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It's Called Adventure by Aiedail
Chapter 6 : By Close Encounters
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 10

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By Close Encounters

Neville hadn't been the head of the student rebellion at Hogwarts during the Great War of his generation due to chance. He was quiet, thoughtful, forgetful, and hopelessly clumsy, but in times of need, he somehow found the power to overreach himself and become a leader.

Unfortunately for himself, Scorpius, and Hugo, he couldn't be too much of a leader in this situation. Scorpius had surprised him earlier, facing down with the giant spider the way that he had, answering its questions, staring it in the eye, and addressing its obvious fascination with him. But then again, he had been placed in the Gryffindor house, and the Sorting Hat wasn't the type to make mistakes.

But Neville was rapidly concocting a plan. If he didn't think that it would shorten their journey significantly by traveling with the beast to his queen to find out exactly where the plant was, he would have them all join hands and Apparate back to safety, out of the Acromantula's patch of land. It would backset them significantly, but they'd either talk Hugo out of the plan to find the fruit or they'd find another way to get through to the other side of the river.

But, as it happened, he did think that it would shorten their journey significantly to go and see what the queen had to say, so he wouldn't take them all away yet. First they would follow the creature into the midst of his kingdom. They would be perfectly polite and gracious, listening to everything that they were offered. Neville had a hard time believing that after the queen had had her say, they would just let three juicy humans go out of politeness--Neville thought that if three licorice wands just happened to appear in his midst, he'd be more than willing to snatch them up and take them for himself--he shook his head. Now was not the time or place to be thinking about licorice wands, no matter how loudly his stomach complained. If the spiders didn't let them go, he'd Apparate them out into safety.

The only hitch in the whole plan was that Neville hadn't ever crossed the river, and Apparation took a great deal of concentration to end up in the right spot without Splinching; even to move at all. It would be a critical moment, caught up in panic, and he would be lucky if the boys responded to his screech in time to save them. But Neville shook his head. It would work.

He had a sudden idea. In times of need, coordinates would often allow travelers to Apparate to unknown areas. Wizards and Witches had developed a basic grid system, not quite different from Latitude and Longitude that Muggles more commonly consulted, that would allow the touring man--at the time it was highly popular to take world tours--to Apparate into places where he'd never been by concentrating on the numbers that appeared at this place on the map.

Of course, it was very impractical because the coordinates only appeared at wide intervals, and often they would have to walk several miles to meet their destination, but it was quicker than any physical means of transport regardless. Coordinates, Neville thought, were their last hope.

He needed to get the map off of Hugo. He looked to his right. Rummy that Scorpius separated Neville from him--he didn't want to alert the beast that walked ahead of them to his mistrust.

"Scorpius," Neville hissed out of the side of his mouth in the lowest tone he could manage. He knew instantly that they boy had heard him (maybe that earring is receptive to low frequencies, he thought)--Scorpius tensed, and one dark blue eye shifted to look at Neville through a lot of blond lashes.

"I need the map," Neville mouthed, gesturing very slightly to Hugo's coat pocket, where the map, curled and damp, poked out.

"The map?" Scorpius whispered softly, trying not to move his lips. Silly, really, Neville thought, as the creature's eyes were in the front of its head. But still, he understood that not all things were subject to logic and practicality in times like these.

Neville nodded slightly. He tried to indicate with his eyebrows to Hugo's pocket. Scorpius seemed to understand.

Scorpius now found himself with a daunting task ahead of him. Hugo was not a master of subtlety, and he understood that consulting the map could be a sign of mistrust if the monster ahead of them were to somehow find out that Neville was looking at it. He thought of simply grabbing it quickly from the boy's pocket, but that might surprise him and in his innocent startle the boy might cry out, or jump, or do any matter of things which might attract the attention of the spider. He bit his lip. If he tried to get Hugo's attention, he was almost sure that the boy would make some kind of loud response, not understanding the delicacy of the situation.

He was really in a quandary. Old Longbottom seemed to realise this, as he grimaced sympathetically in Scorpius's direction and turned back to regard the back of the creature ahead of them. Scorpius wanted very badly to let out a sigh. He thought that it would purge some of the anxiety from his system and give him a clearer head.

Surely this wasn't the only type of place he could have found himself in need of keeping a person quiet but getting something out of them at the same time. He racked his brains for ideas of what to do, but it was hard because he just kept seeing Rose's anxious face, and hearing her soft, worried voice--

But that was it! Rose. Last Christmas she'd tried to get him into Muggle fiction, and she'd shown him a series of Muggle detective stories which he'd read through. They'd been some of the only Muggle books that Scorpius had ever been exposed to, and he remembered them well.

If he was a robber trying to pinch something off of a waking person in a quiet house full of other sleeping people, he'd be in sort of the same situation. He thought hard of what the characters in the book might have done when it hit him.

He looked at Hugo's gangly, unsuspecting form for a moment before he did it.

And then he moved quickly and quietly to his right, stepping behind Hugo and covering his mouth with his right hand while removing the map with his left. Hugo was so astonished that he didn't seem to be able to make a sound; only his eyes were wide and unblinking. Scorpius let go of him quickly and resumed his place in line, mouthing apologies Hugo's way. The boy still seemed dazed, but looked increasingly reassured as he, assumedly, seemed to make sense of Scorpius's pointing to his pocket, and then himself, and then Professor Longbottom. He nodded slightly, then looked back ahead, although Scorpius was sure that he saw the great green eyes flicker over in his direction a couple of times.

Scorpius handed over the map to Professor Longbottom very quietly, moving it from hand to hand without noise and prodding the old boy's leg with it to get his attention. He took it silently, with a small tip of his forehead in Scorpius's direction, and Scorpius watched as he carefully unfolded it and stared at it intently.

Man, he is silent and deadly, Hugo thought, looking at Scorpius from the corner of his eye. I had no idea he was coming and then wham! he was there. And then he was gone. It was like--wow.

Like a scorpion, Hugo thought, and he struggled not to giggle out loud. He didn't want that spider to look at him again.

He had absolutely no clue what they were going to do. He felt a twang of distant guilt that kept pelting his mind with thoughts like "you led them out here. If we die it's all your fault" and "you shouldn't have come yourself."

But Hugo knew better than that--he knew better than he knew anything that being out in the open, making concrete progress, leaving tracks in the sand by a swollen river--that felt good. He felt at home in the wilderness, mostly on his own. He felt free from the scorn of his peers; he acted like he didn't know because it wasn't important to him to let others know that he knew...but he knew what they thought of him. It was okay. He was good at Quidditch and they knew that too. They liked him, mostly, just didn't want to be best mates and that was fine, fine with Hugo. Mum and Dad had been popping by enough at school this year to keep him grounded.

Where there were no musty, damp, stone walls of Hogwarts, Hugo generally felt safe. He imagined that it was different for his sister, who spoke of Hogwarts as if she were in love with it--although at sight of the computer they had at home she'd immediately forsake it with complaints of the static nature of the wizarding world contained within its walls.

He shook his head. It wasn't the time to be thinking about Rose. He knew that she would be mad when they got back. And that it was mostly his fault. And that she might yell at him a bit. But it would be okay, he thought. It would all be okay because he would have found the Quidropopot.

If they survived the encounter with the queen of the nest, he thought. For some reason he saw them emerging on the other side of the encounter, but he couldn't actually imagine the meeting itself. But it was the other side that mattered, and he didn't worry himself too much about what lie in between the present and the distant future. He never had much control over what usually came there, so he couldn't see how this situation was different in that regard. He'd survived up until now, skating by on less-than-adequate survival skills--hadn't he? Didn't that speak well of his current plight?

The spider in front of them slowed its pace as they reached the base of the great bridge. It was even wider than Hugo had imagined from far away--enough for all four of them to walk side-by-side down its length. But they allowed the spider to scale the small flight of steps worn into the wood before they did--upon further inspection, Hugo could only guess that they'd been worn, because there were no sharp edges and he couldn't think of any tool that would have been sharp enough or strong enough to hew its way through such solid-looking wood. And when it had reached the top and stood to wait politely for them, they each exchanged glances and headed up themselves, the foliage of the impossibly long trees surrounding them briefly before they broke out into the open and stared across the bridge.

It was a long and silent walk. The bridge creaked slightly, whingeing, as they stepped on certain points--it was a strange thing, it was, walking across trees that had braided themselves together--but the humans and the Acromantula remained silent.

It wasn't an easy or comfortable silence. Hugo imagined that both Scorpius and Professor Neville were thinking like mad of a way to get them out of this. For all that he wished it to, his mind just wouldn't wander, and so he kept concentrating on the present. It wasn't a lovely picture, but he couldn't look away.

They were nearing the other side of the bridge now, and the trees that began a ways up the river bank were looming high up into the sky. Hugo saw that the heavy clouds resumed their position of winter over this side of the forest, and had the sudden urge to heat himself dry with a spell. He took out his wand and saw that instantly Scorpius and Professor Longbottom were looking intently at him, their faces distinctly alarmed--but he shook his head and muttered a heating spell under his breath, focusing the mass of hot air on his hair, which began to lighten and dry. Scorpius and Neville caught on and did the same.

"Good thinking," Scorpius mouthed, pointing his wand at the back of his own head, and then winked.

Hugo felt proud of himself, and grinned contently. Until he thought about where they were and what they were doing. He didn't think that this situation exactly warranted a contented grin.

"You'll follow me," the Acromantula said as they neared the end of the bridge of trees, entering into the foliage. The three whipped their wands back into their coats as the thing turned to look at them. "Your human vision may not be sufficient in the lower lighting of the forest."

Hugo grimaced up at the trees, feeling at once the cold swoop back down upon them. He drew up the collar of his coat to his chin as Professor Neville answered, "Of course."

The darkness slid over them easily, like it was swallowing the vestiges of a grand feast. Hugo was rather hungry, and his stomach let out a loud growl. He saw Scorpius glance over nervously--at least, he guessed that was the momentary flash of light. It could have been reflection off of his eyes. Yes, he was sure that it was. Two little pinpricks. He supposed that he had imagined the part about the nervousness, except for that it was how he was feeling himself.

They passed through what looked to Hugo to be an extended arbor, the trees around them arching and intertwining overhead. He stretched his neck back as far as it would go, amazed at the thick foliage surrounding them on every side, the dark leaves swaying lightly in the cold, frigid air. He puffed out air resembling smoke from a chimney, and resisted the urge to hum.

The spider's legs moved quickly and decidedly. Scorpius surmised that they were getting close, were on familiar ground. He wasn't sure the best way to get out of this; he knew Professor Longbottom had been developing some kind of plan with use of the map, but he knew that Longbottom was also highly invested in his research as a Herbologist and thought that even if some danger were rising quickly, and they were on the brink of making a breakthrough in the discovery of the plant, he might be more likely to fail in the execution of his plan. If Longbottom became distracted--he shuddered at the thought.

His mind was rapidly flying through possible scenarios as they passed into deeper darkness. He heard rustles in increasing volume to the left, then to the right, and gazed into the darkness blindly, cursing his weak human eyes. Of course, perhaps if he had eight eyes even their weakness could be overcome.

But what was he thinking? This wasn't a time for wishing for eight eyes, this was a

"What was that?" Longbottom hissed in Scorpius's ear. He was very close, the darkness having swallowed all approximation of proximity.

"I don't know," Scorpius hissed back.

He had heard it, and it was true that he didn't know. It sounded like the clacking that the keys on Rose's laptop computer when she was plucking away at a story. The same frenetic patterns, with the pauses and occasionally the violent stab at the space bar. He thought for a moment as it became louder, raucous, loud enough and frantic enough to hurt his ears. They would be ringing for days, he was sure, but decided as many large forms began to move out of the trees, he might focus on the problems that were sure to ensue at the current moment.

Scorpius was feeling a wave of panic that seemed to arrest his motion and ability to think clearly. It was one thing,one giant spider--who, by the way, never mentioned that he lived with extended family--but meeting the family, unprepared, and on top of that there being hundreds of them--was another entirely.

He looked at Longbottom nervously as the Acormantulas formed a wide circle around the three humans and their guide. Scorpius heard their clicks recede, replaced instead by eerie whispers in a language he didn't recognize. It sounded smooth, and the syllables slipped over themselves easily.

"Arabic?" he heard Longbottom whisper, seeming to forget himself in the strangeness of the revelation. Scorpius felt his eyebrows raise--although the spider had mentioned something about Egypt.

Scorpius's mind washed blank. All he could do was stare at Professor Longbottom and hope that he knew what to do. He had almost forgotten that the creature had promised to take them to their queen, so that they could find where the Quidropopot was hidden. Survival instinct was like that, though, wasn't it: scratched out all superfluous details.

The spider who had lead them here kept moving, and as they walked down the wide, dirty path, riddled with rocks and twigs, the circle of relatives followed, moving in and out of itself in an eerie manner. Scorpius shivered.

"The queen's layer," the spider croaked; immediately their surrounding queue slid away, scattered, with more whispering, clacking and the creepy creaking of their many limbs.

Scorpius brushed the long vines aside as they slithered over his shoulders--they were passing through some kind of curtain.

Into some kind of domed web. It was giant, but nothing that was giant enough to prepare Scorpius for the creature basking at its center.

She--assuming he was regarding the queen--was almost twice the size of the spider who had lead them here. If he was seeing correctly. And he thought he was. And when she opened her huge pincers to address them, he felt like fainting.

"Visitors, Aasim?" she spoke, in a high-pitched voice, so different than what he had been expecting. It was the only feature that distinguished her from the male they had encountered before.

"Yes, Malika, my sister," the creature, called Aasim, who had led them here, addressed the queen. Scorpius felt a tinge of regret at not having treated him with more respect--the brother to the queen? "They have come in search of the great fruit deeply mingled with our own ancestry," he said. "But they may tell you more." Aasim bowed, stepping backwards agilely so that the three humans were at the forefront of the queen's vision. Scorpius saw her eyes shift from her brother, to him, then Hugo, and then Professor Longbottom.

"Welcome, travelers," she spoke, picking up one long appendage to gesture around here. "Our forest is your forest, of course, as is the nature of a commingling of species. However, you must forgive our precaution. It is not often that humans travel far enough into the forest to come into our lands, and we, in thought of our species, and the others which live here freely, take the greatest care in assuring our own survival."

Scorpius wasn't sure that he should be the one to speak, so remained quiet and looked out of the corner of his eye down the line. Hugo looked shocked, unsurprisingly, his eyes wide and blinking at irregular intervals. Professor Longbottom glanced at the two boys beside him and Scorpius heard him clear his throat slightly before addressing the magnificent queen before them.

"I apologise for not having made our intentions clear sooner," Longbottom spoke, his voice surprisingly even given their situation. Scorpius was impressed. "We do not mean you, nor any other creature of your dominion, harm. It is our intent to find the Quidropopot plant, not for the ruby which you know of so well, but for the healing flesh of the plant, which would be very useful in the healing arts." He rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment before continuing. "Aasim has kindly offered us passage across the river and into your kingdom because you have crucial knowledge which would greatly economize our time."

"It is true," the queen spoke after a moment in which Scorpius had been filled with a deep dread and foreboding, "that we know of the Quidropopot and its location in the forest. However, it is highly unusual that a human would know of its existence, and furthermore, that there is even the slightest possibility of its being located in the forest."

She seemed to think a moment longer, her pincers clicking together a few times in the silence. She spoke again, with a hint of apprehension in her voice. "I do not mean to insinuate that I believe that most humans seek power for corrupt reasons, but the Quidropopot is a highly dangerous fruit when in the grasp of the wrong creature. It has been known the drive some crazy, to cause humans to forsake their humanity, has created tyrants. It has even impregnated the hide of my own clan with properties that allow us immunity to most magical spells and curses. I wish to extend you the signal of friendship in disclosing the fruit's location, but I must be sure that you will not abuse what so easily may be turned into power beyond what you will have expected."

Neville waited for a moment, knowing what the spider wanted to hear, but thinking that Hugo should be the one to tell her. He wasn't confident that Hugo was going to figure out that he should be the one to speak up now, so he decided to give the boy a little push. "Finding the plant means to most to Hugo," he said, looking pointedly at the boy who gave a start and stared wildly at him. "I would speak, but I believe that he can best represent himself."

"Well, I--" Hugo seemed stumped. Neville hoped letting him speak for himself was the best idea, here, and wouldn't land them in more trouble. He allowed himself the look up and around them at the huge domed web that they had entered through the vine curtain. He wasn't certain that it would resist attack from the rest of the clan, which was sizeable, probably made up of two- or three-hundred of the beasts. He chanted the coordinates to himself so that they'd be easy to recall if he needed to Apparate them quickly.

Hugo seemed to be willing to speak up after a few more moments of thought. "I want to be honest with you, your highness," he spoke, and Neville was relieved that he'd brought his manners to the table. "I can't really be sure why I want to find the Quidropopot other than I think that it would be really awesome to play Quidditch with it." He fell silent for a moment and if Neville hadn't been in the presence of the queen, he would have smacked his forehead with his palm. But Hugo apparently had more to say. "At first, I thought that I wanted to bring it back so that this girl would ask me to the ball. But it doesn't seem that way anymore. There's something more to it, only I can't say what." He fell silent, clearing his throat, looking at the ground.

After what seemed like ages, the queen clicked her great pincers. Hugo's eyes were drawn back up to those of the queen, who was regarding him specifically. "Hugo Weasley," she began, and Neville thought it alarming that she apprehended his surname without having been told. "Your father is somewhat of a legend around the hollow," she said, and Neville hoped he wasn't just imagining the hint of amusement out of desperation. "The story is told that he and the Potter boy came here in the hopes of saving their dear friend, who was always our friend as well. He had a pure heart, that much was certain. It is true that in those times we were not as intent on keeping the relations with Wizards as we are today, though the meeting with your father and Potter may have been the last encounter we have had with humans. There is one thing that we Acromantulas have that is unable to be explained by the inherited skins of our ancestors, and that is discernment.

"If any other group of Wizards stood before me in question of the whereabouts of the Quidropopot, I would have unabashedly offered them an escort out of the forest back to the school from which they came. But I see that you are pure of heart, as your father, and have no ill intention of misusing the fruit for your own material gain."

There was a moment of silence, in which Aasim reminded Neville of his presence by clicking his pincers loudly. Neville nearly jumped, but caught himself just in time. He did not feel that things were as they seemed: he was on tenterhooks, just waiting for something to go wrong.

"You will find the Quidropopot by heading Northeast. You will come, after two days of walking, to a lake which is frozen over. The waters that froze over the trees of the Quidropopot plant are magical, and are unable to be penetrated by regular magic. We use our venom to melt through the ice, which is solid, all the way through. You will find the fruit of the plant growing on the trees. The lake is several miles across, and there are many fruits, but the trees only relent one fruit at a time. It may take several hours to harvest a good load." The queen, having finished her speech, settled back contentedly, and clicked her pincers loudly.

"Thank you very much, your highness," Hugo said, bowing slightly. Neville cringed. Hugo would always be awkward, he supposed, but at least he was polite.

Neville hastened to nod, and saw that Scorpius did as well.

The three were startled as the queen suddenly let out a loud issue of arabic syllables, and Aasim leapt to action behind them. Neville disliked the way that their feet scrabbled over the rocks and twigs that padded the ground. He felt uneasy.

"Boys," he hissed, motioning for them to circle together. They formed a small triangle, backs together, as Aasim blocked their exit through the curtain of vines and the queen rose to her full height, her legs fully extended. She let out a sharp series of clicks that pierced the air, and just as Neville's foreboding was materialising into an overwhelming panic, the domed web was suddenly surrounded by the hundreds of spiders, who were whispering and clicking threateningly. He noticed that the hooked ends of their long legs were pulling at the individual threads of the web--he felt something soft plop down onto his shoulder and looking at it nervously, saw that it was the silvery, mousse-like material of the web itself. It was breaking, giving way to the family of monsters bearing in on them.

"What about--what about your relations with Wizards?" Neville squawked, addressing the queen, his eyes wide.

"We have learned many things from humans," the queen said, still clicking her pincers excitedly. "But the easiest lesson to remember is that words, spoken as lies, are particularly powerful. Especially from our lips."

The clicks were as loud as they had been when the three had arrived. "Scorpius, Hugo, grab hands," Neville said in a low voice, and they did as they were told, immediately. He chanted the coordinates to himself a few times to make sure he didn't get them wrong, and had just a moment to fear that the anti-magical hides of the spiders closing in on them would prevent them from escaping before the domed web ruptured with a loud pop!

The soft, silvery substance rained down onto them, sticking in their hair and all over their coats and filling their nostrils, and Neville had one horrifying glimpse of the hundreds of huge, hairy bodies moving towards them before he grasped the boys' hands tightly, shouted the coordinates into the air, and pulled them into the suffocating oblivion.

Hugo landed on his stomach. The wind blown out of him, the silvery matter of the spider's web obscuring his vision--he coughed loudly, expelling spittle mixed with the faintest trace of blood. He was lying by Scorpius's side in the snow, which was blinding and white, but felt cool and nice against his over-heated cheek. He looked up, wiping the web out of his eyes, and saw Professor Longbottom waving his wand around the clearing, casting protective charms.

"Hugo?" Scorpius croaked suddenly, flopping over from his side to face the boy. His eyes were wide and Hugo felt confused as Scorpius scrambled up and gave him a large hug, breathing hard.

"Are you okay?" Scorpius asked him, standing up and offering Hugo a hand. "You looked so--"

"Scared?" Hugo asked, smiling a little, grabbing the older boy's hand and stepping up beside him. He brushed off his coat as Scorpius nodded. "I was, but I'm okay now. You have web in your face," he added, pointing with a straight finger to Scorpius's cheek, which was scraped badly and covered, as Hugo had said, in spider web.

Scorpius reached up and brushed it away, cringing as his fingers traced over a deep cut that followed his cheekbone.

"That's deep," Hugo said, peering at it and cringing as well. It wasn't bleeding as much as he would have expected from a bite infected with Acromantula venom. "We should see if Professor Neville has anything that could heal that quickly. Acromantula venom is very potent and will bleed you out if it reaches your heart."

Scorpius stared, wide-eyed, at Hugo for a moment. "Comforting," he said, nodding. "But I didn't get bit, I got scraped by one of the weird hooks on the end of their feet. Should probably still see if he has anything, though," he said, looking at Professor Neville, who was working on setting up the tent.

"Hello, boys," he said, looking a little shaken, as he heard them approach. He straightened up, placing his hands on his hips and looking at their faces. "Scorpius, were you bitten?" he asked, and Hugo noticed that he looked very worried.

"No, I got scraped by one of those claws they have on the end of their legs," Scorpius explained in a soothing tone. At least, it soothed Hugo. He felt suddenly very sleepy.

"Oh, good," Professor Neville said, sighing. He seemed to realise the way that that sounded because his eyes flew wide and he said hurriedly, "No, no, not good that you were scraped--just that, you know, there's no venom in your system." He reached a hand into his rucksack and pulled out a small bottle with a cork stopper. "I've got some essence of dittany, it should help heal the cut from the inside," he said, offering it to Scorpius, who took it, looking apprehensive. "I could help you, if you want," Professor Longbottom offered, sounding like he thought that Scorpius wouldn't know how to use the potion.

"I might need your help," Scorpius admitted after a moment, handing the vial back to Professor Longbottom. Hugo watched to see that they weren't going to need him, and then trekked into the tent to start laying down blankets.

He heard Scorpius and Professor Neville talking in low voices outside--the sun was setting on the day, and Hugo crawled into his blankets, yawning noisily, and drifting almost immediately into sleep.

Scorpius patted his cheek, still in disbelief that it was almost entirely healed. "Thanks, Professor," he said, shoving his hands in his pocket.

"It's no trouble," Longbottom said, grinning as he put the dittany back into his rucksack.

They both sighed. Scorpius couldn't help but replay the scene of the attack over and over in his mind. It was juxtaposed by worry of Rose, and how close he had come to ruining her life. She wouldn't forgive him, ever, if something had happened to him, or Hugo, or even Professor Longbottom--he knew she was close to him, their parents being mates and all.

"Scorpius," Longbottom asked after a period of silence, "how did you get scratched? None of the spiders were close enough to me to hurt me." He was frowning, looking up at the dark sky. It had begun to snow.

"Well, they probably weren't," Scorpius admitted, feeling a bit sheepish. He had acted in stupidity, he knew, but he couldn't help it. In the heat of the moment, the logic had been infallible. "I went closer to them," he admitted. Longbottom turned to him, looking shocked, and confused. "I wasn't thinking about accidentally being left behind--it was stupid, yes, but if what the queen told us was true, and the ice guarding the Quidropopots is magical, and if we get there, we can't melt it with heating spells--we were going to need something to melt the ice, weren't we?"

Longbottom nodded, not quite seeing, Scorpius thought, where this narration was headed.

"So," he said, sighing deeply and reaching into his knapsack, where his wand was, "I saw a spider smaller than the others and went over to it--it was bigger than I had thought so I had to hit its eyes with the Conjunctivitis curse--and I used my wand to rip off one of its pincers," he said, pulling the prize out of his knapsack and offering it to Longbottom.

The professor's eyes threatened to burst from his head. He didn't say anything, just turned the pincer, which was about half a meter long and five centimetres wide. It was curved, like a scythe, and dark, like an onyx stone.

"You ripped--this--off of one of the Acromantulas?" Longbottom choked after a moment of looking shocked.

"Yes," Scorpius said, cringing, hanging his head at his stupidity.

"That was very stupid to do," Longbottom said, but his tone was amused. Scorpius looked up, frowning. He'd expected points from Gryffindor or something, not laughter. Because Longbottom was laughing, wasn't he? Maybe he was having a nervous breakdown. That wasn't uncommon after episodes of stress. What would Rose do? What do you do for someone having a nervous breakdown? Rose had had one herself, and he had been helpless, and now he felt the same--

"It was stupid, but I'm glad you did it. Otherwise, think of that, we'd have no way to get to the fruits!" Longbottom was still chuckling, but not in the mad way he had been a few moments before. Scorpius let out a sigh, relaxing.

"You mean we're still going to find them? Can we trust the directions? After all, the queen admitted she lied to us." Scorpius asked. He had been sure that Longbottom would insist that they head back to the school in the morning.

"Merlin, yes we are still going to find them," Longbottom said, a determined glaze coming over his eye. "And the queen's directions vaguely mirror my own estimations. But that's besides the point. We didn't come all the way out here, nearly die by Acromantula attack, and risk everything we had just for farts and giggles."

Scorpius was slightly taken aback at the professor's tone. For one usually so mild-mannered and cheerful, it was strange to see this bit of Longbottom's personality.

"That's true," Scorpius said, nodding.

"What's true?" came a deep voice from the trees. Scorpius noticed a sleek, tall, muscular man standing at the edge of the clearing.

He exchanged a look with Professor Longbottom. They were momentarily stumped. They'd set all the necessary spells--

The man stepped out of the protection of the trees and into the clearing.

"Bloody hell," Scorpius whispered.


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