Odi et Amo: The Necromancer's Psychomanteum

Chapter 20: Psychomanteum

The onslaught of exams began early in June. Perfect pronunciation, flawless execution, and analytical writing were among the professors' expectations. For weeks upon months, Taylor had prepared for the tests. All preconceived notions of confidence, however, melted with the arrival of summer's first sweltering heat wave. Spring's cool breezes vanished, replaced by thick, overwhelming humidity. Writing papers was tedious work and distracting globs of perspiration made the task even more difficult.

After filling six sheets of parchment with bland reasons as to why Gaspard Shingleton's self-stirring cauldron changed the Wizarding World, Taylor became worried that her hand would become permanently afflicted with scrivener's palsy. Despite the length of her written exams in History of Magic, Astronomy, and Defense Against the Dark Arts, the practical examinations were equally as stressful. Students were often required to transform simple, mundane objects into whimsical ornate items. Although Taylor excelled in transfiguring her mouse into a floral silver snuffbox, charming a team of courgettes to perform a legless foxtrot was significantly more challenging.

In Potions class, Professor Slughorn allowed the students to pair up with one another for his unconventional Cross Examination process. According to the set of instructions, one student would craft a Draught of Living Death, while the other concocted a hearty Wiggenwald Potion to counter the former's effects. Only one of the two partners was required to test the brews for potency. If the students performed the standard deep sleep potion correctly, the conscious partner would then use the second draft to revive their colleague. Upon the sleeper's waking, the pair would be granted an automatic passing mark.

Eager for the challenge, Taylor assumed Fionn would rise to the occasion as her clever collaborator. Much to her disappointment, however, the boy hurried away before she could claim him as a partner. Stranded and alone, Slughorn chose to place her with the resourceful Severus Snape, whom seemed generally displeased with the confines of the social assignment. Fionn worked quietly with Evan Rosier, and throughout the remainder of the class, refused to spare a single glance toward Taylor. That's it. Internally, the girl fumed over the obvious rejection. I am not going to sit back and allow him to ignore me. At least not without knowing what his issue is with me. The least he could do is say to my face how he doesn't want to associate with me anymore.

Toward the completion of their draughts, Severus volunteered Taylor to be the sole ingestor of the Draught of Living Death. Deep down, the girl half-expected the greasy Slytherin to torment her as she slept on the desk. Omitting the tricks and annoyances, Severus diligently administered the Wiggenwald Potion to his partner. Their efficient work and progress received them the necessary passing marks. Groggy and confident, Taylor trailed Fionn out of the Potion's classroom. The attentive boy weaved between students. Expecting him to return the Slytherin dungeon, Taylor prepared herself for the confrontation. Hanging back, the girl came to realize that the encounter would not take place in the Common Room. Ascending the Grand Staircase, Fionn climbed past the third floor. Where is he going?

Intrigued by his skittish movements, Taylor pursued the target from several paces away. In order to conceal her approaching presence, she shielded herself behind suits of armor and shadowy corners. After weaving through doors and navigating spiral staircases, the Slytherins arrived to a familiar dusty hallway. Instantaneously, Taylor recognized the abandoned library nearby. A queasy feeling wrenched her stomach when Fionn hovered over the small bronze heating vent. For a moment, the boy scouted the corridor. Once he seemed sure that there were no students approaching, Fionn pointed down at a heating grate. Taylor could barely hear the spell Fionn cast as he waved his wand over the expanding hole. Lobelia cardinalis. The recollection of memories brought along imagery of corpses and hungry shadows.

What could he possibly be up to down there? Crouched behind the corner, Taylor watched the Slytherin boy disappear into the mysterious subterranean tunnels. Should I follow

"Are we going in or not?"

Unbalanced, Taylor tottered onto her backside. She stared up at Sirius angrily, whose eyes twinkled with a mischievous brilliance. A surge of rage replaced the quivering anxiety in Taylor's abdomen.

"What are you doing here?" She snapped.

"I followed you, because you were following Fionn. I figured he must be up to something dodgy if Taylor is going out of her way to avoid being seen by him." In order to show his best nature, Sirius held out his hand to help her up. Taylor blatantly rejected it, choosing to get up on her own. "Are we going to continue onward or stand here aimlessly?"

"I am not going anywhere with you." Taylor growled.

"Suit yourself. I am not letting him get away." The girl reached out to grab his shoulder, but Sirius sidestepped her advance and rushed toward the grate. Mimicking the past motions of Professor Greer, he opened the floor vent. "See? That old coot taught me something valuable after all."

The organ in her chest slammed into her rib cage, as she ran toward the hole in the ground. Without a second thought, Taylor descended the ladder after the eager Gryffindor boy. Since January, the darkness she remembered seemed exaggerated. Returning to the familiar circular room, however, reasserted the origins of horror. Sirius listened for a moment, before lighting his wand. The phosphorescence cast an eerie glow across his face.

"I don't hear anything." He whispered, frowning in disappointment. "Which way do you think he went?" An idea crept into Taylor's mind as she studied the area.

"Let's split up, taking the two tunnels farthest to the right."

"Why do you seem so sure?"

"Greer didn't want us to map those two tunnels. Obviously there is something he didn't want us to stumble across."

"Brilliant. Be careful, will you. No heroics." Taylor rolled her eyes in response. I should say the same for you. Though the darkness frightened her, she was happy to be rid of the straggler. I need to get to Fionn first. This situation needs to be cleared up. Before I leave this place, I am going to know the truth.

Careful not to make any unnecessary noise, Taylor travelled down the dank corridor. Slow and mindful, she considered the situation. If this is a misunderstanding, Fionn will be able to come up to the surface with me and clear everything up. If he is helping Greer with his necromancy, then… Taylor knew there was little she could do if she approached a skilled and irritated necromancer, especially one armed with a pack of Gytrash.

Time and distance were indeterminable. Taylor began to doubt her decision and wondered if Sirius had encountered trouble. A soft blue light, faint at first, emanated from a room ahead. Instinctually, the girl darkened her wand, took a deep breath, and peered around an ancient cracked door.

Two hooded figures shuffled noiselessly around an octagonal room. In a second's glimpse, Taylor could make out the obscured faces of Professor Greer and Fionn. Their black velvet robes skirted across the dusty ground apprehensively. Lines of crystal torches peppered the walls, accommodating sapphire blue flames. The room itself was expansive and entirely reflective. A room of mirrors. Directly across from her position was an open doorway. I wonder where that leads to. Though the area was disconcerting, at times Taylor could not help but be awed by its architectural genius. With mild difficulty, she tried to follow the figures' movements.

In the center of the room rested a two meter stone trough filled with water. Greer hunched over it attentively. Barely rippling the liquid, the man placed several indistinct materials onto the bottom of the tub. Fionn stood by his side, aptly awaiting instruction.

"Mr. Wilkes," Greer ordered his apprentice closer. "Bring forth Alexandra. The process is nearing completion." Alexandra? The boy opened a leather bound sack and carefully removed a small, weathered skull. Taylor's eyes widened as the human remains exchanged hands. The water shimmered violently as Greer placed the skull into the tub. "Quickly now, so that she may speak openly, place the hyoid into the psychomanteum." For a fraction of a second, Fionn hesitated, but followed the instructor's direction. Gently, the young Slytherin placed the hyoid bone into the water.

Reflective objects and surfaces were considered conduits to the spiritual world in ancient times. They are trying to wake the dead. Is the even possible? Thrilled and appalled, Taylor clutched the frame of the door in silence. Concentration on the ceremony was broken, when she noticed Sirius at entrance way across from her, his eyes wide with disgust.

"The spell has only a limited amount of time. We must work steadily." Professor Greer lifted his wand over the trough and whispered an unintelligible spell. Hands close to his sides, Fionn bowed his head and waited. The water began to boil fiercely, turning a putrid copper bronze. Streams of white light slithered from Greer's wand into the thrashing liquid; electric eels finding refuge into depths unknown. The necromancer released his wand, which levitated for a moment, before descending into the stone tub.

Once the wand was completely submerged, a figure began to materialize. Fragmented pieces of a bare-skinned woman sat up. Dark wet hair clung to her contrasting pale white cheeks. The woman they called Alexandra was beautiful beyond words. The missing fractions of her body, the shoulder blades and upper arms, were replaced with a spectral white hue. All illusions to beauty were swiftly dismantled. The mysterious woman coughed up blood and water, as she attempted to wail. Bewildered by her surroundings, Alexandra tried earnestly to escape the confines of the tub. Fionn hurried toward the trough and quickly restrained the thrashing body. With great anticipation, Greer kneeled next to the psychomanteum. Alexandra cried out viciously, her eyes bulging with fear.

"Hilfe! Sie uns töten! Sie uns töten!" Greer grabbed the woman's face in his hands.

"Your majesty, I need you to concentrate. Use your grandmother's tongue. English! English!" The professor shook her roughly when she did not hastily obey. Sirius's eyes flashed at Greer's abusive treatment.

"Himmlischen Vater. Help my family. Please!"

"Alexandra, the Imperial Egg. The Empire Nephrite given to you for safe keeping by the warlock Peter Carl Fabergé. Who has it?"

"My poor husband and meine Kinder!"

Sweat and impatience beaded down the bridge of Greer's nose. "No. No! Concentrate, you worthless squib. Alexandra, where is the egg? Quickly!" The hostage's eyes rolled into the back of her head. Overcome with rage and impatience, the necromancer began to slap the unconscious woman. "You will not leave me until I have an answer!"

The cruel scene stirred Sirius into an animated action. Consequence became inconsequential. He pointed his wand at the belligerent professor.

"Flipendo!"

Cobalt lightening spiraled an airborne Professor Greer away from Fionn and the woman. With a thunderclap, he crashed into one of the eight mirrored walls. The single sheet shattered into a legion upon impact. Taylor covered her mouth and turned away. Sirius! You bloody idiot! A penetrating scream resounded throughout the subterranean tunnels. Heart pounding, Taylor once again peered into the room. Alexandra's animated corpse slumped over the rim of the psychomanteum. A desperate, failing escape. Fionn, who relinquished his duty, held a steady wand at Sirius. The fearless Gryffindor stared unblinkingly at his opponent. Before she could think about her actions, Taylor delivered a jet of sparks toward the necromancer's assistant. The cherry wood wand bolted from its master's hands. Regret numbed the spontaneous flutter of courage. Well I guess it is clear whose side I'm on. Fionn held up his hands defensively, anger flushing across his face. The silence between the students was interrupted when the mysterious woman vomited up a heaping of the murky fluid.

"Black, you are going to regret this." Fionn chose to ignore Taylor completely.

Sirius sidestepped toward the forfeited wand, and with a nimble motion, placed it securely in his inner jacket pocket. Beside Taylor, Professor Greer stirred. A shaking hand cradled his battered, throbbing head. He struggled to his feet, eyes locked on the nauseated woman.

"Alexandra, where is the egg?" Ignoring the attack, the man continued his interrogation.

"I trusted him! Rasputin! Ich habe ihm vertraut. He promised to safeguard the egg and my family, but before his death entrusted it to a malevolent successor."

Greer's eyes blazed with excitement and rejuvenated energy. "Who was the successor?" His voice was hoarse. In the passing minutes, his lips became chapped and his face sallow.

An answer was lost, as the woman began to wail with misery. Her chest heaved and she attempted to stand, only to find herself too weak to use her deteriorating muscles. Mesmerized by the scene's intensity, Taylor's wand slowly lowered. Pity filled her heart when her eyes connected with Alexandra's. They were dark and clouded, but a former cerulean elegance lingered. Who are you? Why does Professor Greer need you so badly?

"What was the name of the successor!?" Greer practically pleaded. He made an attempt to move closer to his creation, but was immediately intercepted.

"Don't move!" Sirius warned, pointing his wand at the exhausted Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

No longer able to ignore the intruders, Greer turned to face Sirius. "You impenitent grub. You've been nothing but a thorn in my side since you arrived. If you ruin—"

"Paukstaitis—A Lithuanian! I am so sorry Nicholas." Alexandra shrieked.

Greer's face twisted with confusion, as he mouthed the foreign name to himself. It was obvious that the necromancer had no familiarity with the name, but his features softened with the introduction of a new clue. Taylor, however, stiffened. The air around her felt icy and time slowed to a near stop. The name roared in her mind. Paukstaitis. Miss Paukstaitis. The sorting hat called me, Miss Paukstaitis. I had almost forgotten. I thought it was just a mistake.

The sconces upon the walls all simmered out simultaneously, leaving the room dark and its occupants blinded. Disembodied growls and howls heralded a ravenous pack of Gytrash. The beasts emerged from the mirrored walls and poured in through the entrances. Before Taylor and Sirius could light their wands, the hellhounds rushed into a bloodthirsty offensive. Eight spectral dogs lunged at the disarmed necromancer, as another six bounded toward his apprentice. With little time to think, Taylor brandished a blazing wand to ward off the approach of two snapping snouts, while Sirius defended himself against four ankle biters.

A piercing cry, however, caused the Slytherin girl to redirect her attention. While Professor Greer was able to momentarily swat the beasts around him, Fionn was pinned to the ground, bleeding profusely. Snarling teeth ripped passed the ceremonial wear and into his fleshy calf. Fionn! In fear of her friend's life, Taylor rushed to his aid. Wildly, the girl wielded her wand around, creating a path through the drove of mongrels. The Gytrash around the young apprentice reluctantly retreated and Taylor kneeled next to him.

"Fionn, are you—" Synchronously, Alexandra and Greer screamed. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of Gytrash, the professor fell to the ground and disappeared beyond a surge of spectral bodies.

"Help Professor Greer!" Fionn pleaded. He struggled to push Taylor away. "Without him all is lost. The Dark Lord will shed innocent blood if the egg is not found." Dark Lord? Were Greer and Fionn trying to prevent something terrible from happening?

"You aren't trying to hurt the muggleborns?"

The boy weakly pushed her away in exasperation. "What the bloody hell are you talking about?"

Tears sprung to her eyes, but Taylor knew that there was no time to cry. She whipped around and blindly charged toward the hounds attacking Greer. Observing Taylor's new plan of action, Sirius hurriedly began to follow her direction. The Gryffindor boy provided the supplemental protection she needed to safely cross the circular room.

Once she reached the throbbing mass of hounds, however, Taylor's heart sank. One by one, the Gytrash began to dissolve into a harmless mist. The rays of light from her wand erased each ghostly canine around the necromancer. A few bloody scraps of robe, a length of vertebrae, and patches of hair were all that was left of the Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. The Slytherin girl was too late to save the misunderstood professor.

With relative ease, Sirius fended off the last of the hellhounds and sprinted to Taylor's side. While Sirius thoughtfully examined the remains, Taylor chose to turn away. The woman in the trough lay weakly, her arms wrapped around herself. Half conscious, Alexandra prayed. Respectfully, the Slytherin girl approached the trough and crouched down to eye level. Aware of the girl's arrival, the woman opened her eyes to greet the young student. Upon recognition, however, Alexandra began to whimper, edging away from the sympathetic visitor.

"You've come to kill me now, Paukstaitis? I'll welcome the reunion with my beloved Nicholas." Taken aback by the woman's dark wish, Taylor shook her head.

"No. You don't have to worry about any of that now."

"Where is your evil eye? The unhealthy gem? Your dark divinations." Alexandra's voice began to grow with vehemence. Disconcerted by all the events, Taylor backed away from the accusations. "I should have known better than to give the egg to you and Rasputin. Now the beast will hatch in the hollows of the earth and seek innocent blood to quench its thirst. Es kann nicht gestoppt warden."

The final cryptic warning was spoken and the woman allowed herself to slip beneath the surface of the brown putrid water. Her figure disappeared and the water became still, returning to its once clear state. Greer's wand, along with skeletal remains, rested quietly in the motionless liquid. A hand grasped Taylor's shoulder unexpectedly.

"Are you alright?" Sirius asked, concerned. "That lady really laced into you, huh?"

Through her peripherals, the Slytherin girl stared at herself in one of the many mirrored walls. Somehow, I am connected to all of this. This dead woman wasn't just rambling. A mysterious missing egg, my past, an unhealthy gem. The sorting hat and the dead woman both believe I am Paukstaitis. But what is the connection? Outwardly, Taylor remained silent.

Sirius, who was unnerved by Taylor's silence, pulled her away from the self-staring contest. "C'mon, Salazar. We are getting out of here. This place is making me claustrophobic—"

"We need to go find the headmaster and tell him everything that's happened. I should have reported all of this from the beginning." Taylor whispered. She turned to look at Fionn, who sat with his back against the wall. Pulling away from Sirius's comforting hand, Taylor trudged over to her injured housemate. Cautiously, she held out a sturdy hand. After a moment of careful consideration, Fionn grabbed hold of her generous offer. Both Slytherins remained reserved themselves, allowing Sirius to take the initiative as navigator.

The journey to the surface was a slow and painful process. For Fionn, every limp was accompanied with a grunt or huff. Keeping a lit wand above his head, Sirius led the way through the caverns.

Unable to handle the sullenness, Sirius addressed the elephant in the room. "So, Wilkes, who was the woman?"

"Alexandra Feodorovna. The last Tsarina of Russia." The answer was spat through clenched teeth.

"Really?" Sirius was unconvinced.

"Yes. She was going to tell us how to find a Dark Magic Artefact, but nothing matters now. You ruined everything." Fionn muttered angrily as the students entered the final room. While the two boys began to bicker, Taylor was preoccupied with getting Fionn up the ladder. I am probably going to be expelled for life for aiding in the death of a Hogwarts' professor.

"Is that right? I am pretty sure the Gytrash you and Greer summoned ruined everything. The old codger got what was coming to him."

Fionn's grip on Taylor's shoulders tightened. "Oh. I understand now. You're turning Taylor against me because I trashed your dormitory. " Fionn snorted with irritation.

"What the actual fuck. You wanker, I knew it was you!"

"We had nothing to do with those Gytrash. Someone's been trying to sabotage our work all year. Now that Greer is dead, I don't know what's going to happ—"

Before Fionn could finish, a flash of indigo light sent Sirius flailing forward. He riled on the floor, tenderly clutching his right arm. Taylor drew her wand and pointed it into the darkness. Squinting, Taylor could hardly make out the Gryffindor boy's silhouette.

"Sirius." For a moment, the boy sat in a daze. Taylor whispered blindly into the darkness. "Sirius, are you alright?" The girl took a step forward. She dared not light her wand, for fear of giving away their position.

A faint green flicker brought Taylor through a cold rush of reality. A thin elderly man, decrepit and grey, emerged slowly from a nearby corridor. He gingerly leaned down and scooped up Sirius's wand. Shell shocked by a bombardment of memories, the Slytherin girl wavered under Fionn's added weight. Mr. Katsinsky. Sirius regained composure and struggled to his feet, eyes locked on his wand which was now in unfamiliar hands.

"To clarify, the Gytrash were, in fact, my doing." Katsinsky brandished Sirius's wand in the air carelessly. Taylor held onto Fionn, taking a step in front of him preventively. "They managed to alleviate some of the work for me, but there is something that remains unfinished."

Apprehension and confusion twisted his name around her tongue. Only single syllables managed to slip by.

"You?"

"Indeed, Mała świnka. It's been a long time." Testing the stranger's motives, Sirius seized a few steps toward the old man. Katsinsky pointed his own gnarled sprig at the anxious Gryffindor and placed the boy's cedar wand in his inner coat pocket, far beyond hope of retrieving it. "Don't even think about your wand, boy. You've caused enough trouble for one day." Wand steadily pointed at Sirius, Katsinsky turned his attention back to Taylor.

"Who is this guy?" Sirius growled through clenched teeth. Taylor, however, was unable to answer Sirius's question and watched the old man's movements calculatedly. Verbal words were distant and unintelligible.Katsinsky was a wizard this whole time. How did I not know? Did he know I was here at Hogwarts?

Fionn provided a simple explanation to Sirius's quandary. "He is the necromancer. I suspect the like who would want to kill Professor Greer."

"And his halfwit apprentice." Katsinsky added condescendingly. The elderly man licked his lips and wiped sweat from his forehead. Affronted by the insult, Fionn glared at the man.

The Gytrash had always materialized whenever I was with Fionn—the night of the Winter Solstice Masquerade, walking from Astronomy to the Common Room, the night of the duel—he was always the common factor. Guilt at ever having doubted her friend's innocence constricted Taylor's airway. Unconsciously, she tightened her grip on the injured boy. He reciprocated by lightly patting her shoulder.

"How could you?" Taylor managed to rasp.

Hearing the girl's quivering voice amused Katsinsky. Driven by sick pleasure, he responded. "It takes a cruel sort to kill. The same sort of man might, say, send children into the hungry jaws of Mr. Greyback. At least until the ministry began looking into the matter." Unprepared for the confession, Taylor clenched her fists. The wand in her hand shook uncontrollably. You sent that werewolf after my brother. "That bachory wouldn't be where he is today, if it weren't for my suggestion to calm down in the park."

While Sirius and Fionn were lost the context of the conversation, Taylor felt heat rush to cheeks. You won't get away with it. It is too late to save Remus, but I can still help Fionn. The grey buzzard cracked a wicked smile and Taylor's wand grew warm.

"Drogi, that is in the past. I would never hurt you, but I will need you to move. I have come to kill the boy, and I am not leaving until my task is complete. If you cooperate, I may even let the other one live." Katsinsky motioned his wand toward Sirius, who stood alerted to his predicament.

"May?" Sirius snarled. Young and spry, the Gryffindor boy was sure he could outmatch his withering opponent, even if he had to physically. You would never hurt me. I don't believe that for an instant.

"I am not stepping out of the way. If you plan on killing Fionn, you will have to get through me first." Taylor said flatly. A mixture of gratitude and annoyance crossed Fionn's face.

"Don't be foolish." The man's face grew dark. "You owe these boys nothing. Blood traitors, the lot of them! They do not mind living in secrecy forever—Cowards, tchórze! Do you remember, Taylor? All the days you felt lonely, abused by the muggle world?" Katsinsky's words rang hollow in her ears. You've lived among non magic folk for years. Selling your merchandise and befriending the locals. You are the coward. "If you don't move, how will I explain your death to your father?"

Electric impulses sizzled in the back of her mind. Does Katsinsky really know my father? There is no way my father would be associated with… Taylor stopped the foolish fantasies before they could blossom. Once I am done with everything I have to do, I promise I'll come back for you. Taylor swallowed, unsure of whether the general store owner was being truthful. Her peaked interest was noticeable. Fionn grabbed her arm warningly.

"He is going to say anything to get you to—" Before the boy could reassure his friend, Katsinsky barreled on.

"Even he knows the importance of this cause we are fighting for. Such a brilliant man! I knew from the first moment I met him in my hometown years ago. A cygański, Zigeuner the Germans would have called him. But, nevertheless, he was dedicated to the subjugation of the muggle race."

An uncontrollable quake rocked Taylor's emotions. My father practices the Dark Arts? He must have known Mr. Katsinsky was there to look out for me all those years. That means he must also know I am here.

Sirius watched quietly, his mind assessing the situation like an algebraic equation. The smallest window of opportunity would be his for the reaping. Taylor shook her head to erase the thoughts clouding her judgment. Wand pointed at the old man, she stood firmly in front of Fionn.

"I'm not moving."

"You've exhausted my patience. I've spent years protecting the egg and I am not about to stop, just because a child gets in my way. The rising Dark Lord needs this catalyst to secure blood purity and begin—"

"Everte Statum!" Sirius shouted unexpectedly. Unprepared for the impromptu attack, the Katsinksy spiraled through the air away from the students. The Gryffindor boy held Fionn's wand steadily toward their captor.

Without a second to think, Taylor reacted by hurriedly dragging Fionn to the base of the ladder. Katsinsky was not incapacitated for long. Springing to his feet, he shouted flaming curses at the fleeing Sirius, who narrowly missed the deadly sparks. Before he reached the ladder, the boy cast a smokescreen spell to momentarily cover their ascent.

"C'mon, we haven't got all day!" Sirius urged. I won't be able to get Fionn to the surface. In a brief moment of self sacrifice, Taylor pushed the Slytherin boy toward Sirius.

"Help Fionn first, I will come up in the rear."

Both Sirius and Fionn opened their mouths to object, but the girl cut them off to save time. "You're stronger and fast than I am. Go, now!" Without another word, Sirius grabbed Fionn by his shoulders and lugged him up the ladder, one rung at a time. Her weapon ready, Taylor followed. Desperately, the students blasted spells into the impenetrable fog, though they could barely see the ladder beneath their hands.

Green fireworks flared past them and a furious clanging alerted the climbers to an escalating danger below.Just keep climbing. We can make it, if we just keep climbing. Taylor squinted above her, making out the faint contours of shoes. Almost there. A phantom hand reached out and wrapped around her ankle. Alarmed by the frigid touch, Taylor let out a scream. Katsinsky yanked at the girl's leg in an attempt to pull her off the ladder; he shot curses past her head. This is it.

The Slytherin girl pointed her wand down into his face, and without remorse, screamed, "Flipendo!"

The curse blasted her attacker square in the face. Instinct caused him to clutch tighter to Taylor's leg, even as he was sent spiraling down. Unable to hold the weight of the man's floating body, she lost her footing and cascaded back toward the subterranean room. Together, the pair plummeted down the narrow shaft in a reeling darkness.


The sound of shovels savagely cutting into frosty earth stirred Taylor from an unnatural sleep. For a moment, she teetered on the edge of a dream. Upon waking, memories of the dreamscape dissolved. Only the ominous noises lingered and a heavy weight lifted from her chest. In the final throws of its presence, the commotion amplified; it blasted the crown of her throbbing head, until it drizzled into a faint murmur. Silence enveloped the fragile girl. As the senses returned to her aching body, she rationalized the situation. Struggling to sit up, Taylor pressed a cool hand against her burning temple. Where am I? Confusion muddled her sensibility. I fell. How high up was I? Am I alive? Blind? Mr. Katsinksy fell with me, so he must be down here. I don't want him to find me. Unable to see, Taylor felt the area around her cautiously. Instantaneously, her warm hands connected with an unfamiliar, clammy, marble feature. Although the touch was brief, the texture of lifeless flesh was unmistakable. With great physical effort, Taylor quickly rolled away.

The old man's body had been wedged beneath her. Katsinsky's cushioned flesh broke her fall. He's dead. He's really dead. I need to get out of here. Taylor searched for her wand desperately. Tears sprung to her eyes as frustration and fear finally consumed her. He's dead. He's dead and right beside me. I am alive and Katsinsky is dead.

"Taylor!" A penetrating green light showered down from the shaft above. "Taylor, are you hurt?" Eyes shut tightly against the piercing rays of wand light, the girl gasped in relief to hear Sirius's familiar voice. Before Taylor answered, she wiped away any stray tears and cleared her throat.

"I'm fine. Katsinsky is—" The words caught in her vocal chords for a moment, before spewing forward. "Katsinsky is dead! He must have broken my fall."

Far above her, she could hear Sirius swear. "Just stay where you are. I am coming down!"

"How is Fionn?"

Emotionally exasperated by her attempted conversational shift, Sirius faked a laugh. "Wilkes is fine. Can we make sure you don't have a concussion before we go worrying about other people?"

The beam of light hurried closer, until Taylor could make out the boy's silhouette. He crouched down next to her, lowering Fionn's wand away from any sensitive pupils. Reaching out, Sirius brushed strands of loose hair from her line of vision.

"You look normal. I mean, as normal as a Slytherin can be anyways."

Amid the tragedy, Taylor cracked delicate smile. "Thanks. Help me find my wand, would you? I want to get out of here." Focused on the newest task, she dismissed the boy's mothering.

"These tunnels gave me the creeps before I knew two people died down here. Now, it's just worse." Sirius lifted the source of light and scanned the room mindlessly. "A small wooden stick shouldn't be too hard to find in an enormous stone room. I should probably retrieve mine from—" The boy hastily lowered the cherry wood wand. Before Sirius could spare her the sight, however, Taylor had uncovered the mystery of her lost item. Like a skewer, the sprig protruded out of Katsinsky's upper chest cavity. Blood pooled around him. I'm going to be sick. Taylor looked down at her sanguine splattered uniform.

Sirius swallowed and grabbed Taylor's shoulders. "We'll come back for the wands. Let's get you upstairs and out of these tunnels. We'll find the headmaster together. Whatcha say?" Taylor remained quiet, even as Sirius pulled the Slytherin to her feet and ushered her up the ladder.


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