The Art of Misdirection
a story of two Slytherins, by Ada Kensington
It was a beautiful day. The sun beat down ferociously upon the rugged landscape of the Scottish Highlands, touching upon the
still waters of Loch Finnan in the distance. At first sight, the view was unremarkable; a dull mass of greyish green collecting at the foot of the hills.
And it could look like this for the longest time, appearing, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, as unremarkable as ever. However, occasionally, if
you managed to hit that elusive one-hundred, or even if you merely happened to cast a fleeting glance at just the right angle, it transformed into
something else altogether: a dazzling blaze of silver, appearing as though it had fallen, molten, from the very heavens, streaking down the cragged
and battered hillsides to pool into a nook, a valley, glittering and shimmering in the golden light of day - a sight that would spark even the most cynical
soul into life or invite a gasp from the most churlish of teenagers. And far below, the Hogwarts express snaked its way south; its scarlet paint
glinting fiercely in the sunlight; its wheels thundering along the tracks; an ancient, fiery wyrm trailing clouds of acrid smoke in its wake over the
green of the dell, keening shrilly at the joy of flight and the freedom of the open air.
Inside, the sunlight filtered through the windows, making the walls of polished mahogany and brass shine proudly; the stripe of green, velvet carpet
muffling the clumping footfalls of students dashing madly from compartment to compartment - to the toilet - and back again. There was a flush
and a hiss of water. A teenaged boy sporting an unruly crop of black hair and a pair of worried-looking green eyes stepped out from the toilet,
furtively wiping his hands dry upon his robes. Suddenly, there was a loud bang and the sound of three voices shouting at once. Instantly, the
young man drew his wand from within his robes and whipped round to face the source of the noise. Before he could even begin to retaliate,
however, there was an urgent clatter as another door flew open. More voices were raised, drowning out those of the previous assailants.
Then, there was silence.
A minute later, there was another flush and another hiss of water. The toilet door opened and its occupant absently stepped aside to let a
freckle-faced Hufflepuff past. With a click, the door snapped shut once more and the pale, weedy-looking Slytherin started cautiously back to his
compartment, his head tipped quizzically to one side. When he reached his compartment, he opened the door to be greeted by the sight of three
fat, glistening blobs in Hogwarts uniforms; a pale yellow grease oozing through the luggage rack and slapping wetly onto the floor. Sighing
resignedly, he drew his own wand…
Suddenly, the three amorphous lumps were replaced by three young Slytherins; three extremely angry looking Slytherins. Piled on top on one
another, they seemed very keen to get down from the luggage rack. The pale, pointed faced boy, his white hair flying wildly over his face and
his cheeks flushed, jumped down whilst his two thuggish companions struggled to co-ordinate themselves. By this time, the weedy-looking boy
had settled himself down in a seat with a book.
“I told you not to do it, Draco,” he said idly, turning a page with a thin finger.
“Sod off, Theodore,” the other boy snarled, turning to the other two, who were still struggling to get down. “Crabbe? Goyle? How thick are you?
Just jump down!”
“We’ve got tangled, Malfoy…”
“Then untangle yourselves!” Draco yelled, before slumping moodily into the seat across from Theodore.
For a while, the cabin was largely silent, save for the muffled huffing and grunting from Crabbe and Goyle and the flitting sounds of Theodore
turning a page in his book. Draco remained stony-faced and silent, his arms folded tightly across his chest, as the train trundled on. Eventually,
Theodore had to put down his book to get up and help the hapless pair down from the luggage rack.
Once they had sat down, Draco shifted slightly in his position, letting his legs drop from the seat to the floor, his grey eyes staring coldly ahead.
“I’m going to kill Potter,” he said.
Theodore sighed inwardly. Evidently, Draco now wanted to talk about it.
“So…” he ventured casually, his eyes fixed upon his book, even though he wasn’t really reading it anymore, “who was involved?”
“MacMillan and Abbot, the Hufflepuff prefects,” Draco answered with a sneer, “the Bones girl, Terry Boot, that Goldstein chap and… that mudblood,
you know? Hufflepuff. The one that got petrified in second year?”
“Justin Finch-Fletchley,” Theodore prompted.
“Yeah, him,” Draco smirked, before his face darkened again. “All of them - Potter’s cronies - Weasel-King and that jumped-up mudblood, Granger -
I’m going to make them wish they’d never been born -”
Here we go again…
“That’s all very fascinating, Draco,” Theodore replied languidly, interrupting Malfoy and closing his book, a little irritated that his reading had been so
rudely cut short by the rashness and incompetence of his fellow Slytherins. He leaned forward slightly (only slightly) before continuing. “Though
you will forgive me for reminding you that I’ve heard all this before. For once in your life, I suggest you do something about it,” he finished curtly,
moodily swinging his legs back up onto the seat and attempting to immerse himself in his book once again.
Before Malfoy could open his mouth to respond, the door to the compartment slid open and in walked Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode; the
former a small, blonde, girl with a slightly turned up nose and a pair of blue eyes that shone with a petty malice; the latter a large, square-built,
square-jawed girl, sporting a harshly cut black bob and a pair of dark eyes like gimlets.
“Budge up, Theodore,” Millicent demanded imperiously, as she swept his legs from the seat with one huge hand to make room for herself and Pansy.
Malfoy’s voice resounded resentfully throughout the compartment.
“Where were you?”
An uncomfortable silence descended. Theodore looked up from his book a slight frown still etched upon his brow, and Millicent, her mouth open,
ready to lecture Theodore about hogging the seat space, shut it abruptly. Crabbe and Goyle stopped swapping Chocolate Frogs cards and Pansy
stared at Draco timidly.
It wasn’t a question. Theodore knew that full well. Rather, it was a demand. It said all it needed to say without being explicit, and it had nothing
whatsoever to do with inquiring into their whereabouts. Nothing. It said: ‘you were not where you were supposed to be… and there will be
consequences.’ And there would be consequences, there was no doubt about that.
Fleetingly, it crossed his mind that it was a very Slytherin statement to make. Subtle, deliberate, carefully weighed so as to elicit maximum
discomfort (although there was no way that Draco would be conscious of this fact) - and it was a closed question, therefore, they had nowhere to
“What do you mean, Draco?” Millicent asked cautiously, the expression on Malfoy’s face taking the edge from her overbearing tone.
“I mean,” Draco replied, lowering his voice to a dangerous whisper, “where were you when Potter’s cronies cornered Crabbe, Goyle and I outside the
toilet and cursed us into festering piles of ooze?”
There was no answer from either of them. Then again, Theodore hadn’t expected there to be one. Indeed, he would have been surprised if there
had. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the two girls. He could practically see the wheels turning in their heads, weighing up the situation
and calculating their exact responses in order to cover their backs. It would only take a couple of seconds, but they would be a tense few, indeed.
One wrong move, and they would be punished for it.
Despite himself, he started to chew on his lip; an annoying habit that he had developed over the years and one that tended to become apparent
when he was nervous for one reason or another. During his Herbology exam, Theodore had almost chewed through his bottom lip and Professor
Sprout had ushered him off to the hospital wing, clucking at him like a demented hen. He also did it when he was worried; when his father was
around, or indeed, when his father was away from home. Most of all, though, it happened when he was there. The very thought made his fists
curl and he could feel the heat rising in his face.
Don’t think about that… This is neither the time, nor the place… There’s plenty of time to dwell on it later…
With a huge effort, he took a deep breath and forced himself to listen to Draco.
“Potter seems to have acquired an entourage of misfits to act as his personal bodyguards,” Draco drawled, leaning back into the seat, his pale eyes
still narrowed coldly upon Pansy and Millicent. “A band of filthy mudbloods, half-bloods and blood-traitors. So, I ask you again,” he continued
matter-of-factly, “where were you?”
There was no answer. Pansy looked disconsolately at her feet while Millicent stared determinedly out of the window at the green blur of fields
flying past, as the Hogwarts Express sped through the countryside.
“After all we’ve discussed over the past year,” Draco said softly. “After all we’ve said about standing together, about looking out for one another,
about signs of solidarity extended from Slytherin to fellow Slytherin. We are the minority. We, as Slytherins, are ostracised and discriminated
against within the confines of Hogwarts; the very place that is supposed to provide us with sanctuary and learning. After all we’ve said about
uniting our forces…”
“We have not turned out backs on the cause, Draco,” Pansy said earnestly, holding her head up high. “We stand by everything that we believe
in. We stand by the cause.”
“Potter and his entourage will pay dearly for their mistake,” Millicent said grimly, a scowl set in her thick-set features. “They will rue the day they
ever chose to cross us.”
Pansy nodded and reached out to place her hand on Malfoy’s. “Don’t worry, Draco. Our time will come.”
Their actions and their words appeared to go some way toward pacifying Draco, for he smiled superciliously and nodded. “Yes, it will come,” he
said with an air of calm certainty. “And it will be sooner, rather than later.”
Theodore shook his head slightly as, somewhat relieved, Millicent and Pansy agreed fervently with Draco, pouncing upon such a familiar topic of
conversation, one that, if they managed to play it properly, would ensure their folly forgiven and forgotten by the end of the train journey. Both
had managed to apologise, scraping and fawning and backtracking, each in their own unique and ingratiating manner without even having to resort
to the use of the word ‘sorry’ (a word rarely used in Slytherin circles and one even more seldom spoken in truth.)
They had done well, he had to concede; most others would have faltered in bearing the wrath of such an influential figure as Draco Malfoy.
However, in their circumstances, Theodore felt that he would have done much, much better. Theodore smiled to himself, as it occurred to him,
not for the first time, that if he had been in charge, Potter would have been swinging by his neck in the dungeons months ago. Yes, Malfoy was
influential, and yes he possessed a modicum of intelligence - but underneath the posturing and the bravado, he was just a spoiled bully. For now,
Theodore was quite content to remain in the background…
Outside the compartment, the trundling food trolley approached and the plump witch that drove it popped her head around the door. “Anything
from the food trolley, dears?” she twittered.
There was a sudden urgent scuffling as everyone searched around for their money-bags, including Theodore. He had missed breakfast that morning
as he had been searching for a mislaid book that he had borrowed from Professor Vector and he was beginning to feel a little hungry. On form, as
ever, Crabbe and Goyle each bought two pumpkin pasties, three cartons of pumpkin juice and a cauldron cake, whilst Draco and Millicent declined
politely. Theodore ended up buying a sugar quill and a cauldron cake (which he halved with Pansy). The trolley witch was just about to move on
before she asked, “By the way, do any of you know which compartment a “Master Theodore Nott” would be in? There’s a letter addressed to him
here that I’ve got to deliver,” she continued, waving a yellowish envelope in one hand.
Theodore felt their eyes fixed upon him. The hairs on the back of his neck had begun to stand on end, prickling unpleasantly…
But I never get mail… What’s happened…? Has the Ministry confiscated the estate?
With an almost imperceptible shudder, he forced his face into an expression of casual unconcern. “That would be me,” he said emotionlessly,
deftly extricating the square of parchment from her outstretched hand. “Thank you, Madame.”
“No problem, dearie,” she quipped cheerfully. “I’ll be off then.”
The door of the compartment shut, and she was gone. The momentary diversion had vanished and now he had to focus directly upon the matter
that required his most immediate attention. His black eyes scanned the handwriting on the front of the envelope. There was no mistaking his
But how…? It can’t be… He’s in Azkaban… Isn’t he?
“Who’s it from, Theodore--?” Pansy began before Millicent held up a hand, silencing her.
His hands trembling slightly, he slid his thumb under the seal, breaking it, and pulled out a thick sheet of parchment on which was written a single,
You know what to do…
Yes. That was true enough. Reaching inside his robes, he pulled out his wand, tapped the parchment and whispered the incantation…
Sure enough, as if an invisible hand were writing them, words began to form in his father’s immaculate hand.
To any eyes but yours, Theodore, this will appear to be a letter informing you of the death of your long-suffering Aunt Octavia and of your
summons to pay your last respects at the Hohenstaufen Estate.
The true purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Dark Lord has bestowed upon me his gracious favour and has seen fit to release myself
and my fellow servants from our humiliating incarceration in Azkaban. However, as I can no longer walk freely in wizarding society, I have been
forced to go into hiding. It is unfortunate, yes, but our time will come; support for the Dark Lord and our cause is growing by the day. Lest this
correspondence fall into the wrong hands, I cannot impart any information regarding my whereabouts. In time, I shall contact you.
For now, Theodore, you must shoulder the responsibility of the running of the estate. I am sure you will prove capable in this task that I have
entrusted to you, and you alone. Keep the books, ensure the wards are secure and receive any guests with due decorum. Any failure will be
met with my severest displeasure.
Theodore read the letter twice, before folding it gently and placing it back in the envelope. His heart was hammering in his chest. His father - and
the rest of them - had broken out of Azkaban? His father in hiding? Did this mean that he actually had the run of the estate? All to himself?
But how? How am I going to do it alone? How can I…?
Theodore felt a hand upon his arm and he started, looking round into the face of Millicent, who was gazing at him inquiringly. All eyes were upon
him now. They were curious, they had to be. Who wouldn’t be curious in such a situation?
“So who’s it from, Theodore? It’s not like you to be getting mail,” Draco taunted, his head tilted insolently to one side. This comment drew a
hearty round of laughter from the other Slytherins in the compartment. “Come on! Tell us! Has your family finally decided to disown you?”
More laughter; a subtle dig which made Theodore’s face burn.
“Shut up, Draco!” Theodore snapped viciously, a thin, scathing sneer twisting his pale face as Malfoy’s comment hit its mark. “Shut your fat mouth
for five seconds and I might just be able to tell you!”
Abashed and angry, Draco fell silent. Theodore’s hand was hovering over his wand, he was just itching to whip it out and hex Draco so badly that
the only way he’d be going home would be in a wooden box with a note from St. Mungo’s attached to it. For a few seconds, he glared fiercely at
the boy sitting opposite him, before he calmed down sufficiently enough to turn and address the others. Crabbe and Goyle looked at each other
and then at him, mouths agape, as usual. Pansy looked offended, but Millicent, to his surprise, looked slightly amused.
Perhaps she’s becoming tired of kowtowing to the brat…
The ‘brat’ in question stared petulantly at his feet, unwilling to meet his gaze. Theodore smiled derisively. Bullies like Draco were very quick to turn
tail once you had shown you were not afraid of them - a fact that Theodore had went through great pains to take advantage of over the past five
“Now that I have your attention,” Theodore began, lapsing back into his normal tone of cold indifference, “I can tell you who the letter was from
and what it was about. I shall spare you the gory details” he continued, leaning back in his seat and crossing his legs, “but suffice it to say that
the letter was, indeed, from my father - and, no, he has not disowned me.” At this he cast a dark look at Draco, who appeared to be listening
grudgingly. He took a deep breath and then continued. “My father has, in fact, written to inform me of his premature release from Azkaban…”
This news caused an enormous frission of excitement throughout the compartment. Draco looked in amazement to Crabbe and then to Goyle, who
both gaped, and Pansy squeaked and clapped her hands together in front of her face, her mouth an open ‘O’ of shock.
“What?” Millicent interrupted incredulously, now turning right round to face him. “You’re serious, Theodore? Your father has been released?”
“Well, ‘released’ wouldn’t be exactly how I’d phrase it…” he answered, with a slight smile.
“You’re kidding, aren’t you?” Goyle said, with an oafish grin. “I mean, your dad… He’s out, is he?”
Draco seemed to have forgotten entirely that he was in a bad mood. He leaned forward eagerly, his grey eyes glittering with anticipation. “And
what about my father? Has he sent any word about any of the others?” he asked, barely able to keep the excitement out of his voice.
“Yes. As a matter of fact, he has,” Theodore replied nonchalantly, unfolding the letter once more and reading the specific sentence aloud, “…the
Dark Lord has bestowed upon me his gracious favour and has seen fit to release myself and my fellow servants from our humiliating incarceration in
He deliberately left out the part about his father having to go into hiding and leaving him the run of the estate, however, as he wasn’t entirely sure
whether he wanted them to know right now - if ever. If he managed to make a hideous blunder and drove the estate into financial, and… well…
just general ruin, then they would know immediately where to point the finger. The estate had been through enough financial difficulty in recent
years - and now he had to contend with it on his own. It was embarrassing.
And I don’t want it getting back to him…
There was a great whoop of joy from Draco, as he punched the air. The mood of excitement had now changed into that of absolute elation and
Theodore sat back and watched impassively as his fellow Slytherins cheered and celebrated, patting each other on the back and shaking hands as
if they had been the ones to charge into Azkaban and free the imprisoned Death Eaters themselves.
Idiots… They all are… Look at them… Thinking that it’s going to make any difference whatsoever…
“Well, Draco” laughed Millicent, throwing her hands up in a hieratic gesture, “our time has come!
“And we are going to use it wisely” Pansy added from her position hanging from Draco’s waist. “The first thing we’ve got to do is get even with
everyone who has dared to cross us.”
“And how do you propose to do that?” Theodore interrupted curtly, speaking for the first time since he had read out his father’s letter to the rest
“We have contacts, Theodore,” Millicent scoffed, tossing her black hair haughtily.
No, I have ‘contacts.’ Draco has ‘contacts,’ Pansy, Vincent and Gregory have ‘contacts’. You, I’m afraid, are sadly lacking in that department…
he answered silently.
“That’s right!” Draco said arrogantly. “I will simply tell my father the names of Potter’s cronies. Chances are, they’re supporters of Dumbledore - I
mean, if they love Potter, then they’ll be fans of the Old Fool, too - so father can get their muggle-loving parents while they’re at it!”
There was a short but profound silence as everyone contemplated the tantalising prospect laid before them by Draco. Even Theodore had to admit that
it was a good long-term plan, as long-term plans went. Though, they had made the fatal error of underestimating the Headmaster of Hogwarts.
As long as those students were within the grounds, there was no way that someone like Lucius Malfoy could touch them. Of course, there was the
summer holidays, the couple of months before term began once again, but the Death Eaters weren’t likely to gamble their newly-won freedom in the
pursuit of a plan born from optimistic and idle teenage speculation on the Hogwarts Express. Were they? He was so absorbed in his own thoughts
that he didn’t notice that Draco had spoken to him.
“Sorry, what was that, Draco?” he blinked, shaking his head to clear out the cobwebs.
Draco smirked and repeated what he had said and Theodore felt the colour drain from his face.
“And why would you need to write to Professor Snape?” he said slowly, his throat feeling strangely constricted.
Obviously, the internal, churning swirl of confusion, unease and anger, which he was desperately trying to conceal, had somehow made it onto his
face. He stared over at all of them, crowded round the table; his dark eyes, normally cold and hollow, were now glinting dangerously above a
strangely reluctant, wavering sneer.
“Oh don’t look like that, Theodore!” Millicent said impatiently, somewhere between a sigh and a snarl, clearly misinterpreting his inner turmoil as just
plain, outright hatred. “We all know you hate him, but it has to be done.” She rummaged in her bag and extracted a fine, rook-feather quill and a
bottle of emerald green ink.
“No it doesn’t,” Theodore countered mulishly, narrowing his eyes. “If he’s so close to Draco’s father, then Mr Malfoy will undoubtedly get in touch.”
Snatching the rook-feather quill away from Millicent, he dipped it into the jar of ink and laughed scornfully. “Hah! You think that my father is going
to risk it? Of course Dumbledore’s going to see what’s going on! Do you honestly think that Snape is totally innocent in Dumbledore’s eyes?”
Draco stopped writing and looked incredulously at Theodore. As always, the others turned round to see who was going to triumph. “You really
think that?” Draco said, his voice dripping wonderfully with disdain.
“Care to shed a light on your logic, then, Nott?”
“Alright,” Theodore said, sitting up slightly. “I simply cannot see why Albus Dumbledore would knowingly invite a supporter
of his greatest enemy to infiltrate Hogwarts, the safe haven of the wizarding world, let alone allow him to teach vulnerable
and impressionable young witches and wizards. I know that he is on our side, I mean there is no way that he would be able to
lie to the Dark Lord. I just don’t know how he has managed to fool Dumbledore for so long...”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean that a really clever Dark Wizard couldn’t fool him,” Pansy interjected. “I mean, look at
Quirell, at Crouch…”
“Yes, you do have a point,” Theodore replied testily. “I have considered that, you know. I’m not totally thick, unlike some
people. So then, by your logic, Pansy, Snape would have to have found the means to be able to hoodwink Albus Dumbledore for
fourteen years, correct? Then how has he done it? That is all I want to know.”
There was an uncomfortable silence as they all took on this previously unconsidered idea. Then, Pansy spoke once again.
“Maybe he’s a really clever Dark Wizard…”
For a moment, Theodore fell silent, putting his head in his hands. What he was doing was quietly counting to ten, trying to abate his anger. But
he wasn’t succeeding…
They’re so stupid… So incredibly stupid… “Maybe he‘s a really clever Dark Wizard…?” What utter garbage! They can’t see what’s staring them
plainly in the face… That’s their problem… He is not our friend… I can‘t believe they’d ever swallow that… He’s there to watch us… To spy on
us… To manipulate us… To direct us onto the path and to ensure that we don’t stray from that path… To keep us in the dark… To keep us
starry-eyed and ignorant so that we can’t see what’s coming until it’s too late… Why can’t they see it? Why are they so blind…?
“That is it! I can’t take this any longer!” Theodore snarled, his pale face burning and his thin lips pulled back from his teeth. Grabbing his bag,
he stuffed his book into it viciously and storming towards the door in a whirlwind of fury, he hauled it open, turning back to have the last word.
“If you’re not going to listen to me, then fine-” he hissed venomously, “-evidently, you’re just too stupid and arrogant to see what’s staring you so
plainly in the face!”
The door slammed shut so hard that it rattled on its hinges and cracked the glass pane, leaving the rest of them in a stunned silence. Out in the
main walkway, Theodore stormed off to find an empty cabin. Not really watching where he was going, he barged into two sixth-year Ravenclaws,
knocking them out of the way.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going, you idiot!”
Whipping round immediately, he shot them a look full of such hatred that their indignant words caught in their throats. Almost immediately, they
picked themselves up and hurried on. Theodore could hear them muttering, and had no doubts at all as to what they were muttering about. The
thought only served to rekindle his anger and, when he finally found an empty compartment, he threw himself down on the seat and ferociously
tried to read his book for the rest of the journey. But found that he couldn’t concentrate…
So… You’ve just alienated yourself from the last set of people who would extend the hand of friendship to you, and the whole school (and probably
the rest of the wizarding world) is absolutely terrified of you because of what your name and family reputation represents… Your father is a
fugitive from the law and he is expecting to you run an estate which is in financial decline… You have no one. You have always had no one…
You are alone, Theodore, and you always have been alone. There is no one to help you now…
“Don’t-cry-don’t-cry-don’t-cry,” he whispered hoarsely to himself as hot tears stung at his eyes. But it was too late. The tears were already
running freely down his cheeks, and he thought it best that he got it all out of his system before the train stopped. Stepping off the Hogwarts
Express snivelling like a little baby would only add to the humiliation.
So he curled up, hugging his knees to his chest, and, placing his head in his hands, he wept quietly for a while, alone, in the empty compartment.
Outside, the sun shone brightly and a cool breeze drifted languidly through the open window; and inside - from other compartments - all around him,
the sounds of relaxed laughter and idle chatter rang out as coldly and distantly as the empty home and the uncertain future that lay ahead of him.