Theme: Darkness - Write about how a character reacts to the unknown.
Mandatory Prompt: [Object] A Claw
Additional Prompt: [Action] Dancing
Word Count: 2650
Author's Note: Mentions of gore, blood, violent assault, and disfigurement
Lavender's Last Dance
Lavender met the marble floor with a sickening smack and her wand clattered out of reach. She stretched out an arm with one last shred of conviction to keep fighting.
The claws dug into her shoulder first. Lavender shrieked. Another set of talons dug into her cheek and forced her to turn and see her attacker face to face.
The werewolf's rabid open mouth glistened with spittle and blood as he smiled down at her. She could smell the decaying meat on his breath. Introductions out of the way, he ducked back down to her clavicle and broke more skin. She gagged as he sunk his repulsive teeth into her. His hand dragged down her face, trails of red springing up in its wake.
This is it. This is how I die.
"NO!" A voice echoed across the room, and a warm red flash of light washed over her. She heard her attacker yelp. He had sunk a claw into her chest as an anchoring hold, but the spell was too strong and he was flung off of her body.
Trembling and confused, Lavender pawed the ground to sit up. She could not see where the spell came from through her free-falling tears mixed with blood. She thought she was just breathless from the fall but when she reached up to rub the stitch in her chest she found one of Greyback's blackened claws buried in her flesh. She tugged it out, adrenaline and shock keeping her numb, and turned the jagged fingernail over in her hand once before she saw the burgundy puddle of her own blood.
The claw dropped to the floor and Lavender collapsed.
The band played on as Lavender danced through the night. It was a celebration to behold; wizards and witches dressed in their finest as they marked the true end to the war. Safe and free at last, she relished the night she thought would never come. A spray of stars twinkled overhead, and she was determined to dance with everyone at the party.
Their favorite song came on, and Parvati pulled her to sway together in a warm drunken hug.
Seamus insisted he knew how to tango; and while he was rather good at picking Lavender up and dipping her, his go-to move was to jerk her about the dancefloor.
Neville, on the other hand, liked to twirl his partner. "If I just stand here and spin you," he explained, lifting his arm for her to duck under again, "I can't step on your toes."
And then the moment finally came, the one she'd been waiting for what seemed her whole life long. Ron asked her to dance. Breathless with anticipation, she accepted. The music swelled to a waltz as she placed a hand on his shoulder and he wrapped his around her waist. He pulled her closer so that her ear was pressed to his chest. Closing her eyes, Lavender let the melody carry them away.
She wished she could have this moment forever, dancing with the man she loved.
The first thing Lavender noticed when she woke was that she could not move and that maybe she might be dead. She never slept this way–there's no way anybody could–prone on her back and hands resting limp at her sides. Usually, she curled into her side and hugged her pillow, but right now, her body was heavy, a dull vessel for her mind, which was far too awake and aware.
Where did the party go?
This was death. It had to be. She was meant to lie here eternally uncomfortable and the world would go on without her? It wasn't fair, that she should be stuck in the exact opposite of her dream…Or had that been heaven? What about the afterlife? Did she even get the choice to be a ghost? Did she miss her own funeral?
Dead or not, Lavender had a body and she was determined to use it. She concentrated on her eyes, urging them to flutter open so she could escape this darkness. Her eyelids were there, of course they were, but some kind of fabric was bound across them. Her whole head was heavy with what felt like layers and layers of linen. The bandages pressed against her face in a claustrophobic cling, stealing her breath and her vision.
Blind and bound, she forced herself not to panic. Facts, she needed facts. Points to ground herself and stop the impending doom from sweeping over her.
Okay, she had eyes, because she could feel them itch, as dry as Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder, in her sockets. They might have been useless, but because they were there, she had to believe that the rest of her body was accessible too.
Her legs were too far away, so she tested her hands. Lavender focused until her fingers flickered with sensation. Pins and needles pricked her skin as she flexed her hands, her wrists, and all the way up to her elbows. Perhaps she was waking up from death.
Her hands traced a blind path up her body, her fingers finding more cotton gauze. She employed feather-light pressure while following the bandages up her body. They traveled over her chest, up her neck, around her head. They criss-crossed over her eyes. That's why I can't see.
In their fifth year, Professor Binns taught them about Egyptian mummies embalmed in perfumed oils and spells cast by ancient wizards. When the magic was done properly, the dead could be preserved in a near-perfect state, as if they were but a noise away from rousing. When it was done wrong…well that was what curse-breakers were for, wasn't it?
Was that what was happening to her now? Lavender trembled but feared, if she were truly a botched preservation of a witch long dead, her decayed and aching body would fall apart. She forced her arms to brave the space around her, prepared to be met with wooden walls and a lid.
Soft pillows, sheets, a thin mattress, and a metal bed frame.
No, Lavender was okay. She was not an Egyptian mummy. Instead, she was tucked into a twin-sized bed. It wasn't a bed she knew; the sheets were too stiff and starchy, but at least it wasn't a coffin or a sarcophagus. No overwhelming whiffs of embalming oils or incense filled her nostrils as she tried but failed to take a deep breath, but there was a thick scent of antiseptic mingled with singed hair.
Oh, gods. My hair.
She frantically padded over her face and head again. A rush of relief coursed through her as she found her hair had been swept to one side of her face where it escaped through gaps in the bandages as a braid.
Only Lavender's best friend was allowed to plait her hair.
"Parvati." Her voice croaked and she choked on the dry air.
Muffled footsteps came towards her as she hacked and coughed. Out of nowhere, a straw pushed under a gap in her bandages against her lips and she took a greedy sip of water; her heart raced as she guzzled the cool, clear liquid. Maybe she wasn't dead, after all. Ghosts couldn't drink water. But that didn't bring her comfort; she still couldn't know where she was for certain.
"Lavender, are you okay?" said a shy and uncertain voice.
Lavender nearly coughed up her water in shock. "Hermione?"
"Yes, it's me." Lavender felt a hand on hers, the warm touch forced a wave of memories to flood back to her.
Harry Potter had returned to Hogwarts. Death Eaters had attacked Hogwarts. Lavender had fought those Death Eaters!
Evidently, she had lost to those Death Eaters, too. Was this even Hermione? Did it even matter if it wasn't? Blind and bedridden, without her wand, Lavender didn't see how she could put up much more of a fight. What if it was all a trick? A way to keep her separated from her friends and the cause. Of course, they would use Hermione as a disguise. Who wouldn't trust Little Miss 'Brightest Witch of Her Age'?
To make matters worse, Lavender didn't know Hermione well enough to ask a security question. Lavender racked her mind for something they shared. A fact between them that could confirm Hermione's identity. A petty, snide, little voice in the back of head suggested, Is Ron a good kisser? But she quieted it. She wasn't ready to admit that heavenly dance had only been a dream.
The dance. That's it!
"Hermione? Prove it–please. What Muggle trick did we use the night of the Yule Ball?"
"Lavender, what are you–?" Hermione paused as Lavender dug her nails into her hand, allowing the half-moon crescents of pain to distract her from the terror that Hermione would not be able to answer the question. What then? Lavender couldn't fight, not right now. She didn't even know where her wand was.
But finally, Hermione uttered, "We made shoe inserts out of an old bra so we wouldn't get blisters dancing all night."
Shaky trust bolstered Lavender's confidence in Hermione's identity, and the blonde let out a sigh of relief. Questions came flying into her mind, and Lavender let them spill out one after the next, each word muffled by bandages, and punctuated by sharp intakes of air.
"Am I dead? Where are we? Why aren't you fighting? Where is my wand?" The more mysteries she thought of, the more frantic her questions became. "Where is Parvati? And Seamus? And Neville?! And–"
"It's okay, Lavender, calm down." Hermione shushed her and put more pressure into the hand she held.
Lavender stopped rambling questions, because the more she spoke, the more pain she felt under her bandages. Her body had been numb minutes ago and now every inch of her itched and stung. What was this hell if it wasn't purgatory?
"You're not dead. You're in the hospital wing. The fight is done." Hermione paused to allow the information to sink in. "We're waiting for St Mungo's to come so they can take better care of you. Your wand is with Parvati and she stepped out for a minute. Neville and Seamus are helping–"
"When you say it's over, you mean we won?" Lavender choked on the last word.
She had just dreamed of a celebration for exactly this moment, but that was all it had ever been, a dream. After so many months of tortured first years and small rebellions; hiding from teachers and watching firsthand as what seemed like a new world order took shape, it was hard to believe one night had reversed it all.
"So you really did it then?" Lavender mused in a mumble.
"We did it." Hermione corrected her with a squeeze to her hand. "You stayed to fight, too."
"Some help that I was." Lavender's frown tugged at another wound on her face, tight pain radiating into her temples.
"It's not your fault what happened to you, Lavender." Hermione's voice was tinged in guilt and sympathy, unnerving Lavender. Hermione knew something that she didn't.
"What happened to me?"
"Lavender, what do you remember about the battle?"
Lavender winced as she fought to remember the night before. There was a flurry of excitement when Harry arrived with Ron and Hermione. Then McGonagall and Snape's duel. Suddenly, Lavender was fighting side by side with a Hufflepuff and–
"My fall!" she gasped, all the air escaping her lungs as her memories raced back. "I was dueling someone on the second-floor landing. There was this big blast. The last thing I remember I was in the air–-and then I wasn't. But why am I all cut up? Did I go through a window?"
"Oh, I–Lavender, you did fall but…that's not how you got those cuts."
Lavender did not like the queasy tambor of Hermione's voice. "Alright, where are they from?"
"Maybe we ought to wait for Madame Pomfrey," Hermione suggested, suddenly more chipper. "I can fetch her if you give me a moment." She pulled away from the bedside but Lavender clenched down on her hand and kept her in place.
"Hermione, I want to know what's happened to me," Lavender demanded. She squeezed Hermione's hand to keep from crying as new injuries made themselves known all over her body.
"You fell, we all saw it. It must have knocked you out."
Hermione took a deep breath in. This must be just as hard for Hermione to say as for me to hear.
On her exhale, Hermione said, "Fenrir Greyback attacked you." She pressed a small pointed projectile into her palm.
Lavender turned the dismembered claw over in her hand. She gulped down as her heart leapt into her shredded throat. She remembered the attack. The putrid stench. The violation. Pulling this very claw from the ruined flesh of her chest. All her stinging wounds throbbed, a map of pain she could read without looking. They were no longer arbitrary injuries but a circuit of gouges and gashes dug out by claws and teeth.
"Huh…" she sighed with hollow clarity. "A moment ago, I thought I was wrapped up this way because I was a mummy. Turns out there is something worse than dying."
"Lavender, don't say that."
"Don't tell me what to do," Lavender snapped, but the sudden movement burned under her gauze.
"There's a good chance you're not a proper werewolf." Hermione carried on trying to comfort her. "It wasn't a full moon."
"Yes, I know the phases of the moon, thank you."
"I'm just trying to say, there's no reason that you can't have a normal life."
"Hermione." Lavender's gritted teeth helped to reign in her frustration and kept her from agitating her injuries. "I appreciate you trying to help, but there isn't a chance in hell that I will ever feel normal again!" After all, no makeup lines boasted being compatible with werewolf scars. "What do I even look like under all of this?" She shook the claw in her hand as evidence. "I had to pull this out of me. What if Greyback's blood mixed with mine?!"
Hermione seemed to think this was some type of challenge to prove Lavender wrong. "There might be some side effects, yes. Mood swings around the full moon and a taste for rarer meat–"
"I'm a vegetarian!" Lavender sobbed at the proposed loss of her own self-control. "I was just coming to terms with the fact that I am permanently disfigured, and now you are telling me there are side effects, too?"
"I'm sorry. Tomorrow's a gibbous moon, I reckon this might be one of my mood swings, best I get used to them."
Hermione's grip on her hand slacked at Lavender's viscous words, but she didn't hear Hermione walk away.
"I'm sorry," Hermione whispered as one last peace offering. "This happened to Ron's brother Bill last year. His scars are still pretty fresh, but he and his wife are coping well. I'm sure they would be better to talk to than me."
Lavender didn't respond. She couldn't bring herself to acknowledge Ron or his brother. All she could think about was how she was meant to attend that wedding. She had bought a dress and everything. Another dance with Ron stolen from her.
There was the squeak of a sneaker on the marble floor pivoting to go.
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry, Lavender." Hermione's voice was thick with remorseful as she said, "I'm sorry I was too late."
"What do you–?" Lavender began, but a rustle of curtains signaled the end of the confusing conversation and she sank back against the soft pillows, more sullen and lost than ever before.
Tired, and furious, and depressed, she longed to return to the party in her dreams.
She supposed that one day soon that very celebration would take place, but she wasn't sure whether she wanted to dance anymore.