hate trees," Score told them both.



"We know, stop whinging about it," Faith said, and the three of them headed up to the castle, Faith swinging Rita Skeeter around by the jar and Score trying to get his hair back into something approaching order.


When they got up to the entrance hall, students were just starting to flood into the Great Hall for dinner, the Slytherins coming up from the dungeons and the other houses coming down the stairs on the other side of the hall.

 

Al uncapped the jar, tossed Rita Skeeter onto the floor (beetles were good at falling, he knew that from Lily) and asked “Faith?”

 

Faith immediately bounded forward and tried to stomp on her, laughing like a hyena. Rita Skeeter scuttled frantically towards the doors, realised Al and Score were standing in it and made a dash for the dungeons instead. Faith shot after her, and then mid-step her knee gave way and with a cry of shock she crashed to the ground, twisting to avoid Rita Skeeter as she fell.

 

“Oh, dear,” Score murmured.

 

Rita Skeeter had been fleeing as fast as her tiny beetle legs could carry her, but now she circled slowly and skittered a little closer. Faith propped herself up on her elbows and made an annoyed noise (which, being Faith, was profane.) That was bad, if she’d realised they weren’t actually that keen on killing her.

 

Faith scowled at Rita, who scurried back and forth tauntingly in front of her. Okay, so Rita’d definitely figured it out, and judging from Faith’s expression Al hoped she was remembering it as well.

 

“Harper, what are you doing? Is it evil?” James demanded, and struck a dramatic pose at the top of the staircase. He had Fred and Louis with him, as usual. Oh good.

 

“Trying to stomp an annoying little bug, what does it look like,” Faith said, getting with difficulty onto her hands and knees, and grinned. “Hey! Want to help?”

 

Rita Skeeter turned around abruptly and made a break for the doorway.

 

“Harper!” James said. “You can’t stomp bugs! It’s not right.”

 

Faith blinked at him in surprise, and then went straight back to anger. “Where the hell do you get off lecturing me about what’s right?” she demanded, and added a “Stupid bastard,” out of habit.

 

“You’re evil, I keep telling everyone so and they all just say I’m maaaad,” James said exasperatedly. “Killing beetles is immoral, not nice, rude and-”

 

Fred drew his wand, pointed it at Skeeter and said “It’s just a bug, Potter. Oblit-!”

 

There was a shriek, that sounded quite a long way away, and Rita Skeeter reappeared, fountaining up from the floor. Her horn-rimmed glasses were crooked and her rigid hairdo had come loose and was draggling stiffly around her face. Faith whooped. Fred yelped and dropped his wand.

 

“What is the meaning of this commotion?” Professor McGonagall demanded, marching in from the Great Hall. “Ms Skeeter? I have warned you before to stay out of the Hogwarts grounds-”

 

Rita Skeeter looked at up at Fred (who was gaping at her), at the stunned crowd of witnesses, and turned slowly, shaking, to face Al.

 

Al didn't smile. That would have been unfair gloating, and he certainly didn't want anyone to see him doing that.

 









More importantly, though, Al, Score and Faith had to go to the hospital wing. As it turned out, Score had picked up a lot of scrapes and bruises; Faith had a sprained ankle, a torn muscle near her knee, a cracked rib and what Madame Zeller referred to as ‘chronic and terminal stupidity’; and Al was totally fine and really just there to keep the other two company.

 

“Have I congratulated you yet on how you hid and let us do most of the work, Potter?” Score asked, lying back on one of the beds. “That was masterful.”

 

“Hey, I planned things,” Al said, perched on the edge of another bed. Faith was sleeping peacefully on another bed, because Madame Zeller had got fed up with her trying to run around and jump on the beds and Stupefied her.

 

"Did you ever consider just blackmailing Skeeter?" Score asked. "Or do you think prosecution is a better revenge?"

 

"It's not revenge. She committed a crime. She ought to be put on trial and given a fair sentence," Al said.

 

Score looked at him in disbelief.

 

"Besides, it would have been suspicious if she'd suddenly changed tack and then if she hadn't cooperated and I'd told everyone they'd all have found out that I tried to blackmail her."



Score snorted. Al thought that was unfair. Couldn't he have genuine moral and practical reasons to do things?

 

“Privyet!” somebody said. Al thought what? Hedges? before looking up and seeing the Durmstrang champion. Oh, okay, Russians needed medical attention as well, after all.

 

It became slightly odder when she went over to Score, sat on the edge of his bed, and started talking to him in Russian. Score sat up, glanced sourly at Al and replied, in more Russian. Al caught ‘Potter’ and ‘Harper’ a lot, usually in tones of incredulity, and what seemed to be a mime rendition of their tendency to get hexed at and fall over.

 

Score could speak Russian? Al thought about that, waited for a gap in the conversation, and said “Hi!”

 

Score glanced at him and relayed that to the Durmstrang champion, who said something in Russian.

 

“Oksana says it’s very nice to meet you,” Score translated. She said something else, as well, something that sounded like a goodbye, and got up and left.

 

“Oops. Sorry,” Al said, not actually all that sorry.

 

“Liar. Now that you’ve rudely interrupted that conversation,” Score drawled. “What is it you want?”

 

“I might not have wanted anything,” Al said, looked at Score’s glare, and said, “Oh, fine. You speak Russian.”

 

You’re a manipulative little weasel and nowhere near as pleasant as you act,” Score replied.

 

Al blinked at him.

 

“Oh, sorry, I thought we were stating the obvious. What’s your point?”

 

“How’d you learn Russian?” Al asked, perching himself on the edge of Score’s bed.

 

“My parents briefly considered sending me to Durmstrang, which requires its students to be fluent in Russian,” Score said, with a shrug. “It’s not complicated.”

 

Al swung his legs and thought about it. “Briefly considered it for long enough for you to become fluent in Russian?”

 

“It’s a surprisingly simple language,” Score said. “I realise you’re annoyed that my parents were more invested in my education than yours were in yours, but that hardly merits interrogation.”

 

“Hey, my parents were very invested in my- don’t try to distract me,” Al said. “They were going to send you to Durmstrang for most of your life and then changed their minds?”

 

“My family aren’t renowned for their decision-making skills,” Score pointed out, stretching out on the bed with his hands behind his head.

 

“I guess not,” Al agreed. “Why did you want to come to Hogwarts?”

 

“…excuse me?” Score sat up, casual attitude evaporating instantly. “What on earth are you talking about?”

 

“If your parents were planning to send you to Durmstrang for that long, why would they change their minds so suddenly? That’d be completely stupid. I mean… don’t be offended, but you’re not very popular here,” Al said.

 

“I’m not?” Score drawled. “But everyone is so lovely and friendly! Are you sure?”

 

Al nodded absently. “So the only alternative is that you decided to come to Hogwarts yourself. Why’d you do that?”

 

“Superior educational facilities?” Score offered, which Al didn’t think was true because probably at Durmstrang the DADA professor wouldn't try to kill him.

 

Al thought. What did Score do? He acted like Al, really - talked to people, acted nice. Why was it important to do that at Hogwarts instead of at Durmstrang?

 

Huh. Score tried to make friends, and he’d got really upset when Rita Skeeter badmouthed his family - actually, he got upset when anyone badmouthed his family.

 

“Are you trying to restore your family honour, or something?”

 

Score started.

 

“You are? Really?” Al asked excitedly.

 

“Are you familiar with the meaning of the name Malfoy? It means ‘bad faith’. I doubt there’s any honour to be restored,” Score hedged.

 

“Well, making some, then,” Al said. “That’s what you’re doing, right?”

 

Score sat up. His eyes narrowed.

 

“What are you planning?” Which was as good as confirmation that Al was right.

 

“Why? Wouldn’t that be really hard?” Al wondered out loud, and watched for Score’s reaction.

 

“They’re my family,” Score spat, glacier cold. “I don’t care if it’s hard.” He sounded as if he thought Al must be very stupid to need that explained to him.

 

Al grinned. Score drew back.

 

“What do you plan to do now?” he asked, very coolly and precisely.

 

“Nothing evil, I swear,” Al said. “I’ve got a plan too. Do you want to know what it is?”

 

Score’s eyes narrowed further, to the point where Al wasn’t entirely certain Score could still see him. “Fine. Go ahead.”

 

Al looked around, lowered his voice and said, “I think it’s unfair how people talk about Slytherin when they’re actually all quite nice so I want to make everyone like them.”

 

“You’re what?”

 

Al repeated himself, a little louder and clearer.

 

“Are you seriously telling me that you chose to be sorted into Slytherin because of your innate love of justice and compassion for all mankind?”

 

“I wouldn’t have said it exactly like that,” Al said.

 

“Potter, that has never happened before.”

 

“Oh.” Al thought about it. “Is that good?”

 

“It means you’re uniquely mad, at least,” Score said. A faint thoughtful crease appeared between his eyebrows. “I had noticed that you devote a great deal of your time to cultivating friendships with the other houses. I assumed you were doing so for personal gain.”

 

“Well, it is personal gain really, I want everyone to be happy and not discriminated against,” Al pointed out.

 

“I’m not sure you understand the concept of personal gain. Can you prove it?”

 

“Well, if I just wanted to be popular by myself I’d have asked the Hat not to put me in Slytherin.”

 

“…Good point.”

 

“If I was going to be a Dark Lord, I think my first step would be not being in Slytherin,” Al observed. “It makes people suspicious. Probably the next Dark Lord’s in Hufflepuff.”

 

“I knew those little bastards were planning something,” Score drawled. “What do you think your adorable little plan has to do with me?”

 

“Isn’t it obvious?” Al asked. “We should be friends!”

 

“…excuse me, I think I may have briefly hallucinated there. What did you say?”

 

“Look. I want everyone to like Slytherin, right? And you want everyone to like you, and you are a Slytherin, so your plan helps my plan and I can help you. It’d be stupid for us not to work together!”

 

Score scowled.

 

“Why not, then?” Al asked, crushed.

 

“Potter, I’m sure you’re a lovely person really,” Score said. “A wonderful person, who would never try to disembowel me in the ladies’ room. But still-”

 

“I’d never try to disembowel you in the ladies’,” Al said. “I never even thought about it.”

 

Score glowered at him.

 

“Are you particularly concerned about me disemboweling you in the ladies’ or something?” Al asked. No, that couldn’t be right. It didn’t make any sense at all.

 

“Forget it,” Score said exasperatedly.

 

“I could promise never to disembowel you at all if that would help,” Al said, a bit lost.

 

“I said forget it!” Score barked.

 

Al decided to set that aside as a minor eccentricity.

 

“I don’t need help,” Score said. “Particularly not from you.”

 

“Have some anyway?”

 

“Why would you be so intent on helping me in the first place? Our families don’t get on very well, if you haven’t noticed.”

 

“I get on with you fine and I like helping people. Why not?” Al said. “Besides, since - not to be rude or anything - since your family doesn’t get on with mine because my family’s very heroic and yours… sort of isn’t, just being friends with me helps your plan.”

 

“Don’t try to puppeteer me, Potter,” Score told him warningly.

 

“Who’s puppeteering? I’m just explaining what you’d get out of it,” Al said. See? As soon as anyone knew you might have once manipulated somebody the tiniest bit for their own good, they assumed you were trying to manipulate everybody all the time.

 

Score looked away and frowned. Al watched him, on tenterhooks.

 

“Perhaps some sort of provisionary alliance?” Score suggested eventually.

 

“Yes! That’s perfect!” Al said, beaming. “What does ‘provisionary’ mean?”

 

“Conditional,” Score said. “The condition being that it works.”

 

“It’ll be fine,” Al promised, and gave Score a big hug.

 

"Potter! No! No hugging! Bad Potter! If your hair is contagious I will kill you! Get off!"

 

‘Provisionary alliance’. Al could make that work.

 





Dear Dad,

Rita Skeeter is an illegal Animagus and I got her to Animage in front of lots of witnesses probably most of Hogwarts! So you can arrest her now. Thanks for the Invisibility Cloak! Faith and Score helped but I will tell you how later because right now Professor McGonagall wants to shout at us for going into the Forbidden Forest (don’t worry, we’re all fine.)

Also Score and me are friends now! On the condition that I help him with some stuff he’s doing. Except I can’t tell you what that stuff is. He’s helping me with my plan to help Slytherin too, though.

Love Al





Al,

Good job! I wasn’t expecting you to come up with something like that. Already got a warrant for Skeeter.

Are you sure whatever you’re doing with Malfoy is a good idea? A friendship based on what you can get out of the other person’s not much of a friendship.

Dad

P.S. What’s this plan of his, anyway? I don’t like the sound of that.





Dad,

I don’t get it. Isn’t a friendship based on helping each other and working towards common goals the best sort of friendship? It says on page 17 of the Aurors’ Handbook that that’s the sort of friendship Aurors should strive to develop with other Aurors. Besides, even if he’s using me I’m using him just as much, so it’s fair.

Love Al
P.S. I can’t tell you. I promise it’s not evil!









A very great number of spells in this are taken from Elwood's Encyclopedia project, located on the forums. These spells would be 'Lingua Evanesca', 'Balatus', and 'Pependi'. So actually less a very great number and more three. I am bad at maths.

Privyet is Russian for 'hedge'. Or 'hello'. One of them.

Chapter 18: Epilogue
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“What are you doing?” Faith demanded, kicking the door open and bursting in, her cat Pineapple in her arms. Al’s owl rustled its feathers and grimly went to sleep.

“I’m teaching Jarveys to dance,” Score told her, standing at his mirror.

“Score’s annoyed at his hair,” Al explained, sitting on the edge of his bed.

“Malfoy’s primping!” Faith hollered up the stairs.

“I’m not primping!” Score snapped, throwing the comb down. “I’m making myself presentable. Not that I would expect either of you to understand the concept,” he added sourly.

“I understand it, I’m just not obsessive,” Al said.

“I get it fine, I just don’t care,” Faith said. “You know we need to be down there by quarter-past, yeah? It’s like-” She turned and shouted up the stairs. “Oi! What time is it?”

“Four-oh-seven,” Kitty called back down. Oh dear.

“So yeah, get a move on,” Faith said. “Cook and me are ready already.”

Al picked up his satchel, his owl’s cage and the box of sweets Score’s grandma had sent him that morning and got up. Score checked his tie.

“It’s fine, come on,” Al said. Score grumbled but followed after them. The Slytherins were gathered in the common room, several of them carrying cats or owls in cages, and one of the seventh-year girls carrying an umbrella nearly as tall as she was.

“All present except Townsend and we don’t like him anyway,” Grim reported to Avery, just as Townsend dashed up from the bathrooms, wailing “Oh! Don’ reave me!” with a toothbrush still in his mouth.

“Nobody reave Townsend,” Avery ordered, and led them out of the common room.

It was the the evening of the twenty-fourth of June, the day of of the Third Task of the Triwizard Tournament, and all the students had been told to leave the castle a couple of hours before the Task started and take any uncaged pets with them. Al wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen, but going by Kitty’s encyclopedia of the Triwizard Tournament saying that the third task was usually a race to the cup, he had a pretty good idea.

He thought Victoire was feeling okay. He’d seen her after breakfast, along with his entire family - apparently relatives were invited to the Third Task and, even excluding the Weasleys who weren’t currently attending Hogwarts, Victoire had a lot of family to invite. (Al had offered to bring Score with him so he could demonstrate to the assembled Weasleys how not evil he was. Score had said “Oh please God no.”)

Al had found Victoire talking to James, quietly, while his dad and Aunt Fleur stood nearby discussing what she should do in the Task. James had been trying to give her a tattered old piece of parchment. Al assumed that had made sense to James.

“Hey! Novice Auror Al Potter!” Dominique had greeted him. “Think Vick’s a bit busy, but she’ll see you in a minute. Or are you here to arrest us?”

“Yes. It’s illegal to wear that much stuff in your face,” Al told her earnestly. Dominique stuck her tongue out at him. Al wasn’t sure if that was to be rude or to show off her most recent piercing, but he knew Dominique liked people drawing attention to her jewelry so he didn’t think she could be mad.

“James, please quit bothering me,” Victoire said.

“But-”

“James, no,” Victoire snapped. “Where did you get something like that anyway?”

“But then you’d win!”

James had come up with some mad plan, then.

“By cheating,” Victoire said bluntly. “And I’d rather lose with honour than win without it. You’re a Gryffindor, James. Act like one.”

James flushed right up to his hair, shoved the tattered parchment back into his robes and stomped back to Fred (since Louis was hovering at Victoire’s side and didn’t seem inclined to move.)

“Hi, Al,” Victoire had said, though the good wishes Al’d meant to give her had come out as a wheeze when Al’s dad had realised he was there and come over to give him a hug.

James had muttered something and glared balefully at Al, but then he’d been weird ever since Al had started convicting criminals before him.

Convicting Rita Skeeter had actually been surprisingly easy - for Al, as least. He’d been called out of school and down to the Ministry to give a witness statement, which turned out to mean explaining what he’d done to his dad’s boss, Mary MacDonald, while her secretary made notes and Al’s dad leant against the wall at the back and went incandescent with rage any time anyone suggested that Al might not have been right to resort to vigilantism. That had been a bit troubling, but Al’d managed to fix it by looking dejected and cute until Mrs MacDonald agreed that he’d just been trying to do his bit for justice and her secretary had given him some money for a chocolate bar.

Three blocks of seating had been set up close to the gates, facing towards the front doors of the castle, one for each of the three schools. The Slytherins found the stand in the Hogwarts section which was decked out in Slytherin colours, climbed right to the top, and settled in for the long haul.

Faith let Pineapple go and sprawled out on one of the benches while he went prowling up and down, looking for attention. Avery got out a book. Kitty, Grim and Lia and a couple of fourth-years started to play a Muggle card game Kitty insisted was called Cheat. The girl who’d had the giant umbrella put it up, looked suspiciously at the sky and put on a sunhat as well. Al thought she was being a little paranoid.

“Potter, there’s a tin of blood-flavoured lollipops here with your name on it,” Score said, opening up the box of sweets from his grandmother and handing it around.

“Oh. Cheers,” Al said.

“I meant that literally,” Score said, and handed over a tin labelled Mr Albus Potter in neat copperplate handwriting. “Are you Potters secret vampires, incidentally? Any minor history of vampirism?”

Al took the tin and thought about it. Lily liked blood-flavoured lollipops too, and so did James although he never ate them because it wasn’t heroic or something. He didn’t think any of them wanted to actually drink anyone’s blood, though. “I don’t think so. Can you thank your nan for me? It’s very nice of her to keep sending sweets up for us.”

“It is very kind of her to give me such a delicious means of bribing people,” Score agreed.

“Oh.” Though sarcasm aside, that did seem pretty nice. Al’s parents never gave him anything to bribe people with.

The Slytherins had been first down, probably because they had fewer people to organise. The Hufflepuffs were next, coming out of the castle in an antlike column shepherded by the prefects, and filled up their stand, and the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws after them, straggling down from the castle in small groups in total defiance of Professor McGonagall’s orders.

Professor McGonagall was standing a long way away at the front of the staff box, hands on the railing, but when she’d seen him at breakfast, before she’d gone back to talking to James and Lily, Al’s mum had given him a pair of blood-red Wigtown Wanderers Summer ’08 Omnioculars (apparently the dates were important, and Al wasn’t sure if the colour was meant to make a point but he’d changed them to green as soon as she wasn’t looking anyway). Looking through those, Al didn’t think Professor McGonagall looked annoyed. She’d probably told everyone to get out twenty minutes before she needed them out just in case.

Satisfied that the castle was empty, McGonagall blew a whistle. For a second nothing happened. Then the lawns heaved and bulged, turf tearing apart as the foundations moved, and in total silence the entire castle twisted and hunched down over the lake. A cloud of owls poured out of the Owlery, swirled around the tower and scattered across the grounds. The North Tower seemed to squat down and then fell outwards from the castle wall, but just as a gasp ran through the Hogwarts students two solid stone buttresses speared out from the tower and slammed into the ground, keeping the North Tower hanging at a precarious angle over two hundred feet of empty air.

“What’s it doing?” Kitty asked, in a hushed voice. Bubbles started to rise from the lake at the foot of the promontory on which the castle stood.

“Rearranging itself,” Faith said.

“Well, yes, but in more detail?” Kitty asked.

“Er, basically,” Faith said, and made some hand gestures that meant either ‘Hogwarts Castle’, ‘wedding cake’, or ‘The Great Pyramid of Giza’. “Hogwarts is a masterpiece? It’s self-updating and self-repairing, and it can rearrange itself - usually it does it for not any actual reason, but if the headmistress tells it to turn itself into something it’ll do it.” She was looking at the castle as though she wanted to take it apart and see how it worked.

“Don’t dissect the school, Harper,” Score ordered. “You’ll lose us house points.”

The Slytherins dawdled away the two hours. Al and Score studied a couple of second-year set books they’d got from the library, to Faith’s amazement. She’d picked up a copy of the Standard Book of Spells Grade 2 and was amusing herself by casting Bouncing Charms on Knuts and lobbing them down the stairs, but apparently reading textbooks about Potions and Herbology was mental. Kitty was sketching the castle and interesting-looking people she could see through Al’s Omnioculars. Grim and Lia stretched out in the sunlight and  dreamily plotted to take over the world, enslave the Gryffindors and force them to be their living footstools.

At about ten to seven the Hogwarts stands started to fill up with visitors, though not many in the Slytherin section and most of those were sitting down at the bottom. Through the Omnioculars, Al could see a big splash of Weasley-red hair in the Gryffindor section.
“Potter, tell me that’s not who I think it is,” Score said, pointing.

Al turned his Omnioculars to the bottom of the Slytherin stands and the figure climbing towards them.

“Dad!”

Score groaned. Al jumped to his feet and waved.

Al’s dad reached the Slytherins and looked them over, gaze settling on Score. His mouth turned sharply downwards at the corners. Score raised his chin and met his stare defiantly.

“Dad,” Al started, meaning to say something placating.

Grim and Lia exchanged glances, and then jumped up and provided a distraction. Or possibly they were just having a laugh. It was hard to tell.

“Who’re you?”

“…what?” Al’s dad said.

Grim and Lia looked Al’s dad up and down, from the unruly black hair to the Aurors’ dress robes with the gold commander’s braid by way of the lightning-bolt scar, and repeated simultaneously and louder “Who’re you?”

“He’s my dad,” Al said.

“I’m Harry Potter,” Al’s dad said.

“…who?” Lia said.

“Stupid!” Grim said, and smacked her on the head. “He’s Potter’s dad!”

“…yeah,” Al’s dad said. “And I’m sitting with him.”

“No you’re not. You’re standing over there.” Grim pointed out.

“I meant I’m going to sit with him,” Al’s dad corrected irritably.

“Are you really?”

“Let’s find out!” Lia said. “Avery, is he sitting with us?”

“Why not? Potter brought friends to the last two tasks, and it would be sad to make him break his record now.”

Grim and Lia made angry cheated faces.

“Who’re you?” Al’s dad demanded. He was going red. Al really hoped he wasn’t going to explode at them.

“We’re prefects!” Lia said.

“Your son’s life is in our hands!” Grim added cheerfully.

Al’s dad didn’t look like he was very happy about that.

“Hang on,” Lia said. “Isn’t he something like an Auror or something?”

“Yeah, something like that,” Al’s dad agreed sourly.

“We can’t have Aurors sitting here!” Grim said. “Avery, please, reconsider! What if we want to do something evil?”

“What?” said Al’s dad.

“Well we might have to murder somebody,” Lia said.

“We’re Slytherins. Pointless evil is kind of all we do.”

“Dad, they’re not serious,” Al explained. “It’s a joke. I think it’s their only joke.”

“Hey! We have lots of jokes!” Grim said. “Listen to this. Why did the chicken cross the road?”

“See, it’s funny because crossing roads is not normal chicken behaviour!”

“I dunno. Why did the chicken cross the road,” Al’s dad said flatly.

“Because it was under the Imperius curse!” Grim said, and then he and Lia fell about laughing. Al’s dad stared at them in disbelief. This made Grim and Lia laugh harder.

“Avery,” Al’s dad repeated.

“Yes, hello,” Avery said, correcting his book.

“Aren’t you supposed to be their king or something?”

“That is my official title,” Avery agreed.

“So can you make them stop mucking around?”

“No,” Avery said. “That’s a common misunderstanding. I’m a king, not a miracle worker.”

“What?” Grim squawked. “Oh God, you just killed my whole belief system!”

Al’s dad threw himself down on the bench next to Al, shoving Faith’s legs out of the way. Score had moved to Faith’s other side to be further away from Al’s dad.

“Could of sworn Slytherins weren’t this mental when I was at Hogwarts.”

“Actually they’re pretty clever,” Al said (not that he wanted to argue with his dad, but he had to defend his house.) “Avery especially. He had his Transfig NEWT yesterday and the examiner proposed marriage. Apparently that’s normal. Anyway, otherwise he wouldn’t be our king.”

“Yeah, about that,” Al’s dad said. “Is this a Slytherin thing? They see a tall, clever, dark-haired boy and immediately decide he’s their king?”

“We don’t do that,” Al said, very slight emphasis on the we, and frowned. “What are you talking about?”

“Forget it, then,” Al’s dad said.

There was a blast on a trumpet.

“What’s that?”

The  Durmstrang students arrived, marching through the gates in regimented order, singing what was probably a school song, with a standard-bearer at the front and the trumpeters bringing up the rear. As the column swung past the staff box the standard-bearer peeled off, thunked the end of the standard into the ground, and the other students formed up in regiments behind him. Professor Kohut rose to his feet, and there was a sound like a handclap as every single student saluted.

“Bloody hell,” Al’s dad said.

Professor Kohut barked out something in Russian and gestured to his students . Al looked at Score for a translation, but Score was busy staring into space, probably off in his happy place where Al’s dad didn’t exist. The Durmstrang students peeled off and entered their stand.

Then it was the Beauxbatons students’ turn, and everyone looked up expectantly to see what they would do.

As it turned out, this was walk in quietly and take their seats, without any fuss. There was a mutter of disappointment and, through the Omnioculars, Al could almost see Madame Maxime grinding her teeth. Kohut obviously hadn’t mentioned to her that he was planning on having his students grandstand into Hogwarts.

With the students of all three schools assembled, Professor McGonagall got up and advanced to the front of the staff box.

“Welcome to the Third and last Task of the Triwizard Tournement. The points stand at seventy-three for Miss Zelenko of Durmstrang and, tied in second place, Mr Aquestre of Beauxbatons and Miss Weasley of Hogwarts. The Third Task is in the form of a race to the Cup: the Cup is in Hogwarts Castle, but in reaching it the Champions will face magical beasts, tests of all kinds and, worse… Peeves.”

Professor McGonagall waited for the faint chuckles to die away before yielding the floor to Finwick.

“Thank you, Minerva! Since Miss Zelenko is ahead on points she will be the first to enter the castle,with Miss Weasley and Mr Aquestre following her. So, Miss Zelenko, on my first whistle-”

The three champions had taken up their places at the foot of the steps into the Entrance Hall, facing the stands, Oksana in dead centre with her hands clasped firmly behind her back. Score leant forward, elbows on his knees and chin in his hands.

Finwick blew his whistle. Oksana turned sharply on her heel and, to a cheer from the Durmstrang seats that startled birds shrieking from the trees in the Forbidden Forest, hurried into the castle.

Silence fell abruptly as she crossed the threshold of the castle: Oksana assumed this was to prevent cheating rather than to avoid distractions, since she would not have been surprised if Professor Kohut had had someone sneaking about outside the castle trying to shout advice through the walls. Of the two choices - the Great Hall and the corridor of classrooms opposite it had been replaced by stark stone walls, and the dark passage into the dungeons and the staircase to the first floor were the only exits left - she chose the stairs leading up.

The only advice they had been given on locating the Cup was that the greater the difficulty, the closer they were, and in that case, Oksana was forced to decide as she hurried deeper into the castle that she was not very close to the Cup. The corridors were silent, of course, but also dim, and many of the windows had been sealed over with rock with only an arch of worked stone to show where they had once been. The calm was unsettling - at Durmstrang castle, this sort of still, smothering silence usually meant that the prividenie was passing close by.

In the quiet the sound of Finwick’s second whistle shrilled out loud and clear. Enchanted to be heard in the castle? Well, that was irrelevant to the fact that the other two champions were in the castle, and assuming they had taken separate paths, one of them was on Oksana’s heels.

Oksana turned a corner and came face to face with her first challenge.

Halfway down the next corridor, blocking the way forward, a ghost waited - a gaunt man, in tattered and bloodstained robes, hung with chains and wearing a sword at his side. He hung motionless a few inches above the floor, head down, one hand hanging at his side and the other resting on the hilt of the sword. He was not one of the Hogwarts ghosts, or at least not one that Oksana had seen before. And that was assuming he was a ghost - if so, he could do her no harm.

If, however, he was some type of ghost-like creature or an elaborate magical creation, that sword looked as though it could do quite a good job of bisecting her.

Oksana had drawn her wand before entering the castle, so now as she advanced on the phantom (who remained, aptly enough, as still as the dead) she held her wand out before her. The distance between them closed rapidly, but the ghostly figure never moved and finally Oksana took a deep breath, reminded herself that she was a Durmstrang student and not unnerved by ghosts, and marched straight through it. The icy sensation that swept through her nearly made her squawk, but the ghost never even reached for its sword.

A simple test of courage, then? That was a relief. Oksana looked back at the translucent figure, which hadn’t even turned towards her, and decided that it must be just a very authentic illusion. She wondered if it would dissipate now, or remain to bother one of the other champions.

The blue house’s ghost, the tall woman with the long flowing hair, drifted into the corridor through one of the walls and out through the other, casting an acidic look at the bloodstained ghost’s sword as she did. The bloodstained ghost turned, stretched out a hand in mute appeal to her departing back, and followed her through the wall.

Ah.

Well, if whichever of the other champions had followed her wasn’t going to spend as long dithering over a ghost as Oksana had, she had best get a move on.

Further down, another corridor joined hers, going left and turning sharply out of sight about twenty feet down. Oksana stood for a few seconds deliberating on which way to go before there was a thud from the left passage that made the floor shake. Oksana raised her wand and advanced cautiously.

Something massive and greyish-purple, with a humped back that forced it to crouch down to get through the corridor, took a few careful steps forward, saw Oksana and reared up. Its back collided with the ceiling, and the floor shook again.

Oksana suspected that this was not an illusion to test her resolve.






After getting into the castle, Victoire had wished Anthoine good luck (in French, obviously) and gone down into the dungeons, while Anthoine had gone up the steps into the castle itself. The dungeons had been almost completely flooded, and lake water lapped gently at the steps down from the entrance hall - being underwater should make things problematic, shouldn’t it?

Victoire knew a little about exploring underwater from caving trips with her dad and Dominique. There were some fairly basic rules to follow if you wanted not to die. Firstly, only do it if you can Apparate.

That was sort of a no.

Secondly, as a failsafe, always use a guideline. She didn't have a guideline. Thirdly, as a backup failsafe, bring a spare wand, spare Gillyweed, and two secondary light sources. She had none of those. Fourthly, acquire or train a rescue dolphin. No point even asking about that one.

Victoire cast the gill spell she'd had prepared since talking to her mum about her experience in the Triwizard Tournament and getting the horrible feeling that somehow, somewhere, they would make her go in the lake, and took a few steps down down into the icy water. A riptide dragged her off her feet and under the water and swept her down the corridor, whirling her over and over. Victoire let out a cry that came out as bubbles and curled up reflexively, arms over her head, as the current dashed her against the stone and carried her deeper into the dungeons.

The riptide spat her out finally, against a wall, and Victoire uncurled slowly. Without the torches to light them the corridors were pitch black. She drew her wand and bubbled out "Lumos!" Underwater, the spell cast a blue rather than a golden light, illuminating bare stone walls, bare stone floor, bare stone ceiling and, every so often, an iron frame for a torch.

Victoire stuck her wand between her teeth and struck out down the corridor. The dungeon passages were narrow, so that half the time she was less swimming and more pulling herself along by the walls, and the water seemed even colder deeper down. Shoals of small fish had been sucked into the dungeons along with the lake water, and occasionally flickered on the outskirts of Victoire’s light before fleeing into the darkness.  Victoire’s robe was sodden and heavy and slowing her down, so she pulled it off and left it drifting jellyfish-like behind her.

The first few rooms she looked into had their doors standing open, and were empty. The next was locked. She opened it with Alohomora, but had to brace her back against the opposite wall and kick it to get the door open, with a swirl of water that sent up eddies of dust. Victoire held her wand out before her and peeked around the door. A spare classroom, with lines of desks and chairs and a tower of spare cauldrons looming out of the darkness. She slid through the doorway, wand out, looking around for other doors or anything that might be worth investigation, but didn't see anything and turned to go.

Something had curled around her ankle. Victoire tugged at it instinctively, and then something curled much more tightly around her waist and throat and pulled her down. Victoire tried to shout a spell but it came out as a wheeze as more tendrils wound around her legs and shoulders. She pressed her wand against her throat and thought Diffindo! The cord around her throat split. Victoire kicked off hard from the wall, slashing at the other tendrils around her legs, and collided with one of the desks, knocking it over.

Victoire pushed herself up off the desk and looked back, shaking with adrenaline and touching her fingers to her throat. She’d cut herself as well, by accident, and there was blood seeping out to stain the water.

Seaweed, growing up the wall behind the door. A magical type of seaweed, or just enchanted? Come to think of it, Victoire didn't care. She carefully slid around the door, out of range of the weed, and back out into the corridor.

As she swam deeper into the dungeons, Victoire was starting to suspect that they were just a little less labyrinthine than usual. Perhaps blocking off the Slytherin common room had taken a lot of corridors with it too?

In almost no time at all she had reached the end of the dungeons and, worse, she’d done it without any more trouble. Could there have been a hidden door somewhere she had missed? She put her wand between her teeth and felt around, probing at the stone for secret passages or twistable candlesticks, and the water she kicked up disturbed something huddled at the foot of the wall. The merman uncoiled in a blur, howling and brandishing a spear.

Protego!” Victoire shouted instinctively as it burst into her field of vision, before she’d even recognised what it was. She should have remembered that the Shield Charm only worked on spells. The spear cracked across the top of Victoire’s head. Her vision flashed white and her wand fell from her hand.

The merman swung the spear at her head again. Victoire caught it on her forearm, brandished her hand in front of his face and shouted “Stupefy!” though it only came out as bubbles. The merman yelped and flinched back instinctively. Victoire pulled a knee up, kicked him hard in the chest and dived for her wand.

How was she supposed to get past him? Get past him to where?

Victoire snatched her wand up, twisted, and aimed it at the ceiling.

Reducto!”

The ceiling broke and through the gap Victoire saw not more water, as she had expected, but… branches? She kicked off hard from the floor and shot upwards, bursting out of the water as far as her waist and hauled herself up into the air, hand on one side of the hole and the elbow of her wand arm on the other. The merman’s spear thwacked against the edge of the hole just as she pulled her legs up out of range, but after that there was quiet.

Victoire ended the gill spell she’d been using and climbed to her feet. Her palm was bleeding where she’d sliced it open on the sharp edges. She fixed that quickly, and looked around.

She was in a classroom which seemed to have been first turned into a forest and then turned on its side. The wall which seemed to have been the floor was carpeted with moss and grass, and branches grew up what had been the walls and across the only window not sealed over, filling the room with green light. Having never taken Divination, it took Victoire a few seconds to realise that this was Professor Firenze’s classroom, on the first floor, and supposed to look like a garden centre gone mad. She hoped he wouldn’t be too annoyed about the hole she’d just put in his floor …wall ... whatever.

Should she go back down and try to get past the merman? Merboy, really, possibly younger than Victoire was. If the merrows were going to send someone in to harass the champions, why not send someone older? Hell, why were they sending one in at all? She’d heard their chieftain didn’t like Hogwarts or humans all that much. And, for that matter, why hit someone with a spear when you could stick them with the pointy end? That didn’t make much sense.

She remembered the shoals of fish. Found himself in here by accident, then, in which case she could probably go without following up on that.

She left the classroom and found herself standing in a third-floor corridor she recognised from the tapestries of Ibleg the Inflammable. Looking down from the windows proved that she was, in fact, on the third floor.

Interesting.

Victoire headed off to find some trouble to get into.






Oksana, meanwhile, had decided that she had no intention of being killed by some overgrown cousin of the beast she’d defeated in the first task, and that therefore her sole (minor) concern was finding a way to avoid being killed by it.

Stupefy!”

The red light bounced off the creature’s hide. It barely seemed to notice. Oksana briefly wondered why everything that might need to be Stunned was immune to Stunning before it charged, its humped back and the tips of its golden horns rasping against the ceiling.

Savrasernoma,” Oksana said, spun, and dashed up the wall. The Graphorn flung itself against the wall, trying to crush her, and she just managed to leap onto the ceiling before it hit the wall. Still, even upside-down its bulk blocked most of the corridor.

Oksana feinted to the right and then, as the Graphorn threw itself towards her, dashed left. She almost made it. As she saw the wall of blue-grey hide coming she ducked down and reflexively covered her head with her arms, and the Graphorn’s side slammed her torso against the wall and pinned her there like a bug. Her arms were trapped against her own head, with her wand digging into her left ear, and her ribcage felt as if it was cracking under the pressure.  She kicked her heel into its back, got her left arm free and punched it in the side, but it just ground against her like it was trying to get rid of an itch. Some of her ribs crunched. Oksana let out a scream, dwindling into a groan, and went limp.

The Graphorn shifted and relaxed. Oksana slowly and carefully freed her wand arm and drew in a shallow breath. “Ftero!” The spell was barely a wheeze, but it worked, and with a rush of adrenaline she snatched the knife that burst from the tip of her wand and drove it into the Graphorn’s side up to the hilt. The animal screamed and leapt away. Oksana staggered forward, bent double and gasping, until she was clear of it, and then pointed her wand at her midsection and rasped out a healing charm. Her ribs knitted back together.

She would have liked to have stopped and taken several deep breaths, but then she shot a look back over her shoulder and saw that the Graphorn was trying to come after her, only having trouble turning around in the narrow passage. She hurried up, and then abruptly the ceiling lurched beneath her feet and her vision went dark. No, not totally dark, she could see faint stars, and… clouds? She couldn’t see anything but sky, but she could feel something, whatever it was, under her feet. She spun around and found herself staring down a hundred feet to the floor of the Great Hall.

So, had she been running away from the Graphorn on the floor like a normal person… well, that was an unpleasant thought.

Oksana felt for the lip of the corridor and scrambled back in on hands and knees. The Graphorn was struggling to turn around - it didn’t seem able to turn its neck much, and its horns scraping against the ceiling stopped it from raising its head. It saw her, froze, and then roared and threw itself forwards. One horn cracked. The Graphorn charged towards her, and when it was close enough for Oksana to see the whites around its beady red irises, she stepped smartly back and let herself fall backwards and upwards onto the wall.

The Graphorn shot out of the corridor. For a moment, its legs still working frantically, it didn’t seem to realise what had happened, and then it fell, twisting and turning in midair and smashing into the red house’s table. A fine cloud of wood dust filled the air.

Oksana watched as the Graphorn climbed to its feet and shook itself like a dog. What on earth did it take to kill one? It stared up at her, forefeet propped up on what had until a minute ago been a bench. Safely a hundred feet above, Oksana considered waving, before remembering that Durmstrang students did not behave like children. Leave the bastard to bother one of the other champions, then.

It seemed that several other corridors had also recently been remodelled to end in a deadly fall, because she could see other openings dotted around the Great Hall. She crossed the hall and picked another corridor on the basis that when she stepped into it, a pipe burst out of the wall and sprayed ice-cold water at her knees.

It would have been her face, but fortunately she was still walking on  the ceiling. Quite a useful spell, really, for something she had learnt at ten to win games of tag.






Anthoine heard the high, deranged laugh ring through the corridors, and his blood ran cold. That couldn’t possibly be what he thought it was. It was probably their silly poltergeist.

The sound seemed to have come from the upper landing. He raised his wand and started cautiously up the stairs. Halfway up, in the total silence, he almost thought he had imagined it before another giggle echoed through the still halls.

Anthoine steeled himself and marched up the remaining steps. He must be mistaken. It was an absurd ide -

Then he saw the scarecrow figure shambling towards him, thin strangling hands outstretched. Its face was corpse-white, save for the red grin that stretched from ear to ear and bared decaying brown teeth, and the dark pits of its eyes, exaggerated by the rings of black paint around them. Its red yarn hair was matted and straggling, and its nose was gone, rotted away.

Anthoine swallowed. He groped behind him until he found the newel post, steadied himself, and pointed his wand squarely at the thing’s face.

Stupefy!”

The spell bounced off.

An invincible undead clown! The exact thing he least wanted to fight!

Conjunctivitus!”

The clown reached up to its eyes as if it meant to rub them, but instead it plunged its bony fingers deep into the sockets and gouged. Anthoine gagged and staggered backwards.  The clown drew its fingers out, blood dripping in slow rust-coloured trickles through the white greasepaint, and reached out towards him.

Incendio!” Anthoine flung the spell over his shoulder as he spun, and nearly fell trying to run down the stairs too fast. At the bottom, he wheeled round to see if this spell had had any effect.

For a second, the clown had been shambling in the centre of an inferno, and then the fire died away. The clown’s yarn hair smouldered and went out.

The clown started down the stairs towards him, hands outstretched.

Anthoine couldn’t run away. He had to try to find the Cup. The honour of the French depended on it. Perhaps he could lure it off, double back and get around it?

Trébuchez!” Anthoine realised a second after casting the spell that he’d probably just helped it get down faster, but by then it was too late. The Trip Jinx sent the clown tumbling oversized-shoes-over-head down the stairs, and it landed flat on its face at the bottom. Anthoine let out a bark of hysterical laughter, and the clown exploded into a puff of smoke.

Wait. Bwuh?

Oh. A Boggart.

Anthoine ran shaking hands through his hair and prayed nobody had been watching that. He should have realised earlier, castles not being the natural habitat of undead clowns.

He moved on, around where the Boggart had been and up the stairs.

The next obstacle he came across was a wall of fire, issuing from a crack across the corridor floor and shooting up in a thin sheet to lick against the ceiling. He could feel the heat rolling off it from ten feet away.

Aguamenti!”

Anthoine played the jet of water across the fire, but wherever he pointed it, the fire only died down for as long as he kept the water on it, while all around it raged just as strongly. He tried a Wind Charm, thinking he might be able to blow it out, but instead it roared up even stronger than before, and he had to leap back to avoid his robes catching light.

He pressed his lips together and thought, then pointed his wand at the wall.

Démolo!”

The bolt of green light shot through the fire (punching a hole in it, for a split second) and slammed into the ceiling just the other side. Dust showered down. Anthoine did it again, and then again, perforating the ceiling around the fire until with a crack, the mortar gave way and it all came crashing down. Anthoine covered his eyes until the dust had settled, then peeked between his fingers.

The stone had fallen down across the fire and blocked most of it, with only a few thin needles of fire shooting up. Anthoine hopped across it and moved on.






Victoire was unlucky enough to have the first run-in with Peeves. She had been heading up a staircase, one of the few in Hogwarts that had a runner, when suddenly something whipped the carpet out from under her feet and sent her tumbling down the stairs. She landed in a undignified heap at the bottom, wound up in the carpet.

She heard a familiar high-pitched laugh.

“Peeves!” Victoire roared. “Get lost!” She drove her knee into the carpet and shoved out with her elbows.

The little git cackled and started, in a singsong voice, “Snug as a bug in a-”

Bugger that. Victoire blew a hole in the carpet, stuck her wand through it and yelled “Glaceo!” before he could finish gloating.

When she finally crawled out, dust in her hair, thinking about how Cleopatra was actually a bit of an idiot, Peeves was still frozen solid in the wall of ice that now blocked off the corridor behind her. Victoire tapped the ice experimentally.

Peeves’s eyes turned towards her and, with great effort, he made a rude gesture.

Victoire responded in kind and sped off. 






Oksana saw something flicker in the corner of her eye and whirled around, wand raised and ready to blast the… perfectly normal stone wall. Perhaps she was losing her mind.

Was that whispering behind her? No, just a draught. She passed a few classrooms, all empty, and a window which, if it wasn’t lying, showed that she was heading towards the northern part of the castle.

The lack of trouble was starting to make her paranoid, as though somebody was watching her, as though she could already feel . Oksana turned to look behind her and saw nothing, but for a moment staring down the long empty corridor she felt a rush of vertigo that made her knees waver. And that was definitely whispering, tinny, like a badly-tuned radio.

She’d wandered into another illusion spell, Oksana realised, and her stomach twisted, remembering the drop into the Great Hall.  There was more whispering, and faint laughter.

“I can’t understand you!” Oksana shouted. “Speak up!” He voice sounded very small and weak. She decided that was an effect of the illusion.

She stretched out both arms - the corridor was narrow enough that she could touch the fingertips of one hand to one wall and the tip of her wand to the other - closed her eyes, and, testing the floor in front of her carefully before treading on it, marched forward.

She got quite a way down the passageway like that, ignoring the faint chittering-skittering sounds and the distant voices that seemed to be calling her name and the way the stone walls seemed to be moving and plucking at her fingertips. The floor felt like it was shifting under her feet like the deck of a ship. A raucous cackle rang out over her head, and made Oksana jump before she remembered that it wasn’t real.

Then something smashed into her shoulder, dropping her to her knees with a scream. She opened her eyes - the floor was seething with cockroaches, and the walls were twisted into screaming skeletal faces - and looked up.

The Hogwarts poltergeist was floating over her, holding another stone bust and cackling. Oksana raised her wand, with difficulty, the other hand on her shoulder. The poltergeist dropped the bust.

Izgony-” Oksana started, but didn’t get a chance to finish. The bust hit her squarely on the top of her head. She blacked out.






Anthoine turned a corner and saw the Triwizard Cup, haloed with light, on a plinth a hundred feet ahead of him.

For a second he stood there, stunned, and then broke into a run, horribly afraid that another champion would leap out in front of him and grab it. It was at the exact moment that his hand closed around the handle, the floor gave way.

Skoino!”

A thin cord shot from the tip of his wand and wrapped around one of the ceiling beams, just as the floor gave way and suddenly there was nothing under him but two hundred feet of air and the Hogwarts lawns rushing up to meet him. Anthoine clung on, and then there was a jerk that almost shook him off the rope and he found himself dangling in midair, clinging on to the Triwizard trophy. He looked down. There was a hundred feet between him and the ground.

Er. At least he’d won?





The Beauxbatons stands erupted into cheering, as their champion hung onto the Cup and looked around bemusedly, as though he was wondering how to get down.

Al’s dad made an irritated noise. The Durmstrang students and the other Hogwarts houses were practically seething, and Al thought he could hear booing almost drowned out by the applause from the Beauxbatons students. The other Slytherins, however, didn’t seem to care.

“Aren’t we supposed to always win these things? I could have sworn there was a rule,” Lia drawled, leaning back against Grim and shading her eyes against the setting sun.

Al was mostly concerned for Victoire. The castle was rearranging itself back to normal (which the Beauxbatons champion still dangling from the North Tower didn’t seem to enjoy.) Oksana was the first out, blinking dazedly at the sunset light and with one hand pressed against her head, but Victoire didn’t follow her until a few minutes later, after the Beauxbatons champion had managed to get down from his tower. Al thought she looked disappointed, and tired, but as the Beauxbatons champion hurried up with the Cup in one arm she smiled brilliantly and pulled him into a hug.

Professor McGonagall had advanced to the front of the staff box and raised a hand for attention. The Beauxbatons champion and Oksana shook hands, looking like the best of friends, and the three of them headed down to get their marks.

The Beauxbatons champion got full marks for getting the Cup, so that brought him to a hundred and twenty-two. Oksana was next.

Al supposed that even if she had been closer to the Cup than Victoire when she’d been knocked out, it was still pretty bad that she’d been knocked out. Six points from Professor McGonagall and seven from Madame Maxime, and even for the sake of cheating, Kohut didn’t seem able to bring himself to award Oksana full marks. Eight. Then five from Finwick and five from Uncle Percy. Al could see Score totting that up and glanced at him for the total.

“Thirty-one marks, total one hundred and four,” Score said. “Could I borrow your Omnioculars, Potter?”

“No,” Al’s dad said. Al shot him a reproving look and handed them over. Score inspected Oksana, who was talking animatedly to Anthoine as though she didn’t have a care in the world, and his mouth drew down at the corners.

Victoire was last. Seven points from McGonagall, eight from Madame Maxime (who seemed inclined to be generous in victory), three from Professor Kohut (who was evidently a bad loser). Finwick gave her eight points. Uncle Percy was last, and he paused for a long time, eyes closed behind his horn-rimmed spectacles, before he gave his verdict. Six.

Victoire looked up sharply, mouth open.

“What?” Al’s dad exploded. “Six points?”

“Thirty-two marks, total one hundred and four,” Score said. “She’s tied with Oksana.” He handed the Omnioculars back to Al.

“Six bloody points,” said Al’s dad, who seemed a bit hung up on that. “She’s his niece!” 

“Rookwood,” Grim said, in a tone of scientific interest, “what would it be called if a judge gave a champion automatic bonus points for being related to him?”

“Cheating?” Lia guessed.

“Exactly,” Grim said. “So of course he couldn’t do that, because cheating is our thing, and if everyone started doing it, then we would have no point.”

“Yeah, and everyone’d really miss you,” Al’s dad said sourly.

I’d miss us,” Al said, deploying a guilt trip, which made his dad scowl and look down. 

“Why didn’t he give her one more point? We could have beaten Durmstrang, at least.”

“Uncle Percy’s a diplomat, Dad,” Al said, using his Omnioculars to focus in on Victoire’s face. “If he’d given her extra points just to beat Durmstrang all the Russian people would have been annoyed and everyone else would have thought he was being petty. She’s not second this way, but she’s not third either.”  Victoire wasn’t smiling now, not now that Anthoine wasn’t looking. Al scanned the crowds rushing out of the stands to greet the Champions, looking for the red-blue-yellow-green-striped hair Teddy was using today, and spotted him elbowing determinedly towards her, ahead of the rest of the Weasley clan. Good.

Al put his Omnioculars down and turned back to his dad, who was looking at him a bit peculiarly, like he hadn’t ever seen Al before. Oh, dear.

“I suppose it’s a bit disappointing?” Al added.

“Everyone did very well, though,” Kitty said. “And I suppose the important thing is to do your best and make friends with people from other schools, anyway. Maybe we’ll win next time?”

“No, Cook, the important thing is to kill your opponents and win by default,” Grim corrected her.

Al thought about that next time. In five years they’d be starting sixth year, old enough to compete. Al wasn’t very good at duelling, so he wouldn’t do well, but Faith… or, better yet, Score… the trouble would be making sure Score got chosen. Maybe he could ask Faith to start practising Confundus Charms, as soon as his dad was safely out of earshot, unless that would be cheating and morally wrong.

The year hadn’t been so bad. Nobody was going to be holding any We-Love-Slytherin festivals any time soon, but he had a good foundation to work with, and he’d picked up a ally and a girl who would hit anyone who looked at him funny. Things were progressing nicely.




THE END. There, it's finally done. Woo!

Thanks for reading, everyone.

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