There seems to be a disturbing development. I await further instructions.
Your most loyal,
He picked up the newspaper clipping that had fallen out, and scanned through it. His eyes narrowed at the description in the person found ad. Lost his memory? What is Dumbledore playing at now?
The old fool couldn't have known. Aiden was such a well-kept secret, even among his inner circle. But he must not dismiss the possibility. Dumbledore has the most annoying ability to piece puzzles together, linking inferences until they lead to fairly accurate conclusions.
He stared at the article again. If it was indeed true, he'd have to get Aiden out before they convinced the boy he's the enemy. He's fairly certain Aiden wouldn't turn on him but the truth may break him. He can't have a broken child, a weak link, so close to him.
He ignored the constriction in his chest at the thought of a broken Aiden.
The next few days were interesting. He wasn't bothered that the students had their own friends and classes to get to; he had the whole castle to explore and the freedom to do so without anyone breathing down his neck. He visited the library, amazed by the number of books and knowledge. He searched out house-elves and had afternoon snacks in the kitchen. He talked to the ghosts and non-teaching staff when they were free. So far he'd done a good job of staying out of the way. Professor Snape hadn't had a reason to be mad at him yet.
Then he started to get restless. He missed having lessons, learning magic, being productive. He wanted to go home too, but nobody had responded to the person found ad yet and he couldn't remember much beyond his name and random images of places. A description of his room or Father's office was so not helpful in finding his family.
Professor Snape claimed to never have seen him before but he was fairly sure he had seen the man somewhere. Nothing to do except wait for news, he guessed. It's so… degenerating. He hoped a few of the nicer professors allow him to sit in on their classes. The rest of his free time, he could continue to research the flower charm that looks like a lily. He had looked through potions and herbalogy books but still found no reference to the strange flower. His next read would be Mystical Plants and Legends, Myths and Folklores.
Aiden settled at one of the study tables in the library and started browsing through the book, mostly looking at the drawings and pictures of the plants, hoping to find one that matched his bracelet charm, and occasionally reading the more interesting article.
"Hello. Do you mind if I sit here?"
Surprised, he looked up and saw a bushy-haired girl around his age. She was carrying a few books, almost hugging them to her chest, and a brown bag was slung diagonally across to her right.
"Go ahead," he said although he noticed that there were other empty tables around.
"Thanks," she said, putting her books and bag down. "I'm Hermione Granger."
"I'm Aiden," he said cautiously, wondering what she wanted.
"I see you in the library quite often but never see you in class nor in the Great Hall at meal times."
"Do I know you?" Aiden asked, wondering why this girl would be looking for him, noticing when and where he was and was not.
Hermione blushed. "No. I'm sorry. I'm just too curious."
"Oh. It's ok," he said. "I'm not a student."
She furrowed her brows. "Are you one of the professor's children?"
Unable to help himself, he laughed. "No. I'm waiting for my family."
"I see," she said.
But Aiden could see that she did not see and was probably bursting to ask more questions. He was glad that she stayed silent; it would probably be questions that he didn't remember the answers to.
"Don't you have classes?" he asked, hoping to get off the topic about him.
"I have a free period before lunch," Hermione said.
"Ok," he said.
An awkward silence fell. Aiden gave a small smile before returning his attention to his book. The spark in Hermione's eyes seemed to dim, and her shoulders hunched in imperceptibly before straightening again as she busied herself arranging books, parchments and quills in front of her, almost resigned or disappointed but was determined not to let it show. Briefly, Aiden wondered why she was the only one in the library during her free period, before lunch no less, and not with her friends.
The silence slowly settled into a studious quiet, with the occasional scratching of quills and rustling of pages, punctuated by Hermione's mutterings. About 20 minutes into it, her mutterings got increasing frequent until a final frustrated sigh made him look up. Hermione's hair, if possible, looked even more frizzled than before and there was a smudge of ink on her cheek.
Hermione caught his gaze and said, "I'm sorry. I get carried away sometimes. It's these transfiguration diagrams about alignment before transformation which Professor McGonagall mentioned in class, and I was trying to find the reference to its basis in arithmancy but we haven't learnt the basics yet and I'm unable to understand the explanation."
The last ended on a higher note and he looked at her curiously while faint pink rushed to her cheeks, perhaps from the lack of breath, he thought, until she averted her eyes, worrying at her lower lip then he realised it was embarrassment.
"Arithmancy is a third year subject," he said, "and the interdisciplinary aspects of arithmancy and transfiguration will only be covered from fourth year onwards."
Hermione's mouth opened in a silent 'oh' and he asked, "Which year are you in?"
"First year," she said a bit sheepishly.
Aiden smiled. "It's good to want to learn. But don't bite off more than you can chew."
"I'm just worried I'll fall behind."
The quiet admission sounded more than just a simple anxiety to do well in school.
Aiden tilted his head and she elaborated at his silent question.
"I'm a muggle-born. I didn't know anything about magic until I got my letter."
Ah… he understood the need to prove herself capable.
"Move over," he said, shifting his chair to sit beside her. "I don't much like doing theory but I'll help you."
"Good morning, Severus," said Dumbledore cheerfully. "I trust Aiden has not been too much trouble for you?"
"Aiden?" Snape asked, wondering which one of his students that was. Must be one of the first years; it takes longer for him to match new names with faces.
"Yes. You know, that boy living with you?" Dumbledore prompted.
"Oh, that Aiden," Snape grumbled, his mood turning sour at the reminder of the boy he was babysitting at Dumbledore's insistence. Then he frowned, realising that he had not seen the boy all that much the past few days. There has been no complaints from Filch or the other professors so he guessed the boy was at least keeping out of trouble like he told him to, but what has he been up to?
"Is something wrong?" Dumbledore asked upon seeing his frown.
"Nothing. I'd better check on the boy," Snape said abruptly and left.
"Oh dear," Dumbledore murmured, his blue eyes twinkling madly in contrast.
Unfortunately he'd overestimated the time he had before his next class and had to make his way to the Potions classroom instead of his private rooms. He certainly could not leave the Gryffindor and Slytherin third years without supervision, especially the Weasley twins.
The class quieted as he swept in.
"Pepper-up Potion," he said curtly. "Instructions are on the board. Ask me now if you don't understand."
He paused, waiting for questions.
"Very well, I shall expect to have no ruined potions nor accidents today. And I don't want to hear chattering among you. Get down to work."
Some of the students started towards the potions cupboard to get ingredients that weren't in their potion kits while others began preparing ingredients and setting up their cauldrons. Snape walked around, looking out for mistakes and excessive communication beyond what was needed between partners to complete their potion.
"Mr Weasley! Throw that beetle eyes in Mr Pucey's cauldron and you'll be having detention for a week."
"Wouldn't dream of it, sir. Just happen to pick up the wrong ingredient that's all." Fred grinned.
Snape glared at him. As if.
Knock, knock. "Professor Snape?" A mob of black hair peered in from the door, entering the room fully when he saw him. "Professor Dumbledore said you were looking for me, sir?"
And the elusive brat reappears. Snape resisted the urge to sigh.
"Yes. Sit down. Do not touch anything. I'll talk to you after class."
Aiden took a corner seat one row behind the two redheaded boys – twins, he thinks- and set about watching the students brew their potions. He watched Professor Snape too as he stalked about, often snapping corrections at mistakes and sometimes giving curt nods to those on the right track. Aiden sighed. He missed Bella.
"Hey firstie. In trouble with Snape so soon? What did you do?" one of the redhead whispered, slicing the daisy roots into small equal parts.
He looked at him, then at Professor Snape who was at the other side of the classroom helping a blond girl. "I don't know."
"Well, cheer up mate. His bark is worse than his bite," the other redhead said, stirring the potion anti-clockwise.
"Yar, but you didn't hear it from us." The first boy winked.
"I'm not- No! Don't put the rat's spleen in yet!"
But it was too late. The potion started to turn purple and bubbled ominously, frothing increasingly closer to the rim of the cauldron. Aiden hurriedly grabbed some fluxweed and threw it in, hoping it'll be in time to stop the impending explosion. He relaxed as the mixture's bubbling quieted and the froth gradually sank down.
"You're supposed to put in the rat's spleen after taking the cauldron off the fire. That could have been a nasty explosion," he said.
The twins blinked.
"Saved by a firstie…" one of them said, shaking his head.
"Looks like our potion is ruined, brother mine," the other said mournfully.
Aiden sighed. "It's not completely ruined."
He stirred three times clockwise and twice anti-clockwise, added a pinch of powdered bicorn horns, stirred once clockwise, followed by two sprigs of nettles. The colour of the potion gradually returned to green as he stirred anti-clockwise seven times.
"Simmer for four minutes, take it off the fire and add rat's spleen. The potency won't be as strong because of the bicorn horns but it's still usable."
The twins looked at him, then turned to each other. "Did we learn this in first year, Forge?"
"Can't say we did, Gred."
Both of them turned to him and said, "Are you sure you're a first year?"
Aiden took a step back. "Err… I'm not a student."
"Well, that's one mystery solved-"
"-but doesn't explain why he was able to salvage our potion. Nevertheless-"
"-we are most grateful to be saved from detention and-"
"-extend our most humble gratitude. Fred-"
"-at your service should you need cheering up,"
"-distraction for the professors," Fred finished with a flourish and both twins bowed.
Aiden could only stare, feeling dizzy at the verbal tennis-match-like switching between the twins as they completed each other's sentences.
"Mr Weasleys! Your potion will be ruined if you continue with idle chit-chat."
The twins winked at him and turned back to their potion.
Professor Snape pinched the bridge of his nose. "I would appreciate it if you do not distract the students from their work, Mr Aiden."
"Yes, sir," he said. So far for trying to help.
The students had packed and rushed out as soon as the bell rang, leaving him and the Professor. Aiden had caught some pitying glances from the Gryffindors and some smirks from the Slytherins. Fred and George smiled encouragingly as they left, Fred- he thinks- slipping a note into his hand.
"What have you been up to for the past few days?"
"I was exploring the castle, sir," Aiden said.
"In future please let me know your whereabouts. The headmaster can be most annoying if he thinks I've been remiss in babysitting you."
Aiden looked indignant. "I don't need to be babysat."
Professor Snape gave him a look that said 'as if I want to baby-sit you'.
"As that may be, a child running about the castle with no supervision may unknowingly get into trouble. There are vanishing cupboards, come-and-go rooms and trick steps. You could be trapped or hurt for days if no one knows you are missing."
"That is all. You may go."
Aiden got up and paused, remembering something. "I have a request."
Professor Snape looked at him and raised an eyebrow.
"May I sit in on classes?" he asked hopefully. The lack of intellectual stimulation was driving him crazy.
Professor Snape started gathering the scrolls of student essays. "If today's behavior is an example of what will happen if you sit in on classes, you may not."
"I wasn't distracting them. They were the ones who started talking to me," Aiden protested.
"Childish excuses. You may not sit in on my classes and that is final."
Aiden stared at him, turned sharply and left, resisting the urge to slam the door on his way out as he muttered about the unfairness of the situation. He should have ignored the twins and let their potion explode and coat the classroom in smelly, slimy, purple substance.
Stupid overgrown bat.
He entered the Great Hall, and was rather overwhelmed by the crowd of milling students, chattering, laughing, whispering. Aiden started as a pair of arms slung themselves over his shoulders on each side and looked up to find the twins grinning at him.
"-mate, hope Snape-"
"-didn't chew you out-"
"-too badly for helping-"
"-us. Come on, sit-"
"-with us for lunch."
And they guided him towards the long table filled with chattering students with red and gold badges on their robes.
"Do you two always talk like that?" Aiden asked.
George grinned. "Of course not. But it's fun."
"Yes, I can see how it might irritate some people," he said dryly.
Fred laughed and clapped him on the back. "Let me introduce you to everyone. That's Lee, Alicia and Angelina."
Aiden smiled and said, "Hello."
George said, "This is Aiden, the non-student who saved our potion."
Alicia leaned forward in interest. "But you don't look older than twelve."
"I was home-schooled."
"So are you joining Hogwarts this year?" Lee asked, helping himself to a serving of roast chicken.
"No, I don't think so."
"Where are you staying if you're not a student?" Angelina asked curiously.
"I'm staying with Professor Snape."
Lee choked on his pumpkin juice. "You have my sympathy man."
All of them nodded in commiseration. Aiden was still feeling resentful after the stupid overgrown bat's unfair refusal and didn't feel like defending him. He gave a vague nod and the conversation lapsed until Fred said, "So, do you play Quidditch?"
Aiden shook his head and said, "Never even flown before. Not sure if I'll be any good."
"Never flown before?" The twins looked scandalous at that admission, turned to each other and gave the same slow nod after a moment's silence. "We shall have to correct that immediately."
Judging by the wicked grins on their faces, he's about to find out how good or bad he is on a broom.
Aiden eyed the rackety broom dubiously and looked at the twins' grinning faces, wondering if they were playing a prank on him. The broom looks like it's going to fall apart, much less being able to support his weight mid-flight.
"I'm not sure this is a good idea," he said, backing away.
"Come on, it's not as bad as it looks- ok it is as bad as it looks but it will still be able to fly."
"Somehow I'm not feeling more reassured."
Fred laughed and slapped him on the back. "Ok I'll go first."
He swung his leg over the broom and took off, flying a few rounds above them and touched down.
"See? I'm still in one piece. Come on, just place your hand over the broom and say 'up'."
Aiden did that and the broom immediately rose to meet his hand. George adjusted his grip slightly.
"Now straddle the broom and slowly tilt the handle upwards. Not too much-"
But it was too late and Aiden yelped as the broom shot forward.
"Hold on tight, we're coming to get you!"
He held on tightly to the handle, heart thundering at the shock of adrenaline rushing through him, feeling the wind against his face, made colder by the speed at which he was cutting through the air. He turned his head and saw that the twins were not far behind him.
Aiden turned and swerved to the right, barely managing to avoid getting hit by a buldger as it zoomed past his cheek.
"You've got good instincts," George shouted, grinning.
Aiden glared at him. "It's not funny! Where did the buldger come from?"
"Slytherin seems to be having quidditch practice." The twins hovered in the air beside him, looking to their right. One of the burly boys holding a bat spotted them and gave a particularly wicked smirk as he pulled back his arm in a ready batting position.
"And I think they're taking us for tar- Duck!"
The twins rolled upside down on their brooms and waited for the buldger to pass. When they came up again, the space between them was empty.
"Where did Aiden go?" They looked at each other, puzzled.
Alicia's panicked scream drew their attention downwards to a black blur of robes rapidly nearing the ground in a steep dive.
"Aiden!" The twins sped after him, even though they knew they won't be in time to do anything, they still had to try before their new friend gets plowed into the ground.
"Pull up the handle! Pull up!" Fred yelled frantically.
30 feet away from the ground, 20 feet, 10- his mom is going to kill both of them- 5- he closed his eyes and flinched, preparing for the impending sound of impact.
It never came.
Instead, laughter and hysterical screaming met his ears. Ok, the hysterical screaming was easily identifiable as Angelina in indignant mother-hen mode whenever they did something dangerous to make her worry like mad, but the laughter... He blinked and saw Aiden flying around them, cheeks flushed, laughing like he just discovered a new exciting toy.
"That was so fun!" he exclaimed, hovering upside down in front of the twins.
The twins looked at each other, and started to grin.
"But the girls are-"
"-going to kill you."
"Uh oh, and Professor-"
"Mr Weasleys! Get down here immediately! And your friend too."
"Are we in trouble?" Aiden asked softly as they descended.
"Don't worry, let us handle it." Fred winked.
Professor McGonagall surveyed them sternly. "Who did the dive? Do you know how reckless it was? Pulling up only 5 feet from the ground. No wonder the girls were screaming their heads off."
"Sorry madam," Aiden said quietly, head slightly bowed.
Professor McGonagall's eyes widened. "Was it you?" she said incredulously then glared at the third years. "You know that first years are not allowed on a broom without proper supervision."
"Well," Fred coughed, "technically he's not a student, right Aiden?"
"Uh, yes I'm not really a student," he said, when George nudged him.
"Hmm..." Professor McGonagall peered at him over her glasses, "You're the boy staying with Professor Snape."
She straightened and looked all of them over. "It still doesn't excuse your behavior."
"Well, Aiden hasn't flown before and we thought we'd let him try it and there won't be a problem because we're in the Quidditch team and have sufficient experience-"
"First time on the broom!" Professor McGonagall spluttered. They winced. Fred glared at Alicia who mouthed a sorry.
"Detention! All of you!" she glared at them, then added as her gaze fell on Aiden, "You too."
"Me?" Aiden asked, confused. "But I didn't know the school rules."
"The detention is for your reckless behavior," she said and stalked off.
"What did I do?"
The girls rounded on the clueless boy and yelled, "You scared us half to death with that dive!"
The grinning twins ignored the girls, slung their arms over his shoulder and led him away, chattering animatedly, "The wronski feint was perfect! Ever thought of becoming a seeker? Why don't you become a student and join the Gryffindor team? Yar that would be great! Then we can..."