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Chapter 8 : Breathe Me
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I found myself back in the showers when the game was over, the scalding water pounding my back, much like how I’d been before the match had even happened. Smirking, I toweled off and dressed, pulling my hair back into a ponytail.
As I grabbed my kit and broom, I walked back onto the pitch. Ivan, Ross, Carl, and Bryant were just exiting their own locker room, and I stopped them.
“Congrats on the big win, Captain!” I said cheerily, slapping Ivan on the shoulder as I passed. “Oh and uh, let’s work on some new plays next week. Don’t think yours for today’s match were really working out.”
He furiously grabbed for his wand, but Carl stopped him when Meredith Scozzafava and Jamie Kelly wandered over.
“Hey, Sully!” Meredith called. With one last smirk at Ivan, whose face told me this wasn’t over, I walked over to where they were standing.
“Hey,” she said again once I made it. “That was a really great game.”
I was shocked. I’d never once had her compliment me, let alone doing it after a loss. The shock must have registered, because Jamie gave a wry grin.
“I don’t know what game those team mates of yours were playing, but it wasn’t quidditch,” she said, her voice hard and steady.
I didn’t know how to respond so I merely gave them a nod and a handshake before heading back up to the castle, wand tight in my hand. I vaguely spotted Fred in the crowd ahead of me, casually turning back to make sure I was in one piece every few minutes.
Once back up to the castle, I continued on my way up to my dormitory, deciding to forgo dinner. I wasn’t hungry and I was sure that within the next hour my breakup with Ivan would become common knowledge and I would wind up like the Pures, getting cursed while I ate. I would finally, truly, be getting what I deserved.
I wandered through the days with my wand constantly tucked inside my sleeve, the bags under my eyes growing with every night I didn’t sleep. No matter how many charms and protection spells I placed around my bed, it never felt like it was enough. Who knew what Kevin could do to me while I was sleeping?
I numbly began to wonder why I was even bothering. I was already the school's newest target; why not show them my allegiance to the Pures? Nothing these halfwitted hypocrites had done to me could hurt more than the loss of James. But I was so tired. And tired of being alone.
Now that James made it clear he no longer wanted anything to do with me, I seemed to notice him even more, making it harder to forget. He was in the sunlight streaming in through the windows, reminding me of how the sun reflected off of his dark hair. He was in my steaming mug of tea, the smoke rising in gentle tendrils, that reminded me of how on really cold winter mornings he used to bring out a mug of hot chocolate and we’d take turns sharing it as we huddled in the stands for warmth. He was even in the lines of my textbooks, as I subconsciously watched him help his sister with her homework.
Ivan and his merry band of arseholes had suspiciously left me alone since the game. This only added to my paranoia. Perhaps they’d grown tired of tormenting me, and decided they would just rather let our classmates do it. Maybe they didn’t want to bother with retaliation. More than likely, they were plotting something truly horrific.
In Charms, I now sat in the front, the seat beside me empty as no one wanted to be seen with me now that I’d been cast aside from the limelight. According to Alex, I had a miscarriage with Ivan’s baby and, in my upset, had cheated on him with a Pureblood. I was even more an outcast now than ever before, and strangely, I liked it. I didn’t have a knife pressing into my side, breaking the skin, making me bleed. I didn’t have to feel his slimy hands on my body. I didn't have to be privy to the constant threats and insults hurled at me by my dorm mates. It was quiet.
Still, though. I found myself constantly stealing glances at the Pures: Fred and Alex holding hands under their desk, safe as long as they had each other. Rose and Scorpius, who found comfort in each other as they ate alone. Even Roxanne and Vincent, Davina Wood and Albus Potter...they all had each other. James had his sister, his cousins, constantly there were people surrounding him, real friends. I had no one. I had one friend, Fred, but that was a secret, and I wondered again, why?
Quidditch practice wasn’t too bad that night. I was hit with a few ‘rogue’ bludgers, but we were playing Slytherin next and Ivan actually wanted the team to perform well, so my harassment was put on hold for the time being. Once I made sure everyone else was heading back up to the castle, I anchored my wand in the waistband of my shorts and set off around the pitch on foot.
I didn’t particularly enjoy running, but it was an excellent way to keep up my stamina and strengthen my core, and it set my mind at ease. I fell into my rhythm and found my thoughts wandering before I caught myself and went back on guard. It wasn’t safe for me to daydream when I was out in the open like this, especially since I felt sure that Ivan’s revenge was coming, and it had Daley’s name written all over it. The possibilities were endless, really. He could invent any spell his twisted mind came up with.
After running several kilometers, I headed into the locker rooms for a shower. I placed my typical security spells on it, but carried my wand into the shower with me all the same. I knew the moment I thought I was safe, I would be proven wrong. Over and over and over.
As I was rinsing the shampoo from my hair, the lights began to flicker. Immediately on edge, I gripped my wand and wrapped my towel around me. I knew better than to call out, but desperately wished that I was in a better position.
Suddenly, the lights completely went out and before I could so much as think ‘lumos,’ I was grabbed from the stall and my wand was wrested from my grasp.
My mouth was clamped shut by an invisible force and my limbs were bound, arms pulled tight behind me. I couldn’t fight it. I couldn’t even scream. The lights flew back on as quickly as they faded, and I immediately wished they hadn’t. Ross, Carl, Kevin, Bryan, and Eric formed a semi circle around me with Ivan at the center, all holding their wands. Kevin was actually fingering a whip with demonic satisfaction on his face.
I was scared. I had never before been scared of them, knowing that they couldn’t do anything too drastic in the castle where prefects and professors were constantly wandering about, but here, miles from the castle walls, no one would know where I was except for James, and I already knew he wasn’t coming to my rescue.
Why was I so stupid? Why, why, why?
“Not so indignant now, are we love?” Ivan said with a smirk, stepping towards me.
Mustering up as much courage as I could, I set my face into a snarl and refused to shrink away from him.
“Bravery won’t get you anywhere, Clara. You’re stuck here until we’re done with you," Ivan said as he caressed my face.
I shivered in disgust as my dignity was stripped right off my skin.
I desperately tried to make eye contact with Eric. If anyone was going to save me right now, it would be him. He wasn’t as cruel as the others and he kept to himself, like me. But he was a follower, and he was following Ivan’s orders.
I was grabbed and forced into a standing position. I knew it was coming before I felt the slash on my abdomen. My stomach churned as they jeered.
I was horrified that there were six boys staring at my body, horrified that they could do anything they wanted, horrified that I could do nothing to stop it.
Kevin cracked the whip against the air threateningly, and it gleamed. Something was coated on it, and I knew by his sinister grin that it was nothing good.
Frantically, I tried to summon up the strength for wandless magic, but my fear was suppressing it. The first lash hit me full force in the chest and my skin immediately began to burn from whatever the weapon was laced with. I began to feel it not just on my skin, but deeper, burning through my blood stream. The next one got my face, opening a nice gash on my left cheek. The entire left side of my face started going numb and my eyelids fluttered.
After the fifth lash, my body was no longer fighting, but seemed to be shutting down. I grew dizzy, and the various insults and evil smiles blurred together. Then, all of a sudden, the pain stopped. My hazel eyes flew open in confusion.
“Don’t worry Clara. I want you perfectly aware for the next hour.”
Bile started to rise in my throat as Ross slid over to me. I knew what was coming as his smirk flashed across my vision.
Pain ripped through me and my eyes burned in hatred. They were laughing, grinning, cheering him on. My body jerkily responded to their wands as my mind tried to fight off the Imperius curse, but I was so tired.
After a while, I slowly let myself give in to the torture. If ever there were a time to go, it would be now. I didn’t want to be here anymore. I just wanted everything to stop.
“GET OFF OF HER!”
The authoritative voice caused a blissful lapse in pain and I managed to open one swollen eye to see Rose, Fred, and Alex brandishing their wands above their heads like aurors.
Almost immediately, the boys were hurled up against the lockers. They fell to the ground, unconscious, and Alex hurried over to me, undoing the spells and healing me to the best of her abilities. Her lips moved in a steady stream of words, her wand never slowing for a moment. I felt like I was outside of my body.
Dazedly, I felt my limbs being tugged, but I could not move. After several moments of whispering, Alex gave me a quiet apology before hoisting me into the air with her wand. Some sort of sheet was draped over my body, and the cool rush of air I felt from the wind was the last thing I remember before I blacked out.
“There’s my angel.”
I blinked, unsure of where the voice had come from. My focus was hazy no matter how many times I tried to clear it. “….Dad?”
“It’s me, Clare Bear. You’ve been so brave.”
How was my father here? Where was I? And why couldn’t I remember anything? “Dad, I’m scared.”
My voice sounded weak.
“I know you are sweetheart, but you don’t have to be. Just let go, and it will all be over. Everything will be done.”
“What will be done?”
“Daddy? What will be done?”
Then, “CLARA! CLARA! CAN YOU HEAR ME? CLARA!”
With a gasp, I shot up, my head rushing so quickly I almost passed out again.
“Easy, easy,” a familiar voice muttered, strong hands steadying my torso.
Hardly daring to hope, I tried to lift my head up. “James?”
Slowly, his pale, sinewy skin came into focus, followed by his hard amber eyes, his freckles, the stubble on his chin. “I’m here.”
His voice was so quiet that if I weren’t seeing him with my own eyes I would believe it was another dream.
“Why are you here?” My body felt so tired that I didn’t care how weak I sounded. I didn’t even want to know what had happened, I only wanted to know why he’d come back.
He swallowed and removed his hands from my arms. Right as he opened his mouth to reply, the door opened and my rescuers bustled in.
“Clara, you’re awake!” Rose exclaimed in surprise, as Alex whacked her on the arm and reminded her to be quiet.
Feeling more confident, I sat up all the way and turned to face them. I noticed I was in a bedroom of some sort, though not the usual Gryffindor dormitories. “Where am I?”
Fred, who had been silently leaning against the door frame, answered. “James and I created a spare room in the tower to sleep in two years ago. This is our dorm.”
“You created a room?” I asked in disbelief. Their advanced magical skills never ceased to amaze me.
James looked like he was trying not to smirk, but then his face clouded over into his typical blank countenance.
Gently, Alex settled herself on the bed beside me – whose bed was it? – and handed me a glass of water. “Clara, do you remember how you got here?”
Her calm dexterity and matter-of-factness reminded me of Madame Bones. “No. The last thing I remember is you three coming into the locker room.”
“That’s what I thought,” she sighed. “Where would you like me to start?”
Trying to focus, which was difficult as Rose was now probing various areas on my body with her wand, I squeezed my eyes shut. “How did you know where I was?”
Fred snorted and exchanged a look with James. “I knew she would start with that.”
Rose shot him a look and summoned a piece of parchment with her wand. “When James Potter the first attended Hogwarts, he and his group of friends created something called the Marauder’s Map.”
My mind raced, trying to recall anything about this map. After I’d started playing quidditch with James, I’d done so much research on his family that I could trace his history back to the Peverells, but I hadn’t read anything about a map.
“This map,” she continued, her blonde hair falling out of its typical plait, “shows everyone and every room at Hogwarts, wherever they are, whenever. Do you want to see?”
I extended my arms forward to take it from her and saw they were wrapped in bandages. Frowning, I looked over the parchment and spotted the five of us, just above the seventh year boy’s dormitory where Ivan, Kevin, Carl, and Ross were. An involuntary shiver went down my spine.
“Don’t worry,” James said suddenly. “They can’t even see this room. It’s invisible to anyone who has no prior knowledge of it.”
Again, I was amazed at their magical capacity, as well as the magic of this map. “Why hasn’t there been anything in the history books about this map? It’s been around for ages.”
“Generally, it’s been kept within the family since the Marauders’ time here. And since none of us ever wanted to admit how we continually broke school rules, we just sort of…kept it hidden,” Rose replied.
“Next question: why are my arms covered in bandages?” Tentatively, I examined the rest of my body, discovering that my torso and legs were also swathed in the gauzy material.
A muscle twitched in James’ jaw as he looked away.
Rose, who was sitting on my other side, looked down at her wand which she was twirling around. “You remember that Daley was using a whip on you, yes?” At my nod, she continued. “It was laced with something. We don’t know if it was a poison or not, but whatever it was left burn marks all over your body. Some are pretty bad, so we dipped the bandages in dittany and applied them. They’ve helped a little, although what would really help is if we knew what it was.”
Slowly, almost shyly, I lifted my fingers to my face, which was bandage free. The skin felt relatively smooth. They must have done extensive healing on me. Suddenly, my fingers lodged into a deep, pocked mark on my cheek. My face morphed into an expression of terror as I was able to delve them at least an inch into my skin.
“Wh…what…?” My whole body was shaking.
“The lash to your face was the worst one.” Alex’s voice was quiet but firm. “It deteriorated some of your skin. Don’t worry, we’re in the process of regrowing it. By tomorrow morning it should look much better.”
My gaze shifted to the window. It was night time. “How long has it been?”
“Almost four hours," Fred spoke, still from his position by the door.
I jumped, once again forgetting about Fred.
I tried to calculate how long I’d passed out. Practice had ended at eight, my run at nine, the attack had probably been stopped at about ten…which meant it was the middle of the night. And they were here, with me, healing me, tending to my needs, patiently answering my questions. I felt a swell of something strange. Happiness? Pride?
“Well then, you all should get some sleep. I’ve kept you up half the night,” I said quietly. My voice was gravelly, and a little sore. I sipped some more water.
Rose gave me a wan smile. “All right, we will, unless you have any more questions?”
I shook my head. “Not right now. I just want to sleep, and I know all of you do as well.”
After a few more healing spells and a hearty thank you from me, Rose and Alex retired to their own side of the tower, and Fred went into the bathroom to shower.
It was so quiet in the room I could hear the thumping of my own heart. “James?”
He was still turned away from me, his jaw set. He didn’t acknowledge me for a moment. Then, “does it hurt?”
“Does what hurt?” I asked in confusion. The fact that he wouldn’t look at me made it harder to figure out what he was talking about.
He coughed. “You know, from when they…”
My eyes darkened. “No, not anymore.”
Abruptly, he was facing me, his eyes gazing intensely into mine. “Clara, I’m sorry, okay? I am so fucking sorry. I should have been there, stopped them-”
I quieted him. “James, that wasn’t the first time.”
“I know Ivan’s…been there. But still. This wasn't just him.”
I touched his forearm lightly. “Like I said, that wasn’t the first time.”
The weight of my words seemed to settle over him like a heavy cloak. His Adam’s apple bobbed. “What?”
I released a deep sigh. I’d never before talked to anyone about my time with my foster families, not even my mother. But if anyone deserved this explanation, it was him.
“The abuse I’ve been getting this year…it’s nothing new. The foster system is a terrible place for children, only slightly better than the streets. My third foster father was a drinker. He liked to blow off steam when he was drunk, on us. And his wife was just as bad. Screaming insults, telling us that our parents left us because we were worthless, insolent, bastard children, locking us in our rooms for days…
“But it was my last foster home that was the worst. He would threaten to toss me out on the streets if I screamed. It happened a few times before my wandless magic got the better of me. Luckily, my mother came back into the picture right about the same time.”
Even as I spoke, the memories came flooding back, and I fought the intense urge to vomit, or yell.
For a moment, the only sound was the rushing water coming from the bathroom. “I had no idea.”
I shrugged. “Most people don't. And I was always just too damn scared to do anything it, both here and there. I'm a coward. Which is so stupid, because I'm a Gryffindor. Should've been in Hufflepuff,” I mumbled as I drew my knees up to my chest, wincing slightly as it jostled the burns.
We sat in silence until Fred emerged from the bathroom and tumbled into his bed.
“You sleep in the bed Clara,” James said, confirming my suspicion that the bed I’d been lying in was his own. “I’ll conjure a cot for the corner.”
The room itself was relatively small. If they had the capacity to create a room, surely they could make it as sizeable as they wanted? But that wasn’t really the way they did things, I realized, and so I merely offered James a nod of thanks and hunkered down under the covers.
The lights were turned off and soon I could hear the steady breathing coming from Fred, but I knew that James was still awake. The sheets smelled like him, and despite the reason I was here, despite the pain and the humiliation of the attack, I felt nothing but happiness as I drifted off to sleep, feeling truly safe for the first time in months.
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