The Sugar Quill
Author: Beaker (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Tenth of an Inch from Death  Chapter: Default
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A Tenth of an Inch from Death

A Tenth of an Inch from Death

 

by Beaker

 

 

“Hold yer ’orses, I’m comin’.” Rubeus Hagrid answered the pounding on the door of his hut and looked down at Argus Filch. “What brings you here this fine evening, Mr. Filch? Unseasonably warm, ennit?”

 

“Never mind the weather! Three third-years just slunk off into the Forbidden Forest, and at dusk to boot! As if I didn’t have enough to do at start-of-term,” Filch growled.

 

Hagrid grunted. “Well, yeah, don’ surprise me none. Seems I overheard some Slytherins darin’ each other t’go into the Forest, when they was all gettin’ off the train yesterday. So you’re wanting me to go in after them?”

 

Filch rolled his eyes. “No, I want you to make me one of your buckets of tea! Of course I want you to go in after them. You know the Forest better than I, and I’ll need your help if one of those idiots gets hurt. So come on, now! Look lively!”

 

“What’s yer hurry?” Hagrid asked. “Think you’d want to give ’em a good head start. Let ’em get in deep enough to see summat real bad. That’ll teach ’em.” Hagrid paused to slap at an insect that was biting his arm. “’Course, they may not have to go too deep in t’learn their lesson tonight,” he added, thoughtfully. He took his cross-bow from a peg on the wall. “Well, let’s to it. Still, no need to hurry. They won’t go far. We just hafta be sure they don’t get themselves lost before they decide to turn ’round.”

 

“Well, aren’t you the confident one,” Filch said. “What makes you so sure they’ll turn around that quick?”

 

-------------------

 

A half-mile into the Forest, the trio of Slytherins slowed their pace. “I think we gave Filch the slip,” said their leader, catching his breath.

 

“Easily done, Silas,” said Dewl, a tall, skinny student. “That fossil can’t keep up, it’s too hot and damp,” He did a victory dance as he walked along, punching the air.

 

The third boy, Hugo, looked at Dewl in disgust. “Ugh, how can you do that? It’s almost too hot to move.”

 

“Not for me, but then I’m not as well-insulated as you are, HUGE-go! Get it? Hugo? Huge-go?”

 

“That’s a good one, Dewl!” said Silas. “Why don’t you try panting, Huge-go? It works for dogs!” He mimicked a dog hanging its tongue out. Dewl laughed.

 

The three walked in silence for another quarter-mile.

 

“D’you think we’ve gone far enough yet?” Hugo asked. He was trying hard not to pant.

 

“You don’t want to go back already, do you?” Silas asked. “We haven’t seen anything good yet!”

 

“No, it’s just these bugs!” he replied, slapping at midges and mosquitoes. “They’re eating me alive!”

 

“It’ll take a long time for them to finish you then, won’t it?” jeered Silas. “Seeing how much of you there is to eat!”

 

Dewl laughed, but less loudly this time. “The bugs are pretty bad, Silas,” he complained.

 

“What’s the matter with you guys? We agreed we’d go into the Forest!”

 

“And we’ve gone! So let’s go back while there’s still something left of us.”

 

“Look,” snapped Silas. “There’s supposed to be all kinds of stuff in here! Unicorns and centaurs and acromantula, werewolves even. I’m not going back until we see something really impressive. So forget the bugs—there aren’t that many. Just slap them!”

 

“I’m trying, but I can’t kill them! Look.” Hugo slapped hard at the midges on his arm. Three tiny black flies lay completely flattened on his palm. Slowly the insects shook out their wings, flew lopsidedly back to his wrist, and started biting again.

 

Dewl looked fearful. “Well, that’s impressive enough for me!” He turned and fled, Hugo following after.

 

“You guys can’t be serious!” Silas called after them. “You’re not scared of a few bugs, are you?”

 

“Yes!” The two other boys kept running back the way they had come.

 

Silas stood for a moment, thinking. Coming into the Forbidden Forest had been his idea, and he did not want to leave without seeing at least one truly impressive magical creature. On the other hand, he had not wanted to come in here alone.

 

As he stood considering, several midges landed on his neck. He slapped them. Then he slapped his ear. Then his face. When a mosquito landed on his nose, he grabbed it, squeezed his hand shut, and opened it again. Sure enough, the smashed mosquito shook itself out and flew to his wrist to take another bite. A high, thin whining grew steadily louder. A cloud of insects surrounded him, biting every part of his body that was exposed and even (by flying up under his robes) some parts that were not. He slapped and hit himself, but it was no use: each battered fly simply shook itself out and bit him again.

 

“Wait for me, guys!” he shouted, running after his companions.

 

-------------------

 

Hagrid and Filch had reached a small clearing scarcely a quarter-mile into the forest when they heard the Slytherins crashing through the trees, hollering at the top of their lungs. Hagrid stopped in his tracks, listening.

 

“What did I tell ya, Filch? They came runnin’ right back. We’ll just wait for them, then.” He leaned against a tree.

 

Filch looked concerned. “Haven’t you got ears? Something’s chasing them. Raise your bow!”

 

Hagrid chuckled. “Oh, a bow’s no good for the creatures they’re fleein’. Here they are!” The three students burst into the clearing, the cloud of insects in pursuit. “Let’s go then, boys. Best take it at a run, Argus. Nothin’ can kill these little buggers, but they won’ follow us out of the forest, at least.” The trees rang with the sounds and shouts of four humans and one half-giant fleeing through the underbrush in the near-dark.

 

The cloud of insects hovered in the air of the clearing. Denied a meal of human blood, they spread out in several directions, seeking the telltale heat and exhaled breath that would lead them to another large mammal. As it turned out, a truly impressive magical creature was standing nearby, hidden in a thicket. Lacking the social structure of bees, the insects had to find the animal without communicating, but the search was short. Within minutes, the mosquitoes and midges were enjoying their usual meal, the food that had sustained them and their countless offspring all summer, long past their natural life spans, even when they were—as they had been so recently—a tenth of an inch from death.

 

The unicorn stamped and swished its tail at them, but to little effect—the insects continued sucking its blood.

 

 

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Author’s Notes: I have not been to Scotland, but the midges (small, biting black flies) in the forests during summer are legendary, enough to be a consideration when making travel plans. Originally the story featured only mosquitoes, but a quick Web search convinced me to include the notorious midges in the action. Unlike mosquitoes, midges are silent. I rather think this makes them even more sinister—you wouldn’t know when they were coming!

 

The story is set in any year other than third or fifth. Since it is the beginning of the year and Hagrid is present, it obviously isn’t the fifth. The Slytherin boys are not in Malfoy’s year or we would have heard of them, so it cannot be third. (Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle were disqualified from this story because Malfoy would never willingly set foot in the Forbidden Forest).

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