Chapter 8 : Paintbrushes
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A/N: Thank you for all the reviews. I really appreciate it. And any constructive criticism is welcome as well. Please don’t hesitate to point out any awkward sentences. Thanks! :]
= = =
That night I experienced the first dreamless sleep I’d had in ages. Well, that can’t be entirely true. I’ve been told that it’s a proven fact that even if you can’t remember your dreams, you were still dreaming. Good thing I couldn’t remember my dreams on that night. Something told me they couldn’t have been very pleasant.
Part of me had given up. A very large part of me, in fact. I was ready and willing to simply conform to what this school was asking of me – to be the perfect student, never speak of anything magic related again, snap my wand in half, and forget about the screaming in the dungeon and everything I read in the Daily Prophet about the Muggle killings. To just go on about my day like a simple minded waste of human flesh.
This is what I thought as I dipped my index and middle fingers into a jar of bright crimson paint and streaked it across the white sheet on the easel before me. I did the same with the black paint with my other hand and then stood back to admire my work.
“And what the bloody hell is this supposed to be?” asked Filch from over my shoulder.
I stared at the red and black streaks, and then thought about myself. I imagined that I had paint running through my veins instead of blood as I answered, “Numbness.”
Numbness. To be in total and complete oblivion of the world around me. To live in that blissful state of … simply not caring anymore.
“Numbness?” Filch sneered. “I’ll tell you what that there is, it’s a bloody piece of crap, that’s what it is.”
I ignored him as I again dipped my index finger into the crimson liquid, watching it drip slowly off the tip of my finger as I pulled it out. It looked like tears. Tears of blood.
When my finger stopped crying, I lifted my hand to the easel and in the upper right hand corner decided it was time to sign my work.
= = =
And this is what my life had resorted to. I felt mechanical as I went from my classes, doing exactly as Filch instructed, and eating that slop they serve at meals. Did I enjoy it? No. But the point is not to enjoy it. It is to eat. When you are numb, you don’t enjoy anything. You just do.
A week later (Was it a week? I’d lost track of time …) Macnair visited again. I woke up when I felt the pinch of the sharp needle entering in my arm. Macnair grunted something about how he hoped I’d learned my lesson from last time, and without even a word of protest, my eyes fluttered back to sleep.
I saw Potter a few times in the Great Hall. He didn’t look at me. It was as if nothing had happened at all. As if he hadn’t tortured me. As if he didn’t care about Hermione – his best friend – and the tears she shed as she begged her unspoken plea for mercy.
One day in Filch’s class, he asked me, personally, to go and get some more paintbrushes form the storage closet. “I’m trusting you, boy,” he said gruffly. “Don’t give me a reason to regret this.”
“Yes, sir,” I said as I walked out of the room, my feet working almost mechanically around the corridors and down the stairs.
It did not faze me that I was passing the dungeons until a brilliant bright blue light flashed through the cracks under the door leading down the stairs. And for the first time in weeks – possibly a month, for all I knew – I felt something besides numbness. Was that … yes. It was definitely curiosity. It felt so foreign … so wrong … I pushed it away at once and kept walking, speeding up my pace.
And then the door burst open, the locks and chains and bolts coming completely undone, and a man in a long white cloak and matching hair stood in the entrance of the door, clutching his chest and desperately attempting to catch his breath. Something about him was oddly familiar …
And then I remembered. An image passed across my eyes of myself colliding with this man, sending his pieces of parchment flying everywhere. I looked up into his face to examine his grey crossed eyes. It was him, I was certain. I’d never seen eyes like that on anyone else before.
I stared at him as he tried to bring his breathing back to a normal pace. “Hello, my dear boy. Fine evening we’re having, isn’t it?”
Was this bloke for real? Something bad had obviously just happened to him for him to be so out of breath, and he was talking about this “fine” evening?
“Erm … yes, sir,” I answered.
“On your way somewhere?” he asked, stealing a glance behind him down the stairs.
“Just to the storage closet,” I answered, “to get more paintbrushes.”
“Very well, very well,” the man said. He waited a moment and then said, “Well, I suppose you’d better be on your way then.”
“Yes,” I said, and turned to walk down the dimly lit corridor. I peeked over my shoulder as I turned the corner to see the man dressed completely in white still staring after me, grinning like an idiot.
And upon arriving at the storage closet and reaching on the top shelf for the bucket of paintbrushes, I could only think of one thing:
You fucking idiot! The door to the dungeon is wide open! Get back there!
Damn it, I was a disgrace to myself if I didn’t.
But all the work you’ve put in to forget, the other side of my mind argued, All the time and effort put into making yourself the perfect student – wasted.
And then the other side of my mind thought two words that would change my life forever: Fuck perfect.
And with that, I dropped the bucket of paintbrushes, sending them clattering to the ground in a scattered mess as I cascaded down the corridor I had just left.
The door to what was once the Slytherin dungeon was closed, but just as suspected, unlocked. The padlocks that had once secured it shut were broken. Broken by an inhuman force … by something stronger. And that man, whoever he was, was probably off in search for new locks. I knew he’d be back soon, so if I wanted to solve this mystery of what lie behind the dungeon door once and for all, this was my only chance. Take it or leave it.
The steps creaked as I carefully stepped on them. I let out my breath in one long drawn out gust of air when I realized I’d been holding it, and continued down the stairs. I glanced around the common room when I stepped off of the bottom step. It looked exactly the same as I remembered it, with the green tinted lamps hanging by chains from the ceiling. The room was dark with splashes of emerald decorating the room and elaborately carved chairs in front of the unlit fire place.
This was not what I expected. Where were the screaming people? What was the white coated man hiding down here? Where had the blue flash of light come from? Why was the door to the dungeon locked and chained shut if there was nothing to hide?
Disappointed, I sluggishly made my way back to the stairs and clambered up them, wondering why coming to this revelation made me so upset. I should have been happy, shouldn’t I? There were no screams. No one was trapped down here. No one was being tortured. It was just as normal as it was back in 1995.
Exiting the staircase, I turned the corner and walked right past the man in the white coat without so much as looking at him. But he looked at me.
“Twenty-seven,” he said, after glancing at my sweater. “Find what you were looking for?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Very well,” the man said, and I tried my hardest not to stare at his unnaturally crossed eyes. “Better be on then. Wouldn’t want people to think you’re up to anything suspicious, now would you?”
My gaze met his this time. “No,” I answered, and the way he held my gaze in deep contemplation made me narrow my own eyes at him.
“Have a good evening, Twenty-seven.”
“Yeah,” I said, “You too.” And I made my way back to Filch’s class, completely empty handed and without the paintbrushes he’d originally sent me to retrieve.
= = =
“Educational Decree Number Five,” Father announced the next night at dinner, “Students are not permitted to go in the corridors to the left of the main staircase. It is completely restricted, and any student found there will be punished.”
The corridors to the left of the staircase … one of the halls there lead to the dungeon. How ironic … how Father should make this rule up now after I had just gone down there the previous night …
He couldn’t possibly know about my little trip down there, could he? There was no way … no one else was there to see me. Unless that strange man with the fucked up eyes had seen me go down there, but I was quite certain he didn’t. He probably suspected though.
But what did they care so much for anyway? It’s not like they’re hiding anything down there. I would have seen it if they were. No, the Slytherin dungeons looked exactly the same as they always have, the only difference being the lack of any students lounging around.
I stuck my face in my steaming pile of mush as I contemplated this, failing completely to realize the horrendous taste.
I went to sleep early that night. There was no point in staying awake, what with the Carrows patrolling the common room and dormitories to make sure students were not speaking to each other, therefore obeying Educational Decree Number Two. Hermione was nowhere to be found either. Not that I had anything new to tell her anyway. I suppose I’d just grown so accustomed to having actual conversations with her, it was strange that I couldn’t now.
That night I had one of those dreams … the kind where you know you’re dreaming but can’t wake yourself up no matter how hard you try.
“It’s a dream,” said my dream-self as I walked down the corridor leading to the Slytherin dungeon.
The voices carried to me from up the stairs. “We’re here, Draco … help us, please! Please, help us …”
My dream-self shook my head and continued walking, straight past the door. “An illusion.”
But I could still hear them calling to me, louder and louder the farther I drew away from them. “Come back, Draco. We’re still here. Come back to us.”
= = =
I was sitting at the table in the common room doing my homework (on the primary functions of the oh-so-exciting pancreas) when Lovegood plopped down across from me.
“Have you heard about Eighty-one and One-hundred thirty-three?” she whispered, referring to two former Hufflepuffs, Hannah Abbot and Zacharias Smith.
My eyes widened. Did she have any idea what she was doing? She was breaking an Educational Decree!
Oh God, I thought, that sounded so much like Granger it’s scary.
I simply ignored Loony and hoped she’d go away. Of course, she didn’t. Not that I really expected her to, anyway. She’s like one of those flies … the kind that buzz and buzz and buzz around your head and in your ears, but they’re so fast they’re practically impossible to catch and kill. And so they just keep buzzing in that irritating way that just makes you want to squish them, and it’s so frustrating that you can’t …
“Didn’t you hear me? I said –”
“Lovegood!” I hissed, and then glanced over my shoulder to make sure the Carrows hadn’t heard me. Alecto must have been in the dormitories. Amycus was on the other side of the common room, thankfully not watching us. “Are you mental?” I whispered. “You’re going to get us both killed!”
She completely ignored my outburst. “Have you heard about Eighty-one and One-hundred thirty-three?”
I rolled my eyes and looked over my shoulder again. Amycus was pacing the perimeter of the room. It would be a while before he got to us. “No, I haven’t. Now what about them is so important that you have to risk both our necks to tell me?”
“They’ve graduated to the Advanced classes!” she exclaimed in an excited whisper. “Just got their letters tonight. They start first thing tomorrow.”
“Then where are they now?” I asked.
“Upstairs packing, I expect,” she shrugged. “I can’t wait until I graduate into the Advanced classes.”
“Why?” I asked. “What’s so special about them?” Other than the fact that they apparently get to torture people …
“Well,” Lovegood began, her eyes filling with that grey dreamy mist she always possesses as she leaned her head closer to mine. “They get to wear those red ribbons on their sweaters, and eat normal food at the table during meals, and I’ve heard their lessons are more exciting as well. Not that I don’t absolutely adore knitting with Filch, but –”
She stopped talking at once, and when I turned I saw Amycus heading in our direction. Lovegood pretended to be writing her essay as she diligently dipped her quill in her ink pot and pressed the tip of it to her parchment creating a big inky blot.
As Amycus passed, Lovegood whispered, “There are more things I’ve heard about them, but I mustn’t say it here.”
“Why not?” I more mouthed the words than spoke them aloud.
She grinned whimsically, and before she even spoke I braced myself for something eccentric to come out of her mouth. I was not let down.
I raised my eyebrows so high they were concealed under my fringe. “Spies?” I asked skeptically.
She nodded enthusiastically. “They’re everywhere,” she informed me. “And they have little recording devices hooked up all around the school, so they can hear what we’re saying at all times.”
I shook my head at her, attempting to hold in my laughter as I leaned in and whispered, “Loony, I think this may be your strangest idea yet.”
“That’s what you say now,” she said. “But I’m serious. And you never know who they are either. You see that girl over there?” She nodded her head in the direction of the fireplace, to a girl sitting on the floor simply staring aimlessly at her surroundings. “A bit suspicious, don’t you think? She’s just sitting there watching … observing …”
I rolled my eyes.
“Spying,” she finished.
I gathered my parchment into my arms and stood up. “You really are crazy,” I said before turning to walk away. And then I watched as Amycus and Alecto switched stations, Amycus heading up to the dormitories and Alecto waddling down the stairs. She wasn’t watching, so I turned back to Lovegood.
“Hey,” I whispered, and her attention was immediately focused back on me. I put my hands on the table and leaned over. “What’s your take on the M word?”
Lovegood grinned slyly, her eyes narrowing as the smile reached them. “The M word does not exist.” And I could swear I saw her wink her right eye so quickly that had I blinked even for a second, I would have missed it. Then she stood up and whispered, “It’s been nice talking to you tonight, Twenty-seven,” before walking away.
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