Chapter 19: A Necromancer's Intention
Medieval dueling, ravenous hellhounds, and misty corridors were much more enjoyable for Taylor when elegantly described upon a page. For the first time, however, the girl sorted through her book collection with apathy. Experiencing mysticism directly had dampened the thrill of the written word. Nevertheless, she organized her personal library before heading to the weekly scheduled flight lesson. Taylor hoped that by arranging the texts alphabetically, she would systematically adhere to a stricter study routine during the Easter holiday. As soon as Madam Hooch dismissed the class, the holiday could begin and the clamor to finish the heaping mound of assignments would commence.
Balanced on the trustworthy Tinderblast, the Slytherin girl quietly observed that Fionn was absent from the obstacle course lineup that day. Similarly, she had noted her friend's disappearance in Transfiguration, Herbology, and Potions as well. Much to Taylor's disappointment, the pair had not talked since the night of the duel, which illuminated her imagination with absurdly suspicious scenarios. Fionn's observable absence continued through the course of the weeklong Easter holiday. Nowhere to be seen, Taylor finally chose to assume the boy had left early to visit family.
Unlike the Christmas holiday, Taylor chose to sequester herself away in the cloisters of the Slytherin dungeons. Focusing on last month's lessons, the girl took the time to organize a carefully planned schedule. June exams were quickly approaching and professors pressured their students to study accordingly. Professor Greer, in particular, added additional assignments to the already lengthy workload. The brief Easter holiday allowed Taylor to study, unperturbed by the temptation of procrastination. Even Remus chose to remain at Hogwarts in order to concentrate on the impending onslaught of exams.
Taylor only emerged from her study sessions for meals or to check out the occasional library book. For the sake of sanity, the studious Slytherin allowed herself a few hours of freedom. Positive about the most recent spell work, Taylor indulged in an outdoor lunch with Lily near the lake. The young Gryffindor thumbed through her notes lazily; parchment papers strewn about her like a makeshift nest. The growth patterns of fungi and rays of sunshine lulled Lily into passive lethargy. Remorseless, she laid on the ground to stare at the cloudless blue sky. Notes crinkled underneath her in protest.
"I can't believe spring was so late this year. It's so refreshing to finally be able to enjoy the weather."
A breeze kicked up Taylor's paperwork, causing her to lose concentration. Despite the wind's good humor, she pinned down the escaping Twelve Uses of Dragon's Blood pamphlet. "Too bad I've been locked away inside for most of the holiday." In an attempt to absorb the knowledge through osmosis, Lily pressed the Transfiguration textbook against her cheek.
"We could have been doing this all week long! You are the one who chose to be a hermit."
"I would have gotten distracted…" Taylor explained halfheartedly. The Slytherin's voice tapered off into a laugh when she noticed Lily was completely engrossed in a nearby dandelion. And apparently you would have been distracted by the weeds. "I am nearly done anyway. There's not much more I can prepare for, except pronunciation."
Eyes closed tightly, Lily took a deep breath and blew dandelion seeds into the gentle wind. As they disappeared into the stratosphere, the playfulness within the young Gryffindor faded. "The muggle post reported that Lord Widgery will probably exonerate the British troops of all blame for the Bloody Sunday shootings back in January. Isn't that just criminal? Protesters shouldn't just be shot down like that." I don't know much about current events. It seems like every time I look at the news, there is a fresh disaster. "May I ask you a question?"
Expecting a philosophical discussion to ensue, Taylor braced herself. "Sure."
"When are you going to let that white raven go?"
The question came unexpectedly. In Lily's mind, the prospects of an Irish injustice had somehow correlated to Jezebel's lack of freedom. At a loss for words, Taylor tripped over an answer. Since January, she had purposely pushed the situation out of consideration. Every morning, the girl hoped, unrealistically, that the opal would reappear at the bottom of Jezebel's cage. No harm to the bird or her ancestral procession. Sensing her friend's discomfort, Lily continued.
"You can't possibly believe that retrieving the stone is still a possibility?" Anything could happen. "It's been gone for nearly four months. Maybe it's about time that you let it go. Jezebel is only a wild animal after all. "
"I am not ready to just let my opal fly away." Taylor snorted darkly. I'd sooner disembowel the bloody bird!
"Keeping her caged won't bring you any sort of satisfaction. I know you better than that." Assessing Lily's advice, Taylor rubbed the back of her neck in contemplation. With a heavy sigh, she settled down arm-to-arm with the logical Gryffindor.
"I just need time to think, that's all. I'll do it eventually."
"Just remember, Taylor, the time is always right to do the right thing." Stretching out on the grass, Lily smiled at her friend to lighten the mood. After a short silence, she began to trace the cloudy heavens. "Can we plan on one last study session tomorrow? I promise not to be as distracting in the library."
Haunted by nightmares and internal guilt, Taylor's mind fought the confines of sleep. For hours, she reclined in bed. The dark ceiling hosted a brilliant revelry of capering shadows and streams of aquatic reflection. The girls in the dormitory snoozed in a rhythmic harmony. In the past, the simple symphonic phantasmagoria would have delighted her imagination. Overwhelming thoughts, however, plagued the young Slytherin girl's mind. The unmistakable silhouette of Jezebel's figure was clean and crisp against the flagstone wall. Uncomfortable ideas urged Taylor's eyes to return to the ceiling.
Whatever happened to a peaceful night's sleep? Sinister thoughts skirted into the fissures of the girl's brain.What if Fionn really is an unapologetic bigot with plans to hurt others? What if my nightmares never go away? What if there are corpselike creatures beyond the walls of this room? What if I never see my father again? What if I do see my father again, but have to tell him that my grandmother's pendant was eaten by a bird? Wide and worried, her pupils shifted back toward the motionless cage; the ivory thief slumbered peacefully inside.
Lily is right. Jezebel doesn't deserve to be caged up forever. She couldn't have known the opal was important to me. The silver chain, curled and tangled, remained empty upon the nightstand. Could she?Taylor rolled to the edge of the bed and struggled to sit up. For a few moments, she stared at the empty necklace in recollection. Keep it safe for me. How unfair is it to ask a child to keep a precious stone safe for nearly six years? Careful not to rattle Jezebel's cage and wake the dreamers in the room, Taylor grasped the silver chain. It weaved naturally through her nimble fingers like liquid argent. All the nights it soothed my worries. It saved me from a werewolf. What will I do without it? Involuntarily, her feet met the floor. I could easily get the stone back.
A malignant idea echoed throughout Taylor's mind, spreading cancerously. What is stopping me? I could just rip the bird open and take the stone back. Maybe even magically. I should have done that in the beginning.However natural it seemed, the bloodlust caught Taylor off guard. Never before had she seriously considered killing another living creature in order to get what she wanted. Even Daniel Babio, who antagonized her years at the orphanage, deserved to live his life to the fullest. It is just a stupid bird though. The pendant means more than its life. Queen Jezebel was thrown out a window and ripped apart by stray dogs. It would go along with the storyline.
Instinctually, Taylor's hands connected with the latch on the coop. She licked her lips in anticipation. Unaware of the brewing danger, the raven continued to sleep. Its beak nestled gently within the mantle of its left wing.
For a moment, Taylor stood in reflection. It is bad luck to kill a raven. The vehemence in her chest berated her superstitious beliefs. This raven has been nothing but bad luck since I have saved it. I'm taking back my happiness and my luck.
The hinges on the cage groaned in disappointment, as the girl opened the door and reached in quietly. Before her fingers grazed a single feather, a flicker of realization overpowered the repressed animosity clouding Taylor's perception. What are you doing? The opal is only a rock. This is a living creature with a life. With a shaking hand, she pulled away and locked the hatchway. It's been gone for nearly four months.With her face in her hands, the girl sat down on the edge of the bed. Lily was right. That's not me. The time is always right to do the right thing. Laying back down, Taylor closed her eyes and focused on her breathing.
Screeching metal clanked reluctantly against embittered flagstone. Motivated by the previous night's downward spiral, Taylor woke up early to set Jezebel free. Clumsily, the Slytherin waddled up a dungeon stairwell, bird and cage tightly in hand. With both physical and mental effort, the young girl lugged the bird through a maze of corridors and stairs. Accustomed to Taylor's temperamental behavior, but confused by the change in scenery, Jezebel crowed in defiance. The raven beat its wings against the prison walls, which caused the metal enclosure to sway uncontrollably at times. Forgotten feathers swirled through the air, littering the corridors in their wake. Painted characters lining the walls, called out from their portraits.
"It's really too early for all this squawking."
"Be considerate, will you?"
"That poor bird! Looks like the girl is eating crow."
I think I liked it better when paintings couldn't speak. Ignoring their shrill condemnations, Taylor pulled the coop passed the final few steps, through the Entrance Hall, and into the adjacent courtyard. Taking a moment to catch her breath, she placed the raven's cage on the short fountain wall and kneeled to examine the uneasy animal inside.
"This is it then." Like yesterday, the sky was clear and the breeze welcoming. The sun was barely peeking over the horizon and the morning dew glistened in an approaching orange light.
"I'm going to let you go." Deep inside, Taylor felt foolish for speaking to an animal that could not respond. The words, however minimal, made the situation easier.
Slowly, Taylor lifted the latch and opened the door. The invitation was open. With newfound frenzy, Jezebel clambered toward the exit. With a wandering eye, the bird search for danger before departing the safety of the roost.
"For what it's worth, you are pretty to look at— but I don't think I will ever adopt another raven." Feathers ruffled, Jezebel climbed to the peak of the silver cage and spread her wings.
With a single push, the bird jumped into the air, tucking her legs closely beneath a fan of tail feathers. Jezebel circled the courtyard once, before gaining altitude and disappearing beyond the canopy of the Forbidden Forest. Patiently, Taylor waited to see if her avian ward would return. An hour passed, along with the aftermath of the orange glow. Impractically, she hoped a reward would fall from the sky into her lap. The celestial heavens refused to acknowledge the personal sacrifice.
It's gone forever. Dejected by the anticlimactic event, the Slytherin chose to leave the cage on the fountain wall. That's one less affair I need to worry about now. Gytrash and exams are the only two problems I have to work on. Lacking an appetite, Taylor skipped breakfast and wandered the corridors of the castle aimlessly. Lily should be awake by now. She will be happy to hear about this morning's liberation. Choosing to uphold her rendezvous with Lily, Taylor began trekking up to the third floor library.
This year has gone by so fast. In a few months, I will be back with the Lupins. Remus and I will check out Mr. Katskinsky's old general store for details; I will write to Lily and send her packages; I won't have to worry about schoolwork. Involuntarily, Taylor sidestepped a metal heating grate. A rumbling below caught her attention. A faint, familiar voice caused her throat to tighten. Muffled conversation floated up from the air vent; possibly one of the many secret passages between the walls of the castle. Breathlessly, Taylor kneeled to the ground. In order to look less conspicuous, she pretended to double knot her shoelaces. Sparse students meandered around her, continuing to enjoy their final day of vacation. For a moment, the hole was silent and she convinced herself the noises were imagined. Cocking her head to the side, Taylor tried to funnel the sound from below.
"But sir, what if she doesn't know where to find it?" Fionn's voice wavered between octaves.
Why is Fionn—
"It's the only chance we have." Professor Greer's voice replied. The stifled scuffling of shoes against granite trailed between his words, making the conversation difficult to discern. Deep scraping noised distorted his already quiet sentences. "—the hyoid. A few questions about the Faberge, she will die, and then we can worry about the remains."
Taylor's stomach mimicked the knots in her shoelaces. Hyoid? Like a hyoid bone. Someone is going to die?Vomit riled in the back of her mouth. I didn't hear that. I misheard.
"—this could easily become a mess. I need you to concentrate Mr. Wilkes. You may be brilliant boy, but so help you if there is a single error. If we do not succeed, the wizarding world will run rampant with irrepressible filth."
"I understand, sir." The pupil reassured the professor. Irrepressible filth. Does he mean dirty blood? Like when Regulus called muggleborns, mudbloods? The conversation melded into a series of inaudible clanging. Afraid that the pair would notice her eavesdropping, Taylor hurried down the corridor. In the haste, she nearly collided with a suit of armor. Professor Greer really is the necromancer, and he is going to do something terrible to the muggleborns.
Mind riling, Taylor rushed into the sanctuary of the library. Tens of thousands of books on thousands of shelves greeted the distressed student. Several areas were sectioned off for quiet study. Lily's bright red hair was easy to locate amid the dusty books and table lanterns. Streams of dusty sunlight guided Taylor's course to her friend. How can I tell Lily that Fionn and an esteemed Hogwarts professor are contriving a plan that could potentially hurt her? She may not even believe me. She didn't when I suggested Professor Greer as the necromancer. As she sat across from her friend, the Slytherin battled the internal conflict.
"Took you long enough." Lily chided playfully. Taylor opened her mouth to spill the details, but only a squeak ebbed out. Lily, Professor Greer is behind the Gytrash. Fionn is helping him. They want to eradicate muggleborns from the wizarding world. Lily raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Have you been hexed?"
Taylor gingerly placed her head on the tabletop. "No." No one is going to believe me. Professor Greer wouldn't have been hired by Albus Dumbledore if he was capable of such malevolence. Right? "Please talk to me about something light and unimportant." Confused by her friend's drastic level of stress, Lily folded her hands and leaned back.
"Black approached me today in a peculiar manner." Without lifting her head, Taylor motioned for Lily to continue. "I was sitting here alone, waiting for you, when he decided to sit next to me. Though, it may as well have been on my lap." Lily grimaced at the imagery. "He kept bothering me with some endless chatter, until I conceded to his request."
"What was his request?"
"The boy wanted me to ask the librarian if they had any books on some Zorro character."
The smothering concern ebbed away momentarily. "That's odd." Taylor lifted her head in curiosity.
"Right? Who knew he could read?"
"No. That's one of Remus's favorite stories. I gave him a copy of The Mask of Zorro for his birthday. Why wouldn't he just borrow my brother's copy? Do they even have muggle fiction here?"
"The bloke has a screw loose." Lily muttered. After a brief quiet, the Gryffindor looked out the window. "You let Jezebel go. Is that why you seem so upset?" This morning is already ages away. In recent light, letting Jezebel go was easy. Unsure of how to proceed, Taylor merely nodded. "You did the right thing. Trust me." Wand in hand, Lily motioned to their Charms textbook. "Let's get started with this studying business, and then after you can tell me all about it."
The right thing to do would be to tell the headmaster about Greer. Fionn would go down with him though. Can I betray my friend? Are we even friends anymore? This madman could end up hurting innocent people— But then why am I doubting myself?
Casually, Sirius followed Lily and Taylor out of the library. After spending all day hidden behind a bookshelf, the boy was eager to be on the move again. While enjoying his hefty breakfast of steak and eggs earlier that morning, he noticed Lily sorting through her books nearby. Mundane academic tasks rarely sparked Sirius's imagination, however, a particular title caught his unmitigated attention: Canidae: From Ahuizotl to Wepwawet. Both his mind and fingers twitched with inquisitiveness. The scholarly witch had some knowledge or research on the ghostly dogs that had attacked him and his friends.
Instead of asking outright, Sirius trailed after her. Once Lily was settled in the library, he convinced her to ask the librarian to procure a muggle title. Predictably, they did not carry the edition he was searching for. Fortunately, when the unsuspecting Gryffindor girl approached the help desk, Sirius slipped into her bag and borrowed a more riveting publication. For Lily's benefit, he feigned disappointment for not obtaining The Mask of Zorro, but retreated to a nearby aisle to examine the contents of his pinched article. The folded page made it easy for the troublemaker to brush up on facts about Gytrash. During intervals of tedious text, Sirius observed the studious Gryffindor girl for signs that she may have noticed the item was missing. When Taylor arrived, a burning desire to discuss the hellhounds and their origin flourished within him. Treading with light footsteps, he followed the girls; a grin plastered across his face as a plan came together.
"Hold on. I nearly forgot to return your History of Magic notes." Lily pulled her knapsack to the front of her and sifted through the contents. The girl's face grew pink with frustration even as Taylor assured her that the notes were not very important. "No, I have your notes. I think I left Canidae in the library. I knew my bag felt too light." Lily thrust the notes under Taylor's nose, who took them gingerly. "I have to go back for it. I'll see you in class tomorrow?"
"Sure thing." Taylor's fake smile faded as her friend disappeared into ascending banisters. The weight of the wizarding world felt heavier with each lonely step she took toward the dungeons. Once Sirius was sure Lily was beyond earshot, he called out to the departing Slytherin.
"Salazar! I need to have a word with you."
Slightly irritated by the nickname, Taylor slowly turned to face her nemesis. One generous act was not enough to erase the countless misdeeds Sirius had performed in the past. Her distaste for his voice lingered. The haughty Gryffindor boy jumped a fake step and landed in front of her, flaring his arms out dramatically.
"Not if you are going to start with that opening degradation."
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Salazar was a fine man. You should feel honored."
"Yes, he was a man. If you haven't noticed, I am a girl and I do have a name."
Amused by her statement, they boy gestured to her clothes. The grin on his face seemed permanent. "To be fair, I will have to take your word for it that you are a girl. As for your name, you never formally introduced yourself to me. Why should I cater to your desires if you can't afford me the simple respect I ask for?"
Momentarily dazzled by his irrefutable logic and quick wit, Taylor turned away and continued down the stairs. "You don't deserve my respect with the way you are always—"
"Let's not get into this now. I wanted to talk to you about something much more important." Through her peripherals, Taylor studied him. She refused to allow him any direct attention. "Those dogs that attacked us are called Gytrash, aren't they? I found them in this book." Ounces of blood drained from Taylor's face. Sirius held up Lily's missing book proudly. "According to this, they can only be summoned by a necromancer. Judging by the look on your face, this isn't news to you."
"You dirty thief. I cannot believe you stole Lily's book!"
"Stop focusing on me for one second, won't you? This is why Greer was so adamant about getting that bone back. He had Fionn search through our dormitories, so he could summon these hellhounds. He's a dodgy old nutter." Taylor grabbed the book from him and held it under her arm.
"The first time I saw the Gytrash was over the winter holiday."
"I stole that bone just before the break. I am telling you the two are connected. Greer is out to get his students." Or the muggleborns. The story was solid. Taylor's heart searched for a reason to believe otherwise. Why are all of these problems revealed to me? I can't fix any of this, especially not with Sirius breathing down my neck. Exasperated by the silence and accelerated pace, Sirius quickened his step to match her tempo. "The man is a maniac and no one believes me. Greer is going to seriously hurt someone and the only reason you won't agree with me is because of some stupid loyalty to that posh—"
"Don't start." The warning was laced with a venomous tone.
"Why defend Wilkes? He's obviously up to something. Do you choose to be blind or are you really that dense?"
Pushing aside the doubts in her mind, Taylor voiced the various rationalizations that had been gnawing away at her since she heard Fionn's voice from the grate. "I don't know! We seem to be friends and I take that seriously. Seemingly, he's always had good intentions and he hasn't abandoned me yet. Fionn's saved me on countless occasions—from falling off a broom, from your sick brother, from being alone, from you— He would never do anything to hurt me." The reasons spilled from her tongue and dribbled onto the floor.
"My family has my best intentions at heart, but they support some horrible stuff." Sirius's voice sounded hollow, as if he did not completely trust the words spoken. "Listen, I know we got off the wrong foot. I am coming to you, because you're smart. Let's face it, we are in this together. We were all attacked and our possessions were sifted through. Maybe we can put the differences behind us and find a solution to the hellhounds?"
The concept of an armistice with Sirius sounded appealing. More tempting was the idea of being able to voice her doubts with another human being. With a heavy sigh, Taylor opened her mouth to concede, but hesitated when she noticed Fionn on the ground floor talking to displeased looking Regulus. I am not a hero, I am just a normal student trying to get work done. Taylor leaned in close to Sirius, making sure not to break eye contact.
"No. Here's how it is going to happen, Black. I don't want anything to do with you. In fact, I think you are blowing everything way out of proportion. I believe that you are trying to cause drama between me and the only Slytherin friend I have. How can you expect me to trust you, when all you do is cause trouble? Thanks for your offer, but I don't need you in my life to feel secure about where my loyalties lie." Without another word, she walked passed him and down to the Entrance Hall. Sirius did not follow, but his final promised stuck with her eardrums.
"I will prove that Greer and Fionn are no good, with or without your help." Taylor refused to look back at the Gryffindor, in fear that she might change her mind. A hidden burst of energy ushered her passed Fionn and Regulus, through the empty Slytherin common room, and into her four poster bed. Despite the early hour, she pulled the comforter over her head. For the first time in months, Taylor drifted off to sleep, but did not have the usual nightmare.