Artemis Hexley and the Forbidden Forest
Chapter 7: Cloak and Arrow
A/N: Artemis finds herself facing new dangers, and embroiled in more mysteries than ever. The plot thickens. Warnings: Moderate peril.
The forest was eerily quiet. The mist was less thick amongst the trees, but the only light came from Artemis’ wand, and the branches of the trees cast shadows across the frozen forest floor. With no map, and no guide, Artemis was completely lost.
“Vermillious!” she pointed her wand straight up, and sent a flurry of red sparks into the sky, so bright she could see them through the mist and mesh of the canopy above. Surely Charlie would be able to see that, she thought. For good measure, she pointed her wand at the sky again. “Vermillious!”
More red sparks, more silence.
Artemis shivered and pulled her cloak tight around her, cold from not moving. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, the hushed quiet became less ominous and more peaceful, and she had to resist the urge to walk away, to explore. After all, it would be stupid to move from the spot from which she had fired the red sparks.
Somewhere in the thicket of trees, a twig snapped. Artemis jumped, and her hand gripped her wand tight.
“Charlie?” she called out. There was no reply, only the sound of footsteps approaching through the trees. “Charlie, is that you?”
The footsteps grew louder, closer, and Artemis knew that they could not belong to Charlie. They sounded more like hooves than feet, she realised. No human had footsteps like that. But as she shone her wandlight in the direction of the noise, she saw a man’s face amongst the trees that looked human enough.
“Who are you?” she asked.
The man didn’t answer, but he walked towards her, out of the foliage and into the clearing. As he did, it became obvious that he was only human from the waist up. The lower half of his body was fur covered, four legged and hoofed: he was a centaur.
“The question is not who am I, but who are you,” the centaur said, stepping out of the undergrowth, his voice low and deep, “and what are you doing so deep in the forest?”
“I’m... I’m looking for something,” Artemis said, her wand still raised, “something I think might be in the forest.”
“The Forest Vault,” the centaur said.
“Yes,” Artemis frowned. “You know about the Cursed Vaults?”
“We centaurs have known about the Forest Vault since its creation. About all of the Vaults, and about you,” he fixed Artemis with a stare that was dark and dangerous, “Artemis Hexley.”
“How did you-”
“You should not have come into the forest,” the centaur continued. “You are not welcome here.”
The centaur’s stare hardened, and anger seemed to radiate from him. For the first time, Artemis noticed that he was holding a bow in one hand, and an arrow in the other. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Expelliarmus!” she shouted, pointing her wand at the arrow, which flew out of the centaur’s hand and landed on the forest floor.
“You definitely should not have done that,” the centaur muttered.
Suddenly, a familiar voice roared out across the grove from the trees nearby.
“Charlie, no!” Artemis called out, her eyes and wand still fixed on the centaur. “Stay back!”
Charlie either hadn’t heard her warning, or had decided to ignore it completely, as seconds later, he crashed through the trees directly into the grove, coming to an abrupt halt halfway between Artemis and the centaur. He looked at them both quickly, before shoving both his hands into his pockets and turning his face towards the ground.
“Lower your wand,” he said calmly, his tone almost conversational, his eyes fixed on his feet.
“But, Charlie, he-”
“Lower your wand, Artemis.”
Charlie didn’t raise his voice or look up at her. If anything, he looked almost disinterested, but Artemis could tell, somehow, that he was panicking. She swallowed, and reluctantly lowered her wand.
“Artemis is new here,” Charlie said, his voice slow and level. He kept his head low, but lifted his gaze from the floor to the centaur’s face. “She didn’t mean to cause any offence.”
“You brought this girl here, Charles Weasley,” the centaur said. It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes, Torvus, I did.”
“Hang on, you two know each other?” Artemis asked, incredulous.
“We’ve met a few times,” Charlie inclined his head. “Torvus, Artemis needs our help. She’s trying to-”
“I know what the Hexley girl is trying to do,” Torvus said, staring at Artemis again. “I will not help her.”
“That’s a shame,” Charlie said, still outwardly calm. Artemis narrowed her eyes as she stared at him. Beneath his composed exterior, he was terrified. “May I ask why not?”
“I made the mistake of helping one of the Hexley clan before. I will not make that mistake again.”
“Who did you help?” Artemis asked, ignoring the warning look that Charlie was giving her.
“Your brother,” Torvus said.
“You knew Jacob?”
“Jacob Hexley came here searching for the Forest Vault,” Torvus said to her, his eyes still filled with a quiet fury. “He claimed that it had been tampered with, releasing a curse upon the school. He asked me to help him find the Vault and break the curse.”
“Why?” Artemis furrowed her eyebrows. “Why did he need you specifically?”
“There is an object that has been handed down between the centaurs in my herd for generations. It is sacred to us,” Torvus explained. “The Hexley boy claimed that this item could be used to break the Curse. Against my better judgement, I agreed to help him, but when I refused to give him my herd’s sacred arrow, he stole it from our camp.”
“No,” Artemis shook her head. “You must must have made a mistake. My brother isn’t a thief.”
“Your faith blinds you, Artemis Hexley,” Torvus said. “You do not know what your brother is capable of.”
“Artemis isn’t her brother’s keeper, Torvus,” Charlie said, cautiously. “It’s not her fault, what he did.”
“He didn’t do anything!” Artemis snapped at Charlie, who looked at her with a pleading expression in his brown eyes.
“Jacob Hexley used magic to steal a sacred object from a centaur camp,” Torvus swished his tail and scraped the hoof of one of his forelimbs on the floor. Charlie took a step towards Artemis, removing his hands from his pockets. “Because of my involvement, I was exiled from the herd. Not all families have so much faith in one another as you do.”
“Torvus,” Charlie said, suddenly, “did you just say that it was an arrow that Jacob took?”
“An arrow, Artemis,” Charlie repeated.
“You mean,” Artemis said, realising what he meant, “the one I found in the Vault.”
“You found an arrow in a Cursed Vault?” For the first time, Torvus seemed surprised.
“Yes,” Artemis said. “It had gold fletching and vines engraved into it.”
“With a jewelled arrowhead?” Torvus asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “The arrowhead was missing.”
Torvus’ tail started to swish again.
“Other than the arrowhead, does that sound like the one you lost?” Charlie asked, and the centaur nodded. “Torvus, if Artemis and I find your arrow and return it to you, will you help us?”
“No,” Torvus replied. “That arrow is mine by right. You will be doing me no favours by returning it, only doing what is honourable.”
“That’s fair enough,” Charlie shrugged, “but if Artemis does what is honourable, will you agree not to harm her or hold her responsible for her brother’s actions?”
“If she does what is honourable, I will forgive her for her family’s betrayal of mine,” Torvus said, fixing Artemis with another cold, hard stare, “but I shall never forget it, and neither should you, Charles Weasley. You should be very wary of this girl. We should all be wary.”
With this warning, Torvus turned and cantered away into the forest. Charlie exhaled and lifted his face to the night sky, both hands buried in his red hair.
“Word of advice, Artemis. Never start a fight with a centaur. You won’t win.”
“Why do you assume I started it?”
“Just a hunch,” he looked her up and down. “How badly are you hurt?”
“I’m not hurt.”
“Your face, though,” Charlie frowned.
“Oh, I had to do an emergency landing through the trees,” Artemis ran her fingers over the scratches on her face. “Does it look that bad?”
“I mean, it’s not a great look.”
“That’s a yes, then,” Artemis laughed, and pointed her wand at her face. “Episkey!” She cast the healing spell on herself. “Is that better?”
“Much. Bill might not murder me when he sees you now,” Charlie gave her a small smile that quickly faded, and looked around furtively. “We should go back to the castle.”
“But we’ve not found the Vault,” Artemis protested. “We haven’t even discovered any clues yet!”
“No, but we have discovered that a centaur herd has a grudge against your family,” Charlie picked up Tonks’ broom and pushed it towards Artemis. “Right now, it’s too dangerous for you to be here. We have to leave.”
“We will come back, I promise. But for now, we’re done.”
Charlie made Artemis fly with her wand lit for the journey back to the castle so he could tell if she went off course again, but it in the end it wasn’t necessary. The journey back was completely uneventful, but by the time they arrived back at the castle, it was very late. Charlie took both broomsticks with him (“Artemis, you don’t want to get caught with a broom, do you?”), and once he was out of sight, Artemis changed back into her Animagus form to run back to her dormitory, where Rowan, Penny, and Tonks were all up waiting for her anxiously.
“Did you find the Vault?”
“Why do you have blood on your face?”
“Where’s my broomstick?”
“One question at a time, please,” Artemis laughed as she jumped onto her bed, disturbing a resting Fergus, who hissed sleepily. “Tonks, Charlie has your broom. I had a bit of a fight with a tree, Penny, luckily it wasn’t the Whomping Willow. And, no, Rowan, I didn’t find the Cursed Vault.”
She told them all about Torvus, the arrow, and the voice she had heard whilst flying over the forest. The other girls had even more questions after she finished.
“Are you sure that it was your brother’s voice?” Penny asked her.
“As sure as I was the last few times,” Artemis said, clutching her knees to her chest. “Which is to say, not completely sure, but who else could it be?”
“Madam Rakepick, maybe,” Penny suggested.
“It was definitely a man’s voice.”
“What about this ‘R’ person? Whoever they are,” Tonks frowned.
“I still think maybe Rakepick could be ‘R’. She knows enough about the Vaults, and she’s the one who sent you into the forest in the first place,” said Rowan. “Which is suspicious in itself, isn’t it?”
“It must be exhausting, being you,” said Tonks, yawning widely. “Overthinking everything and suspecting everyone all the time.”
“I can’t be the only who thinks it’s a bit off,” Rowan tutted. “Honestly, shes meant to be this powerful, eminent Curse-Breaker. Why’s she getting a teenager to do her work for her?”
“I’m her assistant. I’m assisting.”
“I’m just saying, it’s not very professional of her. She went to Hogwarts, she must know how dangerous the forest is,” Rowan stopped and sighed deeply. “I’m very jealous that you and Charlie met a real centaur, though. I wonder what his views are on the Beasts and Beings Classification Controversy of 1811.”
“Funnily enough, Ro, it didn’t come up in conversation.”
“You’re such a disappointment to all of us, Artemis,” Tonks rolled her eyes. “You didn’t interview Fenrir Greyback about the Werewolf Code of Conduct when you got the chance, either. So selfish.”
“Well, next time I’m getting threats from some kind of magical beings-”
“Beasts. Centaurs prefer to be classified as Beasts.”
“Beasts, then,” Artemis corrected herself, “I’ll try and remember to ask them about their political views before they slaughter me. Anyone got any questions for me to put to any goblins or vampires, just in case I come across any of those next?”
“I have a question,” said Tonks. “When can I get my broomstick back? Have you and Charlie finished faffing about in the forest yet, or not?”
“I dunno,” she said. “I mean, I definitely want to go back. I’m no closer to finding that Cursed Vault.”
“Well, I just don’t know if Charlie will be too keen. I don’t think he really enjoyed himself this evening.”
“I wonder why not,” muttered Rowan.
“No idea. I had a great time,” Artemis grinned. “But he was pretty anxious about the whole thing.”
“Nah. I don’t believe that.”
“You didn’t see him with that centaur, Tonks.”
Tonks laughed and shook her head emphatically.
“Trust me, Charlie’s never been anxious about a thing in his life,” she said. “I swear, if the boy was any more laid back, he’d be horizontal.”
“Maybe,” Artemis said in a non-commital voice, “but he definitely didn’t think it was safe for us to stay there after we found out about my brother and the arrow. So I reckon until I find the arrowhead neither of us will be going back to the forest.”
“Well, maybe you should concentrate on that for now. It sounds a lot less dangerous,” Penny smiled at her. “Although, it might be quite difficult. I mean, it could be anywhere, couldn’t it?”
Artemis sighed deeply. Penny was right, the arrowhead could be anywhere at all. Somehow, she’d have to work it out.
The next day, the Hogwarts Express returned to Hogsmeade Station, bringing with it the rest of the students, most of them slightly plumper and better dressed than they had been at the start of the holidays. Artemis noticed that Andre Egwu was wearing an immaculate purple scarf at the start of term feast that she had never seen before.
“Hey, Artemis,” he said, stopping on his way to the Ravenclaw table and wrapping both his arms around her from behind. “How were the flying lessons?”
“Fine, no thanks to you and your broomstick,” she replied. “How were the Pride Of Portree?”
“Marvellous,” Andre sighed, let go of Artemis, and held out his scarf to her. “And they had such great merchandise, too. Just feel the quality of this wool.”
“It’s very soft,” said Artemis, stroking the scarf.
“Soft? Is that all you have to say? Soft?” Andre tutted and whipped the scarf from Artemis’ hand. “I will have you know, Artemis, that this is pure faun wool of the finest quality.”
“You know I’m no good at clothes, Andre,” Artemis said, remembering the time the year before when Andre had taken her shopping.
“You philistine. Ah, here comes someone who appreciates fine knitwear,” Andre said nodding his head at Charlie Weasley, who was approaching the Hufflepuff table. “Charlie, would you like to fondle my scarf?”
“Sure, why not?” Charlie raised his eyebrows at a now sniggering Artemis as he too felt the scarf. “Very nice, Andre. What’s that, garter stitching?”
“Good boy, Charlie,” said Andre. He leaned towards Artemis, and whispered in her ear, “At least one of you knows what you’re talking about.”
“How do you know about knitting?” Artemis asked Charlie incredulously, as Andre swished his scarf over his shoulder and swaggered back to the Ravenclaw table.
“I don’t really. Mum talks about it a lot and it was the first thing that came into my head. Do you mind if I sit here a second?” Artemis shook her head, and Charlie sat down, perching on the bench next to her. “I just wanted to check that you’re alright.”
“Oh, fine and dandy, why wouldn’t I be? Aside from having around twenty or so centaurs who’d like to use my intestines as bunting, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Charlie nodded, and gave her the faintest hint of a smile. “You know, it was quite a crash you had.”
“It wasn’t a crash,” Artemis said, indignantly. “It was... a spontaneous landing.”
“Well, whatever it was, you did pretty well to land a broom in the middle of a forest with no visibility all by yourself and not get too badly hurt.”
“Well, you know our Artemis,” Tonks smirked across the table. “Nine lives, always lands on her feet...”
“Nothing,” Artemis scowled at Tonks, who was cackling into her pumpkin juice, whilst Rowan rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Thanks for checking in, Charlie. And thanks for trying to help me.”
“Thank me when we’re finished,” Charlie said, standing up. “Looks like Dumbledore’s about to start his speech. I’ll see you in Care of Magical Creatures tomorrow.”
“See,” said Tonks, “horizontal.”
“Nine lives?” Artemis hissed back at her. “Tonks, I swear to Merlin-”
“Look who’s back,” Penny nodded ar the top table. Artemis looked, and sure enough, Madam Rakepick was sitting between Professor Snape and Hagrid.
“Snape really does look like he hates her, doesn’t he?” Rowan murmured.
“I think he really does hate her,” Artemis whispered back.
Artemis barely listened to Dumbledore’s speech, or tasted her meal. Her head was elsewhere, swimming with thoughts about centaurs, arrows, and Cursed Vaults. As the feast ended, and the girls stood up to leave the Great Hall, Artemis noticed that Merula Snyde was saying something to Madam Rakepick. Whatever it was that she was telling the Curse-Breaker, she looked very pleased with herself.
“You guys go ahead,” she said to the other girls, nodding in the direction of Rakepick and Merula, “I want to see what that’s all about.”
As Artemis approached them at the high table, Merula sloped away, giving her a peculiar look, and Madam Rakepick stared at her with a formidable expression.
“What’s going on?” Artemis asked her.
“I could ask you the same thing, Miss Hexley,” said Rakepick. “I do hope that you’ve come here to tell me all about your excursion to the Forbidden Forest.”
“I...” Artemis’ voice faltered, and she cast a look over her shoulder in the direction that Merula had gone. “Is that what Merula was just saying to you? That I managed to fly to the forest?”
“Yes,” Rakepick said, shortly. “I must say, I’d have preferred to have learnt this information from you directly.”
“That’s not fair. I hadn’t even gotten the chance to talk to you about it.”
“Well, now you have,” Madam Rakepick smirked. “Out with it, then.”
Artemis scowled at Rakepick and said nothing. The two of them stared at one another in silence.
“I’m waiting, Miss Hexley. You know I don’t like to be kept waiting.”
“Tough,” muttered Artemis. “Because I have nothing to tell you.”
Madam Rakepick’s nostrils flared.
“Let me remind you that you are working for me,” she said, her voice low. “Any information you gained on your little adventure is mine by right.”
“Well, that’s the thing. I didn’t gain any information,” said Artemis. She added under her breath, “Even if I had, I don’t have to tell you anything.”
“I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear that,” Madam Rakepick folded her arms across her chest and nodded at the door to the Great Hall. “You’re dismissed, Miss Hexley. I’d suggest that next time we meet, you drop the attitude.”
Artemis narrowed her eyes at the Curse-Breaker, turned and walked out of the Great Hall to go back to the dungeons. As she walked out into the entrance hall, a voice called her name.
Artemis turned around to see a person in a red cloak standing on the stairs, their hood hiding their face.
“Who’s asking?” Artemis asked, reaching for her wand.
“A messenger,” the cloaked figure said. The voice was deep, and definitely male.
“Messenger for who?” Artemis asked, glancing over shoulder at the Great Hall. Did Rakepick know what was happening? If she did, there was no sign that she was coming to help. The messenger did not reply. “Well? If you’re a messenger, do you have a message for me, or not?”
“You are spirited, Hexley,” the wizard in the red cloak took a step down the flight of stairs towards her as he spoke, “but that will not do you any good if you wish to avoid your brother’s fate. My message is simple: stay away.”
“Stay away?” Artemis frowned. “Is that it?”
“Stay away from the forest. Stay away from the Vaults. Stay away from Patricia Rakepick,” the messenger took another step towards her. “Death is coming to Hogwarts, Hexley. Do as you are told, and it may not come to you.”
Artemis drew breath, raising her wand, and as she did, she heard the sound of footsteps approaching from the Great Hall. The cloaked wizard must have heard them, too, as he raised his wand and pointed it at Artemis.
Artemis’ arms and legs snapped to her body, and she fell to the ground. She struggled to get up, but couldn’t. Every muscle in her body was rigid, and as hard as she tried, she couldn’t move at all.
“Artemis,” a sharp voice said. It wasn’t the messenger; this voice came from a woman, and it was familiar. It was Rakepick. “Get up.”
Suddenly, the body bind lifted, and Artemis was able to move again. She looked around to see the messenger, but he had disappeared. It was just her and Rakepick. She scrambled to her feet.
“Are you hurt?” Madam Rakepick asked. Artemis shook her head.
“Who was that?” she asked the Curse-Breaker.
“I don’t know,” said Rakepick, “but I’d be able to take a guess.”
“They said they were a messenger. But they didn’t say who sent them.”
Rakepick raised a single eyebrow at her.
“This is not the first time that secret messages have been left for students at Hogwarts.”
“No,” Artemis frowned, and then gasped as she realised what Rakepick meant. “You mean the black quill messages that were sent to Ben, don’t you? Do you think that this R person that was threatening him might be the same person who sent that messenger?”
“Could be,” said Rakepick. “It would certainly make sense.”
Madam Rakepick’s eyes flashed at Artemis.
“Because, I have heard about this ‘R’ before,” she told her. “They are interested in finding and opening the Vaults to gain whatever power is inside, and use it for their own gain.”
“Do you know who they are?”
“Unfortunately not. But I know that they are dangerous, whoever they are, and that they do not appreciate others trying to beat them to it.”
“So that’s why they’re warning me to stay away from the Vaults.”
“And from me,” the corners of Rakepick’s mouth twitched slightly. “I expect they think that I am just as much of a threat to them as you are. Probably even more so.”
“So why aren’t they threatening you?”
“I am not easily threatened,” Rakepick said, simply.
“Neither am I,” replied Artemis, jutting her chin forward.
“So I have learnt,” Rakepick’s eyes swiftly looked Artemis up and down. “We are more alike than you think, Miss Hexley. And it would seem that we are on the same side.”
Artemis frowned and swallowed. Slowly, she nodded her head.
“I didn’t find the Vault in the forest, or any clues,” she told the Curse-Breaker. “I had to leave, because I ran into a centaur. He wanted to kill me, because he thinks my brother stole something from him, but Charlie talked him out of it.”
“You certainly are making yourself some dangerous enemies, Miss Hexley,” Rakepick smirked. “Or, rather, your brother is making them for you. Stealing from a centaur…”
“He didn’t. It was a misunderstanding,” Artemis said, glaring at her. Rakepick did not react. Artemis sighed. “Torvus - the centaur - won’t let me go back and look for the Vault until I find his stupid arrowhead and bring it back to him. Apparently it’s sacred or something. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it, would you? I mean, you are an expert, after all.”
“An expert, yes. Omniscient, no. I know nothing of this arrowhead, but I would assume that if it is linked to the Vaults it would be unlikely to have strayed far from the school. I’d suggest that you make searching for this arrowhead your priority from now on.”
“I was already going to.”
“Good,” Rakepick nodded. “Because I am far too busy to be searching for arrowheads.”
“And what about this R person?” Artemis asked her. “What should I do about them?”
“If I were you, I would continue to do exactly what it takes for you to get what you want, and not let anyone stand in my way.”
“Artemis, I’m already doing just that.”
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