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[ A//N: I just want to say thank you to everyone reading this story (and reviewing!) for all the support! Writing this one is a true pleasure and I'm so happy that you enjoy it. With that said, I hope you continue to enjoy this story . (:


I couldn't sleep that night. One would think if you were acutely, despairingly tired, you might be able to rest a little, but no

Claire Harper doesn't get her bloody sleep.

So I instead resorted to sitting on the windowsill watching nothing in particular, but everything that came into sight. The grounds were alive at night with sounds from owls, insects, and other creatures. I could even see some of those insects flitting around.

And it was then I wished I had something productive to do, besides sitting here, keeping my mind off other things that won't allow me to sleep.

It was quite an eventful night, one I'd like to erase completely from memory, if you please.

War… how ridiculous. He thinks he can—ridiculous. That newfound confidence, it was almost sickening, really. He has another thing coming if he thinks he can beat me.

I am unbeatable. I am unshakable.

I am making myself feel a lot better, but I will never admit to anyone that I feel a little… I'm not used to anything like this. I'm used to winning, and that's what I'm good at. I don't lose.

But I can also take a challenge. Especially one given by Sirius Black.

I am unbeatable…

I was suddenly aware that my face still stung, quite a bit, and I rubbed it. Lucius Malfoy had to be the foulest person I have ever had the misfortune to meet.

But, as always, I keep doing what I'm told instead of fighting back. Why do I do that? I don’t agree with any of this. I hate all of this.

I hate being here in this ruddy school, I hate Malfoy and I hate Regulus… those arrogant, selfish pricks…

Things just don't go right in my life, do they?

Sitting here on this bloody windowsill and not sleeping. And then one of the girls turned over, muttering something incoherent in her sleep. I glared at her enviously.

My eyes were heavy. I trudged my way past open trunks and shirts in every shade of color to my bed and threw myself on it. I wished that it felt more comfortable to me; I even went down a mental list of all the techniques that are supposed to get you to fall asleep.

Where would I get a glass of warm milk?

I wouldn't even know who to ask it from.

I didn't know how long I lied in bed, thinking about a large glass of warm milk—maybe with some sugar in it—or even if I ever fell asleep at all, but the sun rose anyways. Time went on anyways, whether I was properly rested for it or not.

The other girls I shared dorm with rose themselves from their beds, smiled at me with their bleary eyes and tousled hair, and filed into the bathrooms.

I pried myself from my own bed and quickly decided that today was not going to be my day.

Almost twenty minutes later, I was heading down the staircase, most definitely after everyone else had left to breakfast, after trying my best to look a little less dead. You know how you look when you haven't any rest.

Unfortunately, there was another person as late as me.

"Don't you look charming," James Potter's voice floated across the common room to me; the sarcasm was somehow refreshing to me. He was sarcastic, but friendly.

"I couldn't sleep last night," I told him as we walked towards the portrait hole.

He nodded. "That… is obvious."

I rolled my eyes, too entirely exhausted to mumble another response, let alone come back with anything snippy or clever enough. I had managed, however, to crawl out of the hole and start the commute to the Great Hall.

"Now, now. We can't have you in such a state on the first day of classes!" he said cheerfully, realizing that I wasn't going to respond to his previous statement. "What kept you up, anyways?"

Crap. What kept me up? What kept me up?

"Just anxious… I suppose," I said with a small smile.

"That would make sense. Just don't let the small things get to you." He winked, and we were silent, for a while, actually.

Oh, I always let the small things get to me, don't I? I must be queen…

The Great Hall seemed to be pretty bloody farther than I remembered. All I wanted to do was ram my head into a table, maybe get a little warm milk if I could. Was that too much to ask? I mean, really.

It seemed like ages before James said, "The Great Hall, madam," bowing before the doors.

Finally. I nodded my thanks to him and followed him into the hall, which was bustling with movement and chatter. It seemed like every single person was talking, eating, and reading mail all at the same time. It was total mayhem; it felt happy, though, and warm.

Nothing at all like I'd felt anywhere else before. I was so used to snobbish rich people who barely talked, laughed—The Great Hall was such a surprise.

I could see Peter standing up and waving to us from the Gryffindor table and I waved shyly back. I was increasingly aware of the fact that I didn't belong here at all.

"Morning, James, Claire!" Peter exclaimed when we sat down next to him, Remus, and Black.

"Morning," James and I said together.

And you know what? I was hardly tired anymore, and in fact, I was happier. I had to thank Peter later…

The boys quickly got into a discussion about their next "prank," as they called it, and I received it with a welcome, taking the time to eat breakfast instead.

If only it wasn't interrupted.

"Who are you?"

I looked up from my eggs to see a redhead—with her hands on hips, mind you—looking at me questioningly.

I rolled my eyes at her blunt, and rude, question. "Excuse me?"

"I said… who are you?" she said slower, as if I couldn't understand proper English or something.

"Sorry, but why is that any of your business?" I was too entirely close to ending with, "cow."

She huffed. I swear I could have punched her face for it, her and her huffing could…

"Well, because, technically, you're in my seat."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. What are we, grade school students? 'You're in my seat,' because her name's written on it, right?

I was fully awake by this time, fully aware of removing myself from this cow's "seat" and walking out of the Great Hall without a look back.

I did regret not taking my eggs with me, but decided instead upon eating a rather large lunch. And then I realized that I had no idea where I was going, or where I was supposed to be going, and the answers to both of these questions were probably in the Great Hall, where Professor McGonagall had told me to pick up my schedule.

At the moment, I was not feeling an overwhelming desire to go back at all.

But walking around when I didn't know where I was going was not helping anyone, so I stopped. And I chose to observe the paintings on the walls of the hallway. At least it gave me something to do.

Pretty girls in flowing, pastel dresses… old heroes long gone…

"Magical, aren't they?"

I didn't flinch. I didn't jump. But I felt myself close down completely, I became cold as stone… yet I couldn't show it and I couldn’t tell him to shove the—

"Yes," I said quietly as he stood next to me.

Regulus turned towards me. "Lucius told me what happened last night."

It was then I noticed his arrogance was gone, and he was alone. And I was disgusted with him, for being such a fake prat, for always masking himself behind his burly bodyguards, for always being so irritable.

I am unshakable.

"What of it?" I replied, all the while staring unfocusedly at the wall of paintings.

He sighed. I saw his hand move towards his head, probably scratching it uncomfortably. "Look, I know this isn't exactly what you were expecting…"

What does he know about what I was expecting? What does he know about anything?

I wanted to scream at him, maybe pull out my wand and threaten his life, but my mother's voice floated into my mind, everything she ever told me when I was growing up, everything I should do, should say.

"And I know that you don't want to do this 'coming of age' thing…"

Always smile, but never condescendingly. Always tell them what they want to hear, but never what is on your mind. Always praise, but never criticize.

I am unbeatable.

"You're right," I said firmly, turning to look at him. He stopped talking, though I hadn't realized he still was. He looked confused. "I don't want to do it. I don't want to be here. But I haven't been given a choice, I've been given an order."

Regulus shook his head, frowning. "Other people have chosen their own paths. You aren't stuck."

Always do what you're told, and never question anything. Always tell them what they want to hear, but never what is on your mind.

How dare he say those things to me, when he wouldn't even do the same? He was in the same place, stuck, just like me.

"Claire… you can be free."
[ 3/31/07 -

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