That morning, I was woken by the discomfort of some object pressing into my left side.
Seconds went by before it registered that there seemed to be too much light over my bed. Damn it! The wand was still lit. Swearing, I twisted it free from the carving in the headboard where I had jammed it last night. Muttering "nox", I extinguished it.
It was several more seconds before I could summon the energy to rescue the Arithmancy textbook I'd fallen asleep over and had just been woken by. I swore again when I saw the pages were crushed: I'd rolled over on it during the night. Blearily, I examined the ruin - Reparo would fixed it but returning the book to its original state would, most likely, remove a term's worth of text highlights and margin notes. Plus, I might lost the skilful little cartoon drawn by Phillida Jenkins during History of Magic. It showed an unmistakable Marcus Flint and Roger Bole and was neatly titled 'To Alex: How He REALLY got to be Beater'. It’s surprising really, how so many Hufflepuffs turn out to be complete deviants.
Annoyed, yet resigned to the book having to stay that way, I fumbled for my glasses and opened the bed-curtains. The fire had gone out hours ago. Sometimes, we'd enchant the logs to hurl themselves onto the fire at regular intervals during the small hours, but clearly nobody had bothered last night. The room was dark and not much above freezing; there were no signs of life from the other three beds.
Wanting to get dressed as fast as possible, I snatched my clothes from the floor where I'd dumped them last night. My watch tumbled out of a pocket and skidded under a chest of drawers.
I strapped it on. It was a stainless steel, man's Omega that was older than me. Pa got it in the Falklands from a cold miserable Argentine prisoner who'd been happy to swap it for a bottle of scotch and eight packs of cigarettes. I'd eventually inherited it when I first went to Hogwarts and we'd found out that electronic watches couldn't work here.
I tumbled into my clothes. At least it was the weekend so I could wear my civvies and leave the robe and uniform in a crumpled heap until Monday. By now, it was seven-forty – not too early to get some breakfast. I quietly scuttled down the stairs and along the passage to the common room. Two house-elves were busy tidying up and cleaning out the fireplace. I clearly rattled them, as no humans round here are supposed to be conscious this early on a Saturday.
"Good morning, Miss Alexandra."
"Good morning, Chully. Morning, Skirrel."
They looked even more like deer caught in headlights than usual. This wasn't the response they expect from one of us. For a start, we're not supposed to notice their existence, and if we do, we're certainly not supposed to know them as individuals and remember their names. They seemed to view this development as possible trouble, and got back to their tasks with a quiet intensity that indicated they just wanted to finish and get the hell out of there before the crazy Slytherin girl tried to make friends.
Good God! I'd no intention of ever doing that, but I don't mind acting pleasantly to any person (sorry, creature) who greets me with "Good morning, Miss." It's a better way to start the day than "Piss off, Mudblood."
After five years, I was quite capable of getting to the Great Hall under auto-pilot, nonchalant about the hazards of mobile architecture that has a happy-go-lucky attitude to the laws of time and space. But before I got there, I found myself making a quick but necessary diversion into the ground floor girl's toilets that are mercifully free from dead people.
Oh splendid! Today’s just getting better and better! The graffiti in the cubicle now included in large multicoloured glowing letters:
"SLYTHERINI PATHICI ET PEDIACTORIS ERUNT."
I did what I came in to do, thought for a moment then added:
"That should be SLYTHERINI PATHICI AC PEDIACTORIS SUNT and I'm shocked that somebody's been teaching you Hufflepuffs such nasty words."
The Great Hall was nearly empty so there was no need for the magazine I'd brought to deter anybody feeling sociable at this awful hour. Vector was on her own at the staff table. The members of the Ravenclaw team were up – probably to cram in a last-minute practice session before Sunday's match with Slytherin. There was also a trio of Gryffindors and I’d no idea why they were about, unless they were just back from a five mile run round the lake and a cold shower. They were probably about to tuck into a healthy breakfast and do a couple of hours of extra study before heading for Hogsmeade. I slumped down at the Slytherin table, trying my best to feel contempt for all of them.
Peace ended when I'd just poured my second cup of tea and was midway through the meticulous assembly of a bacon, sausage and fried egg sandwich. I was startled by somebody sitting down heavily beside me with all the grace and nobility of a sack of cabbages.
"Morning, Steb. Did somebody obliviate you during the night or are you just too stupid to have worked out in the last five years that the Hufflepuffs sit over there?"
"Only wishing good morning to Slytherin's Miss Sunshine," he replied amiably as he swiped a sausage from my plate. "There's hardly anybody about so I may sit here without the risk of being shunned by my real friends for being seen talking to one of you lot."
We grinned at each other. Ben Stebbins was a friendly great lump with a somebody's-dropped-a-toaster-in-my-bath mess of curly hair that couldn't decide whether to be dirty blonde or light brown. In the last year, the latter stages of puberty had hit him with a vengeance. It'd put about six inches onto his height, 20 pounds onto his weight and made him one of those unfortunates whose five-o'clock shadow starts to appear at around eleven-thirty. He wore round, wire-framed spectacles that made him resemble a wanted poster for a member of a nutty, German, Marxist terrorist gang from the 70's.
We'd been on good terms since we had to share an astrolabe in the first week of first year Astronomy. He was the easy-going pureblood who loved meeting people, the odder the better. I was the snobby half-blood tomboy who had been quite ignorant of wizardry, was still quietly reeling from the culture shock induced by Hogwarts and only just beginning to comprehend what kind of baggage went with wearing a green tie in this place. I was pathetically grateful to find a friendly face who seemed to know his way around. But it could've been worse - as an Army officer's brat, I'd grown up as a small part of a subculture that's quite alien to the mainstream, intensely conservative, with its own strange way of doing things and its own revered ancient traditions. In some ways, wizardry turned out to be oddly familiar.
"Hardly seen you since term started. How was Christmas?" he said.
"Well you knew I was staying here? The Army only pays for one flight a year out to Hong Kong for kids at boarding school and we're saving that for the summer. I would've stayed in London with my uncle but he was away."
"You couldn't go home any other way?"
"No chance. It'd take ten days to get there by broom, assuming mine lasted that long. I looked into getting a one-off portkey but it seems they're a huge hassle for the Ministry to set up. Unless you have a life-or-death reason for needing one, you must know the dirty secret of some bureaucrat and mustn't be above blackmail."
"It goes without saying that you wouldn't be..."
I smiled. "I try my best to live up to the Slytherin stereotype; it seems to make people feel more comfortable."
"And you do it ever so well! So, I assume Hogwarts is an exciting place to spend Christmas..."
"It's a hoot, you ought to try it sometime. Just six students and those amongst the staff who apparently had nowhere better to go. There was only one table when we had Christmas dinner because there were so few here. So I wound up sitting between Filch and a first year called Derek. Mrs. Norris clearly hadn't given Filch bath products for Christmas and The Derek practically jumped out of his skin every time I asked him to pass something. I was terrified I'd have a tureen of soup dumped in my lap before we got to the pudding. Snape tried to take house points from the Weasley twins' little brother for his lack of table manners but Dumbledore wouldn't let him. Then Spooky Sybil floated in and started her usual performance. She and McGonagall had a go at each other, but Dumbledore stepped in before they started throwing hexes or punches."
"I suppose he didn't want to start the new year with one teacher in St. Mungo's and another in Azkaban. So aside from all that, you had perfectly splendid time?"
"Yes, surprisingly. The food was wonderful and Filch didn't use the opportunity to grope my leg under the table like I was worried he might. Afterwards, some peculiar maternal instinct prompted me to spend Christmas afternoon in the Library, teaching Derek and his little first year chum how to cheat at cards."
"So now they get all the free Bott's Beans they want for the rest of their time at Hogwarts. Where'd you learn that?"
"Grandfather taught me. He learnt during the winter he spent in a hole in the ground in Korea."
The Great Hall was starting to fill up so Ben said cheerio and mooched off to sit with Cedric and his gang of Hufflepuffs. One of Malfoy's pet apes (I never bothered to discover which was which) brushed past, dragging his knuckles on the flagstones. He made a point of sitting away from me and, with energy and enthusiasm, busied himself with making his embryonic weight problem slightly worse. He certainly wasn't up for extra, early morning study! He was wearing his full uniform (complete with ridiculous pointy hat) so he was obviously a victim of Snape's latest, non-House-point-deducting scheme for punishing Slytherins who overslept on weekdays. The slothful found themselves reporting to one of the portraits at six every morning for a fortnight.
A sixth year, Ian McQuade, sat down opposite me, poured a cup of tea and opened a copy of Friday's Prophet at the crossword page.
"Alex, as foolish as a seabird’- eight letters."
He nodded in the direction of Goyle (or was it Crabbe?) and rolled his eyes; we exchanged friendly, conspiratorial grins. I disliked him but I wasn’t going to show it. There was only a handful of us muddy Slytherins and, as the man said, "We hang together or we'll hang separately."
I munched my sandwich (Alex's sixth rule of life: almost all food is improved if placed between two slices of bread) and looked again at the Gryffindors: Katie Bell was laughing with a boy and girl I couldn't put names to. I did Advanced Runes with Bell; I thought about wandering over and asking her something about the Gobbledegook translation we had for homework. Perhaps I would crack some idiotic joke and get asked to sit and join them for a few minutes. My backside seemed glued to the bench. It knew if I went over, their conversation would break off, there would be three pairs of eyes looking at me warily. The question would be answered politely and followed by a bright "Hope that helps". Translation: "I've told you what you wanted to know, now get lost".
My rear was being the clever one that morning. Perhaps I should pay attention to it more often.
The sun wasn't up yet, but the sky looked clear. Good weather for Quidditch practice this afternoon. I grabbed a couple of apples from a bowl on the table and stalked out.
There were more people in the library than might be expected on a Hogsmeade Saturday. Mainly fifth and seventh years who, now Christmas was over, had collectively come to the shocked realisation that their OWL's or NEWT's were only a few months away.
Dumping my book-bag on my usual table in a quiet corner in the upper stacks, I got started with Arithmancy homework. It was much easier and faster with my 1950's slide-rule, now that I'd figured out (ha, pun!) how to use it. My antique dealing Uncle Charlie had sent it to me for Christmas. He must've thought it peculiar that I wanted one, but thankfully, he'd not commented about it in his letter.
"Hi, Alex. Could you-"
"Make it quick, Tap; I'm trying to work."
" -do you have any money you could lend me?" asked Sarah Fawcett in a rush. She looked curiously at the slide rule.
"You are kidding? I've got exactly eight Galleons and fifteen Sickles to last me 'till Easter."
"Sorry, I meant Muggle money."
"Would it be a good or a bad idea for me to ask why you want it?"
"We're not going to Hogsmeade. Steb, Nick and I thought it'd be fun to visit Lairg this afternoon. You're welcome to come but we need some spending money," she said. "Steb was going to ask Justin but he's already gone to Hogsmeade."
This was the instant at which anybody with a well-developed sense of self-preservation would be deafened by it screaming warnings in their head. You see, Miss Sarah "Tap" Fawcett (my, we were such a witty lot in first year) looked the perfect image of pony-tailed, freckled, angelic innocence. But she had a reputation amongst the Professors as a troublemaker that ran a close second to the Weasley twins. Although, that was gross distortion of the real situation because they mostly didn't get caught and she mostly did. We were good friends but I'd learnt long ago to hide around a corner when she was on the lookout for accomplices for one of her little schemes. I left that role to Messrs Nicholas Summers and Benjamin Stebbins, who never seemed to learn anything.
Knowing all that, anybody with sense would've politely wished Tap an enjoyable afternoon, insisted she tell them nothing further about what she was planning and quietly resumed their Arithmancy. The only excuse I can offer is that I'd not been away from the school in nearly five months so the idea of a few hours in the real world was a strong temptation. Even though I knew "real world" in this instance was the nearest Muggle settlement to Hogwarts, a remote Highland town that could keep a reasonably intelligent person entertained for say... twenty minutes or so. I yelled at my sense of self-preservation until it shut-up and stormed off in a huff.
"Sounds like fun. I could spare about thirty pounds…... if you pay me back in Galleons at a very good exchange rate."
"Okay. We've decided to leave after lunch. We'll sign out like we're going to Hogsmeade, then fly to Lairg. I checked the map; it's only fifteen miles away so we can easily get there in twenty minutes, and we won’t be spotted in the air because Nick knows an excellent camouflage charm. I suppose we'll have a look around, get a drink and something to eat and come back about six-ish - after it’s dark."
"You've have got everything worked out! I'm supposed to be playing Quidditch this afternoon but I could follow you down later. If you meet me in the entrance hall before you go, I'll give you the money."
You'll probably call me an idiot, but I think the reserves play the best kind of Quidditch. Think about it; people on the first teams only care about looking good to talent spotters from the professional league and pulping the opposition for the sake of House pride (mostly, in that order of importance). The reserves don't have the pressure, don't care about it so much and so have more fun. We showed up because we actually enjoyed the game. The rosy-cheeked flower of wizarding youth, we played nobly and unselfishly for the love of the game, honour of the team, and devotion to the gallant captain: revelling in the jolly rivalry of bat, Quaffle and Snitch as our carefree laughter rang out across the grass. And if you believe that, then perhaps you'd be interested in a slightly used Tower of London that I happen to have for sale?
The downside? Well, the reserves were always at the back of the queue for pitch bookings, so we had to practice at odd times. At matches, the teams were sometimes missing players because of classes, detentions, embarrassing skin conditions, hot dates or apathy so we'd been known to hastily pressgang competent looking spectators to fill gaps in the lineup (on one occasion, only discovering afterwards that the git was a Ravenclaw!). I'd made it onto the Slytherin reserves as a Beater in my third year. It’s not a common position for a witch but I do have the right build, enjoy hitting things and, unlike the Slytherin first team Beaters, can count to twenty without taking my shoes off.
This afternoon was just a practice so I ambled down to the pitch without bothering to change into match robes. The Chasers were warming up by flying lazy circuits of the pitch and passing the Quaffle between them. Warwick, our other Beater, was standing in the middle of the grass, flailing his club, trying to keep four Bludgers in the air at once. Blaise, our Seeker, was following the advice Churchill once gave: "If you don't have to stand, sit; if you don't have to sit, lie down". She was a scrawny little thing, but all the best Seekers are. If you're light, you can turn quicker and accelerate faster. Force equals mass times acceleration; it was nice to know that, even here, the laws of physics still sometimes mattered.
"Hey, Zabini, what's the holdup?"
"The Snitch is knackered, Sutton," she said lazily without shifting her upward gaze from the vapour trail of a distant airliner. "O'Connor's gone off to find another." She looked like she wouldn't mind if Pierce O'Connor, our esteemed Captain and Keeper, took all afternoon.
Unlike the first team, the Slytherin reserves had its share of girls, but we had few expectations of being promoted. Myself, doubly so, as I lacked a full set of sixteen, wand-waving, great-great-grandparents as well as a Y chromosome. I sat next to Blaise and, a few minutes later, the Chasers landed and joined us.
"Do we need to discuss tactics for the Hufflepuff game?"
"Nah, don't bother, just the usual."
"We forget the Quaffle and try to kill their Seeker?"
"Putting him in hospital would be quite sufficient, thank you."
"I've got ten Knuts that say Warwick misses a Bludger and he'll be the one going to the Hospital Wing."
"What's keeping O'Connor? I'm freezing and it'll be dark in a couple of hours."
"We might finish at a reasonable time if you did your job and caught the Snitch, for once."
"Looks like Warwick's going to get a Bludger in the back of the head in the next five minutes, never mind the next match."
"I might catch the Snitch if you did your job and controlled the Bludgers, for once."
"Don't worry about Warwick! Nobody's told the Bludgers his head's his least vulnerable point."
"Here comes Pierce. We can start, finally."
Pierce O'Connor, who was a lanky sixth-year from Dublin ambled over to his huddled, muttering team. He glanced over at Warwick and gave an exasperated sigh.
"Oh... Sutton, fetch that eejit 'fore he feckin’ kills himself," he said. "We don' have time to find a new Beater before next Sunday. Now we'll warm up with some three-on-three, Keeper and Beaters versus Chasers. Then I want to try...…"
By half past four, it was dark enough for mid-air collisions to become all too likely so nobody complained when O'Connor decided to call it a day. The others gratefully headed back to the castle to warm up; I hung back and, when nobody was about, took off again.
Flying Southeast over the moor, it took under twenty minutes to get to Lairg, just as Sarah had predicted. From five hundred feet, it was easy to spot the tiny cluster of lights by the black mass of Loch Shin. Making sure no car headlights were in sight, I landed on the roadside about half a mile from the edge of the village and shrank my broom, a fifth-hand Cleansweep, to the size of a pencil. The unknown person who'd bought it new had paid extra for a useful, built-in reducio charm though this would horrify most hard-core Quidditch nuts. They think anything more than the essential lifting and cushioning charms will compromise performance.
Lairg only existed because its railway station made it a good base for tourists: hillwalkers, rock climbers and the like. The sort of weird masochist who thinks a damp cold windswept Scottish mountainside is a better venue of outdoor recreation then say... a beach several thousand miles to the south. To this sort of person, time spent on a beach, would seem empty and pointless. It lacks the risk of breaking a leg while scrambling down a scree slope and dying of hypothermia before being reached by a mountain rescue team.
By now, the few people still about looked like they were hurrying home. I bought a Cornish pasty and some chocolate bars from the village shop, just as it was closing, and started to look round for the Hogwarts crowd. The obvious place to start was the sole bar that was open: the town's hotel, a large, old, stone building, still covered with strings of outdoor lights put up as New Year's decorations. It shone like a lighthouse for the thirsty.
After the cold clear air outside, the warm, smoky fug was a shock that set me coughing. The place was noisy and crowded: surprisingly so for this time of the evening. The crowd looked a fair mixture of locals and people up from Glasgow or Edinburgh for a weekend of outdoor pursuits. Off to one side, a trio of beards, armed with a bodrhan drum, fiddle and Northumbrian pipes were threatening to perpetrate folk music at some point. Hogmanay was a week ago and they looked like they hadn't been home since.
Sod magical secrecy! If I hear one bar of Danny Boy, some sandal-wearing bugger's going to be on the wrong end of the Curse of Nyogtha.
Finally I saw something familiar. Nick Summers' intensely bright, striped jersey, which I'd last seen in King's Cross, was at a table close to the smouldering, peat fire. Closer inspection was needed to reveal that Summers was inside it because he'd been cunning enough to got some Ageing Potion from somewhere. It did neatly solve the problem of getting bar service when you're blatantly under age - that's probably why the stuff was invented.
"Wotcha, Nick. Hiya, Tap," I said as I stripped of my coat and sat down.
"Alex! You made it," grinned Nick. "Steb's already gone." he clumsily nudged Sarah. "Tap, the nice Slytherin finally showed up. Say hello!"
"'lo Alex," she mumbled quietly. She was curled up in her chair and didn't look up.
"So, what's a Slytherin?" said a male, English Home Counties accent behind me.
"Alecss, tha's Tom and Quentin. We jus' met 'em. Chaps, tha's Alex. She's my... little sister."
The bastard! I'm three months older than he is!
Two men, who'd just been to the bar to bet more drinks, sat down. They were a young clean-cut pair, dressed in expensive, primary coloured, outdoor clothing. The sort of thing that's sold with lots of techno-babble but is never, ever, worn by the locals, even though they live here year-round and might spend their entire working lives outdoors.
"Hello, I'm Tom Alton-Vaughan," said the nearest as he offered his hand to me.
"Alexandra Summers, nice to meet you."
"Nick called you a Slytherin...… What's that?"
"It's nothing really, just a stupid school in-joke. I go to Cheltenham you see," I said, only half-lying.
"Oh right...…we're up from Edinburgh: I'm a Group Management Accountant, Quentin's a...…Brokerage Margining Analyst. We're at the Royal Bank of Scotland head-office."
There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence. I was racking my brains for an insightful comment about high-powered finance at the same time as he was probably trying to think of something to say about famous, girls' boarding schools in Gloucestershire. I was grateful when he gave me up as a lost cause and resumed flirting with Sarah, unaware that, under the Ageing Potion, she was only sixteen.
What the hell was I to do now? Nick and Sarah had clearly had too much to drink. They weren't going to make it back to Hogwarts unaided and I had to loose two squiffy mountain-climbing, bankers without making it looking suspicious. I put aside the nagging feeling that what I really should be doing was abandoning them and flying straight back to the castle, to quickly establish an alibi.
"Excuse me, Tom...… Sarah, you look like you need to freshen up," I said.
Tom glared at me and she mumbled a protest but I was able to haul her out of the chair - my Beater's upper-body strength is useful sometimes. I forcibly steered Fawcett into the women's toilets and sat her down in one of the stalls before quickly checking the others were empty. At this point, I needed something long and thin. I felt her pockets for her wand as there was no way I'd use mine.
"Stick this down your throat, Tap. Stick it down your throat. Stick it down your throat or I'll stick it down there for you!"
But there was no need. The smell in the toilets had got to her. I dodged as much as I could, but there's isn't much room to dodge inside a toilet cubicle occupied by two people.
"That's good, but do try to get it in the bowl and not on me. Now, are we feeling better?"
"Alex Sutton, YOU...…" What I was was interrupted by another retch, but soon she was finished and it was time to put phase two of the plan into operation. She looked baleful as I steered her back to our table without giving her a chance to clean up, ignoring the surprised and disgusted looks we got as we threaded through the crowded barroom.
"Quentin, Tom, I'm dreadfully sorry but Sarah's been ill. We have to back to our hotel. Please don't worry, she'll be better when she gets some fresh air. We'll go outside and phone for a taxi. Nick, get up! We're going!"
The two bankers made lukewarm offers of help, but looked relieved when I firmly turned them down, insisting everything was under control. After a brief struggle to get Nick to his feet, we made our undignified and unsteady exit.
At the edge of the village we climbed over a tumbledown dry-stone wall and trooped across a field to the spot where Nick and Sarah had stashed their brooms, wands lit to make sure we didn't tread in a cowpat. I was glad to see the cold night air was working to revived Sarah but Nick was still wobbling. He must've had more or perhaps wasn't as used to it. No matter, it was still early and if it took an hour of frog-marching him up and down the field to get him fit to fly, then so be it. The Ageing Potion they'd taken was also beginning to wear off.
"What happened in there, Tap?" I said, as I watched Nick staggered off to retrieve their brooms from under a hedge.
She shrugged. "Steb only stayed for half an hour. When he left, we started talking to Quentin and Tom. They seemed nice though I didn't understand a tenth of what they talked about, they were buying us drinks but I didn't know Muggle drinks were that strong."
"Might've been the potion, apparently some don't mix well with booze," I said vaguely.
What the hell was Summers doing?
"Nick! Get off that thing NOW! You're too pissed to fly!" I screamed across the grass.
He flew a wide circuit of the field, came round and accelerated straight at us; we were going to get buzzed. Blasting past some unsuspecting classmate at around 100 mph, a foot above their head, is the kind of prank you stop doing after second year. Partly because it's quite juvenile but mainly because, by third year, your enraged victim is likely to know enough magic to knock you out of the air as you're climbing away from them.
"The idiot! Get ready to duck," said Sarah.
"Bugger! He's too low!" I shouted a moment later and flung myself into the mud.
Summers shot over us. An instant later there was a crunch as he clipped the top of the dry-stone wall. His broom took most of the impact and shattered. He went spinning through the air, into in the next field, closely followed by stones that'd been knocked loose. There was a series of dull thumps, and then everything was quiet again. We leapt up and jumped through the new gap in the wall. They say a good landing is one you can walk away from. By that measure, Summers' landing was awful. He was sprawled on the ground with his left leg bent back at a sickeningly unnatural angle. From my (hopefully) one and only experience of ploughing a furrow with a broomstick, I think he was at the stage where blurred confusion about what'd just happened gives way to an appallingly clear understanding of exactly what damage your stupidity caused you to do to yourself. That takes a few seconds to happen and occurs right about the time the serious pain starts although realising what a complete arse you just were is often worse.
"Nick, are you all right? Does it hurt?" I asked, rather stupidly.
"Nggggah! SHIT! SHIIIIT!"
Good, at least he's not concussed.
"I'll take that as a yes then? I know a spell that'll kill the pain."
"What're you waiting for?" Sarah yelled. "A written bloody invitation?"
"Umm okay," I collected my thoughts for a second, to be sure I had it right. It'd been in an article in the Prophet in November: "Five First Aid Spells You Should Know." Which, in the Slytherin common room, rapidly became "Five Spells that are Really Hilarious When Cast on the Unsuspecting."
There was the familiar electric tingle in my wand hand and a loud crack. Summers was silenced in mid cry.
"He's out cold! What'd you do to him?" screeched Sarah.
Dear God! Was that supposed to happen?Musn't think about it now - must look confident.
"Worry about that later! His leg's fractured; I need something to make a splint."
In an instant, she climbed back over the wall and collected a piece of broom handle that was big enough. I stuck it between Summer's legs and bound them together with my belt and scarf so his good leg would support the broken one. I learnt that in the Guides. The volunteers that run the Boy Scout and Girl Guide troops associated with military bases tend to be solid no-nonsense NCO's. These men and women were occasionally at a loss to know what to teach the kids in their charge so they'd fall back onto what they were most familiar with. Instead of arts and crafts, natural history and camp-fire cookery, we occasionally wound up learning useful things like basic, battlefield first aid and how to field-strip an assault rifle.
Now the frenzy of activity was over, I had time to sit back and take in the magnitude of the mess we were in. A fun bit of lawbreaking that had become a sticky, but manageable, problem had now suddenly lurched into the category of stupid bloody catastrophe. I felt my insides churn under waves of panic
"Shit! Shit! SHIT! This is bad, Tap. This is really, really bad. Nick can't fly and we've now only got two brooms. We've got to leave him. I can call an ambulance from a phone box and we can fly back to school before anybody-"
"Alex...…" she sounded dangerous.
I calmed down enough to start thinking logically. When your balloon's sinking fast and you've already chucked out all the ballast, it's natural to start wondering if it's time to jettison a companion. But not now, leaving Summers was a stupid idea. If a Hogwarts student wound up in a Muggle hospital, unconscious and with broken limbs, our wonderful Ministry would get involved for sure. Lots of questions would be asked to find out exactly what events got him there and which other students participated. Fleeing back to school would only postpone the inevitable. That could easily be expulsion and, if the Ministry was feeling frisky, criminal charges under the Magical Secrecy Code, the Underage Magic Act and everything else they could think to fling at us.
"As you said, he can't fly," she continued, calmly counting off the options with her fingers. "We can't use the Knight Bus - people will hardly fail to notice when that thing pulls up at the gates of Hogwarts. It's too far to walk. Alex, you're a half-blood, your father's a Muggle...…"
"So what? What's that got to do with-"
"Can you drive?"
Cheltenham Ladies' College is the distaff Eton and is notoriously stuffed full of army officer's daughters.
Slytherini Pathici ac Pediactoris Sunt... This slander alleges that Slytherins are people who do something, somewhere they shouldn't.
Well, I hope you liked it - if you did, or if you hated it, please leave a review. Chapter two will be up in about a week.