Different From The Best

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– Originally written in Polish, in 2011, translated in 2017 –

Doctor Kovacs’ shoes were making a distinct sound as he was walking across the impressively big hall. The room seemed colder than usual. The wooden floor, polished fifteen minutes ago by one of Kovacs’ pupils, was so shiny that a small boy could see the reflection of his bald head when he looked down.

The doctor was nervous. He reached the wall, turned on his heel, stared briefly at the double entrance door and began walking towards it. He didn’t know what to expect. Even though he and his colleague were working together for a long time now, he never managed to guess what goes on inside of his head. A textbook example of a mad scientist. Nothing would surprise Kovacs anymore. The scientist could even kill him right here and now and make all of these children watch the act. Honestly, that would not even be that unlikely the more Kovacs was thinking about it.

Beside him, inside the hall were twenty kids. They all stood neatly in line, at a perfectly measured distance from each other. This painted a quite unnerving image not only because they were all standing up straight with their heads up. All of the kids looked the same.

Not even clothes were differentiating them. They were all six-year-old boys with bald heads and ice blue eyes. All had serial numbers tattoo’d on the back of the head – their only unique gift and the only way Kovacs could tell them apart. Thus, their order in line was determined by their order of “birth”.

Today, two groups were present. Kids numbered 2 to 12 and 37 to 47. One of them sneaked into a doctor’s office the night prior. Even though he used his skills and chances in the best of ways, the ever present cameras captured him in the act. Albeit, the quality of the recording wasn’t good enough to determine which of the boys was the culprit. The staff facility wouldn’t even know an incident like this happened if not for an unfortunate event. 18 heard a strange noise during his late night bathroom break and his curiosity was “rewarded” with a broken nose. Kovacs found him unconscious, lying on the corridor floor and that’s what led to this very situation.

Another man dressed in a white lab coat entered the hall. A pair of circle-shaped glasses was digging into his nose but it didn’t seem to bother him. Kovacs stopped, cleared his throat and suddenly, all of the boys bowed down. Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer usually smiled at seeing his pupils so well-behaved but even this gesture didn’t make him lift the edges of his lips today.

“Enough!” he exclaimed. His voiced echoed through the hall. Kids returned to their original position. The scientist stood next to his colleague and, even though in English, spoke with a heavy German accent:

“You know exactly why you’re here. None of you will leave this hall until the culprit admits to his nighttime escapade.”

Twenty pairs of blue eyes turned in his direction. Nineteen of them only learned about the incident ten minutes ago. One felt his stomach twisting. As much as he didn’t want to come clean, he knew he will eventually be forced to. What kind of punishment will he have to endure? Swiping and licking the floors clean for months with no end? Will there be any corporal punishments? Maybe he will be this year’s cook for his “brothers”?

“One of you attempted to access doctor Ort-Meyer’s office at night”, Kovacs said in a calm manner trying to contrast the obvious anger of his colleague. “We do not care what was the reason behind it. And we will not question it. If one of you admits to his mistake, there will be no investigation and no punishment. We will only ask him to never do it ever again.”

Tears started filling one of the boys’ eyes so he blinked a few times to make them go away. Showing any emotions was unacceptable. They were a weakness, so the men taught them. The boy always felt as if hiding those weaknesses was much easier for his “brothers” than it was for him.

Many thoughts were crossing his mind at the moment. Was Kovacs telling the truth? Maybe there really aren’t going to be any questions or punishments if he confesses? He didn’t trust either of the men in white coats but Kovacs seemed to be somewhat reasonable at times. Maybe he should just swallow his pride and speak up?

“We all know who did this!” yelled one of the boys at the front of the line. 6 took a step forward and looked Ort-Meyer straight in the eyes. He already seemed triumphant with his chin held up.

The culprit felt even more ill. 6 had no idea who truly sneaked into Ort-Meyer’s office but since he spoke up already, there was no doubt whom he is going to blame.

“It was 47, of course!” he promptly stated. Ort-Meyer’s eyes looked at the boy at the end of the line.

“Come forward”, the scientist said. “Is that true?”

The boy gulped down his tears and broke the line. His small hands turned into fists thinking of 6. His heart was filled with hatred towards his “brother”. But now, he was assessing his options. If he denied the claim, 6 would definitely find a way to shift the blame. He was the best. The strongest. He knew how to fight. Ort-Meyer will stand by his side. And 47? 47 was small, slim and fragile. With tears in his eyes. The only thing he could count on was Kovacs’ good will.

“Yes”, he mumbled. All of his “brothers’” eyes turned towards him. It was uncommon for 47 to open his mouth. Some thought he was mute. This reaction made the boy feel even worse.

“I should just dispose of you at instant. Kovacs turns a blind eye at you way too often. But trust me, my boy, your life is going to get much more difficult from now on.”

47 tried his best to justify.

“But… doctor Kovacs said no one will get punished if one of us confesses… I… I thought that–”

“What did you say?” Ort-Meyer interrupted him. The hall was suddenly silent. “Repeat what you just said.”

“I thought that…”

The scientist chuckled making Kovacs’ hair stand on end. Ort-Meyer took a few steps and stood in front of 47. Kovacs wasn’t sure if there’s anything he can do to protect the boy. He almost wanted to grab his colleague by the arm as he was passing him but ended up not even moving a finger.

“You ‘thought’”.

It was Ort-Meyer who lifted his hand instead. His palm hit 47’s cheek painting it bright pink and making the unsuspecting boy falter and fall to the floor.

“You know very well I don’t need you to ‘think’. Your purpose is to act on my order. And that’s to all of you. I allow you for too much freedom. Remember that you can lose your white fluffy friend just as quickly as you got it.”

47 tried getting up but was too scared to move a muscle. Ort-Meyer stared at him for the very last time and the boy was sure there was a certain sense of pride hidden behind the circle-shaped glasses.

“Kovacs, take him to his room and lock the door. Up his training sessions to at least twice what they are now. He won’t have time to ‘think’”, the scientist said angrily to the other man dressed in white before exiting the hall altogether.

His evil chuckling was still heard echoing the hall after he has left.

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The One With The Needle

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– Originally written in Polish, in 2010, translated in 2017 –

The pungent scent of urine. The morbid atmosphere. The emptiness.

47 was sitting on a cold cement floor in a room he was sharing with two of his “brothers”. There was a sharp piece of hard wood in his hand. He found it a while back and was determined to keep it just in case. He didn’t know where the wooden piece came from but it was more than plausible that it was once a part of a chair, destroyed by one of the clones in mad fury.

A loud snore filled the space and 47 winced thinking 43 woke up. He didn’t want anyone seeing him with a sharp object. Guardians did not permit of such trinkets and he knew exactly why. Just a few days ago he himself was a witness of 7 tearing holes in 11’s belly using only a tiny screw. There were still no news as to whether or not the victim survived. Albeit it’s not like that information was hugely desired.

Listening to his brothers sleeping noises, 47 was pretending to draw on the light gray flooring. A symbol of some sorts. A one he felt as if he was connected to somehow. Maybe he’s seen it before? The back of his head was constantly stinging. Only a week has passed since a barcode was added to the numbers. A fresh tattoo, especially on a delicate piece of skin and a spot like this wasn’t healing as fast as he’d like. A sharp pain was clawing into not only his head but all of the clones’. Doctor Kovacs was claiming it will harden them. 47 didn’t believe him.

He believed none of the things guardians were telling them. He could not understand how other boys could trust and blindly follow each of their words. No. That’s not something he could ever do. He was proud of his individuality. He knew what he wanted. The only problem was actually achieving it. If not for 6…

47 hated 6. Always “the best”, “the strongest”. Full of self-confidence, everyone’s pupil. His brothers stood in lines to lick his very feet. How many times has 6 punched 47? How many bruises and broken bones he was responsible for? 47 wished everyone would finally see who 6 really is. Not some strong warrior who should be looked up to. He was a monster. A cold hearted monster.

47’s heart was filled with hatred for the boy. His fist hit the cement floor and he immediately felt cold sweat on his back realizing how much noise he’s just made. Especially since there was someone walking down the corridor. Three adult men, judging from the sounds of their footsteps. Yes, they always sent more than one. Predominantly to 47. He threw the piece of wood under the bed and hopped on top swiftly deciding he will attempt to fool them that he’s asleep.

The door opened with a creak. 47 heard guardians walking into the room but his back was turned towards them so there he could do nothing more than listen in. First they woke 43.

“Easy. It’s just a vaccine shot.” sounded Doctor Kovacs’ voice. 47 has heard it multiple times and could recognize it anywhere. 43 made no noise as the needle pierced his arm. He was calm, staring into Kovacs’ eyes with his own. Ice blue. The guardian forced a slight smile and patted the boy’s bald head. Now it was time for 47.

“Hmm…” Kovacs thought to himself. “Is he asleep? At least we won’t have to use much force.”

47 knew the men were coming closer. His heartbeat picked up. Thoughts were crossing his mind faster than he could catch them. In one unexpected motion, the boy jumped off the bed just as Kovacs tried to reach him.

43 was curiously observing the situation. His brother retreated to the corner of the room and he almost wanted to come up to comfort him but one of the guardians held his hand up to stop him. They knew what 47 is capable of. Kovacs still had no idea what the scientist sees in this boy. Otto Wolfgang Ort-Meyer and his strange ideas. Sure, 47 was doing better at some of the exercises and classes but there were clones stronger than him. Less coy. Less emotional.

“Just look at 10! Or 26!” he pointed out to the scientist one day. “How can you get your hopes so high up for a boy who cried whilst burying a rabbit? May I remind you that 47 is the single one who shows signs of any emotional connections. Why did you even let him keep that rabbit? You should have just killed him!”

“You’ll see, my friend.” Ort-Meyer replied. “I am never wrong.”

Doctor Kovacs was now seeing a mixture of fear, anger and determination in 47’s eyes. What was he planning? The guardian was trying to reap into the boy’s mind. He could usually foresee clones’ behavior. 47 was difficult to predict, though. He was asocial. Shut in his own little world. Objecting to everything.

“Little rebel.” Kovacs thought before saying aloud: “You don’t have to be scared. I won’t hurt you.”

47 could not be fooled. He knew these men too well for that. Most of all, Doctor Kovacs. He was sure he was going to remember him for the rest of his life.

“47, please. It’s just a quick shot. The faster we get to do this, the better.”

The boy shook his head. Did anyone ever heard him say something? Kovacs had no memory of even a single word spoken by this particular clone? And now, he was starting to get on his nerves.

Tired of playing nice, Kovacs made a discreet gesture with his hand. Two men accompanying him stepped closer and 47’s brain was now plowing through ideas. He took glimpse of something shiny. Kovacs was hiding a syringe behind his back. The boy felt twisting in his stomach. He hated needles.

Guardians came closer. Their plan was to grab him by his arms but 47 motions were quicker. Just as they leaned over to capture him, he ducked and crawled between their legs. In mere second he was over by the bed, reaching for the previously hidden piece of wood. The boy stood up, holding the sharp object in front by his chest in the same fashion he was taught to.

“Goddamn you! Can you not even keep an eye on one measly child?” Kovacs roared.

With all of the strength of his tiny body, 47 pushed the wooden piece into the guardian’s stomach. He was expecting it to pierce through the skin but was incorrect. Kovacs grabbed him by his clothes. The boy kicked him to no avail. Looking for a way out, he latched onto the doctor’s coat tearing one of the pockets. Empty syringes dropped on the floor with an array of sounds quickly echoing in the room.

“Get off!” Kovacs shrieked. 47 managed to seize one of the syringes. One still armed with a silver needle. Before anyone could react, the needle dug into Kovacs’ knee. The answer to that was a kick. 47 bent in half. Another guardian blocked the door. It would take ages to find the clone if he was to escape and hide somewhere.

With tears in his ice blue eyes, the boy slowly lifted his head and looked around. No… there’s no way… he can’t lose…

Kovacs took out the syringe out of his knee, grabbed the clone and applied, what he called, the vaccine. Just as he let him go, the boy jumped back on top of the bed and bundled up heads to toes under a dirty blanket. Doctor Kovacs felt as if anger was boiling inside of him. He left the room with both of the men accompanying him and door loudly closing behind him. A yell was heard in addition to the footsteps this time:

“Ort-Meyer, he’s done it again!”

Trouble in Russia

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– Originally written in Polish, in 2010, translated per request in 2017 –

The underground metro was suspiciously silent that day.

A man dressed in an Italian black suit, perfectly fitted white shirt, silk red tie with gold decorations and polished black shoes let out a sigh. His hands were clothed in leather, fingers playing with a tiny silver key. There was a number engraved on it. 137. Locker 137. That’s where his equipment was stashed. Same area, same procedure.

47 remembered his last visit in St Petersburg quite well. This time he was alone. No Russians dressed in long heavy coats and furry hats, sleeping somewhere at the back of the compartment before rushing off to work. No company today. Diana explained his mission in detail. His target was expected to occupy the same office as before and the assassin already had a vast knowledge of the immediate area. To add to that, The Agency was to supply him with weaponry; thus, he himself only took his trusted fibre wire. It was his first murder weapon and the one he could not leave without. Besides, if he was to be frisked, no bodyguard would ever feel the thin piano wire underneath his clothing. Other than that, 47 was also carrying binoculars. To have a better view of the situation.

Whilst his body was in an unpleasantly cold Russian town, his mind was wandering sunny Sicilian grounds. That is until a female voice sounded from the speakers announcing the next station. Kirovsky Zavod. 47 fixed his tie. It was time to go to work. A few moments later, the vehicle stopped and the doors opened. The assassin instantly recognized the environment. In front there were wide stairs, leading to Varosnij streets. 47, however, headed towards a wall of lockers, situated to his right. Still playing with the silver key, his feet were bouncing off the floor tiles, arranged in a chessboard in various shades of brown.

137. The assassin had to crouch down to insert the key. He turned it cautiously inside the lock and opened the locker. A quick look at the state of affairs on the station. Can someone see what he was doing? There were two men wandering around. Both of them were currently near the stairs. The assassin was sure they could not notice him, especially since he was hidden behind one of the decorative pillars. He examined the contents of the locker. A Dragunov sniper rifle and one bullet. 47 frowned. Last time, the Agency supplied him with other weaponry in addition to the sniper rifle. A pistol, nightvision goggles and a stockpile of ammunition. The rifle was better than nothing but the assassin decided to leave it inside the locker. It was a bother to carry it through the Varosnij Square. He chose to trust his fibre wire instead. Besides, he had nothing more to lose…

He threw the key into his pocket after closing the metal doors of the locker. Still avoiding the looks of Russian men waiting for their train, the assassin headed up the stairs to the snow-filled streets of St Petersburg. The snow was falling onto his bald head. He felt cold when the wind started blowing and began to regret taking nothing more than his suit. There was a purpose to that choice, though. For him, it was the most comfortable of attires and he could not place comfort over the freedom of movement. Back in Japan, he was wearing a parka on top but quickly learned that it was too hindering and that’s not something he approved of.

He took a few steps forward. He was now standing in front of a not too busy of a road which he immediately crossed. A bridge on the Neva river was somewhere on the horizon. A horizon which, as 47 realized, looked completely different when it was not full of Russian army men. Last time he was to eliminate a Russian general during a meeting inside the Pushkin Building. Next, the client wished for getting rid of other members of the board. 47 was chosen for every one of these contracts. Now, he was to complete his last mission in St Petersburg. Kill the person responsible for all of the previous assignments – Sergei Zavorotko – a terrorist taking part in illegal weapon deals and currently having his hands on a nuclear bomb. The Agency usually didn’t approve of eliminating their clients, but apparently the UN had offered a significant amount of money. The situation also opened some interesting opportunities for further cooperation, thus the organization could not say “no”. They tasked their best man. Besides, 47 already had knowledge of the terrain and his handler – Diana simply trusted him to finish the job. And for him, this is all it was. Just another job.

The Pushkin Building was situated in the center of Varosnij Square. The assassin could not rely on a long distance weapon this time around. He had to strike up close. Hence, the neighboring building, from which he took the shot last time was useless. There were more and more guards appearing as he approached the center. All of them, dressed in classy black suits, Desert Eagles in gun holsters. Eyes hidden behind sunglasses. They looked just like any other generic special agent but 47 knew he was dealing with no ordinary bodyguards. These were Russian mobsters. He had to be careful.

The assassin took cover behind a corner, took out the binoculars and examined the Pushkin Building through its lenses. Most of the windows were opened but the rooms appeared to be empty. “Something’s wrong.” he thought after realizing there is nobody inside. His instinct was usually right and he could not simply ignore it. 47 went around the building to look at it from a different angle. Again, he used his binoculars. First floor was empty. Slowly, he began examining every room on the second floor, every open window. Impossible. The Agency had no reason to set him up.

Then, he noticed something familiar in front of one of the windows on the second floor and quickly hid behind a wall. Didn’t even have to make sure. It was the barrel of his favorite sniper rifle. Walther WA2000. A weapon he’d always recognize. He knew its specification, he knew what it can do. But who was behind the barrel? Sergei Zavorotko himself? Did his target know the UN wants to get rid of him? 47 had no time to think about that possibility. There was too much to think about already and yet he had to keep his mind in complete focus during the time of the assignment. He had to assess the situation accordingly but how to accomplish that if the enemy is armed with such a powerful tool?

The feeling of uncertainty subsided after realizing that his knowledge of the Walther WA2000 is so great, he surely has an advantage over his enemy. The assassin suddenly knew exactly what to do. Throwing the binoculars back to the pocket, he ran to the back of the Pushkin Building, trying to spend as much time hidden behind the neighboring architecture. Just because his enemy had a long-ranged weapon did not mean 47 had no chances of getting in. Much more important than a .300 Winchester Magnum round was always a good, solid plan. The assassin had to surprise the shooter. Sneak into the Pushkin Building and fibre wire him from behind. A plan so simple yet so difficult to accomplish, once 47 began executing it. Sergei’s bodyguards were everywhere. One wrong move and all of their Desert Eagles turn toward him. He had no answer to that one. A thin piano wire will not help once the men draw their guns.

After circling around the building, he came much closer to the back entrance. Two of the mobsters were standing next to a nearby garbage container, having a conversation and a smoke. Pretty unlikely they will pay any attention to the assassin. Another enemy was on patrol, up North but it seemed easy enough to sneak past once he’s not around. There was one more man left to deal with. The one right in front of the doors. This called for a distraction. Nothing fancy. Usually the simplest solution brought the best results.

47 came closer. Still hidden behind the architecture so the men could not spot him. After searching through his pockets, he found a couple of coins. Guess the change still comes in handy. He chose a silver five Ruble. A double-headed eagle on the reverse looked at him curiously. 47 swung his arm. The coin flew in midair for a few seconds before hitting a wall. The bodyguard reacted immediately. Intrigued by a strange noise, left his postage to examine the sound. 47 used this moment of inattention to enter the building. He’s decided to worry about his way out once he’s done with the job.

Once the door closed behind him, 47 grabbed the fibre wire. Holding both of the handles, he tightened the wire. Grasping a weapon in his hands made him feel confident in his craft. The assassin knew there was a shooter in the building. Armed with a Walther WA2000. The enemy will hear the most silent of sounds, will notice the smallest of details, thus 47 took his steps lightly. Knees bent, he was sneaking towards the stairs leading onto the second floor. He was searching for the very room he saw earlier. The gun barrel was sticking out of the window on the opposite side of the building where a meeting was taking place last time he was here.

The overwhelming silence meant 47 could hear the beating of his own heart which sounded louder than usual. His instinct was never wrong. The assassin doubted the shooter is his original target. It was probably somebody sent by Sergei to eliminate the last person who knew about the previous contracts. But 47 has seen too much in his life to be this naive, instead presuming the worst of scenarios. He walked up the steps, crossed the corridor and looked through a keyhole of one of the doors. There were huge tables made of dark wood set by the wall. The windows were open and in front stood a tall man in a black suit. Walther WA2000 in his hands. The assassin slowly opened the door and crept inside. A huge fluffy carpet laying on the floor absorbed the sounds of footsteps. The shooter was dressed very similarly to the Russian mobsters, thus 47 thought he was one of them for a brief second. A second before he came close enough to see the barcode on the back of his head.

This cannot be…

Not thinking about it too much, 47 tied his neck with his trusted fibre wire. The rifle fell on the floor as the man began to choke. Sunglasses, previously hiding his cold blue eyes slid off his head and met with Walther on the carpet. The assassin grasped the handles tightly cutting through the skin on his victim’s neck. He didn’t even count the time it took until the shooter stopped fighting him and gave himself to Death, falling next to his weapon.

“Another ‘brother’,” 47 mumbled turning the body and staring at clone’s dead face. “Thought I killed all of you. But I wonder who’s behind this, trying to kill me with a lesser hitman…”

Then, he heard a familiar voice. Leaning by the shooter, he examined him and noticed a small earpiece which he quickly untied.

“17 – Do you have problem? Report back, 17! Did he take the bait…? What is it, 17? Are you there?”

The voice was harsh and there was a noticeable note of panic heard in man’s speech.

“Where are you?” 47 asked pushing the device into his own ear.

“Far away. Why? Why do you need to know?”

“Sergei, 17 is gone. This is 47.”

“47?” Sergei repeated surprised. “But I…”

“You had your chance, Sergei,” the assassin interrupted him. “Now get off my back or I’ll slit your through.”

“There must be some misunderstanding,” the Russian replied. “Both me and my friend Vittorio think so.”

47 felt as if something was grasping and twisting his heart.

“You got Vittorio?”

“Let’s say he’s here for… spritual guidance.”

There was no point in disputing with the terrorist, thus trying his best to keep his calm, 47 simply said “Sergei, you keep Vittorio out of this. Understand?” before tearing out the cable wire in disgust and throwing the device on the floor, right next to the dead clone.

“Staging his own assassination… double-crossing creep”, he thought. This was the proof that it was Sergei who was responsible for capturing padre Vittorio. And he himself, completely oblivious to this fact was hired to do the dirty job for him. If only he knew, he’d send a bullet into his head during the last visit in St Petersburg. Zavorotko will be waiting for him when he arrives back at Gontranno. The assassin was sure of it. But he will not let Vittorio get hurt. He owes him too much.

All of a sudden, 47 noticed the Russian mobsters moving towards the Pushkin Building. He dove behind the windowsill. He had to flee. And quick. The enemy most likely covered the underground metro entrances. But 47 had another idea. His knowledge of Varosnij will be of use.

Out of the room, the corridor and down the steps, the assassin ran out of the Pushkin Building. He was wearing a similar suit to the one of 17’s so there was a chance bodyguards will mistake him for their ally from a distance. How much time will it take them to find the dead clone, though? Sergei might have forgotten to mention that detail when he let them know something’s wrong. 47 had maybe three to five minutes to disappear. An art he could definitely manage if he plays his cards right.

Paying no attention to civilians who were now curiously observing the action happening at the Varosnij Square, the assassin ran towards the streets. The snow was cracking under his feet as they were falling into the white fluff. He remembered coming through the sewers last time he was here. Now, those same sewers might very well become his only escape route.

The assassin stopped to let a truck drive past him before he crossed the street. He was hoping there were none of Sergei’s men below the ground. 17 was armed only with a sniper rifle and as it was too big of a weapon to carry, 47 was still without a firearm. He approached a manhole and pried it open. Carefully putting his feet on the ladder, he descended into the sewers to meet with an everpresent darkness.

A sewer map drew inside the assassin’s mind. His memory was remarkable, he knew that he had to cross to the other side and then follow a long hallway right below Kirovskij Zavod. At least he won’t have to spend hours in this fetid place looking for the right exit.

Not even a minute later, 47 noticed an enemy. The man was standing a few meters away staring into the darkness. The assassin hugged a nearby wall. Hiding in the shadows, there is a good chance no-one will ever spot him. He began to control his breathing. Even the quietest of sounds may echo and thus, reveal his position. Sneaking towards a slimy footbridge, his thoughts were orbiting around padre Vittorio but he could not let them distract him. No, that was not the time. He had to escape St Petersburg, leave Russia and go back to Sicily.

God, don’t let anything happen to Vittorio…

After crossing the desired footbridge, 47 jumped back into the shadows right before detecting another of the Russian mobsters. Thankfully, before he had a chance to spot him. The assassin took a few steps back and hid behind a corner. There were only a couple of meters between the assassin and the final corridor. Silence was amplifying the tension. He could not stop thinking about what happened. He has never wished death to someone and now his heart was filled with genuine hatred towards Sergei Zavorotko.

This hatred almost cost him. Two of the Russian men were waiting for him by the exit. 47 stood still going through different possibilities in his mind. Maybe be could just slip past them. They were fairly far away from the corridor he was planning to take. There was no turning back now, who knows how many of them were now guarding every corner, every footbridge, every manhole. He had to rely on his skills and natural talent. Taking each step as slowly as he could, he began to creep. Ice cold blue eyes were fixed on the enemies and at one point the assassin could swear that he is right in their view. His heart stopped for a second. He took another step, went into the corridor and crossed it to get to a wooden door. He dug up a lockpick out of one of his pockets and pushed it into the keyhole. Even though the situation was tense, his hands kept steady. He forced open the lock, ran down the stairs and back onto Kirovskij Zavod. The train was right there, almost as if it was waiting for him. 47 hopped on board.

It did not matter where he was going. It did not matter what will happen at Varosnij. It did not matter what either Diana or the ICA will think. He had to go back to Sicily and end Sergei Zavorotko’s life. This was what mattered. To him.


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Edith Picard and her Size-Shifting Cat in: To Write An Essay

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– Originally written for Sweek’s Harry Potter fanfiction competition. –


CHONE

Dear Edith,​

I know we’ve talked about this before but I really don’t think this is a good idea.

Apparently, he was here! Right here, looking for Harry Potter in his own common room! We had to spend the night in The Great Hall.

Dumbledore took care of sleeping bags and security so we could sleep but it’s not like anyone could even if they’ve tried.

The Fat Lady is miserable, they could not convince her to go back to her post. They had to replace her with some odd knight portrait.

Aaron is actively pinching me as I’m writing this so I’m cutting it short.

Please, do reconsider coming here. It was a bad idea to begin with and now… now I really do not think I should even take part in this.

Love,

Amy

Edith read through the letter once again. She had already scribbled her response and sent Aaron back to Hogwarts. Having to use their family owl was frustrating. She always wanted a pet owl, all for herself so she can send it wherever she wants, whenever she wants. Instead, she was stuck sharing the bird with other members of the Picard family.

Thankfully, most of the letters her mother was receiving were not carried by the great horned owl. Edith saw many different beautiful birds throughout her childhood. She knew all of the owl types by name; she’s seen pigeons, eagles, phoenixes, and even colorful tropical birds she’s never heard of before.

“They’re called Zebra Finchers, my dear”, her mother’s voice echoed in her skull. Rhea Picard’s rise to fame required extensive knowledge and care of every magical creature there was. From simple bugs, mice and rabbits to huge dragons and chimearas. Years of studies led Edith’s mother to have a knack for education herself. At the age of 25, she had already published three books. Describing the wilderness and how she’s been interacting with a herd of centaurs, how she learned their mysteries and decided, very respectfully and wisely, to keep them as secrets, quickly became a bestseller in its time. Same with her guidebook on how to keep Erklings from capturing children.

“I’ve used transmutated figures made out of hay. They looked like human children, only a bit more yellow!”

No wonder she’s gained quite a fanbase. She had never even thought of marriage before meeting with a very peculiar blue-eyed man. This man – who later became Edith’s father – was a Muggle. He approached Rhea at work as she was documenting the hunting rituals of Jarveys.

“So that’s what’s happened to all of the rats in our garden”, he said and just a few months later, the maiden last name of Bouvier vanished from all of the book covers, the marriage was sealed and Rhea Picard was pregnant with their firstborn.

Now, seventeen years after their initial meeting, Mrs. Picard spent most of her time in what she called her “home office” where she not only took responsibilities as a magizoologist but also experimented with creatures as her pasttime trying to unveil the true range of their magical capabilities. The comfort and well-being of animals was her top priority. There was never any harm done. Instead, more and more took shelter in their family house as Mrs. Picard simply could not decline it to any of the creatures which came looking for it.

Edith was the oldest of the Picard children. Her siblings – Anemone and Deryn were 10 and 6 respectively. Just as she used to, before heading to a wizarding school, they spend most of their time helping their mother and embracing the world of magical creatures. A craft even Mr. Picard ended up being fond of despite being a Muggle.

“I made my non-magical husband groom a Kelpie once!” Mrs. Picard presented to the whole world in an interview for The New York Ghost. Their love of animals was a wide topic of another of her bestselling books and thus, the entire family was in the spotlight.

Edith was glad she did not have to spend her whole days at mother’s “home office”. She was tired of doors opening and closing as people were coming over either with their pets or just for simple advice.

“My gecko has stopped eating even though I keep giving it its favorite kind of glowing flies!”, “My bullfrog can’t stop jumping up and down, I think someone has cursed it!”

The girl was tired of it and was glad when she finally received an owl carrying a slightly yellowed letter with her name and address written on the envelope.

But the letter wasn’t from Hogwarts – the wizarding school she was dreaming of going to. Instead, it came from an international facility which focused on teaching obscure magical languages.

“My grandfather’s alma mater!” her mother said once she expressed her disappointment. “I went to Beuxbatons ’cause your grandma was staying in Vouvant, France, at the time. There was just the two of us. Going there was such a privilege!”

There wasn’t much that could be done. Edith ended up at the Euro-Glyph, still dreaming of Hogwarts. To make matters even worse, one of her colleagues knew witches who went there. Thus, Aaron took a trip and became a link between the girl and her dream. A dream which now was to become a reality.


CHTWO

A quiet poof could be heard that morning just next to The Hog’s Head Inn, on the outskirts of Hogsmeade. A tall seventeen-year-old girl sporting bottle-green robes suddenly appeared as if out of thin air. She spun a bit out of control yet quickly regained balance. Her gray eyes glanced at the environment. She was taking in the moment.

For years, Edith has learned oh so much about this place. The only place in Britain with no Muggles in sight. As a half-blood, this was a completely new experience. Her father was always so keen on observing how magic was performed, Edith felt almost obliged to do things his way instead. As of now she was lost in a sea of snow-buried cottages and trees, so she quickly drew her wand and whispered “Point Me”. She was to head to the post office to pick up a package and then to Honeydukes where, as Amy told her, a secret entrance to Hogwarts was located.

“I’ve seen the Weasleys vanishing from the third floor too many times to know something’s off”, Amy has claimed. “I was never able to make out what they were saying. A spell, I think. But they always came back with a stash of sweets. Once I finally visited Hogsmeade for myself, I immediately recognized the sweets’ origin being Honeydukes, so I’m pretty positive there’s something hidden there.”

Edith’s pen pal spoke a lot of Hogwarts, its history and secrets. For starters, because that’s what Edith could read about for hours. Another reason being Amy belonged to the Ravenclaw House and was heavily interested in everything regarding the history of the wizarding world. The castle itself was known for its secrets and thus, it became a point of interest. A one which Edith was now glad of.

She walked past a young couple just coming out of Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop. They still smelled of freshly brewed tea with a dash of cinnamon and their entire attention was focused on each other until the girl passed them by. They glanced at her clothes with a curious look on their faces but said nothing. “I ain’t that weird, am I?” she thought.

For years she’s been a subject of jokes in her school environment. She assumed it was mostly due to her mother’s success and simple jealousy. Peers mostly made fun of her caramel-brown bowlcut which made her look more like a young teenage boy. They called her “Ed”. This was still better than her French grandmother squealing “Eddi” every time they were in the same room. Her full name “Edith” wasn’t great either but at least it was better than any of the variations.

A slew of owls interrupted her thoughts. They flew North and just as sudden was the noise of hundreds of wings flapping in the air, the town was flooded in silence once again. This had to mean Edith was nearby. She recasted the spell and followed the flock.

Indeed, she was right. The birds unknowingly led her to the post office. Edith pushed the red front door and entered the building where she immediately witnessed a middle-aged witch dealing with the arrivals.

“No, no, you sit here, you will be flying to Frankfurt”, she muttered to a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

“Excuse me.”

“Rudolf, stop! I’ll be giving you treats momentarily! Don’t shuffle the mail around! Rudo–”

A Madagascar red owl spread its wings in frustration pushing letters off the color-coded shelves. Edith, wand in hand already, only had to wave it.

Arresto Momentum!

The letters slowed down until they completely stopped in the air. Rudolf screeched, took off and sat at the highest point in the post office, away from all of his bird colleagues. The middle-aged woman turned on her heel and almost tripped.

“Who–?… A customer!”, she exclaimed. Edith wasn’t sure who was more confused – the witch or herself.

“Hi. I came for a package.”

“Oh, did it just arrive? Is it one of those?”, the office worker asked pointing at the array of letters in midair. “I wasn’t able to catalog them yet, not to mention feed all of our brave owls who brought them.”

“No, no. It’s a bigger package. From Hogwarts.”

The eyes were drilling holes in Edith’s skull. The woman did not look amused.

“Hogwarts? Yes, my dear.”

Her short legs hurried to the back of the building leaving the girl alone with a flock of owls. As if on command, they turned their heads to face Edith and one of the young barn owls even flew right past her attempting to grab a piece of her clothing.

“Get off!” she yelled not kind to the idea of meeting with the bird’s sharp beak. “It’s enough that I’m my mother’s daughter. I need no more animal interaction.”

“Miss Bouvier, am I right?”

“Correct.”

Edith knew using the last name “Picard” would raise suspicions. The witch came back into her view carrying a hefty package. The paper appeared to be stamped more times than probably necessary as the ink turned into colorful blobs instead of readable text. A Spellotape originally used to seal the wrapping was ripped and Edith could only read “NOT ACTUALLY DANGEROUS” handwritten by someone with a shaky hand.

“What’s happened to it?” she asked grabbing the package.

“Increased security measures. They monitor everything coming out of Hogwarts. Secrecy Sensors and such. Not to mention the dementors at the front gates of the castle! They wander off sometimes and when they come around…”

“I see”, Edith cut her short. “Well… I appreciate you fetching it for me.”

“I wish they’d just catch him already. It’s tiring to all of us… RUDOLF, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

The Madagascar red owl left its post all of a sudden and started descending at a high speed towards the two witches. Accompanying it was a loud screeching hiss, drowning out every other sound. Edith dodged the bird at the last second. The office worker snatched the bird from midair and pushed it close to her chest.

“Someone’s not getting their food today!”


CHTHREE

Exiting the building in a hurry, Edith tucked the package under her robes and used the compass spell once again. Honeydukes was her next stop and then it was finally off to Hogwarts. She was a bit uncomfortable carrying something underneath her clothes, especially since the snow started being more of a nuisance rather than a pretty sight.

A couple of minutes later, she arrived. The door welcomed her with a bold “BY THE ORDER OF MINISTRY OF MAGIC” note stating dementors will be patrolling the streets after sundown. Edith wasn’t afraid of them. They were supposed to be a security measure and yet they were so easily repelled with the use of a spell. A tough spell, she had to admit that, but still merely a spell.

Doors opened and two young boys exited the store with their hands dirty of chocolate and teeth still glued by toffees. She held the door open so they didn’t cover anything else in sweets anymore. One of the boys attempted to thank her but it came up as “Phanguu-” instead. Edith nodded and slipped into the building.

The shop was probably loads more impressive before Christmas. There were still multiple different types of sweets arranged on the walls but it was clear that the production hasn’t yet started at its fullest after the holiday season. A chocolate reindeer made a terrifying noise and his cherry nose blinked a few times. The magic was wearing out and it reminded the girl of those primitive Muggle dolls as they were running out of battery power.

“What can I get you?” a bald man asked seeing her wandering round the shop. “I have unfortunate news about the Pepper Imps. They all froze due to cold temperatures and the company of our cold-bringing… customers.”

Edith was sure none of the dementors ever came here to make a purchase. But since she was here already and knew she might be crossing some paths with the rather terrifying creatures, it would be wise to grab a few chocolate-coated candies.

“And a Frog as a bonus!” added the salesman. “They were running rampant, most of them were sold out for Christmas and the few we have left are getting bored on their own. Feel free to look around a bit more. If something you want is not in stock, we can order it for you! The owl is in price!”

The girl wasn’t interested in getting more sweets at the moment but she appreciated the invitation to explore. She forced a smile, took the paper bag and hid behind a rather large rendition of a Christmas tree made out of liquorice. A batch of customers just entered the store gathering all of the bald man’s attention. Now she only had to find the cellar.

The paper bag shuffled as if something was moving inside. A few seconds later, something else started shifting. This time somewhere in her robes. She heard the salesman loudly advertising some of his favorite products to the people who’d just arrived. His voice drowned the sounds of the bag ripping apart as the Chocolate Frog violently escaped its packaging and began hopping away.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Edith exclaimed grabbing her candies off the floor, shoving them in her pocket and rushing after the Frog. The confection made its way across the store, turned right next to a box of Exploding bonbons and was gone out of sight. Following it turned out to be a great idea as it knew exactly where the rest of its family was stashed, therefore revealing the path to the cellar.

The chocolate family was glad to see its member back and not eaten by the girl who’d just entered the room with it. Edith immediately stood behind a set of crates, somehow tall enough to hide her. The hidden entrance to the castle was supposed to be located here somewhere. She looked around but saw only the wooden floor and a maze of boxes. The Frogs were hopping around happily, croaking to each other. The smallest was playing with a dusty mint. Even though mostly empty, the cellar was full of life and Edith once again felt shuffling in her robes.

Confused, she patted her clothing. Something tiny had escaped from underneath making the girl drop the package she grabbed from the post office. In mere seconds, the Frog child was crushed by something vividly orange in color. Bits of chocolate sprayed on the floor and the mint landed in the corner.

“Toffi!” Edith almost yelled. The orange creature grew three sizes and meowed causing the rest of the sweet family to run away.

“How’d you–? You jumped into my robes as I was Apparating, didn’t you?”

The cat stood proudly before her.

“What am I supposed to do with you now? At least turn yourself small and stay quiet”, she said angrily.

Toffi was one of the youngest out of their pet cats and the most peculiar one. His mother was Rhea Picard’s favorite subject of experiments. Multiple spells unveiled many magical abilities Mrs. Picard had no idea about. Just a few months earlier, the cat gave birth to four small kittens, all of them having a share of their mom’s skills. The orange one – Toffi – was able to change sizes at will. Edith was sure he was sleeping peacefully on her bed at the Euro-Glyph but apparently he wanted to have an adventure as well. Always by her side, since the time he was gifted to her on her seventeenth birthday.

“An owl would at least be useful. This is just more trouble”, she remembered saying. Of course, her mom’s opinion was different.

“Your classmates will be so thrilled! I’ve never seen such a smart little kitten.”

This time, this small little kitten has caused quite a mess and a sea of problems. Or so she thought. The remains of the Chocolate Frog fell in between the wooden boards except for one specific spot. Edith approached it carefully. There was definitely something underneath. But how to lift boards placed so closely together it’s hard to even distinguish the trap door from the rest of the floor? Toffi seemed to read his owner’s thoughts.

A visible grimace was seen on his face as he shrunk to the size of an ant.

“Whatcha doing?” Edith asked but the kitten was already gone. There was a loud ‘thump’ and the trap door flung open revealing a long staircase. The girl wasn’t keen on waiting any longer, in fear someone might come investigate the odd noises. She hopped under the floor boards and closed the trap door behind her.

Once closed, the staircase was lost in complete darkness. Grasping the Hazel wood wand in her fingers, Edith said “Lumos” and the tip started glowing. Looking down, there was nothing but blackness and two golden dots – Toffi’s eyes reflecting the bright light. The girl descended a few steps. Toffi returned to his original size, again proud of his accomplishment.

After a couple of minutes, the situation barely changed. Now, the darkness was surrounding them. But it had to end eventually. They cautiously went down more and more stairs, Toffi hopping from one to another. Edith stopped counting them once she hit a hundred. There was nothing but silence and the sounds of their feet for what seemed to be hours. Edith began to grow worried. Then, as if to calm her distress, she heard another pair of footsteps. And another. They were getting closer.

The blackness turned to gray as they approached what seemed to be a stone wall. The girl looked around but it was the noise which tipped her off. It sounded as if it was coming out of a tunnel. She lifted her head. It wasn’t a wall. It was a giant slide. How to cross a giant slide?…

Edith carefully placed her wand on the floor, the tip illuminating the nearby environment. She took off her bottle green robe and opened the package received in the post office. A soft material was almost as black as the darkness. Madam Malkin’s plain work robes and a silk blue and brown tie wrapped around a neatly rolled letter.

Dear Edith,

As promised, I am providing you with my old Hogwarts uniform. I don’t know how well it will fit you, you’re three years older than me, after all. I don’t think it is wise for us to meet inside the castle. If you still want to do this, good luck. You’ll need it.

I hope this won’t get me in any trouble.

Take care,

Amy

Edith crumpled the parchment paper in her hand and put on the uniform on top of the gray sweater and dark-colored jeans. As Amy mentioned, it wasn’t the greatest fit. The robes were obviously too short and the high boots she was wearing, now coated in melting snow, were plainly visible. Still, she had to deal with it. At least she hoped she won’t have to blend in much. It was the holiday break after all, so the corridors should be mostly empty. She had the disguise and was underneath the castle. The only problem now was right in front of her.

Toffi was fairly quiet until she wore the uniform. The kitten began to dance around her, eager to smell the new clothing which gave Edith an idea.

“Want to help me?” she asked. Toffi meowed in response.

The girl placed her old bottle-green robes on the ground, lifted and extinguished the wand and pointed it at the clothes… or so she believed standing in complete blackness.

Diffindo!

The robes tore apart leaving only strips of fabric. Chocolate candies fell out of the pocket and spread across the cold floor. Edith picked them up before Toffi could even start using them as toys and began tying the strips together to create a long rope.

“If you grow large, you’ll be able to support me”, she said to the cat. His ears were pointing directly at her. “Hopefully there’s something to hang onto up there.”

Toffi stood proudly awaiting his role in the endeavor. Edith tied the rope around his belly and stood up to cast another spell: “Wingardium Leviosa!

The orange cat began to rise and grow at the same time. The young witch sent him away as high as she could to still be able to grab onto the other end of the fabric.

“Hang on!” she yelled and hopped on the rope. The climb wasn’t easy. Her hands kept slipping off the rope and her height made it especially difficult to fit through the passageway. She also didn’t want to harm the pet in any way as Toffi simply wedged himself between the walls. There was nothing above but a hard ceiling.

“C’mon, this has to open up somehow”, she said to herself attempting to point the wand at it and still keep her balance on the rope. “Alohomora! Aberto! Dissendium!

The last one worked. Something moved and an opening began to take shape. Thankfully, there was no-one above to take notice. Edith recasted the Levitation Charm and both of them ascended like an oversized fluffy balloon.


CHFOUR

Edith jumped off the rope and onto the floor. Toffi returned to his original size and fell right into his owner’s arms and the passageway closed off as the obstruction, which ended up being a statue, retreated to its position. They were finally in Hogwarts but it was just the beginning of their adventure as the ending goal was the mythical Chamber of Secrets.

The idea came up immediately once she heard the essay topic they were tasked with before the holiday break. They were to choose one of the highly dangerous creatures classified as XXXXX by the Ministry of Magic and provide as much information on them as possible, including specific reasons and examples as to why they cannot be domesticated even by the most skilled of magizoologists. A year ago, one of those beasts was found inside of the Hogwarts castle by The Boy Who Lived himself. Amy spoke of the incident in as much detail as they were given, implementing the entire history of the Chamber into her letters.

Edith was obsessed for days, daydreaming about it and how huge it has to be to be the home of the King of Serpents. And to think that for ages, no-one knew nothing about it! They dismissed it as a mere legend even though historical events clearly pointed at it actually existing somewhere underneath the castle walls. All of this mystery was even more exciting. Thinking about it meant immediate butterflies in Edith’s stomach. To document a Basilisk in the best possible way, she had to encounter it and this one was a guarantee, albeit most likely already dead.

Echoing Amy’s words in her head, she remembered she’s currently on the third floor and the Chamber was presumed to be located at the second. She tucked her wand into her pocket, next to the chocolate candies and held her hand up so Toffi can shrink and be placed there as well.

“You better behave. We’ve gotten this far. Would be a shame to cause trouble now.”

She heard footsteps so instead of looking around, she chose a direction at random, acting as if she knew exactly where she was going. Faking confidence, she walked down the corridor. The sun was barging in through the magnificent windows, covering the stone walls with much needed light. The passage seemed to be almost as long as the staircase but it was nothing compared to the place she ended up at. Hundreds of moving portraits and even more moving steps.

“The famous Grand Staircase. You know, it was Rowena Ravenclaw’s idea to make them move around! At times like these, I’m so proud of being a Ravenclaw!”

A task as simple as going down a floor seemed almost impossible for Edith. A beautiful pale blonde haired lady from one of the portraits must have sensed her confusion. Her voice, soft and charming, sang a question:

“Do you require assistance, young one?”

Edith jumped slightly, not expecting anyone to approach her. “I– err… would like to get to the second floor.”

“This way, dearie.”

The woman disappeared from her frames and instead, appeared on a corn field a few pictures to the right. Edith placed her feet at the first out of the set of steps in front of her awaiting them to relocate.

“They won’t move. You can follow me”, she heard the song. The lady now stood next to a very short plump man who did not seem to enjoy her company.

“Can a tired old minister not even be able to read his book in peace?”

Edith took more steps forward, turned to the right and entered another set of stairs. These did not want to hold in place. They started moving as soon as her feet stood on top. The girl grabbed the rails hastily trying to keep her balance.

“No, no, no. This isn’t the way to go!”

The lady rushed to a different portrait waking up all kinds of wizards and witches. A cow was heard mooing somewhere to the left and Toffi was knocking at the sides of Edith’s pocket.

“That’s enough!”

The girl looked around for her guide but instead of the beautiful pale lady she’s seen before, she was now staring at a bird-like creature with feathered wings sticking out of the frames into neighboring pictures. The staircase suddenly stopped and, as if ashamed of its actions, began slowly moving backwards. It descended just enough to grant Edith access to a corridor below the one she entered the structure.

“Second floor, dearie”, the voice sang. The woman was back to her beautiful self, floating slightly behind a coffee table where an elder witch was peeling an orange. Not waiting for an answer, she took off leaving Edith and Toffi in front of the entrance to the corridor.


CHFIVE

They entered the passage, the girl patting her clothes to see if nothing has happened to her pet cat. Only once she absolutely made sure everything is in place, she continued her journey. This corridor wasn’t as empty as the last and she was threading cautiously. Voices at the end suggested that there were at least three people talking. One of them, definitely older than the rest. Edith wasn’t keen on meeting with a professor although she knew much about them. His voice sounded tired and yet passionate at the same time. The students seemed to enjoy listening to his tales. Their reactions were filled with awe.

“Can we see the grindylow tank again?”

The other voice was high and squeaking, as if belonging to a first- or a second-year. Edith has immediately thought of grindylows her mother used to breed in the nearby lake. “Horrible creatures”, she said to herself in her mind. Thankfully, they were useful to her, maybe for the first and only time as they were a great excuse for the students and the teacher to vanish from the corridor and leave the way open.

Edith was almost hugging the suits of armor to be able to hide in case someone would suddenly enter the passage. Toffi seemed to have noticed the pressure so he stayed quiet, rumbling between the chocolate candies. Moving through the second floor corridor, Edith was imagining the bloodied letters announcing the opening of the Chamber of Secrets.

“Chicken blood”, she recalled. “Of course. Basilisks are afraid of roosters.”

She took steps in haste but hers were not the only ones she could make note of. Someone, or something, as she heard more than two feet at the time, was following her and she wasn’t pleased by the thought of having an encounter with whatever it might be. Finally, she turned a corner and saw two windows and a few torches giving out the faintest of light despite the fire dancing in the air. There was something off-putting about it and as the young witch looked to the sides, she noticed a slightly opened door leading to what looked like a very dirty bathroom.

Edith pushed it open, slipped into the room and quickly closed the door behind her. The stench was out of this world. So much in fact that Toffi has decided to investigate. He hopped out of the pockets, rattling the candies and growing to his normal size mid-jump. The duo began exploring.

Edith’s first thought was that she would never ever use this bathroom even if she explicitly had to. It seems like no-one has been maintaining it for years if not more and she would never expect something like this to happen at a place like the famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The cubicles were cracked, the floor was flooded. Edith’s feet stood in inches of murky water and she was glad she’s decided to wear high boots today.

Toffi was jumping around the sinks instead. He was softly touching the fractures in the mirrors with his tiny paws making the shards break off completely and fall on the stained floor below. As more and more of them were dropping, Edith turned back to see if the cat hasn’t harmed himself in any way. She noticed the candle flames shuffling from the corner of her eye. Took a few steps and suddenly stopped as the bathroom was drowned in a loud noise.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU LOUSY– a kitten!”

A translucent girl flew into the room. The robe she was wearing was just the same as the one Edith had on currently. The anger on her face subsided in the second she noticed Toffi but the cat did not seem happy. Startled by the ghost, he jumped in the air with a long hiss. Then, almost as if by chain-reaction, one of the taps spun briefly and the sink began to recede.

“Oops, I guess we’ve opened it again”, the girl stated. She pushed her round glasses with the tip of her finger and flew closer to Edith. “I haven’t seen you before.”

The young witch was beginning to open her mouth but was thankfully interrupted before she could say a word.

“Of course, it’s not like people come around here often. Especially not now. They still fear the big scary snake.”

“The Basilisk?” Edith inquired. The ghost nodded.

“So I hope you’ll stay a while longer as my much needed company.”

“I’m afraid that will not be possible. I have matters to attend to in the Chamber of Secrets.”

“You too?!” the ghost snorted. “The redhead last year was miserable enough. And you have a kitten with you.”

She turned to Toffi as he attempted to grab her with his paws confused as to why he’s continuously unsuccessful.

“But of course, you all have more interesting stuff to do than talking to the poor Myrtle. Go, if you have to!”

A ghostly tear appeared on her face as she took off at a great speed to one of the cubicles. Edith could hear her sobbing. She was feeling guilty of causing such reaction but at the same time, she was standing right in front the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets. This meant there was no turning back now.


CHSIX

Edith took a few steps forward and once she did, Toffi appeared next to her. They were both staring at a wide pipe now exposed to the view. Worryingly, it seemed easier to get in rather than get out but as Harry Potter has managed it last year, Edith was sure she can handle the challenge. She patted her pocket signaling the cat to shrink and hop inside. Once he did, she took a deep breath, lowered herself down the pipe and began sliding down.

The speed at which she was descending was so high it has left her lightheaded. Not only that, the robes she was wearing were now wet and slimy and Toffi wanted nothing to do with it. He exited the pocket. His landing was met with a crack, frightening the kitten once again.

“What is it?” Edith asked rubbing her forehead. The floor itself was wet as the corridor was situated under a body of water but what Toffi jumped onto was anything but. Bones of small animals. Mice and rats, most likely, right next to a huge sheet of gray, molding skin. Edith was quick to put two and two together. “Shed Basilisk skin. We’re here. We’re really here! In the Chamber of Secrets!”

The kitten wasn’t as thrilled of this discovery. He sat in the driest possible spot and began licking himself clean. His efforts were in vain to which he reacted with an unhappy meow.

The duo had no idea how long the tunnel was or what was at its end. It seems as if they were in for another lengthy walk, this time threading through mud, slime and possibly, excrements. Toffi was keeping close to his owner, not even willing to rush after the spiders. Those creatures didn’t look confident either. All of them appeared very small as if they were children, only beginning to settle in. Edith noticed they were fleeing from the noises and splashes made by her feet. They weren’t spreading out and hiding by the walls though. Instead, they were rushing forward, deeper into the dark tunnel. Maybe they were leading her somewhere? She had no idea.

What she was wondering was how the Chamber even opened before her? She only recalled Toffi getting scared. He must have touched something, turned a knob or do something to cause a reaction. She replayed the incident in her head and it dawned on her. His hiss. The cat must have unknowingly imitate Parseltongue. The language was obviously, not taught at Euro-Glyph but they covered it during one of the classes a few years back. The Basilisk was a huge snake, it should have been obvious that the Heir of Slytherin would have to communicate with it in Parseltongue.

“I guess I should be glad you took a trip with me, huh?” she said to the orange cat beside her.

Minutes later, they arrived at what appeared to be an open door carved with snake-like ornaments. Behind the structure, another was hiding in shadows. Pillars as tall as the eyes could see, carvings spiraling in the fractured stone, a green gloom stood thick in the air. Edith was looking right at Salazar Slytherin himself, memorialized as a giant statue at the end of the Chamber. In front, a dead body of a gigantic serpent bathed in blood and venom, was getting torn apart. Now she understood where the tiny spiders were heading. Their goal was to warn their family someone is coming.

Multiple sets of eight eyes stared at the girl and her cat. Toffi squealed and hid behind his owner. She took a few steps back and drew her wand albeit with no spells coming to her mind. If there was anything her mother taught her about magical creatures was to be kind to them. These appeared to be a young generation of Acromantulas. Ironically, also considered impossible to train by the Ministry of Magic. When Edith was planning to come here, she never thought she’d have to face such dangers. The only one meant to and, to be fair, was indeed, already dead. Thinking about it now, she called herself naive and wished she came prepared for trouble.

“Acromantulas can speak, can they?” the voice in her head sounded. She gulped, opened her mouth and loudly said: “I mean no harm.”

The family did not believe that one bit. Couple steps back, slow and steady. But they were not interested in her leaving. The spiders kept drawing near, hiding the Basilisk behind their enormous haired bodies as if to claim it their own.

“I want nothing with the Basilisk. It’s all yours”, Edith stated.

Their pincers made uncomfortable clicking sounds filling the Chamber. The noise echoed in the otherwise empty space, making it seem as if the beasts were surrounding the duo. And then a raspy voice was heard:

“Wait!”

The spiders held in place, still moving their pincers, thus the clicking did not subside.

“I, for one, would like to know who you are and why you are here.”

The voice was coming from somewhere behind one of the spiraling pillars. Edith looked to the right. A fairly small spider, only ten feet in size came closer to investigate the strangers.

“This is a dangerous place. Even for us. Especially for us. But now, that the Serpent of Slytherin is dead, we can claim it our own and live in peace”, he continued. “As for you, human, I can see no reason.”

“I-I came looking”, Edith muttered. “For the Basilisk.”

“Your reasoning is unknown to me.”

“I wanted to see it. To write about it. Describe it in detail”, she explained quickly.

“Ahh…” the spider dwelled on her words. “Curiosity. A noble trait. Rewarding. But dangerous at the same time, would you agree?”

Edith nodded. “You can have the snake. I mean no harm.”

“You were the one to draw you weapon first. Your wand. A thin piece of wood believed by your kind to be powerful enough to stop us.”

There were no good answers coming to her mind. She did not dare to move, either so she stood in silence as hundreds of eyes were glaring at her.

“Curiosity is dangerous, as I said. You could argue I should not even stop my newborns from eating you outright. But I was curious. And you are inconsiderate.”

It was difficult to prove him wrong. Edith was wondering if Protego Totalum could shield her but wasn’t brave enough to test the theory. A set of black legs moved in the distance but no-one took notice. A few seconds later, those same sets of legs jumped on the spider closest to Edith. Toffi hissed. The girl screamed. The family was clicking and clacking in anger. The set of legs and whatever it belonged to were gone, leaving the Acromantula squealing in pain. The beasts’ attention was switched to the unknown attacker.


CHSEVEN

Black legs hopped on another spider, this time, slashing one of his eyes in the process. The creature wasn’t as large as the others but it was a lot more nimble and much faster. It was switching targets posthaste, jumping around and, as Edith soon realized, carving a path for her.

The girl turned on her heel and lunged forward, back to the stone structure and the slimy corridor. The spider family rushed after her. The distance between them was closing faster than the witch would like. Suddenly, another giant creature stood by her. Toffi took courtesy in getting his owner out of the sticky situation. He grew to rival the young Acromantula in size and let the girl grab onto his orange fur.

Edith was grasping the hair in panic. She climbed on top of the cat. They were moving as fast as they could, cracking all of the old bones and splashing muddy water all over the place.

“How are we going to clear the slide?!” Edith yelled to Toffi. The black creature was still incapacitating Acromantulas one by one but there was no chance it could get rid of all of them. Toffi launched himself at the slide as if it was a tree. His claws dove into the plumbing. One paw after another, he was getting them out of the Chamber. The orange face was visibly determined to make it and Edith was proud of him.

Finally, a light was seen at the top. A dim light but nevertheless, it was a beautiful sight. The girl made her way out of the pipe first, grabbed the kitten by his tired paws and brought him onto the cold floor of the bathroom. Toffi shrunk to his normal size and hid in his owner’s arms. She hugged him pushing him to her chest with as much strength as she had left in her.

They were not the only ones to leave the Chamber however. A set of black legs jumped out as well and only now Edith could see who has managed to rescue her. A huge dog looked at the duo and barked as if to scold them. Then, it barked again. Using a different tone.

“I think it wants you to follow it”, they heard a voice. The ghost was observing this peculiar scene from a distance. The dog nodded as if it understood what she was saying.

“Can you lead us out?” Edith asked. The creature repeated the gesture.

The corridors of the Hogwarts castle were flooded in darkness helped only by the light coming out of torches. It was middle of the night. Their adventures must have taken them hours. It was no time for sightseeing nor Edith was interested. She blindly followed the black dog, knowing well she’s naive for doing so. Still, it helped her in the Chamber. If it was to kill her, it would do so when it had the chance.

They exited the castle and crossed the grounds. They arrived nearby a large tree. Its branches were swaying around in the air yet stopped all of the sudden as if paralyzed. Edith noticed something as orange as the kitten she was holding. Another cat was pushing its paws against the tree bark.

The dog led them forward behind the tree and into a tunnel. Edith was tired of tunnels and walking but had no other choice. They marched together. A dog, two cats and a human girl. Out of the tunnel and into what appeared to be a shack.

“Can this be…? The Shrieking Shack?” she asked in her thoughts.

They exited the building. The dog stood still and the orange cat stopped beside him. Edith and Toffi did the same. The young witch looked around. She recognized the snowy buildings despite nighttime. They were back at Hogsmeade.

“Thank you”, she said to the dog. It wagged its tail and barked. She petted him on the head and once she was done, he ran off and the cat left with him.

“What a strange day”, Edith spoke to Toffi. “I guess we should be heading back. Hop in.”

Toffi shrunk and placed himself back inside the pocket, next to chocolate candies. If the duo were to encounter any dementors on their way back, the sweets will surely come in handy. They had to clear one more walk to reach the outskirts of Hogsmeade and Apparate back into their Euro-Glyph bedroom. The essay still had to be written before the end of the holiday break. But, to everyone’s surprise, Edith Picard’s wasn’t on the topic of Basilisks. She changed her mind. Chose Acromantulas instead.