Night had long since fallen upon the grounds of Hogwarts castle. The pitch black sky, which had been as clear as a bell, held the moon in place as it cast down its light upon the grounds of the school, the castle itself, and the other nearby areas.
Maki looked up from under the hood of her Ravenclaw robe at the spectacle and even with the gnarled and sinister silhouettes of tree branches obscuring a perfect view of the sight, she was instantly reminded of the pearls that her mother would wear whenever her parents were expecting company back home.
She quickly turned her attention away from it, however, and continued to follow the magpie Patronus soaring through the air in front of her.
If she lost her concentration even a little, the bluish silver hue emanating from the tip of her wand would go out and the magpie Patronus would fade just as quickly as she had conjured it up.
Behind her, she heard twigs continuously snapping along with mumblings of swear words and grumpy remarks of how she couldn't even see her hand in front of her face.
"Now, tell Nico why she can't use Lumos again, Maki?" The dark-haired Slytherin whined as she squinted her eyes in an attempt to see the silhouette of her secret lover that was slightly outlined from the light of the Patronus.
This didn't deter the fifth-year Ravenclaw as she continued her concentration on the spell.
"I don't know, Nico. Maybe because there are prefects patrolling the grounds tonight, and they may see the mysterious light coming out of the Forbidden Forest and will most likely want to investigate it?"
Nico huffed, keeping a watchful eye from under the hood of her Slytherin robe on what may or may not be waiting to jump out at them from behind the trees in the darkness.
"You don't have to be such a smartass, you know." The seventh-year said as a statement more than a question.
Maki scoffed. "No, I don't have to be one, but this was your idea! You were the one that just had to drag me out here into the Forbidden Forest for one of our secret meetings!"
Nico laughed. "Okay, first of all, I can't believe you still call them that. It kills me how you're too stuck up to admit that they're basically rolls in the hay, but at the same time, it's kind of hot that you think that way. Second, how was I supposed to know we'd stay out here until sundown? I mean I can't really blame you for getting carried away. Nico is a beauty, after all."
"Yeah, okay," Maki rolled her eyes despite the slight redness of her cheeks at the vulgar way Nico had worded the nature of their meetings. Thankfully, the Forbidden Forest was dark enough to hide it. "Just keep quiet and let me focus on finding us a way out of here."
Reluctantly, Nico did as she was told, crossing her arms together as a means to shield herself from the chilly air of the forest.
At the start of the year and every year before that, Professor Minami always warned the students that the Forbidden Forest was strictly off limits during the hours of the night, and Nico could see why. It was like something out of a muggle horror movie. Dark, cold, and the overwhelming fear that something was going to jump out at you at any given time. It wasn't just the cold air that was giving Nico the chills. The fear of something snatching her up chilled her to the bone.
A howl sounded in the distance, which caused the dark-haired Slytherin to almost jump out of her skin and increased the rate at which she was moving from a slow walk to an almost full on sprint right into the back of the unsuspecting form of the redheaded Ravenclaw.
It didn't break Maki's concentration from the spell, but it did make her scoff in exasperation. If it had been any other situation than the one they were currently in now, she wouldn't have minded the way Nico had quickly clung onto her from behind and wrapped her arms around her middle torso.
"Honestly, Nico," Maki winced slightly. "Whatever that was is most likely miles away from where we are. And if you don't mind, be careful where you put your hands. I'm still sore from sitting on that rock."
At Maki's reassuring yet not so reassuring words, Nico slowly let go but still remained closely behind her.
"Oh really?" Nico's snarkiness dripped into her tone as a small grin made its way onto her face. "I didn't hear you complaining about it earlier."
Maki stopped dead in her tracks and turned around to face her secret lover, the bluish silver hue emanating from the tip of her wand illuminated her facial features, clearly showing what appeared to be a light dust of red on her cheeks.
"Or I could just cast the Leg-Locker curse on you and leave you to hop your way through the forest in the dark all on your own." Maki warned sternly, eyebrows arched down into a glare.
Nico held her hands up in a defensive gesture. "Relax, will you? My ass is sore from sitting on that rock, too, you know. Besides, Nico is too beautiful to be left behind as werewolf food."
"If you keep talking, it won't be the werewolves you need to be worrying about." Maki threatened before resuming her trek through the forest while following closely behind the magpie Patronus.
That was enough to clamp Nico's mouth shut permanently as she resumed following the younger girl through the woods. Her ruby colored irises still kept watch from under the hood of her robe for any sort of creature that may or may have been waiting to pop out at them.
But as she remained silent, her mind began to wonder, drifting further into that specific part of her brain that made her think of all the things that could've been waiting for them in the dark or perhaps may have been watching them from the shadows of the trees.
Maki had told her not to worry about the howl they had heard in the distance earlier, but that didn't quell Nico's worries about it at all. The fact that the pair had even heard it meant that it definitely had to be in the forest somewhere.
It could've been a gytrash, which frightened Nico to an extent, but it could've also been a werewolf, which terrified the dark-haired Slytherin right down to the core.
But as she looked in front of her at the hooded form of her Ravenclaw lover, a form that carried poise and calculation no matter where she went and no matter the nature of any situation she was in, Nico knew then and there that she would do whatever it took to protect Maki from any kind of danger, even if she had to use any of the three Unforgivable Curses and risk spending the rest of her life in Azkaban, she would do so.
Even if it meant seeing him.
Nico bristled at the very idea of being even remotely near her father, who had been imprisoned just a little while after the events of the Second Wizarding War all those years ago. He was one of the reasons why she absolutely loathed anyone who practiced or anyone who even dared to think of turning themselves over to the Dark Arts.
That was another reason why she and Nozomi had developed a close friendship over the years at Hogwarts. Both girls were in the same boat when it came to their relationship with their fathers. Both had been imprisoned for being followers of the once infamous He Who Must Not Be Named.
Honestly, just thinking of it made Nico want to spit on the ground with all of the animosity and venom she could muster, but she wasn't going to think about that right now. As Nozomi would always say, there was no use in thinking about the past when they had bigger fish to fry in the present.
"Are you okay back there?" Maki prodded. "It's not like you to be quiet."
"You're the one who told me to stop talking, Maki." Nico rolled her eyes.
"I know, but I didn't think you would actually take me seriously. You're not scared, are you?"
Honestly, Nico would be lying if she said this place didn't give her the creeps, but her mouth had already opened and began to talk, stuttering slightly as it did so.
"O-of course not! There's nothing in this forest that could scare the likes of the great Nico-nii!" She held up her signature hand gesture despite Maki not being able to see it.
Suddenly, Nico's ears caught the sound of what appeared to be another howl in the distance, and it sent her hauling ass to catch up with Maki once more, jumping onto her back and clutching onto her for dear life.
"Obviously." Maki deadpanned sarcastically, stopping in her tracks to pry Nico off her. The Patronus spell unbelievably remained in tact despite the distraction.
Out of a small twinge of embarrassment, Nico hurriedly changed the subject as soon as her feet made contact with the ground. "Why couldn't we just use my Patronus? A wolf would be more intimidating in case we were to run into something out here in these godforsaken woods."
Maki sighed. "You're right, but you wouldn't be able to hold the spell long enough without jumping at every little noise you hear. If that were the case, we would be lost in here until dawn."
Nico opened her mouth to argue, but she really couldn't. Maki was right as always.
The redhead stopped in her tracks and turned around to the smaller female, reaching out to grab her hand as she did so before speaking softly.
"Just stay close to me, okay? There's nothing in this forest that will hurt you, and if there is, then it'll have to get through me."
Nico's heart did backflips in her chest. It was very rare to see this side of Maki. The side that was reserved only for Nico and no one else.
The small Slytherin huffed through her nostrils, a small grin on her face. "Funny because I was thinking the same thing for you. Nico may be scared, but when it comes to you, I'll do whatever it takes to make sure nothing harms you."
"We can protect each other then. How about that?" Maki replied softly with a small grin on her face as well.
Nico slightly tightened her hold on Maki's hand in reply, and the two carried on following the ghostly magpie that was their guide to finding their way out.
Before long, the entrance/exit to the Forbidden Forest came into view, and Maki's faithful Patronus landed on her arm and nodded at her before she thanked it and broke the spell, the magpie fading away into the night.
Smoke poured into the night air from the chimney of Hagrid's Hut, and the lights were on still on inside, which meant Hagrid was still awake for the time being. From the far away view Maki had of the window on that side, he didn't seem to be stirring, so maybe he wouldn't see them.
The torches scattered here and about on and around the castle burned brightly, which gave the fifth-year Ravenclaw a layout of the routes the four prefects, one from each house, were taking to patrol the outside of the school. If she and Nico were to keep quiet, the pair wouldn't even be noticed. Maybe it wouldn't be too difficult.
"Follow my lead, okay? Stay close." The redhead turned to the smaller girl, breaking their handholding and adjusting her hood before beginning their long trek back toward the castle.
They made it to the mouth of the outside hallway, which was part of the route the Gryffindor prefect was taking, and once the said prefect came into sight, Maki and Nico hid in one of the indents of the castle buildings as he continued his patrol further out into the grounds.
"Gryffindor shouldn't be a problem for now since he's all the way out there, but we need to hurry before he comes back. Hufflepuff and Slytherin should be somewhere around the courtyard. That just leaves the Ravenclaw prefect. If we can get him away from the door, then we should be in the clear." Maki whispered as she scoped out the Ravenclaw prefect pacing by their intended destination from inside the outside hallway.
"I have an idea, Maki, hold on," Nico whispered, retrieving her wand from inside her robe and leaning out into view before waving it in a circular motion and casting a spell. "Flipendo!"
The spell came into contact with the farthest corner of the wall, which alerted the prefect as he rushed over to see what the commotion was.
"Run for it, Maki!" Nico whispered.
The redhead didn't have to be told twice as she took off running, Nico behind her.
The Ravenclaw prefect was too busy searching around that corner area for the culprit of the commotion to notice the pair of sprinting students that had yet to be asleep in their dormitories.
Maki was the first to make it to the door, stopping to catch her breath as she waited for Nico to catch up to her.
"Have to be careful because woo I'm scared of snakes!" Nico said in terror, keeping her voice low so that the prefect would not detect them.
Maki raised an eyebrow as the smaller female stopped and bent over to catch her breath and asked in a disbelieving tone. "You're scared of snakes? But you're in Slytherin. You're house mascot is a snake."
"Your point, genius? You're house mascot is an eagle, but you wouldn't want it to peck out your eyeballs, would you?" Nico replied, trying to back up what seemed to be a ridiculous fear to the taller girl.
"I suppose?" Maki said slowly. "Even though that's highly implausible?"
Nico rolled her eyes. "Oh, whatever. Let's just go in before we get caught."
They both went inside and made their way to the Grand Staircase, which was their seperating point since Maki would have to climb all the way up to reach Ravenclaw tower and Nico would have to walk down to be able to reach the dungeons.
Both girls removed their hoods and Maki was the first to speak.
"We are never ever doing that again, and if you ask again, I will refuse."
"How was I supposed to know we'd be out there until dark?" Nico crossed her arms. "I can't help that it took you too long to-"
"I'm going to bed!" Maki interrupted, her face a bright red. But before she could even make an attempt to tread up the stairs, Nico grabbed her gently by the arm.
"Can you at least give me a goodnight kiss?" Nico asked quietly. And as she watched Maki's eyes dart towards the portraits on the walls, the dark-haired girl sighed. "All the portraits are asleep. I promise. As long as we're quiet, we won't wake them."
Maki seemed to think it over a bit before looking into Nico's red irises and couldn't help but beginning to twist her hair as a nervous tick, but then she acquiesced, opting to brush the strand behind her ear instead.
Because Maki was perched on the first step of the Grand Staircase, she had to bend down toward Nico's level while the smaller Slytherin had to stand on the tips of her toes in order to reach Maki's lips.
It was a chaste kiss, but it was enough to satisfy the pair since they had already done their fair share of kissing out in the Forbidden Forest. Their lips were still swollen from it all.
Once they pulled back, Nico chuckled. "Make sure you cover that up, too, princess. Can't let those other Ravenclaw girls see what you've been up to. I'm sure it'll break their hearts."
The place on Maki's flesh where her throat and chest met throbbed from the fresh, reddish brown bruise Nico had left there, and the fifth-year Ravenclaw placed her hand over it on instinct.
"I honestly have no idea what you're talking about." Maki said.
"Jeez, you're just as oblivious as Eli when it comes to these things. Don't think for one second that I don't see all of them crowded around you at breakfast, dinner, and everywhere else in between when you're not hanging around with us."
"Really?" Maki was actually bewildered at the information. "We just have normal conversation."
"To you maybe, but they practically have hearts in their eyes when they're around you. It's really disgusting." Nico says as she fake wretched.
Maki hummed. "I never noticed before. I'm always too busy watching you talk to Nozomi when we're in the Great Hall. You gesture with your hands a lot when you talk, especially with her."
"Well, I mean," Nico's face turned blood red as she rubbed at the back of her neck. "You have to make sure Nozomi gets the full gist of whatever story you tell her because she can really take it out of context sometimes."
"Isn't that just how she is, though?" Maki questioned with a small smile.
"I guess you're right."
Both girls stayed rooted in their spots, neither wanting to leave the other. Their time together at night when no one was around was beginning to feel short now that they were getting into the routine of it all. It just wasn't fair.
But class would come early in the morning, which meant they had to go to bed soon. If they didn't, then Maki would most likely get a stern lecture from a Ravenclaw prefect, which would most likely be Umi since she was the most intimidating prefect in that house. And Nico knew Nozomi probably wouldn't lecture her, but she would definitely bombard her with questions, which was something she didn't want.
Nico sighed slowly. "I guess this is goodnight, huh?"
"I'm afraid so," Maki said, a sullen expression gracing her features almost as if it pained her to say it. "Goodnight, Nico. I'll see you bright and early in the morning."
"Goodnight, Maki." Nico bid her own farewell before Maki reluctantly began her trek up the stairs, watching as she did so before turning to make her own way down the Grand Staircase.
But then the seventh-year Slytherin's ears picked up the sound of hurried footsteps behind her, and before she could fully turn around, the fifth-year Ravenclaw had half-jumped and half-flung herself into Nico's arms.
She had managed to catch the younger girl without falling, and it was kind of uncomfortable, but neither one of them cared.
"I love you," Maki almost shouted, not even giving a damn if she did wake the snoozing portraits on the wall. "I really love you."
Nico smiled at the redhead's words. "I love you, too."
They stayed like that for a little while before Nico felt her arms begin to feel like gelatin.
"Not that you're heavy or anything, Maki, but Nico doesn't really have enough arm strength to hold you like this for long."
She hated to acknowledge her failing strength because she loved the rare moments when Maki would get clingy with her, but she didn't want to risk hurting her if she were to drop her. That's the last thing Nico wanted to do.
"Right," Maki quickly uprighted herself to a standing position, clearing her throat as she did so. "Goodnight."
The redhead didn't even register how quickly Nico had moved until the dark-haired Slytherin placed another kiss on her lips, this one being longer than the previous one.
"Goodnight, Maki." She smiled before forcing herself to turn around and bound down the stairs toward the dungeons. If she didn't force herself, then they would both be there in the same spot for the rest of the night.
Maki stood there for a minute, then sighed happily. A smile was on her face as she adjusted the front of her robe to hide the evidence of their secret affair before she turned to trek up the Grand Staircase.