Death. It’s one of those unfortunate things that you never see coming. Of course, it’s expected to happen but the moment it does, it catches us off-guard. Leaving us blundering around like fools trying to find out what exactly happened.
At first one may think how tragic it is for a person to die, for whatever reason. Maybe death is just a way for us to pass on to another place...a better place - like the old saying, as one door opens, the other one closes but what of those it has left behind in the carnage? How will they ever come to terms with something they so desperately try to avoid?
It is for these reasons that I am now standing here surrounded by hundreds of stones, all meticulously arranged in straight lines, decorated with decaying flowers and wreaths. Just to finally come to terms with something that happened so long ago and so fast.
I awoke to frantic whispering and tears. Frowning, I ripped open my curtains to see what the problem was but the sight that greeted me was not the one I expected. Older students were bustling around the room, trying to wake everyone, hauling them out of bed and yelling orders.
“What’s going on?” I rubbed my eyes and set my feet on the cold, stone floor.
“Just hurry up and put on your cloak,” hissed an older girl, whom I recognised as Astoria Greengrass, one of my brother’s friends, “now!”
Startled by her harsh tone, I quickly shrugged on my travelling cloak and took my wand from my bedside table.
“But we’re in pyjamas, what about proper clothes?” asked one of my roommates, Sarah.
By the look on her face, I really wished I’d woken up to Sarah’s giggling instead and later I’d wish that I hadn’t gotten out of bed at all.
For some reason, I thought all of this commotion was some sort of sick joke and seeing as how things were lately, it wouldn’t surprise me. The teachers at Hogwarts were absolutely horrid, especially the new ones - The Carrows. I remember when I saw them use the Cruciatus Curse on a student earlier today, a Hufflepuff in my year, and he didn’t do anything wrong. It’s no wonder the other houses hate us. As a young girl, I always considered it an honour to be in Slytherin and from how my brother went on about it and the school, there was no doubt that I shouldn’t be here. Now, I wish I were at home, away from here and away from the people. This was not the Hogwarts I was promised.
“Hurry up!” I started as someone yelled from behind me but it was almost impossible to do that without tripping and causing everyone else to fall over as a result. The corridor to the stairs was bursting with students trying to get downstairs into the Common Room.
“I can’t, they’re moving too slowly in front of me.” I answered back.
The crowd on the stairwell swayed uneasily as the people behind me began to push. I braced myself for the fall as I heard the gasps from those around me but it did not come. Instead, there was another force pushing backwards, awkwardly steadying us and to my relief, the spaces between my fellow house mates and I got wider and wider until the crowd was dispersing.
“Hurry along now!” came a sharp voice from below me, squinting, I realised that the sharp voice belonged to my brother.
“Lex!” I shouted, standing on tip-toe so he would see me.
I saw his eyes narrow at the sound of my voice and he turned his head around wildly so I called out to him again. As he saw me, his face loosened from its taut countenance but his green eyes, identical to mine, were filled with worry mingled with something else I couldn’t think of at that moment.
“Oh thank Merlin, I was on my way up to get you,” he sighed as he reached me, “Do you have your wand?”
I nodded taking out the wand to show him while taking in his appearance. His dirty blond hair was tousled, looking as though he ran his hands through it too many times. His face had become thinner than usual; I had never really paid attention to it until now. I just assumed it was because of his OWLS this year but I’ve never known him to have gotten like this over work. Despite all of this, it was his eyes that bothered me the most. His now dark irises were carried around in discoloured bags.
“What’s going on, Alexander?” I asked, probably for the thousandth time that night but this time I was sure to get an answer.
We had started our descent down into the Common Room with him holding my hand tightly, pulling me close to his side.
He paused, “It’s really begun, Steph,” he looked me straight in the eye and as much as I wanted to look away, I couldn’t, not then.
“What do you mean ‘it’s begun’?” I was slightly confused, I knew things had begun when the Death Eaters took control over the Ministry and here at Hogwarts but what did this have to do with now?
“He’s here,” his voice dropped to a bare whisper, “he’s just called out for Harry Potter to meet him in the forest.”
I didn’t have to ask who he was but I could not believe that he was really here and at that time, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant for us. I glanced up at my brother who had his hands on my shoulders; I hadn’t realised I was shaking until then.
“Come on,” he said quietly, “we all have to meet Slughorn downstairs.”
It wasn’t unusual to see Professor Slughorn so shaken up but he was now set into a state of panic which wasn’t exactly helping the situation, certainly not mine. I grasped my brother’s hand tightly and glanced around the Common Room. Even though most of us were pure-blooded, that thought wasn’t comforting; these were the times in which you had watch what you said because you did not know who was listening, you were in the house of snakes after all.
“It is time for us to decide where our loyalties lie,” croaked Slughorn from the centre of the room, glancing warily around at all of us.
I noticed his eyes twitch painfully at his statement, he knew some of us had already chosen, we all knew.
“Professor McGonagall has already said that now is the time for you to chose,” he continued, “you are either with them or against them and they’re prepared to fight all who are against them.”
His words echoed loudly in my ears, it was clear which side most of us had chosen as we stood resolute, the fear now fading away and fierce determination taking its place.
“If they’re going to fight to the death then so will we!” shouted one of the older students I did not recognise while others murmured in agreement, “we’ll show them that we’re not the bloody cowards that they think we are!”
I winced painfully as I heard the others reply, they may be fighting to the death but I sure as hell wasn’t.
“Wait,” yelled a female voice, “what about the little ones?”
Opening my eyes, I saw Astoria Greengrass standing on top of a table at the back of the room. Everyone turned to face her; some filled with confusion others with annoyance.
“What about them?” someone asked her.
“We have to get them out of here,” her voice was strained and she looked frazzled, which wasn’t surprising.
“Astoria, please,” hissed her sister Daphne who stood hovering by the table, trying to get her down.
“No Daphne,” she pushed her away and looked desperately into the crowd, hoping to find someone that would be on her side.
“She’s right,” my brother answered finally, “At least let there be some of us left.”
“The Gryffindors have their first years fighting, why can’t we have ours?”
“Because we aren’t the Gryffindors,” came an unsteady drawl from next to me, tilting my head, I saw Draco Malfoy gazing cautiously about the room, “we are Slytherins, and we think things through before kicking down doors with our guns blazing. We are cunning, that’s why we were put here and don’t you dare forget that.”
“Singing a different tune now, aren’t we Malfoy,”
“Stephanie,” I started at the whisper from below me, looking for its source, I found my brother at my feet.
“You are getting out of here,”
“Wha- I am?” I asked excitedly, “how?”
Placing a finger to my lips, he quickly pulled me to the bottom of the stairs where a small group of my peers had gathered with some of the prefects.
“Now listen to me,” Alexander gently shifted my head so that I would look into his eyes, “I want you to go with Astoria and Daphne-
“Just listen!” he hissed, “they will take you safely out of the castle and into Hogsmeade where you will find a Floo and go home.”
“What about you?” I stammered.
“I’ll be right behind you, don’t worry,” he promised.
“I don’t want us to be separated,” I pleaded, gripping a fistful of his robes in my small fists, “what if I never see you again,”
He shook his head, “Don’t talk like that, kiddo, you will see me sooner than you think, now go.”
He gingerly propelled me into Astoria’s direction where she tightly gripped my shoulders. My brother stood staring at me for a moment before he disappeared into the crowd. I bit back the tears as I lost sight of him, I couldn’t break down yet.
“Come on, Stephanie,” murmured Astoria soothingly as she released my shoulders and held my hand instead, “Back upstairs, quickly.”
I followed her lead as my classmates and I rushed up the stairs with some of the other prefects behind us, casting weary looks at those left in the Common Room.
“Where are we going?” whispered a first year boy whom I did not recognise, “why can’t we fight with the others?”
“Self-preservation is key,” muttered one of the older students darkly, “as selfish as it sounds.”
I realised at that point that the older student never answered the first part of the boy’s question which scared me even more but as we reached our destination, my fright turned to confusion.
“Why are we in the girls’ bathroom?” asked the boy again while Daphne and a seventh year boy cautiously locked the door behind them.
I looked around at those in the room, there were about fifteen of us, ten first years and five older students, some prefects, some not. Thankfully, the older students were no strangers to me, all of them knew my brother. Stepping aside, I saw Astoria and Daphne pointing their wands at the sink furthest away from me, their mouths moving quickly. It was then that I finally realised where we were going. The others watched in wonder as the sink began to move away from the wall, leaving a hole in its place; a hole which was big enough for a human to crawl through. We were going through one of Salazar Slytherin’s many secret passages under the school. My brother told me about this on the train ride to Hogwarts in September; Slytherin included it in the construction of the school without any of the founders knowing. My brother discovered it by accident but what he was doing in the girls’ bathroom would remain a mystery even though I could take an educated guess.
“Is this the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets?” piped Sarah curiously.
“No,” answered one of the older students wryly, “That’s in the other girls’ bathroom.”
One of the older boys, who I came to know as Blaise Zabini, wriggled his way through the hole first then a few minutes later, beckoned us to follow. I glanced at through the dark space wearily as a damp, old smell wafted up from it and into my already flared nostrils.
“Careful now,” whispered Astoria from beneath me, shining the lit tip of her wand in my face as I stood in the path preparing to jump down, “it’s a long way down.”
I snorted beside myself, with my short legs it would be even longer but I landed without much difficulty onto the dusty, cold stone floor.
“Alright now, wands out,” muttered Blaise, his eyes flitting about us then to Daphne, “and try to keep quiet, we want to get out of here without running into trouble.”
We assembled hastily into pairs, with Blaise and Daphne in the front, Astoria and the other three prefects in the back while we first years were in the centre. As we walked, I took the opportunity to look around since there was no doubt that I’d ever be doing this again. The walls were covered with dust and cobwebs, the occasional spider creeping eerily along the ground.
Every few feet we walked, we were met by a dimly lit torch along the wall, making the use of our wands rather redundant for that purpose but we kept them out anyway. It seemed that the further we walked the colder the air became. I found myself looking up to the ceiling wondering if we were still under the lake and what was going on above that we had to be shielded from.
As I got older, I considered whether it might have been better to be deprived in such an experience instead of having my innocence ripped away too soon. The Gryffindors called it cowardice but I embraced Blaise Zabini’s mentality and called it self preservation.
A slight scraping across the floor ahead caused us to slow down a bit as one of the prefects vacated his spot at the back to join Blaise in investigating its source. With their wands at the ready, they inched forwards into the dark and a few minutes later, returned to us with shrugs.
“It was only a rat,” they said.
We continued on our way without further incident. Slytherin had included a myriad of windings and tunnels, some of which led to nowhere, when he built the Common Room and dormitories for his selected students. It was always a surprise to me that the other Founders and certainly all those who weren’t in Slytherin were oblivious to these things; these catacombs weren’t even mentioned in Hogwarts: A History. It was too bad that this was an escape attempt; otherwise it would’ve made a very interesting school tour.
My exhaustion never really registered with me until we began our ascent; my legs were just about ready to give out beneath me that I had to hold onto my partner. If I hadn’t asked, I would not have known that we had indeed been walking for several miles; Hogwarts and its grounds were vast. I was relieved when the air around me didn’t smell so stale and damp; in fact, it was earthy, if it could be called that. We soon came to stop at a small steel grate above our heads. With the other male prefect’s help, Blaise pushed it open and peeped out. I could hear the faint shouts and screaming from up at the school which made my hair stand on end.
The older ones carefully climbed up then pulled us out after them. Shaking the dirt from out clothes, we took the chance to look around.
“Where are we exactly?” I whispered to Astoria who had suddenly appeared next to me, rubbing the smudge of dirt from her face.
“Behind Madam Puddifoot’s in Hogsmeade,” she answered before looking away to start a head count.
“There’s no moon out tonight,” commented Sarah from behind me, “or stars.”
I followed her gaze upwards into the night sky which looked as void and empty as the tunnel we just came out of. It was so strange to me that there were no lights out and darkness reigned supreme. I always looked up to see stars which made me feel that there was still some hope out there in times like these. What also scared me was when Sarah pointed out that there were no lights in Hogsmeade either; for a moment it looked as though Darkness had won. Shuddering, I looked away just as Daphne began to speak.
“The Three Broomsticks is right over there,” she pointed to the ominous looking structure across the street, “we’ll go there to use the Floo so that you can go home.”
The prospect of getting away from this place relieved me but only for a little while, someone was missing, frowning I looked around me then to Astoria.
“Where’s my brother?” I asked her, almost pouting.
“I don’t know, Steph,” she sounded distracted as she and the others hustled us across the road.
“But he said he’d be here,” I said softly, turning to look towards Hogwarts where fires were burning brightly, the only things illuminating the grounds.
I don’t know how long I’d stood there looking but everyone had gone ahead of me into the pub. I glanced down the road again where Alex was then to the pub door where I was guaranteed warmth and safety inside. The others did not notice that I wasn’t with them so I took this little oversight as a sign as I turned and ran back down the road; back to Hogwarts, back into the arms of the danger I’d just escaped because it was where my brother was and I refused to leave him behind.