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Chapter 15 : Torture
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ISOBEL was in agony as she lay in her bed, the hangings drawn, fighting the all-consuming urge to dash to the kitchens and put something in her violently protesting stomach. She wondered if this was how Laurel felt; if Isobel’s battle against food was in some way similar to Laurel’s battle against charms.
Isobel decided that it must be, and admired Laurel for the first time in a long time. Laurel had sobbed, and whispered to Isobel about how it had felt like her whole body was screaming out for magic. About how every second involved the active decision not to take her pain away with her wand.
Then again, thought Isobel resentfully, withdrawal fades while hunger grows more fierce.
The sound of the shower running in the washroom off their dorm had become a soothing white noise, and it jarred Isobel to hear it turn off. She was unnecessarily annoyed by the fact that she could hear Penelope changing for bed, as if it were somehow inconsiderate that Penelope even existed at all. (Penelope had recently taken having long heart-to-hearts with Ava Gardner about how Percy hadn’t kissed her yet, and how they weren’t officially boyfriend-girlfriend, and blah blah blah…)
It was some time after Penelope had begun to snore that Laurel finally came up from the common room. Her mountain of makeup work had been keeping her up well past midnight every night, and she'd taken to climbing into Isobel's bed rather than her own.
Isobel felt guilty about it, but she’d long since grown frustrated by this routine. She felt it difficult to get to sleep when she knew Laurel would only wake her later. On most occasions, they would end up creeping back down to the empty common room where they could speak more freely, and remain there until well past dawn talking about Laurel’s feelings. It took three weeks to cover everything, and for the conversations to grow repetative. Then of course, Laurel had gone and shagged Tristan--giving them weeks more material to analyze and dissect.
As Isobel had expected, her bedside was soon occupied by Laurel, who hadn’t showered and stunk of fags and stale sweat. Isobel tried to quell her resentment toward her friend, but her hunger pains were torture, and she felt incapable of offering support in her current state. After a few moments of whispered exchanges, Isobel suggested they go down to the common room. At least there she could crack a window and have a fag (they always helped repress her desire for food).
“Well, do you want to do it again?” asked Isobel, stubbing out her cigarette on the deep windowsill. They’d re-opened the Tristan discussion from the night before, and had addressed nearly every angle of the situation. Isobel found it best to ask direct questions because Laurel had a difficult time explaining her feelings.
“No,” said Laurel half-heartedly. “I dunno… Maybe?”
“Do you think you will?” asked Isobel. “Do it again?”
“I dunno.” Laurel hugged her knees to her chin.
“Well, if it’s all the same to you,” said Isobel. “I don’t think you should. It might mean losing Emily as a friend.”
Laurel groaned and buried her head in her knees in response. “Is that fair?” she begged, her voice muffled by her robes. “Em got off with loads of boys last year, and Tristan didn’t mind…”
“Laurel!” Isobel chastised, but her friend had a point. For some reason, that hadn’t counted to Isobel. “None of them were close friends of ours, and most of them are graduated now. So it’s not the same.” Isobel was satisfied by her own answer.
Isobel found it difficult to pay attention during Transfiguration the following morning, having only scraped a few hours of fitful sleep the night before. She knew her eyes were bloodshot, and her throat was sore from all the fags she’d smoked. Worst of all, she’d surrendered to an enormous breakfast (lack of sleep always seemed to intensify the rumbling feeling of hunger). Isobel wished she could just share an Alacratus charm with Laurel to help her through the day, but suggesting such a thing was out of the question. Instead she resigned herself to drinking far too much coffee, as she’d grown accustomed.
Laurel sat beside her, gazing, glassy eyed at a series of diagrams in Intermediate Transfiguration depicting an owl turning into a pair of opera glasses. Laurel didn’t even pretend to pay attention to McGonagall’s lecture. After Transfiguration the two traipsed to Arithmancy--a fresh wave of torture for Isobel. She was uncomfortably aware of the Weetabix she’d gorged herself on over breakfast being digested, and wished desperately that she’d shown some restraint. More than once she considered taking a trip to the girls’ toilets to reverse her mistake. But enough time had passed that it would surely be a pointless exercise.
At lunch, even the look of food made Isobel nauseous. She wondered how she could have been so hungry before, and yet now feel so disgusted by the buffet at the table. Isobel thought she would have been better off skipping lunch to take a nap in her dormitory, but it was too late now. She pushed salad around her plate, too tired and too uncomfortable to pay much attention to the discussion around her.
Isobel stepped outside of herself long enough to reflect furiously on Tristan. He was, as usual, sitting next to Emily—even now he’d gone and shagged Laurel, he was still leading the poor Hufflepuff on. How could he have been so stupid as to do anything with Laurel in the first place? Isobel thought.
Unexpectedly, Isobel’s anger turned into loathing, and she realized she didn’t even likeTristan anymore. He was moody and pretentious, he was a huge component in Laurel’s hexing, and now he was practically a womanizer. Everyone else (except for Laurel, who’d become incredibly self involved) consumed themselves so much with keeping him happy, but he was totally careless about how his behaviour affected others. Not to mention, he did have an undeniable Slytherin air about him, which the others were too sensitive to ever mention. He was haughty, and possessed the capacity for cruelty. While other Slytherin’s manifested their elitism as a preoccupation with blood status, Tristan’s took the form of snobbery about music and literature.
In the past, Tristan had been great. He’d buried his dark streak under a commitment to being kind and generous, and he’d been dedicated to having fun (probably selfishly, as a distraction from his own tiresome depression). He’d never seemed to mind, or at least didn’t let it show, when the others wanted to be girly, the way most young wizards would have. Now, though, he’d become all but unbearable. Tristan was, at best, a non presence—a vacuous space of sullen silence. At worst, he was a negative influence on Isobel’s friends, and threatened to break the whole fragile group apart. She wondered vaguely if there was some way to effectively kick him out of their circle, but to try such a thing would surely cause Emily and Laurel to turn against Isobel.
It wasn’t until Tristan smiled weakly at her that Isobel realized she’d been openly glaring at him.
“Defense then?” Laurel chirped while stretching her back. Isobel drained her cup of coffee and Tristan shoveled a few more bites of jacket potato into his mouth.
The three of them gathered their bags and climbed out of their seats, making their goodbye’s to Emily as they went. Isobel glanced back at her, abandoned at the Hufflepuff table. Cedric turned to Emily and said something, and Isobel felt a surge of affection toward him. Isobel followed Laurel and Tristan to Quirrel’s class and thought that Emily might be far better off with Cedric Diggory than with Tristan Bryce (Cedric was a year and a half younger than Emily, but he was quite tall).
Isobel was glad to see that the desks in the Defense classroom were arranged for a lecture, as she didn’t feel she had the energy for a practical exercise. Then again, they were covering Unforgivable Curses, so it would certainly be solid lectures for the next two weeks. Laurel and Tristan lagged a bit as they crossed the threshold into the classroom, and Isobel seized the opportunity to lead them to their usual table. She stepped aside briefly to allow Laurel to take the seat furthest to the right, then Isobel took her own, successfully situating herself between Laurel and Tristan. The three proceeded to rummage in their bags for parchment and quills.
“L-last week we finished our d-d-discussion of Imp-perio,” stammered Quirrel. “To review, can anyone t-t-tell me when the Imp-perious Curse was first d-developed?”
Penelope’s hand shot in the air, which annoyed Isobel. She’d wanted to get a question in near the beginning of class so that she wouldn’t have to speak again.
“The early middle ages,” Penelope offered, without giving a specific year.
“And w-w-why was it originally in-invented?” Quirrel asked.
“To brainwash people into slavery,” concluded Penelope.
“G-good. A p-p-point for Ravenc-claw. And c-can anyone t-t-tell me what year it was b-b-banned?” asked Quirrel. Isobel jumped at her chance and quickly raised her hand, nearly upending Tristan’s inkwell in the process. “M-miss Mostafa?”
“The Imperius Curse gained Unforgivable status in 1717,” replied Isobel.
“Th-thank you, another p-p-point for R-ravenclaw,” said Quirrel. “Today we will m-move on to our d-d-discussion of Crucio.”
Tristan flinched, and this time his ink was upended. Isobel glared at him as a big black stain blossomed on her fresh piece of parchment. But her expression soon softened into one of confused curiosity. Between rushed whispers of ‘I’m sorry,’ Tristan siphoned off the mess with his wand, but had a difficult time—his hand was shaking violently.
After class, Tristan accompanied Isobel and Laurel to the Entrance Hall where they met up with Emily for Herbology. He still looked pale and shaken.
“Are you skiving off Binns again?” asked Emily as Tristan made out for the grounds with them.
“Yeah, don’t reckon I’m up to it,” he said, pulling out a fag. “Laters,” he said, turning toward the lake.
The three witches strolled across the muddy grounds to the Greenhouses, which were hot and even more humid than ordinary. Isobel and Emily borrowed bands from Laurel’s wrist and pulled back their hair. Isobel went about gathering their various supplies while Laurel identified the self-fertilizing shrub they had planted the previous week. It had only been five days, but their project had grown over a half meter. Isobel thought wistfully that the shrub’s incredible growth seemed appropriate; it had only been a few days since Laurel’s birthday, and a lot had changed since then, too.
“I don’t think we’ll be needing the dragon dung—unless you just like the smell,” Emily joked when Isobel set down the supplies.
Isobel was clueless for a moment before she realized that, as per its name, their shrub was self-fertilizing. After she returned the dung the three got to work repotting the plant, careful not to tickle its roots lest it spontaneously shed all of its leaves. They had only just finished repotting and pruning when it came time to pack up their things and wash up. Laurel finished a new team label for their shrub (‘The Whinging Minges’) before they all sloshed back to the castle in the rain.
Isobel was damp and exhausted by the time she and Laurel took their seats in Ancient Runes. She retied her frizzy hair with Laurel’s hairband and longed for her four poster, hoping for a lecture she might sit through in a daze. To her disappointment, Professor Babbling handed out several ancient pieces of cracking parchment for the students to painstakingly translate. Isobel glanced at her and Laurel’s hand-outs, which were different (probably, wisely, to prevent copying), and sighed heavily while fishingSpellman’s Syllabary out of her rucksack. After an hour of double-checking and many crossings out, Isobel and Laurel traded their finished translations.
“I don’t think,” Laurel whispered as she frowned at Isobel’s work. “That ‘the horse is athorn to princes.’”
“What?” whispered Isobel, harried, as she snatched back her translation. “Ugh, þorn and wynn look exactly the same in this script.”
“Professor,” Percy Weasley called, raising his hand. “Professor, some students are collaborating on their assignment.” Isobel and Laurel froze, eyes fatally sharp.
“Miss Mostafa, Miss Braithewaite, please keep your work to yourselves,” replied Professor Babbling.
“Seriously?” Laurel hissed at Percy. Penelope smirked to herself and held her head high, clearly overjoyed that her little non-boyfriend had gotten her roommates in trouble.
“How long would I spend in Azkaban for smothering Penelope in her sleep, do you reckon?” seethed Laurel as the two trudged toward Ravenclaw Tower to finally change into fresh robes.
“Oh you’d get off,” replied Isobel. “Just claim self defense. Her snoring probably qualifies as an Unforgivable Curse anyway.”
Once back in their dormitories, the two made quick work of showering and changing. Laurel decided she might as well just go down to supper in her pajamas, rather than sullying another pair of robes. Isobel convinced her to at least bring a cloak, but laughed at the idea nonetheless.
“You’re coming down in pajamas too?” Laurel asked from the edge of her bed when Isobel emerged from the bogs, drying her hair with her wand and already wearing her pajamas.
“No, but you have fun with that,” Isobel replied. “Going straight to bed. I’m bloody knackered.”
“Shall I bring you something up then?” asked Laurel.
Isobel shrugged ‘yes,’ she could always just throw it away after Laurel fell asleep and say that she ate it. With that, Laurel disappeared down to the Great Hall looking absurd in a cloak over her polka-dot pajamas. Isobel climbed into bed, still laughing to herself, and braided her long hair into a plait down her back before lying down. The combined effect of sleep deprivation and excessive coffee consumption made her feel loopy and hysterical.
After over an hour’s tossing and turning, Isobel determined that sleep wasn’t coming just yet, and her time would be better spent doing coursework. What’s more, Emily had astronomy that evening, leaving Laurel and Tristan unsupervised in the corridor. Isobel climbed back out of bed and, in a fit of silliness, wrapped a cloak over her pajamas rather than changing into fresh school robes.
“Is this a trend then?” Tristan asked, referring to Isobel’s pajama/cloak ensemble, as she turned the corner into Cadogan’s Corridor.
“You don’t want to get caught like that,” Laurel said, spitefully.
“What? Is it against the rules?” asked Isobel. If she’d had more sleep, she might have thought of that.
“Bloody uniform infraction!” Laurel cried. “Snape wrote me up. I’ve got detention in his office all next week!”
“That seems extreme,” replied Isobel, sitting down.
“Well he’s got it out for her,” laughed Tristan, and Isobel resented his familiarity.
“I may have ‘accidentally’ spilled hair-growth potion on him during my last makeup session,” Laurel coyly explained. “He had to rush to Madame Pomfrey.”
“Tell her the best part,” Tristan goaded.
“Oh yeah, I spilled a lot on his crotch!” Laurel exclaimed, and all three burst into uproarious laughter.
“Poor Madame Pomfrey!” squealed Isobel, covering her mouth.
“We should take up a collection,” Tristan joked. “To pay for the therapy she’ll need.”
The three spent an enjoyable quarter hour abusing the potions master and procrastinating their work. It was Laurel who left first, exhausted from her and Isobel’s late night. Isobel was very much awake at this point, energized by a second wind, and decided to get some actual work done.
“Oh, your sandwich is just there,” Laurel said, indicating to a lumpy mass wrapped in a napkin.
“Cheers,” Isobel responded.
Laurel bowed out of the corridor, yawning, and left Isobel alone with Tristan. As soon as she’d gone, the atmosphere in the corridor billowed. Isobel had nearly forgotten her newfound hatred for Tristan.
“How ‘bout Charms, then?” Tristan asked. “I’ve got my list of spell definitions if you’d like to copy.”
“I’ve done that one already,” Isobel sniffed. “How about Quirrel’s essay on Crucio,” she asked, at once wanting to wound, but also curious about how he would respond.
Isobel accomplished what she’d intended; Tristan immediately blanched, and began fumbling with his parchment.
“N-n-no,” he stammered in a perfect imitation of Quirrel, although Isobel doubted it was intentional.
“Well then, we’ll just have to work separately,” snapped Isobel.
Tristan was silent for a long time, and only spoke again once his color had returned and his breathing had become more regular.
“I know that you’re mad at me,” he said. He stopped writing but didn’t look up. “I’d be mad at me too.”
“Then why’d you do it?” Isobel shot back, plunging the sharp point of her quill deep into her ink.
“Because I’m stupid, and weak, and an all around bad person,” he wasn’t being sarcastic. “I’m honestly not sure why you lot hang around me.”
This melted some of Isobel’s chill, and she looked sympathetically at the young wizard who’d been her friend for so many years.
“It’s just, you know Emily likes you,” Isobel said earnestly. Tristan said nothing. “Why don’t you just go for it with her? You’re practically a couple as it is.”
“Because I’d only end up hurting her,” he confessed.
“You’re already hurting her!” cried Isobel. “And, what, it’s ok to hurt Laurel?”
“It was different with Laurel,” he said. “It was about wanting a break from hating ourselves all the time. It was about wanting to shag someone who might actually remember that it happened the next day.”
Isobel was struck; she’d somehow managed to forget about what happened to Tristan over the summer.
“Oh Tristan, I’m sorry. But,” she cast about for the right thing to say. “It just wasn’t a smart thing to do. It'll eventually get awkward with Laurel, and what if she starts getting hexed again? And what will happen if Emily finds out? She’ll be devastated. I mean, Emily hasn’t slept with anyone all term. Emily. That means something!”
“I know,” Tristan groaned, dropping his work entirely. He leaned back, and hit his head three times against the stone wall—not very hard, but not gently either.
“I mean, you could have got off with any witch in the school and it would have been fine. It didn’t have to be Laurel,” Isobel remarked wildly.
“Hardly,” Tristan rolled his eyes. “You three are the only witches at Hogwarts who don’t think I’m some sort of psycho, and I suspect even you lot have your suspicions from time to time.”
“Well,” Isobel laughed. “I’m sure plenty of sixteen-year-old girls would make an exception and shag a psycho if he looked like you.”
“Why thank you,” Tristan replied, with a dandyish bow. Tristan wasn’t traditionally attractive, but Isobel recognized that he had a quality. Over the years, several Hogwarts girls had developed masochistic crushes on the enigmatic Slytherin. But Tristan was ever-aloof, and grew suspicious whenever someone took too keen an interest him. His admirers usually replaced their affection with resentment after only a few weeks. Rumours typically followed shortly thereafter.
It was for this reason that Isobel and Laurel had fallen out with Penelope Clearwater.
“What about Angelina?” asked Isobel. “She’s fit.”
“Eh,” Tristan said. “I think she only got off with me because she was curious about the whole ‘I’m a Slytherin’ thing. And I only asked her out get on the same level as Emily anyway.”
“Penelope might still fancy you, and apparently she’s single after all,” Isobel joked.
Tristan offered an exaggerated frown. “The blonde one in your House? Half the school still believe the story she spread second year about my being the illegitimate child of the dark lord, so..."
“I’ll file her under ‘maybe,’ then,” Isobel giggled.
“I should switch teams,” Tristan sighed. “Cedric and I would make a beautiful couple.”
“Really?” asked Isobel, mistaking his joke as genuine.
“No,” Tristan shot her down.
The following Wednesday Isobel skipped supper to check out several books she and Laurel needed from the library. As she climbed the stairs, she saw Quirrel step out from his study.
“Ah, M-miss Braithewaite,” he said. “I’ve j-just been grading your essay on the Cruciatus C-curse. S-superb work, a-as always.”
“Thanks,” beamed Isobel.
“If you d-don’t mind, I’d b-be interested to here m-more about some of the foreign m-magic you referenced. I’ve just p-put on some tea.”
“Alright then,” Isobel replied, and followed Quirrel into his office.
Isobel was proud that her professor took such an interest in her essays. While other students simply regurgitated the information from their textbooks, Isobel liked to draw connections with other magical methodologies, and hypothesize possible links with a spells’ archaic conception. Ever since her first essay, Quirrel had taken to inviting her for tea in his office to discuss the points she brought up in her papers. He seemed keen to understand the magic she referenced, and wasn’t so quick to label non-western practices as necessarily dark, just because they weren’t recognized by British magical law.
“N-now you discussed in your paper,” Quirrel began as they took their seats. “Other magical torture methods from abroad.”
“Yes,” Isobel enthusiastically responded as she accepted a cup of tea. “They’re different, in a lot of ways. Crucio inflicts severe physical pain, but these are more often about causing psychological torture—usually by putting ideas, or images, into people’s heads.”
“Fascinating,” he responded (his stutter was far less pronounced when it was only the two of them). “How precisely do these spells work?”
“Rituals mostly, or like the voodoo dolls I mentioned” Isobel explained. “Sometimes they’re done in tandem with a type of dance, and brewing a potion which the caster drinks.”
“Amazing,” Quirrel was rapt. “And where did you read about these?”
“Oh,” shrugged Isobel. “More stuff I got off my dad. He only knows about it from foreign witches and wizards he met in the field.”
“Would you be able to direct me to m-more information?” asked Quirrel. “I’d l-like to look at it f-from a defense perspective.”
“I dunno,” said Isobel. “My dad’s research on this stuff hasn’t been published, and it’s unlikely it ever will be.”
Quirrel looked disappointed.
End Note 1: “The horse is a joy to princes” is a line from an ancient Anglo-Saxon rune poem of unknown author. The rune for 'joy' is wynn, while the rune for 'thorn' is þorn--if you look them up, you’ll see they look could look tremendously similar in certain scripts.
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