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Chapter 1 : Don't Panic
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I crept silently back into my dormitory and headed for the shower, tossing my quidditch gear into the corner for the house elves to wash. I rolled my eyes as the girl in the bed next to mine, Margaret Greyson, snored loudly.
I loved my morning showers; they gave me time all to myself. Normally I was surrounded by people all day, jabbering on about absolute nonsense, and when you share a dormitory with three other girls, it's very rare to have privacy. I lathered myself with vanilla scented lotion and cheerily shampooed my hair, reveling in the nearly silent rush of the water.
As I exited the shower twenty minutes later, I observed myself in the mirror. My skin was pale and clear, with a smattering of freckles across my nose. My hair was a deep shade of brown and hung down my back, halfway between being straight and being curly. My gray eyes, which usually were pretty lifeless, sparkled this morning. I wanted to do something different today.
Carefully, I got out my uniform and pressed the shirt and skirt with my wand. As I dressed, I shrunk my shirt the tiniest bit so that it hugged my hips more firmly. I decided against wearing the itchy socks, knowing no one would punish me; Longbottom wanted that quidditch cup back in his office nearly as badly as the team did.
I buttoned up my shirt and adorned my sweater but left the tie untucked and shoved my robes into my bag. I didn't feel like wearing them this morning. The weather was still relatively mild, so most of the classrooms would be warm from the sunlight.
As Sierra Greene's alarm clock went off, I wandered over to Maggie's bedside and shook her awake. "Maggie? Hey, Mags? Will you do my hair and makeup this morning?"
The girl, who previously had been fast asleep, shot up so quickly it was like she was lying on a springboard. "Really? You're going to let me put makeup on you?"
I nodded, still entirely unsure of why I was going to subject myself to this torture. All I knew was that I wanted to start this year off different than all the rest.
"Just give me ten minutes to get dressed, okay?" The curly haired girl eagerly leapt out of bed and began scurrying around, gathering up socks and knickers. "Guys, Clara's going to let us do her hair and makeup today!"
This emitted a bunch of shrieks and excited squeals. I guess it's pretty obvious that usually my morning routine consists of showering, plaiting my hair back, getting dressed, and going to class, with not much time for hair products or mascara wands. In fact, I barely knew the difference between a mascara wand and a magic wand.
A few moments later I was clamped in place by Tamara Wiggins, who was putting some liquid gunk on my eyelids. Maggie was curling my hair with her wand, expertly twirling the strands. Sierra was maneuvering around Tamara, putting dabs of skin colored powder across my forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin.
I felt like a doll, although I wouldn't really know what dolls typically did. As a child, I never had many toys, and so I spent most of my time outside eating worms and racing the neighborhood boys. I wasn't such a tomboy now, but I wasn't exactly the most feminine of women either.
People stared at me openly in the common room, and the girls looked pretty proud of their work. They were telling some of the guys on the quidditch team that I had asked them to do it. Embarrassed, I headed for the portrait hole with the intent of walking to breakfast by myself, but my team captain, Ivan Turner, caught up with me.
"Morning Clara! You look nice today," he said simply, but I could see the smirk behind his words.
I shouldered my bag a bit forcedly and shot him a glare. "Watch your mouth Turner."
I'd never particularly liked Ivan. He was smug and self-assured, and thought everything in life should be handed to him - which it generally was. He was a fair captain, but off the pitch he was hard to stomach, especially with the way he talked about girls and purebloods, like James.
James. My heart soared slightly as I thought about him. I wondered if he would notice my appearance this morning. I knew he shouldn't look my way, and I shouldn't want him to, but I couldn't help it.
Idly, I listened to Ivan chatter on about some new plays he'd created for the upcoming season, but I wasn't really interested. Tryouts weren't even for two weeks, and training wouldn't begin for an additional week after that. The only sort of quidditch I was concerned with at the moment was my early morning training sessions with a certain dark-haired boy.
As we entered the Great Hall, Ivan wrapped his arm around my shoulder, and the tables immediately started buzzing. Furiously, I ducked out from under him and settled myself at the table next to Eric Harrisburg. He was a sixth year as well and a friend of Ivan, but didn't play quidditch and could be counted on for silence.
"Aw come on, Sully!" Ivan pled as he sat across from me. I ignored him as I began filling my plate. "It was just a joke, nothing to get upset about."
I shrugged. "I'm not upset, I just don't appreciate any extra attention."
He smirked and gave me a knowing look. "Oh really? Is that why you look like Maggie this morning? Everyone's looking at you, even Potter," he spat. "I'll have to get him for that later."
Trying to mask my eagerness, I casually looked over to the end of the table near the professors, where he always sat with his sister. I caught his gaze and his amber eyes stared unnervingly back at me. "Leave it alone Ivan," I murmured.
"Leave it alone?" Ivan was outraged. "He's – he's staring at you!"
I slammed my biscuit onto my plate. "So what? It's a free sodding country. Lots of people are looking at me, as you've already pointed out, and most of them are doing so because you felt the need to create a scene when we walked in. How about you drop it and move on with your day?"
Even though it was still early, I grabbed a bit of toast and my satchel and stormed out of the hall. I ran into Maggie, Sierra, and Tamara on my way out but I didn't offer them an explanation. I'd see them in Potions soon, anyways.
I made my way to a narrow corridor that was hardly ever used. When McGonagall was having her classes here on the fourth floor, it was more frequented, but since she'd moved her classroom to the second floor it had become dusty and lifeless.
Slowly, I steadied my breathing in the silence. My throat had constricted when I'd made eye contact with James and I was still having a difficult time getting air to circulate through my lungs. Something was definitely wrong with me this morning. First, I'd wanted to be pampered. Then, I put James in danger by looking this way. Thirdly, I'd had it out with my quidditch captain, who had every bit of power over my position on the team and with my classmates.
I slammed my head back against the wall and sank down to my knees, letting my satchel fall beside me. I needed to keep my cool for the rest of the day. I could probably use my menstruation cycle as an excuse. That would get Ivan to back off.
"That was quite the performance back there."
Alexandra Longbottom stood in front of me, her blonde hair smartly braided back from her face. She was the only pureblood in the castle that wasn't subjected to complete torture and isolation because her father was a professor and the Head of Gryffindor House.
"I really made an arse of myself, huh?" I sighed and accepted her hand, getting to my feet.
She smiled. "Quite the contrary, I thought it was pretty great watching Turner get it like that. Guy's a creep."
The two of us laughed together, but it quickly grew forced and awkward. "Not to be rude, Alex, but why did you follow me here?"
Alex Longbottom, while not picked on by the muggle-borns and half-bloods, never associated with them by choice, considering what they did to her friends. She was very close with the Potter and Weasley families, and had been dating Fred Weasley for three years.
She shrugged. "You looked like you needed a friend. Try not to take this personally, but the people you hang around with don't really seem like good ones."
While I was surprised at her bluntness, I couldn't exactly argue against her statement. They may help me out with things from time to time, but when it came down to it, I knew they would throw me under the bus if my friendship with James ever came to light.
"You'd be right about that, I suppose. Their relationship with me is more about keeping up appearances." I shouldered my bag, knowing class was starting soon, but neither of us moved. We couldn't chance people seeing us together. It wouldn't cause the same reaction as seeing me with someone like James or Scorpius Malfoy, but it was still dangerous.
"Isn't that like everything nowadays?" Her wry smile held some sadness, and my eyes shifted to the ground. I've always felt horrible about the way the Pures were treated, but more horrible about the fact that I had never done a single thing about it. There were a few muggle-borns or half-bloods who decided to befriend the Pures, but they either gave up after the punishments were too harsh or became so good at retaliation that they became feared by the rest of the school. Either way, they had tried.
After a moment, she said goodbye and walked towards the staircase, while I made my way back towards the Entrance Hall. I had to suck it up and apologize to Ivan. I wasn't going to like it, but it had to be done.
Later on, I made my way up to Gryffindor Tower, sweaty and exhausted. I'd gone out for a run around the pitch, partly for training purposes but mostly to get away from my dorm mates. They'd been fretting all day about what Ivan could have done to my social status, and although he'd accepted my apology and the excuse about it being PMS, they were worried he could still "demote" me. Whatever that meant.
They continued to amaze me with their vanity. If I wasn't on the quidditch team, they never would have accepted me because I didn't put any effort into my appearance and didn't care for social interactions much. Didn't they understand that none of this mattered in the real world? In fact, I was certain that once they left Hogwarts, the real world would chew them up and spit them out.
I jogged up a flight of stairs, eager to get to the shower before Maggie had a go with it, seeing as how her showers took nearly an hour, but I stopped when I heard a groaning sound. Frowning, I followed the sound until I stopped outside a tapestry. Carefully lighting up my wand, I pulled it aside.
"James!" I gasped, looking at his bruised and bloodied state, and rushed over to him. "Who did this to you?" I murmured, gently brushing some hair off of his forehead.
He sat up slightly and spat out some blood. "Turner and his cronies."
"I told him to leave you alone," I said worriedly, using my wand to clean the shallowest of cuts, conjuring bandages for the others. I knew a few healing spells from playing quidditch, but I was no healer.
James just gave me a look. "Since when has he ever listened to anything other than the sound of his own voice?"
I laughed, causing him to chuckle, but he quickly stopped, holding a hand to his ribs. "Are any of them broken?" I was surprised at how much damage they had done. Normally it was more for intimidation purposes.
"Not sure. Pretty hard to breathe though. And move. If you could hand me my wand, which they threw over there when they attacked me, I can heal it." I did as he asked and he gingerly placed it to his abdomen. "Cowards. Six on one, with the advantage of surprise. If I'd been paying more attention, I could've kept control of my wand and gotten rid of them."
He looked truly angry with himself, but my hands were aching for the sweet release of hitting my captain in the face. If I'd thought I was angry with him this morning, it was nothing compared to what I was feeling now. "I'm so sorry James. This is all my fault. I was being stupid this morning."
"Yeah, what was with all the girly frou frou shit anyways?" he smirked, sitting up fully once he healed his ribs.
I smirked back, mostly because he sounded more like his typical self. "Just felt like trying something new. It was definitely a one-time thing though."
"You looked nice," he replied calmly, using his wand to siphon some of the blood off of his mouth and fists. At my glance down, he shrugged. "I got some hits in too."
Rolling my eyes at his macho-ness, I settled myself beside him, back up against the wall and legs sticking straight out in front of me. "I really am sorry James."
"Don't worry about it," James said simply. "I'm just glad you found me. I couldn't find the energy to get over to my wand."
"Is it normally this bad?" I asked, glancing over at him. My wand cast an eerie glow around the passageway.
He ruffled his hair with a sigh. "No, but Daley got me with Occlumency. He looked into my mind and saw various times of when I've watched you or thought about you."
I was suddenly very alarmed. Kevin Daley was the whiz kid of Turner's group of miscreants. He was unusually smart and able, with even the most difficult of magic coming easily to him. Turner had taken his intelligence and used it for monstrosities such as torturing Purebloods. I was extremely glad, however, that he hadn't seen any actual interactions between James and I.
"James, I thought you were more careful than that," I said softly, my tone sad.
He laughed bitterly. "It wouldn't matter if I was careful or not. Turner's hated my guts from the moment he met me, not to mention what happened this summer."
I bristled as I listened to him bring it up, but I chose to ignore it. "He's probably jealous of you," I offered, and he glanced over at me in surprise. "I mean, you're smarter than he is, and the professors love you. You're a better quidditch player than him, and you're not even on the team. Plus, you know, you're handsome."
I tried not to blush, but when he turned to me with a raised brow, my cheeks lit up. "Got something to tell me, Sullivan?"
I bumped my shoulder against his. "Shut it, Potter. Didn't you say that I looked good this morning?"
He jostled me back. "Don't let it go to your head."
"Doesn't matter, my head can't possibly get as big as yours," I teased, and the two of us just sat there laughing for a while.
"Hey," he spoke up suddenly. "Do I have any visible bruises on my face?"
I picked up my wand and held it under his head with one hand, using the other to grip his face so I could turn it. "Well, you've got a pretty nasty black eye, and the cut on your cheek only healed partially."
I let go of his face, but pull away and neither did he. I had absolutely no control over myself in that moment. His warm breath spread across my cheeks and I felt his muscles tense as our arms pressed up against one another.
James cleared his throat and turned away. "I'll fix myself up when I get to the dorm later. You should head back. It's late."
"I'm not leaving you!" I cried angrily. "You're still hurt, and they could still be lurking about. I wouldn't put it past them."
"Well you can't exactly be seen walking into the common room with me," he pointed out steadily, his face blank. James always annoyed me at times like this. He never let any of his emotions show. He was a locked box.
As we stood, I noticed him favoring his left side. Something was still wrong. "Then I'll disillusion myself."
We were at an impasse. "Fine," he muttered finally, angry that I'd won. He wouldn't have caved so quickly under normal circumstances, but I could tell he was still in pain. I disillusioned myself and then followed him back out into the hallway. We walked silently up to the tower, luckily not running into anyone. The progress was slow, but finally we made it to the seventh floor.
I couldn't stop the frustration from worming its way into my brain. This bullying, this torturing had to end. Why should I have to hide just to make sure that James would be okay?
As soon as he walked into the common room and he started heading up the stairs to his dorm, I headed for my own dormitory, expertly dodging furniture and arms and legs. Once I got high enough that no one could see me, I undid the charm and entered my room.
Without a word to anyone, I dove onto my bed and yanked the hangings shut. It was just so unfair. What was I supposed to do? God I wanted to kill Ivan, and his stupid minions. Kevin, Carl Davenport, Bryant Hayes, Ross Nicholson, and probably Eric. He often got roped into these situations because of his dorm mates.
Angrily, I threw my shoes against the ground and balled up the sheets in my fists. From now on, I was dressing like my normal self. And as soon as quidditch started, I was sending a cursed bludger Ivan's way.
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