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Among Enemies by magic mania
Chapter 5 : The Cost of Obedience
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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But love is blind and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit;
For if they could, Cupid himself would blush
To see me thus transformed to a boy.

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act II Scene 6

 
        Kiana scrutinized herself in the mirror through narrowed eyes. Something had changed since her encounter with Lord Voldemort. Her appearance had differed, but that was obvious to anyone. Her wardrobe had changed overnight from bright, entrancing colors to moody, neutral shades. Black had become her new favorite color - thick, black eyeliner and dark eye shadow worn daily presented this fact to the world.  

        No, it was something internal that had altered itself, too – her mind, perhaps? Although it had been only a week since Dumbledore had announced her assignment, Kiana felt like she had been living with her temperamental, morose mind forever. She found it irritating that her professors taught them elementary spells and effortless incantations when she should be learning about the latest potions and Dark curses.

        Where had this new demeanor come from? Why did she constantly feel the urge to slack in her schoolwork and focus instead on perfecting Dark magic?

        Her gaze lingered on Soren’s Complete Guide to Illegal Curses and the Dark Arts. She absentmindedly flipped through the discolored pages until she found the one she had been studying earlier: the Mortacious Curse.

Curse Description: Deemed the most painful and deadly killing curse, the “Mortacious Curse” is difficult to cast and fatal if backfired. Should ONLY be cast at the victim’s heart at close proximity or the risk of having it rebound upon the caster is doubled. If performed correctly, this newly discovered Dark spell will cause unbearable pain and tormenting memories for the victim until he/she slowly perishes from cardiac arrest. USE WITH CAUTION!

Curse Difficulty: Extreme! Practice using the “Mortacus” curse several times before attempting “Mortacious” (see p. 244).

Standing Within The Ministry of Magic: Illegal in all parts of the world. A simple attempt at this or its brother spell “Mortacus” is an automatic five years in Azkaban.

 
        Surprisingly, Kiana experienced no foreboding at the prospect of five years in Azkaban. That’s only for the fools who get caught, was her instant thought.

        “Kiana? What are you looking at?”

        Instinctively, Kiana thrust her hand into her pocket and withdrew her wand, aiming it at the intruder to her dormitory. Michelle’s eyes widened and she held up her hands in defense.

        “Whoa! Calm down!” Her eyes held suspicion as well as surprise. “Why are you always on guard?”

        Kiana’s jaw clenched and she breathed out through her teeth with an angry hiss. “I wasn’t expecting anyone for a few hours,” she muttered, replacing her wand inside her robes. “You should have the decency to knock.”

        Michelle narrowed her gaze and approached her determinedly. “When have you ever asked me to knock? And is that a skull on your shirt?!” She pointed accusingly at the white skull and crossbones on her black t-shirt, which Kiana instantly covered by crossing her arms across her chest.

        “So what if it is? I am free to wear whatever I want on weekends.”

        “I’m not arguing about your free will, Kiana; I’m arguing about the fact that, a month ago, you were appalled by even a sword on somebody’s shirt!” Her features softened and she reached out an arm to grasp her shoulder, but Kiana frowned and twisted to avoid her hand. This caused the anger to return to Michelle’s eyes, and her hands curled into fists.

        “What has happened to you?” she cried, rage flowing into her words. “You’re not the same person that came to Hogwarts, Kiana! Ever since you told me about some ‘important meeting’ you had to attend a week ago, you’ve been moody, withdrawn, and on edge. Are you having a pre-midlife crisis or what?”

        Kiana turned her back on her friend to avoid peering into her eyes. She didn’t want to observe the disappointment and concern portrayed on Michelle’s face. Besides afraid of tears filling her eyes, Kiana also feared having to answer her best friend if she allowed the argument to continue. Because, heck, what answer could she give her? She herself didn’t know what was happening to her, so explaining it to someone else was impossible.

        “Was there something you wished to ask me?” Kiana kept her voice nonchalant and distant.

        She heard Michelle breathe out huskily. “Yes. Jenny said she wants to see you by the Forest.”

        Kiana spun around, her brow furrowing in confusion. “She wants to meet me where?”

        “The Forbidden Forest,” Michelle repeated with annoyance. “I don’t know why, but you should go now. Perhaps you can find your old personality among the trees while you’re at it.”

        Kiana opened her mouth to retort, but Michelle had spun on her heel and stalked out of the room before she could utter a word. Kiana kicked a chair in frustration. It fell to the floor with a clatter, and her mind screamed at her to vent her anger further. What damage she could inflict on her roommates’ bed curtains or the windows surrounding their dormitory!

        Her wand tip glowed green in her pocket, as if signaling her to give in to her urges. She shook with the rage she struggled to contain, and her lips were white as she pressed them together to hold back a rising scream.

        Finally, she could contain her emotions no longer. Aiming her wand at her pillow, she blasted apart the fabric and witnessed the explosion of feathers with glee. Her wand begged for more, and she gave it more. After destroying every pillow in the room, she created large X’s in each curtain hanging from the five four-poster beds. It was all too easy to destroy ordinary objects, for with a flick of her wand she could repair them in seconds. This she did, although reluctantly. She wanted to witness her roommates’ expressions when they saw their beds trashed. But what would that give her besides momentary satisfaction? She didn’t need to be creating more enemies inside Hogwarts…not when she was trying so hard to become inconspicuous. The less people who were suspicious of her activities the better.

        Kiana smirked with the thought. Yes, she was becoming more like a double spy every day – friend to Dumbledore and her schoolmates during the day, enemy of everything good and decent at night when she was among Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

        Kiana halted in mid-step on her way to the door. She was unexpectedly hit with the memory of the dream that had haunted her at the beginning of the year. The cold hands, terrifying hiss in her ear, and heartless words: “You are here for a reason, girl, and when the day comes when I claim you, you will have no choice but to run toward me and collapse at my feet. I am the only thing that matters now. I AM your future!”    

        Yes, there was no doubt now: the dream “demon” had been Voldemort, but now Kiana couldn’t remember why she had been so afraid. Yes, the Dark Lord was not akin to an angel, but he had offered her more power than even Dumbledore could have. If she had recalled her dream in Dumbledore’s office, she would have panicked even more at the Headmaster’s odd request. Good thing she hadn’t – today she fully realized what a gift Voldemort had given her. The gift of independence, freedom, and dominance; she should be entirely grateful for everything offered to her, not afraid. Fear was an emotion associated with the weak, and that was a sensation Kiana was determined not to experience.

        She brought her mind back to that day’s task. The Dark Lord had informed her that a ‘special friend of his’ would be visiting her that night in a secluded classroom. Kiana had almost scoffed at the notion of Voldemort’s ‘friend,’ for she knew very well that Voldemort didn’t desire friends – he wanted obedient followers. And the Dark Lord was a hypocrite in this way, for even though he stressed blind obedience with the Death Eaters, he himself could break any promise he had made and kill off any man he felt incompetent. Voldemort had proved this the day he had asked Kiana to kill off one of his followers. He had picked the man without any thought; he had done it as easily as playing “Eeny, Meany, Miny, Mo.”

        Kiana shook her head to clear the thought. No, she couldn’t dwell on that. She had acted on her orders – an order from Voldemort and an order from Dumbledore. She had done nothing because of her own will. She was simply playing a game, a deadly game.

        With that conclusion, Kiana headed out the door and down the stairs. She would quickly visit Jenny before practicing her Dark spells. She wanted to be prepared for this ‘friend’ when he came. She didn’t wish to be tortured out of incompetence with her own wand.

        Although she was young, she was not weak. And she would prove it to Voldemort and the world soon enough. 

                                                                   *
       
        Jennifer Simonson was lounging against a sycamore when Kiana strolled toward her. The girl looked up, squinting against the dying sun. She did not smile when she noticed who was approaching, which caused Kiana to clutch her wand. Keeping her magical weapon close at hand and constantly fingering it had become an old habit lately. She was always prepared to draw her weapon and fight, although what caused the warning bell to ring in her mind every hour was a mystery. Her life, it seemed, had become a mystery.

        “Oh, look who it is,” Jenny scoffed, pushing herself up from the ground. “The princess who turned Goth.”

        Kiana halted in mid-step and stared incredulously at her friend. “Not you, too,” she groaned.

        Jenny raised her eyebrows. “What are you surprised about? You don’t expect me to grovel at your feet when you’ve abandoned all your friends. You hardly acknowledge us in class or in the hallways!”

        Kiana closed her eyes and focused on her breathing. “I do have other things on my mind.”

        “Excuse me, then, for trying to continue a friendship with someone who has more important things to do.”

        Kiana stood in shocked silence as Jenny turned her back on her and sauntered off toward the Quidditch field.
       
        Kiana’s shock dissipated at the rude welcome she had received. Grinding her teeth together, she cried out after her. “Jennifer Sue, how dare you criticize me for ignoring you when you granted me the same gift at the beginning of the year!”

        Jenny halted and spun around to face her with raging eyes. “What are you talking about, Karn?”

        Hurt mingled with anger as Jenny’s words sunk in. When had she ever called her something besides her first name?

        “You heard me, Simonson.” Two can play at that game. “I clearly recall you frolicking in the Forbidden Forest each night, not telling anyone what you were doing. The last time we hung out together was that first weekend of school! Tell me what you’ve been up to, Jenny, and perhaps I’ll speak to you again.”

        Jenny crossed her arms defiantly. “What business of it is yours? I can have a private life, can’t I?”

        Kiana laughed with mock delight. “Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth? You accuse me of keeping secrets then hypocritically argue that you are allowed the same thing!”

        Jenny’s furrowed brow deepened, though Kiana saw that she had dug herself into a hole. Jenny was about to retort when a rustle behind them in the trees caused both girls to spin around.

        Seamus Finnigan clambered onto the grass, brushing fallen twigs off his cloak. He shook himself like a dog before peering up at the ladies before him, their mouths agape with surprise.

        “I thought I heard you, Karn!” He grinned broadly and walked forward. “I heard both of your elegant tones a mile away. What do we owe this honor?”

        Kiana glared suspiciously at the boy. “What do you mean by ‘we’, Finnigan? Do you have another goon following your gallant footsteps?”

        He lost his pompous act and glowered at her. “Watch your tongue, Karn. What do you think I meant by ‘we’? Who else is standing here in your dark shadow?”

        Kiana glanced from Jenny to Seamus and back again. “I don’t understand what your game is.”

        Seamus turned toward Jenny with a questioning gaze. “You haven’t told her?”

        Jenny shrugged. “She wouldn’t care even if I did. As you are aware of, Kiana has found better ways to amuse herself than by hanging out with her ex-best friends.”

        Kiana scowled at her. What had happened to them all? They had all been so close; now all they had were accusing tones and hurtful words for her. Was it only her new attire that brought out the worst in them?

        Seamus sighed and thrust his hands into his pockets. “Whatever. To keep you in the loop, Karn, I will share the news with you: Jennifer and I are officially a couple.”

        Kiana’s jaw dropped. “As of when? Five minutes ago?”

        Something dark flashed across Seamus’ eyes. “As of a fortnight ago! Gracious, where have you been?”

        “I asked her the same question,” Jenny added.

        Kiana threw up her hands. “Fine! I give up with all of you! Tease me all you want behind my back, but don’t give me crap I don’t deserve! If you want me to leave you alone, then by all means I will. This is goodbye!”
   
        With a growl at them both, she spun on her heel and ran forcefully into…

        Harry Potter.

        They knocked heads and stumbled backwards, both rubbing their foreheads with a grimace. Kiana’s heart skipped a beat when she realized whom she had run into. Their meetings these days seemed to be getting more and more awkward.

        Harry smiled awkwardly as he rubbed his lightning bolt scar. “Hello again, Kiana.”

        Kiana returned the smile shyly. “Hi, Harry. How are you?”

        “I’m fine; I came to ask you the same thing. You're not experiencing any...aftereffects, are you?”

        “Um..no," she murmured, shuffling her foot in the dirt. "I'm fine physically.” Her head buzzed, making it difficult to think up things to say. Harry seemed to be experiencing a similar sensation, so he turned toward their spectators with an embarrassed nod and smile to each.
   
        “Potter, you here to train for the match this Saturday?”

        “Of course.” Harry raised his eyebrows at Seamus’ doubtful tone. “Not like I need much practice.”

        Seamus smirked. “Oh really?”

        “Yes. It’s my team that needs the practice, which is why I’ve scheduled trainings for every night this coming week. But if you’ll excuse me, I have some drills to perform with Ginny.” Harry gave each of them a final nod before heading off to the Quidditch pitch, his robes flapping behind him in the chill wind.

        Kiana’s eyes widened maddeningly. Ginny?! That annoyingly pretentious girl is forcing Harry to give her private lessons? Why, I’d give that two-faced…

        “Oh, and Kiana…”

        Kiana pushed the anger from her eyes and peered up at the boy. “Yes, Harry?”

        “Stop by the Gryffindor locker rooms at eight tonight. I think I found something that might belong to you.”

        Kiana’s heart quickened despite the formal request. She didn’t remember losing anything recently, but that didn’t matter. Any time spent alone with Harry Potter was surely good for her overall mood and stability, even if he was the critical piece to her assignment.

        “Of course,” she replied with her best flirtatious smile. “I’ll see you then.”
   
        She caught Jenny rolling her eyes, but Kiana ignored her. She wasn’t about to let anyone ruin that moment which brought light to her mind. Finding comfort and joy in daily activities had become seldom as of late.

                                                                     *

        Darkness covered the enormous Quidditch field like a blanket, and Kiana could hardly make out the changing rooms as she strode across the grass. She clutched her black cloak tighter to her chest and peered up at the sky. It wouldn’t be long before snow sprinkled Hogwarts Castle and another bitter season took hold upon England. She dreaded her midnight escapades now that the nights had grown unbearable, but she feared Voldemort’s lashes worse than ordinary frostbite.

        Breaking free of her thoughts, Kiana stood in front of the door leading to the boys’ changing room and banged hard against the wood.

        “Come in!” A distant voice called from within.

        Kiana tentatively pulled open the door and peered inside. The tiny room filled with benches and metal lockers was still musky from the sweating bodies of Gryffindors. She wrinkled her nose at the stench. How did anyone stand staying in here long?

        She forgot the uncomfortable surroundings when she noticed Harry in the back of the room. His back was to her as he pulled a gray sweater over his head. Before the wool covered it up, Kiana noticed the muscular outline of his back and the fullness of his arms. She found herself holding her breath as she studied each curve and arch of his body, but she hurriedly looked away when he spotted her in the mirror attached to his locker door.

        Harry smiled and grabbed his Firebolt perched against the wall before walking toward her. His hair was disheveled and there was a streak of dirt across his face, but Kiana thought he had never looked sexier.

        “Are you ready?” he asked.

        Kiana gaped at him. “For what?”

        “For a flying practice.” He laughed at her shocked expression before tossing her a Nimbus 2000.

        Kiana caught it with a smirk. “I thought you had something to give me. You said you had something that belonged to me.”

        Harry’s eyes shone mysteriously. “I did…your broom. Hermione told me you didn’t have one, so I thought I’d let you use this one for awhile. We have a whole closet full of brooms no one is using.”

        Kiana was momentarily speechless. She swallowed hard and looked him kindly in the eye. “Thank you, Harry. I never thought I would find the time to learn how to fly this year.”

        His smile vanished with her words, and he peered at her with something resembling curiosity as he led her onto the field.

        “Speaking of which, Hermione also told me that you’ve been busy with…extracurricular activities recently.” She noticed him surveying her gothic attire with something unfamiliar to her - fascination. There was no distaste in his gaze, only interest and a touch of pity.

        Kiana didn’t know how to reply to such a response. Normally, when her peers would chastise her, she would respond with a jinx or foul retort. Now she was met with pure kindness, and she didn’t know whether to blow off his interest or spill everything.

        Don’t be stupid, Kiana; you can’t tell him anything! Imagine what Dumbledore would say…or worse, Voldemort. Telling your victim that you’re supposed to murder him painfully is not a pleasant conversation starter.

        Despite the joy it brought to hang out with her number one crush, it was difficult to speak so normally with someone she was forced to become familiar with and then kill off. She had to pretend that she was getting to know him out of pure attraction.

        Harry noticed her hesitance and added quickly, “You don’t have to tell me anything. I’ve just noticed that you look different from the time we…first met.”

        Kiana smiled despite the gruesome thoughts running through her head. “We did meet in an abnormal way, didn’t we?”

        Harry laughed as they halted in the center of the field, the goal posts on either side of them. “Once I overcame the shock of it all, I realized that some parts of our duel were amusing - in a strange way. I don't normally knock my opponent unconscious when I'm trying to win a contest."

        He was so comfortable around her, like they had known each other since childhood. It was rather disconcerting to her. She fooled with her bracelets distractedly, knowing she had to give him some kind of answer.

        “Harry, I…just want you to know that I’m not your typical rebel or Goth, as I guess I appear.” She continued to twirl her chain bracelet around her wrist. “I’ve found myself in a sticky situation as of late, and I guess I haven’t responded well to it. I don’t know how to explain it to even myself…”

        Harry held up a hand to silence her. “You don’t have to explain anything, Kiana. I understand how it feels to be disconnected to yourself, like you have…”

        “Someone else living inside of you,” Kiana finished with a shy smile. “Yeah, I understand.”

        Harry studied her intently, like he was trying to glimpse the truth within her soul. Kiana’s skin prickled as she determinedly stared back into his green irises.

        The silence was uncomfortable, yet it also seemed to fit the moment. They both appeared to have too many thoughts to be able to express them or even sort through them.

        After a moment, Harry cleared his throat and turned away to study the three goal posts lit up by two large spotlights on the grass.

        “So…are you ready to start?”
   
        Kiana stared down at the piece of wood in her hand, wondering how it was supposed to support her hundreds of feet in the air. “Um…I guess so.”

        “You’re not afraid of heights, are you?”

        “No…well, at least not when I’m behind platted glass or a wall. Hovering high above the ground under a stick doesn’t appeal to me right now.”

        Harry set his Firebolt on the ground and approached her. “Don’t worry; you’ll get used to the feeling once you’ve done it awhile. Have you ever mounted a broom before?”

        Kiana shook her head.

        Harry took her hands (creating another shiver down her spine) and placed them near the top of the broom handle. “Your hands should always remain here, even when you’re turning or spiraling. Now, one leg over…right! It’s similar to mounting a horse. Once you’re in the air, your feet will rest against these foot braces…” Harry motioned to the metal supports closer to the tail. “Once you’re reasonably comfortable, all you do is kick off from the ground hard and hold on. Here, I’ll show you.”

        Opening up his hand, Harry’s broom lying two feet away launched itself into his palm. Mounting it, Harry pushed off from the ground in one fluid motion and soared high above the grass. Within five seconds he was two stories above her. Kiana glanced up at him with awe.

        “You make it look so easy!” she called to him.
   
        Harry smiled down at her. “I just have more confidence; that’s why I rose so quickly. Now come up and join me.”

        Kiana frowned. “Right now?”

        Harry laughed. “No, by the end of term…yes, now!”
   
        Kiana scowled at her broom and willed it to behave. She didn’t wish to be bucked off her broom and spotted by Harry, the best Quidditch player in centuries. After inhaling deeply, she kicked off from the ground and felt her feet leave the grass instantly. Before she could situate herself, she was soaring upward at an accelerating speed. Past the changing room windows, the top floor of the castle, past Harry, and past the goal posts…

        “Harry, make it stop!” she cried, lowering herself closer to the broom as if hoping she could push it closer to the ground with her weight.
   
        Despite her obvious fear, Harry chuckled and watched her rise with interest. “You apparently have more confidence than you thought, Kiana, or else the broom wouldn’t be rising so quickly…”

        “Thanks for the support, Harry, now get me down!” She had pressed down hard against the wood with her hands and bottom, miraculously causing the broom to halt at least five stories above the ground. She could hardly make out Harry’s face, but she knew he was laughing by the way he clutched his stomach.

        “Why come down, Kiana? You’re so close to the goal posts! You can try flying around them.”

        Suddenly murdering the boy didn’t seem like such a difficult thing to do.   “Shut up, Harry! There’s no way I’m going to move from here until you tell me how to fly back down…”

        “Okay, okay. All you do is lean forward and press up against the foot braces.”

        At least he listened to me, Kiana thought with relief. He must have heard the fear in my voice!

        She followed his directions as precisely as possible, but instead of flying downward, her broom shot forward at a horrifying speed. Screaming, she gripped the broom handle and instinctively squeezed her eyes shut.

        “Don’t close your eyes!” Harry shouted to her. “You’re going to hit the post!”

        She thrust her eyes open to find her broom a mere seven feet from the smallest of the golden hoops. Harry was following her from below, but all laughter had died from his face. If she didn’t turn soon, she was going to crash into the metal at a deadly speed.
   
        “Turn!” Harry cried to her.

        She obeyed within a foot of the hoop, yanking the broom right. She missed the outer edge by a few inches, and she was about to release her breath when something caught against the ring and pulled her from her seat. She screeched as she left the broom completely and had to reach upward to grab part of the hoop. Wrapping her arms around the thick metal, she watched with dread as her broom zoomed off toward the forest.

        “Kiana!”
   
        Harry flew toward her and hovered by her head. “Are you okay? What happened?”

        Kiana groaned as she adjusted her hold on the hoop. “A strap from my cloak caught on the ring and threw me off! I could have stayed on my broom if I had realized what had happened, but I allowed myself to be thrown backwards. I have a good hold on this thing but…” She glanced down at the ground and paled. “Harry, get me on your broom!”

        Harry grimaced. “My broom can’t hold two people…no broom can. You’re gonna have to call your broom back and get on again.”

        Kiana could have slugged him. “Are you insane?! I’m using all my strength to stay here as it is. How can I climb onto a broom without any support?”
   
        “You must, or else you’ll have to drop and I’ll conjure up a mat for you. But that’s a pretty long drop…”

        Kiana cried out in exasperation and peered at the dense thicket of trees surrounding the field. “My broom’s probably gone now; you call it back!”

        Harry shook his head. “A broom will only respond to its rider. Just open up your hand and will it to return.”

        Kiana glared daggers at him. “If this doesn’t work, I’m going to kill you, Potter!” She was too frightened to realize the irony of her words.

        Carefully lowering one arm from her hold on the ring, she shakily opened up her palm. Come here, you retarded broom! Come here and save me before I make a further fool of myself in front of Harry.

        Despite her name calling, the broom decided to save Kiana’s dignity and fly toward her, however slowly. Once within her reach, Kiana grasped the handle and pulled the seat of the broom toward her body.

        “That’s it,” Harry said. “Now pull your leg over just like normal…good! Now let go of the hoop.”

        Releasing her hold was the hardest part. She feared that on letting her hands slip from the ring, the broom would zoom away from under her again. She prayed that wizard brooms didn’t commonly play tricks on people.
   
        Closing her eyes in prayer, Kiana pulled the broom more snuggly under her before releasing her left hand from the ring. Her weight caused the broom to drop a foot, but surprisingly it stayed put afterwards. She sighed in relief and turned to Harry, who was smiling proudly at her.

        “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

        She glared at him. “Don’t say another word, Potter; this is all your fault.”

        Harry pretended to be hurt. “My fault? I was just trying to help you release your fears.”

        “Yeah, well, you ended up increasing my fears!”

        Harry rolled his eyes. “So you’re not up for another spin around the pitch?”

        Kiana was about to jeer at him when she thought of a better idea. She adjusted her hold on the broom before lowering herself and launching her broom toward the outskirts of the field. She heard Harry laugh in amused surprise and follow her.

        She hadn’t realized how exhilarating flying could be! The cool air rushed around her and chilled her bare hands and face, but the thrill of seeing the ground rush beneath her took away the sting. She practiced her turning skills by swerving around thick oak trees and the narrow goal hoops. Harry followed her every move and impressed her with his courageous stunt of standing on the front of his broom. Kiana gasped with fear as he held out his hands to the side, steering the broom with his feet. He strangely resembled a California surfer, although this surfer was hundreds of feet in the air.

        “You’re suicidal, Potter!” she cried at him as he narrowly missed a tree. This comment only made him laugh.

        Kiana, alive with the drug of competition, attempted to copy a trick of Harry’s by lying back by the tail and thrusting her legs on top of the narrow head. Harry called this the “lounge position” for obvious reasons.

        “Not bad for a beginner, Karn!”

        Kiana grinned and had turned to study Harry’s new skill when her broom propelled itself toward the outskirts of the field. Kiana’s heart lurched as she hastily leaned forward and attempted to steer the Nimbus away from the branches of the looming trees.

        But her efforts came too late. The broom threw her into the bare branches, making her release a shriek as her body fell through the nearest open space. Twigs scraped her face and legs as she desperately tried (and failed) to grab hold of a thick branch. She was jostled and banged as her body fell without proper support. When she flew face forward toward a branch near the ground, she foresaw the inevitable conclusion and held up her arms to protect her face. But she was not quick enough, and her vulnerable forehead banged against the wood, bringing her to a place of dark and quiet.


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