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= = =
I began to wonder if maybe Filch really could understand Mrs. Norris. For after Hermione and I had entered the castle from the lake, we saw the mangy little beast patrolling the corridors. And then the next morning at breakfast, Father stood up from his seat with a roll of parchment in his hands. He unrolled it, letting it flow to the ground below him. Picking up a feathered quill from the table, he began.
“Stand and announce your presence when I call your number. Number One.”
Potter’s clone stood up from his seat at the Advanced table and called out in a strong, firm voice, “Present.”
I couldn’t believe it. Father was going to start doing roll calls during meals. I guess that meant there wouldn’t be any more trips to the dungeons or the library for Hermione and I. After what seemed like hours, the student with the number Five hundred and seventy two announced that they were present from the floor with the Average students.
“Good,” said Father as he took his seat at the high table with all the other professors. “Now that that’s settled, let it be noted that each student is required to be here in the Great Hall for each meal, weekends included.”
My jaw dropped. How could he do this? I liked sleeping in on the weekends and missing breakfast.
“Any student who is not present at all three meals of the day will suffer dire consequences. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Headmaster,” said everyone in the Great Hall in perfect unison.
“Furthermore,” said Father, “If any student has any information on the whereabouts of Walden Macnair, it is impertinent that myself or another staff member is informed, as his services are greatly required.”
I’m sure they are, I thought as my activities of the previous night played over in my mind – stuffing Macnair’s lifeless body into my trunk, lugging it down the corridors and through the grass outside, and wading it through the water.
The rest of the day progressed in a painfully familiar manner. Filch’s class, lunch, Filch’s class again, and then … dinner. Except as we marched through the tall oak double doors into the Great Hall, it was clear something was different.
The Advanced student’s table had been folded up and pushed to the side of the Hall, and in its place were at least a hundred white sheeted beds on wheels that reminded me of the beds in the hospital wing. There were soft murmurings among the Average students.
“Do not speak,” Father ordered from his platform, Auntie Bella at his side. Amycus, Alecto, Filch, and Snape were walking from bed to bed, seeming to be setting something up. They wore long white coats. Even Snape, which was somewhat disconcerting after knowing him for years and seeing him in the same black cloak every single day. The brightness of the room caused by the sheer whiteness of it was almost eerie.
“We will not be eating dinner tonight,” said Father. “Instead, a professor will help you to a bed, where you will be put to sleep for a few hours.”
I stole a glance around at the expressions of my fellow Average students. Many of their mouths formed perfect O’s as if they were on the verge of protest, but were too afraid to voice their concerns.
“Do not ask questions,” said Father, reading my mind. “Simply do as you are told and there will not be any problems.”
And then I saw the tables lined up adjacent to each white bed. Alecto was running her fingers lightly over whatever was lying on the table top. And then, she raised an object into the air with stubby fingers, a smirk forming over her lips. My heart sank to my stomach at the sight of the long thin needle she was holding – staring at it as though it were something sacred and holy.
I looked at Hermione. Her face was pale as a ghost. She caught my eye, and I shook my head at her violently. Do not let them, I mouthed to her. She gulped, because she knew just as well as I did that that was a hopeless feat.
And then Snape walked to the front of the line of students. He pointed out the first five. “Follow me.” Wordlessly, the five chosen students followed Snape, Amycus, and Alecto just as instructed. They each lied on the beds in complete silence and obedience as they were given sedatives and dozed off straight to sleep.
Hermione and I were next in line. “What do we do?” she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
Snape was coming toward us. Shit. “I don’t know,” I whispered back, careful not to let my lips move as I spoke.
“You five,” said Snape, and his black beady eyes momentarily locked with mine. “Follow me.”
Hermione and I stood stock still. And then I felt fingers – cold slender fingers – wrapping around mine. I held onto them like a life line. Hermione squeezed my hand. I squeezed back. And then, on an unspoken cue, we both collapsed to the ground.
I don’t know why I pretended to faint. It didn’t seem like I had many other options at the time, and suddenly, Hermione’s words from the previous night rang clear as a bell in my mind: I couldn’t think of an excuse for screaming, so I pretended to faint. It sounded like an ingenious plan to me, and apparently Hermione, who was lying on the floor next to me, was thinking the same thing.
“What happened over there?” drawled Father’s voice from his pedestal.
“They seem to have fainted, Headmaster,” said Snape, nudging my side with his shoe. “Shall I bring them to the hospital wing or put them in one of the beds?”
Fuck. Bad idea, bad idea, bad idea …
“Take them to the hospital wing,” Father ordered, and I had to struggle to suppress my sigh of relief. “If they are sick, we have no use for their blo – just take them away.”
I felt myself being lifted and cradled into someone’s arms and didn’t dare open my eyes as I was carried down the hall. After what seemed like an eternity, I was dropped onto the firm mattress of a bed, and not in a gentle manner, either. I squinted my eyes open ever-so-slightly. Through my blurred vision, I saw Hermione in the bed next to me, lying completely limp over the white sheets. For a moment, I wondered if maybe she really had fainted and I was the only one pretending. And then her finger twitched.
The voices outside in the hall made me immediately snap my eyes shut once more.
“Stay with the sniveling brats while I go back to the Great Hall,” said Snape in such a voice that it would have been impossible to refuse his demand.
“Of course, of course, Severus! That would hardly be a problem at all!”
That voice sounded oddly familiar …
“I’d hate to think of all those students down there with Amycus and Alecto. Neither of those two moronic midgets knows what they’re doing,” said Snape.
“Yes, I do hope Walden returns to us soon.”
White coat. White hair. Gap toothed. Grey eyes. Yes, I knew who this man was now.
“Yes,” said Snape. “Although once my Essence of Logic is finished, we won’t have much need for him, or any of the other professors for that matter, anymore.”
The Essence of Logic. I’d seen the plans for that potion in Snape’s office …
“I’d almost forgotten about that!” shouted the white haired man. “How is that coming along?”
“Exceptionally well,” Snape simply said. “In a few days time, we won’t have to worry about this M word non sense ever again.”
“Good thing, that is,” said the other man. “I reckon you should be getting on.”
“Yes, before those twins kill the students.”
“That would be tragic.”
“Indeed,” said Snape, and then I heard footsteps clicking across the hard wood floor toward the door.
“I’ll take care of everything here,” said the other man.
The door clicked shut, and I knew Snape was gone. I could almost feel the aura of Hermione’s contemplation reach me – could hear the wheels spinning in her mind.
During the next hour, I had my arm put into a socket that squeezed it so tightly I feared it might fall off. Then a long thin glass pipe was stuck under my tongue. But still, I kept my eyes tightly closed. A warm cloth was finally placed over my forehead, which actually felt very relaxing and caused me to fall straight to sleep.
I was walking down to the dungeon. Entering the Slytherin common room, I followed the sounds of the screaming and entered the girl’s dormitory. The students inside of the cage looked half dead. They wore rags and had old dirt caked on their skin. Maggots crawled through their hair, and bloody scratches lined their faces from clawing at themselves in desperation. Some lied on the floor shaking and picking the white bugs from their hair. Others were at the bars, their hands gripped onto the metal as they pulled with all their might and screamed their throats raw.
It was all a sea of nameless bodies and faces. Limbs sprouted from bodies with no identity. Faces were blurred; long shaggy hair hung over their features. But there was one face among the others I could distinctly make out.
The boy wore what looked like an old and torn pillow case over his torso. It looked like it may have been orange at one point, but now it was brown. As brown as the dirty floor he sat on, hugging his knees tightly to his chest as he rocked back and forth murmuring incoherent nonsense out of his thin pale lips. The color was drained from his face, his silver eyes hauntingly vacant as he looked up at me.
“Get out,” he said to me in a cracked and rough voice, irritated from his scratchy throat that was completely raw from his helpless screams. His long blonde hair fell over his eyes, a white bug unlatching itself from a stray lock and crawling onto the slender bridge of his nose.
And I ran out of the dungeon, heeding to the warning from the pale blonde boy – heeding to the warning from myself.
= = =
When I awoke, the room was completely empty, except for Hermione, who lie awake in bed with her eyes fixed on the white speckled ceiling above her. I ruffled the sheets, and her head turned toward me at the noise. “About time you woke up.”
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and stretched my arms above my head. “Did you sleep?”
“No,” she said. “I don’t know how you possibly could, with that man coming in every ten minutes to take your temperature and blood pressure.”
“Take my what?”
“Nevermind.” She shook her head. “Just Muggle medical procedures. So, what are we going to do now?”
And so I told Hermione all about my dream … about how I saw myself among the other students in the cage, broken and dirty. “I told myself to get out.”
“Draco …” she began tentatively, “I understand how that would sort of spook you out … but … it was only a dream. And we can’t leave.”
“Don’t you remember what Luna told us about what happened to Ernie Macmillan when he tried to escape? They caught him and strapped him in the Dream Catcher. All. Night.”
I shuddered and closed my eyes.
After I opened my eyes again she continued, “And besides, we have to help them. Harry and Ron … everyone’s down there. What about Crabbe and Goyle?”
I laughed. “Those two oafs? With brains that thick they deserve –”
Hermione narrowed her eyes at me infinitesimally.
“All right, fine. So we stay. We still have to somehow avoid the inevitable.”
“The inevitable?” she asked.
I sighed in exasperation. “My dream becoming a reality, Granger. We won’t be any good to those people in the dungeon if we’re one of them, will we?”
“We can avoid that,” she said.
“And how’s that?”
She smirked wickedly. Leaning her head over the side of the bed so she was closer to me, she whispered, “We can destroy the clones.”
I put my hands over my face and laughed. “Are you fucking serious?”
Her face dropped. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. What’s so funny about it?”
“Granger,” I said, getting up onto my elbow. “We can’t just … it would be …”
“You see?” she asked, the grin returning to her face. “There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t.”
I dropped my head back to my pillow. “You are insane.”
“You must be rubbing off on me, then.”
I glared at her. “Aren’t you a funny one.”
She ignored my last comment. “So is that our plan then?”
I thought about it. It was the only plan we had, and a plan was better than no plan at all. “It’ll be our … tentative plan. Let’s call it our Plan B.”
“Oh,” she said. “You mean to our non existent Plan A?”
“And getting funnier,” I mumbled, sarcasm oozing from every word. “Look, right now all we need to focus on is pretending to be sick. You heard my father back there; those clones have no use for ‘sick blood’. So as long as they think we’re sick, we’re safe.” And then, putting my plan into action, I leaned over backward and dangled my head upside down over my bed, letting it loll to the side.
“What are you doing?” Hermione asked, looking at me as though I were crazy.
“Making the blood rush to my head so it’ll –”
“Make your temperature increase,” she concluded.
“Exactly.” I grinned, and watched as Hermione followed suit in my ingenious plan. I looked at her from my position upside down and felt my head becoming heavy. “We can’t let them take any more of our blood, Hermione. No matter what we do, that’s our main priority right now.” I thought about mine and Hermione’s clones in the dungeon, and how close they were to becoming complete. “They can’t take a single drop more.”
Because if they did, my murder of Macnair would have been made in vain.
= = =
Faking sick worked for a few days. Whenever that funny looking man wasn’t in the room, Hermione and I spent our time with our heads dangling over our bedsides and drinking steaming hot water from the tap in the bathroom.
“God,” said the white haired man one day after pulling his long thin stick out of my mouth and examining the height of the red liquid inside. “You kids are really burning up. Something must be going around.” Then he stuck the stick in Hermione’s mouth. “I wonder if it’s some type of a new rare form of a disease …”
I grimaced at the way he said that, almost as if he hoped he were right.
“Well, I hope you two get better soon. There’s other work I have to tend to, and Severus keeps reminding me that you’re both desperately needed. Never met a more impatient man in my life than that Severus Snape.”
“Excuse me, sir,” said Hermione, after the stick was removed from her mouth, confirming her raging temperature. “What is it exactly that we’re needed for?”
“All in due time, my dear girl,” said the man in the white coat as he practically skipped out of the room. “All in due time.”
“We can’t do this for much longer,” Hermione told me a few days later. “They’ll get suspicious. We can hack and cough and fake a temperature all we want, but it’s only believable for so long …”
And she was right. For the very next morning, I woke up with a familiar tingling sensation pinching my arm. What the fuck!? my mind screamed. But my mouth was silent, as it would not move. Just like my arms and legs which were securely bound to the posts on the bed. I mumbled incoherent curses at my captors. Amycus stood over me grinning madly, and Alecto wore a similar expression over Hermione, who had silent tears cascading down her cheeks in a wet trail.
“Like playing sick, do you?” Alecto wheezed, squeezing Hermione’s upper arm to make the blood flow quicker. “I can play that game too.” She held the ever filling bag of crimson liquid in front of Hermione’s face. “I can be your doctor.”
A murmured sob escaped past the tight bindings over Hermione’s mouth.
This had to stop. I couldn’t let them do this anymore. The blue bar over my clone’s head was permanently etched into my mind – ingrained into my very skull. How much more of my blood would it need until it came to life? A galleon? A pint? I’d killed a man in order to keep my blood inside of my own body. I would not let his murder be a waste. I wouldn’t.
And then, the needle was yanked from my arm. There was no gentleness in Amycus’ touch, and I winced at the pain, feeling a bruise already forming where the needle had been. He gave my full bag of blood to his twin, who instructed him to “Untie the brats.”
Amycus did as he was told, and what happened after that happened so quickly that if I’d have merely blinked for an instant I would have missed it.
Hermione was like a stick of dynamite with the fuse lit—waiting for the perfect opportunity to explode. And upon being untied, Hermione bound out of her bed, rammed straight through Amycus, and with the deafening roar of a lioness protecting her cubs, catapulted over Alecto. They both tumbled to the floor in a heap, where Hermione proceeded to wrestle the bags from her grip and slash them open with her claw like nails. All the blood – every single last crimson droplet – splattered to the floor and stained Hermione and Alecto’s bodies. A more satisfied grin had never seen Hermione’s blood dripped lips.