Chapter 12: Halloween
Beca set her goblet down on the wooden table with a clunk, a smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth as she watched the girl across from her.
Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff had faced off that past Saturday and the match had been a complete blowout. Ravenclaw's Chasers had done a brilliant job despite Hufflepuff's Keeper, Benji, but their star player was sitting right before her. Stacie Conrad had been nothing more than a blue blur in the sky that morning. The match had been coming to a close, Hufflepuff's new Seeker Chicago mere inches from the Snitch when Stacie had swooped down out of nowhere and snatched it from thin air.
No one had known who had won the battle until Stacie slowed down enough for people to catch a small glimpse of the gold ball in her hand.
Ever since that moment, Stacie had been living on cloud nine. Random students found there way up to her to tell her how well she had done and some of the younger ones even asked her to autograph spare parchment they had.
But Beca wasn't convinced that her elated mood was all due to the match.
Beca, Luke, and Jesse had all been in the front row of the stands when the match came to an end. They were the loudest in the whole crowd and jumped higher than anyone at Stacie's performance. All of Ravenclaw's players were exiting the field when Beca had leaned against the railing to witness something she had never imagined in her wildest dreams.
Below her, racing across the pitch and into Stacie's arms was none other than Aubrey Posen. At first, she had no idea who the blonde was. All she saw was Stacie holding a girl up into the air and, presumably, kissing her. Once Conrad had gone to the locker room, leaving the blonde by herself that the girl had glanced up and caught sight of Beca looking at her.
Maybe she was wrong, but Beca would have bet that Aubrey had a great deal to do with Stacie's mood. The only problem was that she was positive Jesse knew nothing about the kiss.
The young girl who had asked for Stacie's autograph left the table, allowing their Ravenclaw friend to turn back to face the three.
"I have a question," Beca said after finishing her lunch. All three of her friend's heads spun to look at her, but she kept her eyes trained on the goblet that she was twirling in her hand.
"Spit it out, Hobbit," Luke replied with his mouth full.
Beca still didn't understand that reference, no matter how many times Luke had tried to explain it to them. Apparently, they were some race from a Muggle series, though she didn't know what made her similar to them.
"Does it really not bother either of you that you're talking to the same girl?" she clasped her hands together as the two in question mulled over the question.
Jesse was the first to come up with his answer, shaking his head as he spoke up. "We aren't really serious or anything, so not really."
"I don't mind a bit of polyamory in my life," the Ravenclaw finished with a wink.
"If it's meant to work out then it'll work out, but if not then life will move on. I can't make decisions for her," Jesse shrugged his shoulders.
Stacie pointed across the table at their brunet friend, "What he said."
Beca heard silverware clatter against the plate. She watched as Luke finished his goblet and slammed it on the table with a shake. "Well, it's time for me to get going."
Glancing down at her watch, Beca saw that it was approaching class time for all of them. She stood from the bench after Luke did and grabbed her messenger bag, "We need to get to Potions soon."
Luke clambered backward, calling out to his friends, "I better see all of you after dinner."
"As if we'd miss it," Stacie shot back with a scoff.
With that, Luke turned at went off at a sprint for his next class. The other three weren't too far behind, taking a leisurely stroll to the dungeons.
"Today is a very special day! I've decided, since it is Halloween, that we'll have a little competition," Professor Slughorn announced to the class from the front of the room.
"What kind of competition, Professor?" one of the Slytherin students asked.
Beca mumbled under breath, so that only her friends could hear, "We're going to see who can run the fastest." Stacie bit down on the inside of her lips to stop the smile that was spreading across her face while Jesse let a small chuckle escape, his grin radiating amusement.
"Is something funny, Mr. Swanson?" Slughorn asked, tilting his head back to get a better view of the boy in the back of the room.
Jesse shook his head with vigor, responding, "No, Professor. I just had something in my throat."
Slughorn's lips formed a tight line, his nose scrunched in thought. He continued his speech. "Today, you will all attempt to brew the Draught of Living Death. The first one of you to successfully finish, if there are any, will receive this," his right hand went high into the air.
In his hand, he held a small vial. It was shaped a bit like an hourglass, but it was made of a semi-transparent dark green material. Beca could just barely make out a liquid sloshing around inside as he turned it around. The liquid was held inside by a golden top that flipped up to open.
"This is Veritaserum. It is the most powerful truth serum known to Wizard-kind-"
"Veritaserum's use is strictly controlled by the Ministry, Professor. How did you get permission to give it to students?" Aubrey interrupted from her seat at the head of the class.
The corner of Professor Slughorn's smile twitched. It seemed that he had been hoping to avoid any line of questioning on the subject.
"I believe this little competition can stay a secret, can it not?" The room slowly nodded, some wanting class to be over and others wanting the chance to win the coveted potion. "Excellent. Then I believe you all should begin now!"
Although Beca was sure she was the only one who could brew the potion, she didn't want to take any chances at letting the other students have Veritaserum. Merlin only knew what they would do with such a powerful truth serum and that power would only go to their heads. There were exactly four other people in that room that she would trust with it, and only one of them might be able to win.
The sound of clanking cauldrons and pinging glass bounced around the room as everyone rushed to start. Everyone except Beca.
She was calm as she worked, just as her father had always taught her to be when handling potions. It was the only useful thing he had ever done for her.
All she could hear from around her were the thunks of knives missing the Sopophorous bean and hitting the board below. Using the flat of the knife, Beca pressed her hand into it and crushed the bean. She did this process thirteen times, becoming bored after only three.
Charles Mitchell had drilled this potion into her head for years. At this point, her book wasn't even open as she finished each step with intent precision. She didn't need it for most potions. The next time she looked up from her work station, her face was covered in a light sheen of sweat and her watch said that there were only ten more minutes left of class.
Beca finished chopping seven square pieces of Valerian root and slowly added them to the dark brew. So far, nothing had blown up.
Taking the stirring rod into her hand, she spun the potion counterclockwise ten times. Her hand shot out for the powdered root of asphodel, tilting the container into a measuring cup until it read 150 fl. oz. The powder flowed into the potion like a cascade of sand.
Right hand holding the cauldron, Beca stirred the brew ten more times counterclockwise in a mild manner and then did the same thing the other way eight times.
Beca took a step back to admire the handiwork. The sleeve of her robes dragged across her forehead, coming back with sweat. Letting the potion rest for two and a half minutes meant that she had some time to focus on other things.
In preparation for the next step, she cut a petite piece of Valerian root and set it aside.
Her eyes scanned the room before her, taking note that no one was close to being near her. Both Stacie and Jesse were far behind in there preparation, so far back that Beca had to remind herself that not everyone had these recipes drilled into their heads.
In front of the class, Aubrey's blonde hair was pulled back. A great deal of it had come undone, some of her locks sticking out at odd angles. She no longer wore her robes and was only in the jumper, her head buried in the book before her. Beside the girl was a familiar auburn-haired girl.
Beca's head tilted to the side. Chloe Beale was on her tail. She kept glancing at the book on the table, one that was tattered beyond belief. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.
After the rest time had elapsed, Beca picked the piece of Valerian root up and focused on the task at hand once again. Professor Slughorn marched up to the table once it had been added. He watched with pride as the potion transformed into a pale lilac liquid and then a ghostly clear. Despite the dark tint that the cauldron added to the brew, it could have been mistaken for water with ease.
"Merlin's beard," Slughorn mumbled with his hands gripped together behind his back. He plucked a petal from his pocket. The petal drifting through the air until it came to rest in the water-like substance. As if there were flames just below it, the rose petal disintegrated and was never seen again. "It's perfect."
"Thank you, sir," Beca accepted the praise. She may have despised both Potions and the man who taught the class, but it still meant something to perform the task well.
"I dare say that you just won a vial of Veritaserum, Miss Mitchell," he uttered.
Professor Slughorn made his way up to the front of the room where he had placed the object in question, but he became sidetracked at the table containing Aubrey Posen and Beale. He studied Beale's cauldron with a careful eye. After a few moments, she stepped away.
"Miss Beale, this is a beautiful Draught of Living Dead. You have come quite a long way since the beginning of this year," he smiled.
"Thank you, Professor," Chloe beamed, her happiness radiating around the room.
Even Slughorn seemed to have more pep as he grabbed the green vial and came back to stand in front of Beca. He held it out for her. Before it could trade hands, he pulled back a few inches and whispered, "Use this with great caution. It is not a toy."
"Understood," Beca saluted the man with her right hand, her left one outstretched for the Veritaserum. He placed the small bottle in her palm. It was cold against her skin from how long it had spent in the dungeon.
"And I hope to see you at our next meeting. The group definitely felt your absence this past Sunday," Slughorn informed, spinning around and continuing to walk amongst the students who were still hard at work. He had been referring to the Slug Club, something that she had actively been avoiding. It had been ridiculous for her to assume that skipping one meeting would go unnoticed.
Beca caught the brilliant blue eyes of Beale looking at her. The Chaser's mouth pulled up at the corners and she raised her eyebrows at her. Beale understood what she was attempting to say.
In response, the Prefect shrugged her shoulders and flashed a heart-pounding grin.
It was a minuscule gesture, yet Beca still felt something in her chest give a tug.
Beca strolled into the Great Hall somewhere in the middle of the Halloween Feast. The ceiling was decorated with floating jack-o-lanterns that lit up against the star-sprinkled black sky outside. Her ears were assaulted with the hum of hundreds of conversations going on at once.
A single hand shot up in the crowd of students, furiously waving back and forth until Beca acknowledged it. Beca gave Jesse a thumbs up to show she knew where they were sitting, and he put his hand down once she started wandering to the middle of Gryffindor's table.
At the head of the table sat Chloe Beale, who was engrossed in discussion with her friends and had a glowing smile that lit the room better than any flying pumpkin could. Beca clapped a hand on Luke's shoulder, informing the pair of boys, "I'll be right back."
"Where are you-" Jesse asked, but his voice was soon lost in the masses.
Her heartbeat was getting louder in her ears the closer she got. The Prefect paid no attention as she approached, placing a lock of auburn hair behind her ear, laughing at something said. Beca put her fist in front of her mouth and coughed.
Beale turned her head, looking over her shoulder to see who it was. Once she realized it was Beca, her body straightened and she spun farther around.
Her bright eyes widened at the sight before her, yet she didn't appear angry at the interruption. "Hi?" It came out as a question, a small divot forming between her eyebrows.
"Congratulations on that potion today. I think you may have given Slughorn a run for his Galleons," Beca said, her mouth upturned in her signature smirk.
Chloe's mouth opened to say something, but she stopped herself before she responded. There was a glint of mischief behind her eyes as she said, "I had a little help."
"Well..." she paused, swallowing the lump that had begun to form in her throat. It didn't seem to go away. "You were brilliant."
A blank canvas appeared across her features, though the corners of her lips started to curl up at the edges. Her voice had a playful lilt to it, "Thank you."
Nodding, Beca went back to the seat between Jesse and Luke. She held on to both of them as she slid into the empty spot, both of them stunned with their mouths agape.
"How are you alive?" Jesse asked once she settled down. Genuine concern was etched into his face, something that the Keeper rarely had when speaking about his friend. He knew Beca could handle herself. But Chloe Beale had a successful streak of hexing his friend with little resistance.
"I'd sleep with one eye open tonight," Luke commented through the wall of food that he was stuffing into his trap. "If she didn't hex you now, she'll get you later."
His words were a jumble that she had to decipher. Once put together, she just shrugged and piled food atop her plate. "Why don't we focus on what's important here. Like tonight?"
"That's a good idea," a voice came from behind them. They all turned to watch Stacie shove herself between Beca and Luke, a clear struggle since there was barely room for Beca herself. The Ravenclaw squirmed until she rested came to rest mostly on Luke's lap, though part of her had to sit on Beca. She hunched her shoulders down to blend in better with the crowd. "What's the plan?"
"We'll go to Ravenclaw Tower first-" Luke began, his mouth clear of any food and his words finally decipherable.
"I'll be fine on my own," Stacie stopped him. "Aubrey and I are in the same House, if anyone catches me out of bed then I was told to find her."
Jesse nodded, "That is brilliant, Stace."
"Thanks," she tossed a wink over Beca's collarbones.
"Then we can meet in the Clock Tower Courtyard and go through the Wood Bridge," Jesse suggested. "Beca knows the hidden passages and can get us there and back without Filch knowing."
"Jesse, you can get us past Aubrey if we run into her," Luke mentioned.
"If she's who we run into," Beca reminded the group. "There are other Prefects roaming the halls."
"Yes, but we know two that are definitely around Gryffindor and Ravenclaw Tower," Luke countered. Beca rolled her eyes, but didn't argue further, "And then I'll be our Sneaky Leader."
"Sure," Stacie giggled at the thought. Her sarcasm had reached Beca levels as she said, "I'm sure we won't get caught."
"We've been doing this for years, I doubt we'll get caught now," the blond reminded.
"Then I'll see you all in the Courtyard. If you aren't there at midnight, then I'll know that Luke was wrong and you all got caught out of bed," Stacie struggled out of her seat, pushing against the two just to squeeze out from the small space. She threw a wave over her shoulder and called, "Good luck."
The three fell into a comfortable silence once she left, though each now felt a different weight begin to fall on their shoulders.
Three Gryffindors stood in a line, their backs pressed against the cold stone wall as the smallest ducked her head around the corner. Beca moved along the edge, her hand trailing the stone as she hurried down the corridor. Jesse was quick to follow with Luke rushing behind him.
They had made it out of the common room without notice. In fact, the third floor was where they began to run into problems. Mrs. Norris had been chasing after them since they got off the staircase. It was a miracle that they had lost her by Beca pulling them through classrooms and hidden hallways.
With the next corner they rounded, Beca glimpsed the star-lit sky outside. Her pace quickened along with her heartbeat. She could already feel the chill of the night. Her small footfalls the only noise in the empty space. The thrill of freedom was replaced by fear once she ran into another person.
Both of them tumbled to the ground. The only sound she heard was Jesse gasp and then the slap of Luke's hand over his mouth.
Her dark eyes roamed the person she was on top of, finding them to be less than shocked at the incident. She seemed to have expected it.
"Sneaky my arse," Stacie's voice whispered from the dark. The Ravenclaw shoved Beca off of her and hopped to her feet, holding her hand out to pull the Chaser up. "I knew you'd get caught."
"You don't count," Luke countered.
"What the hell are you doing?" A shrill voice shouted at them.
All four froze. Beca saw the change in Stacie's face from playful to fear, her eyes widening as all of their heads shot to look at the fifth person.
Her mouth agape and arms drawn across her chest, Aubrey Posen stood in the middle of the Courtyard. Her body was squared up and ready for a fight, the sound of her angered breathing overtaking their ears.
When none of them responded, she yelled one more time, "Well!?"
Jesse pulled Luke's hand off of his mouth, stuttering in a quiet tone, "We- We can explain."
"I'm waiting," Aubrey's mouth stretched into a tight line.
"I was told to find Aubrey?" Stacie's words felt more like a question than anything else. Her excuse would have been perfect if it sounded believable. Or if Aubrey was not standing there.
Beca's head swiveled to the Seeker, "That doesn't work here."
"Are any of you going to say anything?"
"Aubrey, listen," Beca took a step forward. "We're here for our Halloween tradition, nothing illegal."
"And why should I believe you?"
"None of us have a reason to lie to you?"
Aubrey knew they were telling the truth, but that didn't change the rules. "I'm supposed to report any students out of bed to your Head of House."
Her voice had lost a great deal of its edge. Almost like she was remorseful for having orders against them. Beca looked around to make sure they were still alone, "What if you come with us?"
Jesse was the first to perk up. He ran up to the blonde, taking her hands in his and saying, "It'll be tons of fun! The best Halloween you've ever had!"
"You'll be back in bed before you know it," Stacie chimed in.
"What they said," Luke threw in. He didn't have much to offer her, and barely knew her outside of his friends, but he still wanted to help.
"I don't think that's a good idea," the Prefect's arms fell a little lower and her face softened in the dim light around her.
Jesse pulled her hands up to his chest, "No one will ever know. It'll be our little secret."
"Our little secret?" She repeated. Beca saw her green eyes lift up to look into Jesse's, watching with care as he whispered something to Aubrey that no one else could hear.
It looked like whatever it was worked.
"What do you say?" Jesse asked.
Aubrey turned to him with a small smile, "Fine. I'll go."
"Excellent!" Luke exclaimed, Beca's hand slapping over his mouth now.
"What is this tradition, exactly?"
"We go into the Forbidden Forest," Jesse stated like he was reading a newspaper headline.
Her face went slack one again, "Excuse me?"
"It's safe, I promise. We've been doing this for years," Stacie assured. "I won't let anything happen to you."
Aubrey let out a sigh. Something about her was glowing after Jesse talked to her, but Beca couldn't be sure what it was. "You're lucky I trust you idiots."
"Come on," Beca passed through the huddle they had been in. She marched through the Clock Tower Courtyard, hope sweeping through her body the closer she got to the Covered Bridge.
Her foot had just touched the step, the creek traversing the silence around them when her heart dropped back into her stomach.
"And where do you think you're going?"
"God. Dammit." Beca bit out between her clenched teeth.
With hands on her hips and anger boiling just beneath the surface was Chloe Beale. There was something about her demeanor that sent a shiver up Beca's spine. Jesse and Stacie had proven they could get past Aubrey, but none of them had anything over Beale.
The simple fact that Beca was there probably made their chances of escape that much slimmer.
"I'm supposed to find Aubrey," Stacie's now show-ready response said, once again believable if not for the overwhelming evidence that Aubrey would not be this far out on castle grounds.
"I'm not sure what you all thought was going to happen, but I'm sure your Heads of House are going to love being woken up in the middle of the night-"
"Oh, Mitchell. I'm going to enjoy every moment of this. And since you're the leader of this gang, McGonagall will get to deal with you, you-"
"Chloe," Aubrey stepped out from the center of the group. "Calm down."
Chloe's grin fell, her face becoming a vibrant red that could be seen through the darkness. Somehow, she could never have seen this twist coming. None of them could, actually.
"Just listen before you do anything, okay?"
"What exactly am I supposed to listen to?" Chloe's voice rose in shock. She was faced with a group of students out of bed. Along with her Prefect, future-Minister best friend. When a situation as ridiculous as this happens, the last thing she wanted to do was calm down.
Aubrey darted out of the group, grabbing hold of Chloe's hands and dragging her away into a part of the Courtyard that was in the shadow of the castle. The blonde leaned forward and began to whisper, "You cannot ruin this for me."
"Me? Ruin what?"
"My chances with Jesse. Or Stacie," she bit out beneath her breath.
Aubrey had a grip on Chloe's hands that she had never felt before, her green eyes showing something almost mischievous. It was a new look for the girl that felt a bit odd. "And your chances involve breaking numerous school rules?"
"It's not illegal, they swear."
She rolled her eyes at the words, "Mitchell and her friends swore they weren't doing anything against the law and you believed them?"
"Yes! Why would they lie?" she repeated their words like gospel with a shake of her head.
"Why wouldn't they lie?"
"They have no reason to lie, Chloe. It's just some Halloween fun and we'll be back in no time," she explained. Remembering to avoid any details, just as they had with her.
"You realize I can't just leave you and act like I didn't watch five students walk out of the castle?"
"Then let's make it six and you can come with us," Aubrey proposed, glancing over her shoulder at the teens who were getting more stressed as time went on. Though it seemed Beca was the truly frightened one. Aubrey's head spun back around to her best friend, "It'll be fun! We haven't done anything for Halloween since we were kids!"
Chloe felt her jaw drop along with her sanity. "Who are you and what have you done with Aubrey Posen?"
"One night and I will owe you the entire world, Miss Beale. I'll even stop hitting on your brother."
"You've gone mental."
"One night. You'll be back in bed like nothing ever happened."
"Are you ill?"
"Please," the words came out of Aubrey's mouth in a whisper. There was longing behind the single word, but Chloe felt it like it was her own. Whatever had taken over her friend was pleading for one favor. "Just this one night?"
The defenses that Chloe had built up around giving in to Aubrey were crumpled in an instant. She found herself nodding and mumbling an agreement in that second of weakness. In the blink of an eye, Aubrey was running off with Jesse down the bridge. It had happened so fast that Chloe wasn't sure if the breeze that had just hit her was from the night wind or how quickly Aubrey had taken off.
She was left alone with Mitchell, seeing as the others had taken off to follow whoever was in the lead. Their thudding steps shook the bridge with each step. The Chaser had lumbered in the back to wait with her. It was a nice gesture that not even Tom had graced her with over the past few months. With a deep breath of the frozen air, she reminded herself that Mitchell meant nothing good by it. She was only out for herself.
Chloe's stomach dropped.
Beca watched the sullen expression on the redhead's face. She appeared to be deep in thought. Maybe it was her imagination, but she could have sworn that it softened at one point.
"I'll still go back with you," Beca spoke up as they neared the end of the bridge. Chloe dared a glance over, the only sound that of their feet creaking against the wood. "You can turn me in and everything."
"I wouldn't do that to Aubrey," she stated.
Beca knew better than to assume Beale had come for her, but she could still feel her throat tighten. It hurt. She just wasn't sure what was hurting her.
They caught up to everyone once they began their descent down the hill, Aubrey's quick pace dangerous on the slope. That didn't scare the others.
The Chaser was the first one to take off, blowing past the others. Luke, Jesse, and Stacie pounced the second they saw her speeding by. Aubrey and Chloe were left together at the top, watching the four race to the edge of the forest like children.
"This is going to be good for you," Aubrey told her, her warm hand resting on her back.
"I don't even know what we're doing," came Chloe's firm reminder. "I'm quite literally a blind follower."
They had gotten near enough to the others at the forest's edge that they heard the end of her statement. Luke held on to Stacie's shoulders, leaning out from behind her as if to surprise the two girls. "We're heading to the heart of the Forbidden Forest."
Aubrey laughed at the boy's antics, though Chloe's face fell slack once again as she responded, "Excuse me?"
"It's perfectly safe," Stacie said.
"Actually," Jesse chimed in from a nearby tree, "it's still dangerous. We just know how to avoid the dangerous parts."
"And how do you do that?" Chloe asked, her face turning a new shade of red that was hard to see in the moonlight.
Beca Mitchell held back her laughter. "When someone yells 'run,' you run."
"We could die. There are countless creatures in there that could slaughter-"
"The most dangerous thing in there are the spiders, and they're hard to miss," Beca said while the rest of her friends snickered. The spiders they found when they were younger were larger than cars, and after that first encounter they always made sure to avoid that part of the forest. "This is the safest path in and out of here. We've mapped it all."
"And tested it," Stacie added. "On this side, the worst thing you'll meet is a hippogriff."
"I promise," Beca said with such sincerity that Chloe's heartstrings tugged.
However, Chloe had never trusted Mitchell. From the moment she first met her in the corridors of Hogwarts yelling at another student. What she heard had sent the young redhead sobbing back to her dorm. Since then, she had a sworn enemy to avoid at all costs.
It wasn't hard to do either since Mitchell only grew more arrogant and annoying.
And yet despite all the reasons she had sworn to hate Beca Mitchell, the two simple words sent a wave of calm through Chloe. It almost made her stomach churn at how easy it was.
Chloe recalled that Mitchell was a charming liar. Liars were always able to make people feel safe at the most dangerous of times.
"Then let's explore!" Aubrey cut through the tension surrounding the group with a clap of her hands. She turned to face Stacie and Jesse, motioning between the two, "Lead the way."
Luke wrapped his arm around both of his friends, "Leave that to me. They're useless at this."
Each of them pulled out their wands and lit them to create their own personal light along the path.
Beca's mouth twitched up, following closely behind as they made their way past the very edge of the forest. Luke and Stacie were at the front joking around with one and other, shoving each other every once in a while. Jesse was walking with Aubrey, their arms rubbing up against each other with each step and nervous smiles on their faces. Chloe was a bit behind the pair and keeping to herself, her arms wound tight over her chest.
They may have been making their way into the Forbidden Forest, but there was something heavy in the air that night. It rested on Beca's shoulders as she watched her mates together. Luke would be leaving Hogwarts after this year and this would be their last year with him right by their side. And in only two years, the rest of them would be making their own way in the world. This could be one of the few times they had left to be teenagers together.
Beca Mitchell chose not to ruin her mood, especially since the forest was getting darker and her mind would be more useful if she was keeping an eye out for danger. Lengthening her strides, she fell in step with Stacie and Luke as they reached the true Forbidden Forest.
Glancing behind her, the grounds of the school were now a distant memory. The trees not only blocked their view of where they came from, but it also refused to let any moonlight in from above. They were surrounded by pitch black and their wand light could only go so far.
"Scared yet, Jess?" Luke asked while he squinted forward into the darkness.
"No," came his weak response. Jesse's head was swiveling from side to side as he heard leaves rustling and branches breaking all around him. "You should be-"
"Hush," Beca slammed her arm into both of the boys to stop them from moving forward. She thought she had seen something ahead of them. A small flash of color in the darkness. "Did you see that?"
"I didn't see anything," Luke mumbled.
Beca took a tentative step ahead, her foot crunching the leaves beneath her. "Stay there."
Moving up, she thought she could see even more colors in the darkness, but it was gone as quickly as it had come. As she got further into the forest, she realized that the flashes weren't coming from deep within the area. They were right in front of her on the trees. Beca's shoulders unclenched, her right hand reaching out to touch the tree.
"What is it?" Jesse attempted to whisper, though it felt more like a yell since they were so far apart.
"Bowtruckles," Beca called back. The creature that was now nearing her fingers looked like a small green stick person with some leaves poking out of its head. She smiled at the tiny thing, its brown eyes glancing at her as it grabbed hold of her pointer finger with both of its hands. "And what're you doing out here?"
"I'd be careful, Beca. They have some sharp fingers," Stacie mentioned as she came to see for herself.
"He's not going to hurt me. Are you, little guy?" Beca's attention was fully on the bowtruckle. "Got a name?"
"It's an entire branch," Chloe mumbled to herself. She walked around the tree, searching up and down. "A whole branch of bowtruckles right here near Hogwarts."
"There are lots of branches in a forest," Luke laughed.
Chloe's piercing blue eyes were like daggers. "A group of bowtruckles is called a branch. They tend to live around a home tree that they like to protect, like a Wiggentree, but this one doesn't look special."
"It's a Blackthorn," Beca mentioned as the bowtruckle climbed further up her arm.
"So they like the trees that make wands," Aubrey said from beside Stacie. "Clever creatures."
"I like this one," the Chaser said, moving her hand back so that the bowtruckle could return home. He scurried off towards the others that had started to show themselves.
"C'mon, the rest of the forest awaits," Luke grabbed Jesse and Stacie by the waist. "Can't lose time on some cute baby branches."
They pressed on deeper into the woods. Stacie occasionally muttered Nox to herself and brought up a compass that pointed north to ensure they were on track and not getting lost. A few minutes had past when they heard more rustling around them.
Beca's thoughts had been weighing down on her as she thought about how this could be her last year with all her friends together. She fell behind. By the time she managed to catch up with them, all five were now focused on the Hippogriff that had wandered near them. It wasn't the one Hagrid had by his hut, but it looked a bit similar. The head, front legs, and wings were a grey that resembled Witherwings, but this one had blue eyes instead of orange.
The Chaser stood at the back of the crowd while they all bowed and introduced themselves to the Hippogriff. She could feel something watching her from the darkness. Maybe it was her imagination, yet the feeling continued to grow the longer she stood there. Something was out there that she had not noticed yet.
While everyone else was preoccupied, she slipped away. Beca heard the crunching of leaves to her left. The space she found was down a small incline and led to a sunken part of the woods that was populated by a few incredibly larges trees. It was still missing any outside light despite of the lack of trees.
In the middle of the space, she saw what had been watching her.
It had a black leathery skin all over its body. The creature appeared like a large horse with bat wings attached, its white eyes boring into hers. Beca worked her way closer.
In her first years at Hogwarts, she had feared the Thestrals. They reminded her of the bleak past she had grown up in and brought back the nightmares. As she grew, she came to appreciate the gentle creatures. Somehow, she could even relate to them.
Beca held her right hand out to let the Thestral come to her, feeling the leather against her skin causing a smile to appear. "What are you doing hiding over here?"
Of course, she knew the creature couldn't answer her, but she sometimes felt it calmed them both a bit if she made conversation.
A distinct snap came from behind the Chaser. Both the Thestral and Beca looked in the direction of the noise, seeing a light at the tip of a wand coming closer to the pair. A familiar voice commented, "You shouldn't run off by yourself."
Chloe had her eyes trained on the ground as she traversed the precarious hill. Beca turned back to the so-called beast before her, a gloomy smile replacing the old one.
"I thought I saw something," Beca replied as she brought her hand down. The Chaser was used to getting disgusting looks from students and even some professors, but that was due to her lineage. She wasn't willing to give people another reason to think she was deranged. "Must have been an owl."
The footsteps behind her stopped. All she heard was a deep breath before Beale said, "Oh my."
Beca spun around to fully face her, worry overtaking her features. "Everything alright?"
"Yeah- Just…" Beale's words trailed off as she stared past Beca. "A Thestral."
The heat rose through her body. Her face was on fire she understood. Like a train hitting you straight on.
Beale could see them.
"You can pet it if you want, this one's quite friendly," the offer fell from her lips. She stepped to the side to give her room, but they both seemed more shocked with each other than the actual Thestral.
Beale's bright eyes never left Beca as they stood there. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, though she threw the idea away and strolled closer to the dark creature.
The Prefect tore her gaze from Beca to focus on the Thestral, but Beca's eyes wavered. She watched her hand come up right in front of the Thestral's snout. She observed how the girl recoiled the slightest bit when her hand came in contact with its cold hide. There was no possible way that Beale was faking this.
They stood there for quite a while. Chloe grinning at the Thestral that had taken a liking to her while Beca felt her heart pounding harder with each second she looked at her. A million questions were running through her head and she couldn't get her mouth to work long enough to ask any of them.
"A gentle beauty, that's what you are," Beale whispered to the animal.
The lump in Beca's throat had returned and it was worse than before. It was like she was simultaneously drowning while her mouth was dry. The urge to reach out and touch Beale was overwhelming. To show some form of comfort. The need to take her in her arms and say she was sorry.
"Beale," Beca managed to choke out. Red hair flew over Chloe's shoulder as she turned to face Beca. Their eyes connected and Beca felt the heat rise in her cheeks. Her stomach turned.
But she never got to figure out where she was going with her words. A scream cut through the thick night air like a hot knife.
Both the Chaser and the Prefect broke into a dead sprint, heading back to their friends. Beca broke through to them first, seeing exactly what had brought on the screech.
Aubrey was pressing herself deep into Jesse's arms, facing away from the beast that was stepping closer and closer to the pair. All eight of its hairy legs were moving, it's mouth menacingly snapping shut every so often. The Acromantula was half the size of Luke, proving it was just a baby. But where there was a baby, a mother wasn't far behind.
"Run," Beca said as she felt the fear begin to course through her veins. No one moved a muscle. None of them even seemed to have noticed that she said anything. Beca felt like she could hear them coming from every direction, terror overtaking her as she cried out once more, "Run!"
They broke into a sprint, their arms pumping and legs pressing them forward. Beca was in first, tossing glances behind her to ensure that everyone was still with them and not being eaten. All she could see were five lights bobbing in the darkness.
The Chaser slowed, allowing many of her friends to pass her as she chose to be the caboose. Luke's large frame burst past her followed by Jesse and then Aubrey. Stacie was the fourth to pass her, screaming at her as she went, but Beca couldn't make out her words for the blood pounding in her ears. Beale was last to run by, her eyes focused on the Acromantula skittering along the forest floor.
Beca put on a burst of speed and placed her hand in the small of Beale's back, ushering her along. The Prefect took the hint. As she rushed out of Beca's grasp, the Chaser spun her upper half around to look at the beast. She yelled as she moved her wand in the proper formation, "Stupefy!"
A jet of scarlet burst from the wand and his the large spider in the pincers. It seemed to fall over in its tracks, but Beca had no intention of checking to see that it was okay. There were more where that one came from and they wouldn't be happy that she had attacked a baby.
Continuing on through the pitch-black forest, Beca could only see the far off lights of the others. Without uttering the spell, she lit her wand just in time to see the giant tree limb blocking her path. It was like kicking a stone wall. Her ankles were swept up from behind her, her body throwing itself forward and tumbling through the dirt and leaves. She finally stopped rolling when she slammed into a tree.
She couldn't breathe. She couldn't see past the limb she had fallen over. That didn't stop her from hearing the crunching coming closer and closer from the night. As if on cue, she saw the light from her wand reflected high above her in what appeared to be dozens of black mirrors. No.
They were eyes. Black eyes that would be looming over her.
Scrambling along the ground, Beca dug her fingers into the freezing earth and drug herself backward along the ground. She couldn't bring herself to look away from those eyes.
Something grabbed the collar of her shirt, yanking her back even further. Beca rolled through the leaves, pushing herself up to look at what had gotten her. From the shadows, she saw a flash of scarlet and heard, "Stupefy!"
The spell hit the Acromantula, but its size kept it from falling over as the baby had. Beca gripped her wand for dear life, casting the spell once more with a cry into the night.
Two streaks of scarlet hit the beast, blowing it off course and deeper into the woods. The same hand that had gotten her earlier, tugged the Chaser along, screaming, "Come on!"
Beca couldn't see anything. She stumbled along, her feet getting caught on unseen bushes or falling into holes. Ahead there was a glimpse of the moonlight. She pressed on, pumping her legs harder and faster in hopes of living to see Hogwarts once more.
Bursting forth from the edge of the forest, she ran for the hill and clawed her way up and didn't slow down until she saw four panting teenagers in front of the wooden bridge.
The Chaser threw her hands over her head, gasping for breath. There was a stitch in her side that felt like it was a permanent addition to her body.
A gust of wind nearly toppled her over, yet she regained her footing before she fell again. Beca checked each of her friends. Luke, Jesse, and Stacie all seemed to have recovered from the run. Their gazes were focused on the sky, probably thankful to see the moon again. Aubrey was doubled over, her back heaving as she struggled to breathe and began to cough. A chill ran down Beca's spine. Beale was missing. She had seen her in the forest-
"YOU!" A voice growled from just behind her. She spun to see a fuming redhead marching towards her, her nostrils flared and rage boiling just beneath the surface. Beale raised the hand with her wand in it, jabbing her finger into Beca's chest with each breath she took. "You. Bumbling. Idiot."
"Ow!" Beca recoiled from the touch, pain radiating from the spot.
Chloe didn't lighten up. She stepped forward, mere centimeters from Beca's face. The Chaser could feel every word that Beale said, "Are you mad!?"
"You nearly died!" Beale yelled.
The moonlight cast a shadow across Beale's face that made her look even more menacing, but it also illuminated many things that Beca had missed. Her eyes weren't their usual vibrant blue, they looked almost cloudy. Her mouth was in a tight line that she was struggling to maintain. But what caught her eye first was how Beale's hands were shaking.
"You just have to be the hero, don't you? And what a heroic death it would have been. Flopping around on the ground!"
There was a fire in her eyes that Beca had never seen. It was not her usual rage, but whatever it was made her words feel like knives. "I'm not playing the hero!"
Beale's jaw tightened. They were almost nose to nose. Their breath mingling together. Each of them able to feel the heat from the other girl.
Beca hit the ground again with a thud. There was a stinging sensation in her cheek. Almost burning even. Flipping on to her back, Beca saw the girl hovering above her. She clambered back to her feet only for Beale to shove her back with both hands.
Falling back, Beca felt a set of arms wrap around her and keep her standing.
"Don't ever do that again!" Chloe bit out as she hustled back to the castle.
"She slapped you," Stacie whispered in her ear, lifting her up and holding her elbow as they started back. It had been her who caught Beca as she fell. "What the hell did you do?"
"You heard her. I almost died," Beca answered.
Stacie didn't let go of her until they entered Hogwarts. Even then, she remained close by. Beca had obviously given her friends a good scare when she disappeared.
They started up the Grand Staircase. Each footfall was but a whisper compared to the sounds from the portraits and even the stairs themselves. The pain in her cheek had subsided to a numb ache. Beca watched Chloe climb the stairs above her, her arms were crossed and her gaze set firmly in from of her.
They hadn't even made it up one flight of steps when a distinct meow came from the Great Hall. Each saw a dark tail fly back into the room. There were only two cats that it could be. Neither option was good.
A muffled voice grew closer, the unmistakable voice of Filch, "This way, my sweet?"
Beca whispered harshly up to her friends, "Go! I'll keep him busy!"
One look at Beca told them that she was serious. Not even Beale was going to stop to slap her again, but that could come later. All five darted up the stairs. Beca dove back to the Entrance Hall, stomping and banging around to make as much noise as possible. She ducked through the door that led to the basement.
The door shut with a resounding smack that would probably wake up many of the portraits. Beca took off down the stairs. The same door opened behind her, Filch's voice carrying to her as he asked, "A Hufflepuff, are we?"
She dashed down the hall, passing the kitchen and the entrance to the Hufflepuff Common Room. Beca slammed her hands against the barrels that led to their common room. An awful smell filled the air as vinegar shot out of the barrels, narrowly missing her as she dashed down the hall.
She stole glimpses of the paintings and tapestries along the brightly lit walls. Her mind was going as fast as she was. Not that one. Nope. Wrong shape. Different color.
Beca skid to a halt. To her right, a large tapestry decorated the wall. It was a deep gold and depicted a great feast being held outside. She pulled the material to the side and ducked into the cavern hidden behind it. Beca wasted no time ensuring it was still. She just ran. The corridor was dark, but she dare not risk a light with Filch so close.
It didn't take long. Her footsteps became less echoed as she reached the end. Beca slowed and used her arms to stop herself against the dead-end before her. She jumped to the ceiling, pressing hard against the stones.
She jumped again, moving her hands in a different position.
Once more. Her palms connected with the cold stone. She felt a small shift and the ceiling above her moved upward and shifted to the right. The night sky lit up the tunnel she was in. With one more jump, Beca grabbed the stones she could see and hoisted herself up. Beca rolled along the stones, coming to stop just in time to see the bench in the Paved Courtyard move back to its original spot. Struggling to her feet, she kept running. Her feet thunderous as she made her way back to the Grand Staircase.
Her heart was pounding against her chest as she saw the Entrance Hall coming into view. Beca shoved her shoulder against the door, swinging into the hall and rushing for the staircase. Beca's foot had just connected with the steps when she felt a freezing hand grasp the collar of her shirt.
Her back hit the floor with a thud. Towering over her like a god was Filch, Mrs. Norris at this side.
"Out of bed, I see," his rough voice said. "We've got you now-"
"There you are!" A sing-song voice called from the stairs just behind Filch that led to the dungeons. "Oh my, what a pleasure to see you at this hour, Mr. Filch."
The man lumbered to see behind him, Beca tilting her head farther back to see Beale standing at the foot of the stairs. Her arms were behind her back and her uniform looked to be in pristine condition. From this angle, Beca could just see-
"What are you two doing out of bed!?" Mrs. Norris meowed her support.
"Professor Slughorn asked to see Mitchell immediately. We were just coming back from his office," the smile on her face could have fooled Merlin himself. At least, most people would want to be fooled by it.
"At this hour?"
Beale gave a small shrug. "You know how Professor Slughorn is. He got his mind wrapped around plans for the Slug Club and just had to see Mitchell about it."
"Then where was that racket coming from? Eh?"
"I saw Peeves heading down to the basement earlier. He was singing about firecrackers and vinegar."
Filch spun back to face the Entrance Hall. "I've got you now Peeves! You'll be expelled now!"
Filch darted out of her range of vision, but was replaced with Beale just as quickly. Her upside-down form raised her eyebrows. "Get up."
Beca did as she was told, stretching upon standing on both her feet again. The stitch in her side had returned. The pair wordlessly agreed to make their way up to the Gryffindor Common Room. They were up three floors when Beca spoke.
"You saved me," she said in disbelief.
"Which time?" Beale responded. Mitchell couldn't help but chuckle. "How did you loop back around from the basement?"
With a sidelong glance, Beca saw that Beale was looking at her. "Secret passage."
"And how did you stumble upon that?"
"Found it my second year. Leads straight under the Paved Courtyard."
"I figured you would hide in the kitchens and wait for him to pass you."
Beca chewed on the inside of her lip. That would have been a much simpler plan. "I… Didn't think of that."
Their feet were in synch by the time they hit the final landing. The Fat Lady was fast asleep, a wine glass dangling from her fingers.
"Aconite," Beale stated. The Fat Lady grunted in her sleep.
Beca gave a loud cough, the Fat Lady beginning to stir. The wine glass in her hand fell and shattered against the painting's floor. She rose from her slumber with a start.
"WHO'S THERE!?" The Fat Lady shouted with wide eyes.
"You dropped your glass," Beca nodded at the broken item in the painting.
The Fat Lady didn't even look down. She stared at the students before her. "Do you have any idea what time it is!? I need my beauty rest if I am to perform tomorrow!"
"Aconite," Chloe repeated.
"What are you two even doing out of bed? It's far too late for anything good to be happening!"
"I'd have to disagree," Beca said with a smirk. She recalled only moments earlier when Beale had stood over her-
"What would the Headmistress have to say if she knew-"
"Aconite!" Chloe yelled at the woman.
"There's no reason to be rude," The Fat Lady rolled her eyes as her portrait swung open.
Beca allowed Beale to enter first, following behind her as she went straight for the spiral staircase. Her hand was on the handle to the dormitory when she whirled around to face the other girl.
"I expect you to keep your mouth shut about what happened tonight. Are we understood, Mitchell?" Chloe asked her. Her face was like stone, showing there was no room to be misunderstood.
"Don't want anyone to hear about your panties?" she smirked.
Beale's gaze sharpened. Her mouth fell open. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"
Beca brushed past her and opened the door, whispering, "Black is definitely your color."