The Secret of the Forest
Chapter 35: Truth
Lysander’s article either got through to Phoenix or it did not. Lysander publishing Hermione’s revelation about Rita Skeeter in the Quibbler could not guarantee serious consideration from the wider community, but Harry himself insisted that it had a sizable fan base since the Second War. All anyone could do after that was hope that something may come out of the Scamander campaign to bring Riley back to the school.
Until the end of the year though, Albus had his own problems. Exams. Albus did reasonably well in the exams, except in Divination, where the only two who really saw anything in the crystal ball was Alex Wallaby and Riley Blackberry. Charms was great thanks mainly to Alexis’ tutoring and even Transfiguration and Potions went better than usual (thanks mainly to Mark’s friendly advice and pointers.)
When the leaving feast finally came in June, Albus got a surprise. Harry and Ron had shown up to watch. Apparently, Phoenix was planning a speech, and he requested the two be there. Hugo and Lily were at the other end of the Hall, Hugo’s arm around Lily and Lily resting herself on his shoulder. Hugo too looked tired. Albus remembered what Mark said. The two were still close as ever, even though Hugo did not recall what Lily did. Scorpius had not talked to Albus about the excursion since that night he sent him to the hospital, even though they remained on normal terms.
“A year came and went,” Galadral began loudly, and everyone stopped eating to watch. “And before we immerse ourselves in our feast and reveal the winner of the house cup, I would like to address the issue of Riley Blackberry.” Albus looked up hopefully. He hoped Riley would be allowed in. “He was discovered to be a half vampire this time last year, and was nearly expelled. Instead, he was taken into the forest, and few of us saw him except for classes.
“Hogwarts has been at the center of mounting criticism for countless issues for two years now and concerning the issue of the vampires…” Phoenix looked over at Harry who gave the smallest of nods, (apparently, being demoted from Head of Aurors did not decrease his influence), and cleared his throat, “I hereby, as Headmaster of Hogwarts School, with the signed form of- er… ten governors, withdraw Riley’s order of suspension. He will be allowed with us next year.”
At that final word, the doors to the Great Hall opened and the hall grew quiet. Galadral looked aside with a wide smile on his face as Hagrid walked in, backed by Riley and Nate. Riley, for once had a wide smile on his face. Even his lazy ingoing attitude couldn’t suppress the happiness he had to show. Hagrid cleared his throat, “Summun yeh know?”
This was met with a lot of applause from the Gryffindors and half the Slytherin table. Some, even those in Ravenclaw booed him on and the only house that seemed genuinely happy was Hufflepuff. Phoenix did not dwell further on the matter, “I go further to a subject I never thought I’d have to discuss. The subject of sorting.” He caught Alex’s eye. “Some know what I’m talking about. But for those who don’t know, let me explain.
“The school already knows that Albus Potter was confronted, and his very identity as a Slytherin student was challenged,” Galadral announced. No one showed a hint of surprise. Everyone knew. Albus didn’t even find himself blushing at the mention of his name, because all knew the story. “Certain students were convinced that he belonged in Gryffindor. That he was swayed by outside forces to join Slytherin house. They committed the illegal, and snuck into my office to sort once more. Albus Potter was sorted, no choice taken into account, to Gryffindor and proven wrong.
“I remember a quote by the late Albus Dumbledore. He said, ‘we sort too soon.’ I never believed it myself, until I called… an extra Slytherin boy to the office to get resorted himself.” Phoenix’s refusal to mention Scorpius by name earned the boy a nudge from Albus and Walter and a quick glance from Lorcan. “He too made Gryffindor, influences from friends rubbing off, and ultimately changing each other. Potter was placed in Gryffindor for a week, to get to know those who were trying, in their own special way, albeit prejudiced, to be friends, and there many people embraced him.
“Those who accept only for their house are wrong.” And he spoke now solemnly, more emotionally. “Those who take in friends from different houses- or as we learned last year, from different cultures and regions- they are to be admired. That is why I wish to award special points before hanging the banners of the winning house.
“First, for starting this fiasco, Alex Wallaby deserves some points. He has presented the idea of sorting once again, and helped to prove Albus Dumbledore right, by showing exactly how people can change. They can be reformed. I award him fifty points!
“It’s difficult standing up to those who’re your friends, particularly those you grew up with. I said to you all that he who accepts friends who are different are to be admired. I stand by that, and so doing, award Mark Wallader… fifty points, for fighting so hard against his friends to keep those he had in Slytherin house.
“A person who has defied many others for the sake of his own house. He has fought and fought more to show the good of his own house. He swore and promised to the youth that they would have a good time. That they would not regret it. And sources tell me everyone in Hogwarts is feeling very proud of their houses right now. A promise has been kept, and Slytherin has gained fine students. Credit to this feat goes to none other than Scorpius Malfoy. I award him… fifty points.”
“We all know how hard it is to admit wrong, especially when you defended yourself so fiercely in the first place. Yet, it can be done. It takes a true man to admit he’s wrong. It takes one of bravery, a bigger person, to do the mature thing. Eric Wallaby deserves twenty points.
“Fifty more points must be awarded. This person is responsible for Blackberry returning to the school. Someone who has ran a rather quiet campaign, and ultimately petitioned for his release. This student, though young, has shown true loyalty to his friends, despite what creature they may be. Being a student persuaded into his current house, he has distinguished himself a great deal. I therefore hand back the fifty points he lost throughout the year campaigning for his cause and award an additional fifty points each to Lorcan and Lysander Scamander.
“The last one I give points to is a person who I admire from a distance. For remaining in Gryffindor house for a week is amazing. I am not exaggerating. It is difficult living in what you may deem strange lands, particularly when those around you speak against your own friends, family, or classmates. But Albus Potter survived, showed true interhouse loyalty, and helped to revolutionize Slytherin house! He became a better person because of it. A champion for all houses. I therefore award him… one hundred points.
“Before closing this off, more points must be awarded. Slytherin, it seems, is being reformed through the efforts of Malfoy, and those he led into the path of the snake. To some cultures, to this school, a snake symbolizes evil. In others, we forget it means wisdom. Through these efforts, efforts of Malfoy, Potter, Scamander, and by Scamander I mean both of them, and Dagger, Slytherin is being revolutionized, and more, I pray, will come and help with it. All houses united under one school, and never again split! It houses fine students. Fine students indeed. I award these students twenty points each!”
“YES!” Scorpius yelled. Albus pat Lorcan’s back, and Phoenix nodded happily. “So, making up for their abysmal Quidditch performance, Slytherin stands a fair way into the points now. In fourth place, Hufflepuff with three hundred points… In third place, Ravenclaw with three hundred and ten points… In second place, Gryffindor with five hundred and fifty points… In first place, standing at a powerful six hundred points, Slytherin house!”
Albus clapped with everyone else. The teachers stood up to give Slytherin house a round of applause. Harry and Ron stood up to clap, and Harry caught Albus’ eye, and smirked. Ron clapped half-heartedly, but anyone could see it went from half-hearted to whole-hearted as he caught the smiles on all the Slytherin faces. And to make it all better, as Albus pat Lorcan on the back, Jennifer approached them, probably trying to show she could admit wrong just like Eric, and said, “I apologize for acting the way I did to you three. And if you want a place in next year’s team…”
“Thank you, Jennifer.”
This was possibly one of the best nights of Albus’ life. Lorcan had won his battle, Albus himself had pulled through his house troubles and finally saw the end of a long-standing problem with Mark and the twins. But what was better than Ron standing up on his wife’s behalf and announcing that Rita Skeeter had been imprisoned for one year on charges of illegal magic; or, Otto announcing that Incommodo’s vault had been searched, (with nothing found) and the team outside Gringotts had left peacefully with everyone’s jobs intact.
Then, Albus had even scaled the forbidden forest, something Phoenix remained oblivious to. And to Harry, Albus had to talk. After the feast, Harry caught the look on Mark’s face and met him, Albus and even Scorpius in a chamber of the Great Hall. This meeting was of course, against Albus’ will but if Mark was going to tell Harry everything regardless of what Albus thought, he had no choice in the matter. He knew that Mark, though now a friend, was a very forceful person when pushing his point across.
Albus was therefore uncomfortable when Harry regarded them both curiously. Albus could tell what was goping through his mind and before he could deny it, Harry raised his eyebrows and said, “You’re not fighting again, are you?”
“No,” Mark shook his head. “But, Mr. Potter… Al has something to tell you. And he’s gonna be quick about it.”
Harry looked over at Albus instead and Albus, red-faced, started launching into story, confessing everything. Albus knew he was going to be punished for sneaking into the forest again, but with Mark on his tail, he had no choice. Albus saw Harry’s eyes grew wide as he made it to the part of meeting vampires in the forest but relaxed when Riley was mentioned. When the end neared and Albus explained about the people on the other side, Soto, and the jet of light before their memories were modified and everyone barring Albus, Mark and Lily forgot about the events, Harry was tense.
At the end of the story, Albus stopped to finally take a breath. He looked up at his father but Harry seemed uncomfortable. Albus could tell that somehow, Harry was taken by surprise. While the former Head of Aurors used to be in the know, he was at the loss as to what Albus had faced.
“A silver line guided you there,” Harry recalled quietly. When Albus and Mark nodded, Harry sighed, “Why didn’t you tell me about it during the holidays? A line only you can see. Take it from me, seeing or hearing things nobody else can is not exactly a good thing.”
“They picked a perfect hiding spot,” Harry muttered. “One thing for sure, you found our enemies. You asked for a peaceful year and you found an eventful conclusion.”
“Why can no one else remember?” Mark asked.
“Memory modification,” Harry answered simply. “For one reason or another, the modification failed on the three of you. I don’t know why but for the life of me, I cannot imagine why they would allow you to get away with knowledge of their hideout.”
“Maybe to intimidate us?” Mark suggested. “They have a lot of natural protection and protective Charms around. And they are probably invisible to others besides themselves.”
“Dad, what’ll you do about it?” Albus asked calmly.
“There’s nothing I can do,” Harry sighed. “Until Ron takes the helms I once had, I am quite powerless. All I can suggest is that Phoenix beef up security. This is the second time the forest plays host to some dangerous people. Both times involved Soto and from last Christmas, he is associated with Incommodo who is the cause of two years worth of trouble.”
“Incommodo,” Mark muttered to himself.
And Harry looked thoughtful. Harry looked very thoughtful about it and Albus could tell he was seriously considering what Mark had to say about it. Then Harry changed subject and took Mark by the shoulder, “Speaking of Incommodo, I have something to tell you, Mark.”
Mark looked up hopefully and Harry gritted his teeth. Though against his better judgment, he did make a promise after all. “You want to know who killed your parents?”
Mark widened his eyes in tension and Albus stepped back. A part of him felt like he did not belong but no one asked him to leave. Before he could consider running out, Harry put a hand on Mark’s trembling shoulder, “Promise me you won’t try anything, anything stupid. Ok?”
“I- I promise,” Mark said shakily in a quiet voice.
A mutual promise was kept on both sides. Mark swore before Harry said anything that he would not try anything stupid. He would not flee Hogwarts to search for the killer, he would not try fighting the killer himself, and in return, Harry would do what he could and make sure, when the time came, that Mark had time alone with the killer to give a sense of closure in the end. Harry told him exactly who it was and how it was done.
Mark, for the first time in Albus’ memory, seemed broken. Shattered in a way even the twins could not fix. In fact, they knew nothing. As a treat, before they went home for the summer, Harry allowed Mark a final stop by the cemetery to pay one final visit to his parents.
“I haven’t seen them since…” Mark muttered to Albus, who opted to come along with him at Mark’s request. “Haven’t even visited their graves at all.”
“Why not?” Albus asked quietly as Mark sat down before their respective tombstones.
“I can’t bring myself to face it,” Mark muttered, voice shaking as he set a wreath of flowers between the stones.
The two sat staring at the stones for five minutes in absolute silence. Albus kept his silence mainly out of respect, at a loss of what to do when Mark let out his occasional sniffle. It was not fifteen minutes until Harry finally arrived, behind him the twins. He had apparently filled them in on what had happened because they took Mark tightly and supported him back to the car, leaving Albus with Harry.
“You feel kind of left out, don’t you?” Harry guessed smartly.
Albus nodded, “Yeah.”
“Look after Mark, ok?” Harry told him.
And Albus smirked, “Isn’t that always my job?” he asked, remembering being given the same job in first year as well. Even in second year, he was tasked with befriending Mark and looking after an exchange student.
“Yes, Al,” Harry nodded. “Everyone has a duty in life and Mark is yours.”