As soon as the curse word left Emma’s mouth, Jacob was screaming for her to stop. We could make out the word “STOP!” through the gag we put over his mouth. He didn’t even try to yank the light cord we’d handed him to pull on when he was ready to stop. He just went into a seizure, spine arcing and arms going all arthritic. His neck veins stood out and his eyes bulged wider than I thought they could.
Emma cut the spell off. Jacob spat the gag out.
“Why the fuck didn’t you STOP when I yelled STOP!?” he screamed at her.
“Fuck you! That was at least like thirty fucking seconds!”
“It was literally less than two.”
“She’s right, man,” I said. “It was like a second and a half, if that.”
“How do you feel?” Emma asked him.
Jacob couldn’t answer because he was too busy turning his head and belching vomit all over the floor.
The three of us were on summer break between second and third year at Ilvermorny. School had ended a week ago and the three of us had come up with a risky but really dope plan. In hindsight, it was your typical adolescent tomfoolery. We’re really lucky we didn’t a) get caught or b) permanently damage our bodies or minds.
“It’s the 20 year anniversary of Voldemort’s death,” Emma had said on the last day of school. “20 years ago Harry Potter killed that old noseless fuck and he hasn’t been seen since.”
The school had done a bunch of events for the occasion. We skipped most of them and smoked weed in the observatory tower.
We wanted to do something special for the occasion on our own. In our stoner haze, we came up with a plan.
The Crucio Challenge. It was allegedly all the rage among young wizards like ourselves. American wizards get taught the Unforgivable Curses a full two years before the rest of the world, and we were eager to try Crucio out. It was a test of stamina, a test of man (or woman) hood.
Now, we were out of our robes, dressed in No-Maj clothes, hanging out in Emma’s parents’ basement. The stage was set.
We’d rigged up what was essentially a torture table using an old couch and some old ratchet straps we found in the garage. Emma’s parents were out for the evening, probably binge-drinking down at Aubrey’s with the No-Majs and arguing politics with anyone who would listen.
Jacob went first because that’s just how Jacob is. He’d been interested to see what it felt like to get Crucio’d. It’s actually pretty popular among kids thse days. You just do it with a trusted friend. Everyone knows wizards and witches do it for sexual pleasure, too. There’s all sorts of porn using unforgivable curses, not that I know from seeing it myself. Tell someone they can’t do something and that’s the first thing they do. The fact that it’s unforgiveable makes it even more tempting.
We tied Jacob down. He was obviously fully clothed.
“Last thing we need is for you to flop around and break something,” said Emma. “And here.”
She produced a sock and handed it to me.
“Hold this around his mouth so he can’t scream or someone might hear him and then we’re all going to prison.”
“You’re not putting that fucking toejam rag in my mouth,” Jacob said.
“It’s clean, don’t worry.”
The experiment had begun and Jacob started screaming almost instantly.
Emma and I didn’t get mad about his puking. We just cleaned it up really quick while Jacob shivered on the couch.
“Two seconds?” he asked us. “You’re not making it up?”
“Not even,” I told him.
“It felt like fucking forever.”
He shivered some more.
“This isn’t permanent, is it?”
“This, like, hangover feeling.”
“No,” said Emma. “It’s supposed to stop as soon as the spell breaks off. Why? How do you feel?”
Jacob lay there like a mental patient, arms and legs still bound with the straps.
“Like a used condom,” he croaked.
We all laughed.
Emma turned to me.
“It’s your turn.”
“I don’t know,” I said. I was suddenly nervous.
Emma glared at me.
“This was your fucking idea.”
She was right. I’d suggested it, pushed for it while we’d passed the joint in Professor Olonkl’s classroom, which always stank of weed anyway. My two friends agreed it was an interesting proposal. No one had been able to withstand the Crucio curse longer than a few seconds. The record isn’t written down anywhere official but we’ve heard it could be as high as ten. There’s rumors that some wizards from the far east are able to withstand it for up to a minute through meditation and things.
Truth be told, I didn’t think they’d go for it. But my friends are crazy. So am I, I guess.
But now, faced with the reality of excruciating pain and seeing Jacob’s reaction, I was pussing out.
“Yeah, but, I just, I don’t know…” I said, looking at the ends of the straps securing Jacob to the the couch, dangling there like Christmas ribbons.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Emma, not one to waste time. “I’ll go next then.”
“Can I get untied now?” Jacob asked peevishly.
Emma hastily untied Jacob and was about to lie down when I found my nerve. I sat and watched her remove the restraints, considering. I felt exhilarated, but also a deep cautious sense of impending doom. I felt like, even though it had gone all right with Jacob, it would go wrong with me. It wouldn’t break off when Emma stopped, or I’d snap through the straps and injure myself and get us in trouble that way.
All of a sudden the imperatively secretive nature of our little experiment came to stark light. We could not get caught. It would ruin our lives, and our families lives. Just because kids said they did this “all the time”, we’d never actually seen anyone do it. As far as we knew, we were the only kids to ever actually engage in the Crucio Challenge. It wasn’t like you could film it and put it on Youtube.
Still, I didn’t want to puss out. My adolescent ego won.
“No,” I said sharply as Emma went to lie down. “You’re right. I’ll do it. It has to be me. I’ll go next.”
Emma stopped, raised her eyebrows at me.
“Yeah,” I said. My heartrate was accelerating. “Yeah, let’s do it.”
As they were tying me down, something occurred to me. It was said the spell would only work if the caster means actual harm upon the recipient. Some people believe it, others think it’s bullshit.
I brought this concern up to Emma. Her spell on Jacob had obviously been effective from the get-go.
“Do you hate Jacob?”
“Of course she hates me,” said Jacob, working on my legs.
“No, I mean, really,” I said. “Not in a joking friend way, but like in a, ‘I want to see you suffer’ way.”
Emma was supernaturally casual, like she always is.
“I don’t want to, you know, hurt you hurt you,” she said, picking up her wand. “I just want it enough for, you know, for science or whatever. I just want to see if any of us can break the record. Just to do it.”
“I don’t hate anyone.”
I steeled myself as Emma duct taped the light cord to my hand, lest I lose the ability to clench my fingers. I was expecting stinging pain. Apparently the specifics are different for everyone. Some compare it to electrocution, some to drowning in freezing water, some to being burned alive. Harry Potter himself described it as white hot knives. I’d been stung by a hornet’s nest once. I was expecting that.
Once I was situated, I huffed a few breaths. My heart was going a million miles an hour.
“Ok,” I said.
I don’t remember Emma saying the curse. I realized I was screaming and Jacob was pulling the gag down over my mouth and into my cheeks really hard. It felt like my bones were warping and rearranging themselves at the same time, every single bone in my body.
My arms spasmed, my hand jerked the light cord. The light popped on.
I lay there gasping. My body felt tingly, little zaps of electricity. I jerked. My extremities were all numb. I felt like I’d just had the worst orgasm ever.
Jacob was looking down at me. From where I was laying, he looked like God or something.
“Dude, you lasted like almost four seconds,” he said. “Not bad.”
“You fucking freaked out,” said Emma, and I saw she was laughing a little bit. “You scream like a girl. Your voice gets super high.”
She giggled, wand dangling from her hand.
“I didn’t turn the light on,” I said once I was able to. “My arm just, like, seized up.”
Old Clyde Bunklebuss, our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, is totally conservative, and he’s the reason kids get taught the unforgivable curses two years before the rest of the wizarding world. He wanted it taught in first year but MACUSA would never allow that. He’s been teaching at Ilvermorny for decades.
“It’s about survival,” he’d said to us all on the morning we learned the curses. “You goddamn Gen Z coddled little limp-wands don’t get it. This isn’t some sweet, fun, whimsical fantasy land. We are a minority of a minority in a world where minorties have never been treated well, EVER. Every day, we are one slip, one spell, one mistake away from discovery and therefore extinction. And with No-Maj technology getting better every year, it won’t be long before their technology is indistinguishable from our magic. Then where will we be? We need to be dealing with this NOW, and we should’ve been dealing with it 20 years ago the second Lord Voldemort was confirmed dead.”
Bunklebuss yells a lot. He’s short and stocky and has short grey hair and a mustache and his face gets really red even when he’s not upset. Pretty stereotypical Republican. He looks more like a disgruntled gym teacher than a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. But he was one of the youngest Aurors in MACUSA’s history. (There’s even a rumor Bunklebuss has an Imperius curse on Trump right now in a conspiracy to sabotage all No-Majs into permanent disorganization and discord, but it’s probably not true. I personally think No-Majs just really are that stupid.)
“You had enough?” Emma wanted to know.
Breathing hurt. I was sore. My grandpa had a heart attack when I was 9. I remember him describing it to me. Based on what he said, this felt like a heart attack for every cell in my body.
“I’m done,” I said. Four seconds wasn’t bad. I had beaten Jacob, at least. I looked at the lamp with its veiled white lampshade and black stem and thought of what could’ve happened if my arm hadn’t involuntarily jerked.
“My turn,” said Emma. She slipped off her hoodie and lay down. She was wearing jeans and a dark pink t-shirt with a happy cartoon whale on the front.
I was still shaky so Jacob did the strapping.
“It’ll totally wear off in a minute,” said Jacob, securing Emma’s wrists over her head. “I’m already back to normal.
“Who’s gonna do it?” Emma asked, flipping her brown bangs out of her eyes.
Jacob and I looked at each other. We hadn’t really thought about it.
“Aiden’s better than me,” said Jacob. “I think it should be him.”
“But you get better grades,” I said.
“If you guys are gonna fucking argue then I’ll choose,” said Emma. “Aiden, I want you to do it. If you need to wait a minute to, like, gather yourself, then fine. Jacob, you’re on gag duty.”
“Works for me,” said Jacob, who was in position with the gag already.
I raised my wand. I pointed it at Emma’s belly. I admit the whole thing had a bit of a perverse eroticism to it.
The words left my mouth and I barely realized I was saying it.
Emma tensed up in anticipation, but she relaxed again almost right away.
The curse hadn’t worked.
“Try again,” she said. “Fucking mean it.”
I did. Again, nothing. And again. And again.
“You’re ugly and no one loves you,” Emma snapped at me. “You’re a fucking disappointment. You’re a mediocrity. You’re going to end up a fucking nobody. Now fucking do it.”
A third attempt. A fourth. I looked at my wand. Nothing wrong with it.
Jacob tried it once. Nothing.
“Motherfucker,” snarled Emma. “Untie me.”
Jacob and I did what we were told.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I really was.
“Shut up,” said Emma. “I’ll just have to find another person who can do it for me.”
“I wanna go again,” said Jacob, his eyes like glittering stones. “I can do it. I know I can. Ten seconds, right?”
“That’s the rumor. Any longer and you go insane, unless you’re a Buddhist.”
“And we can only do it in increments,” I said. “If we zap for your three seconds forty times or whatever, that’ll still fuck you up even though we waited in between them.”
“I got it,” said Jacob. “I still wanna try. One more time.”
Two minutes later and Jacob was tied down again.
He hyperventilated. Sucking in breath after breath, like a boxer before a match.
“Wait, wait,” he said. Tears were already in his eyes. Emma’s wand was poised.
He sucked in and out a few more breaths, squeezed his eyes shut.
I put the gag in his mouth just he started seizing up.
It was going to be a fun summer.