Chapter 32 Through the Forest

The Secret of the Forest

Chapter 33: Through the Forest

The sphinx faced them all and Albus felt a little nervous as they stared into the creature’s eyes. Of all creatures, a sphinx was not expected. And if it was there, it meant only one thing. Rose was shaking beside Scorpius as she muttered to no one in particular, “It’s guarding something.”

Even Lorcan started shivering, for a bitter truth had just crept down his spine. Upon him and his twin. It was too late. There was no turning back. Even f they tried. But then, Lysander brightened up as he beheld the sphinx and said, “It might have Diddlerpuffs on its head. They mess with the brain and usually come if you stay in the same place too long. We can”-

“I’m sorry, but I see now Doodlypuffs or anything of the sort,” Rose rolled her eyes.

“Well, of course not, they’re invisible,” Lysander told her as if it were obvious. Hugo was looking from Rose to Lysander, his recent argument spurring him to agree more with Lysander but nonetheless conflicting him concerning the danger they were facing. “So, if we hear the riddle, and can’t answer it, we can leave, right?” Lysander asked.

The sphinx smiled, “If you can,” and motioned with its head behind them. Albus realized he never looked behind him as they treaded through the forest. Now he did, he saw what the sphinx meant. The line they had stepped on disappeared, so only the continuing one remained. They couldn’t go back even if they wanted to.

“Hear the riddle,” the sphinx said. “If you cannot answer it, turn back and find your way. If you can, I will allow you to pass, and the Griffin will take you across the river and beyond. Only one of you can answer it. The others must stay back. Know this. If you’re choice of person gets it wrong, I attack all of you and the griffin shall not remain neutral in this either.”

“She’s guarding something,” Rose said to them again. “It’s obvious. A sphinx’s home is not in Britain, let alone a forest. It’s Greek or Egyptian. Sphinxes are only in Britain if they need to guard something.”

“Thank you for stating the brutally obvious,” Hugo rolled his eyes. “Does that help?”

Alex shrugged. Everyone was quiet, obviously because they trusted themselves or weren’t sure of the risk in the first place. Then, Mark came up, “I nominate Alex. He’s the smartest out of all of us.”

“I think you can do it,” Laura said quietly to Mark.

Mark shook his head, and Albus shrugged, and sat down, “I don’t trust myself, so you all argue for yourselves. I can’t do it.”

“Me neither,” said Scorpius miraculously.

“I’ll do it,” Rose volunteered.

“If you guys want me to answer, I’ll do it,” Alex offered.

Scorpius shrugged, and raised his hand saying, “Alex.”

With everyone seemingly in agreement, Alex stepped toward the sphinx, took a deep breath, and said, “Give it to me.”

There was no waiting. The sphinx immediately went on with the riddle.

“Tell me the creature that lives in the forest,
Untamable; when tried, you’re put to rest.
Dangerous,
Infectious,
A creature of the night.
You may as well just stay away from its bite.

Now take the answer and split into two.
Choose the correct half, and pass you will do.

The legs is the colony
Get it right or you’ll be sorry.
Now tell me the number of letters in your name.
Add with it in kind to the simple word game.
Now think of the creature and tell me one thing
How many of this creature is the colony possessing.

Now take the answer and split into two.
Connect with your first, and pass you will do.

Now make the connection and give me your take.
How many youths did what animal make.

Albus froze. This was hard. Very hard. They were going to be attacked. Hugo seemed to be thinking along those lines too. The only ones who were sparing a thought for this big riddle were Mark, Rose and Alex. A vampire was nicknamed creature of the night. Mark was sitting a little before Albus, and he gaped at both Alex and the sphinx. He knew Alex was thinking, and that was a good sign. A first guess would be vampire, but the sphinx threw a key word in there that pointed away from it. Vampires could be tamed. Couldn’t they? Riley was living proof. Kind of.

Alex scratched his hair in thought. “Give me the first two lines of the first stanza.” The sphinx did, smiling more widely. Alex then said, “Second last.” The sphinx gave it willingly and without question. Her face was expressionless.

“Untamable,” Alex repeated. “Creature of the night. An untamable creature of the night. Are you guarding something big, because this riddle is too easy? One way or another. I’m thinking vampire, for the given nickname, but that’s just a metaphor. Some vampires are fine to humans. I’m going for Werewolf. Now, split into two… I’ll come back later. What’s the second stanza again?”

The sphinx patiently gave it to him. Alex racked his brains for the answer. It was there. He knew it. “The legs are the colony. Ok, I’ll return to that later. My name has four letters. Add to it… do you mean the particular word, game, or a word game puzzle?” Alex asked in vain. The sphinx only smiled, stepping back. She was going to pounce. Albus was ready to run if he had to.

“I’ll take the word, game,” Alex muttered reluctantly. He was uncertain. A bad sign. If so, game has four letters too. Add to it my name, and it’s eight. Ok, eight what? Wait, first two lines again?”

She repeated the legs and colony line. Then, with a sigh of relief from Albus, Alex’s face lit up. “Legs. Something to do with legs. Eight legs, right? A spider has eight legs. If the legs are the colony, I’m guessing there’re eight spi- wait… spiders don’t form colonies do they? Acromantula do. Ok, fine. Then, there’re eight Acromantula in the colony. Give me the rest, please?”

The sphinx did so, only too willing to repeat as many times as he needed. The riddle was long and hard enough. Alex was racked enough. “Ok, eight by two is four. But what was the stanza I said I’d return to?”

Now take the answer and split into two.
Choose the correct half, and pass you will do.

Alex was sitting down, thinking long and hard about this. “Ok, I chose wolf. You want me to connect it with the second answer. Four. Four… wolf… youths? Wait… ok, the wolf has four cubs.”

Silence…

The sphinx got up. Albus’ first thought was it was about to attack. Alex got it wrong. But then it stepped aside, their way clear. The group might have cheered but some were too amazed. However smart Alex was said to be, the sphinx’s riddle seemed impossible to them. Even Rose regarded Alex with a look of marvel and even hugged him, Hugo pat his back and Lily squealed in delight. Lorcan and Lysander were marveling at the now free griffin, Lysander begging for some feathers to keep as a souvenir. Alex himself seemed amazed at his own intelligence. Four cubs?

“You’re a genius,” Mark commented as he held his hand so everyone else stayed back. Alex passed through first. He was right beside the griffin when the rest followed. “Alex and I will go first. Wait here for it to return.”

It certainly took a while. The griffin took Mark and Alex out of sight, and didn’t return for five minutes. It took a full twenty minutes for them all to be together again. The river no longer an obstacle, they went on through.

It wasn’t much longer walking. Five minutes at the most, when the opening was clear close in front of them. Albus didn’t expect what came next. He thought they’d all walk out of it normally. They paced faster ahead, hearts leaping, when all of them fell to the ground. They knew they hit the grassy floor, but they still felt like they were falling.

Falling… falling… falling…

The next thing Albus knew was he was standing alone. None of his friends or family were with him. Rose was gone, Mark and the twins were gone, Scorpius was gone, Hugo and Lily were gone, even the Scamander twins were gone. For some reason though, Albus felt devoid of emotion. He felt no worry and no wonder as to their whereabouts. He stood facing into an empty space. Slowly, the white space before him materialized into an outside area. As it materialized, he felt a light gust of wind blowing his face and some salty air from what seemed like an endless ocean under a shining sun. Was he dead?

Somehow, Albus doubted it though that would have explained why he was there and no one else was. His shadow extended before him and he also noticed children playing on the beach.

Then, the sun disappeared behind black clouds, which morphed and formed into a skull with a sake protruding from its mouth. He felt a twinge of fear despite emotion being denied. Then, an old man with a long white beard came before him. He seemed very serene but there was something unwanted about him. He seemed to regard the skull as nothing more than a common occurrence.

The old man burst into flames and in the ashes was what looked like an unborn fetus. Then, the skull in the sky disappeared and the sun shone again. As it shone, Albus’ shadow reappeared but more three-dimensional. He could not see the fetus anymore and a stronger gust of wind blew but this time, it blew black dust. It knocked him down but once more, nothing was felt. He simply got up and dusted himself off before being knocked down again. Then, before he could get up a stronger gust kept him down, like an invisible wall was weighing down on him.

A being was standing over him and suddenly, emotion returned. He felt great fear as a high cold laugh sounded. Albus struggled to throw the invisible wall off of him but it was too much. The one standing over him was himself, but garbed in black, like his own shadow. He had Albus’ smirk, his skinny face, his thoughtful eyes… and yet none of his kindness, none of his fragility and none of his blood.

“DUEL!” the boy yelled and Albus was thrown up, his wand appearing in his hand.

A jet of green light shot out at him but Albus narrowly dodged it with reflexes he never knew he had. Another jet of green light shot out but it barely missed him. Albus seized his chance and shot out a Stunning spell he never learned before. But when it made impact, nothing happened. Albus seemed to be facing an invulnerable foe who could kill him but not be hurt in any way.

Albus dove to the ground to avoid a deadly curse and tried to jump up, but could not. Something was pushing him down again. He was being limited and the dark Albus stood over him again, smirking proudly, and he spoke in a cold voice, “Finally. If I cannot have my own body, I’ll settle for yours! Avada Kedavra!”

“Expelliarmus!”

The spells collided and exploded in a shower of sparks. One of them seemed to burn his foe and Albus rolled to the side. If he could not get up, he would roll on the ground and avoid what he could. Another deadly curse missed him and a Disarming Charm shot out from Albus’ wand once more, this time making full impact and effect. Where a Stunner failed, a Disarming charm worked wonders. The wand not only flew out of his hand, but it exploded in midair and the dark Albus screamed in apparent pain before exploding too.

Albus did not realize, but he found he was standing again, defying the invisible wall that no longer existed. The opponent was gone but fear remained. Something was wrong. And when Albus looked around, a horde of white-robed individuals surrounded two crouched forms by the beach.

“AL!”

Albus broke into a run, shooting spells he never knew before, jets of all colors firing out; black, red, yellow, even green… the members only repelled them but one dropped lifeless to the ground. They were attacking Hugo and Lily, a dark aura surrounding them both. Green flames were engulfing both of them. And Albus saw he too had the same flames around him. The white-robed men and women surrounded him instead and a scorpion materialized out of thin air to protect Hugo and Lily, the latter of whom was shaking on the ground as if being tortured by some internal pain.

“Leave them!” Albus yelled madly, his voice letting out a sort of growl as he spoke. The men and women obliged fearfully but few resisted, raising their wands in defiance of him. Then, they all disintegrated as the scorpion unleashed its sting. It struck nothing and the green aura disappeared around Hugo and Lily. Albus looked down to see if it disappeared around him too but before he could see clearly, a jet of green light engulfed him completely and he fell back.

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