The Secret of the Forest
Chapter 4: Hogwarts Return
Albus was half happy to see the summer come to a close. For one thing, Harry never took him aside for anything, never asked him to keep an eye on anyone or look after anyone. As far as he could tell, this next year would be his most normal one yet. Where his first year involved having to comfort his enemy over the death of his parents, ultimately leading to Mark being adopted by Harry; and his second year seeing Albus go face to face with unknown and unseen enemies from beyond the forest, leading Albus to save Mark’s life and changing the way they saw each other; this year would be a simple year with classes, homework, social drama and that’s it. And hopefully, with Mark as his friend this time around, social drama would not be too unbearable.
When Albus handed his parents a permission form to allow him to visit Hogsmeade village during certain weekends, he considered therefore, as an official agreement that he was kept out of any political upheavals and he lived a normal life like any other student. Harry of course was more than happy to sign it and James was lecturing him and Mark the entire summer of how great Hogsmeade was.
At least, that was what Albus thought before Aunt Hermione took him aside as they walked through the platform to the Hogwarts express. After walking through the brick barrier, she took him and hid behind a lamp post, eyeing him seriously. Albus said preemptively, “Aunt Hermione, please, not another hard year. Please, let me have a peaceful year.”
“How peaceful it is depends on you,” she assured. “This isn’t much that would affect your social life in any drastic way.”
Albus looked down uncertainly and Hermione pulled him closer so they were inches apart. Then, she whispered in his ear words he never, ever thought he would have to hear from her. “Rita Skeeter is an Animagus.” Albus gave a start and looked at her in surprise and confusion. What did she mean by that? Animagus? She emphasized, “A beetle.” This did nothing to lessen the confusion and catching his look, Hermione rolled her eyes and whispered, “She can change into an animal at will. Her form gives her the ability spy on conversations without being seen. That’s how she overheard your conversation with your father last year.”
Ok, that lessened the confusion a bit but Albus was still shocked. Why tell him? This would, undoubtedly affect his life. It would fall on him to reveal her, wouldn’t it? He looked at her suspiciously, “Well, why tell me?”
“Because, she has me locked in a stalemate,” Hermione said regretfully. “She already warned the world. If I accuse her of anything, people will think I am simply doing ridiculous accusations. But if you did”-
“You won’t!” she assured. “This is precautionary, so if she successfully shuts me up, the truth is still out. Understand. Just know the truth. It won’t affect you otherwise. Don’t worry, Al, you’ll be fine. You won’t have a hard year like last year.”
“And the year before,” he reminded her.
“If you say so, now go,” she urged him quickly. “Don’t forget Al. Tell no one. No matter what.”
Albus had to be honest with himself as he climbed into the train. Aunt Hermione was wasting her time and his time by telling him, because if Albus could not tell anyone, how could he stay true to Hermione’s revelation without ruining his own life at Hogwarts… again.
Scorpius didn’t even attempt to turn Lily or Hugo to Slytherin. He told Albus he knew he’d regret it, but he let them go with their own impressions of Slytherin. He was more than fair, and earned a book on the shoulder from Rose when he merely said that Slytherin wasn’t so bad. Still, for the first time, Scorpius sucked it up, and let them run away with what he called a false idea.
Still, Albus could tell he took it hard. Poor Scorpius left the compartment in defeat and stayed out for half an hour in Merlin knew where. Albus spotted Malcolm and his gang deviate from the older students. He had an inkling he was going to terrorize some first years. Before he could consider going after him in any invisibility cloak, James, Fred, Samuel and Nigel chased after them to give the first years the same surprise Albus had.
As they sat down, Albus could finally breathe a sigh of relief. He was home. He looked up at the Great Table at Galadral Phoenix. The Headmaster stood up to greet them all, and his first words were “Let the sorting begin!”
The one who brought the stool with the hat into the room was not Era as it usually was. This worried Albus, for Era was involved in a controversy the year before. She was not expelled, was she? The patchy, frayed hat sitting on the three-legged stool Professor Redgrow brought into the room opened its mouth wide. Albus rather forgot to bang his head on the table in boredom, and instead rested his head on his palms and listened.
Let me tell you all a nice ancient tale of old,
Let me bore you, yes I know, I am being bold.
This great castle that existed far and long ago
There lived four founders whose knowledge we can’t at all forego
Godric Gryffindor took those
Who prized good old courage.
Rowena Ravenclaw took those
Who prized wit, smarts and brains
Helga Hufflepuff took those
Who were too humble to gain
Salazar Slytherin took those
With cunning and tutelage.
So pick your house, don’t be afraid, brave my all-seeing eye.
For I know what is in your head, nothing can get by.
You heard my song
I face this throng,
Let the sorting now be done
Albus politely clapped with everyone else and Redgrow called forth the first name, “Bedram, Albert!”
Albus stood up with Scorpius to clap as Albert moved over to the Slytherin table. Scorpius pat his back as he sat a seat away. Albus yawned, and let his head fall to the table as the sorting went on. Scorpius was making conversation with that Albert kid.
Then, Redgrow called out, “Blackberry, Nate!”
Albus and Scorpius looked up in interest as a black-haired boy with short hair and his brother’s pale skin come forward. He must’ve been Riley’s brother. Even so, the sorting hat didn’t even need to consider. “Slytherin!”
The boy sat at the end of the table. Albus looked over to see if he was sitting beside Riley, but the pale boy was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t leave, did he? Was he really expelled? Albus looked up at the table again as Crave, Ralph made Hufflepuff. He guessed that he looked just to see if his Potions Mistress Forma Era was still there. He didn’t even see Riley on the train. But he didn’t see Walter either, so he wasn’t worried. Was Era there?
The year before, the Wizarding world discovered that Riley Blackberry and Professor Forma Era were both vampires. He didn’t think anyone who was just and open-minded would care, but now he wasn’t sure.
Era was not there. Heart pounding, he nudged Scorpius. Scorpius looked around, “What is it?”
“Where’s Riles and Era?”
“I thought I saw Riles on the train, but I didn’t talk,” Scorpius said to him. “But good point about Era? What do you reckon?”
“They didn’t sack her, did they?” Albus asked worriedly.
“They wouldn’t,” Scorpius said firmly. “She’s here… somewhere. And so is Riley.”
Scorpius held up a hand to silent Albus as he listened. The hat was sorting a small boy with mousy-brown hair, and green eyes. He looked vaguely familiar, and Scorpius seemed interested in the Gabriel kid, but before Albus could speculate as to why, the look on Scorpius’ face answered him. A look he knew too well. The hat took a while to consider, but eventually opened his mouth and announced, “Slytherin!”
“YES!” Scorpius yelled, and punched the air happily. Albus watched in half astonishment and half amusement as Gabriel jumped up, almost enthusiastically, and running towards the table, arms spread wide, as if he made a successful goal in a football match, grinning widely. Albus had never seen anyone behave that way, especially after sorting.
Scorpius waved for Gabriel to take a seat beside him, “Budge up, Al. Not you, Albus. Albert. Budge up Albert.”
Scorpius’ face was alight with a special kind of happiness. A kind of happiness only seen when he triumphed in a particular goal. Albus understood everything simply because he knew his friend too well, “You’ve been recruiting again, haven’t you?”
“You barred me from Lily and Hugo, so I go for Daniel Dagger’s little brother,” he said happily. “That bloke in James’ dorm. We got a sibling, Al. That’s great!”
“Did you recruit in front of Daniel?” Albus asked astonishingly. “Didn’t they kick you out?’
“And make Gryffindor look bad?” Scorpius laughed.
“Boy are they gonna be angry!”
And sure enough, Albus could see plainly the brunette boy sitting by Michael Finnigan looked astonished and shocked. James was red-faced and glared directly at Scorpius. Daniel on the other hand looked murderous. Even the more quiet Samuel Redgrow seemed furious at Scorpius for this. Albus should’ve known Scorpius could not be silenced. He would never shut up, would he?
“Longbottom, Adrianna!” Era called forth.
A small girl took the hat. She awaited the decision, trying to put on a brave face, though anyone could tell she was terrified. Professor Longbottom watched interestedly. She made Gryffindor.
“Vulneroman, Fora,” Era called.
Albus moved his gaze up interestedly, vaguely. A small, brown-haired girl took the hat and placed it on her head. The hat took one look, and declared, “Hufflepuff!”
Scorpius rolled his eyes, and Albus rested his head on the table again. Hugo Weasley was among the last to be sorted. The hat didn’t take too long to decide. After a few seconds, it announced Gryffindor.
Finally, Redgrow called “Weasley, Lucy!”
Albus shrugged in readiness. Roxanne was one cousin in Slytherin with him, he couldn’t ask for another. But Scorpius also seemed interested, and Albus forgot his Uncle Percy was known for ambition, and Slytherin was just that house. The hat looked in for what felt like half a minute, and then yelled “Slytherin!”
Albus couldn’t believe his ears. Scorpius clapped heartily, and when Albus looked at him questioningly, Scorpius grinned, “Thank me later, Al. Maybe you can give me those five galleons you owe me.”
When the sorting ended, Galadral Phoenix stood up and Albus paid maximum attention, hoping to get information about Riley or Era. Galadral looked the same as ever. Blonde hair falling back and down into a beard and moustache, rather like a mane. He wore robes of green today. Nodding his head in acknowledgement, he commanded silence.
“Welcome everyone to Hogwarts!” Galadral greeted strongly. “Now, before the feast begins, I’ll need to make a few announcements. Our vampire friends from last year have been tried by our Wizengamot. It’s no secret to the parents and community of our world, and so it shouldn’t be to you all.
“Last year, a vampiric Garlic Frenzy was done by our Blackberry, and Era was understood to have intervened on behalf of everyone. She has been cleared for this reason. Our student is understood to have been going through training over the summer to control his instincts. He is allowed to return for lessons, but is expected to spend his free time in the forbidden forest. With no offense to his name, Blackberry, Nate is allowed within the castle, but only during weekday breaks. Until further notice, Riley Blackberry is suspended from school, allowed only for lessons. Currently, both Riley and Era are with Hagrid in his hut.”
Well, that was comforting. Disappointing, but comforting too. Had Albus noticed that Hagrid was missing too, he probably would’ve done a nut. At least he knew the whereabouts of all of them now.
“Speaking of the forbidden forest, all will do well to remember that it is strictly forbidden to all who are… err… human. The village of Hogsmeade is forbidden to those below third year. Further, I’d like to announce our new Head Boy and Girl, Joel Herbert of Slytherin and Elizabeth Mary of Gryffindor. Good luck to both of them.”
Albus recognized both of them. Joel was a great prefect for Slytherin the last two years, and Elizabeth of Gryffindor was the Prefect who admitted during the last year that Riley was a vampire. She had a fair face and blonde hair in locks. Joel was different. He was rough, brown, and bony overlapped only by muscles.
Galadral continued, “Quidditch tryouts will be held this weekend. Contact your Head of House to sign up. Now, let the feast begin!”