Chapter 16: Subterranean Rooms
Putting her imagination to a strategic use, Taylor fabricated a plethora of comfortable scenarios, where she successfully defended her innocence and was released from further servitude. The twinge of hope abandoned her, however, as she approached Professor Greer's office after Potions class. Harkening back to the symbolism she had read in her brother's offering of The Divine Comedy, the door became the gaseous entryway to the Eighth Circle. Her childhood had seasoned her for the various forms of punishment. Whether she was assigned to monotonous tasks or threatened by the ghastly wooden spoon, Taylor felt aptly prepared for any discipline. Despite her inherent mistrust of the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor, Taylor vowed to state her case in full before the session was over. Instantaneously, the situation became intolerable when Sirius's cantankerous voice drifted through the keyhole and kissed her eardrum.
"It was just a suggestion!" A scuffling of chairs screeched against the granite floor. Unobtrusively, Taylor grasped the doorknob and entered the room. Professor Greer towered over Sirius, who grinned up at him devilishly.
Noticing her arrival, James clapped his hands. "Now it's a party!" Before Greer could express his displeasure at having to handle three miscreants, Taylor pulled out the Essence of Dittany and an empty Flobberworm jar.
"Professor, I would like to explain! I didn't steal anything from you. A few months ago, I had to take a few items from the Potions closet." Although she held up the stolen objects, Greer did not seem persuaded. Taylor licked her lips, "You see, there was this bird. I saved her from a cat."
The brilliant oration shriveled on her tongue. The man's piercing bistre eyes nearly scalded her retinas, before she could look away. Somewhat delighted by Taylor's shortfall of tact, Professor Greer withdrew from Sirius and approached his floundering pupil.
"Let me make my point explicitly clear to you, Ms. Lupin. Whatever you took from that foolhardy Slughorn imbecile, isn't my problem. I don't give a single damn, even for the most expensively rare ingredient in his closet. I want my personal property back. If that means I have to slit the throats of all disassociated larcenists, I hope you believe me when I say that I will revel in that just butchery." Taylor's legs wobbled under her own weight and the fear that Professor Greer was not exaggerating about his self-righteous homicidal desires.
"Well, that's a load of bollocks." James spat. The professor turned his attention to the audience and pointed his wand at the heckler.
A thin stream of thread spiraled from Greer's wand toward James. Before the boy could react, the black fiber crisscrossed painlessly through his lips, zipping his mouth shut. Stunned by the impromptu castigation, James tried to pry the threads loose.
"Not another word from any of you." Greer warningly directed his wand toward Sirius and Taylor, who were forced to comply with his austere demand. Satisfied with the level of control he wielded, the professor coaxed the students from the office and up a flight of stairs. "Tonight you will be mapping some of the castle's unexplored corridors."
The staircase, passengers included, began to shift from one landing to another. Although Greer designated the stairwell's deviation as an interruption, Taylor appreciated the lapse. The constantly changing dynamics of Hogwarts filled her with a sense of wonder and admiration, even when she was serving detention. The lift was short lived and Greer continued according to his itinerary. I wonder if anyone ever comes back here. After long minutes of weaving through doors and navigating down spiral staircases, the small formation arrived in a dusty hallway behind an abandoned library.
A small heat vent, covered with an elaborate bronze grill, rested quietly by their feet. The glimmering metal illustrated a series of elegantly arranged flowers. Professor Greer waved his wand over the vent.
"Lobelia cardinalis." The hole expanded like a rubber band and the grate flew open upon a hinge. Tantalized by the thought of adventure, Sirius peered into the gloom.
"This is the section of the castle you will be mapping. I've labeled it Lobelia, in reference to the grate."
"Do you mean we have to get in there?" Taylor looked into the duct, which was barely wider than her shoulders. Peering down, she could only make out the first few rungs of a ladder before darkness suffocated the tunnel. Greer handed Taylor and Sirius a piece of parchment.
"Yes, but don't worry. Mr. Black will be right behind you. James and I will have another section down the hall." The girl was faintly unnerved about traveling in the shadows without the guidance of an adult. Adventure was coveted, but not so far as to risk death. The hellhounds could be down there in droves.
"Why can't I go with James?" Sirius argued, worried for his muted friend.
"From my observation, you seem less likely to get into mischief, when severed from the umbilical cord that is your friendship." The professor growled. James narrowed his eyes at the surly man. "Listen carefully. Every few minutes, touch your wand to the parchment. This will document the route. Don't bother with the tunnels farthest to the right. I want you to focus on the two passages to the left."
Accepting her fate, Taylor crouched and dropped her legs into the crawl space. "A word of caution." Professor Greer warned. "Do not make a disturbance down below. The shadows do not play host to merciful creatures."
The caveat haunted her as she descended. I could never go cave diving. It is pitch black. Hopefully, there is a place to turn around on my way out. Dirt from Sirius's shoes fell onto her hair and lips. Disgusted, Taylor spat. As if this Hell weren't bad enough! The descent took a half hour of steadfast climbing. Hands sore, her feet delightedly touched solid ground. The Slytherin girl systematically lit her wand, revealing a massive circular room. As a child, the dark had never frightened Taylor, but the possibility of unknown dangers began to fray the edges of her nerves. A thump confirmed that Sirius had reached the nadir. With a feverish curiosity, the boy traceded the circumference of the room, hands in his pockets.
"Well this is cheery. I bet all sorts of monsters live down here." Thoughts of red death and spectral hounds caused Taylor's heart to beat faster. I need to stop reading horror stories.
"Don't be stupid. Monsters don't exist." She snapped halfheartedly.
Amused by her innocence, Sirius lit his wand and clicked his tongue. "Your naivety is showing. To muggles monsters are pure fantasy. Wizards, on the other hand, interact with them regularly. You should know that from your classes by now." The truth burned Taylor's throat as she recalled the werewolf on Vintage Avenue and the Arkann Sonney. She rubbed her hands together and pushed the thoughts out of her mind. There are four passageways and all night to map two of them.
"I'll take this corridor." Taylor headed toward the farthest left.
"We'll get the mapping done faster if we do."
Impressed by her spark of bravery, Sirius fearlessly approached the second hallway in the sequence of tunnels. "See you back here in—"
Leaving Sirius behind, Taylor penetrated the Cimmerian caverns. Stone walls loomed, threatening to close in on her. Remembering the instructions, she touched the parchment with her wand. Ink blossomed upon the paper, into incomplete lines. A pair of hovering footsteps represented her trek into the void. Holding her wand in front of her, Taylor squinted to see further. As the tunnel became narrower, she had to duck uncomfortably to manage through the passage. Methodically, she tapped the paper, glancing back at her progress. The monotony of the straight line was curved when a three pronged fork presented bolder options. Taylor continued toward the far left, begrudging her choice an hour later, as she was forced to crawl on her hands and knees through a shaft.
A dark blue light, like the reflection of light onto a pool, bounced off the cramped walls. Clambering on her elbows, belly against the floor, Taylor wriggled to a small grated window on her right. Through the silver window, she observed a single blue torch in the rear of a trapezoidal room. No ladder or any other mode of entrance was visible. In the center of the lurid room, grew a miniature tree. With craft and skill, the living timber had been molded into a winged arm chair. The grey bark and spiny shoots buried deeply into the injured masonry. While the chair awed the observer, amazement was repossessed by tepidity. In the chair lounged the petrified leathery corpse of a humanoid creature.
Jaundiced and coriaceous, the emaciated mortal was nearly faceless, except for a neatly pursed mouth. Its lanky limbs reclined upon the chair's armrests, clutching the ends with rigor mortis. Broken insectival wings slumped asymmetrically, down to the floor. After a minute of inspection, Taylor quickly moved on. The idea of being alone with foreign dead entities forged troublesome thoughts about her personal safety. Another hour of crawling and Taylor was finally able to stand. The journey had led her to another circular empty room. A dead end? You have got to be kidding me. Turning back to her exit, she took a deep breath.
Forced to crawl back the way she came, Taylor tried to pass her time with positive thoughts; she considered anything to distract her from the impending cadaver. I wonder how far Sirius has gotten. Has Lily found any information on the hounds? What can Remus and I do over the summer? As the cyaneous glow quivered ahead of her, she kept her gaze forward. Don't look over; you are just going to freak yourself out. Taylor's inquisitiveness betrayed her, when she peered through the grate for one last look. The stiff corpse, no longer perched upon the living throne, stood just below the aperture, facelessly staring up at its voyeur. Stifling a scream, Taylor scrambled onward, clutching the map tightly in her hand. Visions of the creature emerging from the tomb to follow her curdled the student's blood.
Progressing with double speed, Taylor emerged from the crawlspace, back to the three-pronged fork. Time was forgotten in the pandemonium. It took every ounce of her determination to continue onward and take the center route. Consistently checking behind her, Taylor found it difficult to compose herself. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled, when a faint shuffling echoed off of the walls in front of her. Beyond the light from her wand, she could only barely make out the empty corridor. Cautiously, the girl moved forward, ready to arm her defense. An indistinct shadow appeared in the near distance, with wide shoulders and outstretched limbs. Its low moan kindled her heart into violent spasms. Rebelling against her fate as the hungry corpse's next meal, Taylor screeched and sent sparks toward her assailant.
"Easy! Easy! It's just me!" Sirius called out from obscurity. The nuisance lit his wand, illuminating the cocky smirk on his face. Taylor, though relieved, simmered with raw unmitigated fury.
"What's your problem?" She fumed. "Did you intend on giving me a heart attack?"
"I thought it would be funny." The boy laughed. "And it was! You should have seen your face." Aggravated, Taylor pushed him into a wall and moved passed him. "I already mapped up there. The tunnel connects to mine. This way was my only option."
"I have one more corridor to explore then."
"Well seeing as I have done my job thoroughly enough, I'll just follow you. You know, Greer has the right idea about these maps. I wonder how I can get my hands on his compilation—"
Taylor rounded on him. "Your sticky fingers are what got us into this mess in the first place! Stop taking things and return what you have before you go and get us both expelled!"
"Greer is bluffing. He isn't going to ruin our schooling just because of some stupid bone."
"Bone?" Taylor raised her eyebrow in contemplation. What is so important about a bone?
Concerned that he may have divulged too much information, Sirius paused to consider his response. "Never mind. Where was this last tunnel you have been blabbering about?" Allowing the subject to drop, Taylor began to lead the way. Mapping the subterranean tunnels and returning the surface unharmed was more appealing than Sirius's confession. The pair explored the remaining corridor, which ended abruptly with an ill-fitted red brick wall. Hogwarts is seriously the most eclectic place in the world. Hidden rooms, ladders in air vents, and dead ends. Taylor tapped her parchment as they rounded their way to the origin.
"Wanna check out the other two corridors?" Sirius suggested. "We some extra time."
"I'd rather not." Mental conceptions of rigid carcasses lurking the deeper caverns and feasting on flesh nauseated her. "Besides, Greer told us not to." Taylor grabbed the first rung of the ladder.
"He told us not to bother. Come on! I'll make sure nothing jumps out at you." His promises fell on deaf ears. Risking the wrath of Greer and affronting demons was not on her agenda. She started the long climb up the ladder with Sirius close behind. "You're so dull, Salazar."
Bitter winds rattled the crooked woodland. Moist decomposing leaves littered the ground amidst melting moonlight, while gnarled branches hibernated. Although snow was absent, the air scoured the living with raw temperatures. At her left, Taylor noticed a churning creek. Captivated by the roar of rushing water, she walked along the bank. The girl pulled the sleeves of her Christmas sweater over her stinging hands. Where am I? A splash brought the serene stroll to a ghastly realization.
Hundreds of pastel unmoving faces floated to the surface of the creek. Their bodies jostled into one another, dragged down by the current's grasp. Open mouths gaped and inanimate pupils begged for guidance to the great beyond. Taylor, unacquainted with genuine images of death, stumbled onto her backside. Despite the cleverness of an author or the authenticity of a character, words could not prepare her for the reality of mortality. Queasy, Taylor fled eastward, away from the waterlogged decay.
Her heart pounded against her ribcage, threatening to break free of its ossein enclosure. The distant clamor of gunfire rattled the trees. An indistinct residue of sulfur brushed Taylor's septum, causing her eyes to water. Overcome by the stitch forming in her side, Taylor collided with a broken tree trunk. Using it as support, she closed her eyes and paused to catch her breath. I need to get home. In the midst of silence, Taylor found herself completely alone in the dark thicket.
Swallowing fear, Taylor opened her eyes to assess her situation. She observed a small forest clearing a short distance away.
"Bringt sie hier!" The air shouted angrily.
Flickers of men in grey-green uniforms shimmered brightly in the faint clearing, like a sketchy reel of eight millimeter film. Each solider was an exact replica of the first, down to their four front patch pockets and heavy metal helmets. A few called to each other in an unfamiliar language, while others inspected their polished guns.
"Ist das jeder von Wiżajny?" Silence. "Ist das jeder von Wiżajny?!"
Shaking her head, Taylor approached the scene. To the group, she was invisible. A line of soldiers with military grade shovels began to dig a trench. Their boring motions blurred with an inhuman speed, as the landscape fast forwarded. Taylor reached out to touch the beaming specters, but her hand drifted through the translucent beings. Are they ghosts? Frame by frame the scene slowed once more to a slower pace. Families in dirty clothes were herded into the hollow.
"Was hast du da, Schwein?" An angry voice grumbled. Clearly irritated, a tall solider bull rushed the throng of women and children. An elderly peasant fell to the ground as his grandchildren hurried to his side. A flash of red brought a defining scream from the hostage group. A nearby bushel burst into flames. Mass pandemonium ensued. Without warning, the terrified soldiers open fired on the scattering mass. In an attempt to block the screams, Taylor covered her ears. The muffled groans of bullets tearing though flesh curdled her vital fluids. Harmlessly, ammunition riddled through her.
Even after the shooting ceased, Taylor's inner ear hummed with a deafening tinnitus. Mildly dismayed by the troop's outburst, a clean pressed officer approached the now motionless heap of bleeding flesh. A man of lower rank cautiously presented himself to the commander, in order to explain. Palms toward the night sky, he held up a thin wand of rosewood. Irritation filled the officer's eyes. He obscenely yelled at the solider as the others watched. To make his point, he snapped the wand in two and threw it to the ground.
"Dies ist wertlos. Dreckigen Zigeuner. Entsorgen Sie den Körpern." Supplemental hand movements motioned the men to drag the bodies toward the trench. The thud of each corpse hitting the pit caused vomit to gush in the back of Taylor's throat. She yearned to run away, but her eyes were now inflexibly fastened on the abhorrence.
With difficulty, a young private dragged a woman through the fallen leaves and dirt; it was an unmistakable familiarity. Taylor's own lifeless eyes stared back at her. Her soiled olive green dress caked with blood, soft soil, and foliage. Carelessly, the mercenary roll her into the furrow. He did not even bother to pluck the opal pendant from her neck. The men began to fill the hole with fever pitch, as Taylor clutched the sleeves of her sweater speechlessly.
The images disappeared, leaving only the empty clearing and a mound. Taylor ran to the center of the grove, fell to her knees, and plunged her hands into the icy dirt. She had to exhume the body. That wasn't me. That couldn't have been me. The ground froze over with snow, stinging her hands.
Seasons waxed and waned between the seconds; spring, summer, fall, and winter shortened from months to breaths of air. Several times over the Earth completed its revolution around the Sun. Leaning back, Taylor gazed up at a sky of rapidly forming and dissipating clouds. Flashes of night and day. Rain and snow fell and melted away, as vegetation engulfed the space around her. Barbed shrubs sprouted over the unmarked tomb. Blushing blossoms of cerise roses became the modest legacy of the undisturbed remains.
The world stopped swirling and the forest became eerily laconic. With a heavy hand, Taylor reached out to touch a budding rose. Sub Rosa. Silent secrets lay beneath the roses. Her fingers grazed the delicate edges. A jolt of agony ruptured behind Taylor's eyes and her eyesight blackened. Blinking back pain, she fought against the throb. Rolling onto her back was the only remedy to soothe the torment. In an attempt to blindly sit up again, Taylor hit her head. Wildly, her extremities searched for an answer to her newest predicament. She was trapped in a tapered coffer. Claustrophobia tightened the air in her chest, but relief subjugated her anxiety when her fingers detected a willowy wand by her side.
Promptly, Taylor lit her wand. A coarse plank of wood hovered an inch from her nose. Dirt caked her face, hands, and hair. I am buried underneath! She pounded on the wooden frame, screaming for release.
"Let me out! Somebody!"
A flutter by her feet distracted her panic momentarily. Jezebel flapped violently, scattering feathers throughout the coffin and shadowing the light from her wand hauntingly. The weight of a bowling ball pressed into her abdomen. Vigorously, Taylor struck at the coffin lid. Drops of blood drizzle from her hands on her face. Pinpricks caused from jagged splinters.
The Slytherin dormitory was mute. The girls around Taylor slept peacefully under their quilted beds. For a moment, the distraught dreamer stared at the ceiling. Her nightmare had not passed into the waking world. The pillow below her head was warm and inviting, and her hands were unscathed. The scent of crisp earth had vanished. Distressed by the vivid images of her dream, Taylor rolled over on her side to examine Jezebel. The raven was fast asleep in her cage, unaware of her master's sudden awakening. Each feather was a tranquil example of a pleasant night's slumber. The girl, who did not dare to fall asleep again, turned back toward the ceiling.
Exhaustion and the assortment of breakfast scents clouded Taylor's senses and reason. Effortlessly, she chased a banger around a plate of hash browns. Today is going to be a long day. Grease sent the sausage flying off the Slytherin table, toward a group of high-spirited Hufflepuffs. Taylor quietly reviewed her nightmare, blaming the horrors of detention for its intensity.
"You look tired." Lily observed gently. The Gryffindor sat down across from her wearied eyed friend. Taylor did not bat an eye toward the Slytherins who promptly picked up their plates and left.
"Just a bit." Taylor replied. Using a golden ribbon to tie up her hair, Lily subdued her locks.
"I couldn't find anything specific enough to fit your description of the dogs." Lily brandished two thick leather bound books, Canidae: From Ahuizotl to Wepwawet and Awaiting the Weary Traveler: Nightly Dangers Throughout the United Kingdom. "I decided to delve deeper into these two. They have to be in here somewhere. I'll keep looking in the meantime. How was detention?"
Lily's company brightened Taylor's gloomy mood. The nightmarish effects washed away without residue. "I got stuck with Sirius, mapping the depths of the castle." Taylor plucked another sausage from the turnstile, to replace the projectile she lost.
"Having to spend any amount of time with that prat would be exhausting. What about James?" Taylor smiled and recounted every twist and turn of her adventure to Lily, who consumed the narrative hungrily, along with a heaping of scrambled eggs.