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Breathe (Don't Falter)

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When Jasmine Potter wakes on the morning of July 12th 1987 to the shrill demands of her aunt, her hair is no longer the drab brown the woman forced her to dye it the previous day. There's no explanation for the return of the red colour, and even though she loves it, she dreads Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon's reaction to this oddity.

Her allotted bathroom time is short. She doesn't waste it by dwelling on the unhealthy pallor of her skin and the dark bruises caused by her cousin Dudley's roughhousing and his parents' grabbing hands. Jasmine can't risk not eating today - for the last two days she went hungry and her stomach already aches from the emptiness. More than that, she gets dizzy if she moves too quickly.

Shower finished and hair hastily braided, Jasmine rushes into the kitchen on quiet feet. The stealth is unnecessary - the sound of the television drowns out what little noise she makes. But it's a habit by now - good girls should be neither seen nor heard.

Today is a Sunday, and it's looking to be a decent one, too. Uncle Vernon is taking Dudley on a father-son-bonding outing to a rugby game, and Petunia is invited to a tea party with the assorted wives of Privet Drive. This means that Jasmine will be sent to Mrs. Figg's house. There, she'll be free to read the old woman's books, eat the too-sweet cookies she bakes, and cuddle her cats.

She finishes cooking breakfast and setting the table in time for her family members to tromp down the stairs. While she cleans up, the dissonant melody of her relatives' conversation drones in her ears: Vernon speaks of his company and complains about the government while Petunia shares the neighbourhood's latest gossip, accompanied by the noises of Dudley devouring his food.

Quiet as a ghost, she finishes up with the dishes and slinks back into her cupboard. Once they're done eating, the Dursleys will spend the morning attending church, a place they forbid Jasmine to go because she's a bad girl and people will talk.

This is fine. Jasmine prefers to stay in the cupboard under the stairs over visiting somewhere everyone hates her.

Not that any places exist where such isn't the case.

At least no one spotted the reappearance of her red hair.

 

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Jasmine gets lucky. Aunt Petunia drops her off at Mrs. Figg's place. Listening to the endless chatter about cats seems a small price to pay for the cookies and the cats she can play with.

Cats are great. Their fur is soft and most like her right back. If they don't, they opt for staying out of her way. It shows consideration no human being has ever bothered to show Jasmine. Not even Mrs. Figg, who only talks about her own woes and never pays attention to what others have to say.

She isn't unkind though, and for that Jasmine is grateful.

 

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Petunia retrieves her niece in the afternoon and puts her to work in the kitchen, expecting that her husband and son will return ravenous after their big day. The number of potatoes she has Jasmine peel while she prepares steak and salad doesn't bode well: There'll be enough leftovers that saving them for tomorrow instead of letting Jasmine have some would make more sense.

At least Mrs. Figg gave her cookies.

Eventually, Vernon and Dudley return, both in a foul mood: Dudley missed a show he likes to watch due to getting stuck in traffic. The ensuing tantrum stressed his father out enough that he goes straight for the liquor cabinet to pour himself a drink while his wife attempts to comfort their son.

Petunia sees Jasmine's longing glance towards the potatoes – just one should be fine, right? – and hisses at her for being so greedy. After that, she does her best to make herself scarce and unnoticed, disappearing into her cupboard as soon as she can.

Falling asleep is impossible. She's hungry to the point of nausea even though Mrs. Figg fed her cookies earlier. Then there's the thirst - it makes her head pound with a dull ache.

Her slightly broken alarm clock, pilfered from Dudley's trash two months back, reads nearly midnight when Jasmine can't take it anymore and leaves the cupboard in search of food. It's a terrible idea, she knows that. But her stomach is eating itself up and her head hurts, she really needs to drink something.

No one paid her much attention all day, and now they're all asleep. So she feels safe enough to venture out anyway even though just sitting up on her lumpy mattress makes her dizzy.

She finds her way to the kitchen. Bumps into a doorframe once, but keeps it quiet. Vernon's snores don't pause.

It's dark inside the room, but she won't risk turning on the light. The neighbours will see and gossip. It might be too risky to even open the fridge.

She has to drink before eating anyway - her throat is far too dry.

The Dursleys keep glasses in a cabinet Jasmine needs a stool to reach. Drinking from the tap would be easier, but the sink is stainless steel and water drops hitting it might make enough noise to wake Petunia or Vernon.

Finding the stool (usually used so Jasmine can reach the stove for cooking) in the darkness is an adventure. Navigating around furniture when she's this unsteady on her feet is difficult. But she manages.

Except the glasses are in the cabinet's back, so she has to bounce on her toes to get that extra bit of height.

Her fingers close around a glass, the stool wobbles, and Jasmine crashes to the ground, her head hitting the floor painfully. The glass shatters on the kitchen tiles.

Whimpering, she clutches at her head, which feels as though it was split open. Bright light suddenly illuminates the kitchen, and she groans when it sends daggers of pain into her brain. Squeezes her eyes shut, but they widen the next moment because a meaty hand is digging into her skull, grabbing her hair, yanking her upwards.

Uncle Vernon is yelling at her, his face an ugly puce colour, spit sprinkling Jasmine's skin. She barely hears a word, her head is spinning, her skull ringing.

The slap he sends across her face makes it worse, and the edges of her vision narrow. The lights flicker to the beat of her pounding heart, and Vernon's skin suddenly goes ashen. By her hair he drags her down the corridor to the cupboard and yanks open the door. Throws her in, the force of it sending her crashing to the opposite wall into the small shelf.

Her head snaps against the edge of it and her vision flashes white and then - nothing.

 

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As far as Jasmine Potter knows, she's always been a normal girl. Odd things happen around her sometimes, but they've never been her fault, no matter what her relatives' opinions are.

Jasmine, while bright and observant for a child her age, was wrong about that.

It might be accurate to say Jasmine Potter dies that night.

For after Vernon Dursley slams the cupboard's door shut, terrified out of his mind and masking it with anger, something wholly unusual occurs.

Jasmine's body lifts off the mattress, a strange power rushing from her. It whirls around her limp form, making a sound like the screech of a door with rusty and unoiled hinges being forced open.

The unconscious girl convulses, her body contorts, and her mouth opens in a silent scream.

Light flashes - and Jasmine Potter disappears.

 

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The meadow is lovely. Soft-looking grass interspersed with little flowers, their star-shaped white blossoms glowing in the moonlight. A large weeping willow's branches sway gently in a mild breeze.

The peace is destroyed by an infernal noise - as if the world itself were screaming.

It doesn't go unnoticed. A moment after it starts, a masked figure blurs into the scene, just in time to shield his eyes from the blinding light shining from a rip in the air, as if someone had torn a hole in reality.

Then it's over, the meadow as peaceful as it was before.

Under the tree lies the motionless form of Jasmine Potter.