Chapter 3 -- The Hobgoblin in the Hallway
The two girls coasted to a stop before an ancient black door at the end of a side corridor and bobbed in the air, looking around for a moment. The hallway was silent and only a small ever-lasting candle guttered in the high wall sconce. It didn't provide much light, but then, one did not usually need much light at this particular spot in the castle. "Look for Mrs. Norris, Ginger, we don't want Filch coming by and asking what we are doing here." Angus Filch's skinny old cat seemed to have a sense about students being where they shouldn't be, but after scanning for the caretaker's pet the girls once again addressed the door and Hermione tapped it with her wand, muttering a charm that Ginny didn't know. The portal trembled and its bolt drew back with a shudder, and then it slowly swung inward, revealing a dark stairwell leading down into the blackness. A large spider scuttled to the side where its web now hung in tatters, stopping to glare at them just before it crept into a crevice in the wall. Above the crevice a second ever-lasting candle sputtered into life inside the stairwell.
Ginny looked into the darkness of the stairs and back at Hermione, who was holding onto the door to keep from floating away, and then down into the blackness again. "Have you been down there before?" She asked with only a trace of a quaiver.
"Yes, once with Ron and once with Gracie and Gradie, the twins. There are lots of rooms down there, but most of them are empty." Hermione took Ginny's hand and pushed off into the spiraling stairwell. The descent took much longer than Ginny had imagined even though they were practically flying down the steps!
"Where are we?" Whispered Ginny when they finally stopped on a cold stone landing.
"I think this is the bedrock for the Castle," replied Hermione, "but there may be chambers and dungeons even deeper according to a legend told in the book, Hogwarts: In the Beginning. The book says the school was built atop the ruins of a ceremonial ring from the days of the druids, but also hints that the druid ring covered a labrynth of caves used by an ancient group of shamans before that."
Although the cellar they were in was large, it had a low ceiling which they bumped occasionally as they floated across the floor toward the sound of running water. Ever-lasting candles winked on as they made their way, casting odd shadows as the girls, still holding hands, swooped and dived across the expanse. An open arched portico was before them and they touched down at a wide porch with an ornate balustrade to stare at an enormous pool of water that stretched away into the darkness below them.
"This is as far as I have come," said Hermione, "there's several chambers over there to the left, and a locked door that I cannot open." Her voice had no echo as it floated out across the pool of water in front of them and they could not see the farther wall, providing them with the eerie sensation that the pool had no end. The low ceiling dripped condensation on them as they stood there, making the occasional draft seem cold. A bit to the right a short waterfall cascaded into the pool from a dark opening above them, roiling the water below and causing undulating torrents to ripple across the surface. Just beyond the splashing water there was a ledge in the far wall which went out of sight behind the curtain of water and emerged again from the other side. There was no apparent way to it.
"The book I was reading said these waters provided the druids with a healing balm when it was mixed with certain herbs and minerals, but that the children of a mini-hydra thrive in the depths and must give their permission before any water can be taken for that purpose." Hermione peered into the water below them and continued, "I don't know if they still live down there or not."
"Did the book say which herbs and minerals were used?" inquired Ginny with a quisitive look.
"No, but it referenced another book that I couldn't find in the library. I'm sorry, Ginny, I know how you like the healing arts."
"What was the name of the other book?"
"Oh, I think it was, Powerful but Perfidious Poultices, but there was a footnote in the index that said the last copy of the book was believed destroyed in the fire at Hagglethorpe's Shoppe of Rare Books. You know, that little place that was near the end of Diagon Alley." Hermione continued, "I tried to find it in our library, but it wasn't listed. I'm sure you would have found it fascinating." Ginny looked disappointed as Hermione shrugged.
They moved away from the balustrade overlooking the vast cistern toward the anteroom to the left, beyond which were a series of hallways and chambers. The first room was both small and completely empty and they gave it only a cursory glance; the second room was stacked with wooden boxes, scrawled with labels such as, broken dishes and dirty socks. Many of the containers smelled bad. One box had been dragged from the others and its contents strewn on the floor, displaying an assortment of old hats. Ginny picked one and plopped it on her head, grinning at Hermione as they levitated again and made there way out and down the corridor.
They came to an iron portcullis which barred the way into one of the cross hallways at the end of which they could see a single, massive oak door with a small and diaphanous lock attached to it. The door was old and partially splintered and had huge gouge marks near the middle, but still looked very sturdy. The lock, however, was hazy and nearly transparent: fragile in appearance with a rose-colored aura around it. Hermione said, "I can open the portcullis, but that lock won't respond to any of the charms I know. I'm quite curious about it."
The heavy grating rose at the same speed as her wand and they ducked underneath when it was part way up. When they reached the door, Ginny was surprised to find that she could pass her hand through the lock as though it were not there. Yet, when they pulled on the door, the lock held it in place. As they pondered the siutation they were startled to see that the dark green slime on the walls and ceiling had started to ooze toward them. Hermione felt something plop onto her shoulder and then slide down her sides, tightening as it went. Very quickly the slime was paralyzing her, wrapping itself around her as more and more dropped from overhead, covering her shoulders and trapping her arms at her sides; it had almost reached her waist when she heard Ginny scream and realized she could not move her wand hand. The slime was constricting her breathing now, and no words came forth as she tried to mouth a protective charm. She toppled to the floor, unable to move a single muscle in the grip of the organic iron maiden.
Ginny fell through the archway into the main corridor, the slime having fallen onto her shoes and pulling her down to the floor. Sitting up, she reached into a pocket and quickly raised her hand toward Hermione, blowing on her palm she sent a cloud of silver dust into the air which settled on the slime and both girls. The slime hardened, cracked and fell away leaving them free but shaken. "What was that?" Hermione croaked. "And what is that powder you blew on us?"
There was a scurrying noise followed by a crash in the room behind them.
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