Chapter 1 : Fluxweed
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Passing Hagrid’s deserted hut filled her with an odd sensation. Although she didn’t have a high opinion of his teaching abilities, it still seemed strange to look out on the grounds without spotting the reassuringly familiar figure of the massive gamekeeper. So much had changed at Hogwarts over recent months that it was no longer the school Padma had known and loved for six years.
Finally, she reached the tree she had been seeking. It was marked with miniscule, faintly glowing letters: DA. She smiled to herself, encouraged by the thought that Neville had managed to sneak out during the day to point her in the right direction. The presence of those little letters suddenly helped her feel that she wasn’t alone in this.
Padma had never been in the Forbidden Forest alone before, and certainly not at midnight. If anyone had told her a year ago that Padma Patil, Ravenclaw prefect and straight-O student, would not only be out of her dormitory after curfew, but would be heading into the Forbidden Forest to gather a plant for an illegal potion; she would never have believed them. And yet here she was. It was a reflection of how much had changed that she had volunteered herself for the task.
Once she was a couple of metres into the trees, she raised her wand.
The glow from the full moon wasn’t as visible here, filtering through the thick leaves that formed a shelter above her head. But what she found scarier than the lack of light was the eerie quiet surrounding her. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end, her senses prickling with every step she took. Any sound, however subdued, found her whirling around pointing her wand in its direction. She couldn’t deny it; she was terrified.
Eventually, after what seemed like forever, Padma saw the trees thinning ahead of her. There’d been no trace so far of the centaurs or the Acromantula that she’d heard lived in the Forest. A few steps more and there it was; a small clearing, immersed in moonlight, Fluxweed growing thick on the ground.
Padma let out a soft breath she hadn’t realised she was holding in. Actually perceiving the plant that she had read so much about in recent weeks was a great relief to her. This was the first ingredient that they needed to start making the Polyjuice Potion. Without it, there would be no point in stealing the other components from the Slughorn’s private stores, and their meticulous planning would be rendered useless.
Ginny had been the one who had given them the idea initially. She’d told the other members of the DA, right at the beginning of the school year, how the Order had used Polyjuice Potion to get Harry out of his home safely. At the time it had just been a good story; another small victory for anyone who opposed You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters. But it had stayed in the DA’s consciousness, and even though Luna and Ginny weren’t at Hogwarts anymore, the seed had been planted and the plan formed. Polyjuice Potion would allow those currently hidden to leave the Room of Requirement and move freely around the school, and if they could do anything to sabotage the Carrows’ regime with it then so much the better.
Padma had been the obvious choice to venture into the Forest and pick the Fluxweed. The DA were few in numbers as it was this year, and though a few new additions had helped their campaign, there wasn’t an abundance of volunteers. Neville had been willing to do it, and with his knowledge of plants would have been a good candidate if it hadn’t been for the fact that he was living in a hammock in the Room of Requirement and the Carrows wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if they saw him in the school. Michael and Terry had both offered, but they, too, had gone underground. Of the rest, Padma had been the only one who even knew what Fluxweed was. And since it had to be picked at full moon, their only hope was that her immaculate academic record and prefect status would help prevent her from raising suspicion.
She had been lucky so far. Nobody had seen her sneak out of the castle, and sneaking into the Forbidden Forest hadn’t caused any problems. Crouching down and reciting what Neville had told her under her breath, she grasped the Fluxweed at the roots and twisted it up out of the ground. But before she had even placed the first plant in her bag, an unearthly, metallic noise rang out through the Forest.
Padma froze. It was midnight and she was alone in the Forbidden Forest. That noise definitely did not come from a creature.
She straightened up slowly, picking up the wand that she had laid down to be able to pick the Fluxweed. Her fingers gripped it so tightly that her knuckles began to hurt. All was silent for a few minutes, and Padma began to wonder if she had imagined it. She glanced all about, her dark eyes trying to penetrate the thick darkness beyond the moonlit clearing. There was nothing, and slowly she reached down again for another plant.
But there it was again. Louder this time, and that meant it was nearer, too. Her breath hitched in her throat, but in spite of her fear and the overwhelming urge to run, she decided to investigate. Something was in the Forest that shouldn’t be, and she was going to find out what it was.
It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the gloom she stepped back into, but she gradually made her way in the direction she heard the noise coming from. It continued to increase in volume and frequency; it sounded as though somebody was beating metal. As to what or who it could be, though, she had no idea.
Before long, another moonlit clearing emerged ahead of her, dominated by an imposing metal contraption shaped like a coffin. Stood beside it was a chillingly familiar blonde-haired figure.
“Malfoy?” Padma cursed herself before the name had fully left her mouth. She had no idea why she was confronting him in the Forbidden Forest at midnight.
Draco reacted quicker than she could have believed possible. Within a second of her speaking, his wand had aimed a curse that only sailed over her head because she ducked in time. Remembering her fifth year DA lessons, Padma speedily placed a shield charm around her and tried not to let on that her heart was racing because of the wand that Malfoy was now pointing directly at it.
“Patil?” he asked, realising who she was and lowering his wand slightly. “What are you doing?”
“I –” she stopped, wondering why she was responding to his question. Now that her shield charm was in place and Malfoy’s wasn’t cursing her, she felt much calmer. Her natural curiosity returned as well, and she frowned at the shape next to him. “What’s that?”
He seemed caught off guard by her question. Although his fellow seventh years had noticed that Draco seemed to be a lot quieter this year, to the majority of students he was still a commanding presence, and he evidently hadn’t thought Padma would quiz him in return.
His pale eyes were nervous for a few seconds but he then appeared to decide something. “It’s an Iron Maiden,” he replied.
There was something in his voice that Padma didn’t like. A note of his former arrogance had entered it again, as if he was calculating how to get his own way. Instead of letting herself worry about that, she gazed at the thing he had called – what was it? An Iron Maiden? She couldn’t work out what it was, but if it hadn’t been for the shiny new metal she would have said it was medieval. It was the height and shape of a fully grown adult, with a hinged door. Long spikes protruded from the inside of the contraption, and more were scattered on the ground in addition to the one Draco held loosely by his side.
“What is it for?”
It was a stupid question. Padma had realised that as soon as she asked it, even if the glint in Malfoy’s eye hadn’t confirmed it. What else could it be but some form of torture? But what was it doing here, in the Forbidden Forest?
“Call yourself a Ravenclaw, Patil? I’m disappointed in you. I thought it was pretty obvious,” he sneered.
“But what’s it doing here? Did you make it?”
Padma raised an eyebrow. She hadn’t expected such a direct or honest answer. But she knew Malfoy well enough to suspect that he had another motive behind it. The thought didn’t help to reassure her.
She tried again. “Why did you make it?”
“The Carrows told me to.” He hesitated for a moment. There were dark circles under his eyes and Padma noticed he looked exhausted. “I’ve been making it for weeks now. I had to hide it in here and work on it at night so that nobody would find out about it. They’re going to use it for people who are especially…troublesome.”
Suddenly it all made sense. The Carrows’ regime had already brought back the chains that Filch had so cherished, so she shouldn’t be surprised that they were preparing yet another instrument of torture – as if they needed something more than the Cruciatus Curse – but this was truly horrific. Padma felt sick to her stomach at the thought of the Carrows subjecting students to it, killing them.
Malfoy was waiting for a reaction, for her to say something. But she felt repulsed even looking at him; he had made this Iron Maiden. His motives didn’t matter. The fact was he had done it, and she was the only one who could undo his work. After all, nobody would suspect that Draco Malfoy had built an Iron Maiden in the middle of the Forbidden Forest. Few people would even believe it if she told them. And even if she did try and spread the news, surely the Carrows would hunt her down as quickly as they had Neville.
Then came another realisation; she was in danger. Her knowledge put her in a perilous position. A cloud passed over the moon, casting sinister shadows over the clearing in which the two of them stood. When it moved again, she could see the resolve in Malfoy’s eyes. Padma couldn’t forget that he was a Death Eater; nephew of the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange and the boy elected to kill Dumbledore by You-Know-Who. Padma, on the other hand, had only her DA training, quick intelligence and Malfoy’s tiredness to her advantage. She had seconds.
“It’s a pity, really, Patil. If you hadn’t been meddling in business that wasn’t yours, I wouldn’t have had to turn you into the Carrows. You never know, they might even give you the honour of being the first person to try their new design.”
The arrogance was still there, but Padma realised he wasn’t confident enough to take her on himself, and that gave her the conviction she needed. The Fluxweed that she had come here to pick was a distant memory, and she didn’t even care about herself that much; the most important thing was to ensure that the Iron Maiden never left the Forbidden Forest.
“I don’t think so, Malfoy.”
“You don’t thi – ”
He hadn’t expected it, Padma was sure. Removing the shield charm she had been keeping in place, she vanished the Iron Maiden and turned, running back through the trees. A sort of strangled cry came from behind her as Malfoy realised what she had done, followed instantly by his footsteps crashing through the Forest after her. Beams of light flashed around her head; blue, red, and purple, but no green, and for that Padma was thankful. Darting amongst the trunks and branches, she managed to evade them, but as she heard the yell of the Cruciatus Curse she stumbled.
Malfoy had nearly caught up by the time she was back on her feet again.
“Crucio!” he yelled, the desperation evident in his voice. She dodged it, but only just, and sent a stunning spell at him. Suddenly she was duelling like she never had before; this wasn’t DA lessons or class work, this was real. Their wands twirled and slashed through the air, sparking in bright colours, and Padma thought it was a wonder that nobody had seen them or heard them, even here in the depths of the Forbidden Forest.
“Expelliarmus!” Padma squeaked, remembering the DA lesson when Harry had insisted on the spell’s importance. It caught Malfoy off guard, and although it wasn’t powerful enough to take away his wand, it gave her chance to dash through the trees once more. She didn’t know how long she was running for before she reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Malfoy wasn’t in sight, but she knew that it wouldn’t be long until he caught up with her once again, or headed into the castle to rat her out to the Carrows. Taking a couple of deep breaths, Padma began running again, putting as much distance between herself and the Forbidden Forest as possible.
As she reached the school she caught a glimpse of Malfoy emerging from the trees. He was too far away to aim at her now, but she knew he wouldn’t waste time in telling the Carrows. And she didn’t want to think what they might do if they caught her.
Not caring who she disturbed, Padma wrenched open the heavy wooden doors and slipped back into Hogwarts. She didn’t have the Fluxweed that she had originally gone for, but that hardly mattered now that Malfoy was gaining on her.
It was time to join the others in the Room of Requirement.
A/N: For this challenge, I had to write a story focusing heavily on two characters, a setting and an object chosen from a set list given as a prompt. This was the result, and I'd love to know your thoughts on it!