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Chapter 9 : Behind the Black Curtain
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The next day was Saturday, which I must admit was quite nice. It meant I could sleep in as late as I pleased, and that I didn’t have to attend any of Filch’s boring and useless classes.
I woke up around noon when I finally couldn’t take the light spilling through the windows and penetrating through the scarlet hangings anymore. Heading down to the Great Hall for lunch, I watched the Advanced students with longing as they filed up in one perfectly straight line and began marching into the Entrance Hall and out into the bright sunlight of the quad, Hannah and Zacharias at the tail of the queue. Today they were permitted to travel to the surrounding villages if they pleased, just like they did every Saturday afternoon. Lovegood was staring after them too with that dreamy look clouding her grey eyes. I would bet anything the Advanced student’s adventures outside of the castle were another reason she longed so desperately to be upgraded.
After breakfast, the Average students were told we were being given two options for how we wanted to spend our Saturday afternoon: in the common room studying under the watchful eyes of the Carrow twins, or to go outside bird watching with Filch.
It basically came down to the decision of who it would be most easy to tolerate. And so I, along with more than half of the other Average students, filed into line behind Filch and began our way out into the Entrance Hall. I wasn’t surprised at all to see Hermione hadn’t joined in our queue, and was instead following the small group of students heading back to the common room. Some people never change, I thought as I shook my head in disapproval.
Being in the back of the line does have its advantages. When no one was looking, I snuck away and streaked out of the Entrance Hall and down a labyrinth of corridors. I had a hunch of what exactly the Advanced students would be up to on this lovely Saturday afternoon, and I would not have it nagging at me all day. So I surrendered to the curiosity and ran until I was standing inside of Snape’s empty office.
“The M word does not exist, my ass,” I mumbled as I stalked over to the wall and examined the glass jars of smoking liquid lined up on the hanging shelves. The different liquids inside were unmistakably the work of a wizard – a potion master.
I heard footsteps coming from outside and froze in my spot, my eyes locked on the dark oak door as my mind raced trying desperately to think of a hiding place. The footsteps stopped just outside. Under the desk, my mind screamed, but my feet seemed glued to their places on the floor in fright.
And then the clicking footsteps padded across the floor again. I let out my breath and my previously tensed muscles relaxed, allowing my feet to move again. I plopped down in the swivel chair behind Snape’s desk and examined his work area. There were rolls upon rolls of parchment stacked one on top of the other in a pyramid like fashion. With trembling fingers, I carefully took hold of the top one and rolled it out in front of me.
The words Essence of Logic were scrawled across the top in slanted and rushed penmanship. Different ingredients were listed down the side along with their portion sizes, each individual chemical crossed out numerous times only to be replaced by something else. Arrows were drawn in different places, switching the order in which each chemical goes and little side notes that read things like, Wait until potion sparks orange twenty-three (crossed out), twenty-four (crossed out), twenty-five times, then immediately move on to step seventeen.
It was without a doubt the most complicated potion I had ever come across. Only an expertly skilled and powerful potion master would be able to finish this successfully. Essence of Logic. I wondered what the effects of the potion were as I neatly rolled the parchment and placed it just exactly where it had been previously on top of the pile.
I next ventured to the desk drawers, and there, on the very top of the top drawer, was the latest copy of the Daily Prophet. Jackpot, I smirked as I grabbed it and sat back in the swivel chair, throwing my feet on top of the desk and crossing them as I began to thumb through the Prophet.
Last night, Friday, thirty-three Muggles were killed at a Muggle concert in London. Although this is the largest killing to date and a record for those working for the Cause, complications arose when five of the captured Muggles escaped.
“They saw what happened and it’s been all over their news,” Antonin Dolohov, the leader of the operation, told reporters this morning.
The five Muggles in question have described the scene they witnessed as “outrageous,” with people “dressed in heavy cloaks” and “carrying sticks that shot out green jets of light” which resulted in the murder of their fellow concert goers.
The Ministry of Magic is asking for help from the Wizarding community to help track down these five witnesses and exterminate them as soon as possible.
I shuddered and moved on to the next story, afraid of what horrors would contaminate my eyes next. The next headline caught my attention immediately.
Lucius Malfoy, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, announced yesterday that his students are close to reaching a major breakthrough in the creation of spells, as they have crafted a spell which if performed correctly, can wipe out every Muggle in a one mile vicinity with the pronunciation of one simple word.
Although the word is currently under strict protection, Malfoy advises us that once the “finishing touches” are put on the spell, it will be made immediately available and ready for use.
Be sure to check back with the Daily Prophet regularly for news concerning this mystery spell’s progression.
I couldn’t read anymore. It was all too much to handle. A spell to kill every single Muggle a mile around you? And this spell was being created here, at Hogwarts? By students?
I folded the Prophet and stuffed it back into Snape’s top drawer, and then swung my legs off of the table and walked on tip toe to the door. Get out, I told myself, Get out and pretend you were never here.
And so I left Snape’s office. I was going to go outside with Filch and the rest of the bird watchers – where I was supposed to be. But right now, all I really wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep. Lie down and not wake up until everything was back to normal, and I was back in 1995 where I had regular classes and learned basic magic skills. Back to 1995 where I played Quidditch, and Granger and I still hated each other, and Dumbledore was alive to shove down my throat that Muggles were no better or worse than Wizards. Back to 1995, where my identification did not rest on a number.
And then I came to the realization that has been under my nose all along – Draco Malfoy does not exist anymore. There is no such person as Draco Malfoy, or Hermione Granger, or Luna Lovegood, or Harry Potter. The professors had raped us of any sense of individuality we once possessed. We were numbers. Simply an endless sea of numbers, so that one day when we all die it won’t matter because it’s not like we ever had names. We were just numbers. Numbers can easily be replaced.
My mind wrapped around this information as I slowly ambled down the halls and corridors, trying to digest everything. I felt like I had so much streaming through my mind, I didn’t know where to put it all. I realized that over the past however many weeks or months it had been that I had been here, I’d been subconsciously creating mental categories in my mind, filing little snippets and pieces of information away. And now suddenly, all of the filing cabinets had burst open only to leave me with a mess of scattered information that I didn’t know what to do with.
I needed to talk to someone organized. Someone smart.
I needed to talk to Hermione.
“Hey! You there!”
“Get over here, boy. Why ain’t you outside?”
Just keep walking, just keep walking … maybe he’ll think I didn’t hear him …
“Quit ignoring me, boy. Now get over here so I can get your number and take you to the Headmaster.”
He didn’t know who I was. I could get away, and he’d never know my identity. Taking my chance, I ran, sprinting down the corridor and turning corner after corner in order to confuse him.
“I said get back here, you little shit!” the man shouted after me, his boots thumping hard on the ground and matching my pace. Thud, thud, thud …
And then I was in the entrance hall, running left of the main staircase and down a long dimly lit labyrinth of corridors. I don’t know why I chose to go this way. It was probably just what seemed to be the most natural to me. I’d ventured these corridors more times than I could ever count in all my years at Hogwarts, being that I’d lived down there.
I could still hear the man behind me. I stole a glance over my shoulder. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him grunting with bated breath, “I know you’re down here, kid! Come out! Come out, damn it, or else when I do find you, you’re heading straight for the Western Tower!”
The locks on the dungeon door still had not been restored. I wrenched the door opened and slammed it behind me, leaning on it for support while I caught my breath. A few moments later, I heard his heavy boot steps thud, thud, thudding across the floor and I flew down the flight of stairs and through the common room, making my way toward the dormitories where I could hopefully hide in a closet or something. Then, I figured, in about ten or fifteen minutes, I would make my way back to the Average student’s common room with the Carrows, slip inside, and no one would ever know I was gone. That man would have no way of knowing it was me … he hadn’t seen my face, and the halls were too dark to make out anything other than a human figure running away.
Following the all too familiar path to the boy’s dorms, I jerked the door opened and hauled myself inside. And then, I froze.
My hand was still latched onto the door’s handle, and at the sight before, me, I was tempted to open the door again and run far, far away. But it was too spectacular. Extremely eerie, but there was something about the blue hue to the room that made my fingers slip one by one from the cool handle and my feet move forward.
The blue lights illuminating inside the room were so blindingly brilliant I had to squint the closer I came to their source. They were coming from the side of the wall – from something hiding behind a big black curtain. But the light was so strong; it was as though it was slicing straight through the inky black hangings, piercing it like bright blue sun rays.
It hurt my eyes to stare directly at it, and yet I was held completely mesmerized, captivated by the sheer brilliance of it. Before I knew it, I was standing directly in front of the hangings, unsure of how I’d even gotten there because I hadn’t remembered moving my feet at all. And yet there the big black curtain was, and there I was, standing close enough to it to reach my arm out and touch it.
And so I did, because the light was so unbearably strong and the warmth permeating to me from behind it was beckoning me to come closer with an unrelenting magnetic force. Wrapping my right hand tightly around the heated fabric, I yanked it across the metal bar it was attached to like a shower curtain. And then I stumbled over backward as the light that had just hit my eyes was so strong I felt momentarily blinded. I turned the other way and rubbed my eyes, clearing them, and then swiveled back around to see what was giving off the light, squinting at it as I did so.
It took me a few moments to realize I was staring into the pudgy buck-toothed face of Neville Longbottom. He was trapped inside of a large glass container, filled to the brim with water, and surrounded by that violent blue light.
My breath caught in my throat as I stepped back some more, blinking my eyes once, twice, three times. Was I really seeing what I thought I was seeing? This was impossible! He was completely engulfed in water … he would have been dead. And this can’t be Longbottom, I thought, I just saw Longbottom at lunch, walking outside with Filch to go bird watching.
I put my hand to my head, feeling suddenly faint, and with my other hand grabbed onto the corner of a table I was leaning against. “What the bloody hell is going on here?” I asked aloud, unable to pull my squinted eyes away from the sight before me. The Longbottom inside of the tank looked completely lifeless. His facial expression was blank, his eyes closed. He – it – clearly was not alive.
And then a screen at the top of Longbottom’s tank caught my eye. A long blue bar ran across the black screen, almost running the entire length across.
And then I realized in a haunting revelation that the black curtain was still covering the entire length of the wall. Gulping, I took hold of the thin fabric and began to walk in a straight line, wondering whose faces would be revealed next.
There was that Asian girl I snogged back in fourth year when she was going out with that Hufflepuff Diggory – that boy that died in the Tri Wizard Tournament. She wore the same vacant expression as Longbottom had, and so did the girl after her whose name I did not know. The next few students must have been younger, because I didn’t recognize any of them. And then I saw those twins – the Patil’s. And after them came the face of Colin Creevey, looking very lost and useless without his camera he always insisted on hauling around with him.
I continued walking down the long line of students stuck in their own individual tanks until one face made me stop dead in my tracks. Hermione. Her bushy hair flailed messily around her face in the water. The bar at the top of her screen was a bit more than half way to the end.
I held my breath, knowing whose face I was going to see next. But I didn’t want to. I considered simply leaving right then and there. If I went back to the common room and pretended I’d never seen any of this – yeah, right. I sighed. If I didn’t move on to the next tank, I would spend the rest of my natural life wondering …
The material of the curtain felt thin and full of static electricity in my hand. Grasping it just a little tighter, I walked on, pulling the curtain with me.
My heart skipped about five beats in succession as I realized that my worst fear had been confirmed – I was staring at myself.
It truly was a perfect match of myself. This, this thing, possessed my nose, slender and thin, and my very own pointed and narrowly sculpted chin, followed by an elegant and elongated neck. I held up my right hand and compared it with the skin of the boy trapped inside the tank of water. We even possessed the same shade of pale porcelain-like skin. It could have been my own identical twin.
This was too much. I couldn’t stay in there for a moment longer. I suddenly felt sick, and when I remembered to breathe, I felt my stomach turn over. And so I ran. I ran out of the room with the blinding blue lights and fellow students trapped in tanks. I ran out of the common room and bolted up the stairs, tripping on my way up. I didn’t stop until I reached what used to be the Gryffindor common room, where I decided I would not make it up the stairs to the dorms and collapsed directly on top of the couch and fell straight to sleep.
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