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The Asp at Hogwarts



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Old August 12th, 2007, 1:42 pm
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I trusted Severus Snape
 
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The Asp at Hogwarts

Chapter 1

Albus Severus Potter stared out the window of the Hogwarts Express, sucked a licorice wand, and restlessly kicked the seat across from him. He barely jumped when the cold, clammy chocolate frog splatted onto his face.

“Sorry about that, it got away from me,” said Rose. “Will you stop mooning?”

“I’m going to be in Slytherin, I just know it,” he said hollowly. “I dreamed about it every night this week. It’s like a dismal fate hanging over my head.”

“Don’t be melodramatic, Alby” said Rose, examining the card that had come wrapped with the frog. “Oooh, Alastor Moody! Dismal fate, indeed. Once and for all, there’s no way you’re going to be in—“ Rose’s face froze, her eyes locked onto something above Albus’s head.

“Wbat?” he asked.

Rose suddenly turned toward the window and her voice took on the slightly higher pitch she habitually used when she was lying. “Of course you’re not fated to be in Slytherin, don’t be silly.”

“What IS it?” Albus demanded. When she didn’t answer, he rose from his seat and looked where she had stared, at the shelf where his trunk was stored.

Something slithered.

“Snakes!” he said in horror. A small, gold, venomous-looking reptile was embossed on the metal nameplate of his trunk, and twined contentedly among his initials. “There’s snakes on my luggage! Why are there snakes on my luggage?”

“Relax, I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything,” Rose insisted, as Albus dropped down in the empty seat beside her, to continue staring in horror at his trunk. “I’m sure that the witch who monogrammed it just added that for fun. Because of your initials, you know.”

The letters ASP gleamed from the nameplate of his trunk. The little gold snake’s eyes glittered as it put out its tongue at Albus.

Albus moved back to the other side. “I AM going to be in Slytherin!” he wailed.

“You are NOT—“ Rose was interrupted as a group of older students burst through the door of the compartment, scuffling. A dark-haired boy was struggling and shouting as three others shoved him to the wall.

“That’s right, hang on to him! Get the window open, Larken!” shouted a tall, blonde boy with spiked hair. “Are you going to admit it or not?”

“---- off!” shouted the dark boy, using a word Albus had occasionally heard from his Uncle Ron.

“Defenestration, stage one!” sad the blond boy.

With a heave, they shoved their victim out the train window.

Rose screamed. Albus jumped up, his heart in his throat. The boy hung by his knees from the window, nothing of him left inside the train but his feet, ankles and calves, which were being held tightly by his tormentors.

“Say it, Prince!” said the blond boy.

“Bite me!” shouted the boy outside the window.

“Don’t tempt me!” said the blond boy. “Defenestration stage two!” He grabbed an ankle and pulled up, leaving the shouting boy hanging by one knee. Albus desperately tried to think of a way to help, but any interference seemed likely to be more fatal than helpful.

“SAY IT!”

The boy outside shouted something.

“Say it like you MEAN it. Defenestration…Stage Three!” The blond boy seized the other foot and held it up. Rose screamed again, as did the boy outside. All that kept the victim from falling beneath the train wheels now were the hands clutching his ankles.

“You really don’t want to see Defenestration Stage Four, old son…”

“The Bats will win everything this year!” the boy outside screamed. “The Bats are the best! Ballycastle FOREVER!”

“Bring him in,” said the blond boy. With some difficulty, the other boy was pulled back in through the window and was dropped, panting, onto the floor of the train. “There, Prince, was that so hard? You could’ve said it right off, then we wouldn’t have had this ugly little incident.” The blond boy was backing away as he spoke, and when he was finished he ran, followed by his giggling cohorts.

“Are you all-“ Rose began

Ignoring her, the boy jumped to his feet, and shouted, “YOU TOSSERS! YOU COULD HAVE FREAKING KILLED ME!” He charged out of the compartment, after his fleeing aggressors. “AND BALLYCASTLE SUCKS, D’YOU HEAR ME, SUUUUUUUCKS!”

The compartment was silent for a long time, as Albus’s pulse gradually returned to normal.

“There, you see?” Rose finally said. THAT’S the sort of person who gets put in Slytherin. You don’t have a worry in the world.”

“Were they Slytherin?” Albus asked.

“Honestly!” said Rose. “They had Slytherin ties and Slytherin badges! Didn’t you notice anything? You are SO unobservant.”

“Am not!” said Albus. “I noticed that boy’s shoes. I memorized them. I expect I’ll be seeing them in my nightmares.”

After a moment more, Albus stood up and shut the window. And latched it.



“Ere yoo are, the firs’ years!” shouted the skinny, pock-marked man who had brought them to the castle. “Coo, I’m wet through…”

Albus shivered in his own damp cloak.

“Thank you, Mr. Shunpike,” said a tall, dark woman with a slow, drawling voice like silk. She let her gaze slide slowly over the new students, as if she was seeking out someone among them.

“Right stormy it was, crossing the lake,” continued Mr. Shunpike.

“Yes, I’m sure it was. Thank you Mr. Shunpike.”

“But I got ‘em through all right. And I fink the lightning frightened the squid, ‘cause—“

The woman made a sudden slash at the students with her magic wand. Albus gasped with surprise along with the others, before realizing that he was now dry. All the water had been wrenched from his cloak to splatter over—

“Coo!”

“Oh, I am sorry, Mr. Shunpike. You mustn’t stand here in the cold any longer, hurry along to the Great Hall and warm yourself by the fire.”

Mr. Shunpike mumbled something, sneezed, and wandered off, leaving a puddle in his wake.

The woman turned to the students with a mysterious smile. “Welcome to Hogwarts. I am Professor Sylvanus. I congratulate you. You are about to begin your lives as practicing wizards and witches, and you will begin by being sorted into your houses. There are four houses at Hogwarts, each with its own fascinating history and venerable traditions.

“You may find yourself in my house. Slytherin, where dwell the subtle of strategy, the secret of purpose and the lofty of ambition.” Albus shuddered as her gaze seemed to settle on him for a moment. “Or yet you may join Gryffindor, that house of those who charge boldly in where the wise fear to tread. Those of cerebral tastes and intellectual prowess may find a home in Ravenclaw, while those with more…practical natures settle in Hufflepuff.”

“When we arrive in the Great Hall, your names will be called out one by one. You will proceed to the sorting hat and put it on. Once you have been sorted, you will join your house table. Are there any questions? This way, then.”

”Oh, great, they’re going to call out my name in front of everyone,” Albus muttered. Rose took his hand and gave it a nervous squeeze, which didn’t comfort him.

James had gotten the normal names. James Arthur Potter. Nothing wrong with that, now, was there? So what had possessed his parents to name their second child ‘Albus Severus?’ What a clunker. When he was of age, the first thing he’d do was change his name to Mike.

They reached the Great Hall, and the hat sang a song Albus was worrying too much to listen to. Finally, Professor Sylvanus unrolled a scroll. With a wry twist of her mouth, she called out the first name.

“Voldemortine Avery!” A hunched-shouldered girl with what looked like a permanently apologetic expression etched onto her face scuttled forward and donned the sorting hat. Suddenly Albus felt better about his own name.

“Hufflepuff!”

“Albus Basingstoke!” “Ravenclaw!”

That wasn’t so bad…he wasn’t even the only Albus.

The list of names went on and on. There were a few more Albuses and even a Severus or two. “I hate waiting!” Albus Potter whispered fiercely to Rose. “I wish my last name started with an A!”

“I’m a W, so stop whining,” said Rose. “Be glad you’re not an S, then you’d really have problems with your initials.” Albus snorted with laughter, but stopped as Professor Sylvanus languidly fixed her eyes on him. He turned his attention to the hat, which was sorting a boy named Scorpius Malfoy.

“Gryffindor!”

“WHAT?” the boy demanded, his mouth hanging open in an almost theatrical expression of incredulity.

“A balance must be maintained,” said the hat apologetically. “Gryffindor!” The Malfoy walked to the applauding Gryffindor table, his face still twisted in almost horrified bafflement.

Albus felt a slight qualm. Didn’t his father say the hat took your preferences into account? Not by the look on Scorpius Malfoy’s face.

“ALBUS….SEVERUS….POTTER!”

Did she have to read his middle name as well, he wondered. Some of the older teachers were watching him with particular interest. Oh, of course, he thought—he was named after two headmasters. No doubt that made him fascinating to teachers.

He picked up the ragged hat and lowered it over his head, chanting in his mind all the while, “Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor”

There was a moment of silence. Then the hat’s voice seemed to speak in his head. “Have you…considered the benefits of Slytherin?” It sounded nervous, somehow.

“Not Slytherin, not Slytherin, not Slytherin, not Slytherin, not Slytherin, not Slytherin, not Slytherin,” Albus concentrated.

“Um…you do have the ambition and resourcefulness a Slytherin requires,” said the hat hopefully. “Perhaps you’d be willing to give it a chance? It would make things easier for me…”

“Gryffindor,” Albus thought. “Gryffindorgryffindorgryffindorgryffindorgryffindo rgryffindorgryffindorgryffindorgryffindorgryffindo rgryffindor—“

The hat seemed to sigh. “There’s only so far I can bend the rules, even as a favor. One must do what’s right. Very well, then, Gr--mmph!”

“SLYTHERIN!” a voice—not the hat’s voice—rang out.

Albus’s own horror seemed mirrored in the reaction of the teachers. There were gasps of shock. One old woman let a crystal goblet fall, to shatter on the stone floor. The hall seemed to freeze.

Suddenly there was a ragged scream of triumph from the Slytherin table. A boy jumped on to the tabletop and bellowed, “WE’VE GOT A POTTER!!” He began singing, “We’ve gotta Potta! We’ve gotta Potta!” Soon the rest of the Slytherins were chanting along, beating time on the table. The noise snapped the teachers out of their stunned trance, and they huddled together, whispering frantically.

“Go on, dear,” said Professor Sylvanus gently. With shaking hands, Albus removed the hat from his head and shuffled toward the Slytherin table. He dared a brief glance at the Gryffindors—long enough to see James’s stunned expression and Scorpius Malfoy’s jealous indignation—and hurried on. The boy on the tabletop was dancing now, and—good lord—seemed to be removing his clothing. He had already taken off his school robe and tossed it to the rowdy Slytherin mob, and was now undoing his tie.

Albus knew Slytherin was the house of dark wizards and thugs. Nobody had told him about the lunatics.

The teachers seemed to suddenly notice the uproar in the hall. A man—the Headmaster, Albus guessed—pounded on the table with his fist.

“Silence!” he roared. “Silence this minute! Mr. Prince, if you remove one more article of clothing, you will spend the month in detention!” The boy on the table stopped, wide-eyed and hopping, in the middle of pulling off a sock. Then he lost his balance and fell among the empty dishes with a horrific din.

“Let us all remember our manners,” the Headmaster went on. “Retake your seats—all of you! You, too, young Potter! On with the sorting.”

As the next student approached the sorting hat, Albus sat in the nearest empty chair at the Slytherin table. He was between a pudgy boy who seemed half asleep and a pair of girls keeping up a whispered conversation over whether someone he didn’t know ought to dump someone else he didn’t know.

Albus sat, wretched and miserable, as the sorting continued. He watched as Rose was sorted, and she gave him a sad smile as she went to join the cheering Gryffindors.

Finally the last of the new students was sorted. The Headmaster rose to speak, and there were quiet groans from the students.

“Welcome to Hogwarts, newcomers! And for you returning students, welcome back! I am Headmaster Cornelius Fudge. I know you are all hungry, so I will be as brief as possible…”

Albus had thought he was wretched already, but as the Headmaster’s speech droned on and on about the joys of learning, he sank into a misery that knew no bounds. He wanted nothing but to go back home. But he wondered whether they would even want him back.

“You were named after two Hogwarts Headmasters” his father had said. “One of them was in Slytherin, and was probably the bravest man I’ve ever known.”

On the other hand, his father had also claimed that the hat would take his choice into account. What was it the hat had said about only being able to bend the rules so far? Was he just not brave enough to be in Gryffindor? He knew he wasn’t as brave as James. He had always known it.

One time only, he had dared to confess it. It was the day James had sneaked out with Father’s broomstick, crashed into a tree, split his lip and scraped half the skin off his left cheek…and then tried again, and broke both his legs. James had invited Albus to ride along, but he had refused, afraid of getting into trouble. He had felt almost guilty about James being the only one to get hurt.

That night he had whispered his shameful secret to his mother as she kissed him goodnight. “I’m not as brave as James,” he had told her.

“You’re smarter than James,” his mother had answered as she turned off the light. But he knew that he had chickened out, whatever Mum said.

But even so…he frowned. There had been something odd about the hat’s voice, and even the teachers had noticed. Albus looked toward the teacher’s table, and three of them who had been watching him hastily looked away. Albus turned away, watching them through the corner of his eye. Several of them kept sneaking peeks at him. The rest kept sneaking peeks at their watches.

“In conclusion—“ said Headmaster Fudge, and the collective sigh of relief made the tapestries flap.

The dishes on the table magically filled, and the boy next to Albus suddenly woke up and started filling his plate with everything in reach. Albus listlessly helped himself. Hungry as he was, he still didn’t feel like eating.

Suddenly there was a rustle at his shoulder and something poked his neck. Reaching up, he found a paper dart on his shoulder. He unfolded it.

It was a note. It said, “Even if you’re an evil git, you’re still my brother.”

Across the Great Hall, James was grinning at him and giving him a thumbs-up. Choking, Albus forced a smile, trying to hold back his tears, and returned the gesture.

“Push off, Simms, you’re in my spot.” The boy next to Albus was dumped rudely to the floor, and someone else straddled the chair. It was the tabletop stripper. He had his robe and tie slung over one shoulder, and his shoes still in his hand.

Simms swore at the boy and took his plate elsewhere. The boy thumped Albus on the back in what was clearly meant to be a friendly way. It hurt. “Albus Severus Potter,” he said, with special emphasis on the second name. “To think you’re the son of the man who actually saw him die!”

”Huh?” said Albus.

“I’m Albert Prince,” said the boy. “Last scion of the Prince family, and last living relative of the late, great Severus Snape, whose noble name you bear. We second Severuses need to stick together, don’t we?”

“Um,” said Albus. He was totally lost, but this Prince boy seemed thrilled by their meeting.

“Here, hang on—let me look at you,” Prince demanded, seizing Albus by the chin.

“Hey!” Albus protested angrily. Prince held his gaze, staring with a fanatical gleam in his black eyes. Then he released Albus’s chin and shook his head.

“Doesn’t do a thing for me,” he said. “Still it’s all interesting. Come on, you’ve got to see Hero.”

“What?” said Albus, but Prince already had the back of his collar and was dragging him along down the table, only to park him in a chair next to a blond boy with spiked hair.

“Maaaster, I breeng you—POTTA!” said Prince in a squeaky rasp. Then to Albus, normally, “This is Hieronymus Yorick, captain of the Quidditch team. Bow down, lowly peon.”

The blond boy looked up, and Albus recognized him. It was the bully from the train. Suddenly he made a connection—he stared it the shoes in Prince’s hand. They were also familiar.

“You’re the one they threw out the window!” he accused. “On the train, in my compartment!”

“Oh, was that you?” said Prince. “That was just a bit of fun. “

“Just a bit of fun,” Yorick agreed.

“Fun?” said Albus. “Fun?!”

“Here,” said Yorick, passing a sheet of folded paper to Albus.

“What’s this?”

“Quidditch practice schedule. Starts tomorrow morning, and we expect you bright and early on the pitch—five most mornings, and maybe sometimes four if the other teams start doing early mornings—

“But I can’t play Quidditch!” Albus protested. “I can’t even fly yet!”

“Course you can,” said Yorick. “You’re Ginny Potter’s son, aren’t you? Best seeker in England, when she played. And your dad—youngest Hogwarts seeker in a hundred years. You’ll beat that record.”

“I’ve never flown on my own!” Albus protested. “And I’m afraid of heights. And I get broom-sick, even when I’m a passenger!”

“Well get you over that,” said Yorick, with a shark’s grin.

Yeah,” said Prince. “It’ll be fun.”

“It’ll be fun,” Yorick echoed.

“We’re fated to work together,” said Prince, smacking Albus on the shoulder. “You know, Eileen Snape was the sister of—“

“My Dad still talks about the Cannons game where your mum—“ Yorick began at the same time.

“…grandfather on my father’s side—“

“…went into a dive, and Abbot—“

“…grew up reading about all his—“

“…two bludgers collided RIGHT in front of her—“

“…been practicing my Occlumency day and night—“

“…the most egregious foul ever committed in a tournament—“

“…quite a family resemblance, too, or so I’m told—“

At first Albus turned his head from side to side, trying to keep track of both baffling conversations. He quickly gave up, and simply helped himself to some food. He ate as the two older students chattered on in their own little worlds, apparently not concerned by his inattention in the least.

Eventually, they began discussing the recent World Cup between themselves. By the time a prefect came around to take the first years to the dormitory, Prince and Yorick had got past the discussion phase, through the sarcasm era, and were now beyond the name-calling stage and well into the insult-shouting event. They barely paused to acknowledge Albus when he wished them a good night, and he left, more ready for sleep than any time he remembered in his life.

----------------------------------


Feedback Here, please!

May be seeking a co-author on this! If you're REALLY good, and interested in writing the student-daily-life parts of the story, let me know in the feedback thread...



Last edited by Inkwolf; August 12th, 2007 at 5:59 pm.
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  #2  
Old August 13th, 2007, 2:41 am
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Inkwolf  Undisclosed.gif Inkwolf is offline
I trusted Severus Snape
 
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Location: Wisconsin
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts

Chapter 2

Albus dreamed he was in a land of chilling mist. As he walked, struggling to find some landmark he recognized, his feet grew colder and colder. Finally he looked down to see what he was walking on.

It was a mass of snakes. White snakes, formed of snow, with eyes and fangs of crystal ice. Albus gasped, and tried to leap back, but there was no snake-free place to leap to. His foot slipped from under him and he fell, slowly, to land in the cold, coiled masses.

Albus leaped out of bed with a shout. He hopped from one foot to another, feeling pins and needles as the circulation came back. His feet were nearly frozen!

“I wondered how long it would take to wake you,” a voice sounded in the darkness. “I think there must be some sloth in your family bloodline, Potter.”

Albus looked around hastily. All the other Slytherin first years seemed to be sleeping soundly. And the voice had been a man’s voice, in any case.

“Who’s there?” Albus demanded.

“Open your eyes, Potter,” The voice was heavy with disdain. Albus looked around the room again, but saw nobody. Something moved suddenly out of the moonlight toward him. Albus yelped and leaped back, and the figure stopped.

“You’re a ghost,” Albus gasped. The figure of a man crossed its arms across its chest and looked down at him with a faint sneer. The ghost was black-clad, with black hair hanging in lank curtains to nearly cover its face. In the darkness, only its hands and face shone silver, a faint glow around its outline being all that distinguished the rest of its form from the night.

“How long are you going to stand there cowering like a frightened rat?” the ghost asked.

“I’m not cowering!” Albus protested, wishing his voice hadn’t squeaked on the high note. “I’m not afraid of ghosts!” It was a lie. The ghost smirked.

“No?”

“No!” said Albus firmly. “Ghosts are just souls that didn’t have the guts to move on!”

“Souls with guts. What a lovely picture you paint,” said the ghost. “Where did you pick up that little gem of wisdom?”

“My father told me,” said Albus defiantly.

“And of course, your father is ALWAYS right, is he not?”

Albus remembered the sorting hat and bit his lip. Then his eyes widened. “YOU!” he shouted. “It was YOU who put me in Slytherin! That was YOUR voice!”

The ghost smirked again.

With a shout of rage, Albus hurled his pillow at the spirit. It went right through, leaving the ghost unruffled.

“If you wish to wake the entire dormitory, by all means carry on shouting,” said the ghost. “It will only make your task more difficult.”

“What task?” Albus growled. “You put me in Slytherin, you…you…FEWMET!”

“There is one task that must be performed before I can be completely at peace,” said the ghost. “You are the one who will carry it out.”

“Fat chance,” said Albus. “You can roll over in your grave for eternity, for all I’m going to help you.”

“Come here,” said the ghost sharply. “Look at me.” It was an order, clearly not to be disobeyed. Though Albus felt its authority, he resisted, reluctant to make eye contact. The ghost touched his face, and Albus flinched away from the cold. His gaze met that of the ghost, and he was transfixed, the dark holes boring into his eyes and seeming to penetrate his mind and soul. Albus stood paralyzed in the force of that stare.

The ghost looked away and Albus broke free, falling to the floor and gasping for breath. He felt a coldness inside him, as if the gaze had been a physical touch.

“You are the one,” the ghost said in a tightly controlled voice, continuing to look away. “This is your task to complete and you must be the one to do it. You are, in a sense…the chosen one”

“This is…this is ridiculous,” Albus complained. “What task?” The sooner he knew what it was, the sooner he could start getting out of it.

The ghost’s distant gaze focused on him again. “Are you hungry?” it asked suddenly.

“Am I--what? No!”

“You’re lying,” said the ghost. “Boys your age are always hungry. Go to the kitchen and get yourself a snack.”

“A snack?” Albus was completely baffled now. “This is the task you need me to do before you can rest? Me getting a snack?”

“Think of it as a training exercise and do as you’re told,” said the ghost.

“Forget it,” said Albus. “It’s probably against the rules. I know it’s against the rules to be out of the dormitory at night, anyway.”

“Against the rules?” Another smirk seemed to be tugging at the ghost’s lip. “Are you…entirely sure you’re not adopted?”

“And I have no idea where the kitchen is, anyway!”

“How sad it is when generations fail,” said the ghost. “His parents can find a tiny snitch in acres of sky. His father found the horcruxes cleverly hidden by the most fiendish dark wizard in history. And yet the son claims to be incapable of finding a kitchen large enough to feed a thousand students within a single building. Are you really content to be the weak link in a famous family forever?”

With another shout of rage, Albus hurled a shoe through the smirking ghost.

“Good. I know a way for you to prove once and for all that you’re not to be underestimated. Go, now. You have your mission.”

“Fine,” Albus shouted. “It’s stupid, BUT WHY NOT?” he stomped to the dormitory exit. Then he stopped and looked back. “Who are you, anyway?” he demanded.

There was no answer. The ghost was gone.

Albus considered going back to bed, but he was too angry to sleep now, anyway.. He slipped through the common room, the moonlight sending an eerie, rippling glow through the lake waters, and into the corridor.

“Right,” thought Albus.. “The kitchen is probably on the main floor or the lowest level. And it’s likely that it’s right near the Great Hall, so let’s start there….” He slipped back the way he had come from the feast, the slapping of his bare feet on the flagstones echoing in the empty halls. At one point he heard tuneless whistling, and had to hide behind a suit of armor while Mr. Shunpike cheerfully swept the corridor with a utility broom.

As he neared the great hall, Albus could hear voices in heated discussion. They grew suddenly louder, and he barely had time to dodge behind a statue before the door burst open and the headmaster charged out. The old woman who had dropped the goblet was with him, and they were followed by a tiny professor with white hair sticking up in all directions.

“—have no time for these sort of ridiculous fancies, Minerva,” Headmaster Fudge was saying. “We are all surprised that the boy was put in Slytherin, but bad apples can come from the best of trees.”

“But I KNOW his voice!” the old woman insisted. “Cornelius, for heaven’s sake, I worked with him for nearly seventeen years! I am not imagining things! Just let me speak with the portrait—“

“Yes!” gasped the tiny man, who was struggling too hard to keep up with the Headmaster’s swift stride to contribute more.

The headmaster stopped and barked with laughter. “Speak with it?” he said. “You’re welcome to try, my dear. He’s almost never in it. So much for dedication to the school. He’s got another portrait somewhere, and I can guess who’s got it.” Fudge leaned forward. “Potter!” he shouted, and Albus jumped.

“Cornelius, what are you--”

“Potter insisted that portrait be hung! Potter paid to have it painted and donated it! It was Potter’s wish all along that it hang with the other old headmasters. And why?” He gestured dramatically. “To have a spy in the Headmaster’s office, that’s why!”

“That’s ludicrous!” gasped the little man, who had finally caught his breath enough to speak.

“Ludicrous, is it?” Fudge marched furiously down the corridor again, the teachers in his wake. “It’s not like he never spied for Potter before! I tell you, Potter’s getting too old to run around after Dark wizards, and he wants to retire to a cushy desk job. Well, if he thinks for a moment that he’s going to step into MINE—“

Albus stared after the Headmaster, trying to make sense of what he had heard. He had the infuriating feeling that he had all the pieces of the puzzle in his head, but it remained a messy, unsolved jigsaw and he had no clue how to put it together.

He heard more teachers’ voices approaching, and he ran. Turning a corner suddenly, he tumbled down a flight of stairs, and picked himself up painfully at the bottom. He was about to head back to the Slytherin dormitory when the aroma of food hit his nostrils. He followed the odors of roasted meats and steaming porridge to the place where it seemed the strongest. There was no door, but a painting hung on the wall.

“That’s odd,” Albus thought as he looked at it. It took him a while to realize why it struck him as odd, though.

Every painting he had seen in the castle that night was a portrait of some sort or other. Painted witches and wizards, balls and hunts and battles—all contained peacefully sleeping people or creatures. This painting was nothing but a bowl of fruit.

Albus poked at it. To his surprise, the pear made an ‘eep’ of surprise and wiggled. He poked it several times more and the pear chortled and shook—then suddenly a door opened. With a rush of pleased satisfaction, Albus found himself gazing into a huge kitchen. Vast cauldrons of porridge bubbled over an enormous fire, and surprised house elves turned to look at him.

“I’m feeling a bit peckish,” Albus announced.





It was a pleasanter dream than the last one. Albus dreamed that he was lying in bed, half a sticky bun still clutched in his fist, when the bed suddenly rose and hovered.

“I’m floating!” he thought happily in his dream.

Then there was a jarring crash as he hit the stone floor and woke up. The battered four-poster bed lay around him, where it had been tossed on its side. Sleepy first-years rubbed their eyes and looked on.

“Wakey wakey, moppet!” Prince called cheerfully. “Did you forget Quidditch practice?

“Best get your petticoats on fast, Nellie, or we’ll make you fly starkers,” said Yorick.

As Albus hastily dressed, Prince scooped up the remains of the bun. “Someone’s been to the kitchens,” he observed. “No breakkffft tll aftfter practiff,” he added with his mouth full. Yorick clouted him on the back of the head. And ate the rest of the bun.

A pack of annoyed-looking Slytherins were standing on the pitch.

“I could have slept for fifteen more minutes,” grumbled a stocky girl.

“Lord knows you need your beauty rest, Goyle,” said Prince. “Soooo badly.”

“Right, that’s enough,” said Yorick, stepping between the two. “You know the drills. You could have started without us. Prince and I are going to be training the new Seeker anyway, so get your lazy brooms up there and work!”

Yorick turned to Albus as the other Slytherins kicked off the ground. “Goyle is our keeper, Lanister and I are beaters, and Prince, Larken and Nott are our chasers. You know the rules of Quidditch?”

“Yeah,” said Albus.

“Rules? There are rules?” said Prince in a panicky voice.

“First rule around here is to ignore Prince when he’s being a colossal prat. That’s nearly always.”

“I’m wounded, Hero.”

“Mortally, I hope. You have a broom, Potter?”

“First years aren’t—

“At home, I mean. One you can send for.” Albus shook his head. “Well, get on your parents and ask them to buy you one. Tell them you’ve been made seeker. I’m sure they’ll be pleased.”

Albus had a sudden urge to laugh. “I’m not sure they’ll do anything to help Slytherin win at Quidditch,” he said.

“Well, try,” said Yorick. “And if all else fails…steal your brother’s broom. For today you’ll be on Prince’s Kestrel. I’d lend you mine, but it’s a Thundershock. You’d be a grease spot on a tree in the Forbidden Forest before you figured out how to stop.”


Albus’s stomach twisted into a knot as he remembered he was expected to fly. He hadn’t been kidding about his fear of heights and broom-sickness. Prince returned with a highly polished broomstick and handed it to Albus.

“I really think I should wait until I’ve had broomstick riding lessons,” he said.

“Rubbish, you don’t need lessons. We’ll teach you,” said Yorick. He scratched his head. “How did we begin, do you remember, Prince?”

“Trying to get the broom to come up into your hand, wasn’t it?” said Prince. He lay the broomstick on the ground. “Right, now stick out your hand and call the broomstick up into it.”

“Up!” ordered Albus, willing with all his heart for the broom to stay on the grass.

The broom didn’t move.

“Mmf,” said Yorick.

“Hum,” said Prince. “Try again.”

More confidently this time, Albus called, “UP!” The broom stayed just where he wanted it. Repeated trials continued to provide the same excellent result.

“I guess I’m just not ready to fly,” Albus said, his heart light.

“I think…” said Yorick slowly, “what you need is a little head start to get you going. Prince, hold that broom for him.” Prince held out his hand, and the Kestrel leaped into it as if it had only been waiting for the chance. “Now, hold it in a hover there, while Potter gets on it.”

“It won’t work,” Albus muttered nervously as he mounted the floating broom. He hovered, too, his feet inches off the ground. Slowly, Prince moved the broom to shoulder height.

“Are you ready?” asked Yorick.

“No!” Albus answered.

“Hang on!” said Yorick.

“Think flighty thoughts!” said Prince.

“Ready? Go!” Prince released the broom, and Albus dropped like a stone the short distance to the ground.

“Mmf,” said Yorick.

“Hum,” said Prince. “You’re not a closet squib or something, are you?”

“No!”

“Maybe a little impetus will help,” said Yorick.

“What, you mean run with him a bit?”

“Exactly.”

Soon they had Albus on the hovering broomstick again. “Now this time we’re going to run with you a way before letting go,” said Yorick. “You try to keep it going, okay?”

“That’s all right guys, I really—“ said Albus, but they were already thundering across the pitch like a runaway coach. Then there was a sickening sense of weightlessness as Yorick and Prince stopped, hurling him forward like a huge paper dart.

For a moment the momentum kept him moving. Then his feet hit the ground and his head followed suit, Yorick and Prince stood panting behind him as he brushed divots off his body.

“Nice furrow you made,” said Yorick. “I think you almost had it that time. Let’s try it again.”

They tried four more times, and four more times Albus plowed the pitch with his face.

“Maybe we’re not going fast enough?” Yorick suggested.

“Ooh! Get your Thundershock,” suggested Prince. Above his protests, Albus soon found himself seated on the broomstick once more. Beside him, holding his broom in the air, Yorick was mounted on his own broom. It was a sleek, black thing with purple lightning bolts crackling across its smooth finish.

“Are you ready?” Yorick said. Albus didn’t even bother to say no this time, he just fixed a white-knuckled grip on the Kestrel.

Yorick started, slowly around the pitch. It reminded Albus of a muggle carnival ride he had enjoyed when he was younger. Gradually, Yorick increased the speed until they were moving at a terrifying rate, the wind whistling in his ears.

Albus couldn’t hear, but he saw Yorick shouting something. He thought it was a warning that Yorick was going to let go. Then he realized that Yorick had already let go.

He was flying!

Albus had never been so terrified in his life, but he WAS flying! The nose of the broom dipped lightly, and Albus willed it back up—he had no desire to hit the turf at this speed. In the center of the pitch, he saw Prince jumping and cheering.

At the far end of the pitch, he saw the stands approaching at dizzying speed.

Albus tried to will the broom to turn. He tried leaning to the side, and it turned, but not enough. He leaned further—and the broom flipped over, leaving him hanging from its underside.

His head hit first, snapping his neck back and wrenching his arms and legs free of the broomstick. He bounced and tumbled helplessly end over end until he hit the stands with a sickening crunch.

Yorick landed beside him as Albus struggled to his feet, collapsed to his knees, and vomited everything that was in his stomach.

“That’s why we don’t eat breakfast before practice,” said Yorick helpfully. All right, Potter?”

“I flew,” Albus croaked.

“You did that all right.”

“Is he still in one piece?” Prince came running up.

“Yeah,” said Yorick. “I’m not sure whether to quit now or do the getting back on the horse thing.”

“Well, using the Thundershock is a bit much after all, I think,” said Prince. “Next time he might not be so clever about stopping in time. High speeds are maybe a little too…” He waggled his hand in the air.

Yorick nodded. “Let’s pack it in for the day, then.”

They were passing the stairs to the observation stands when Prince froze and clutched his head. “Here!” he shouted. “I know what we’ve been doing wrong! Come on!” He charged up the steps. Albus and Yorick followed. “It’s like swimming!” Prince was shouting. “You throw them in at the deep end! Because if their feet can touch, they’ll never swim! Right?”

“What?” said Yorick.

“I didn’t learn to swim like that!” said Albus, horrified at the idea and even more at the implication. “Did you learn to swim like that?”

Prince stopped on the stairs and spun to face him. “No,” he said. There was a tension in his face, as if his intellect was fighting a terrible war with his enthusiasm. It cleared up suddenly.

“Eagles!” he shouted, and charged back up the steps.

“Eagles!” Yorick repeated excitedly. Apparently he had caught on.
Albus followed them up the stair, baffled, until they reached the stands.

“Eagles don’t get taken down to the ground and kicked back up,” Prince was shouting. “Their mum kicks them off a cliff or a tree branch, the higher the better! You see? Speed’s not the answer. We didn’t start high enough!”

“You’re cracked,” said Albus. He looked over the edge to the ground below. Far below

“Come on, come on!” Prince’s face was agonized. “I KNOW it will work, moppet! You flew, you really flew! You’ll fly again! This is the breakthrough!”

“We won’t make you do it if you’re not willing,” said Yorick, but Albus could see his face burning with the same excitement as Prince’s.”

Albus Potter took a firm grip on Prince’s broomstick, stepped up the the edge of the stands, swallowed, and said, “All right, then.”

Once more, Prince held the broom in a hovering pattern as Albus sat on it. “I flew,” he thought. “I can fly again!” His body was tense with real excitement, buried beneath the sheer terror.

“Are you ready?” Yorick asked again.

For the first time, Albus squeaked, “I’m ready!”

“All right, then. One…two…THREE!” Prince and Yorick hurled the broomstick into space.

Albus Potter dropped like a rock.

Consistently less far below than it was the moment before, the ground swelled up to engulf him, and with a panicked burst of will, Albus managed to pull the broomstick into a climb, his toes scraping on the grass. Yelling, he headed straight into the sun, and into the midst of the practicing Quidditch team. He bounced off a chaser, tumbled over a beater, and met a bludger head-on. After that, the events took on a slow, dreamlike quality. His hands had released their grip at the impact, and he saw them clawing desperately at the air for the Kestrel, finally catching hold of something. He saw a broomstick spinning away below him. He saw his hand slip from its grip on the goal ring just as Yorick flew up to snatch at his robes. He saw his sleeve tear away and Yorick’s shout of horror. And he saw the ground silently rushing up to smack him in the face.



“We oughtn’t to move him.”
“We already moved him. We rolled him over.”

Albus was in a strange, bright, blurry place. Dark shapes bent over him.

“His eyes opened. I think he’s alive.” A finger poked Albus in the ribs. “Are you alive, moppet?”
“Ouch,” Albus managed to say.
“He’s alive, see?”
“For now. Hey, Potter, can you walk, d’you think?”
“We ought to get someone.”
“Yeah, right. Do you have any idea how much trouble we’d be in?”
“It was your idea.”
“Won’t stop them from suspending the whole team.”
“Here, Potter—where’s it hurt?”
“Everywhere.”
“We should get a teacher.”
“Nah, he’ll be fine. Just got the wind knocked out of ‘im.”

With an effort, Albus sat up. It felt terrible. He retched, but he had nothing left to come up. “I’ve got to stop letting people talk me into things,” was the first conscious thought he had, apart from “Ouch.”

“There, you see? He’s fine. Looking bright as a button.”
“We should get a teacher.”

“No,” Albus croaked. “I’m okay.” He staggered to his feet and swayed dizzily.

“Right. Prince, you get him to the hospital wing.”
Prince gently took his arm. “Come along, then. Let’s take a little walk for our health, eh?”

Albus shuffled slowly, trying to identify any body parts that didn’t hurt. When they were out of earshot of the others, Prince bent over him and said, “There’s a thing I’ve got to say …just between us, now…”

“S’all right,” Albus mumbled.

“No, no, hear me out. Now, I know you’re in Slytherin and are therefore an ambitious rascal. And I know how hard it is to be patient when you’re young. But Hero and I have discussed this at length, and we are in full agreement.”

Prince looked down his nose sternly at Albus. “I’m sorry, Potter, but we must insist that you take flying lessons before we can allow you to play with the Quidditch team again.


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  #3  
Old August 14th, 2007, 8:40 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

Chapter 3

“Come on. Wake up, now, ducks…”

Albus opened his eyes and rubbed them sleepily. Then he sat up. He was still in the hospital wing. “How long was I asleep?”

“All day and all night, poor thing.” said Nurse Bannock. “You must have been exhausted! It’s tomorrow, and if you don’t get a wiggle on, you’ll miss breakfast.”

“And don’t let those louts bully you into doing anything ELSE daft!” she shouted after him as Albus hurried toward the Great Hall.

Albus felt wonderful. He didn’t seem to have so much as a scratch or bruise from yesterday’s horrific injuries, and his sleep had been thankfully untroubled by ghosts or early-rising Quidditch captains. His recurring nightmares about falling from an enormous height had changed—instead of waking in terror just before the impact, he had slept on through an exhilarating swoop and climb…and though he frequently found himself hurtling toward walls at breakneck speed, he had a wonderful new sense of control in his dream, and managed every time to veer away from danger. It was as if his actual fall had destroyed his life-long fear of falling.

He arrived at the Great Hall and was just turning toward the Slytherin table when a hand seized his shoulder.

“THERE you are!” James said. “I was just coming down to the hospital wing again—we’ve been worried sick!” He pushed Albus along toward the Gryffindor table. “We all came to see you when we heard, but that Nurse Bannock said you were asleep and needed the rest.”

“Oh, Albus!” Rose jumped up from the table and threw her arms around his neck. “Are you all right?”

“They wouldn’t even tell us what happened,” Victoire complained. “They only said it was an accident! Merde!” She kissed Albus on the forehead. “I’ve got to finish a paper before class, but I’m so glad you’re all right! Don’t you dare do…whatever it was again!” Albus watched her hurry away.

“Anyway, I’ve got good news and bad news,” said James, sitting down after Albus. “The bad news is, I tried to get you out of flying lessons, bur Professor Trilby wouldn’t hear of it. I even told him that you’re afraid of heights and said that you throw up if you even have to stand on a chair—“

“You didn’t!” Albus objected with horror.

“But the GOOD news is this—“ James looked around, then whispered, “Professor McGonagall thinks the sorting hat was tampered with! She thinks that somehow, you got swapped for that Malfoy tick.”

“Scorpius isn’t so bad,” Rose objected, turning pink.

“He is. But the point is, she may manage to get you swapped back,” James continued. “So don’t work too hard at making friends out of THAT lot.”

The part of Albus that he had been for the last eleven years heaved a sigh of relief.

The two-day-old part of him which had been the center of attention for mysterious ghosts and Quidditch players, who had been called the Chosen One, and who had flown, TWICE, didn’t care much for James’s tone.

“I’ve already GOT friends,” he said shortly.

“Already?” said James, looking surprised. “You? Wow. I’m impressed that you’ve even spoken to anyone yet, mousy-pants. Good for you! So, who are your friends? That ugly mug with the twitching eye? That girl with the hair like a weed patch? The Slytherin first-years look like such a jolly bunch.” He grinned.

“Hero Yorick, the Quidditch captain, and Albert Prince,” said Albus. “Do you know them?”

“Know them?” James said with horror. “KNOW them? EVERYBODY knows them! Hieronymus Yorick would do ANYTHING to win a Quidditch game! And that Prince bloke would just…just do ANYTHING.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Albus said hotly.

“It’s—listen, you have no idea the sort of stuff he gets up to. And gets away with, too,” James said bitterly. “Just because he’s supposed to be so clever and tutors the first-years, and sucks up to the teachers so hard it’s disgusting to watch—“

“He does not!” Albus protested, wondering if it were true.

“Let me tell you what he did last year,” James said. “There was a group of—“

“My ears are burning, is someone talking about me?” Albert Prince dropped into Victoire’s empty chair. “Hallo, Potter-the-eldest. Studied your charms over the summer, or will we be struggling to stop you failing again this year?”

James scowled, “If you don’t mind, I’m trying to warn my little brother about bad influences,” he said.

“Too late, we’ve met,” Prince grinned. “How d’you think he wound up in hospital? Your brother’s going to be Slytherin’s new Seeker. He flies with a wonderful wild abandon. And unfortunately lands that way, too.”

“So there,” Albus muttered at James’s disbelieving stare.

“Will you be trying out for the Gryffindor team again this year, Potter-the-eldest?” Prince asked, filching a sausage off James’s plate. “Because I overheard Oldham commenting on your form, and I’m afraid it wasn’t at all flattering…”

James stood, and with a dark look at Albus, wordlessly left the table. Albus squirmed unhappily as Prince turned to Rose. “Will you introduce me to your girlfriend, Potter? Looks like someone beat her with a freckle stick.”

Rose turned red and picked up her plate. “Talk to you later, Albus,” she said. When your FRIEND isn’t around.”

“Rose--,” he called, but she was already moving down the table to sit next to Scorpius Malfoy, who was gazing in horror at a large, red envelope. Owls were beginning to drift into the hall, delivering the morning mail.

“You oughtn’t to have said that,” said Albus. “She’s sensitive about her freckles.”

“Evidently,” Prince chuckled. “By the way, it’s good to see that the Royal Gryffindors get fed the same slop as the rest of us. I do believe old Fudge has been embezzling more of the cafeteria funds every year since—“

A man’s loud voice echoed through the hall.

“Gryffindor?” Scorpius Malfoy and everyone near him clapped their hands over their ears as the voice continued repeating the single word, ever louder. “Gryffindor?! Gryffindor??!! GRYFFINDOR????!!!! G-R-Y-F-F-Y-N-D-O-R-????” The envelope exploded with a final roar of rage.

“That reminds me,” said Prince. “Have you written home yet?”

“Yesterday, from the hospital wing,” Albus said nervously.

There was a thump as a large package hit the table in front of him.

“That was quick,” said Prince. “It’s broom-shaped, too. Time to see how much your parents love you.”

As Prince unwrapped the parcel, Albus read the attached letter.

Dear Albus,

Congratulations on your sorting! I’m sure you will be a credit to Slytherin, and we’re glad you don’t find it as bad as you feared, and that you are making new friends.

I hope you will not look on this as a hand-me-down. We are delighted that you are finally flying, and your father would be honored if you were to use this broom in your Quidditch games.

We love you, Albus, and are sure you will continue to make us proud and try to do the right thing.

Love,

Mum and Dad

“Heavens to Elizabeth,” said Prince. “It’s a vintage Firebolt! From back in the days when they were actually good! You can’t use this for Quidditch.”

“Why not?” Abus demanded. The familiar gleaming broomstick which had been mounted in the case over the living room couch for as long as he could remember was now resting in Prince’s hands.

“Because I’ve seen the way you fly,” said Prince. “You’ll scratch it or break it or something. You can’t have any idea how immensely valuable this is. Especially if it happens to be the same model year as the one Harry Potter used to—“ Prince’s eyes widened suddenly. “Oh,” he said.

“My father wants me to fly on THAT broomstick.,” said Albus.

“On your head be it,” said Prince. “Try not to break it into TOO many bits. Is that Scorpius Malfoy? I need to talk to him, too. Shame he wasn’t in Slytherin. You know, his grandfather was a friend of—“

“Can I have my broomstick, please?” said Albus.

“Oh,” said Prince. “I remember what I came to say. Your old Uncle Albert has a bit of advice for you, my boy. You spent all of the opening feast and the morning after swanking about with the Quidditch team—“

“Swanking?!”

“—and the day and night after malingering in hospital—“

“But—“

“—and no sooner do you return than you make a beeline to sit with the Gryffindors.”

“They’re my family!” said Albus angrily.

“And you have my very deepest sympathy,” said Prince. “But my point is, you haven’t spoken a word to the other Slytherin first-years yet. They’re likely to start thinking you’re a little too good for them if this goes on, if you catch my meaning. You need to spend some time bonding with your littermates, moppet.”

Prince had a point. Albus looked over at the Slytherin table. The first-years were huddled together, talking. A couple of them looked in his direction with curious, not-entirely-friendly expressions.

“Right,” sad Albus He stood up and took hold of the Firebolt. Prince did not release it.

“No brooms for first-years, remember?” he said. “After the start you’ve made, you don’t dare wave THIS under their noses. I’ll put it somewhere safe until you need it. Off with you, then.”

Reluctantly, Albus walked to the Slytherin table and sat down, spilling someone’s pumpkin juice all over himself as Prince sat beside Malfoy and started a conversation.

Hello, sorry,” he said nervously. “I’m Albus Potter.”



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Last edited by Inkwolf; August 14th, 2007 at 8:49 pm.
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Old August 19th, 2007, 9:30 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts


Chapter 4

“You again!” Albus yawned. A couple of ghost-free nights, and he had almost forgotten the mysterious specter that had haunted him his first night. By now, of course, he had met the Bloody Baron, Peeves, and enough other spirits to make the apparition before him nominally less frightening.

“Yes, me again.” The ghost answered. “Have you forgotten that you have a mission to perform? Have you forgotten that you are The Chosen One? Surely, if heredity is any factor, you’ve been swaggering around the halls of Hogwarts with a head so swollen with self-importance that you have difficulty keeping your balance.”

“Do you know, I don’t much care for your tone,” said Albus. “If you continue to bother me, I’ll call for the Bloody Baron, and have you seen to.”

“Will you?” The ghost smirked. “I suppose I ought to be trembling in horror? Why don’t you give the Baron a call, then, my young Slytherin, and we’ll see whose side he takes.”

As the ghost spoke, he moved toward the bed threateningly, and Albus rolled out of it in a panic. Drat. The threat had worked on Peeves!

“All, right, then, I’m up,” he said hastily. “What am I supposed to have been chosen for?”

The ghost looked down at him contemptuously, black cloak billowing in some ghostly wind. “You are not yet strong enough for your true quest. I will give you another task. Do you know where the greenhouses are?”

“Of course. Professor Longbottom showed us all of them in Herbology yesterday.”

“Very well, you are to--” the ghost stopped suddenly. “WHAT did you say?”

“I-I know where the greenhouses are.”

“No, about Professor…”

“Professor Longbottom?”

“Professor Longbottom? As in Longbottom? As in Professor? As in, in fact, PROFESSOR LONGBOTTOM?”

“Yes,” said Albus nervously. “Why?”

“Well, it’s the sort of thing one must expect with Cornelius Fudge in charge, I imagine,” said the ghost sourly. “At any rate, you are to fetch one leaf from the Venomous Tentacula. Bring it back here, and no excuses. Be off with you.” The ghost vanished, with a final murmur of “PROFESSOR Longbottom, indeed.”

Albus shuddered. He really didn’t feel up to another midnight foray into the castle, but he pulled out his herbology book and looked up the Venomous Tentacula. There was no point in arriving at the greenhouses only to realize he had no idea what the plant in question looked like.

After a quick study, he slipped into out of the dormitory and back into the maze of corridors that led from Slytherin House. The moon was bright tonight, and cast a weird glow through various windows, making the shadows stand out starkly. There were no whistling custodians or arguing teachers to interrupt his thoughts as Albus made his way to the greenhouses.

“I am the chosen one,” he reminded himself as he crept past a particularly ugly gargoyle. It gave him a bit of extra courage. After all, it’s better to be a Chosen One, even if you don’t have a clue for what you’ve been chosen, than to just be James Potter’s lily-livered little brother.

He reached the greenhouses at last, and stood for a moment trying to decide which one the Venomous Tentacula might be in.

“Safest one first,” he finally decided. After all, how stupid would he feel if he walked away stuck full of spines and half-strangled by bindweed, only to learn that the Tentacula had been among the cabbage hybrids in Greenhouse One?

He had not realized how dark the greenhouse would be at night. The moon shone in from above, it was true, but the plants themselves blended into a dark tangle of leaves. Albus pulled out his willow wand, hoping he could manage the light spell.

“Lumos!” Albus waved his wand, but only a flicker appeared at the end of it, and then it died. “Lumos! LUMOS!” Finally a decent glow formed, and Albus gazed at his glowing wand with a happy sense of accomplishment. It was the first time he had actually cast a spell for a practical purpose.

“Albus Potter! Is that you?”

Albus jumped as Professor Longbottom stepped from around a stack of huge pots, pulling on a pair of gardening gloves.

“What are you doing here at this time of night, Albus?” Professor Longbottom asked.

“I…um…Mum and Dad said to give you their love,” Albus gasped.

“At midnight in the greenhouses?” He laughed. “Albus, you really ought not to be out of the dormitory during the night. There are dangers at Hogwarts you don’t understand yet and your parents want you to be safe.”

“My parents want me to be brave,” said Albus.

“Well,” said Professor Longbottom, “Let’s say then that your parents are counting on you to survive school. Now, I don’t know what it’s all about, and I’m not going to ask. But since you’re here, I am going to put you to work. You can consider it your detention for being out of bounds. Come with me.”

Albus followed Professor Longbottom down the rows of sleeping plants. They stopped before an enormous pot. A network of fleshy cactus stalks covered it, and glowing flowers gleamed from every inch of it.

“This is the Glowing Cereus,” said Professor Longbottom. “It blooms only once every fifty years, and always under a full moon. They are very useful in potion making. The blossoms must be harvested after they ripen and drop from the stalk, but before their glow dims.“ He handed Albus a glass jar. “These jars will preserve their magical qualities, but once you’ve got them, you must be careful not to let them out.

“Let them out?” Albus asked. “But—“

“There goes one now!” Professor Longbottom shouted. “After it!” One of the glowing flowers had dropped from the branch, but before it hit the ground, it fluttered its petals and flew away over the cactus toward the bubotuber seedlings. Albus dodged under the table, jumped over a sack of manure, tripped on a spade, and finally dove and snatched the blossom out of the air just as it seemed about to settle on an old trowel. He popped it into the jar, but it fell, lifeless, to the bottom.

“I was too late, I think,” he called to Professor Longbottom. “It’s stopped glowing.”

“Hurry, there are more!” Professor Longbottom called urgently. Blossoms were fluttering away by the handfuls, now, and Albus grabbed at them and stuffed them into his jar as rapidly as he could. Each time he tossed one in, the others already in the jar tried to sneak out.

“I ought to have thought of nets!” Professor Longbottom called, but Albus was too busy to answer, as he continued to stalk the elusive flowers.

At last Albus scooped up the last glowing flower and returned to the Cereus pot. Professor Longbottom had four jars filled with the quivering glowing flowers. Albus had not quite managed to fill one. There was a generous pile of dead blooms on the bottom of his jar, and the live ones had a crumpled, battered look to them.

“I didn’t do much good,” he apologized.

“Rubbish, that’s one more jar than I’d have managed to gather by myself,” said Professor Longbottom. “And once you’ve learned a few more charms, you’ll be as accomplished a cereus-chaser as I am. Good work!” He put the jars into a canvas bag and slung it over his shoulder. “And now we ought to see to getting you back to your dormitory.”

“Oh!” said Albus, remembering his mission. “I have to get…I mean…well, could I please have a Venomous Tentacula leaf?”

“A tentacula leaf?” said Professor Longbottom, puzzled. “What on earth for? They don’t have any use that I know of.”

“Well, it’s just…I’ve got to get one,” Albus finished. He wasn’t sure why, but he had no intention of telling anyone that a ghost was sending him out on midnight romps.

“Some sort of student dare?” Professor Longbottom asked.

Albus nodded. “Sort of.”

Professor Longbottom sighed. “Very well, follow me. And keep well back. It’s snappish when it first wakes up.”

Professor Longbottom led Albus into the next greenhouse over and stopped before a towering viny plant in the corner. Snoring noises came from hundreds of toothy, muzzle-shaped blooms. Professor Longbottom held a finger to his lips for silence, took hold of a single leaf, and snapped it off, leaping backwards and dragging Albus with him.

The plant awoke with a startled yelp, and vines thrashed as the snarling, snapping little flowers tried to reach them.

“Don’t worry,” said Professor Longbottom. “The pot is fixed there with a permanent sticking charm. And the Tentacula has a short memory.” Indeed, the plant seemed to be losing interest already, half of the flowers yawning widely or already grumbling themselves back to sleep as they left the greenhouse.

“I must say, I was surprised that you were placed in Slytherin,” Professor Longbottom said as they walked through the halls. “It was such a shock that when the hat called it out, I almost thought it was—“ He stopped and laughed. “Just an unfortunate flashback to my own student days, I’m sure. So, how do you like your classes so far?”

“They’re brilliant, all of them!” said Albus eagerly. “I transfigured a toothpick into a silver needle, on my first try! Astronomy is brilliant! And Charms is fun. Potions is the best—I’ve been reading ahead. It’s like doing puzzles, figuring out how the bits fit together—“

“Splendid!” said Professor Longbottom. “I was never any great shakes at Potions, myself. Didn’t get on with the teacher, I’m afraid. You like Puddleby, then?”

“I suppose,” said Albus. “He seems okay. I’ve only had one class with him so far.”

“It still seems odd to me, that the Hufflepuff house head is teaching Potions,” Professor Longbottom said. “I always think of Potions as a Slytherin specialty.” He turned a slightly forced smile on Albus. “Perhaps that’s why, eh? So, how are you getting on with your fellow students?”

“They’re all right,” said Albus. “My best friends are from the Quidditch team, but the first years are okay.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Still, if you have any problems, any bullying or anything like that going on, you won’t hesitate to tell Professor Sylvanus, right?” He chuckled. “Or come to me, if she makes you nervous. Heaven knows she makes ME—“

Professor Longbottom suddenly froze and turned pale, staring into the shadows.

“What is it?” Albus asked anxiously.

Professor Longbottom seemed to shake himself. “Oh, nothing, silly of me, just a shadow that caught my eye. It’s all this talk about potions and Slytherin, and comes of staying up too late. For a second I almost thought I saw—but here we are, Slytherin common room’s through that wall, isn’t it?“

“Yes, but are you sure you’re all right?” Albus looked around. “I don’t want you to be alone out here if there’s something…”

Professor Longbottom patted him on the shoulder. “Even if I saw what I thought I saw, it was nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “Unless it will keep you from wandering the castle at night, in which case it was deadly and horrific. Right? Here, you may as well have a few of these…” Professor Longbottom unslung the canvas bag from his shoulder, took out an empty jar, and shook a few of the Glowing Cereus blossoms into it. “They’ll serve as a little memento of your adventure tonight. And who knows, you may find a use for them in your potion making. Best of luck in Slytherin, Albus.”

“Thanks, Professor Longbottom!” said Albus happily. “You’re a real ace!”

Albus crept back to his bed. The ghost was nowhere in sight. Albus placed the Cereus jar on his bedside table, and put the tentacula leaf on top of it. The Cereus blossoms were whole, perfect ones, not the crumpled messes he had snatched from the air himself. He fell asleep watching their glowing forms flutter and bob around in the jar.

He awoke when a pillow smacked him over the head.

“Wake up, slug-a-bed!” Ian Crossley shouted. “Flying lessons today! What’s that, Potter, your NIGHT LIGHT? Oh, how pretty, it’s flowers and everything! Hey Potter, what if I decide I want your pretty night light for myself?”

“Put a sock in it, Crossley, or I won’t help you with your transfiguration homework,” Albus growled.

Crossley put a sock in it, and Albus got up, yawning. There are, after all, some challenges in life that having an older brother prepares you for.

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Old August 23rd, 2007, 7:32 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

Chapter 5

“Before I let you fly,” said Professor Trilby sternly, ”we will spend five months learning to maintain and repair our broomsticks. We will eat with our broomsticks! We will sleep with our broomsticks! We will bathe, study, and dance the mazurka with our broomsticks! We will become one with our broomsticks…and until that state of perfect attunement is reached, our feet will NOT leave the ground!!”

There was a groan of dismay and horror from the assembled first-years.

“Juuust kidding!” said Trilby with a booming laugh. “Come get a broom from the shed, lay it beside your foot on your wand-hand side, and wait for further instructions.”

There was a crush at the door of the school broom shed as nearly every first-year tried to get in at once. Albus hung back, hoping for a private word with the professor.

“I’ve been flying for ages,” he could hear Scorpius Malfoy bragging. Rose was looking at him with shining eyes. “My grandfather has a huge estate in Wiltshire, and it’s all shielded from Muggles, so I’ve been able to get lots of practice—“

“Did you want something, Potter?” Trilby boomed.

“Er, yes,” said Albus as quietly as possible. “I just wanted to say that my brother was joking, and I don’t really get sick from standing on a chair.”

“What’s that?” Trilby shouted. He only seemed to have one volume, and that was loud. “SPEAK UP, boy and none of this mumbling.”

“My brother,” said Albus, resisting the desire to cringe. “My BROTHER was JOKING!”

“Brother? Joking?” Trilby looked blank. “What was he joking about? How is young James, by the way? Haven’t seen him this year yet.”

“N-never mind,” said Albus, feeling his face burning. “I’d better get a broom.” He charged away to hide his embarrassment in the struggling mob. OF COURSE James had been joking. He had been pulling Albus’s leg again, and as usual, Albus had fallen for it.

“I am SOOOO dumb,” Albus thought with disgust.

“Potter! Over here! Potter!” It was Esmerelda Lear, another of Albus’s Slytherin ‘littermates’ and she was waving an extra broom.

“I’m planning to try out for Quidditch this year,” she said conspiratorially, as she handed Albus the broom. “You’ll put a word in with Yorick for me, won’t you?”

“Well, er…I suppose I could,” said Albus. “For what good it will do.”

As soon as everyone had their broomstick, Trilby had them call the broom up into their hand. To Albus’s pleasure, his broomstick sprang up immediately. “It’s because I WANT to fly, now,” he thought.

The flying lesson went reasonably well, though not amazingly so. Albus had no trouble staying on his broom and directing it, though he couldn’t imaging releasing his white-knuckled grip long enough to grab at a snitch.

And he threw up again. “Broomsickness,” said Trilby in an echoing voice. “We find it every now and again, but most people get over it in time. Otherwise, you sit your broomstick very well, Mister Potter.”

Albus was pleased to see that despite his bragging, Scorpius kept rolling over. Rose was having a little problem with drifting sideways. In fact, most of the class seemed to Albus to be a little slow getting the hang of it.

“You did great, Rose,” Albus called to his cousin as the class broke up.

“You too, Albus!” she called happily. ”I couldn’t believe how fast you were going!”

“Yes, a natural athlete, that one,” said Scorpius. “What position will you be playing on the Slytherin team, Potter? The Barfing Beater? The Sick Seeker? The Upchucking Chaser?”

“Scorpius!” Rose tried to look angry, but she was obviously smothering a grin. And since everyone else was laughing—his Slytherin classmates loudest of all--Albus just made a face at Scorpius and walked on, instead of giving him the swift kick he deserved.

Suddenly Albus was stopped by a hand seizing his shoulder. He looked up into the face of a Hufflepuff prefect the size of a mountain.

“You Albus Potter?”

Albus’s classmates vanished with quick ‘Not my problem” glances. Rose hovered nearby for a moment but Scorpius took her hand and led her away.

“That’s me,” said Albus nervously.

The prefect scowled. “That broomstick Prince has got—is that really the Firebolt Harry Potter rode when he was at Hogwarts?”

“Yes,” said Albus, puzzled. “It’s mine now.”

“All right then.” The prefect released his shoulder and turned away. “It’s just that my sister paid Prince five sickles to touch it, and I wanted to make sure she wasn’t cheated.”

Albus, baffled, watched the prefect walk away.

For two days Albus had tried to find Albert Prince and demand his broomstick back. Prince had evaded him so completely that Albus had come to the conclusion he was intentionally avoiding contact. Though Albus had imagined many possible reasons for this behavior—each more upsetting than the last—this new information made no sense at all.

Albus returned to the Slytherin dormitories to make another search for Prince, but he was out again, nobody seemed sure where. Prince wasn’t in the Great Hall either, or on the Quidditch pitch. Albus gave up the search when he realized he was going to be late for his tea with Hagrid.

As he made his way past the old headmaster’s tomb toward the keeper’s cottage, though, he heard a familiar voice, and turned to see Prince, sitting under the trees by the shore of the lake with Yorick.

“HEY!” Albus shouted, running toward them. “HEY!” He tripped over a tree root, tumbled, and landed in a heap at Prince’s feet.

Prince looked over the top of his Daily Prophet and said. “I thought I heard a bit of a rustle in the underbrush. You’ll have to be quieter than that if you mean to sneak up on us, young Potter.”

Yorick guffawed without looking away from the Quidditch Special Supplement he was immersed in. Albus got to his feet, feeling like a complete fool. “I want a word with you, Prince!”

“Had your flying lesson yet?” Yorick interrupted.

“Yes, the first one was today,” said Albus.

“Are you ready to come back to Quidditch practice?”

“Er…perhaps not just yet.”

“Then what use are you?” Yorick snapped his paper irritably and turned the page.

“Your dad’s an Auror, isn’t he?” Prince held up the front page. “He must be having a busy week.”

There was a photo of a huge fire, its green flames forming the image of a rotating, screaming skull. SONS OF WALPURGIS ACTIVITY IN LANCASHIRE, the headline read. SEVEN MORTFIRES BAFFLE MUGGLES.

“Yeah,” said Albus, knowing his father would have been sent to investigate, and to help put down the flames. “Those things take a while to put out. Dad says the Muggles just think they’re some kind of firework lit by a crazy cult.”

“And they are SO right, for a change,” said Prince happily. “It must be fun to be a Son of Walpurgis. All you have to do is dress up in costume and light bonfires. They probably roast marshmallows and do Return-of-Voldemort dances around ’em, too.”

“Ugh. Who’d roast anything over THAT?” said Albus, looking at the eerie flames. “Anyway, my dad says—“

“I’d be half tempted to join myself, if their founder had been a little more mindful of his acronyms. Can you imagine showing up on some Muggle’s doorstep and saying, ‘Hello, I’m a representative of SOW, come to terrorize you.’”

Albus giggled in spite of himself, and Prince went on. “Now if they’d called themselves Princes Of Walpurgis, how much better would that be, eh? Or Knights And Princes Of Walpurgis. Or even Crazed Loonies Of Walpurgis Night. Hey, I’ve got it—Seriously Hostile Arsonist Dolts Of Walpurgis!”

“Prince,” said Yorick. “Someone seems to have left the mouth open. Get up and shut it, will you?”

Still chortling over his own wit, Prince got to his feet. “Come on, moppet,” he said. “Let us continue our intellectual discourse where it won’t interfere with Captain Hero’s Quidditch mania.”

They walked further along the shore until they reached a cluster of trees. Prince stepped onto a tall boulder and balanced there on one foot. “So, what’s on your mind, Albus Severus?”

Albus had been trying to come up with his own clever acronym for the Sons of Walpurgis, and had to think for a moment before he remembered he was angry.

“Where’s my Firebolt?” he demanded.

“It’s safe,” said Prince.

“I want it back.”

“I’ve told you,” said Prince. “It’s too valuable to leave lying around the dormitory or the broom shed. When you need it for Quidditch practice, you’ll have it back.”

Albus heaved a sigh through his teeth. He didn’t want to quarrel with Prince—for one thing, it was difficult to stay angry when you were laughing—but after all, this was his father’s Firebolt.

“You aren’t thinking of selling it?” he asked, voicing his worst suspicion.

“I beg your pardon!” said Prince, looking outraged. “The merest thought hadn’t even begun to speculate about the possibility of crossing my mind. What cheek…”

“But you’re charging people to touch it?”

Prince’s expression grew slightly sheepish. “I may have done.”

Albus narrowed his eyes and he fixed Prince with his fiercest expression. “Have you been riding it yourself?”

Prince’s ears went red. “Well, it’s not as if you haven’t had a go on MY broomstick,” he said. “Look, if you’re so concerned, give me a moment and I’ll send for it for you. On your head be it if it disappears and you find it in the window of some used-broom shop with a price on it that makes your tender head implode.”

“I haven’t got time, now. I’m late for tea at Hagrid’s.” Prince gave an offended snort and turned his back.

Albus shifted uncomfortably. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. Prince didn’t react. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” Albus added. “It’s just, it’s my Dad’s, you know?”

“What do you think of your classmates?” Prince asked without turning around.

“They’re all right,” said Albus.

“Tell me,” said Prince. “Do they seem just a bit…dimwitted at times?”

“Well…” Albus shuffled his feet. It seemed unkind to say so, but the only part of Prince’s statement that he didn’t find accurate was the “at times.” And possibly the “just a bit.”

Prince turned to face him. “Is it looking like you’re going to be the head of the class in every subject?”

“Well,” Albus said again.

Prince nodded. “We’re different than the rest, Potter. We’re the brains of Slytherin, you and I. And Yorick, too, however difficult he makes it to believe. I knew the moment I first saw you—“

“The moment you first saw me you were being thrown out a window,” Albus couldn’t help reminding him.

“Yes, and as I hung by my toes watching the railroad ties flash by, I thought to myself—Why, who was that remarkably intelligent-looking young man in the train compartment? So shut up.” Prince grinned. “In two years Yorick will be gone, and in two years after that I’ll be gone, and you’ll have to be the one watching the newcomers each year for some faint flickerings of intelligence. So let’s not squabble between ourselves meanwhile.”

“All right,” said Albus.

“My advice to you is, pick a subject to be REALLY bad at.”

“What?”

Prince winced. “I’ve just gone and told you you’re intelligent, and you ruin the effect by going ‘Wot?’ and leaving your mouth hang open like that. Do please try not impose premature baldness on me by making me tear my hair out, will you?”

“Then try to make some sense!”

“You’ll get along with your class better if you’re really bad at something. If you’re better than they are at everything, they’re only going to hate you for it,” Prince explained. “Trust me on this.”

“I don’t think so,” Albus protested. “They’ve all been really friendly, and I’ve been helping them with—“

“Oh, yes, that’s how it starts,” said Prince. “It starts out with ‘Oh, you’re so brilliant, Potter’ and ‘Please explain this to me, Potter,’ and gradually turns into ‘You think you’re so clever, Potter’ and ‘Write my essay for me or I’ll lock you in the broom cupboard all weekend, Potter.’ Take my advice. Pick a subject. And suck at it.”

“What subject do YOU suck at?” Albus asked suspiciously.

“Apples and oranges, my son,” said Prince. “You haven’t got my astounding personal charisma to fall back on. I am universally adored, and you are late for tea. Best get going!”

“Do you want to come?” said Albus. “I’m sure Hagrid wouldn’t mind.”

“What, and leave Yorick to finish reading his Quidditch rag in glorious peace? I think not. Give Grawp my regards, though!”

And as Prince turned back toward the lake, Albus hurried to the gamekeeper’s cottage, very, very late.


“It gets me mainly in the knees,” Hagrid was saying as poured the tea. “And especially on rainy days. I was sorry not to greet yeh at the train when yeh first arrived, Albus.”

“It’s all right,” said Albus. “Can’t Nurse Bannock or Professor Puddleby do anything for you?”

“Oh, they’ve tried,” said Hagrid. “Professor Puddleby says that the potions were invented for pureblood humans, and don’t work so well on someone with my ancestry.”

Albus pulled the huge, chipped teacup toward himself and took a sip. It was still too hot to drink. “Someday, maybe I’ll invent potions for half-giants,” he said. “Then we’ll get you sorted out.”

“That’d be nice,” said Hagrid, sitting down. “So, heard from your parents lately?”

“Yeah,” Albus grinned. “Lily got hold of Mum’s wand and tried to put a swelling charm on a chocolate bar. It got really huge and then melted, so her room is a sticky brown mess, and the whole house smells like Honeydukes!”

Hagrid roared with laughter, and Albus felt a pang—he missed Lily, pest though she could be at times. “I wish she didn’t have to wait two years to come to Hogwarts,” he said. “I wonder what house she’ll be in.”

“Gryffindor, o’ course!” said Hagrid, then looked contrite. “Sorry, Albus. It was a shock to everyone when yeh ended up in Slytherin.”

“It’s not bad!” said Albus angrily. “Everyone acts like I’m in some sort of snake’s den, and asks if I’m being bullied, or treats me like I’m going to become the next Dark Lord. I wouldn’t go to Gryffindor if they BEGGED me. James is being a total pig and I just don’t like that Scorpius Malfoy one bit.“

“All right, I didn’t mean anything by it,” said Hagrid. “I must admit having a Malfoy in Gryffindor might lower the tone a little. It’s just old habit, Albus. Used to be Slytherin was all about pure-bloodedness and dark magic and so on. But I’ll admit, that sort of went out with You-Know-Who, and I’ve known some fine Slytherins in my time. And Professor Sylvanus is as good a teacher as I’ve ever seen at Hogwarts. She’s always out here, checking out the interestin’ beasts, and she’s added quite a few creatures to our forest as well. She calls it ‘biological diversity.’ Heh. And there’s some…pretty odd things out there these days.”

“Hagrid,” said Albus worriedly. “You haven’t been up to breeding more illegals, have you? After your Mantistrals took out that Muggle farm, I thought the Ministry lowered the boom on you. You’ll end in Azkaban if they catch you at it again.”

“Nah, I have confidence in your Dad’s ability to square things for me,” aid Hagrid cheerfully, pouring himself another cup. “Aggie and me—I mean Professor Sylvanus—have everything under control this time. Only you don’t want to go sneaking into the forest at night like your Dad used ter do any more.”

“But we have our Defense Against Dark Arts classes in the forest!” said Albus. “Professor Sylvanus takes us there herself!”

“Just in the enchanted clearing, and in the daytime,” said Hagrid. “The path and the clearing are spelled so only humans and friendly creatures can enter. Step foot out of the clearing at night and you’re nightmare chow. Even Grawp won’t go in some parts of the forest any more. Something chewed him up pretty badly a week or two ago.”

Albus shuddered. Anything that could harm Hagrid’s enormous younger brother was something he never wanted to meet. He could hear footsteps now, the distant thuds that announced Grawp was approaching.

“Yeh know, Grawp and me have our differences from time to time,” said Hagrid. “But we’re always brothers. He’s given up his way o’ life to stay here with me, and I…well, I’ve given up things to stay here and look after him, too. Because we’re brothers, and brothers ought to stick together.”

Albus crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip mutinously. He knew when he was being lectured.

“When I was sorted into Slytherin, James said I was an evil git.”

“Did he? I expect he was joking.”

“He insults my friends, too.”

“Well,” said Hagrid, “I don’t know the Slytherin first-years myself, since they haven’t started my class yet.”

“You must know Yorick and Prince, though. James says Yorick would do ANYTHING to win a Quidditch game—“

“Sounds like most Quidditch captains I’ve known…”

“And he says Prince sucks up to the teachers.”

“A bit, a bit, perhaps,” said Hagrid. “Still, Prince is all right…”

“HAGGER!” a voice boomed. “DEER!” A handful of dead stags dropped outside the window.

“Looks like venison tomorrow,” said Hagrid. “GRAWP!” he hollered out the window. “Look who’s come to pay us a visit! It’s Albus!”

“ELBOW?” Grawp bellowed. “ELBOW!”

“No, ALBUS,” said Hagrid.

“ELBOW!” hooted Grawp happily.

“Sorry,” said Hagrid, shaking his head. “He just can’t seem to remember many names without hooking them on to words he already knows.”

“It’s all right,” Albus laughed. “HELLO, GRAWP! Has he gotten bigger since I saw him last?”

“I think so,” said Hagrid. “I thought he was full grown when we met, but I think he’s been getting taller since he came to live here. He doesn’t fit inside the cottage any more, and I made it especially big so he could come in out of the rain…”

“GRAWP LOVE ELBOW! GRAWP LOVE HAGGER!” There was a creaking sound and the floor started to tilt.

“We love you, too, Grawp!” said Hagrid hastily. “You haven’t got to hug the building.”

“It’s wonderful to see you again!” Albus called out the window as the floor returned to its usual angle.

“So, what were we talking about?” asked Hagrid.

“You know Prince, then?”

“Oh, yeah, everyone does,” sad Hagrid. “He used to come out here and ask questions about Severus Snape. A bit of a nut on the subject, not that there was much I could tell ‘im. And he helps Grawp with his English from time to time, DOESN’T HE, GRAWP?”

“PANTS!” Grawp bellowed happily. “BELCH! BUM! FART! BLOOMERS!”

“And I’ve been meaning to have a word with him about that, too,” muttered Hagrid.

“PRINCE SAYS HELLO!” Albus called.

“PANTS?” said Grawp confusedly, peering in at the window.

“No, PRINCE!” Albus called. “PRINCE says hello.”

“PANTS?” said Grawp. He reached in through the window—smashing the glass—to push the table aside. “PANTS? WHERE PANTS?”

“Pants—I mean Prince isn’t here, yeh daft lump!” said Hagrid. “And the Headmaster’s getting awfully touchy about replacing broken windows!

“Prince only asked me to say hello to you for him!” Albus explained. “He’s down by the lake.”

“Oh,” said Grawp, in a subdued tone. Then he stood up, turned toward the lake, inhaled most of the air in the vicinity, and with a shout that shattered three more windows bellowed “PAAAANTS! HELLOOOO PANTS!”

Hagrid groaned as Albus fell off the chair laughing. Grawp looked in at the window again.

“Yuck?” he asked intently. “YUUUCK?”

“Yes, Yorick’s with him,” said Albus.

“HELLOOOO YUUUCK!” Another window shattered. Hagrid shook his head in dismay as he removed a washtub from the stove and handed it out the window.

“Drink your tea, now, and hush.” Hagrid came back to the table. “Headmaster Fudge doesn’t care much for Grawp. Still, with the new things in the forest and those Sons of Walpurgis lightin’ fires all over, he’s happy enough to have Grawp patrolling outside the castle at night. Still, it’s not the same as it was in the old days, when Albus Dumbledore was in charge.” He wiped a tear away, as he always did when he brought up the old Headmaster. “He was a great man, was Albus Dumbledore.”

“Yes, I know, you’ve told me,” said Albus quickly. Hagrid could go on for hours about Dumbledore if he wasn’t cut off.

“Right, right. Sorry. Now about you and James—“

“Oh, I’d rather have the Dumbledore story,” Albus groaned, putting his head down on the table.

“Now listen to me, Albus. Did you ever stop to think that James might just be jealous?”

“What?” Albus stared at Hagrid in disbelief. “You don’t mean James wanted to be in Slytherin?”

“No, no, nothin’ like that!” Hagrid took a slurp of tea. “Only for eleven years, it’s been him you’ve followed around and admired. He was your best friend and your hero. And now you’re growing up and making your own friends. And it seems like you’ve found some new heroes, too. You can’t expect James not to fuss about it a little bit.”

“Yeah, but he hated it when I tagged along after him—“

“I don’t think so, not really. Jus’ give your brother some time to adjust, that’s all I’m asking,” said Hagrid.

Albus scowled. “He’ll always still hate Slytherin.”

Hagrid slurped his tea again, and stared off into the distance. “Albus Dumbledore used to say that the school couldn’t stand unless all the houses stood together. But we defeated Voldemort, and it still seems like somehow Slytherin is off to the side of the others, if yeh know what I mean. Hardly any Slytherins fought on our side in the big battle. Time was—like I said—time was when Slytherin was known mainly for the Dark Arts and that Pureblood nonsense. And now not so much. But there isn’t anything new that Slytherin IS known for, and it worries Ag—Professor Sylvanus a lot. I mean, Gryffindor stands for courage, and Ravenclaw stands for smarts, and Hufflepuff stands for acceptance, and Slytherin stands for…what?”

Albus shrugged. It wasn’t something he had thought much about.

“Well,” said Hagrid, finishing his tea. “Mebbe you’ll be the one to put a new face on Slytherin, Albus Potter. Before those idiot Sons of Walpurgis do.”

“Hagrid,” Albus asked. “Why would someone pay five sickles just to touch Dad’s old broomstick? Mum was the Quidditch star.”

“Couldn’t say,” said Hagrid, getting up suddenly. “Mebbe they’re a vintage broomstick fancier. Now I think the rock cakes ought to just be done baking…”



Last edited by Inkwolf; August 23rd, 2007 at 8:00 pm.
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Old August 23rd, 2007, 7:42 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

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Old August 26th, 2007, 9:10 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 6

“What did you do THIS time?”

“You’re the potions master, you tell me,” Albus didn’t quite dare to say.

“Out with it, what did you do?” Professor Puddleby adjusted his gold wire-rimmed glasses on his nose, his neatly-trimmed moustache quivering with annoyance, and stood well back to avoid the bubbling potion’s spattering his spotless, perfectly tailored and pressed grey robes. “That potion is supposed to be clear, and it is distinctly purple. YES, Mr. Potter, I said purple.”

“Well,” Albus explained, “I thought if I added a little valerian, the Softening Solution would be more effective. It says in Chapter Fourteen—“

“We are on Chapter Six, may I remind you, Potter,”

“But—“

“NO buts. We have had this conversation last week, and the week before, and the week before that. The course of study in the textbook has been carefully laid out for the most efficient and effective learning experience, and you are NOT to read ahead and second-guess the lesson plan. Do I make myself clear?”

“But—“

“Five points from Slytherin. NOW do I make myself clear, Potter?”

“Yes sir.” He waited until Professor Puddleby had turned away and asked quickly, “But why didn’t the valerian work, sir?”

“Ah, Mildred, you’re doing better today, I see,” Professor Puddleby said, ignoring him. “That slight cloudiness indicates that you haven’t chopped your hedgehog quills carefully…”

Albus bit his lip and glared at his potion, which was congealing into a jellylike substance as it cooled. He had decided to disregard Prince’s advice to choose a class to fail in, and it was ironic that he was in constant trouble in the one subject he loved most. Over on the Gryffindor side of the class, he saw Rose and Scorpius flipping through their potion books to skim Chapter Fourteen behind Puddleby’s back.

“If it helps, it looks to me like it ought to have worked,” Rose whispered back.

“I can’t figure out why it didn’t,” he whispered back, as loudly as he dared. “And apparently the Professor doesn’t have a clue, either.” If Puddleby heard the stage whisper, he gave no sign. He was busy telling some Gryffindor girl everything she had done wrong, now.

“It ought to have worked,” Malfoy agreed. “You must have muffed something else. Did you stick your thumb in it? Sneeze in it? Have a flying flashback and barf in it?”

Albus threw a large blob of the rubbery jelly at Malfoy. That cost him another fifteen points and a cleanup job, but it was worth it to see purple splatter all over that smug face.

As they walked to the Great Hall after class, Albus was cuffed on the head from behind, and stumbled. “Hey, what’s the idea?” he demanded.

“You cost us twenty points in there, Brainbox!” Ian Crossley growled.

“So? I got fifteen points this week in Charms and ten in Transfiguration,” said Albus. “That puts me five ahead of the game. What about you? You only lost us ten for spitting pumpkin juice at Myrna Meadows.”

“Just stop rocking the boat,” said Alma Scrubb. “Being too clever for your own good, that’s what.”

It put Albus in such a temper that he sulked through Herbology. He spent dinner complaining to Prince who listened sympathetically.

“But the thing that annoys me the most is, he couldn’t even tell me what went wrong!” Albus finished.

“Well. Perhaps he wants you to figure it out for yourself,” Prince said. “Perhaps he feels you will learn better if you have to find your own answers.”

Albus hadn’t thought of that, but it seemed unlikely. “Do you really think so?” he asked.

“Heavens, no. I think Puddleby is an idiot. I’ve spent the last two years making things explode in Potions class, just on principle. Sometimes it’s a real challenge. I mean, we did a Fragrant Fluid thingy last year that was mostly made up of flower petals, fairy wings and whale vomit. It was quite a challenge to make that one explode, but I succeeded in the end. The dungeon smelled of violets for MONTHS.”

Albus tried to force a smile, but Prince’s nonsense failed to cheer him up for once.

Prince looked at Albus’s gloomy face, folded his napkin, and pushed away from the table. “Yorick,” he said. “I think this occasion calls for one of our special educational opportunities, don’t you?”

Yorick grinned. “About time, too. We haven’t done one at all yet this year.”

They stood, and Prince raised his wand. There was a bang and a shower of silver sparks. “FIRST YEARS,” Prince called across the hall in tones of authority as he walked toward the exit. “FIRST YEARS, THIS WAY. FOLLOW ME! FIRST YEARS!”

Albus glanced nervously at the high table, but none of the teachers seemed about to put a stop to whatever was going on. None of them even looked surprised, though one or two had disapproving or apprehensive expressions. Many first-year students were getting up—some ‘helped’ out of their seats by Yorick, Albus noticed, and others seemed to be being encouraged to go by the second-years.

Half reluctantly, Albus followed the crowd to an empty classroom. Prince stood upon the desk at the front, while Yorick was content to lean, grinning, against the door.

“My dear young students,” Prince announced. “In my entire three-and-a-bit years at Hogwarts, never have I seen a first-year class so studious, quiet, responsible and well-behaved. This…must…stop. Since some of you may not have had the wisdom or foresight to stock up on dungbombs before arriving at Hogwarts, your Uncle Albert has a special educational opportunity for you. Now you, too, utilizing only a few ingredients from a standard potion-making kit, can create a ghastly, sinus-piercing stench. That’s right, I am about to let you in on the secret of Professor Prince’s Pungent Poo Potion.

“If you will kindly fetch your potion-making kits, return here, and choose a brewing partner, we will endeavor to make a start.” Prince turned around and began writing a recipe on the chalkboard as the first-years eagerly hurried to fetch their cauldrons.

“Is this really allowed?” Albus asked Yorick on his way out.

“Don’t ask me why,” Yorick said, shaking his head. “The teachers just seem to eat out of his hand. He’ll be a prefect next year in spite of everything, you watch.”

Albus hurried back with his potion-making kit and looked around for a likely partner. He was still angry with his Slytherin classmates, and Rose was there but seemed to be carrying on with her new role as Scorpius Malfoy’s Siamese twin. Finally he settled on a sad-faced Hufflepuff girl who was already chopping ingredients alone at a desk in the rear of the class.

“Hullo,” said Albus. “Do you have a partner yet? Do you mind if I…” The girl just shrugged, so Albus put down his load and began to organize ingredients.

“I’m Albus Potter,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“Drop dead,” she snarled. Startled, Albus looked at her again, and suddenly recognized the girl.

“Oh, I remember,” he said. “You’re…um…” She was Voldemortine Avery. It seemed like an awful thing to call anyone. After an awkward pause, Albus asked, “Do you have a middle name?”

“It’s Bellatrix,” the girl said bitterly.

“Oh! Well, that’s pretty!” Albus said with relief.

“Dry up and rot,” snarled the girl.

Prince appeared at their desk. He was wearing a familiar-looking pair of gold wire-rimmed glasses, and had drawn a moustache on his upper lip. “Hullo, Morty, I see you’ve met Albus Severus. He’s quite the oncoming potions expert. Say, Deirdre has run out of skunk cabbage, and I know you’ve got plenty. Spare a leaf, can’t you?”

Albus waited until Prince had gotten his cabbage leaf and moved well away, doing a creditable imitation of Professor Puddleby as he coached the first-year students.

“Morty?” he said, trying to keep a straight face. “Is that what they call you? Can I call you that?”

She shrugged again. Then she gave him a bitter half-smile and said, “It beats the alternatives.”

Albus wanted to say something kind, but couldn’t think of anything. Finally he blurted out, “You have a pretty smile.”

Morty looked surprised. “Thanks,” she said shyly. Then she smiled at him again.

This time it really was pretty.

Albus returned to the dormitory in considerably higher spirits. Not only had he made a new friend, but he had a flask of particularly pungent Poo Potion, and was running through the list of people he might use it on. James…Scorpius…Professor Puddleby…Crossley…Scrubb…. well, there was no rush to decide. And he could always make more.

He tossed his potion-making items on the bedside table and got into his pajamas. As he pulled the jacket over his head, his potions textbook fell off the table. He reached down to pick it up. It was lying open at Chapter Fourteen.

Albus frowned. Had he misunderstood something? Had he used too much valerian? Too little? He re-examined the notations he had made in the book. Everything seemed to be calculated correctly. Had Malfoy been right, and had Albus made some mistake with the other part of his potion?

Was it worth trying again? Albus opened his kit once more.

“Turn off the light,” grumbled Walter MacAdam. “I want to sleep”

“Then close your drapes,” said Albus. “I’m staying up.”

Albus was poking morosely at his third batch of purple jelly when he felt the chill that he recognized as the aura of the ghost. It was standing behind him, looking over his shoulder at his potion.

“Classwork not going well?” the ghost asked, sounding smug.

“It’s not my classwork,” Albus growled. “I’m just trying to figure out why this doesn’t work. Look—“ He opened the book to Chapter Fourteen and his charts, notes and calculations again. “Valerian should make a Softening Solution stronger by bonding with the horklump oil, it just makes sense. It’s just so STUPID that it isn’t working!”

The ghost stared at Albus’s notes for some time. Finally the spook spoke. “You need to read Chapter Nineteen to understand why it doesn’t work. Better yet, go to the library and see if they still have Strange Combinations: Agents, Reagents and Counterreagents, by Nathaniel Bitters. It should answer all your questions.”

The ghost interrupted Albus’s thanks. “Don’t think I intend to tutor you further. If you are under the impression that I returned from the grave to help you with your schoolwork, you will find you are sadly mistaken.”

“No problem,” said Albus. “What are we after tonight?” He had a bag under his bed, which was slowly beginning to fill with oddities from his midnight missions: an old sock, a stone beetle, a hairball some cat had coughed up. One or two of his classmates had been curious about his collection, but Albus was fairly certain that nobody who came snooping was likely to find anything they wanted to steal. He had already learned that small objects left lying around the dormitory had a tendency to disappear.

“There is a lost dog on the seventh floor,” the ghost said. “Find it.”

“What?” Albus said, but the ghost was already gone. With a sigh, Albus pulled his arsenal from under his mattress. It was a simple strip of cloth, folded over and stitched together to form a bandolier made up of pockets. In the pockets he had taken to carrying items that might be useful in his ghostly quests. A couple of quills, a compass, a harmonica, a grease pencil, some chalk, a measuring tape, some blank parchment, a pocketknife, a pocket-sized book called Charms for Children which his mother had sent him and which contained some very easy and useful spells. On a whim, Albus added the Poo Potion. “Armed and dangerous,” he thought, bouncing on his toes.

In the six weeks he had spent prowling Hogwarts by night, Albus had come to enjoy his secret missions, and to know his way around the castle very well. He no longer worried about what the ghost’s plans were. Albus only wished he could bring Prince and Yorick on some of the journeys. The ghost had been emphatic when he asked, though.

“What part of the ‘one’ in ‘chosen one’ don’t you understand?” he had sneered. So Albus had continued to work in total secrecy, learning to move in utter silence through the castle, always with an ear tuned for the sound of Mr. Shunpike’s broom or a teacher’s footsteps.

The seventh floor was empty and silent. Spider strands frequently pulled tight across his face and snapped, and many rooms seemed to be in use as storage space. Albus certainly heard no sign that a dog was roaming the halls. He ventured a low whistle, and it echoed eerily through the abandoned rooms. There was no answer.

His third time through the main corridor, Albus finally noticed the carving on the wall. It was a hunt scene. In relief on the wall were a group of wizards on running horses, following a pack of running hounds. As he moved on down the wall, the hounds became further spaced out, until Albus arrived at a carved tree surrounded by the dogs. It was not the jarvey in the tree that made Albus jump forward and shout, though. It was the empty hound-shaped space. In the midst of the carved stone hounds, a blank spot stood, its featureless paws resting on the tree trunk, and its nonexistent nose turned up to bay at the treed beast.

Albus’s sense of triumph didn’t last long. He had not found the lost dog, after all. He had only found where it was lost from. Still, at least he knew what he was looking for, now.

Albus combed the seventh floor again. Of course, a thin, stone dog carving could be stacked anywhere with the other stored objects, but Albus had a feeling he would find it somewhere on a wall. He had spent a lot of his childhood fascinated by the sort of books that forced you to solve a puzzle before it would let you turn to the next page, and Albus had developed a feeling for how they worked. This was the first time he had been faced with one in real life, though.

He almost missed it. On the wall of a tiny corridor—more like a closet, really—connecting two rooms, a dog stood baying, its paws propped up against a stone tree. Albus laughed at the smug expression of the cat perched among the branches.

“Bad dog!” said Albus. “Chasing cats—.“ He stopped in horror as the stone dog whimpered, fell to the floor, and shattered into a thousand pieces.

“Oh, no!” He picked up a few pieces helplessly. He was sure he needed to put the stone dog back on the wall. He picked up the bits, shoving them in his arsenal pockets, carrying the larger ones in his arms. Feeling as if he weighed a hundred pounds more, Albus staggered back to the hunt room.

“Blast it, I’ll have to put it together like a jigsaw,” he grumbled. “I wonder if there’s a sticking charm in my book.” He placed one of the hound’s paws on the wall, in the space it should normally be, and was pleased to see it stick there of its own accord. He began placing more pieces of the broken carving up.

The dog was half completed when Albus staggered. A weight had been unexpectedly lifted from his shoulders—the stone pieces of the hound had vanished from his pockets. The partly completed dog on the wall had also vanished.

Albus rushed back to the cat tree, and was not particularly surprised to see the hound back where he had originally found him.

“I must have been too slow,” he said. “Bad dog!” This time he caught the carving before it smashed, and staggered back to the hunt room with it. The stone hound snapped into place in the picture as if it had never wandered away.

“Stay!” said Albus, just to be safe. He examined the completed hunt scene for a while. Just as he was about to declare the puzzle solved, the hound vanished again.

With a yell of exasperation, Albus returned to the cat tree. His “Bad dog!” was full of feeling this time. Once more he returned the dog to the carved hunt.

“There’s got to be some way to stop the dog going back,” Albus thought. “If this was one of my puzzle books, I’d have to do something with the cat tree while the dog is away. Like maybe rescue the cat.”

He hurried to the corridor, and stopped short at what he saw. Instead of the texture of bark covering the stone tree, it was now covered with carved writing. It was writing unlike any he had seen before, though. Strange loops and swirls covered the tree. Albus hastily got out his parchment and quill, but only managed to copy a few shapes before the hound was back, and the tree was once more covered in bark.

It took several more trips carrying the heavy stone dog before Albus hit on the idea of making a rubbing of the tree, placing parchment on the wall and using his grease pencil to scribble over it so that the shape of the carved letters came out on the page. Even making the rubbing took several tries, since he only had small sheets of parchment, but at last he had the full engraving copied, and laid the parchments out on the floor to examine them.

Though the main engraving was unreadable, there were some normal letters at the bottom. The initials L.E. were carved in bold sweeping strokes. Beside them, in a more precise and even hand were the initials S.S. And the S’s had been drawn in the form of little snakes.

“Salazar Slytherin?” Albus wondered. “Or Severus Snape? No, that’s just Prince’s obsession. Headmasters don’t go carving their initials on walls.” He had no idea at all who L.E. might be.

On impulse, Albus took the dog back to the hunt once more. Returning, he got out his pocketknife. This was the special knife he had got for his last birthday, after months of begging. It had a magical magnifier built into it, and a bottle opener, and an owl-claw trimmer, and about twenty other blades. Among them was what Albus called the Danger Blade—a knife that would cut through just about anything. He opened that blade now, and the knife flashed a red light and issued a series of warning hums. Ignoring it, Albus quickly carved the letters ASP at the foot of the tree.

The letters looked lonely and undistinguished beneath the other marks.

Taking the dog back one last time, Albus returned and quickly scratched more letters into the stone.

It now read, ‘The ASP was here!’ For a final touch, Albus scratched a little snake surrounding the words.

Somehow it made him feel very swashbuckling and daring, as he folded his knife and watched the bark return to cover the words.

Then the Asp packed up his parchments and tools, and returned to the Slytherin common room for a few hours sleep.

He had earned it. Another secret mission had been successfully completed.

-------------

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Last edited by Inkwolf; August 26th, 2007 at 9:30 pm.
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  #8  
Old August 28th, 2007, 7:10 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 7

Albus nearly slept through breakfast. He dressed quickly, alone in the dormitory. He wished Crossley had thought to smack him with a pillow, as he usually enjoyed doing when Albus slept late.

“’S’rong with you, Crossley?” he shouted as he passed him at the Slytherin table. “I slept in and you didn’t hit me!”

“Do I look like your mummy?” Crossley answered.

“Now you mention it, you do, sort of,” Albus said, dodging the kipper Crossley threw at him, “Only LOTS uglier.” Albus slid into his usual seat beside Albert Prince, grinning.

“You used to be such a nice, quiet diffident little chap,” said Prince. “What happened?”

“I got put in Slytherin,” said Albus. “Have you left me anything, or have you licked the platter clean like usual?”

“Urrr, ain’t nowt but stale crusts an’ gruel for them as comes late to breffist,” said Prince, sliding the serving tray over.

“I should have nabbed Crossley’s kipper in the air, I see,” said Albus. There was actually a fair amount of scrambled eggs left, a handful of bacon crumbs, and mounds of cold toast. Albus filled his plate with everything he could reach and poured himself a glass of pumpkin juice. His nightly adventure had given him a fierce appetite.

“How’s the flying coming along?” Yorick asked.

“Improving,” said Albus.

“It’d better be,” Yorick scowled. “The Hufflepuff Ravenclaw game is this weekend, and in a few weeks after that we play Gryffindor. We need to train a seeker, and if it’s not going to be you, we’ll find someone else.”

“I’ll be back at practice soon,” Albus promised. He had hoped to shake off his broomsickness first, but it didn’t seem to be happening.

“Tomorrow,” said Yorick flatly. “If you’re not ready to fly, you can at least run laps and get in condition.”

“Okay,” said Albus. “Tomorrow.”

The last of the mail owls were flying in over the table. A package dropped in front of Albus.

“What’s that?” Prince asked hopefully. “Did your grandmother bake more biscuits?”

I don’t think so,” said Albus. He unwrapped the parcel. Inside was a letter from home, and the item he had asked for.

“What have you got there, Potter?” Yorick asked.

“It’s a broom lock!” said Albus. “Once it’s mounted on the Firebolt, I’ve only got to wear this wristband, and I can set it to stick where it’s been put. It even has a call-back feature, so I can summon the broom back if I forget to stick it and someone walks off with it.”

“Looks like a good one,” Yorick said.

“So I’ll be wanting my Firebolt back, Prince.”

“Anything you say, moppet,” said Prince absently. He was looking with delight at a letter of his own which had just been delivered. “Will you look at this?” He held the envelope up to the light and slowly turned it. The paper gave off a faint shimmer, and Albus could see a family crest embossed on the envelope.

“Even the envelope oozes aristocracy,” Prince said. “Does it not simply scream, ‘rich old Pureblood family’ at one?”

“Who’s it from?” Albus asked.

“Lucius Malfoy,” said Prince, carefully cutting the letter open with a butter knife. “Scorpius’s grandfather, the one who went to school with Severus Snape. It’s been so long since I wrote him I’d given up on his writing back. Great Circe’s nipples, he’s written PAGES!”

With a grunt, Yorick stood up and began collecting his things. “I’m off to Flitwick’s,” he said. “Before I’m forced to listen to more Snape trivia.”

“You won’t believe this!” said Prince, quivering with joy. “He’s invited me to come down to Wiltshire for a fortnight this summer and talk!”

“Not really?” Yorick asked. “Wasn’t he a Death Eater or something?”

“Yes, can you believe my luck?”

“And you’re planning to go?” said Albus. “I’d sooner eat slugs than visit a Death Eater, let alone a relative of that Malfoy horror.”

“Are you mad?” asked Prince. “Don’t you understand—this is someone who saw the Battle of Hogwarts, for pity’s sake, who sat down to dinner with the Lestranges and who might very well know what color underwear Voldemort wore.”

“What Quidditch position he played,” added Yorick.

“Whether he ever had a bogey hangin’ out of his nose while lording it over the faithful.”

“Who cares?” said Albus.

“’Who cares,’ he says. All over the world, ancient fogeys are only longing for a chance to spill their guts about Voldemort and Scrimgeour and Dumbledore and who-knows-what, and the mysteries of the ages are dying with them before anyone bothers to listen,” said Prince angrily. “Someone’s got to record the details, Potter! Someone’s got to KNOW! I can’t believe the son of Harry Potter himself doesn’t want to know every possible microscopic detail about Lord Voldemort!”

“Leave my dad out of it!” said Albus. “He’s an Auror! He’s got nothing to do with Voldemort and Death Eaters!”

Yorick and Prince stared at Albus.

“What?” Albus demanded.

Prince suddenly put his head down on the table. “Sainted Grindelwald in Fairyland. He doesn’t know,” he said. “He really doesn’t know.” He started to laugh.

“He doesn’t know?” Yorick stared at him with incredulity.

“What?” Albus demanded again.

“You do study History in the first year, don’t you?” Prince asked.

“Of course.” In fact, Albus found Professor Binns’s classes the ideal place to catch up on his sleep after his nightly adventures. “What, did my dad do something in the war?”

Now Yorick was laughing, too. “Oh, let me think…NOW I remember. He single-handedly defeated Voldemort!”

“Come on,” said Albus.

“In fact,” Prince choked, “in fact, he killed him TWICE!” He collapsed laughing.

“Be fair, now.” Yorick was doubled over with mirth. “Voldemort killed him twice FIRST!”

“You guys,” said Albus with annoyance. “Can you be serious for ten seconds?”

“Serious?” said Prince, sniffling and wiping tears of laughter off his face. “Can you think of any details we might have missed, Hero?”

“The—“ Yorick gasped for air. “The time he went s-skinny dipping in the frozen pond. I used to get that for a bedtime story.”

“Me TOOOOO!” shrieked Prince, and they both collapsed again into near hysteria.

“Thanks a lot,” said Albus. “If you won’t tell me, I’ll find out for myself.” He turned his back on the two whooping maniacs and left the Great Hall.

Albus had meant to visit the school library this morning at any rate. Albus loved reading, and only his fascination with his magical studies—and his attempts to conquer broomsickness—had kept him from the library this long.

He didn’t see a catalog, so he approached the library desk. It was vacant, though, the entire library deserted apart from a nervous-looking house elf stamping books, who glanced at him once, then ignored him.

“Hello,” said Albus. “Excuse me, but I’m looking for—“

“YOU!” An accusing shriek echoed through the empty room, and Albus found himself eye to eye with the ghost of a fierce-looking woman with a vulture-like face. “I remember YOU! Eating CHOCOLATE in the library, wasn’t it?! Getting my nice books all grimy!”

“Um, no,” said Albus hastily. “It wasn’t me. This is my first time here.”

The ghost hovered nearer, staring at his face, growling slightly. “All right,” she reluctantly admitted at last. “I’m Madame Pince, the librarian. How can I help you? And,“ her voice dropped to a whisper, “try to be quieter. People are studying.” The house elf twitched and stamped the next book in extreme and cautious silence.

“I need to check out some books,” Albus said. He held up one page of the rubbing he had made. “I need something to help me translate this, for starters.”

“Hmmm,” said Madame Pince. “It looks like an old Druidic script. I think we have some dictionaries.” She took Albus to a shelf full of language books, and between A Beginner’s Guide to Goblin Dialects and Mermish for Dunderheads he found Trepanier’s Druidic Dictionary.

Next Albus asked for the Nathaniel Bitters potion book his personal ghost had recommended. “Anything else?” asked Madame Pince.

“Do you have anything about, um…the Voldemort war?” Albus said, his face turning red. “Anything about Harry Potter?”

“Oh, yes,” said Madame Pince. “Those are very popular. She took Albus to a shelf of books, which included no less than seven biographies of his father.

Not All Chocolate Frogs and Butterbeer: the truth about Harry Potter by Rita Skeeter….Harry Potter and Me by Romilda Vane…Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows…Potterwar….Where is Harry Potter Now…Harry Potter vs Voldemort.

Albus finally selected The Life and Times of Harry Potter by Penelope Clearwater. As he juggled the three heavy tomes, Madame Pince asked, “Will there be anything else.”

“Oh, hey,” said Albus in sudden inspiration. “Do you have anything on ghosts?”

“Ghosts?” said Madame Pince.

“Yeah, you know,” said Albus. “Like, why they come back, how to control them, ways to get rid of..them…” Albus finally noticed the librarian’s increasingly hostile glare.

“HOW TO CONTROL THEM??” she shrieked in his face. Albus stumbled back, tripped, and dropped his books. “WAYS TO GET RID OF THEM!??!”

Albus ran from the library, the ghostly screams of rage following him, echoing through the castle corridors almost until he arrived at his first class.

He didn’t think he’d be using the library much.
-------------

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Last edited by Inkwolf; August 28th, 2007 at 7:22 pm.
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  #9  
Old August 31st, 2007, 6:10 am
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 8

In spite of his late night, Albus was unable to fall asleep in History class. His nerves were all on edge—not only because of his alarming encounter in the library, but because he had realized that Prince, once more, had not clearly agreed to hand over the Firebolt. Albus had watched for him between classes, and during study period, and at lunch without catching a glimpse of him. He was beginning to think that Prince was once again avoiding contact.

On top of that, there was the annoying question of his father. Had Prince and Yorick been serious after all, when they claimed he had defeated Voldemort? Hadn’t even the ghost said something about his father? It was hard to think of Harry Potter as a hero. He wasn’t tall, and he seemed pretty scrawny for even an Auror. And he wore glasses, for pity’s sake. Albus could remember a day when he had watched his father walk around the house for an hour with a blob of orange sherbet on the end of his nose, until he had picked up the cat, and the cat had licked it off.

Not quite the stuff heroes are made of, thought Albus.

And even if it was true, why hadn’t he ever been told? Did James know? Did Rose? Did Lily? Did everyone but him know? Had they told him some time when he wasn’t listening?

He tried to clear his mind and listen to the lecture in hope of clues, but it was all about Merlin’s dealings with some muggles. It had very nearly put Albus to sleep in spite of all, when he was disturbed by a jab and a whispered “Psst!”

It was Esmerelda Lear. “Potter!” she whispered. “Did you put in a word for me with Yorick, like I asked?”

“Oh. Not yet. When are the team tryouts?” Albus asked.

“Two weeks ago.” Her intent look had turned into a glare. “Wake up, genius!”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Albus gulped. “I’ll be sure to say something.” He could hear snickering and whispers from his classmates, and remembered Prince’s warnings. Was the class really turning on him? They certainly seemed to take a happy interest any time he made a mistake.

The minute classes ended for the day, Albus set out on the search for Prince. Once more, he found that Prince was not in any of his usual haunts. He was not in the common room, or the dormitories. He was not in the Great Hall. Albus headed for the Quidditch pitch next. Prince wasn’t there either, but the event taking place was enough to keep Albus watching, fascinated.

Hieronymus Yorick was there, and Rolf Lanister, the other Slytherin beater. They were swooping and dodging around the pitch, all the while striking no less than four bludgers at one another. Albus had been to every World Cup for as long as he could remember, but never had he seen such a display of grace and deadly risk. He watched until at last the two beaters landed, and sealed the bludgers in their cases.

“That was incredible!” Albus said. Lanister flexed a pair of burly biceps at him, but Yorick only shrugged. “It’s good practice,” he said. “I think our chances are excellent this year, at least if our seeker is up to snuff.”

“I’m just trying to find Prince and get my broomstick,” Albus said. “Do you know where he’s hiding?”

“Not in any hurry to hand it over, is he?” said Yorick. “I don’t know where he is, squirt, but you hunt him down and don’t let him go till you get that Firebolt.”

So Albus wasn’t just imagining things. On his way to continue the search, he remembered and turned back. “Esme Lear asked me to put in a good word for her. She wants to be on the team. Maybe she could be backup or something?”

“Lear?” said Yorick. “Yeah, she wasn’t too much worse than the others, for a firstie. Tell her to pester me at the end of the season for a second tryout. We’re going to want a replacement for Nott for next year.”

Albus went on with his search, and eventually found Prince in a castle courtyard. He was puttering with a large, wheeled device made of boards and rope. A couple of Ravenclaw boys were with him, one tugging at the ropes, and the other scribbling calculations on a parchment.

“I still think we ought to have made it historically accurate,” Prince grumbled.

“I’ve told you, it’s an improved design,” said the lanky, red-haired Ravenclaw. “We’ll get almost twice the height with this, so stop grousing.”

“Will both of you pipe down?” said the pale, spotty Ravenclaw. “I’m trying to calculate wind resistance.”

“Hullo, Prince,” said Albus. “Say, can I talk to you?”

“Not just now. I’m a bit busy,” said Prince. “Schoolwork, can’t you see?”

“Shouldn’t take long,” said the lanky Ravenclaw, placing a package on an arm protruding from the device. “It may be over in seconds, in fact. The missile is prepared to launch.”

“Gentlemen, take your positions!” Prince barked. “Prepare to fire!”

“How come you always give the orders?” asked the spotty boy, kneeling beside the machine.

“Because I have a natural gift for it,” said Prince. “Now, ON MY COMMAND—“

“Bugger your command,” grinned the spotty boy, throwing a lever. The arm sprang up, hurling the package high into the air.

“You berk. FIIII-AAAAAH!!” ordered Prince, a bit late. The airborne package twirled gracefully through the sky, its flight path peaked, and it fell cleanly through an open window of the nearby tower,

“Bingo!” cried the spotty Ravenclaw.

“Gentlemen, the mission appears to have been a success,” said the lanky boy.

“So, who’s brought the champagne?” Prince asked.

“Uh-oh,” Across the courtyard, Albus could see Professor McGonagall making her way toward them. “Busted,” whispered the lanky Ravenclaw. “Do you think she ever wallops people with that cane?”

“Hullo, Minerva, love,” said Prince as she drew near. “How’s the great-grandson? Has little Angus finished teething yet?”

“Two points for cheek, as usual, Mr. Prince,” said Professor McGonagall. “Might I ask what it is you are doing?”

“Muggle studies project,” said the three in unison.

“It’s an experiment in ballistics,” said the spotty boy, hurrying forward to show off his calculations. Professor McGonagall waved the papers away.

“What concerns me is that you appear to have launched a projectile through the window of the Gryffindor common room.”

“It’s possible we calculated improperly for wind resistance,” said the lanky boy.

“And unless I am very much mistaken,” Professor McGonagall opened a burlap sack that was lying on the ground with the ferrule of her cane—“that projectile contained more dungbombs.” Now that she mentioned it, Albus could catch a slight whiff of dungbomb on the air, now, as well as faint, outraged shouts from high above.

“They were the only substance we could find that combined the proper weight and density,” said Prince.

McGonagall glowered over her glasses at the boys, while they put on such obviously false expressions of innocence that Albus rolled his eyes. Prince even tilted his head to one side like a confused puppy.

“Very well,” said Professor McGonagall. “For making general nuisances of yourselves, ten points apiece. That’s twenty points from Ravenclaw, Mr. Abernathy and Mr. Quark, and twenty from Slytherin, Mr. Prince and Mr. Potter.”

Albus’s jaw dropped. “Not that I would dream of disputing your judgment,“ Prince said hurriedly, “but the moppet was not involved in this project, and was only hanging about in hope of a word with me.”

“Well, in that case,” said McGonagall, “ten points from Slytherin for Mr. Prince, and five from Mr. Potter, for keeping company with rapscallions.” She turned and walked away quickly.

As soon as she was out of sight, Albus blew up. “That was so unfair!” he shouted. “And did you see her face when she left? She was SMILING! She was trying not to laugh outright!”

“Never mind, small fry,” said Prince, putting a hand on his shoulder. “She’ll give ‘em all back in Transfiguration class, or I’m much mistaken. What was it you wanted with me?”

“My Firebolt!”

“Oh, yes, that.” Prince looked over Albus’s shoulder intently. “I say, is that your cousin Rose over by the garden?”

Albus took a firm grip on Prince’s robes before turning to look. “I don’t see anyone.”

“Well, you just missed her, then,” said Prince. “Suspicious little thing you’re getting to be, aren’t you? I promise, I’ll bring it to tomorrow’s Quidditch practice.”

“No,” said Albus. “I’m NOT letting go of you until I’ve got it.”

“We’ll look damned silly when I go to the loo.”

“I don’t care!”

Prince sighed and turned to the Ravenclaws. “Sorry to leave you with the cleanup, lads, but I seem to have picked up a remora.”

“No problem,” said Quark (the spotty boy) “Two can handle it.”

“You’re buying the butterbeer, Hogsmeade weekend,” said Abernathy.

Prince limped away exaggeratedly, with Albus in tow. “Look, I said tomorrow, and I mean it. Honestly, Yorick would thrash me if I made our seeker practice on a school broom.”

“I need time to attach the broom lock and test it,” said Albus. “So I want it now.”

“Fine,” said Prince. “Let go of me, wait here, and I’ll have it in fifteen minutes.”

“Thanks, but I’d rather go with you,” said Albus. “I so enjoy your company.”

“I can’t get it with you along!”

“Why not?”

“Because it will be embarrassing!”

“Embarrassing?” Albus was puzzled. “Why, have you got it stashed in your underwear or something?”

Prince sighed. “Fine, come along, then. But let’s find a place we won’t be disturbed.”

They eventually entered an empty shed where Hagrid seemed to have kept animals recently. Albus looked around, but saw nowhere the Firebolt could be hidden.

He was about to ask, when Prince suddenly shouted, “Wriggle!”

Albus jumped, and wondered if Prince was speaking to him.

Then there was a popping noise, and a creature appeared. Albus stared in curiosity. He had never known anyone who had their own house elf before, though he had been told that when he was a baby, his parents had kept one. This elf was a wrinkled thing, with enormous hands and feet, and it was dressed in a worn but clean silk pillowcase, which had a small coat of arms embroidered on one corner.

“Wriggle is delighted to see the young master again!” said the elf, hurling itself at Prince’s feet. “Wriggle has so missed serving him! What can Wriggle do for the young master? May Wriggle file the young master’s notes? Carry the young master’s books? Take the young master’s laundry away from those undeserving Hogwarts elves and see that it is all properly cleaned and ironed?”

“Hello, Wriggle,” said Prince, in a strained voice. “Do you remember that Firebolt I asked you to look after? The one I said was on temporary loan?”

“The Harry Potter Firebolt?” said the elf, jumping to his feet with a gleam in his eye. “Yes, young master! I have made a brass plaque for it and hung the broomstick from the ceiling of the museum, between Artemisia Lufkin’s bustle and the apocryphal Ravenclaw diary. I am trying to get the Wright Snitch functioning again, so—“

“That won’t be necessary,” said Prince. “Potter requires his broomstick back, now. Please fetch it for him.”

The house elf’s jaw sagged, and he looked at Albus with shock and horror. Then he slowly leaned toward Prince and, behind one hand, whispered loudly, I am not sure what this boy has told the young master, but I do not believe he is really Harry Potter.”

“No, it’s Harry Potter’s son, and he wants his father’s Firebolt. Please get it at once.”

“But…Wriggle has made a plaque for it—“

“I’m sure I told you it was temporary, Wriggle.”

“Maybe,” said Wriggle noncommittally. “Wriggle gets old and his hearing goes and--” he returned to whispering behind his hand. “—and this foolish young boy should not have it when the young master is so much more able to appreciate its value. He will only ride it and break it, and the young master deserves it far more—“

“Just get it, Wriggle,” said Prince. “NOW.” The house elf disappeared with a bang, and Prince said, “Sorry, Wriggle gets a bit acquisitive about the collection. At least I didn’t have to threaten him with clothes. It can get really ugly…”

The elf popped back into the shed. “The Potter’s broom,” he said, holding out a broomstick to Albus. It was old, and splintery, and shedding twigs.

“This isn’t my broomstick,” Albus objected.

“Wriggle—“ Prince said dangerously.

“A little mistake, a little mistake.” Wriggle grumbled, and vanished once again, to reappear with a gleaming, polished broomstick, which he held out to Albus.

“That’s not mine, either!”

“I’ll say it’s not!” Prince yelped. “That’s the Dumbledore Oakshaft! Wriggle, how COULD you?!”

The house elf disappeared again. When he reappeared, he bore the familiar Firebolt in his hands, and his face was glum and bitter.

“Wriggle will be stealing it back for the young master at some point, yes?” he asked as if it was his final hope.

“No. Now, give it to Potter.”

The house elf hurled the broom at Albus so that it struck him in the chest, then hissed viciously in Albus’s face, immediately diving back to throw his arms around Prince’s knees and bury his face in the young master’s robes.

“You’d better go put on that broom lock, moppet,” Prince said, looking tired.

“Aren’t you coming?” asked Albus.

Prince shook his head. “I’ve got a long farewell ahead of me.”

“Farewell?” Wriggle raised anxious eyes. “But Wriggle has only just arrived, Wriggle has not seen the young master for weeks, Wriggle—“

Albus slipped out the door, shutting it behind him as Prince was saying, “You KNOW I’m not allowed a personal house elf here at school…”

Before Albus had moved ten steps away from the stable, Wriggle’s voice had risen in ear piercing, tragic sobs and wails.

“Rum,” muttered Albus. “I’m glad we don’t have one of those.”




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Old September 3rd, 2007, 6:40 am
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts, Chapter 9

Albus put his wand away and held the broomstick against the bedpost. “Lock on!” he commanded. The Firebolt froze and couldn’t be moved, even when he pulled on it with his full weight.

Satisfied, he sat down to write.

Dear Mom, Dad and Lily,

Thanks for the broom lock, it’s perfect. My friend Prince got the Firebolt out of storage, and it’s locked up by my bed now. Tomorrow is my first real Quidditch practice. I’ll probably barf all over the pitch. Sorry to keep asking for stuff, but there’s a potions book I want that I can’t get at the library.


Albus had debated asking for the other books he wanted as well, but if the list was too long, he was sure his parents would ask awkward questions. In any case, he doubted he’d use the Druidic dictionary more than once, so his mother would likely argue it wasn’t worth the money. And the ghost book wasn’t vital. Albus would have liked to hold some control over his night visitor, but he hadn’t been seriously concerned about the matter for some time. His nightly ‘quests’ were a part of his life, now, as were all the other strange changes that had befallen him on his arrival at school.

As for the Harry Potter book…well, how could he ask for a book filled with knowledge that they had kept from him all his life? On a sudden inspiration, Harry fetched his History of Magic textbook and flipped to the Modern Age. He was disappointed to see that the book ended in the 70’s, with a discussion of some muggle-baiting gang who turned several Yetis and other magical creatures loose where they’d be seen, as well as causing a worldwide rash of what the muggles called ‘UFO sightings.’ Checking the front, he saw that though his textbook had been printed this year, it had not been revised since 1982.

Dear Dad and Mom and Lily, why didn’t you tell me? WHAT didn’t you tell me? Albus was still trying to think of a way to ask when Crossley and several of the other Slytherin boys entered.

“What’s THAT?” Crossley demanded at once.

“Broomstick,” said Albus, signing and sealing the letter as unobtrusively as he could. ‘Writing home to Mummy’ was a trigger for major mockery in the dormitory. He needn’t have worried, since every boy was staring at the broomstick. “I’ve got to practice for Quidditch, haven’t I?”

“That’s the weirdest looking broomstick I’ve ever seen.” Crossley said. “Does it really fly? Let’s give it a go—“ He tried to pick it up. “What the—“

“It’s locked,” said Albus. He got up quickly, stashing the letter in his pocket.

“Why?” asked Crossley. “This ugly thing can’t be worth much.”

“I don’t know about that,” said a boy whose name Albus couldn’t remember. “Some of those old brooms are pretty valuable.”

“I see, and Potter doesn’t fancy keeping it lying loose here among all us slimy thieves, is that it?”

“It’s not valuable,” Albus lied. “It’s just a hand-me-down. But my dad used it when he was at school, and he’ll kill me if anything happens to it. Anyway, you’re the one who was just moaning yesterday about someone nicking your new gobstones.”

“Fine,” said Crossley. “So unlock it and let’s have a look.”

“All right, but just for a minute,” said Albus. “I’ve got an errand to run yet.” He reluctantly set the broom loose and handed it to Crossley.

Crossley examined the Firebolt. “Weird,” he announced.

“I think retro brooms are cool,” said another boy whose name Albus didn’t know. As they handed the Firebolt around, Albus was suddenly ashamed that he hadn’t taken the trouble to at least learn the names of all his classmates. And how was he supposed to find out now? “Hey, you, I know we’ve been sleeping in the same room and taking classes together for over a month, but what’s your name?” He didn’t think he’d start asking. Time to pay attention in class to more than his studies—a teacher was bound to call on each of them eventually.

Crossley decided to settle an argument by mounting the broomstick and rising off the floor.

“Hey!” Albus protested.

“Keep your wig on, Potter,” Crossley yelled. “Just trying it out.” He did a quick circle of the dormitory, then swooped and dove between the curtains of one of the beds, jumping off the mattress to do a complete flip. “Steers pretty good for an antique.”

“Let me have a go, next, eh, Potter?” another boy begged.

“Sure, go ahead, Starkers,” said Albus, glad to at least be able to address this one directly.

“That’s Stoker,” the boy said, with an unfriendly glance. But he got on the Firebolt without waiting for an apology.

One after another, the Slytherin boys took turns whirling around the dormitory on the Firebolt. Albus winced now and then—when the Roylott boy got too close to a bedpost and was sent spinning, or when Walter Macadam ran right into the wall. Macadam wasn’t hurt—though he certainly made enough fuss about it –and Albus couldn’t help thinking what Prince or Wriggle would say about the damage to the broomstick. Still, it felt good to actually be called ‘Potter,’ instead of ‘Swotter’ or ‘I.Q. Cumber’ or any of the other names the class had invented for him, and to be a part of the group, for a change.

The door banged open. A prefect stood there, glaring furiously. “What the blazes is all the noise about? Whose broomstick is that?”

Every boy in the room pointed at Albus.

“First years aren’t allowed broomsticks,” said the prefect. “I’m confiscating this. And you’re going to be reported, Potter. I expect you’ll be put on detention.” He picked up the Firebolt and left. Albus stared after his departing broomstick helplessly as the Slytherins stood around him in silence.

Finally, Crossley poked Albus in the back. “You’re NOT going to let him get away with that?” he asked incredulously.

“What am I supposed to do?” Albus asked. “He’s a prefect!”

“You’re on the Quidditch team, moron!” said Crossley. “TELL him! For crying out loud—“ Albus moved to run after the prefect, but Crossley grabbed him by the collar. “Doesn’t your broom lock have a call-back? Here.”

Seizing Albus’s wrist, Crossley touched his wand to the orange triangle on the wristband Albus wore. In seconds, the Firebolt zipped back into the room, dragging the shouting prefect behind it.

“Go on,” Crossley growled.

“I’m sorry, I forgot to mention,” said Albus. “I’m on the Quidditch team.”

“Yeah, take his broomstick and Yorick’ll skin you and fry your bits for breakfast,” said one of the nameless boys.

The prefect dropped the broomstick as if it were on fire. “You ought to have said,” was all he muttered as he huffed out of the room, the first-years mocking his departure.

The boys’ happy jeers turned to groans of protest as Albus locked his broomstick to the bedpost again.

“That’s enough for tonight,” he said. “I’ve only just got time to get to the owlery before lights-out.”

“Writing home to Mummy again?” said Crossley. “What is it, tenth letter this week?” Albus ignored him. As he reached the door, Crossley shouted, “Oy! Potter! Oy!”

“What?” Albus turned and looked back. “I’m in a hurry!”

“Just wanted to say,” said Crossley, “you’re not half as smart as I thought you were.”

As Albus ran to the owlery, it was not Crossley’s words hat annoyed him most, it was the fact that they had clearly been meant as a compliment.

------------------

“Ow! Don’t do that! You make my brain hurt!” Albus sat up in bed, clutching at his aching head.

“It seems to be the only way to wake you up tonight,” said the ghost. “I tried everything else first.”

“I feel like I swallowed a whole gallon of ice cream,” Albus groaned. Apart from the stabbing ice-cream headache, his entire body felt chilled. Apparently the ghost HAD tried everything else first. Cold was the ghost’s primary weapon. “Two nights in a row is no fair! I need to sleep!”

“You need to go into the forest,” said the ghost. “Sleep is overrated. Time is all that matters.”

“Easy for you to say,” Albus grumbled. The pain in his head was fading quickly. “I’m not going into the forest.”

The ghost raised an eyebrow. “Frightened of chipmunks, Potter?”

“Ha, ha,” said Albus. “Look, you can make fun of me all you like. I don’t know what the forest was like when you were at school, but nobody can go there at night any more.”

“There were griffons in my day, and a werewolf, among other threats,” said the ghost. “Your family has a remarkable history of evading danger, among other talents like dodging the law, missing the point, and avoiding inconvenient truths.”

“Even Grawp won’t go in the forest at night,” Albus said. “Do you know who Grawp is? Hagrid’s baby brother? The one whose head reaches the fourth floor? Something MAULED him.”

For the first time, the ghost seemed to be wavering in the face of Albus’s protests.

“Professor Sylvanus says the centaurs are starting to leave the forest, too,” Albus persisted. “Things aren’t they way they used to be. The forest has changed.”

“Things change,” the ghost agreed, in a fading voice riddled with despair. “Some things change. Some things, some things never do. Old injustices linger on…forever…”

Silence. The ghost was gone.

“Ghost?” Albus called out softly. There was no answer. Had he been let off the hook this time? Or was this simply the ghost’s usual vanishing act, once the mission was assigned?

One way to find out, Albus thought as he slid back down between his covers and curled up.

The ghost did not return, but neither did sleep. Albus felt completely alert, every nerve tingling. He reached out a hand to stroke the Firebolt clamped to the bedpost.

He had not flown on it yet.

Seized with the mad urge to take a midnight test flight, Albus quickly dressed, strapped on his arsenal (just in case,) took his broomstick, and tiptoed away from the dormitory and out of the castle. The stars were bright above the Quidditch pitch as Albus Potter mounted his father’s broom and rose to the skies.

The Firebolt gave a ride as smooth as a breeze. After his time on the clumsy school brooms, Albus found the old broomstick’s effortless maneuverability almost intoxicating. Ignoring the familiar, tightening sensation in his stomach, he rose higher into the night, swirled around the pitch, dove and climbed, and even did a rollover, something he had never dared before.

He only wished for a snitch to practice with.

Albus finally stopped to hover, clutching his stomach and willing himself not to throw up. Closing his eyes for a while seemed to help, though the broom swayed in the breeze like a boat on a mild swell. When he opened his eyes, he saw the Forbidden Forest before him. Some injustices last forever, he thought. What was that about?

“Well, why not?” he muttered. After all, it wasn’t as if he couldn’t fly out of danger’s range. And he wouldn’t even set foot on the ground, if he could help it.

The night forest was full of the song of night birds and the secret rustle of creatures of the darkness. Unobserved, Albus saw a couple of hunting centaurs trotting by below him. Further on he stopped at the stunning sight of a unicorn drinking at a stream. The unicorn suddenly tossed up its head and ran into the shadows, and Albus wondered if he had been scented.

He flew on, suppressing his continuing urge to vomit. The forest was full of wonders. A tiny waterfall shot over a stone bluff. Owls circled below him, hunting. Shadowy shapes stalked in the shelter of the trees.

Something glinted in the starlight. Albus looked, frowned, and swept down to hover where he could see the object more clearly.

It was the gnomon of a sundial, set in the stone of a bare patch. How odd, Albus thought.

Then he remembered the ghost’s words. “Time is all that matters.” Was this what he had been hinting at? Had the ghost actually given him a hint before leaving? Albus hadn’t thought so, but…

Albus circled the clearing carefully, watching for any hint of movement in the surrounding trees. Cautiously, he lowered himself to the ground and landed. There was only the calling of the night birds in the still, cool air around him, and the scent of damp autumn leaves.

Albus’s legs felt shaky on the solid ground, and his stomach still clenched and unclenched periodically as he examined the gnomon. It was dull—bronze, he thought, though it was too dark to be sure. And seemed to be covered with engraving, though Albus couldn’t see if it was more writing.

He did see, though, that in the light of the stars and the rising moon, the gnomon cast three shadows. He followed one to see where it led, and it took him to a round stone. Albus examined the stone, and pushed at it. It rocked slightly, and he finally managed to roll it out of the hollow it sat in. There was nothing underneath it, though—just a scooped-out area in the rock, with a bit of dirt and a few scurrying bugs in the bottom.

The second shadow he followed led him to an identical rock.

The third simply led to an empty hollow. Albus frowned, and looked around. There was a stone, he saw it eventually, where it had been rolled away. He went to it, to return it to its place. As he rolled it, he felt an unevenness in its surface, and when it was in place, he examined it.

Albus shouted in delight. Carved on the stone were the initials, S.S and L.E. He must be in the right place!

Nothing seemed to happen when the stone was returned to its spot. Then Albus remembered the stone he had moved himself, and pushed it back into its hollow.

A soft humming noise rippled through the air. From the tip of the gnomon, tendrils of light glowed, moving down its surface to mark the pattern engraved on it. The gnomon shone with a strange beauty, and the light of its pattern beamed out over the clearing.

Albus waited, at first transfixed by the spectacle, then disappointed that nothing further seemed to happen. The marks on the gnomon were not words at all, but only an odd decorative pattern.

As Albus walked around the strange object, the beams of light it shot upon the ground caught his eye. It was as if they formed a pattern of their own. The revelation made him leap for his Firebolt, and soon he was hovering over the clearing. Moths, attracted by the glow, brushed their wings against his face as he pulled paper and quill out of his arsenal pockets and hastily copied the pattern of lines and circles the light sketched on the ground.

There was something familiar about the pattern. One of the circles was marked with an uneven shape he didn’t recognize. Was this some sort of map?

When he was certain he had gotten everything marked down properly, Albus settled to the ground again. He moved the rock with the initials, and the light winked out instantly. Pushing until the rock was about where he had originally found it, Albus unfolded the danger blade of his knife and carved The ASP Was Here below the older initials.

He stood up, smiling, and wondered if some day, some other adventurous person would find this rock and add their own mark to it. The forest was entirely still, now, as still as the air between the dark trees. There was a faint pop--as if a leaf had
dropped or a tiny twig snapped--and Albus felt every hair on his head stand up.

Something was out there--he felt it in every nerve, almost as if he could see it. His Firebolt lay on the moss a few feet away. Slowly he moved toward it, one tiny nudge of the feet at a time. A falling leaf brushed his shoulder and made him freeze in panic. A little closer...just a little closer.

As he reached the Firebolt and slowly stooped, a shadow detached itself from the stillness and leapt at him. Albus only had time to register a fluid black form, a gaping maw and glistening teeth before his stomach contracted violently, and he expelled everything he had held back all evening, emptying his guts in one violent heave.

The shadow before him choked, gasped, spat, and Albus snatched up his broomstick and ran, faster than he ever had, so fast he had no time to breathe. Somehow he managed to get the broomstick between his legs and was in the air, dodging the trunks of trees, in a deadly slalom, dodging the dark forest growth at a speed which would break bone if he missed a swerve. He desperately kept risking upward glances, searching for a break in the canopy above him that would allow him to soar away, up out of range of the panting beast he heard crashing along behind him.

Seeing a clearing before him, Albus took a swift glance back. The panther-like creature was leaping along after him with little effort, but he did seem to be increasing the distance.

It was as Albus turned forward again that he hit the invisible wall. No, not a wall, because that would have flattened him, but a net. A web of sticky elastic strands stuck into his face, pulling tight across his body, and wrenching the Firebolt from his grip. His momentum pushed him tight against the stretchy lines, until he felt they would cut into his skin and right through his body, leaving nothing to be found but thin slices of Potter, and then suddenly he was hurled back, snapping to the other extreme, nearly being shot loose of the glue that held him, and finally spinning in the air to find himself thoroughly entangled and upside down.

He could see the creature stalking him clearly, now, its enormous catlike body shimmering in the faint light. It had slowed suspiciously to examine its prey as Albus bobbed in the air between two enormous trees. The beast looked almost as confused as Albus felt.

Then the first spider crawled across his legs.

With a scream, Albus kicked. The violence of his impact had torn part of the web, and his foot had enough freedom to boot the dog-sized arachnid to the ground, where it skittered in circles before collapsing to the earth, limbs twitching. Up in the leaves of the trees, Albus could hear rustling, clicking, and chittering noises. He struggled to pull out his knife, and then to get a blade open. He hacked at the sticky web, and the fibers broke, one by one. A few spiders were warily testing the strands of the web, now, moving closer to him. Albus shouted and brandished the knife at them. They froze momentarily, then edged nearer.

Albus slashed at the web frantically, and the last strands holding him snapped. He fell to the forest floor, trailing broken strands of silk, to land flat on his face. He felt something crack with the impact, and a warm liquid started seeping into his clothing.

Can't lie here, Albus thought, trying to inhale. Something will have me if I lie here.

Not that standing up was likely to make much difference.

He managed to push himself up, groping at the pain in his chest as the dark beast trotted forward.

Something tinkled. It was a bottle that had broken, not a rib. Albus reflexively clutched at his face as the fumes rose. The black beast, about to spring, stopped short. It snorted, sneezed, and gagged.

Then, with an expression of complete disgust, it turned, seized the injured spider, and leaped silently back into the darkness.

Albus removed the broken shard of glass that had pierced his skin, and put it in the pocket with the rest of the remains of the flask that had once held Professor Prince's Poo Potion.

Then as the spiders began to lower themselves on silk
strands from the tree, Albus hastily recovered his Firebolt and flew toward a gap in the forest where he could see the stars shining.

Pulling the last of the sticky spider silk from his hair, Albus staggered back to the Slytherin common room, and the passage to his dormitory. Standing in the hall were Prince, Yorick, and the entire Slytherin Quidditch team.

"Morning, Potter," said Prince. "We thought you'd need to be woken up again." He looked slightly disappointed.

As the fragrant result of his night's adventure began to infuse the narrow corridor, the Quidditch players slowly backed away from the silently staring Albus.

Finally Yorick spoke. "Generally, we shower after practice, Potter, not before. But in your case, I think we'll make an exception."


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  #11  
Old September 3rd, 2007, 7:52 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 10

The faint remembrances of Poo Potion still rose around Albus as he ran to the Quidditch pitch, but it was no longer foul enough to drive off hungry predators, or even other students. The rest of the team was still on the ground, bickering over equipment.

"You look half dead," Yorick commented. "Not staying up late reading or anything daft, are you?"

"I haven't been sleeping well lately," said Albus with a shrug. "I've got this ghost pestering me every night." And last night he almost got me killed, Albus thought.

"Ghost?" said Prince. "Flamel’s nightgown, Myrtle's got a new boyfriend! I'm sure you'll be very happy together, moppet! You'll invite me to the wedding, right?"

"Prince," said Yorick. "Go run five laps."

"What? I've already done five," Prince objected.

"Do five more," said Yorick. "You've been eating like a starving anaconda since term started, and I'm concerned about your weight."

"No worries," said Prince. "It all goes to muscle with me." He rolled up a sleeve and flexed an arm almost as thin and bony as Albus's own.

"Run!" barked Yorick. With a yelp of mock terror, Prince ran.

"Don't make him run off too much weight, there won't be anything left," said Albus.

"Don't worry about him, he'll scarf enough for three at breakfast," said Yorick. "If you're having trouble sleeping at night, try napping in History class. Binns won't notice, and he gives the same assignments and exams every year. I've still got mine somewhere, and you can have them. Just rewrite the essays in your own hand."

"Thanks, but I'm already sleeping through History," said Albus. "And the essays are pretty easy, as long as someone tells me when they're due." He looked toward Prince, on the other end of the pitch, and Yorick followed his gaze.

"Right," he said. "Here's how to save yourself the trouble of having your ear talked off by Prince. Never, never mention Severus Snape, muggle music, or ESPECIALLY Professor Binns. Got that?" Albus nodded. "Right, then. Get into the air and we'll see what you can do."

Albus mounted the Firebolt again and was shortly airborne. His stomach constricted again, but there was nothing in it to bring up, so it was less uncomfortable now.

"Try and catch this!" Yorick shouted from the ground. A small, sparkling object whipped through the sky past Albus's nose. He set off in pursuit of it, but just as he caught up with it, it suddenly shot upward. Albus was after it without a moment's hesitation, the Firebolt responding to his will almost instantly. Then, as he was about to seize it, the sparkling object changed direction entirely and dived.

Albus did a flip in the air and followed it, hand outstretched. Beyond the sparkler, he could see the grass rushing toward him. He expected a change of direction before hitting, so when the sparkler suddenly flew away under his feet, he reacted almost instantly, and felt something crumple in his hand.

He landed among the congratulations of his teammates.

"You fly very well," said Yorick. "At least, when you're not hunched over clutching your gut."

As if on cue, Albus collapsed to his knees and started retching helplessly.

"You'll have to get over that," said Yorick. "Practice will do it. We'll give you lots of it"

Albus nodded, wiping drool on his sleeve as he stood up again. He handed the sparkler to Yorick. "What is that?" he asked, hoping to change the subject.

"Cat toy," said Yorick. "Where the cat's gone, she don't need it any more. Now, get back on your broom and we'll try you with a real snitch this time.” He suddenly seemed to notice the rest of the team. “WHAT ARE YOU ALL STANDING AROUND FOR?”

“No point guarding the goal if the Chasers are all down here,” Goyle grumbled.

“Nobody up there to hit Bludgers at,” said Lanister.

“We can’t practice the formations without Prince,” said Nott.

“PRINCE?! Where’s that—PRINCE! What d’you think you’re doing? RUNNING LAPS? Get in the air! Are you a chaser or a runner?!” Prince ran in and grabbed his broom, taking off with a rude gesture at Yorick.

As the rest of the team took off, Yorick said, “Right, your turn to run laps, while they get their attention back on their own game. It’ll help you shake off the broomsickness.”

Albus groaned, but set off jogging around the pitch. He heard Yorick shouting orders, and as he ran, he tried to keep an eye on the team. At first he found Yorick’s shouts alarming, then amusing. He screamed at the chasers when they failed to make a goal, and screamed at Goyle when they succeeded. He shouted at Lanister for not trying to hit anyone hard enough, then later for ‘trying to kill’ team members.

By the time he had come around the pitch the third time, Albus was used to the sound, and felt he could cope with being screamed at himself, so when Yorick waved him over, he stopped running gladly.

“Here, take this,” said Yorick. It was a Golden Snitch. It quivered with life in Albus’s hand. “Seen one before?”

“Yeah,” said Albus.

“Well, this is the only one we’ve got, so lose it and you won’t see it again, got that?”

Albus nodded. Yorick took back the Snitch and released it, a sparkle of gold buzzing into the morning sky. “After it, boyo!”

Albus reached for his Firebolt. It wasn’t there.

“What are you waiting for?” Yorick bellowed.

“My broom’s gone,” said Albus.

“Gone? GONE? Whaddya mean, gone?”

“I’m sure I left it right around here,” said Albus.

Yorick swore. “Well, use your call-back, before that Snitch makes its way to Okinawa.”

“Oh, right.” Albus fumbled his wand out and touched it to the wristband. Nothing happened.

“Am doing it right?” he asked nervously.

Yorick grunted, took Albus’s arm, and touched his own wand to the mark. Still nothing happened. “I think it must be out of range,” Yorick said. “PRINCE! PRINCE GET DOWN HERE!”

“Out of range?” said Albus. “It’s got a range?”

“Yeah, of course,” said Yorick. “They’re not going to risk its coming halfway across the country with three or four muggles impaled on the shaft, are they?”

“What now?” Prince asked, landing beside them.

“The shrimp’s broomstick has gone missing and is out of range,” said Yorick, his voice heavy with sarcasm. “Any clue where it might have wandered off to?”

“Oh, gawd.” Prince smacked a hand to his forehead. Then he shouted, “WRIGGLE!”

The house elf appeared, bearing a large tray of biscuits.

“Young master, Wriggle comes as called! Wriggle has been up all night baking, what a marvelous coincidence…”

“Wriggle, did you filch Potter’s broomstick?”

The elf wiggled its bare toes in the grass as it pondered for a few moments, gazing off toward the rising sun. Then Wriggle said, “They are very good biscuits, young master.”

Prince swore. “You go straight back home and get that Firebolt. NOW, Wriggle, you hear me?”

The house elf vanished. A moment later, he was back, this time with an enormous fruitcake on a platter. “Wriggle has also baked the young master’s favorite black cake…”

“Wriggle!” Prince shouted. “I’m taking my shoe off!” He was hopping on one foot, tugging at a shoe, and it reminded Albus of the opening night feast. “If I can—oof—get at my sock, so help me—“

Wriggle vanished again, reappearing with the Firebolt. He shoved it into Albus’s hands, with an alarming snap of his teeth, and vanished with a reverberating bang that sounded like a furiously slammed door.

Albus shuddered as he thought what could have happened last night, if the elf had taken his broom while he investigated the sundial. “Try to get that elf of yours under control, will you?” he grumbled at Prince.

“Well, keep your broom locked,” Prince snapped back. “What’s the point of having a lock if you’re just going to leave it lying around on the ground?”

“Thanks both of you for coming to Chatting Practice,” Yorick snarled. “Let’s take a little Quiddiitch break, shall we? POTTER! You don’t come back to the ground till you’ve found that snitch, you hear me? GET UP THERE! And YOU, Prince,--“

“...might have at least left the cake,” Albus heard Prince mutter as they left the ground together. Yorick joined them in the air, and Albus, his stomach knotting up again, flew around the pitch trying to catch a glimpse of the Snitch.

Albus was starting to wonder if he was fated never to set foot on land again when he saw a sparkle of gold. He set off immediately in pursuit and was closing in when Lanister and Larken flew in front of him, forcing him to pull up sharply.

“WHAT WAS THAT?” Yorick screamed. “WHAT WAS THAT? POTTER! YOU ALMOST HAD IT!”

“I had to stop, I’d have hit them!” Albus protested.

“SO HIT THEM! Nobody ever won a Quidditch game by being polite!” Yorick howled. “Next time just barrel right on through them like they weren’t there! If I EVER see you slow down when you’ve got the Snitch in view again, I’ll rip out your insides with my bare TEETH! You got that?”

“Hope it’s you in front of me next time,” snarled Albus. The lack of sleep was getting to him. Yorick responded by hitting a bludger at him, which Albus had to dive to avoid. Hurriedly he returned to searching for the Snitch, this time with Yorick on his tail and a bludger whistling around his ears.

At last he found it again and hurried after it, It plunged, climbed, and made several changes of direction, but this time his eyes were locked on it, and he leaned into the wind, willing every iota of speed the Firebolt could muster. Just as he came near to catching the elusive Snitch, he caught sight of a bludger coming in, aimed right at his nose.

Albus nearly pulled back, but instead he rolled over without slowing. As he came upright, his hand closed on the cool metal of the golden snitch.

“Well done, Potter, well done!” Yorick cried. But Albus didn’t stay to be complimented. He dropped, as fast as he safely could, and actually fell for the last few meters.

There he remained, on his hands and knees, clutching his broomstick in one hand and the snitch in the other, as his stomach gave a series of racking dry heaves. His teammates landed around him as he continued to retch, strings of saliva dangling from his mouth and chin, his eyes watering and nose dripping.

“You’ll do, Potter,” said Yorick, sounding pleased. “You’ll do nicely. And I’m sure the broomsickness will be gone forever, before you know it. Come on, now, on your feet. Who’s ready for breakfast?”


-------------

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Last edited by Inkwolf; September 3rd, 2007 at 8:27 pm.
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Old September 4th, 2007, 7:19 am
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 11

“Must be good, the way you’re diving in.”

Albus’s eyes flickered open. He had dozed off again, and his nose was nodding perilously near the bowl of porridge in front of him.

He rubbed his eyes and took a drink of cold pumpkin juice.

“Prince, how would you go about getting rid of a ghost?” he asked.

“Is this about Myrtle?” asked Prince. “My advice is to marry the girl and get it over with. Breach of promise suits are always SO tawdry.”

He took a large bite out of a muffin. Albus could see in his face that he was preparing to be very funny on the subject, and remembering what Yorick had said, quickly interjected, “Actually, I was thinking about Professor Binns.” Yorick gave Albus a dark look.

Prince choked, and for a moment Albus thought he would spit out the muffin. Then he swallowed and barked, “Binns? Binns? That waste of ectoplasm! That bumbling old bore! He could make ANYTHING dull!” Putting on an Binns-like expression and a dull monotone, Prince mumbled, “Now class, we seem to be under attack by a number of dragons. Note that three hundred of them are Chinese Fireballs while the remaining thousand seem to be made up of primarily Ukranian Ironbellies. Young Albus Severus has just been consumed by a column of flame, but please do not panic. I will expect three parchments on the subject of your personal experience with dental plaque buildup on dragon fangs by sometime this century, should you survive.”

“Bah!” he continued in his own voice. “If the Headless Hunt ever asks me what they ought to hunt down next—“

“Oh, look at the time,” said Yorick loudly. “I’m off to Care of Magical Creatures. We’re birthing a river troll this week. What joy.”

“And I suppose I mustn’t keep my Minerva waiting,” said Prince, rising. He added in an aside to Albus, “She fancies me, you know.”

“Yeah, right, I’ve seen,” said Albus. “Seriously, though, Prince. If you wanted to get rid of Binns, how would you do it?”

Prince hesitated, and Albus wondered for a moment whether he was coming up with another joke, or really thinking about it.

“I’d get him with the Resurrection Stone,” Prince said with satisfaction. “That’d fix him.” He walked away.

The hall was emptying as students left for class. Albus saw Rose about to leave and hurried over to intercept her.

“Hullo, Rose! How’ve you been?” he asked.

“Fine, Albus. How are you doing?”

“All right. I’ve been practicing Quidditch all morning.”

“That must be why I never see you anymore,” said Rose. “You and James both.”

“Oh, did he make the team?”

“Yes, he’s a beater,” she said. “Hasn’t he told you? He bragged to everyone else who held still long enough.”

“I haven’t seen him lately,” said Albus. “Been…busy.”

“Well, I’ve been busy, too,” said Rose. “I’ve joined the chess club and the poetry club and the Squidwatch, not that you’ve asked.”

“That’s great,” said Albus. “Say, would you do me a….what’s the Squidwatch?”

“We watch the giant squid. Duh,” said Rose.

“Cool,” said Albus, though it sounded pretty dull to him. “Will you do me a favor? I need a book from the library, and the librarian is out for my blood.”

“It can’t be as bad as all that,” she said. “Madame Pince is a little scary, but I’m sure you’re just overreacting. You’ve always been a little shy, Albus.”

“I asked her for a book on how to get rid of ghosts and she shrieked at me like a banshee who’s sat on a tack,” said Albus.

“You didn’t!” Rose gasped, eyes wide. “All right, then. What book do you need? Mind, I’m NOT going to ask her for a ghost-chasing book, either.”

“No, I just want the Druidic dictionary,” said Albus. “I want to translate something.”

“A dictionary’s no good for translation,” said a voice behind him. “You don’t get context or structure. I can read Druidic, let me help.” It was Scorpius Malfoy

“Thanks,” said Albus coldly. “But I think I’m meant to do it myself.”

“Suit yourself,” Scorpius shrugged. “Come on, Rosie, we’ll be late to class.”

“What class has you translating Druidic?” asked Rose. “We aren’t doing anything like that yet.” Scorpius’s nosy face watched him intently.

“It’s a sort of detention,” Albus lied.

“Really? Lucky you,” said Rose. “All my detentions have been really dull so far. Scrubbing stairs and so on.”

“Um…” Albus wondered what Rose had been getting in trouble for, but he could hardly ask without giving more details of his own ‘detention.’ And he certainly couldn’t ask any questions about his father with Scorpius hanging around and drinking in very word.

“Push off, Malfoy, will you?” he said. “We have family business to discuss.”

Scorpius held up his hands in surrender, said “See you in class, Rosie.” He turned and left.

Rose rounded furiously on Albus. “Don’t be rude to my friends!” she said.

“Rude? He’s ruder than I’ll ever be,” said Albus. “He’s always—“

“He’s no worse than your precious Prince!” Rose snarled. “I swear, if he calls me ‘Frecklemonster’ one more time—“ Albus stifled a laugh. “AND that poor Avery girl! All the Gryffindor girls agreed we’d call her Tina, and what does Prince do but start everyone in the school calling her Morty! MORTY of all things! You’ve been doing it, too, and you ought to be ashamed—“

“I asked her if it was okay,” Albus said angrily. “Did you girls ever once ask her what she thought of being called Tina?”

Rose turned red. “Scorpius is my friend,” she snapped. “It’s sickening how everyone in Gryffindor treats him, just because some grandfather of his was a Death Eater!”

“I’m not in Gryffindor, and I don’t care what his grandfather is, I care that he’s a slimy git,” Albus shouted back.

“Just give him a chance, Albus,” she shouted. “Is that too much to ask for my best friend? A chance? I’m going, I’m late for class.” She pushed past Albus, and he saw she had tears in her eyes. It was shocking. Rose never cried.

Albus’s misery and exhaustion must have showed, because when he claimed he didn’t feel well, Professor Longbottom merely told him to go to the hospital wing for a lie-down.

Halfway there, Albus turned around and went back to the dormitory to get the rubbing he had made. Once he was settled in at the hospital wing, he made a single-page copy of the mysterious Druidic writing. Then he took a nap until lunchtime, when he announced he felt well enough to return to the Great Hall and afternoon classes.

Entering the hall, he went first to the Gryffindor table and found Rose, sitting beside Scorpius as usual.

“I’m sorry,” Albus said. He held out the page of Druidic. “Scorpius, could you please translate this for me?”

“The window of opportunity has closed,” said Scorpius smugly. “Go chase a snidget, Potter. OW!” Rose had given him a hit in the shoulder that almost knocked his chair sideways. “All right, all right. Let’s have a look at it.” Scorpius stared at the parchment for a long time.

“Well?” Albus finally asked. “Can you read it?”

“Sort of,” Scorpius answered. “Yes and no, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t,” said Albus. “You said you could read Druidic.”

“Yes, but this is really, really OLD Druidic,” Scorpius complained. “It’s like reading something in Old English script with the funny letters and weird capitals and the archaic words and the f’s where s’s should be. It’s not like Druidic is my first language, you know. I can probably make a decent translation, but it will take time.”

“Thanks,” said Albus shortly. “I appreciate it.” He returned to his own table, hoping Rose appreciated it as well.

“Hullo, Potter, how’s the cousin? OY! HULLO FRECKLEMONSTER!” Prince called out. There was a screech of rage and a bun was flung from the Gtyffindor table. “Fiery temper that girl has,” Prince chuckled. “Alas, here comes my sweet Minerva, and it looks like five more points from Gryffindor. Told you she fancies me. Oh, dear, she’s coming this way, now. As I don’t care to lose all the points I earned this morning, I’m off to catch up on my studying.” Prince hastily gathered a couple of apples and a sandwich, last of all picking up the bun Rose had thrown. “Hurled with love!” he said loudly, pressing it to his heart. There was another shriek from Rose, as Prince departed the Great Hall in great haste.

Albus kept his eyes down, not daring to look at his cousin. He hoped she couldn’t see how hard he was laughing.



The day of the first school Quidditch game arrived, and the afternoon sun had still not succeeded in burning off a stubborn mist as Albus made his way into the crowded stands to sit with the Slytherin team. Prince and Yorick had omnioculars, and Albus wished he had brought his own pair from home.

As his friends were carrying on an uncharacteristically serious and dull discussion about Quidditch rule interpretations, Albus looked elsewhere for conversation.

“Morty! Hey, Morty, come sit with us!” he called, as the Hufflpuff girl walked past.

“No way,” she said.

“Come on,” Albus said. “We’ll cheer for Hufflepuff!”

“We certainly will,” Yorick growled. “Ravenclaw is the biggest threat this year.”

“Don’t take it personally,” Morty said, “If you were named after You Know-Who, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be seen sitting with a lot of Slytherins.”

“I was named after two headmasters, and I’m not afraid of being seen with teachers,” Albus insisted.

Morty laughed, but moved on to join a group of Hufflepuff girls.

“Flirting with loose women, Potter,” said Prince. “What would Myrtle say?”

“Watch Albright, Potter,” Yorick ordered as the Ravenclaw seeker took off. “He does a funny maneuver I’d like you to try yourself.”

The game was entertaining, but not as exciting as Albus had hoped. The Hufflepuff ream was seriously outmatched, and many people began to leave early as the Ravenclaw score mounted steadily.

“There!” said Yorick, as the Ravenclaw seeker suddenly made a sort of leaping spin with a half-rwist in it. The result was that the seeker made a complete reversal of direction with almost no decrease in speed. “Do you think you can do that?”

“I can do it,” said Albus. “I think so, anyway. But it’ll make me puke.” A roar went up as Albright snagged the snitch.

“No different than any other move, then,” said Yorick. “Next practice, I want to see you do it.” He stood up to leave, and Albus went to join Morty.

“Sorry your house lost,” he said.

“Some day,” Morty said in an intensely fierce voice. “Some day Hufflepuff will win the Quidditch tournament, and the house cup and everything.”


”Absolutely,” said Albus. “You’ll be the one to make it happen. Hullo, Rose!” He waved to his cousin.

“Hi, Albus! Hi….Morty,” the name was forced. “Do you want to come down to the lake with us? The Ravenclaws are setting off fireworks.”

“That sounds like fun,” said Morty.

“Prince, are you coming?” Albus asked.

“You’re welcome to join us,” said Rose bravely.

“As much as I’d love to help surround Voldemort’s namesake with Slytherins,” said Prince, peering through his omnioculars, “I’m trying to lip-read what Dahlia Bottom is saying to Manfred Suggs. You youngsters go—oh, my, she’s slapped him!---go along without your Uncle Albert this once.”

They left the stands, and for the first time since being sorted into Slytherin, Albus took his cousin’s hand. With Morty holding his other hand, and Scorpius holding Rose’s, the four of them walked to the lake, where spectacular colors were already lighting the sky above the waving tentacles of the giant squid.
--------------------
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Last edited by Inkwolf; September 4th, 2007 at 7:33 am.
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  #13  
Old September 9th, 2007, 6:04 am
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 12

In the two weeks since Albus’s adventure in the forest, the ghost had not reappeared. At first Albus was relieved, but as the days passed, he began to be concerned for his ghostly visitor.

The fact that he was not being ordered out on missions did not keep Albus in bed. He had developed the taste for nocturnal exploration, and every few days he would find himself awake and alert at midnight, and would creep out on his own adventures. Sometimes it was no more than a trip to the kitchen, but more often he went looking for places he had not yet explored,

One night he found a small room with a miniature model of the entire castle in it, complete with working fountains and tiny dolls of witches and wizards walking its battlements. Another time he found a room whose walls seemed to be made of thick, twisted tree branches. One night he hid near the headmaster's office and learned the password—Status Quo—and another night he examined the treasures of an abandoned storage room.

Hogwarts at night was a different world than it was in the daytime. Statues took slightly different positions. Hallways led to new and unknown places. Albus even knew of one portrait whose snoozing subject became a ravening werewolf under the full moon. And wherever he went, when he found something exciting or interesting, the Asp left his mark. At first, he simply scratched The Asp Was Here with the tip of his blade in as small a hand as he could manage, but over time his graffiti became bolder, larger and more elaborate.

Part of Albus hoped that his declarations would be found, that people would ask who this mysterious Asp could be, and mild-mannered Albus Severus Potter would only say, “It certainly is a mystery.”

On the other hand, when a girl came to his Charms class to summon Albus to the Headmaster's office, he hoped whole-heartedly that his handiwork had gone completely unnoticed.

As he sat in the office waiting for the headmaster to arrive and tell him why he had been summoned, Albus examined his surroundings. There was a large mirror with shadowy figures moving around in it, as well as a table full of objects he couldn’t identify. The only items on the table he recognized were a sneakoscope and a couple of dark detectors, so he assumed the other devices more of the same sort of thing.

On the wall were rows of paintings of snoring old men and women, labeled with their names. Albus looked for the headmasters he had been named after. Albus Dumbledore was easy enough to find. The white-bearded old man was snoring as hard as any of them, a pair of half-moon spectacles almost slipping off his long nose. Severus Snape proved more of a puzzle. When Albus had finally found him, across the room from the other portraits, there was no image of the former Headmaster at all, just a black square of canvas.

"You know why he's all the way over there, don’t you?" Albus looked around, but nobody had entered the room. Then he saw that the portrait labeled ‘Phineas Nigellus’ had opened one eye, and a former headmaster was speaking to him. "It's because Fudge is worried that SOMEONE might read over his shoulder."

“What do you mean?” asked Albus, mystified.

“Just as bright as your father always was, I see,” the portrait s******ed. “How well I grew to know and dislike him.”

“You knew my father?” Albus asked. “Can you tell me what it was he did that made him so famous?”

“He mainly wandered the halls of Hogwarts obsessing over his personal problems and feeling sorry for himself, just as you do.”

“I don’t!” Albus objected indignantly.

“No?” The portrait examined him more closely. “Well, that should change once you hit puberty. You’re still at the age of keeping slugs in your pocket, making as much noise as possible, and looking for exciting new ways to get filthy.”

“Hey!” said Albus, but the portrait closed its eye again and started snoring in a theatrical sort of way. Even snoring, the former Headmaster looked unbearably smug. With a growl of annoyance, Albus turned back to the empty canvas.

“Headmaster Snape?” he called nervously. “Are you there?” He knocked on the wooden frame. “Hellooo…anybody home?”

“Ah, Albus Severus.” The unexpected voice made Albus jump. It was not coming from the portrait, but from behind him. Headmaster Fudge had arrived silently. “Having a chat with an old friend?” Fudge commented. “I imagine it’s comforting to see a familiar face.”

“I haven’t seen him,” said Albus.

“To be sure, he is being something of a recluse lately. I imagine he’s more talkative in your portrait at home.”

“But we don’t have—“

“Do sit down. How is your father doing? Have you had any news from home recently?” Fudge also sat, and offered Albus a tray of candy fruit slices, sparkling with sugar. Albus nervously took a lime slice, wondering what all this was about. It fizzed when he bit into it, making him choke.

“Am I in trouble, sir?” he blurted out.

“Trouble? Of course not! I’m just wondering how your family is. I’m an old friend of your father’s, you know. I saw him through that nasty affair with Sirius Black, and the Triwizard Tournament. Who, knows, perhaps you’ll follow in his footsteps. The tournament after the next will be your seventh year, after all.”

“Really?” Albus hadn’t known that his father had been in the Triwizard Tournament. The number of things he didn’t know about his own family had stopped surprising him by now.

“But I’m afraid we’ve rather gotten out of touch lately, so I’d be grateful for any news you could give me from home.”

“They’re all well,” said Albus politely. “Lily picked up a case of Doxy Pox, but she’s over it. Mum’s going to be playing a reunion match with some of her old teammates this weekend, against the real team, before the actual Quidditch season gets going properly.”

“Marvelous. And your father?” Fudge asked. “How is he? Much worn down by fighting Mortfires? Feeling ready to chuck the whole Auror business?”

“He hasn’t said,” said Albus.

“Of course, of course. He was never one to complain much,” said Fudge. (There was a snort from the direction of Nigellus’s portrait.) “Do let me know how he’s getting on, will you? My office door is open to you at any hour.”

Of course it is. Albus thought. I know your password.

“I imagine you’re looking forward to the Halloween feast tonight, eh?” said Fudge.

“Sort of,” said Albus.

“Only sort of?”

“Well, it’s just that one of my friends is on detention,” said Albus. “I don’t know if he’ll be allowed to come to the feast. It won’t be much fun if he’s not there.”

Fudge frowned. “That wouldn’t be Albert Prince you’re thinking of, is it? Coincidentally, he’s always been very taken with that portrait of Snape himself. I’m curious how the two of you met.”

“I’m in his house,” said Albus with a shrug. “We’re both on the Quidditch team. Anyway, I think he knows everyone in the school. A bit difficult NOT to meet him.”

“Sir,” he added hastily, since Fudge was examining him with an accusing expression.

“So, you never communicated with him before coming to Hogwarts?” Albus shook his head. “He doesn’t…take you along on little adventures, does he? Teach you interesting bits of magic?”

“S-sometimes, sir,” said Albus.

Fudge’s eyes gleamed. “I’d like to hear about it. Never fear, my boy you won’t get in any trouble.”

“Well, a couple of weeks ago he taught the Stickyfoot charm to all of us first years. We ran races on the ceiling! It was brilliant!” said Albus. “And last Saturday, he got Muggletop—that’s this band of Ravenclaw fifth-years who do Muggle music--to play us a concert, and he made us all learn a Muggle dance. And it was really cool because halfway through, the Muggle Studies teacher came out and danced with us, too, and she was, like, waggling her bu- her hips all over and it was REALLY funny. And now there’s a lot of other bands just starting up, and I’ve been trying to practice my harmonica, but I’m really no earthly good…at…it…” He trailed off, as Headmaster Fudge was staring at him with a sort of baffled fury.

“Nothing else?” Fudge demanded.

“Like what, sir?

“You tell me,” Fudge glared.

Albus thought hard. “Well,” he finally said. “He did teach us to make a Poo Potion…”

Fudge made a disgusted noise, and swiveled his chair so that he was no longer looking at Albus. He sat there for some time, his hands steepled before his face and his fingertips drumming against each other, apparently deep in thought.

Albus wondered if it would be all right to leave. He cleared his throat.

It was as if a switch had turned on. Fudge spun to face him, smiling once more. “Sorry, Albus, sorry. I think perhaps I’ve misjudged your friend Prince. And we certainly couldn’t keep him on detention through the Halloween feast. It’s been good having this little chat with you, Albus. I hope we can do it again.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Albus.

As he turned to leave, Fudge suddenly said, “I suppose they discuss the Sons of Walpurgis a lot down in Slytherin house?”

“A bit,” said Albus. “When there’ve been Mortfires lit.”

“And what do hey say?” Fudge asked.

“Well, Prince says—“ Albus stopped as Fudge leaned forward eagerly. “He says they have a silly acronym,” he continued.

Fudge sat back, looking cheated. “Well, as I said, I’d be very grateful if you kept me posted of anything interesting you might happen to hear. By the way, I hear you’ve made a friend of that Avery girl. Glad to hear it, I’m sure she needs a friend. See if you can’t bring her out of her shell, get her to open up and talk to you about…things. Oh, and—catch!”

Albus snatched at the air and caught a glittering golden object that Fudge tossed to him. It was an odd ring, a plain gold band with a green scarab mounted on it in place of a stone.

“That once belonged to the great Egyptian wizard, Sethsmtmt,” said Fudge. “I’d like you to have it.”

“Me?” Albus said. The ring made his skin crawl, and the headmaster’s unexpected gift of it gave him an uncomfortable feeling. “Thanks, but I really don’t think I should accept—“

“It’s meant to bring luck and success to its owner,” said Fudge. “I think you ought to wear it. You may need luck before long. Now, then, you also probably ought to run along and tell Mr. Prince that his detention has been cancelled, before I change my mind.”



----------------


“Good news!” said Albus. “I asked Fudge and he said you could skive off detention!”

“And a good thing, too,” Prince stated. “I’m just about ready to shove this broom up some ruddy bird’s backside.” Prince had been set to clean the owlery, a task which was without end. Though he had filled two sacks with pellets and owl droppings, the continuing rain of offal from the rafters above ensured that the room would never be clean until well after the owls had departed for their nightly hunts.

“What did you do, anyway?” Albus asked.

“What haven’t I done?” was Prince’s cheerful answer. “Oh, yes, I remember—I haven’t done what they sent me up for. Not recently, anyhow. Still and all, considering all the things I’ve never been caught at, it probably adds a bit of necessary balance to the universe. So, Potter, thank you for springing me from a lifetime of servitude. To what do you attribute your amazing influence over old Fudgicles?”

“No idea,” said Albus. “He called me into his office—right out of class—and started nattering on about had I heard from my father and other rubbish.”

“Ah, it’s your pure and shining Potterness that won the day, then,” said Prince. “Being connected is a lovely thing.”

“It was…very weird,” said Albus. “He was asking me about the Sons of Walpurgis and stuff, and then he gave me this, out of the blue. Said it would bring me luck.” He handed the ring to Prince. “He said it belonged to a famous wizard named Setsum…. Sethsmut… well, something like that.”

“Interesting,” said Prince. “We ought to research it.” He held the ring up to the light and turned it so that it glittered in the light of the setting sun.

“You do that,” said Albus. “In fact, you can keep it. Maybe Wriggle won’t mind so much about the Firebolt if he has something else new.”

“That’s awfully kind of you,” said Prince. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” said Albus. “I don’t want it. To be honest, it gives me the creeps. Besides, Wriggle did an amazing job polishing out the scratches on my broomstick. You can hardly see where Macadam crashed it into the wall. I can’t think how Wriggle managed it in the short time he had my broom.”

“The elf does good work,” said Prince proudly. “Well, if you’re certain—WRIGGLE!”

The house elf appeared, looking slightly sulky. “Wriggle is almost certain Wriggle has done nothing wrong, but if the young master requires it, Wriggle can slam his head in the oven door many, many times, the good old-fashioned way.”

“How come you only bake when you’re in trouble?” Prince asked. “Well, never mind. Mr. Potter is making a gift to the collection, and it’s not the Firebolt, so pull your eyeballs back into your skull.” He handed the scarab ring to Wriggle.

“I wanted to thank you for the repairs you did on my broomstick,” Albus added. “The ring’s supposed to have belonged to some famous Egyptian wizard named…um…Sesamoot. Or something.”

Wriggle was not listening. He was examining the ring closely, staring at it first with one eye, then the other. He ran a finger over the ring’s edge, then placed it under his large nostrils and inhaled as if he hadn’t breathed for an hour. He flicked a fingernail against the metal and listened to the sound it made. He breathed on it and watched the mist evaporate. He even ran his tongue over the scarab.

“Fake,” Wriggle finally said, tossing the ring carelessly over his shoulder. “The young master should not trust the Potter, he tries to make a fool of the young master by palming off one of Manethon’s souvenir replicas on him, no more than three years old. And it has a listening spell on it—Potter means to spy on the young master, perhaps steal even more treasures from the collection.”

“Steal! I like that!” said Albus hotly.

“Hang on, did you say there was a listening spell on it?” said Prince, retrieving the ring. “I assume it was placed by Headmaster Fudge, and he’s been listening to every word we’ve said. I can’t remember, did I say anything awfully insulting about him?”

“I don’t think so.”

“What a wasted opportunity.”

“But why would Fudge—” Albus stopped as Prince gestured for silence.

“Say, moppet, isn’t your grandmother on the Hogwarts board of governors?”

“Yes…”

“I wonder how she’d react to the Headmaster’s trying to plant a bug on her grandson. I think she might be just a bit peeved…if she knew. May I still have this, Potter? Wriggle, I want you to have this officially notarized and certified as the ring presented to Albus Potter by Cornelius Fudge, today’s date. Verify it by checking if he’s ever been a customer of Manethon. Put it in the Spec room, with the other potentially historically significant items. And guard it with your life.”

“If you say so, young master,”

“And lock it in something soundproof.”

Wriggle bowed and vanished with the scarab ring.

“I don’t get it,” said Albus. “Why would the Headmaster want to listen in to me?

“Perhaps he’s a fan of really awful harmonica playing,” said Prince. “But I want to thank you again, you have no idea what a magnificent gift you have given me. Come on, now, I need a shower. I refuse to go to the Halloween feast smelling like an owls nest.”
--------------------
Feedbak here, please!



Last edited by Inkwolf; September 9th, 2007 at 3:03 pm.
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Old September 14th, 2007, 8:12 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 13

Pumpkins the size of small houses glared down at the Great Hall with elaborately carved snarls, their insides lit by a magical glow from within. As the colors shifted, the pumpkins’ faces changed as well, though every new expression was fierce or eerie. Bats and ghosts swirled crazily among the floating candles, making the flames flicker and sputter. Though Albus watched them closely, he was disappointed not to see his personal ghost among them.

“Nervous, moppet?” Albus turned to Prince, then jumped out of his skin as he came face to face with a grinning death’s head.

“It’s an old Death Eater mask,” Prince guffawed, when he had finished laughing at Albus’s reaction. “Used to belong to someone named MacNair. I’ve got three more of them at home, all from different Death Eaters. Anyway, you’ve been staring at those pumpkins all night, but you don’t have to worry. Professor Sylvanus did the sticking-charm, and she knows what she’s about. We shan’t be buried in vengeful killer pumpkin, if that’s your concern. She did the faces, too. They’re meant to frighten off evil spirits, you know.”

Albus thought of his ghost and felt a twinge of anxiety. Evil spirits? Surely, that couldn’t be why the ghost hadn’t appeared.

“No, I wasn’t worrying,” said Albus. “I was just looking. If you want to know, I’m trying to avoid catching Fudge’s eye after that ring incident.”

“Really?” said Prince. “I’ve been TRYING to catch his eye, myself. Does it seem to you he’s avoiding looking in our direction?”

Albus anxiously peered at the head table. Fudge was fifteen minutes into his pre-feast speech, with no sign of coming to a halt. Even the teachers looked restless. But even as he watched, Albus saw that Prince was right, and the headmaster seemed to be directing his words at the other three house tables.

“It’s as if Slytherin doesn’t even exist,” sad Prince. “Hey, little one, want to bet I can throw this knife so it sticks in that pumpkin with the nasty squint?”

“No, I don’t want to,” said Albus hurriedly. “If you miss, you’ll shish-kebab Professor Flitwick. And that’s MY knife, and I want it. Use your own.”

“I may need mine to commit hari-kari if this speech goes on any longer,” Prince muttered.

At last Fudge finished, though, and Albus gladly averted his eyes from the head table once more, to concentrate on filling his plate with roast turkey and steaming spiced pumpkin pudding, as the ghosts overhead burst into a creepy chorus of My Old Halloween Haunts.

Through the crowd, Albus could see Victoire, James and Rose sitting together. Malfoy was beside Rose, as usual, of course.

“Prince,” he said, “I think I’m going to go sit with my family.”

“You go ahead,” said Prince. “Greet Rosie for me. Tell her I’m making up a star chart of her face so we can name all her freckles and study them individually.”

“Yeah, I’ll tell her the day I want my head kicked in,” said Albus as he took his plate and left.

“Hullo, everyone. Got room?” he asked at the Gryffindor table, and Rose moved aside to make a space for him. “Congratulations, I hear you’re on the Quidditch team,” he said to James.

“Thanks,” said James. “We’ll be playing against each other in less than a week. Don’t think being my baby brother is going to stop me conking you with a bludger.”

“Don’t think being my older brother will make me let the snitch go,” Albus grinned.

“Ha! Dad’s broomstick will rebel before it helps Slytherin defeat us.”

“Is that what’s been happening?” Albus muttered. His attempts to duplicate what he thought of as ‘the Albright maneuver’ were technically successful, but always resulted in a hasty landing and retching fit.

“It would take all of Slytherin’s brooms rebelling to win us the match,” grumbled Victoire, stabbing at a slab of turkey. “Gryffindor’s team is simply horrible this year.”

Hey!” James objected.

“Don’t talk like that in front of the ENEMY!” Scorpius yelped at the same time. Both boys glared at Victoire, who simply tossed her hair and put her nose up.

“I’m sorry—and James, you really are a decent beater—but I’ve seen the practices, and I’ll be surprised if we even beat Hufflepuff. I’d be almost tempted to rejoin the team as a chaser, if I didn’t want to concentrate on my NEWTS.”

“Your priorities are seriously screwed up,” James growled. “If we lose because Stout drops the quaffle again, I’ll murder you. No, I’ll murder Tedd-ums, you’ll mind that more.”

“Can we PLEASE change the subject?” Rose demanded. “Obviously, Quidditch is too controversial in the present company.”

“Boys are all apes,” Victoire muttered.

“Say, Scorpius,” said Albus. “How’s that translation coming along?”

“Don’t nag,” said Scorpius. “It will be done when it’s done.”

“Yeah, but it’s been—“

“I’ve already defined the terms and divined the meaning and intent,” said Scorpius. “Now I have to determine the best English transliteration. And it’s tricky, because it rhymes, and I’m trying to be faithful to the rhyme scheme and the original rhythmic meter.”

“None of that’s important,” said Albus impatiently. “I only need to know what it means.”

“You’ll find out when I’ve done it properly, and not before. If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with style,” said Scorpius .

“Scorpius is in the poetry club with me,” said Rose adoringly. “You should hear some of the things he’s written. He’s really good.”

“Yeah?” Albus scowled at Scorpius. “Good idea, Malfoy. Why don’t you stand on top of the table there and give us all a recital?”

“I will, if you’ll put on your pink tu-tu and do interpretive dance meanwhile.” Scorpius smirked.

The shock was like cold water poured down his back. “That was only one time, and it was a JOKE,” said Albus, his face burning. He turned on Rose. “I can’t believe you’re telling people about that!”

“What?” said James. “You wore a pink tu-tu and danced? And you didn’t call ME to watch? I’d have taken pictures!” James broke up into giggles. Victoire seemed to be snickering behind one hand as well.

“I only told Scorpius!” said Rose. “Like you said, it was a joke. It was FUNNY, that’s all.”

“Have you told him about that funny incident when you tried to use vanishing potion on your freckles, and your whole face vanished, and we had to talk to your bare skull for a week?” Albus growled. “Now THAT was funny!”

Rose looked as if she had been slapped, but Albus refused to let himself feel guilty. She stood and turned to leave. Scorpius grabbed her arm.

“Why would you use a vanishing potion on your freckles?” he asked, looking baffled. ”I think they’re really cute.”

“Oh, go to hell!” Rose snarled, and ran out of the hall with her face buried in her hands. Albus thought for a moment that Scorpius would go after her, but he only stared with a stricken expression for a few moments, then sat down again.

Victoire stood up. “I’m going to sit with Addie and Thusie. It’s quieter over there.” She left.

“There’s Myron,’ said James. “I needed to ask him about the Potions assignment.” He was gone, too. Albus sat, surrounded by empty chairs where his family had been. He stared at his plate, but he had no appetite left. Over at the Slytherin table, he saw that Prince and some of the first-years were engaged in an activity which seemed to involve putting empty serving bowls on their heads and trying to play a tune on them with spoons, but Albus felt no inclination to join in. As far as he was concerned, the Halloween feast was over.

On the other side of Rose’s empty chair, Scorpius sat, looking as wretched as Albus felt. Albus got up, hesitated, and said to him, “Tell her I said I was sorry, will you?” Scorpius didn’t answer, and after a moment, Albus left for the dark tunnels to the Slytherin dormitory.

The dormitory was deserted. Albus dropped heavily onto his bed, hoping to fall asleep immediately. After a few minutes of waiting, he covered his face with a pillow.

“It wasn’t my fault!” he announced to nobody. “Why am I always the one who apologizes? I am SUCH a wuss!”

“You’re back early. Good.”

Albus sat up at once. “You!” he shouted at the ghost. “Where have you been? Why haven’t you been here for so long? Why weren’t you at the feast with the other ghosts?”

“And why would I be at the feast?” The ghost’s lip curled. “Haven’t I spent enough time watching spotty adolescents trying to cram as much food into their mouths as their bodies can possibly hold? You have a mission tonight, so I hope you haven’t gorged yourself into complete immobility.”

“I hardly ate a thing,” said Albus. “We had a family quarrel, and it’s NOT my fault. Rose was the first one to blab family secrets, so see how she likes it. And the Malfoy twerp was probably just waiting to rub that tu-tu in my face, even if I hadn’t made fun of his poetry first, and I only did because he’s being such a smarmy, stuck-up show-off about NOT having translated that—“

The ghost held up a hand, and Albus fell silent.

“I do not understand what you are talking about,” said the ghost. “And for that I am deeply, distinctly, profoundly grateful. Let me get something straight at once. Giving you a tip on potion making is one thing. Commiserating or advising you on your personal relationships is an entirely different matter. I am neither a guidance counselor nor an agony aunt nor a divorce lawyer. You think I have a sympathetic face? Look again. I do not wish to hear your problems. Even if I had solutions to offer, I would withhold them in favor of watching your very entertaining and amusing social disasters. I have no interest in your family squabbles, and I am certainly not going to give you tips on how to be popular, impress your friends, or understand feminine logic for fun and profit. Do I make myself crystal clear?”

“It’s clear you’re a right berk.”

“Good, then we understand one another. Are you prepared for tonight’s task?”

“Hang on, I’ve had to have things washed.” Albus pulled his bandolier out of his trunk. Actually, he’d had it laundered five times, and the smell of Poo Potion still clung faintly to it. Albus hurriedly began to return his arsenal to its pockets. Parchment, quills, pencils—he had added some graphite sticks in case he needed to make more rubbings—his pocketknife, a couple tiny bottles of Poo Potion, just in case, spellbook, and a small canteen of water he had added recently. Something was missing, however.

“My harmonica’s gone,” Albus complained. “Who would have taken my harmonica?”

“Some lover of fine music, no doubt.’

“School sucks. This place is crawling with thieves,” Albus grumbled as he hoisted the bandolier over his shoulder. “Right, I’m ready. Where am I going tonight?”

“The astronomy tower.”

“Really? Why?” Albus had already investigated the tower once, and there was nothing interesting there.

“Because it is time,” said the ghost.

“Is that supposed to be a clue again?” said Albus suspiciously. “Because you’ve used it already, for the sundial.”

“It is all about time,” said the ghost. “Yes, it’s about time.”

“I suppose I ought to bring my telescope, then?” But the ghost had vanished.

Albus got his telescope out of the trunk. It wouldn’t fit in any of the bandolier’s pockets, so he stuck it under his arm. It struck him as he started up the Astronomy tower stairs that it was a useful prop, that if he was caught he could claim to be doing Astronomy homework.

About halfway up the steps he hesitated. He felt a tremor run through the tower. He waited for a little while to see if anything else would happen, and eventually anther tremor followed it. Was the tower collapsing? He waited on the stairs for some time. The tremors came at regular intervals. Albus finally moved on.

The top of the tower was just as Albus remembered it from class: bare except for the little landing, a sort of tiny hut whose door led to the stairs. On its wall was mounted a glowing clock face.

“About time, eh?” Albus examined the clock more closely. It was the one that always hung there, the one Professor Castor used to time lessons and star movements. It was carved intricately with crabs and swans and bears and other creatures of the constellations. He stared at it, hoping to discover something different about it, but nothing was changed. He did notice, however, that the tremors that were shuddering the tower occurred exactly one minute apart.

Albus carefully poked and pried at the carved creatures. The clock seemed solid. Nothing moved, or gave any indication of being a secret compartment or the trigger to some hidden door. He waited until the clock chimed, but though the carved animals danced around a bit and changed their positions, nothing odd seemed to happen.

Albus wondered if moving the clock hands to a particular position might be the key. He reached up to open the clock face. As soon as he put his hand on the glass dome covering the face, he felt a terrible sucking sensation, as if he had just swallowed a portkey. For a moment he felt as if he were inside the clock, staring out through a fish-bubble lens at faces that flashed by so quickly he barely got an impression of them before others replaced them. He noticed a red-haired girl and scruffy boy…then a dark-skinned woman in purple silk robes…a skinny, scholarly-looking man with a monocle… a small girl with a scarred face...a plump matron---a knight in armor…a richly dressed woman with long, black hair..,

Then Albus found himself hurtling through space, growing and stretching to an enormous size, stars and galaxies scattering around him. He stopped at last, the universe before him like the face of a clock.

And it WAS a clock face, he saw. Not an ordinary clock, with an hour and a minute hand and a second hand. Albus could see those, the second hand thin as a hair and miles long, its tip traveling at an amazing rate.

But there were shorter and thicker hands yet, beyond the hour hand. A day hand was next, its tip just moving past the symbol of a carved pumpkin. Albus saw that though the clock had no numbers, it was covered in symbols. Though there were few of them at the level of the longest hands, Albus could make out symbols on the hour hand level, symbols he took to stand for noon, midnight, teatime, and so on. On the month hand were monthly and seasonal symbols, at the year level, he could see zodiac signs and animals, and on the century and millennium hands’ path were symbols whose meaning Albus had no inkling of.

It was on the day hand’s path, however, that the symbols flourished like fields of dandelions. There was a symbol for each of the seven days of the week, as well as for every holiday of the year. Albus recognized the symbols for holidays his family celebrated. There were also many, many symbols whose meaning he didn’t know. He supposed they were holidays which people celebrated in other parts of the world, or holidays which had been celebrated once but were now forgotten.

Albus let his gaze wander along the holidays. After the Halloween symbol was a halo. All Hallow’s Day, he supposed. There were also symbols showing a book, a tombstone, and a bubbling bottle on that day, which Albus had no clue about. He moved on. He didn’t recognize many of the holiday symbols in November, though he at least recognized pictures of a dancing girl, a pair of firecrackers in front of what looked like a burning man, a cake, and a turkey. December was rife with symbols. Albus picked out Christmas, St. Nicholas Day and Winter Solstice, then moved on into January and New Year’s Day.

“I had no idea there were so many holidays,” Albus thought. “I ought to find out what they are. We could celebrate every night of the year.”

He went on examining the symbols of upcoming holidays—really, there was nothing else to do while floating in space—and some time later, gave a sudden shout of recognition.

The noise seemed to set something off. Albus heard an echoing gong, and found himself on the astronomy tower once more, gasping for breath and soaked through with the cold, dripping mist that had risen. He could hear the castle clocks striking midnight, the little constellation animals were dancing a samba around the dial of the nearby timepiece. He was so wet and cold that he knew his body must have been standing there in the damp for hours, wherever his mind had been.

Still, his first action was to fumble with numb fingers in the pockets of his bandolier, to pull out the crumpled paper chart he had copied from the sundial’s rays. There it was—the symbol in one of the circles was identical to the symbol he had seen on the universe clock. Quickly he put his hand on the glass of the clock before him, but this time nothing happened.

Albus swore. He knew now that he had to do something on a specific day, but had no idea what day it was, only that it was sometime in May, or maybe even April. And it had to do with this chart, this odd combination of lines and circles which he still didn’t understand.

He gave up puzzling over the chart—it was only getting wet from the drizzle, after all—and put it away. He looked around the clock for signs of his predecessors, but saw no initials for a change. Albus took hold of the clock and eventually managed to lift it off the hook that held it up. The clock was surprisingly heavy, but Albus managed to put it down without damaging it. There on the wall, where it had hung, were the initials, SS and LE. Albus took his knife and scratched his own mark. It was small and diffident this time. The session in the Headmaster’s office had scared him. Albus thought of the faces he had seen while traveling through the clock. It was the red-haired girl and scruffy boy, he felt certain. None of the others he had seen had looked like the sort to leave their initials behind. And he had simply had the feeling all along that LE and SS had been together when they made their marks.

With some difficulty, Albus returned the clock to its hook. Then he retreated, thinking gratefully of the fire that would be burning in the Slytherin common room, and of his warm blankets.

The door to the stairs was locked.

Albus shook the doorknob, banged the door, and even shouted. It was no use. Some time, while he was occupied with the clock, Mr. Shunpike must have come around and locked up for the night. Albus pulled his sodden robes around him. He was shivering uncontrollably now, and the mist was turning to rain, thick and colder than ever. Huddling in the limited shelter of the doorway, Albus got out his Charms for Children book.

“Lumos!” he shouted, and under the light of his wand he began searching the book for spells that might be useful.

There was an unlocking spell, and Albus began to read hurriedly.

“Dear children, this spell should only be used in an emergency situation. When Mummy and Daddy have locked something away from you, it was probably for a good reason. Don’t blame me if you set a banshee free, or let a vampire into your home, or spoil your Christmas by looking—oh, for pity’s sake! Just get on to the spell, will you?” Albus shouted at the book. He turned to the next page. There was the word ‘Alohamora’ and it’s phonetic pronunciation key in big letters, with an animated picture of a cartoon witch demonstrating the necessary wand movement.

“Ah-low-hah-moe-“ as Albus practiced the necessary wand wiggle, the Lumos spell winked out, leaving him in wet darkness. Albus swore again. He tried the Alohamora spell on the door, but either he hadn’t got something right, or it didn’t work on this lock. He fired up the Lumos spell again and tried once more, with no more success. Flipping through the book, he found a warming spell, but it was more complicated than the locking spell, and he doubted he’d learn it easily in the dark. A drying spell seemed simpler, but there was little point of it, when he would simply be soaked again in minutes. Emergency flare spell? Who was there to see it?

Albus looked around at the castle grounds, and his heart leapt as he saw a light. It must be Hagrid’s cottage. If only Albus had brought his broom, he could fly down and be warming himself by the fire in seconds!

He spent another ten minutes pacing and wishing he had brought the Firebolt before remembering that he was wearing the solution around one wrist. Pressing his wand to the strap of leather, he activated the call-back on the broom’s lock.

At first he thought it hadn’t worked, then he heard a shattering glass window from far below, and shortly thereafter his trusty broomstick was hovering at his command. Albus quickly mounted it, swooped down through the drizzling rain, and was shivering on Hagrid’s doorstep in less time than it would have taken to fall off the tower.

He was raising his hand to knock when he heard Professor Sylvanus’s voice.

“Oh, Hagrid…I know we shouldn’t, but it was love at first sight the moment I saw those beautiful dark eyes!”

Albus froze.

“Yeah, it hit me that way, too,” said Hagrid in a husky voice. “So incredibly beautiful…mos’ beautiful creature I’ve ever seen, tha’s what I thought.”

“Those rippling muscles…”

“So graceful an’ elegant…like a princess, I said to meself…”

“The most amazing whiskers I’ve ever seen…”

“A proud beauty, too—neck arched just about like a unicorn about to fight…”

Albus began to tiptoe away toward the castle.

“The way the light shines off those iridescent scales,” Professor Sylvanus almost purred.

“Them claws that’d rip a tree to pulp in seconds,” Hagrid sighed.

Hang on. Albus mounted his broomstick and hovered, just high enough to see over the window ledge.

Hagrid and Professor Sylvanus stood to either side of Hagrid’s huge, oak table. On the table was a large cage with tightly-spaced bars. There was straw in the bottom of the cage, and something rustled in it.

“Of course, she’s likely to grow much larger,” said Professor Sylvanus. “And I’m afraid we can’t turn her loose in the forest, more’s the pity. He said he doesn’t think the eyes will kill or paralyze, but she’s bound to have some defenses. We’ll need a large enclosure, of spelled steel, like this cage.”

“I’ll get to work on the cage, if you’ll handle the spellwork,” said Hagrid. “It’ll be a pleasure to have the little darlin’ around. I haven’t seen a creature this fascinatin’ since the Princes went out of business. Can’t think how old Bickerson managed the crossing.”

“He calls it a Blazen,” said Sylvanus. “It would be interesting to get a male in a few years and see if they breed true—“

Albus almost missed what happened next. Two eyes within the cage flashed yellow like lamps, and there was suddenly a smoking hole in the side of the cage, and in the cottage wall. If Albus had not been hovering on his broomstick, there would have been a smoking hole through his chest, as well. Something dark, slithery and many-legged sprang out of the cage and through the hole to the freedom of the rainy night, as Albus ascended in a panic. For a few seconds, Albus could see a trail of steam in it the monster’s wake, then it was gone, and Hagrid and Sylvanus came charging around the corner of the cottage.

Albus was afraid of being seen, but the two professors had their eyes firmly on the ground. Hagrid had an enormous crossbow, cocked and held at the ready, while Professor Sylvanus held the light of her glowing wand high.

“Blast!” said Hagrid. “Do yeh see her anywhere?”

“No.” Professor Sylvanus’s expression, usually cool and distant, was agitated for the first time since Albus had arrived at Hogwarts. “Where’s that tracking dog of yours?”

“Mauler’s been hidin’ under the bed since you brought little Rebecca into the house,” said Hagrid. “He’ll be no help. Great Merlin’s beard, after all the fuss they made over little Aragog and that basilisk, this time they’ll throw away the key. I’m for Azkaban again, I am.” Hagrid’s face was pale in the Lumoslight.

“Hush. Nobody knows where she came from,” said Professor Sylvanus sharply. “Sooner or later, a creature like that will make its presence known, and then we’ll be more able to track her down. As it is, we have no chance of finding her in this.”

“Poor little Becca,” Hagrid sniffled. “We can’t leave her out there alone, Aggie.”

“We’ll start searching in the morning, Rubeus, I promise,” said Professor Sylvanus. “Let’s just hope the cold slows her down.” She took Hagrid’s arm, and led him back into the cottage.

Albus examined the hole in the wall briefly. It was no longer smoking, and it looked as clean as if it had been cut, sanded and polished. He shuddered and returned to the castle, getting in through the window that his broomstick had broken on its way to join him. Albus paced back and forth for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do next. Finally he made his way to the headmaster’s office and whispered, “Status Quo.”

The office was deserted. Fudge had no doubt gone to sleep hours ago. Albus felt in his arsenal, but all his parchments were sodden. He took a clean sheet from Fudge’s desk and, attempting to disguise his handwriting, wrote, “There is a Blazen in the forest.”

He looked at the page for a moment more, then added the signature, The Asp.

Finally he made his way to the Slytherin dormitory, stripped off his wet clothing, and slipped under the warm blankets at last.

Still, it was some time before he could stop shivering long enough to fall asleep.
--------------------
Feedbak here, please!



Last edited by Inkwolf; September 25th, 2007 at 10:10 pm.
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  #15  
Old September 25th, 2007, 10:13 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 14

Crossley had pummeled him with his pillow seven or eight times before Albus gathered the energy to get up.

He was hot and dizzy, and his head and chest felt as if they had been stuffed with soggy cotton. He took a shower, hoping it would help, but that only made his nose run in sluglike strings down his face. He dried off, dressed, combed his hair, and tried to blow his stopped-up nose unsuccessfully. Finally, his energy spurt gave out, and he leaned on the sink, eyes closed and head spinning.

When he opened his eyes, it was to a scene of silvery mist. Blurred figures moved before him, and he blinked, trying to bring them into focus. Before him was the red-haired girl from his clock vision, and looking over her shoulder was the scruffy boy. Albus lifted a hand, and the girl’s hand rose to meet it, damp and cold as a ghost. The boy approached nearer, reached out to Albus…

…and wiped the steam off the bathroom mirror with a towel. Albus blinked, staring at his own redheaded mirror image. “Are you all right?” Albert Prince asked from behind him. “Because your reflection looks like a corpse, lightly reanimated.”

“I ting I deed da hospital wig,” Albus tried to sniffle. It didn’t work.

“Either the hospital wing, or an industrial-strength puffskein to bore out that nose of yours,” said Prince. “Don’t breathe on me, moppet, I’m healthy.”

-------------------------------------------

“Back AGAIN? I can see you’re going to be a regular customer,” Nurse Bannock clucked her tongue. “How many times has it been, now?”

Albus tried to count, but couldn’t remember what order the numbers went in. He gratefully quaffed the potion Nurse Bannock gave him. His chest cleared almost at once, and the terrible, heavy sensation in his head drained away.

“We ought to just keep you prisoner down here, where you can be properly looked after,” Nurse Bannock grumbled as she handed him a large wad of tissue. “Blow.” Albus blew his nose and felt his ears pop, one after the other. Suddenly he could hear properly. “Better now?”

“Yes, thanks,” said Albus. “What’s in that potion, anyway?”

“I always say, if I told you, it would just make you sick again,” she said cheerfully. “Run along, now.”

Dropping the slimy wad of tissue into a wastebasket, Albus took a quick peek around the room. Every trip to the hospital wing made him more curious about the strange instruments and rows of potion bottles. He would gladly have made it the subject of one of his nighttime explorations, but there was always someone awake here, either ill or injured or simply on duty.

It was a shame Nurse Bannock was always too busy to answer any questions, Albus thought with regret as he went to rejoin the Slytherins at breakfast.

“There you are!” said Prince as Albus took his usual seat at his side. “Can you believe Fudge actually has had the nerve to put me on detention again, already?” He waved a crumpled note. “And he doesn’t even tell me what it’s supposed to be for!”

“Probably the exploding pumpkin last night,” Yorick growled.

“Oh. You think?” Prince looked surprised. Albus suddenly noticed the aroma of scorched pumpkin which permeated the Great Hall.

“Listen, the two of you have got to stop playing at silly buggers,” said Yorick.

“ME?!” Prince and Albus both protested.

“It’s just two days till the Gryffindor game, and we can’t afford to lose a player because one or both of you are on detention, or loafing in the hospital wing with a broken neck.”

“But—“ Albus began.

Yorick held up a telescope. “Recognize this, sleepwalker?”

“Is it mine?” Albus asked.

“If it’s not, pretty daft of someone to have written your name on it. You’re lucky that Morty Avery happened to feel like sneaking out for a look at the stars last night,” Yorick said. “Knowing how much trouble you’d be in if Professor Castor tripped over it in the morning, she picked it up and handed it over to me.” Yorick banged a fist on the table. “KEEP OUT OF TROUBLE until after the Gryffindor game. That goes for both of you.”

“I suppose that would include not trying to extort the Headmaster,” asked Prince.

“You suppose correctly. Also, no blowing anything up, no practical jokes, no pranks, no ‘special educational opportunities’ with the first-years, and no smart-mouthing the professors.”

“I’ll DIE,” Prince objected.

“And you,” Yorick pointed at Albus. “No wandering at night, or doing stupid stuff that could get you injured.”

“So…you don’t want me to come to Quidditch practice, then?”

“Not funny. Look, it’s only for two days. Then it’s Hufflepuff-Gryffindor, and after that the split season kicks in, and we don’t play a match again until spring.”

“I’ll TRY to be careful,” said Albus. He never knew when the ghost was going to send him out on some inexplicable errand, but Albus could at least curtail his own wanderings and hope for the best.

“And I’ll TRY to act normal,” said Prince, uttering the word with distaste. Using his fork as a catapult, Prince sent a blob of scrambled eggs sailing down the Slytherin table to land with a splash in an unknown boy’s pumpkin juice.

“DIDN’T YOU HEAR A WORD I SAID?” Yorick exploded.

“Of course, every syllable,” said Prince. “But I only said I’d TRY.” With a quick glance at Yorick’s expression, Prince leaped from his chair and ran for the corridor, the Quidditch captain hard on his heels. Albus could hear Prince yelling, “We’re not supposed to run in the halls! You’re going to get us in trouble!”

Albus was glad that he had History for first period again today. He was even more pleased to find that some other weary student seemed to have placed a pillowing charm on his table, so that he could rest his head on a squashy cushion of air. Albus closed his eyes, listened as Professor Binns started a lecture on the founding of the first international wizards’ conclave, and was asleep by the seventh word.


“Hey. Kid. Wake up.”

Albus blinked, and found himself staring into the face of a fifth-year girl. He sat up and looked around. Binns was still droning, but all the students surrounding him were much older. It gave Albus the brief sensation that he had been asleep for years.

“I think you should be in your next class,” the girl said.

Albus looked at his watch, and jumped. He had missed Charms completely, and was supposed to be in Defense Against Dark Arts!

He ran out of the room without a word, amid the laughter of the fifth-years. Albus could feel his face burning as he ran down the corridor, through the Great Hall, and out the door. The day was dark with rain clouds, cold and damp, and dead leaves skittered across the path as Albus ran at full speed down the path to the enchanted clearing where his DADA classes were held.

Rebecca.

Albus was nearly to the clearing before he remembered the escaped blazen. The thought pulled him up short, his stomach clenching into a cold knot. The clearing was only around the curve ahead. There should be some sounds by now—the class being rowdy, or at least Professor Sylvanus lecturing. Albus heard nothing. Not even a bird chirped. The silence was eerie.

Maybe they’re taking a test, Albus thought to himself desperately. Taking a test, or studying a creature or something else…very quietly.

This possibility gave Albus the courage he needed to go around the last bend of the trail. At last the clearing came into view.

It was empty.

Baffled, Albus looked at his watch again. It was the right time. The class should be here. The eerie silence continued as Albus grew more nervous. The clearing was protected, wasn’t it? His memory went back to the blazen’s eyes cutting straight through spelled steel bars. The spell was no guarantee of safety. Still, shouldn’t there be bodies or something? The blazen was far too small to have eaten even scrawny Walter Macadam, let alone Ian Crossley. But perhaps once those eyes had cut through the spell, they had left a hole that…other things would be able to crawl through.

Albus searched the clearing for any sign of the missing class, and his eye was suddenly caught by a glint of silver. The object was half-buried, as if it had been stepped on and pressed into the ground, but Albus pried it up and wiped the wet earth from it. He recognized it at once. It was a hairpin, in the shape of a silver swan, and it belonged to Alma Scrubb. He had noticed it in her hair one day, during potions class, because she had adjusted it and complained that her hair was dipping in her cauldron.

It was all that remained of the Slytherin first-year class.

Albus clutched the pin and backed slowly toward the path. It was not all silence now. Something rustled. Did he just see a leaf flicker? One step back at a time. Albus could hear something moving closer, closer. At last he reached the path, turned, and ran.

He collided at once with something huge and hairy, and was knocked, breathless, onto his back.

“Hullo, Albus!” Hagrid leaned over him. “Professor Sylvanus sent me to see if you were here. Didn’t yeh hear the announcement at breakfast? Defense against the Dark Arts classes have moved indoors for the year. It’s getting’ a bit nippy, Aggie says.”

“Oh, is that so?” Albus gasped as Hagrid helped him up and brushed grass and leaves off him. “I must have missed that.”

“Come on, then. I’ll walk you back to class.” Albus noticed that Hagrid had his big crossbow, and as they traveled along the path, he watched the surrounding woods tensely.

Albus almost decided to ask him about Rebecca then, but remembered Yorick’s warning at breakfast. Telling a teacher he had been out on the grounds at night—and spying on him, no less—was a sure way to get in trouble, even with Hagrid.

Hagrid left him at the Great Hall, with directions to the new classroom. When Albus arrived, he thought he had never been so glad to hear jeers, snickers and snide remarks.

“Please take your seat, Mister Potter,” said Professor Sylvanus, an expression of relief crossing her face.

Albus first dropped the silver swan on Alma’s desk, whispering, “I found this in the clearing.”

A rare smile beamed through her usual scowl. “I thought someone had pinched it, like my ring!” she said. Albus took it for thanks, nodded, and sat down.

As he opened his textbook, he peeked out the window. Hagrid was back at his cottage, but did not go in. He stood, his crossbow held at the ready, facing the forest.



Last edited by Inkwolf; September 25th, 2007 at 10:28 pm.
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  #16  
Old October 2nd, 2007, 9:45 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 15

Breakfast was usually one of Albus’s favorite times of the day. It was when he got to sit with his friends, who didn’t share his first-year classes. It was when he got his mail from home, his news from Yorick’s Daily Prophet, and his gossip from Prince, who seemed to know what was going on everywhere in the school. It was when he got to see his brother and cousins—though none of them had spoken to him since Halloween.

But this morning he could only stare down at his plate in horror.

“Eat something,” Yorick ordered.

“I’m going to be sick!” Albus squeaked back.

“Everyone says that before their first game.”

“But I’ve been sick every practice since school began!”

“True.”

Prince laid a hand on Albus’s shoulder. “Would it help if I went to the kitchen and asked them for a bowl of spinach?”

“Why?” Albus asked. “Would that help?”

“No, but you could barf proudly in house colors.”

“You’re not helping, Prince,” Yorick growled. “Kid, just eat something. We have a plan for the match, all right? Meet us by the old headmaster’s tomb, just before time.”

Albus managed to force down a few bites of porridge, and to his surprise the wobbling in his knees went away. He had been putting it down to sheer cowardice.

Unable to wait patiently, Albus got into his Quidditch robes, gathered up his broomstick and some of his schoolwork and carried it out to the tomb. Sitting with his back against the cold, white marble, he wrote the first sentence of his Transfiguration essay, and stared at it for three quarters of an hour. It was a great relief when Yorick and Prince came into view, both in green and carrying their broomsticks.

“Right, over this way,” Yorick said, leading Albus to the side of the tomb away from the school. Looking carefully in all directions, he nudged Prince, who pulled a vial out of his pocket and handed it to Albus.

“Drink that,” Yorick said.

Albus uncorked the vial, then hesitated. Something about the wariness of the two older boys made him nervous.

“Is it all right?” he asked. “What is this?”

“Just a broomsickness remedy,” said Yorick.

“Is it against the rules or something?”

“No!” said Prince hastily. “Not really. There’s plenty of precedent. In 1949, Angus MacAllister was allowed to take a potion to counteract dizziness caused by too many bludgers to the head. In 1966, Malina Bender was allowed to take a potion to counteract an allergy she’d developed to broomstraw. In 1969, Fitzgeorge Martin was allowed to take a pixie-repelling potion, after several instances of their trying to pull him off his broom. In 1973, Elmo Wentworth—“

“He gets the idea,” said Yorick.

“Yeah,” said Albus. “So why are we hiding behind the tomb?”

“Best to avoid questions,” said Yorick. “People are likely to assume the worst from us.”

“Besides, we have no chance of getting permission,” said Prince. “This is Trilby we’d have to ask. He’s never been sick a day in his life. He gets up at three every morning and runs to Hogsmeade and back till six. He bathes in the nude in the lake, in JANUARY. He’s always grumbling that Hogwarts ought to go back to the days when they played Quidditch all winter, and thinks they should close the hospital wing because it encourages students to skive off.”

“He’s a nutter!” said Albus.

“My point,” said Prince.

“Look, just drink it,” Yorick growled. “The longer you wibble on about it, the more likely someone is to see.”

Albus hesitated for a moment longer, then put the vial to his lips and tilted his head back.

“THERE you are!” a voice said. Albus swallowed quickly, slipping the empty flask into his sleeve, and turned to watch Scorpius Malfoy approach around the corner of the tomb. He hesitated, meeting the blank, casual gazes of the three Slytherins, then turned to Albus.

“I’ve been looking for you all over. Someone finally told me they’d seen you here. I finished that translation,” he said, handing over a folded parchment. His nose was twitching with curiosity. For a moment, Albus wondered if he had seen anything—of COURSE he had, though—and whether he should explain. He hurriedly looked to Prince and Yorick, both of whom were keeping completely blank expressions.

“Thanks, Scorpius,” he said. “Um…I probably won’t get time to look at it till after the match.”

“I know,” said Scorpius. “But Rose insisted I take it to you this morning, so I could wish you good luck for her, but I’m not supposed to TELL you it’s from her, of course, because she isn’t speaking to you.” He looked very put-upon.

“Thanks, and you can tell her from me that I said I’m sorry again, but that she was the first blabbermouth, so I don’t see what she has to be all snooty about.”

“If I tell her that, she’ll know I told you it was from her, and she won’t be speaking to me, either, again, so fat chance,” said Scorpius. “Anyway, do I look like a ruddy owl? I think not.” Scorpius turned to leave, only adding as he departed, “Girls are such a pain.”

“Do you think he saw?” Albus asked when he was sure Scorpius was well on his way.

“I don’t see how he could have blasted well missed it,” Yorick said. “Still, we’ll see what he does with it, eh?”

“Scorps is all right, really,” said Prince. “I think.”

“Maybe it would be better if I didn’t fly,” said Albus. “You couldn’t get in trouble then, right? You could get someone to fill in as a Chaser--wasn’t Prince the Seeker last year?”

“Yeah, why do you think I wanted you so badly?” Yorick laughed bitterly. “Prince has got the attention span of a gnat.”

“Thanks,” said Prince.

“We’ll just go ahead as planned. If Trilby won’t let Potter fly, that’s when we’ll start worrying. Come on, now—team warm-up’s already started.”

Soon they were flying in circles in the pitch, as the students filled that stands. Albus tried to pick out he faces of people he knew, but the crowd blended into a blur as he raced past them.

Yorick pulled up beside him. “You feeling okay?” he shouted. Albus nodded. “Gryffindor versus Slytherin is always a bit of a grudge match, so watch yourself,” Yorick advised him. “And if you see a chance to knock someone off their broom, take it. Trilby doesn’t penalize personal fouls unless they’re really, obviously intentional.”

A whistle shrilled from below. Albus saw that the rest of the team was landing, and he joined them on the ground. Professor Trilby was there, and Headmaster Fudge was looking down on them from the stands.

“He’s not going to make a speech?” Albus asked with horror.

“Have you ever known him to miss a opportunity?” Prince muttered back. Fudge’s address was cut mercifully short this time, as he was interrupted when the bludgers, which had been banging and bouncing inside their case, burst out, shattering the lid and releasing the Snitch. Both teams mounted their brooms with a shout of excitement, Larkin snatching up the Quaffle at once as Albus and Oldham set out on the course the Snitch had taken. Slytherin scored their first goal before Fudge had even fully realized the match had begun.

The Snitch appeared to have changed its course early on, as there was not a glimmer of it on the route Albus was flying. When they came to the edge of the pitch, the two seekers parted ways, Albus veering left and ascending, as Oldham turned right and back.

As Albus circled, searching for the Snitch, he kept an eye on the game. Victoire’s prediction seemed to be coming true. Gryffindor’s chasers appeared awkward and disorganized compared to the precise formations and polished ball passing of the Slytherins. The Gryffindor keeper was a rookie second-year, who was beginning to look tearful by the time Slytherin had efficiently squeezed their fourth goal in behind him. Goyle, on the other hand, was like a raging bull. The Gryffindor chasers were visibly afraid of getting within her reach, as she had a habit of ramming and elbowing anyone who got too close. As Yorick had predicted, Professor Trilby cast a tolerant eye on the physical contacts that were taking place on the pitch, even when the audience in the stands roared with disapproval. The only time he called a foul was when Goyle actually got one chaser in a headlock, snatching the Quaffle out of the air with the other hand. That cost Slytherin fifteen points and the possession of the Quaffle.

They had both back within three minutes.

The biggest difference was the actions of the beaters, though. James might be a good beater or not, but neither he or his counterpart were a match for the swath of destruction Yorick and Lannister cut as they sped across the pitch, striking one or both bludgers back and forth between them. They enemy chasers scattered before them like sheep being chased by wolves. Albus saw James repeatedly fly into the danger zone to try to strike the bludgers off course, but it did little good, as the second Gryffindor beater never seemed to be anywhere they could work as a team. Any bludger James knocked away from the Slytherin beaters was caught up again almost immediately, by one or the other. And, if Yorick and Lannister had both bludgers, the second one was sure to be aimed at James as soon as he had interfered with the first.

Albus felt almost sorry for the Gryffindors. It seemed cruel for his team to be racking up the goals against them so very quickly. Suddenly, Albus sensed someone flying close behind him. He dodged and veered, just in case it was a beater, but it was only Prince.

“Shouldn’t you be chasing the Quaffle or something?” Albus said.

“Yeah. How’s your stomach?” Prince asked.

“It feels like it’s got a big, solid rock in it,” said Albus.

“You’re not going to start vomiting rocks, though, are you?”

“No.”

“Good.”

“Yorick seems to be screaming at you.”

“Is he? I’m so used to the sound I don’t notice it any more. Oh, bugger, we’ve got the Quaffle again. You’d think Gryffindor could hang on to it for more than three seconds.” Prince dove to rejoin the Slytherin chasers, side-swiping Oldham on the way. The Gryffindor captain looked grim and furious as he leaned into the wind, hunting for the Snitch. At the rate Slytherin was scoring points, Gryffindor’s only hope was to find the Snitch before they were hopelessly outscored.

Albus returned his attention to seeking.

A sudden glimmer caught his eye. The Snitch was below him, in amongst the other players. Albus dove. Oldham noticed his move, and turned to intercept his course. The Gryffindors had the Quaffle, and Slytherin’s chasers were on them like hounds on a rabbit, making every effort to steal the Quaffle as the Gryffindors desperately tried to keep it at least as far as the goal. Albus had the Snitch in plain view, but would have to plow through the thick of the play to get it. Oldham was coming up fast on his flank.

Just as Albus prepared to ram his way through, James caught his eye. He was raising his club, the bludger in his control for once, prepared to send it screaming at Albus.

At the last instant, James hesitated.

Albus didn’t. He tore through the Gryffindor chasers, sending one girl spinning and elbowing someone else aside. He felt Oldham, nearly out of control, bump into him from behind as his hand closed on the cold metal of the Golden Snitch.

The game was over. Slytherin had won, 285 to zero.

“Sorry,” Albus called to Oldham, but the Gryffindor captain was already gone, flying straight toward James. Albus had a feeling his brother was about to get completely reamed out for his moment of hesitation.

He landed among his cheering teammates. There was a chaotic moment of hugging and backslapping. “Well done, midget,” Yorick said, mussing Albus’s hair. “Goyle, don’t break Lannister’s ribs, we need him in spring.”

“It was just a hug,” said Goyle, letting go of the beater, who dropped on the grass, groaning theatrically.

“Poor fellow, she hugged me once,” said Prince. “Lord, that was no match, it was a massacre. An embarrassment, really.”

Yorick was already striding out to the middle of the pitch, where Trilby was calling for the team captains to shake hands. He reached and seized Oldham’s reluctantly extended hand. “Well played,” he said loudly. It was a clear lie. Oldham just gritted his teeth. His face was as red as his robes.

The victory party was loud and raucous. Albus enjoyed being congratulated by everyone—even the seventh years came to tell him he’d been brilliant. One girl gave him an embarrassingly long kiss that had the rest of the common room whooping.

“Not that I didn’t have my moment of doubt,” Yorick said. “I thought we were done for when that bludger got loose. And Oldham was too close to the Snitch for even him to lose it, if you’d have been taken out. Lucky for us your brother doesn’t want you dead. Or didn’t during the match, anyway.”

Albus’s smile faded a little at that.

“The way you tore through those chasers was lovely to behold,” said Yorick. “And don’t worry about the broomsickness. It may be gone by the spring matches, and Oldham can’t say anything about that potion now, or it’ll just look like sour grapes. First time we’ve beaten Gryffindor in five years!” Everyone screamed when he shouted the last sentence.

Someone cranked up a Wizard Wireless to full volume, as an announcer came on. “In schools sports today, Slytherin completely trounced Gryffindor—.“ The rest was lost in a new volley of screaming and cheering. By the time it had died down, the news report was over, and music was playing. It was a classic by Kinky Leprechaun, with a driving beat that made the floor vibrate.

“Hey, Goyle, want to dance?” Prince asked.

Goyle looked at him suspiciously. “Do we or do we not loathe each other’s guts down to the last little, slimy particle?”

“Well, yeah,” said Prince. “But I like how you dance.”

“All right, then,” said Goyle. They got up and started dancing in front of the common room fireplace, as the onlookers cheered again. Soon others started dancing, chairs and tables were pushed back, and there was barely room to stand, let alone sit. Albus edged his way though the crowd, toward a couch that had been pushed out of the way, but the older students sitting there were passing a paper-wrapped bottle between themselves with a secretive air. Albus had had enough mysterious fluids for one day. Finally he climbed onto a table, righted a stuffed armchair that had been upturned on it, and sat above the crowd, looking down at the dancers like a king on a throne.

At one point, Professor Sylvanus put her head in the door.

“Do you know what time it is?” she demanded.

“Two o’clock!” half the crowd shouted.

“Bah. Don’t do anything illegal where I can see it and have to do something about it,” she said, and was gone.

Albus never knew exactly when the party ended. He woke up still enthroned, the embers of the fire glowing in the grate and the faint light of dawn filtering down through the lake. He yawned, untied the shoelaces someone had predictably tied together, removed the colored feathers someone had stuck in his hair, and wandered off to the bathroom to see if anyone had written anything on his face after he fell asleep.

They had, but it washed off. All in all, it was the best party Albus had ever been to.

--------------------
Feedbak here, please!



Last edited by Inkwolf; October 2nd, 2007 at 10:03 pm.
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  #17  
Old October 16th, 2007, 8:35 am
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The ASP at Hogwarts Chapter 16

The glow of victory lasted well into the following Sunday, as everyone he passed complimented him on his excellent playing. Even Professor McGonagall went out of her way to congratulate him. As she was the head of Gryffindor, Albus had actually been a little concerned what his next transfiguration lesson might be like, but she seemed perfectly calm about the match.

Albus was wandering the castle corridors that evening, absorbing the praise with a touch of a swagger in his step, when someone stepped out in front of him in a lonely corridor, and Albus felt all the wind go out of his sails—or perhaps the swelling from his head.

“Well?” Scorpius demanded.

“I can explain,” said Albus hastily. “It was only a broomsickness potion. We’d have asked permission, only Trilby is such a madman. I didn’t want to be sick all over the pitch, that’s all. And by the way, it was really decent of you to keep it quiet—.”

“Keep it quiet?” said Scorpius. “Of course I didn’t! I ran straight to Oldham and squealed like a mandrake! Did you think I’d stand by and watch you cheat? Still, since Oldham did bugger-all about it, I’m glad to hear it was something trivial after all.”

“Oh,” said Albus, any warmth he had begun to feel for the Malfoy fading instantly. “Well, we would probably have won even if I was barfing all the while.”

“My baby sister could have beaten Gryffindor the way they played yesterday, so don’t get any bruises patting yourself on the back,” Scorpius scowled. “That’s not what I’m here for anyway. What did you think of the translation?”

“The trans—oh! I forgot all about it!” Albus began searching his pockets.

“FORGOT about it?!” Scorpius shouted. “D’you know how late I’ve been working on that thing? Do you have any idea how much time I’ve spent? Thought you were in such a blasted hurry for—“

“It’s in my Quidditch robes,” Albus remembered. “Oh, bugger, they’ve probably gone to the laundry! I’d better run!” He ran toward Slytherin House, gladly leaving the raging Malfoy behind. His Quidditch uniform was still in a heap beside his bed, where he had left it, and Albus had just pulled out the folded parchment when Harry Roylott poked his head into the dormitory.

“Thought that was you, Potter,” he said. “Yorick was looking for you! He wants the Quidditch team out by the pitch.”

“We can’t be having another practice already!” Albus protested. He made his way to the pitch, grumbling, leaving his broomstick behind as a matter of principle.

“There you are at last, Potter!” Yorick growled. “Thought we’d have to start without you.” He was standing next to the wooden chest that held the Quidditch balls.

“I don’t think I can stand another practice already,” said Goyle.

“Anyway, it’s already dark!” Albus added.

“Can you stand another party already?” said Yorick. He opened the case. Inside was a cake, decorated with little Quidditch players. Across the top, someone had written, “Ha, ha, suckers!” in green icing.

“It’s my seventeenth birthday,” said Yorick with a grin. “I’m of age. I can walk out of here any time I want to!”

Prince started lighting the candles with his wand. They lit up with green flames, and spat little silver sparks. “I’ve got something to celebrate, too,” he said. “After months of badgering, Fudge has finally agreed to let me take my OWLS a year early!” He made a happy noise and lit the last candle. “Make a wish and blow them out, Hero! Only try not to spit all over the cake. The rest of us will be eating it, too, you know.”

There were groans of protest from the rest of the team. “Why’d you go and say that?” Larken demanded. “Now he’ll do it for sure!”

Yorick laughed, standing above the cake, lit up only by the sparkling green flames. Then he took a deep breath and blew. Seventeen little flames flickered madly, going out one by one. When Yorick ran out of breath, only one wick was still glowing, red at the tip. It gave off a half-hearted spark or two in silver, then flared up once more.

“Tough luck, Yorick,” said Lanister.

“I guess this means Boppin’ Brunhilda Eversleigh won’t be dropping out of the Flaming Banshees to give you nonstop foot massages and personal drum solos,” said Prince.

“Shut up, Prince,” Yorick looked down blankly at the one remaining green flame. “Anyway, it’s only a birthday candle. It doesn’t really mean anything.”

Albus shivered as he sat under the stars beside Prince, working his way through an enormous piece of birthday cake.

“Whoever made this clearly believed that there was no such thing as too much icing,” Prince said. “I am excavating for cake, but I fear the walls may collapse on me. Turning nippy, isn’t it?”

Albus nodded. “Are you really doing your OWLS a year early?” he asked. “I didn’t know anyone was allowed to do that.”

“Anyone’s not,” said Prince. “Anyone hasn’t got Fudge’s magic ring, though. He agreed to it almost too quickly. I suspect he’s hoping it means I’ll be graduating a year early. The joke’s on him, though. I just want an extra year of NEWTS classes, to fit in everything I want to study.”

“That’s if you pass your OWLS, though,” said Albus.

“I’m not worried. Half my teachers have already let me move up to the fifth-year classes. Now the rest will have to.”

“What do you want to study?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Anything. Everything they’ve got. I even asked Professor about studying to become an Animagus. Do you know what she said to me?”

“She said. “I think the world contains enough jackasses!’” Yorick hooted, tossing an armful of dry branches onto the pile he had gathered.

“Can you believe it?” said Prince. “A professor, no less! One ought to report her to the board.”

Albus couldn’t help laughing. Yorick set fire to the branches, and the team huddled around the little bonfire. Overhead, outbound owls swooped down through the light of the fire, as tiny sparks drifted up into the darkness. The wood crackled pleasantly. Albus felt his shins scorching and his back freezing, but it was still good.

“Well, happy seventeenth birthday, Yorick. If I’d have known it was your birthday, I’d have got you something,” Albus said apologetically.

“You gave me all the present I wanted yesterday, when you grabbed that snitch right under Oldham’s nose,” said Yorick, pulling his cloak a little tighter around his chest. “Sorry about your brother, though. He was their only decent player. Gryffindor will be complete rubbish, now.”

“What?” said Albus.

“You’ve heard that your brother was kicked off the team, haven’t you?” asked Prince.

“No!”

“For not whacking you with a bludger when he had the chance,” said Yorick. “I’m not saying they’d have won if he’d done it—I’ve seen you dodge, pipsqueak—but they MIGHT have done. Still, stupid to sack your best player over one mistake. Oldham always was an idiot.”

“If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Gryffindors, besides the smell,” said Prince, “it’s that they have a tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater,”

“I’d have made your brother run laps till he puked, and then shoved his head down the loo and flushed it,” said Yorick. ”But he’d still be on the team.”

Albus stared into the fire for a long time, thinking, as the others went on with their chatter and jokes. Eventually, Yorick looked at his watch and stood.

“We can’t stay out much longer without getting in trouble,” he said, pulling a flaming branch from the embers. “Nott, douse that fire. I’ve got one more thing to show you…a little something I ordered from Mr. George Weasley.”

Albus jumped up at that, and so did the rest of the team. From the bottom of the crate, Yorick pulled a bundle of cardboard tubes on a stake. Sticking it firmly into the earth, he lit the fuse, then ran back. “Get clear!” he shouted.

The fuse sparked and hissed its way up to the tubes. For a moment, the fuse seemed to have gone out, only a trickle of smoke drifting across the pitch. Then two bursts of light shot from the tubes and into the sky, taking the shape of green-robed Quidditch players. They were beaters, clubs in their hands, and they struck sparkling bludgers toward the spectators. Three more jets of flame burst from the firework, and formed into three chasers, passing a ball of red fire between themselves. Then a huge, gorilla-like keeper appeared, spitting sparks as it guarded a hoop of fire.

“That’s not supposed to be me, I hope!” Albus heard Goyle say in the darkness.

“He hasn’t got your muscle mass,” Prince answered. “Or facial hair. OW!”

Finally, a smaller figure whizzed from the fireworks tube. It was a seeker, chasing after a flaming snitch. Albus ignored the crick in his neck as he watched the firework Quidditch team go through their paces. After a minute, the team all collided in the center of the pitch, exploding in a final rain of green and silver sparks, which formed the image of a snake briefly before disappearing.

“That was amazing!” Albus said. He had seen Uncle George’s fireworks before, but he never got tired of them.

“Good one, wasn’t it?” Yorick grinned back. ”Time to get back to the castle, now, midget.”

“Awwww,” Albus grumbled, but he headed back. There was no point in getting a detention.

As he came to the door of his dormitory, he hesitated. An unfamiliar noise was coming from the room, a sort of rhythmic grunting. Warily, Albus leaned though the door for a peek at whatever was going on.

The dormitory was apparently empty, but Albus could see a slightly moving shadow in the corner of the room near his bed. For a moment he thought of getting Prince or Yorick to help him investigate the mysterious noises, then pulled his shoes off and slipped quietly into the room himself. Trying not to make any noise, Albus slid along the dormitory floor, staying close to the canopied beds. Peeking around the draped corner of his own bed, a bizarre sight met his eyes.

He had locked his broomstick to the side of his bedpost, as usual. Hanging from his broom, with both feet braced against the post, was Wriggle the house elf. He was straining to pull the broomstick away from the bed, and grunted with the effort of each tug. Albus watched him for a while, with mischievous fascination.

Eventually growing tired of it, Albus said suddenly, “What do you think you’re doing, Wriggle?”

The elf jumped guiltily and yelped, but instead of vanishing, he increased the rate of his efforts to dislodge the broom. The puffs of breath that escaped his lips sounded like the chugging of a distant locomotive.

“Didn’t Prince tell you to leave my broomstick alone?” Albus demanded.

With out missing a beat, Wriggle responded, “The young master is underage and addlepated, and does not always understand what is in his best interest.”

“I’m sure he’ll be interested to hear that when I call him,” said Albus. Wriggle gave him a sidelong look, and redoubled his broom-stealing efforts once more. Albus gave up.

“Prince?” he shouted. “Prince! Come get your harebrained house elf!”

“Did you say something, Moppet?” Prince called. At the sound of his voice, Wriggle vanished. A few moments later, Prince appeared at the dormitory door, a toothbrush in one hand and a ridge of white outlining his lips. “You summoned me?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Your daft elf was in here, trying to pinch my broom again!”

Prince looked pointedly around the empty dormitory. “I expect you were seeing things,” he finally said.

“Seeing things?” Albus protested. “I spoke with him!”

“I expect you were hearing things as well, then,” said Prince. “Do you mind? I have three teeth to go.” Prince turned to leave and Albus gave a bark of frustration.

It wasn’t until he was getting undressed for bed and heard the crackle of parchment that Albus remembered Scorpius’s translation. Shivering, he slid under the covers and opened the parchment. The poem inside was written in fancy, ornamented script. Albus rolled his eyes and wondered how many times Scorpius had rewritten it before he decided it was pretty enough.

Bold explorer, if thou art,
Strong of mind and stout of heart,
Then a treasure may await,
One whose hands are helped by fate.
Riches infinite it be,
If you have the eyes to see.
Seek it where the dragons croon,
Midnight hour on Merlin’s Moon.

Albus carefully folded the parchment and slipped it into his arsenal. Then he lay down and covered his head with pillows.

So. He was on a treasure hunt of some sort.

However carefully Scorpius Malfoy had translated the Druidic verse, however painstakingly and lovingly he had crafted it into English poetry, in Albus’s mind there was still one word that clashed horribly and stood out from the others as if it had been printed in some grizzly shade of hot fuscia.

“Dragons!” Albus groaned. He hugged his pillows tighter than ever.

--------------------
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  #18  
Old October 30th, 2007, 8:30 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts, Chapter 17

“And I say to you, it may seem like fun and games to you now, but the Dark Arts are no laughing matter!” Headmaster Fudge thumped a fist on the head table for emphasis.

Classes had been ended in the middle of the morning, and all the students summoned to the Great Hall to listen to this diatribe.

“Even minor dabbling in the Dark Arts—curses, jinxes and so on—can be dangerous. Many people start out merely curious. They begin to study the Dark Arts out of a simple desire for information, then become fascinated by them, begin to experiment with them, and before they know it they have started down an evil path…a dark, dangerous path from which from which they may never find their way back.”

“Demonic road maps, five sickles apiece, lads,” Prince offered quietly.

Albus was not able to disguise his laugh as a burst of coughing in time, and found himself pinned by the headmaster’s glower.

“I’m sorry you find the danger amusing, Mr. Potter,” said Fudge. “See me before returning to class for the details of your detention.”

Albus sank into his chair in embarrassment until Fudge had gotten safely back into his speech. Then he turned to give Prince an accusing look.

It was no good. Prince was holding a square-rimmed pair of glasses on his nose and looking over them with a piercing stare of stern disapproval. “That was a most unmannerly outburst, young man,” he chided in Professor McGonagall’s voice.

Albus turned his back on Prince quickly, feeling betrayed, and hoping his involuntary smile had not shown. Prince was simply impossible, some days.

Prince punched him lightly in the back. “Never mind,” he whispered. “I’ve got a special educational opportunity planned for this afternoon, so be sure to let me know when your detention is, so we can work around it.”

Albus’s spirits lifted at once. The two weeks since the Quidditch game had been singularly dull, yet stressful. His anxiety over the dragons mentioned in the translation had been a gnawing lump in his stomach. The ghost had not appeared to be questioned about it, and Scorpius had become mortally offended when Albus asked if it might be a translation error, throwing another melodramatic hissy fit in the corridor. Rose seemed to be speaking to him again—if still resentful—but James simply refused to acknowledge his existence. Albus felt he could do very well with one of Prince’s bits of fun.

“If you know your friend is delving into the Dark Arts, have no hesitation in turning them in to a teacher or responsible adult at once,” Fudge was going on. “It is not the same as tattling. Your friend is taking part in an activity which can cause harm to them and others, which might even destroy their soul for all time. You may be the only one who can save them. The biggest favor you can do for your friend is to turn them in!”

“Especially if your friend wants to be expelled,” Prince muttered. Yorick nudged him and slid over the Daily Prophet he had been surreptitiously reading. Prince casually glanced down at it. “So, that’s what set Fudgicles off, is it? Good. I was afraid he simply felt the need to hear himself talk and was going to make this a regular thing.”

Albus leaned over to look at the paper. A photo of a green fire in the shape of a screaming skull rippled angrily above an article headed, “MORTFIRE IN HOGSMEADE.” Prince slid the paper to him, and Albus tried to read it in spurts, while pretending to listen to Fudge’s ongoing lecture.

Merchants arriving at their businesses early this morning….burning in the middle of the square…Harry Potter, director of the Auror Department…”May or may not be Sons of Walpurgis activity…first fire to be lit in a Muggle-free environment”…still under investigation…technically broke no laws apart from creating a public nuisance…terrified elderly citizens who connect it with the Dark Mark…Newton Avery, leader of the Sons of Walpurgis neither confirmed nor denied…nephew of the notorious Death Eater...

“So why’s he lecturing us?” Albus whispered. “None of us could have been in Hogsmeade last night.”

“Unless one knew a really good secret passage,” said Prince. “I suspect the Mortfire was simply too close for comfort and he’s venting his insecurity on us. Hush, now, those sound like closing remarks.”

Albus turned back toward Fudge and pretended to be attentive and earnest as the speech concluded. He even joined in the scattered applause as most of the students simply gathered their things to return to their classrooms.

As his friends departed, Albus gloomily approached Headmaster Fudge to receive his punishment. Fudge was gathering together his notes, and he arranged them and put them away in a folder before looking down at Albus.

“Well, young Potter,” he said. “Would you care to tell me what you found so amusing about my little talk?”

“No!” said Albus. “I mean, I didn’t. I mean…I just happened to remember a joke, that’s all.”

“Well, let’s hear it,” said Fudge. “I could use a laugh.”

“I’ve…forgotten it again,” Albus said.

“Ah,” said Fudge. “I thought you might have. You will serve your detention in the hospital wing this Saturday.”

“Really?”

Cornelius Fudge frowned, and Albus tried hard to look less delighted. “Yes, really. You will report to Nurse Bannock at ten in the morning, and you will stay as long as she has work for you, is that clear? And I expect you’ll be scrubbing bedpans and cleaning up vomit, so you can stop looking as if you’ve just won a Quidditch pool.”

“Yes, sir,” said Albus, struggling to disguise his pleasure. It was the chance he had wanted, an excuse to be in the hospital wing when he wasn’t being treated. With any luck, he could find some time to poke around, between bedpans.



“So, what are we going to do today?” Albus asked, scampering in an attempt to keep up with Prince’s swift stride.

“You’ll see,” said Prince. “You’ll enjoy it. At least, I think you will.” They entered the Great Hall, and Prince raised his wand. There was a crack, like the sound of a firecracker, and a puff of sulphurous smoke. “First years! First years, this way! Your Uncle Albert has a special educational opportunity for you! Fetch your cloaks, if you haven’t got ‘em—it’s cold outside. Meet up by the tomb. First years!”

“Aww,” complained a Ravenclaw girl. “We never get to have any fun any more, Uncle Albert…”

“Oh, all right,” Prince said agreeably. “Second years, too, if you want to come! First and second years! Get your cloaks and meet by the tomb! First and second years!”

“You might at least have told me to bring my cloak!” Albus grumbled as he made a dash for the Slytherin dormitory to fetch his things.

When Albus reached the tomb, there was already a sizeable crowd. As he looked around for the faces he knew, he became uneasy. The first years were there, and it seemed like there were also quite a lot of second years. There was also a scattering of students that Albus was almost sure were third years. And huddling in a knot away from the main crowd was a gang of Slytherin boys Albus was certain were fourth-years. Something about the way they whispered and snickered, always looking around to make sure nobody was close enough to overhear, alarmed Albus. He decided to warn Prince about the suspicious group the moment he had a chance.

A wave of laughter started at one end of the courtyard. The students moved to form a path through the midst of the crowd. Albus craned his neck and jumped up and down, trying to catch a glimpse of what everyone was laughing about, but he couldn’t see a thing…not until Prince and Yorick climbed up on the tomb, and the laughter swelled even louder.

Prince was wearing a ladies’ emerald green cloak, and a wig with the hair tied back in a knot. The square eyeglasses he had had earlier were perched on his nose again. Yorick was even more bizarre looking. He wore a long, black cloak, and his face was painted white. A white shower cap covered his spiky hair, and he wore a pair of Voldyspecs—toy eyeglasses Albus had seen in Uncle George’s shop, which made your eyes look as if they were glowing red.

“Welcome to another of Uncle Albert’s Educational Opportunities,” Prince called, imitating Professor McGonagall’s voice. “Today we will be staging a re-enactment of the Battle of Hogwarts. My faithful assistant, Lord Voldemort, will lead the attacking party, while I, Acting Headmistress McGonagall, defend the school from the forces of Darkness! But first, a word about armaments.”

There was another shriek of laughter as ‘Lord Voldemort’ strapped on a frilly white apron. Prince drew his wand and pointed it at Yorick. “Colo Cultum!” he shouted. There was a sound like ‘sput’ and Yorick turned back to the audience to show that the apron now showed a spot of color—an iridescent circle of blue-green which had not been there before.

“We will be using only the paint splat spell,” Prince said. “We’ve hung up white sheets between the trees for you to practice on. When you are hit by a splat, you will be considered a casualty of war. You may either lie on the ground looking picturesquely dead and risk being trodden on, sit off on the sidelines watching, or go back to the castle to sulk. Once everyone has mastered the spell, we will pick teams.”

There was an immediate rush for the hanging sheets and the air was filled with enthusiastic shouts. "Colo Cultum!” Albus yelled, aiming his wand at a clean spot. Nothing happened. He tried several more times, with no luck.

“Here, like this,” Yorick said behind him. “You need to put a bit of a twist in your elbow. Colo Cultum!” A splash of striped black and amber appeared on the sheet. “You try, now. And Morty, leave some empty space for others,” he said to the Hufflepuff girl, who was gleefully shooting spot after spot of flame-colored paint at the sheets,

“Colo Cultum!” Albus shouted, trying to imitate Yorick’s motion. A splash of swirled metallic gold and silver appeared on the sheet.

“Flashy!” said Yorick. “Very nice, indeed.”

Yorick went on to coach some of the others, leaving Albus with an insane grin and a desperate urge to cast more paint splats. He caught Morty’s eye, and the two of them simultaneously raised their wands and shouted, “COLO CULTUM!” Albus felt something damp splatter across his forehead, and saw that the lower half of Morty’s face now looked as if it had been formed out of metal. They burst out laughing together.

“Now, then,” said Prince sternly, in his best McGonagall fashion. “Don’t let’s start that before the battle. Evanesco!” He touched his wand to Albus’s forehead, then frowned. “Evanesco!” he said again, tapping Morty’s jaw. It remained as shiny as ever.

“Bugger,” Prince muttered. “Oh, well, it’s a minor detail.” He moved on.

“I think we’re marked for life,” Morty said, though she didn’t seem too bothered by the fact.

“Hope I only get hit by decent colors,” said Albus.

“Better avoid Crossly, then,” said Morty. “He’s been splattering this horrible shade of browny-purple everywhere.”

Soon everyone was properly trained, and teams were selected. Albus was gratified to be Prince’s first choice of teammate, and was even more pleased when Morty joined him in the next round. Yorick snagged the fourth-year boys as his first choices, and Albus was relieved. He had no doubt of Yorick’s ability to keep them in line.

Once they had divided up, Yorick/Voldemort marched his dark forces away as Prince turned to address them.

“This is a re-enactment of the decisive battle that ended the Voldemort wars,” said Prince. “Sort of. Of course, since we do not have the Elder Wand or Gryffindor’s sword, the results of today’s battle will rely instead on who manages to capture the other team’s flag.” He held up a yellow banner with the Hogwarts crest on it. “Lord Voldemort’s flag, of course, is green and has the Dark Mark on it."

“We are going to divide into offensive and defensive divisions,” Prince continued. “Since Voldemort is a terribly offensive person, I believe that our best strategy is to put almost all of our troops in defensive positions. One brave soul will attempt to find the enemy forces, spy out their flag, and capture it for the glory of Hogwarts. Do I have a volunteer? Ah, I thought I could count on you, young Miss Avery.” Morty’s hand had shot up so fast that nobody else had even had time to volunteer.

“The rest of you, try to find some cover in the shrubbery. You will be most effective if you are unseen until the enemy is almost on you, and try to hide behind something that will help protect you from paint splats. Are there any questions?”

“Should you really be standing on the tomb?” asked a Hufflepuff third year. “I mean, it’s someone’s grave. It’s awfully disrespectful.”

“You’re right,” said Prince contritely, though with no sign of being about to step down from his perch. “I’m a shockingly ill-mannered brute. Any other questions? Then, remember, Yorick will probably attack us head-on with half his team, and while we’re fighting them, most of the others are bound to hit us from another direction. So whoever is not at the front of the fighting, keep an eye peeled for flankers. Morituri, come and be briefed on your mission.”

Albus began to look for a place to conceal himself. The tomb itself seemed the best place in terms of providing solid cover, but it was only good for concealment if you knew for certain what direction the enemy was coming from. As he poked around, he couldn’t help overhearing part of what Prince was saying to Morty.

“Did you say Yorick’s team was in the forest?” he asked, appalled.

“Well, on the fringes,” said Prince. “Not technically IN the forest, because that would be against the rules, right?”

“Even the fringes are dangerous!” Albus insisted, thinking of Rebecca. “There are...awful things in there. She can’t go. Nobody should go.”

“Come on,” said Prince. “It’s still broad daylight. How dangerous can it be?”

“I’m going,” said Morty. “I’m not afraid.” Her face was stony, and Albus knew, with a sinking feeling, that there would be no talking her out of it.

“Well, then, I’m going with you,” he announced. “Nobody should be alone in there, I don’t care how broad the daylight is.”

Morty gave a growling sigh of exasperation. “You’d better not make noise and alert the enemy,” she snarled at him. Then she turned on her heel and stomped toward the forest.

“Off you go then,” said Prince, and Albus scurried after her.

“Wait up!” he called, as quietly as he could. Not making noise was going to be a challenge. Dry November leaves littered the lawn, and beyond the edge of the forest they covered the earth in a thick blanket. However silently he moved, Albus was aware that every step was accompanied by the “chuff, chuff” of the dry leaves surrounding his feet.

“Can you TRY not to sound so much like an elephant crushing peanuts shells?” Morty finally demanded.

“You’re doing it, too,” Albus said, gratified to have such a just response. Morty’s feet were definitely just as noisy as his, however carefully she was trying to step. She opened her mouth to make a retort, but never spoke. They both heard it at the same time—the shuffle of a large group making their way through the forest. Albus dove under a fallen tree, and Morty joined him, throwing up an armful of leaves to settle over their backs and further conceal them.

After a few minutes, Albus saw them coming over the edge of the hollow—Yorick was in the lead, followed by a group of first years. They were clearly making an attempt to move carefully, but the leaves prevented silent movement. Also, several of the first years were making a game of hissing “SHHHHH!!!” at each other as loudly as possible, which didn’t help matters.

Albus remained frozen and unmoving. He could hear another group moving off to the east, so Prince appeared to have been right in predicting Yorick’s strategy. It seemed to take forever for the sound of shuffling to fade in the distance. Albus glanced at his watch, and his gaze moved to the wristband he wore below it. He smacked himself in the forehead.

“Why do I always forget this?” he muttered, touching his wand to the broom recall symbol.

“I think it’s safe to move on, now,” Morty whispered.

“Hang on,” said Albus. “We can fly, it’ll be quieter. Faster, too.” They waited for the broom to arrive. Albus’s knees were becoming soaked by the cold, damp earth he was kneeling in, but he could feel the warmth of Morty’s body huddling close to him, and he felt a strange reluctance to move. When the broom arrived, he straddled it, and she mounted behind him, putting her arms around his waist.

Albus flew silently through the forest, flying low and slowly, mindful of the danger of spider webs. Suddenly, Morty tugged at his cloak and pointed, but she needn’t have. The five fourth-year boys that Albus had pegged as troublemakers had been left behind to guard Yorick’s—or rather, Voldemort’s flag. The fourth-year boys were making no effort to keep their voices down as they talked among themselves.

“…arrogant, swanking little arse-kissing tosser,” one was saying. “I expect he really thinks he’s something now.”

“We really owe it to the world to put him in his place,” said another. “Criminy, I miss the days when Goyle used to beat His Royal Highness to a pulp three times a week.”

“Stupid Yorick and his Quidditch-team solidarity rules,” said a third. “Brain-boy has got quite above himself.”

“I could be on the team, too, if I sucked up to the captain that hard,”

“Yorick must need sandpaper to get the lip-prints off his bum every morning.”

“Thinks he’s better than the rest of us. Always has, the little turd. Now the fifth-years have got him, how long do you think it’ll take before they’re as sick of him as we are?”

“Got a stopwatch?”

“We could run a betting pool…”

Albus was debating whether Morty would be impressed by his making a seeker-style swoop down among the enemy, and seizing the flag on the way. All that stopped him was that the banner appeared to be pretty securely tied to the branch, and a vision kept passing through his mind of how embarrassing it would be if he grabbed the unmoving banner and was pulled off his broom to land on his back among the enemy, while the Firebolt flew off without him. A severing charm, applied at just the right instant, might cut the banner loose, though.

He was about to suggest to Morty that she wait on a nearby tree branch while he attempted it, when one of the boys spit into the underbrush and said, “Well, come on, then. We didn’t come here to stand in the woods with our thumbs up our backsides.” And the five of them simply walked away, leaving the flag unguarded.

Albus and Morty looked at each other doubtfully. It seemed far too easy. They waited, but the footsteps of the boys continued to chuff into the distance.

“It’s got to be some kind of trap,” Morty said doubtfully. “Do you think there’s a curse on the flag or something?”

Albus flew up to a dead snag, and snapped off a branch. It made a loud crack that echoed through the forest, and they both froze. But there was no answering sound except for a faint breeze sending dead leaves skipping and rattling through the bracken. Albus poked the banner with the stick a few times. Nothing happened. He shrugged.

“I have a bad feeling,” said Morty. Albus nodded. He did as well. “Let’s just hover and try not to touch the ground,” said Morty. “Do you have a knife?”

“I didn’t bring it,” said Albus regretfully. “I know a severing charm, though.” To his mortification, though, his several attempts at the spell failed. “I seem to be having an off day,” he said sheepishly.

“Just hover, then, and I’ll untie it. Try to hold it steady,” said Morty. Albus concentrated on keeping the broomstick as immobile as possible, as Morty worked the tightly bound knots with her fingers. After long efforts, one side of the banner came loose, and she started on the other.

Albus’s sense of anxiety grew. The sun was setting rapidly, and a feeling of imminent danger kept his heart pounding, though he barely knew why. “Hurry,” he said.

Morty didn’t answer, just kept struggling with the stubborn knot. Albus heard a rustling in the leaves above, and looked up just in time to see the enormous spider dropping toward him. It hit the broomstick, and brought the three of them crashing to the ground. Albus knew that the high-pitched scream in his ears was his own.

Albus and Morty were thrown clear and staggered to their feet, pulling out their wands. “Colo Cultum!” they both shouted instantly, instinctively using the only spell they could think of at the moment.

Part of the spider turned flaming orange-yellow, while another bit of it went brightly metallic. The paint splats seemed to confuse the spider, but it was straddling the fallen broomstick, so there was no escape. Morty and Albus kept up a steady stream of paint attacks until Albus’s panicked brain managed to dredge up another spell.

“Wingardium Leviosa!” he shouted. He succeeded in making the spider fly back about ten feet through the air, and snatched up his broomstick. “Come on!” he shouted, and Morty quickly mounted behind him.

As he took off, Albus felt a gut-wrenching snag, and felt Morty nearly pulled off the broomstick behind him. “Morty!” he screamed, grabbing at her wrist. There was a tearing sound, and they were free. Morty’s arms were thrown around him again, her hands clutching most of the Dark Mark banner. Below them, a thin strip of green cloth dangled from a tree branch, swaying in the breeze above a frustrated but extremely colorful spider.

Albus flew in a panicked, upward path until he nearly hit another web, having to dive and swerve sickeningly to avoid collision. After that he slowed down and stayed barely above the ground. Before long they had reached the edge of the forest, and the sounds of the mock battle had reached their ears. Albus managed to land properly and let Morty off before doubling up and retching his insides out.

He could feel her watching him with a vaguely repulsed expression, and his face burned with humiliation. “I get broomsick,” he explained between heaves.

“Yeah, I notice,” was all she said. “Come on, let’s get the flag to Prince.” Albus staggered across the grass after her, picking up speed. They stopped when they came into view of the tomb.

Albus wasn’t sure what he had expected the mock battle to look like, but it was certainly not this. Behind the tomb, ‘McGonagall’ and ‘Voldemort’ seemed to have joined forces, though Yorick had lost his red eyes and shower cap, and Prince’s wig seemed to have come unstitched, straggly hair standing out in all directions. They were backed up by several third and second-years, while the gang of fourth-year boys stood firing curses and jinxes at them from a distance. They seemed to be getting the worst of the exchange, one boy sprouting huge, hairy lumps from various places, another floundering on the ground, half-encased in what looked like a giant water balloon, and a third with skin that had taken on a cracked, lumpy, rock-like texture.

Some of the other second and third years seemed to have taken the opportunity to settle scores with one another, and Albus could see several angry pairs dueling or exchanging blows. Everywhere, people were sprouting warts, bat wings, and other marks of battle. Meanwhile, the first years ran through the carnage, squealing delightedly and pelting everyone in sight with splats of color, regardless of what side they were on. The Hogwarts banner hung in shreds, and the tomb was no longer white, but covered in a rainbow of magical color.

Albus simply stared, his mouth hanging open. “Why do I think nobody will care about this any more?” said Morty glumly, dropping the Voldemort banner over a snoring, multi-colored third-year who appeared to have been hit with a sleeping spell.

They stood and watched the carnage continue unabated, until Albus heard the curfew bell ring from the castle. “Curfew!” Morty shouted half-heartedly. Nobody paid any attention.

“FUDGE IS COMING! FUDGE IS COMING!” Albus screamed, and kept screaming it until people took notice. Students scattered in all directions, some carrying off disabled friends.

Prince was beside Albus in seconds. “Where is he?” he asked, looking around in a panic.

“I lied,” said Albus. “But the curfew bell rang.”

Prince sighed with relief. “Well, let’s get back inside, then. Yorick, help me with Stebbins, won’t you? You take his head and I’ll get his feet…”

They made their way hastily to the castle door. Around them, others scurried to get inside. Outdoor lamps flared automatically, lighting up the bright colors coating the passing students. Albus saw Rose and Scorpius pass, giggling helplessly. He was covered in pink paint thick with red speckles, while she was liberally splattered with a pale greenish shade that appeared to be luminous in the gathering darkness.

“Well, recreating historic battles appears to be a recipe for unmitigated and utter chaos of the worst order,” Prince muttered, hoisting the sleeping third-year for a better grip.

“Yeah,” said Yorick, grinning madly. “Good on you, mate. We must do this again.”
--------------------
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Last edited by Inkwolf; October 30th, 2007 at 8:49 pm.
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  #19  
Old November 13th, 2007, 4:25 pm
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The Asp at Hogwarts Chapter 18

“Hello, Prince!” said Albus.

“Hello, Moppet,” Prince said without looking up from his work. “And what have you been doing with yourself today?”

“I’ve been on detention in the hospital wing.”

“What, all this time?”

“Oh, yes. It’s been marvelous. First I scrubbed the bedpans, then I washed out old potion bottles, then I helped Nurse Bannock with odds and ends, then I reorganized her cupboards for her, then I cheered up the patients with those troll jokes you told us last week, then I—“ Albus was nearly bouncing with enthusiasm. He had explored every cupboard and cranny of the hospital wing, and found it fascinating. He had pestered Nurse Bannock with a hundred questions, and though he had been sorry to end his detention, she had looked positively relieved.

“It sounds like your detention has been varied and exciting,” said Prince. “Unlike mine.” He dipped his sponge into the bucket of magical cleaning fluid and went back to sloshing it over the old headmaster’s tomb.

“You haven’t been scrubbing the tomb all day, have you?” Albus asked.

“Yes,” said Prince gloomily. “And likely to be scrubbing all tomorrow as well. My paint splat spell is a little too successful, I fear.”

“It looks all right,” said Albus.

“It does now, because a cloud’s over the sun. Give it a minute.” They waited, and as soon as a ray of sunshine hit the tomb, it glowed in a hundred rainbow hues.

“I think it looks pretty like that,” said Albus.

“Wonderful,” said Prince. “Fifty years from now, when you’re the headmaster, you can let me off detention.” He soaked his sponge and splatted it on the tomb with enough force that Albus felt drops of cleaning fluid spatter his face. “Fudge is an idiot. Stood out here lecturing me for years on what Dumbledore would think if he could see this. From everything I’ve read about Dumbledore, he wouldn’t mind at all. He’d have been out there flinging paint with the rest of us. It’s a pity we don’t have him here, he’d throw that pompous windbag out the door in a second and we’d have a proper headmaster. Yet another great public service I could perform, if I only had the Resurrection Stone.” A passing bird added to the mess on the tomb, and Prince shouted threats and hurled his sponge after it.

“Don’t worry,” Albus reassured his friend, who was retrieving his sponge. “I’m going to make a potion that can remove the stains from the paint spell. Nurse Bannock had people coming in all morning asking for something to take it off, and she asked me to invent a cure.”

Actually, he had offered and she had answered “You run along and do that, dearie,” in the same vague tone of voice in which Prince now said, “Did she, then?” He was examining his extremely pink hand. “My fingers are all pruney. But very clean.”

Albus shuffled his feet. He didn’t like to leave his friend to slave away all alone, but he was eager to get to his potion making.

“How long do you think Fudge will keep you out here?” he asked.

“Hmmm. Well, I graduate in a little over three years,” said Prince. “If you mean today, I don’t expect I’ll be out after dark. You needn’t keep me company. I’m planning my next Educational Opportunity and time to think is all to the good. I suppose I must wait at least a week while the Profs simmer down. Still, the weather…it’s bound to start raining or snowing soon…”

Albus left his friend behind, muttering to himself, and got to work on his potion.

He worked till late into the night. He had found part of a broken flagstone, and cast the Colo Cultum spell onto it. Each potion he developed, he tested to see if it would remove the gleaming metallic paint from the stone. He fell asleep at the common room desk he was using, and spent Sunday (once he had woken up) at the same thing.

Most of his attempts at paint removal did nothing. One potion ate away at the rock—he was glad he hadn’t tried it on his skin. None of the potions seemed to affect the paint at all, until late Sunday night, when he developed a potion that turned the paint black.

“Well, I must be on the right track,” he said, but he was too tired to do more than stare stupidly at the altered paint. Finally he went to bed.

He woke up Monday morning suddenly, his brain percolating with new ideas—but he barely had time to dress and get to class. His classmates had left him to sleep in again.

Potions class was insufferably tedious. Albus’s mind was filled with complex calculations and intricate mixtures, while his body was forced to mix a simple Polishing Potion. He threw the ingredients together with more than the usual heedless impatience with which he did his potions classwork.

“Now be careful as you add the beetle antennae,” Professor Puddleby warned as he strolled around the room. “This is a very delicate point in the procedure.”

“What’s he babbling about?” Albus growled under his breath. “A baby could mix this!” Across from him, Scorpius merely shrugged his shoulders. Rose ignored him entirely. They never had any trouble in Potions class, though they didn’t seem to share his impatience. A few other classmates—particularly the dimwitted ones, he thought—cast him reproachful or disgusted glances.

Albus pouted as he stared down at his bubbling potion, wishing there was some way to hurry it into completion so he could leave early. Not that it needed watching, he thought gloomily. Nothing could really go wrong, unless…unless…

Hastily, working so as not to be seen, Albus chopped a bit of pimpernel root and added it to the mixture, along with a pinch of powdered hellbore and a drop of armadillo bile. He stirred the potion as it changed color and started smoking slightly, his heart hammering with anticipation. Albus hoped he had gotten it right.

BOOM!

Screams followed the deafening explosion, and Professor Puddleby actually vaulted over three desks to arrive beside Albus’s cauldron, which was pouring forth a thick column of greasy brown smoke.

Albus, his paint-stained face further discolored with soot, looked up at the teacher with wide, innocent eyes. “Oops!” he said, hoping his smile didn’t show.



Albus leaned against the wall, kicking against it with the heel of one foot. Inside Professor Sylvanus’s office, he could hear Professor Puddleby shouting. It would have been better to be taken to the Headmaster. Albus didn’t care what Fudge thought of him, but he rather liked his house head. He couldn’t hear much of what Puddleby was saying. He did catch the phrase “arrogant, brainless little gnome-skull” and rather resented it.

Finally, Puddleby stomped out and returned to his classroom. “Come in, Potter,” Professor Sylvanus called. Albus entered the office nervously. He hadn’t been inside before. The walls were decorated with strange foreign masks and fetishes, and unknown, evil-looking gadgets, as well as various claws, horns, fangs and spines from what must have been seriously dangerous creatures. Tacked up on the wall behind the deck was the pebbly, scaled skin of some enormous lizard, while the floor was covered by the furry hide of some dark beast, toothy jaws still attached and open in a snarl. Albus sat in one of the chairs Professor Sylvanus indicated, grateful at least that the chairs didn’t appear to ever have been alive and bloodthirsty.

He squirmed as she stared at him with expressionless, hooded eyes for some time. Finally she spoke.

“I understand you are having some difficulty in Potions class.”

“No!” said Albus.

“No? Professor Puddleby says you are inattentive to instructions, disruptive in class, careless in your potionmaking, and have fallen so far behind that you are now an unacceptable safety hazard to the other students. Your written work is sloppy and careless, your lab work is haphazard, and you may fail Potions and be left back, if matters do not improve”

Albus was horrified. If it was torture being forced to sit through the dull, simple-minded potions lessons, it would be a thousand times worse to have another year of the same. He had stopped making any real effort in class long ago, but had never realized that he might actually be failing. It was simply too ironic.

Professor Sylvanus took in his expression and leaned back in her chair. “I’ve always found you a very bright and eager student, myself, so I am surprised and disappointed to hear how much trouble you’ve gotten into. Is it the potion making itself? Do you dislike the subject? Or simply have difficulty understanding—“

No!” Albus blurted out again. “I love Potions, I’m really good at it, only…” he waved his arms helplessly.

“Is it Professor Puddleby? You don’t get along with him? Or do you have other troubles? I hear that you and your brother have had some sort of conflict.”

“It’s not that!” he said. “I’m just—I—the class is just so boring…it’s all too EASY!“

Albus felt tears of frustration prickling at his eyes. He sank down in his chair, willing his eyes to dry up without dripping, as Professor Sylvanus continued to stare at him. What a stupid excuse for failing Potions, he thought. But it’s true, and it’s not fair.

He waited for Professor Sylvanus to chew him out, to inform him that they were there to teach, not to keep him entertained, to ask him why, if it was so easy, he was failing class, to order him to act his age and behave himself and stick to the book, as Professor Puddleby wanted.

But she just sat as if she hadn’t heard him, tapping her quill on the desk. Finally she wrote down a number on a slip of paper. “We have a few exemplary students who volunteer their time to coach younger students who are having problems. Professor Puddleby doesn’t want you back in his classroom, so you will spend Potions class studying in the Great Hall. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, immediately after your classes, you will go to this classroom for tutoring. Your tutors can decide when and if you are ready to return to regular Potions classes. You may go now, Potter.”

She returned to grading essays as Albus picked up the paper and left, his heart heavy. It wasn’t as bad as having to retake the entire class, but being forced to review the year’s potion classes with some older student who thought he was dull witted wouldn’t be much fun, either.

He was very quiet at dinner that night, remembering that Prince had once called him one of the brains of Slytherin House. He would rather die than let Prince or Yorick know he was failing a class. So he pretended to laugh at their jokes, said nothing himself, and got away from them as quickly as he could.

With no enthusiasm left for his experiments, Albus went to bed early and muddled gloomily through the next day of classes until the hour of doom was upon him. He arrived at Classroom 303 at the appointed time. Through the closed door he could hear chatter. Someone laughed. Albus knocked as quietly as he could, hoping for a few extra minutes before his humiliation had to begin, but the door was opened instantly, and Albus found a plump, spotty, and familiar-looking Ravenclaw boy looking down at him.

“We’ve been expecting you,” he said. “Come on in! Hey, Prince, it’s the Potter kid!” He opened to door wider, and Albus, cringing with embarrassment, saw Prince sitting at a card-covered table with another Ravenclaw boy, who Albus remembered having once seen helping Prince with his dungbomb catapult.

“Moppet!” cried Prince. “I hear you finally left old Puddleby in the dust! Come in, come in. Meet the rest of the study group. You know these louts already?”

“Aristotle Quark,” said the spotty boy, bowing.

“Rafe Abernathy,” called the tall, lanky redhead, who didn’t bother getting up from the table.

“Right, come meet the rest of the advanced study group,” said Prince. “This is Olivia Quark, she’s doing a special project in transfiguration. I don’t understand a word of it myself, and Figs is my second-best subject. And you know Morty, of course. She’s working on advanced astronomy. Something to do with exploring Jupiter by mental projection. Don’t interrupt her when she’s focusing like this, it gives her a headache, and she’s happy to share the pain. And this is Melvin Bleakers. He’s doing a behavior modification study on gnomes. And—“

“Hang on, what is this?” Albus interrupted. “I thought I had to review Potions class.”

“Well,” said Prince, looking pained. “If you REALLY want to, we can switch you to the Monday Wednesday Friday tutoring schedule, with the other knuckle-dragging morons. Would you like that?”

“NO!”

“Good. This is a group for advanced independent studies in magic. Have you got a current project you’d like to work on, or would you like me to suggest one?”

“I-I’m trying to develop a potion that will remove stains from the paint-splat spell,” Albus said.

“Excellent!” said Prince. “A noble project from which all of humanity will benefit, especially me. Feel free to ask us for any advice, assistance or special materials you may need. Abernathy’s best in Potions, though I’d be delighted to be your mentor myself. Apart from that, you’re on your own, as much as you want to be.” Prince rejoined the Ravenclaws at the table as Albus set up his potions equipment.

Albus was stunned at the unexpected turn in his luck. It didn’t take him long to fetch his test stone and set up his equipment. He began trying variations on his last formula, brewing several cauldrons at the same time, while Morty stared vaguely into a crystal, the Quark girl transfigured items into strange and uncanny forms, and the gnomes ran defiantly around the room, giggling, often with Bleaker in pursuit. Prince and the two Ravenclaws didn’t interfere, mostly sitting at their table and playing a complicated game they seemed to have developed using Chocolate Frog cards. Occasionally they would shout at each other over a disagreement on the rules or a difference of opinion on the powers of a certain card.

Albus worked till long after the appointed hour, till long after the gnomes had been herded back into their cages and Morty had staggered dizzily out of the room. He worked through dinner and only quit when Prince came back to sternly fetch him to bed.

“I’ve almost got it,” he said happily. “Look, the paint’s still there, but it’s gone transparent now.”

“Don’t kill yourself,” said Prince. “Though it WOULD be good if you could save me another weekend of scrubbing the tomb.”

Albus completed his potion on Thursday night, and on Friday afternoon, he and Prince went out and gave the tomb a final wash.

“Splendid!” said Prince. “I see you’ve got the paint off your face, too.”

“Nurse Bannock says she needs to get ministry approval before she can use it on the other students,” said Albus. “But I wasn’t afraid to try it. Anyway, she’s sent my potion in to be tested.”

Prince punched him on the shoulder. “You’ve made them stand up and take notice, eh? Think of it—the Ministry of Magic is testing your very own potion! You’re well on your way to fame and fortune, eh?”

However Albus tried, he couldn’t keep the grin from spreading across his face as the setting sun gleamed off the sparkling white tomb.
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Last edited by Inkwolf; November 13th, 2007 at 4:45 pm.
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  #20  
Old November 20th, 2007, 8:16 am
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Re: The Asp at Hogwarts

The ASP at Hogwarts Chapter 19

“First years, this way!” Prince called, his wand sending up showers of whistling sparks. “First years! Second years! And any years who want to come along!”

Albus looked at the head table. Most of the professors, just finishing their Saturday breakfasts, looked appalled. Headmaster Fudge looked thunderous. Albus half expected he’d put a stop to it, but he didn’t. It was too soon after the paint incident for the teachers, Albus guessed. A third of the school was still walking around multi-colored.

On the other hand, the memory of the glorious Battle of Hogwarts caused a huge burst of excitement from the students, especially those who had missed out on the fun last time. When Prince left the Great Hall, he must have had nearly every student in the school trailing after him.

Albus managed to push through the crowd and run up to jog at Prince’s elbow.

“We’re not going into the forest again?” Albus protested. “Morty and I nearly got whacked by an acromantula last time, remember?”

“We’re a large group. We’ll be perfectly safe in the enchanted clearing, so long as nobody wanders off alone,” Prince muttered back. “Besides, Yorick scouted out the area for me last night. There are no signs of webs or spiders anywhere near the place we’ll be working today. I’ve even asked Wriggle to be a lookout for us. He so loves being helpful.”

Albus had his doubts, but kept his mouth shut and stayed ready for trouble as the group marched along the path into the clearing where Professor Sylvanus used to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts.

“Thought you said there were no webs,” Albus muttered. The ground ahead was criss-crossed with a grid of white fibers.

Prince only smiled and stepped up onto a nearby boulder. “Welcome, everyone, to another edition of Uncle Albert’s Educational Opportunities! Today we will be replicating the arcane art of Muggle archaeology! The clearing ahead is an important historic site, which has never before been seriously investigated. Today, my friends, we dig! The field has been marked out into grids for the scientific recording of historic finds. Each clod of dirt must be sieved carefully—even the smallest pebble might be a piece of an ancient crock, an uncut sapphire, or a vital portion of some great fossil! Any bone or relic must have the dirt brushed off it with the most extreme care, so as to protect its aged surface.

“Once you have sieved out all the rocks in your grid square for three feet deep, please put them in one of the provided boxes and mark it with the area and your name. I promise, if you find anything cool or valuable, you may keep it, unless it has serious historical significance.

“Please leave the prepared shovels, brushes and sieves for the firsties, if you are capable of transfiguring your own,” Prince added. He picked up some old branches from a large pile and instantly formed them into the required tools.

“Digging dirt? Is that all?” Albus heard one disappointed student murmur. The group stood around shuffling its feet expectantly, but as Prince dug down into to Square Merlin-1-A, and Yorick did the same in the next square, it became clear that that WAS all. Most of the group turned away and left for the school, grumbling. The remaining students, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, dug in.

Albus picked up a shovel and a sieve. He chose a square near the edge of the clearing, where he could keep an eye on the forest, and started to dig. It was more work than he had expected. The sod on the surface had to be broken up, and further down, he found himself shoveling around tree roots. He kept on, though, and carefully sieved the dirt he shoveled up. He watched some of the older students using magic to cut through their dirt patch, and envied them.

Nothing Albus dug up looked like anything but a pebble. He dropped the stones into a box and tossed the sifted dirt into the forest. After an hour, his hands were blistering and his back was sore, but he didn’t seem to have made much progress on his hole. He decided it was time for a break.

There were still about forty students digging. Some of the older students had completed a square and moved on to the next one. Prince himself had quit digging early on, and sat at a small table examining the rocks that had been dug up. On the table before him he had a tweezers, a brush, several small plastic bags, a felt-tipped muggle pen, and oddly enough, a dead hamster.

He was looking at a small pink pebble through a magnifying glass when Albus approached. “Not running out on me already, are you, moppet?” he asked without looking up.

“Course not,” said Albus. “I’m only having a rest. My hands are getting blisters.”

“There’s blister cream in that bag under the tree,” said Prince.

Albus went to check it out. A blue knapsack contained several jars labeled Beverly Brewster’s Blister Buster. “Just a dab will take the blasted bluster out of the most beastly blister!” the label promised. Albus dipped a finger in the gooey mixture and rubbed it on his sore hands. His blisters shrank and vanished almost immediately.

“I don’t expect anyone to hang around all day, you know,” Prince called. “You can come and go as you like. If you go, I’d appreciate any digging you might care to do later on.”

“I’m good for a bit more, I think,” said Albus, picking up his shovel.

“Yes, but you’re all in among the tree roots there. Why make things hard on yourself? Tell you what, why don’t you go sieve for Yorick over there? He and Lanister are trying to have a race, but Morty can’t keep up with the pair of them.”

Feeling a bit as if he was wimping out, Albus picked up his sieve and went to the trench the two beaters were excavating. “Awright, pipsqueak!” Yorick grinned, his teeth dark with grit. “Come help me out!” Morty, who was fairly well covered with dirt, looked relieved to see him. Soon the two beaters were digging for all they were worth. They used muscle, not magic, and it was all Albus could do to strain the dirt quickly enough to keep up.

“Put your back into it, Potter,” Yorick shouted as he dumped a shovelful in the sieve. “They’re already a broom’s length ahead of us!” Albus tried to work faster. The instant he dumped his leftover pebbles into the collecting box, Yorick would slap down a new load of dirt. Daring to take an occasional peek to the side, Albus could see that they were closing the distance, though Morty was sifting at a furious rate. The exposed, sifted soil dried quickly in the sun, and Albus could feel the layer of dust clinging to every inch of his skin.

By the time they had dug across the entire clearing, Albus’s arms felt ready to drop off his shoulders.

“Finished!” Lanister shouted, throwing his shovel down and collapsing on the forest floor.

“Filthy, cheating, rotter!” said Yorick, tossing one more spadeful at Albus and joining the other beater on the ground. “Just nip up and toss those boxes of rocks at Prince for us, eh, midgets?”

“Do you see any ancient treasures here?” Morty grumbled as they carried their heavy burdens back to the table. “Because this seems like an awful lot of work for a heap of measly rocks.”

“Hmmm,” was all Albus said. He had an idea what Prince was up to.

At his makeshift table Prince was still examining stones one at a time. A mound of gravel was growing beside him, where the rejected pebbles had been tossed. Since Albus had been here last, a few rocks had been added to the table’s contents—a few of interesting colors or patterns, one that looked like it might be a fossil, and one that sparkled when the light played over it. Also, a fat sandwich had appeared.

“Excellent, excellent,” said Prince distractedly as they put down the boxes. “Well done.”

“I hope we’re not sacrificing our day off just to add to your rock collection,” Morty said sternly.

“Of course not,” said Prince. “Nearly lunch time, isn’t it? Might be a good time for you to head back to the school for a little bit.”

Albus looked over the clearing. A dishearteningly small portion seemed to have been dug up, and the few remaining diggers looked tired and discouraged.

“I sort of doubt anyone will be coming back after lunch,” said Albus.

“They’ll be back, all right,” said Prince smugly. “Won’t they, Wriggle, my sweet?”

“If master says it must be so,” a glum voice answered. Albus jumped. He hadn’t noticed the house elf sitting under the table, snuggling close to Prince’s leg.

“Hello, Wriggle,” said Albus, hoping he had remembered to lock up the Firebolt. “How have you—“

“Hey! HEY!” an excited voice screamed. Albus saw Melvin Bleaker, the trainer of gnomes, running toward them, his short, blond hair sticking up at all angles and his thick glasses so coated with dirt that it was a wonder he could see. “Look what I found!” he shouted as he neared the table. “It’s an old coin, I think! I think it’s GOLD!”

“Great Flamel’s singed eyebrows, I believe you’re right!” said Prince. “It looks to me like an 1873 Merlin’s-head Galleon!”

“But not historically significant, right?” said Bleaker, looked anxious. “I mean, I can keep it, right?”

“It’s all yours!” said Prince cheerfully. Albus could hear Wriggle grinding his teeth under the table. “You’ve been working hard all morning, Bleaker. You ought to take a lunch break.”

“But there may be more!” Melvin protested.

“Right. I’ll watch your square so nobody digs in it till you’re back. You need your nourishment, youngster, or it’ll be you we’re digging up next. Besides, don’t you want to show off your discovery? Morty, Albus Severus—take him up to the school, won’t you?”

Albus shared a cynical glance with Morty, and they each took an arm of the excitedly babbling Bleaker. “Don’t touch my spot!” he called back to Prince.

“I give you my word of honor!” Prince said, taking a bite of his sandwich and picking up another rock to examine.

“D’you think the dead hamster is his dessert?” Morty asked.

“Are you trying to spoil my appetite?” Albus asked. Morty grinned back at him.

At the Great Hall, Bleaker excitedly showed his old coin to anybody who’d look at it. Shortly after they’d arrived, a Gryffindor girl came in bursting with excitement over a stone arrowhead she’d found, and a Slytherin third year came back with a rust-eaten piece of metal he called a dagger, though Albus privately thought it was as likely to be a kitchen knife.

The hall was buzzing with excitement, and even those who pretended to be unimpressed were, Albus noticed, eating their lunches much faster than usual. So when he asked Ian Crossley, “Are you going to eat that pumpkin pudding?” he suddenly found himself the recipient of nine donated servings of his favorite dessert. Entirely unsurprised, Albus blissfully tucked in, as the hall swiftly emptied of most of the students.

Morty joined him at the vacant Slytherin table, helping herself to one of the puddings. Their eyes met and they both burst out laughing simultaneously.

“Sorry about that,” said Albus, wiping up bits of pumpkin he had sprayed across the table.

Morty was shaking her head. “That Prince…” she said, and giggled helplessly.

“Don’t laugh, think about poor Wriggle,” said Albus. “He HATES letting anything go out of the collection.” They laughed again.

Albus hadn’t meant to go back to the dig yet. His arms ached, and he had a transfiguration essay to write. But he couldn’t resist going back for a look. The clearing was in chaos, the string grid drifting in the breeze. Yorick and the other Quidditch team members were now supervising, bullying diggers to sift out the pebbles instead of merely tossing them aside in the mad quest for treasure. Fights broke out occasionally over boundary lines. Bleaker had brought back his trained gnomes, who seemed to be enjoying the chance to burrow. (Occasionally, one would run away, but was always drawn back to stare curiously at the digging, and eventually to rejoin it.) A few diggers had wandered into the woods, but Albus didn’t worry much. He couldn’t imagine any forest creature voluntarily approaching the unfolding bedlam before him.

Albus sat on the grass and worked on his essay while reveling in the madness, but he was forced to move several times when people decided he was sitting where they wanted to dig. As the afternoon wore on, the hysteria settled down a bit, especially after a few false alarms. One person had dug up a rusty cauldron, convinced it was a knight’s helmet until it was entirely uncovered. A large square of carved wood was identified as the lid of a sunken chest, which caused incredible excitement until it turned out to be the discarded headboard of a bed. Later, Albus stepped in to help again—not to dig, but to sift dirt in areas in which he suspected the diggers had been careless. It was much easier to sift dirt that had been through the sieve once, and Albus found many pebbles that had not been collected, as well as some completely modern coins and small objects that he suspected had been lost by the diggers. An old sword hilt was found but no more gold coins.

When the light began to fade, Prince called a halt to the excavation for the day. The clearing looked as if it had been the site of a meteor storm, covered by loose dirt and craters. Prince, who had barely dug all day, was lightly coated with dust, and those who had actually put in some manual labor were far dirtier.

Albus kept close to Prince that evening, and finally confronted him in the corridor to the dormitories.

“You’re looking for that Resurrection Stone, aren’t you?” Albus had barely got the words out before Prince clapped a hand over his mouth.

“Gracious, moppet, are you sure you screamed that loudly enough? I would hate to think Peeves night not have heard and must miss an opportunity to run though the school announcing my business to all and sundry.”

“Fmmfmm, bmm what IS a resurrection stone, anyway?” Albus demanded as Prince released him.

“You still don’t know?” Prince looked appalled. “All right, come with me, then. Let’s get your appalling ignorance sorted out once and for all.” Albus followed him down the twisty corridor to the fourth-year dormitory, which looked pretty much the same as his own. Prince opened a carved wardrobe. His clothes were all smooshed at the top of it, because the body of the wardrobe was filled with a disorganized heap of books, parchments, and other odds and ends. Prince frowned, and pulled out a book from the bottom, barely managing to stave off an avalanche. “Blast, it’s not even the right one,” Prince grumbled, tossing ‘Wacky Warlocks and Wigged-out Witches through History’ on the bed. “This may take a while.”

As Prince rummaged through his books, Albus sat on the bed and bounced. There was an untidy pile of magazines on the nightstand. Albus picked one up. “Our Dark Heritage Monthly?” he said. The photo on the cover showed an undulating Dark Mark cast against a starry sky.

“They’re Yorick’s.” Prince’s muffled voice came from inside the wardrobe. “I only read ‘em for the historical articles.”

Albus flipped through the magazine, scanning articles. “Blood Traitor: How the teaching of Albus Dumbledore warped the values of a generation,” he read. “How Pure is YOUR Blood? Green: the New Black. From the Mouths of Muggles: Dark Humor…Borgen and Burke advert…The Hand of Glory: its history and construction…The Coming Rebirth of Voldemort…The Top Ten People who Ought to be Crucioed—hey, my Dad’s on that list! But for why, it only says ‘Do you need to ask?’”

“It’s mostly rubbish,” said Prince. “Don’t take it too seriously.”

“They’ve got the Mortfire spell in here!” said Albus, shocked. “Is that legal?”

“The spell’s not illegal, just casting it where Muggles can see is.”

“Why would anyone want to?”

“I don’t know. For a joke, maybe”

“Some joke.”

With shocked disapproval, Albus examined the page. The word FLAMMORTIS was printed across the top, across from the Mortfire photograph on the facing page, and below was a diagram of the seven wand and wrist movements required to cast the spell. It looked complicated. Albus tried to imitate the wand movements, but they felt awkward and unnatural. Concentrating, he moved his hand and wrist, mouthing the syllables as he did so.

“Flam….mor…” His wand was suddenly tweaked out of his hand.

“If you set the castle on fire, moppet, people will blame me.” Prince handed him a book, as Albus stammered an excuse. “Never mind, just read that. Run along, now. I require rest after my labors today. You’ll like that one, it’s fairly accurate and reads like a cheap thriller. Off you go, then, junior arsonist.” And Albus found himself scampering along the corridor to his own dormitory, with Voldemort, Vanquished by Arabella Figg clutched in his hands.

Albus only meant to read a chapter before bed, but midnight arrived as he continued devouring page after page under the covers, by the light of the Lumos spell. He failed to notice the eerie silence or the gathering cold until somebody loudly cleared their throat, making him jump in terror.

“Reading in bed?” said the ghost. “It’s bad for your eyes. If I was your house head, you’d be on detention.”

“Buzz off,” said Albus. “I’m not going on any errands tonight. I’m tired and sore and I have reading to do.”

“So I see,” said the ghost. “The war against Voldemort. Don’t you get enough of that at home?”

“What are you talking about? I never heard any of this at home.”

“You’re telling me you never heard of the Dark Lord?”

“Oh, everyone’s heard of Voldemort,” said Albus.

“How about Bellatrix Lestrange?”

“Um…”

“Severus Snape?”

“Well, Prince is always on about him, but I can’t think why. So far in the book, he’s a complete tosser.”

“Really?"

“I don’t know why you’re still hanging about. I said I’m not going anywhere today.”

“You haven’t got to.” Albus looked up in surprise. The ghost didn’t generally cave in. “You’ve found everything you need to have found. How much progress are you making at putting together the pieces of the riddle?”

“Riddle?” Albus asked. He began to think. He had the poem and the weird chart with the lines and circles, and a bag full of oddities he had picked up on his night journeys, but he hadn’t really thought they might be parts of a greater puzzle. “Um, I got the poem translated.”

“GOT it translated?” The ghost looked furious. “You didn’t translate it yourself?”

“Duh,” said Albus, wondering why he used to be so terrified of this spirit. “I don’t speak ancient Druidic.”

“I suppose you have not yet been apprised of the invention of dictionaries?”

“Of course I have!” said Albus. “But with a dictionary you don’t get…context and, um..taxes or something. What’s the big deal, anyway? It’s translated.”

“Yes, and if Merlin had been able to buy the Holy Grail at the local market, he wouldn’t have had to do all that inconvenient mucking about with knights and muggles and such. You’re on a QUEST, you dolt! The puzzles and challenges you face are supposed to be tests of your questionable worthiness—“

“Worthiness!” Albus protested. “Worthiness for that? Being eaten by a dragon? You don’t need worthiness for that, just salt and pepper! Anyway, solving riddles is a Ravenclaw sort of thing, isn’t it? Why aren’t you up in the Ravenclaw tower, making a pest of yourself there?”

“This is a quest for a Slytherin.” The ghost insisted. “And YOU are the chosen one. You must work your way to your goal, ALONE, and—“

“But you didn’t work alone, did you?” Albus accused. “You were that scruffy boy! I saw you through the clock, didn’t I? Who was that red-haired girl with you?”

Silence. The ghost had vanished in an instant. “Hello?” Albus called uncertainly, but it only made Walter Macadam roll over in his sleep and say something woozily about gobstones.

Shrugging, Albus went on reading till three in the morning, when he tiptoed over to Prince’s dormitory and poked him awake.

“Neville Longbottom!” Albus whispered urgently. “Is that OUR Longbottom? PROFESSOR Longbottom?”

“Yes, of course. Now go to sleep, for pity’s sake!” He pulled the covers over his head, and Albus sneaked back to his own bed to continue reading.

He finished the book just in time to get up and dressed for breakfast, the amazing things he had read still echoing in his mind and causing him untold wonder. At breakfast, he kept sneaking glances at the war hero sitting at the head table. Professor Longbottom didn’t do anything more heroic than spill scrambled eggs down his front, but Albus couldn’t help being amazed at the sight of him anyhow.

Albus spent his day silently digging at the excavations, under a sky that was heavy and grey. He went over the incredible revelations in his head as he worked. He read the book over again during his rest breaks. He wanted to find everyone who had survived and tell them how heroic they were. He wanted to see the memorial where the names of the Voldemort War dead were listed. When he had been younger, his parents had dragged them there, he and James grousing about their boredom the entire time.

“What a pill I was, back when I was a kid,” Albus thought. Then he yelped as a trickle of cold water ran down from his head to his neck.

“Well, you looked like you needed watering, and I asked five times if you wanted a drink,” Prince shouted as he ran away. Albus chased after him, throwing dirt clods. “Can I help it if you’re in another world? Anyway, it’s time to pack up!”

Albus hesitated. “It’s still only three o’clock,” he said. But it was already twilight, the forest dim around him.

“Looks like a storm is coming in, and there’s no proper daylight any more,” Prince said. “Nearly everyone’s got fed up anyhow. Maybe we can dig some more next week. Come on.”

“Wait, I forgot my book!” Albus said.

He made his way over the rough, pitted ground to the far end of the clearing. He jumped up on a mound of heaped earth, and his feet slipped from under him, so that he landed on his back at the foot of the heap, a cloud of dust going up around him.

His sudden descent startled the creature that had been lurking behind the mound, and it shied and froze, its enormous amber eyes staring straight into his.

Albus froze as well. The last time he had seen Rebecca, she was a lizardy thing the size of a cat. The scaly, six-legged black beast facing him now was the size of a panther, but she was recognizable.

Albus opened his mouth, tried to speak, to call for help. Rebecca simply stared at him, twitching nervously whenever the voice of another student rang out in the clearing. Deep in the creature’s amber eyes there were flickerings as if a fire were trying to kindle, and Albus knew that when it went off, there would be a hole straight through the earth mound behind him, a hole that would include his entire head.

“I’m dead.” Albus knew it was true. These were his last fleeting milliseconds of life, and he couldn’t think, couldn’t escape, couldn’t even tear his own eyes away from the murderous ones that were about to destroy him.

“Sectum Sempra!” a voice shouted, and something hot and wet struck Albus’s face, and the world went black. He clawed at his eyes in a panic, strugging to clear his vision. The first thing he managed to focus on were his own hands, clenched like claws and dripping with blood. Albus screamed. He went on screaming, searching in a panic for the dangerous beast that had been confronting him, and had inexplicably been replaced by Yorick and Prince, who were shouting something he couldn’t hear over his own screams.

A cuff on the ear from Yorick snapped Albus out of his hysterics. He was still shaking so hard he couldn’t stand, but he realized that he was unhurt, and that the blood couldn’t be his own. Albus pushed Yorick aside and looked behind him.

Rebecca was there. Or, what remained of her. Steam rose from the gory chunks of beast, cut through as cleanly as if by a saw.

“Ugh,” said Prince. “You certainly did a number on that thing, Yorick. What is it? WAS it?”

“No idea. But it looked dangerous and I didn’t want to take any chances. It was close enough to bite the head off the pipsqueak.” Yorick nudged a piece of the corpse with his toe, and it fell into a few more pieces.

“It’s Rebecca,” said Albus hoarsely. Barely aware of what he was saying, he told Prince and Yorick the story of the night he had gone to Hagrid’s cottage, up through the fiery glare that cut straight through the wall, and Hagrid’s ongoing hunt for the creature.

Prince gave a low whistle.

“What do you think we ought to do?” Yorick asked. “We can’t let Fudge come across this thing. Sylvanus and Hagrid will get the chop.”

“I think a quick burial is in order, someplace nobody will dig,” said Prince. “Come on, help me get it further into the forest.”

“I can help,” said Albus, tottering on unsteady legs.

“Oh, no you don’t,” said Yorick. “You’ll sit here where it’s safe. I’m not going to risk my seeker twice in one day.” So Albus sat in the clearing, keeping watch and worrying, while his friends quickly buried the remains of Rebecca and disguised the grave.

“I’d better clean him up before we go back, too,” said Prince, looking at Albus critically. “He looks like a vampire spit up on him. Evanesco!”

“It’s probably best if we don’t tell Hagrid about what’s-her-name,” Yorick added. “If he knows she’s dead, they’ll only replace her with some other doomsday creature.”

“The vengeful spirit of Rebecca will keep our erring professors honest,” Prince agreed. “There, now you look better. Can you walk back, or shall Hero carry you?”

“I can walk,” said Albus. It was a slight exaggeration—he could stagger on wobbly knees, but as long as he kept the castle in front of him and put one foot in front of the other, he would get there eventually.

“You saved my life,” he said to Yorick.

“Yeah, well, it’s best not to spread it around. People will want to know what I saved you from.”

“Yeah, but…you saved my life,” said Albus. “Really, really. I mean, I can’t just go on and pretend nothing happened. I owe you.”

“True,” said Yorick, grabbing Albus in a head lock. “Tell you what, I’ll let you be my slave for all eternity. Hey, Prince, now I’ve got a house elf, too!”

“I’m serious!” Albus said, his words muffled by Yorick’s arm. But the two only laughed. Yorick turned him loose at the common room, telling him to get lost, and Albus staggered straight to his bed and collapsed on it, face first, remaining there through the night.

When Albus arrived at the Great Hall the next morning, it was to a transformed world. The brightness almost hurt his eyes as snowflakes swirled and floated in the breeze, sparkling in a pink morning sky. Looking out a window, Albus saw that Hogwarts was covered in a thick mantle of snow.

Albus slipped into his seat at the Slytherin table, where a merry chaos seemed to have taken hold. Everyone was excited by the snow. Someone had gone outside to collect a snowball, and the remains of it were still being gathered and thrown about. The other first-years animatedly discussed the possibility of sledding, as a hamster scampered around the table amid the ruckus.

“That puts archaeology to an end for the year, eh?” Yorick was saying.

“Indeed,” Prince agreed. “But the old grind has its charms as well, my friend. Now if you’ll pardon me, I have an essay to write before class begins. Morning, Albus Severus. Toodles.” He scooped up the hamster into a pocket and departed,

Albus stared after him for a while. Then he said nervously, “I say…Yorick…that hamster…”

“Yeah,” Yorick said grimly, through a mouthful of scrambled eggs. “I know.”

“Is it…do you think he…”

“Naaaah.” Yorick stared at the door through which Prince had left. “He’s pranking us. He must be.”

“Yeah, he must be,”

“But we’re not falling for it.”

“S’right.”

“We’re too smart for that.”

“Right.”

“Right.”

“Right.”

Yorick poked at his scrambled eggs for a minute longer. “****!” he finally growled, got up and left.

Albus sat at the table, eating his breakfast, watching the falling snow, and wondering…
--------------------
Feedback here, please!



Last edited by Inkwolf; November 20th, 2007 at 4:16 pm.
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