The nightmares continued to terrify Ellie from the moment her eyes shut at night until the moment they opened again. There were dark circles beneath her eyes that she began to cover with makeup and she was constantly yawning. It was only thanks to coffee and a potion Lily was nice enough to make for her that she was able to function at all. Trying to hide it from everyone was no longer an option. It was obvious that she was slowly becoming ill from exhaustion.
And Ben was not happy about it.
Ellie could have cursed him when he had thrown her over his shoulder and carried her up to the seventh year boy’s room. She could have beaten him when he lay her down on his bed and she could have killed him when he crawled in beside her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked in as angry a voice as she could muster.
“Making sure you get some sleep tonight,” he answered.
“Liar,” Mike Albertson, a lanky boy with a large nose, said. “You’re just hoping for some action Gibbons.”
“Go polish your wand. Merlin knows no one else will do it for you,” Ben said, rolling his eyes. He drew the blankets up to their chins as he lay on his back. Ellie, after a moment’s consideration, rested her head on his shoulder and curled up next to him. “You ok with this?”
“As long as you don’t try anything mister,” she said.
“Like I would with a room full of boys,” he answered.
Ellie was silent as she nestled closer to him. The warmth from his body combined with the blankets was making her sleepier than she already was. “You do know that I thrash around in my sleep right?” she asked as she shut her eyes.
“And you know that I tend to scream?”
"And that I kind of punched Lily the other night when she woke me up?"
“I know that too,” he said. “Lily informed me right before threatening to castrate me if anything happens to you. I’m not exactly sure what could happen to you here though.”
“She’s just worried you’ll try something inappropriate,” Ellie said sleepily. “I am a virgin after all.”
Ben laughed and said something, but Ellie was nearly asleep and couldn’t hear him.
What she could hear was breaking glass and yelling.
“Do you trust me?” she heard herself ask.
After a moment, she heard Quinn’s tiny voice warble, “Yes.”
“Then trust that I know what I’m doing and don’t ask questions.”
The fireplace in her father’s office swam into view. Green flames were shooting up the chimney and Ellie felt a shiver of fear race down her spine as she heard the doorknob rattling behind her.“What about you? You’re coming too right?”
“Yes,” Ellie lied. She had done it to keep them safe, but would he ever forgive her for lying to him?
Spells were flying all around her now. She shrieked as a window appeared in front of her, showing her mother’s lifeless body in the garden. She desperately clawed at it, trying to make it disappear, but no matter what she did it remained there. Her shrieks became louder and more hysterical as her mother faded away and the bodies of her father and brother appeared, both drenched in blood. It wasn't until Isabella's tiny body appeared in the window that Ellie lost it completely. She shrieked, screamed, and lashed out in a dreadful fury. She leapt towards the window, but found her feet were stuck to the ground. No matter where she looked, the glassy eyes of the infant were there. She couldn't escape them.
And suddenly, Isabella was no longer alone. She was wrapped securely in the arms of a woman with dark hair. The woman's face was covered by a shroud and there was blood on her white dress. "Wake up," she heard the shrouded woman say.
Ellie struggled to get away as the window drew closer to her. The woman reached an arm out towards her and Ellie instantly drew back with repulsion as she saw the decayed state the arm was in. "Wake up," the shrouded woman said again, this time in a deeper voice.
"No," Ellie whimpered. The window stopped moving at her words and Ellie felt a moment of relief before the woman's hand moved towards her shroud. "No! No!" Ellie shrieked. "I don't want to see!"
"Wake up," the woman repeated as she began to draw the shroud up.
Ellie’s eyes snapped open, the woman's words still ringing in her ears. For a moment, she could have sworn that she saw the shrouded woman standing at the foot of the bed staring at her. The shroud had been lifted and she could see her face. Ellie shivered and looked away. When she finally found the courage to look back again, the woman was gone. She turned to Ben and asked, “You ok?” The rest of the room was silent beside the occasional snore.
“You scratched me a bit, but otherwise I’m fine,” Ben whispered.
Ellie sighed. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I didn’t scream did I?”
“Not that I heard,” he said. “Was it another nightmare?” Ellie merely nodded. Ben wrapped his arms around her more tightly and planted a kiss on her forehead. “It’s not real Ells,” he whispered. “They can’t hurt you.”
“I know,” she said hesitantly. “They feel so real though.”
“They aren’t real,” he said firmly. “You’ve been through something extremely traumatic. It’s no surprise that you’re having nightmares.”
“I guess,” she said softly. Awake and snuggled next to him, the dream seemed a bit silly to her. How could she possibly have thought that it was real when she was safe with Ben? Still, a tiny thought in the back of her head was telling her otherwise, suggesting that the shrouded woman was more real than she could imagine. She ignored it and curled up closer to him.
“It’s only two,” he said. “Try to go back to sleep.”
“What if the nightmares come back?” she asked, feeling very much as if she were a scared five year-old.
“I’ll wake you up,” he promised. “Don’t worry about them now. Just try to relax.”
He kissed her forehead again and stroked her hair as Ellie shut her eyes. . .
When Wallace had smiled widely and told the members of the Dueling Club that they’d be doing something a bit different that night, Ellie had thought it’d be something like watching him duel Flitwick. That assumption was immediately discarded the moment that she stepped foot in the Great Hall and looked around. The house tables were gone and in their place were huge walls.
“What’s going on?” Lily asked. “Professor, what is that?”
“It’s a maze Ms. Evans,” Wallace said. He had dyed his hair purple to match his robes for the day.
“What are we supposed to do? Find the cheese in the center?”
Ellie felt her spine stiffen as she recognized the voice. Of course Blake would be at dueling club. He had been a member longer than she had. Still, the thought of being so close to him made her start to panic.
“In a way Mr. Monticello,” Wallace said. Ellie forced herself to take a few deep breaths and focus on what he was saying. “When I worked for an Irish wizarding newspaper, we were routinely asked to go through with certain exercises. You are about to perform one of them tonight.”
He stroked his long beard and spun his wand between his fingers. “Tonight’s exercise is one that will pit three of you against the rest. It is an exercise designed to test your problem-solving abilities, creativity, and ability to cope under pressure.
“Three of you will be led into the maze and left there. You will need to find your way back out using only the things I give you. The rest of the class, however, will be disguised and patrolling through the maze with every intention of keeping that from happening.
“There are a few rules of course; first, the use of the Unforgivable Curses is strictly forbidden. I doubt any of you could perform them correctly, but still. Second, you are not to maim, kill, or otherwise torture any of the students you come across in the maze. And third,” he paused and looked at them seriously, “always remember who your real enemy is. No one here will be aiming to kill, but that is not the case in the outside world right now. Do your best to avoid getting hit here and it may just pay off out there.
“Now, I need three volunteers,” Wallace said as he clasped his hands together. “Anyone?”
“I’m sure Ellie and Ben would love to go into the maze,” Sirius said with a smirk. “Give them some alone time together.” A few of the other students chuckled quietly as Ellie rolled her eyes.
“And I’m sure that you would love to join them Mr. Black,” Wallace said pleasantly. Sirius’ smirk turned into a frown. “If I could have the three of you turn over your wands?”
“Why?” Ben asked. “Won’t we need them?”
“Yes,” Wallace said. “When Aurors capture a Death Eater or dark wizard, the first thing they do is confiscate their wand. I’d assume the Death Eaters would do the same for anyone they capture. To make this more realistic, you’ll need to try and get your wands back.”
Ellie exchanged a look with Ben, shrugged, and reluctantly handed over her wand. The two boys did the same as they grumbled angrily. “Thank you,” Wallace said, a moment before he waved his wand and covered their heads without warning. Ellie shrieked, the two boys made similar sounds of outrage, and their hands were bound.
“No need to worry,” Wallace said jovially. He was enjoying this far too much. “We’re just making sure you won’t be able to see which way we’re going.”
“Isn’t it fun?”
“Yeah, loads,” she heard Ben say from her left.
The trip through the maze took a relatively short amount of time, yet by the time Ellie had been seated and the bag removed, she was sufficiently bored. “Remember,” Wallace said as he tied their hands to the back of their chairs, “the object of this exercise is to teach you how to escape from captivity without using magic. Once you’re out of this room, you’ll have other things to worry about.”
“Mind giving us a clue?” Ellie asked.
“Not really,” he replied with a grin.”Good luck.” He closed the door and locked it from the outside.
Ellie knew she was in trouble. Not the type of trouble that would get you grounded for a few days. No, she was in huge, major, catastrophic trouble. The type of trouble that could end with her getting hurt or worse. But there was nothing she could do about it now. All she could do was straighten up, put on a brave face, and hope for the best.
"Brilliant idea Black," Ben was muttering besides her. "If they gave out awards for completely stupid ideas, you would win."
"How was I supposed to know what we were in for?" he snapped back.
"Well maybe you should have asked first before volunteering us!"
"Will you both shut up?" Ellie snapped. "You're not helping, either of you. We need to figure out what to do."
"Well why don't we ask boy genius?" Ben asked angrily. "He's full of ideas today."
"One more word and -"
"And what? You'll volunteer us for something that will actually get us killed?"
"I swear to God," Ellie hissed. "If the two of you don't shut up, this moment, I'll kill you both myself."
The pair fell silent, still glowering at one another. Ellie leaned her head back, resting it against the cold concrete wall as her mind began to race. The longer they were here, the more likely it was that someone would find them. Whether that was a good thing or not remained to be seen.
But there was little that they could do to change their situation if they remained tied up much longer. Ellie looked around the room, her eyes passing over the walls and tables. There had to be something in here that they could use, anything that could help them escape or, at the very least, unbind their hands. "Ben?"
"Do you see anything sharp?" she asked. "Anything with an edge?"
There was silence for a moment as she held her breath. "Yeah."
"Can you reach it?"
"I think so."
She waited quietly, listening with growing impatience as Ben huffed and squirmed. After a few moments, she heard something clatter to the floor and a triumphant Ben exclaim," I've got it!"
"Good," she breathed. "Cut the rope with it."
Several minutes past as she waited, anxiety growing by the second. Soon enough, though, she felt Ben’s hands on her wrists as he cut the ropes around them. Finally, her hands were free. "Thanks," she said, rubbing her wrists as he moved on to Sirius. She stumbled to her feet and looked around the room again. Directly across from her was the door, the sole exit in the entire room. No windows, no other doors. If they wanted to get out, it would have to be through that door.
"Any ideas?" Sirius asked as he got to his feet.
"Not yet," Ellie replied. "At least we aren't completely helpless now."
“Why the hell would Wallace think this was a good idea?” Ben muttered.
“Because he’s half mad?” Sirius asked as he examined the door. “Or maybe he just likes to torture students. I get the feeling he and Filch would get along well.”
“Can we focus on the present situation please?” Ellie asked, a bit frustrated.
“What situation?” Ben asked as he rolled his eyes. “We’re stuck in this room with no way out and nothing to defend ourselves even if we could.”
“Look,” Ellie said as calmly as she could. “Just because we don’t have our wands, doesn’t mean we’re defenseless.” When the pair gave her identical looks of confusion, she sighed and pointed to one of the tables. “I know we’re all purebloods, but please try to stay with me. What do you see here?”
“Lock picks,” Sirius said immediately. “A knife, a mirror, something that looks like a snitch-”
“Nothing here is really of any use except for the knife and lock picks Ells,” Ben cut in angrily.
“To the average wizard they may look useless,” Ellie explained, “but to anyone who has taken Muggle Studies, anything on this table could be useful. Wallace is testing us, not only on our magical skills but on common sense and knowledge of the muggle world as well. If we want to win this game, we need to outsmart the others and use these things to get our wands back.” She took a deep breath and reminded herself to remain calm. Getting angry would only make things worse. “Sirius, would you mind picking the lock on the door? You’re quicker at it than I am and Ben can’t use them.”
“Fine,” he said, snatching the picks from the table and marching over to the door. As he worked, Ellie and Ben went over the remaining items on the table, picking and choosing which ones might be useful. By the time Sirius had the door unlocked, they were ready.
“So what’s the plan?” Sirius asked, looking at Ellie.
“Why’re you looking at me?” she asked.
“You’re the only one of us that’s been in an attack before.”
“Yeah and a lot of good it did me,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“You survived didn’t you?” Sirius asked. Ellie chose to ignore him. “Fine, we’ll just do what I usually do with James and the boys when we pull a prank. One of us will take point and the other two will follow on the flanks.”
“What?” Ben asked as Ellie blinked her eyes.
“We’re going to go in triangle formation,” Sirius said, rolling his eyes. “Since you two haven’t done it before, I’ll take point. Make sure you keep an eye out on all sides and be ready for anything.”
“Take this,” Ellie said, shoving the mirror into his hands. She refused to look into it as she did so. “Use it to look around corners.”
“They’ll probably be camouflaged in some way.”
“Do it anyway,” she said with a shrug. “Just in case.”
Sirius rolled his eyes, but did as she asked. “Alright, stay close and try not to make too much noise,” he whispered. Seconds later, the door was open and they were hurrying through the maze. Ellie’s eyes were constantly moving as they went, constantly on guard for any odd noises nearby. The only times they stopped moving at all was when they came to a corner and Sirius looked around it using the mirror.
“How are we going to find our wands?” Ben muttered to her at one of these stops.
“No clue,” she whispered back. “We don’t stand a chance without them though.”
“Quiet,” Sirius ordered. The pair made faces behind his back, but did as he said. After a moment, Sirius sighed and turned back to them. “So far, it’s been fairly simple to get through the maze,” he said in a hushed tone. “I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I,” Ellie agreed. “We haven’t had any choice in which way to go so far. Wallace is leading us somewhere.”
“Probably towards our wands,” Ben added.
“Probably,” Sirius conceded. “You can bet that they’ll be guarded, so the question is how we get them.”
“Distraction?” Ellie asked.
“This,” Ben said as he raised the snitch-like object into view. “It looks like we can throw it or something.”
“We’ll be lucky if they don’t see it,” Ellie pointed out.
“It’s the only idea I have.”
“It’s better than nothing,” Sirius said. “Keep thinking and we’ll decide once we see what we’re up against.”
The three set out once more, moving quickly through the maze. As they jogged, Ellie’s sense of dread began to rise. Whatever lay ahead was bound to be difficult, Wallace would have made sure of that. Just as she was about to silent curse Wallace and all his family, Sirius held up his right hand, motioning for them to halt. The three flattened against the wall closest to the corner and Sirius crept forward. He lay down on the ground and held the mirror out around the corner. After a moment or two, he army crawled backwards and stood beside them.
“Our wands are ahead,” he whispered. “I could see two guards, but there are probably more hidden around here somewhere.”
“Plan?” Ben asked as Ellie shifted from one foot to another.
Sirius exhaled. “I think our best bet is to go for the distraction. You still got that thing?”
“Yeah,” Ben said as he pulled out the ball and handed it to him.
“Alright, I’m going to toss this thing in the opposite direction. When I give the signal, we head down the hall in a line as quickly as we can and we grab the wands. As soon as we have the wands, we set up a perimeter and get ready to cast defensive spells. Got it?”
“Yeah,” Ben said as Ellie nodded.
Sirius nodded, turned, and hurried back to the corner once more. He paused a few feet in front of it, pulled his arm back, and threw the ball. It flew through the air, over a couple of walls, and landed with a loud bouncing noise. Sirius motioned to Ben and Ellie, and the three of them took off running around the corner as silently as they could. Ellie could see the podium where the wands were being held, but no one standing guard. They must have run off after the ball. She had a brief moment of triumph, before she reached the podium and grabbed her wand.
The second it was in her hand, she felt better. However, she had no time to revel in the new feeling of security. She spun around with her wand held in front of her, covering Sirius and Ben as they grabbed their wands and did the same. As soon as Ben had his wand, the guards came sprinting around the corner once more.
“Protego!” she shouted, casting a shield in front of them.
The spells the guards cast bounced off her shield and ricocheted back into the maze. One of them struck one of the guards, sending them crashing to the ground. A quick stupefy from Sirius took care of the other.
“We need to move,” Ellie said instantly. “There’ll be other hostiles here any second.”
“Point me,” Ben said as he held his wand out. The wand spun in a circle, before coming to a stop and pointing to his right. “North is that way,” he said, pointing in that direction.
“So what does that mean?” Sirius asked.
“It means we need to try and go that way,” he said, pointing at his left diagonal, “as soon as possible to find the exit.”
“Let’s go then,” Sirius said. They sprinted off into the maze and Ellie was slightly relieved and slightly horrified to find that it was more maze like now, with many halls branching off from theirs and several forks. With help from Ben, they managed to make their way through the maze with little trouble. Normally, this would have bothered Ellie, but she was too busy running.
In fact, she didn’t think of anything else until she felt a spell slam into her side and send her flying into the wall. She hit it hard and fell face down onto the floor with a groan. Within moments, Ben was by her side and helping her up. A second spell barreled towards them and Ellie tackled him to the ground as it hit the wall above them.
“Protego!” Sirius shouted, casting the shield in front of them. The pair stumbled to their feet and turned towards the attackers. Four of them stood there, their wands drawn and spells firing. They dodged out of the way as more spells flew towards them, before they returned fire.
“Expelliarmus!” Ben shouted, disarming one of the attackers. One of the others returned the favor in the form of vines that shot towards them and attempted to wrap around their legs. Ellie and Sirius leapt out of the way, but Ben was too slow. His legs were wrapped and he was being dragged towards them before any of them knew it. Sirius waved his wand in the air, slashing the vines from his legs as Ellie cast protective spells around him.
Without warning, someone collided painfully into Ellie’s side. She fell to the ground with the person on top of her. Neither Ben nor Sirius noticed, as they were busy engaging the three other attackers. She struggled against the person, attempting to free her wand hand from their grasp. She finally managed to smash the person’s face against the wall, giving her a few seconds to leap to her feet and move out of reach.
But not before she ripped off the mask and found herself staring into Blake’s eyes.
Ellie stumbled away from him, her breaths coming in panicked gasps as she felt for the wall behind her. Blake rose to his feet, his vengeful gaze fixed on her as drops of blood slid down his nose. He raised his wand and aimed at her. There was a bright flash and a loud noise as the spell rocketed past Ellie. She felt someone push her back against the wall and she slid to the ground breathing heavily. She could see the green flames; feel the heat they gave off against her back. She could feel the blood pooling around her frigid body, could see the sickly way in which it glowed in the green light. She could taste the frosty air upon her lips. She could see the masks –
Someone was grabbing her hand. She shrieked and pulled away, scrambling across the floor. Her back hit something, probably the desk, and she fought back the urge to vomit as she caught sight of her wound once more. She felt light headed and not at all prepared to fight for her life.
“We have to move now!”
Someone was lifting her. She cried out in terror, but could barely move her arm to fend them off. “What’s wrong with her?”
“I don’t know. Just keep moving!”
Jolting pain shot through her side. Blood was dripping onto the ground beneath her. Her long hair, matted with blood and sweat, swayed back and forth with the movement. Her pale hands were limp. Ellie felt as if all the life in her body was draining away slowly. She could barely keep her eyes open.
“Hey! Hey! We need help!”
She could see the pantry. She could see hear her mother’s voice as she battled with the Death Eaters. She could see the frightened look on her own face reflected in the kitchen window as a spell went rocketing past.
“What spell hit her?”
“I don’t know!”
She could see the fireplace. She could see Quinn’s face, crumpled in fear as he stepped into the green flames. She could see the small bundle in his arms and the tiny face looking up at her. She could see Isabella open her big blue eyes and look at her, before they both disappeared into the Floo system.
It was a man’s voice, so like her father’s. He and her mother had always insisted on calling her Eleanor, despite the many times she had proclaimed her utter and complete hate of the name. She had never thought to ask why that was, why the name was so important to them. Now she would never know.
This voice was familiar too, but it didn’t fit the surroundings. Her thoughts were slow and running all together, making it difficult to remember any one thing. Eventually, she managed to place the name as Lily’s. But that made no sense. Lily had never been to her house. Why would she be hearing Lily’s voice when she was lying on the floor of her father’s study?
“Professor, is she alright?”
She blinked. The green flames flickered in and out of sight. Slowly her breathing became normal and her pulse stopped racing. She could barely make out shadows hovering over her and a starry sky above them all. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her own face appeared from within the green flames. It was so still, so serene, and so beautiful in death; almost as if she had died with the wind upon her face.
Her eyes snapped open once more and the vision died. She could see now that the faces belonged to Professor Wallace and the rest of the dueling club. The starry sky was nothing more than the enchanted-ceiling in the Great Hall. She was nowhere near her home, nowhere near the danger and the death she had barely escaped. She was safe.
“Ms. Swift?” Professor Wallace asked. “Are you alright?”
“I think so,” she answered back, surprised at the weakness in her voice. “What happened?”
“We aren’t sure,” Ben answered. His face was covered in sweat and his cheek was bleeding, but he looked fine otherwise. “We had just run into a group of hostiles in the maze. I don’t know what happened, but you fell to the ground screaming.”
“Was she hit by a spell?” a rather concerned Remus asked.
“She doesn’t have any marks,” Wallace said as he gently turned her face. “Do you feel any pain at all?”
“No,” she whispered, licking her lips. They felt like sandpaper against her tongue. “I think I’m fine.”
“Right,” he said as he leaned back. “Well, I still want you to go and see Madam Pomfrey. She’d be able to tell whether you were hit with a spell or not. Since you need to see her anyways, would you mind helping her Mr. Gibbons?” A minute later, Ellie was on her feet and, with help from Ben, was on her way to the Infirmary.
“Are you alright?” she asked as soon as they were out of the Great Hall.
“I’ll be fine,” he said. She noted that he was limping slightly, but chose not to mention it. Even if she had wanted to, she wouldn’t have had time. The moment Madam Pomfrey got the story about what had happened out of them, she started ranting at the top of her lungs. It was a relief when they were allowed to leave.
They stumbled back to the common room and, before Ellie could say goodnight, Ben had lifted her into his arms and raced up the stairs to the boy’s room once again. “Am I ever going to be allowed to sleep in my own bed again?” she asked grumpily.
“Maybe,” he answered with a shrug. He opened the door to the room, nodded hello to the other guys, and deposited her onto his bed. She sighed and curled up beneath the covers, not bothering to on the pajamas Ben threw to her. “Don’t act like you don’t like sleeping over,” he said with a grin.
In spite of herself, a grin crossed her face. “You are trouble with a capital ‘T’ mister,” she said.
“But of course,” he answered. She turned her face away modestly as he changed into his pajamas, not looking at him until he had crawled into bed beside her. “Don’t know why you’re so embarrassed,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her. “It’s not like you haven’t seen me without a shirt before.”
“I’m protecting my modesty,” she said with a blush. At his pointed look she added, “Well, what little I have.”
“That’s better,” he said as he shifted a bit. He sighed peacefully and Ellie felt him place his nose close to her hair so he could breathe in the scent as he slept.
“You’ll wake me if I have nightmares, right?” she asked anxiously.
“Of course,” he answered. “Just relax and try to get a little sleep sweetie.”
“Ok,” she replied. After a moment she rolled over, planted a kiss on his nose, and said, “I love you honey.”
Ben grinned sleepily back at her and said, “I love you too. . .”
A/N: Only two chapters left until the end of the story! Woohoo! I'd throw confetti, but I don't have any.
Look for Chapter 22 next weekend. I'm picking a day now for the appearance of Chapter 23, so I'll let you know when that chapter will be posted when I post 22. Hope you all enjoyed this chapter. Thanks for reading!
- Anders -
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