The silence was so loud that I could feel it echoing, bouncing to and fro off the marble floor and stone walls. Any move I made would send a clatter of sound ricocheting down the grand corridor, and if I risked making too much noise, Mr. Filch might find me. The room was too large and too rock-hard do anything quietly, and very table surface throughout the dining hall betrayed me at every move. Even the ones up on the teacher’s pavilion--they, too, reflected noises back around, magnifying them into thunder. I was on enemy ground, in the darkness of the place.
My robes seemed weighted, as if I’d been drenched in water, making the thought of movement seem even more distant. I felt as if any lurch of limb would cause an upheaval of uninvited scuffling noises, and I was much too fearful to try anything that could get me expelled.
Oh, why had I even tried this? If only Malfoy hadn’t shown up to challenge me, dare me to stay outside of my dorm all night. First years were proving to be such a pain. But, all the same, I’d gotten in here, and I could get back out just as easily. I’d entered from the entrance to my left…
I winced at the memory of the vast door grinding across the floor to a close, its hinges screaming with the chapped lips of unoiled metal. That had made noise enough, and surely Mrs. Norris was leading the grimy old man, blood-curdling Filch, down to this hall at a hobble even now. Perhaps his toothy grin was waiting for me on the other side of the door at this very second, relishing my helplessness. Leaving in that direction out of the question for certain. So that meant there was only one thing for me to do.
This thought snapped me into motion, and my imagination swirled with extravaganza as suddenly an idea equipped with utmost brilliance trapped a piece of my divided attention in its talons. I sank to the floor on shaky knees and became numb with what I assumed was adrenaline, then began using the tips of my fingers to slide in a slow, experimental circle. Just as I had hoped -- my robes made minimal sound against the marble. I could swim across the surface of the sleek floor until I reached the secret passageway Fred and George had introduced me to just days ago, and with all the sound I would make, Filch might as well just try to track a flea.
But for an extra precaution, I whipped out my wand and squished it into the groove my curled palm made. Then I began feeling my way to the opposite end of the massive room.
The pads on my fingers lurched off of my bone every time I slid myself a little farther, and I had to admit the sensation of moving abdominally across the floor of the Great Hall was surreal -- suddenly I was a penguin, sledding across the dark Antarctic plane on my coated belly. The expanse of floor I needed to cover was slowly and painfully growing smaller. In places it seemed as if I was on ice, a freezing sensation penetrating my nerves with pinpricks of chill. I persisted, forcing my shoulders to roll back and continue supporting the repetitive motion of my arms in as soundless a way as possible, and soon, the only interruption of silence my ears detected was the shallow monotone of breath I was attempting to keep steady.
The edge of the teacher’s pavillion crept closer, and I begged for the stairs to pounce onto me. My limbs burned. My destination lurched closer with every second. I stretched out my hand to the first step, placing my palm carefully on its plateau, then pushed my upper body off the ground, swinging my legs underneath myself in one swift movement. My foot jostled the edge of the stair with a gut-churning scrape against tile, and I winced and instinctively dove into the refuge of my hands, cowering underneath the arc of my arms. The noise bellowed its rage for a brief moment, and quiet once again settled like upset dust fluttering down onto a desk surface. I raised my head and felt my way along the first stair, making a little more sound than I liked, but I was so close to reaching my goal that I took the chance. For a second I thought I heard movement in the corridor outside. My heart pounded like a steady bass, and I felt my breathing quicken as my search hurried its pace, desperate in a close situation. my hand grasped wildly in the dark for my salvation. I slid across the floor along the last stretch of the long stair, and suddenly a screech of something scraping against stone hurtled into the still air, just as deafening as the door’s protests. I gaped in horrification at the shoes I crouched on, not sure to believe whether I’d just made that horrible noise or not. Surely Filch would have heard me, by now.
I reached across the stair and finally found the groove I was searching for, and with a breath of satisfied relief, I started to pry the stone trapdoor up off the step, ready to tumble down into the room below and finally flee this seemingly-inescapable nightmare. But an even more terrifying sound stopped me.
“Caught a student out of bed, have we, Mrs. Norris?”
I felt my gulp turn into a cold weighted rock as it sank into my gut, and I turned to face my punishment.