Chapter 50 : Fifty. The Forest Duel Part II
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Hours ago Sirius had said goodbye to Marlene, and he had not seen a human since. He had held her close to him and told her that there was a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. He had not lied.
When he was younger, he would return to his parents’ house for the summer and there, shut up in that old bedroom of his, he would feel sickeningly lonely. He survived those summers though thanks to letters from his friends and hobbies he had taken up, like refurbishing that old bicycle. It was his own secret. He began to live those summers alone, and the loneliness subsided.
For a moment in the forest, Sirius felt that old wave of loneliness wash over him, but he worked to replace that weakening feeling with the exciting, dashing thought: No one knows where I am.
It was his own game that kept him moving forward in the forest, towards the dangerous center. He felt a new rush of adrenaline at the thought that his opponents were terrified of him. He continued to jet forward. Unlike Rory and Lily, he did not admit to being graceful in his movements. But he did move forward erratically in a diagonal path at an unpredictable pace. In case someone was tracking his movements, they would never know where exactly to aim.
He was stomping ahead. His noise level was not at a low. He moved like an animal, recklessly though cunningly.
“Who’s there?!” shouted a voice. Masculine. Deep. Afraid.
Sirius flung himself into a bush. His cheek cut open on a branch but he kept crouching low. He tried to slow his breathing quickly. He counted to ten backwards. It seemed like a mental activity that might make his body forget that he was tired.
“Where are you?!”
Sirius didn’t think much of the Ravenclaw Second. They had shared a beer together on occasion at parties, usually sung a drinking song or two and clapped each other on the back. But they weren’t real friends by any means. He’d say they were friend-ly but not friends.
Therefore, Sirius didn’t feel guilty for questioning Abbey’s ridiculous strategy. Maybe Sirius wasn’t the stealthiest, but he wouldn’t parade around in the forest trying to attract attention either. And he would never yell like Abbey was doing. That was a dead giveaway.
Abbey had his wand raised. He had frozen in his tracks, and he was looking to a spot in the bushes rather close to Sirius. He had probably seen Sirius moving.
Wordlessly, Sirius sent a breeze of air towards a neighboring bush, which rustled lightly in the wind. Abbey snapped his attention there. It amused Sirius to see the alarm in Abbey’s face so he sent several breezes at select bushes that were around Abbey. He was spinning around wildly.
“Levicorpus,” thought Sirius.
The spell hit Abbey square in the chest, and as if a hook around his ankle lifted him into the air, Abbey’s body was dangling, his head three feet from the ground. It was a spell that wouldn’t do him much harm, but would still allow Sirius the badge is all went well. Abbey let out a surprised grunt, and Sirius took the opportunity to reveal himself. He dashed forward towards Abbey, but before he could reach him to tear that eagle badge off of his robes, Abbey yelled, “Expulso!” The spell didn’t hit Sirius, but it wasn’t aimed for him either. It hit the ground, casting a huge crater in the earth, a crater that Sirius couldn’t traverse.
“Protego!” yelled Sirius as Abbey called “Petrificus Totalus!”
The spell rebounded and hit the ground with such force that it upturned earth and splattered mud across both Abbey and Sirius.
“Expelliarmus!” cried Abbey.
Sirius was pushed backwards into a tree, and his wand flew from his hand towards the upside-down Abbey. Sirius could only think of staying on his feet. He twisted his ankle and couldn’t keep his balance. Soon, he was falling into the crater that Abbey had dug. With his ankle weak, he had no choice but to ball up and fall. His knees knocked painfully against rock. Blood was shining through his black robes in the moonlight.
He was battered, weakened, but not defeated. He could still win. He had to climb two meters out of the crater in the ground, which was difficult with a limp ankle, but he could deal with it later. He perched himself so that he could peek out and watch Abbey struggle to get down.
Abbey didn’t know the counter-jinx, and he was trying everything. “Finite Incantatum,” he muttered. Nothing. “Fuck.”
He was struggling to hold two wands, to cast a spell, and to keep all his blood from flowing directly to his head. He dropped Sirius’ wand.
Sirius had no choice but to make a dash straight for his wand, right underneath Abbey. At first, Abbey didn’t notice Sirius because he was blinded by his own spell. Sirius’ ankle was hurting him, but he jumped forward, trying not to keep weight on it for too long.
“Stupefy!” yelled Abbey.
Sirius let his weight go onto his ankles and he slid into the mud right under Abbey right to his wand. Abbey reached for him, dropping his own wand. He grabbed onto Sirius, sinking his fingernails into Sirius’ shoulders. Sirius shrugged him off, thought the non-verbal counter-spell that caused Abbey to fall on top of Sirius. Since he hadn’t heard the counter jinx, Abbey was so shocked to be on the ground that Sirius wrestled his way on top and snatched his wand off the ground.
Sirius pointed Abbey’s own wand at his opponent’s neck with one hand and tore the eagle badge off his robes with the other.
“Good fight,” muttered Sirius.
“You won,” said Abbey. “Get off me, Sirius. You won.”
But Sirius still had Abbey’s wand at his neck.
“Pretty,” said Sirius, looking at Abbey’s eagle badge. “I’d like another one of these to match.”
“I’m not selling out my team,” said Abbey.
“Want your wand back?” asked Sirius. Maybe he would lose Abbey as a “friend,” but it was a duel. He had to persist.
“You’re disgusting,” muttered Abbey, trying to worm his way out from under Sirius.
“Tell me. Where can I find the others?” asked Sirius.
“Amelia Bones already took out Garrett LaForge, and your Lily Evans got Anna and Michael,” choked Abbey. “And you’ve got me. I guess Bradley’s the only one of us left.”
“Perfect. I’ll finish off Ravenclaw then,” said Sirius.
“I didn’t think we were your enemy, Sirius,” said Abbey, uncomfortable under Sirius’ weight. “What happened to Slytherin?”
“Everyone’s the enemy in this game, Abbey,” said Sirius. “First things first. Where’s Bradley?”
“We never split up. It was an experimental plan. To stay together. That’s how I know that everyone’s out. He’s near. He’s probably overheard our duel. He should be a little west of here,” said Abbey.
“Is that a lie?” asked Sirius.
“Of course not,” said Abbey. “I’m directing you to him because I’m sure Bradley would love to beat you.”
Sirius stepped off of Abbey and dropped the wand. “Thanks for the badge.”
“Yeah, yeah,” muttered Abbey.
And Sirius was gone, heading west.
“I’m out! Don’t fight me!”
A beaten and bruised Abbey Fawcett had his hands in the air, and no badge shone on his chest.
“I’m leaving the forest, Evans,” spat Abbey. “Your friend Black took me out.”
“He’s around here?” asked Lily.
“Yeah. He’s close. I lost fifteen minutes ago maybe,” said Abbey.
“Sorry,” said Lily. “See you in class tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” said Abbey. “I’m going back to the castle. Going to bed. This sucks.”
“Wish me luck?” asked Lily.
“Sorry. Sirius was pretty ruthless. I’m not sure I want Gryffindor to win,” said Abbey, whose smile didn’t look too sincere. Maybe he wasn’t joking.
“Ha. Okay. Well, good night,” said Lily uncomfortably, watching after Abbey as he trudged miserably towards the forest exit. She had stopped to rest briefly as she watched Abbey walk away, but it was a bad idea in hindsight. Only a few minutes after Abbey left, she was cornered.
“Looking for a fight, Miss Evans?” asked Wilkes. He had walked into the clearing as if he were hiking rather than running around in a big dueling game. He was all too calm--sort of like James in a way--though Lily suspected much of Wilkes’ tranquility was due to the tea leaves that he was notorious for smoking.
“Dylan Wilkes,” said Lily. “Hello. How are you?”
“I’m wonderful now,” he said. “And you?”
“Hanging in there,” said Lily.
“You do look a little cut up,” he said.
“Mm. One of my opponents sent some sticks at my face,” said Lily.
“Now that’s not very nice,” said Wilkes, pouting slightly.
He was flirting with her. Before a duel. What a strategy.
“Right. I sent my thanks in the form of a Blasting Curse,” said Lily.
“Very nice,” complimented Wilkes. “You’ve got one badge then?”
“Two,” she said. “Both Ravenclaw. You?”
“You know, I’ve been after a Hufflepuff guy, but he’s rather good at escaping even if he isn’t so good at dueling. And I helped Mulciber take out Josh Stebbins. But Mulciber made away with the badge. So I’d really like a souvenir of my own. Maybe a little silver lion?” said Wilkes with a laugh.
“Do you always like to play with your food before you eat it?” asked Lily, her eyes flashing.
“No. But you’re entertaining enough,” he said. “You’re surprisingly funny.”
“Surprisingly?” asked Lily, mocking offense.
“You can be sickeningly nice. But you’re also all too clever with insults,” said Wilkes. “It’s cute.”
“So, do you come into the Forbidden Forest to pick up chicks often, Wilkes?” asked Lily, pursing her lips.
“This is a first,” he said with a smile. “But I really came here for a duel.”
“I’d be happy to oblige,” said Lily.
“I actually came here for an improper duel, so I don’t think we should bow and count to three,” said Wilkes.
“Incarcerous!” said Lily in reply.
Wilkes adopted an odd smile on his face as he was blasted backwards into a tree as ropes from Lily’s wand bound him there.
But before the ropes had tied his wand hand, he cast a Revulsion Jinx. With a blast of purple light, the ropes were severed, and he stood before Lily, his wand aimed at her heart. “Obliviate!”
Though shocked, she managed to throw herself from the trajectory. For one moment, she had thought he seemed friendly enough--a little cocky, but friendly. And then a memory charm?! “What are you playing at, Wilkes? A Memory Charm?!” She gaped at him, but not for long. “Stupefy!”
He dodged it and quickly cast another spell--a jet of white light hurtled toward her.
“Protego horribilis!” said Lily. The spell rebounded. “Deprimo!” She aimed the spell at Wilkes’ feet, where she blasted a crater. He scrambled to keep his footing. It gave her enough time to run. If he was going to try to cast Memory Charms on her, there was no guessing what other kinds of serious damage he would try.
She ran. She ran in the direction from which Abbey Fawcett had come. Maybe she would find Sirius, James, or any other teammate so that she wouldn’t have to brave this nightmare alone.
“Rick Bradley, you are mine,” whispered Sirius to himself, greedily looking at the eagle badge pinned to Bradley’s chest. His target was wading in the creek, cleansing his hands it seemed. While Sirius couldn’t see his face, the badge gave him away as the only remaining Ravenclaw and probably the smartest of the bunch too.
Abbey had been a fair dueler, but only because he was so terrible. Honestly, Sirius thought about why Abbey had put up such a fight, and it was because Sirius wasn’t expecting him to be so loud, feisty, and terrible of a dueler.
Sirius could make a clean job out of Bradley, but where was the fun in that? The point was the fight, not the outcome. And that is why Sirius chose to send a Cascading Jinx at the contents of the creek. The water level rose quickly. It knocked Bradley off his feet, and he scrambled for shore, rose to his feet, and cast a protective charm around himself.
Sirius waited for the exact moment that the charm would fade to reveal himself. The boys stood on opposite banks, a heavy flowing stream between them.
Sirius didn’t know the spell that Bradley aimed at the water. The whole creek froze immediately, and Bradley broke the ice, causing shards to go flying through the air, most of them right at Sirius. He threw himself to the ground, in the cover of a bush. It was his best option, but it still didn’t cover him from all of the piercing pain.
He pushed himself out of cover when the ice had all fallen. He tried to get to his feet, but his injured ankle wasn’t having it. So Sirius kept on his stomach, throwing a string of Freezing Charms right at Bradley.
Bradley fell, however, not because of one of Sirius’ icy blue spells. It was a bright red Stunning Spell that took him down. Sirius had not known that someone else had been watching their battle. He stumbled to his feet, as a cloaked figure rushed towards Bradley’s body.
“That was my target, Reg,” yelled Sirius angrily. He could recognize his brother from anywhere: he slunk around with his shoulders curled forwards but still he moved nimbly.
“This is my badge,” replied Regulus, ripping it off Bradley’s robes and giving Sirius a guilty smile. He cut across the drained creek so that he was standing only a few meters from Sirius. “It was my spell.”
“But he was my target,” argued Sirius.
“Duel ya for it,” said Regulus, tossing the badge up in his hand. He caught it with the ease of a seeker.
“How many badges do you have?” asked Sirius.
“I beat a Hufflepuff, this Ravenclaw, and I suppose I’m about to beat a Gryffindor,” said Regulus. “How many do you have, Sirius?”
“Well, I’ve already beat two Ravenclaws, but my sneaky little brother took one of their badges. So I guess I have to get revenge... Petrificus Totalus!”
Somehow, Regulus slipped away from the trajectory. If Sirius had to describe Regulus, he would definitely call him sneaky. Reg then sent a nonverbal spell at Sirius, who blocked it.
“I don’t know why you think you’re going to win, Reg,” Sirius said in a sing-song voice. “Stupefy!”
“I might win because your aim is off,” said Regulus, easily dodging the spell. “And because you only play offense. Expulso!”
He jumped aside. “I only play offense? What’s that supposed to mean?” He threw two freezing charms at Regulus, both of which he deflected.
“Because you’ve spent so much time attacking everyone with offensive spells... It doesn’t cross your mind to defend yourself,” replied Regulus.
“I don’t see how that’s a problem if it keeps me in the game!” said Sirius, sending a spell that ignited the ground under Regulus in flames.
Regulus had to leap away. He was panting. “It’s an abrasive and... insensitive strategy.” He was still trying to recollect himself that he forgot to send a reply spell.
Sirius frowned and took a couple steps forward. “Are we still talking about dueling, Reg? What are you going on about? I’m abrasive and insensitive?”
Regulus doubled over and vomited. He was weakened to the point of sickness. He made no attempt to respond.
“I still don’t know what you hope to accomplish by calling me insensitive, but in a duel, it’s a strategy that keeps me winning,” said Sirius with a smirk. “Petrificuls Totalus!”
Regulus tried to duck, but he was unsuccessful. He fell backwards rigidly, and his body skid through the mud into the dry creek bed. Sirius ran to his brother and frowned, “You okay, Reg? Yeah? Well, I suppose this is mine.” Sirius peeled the serpent badge off his brother’s robes. “I know you pretty well, little bro. I know you’re sneaky and that a lot of people have a hard time catching you. You are good at running away and defense maybe. But I do want you to know, that I’m still your older, wiser, more agile brother. And I will always be able to beat you. And that’s not meant to be insensitive, that’s just the truth.”
It came out sounding vicious, even though Sirius had wanted to say it playfully--the way he used to tease Regulus in their yard when they were young. Regulus had been a scared child. He’d run to their parents to cry and complain because Sirius had been so good at breaking him down, tugging on his insecurities. Now, Sirius knew that he didn’t have the same power over Regulus that he had once had. But it was fun to pretend.
Lily tore through the trees. She wasn’t sure why Wilkes was playing so severely, but for the first time in hours, she felt more afraid than anything else. She was afraid to be alone, but she was also afraid to encounter people. She was probably in the center of the forest plot, the most dangerous spot to be, but hopefully most people had been eliminated by now.
“Sirius! Sirius!” she called.
She was unlike Rory. They had had to split up for that reason. Though Lily was graceful and could move quickly, she couldn’t skirt around her opponents indefinitely. She felt no qualms about calling Sirius’ name.
“Who’s there?” he barked. “Reducto!”
“Stop!” she cried. “Protego! Stop! Sirius, it’s me! Lily!”
“Lily?!” he said, uncovering himself from his spot pressed against a tree.
There she was, crouching on the ground, having narrowly avoided his curse. She panted, and he helped her to her feet. For the first time in their lives, they embraced.
“Are you alright?” he asked her.
“Fine. Just exhausted,” she said.
“Need water? I know where to find a creek,” he said.
“I’m okay,” she said. “Where’s Marlene?”
“We split up hours ago. She wanted to head a sharp west,” he said.
“And you wanted to stay here in the middle of things,” supplied Lily still feeling too weak to smile.
“Well yeah,” he shrugged and smiled. “Two badges.”
“Me too!” she said. They high fived. “I’m running from Wilkes. He’s not playing fair.”
“He’s not?” asked Sirius.
“Memory Charms. What is that nonsense?” said Lily.
“Memory Charms?!” exclaimed Sirius. “Slytherins never know how to play fair. Have you seen anyone else?”
“Just Abbey Fawcett. A little bitter about being beat,” she said. “But no one from our team.”
“There aren’t many of us left, I bet,” said Sirius.
“On our team?” asked Lily.
“In general. Half of us maybe? The odds can’t really be any better,” said Sirius.
“Stay together then?” asked Lily.
“Good idea,” he said.
Rory didn’t cry. Rory hadn’t cried in years. And tonight wasn’t going to change things, even if she did suddenly remember how crying was possible. But she refrained. She had to revive Portia.
She had struggled under Portia’s weight, couldn’t carry her. And that’s when the acromantula had come for them. There had been four of them: giant spiders who ebbed toward them, their feet tapering against the ground like suction cups. Spells could only keep them at bay. She could hardly run and leave Portia. She couldn’t climb, because the spiders could follow. She had resolved to hide. So she had barricaded herself and Portia in a small crater in the ground and covered it with a rock. The spiders had waited outside for at least an hour, and there was nothing Rory could do. She continued to try to fling spells and sparks. Maybe someone would come to her rescue, but no one did. After what felt like an eternity, the spiders left.
Portia’s breathing was slow.
Rory crawled out, dragging Portia out as well. She gently set her down. “Mobilicorpus,” she muttered. Her sister’s body levitated about a meter in the air at the direction of Rory’s wand. In her haste earlier, she had forgotten that magic could help her get Portia back to the castle.
She directed her sister carefully and expertly towards the exit of the forest. She wasn’t still playing the game, but she knew the Slytherins were around these parts. Maybe one of them would have the heart to help her. But if not, she could do it herself. She was used to doing things herself.
There was rustling. It could have been just a forceful wind, and Rory was trying not to think of it. She had Portia. They were almost out.
“You need help.”
Rory knew the voice of her Quidditch enemy, Regulus Black. It was the serene and stable voice that haunted her during matches. He was a bug, an itch she couldn’t scratch. It had to be him.
“Leave me alone just this once, please,” said Rory. “Bugger.”
“But you need help,” said Regulus.
“I can do it,” said Rory.
“Who is that?” asked Regulus.
“Don’t act like you don’t know.”
“I’m not acting,” said Regulus. “I don’t know.”
“Portia. It’s my sister, Portia,” said Rory.
“What is she doing here?”
“We’re out on some sisterly bonding, okay?” said Rory desperately. He was following her. “Leave us alone. I’m not playing anymore.”
“I’m not playing either,” he said. “Let me help.”
“There’s nothing you can do,” she said.
But he waved his wand despite her protests. A powerful jet of silvery white light left his wand, remolding the trees and bushes so that branches did not hang over one little path. He had carved her a trail. “That’s the fastest way out.”
James was sprinting in human form back to the grove, the base. He should never have left; it was a bad idea. He had been briefly tempted by the want to fight, but of course, now that he’d heard the centaurs’ warning, he wasn’t sure his team would be okay. He’d need to get back.
There it was: their safe grove. He rushed forward. Maybe someone was there. He’d been gone for an hour. Who knows what could have happened. He hadn’t heard anything else from Lily. Was he the only one left in the game on his team? He didn’t know.
His cloak caught on a branch. He yanked it hard, and it unhooked easier than he had anticipated. The force sent him hurtling forward. He smacked right into a cloaked person.
She shrieked piercingly, grabbed him around the middle, which did keep him from falling though. “Stop! Stop!”
He shrugged her off, but she clutched on. She had a tight grip around his middle. He grunted heavily as he tried to escape her.
She let go briefly to grab for her wand, but James jumped away, finally getting a look at her face. “Amelia!”
“Oh! James!” she said. Her chest was moving up and down so rapidly. She was panting. Her hair was matted with blood, and her eyes were glassy. “They were...” She broke into sobs.
How easily he could rip that shining badger from her robes, but he couldn’t. He took her in his arms and hugged her. “What is it?”
Before she could answer, he had her weight in his arms. She had collapsed. Luckily she was light, and he brought her down to a sitting position underneath a tree.
“I fought him,” she spluttered. “It was... hard. He collapsed a whole group of trees... And I... I was hit by a branch.” She motioned to her head. “And the spells kept coming... It wasn’t just him.”
“Who?” asked James, slowing her down.
“Garret LaForge and Rick Bradley. I got Garret,” she said. She shakily reached in her pockets, pulling out a little eagle badge. “Bradley... Got away.”
“He’s good,” said James.
“Oh. He’s excellent,” agreed Amelia.
“You took them both at once,” said James.
“No choice,” said Amelia. “The Ravenclaws all banded together as backup. They didn’t split up. That was their strategy.”
“Did this just happen?” asked James.
“No. That was a couple hours ago now,” said Amelia. “But I’ve been followed...” She was still shaky. “I thought you were him.”
“Who’s following you? Bradley?” asked James.
“I don’t know,” she said. “He isn’t wearing a badge. He must already be out of the game. I don’t know why he’s still playing.”
“What? He’s not wearing a badge?” asked James to clarify.
She shook her head. “No badge. Just black robes and a hood.”
“What does he do? Send spells at you?”
“No,” said Amelia. “He doesn’t send any spells. He just follows me. I’ve been running and running forever, but he’s so swift and quiet. He follows me. And he just stands there watching me.”
“What?” Briefly, James thought about the centaurs warning: that there were others.
She put her hand to her forehead. She was crying again.
James put his arm around her, and she melted into him.
“When I think I’ve outrun him, there he’ll be, ahead of me. He’s wherever I go. Just standing there. And I can only see his hooded outline in the moonlight,” said Amelia. “Take my badge so I can get out of here. You know I can’t leave until I’m defeated.”
“If that’s what you want,” said James, helping her to her feet. She was still shaky and she almost fainted at first, but he kept her upright. “Are you even good to walk out of here?”
She nodded. “Oh yeah. That’s enough.” She was still leaning on him. “Please,” she said desperately. “Let me out.”
At first, James thought she had collapsed again when she fell into him, but she grabbed him around his shoulders, and he hurriedly took her waist. She found his lips and kissed him hungrily. James took a step backwards in surprise. Her eye contact was strange and bizarre and animalistic. Anything but romantic... She seemed desperate for comfort in this frigid darkness.
He wouldn’t kiss her back. She tried again, and he moved away. He didn’t understand what her need for company was like: how traumatized and alone Amelia felt. He wouldn’t understand, and here in the forest wasn’t the place to try.
“What?” said Amelia, confused that James had rejected her.
“It’s not that you want me, Amelia,” said James. “It’s because you feel tired and alone and you’re just glad to run into somebody.”
“So?” said Amelia. “This is the only time I’ve felt mildly safe.”
Before James could respond, there was a resonant crash. Some splintering noise of wood being broken. And a hollow growl. It was distant, but not too distant.
Amelia peeled herself away from James. The adrenaline had given Amelia the ability to stand by herself once again. She looked embarrassed, but scared. Mostly scared.
Then there was the unmistakeable howl of a werewolf. So obviously to James, Remus had broken down the barrier of the Shrieking Shack. He would pounce from the passage and charge around the grounds or into these woods. And there was nothing that a teeny tiny rat friend could do to stop him.
James’ mind raced. There was such a risk that one of the twenty players would run into the werewolf if James didn’t do something. The only thing that might pacify the werewolf Remus was a stag. James would have to leave the forest to keep Remus at bay. And the only way to leave the forest before sunrise was to be defeated.
“Amelia,” he began. “I know I promised I’d get you out of this game, but I need you to trust me. I can’t do it... I need to leave. I need to go stop whatever it is that’s about to enter the forest.”
“You swore, James!” she said, her expression cracking. “I don’t know what it is, but that person stalking me... All he makes me think of is that night my parents died... I can hear their screams. He’s terrorizing me!”
“Amelia... Amelia. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I can’t do it. I’ll protect you if you stay in here. I’ll come back for you,” he said. He was beginning to think she was going crazy. There was no one following her that he could see, there was no one that could revive such a cruel memory from a distance...
“I’ll make as much noise as I can so that someone finds me and takes me out of the game, if you won’t do it!” said Amelia hysterically.
“No!” said James, knowing that a werewolf would love an easy target. “What you need to do is stay away from this grove. I carved out a trail on the way here. It’s thick with a human scent. Whatever’s out there will sniff you out. Roll around in some dirt. Seriously. I know you don’t believe me, but try to lose your human scent. And make your own trail. Cake yourself with mud and climb a tree.”
“You’re barking mad,” said Amelia, dazed.
“Please,” he said desperately. “I haven’t given you reason not to trust me.”
“But you want me to take your badge so you can leave the forest?” asked Amelia.
“You’re safer in here undercover than out there without any,” said James.
She gave James a murderous look and ripped his lion badge off his robes. Her eyes were glassy once more, but they caught something behind James and widened. He turned to follow her gaze: there it was. That hooded figure she had spoken of. He was just standing there between two trees about ten meters away.
Maybe James was imagining it, but the mist thickened and the air got colder.
Amelia clung to James again. “Don’t leave me.”
“Petrificus Totalus!” cried James, aiming at the figure. The person did not try to dodge the jet of light. It made contact, but when the light disappeared, James realized that the figure hadn’t fallen. Merely disappeared. “It’s not human...” he muttered.
“What?!” cried Amelia. “You can’t leave me.”
There was another howl. The werewolf had bounded out of the passage and was now in open air.
“I have to,” said James. “Go that way. Yell for Sirius. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry!”
He couldn’t look at her again because her expression was heartbreaking. He had been her one comfort in this game, and he had deserted her. He had had no choice. He ran forward, and in one giant leap, he transformed into a stag.
He was out of the game, and he could leave the forest. In stag form, it would take about five minutes to reach the edge.
Marlene stirred. When she opened her eyes, she realized she was lying face-down on the floor of the forest. She felt sore, confused. She closed her eyes once more. How had she gotten there?
It took her a moment to remember. She had seen a battle. She had hid in the brush, waiting for one of them to finish the other off. Then she would step in to duel the weakened victor. It took her a moment to remember who she had watched: Rick Bradley and some Hufflepuff. The Hufflepuff was not an experienced dueler. His aim was off. He sent Stunning Spells dangerously far from Bradley. One of them had hit Marlene.
And apparently, no one had found her sprawled unconscious. She still had her lion pin attached to her robes. She sat up.
Her heart sunk. Evan Rosier was sitting in front of her, cross-legged, as if it were the most natural thing in the entire world.
“Oh hey asshole,” she said. “If you’ve been waiting around for me to wake up so I can swear allegiance to your little Boy Scouts Gone Bad Club, you’ll have to keep waiting.”
“You’re pretty snarky for just waking up,” said Rosier.
“And you’re a douchebag any time of day,” replied Marlene. “Take this goddamn badge if that’s what you want, but I’m not joining you.”
“Now, I never even got to ask you politely,” said Rosier. “Pretty please?”
“I can’t tell if you’re joking or not, but I’m going to keep saying no,” said Marlene.
“I’m half joking,” said Rosier. He was so calm and aggravating for a Death Eater. She almost wished he would explicitly threaten her. It would be easier than getting under her skin that way.
“What about the other half?” asked Marlene. “The serious half.”
“You’re completely pureblood, you know,” said Rosier. “Seven generations on your mum’s side, and thirteen on your dad’s.”
“It’s extraordinarily creepy that you would know that,” said Marlene.
He ignored her. “And I know you can do wandless magic.”
“Congratulations,” said Marlene. It was the only comeback she could think of.
“You’re exactly what He wants,” said Rosier. “And if I bring you to him...”
“See, your offer is just sort of annoying. You should learn something about bribery. You didn’t even bake me cookies or give me a free trial offer or anything,” said Marlene.
“I have an idea,” said Rosier. “Let’s duel. If I walk away with your badge, you have to meet with me and a select group of students for that ‘free trial offer’ you were talking about.”
“And if I get your badge?” asked Marlene.
Rosier shrugged. “You can turn me in for blackmail.”
“You’re awfully sure of yourself in a duel,” said Marlene.
“Because I don’t lose.”
“That’s about to change,” said Marlene.
“So you agree with the terms?” asked Rosier.
“Sounds good. I’d love to get you expelled or locked up or something,” said Marlene.
“Uh huh. Well, why don’t we do this proper style then?” asked Rosier.
“Count to three and bow?” asked Marlene. “Why don’t we paint each others’ toenails while we’re at it?”
“Come on,” urged Rosier. “I could have already branded you while you were lying here unconscious. You owe me.”
“I don’t owe you anything,” growled Marlene, but she stood up, following Rosier’s lead. “And I’m only agreeing because I want to win fairly.”
The stag burst from the forest and spotted the enemy: the werewolf racing across the campus, clambering through an outdoor passageway and ripping the rock down. He sprinted, meeting the werewolf in the air and slamming him body against it. Maybe if he angered the werewolf enough, he would choose the stag as prey and follow him to the Shrieking Shack.
The werewolf yelped, his front paw injured from the collision. The stag didn’t stop. He continued slamming his body against the werewolf. Once. Twice. Three times. Finally, it may have made him a target. The wolf growled and followed the stag back the way it had come.
But then the two girls emerged from the Forbidden Forest.
The werewolf stopped in his tracks, staring greedily at the two sisters, Portia, already unconscious and Rory, weakened. Two easy targets. He took off.
The stag was in hot pursuit, ramming his weight into the werewolf.
Rory, despite the darkness, could sense the movement, but she was delayed in noticing them. She couldn’t run and hope to escape. Surely not with her sister in tow. She dropped her wand in shock. She had recognized the werewolf as a werewolf.
The stag could try to protect them, but he wasn’t sure how long he could hold the werewolf off.
But Rory ingeniously yelled, “Ascendio!” She and her sister both shot into the air, their bodies levitating above the ground.
The werewolf leapt on its hind legs, trying to grab the girls, but they were out of reach. Instead of screaming, Rory laughed, which only seemed to aggravate the animal more. Its attempts to reach them were futile, and soon it turned its attention to the Dark Forest. Voices.
He ran, and the stag followed. Into the woods they galloped, the stag desperately trying to keep a lead. He lay eyes on three boys, three Slytherins: Wilkes, Adam Mulciber, Dane Avery. They were huddled together.
“Stag,” said Avery.
“Just kill it,” said Mulciber. “I’m bored.”
Avery took his wand out, and the stag had to throw himself out of the way to avoid the spell. However, in doing so, he directed the werewolf’s attention to the boys. And he charged.
“What is that?!”
They scuttled away, but they were too slow, too cumbersome. Wilkes tripped. The werewolf lunged, caught Wilkes’ robes on his claws. It was the only lucky thing about the situation. The werewolf had to untangle himself. Wilkes made a break for it with his two friends.
Undoubtedly, the werewolf would chase the boys... but he had to tear the fabric from his claws first.
“It’s strange that we’re both the hunters and the hunted tonight,” said Lily. She and Sirius had stopped to rest a few minutes ago. She had noticed his limp and forced him down so she could try to set his ankle.
“Do you think you’re usually the hunter or the hunted?” asked Sirius.
“Like, in life?”
“I imagine I’m supposed to say I’m the hunter, since I’m a Prefect,” said Lily. “But I’m also a muggleborn, so I could say I’m the hunted. But in all honesty, I feel like I’m neither.”
“Good answer,” said Sirius. “Hey. Do you hear that?”
“Yeah. It’s coming closer,” said Lily.
“Sounds like screaming.”
“I think it is,” said Lily, jumping to her feet with her wand in front of her. The noise brought her back to the harsh reality of their situation. Her conversation with Sirius had distracted her temporarily, but now her heart was beating faster and she was keeping her eyes trained toward the violent screams. She couldn’t stand it. She had to offer help. “We’re here!” she cried.
“Shh!” said Sirius, nudging her in the arm. “We don’t know what’s going on.”
“Nothing good!” hissed Lily before she continued to call out in response to the screams. “Here! We’re here! This way!”
It wasn’t long before Amelia Bones sprinted into the clearing. At the sight of Lily and Sirius, she fell onto her knees sobbing.
Sirius kept his wand out, but Lily dropped hers and immediately made her way to Amelia, slinking down besides her and putting an arm around her shoulder.
“Lily..” hissed Sirius.
Lily scowled at him and returned her attention to Amelia, who had slipped from Lily’s grasp and fallen into a fetal position on the ground. Her tears subsided, but she still looked broken, unhinged. Her eyes were trained behind Lily, who continued to rub Amelia’s back and try to get Amelia to speak.
But Sirius followed Amelia’s stare.
“Lily. We aren’t alone,” he said quietly.
“What?” she asked.
“There’s someone there. Watching us,” said Sirius. “He’s not wearing a badge.”
The world seemed twenty degrees colder, ten times lonelier, and one hundred times more confusing. Lily turned her head slowly. Sure enough, there he was not ten meters away. His hood obscured his face, but he seemed to be watching them greedily.
“What do you want?!” yelled Sirius.
The figure didn’t move.
“A fight?!” asked Sirius, edging nearer.
“Sirius!” snapped Lily.
“Reducto!” shouted Sirius, taking aim at the figure.
Well, not nothing.
The figure was moving closer slowly. He glided almost eerily, his head down at the ground so still Lily couldn’t see his face.
But she could hear the voices. Petunia’s: “We’re taking dad to the hospital. Now.” The way the EMTs shuffled in casually, as if her father had not just died in his bedroom. The last look Lily had of him...
She shook the memory.
“Sirius!” exclaimed Lily. “Why is it here? It’s a dementor!” But it was probable that Sirius already knew as well. He was staring blankly with that sad, intolerable expression that meant he was thinking about his family and his childhood. “There are more!”
At the insistence of her voice, he turned to her and registered what she had said. Then he, too, noticed the others creeping in the woods.
“Amelia!” urged Lily. “Please. You have the strength enough for one patronous!”
Amelia blinked, and after a long pause, she hoisted herself up. She was thinking. Sirius was thinking too. But their happiness was fading, losing to their tragic memories.
Lily was struggling, but she looked to Amelia and Sirius--both fighting tormenting reminders of their pasts. Lily fought, fought to find just one sustainable happy memory for her friends.
Crazily, the first thing that popped into her mind was that mud fight that had landed her so many detentions, cost her three showers, and left her with the sniffles. But the memory was as near perfect as they came.
Marlene glared at her opponent. She so badly wanted to think of Rosier as evil, but really he was a human just like her. They had even bantered. They had bantered. Marlene doubted that someone pure evil had the ability to banter.
Why then were his views so evil? Why was he torturing her? Sending her messages? She had to fight him. They had a deal.
“On three then,” said Rosier, and she hated that he was calling the shots like this was some kind of playground game.
Howling, rustling, mist, noise. It was all so unsettling, but she had only one opponent. She kept her eyes trained on Rosier.
Whimpering. Whining. Animals were around. But Rosier was the most animalistic of all.
The spells collided, shattered, and rebounded fragments in all directions. A few branches fell, obscuring Marlene’s view of Rosier.
Ducking in and out of the branches, he threw another spell at her that she didn’t know. They were circling each other, scampering over the debris. There was no need for her to fight with anything but the Disarming Charm. She could work without a wand, but he couldn’t. So if she could just disarm him...
Their spells continued to miss, to rebound dangerously.
And then she got him. Or his wand rather. It flew to her hand. She just had to finish him off: stun him. He looked surprised at his loss. He had to run.
She chased him. He wasn’t the quickest, though she wasn’t either. They were both exhausted, and his attempts to run really were futile. She threw curse after curse.
There was a cracking sound, and Marlene thought she was victorious. But Rosier was still upright. She ebbed forward. The cracking had not been from her spell, but rather from the splintering of a young pine. It broke as two animals rammed into it.
A stag and a wolf. A wolf with rather hungry, human eyes. She didn’t want to believe it at first, but the Full Moon shone brightly overhead. The eyes, the nostrils, the paws. She recognized it as a werewolf.
The animals fought dangerously near Rosier, and Marlene couldn’t help but emit a scream. He may have been her opponent, but he was wandless, defenseless. She hated him, but she had to protect him.
“Rosier!” she yelled, unsure why. With a wave of her hand, she slammed his body out of the way of the animals. He landed on a cushioned bit of moss, and Marlene waved her arm to push him further out of the way, into a small cavern.
Her bits of magic had attracted the attention of the animals. They charged at her instead.
She could feel the weight of her recent world lifted. She’d been in a dreadful mood as of late: grouchy with her boyfriend, short with her friends, angry at her parents. Everything seemed like it was changing. Her parents were moving away. Her sister was graduating. The twins would be living with her aunt. And no one had seemed to care one way or another about Marlene, even though she was losing her entire family, the thing she cared about the most.
Thinking of her family seemed to make the pain subside. It distracted her from thinking about the claws that dug into her flesh and the blood that was seeping out. She couldn’t hear the yelping or smell the coppery scent of death.
The breeze felt warm.
She was home in her living room snuggling on the couch with Jasmine, and her parents came through the door, each carrying one of the new babies. “Meet your new siblings, girls,” said her dad. Marlene and Jasmine had bounded over, fawning over the babies. “When I grow up,” said Marlene, “I want to have a house full of kids so they can all play together.”
The night was dark.
She was in her new bed the first night that her family had spent in Belgium. Over the course of the night, Jasmine, Eleanor, and Drake had all joined her there, and she had held them tightly.
The animals were disappearing.
Where was her family in this exact moment? Her parents both working new jobs in Surinam. Jasmine falling asleep in her dorm after a long night of chattering about boys. Drake and Eleanor curled up in their beds in their respective rooms. Everyone happy.
And Marlene lay in the woods dying.
happy 50th chapter everyone :)
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