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Night Terrors by Karaley Dargen

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I’m running down the stairs inside the castle. I don’t know where I’m running to or why; I only know I have to run. The stairs are longer than I remember, or maybe I’m in a part of the castle I’m not familiar with. It’s hard to tell when everything keeps moving around. I’m running faster than I thought possible. Portraits are rushing past me on the walls, everything a blur of pink and gold and purple, and yet the stairs won’t end. Desperate to find out where I am, I try to stop, but my feet won’t listen. I stumble and almost fall down this endless flight of stairs, but manage to hold on to the bark of a large, old tree at the last moment.

Steadying myself, I walk on, and soon I’ve broken into a run again, zig-zagging to dodge the trees. The forest is dark and silent. I can’t even hear my own breath, or heartbeat, or the leaves and twigs crunching under my feet. I can feel them though. And I am still breathing. And I’m still running. I wonder if I’m in the Forbidden Forest; it is known for being silent.

Then a scream pierces the air, my ears, the most primal depths within my guts. It sounds like iron nails on a chalkboard, but I know it comes from something far worse. Some creature out for blood.

I’m still running. I don’t even know if I’m running from or towards the creature. The sound was echoing all around me, impossible to locate, and now it’s gone.

Suddenly, a clearing opens up in front of me. With the darkness of the forest gone, things still aren’t dipped in golden sunlight. Everything is muted in greys, mist swirling around my ankles as my running steps fall on the toneless grass and the forest behind me disappears. I throw a quick glance over my shoulder to see where I came from, to remember a way back, but thick fog has risen all around the clearing. When I turn back around, I can see a withering tree, the oldest and largest tree I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure I’ve seen it before.

And then I realise what’s going on. I’m dreaming. The moment that thought crosses my mind, I stop running.

Instantly, I remember where I know the tree from, and now that I’m not awake, I remember it far more clearly. I’ve been in this place before, only I can never quite hold on to the images when I’ve woken up. And then, a feeling like something has gripped my insides and is squeezing tight starts spreading. If that tree is here, that means he is here as well. And of course, as soon as I’ve thought that thought, he appears. He is tall, with torn clothing and dark, matted hair, but I can’t see his face. I can never see his face. If I took just a couple of steps and walked around him, I’d be able to see who he is. Heck, I could even ask him for help. So far I’ve never managed to take a step towards him in my dreams. But didn’t Turpin say that the potion made your dreams lucid - that you could make your own decisions in them? I have stopped running, after all. Focussing as much as I can, I try to lift my foot, and suddenly I can feel something running from the top of my head over my back, and I know I can go anywhere I want. I actually am in control of what I’m doing.

Before I can get too scared about it, I cross the clearing so that I can look at the man. The mist is rising higher and thicker now. I can barely make out the stranger’s face at all. But then he is no stranger, I know that. I’ve seen him in the papers, almost ten years ago, his wand an extension of his limp arm on his right side, as it is now. But his eyes aren’t filled with hopelessness and defeat. There’s something burning in them, something that I didn’t even know I remembered. It takes me back to a memory that has been buried deep, from when I was barely walking, and sometimes in the summer, a cousin of my mother’s came over to babysit. He brought his friends sometimes. I remember laughing.

And then he smiles at me. It’s a crooked smile, not a deeply happy one, not one without pain, but it makes me trust him. Maybe I shouldn’t -- Sirius Black is in Azkaban. But he’s also in my dream.

–I’m looking for my friends,” I say. –Have you seen them?”

He raises his head in my direction and nods. Around us, the fog keeps growing thicker, and I know it won’t be long before it has swallowed everything up.

–Please, I have to know -- are they in this … world?” I urge. –They’re my friends, and I think they’re in danger.”

Suddenly, he looks alert, and starts walking in one direction, motioning me to follow him. I only make it a couple of steps before I hear a voice. I know it is not his - it sounds more distant and alien. –Everything is in this world,” it says. Then the white fog around me is too thick to even see my own hands, and Sirius is gone.

I know I have to make my own way now, so, trying my best to beat the fog away from in front of my face, I walk in what I think was the direction Sirius had pointed out. I have no idea how far I’ve walked, or if I’ve even crossed any distance at all, but gradually, the fog clears away. Now that I can see again, I can see that I am all alone, and that I have no idea which way I’m actually going. There’s no time to be wasted though. I have no idea what’s going on and what might be happening to the people in the hospital wing. I feel like they are here in this world, somehow, but where exactly, or what’s keeping them here, I don’t know. Another thing I don’t know is how this potion works, and how time passes in this dream. What if I wake up before I can find them? Or what if I don’t wake up at all?

Before I can spend any more time on that thought, I force myself to focus on the immediate situation at hand. I haven’t come here to worry; I’ve come to save those three students, or at least find out what’s going on. Taking a look around, I notice that my surroundings haven’t changed much. I’ve crossed the clearing, and the trees on this side of it don’t stand as close together or tower as tall as the ones behind me did. Here, I can smell the wet earth and moss and see the occasional bug crawl over a tree stump. Most importantly, the silence is broken; leaves rustle and somewhere in the distance, I can hear a woodpecker. This is much more like home to me.  

I move on swiftly. Finding a way through the trees and undergrowth is much easier now that sunlight breaks through the branches and gives everything a warm glow. Still, I’ve only found one way -- I have no idea if it’s the right one. For now, though, I don’t dare call out to anyone. The shriek I heard shortly after I arrived here is still echoing in my ears, and I don’t want anything that might live here to find me. Who knows what might be lurking.

The time it takes for me to get to the edge of the forest passes quickly, and I soon find myself crossing over a patch of grass to the reeds growing at the bank of the large lake in front of me. I suppose it is a version of the Black Lake at Hogwarts -- it looks familiar enough, anyway. Actually, now that I’m getting closer and looking properly, I can spot the small cliff where Charlie and I used to pretend to study at the end of last year. He pushed me into the water more than once, but I always got my revenge. A smile creeps on my face, and, my mission momentarily forgotten, I change direction to make my way towards it. It’s only a really small detour after all, and since I don’t know where I’m going anyway, I might as well go this way.

The ground beneath my feet is growing increasingly slippery. I have to hold on to the reeds several times to keep myself from falling on the wet sand, but I can’t move away from the lake either. When I try to walk towards the grass to my left, the water seems to expand, to follow me. I’m getting quite annoyed, as I’m not really making any progress at all, but wasting all my time on trying not to fall flat on my face. A cloud seems to have moved in front of the sun as well. Where everything was dipped in warm light before, my surroundings are now once more slightly less saturated. The lake isn’t blue or green, but a dull colour, and no lights dance on the waves either. The grass is almost as dull, and I can’t even see the sky anymore. Mist is rising from the forest again.

Whatever this means, it can’t be good. Holding on to one handful of reeds after the next, I make my slow way forward. At least I won’t be doing nothing. With each step, my feet sink into the sand a bit further than before, and I keep slipping on wet, washed up algae. It takes me so long that by the time I’ve reached the cliff, I almost can’t believe I’ve actually made it. Before the sand can suck me up entirely, I climb onto the rock, sharp edges cutting my hands and knees as I scramble upwards.

Finally, I can stand on solid ground again. From up here, I have a good view of my surroundings, and I take a moment to get my bearings. The forest is barely visible now behind the fog, which is slowly creeping towards the lake. I know I have to get moving again soon; I don’t want to get swallowed up in it again. The lake seems to stretch on forever, reeds rising like long, thin fingers from the ground, swaying in a breeze that I cannot feel. From within the water, tentacles rise. They are so black that I can barely make out any details, and seem much harsher than the Giant Squid’s at Hogwarts. Even if they are still far away, curling up and stretching out again like something that has only just woken, I take a few steps away from the water and turn around. Behind the cliff I’m standing on lies an unfamiliar path that twists through a rocky landscape, dry grass growing in bundles between the stones. It’s the only way that seems open to me, with the fog drifting in from the forest and the slippery shore behind me, not to mention whatever might be coming for me from within the lake.

I hop onto the path and start following it, but I only make it up to the first bend before I notice a gleam not too far away. It’s closer to the lake than I’d like to be, and off the path, but it looks metallic, and slightly alien to this strange place, and I have nothing else to go on. Stumbling over the large stones, I move towards the light, which seems to be reflected off something.

When the scene comes into view, I don’t believe my eyes. Sitting between two large trees growing from the sea of stones is a row of gleaming metal cages. Through the violet flashes of light that move between the bars of the three occupied ones, I can see Morgan, Alexandra, and Ed. And unlike their bodies in the hospital wing, they are very much alert in here.

I almost twist my ankle running over the rocks. When I skid to a halt in front of them, spraying stones in all directions, Ed’s face lights up. Careful not to touch the bars, I get as close to him as I can while Alexandra next to him scrambles up from the floor of her cage.

–Tonks!” he exclaims, then throws a look at the others. –See, I told you someone would come find us.”

–Just her? What’s she gonna do about it?” Morgan, who has stood up in excitement at my arrival, slumps down on the floor of his cage again.

–You haven’t brought anyone else along, have you?” Ed asks, biting the side of his mouth. –Never mind. We’ll work something out.” He just smiles at me, and I wish so badly I had a plan.

–Yeah, she’s not in one of these cages,” Alexandra says. –So that’s an improvement. Stop sulking, Morgan, and help figure something out!”

–What’s going on here?” I cast a glance around. –How did you end up in there?”

–Well, you’ve guessed what this place is,  right?” Ed asks. –How did you get here?”

–I took a potion.” All three of them stared at me blankly. –Didn’t you?” I ask. In my mind, I’m already running over everything again. Andy’s potions -- clearly they have something to do with this, or else I wouldn’t have found them here. But if none of them are aware of having taken anything, how can it be connected?

–No, we just fell asleep, and each of us thought we were just having a strange dream, but we realised after a while...”

–We’re trapped,” Alexandra interrupts him.

–What keeps you from waking up?”

–Must be a spell on these cages,” Morgan, who is still crouching on the floor, supplies. –If we can’t get out of these, we can’t get back to... I don’t know. The waking world.”

–And we can’t really do anything in here, either,” Alexandra says. –Do you have any idea how frustrating that is? I don’t even know how long I’ve been here for. You know that you’re dreaming, and still can’t move or act as you want, or at least wake up.”

–How are you doing it?” Ed asks, leaning forward. –Walking around, I mean. Finding us. Are you doing it consciously?”

–I … took a potion,” I say again. –But if you didn’t take anything, and you’re not in here voluntarily... what happened?”

–You don’t know? I--” Ed starts, but suddenly he shuts his mouth and takes a step back, his shoulders squared and his jaw set.

–They’re here because I want them to be,” someone says behind me. –Hello, Tonks. I wish I could say it’s nice to see you, but...” Suddenly, there’s a sound like a paper being torn in two, and Martha stands in front of me. –Now that you’re here, I really don’t think I can let you leave.”

–Martha,” I breathe. –What have you done?”