Ginny, Luna and Neville got up slowly, not daring to look at the Headmaster. Not knowing where to put their eyes, they all glanced at the portrait of their mentor, Albus Dumbledore. He looked worried, looking from the students to Professor Snape but offered them no signal, no advice, no plea to Professor Snape. It was as if he too was silenced by the severity of the situation. The silence was overwhelming, crushing; no one seemed keen to break it. Just then Ginny felt a burning in her pocket. It was her coin warning her. Too little, too late.
“Such insolent children!” The silence was shattered, and they all looked around to find the culprit. It had come from the portrait of a black-robed tall man whom Ginny recognised from 12 Grimmauld Place as the image of Phineas Nigellus. “Stealing from the headmaster of Hogwarts! They must be expelled immediately. Such behaviour would not have been permitted when I was in charge here.”
“Thank you Phineas,” Snape said coldly, “Your advice is duly noted.”
“Students disrespecting the first Slytherin Headmaster in nearly a hundred years in this way! Why it’s unthinkable, it’s...”
“Thank you, Phineas,” Snape said a little more loudly, but still as cold as ice. He moved to his desk and sat down behind it. Just above his head, Dumbledore continued to survey the situation, his blue eyes behind his half-moon spectacles flitting between the four in the room still offering them nothing. It made the situation even more dispiriting for the three, and Snape had not even spoken yet.
“Well well... what do I find but the girlfriend, the dunce and the eccentric all breaking into my office. What a curious alliance we have here. Why if I wasn’t here myself I would hardly believe it.”
“How did you get back so quickly?” Ginny asked, biting back the retort with difficulty. Even she could recognise that now was not the time to get in a shouting match. The situation was bad enough without her making it worse, but then again, how could it be worse than this?
“You are not the first students to try to steal valuable items from this school. The founders put in place a secret passage from the Hall to the corridor outside this office in case of a break-in. Not even your disobedient older brothers or your boyfriend’s juvenile father ever discovered it Miss Weasley. But we digress from the key issue.”
“Yer not wrong there Severus.”
All three glanced around and gasped. Their situation had got much worse.
“Ah Amycus, so nice of you to join us.”
“Don’t mind me Professor; I’m just here for the show.” Carrow conjured himself a high-backed throne-like chair and sat between Professor Snape and the three students. Snape looked from Carrow, to the students and to his desk. For a moment Ginny could have sworn that a look of unease passed over the face of the headmaster, but as soon as she had seen it, it was gone.
“The crime that you have just committed is beyond belief.” Snape said, not raising his voice but still managing to cut the air like a knife through butter. “The Sword of Godric Gryffindor is a priceless part of the history of this school, an incredibly important wizarding artefact, and you thought that you’d just take it did you? It is school property, how dare you.”
“We are sorry Professor Snape,” Luna cut across Ginny’s reply, who glared at her. “We were wrong to do it.”
“That, Miss Lovegood,” Snape said with a sneer, “is possibly the greatest understatement ever uttered. What have you to say, Longbottom?”
Neville was terrified. What would his Grandmother say if he were to be expelled? What damage would he do to the family that he was already unworthy of being part. “I... I...I’ve no-no-nothing.”
“Well no surprises there then,” Snape said callously, Carrow wheezed with mirth. “And you Weasley?”
“We were stupid,” Ginny said through gritted teeth. What else was she to say? Luna was right, if they could just make this seem like petty theft, they may get off with just an expulsion.
“Well you three are going to be extremely fortunate. I do not want my tenure as Headmaster of this school to begin by expelling three students.” All three stifled enormous sighs of relief, “Make no mistake though, if any of you are caught doing anything like this again, you will be expelled.
“Scuse me,” Amycus said, pulling all eyes in the room to him. “bu’ the last time I looked, I was in charge of punishment at this school and I don’t agree wiv this.”
“I respect that Amycus, but I am also headmaster of this school and ultimate authority lies with me.”
“So what is our punishment going to be?” Ginny asked, wondering where the catch was going to lie.
“Well as your crime was against this school, your punishment will benefit this school. Professor Slughorn informs me that some of his potion’s stocks are depleted. You will therefore go with Professor Hagrid into the Forest tonight and help collect whatever is missing. Some muggle manual work should teach you to respect wizarding authority. You will go there at 7 this evening and assist him and make sure you aren’t late. Now get out of here before I change my mind.”
The three did not say anything until they had left the office, had descended two floors and locked themselves in a deserted classroom.
“How in the name of Merlin did we get away with that?” Neville asked.
“Maybe it’s what he said?” Luna said, flicking her hair behind her ears, “maybe he wants to keep this quiet.”
“No, I don’t think it’s that,” Ginny said scratching the back of neck in thought. “I think it’s something more than that. I think he’d rather keep us here, where he and the Carrows can keep an eye on us, than at home, but to send us to Hagrid is strange, this could even be fun.”
“What about the Sword?” Neville asked.
“I think that the sword is beyond our reach,” Ginny replied. “I think for once in her life, Lavender was right, we can’t get it.”
The next thing that they did was go and check on Ernie and his watchers. He Ernie explained how Snape had left the hall, and then disappeared behind a passageway they had never seen before. When they tried to follow, they just found stone wall. By the time they had managed to send the message, it had been too late. As to how Snape had managed to cover 7 floors and half the length of the castle in just over a minute, they could only guess. None of them could believe that the three had gotten off so lightly, although Lavender helpfully pointed out that they didn’t know what they’d be dealing with in the forest.
The rest of the day passed quickly for the three, as they waited for their trip into the forest. None of them had ever gone deep into the forest before and the stories that Harry, Ron and Hermione had given of giant spiders and angry proud centaurs as well as rumours of werewolves and trolls had hardly filled them with confidence.
At 7 o’clock the three headed to Hagrid’s hut. They were force to light their wands as the stars were shielded by a thick layer of cloud. Hagrid met them outside his front door with 4 canvas bags over his shoulder, armed with his crossbow and accompanied by his faithful boarhound, Fang.
“Hello you three, you al’right?”
“Yes thank you,” Luna said brightly. “It is a bit cold out here though.” The other two just nodded.
“Well I’d like like to say that yer all mad. Stealin’ from Professor Snape’s office!”
“But it’s not his sword! Snape has no right..!”
“Ok ok ok... no need to shout.”
Ginny looked relieved. “So what are we going to be collecting?”
“Well most of it is plants ‘n herbs and I grow lots of ‘em outside my house anyway. It’s much easier than collecting ‘em in the wild and,” he gave them a knowing wink, “I can give ‘em a bit of a hand here.”
“So what do we have to do?”
“Well what is left is stuff that only comes out at night, and that’s harceller. They’re quite easy to spot cos they give off a orangey glow.”
“Doesn’t that make them quite easy for other things to catch them?”
“Yeah, but they are highly poisonous, which is probably why Professor Slughorn wants them. We need about 5 of them tonight, so if you see one just stun it ‘n put it in one of these bags.” He handed out a bag for each of them. “We’ll stick together for this. If you get lost, then send up them red sparks, and we’ll come find yer, but don’t wander off. Any questions?”
“Are they dangerous?” Neville asked, thinking that these poisonous harceller sounded rather frightening.
“Only if you make ‘em angry. If you do they will let out a poisonous cloud. If that happens then run, but they’re normally very quiet ‘n calm.”
“Ok,” Neville said, not entirely reassured.
“We’ll stick together for this. If you get lost, then send up them red sparks, and we’ll come find yer, but don’t wander off.”
“I’ve gotta bad feeling about this,” Ginny said apprehensively.
Actually, the evening turned out to be quite enjoyable. After half an hour the moon won its war with the clouds and so streaks of moonlight aided the group’s lit wands. After the initial shock of hearing that the three were behind the DA, Hagrid was full of admiration. “He’d be proud of you, Dumbledore would.” He would have said more, but then they found their first harceller. Luna quickly stunned it and put it in her bag, looking about, with an expression of surprise on her face as she did so.
“What were you looking at Luna?” Neville asked, as the others moved on.
“I thought I heard a tive behind me, they like the moonlight. Shame werewolves have almost hunted them to extinction.” She went over to check in the shadow of the tree in front of them, but came back looking concerned. “I hope it’s alright.”
A rustle in the trees and everybody looked around to see an old centaur making his way into the clearing, flanked by 2 of his kin.
“I thought we had informed you that you were no longer welcome in this part of our forest Hagrid,” the old centaur said, drawing himself up to his full height.
“And I told ye that I won’t be driven out of this ‘your’ forest by you Magorian. I have a job to do, so if you’ll excuse me.” He turned away and made to leave the clearing, but one of the flanking centaurs galloped across and blocked his path.
“How dare you turn your back to me!”
“Ye don’t tell me what to do!”
“Maybe that’s your problem. You wizards think yourself so superior with your wands, but look at you now. Torn apart by civil war; friend turning into foe. The darkness is looming; we have seen it written in the stars.”
“Well if the darkness is coming so soon, why don’t ye help us, “Hagrid said heatedly, “instead of just preaching to us here?”
“This is a wizard’s war,” Magorian said matter-of-factly, “it does not concern us, it never has before.”
“This war affects us all,” Ginny burst out, “Do you think He will just leave you alone here in the forest. Once he has dominated us all here He will come after you too, and you won’t be able to stop Him.”
Magorian drew himself up to his full height. “The centaurs have existed independent of wizards for centuries. Our histories are no more bound than they were the last time the darkness came or the time before that,” the centaur turned back to Hagrid, “Stay out of our forest Hagrid, next time I might not be so lenient.” The three centaurs turned and cantered out of the clearing without saying another word.
“Ruddy things,” Hagrid exclaimed, taking a running kick at a huge branch so hard that it splinted on impact. “Not interested in anything apart from themselves and the heavens.”
“They’ll come around,” Neville said, panting to catch up, “I mean they have to.”
“No I don’t think they will...” Hagrid said. He suddenly stopped, causing Neville to walk into. “Yer know what. You’ve made me realise that I haven’t been doing me bit in all this. I’ve been letting you all do all the work.”
“Hagrid,” Luna said warningly, “we don’t want you to do anything rash.”
“Something...” Hagrid said, apparently not hearing Luna at all.
Thanks everyone for your patience with this story.. I want each chapter to be perfect which makes updating promptly hard. Anyway, I’ve started work on the next chapter provisionally called More Punishments until I can come up with a better name. Please R&R and as always your total honesty is appreciated.