A/N: The first fruit of my 'epic update weekend'. I'm getting closer and closer to the parts that I've already got written for this so hopefully updates won't be too sporadic from hereon out. In shameless plug land, I've ventured into the Potterwho world, in which Hermione gallivants with Eleven and there are japes and tight spots and one or two brief visits to heart wrench city. It's called Living Again. In case you were interested. And it'll be getting updated this evening with any luck. :) Anyway, hope you enjoy this installment. Let me know what you think!
Whispers follow her, which isn't unusual, but this time, not even Clara knows the truth of what happened. She cannot contradict the rumours because she has no fact to offer up in exchange. It's infuriating to say the least. The only plus side is that Tom stays with her, almost constantly, sending death glares to anyone who dare whisper behind their hands. The teachers, all except Dumbledore, naturally, tip toe around her, as though unsure as to whether she's about to have another episode, or a turn.
At breakfast, a large brown owl drops a letter on top of Clara's toast. She slides her finger under the wax seal and opens it.
Please come to my office at three o'clock this afternoon. Nothing to worry about, just a little chat over a pot of tea.
"He'll probably just want to know how you're feeling after the..." Tom trails off for a moment, frowning into his cornflakes. "...incident."
"Reading my post over my shoulder, are we?" Clara says sternly. He has the good grace to blush a little.
"I was just curious as to who it was from. I mean, you receiving a letter, that's even more curious than me receiving a letter."
Clara frowns. "All right, you don't have to rub it in."
"I'm sorry, I just -"
"And may I remind you that my family might still be out there. They might be looking for me."
"May I remind you that my father is still alive and wants nothing to do with me," Tom hisses. Clara's shoulders slacken with shame. She has no right to have a tragedy contest with Tom, because as it stands they're both in the same rubbish boat. None of it makes any difference however, because their situation is what it is, and all they can do is make the best of it.
"I'm sorry," she says quietly.
"Me too," he replies. His hand covers her own, his long fingers curling around her palm. He offers the most gentle of squeezes, and she returns the gesture, her toast now cold.
"Ah, Clara, lovely of you to come, sit down, sit down!" Dippet draws up a small squidgy armchair with his wand and Clara takes a seat. A cup and saucer hover towards her and settle on the table with a small rattle of fine china. She stirs in some milk while Dippet fusses over shortbread and eventually, he is settled in his chair, taking a long sip of his tea. Clara echoes his action, and the hot liquid burns her tongue, just enough to make her fingers clench the handle a little tighter, but not so much that Dippet notices.
"So," he begins, not meeting Clara's eye. He straightens rolls of parchment on his desk, places his quill in his inkwell, and brushes some shortbread crumbs onto the floor. "How are you?"
"Fine," Clara answers blankly. In truth, her chest still sears with pain if she laughs (which thankfully isn't often at all) or if she coughs or sneezes, and the skin of her forearm is still a little raw, despite the matron's best efforts. Really though, Clara cannot complain. And Clara knows that she must not complain if she wants to stay out of St Mungo's.
She doesn't trust them there.
She doesn't trust anyone.
"And you haven't had any...repetitions of what happened? Or any close calls?"
"None whatsoever," she answers.
Dippet nods and takes a sip of his tea. He hums thoughtfully, his gaze resting on something just behind Clara. She picks up her cup and drinks quickly. She doesn't like being looked through. If Dippet's going to pull her out of Charms, he should at least have the good grace to look her in the eye.
"I've taken the liberty of calling in someone from St Mungo's. He just wants to ask you a few questions, just for your medical records and the like. It was a very serious..." Dippet frowns, and takes another sip of his tea. Clara's skin prickles. Dippet is nervous. "...accident."
"Right," Clara replies, shifting in her seat. She puts down her cup and saucer and places her hands in her lap.
"Jenkins!" Dippet calls. Clara turns in her seat as the door to the office opens, and in walks a man in a plain set of robes, his wand in one hand, and a large black briefcase in the other. "Take a seat, Jenkins, take a seat." Dippet draws up a hard backed chair for the new arrival, who sets his briefcase on the desk.
Clara frowns at him, something about him familiar. His dark hair doesn't suit his freckled complexion, and his heavy brow seems entirely over-exaggerated.
"Can you remember anything from your incident?" His thick Scottish accent throws Clara off her guard for a moment, and she blinks. It's not the voice she was expecting from that mouth.
"I know you..." Clara says softly. "I'm sure I do."
"No no," he says, "Quite mistaken. Now, do you remember anything from your accident?"
"The glass," Clara says vaguely. "The glass and the grit." She closes her eyes, trying to transport herself back to that one moment, that moment that had been everything and nothing all at once. She remembers bright lights, and she can vaguely see the outline of a man. She squeezes her eyes tighter, forcing herself to remember, and then she hears a gruff shout and her eyes snap open.
Jenkins and Dippet are watching her closely.
"I know his name," she says breathlessly. "The man."
"What man?" Jenkins demands, clicking his fingers. His briefcase opens, and a quill floats out, along with a fresh roll of parchment, which unfurls itself on the desk, the quill poised above it, ready to take notes.
"The man who did this," Clara says, gesturing towards her heart, which is pounding so fast that it is aching under the strain of it all.
"Tell us everything," Jenkins says. "Everything."
"How was it?" Tom asks, when she finds him in the corridor on the way to Transfiguration.
"Fine," Clara replies. "Did I miss much in Charms?"
"Just going over Cheering Charms for the fiftieth time," Tom says with a sigh. "I don't know why I bother with that lesson."
"It's very useful," Clara says tartly. "It has its roots in old magic, in the very basis of our world."
Tom rolls his eyes. "What did Dippet want anyway?"
Clara blinks. "Just wanted to know how I'm feeling."
"Is that it?"
Clara shrugs. "Yeah."
"You were gone for ages. Thought you'd have wanted to get out of there as soon as possible."
"It was ten minutes or so...not ages."
"You were gone for at least an hour," Tom says. "Unless you skipped the rest of Charms, and I can't say I'd blame you -"
"I didn't skip Charms, I came straight here."
"So what were you doing for an hour?" Tom asks exasperatedly. "It can't have been that good a pot of tea, surely?"
Clara racks her brain, but it doesn't cooperate. She can't provide Tom with an answer, because she doesn't know herself. All she can recall is a brief exchange between herself and Dippet, and then...well, and then she was here.
"I don't know," she says softly.
Tom opens his mouth, ready to speak, but at that moment, Dumbledore pops his head out of the Transfiguration classroom.
"Good afternoon, fifth years."
They file past him with the rest of the class and take their seats. Tom grabs Clara's wrist and pulls her towards the back. Normally, she would argue, because she loves Transfiguration lessons and wants to get the best seat, but on this occasion, she relents. She's not feeling particularly well and she wonders whether Dippet's tea was some foreign concoction that she's not entirely used to, or whether perhaps it's just a little hot in the classroom.
The lesson flies by in a flurry of demonstrations and practice sessions, and Clara bumbles her way through them, her eyelids growing heavy. She would give anything to be lying in her four poster right now, curled up under the blankets, ready to drift off into dreamland.
She starts at the sound of her name.
"I asked you a question," Dumbledore says delicately. "Are you feeling all right?"
Clara ignores the whispers that flit around the classroom, and Dumbledore raises a hand, silencing her classmates.
"I'm fine," Clara says. "Just a little..."
"Sir, please, she has tea with Professor Dippet and I think she might have eaten something funny or..." Tom stops talking, and Dumbledore switches his piercing look from Clara onto Tom.
"I'm fine," she says, but even as the words come out of her mouth, she knows she is lying.
Dumbledore approaches, and squats down in front of Clara's desk, peering into her eyes. "Look at me," he says quietly. Clara follows orders, and after a moment, Dumbledore stands up.
"A hearty dinner and a good night's sleep is in order I think!" Dumbledore says warmly. "And perhaps it's best if you all head down to dinner now."
There is a scraping of chairs and no one questions the abrupt ending to their lesson, although Clara can feel the stares of the other students pierce her like needle points. The whispers start up again as they exit, but Clara is still in her seat, her quill in her hand. She looks down at her notes, only to find that there aren't any; there's just a splodge of green ink that's been growing larger with every drip drip drip from her stationary quill.
"Tom, make sure she eats, then get her back to the dormitory. She needs rest." Dumbledore is pulling on his jacket, which today is a vivid emerald, the collar embroidered with purple swirls.
"Yes sir," Tom says. "Of course sir."
"I am trusting you this once, Tom," Dumbledore says firmly. "Do not let me down."
Tom says nothing, and Clara looks up. Dumbledore is staring hard at Tom, who is completely still in his seat.
Dumbledore nods and sweeps towards the door, and Clara can feel the classroom crackle with energy.
"Sir!" Tom calls after him. Dumbledore pauses by the door and turns around. "D'you think Professor Dippet -"
"Dinner," Dumbledore says firmly."And then bed."
With that, he is gone, and eventually, Clara's brain kicks into gear. She screws the lid back on her inkwell, rolls up her splattered parchment and puts all of her belongings into her bag.
"I think I might just go straight to bed," Clara says, swallowing down a yawn. "I'm really - "
"No," Tom says sharply. "You heard Dumbledore."
"Since when did you pay any attention to Dumbledore?" Clara retorts?
"Just this once," Tom says. "Just this once, because...because of you."
Clara turns to face him, and she can see worry written all over his face. He reaches out a hand and his fingers graze against her cheek. His touch is soothing, and she closes her eyes, ready to nod off right here at her desk, but soon, the contact is broken, and she opens her eyes.
Tom is quiet, which isn't helpful. Talking keeps her feeling awake, keeps her feeling more like herself, but Tom eats his dinner in silence, while Clara picks at her roast chicken unenthusiastically. She glances over to the staff table, to see what kind of mood Dumbledore is in, but his chair is empty.
So is Dippet's.
She elbows Tom in the ribs and nods towards the staff table. He casts a glance in its direction then returns his attention to his shepherd's pie.
"I know," he says. "I don't imagine their conversation will be a short one."
"What conversation? I don't understand what's going on."
"I'll tell you in the morning," Tom says. "When you're feeling better."
"I'm feeling fine," Clara snaps, slamming her fork down on the table. "And I don't appreciate being treated like an idiot."
"It'll upset you. And it'll be obvious to you in the morning when the after effects have worn off."
"What after effects?" Clara demands. "What are you even -"
There is a great rumble, and the entire castle shakes ominously. Plates rattle on the tables, the pumpkin juice is unsettled in its goblets, and the clatter of knives and forks ceases instantly. Everyone is staring at the ceiling, their mouths ajar. A third year Hufflepuff still has a strand of spaghetti hanging from his mouth.
"As you were," Professor Merrythought calls. The great hall is so silent that even her croaky little voice can be heard by all. Slowly, normality resumes. Chatter returns to its normal level although there is a buzz of scandal hovering in the air.
Clara turns to Tom, who is eating his shepherd's pie, his limbs stiff and moving like clockwork.
"What's going on?"
"Finish your dinner," Tom says. "And then bed."
Clara doesn't argue this time, for she knows she will achieve nothing. Even through her tiredness, however, she is sure she can feel the castle trembling.