Chapter 15 : Sneak and Rescue
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Chilly winds blew and frozen grass crunched in protest as Albus and the group found themselves heading back to Hogwarts a few minutes later, their bodies shivering and their teeth chattering. The walk back seemed to take longer than he would have thought and he glanced over his shoulder, wanting to go back to Hagrid's hut and spend the night there if it would stop him from having to deal with this horrible weather.
As he watched a gentle smoke billowing out of the chimney, his eyes unwillingly strayed towards the skeletal shapes of the Forbidden Forest. It seemed to stretch endlessly on around the grounds of the school and even from this distance, he could practically feel the haunting essence of the place. Though he couldn't hear anything moving around from where he stood, he knew that there were all sorts of horrors lurking in the darkness there, probably things that he would never want to face.
Just the sight of the place, even from this distance made the small hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Although he knew that Hagrid could handle himself more effectively than he could, Albus was still a little uneasy about the thought of anyone going in there alone, and especially at night. No matter the risk, Albus couldn't quite imagine what could possess anyone to enter the place and not just Zabini, but the person taking down the wards.
Why would anyone do that? Hagrid's words about fear rang in his ears still and he felt a bite of anger at the mysterious person, wondering who they thought they were to be stirring up trouble. But aside from that, Albus couldn't wrap his mind around why Zabini would willingly risk his undead life to wander in there, why the Wolfsbane mattered to him so much.
It seemed like the acts of a desperate man and Albus wondered vaguely if perhaps the Potions Master really was intent on gathering the herb for evil, devious purposes that included mutilating children. When his father had told them about the War and that awful night that Hogwarts had been attacked, he had said that people who didn't appear to do evil things usually were the ones that did.
Albus wasn't certain he really knew what that meant but it made the strange chill around him intensify and he wasn't sure what was real and what was a lie. Everything that they had learned about Zabini seemed to be missing some vital piece of information that he couldn't wrap his mind around no matter how hard he tried.
It actually sort of hurt and there was no way that he would survive his OWLs in a few years in this condition (Someone like Rose and Lavender would breeze through them while he and Scorpious failed miserably).
The truth about Zabini and whatever he was doing nagged at him though and he wasn't quite sure what they had missed in their snooping. Halloween would have to come by a lot sooner if they actually suspected that they would get any answers instead of more twists, turns and pink panties.
Thinking that he would most likely be making more pink panties for the rest of the year, he barely heard Lavender ask worriedly over the wind. “Albus what are you doing? Did you forget something at Mr. Hagrid's?”
Snapping out of his thoughts (And wondering if Peeves was still collecting his panties from Transfiguration), Albus turned and saw that his two friends were standing a few feet from him, looking concerned. Rose and Sue Corner were walking determinedly up ahead and he could see the bounce of his cousin's red hair even from here, “Its nothing, I was just thinking,” he said as he started walking again.
Scorpious's lips were turning blue but he managed to ask him as they forced their feet forward over the grounds. “About what?” when Albus didn't answer him fast enough, still trying to find out he best answer to their problems, his moody blonde friend went on in a drawling voice, “about how we really didn't learn anything? Oh, yeah, I noticed that too.”
Lavender shot him an irritable look and said with a glance at Albus. “I don't think that's true.” Scorpious reached out to tug her hair but she smacked at his hand sharply until he was left rubbing it and looking sour. “Mr. Hagrid didn't seem to know too much about what was happening himself,”
“Well, he knew about Zabini going into the Forest didn't he? But that's something we already knew,” Albus replied, watching as his breath formed a little ice cloud in front of him before vanishing. “And he told us about Zabini's accident.”
Scorpious kicked at a rock that had dared to cross his path and Albus watched it soar through the darkening sky like a brown Quaffle. “What sort of accident do you think it was?”
Lavender was appearing thoughtful as Albus asked them both. “Maybe its why he's going in for the Wolfsbane? Maybe he got attacked by a werewolf, do you think?” he was either getting it for himself or for his murdering friend and he'd like to know the truth sooner or later.
“He'd have to have a bite for that to be true, or a scratch or something. And he's never been out of school on the full moon,” Lavender said simply, although Scorpious didn't look too convinced. “I've been reading up about werewolves for a while and I just don't think Zabini is one.”
Scorpious rolled his eyes heavenward, “So what do you think he is? Like an undead monster intent on devouring us whole?” he asked and Albus snorted with laughter. Rose and Sue Corner were so far up ahead that he doubted if they could even hear them now, “We already know that, Lav,”
Though Lavender smiled, she appeared a little distracted. “Didn't you find it really weird that the centaurs didn't want him in the Forest?”
“Maybe they're just protecting their territory?” Albus suggested, recalling a time when his Aunt Hermione had told him that she and his father had been captured by the creatures a long time ago. “They're awfully touchy about that sort of thing,”
Scorpious nodded a little. “And Zabini's so sneaky, maybe they thought he was trying to hurt them.” Albus could somehow picture the man wringing the necks of the centaurs and shuddered a little, “why else wouldn't they want him in there?”
“You two didn't really think it weird about how they said evil was coming? I think that's a little more suspicious than Zabini right now.” Lavender said seriously and Albus had tried to block out what Hagrid had told them, thinking that he had enough things to worry about just now. “Its not just Zabini going into the Forest,”
“Hagrid said its probably just some kid trying to start up trouble,” Scorpious said with a shrug. “Sounds like something Albus's brother and that friend of his would do,” he said and Albus doubted that the pair was that stupid.
Lavender sighed irritably. “They're only second years, you'd have to know some pretty advanced magic to take down the spells over Hogwarts. When our parents were going to school here, they didn't have wards in the Forbidden Forest,”
Scorpious asked dryly. “How do you know this?”
There was a slight smile. “I've been reading A Revised Hogwarts a History with Weasley in the library,” Lavender said simply. Albus had usually been too preoccupied with doodling on his parchment to pay them much attention when they did this, “and anyway, her mum wrote it and she's really smart.”
“And?” Scorpious asked sourly.
Lavender shot him a look. Albus rolled his eyes, “Anyway, Mrs. Weasley was saying that not having the wards in the Forest made it easier for the Death Eaters to come so close to Hogwarts before they attacked. So when they were rebuilding it after the Battle, they made sure to make a truce I guess with the centaurs to build up the wards in it.”
Albus could understand why they would do something like that of course, so no one else would have the opportunity for surprise and hurt the children again. It made something bitter come into his stomach for the ones that had died so long ago but he pushed it aside for now, “So what are you thinking about the person taking them down?”
“Well, if its true and I believe Mr. Hagrid when he says that someone's been going around doing it, then it has to either be a teacher or an older student.” Lavender replied with a furrowed brow. Scorpious tweaked her nose and she smacked at him until he let her go, “but I don't know why they would want to take the wards down.”
“Maybe its Zabini. Maybe he's going in for Wolfsbane and making a gap in the wards for his friend,” Scorpious suggested with a frown.
Albus didn't really like that idea. “Or it might not be anything at all. Probably just some stupid kid thinking that they're smarter than what they are.” He said and Lavender sort of nodded but he had a feeling that she didn't really believe that, “and anyway, don't we have enough to worry about? I'm sure the teachers can find out who that person is,”
“I guess but while we were at Mr. Hagrid's, I was thinking about a lot of stuff, aside from Sheriff saying goodbye to his family and everything.” Lavender said with a sad little sigh that had them rolling their eyes. “I was more worried about what Mr. Hagrid couldn't tell us,”
Scorpious was silent for a moment, glaring at the ground for its sheer audacity to be there before he asked. “What do you mean?” they had wasted the remainder of their time at Hagrid's talking about her upcoming Quidditch game and Albus was more than certain that that wasn't what was making her frown so much right now.
“I mean that there's a lot more going on that we're not paying attention to.” Lavender replied calmly, looking as if she were deeply confused. “I was thinking about what Mr. Hagrid was saying about fear, and how people like to use it and, well, I'm thinking that these murders are probably just the start.”
Albus didn't think that her mind was actually as rainbow filled as she liked to let on and he pushed that thought aside for later. More unease seemed to slither down his back but it might have been another cold wind and he wasn't certain any longer on what was what, “So, you think that there's something worse going on?” he asked, not even fully comprehending something that terrible.
Lavender furrowed her brow for a moment as if gathering her thoughts and she eventually said. “It just doesn't make any sense to me. Why would someone choose this specific moment to start killing Death Eater kids?” she glanced at Scorpious warily and when he said nothing, even though his lips tightened, she went on, “right at the moment that Scorpious would have been coming to school, the first few murders started.”
Albus remembered that she had spoken about this before when he had been in the hospital, her doubt making him question all that they had suspected. He had to admit that it was suspicious but he couldn't understand where she could be going with this, “It is really weird, Lav, but its probably just a coincidence.”
“The Daily Prophet was trying to claim that my dad had something to do with the murders and the killer probably figured it'd take the blame off of them if they started killing around when I'd come here.” Scorpious said and his tone was so icy that Albus wondered if he'd frozen over.
Lavender appeared as if she were running that over in her mind but she didn't appear convinced. “That could be true but your dad isn't suspected of doing any of this anymore.” She said with a trace of relief, “I didn't think that he'd ever do something like that.”
Scorpious frowned and glared at her. “Of course he wouldn't! I won't say that my dad is the greatest person ever but he's not a killer.” When he glanced at Albus, he was able to detect that ever-present shame that seemed to simmer beneath his moods, “everyone had just wanted to put the blame on him because they didn't know what was going on.”
That was most likely true and Albus had been told by his parents and other relatives not to trust the Prophet too deeply. Though there hadn't been anymore murders, the fear that was circulating was still enough to make a few front page stories and he felt a wave of disgust go into his system at how callous they were, “My dad and Uncle Ron are working on it but I don't know if they'll figure it out anytime soon,” Albus found himself admitting.
“I wish that they would.” Lavender said softly and she was silent for a while longer before she continued on with a glance at both of them. “But I really do think we're missing something when it comes to Zabini.”
Scorpious snorted. “Like what? Its not our fault he doesn't have a soul.” Albus laughed and Lavender merely rolled her eyes a little. “He's helping that thing out there somehow, what else do you need to know?”
Lavender sighed. “I want to know what he needs the Wolfsbane for, how he's sending messages to his friend without getting caught and if he really is a monster, which I doubt.”
“Because you're in love with him?” Scorpious asked dryly as they finally saw the brightly lit structure of Hogwarts looming up ahead. The sight of it hurried their steps and they were soon slipping and sliding up the entryway steps until they were thankfully back inside, where it was toasty and almost abnormally warm.
Chatter was bouncing in every direction as students wandered towards the Great Hall, where the delicious scents of a fine meal was already wafting temptingly from the kitchens.
The moving staircases creaked, Peeves was giving some poor Gryffindor boy a wedgie and all seemed to be the same, though Albus doubted if he would always feel this way about it when he couldn't wait to go home for the holidays. There was only so much torture a person could go through every day after all, “I'm not in love with Zabini!” Lavender managed to cry after they'd gotten a bit of color into their cheeks.
“Sure you're not Lav,” Scorpious said dryly, rolling his eyes. Lavender glowered up at him and Albus saw that their moody blonde friend appeared far too pleased with himself just then, “you'd better stay focused too cause you've got a game coming up and you can't get all lovestruck with Zabini in the crowd.”
Lavender gawped, blushing. “Who says that he even likes Quidditch?” she demanded and when they burst out laughing, she huffed a little and asked nervously, “will you two be rooting for me? I really don't want to disappoint the team.”
“You'll do fine, Lav,” Albus assured her as they removed their hats, scarves and mitts to stuff them into their coats. “You're a really good Chaser and you've got a Neon Star so there's no way you can lose!” he said proudly.
Lavender looked a lot more confident even though Scorpious tugged on her hair and told her she had better not fall off her broom. After swatting him away, they made their way into the Great Hall, breathing in the various scents of a good meal waiting to come, “Aside from the game, we really do need to come up with a plan with Corner and Weasley soon for Halloween,” she whispered.
Scorpious looked ill at the very thought and Albus glanced around and saw that his cousin and her friend were already seated at the Ravenclaw table. They were whispering to one another and looking awfully serious and he hastily looked away in case they got up to talk to them, “And speaking of Halloween, where's Zabini?” Albus heard his moody blonde friend ask warily.
They were heading towards the Gryffindor table now and as he followed his friend's eyes, he noticed that the staff table was rather empty. Hagrid usually took up more space than humanly possible but he was nowhere to be seen and it was odd when dinner was about to start but even stranger, Zabini wasn't in his usual throne of bones.
“Where do you think they are?” Lavender asked worriedly as they finally sat down, briefly saying hello to James and Mason as they inclined their heads at them.
Albus felt his lips tightening a little and he leaned in, nearly colliding his forehead against Scorpious's as he did so and saying. “I think I know. Where else would he be at night?”
“The Forest,” Scorpious said without hesitation. The three of them shared a look, mixed panic and fear for Hagrid weighing in on their rapid curiosity before his friend finally said, “do you suppose Hagrid will come back in one piece?”
“I'm sure he will, don't say that!” Lavender cried, sounding panicked.
Albus had faith in his friend of course but it still didn't make the twisting feeling in his stomach lessen. “The only way to make sure is if we go into the Forest and find out for ourselves.”
Scorpious and Lavender stared at him as if they hadn't heard him correctly but Albus didn't repeat the words, only told them that they would snatch up his Cloak, knowing that some truths were worth the risk.
“You're mental,” Scorpious whispered in a sharp hiss for the thousandth time as the two of them clumsily slipped out of their four-poster beds shortly after curfew. Chris Finnigan and Elliot Thomas were asleep, snoring their lives away and Albus glared around at the sound of his friend's voice before turning away. He already knew that it was a crazy, stupid idea that would probably get them into more trouble than they had ever been in before but he had made up his mind.
Hagrid was out there in the Forest with Zabini and even though he wanted to believe in his friend, something about that place, caused him to break out in a nervous sweat. Anything could happen in there and with Zabini still a questionable excuse for a human being, Albus couldn't quite shake the feeling of dread that had snaked around his chest.
He wondered as he lit his wand tip with a hissing, “Lumos,” if this was what his father had felt when he had been going on his own adventures here. Was the nervous pounding in his chest excitement or fear? A mixture of both perhaps?
Albus wasn't exactly certain but he tried to push it down as he dragged his Hogwarts trunk from underneath his bed with one hand while trying not to fall flat on his butt as he did so.
Scorpious was grumbling around on the other side of the room, probably shoving himself into the thickest sweater he could, the glow of his own wand casting an eerie glow around him. Lavender was most likely preparing to leave as well in the girls' dorm and would meet them down in the common room in a few more minutes, where they would sneak out underneath the Cloak.
After rummaging around inside of his trunk, shoving aside Lily's diary and scattering various dirty socks, Albus finally found his father's gift. It was as fluid as water in his fingers and shined even more brightly underneath his wandlight and he gave a sigh of relief before tucking it underneath his arm.
“What are you moaning about over there?” Scorpious demanded.
Albus shot him a look in the darkness. “I wasn't moaning!” Scorpious made a disbelieving noise in the back of his throat. “Come on,” he commanded into the darkness as quietly as he could so as not to wake the others. Elliot farted in his sleep so he supposed he wasn't going to be waking anytime soon, “we've gotta get our coats and stuff on too,”
Scorpious muttered a foul curse but he wandered over to him, tripping a little over what sounded like the squish of a Cauldron Cake. “I've got my coat and everything on,” he said annoyingly and when Albus waved his wand over him, he snickered. Apparently, he had stuffed himself into every coat, sweater, gloves and thick socks that he could, which made him appear three times his normal size. “What?” he demanded.
“Nothing,” Albus said hastily while handing him his Cloak. Scorpious took it with a grumble, looking a little wild in the eyes, “we're just going to go into the Forest and saving Hagrid, all right? We're not gonna camp out in there.”
Scorpious gave him an irritated look that he was sure got on his parent's nerves back at his home. “I'm not scared or anything, all right? I'm just thinking its stupid to worry about Hagrid!” Albus shushed him as Chris Finnigan groaned in his sleep, saying something about how pretty Rose was (Which was annoying) before burying his face in his pillow.
“What do you mean?” Albus demanded annoyingly.
Scorpious waved his arms around, which almost had him teetering backward due to all the clothes he'd packed himself in. After righting himself, he reminded, “He's half-giant, Albus! What are we getting all panicky about?”
There was a pause that was only broken up by Chris proclaiming his everlasting love to Rose that had Scorpious and Albus recoiling in disgust. After he calmed back down and went to snoring again, he found himself saying fiercely. “You want to know why Zabini is going into the Forest don't you? You want to figure out what he wants that Wolfsbane for and what if he and Hagrid have a fight?”
“Then maybe Hagrid could use his wand on him!” Scorpious said irritably, looking as if his cheeks were turning pink.
Albus figured that he probably should have mentioned that Hagrid couldn't use his wand anymore (He wasn't supposed to anyway but he had a pink umbrella his father said he still carried the pieces around in). “What if he tries to hurt him? Hagrid can't use his wand or anything.”
“Not sure if you noticed Albus, but Hagrid's huge,” Scorpious said dryly and Albus rolled his eyes while he snatched his coat and things from the floor and started shoving himself into them. While Elliot and Chris had laughed at them for doing it, they'd both kept their trainers and clothes on instead of slipping into pajamas, “and there's all sorts of things in the Forest that could kill us!”
Albus knew that that was more than true as well but even as he shuddered at the thought of meeting a giant spider, he also grew rather heated at the thought of not doing anything at all. He was tired of not knowing what Zabini was up to, he was so sick and tired of worrying about his friend being murdered by some creature that stole flesh and blood from other kids.
Hogwarts wasn't the best of places in his opinion but he'd like to get through one day without those two things weighing him down. “Well, we'll just have to worry about that when we get there, now won't we?” Lavender's voice asked in that dreamy way of hers, startling them.
Scorpious jumped and made a little squealing noise that had Albus biting on his fist to stop from laughing at him. “Shut up, Albus! And Lav,” he said to the dark shape that was standing in the open doorway, a flood of light trailing behind her, “what are you doing in here? We could have been naked!”
Lavender spluttered embarrassingly.
“Why would be sleeping without any clothes on stupid?” Albus asked him.
Scorpious shrugged. “Benjamin told me that that's how he sleeps and he says that girls like it a lot,” he didn't want to know some of the other things his brother had been telling him. “And he told me that you'll grow faster if you're naked under moonlight or something.”
Albus balked because it was the sort of thing James would have told him. “I hope you know your brother was making fun of you,” he said with a pitying sigh.
Scorpious's pale cheeks flushed around the light of his wand. “Shut up! And anyway, Lav, there may not be any moonlight but I could have been spread out in all my glory in here!” he said in an outraged hiss towards the girl, who'd gone rather stiff.
Albus didn't have to stare too closely at her face with his wandlight to know that she was beet red . “I-I'm sorry!” Lavender whispered, covering her eyes. While Scorpious took a moment to compose himself (Albus figured he was thinking of bad things to say to Benjamin when they saw him), their friend asked, “why's it smell like onions in here?”
“Think those are Scorpious's socks,” Albus said while his moody blonde friend glared at him and started stomping his way towards the doorway. Lavender uncovered her eyes and moved out of his way but not before he tugged on her hair before going downstairs. “But you know, the girls' dorm sort of smells too.”
Lavender laughed a little but she didn't deny it and Albus figured that they weren't really as neat as they pretended. After tying his scarf around his neck, he quickly made sure his bed was lumpy enough to fool Chris or Elliot of they woke up and hastily walked out of the dorm with her, shutting the door after them.
“You do know that if we get caught, we'll probably get expelled right, Albus?” Lavender questioned lightly as they made their way downstairs.
Scorpious was pacing near the portrait hole, Albus's Cloak still draped over his arm and sending little silver lights against the walls. “If we get expelled, I'll never hear the end of it from my stupid brother and grandparents,”
“Yeah, well, if we're sneaky, no one will know.” Albus tried to reassure him even as he knew that his family wouldn't be too pleased with him. Uncle Fred and George hadn't graduated but that wasn't the same as being expelled for nosiness, “we'll just be really quick.”
Scorpious looked very doubtful. “We don't even know if Hagrid's in trouble or not!” he reminded Albus angrily. “Don't you think it'd be stupid if we got expelled over something like this?” he asked, glaring at him.
Albus couldn't help but agree even though he was noticing that Lavender didn't look all that worried about being expelled. She was so smart that she could probably survive while he and Scorpious lived out in a cave somewhere with garden gnomes, “We don't know if he needs help or not. That's the point!” he said.
“He's half-giant!” Scorpious spat back.
Albus glared at him in sharp annoyance before saying reasonably. “Let's just go into the Forest long enough to find Hagrid, make sure he's all right and get out.”
Scorpious was giving him a suspicious look and Lavender was glancing between them warily, as if they might launch themselves at each other. “That's not really why you're interested in going in there.” Albus didn't deny it. “I want to know what Zabini is up to, too but I don't feel like dying to try!”
Lavender frowned severely and shot them both a look that instantly had them shutting up. “No one is going to die, Scorpious. Stop thinking like that! Tonight, we'll save Mr. Hagrid and worry about Zabini some other time and we'll do it together.”
“All right,” the boys said in unison, too horrified by the array of female anger to continue their argument at the moment.
Lavender looked more than pleased and proclaimed seriously. “We're Misfits to the bloody, gruesome end.”
Albus blanched, wondering why she looked so happy about it. “Er, I hope it doesn't end exactly like that.”
Scorpious snorted dryly as he moved closer to them, holding out the Cloak impatiently.“Well, if it does, it'd better be bloody worth it.” He snarled right as he tossed the material over their heads, making them invisible to any prying, curious eyes.
And, there you all go! After this, I'm going back to "Abandon" and for those of you who don't care or read that story, I'll be back sooner, hopefully rather than you know, three months from now. ;)
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