The Goblin’s Amulet
Chapter 11: Mark’s Wager
Soto’s latest letter did not scare Albus too much this time. Somehow, he felt more secure. With Harry as Head of Aurors again, Soto was no longer in complete control of the situation and Incommodo was no longer in the Education Department. As far as Albus was concerned, Soto was on a losing path and he was still acting threatening. Something in the back of his mind reminded him that it was Soto who allegedly got Harry the top position again but a recent letter by his Aunt Hermione quelled any worries he may have had.
How is your fourth year going? I hope you managed to stay out of trouble thus far. On your father’s behalf, I cannot stress enough how important it is for you, Mark, Lily and James to stay out of any trouble this year. There have been developments in Hogsmeade but the Ministry is trying to quash rumors to avoid a full-scale riot. It is bound to reach ears eventually and we’re aware of a strong presence of Purifiers in Hogsmeade.
Purifiers are the group Soto leads but we do not yet know what their ideals or goals may be. With Incommodo out of the picture too, we can not only assume we have Soto on the run, but we can also assume that the Arsenal of Education and the Purifiers are one and the same, allowing speculation that their goal has something to do with Hogwarts. Please do your utmost to stay out of trouble and pass this message to Mark, James and Lily as well.
In any case, keep your head down but your ears open. We have every reason to believe that Soto has spies within the school so if you have any ideas, share them via a secure channel. Our posts may be being watched.
Even Hermione believed that Soto was on the run. He was on the defensive and Albus was seriously considering showing the letters to Hermione, Harry, or even someone else trustworthy. And that someone else was none other than his Care of Magical Creatures teacher.
Hagrid was his biggest friend sometimes and by far his favorite teacher. His lessons never ceased to be interesting and that was one matter he disagreed intensely with Alexis on.
“Can anyone guess what the lesson t’day is?” Hagrid asked everyone as they gathered outside his hut.
“Manticore?” Scorpius volunteered a guess.
“Werewolf?” Walter suggested.
“Vampire,” Riley asked casually. “I’ll be happy to volunteer if”-
“No, no nothin’ as mundane as that,” Hagrid waved aside. “No, if ye’ll come round the back, yeh will see the greatest surprise of yer year.”
At the back of his house was what at first sight looked like a rhinoceros with a single large horn. Upon closer visibility, Albus saw it must have weighed over a thousand pounds. Alexis gaped at it, “Oh, dear God.”
“Wh-what is it?” Albus asked slowly, turning to Scorpius who also looked quizzical.
“This here is an Erumpent,” Hagrid said proudly. “Caught it last summer to show the class. Now, Erumpents are few in number but they are mighty interestin’”-
“Hagrid,” Alexis said matter-of-factly. “That thing can blow us up.”
“On’y if yer stung,” Hagrid corrected. “And this one is restrained, fer now. We’ll be studyin’ up close later if yeh all behave. Now, Erumpents…”
“I hope you’ll understand if I choose not to behave,” Alexis muttered as Hagrid lectured on its thick hide. “Erumpent, Al? Fire crab, I get. But Erumpent? What’s next? A Chimera?”
“I- actually wouldn’t mind a Chimera,” Albus shrugged to Alexis’ stares and he returned to the lesson.
“See here, its horn has fluid inside that, as Miss Ackerly pointed out can blow up whoever is injected with it,” Hagrid admitted. “But it on’y attacks if yeh test it. That is what we’ll be avoidin’. Now… what we’re gonna do is take observation. Yeh’ll take notes fer half an hour on what the Erumpent does as I set it free,” (The class, Alexis included jumped as Hagrid released it.) “It’s contained to my backyard so it can’t get teh yeh if yeh step outside the gates and observe it safely. Fifty points teh the brave ones who study it up close.”
“How can we contain such a thing?” Albus asked.
“Simple Charm,” Alexis said, taking his arm and dragging him out and settling down with a notebook opened.
For the rest of the class, notes were being taken on the Erumpent’s actions and diet, Alexis as usual making incredible observation. When the class ended, Alexis and Albus compared notes. As the rest of the class filed out to leave, exhaling great breaths as the danger had passed, Alexis closed her notebook, “Well, that was an incredibly dangerous”-
“Ah, Ted,” Hagrid called out to someone unseen in the forest.
Albus’ head snapped over to the trees where, shadowed within them, was none other than his favorite guest at home, Teddy Lupin. And Albus could not help but exclaiming, “Big brother!”
Albus realized immediately a bemused Alexis heard him. He went red as she covered her smirking mouth, turned and walked away back towards the castle. Albus turned back to Teddy and Hagrid asked, “Developments?”
“Tell Harr- erm… dad, that the- mission- is complete,” Teddy said cryptically. “But on the downside, Hogsmeade… is no longer friendly. And Hogwarts is threatened.”
“What???” Hagrid and Albus yelped in fright.
“Guess that’ll block the Goblins coming in but…” Teddy shrugged. “In any case, measures will have to be taken.”
“Why didn’t the Prophet”-
“Containing mass panic,” Teddy interrupted Albus. “Keeping it at a minimum. But don’t even think about going to Hogsmeade again this year.”
“And what mission,” Albus asked quickly.
“You wanted out of trouble, didn’t you,” Teddy asked testily, throwing a quick smile Albus’ way. “Believe me, it’s best you don’t know. I would guess you have enough on your plate.”
“Oh, c’mon, I bet my dad would tell me if I asked him!” Albus pestered. “Trust me, why don’t you?”
“I’m sorry, Al, but in this case, your father may have every reason to keep it from you and none to reveal it,” Teddy said back. “Dark forces are at work both in the forest and out- with Hogsmeade under Purifier control, our lack of understanding concerning their goals, and Soto on the run and ever-elusive…well we’re pressed for time. So, if you’ll excuse me…” Teddy nodded quickly at Albus and disappeared into the trees, Albus surprised.
“Don’t yeh worry, Al,” Hagrid said assuredly. “He’s good ‘nough to take care of himself in the forest and has excellent contacts with magical creatures. Hogsmeade’ll be free in no time.”
“Yeah, but now I’m kept out of everything,” Albus complained, staring at the spot where Teddy ran off.
Scorpius had waited for Albus near the Greenhouses and they sat off for Divination together. Albus was not sure if he wanted to tell Scorpius about Hogsmeade but in any case, Scorpius himself was pestering Albus on how it went with Alexis and Albus tried in vain to make it seem like there was nothing going on between them. But after their recent date, Albus could not convince Scorpius of anything.
Just before the two reached the stairs leading up to the North Tower, Mark showed up, no Aries and no twins. Mark looked particularly strengthened with Aries absent. “Malfoy!” Scorpius raised an eyebrow and Mark folded his arms, “A wager on who wins the match?” Mark offered, small smirk playing his face.
Scorpius gaped, “Erm…”
“Of course, if you prefer self-preservation, I won’t hold it against you”-
“Heck, yeah, I’ll take it,” Scorpius cried out. “Twenty galleons we win the match.”
“Oh, let’s make it interesting,” Mark offered. “If Slytherin wins by a hundred points, I fork over a year’s worth of savings from me and the password to the Gryffindor Common Room for the rest of the year. Sound cool?”
Albus gaped. The password. He could not imagine what Scorpius would do with the password but himself… he could keep a closer eye on Lily. Better yet, he could nick the Maurader’s Map with his Invisiblity cloak and watch everyone and everything in Hogwarts. “I’d like in. I want the password.”
Mark blinked and then recovered himself, “Al, if you want the password, ask me any old time and I’ll give it to you. Just… not in front of Aries or the twins… or anyone really.”
“So, basically, never?”
“Screw it, you want the password, get it from Scorpy when- if he wins!” Mark said firmly.
“What if Gryffindor wins?” Scorpius asked apprehensively.
Mark smiled widely, “If Gryffindor wins by more than two hundred points, I get the password to the Slytherin Common Room for the rest of the year and you fork over every galleon you receive from home for the rest of the year. If the game goes any other way, Gryffindor winning by less or Slytherin by some miracle winning by less than a hundred points, we exchange passwords and nothing else. Either way, the odds are in your favor. Big time.”
“Take it,” Albus muttered. “And we’ll kick their asses.”
“Yeah, you’re on,” Scorpius said with a smirk.
Of course, the sudden offer of a wager was strange on its own. While the benefits for Albus and Scorpius would be endless if they won, Mark obviously had a plan up his sleeve. And his reasons for wanting to get into the Slytherin Common room were not beyond Albus’ thoughts. He wanted the best way possible to avoid Aries.
Saturday arrived and with it, the first Quidditch match of the season. Jennifer Salsty trained them hard through rain and shine. But the match was not due to start at eleven, and despite needing to train, Vulneroman had no intention of calling lessons off till the actual match and that meant fourth years still had dueling classes. And in dueling classes, Vulneroman finally started pairing them into duelists. For the first time, Vulneroman was hosting a duel.
“The duel starts with light spells first,” he was explaining as the process. “Spells such as the Knock-back Jinx or the disarming spell. Very simple and easy to use. Next is the climax stage. Like a storyline, it has a moment where bigger spells are used to impress the opponent and the third parties. After the climax is of course the deteriorating stage. By now, the winner can be predicted by an expert. This is when the better witch or wizard incapacitates his or her opponent and declares victory. Incapacitate meaning not to kill, but render him or her useless in combat. That is what I want to see. Malfoy, Wallader, up please and show us how it’s done.”
Aries squealed as Mark took the center of the room and pointed his wand straight up, facing Scorpius. Albus widened his eyes in slight amusement. The two would later that day face off in Quidditch so the rivalry was going to be intense. Perhaps this was why Vulneroman picked those two in particular?
“Light spells first!” Vulneroman growled loudly. “Three… two… one…”
“Flipendo!” Mark started, very quickly just as Vulneroman yelled to start. Albus knew Mark was very quick. His reflexes were superb in their first year but three years of honing such skills only made him quicker.
Scorpius narrowly avoided the spell only to face another one. Scorpius was knocked back. Aries squealed in delight as Laura looked rather torn. Mark zipped up quickly but Scorpius rolled to the side and jumped up, wand raised, “Petrificus Totalus.”
But the incantation’s length gave Mark enough time to avoid it. He summoned a barrier with “Protego.”
“The shield Charm is very effective against minor to moderate curses, jinxes and hexes,” Vulneroman noted loudly as Mark fired a Stunning spell right after. Scorpius, taken by surprise, barely had time to conjure his own shield charm to make it rebound. Mark dove aside and Vulneroman let out a quick bang to signal the duel was over.
“Creevey, Kimble, up here in the center,” Vulneroman called. And Laura and Aries took the center. Aries had a short twinkle in her eyes as she regarded Laura and within seconds, Laura was bubbling all over. Aries sighed and shook her head, “Professor, I have three dueling championships to my name. I demand a better challenge.”
The class held its breath in tension as Vulneroman stared at her through his one eye. Then, he blinked and growled, “Very well. Potter, up!”
Albus was forced to take center, well aware of every eye on him. He pointed his wand at Aries, well aware he was about to know a world of pain. And just before Vulneroman yelled to start, he saw it. A spark of fire in her eyes as she fixed hers with his. Albus guessed that the one thing he did better than Laura was that at least he put a Shield Charm up. Unfortunately, the shield shattered to Aries’ Stunning Spell. Albus barely ducked it but only to meet a Trip-Jinx and in seconds, her wand was on his neck.
“We will leave it here for today,” Vulneroman told them. “Next week, I want everyone ready to test themselves in dueling combat. I could pick any of you.”
But it did not seem Mark or Scorpius paid him any mind. Though the two were ok, they fixed each other with murderous glares. A testament to the match coming closer. “Prepare yourself, Scorpy,” Mark muttered to him as they all filed out. “The Gryffindor team won’t be beaten this year. You’ll see.”
Albus and Scorpius froze as Mark walked off with Aries and the twins. Laura, just behind Scorpius shrugged and said, “Ignore him,” and she kissed Scorpius once on the mouth before leaving.
Scorpius stared in double the shock as Laura left after Mark, “Did-did she just tell me- to ignore Mark?”
“Forget that, did she just kiss you?” Albus asked.
“And did- did we just catch a glimpse of Murderous Mark all over again?” Scorpius asked.
“Ah, he always gets like that before a game,” Albus waved aside. “But, the kiss Scorps?”
Scorpius seemed mighty pleased with himself but before he could say anything, Hugo and Lily came up from the staircase leading up to Gryffindor tower. Lily looked up and went red when she saw Scorpius but Hugo just nodded at Albus. “Al,” he acknowledged.
“Hugo, what’s up, gonna watch the game?”
“You could say that,” Hugo said quietly. “Lily’s gonna be up in the podium with Alex though.”
“Alex invited me,” Lily said, still red-faced.
“Why?” Scorpius asked her.
“Dunno,” Lily said cryptically and Hugo shrugged, though both Albus and Scorpius could tell that they were hiding something.
“Good luck, Al,” Hugo called as they left, and Hugo notably had an arm on Lily’s shoulder.
Scorpius was very silent as the two pondered that last meeting before Albus finally pointed out that they should be going down to the Quidditch pitch. They walked down in silence, Scorpius seemingly lost in thought. It was not until they reached the changing rooms with the rest of the team when Scorpius turned to Albus before opening the door and sighed, “In case you’re wondering, Laura and I are not… official yet.”
Albus understood then what Scorpius’ silence was about but why? “She’s over Mark and she kissed you. Do you need a written agreement or something?”
“No, it’s… look, it’s- she’s still figuring out her feelings,” he said frankly. “Since she met Aries, she’s been conflicted. She’s a had a lot to deal with. Still thinking about Mark and whether or not she still feels about him the way she does. I told her straight out that it was a crush. I guess her kissing me right now… is a good thing. I dunno. Anyways, let’s”-
The door banged open and Malcolm roughly dragged them in to face Jennifer’s pre-match talk before the game.