You'll probably all hate me for leaving this
update for so long, but it took me forever to plan this chapter. This
is probably the most significant part the story so far… when HARRY
COMES TO HOGWARTS! –gasp- about bloody time too, isn't
about bloody time too, isn't it?
Thanks to everyone who left suggestions on how Harry should come into Hogwarts, but I made my own and I hope you like it.
Chapter 8 – Hypnotic
A light rain had begun falling over the forest, congealing into fat droplets that fell from the leaves of the many great trees, making the sounds echo through the gnarled trunks. The smell of decaying leaf litter wafted from the forest floor, and all was eerily silent; not a bird's song could penetrate the foreboding gloom that encircled the great wood.
Nestled between the roots of a tree lay a body clothed in spotless white; contrasting so greatly to the wood surrounding that it shone like a star. It was a young man with black hair and a lightning bolt on his forehead; he didn't appear to be dead, but neither was he sleeping. A small smile curled the edge of his rose coloured lips but his eyes didn't flicker with dreams or nightmares, and his chest barely even rose with the shallow breaths he took.
Clutched in his hands was what looked like a large broach or a small amulet. It was oval in shape; a large strange stone rimmed with metal and rubies that looked like crystallised blood, and his fingers twitched on its surface. From between his fingers an eerie glow seeped out to bask his face, moving like liquid mercury or a thousand tiny snakes made of silver smoke.
By his side was a small blackbird seemingly dead on its back. With one wing stretched and its small yellow legs in the air it was surprising nothing had come to claim it… but then again, there was something not quite right with the scene.
The leaves around the young man did not stir, nor did they crunch and shiver as each shallow breath left his body. The small tufts of hardy yellow grass did not seem to bend beneath him, but instead rose from between his arms and legs as though he had been lying there for an eternity, and not a beetle or ant climbed the rough scar ridden bark of the tree he lay against. The forest around him seemed dead… or at least asleep.
Hagrid strode through the school, the faint moonlight making squares of light on the hard stone floor that bounced off his huge form as he passed. The suits of armour lining the walls seemed child sized in comparison to his giant shape, and his patched fur coat lapped at his ankles as he moved at the speed of a running man. His fingers clenched and unclenched around the hilt of his crossbow in frustration and nerves, and a small determined frown drew down the sides of his mouth and beard, and creased his small beetle black eyes.
It was now one hour and 42 minutes since the hour of midnight had passed, or more precisely 1 hour and 26 minutes since he had seen the retreating forms of three students scuttle into the forest, yet to be seen since. Fang, his huge boarhound, had disappeared with them, and even though he had circled the forest until he could go no further, the dog had yet to return.
He supposed he should he thankful for that at least, even though he knew for sure the hulking mass of dog was in fact a large drooling puppy at heart. At least then the children could have some form of protection… from the countless numbers of dangerous creatures just waiting to lap up a stray child. Hagrid shuddered. Even he, a half giant whose mother had been a good 16-foot, couldn't venture too deep into the forest and still be safe in the knowledge that he'd come out alive.
"Watch where you're- oh it's you Hagrid!" came a voice from below him as he was knocked back a foot from the impact. "How are- what's wrong?"
Hagrid blinked and focused on the man looking up at him in the gloom, his mind haunted with visions of children in red robes being eaten by wolves. He had walked into Sirius, whose cascading black hair was in disarray and eyes were rimmed with darkness, though still seemed piercingly alert in the gloom. He wore a pair of Remus's brown tartan trousers and a worn black jacket, though he wore no wizard's robes on top.
"O-o it's you Sirius. I didn' see you there." He said absently, running a dustbin lid sized hand through his thick matted beard as he tried to banish the images from his mind. "I-I'm lookin for Dumbledore, he weren't in his office y'see. Ya dun happen to know where he is do you? S'important."
Sirius looked up at the groundkeeper with a thoughtful frown, his interest sparked by the anxious look on the gentle giant's face. He was half surprised that the man hadn't drawn his crossbow and started shooting, with the force that he clenched his hands around it.
"Yes… I do know where he is," he said carefully, as Hagrid's small black eyes roamed about the corridor as though expecting attack. "London… I believe. Trying to talk Fudge out of sending a fleet of wizards after Harry because he's not dead." He glared hard at the floor until his eyes refocused. Just the thought of harm coming to his godson was enough to make his blood boil. "Why?"
Hagrid was torn. He needed to tell Dumbledore, but if Dumbledore wasn't there then he needed help to find the missing students. But Sirius hadn't had a full nights sleep for weeks, thanks to constant fretting about his godson's wellbeing, and he wasn't even sure that a Magical History teacher would be much help anyway.
"I've dun summin' and it ain't good, it ain't good at all!" he moaned, giving into desperation. "But we can' be talking bout it ere…"
Hagrid grabbed the man's arm and stumbled into the nearest classroom. It was little more than a cupboard, used to store spare chairs for when entertaining in the great hall. On shelves lining the walls stood hundreds upon hundreds of white candles, which usually floated like stars over the tables when dinner was being served, and it made the walls look to be made of them. He was vaguely aware of Sirius stumbling to keep up with him until he let go and shut the door, creating complete darkness in the room. Sirius lit his wand.
"This had better be important," he said, rubbing his arm, "that's the worst Chinese burn I've had in my life, and James was a champion." But upon seeing Hagrid's dirty face by the brilliant blue light of his wand, he dropped his arm. "Go on then," he commanded.
"I-I wen out to give detention tah sum 6th years… t-they were s'posed tah be pickin' moondrops for th' first year 'erbology class tomorrow," he began, scrubbing his face, "and wen I came tah where we were 'sposed tah be meetin' they weren't there! An- an I wen' lookin' for them after I took the other two back, and I ain't found them and I ain't found fang and there's beasties all over the place this time a night an-." He choked back a sob and collapsed onto a pile of chairs, which creaked ominously beneath his weight.
Sirius felt his heart begin to drum faster in his chest, and the last of his adrenaline pump around his body to make him feel more awake than he had been in weeks. Although he hated to admit it, he was excited about being able to do something for once instead of sitting around being unable to. And besides, Hagrid was always very protective over the students under his care, so he was probably just exaggerating.
"Alright," he said, "I'll go and grab my coat and meet you by the lake in no time at all. We'll have them back by the time the sun's up and let them off first two lessons to catch up on whatever sleep they've lost."
"N-no!" Hagrid said, wiping his cheeks, "It ain't like that Sirius! I ain't seen them anywhere, which means they've gone into the- the bad parts of the forest. I dun' even go down there! T-they'll be lost 'n scared 'n there's things in there that ain't nice. I'm sorry Sirius but me 'n you can't go in there jus' the two of us, 'n' I'm the only one that knows me way around the forest."
Sirius glowered and shot a stubborn look, but was beginning to realise the seriousness of the situation. Hagrid thought Dragons and things that could bite your head off were nice, so 'not nice' must be 'terrifying' in his language. "Fine," he said, "I'll go and get Moony, his nose is good this time of the month, and Minerva will probably still be up reading one of her lovey-dovey stories."
Hagrid's shoulders un-knotted and he gave a small watery smile. "Th-thanks Sirius, I-I dunno what I'd do without you."
Probably just find another teacher, Sirius thought glumly. No one would go looking for me to help with anything, bloody fools. I remember a time I was the first one they came to… not anymore.
"Yeah," he said, patting the giant on one massive shoulder and giving an encouraging smile, "The scariest thing we'll see tonight is Minerva in her hair rollers".
They'd been walking for hours. Perhaps it had been days and they hadn't noticed, the trees all rolling together as they passed, bushes and shrubs beginning to look the same, the darkness no longer so imposing. Their legs were sore and bruised and their robes were heavy with mud and water, yet they pushed themselves onward, heaving themselves against anything that would support them in the hope that it would lead to their freedom.
"I sort of-" Luna paused to push herself out of a piece of earth that had been congealed into a thick ooze of what she hoped was mud. "Sort of miss you two fighting."
Looking through her straggly straw-coloured hair at her two companions, she saw the glares aimed at her but was too tired to react. Draco Malfoy and Leodiensian Fall were the heirs of two of the most powerful pureblooded families in Britain, yet now they were unrecognisable. The girls face was covered in muddy fingerprints that crossed her cheeks like war paint, and Draco's usually immaculate blonde hair hung in rats tails stuck to his neck and forehead.
"Shut up Luna," was all they could mutter.
Luna turned her brilliant blue gaze back to the lead; just in time to see the two men they were following pass just a few hundred metres ahead. Some time ago the three of them had spotted the men deep within the forest, and had decided to follow them in the hope that they would lead the way out. Their original optimism had faded and their hope was lost, but they couldn't stop now.
"I have half a mind to give up right now," Draco muttered, "we've been following them forever and we've got nowhere at all."
"That's probably because half a mind is all that head of yours can hold," Leodiensian replied, managing a smug smile as she pushed herself forward.
"Oh shut up mongrel."
"Zey bicker like your women, Russian, " Von Schreiber muttered in his silky German accent, looking from beneath the brim of his hat at the huge man walking beside him. Kurt narrowed his eyes in anger but kept his gaze down, knowing that the unpredictable German could have his throat out before he knew.
For most of the miserable Scottish evening they had been traipsing through the woods, as trying to head in a straight line in thick magical forest was difficult at best, and with every yard they were coming closer to their ultimate goal and payment. Kurt could feel the pull on his rod getting steadily stronger, and had had to take off his fur gloves to prevent it from slipping from his grip with the force long back. Now he could almost feel the money lining his pocket, and no amount of nuisance was going to keep him away from what he had come for.
That included the children that had been following them almost since they had exited the strange hole in the air. There were three of them, each under 150pounds judging by their footfalls, two girls and a boy. Very easy to handle, of course, but a nuisance none the less. Both assassin and tracker had long back decided to let them follow, pretending to be oblivious to their presence; purely so that they would be underestimated, making the killing easier.
Hermione yawned and finished off her last piece of homework; an essay explaining the uses of charms in the home. Looking up about her she saw that everyone else had long since retired to bed, the fire now merely a meagre pile of glowing embers in the hearth and the air cold around her. Shuddering, she pulled her jumper about her closely and began cleaning the ink off the end of her eagle feather quill, a present from her parents last Christmas.
It was times like these that she wished for someone to talk to. Now the cold air and silence only served to remind her that she had no real friends within Hogwarts, and looking down at her quill she couldn't help but feel that she'd let herself down.
She didn't really understand why nobody liked her. She was smart and frequently updated on world news, she wasn't grotesque and didn't smell bad. But even her intelligence couldn't overcome the barrier she seemed to have between others, having never been able to communicate with people her own age, as she wanted.
She gathered her books in a pile of descending size and blew out the candle that she had been working by, wiping the red wax that dripped down the side onto her finger, before bringing herself to her feet and turning towards the girls dormitories. Tomorrow she would ask for some extra work from her teachers, if only to make use of the time that she would otherwise spend doing nothing.
But in the darkness of the common room, a tiny light from the grounds outside caught her attention. She yawned and moved closer to the window and peered through the misty glass that steamed under her warm breath. Running across the lawn were four people, one so large that it had to be Hargrid, accompanied by two men and one woman. As she peered closer and slipped off her reading glasses, she recognised the unkempt appearance of professor Black, the tall lean physique of professor Lupin, and the straight back and tartan skirts of professor McGonagall. Having studied people all of her life it was easy for Hermione to see the tense way that they moved, the constant turning of their heads as though looking for something, and the fast way that their lips moved in speech. Something must be wrong.
She put her books down and began chewing on her lower lip in frustration, peering at the conversing figures with worried chocolate brown eyes. They were looking over to the forbidden forest, pointing in the direction of the shrieking shack and talking loudly, although she couldn't hear what. She wanted to know what they were talking about with aching curiosity, the thirst for knowledge pulling her towards their conversation. Finally she gave in.
"Curiosity killed the cat," she murmured, "but satisfaction brought it back."
She put a pillow over the window to muffle the sound and banged until the stiff hinges finally swung open. Throwing the pillow to one side she leaned out of the window as far as she could go, and raised her wand to her ear.
"Amplifion," she whispered, bringing the wand from her ear and pointing it toward the teachers on the ground. Suddenly her head was swimming with noise, and she had to clutch the window frame to steady herself until the jumble of words and sounds sorted themselves into the conversation being spoken a hundred feet below.
"Are you quite sure that we shouldn't spread out? Surely we'll find them faster if we're all looking in different places," McGonagall's crisp Scottish accent sloshed against the sides of her head like liquid.
"I'm sorry pr'fessor but I'm the only one knows this forest, no offence meant o'course."
"Who did you say was lost again Hagrid?" Lupin asked.
"Mr. Malfoy, Luna Lovegood and Leodiensian Fall."
Hermione's eyes widened in shock and concern. The dark forest had been her first area of study once she'd learnt she was a witch, and she had memorised every danger within it; pages upon pages of dangerous plants and animals, trees and magic that lurked in the shadows waiting for a stray student to wonder within the trees. Not only that, but even though Luna's mind was always so far away, she was one of the closest things to a friend that Hermione had; she was even pleasantly acquainted with Leodiensian although they had never really spoken. The thought of the two girls lost in the forest to Hermione was like losing friends, and she felt fear tighten her chest and quicken her heart, though she forced herself to continue listening.
"Oh dear," McGonagall sighed, "the children of two of the most renowned houses in Britain. If we lose them the school will have terrible foreseeable difficulties."
"Surely you don't just care about their houses Minerva," Black snorted.
"Of course not Mr. Black," she snapped, "I'm merely stating that if we lose these three we may lose much more."
"Well if you ask me-"
"Sirius let's just try to find them, we can argue afterwards," Lupin sighed, resting a hand on the other man's shoulder. "Hagrid, please tell us where we should start."
"I last saw 'em walking off towards tha' direction from where they went off the track. The moondrops are off to the east, so we should start in tha' area and spread out from there."
Hermione muttered the counter incantation and watched as the teachers continued their discussion for a few moments longer, arguing about direction. Her eyes swept across the dark common room as temptation welled inside of her chest, and finally her gaze came to rest on her quill. With a few short calculations and spells she was sure she would be able to find where about the students would be, yet half of her argued that it was against school rules and was also terribly dangerous. Yet, if she found the students before the professors did, she would be the hero. She would finally get the attention she had been craving for years, and perhaps she would be able to finally make firm friends out of the girls in the wood.
By now the rod in Kurt's hands was shaking and pulling him towards this target like a hunting hound on a leash, and he had to lean against it with his great weight to stop himself falling forward. He could feel a smile of satisfaction curl his lips and wiry beard, and felt immensely proud of his achievements. In less than 3 months he had searched half of the globe for the infamous young man, and now after all of his trials and tribulations he had finally reached his goal, and with it enough gold to line his pockets for the rest of his life.
"Stop grinning und be quiet, you walk like a mammoth und ve don't vant out prize taking flight before ve can get to him."
Kurt glared at his companion from the corner of his eye. The German was thin and weather worn, but that only served to make him appear even more dangerous. The look in his flat blue eyes was not that of a hungry dog, but of a starving wolf, and he stalked forward through the undergrowth with his weapons ready in his hands.
Von Schreiber glanced behind him in time to see the three children shadowing them pass between some trees a few hundred yards back, and a cruel smile curled his lips, the stubble on his chin only serving to make him seem even more untamed. They were too far away to make out the emblem on their robes, but they were no doubt school children who had strayed too far from their group. It would be their last time.
Kurt followed his gaze. " What du we du about dah children?" he rumbled.
"Once ve have the boy, they will be disposed of. No one vill ever know ve vere here," the German replied silkily.
Kurt grunted. His mother had always taught him that women and children were a gift, and were not to be harmed under any circumstances. But since his mothers death more and more of her sayings had become lost on him, and although he didn't like the idea of killing children, he wouldn't mind too much if he wasn't the one doing it.
Suddenly the rod in his hands gave a violent jerk and freed itself from his iron grip, sending him sprawling, the decaying leaves imbedding themselves in his beard. He came up as his companion wrenched his head up by his hair, and he spat out a few leaves before looking up through his thick eyebrows.
"You might haf just lost us our target, fool!" Von Schreiber hissed, before dropping the other man and stalking forward.
Kurt hauled himself onto his feet and growled low in his throat before silently following his companion. Oh how he hated that man. With each footstep he took the forest floor crackled beneath him, and he tried to lighten his footfalls as he approached the edge of a very small clearing. Pushing a few low branches away effortlessly his small brown eyes widened in surprise, and immediately he realised that something was amiss.
On the roots of a large black gnarled tree lay their target, sprawled over the earth as though he were merely lounging in the sun, his white robes fanning out around him and his long braided hair lying to his side. His hands were clasped to his chest as though in prayer, and a small smile graced his serene face.
"He is asleep?" Kurt rumbled.
"Who cares?" his companion returned, scanning the surrounding area for any type of trap, "ve haf him and that is all I care for. Go on and pick him up, and ve can be back by sunrise."
Kurt took a step towards the boy but hesitated. Something about the situation wasn't right, and he could feel his primal instincts telling him to go no further. The air was still and odourless, the grass beneath his feet seemed brittle and resisting, and as he strained to listen he could hear nothing… no birds sang and no breeze stirred the trees; the silence seemed to be stifling him.
He looked back down at the boy. Since he had re-appeared rumours and stories had been spreading about things that he had done, places where he had been spotted and people he had seen. Perhaps he was capable of more than they thought; Voldemort certainly seemed eager to see him six feet under… Perhaps it had been the boy who had opened that hole in the air, a feat that no wizard had ever been able to accomplish as far as he could tell. Kurt shuddered at the thought.
"Vat are you waiting for fool? Gather it up and let us leave!"
Kurt hesitated a moment before walking over to the boy and picking him up effortlessly, slinging the limp white body over his shoulder and feeling a shudder run down his spine. After almost three months of searching they just find him, no fights, no struggles. Kurt had long ago found that nothing was easy, and that you always have to expect the unexpected.
Mere yards away a rustling sound broke the silence as a bush with leathery leaves of dark forest green crunched under the weight of shifting bodies. The three sixth years sat crouched within the spiny branches, each watching with horror and fascination at the scene unrolling before them. Draco Malfoy kneeled in the mud, for once nonplussed about the state of his trousers, Leodiensian leaned forward for a better look, oblivious to the dangerous men before her, and Luna's dreamy expression had been replaced by one of horror.
"Th-" Draco began, swallowing, "that's Harry Potter… isn't it?"
The three watched in horror as the large man they had been following picked up the drowsing rod and stuffed it in his pocket, while the limp limbs of their saviour swung as though they had no bones. The huge man carried the boy with ease, as though he were merely carrying a large pillow. His rugged, wild exterior contrasted greatly to the pristine white robes of the boy on his shoulder, though there was also a strange wild likeness about the two of them. Harry Potter's long braid swung from his limp head, looking like a snake crawling from a bag, and his outstretched hand was curled around something silver, like a birds talon.
As they watched his hand opened, and from it an oval shaped silver object slowly spun to the ground, catching what little light there was to reflect a bright red light into their eyes. As it did, something about the situation seemed to slot into place in their heads, and unnaturally fast all of their fears ebbed away to be swallowed by a great sense of duty, a sense of fate. It was almost as though the light from that stone had hypnotised them.
"Harry Potter can't die," Luna said softly, her great blue eyes fixed onto the limp form in front of her, her sandy eyebrows pulled down in a thoughtful frown.
"Are you mad?" Draco asked half heartedly, "We'll be killed… look at the size of that bloke, he's nearly as big as Hargid!"
However, his own words echoed hollowly in his head, and all of the future outcomes of the situation rushed through his mind. If Harry Potter died then there would be no hope against the dark wizards, and the lives of his family would be ruined. Yet if he did something and lived, he would surely be rewarded.
"He is… rather big," the other girl whispered, her brown eyes fearful.
"It doesn't matter," Luna replied, slipping her wand from behind her ear in a trance like state. "If we don't do anything, then we'll die anyway. Sooner or later."
With that she crept to her right and slipped behind the trunk of a nearby tree, making little sound at all. In a far off way she wondered how she had managed it, but all that really mattered was whether she was going to save her saviour, or fail.
"She's mad," Draco breathed.
Leodiensian nodded, and drew her eyes away from her friend. "But is it also mad that I want to do the same?"
Draco felt his jaw drop as the girl silently slipped past him in the opposite direction of her friend, lying on her stomach within the undergrowth, her brown hair and dark robes letting her merge into her surroundings.
"We're all going to die," he moaned quietly, clutching his head in his hands.
But through his fingers he caught a glistening silver light, and spread them to look at the silver and crimson object that had dropped from the hand of the boy before them. It looked like a broach, but the middle stone swirled like smoke and was every colour he could think of, glistening even though there was no light within the trees. His gaze seemed glued to it as though hypnotised. It lay half covered in dark brown, slimy leaves, but even though he could see that they were touching it, his mind told him that they were not. It seemed as though nothing at all could touch it. It was too precious for that… it was too precious to discard.
Draco felt his mind shift, and suddenly nothing else mattered but what he was about to do. It was his duty. It was his destiny.
He heard the smaller man chuckle as he rose out from behind the bush, aiming his wand at his chest and whispering an incantation. With a flick of his wand the man sent the spell ricocheting off a nearby tree, singing the bark, and with a cruel curl to his lips he moved forward, and Draco went out to meet him.
Hagrid stopped suddenly and put out his arm, which Sirius walked into before growling something under his breath. The night was still and dark, the shadows that clung to the forest moving even though there was not a sound to be heard. Trees stretched endlessly in every direction, their trunks gnarled and twisted like huge crooked arms reaching out towards the sky, and the further they looked the darker the forest became.
"What is it Hagrid?" McGonagall snapped, peering about herself like a cornered cat pretending not to be afraid.
Hagrid waited a moment, letting the silence of the forest swallow and hope he had held. Finally, he sighed. "It's nothin' Pr'fessor, jus thought I 'erd summin, that's all."
They continued their amble through the forest, the silence seeming to press at them from every angle, prickling them between their shoulder blades. Remus Lupin stood on his toes and sniffed at the air, but yet again the stench of many plants and animals masked the odour of the children, if they had been there at all. His shoulders sagged and he continued following behind the group, trying to keep alert for any danger, yet feeling more uneasy about the dead silence surrounding them.
"I could do with a drink," Sirius murmured beside him, looking up. Sirius's hair was littered with twigs and leaves, and even though he complained he looked more alive than he had in weeks. He looked like a boy who had gone rolling in mud. Apparently the excitement of their mission had overwhelmed his fear, as his stormy blue eyes were glittering and eager.
Remus smiled, "I'll make you my best cocktail, if you can find these kids." He said dryly.
"All right, deal." Sirius said, grinning.
From their right came a sudden rustling from the bushes, steadily growing stronger. As one, the professors brought out their wands, spells ready on their lips, and Hagrid brought his crossbow up to aim. After a tense moment Fang stumbled out from behind a bush and slipped in the mud before steadying himself, his large pink tongue lolling from the side of his mouth and his cheeks flopping as he ran. His purple brown fur stood out against the dark leaves underfoot, and as he approached he let out a pleased low woof, his long droopy tail wagging with excitement.
"Fang!" Hagrid shouted, dropping his crossbow and bending down to give the dog a pat that nearly toppled it over. Hagrid wiped a tear from his eye with a sausage-sized finger, "I thought I'd lost you 'ol boy, yes I did, yes I did."
McGonagall's mouth tightened with disapproval. "We should keep moving Hagrid," she snapped.
"O- o righ', yes," he muttered, still smiling at the boarhound like a father who had just found his son. "C'mon fang, lets get goin'."
But as they began to move onward Fang stayed where he was, his tail still wagging and his big wrinkled head cocked to one side, his drooping ears erect with attentiveness.
"C'mon Fang," Hagrid repeated. Still the dog didn't move.
"I said c'mon," he muttered, walking up to the dog and beginning to pull him along by the collar. Fang resisted and shook his head violently until the collar came lose, and ran out of Hagrid's grip before sitting down and looking at them expectantly.
Sirius felt a small, amused smile curl his lips. "Maybe we should follow him," he suggested.
"Don't be stupid Mr. Black," McGonagall snapped icily, "How could you ever think that following a dog would be helpful? We'd not only never find the students, but we'd become lost ourselves, and that would be no help to anyone."
"Actually Minerva," Remus said slowly, looking at the dog with interest, "If you get past the very strong dog smell about him, Fang reeks of the students we're looking for. He's been with them very recently. So… perhaps he does know the way."
McGonagall made a vexed sound in her throat, "surely stupidity isn't contagious."
"Fang… e's quite, err, smart Pr'fessor… e once lead me tah one of 'em dead unicorns a few years back, I dunno 'ow e found it, but e got me there no time at all." Hagrid said slowly, looking at her from the corner of his eye. "'N ta' be honest we aint found em yet and we've been lookin almost an hour… we dun really av anythin' ta lose."
The transfiguration professor looked up at the tree men standing around her, each wearing a pleading expression of varying degree. Sirius was even pouting.
"Fine", she sighed. "We follow him for half an hour, and if we don't reach anything by then we go back to what we're doing now, do you all understand? Finding these children is of the up-most importance, and I won't have three silly boys costing the school three students."
Carefully avoiding pointing out that they were no longer boys, the three men nodded and followed the professor towards the dog, who woofed happily and turned back to trot in the other direction. Remus gave Sirius a queer look as he grinned.
"You owe me a drink," he said happily.
"What makes you so sure?" Remus asked slowly.
"Just a feeling," Sirius replied, tapping the side of his nose. "You could call it dogs intuition."
Hermione looked behind her to make sure that her spell was still holding, the silence of the forest making her afraid of her own shadow. Behind her, a long silver thread stretched between the trees that she'd passed, which lead back to the edge of the forest from which she'd entered through. She felt almost like Hansel and Gretel, although she was using something much more reliable than breadcrumbs. It was a spell she had learnt in one of her advanced DADA books, one first used by the wizards who discovered the Minotaur's maze hundreds of years past. It glowed silver when whoever cast the spell came near, allowing them to follow it without letting anyone else know of its existence.
She peered back down to the map in her hand. It was a map that she had taken from her 'Hogwarts: A History', which although didn't have much detail, did display the basic shape of the forbidden forest and it's main dangers. As she past her wand over it once more she watched as the small compass drawn in the corner moved towards the northeast, and so with a deep breath she turned in that direction and continued to follow. On the map a small red dot began moving in that direction, and she felt her heart quicken as she watched herself burrow deeper into the forest.
After almost an hour of searching she was beginning to question her ability. The charmed map was all well and good, but it was difficult to keep in a straight line when there were hundreds of trees in the way that needed to be avoided. Her hands were freezing and her socks were wet, and it was only a small comfort that she could find her way back when the threat of attack seemed all about her. As she passed the trees, they seemed to grow faces and reach out to snag her hair and robes, and more than once she had screamed from fright to find that there was nothing there at all.
She continued to walk for another half an hour or so, peering from her map to the forest ahead of her, sometimes barely avoiding walking into trees that hadn't been drawn. The forest had become darker as she advanced, though she tried to convince herself that it was all her imagination.
It was both a relief and a shock when she realised she had found them.
The compass on her page began turning in every direction, and for a moment her heart almost stopped as she thought the spell was going wrong. But then she looked up to see someone lying on the ground before her, and immediately she ran forward to help. It was Luna Lovegood, lying on her back in the middle of a small beaten track, apparently un-hurt but breathing laboriously.
"Luna!" she gasped, landing on her knees before the girl. "Luna can you hear me? What happened?"
Luna slurred something that Hermione couldn't make out. "What?" she asked.
"Where am I?" Luna murmured blearily, blinking and trying to open her eyes.
"You're in the forest Luna," she said soothingly, smoothing back Luna's straw coloured locks. "Where are the others?"
But her question remained unanswered as Luna's eyes closed and she succumbed to unconsciousness. Hermione Hesitated a moment before slinging the girls arm over her shoulder and dragging her over to a nearby bush, which she placed her under to try and hide her from anything that would pass.
"I'll come back for you Luna, you just stay there," she said, her voice shaking as she pushed herself upright and brought out her map again. The compass was still turning wildly, so she took a deep breath, brought out her wand, and continued northeast.
What animal could have done that to Luna? She thought, trying to tiptoe in the undergrowth and keeping low. She was frightened out of her wits at the prospect of continuing onward to face whatever had done it, but she couldn't let herself down and be a coward. It could have been anything, she thought worriedly, and so settled on the only spell she knew would work on almost everything.
Taking two deep breaths she squatted behind a nearby bush situated on the lip of a small clearing, from which she could hear the sounds of a struggle. She had never taken a risk in her life, and it struck her as strange that tonight was the first time she was trying, and now she felt more scared than she could ever have imagined being. Why had she bothered to take the risk? She was the least likely person to break any rules, and yet she had broken countless rules just leaving the walls of the school. Why tonight of all nights? It seemed to Hermione that it was like fate was twisting to manipulate her for its own bidding. But then again, she didn't believe in that sort of stuff.
With one last steadying breath she looked out into the clearing and was shocked to see that there wasn't an animal in sight. In stead there was one man firing spells at a student wearing Hogwarts robes, but whether it was Draco or Leodiensian she couldn't tell. As she peered about herself she could see that there were two more bodies lying by the edges of the clearing, one wearing Hogwarts robes and the other not. The flashes from the spells were making it hard for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, and she couldn't see whom it was, though she wished she had an idea.
'All right Hermione' she thought, 'there's a man attacking your friend, do something!'
With only a slight hesitation Hermione pushed the end of her wand through the bush and squinted. It would be hard to aim as the man was covered slightly by a tree, but if she could time it for when he came out to cast a spell she may be able to get him. She watched as a spell was sent by the Hogwarts student and then waited a second before she could see the man lean from behind the tree to cast one himself. Just as his lips were forming the word Hermione shouted.
Silence stretched for what seemed like forever, and it took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the darkness again. She rubbed them with her fist and then looked out onto the clearing, just in time to see Draco Malfoy turn around shaking his head, as though trying to clear it.
"Malfoy!" Hermione shouted, jumping out from behind her bush.
"Err…" he replied uneasily, blinking at her. "Hello mudblood." His gaze swept about himself as though for the first time, and he stumbled upon something before looking. There on the ground lay the prone figure of the smaller man he had followed, his skin and clothes frosted with blue eyes and his maddened eyes roving about his head wildly. He had been caught in a spell that wasn't easily broken, Draco knew, yet being so close to the man made his heart almost stop.
"I think I'm going to be sick," he said weakly, and collapsed.
Hermione stood still for a few moments until her head cleared, and with little care her gaze passed over the blonde and a thoughtful frown knitted her brow. Why had there been a strange man in the forest? Why was he trying to attack the three students?
"Oh no," she gasped, looking over to the prone body to her right. She ran over and dropped to her knees, before rolling the girl over and opening her eyes. Leodiensian's pupils narrowed by the light of Hermione's wand, showing that she was still alive, and Hermione sighed with relief before she began looking her over. As with Luna, Leodiensian didn't appear to have any obvious injury.
"Strange," she murmured.
She walked back over to where she had hidden Luna to find her just as before. She levitated her back over to the clearing and laid her beside her friend, then walked back over to Draco who was leaning against a tree with his head in his hands.
"What happened?" she asked.
Draco laughed, a short bitter sound. "I don't remember."
"What do you mean you don't remember?" she exclaimed, "I just saw you firing spells at that man!"
"Oh sod of Granger!" he snarled, bringing up his head and looking her in the eye. "You wouldn't understand!"
Hermione was so taken aback by the haunted look in his eyes that she stood up without question and had begun to back away without thought. He sat hugging his knees protectively, and his stormy eyes were wide and scared, though his blonde eyebrows were drawn down in anger. His hair was in disarray and his robes were torn and muddy, and although he didn't appear hurt, Hermione wouldn't want to go near him again even if he were.
She felt something hard beneath her foot as she stepped back, and lifted it to look down. Expecting a rock of a piece of wood, she instead found herself looking down at an amulet half buried in leaves, oval in shape and silver, with a large beautiful stone surrounded with blood red rubies. Se could smell the magic wafting from it coiling about her head to make her feel sick, and she both wanted to rip herself away and become lost in it. She slowly bent down to look at the surface. The stone in the middle looked like a snow globe, but filled with mercury instead of snow, swirling about like a hurricane and drawing her in. She reached out to touch it, her fingers dancing as they approached.
Hermione blinked and drew her eyes away, and suddenly the rest of the world seemed to come back to her, making her aware of what she was doing and where she was. However, the amulet was all that she could think of, and with her heart pounding she carefully picked it up and shoved it into her pocket. The weight was almost comforting. Hastily getting to her feet, she found herself standing face to face with her transfiguration teacher. McGonagall's hair was still in its rollers and net, and she wore her tartan nightgown beneath her teaching robes. Her wrinkled face was drawn back in a tight frown.
"What, might I ask, are you doing here? And what happened to these students?"
"Hah!" Sirius announced as they entered the clearing, "you owe me a drink Moony, and it'd better be the best you've ever made." he petted Fang on the head, and the dog looked up adoringly.
After receiving no answer he looked up into the face of his partner, and was surprised to see that Remus was staring straight ahead at something on the ground ahead of him. Remus's sandy brown hair hung over his chocolate brown eyes, which stared straight ahead, and his lips were parted in surprise. Sirius raised an eyebrow and followed his gaze, before it came to rest on a body dressed in white lying in the roots of a large twisted tree.
"That's weird," he muttered, ripping his leg out of a bramble and beginning to walk forward, "that doesn't look like one of our students."
Without thought Sirius walked forward and into the shadow of the great gothic tree, leaf litter sucking at his shoes and the early morning dew dripping from his black curls. As he approached a familiar scent reached him, though he couldn't pinpoint it out of his dog form, and he wrinkled his nose as he squatted by the body to gently turn it over. In the breaking light of early dawn Sirius's blue grey eyes were able to pick out the features before him, and his heart almost leapt out of his throat.
"Oh my god," he whispered after a shocked pause, looking down into the peaceful face of his godson. "Harry?"
Looking down upon Harry's face he couldn't help but notice how much he had changed since the last time he had seen him, as a small giggling child. His face was youthful but didn't look young at all, and a teardrop scar from his eye told Sirius that his godson had been through much without him. Sirius could feel tears welling up in his eyes, and suddenly he felt the days of lost sleep catching up to him. With a watery smile he slipped his arms beneath the young man and held him close, letting his warm tears run down Harry's forehead.
The last time that Sirius had seen Harry, it had been just after Harry's first birthday, the night that both of his parents had been killed. The older man's last memory had been that of handing a sleeping baby over to Hagrid, and telling him that he'd be back. He never did come back though. Being young and brimming with grief he had tried to catch the rat traitor and failed, imprisoning himself in the worst place imaginable. Not only did he ruin his own life, but he ruined the life of his godson too.
"Oh Harry, I've missed you so much," he whispered, before taking another long look so that he would never forget the face. His godson looked just as he had in the newspapers, a strong spirit and a pure soul. Though now in unconsciousness he had lost the sense of power he had seemed to emulate, and now felt small and fragile in Sirius's arms.
"What happened here?" he demanded, staring around himself wildly.
"If you would control yourself for a while Mr. Black, I was about to find out."
Remus and Minerva were knelling beside the two unconscious girls, holding their hands and running through the spells that they could have been hit by. Sirius could see no obvious physical injury on either, but that only served to remind him that there were many, much more dark spells, that showed no signs at all. He had never seen the transfiguration professor looking more worried, her wrinkles deepening as she frowned and her hands shaking as she ran her wand to scan the teenagers, and that said a lot seeing as she had taught him at their age.
"Although I'm frankly disappointed in your behaviour miss Granger" she said in a shaking voice, "and I find your actions were foolhardy and stupid, I am willing to overlook them just this once. I'm taking 20 points from Gryffindor for this mishap but and giving back 15 for your… lucky shot. Now, please tell me what you saw, and leave nothing out. This is of the up most importance."
Hermione appeared to be in shock, her large brown eyes darting about like a frightened rabbit and her fingers fidgeting with the lip of her pocket. Sirius knew the girl, having her as his prize student in history, and could tell that she wasn't used to being scolded so. Her shoulders were slumped in resignation and she couldn't meet the eyes of her teacher, and she gnawed on her lower lip so hard Sirius was surprise it hadn't begun to bleed. She wasn't dressed in her school robes, and instead wore a pair of jeans with a red knitted jumper which would both be ruined had she not been a witch. They were torn and muddy, and her jumper had even begun to unravel at the bottom, but it was nothing a little magic couldn't fix.
"Miss Granger?" McGonagall snapped after receiving no reply.
"I- I just followed them with my map," she stuttered, holding out a piece of ripped parchment with a shaking, muddy hand. McGonagall took it and studied it with an expert eye for a moment, before nodding for the girl to continue. "And t-then I found Luna over there, and I asked her what had h-happened but she was disoriented and asked where sh-she was. So I h-hid her in a bush and came over, and Dr-Draco and that man over there were firing spells at each other. A-and I saw Draco's robes so I-I cursed the other man a-and he's over there." She pointed over to where Hagrid leaned over the frozen body, his face scrunched up in worry and anger.
"Go on," the professor encouraged.
"And I swear that's all I know professor!" she pleaded, "I didn't even know that Harry Potter was lying there until a moment ago! I don't know why those men were here or anything. Please professor; I don't even know why I came out here in the first place! I just saw you talking through the common room window and thought I could help, I didn't mean to cause any trouble, I promise!"
McGonagall put a comforting hand on the girls shoulder. "It's all right, we don't blame you for anything. Now, let's get back to the school before we come across any more trouble. I believe you know the way, Miss Granger?"
Hermione nodded and turned in the direction, all the while feeling the lump in her pocket with fear and jealousy. Why had she picked it up? It wasn't hers! But she couldn't bring herself to drop it either. Behind her she could hear the sounds of bodies being lifted, and of Draco's feeble protests to being carried. She stared ahead of her with wide eyes; barely aware of the silver line she was following.
Something strange was happening; something that wasn't good, and she had a feeling that it was lying in her pocket that very moment.
How could their illusive saviour just turn up out of the blue, unconscious?
Why were those two men in the forest?
Why did the Luna and Draco not seem to remember anything?
What was happening?
This hasn't been beta'd yet because I was too eager to get it up, but it will be soon!
Sorry about all of
the unanswered questions ;) I'm sure I'll answer them
I'm sure I'll answer them soon enough!