A/N: Er...hi. It's been a while. Hope you're well. Stuff happened and as a result, this fic decidedly didn't happen. Long story, but shtuff happens and that's that. I have no idea when the next chapter will be up, but I do know that I will finish this, if it's the last thing I do. I like the ending (which I've already written) too much to just give up due to a difficult middle. Anyway, hope you like this.
"It's all very bizarre," Tom says, the next morning in the hospital wing.
Clara nods, and takes another bite of the toast that he has brought her from the Great Hall, careful not to let any crumbs drop onto the bedsheets.
"I mean, you sort of disappeared, but you were still half there, like a...ghost or something."
Clara chews on her toast but doesn't reply. She doesn't have an explanation any more than Tom does, and part of her doesn't want to know what happened to her in that Transfiguration lesson. Her aching chest, the cuts on her arms and the nasty bruise on her cheekbone all point to the same thing - whatever it was, it was bad, and she has no desire to experience it again.
But, she can still recall that feeling, the feeling of fullness, in her heart, in her head, and all around. For one small iota of time, she knew exactly who she was. Now however, her head feels dense and empty at the same time. Everything processes slowly because everything is unfamiliar.
Tom is the only real constant in her life. He is the only real source of reassurance she has.
"Tom," she says quietly, after a long silence. He looks up from his hands, his eyes staring intensely into her own. She tries to articulate her thoughts but she can't structure them, not in her head, nor into a sentence. She shakes her head and Tom looks down again, releasing her from his gaze. Breathing seems suddenly easier and her thoughts fall into place a little more, though not completely.
Everything feels just out of reach. Like a carrot being dangled on a stick before her. Whenever she manages to get close, it's tugged a little further away. Her fists are balled in frustration and before she knows what's happening, there is a crash as the silver tray that carried her breakfast is sent flying off of her lap with one involuntary swipe of her hand.
Tom jumps up as the matron rushes over, demanding to know what all the fuss is about. With a wave of Tom's wand, the crockery repairs itself, and it all zooms neatly into place on Clara's bedside cabinet.
"Really, you'll wake the other patients!" the matron says, her hands resting on her hips.
Clara turns her head to glance at the girl three beds over, her face still, her eyes open and glassy. She has not moved an inch for weeks. She then looks back over to the matron, who sighs, taking her point.
"You can't just throw a tantrum whenever you like. I know it's not nice being stuck in here but you have to stay here until you're better. The less fuss you cause, the sooner you can get back to your own common room."
Clara is on the verge of throwing out a sulky remark, when Tom speaks first.
"Sorry," he says, in his most earnest tone. "But you know her...condition. I'm sure I'd be throwing my breakfast around if I were in her boat."
The matron smiles fondly at Tom and then at Clara. "I know it's hard dear, but there's nothing you can do. Just move on as best you can."
Clara says nothing. She doesn't want to hear empty words. Nor does she want to face the fact that nothing she does is understandable until Tom tells the matron that he'd do it too. She dislikes the idea of there being one rule for him and one rule for her. She'd have thought that after everything she's been through she'd be excused a little outburst. But no. Tom can have an outburst, but she can't. Tom, the poor orphan whose mother died giving birth to him, can do whatever he likes. Clara, on the other hand, the girl who doesn't even know her own name, who may very well have family out there waiting for her to come home so they can love her, who has spent most of her remembered life in a hospital ward, no, she can't so much as breathe out of turn. Unless, of course, Tom says it's okay.
The matron bustles back to her office and Tom takes his seat next to Clara's bedside once more.
"What was that all about?"
Clara stares determinedly at the blank wall before her.
"You can tell me," he says softly. When she doesn't acknowledge him, he reaches out a hand to her arm, but the second his fingertips touch her skin she pulls away.
"What have I done?" he demands, his voice rising a little.
"Go away," she whispers. "Leave me alone."
Tom stands abruptly, his chair skidding on the tiled floor with a nasty screech.
"If that's what you want, then so be it." He stalks from the hospital wing, and soon the sound of his footsteps disappear into the distance.
Clara punches her pillows into shape and then lays down, her back to the doorway. She pulls her blankets up tight under her chin, and soon enough she falls into a restless, uneasy sleep.
When she opens her eyes, she is not sure what time of day it is. The dull grey sky outside the window gives her no clues, and above the hammering of the rain against the glass, she can hear a small commotion behind her.
"Albus we can't carry on like this. Has the Headmaster been informed?"
"He's on his way, he's just talking to the boy's parents."
"But how can we keep the school open? Surely another attack means that -"
"That, Galatea, is for the Headmaster to decide. The mandrake solution will be ready next month and then Mr Parks and the other victims will be back to normal."
Clara, trying to breathe as quietly as she can, resists the urge to roll over and watch the scene unfold. She hears the matron fussing, while Dumbledore talks quietly to Professor Merrythought, and eventually, the quick sharp clicks of Professor Dippet's shoes announce his arrival in the hospital wing.
"The boy's parents will be here within the hour. Albus, we need to speak with the governors immediately."
"Very well headmaster."
As they leave, Clara rolls over in time to see the curtains being drawn sharply around Parks' bed. Her eyes follow Dumbledore as he walks down the corridor, and, as he turns to take the stairs up to the next floor, his eyes meet hers. He holds her gaze for a moment, before returning his full attention to Dippet.
Clara's insides squirm. She doesn't know what that look was about, nor does she want to know.
She just wishes Tom were here.
Dumbledore brings her a large box of toffees from Honeyduke's. It's the only gift she's ever had, and this realisation causes a searing pain in her heart. Somewhere, she'll have experienced birthdays and Christmases. Somewhere, someone is missing her. She hopes.
"Don't hold back on my account," he says cheerfully, "tuck in."
Clara doesn't need to be told a second time, and so she opens the box hurriedly and unwraps the bright colourful foil from one of the toffees. Dumbledore helps himself to one and they sit there in silence for a short while, topping up their sugar levels. Eventually, Dumbledore swallows the last of his toffee, and fixes Clara with a penetrating stare, his hands clasped in his lap.
"Now," he says. "We need to talk about what happened."
Clara swallows her toffee with a large gulp and meets his gaze. She doesn't like this conversation, doesn't like it at all.
"Before we go any further, I want to assure you that the Ministry have not been, and will not be informed. That, I promise you."
Clara nods, and wishes she could think of something to say. But no. Her head is empty. She hates it, more than anything, more than the cuts on her arms and the pain in her chest, she hates that she cannot think.
"Do you know what happened to me?" she asks.
Dumbledore sighs. "My guess is as good as yours," he tells her. "But what I do know is this: yesterday, you had the same injuries inflicted upon as you had the day you arrived. I have some theories. Wild ones, but nothing I'll worry you with right now."
Clara frowns. "Because that's not worrying in itself..."
Dumbledore chuckles. "What I mean to say, is that I don't want to cause panic where unnecessary. Like I say, my theories are wild and based on the minuscule evidence we have. Apart from that, they are balancing somewhere between the highly improbable and completely impossible. I suggest that you try to continue here as best you can, and just hope that this doesn't happen again." He gestures towards the hospital bed and Clara looks down at her blankets.
"So there's something wrong with me," she says grimly. "Deeply wrong."
"That depends entirely on your definition of deeply wrong," Dumbledore says kindly. "I say it's deeply wrong that a young woman, such as yourself, should have already suffered so much trauma and upset in her life. I do not, for one second, think there is anything deeply wrong with you, as a person."
This makes Clara feel a little better, and she reaches forward for another toffee.
"Where's Tom?" Dumbledore asks politely. "I'd thought he'd be here, by your side...seeing as he's your friend."
Clara chews on her lip. She doesn't want to tell him, because she knows he'll be pleased, but she doesn't want him to think it's Tom's doing that he's not here. That wouldn't be fair.
"We fell out," she says quietly. "I told him to go away."
"Ah, even the best of friends have disagreements," Dumbledore says kindly. "And the worst."
Clara ignores him. They've been through this before and he won't change her mind any more now than he did before.
"I'd best be on my way, anyhow," he continues after the silence. "Those Switching Spell essays won't mark themselves!" He gets to his feet and smiles down at her. "Rest up today, and I'll have a word with Matron and see if we can have you back in classes on Monday."
Clara brightens at this. She's sick to death of being in here, surrounded by stony students. It makes her skin tingle unpleasantly, and feels almost as if she's staying in a mortuary.
"Thank you, Professor," she says quietly. "And thank you for the toffees."
"Any time, my dear, any time." Dumbledore departs, and Clara finds that she soon misses his company. The other patients aren't half as good at making conversation.
Despite her terrible behaviour, Tom returns to her that evening with a tray piled high with food.
"Eat," he says. "We'll talk when you're finished. You need to keep your strength up."
Clara obeys, and once she has gotten through her last mouthful of cheesecake, she leans back onto her pillows as Tom vanishes the tray with a swish of his wand. They sit in silence, while Clara contemplates what she could say to him, and how she can make up for being so awful to him.
"I'm sorry." It's Tom who speaks first, and Clara frowns, whipping her head round to stare at him.
"I should have been more patient, you're in such a terrible state and you're bound to be upset. It was wrong of me to walk away when you needed me."
"I was horrible to you," Clara whispers. "I was the one who told you to go away."
"Yes, but you're also the one who's suffering from the after effects of dark magic. One has to allow a little leniency."
Clara's hand moves absent-mindedly towards her chest, which is still painful, even after all the potions she's been taking.
"We have to stick together," Tom says. He reaches out a hand to her and she doesn't move away this time. "We have to, because the world isn't made for people like us. It's made for people with families, and money, and all those things that we don't have."
"We have brains," Clara mumbles. "That has to count for something."
Tom nods, his eyes fixed on hers. "And you know what they say, don't you Clara?"
"Two heads are better than one."
Clara nods, knowing that he's quite right.
"Together?" he says.