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A/N: Recognize this story? You should. I had it posted up until very recently under a different penname. Unfortunately, while working on one of the chapters, real life took command and I had to abandon the story. Now with new inspiration and a new penname, I hope to finish a story that I've come to love very much. I hope you enjoy.

Credit: That drool-worthy chapter image you see below is courtesy of heavenleigh@TDA. Yeah, you should be jealous.






"The thing that was hidden in the Snitch," he began, "I dropped it in the forest. I don't know exactly where, but I'm not going to go looking for it again."

- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter Thirty-Six: The Flaw in the Plan (p. 748)










Prologue
June 2026
The Dark Forest, Scotland









"I'm so sorry Tory! I swear I didn't know he was going to pull a stunt like this!"

Soteria Alexander, otherwise known as Tory, frowned as her weight sagged from trying to pull herself up. Her arms and shoulders were sore from the efforts of supporting one hundred and twenty pounds of muscle by nothing but sheer will alone. However, every time she got close enough to the thick ropes binding her wrists, her best friend would break her concentration by apologizing for the thousandth time, and she would fall back down in defeat.

She took a deep breath and counted to ten. "It's alright, Dee. I'm going to find a way to get us out of this mess."

Maybe.

She hoped.

Cordelia didn't seem to have heard a word Tory had said. She just kept blathering out apologies, as if that would somehow free them.

Sighing, Tory looked up at the thick pine branch she had been tied to. Fortunately, it wasn't sticking out over anything particularly revolting. She didn't think she could cope with this whole ordeal if she was dangling over a tar pit. Just thinking about it made her wrinkle her nose in disgust.

Cordelia McDaniels, her best friend in the entire world, was tied to a similar branch across from her. They were far enough apart that they couldn't reach each other, but close enough that Tory could see the tear streaks on her friend's pale oval face.

She flexed her fingers, hissing slightly as the cords she had been tied up with cut off circulation in her wrists. If she didn't hurry up and find a way to free them soon, they wouldn't have to worry about trying to reach the ground below.

They would reach it alright, but minus their hands.

If only she had her blasted penknife, they would be freed in minutes. Unfortunately, it had fallen the seven feet to the ground below when she tried to use it in the early hours of their predicament.

This was a hoax, a sick practical joke courtesy of Dee's latest boy-toy, Roger. And while Tory hated the no good rotten git, she highly doubted Roger and his drinking buddies would hang them there to die. He loved Cordelia too much to let anything serious happen to her. But the sun was beginning to set and she didn't want to think about what would happen if they stayed in the forest when it grew dark.

A dark cloud floated over the trees. "Oh, don't tell me---" Tory began, but a peal of thunder cut off her next words. The next thing she knew, rain was dumping icy buckets over them. Within minutes, her blonde hair was plastered to her face, just as the clothes she hiked through this bloody forest in were sticking to her skin.

Great.

"Isn't this just perfect!" Cordelia wailed. "This is what I get for trusting a dumb git like Roger. You tried to warn me about Roger, Tory. Remember? You told me he had shit for brains, but I didn't listen. And look where that got us!"

"Dee Dee!" Tory shouted. "Will you shut the bloody hell up so I can figure out how to get us down from here? Otherwise we're going to be stuck here for the rest of our natural born lives!"

"Well, not for the rest of our lives. We've got about forty-five minutes before these ropes cut through us like shortening. My arms are starting to hurt. Are yours hurting?" Cordelia paused at Tory's short scream of frustration. "Are you alright, Tor? You sound kind of upset."

Tory opened her mouth to let her friend know exactly what was making her so upset---namely her bitching and moaning---but she closed it as she felt the slight give of the rope. Looking up, she saw the knot Roger had used to tie her to the branch start to loosen.

She grinned. Trust the bastard not to know a reef knot from a coral reef. She rotated her wrists in an attempt to loosen the knot further and was rewarded when the end of the rope slipped through its hole.

Her knees buckled the moment her boots hit the ground. Brushing the dirt off the front of her trousers, Tory stretched luxuriously.

Ah, yes. Much better.

"Don't forget about me!" Cordelia cried, writhing against her restraints. "Ow, that hurts!"

Tory bent down to retrieve her penknife. "I don't know. I mean, I've been working so hard trying to get us out of this mess while you've just been hanging there, yapping your trap. Maybe you should try to get free on your own." She pocketed her knife and made to leave.

"SOTERIA ALEXANDER!" Cordelia thundered. "Get back here right this minute and let me down!"

Tory chuckled. "Sure thing, Dee. Gosh, no need to get huffy."

She heard her friend mutter something along the lines of "I'll show you huffy!" but Tory ignored her as she studied the tree her friend was tied to. How the bloody hell was she expected to cut Cordelia down? She supposed she could climb her friend, but she didn't think Dee would be too thrilled with the suggestion. Plus, the rain probably made her all slippery.

If there was one thing Tory avoided like the plague, it was a slippery friend.

"Okay, Dee," she said, "Since my restraints weren't that tight, I'm going to assume that yours aren't as well. I want you to try to pull on the rope holding you. Understand?"

"Yes," Cordelia said. She started tugging on her restraints.

"Easy does it," Tory warned. "I don't want you to hur--? She stopped as her friend's rope unraveled and Cordelia fell to the ground in a crumpled heap.

She rushed to her friend. "Are you alright, Dee Dee?"

Cordelia swore loudly. "When I get my hands on that slimy bastard, I'm going to murder him!"

Yup, she was fine. Tory grinned.

"That's my girl. C'mon, let's see if we can find a way out of here."

She offered Dee her hand, but she didn't take it. Instead, she was frowning at something in the dirt.

"What is it?" Tory asked.

"I don't know." Cordelia picked up a small object, and Tory caught a flash of silver. "It looks like an old ring."

So it did. The silver was tarnished, but the black stone in the center seemed fine. There was a long jagged crack down the middle, bisecting the triangle and circle engraved upon it. Goose pimples crawled across Tory's skin as she looked at it.

"Put it down, Dee."

Cordelia looked up at her. "Why?"

"There's something spooky about that thing. Put it back."

"Uh-uh. We could sell it once we got back to London. How much do you think something like this will fetch? Hundred pounds?" Cordelia looked at the ring considering.

"I don't know and frankly, I don't care. Put it back and let's get moving."

"Nope. I'm gonna keep it and see if Rick can tell us how much its worth." Cordelia got to her feet. "Darn."

Tory sighed. "What is it now?"

"I don't have any pockets."

"Just stick it in your bra. That's what I do with money if I don't have my purse or pockets handy."

Cordelia wrinkled her nose. "That's disgusting, Tory."

Tory shrugged. "It works."

"In any case, I am not going to put a ring down my shirt. You take it." Cordelia made as if to give it to her.

Tory raised her hands. "Uh-uh. You want it, you have to hold on to it."

"Come on Tor. You've got pockets. Just hold on to it until we get back to the inn. I have plenty of pockets there in my suitcase."

"No."

Cordelia stuck out her bottom lip, widened her eyes in child-like innocence. "Please."

Tory glared at her. "You know I hate when you make that face."

"But you know you'll cave." Cordelia grinned at her.

"Fine." Tory grabbed the ring from Cordelia's outstretched hand. "But just until we get back to the in."

That problem now solved, she stared across the densely populated forest. "Did you see which way Roger and his buddies go?" she asked Cordelia.

Cordelia shook her head. "Whatever they put on that handkerchief knocked me O-U-T, out. I came to only shortly before you did. I wonder what that stuff was."

Tory started walking towards the spot where it seemed the foliage was lighter. "Probably chloroform. It vaporizes pretty quickly and can knock you out in seconds. Back in the old days, it was used as a form of anesthesia."

"Blimey, how do you know stuff like that?"

"Reading. You might want to try it some time."

Cordelia looked indignant. "I do too read. Just the other day I read something."

"Tabloid magazines don't count."

"Says who?"

"Says me."

"Well, I'll have you know, the tabloids are a great source of information about my favorite celebrities. I was reading about Orlando and they said that he was caught sneaking out of--"

"Shh!" Tory held up a hand to silence her friend. "Did you hear that?"

Cordelia shook her head. "What is it?"

"I dunno. Sounds like something's scurrying across the forest floor. A bunch of somethings."

"That can't be good."

"No." Tory started walking faster. "Come on. Something tells me we don't want to find out what those somethings are."

They walked briskly for several minutes, but the noise did not abate. In fact, it seemed to be getting louder. Tory's heart started to pound as they still didn't come out of the woods.

"Tor," Cordelia panted. "I don't think I can go any farther. My arches are killing me."

Tory was unsympathetic, but she slowed down. "You shouldn't have worn those heels then."

"How was I supposed to know Roger would go loco and tie us to trees in a remote forest?" She cast a dark look at the forest. Then she froze.

"Uh, Tory?"

"What is it, Dee?" Tory sighed, glancing back. Then she saw it, too.

A spider.

And not just any spider. This one was about the size of a small car and extremely hairy. The kind horror films were made of. It clicked its pincers menacingly. They stared at it in horror.

Cordelia screamed.

"RUN!" Tory shouted. She grabbed Cordelia's hand and took off running.

They jumped over roots and fallen tree branches. Just as it seemed they had gotten past one obstacle, another one would pop up. It seemed as if the forest wanted them to get caught. Wanted them to die. Fortunately, Tory and the forest didn't exactly see eye to eye.

Or was it eye to branch?

Chancing it, she glanced behind them. The hairy beast seemed to have invited a couple dozen of its friends to join the party, since the spider mob apparently got bigger. And they were gaining on the pair.

"Where's a bloody exterminator when you need one?" Tory cried.

"Tory, watch out!"

Tory turned, but it was too late: a low branch caught her across the face and she fell. Hard. Gasping for breath, she saw Cordelia stop and backtrack to her.

"G-g-go!" she wheezed. "G-get out of h-here. I can t-take care of my-myse-myself."

"Stop being so melodramatic," her friend admonished. "It's not that attractive. And cheré, you're not looking all that good right now."

Tory felt something wet trickle down her face and she wiped it away.

"Oh my god," Cordelia gasped. "Tory, you're bleeding!"

So she was. Tory stared at the streak of red on her hand. Swirls of black color started pressing against her eyes.

"Oh damn," she whispered. "I think I'm going under, Dee."

"That's alright. I'll be the ones to protect our backsides." Cordelia grinned. "For once."

"Dee--"

She watched helplessly as Cordelia straightened and grabbed a fallen tree branch. Her friend turned to the direction of their attackers.

"Come get some, you ugly beasts!"

Something whirled by Tory and she heard Cordelia's gasp. Trying to hold on to consciousness, she tried to focus on the scene. She could just make out a pair of hooves.

Her last thought before the darkness consumed her was, 'Who bloody rides horses anymore?'

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