Chapter 2 : Footsteps and Death Traps
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“Harry-“ Cho said weakly.
He had neared the end of the rope, and used the stone wall of the castle turret to slowly inch his way towards the balcony. His hands were starting to sweat on the silk ties, making it more difficult to hold on. His foot slipped, and suddenly he was wildly careening backwards through the air, fortunately still suspended, but now swinging like an absurd pendulum. Cho screamed.
“Shh- you don’t want anyone to notice!” Ernie rebuked her, while Harry’s heart rate accelerated. It had only been his foot, he was still holding onto the rope, he was okay. “Imagine how much worse detention would be for Harry if he were discovered swinging from the side of the castle.”
“Imagine how much worse detention would be for us if he were to break is stupid neck from falling. We would be blamed.” Harry heard Malfoy sneer above him. He was now attempting to swing himself towards the balcony- back and forth, a little closer each time.
Finally his foot made contact with the railing of the balcony, allowing him to push off and swing farther. The next return swing, he hooked his legs over the railing, and hopped on to the balcony, sweating profusely. Now that he had done it, he couldn’t believe it. He waved up to the four heads poking out of the window above him. Luna had already put one leg up on the window sill, but Harry put his hands up.
“Wait, let me make sure we can get in from here-“ He turned the knob of the balcony door, and relief flooded him as it opened easily. “Okay, Luna, I’ll help you over the railing.”
“Wait-“ This time Malfoy stopped her. “Why doesn’t Potter just go around, and let us out from the inside?”
Cho and Ernie looked like this would be a better plan, but Luna shook her head. “I’ll bet Filch is guarding the door.” The faces of Cho and Ernie fell, knowing that this would most likely be true, due to the character of Filch. Luna clambered up and lowered herself as Harry had done. She nimbly descended the rope, and immediately began to swing to and fro. Unlike Harry, who knew he had looked terrified throughout the climb, Luna’s face was shining with exhilaration.
Luna managed to hook her legs over the railing, then slid down the rope to safety with Harry’s aid. The rope fluttered back below the window, while Cho, Malfoy, and Ernie looked from each other to the rope.
“Anyone else?” Harry asked.
“Come on! It will be such fun!” Luna called up. The three above looked quite dubious.
“Ladies first.” Malfoy said, indicating the rope to Cho. “If you’re going…”
Cho’s eyes were very wide, but after a moment, she nodded. Ernie and Malfoy helped her to the windowsill, and she timidly began to exit the window. Once on the rope, Harry felt that she would be fine, but Cho did the one thing that everyone always says never to do in a potentially life-threatening situation at high altitudes: Cho looked down.
She did not scream, which would have been bad, drawing attention towards her dangling body, but she looked quite pale.
“Oh, she looks like she’s about to faint.” Luna commented politely, and Harry could see that it was true.
“Cho, you’re fine, you can do this.” He said urgently, knowing that if she passed out she would plummet to her death. “Cho, just hold on tight and use your feet to come closer.”
Malfoy and Ernie watched helplessly as Cho clung to the rope, now very white.
“Cho, just come to me- we’ll pull you over.” Harry repeated, beckoning towards her. Cho nodded feebly, and began to use her feet.
Slowly she inched towards Harry and Luna’s outstretched hands, but she looked worse and worse as time went on.
“You’re almost here, you can do it, Cho.” Harry coaxed, extending his arm as far as he could. She was nearer, but still to high up on the rope to reach the balcony. “Now just climb down a bit farther, a bit farther-“
Cho’s eyes were fluttering, and Harry’s stomach dropped when he saw how slack her grip had become.
“Potter-“ Malfoy began to say something in a worried tone, but Harry whipped his wand out.
“Accio Cho!” He cried.
She fell, but diagonally, and landed right where she had been summoned, into Harry’s arms safely on the balcony. He bent his knees to absorb her weight and maintain his balance. Then he slumped to the stone floor, nearly passing out himself.
Ernie let out a whoop, and Harry closed his eyes, trying to erase the panic that had seized him moments before. Luna did the only sensible thing, and blew cool air on Cho’s pale and sweaty face with her wand. Cho was limp with shock, and then the realization that she had not plummeted to her death broke over her. She began to sob as she clung tightly to Harry, getting his shoulder all wet.
“You’re fine, you’re okay.” He reassured her, feeling thoroughly awkward comforting her and feeling as if he had been transplanted in time and she was merely crying about Cedric right before their first kiss. “Calm down.”
While Harry and Luna helped Cho to her feet (she still looked rather shaky, and Harry felt rather shaky himself), Malfoy had begun to climb down on the ties. He swung to and fro, his face tightly furrowed in concentration, coming closer then retreating from the balcony. Soon he, too, had hooked his legs over the balcony, and slid over, ignoring Luna’s outstretched helping hand. Only Ernie remained detention-bound, gazing down at them.
“Are you coming?” Harry called up. Ernie looked uncertainly at the rope.
“He’s too worried about getting caught.” Malfoy sniggered. The comment seemed to trigger something in Ernie, for suddenly he set his jaw, and put one foot up on the windowsill. Luna applauded.
Ernie made his descent cautiously but progressively- soon he was swinging, and finally Harry helped him over the hurdle of the railing and onto the safety of the balcony. Without a pause, Malfoy opened the windowed door and stepped inside. The other four filed in behind him.
“Where exactly are we?” Cho wondered aloud what everyone else seemed to be pondering in silence.
“Well, we were locked on the 12th floor of North Tower, so now we’re on the 11th floor.” Ernie said. This was not very useful, as none of them had ever found a reason to be on this floor of the tower before. They room they were in was much the same as the detention room above and around the tower- a sparsely furnished, sparingly used classroom of sorts. This time, they were not locked in, and the heavy wooden door opened without a hitch. The five faces peered out of the narrow opening Harry had made, onto the deserted landing.
“So we’ll just scurry on down the staircase, roam free for a few hours, avoid teachers, then-“ Malfoy stopped his planning suddenly, and glanced back toward the window through which they had entered. Harry, Cho, and Ernie turned to look at the window, too, wondering what had caused him to stop. Luna, however, turned to look at him.
“Are you wondering how we’re going to get back?” She inquired brightly. Malfoy’s grey eyes passed from the window to Luna, and he looked on the verge of a smug retort when he instead gave a half-hearted eye roll and nodded.
Ernie, Cho, and Malfoy all turned to Harry, as if expecting him to have the answer. Their quick glance at his face told them all they had dreaded: he had not the faintest idea how they would manage to return to the locked room.
“Once again, Potter, you’ve overestimated your qualifications to be the leader as well as your abilities as a schemer.” Malfoy began cuttingly, but Harry interjected.
“Hey- no one made you come!” Harry exclaimed defensively. “You were the one belly-aching about spending 12 hours in detention!”
“Well, we could try to climb back up the ties.” Ernie suggested without any real conviction. “Or bring some sort of ladder with us when we come back that we could attach to the window.”
The others considered this possibility- it would beat the vertical hand-over-hand struggle of lifting their body weights to the window on the ties.
“Where do you suggest we get a ladder?” Cho asked Ernie.
“I don’t know- I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ladder around Hogwarts.” Ernie admitted, and Harry racked his brain, trying to recall the last time he saw a ladder at school.
“That’s because there is usually no need for ladders.” Malfoy stated in what he tried to pass off as a bored tone, but really just sounded annoyed. “With magical levitation, summoning charms, and all the other spells, who needs a ladder?”
“Okay, then what spell do you recommend for levitating us back up to that window?” Cho turned to Malfoy. “Last time I checked, Wingardium Leviosa was not recommended for human levitation because of unreliable levitation heights and duration of the elevation-“
“I know about the fine print of Wingardium Leviosa!” Malfoy snapped, and Ernie gave a frightened shh! to remind them that they were escaped detentionees that did not want to be heard. Both Cho and Malfoy glared at him.
“Well, aren’t there other ways of magical levitation?” Luna asked brightly. “I mean, if we had some Flighty Flippitogies, we could clear this up at once- you just eat the leaves and the next minute, you’re soaring in any direction you want, just like-“
“Well then, you go harvest us some of those during the next twelve hours.” Malfoy snarled. “Better run along, it might take awhile to do so, considering THEY DON’T EXIST!”
A mildly bothered expression crept across Luna’s usually placid features, but before either Malfoy or Luna could continue the discussion, Harry realized the obvious answer and smacked himself on the forehead for not thinking of it sooner.
“What?” Cried Cho in alarm.
“Brooms!” Harry exclaimed triumphantly. Malfoy and Cho gaped at him, astounded that with three quidditch players present, no one had arrived at that conclusion until now. Ernie looked jubilant with the solution, and Luna murmured, “Yes, that could work almost as well as the Flighty Flippitogies…”
“Okay, so we just need to grab some broomsticks before we enjoy the rest of our freedom, and then we’ll fly back up to the room after 12 hours.” Harry said decisively. “Let’s go to the pitch now, while everyone’s still in Hogsmeade.” They set off down the stairs, conscious of the noise of their feet.
“What if Filch checks on us?” Ernie asked after only a few nervous steps down the stairs.
“Surely he will- he loves to gloat at students in detention.” Cho sighed, and Harry knew this was true.
“Nah, he’ll be much too cautious now.” Malfoy said in an assured manner.
“What makes you so certain?” Harry frowned at Malfoy.
“Well, Crabbe and Goyle tried to overpower him last time they had detention and Filch came to gloat. Obviously Filch couldn’t defend himself with magic, even against Crabbe and Goyle’s bungled spells, so he had to let them do their detentions in peace. Snape even told Filch off for gloating- said it was unnecessary.” Malfoy said smugly, as if to impress the others with the sway Snape held over the caretaker.
“Well, that’s one useful thing Snape’s done.” Harry admitted grudgingly. “Probably the only thing, too.” And he resumed cautiously descending North Tower, with the others at his heels.
“Let me guess, Potter- Snape put you in detention.” Malfoy hissed with unrestrained glee.
“You’re brilliant! How’d you figure that out?” Harry exclaimed in mock amazement, not even bothering to turn and look back at Malfoy.
“Just because he’s the only one who isn’t blinded by your unfounded fame-“ Malfoy began, causing Harry to whip around to face him. But before anything else could escalate between the two, everyone froze at the sound of approaching footsteps.
No one moved, no one breathed, as they tried to decipher whether the footsteps were approaching from below (in which case they were trapped- with Filch waiting for them above) or from above (in which case they needed to run for it, as it was most likely Filch deserting his uneventful post). For a brief second of relief, they heard the footsteps above them, then they broke into a panicky, delicate tiptoe down the steps as quickly as they dared. If they encountered anyone on the next ten or so levels of stairs, they would be caught, though the prospect of Filch at their tails kept them moving. Harry just hoped that they could avoid being caught in the middle, and he really could not think who would wander up the tower on a Saturday.
“Is that you, Argus?”
The unmistakable voice of Snape called out from below, causing the escapees to freeze in their tracks. It would be Snape, Harry thought to himself in dismay.
“It’s just me, Severus. I thought I heard footsteps!” Filch called in reply, as the footsteps now approached from both sides. Cho grabbed Harry’s arm, and pointed to the door a few steps below. Ernie shook his head frantically, obviously thinking of the approaching Snape. Harry likewise was not eager to walk in Snape’s direction, but they had no other choice if they did not want to meet Filch and Snape in the middle. Harry nodded, and grabbed Luna’s arm. Ernie and Malfoy followed.
Cho opened the door as little as she could, then slipped in. Luna followed, with Harry practically on top of her in his haste to get out of sight. Ernie clipped him on the heels as he slid in, and Malfoy pulled the door behind him as he entered the dark room. Not two seconds later, they heard Snape’s feet approach and pass the slightly open door, then pause a little past it. The other pair of footsteps, Filch’s heavier and slower gait, soon stopped too. Harry, Luna, Cho, Ernie, and Malfoy flattened themselves against the wall next to the door hinges, and barely dared to breathe.
“Are they still locked up there?” Snape’s oily voice spoke.
“Oh yes- the Headmaster locked them in himself. I heard them try Alohomora, but nothing doing.” Filch cackled. “Still, I won’t take any chances- I’ll stay outside that room until Dumbledore returns to let them out.”
“Did the Headmaster give you any explanation as to why he arranged the detention this way?” Snape asked, rather imperiously. Harry felt satisfied that Snape was not in the know, although he still was not thrilled with Dumbledore’s idea.
“No, but he never tells me any of his reasons. Somehow he’s always got a plan or a hunch that turns out to be correct or works out in a way only he could have anticipated. Maybe he’s got something else up his sleeve.” Filch suggested.
“It would be like him to do that.” Commented Snape, who now sounded irritated, either with Filch’s lack of useful information, or with Dumbledore’s lack of explanation or normalcy in general. Finally the footsteps diverged again, one ascending and the other descending.
“Lumos.” Harry muttered, the better to see their surroundings. The room, unlike the two rooms they had already explored above, did not have a window, nor did it seem to contain any furniture. He held his wand aloft to illuminate the faces of the others. “Well then, shall we get some broomsticks?”
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