A/N: It's been a long time coming! Another chapter, friends.
I clutched on to Anabelle tightly, tears springing at this embrace I was sure would be our last for quite some time. Her mother chuckled behind us, patting Anabelle on the back.
After our talk her mother came back through and fussed about the state of the tea in the cafeteria. She asked me some questions about my holiday plans, which I evaded with polite chuckles and sighing. Then a healer came to let us know they were ready to release Anabelle into the care of her family. They had her escorted to the end of the hallway where we were meant to go our separate ways.
Regulus and I were meant to floo back whereas her mother was going by portkey. And here Anabelle and I were, reveling in our good bye.
I pulled away, and surveyed my best friend. She squared her shoulders and regarded me as well.
We didn't look like we belonged together. She was muscularly toned, tanned, and dark haired. I was petite, a soft beige in skin tone, and blonde. We had come from entirely different worlds. But I couldn't imagine who I would be without her.
I smiled, and she mirrored it.
"We best be going, Anabelle. Pa is expecting us to be back any minute," Anabelle's mother said softly, giving me a warm smile of her own.
"We'll write," I assured her, turning toward Regulus who was waiting down the hall.
"Stay different, Claire," She called over her shoulder as she traveled opposite down the hallway.
I caught Regulus' eye and beamed, a bubbling joy I hadn't felt in quite some time springing in my heart.
Regulus regarded my happy countenance with a bemused smirk and we walked towards the lift once more.
When we had made it back from St. Mungo’s Dumbledore had granted Regulus permission to walk me back to my dormitory since it was past curfew. The two exchanged an even nod and soon I was being whisked back towards the kitchens and my dormitory.
Regulus and I fell into a comfortable silence, a vividly different interaction then our past few. Our previous meeting had been full of anger and sharp words. Our last before was dealing with the absurdity of Evan’s choices, while just minutes leading up to that we had nearly had a moment. Nearly.
That moment on the stairs came back easily now in this calm. I could remember the feel of his breath rolling down my cheeks, and the way his lips parted slightly as he regarded me. The kindness in his eyes as he placed his cloak around my shoulders. I could even see the way his chest tightened slightly as he gazed at my mouth.
“Claire? We’ve made it to your common room,” came Regulus’ voice drawing me into reality.
We stood at the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room entirely different from that moment on the stairs.
“Ah, sorry. Lost in my head I suppose, I must be going now,” I said evenly with a quick smile, and started to turn away from him.
Quickly his hand caught my wrist and the sudden invitation of physical contact sent my blood racing. I whipped my head back hurriedly, my blonde hair flicking easily toward him.
“I wanted to apologize,” He said hastily, dropping my hand as a slight pink dusted his cheeks.
“For?” My brow furrowing at the idea of Regulus Black apologizing to me.
“Suggesting you were not making the right decision breaking it off with Rosier,” Regulus said evenly his eyes fixed on mine, “I had no right to think I had a say in who you chose to have a relationship with.”
I pressed my lips together now. Regulus was distancing himself through his wording, and the way he cared for me.
I felt that moment on the stairs slipping away.
“Thank you for seeing your error, and apologizing.” I let the smile I reserve for the boys my mother throws my way at events grace my lips.
“I’m glad Anabelle is safe now and that you had a good parting,” Regulus said emphasizing the parting.
I could read the subtle nature of his message. For my safety I could not be linked with Anabelle any longer. If wind got to my family, or worse to another in our circle, then surely I would be shamed for my friendships.
“Me too,” I said tightly, “It’ll give me peace of mind while I spend my holiday searching for a good match.”
Regulus’ lips tightened for the briefest second, a flourish of hope welling in my chest that I dared not let on to. But it was for more than romantic, silly notions. Regulus had made me feel less alone in our world. Bearing losing someone in that way was frightening.
“Sleep well, Regulus,” I said kindly, letting a more true soft smile grace my face in a moment of sincerity.
I turned now to tap the barrels in the right ways to get access to my common room, not caring if Regulus watched me get in safely or not. I was not ready to lose him in many senses of that word, and I hoped that some part of his heart did still care for me. I hope he watched me get in safely.
As I entered I came into contact with the familiar scent of earth in the Hufflepuff common room. Coals burned dimly in the fire place and cast little light on the earth toned furniture cast about. The Hufflepuff common room was ideally lined with cozy nooks of space as well as large gathering areas abundant with plush seating.
My feet then carried me to the various doors which separated off the dormitories. A door for each dormitory came off the common room with a stair case that led up for the ones marked for the girls and staircases that led down for the boys.
I marched up the staircase of my dorm as silently as possible, listening for the faint sounds of sleep from my friends. Just inside the threshold of our dormitory and before I had time to take in the beloved scene of our four poster beds, I felt two crashing weights topple me as I entered.
In a moment of sheer panic I thought, Evan. It did not seem remotely impossible that he had somehow gotten into the room, disposed of my dorm mates in some fashion, and set to make good of his earlier threats.
Blinking I realized Mary Lou was the one grasping on to my top half and covering my mouth with her hand and Cher had me around the middle and pinned to the floor.
I rolled my eyes at my two friends on top of me.
“We didn’t want to wake Matilda when you came in,” Mary Lou whispered wildly, now helping in dragging me over to her bed.
The shut the curtains and cast a simple silencing charm over the canopied area.
Matilda was our fifth room mate who was seldom in our actual living quarters. She was much closer in friendship to the sixth year girls below us and had more than once requested to move her living arrangements into their rooms, but the Head Girl could not allow it. Everyone would be begging to trade rooms if she had.
“We just wanted to know if Regulus is a good snogger, you two were gone so long,” Cher said nonchalantly, raising a cool eyebrow my way.
I felt heat rush to my cheeks too easily, “Oh, Notting, we didn’t have time for that.”
Mary Lou gave me a coy smile, “Well, you've at least thought about snogging him, that’s for sure.”
The blush did not subside.
“I did get to see Anabelle,” I said softly looking at my two friends evenly.
Their eyes grew wide, and we all sat up in somewhat normal positions now.
“How is she?” Cher asked curiously, her brow furrowed in worry.
“She’s headed home now. The healers have patched her up, and she’ll be okay,” I said smoothly, reciting the statement I had practiced to tell them.
Mary Lou and Cher didn’t need to know that Annabelle would forever be marked by what happened to her, that it would always be there in her nightmares as it was in mine. They didn’t need to know the price of being close to me the way Anabelle had learned.
I stared around evenly and took in my strange surroundings. There were trees everywhere, and then I saw a familiar clearing up ahead with smooth white tombstones lined evenly. I was on the edge of the Nott Manor. My ancestors were buried beneath those stones.
“You’ll never be like them, Claire,” came a sinister voice near my ear.
I whipped my head aroundwith a start, and my pulse began to quicken.
Evan Rosier smiled smugly in front of me, shoving his hands into his pockets to brandish his wand. His body shifting into a dueling position. I tried to will myself to move and search for my wand, to run, to do anything. But I stayed frozen and tense.
Quicker than I had imagined Evan leapt towards me and pushed me to the ground, pressing my body into the Earth with his. My body had the sense to try to fight back and I shoved against his wait with all my might. His years of Quidditch quickly became an asset as my body weakened and when he pressed back my head he had his wand pressed into my neck in a painful way.
Wand, wand, where the hell did you put your wand, my mind raced quickly. My fingers scrambled to find ways to check my pockets, but it wasn’t anywhere.
Evan smirked above me, his green eyes piercing and wild.
“Oh, it seems little Miss Nott is wandless and outmatched. It’s time I show you what a real man would do,” he said using his free hand to grip painfully onto my thigh.
I tried to scream but nothing came from my mouth, just air as panic descended.
And then as I watched Evan leaning lower towards me his face morphed into an eerily familiar one, one I had only witnessed from hidden spaces, Lord Voldemort.
My scream was not silent now.
“Sympathizers are to be punished,” Voldemort hissed an inch from my face.
And then a sickening pain wracked my body, and I was pulled from the scene into a black void of pain. The Cruciatus curse was a familar pain. It felt like a fire starting in your heart that then ripped into every cell of your body.
“MISSUS NOTT, PLEASES WAKE UP.”
With a jolt I was relived of my pain and then I stared up into the round eyes of Milky. Her bat-like ears were drooped in concern as she stood over me with her tiny hands by my face.
I was huffing to catch my breath, “I’m sorry, Milky. Did my screaming frighten you?”
“Yesus ma’am,” she said sighing in relief and releasing me from her small hold, she easily slipped down from my bed to the floor.
“The nightmares have been getting worse,” I said glumly, beginning to untangle my legs from their wrapped up prisons in the sheets.
“Unfortunately ma’am that is not only why I came, your mother wishes for you to get properly ready and come to breakfast immediately,” Milky said easily, giving me a grimace of solidarity and leaving me to gather myself.
When I had arrived home just a couple of days before we had not yet discussed my future marriage prospects or my last failed attempt. The house elf had come to fetch me at the train station. My parents were out late at some meeting or social function and could not collect me themselves. And then I had attempted to avoid my parents at all costs. I had mentioned feeling sickly, or had escaped to the grounds several times when they had come looking for me.
I could not put it off forever.
I got out of bed and did my typical beauty charms. My hair was smoothed over, blemished covered, and my smart black robes hung easily on my shoulders.
All traces of the nightmare Milky had pulled me from where gone.
I touched the cool wooden hand railing of our grand stair case as I made my way to our formal dinning room. I tried once again to prepare myself for their reactions of disappointment.
My father sat at the chair on the end of the table, sipping his coffee and reading through the paper. My mother who sat to his right was moving food around on her plate in a nonchalant manner, contemplating how each bite may affect her waistline. They both did not look up to greet me.
I sat opposite my mother and pulled my napkin to my lap.
Father had given me a brief and warm hug when they came home from their meeting when I arrived from Hogwarts. I missed those sweet moments with him.
“You’ve been avoiding us, Claire, darling,” my mother said cooly, setting her fork down to lightly dab at her mouth.
“I did not mean for it to be so, mother,” I said easily as food appeared on my plate.
Milky had prepared my favorite: two eggs sunny side up with biscuits and bacon.
It meant this talk was not going to go well.
“You did,” my father said evenly, pushing his paper down now, “because you don’t want to talk about what happened with Rosier, darling. And I suppose because you fear we’re disappointed with you.”
I paused, briefly cursing myself over the fact that my father had always been able to pin me so easily.
“Would I be wrong to assume such things?” I asked dangerously, lifting my chin to look both my mother and father in the face.
“You would not,” my father finished evenly not even lifting his eyes from his paper, a pang of disappointing him wedging itself into my heart.
“But dear, it’s mostly due to your safety at this point. To the safety of our bloodline, and our futures,” my mother started in, a worried crease coming across her brow.
She was as aware as I was about what this looming war would mean for the women of our circles. We could lose our husbands and bloodlines, we could be left without fathers to make a name for us, and left without a mate to choose from.
“I am aware. I would not have ended things with Rosier had there been any other option,” I said bending to calmly eat my breakfast as if the conversation had not already ripped into my emotions.
“We hoped it was absolutely necessary,” my father said strongly sipping his coffee, “but no matter we have news that may affect these things and much more.”
I sat up quickly and for the first time glanced at my father’s newspaper. Flashing along the headline was, Attack on National Cup Quidditch Game sends Wizard Britain into a Panic.
“Your father has decided to open our home to the Dark Lord and our efforts,” my mother started excitedly, her eyes lighting up, “We’ll become the central meeting place for all the Death Eaters, a great honor to our Manor and our bloodline.”
My father sat down his paper now, beaming and reaching for the hand of his wife.
I could see what they meant in affecting my situation. Now every suitor my family deemed worthy would inevitably come under our roof at some point, a perfect opportunity to work my charm amongst them.
And then another thought quickly pushed to the surface, Regulus would be here.
My heart raced in a way unlike it had done in my nightmare.
And then another thought easily pushed its worry in, Evan would be here.
Then the worst thought of all became a reality, Lord Voldemort would be in my home.
Fear quickly and easily wormed into my soul and settled in.
I will not survive this.
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