Chapter 17: The Gytrash
Traversing the obscure crevices of the castle strengthened Taylor's resolve to never become a professional cartographer. Mapping the blind corners and narrow tunnels was a daunting task beyond all comparison. Ghoulish creatures were scarce, but braving the unknown was sinister enough. Every shoot Taylor climbed down invited imaginary leathery hands to reach out and throttle her. Despite her mind's elaborate trickery, she did not encounter another self-moving corpse. Occasionally, a rouge bat would become tangled in the adventurer's hair, giving her a coronary. In those unsettling times, Taylor's distressed fingers ached to clutch the missing opal pendent.
Detention was a tame precedent to her nocturnal delusions. The massacre became a regularly reoccurring nightmare. Each night, Taylor would shudder awake in a pool of soggy perspiration. In an effort to make it stop, the dreamer attempted a slew of creative methods to block out the violence. She wrote the scenes down on a piece of parchment, concocted sleeping draughts, discussed the brutality openly with Lily, and acted out the episode for Jezebel in private. Her efforts were useless. The dream continued, identical to the first, except for Taylor's own reactions. No matter what the girl did, she could not control the indomitable REM sleep. The harder Taylor tried to dismiss the vision, the clearer the message became.
By mid-January, Taylor had thoroughly memorized the phosphorescent sequence: An eastward sprint from the River Styx toward the angry shouts of soldiers, massacre, and impending burial. The dialogue was cryptic, nevertheless she efficiently recollected a majority of the words. Recalling the details for Lily, both agreed that aspects of the dream seemed vaguely familiar, though neither could pinpoint the recognition. Lily reassured her friend that the visions were induced by the stress; Academics, looming threats of suspension, and detentions with the Lords of Delinquency were draining her sanity. Taylor hoped that Lily was right.
On the last Tuesday of the month, Taylor shuffled along with the small group of first year Slytherins after Astronomy class. Orion had lazily chased Taurus across the night sky, shepherding in the giant star Aldebaran and unyielding boredom. Professor Plancius babbled on about the failed constellation, Polophylax, extending the class period by twenty unbearable minutes. Throughout class and on the walk back to the dormitory, Taylor solemnly contemplated Greer's threat to report her crimes to the headmaster for corrective action. Astronomy on Tuesday nights was the girl's only extenuator. In order to get to Astronomy class on time, Professor Greer granted her an hour's reprieve. The instructor's generosity, however, had a price. She was required to spend an additional hour on each Monday to make up for lost time.
After three and a half weeks of detention, this was a regular practice. On Mondays, Sirius and James would leave an hour early for Astronomy class, and for a full hour Taylor was alone with Professor Greer. After the dynamic duo was dismissed, she was put to work cleaning the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom or writing lengthy essays under Greer's reserved supervision. The writing caused her hand to ache, but she preferred the charley horse to crawling through cramped corridors. Without Sirius and James to heckle the ornery man, Monday nights proceeded in a peculiar silence.
The after midnight hours weighed heavily on Taylor's eyelids. Even as the first year girls slithered into their beds, they continued to chitchat about split-ends and plausible romance. Jezebel preened her feathers, self-conscious about frizz or dander. Using her luggage trunk for support, Taylor kneeled down to rummage through her clothes. Her hand hovered for a moment over the latch.
The pristine bronze lock was severely cracked. A blackened residue smeared across a portion of the front.What the hell? Quietly, she opened the lid. Previously folded clothes were left in heaps of wrinkled fabric. Someone went through my trunk. The trespasser, unfortunately, did not leave behind any clues regarding identity.
Provoked by the lack of privacy,Taylor violently grabbed a set of pajamas. She pulled on the nightwear, and studied the mindless girls through her peripherals. No one can get in here, but us. Why would anyone want to go through my stuff? Nothing is missing, do they just want to gossip about my personal items? A flare of anger flashed in the back of her mind. I should blast each one of their pillows with an acne jinx. At the orphanage, intrusion challenged vengeance. Taylor, however, slid under her comforter and stared at the ceiling. This isn't like the orphanage. The enemies you make here will sleep beside you for another seven years. Daniel Babio, a cunning opponent, never had magic. Pacifism was a demanding quality.
The following afternoon, Taylor skipped her lunch break with Lily to walk across the grounds with Remus. After Defense Against the Dark Arts, Remus slipped away from the troublemakers and met his sister in the Entrance Hall. The giant enchanted hourglasses, which kept track of house points, dripped with precious gems. Inspecting the emeralds curiously, Taylor barely noticed Remus's approach.
"Gryffindor is so far behind." Remus remarked dejectedly.
With a grin plastered on her face, Taylor rolled her eyes. "I am sure Potter and Black have been contributing to that misfortune." Her brother shrugged and held the heavy oak door for her. A biting gust rushed through Taylor's hair and swirled the tassels of Remus's scarlet scarf. Waiting for Herbology to begin, the siblings wandered the shore of the frosty lake. The Forbidden Forest was still capped with snow, but the ground was beginning to thaw.
Distracted by the picturesque landscape, Taylor's foot connected with a hard object. She lurched forward and stumbled to regain her balance.
"Watch your step." Remus suggested jokingly. His last transformation was over two weeks ago, which aided in his good humor and physical health. "Checking to make sure the gravity is still working?"
"You're beginning to sound a lot like Sirius." Behind her, Taylor noticed a blue-grey volcanic rock protruding from the terrain. She bent down to rub her ankle and noticed several others. Following the pattern, the first year could make out the outline of a circle. "A stone circle. Hey, Remus, do you think this is some sort of sundial?" Smiling, Remus observed the arrangement of the stones.
"Seems like it. It wouldn't surprise me. Hogwarts was founded around the ninth century. Mechanized clocks wouldn't have been popular until centuries later."
"You must be passing History of Magic with flying colors."
"That class is a snorefest." Snorefest? Even their vocabulary is rubbing off on him! "Let's sit here then? The view of the lake is spectacular."
Remus scouted the area for a snowless stone and settled down. Less picky about a seat, Taylor swept the slush off a boulder. Fionn's gloves providing yet another advantage! As the pair discussed their classes, a thunderous crack caught their attention. A giant burgundy tentacle breached the surface of the lake, spattering ice into the air. The appendage loitered for a moment, and then returned to the depths of the lake. The two students continued, ignoring the squid's playful salute.
"What do you think I should get Lily for her birthday? It's coming up in a few days. Saturday, actually." Taylor watched the ice melt under her glove. What if seasons changed as rapidly in my dream? Remus scratched his head and tightened his jacket.
"She seems like the type who would appreciate a wizard's chess set."
"That's a great idea." Taylor exclaimed without hesitation. Realization restrained her sudden eagerness. "I have to find one by Saturday though."
"Dearborn from Ravenclaw has a brand new board. Over the holidays, he got it as a gift from his aunt. He has no intention of using it, from what I understand. Usually, we are partnered in Potions, so I can ask for you, if you'd like?"
"That would be absolutely amazing! Thank you." Remus nodded and waved away the gratitude. Taylor tucked her hair behind her ear, and brought a knee up to her chest. "Hopefully my prying bunkmates won't ruin it before I can get it to Lily. Can you believe they went through my stuff last night? They ended up breaking the lock on the trunk your parents got me for travel."
"That's odd. Our dormitory was completely ransacked on Monday." Ransacked? "We returned from Astronomy to find books shredded, shelves dismantled, locks broken, and clothes strung about. Even the wardrobes were knocked over." Taylor was speechless. She could not believe that someone would vandalize the Gryffindor tower. "Sirius and James are on a serious rampage."
"Isn't there anything the prefects or a professor can do about it?"
Remus threw his hands toward the sky in frustration. "Professor McGonagall has been alerted, but the prefects keep insisting that it was an inside affair brought about by rambunctious attitudes. Apparently, the general consensus is that no one from another house could have possibly infiltrated the dormitory without access to the password. After all the commotion died down, Benjy Fenwick, the Head Boy, agreed to personally monitor Gryffindor House for the next few weeks."
Taken aback by the coincidence, Taylor could only express a hollow apology. The pair changed the subject and enjoyed the fresh air until heading off toward the greenhouses. Fetid fertilizers wafted from a stack of burlap sacks. The glass of the greenhouse clouded with musty condensation. Taylor sat down next to Lily, who was reading up on Walking Plants. The students fed their assigned plants and took extensive notes. Once Professor Sprout dismissed the class, Lily inconspicuously grabbed Taylor's shoulder.
"Wait up. I need to talk to you." Lily whispered. Her hushed tone set off a cacophony of alarm bells in Taylor's mind. She slowed her pace to match Lily's. From her knapsack, the red haired girl handed over Canidae: From Ahuizotl to Wepwawet.
"Did you find anything?" Taylor flipped the book open to a folded page. A penciled drawing of a ghostly canine with a forked tail snarled up from the text. "That's it!"
"Keep your voice down. This is serious." The Slytherin contained herself and glanced at the passage.
A Pack of Gytrash: Legendary ghostly dogs found in the mists of Northern England and Ireland. The beasts haunt lonely roads awaiting travelers or heedless highwaymen. The phantom can assume the appearance of a spectral white dog, larger than the average Irish Wolfhound. Packs can multiply rapidly and often thirst for mortal blood. Classified as one of the seven deadliest Hellhounds, the Gytrash has become seemingly extinct from the natural world, except when called into existence by experienced necromancers.
Taylor looked at Lily in horror. "Necromancy? Magic dealing with the dead—"
"Yeah, it considered a Dark Art." Lily tapped the ferocious picture and checked her surroundings for eavesdroppers. "This means that the dogs can't be the work of any of the professors here at Hogwarts. Necromancy has been outlawed by the Ministry of Magic."
"The Gytrash could kill someone." Considerations spiraled around Taylor. Returning from detention, she had not encountered any more of the ghostlike hounds. Deep down, the girl felt that she knew who could have the skills and personality to command the ravenous hoard. "Is there any way to tell if someone is a necromancer?"
"No, it literally can be anyone. They would need plenty of practice with the Dark Arts in order to muster a whole pack of flesh eating hellhounds."
With a degree of hesitation, Taylor chose to voice her accusation. "It's Professor Greer."
"Greer? The Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor? Somehow, I doubt his intentions are to maim innocent students."
"That's just it though! Spending time with him, I think he is sadistic enough to actually release rabid animals unto curfew breaking students." Unconvinced, Lily shook her head and bit her tongue. Approaching the Entrance Hall, Taylor studied the page for a moment. Sirius said he had a bone that he stole from Greer. That can't be a coincidence. "Sirius said he—"
"What'd I say?"
A pair of sinewy hands grabbed Taylor's shoulders, causing her to flinch and swallow her words. James jumped between the two girls, while Sirius wrapped his arm tightly around Taylor's shoulders. He situated himself comfortably on her right side. Lily reached across James and grabbed the book from Taylor. Hugging the hardcover to her chest protectively, she cast a wary green eye on James.
"What are you girls up to?" James asked considerately. The weight of Sirius's arm caused Taylor to falter. Unsuccessfully, she tried to thrust him off.
Sirius did not wait for their reply. "Remus mentioned that your room was violated last night, Salazar. Is that right?" Et tu, Remus? Telling my business to the enemy. Taylor nodded tactfully. "I knew it! Damn Greer and his sticky fingers. Stifling around our rooms like some ugly gnome. Can you believe that twat stole my trophy box?"
"Trophy box?" Taylor's inquiry was hollow.
"Sirius is being dramatic. By trophy, he means the little things he's pinched throughout the year." James nonchalantly tried to put his arm around Lily, but she jabbed a warning finger in his face. Any closer and she would have gauged out his eye.
"Don't even try it, Potter." She growled.
"All the items I took from Greer—Gone! Imagine that." Sirius fumed. His grip on Taylor tightened. For a moment, she was sure that she could feel the steam pouring from his ears.
As she stepped into the Entrance Hall, Taylor pried free of his hooked grasp. "I think you are a bit paranoid." Sirius raised an eyebrow. Behind him, James gave her a Caesarian thumbs up. "Greer couldn't possibly have raided our rooms. I was serving detention with him on Monday night, while you two were in Astronomy. He didn't leave the room once."
"True, Greer was occupied." James began. "But that got us to thinking—"
"You two were thinking? That's dangerous." Lily grumbled.
The boys chose to overlook the insult. "We came up with a more viable option." James concluded, running a hand through his hair in anticipation.
"Perhaps his puppet Fionn did it." Sirius flippantly suggested.
At the accusation, Taylor felt her stomach clench into knots. "Excuse me?"
"Don't play the role of advocate. Greer could have easily convinced him to do it. That dozy ginger barely has a mind of his own." Sirius spat. Although Lily was not personally affronted by the boy's comment, she scowled resentfully at Sirius when his lips dropped the word ginger.
"Shows how much you know, Black." Folding her arms, Taylor steadfastly defended her ally's honor. "Fionn is brilliant and an excellent friend. He isn't some mindless pawn. If you had half his sense or dignity, you wouldn't be blindly scrounging around for a scapegoat."
"Is that right?" Sirius smiled, unperturbed by her comeback. "Is the possibility of his disloyalty as fictional as monsters are to you?" Taylor bit her tongue. "Take my advice: Don't be naive. The other Slytherins will eat you alive if you don't wise up. Tell your friend to watch his back, Salazar." Leaving the girls behind, Sirius and James headed toward the Great Hall. Despite Lily's comforting hand on her shoulder, could not quell the anger in Taylor fists. Before parting, Lily urged her friend to consider warning the authorities about the dangerous apparitions; Taylor, however, could not concentrate on the Gytrash. She was wracking her memory for a particular image. Was Fionn even in Astronomy class on Tuesday?
Professor Greer's office door was ajar when Taylor arrived after Potions class. She neglected to convey Sirius's threat to Fionn, who had preoccupied himself with the preparation of sound sensitive ingredients. The Slytherin boy barely made eye contact with her, which nourished the seed of disillusionment growing in her mind.
Focusing on the tasks ahead, Taylor took a deep breath and entered the room. Professor Greer was hastily scribbling runes onto a crumpled piece of parchment. Too busy to look up, he motioned for her to take a seat. The rabble-rousers were already comfortably lounging in their chairs. Sirius cleaned his nails with the tip of his quill, while James cradled his head against the desk in an attempt to nap. After a long silence, Greer looked up at the three students.
"I am dropping the charges against you." Half awake, James jolted to the side. News of acquittal, brought a smile to Taylor's face. What luck! I am not going to be suspended after all! "As beneficial as it may be to keep three filchers on a tight leash, it seems that my possessions have miraculously reappeared. I am delighted to finally have them back. One more week of detention and your evenings will become your own again."
"If you have your stuff back, then why not let us leave now? Why waste our time?" Sirius asked through his teeth.
"Cheek, Mr. Black, will add an additional two days to your sentence. Do not test me. The simple fact remains that you all committed a crime. Small and insignificant it may seem in that trifling brain of yours, but the deed will not go unpunished. Which is why, the three of you will still be banned from all pending Quidditch matches."
A distressed moan seeped from James like a deflating balloon. No one dared to speak. They feared Greer's ability to withhold next year's matches as well. The professor smiled at his pupil's smugly. Not being able to attend anymore matches was not a catastrophe for Taylor. She was able to appreciate the comforting prospects of her situation. A burden was lifted from her shoulders. Sirius, on the other hand was not as optimistic. Under his breath, he vowed to sabotage the stealthy Fionn and shameless Professor Greer.