AN: Another update? What can I say, I'm just so excited! Special thanks to Alia Inverse, futureauthor62, AvivaPersayAviva, Ari989, Kairan1979, ILoveGeorgeEads, elmoryakhan, serialkeller, MariusDarkwolf, Majerus, Venquine1990, Jmw, Narcissa-Weasly, Guest, Dracarot, dianaanne, urs-v, Fibinaci, Tellur, magitech, Lady Sabine of Macayhill, ReadPaxJoy, ultima-owner, Ninfea, MuggleCreator, and ElementKitsune. Let's get this show on the road!
Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter franchise.
"Did you just kiss the Cup?"
"What?" Nervous laughter on Oliver's end. "No, of course not. That would be ridiculous." Oliver decided to make sure he was alone before trying that again. It would do no good to have his team think him crazy. Although, he realized with a small pang, they were no longer his team. He had played his last match with them, and while he couldn't have been happier with the outcome, it was a little saddening to know that he would never again hear their names strung together in a lineup. Still, getting the Quidditch Cup was a wonderful way to remember it.
"Right," Percy muttered skeptically.
Oliver pretended not to hear him, and then bumped into him very obviously. Percy had been almost as happy as him, jumping up and down, letting his Head Boy badge bounce onto the ground. He now polished it every five minutes, and only a stern look from Penny could get him to stop. In fact, it seemed the match had made all of the Gryffindors deliriously happy. Ron and Hermione even made up! Not even Hagrid's tough rock cakes could break the lions' toothy smiles.
"It's starting to get late," Penny spoke up, chewing on her bottom lip. "We need to get back to the castle before curfew." And before the dementors, went unspoken.
Their group couldn't all fit inside Hagrid's hut, so most of them were leaning outside of it or sitting on the ground, mosquitoes and fireflies buzzing around them. The warm, late spring air crackled around them, and Oliver couldn't help but feel that it was the perfect way to end a perfect day. Not even the Slytherins' dirty playing style could throw them off. He almost wanted it to last forever.
"I don't see why we should have to stick to curfew," He grumbled, smacking a mosquito on his arm. "We've already sat for N.E.W.T.s, and even if we hadn't, there's nothing stopping us from leaving school now."
"Maybe for you," Percy shot back. "But a good job at the Ministry requires that you sit for—and pass—your N.E.W.T.s."
"Oh, I hope I did well," Penny wished fervently.
"Of course you did," Oliver assured her. "Both of you did well. Me though, I'll be lucky to get four."
"Why four?" Cormac wondered.
"Marcus Flint got three O.W.L.s," Oliver explained, "and he didn't manage to pull any N.E.W.T.s the first time around. As long as I can do better than him, I'll be happy."
"There's no use worrying now, I suppose," Penny murmured, standing and brushing dirt off of her skirt. "We really do need to hurry back."
"Does everyone have everything they need?" Percy asked loudly, standing as well.
"Oh! I left Crookshanks inside!" Hermione exclaimed, hurriedly getting to her feet and flinging open the door to Hagrid's hut. A small rodent tore outside, followed closely by a bright orange fluffball. Scabbers raced right towards Ron, who scooped him up and tucked him near his chest. Hermione quickly yanked Crookshanks up into her arms and pulled him away.
"Scabbers!" Ron cried. "You're alive!"
Hermione sniffed loudly. "I knew Crookshanks didn't kill him. Didn't I say so?" She directed these words to Lavender and Parvati.
"Harry?" Parvati spoke up. "Is everything alright?"
Harry stared at Scabbers and paled rapidly. "Erm…yeah, I'm fine. I just—didn't expect to see Scabbers alive, s'all. Is he okay?" Oliver wasn't sure that was really what was troubling Harry, but he kept his mouth shut. Sometimes, Harry preferred to mull things over before talking about them, which Oliver could understand. It would be better if he stayed silent.
Instead, he decided to get them all inside as quickly as possible. "Now, does everyone have everything? We have to get back. Harry still needs to talk with Dumbledore, remember?"
Dumbledore had told them to go ahead to Hagrid's while he spoke with McGonagall about the school. He'd asked that Harry stop by before going to bed, so they could have a quick chat. As suspicious as this made Oliver, no one could tag along without looking suspicious themselves. Much to his displeasure, they'd have to send Harry in by himself.
Ron cradled Scabbers and led the way back. Somewhere along the way, the Gryffindors split up into smaller groups. Percy, Penny, and Oliver stuck to the back to take in everything. Oliver began to tire as soon as he realized the sun was setting. This was his last year at Hogwarts, his last year at the safety of school. Oh, perhaps not the literal safety, with a Basilisk and Voldemort in disguise, but there was something comforting about being able to hide beneath classwork and Quidditch. Now, he was just Oliver, the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain and Keeper. Out there, he was Oliver Wood, promising new Keeper for Puddlemere United.
The difference between the two seemed small, but it felt like a great dip in his otherwise flat life. He'd be leaving this castle—and these people—for good. He wouldn't be returning in the fall, ready for more homework and rivalry, more adventure. He would be thrust out there into the real world, and he wasn't completely alright with that.
His gaze shifted to Penny and Percy, who were trying to discreetly hold hands. Oliver nearly rolled his eyes. Would he even see them this summer? They'd both be so busy, if they managed to wrangle their way into the Ministry. What if they drifted apart after this? Oliver wasn't sure he'd be able to forgive himself if he let that happen. He and Percy had been friends since first year—sharing a dorm tended to make that sort of thing happen. And while he'd thought of Penny as an annoying tag along upon first meeting her, he couldn't deny that she was kind and clever.
Oliver shook himself and chuckled. They hadn't even formally graduated yet, and he was already feeling sentimental. They'd work it out, he decided. They always had.
Oliver whipped his head up and froze. A large black blur had a hold of Ron's arm; firmly clutched in his hand was Scabbers, writhing furiously as he attempted to get away. Oliver ran forward, Penny and Percy at his side. The blur, he noticed with a sinking stomach, was a Grim. The Gryffindors brought out their wands, but there was no guarantee that they'd hit the Grim—they might end up seriously hurting Ron.
So focused on Ron, no one noticed when a large shape flew out of the shadows and knocked directly into Harry and Hermione until the pair hit the ground with a loud thump. Ron continued to shout and try to pull himself away, but the Grim had a tight hold and a fast pace. Percy darted forward again, but the Whomping Willow, angry and desperately trying to defend itself, let another branch fly at him. Percy was thrown to the side, his glasses shooting off in the other direction.
"Ron!" Fred and George had never appeared so serious. "Ron, hold on!"
Ron clawed futilely at the ground, but the Grim continued to tug, pulling Ron right through a large gap at the base of the willow. Ron's leg got caught in one of the roots as he struggled. Katie moved towards him, only to be taken to the ground by Cormac as a branch came right where her head had been seconds earlier. Oliver ducked to avoid being hit himself as a sickening crack came from Ron's leg. Oliver blinked, a bright white flash filling his vision for a moment. He shook it off; there were more important things to worry about.
"We need to get help," Parvati informed them, shouting over the wind produced by the Whomping Willow as it flailed about.
"Right!" Oliver yelled back, taking charge. Percy was certainly in no position to do so. "All third years, back to the castle to find Lupin and Burbage. Everyone else, we need to find a way to Ron."
"I'm not leaving!" Hermione proclaimed loudly.
"There's a knot under the tree. You have to touch it," Harry said. "I'm not leaving either."
"Ugh," Oliver groaned. "Fine. Harry and Hermione will stay, but the rest of the third years need to go grab help."
Dean gave a quick nod, and the others followed his instructions. Leann snuck between the branches and groped at the base of the tree, finding the knot and pressing it. Katie and Cormac gawked at her; where had the shy, timid Leann gone? Oliver paid them no heed as the Whomping Willow stopped suddenly.
"How did you know to do that?" He asked Harry, amazed.
Harry shrugged. "I'll tell you later."
"You better," Angelina muttered.
Percy led the way in. "Everybody, wands out. Stay on your guard, especially you two." He gestured towards Harry and Hermione, the youngest members of their little group. Both appeared aggravated, but did as he asked. Crookshanks slithered along next to them.
"Any idea where this leads?" Oliver asked them all.
"Hogsmeade," Fred announced.
"We're not sure where exactly though," George admitted.
Oliver couldn't see anything properly, as it was dark out and they were underground. But from what he could gather, they were in a very long, narrow tunnel which seemed to go on forever. Alicia hesitantly lit her wand, shining it around the tunnel. They trekked on at a brisk pace. Oliver could only hope that help was on the way. If there were ever an instance of him being unequipped to deal with the real world, this was it.
At last, the tunnel seemed to widen and lead into a medium-sized room coated in dust. The room looked as though a tornado had swept through it, with broken furniture lying all around. An open doorway was off to the ride side, and they hesitantly moved towards it.
"This looks like the Shrieking Shack," Penny mused. "Or, what I imagine the Shrieking Shack would look like."
A small creaking noise from above startled them.
"Maybe it was just the house settling," Alicia suggested nervously. "Our house does that a lot, it's so old."
"Or maybe they're keeping Ron up there," Percy murmured darkly, pushing his way past them and up the staircase. Fred and George were right behind him. Another open doorway lied up ahead. Oliver held his breath and moved towards it cautiously.
"We should have someone keep guard," Harry whispered.
Oliver swallowed. "Good idea. Who wants to volunteer?"
For a long moment, nobody said anything. Then Katie raised her chin and grabbed Cormac's wrist. "We'll do it. Want to come with, Leann?"
"How come she gets asked?" Cormac turned to look at her.
"I'll do it," Leann agreed, grasping her wand tighter.
"I'll help, too," Angelina offered, Alicia nodding at her side.
"Alright. Let us know immediately if you see or hear anything suspicious," Oliver ordered. "Let's go."
Inside the room, on a dirty old bed, sat Ron, his leg splayed out awkwardly next to him. His eyes were bright with pain, but there was also panic in his expression.
"Get Harry out of here," He told them quickly.
"What?" Harry recoiled.
Ron shook his head, moaning in pain. "You need to go, Harry. All of you need to go. It's a trap—he, he's an Animagus, he's going to kill you!"
It was a shame, Oliver reflected, that they hadn't thought to examine the room more closely before going it, as a man dressed in tattered gray rags stepped out of the shadows and slammed the door shut.
Romilda fidgeted anxiously under the tree by the lake, scanning the horizon one last time. They weren't coming. At least she had Neville and Luna, though she wasn't entirely sure she deserved them.
"Luna, they're not here."
"They will be," the blonde replied calmly, thumbing through the latest Quibbler. "They said they'd be here, so they will be."
"What if they lied?" Romilda fought the urge to start chewing on her nails.
Luna turned to her and stared. "They've never lied to me before."
There's a first time for everything, Romilda thought grimly. She didn't say anything, just sat back and fiddled with the flower Neville had given her for Christmas. He really was quite thoughtful. Once again, Romilda felt disgusted by her actions. Neville deserved to find a beautiful, kind girl who loved him with her whole heart. She was not beautiful, nor was she kind, and she most certainly did not love him.
"Alright, we're here," Colin announced, reaching their tree first, with Ginny and Demelza right behind him. Romilda jumped up and felt her heart skip a beat. This was her one last shot. If she couldn't pull this off…
But as it turned out, she needn't have worried. Luna seemed prepared to do most of the talking.
"I think she should stay," Luna told them firmly, though she didn't put the Quibbler down. "She's not hurting anyone. Her head is nice and clear of Wrackspurts. And she understands Harry's importance, right?"
Romilda nodded begrudgingly. It often seemed to her that Harry Potter had grown less impressive as he'd gotten older, but she refrained from saying so.
Demelza, eyes narrowed, stepped forward and let her gaze sweep over Romilda from head to toe. "This is all true?" She barked, tapping her foot.
Romilda nodded, doing her best to look solemn.
Ginny frowned and pulled Demelza back. "We need a few minutes to confer. Come on, Luna."
During their talk, they had migrated away from the lake and closer to the hill near the Whomping Willow. Romilda, left alone as the others whispered, watched a large group of people cluster near the violent tree. She stood too far away to properly identify any of them, but she recognized four heads of flaming red hair as Ginny's brothers. And if Ron Weasley was there, then Harry Potter and Neville were probably close by. She crept a bit closer, intending to find out what they were doing.
The large group was broken off into pairs. All seemed to be in a jovial mood, and Romilda couldn't help but feel as though she were intruding. Neville walked with a tall boy Romilda identified as Dean Thomas, a third year Gryffindor. She took a few steps nearer to them before noticing a large black shape in her peripherals.
Romilda turned slightly and jumped back as she realized it was a Grim. The Grim headed straight for the youngest Weasley boy. Romilda couldn't stifle the scream crawling up her throat, but it was covered u by the other shouts. Colin raised his camera and snapped a quick picture, but people hardly seemed to notice.
Ginny darted forward, grabbing Romilda by the elbow. "We have to get help. We need to find a professor! Come…on!" With a massive tug, she managed to yank Romilda away from the scene and to the castle. The five ran as fast as they could, desperate to find someone, anyone.
"What was that thing?" Demelza gasped, clutching at her heart.
"That was a Grim," Ginny enlightened them. "It's said that if you see a Grim, you die."
"But we all saw it," Colin pointed out. "Does that mean we're all going to die?"
"That wasn't a Grim," Luna laughed. "That was a Laeplas."
"What?" Ginny asked blankly.
"I thought you said they like everyone," Romilda wheezed. She didn't ever run, and felt a bit out of shape. But according to her mother, proper ladies never ran.
"Normally they do." Luna bobbed her head. "But if you get between them and their meal…" Luna shuddered, shaking out her long blonde hair.
Ginny frowned. "Are you saying that thing's upset because Ron tried to take its food?"
"It's certainly a possibility."
They finally made it inside and began searching for help.
"Who should we ask?" Romilda wondered, following behind.
"Burbage." Colin didn't bother slowing down in the halls. "She'll know what to do. And she's the most likely to believe us."
"Why wouldn't someone believe us?" Luna questioned him.
"We just saw a giant dog that symbolizes death come out and drag Ron Weasley under the Whomping Willow," Colin stated flatly. "I dunno about you, but that sounds a little too weird."
"'Kay, so our first thing to do is find Bur—oh!" Ginny gasped as she rounded the corner. The others skidded to a stop behind her, paling instantly.
"Running in the halls?" Snape sneered. "That'll be twenty points each."
Maybe they would've been fine if they had just kept moving, more slowly and looking properly repentant. Maybe Snape would've even let them go. In fact, things might've gone a lot differently that night if everyone had kept their heads down and lied through their teeth. But Luna Lovegood rarely lied, and she wasn't one for blending in and staying out of sight.
"Professor Snape, we need your help." She tilted her head up to look at him.
"Really?" He sounded intrigued, which, in Romilda's experience, was never a good thing.
"No." Colin shook his head vehemently. "No, we do not."
"Yes," Luna spoke over him. "Ginny's brother has been dragged under the Whomping Willow by a hungry Laeplas."
Glee rose up in Snape's eyes. "What did you just say?"
"Nothing," Ginny interrupted. "You know Luna, Professor, she sees things a little differently, that's all."
Snape didn't believe that for one second. "Miss Lovegood, it sounds as though Mr. Weasley is in serious trouble. You five will escort yourselves to my office, and you will stay there until I tell you otherwise. If you so much as think about leaving, I will know. Is that understood?"
Romilda wasn't looking forward to spending the rest of the night staring at Potions' ingredients, but that's what she did anyway.
Response to Jmw's review: Don't worry, it's not ending anytime soon. We still have fourth and fifth year, after all. Thanks for reviewing!