Prompt: anonymousnerdgirl said, “Hogwarts AU, Woobie!Rum and Gryffindor Belle. Thestrals.”
Belle smiles to herself as she takes the long stony path down the grassy hill towards the Groundskeeper’s hut and beyond.
It’s not really a well-kept secret that Thestrals reside on the grounds of Hogwarts, but since most students can’t see them and take the horseless carriages for granted it isn’t any wonder that nobody here really knows they exist.
Professor Hunt had set the Care of Magical Creatures essay on Thestrals a week ago, asking for two rolls of parchment detailing the creatures’ qualities and habits, and Arabelle French is determined to learn from the Thestrals firsthand.
She loves her books, and the library, but sometimes there are things that must be seen to be adequately written about, especially something as innately mysterious as a winged horse that can only be seen by those who have witnessed death.
Belle hastens her step, excited rather than scared by the slightly blue fog that creeps through the trees under the cool afternoon sun. She’s not supposed to be out – in fact, she’s meant to be up in Gryffindor Tower revising for her O.W.L.s and making sure Ruby does the same, as per her grandmother’s request – but she’d seen a window of opportunity and she’s taking it.
The leaf-littered ground of the Forbidden Forest crunches underfoot, and Belle absently wonders if she should have brought her robes with her to stave off the chill that suddenly stirs the leaves from their resting place.
Too late to turn back, she carries on in her school skirt and dark knitted jumper, the gold thread of her Gryffindor badge glinting on her chest.
She knows the Thestrals are somewhere just beyond the tree-line of the forest, out of view, but not so deep into the woods that the animals are hard to retrieve when needed.
Her long dark hair whips about her face in the breeze, obscuring her view of the hastily-drawn map on the sepia parchment in her hands, and she thinks herself lost in the thick of the trees until the wind dies down and she spies a path and a clearing just beyond.
She follows the trail of dry, trodden earth down a short slope, and it is there, looking about the small clearing illuminated by bright sunshine, that she finally finds her boon.
A trio of differently-sized Thestrals lie in the brown leaves at the other end of the glade, their legs drawn up beneath them as they encircle…someone.
Belle watches as the dark, grey-skinned horses clack their bony beaks and rustle their spiny wings, and then something goes flying over one of their bare skull-like heads, and the creature rushes to roll over and chase after it.
She sees, as the Thestral snaps at the leaves before throwing its head back, that it is an uncooked sausage it holds in its mouth and swallows in one go.
Her eyes find the sausage-thrower.
It’s a boy – small, pale, unassuming – but he has the darkest eyes, and they’re trained directly on her.
Her curiosity flares and she smiles at the student, slowly approaching him where he sits on a flat rock with a string of pink sausages in his hands.
His mane of wavy, shoulder length, brown hair puts her in mind of that of a Pygmy Puff – fluffy, and frizzy, and soft-looking – and the bright pink colour his cheeks suddenly turn doesn’t help the matter.
He’s a Ravenclaw she sees by his striped blue scarf, as she comes to stand a few feet from the nearest Thestral, and he’s a little younger than her, maybe by a year.
He swallows at the greeting, the Thestrals turning their milky-white eyes on her.
Belle’s stunned by how beautiful the creatures are – not to mention how docile they seem to be considering the Ministry Classification of Magical Creatures issued them four crosses for danger out of five – and she has the sudden thought that her essay will be much improved with a firsthand drawing. After all, she’d like perfect marks, especially if she wants to get into the DRCMC at the Ministry when she leaves Hogwarts.
A hushed voice suddenly reaches her beyond her marvelling. “They’re gentle.”
Belle blinks at the soft Scottish accent and turns to the Ravenclaw boy. He’s looking up at her, from behind his curtain of hair, and he’s watching her wand-arm carefully.
She glances down to see she’s grasped her rosewood wand from her hip holster, and she shakes her head at her distraction, before pointing it at her skirt pocket and removing its contents. A few tiny scrolls of parchment appear and enlarge in mid-air, followed by a quill and an ink pot, before landing safely in her arms.
The boy stares.
“Can I join you?” Belle asks, and it takes a moment before he nods.
Circling the Thestrals, she carefully takes a seat beside the Ravenclaw boy on the large rock so as not to spook the horse-like creatures or, in fact, the boy himself.
He fidgets as she arranges her things on her lap, looking terribly uncomfortable, and she’s just about to suggest that she sit somewhere else when he speaks again.
“Who was it?”
Belle watches what she can see of his face and his slightly wonky nose as he tears a sausage from the string and throws it in front of the hooves of the largest Thestral, which snaps it up without blinking, and then she realises what he means by his question.
“Oh.” She twirls her plain brown quill between her fingers. “My mum. A spell backfired.”
He glances at her then, wide brown eyes all serious, and he nods. “Both my parents. Werewolf.”
He says it with such nonchalance, but behind his low tone there is pain. He looks away before she can see his expression again, going back to feeding the Thestrals.
Belle wants to say something, but his turned shoulder seems to warn against it, so she simply inks her quill and goes about starting her essay while she thinks how awful it must have been for him to see his parents die, especially by a werewolf’s maw and claw.
It’s not long before she’s noted the Thestrals’ appearance and physical qualities in her own words, priding herself on how much better her description sounds than those in the old tomes she’d borrowed from the library, and then she becomes more interested in the boy at her side while she takes a short rest from writing.
“My name’s Arabelle,” she tells him with a smile, watching as he turns in surprise. “But everyone calls me Belle.”
The Ravenclaw clears his throat and makes to shyly proffer his hand. “R-Rum. Rum Shanks.”
Belle raises her eyebrow. “Rum Shanks?”
She takes his hand, even though it’s a bit sticky from the sausages, and she shakes it quite firmly, only wiping it off on her black tights once he’s looked away.
“It’s shortened,” Rum tells her, throwing the last sausage at the smallest Thestral. “By quite a lot.”
Belle nods. “I know how that feels. Arabelle doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.”
He looks at her from behind his hair, wiping off his hands on his school trousers. “Well, neither does Rumplestiltskin Spindleshanks.”
She quashes a laugh.
“That’s not so bad.” Belle bites her lip, grinning. “Although it’s a tongue-twister, I have to admit.”
Rum watches her for a moment, almost as if he’s waiting for another response, before he seems not to find what he’s looking for and he gives her a tremulous smile.
As she goes back to her essay, Belle decides she likes that smile.
It’s as she’s writing how the Thestrals seem to communicate with little trills and clicks that she feels Rum shift beside her, angling closer. She looks up to see he’s reading her essay, eyes skipping down the parchment.
“They, uh… They purr if you stroke their manes. The books forget that,” he tells her softly, eyes meeting hers, and Belle gives him a grateful twist of her lips.
He nods and sits back, watching the little group of dark-faced horses.
Belle finishes all she needs to of her essay and takes up a fresh piece of parchment, setting her quill to it with a flourish. She feels Rum’s eyes on her as she sketches, but she doesn’t look up.
There’s a shy little thrill happening somewhere inside her, and she’s not entirely sure why she’s feeling it.
Perhaps it’s because the boy is knowledgeable about beasts and magical creatures, whereas most students of her acquaintance want to get out of the CMC classroom as soon as possible. Maybe it’s because he’s making an impressed noise at her side as he watches her draw, like there’s real skill to her inky sketch of leathery wings and bony legs.
Maybe it’s because he draws the smallest Thestral over with a trill and an open palm, and then gestures for the creature to go to her.
Belle looks up as the little Thestral trots forward, curious and wide-eyed, and she watches as it comes to stand in front of her, clicking its beak and tilting its head.
Out of curiosity, she brings up her drawing for it to see.
It trills and squawks at its image like an overgrown bird, stamping its front-claws excitedly.
“It understands,” she breathes, and she sees the boy beside her smile as the small Thestral prances back over to the grown-ups.
“Aye. They’re clever,” he tells her gently. “Take you anywhere you tell them to when they’re properly trained. Fiercely loyal, too.”
Belle turns her head to look at Rum, and it takes a moment for his eyes to meet hers, but when they do she feels that same warm thrill rush across her skin.
His cheeks pink but he doesn’t look away, and she wonders if he’s feeling the same thing as her.
It seems all too soon that the sun begins to sink over the trees, throwing a warm orange glow across the scene, but this…friendship doesn’t have to end here.
Belle bites her lip, before telling him, “You know…you could tell me more about Thestrals on the walk back up to the castle?”
The corner of his mouth turns up ever so slowly. “I’d like that.”