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Chapter 1 : A Tower Of Secrets
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Harry laughed. “Well, Malfoy wanted somewhere haunted.” He turned to the already teeth-chattering Slytherin. “What were those exact words? Let me think. Oh yeah. 'Fine, I accept your dare, but it needs to be in a place that's really creepy, otherwise you won't believe me.' Snorting, he tried not to laugh at the expression on his enemy's face. “I give you two hours before you run screaming out of here. We called you a coward because that's what you are, however much you dress it up – and you swore to Merlin you'd prove to us we were wrong. Well, we're here and your first impressions aren't looking promising.”
Malfoy didn't reply, having a tongue war with an invisible lemon.
“Hermione?” Harry called back over his shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“Yes, thank you,” she replied, parchment and quill covering her face. “I'm just taking time to look around. There are some incredible works of Architecture here.” Walking up to a snub-nosed Dragon statue, she dove into her pockets for a pencil. “Sorry, a quick sketch and I'll be with you.”
Ron faced Malfoy, snickering. “How you feeling, git?” (He attempted to make conversation.) “I'm gonna bet even faster then Harry. I reckon you'll get on the Knight Bus in about – ooh, ten minutes?”
“Well then, you are going to be unpleasantly surprised,” Malfoy commented icily, all the same drawing his cloak tighter, “I'm going to last the night. I'll show you I'm not scared, just you watch me. I – I'll prove it.” He flashed a fake smile, before retrieving the keys to the tower from his rucksack. “Whoever lives here has good taste. Serpents are by far the most intelligent of creatures.”
Hermione came up behind them. “That may be,” she replied, “but since when did Serpents aquire horns?” She took the keys from the disgruntled Slytherin, frowning. “Strange, well perhaps it plays some sort of important role to the village, or it could be a possibilty that the Horned Snake could symbolise something? There were no pictures or explanations in the letter the owners sent though. Hmmm. Anyway, we best get inside. It's starting to rain.” Sure enough, a minute later the sleeping grey clouds awoke, shaking droplets free like from the fur of some giant Mastiff.
Harry felt rain trickle down his nose, before chancing a glance at Malfoy. The ever persistant Slytherin was starting to dart looks, shivering and staring again at the Serpent Horned Keys. However, now his opinions differed greatly, as now, only disgust swallowed his features. The tongue tied bully was just about to open his mouth when he got there first – “So, what are the sleeping arrangements?” They walked up to the iron door, Malfoy quailing in his steps.
Ron shrugged. “I don't care where I sleep, so long as it's nowhere near him,” he said, pointing to the falsely complacent boy. “- but whatever, can't we talk about food first? I could eat a whole Hippogriff -”
“Of course,” Hermione burst. “How could I be so stupid? We're staying in 'The Devil Tower.' The keys obviously derive from the the name, but I still don't understand why it's a snake. She tapped her chin, deep in thought. “I shall have to do a bit of research. Surely the owners have some books? Perhaps there's a library.” Hermione looked postively ecstatic at the thought, rapidly snatching the keys off Malfoy and jamming them through the rusty lock. With a 'horror film' creak, the door swung forwards, wind whistling insanely, bouncing off the back walls. Everywhere was black; a vicinty of gloom. “Lumos.” Nothing happened. “Lumos,” she tried again. “That's not possible.” Hermione looked down, as though expecting her wand to have sprouted horns. “Harry, you try.”
He did so, with the same results. “Why isn't it working?”
Behind them, the iron door moaned shut, and a second later, the lock clicked too.
“What the bloody hell was that all about?”
“I don't know,” Hermione's brows furrowed. “This is a magical Tower. I checked. The – owners told me spells would function perfectly here. Maybe, they have a security system, but wouldn't they have informed us if that was the case?”
Malfoy coughed. “I'm not scared, but will someone turn on a light?” His pitch had increased, and he knew it. “It's just – we're not going to be able to get upstairs otherwise.”
Ron nudged Harry in the shoulder – or what he thought was his shoulder.
Ron saw his opportunity, and decided to play. “Did you hear something?” Instantly, he made his breathing shallow. “- cause I did. I think. I think it's getting closer. Oh no, I can see it............” Harry rolled his eyes. Hermione tutted, no fool to his game either. If there was one thing his best friend would never be good at it, it was acting. “Its teeth are at my neck, no, at yours -”
“Run,” Ron cried.
“Ahhhh!” The Slytherin screamed. “Get it away, get it away!”
Ron jumped, and snatched revenge. Without a word, he knocked him to the floor, falling into a torrade of laughter. “Bloody brilliant. You slimy scaredy cat.”
Malfoy brushed himself down, a full sneer showing on his pallid face. “You're going to wish you never did that.”
“See?” Ron replied. “I would be scared, but cowards giving death threats is about as scary as feeding our chickens. Actually, no, that is pretty scary -”
“Alright,” Hermione interjected, “I think we've just had about enough of your joking, Ron.” Her tone was sharp, but he could tell there was a smile attached. “Harry, have you got any candles in your rucksack?”
He shook his head. “I thought our wands would work.”
“Well, don't worry,” she smiled, “I have – I always come with emergency supplies, just in case. Who knows? We might have had our wands wrestled from us on the walk here. Boys – you never think ahead.” They protested. She held up her hand. “No, I don't want to hear it. I just need someone to light the candles for me, while I get them out.”
“Don't if you can't, ok? It's rather a muggle activity. I suppose you haven't lit matches before?”
Ron puffed out his chest. “Are you kidding? Dad goes mental for them, specially after he's eaten trifle.” There was a revolted pause. “Well, you don't want the smell spreading all through the house do you?”
“No,” Hermione said. “I suppose not.”
Harry frowned, thinking that now would as good a time as any to change the subject. “How many candles are there?” He crouched down, all the time checking he wasn't in the way.
She bit her lip. “Twelve, I think.” As Ron lit them, Hermione positioned the marble bases in a row on the ground. After all had been ignited, the witch glanced absentmindedly. “At least we can see the staircase now.” Harry followed her eye line. “It looks like quite a hike, but we'll be fine. We should leave some light down here, incase we have to go back. Harry, could you take two candles up, and-”
“I'll take the others,” Malfoy smirked, knowing that Weasley would love to show Granger how helpful he could be.
“Oh,” Hermione said, surprised by this seemingly generous offer. “Thank you.”
So, the four students advanced up the steps, their shadows scaling the opposite wall. At that moment, none of them knew something was following. At that second, not a soul was aware, but something was following, and that something, up those stairs, and around those corridors, wanted them dead.
The staircase seemed never to end, an on going pattern of spirals, corridors, and rest stops. (A series of benches where Malfoy always insisted he saw ghost heads appear.) After twenty agonising minutes, they stopped for a breather.
“It – can't be – that – much longer,” Hermione panted.
“You're right,” pointed Harry. “We're here.”
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