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Chapter 9 : We Come Running
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Disclaimer: everything you recognize belongs to JKR! I also don't own the rights to the song We Come Running by Youngblood Hawke Enjoy!
James shook me awake the next morning, much too early for my liking. I could feel the stiffness in my joints before I even moved, and the searing pain from the burns intensified as I forced myself to get up.
“Alex and Rose are here to change your bandages. They brought your uniform and books as well,” he reported, before retreating to his cot in the corner. Reluctantly I sat up and slid out from under his warm covers.
I looked towards the doorway where Alex was fussing over Fred’s collar. She kept trying to adjust it, but he dodged out of her grasp every time, effectively annoying her. It was such a normal interaction that I forgot why I was there until Rose called for my attention.
“Come into the bathroom please, Clara,” Rose said. She had an arsenal of potions with her.
I slowly managed to stand and limped over to Alex and Rose. They helped settle me on the toilet and began to examine me under the harsh fluorescent light.
While Alex gently prodded at various parts of my body, Rose tapped her wand over my head and immediately a pleasant buzzing sensation overtook my body.
“The skin on your cheek looks much better,” Alex observed as she carefully took off the shirt and shorts I’d been wearing. I was assuming they belonged to James, as they were too large for a girl and smelled of his cologne. “It’s not perfect, but that will come when we find the antidote. Fred and James are going to search their dorm after classes.”
I was vaguely listening to what she was saying, but hardly noticed when she began replacing my bandages. From the partially open door, I could see James standing by his bed, preparing to change.
I watched eagerly as he laid out his uniform on the bed, piece by piece.
Slowly, almost torturously, he reached behind him and pulled off his undershirt, the material sliding over his pale skin.
For ten glorious seconds I saw his bare chest, watched the ripple of the muscles and the contours of his back as he reached for his shirt and slid it on, fingers nimbly doing up the buttons.
“Focus Clara,” Alex said, reprimanding me, but there was a smile on her face. With strength I didn’t know I possessed, I tore my eyes away and let her finish healing me.
I allowed dittany to be applied, drank several horrific potions, and let them wash the scum off of my body with a sponge, as I refused to get in the shower. The horrors of last night were fresh in my mind.
Eventually I was alone, brushing my teeth and dressing myself in fresh clothing. The marks on my skin from the poison were hidden with a simple concealment charm, but I felt the burns every time I moved. I was a walking reminder that I could be attacked at any time, that there was nowhere was safe for me.
When I emerged into the bedroom, the four were quietly arguing.
“…she’s not ready for that, it’ll only make things worse…”
“She needs to be protected!”
“She needs to put distance between herself and us.”
“That’s crazy!” That last one was Alex. I’d come to like her.
I coughed, announcing my presence. “What’s crazy?”
Alex shot a dark look at James. “He thinks that you should disillusion yourself and leave now before the crowd starts heading for breakfast.”
“Like I was never here?” Already anger was prickling under my skin.
James pinched the bridge of his nose. “Clara, you know what they can do to you. It would only make things worse if your relationships with us came out!”
I chewed on the inside of my cheek before turning my gaze on the boy who was staring out the window. “Fred?”
He was silent for a moment. “I think Clara should stay with us. She needs other people to protect her. You can see how tired she is – she hasn’t been sleeping properly because she knows she can’t take care of herself every hour of every day.”
“NO!” James roared, his arms that had been tightly crossed falling to his sides, hands balled into fists. “She’ll be fine if she continues to float under the radar.”
“Under the radar?” I remarked in disbelief. “You think that up until this point I’ve been under the radar? I’ve had a target on my back from day one, and that had nothing to do with you. I refused Ivan – being friends with you was just the icing on the cake. Maybe if we were never friends, these next two years could have gone smoothly for me, but I don’t think anything would’ve been different.
“Hogwarts is ready for a change,” I said heatedly. “The students here, they take this terrifying attitude with them out into the real world! The damage doesn’t stop here, it starts here because we let them! Maybe if people see more Muggleborns befriend Pures, things will change!” I stared at James defiantly, my hazel eyes daring him to contradict me.
I could see the doubt in all of their faces, but, breathing hard, I refused to back down.
Finally, Rose spoke up. “You can’t stop her, James. Won’t you feel better knowing she’s within your reach? You’ve been worried sick every time you lose sight of her, constantly checking the map, to the point where it’s obsessive!”
My heart soared but I forced myself to ignore the flush blossoming across his cheeks. “James. Please.”
“Fine,” he muttered, shoving between us to get to his school bag. “Come on, we’ve got a show to put on,” he said sarcastically.
Fred rolled his eyes but took Alex by the hand and led the way out the door. I slowly followed with Rose, James bringing up the rear.
I could hear the din of the various Gryffindors in the common room, and suddenly my breathing grew shallow. Was I really ready for this? There would be no escaping it anymore. No more hiding, no more keeping to myself. Then I felt James step beside me, and the doubts in my mind were quenched. I wanted this.
The five of us stepped into the light of the common room. Normally, the four of them coming down the steps in the morning would be unnoticeable, but the extra body with the group alerted them.
The confusion was almost immediate. After a moment people identified the fifth person as Clara Sullivan – house chaser and former girlfriend of Ivan Turner. The girl who had supposedly been carrying his child.
The room went silent as I looked over at Ivan, who had his arm around Maggie’s shoulders. She gave me a satisfied smirk, but Ivan looked fit to kill. The thing was, it scared me. And it never used to.
Rose sniffed like this was all very boring to her and led us out of the common room, picking up her brother and Lily Potter along the way. I could feel my heart beating in my neck and I forced myself to stay calm.
You can’t back out now Clara, or else you’ll truly be a coward.
Both Hugo and Lily were giving me curious looks, but knew better than to say anything. Instead, we walked in almost complete silence to the Great Hall, where we took our seats at the end of the table, near the professors.
If I thought the attention in the common room was bad, this was about ten thousand times worse. Immediately people began hissing and booing, and soon jinxes in various colors began hitting the shield around us, creating a flurry of sparks.
Furious, I shot a look to the professors, who were all looking extremely interested in their tea. “Why are they ignoring this? I expected more of McGonagall at the very least!”
Alex shrugged. “Who do you think put up the force field?”
I looked to James for confirmation, who nodded, before turning away from me and scanning the hall for his cousins.
Annoyance prickled my skin. Even still he was being cold with me, after everything that happened last night. Perhaps I was foolish to think anything would change, just like it was foolish of me to believe that anyone would help us.
The longer we sat at the table, the worse the jeers got. I caught the gaze of Meredith at the Ravenclaw table and for a minute held hope that she would be another ally. Then she dropped her gaze and put a text book on the table in front of her face.
“Let’s go,” Fred said suddenly, his voice underlined with fury.
The doors to the Great Hall opened to reveal Ivan, with his arm around a self-satisfied Margaret Greyson. Ross, Carl, Eric, and Kevin were walking behind him, sickeningly flirting with the rest of my ex-friends. The boys slapped hands with their fan club members and the girls flipped their shiny hair at their admirers. If only those people knew.
My heart leapt into my throat as Kevin’s dark eyes abruptly flashed over to me, malice evident on his face. Pain flared up where the poison had laced my skin and Rose had to physically remove me from my seat.
Their smirks said it all. They’d won. They’d unhinged the unflappable Clara Sullivan. The girl who, up until now had taken all of the abuse eagerly because it meant James would be safe. The girl who played an entire quidditch game by herself. The girl who was now terrified of her own shadow.
I swallowed hard once we were out of the hall.
“Are you all right?” Lily asked, eyeing me keenly.
My hands were shaking, my breath was uneven, and adrenaline was pumping through my veins at the speed of light. I hadn’t felt this lost since the night my father died. “Fine. I’m fine.”
James snorted and rolled his eyes. “Right. Well, Lily, Hugo, it’s almost time for class. We’ll walk you to Charms before we go to Potions. Make sure you’re the first ones out when the bell rings and meet us by the statue of Merve the Magnificent, okay? And keep your wands out at all times.”
He kept talking as we walked, swiftly tossing out safety tips and defense jinxes like it was a natural reflex. For what seemed like the millionth time today, I allowed my emotions to swamp my senses and felt a heavy sadness in the pit of my stomach. This is what they’d been reduced to? Teaching their premature siblings how to stop blood flow and knock someone unconscious?
Everything was worse than I’d thought. It was all wrong.
I was so naïve.
It took an hour of Fred and Alex shouting at me to get me to go to practice. Various arguments were thrown my way, including, “you can’t let them win!” and “you have to show them you’re not afraid!”
I only agreed to go in the end after James silently got up and left the room, only to come back with his younger brother and his cousin Louis, who had both agreed to escort me to and from the pitch, as well as stay for the length of the practice to ensure that I would be safe.
To say I wasn’t exactly on my game would be kind. My turns were off, my shots missed the posts by a mile, I nearly fell off my broom every time someone would so much as fly by me, and I couldn’t stop flinching. Ivan didn’t even have to move a muscle; I was destroying myself.
I knew I should shake it off, not let it bother me, and
stop being foolish, but it was like there was a giant brick wall in my head that was preventing my logical thoughts from reaching the other side. By the end I was sick, confused, and angry at myself.
I didn’t even try to enter the locker room, I just flew over to Albus and Louis in the stands. “Are you guys ready?”
They sent me cold stares and remained silent.
Louis jerked his head at Albus and set off at a brisk pace, wand out. Albus gestured for me to follow him.
Great. So I was being shunned by the half-bloods, tortured by the other muggle-borns, and I was getting the silent treatment from the Pures.
Despite the presence of Louis and Albus, the walk up to the castle was a long one. Every shadow on the wall looked like the looming figure of Ivan or Ross. Every sound echoed off the walls and made me gasp aloud, causing Louis to shoot me irritated looks.
I was so frustrated with myself. I wasn’t sure whether to tear my hair out or check myself in a mental institution.
The two Pures dropped me at the portrait hole without so much as a wave goodbye and headed back down to the dungeons. Standing alone in the corridor, I all but shouted the password to the Fat Lady and yanked it open, leaping through.
I landed on my feet and everyone in the common room shot me filthy glares. Ivan and company were luckily still down at the pitch, so I moved swiftly across the room and bolted up the stairs, still wearing my quidditch kit.
As I reached what I thought was the top of the tower, I saw another door, with no knob or handle. Curiously, I stepped towards it, and it floated open.
I entered the room and immediately confetti poured down on me. Alex and Rose jumped out from behind the lone bed occupying the space.
“Seriously?” I asked, trying hard to maintain my fury.
Alex laughed and flicked some confetti off of my shoulders. “We wanted to surprise you. Welcome to your brand new dormitory!”
Rose made a flourishing gesture with her hands. “James and Fred made the room, but we decorated!”
Adorning the walls were fancy gold curtains that matched the bedspread, and a Gryffindor quidditch banner was strung across the ceiling. A mahogany dresser stood against the wall, next to a desk with an empty picture frame on it.
“That’s for you to fill,” Alex said, noticing my stare.
My heart felt vaguely constricted. The feeling was unfamiliar to me and I coughed slightly to hide my discomfort. “Thank you so much…you have no idea what this means to me.”
And they didn’t. Ever since Ivan, I was terrified. I was dreading having to sleep in my old dorm. I was dreading being alone. I was even dreading a shower.
Alex squeezed my hand. Rose smiled warmly.
“The best part,” Alex began, “is that you have your own bathroom!”
At my stricken face, Rose shook her head. “Not to worry Clara, this room is unfindable to everyone but us. Besides, if anyone else ever does find out about it, they’ll be knocked unconscious immediately after entering.”
“Really, where do you lot come up with this stuff?” I asked in disbelief.
Alex shrugged. “Daley isn’t the only person who can create new spells.”
The four of them, Fred, Alex, James, and Rose, were on an entirely different level than the rest of us.
“I want to continue thanking you lot forever, but I should probably…” I gestured lamely to the bathroom, trying to conceal my fear.
Rose smiled. “No problem, we’ll just wait out here until you’re done.”
Inwardly I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I wouldn’t have to be alone. Outwardly, I gave a nod of appreciation and entered the bathroom.
Slowly I stripped off my kit, shakily dropping my clothes into the bin in the corner. This was no big deal. This was just a shower. I was completely safe. I would be just fine.
As I stepped into the shower, I turned the water on hot, and steam began to fill the small room.
I immediately panicked. I tried to breathe but the air got stuck in my throat. All I could picture was a set of hands reaching out and grabbing me.
With a gasp, I grabbed my towel and burst out into the dormitory.
James was sitting on the bed with Rose and Alex, with Fred leaning against the wall.
“Why are you here?”
Apparently in the midst of my breakdown, I could remember my irritation with him.
“We found the poison Daley used,” he responded, his tone icy. He clearly didn’t care for my attitude.
At the mention of my attacker, a shiver ran down my spine and I pulled the towel around me more tightly. “Oh.”
I stared at James. He stared at me. Fred stared at Alex. Rose stared at James.
“Let’s go into the bathroom Clara,” Alex said swiftly, hurriedly grabbing some clothes from my trunk and dragging me into the loo.
The water was still running so she shut it off, allowing me to get dressed.
“Obviously you’re not all right.”
I slid the faded shirt over my head. “I guess not. I can’t shake the feeling that I’m going to be grabbed at any minute.”
Alex chewed her lip thoughtfully. “You could always take a Calming Draught. Of course, then you run the risk of addiction, and it quite numbs your senses…”
“No. I should be able to do it. It’s just a shower right?”
She grinned. “Right. But let's just try again tomorrow. For now we should get back out there. Fred’s incredibly impatient.”
Once back in the room, James tossed a black vial to me.
“So this is it then?” I asked, tenderly tracing the wound on my cheek.
“Yep,” Fred answered. “Never seen it before. Must be something new, probably from Borgin and Burkes.”
Rose was quick to reassure me. “Don’t worry, Alex and I were just about to examine its properties and see if we could come up with a cure.”
“What? No, seriously, you guys have done enough…”
James rolled his eyes. “Just let them do it,” he snapped.
I took a deep breath. “What exactly is your problem James?”
“I don’t have one, but clearly you do,” he smirked, crossing his arms.
I tried to quelch my anger. “Are you SODDING kidding me?!”
It didn’t work.
“No, I’m not.”
Fred let out a low whistle as my eyes flashed. “All right, well, I’m leaving. Alex, Rose?”
“Right behind you.” The trio rushed for the door, tripping over one another in the process.
James casually leaned back against my pillows, observing me as I glared at him. “Clearly Clara, you’ve got something on your mind.”
“Yeah. I’m just wondering why I even bother with you,” I snapped coldly.
He snorted. “You can’t be serious.”
My eyes narrowed. “Oh yes I can. For nearly 3 months I allowed myself to be assaulted, attacked, harassed, all so that you would be left alone. Deny it all you want, but I know he didn’t touch you, not even once.”
His eyes darkened but he remained silent, so I continued.
“You ignore me for that entire duration, leaving me completely on my own, and then, when I finally stand up for myself, you treat me like the scum on the bottom of your shoe! You constantly talked about how tired you were of constantly looking out for yourself, so I try to help you. You scream at me and tell me we’re no longer friends, and you don’t want me to help you, so I stop. And you still are being a complete dick!”
James let out a mirthless laugh. “I didn’t want you to ‘help me’ because I knew what would happen! Look at you! You’re terrified to get in the bloody shower!”
“How can you discount everything I did for you?” I kicked the bed furiously and he got up, swiftly moving closer to me.
He tried to steady his breathing. “Discount it? Clara, I know everything that you did for me. I recognize it. But it doesn’t mean that I approved of it, because frankly, it was a completely stupid thing to do!”
“That doesn’t explain why you’re still treating me like shit!” I screeched, surprised at my own burst of anger.
“I know this might be hard for you and all, considering you’re usually oblivious to everything that’s not directly related to you, but try and see it from my perspective. I have this friend, who, for six years, stood and watched as her friends hexed, cursed, and tortured not only me, but my siblings, cousins, and friends.
“For six years, this girl cowered behind her shallow, vain, moronic dorm mates and watched as my teeth were magically torn from my mouth, watched as Albus was pushed down a flight of stairs, saw Lily get spit on and walked over, literally, and she did nothing.”
His chest was heaving, his eyes were bright, and he looked more animated than I’d ever seen him in my life. I couldn’t focus on him though, because there was a ball of complete and utter shame settled directly in my stomach.
I shook my head in confusion. “So you yell at me for putting myself in danger, cut me off for protecting you, and now you suddenly hate me because I didn’t stand up for you? That’s completely backwards logic! Sorry if I can’t follow.”
“I know it doesn’t make sense Clara! I’ve been trying to get it to make sense for six bloody years! I’ve got all these – all these feelings messing with my brain and they all lead back to you! It was just hard watching you on the sidelines. It was hard watching you get love and admiration from everyone, and hard watching you ignore me. So I’m sorry if I’m being an arse, but I can’t help how I feel,” he said quietly, his blank countenance back in place.
Suddenly I was painfully aware of how quiet it was in the room, and painfully aware of how very close he was to me. I forced myself to step back. “Well then tell me what to do to get you to forgive me. Tell me James, and I’ll do it. Because I hate this. I hate that Ivan has come between us. Why should we let him win?”
“I don’t know if there’s anything you can do Clara. It’s just going to take time. Now you should try and get some sleep.” And just like that, James shut me out again.
That was the most I’d ever heard him talk, and the only time I’d ever heard him express his thoughts. And he walked out the door for the third time.
I slept with the light on that night.
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