Romp with the Willow

The light of the full moon shone with a pale, ethereal glow across the lush grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a warm summer breeze ran across the treetops. The swish and rustle of the leaves of the ancient trees and the chirping, chittering, and scratching of the Forbidden Forest's nocturnal wildlife heard by none of the school's young attendants, all abed or so absorbed within their textbooks that nothing but a full box of Weasley's Wildfire Wizzbangs going off under their chair could pull them from their stupor. It was heard by none, that is, except the small cluster of dark figures emerging from the small side door of the castle, and the thin, severe figure watching them disappear into the darkness. And when the door swung shut, even she could hear only the crackling of torches and the constant shift and groan of the old place. As Minerva McGonnagal strode quickly back to her office, she wished that this wasn't necessary - that this annual sacrifice could be stopped. Cursing the infinite limitations of nature that imposed even upon the magical, she nodded to the phoenix perched beside her desk before turning to her bedroom, the flash of the bird's flame as he apparated from the office briefly casting her thin shadow high upon the wall before her, tall as a tree.

Hermione Granger nervously re-straightened her robes for the third time since she'd stepped out into the grounds, fidgeting briefly with her shining Head Girl badge before vainly attempting to push her long, chocolate hair from her face. Her warm brown eyes flicked quickly to the people around her - all seeming to walk so confidently, so calmly. How could they be calm at a time like this? She was all but ready to turn, screaming, and run back to the castle, duty be damned. But that would be disobeying Headmistress McGonnagal - and if there was one thing Hermione could never do, it was disappoint her beloved mentor. Squaring her shoulders, she kept walking across the grass and towards their destination. Towards the dark shape that loomed higher and higher out of the darkness before them. Towards the Whomping Willow.

The seven girls paused as they reached the edge of the Willow's reach - something all Hogwarts students learned to recognise quickly - and stared up at the hulking form before them in silence. The tree, blind beyond the reach of its roots, stood with its usual unnatural stillness despite their presence, its branches surprisingly bare of leaves even this long after winter.

"Right. Well. Guess we should get to it, then." Ginny's voice broke the silence as she rolled her shoulders, looking around at the other girls. "School's counting on us, and all that."

And with that, she pulled open her robe, shrugging it off her shoulders to let it pool on the grass behind her before pulling off her shoes and socks. Pale-haired Luna Lovegood, standing beside her, followed suit immediately, smiling serenely at her redheaded friend before taking her hand. Next, Susan Bones, carefully folding her robe before placing it on the grass beside her shoes, took Luna's other hand, and Hermione, fingers trembling, pulled at her own garments until they slid off her frame before grasping Ginny's. The Patil twins, Padma and Parvati, looked at each other quickly before nodding and disrobing in unison. Taking each others hands, they turned to the last member of their party. Daphne Greengrass, her emerald eyes glittering in the dim light, raised an eyebrow at the others before raising her hands to her chest.

"Well if you're all going to be so theatrical about it…" she said with a roll of her eyes, folding her own robe on the grass and slipping off her shoes before stepping forward to take Hermione's and Parvati's hands. They stood in a line, facing the great tree, for a moment before, urged on by some silent signal, they took a step forward together. Immediately, the tree reacted, swinging one long, thin branch down to them - Hermione gripped Ginny's hand tight - but as it approached them the branch slowed, moving parallel to them just a pace away and stopping. Along the branch, seven small flowers bloomed, each a deep red which almost glowed in the moonlight. The girls watched apprehensively as the flowers opened and before their eyes a single small, blood-red fruit swelled in each one even as their petals fell until only the fruit remained. Wordlessly, they reached forward, plucking one off the branch.

"I guess this is it, then."

"This is definitely it."

"Well then. Suppose there's just one thing for it."

And with that, the seven girls lifted the round berries to their lips and bit.