Chapter 3 : Heroes
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The next morning, I could tell something was off with James. He was flying around a bit, but he was wobbling and he wasn't making any effort to throw the quaffle.
I flew up to him. "Potter, what's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong with me Sullivan, what's wrong with you?" He finally tossed me the quaffle, and he was trying not to wince, but I saw the pain on his face.
I pushed my broom closer to his so that I could see him better in the dark. "Is it your ribs still?"
"No, it's nothing." James shook his head and turned his broom around. "Let's just play."
Frowning, I looked at the ball in my hands. "I really don't think we should-"
"CLARA, I SAID I'M FINE!"
Startled at his scream, I dropped the quaffle and watched it until it hit the ground. When I looked back up at him, his eyes were blazing and his neck was red. After a moment, his eyes shifted back to normal and the redness disappeared.
"I'm…sorry," he said with a frown. "I really don't know what's wrong with me."
I nodded towards the ground, and with a sigh, he landed. I quickly followed. "James…"
Slowly and without looking at me, he lifted up his shirt. I gasped loudly, unable to contain myself. His stomach was covered with angry, black blotches that pulsated. After he removed his bandages, I saw that it was even worse: there were cuts, as many as nine, and so deep that blood was gushing out of them.
I hurriedly forced him to put the bandages back. "Is this from last night?"
"Yeah. Whatever curse they used, it's powerful, and it was made to slowly get worse with time. I could barely get to sleep last night, and when I woke up this was all over my chest. This has Daley written all over it," he said angrily, before wincing in pain.
My mind was reeling. I'd never seen something so grotesque before. "We've got to get you to the Hospital Wing!"
"I doubt Madam Bones would know what to do. Fred, Rose and I tried every healing charm we knew, and went through five different books. We found nothing even close to this. Whatever it is, Daley made it up himself."
Clenching my fists, I started taking furious steps toward the castle. "I'm going to murder Daley!"
"Stop!" he yelled, reaching out and grabbing my arm. He pulled back quickly and held his hand to his side. "You can't just go after him, Clara. That would be way too obvious. You're not even supposed to know about the attack, remember?"
I whirled around. "So what are we supposed to do? You can't just live with it and hope it will go away! It might kill you!"
"This is my problem, not yours," he responded calmly.
Seeing him standing there, so obviously in pain but so stubbornly collected, I wanted to break his composure. "Well maybe I don't want to watch you be hurt!" I snarled, getting right up in his face. He stared down at me, his expression unwavering.
I scoffed and got on my broom, flying off toward the castle. I didn't look back to see if he was still there, but I knew he was.
An hour later, I waited just around the corner where I knew Ivan's group would pass – they always took the same route to breakfast at approximately the same time. I poised my wand as I heard their chatter, trying to block out my fury at their obvious joking and cheerful banter.
Since I was disillusioned, they didn't notice me as they passed, but I cast a spell, undoing Kevin Daley's shoelaces. He frowned but stopped and knelt down.
"Hey guys, you go on, I'll catch up," he called, and the others nodded and wandered off. That was pure luck, but I was going to take full advantage of it.
I once again made myself visible and stepped out in front of him. "Hello Daley."
"Sullivan," he nodded, frowning. "Did you want something?"
Within seconds, I had him pressed up against the wall with my wand at his throat. "If you scream, I'll cut your jugular open," I hissed. I was that angry.
He swallowed, but nodded silently. Everyone knew how adept I was at charms.
"What hex did you use on James Potter?" My teeth were ground in frustration.
His eyes grew big and I watched him squirm. "What do you care?" he managed. "He's a Pure!"
"And you're going to be a dead man if you don't answer my question." I was growing impatient. Perhaps my six years of hatred for him was wearing it thin.
"All right! I made it up myself. It gives a person the same effects as if they were getting poisoned, but much slower and more painful." His lanky figure shook as I pressed my wand harder into his neck.
Completely disgusted, I jabbed him painfully. "What's the counter-curse?"
Silence. I stomped on his instep with all the force I could muster and he stumbled, but I forced him back against the wall. "Well?"
"Finite Mortus," he whispered, his air supply being slowly cut off by my spell. I didn't care that I was acting just like Ivan and his friends. After six years, they deserved to have the tables turned on them.
Slowly, a smile spread across my cheeks. "Obliviate."
I stepped back from him as he blinked a few times. "Morning Kevin, heading to breakfast?"
He looked around in confusion. "Uhh yeah, I guess."
I hid my smirk as we walked towards the Great Hall. For once, I didn't mind listening to Maggie, Sierra, and Tamara's mindless chatter, or listening to the boys talk about their latest conquests. I fingered my wand under the table. I had perfect aim at James.
Casually, I brought my goblet of pumpkin juice up to my mouth and whispered the spell into it. I saw James straighten up suddenly, and he began clutching at his stomach. For a moment I panicked and thought that Daley had tricked me, but he slowly started to relax. I could see the relief in his eyes.
By the time he looked over at me, I was deep in conversation with Maggie about the Welcome Back party in the common room on Friday.
"Lisa Lindberg is going to sing," Sierra confided with a secretive grin. I pretended to be interested but stuffed a slice of bacon in my mouth and looked up at the ceiling so the rolling of my eyes wouldn't be noticed.
The girls continued to gush over Lisa and pondered what her song selection would be, and in my left ear I could hear Ross Nicholson, one of my fellow chasers, talking about what he'd done with Erica Stone last night in the Astronomy Tower.
It was a long breakfast, but it was completely worth it to have seen the relief on James' face. I had no idea what Daley had seen in his mind, but whatever it was, it had been bad enough for Ivan to want James to be in severe, life-threatening pain.
"Hey Sully, walk with me." Speaking of Ivan, he was standing in the doorway of the hall, nodding his head. I like how he didn't ask, just ordered. He did realize he wasn't my captain off of the pitch, right?
Squelching my irritation, I pushed back from the bench. I'd already gotten my revenge. "See you guys later," I muttered, and made my way over to where he was standing with Ross and Kevin. Due to my skill with charms, Flitwick had bumped me up a level in fourth year. Right now, I had class with the seventh years, which included my captain, as well as James.
I could feel the eyes of the students on me as I walked over to him. Rumors had spread furiously about us just from him putting his arm around me yesterday, and my outburst, which had been contributed to pregnancy mood swings, because I was with Ivan Turner's child, apparently. Worst of all, though, I could sense James' stare as I made my way over to him. With every step I wanted to run in the other direction and assure him that I only cared about him and that he was my friend, not Ivan. But I couldn't.
"You gonna sit next to me in Charms, like last year?" he smirked as we exited the hall.
Inwardly I rolled my eyes, but outwardly I smiled. "If you want."
Ross and Kevin exchanged a smirk and my nostrils flared the slightest bit. Everyone thought Ivan was shagging me. Normally I wouldn't care, seeing as how I valued the Hogwarts student population opinion as much as I valued the opinions of slugs, but now that James had been so badly tortured by them, I could tell it infuriated him.
We entered the classroom and took our usual seats. Ivan and I sat at the desk directly in the center of the room, and Ross and Kevin took the desk behind us.
My attention shifted slightly as James walked through the door with his cousins, Fred and Rose, as well as Alex Longbottom. The group settled in their usual desks in the back corner, and Fred's twin sister Roxanne eventually came in with her own boyfriend, Vincent Chang. The six of them always sat together. They were extremely close and protective of one another. In some ways, I was jealous of them. The only real friendship I had was with James, and that had to be hidden.
"Oi, why are you staring at that filth?" Ivan brought me out of my reverie, forcing me to stare at his charming face. Note the dollop of sarcasm and the dash of disgust.
Quickly, I made up a lie. "Huh? Oh, I didn't mean to. I'm just really tired. I got up early for a run this morning."
He nodded and seemed to accept this, as it was common knowledge among my team that I trained avidly for quidditch, which for me included a lot of footwork as well.
I zoned out in the class as usual, and found myself daydreaming about sitting with James and his family in public. About actually enjoying the company I kept. About not having to act like someone I wasn't. It wasn't as though these thoughts were foreign to me, but I'd never had them quite so forcefully before.
The day hadn't gone too fantastically, despite the serenity I'd gotten from helping James in the morning. Ivan kept touching me, placing his hand on the small of my back or my arm, only fueling the rumors, like I know he wanted to. I tried my best to stay away from him, but that meant talking to my dorm mates, who only wanted to discuss what was going on between my captain and I. Maggie glared threateningly at me every time I denied it.
There was a pop quiz in potions, which had never happened before and which I most certainly had failed, people were constantly staring at me because I was apparently pregnant and crazy, and to top it all off, I had caught James giving me a cold stare during dinner.
I'd tried to brush everyone off and go to bed early, but Maggie wouldn't have any of that.
"Clara, we've barely seen you since we got back to school! You're going to sit down here by the fire with us and tell us why you went to bed so abruptly last night and where you were this morning."
After being dragged over to an armchair and forced into it, I rolled my eyes, trying to look confident. "Well, since I'm on my period-" the boys all groaned and looked pained, "I was super tired last night, and just went to sleep. Then this morning I went out for a run, but I ended up tripping and hitting my head pretty hard, so I went to see Bones so she could check for a concussion."
"Are you all right?" Maggie asked with a frown. Feeling guilty for lying to her, because she genuinely seemed worried, I managed a smile and a nod.
For an hour I sat there by the fire, trying my best to stay alert and involved in the conversation, but my gaze kept straying to where James and Fred were doing homework silently in the darkest corner of the common room, trying not to attract attention. Luckily, since Ivan was excitedly sharing his plans for the upcoming season with most of the room, my looks had not garnered any unwanted attention.
James caught my gaze once, but sighed and turned away. I was pretty certain he was disappointed with me, and that made me sad. I didn't want to disappoint him. His opinion mattered greatly to me, as he was the one real thing in my life.
The next morning, James was not flying around, but instead lying on one of the bleachers in the Gryffindor section. I flew over to him and took a seat.
"I'm sorry if I've disappointed you," I offered, when he didn't acknowledge my arrival.
He sat up and met my gaze. "I know it's unfair of me to feel that way. You're just doing what you have to do."
My brow wrinkled. "Doing what I have to do? James, what is it that you think I'm doing, exactly?"
His cheeks tinged a bit red. "Well I mean, you're with Turner…"
"No I'm not!" I cried, desperate for him to know the truth. "James, I swear to you on my mother's life that Turner and I have never shared so much as an embrace. It's all rumors."
James' eyes lit up ever so slightly, betraying the rest of his blank countenance. "Really?"
"Yes you dolt. I thought you knew me. I wouldn't touch him with a fifty foot pole. Every time he puts his hand on me I fight the urge to bite it and then go for his jugular," I snapped, and then the two of us were laughing.
"Ever the lady," he replied, slinging an arm around my shoulder. I felt the sturdiness of it and welcomed the warmth he offered. It felt quite pleasant when James touched me, nothing like the disgust I felt when Ivan wrapped his arm around me.
We didn't play quidditch that morning. We sat there silently, knowing that we still had each other. And that was all that mattered.
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