The forest is somewhere in England, right outside of a disgustingly quaint village. Lucius leads and we follow, all of us in our dark cloaks, so that we blend into the trees and the night sky - nothing but insignificant shadows.
“Nervous?” Rodolphus whispers to me. He’s so clingy he’s practically asking for an encore of the last time we spoke; it’s probably the most action he’s ever gotten.
“Stop projecting,” I say flatly. I don’t feel nervous (more jittery with excitement than anything else) but I can tell he is. He keeps trying to hold my hand with his sweaty one. I speed up, hoping to pester Lucius for more information, but by the time I reach him, we’re stopping.
We’ve reached a small clearing and there are about thirty others already waiting. Everyone is wearing black and, idly, I wonder if Cissy would’ve insisted on wearing her favorite ‘azure’ cloak if I had invited her. I have to stifle my laughter at the mere thought.
It’s lucky I do stifle it, because everyone else has fallen silent. I can see why.
There’s a man standing in the center of the group now - no, not a man. He’s more than that. His skin is white and waxy; his face, although distorted, still shows traces of handsome, aristocratic features. He wears all black - a shadow, just like us - but his presence commands attention. I can’t look away.
“Welcome, my friends!” he says, his voice clear and cold. He starts to weave slowly through the crowd, inspecting every face he passes as he speaks. “I think we all know why we are here. There is a disease in the world, a disease that threatens our pure blood - the disease of Mudbloods and Muggles.” Someone cheers. “With your help, I intend to stop this disease before it can spread any further. You might even call us Healers
Some of the group breaks into forced, cardboard laughter, and he silences them with a wave of his hand, irritated. He’s getting closer to me now.
“I trust that no one here carries this disease.” He nods once at Lucius, as if in recognition, and then he’s looking at me. I look back at him, yearningly, but he just continues walking. “My most devoted 'Healers' will receive a special mark on their arm,” he says, flicking his wand.
I can feel shivers dancing up my spine as I stare at the mark he’s conjured in the sky - a green snake, darting out of a skull’s mouth. I have to remind myself not to openly drool.
“But I expect total loyalty from all of my friends,” he continues. “The Ministry is foolish and does not recognize what is happening, so it is up to us to purge the world of the diseased. I have arranged for a test of your devotion to this worthy cause tonight.” Slowly, a smile twists his face, and I find myself instinctively smiling back. “There’s a Muggle village nearby. After all this talking, I think we deserve to have a little fun, don’t we?”
The last word has barely left his mouth before we’re off, charging through the forest and howling with excitement like wolves. This time, when I find myself at the head of the pack, running next to Rodolphus, I let him hold my hand.
Together, we descend on the village, laughing wildly all the while.