The Eaves of the Forest
As Lara walked with her friends, at the edge of the crowd of Hufflepuffs meandering back to the castle after the Quidditch match, the white hat she wore blew off her head. It was beautiful, and rimmed with orchids. She loved it dearly. The hat hit the damp grass and tumbled towards the trees at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Lara scrambled after it.
Another gust of wind pushed the hat closer still to the trees. As she ran, Lara heard the calls of her friends to come back. But, she couldn't come back without her hat. It was her birthday present!
She stepped in something that caught her foot and held it so tightly that she pulled her stocking feet right out of her shoe. She dangled her foot in the air and gently set it back down in the shoe. The grass was thick where she stood. She couldn't tell what she had stepped in.
Up to her strode Archie Stollencroft. "You're getting a little too close to the trees there, lass," he said to her.
Lara gazed up at him, and was caught in a sudden panic. Archie! she thought. The prophesy! Her eyes grew wide and her face became pale.
"Don't worry about your hat," he said easily. "I'll fetch it." He drew his wand and called out, "Accio hat!" The hat lifted off the grass and flew in the air, dropping into his left hand. He plopped it down on her head. "There you go."
"My shoe's stuck, too," she said. "But, we need to leave. It's dangerous."
"We're fine. It's the middle of the day. We're twenty yards from the trees. Nothing's going to come and get us. Now, what have you stuck your foot in?"
He pushed back the tall grass with his wand, exposing the ground below. There was a thick, white band stretching out from the trees. "What's this?" he wondered.
Lara didn't look down. She kept scanning the trees. It will come from the Forest. She didn't know what it would be, but she knew, whatever it was, was capable of killing both of them.
Archie tried a spell to break the white substance holding Lara's shoe to the ground. It had little effect on the shoe, but the spell sent a tremour down the white line into the darkness of the trees.
And in response, there lit in the darkness, two pale, glowing orbs. Lara pulled in a deep breath and screamed as loud as she possibly could.
Liam sprinted back toward the crowd, in the direction of Lara's scream. He heard the gasps of the other students, and a few of the older ones drew wands. Thinking, instinctively, that someone might try and stop him, he skirted the crowd and came into a clearing of tall grass between the trees and the group of students. There, he skidded to a stop.
Out from the eaves of the forest came a full grown acromantula. It walked with an awkward gait, and Liam realized with a shock that it had only seven legs. There was a gaping hole where the eighth had been.
What could have shorn the leg from a thing that big? There was no time to contemplate that question.The creature bore down on Archie and Lara. Archie picked up Lara and carried her away, but the spider was gaining on them. Red jets shot from the wands of the older students, but they seemed to have no effect on the giant spider.
Liam ran closer still, then fired his stinging spell from his finger. His second shot hit the gaping hole in the spider's abdomen. A tremour of pain swept over the great arachnid.
The spider turned and looked at him. Liam pointed again and sent a stinging spell straight through the hairy legs, above the hard, gruesome pinchers, right into one of the spider's bulbous eyes.
Now you've done it, he thought. The spider abandoned Archie and Lara, and started coming towards him. Fifty yards away and closing. Liam fired away with his stinging spell, hitting the spider's eyes again and again. The pain, rather than daunting the creature, seemed to spur it on. Closer it came with its awkward, lop-sided steps.
Someone called, "Draw your wand, kid!"
My wand! I need my wand! But, he didn't have it with him. Though he had been getting on better recently with Hexwood's old wand, Liam still seldom brought it anywhere other than to class. He saw no need to bring it to the Quidditch match.
The image of a wand flashed before his eyes, but in a blink it was gone. At last, Liam understood what Meadows, Gregor and the others had been trying to tell him. His magic was not strong enough on its own. It needed the amplification that only a wand could provide.
There was nothing he could do about it then.
The spider drew closer. Thirty yards, twenty-five. "Run, Liam!" called someone else. Run where, exactly? he thought. Behind him was a crowd of people, any one of which could be a meal for the spider. Better to hold his ground. A teacher could come along any time now, he thought, as he fired off another sting.
The teachers, however, had left the Quidditch pitch long before to break up the quarrels between Slytherins and Gryffindors. Even Madam Hooch had gone back to the Castle ahead of the Hufflepuffs.
Twenty yards became fifteen. The spider loomed in front of him, larger than Liam had even imagined they would grow. Ten yards, five.
Something whizzed by his ear and struck his left hand. He grasped at it with his right before it hit the ground.
Finally, ten feet away, the spider stopped. For the little morsel with its painful stings had finally drawn a wand.
Liam slowly switched the wand from his right hand to his left. His fingers curled around the wood, which was strangely warm to his touch.
"Go back!" he cried. His voice, suddenly amplified, rolled across the grass like a gust of wind. "Go back!"
But the spider would not retreat. It took another eager step towards him. Eight feet. Liam steadied himself, then fired the stinging spell through the wand.
There was a horrible hissing scream. Venom spat from the spider's fangs. Liam leapt back from the spray, but droplets began to burn holes in his shirt. He looked up at the spider. One of the great bulbous eyes had gone black. A reeking, grey puss oozed down from it.
"Go back!" cried Liam once again. The spider took a tentative step forward. Liam leapt back another pace. He flicked his wrist, then watched in grim satisfaction as his stinging spell, amplified a thousand times by the power of the wand, wracked the spider once again.
Liam raised his arm, lifting the spell, and finally, the great creature turned. Keeping it's open socket away from Liam, it scurried, stumbling, shaking, towards the shadows of the trees.
Archie was quickly at his side. "Nice wand work there, when you finally got around to it." Liam nodded, clutching tightly the wand, still warm in his hand. He gazed up at the Seventh Year boy he had always admired. "What spell did you use, anyway?" asked Archie.
Archie patted him on the back. "Best kind of magic, that. There when you need it. Come on, in case it's got a friend." The two boys ran back towards the crowd of Hufflepuffs.
"Where's Lara?" asked Liam, but then, he saw her, standing by Cheryl and Stacy. Liam ran up to her. Tears were streaming down her face. "You okay?" he asked her.
She wrapped him in a sudden, tight hug. "You came," she whispered. "I was so afraid you wouldn't come."
"Of course I came," said Liam, and he gave her a nervous pat on the back with his right hand. "Came as fast as I could."
Allison, one of the Seventh Year girls, was standing nearby. She said, "Hey, Liam's got venom on him!" Allison and Cheryl pulled the two young students apart.
"Lara's got it on her, too, now," said Cheryl.
"Come on," said Allison, a former prefect. "Let's get them to the hospital wing."
There was a low rumbling across the grass. Liam tensed for another confrontation, but it was only Mr. Grawp coming around the corner, dressed in his odd assortment of pelts. He bent down and spoke in a voice that was impossibly deep.
"Children, you are too close to the Forest. It is dangerous!"
"We know!" snapped Archie. "We were just attacked by an acromantula. It came out of the woods at us. Liam here fought it off."
Grawp studied Liam and Lara. "Take the children to the Castle," he intoned. "Then report to your Head of House." He rose up to his full height, and with a stern expression added, "I will deal with the spider."
The Hufflepuffs moved quickly towards the castle now. Liam's skin was beginning to burn and sting, and gaping holes were appearing in his shirt. They were met by a smaller group who had ran to get help. Archie filled them in as to what happened.
As they neared the castle steps, Meadows ran out to meet them. Her face was pale, and her red hair was coming out of its tight bun. "I heard that you were attacked by one of the Forest creatures. Is everyone all right?"
"It was an acromantula," said Allison. "Liam fought it off, but he has venom on him, and so does Lara."
"Heavens. Come on!" Meadows urged them.
Other students were coming over to see what was the matter. Over the din of voices came Cyrus Kane's shrill cry. "There he is, the thief! He's got it in his hand!"
"What are you going on about!" shouted Blair back at him.
"He has my wand!" Cyrus was in a large group of Slytherins, including some of the Quidditch team, and the Prefect, Gallstone. Rebecca stepped forward and said, "Professor, Wren has Cy's wand."
All eyes were now on the wand in Liam's hand. Liam looked down on it, too. Deep down, he had known all along what he held. There, just above his thumb, was the silver ring with the etching of the dragon upon it.
With a feeling of sadness and great reluctance, he held out his left hand. Cyrus snatched the wand back. "Thief!" he said again.
"I have to get these children to the Hospital Wing," said Meadows. "We'll sort this out later. Until then, I want these two camps far apart. We've had enough fighting today."
The Hufflepuffs stood in a tight group, arms crossed, and waited for the Slytherins to retreat with their prize. Meadows rushed Liam and Lara up the steps to the castle, then up the Grand Staircase to the Hospital Wing.
As they walked, Meadows asked, "Liam, how did you get that wand?"
"It came to me. I guess, I called, it and it came to me. I used it to fight off the spider."
"You summoned it?" asked Meadows, incredulously. "And it came?"
There was no time for further explanations. As they reached the threshold of the Hospital Wing, Meadows called out, "Poppy! I've two children with acromantula venom on them!"
"Heavens!" came the response. "It's already been quite a day in here!"
Liam was rushed one way and Lara the other. He was taken to an enclosure where a nurse in a white gown stripped off his clothes. Madam Pomfrey returned and began to slather a balm over his chest. The burning immediately cooled.
"How long was this on your skin?" asked Pomfrey as she worked.
"I don't know. Five minutes. Maybe ten."
"How on Earth did this happen?"
Liam shrugged. "It spit at me."
"What spit at you? An acromantula?"
"I look forward to reading the report." To her assistant, she added, "Put a robe on him and stick him in bed. Watch his temperature. The difference between five and ten minutes exposure is significant."
Off she went, presumably to check on Lara. Liam soon found himself in a hospital bed. Since he was not the least bit tired, he propped up the pillows and sat up. The curtains were not drawn, so he was able to look around. Next to him was a third year boy, a Slytherin, with mushrooms growing out of his nose.
"What happened to you?"
"Nub ub your bubby biznez."
Liam turned away from the boy. On his other side, a nurse was easing Lara Guishar into bed. He smiled at her, but she didn't look over at him. Typical, he thought.
That was how Meadows found him, an hour later - sitting up and watching the bustle around him. Meadows checked on Lara first, then came and sat on the edge of Liam's bed. "Oh Liam," she said, "I've heard nothing but amazing things about you for the last hour. However did you manage it all?"
Liam simply shrugged.
"Professor McGonagall will be coming soon," she told him. "She's had a very long and trying day, with the fights breaking out between Slytherins and Gryffindors. Then that horrible spider! Grawp was against Hagrid keeping it, and so were the rest of us, but Hagrid felt so sorry for it. He couldn't bear to see it put down.
"None of us really expected it would come after a child."
A hush fell over the room, as Headmistress McGonagall entered. Meadows bent her head and whispered, "She's going to be angry. Not with you, but with everything that's happened. But for goodness sake, when she questions you, tell the truth!"
"I will," said Liam.
McGonagall was at Lara's bed now. Meadows got up and joined her. Liam sat still and waited. The sounds of the Hospital wing had returned to a low murmur. Liam was not the only one trying to eavesdrop.
At last, the two women got up and came over to Liam's bed. Professor McGonagall was old and thin. Her hair was white, and, despite the excitement of the day, it was still tightly in its bun. Her blue eyes, as they surveyed him, were cold and hard as stars.
"How are you feeling, Wren?" she asked.
"I'm fine, Professor. You could send me down to the Common Room at any time."
A thin smile crossed the old woman's lips. "I trust Madam Pomfrey implicitly in these matters, Wren. If she says she needs to keep you overnight, then overnight you shall stay."
There was a hint of warmth in her voice now as she said, "You showed great courage today, Wren. You and Stollencroft both will receive House Points and a Special Commendation from the School."
"Thank you, Professor."
The warmth on the old woman's face was fading fast. She drew her wand and gave the air a casual swish. "A little precaution against eavesdroppers," said McGonagall. "This wing is not usually so crowded."
McGonagall stepped closer and gazed deeply into Liam's eyes. "I understand that you used another student's wand to drive off the acromantula."
"Where is your usual wand?"
"In my bag. In the dorm." McGonagall's gaze was piercing. Liam struggled to keep his voice steady. "Didn't think I needed it at the Quidditch match."
"You'll not make that mistake again," said McGonagall, curtly.
"No, Professor, I won't."
"When did you obtain this wand? During the match?"
"No, Professor!" protested Liam, hotly. "When the spider came. My own magic, it wasn't strong enough. I had to have a wand."
McGonagall looked to Meadows. "Where was Cyrus Kane at this point?"
"Milling around the lawn in front of the Castle."
"Five hundred yards or more away, in other words."
"I know it sounds impossible," pressed Meadows, "but I think Liam is being truthful. It matches what I heard from some of the other students."
"Difficult, but not impossible. It suggests affinity. I wonder how that affinity could have been established, considering these two were not even in the same House."
She gazed down at Liam again and said, "So, Wren, you needed a wand and were able to summon one in your hour of need. Why this wand? Why not one closer at hand?"
"Well, it had to be the Dragon Wand," said Liam, earnestly. "It's not like everyone else was standing around. They were trying stuff with their wands too, but the Spider was just too tough. The Dragon Wand, though, it's crazy strong. It's a Stilgrevsen, you know."
"No, I didn't," said McGonagall, curtly. One look at Meadows wide eyes told Liam that she didn't know this, either.
To Liam, she said, "You seem to know quite a bit about this wand, Wren. I need to know why this is so."
"It's a long story, Professor," said Liam, sheepishly.
McGonagall pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down. Crossing her legs, she said, "Well, Wren, let's hear it. You will be here all night."
So, for the next hour, Liam told Meadows and McGonagall everything that had happened between him and the Dragon Wand - the fights with Cyrus, the dreams, the research with Sadie. He left nothing out.
"I wonder how much Franz knows about all this," mused McGonagall when he had finished. "Probably much more than he's let on so far."
McGonagall stood. "Thank you, Wren, that was most instructive. I must now go find my Deputy Headmaster."
As she turned to leave, Liam called out, "Professor, may I ask a question?"
She turned sharply back to him. For a moment, she looked angry that he had interrupted her thoughts. Then, a faint smile crossed her lips.
"Obviously," she said, "you have just done so. But you may ask another."
"The spider, what happened to it?"
There was a silent exchange between the two adults. "It is dead," said McGonagall finally.
"Oh. Good. Mr. Grawp killed it, then?"
McGonagall considered him a moment longer. "No, Wren. The spider was dead when Grawp found it. It was your spell that killed it."
She turned away without another word, and swept from the Hospital Wing, leaving Liam shocked into silence, sitting in his bed.
[That's all for now! We're very close to the end, as you can tell. Probably one more batch of chapters will do it. As always, thanks for reading! I watch my read counts very carefully. I welcome your comments and reviews. More news on my Facebook Fan Page! Fondly, KJ]