(AN- I want to say I am so, so, so, so, sorry for not updating sooner. It has been a hectic few months and I am going to make excuses to stop you all from sending me nasty messages; I've been very ill, I started college, one of my best friends sadly died and my brother and his wife gave birth, eventually, to a beautiful baby girl. Due to all these reasons I have not had the time, or I'll be honest any willpower at all to do anything remotely like updating and I just want to say that I am so, so thankful for all your lovely reviews and I hope you can forgive me for being such a horrible author. Updates may not be very frequent from now on, but I promise that they will happen and I will work my hardest to find the enthusiasm and drive to write again- these past few months have been hard and taken that away from me. Thanks to all of you again.)
Chapter Sixty-One- It's Forbidden For A Reason
"Mione!" came a call from behind her as she slowly climbed the grand staircase.
"Hi Cedric," she sighed turning around as he jogged to catch her up.
"Hey," he said with a breathless grin. "How was Diagon?"
"Interesting," she said with a deadpan expression, folding her arms across her chest and shaking her head. "I'm just on my way to tell Albus about it."
"What happened?" he asked, a concerned frown on his face. "Did you not find a new wand?"
"I did… guess which one," she said, not looking him in favour of the stone stair he was stood on.
"I can't guess which wand you- wait… you haven't," he said slowly, almost accusingly. Hermione didn't look at him, which solidified his fears. "You got someone else's wand didn't you?" She nodded once. "Who's?"
Hermione took a deep breath and looked into his grey eyes. "Harry's."
Cedric visibly cringed.
"Should I tell Dumbledore?" she asked. He nodded once.
"He'll have some advice," he said confidently. "He'll know what this means."
He didn't know what it meant.
"I'm sure it will all make sense in time," the old man had said mysteriously, twiddling the end of his beard.
"Well that was a waste of time," Cedric muttered as they closed the door of Dumbledore's office behind them. Hermione just shrugged and trudged dejectedly along the corridor. Night had fallen quickly out in the grounds, the low, dark clouds shielding the ground from frost, despite the bitter January weather.
"I have an idea," Cedric murmured, gazing out of the window. "Grab your thick cloak and meet me in the Entrance Hall."
"Cedric Jasper Diggory," Hermione hissed glaring at him, all her previous surliness dissipated. "What are you planning?"
As promised Hermione met Cedric in the Entrance Hall as soon as she had pulled her cloak off the hook in her dorm and ran down the Grand Staircase again, taking two steps at a time. Nobody was about in the corridors to question where she was going.
"Ready?" she asked, flinging the heavy material around her shoulders as she flew down the last steps and into the Entrance Hall.
"Took you long enough," he teased, from leaning casually on the Hufflepuff hourglass. "Now come on, we're going into the forest."
"The forest?" Hermione repeated in surprise. "What on earth for?"
"We want someone to tell us what your new wand means, don't we?" Cedric asked.
"What does that have to with the forest?" she asked, before adding sarcastically. "We're not going to see Aragog are we?"
"Perhaps I should rephrase the question," he sighed, unsure of why she was being so dense. "We want somethings to tell us what it means, it might even be useful if they have some sort of divination prowess…"
"Oh," Hermione gasped in realization. "The centaurs!"
"There we go," he replied patronizingly, grinning at her coyly.
"Okay, okay," she conceded. "That did take a little while. It's been a long day. Let's go to the centaurs."
Both were bundled beneath their cloaks, hoods drawn up around their heads as they stepped cautiously though the trees. It would not do alert other creatures to their presence, more dangerous and hostile than the centaurs.
"How do you think we find them?" Cedric whispered as they picked their way along a winding trodden track through the trees. "It wasn't this hard last time."
"They trapped us last time," Hermione pointed out.
Cedric was silent for a moment, but then nodded in agreement.
"Do you think if we send a patronus, they might come to us," he suggested. Hermione didn't reply but extended her new wand out in front of her.
"Expecto Patronum," she whispered, the usual, lumbering silver bear erupted from her wand and reared up on its thick back legs. It turned its head left and right, peering through the gloom before setting down onto four paws and charging forwards along the path, then veering sharply to the right.
"Shall we follow?" Cedric asked his partner. She nodded in reply and as fast as they could over the uneven ground ran in the direction the bear took- deeper and deeper into the forest.
"Wait…" Hermione said, skidding slightly as she ground to a halt. Cedric stopped just a few feet in front of her. "Do you feel that?"
"Feel what?" he asked, concern evident in the set of his brow.
"It feels like we're…" Hermione tried to say. "I'm not entirely sure… something feels odd. Like we're being-"
"What was that noise?" Cedric demanded, his wand out in front of him, lighting the trees around them. Both of them froze, ears straining to hear it again. Sure enough as soon as they were silent they heard it again, rustling. Like something sliding over the crisp, cold leaf litter on the forest floor.
"That doesn't sound like centaurs," he murmured to Hermione, orientating his body so that he was in front of her. But neither knew exactly where the rustling was coming from- it was like it was coming from different directions.
"Cedric!" Hermione squeaked, pointing toward a close cluster of trees. Just on the edge of the wand light, hovering on the edge was a dark shape. Like a suspended black silken shroud, hanging in mid-air, billowing downward despite the lack of breeze.
"This is impossible," Cedric gasped, clenching his wand. "We're much too far north."
"I thought Lethifolds only appear in the tropics," Hermione whimpered.
"So did I," Cedric whispered, not taking his wand off the creature. Slowly Hermione turned, scanning through the trees and standing so they were back to back.
"There is two more behind us," she informed him in a low voice that was shaking dangerously as she grabbed his free hand for comfort.
Lethifolds were terrifying creatures when they were acting as they should- preying on sleeping humans in the tropics. But here, no one knew what they could do.
"How can we kill a lethifold?" Cedric asked. "You've read books."
"We can't," Hermione answered. "They can be driven off by a patronus, or they can be killed if the caster is strong enough to manage to control the elements enough to bring down the temperature. But if they're here… in Scotland in January then the amount we would have to lower the temperature would kill us too."
"There's nothing else we can do?" Cedric asked somewhat desperately.
"We're surrounded," she whispered. "I don't know of any spell which can get us out of this."
"Why aren't they attacking us?" he asked.
"They usually only attack when their victims are asleep, but these aren't usual Lethifolds… I have no idea," she replied.
"Oh," Cedric said uneasily. "Well we're screwed really aren't we?" Hermione nodded slowly. "Well if we do die Granger, I just want you to know; you're my best friend and I love you, very much."
"I love you too Ced, don't know what I'd do without you," she replied in a matter of fact tone. "If this situation wasn't so life-threatening I would hug you, but that would mean lowering my wand."
"It's the thought that counts," he replied, with a weak smile. They stay silent for a moment.
"We're being silly," Hermione said taking a deep breath. "We need to calm down and think logically."
"We didn't come all this way to be ambushed in the forest by Lethifolds and let all this work go to waste," he agreed strongly.
"Correct," she said, raising her chin and setting her jaw. "I've still got no idea how to get us out of this though."
"Me neither," he said quickly, biting his lip and squeezing her hand a little tighter.
"Cedric," Hermione said warningly, clutching his hand in fright as the creatures started to move. "Cedric," she repeated, panic seeping into her tone. He dropped her hand and pulled her into his chest, sheltering her with his body. The Lethifolds moved slowly, stopping and starting as though they were walking across a bridge and they weren't sure if the next step would send them plummeting into the river below.
"There has got to be something we can do," he muttered. "Hermione we've got to run." She nodded and grasped hold of his hand once again, they both aligned themselves so they were toward the largest gap between two of the creatures.
"Now," he confirmed and the two of them set off at a sprint, hands gripping each other so hard their knuckles were white with the pressure. Cedric, having longer legs was in front of Hermione and managed to get past the Lethifold before they closed in, Hermione was less lucky.
With a guttural scream her ankle twisted under a protruding tree root and her right leg crumbled beneath her, her hand was wrenched from Cedric's and she tumbled to the ground. Quickly she tried to stand, but again her leg failed her and she landed with a thud on the chilled earth. Cedric, fuelled by the momentum of their run was sent plummeting into the trees several yards ahead.
The Lethifolds saw their advantage and started to move toward Hermione.
"Cedric," she screamed. "You have to run." But the command died in her throat as they got nearer. Panicking she grasped at her throat, gasping for breath that would not come. Her airways were being constricted by the beasts.
"Hermione!" he shouted brandishing his wand and praying to any god who would listen that this would work.
"Expecto Patronum!" he shouted, the Lethifolds were blown back several feet by the silver spell but it did not have the effect it should have, had they been usual Lethifolds. But it was enough for Cedric to slide down next to Hermione and sling her arm round his shoulder, she was gasping and retching- her lungs having been starved of the cold night air.
"Cedric I can't walk, go," she tried to tell him, but her protests fell on deaf ears.
"Brace yourself," he told her, pointing his wand at the floor a few feet away. "Ascendio!" He cried, taking inspiration from what Dumbledore had told him about Hermione getting out of the Chamber alive.
Both of their bodies were shot up into the sky through the canopy like a cannonball, Hermione screwed up her eyes and screamed all the way, not being a fan of flying at all. Cedric on the other hand screamed as soon as their ascent stopped and they began plunging toward the treetops.
They landed with a thump on the cold, hard ground. Cedric felt a few of his ribs snap on impact and the familiar white hot pain of bones breaking.
"Hermione," he croaked, clutching at his chest and trying to position himself where he could get up. Her face was bloody where she had been scratched falling through the trees and he could bet even without a mirror that he was even worse, judging by the amount of blood that was dripping into his eyes.
"Cedric," she said through gritted teeth. "My ankle, I think it's broken."
"Come on," he said. "We've got to get out of here." Hermione mumbled her agreement and allowed a staggering Cedric, still clutching his broken ribs to support her weight as the made their painstakingly slow way out of the forest.
"Don't use magic," Hermione warned him. "I'm sure my patronus was what alerted them to our presence."
After what seemed like weeks of walking, battered and bruised the trees finally started to thin, the ground got more even, until at last they could see the lights of the castle and trees turned into sloping lawns.
It wasn't until their hands touched the heavy oak of the Entrance Hall door that they finally accepted that they were safe and the adrenaline started to flee their veins, making the pain even more unbearable.