CHAPTER 3 The trees whisper of a dangerous threat The zither strings create a net To succumb that which enters it’s walls Fate encloses as darkness falls It was not quite late afternoon yet but the towering trees heavily shadowed the area around the main road. The day was peacefully silent, warm and perfectly delightful. Riding Ember was one of Hermione’s favourite leisure pastimes and always took her mind off worries or problems, such as those of Viktor’s adamant affections toward her, that no matter what she did it was impossible to brush him off. He could make her furious at times! But due to her pleasant nature, she resisted the temptation to be rude and deliberate in his presence. That was probably why he was yet to comprehend her feelings and messages. Any other person would have obviously taken her hints, but not Viktor. He was as ignorant as a blind, deaf and dumb mule. No doubt that was the reason he stuck with Quidditch, he couldn’t do anything else with the exam marks he had managed to score himself. One thing Hermione needed in a man was sophistication and intelligence. A man like Viktor was far too arrogant, sleazy and spent most of his time at a pub drinking till he passed out. He was a man who seemed to always have air headed girls following his every move, but she dismissed that as being due to his famous position in the wizarding world. Hermione shook her head impatiently, forcing the unwelcome thoughts from her mind. Bringing her attention back to the present events, it suddenly struck her that this place was not entirely familiar to her. Although it looked uncannily similar to the road she normally traversed, it had certain elements that gave it away as being divergent. For instance, the trees had a definite darker shade of green and the grass on either side of the road was somewhat drier than usual. A shiver crept uneasily up Hermione’s spine, triggering a spasm of discomfort. The presence of evil omens surrounded her and before she knew it, the sunlight began to withdraw behind ominous clouds. She was caught unwary and off guard, and due to confusion she hesitated to turn around and ride away. All the senses in her body screamed to run but her body held back for no apparent reason. Then the noise came from the darkness causing Hermione to gasp. One loud howl pierced the chilly breeze, followed by another and soon several more. Ember began to trot nervously. Hermione stilled her and tried to listen carefully. ‘Easy girl.’ She whispered calmingly, though she felt far from composed herself. The last thing she needed at the moment was for Ember to panic and gallop away into the night. Steadily, she began to move backwards quietly. If she could get away unnoticed she would be safe. When the howling could be heard no more, Hermione relaxed slightly and began speeding up a bit. She was stopped in her tracks as a dark growling figure stepped from out of the shadows. Ember began to whinny and kick the air. Her eyes rolled in their sockets as she began to panic. ‘No!’ Hermione cried in alarm. ‘Turn around the other way!’ Ember had lost control as several other identical looking figures appeared in the midst of their path. Hermione reached for her wand but in doing so lost her footing and fell from her horse. Ember hurtled away from her in a maddened rush. The creatures did not follow. Hermione stood very still, fortunately not hurt from the fall – yet. The creatures glared at her unmoving, silently communicating with their fellows as though deciding what to do with her. Something made Hermione’s skin crawl more than it had before. She had seen this sort of creature before. ‘Werewolves!’ She gasped, regretting her slip immediately as it caused the creatures to shift in their stance. Time suspended along with her breath. Her fingers gripped her wand tightly as she conjured a spell in her mind. A quick flashback to Defence against the Dark Arts in her third year with Snape reminded her that these creatures could not be defeated by just any wizard or witch or by just any wand. Panic gripped her and she felt helpless. At any moment they would attack and she would be finished. Why did they tarry? By now they had been given plenty of opportunity to advance upon her but they stood staring at her. Perhaps they were confused because she was not moving. Were they afraid? Surely not! Hermione’s body was wracked in shivers, both from fear and cold. Steam was emanating from her breath but she had no time to consider the odd change in temperature. She reached a sudden decision. She had to make the first move. With a shocking outcry, Hermione shouted a protection spell that knocked a few of the creatures out of her protection circle. She knew they were dazzled and surprised by the brilliance of light and took her cue to run for it. Not knowing in which direction she was heading Hermione simply fled hoping to reach safety. Either way, she had to keep running or she wouldn’t have a hope of escape. Not far behind her were the clear sounds of running feet—or paws. If only she had a broom! The werewolves would certainly have caught her by now if it were not for the spell surrounding her but the dreadful thought that its effects were weakening kept her speeding ahead. She prayed that there would be a place to conceal herself and find shelter. The rumble of thunder in the distance did not distract her determined strides. Hope surged through her at the sight of a black outline just ahead. It appeared to be a gate. Hermione’s speed increased and she felt the spell diminish again. They would catch her any second now. The gate was so close, so reachable. Finally she caught hold of the metal poles, pushed forward and with great relief, it opened allowing her to enter its supposed security. With one final surge of effort, she slammed the gate shut. The wolves yelped and barked with disappointment. They jumped against the poles angrily, their eyes wide and eager to sink those sharp white teeth into her ripe flesh. Hermione turned her back on the foul creatures, not wanting to stare into their daunting eyes that burned her own. Another gasp escaped her and she stopped abruptly, looking up at one humongous shape. There was no moon to reflect on the object and reveal its identity but Hermione knew it was a house. A very, very large house. Again the feeling of foreboding left its imprints in her mind. She reached the door, knocking as loud as possible. There were no lights from the windows, no indication that the place was inhabited. From walking to the front veranda it was apparent that the grass had not been cut in a very long time. An image of the Riddle house flashed through her mind. That had been where Voldemort had met his downfall a few years ago. She knew this was not the same place though it had a similar feel to it. Five long minutes passed but nobody had answered her call. A light rain began, followed by strong wind and threatening thunder. She had to get inside. She thanked her luck that the door swung open willingly allowing her to pass through easily. The entrance hall was completely dark. She figured that no one resided there and that she must be entirely alone. The thought did not comfort her though she was extremely relieved at her close escape. But how would she get home? Wanting to see where she was walking, Hermione muttered ‘Lumos’ with her wand…but his had no effect. She attempted again but nothing happened. Confused that her wand was not working, she returned it to her pocket. What was happening? Had the wand snapped or chipped? It didn’t feel like it. It took a while before her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Odd, the place was not stuffy or dust ridden. Nor did it seem abandoned. It just seemed empty. Maybe the person or people who lived here were temporarily absent. Another thought entered her mind. Why had she never heard or known about this place? Surely she had not travelled far from her home? The thoughts flooding her brain caused Hermione to feel faint. She casually dismissed them, thinking she would deal with the problem in the morning. For now she would find a place to rest and hope she was not caught by anybody. If that did occur, she would simply tell them the truth and hope they would be kind to her. With one last attempt she called out ‘Hello?!’ And heard her voice echo through the hallways and bounce off the walls. That made her feel lonely and homesick. Why hadn’t she been paying attention to where she was going? That way she would never have gotten herself into this sticky position. She curled up onto the floor beside the front door. At least there was carpet. The sound of intensely falling rain hammering on the ground outside calmed her and her eyelids grew heavy. Sleep was almost about to overcome her when there was a sudden sound that caused Hermione to snap back into attention. Fear gripped her as she listened warily. It was hard to escape the sound of drumming rain and the pounding of her heart to hear what else might be looming ever closer to her. This time she was unable to call out due to the tightness in her throat. Her tongue was dry, eyes alert, ears strained and muscles tensed. She could not make anything out in the darkness but knew she was no longer alone. Something was watching her. The standing hairs on her neck and prickling of skin told her so. This was no ordinary place. Her heart skipped a beat at the sight of candlelight coming from behind a corner. There came another sound. Was it the sound of footsteps? Mechanically she reached for her wand, forgetting its uselessness. Then a voice shattered the silence. ‘Is anybody there?’ It called in a soft fearful voice. The voice sounded so familiar to Hermione that her fear began to evaporate. The voice seemed to come from a small body, and it was not frightening at all. ‘Hello?’ Hermione called. This time her summon was answered and the light began to grow stronger. ‘Who’s there?’ The little voice said shakily. ‘I’m sorry to disturb you, it was storming and I was chased by wolves-’ She began but stopped as she saw who the approaching creature was. Before her stood a tiny figure, no taller than her knees. ‘Why, you’re a house elf!’ She exclaimed. The elf did not seem surprised by her reaction. ‘That is true miss. I hope my form does not offend you.’ Hermione shook her head in wonder. ‘No, not at all. Uh, could you please tell me what this place is?’ ‘This is an old castle long ago erected for my masters. These days it is all but empty.’ The elf said sadly. ‘Who were your masters?’ Hermione asked. She was not answered because a movement from the elfs chest made her jump and squeal. ‘What is that?’ ‘It is a clock imprinted onto my chest. It serves as a reminder that time is running out.’ The elf replied ‘What kind of magic is this?’ Hermione said. ‘A curse miss. A terrible curse.’ The elf shook it’s head sorrowfully. ‘A curse?’ Hermione asked. The elf was about to reply but was shut up by a loud crack of thunder outside. Hermione stared at it, very puzzled. Deciding to not intervene with the obviously secret “curse” story, Hermione continued. ‘Listen, I am very sorry to intrude on you tonight but I was wondering if I would stay the night? And if you could tell me how to get home in the morning.’ A loud horrifying roar from above cut off Hermione. A quick glance at the elf in front of her confirmed her fears. This was no happy social meeting. Instinct told her this person was the “master”. Who else would inflict such callous fear? To her great despair, the little figure scuttled away to leave her to fate’s decision. She jumped to her feet, ready for a fight. A large figure emerged from the top of a large flight of steps. Hermione froze in horror. This was not human at all. It was far too big to be human. Gradually it descended, its breath heavy and ferocious. It leaped down the last few step, landing with a loud thud and turned to face her. Hermione was very still, holding her breath in her chest. Time elongated as they both stared in each other’s directions. ‘Who dares enter my house!’ The creature stormed. Hermione whimpered silently, almost wetting her pants. She had never been more afraid in her life. More than ever she wanted to scream and run, but what chance did she have of escaping both the master of the castle AND the werewolves outside? The creature stepped ever closer to inspect the intruder. The silence angered him and he let out another thunderous roar. It sounded uncannily like a lions roar, only much more fearful. A sudden break of moonlight streamed in through the window, illuminating the creature’s face. Hermione lost control. She screamed with all her might and ran to the door, thrusting it open and running for her life. The rain saturated her robes immediately and chilled her to the bones but she continued running until she reached the outer gate. She was about to open it when the fresh sound of barks and howls filled her ears and she stopped dead in her tracks. What was she going to do now? A bolt of lightning flashed through the sky, striking a tree not far away. This left Hermione with one choice. She must find shelter. And the only shelter around was the castle. But she would not re-enter it again. Instead, she reached the veranda and positioned herself in an area that was not wet. She would not let her guard down, not fall asleep in case the beast came to get her. When she had settled herself in the most comfortable position she could manage, Hermione cradled her head and wept until all her tears had run dry. She felt helpless and afraid. She was little less than a hostage in a foreign land. How would she find her way out and reach her father? Her father! He would be so worried. Would he send out help to find her? Surely he would. Hope surged through her at the thought. Perhaps everything would turn out well, but in the meantime she must be cautious. She had never seen anything quite as ugly and terrifying as the beast-like creature she had just encountered. There would be no way she would go anywhere near it again. *Father, come quickly! *
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