The Secret of the Forest
Chapter 26: Their Greatest Fear
Friday afternoon, right after Care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid, Albus made his decision. This class was one of the few that Albus had with Alexis and he gave her a significant look to signal he wanted to talk as they were taking notes on Hippogriffs. She took a quick glance to Mark and back to Albus. Albus understood her silent question and quickly nodded. She gave him a small smirk and nodded in response. They continued taking their notes.
After the lesson, Albus hung back to talk to Alexis one more time before the weekend and took her behind a tree just as he promised. As she guessed, he had made his decision. After six days of thought, Albus was always leaning towards one side. He had known Slytherin for too long and Gryffindor was a brand new experience for him. An experience he was happy he had.
Yet, as usual, Alexis was right. She was always right. And she would be happy to hear what he decided. For Albus chose he would return to Slytherin where he knew he belonged and where the hat itself knew he belonged. This meant a possible confrontation with Mark but it also meant a stronger support system among the Slytherins and a true friend in Alexis Ackerly. The one friend he could count on in any situation.
If push came to shove, he knew things about Gryffindors that the Slytherins would love to know. This included their password. Alexis had a small, uncertain smile on her face as Albus took a breath, gulped and looked up, “I’m returning to Slytherin.”
Next thing Albus knew, he was in the tightest embrace he ever felt in his life and for the first time, he stared thinking that maybe what Scorpius thought was true. That Alexis did have feelings for him. This idea disappeared when she broke off though, pat his shoulder, smile so wide in happiness, “I had complete faith in you, Al. Well done.”
“This may mean another fight with the Gryffindors, but”-
“Oh, who cares,” she scoffed. “If”- she looked around. “If they do fight you again, I won’t only play a supporting role. I’ll fight with you. They’re not messing with you ever again, Al. That’s a promise.”
Friday, in fact may have been the best night Albus had in Gryffindor, because the best things happened. Mark seemed positive that Albus was right about Scorpius and the boy didn’t hate him after the change. He understood the circumstances better than anyone. At night, as they sat in the dormitory for what Albus knew to be the last night, Eric approached Mark, took a deep breath, and said, “Mark, I wanted to apologize for being a grouchy git. It’s not my place to decide who your friends are, and you proved your point with Scorpius, so…”
Mark nodded, “Ok. Apology accepted. Thank you, Eric.”
Albus witnessed as the two engaged in a tight hug, and before he knew it, Eric came up to Albus next, “Potter. I want you to know that I’m not exactly a fan of Slytherin, so I implore you to request a permanent change.”
So, here it was. The offer he would turn down. He braced himself for a possible confrontation, “If I don’t”-
As Eric shrugged, Alex grinned, and said, “As far as I’m concerned, once a Gryffindor, always a Gryffindor. All for one and one for all, and you belong with us. But if you so choose to return to Slytherin, no hard feelings.” Then, as a second thought, Alex added, “Or maybe a little.”
“Any time you say the word, Al, and Phoenix could give you a permanent place in here,” Mark offered.
Albus looked down, considering for a bit. He expected this and there it was. There was the offer. Become a Gryffindor and be one with his family. At last, all his problems would disappear. James would be his social ally and not the other way around, Scorpius would be taught tolerance, Mark and the twins would be his closest friends, and Albus himself would be happy. There was nothing to lose, really. Nothing.
Except the dungeons. He’d lose his special standing with biased Professor Era, his sense of home with the kids he was sorted with and was going to grow up with, not to mention his position on the Slytherin Quidditch team. There was the nice sense of quiet and seclusion coming with living in the dungeons so that Albus always, without fail had the option of seclusion if he wished to escape from society. There were countless times the year before when he did just that. And he did not forget Alexis either. While he had nothing to lose, he also had nothing to gain and in some sense, everything to lose.
Albus looked up, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve grown used to my dorm, and my roommates. I miss my friends.”
“But they abandoned you, the second you changed house,” Mark pressed. “They’re not real friends.”
“And now I know,” Albus said, nodding. “But even if, does it matter at this point in my life? People in Gryffindor will abandon me the same way, so there’s no difference. See how they all jumped to be my friend just because I changed house? Think about it. If I stayed here, Scorpius and Lorcan would still be friends. Walter is indifferent, but he’s even friends with you. If I moved back, I’d still have you guys, and Lysander is a family friend. Besides, I’m on the Slytherin Quidditch team.”
“Oi, Potter, what’s this?” Eric called from the table between his bed and Albus’ bed. Mark took it, raised his eyes at it, and handed it to Albus, who looked at the front. It was a folded piece of parchment. Unfolding it, Albus saw what it was, and he expected it. He read aloud.
A lot of Hogwarts students take so much emphasis on values exclusive to certain houses. My belief is that it’s useless. Gryffindor requires courage, Hufflepuff requires loyalty, Ravenclaw requires cleverness, and Slytherin require strength and self-preservation. When I was young, I possessed many of the traits destined for Slytherin house, but I made Gryffindor. Nonetheless, I could’ve done well in Slytherin, and you are living proof. My own son, the first of the Potter’s made Slytherin. Yet, you’re brave beyond recognition. If you are truly the son of your mother and I, you possess a lot of bravery, and a load of loyalty. Make friends with all houses, and be a champion for all. I was a champion for all, excluding Slytherin. You are the one to include the house, and change it. Best of luck, Al.
Albus smiled widely, and laughed, “See, that’s why I’m going back to Slytherin! I belong there.”
“Values four?” Alex repeated to himself. “I’m gonna tell you all something I’ve never told anyone before. When I was being sorted, the hat seriously considered putting me in Ravenclaw. My intelligence, he said, was unrivaled. But, I demanded Gryffindor, so he placed me there.”
“The hat wanted me in Hufflepuff,” Eric muttered. “Said I was too loyal to be a Gryffindor, but my twin went in, and I knew Mark would go in too, I couldn’t leave it. He said my loyalty to my friends proved my being a Hufflepuff, but- but I told him that I’d die for my friends, and that’s bravery.”
Mark looked up, a guilty smile on his face as Albus and the twins looked at him. Mark looked down, “He tried putting me in Slytherin, but I despise the house. I’d never let him. So, we talked it out and decided Gryffindor. I’m surprised he didn’t think of Hufflepuff. I can be loyal.”
Eric scoffed sarcastically and Albus and Alex laughed, Albus grinning broadly, “Yeah, Mark, you can be a great friend, but you’re quite the snake to your enemies. You still don’t know what Hurricane Ginny is, do you? Because you caused one summer before last!”
As they laughed at the last comment, Mark going red in guilt, Eric shrugged, and cast for a change of subject. Alex and Mark exchanged glances, and then shrugged. Just then, Eric’s face lit up. “Hey, here’s a question we never asked. What’s your greatest fear?”
Albus widened his eyes at them all. It took some effort to stop himself laughing, and it was in vain, because when he spoke, he laughed it out, “You claim to be triplets, and you never asked that question before?” he asked incredulously.
“It’s personal,” Mark said defensively. Mark seemed to be saying this to more than just himself and Albus, but to everyone in the room, as if hoping he’d be excluded. Mark had never told anyone, not even his own parents when they were alive, what his greatest fear was.
The four boys sat on their respective beds, and faced each other. Now was the time. Albus made a mental note to ask Scorpius and Walter, if the latter was still talking to him as he had to sadly remind himself, the same question.
Eric started first, being the starter of the conversation. His fear was not meant to be a secret. He just realized he never told anyone before, except Alex, when they were very little. He stared down thoughtfully for a second, and then, having decided how he’d say it, took a deep breath, and said, “Mine is- losing my twin, hmph.”
Alex looked at him hard. “Losing me? Well, well, well, looks like Eric’s got a soft spot after all.”
“We’re twins, Alex!” Eric sad hardly. “Why, what about you, Albus?”
“Cloth,” Albus said simply.
Alex gaped at him, “Where do you sleep, a haystack? Do you cover yourself with- what, snakeskin?”
“When I was little, James transfigured my blanket into a bed-eating cloth monster. Started choking me. I think it was badly done, because spells don’t usually do that. Mum was angry, she yelled herself hoarse for weeks. The first Hurricane in living memory. James still gets goosebumps. I’m over it now, but I get nervous when sleeping, sometimes. I’ll get a little freaked out if it moved too much and when I’m forced awake… I can get cranky as a result. The memory is still there.”
“Mine’s similar to Eric’s,” Alex shrugged. “But, it’s more like losing my triplets. Because Mark’s always included.”
This time, Mark couldn’t help it. Before he could stop himself, he blushed bright red. But no one seemed to notice, except Albus, and he only caught a second’s glance. “Mark, you’re red. What about you? Nervous?”
“Uh… yeah, that’s right,” Mark said half truthfully, and he got up from the bed and said, “I don’t wanna talk about it,”
Eric reached over and pushed him back down, “Well, some triplet you turned out to be!”
Alex laughed as Mark was pushed back down. Mark folded his arms, and blew out a sigh. “Promise you won’t tell anyone? I swear, if you told anyone, I’d have to kill both of you?”
“Far from the truth,” Mark said, looking at Alex from the corner of his eye. “You are so far from it and it’s not even funny.”
“I won’t tell a soul,” Alex vowed.
Eric put his hands up in oath too, and so did Albus. Taking a deep breath, Mark looked down. He exhaled. Albus waited. Wasn’t it just going to be similar to the twin’s fears?
But then, he said in an almost whisper, “Death.”
Alex and Eric gaped at Mark. Mark of all people. Both of them, Alex and Eric, didn’t mind dying. They were expecting an early and young death anyway, because they planned to join the Auror Force later. They knew Mark was dying to join them too, and that was why they actually thought Mark would face death fearlessly.
“Death,” Alex repeated incredulously.
“Liar,” Eric accused.
And with difficulty, Mark reaffirmed his fear. “I. Fear. Death.”
Eric, mouth half open, argued, “And you wanna be an Auror?”
“I don’t think I’ll die,” Mark said simply.
“Reckless?” Alex gaped again. “Arrogance? Mark, I seriously don’t know you as well as I thought. What’re you scared of?”
“The unknown,” Mark said simply. “The darkness. Not knowing what happens next. Being away from those who love you. How can anyone bare it? It’s like, nothingness. Like being sentenced in the end to oblivion.”
“I don’t mind death,” Alex said quietly. “I just thought you’d fear loss, like me and Eric.”
“I do,” Mark said calmly, and quietly. “Just in a different way. I fear losing you two through death. Because it’s death. I don’t know for a fact how you are. If you’re doing ok, gone. If death is fine. If any of you two died, I have no idea what I’d do.”
Alex didn’t know why he did, he just seized Mark, and hugged him tightly. This wasn’t uncommon among the three. Right now though really took Mark by surprise, and Albus was taken-aback. Grinning, he said, “Yeah, I really don’t belong here.”
Before laying down, he stared out the window, and there it was again. The silver line cutting through the forest. Praying the three would see it, he called them, “Oi, guys! See that?”
The three came over, and stared outside with Albus. Surely, they could see it. Or would they think him mad? Then, Eric grinned and said, “You know, we’ve always wondered.”
“You can see it?” Albus asked hopefully.
“Yeah,” Alex shrugged solemnly. “But James claims to be blind to it. He has no clue what we’re talking about. We’ve stopped talking about it for the purpose of keeping our reputation as sane. Forget about it, Al. We’ll follow it when we take our promised excursion.”
“We’re still up to it then?” Albus asked hopefully.
Alex considered, and then looked at Albus. “Listen, make up with Rosie first and then we’ll talk about the excursion. But I think it’s time you and Scorps stopped fighting Gryffindors like us.”
Confused, Albus laid in his fourth bed, the temporary bed moved from the Slytherin dorms. He moved his head toward the window, but he heard Alex moving quietly from his bed. He knew they were gonna talk more, and deciding to keep out of it, Albus feel asleep.