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True Deceivers by Khp

Format: Novel
Chapters: 32
Word Count: 187,463
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Teddy, Scorpius, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Hugo, Rose, Victoire, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Rose/Scorpius

First Published: 08/15/2009
Last Chapter: 10/31/2014
Last Updated: 10/31/2014

Summary:





James Sirius Potter; 
Quidditch Captain, heartbreaking good looks, and always in trouble.

But James Potter has a secret. The thing is, it's never really his fault. Or his idea.
Because it takes two to tango.
He's just the one who always seems to get caught.

Banner by hannah17 @ TDA


Chapter 1: Fall At Your Feet
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                                                      Beautiful image by Ande @ TDA


Fall at Your Feet

Fall at Your Feet – Crowded House


 It takes two to get one in trouble.
- Mae West











‘Stac, if you don’t come down this instant, I swear…’

The boy’s voice trailed off as he tried to come up with a suitable punishment, but the girl just laughed at him softly, not shifting an inch.

‘You’ll what, James Potter? Tell the professors on me? Not likely.’

He voice was no louder than her laugh, too aware of her perilous position, but it held a trace of smugness as she surveyed the scene below her.

James Sirius Potter ground his teeth in annoyance. Stupid female! He leaned out over the ledge as far as he dared, stretching to reach something, anything that he could use to pull her back. But she laughed again and scooted a little further along the beam.

‘If you think it’s so dangerous, why don’t you come out here and get me?’ she challenged pertly, ‘After all, your dad would never forgive you if you let a poor, delusional girl fall to her death, now would he?’

James glared at her silently. She went in for the kill.

‘And I’ll bet your family would never let you live it down if they knew you were too scared to go out on a limb.’

That did it. He gritted his teeth and swung one leg over the banister. The girl chuckled silently, her eyes crinkling as she tried to hold in her amusement at his obvious distress.

‘What’s the matter, Potter?’ she asked innocently, ‘Scared of heights?’

Not exactly. No one as comfortable on a broom as James could ever truly be afraid of heights, but there was a big difference between being on a broom and straddling one of the beams that held up the vaulted ceiling in the Hogwarts entrance hall. For one thing, the beam wouldn’t catch you if you fell.

James tried to block those thoughts out as he moved warily onwards.

‘Good man,’ the girl said approvingly, ‘Now, almost there.’ And she continued to shuffle her way across the long, broad piece of wood.

‘Remind me again why we’re doing this?’ asked James plaintively.

‘Because Sylvia Blackthorn needs to be taught a lesson;’ was the decisive reply, ‘she needs to learn that she can’t just take things from others without asking. Especially not things like mother’s necklaces. And because she was rude to my first years, and that’s not something I’m going to stand for.’

As she spoke, the girl took a bag out of the pocket of her robe. Reaching inside, she began to pull out what looked like a long rope made up of underwear. It continued coming and coming, stretching out an impossibly long way, much too large to have fit in such a small bag.

‘Hold this,’ she said, giving one end to James, ‘I’m going down further to attach the other end.’

James did as he was told with a sigh, fixing the bright purple pair of knickers to the wood with a muttered charm.

‘Yeah, but is this really the best way to solve the problem?’ he asked again, but the girl wasn’t listening.

‘Right, that’s my end done. How’d you go?’ She smiled at his confirming nod. ‘Done and done! Now all we have to do is get down before anyone notices.’

All we have to do, thought James gloomily. He was starting to get a very bad and very familiar feeling in the pit of his stomach. This was not going to end well.

The girl continued to crawl along the beam, looking as comfortable as if she stood on solid ground. James, however, was only too aware of the huge drop on either side of the wood, which seemed to grow narrower and narrower the more he looked at it. He shuddered slightly and looked ahead. The girl was climbing over the far railing. She turned as soon as she was back on (considerably more) solid ground and shot him a brilliant smile that made her face shine as if lit from within.

The sight of that smile made James feel warm all over, and for just a second his attention wandered. This would have normally gone unnoticed, only this particular moment was not a good time for him to lose focus.

One of his feet slipped off the side of the beam and, for a second, James tried to find purchase in empty air. He hauled his foot and leg up, righting himself again, and let out a sharp intake of breath, grinning sheepishly.

But not for long. In pulling himself back onto the beam, he had overcompensated, shifting his weight almost completely to the opposite side. So when that foot slid off the beam, there was nothing he could do to stop the rest of his body following it.

James saw the girl in front of him watching in horror as he began to fall down towards the stone floor of the entrance hall. He tried at the last second to grab hold of the beam, but it slipped from his grasping fingers and didn’t slow him in the least. James fought furiously with his whipping robes, trying to find the wand shoved up his sleeve, but his body was turning so quickly in the air that he couldn’t even find his arm, let alone his sleeve. He gave it up as useless and, in the few seconds he had left before he had what he felt sure was going to be a very bad fall, he did what any brave young Quidditch captain would do.

He curled his body up into a ball and wished very hard that this had all been a bad dream.

Great, said a cynical little voice in the back of his brain, James Potter, troublemaker extraordinaire, is going to die falling off a bit of wood. It hardly seemed fair.

But before he could make any sort of sudden stop, James felt his descent slowing, gradually at first, but then more significantly, until he was barely moving at all, but more…floating over the ground. He raised his head to look for his saviour, and suddenly found himself dumped unceremoniously on the cold stone.

James looked up at the faces staring down at him from all over the entrance hall. He caught a glimpse of his brother Albus’ admiring and slightly frustrated face gazing at him from the stairway. Their cousin Rose was standing next to him, a famous Weasley glare darkening her pretty face. He cringed just a little at that, already imagining the owls that were going to be sent home after this, and the even worse ones that were going to be sent back.

‘Well, Mr Potter. And what do you have to say for yourself this time?’

James cringed even more. Despite the fact that she was no longer officially in charge at Hogwarts, having retired from being Headmistress almost three years ago, Minerva McGonagall still had the ability to strike a queer sort of fear into the heart of a normally fearless boy.

‘Uhh…thank you for catching me?’ James could have kicked himself the moment the words came out of his mouth. He’d forgotten how to deal with this most dangerous of professors. Being smart wasn’t going to help.

To his surprise, Professor McGonagall gave him a little smile and put out her hand. Confused, he hesitated a moment before grasping it lightly and getting to his feet.

‘It is not I you should be thanking, Mr Potter. Miss Sangraal here was the one to cast the hover charm. I merely assisted her at the very end of the exercise. I must say,’ she continued, ‘that I have never, in all my days seen so strong a charm from a student of her age, nor such a quick reaction time.’

The Professor gestured to where Miss Sangraal stood, her eyes cast modestly downwards as she blushed slightly from the praise heaped upon her. James’ jaw dropped in shock as he stared at the girl.

‘If I may, Headmaster?’ without even waiting for a reply, McGonagall pressed on.

‘Twenty points to Gryffindor, for clear-thinking and outstanding fortitude in the face of impending disaster.’

The Gryffindors standing in the hall clapped and cheered loudly, although their eyes were still fixed eagerly on James’ glum figure. They all knew, as he did, that he wasn’t getting out of this one that easily.

‘And as for you, Mr Potter…’ McGonagall looked across to the Headmaster, Professor Longbottom, who was staring at James with a look of pure exasperation. James felt a little guilty. Neville was a great friend of the family, and spent almost as much time at James’ house as James did. He hated to punish any of the students, especially the Potters and Weasleys, but with McGonagall standing by, what else could he do?

‘What exactly were you doing up there in the first place?’ he asked with bemused interest.

As if on cue, a rustling sound came from above them. A roomful of faces looked up as a large banner, made entirely out of girl’s underwear, unfolded to hang across the beam where James had sat only minutes before. Inscribed on the banner, in big, shiny red letters, were the words Sylvia Blackthorn should pick on someone her own size!

James groaned softly and closed his eyes to the hoots and jeers echoing around him. Professor Longbottom raised his wand and muttered an incantation under his breath, but nothing happened. He tried again, with the same result.

‘Permanent sticking charm, eh?’ he sighed resignedly. ‘My office, James, in ten minutes.’

With that, he and the rest of the teachers swept from the room, chivvying students along as they went, leaving James standing alone with the girl who had saved his life. He scowled at her angrily.

‘You’re a right tosser, you know that? And how the hell did you get down here so fast?’

Anastacia Sangraal tossed her brown hair and smiled brightly at him, patently ignoring both the insult and the question.

‘James, it’s not my fault you’re clumsy. Besides, aren’t you going to thank me for saving your life?’

James started to stalk away, muttering furious things, but she laughed and linked her arm through his, forcing him to slow his steps to stop from dragging her along behind him.

‘Come on, you have to admit it was worth it to see the look on her face. I’ll be surprised if she goes back to her old tricks after this. And Longbottom won’t give you anything too bad, just cleaning the Herbology rooms or something. So buck up.’

James gave a non-committal grunt as they walked towards the Headmaster’s office. Anastacia swung him to face her, her hands on his shoulders. She had to reach up a fair way to do so; he was at least a foot and a half taller than she.

‘Thank you for trying to save my bacon, even if it didn’t exactly go as planned.’ She grinned and he returned the smile unconsciously. ‘At least I can always count on you to be there, trying to help.’

‘Oh, never mind.’ growled James uncomfortably. He slung his arm around her shoulder and they continued on towards his next brush with fate.

Because James Potter had a secret. Even though he was the one always in trouble, it was never really his fault. He was just the one who always got caught. And the only reason he got caught was because he was trying to get the girl beside him out of scrapes, or helping her once she got into them.

Because Hogwarts’ real troublemaker was not the person that anyone suspected.











First story, so please be kind! Constructive criticism is much appreciated! Please excuse the shoddy workmanship, but I've never done anything like this before and it's a bit tricky! Ta!

Chapter 2: Sacrificial Lamb
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                                      Beautiful image by Ande @ TDA


Sacrificial Lamb

Give or Take - Steph Hill
 
I have no trouble with my enemies. But my goddam friends...
they are the ones that keep me walking the floor nights.

- Oscar Levant








James leaned against the wall outside the Headmaster’s office. Professor Longbottom had told him to wait, that he would not be long, but that there were some things he need to go over with McGonagall before she left.

James wasn’t sure whether to be grateful for the chance to prepare himself and his story or curse the chance to worry. He crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes, looking for all the world like a secure young man totally unconcerned with the judgement about to be handed down to him.

Inside, however, he was calling himself twelve types of idiot and trying desperately to figure out exactly just what was wrong with him. After seven years of friendship, he should know better than to follow Anastacia into anything.

And yet that’s what he did, time after time. All she had to do was look at something askance and he was there, following her every move, watching for the moment when she set whatever plan she was cooking up (and there was always something) into action.

Perhaps it was because the alternative was allowing her to go off and settle her scores on her own; something that James could not see himself ever doing. Not now, not ever.

Not that anything would have happened to her if she had. His best friend seemed to possess an uncanny ability to get herself out of trouble. For as long as he’d been putting his foot in things, she’d been gracefully walking through life’s problems, not even getting her toes wet. James still couldn’t figure out how she did it.

Honestly, sometimes it seemed like she’d been born with Felix Felicis running through her veins instead of blood. It would explain a lot. Like how teachers never seemed to notice that every time he got in trouble, she was there too.

James bit back a self-deprecating smile as his thoughts turned to their first scrape together, when her bizarre survival instinct had first presented itself.


He hadn’t known Anastacia very well, hadn’t known her at all, really, apart from seeing her at the Gryffindor table and in class. She was such a quiet little thing, barely talking at all, sitting silently in the back corner no matter what lesson they had. No one really seemed to understand her, least of all James, who was far too busy trying to have as much fun and break as many rules as fast as he could to pay any attention to someone who so obviously wanted to be invisible.

 It came as a complete and utter shock, then, when half-way through the year, James woke up in the middle of the night to someone poking him sharply in the side. He tried to yell, or to talk, or anything, but his voice wouldn’t work. Anastacia was kneeling by his bed, the tip of her wand glowing faintly, just illuminating her face.

‘I’ve put a silencing charm on you,’ she told him matter-of-factly, ‘so there’s no use trying to talk. Come down to the common room with me and I’ll take it off, ok? But only if you don’t make any noise.’

James had been stunned by her presence, and by the charm, which was much too advanced for a first year to have mastered. But he’d nodded anyway and followed her down the stairs to the empty common room.

‘What in Merlin’s name is going on?’ he’d hissed furiously as soon as she’d removed the enchantment.

Anastacia had perched on the arm of one of the sofas and looked at him speculatively.

‘I need your help,’ she told him, without any preamble whatsoever, ‘I need to get to the kitchens, now, and you’re apparently the best at sneaking around without getting caught.’

He’d preened just a little at that last. Of course, a lot of it was due to his dad’s cloak and his grandfather’s map, but what people didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

‘So are you going to help me or not?’ she’d demanded imperiously. Even back then, when she was a tiny little thing that barely spoke to anyone, she’d always managed to make him do whatever she wanted him to.

So he’d fetched his sneaking aids, after swearing her to secrecy, and led the way out of the portrait hole, whose frame he gave a weekly clean in return for her turning a blind eye to his nocturnal wanderings. It wasn’t until they were halfway there that James actually thought to ask why she needed to get to the kitchens so desperately.

‘None of your business,’ was her initial inspired response, but after James threatened to take the cloak and leave, she had little choice but to tell him what was really going on.

‘Someone said something horrid to Ally and she didn’t come down for tea. She’s been crying in the dormitory all night, and being hungry isn’t making it any better.’

James had been slightly taken aback. He’d thought she was just running down to get some sweets for a midnight feast or something. Merlin, that was all he ever did! But she was actually trying to help someone. James felt the beginnings of something like respect starting to form within him.

They’d made it to the kitchens without any major mishaps, apart from having to stand very still for a moment or two as Peeves passed by. Luckily, he was focusing so hard on some prank or another that he didn’t notice their presence.

Once in the kitchens, the house elves, some of whom remembered his father and even his grandfather were only too happy to oblige their request for food. Once they had gathered as much as they could carry safely, they thanked the elves and left the way they’d come.

However, what had been a fairly simple walk was now made much more difficult due to the amount of food they were carrying. It also made their progress much slower, meaning that they couldn’t avoid stumbling across some prefects patrolling the corridors.

If they had stayed still, they would have been fine, but, unfortunately for them, they both lost their heads the moment the other students came into view.

As they tried to run back down the corridor, James’s foot caught in a gap between the stones of the floor. He fell flat on his face, food spilling out of his arms and tumbling across the floor. The prefects were on him instantly.

‘Potter! What are you doing out of bed?’

Of course, it was just his luck that he was caught by Terry Higgins and Mandy Clark. Not a week had passed since he’d hidden a whole bunch of dungbombs above the door to Ravenclaw Tower. To be fair, it wasn’t like he’d been aiming for them or anything. They just happened to be the first ones to come out, and therefore received the worst of the blow. They hadn’t been able to prove it was him, but they’d known nonetheless. There was no one else it could have been.

James looked up for Anastacia, but she seemed to have kept the cloak around her. He couldn’t see her anywhere. The prefects hauled him to his feet, manhandling him just a little, but he barely noticed. For some reason the idea of the tiny little blonde girl now wandering the corridors all alone sent a little wave of fear through the pit of his stomach.

James was dragged up to Professor McGonagall’s office and given a sound telling off, the exact words of which he mouthed along under his breath, having heard them enough in the past year to have them memorised. The prefects then marched him to Gryffindor Tower and handed him over to the stunned and ever-so-slightly impressed Gryffindor prefects. Said prefects then gave James a quick once-over and pumped him for details, which, for once, he declined to share. After this, he was ordered straight to bed, orders which he obeyed with some reluctance.

He wondered where Anastacia was and if she’d make it back okay all the time it took him to get up the stairs and back into his dorm. Mostly, he worried that she’d be caught too, or run into Peeves, or something of that nature, and he wouldn’t be there to help. It didn’t really occur to him that he was worrying an inordinate amount about a girl, and one he’d only just met too. She’d seemed so small, so…fragile. So unable to look after herself.

He needn’t have worried. When he entered the first year boy’s dorm, she was sitting on the edge of his bed, swinging her legs absently.

‘There you are!’ she’d greeted him in a softly exasperated voice, ‘I’ve been waiting ages!’

‘Sorry,’ James had replied, slightly stung by her tone, ‘I had to get past the prefects.’

He’d joined her on the bed and she’d silently handed him back the invisibility cloak. She still had the food; it was on the bed beside her and didn’t look at all the worse for wear after a run in the corridors.

‘How did you get back in?’ he’d asked curiously.

‘I sneaked through the portrait hole with you. The prefects were staring so long that it was really quite easy.’

James had nodded, this logic making perfect sense to him. He was a little surprised she’d managed to take the opportunity, though, and he’d said so.

‘Please,’ she’d scoffed indignantly, ‘people here hardly look around at all. There’s almost no point to sneaking about.’

Once again, James had felt slightly hurt at her attitude.

‘I’m so sorry that Hogwart’s nightlife doesn’t meet your expectations.’

She’d been looking at the wall opposite or her swinging feet up until now. When he spoke, she turned to face him, her eyes just a little shocked.

‘Don’t say that!’ she’d whispered fiercely, her face suddenly lighting up from within.

‘It wasn’t like my expectations; it was more! It was…’

She searched for the right word, her forehead puckering as she thought. Then, suddenly, her face broke into a beatific smile.

‘It was wonderful.’

For the first time since he’d seen her, her eyes weren’t dead looking. They were alive and glowing and vibrant. She looked like she was ready to take on the world, to do anything she wanted to.

She looked happy. And it was all because of him.

It was the turning point in both their lives.





 

‘You can come in now, James.’

James sighed, pulled out of his reverie by Professor Longbottom’s raised voice. Straightening his clothes – always best to make a good first impression – he opened the door to the Headmaster’s office and walked through.

The first thing he always noticed upon entering this room was the portrait of Dumbledore high on the wall directly behind the Headmaster’s desk. As usual, the old headmaster was looking down on him with a smile, his eyes twinkling behind his glasses. James bowed deeply and elaborately and received a genial nod in return. He walked forward to stand in front of the desk.

‘Headmaster. Professor.’

Professor McGonagall was seated to one side of Professor Longbottom’s desk. Her hands were folded in her lap and she peered at him sternly over her spectacles.

‘James, I trust you know why you’re here?’

James turned his attention to Professor Longbottom. Poor man. James really did feel sorry for him. After all, it wasn’t his fault that James was the son of one of his closest friends, nor was it his fault that James seemed to have inherited all of said friends’ penchant for mischief. Seemed being the operative word.

If only he knew, thought James wryly.

‘I’m having a hard time understanding exactly why you went out on a limb tonight, so to speak;’ the professor continued, his voice light, ‘perhaps you could enlighten me?’

‘Well, you see, Professor, Sylvia Blackthorn’s been picking on this little second year Ravenclaw girl, Megan Dalrymple? Anyway,’ he continued in a rush, ‘yesterday, she stole a necklace that belonged to Megan’s mother. Megan was really upset. And then Sylvia wore it around the entrance hall and forced Megan to say that she’d given it to her, when it was pretty clear that she hadn’t.’

‘What I don’t understand,’ McGonagall interjected, ‘is why you or Miss Dalrymple didn’t go straight to one of the teachers, or to the head girl…or the head boy.’ she added, almost as an afterthought.

Which was precisely what Megan had done; she’d gone straight to Anastacia the moment the necklace had gone missing. Anastacia, in her usual way, had gone to gently but firmly tell Sylvia off. The problems had started when Sylvia, a blonde fifth year with an over-inflated sense of her own worth, had laughed in Anastacia’s face and told her to sod off.

In as many words.

So, of course, a silently fuming Anastacia had wasted no time in planning how to convince Sylvia of the seriousness of her actions in another way, one that would prove more effective. Which meant that James had no choice but to be involved.

When she’d first told him her plan, he’d laughed til he cried, thinking that she was joking. Then, when he’d figured out she was serious, he’d just gaped at her. She really seemed to have no sense of the impossible. Not, that wasn’t true – it was more that what other people regarded as impossible, she saw merely as…improbable.

The Headmaster sighed.

‘In light of this information, coupled with the fright I’m sure you received today, I’ve decided not to expel you.’

James grinned broadly at the gently teasing tone of voice.

‘However, this does not mean that you don’t have to take responsibility for your actions. You will therefore write a formal apology to Miss Blackthorn and you will assist Mr Filch in cleaning the trophy room tomorrow night.’

Professor Longbottom looked at McGonagall as he spoke. She gave the tiniest nod of her head, and James saw the tension leave the Headmaster’s wiry frame. He held back the urge to laugh and regarded his family friend with sympathy. Poor Neville; some things you never got over, and being scared of McGonagall was definitely one of them.

He was dismissed; he bobbed his head quickly, gave Dumbledore a wave and got a wink in return, and strode from the office.

Once outside, his grin stretched even wider. Only one night of detention! And with Filch! He’d never got off so easy in his life!

Whistling happily, James strode off in the direction of Gryffindor Tower.

Harpsichord.’ He whispered to the Fat Lady, who giggled and winked at him as the portrait swung forwards. James climbed through the hole and was immediately assaulted by the buffer of sound that enclosed the common room.

‘Maaate!’ a loud voice cried. James grinned and reached out to hi-five his best male friend, Sam Jordan. Sam’s black dreads swung crazily around his head as he plopped his body down in a chair in front of the fireplace.

‘Inspired,’ Sam said, shaking his head in disbelief, ‘abso-bloody-lutely inspired. Who else would have thought of it besides you? How the hell did you get all the pants, though?’

James gave what he hoped was a mysterious smile.

‘Got my ways, mate, got my ways.’

‘So what’s your punishment, then?’

The smile disappeared. Groaning, James turned to face his cousin, who had her arms crossed over her chest and was glaring at him, one eyebrow raised imperiously.

‘Seriously, Rose, give it a rest with the parental thing, would you? You’re not my mum.’

She seemed to glare harder, if that were even possible.

‘What you did today was not only stupid and insensitive and dangerous; it was also a really bad example to the rest of the school. Particularly the young ones.’

‘Oh, lighten up, Rose.’

A small red head wriggled its way under James’ arm and two hazel eyes beamed up at him.

‘Sylvia Blackthorn’s a stupid prat. She deserved it. In fact, she deserved more.’

‘What? You don’t actually think he was in the right, do you?’

Lily rolled her eyes at her cousin.

‘Stop being so dramatic; no one’s impressed by your paddies any more. He was a git, but what else is new.’

‘Thanks, Lils.’ James remarked drily.

‘Well, you are. Anyhow, Megan was really upset when Sylvia took her necklace. Her mum died when she was little, you know, and it’s one of the only things of hers she’s got left. She returned it, too,’ Lily continued, turning to face her brother again.

‘The necklace?’

Lily nodded.

‘Yeah, while you were with Neville. She gave it back to Megan and legged it back to her dorm. It was hilarious.’

She chuckled wickedly. James hugged her around the shoulders and joined in with the laughter. At least some good had come of tonight’s debacle.

‘Sorry to break up the triumphant gathering folks, but we have school tomorrow and some people need their sleep.’

There were a few groans and dark glances, but no one really moved or payed any attention to the quiet words, apart from a few first years who started to wearily make their way towards the stairs. Nothing else happened for a few minutes and the noise level rose again as everyone resumed their conversations.

James heard someone take a deep breath behind him and he grinned again. Leisurely, he leant back against a conveniently placed table and prepared to watch the fun unfold.

‘If everyone in this room under the age of fourteen is not at least heading towards those stairs by the time I count to three, there will be hell to pay.’

This time, the speaker had raised their voice a few notches, which brought about even more groans from the crowd.

‘One…’

The remaining first years grabbed their things and hurried for the stairs, followed by a good number of second years, sharing resigned looks as they went.

‘Two…’

Now all of the second years were moving, joined by the third years, who tried to look nonchalant as they sauntered across the room, but only succeeded in looking slightly frightened.

‘Th–’

Before the rest of the word could be formed, the fourth years and any remaining stragglers bolted for the stairs, leaving the fifth, sixth and seventh year Gryffindors behind in the common room, laughing their heads off.

James joined in, turning around to meet Anastacia’s gaze.

‘Works every time,’ she gloated with a wink.

‘Yeah, ‘cause you’re so unbelievably scary that they all do exactly as you say,’ he teased back.

She stuck her tongue out at him, then laughed and allowed him to pull her in for a hug.

It never ceased to amaze him, this whole split-personality thing of hers. Inside the Gryffindor common room she was loud and opinionated. She gave commands and was obeyed; she came up with revenge pranks involving other people’s underwear, for crying out loud!

But as soon as she set foot outside, she was transformed into the same, shy little thing she’d always been. It was a mystery to James how she’d ever been picked as Head Girl. Yes, she was the best in their grade in class and her record was spotless, thanks to her incredible luck. But her real strengths, the ones that made her who she was, were rarely seen outside of Gryffindor Tower. He could only assume that the Professor had been able to see through her mask to the real girl inside; the firecracker with an evil streak a mile wide, who protected the weak and small and manipulated him every chance she got.

‘I have to go,’ she told him quietly, the hint of a smile playing round the edges of her mouth, ‘Marcus will be wondering where I’ve got to. I promised him I’d go over the Ball Proposal again before we present it tomorrow.’

James stifled his groan with some difficulty. Marcus Antoniou was one of the biggest prats to ever walk the earth. He was also the Head Boy, a fact which confused James even more than Anastacia’s position. He couldn’t understand how a git like Marcus had ever gotten the badge. Not only did he try to hit on Anastacia every time they had rounds together, but he’d recently invented a number of situations that called for her near-constant presence at his side. James was convinced the Christmas Ball they were planning for the students was just another one of those inventions. He was looking forward to the day when the stupid idiot pushed Stac too far and she hexed him into oblivion.

‘I’ll walk you back,’ he offered, but she was already shaking her head.

‘I’ll be fine. I have to stop by the Slytherin dorms on the way, and there’s no way I’m taking you down there again. Not after last time.’

She elbowed him in the ribs when he smirked.

‘Ow!’

Still, he thought, rubbing his side, it had been worth it. Three Slytherins had ended up in the hospital wing after one of them had made a snide comment about Gryffindor’s chances of winning the Quidditch cup that year. He’d had detention for a month, but Merlin! It had been worth it!

‘See you tomorrow?’ he asked with a smile, her answering grin warming him oddly.

‘Of course. Where else am I going to go?’

She turned to leave, but he caught her hand and pulled her back.

‘Stac, wait.’

She stood patiently, waiting for him to spit out whatever he was thinking. She always knew the right moments to be patient with him. It was one of the reasons they’d been such good friends for so long.

‘Thanks. For today;’ he said finally, ‘I owe you one.’

She laughed softly, rubbing the back of his hand, still clasped in hers.

‘You don’t owe me anything, dummer kopf. What are friends for if not to save you in potentially life-threatening situations?’

She headed off towards the portrait hole, throwing a quick ‘Night!’ over her shoulder as she went. James watched her say goodnight to Albus and Rose, Lily having already left to go to bed. Then, with a last good-natured threat to the room in general, which consisted of anyone staying up too late having to sleep in the dungeons, she climbed through the portrait hole and disappeared from sight.

Only when she was gone did James sigh and look around him. He noticed for the first time that a lot of the room was looking towards him speculatively. He raised an eyebrow at Sam.

‘What?’

‘Don’t look at me, mate.’ Sam replied hurriedly. He stuck his hands up as if warding off the questions. ‘I don’t know anything.’

‘Well, at least he’s finally admitting it.’

James joined in the laughter at Rose’s quiet riposte, as did Sam, who was never one to take a joke to heart.

‘Seriously, though, what?’ James asked again when the laughter had died down.

Sam looked at the floor for a second, before smiling rather sheepishly at James.

‘Well, okay, I might have told people that you’d be willing to answer any questions about tonight’s little escapade. Might have.’

‘Sure,’ James shrugged, ‘why not?’

‘Excellent,’ Sam smiled broadly. ‘Okay, first thing’s first – how the hell did you get the pants?’

Rose groaned audibly and James grinned.

‘Funny you should mention that,’ he began as he took a seat in front of the fire, ‘It’s actually a long story…’








Thank you so much again for reading. I hope you enjoyed this chapter as much as I enjoyed writing it. I know it's not much and pretty rubbish at that, but I'm really having fun developing my characters! Who knew writing could be such a good time? Ta, and if you find time, please review! It means a lot.

Chapter 3: False Impressions
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                             Beautiful image by Ande @ TDA


False Impressions

Mad World – Gary Jules

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’
- C. S. Lewis


 







Sunlight filtered through the red drapes and hit Anastacia directly in the eye. She groaned and rolled over, but the game was up; she could never go back to sleep once she’d woken up. Groaning again, she pulled her complaining body out of her warm bed and stumbled into the bathroom.

Twenty minutes later, having showered, dressed, done her hair, re-dressed and redone her hair, Anastacia finally felt ready to face the world. She also felt slightly ashamed of herself. Usually she had the strength of will to bluff her way through anything the day might throw at her.

But last night’s meeting with Marcus had sapped a lot of that strength. It was exhausting simply being in the same room as that boy, never mind being alone with him. She had to be aware of her every move, sure never to give him an opening or anything that could be taken as an indication of interest.

Merlin only knew what he’d get up to if he thought she returned his attention.

And then there was the whole debacle with James. She’d never admit it, but it had scared her. For a moment, she hadn’t been sure whether she would be able to help him in time, and in that moment, faced with the prospect of losing her best friend, she had felt more scared then ever before.

So it was a somewhat subdued Anastacia who made her way down to the hall for breakfast. She was early, but at least that meant she could eat without having to talk to anyone.

‘Grace, might I have a word?’

So much for that idea. Anastacia resisted the urge to groan for the third time that morning and turned to the group of people standing in a small corridor leading off the main one. She nodded serenely and followed them into an empty classroom.

Inside, one of the boys pulled out a seat in front of a desk and waited for Anastacia to sit. The only other girl in the room sat next to her on a slightly lower seat. The others arranged themselves in front of the pair, the blonde boy who had called to her standing at the front of the group.

‘Speak,’ Anastacia commanded blandly when the boy didn’t say anything. He cleared his throat and stood straighter, his hands behind his back as if reporting something.

‘I have written to your father detailing the events of last night,’ he informed her, slipping into German, ‘although I have not yet sent the letter. In it, I have given him a picture of your conduct since returning to school, including your continual seeking out of certain members of the student body.’

Anastacia slowly drew herself upright in her chair, letting the occupants of the room see her anger.

‘On whose authority did you do this?’ she asked him icily, her consonants harsh in the guttural language. The girl beside her shifted, went to touch her hand, then thought better of it and resettled herself on her chair.

‘On your father’s authority,’ the boy replied, ‘the authority with which he made me the head of your guard while you are here.’

He still stood tall, but his tone of voice had changed slightly; it was not as sure as it had been, and more deferential.

Anastacia looked at the faces of the boys standing in front of her. Not one of them met her eyes; they stared at the floor, features schooled carefully blank.

‘A position that can just as easily be taken away were I to express displeasure at your conduct. And this latest act has left me very displeased,’ she warned him, ‘very displeased indeed.’

Creeten made no reply, his face as blank as his fellows’. Anastacia smoothed her robe and addressed the room at large.

‘You are all aware that my father has deemed it acceptable for me to go about largely unsupervised this year. He has decided this based on my wise judgment and exemplary behaviour. Therefore, you are disobeying his commands when you persist in following me as you have always done. I am aware that it takes time to break life-long habits, but my patience is wearing thin.’

Folding her hands, she spoke directly to Creeten once more.

‘You will not send that letter, and you will not presume to go to my father without my knowledge again. I am most unsatisfied with your behaviour.’

The boy’s mouth twisted, but Anastacia ignored it.

‘You may leave. All of you.’

‘Your Grace,’ the girl sitting beside her pressed, reaching out a hand to lay it on her arm, ‘perhaps you did not quite understand the spirit in which it was intended–’

‘She has understood perfectly!’ the tall boy exploded suddenly.

Both the girls jumped slightly, shocked by the unexpected outburst. Creeten’s face was red, his hands balled into fists by his sides.

‘How can you sully your family’s good name by consorting with those blood-traitors? How can you save one of them? Do you wish to tarnish your reputation?’

The dark-haired girl gasped, one of the other boys moved forward as if to stop Creeten, but Anastacia stopped him with a wave of her hand.

‘I had no choice but to save him;’ she explained calmly, ‘I was standing right in front of him, and the entire school is aware of my abilities. Furthermore, my entire persona revolves around my being responsible. If I had not helped him, it would have been regarded as highly suspicious.’

‘To those who do not matter, perhaps,’ Creeten spat, ‘but it would have prevented you from dirtying your hands with affairs such as his. You forget your place in life!’

‘And you forget yours!’ Anastacia shot back furiously, springing to her feet.

The room was still and quiet as Creeten struggled with himself for a long moment. Eventually, he dropped to one knee before the small girl and hung his head.

‘Forgive me, your Grace,’ he whispered, ‘you are right. I forget my place.’

‘Leave me,’ Anastacia ordered with distaste, ‘take him away from here. Do not let me see you for the rest of the day, lest I take offence anew.’

The other boys bowed as one and hustled Creeten out the door, bar one who replaced the chair behind the desk and followed the two girls at a discreet distance as they set off down the corridor.

‘Fancy that,’ murmured the dark girl under her breath, linking her arm with Anastacia’s, ‘Creeten certainly got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Marvellous work in there, by the way,’ she added, ‘you nearly had me fooled. I almost thought you were a bitch for a second.’

Anastacia smiled faintly.

‘Yes, well, thankfully Creeten isn’t as perceptive as you. That should be enough to keep him in line for a few weeks, at least. But it doesn’t help in the greater scheme of things.’

‘Grace, you just worry about surviving this year and let me worry about Creeten. I have a few ideas that might help…’

Anastacia gave a genuine smile and squeezed the dark girl’s hand.

‘Thank you, Celeste. It means the world to me that you approve.’

Celeste tossed her hair and grinned.

‘Approve? I’m positively eager for you to have other friends. Merlin knows you don’t get out enough, poor thing, and Potter’s the perfect friend to have if you want to live a little. Mind you,’ she continued wryly, ‘rather you than me if his Grace ever finds out.’

Anastacia laughed in agreement as they came into the entrance hall, which was starting to fill with people going in to breakfast.

‘I’ll say goodbye here. Better not raise any more eyebrows. Have a lovely day, and I’ll see you later, perhaps.’

They embraced. When they drew apart, Celeste bobbed her head, the public remnant of the obligatory curtsey. The boy following them gave a slight, almost imperceptible bow, and they separated as they entered the Great Hall.

 







James stood on the stairs watching the scene below him. He had caught sight of Anastacia as he came down from the dormitory, and had been about to call out when he’d seen who she was with. Celeste Montrose was a fifth year, gorgeous…and in Slytherin. So he’d stood watching, waiting until the two girls were finished talking and had kissed each other on either cheek, their customary farewell.

Then he strode down the stairs and joined the flow into the hall.

It was odd for him to see Anastacia with her Slytherin friends. Not because she didn’t see them often, but because she was so careful to keep her time with them separate to her time with him. This was probably just as well, seeing as he had an unfortunate tendency to hex Slytherins when he was around them for any length of time.

When they had first become friends, when he was still feeling his way around the new relationship, he had been surprised by the near constant presence of a group of Slytherins, most of them much older. They did not always make themselves known, but they watched her, constantly, to the point where their gaze became almost a physical feeling. It had always been that way, right from the first…

 






He’d been standing on the platform, nervous but trying not to show it, saying goodbye to his family before leaving for Hogwarts for the first time. His aunt and uncle, his cousins, even his grandparents had come to see him off. Victoire had started a few years ago, but it wasn’t the same; he was the first ‘Wotter’ child to start school. There had been a brief break in the smoke swirling around the platform and, in an attempt to dodge yet another of his grandmother’s teary kisses, he’d started to take his trunk and the rest of his possessions down to the door of the train.

That was when he saw her.

She was walking towards the train from the opposite direction, surrounded by a group of Slytherins of varying ages, most of them male, all of them severe and arrogant looking. He could remember thinking that it looked a bit odd, because they were all wearing wizard robes, not Muggle clothes like the majority of the people on the platform. Their robes, while not school issue, discreetly displayed the Slytherin crest and practically screamed money, while their faces seemed to dare anyone to mess with them and live to talk about it.

But the girl – James had looked at her more closely than the others. She was tiny, almost frail-looking. Long blonde hair, almost white, hung down her back, and she looked at the ground as she walked. One of the Slytherins, a tall girl with a mean air about her, held the small girl’s hand firmly in her own, almost as if she were escorting her somewhere.

James had stopped on the platform as the group approached him, not confident enough to push his way through to the door. One of the boys at the front of the group stepped up onto the train, while the others took up positions either side of the door. The two girls had drawn level with James now, and as he looked at her, the small blonde girl raised her head and met his eyes.

What he saw shook him a little; the girl’s eyes were a very pale and clear blue. They were also the deadest he had ever seen, filled with a hopelessness he couldn’t even begin to understand. Then the moment passed, and she lowered her head again and allowed the boy on the train to take her hand and help her aboard.

James had stared after her and her group, but then Teddy and Victoire had swept him up onto the train. They’d all got in a compartment with Sam and some of their older friends and stowed all their stuff before hanging out the window to wave goodbye.

‘Take care of them, you two!’ Ginny had yelled to Victoire and Teddy, arm in arm with Sam’s tearful mum. Their fathers were standing back laughing and waving. Lee was like a bigger version of Sam; same dreads, same cheeky expression, same everything.

‘Mum, I don’t need looking after!’ James had protested for the hundredth time, but Ginny had shook her head and smiled and waved them off, her eyes tearing up as she watched the train disappear around the bend.

The journey had been largely uneventful; Sam and James had played exploding snap and spent far too much of their pocket money on sweets from the trolley. Teddy and Victoire had flirted nonstop the whole way there, and two hours into the journey Sam and James were so desperate to get away from the lovesick pair that they’d invented the excuse of needing to find an old friend to escape (Teddy and Victoire’s friends having already got sick of it and left).

‘Why don’t they just get a room and be done with it?’ asked Sam disgustedly. James shook his head, as bewildered as his friend. He didn’t really see how Victoire was that attractive, but she was his cousin, after all, so he supposed that was just as well.

They were walking aimlessly back down the corridors, passing compartments mostly filled with first years and heading towards their own, when a burly blonde boy came striding towards them from the opposite direction.

Excusez,’ he asked them in a thickly accented voice, ‘you haf see zee cart?’

James stared at him uneasily. Sure, he seemed nice enough now, but this guy was huge! He looked much too big to be allowed.

‘Ze cart,’ the boy repeated, sounding frustrated, ‘you haf see?’

‘Err…’ Sam started, but luckily the door of a compartment down the corridor swung open and Victoire stepped out.

‘The trolley passed about an hour ago, Trelain. You’ve missed it completely.’

Trelain, if that was his name, seemed to be about to say something, but Teddy stepped out of the compartment behind Victoire and put his hand on her shoulder, and the blonde boy shut his mouth again.

Danke,’ he muttered and left the way he’d come. Victoire and Teddy watched him go and then ushered the boys back into the compartment.

‘Who was that?’ asked Sam curiously.

‘Trelain Zarlow,’ Teddy explained, ‘Slytherin sixth year, nasty piece of work.’

‘He’s part of this weird group of Slytherins that all hang out together. They speak, like, half a dozen languages and only ever speak English when they have to.’

Victoire reclined against Teddy’s chest and continued.

‘I heard his brother’s starting this year. He’s called Cretin or Creepy or something like that.’ She giggled.

‘Stay away from that one, mind.’

Sam was laughing and coming up with more ideas for the stupidest name ever, but James’ thoughts were occupied. He knew he’d seen the Zarlow boy somewhere before, but he couldn’t remember where.

It took him until they were approaching Hogsmeade station to realise that Trelain had been one of the boys in the group on the platform. He’d been the one to hand the little blonde girl into the train.

James supposed that meant that the girl was somehow a part of the group Victoire and Teddy had been talking about. She didn’t look big enough to be even a second year, so she must be in his grade. But she was sure to be sorted into Slytherin.

James was still reflecting on this as he hauled his trunk down the steps of the train and onto the platform. He looked around, getting his bearings, and almost fell to his knees as a huge hand came crashing down on his shoulder.

‘James! Good t’see yer, lad!’

James grinned, looking up into two shining black eyes. Hagrid’s face beamed down at him before he turned and clapped Sam on the shoulder too.

‘And young Jordan! Blimey, we’re going to have to keep our wits about us this year, what with you two here.’

Teddy waved to Hagrid as he and Victoire set off down the platform.

‘So we’ll leave them with you, then?’

Hagrid nodded and waved them off.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of them.’

Hagrid waved the pair on and turned back to address the rest of the milling students.

‘Firs’ years! Firs’ years, with me!’

James and Sam left their trunks on the station platform and followed Hagrid down to the shores of the lake. They quickly got into a boat and sat watching the other students.

The last students to reach the lake were the group James had seen in London, the Slytherins, or Slytherin hopefuls, since they were only first years like himself. There were two boys, one tall and fair, the other short and dark, both of them solid and very strong looking, and the fair little girl with the dead eyes.

James and Sam watched, bemused, as one of the boys waded into the water up to his knees, holding the small boat steady near the bank. The other boy lifted the little girl into it, setting her down gently on the bench, before climbing in himself. The second boy joined them, careful not to jostle or tip the boat.

James couldn’t imagine Lily or Rose letting him lift them bodily into a boat. They’d probably hex him if he tried.

And yet the little blonde girl continued to stare straight ahead as if this were nothing out of the ordinary. One of the boys leaned towards her to murmur something, and she inclined her head slightly, but other than that the three of them did not speak.

‘Blimey,’ Sam breathed confusedly, ‘she’s a bit like the Muggle queen, in’t she?’

She did seem a bit like royalty; there was something faintly haughty about her demeanour, as if she were looking down on her surroundings somewhat. James and Sam talked a bit about the sorting and the other first years surrounding them, but they kept a curious eye on the girl’s boat the whole way across the lake.

The only thing that could shake them from their shameless staring was the first view of Hogwarts.

‘Cor!’ one of the boys in another boat nearby exclaimed, and James had to agree with him. Nothing had prepared him for this, no stories from his family could have made him realise just how amazing Hogwarts was.

The girl seemed to feel so too. Her boat was quite close to theirs now, and James thought he heard a soft gasp. But when he turned to look, the girl was staring at her hands, folded in her lap, with a bored expression.

They managed to get out of the boats and onto dry land without any major mishaps, the two boys once again handing the little girl out as if she were made of china. They seemed oblivious to the fact that they were both wet to the knees from standing in the lake to steady their boat. Hagrid lead them all up the hill and through the huge and imposing double doors that formed the main entrance.

Once in the hall, the first years had a chance to look around and catch their breath. There were a few quiet conversations, but most people just stared around the room in wonder, silently following the huge figure as he ushered them into a small chamber off the entrance hall.

Inside, a smiling man waited to greet them.

‘Hello,’ he began warmly, ‘I’m Professor Longbottom, the Deputy Headmaster. Welcome to Hogwarts. In a moment, you’re all going to follow me into the Great Hall, where the rest of the school is waiting, and we’ll start the Sorting. For those of you unfamiliar with our traditions, we have four houses here at Hogwarts; Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin. You will be sorted into one of those houses, and that is where you will sleep, study and learn. They will become your family here at Hogwarts. I’m head of Gryffindor house,’ he continued modestly, ‘and I hope to see a good number of you there! Now, if you could just bear with me a moment while we sort you into the proper order?’

That accomplished, he smiled benignly down at them again.

‘Excellent. So, off we go!’

And without further ado he opened a door in the wall behind him and led them all through.

The Great Hall was bright with the light of what seemed like a million candles, and more than one first year gasped with amazement upon catching sight of the enchanted ceiling. Others, however, coloured with self-consciousness as they took in the hundreds of eyes staring at them from every direction.

Professor Longbottom strode down the line, giving James a quick grin and a wink as he went passed. He reached the front of the room, just in front of the staff table, and inclined his head to a thin lady with half-moon spectacles sitting in the middle of the long table.

Professor McGonagall nodded back, and Professor Longbottom turned back to the room and conjured a stool up with a wave of his wand. He took a tattered hat from under his arm and placed it on the stool.

You could tell the muggleborns standing in line; they were the ones who gasped anew when the hat straightened up and started to sing,

‘I am sure you fool your teachers,
I am sure you fool your friends,
You may even fool your family,
But here’s where your fooling ends.
For you can not hide from me,
And your cons are just a show;
When I see inside your mind
I will tell you where to go;
I’ll say ‘Hufflepuff’ if, inside,
Your heart’s loyal and true.
If you love to learn, then ‘Ravenclaw’
Will be the place for you.
If you seek to rise with cunning,
‘Slytherin’s where you belong,
While ‘Gryffindor’ calls those who are
Courageous, brave and strong.
So slip me on and do not fear,
Let’s have a little chat.
I’ll find the perfect spot for you,
For I’m the Sorting Hat!’


 

The hall erupted into cheers, and James smiled despite his nerves. Uncle Ron had once said that in his opinion the Sorting Hat spent all year sitting on a shelf, perfecting its next song, and James thought it was nice for the old hat to have a moment of triumph like that.

Professor Longbottom unrolled a piece of parchment and began to read out names.

‘Alecto, Camsin.’

The short boy from the little girl’s boat sauntered up to the stool. The Sorting Hat had barely touched his head before it yelled ‘Slytherin!’

No surprise there, thought James absently. From further up the line, Sam turned to grin tensely at him. His face was ever so slightly green-tinged under his dark skin, and James was sure his friend felt as nervous as he did.

‘Antoniou, Marcus.’

The dark haired boy was sorted into Ravenclaw and joined that table, smiling smugly.

‘Brody, Margaret.’

‘Gryffindor!’

The first Gryffindor of the evening. James looked up curiously. A girl with thousands of freckles and mousy hair made her way over to the cheering table. It figured that Gryffindor were the loudest in welcoming new members. James could see Victoire giving the Brody girl a friendly smile, which she returned timidly.

‘Jordan, Samuel.’

James laughed at the grimace on his friend’s face. Sam hated being called by his full name; his mum was the only one who did it, and then only when she was angry. Professor Longbottom placed the old hat on Sam’s dreads and after a few seconds it called, ‘Gryffindor!’

James clapped and cheered along with the rest, happy for his friend but hoping more than ever to be put into Gryffindor. He didn’t know how he’d cope if he had to spend the next seven years in a different house to his best friend.

Ever since he’d received his letter, he had been looking forward to the sorting ceremony with a mixture of excitement and dread. He was terrified of being sorted into Slytherin, despite mum and dad’s assurances that there was nothing wrong with that. Now there was nothing for it but to stand quietly in line, watching as his future classmates took their turn one by one.

‘Potter, James.’ came the call at last. There were a few loud whoops from the Gryffindor table, and Professor McGonagall frowned briefly in that direction. James smiled weakly and stumbled forwards to sit on the stool. Professor Longbottom grinned at James as he placed the Sorting Hat on his head. The last thing James saw before it all went black was Teddy grinning and shooting him a thumbs up.

‘Hmm,’ said the Sorting Hat in James’ ear, ‘and what have we here? Another Potter? Goodness me, has it really been that long. Now, let’s take a look.’

James tried to make it say Gryffindor by thinking the word as loud as he could.

‘What’s this I see? Adventure, danger…oh, yes!’

The Sorting Hat, bizarrely, started to laugh.

‘What a ride you have ahead of you, young man! The both of you; I shall watch it with interest. Now, I think we’ll go GRYFFINDOR!’

The crimson and gold table erupted into loud cheers and cries. James pulled the hat off his head with relief and tried to walk casually over to the table.

Victoire pulled him down onto the seat between her and Sam and placed a large kiss on his forehead. On her other side, Teddy’s hair was changing colour rapidly from his excitement. He reached around Victoire to clap James hard on the back.

‘Knew you had it in you, Jamsie-boy! Have to say, I was a little worried when it didn’t sing out straight away, but I knew there was really nowhere else for you to go to.’

The rest of the first year Gryffindors were looking at James and Sam with awe due to their association with two older and clearly very popular students. He began to feel that maybe school at Hogwarts wasn’t going to be all that scary after all.

More students were sorted; a few into Ravenclaw, followed by a spate of Hufflepuffs and one or two Slytherins. But there were no more Gryffindors for a while. James began to lose interest. He stared at the empty tables, wondering when the food would arrive and wishing Neville would hurry up.

‘Sangraal, Anastacia.’ Professor Longbottom read out clearly. James looked up, mildly intrigued by the odd-sounding name. He’d heard the name Anastasia before, but the Professor had pronounced it ‘a-nas-ta-SEE-ya’, so at first he’d thought Neville had said ‘how-nice-to-see-ya’, which was what had really caught his attention in the first place. On top of that, it wasn’t a name he’d ever heard before.

His interest was further engaged when he saw that it was the small pale girl from the train. She walked slowly forwards to sit on the stool, flinching slightly when Professor Longbottom placed the Sorting Hat on her head.

The Hat said nothing. The hall was quiet for a moment, then whispers started to break out as people speculated what could be taking so long. James looked at Victoire, who just shrugged, as confused as he.

Finally, the hat opened its brim very wide, very slowly. The entire hall was literally on the edge of their seats, leaning forward to catch it’s triumphant,

‘GRYFFINDOR!’

There was an instant uproar from the Slytherin table, some of the members of the girl’s little group standing on the benches and yelling in what sounded like a foreign language.

The girl herself took the Sorting Hat off her head and handed it to Professor Longbottom. Then, somewhat dazedly, she made her way over to the table and sat down in an empty space, a fair way away from the rest of the diners. She looked over towards the Slytherins, still making a ruckus, and made some sort of gesture with her hand. James could have sworn that she was telling them to quiet down. Whether she was or not, the yelling stopped immediately, and the Slytherins resumed their seats, casting dark glances towards the Gryffindors and the staff table alike.

The rest of the sorting continued without any further mishaps, and as Professor McGonagall got up to give her start of the year address, James looked again at the little girl.

She was sitting very quietly, staring at her hands in her lap. Her face was very pale, paler than it had been at the station, and she seemed smaller than ever, as if she were trying to draw in on herself, making herself invisible.

James would have talked to her, but he’d been distracted by the arrival of food on the empty table in front of him. He and Sam got stuck in and didn’t surface for air until they’d eaten far more than was good for them. By then the prefects, Victoire and Teddy included, were starting to chivvy the first years along, so James did as he was told and followed his cousin and pseudo-cousin out of the Hall, up staircase after staircase, finally halting in front of a large portrait.

‘Welcome, my dears! Welcome to Gryffindor!’ the Fat Lady twittered, ‘Password?’

‘Flibbertigibbet!’ Victoire declared in her silvery voice, and the portrait swung forwards to reveal a hole in the wall. They all climbed through one-by-one, coming to a stop in the large and cosy common room.

‘Just as she said, welcome to Gryffindor,’ Teddy told them all warmly, ‘we’re very glad to have you. I’m Teddy, one of your prefects. If you have any problems, don’t be shy, alright? We might not be the most responsible prats around, but we do try our best to help you lot.’

‘Your dormitories are this way,’ Victoire interjected, shooting Teddy a ‘look’, ‘girls, follow me.’

She led them away up one of the staircases at the end of the common room. Teddy looked sheepishly after them and gestured for the first year boys to follow him.

‘Take my advice, boys,’ he confided to Sam and James as the trailed up the spiral stairs behind him, ‘leave off with girls until you absolutely have to. It’s more trouble than it’s worth most of the time.’

‘Ah, here we are,’ he continued, opening the door to a good-sized room containing five four-poster beds hung with crimson drapes.

The boys immediately claimed beds and started to set up their things. A laughing Teddy told them to go to bed and left them to their own devices.

Apart from Sam, who had claimed the bed next to James’, there were three other boys in their year. They wasted no time in introducing themselves;

The first, a boy about James’ height with light brown hair and a friendly sort of disposition, was Josh Alsop, from Surrey. His dad was a wizard and his mum was a Muggle.

‘But she can be a right witch when she gets angry, I tell you what!’

He had claimed the bed next to Owen Pennymon, a Welsh boy with sandy hair. Owen told them in a quiet voice that his parents were both magical and that his mum was the deputy head of the Welsh division of the Ministry of Magic. James pricked up his ears at that.

‘Pennymon? Is your mum Gwen Pennymon?’

Owen nodded, his face breaking into a shy smile.

‘She works with your aunt sometimes, yeah.’

‘Cool,’ James said, smiling back at him. Owen might be shy, but he had an air of kindness about him that James responded to instantly. He looked at Sam and knew that his best friend saw it too.

The final boy had brown hair as well, but lighter than Josh’s. He was busy sticking up posters of Muggle sporting teams and turned around to enlist James’ help.

‘I’m Terry, Terry Markham, from Shrewsbury. My parents aren’t wizards or anything; they’re…what’s the word?’

‘Muggles?’ Sam supplied as he helped attach a football poster to the wall. Terry nodded gratefully.

‘Yeah, that. Anyway, do you think anyone will hold it against me? Them being Muggles, that is?’

‘Nah, shouldn’t think so,’ Josh reassured him, ‘not now, anyway.’

Terry started to press him about what he meant, but James, who knew it would involve an explanation of the Second Great War and had heard the story far too many times and knew how long it would take to explain, suggested that they turn in and tell it tomorrow.

He’d been lucky; he’d known that even then, to get such a good bunch of mates in his year.

But then, what did you expect, he thought as he drifted off. You’re in Gryffindor. Everything’s better in Gryffindor.

 






He still believed that, six years later. And one of the main reasons he believed that had just sat down at the Gryffindor table. James strolled down the rows between the tables to slide into his normal space between Sam and Anastacia.

‘Morning all,’ he greeted them jovially.

Sam flapped a hand absently, too busy devouring a plateful of bacon to do more, but Anastacia gave him her special smile, the one that made him feel like the time he’d stuck a fork in the power socket at Aunt Hermione’s parent’s house, only in a good way.

‘You alright?’ he asked quietly.

Anastacia’s smile became a look of confusion.

‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ she asked with a laugh.

‘I dunno, only…I saw you talking to the Montrose girl, in the entrance hall. You didn’t look too happy.’

Her expression changed again, once more to a smile, but a different one this time. This was the smile she wore when she was lying to him.

‘Everything’s fine,’ she assured him, sounding for all the world like she believed what she said.

James gave a mental shrug and let it slide. He knew she lied to him, knew exactly when she did so, and he’d come to terms with it. He supposed she had her reasons, reasons she would eventually tell him, but in the meantime it wasn’t worth the quiet hurt he’d provoke if he pressed her. So he didn’t.

He did, however, know that her lying had something to do with the Slytherins. He wasn’t stupid, after all, or, at least, he wasn’t that stupid. He knew that she had her two separate faces because of the group of Slytherins that were constantly watching her. He’d even come up with a theory; the Slytherins were family friends who probably thought they were doing her parents a favour by making sure their pure-blood (for how could she be anything but) daughter didn’t fraternize with any unsavoury people.

They must have been furious when she was sorted into Gryffindor, the home of unsavoury people like the Wotters. As it was, they literally growled when James came anywhere near Anastacia in public. At first it had been unsettling, but he’d got used to it over the years.

He’d also learned to adapt, developing a bit of a double persona himself – he knew it made Anastacia upset when he made her watchers upset, so he didn’t make such a show of their friendship in public. That didn’t mean that he liked having to pretend not to be close to her, didn’t mean he wanted to go sit on the other side of the room when they had classes with the Slytherins, but he did it so that she wouldn’t be upset.

He’d do a lot more than that if it meant she was happy.

With the watchers on the other side of the room, sitting together at breakfast was alright, though.

‘What’s this? Slytherins making trouble? If they steal my gorgeous girl from me, someone will pay, I swear! Isn’t that right, dahling?’

Anastacia giggled and returned Sam’s hug. It was great joke with the two of them; upon finding out that Anastacia’s watchers thought he was gay (presumably due to his long hair) in second year, Sam had deliberately started to act so in their presence. He was so over-the-top that everyone else saw it for a joke in an instant, but he seemed to have fooled the Slytherins, which was a never-ending source of amusement for him.

It meant that the same Slytherins who glared every time James came within a hundred-foot radius of Anastacia didn’t even bat an eye when Sam hugged her tight and kissed her cheek, as he was doing now.

James reflected that it was just as well there was nothing between them. Otherwise, he might just have to kill his best friend.

Where did that come from, he wondered, mildly shocked. Killing Sam for being interested in Stac? What did it matter to him?

Shaking his head to get rid of stupid thoughts, he turned back to the much more pressing issue at hand; breakfast.






Hello again, and thanks to all those brave souls who have kept reading this far. As always, reviews are greatly appreciated, so if you've got the time, leave a line! Ta!

Chapter 4: Under-handed Dealings *
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Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the joys of the asterix!
Okay, here’s the deal; this is an asterix chapter, which means that a section of it is written to be read along with the song given at the beginning of the chapter. If you have the song, start it playing when you see the asterix and keep reading. Then, hopefully, you’ll see the inspiration for the storyline at that particular part.






                             
                              Stunning image by Ande @ TDA


Under-handed Dealings

Way To Go – Rogue Traders

‘Parents always think it’s the kids’ fault. If they’re naughty, it’s the kids’ fault. Not true! Children generally are not naughty for no reason.’
 - Emma Thompson
 

 




Turning down the corner of her page in the book she was reading, Anastacia glanced at her watch for what seemed like the hundredth time. It probably was. She sighed and laid the book down on the bed beside her. She hadn’t been taking any of it in anyway. There was really no point in her reading any more, not when she had so many other things on her mind. Starting with what she was meant to be doing that night.

Getting up slowly from her reclining position on the bed, she stretched, working the kinks out of her back and neck. Then she begun on a course of action that would seem very strange to the uninitiated observer; she took off all her jewellery, even her small earrings, and laid them on her vanity table.

Next she braided her long hair, slowly and carefully, and pinned it up so that it lay flat along her head. She pointed her wand at the tightly wound tresses and muttered a spell which would ensure that they did not come undone.

After this, she pulled on an old grey t-shirt, loose trousers, and soft-soled shoes. Giving herself a quick glance in the mirror, she nodded approvingly and scooped up an armful of something silky and fluid-looking from her bed. Armed with this and her wand, she walked with light steps towards the door.

As she stepped over the threshold, murmuring the spell to douse the lights within, she looked the corridor up and down, checking for signs of life.

Nothing. It was gone midnight, long past curfew for students and prefects alike. There was no sound from Marcus’ room, but Anastacia was sure that if she were able to put her ear to the door, she would hear faint snores.

Not that she knew whether Marcus snored or not. She had always just seen him as the kind of person who would; wet, snuffly little snores in keeping with his priggish, snuffly little personality.

She walked calmly and quietly down the corridor, breathing deeply. She hadn’t gone three steps, however, before she felt someone’s gaze on her back. Sighing to herself, she turned to face the way she had come.

‘Stop hiding,’ she called to the empty corridor in general, ‘I know you’re there.’

She was unsurprised when, a few moments later, one of the darker shadows by the wall detached itself from its fellow shadows and strode leisurely towards her.

‘Yes?’ she asked imperiously as James drew closer, ‘what are you doing here?’

‘I’m hungry,’ he offered by way of explanation, hands in his pockets, eyes seemingly innocent.

‘Hungry?’ Anastacia asked disbelievingly.

James smirked.

‘Okay; to be perfectly truthful, Sam was the one who was hungry. I was going to do a kitchen run for him. Only, imagine my surprise when I went to get my cloak and it wasn’t there.’

He was pointedly not looking at said cloak, currently draped over Anastacia’s arm. She didn’t say a word, waiting for him to finish.

‘So I went down to the common room and Rose was there. I asked her if she’d seen anyone go up the stairs into the boy’s dormitories but not come back down and she said no. Then I asked her if she’d seen you at any point during the evening and she said no. So I asked her if she gave you my invisibility cloak or helped you to get it and she looked at me like she wanted to turn me into a slug.’

‘And?’ Anastacia prompted.

‘And I deduced that you had taken the cloak and were preparing to go haring off on some wild adventure without inviting me. And I was hurt. So I decided to come and chat to you. Only I couldn’t very well knock on your door. So I waited for you to come out.’

She nodded, feeling simultaneous surprise and understanding. Surprise because Rose could lie for England and bollock her way out of just about anything. Understanding because if there was one person who’d be able to see through a prevaricating Rose, it would be James. Secrets and disguises were his tools of the trade, after all, or at least such was the general opinion.

She met his eyes and immediately wished she hadn’t. Despite his light tone, the look in his eyes was anything but. Anastacia sighed again and prepared herself for a row.

‘Look, James, the reason I didn’t tell you about this was because it involves Slytherins and–’

‘Slytherins!’ he hissed, predictably, ‘Who was it? What did they do to you?’

‘Never mind!’ she told him impatiently, ‘The point is, you’re not invited to this particular little outing. Ta for the cloak and all, but I can handle this one on my own.’

She expected him to explode and tell her that she was to return to her room this instant or he’d summon Professor Vem. That sort of a reaction she could deal with, she was prepared for. What she wasn’t prepared for was what he actually did.

James pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes closed and brow furrowed.

‘Stac,’ he told her gently, ‘we’re in this together, pure and simple. You know that. You want to go running around at all hours playing Robin Hood, that’s fine by me, as long as you take me with you. What am I supposed to do now, go back to bed and try not to think about you sneaking into that snake den alone?’

‘It’s not a snake den,’ she replied indignantly, ‘and what’s ‘Robin Hood’?’

‘Never mind,’ he sighed, tugging the cloak from her grasp and swinging it over the two of them, ‘I’ll explain it one day. Are you at least going to tell me who it is we’re pranking?’

Anastacia found herself being escorted towards the dungeons and the Slytherin dormitories by the one person she had assumed would do everything in his power to keep her away. This left her somewhat confused and for a few precious minutes she simply allowed herself to be led, not quite sure what to say.

When she finally came to her senses, they were only a few passages and a flight of stairs from their destination. Anastacia yanked hard on James’ arm and hissed,

‘Stop!’

He did so, immediately, bringing her to a halt beside him.

‘You can’t go in there! You can’t even go near it; you know what Longbottom said!’

James quirked an eyebrow at her.

‘You’re the one who’s planning to do Merlin-knows-what to Merlin-knows-who just because they did Merlin-knows-what to you Merlin-knows-when, and you’re telling me off? Just for possibly intending to bend some silly punishment involving proximity?’

She was looking at him a trifle puzzledly, trying to sort through all the ‘Merlin’s in her head. When she got to the last few, she scowled at him darkly.

‘For your information, they did not ‘just’ do anything to me at all and this is not ‘just’ some person I’m intending to get back at.’

He looked at her as if to say, ‘oh yeah?’ and she ploughed on, disregarding completely the fact that she hadn’t meant to tell him and the suspicion that this was a very bad idea.

‘It was Creeten Zarlow, and he insulted my honour.’

Any other boy would have stared back at her incredulously, quite possibly with a slack jaw and the hint of dribble forming at the corner of their mouths. In short, they wouldn’t have understood a word she’d said and very likely wouldn’t have paid that much attention even if they had.

With any other girl outside his immediate family, there was a strong possibility that James would have reacted the same as those other boys.

But Stac wasn’t just ‘any other girl’.

So instead of staring, he suppressed the urge to growl menacingly and tear the stone separating them from the sleeping Slytherins apart in search of the bastard who’d done such a thing.

But Anastacia was patting his arm and assuring him that she had it all under control, privately thinking that it had been a terribly stupid thing to tell him in the first place.

‘He was rude to me this morning, very rude, that’s all, and I’m just going in to pay him back. Like I said; I’ve got this one.’

James put his arm around her shoulders and started walking again, half-carrying her along beside him.

‘There is no way you’ve got this,’ he shot back, his voice rumbling low in his chest, ‘I’m going in with you.’

Which may have seemed like an overreaction on his part, but James knew what it took for Anastacia to get really riled. Riled to the point where she would go for revenge on her own and not tell him, like now.

It meant that whatever Creeten had said to her had hurt her badly.

Just outside the entrance to the Slytherin common room, Anastacia tried again.

‘Look, you can stand lookout, okay?’ she told him, ‘That way you’re still helping, but you’re not breaking your word to Longbottom.’

‘Neville didn’t mean it, not really,’ James scoffed, ‘so stop trying to weasel out. I’m coming in with you, okay? Pure and simple.’

He tapped the wall with his wand, Sam and himself having discovered in their second year that the entrance to Slytherin was just like most of its members, i.e. not very bright. A good tap would open it the same as the password.

The stones slid gratingly apart and James strode through. Anastacia followed, shaking her head in dismay and resignation.

‘Fine,’ she hissed once they were inside, ‘but you do everything I say. If I tell you to leave, you leave, agreed?’

‘Agreed,’ James replied, his eyes lighting up in anticipation.

She frowned at his eagerness but didn’t tell him off, knowing it would do no good. Instead, she turned towards the two doors at the end of the room that led to the dormitories.

‘Follow me,’ she sighed. She was no longer under the invisibility cloak, and as she walked she cast a disillusionment charm over herself. Her form blurred in James’ eyes, and it was his turn to frown as she became indistinguishable from the dark stone walls behind her, dull in the murky green light.

James pulled the cloak tight around himself and hurried after her, or at least, he hurried in the direction he thought she was going. His suspicions were confirmed when the door to the boys’ dormitories swung open noiselessly and stayed that way, waiting for him to pass through.

He did so and pulled it closed behind him. As he followed the faint blur down the corridor, a familiar feeling began to spread over him, warmth that started at his head and trickled slowly down to his toes.

He was sneaking again. Of course, most people thought this was how he spent the majority of his time, but that wasn’t quite true. If Stac was ever sneaking around, he was usually keeping a look out or tearing up the castle trying to find her and stop her getting killed. He hadn’t had a proper sneak in ages!

The last door in the dim corridor swung open, and James tiptoed through, his nostrils flaring the moment he crossed the threshold.

The air within the room was dank and thick with indescribable smells. It was like no one had ever opened a window, which was probably true, the dormitories being underwater and all. Still, it was enough to make even another boy with occasionally questionable hygiene pause and let out a muffled gasp.

‘Shh!’ Stac warned him, suddenly appearing by his side. Why she’d taken off the charm while they were actually in the room, he didn’t know, but he felt better being able to see her. She pointed her wand towards the beds.

Muffliato!’

‘What are you planning to do?’ he whispered back, pulling the cloak from his shoulders.

Stac shot him an evil grin, and he almost felt sorry for Creeten. Almost, but not really.

‘I’m going to curse him,’ she whispered happily.

James’ eyebrows started inspecting his hairline.

‘Not really,’ she qualified quickly, ‘I’m just going to make him feel like he’s been cursed.’

He thought about it for a moment, then an answering grin spread across his face.

‘How can I help?’

‘Go to his wardrobe and put this charm on everything’ she told him, handing him a scrap of parchment. She then crossed the room to stand by one of the beds. James could only assume it was Creeten’s. The snoring forms all looked the same, huge under their covers.

He looked at the parchment. On it, in neat, curling script was written ‘septem serpens tantum non animadverto’. James rolled the words around on his tongue and went to find Creeten’s clothes.

The Slytherin’s wardrobe was surprisingly neat for a teenage boy. James poked some items of clothing with his wand, not game to touch them in case being a Slytherin was contagious. Next to a pair of school robes (hung! On a coat hanger!) were a larger pair of the robes James had seen on the train platform the first day he’d seen Stac. He went in for a closer look.

The robes were dark and had some sort of crest displayed on them over and over. The crest consisted of the Slytherin snake and some sort of initials…he couldn’t quite make them out…

‘Are you done yet?’ Anastacia called in a soft voice, and James was recalled to the task at hand. He quickly whipped out his wand and charmed the first thing he saw – the strange robes.

The moment he whispered the unfamiliar words, the robes disappeared, seemingly replaced by a matching set of female underwear in bright red lace.

 ‘What the…’

Stac grinned from across the room.

‘I took the liberty of creating a new spell for this auspicious occasion,’ she explained proudly, ‘it’s to do with perception. See, if anyone other than a Slytherin 7th year looks at Creeten’s clothes, they’ll see what we do. But the Creeten and his friends will just see normal clothes.’

‘Stac…’ James breathed in awe, ‘that’s brilliant. Besides being a really good piece of transfiguration.’ He paused.

‘Remind me never to get on your bad side.’

She chuckled and returned to whatever it was she was doing.

‘See what happens when you charm his shoes.’

James immediately looked around for a pair. He spotted some (polished!) poking out of the bottom of the wardrobe. He muttered the spell and almost choked on his held-in laughter as the black shoes were transformed into red velvet heels.

‘Try them on;’ Anastacia urged from the other side of the room, ‘they won’t feel like heels.’

James couldn’t help taking a furtive glance around to make sure no one was watching before he slipped the new and improved shoes on. He could get a lot of strife for wearing these…but they didn’t feel any different than normal shoes. He took a few halting steps. It was if they hadn’t changed at all.

He carefully replaced the shoes and put his own back on, then proceeded to charm everything in sight.

‘Stac,’ he called over his shoulder, quietly, just in case, ‘can we do the rest of them, too? The clothes, I mean? Why waste the opportunity?’

He heard her give a sound that was half-laugh, half-sigh, and took it for consent. Twirling his wand happily, he went to work on the contents of the other wardrobes.

They didn’t speak again for a few minutes, the only sounds being muttered spells and long-drawn snores. Finally, James called, ‘Finished!’ and turned to face the other side of the room, his mouth open to continue speaking.

He never got the words out. His brain was having too much trouble processing what he saw to worry about mere words. It was all he could do to blink and stare at the scene before him.

Everything was pink. Meaning everything was pink; the bed sheets, the blankets, the drapes, the trunks at the feet of the beds. Even the hair on Creeten’s head bore a striking resemblance to the pygmy puffs sold by James’ Uncle George in his joke shop.

‘I’m assuming he won’t notice that, either?’ James croaked when he’d found his voice again.

Anastacia shook her head.

‘Nope. At least, he won’t until I take the enchantment off tomorrow. Then he’ll see what everyone else is seeing.’

She gave another evil grin.

‘But I’m going to let him stew for a while.’

‘Lovely. Wonderful. Really wonderful,’ James complimented her. The whole scheme resonated with him as a fine wine did with a connoisseur.

‘I can’t wait till tomorrow. So, when are you planning on hitting the ceiling with the sh–’

‘I’m done,’ she announced quickly, giving him a quelling look, ‘so let’s get out of here, d’accord?’

And before he could get another word out, she’d picked the invisibility cloak up off the floor, swung it over them both, and was towing him towards the door and to safety.

 



*
They didn’t encounter anyone on the way back to their rooms. Not that it would have mattered much if they had; they were both far too accomplished at sneaking around by now to be caught out. No more mistakes like the first time they’d gone out at night together.

As they turned up the corridor, Anastacia stepped out from under the cloak. James dropped it from around his shoulders and draped it over one arm.

‘I’ll see you for breakfast?’ he smiled with anticipation, ‘Only I’m assuming that’s when you’re planning to remove the enchantment? When they come down to the hall?’

She nodded.

‘They’re always the last ones there, so at least they’ll make an entrance. Hopefully they won’t figure anything out beforehand – I’d hate to do all that planning and then miss the fun.’

James snuffed a disdainful laugh.

‘They’re not that intelligent. Don’t worry; you’ll get your laugh. Just don’t–’

‘Get caught, yes maman.’

She grinned at him and stepped in for a hug. As always, James never felt so right hugging anyone as he did her. She was the perfect height, her head fitting just under his chin, and he held her tight for a moment before letting go and giving her a slight push towards the door.

‘Go straight to bed, now, okay? Don’t make me come in there.’

Anastacia opened the door and rolled her eyes as she passed through.

‘You wish.’

Then the door closed and she was gone.

James stretched out a hand and tried vainly to reach for the handle. It was pointless; his hand felt as if there was an invisible barrier in the way, impossible to penetrate.

He sighed and withdrew his hand. He did wish; wished that there was some way to get around the enchantment. Not because he particularly wanted to get inside the head girl’s room, but…well, because it was the one thing in the castle he couldn’t get past.

The head boy and girl’s rooms and their shared common room were a fairly new addition to Hogwarts’ architecture. They had been a ‘gift’ from McGonagall when she retired, although why exactly she had chosen such a gift to give was unclear. James had once heard Neville complaining about it to Aunt Hermione, Uncle Ron and his parents soon after they’d been built. Neville had been convinced that McGonagall had done it just to make his time as headmaster harder. He’d foreseen all sorts of trouble, not the least of which would be keeping students of the opposite sex out of the respective rooms.

But it seemed McGonagall had also foreseen this; she had laid some of the strongest magic James had ever seen on those rooms.

All three rooms came off the one corridor, the two bedrooms to either side of the shared common room. The spells laid down made it impossible for a boy to get within three feet of the door to the head girl’s room, and vice versa. Moreover, the common room did not allow more than one boy and one girl to enter after curfew, and would forcibly remove (read: spontaneously disapparate) all occupants if more than the allowed number was present after that time.

So far there had been no problems with the separate living arrangements. At least, none that James had heard of. He and Sam had tried dozens of times to outwit the spells, but they’d met with no success. The closest he had ever come to getting past them was being able to knock on Stac’s window from outside when he came to pick her up for one of the famous Wotter birthday parties. This was achieved by hovering outside the window on a broomstick. Once he tried to put even a finger through the window, however, he found the same barrier as encased the area around the door.

So as much as he would have liked to rap on Stac’s door and tell her once again just how brilliant he thought her plan was, he was at least intelligent enough to know that such an attempt was futile.

Instead, he put the cloak back on and headed off for Gryffindor Tower and bed.

  



The next morning saw an unusually eager James up, showered and dressed before most of his year mates had even woken up.

‘Do you know something we don’t?’ Sam asked him curiously as James sat on the edge of his bed to lace his shoes.

James winked and threw him his tie.

‘Let’s just say that if I were you, I’d hurry down to breakfast and get a good seat. You’re not going to want to miss this. Trust me.’

This was good enough for Sam, who was also ready in record time and soon following James down to the Hall.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary as they entered. Indeed, things looked so normal it was almost suspicious. James, who knew what was going to happen, could barely keep it to himself. Sam, who could only guess at what was going on, was nearly wild with anticipation.

The slid onto the bench next to Anastacia, who looked up at James with a fresh face and bright eyes, as if she’d spent the whole night sleeping peacefully instead of sneaking around until all hours.

‘I give them another ten minutes or so,’ she murmured casually, reaching for a jug of pumpkin juice, ‘nearly everyone else is here now.’

James nearly groaned, but remembered he too was supposed to be casual and held it in. But ten minutes? Honestly. Sometimes life just wasn’t fair.

At least he had food in front of him, and if there was one thing that could distract him from a problem at hand, it was food. He piled his plate with bacon and eggs and began to dig in heartily, aware of Sam watching him from the corner of his eye.

‘Oh, Merlin, here they come!’ whispered Stac breathlessly a few minutes later.

James’ head spun around to stare fixedly at the great double doors at the end of the Hall.

Sure enough, a second later, they opened and in walked a small group of boys, all wearing the same crimson lace underwear and red velvet shoes.

There was a split second of silence before the entire Hall went absolutely mental. The Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws were laughing fit to bust. James saw his cousin Hugo gasping for air and wheezing with laughter a few places down the table.

Sam was shaking on the seat beside him, his large frame making the entire bench vibrate.

Meanwhile, the Slytherins were in total shock. Some of their faces were completely devoid of expression, others seemed to think that they’d gone stark raving mad and were imagining things. James actually saw one boy rubbing his eyes and peering at the group by the door, as if he expected them to be dust spots or something of the like.

Creeten and his friends seemed unsure of what to do. They certainly didn’t have the faintest idea of what was going on, that much was painfully obvious. Creeten tried to swagger down the row between tables as usual, but this combined with red lace and heels just had the effect of making him look like a genetic experiment on a catwalk model gone horribly, horribly wrong. The rest of the boys followed him, to loud shouts and jeers from the rest of the houses.

Sam was now laughing so hard he was having trouble holding himself upright. Eventually he gave in to the weakness and half-collapsed on the table, banging it repeatedly with his fist as he proceeded to laugh himself senseless.

Albus was being thumped on the back by one of his friends; he’d started to laugh with a mouth full of breakfast and had choked. Fred had gone one better – he’d started to laugh with a mouthful of pumpkin juice. He’d managed to hold some of it in, but a great deal had come out his nose. Dominique, Molly and Lily were in fits of giggles, and even Rose was holding her sides, groaning with laughter. James caught her eye, and she pointed at something before collapsing weakly onto Daisy, who was sitting next to her.

James looked for what she’d been pointing at and nearly died. He hadn’t noticed last night, presumably because he’d been so in awe of Anastacia’s spell casting skills, but all the boys were wearing thongs.

Red. Lace. Thongs.

With matching brassieres.

And red velvet heels.

Suffice to say, the overall effect was rather stunning. It was improved no end by the stunning clash of Creeten’s clothes with his bright pink hair, hair that would have made Teddy proud.

Something poked James in the side, and he tore his eyes away from the questionable wonders of Creeten’s pearly white butt-cheeks to look at the tiny girl beside him. Margie was nearly on the floor on her other side, hanging onto the edge of the table with one hand and her stomach with the other as she lost it completely.

Stac was smiling her evil smile and wiping tears of laughter from her eyes.

‘Do you think we’ve let them stew enough?’ she gasped to James.

But he couldn’t answer. He couldn’t even stop laughing long enough to draw breath, let alone form a coherent sentence. So he nodded briefly and shot his gaze back to the Slytherin table.

He heard Anastacia mutter something under her breath, her giggles forcing her to have a few tries before she got it right.

He knew the moment she did get it right, because it was the moment that Creeten Zarlow looked down in horror and clapped his arms around his semi-naked form. Around him, his friends did the same, their expressions showing a mixture of disbelief and pure terror. Creeten roared something at those around him, got no response, and clearly decided he’d had quite enough – he turned and sprinted for the doors. The other boys followed right behind him, going as fast as they could.

Or at least, they would have been. Heels are, after all, not the easiest things to run in, especially when one has had no practice. What was intended as a sprint swiftly descended into an ungainly wobble and totter, as the boys struggled to keep their feet. One of them went over, the top part of his underwear slipping down as he fell.

The other tables positively howled.

Somehow, the boys escaped. As the Hall gradually returned to normal, James leaned down to Stac and whispered cheekily in her ear,

‘I must say, you do have a way with underwear, don’t you?’

She opened her mouth to retort, but Sam chose that moment to turn to James with eyes full of tears.

‘That was bloody brilliant!’ he gasped painfully.

James grinned, but his face quickly fell when a quiet voice spoke up from behind him.

‘Yes, I thought so too. My office, James. Now, please.’

James groaned and rose from the bench. Turning, he followed Neville from the hall and began the familiar walk up to the Headmaster’s study.





So, here we are again at the end of another chapter! Wow, this thing is really moving along. Ta to everyone who left a review, and to the wonderful verityemmelineblack for giving such lovely feedback! Hope you enjoy, and I shall try to update again soon!

Chapter 5: All Bets Are On
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                               Beautiful banner by Ande @ TDA



All Bets Are On
 
TNT – ACDC

‘The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.’
- Author Unknown



 

For the second time in as many days, James tramped up the cool corridors to the Headmaster’s private study. Neville’s robe-clad form had long since vanished around a corner. He was hurrying. James was dragging his feet.

No one in their right mind would hurry to a meeting with the Headmaster. Even if the Headmaster in question was Neville.

By the time he reached the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance, he could faintly hear the rest of the students exiting the Great Hall and dispersing through the corridors on their way to class.

He gave the gargoyle’s beak a rub and sighed.

‘Morning, Anthony.’

‘Morning, James,’ the statue piped back in a surprisingly high voice, ‘started early today, did we?’

‘Tell me about it,’ James muttered as he strode up the stairs. He came to a halt in front of the door to the study and rapped on it smartly with his knuckles.

‘Just a moment, James,’ Neville called out. James stepped back from the door and went to his usual post, leaning against the wall. There was a shallow depression in the floor from where his feet had worn away that particular patch of stone with repeated shuffling as he waited to be called in.

He could hear muffled voices coming from within the study, and he wondered idly who had beat him to Neville’s office. Not that he’d been walking particularly swiftly. But he had left the Hall before anyone else, even the teachers. Whoever it was must have been pretty desperate to speak to the Headmaster.

‘Come in, James,’ Neville called again.

James pushed away from the wall and opened the door. What he saw inside, or rather, who he saw, was enough to stop him dead in his tracks. He even forgot to look at Dumbledore.

Anastacia was sitting demurely in a chair in front of Neville’s desk. Her hands were folded in her lap, her eyes were cast down, and she looked the very picture of a shy and well-behaved student.

‘Ah, James, it seems there has been a misunderstanding,’ Neville seemed very happy for some reason.

James stared at him blankly, his mind refusing to make any connections beyond the fact that Stac was here. Why was she here? She never sought out trouble or confrontation.

‘Sir?’ he said dumbly.

Neville’s smile grew wider.

‘Miss Sangraal has just come to inform me, while you were making your rather lengthy way up from the Hall, that she was working in the common room late last night and she saw you asleep by the fire. She tells me she left the common room somewhere around one in the morning, which I’m not sure I want to condone, but when she left, you were still asleep. She then pointed out that this wouldn’t have given you enough time to get down to the Slytherin dormitories and perform the necessary enchantments all on your own, therefore, you are not the culprit.’

James stared at Stac in utter shock for a long moment. She was still looking at her hands, but she brought her gaze up briefly to shoot him a blazing look, as if ordering him to snap out of it.

He did.

‘Sir, I was going to tell you the same thing, only I didn’t know anyone had seen me, since I was asleep. I didn’t think you were going to believe my word alone.’

‘Well, no need to worry about that now, do we?’ Neville waved off James’ explanation, still sporting a huge grin, ‘Miss Sangraal also informs me that she is convinced of your innocence in relation to many other incidents which you have been accused of. I don’t mind telling you, this gives me serious food for thought, if it is true.’

‘Sir, I’ve always told you it wasn’t me,’ James agreed, warming to his tale.

‘Yes, well…Miss Sangraal – if the perpetrator is not Mr Potter, as we have always believed, do you have any idea who it could be.’

James watched as her gaze rose to meet the Headmaster’s, watched for any sign of guilt, anything that would give her away, but –

‘I have no idea, sir,’ was the soft reply.

James hid his smile with difficulty. Sure, she was lying, but Neville was never going to be able to pin it to her. Listening to her, looking at the ‘truth’ in her eyes, James almost believed her himself, and he knew what had happened. Merlin, she was smooth.

‘Too bad. Shame, really. Well, anyway,’ he continued brightly, ‘I’m so glad that our winning team hasn’t been…compromised. You are both dismissed.’

He waved them away, and a bemused James followed Stac out of the study.

 

Neville watched them go, his grin only widening as the door shut gently behind them. The room was still for a moment, and then there was a muted,

Ahem.

Neville’s grin faded somewhat and he took a seat once more behind his desk.

‘I believe I have won?’

Dumbledore’s voice held a tone of quiet amusement, and Neville sighed.

‘Yes, sir, you’ve won.’

‘And the prize…?’

‘I’ll have the painter in tomorrow to add your Sherbet Lemons.’

‘Lovely.’

Neville sighed and clasped his hands on his knee, unconsciously taking on a posture very similar to that of his youth.

‘I really did think it would take longer, you know. For her to stand up. I mean, judging by her family–’

‘Ahh, but we mustn’t judge them,’ the soft voice continued. Neville could feel the twinkling eyes burning a hole in his back. ‘After all, no one truly knows what goes on inside that family.’

‘True.’ Neville sat, lost in thought, another grin eventually spreading across his moon-like face.

‘Poor boy.’

He turned around to face the portrait on the wall and saw Dumbledore blink.

‘Pardon?’

‘I said ‘poor boy’. He’s going to have his work cut out for him now.’

The old Headmaster smiled benignly down at the new one, understanding showing in his eyes.

‘He certainly is.’

 








 

Outside, Anastacia led the way down the stairs and around a corner, waiting until they were out of sight and hearing to turn and allow James to confront her.

‘Winning team?’ he queried as a preamble, ‘What’s he on about?’

Anastacia quirked one eyebrow and gave him a look that was part-disappointed, part-scornful. James felt like a bug she’d just discovered on the floor.

‘Quidditch? Your punishment?’

He showed no sign of comprehending. She pinched the bridge of her nose and let out a sigh.

‘You promised Neville you wouldn’t play anymore pranks on the Slytherins, remember? Just after Dolokov’s nose-hair tried to strangle him.’

‘Slimy git,’ James muttered darkly, ‘I always said he was no good, and look what happens! His own hair turns against him!’

‘No, James,’ she corrected him gently, ‘that was you. You charmed it to attack him.’

‘Oh yeah,’ he breathed, his face breaking into a grin, ‘that’s right. That was–’

He stopped when he saw the look on her face and revised what he was going to say.

‘A very bad thing to do?’ he finished finally. She nodded, her mouth twisting in a cynical smile that showed she wasn’t fooled at all by his pretence at remorse.

‘Do you remember what Neville said after you promised?’

James racked his brain. He could see himself in Neville’s study, swearing to never again try to kill a Slytherin using their own follicles as a weapon. Then the Headmaster had turned to him, with a somewhat (for him) evil look in his eyes, and said…

James looked down into Stac’s eyes, comprehension dawning.

‘Oops.’

She sighed, but it was a laugh as well.

‘Oops’ is right. Now, I think a word of thanks is in order, don’t you? After all, I did go haring in to save your hide.’

Fully comprehending the severity of the situation he had nearly been landed in, James was more than happy to make amends. He dropped to his knees on the stone floor and clasped his hands over his heart.

‘Anastacia, light of my life, thank you so very much for saving my Quidditch career. How can I ever repay you? How shall I best display my gratitude?’

‘Get up off the floor, for one thing,’ she laughed as she hauled him to his feet.

He stood up quickly and swung an arm around her shoulder.

‘So, tell me, why exactly did you go ‘haring in to save my hide’, as you put it? You don’t even follow Quidditch.’

It was times such as these that Anastacia truly cursed the forces in her life that controlled her. To be unable to tell your best friend that you did, in fact, follow his favourite sport. Unable to tell him that not only did you follow it, but you shared his passion for it.

Yet another thing she could never do.

‘I knew I’d be the one who’d have to put up with your moaning if you weren’t allowed to play, and I simply couldn’t face that. So I did what needed to be done.’

She slipped out from under his arm and set off down the corridor, calling over her shoulder,

‘And right now, what has to be done is waiting for us in the Transfiguration classroom. Come on!’

Much as he would have liked to skive off, James was powerless to stand against the note of command in her voice. With a muffled groan, he followed her down the hall to class.

 










After lessons had finished, James dumped his books in his dormitory and hurried down to the Quidditch pitch. He was itching to get out of the castle. It hadn’t been a good day; after the chat with Neville, he’d been late to Transfiguration, where Professor Shinto had looked down her nose at him for the rest of the class (although she’d let Stac go without a word).

Then, in charms, when it became evident that he hadn’t done his homework for the fourth week in a row, Professor Flitwick had insisted he stay behind at lunch and complete it then.

This meant that he hadn’t seen the rest of the team all day. None of them shared his classes on that particular day, and he’d missed lunch completely. He just hoped they’d all remembered practice. He didn’t want to waste valuable pitch time chasing after wayward members of the team.

As he approached the pitch, he could see the rest of the Gryffindor team, already assembled. Looking at his team was a bit like looking at a family portrait; apart from James and Lily, Fred and Rose Weasley were also on the team, along with Sam, who was basically an honorary Wotter anyway. The only non-related members were Josh, James’ year mate, and Jaya, also in seventh year and a friend of Stac’s. The two of them played Chaser with James, and had since their second year. They’d been christened the ‘Triple J’ early on, and the name had stuck.

The team watched him walk down the rise with interest. Rose seemed to be paying him particular attention. James didn’t even want to imagine why.

‘Right, you lot, what are you doing hanging around? Why aren’t you running drills?’

‘Are you still on the team or not?’ Lily asked, point blank.

James stared at her. She took in his stunned expression and shrugged.

‘Neville said you wouldn’t be allowed to play if you pranked the Slytherins again. So are you on the team or not?’

James looked at her curiously.

‘How did you find out about that? Never mind,’ he hurried on as she opened her mouth to answer, ‘the answer is yes, I am still on the team. Neville believed me when I told him that the prank wasn’t one of my ideas.’

Rose elbowed Sam in the side and held out her hand.

‘Pay up.’

Sam groaned and fished a handful of sickles out of his pocket, dropping them into her outstretched palm. James watched with something akin to joy.

‘You believed I wasn’t in the wrong?’ he asked his cousin warmly, ‘You bet on my innocence?’

Rose snorted.

‘No, I bet on your ability to talk yourself out of anything and Neville’s reluctance to lose the Quidditch cup.’

‘Jammy sod,’ Sam muttered disgustedly, ‘nothing sticks to you.’

‘I wouldn’t call six years worth of detentions nothing,’ Josh started mildly, but James butted in and stopped the potential fight from forming.

‘Alright, I’m still on the team, good, great. Which means I am still your captain, and, as such, I am ordering you to go run drills! Now! All of you!’

They groaned, but grabbed their brooms and obeyed. James kicked off the ground and savoured the feeling of the wind rushing through his hair as he climbed quickly. Practice was a cathartic experience for him; it gave him a chance to put aside all the craziness that inevitably followed him and focus on something else for awhile.

Sam pulled up to hover beside him, watching the others begin their warm-up laps of the stadium.

‘So what’d you tell him, then? To make him let you go so quick?’

James paused for a moment, debating what to say, and then decided on the truth. Or, at least, part of the truth.

‘Stac bailed me out, actually.’

Sam was aghast.

What?

James nodded thoughtfully.

‘Yeah, I turned up to Neville’s study and she was already there. Apparently she told him she was in the common room last night, studying, and I was in there all night, asleep.’

‘And were you?’ Sam asked promptly.

James shook his head, frowning.

‘No, I wasn’t. I don’t mind telling you, since it’s you, but I was out pranking Slytherins. What I don’t get is why she lied for me. I mean, she’s my friend and all, but she’s never done that before.’

‘You’ve never been threatened with suspension from Quidditch before, either;’ Sam pointed out practically, ‘that’s pretty intense.’

James nodded thoughtfully, but didn’t voice his thoughts. Sam wouldn’t understand, not having the same suspicions about Stac’s background that James did. If there was one thing he knew about her, it was that she avoided confrontation and notoriety like the plague, and yet she’d gone out of her way and done something completely out of character, just to save his tail.

He finished with that line of thought, filing it away for a rainy day or boring lesson, and re-focused on the practice.

‘Right! Let’s see some hustle, people! Avoidance drills!’

Fred and Lily, the Beaters, and Rose, their Seeker, took their positions on the field, representing chasers from opposing teams. Josh, Jaya and James passed the Quaffle amongst themselves, avoiding their teammates, before attempting to score against Sam, in front of the goal posts. It was a good chance for the three Chasers to extend themselves; while they usually had very few problems against the other houses, playing against their own team was much more difficult.

James ran the drills for nearly an hour before he split them into three groups. The first, comprising Fred, Lily and Josh, started on target practice, with Fred and Lily attempting to hit two Muggle soccer balls which had been charmed to behave like Bludgers at their dodging team-mate.

In the second group, Jaya was hurling enchanted Quaffles at the goalposts, while Sam was trying to stop them. The Quaffles had been charmed so that when they passed the posts, they immediately sped back to Jaya’s side, so she could throw them again. The exercise was designed to stretch the limits of Sam’s endurance, as just one slip or move in the wrong direction could let through a hale of balls.

The third group was Rose and James himself. He grinned wolfishly at his cousin as he hovered in front of her.

‘I know we’ve been practicing with twelve balls, but I added four more today, the same as dad uses;’ he told her with a smirk, ‘so don’t worry too much if you can’t handle it.’

‘Bring it on, coz,’ Rose bantered back, grinning tightly in anticipation, ‘just belt up and start the clock.’

‘Marks, set, GO!’

James started the Muggle stopwatch in his hand and watched Rose rocket around the pitch. This particular practice was a brainchild of his from his first year as captain; a number of old, broken Snitches had been spelled to dart around the stadium in the same manner they would have when they were being used in a game. The aim was for the Seeker to find all the balls and return to their starting position in the shortest time possible.

James had tried it with his mum and dad at home during the holidays before unleashing it on his team. Everyone had tried it at least once, although the Seeker was the only one who used it as a normal part of their practice schedule. So far, no one had managed to beat his dad’s record of sixteen Snitches in 20 seconds, although Rose had come pretty darn close with twelve in 15.5 seconds.

Watching his cousin darting around, tagging the golden balls, which stopped fluttering and dropped to the ground as soon as she touched them, James felt a small surge of pride.

He knew his team was good, hell; they were possibly even the best team that Gryffindor has ever had (although he was biased, of course). And while he knew that a lot of that lay in the talent of the players, he also knew that a good percentage of their skill as a team came from his skill as a captain.

And that made him proud; not an obnoxious, uppity pride, but a warm feeling that spread from his gut to the rest of him and gave him the resolve to push them further and harder in practice.

Rose was speeding towards him now from the other end of the pitch. He waited until she crossed the line she had started behind and clicked the button on the stopwatch. Glancing down, he had to blink and re-check to make sure he’d read the numbers right.

‘Well?’ Rose asked, trying to be cool but sounding slightly nervous all the same.

James looked up at her with an expression of mild shock on his face.

’18 seconds,’ he stated quietly.

Rose let out a whoop and did a neat loop-the-loop, drawing the attention of the rest of the team.

‘What happened?’ Lily called from her post, negligently batting a soccer ball out of the way and flying over to joint them.

‘I just shaved a whole two seconds off Uncle Harry’s record, that’s what happened!’ crowed Rose excitedly.

Lily let out a cheer and gave her cousin a high-five. The rest of the team came over to join in the impromptu celebrations, occasionally being hassled by the black and white balls that still flew around them.

James removed the enchantment with a mutter and a wave of his wand, and the Muggle balls dropped to the ground. He turned on his boisterous team, trying to make them pay attention.

‘Alright, alright…QUIET!’

The effect was not as instantaneous as he would have liked, but they did turn to face him and stopped chattering like mad things.

‘Yes, alright, we’re doing okay in training. This doesn’t mean we can get cocky, people. The game with Slytherin is less than two weeks away. Two weeks is a long time; anything could happen and will happen if we don’t keep on our toes. It’s plenty long enough for the Slytherins to come up with some plan to knock our brooms out from under us. We need to stay focused.’

He looked around at their faces. Sure, they were mostly grimacing at his words, knowing that such a speech most likely meant extra practice and more pressure to perform, but he knew that, deep down, they knew he was right.

Very deep down.

And that they agreed with him.

Mostly.

But that would have to be enough. After all, they didn’t necessarily need to agree with him on everything. Just obey him.

‘Right, let’s leave it there for today. Everyone do your laps and then you can go in to change.’

The team groaned but dropped to the ground obediently. Once there, they swung themselves off their brooms and started to jog slowly around the stadium, two laps for every year of their age. James did the same. Never let it be said that he took advantage of his position. Well, other than with girls, at any rate.

‘Hey, Rosie,’ he called to the retreating figure. She turned to face him, one eyebrow cocked. James dove in before she could put her hands on her hips and turn into a scary mini version of her mother.

‘Nice work today. You can skip the laps, if you like. You earned it.’

She stared at him for a long moment, her face inscrutable. Then it broke into a smile and she swooped in to lay a kiss on his cheek. James rubbed the side of his face uncertainly, not really sure what was going on.

‘Umm, and that was…?’

‘D’you know, that’s the first time you’ve ever given me a compliment about my playing that wasn’t directly following a match?’

‘Uhh…you’re welcome?’ James tried hesitantly.

It seemed to be the right response, because her grin only widened and she flapped her hand at him and turned to follow the others.

‘Oi!’ James called after her, ‘I said you could skip it!’

‘Never mind,’ she called back over her shoulder, ‘can’t have a fat Seeker, now can we?’

James shook his head and started to jog, following the rest of his team-mates.

 

After their laps, a very sweaty Sam and Josh joined the rest of the boys in the changing rooms. Fred, being younger, hadn’t had as many laps to run and Josh, being freakish, had finished his before everyone else. As a result, the two of them were just getting ready to leave as Sam and James staggered into the room and headed straight for the showers.

‘See you at tea,’ Josh called, heading out the door.

James didn’t reply, too caught up in the lovely hot water soothing all his aches and pains. When he finally shut off the tap and wrapped his towel around himself, his fingers were pruny and the room was full of steam, but so what? Who really cared? Certainly not him. He sauntered over to his locker and began to get changed.

‘So she really saved your ass, hey?’ Sam asked from the other side of the bench.

James nodded, pulling on his jeans.

‘Beats me why, though. It’s totally out of character.’

Sam contemplated this statement for a moment, pulling an old hoodie on over his shirt.

‘So you’ve got absolutely no idea what could have made her do it?’

James frowned, looking up from tying his sneakers to peer searchingly at his best friend.

‘Yeah, I said that already. Why? Should I know a reason?’

‘No, no. Course not;’ Sam assured him, his voice nonchalant, ‘who understands birds anyway, hey?’

‘Ye-ah,’ James agreed suspiciously. Something about Sam’s tone, his whole line of questioning, just seemed a bit…off. But he couldn’t really put his finger on why…

‘I’m starved; hurry up, would you?’ Sam had risen to stand by the door. James finished tying his shoes and joined him, dousing the lights and locking the door as he went.

They took a couple of steps away from the changing rooms and then turned as one and raised the protections on the little outbuilding with a flick of their wands. The year before, some Slytherin fourth years had thought it would be funny to graffiti the Gryffindor changing rooms with some very choice words. They’d been caught and punished by Neville (and the whole of Gryffindor house, of course) but the incident had prompted James to apply some extra protection to the hut, just in case.

That done, they hurried up through the dimness to the warm and welcoming castle.

 




The Great Hall was already full when they entered, the four tables buzzing with the normal end-of-day chatter and banter. James and Sam took their usual seats in the middle of the table, one either side of Stac.

She smiled absently up at them, a book open on the table before her.

‘Good day?’ Sam asked innocently.

She turned to answer and, while her attention was diverted, James reached out and smoothly tugged the book from her hand. She faced him once more, a demand for its return on her lips, but James held up a hand to stop her.

‘Read later. It’s eating time now.’

‘Not to mention talking time,’ Sam added, piling his plate with food, ‘are you going to tell me we’re not as interesting as some old book? What’s it on, anyway?’

James looked at the title.

A Concise History of Developments in Inanimate Transfiguration, 1655-1895.’

He held up the book, which was at least six inches thick.

‘This is the concise history?’

Anastacia held out her hand.

Donnez-moi, s’il tu plais.’

He gave his best ‘I’m-an-uneducated-Briton-who-doesn’t-understand-you’ look, and she shook her hand in front of his face.

‘Give. Now.’

That, he did understand. Handing it over meekly, James joined Sam in digging in to the marvellous food sitting on the table before him, begging to be eaten.

‘Why’re you reading that anyway?’ Sam asked through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

Anastacia checked her place in the book, marked it, and set it down on the table next to her.

‘Unlike some people, I would actually like to be prepared when the N.E.W.Ts come around.’

‘Stac,’ Sam groaned, ‘it’s the beginning of the year. The N.E.W.Ts aren’t for months and months.’

‘Yes, and they happen to decide the rest of your life, so excuse me for being concerned.’

‘Lay off, Sam,’ James interjected, sensing the brewing argument and being too tired to cope with it, ‘if she wants to waste time studying, let her.’

‘Oh, so this means you don’t want to copy my notes anymore?’ Stac asked him sweetly, helping herself to a ladle of stew.

‘No need, is there? I mean, it’s not like I need any ‘Outstanding’s in order to play Quidditch, is it?’

She rolled her eyes at that, but kept her mouth shut and began to eat, having been friends with them for long enough to know not to purposely aggravate them after training.

James had had his whole career planned out since his fourth year at Hogwarts; he was going to graduate and play Quidditch for the rest of his life. He’d been planning on playing in the minor-leagues at first, just until he got some notability, but he’d already received a couple of offers for interviews with some bigger teams once he finished school.

Stac acted like she didn’t really approve of his choice and the careless attitude towards his schoolwork that it produced, but she was quietly supportive all the same. Whatever she might say, there was no way she’d deny him her homework to copy if he needed it, or not help him with an assignment if he was running late. She was just that kind of person.

Yet again, James had to physically shake the strange and oddly disturbing thoughts out of his head. He attributed it to tiredness, conveniently forgetting for the moment that the last time he’d set off down that train of thought, he hadn’t been tired at all.

They finished off the meal with sticky date pudding, a group favourite, and a heated discussion, on Sam and James’ part at least, as to who was in the running to win the Kingdom Cup later that year. Sam was firmly behind the Westgate Winged Horses, the reigning champions, but James had attended a Pride of Portree practice session with his mother in the summer holidays and thought that the currently fourth-ranked team was in with a definite chance.

Stac sat politely through the discussion, not really participating or contributing, but letting the talk just flow around her. Once or twice James saw her fingers twitch in the direction of her book, but her manners were too good for her to take it up again while they were at the table.

As they stood to leave, James took Stac’s arm to steady her as she stepped over the bench.

‘Sorry about that, talking shop and all,’ he murmured in her ear as the distance between them was closed briefly.

She looked up, smiled, and seemed about to speak…but then her gaze flicked over his right shoulder and her face shut down.

James didn’t even need to turn around to know what he’d see there. Evidently, some member of her group of babysitters was watching them. He released her arm and tried not to feel hurt as she immediately took a step away, putting a definite space between them.

 

Anastacia met the eyes of the Farlow twins with cool composure. The two young members of her guard were only in fourth year and their eyes dropped to the floor the moment their gazes crossed. No doubt Creeten had ordered them to check up on her. She tossed her head and picked up her book from the table before leaving her friends without a word.

As she made her way out of the Hall, she knew without looking that the two, dark blonde heads were following her. They were always following her.

 

The two boys she’d left behind looked at one another and shrugged.

‘She didn’t look happy…’ Sam noted casually.

James snorted, his voice dry.

‘That’s the understatement of the week.’

He watched the trio’s progress out of the crush of students and into the Entrance Hall with growing interest.

‘Wonder what happened to Zarlow. Maybe he’s still sore from this morning.’

I wonder how long it takes for her to get fed up with those two,’ Sam thought aloud, ‘can’t be too long; you saw how touchy she was. She’d hex anyone who crossed her tonight.’

‘Would you care to make a wager on that?’ asked James slyly.

Sam gave the matter a momentary thought, then nodded and stuck out his hand.

‘Ten sickles says she makes it all the way to Gryffindor Tower.’

‘The Tower? Nah – three floors and that’s it. Absolute limit.’

‘You’re on,’ Sam declared, and they shook hands. ‘I hate taking your money like this,’ he continued as they joined the throng exiting the Hall.

My money? You’re giving her too much credit, mate. Remember, she’s had a stressful day, what with Neville’s this morning and all.’

Sam opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a loud bang. A second later, two shapes roughly the same size as a pair of adolescent boys rolled down the stairs and into the Entrance Hall. They were covered in what appeared to be bright purple fur.

James joined in the general laughter and held out his hand in front of Sam, whose mouth had dropped open in dismay.

‘Pay up.’




Hello again, my lovely, darling readers! So nice of you to join me! Thank you so much to everyone who has left reviews so far; I get this wonderful little thrill everytime I read a new one. Hope you're enjoying our little tale, and I promise to update again soon!
Ta!


Chapter 6: Vengeance Is Mine *
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This chapter is dedicated to the wonderful Ande @ TDA, who makes my lovely chapter images that give me so much scope for imagination. Thanks tons love!

Once again, this is an asterix chapter, meaning that if you have the song mentioned at the beginning of the chapter and you set it playing when you see the asterix, the rest of the chapter should correspond to the song. Enjoy!





                             
                                   Stunning chapter image by Ande @ TDA
 

 Vengeance Is Mine

Trouble Trouble – The Potbelleez

‘Revenge is sweet and not fattening.’
- Alfred Hitchcock


 





Anastacia didn’t stop walking until she’d reached the Head Girl’s room. She muttered at the door and it swung open before her, shutting with a bang once she’d passed through. She went straight to the bathroom and turned on the shower, letting the cool water wash away the burning stain of embarrassment that coloured her cheeks.

Why, Merlin, why did she have to be born into such a family? What had she ever done wrong to have been given such a fate? Not only did they have to control her every move, now it seemed they were attempting to humiliate her to death.

She picked up her shampoo and took a deep breath in through her nose, trying to let the fruity scent calm her. But it didn’t work.

Sending two fourth years after her, for Merlin’s sake. As if she was some stupid little ingénue who didn’t know how to get from the Hall to her room without getting into trouble. Honestly, did they really think she was that dumb?

Over the rush of the water, she heard the door to her room open and shut. A second later a voice called out.

‘Grace?’

‘I’m in here Celeste, come in.’

Anastacia heard the younger girl enter the room and pause by the door.

‘Sorry to intrude, but Creeten has asked to see you at your earliest convenience.’

Anastacia sighed heavily.

‘I rather thought he might.’ Honestly, life would be a lot easier if Creeten just came out and ordered her to do something. Then at least she’d have a legitimate reason to get mad at him, instead of just chafing against his almost-orders and hexing his minions.

Celeste began to move around the bathroom, not saying anything. Anastacia could hear her picking up things, straightening the room. After a few more minutes trying to ignore the fact that there was a world outside, she grudgingly conceded that she couldn’t hide in the shower forever. Shutting off the water and squeezing out her hair, she took the warm towel Celeste silently handed her with murmured thanks and stepped out of the cubicle.

Her clothes, which she had thrown unceremoniously on the floor, were no longer there. Anastacia dried herself, feeling no discomfort in Celeste’s presence, before slipping into the dressing gown that the dark girl held out for her.

As she walked back into her bedroom, she could see that her uniform had been hung neatly in her wardrobe, her shoes placed on the shoe rack, and her room generally straightened.

That didn’t surprise her either; she would have been surprised if Celeste hadn’t waited on her like that. Not because she was vain or had some sort of complex, but just because that was how she had been brought up. At home, everyone waited on her, including those few people she counted as ‘friends’. So there was nothing unusual in Celeste doing so now.

Anastacia sat down in front of her mirror and picked up her brush. Angrily, she began to pull her brush through her hair, fighting with the knots and snarls that refused to come out.

Small hands took the brush from her and began to gently tease out the knots. Anastacia slumped on the table, her head on her arms.

Quand a fait vous devenez si fâché?’ Celeste asked softly, slipping into her native tongue. There was no reply from the other girl, so she repeated the question, this time in English.

‘When did you become so angry?’

Anastacia looked up to see her friend eyeing her reflection in the mirror concernedly. She tried to smile, but failed miserably.

‘I’m not angry, per se. It’s just…I’m sick of people trying to control me. First my father, now Creeten. Is it so much to ask to want to live my own life.’

‘Yes,’ Celeste replied honestly, and Anastacia, as much as she hated to do it, had to agree. Because being who she was, having what she had, meant taking the restrictions, limitations and orders that came along with it. It was no use protesting, saying that she hadn’t wanted this life – she’d been born into it, and there was no way for her to get out.

‘There,’ Celeste continued, smoothing out the long locks so that they lay silkily down her friend’s back, ‘shall I set out some clothes?’

Anastacia nodded, still looking at her reflection in the mirror. She was glad anew of the stand she’d taken against her father to get him to allow her to dye her hair. He hadn’t been happy with her changing it, he’d held out, citing that her pale blonde tresses marked her as a Sangraal, and why would she want to change that?

It had taken nearly a year to get his consent, but it had been worth it in the end, when she had turned up on the platform in London for the train trip to begin her fifth year looking one step closer to normal.

Celeste held up a dark green garment that was somewhere between a dress and a robe; ‘normal’ enough for Anastacia’s taste and ‘magical’ enough that not even Creeten could find fault in it.

‘Is this alright?’

Anastacia nodded, not even bothering to look at the outfit.

‘Fine. I’ll dress by myself, if you don’t mind. You could tell Creeten that I’ll meet him in the Head’s common room in five minutes.’

Celeste murmured her assent, bobbed a curtsey and hurried from the room. Five minutes, hmm. Good. Just enough time for her to give Creeten a piece of her mind…

Meanwhile, Anastacia listlessly stood up and began to dress. She pulled the dress roughly over her head and fastened the buttons, wishing idly that once, just once, she could wear clothes that used zippers or, horror of horrors, Velcro. It would make life so much easier.

Her hair she gathered into a messy bun on top of her head. She studied the effect in the mirror for a moment before exhaling noisily and letting it fall down her back again. She really couldn’t be bothered to do more than that for the idiot who was ruining her evening.

Grabbing her wand from where Celeste had placed it, polished and ready, on her bedside table, Anastacia headed for the Head’s common room, trying her hardest not to stalk.

Outside, she took a deep breath in a vain attempt to regain some semblance of calm. None being forthcoming, she opened the door and stepped inside.

The male occupants of the room, which included Creeten and her unfortunate watchers from earlier that evening, rose to their feet the moment she entered. Anastacia ignored their bows to take the seat Celeste had pulled out for her, in the middle of the floor.

‘Your Grace,’ Creeten began, but she interrupted him with an impatient wave of her hand.

‘I’m not interested, Creeten,’ she told him bluntly, folding her hands in her lap so that no one would see their trembling and mistake the anger that caused it for weakness.

‘But…your Grace,’

‘I said no, Creeten. That means I wish to hear no more from you on the subject. If you will persist in such…demeaning and unwise exercises as sending two fourth years running after me like…dogs with a scent, then I shall have no choice but to take action against them.’

The Farlow twins coloured to the roots of their dark blonde hair, and one of them took a slight step forward, his head bowed.

‘Begging your pardon, your Grace, but we didn’t want to follow–’

‘Silence!’ Creeten snapped, ‘You will not speak to her Grace unless you are addressed!’

The boy’s face turned an even darker red, and he returned to his brother’s side shamefacedly. Anastacia frowned at Creeten.

‘That was uncalled for. You can not expect to give orders, as I am sure you gave them, and then chastise your subordinates for carrying them out. I am sorry,’ she added, looking at the twins, ‘for my behaviour this evening. I…overreacted, to say the least.’

‘Oh, no, your Grace,’ the other twin began earnestly, ‘we understand. We’d have done the same if–’

But here his brother elbowed him sharply in the ribs, and the young boy left off talking with a muffled yelp.

Anastacia had to hide a smile. The Farlow twins were English, their parents having joined her father after he had moved the family here from France. She could never really understand why the boys were a part of Creeten’s outfit; they seemed so different from the others, most of whom had been a part of her family’s circle since they were born. There was something…nice about the boys, something the other members of her guard lacked.

Creeten stood once more and murmured to the boy next to him, Iago Trevellan, his second-in-command. Iago nodded briefly and began to herd the rest of the boys out of the room, stopping briefly to bow to Anastacia as he went.

‘If you would also care to leave?’ Creeten asked Celeste, sitting in her usual place by Anastacia’s side, ‘There are issues which I must discuss with her Grace in private.’

Celeste began to protest, but Anastacia laid a hand on her arm and smiled tightly. She may not be happy at his intrusion, but she could certainly handle anything Creeten Zarlow could throw at her.

With a final dirty look, Celeste swept from the room, shutting the door behind her and leaving Anastacia and Creeten alone.

Creeten seemed content to pace in front of the fire for a few minutes. Anastacia watched him, her patience rapidly fading. Finally, she sighed and sat up a little straighter.

‘Speak.’

He stopped pacing and came to stand in front of her, his hands clasped behind his back, a solider giving a report to a superior.

‘Alecto Camsin has left our ranks.’

Anastacia blinked. Alecto was one of the original, founding members of her guard. She had known him for as long as she could remember, longer even than she had known Creeten. He had been with her the first time she had come to Hogwarts.

‘What do you mean, left?’ she asked carefully.

‘He has decided that his services are no longer required as a member of your personal guard.’

No wonder Creeten was in such a foul mood. Alecto’s parents where highly ranked in her father’s entourage, and he’d surely be fearing the repercussions of Alecto’s actions.

‘Could it perhaps have something to do with his…status within the guard?’ she queried slowly, watching his response closely.

As she’d expected, Creeten’s expression was momentarily guilty, before he scowled into the fireplace and regathered his prideful anger.

‘If that is the case, then he is a fool and a child. No man would allow himself to forsake his duty for such a matter!’

Anastacia kept quite, although she rather disagreed. As the highest-ranking member of her guard, by rights, Alecto should be second-in-command after Creeten, who held his rank due to his family. The Zarlows had performed that office for Anastacia’s family for centuries.

However, when it came time for Creeten to choose his second, he had not chosen Alecto, as custom dictated.
Rather, he had picked Iago, whose only qualifying features were a mean spirit and vengeful nature to match Creeten’s own, and a sycophantic tongue that praised his leader’s every move.

It was painfully obvious, and had been for some time, that Alecto was less than pleased with the situation. Nevertheless, he’d held his tongue and done as commanded, because that was what one did in their world.

However, it would seem that it had all become too much for him. Anastacia found that she couldn’t really blame him; she knew what it was like to have Creeten order her around, even if he couldn’t explicitly order her as he could with Alecto.

Unfortunately there was no way for her to leave their little group, nothing she could do to convince them that her services were no longer required.

‘You may write to my father about this matter,’ she told Creeten absentmindedly.

‘Yes, your Grace. There was one other matter I wished to discuss with you.’

‘Oh?’

Anastacia was not really paying attention. With Alecto gone, that left her group of watchers with five members, not including Creeten; the Farlow Twins, Iago, Flint Brovane and Reuben Path.

With the exception of the Farlows, the rest of her guard were in seventh year. Iago, Flint and Reuben had all repeated a year, much to Anastacia’s disgust. She had thought to be rid of them after her sixth year, but had no such luck.

Supplementing this number was Hans Montrose, Celeste’s older half-brother from her father’s previous marriage, and Scorpius Malfoy. They weren’t considered true members of her guard seeing as Hans was about as subtle as a brick through a window pane and Scorpius’ family weren’t really members of her father’s circle.

However, they did occasionally join Creeten’s little band of stalkers on days when his other minions couldn’t make it, Scorpius in particular.

This was a great comfort to Anastacia, since she and Scorpius got on very well and always had. He shared Celeste’s opinion that Anastacia should seek to have a life and be happy in whatever way possible, and he was on good terms with Rose Weasley and Albus Potter, so he didn’t disapprove of her friendship with James.

Talk of the devil…

Anastacia and Creeten were disturbed not a moment later as a young boy burst through the door. He halted just over the threshold to bow and clasp his hands behind his back.

‘Forgive me, your Grace, but I just heard the news about Camsin Alecto. I’ve come to offer myself as a replacement in your guard.’

He looked up at Creeten, whose mouth was open every-so-slightly in shock.

‘If that is agreeable to your captain, of course.’

It had better be, Anastacia thought fiercely, ready to fight if Creeten thought to protest.

She needn’t have worried. Creeten’s mouth snapped shut and he nodded at the younger boy.

‘Your proposal is accepted. You will, of course, undertake a trial period to prove yourself capable, after which time you shall be made a full member of the guard.’

‘Good. Lovely,’ Anastacia said briskly, rising to her feet, ‘now, if you will excuse me, I have homework to complete.’

‘I would like to post a guard in your common room this evening,’ Creeten told her blandly. She glared at him and he ignored it.

‘It would seem that…certain people have decided to disrupt the peace for their own amusement. While these tricks are, of course, childish, I would nevertheless like to step up your protection detail.’

‘What a fortunate coincidence;’ Scorpius interjected before Anastacia could open her mouth and let her furious words out, ‘before I heard the news about Alecto, I was on my way here to ask for her Grace’s assistance with my Charms homework. I can stay as her protection this evening and kill two birds with one stone.’

Anastacia tried to look as though this idea didn’t fill her with happiness, something that would surely make Creeten suspicious.

It must have worked, because Creeten nodded briefly and started for the door.

‘You must stay by her side all evening, until she retires. If something happens, send word to me immediately and do anything necessary to keep her safe at all times.’

Scorpius was nodding seriously and Anastacia resisted the urge to roll her eyes at Creeten’s theatrics. Anyone would think she was loose and unsupervised in some sort of seedy underworld from the way he spoke.

Creeten made his bow and left, leaving the two of them alone in the room. They were soon joined by Celeste, and the three students stood silently and listened as the footsteps recede down the corridor.

When they could hear no more noise coming from outside, Celeste went to the door and opened it a crack to check.

‘They’re gone,’ she announced shutting the door again.

Anastacia let out a small cry of joy and flung her arms around Scorpius’ neck. He laughed and swung her in a circle.

‘Nast, you need to eat more; you’re far too light.’

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you!’ she cried in response, not even bothering to reply to his comment about her weight.

‘What’s he done?’ asked Celeste in amazement.

‘Only arranged things so that I might actually be able to have a night to myself every now and then!’

She took a step back and looked at him with a queer little half-smile.

‘Thank you. I mean it; you have no idea what this means to me.’

‘And what if I decide to follow my instructions, hmm?’ he asked playfully, ‘I’ll bet you never thought of that.’

Anastacia shrugged negligently.

‘You wouldn’t. That’s not your way.’

‘You’re right, as always. My way is completely different. For example, it would be my way to go and fetch some anxious Gryffindors from their tower to invite them to study here, now, wouldn’t it?’

Anastacia clapped and went to hug him again, but he slipped out the door before she could catch him. She turned instead to Celeste, who was grinning broadly, and her own smile slid off her face, to be replaced with a look of confusion.

‘What is it?’

‘Nothing horrid,’ Celeste assured her, ‘it’s just…nice to see you happy again.’

She gave her friend’s arm a reassuring pat.

‘I’ll go get your books, then. Do you need anything from your room?’

The other girl declined, and, with a bob, Celeste too left the room, leaving Anastacia alone to contemplate the fire and her whirling thoughts.

 





‘Stac, what’s the incantation for cloning a tea-cup?’

Sam was turning his battered quill over in his fingers, his parchment empty of anything but a few scribbles. Anastacia didn’t even look up from her own parchment.

‘We’ve been trying it all week in class and you can’t even remember? I’m not just going to tell you. Look in the text.’

‘See, I thought of that,’ Sam started lightly, ‘but then I thought, why take the book away from James, who obviously needs it more than me, when I could go straight to the source?’

‘Which would be me?’ she asked dryly.

He nodded, beaming, and she had to give in.

‘Fine; it’s Geminio. Try to think of it like Gemini, twins, okay?’

Sam started to scribble furiously in his messy, blotted handwriting. Anastacia spared a glance for James, who was deep in the book she’d had at dinner.

‘Find anything interesting?’

James looked up and smiled.

‘Interesting, no. Useful, perhaps. There’s a whole section on transfiguring house-hold items.’

‘Can I borrow it after you?’ Rose called from the other side of the room. She and Albus had joined Scorpius to complete homework.

‘There’s another one in my room that looks at inter-species transfiguration as well,’ Anastacia replied, ‘that one might be more helpful.’

Rose jumped up from her seat and ran to get the book. James’ face was disgruntled.

‘I still can’t believe they put her in my class. My class!’ he told the room emphatically, ‘My baby cousin, in my Transfiguration class!’

‘Don’t let her hear you call her that;’ Albus warned with a grin, ‘she might be your baby cousin but she's much better at that stuff than you.’

‘Whatever,’ James grumbled and returned to his work.

Anastacia settled herself more comfortably in her chair and tried to do the same, but she couldn’t keep the silly smile off her face as she listened to the continued banter and questions flying around the room.

What would seem to an outside observer to be just a normal night of talking and homework ran so much deeper for her. Just to have her friends here, beside her, to feel normal…she couldn’t thank Scorpius enough.

Rose re-entered the room at a run, banging the door shut behind her. She skidded to a halt beside Anastacia’s overstuffed chair.

‘Stac,’ she exclaimed, panting slightly, ‘git-face is coming up the corridor!’

James groaned and got to his feet, throwing the book down on the sofa.

‘Not tonight! Can’t I just tell him to get lost?’

‘This is his common room too,’ Stac reminded him, feeling just about as enthusiastic as he to see her fellow Head.

‘But he’s a git,’ Sam said slowly, as if that explained everything.

And perhaps it did, but there was nevertheless nothing she could do about that. So she contented herself with giving them both warning looks as the door opened once more and Marcus entered the room.

He paused on the threshold, surprised to see so many people present, but quickly recovered himself and moved to Stac’s side. Eyes on James and Sam the whole time, he bent to drop a peck on her cheek.

Anastacia’s hands clenched in her side as she forced herself to sit still and not wipe the feel of his mouth off her cheek.

Across from her, James and Sam gave Marcus matching death-glares. James felt as if every muscle in his body was wound tight, ready to spring up and punch the dark boy’s face in at a moment’s notice.

‘Anastacia, my dear one, you wouldn’t mind taking patrol alone tonight, would you? I’d do it myself, but I have a rather…pressing engagement in Ravenclaw Tower.’

‘Oh?’ Stac replied, her tone cool, ‘And just what would this ‘engagement’ entail?’

‘Just a problem that needs sorting out. Nothing for you to worry your pretty head over.’

‘But Sylvia Blackthorn is allowed to worry her pretty head over it?’ Rose asked coolly, watching his reaction in an almost clinical fashion, ‘She is the latest addition to your harem, isn’t she?’

‘You’re welcome to join me and find out, pet,’ Marcus countered smoothly, ‘although I don’t know why it’s harems you’re worried about, since you’ve got your own right here.’

He gestured broadly around the room, taking in the fact that the girls were outnumbered two-to-one.

Now all the boys were on their feet, James and Sam with their wands drawn.

‘Enough!’ Anastacia ordered, placing herself in front of Marcus, facing the others.

‘That’s enough, from all of you. Sit down, you lot, and put those away. And as for you,’ she continued, rounding on Marcus, ‘the only reason I’m going to say yes to your request is because I know that you’ll do what you like regardless of what I say, so I may as well be secure in the knowledge that one of us is going to do our duty.’

‘Yeah, keep telling yourself that, love,’ he smirked, but she held up a hand in front of him and turned away.

‘Go away, Marcus. Just…go. No one wants to listen to you.’

Unfortunately, even after Marcus’ departure, the atmosphere in the room didn’t lighten. James and Sam were far too angry to concentrate, and Anastacia was looking decidedly wan.

At around ten o’clock, Stac turned them all out of the room with strict instructions to go straight back to Gryffindor Tower and set off for the entrance hall to start patrolling.

‘Git,’ Sam remarked darkly as they neared the portrait hole.

‘Too right,’ James agreed softly, so that Rose couldn’t hear, ‘but what are we going to do about it?’

‘I’m sure we could come up with something;’ Sam replied, his face slowly breaking into a smile, ‘are you thinking what I’m thinking?’

James’ answering grin was more hard than happy, and as he climbed through the portrait hole, he uttered one word under his breath;

‘Revenge.’

 




The plan took a few days to prepare, as there were a couple of vital elements that couldn’t be gathered overnight.

A secret lunchtime excursion was made to Hogsmeade, where James’ Uncle George had left a parcel of the finest Wartcap powder available in the storeroom along with special equipment for the storage and utilisation of said powder.

Sam and James were coming out of the passage behind the One-Eyed witch when Albus caught them.

‘Please tell me you went out for something more important than a pocketful of sweets.’

Sam scoffed and slung his arm around Albus’ shoulders.

‘Albus, me boy, you know us better than that. We just got some essential supplies for a little treat we’re planning for Marcus.’

Albus stopped dead and turned to them with a fierce expression that looked totally out of place on his placid face.

‘I want in,’ he told them bluntly.

‘No. Absolutely not,’ James declared shaking his head, but Albus was speaking again.

‘I’m just as mad as you about all the stuff he said. He was totally out of line with that stuff about Rose, and he treats Stac like dirt. He needs to be taught a lesson.’

‘One which we’re perfectly capable of teaching ourselves,’ Sam said, crossing his arms.

James nodded, glad that they were in agreement, but groaned when his friend continued.

‘So what can you bring to the table?’

Albus smiled slyly at them.

‘Wait till you see what I’ve got.’

 


That night, finally having acquired all the things they needed, Sam and James met up with Albus in an empty classroom to prepare.

‘Careful,’ Sam cautioned as James, his hands protected by thick gloves, coated an envelope inside and out with a thin paste made from the Wartcap powder.

Albus was fixing protective leather gauntlet-style shoes on to the feet of an owl that had arrived that afternoon, courtesy of the ever thoughtful Uncle George. This way, no one would be able to trace the letter back to them.

‘Right, that should about do it,’ James said as he carefully levitated the letter into the air and left it hanging there to dry, ‘just give that thing a wide berth. How are you doing, Al?’

‘Almost done. Give us a hand, would you Sam? I think he’s getting tetchy.’

Sam went to calm the restless owl and James started to clean up his equipment. He very carefully sealed the jar containing the remainder of the powder and then vanished the whole thing.

‘We’re done here, James,’ Sam announced. Albus gave the owl a handful of owl treats and took it to the open window. The tawny bird launched itself into the air and headed off towards the Owlery.

‘And you’re sure he’ll come back in time for breakfast tomorrow?’ James queried.

‘Well, as sure as you can be about an owl;’ Albus reminded him mildly, ‘he is a bird, after all.’

‘It’ll work, James, don’t worry. We’ve put too much work into it for it to go wrong,’ Sam reassured his best friend as they collected the envelope and left the classroom.

Their last stop was the kitchens, where James had a private word with Nilla, one of the head house elves and an old friend. Once he’d explained the situation, Nilla, who like the other house elves worshipped Stac from afar, was more than happy to participate.

She waved the boys off, their pockets bulging with food forced upon them by the delighted house elves. As they stepped out the door hidden in the portrait, James saw her tuck a small silver vial in a pocket of her tea-towel.

‘And that’s what a little bit of niceness gets you,’ Albus commented to no one in particular when they were on their way back to the Tower, ‘Nilla was practically falling over herself to help, and all because Stac once spoke to her nicely and smiles whenever she sees her.’

Sam grunted, ready for bed now that their little adventure was over, but James privately agreed with his brother. That was something Marcus could learn from Stac – the power of a little calculated kindness.

Not that Stac’s kindness was calculated, but…James was suddenly very glad he wasn’t the type to think out loud. Here he was, digging himself a hole, and the only person he was holding a conversation with was himself.

He definitely needed more sleep.

 




*

James was awoken the next morning by something tapping at the window near his bed. He quickly got up and let the owl in before it could wake his year mates. Then he woke Sam, who grumbled for a moment before he remembered what was going on, upon which he shot out of bed, buzzing with anticipation.

Together, they carefully donned their dragon hide gloves and pulled the envelope from its hiding place in the corner of the room. They gave it to the owl, who seemed to feel no discomfort and didn’t break out in warts, which they took as a sign that the shoes were successful.

‘Don’t deliver it until the Hall is full, okay?’ James whispered to the owl, hoping that it could understand him. His own owl, Cluf, was as bright as anything, more intelligent, he was sure, than many of the Slytherins. With this new owl, however, he just didn’t know.

The owl appeared to have understood, at any rate, and he was sure his uncle wouldn’t have sent him a stupid owl, so he shooed it out the window and got dressed.

James and Sam were once again ready before anyone else in their dorm, but they had to wait in the common room for nearly an half an hour before Albus finally came down the stairs.

‘Where have you been?’ Sam asked testily as they hurried through the portrait hole and joined the students flocking to the Great Hall.

‘Stop worrying,’ Albus breezed, taking a seat at the Gryffindor table, ‘just relax.’

This was easier said then done when you were waiting for the signal to start your grand plan, but Sam and James did the best they could. They watched as Marcus, who was sitting at the Ravenclaw table, laughed and joked with his friends. Sitting next to him, Sylvia Blackthorn tossed her hair and smiled coquettishly at him over the rim of her goblet.

‘Morning boys,’ Anastacia greeted them as she slid into her seat on the other side of the table, ‘what’s up?’

James jumped slightly but presented an innocent face to her scrutiny.

‘Nothing much. Bit nervous about Charms; Flitwick’s been on my case for weeks and I think I did the homework wrong.’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ she reassured him warmly, but then Sam dug his elbow into James’ ribs and hissed,

‘Look! There he goes!’

The tawny owl was soaring over the heads of the students, arriving just as the rest of the owls were leaving. It dropped its letter on the table in front of Marcus and followed its fellows out the window.

The three boys watched breathlessly as Marcus reached out and picked up the letter.

He only had time to pick up the envelope and slide his thumb under the seal before he let out a yelp and dropped it. Even from their seats on the other side of the Hall, Sam, Albus and James could clearly see his hands held up in front of his face, which bore a horrified expression.

The skin on his hands was turning greyish and crusty, his knuckles becoming huge and bulbous. The students around him were recoiling in terror. Sylvia’s jaw was just about on the table, and she sat unmoving, us if her mind was unable to comprehend what she was seeing.

‘Now,’ whispered James under his breath, and the three boys raised their wands and whispered,

Furnunculus!

The effect was instantaneous. Hit by three spells at once, Marcus’ face, neck and hands erupted into the biggest, reddest, most disgusting boils that anyone had ever seen.

Marcus screamed like a girl upon sight of this new development and fell sideways, knocking into the boy sitting next to him.

This movement caused some of his boils to burst, and an ugly, viscous yellow liquid splattered over the people around him, who shrieked and yelled and tried to get away.

The rest of the Hall was hovering between laughter and concern, with a few titters rising from the younger students, but nothing much more than that.

Then Marcus just had to go and seal his own fate. With no small amount of difficulty, he picked up a spoon from the table and peered anxiously at his reflection in the back.

‘No!’ he cried pathetically, his voice clear to all, as all noise had dropped off so as to hear him speak, ‘My face!’

That did it. The rest of the Hall, minus Ravenclaw (and there were a few gigglers there too) broke into guffaws and chortles and snickers and every other type of laughter imaginable.

Marcus, unable to handle so much ridicule and disfigurement at the same time, tried to push his way out from the table, but only succeeded in falling off the bench, which of course only made people laugh more.

‘Time for the piece de resistance,’ Albus murmured to the others with a smirk. He turned around in his seat to nod to Scorpius, sitting on the other side of the Hall at the Slytherin table.

Scorpius nodded back and muttered a spell of his own, shooting it towards the Ravenclaws. Then, in a voice so loud and clear he must have used some sort of a charm, he called across the room,

‘Hey, Blackthorn! What do you think of your boyfriend now?’

Sylvia’s face was still shocked, mouth still hanging slackly open. However, her voice was just as loud as his as she spoke,

‘Oh, he’s just as much of a git as he’s always been. The only reason anyone goes for him is his looks. That and he’s rich. The boils might actually be an improvement, though; now he won’t be able to talk.’

As soon as the words were spoken, she clapped her hands over her mouth, her eyes full of dismay, but she couldn’t retract the words. They only made the other students laugh louder, the boys in particular.

James, Sam and Albus couldn’t even find it in themselves to feel guilty. If Marcus was almost universally despised, that wasn’t their fault, was it?

Marcus gave a final little yelp at what he’d heard and ran from the hall. To add insult to injury, his trousers fell when he was nearly at the door and he half-fell out into the entrance hall, trying to tug up his clothes and run at the same time.

‘Blimey, that was good,’ Sam chortled next to James, his face red under his dark skin. James started to agree, but caught sight of Anastacia’s unsmiling face on the other side of the table.

‘Wartcap powder in the letter,’ she began quietly, ‘a fununculus charm, and truth potion in her drink.’

‘Actually, it was Veritaserum,’ Albus corrected blithely. When she pursed her lips at him, he just smiled.

‘Only the best for a Wotter, hey James?’

But James was watching his friend closely.

‘Stac,’ he started, and faltered, unsure of how to phrase it.

‘Stac,’ he tried again, going for blunt, ‘he’s a real bastard, you know that. Look how he treated you and Rose last night. He deserved it.’

‘You could have really hurt someone, James,’ she chastised him, her face and voice concerned, ‘or you could have been caught, with Veritaserum, no less, and then where would you be?’

‘Nah, no one was going to get hurt, Stac;’ Sam explained, still smiling, ‘we planned it all too carefully.’

‘Yeah, lighten up,’ Hugo interjected from Albus’ other side.

The four of them glared at him. Hugo’s ears turned red and he returned his attention to his plate, with a muttered,

‘Okay, sorry. Not listening anymore.’

‘Come on, Stac, it was all for you,’ James told her in a soft voice.

Her face softened somewhat, and she reached out to squeeze his hand on the table.

‘Well, Rose too, but at least half of it was definitely for you,’ Sam added thoughtfully.

Moment ruined. Stac let go of James’ hand and fixed Albus with a stern gaze.

‘Veritaserum? Start talking – where did you get it?’

‘Nicked it,’ was the careless reply, which of course threw the small group into momentary chaos. This chaos only got worse when Rose heard what was happening and came to give her two cents worth.

Sam shot James a ‘look’, and James knew exactly what he was thinking;

Honestly, who could understand these birds? It was as if they didn’t want to be defended!

It took the rest of breakfast to calm the two of them down, and it wasn’t until they were leaving the Hall that James had a chance to talk to Stac again.

‘Forget what Sam said,’ he whispered as they dodged a pair of slow-walking second years who were avidly discussing that morning’s events, ‘the whole thing was for you. Well, it was for me, at least. Rose can fight her own battles.’

This got a smile, but it seemed faintly sad, and James couldn’t figure out what he’d said wrong. So he asked.

‘Nothing wrong, per se. Just…’ she paused for a long moment.

‘I wish you’d let me fight my own battles sometimes.’

He was about to reply, but she hurried on ahead. As she entered the classroom, she was flanked immediately by Creeten and Iago, the latter glaring at James as he gazed after her.

James sighed and took his own place beside Sam, forced to endure yet another lesson with a swag load of worries and a head full of questions.

  




Just so you know, I am not a native French speaker (I studied it as a student) so I’m sorry if some of my translations are off. Also, for those who speak French and may have noticed that I use the ‘vous’ form when people speak to Stac, there is a reason; she is of higher status than those who speak to her, enabling the use of the formal pronoun.
As usual, I love reading your reviews, so please keep them coming!


Chapter 7: A 'Those' Day
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Beautiful image by Ande @ TDA
  

A ‘Those’ Day


Perfect Day – Superchic[k]

‘A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.’
- Author Unknown


 






Days, as they have a habit of doing, soon turned into weeks. October seemed to have barely begun when the students came down to breakfast one morning to find the Great Hall half-decorated for the Halloween feast that evening.

The smell of baking, roasting, cooking and boiling pumpkin hung heavy in the air. Sam took a deep breath in through his nose as he sat at the Gryffindor table.

‘Can’t wait till tonight. It’ll be the best,’ he commented happily as James sat down beside him.

James nodded vaguely, scanning the crowded room for the seventh year Gryffindor girls. As far as he could see, none of them were down from the dormitory yet.

For the past week or so, Stac had been…not so much avoiding him as placing herself in situations where she didn’t have to be around him. At least, that’s what he was telling himself.

He didn’t want to admit that she may actually not want to talk to him or sit with him or even see him.

‘Finally,’ he muttered under his breath as Jaya, Margie and Stac hurried through the double doors and down the row between tables.

‘Morning,’ Jaya breezed as she slid into a seat opposite them. Stac sat down beside her, intent on her breakfast, not even looking up as she said hello.

Sam, engaged at once with Jaya in a vehement discussion regarding proposed new Quidditch laws, didn’t seem to notice anything unusual in Stac’s behaviour.

With studied casualness, James nudged Stac’s hand with his goblet.

‘So you hear about the feast tonight? Apparently Hagrid and Vem have something planned.’

She shook her head, still not meeting his eyes. Jams continued on, regardless.

‘Yeah, Owen was saying Vem’s been all secretive for months now. He couldn’t figure out why, but yesterday he figured out it must have something to do with tonight. Vem’s been sneaking off to see Hagrid all the time too, apparently, and he keeps getting Owen’s mum to send stuff in. Who knows why, I mean, he could just go to Hogsmeade and get it, couldn’t he?’

In some small and clinically detached corner of his brain, James knew he was babbling, but there was nothing he could do about it. He didn’t seem to be able to stop.

‘It can’t be easy having a teacher for an uncle though, can it? I mean, Vem’s cool and all, and Owen says he doesn’t dob on him to his mum or anything, but it’s still got to be hard, right?’

By this point, the rest of the seventh years were staring at James like he’d suddenly grown an extra head. James took a deep breath and held it in an attempt to stop talking.

‘Are you alright?’ Jaya asked curiously.

James opened his mouth, but Sam cut in first.

‘We none of us slept well last night. Some stupid owl got lost and was sitting on the ledge above our window for hours. We tried to get it inside, but the stupid thing just sat there.’

James turned to his friend, ready to tell him that that was the worst excuse he’d ever heard, and why did he need an excuse anyway, but Sam stomped hard on his foot under the table and gave him an inscrutable look.

So James did the smart thing and kept his mouth shut.

Breakfast passed quickly after that. James thought it was best to stay quiet in case he started to talk uncontrollably again.

As an extra precaution, he stuffed his mouth with food. Even he would have had trouble talking through the amount of kippers and eggs that he managed to fit in his maw.

Looking faintly disgusted, the three girls rose from the table.

‘We’re heading off,’ Margie announced, ‘see you in there.’

Sam nodded, and they trooped off towards the doors.

They didn’t make it very far, however; the other two female seventh year Gryffindors called out to them before they were half-way along the table. The girls stood for a few moments, chatting away animatedly.

‘So what do you thinks’ up with Stac?’ James asked Sam curiously, his eyes on the small group.

Sam shrugged negligently.

‘Something’s up? This is the first I’ve heard of it.’

James tore his attentions away from the girls to look at his friend.

‘You seriously don’t see it?’

‘See what?’ Sam asked innocently.

Almost…too innocently.

‘Are you in on it, then?’

James’ tone was starting to get hard. Sam held up his hands defensively.

‘Hey, I never said I was in on nothing. Don’t go all mental Potter on me, ‘kay? It doesn’t work.’

He started to get up from his seat. James did the same, shamefacedly.

‘Sorry,’ he muttered, hands shoved in his pockets, ‘just…she’s been, you know, weird for like a week now. I just want to know what’s going on.’

‘Probably some chick thing,’ Sam reasoned wisely, strolling down the row, ‘better not to think about it. You’ll only give yourself a headache.’

‘Yeah, maybe,’ James agreed.

But his eyes were drawn unswervingly back to the group of girls. He didn’t even realise that he was looking at them, his head moving to keep his gaze fixed as the group headed for the doors.

Next to him, Sam gave a small smirk and ushered his absent-minded friend out of the Hall.







As they were crossing the entrance hall, a sudden gust of wind blew in through the open door. It caught the edges of the girl’s books and anything that wasn’t stuck down, such as schedules and the like, whipped out of their hands and fluttered to the floor.

Sam and James hurried across the hall to help the girls pick up their paper. James was handing Stac her timetable when he saw her stiffen, her gaze on something beyond him.

At first he thought it was her normal reaction to seeing one of the Slytherins, but something about her behaviour seemed odd.

He turned to look behind him, searching for what she’d seen. The only people there were some fifth years heading down to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, presumably for a Care of Magical Creatures lesson.

That would be right. He could see Hagrid’s form against the trees. He seemed to be holding something, his hands in the air as if they rested upon something invisible…

Comprehension dawning, James turned back to Stac. But she was gone, hurrying up the stairs towards their Defence classroom.

James clenched his fist, and heard a rustle of paper. He looked down.

He was still holding her timetable. She’d been in such a rush to leave that she hadn’t even taken it from him.

That settled it. He followed her, striding quickly across the hall, his long legs eating up the distance much faster than she could walk.

He was so intent on talking to her that he barely noticed the short Margie until he ran into her.

‘Mind it!’

‘Sorry,’ James apologised, bending down to pick up someone’s things for the second time that morning, ‘wasn’t watching where I was going.’

‘You think?’ she muttered sarcastically, but she accepted her books with a joking smile.

Which faded as she took in his expression.

‘Oh no,’ she warned him, hand on his chest, ‘now wait just a minute.’

‘Do you mind? I have to speak to Stac.’

He tried to step around her, but, small as she was, she was having none of it.

‘I know. That’s what I’m talking about.’

That gave him pause.

‘What?’

Margie removed her hand and stepped out of the middle of the corridor. James did the same, moving to stand beside the wall where he wasn’t obstructing anyone’s path.

‘You’ve been watching her like a hawk for days, and now you’ve got that face you get just before the dam breaks and you go confront someone.’

James tried to laugh it off, but she just rolled her eyes.

‘My brother’s exactly the same, and I’ve had enough practice at reading him to not be fooled by the likes of you.’

She resettled her armful of books and parchment, adjusting the quill that was stuck behind her ear for safe keeping.

‘Now, you listen to me; you are not to go harassing Anastacia, okay? Merlin knows she’s got enough on her plate at the moment.’

That last was almost an aside, and James, about to ask what she meant, thought better of it and tried a different tack.

‘Doesn’t it annoy you? Knowing she has secrets and that she won’t tell them? Like the fact that she can see Thestrals, but she pretends not to.’

Margie regarded James with some shock. Her face clearly said that she hadn’t expected him to be that observant.

‘Of course it annoys me;’ she agreed finally, ‘it pisses the hell out of me. It makes me feel like she doesn’t trust me.’

She shrugged, her face wry.

‘But she does trust me. I know that; even if she doesn’t tell me everything, it’s not because she doesn’t want to.’

‘What do you mean?’ James asked, frowning.

‘I – we – get the feeling that it’s because she can’t tell us something. Something really big. Not now, anyway. We just have to give her time.’

James quirked an eyebrow.

‘Time?’

‘Yes, time.’

Margie hugged her books a bit closer to her chest, looking him direct in the eye. James felt slightly uncomfortable under the scrutiny of her gaze.

‘When she’s ready, she’ll tell us. Until then, we need to be there for her and support her, because that’s all we can do. And that goes for you too.’

She nodded emphatically and turned to go into the classroom. James stifled a sigh and followed her, taking a seat next to Sam. Waiting was all very well and good in theory, but it was hellishly difficult in practice.

‘Today, ladies and gents, I have a very special lesson for you.’

Without any preamble, Professor Vem strode to the front of the class and began his lesson.

‘Since it is Halloween, I thought that we should celebrate.’

Anyone who wasn’t already smiling perked up considerably at that. Defence Against the Dark Arts was a good lesson on the worst of days. A celebration could turn it into the best lesson ever.

‘As I was saying, it is Halloween, so I’ve decided that a little friendly contest is in order.’

Even better. Suddenly the classroom was full not of individual students, but of two houses. Ravenclaw and Gryffindor collectively glared at each other from across the room, the scent of competition strong in the air.

‘To that end, I have released thirty-five Boggarts within the confines of the upper floors. They have been enchanted to stay within certain rooms, but they are hiding, so you will need to look for them. When you find and neutralize a Boggart, you will receive a mark for your house team.’

He flourished his wand at the blackboard, upon which there appeared two columns, one marked Gryffindor and the other Ravenclaw. They were both currently blank of points.

‘You have until the end of the lesson to find and deal with as many Boggarts as possible. The winning team will receive a suitable and appropriate prize.’

In the past, Professor Vem’s ‘suitable and appropriate’ prizes had included such things as an automatic pass in class for a whole term, a free day in Hogsmeade with a friend, and a month’s supply of chocolate, so it was no surprise that everyone rushed out of the class as fast as they could once the word was given.

‘Go!’

James and Sam sprinted for the stairs to the upper floors.

‘Sixth?’ Sam shouted as they took the steps two at a time.

James nodded; the sixth floor was the one with the most disused classrooms. He couldn’t see Professor Vem putting a Boggart in a used classroom, so that was probably their best bet.

They cleared the stairs and, still running, made for the nearest door. Inside, they began to pull apart all the possible places a Boggart would hide, but with no luck.

They ran back out into the corridor and picked another room. Inside were a pair of Ravenclaws, who didn’t even look up as they entered.

 ‘Try in there,’ James nudged Sam towards the back row of desks while he headed towards a box in the corner of the room. Opening it, he found nothing.

‘Got one!’ Sam yelled.

James turned quickly to find his friend being confronted by a giant scorpion.

Riddikulus!’ Sam declared in a calm voice.

The scorpion began to chase its stinging tail to the sound of James and Sam’s laughter, spinning round and round in circles until it disappeared in a puff of smoke.

‘Why are you afraid of scorpions?’ James asked curiously, ‘They don’t even live in England. Have you ever actually seen one?’

‘No, but–’ Sam started to say, but was cut off by the furious Ravenclaws.

‘This was our room and that was our Boggart! You stole it!’

‘Oh, get over it,’ Sam groaned as they headed out the door.

Unwilling to face the same treatment again, James and Sam headed for the last few rooms off the corridor, way down at the end of the passageway. From the doors they passed they could hear the sound of yelling, yelps and laughter.

They hoped the Gryffindors were the ones laughing.

James pushed open one of the doors and they entered the room. Inside, Sam found two Boggarts, which he dispensed just easily as the last one. He found his fourth Boggart in the next room, yet again a scorpion.

James was starting to feel a bit put out. He hadn’t found any Boggarts yet and he felt he was letting the team down. So he redoubled his efforts once they reached the last room in the corridor.

While Sam checked the desks, James looked in the teacher’s desk and the boxes and drawers around it. When they all proved to be empty, he went to the cupboard at the side of the classroom.

He pulled open the door…to see a limp body lying on the floor, covered with blood. For a moment all he could do was stare in horrified fascination. The long brown hair, the pale skin…he recognised it all.

A small part of him was screaming that it was all a trick, that it wasn’t real, but still…it seemed so real.

He reached out a faltering hand towards the figure.

‘You alright, mate?’

Sam’s curious voice brought him back to reality. He muttered the spell quickly and turned his back on the sight, not game to see what happened. Sam let out a surprised bark of laughter and the Boggart gave a slight ‘pop’ and disappeared.

‘What was that?’ Sam asked once the room was silent again.

From outside came the sound of running feet, coming closer to their classroom.

‘Stac,’ James told him quietly before they were interrupted, ‘it showed me Stac. And she was dead.’ 







When they returned to the classroom just before the end of the lesson. It became clear that Gryffindor had won by a large margin. Their prize was a gigantic gift basket from Honeydukes, to be shared out between them.

Sam scored a Honeydukes gift voucher as an extra prize, as he had managed to deal with nine of Gryffindor’s twenty-eight Boggarts. Ravenclaw had only managed a measly seven, and most of them, Marcus especially, shot nasty looks at the Gryffindors as they left the room, chattering triumphantly.

‘Alright, prize time,’ Sam crowed happily as they followed the rest of the class down the corridor.

James returned his high-five, his mind on the gift-basket that Professor Vem had sent to the Gryffindor common room. Everyone else seemed to be thinking the same thing; those who had Ancient Runes were bemoaning the class and asking friends to save them something good.

He was surprised, then, to see Jaya and Stac looking slightly grim. He nudged Sam and gestured towards the girls.

‘Think the Boggarts were too much for them?’

Sam let out a low whistle.

‘Careful, mate. Don’t let them hear you say that. They’ll murder you.’

‘And, being female, probably know the perfect place to dump the body,’ Margie trilled happily from behind them.

She swept past the stunned and embarrassed boys to join her friends. Within a few seconds, she had both of them laughing, their problems, whatever they were, apparently forgotten.

James and Sam joined the rest of the Gryffindors who didn’t do Ancient Runes in the common room, where they spent the next hour scoffing down sweets and retelling their personal encounters with the Boggarts, each tale more ridiculous than the last.

‘Seriously,’ Sam told the collection of girls who seemed to gravitate towards him wherever he was, ‘by the time I’d seen the fourth one, I barely needed the spell to laugh. I could have left it off and just dealt with them on my own!’

The girls giggled. One of them made a comment about how brave he was, and the others glared at her, angry that they hadn’t thought to say it first.

Across the room, Jaya was curled up with a book before the fireplace. She glanced up, meeting James’ amused look, and rolled her eyes tolerantly. James grinned even wider.

‘Alright, ladies, I’m sorry, but the cult of Jordan is no longer accepting applications. We’re full up, sorry to say.’

James dragged Sam from his chair to the girls’ pouts and protests, but the dark boy didn’t seem to mind. He threw himself down next to Jaya on an overstuffed couch next to the hearth and ran his hands through his hair.

‘Tell you what, they can get out of hand.’

‘My heart bleeds with sympathy,’ was her dry reply, ‘you’ve managed to waste the best part of our free period doing nothing, you’ve disturbed the room enough that no one else has been able to do anything, and we’re going to have to leave for History of Magic in about three minutes. Satisfied?’

Sam grinned broadly at her.

‘Pretty much!’

The rest of their housemates joined them in History of Magic, which they had with the Hufflepuffs, several of whom had heard the Ravenclaws’ version of the morning’s events and were curious to hear the Gryffindors’ side.

‘They said that?’

Sam was staring incredulously at Naomi Gibbons, a plump Hufflepuff with a riot of fair curls atop her head. She had been retelling the story as she had heard it from some Ravenclaws; that the Gryffindors had tried to stun several Ravenclaw students in an attempt to get to the Boggarts first.

‘She said eventually they decided not to fight you and to let you win, since you all seem so desperate to do so.’

She and Margie both let out bright peals of laughter at the sight of the boys’ faces. Jaya sighed and patted Sam’s arm.

‘Let it go, just let it go. Can we please have one Halloween at school were you don’t try to settle a score with someone?’

‘I never–’ Sam began indignantly, but James quickly kicked him and gestured to the front of the class, where Professor Binns was gliding through the wall.

Not that Professor Binns would have done anything if they’d continued to talk, but the fact was that Sam had had nothing whatsoever to do with any of the Halloween pranks of the previous years. The score-settling had all been himself and Stac, well, Stac really. He’d just gone along, as per usual.

However, everyone thought that it had been him and Sam, and while he didn’t really mind people knowing his best friend wasn’t involved, in light of Stac’s behaviour over the past few weeks, now probably wasn’t the best time to let the news out.

The lesson was as uneventful as always, somehow seeming even worse after the morning’s activities. The Professor droned on and on about something, what it was exactly, no one could have said.

There was one point of interest, though. About half-way through the lesson, James looked up from the game of hangman he and Sam were playing to witness a curious happening.

He wasn’t paying any attention to what Professor Binns was saying, and therefore only caught the faintest edge of the lecture.

‘These … noble…if you will … Muggles and Wizards … world over. They in turn answered … three ruling … one … East … Asia, and … Europe.’

Seemingly for no reason, Stac suddenly sat bolt upright in her chair, staring at the Professor. She was scarcely breathing, all her attention focused on what he was saying. James tore his gaze from her and tried to listen in.

‘However, by the end of the 12th century, none remained. It has been theorized that there were, in fact, individuals still living up until the 16th century, controlling world politics from behind the scenes. However, this can be dismissed as a fanciful tale, as there is no proof to support it.’

She gave a small sigh and sank back into her seat, the tension leaving her frame. James frowned, not understanding anything of what had just happened.

He nudged Sam, who was staring with a fierce expression at his parchment, trying to figure out what word James had chosen.

‘What’s Binns been talking about, hey?’

‘Blowed if I know,’ Sam grunted, slightly surprised at the sudden show of interest.

James didn’t want to complicate matters by explaining what had just passed, so he shook his head and returned to the game.

He did keep one eye on Stac, though.







At lunch, there were pumpkin pies and pasties dotted here and there along the table, a taste of what was to come later that night. The seventh year Gryffindors, especially the boys, fell upon the food hungrily after their eventful morning. Considering the amount of chocolate they’d had earlier, it would have surprised some people how much the boys managed to eat, but eat they did.

Stac sat through the meal without talking much, trying to make herself as small as possible. Ever since the prank on Marcus, Creeten had nearly doubled her guard. The fact that someone had staged something so big on the Head Boy made him nervous; nothing she said could convince him that whoever it was wouldn’t try something like it on her.

Because of his sudden bout of over-protectiveness, Stac feared daily for the safety of her friends, James in particular. One wrong step, one look that Creeten interpreted badly, and James would almost certainly find himself in the worst kind of trouble.

To that end, she was doing her best to fade into the woodwork. Not that it was working. Her girlfriends were on the verge of kidnapping her and forcing her to say what was going on. James watched her every move out of the corner of his eye. That hurt look was never far from the surface of his gaze now, and that made life more difficult than anything else.

She’d discussed things with Celeste and Scorpius, and they agreed with her; she just had to lie a little lower than usual until Creeten got rid of whatever bee was in his bonnet. Then everything could go back to normal.

But today was going to be even worse than usual; they had double Potions after lunch.

With the Slytherins.

 





The girls dawdled on the way to the dungeons after lunch. No one was eager to enter the classroom, not even the Slytherins. As they started down the stairs to the lower floor, a small bundle of robes hurtled across the entrance hall and connected squarely with Anastacia’s stomach.

‘Oof!’

Looking down, she saw bright blue eyes beaming up at her out of a mess of pale hair, and found that there was a person attached to the robes.

‘Stac!’

Theodora Alice Augusta Longbottom, known to her friends as Tessie, hugged the older and taller girl even tighter around the middle. Stac gave a surprised little laugh and hugged her back, momentarily not caring who saw.

Creeten could hardly get angry at her for hugging the Headmaster’s daughter, now, could he?

‘When did you get back?’

‘Just now; I haven’t even seen Lily yet. I was walking in and I saw you crossing the hall. Sorry if I scared you.’

There was a reason that Tessie and Lily were best friends. Tessie, who, by the age of fourteen, had already finished the school Herbology curriculum, had been given the opportunity to study overseas with Phyllida Spore, an old friend of Professor Sprout. She’d been away since the end of school the year before, travelling with the famous author all over the world.

Tessie also understood the stigma of living with a famous father. The two girls had known each other since birth, and had always been close.
Once they arrived at Hogwarts, they gravitated towards Anastacia inexplicably, just like the rest of their families and friends. She’d always had a soft spot for the little girl with the big eyes; it wasn’t easy going to the school where your father was the Headmaster.

Tessie compensated for it by assisting the Wotter clan with their spectacular birthday parties, commonly held in her mother’s pub in Hogsmeade, by placing the necessary silencing and sleeping spells on the building beforehand.

‘Sorry, I’d better let you go,’ Tessie apologized as she took in the other girls waiting patiently behind Anastacia, ‘I’ll see you later.’

Stac gave her a warm smile and squeezed her arm before continuing down the stairs.

As she reached the bottom, she heard squeals coming from above.

Lily!

Tessie!

The seventh year girls smiled and entered the classroom on a happier note than expected.

 

‘Attention! Attention, please!’

The Head of Slytherin house and the Potions teacher, Professor Danté, stood at the front of the classroom adjusting his robe fastidiously.

Known to the student population as ‘The Dandy’ due to his almost obsessive preoccupation with fashion and grooming, Professor Danté was nevertheless a stern and, on occasion, ruthless teacher. He disliked Gryffindor house intensely and therefore had had it in for James and Sam the second they’d first set foot on school grounds.

Or, at least, that was their story, and they were sticking to it.

‘As you well know, at the end of this year you will all be taking your N.E.W.T.S. Some of you, I will tell you now, will fail, and there is nothing that can be done about that. You know who you are.’

His eyes bore into James and Sam, the latter of whom yawned widely and rolled his eyes.

‘So, in light of that, I wish to see today what you think you have learnt during your time at Hogwarts. You have two hours to prepare the potion that you think does the most justice to your skills. I wish to receive a sample of your potion on my desk before the end of the class. If the class finishes and you have not given this sample, you will receive no marks for the entire month’s lessons.’

He looked around the room, one eyebrow scornfully raised as his gaze hovered over the Gryffindors.

‘You may begin.’

 

What was it with the teachers and giving challenges today? Didn’t they have enough on their plates already?

Anastacia tried to put her annoyance aside as she collected ingredients from the cupboard. After ferrying armfuls of assorted bits and pieces back to the table she shared with Jaya, she stopped, took a deep breath, and concentrated on her work.

‘And what is this?’

Professor Danté stood by their table, his scornful expression somewhat subdued. Jaya and Stac were the best students in the class by a long shot, and he grudgingly admitted the some level of civility, despite their house allegiance.

‘Wolfsbane Potion, Miss Sangraal? Do you really think so?’

‘I’m sure I can handle it, Professor,’ Anastacia replied firmly, stoking the fire beneath her cauldron and beginning on her ingredients.

‘And you, Miss Sarin?’

Jaya shot him a tight smile, her wand emitting a stream of cool air to keep her Ashwinder Eggs frozen.

‘Amortentia, sir.’

‘Carry on, then.’

He left to go prowling the other tables. Anastacia heard him challenge James about his intention to produce a Calming Draught, which the Professor considered beneath what was expected of a seventh year student. James grimly stuck to his decision; he’d never been a particularly good student at Potions, and Stac guessed he wanted to go for something familiar. As much as he said it didn’t matter, not even he wanted to risk losing a whole month’s marks.

The room gradually become still, the quiet broken only by the stirring of cauldrons and the thud of knives on chopping boards.

Stac reached over to the other side of the table for the scales, which Jaya had borrowed. She carefully measured out the required amount of fluxweed, and gathered it up, ready to drop into her cauldron piece by piece.

As she held her hand over the simmering potion, a waft of something sweet reached her nose. All over the class, students were straightening, taking deep breaths of the steam rising from Jaya’s cauldron.

James remembered his dad telling him about a time they’d brewed Amortentia in class.

‘It smelt like Quidditch, like a broom handle, and treacle tart, and…’

He’d broken off there, too lost in memories to continue, from which the three children had concluded that it had something to do with their mother.

For James, his own experiences with Amortentia were eerily similar; he breathed in the scent of the oil he used to polish his broom and chocolate puddle pudding from his favourite pub near his Uncle’s house in Wales. And then…

He took another, deeper breath, searching for the smell that he could never identify, the one that always hung just out of reach. Something light and citrusy…

 

Anastacia was blindsided by the smell rising from the steaming cauldron. Being the closest to Jaya, she got the full force of the potion’s effects. The tang of salt air filled her nostrils, drifting in off a sea that she’d never seen, only dreamed of. It was tempered with the subtle smell of a cottage garden, simple and homey, the stuffy, smoky aroma of the Hogwarts Express, and–

She started at the fourth smell, new and unexpected. Her hand opened of its own accord. She watched, horrified, as the fluxweed stalks fell slowly towards the surface of the potion.

Just as they hit the liquid, seconds before the whole thing exploded in front of her, several pairs of hands tugged her, hard, pulling her away.

After the air had cleared, Anastacia found herself sitting on the ground behind Creeten, Iago and Flint, who had removed her from the range of the explosion.

On the other side of the bench, Jaya was in turn being shielded by Sam, Owen and Terry.

Standing to her feet, Stac surveyed the smoking wreck of her cauldron and fought furiously not to break into hysterical laughter. That would really worry her friends.

She made a rather garbled apology to the Professor and set about cleaning up her mess. Jaya looked at her with the same shocked expression most of the class wore, but she didn’t have a suitable explanation.

She didn’t have any explanation, not even for herself.

 







James’s hands shook as he measured his potion into the vial and placed it on Professor Danté’s desk. He’d nearly had a hand on Stac when her posse of Slytherins had pulled her away. He hadn’t been fast enough, hadn’t been able to get there and protect her first, and a not-very-small part of him wasn’t happy about it.

Leaving the dungeon, he joined the grand exodus towards the Great Hall. Students were hurrying, talking excitedly, eager to see what the teachers had prepared.

He tried to shake himself out of the blue mood that held him, for his friends’ sake as much as his own.

Sam hustled the other boys through the door. Like the rest of the Gryffindors, he wanted to see what Professor Vem had planned.

At first, it seemed to be the normal decorations; pumpkins on the tables, bats flying around the ceiling, orange streamers festooning everything, and Jack-o-Lanterns replacing the usual floating candles above the tables.

The students were paused near the tables, over which hung big banners that read,

Sit Here If You Dare

No one was sitting yet, not even the Slytherins. The Gryffindor seventh years looked up to the teachers’ table and caught Professor Vem’s eye.

He winked.

Owen smiled and announced in a clear voice,

‘Well? What are you waiting for? Christmas?’

He slid onto the bench, and the moment he sat down, he was suddenly transformed into a pirate, complete with patch and parrot. There was laughter throughout the Hall as other students did the same and donned some sort of costume.

‘So this is what he’s been planning,’ Terry laughed as he took on the appearance of a courtly man, scarily similar to Nearly-Headless Nick.

Sam waved to the girls, who were walking down towards them. He was clad in a white and purple toga, a wreath of laurel leaves on his head. It looked faintly ridiculous atop his dreads, and he took it off after a moment to throw at a first year who was laughing at him.

James was the last of his friends to sit down. He saw Stac smiling at Sam and Josh, who was a clown, complete with white and red make-up, and he slid into place quickly, wanting to get a costume too.

‘What the–?’ Sam yelped, and Terry and Josh burst out laughing. James picked up a plate from the table and took a look at his reflection.

He was dressed as a…zombie, or something to that effect; he was covered with blood, and bits of him appeared to be rotting off.

‘Great,’ he commented dryly, ‘you guys get heroes and I’m an Inferi.’

‘Suits you, mate, it really does,’ Terry chuckled as the Gryffindors around them laughed at the transformation they’d just seen.

But other people had seen it too.







 
Stac let out a small shriek, which she quickly muffled with her hand, but not before Margie had noticed. Then she turned quickly and ran from the Hall, getting lost in the general crush of people, with Margie doing her best to follow.

The fair Gryffindor eventually caught up to her friend when she stopped running on the third floor. Margie rounded a corner to see Anastacia curled into a ball on a window seat.

‘What…the hell…was that all…about?’ Margie puffed, falling onto the seat beside her.

All the anger flooded out of her system at the sight of Anastacia’s face.

Because Stac, the strong one, who never seemed to truly get upset or be unable to deal with anything, was crying. Really crying; her eyes were red and puffy, and, what’s more, she looked terrified.

‘I-i-it’s like in class,’ she hiccoughed, her breathing fractured by her great, gulping sobs, ‘today, with the B-boggarts.’

‘What?’ Margie reached out and hugged the other girl, rubbing her hands soothingly up and down her arms, ‘what about class, love?’

‘That’s what I saw with my Boggart;’ Stac sobbed hopelessly, ‘I saw James lying on the floor, covered in b-b-blood.’

Margie had no answer for that, so she just sat, rubbing her friends back, listening to the faint sounds of the feast coming from downstairs and trying to process her reaction to this news.

So Stac had seen James hurt when she’d seen the Boggart? Well, that would explain her reaction this evening, when he’d turned out in costume. It made sense, really; they were good friends, so why wouldn’t she fear his getting hurt?

Of course, she wasn’t satisfied with that explanation, but her mind shied away from any other. Something, some instinct, told her that anything further was not a situation that would work well for either participant.

‘Do you feel okay about going back to the feast?’ she asked gently after ten minutes or so, when the sobbing had subsided and Stac’s breathing was fairly normal again.

Anastacia nodded, wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her jumper.

‘I’m so sorry about this. I…guess it all just got to be too much. But I shouldn’t have dragged you into this. You’re missing the feast.’

Margie smiled and pulled her to her feet.

‘Sweet, you are so much more important to me than any food in the world.’

Her stomach growled aloud, and both girls laughed weakly.

‘That being said, I wouldn’t mind catching the tail end. If the boys haven’t eaten all the food by now, that is.’

Stopping at a bathroom on the way for Stac to wash her face, they re-entered the Hall to sit down (the costuming spell apparently no longer affecting those who sat) beside Jaya, who turned a confused and concerned face up to them.

She wasn’t the only one.

‘Hey, what’s up?’ James asked concernedly as they sat down, ‘You alright?’

‘Fine, just fine, thanks,’ Stac murmured noncommittally, making an effort to quell the sickness in her stomach brought on by the sight of the fake blood, ‘I wasn’t feeling well, but I’m better now.’

‘So!’ Jaya interjected brightly, breaking the slight silence that had built up since the girls had sat down, ‘Quidditch this weekend!’

James knew she was just trying to distract him, but Sam rose to the bait before he could tell her to be quiet. Soon, nearly the entire table was involved in the discussion, and the neighbouring tables too.

The Ravenclaw seventh years, still fuming after their spectacular defeat that morning, called out with predictions of rain, and the Hufflepuffs joined in, more out of hope than spite. The Hufflepuff side was rubbish; if either Gryffindor or Slytherin got a really good lead in the first game of the year, they had no chance of making up ground and they knew it.

The Gryffindors gamely answered back, of course, and only the arrival of dessert stemmed the tide of cat-calling.

As soon as they were finished their sweets, James hustled his team off to bed. Tensions in the Hall were running high, and the last thing he needed was someone getting into a fight and being suspended right before a match.

Josh, Jaya and James were discussing strategy while climbing the stairs to the Tower when someone stepped out in front of them.

‘A word, Mr Potter?’

James signalled the others to go on ahead and reluctantly stepped out of the way, joining Professor Danté by the wall.

‘A nice little trick you pulled in class today, Mr Potter,’ sneered the Professor, not a hair out of place.

‘Sir?’ James asked with a frown. He didn’t have the faintest idea as to what the Professor was talking about.

‘Don’t play the innocent, Potter; I know it was you. Sabotaging another student’s work like that? What will the Headmaster say?’

James, rolled his eyes comprehension and annoyance dawning.

‘Sir, if this is about Anastacia’s potion, I didn’t have anything to do with it.’

The tall man scoffed.

‘Oh no? You certainly got over to her desk remarkably fast. But you had nothing to do with it? You mean to tell me the best student in the grade sabotaged her own work?’

‘Not sabotaged, sir,’ he replied, thinking privately that the word was just a little dramatic for what had really happened, ‘just had an…off day. She’s been poorly recently; it could be that.’

There was no reply. James shifted his weight, rapidly getting sick of the conversation.

‘You can go to Professor Longbottom if you want, sir, but I don’t know if he’ll be too happy if he finds out this is just a frame-up designed to get me out of the Quidditch match.’

His teacher coloured, confirming his suspicions. James smirked and started back down the corridor.

‘So, if you’ll excuse me sir, I’m going to bed. Have fun at the match on Saturday.’

He didn’t bother to watch the Professor’s reaction. Instead, he trudged wearily up the stair towards the tower.

When he reached his dormitory nearly twenty minutes later, after having to wait for the Fat Lady to return from visiting, he found his bed covered with gear, none of it his.

Sam had evidently been searching for something in his trunk, had piled all his stuff on James’ bed, forgotten to un-pile it, and gone to sleep.

With a sigh, James began to dump stuff on the floor so he could find his bed and get some much needed rest.

It had just been one of those days. 







Hello, and thank you once again for reading. Wow, this chapter is a lot longer than originally intended, and took a lot longer to write than I thought, for which I apologize. However, the good news is that the next chapter is already finished and will be up as soon as this one is verified! Yay! I hope that you enjoy this latest offering, and, as always, I really-truly-ruley appreciate the reviews...sooo...make my day? Ta!

Chapter 8: On The Field of Battle *
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Once again, this is an asterix chapter, meaning that if you have the song mentioned at the beginning of the chapter and you set it playing when you see the asterix, the rest of the chapter should correspond to the song. Enjoy!









                             

                                 Beautiful banner by Ande @ TDA

On the Field of Battle
 
Let It Rock – Kevin Rudolf feat. ‘Lil Wayne
 
I would have thought that the knowledge that you are going to be leapt upon by half-a-dozen congratulatory, but sweaty team-mates would be inducement not to score a goal.
- Arthur Marshall

 




To the collected relief of Gryffindor and Slytherin, and the chagrin of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, the day of the match dawned bright and clear. It was cold, admittedly, but it was a bright, brisk cold that held not a hint of rain or anything like it.

James dressed silently in his room, easily blocking out Sam’s excited chatter. They both had their ways of preparing for a game; James quietly, Sam loudly.

The rest of the boys in their dorm didn’t bother them, other than clapping them silently on the back as the left the room to go to breakfast.

James followed, his stomach twisting painfully in a way that had nothing to do with hunger.

As he entered the Great Hall, he could feel it, instantly. The staring. Even though nothing had changed and no one had seemed to move, he could feel the thousands of eyes boring into him, an almost tangible presence that did nothing to improve his nerves.

He didn’t need to be told how important this match was. Everything was riding on it, perhaps not in relation to winning the cup, but pride-wise…this was it. The only chance that Gryffindor had to get back at Slytherin for all their dirty tactics in the previous season.

James went to sit quietly with the rest of his team. Most of them looked a little the worse for wear, not least Rose, who was staring at her porridge with a glum expression.

‘Perk up, coz,’ James poked her in the ribs and she glared at him.

‘I hate this match.’

James frowned.

‘Hate it as much as you like. Just don’t–’

‘I know, I know, enough already. Like you haven’t told me a million times.’ She sighed. ‘I’m not about to let Scorpius have any leeway because he’s my friend, James. I just hate playing this game.’

James mumbled something under his breath and shot a dark glance towards the Slytherin table, where the blonde boy sat with a look of resignation on his face.

He turned his attention back to the food in front of him, which suddenly looked about as appetising as a pig’s breakfast. Groaning, James pushed the plate of bacon and eggs away from him.

‘James!’

Lily was hurrying down the table, sliding breathlessly into the seat next to her brother. Her best friend Tessie followed hot on her heels and sat down beside her.

‘You’ll never guess!’ Lily burst out.

James found it in himself to be vaguly surprised. This wasn’t like Lily. She was always focused, the one who tried to convince him to eat before a game, since Anastacia made herself scarce all day whenever Gryffindor were playing.

‘What?’ he asked curiously, interested despite himself in what could make his sister forget her established routine.

Tessie looked as if she was going to explode if she held the news in any longer.

‘The entire Slytherin seventh year is confined to their dormitories for the rest of the day!’ she replied in an excited and slightly awed tone. ‘Some students from other years, too.’

Rose stared at the younger girls, her jaw hanging open and her face blank of all expression.

‘Are you serious?’ she breathed finally.

Lily nodded vigorously.

‘Heard it from Al as we came in. He got it from Scorpius; apparently, there was some sort of fight in their common room last night, and some of them are pretty banged up. And not just the boys,’ she continued, ‘the girls were in on it too. They’ve been in their dorms all night, ever since the Professors caught them. They’re not allowed to come to the game or watch it or speak to anyone. Total isolation. Except for the seventh year players, of course,’ she added with a slight trace of disgust, ‘the Dandy swore black and blue that they didn’t have anything to do with it.’

James nodded vaguly, his mind turning back to the match as soon as he heard that the Slytherin team were not going to have to change their line-up.

‘Well, that’s going to make them cranky,’ chuckled Sam quietly.

James nodded again, rising slowly from his reverie.

‘Yeah, too right;’ he agreed, ‘listen, Lily, Rose, you be careful today, right?’

Lily rolled her eyes.

‘Yes, mum.’

Rose didn’t seem to have heard. Either her mind was completely absorbed elsewhere or she was doing a very good job of ignoring him. James let it slide, hoping that she was thinking up ways to stay away from the Slytherins on the pitch.

‘Time to go, team,’ he said briskly and, with more confidence than he felt, he rose to his feet and sauntered out of the hall.





The dressing rooms were buzzing as the team changed. No one could remember a whole year and then some being punished like this before. No one seemed to have the full story, either, which was unusual, so they could only speculate on what had happened.

‘Reckon they’ve all gone barmy, mate,’ Sam stated, pulling on his robes over his clothes, ‘Merlin knows I would, if they’d stuck me in Slytherin.’

‘Nah, they’d be fighting over some girl, if you ask me,’ was Josh’s opinion, ‘though why they’d want to fight over a Slytherin girl is beyond me!’

‘Or a boy;’ James interjected, ‘apparently Al said some of the girls were dishing it out just as bad as the guys.’

As they left the change rooms and walked towards the pitch, brooms in hand, Rose was still silent, seemingly oblivious to the talk swelling around her. James slung a casual arm around her shoulders.

‘You alright?’ he asked quietly. ‘You’re pretty quiet.’

Rose nodded, a strange look on her face.

‘I’m fine. I was just thinking…’

She paused. James nudged her and she smiled faintly.

‘No posse.’

That was confusing, but before James could ask for clarification, they were on the pitch and any thoughts were drowned out by the deafening screams of the spectators.

Madam Vite stood in the centre of the pitch, her weathered face stern as she regarded the tall Slytherin captain standing before her. James went to meet them.

‘Now, we’ll have a fair game today, boys,’ threatened Madam Vite. The Slytherin captain grunted and she rounded on him angrily.

‘Yes, I’m talking to you, Mister McGowen! Any more of last season’s tricks and so help me I’ll cancel the rest of Slytherin’s games! For the whole season!’

James had personally always regarded McGowen as the missing link between humans and trolls, but even he seemed to understand the seriousness of this situation. He nodded and mumbled something that sounded like an assent.

Madam Vite, however, was not convinced. She proceeded to lecture him some more, and James, bored, took the opportunity to look around the pitch.

Apart from a diminished Slytherin section, the rest of the school seemed to have turned out as usual.

James smiled wryly as he thought of his best friend, holed up somewhere in the castle for some unknown and unfathomable reason that she nevertheless seemed to take quite seriously.

There was a sudden lull in the yelling, and it meant that one, clear call was suddenly faintly audible to those standing on the pitch.

Hé, Jem!’

James’ head whirled around so fast he nearly got whiplash. There was only one person who called him that; it was short for ‘J’aime’ or ‘I like’ and it was Stac’s French nickname for him.

But she couldn’t be here, could she? She’d never come before…but, there, next to Albus, clutching one half of a banner that proclaimed in large letters ‘Wotters are alwight!’ stood the girl herself.

As he gazed up at her, dumbfounded, she winked and yelled down, ‘Gangez, ouais?’

Win. Anastacia had come, and she wanted him to win. She was grinning widely, her face beaming with happiness. He’d never seen her so happy in public, never seen her so alive outside of the common room.

Suddenly it all made sense, what Rose had been on about; no posse.

All of the Slytherin seventh years and some of the others where inside. Which meant that no one was watching her.

Which meant she was free.

Madam Vite was tugging at the sleeve of his robe.

‘Mister Potter! Potter, are you with us?’

James shook himself back into reality. McGowen was sniggering thuggishly at him. James shot him a disgusted look and smiled at Madam Vite.

‘Sorry, ma’am. Ready when you are.’

She nodded briskly, slightly mollified, and raised her hand in the air.

‘Players, mount your brooms.’

They all did so. Rose and Lily were grinning widely, and Rose winked at James. He returned the gesture, feeling suddenly light and buoyant. He knew in that instant that Slytherin had as much chance of winning this match as Fang had of suddenly sprouting wings and flying away.


*

Anastacia was here. His team were ready. They had practiced enough. Conditions were perfect. They could do this.

Anastacia was here. For the first time, she was going to see him play.

James was going to make it the best game of his life.

‘On my whistle.’

Madam Vite raised the silver object to her lips and blew a loud, shrill blast. Immediately, crimson and green blurs shot into the sky.

James instantly took control of the quaffle, weaving through the sluggish Slytherin chasers, passing it to Josh, who passed it to Jaya, who tossed it back to James in plenty of time for him to score a spectacular goal in the first minute!

The crowd went mad.

‘And it’s ten points to Gryffindor only thirty seconds into the game! My, my, what an interesting grudge match this promises to be!’ Terry Markham crowed triumphantly from the commentator’s box.

James turned to run a quick eye over the pitch, taking in the rest of his team before turning to look for his friends in the stands.

Anastacia and Albus, having spelled their banner to hang in the air above their heads, were dancing arm-in-arm and yelling at the top of their lungs. Margie, Tessie and Laurence were starting up a war cry. James smiled and turned his attention back to the game.

The Slytherins didn’t seem to know what had hit them. It wasn’t that they were slow, per say – it was just that the Gryffindors were faster. Much faster. All the hours of relentless practicing and talking strategy and the like were now paying off.

James saw Jaya rocket upwards, the Slytherin chaser hot on her heels, and he didn’t even have to think. He automatically dropped down below her and within seconds the quaffle had thudded solidly into his hands.

‘And that’s a brilliantly executed Porskoff Ploy by the Gryffindor chasers! It’s Potter with the quaffle, passes to Sarin, she passes to Alsop, back to Sarin, she takes a dive, nice dodging of that bludger, passes to Potter – he scores!’

Jaya and Josh swept alongside James and Jaya cuffed Josh over the head.

‘Now aren’t you glad he made us run all those drills?’ she teased.

Josh scoffed.

‘Nah, it’s just the Slytherins – they’re rubbish. Well,’ he relented, ‘maybe the drills did help a bit.’

They all laughed and took off down the field.

‘So it’s twenty points to nil in the first few minutes of the game, and I have to say, this is some of the fastest work I’ve ever seen here, folks. And no wonder – they’ve been training harder then ever this season. I’ll bet Slytherin is kicking themselves right now!’

Slytherin certainly were not very happy. McGowen scowled at the chasers and, when Jaya’s attention was diverted momentarily by an altercation between Josh and Alecto, the Slytherin chaser currently in possession of the quaffle, McGowen hit a bludger with deadly force towards the back of her head.

James saw it happening and started to call out, but he needn’t have worried. Lily, who had been in front of Jaya, reversed suddenly at great speed and whacked the bludger back towards McGowen almost negligently.

The mammoth boy was too shocked to move, and as it connected squarely with his jaw, James heard a loud and very satisfying crack, followed soon after by an even more satisfying thud, as McGowen slid off his broom and hit the ground.

‘A Bludger Backbeat by Lily Potter! Fantastic aim! And it looks like the Slytherin captain is out for the count.’

Play was suspended for a minute while Madam Vite checked the stirring McGowen. Eventually, he got shakily to his feet and climbed back on his broom, to cheers from the Slytherins and boos from the Gryffindors (and Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, if one were to be truthful).

‘And play is resumed – Slytherin in possession, Farling with the quaffle, dodges Alsop, passes to Alecto, pass intercepted by Potter! Gryffindor now in possession, Potter passes to Sarin, Sarin to Alsop, ALSOP SCORES!’

McGowen signalled for a time out and sped towards the Slytherin goal posts, causing the three Gryffindor chasers to break their celebrations short and get out of the way, but he was headed for the Slytherin keeper, not them.

‘Look at him chewing out poor old Montrose,’ Jaya sniggered, ‘I almost feel sorry for him.’

‘Almost, but not quite,’ Fred agreed smugly. James looked above them for Rose and Scorpius, still circling even through the time out.

There was a fair distance between them, and although Scorpius seemed to be watching Rose closely, she showed no sign of paying any attention to him.

‘What’s he saying to them?’ asked Sam curiously.

James turned back to the opposing team. Lily and Fred had joined them, and they all looked on with interest.

McGowen was ranting furiously at his players, using huge arm movements and pointing towards the Gryffindor team. James felt unease begin to coil in the pit of his stomach.

‘Lils,’ he began quietly, but she shoved him, hard.

‘I know, be careful. Just worry about the game, oh mighty captain, and let me look after myself.’

James nodded, unconvinced, but Fred winked at him and mouthed ‘I’ll take care of her’.

‘Play resumed once more – Gryffindor in possession, Sarin passes to Alsop, Alsop racing down the pitch, the Slytherins can’t catch him, Alsop shoots, he scores! Slytherin have the quaffle now, Farling to Marrow, passes to Alecto, back to Farling, Farling shoots, brilliant save by the Gryffindor keeper.

Sam thumbed his nose at the scowling Marrow who, along with Camsin Alecto and Gerard Farling, made up the Slytherin chasers.

A second later, a speedy bludger came out of nowhere and shot towards Sam, missing him by inches as he dodged at the last minute.

‘OI!’

James whirled to see a furious and crimson-faced Lily descending on McGowen. He raced his broom to come between them.

‘Lils! Enough! Get back to the game!’

Madam Vite drew alongside them all.

‘Bumphing, as you well know, Mr McGowen, is a foul! Penalty to Gryffindor!’

James shooed Lily off and signalled for Jaya to take the penalty. She did so, putting it through easily, and then turned and made a very rude gesture at McGowen when Madam Vite wasn’t looking.

The Gryffindor stand took up the cry of ‘Sarin, Sarin, Sarin!’

James sped down to check in with Sam.

‘Alright, mate?’

Sam’s face was mutinous.

‘I swear, next time those dungbrains come anywhere near this hoop, they’re all dead.’

James laughed.

‘That’s the spirit, mate. Keep up the good work.’

Sam smiled wryly back at him.

‘What good work? That was nearly the first time they’ve got the quaffle down here for the whole game. I know we’re doing good and all, but I tell you what,’ he confessed, the stiff breezing tousling his dreads, ‘its bloody boring for me.’

James laughed again and took off, leaving him to his boredom.

 



Anastacia couldn’t ever remember having so much fun on a Quidditch day. She and Margie were screaming themselves hoarse, Albus and Laurence were creating increasingly insulting war-cries to hurl at the Slytherins, and they were winning.

She hadn’t believed Scorpius when he’d come to tell her the news. The whole seventh year in isolation!

She’d promptly gone to check, and found that her watchers who weren’t in seventh year had been involved in the fight too, and were also confined to their dormitories.

She couldn’t shake the idea that Celeste had somehow planned this, but, at the moment, she didn’t care.

Freedom! For a whole day! The feeling was exhilarating and intoxicating and wonderful.

Best of all, she got to see her friends play. She’d never even dared to come to one of their practice sessions before, too wary of what her watchers would think or say.

She hadn’t realised how good they were. Of course, she knew they were good; they had to be to be the reigning champions, but she hadn’t really realised it.

Hadn’t known that the tiny Lily, who had always seemed like such a bizarre choice as a beater, was actually brilliant. She and Fred seemed to know exactly what the other was doing at all times. They were an amazing team, not least because they were both so small that the others all seemed to underestimate them.

And James…Anastacia was in awe. Who knew a person could move that fast? She’d certainly never seen anything like it. The other chasers, too, all seemed to know exactly what to do at every moment. They never had to stop and confer, or yell instructions across to each other like the Slytherin chasers.

As she watched, Jaya passed the quaffle to James, who slung it easily through the hoop, well out of reach of Montrose’s outstretched hand. Celeste’s half-brother, not one of her watchers but a brute all the same, punched the air angrily as the other two chasers flew in to clap James on the back.

‘Potter, Potter, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can!’ she chanted with Margie at the top of their lungs.

‘So it’s eighty points to Gryffindor, ten minutes into the game. What a way to start the day! Honestly, people, have you ever seen the like? I mean, where do these guys come from?’

‘GRYFFINDOR!’ screamed their ecstatic house. Anastacia waved her hands wildly as James paused in front of their stand. For a moment, he stared at Albus while flicking his gaze repeatedly to her, as if trying to communicate something. Then he gave her his full attention, shooting a smile and a wink as he shot off, and her insides melted with pride for her friend.




James assessed the situation happening on the pitch, and started towards the Slytherin posts, ready to take up a pass if needs be. Lily joined his flight path as she sped towards the Slytherin beaters.

‘Tired, sis?’ he teased as they drew apace for a moment.

Lily grinned, whacking an oncoming bludger out of the way with what seemed an effortless wave of her bat.

‘Are you kidding me?’ she yelled over the roar of the crowd. ‘Stac is down there! I could do this all day!’

James saluted her and sped off down the pitch once more. He knew exactly how she felt.

Nearly ten minutes later, with the snitch still nowhere in sight, James was once again racing towards the Slytherin goal posts with the quaffle under his arm. He saw Alecto speed towards him, only to swerve out of the way of a bludger directed towards him courtesy of Fred. James passed the quaffle to Jaya, who lobbed it smoothly through the highest goalpost before the Slytherin keeper even had time to move.

‘One hundred and forty points to twenty, Gryffindor leading! Well folks, I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to take bets on the outcome of this game!’

Professor Longbottom, sitting in the stands next to the commentary box, sighed and rolled his eyes heavenwards. McGonagall, on the other hand, grasped Terry firmly by the ear until he retracted his prior statement.

‘Alright, alright, OW! Sorry, professor,’ Terry grumbled, rubbing his ear and reverting automatically back to the old form of address, ‘I was only joking, promise!’

‘Anyway, folks,’ he continued blithely, ‘it’s all happening out here now. Slytherin in possession, quaffle stolen by Alsop, passes to Sarin, she dodges a bludger, around Farling, passes to Potter, he– what the! Shameful display of blatching by the Slytherin captain!’

McGowen had flown straight into James, who had managed to hold onto his broom with one hand as he was flung off, but had dropped the quaffle. Madam Vite flew over, her face a giant thundercloud.

‘McGowen! How dare you!’

‘Didn’t see him, miss,’ he grunted darkly, ‘swear I didn’t.’

In the stands, the Gryffindors were incensed.

‘You...you....monster!’ Anastacia shrieked loudly, shaking her fist in the direction of the Slytherin captain, ‘Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça? Mais, ça va fou ou bien?’

She went to pull her wand out of her pocket, intent on hexing McGowen into oblivion, but was surprised to find nothing there. She stared at the empty pocket for a moment before turning accusingly to Albus.

‘James–’

‘Didn’t want you to get into trouble on the only day you seem to be allowed out here,’ Albus finished smoothly. He fished her wand out of his own pocket, held it up for her to see, and stowed it safely away up his sleeve.

‘Al-bus,’ Anastacia tried in a wheedling tone, but he shook his head.

‘He’d never forgive me if I let you hex someone on the one day he can’t stop you himself. Besides,’ he smirked, ‘it would interrupt the game, and then he’d be really cranky!’

‘Fine,’ she grumbled. She crossed her arm over her chest and returned her attention to the game.

For McGowen’s blatching, Madam Vite awarded Gryffindor a double penalty, which James took and scored easily.

‘And the score stands at one hundred and eighty points to forty. Slytherin could still win, you know, though it’s…’

Terry caught McGonagall’s glare and thought better of what he was going to say. He cleared his throat instead and continued.

‘So, it’s Slytherin in possession, with the– what in Merlin’s name? The snitch!’

All play on the field ceased. Anastacia rose to her feet, clutching Albus’ hand for dear life, her heart in her throat.

High above them, Rose and Scorpius rocketed down towards the ground at an astounding pace. The snitch, barely visible to those in the stands, glinted just above the grass.

‘They’re neck and neck, it’s going to be close, and it’s going to be…it’s going to be…’

Wumph!

Out of the blue, a bludger spun towards the pair, aimed obviously at Rose, who didn’t seem to have seen it. Anastacia felt like the bottom had dropped out of her stomach.

Rose!’ she screamed, her voice echoing in the silent stadium.

Rose looked up, noted the bludger, and leaned forward, speeding up to pass effortlessly underneath it. She and Scorpius were side by side now, both reaching out their hands for the snitch. Scorpius’ arms were longer, and for a moment, it looked like he would reach it first.

But at the very last second, Rose made a wild dive forward off her broom, her hands grabbing the air convulsively. She fell onto her back on the soft grass and immediately jumped to her feet again, clutching the snitch triumphantly in her raised hand.

The roar from the stands threatened to deafen the players, who were descending on Rose from all directions.

‘Three hundred and thirty points to forty, and that’s the game, folks!’ Terry roared above the din, ‘Gryffindor has won the first match of the season!’

James was jumping up and down on the pitch, his arms around Rose’s neck.

‘We won, we won, we won!’ squealed Lily.

James grinned at her.

‘It’s not the bloody cup, but it’s the next best thing, right mate?’ he asked, turning to the joyful Sam.

‘Too right!’ his friend agreed.

‘And look,’ added Rose happily, ‘here’s Stac!’

They turned to look in the direction she was facing and saw Albus and Anastacia sprinting towards them, followed by what seemed to be the rest of the school arriving on the field en masse.

‘James! Rose! Lily! Sam! Jaya! Fred! Josh!’

Anastacia flung herself into James’ arms, hugging him tightly.

‘You won! We won! You won!’

They continued to yell and celebrate while the rest of the school surrounded them and joined in, even the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. James saw Scorpius hug Rose as she laughed and wished him better luck next time.

He fought with the desire to warn the Slytherin away, but he knew the ticking off he’d get from Albus and Rose and Anastacia if he tried. So he turned his attention back to his friends and family and tried to ignore the urge.

‘Party tonight, right?’ Sam queried, his arm around a very attractive fifth year. James grinned and nodded.

‘Nine sound good for you?’

‘Fantastic, mate. I’ll see what I can rustle up. See you then!’

He left, his arm still around the fifth year, who was giggling and looking at him admiringly.

‘I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear about that.’

James tucked Anastacia under his arm and messed up her hair.

‘Get over it, Stac. You’ll be there, right?’

‘Course I will, you great prat. After seeing my first match? I wouldn’t miss it for the world.’

She grinned at him widely, her eyes bright and sparkling. James suddenly felt as if he stood on very shaky ground.

‘Tell me something,’ she pressed, ‘are the games always this exciting?’

James laughed and laughed, and she joined in, and soon the whole group around them was bent over double, laughing fit to bust, for no apparent reason, but since when has that ever stopped Gryffindors from having a good time?




So, a party! Well, won't that be fun? I wonder what kind of mischief they're going to get up to tonight? Anyway, enough with the rhetorical questions... Thanks again for reading, you know the drill; if you enjoyed it, please review. If not...please review anyway?
Ta!


Chapter 9: Perchance to Dream...
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                                                        Beautiful image by Ande @ TDA


Perchance to Dream…

Neverland Piano Variation in Blue – Jan A.P. Kaczmarek,
Finding Neverland Soundtrack

 
‘Night brings our troubles to the light, rather than banishing them.’
- Seneca


 






It wasn’t the party that really concerned Stac that night; it was the aftermath, mostly because she knew that she would be the one dealing with it.

And she was right.

The night wore slowly yet relentlessly on. One by one, the other students began to take to their beds, both willingly and unconsciously.

Anastacia had made sure that none of the younger students had been able to get a hold of the harder drinks, but she’d had no such luck with the older students.

Sam and Jaya were curled up together on the sofa, like two puppies; all arms and legs. Sam was even snoring softly.

Josh was stretched out on the floor, straight as a board, his arms flat by his sides. Margie was sprawled on the chair behind him, her mouth hanging open.

Stac, as she wandered around laying blankets over people and picking up rubbish, was sorely tempted to drop something in her friend’s gaping maw, but she refrained from actually doing so.

She smiled tiredly across at James, who was half-sitting, half-reclining on a pile of cushions.

‘How are you still alive?’ she asked with a smile, crossing the room towards him, ‘You’ve been swigging from that bottle all evening.’

James waited until she was within reach and tugged on her arm. She chuckled and allowed herself to flop down beside him.

They’re still in isolation, she wheedled to the responsible part of her brain, the part that had been telling her to go back to her room for hours. Nothing bad is going to happen.

‘Here,’ James offered her the bottle.

Anastacia turned up her nose and pushed it away. She had no interest in drinking; she’d seen first-hand what an excess of alcohol could do to people and it was enough to turn her off for life.

But James offered it again.

‘Have a try.’

Grudgingly, Stac accepted the bottle. She held it under her nose and took a tentative sniff.

That’s funny… she couldn’t smell any alcohol.

Cursing peer pressure at the same time as reassuring herself that she wasn’t succumbing to it, she took a small sip.

Butterbeer fizzled on her tongue. She was so surprised that she nearly choked on the mouthful. As it was she spluttered just a little.

James clapped her gently on the back, his face lit up with a cheeky grin.

‘But…I don’t understand. This is a Firewhisky bottle. Why is it full of Butterbeer?’

James shrugged.

‘Something I came up with years ago. Sam’s the one that likes to drink, not me. If I tried to keep up with him, I’d be on the floor as soon as we started. So now I just look like I’m drinking. It’s enough to satisfy him, and it means I actually remember my nights out.’

‘That’s…really very…responsible of you.’

James shoved her and took the bottle back.

‘Don’t sound so surprised. I’m the oldest, you know, apart from Victoire and Teddy. I can occasionally be the responsible one.’

‘Speaking of responsible, where’s Owen? And Terry?’ Stac asked curiously, looking around the room at the inert forms of her friends.

‘Terry went sort of mental half an hour or so back,’ James replied vaguely, ‘Owen took him off to bed.’

Anastacia frowned

‘Mental how? Mental why?’

James shrugged.

‘No clue. He just attacked Clive for no reason. Leastways, I didn’t see any reason.’

‘Clive Jones?’

‘Yeah, you know; sixth year, brown hair, ‘bout so high–’

‘Was snogging Margie earlier on?’

James frowned too now.

‘I guess so. But what does–’

Conard! Terry fancies the skirt off Margie, he has for ages. What’s the bet this happened just after he saw them snogging.’

James began to understand. Everything was becoming clearer.

‘You know, it was. I remember, because it was just after you went to talk to the Montrose girl.’

‘Her name is Celeste.’

Anastacia tone was very firm and contained more than just a hint of disapproval. James stored the name away for future reference and hoped he’d remember.

‘Merlin’s pants, it’s like a bloody soap, this school.’

She did a bit of a double take and looked at him strangely, his brow furrowed in concentration.

‘Err…did I hear correctly? You said school is like soap? Savon?’

James laughed and hurriedly explained.

‘Nah, nah, not that kind of soap. A ‘soap’s a Muggle TV show. It’s…kind of like a play, but you watch it every day. Mostly they’re stupid; every week someone dies or gets sick or pregnant or something. And the characters are all involved with each other, you know, cheating and stuff.’

They both relaxed against the cushions again.

‘It doesn’t sound very nice,’ Stac said, wrinkling her nose, ‘but I can see the parallels.’

‘Yeah, if you think it’s bad now, you should have seen it when my parents were here. You know Alex Finnigan, that Ravenclaw third year?’

Stac nodded.

‘Well, his mum used to date my Uncle Ron. And Shanti Thomas’ dad used to date my mum, and her mum sort of dated my dad. It was only one night, at the Yule Ball, but still.’

They both laughed.

‘That’s so weird, to think of your parents having a life before you.’

‘Albus said once that that’s why he doesn’t have a girlfriend; he’s too worried she’d turn out to be his sister.’

He grinned evilly.

‘Mum smacked him round the head and gave him an absolute earful. She was furious.’

‘Well, at least you get to choose whether or not to date someone, however incestuously…’

Her voiced trailed off, the realization quickly hitting them both that she had said more than she’d meant to. James, desperate to make the moment last, held her gently in place when she tried to get up.’

‘Stac, what do you mean?’

‘Nothing, I...’ she sighed. Whether it was the late hour, the lack of sleep, or simply the present company, Anastacia found that she didn’t have the will to prevaricate.

‘My family is very…traditional. So when I finally date, it will be the man I’m going to marry, someone my father has chosen for me.’

‘Oh.’

James didn’t really know how to reply to that. His family was probably as untraditional as they came; first there was his Dad, which was self-explanatory, really. Then there was his Mum, who still occasionally got mobbed by over-enthusiastic Quidditch fans.

Even disregarding all that, his very upbringing seemed to have been the opposite of Stac’s. One of the backbones of their home life had been the firmly-held belief that everyone had a right to be themselves and choose their own paths.

‘Just look at your aunt Hermione,’ Dad was fond of saying, ‘she was a complete nutter at school. Found a club called SPEW and everything. But where would we be today if she’d caved in to those people who told her she was mental for caring about house elves and the like?’

James and Albus had figured out early on that smart answers to this rhetorical question were just asking for trouble, especially from Mum. But James had to agree with his Dad; what was the point in life if you didn’t get to make your own choices?

‘Sooo…does your dad choose anything else for you?’

Anastacia sighed and ran her hands over her face.

‘No offense, James, but I really don’t want to talk about it. My home life is best left at home.’

‘Yeah, sorry,’ James mumbled. It had been worth a try.

His unhappiness must have shown on his face, because Stac sighed and settled back down on the cushions.

‘What?’

‘What what?’

‘Don’t play dumb with me, James.’

He bit back the response that Rose would have given; who’s playing? Somehow, from the twinkle in her eye, he guessed that she’d had the same thought.

‘Something’s up, isn’t it?’

‘It’s just…’

He looked at his hands and fought the urge to fidget like an embarrassed child.

‘That’s what you do, you know? When you’re up late? You tell people stuff. You talk about your life and everything. You know, like truth or dare, only without the dare. It’s a game.’

It wasn’t asking that much, surely. If she couldn’t trust him now, after all they’d been through, then she never would.

Stac sighed again.

‘You’re not making this up, are you? This is some important, ‘friend’ rule that I don’t know about, not some strange and sudden idea of yours?’

But she was smiling, so he disregarded the words in favour of the tone behind them.

‘Stac, it’s practically a law. I think it might even be a criminal offence to flout it.’

She laughed shortly.

‘You would know, I suppose.’

‘Right,’ James continued, forging ahead while she still seemed content to answer. He had the niggling idea that this was all faintly ridiculous, but if this was what it took to get some answers and information out of Stac every once in awhile, who was he to complain?

‘I just have one condition,’ she interrupted, and his heart sank. Here came the moment when she told him she wasn’t actually going to answer any of his questions.

But to his surprise, she didn’t say anything of the sort.

‘Can we stick to purely hypothetical situations?’

James thought for a moment.

‘So…like what would you do after school if you could do anything at all?’

She nodded agreement.

‘Yes, those sorts of questions.’

Leaning over the side of the cushions, she pulled a blanket across the floor and draped it over her legs. James snagged a corner and tugged, pulling it over himself and leaving her legs exposed. For a moment they fought over possession of the blanket, eventually subsiding back onto the cushions and spreading the cover over them both.

‘If I could be anything,’ Anastacia started in a dreamy voice, and James realised with a shock that she was actually going to answer his question.

He was glad no one was listening in on this particular conversation. What would he sound like; going to such lengths to convince his best friend to tell him what she wanted to be when she finished school? It was all a bit absurd, really.

‘I think I’d be an Auror,’ Stac finished thoughtfully.

James gave a bit of a start, and she looked at him questioningly.

‘What?’

‘You…do know what Aurors…well, do, don’t you?’

‘I’m not an idiot, James, thank you. I do actually know what’s going on in the world at this present time. And I believe I’d make a rather good Auror, despite what you may think.’

He was gaping at her like a fish out of water, his mouth wide open. How to say that he wasn’t casting aspersions against her abilities, but that the idea of her running around after Dark Wizards scared him spitless?

‘Are you trying to catch something in your mouth?’ she asked with feigned interest.

James closed his jaw with a snap and tried to regain some semblance of dignity.

‘I didn’t…I just meant…well…I guess I could put in a good word with Dad for you.’

The sad smile and closing off of the expression in her eyes told him that this was not an open topic of conversation, and, accustomed to reading these subtle signs, he smoothly continued on to the next subject.

 ‘I reckon you’d be a good healer. Maybe one in the psych ward at St Mungo’s.’

‘A healer?’

Stac’s voice was incredulous, but James ignored it, warming to his theme.

‘Yeah, you’d be a great healer. If you didn’t want to do psych stuff, you could go into muscles and whatever and be the healer for our Quidditch team.’

‘Your team?’

‘The one Sam and me are going to play for once we finish. You could be the team healer and come everywhere with us.’

She gave voice to a very unladylike snort.

‘And sit in the background doing nothing. No thank you. I have enough of that as is. I’m not about to choose it for myself.’

She punched him in the arm, but only succeeded in giving herself sore knuckles.

‘So what about you? What would you do if you couldn’t play Quidditch?’

James tugged on his ear and sat back. He had to think about that one. He’d never really considered anything else.

‘Dunno,’ he answered finally, ‘I’d be at a bit of a loss, I guess. Dad’d like me to go to work for him, but Mum wouldn’t; she’s already scared Al’s going to end up becoming an Auror.’

‘Scared?’ Stac asked, confused, ‘But why would she be scared?’

‘She doesn’t like us knowing too much about Dad’s work. Aunt Hermione’s the same; they try to keep it from us as much as possible. Dad and Uncle Ron aren’t allowed to talk about work in the house, and they’re not really supposed to have friends from work over. Al mentioned once that he’d like to be an Auror someday and Mum went spare.’

He gave a wry smile.

‘They conveniently seem to forget that they were battling all sorts of dark stuff when they were much younger than us. Hell, Mum fought a duel with Bellatrix Lestrange when she was Al’s age, and she only stopped because Grandma Molly made her. What’s wrong with him wanting to do the same?’

‘So what do you think he’ll be?’ Anastacia asked, settling herself more comfortably on the cushions. She was finding this ‘talking’ thing to be surprisingly easy, and, more surprisingly, enjoyable.

‘I dunno what he’ll want to be, but I know what he’d be good at; I reckon he’d make a good Minister for Magic.’

Stac laughed, then caught herself when she realised he was serious.

‘Really? Albus? Our Albus?’

‘Yes, our Al,’ James replied, ‘he can be a bit of a fu–’

She shot him a look and he quickly changed what he was going to say.

‘A bit of an idiot on occasion, but by and large he’s a pretty good kid. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, at least. And you saw how he got hold of that Veritaserum. I tell you, that kid has skills.’

‘I was trying to forget about the Veritaserum,’ Stac told him firmly, ‘I think Marcus still hasn’t gotten over it.’

‘How sad. I’m so sorry for him,’ he commented, sounding anything but.

She hit him again, then again, and again. He held up his hands to protect his face and arms from her vicious, if slightly weak, attack.

‘Uncle! Uncle!’ he gasped when she resorted to poking, ‘Bloody hell, woman, Uncle means stop!’

This was followed by a lengthy debate on what James maintained were ‘necessary and vital figures of speech’ and Anastacia saw as ‘stupid English phrases’. This was followed by another poking war and a rather speedy full-body bind on Anastacia’s part.

James had to give her full credit for it as she’d managed to cast the spell non-verbally while he was tickling her. That, he knew from experience, took real skill.

From there they moved on to other topics, such as a full run-down of the game and a good complaining session (on James’ part) about all the work that they had to do in class.

Just normal talking…

 


 

The fire was burning low and the common room was becoming a little colder when they finally began to drift off to sleep. James, still intent on his game, was still asking questions. His theory was that Anastacia was more likely to answer him the tireder she became.

So far, it wasn’t working very well, but he lived in hope.

‘Okay, umm…’

He was finding it increasingly difficult to thin through the haze of sleep that was creeping up on him.

‘It’s a bit of a lame one, but s’all I can think of.’

Stac murmured for him to continue.

‘Okay; who do you trust most in the entire world? Doesn’t necessarily have to be a person.’

He added that last because he’d once asked Lily the same question and she’d answered with ‘Roger’, which was the name of her pink Pygmy Puff. When he’d challenged her, she defended her answer by declaring that she told Roger things that she never told anyone else, not even Tessie.

The room was silent except for the crackling of the fire, and James was drifting off, his head falling back on the cushions, when he heard it.

‘You.’

At first he thought he’d dreamt it, but when he looked down, Stac was looking up at him through her lashes, her eyes nearly shut with tiredness.

She smiled at him sleepily and her eyes closed. With a slight sigh, she snuggled down under the blanket, her breathing becoming soft and even.

James tried to stay awake, attempting to force his brain to process this new information, but it stubbornly refused to work. Everything in him was screaming for rest, exhausted by the match and the late hour.

Eventually, he had no choice but to give in. So he too hunkered down under the blanket and gave himself up to slumber.

 

 




Thud.

James was having the strangest dream. Sam kept hitting him over the head with a Muggle blow-up hammer. It didn’t hurt, but it was very noisy.

Thud. Thud-thud.

He rolled over and tried to make the dream go away, but the noise just got louder.

Thud-thud-thud-thud-THUD!

Groaning, James rubbed his eyes and looked around him. He went to get up – and froze.

Anastacia was nestled alongside him, her head resting on his shoulder. She was almost hugging him in her sleep.

James stayed very still, hardly daring to breath for fear of waking her. She looked completely at peace and totally relaxed. She was even smiling. He hoped, randomly and seemingly for no reason, that she was having a good dream.

Speaking of dreams…

The banging noise started up again. It seemed to be coming from outside the common room.

James sighed. As much as he wanted to stay on the cushions, he knew that he probably needed to go see what it was.

He carefully eased out from under Stac’s sleeping form, pausing to pull the blanket back up over her, and went to the portrait hole.

The moment he opened it, a dark-haired girl nearly fell through the hole. It was the Montro–Celeste, James reminded himself firmly.

‘Can I help you?’ he asked, still bemused and half-asleep.

‘Is her– Anastacia here?’ the girl demanded, climbing through the portrait hole to the indignant squawks of the Fat Lady.

She didn’t wait for an answer, but pushed James aside and hurried over to Stac’s sleeping form, kneeling down beside her.

‘Hey! You can’t just barge in here like that!’ James protested, but she wasn’t listening.

‘Grace! Grace, you have to wake up!’

Celeste shook the other girl’s shoulder urgently. Anastacia tried to swat away her hand and turned over, grumbling in her sleep.

‘Grace! C’est pressent!

Anastacia was instantly awake. French, here in the Gryffindor common room where it was not supposed to be, meant that something was wrong. She sat up quickly, throwing off the blanket.

‘Celeste? What is it?’

‘They’re being let out of isolation,’ Celeste told her in a low voice, despite the fact that no one else in the room would have been able to understand her language even if they were awake.

‘What? But Scorpius said it would last the whole weekend.’

‘That’s what we thought, but I just saw Longbottom and Danté heading for the Slytherin dorms. From what I heard, Danté’s cut some sort of a deal that will get them off early.’

‘When was this?’ Anastacia asked, getting to her feet.

‘A few minutes ago. I came here straight away. But that means they’ll be nearly there by now.’

She began to pull the older girl towards the portrait hole.

‘Grace, if you’re not in your room or at least in that area when they come looking for you…’

‘I know,’ Stac whispered, trying to maintain her composure while her insides felt like they were crumbling.

‘Would someone care to tell me what’s going on?’ a loud voice drawled from in front of the portrait hole.

James was leaning against the wall, his broad shoulders blocking the exit and his expression clearly saying that neither of the girls was leaving without an explanation.

‘James, please,’ Anastacia begged, in English now, ‘I have to go. I’m sorry.’

‘Why?’

‘It’s no business of yours,’ Celeste informed him haughtily, but Stac shot her a quelling look and returned to her pleading.

‘Please, I just have to. It doesn’t matter why; what matters is that I need to go.’

‘Stac, just tell me.’

James took a step forward, his hand reaching out, his expression softening, but Celeste took advantage of his distraction to squeeze her way past him to the hole in the wall, pulling Anastacia behind her.

Stac managed to clasp his hand briefly as she passed and gave him a sad smile.

‘I’m sorry, James. There are some things you just can’t fix.’

Then they were gone, pelting down the corridor towards the Head Girl’s room.

James watched them go, debating whether or not to follow them. He was interrupted by a drowsy voice coming from inside the room.

‘What was that all about?’

Sam and Jaya blinked sleepily up at him from the sofa. James inhaled deeply and ran his hand through his hair, distracted enough not to notice their unusually close proximity to each other.

‘Nothing. It was nothing. Go back to sleep.’

 












 

Gasping and panting, the two girls rounded the last corner to be met with the stony faces of Anastacia’s guard. Creeten in particular looked very grim.

Was dieses ist?

Anastacia drew herself up to her full height and looked the big boy coldly in the eye.

‘I was taking a walk.’

Creeten’s gaze narrowed suspiciously.

‘At this time of the morning? Why are you out of breath?’

‘I find it very refreshing to take early morning walks,’ Anastacia threw back superiorly, ‘and I am out of breath because Celeste and I decided to have a race back to my room. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go change.’

She tried to go through the boys to her room, but they stolidly blocked her path.

‘That story is ridiculous. Even if it is true, it is behaviour that hardly befits your station, but I do not doubt that it is a lie. Where have you really been?’

‘You dare to accuse me of lying?’ Anastacia raged, temper flaring, ‘You dare to say that I am acting inappropriately? May I remind you that I am not the one who was confined to my dormitory for the weekend for starting a fight? I’m sure my father would be very interested to hear that his daughter’s entire guard were unable to perform their duties due to punishment.’

Creeten’s face was mutinous.

‘It was nothing to do with us. We were caught up in it, that is all. And yes, I consider it inappropriate for your Grace to be out in the school without an escort.’

‘Celeste has been with me all weekend, including this morning, so I have not been without an escort at all,’ Anastacia declared triumphantly. Celeste nodded her agreement, her nose in the air.

Still the group did not move. Anastacia surveyed them with a gaze that could have frozen the Black Lake at fifty feet.

‘Out. Of. My. Way.’

Finally, they stepped aside. Creeten was the last to move. It was only after he had given a grudging bow that was followed by the rest that Anastacia and Celeste walked past them all and entered her room.

As soon as the door was closed they both collapsed on the floor.

‘That was too close,’ Anastacia breathed, conscious of the fact that they boys would still be outside. Even though the spells on the door should prevent them getting close enough to hear, she didn’t want to take any chances.

‘Much too close,’ Celeste agreed, fanning herself, ‘I’m all for you having fun, and I know this was all my idea, but, really your Grace…you were cutting it a bit fine, weren’t you?’

‘Believe me; I had no intention of things happening like this. I didn’t mean to stay in Gryffindor Tower last night, but it was late and I was tired, and…’

She trailed off, the memories of the night before rising to the surface. Cheeks colouring slightly, she made her way over to her dressing table and sat down before it, letting down her hair to somewhat hide the redness of her face.

‘Grace…’

‘Creeten seemed very upset,’ Anastacia cut in hurriedly, changing the subject, ‘I don’t know what you did, but you were careful, weren’t you? I don’t want him to be able to trace anything back to you.’

‘Don’t worry; I covered my tracks well enough that he’ll never even think to connect me. But I’m not worried about that.’

She perched on the edge of Anastacia’s bed, a searching look on her face.

‘What took place last night to make you stay so late? It’s not like you; losing track of time, not being prepared for any eventuality. Did something happen?’

‘No,’ Anastacia assured her lightly, only her hands showing a faint tremor as she reached for her hairbrush, ‘we talked, that’s all. We were talking and I stayed a bit later than I meant to.’

‘Talking? What did you tell him?’

‘Nothing about me, if that’s what you mean. I presume it is. At least, nothing too much about me.’

Celeste regarded her shrewdly in the mirror.

‘That’s not really an answer, you know.’

‘Well, it wasn’t really a question; not one I intended to answer, in any case.’

She paused, turning to face the other girl.

‘I thought getting to know James and having other friends and being normal like this was all your idea in the first place. Why are you so against it all of a sudden?’

‘I’m not. I…’

She sighed.

‘I…heard some things. Things that I’m probably not supposed to know, at least, not yet. Things regarding…your future.’

Stac’s blood ran cold. Her hands began to shake for real.

‘He wouldn’t,’ she whispered in a horrified voice, ‘not yet. Not so soon.’

‘They’re only rumours,’ Celeste reassured her worriedly, sliding her arms around the shaking form, ‘nothing concrete. It’s probably just idle talk.’

‘But what if it isn’t?’ Stac asked frantically. She pulled out of Celeste’s embrace and refused to be calmed.

‘What if the rumours are true?’

‘Grace,’ Celeste told her firmly, ‘you have to snap out of it. For a start, you don’t even know what I’ve heard. You could just be jumping to the wrong conclusion. What’s more, I don’t even know what I’ve heard, not really. As I said, it’s all rumour, conjecture, hearsay. I may have it all incorrect.’

Anastacia took a few deep breaths and clasped her hands on her knees.

‘Of course. You’re right, of course. I’m being silly. It might be nothing.’

Neither of them commented on the fact that her hands were clasped so tight that her knuckles were white. Just as neither of them voiced the unspoken thoughts screaming through their minds.

If Celeste was hearing rumours all the way out here, then there had to be at least a shred of truth to them. What’s more, there was only one part of Anastacia’s future that would cause rumours to spark.

And that one part was very bad news indeed.

 





Yes, I know it's a filler and I know there's a cliffhanger and I'm truly, terribly sorry, but it had to go in. I can, however, guarantee that the next chapter is much juicier, longer and more relevent! So please don' give up on me yet!
Ta!


Chapter 10: No News is Good News *
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Yes, this is an asterix chapter, and by now you hopefully know the drill. Enjoy!



                             
                                    Beautiful image by Ande @ TDA


No News is Good News


Gravity – Sara Bareilles

‘Nothing travels faster than light, with the possible exception of bad news, which follows its own rules.’
- Douglas Adams


 





Sunday was not a good day for breakfast, and a Sunday after a Quidditch match was even worse. Most people barely made it down at all, even though breakfast was put back an hour to allow them a bit of a lie-in.

So it was a very sleepy and slightly grumpy group that sat down at the house tables in the Great Hall that overcast and rainy morning.

Even the teachers looked a bit the worse for wear. Professor Vem was yawning hugely as he passed Professor Longbottom the marmalade, and Professor Shinto was nodding over her porridge as if she’d fall face-first asleep into it at any moment.

Or perhaps not. Oh well. They could live in hope.

The owls came flying through the window, alighting here and there as they did every morning. Most people didn’t even look up from their food, just reached out to take their assorted packages and letters and kept eating.

Dominique, however, looked very confused when an elegant white owl dropped a letter on her toast. She held it up in front of her with a wary expression, like it would suddenly turn into a Howler at any second.

‘Open it, already,’ Lily prompted impatiently.

Dominique frowned and slowly slit the envelope.

‘I’m not expecting anything…’ she murmured as she took out the enclosed parchment. She examined the folded paper briefly before yelling down the table,

‘Rosie, Lily, Molls, this is addressed to you too.’

The other girls rose from their places to come and stand behind her, but before they reached her side, Dominique let out a squeal of excitement and turned to them, eyes bright.

‘Teddy proposed! They’re getting married!’

The Gryffindor table was plunged into chaos. The letter was passed around from girl to girl, read and re-read, exclaimed over, commented on and generally hailed as the most exciting thing to have happened in a long time.

Victoire had asked Dom and Rose to be her bridesmaids; James read when he finally got a hold of the letter. Lily and Molly were to be ushers and helpers on the day, and apparently one of Victoire’s other friends was going to be the third bridesmaid.

Teddy also asked James if he’d be a groomsman, knowing no doubt that James would indeed read the letter, even though it wasn’t addressed to him. James was all too happy to take him up on the request.

But his smile and his good mood faded somewhat as he read on.

Teddy and Victoire had invited all their friends, which constituted the majority of Gryffindor House, to the wedding, which was going to be held in late February.

Anastacia was included in the list of invitees. This was going to cause no end of trouble, he could see that already. For one thing, she’d surely have to refuse, which would upset Victoire. Secondly, how on earth was she going to hide the fact that she’d been invited from her guard or explain why she couldn’t go – whatever that reason may be – when the majority of the House would be talking of nothing else for months?

He looked up, searching for her through the crowd of excited family and friends. It was only because he was looking at that precise moment that he saw it, what everyone else missed.

Because Anastacia had also received a letter, but, unlike Dom’s, hers didn’t seem to be filled with good news. Her face was the colour of sour milk and she was staring fixedly at the parchment in her hands. As he watched, she took a furtive look around, decided that no one was watching, and crumpled the paper into a ball, slipping it into her pocket.

Then she turned to the rest of the girls and, with only a slightly subdued smile, joined in the general chatter and merriment. James continued watching her for a long moment, but she showed no sign of distress and made no indication that she would ever explain what had happened.

So he did what he usually did when it came to her secrets; shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and tried to ignore it.

Dom and Rose were already talking dresses with their friends, and James turned to the side as he caught the tail end of a comment from Sam.

‘What? Sorry mate, I was miles away.’

‘I’ll bet,’ was Sam’s dry response, but he repeated the question.

‘So, who you going to take, then?’

James was taken aback for a moment.

‘Take? To what?’

His friend made a sound of disgust.

‘Wake up, mate, the morning’s nearly over. To the wedding; who’re you gonna take to the wedding?’

‘I dunno. Do I have to take someone?’

Sam clapped him on the back with a look of superiority that made James want to punch his smarmy face in. gently, of course. They were best mates, after all.

‘Course you do. Can’t turn up at a wedding without a date, now, can you? All the old biddies will talk up a storm.’

‘Well, who’re you going to take, then? Since it’s so important.’

‘Ah, never you worry about me, think about your own problems. It’s only a couple of months away…’

But James was no longer listening. His attention was on Stac, who was in turn fixated on something happening over at the Slytherin table.

As he watched, she stood up and, seemingly casual, started towards the doors of the Great Hall. James nudged Sam and stood up to follow.

‘Speaking of problems…’

 




*

Anastacia did not even get half-way across the entrance hall before she was herded into a small room off the side. She got a brief glimpse of James and Sam’s confused faces watching her go, but she was too worried to even think of an explanation to give them.

Celeste’s hand was in her own, a sure sign that the younger girl was uncertain. She must not know what was going on, Anastacia realised suddenly. Creeten had probably just told Celeste to help bring her to whatever meeting they were going to without explaining why. She must be terribly worried.

Anastacia gave her friend’s hand a reassuring squeeze, but the look Celeste shot her was a queer mixture of pity, sorrow and terror.

Something in Anastacia’s chest twisted painfully. Could Celeste know what was happening, then? Did she know more than Anastacia herself? Was there a reason for her to be scared?

Before she had ample time to reflect upon this, they entered the room. It was empty apart from one other occupant, a tall young man with dark blonde hair who turned and bowed to her as she entered.

‘Trelain…’ Anastacia breathed, the visual confirmation of her fears tearing a fresh hole in her already painful chest.

‘Your Grace,’ he answered politely in German, his eyes betraying nothing of what he was feeling, ‘I have news for you. From your father.’

He quirked one eyebrow at the others standing in the room. In comparison to him, they all looked to be scrawny little boys, and worse, they all seemed to be aware of that fact.

Creeten in particular did not look happy in the slightest to see his older brother. His face was contorted into a scowl, and looking at it only made Trelain smile faintly.

‘Perhaps we could discuss this news…in private?’

‘Leave us,’ Anastacia commanded at once, without looking behind her.

The others obeyed. Not even Celeste protested as she followed the boys into the corridor and shut the door behind her.

‘Have you read this?’ Anastacia demanded, the crumpled letter in her hand.

‘I would never presume to read your Grace’s correspondence,’ Trelain answered smoothly, ‘however; your father has made me aware of its general specifics. I have also been given my orders.’

‘Orders?’ she asked, a horrible, sinking feeling flooding her stomach.

‘I believe your father has detailed my orders in his letter.’

She smoothed the paper, re-read the words written in her father’s harsh script, not because she had forgotten what it said, but to stall for time.

She could never forget what it said; it was burned into her mind.

‘I have been appointed as the new head of your personal guard. I will reside in Hogsmeade and collect daily reports from the rest of your retainers.’

He paused delicately.

‘His Grace fears you are becoming…influenced by those you insist on associating with. He has allowed you to continue your involvement with them only because you have assured him on many occasions that to do otherwise would risk suspicion, and he has no wish for anything of the kind to fall upon you here.’

‘Then why does he act so now?’ asked Anastacia, almost desperate. Surely she had misunderstood his note, misunderstood the intentions behind his words. He could not possibly mean what she had first thought…

‘Won’t you sit down, your Grace?’ he deflected, conjuring an elegant wooden chair with an easy wave of his wand.

She did so, sinking down slowly, all the while resisting the urge to turn and run from the room, from whatever was coming next. She didn’t know if she could bear it, especially when the bad news was delivered in that level, calm, infuriatingly normal tone of voice.

‘Now that your father has entered into…negotiations with several highly-born families, he has become anxious to ensure that your conduct is constantly above reproach.’

‘Negotiations?’ Force of will kept her hands and voice steady, but it was a near thing.

‘I am not nineteen for some years yet. There is no hurry. Why should he enter into negotiations at this early stage?’

‘It is not for you or me to question his Grace’s movements.’

Trelain’s voice had become even silkier, betraying his opinions where his face and eyes did not.

‘The fact of the matter is that his Grace is worried that your conduct here at school could have an adverse effect upon his negotiations. It is for that reason that he is making it clear, once and for all, that he wishes for you to have nothing to do with that…person’

Her head shot up, confused.

‘Person? In the letter, he mentions the Gryffindors as a whole. He doesn’t speak of a specific person.’

‘Your father has only recently become aware of this ‘specific person’, as you put it,’ Trelain explained smoothly, ‘after the Quidditch match, the one where my brother and his pathetic excuse for a guard proved themselves to be so inadequate.’

Some small, distant part of her brain that had spent its whole existence concerned with her self-preservation noted the animosity plainly evident in Trelain’s voice as he spoke of his brother. It filed that away for future reference, when she might be able to use it for her advantage.

The majority of her mind, however, was wholly focussed on the situation at hand.

‘He became aware, after the match and after he had written that letter, that there was not only a certain group with which you insist upon associating, but also a ringleader.’

He stood suddenly straighter, hands behind his back; a soldier giving a report.

‘Samuel Jordan. Owen Pennymon. Terry Markham and Josh Alsop; Mudbloods, both of them,’ he interrupted himself disgustedly before continuing, ‘Jaya Sarin. Margaret Brody.’

‘What of them?’ Anastacia asked with more courage than she felt inside, ‘Their only crime is being sorted into Gryffindor alongside me. I can no more control the Sorting Hat’s decisions than I can the sun in the sky.’

‘Their crime is wilful affiliation with you,’ Trelain went on.

‘But they do not know who I am!’ Anastacia shot back, but Trelain interrupted her hotly.

‘They do not need to be aware of their crime to be guilty of it!’

They were both silent for a moment, processing this outburst. Finally, Trelain nodded his head briefly.

‘Forgive me, your Grace, I spoke without thought.’

Like hell you did, Anastacia thought, but she kept silent.

‘As to the ringleader, well,’ Trelain continued as if nothing had happened, ‘I have also been given specific orders on how to deal with him.’

For the second time, Anastacia’s head shot up, although she tried to hide it. She saw from the look in Trelain’s eyes that she had not succeeded; he saw right through her.

She could not stop herself from asking, in a fainter voice,

‘Him?’

Trelain’s smile was unpleasant and hard.

‘According to your father’s reports, a certain James Potter has been the instigator on many occasions of events that involve you spending time away from your guard in the company of those I have already mentioned. It is also his belief that it was James Potter who drew you away from your guard and chosen companions in the first place, and is therefore responsible for many of the changes wrought in you over the years.’

Her throat was dry. She couldn’t make out the words that she wanted to say. Now, at the most important moment, she couldn’t defend him thanks to her traitor body betraying her.

She tried to swallow and coughed roughly. Trelain muttered something and a frightened looking house-elf appeared out of nowhere holding a pitcher and a cup.

Trelain barked at the elf, and it cringed and poured a cup of liquid from the pitcher. He held the cup out to Anastacia, who took it and drank the cool water greedily.

Her throat open once more, she croaked out the words she had wanted to say.

‘What will you do, then? You spoke of orders; what are they?’

‘My orders are simple and clear; I am to coordinate your guard and collect reports on your conduct, which I will then forward to your father. In addition, I am to deal with any…problems as I see fit.’

There it was, in black and white. He’d as good as said it aloud. But she still couldn’t believe it. Something in her still refused to accept it, still needed more proof.

‘Surely, though…I mean, I don’t really see any ‘problems’ here, do you?’

The look he gave her was faintly scornful, and her already low hopes plummeted. In desperation, she stood and caught his arm.

‘Trelain…you wouldn’t? Not to someone you’ve never truly met, someone you barely know. Someone who has never done a thing to harm you or even to make you angry in anyway.’

He looked down on her from his superior height. His face was set in an expression that came close to…confusion.

‘I will do as I am ordered; no more, no less.’

It hit her almost as a physical blow. Indeed, the force should have sent her staggering, if her mind had not called on all the strength forged through years of terror and uncertainty to hold firm to.

The boy looking down at her was a boy no longer. He was in every way his father’s son; any trace of softness or kindness or mercy that had ever existed, however deep down, in his person was gone. In its place was unfailing loyalty, unflagging obedience. Qualities that made him a great soldier.

Qualities that would ensure her own obedience, as her father well knew.

He would do as he threatened. She had no doubt of that.

Gently, she removed her hand from his arm and smoothed her uniform. For some bizarre reason, she felt very calm, almost disconnected from the scene.

‘I see,’ she murmured in her courtier’s voice, ‘well, I don’t think there will be any need for that. Of course, I understand my father’s concerns; they are quite reasonable. I hope you find your stay in Hogsmeade most comfortable.’

It was clearly a dismissal, one that, with a low bow, he acquiesced to. As he opened the door to leave, Creeten nearly tumbled through. Behind him, the rest of her guard stood or leaned along the wall.

Trelain’s lip curled derisively.

‘And you have the gall to wonder why you were removed from your position, brother.’

Without another word, he turned curtly on the rest of the group and made his way down the corridor, followed hotly by an angry Creeten.

Most of the other boys drifted after them, save Alasdair McGowan, who stayed in the corridor, just out of sight from the doorway.

Celeste hurried into the room and gathered Anastacia’s still form in her arms.

‘Grace? Grace, what happened?’

Her voice dropping low, she glanced over her shoulder and slipped into her stilted and childish Italian. Alasdair spoke only English, German and French; he would not be able to understand them.

‘I did not hear well what you say. You were yelling, yes?’

‘Celeste, never mind that. It’s not important. I need you to do something for me.’

She paused while the other girl caught up, struggling to make sense of the unfamiliar words. When she was sure that she was being understood, she went on.

‘I’m going to my room now. I’ll say I have a headache. But in about an hour or so, I need you to get Scorpius Malfoy to my room without being seen.’

‘But–’ Celeste started, her face crinkling in confusion as she translated the words. Anastacia interrupted her.

‘Celeste, it’s urgent. I don’t care how you do it; just get him there, alright? Please,’ she begged, her eyes wide with fear and distress, ‘please, I have to see Scorpius.’

Celeste sighed and pressed her hand.

‘I’ll do my best; I promise you that, at least.’

She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, taking on the blandly superior courtier’s face that had long ago become their refuge. Going to the doorway, she called out to the boy standing outside.

‘Her Grace is tired after her morning’s exertions. She has a headache and she wishes to lie down. You will escort her to her rooms.’

‘Of course, ma’am,’ Alasdair responded respectfully. He bowed low to Anastacia, marking his place as one of the lowest of the guards, and fell in behind her at a respectable distance.

Anastacia did not look back at her friend as she left. Celeste said she would do her best, and in the past, her best had always been more than enough. She was sure it would be the case this time.

However, beyond that meeting, she could no longer involve the younger girl in her plans. Her father’s knowledge of her movements and her friends was much more thorough than she had expected.

It meant that he was getting reliable information about her so-thought secret movements from somewhere, and as long as that source remained a mystery, she would not involve Celeste more than was necessary.

She silently begged her friend’s forgiveness for this new secret she was being forced to keep, and then put the whole matter out of her mind. She, unfortunately, had more important things to worry about.

Like the fact that she only had an hour to come up with a plan to save her best friend’s life.

 






So here we are again, at the end of another chapter, which, may I just say, is my TENTH CHAPTER! Be excited, people! I am. Also, I know that I promised relevant and no cliffhangers, but my computer is in the hospital currently, so I am working with less than half my previous work and notes, so just bear with me. Hopefully, he'll be well before the next chapter, so I can make it up to you lovely people who continue to read. Speaking of which....reviews....please....pretty please?
Ta!


Chapter 11: Contingencies and Worst Case Scenarios
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This chapter is dedicated to my wonderful and lovely beta, frenchy19. What a gem! Thank you so much for checking my every move (or, in this case, key stroke) and being such a grammar Nazi. It's nice to know that one of us can spell!


                             

                                Stunning image by Ande @ TDA

Contingencies and Worst Case Scenarios
 
Stop and Stare – One Republic
 
‘The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.’
- Robert Burns
 





Scorpius knew something was wrong the moment he entered the room. The Guard outside had told him that her Grace had a headache and hadn’t stirred from the Head’s common room since she’d entered an hour ago.

Yet when he stepped through the door, the first thing he saw was an irate Stac pacing back and forth furiously in front of the fire place. He stopped, surprised, unsure of why he’d been summoned.

Anastacia heard someone enter and looked up from her pacing. Seeing Scorpius, she crossed the room towards him, a piece of crumpled paper clutched in her outstretched hand.

Scorpius took the paper without a word. They both stood in silence as he read the words. When he reached the end, he let out a low whistle and sank into a nearby chair.

‘Well,’ he ventured slowly, ‘so, he’s serious then?’

‘Of course he’s serious,’ she replied tersely, sitting beside him, ‘serious enough to send Trelain here, in any case.’

‘Trelain is here?’

He nodded silently, digesting the news.

‘That explains a lot.’

She shot him a confused look, and he explained.

‘I just saw Creeten in the corridor. It was while I was on my way here. He looked furious.’

‘Yes, he was. Trelain’s been appointed the new head of my Guard.’

‘I suppose he’ll want to interview us all, then…’

Scorpius trailed off, thinking of possible implications of this new appointment, but Anastacia snatched the paper from his hand and waved it in front of his face.

‘Never mind that now! What am I to do about this?’

She smoothed the letter on her lap and stared at it unseeingly.

‘It’s a death sentence written out. What in the name of all things am I to do?’

‘Tell–’ Scorpius ventured, but she shook her head vehemently.

‘No, no! That I can never do. You know that! Telling him would be putting him in even worse danger.’

She stood up and resumed her pacing.

‘And I can’t go on as I have been with ignoring him. Not after the Quidditch match. Especially not after the Quidditch match,’ she finished softly, half to herself.

‘So…you’re not going to tell him…and you’re not going to ignore him? Well, you have to do something. If you keep going on this way, Trelain’s going to notice and that’s not going to end well.’

‘I know, I know,’ Anastacia replied desperately, wringing her hands, ‘I just can’t think of what to do!’

‘So you called for me? Blimey, Nast, I can be inventive but I’m not a bloody miracle worker!’

‘Scorpius, please! This isn’t helping!’

She sank down next to him once more.

‘I called for you because…because I’m so afraid that I can’t even function. I’ve been walking around this room for an hour and I’ve thought of nothing!

Dropping the letter to the floor, she hid her face in her hands. Scorpius hesitated for a moment, then rubbed her back gently. In response, she leant into his side, her voice muffled by his robe.

‘I can’t lose him, Scorpius. I can’t. I couldn’t…live with myself if something happened to him.’

There was a pause, a space in which neither said a word. Then Scorpius cleared his throat and continued carefully,

‘I’ll assume we’re talking about James, am I right?’

Her face as she pulled away was a mixture of confusion and annoyance.

‘Of course we’re talking about James. Who else would we be talking about?’

‘Well, the letter doesn’t mention anyone by name. It talks about the Gryffindors as a group. What made your mind jump to James?’

Anastacia sat up straighter, her face stricken.

‘Because I just had a meeting with Trelain, in which he not only told me that my father is aware of all my so-thought secret movements, but that he is aware of the names and backgrounds of all the friends that I have tried so hard to keep unknown. That’s why.’

‘Trelain threatened James directly?’ Scorpius inquired, ‘That doesn’t sound like him.’

‘He has changed, so, so much. He’s nothing like he used to be. When he was telling me about his orders, he was positively grinning.’

‘Orders?’ Scorpius pressed gently.

‘My father has ordered him to deal with any problems as he sees fit. Not only that, but he’s singled James out as the ringleader of the group that…tries to corrupt me.’

‘Making him a problem,’ Scorpius murmured, comprehension dawning.

‘Exactly,’ she agreed, ‘that’s why I need your help. If Trelain finds out that James and I are close, he’ll kill him, I have no doubt about it. I have to do something without making either of them suspicious.’

She stood and walked to the fireplace. Scorpius ran a hand through his pale hair and sighed gustily.

‘Nast, as much as I hate to say it, I have no idea how to fix this. I’m sorry, but I don’t.’

Her face crumpled as if she were in pain and she started to turn away, but Scorpius hurriedly went on.

‘However, I think I know someone who can help.’

When he didn’t elaborate, Anastacia placed her hands on her hips and glared at him.

‘Who? I don’t have time for games, Scorpius.’

‘Just…don’t kill me, okay?’

Without waiting for a reply, her continued.

‘It’s Rose.’

Stac’s eyes grew wide and she took a deep breath to steady herself.

‘No. No! Rose has no part in this.’

‘But she–’

‘Scorpius, she has nothing to do with this. It doesn’t concern her!’

‘Nast, she–’

‘I refuse to put her in that kind of danger!’

‘She knows!’

Another moment of silence. But this time, it was a terrible silence, clinging to their minds as if it were trying to stifle them both and rob the room of life. Eventually, Anastacia gathered herself to speak.

‘She knows?’

Her voice was very low, very quiet. Scorpius nodded mutely in reply.

‘How could you do that? You knew the kind of danger she’d be in if she knew. How could you know that and still tell her?’

Scorpius opened his mouth, closed it, sat back down on the chair and tried again.

‘Because I didn’t tell her, she figured it out for herself, back when we were in third year.’

Anastacia was fighting very hard to keep her emotions in check.

‘She figured it out herself? You expect me to believe that? Any record was removed from common history centuries ago! It’s not the sort of thing you can read in a book, Scorpius!’

‘Nast, listen to me. I did not tell her.’

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

‘I was well aware of the danger she faced if she knew, and besides that, it wasn’t my secret to tell.’

This calmed her somewhat, and she stopped her pacing to sit in the chair facing him. The room, warm with the fire going, had seemed to chill in the last few minutes and she shivered as she sat.

‘How did it happen, then?’

Scorpius resettled himself, his face wry as he remembered.

‘Like I said, we were in third year. She heard you speaking to Celeste in French one day between classes. She recognised a few words and remembered some others, so she asked Dom, her cousin, to translate. She even told her she’d read it in a book so she wouldn’t ask questions.’

He steepled his hands in front of him and looked her squarely in the eye.

‘You were discussing your Father and the court. Whatever she heard, it was enough to make her curious. She started to read up on Wizarding history, and when she couldn’t find anything concrete, she went to Professor Binns. He filled in a couple of the gaps, but he kept telling her that it was all fairy-tales, that you’d never really existed.’

‘Well, you know how she is. She’s like a dog with a bone when it comes to research,’ he continued dryly, ‘so the absence of information only made her more curious. She managed to sneak a look at some of the older books in the library and I think she found some in Diagon Alley too. Anyway, near the end of third year she came to me and confronted me with all this information. She asked me if it were all true.’

A small, slightly hysterical laugh escaped Anastacia before it could be stopped.

‘And you didn’t even think to deny it?’

‘Of course I did! I’m not an idiot! But she said that if it wasn’t true, then I wouldn’t mind her going and asking Iago about it. You know what would have happened if she’d done that.’

He shrugged helplessly.

‘So I told her the truth. I made her promise never to let on that she knew. I didn’t want you to worry.’

‘Too late,’ Anastacia muttered under her breath.

Scorpius smiled faintly and shook his head.

‘I know I shouldn’t have, but what else could I do? Anyway, it might have all happened for a reason…’

‘We are not involving her,’ Stac declared firmly, ‘I won’t have it.’

‘Look, Nast, she’s the one with all the ideas. If anyone has a way to save him, it’ll be her.’

No response. He sighed and stood to his feet.

‘Will you at least talk to her about it? Let me bring her here and we’ll come up with something, you’ll see.’

Finally, a tiny nod. Scorpius took it as permission and made his bow, leaving before she could change her mind.

Stac stared at the fire as he left. Her mind was whirling.

Rose knew her secret? And had done for years? Regardless, how on earth could she even contemplate involving her in something that had the potential to be so dangerous?

What the hell was she doing?







Nearly half an hour later, the doorknob turned and Scorpius stepped back into the room. He gave a small bow, just a slight inclination of his head. Rose, following close on his heels, shut the door behind her and dipped a small curtsey.

‘I told Alasdair that I’d replace him. He left before Rose came out. No one knows she’s here. There’s no danger.’

Anastacia wasn’t even listening to him. Her face was frozen in a polite mask as she struggled to keep the shock and pain hidden from the other two.

‘Nast?’ Scorpius asked with a touch of concern in his voice, but she held up her hand and cut him off.

‘I’m fine, I’m fine, truly. But…please,’ she turned to Rose, her face drawn, ‘please…don’t.’

Rose understood at once and nodded apologetically.

‘Sorry, sorry. I didn’t think. Okay, no curtseys.’

Anastacia gave her a tight smile and walked back towards the chairs. Scorpius and Rose followed.

‘Look, Stac,’ Rose began softly, ‘I’m…really sorry about this. I know I should have told you, but, well, we didn’t want you to worry.’

‘I understand. I know you only had good intentions. But know this, Rose,’ and she paused, her eyes very bleak.

‘I never would have told you. If I had my way, you would have lived your life blissfully unaware of everything I am.’

‘And I understand that, Stac, I do,’ Rose countered earnestly, ‘I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you all these years, living such a double life. But maybe this isn’t all bad. Who knows? It might make it easier, having someone else to talk to.’

‘Perhaps…’

Scorpius cleared his throat and picked the crumpled letter up off the floor.

‘Here,’ he said, giving it to Rose, ‘read this.’

‘How much have you told her?’ Anastacia queried as Rose smoothed the paper and squinted at the heavy script.

‘I gave her the specifics on the way over,’ Scorpius responded, ‘who, what why, that sort of thing.’

‘Enough for me to start forming a plan,’ Rose added from her spot on the sofa.

Anastacia turned to her eagerly.

‘You’ve thought of something already?’

‘It’s vague,’ Rose countered, still engrossed in the letter, ‘give me a few more minutes to think it through and I’ll let you know.’

So they sat in silence once more, Rose with furrowed brow and squinting eyes, Scorpius with a calm expression hiding his concern, and Anastacia with a look of grim hope.

‘Okay,’ Rose finally announced to the room at large, ‘I think I’ve got it. But first, I was just wondering about something.’

She held out the letter, the parchment of which was now torn and stained from repeated handlings.

‘Nowhere in this letter does it mention James by name, only the seventh year Gryffindors. Why is it him you’re worrying about and not the others?’

Anastacia opened her mouth to answer, but Scorpius beat her to it.

‘Because that’s what Trelain said when she met with him. I told you that, Rose.’

But unlike Anastacia’s, his face did not show confusion. His eyebrows were drawn together and he was frowning almost…warningly.

Rose nodded and gave a light laugh.

‘Sorry, you did. I forgot. Well, then,’ she continued, sitting forward on her chair, ‘here’s what I came up with. You need to do something to make James not want to socialise with you anymore. Something that won’t get either of you in trouble or noticed, but that will force him to make the choice to stay away from you. That way you won’t have to explain anything to him and he won’t grab the attention of any of your Guard.’

The other two digested this and nodded in agreement.

‘That makes sense,’ Scorpius commented, ‘but what exactly did you have in mind.’

He paused.

‘You did have something in mind, didn’t you?’

‘Of course,’ she replied tartly, ‘I was getting to that. I thought about it and I decided that, in light of his personality and character, the best thing you could do would be to pretend to go out with someone that James doesn’t like.’

Anastacia’s mouth fell open. She was too shocked to give any observation at all.

‘Alright,’ Scorpius continued doubtfully, ‘and how do you see that helping?’

‘As long as she makes it seem like she truly wants to be with that person, James, idiot though he is, is too much of a gentleman to try and make her give them up. But he won’t want to be around the guy, so he’ll stay away from them both.’

She took a deep breath and let it out.

‘I even know who the guy is. Someone who already knows about this whole situation and is not one of my cousin’s particular favourites.’

Scorpius looked shocked, a pained expression flitting momentarily across his features. As quickly as it had come, it was replaced by his usual calm mask.

‘Me,’ he stated quietly. Rose nodded, her own face a reflection of his bland façade.

But this was all too much for Anastacia.

‘No!’ she protested, springing up from the sofa, ‘I won’t do it!’

The other two looked up at her with suitably shocked and confused expressions.

‘It’s a decent idea, Nast,’ was Scorpius’ mild reply, ‘it may not be exactly what I had in mind, but Rose is right. This could work. I told you she had all the good ideas,’ he continued, flashing her a brief smile.

Rose returned it shyly, uncomfortable in the spotlight now that her idea was out on the table, but Anastacia didn’t notice the interlude.

‘I can’t do that to him. I just can’t! I’d never be able to pull it off, anyway. He knows me too well. They all do.’

‘You’ve had to do harder acting in the past, Nast,’ he reminded her gently, ‘and you’ve always managed that just fine.’

Rose had returned to staring at her, but her face was no longer confused. She seemed to be searching the other girl’s face for something, some imperceptible sign. It was making Anastacia uncomfortable.

‘This is different, okay? It just is. I would never be able to do it, not in a million years. I know it. And why are you staring at me?

Rose folded her hands in her lap, her eyes shrewd.

‘How is this different Stac? Why exactly are you objecting so strongly?’

When she received no reply, she sighed and stood to her feet.

‘If this is going to work, if anything is to be done, then you need to start being honest, Stac. With us and with yourself.’

‘Rose,’ Scorpius murmured warningly, but Anastacia held up her hand for him to stop.

‘No, wait, I want to hear what she has to say.’

She crossed her arms over her chest and stuck out her chin, as if daring the younger girl to continue.

Which she did.

‘What are your feelings towards my cousin, exactly?’

Whatever she’d been expecting, that wasn’t it. Anastacia blinked, then blinked again, trying to process the question.

‘I…I don’t understand.’

‘How do you feel about my cousin? It’s a perfectly simple question,’ Rose continued lightly, ignoring Scorpius’ muttered cautions.

‘He’s my best friend, that’s all.’

‘Is it? Is that really all he is to you?’

‘Rosie, don’t…’

‘Because it seems to me that he’s quite a bit more than that.’

Anastacia pulled her arms in closer, hugging herself tighter, as she tried to block out the words.

‘That’s not true. There’s nothing but friendship between us.’

‘Rose, this isn’t the time–’

‘Then when is the time, Scorpius?’ Rose exploded, losing her temper, ‘When she’s safely married off to some old fart and out of the way? I’m assuming that’s what all the increased security is about.’

Scorpius didn’t reply. Shooting a quick glance at his face, Anastacia was surprised to see him looking defeated. He gave a brief nod, and Rose went on.

‘Stac, we can see how you feel about him. Those of us that know you well, we can tell.’

She smiled sadly.

‘It’s not a crime, you know. No one outside this room ever has to know, if that’s the way you want it. But you need to at least confess it to yourself, if not to us.’

Scorpius’ mouth twisted wryly in a parody of a smile.

‘If it were Sam you were trying to convince, would you really be protesting so hard?’

He stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged.

‘Or is it the fact that every time you think about pretending to go out with someone, you wish it was him?”

She shook her head, turning away so that she didn’t have to look at them.

No. This wasn’t happening. It was all a terrible dream, and any moment she was going to wake up and find herself safe in her own bed.

She couldn’t love him. She didn’t love him. He was her best friend, and that was all. She’d always known that she couldn’t love him; it would literally be his death sentence.
Since the day she’d discovered boys, she’d set him aside as one she could never have. Nothing had changed.

Yeah, right, scoffed the sarcastic part of her brain, and after a long moment she had to grudgingly admit that it was right.

Because something had changed. It had probably happened a long time ago, slowly, and she just hadn’t noticed. She couldn’t even rightly say when she’d become aware of said change.

Perhaps it had been when she’d seen him fall from the roof earlier in the year. Maybe it was when she’d discovered a fourth scent in Jaya’s Amortentia. It might only have happened today, when she was faced with the prospect of losing him forever.

Regardless whenever she’d discovered it, she’d hidden it away, as she did with all the things with which she didn’t feel she was able to cope.

It was hard, so hard to keep it hidden. And here were Rose and Scorpius trying to make her dredge it all out into the light.

Quite honestly, what did she have to lose?

In that split second, she gave up trying to hold back the emotions and feelings and knowledge that she’d spent so long hiding away. They coursed through her, filling her with the unmistakeably and unarguable truth.

I’m in love with James Sirius Potter.

She swallowed a gasp and pressed her fingers to her mouth, hard. Rose heard the small sound and came to her side, her face worried.

‘Stac? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pressed. Scorpius is right, this isn’t the time.’

‘No. No.’

Anastacia struggled to get the words out clearly past the lump that had suddenly apparated into her throat.

‘You’re right. You’re both right.’

Turning back to face them, tears welling in her blue eyes, Anastacia held out her hands helplessly.

‘I’m in love with James. I might as well just kill him myself.’

‘No, Stac, listen to me.’

Rose’s voice was urgent, insistent.

‘It’s going to be okay. Everyone will be fine, yourself included. We’re going to get through this, the three of us. Together. We can do this.’

‘Nast, I know you don’t like Rosie’s plan, but I really can’t see any other way.’

Scorpius moved to her other side, wrapping his arms around her slightly shuddering torso.

‘I’m not so enamoured with it myself, to tell the truth,’ he confessed, avoiding Rose’s quick glare, ‘but I think it’ll work. I’m willing to give it a try, at least, if you are.’

‘I know it’s a bit extreme, but what’s the alternative? Ignore him until he kidnaps you for answers and gets himself killed or risk putting him in worse danger by telling him?’

‘I could always kill myself. That would solve everyone’s problems.’

Rose shuddered and hugged Anastacia from the other side, sandwiching the older girl between herself and Scorpius.

‘Don’t even joke about that. At least, I’m assuming it was a joke. It would most definitely not solve everyone’s problems,’ she told her firmly.

Anastacia considered everything, trying to think through the pros and cons of each situation. But her mind was so caught up in the new knowledge that she couldn’t concentrate properly.

What a fool, scolded the sarcastic voice in her brain, look at you, mooning over some boy. What are you, thirteen?

Mostly to get some peace from the voice in her head, Anastacia made her choice.

‘Okay,’ she breathed hesitantly, ‘I’ll try it. But we need to come up with a way of breaking it to him slowly, so that he doesn’t get overwhelmed by the news all at once. And I can’t tell him, of course.’

‘I’ve already thought of that,’ Rose continued soothingly, ‘and I think the best way would be for him to hear it through gossip. Then he’ll confront you, you’ll give him the story, and that will be the end of it.’

‘Gossip? You really think that’s the best way?’ Scorpius challenged, ‘That’s just cruel.’

They retreated to the sofa to argue it out, leaving Anastacia alone by the fire. She listened to their good-natured bickering on her behalf and wondered again what the hell they were all getting into.

Because this wasn’t just affecting her anymore. If they went through with this, it would affect the two of them as well, and who knew how far that might go.







‘Okay, so that’s it then.’

Rose returned to the hearth, a note of finality ringing in her voice. She gave Anastacia some last instructions and information, which she nodded at but neither heard nor comprehended. Then she hugged the other girl tight, wished her luck, and left the room, calling something about being late for homework.

Scorpius remained in his seat, lounging with a seemingly casual air, gazing into the flames. He didn’t bother to talk. Anastacia was glad of that. She needed a few minutes to return herself to normal.
In all the chaos, she’d almost forgotten that there was a world outside the door, one with books and lessons and teachers and homework. How on earth was she going to do this?

‘You’ll be fine, Nast,’ Scorpius reassured her in his soft voice, as if he could read her mind, ‘you’ll see.’

This reminded her of just with whom she was going into this. After James, Scorpius was her best male friend and one of the people she trusted most in the world.
He’d been there for her for almost as long as she could remember. No one else could have convinced her to do this; to no one else would she have admitted her secret true feelings.

Perhaps…perhaps they could do this. Perhaps they could save him, and perhaps the world wouldn’t always be so dark after all.

Slowly, very slowly, a small grin slid across her face. Turning to face him, she raised one eyebrow.

‘Rosie?’

Scorpius cringed at the tone in her voice, his face screwed up in embarrassment.

‘Oh, Merlin’s pants, Nast, don’t you start!’

The laughter and the teasing that followed almost made the fears go away.

Almost. But not quite.






Woah...bit of a revelation? Or not so much? Believe me when I say it's all starting to take off, people...in ways you can't even imagine. Stay with us to find out!
As always, reviews brighten my day and give me the will to go on. So be a mate! Ta!


Chapter 12: Liar, Liar *
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Yes, this is an asterix chapter, and by now you hopefully know the drill. Enjoy!

 



                             
                                 Stunning image by Ande @ TDA

Liar, Liar

Apologize – Timbaland feat. One Republic

‘Anger is just an extension of sadness. It’s a lot easier to be angry at someone then it is to tell them you’re hurt.’
- Tom Gates


 





Sam yawned hugely as he stumbled down the stairs towards the Great Hall on Tuesday morning. Beside him, James rubbed his eyes and tried to make his brain communicate with the rest of his body.

He had no idea how his feet were even managing to move. There was no way the action was voluntary. He couldn’t even remember getting dressed, let alone leaving the dorm and starting down the staircase.

He and the rest of the Gryffindor seventh year boys had been quite literally up all night, playing a very long round of Exploding Snap Wizard Chess Dare Poker, a complex and difficult game that they had invented themselves in fourth year.
The rules were a closely guarded secret, and very few people outside of their circle even knew the game existed.

As was often the case after a match, they all bore the scars and marks of the previous night.

Terry was missing half an eyebrow and had the words Hex Me glowing brightly on his cheeks. Sam had a black eye that was fading gradually due to some of James’ Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes Bruise-remover paste.
He was hoping it would go down enough to not be noticed against his dark skin by the time classes started (Terry had no chance and was glumly expecting a detention).

Owen’s hair had been green last night, but when they’d awoken this morning, it was its normal sandy colour. Josh, who had turned it green in the first place with a spell he’d thought to be foolproof, was more than a little grumpy.

Especially since his own hair was a riotous mix of blue and orange, to match his purple ears (Josh was also looking forward to a detention).

James, on the other hand, bore no visible marks, at least, none that showed above his uniform. Under his shirt, however, was a different matter.

As he sat down at the Gryffindor table, James was very glad that none of the girls could see what was written all over his torso…

He looked around for Stac, eager to tell her all about last night’s escapades, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Funny, he thought, helping himself to bacon and eggs. Then again, she’d been acting funny the past couple of days. She’d run off the morning after the Quidditch match. There’d been that mysterious letter and then she’d disappeared all Sunday.
He hadn’t seen her much yesterday either, come to think of it. They’d only had the one lesson together, and she’d seemed really distracted. He hadn’t been able to talk to her at all.

She must just be worried about that stupid ball she was organising with Marcus. Yeah, that would be it.

Still…

‘Have you seen Stac?’ he asked Sam, who shook his head and mumbled something through a mouthful of kipper.

Across the table, Margie raised her head.

‘I don’t know where she is, either,’ she offered, frowning, ‘I haven’t seen her since Saturday.’

‘D’you mean Anastacia Sangraal?’ a small voice piped up.

Seven heads turned slowly to face a tiny redheaded Ravenclaw who was passing.

But instead of turning to jelly under the superior glares, the small boy seemed to swell with importance.

‘She’s over there, at the Slytherin table. See?’

He pointed across the room. They turned again, to see Stac…sitting next to Scorpius Malfoy.

Malfoy?

James couldn’t believe his eyes.

‘They’ve just starting going out.’

What!’ Sam and James rounded on him angrily.

Now at last, he seemed to show some sensible fear.

‘A-at least, th-th-that’s what everyone s-says…’

Sam jerked his head in the direction of the Ravenclaw table. The boy took the hint and fled.

‘This is a joke,’ Jaya whispered in a stunned voice, ‘it has to be.’

‘It’ll be a rumour,’ Sam assured them all, though his voice was uncertain, ‘they’re old friends, that’s all. Right, James?’

‘Yeah, that’s right,’ James murmured in agreement. What else could it be? And yet…they were sitting quite close together.

As they watched, Scorpius bent over to whisper something in Stac’s ear. She laughed gently and they both stood to leave.

‘Well, there’s one way to clear this up,’ James announced. He got up from the table at the same moment as Sam.

‘See you in a bit,’ James called back to his friends as they followed the two other students into the entrance hall.

‘Oi, Stac!’ Sam called as they passed through the doors.

She turned to face them, her face set in its usual polite mask. This wavered for a moment when she saw who it was, but only for a moment, before it became as strong and as set as ever.

‘Yes?’ she asked softly.

Never having been one for subtlety, James ploughed right in.

‘Just a heads up. Someone’s spreading a rumour that you’re going with Malfoy here. You might want to nip that in the bud.’

He thrust his hands into his pockets casually.

‘Anyway, I wanted to ask if you’re up for Hogsmeade this weekend. Uncle George has a whole new shipment. It’s supposed to be wicked.’

‘No, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to Hogsmeade,’ Stac replied calmly, ‘at least, not with rest of you. Scorpius and I have a date.’

Her voice was so calm, so matter of fact, that it took James a moment to register what she’d said.

‘Eh?’

Without his say so, his arms reached out and took hold of her shoulders. James felt as though he was watching someone else control him as he shook her gently.

‘Stac, that’s crazy–’

‘I’ll thank you to unhand my girlfriend.’

The blonde boy’s voice was cool. His mind finally catching up, James removed his hands.

Stac immediately threaded her arm through Scorpius’ and they turned and hurried away towards the classrooms. James and Sam could only stand and watch them go.

‘Well, that was unexpected,’ Sam muttered dazedly.

James had to agree with him, even if he couldn’t voice the words himself. The thought that Stac was actually going out with…actually chose to…

‘Nah, nah, there’s something going on,’ he finally managed to get out, ‘something’s up, he’s…he’s got a hold on her or something?’

‘Really?’

Sam looked sceptical, but James ignored it.

‘You’ll see, you’ll see. I’ll go talk to her again. You’ll see.’









But talking to Stac was easier said than done. She sat with the Slytherins in class, ignored him when he tried to catch her attention, and gave the overall impression that she really didn’t want anything to do with him.

James was getting more and more confused, which made him increasingly wound up. He tried to talk to her all through Transfiguration, but she was having none of it.

All of this had a rather detrimental effect upon his attempt at transfiguring...well, whatever he was meant to be transfiguring. The fact that he couldn't even remember what it was after class had finished was probably a good indicator of his level of concentration during the lesson.
Luckily for him, Professor Shinto seemed to be in a decent mood and didn't notice.

He intended to try again at morning break, but the moment the bell rang, Malfoy somehow appeared at her side, and he didn’t want to go near them together.

The next lesson was Potions, and he fared even worse than he had before, since Danté noticed that something was up and wouldn’t get off his back for the whole lesson.

By the time lunch had ended, James was at his wit’s end. On his way to Divination, he made a split second decision and grabbed Owen’s arm mid-stride.

‘Come with me.’

Yanking his friend into a passageway that ran off from the main corridor, James turned to face him.

‘Right, so you’re going to go in and tell Ramira that Neville needs to speak with Stac. Then you’re going to bring her out to where I’ll be waiting.’

‘All this because she won’t speak to you?’ Owen asked placidly.

James glared at him, so he held up his hands in agreement.

‘Okay, okay, I’ll do it. I might not agree with it, but I’ll do it.’










James followed Owen to the Ancient Runes classroom and hid around the corner, out of sight. He heard him knock on the door and Professor Ramira’s clear voice call out,

‘Enter!’

James made sure to stay well back where no one could see him. Professor Ramira was the head of Ravenclaw house and did not have a very high opinion of James.

Something to do with his ‘wasting his natural talent on insignificant and frivolous pranks’ or words to that effect.

Whatever the case, they’d never really got on, although she adored Albus and was forever wondering aloud why Rose and Stac had been put into Gryffindor.

‘Sorry to interrupt, Professor, but Professor Longbottom needs to see Anastacia Sangraal,’ Owen told her.

‘Miss Sangraal?’

The Professor’s rich, genteel tones floated out the door.

‘Take your things, my dear, you’ve no idea how long you’ll be. And please continue the questions at the end of that chapter for the next class.’

‘Yes, Professor. Thank you.’

James heard the sound of two people stepping into the hallway as a door closed somewhere behind them. He hurried back along the corridor to the prearranged place and waited for Owen.









*

Anastacia rounded the corner in confusion.

‘This isn’t the way to the Headmaster’s office, is it?’

The question had barely left her mouth when her answer stepped away from the wall. Anastacia stopped dead, her lungs seizing painfully.

It was so difficult, so difficult…she’d had no idea it would be like this. It was as if her mind, after years of living in self-imposed darkness, was grabbing hungrily for any source of light.

She stared at James openly, wondering how on earth she’d never noticed these feelings before. His fan girls had a point, she had to admit, although it went against the grain to do so. Even with her limited social knowledge due to her unique upbringing, she could understand how people saw him as physical perfection personified. His shoulders were so wide, his chest so broad…

Come to think of it, it was probably a good idea that they weren’t really speaking at the moment. Goodness knows what she’d end up saying if they were. She’d probably blurt everything out like a fool, and then where would she be?

James was frowning, which should have been a warning, but she didn’t see it until it was too late.

‘Stac, you can’t go out with Malfoy.’

She’d been expecting something along these lines, but it wasn’t very hard to act shocked. She hadn’t really thought he’d be quite so blunt about the situation.

Excuse me? May I ask why?’

‘Stac, that guy is bad news. Sure, he may not seem like it now, but the worst ones never do. You can’t trust him.’

‘Trust him? How dare you say a thing like that, you don’t even know him!’

It wasn’t difficult to channel all her pent up feelings and fears into her words. The difficult bit was finding the guts to say them when she knew how much it would end up hurting him. But goading him was the easiest way to make him angry, and making him angry would ensure the plan’s success.

‘For your information, I’ve known him a lot longer than I’ve known you, and a lot better too. If there’s anyone here that I shouldn’t be trusting, it’s you!’

‘Me?’

James was incredulous. He looked at her like she’d gone mad.

‘What the hell?’

‘Well, you don’t exactly have a spotless track record, now, do you?’

The unfairness of this statement flustered James. What was that supposed to mean? Maybe he’d started out as a bit of a delinquent, but the only reason he’d copped flack in recent years was because he’d been protecting her!

‘Stac, he’s…not right for you!’

‘Oh, and you would know, would you? Have you dated him, then?’

‘He’s a Slytherin!’

‘And I’m Head Girl, aren’t I? I represent all the Houses, not just Gryffindor!’

‘That’s bollocks!’

‘It is not! Anyway, that’s not really the problem, is it?’

‘What the hell are you talking about?’

‘Would you still care if he were in Ravenclaw? Or Hufflepuff?’

‘Course I would!’

‘See! So it’s not Slytherin after all! That’s just an excuse!’

James rubbed the bridge of his nose exasperatedly. This was getting severely out of hand.

‘Stac, come on. He’s younger than you, for Merlin’s sake!’

‘He’s my age!’ she hissed back furiously, ‘I’m a year younger than the rest of you, remember?’

Crap. She was too. Now he was really in for it. And well deserved, too. What kind of a friend was he if he couldn’t even remember how old she was?

‘Face it, James. You’re letting old prejudices get in the way. That’s all this is. You don’t like him because your father didn’t like his father. That’s just sad.’

Despite himself, James felt his temper rising once more. He couldn’t resist giving one more barb.

‘Sad, is it? Well, at least I know what’s up! That whole family’s trouble, and if you were sane, you’d known it too!’

‘So! I’m insane now, am I? Good! Great! I’m so glad we had this little chat!’

With her last shred of reserve rapidly disintegrating, Anastacia turned on her heel and stalked away, back to class. Or maybe not. She felt drained, empty…broken. The fight had damaged something inside her, and she didn’t know how long she’d need to fix it, or at least to give the impression that it was fixed.

Hardest of all was leaving and fighting not to turn and run back. Fighting not to return and hug him, to cry on his shoulder and tell him how much it was hurting her to hurt him. All she wanted to do was beg him to forgive her.

The two boys watched her go. James still wore a furious expression that was becoming more and more jaded as he began to realise what he’d done. Owen, on the other hand, had a very sad and disappointed look on his face.

‘Well, that didn’t go so well.’

‘Shut up, Owen.’

Owen took the hint and left, off to who knew where. Probably class. Not that it really mattered.

James was on his own for what felt like a long time.

‘Stac?’ he called eventually, in a soft voice that echoed gently off the cold walls.

‘Stac?’

Of course, there was no answer.

I’m sorry.







Once again, sorry, I know it's a short chapter, but hang in there because the best is yet to come! Hopefully it will go up before Christmas, maybe not, we'll have to wait and see, but I hope you enjoy this one and stay with us!
Ta!


Chapter 13: Density
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                                                                  Stunning image by Ande @ TDA

DensityChasing Pavements –Adele

‘A smile happens in a flash, but its memory can last a lifetime.’
- Anonymous







Sam, James and Josh spent their final lesson, which was free, at the Quidditch pitch, half-heartedly practising for a while, then finetuning their broomsticks and talking.

‘So…that’s it, then? She’s really going with him.’

‘Wouldn’t know. Haven’t spoken to her about it.’

Josh snorted.

‘Yeah, right. Come off it mate, Owen told us everything.’

James glared at them both.

‘Stupid git. Knew he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.’

‘Hey, don’t take it out on him, mate,’ Sam said warningly, ‘none of this is his fault, ‘kay? It’s not yours, but it’s not his either. He was just trying to help.’

‘By what? Telling the world about our fight? What kind of help is that?’

Josh stood and collected up his broom-cleaning kit.

‘Light’s fading. I’m going in.’

‘She’s right, you know, you are a drama queen. He didn’t tell everyone. Just us, ‘cause he knew we’d have to put up with your sulking. He thought we deserved an explanation.’

‘Which is more than some people have given us,’ Sam commented darkly.

James stopped, considered everything, and sighed.

‘Sorry. I guess I should have told you. Just…I thought she’d have better taste, you know?’

Sam raised his dark brows.

‘Really? Is that so?’

They started up the hill towards the castle and dinner.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ James queried, feeling he was missing some important subtext.

‘Just that Scorpius isn’t such a bad guy. I mean, he gets good marks, he doesn’t get into trouble, and he’s not about to mistreat her or anything.’

‘Yeah, mate,’ Josh agreed, ‘you have to admit, there are worse guys she could go with.’

‘Just…shut it, okay?’ James muttered moodily as he strode on ahead, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

Leaving his friends behind, he hurried into the castle.

 





By the time he’d returned his broomstick and his kit to his dormitory, the rest of the student body were heading into the Great Hall for dinner. James followed them, sitting down next to Sam with a tight nod that indicated that he was in a somewhat improved mood from the last time they’d spoken.

Sam returned the favour with the obligatory raised eyebrows and slight shrug that conveyed both his comprehension and his approval. That done, they both settled in to eat.

Lunch was, as always, brilliant, but for once James wasn’t really paying attention to the food before him. His consciousness was ever-so-slightly diverted by the fact that their table was missing one crucial member.

Stac was sitting over at the Slytherin table, next to Malfoy. As much as he hated to admit it, she didn’t look unhappy. Then again, the expression on her face wasn’t exactly filled with love and devotion. More like…polite disinterest.

This gave James pause, and, unfortunately for him, that pause came just as Sam was trying to get him to pass over a plate of chocolate pudding.

Mate! Watch it!’

James fumbled with the bowl and half-dropped it, catching it just in time to stop the contents from being thrown onto the table.

However, this meant that a significant portion of the chocolate pudding was dumped onto the sleeve of his robe.

He wiped it off with a tight laugh and passed the bowl to Sam, who was shaking his head and sending him inquisitive looks, to which he did not reply.

James smiled wryly as the heat of the packed bodies made the scents around rise stronger. He may as well have been wearing Amortentia as an aftershave, although it would only have appealed to he himself.

His robes were still damp on one corner from the oil in his broomstick cleaning kit, and while the chocolate pudding now smeared on his sleeve may not be the same as in the pub, it came a pretty close second. Now if he could only find out what the third scent was and get a hold of it, he could market this stuff as Eau de James.

Not such a bad idea. Maybe he could convince his Uncle George to…

As if some mischievous little sprite had read his thoughts, a wave of citrus drifted across the table and directly into James’ nose. He looked up, startled.

On the other side of the table, Terry was holding out a dessert of some kind to Sam and James.

‘Try some,’ he was urging, ‘it’s really good. Dunno if they’ve made it before, they must be trying new stuff. It’s been ages since I’ve had a good lemon tart.’

James felt as if the air had been ripped from his lungs. He could have sworn that his heart stopped beating for a second. His vision started to blur and the voices around him faded, no match for the roaring in his ears.

Lemon tart…

 





He was suddenly lost in a memory so vivid it was as if he was looking into a Pensieve.

He could see his twelve-year-old self heading for the Quidditch pitch after lessons. He hadn’t known why he went; something had just told him to go.

The Ravenclaw team was practicing on the pitch that day. Their blue uniforms whipped by as they ran drills with practise Quaffles and Bludgers.

James had been made a member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team that year, despite being a first year, and so he watched the other house with a critical eye, looking for weaknesses he could use in a game.

‘They look a bit bored, don’t they?’

James started. The voice had come out of the shadows by one of the stands. As James watched, a young girl walked calmly into the light to stand next to him. She watched the other team as well.

‘So…are you into Quidditch then?’ he’d asked, more for something to say then out of real interest. He couldn’t imagine anyone not being interested in Quidditch; it just didn’t make sense.

To his surprise, she frowned and thought for a moment before answering.

‘No-o,’ she replied, drawing out the word until it became two syllables, ‘I’m not really.’

She shrugged, suddenly unconcerned.

‘It’s all a bit boring, isn’t it? I mean, look at them.’

She gestured to the blue-clad players feverishly running drills on the pitch before them.

‘They look like they’d rather be anywhere else.’

James couldn’t think of an appropriate reply. Quidditch? Boring? Was she alright in the head?

‘That’s it!’ the girl continued brightly, ‘I know exactly how to make their practice more exciting.’

‘What do you mean?’ James asked curiously. Everything considered, they’d really only just met. If not for their night-time escapade a few weeks ago, he wouldn’t have known her at all.

And while he was all for pranks, he wasn’t really used to standing by while other people initiated them. Especially not seemingly innocent and helpless little girls.

‘Well, see that big one over by the goals?’

She pointed to the rather thuggish looking Keeper who would have fit better in Slytherin than Ravenclaw. James peered over and nodded.

‘Martin, I think his name is.’

‘Yes, Martin, whatever,’ she waved her hand dismissively, ‘ce n’est pas important.’

She pulled her wand out of her sleeve as she spoke and twirled it around a few times. It looked as if she were warming up her wand hand.

‘I saw him in a corridor the other day. He was having an argument with Emily, one of our prefects. She accused him of cheating on her with other girls, and he just laughed at her. He said that he had to cheat because she wasn’t good enough for him.’

Her pale eyebrows drawn together, she glared in the direction of the pitch.

‘Then he called her a lemon-faced tart and left her there. She was crying so hard she didn’t even notice me.’

James stared at her. Obviously, that wasn’t very nice of him, but what did it have to do with her? He couldn’t see how a guy breaking up with his girlfriend had anything to do with the little girl before him.

‘So…what are you doing here?’

‘Emily’s always been really lovely to me. She helped me to get settled in and she’s always looking after the younger girls. She didn’t deserve that. And besides,’ she added, shooting him a cheeky grin, ‘I couldn’t just let him get away with it, now, could I?’

Without further ado, she pointed her wand at the players on the pitch.

Laganum verto!

For a second, it didn’t look like anything had happened. James wondered exactly what she’d intended to do and idly hoped that it would have a permanent effect upon their Quidditch performance.

But before he really had time to follow that thought, an extraordinary thing happened;

All the balls being used in practice suddenly turned into large lemon tarts which started to chase the players around the pitch. A few seconds later, dozens of even bigger tarts appeared and zoomed towards the Keeper, knocking him to the side and leaving him hanging onto his broom by one hand. Some of the tarts seemed too big to fly on their own and fell to the ground before they made it to the pitch, but their fellows more than made up for it.

The pitch was thrown into confusion. Players sped around, trying to escape the speedy desserts chasing them. One of them, presumably the Captain, blew hard on his whistle and yelled at others, gesturing towards the castle.

The rest of the team turned in their tracks and sped off, away from the pitch. When they crossed the boundary, the tarts stopped attacking them, but the team didn’t slow down. Within a matter of seconds they were passing over the heads of the two first years by the grandstands.

Unfortunately for them, they were still laughing as this happened. James swallowed his laughter with a nervous gulp the moment that the bigger, older players had slowed in front of him, but the little blonde girl continued to giggle uncontrollably.

‘You think that’s funny, do you?’ snarled the Captain, who was quite thuggish himself up close.

She just let loose with a fresh round of giggles, to the shock of those around her. Amazingly, she didn’t seem to be scared at all.

The Ravenclaws looked furious and the burly Keeper started cracking his knuckles menacingly.

James didn’t know what to do. Any second they were going to turn on her. He didn’t have time to think, let alone come up with a plan, so he acted on pure instinct.

Picking up one of the large pies that had fallen near his feet, he lobbed it with the unerring accuracy of a born Chaser at the Ravenclaw captain.

It hit the bigger boy squarely in the face. He regarded James with shock for a moment, lemon curd dripping down his cheeks.

‘You like my joke, hey?’ James jeered with all the cheek he could muster, ‘Well, there’s plenty more where that came from.’

It wasn’t until later – after he’d had yet another telling off from McGonagall and Madame Pomfrey had seen to his numerous wounds – that he’d actually got to talk to Anastacia.

She was waiting for him in a window alcove in the common room. He walked stiffly across the room, still a little tender in several places, and sat down next to her.

‘Why did you do that?’ she asked bluntly. Her face was belligerent, but her eyes were confused.

James shrugged and winced as the movement caused twinges across his sore back.

‘Dunno. Guess I didn’t think you’d like it if they beat up on you.’

‘But you didn’t have to,’ she’d protested, still not understanding, ‘you didn’t have anything to do with it.’

‘Look, Stac, that’s what friends do. They stick up for each other.’

She frowned.

‘And do friends call each other names, too?’

‘What, ‘Stac’? That’s just a nickname, I guess. Sorry, I didn’t know it would upset you.’

‘No! It doesn’t! I mean,’ she paused and gave him a shy smile, ‘I like it. I’ve just…I’ve never really had a friend before.’

‘Well, you’ve got one now,’ he’d told her firmly, ‘and soon you’ll have lots more. I’ll make sure of that, Stac.’

‘Thanks…Jem.’

 He’d never got that as a nickname before. He wondered if it was significant in any way. As if reading his thoughts, she hurried to explain.

‘In French, when we say ‘j’aime’ we mean ‘I like’. Je aime,’ she repeated slowly, ‘it just reminded me of your name. Jem.’

Jem? James considered the word. It had a nice ring to it.

‘I like it,’ he decided aloud, ‘Jem…cool!’

He grinned broadly at her, deciding firmly to be true to his words and help her find some more friends. She seemed like a good sort.

Suddenly, she picked something up off the seat beside her and held it out to him.

‘Tart?’ she asked sweetly, an innocent, wide-eyed smile on her face.

James couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing again, and she joined in. The rest of the room looked at them like they were crazy, but they didn’t care. Together, they finished off the tart and relived the afternoon’s events.

James couldn’t remember ever being so content before.

 





 

‘Bollocks.’

‘What?’ Sam asked with a mouthful of pudding, but James was already gone, out the doors and nearly at the stairs.

Sam rolled his eyes heavenwards and swallowed his mouthful.

‘What is with these guys and running off lately?’ he asked of no one in particular. Then seeing the other boys staring after their missing mate with stupefied expressions, he heaved a sigh and got to his feet.

‘Come on you lot. That would be our cue.’

They trooped out of the hall and started the walk up to Gryffindor Tower.

 

By the time they reached the boy’s dormitory, James had hidden himself away inside. He’d even locked the door.

Sam tried the handle and let out an exasperated sigh.

‘Mate, have you gone mental? What the hell are you doing?’

‘Go away!’ came the muffled reply. It sounded as if he were talking through his teeth.

‘You…sound…like…a…girl!’ Terry panted, doubled over as he tried to draw in air. He wasn’t the fittest one among them, and the dash from Hall to Tower had left him decidedly out of breath.

‘Terry,’ Owen scolded, ‘Sam, really. This isn’t helping.’

‘Sorry, Mum,’ Terry muttered sarcastically.

Owen ignored him. Pulling out his wand, he muttered at the door, turned the knob, and pushed it open.

Nothing in their room seemed to be out of place, but they entered cautiously all the same. Better to stay out of James’ line of sight if he was in a mood.

The curtains around James’ bed were drawn tight. Sam glanced at the others, who showed no sign of initiative, and sighed. Squaring his shoulders, he gingerly drew back one corner of the heavy drapes.

When nothing happened, he let out the breath he’d been holding and drew the drapes all the way apart.

By the light now flooding into the darkened space, the boys could see…nothing. There was no one there. A quick search of the room revealed no James.

Terry stood in the middle of the room and scratched his head.

‘Where the bloody hell is he?’ he wondered aloud.

‘You might want to look over there,’ Owen suggested, pointing to the window.

The boys turned as one. Standing next to the window, staring out at the darkened grounds below, was James.

‘Umm, mate?’ Sam asked uncertainly, ‘Are you alright?’

‘Fine,’ came the dull reply.

‘You sure about that?’ pressed Owen quietly.

‘Yes.’

‘Oh good, he’s fine, we can go back to the common room,’ Terry gabbled uncomfortably, heading for the door, ‘come on guys, he said he’s fine, we’ve got homework to do, I’m sure he just wants to be alone–’

‘We’re not going anywhere,’ Josh told him calmly, standing in front of the door and crossing his arms, ‘isn’t that right, Sam?’

‘Yeah, that’s right.’

Sam took a few steps closer to the window.

‘Mate, seriously, what’s up? You can tell us, right?’

James was so still he scarcely seemed to be breathing. His shoulders rose and fell evenly, as if every breath he did take was measured and controlled. He still didn’t turn to face them, but from behind it seemed that every muscle in his body was set and straining, as if it were an effort for him to keep himself upright.

‘I told you, I’m fine. Go back downstairs.’

And he seemed to deflate before their eyes, as if someone had punched a hole in his side and let out all the pride and confidence that was keeping him up.

The boys weren’t really sure what to say. This had never happened before, not to James. The stillness, the unwillingness to talk to them or to whine and complain and share his problem – that was new. They didn’t know how best to react.

At least, three of them didn’t.

Owen was a different matter.

‘So…lemon tart, hey?’

That did it. James suddenly straightened and turned to face them.

Lemon…tart?

Without any warning, he started to pace around the room, ranting wildly, his hands flying in all directions.

‘How the hell was I supposed to know? I mean, it’s not like it’s ever been obvious, has it? Ow! Not like it’s ever been something we’d talk about. I never even saw her that way, I swear! Dammit, ouch!

A pile of books fell off the dresser as he stepped back, wobbling slightly. James’ pacing was not exactly…precise. Distracted as he was, he didn’t really pay any attention to where he was going, and as a result he’d already walked into the dresser and a bed.

‘And now, today, of all days, that’s the day we get lemon tart! I swear those bloody house elves are out to get me! Ow!

Now one of the tables.

‘They could have made it any old day, but oh no, they wait till today! When it’s too late! Ahh!

Now the side of a cupboard, narrowly missing Sam as he dodged out of the way.

‘Even yesterday, that would have been fine, wouldn’t it? Fine and dandy, could have done something – ow – but it’s not yesterday, it’s today, innit? And today’s too late, already too late, what the hell am I going to do, why do they do this to me, why me, I never did nothing to them, stupid hairy short little bastards – who keeps bloody moving the furniture?

By now, the others were as far away from the disaster zone as possible, apart from Owen, who looked surprisingly calm as he stood before his fuming friend.

‘I’m not sure I understand. Why don’t you start at the beginning?’

James paused in his manic pacing and looked at his mate. All the tension left his frame and he slumped once again, his head in his hands.

‘I’m such an idiot.’

‘Tell us something we don’t know,’ Sam called a touch apprehensively from where he was flattened against the wall.

Owen shot him a reprimanding look, but James gave a shaky, shadowy laugh.

‘Yeah, well, about that,’ he raised his head, looking around the room nervously, ‘I may just have something for you.’

He was actually wringing his hands, twisting them over and over as if it would help him with what he was trying to say.

‘The whole…lemon tart…thing? It was, kind of…look, don’t kill me, kay? It’s…I…’

‘Yes?’ prompted Josh.

James took a deep breath and let it out raggedly.

‘I’m…in love…with Stac.’

A long pause. Owen’s face showed nothing. Come to that, neither did Josh’s or Sam’s. When the time was right, Sam let a small smile break through and he walked over to clap his mate on the back.

‘Like I said, tell us something we don’t know.’

The sound of James’ jaw hitting the ground reverberated around the room. Sam’s grin only grew wider as he took in his best friend’s shocked expression.

‘You…knew?’

‘It wasn’t all that difficult, mate. You weren’t exactly subtle about it.’

‘At least now you’ve figured it out for yourself,’ Josh counselled, ‘which is a good thing. Once you’ve admitted it to yourself, hard as it is, that’s half the trouble gone.’

Warm feelings swelled up in James’ chest towards his friend. Here was someone who understood, who sympathised, who cared

‘Add to that, you just won me three galleons,’ Josh continued cheerily, ‘we had a pot going on how long it would take you to figure it out. Sam thought you’d graduate before you got it.’

The good feeling suddenly disappeared. James turned to glare at his friend.

‘Oh really? Three galleons?’

‘Yeah, between me, Josh and Terry,’ Sam scowled as he remembered, ‘thanks a lot, mate. You couldn’t have held out just a little longer?’

He and Josh started to haggle over terms and conditions. Phrases such as ‘self-acknowledgement’ and ‘questionable sources’ floated through the air around them.

James turned to Owen, who was still standing there calmly. This strange behaviour in the face of such upheaval brought back his old, secret wonder if Owen was actually a robot.

‘You weren’t in on it?’

The robot shrugged.

‘I knew you’d figure it out sooner or later, in your own time. When you and Stac ah…talked today, I knew it would be sooner, rather than later. I was thinking today or tomorrow. So it’s not really a surprise.’

‘How did you know it would be today or tomorrow?’

Owen sighed, an expression of…not quite pity, but more along the lines of sympathetic understanding and commiseration washing over his face. James gave himself a mental whack on the back of his head.

Owen wasn’t a robot. He was just the only one of them who understood the world outside their own little lives.

‘James, you’re a typical guy’s guy. You’re dense like that.’

‘Huh?’

‘You don’t even realise you want something till it’s gone? Honestly, haven’t you ever listened to country music?’

Yep, Owen definitely wasn’t a robot.

He was an alien.

‘But seriously, James, I always figured it was going to take something drastic to get you to notice what was in front of you. That’s why I agreed with Sam at one point. I thought that graduation and the prospect of not seeing her every day would be enough. That was before all this happened, of course.’

James reflected. That was something that very few people could do to him; make him reflect. Owen was one of those few, so he spent a few minutes in introspection.

When he thought about it, Owen was right. Looking back, nothing had really changed in his feelings towards Stac. The big shock with the lemon tart hadn’t been because he’d suddenly undergone a huge personality and philosophy transplant.

The feelings had been there for a long time, he just hadn’t been aware of them. Or, if he had, he’d been repressing them like no one’s business.

In fact, if Stac hadn’t have been going out with Scorpius, he probably never would have picked it up. The stupid lemon tart would have passed him by without any notice and he’d still be blissfully ignorant to the facts of the matter.

As it was, he felt it was safe to say that he was in deep–

‘Bollocks,’ he muttered again, ‘I really am an idiot.’

Owen was getting a bit tired of the whole back-slapping thing. He was starting to feel like he was in a bad school-boys fiction. So he refrained from doing so again, shoving his hands in his pockets and sitting down on one of the beds.

James sat facing him on the one opposite, ignoring the indignant yells coming from the other side of the room.

‘So…what do I do?’

‘Why are you asking me?’

‘I dunno…you’re the smart one, I guess. I mean, you know what’s going on. Half the time I think you actually understand women.’

Maybe Owen was a woman. That would explain a lot…nah…

‘So you can tell me what to do.’

Owen let out a short laugh and gave the kind of smile you give to a small child who has just got their finger stuck up their nose. That is to say, one of fascination, surprise and slight distaste.

‘James, I can’t tell you what to do.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because that’s not how it works! I can, I don’t know, advise you, I guess, but I can’t tell you what to do. That defeats the purpose. If I were going to do that, I may as well just go out with her myself.’

James bristled, but Owen sighed and flapped a hand at him.

‘Down, boy. Don’t get your pants in a twist. She’s my friend, that’s all.’

Taking a deep breath to calm himself and dispel the red haze that had pervaded his vision, James tried again.

‘So…advise away, then. How the heck am I going to get her away from Scorpius?’

To his surprise, Owen frowned.

‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’

When he saw the incredulous look James was shooting him, he hurried to explain.

‘Look, I know that it’s going to be all you want to do right now, I get it, but I don’t think breaking them up is the best–’

Just whose side are you on?

He was loud enough that Josh and Sam paused in their argument to assess the situation. Obviously deciding that Owen had it under control, or that it wasn’t serious enough to warrant their involvement, they returned to their fight.

‘You low-down rotten scab–’

‘Oh, so I’m a scab now, am I? Why you dirty, lying–’

‘Ignore them,’ Owen told him impatiently, ‘concentrate on this. Now, tell me something. Do you think Stac is unhappy with Scorpius?’

‘Are you serious? He’s a stinking traitor Slytherin!’

‘That’s not what I asked.’

How Owen was able to maintain that calm face was beyond him. James had known older, stronger, presumably braver people who’d run from his glare, and yet here was fair, pasty Owen, not even flinching.

‘Do you think she’s unhappy?’

‘Well, not unhappy exactly…’ James admitted reluctantly, forced to tell the truth.

‘That’s my point. If she’s not unhappy, then we can logically conclude that she’s happy with him.’

‘Hey!’ James protested, determined not to be outdone by the fancy language, ‘Happy and unhappy aren’t the only options! There’s a whole lot of other things between them.’

‘Things that we’re going to ignore for the moment,’ Owen continued calmly, despite the deepening glare directed his way, ‘unless you’d like a repeat of this morning. If so, by all means, go ahead.’

James hesitated. This morning was not a good memory for him. All the yelling, the anger…he wished he could do the morning over and avoid it all. Some of those words would be rattling around in his head for days.

But worse than that had been the pain in Stac’s eyes. He couldn’t understand it. It had been there before the fight had even begun. It had been there when he talked to her the first time, outside the Great Hall.

It was the worst part of the whole debacle because of how much seeing it had hurt him, though he hadn’t understood why at the time. Even the mere memory of it now was enough to make his chest ache.

‘No,’ he whispered, defeated. He was finally out of ideas.

‘That being said, there’s no reason why you can’t keep a look out,’ Owen stated casually, as if the idea had only just occurred to him.

James’ ears pricked up.

‘Keep a look out?’

‘You know, follow them, watch what they do, where they go, how she’s dealing with it all. Then, the moment there’s a problem, you–’

‘Sweep in and carry her off!’ James finished, warming to the theme.

Owen smiled and nodded. After a moment, the answering smile on James’ face faded and he looked quizzically at his friend.

‘You’re telling me to stalk them?’

‘Some people call it stalking. I call it reconnaissance,’ was the sage reply.

With this final pearl of wisdom, Owen stood and stretched. Disregarding his former worries, he clapped James on the back and went to separate Josh and Sam, who were now wrestling on the floor as Josh tried to collect what he was owed.

‘OI! You two! Call it off! Do I need to get the hoses?’

He pulled the two of them apart and held them both at arms length. Sam was grumbling under his breath, and Owen gave him a shake.

‘That’s enough! The crisis is over, we have a course of action, so shake hands and let’s get down to planning.’

‘We get to make a plan?’ Sam cried, perking up considerably.

‘Shake hands first,’ Owen repeated in his calmest-yet-still-very-authoritive-and-quite-scary voice, the one that was a cross between James’ Aunt Hermione and Professor Vem.

Sam and Josh obeyed the voice automatically, smiling broadly now.

‘Alright! Planning! Let’s go, let’s go,’ Sam crowed as he made for the door, happy as a child at Christmas.

The others followed him, Owen pausing at the door to shout over his shoulder,

‘Terry! You can come out now!’

A tremulous voice called from inside the cupboard,

‘Is it safe yet?’







Alas, it's all just beginning...

So...thoughts, favourite moments, strange Trelawney-like predictions?
Ta for reading and reviewing and hope you have enjoyed the story so far!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Chapter 14: The World's a Stage
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

To the lovely Bertle, whose unflagging support has been such a comfort. You inspire me.








                             

The World’s a Stage


The Show Must Go On – Queen

‘You don’t need strength to let go of something. 
What you really need is understanding.’
 
Guy Finley


 

 






It was Friday night before the Hogsmeade weekend and the Gryffindor common room was full of people engaged in their normal, end-of-the-week pursuits. There was a rather raucous game of exploding snap going on by the windows, an intense Wizard Chess tournament between a sixth year and a particularly talented fourth year by the fireplace, and a smattering of nervous looking first and second years trying to make a start on their homework.

Sam and Owen were sitting in the plushest, cushiest chairs by the fire, idly watching the fourth year beat the tar out of the sweating sixth year.

Every now and then Owen would raise a single brow and glance around the room, at which point the noise level would diminish somewhat. But it was warm by the fire and he was a bit drowsy, and besides, it was a Hogsmeade weekend, so his eyebrow raising was pretty light.

A loud clumping came from the stairs to the boys’ dormitories and a couple of people turned absentmindedly to look. Most of them lost interest when they saw it was just Terry and Josh and returned to whatever they were doing.

The two boys made a beeline for the cushy seats by the fire.

‘Owen, you got a minute?’ Josh asked, his tone exasperated.

Owen stretched lazily in his chair, unwilling to leave the warmth of the fireside.

‘Depends what for.’

Terry crossed his arms over his chest, his expression the same as Josh’s voice.

‘James is rummaging round the room pulling stuff out everywhere. We think he’s looking for something, but we couldn’t get him to speak clear enough to understand.’

‘He just mumbled something,’ Josh added, ‘sounded like miffleloopytask, but we couldn’t be sure.’

The fair-haired boy frowned, his forehead creasing as he processed this.

‘And you’ve come to me…why?’

The other two looked at each other, momentarily at a loss. Josh shrugged.

‘Well…you usually handle him…’

But Owen was shaking his head.

‘Unless it has something to do with human interaction or rational decision making, it’s not my problem. Besides,’ he went on, ‘have you thought about asking the one person who speaks fluent James?’

He gestured to Sam, who had been watching the conversation with a degree of detachment. Now he sighed, stood, and made his way to the stairs.

‘Any of you prats steal my chair, you’re done for.’

As soon as he’d rounded the corner, Terry plopped himself down in the vacant seat. Josh turned to the nearest chair and gave its occupant, a tiny third year, a pointed look.

The boy got the message and slunk out of the armchair. Josh then dragged it closer and joined his friends.

‘So, what’s new?’ Terry asked brightly.

Owen sighed.

‘Nothing, other than I was having a perfectly decent evening until you two clowns showed up.’

‘Hey, don’t lump me with him,’ Josh protested indignantly, ‘it’s not my fault he’s a prat.’

‘You’re all gits, the lot of you, now would you kindly shut up?’

Rose was glaring at them from a few seats over. Owen sighed and sunk deeper into his chair, but Terry laughed and reached out to snag one of her books.

‘Charms? Honestly, Rosy-Posy, its Friday night. Haven’t you ever heard of a break? And anyway, why study in here? That’s why we have a library, so you can study in there with all the other boffins.’

She snatched the book back out of his hands and placed it back on the table.

‘Never you mind why I’m in here,’ she retorted caustically, turning back to her work.

Terry wasn’t about to let her get away with the last word, even if she were evidently in a foul mood. Owen was about to warn him and changed his mind. If he wasn’t smart enough to leave her be, it was his own fault.

He really did hate constantly having to make excuses to Madame Pomfrey about why Terry had suddenly sprouted a trunk or tentacles, though.

Luckily for all involved, Terry was saved from certain hexing by Sam’s return.

‘Oi, git, sod off,’ he ordered Terry, who moved not a muscle.

‘What did James want?’ Josh inquired curiously, ‘Could you actually understand him?’

‘Course I could,’ was the weary reply, ‘he wants to know where the, you know…is. Say’s it’s not in its place.’

He made a vague gesture around his face that looked a bit like he couldn’t find the word he wanted. The others, however, caught on to what it really meant almost instantly.

Terry let out a groan.

‘That’s my fault. I took it to do a kitchen run. Must have forgotten to put it back. Bet it’s still under my bed.’

The other three looked scandalised.

‘A kitchen run?’ Josh asked, a note of disbelief in his voice, ‘Terry, how could you?’

‘It’s only supposed to be used for special occasions,’ Owen added, shaking his head in disgust, ‘special, dangerous occasions. Not for stuff as mundane as kitchen runs!’

‘Well, I just, you know,’ Terry was squirming a little under the hard stares that were being levelled at him, ‘I use it to, you know, kinda get into character…’

His voice trailed off as he realised that he’d somehow made a big blunder.

Sam was looking at him through narrowed eyes, arms folded, heavy scowl in place.

‘Terry,’ he began, but was interrupted by a clear and slightly amused voice.

‘Do I even want to know what you’re talking about?’

Taking a deep breath to regain himself, Sam studiously ignored Rose and addressed his friend again.

‘You’re going straight up there this minute to tell him where it is, and then you’re going to swear never to use it for kitchen runs ever again.’

‘I’m thinking we don’t let him use it full stop,’ Josh put in, his gaze steely, ‘any of it.’

Terry almost fell over himself to get out of the chair.

‘I’m going, I’m going, and I promise, I swear and all that. Don’t cut me out, please,’ he begged running for the stairs.

Sam sank into his now vacant chair and they all watched Terry go, sitting for a few moments in silence.

After an appropriate period of time, Josh scoffed and leaned back in his chair.

‘Kitchen run.’

‘Are you going to–’

‘No, Rose, we’re not going to explain, so just go back to your books, okay?’ Sam replied unenthusiastically, slumping down in the cushions.

Rose humphed and turned her back on them, and they had a few minutes of blessed peace, if it could really be called peace amongst the noise from the Exploding Snap. Closer to them, the fourth year had just won the game of chess and was celebrating loudly with his friends while the sixth years looked on in disgust.

All too soon, their relative peace was broken, this time by the arrival of Fred Weasley climbing in through the portrait hole.

‘Why so glum, Fred?’ Sam asked casually, looking for a change of topic if nothing else.

Fred dropped down into a chair nearby and put his head in his hands.

‘I just asked Renee Martin to Hogsmeade this weekend.’

‘Oh…I take the reply wasn’t in the affirmative, then?’

‘If by that you mean I literally got my pride handed to me on a plate, then, yes.’

He sat up straighter and sighed, looking disgustedly into midair.

‘I don’t get birds, I mean, seriously.’

‘The term is either ‘women’, ‘girls’ or ‘females’, Fred,’ Rose said warningly from her seat.

He shrugged off her words.

‘Whatever. What’s got your knickers in a twist? You’re always a wet blanket, but you’ve been a moody cow for days now.’

‘What exactly did she say?’ Josh cut in, before a fight could eventuate.

‘Not much, which was the problem really. I asked her, and she just stood there with that Sylvia bir-girl,’ he corrected, catching Rose’s eye, ‘giggling away like a pair of loonies. And then, after I’d finished, she looked me up and down with this kind of…sneer on her face. Like I smelled bad. I swear,’ he continued, falling back in his seat, ‘it was well bollocks.’

‘Ah, poor little Weasley,’ Sam said, patting him on the shoulder in a comforting way, ‘you’ll get there one day. Trust me. It’s all about experience and confidence.’

Rose snorted, but Fred sat bolt upright, a look of pure astonishment on his face.

‘You mean there’s a trick? There’s a way to get girls to go for you?’

‘Of course there is,’ Sam continued grandly, ignoring Rose, who had graduated to eye-rolling and loud ‘humph’s, ‘it’s easy once you know how. Watch a master at work.’

He stood up, casually scanning the room and its occupants, before finally settling on one corner, where a dark brown head was bent over a book.

‘Oi! Jaya!’ he called across the room.

There was a slight pause in the conversations, which resumed as soon as Sam sent a speculative look around at everyone. Nevertheless, every person in the Gryffindor common room was listening closely to whatever he had to say.

‘Hmm?’ Jaya answered vaguely, looking up from her book. When she saw who it was, a long-suffering smile spread across her face. Beside her, Margie grinned widely and shook her head.

‘What do you want, Jordan?’

‘I was wondering if you’d care to accompany me to Hogsmeade this weekend?’

As he spoke, Sam crossed the room with easy, graceful strides until he stood before her table. Pulling out his wand, he conjured a single yellow rose out of thin air and presented it to the bemused looking Jaya.

Margie had started to laugh, trying valiantly to hide it behind her hand, but she wasn’t having a great deal of success.

Jaya, meanwhile, looked a little stunned. Quite clearly, this was not what she’d been expecting. She stared at the rose for a moment, then took a tentative sniff.

When nothing bad happened, she inhaled deeply of the sweet fragrance and smiled, her eyes lighting up a little.

‘Alright,’ she agreed at last, ‘why not?’

‘So, see you tomorrow then? Entrance Hall?’

‘Tomorrow it is.’

Sam swept her a rather elegant bow and shot a look around the room. Everyone hurriedly returned to whatever they’d been doing, and he sauntered back across the floor to his friends.

‘And that,’ he concluded as he sank into his chair again under the awe-filled gaze of Fred and the surprise of his friends, ‘is how it’s done.’

And not even Rose had the mind to laugh at him.

 

 











Not everyone was as excited about the weekend as Sam. James, for one, was viewing it more as a necessary evil than anything else. At least, he had, until Owen had helped him come up with one of the most brilliant plans in the history of plan making.

They’d never got around to telling the others, which was probably a good thing, since Terry didn’t seem to be in the best mood lately and Sam was more than just a little preoccupied with his prospective date.

But the two of them were more than fantastic enough to get a good plan together. Now all that needed to be done was the implementation of said plan.

James rose bright and early, dressed carefully, accompanied Owen and the others down for breakfast, never once looking at the Slytherin table or the gap where a certain Gryffindor usually sat.

After breakfast, he returned to his room briefly to grab his sneaking kit, then hurried down to the Entrance Hall, where Prattle was marking the roll under Filch’s watchful, if slightly blind, eye.

He’d been so good all morning, keeping his mind on the task at hand and not on other things, that it came as a bit of a shock to him the first time he saw his marks up close.

He’d happened to get into line behind Anastacia and Scorpius without noticing it, and he did a quick double take as he realised who was in front of him.

‘Morning, Stac.’

He really shouldn’t have spoken to her, after all, if they hadn’t noticed him now, it was a good chance they wouldn’t later. But years of habitual greetings were hard to break, and the words were out before he could shut his mouth around them.

She turned slightly, such a small, quick movement that he knew it had to be instinctual, just like his greeting. However, she didn’t complete the movement, turning back to face the front of the line before he’d got a look at her face.

That hurt more than a bit, and he frowned.

‘Morning, Stac,’ he repeated, a bit louder this time. This time she gave no indication of having heard.

‘Hey, you gone deaf or something?’ he asked louder, reaching out a hand to pull her around to face him.

Before he had even touched her, Scorpius moved in front of him, blocking off his view.

‘She doesn’t want to talk to you.’

‘Oh yeah?’

The calm look on the younger boy’s face only served to make him angrier.

‘Who says you get to decide who she does and doesn’t want to talk to, huh, sixth year?’

The boy’s face didn’t change. He was a year younger, but he was nearly as tall as James, though not nearly as muscular. His was a Seeker’s build – tall and wiry. James was a typical chaser, with a build that would have been called stocky on a shorter man.

‘Do you have some sort of problem with my age?’ was the level query.

James started to reply that yes, he did indeed have a problem with the guy’s age, but he stopped, remembering Stac’s words in the corridor.

‘He’s my age! I’m a year younger than the rest of you, remember?’

Well, why the hell was she in their year, then? Why wasn’t she with Rose and Albus? Maybe if she had been, none of this would have happened.

‘Is there anything else you’d like to add, Potter?’

There was a queer look in his eyes, something James didn’t really recognise. Was it…pity? No, it couldn’t be…and yet it certainly seemed to be.

James shook his head, willing the weird thoughts away.

‘Yeah, I’ve got something to say,’ he began, his voice growing louder. A few people around them turned to look, anticipation lighting up their faces as they saw the two boys facing off.

‘You’re a rubbish Quidditch player, for starters. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you sucking up to my team. If you think you’re going to bring us down from the inside by getting closer to Rose and Al, you’ve got another think coming.’

‘Albus isn’t even on your Quidditch team,’ Scorpius pointed out evenly.

James ignored him.

‘And for another thing, just because you’re going out with someone doesn’t mean you can control them. I’m allowed to talk to whoever I want, and so is Stac. Her dating you doesn’t change that.’

‘On the contrary,’ Scorpius mused coolly, ‘I think it changes a lot of things.’

James couldn’t help it. The smug smile on his pale face was all at odds with the pity plain in his grey eyes. He hated the way that made him feel – like he was a poor little child whining about nothing in particular.

He reached out and shoved the younger boy, hard. Scorpius staggered backwards a few steps and nearly fell. Some of the Slytherins nearby tried to steady him, but he waved them off, turning back to face James.

I have nothing to do with it. She just doesn’t want to talk to you.’

James gave a low growl and threw off Sam’s restraining arm, ignoring his friend’s admonitions. Walking forward, he reached again for his opponent.

‘Mr Potter! This kind of behaviour may be acceptable in Gryffindor Tower or on the Quidditch field, but is it too much to ask for some display of maturity whilst in public?’

Oh, bollocks, James thought, but he turned and smiled tightly at the dark haired woman who was glaring at him from across the Entrance Hall. Professor Ramira may be small and sweet looking, but he knew from experience that she was anything but. As she strode over to him, James felt all his anger leave him, replaced with a familiar feeling.

The one he got when he knew he was in trouble.

‘Sorry, Professor, just a small difference of opinion. Nothing major.’

Professor Ramira pursed her lips and glared up at him. In other circumstances, James would have laughed at the comedy in such a situation. The Professor’s head barely came up to his chest, but that didn’t stop her from reaching up to poke him in the chest, hard.

‘Be that as it may, Mr Potter, in future, I would advise you to refrain from resolving differences of opinion in the Entrance Hall. And for that matter, may I ask what it is exactly that is causing your pockets to be so…distorted?’

James winced, trying to wrack his brain for excuse. Nothing came immediately to mind, which was odd and slightly unsettling for him.

‘Well, Mr Potter? I’m waiting.’

She was even tapping her foot, arms crossed over her chest.

What the hell was he supposed to say? He couldn’t very well go telling her that his entire sneaking kit, consisting of cloak, map and self-designed mask, was stuffed into pocket of his jeans.

‘Sorry, Professor, but we really have to go. We’re supposed to be meeting his Uncle at the store in a few minutes.’

Sam to the rescue. James nodded and tried to look like this idea wasn’t completely new to him.

The Professor stared at him for a minute longer before raising her eyebrows and reluctantly letting them off the hook.

‘You may go. But in future, try to show a little more decorum, if only for the sake of the younger students.’

James and Sam garbled their responses and turned to leave. In the interminable minutes since the Professor had caught up with them, Stac and Scorpius had managed to slip off somewhere.

So they hurried down the road to meet the other boys, who were waiting for them just outside the castle grounds.

‘What took you so long?’ Terry demanded, stamping his feet and rubbing his hands together. The day was overcast and windy, threatening rain. There was a light cover of frost on the ground, heralding the rapid approach of winter.

‘Ramira,’ Sam muttered with a cynical twist of his mouth.

There was a chorus of ‘oh’s, and a few curious looks in James’ direction, but nothing more was said on that topic.

‘So when are you meeting Jaya?’ Owen asked without real curiosity, more to change the subject than anything else.

‘Lunchtime, Three Broomsticks. She said she needed to get some shopping done first.’

‘Did she mention who she was going with?’

Terry’s voice was light and uninterested.

The others weren’t fooled for a second.

‘Yes, Terry, I’m pretty sure Margie will be there.’

Josh smirked.

‘Why don’t you just hurry up and ask her out already? You know you want to.’

He shoved Terry, who shoved back and then pushed him into a puddle for good measure.

‘I do not want to ask her out!’

‘Whatever,’ Sam scoffed, ‘you’ve liked her since…like, forever.’

‘James stared at his friend in mock horror.

‘You just used the word like in a sentence…as a linking word. Who are you?’

‘Prat,’ Sam did some shoving of his own, but Terry was ignoring them all in light of his own dilemma.

I do not like her! Honestly, can’t you guys just leave well enough alone?’

‘Poor Well Enough,’ Owen mused thoughtfully, ‘he really gets a bad time of it, doesn’t he?’

By the time Terry had calmed down sufficiently to get his head around this statement, they’d reached the town, along with the majority of the other students.

Hogsmeade was definitely not being shown in its best light on this particular day. In fact, there was barely any light for it to be shown. It had became increasingly gloomy since they’d left the castle, and the little shops and houses seemed especially dingy, as if someone had splashed everything with dirty water.

The only welcoming thing in the entire village was the squares of bright, golden light pouring out the doors and spilling from the windows of the assorted stores and pubs.

The boys paused at the top end of the high street, looking down the road with varying levels of enthusiasm.

‘Well, look on the bright side,’ Josh began in a cheery voice.

He never got any more than that out, though, because the moment he paused for breath, the skies opened and it quite literally began bucketing down.

James sighed heavily and trudged up the street, ignoring the other wizards and witches scurrying around with huge umbrellas and raincoats. Some had worked enchantments to keep the rain off, both effective and not so effective. One man had his wand pointed at the air above his head and was muttering under his breath as he strode along. It didn’t seem to be working as the rain was pouring down relentlessly on him just as it was on everyone, but you had to give him marks for trying.

As for the boys, they didn’t even bother with spells or anything of that ilk. Terry whined quietly for a couple of seconds about his hair getting wet, but they were soaked through soon after that so there was no sense in complaining.

Pausing at the entrance to the joke store, James waited until there were relatively few people around and pulled out his sneaking kit.

‘Well, I’ll be off then,’ he announced casually.

Sam frowned.

‘Yeah, I was wondering what you brought that stuff for. Don’t tell me you’re planning to run off and terrorise one of the boys currently making eyes at your little sister?’

James scoffed.

‘Please. As if I’d waste the…you know, on something so trivial. Lily knows how to protect both herself and the sterling Potter name.’

He beamed a look of superiority around the group.

‘That and it’s Albus’ week to babysit,’ Owen added mildly and James nodded.

‘Precisely. No, my friends,’ he continued, tapping the map surreptitiously with his wand, ‘I have something rather more important in mind.’

‘Whatever,’ Terry interjected boredly, ‘I’m going in. It’s too cold to stand out here listening to you gloat about wearing the stupid mask.’

He stomped inside, ignoring the scandalised looks his friends were shooting his way.

‘Do you think anyone heard?’ Sam asked urgently.

Josh swivelled on the spot, scanning the vicinity.

‘I think we’re okay. He’s just sour about last night, that’s all, it must be.’

‘It’d better be,’ Sam retorted, and Josh held up his hands in a placating manner.

‘I’ll talk to him, I will, I’ll bring him round.’

He hurried inside. James watched him leave with a pained expression.

‘Now may I get back to my gloating?’ he asked peevishly.

The others nodded and tried to take deep breathes to calm themselves.

‘Well, anyway, you know how Stac and the Slithering-Git are on a date?’

More nods.

‘So, I’m going to follow them and wait for him to stuff up. When he does, and he will, I know it, I’ll be there to sweep her off to…wherever. It’s not important,’ he finished, waving away the details.

Sam didn’t really know what to make of all this plotting.

‘You’re following them? Under the cloak? With the,’ he looked around, saw no one, and whispered, ‘mask?

‘Don’t give me that look,’ James answered indignantly, ‘it was Owen’s idea.’

Resolving to ignore them both, he swung the cloak over his head and, under its secure protection, tied the mask to his face. Checking the map for a second time, he set off through the rain for Dervish & Banges.

Sam and Owen stood in the doorway of Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes watching as James’ unseen feet splashed through puddles and trampled dints in the ground. They continued down the alleyway, around the corner and disappeared.

‘You told him to stalk them?’ Sam asked incredulously, in disbelief that his usually level-headed friend would do something so out of character.

Owen shrugged, unconcerned.

‘It was that or have him follow us around all day like a little lost puppy, whining and moaning.’

The both stood watching the rain fall, while around them students hurried through the doors, seeking the warmth and dryness within.

‘Great plan, mate,’ Sam commended, nodding seriously, ‘you’re well intelligent, you know?’

‘Thanks,’ Owen replied modestly, ‘I try. Might I suggest we join the others before we freeze and or drown?’

Giving no further thought to their friend’s plight, they slipped through the doorway and left him behind.

 







For a date that was not really a date, it was going surprisingly well. Anastacia and Scorpius had started out at Dervish & Banges, headed over to Scrivenshafts so that she could stock up on her favourite colour of ink, and then browsed through Honeydukes for an extended period of time.

While she knew the real reason for the rather public debut of their relationship and was always aware of the eyes watching her from sundry spots, it was all too easy to forget about it, at least for a little bit.

Scorpius made her smile, he made her laugh. Whenever she was with him, he went out of his way to make her happy. True, she may not love him in the same way that she loved James, but she did love him nonetheless.

As they’d expected, there had been a small deal of opposition when Scorpius had first made his intentions known. Creeten in particular was not happy with the arrangement, although whether it was because he effectively lost a guard or for other reasons, who could tell?

The strongest thing in their favour, just as Rose had known it would be, was actually Stac’s father himself. When he’d sent Trelain to preach about Anastacia’s staying away from boys, he’d been warning her off a particular type of boy – one who was not a member of their circle, highly-born or from a powerful family.

Scorpius was none of these. Stac’s latest letter from her father, while stressing that he didn’t think it was suitable as a long-term attachment, nonetheless gave her permission to continue the relationship in the short term.

In fact, the letter encouraged her to take advantage of the relationship. Once again, this was just as Rose had theorised. The Malfoys interacted with her family on a regular basis, yet they weren’t members of the inner circle that surrounded her father. It wasn’t because he didn’t want them there; he did.

But every time he extended a subtle invitation to Scorpius’ father, Draco Malfoy turned it down. So the fact that Anastacia and Scorpius were dating was seen by her father as simply another tool to be put to use.

Actually, all things considered, it was the perfect arrangement, even not counting the motive that lay behind. Of course, when you did count that motive…

Scorpius nudged her gently and narrowed his eyes teasingly when she met his gaze.

‘You’re frowning,’ he murmured low enough that the people around them couldn’t hear, ‘date not going so well?’

Pasting a bright smile on her face, she shook her head and attended once more to their surroundings.

She wasn’t going to think about that, not about this morning, or the past few days or any of it. Today was a time that she could forget about it all and just enjoy someone else’s company for a few hours. She’d promised herself that much.

They rounded the corner, heading for the Three Broomsticks, when Anastacia nearly ran into the person in front of her.

‘Excuse me, sorry, I didn’t–’ she broke off mid sentence as the person turned around, ‘oh. It’s you.’

Marcus had stopped suddenly in the middle of the path, with his usual disregard for other people, to exclaim something to the girl alongside him.

When Anastacia peered over his shoulder to see who it was, she nearly groaned.

Sylvia Blackthorn. Perfect. Just perfect.

‘Perhaps you should look around you before stopping suddenly, Antoniou,’ Scorpius cautioned quietly.

Marcus did a quick scan of their surroundings. He wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but he wasn’t the dimmest either. James Potter wasn’t the only one who’d figured out that Anastacia had a group of followers. Nor was he the only one to have guessed what those followers would do if crossed.

But, finding no witnesses of that kind, he turned back to the other couple with a smug smile on his face.

‘Why, Stacey, what a pleasant surprise! And might I add, you’re looking particularly ravishing this morning?’

He leered at her, emphasising the adjective in a way that gave it a whole different meaning, and Anastacia felt a chill slide down her spine. Marcus was harmless, she knew, but she still didn’t like the way he was looking at her.

‘Save it, Marcus,’ was all she said, not letting him see the way his words had affected her, ‘I’m not interested, as per usual.’

‘Oh, don’t listen to her, Marcus,’ Sylvia simpered. Simpered? Anastacia had only ever read that term in books before. She’d had no idea that it was an actual expression.

Apparently so.

I’ll listen to you all day. Don’t waste your lovely compliments on her.’

Dear Merlin. The girl spoke in italics.

‘Compliments?’ Anastacia asked archly, more to get a rise out of Sylvia than anything else.

She knew it was juvenile, but she couldn’t suppress the pleasure that flowed through her when the younger girl scowled at her.

Marcus, on the other hand, was completely oblivious to the subtext in the girls’ conversation, focused, as always, on himself.

‘I was sharing some of my favourite Italian phrases with the lovely Sylvia here,’ he explained, addressing not only Anastacia but the gathering crowd around them, ‘can I help it if most of them are compliments to beautiful ladies?’

More than one girl gave him a sideways glance that spoke volumes and some silly little Ravenclaw even fluttered her eyelashes at him (and was instantly debilitated by Sylvia’s basilisk-like gaze).

‘Oh really?’ Anastacia continued drily, ‘Such as?’

This should be fun, she thought. She’d always known that Marcus spoke Italian; her guards had picked it up before the end of her first week at school. It was rudimentary, to say the least, but he would probably have been able to understand some of what they said.

Not that it mattered. French and German were the languages of choice among her retinue, Italian being used only in extenuating circumstances. They just made a point never to use it around him.

Marcus, completely unaware of the inner monologue running through her mind, had turned back to Sylvia. He cradled her cheek in one hand, his whole posture set to display him to the best advantage.

Someone in the crowd sighed. Anastacia caught Scorpius’ eye and fought the urge to laugh.

‘My dear, sweet Sylvia, mia bella stella.’

The giggle impulse was even worse now. Beautiful star? That was his wonderful compliment? It was nice, sure, but lots of people must know those words. They were used fairly commonly to supplement English nowadays, after all.

From the looks of the faces in the crowd, a good number of them were disappointed as well. Marcus noticed this, and he grimaced for a split second before regaining his normal, smiling visage and turning back to Anastacia.

‘Ah, Stacey, my dear, you fluster me, mia piccola maiala ridicolo.’

His pronunciation was bad enough that for a moment, Anastacia was unsure if she’d heard aright. He’d deliberately twisted the vowels in the last word so that the other students around him wouldn’t catch its nearness to the English word, but it wasn’t enough for Anastacia.

As her brain confirmed that, yes, he’d said what she thought he’d said, the hair on the back of her neck stood up and she felt her lips draw back in a snarl.

Che cosa?’ she hissed furiously, straining against Scorpius’ arm, which was suddenly around her waist, holding her back.

One quick glance at his face showed real concern. He didn’t understand the words, but he knew her well enough to read her tone, knew the amount it took for her to snap in public.

Scorpius was worried.

Anastacia didn’t care. She was way past caring. All she could see or even think about was Marcus’ stunned face staring at her in the centre of her tunnel vision. The rest of the crowd may as well not even be there.

Che cosa ha detto?’ she demanded, not really expecting an answer.

They both knew what he’d said. She just wanted to see if he was man enough to admit it.

‘You…you speak Italian?’ Marcus managed to stutter.

This was rapidly becoming one of the worst moments of his life. If she’d understood what he’d just said…

Scorpius was now concerned enough to juggle his hold on Anastacia and press a finger to one of her wrists. She saw the movement out of the corner of her eye, felt his touch and knew that she had about ten seconds before the rest of her Guard showed up, ready for action.

Eh, cafone! Vaffanculo!’ she yelled at Marcus scornfully.

His eyes widened in surprise, then narrowed as he took in the insults she’d just hurled at him.

‘You little–’

He lunged at her, hands going for her neck. As usual, he’d forgotten about anyone not connected with himself and his current course of action, and so had completely disregarded Scorpius’ presence.

Scorpius let go of Anastacia’s waist, stepping in front of her so that she was shielded by his shoulders. He took the full brunt of Marcus’ attack, grunting as the hands that had been aimed at her collided with his chest, which was at the level of her throat. While he didn’t attempt to retaliate or harm Marcus, he was certainly not letting him get anywhere near the girl behind him either.

Marcus staggered backwards, dazed, shook his head and went to try again.

Unfortunately for him, it was at that moment that the rest of her Guard arrived. They, unlike him, were well-trained and totally focused on the safety of their charge and so made short work of the situation.

Creeten and Iago grabbed Marcus by the arms and hauled him against the wall. The Farlow twins worked to disperse the people who had gathered to watch.

Ordinarily, you wouldn’t have been able to get Hogwarts students out of that alleyway for love or money. After all, it wasn’t everyday that they got to see their Head Boy and Girl going at it like a pair of prize-fighters. Add in the prospect of a skirmish between the pretty-boy Ravenclaw and the burly Slytherins and giant spiders couldn’t have pulled them away.

But the young boys’ calm voices and level explanations seemed to do the impossible, and the crowd that had gathered began to disperse just as quickly as it had gathered. Perhaps it was the company they now kept that gave their words such weight. On any normal day, people would have simply laughed at them and stuck around to gawk.

Scorpius returned to Anastacia’s side to check if she was alright, brushing her cheek with the back of one hand as he examined her face.

‘I’m fine, I’m fine, stop fussing.’

But she was clearly shaken, and she clung to him just a little. He understood and said no more, but simply slid his arm around her again and let her cling.

 






And from the other end of the alleyway, under the cover of his cloak, James watched the whole thing.

He watched as the Slytherins roughed Marcus up a bit and then, after Stac said something to them and shot the Head Boy a cutting glance, let him leave.

He watched as the group held a heated conference in some foreign language that vaguely reminded him of his Aunt Fleur.

He watched as they evidently came to some conclusion and started off down the alleyway in the opposite direction to him.

But most of all, he watched as Stac’s small hand remained in Scorpius’ larger one the entire time. He saw the pale boy slide his arm around her waist and hold her tight, and he saw that she clutched him just as tightly, hiding beneath his arm as if she felt safe there.

And he made a very hard decision. 












And that decision is...? Any ideas? Anyone think they know what's going on? Anyone confused? Let me know! Good reviewers are beloved for all time!
Ta!


 

 

Chapter 15: Action, Reaction
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Stunning image by Ande @ TDA



Action, Reaction



Elevation – U2

‘There would be no passion in this world if we never had to fight
for what we love.’

Susie Switzer

 





 

Scorpius, Anastacia and the other members of her guard hurried along the little streets that wound their way through Hogsmeade village. The day was wearing on; the sky noticeably darker than it had been when they’d arrived.

They came to a halt in front of a nondescript, innocuous house, something that didn’t invite a second look, much less a full investigation.

Creeten rapped with his knuckles smartly on the door and then ushered Anastacia and Scorpius through. The rest of the guard remained outside, some of them dispersing to patrol the streets, a few taking a seat on a bench by the front door.

Inside, the three students hastened up a flight of stairs to a sitting room on the first floor. Scorpius pulled out a chair in front of the fire and pressed Anastacia to sit down.

‘I’m fine, Scorpius, really. Stop fussing.’

‘What has happened? Why are you here?’

Trelain’s cool voice came from the other side of the room, where he was standing gazing out the window on the bleak scene below.

Creeten shut the door behind them and came to stand in the middle of the room, in front of his brother.

‘We’re here to report. There was an altercation earlier, one that I feel calls for your immediate attention.’

‘I will be the judge of that.’

Trelain’s voice was silky smooth, and Creeten reddened, visibly trying to keep his temper at his brother’s jibe.

‘Now, this…altercation?’

‘I was there, sir,’ Scorpius interjected, shooting Creeten a look that clearly said, calm down, ‘it was near the Three Broomsticks, out in the thoroughfare. Marcus Antoniou, the Head Boy, was stopped in the middle of the path and he spoke to Her Grace as we passed.’

Scorpius stood as Creeten did now, hands behind his back, straight and tall as he made his report. However, his voice as he spoke was even and steady, and Creeten looked grateful for the chance to collect himself.

‘They exchanged words. Antoniou said something offensive to Her Grace, and she replied in kind. That motivated him to–’

‘What did he say?’

‘I…don’t know, sir.’

‘You don’t know.’

The words were very cool, dangerously so. Scorpius shrugged apologetically.

‘I’m afraid not. I couldn’t understand him. He–’

‘Am I to comprehend, brother, that you have let a boy,’ he spat the word contemptuously, ‘into this guard who can not even understand speech?’

‘Leave him alone, Trelain,’ Anastacia ordered tiredly, ‘Marcus was speaking Italian. Of course Scorpius couldn’t understand. Anyway, it was mostly my fault. I lost my head and said some things to him that I shouldn’t have said. If I had let it go, everything would have been fine.’

She didn’t really believe that; Marcus shouldn’t have said what he did and he’d got just what was coming to him, but she was sick of all the back and forth. Truth be told, she was sick of Trelain, full stop.

‘What did he say, Your Grace?’

Even Creeten was looking on with interest. He hadn’t witnessed the episode, and so had only Scorpius’ description and explanation to go on.

Anastacia sighed. Might as well get it over with.

‘He called me his…piccola maiala ridicolo.’

Creeten’s hackles went up the moment the words left her mouth. His lips drew back from his teeth with a growl. He made Anastacia think of an angry guard dog.

Trelain, on the other hand, showed no change. He continued to look calmly out the window.

‘Is that all?’ he asked in his calm voice.

Scorpius shot the older boy’s back a look of surprise. While he hadn’t understood the insult now anymore than he had before, Creeten’s reaction had given him the impression that it was a serious one. However, he kept his voice neutral and continued with his account.

‘I had already summoned the rest of Her Grace’s Guard detail before Her Grace responded. Antoniou came forward as if to attack her and I stepped between them. The others arrived at that time and we gave Antoniou a warning. Collectively.’

‘Then I told them he wasn’t worth it and to let him go. Merlin knows, there’d already been enough drama for one day.’

Anastacia rubbed her hands in front of the fire. Trelain’s rooms were cold, but the chill running down her spine wasn’t just from the lack of heat.

As the Head of Her Guard, Trelain’s word was, at this present moment, law. If he told the others to go after Marcus and punish him for what he’d done, she’d be able to do little or nothing about their actions And while he was an idiot and a pain in her behind, Marcus didn’t deserve the kinds of things with which Trelain would no doubt come up.

No one did.

‘Sir, I’m worried, as is the rest of the Guard, that Antoniou will attempt some sort of retaliation against Her Grace for his embarrassment.’

‘Why? It seems to me that he is nothing but a silly little boy who has some rudimentary language skills, an attitude problem and who lacks control. In my opinion, this is an overreaction entirely.’

Creeten’s face was shocked. His mouth was actually hanging open, his jaw slack.

‘Trelain, how can you–’

‘Are you questioning my authority?’

‘That is enough,’ Anastacia said in a loud voice, getting to her feet. She couldn’t believe that Trelain wasn’t more concerned, but life had taught her to take whatever advantages came her way, no matter how small. This was a big one, and there was no way she was letting Creeten and Scorpius argue it away.

‘As I have informed you already, I consider the entire affair to be mostly my doing. Marcus Antoniou has neither the brains nor the determination to come up with anything so advanced as retaliation. Therefore, I must agree with Trelain. There is no need to follow this further.’

The boys paused for a moment, then, following Trelain’s lead, bowed and murmured their assent.

‘Your Grace.’

‘Of course, Your Grace.’

Trelain’s eyes glinted slyly at her as he straightened.

‘As you wish, Your Grace.’

He was suspicious, obviously, but he couldn’t have any inkling as to her motivation. Most likely, he saw this as an improvement; she was willingly bending to his opinions and suggestions. Let him think that, let him fool himself.  It might work out better for her in the end.

After this, there seemed no more reason to stay. The boys took their leave of their leader, Anastacia nodded in acknowledgement of his polite goodbye and they left the room.

Back out on the street, Creeten also made his bow to Anastacia.

‘We’ll be close behind,’ he told them stiffly, ‘but as my…brother sees no need for any extra precautions, we’ll stay out of sight.’

Anastacia dismissed him and he strode away, the rest of the boys joining him as he left.

As soon as they had turned the corner and were no longer visible, Scorpius rounded on Anastacia.

‘What the bloody hell was that about?’ he demanded angrily, ‘what are you playing at, Nast? Telling Trelain to leave Marcus alone, saying he’s not dangerous? Did you ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, we were worried for a reason?’

He followed her down the small lane when she started to walk away, still ranting quietly.

‘Now we’ve basically been forbidden to do anything to look after you! The one time having a Guard could actually come in handy and we can’t do a single bloody thing!’

‘We are not having this conversation here,’ Anastacia hissed at him, clenching her hand on his arm, ‘people will notice.’

And indeed, they had once again joined the groups of people meandering through Hogsmeade. It had started to rain, so most of those groups were involved in heading indoors, but there were still enough people around to witness their row, if they had one.

Scorpius scowled and thought for a moment.

‘We’ll head back to the castle,’ he decided, ‘it’s early enough that no one else should be leaving.’

He waved discreetly to one of the Farlow boys, who was watching them through the window of Scrivenshafts, and indicated the direction of the castle.

The boy nodded and waved them on. Scorpius took Anastacia by the arm and tried to smile until they’d left the town behind.

They walked in silence until they were sure they were alone.

‘I’m sorry,’ Anastacia began, when she sensed he wasn’t going to initiate the conversation, ‘but, Scorpius, you have to see it from my perspective.’

He sighed, but pulled her tighter to his side.

‘I’m listening.’

‘I’ve worked so hard for the little I have,’ she explained with a sudden shot of vehemence, ‘to be allowed to do my patrols on my own, to be allowed to go to Hogsmeade without an obvious entourage. If Trelain sees Marcus as a threat and acts accordingly, all of that hard work will have been for nothing. I’ll go back to having a constant guard detail, never having a moment alone. I…can’t take that anymore.’

‘That’s a valid argument,’ he agreed, his voice level, ‘but can you see my perspective?’

Without waiting for an answer, he continued on.

‘Nast, I really think this guy is dangerous. If not right now, he has the potential to become so. I’m one of your guards, yes, but I’m also your friend. You remember what you told me about James? Do you think I could live with myself if something happened to you when a word from me would have prevented it?’

She smiled at his concerned face.

‘You worry too much. Let it go. Let Rose worry about things…she’s good at it. I’m pretty sure she enjoys it too.’

They both laughed, and the atmosphere was lightened a little.

‘Look, I know Marcus. He’s all talk and no trousers, as Margie says. Nothing’s going to happen.’

Halting suddenly in the path, Scorpius pulled her to face him.

‘What did he say to you?’ he asked with a degree of urgency.

She tried to shrug him off, but he kept pressing.

‘I want to know, Nast. What did he call you?’

‘Scorpius…fine,’ she sighed eventually, ‘but it’s stupid, it really is. I overreacted, seriously, I did.’

She paused.

‘He called me his stupid, ridiculous little whore.’

‘What!’

‘Look, yes, it’s offensive, I know, but I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did. I was just shocked that he knew those words, more than anything else. Also because he said them to my face and that’s certainly never happened to me before.’

‘If I had known what he said…’

‘Well, then, it’s probably a good thing that you couldn’t understand him. Come on you prat, can we go home now? My feet are freezing!’

 

 





 

The James who made his way through the lunchtime rush at the Three Broomsticks was presumably the same James who had said goodbye to his friends and set off alone a few hours ago. And yet it didn’t seem that way.

His whole body seemed to have become heavy and weighted. Strangely enough, he seemed to have difficulty walking, because his feet had just about turned to lead.

Sam, waving him over, noticed the change immediately and was shocked, a feeling that was rapidly replaced by confusion. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. James was supposed to come back elated, or at least with some sort of ammunition against Malfoy.

He looked over at Owen, expecting the sandy-haired boy to be calm and collected as per usual. Surely this was all part of the plan? They all knew from past experience that Owen’s plans didn’t commonly tend to go wrong.

To his further surprise, Owen seemed to be just as shocked. His eyebrows were drawn together questioningly and a chip was suspended from his hand in mid-air, forgotten on the way to his mouth.

James slumped into a chair at their table, the cloak wrapped up in a tight bundle under his arm.

‘Hi.’

Terry was glaring across the room and hadn’t looked up to see his friend enter.

‘Hi,’ he replied, his gaze still not wavering.

Owen tried to school his expression to be more neutral and adopted a casual tone of voice.

‘Turn anything up?’

James stared at the table, his face set.

‘You know how I said before that I was an idiot? Well, I’m still an idiot. I just didn’t realise how much of an idiot I am.’

Josh nodded in agreement.

‘Don’t worry if you didn’t find anything. They’ve only been together a couple of days. Maybe you just need to wait a while for the cracks to show.’

‘It’s not that,’ James waved off his concerns with an impatient hand that nearly toppled a bottle of Butterbeer.

Terry, still fixated, reached out with one hand and righted it without looking. The sudden movement startled James, and he stared at the bottle as if wondering why it was on the table. Shaking his head, like one waking from a dream, he turned to Sam in confusion.

‘I thought you were meeting Jaya?’

Sam shrugged.

‘I did, mate. You’ve been gone a good time. Ducked into a few stores, had a bit of lunch. I was sitting with her, but she had to go see the girls. Said Margie was upset about something. They’re over there.’

He pointed across the room. His finger might as well have traced the line of Terry’s gaze. James glanced over his shoulder to see Margie and Jaya sitting with Stephanie, a seventh year Ravenclaw girl.

Margie did seem distressed, but James wasn’t in the mood to notice it at the moment.

‘Anyway,’ he continued, turning back to his friends, or at least the three that were listening, ‘I followed them like we planned, everywhere they went.’

‘And?’ Josh prompted.

‘And it was pointless. They went into a couple of shops, acted like two friends out shopping, except that Malfoy was holding her arm all the time.’

He frowned, recollecting.

‘There were a couple of times when she looked all…lost. Like she didn’t know where she was, or what she was doing. No,’ he corrected himself, ‘not what she was doing. She looked like she didn’t know what she was supposed to be doing. Kind of like she was making it all up as she went along.’

‘In a good way or a bad way?’ asked Josh in confusion, not understanding a word he’d said.

‘Dunno. But that wasn’t it.’

He leaned in closer. The others did the same, Terry excepted.

‘She got into this…fight with git-face.’

‘Who? Marcus?’

‘Yes, stupid, who else do you know called git-face? Anyway, he said something to her in the street. It wasn’t in English. I don’t think he expected her to understand.’

He gave a brief outline of the events that had taken place outside. Sam whistled quietly.

‘That’s well bad. Bet he’s gonna be mad after that one.’

‘I’m confused. This is why you’re more of an idiot?’ Owen asked.

James nodded.

‘All this time I thought she’d be unhappy with him, that he’d be all wrong for her. Not now.’

‘Soo…what do you think now? Bearing in mind that I didn’t really know what you thought before.’

Josh, not having been privy to the majority of conversations on the subject, was finding it hard to keep track of the story.

‘What if he’s better for her, in the long run? I mean, I reckon I could make her happier, but today…he kept her safe. When Marcus came at her, he put himself between them right away.’

‘Which you would have done had you been able,’ Sam pointed out loyally, but James shook his head.

‘That’s the point. If I’d been able. I can’t. Not here, not while that bloody fan club’s around. I’d do her more harm than good.’

He slumped back in his chair ruefully.

‘So maybe she’s not in love with him. Maybe that’ll come. But if she’s happy with him, and she’s safe, do I really have a right to mess that up?’

‘You’re her best friend, no matter what anyone says,’ Owen reminded him, ‘you do have some rights.’

‘But not this one. It’s no good. I can’t do it. Added on, it’ll make her even more upset if I try to do anything. I think the best bet is just to keep watching but stay out of sight. Out of their way.’

His friends were shocked. This kind of about face was practically unheard of, or at least it had been up until now. Owen interlaced his fingers and looked James square in the eye.

‘Let me get this straight. You know she’s not in love with him, because you know her better than anyone. You know you could make her happier, and yet you’re going to throw that away? You’re not even going to try? This morning you nearly killed the guy!’

James shrugged self-deprecatingly.

‘Maybe I’ve grown up. Wouldn’t that be a laugh.’

And he did laugh, but it had a bitter tone.

‘Just like she’s always telling me, only, now it’s too late. I’m always too late.’

‘Too right you are,’ Terry spoke for the first time since his greeting, ‘well, I’m not going to make the same mistake.’

He took a deep breath and stood to his feet.

‘Terry, what the hell are you playing at?’ Josh asked in amusement, but Terry ignored him.

Taking a few large steps, he crossed the loud room to the table where the girls were sitting.

Stephanie glared up at him. She got on alright with the girls, but she’d never warmed to the boys, not in seven years of school. Maybe it was because the boys just laughed at her absurd and strongly held opinions, all of which she voiced loudly and often, and none of which were based on any proof.

‘You’re interrupting,’ she began snootily, but Terry cut her off.

Well, it wasn’t that he cut her off exactly. He didn’t do anything to her.

It was more that he stopped in front of where the astonished Margie was sitting at the edge of the group and caught her up suddenly in his arms.

‘Margaret Brody, you are the most beautiful girl in the world and any git that doesn’t see that isn’t worth the air he breathes.’

Then, to the further delight of his astounded audience, he bent his head and kissed her thoroughly.

His friends were quite literally gobsmacked. James forgot about his own problems momentarily in the face of his mate’s rash and sudden action.

Then Sam came to his senses and let out a loud whoop that was soon joined by others, and in a short space of time the room was full of catcalls and chatter.

The other Gryffindor boys thought about fighting their way through the noisy crowd to congratulate him, but the look on Terry’s face made them decide otherwise. At any rate, he and Margie soon disappeared, no doubt going off somewhere to ‘discuss’ matters further.

It wasn’t until the commotion had died down a little that the remaining boys realised that James had disappeared as well.

‘Why does he keep running off like this?’ Josh asked exasperatedly.

‘Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s because he can’t have the girl he wants and that makes it a bit hard to see his mate so happy with his own girl. That could be it, don’t you think?’

‘Perhaps,’ Sam agreed, standing up and placing a tip on the table. As an extra precaution, he charmed it so that no one but Mrs Longbottom could pick it up. Tessie’s mum had been running the Leaky Cauldron in London since forever, but she’d bought the Three Broomsticks a few years back. Madame Rosmerta had stayed on as manager, but the Longbottoms lived above the Hogsmeade pub during the school year.

Sam then went to collect Jaya and headed for the door. The others followed suit.

‘Bet he’s headed back.’

‘Is it too much to ask that he’s come out of it yet?’

‘Shut up, Josh.’

 




 

Sure enough, when they returned to the dorm room, they found James on his bed, feverishly scribbling on a piece of parchment.

‘Are you coming down with something, mate?’

James looked up at Sam curiously, momentarily distracted from his writing.

‘No. Why?’

‘Because that looks suspiciously like homework, and the only reason you’d be doing that is if you were ill enough to go mental.’

James frowned as if Sam was the mental one, then return to his scribbling.

‘Course it’s not. I’ve done most of that already. This is the schedule.’

‘What schedule?’ Josh asked warily.

‘For Quidditch practice.’

‘What was wrong with the old one?’

‘It’s no good. We’ve been slacking off big time. There’ll be no more of that, I’ll tell you. It’s time to get ourselves into gear.’

‘Mate,’ Sam started with a pained look, ‘the next game isn’t until February. That’s months away. What’s with the extra practice now?’

Josh punched him in the arm, hard. Sam scowled and turned to give him a right bollocking, but Josh made elaborate gestures and signals for silence.

‘Right, that sounds great. See you at tea, then.’

And he pulled the other two boys from the room. James didn’t even look up as they went, so caught up was he in his new schedule.

‘What the bloody hell was that all about?’ Sam demanded when they were out in the hallway.

‘He’s coping,’ Josh told him excitedly, ‘he’s upset about Stac and Malfoy, and this is his way of getting through. I’m right, aren’t I?’ he asked Owen anxiously.

Owen nodded in amusement, and Josh beamed.

‘See? I think I’m starting to understand this whole feelings lark. Tell you what, though, it’s not pretty, is it?’

Sam looked helplessly at Owen, who was wearing that peculiar look that only he could master. It was the one where he managed to look wise and good and like he was struggling to keep a straight face all at the same time.

‘You’re on to something there, mate, you’re definitely on to something.’

 





 

The new Quidditch schedule was not a hit with the rest of the team. Having Quidditch practice every afternoon and evening when there was a game coming up was bad enough. Having Quidditch practice every waking moment when there wasn’t a game for months? A few days in and the team were ready to murder their Captain.

James wasn’t doing himself any favours in that respect, either. He’d been acting oddly since the Hogsmeade weekend, to the point where people outside his group of friends started to notice.

For one thing, he was never around. When he wasn’t forcing his team through yet another gruelling training session, he was running laps around the lake, or working over plays…or studying.

The first time he’d asked Rose for help with his coursework, she’d nearly fallen off her chair. As it was, it had taken him nearly an hour to convince her that he did actually want help and it wasn’t just some new prank.

His teachers were amazed at how well he was doing in class. Professor Ramira actually congratulated him on the progress he was making. She even lied to his face and said that she’d known he’d always had it in him.

Rose had taken to watching him silently from corners with a worried and slightly guilty look on her face. Albus had taken to watching her with a worried, confused and slightly resentful look on his face because he knew something was up but he just couldn’t figure out what it was.

James had even begun to lose some of his cool factor. If that wasn’t worrying enough, he didn’t even seem to care. Just the other day, two fourth year girls standing near him had commented, quite clearly, that the Quidditch Captain certainly wasn’t as fit as he used to be, and he’d done nothing. He hadn’t even seemed to have heard them.

He hadn’t tried to talk to any of his friends about it, not even Owen. There had been a few tense days where Terry, who had gone from dark and brooding to blissfully happy and cheerful overnight, had quite thoughtlessly brought up some rather sensitive subjects.

However, Owen and Sam, with the help of the very understanding Margie, had convinced Terry to go be blissfully happy elsewhere, so everything was fine now.

All things considered, at least.

James himself hadn’t meant for things to get so out of hand. He’d never made a conscious decision to work himself into the ground, it had just happened.

‘This whole coping thing is sort of rubbish, isn’t it?’

Josh was sprawled in a chair with the sort of boneless grace that only comes with complete physical exhaustion. Quidditch training five nights a week, plus extra laps, was definitely taking its toll.

Owen, the only member of their group not dying, bar Terry, had taken pity on Sam and Josh and was checking over their Transfiguration homework. ‘Checking’ which was, in reality, completing, but he’d become very good at copying their handwriting over the years, so he was pretty sure no one would notice.

Footsteps, measured and steady were heard from the stairs leading to the boy’s dormitories.

‘And it’s nine o’clock,’ Sam announced to the world, without opening his eyes.

A few seconds later, James descended into the room, a bundle under his arm and a distant look on his face. He walked through the common room without acknowledging anyone, his mind clearly on other things.

Silently, he stepped through the portrait hole and left the tower.

‘I wonder where he goes,’ Owen pondered aloud, crossing out wiggle your tongue to save the flies on Sam’s parchment and replacing it with wave your wand before your eyes.

‘At this point, I really don’t care. I just wish he’d go there and not come back. D’you know, he interrupted my date with Jaya the other day? Comes sprinting into the room, yelling about something or other. He’s off his tree.’

‘He’s coping,’ Josh hissed across to Sam, who grunted.

‘Whatever. As far as I’m concerned, he can take his coping and shove it up his a–’

There followed a rather lengthy discussion about just where James could stick his coping. The general consensus reached was that he’d better put it in the Room of Requirement, as everywhere else, including orifices, was deemed too small.








 

But as it so happened, James wasn’t heading to the Room of Requirement. Instead, he was going to the Quidditch pitch.

Fetching his broom from the shed, he pulled the Invisibility Cloak tighter around his body and swung his leg over the wood. As he kicked off the ground and felt the wind rush through his hair, he let out a deep breath. He felt like he’d been holding it in all day.

Flying had always been his favourite pastime, but it had become almost a drug to him lately. It was the only time he could forget all the madness that had become a part of his everyday life and just…be.

Anastacia wasn’t only ignoring him, but avoiding him altogether. He could go for days without seeing her, except at a distance. He knew it was partially his fault; he couldn’t bear to go near her when she was with Malfoy, but she was playing a part in it too.

His family and friends were worried about him, he knew that. Lily had threatened to write to their Mum, although they both knew it was an empty threat. His marks had never been better, his teachers were astounded, and even his Quidditch was improving. There was nothing about his recent behaviour that was going to cause his parents alarm.

Flying above the Forbidden Forest, James tried to sort through the jumble of emotions and thoughts that cluttered up his head.

Everything was going so well, if only on the outside. Shouldn’t he be proud of himself? Shouldn’t he be happy?

If he was being truthful, he knew that he wasn’t happy at all. With his safe and secure and privileged life, there was probably no time when he’d been unhappier.

It worried him a little that he could be this hung up about a girl. It was only a girl. It wasn’t like he’d been told he couldn’t play Quidditch for the rest of his life. Find another girl. That’s what Sam had told him, once in those first couple of days.

He’d tried to break Sam’s nose. He’d almost succeeded, too, would have done had Josh not stepped in between them before he could land the punch. Owen had sent James upstairs to cool down; the traces of pity in his voice made the order all that much harder to take.

Sam wasn’t really talking to him these days either.

It was starting to get cold up on the broom. James toyed with the idea of staying out longer, weighing up the psychological benefits against the likely chance of falling off his broom due to frostbitten fingers.

Reluctantly, he turned his broom towards the castle and prepared to land.

Owen had tried to talk to him, the day he’d attacked Sam. He’d come upstairs with that serious look on his face and sat down on his bed on the other side of the room.

‘I’m worried,’ he’d started plainly, ‘this isn’t what I was planning on. This wasn’t supposed to happen. James…I’m sorry. This is all my fault.’

Leave it to Owen to blame himself. He usually did. It came from being the only one in the group with the ability to take responsibility for his actions.

‘Seriously mate, I’m fine. I guess I’m just tired from all the extra practice. I’ll go and talk to Sam and it’ll all be over. If he’s still mad, I’ll get him some chocolate or something. It’s no big deal.’

But it was. James and Sam had sort of made up, but their once easy friendship was hanging by a thread. Without Sam’s support, James was finding it almost impossible to keep his head above water. Owen was great and supportive and all (and scarily female-like), but he wasn’t the same as Sam.

As he put his broom back in the shed and returned to the castle, James wondered briefly if he’d actually gone mental somewhere along the way. Surely a normal person wasn’t supposed to have all these thoughts and problems constantly cluttering up their brain. If they were, how on earth were they supposed to think?

He eased through the front door and set off across the Great Hall. As he passed through the narrowing corridors, everything was still and quiet.

This made the gradually approaching footsteps all the more noticeable.

James was still under the cloak, and he shrank back into the shadows that lined the walls for extra protection.

However, when the owner of the footsteps rounded the corner, James found himself facing, not Filch or Prattle as he had suspected, but Scorpius Malfoy.

Under the cloak, James felt his eyes narrow of their own accord. Not even thinking now, he threw off the cloak and stepped out into the middle of the passageway.

Scorpius paused momentarily, his face showing a split second of surprise before it relaxed back into its normal expression.

They were still at opposite ends of the rather long corridor, neither of them moving.

Then James took a step forward.

Several metres away, Scorpius did the same.

James took another step, then another.

The Slytherin boy mirrored his movements.

Scowling, James began to walk normally down the corridor, stuffing the cloak into his pocket as he went.

The two boys drew closer and closer together. Both looked straight ahead and acted as if the other wasn’t there.

Just when it looked like they were going to pass each other without incident, James suddenly turned, grabbed the front of Scorpius’ robes and hauled him up against the wall.

The younger boy was smaller and slighter and James had no trouble holding him. Still, he might have got away had he struggled.

But he didn’t. Scorpius didn’t move, but stared James straight in the eye, his face very serious.

James gulped in a huge breath of air, suddenly feeling as if the loose collar of his shirt was choking him.

‘If you,’ he began, but the words stuck in his throat. He tried again.

‘If you hurt her…’

His other hand came up to clench threateningly in front of the blonde boy’s face.

‘You’ve got her. But if you ever hurt her…’

The clear grey eyes continued to stare at him, and then Scorpius gave a tiny, almost imperceptible nod of his head.

James roughly let him go and began to stagger back to the Tower. Once he’d left the younger boy behind, he leant against a stonewall, trying to get his composure back and slow down his racing heart.

Scorpius watched him go. Not for the first time, he questioned the effectiveness of Rose’s brilliant plan.

Sure, it was for the best, and it was going to give them their much-needed outcome.

But how many people were they going to have to break along the way?

Sighing, he turned and continued down to the Slytherin dormitories. He’d only been out this late because he’d been trying, yet again, to convince Nast to let him patrol with her, for safety. As usual she was having none of it.

At least, that’s why he thought he’d been out late. It seemed fate had other ideas.









So... and what next? Hopefully that cleared up everything in regards to the Italian in the previous chapter. Don't worry, faithful readers, I promise to always explain myself!Now, I feel I must warn you, dear ones; we are coming to a very difficult time in our tale. There is light at the end of the tunnel, fear not, but it is an exceptionally dark tunnel through which we must pass...
As always, I love reviews and adore my reviewers...hint, hint...
Ta!
 

Chapter 16: Mixed Messages
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Stunning imge by Ande @ TDA




Mixed Messages


Break Even – The Script

‘A friend is someone who, upon seeing another friend in immense pain, would rather be the one experiencing the pain than to have their friend suffer.’
Anonymous

 







The clock had just tolled midnight, and everything within Hogwarts was still. Outside, the wind shrieked and wailed like a child shut out in the cold. The branches on the trees were bowed under the weight of millions of frozen raindrops. Just a few days ago the snow had fallen suddenly and without warning, transformed the castle and its surroundings into an icy wonderland in a mere matter of hours.

It was no time for anyone sensible to be out of bed.

However, there was indeed one person stalking angrily down a deserted corridor. Brown hair flying, arms tugging her robe tighter around herself, the lone figure headed across the castle to Ravenclaw Tower.

It was late. It was cold. And Anastacia Sangraal was not happy.

In fact, one might go so far as to say she was furious.

Marcus had not shown up for their patrol, or the prefects meeting that came afterwards. He had left her to do their duty, as Head Boy and Girl, alone. And now, when she was finished and should be turning in for the night, she had to go find him.

No, that was untrue. She didn’t have to find him. She should just leave him to rot in whatever hole he’d better have fallen into and go to bed.

But she couldn’t do that. It wasn’t who she was. Even if she didn’t like him, that didn’t mean she was about to leave without checking that he was okay.

Also, it just wasn’t in her to let him get away with it anymore.

Ever since the Hogsmeade…altercation, Marcus had been hanging around her a lot more than usual. Without James and Sam and the others around to fend him off, Anastacia was finding herself more and more in his unwelcome company, and she wasn’t enjoying it at all.

By now, she’d really had enough of his antics. That was partially her reason for searching for him tonight – to tell him that she was sick of it, she wasn’t putting up with him anymore, and therefore she was going to the Headmaster first thing in the morning.

She was sure he wasn’t going to like it, but she was so beyond caring that it almost made her laugh. To think that she’d once told the boys off for making fun of him! As far as she was concerned, Marcus was now fair game. No more sticking up for him from her!

She rounded a corner in the corridor, and an arm suddenly snaked out of nowhere to yank her closer to the wall. She let out a shocked shriek, then swallowed the last of the sound when she saw who it was.

Merde!

Marcus tutted at her pompously, a wide smirk across his face.

‘Language, language. Don’t want any little first years to hear you, now, do we?’

‘Bloody hell, Marcus, you nearly gave me a heart attack! Where the hell have you been?’

He was leaning against the wall now, his body a picture of ease. But there was a tension in his face, and in the arms crossed so negligently over his chest, that gave Anastacia pause. A tiny lick of fear began to uncurl in her stomach.

‘I’ve been waiting for you. I needed to speak to you.’

‘And earlier? The prefects meeting? Our patrol? Or did you just forget?’

He shrugged.

‘I was busy.’

Anastacia opened her mouth to retort, took a deep breath, and closed it instead.

‘You know, I don’t even care,’ she answered disgustedly, ‘I’ve had more than enough of this.’

She shook her head and shrugged.

‘I’m going to the Headmaster first thing tomorrow. You’re not fit to be a role model to cockroaches, let alone to students. You’re certainly not fit to be Head Boy.’

Marcus scoffed, the smirk still not leaving his face.

‘Really? You’re going to go to the Head, are you? And what are you going to say? That I’m incompetent? Oh, I can’t wait until he calls me in to ask about it. The stories I could tell…’

He unfolded himself from his lounging stance and took a small, almost unconscious step towards her. Anastacia felt the back of her neck tickle as the hairs stood on end.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Don’t you think it’s interesting how you’ve been friends with Hogwart’s resident idiot for years, and yet it’s presumably never rubbed off on you? You seem to have nothing to do with his schemes, and yet you’re always there in time to pull him out of hot water.’

He raised his eyebrows mockingly.

‘One would almost think you had insider knowledge.’

‘Don’t be absurd,’ Anastacia retorted dismissively, turning to leave. If that was all he had to go on, there was no point in worrying.

‘Oh, that’s just the start. What about the fact that you’re disrupting the student body, pitting students against each other to war for your affections? How about the illegal things that your Slytherin friends have been accused of over the years? What about your subverting of my authority in front of the whole school?’

That was all too much for Anastacia, and the last ridiculous claim had her turning on her heel and stalking back down the corridor towards her counterpart.

‘Subverting your authority? You called me your whore! How the hell did you expect me to respond?’

Marcus was grinning savagely now, finally having got a rise out of her.

‘Oh, so you objected because it was me doing the calling, is that it? What, you’ll be everyone else’s toy except for mine?’

Bastardo! I am many things, but I am no toy and I am not, nor will I ever be, yours!’

Marcus’ whole demeanour had changed. He reminded Anastacia of Trelain, and she started to back away, but he followed, pulling her against him.

‘Come on then, love, give us a kiss. Don’t say you’re not used to it – you should be somewhat of an expert by now.’

She slapped him, hard enough that her hand stung. Marcus’ head snapped around, and he put his hand to his red cheek.

Zoccola!’ he swore, ‘Bitch! You’re going to regret that!’

He pulled her back again as she tried to get away. They tussled for a moment, Anastacia desperately trying to get free, Marcus not letting her go. He was so much bigger and stronger…the more she writhed and squirmed, the harder he held her, gripping her arms so painfully that she knew it would leave bruises.

His hand connected with the side of her head, and a sharp burst of pain shot through, blurring her sight. In return, she bit down, hard, on the hand flailing to cover her mouth. That earned her another clout, one that almost sent her reeling.

Still shaking off the pain, Anastacia tried to reach for her wand, safe in its normal place in her sleeve, but it was impossible for her to get her arm around to reach it. She stomped on his foot, tried to headbut him, but nothing worked. At one point, his mouth nearly made contact with hers, and she panicked. Her knee came up, and although it didn’t quite hit its mark, he had to swerve to avoid it and that gave her an opening.

She took it. Twisting free, Anastacia turned, ready to run down the corridor, wand in one outstretched hand.

Expelliarmus!

The force of the spell sent her to her knees. Her wand flew out of her hand and clattered to the floor nearby. Frantic, she looked up to find it, only to feel the hard press of another wand on the back of her neck.

‘Get up.’

Breathing shallowly, she did as ordered. Marcus bent to pick up her wand, keeping his own trained on her the whole time. Then, holding one in either hand, he gestured towards the wall of the corridor, wreathed in shadows.

‘Over there.’

Once again, she followed the orders he’d set. Inside, she was kicking herself. Why had she bothered to look for her wand? Why hadn’t she just kept running? She wasn’t too unfit, really. Maybe, if she could just distract him for a moment, she’d have an opening. There were plenty of places to hide nearby. If she could just shift his attention…

‘Against the wall. There you go, slut. That should feel nice and familiar – between a man and a hard place.’

She was standing up against the hard stone, Marcus in front of her, his body pressing hers back. His face was uncomfortably close to hers, and she tried not to let the fear she was feeling show in her eyes.

Instead, she answered lightly, ‘You’re hardly a man, Antoniou. More like a little bug. An ant, maybe. And once word of this gets out, you’ll be a squished, dead little ant.’

The smile that she was quickly coming to hate was back on his face. One of the wands was pressed hard into her stomach, digging up under her ribcage. The other was poking into the side of her neck. She tried to twist her face away, but the second wand just dug in harder. Stifling a gasp of pain, she turned back.

That gasp only made Marcus happier, so it seemed.

‘An ant? I must say, I haven’t heard that one before. But it doesn’t matter. In fact, nothing you say matters, because you’re finally out of options.’

As much as she hated to admit it, Anastacia knew from bitter experience that the only way to deal with these kinds of situations was to run at the first possible opportunity, or to be strong and wait it out. It seemed like she was being forced to take the second path.

‘You see, Stacy,’ Marcus continued sneeringly, ‘that perfect little image you’ve built up, that wonderful, pure, perfect reputation you’re so proud of? It won’t mean a thing after tonight.’

She knew she really shouldn’t goad him, but he was speaking nonsense. Worse, it was insulting nonsense. Before she could stop herself, the words just burst out.

‘Oh? And why is that, exactly?’

In reply, Marcus leaned forward and breathed right in her face,

‘Because after tonight, you’ll just be another slut who gave herself up oh-so willingly to me.’

Anastacia’s body jerked as rage, shock and fear all coursed through her. She twisted again, harder, trying with all her might to break free of him, but Marcus was taller, stronger and had the advantage of two wands on his side.

He jabbed the wand at her midsection even harder against her belly, and Anastacia faintly heard the sound of renting fabric as it tore a hole in her robes. However, Marcus soon backhanded her across the face with his other hand, which took her attention off her robes somewhat.

Every part of her face and neck was stinging, throbbing or pulsing with pain. One of her eyes was having trouble focusing, and her mouth was full of the taste of blood, both from cuts on the inside and the blood dripping from her split lips.

Still, she wasn’t so hurt that she was going to let him get away with such a ludicrous accusation.

‘No one would ever believe that,’ she mumbled as best she could through her thick lips, ‘they’d know you were making it up.’

‘Not when Prattle finds you and I inside a broom closet together tomorrow morning, looking as if we’ve spent the night there. I believe you’ve heard the saying – what Prattle knows, so too do we all.’

Anastacia’s heart sank. It was true – she’d even been there when James had coined the phrase back in third year. Melvin Prattle, the caretaker’s assistant, gossiped like an old woman. If he found something out, something juicy, it was if he was compelled to tell people. It was once measured that news from Prattle could get through an entire year in the space of one lunch time, and through the entire school in two lessons.

Grasping at straws, she countered,

‘Bu how will you explain how I look? Not even Prattle will let that go.’

She was counting on the assumption that his attack had left some fairly significant damage, and she seemed to be right. Marcus’ smug expression faltered for a moment.

A tiny hint of hope suddenly flickered into life inside her. But it was crushed the next second as Marcus shrugged negligently and continued on.

‘I’ll heal you before he comes, then. When he does discover us, in an appropriately compromising position, of course, he’ll just have to tell someone. It won’t be long before the whole school knows that you jumped me tonight. You just couldn’t hold it in.’

He shook his head at her, his face mocking.

‘What will your friends say, I wonder? Little Miss Modesty, going tramping? The mind boggles.’

He leaned in closer, and she started to struggle again, but she was beginning to tire and she feared he knew. Smirking, he pressed a wet kiss to her nose and she shuddered.

‘Come on, love, this doesn’t have to be all bad. You’re almost attractive, you know, and I’ve never had any complaints from any of my…others.’

Drawing as much saliva as she could from her dry mouth, Anastacia spat in his face. To her gratification, she hit him square in the eye, which meant that he had to remove the wand from her stomach to wipe at it. She tensed, ready to run.

‘I would rather die,’ she declared fiercely, shoving at him with her shoulder and wrenching away.

This turned out to be the wrong move. Marcus’ gaze came up to her face, his eyes blazing with a sort of crazed hatred. Then he shrugged.

‘Fine.’

And he grabbed her and threw her into the wall.

Anastacia’s head hit the stone with a dull thud, and she let out a yelp of pain. Before her vision had even begun to clear, she felt the awful hands on her once more, as Marcus pulled her to her feet and shoved her backwards.

Her sight was still blurry, and she was now officially scared stiff. The fact that she couldn’t see what he was doing frightened her more than anything else. Then he was pulling at the front of her clothes, hauling her shirt out of her skirt, and she let out a terrified scream as she realised what he was intending.

She pushed and hit him, but he was too strong and he was forcing her against the wall again, and there was no way to stop his hands, and she screamed and screamed but no one was coming, and he put his mouth on hers to stop her screaming, and she tried to bite him but he hit her again and–

Get away from her!

Marcus was suddenly gone, so quickly it was as if someone had blown him out of the way. Anastacia grabbed at her torn shirt, peering up the corridor, her heart beating like a frightened rabbit’s.

James was standing a few feet away, his wand outstretched and pointed at the centre of Marcus’ chest. His face was like a mask of death, and the hand that held his wand never wavered.

‘Drop the wands. Both of them.’

Marcus hesitated, and James shot a non-verbal spell at the flagstones by his feet. They exploded, spraying him with shards of rock.

Marcus jumped, then did as he was told. The wands clattered to the ground.

James continued to speak in the same calm, cold voice.

‘You’re going to go back to the Ravenclaw dormitories. You’re not going to speak to anyone. You’re not going to go near the Head’s corridor. And you’re not going to go near Miss Sangraal ever again. Ever. If you do, I swear you will become the first Head Boy to ever haunt this Castle.’

Marcus didn’t pause this time. He turned on his heel and ran, his footsteps receding down the corridor until they faded away completely.

James came forward and picked up the wands. Holding out the smaller of the two, he hurried to Anastacia’s side, his face a mix of worry and shock.

‘Stac, talk to me, are you okay?’

Before he could come any closer, Anastacia swiped her wand out of his hand and pointed it at him threateningly.

‘What are you doing here? I was doing fine on my own! What the hell are you doing out of bed?’

James opened his mouth to make an angry reply, but took in her wide eyes and the way her wand was swinging crazily in her loose grip, and closed it again.

‘I know Stac, I know,’ he soothed, taking small steps towards her. She shrank back, and he slowed.

‘You were doing a great job. I was just helping you speed things along, so we could go to bed.’

He resumed his slow walk in her direction. When he was close enough, he reached out and gathered her in his arms, holding her tight as she struggled against his embrace.

She only fought for a moment or two, and then she slumped in his arms, limp with relief and shock and pain and other emotions to which she couldn’t even begin to put a name.

‘Shh, Stac, it’s okay, he’s gone,’ James whispered against her hair, ‘you’re alright, it’s alright, you’re safe now.’

She had started to shake, so James made an executive decision. He needed to get her warm and clean and he needed to do it now. Gryffindor Tower was no good – he couldn’t get up the stairs to the girl’s rooms and he certainly couldn’t take her to his own dormitory.

That left the Head’s common room. So that’s where they headed, James half-leading, half-carrying Anastacia’s still shaking form.

When they reached the Head’s corridor, James paused in front of the door to Stac’s room. Making sure that she was steady on her feet, he pushed a matted lock of hair out of her eyes and bent a bit so that their faces were level.

‘Stac, I think you need to go and wash your face, at least, okay? Maybe try brushing your teeth, or having a shower if you feel like it. It might not make you feel any better, but it might help you feel a bit more…normal.’

She looked at him blankly, and he framed the side of her face with his hand. The physical contact seemed to centre her, and her eyes focused a little better.

‘I’ll be right next door, ‘kay? I’m not going anywhere, I promise. Come in when you’re ready. I’ll be there. Do you understand?’

‘Yes,’ she croaked painfully. James’ eyes were filled with reflected pain and he nudged her towards the door in the wall.

‘Off you go.’

Anastacia nodded and stepped through into her room. Inside, she stood staring for a moment, unsure of where to start. How was it that her room looked just the same as it had when she’d left it all those hours ago? And yet nothing for her would ever be the same again.

Rubbing her sore neck convulsively, she stumbled towards the bathroom. She turned the cold tap on full and plunged her hands into the water, splashing her face and neck until her clothes were soaked. As she turned off the tap and wiped her eyes, she caught sight of her face in the mirror and jumped.

No wonder James had been so shocked. Her cheeks were a mass of red, and the handprint from where Marcus had slapped her stood out clearly. She could see the mark of each individual finger. One of her eyes would be black tomorrow, a veritable shiner. Her neck was already starting to bruise, turning yellow and purple, fingerprints visible there too. She touched a finger to her swollen lips and winced as they bled anew, both of them split and painful.

Granted, she’d had worse injuries in her life. She’d broken her arm falling off her broom, she’d cracked some ribs tripping down a staircase back in first year, and she’d once split the back of her head open when she was a toddler, or so she’d been told.

And it wasn’t as if no one had ever laid a finger on her before. She wasn’t a fan of being smacked around, but she was no stranger to it either.

But…it’s different when you can see it, she reflected as she pulled out her toothbrush and began to determinedly scrub her mouth. Whenever she’d been hit before, it had always been in places that no one could see. So that nothing would seem amiss.

By now, her gums were red raw and the bright light of the bathroom was starting to give her a headache. Shutting it off, she retreated into her bedroom to change. Pulling off her robes and uniform, she shoved them in a corner, where she didn’t have to look at them. Grabbing her pyjama bottoms, she drew them up her legs. Then, from the very back of her wardrobe, she pulled out a tattered old hoodie. It was crimson, gold, and nearly falling to pieces. Bundling it in her arms, she stood for a moment with her nose buried in the soft material. Sam used to wear it to every special event that came his way. It was his ‘lucky’ hoodie, and she’d only inherited it when he’d grown far too tall to ever squeeze into it again.

The hoodie, although it had long lost any trace of Sam, reminded her of simpler, happier times. It reminded her that not everyone she knew was a monster. In fact, there was a boy who was the complete opposite to a monster waiting for her next door.

That knowledge, combined with the hoodie, gave her the strength to douse the lights and leave the room.

 







*

James was crouched by the fire when she entered the common room. They didn’t speak as she crossed to stand nearby. He didn’t even look up at her, but continued to stare into the flames.

Anastacia thrust her arms into the jumper and pulled it over her head, but it stuck halfway down. Try as she might, pull as she did, she couldn’t get it over her matted hair.

Two large hands covered hers, and she stilled. The hands pulled gently on the bunched-up fabric, and it settled down onto her shoulders. Her head popped out, eyes wide, hair tousled, to see James staring down at her.

With a tight smile, he guided her to the couch and sat her down. She sank back onto the cushions with a sigh.

‘Here.’

James was holding out a large mug. She stared at it blankly.

‘It’s tea. I thought you could use a pick-me-up.’

Hesitantly, she reached out and grasped the mug. James didn’t let it go, but helped her guide it to her mouth and held it there, like she was a child.

Strangely enough, Anastacia didn’t mind. If anyone else tried that, there was no way they would have got away with it, but with James it didn’t seem to matter. He was just helping, and right now she needed to be helped a little.

The tea was sweet and milky, and as it flowed down into her empty stomach, Stac felt something inside her, some little knot of tension, loosen just the slightest amount.

‘I’m staying here tonight.’

It wasn’t a question, but a statement, one that left no room for argument or bargaining. Not that she wanted to.

‘I was sort of hoping you’d say that. There’s a blanket in the cupboard over there.’

James got up and pulled out a big red blanket, which he draped over Stac and tucked in around her feet. Then he sat down on the couch next to her and pulled her over, so that his arm was around her side and she was leaning against him. Again, he left no time for her to protest and no room for her to manoeuvre away, but again Stac found that she didn’t care.

James tried not to think about how wrong this was. She had a boyfriend, even if it was just that idiotic Slytherin. Surely he should have sent a house-elf for Malfoy and got him to come. Surely that was what she wanted.

It’s not what she asked for, a little voice in the back of his mind told him quietly, she asked for you. To stay. Here. With her.

Trying to ignore that little voice and the false hope it was building in his mind, James shifted his arms to make her more comfortable. Stac was all that mattered right now. Everything else could wait.

More to take his mind off that persistent little voice than anything else, he changed the subject.

‘I’m going to Neville first thing in the morning. We’ll go before everyone else is awake – he’s always up early. If he doesn’t kick that bastard out, I’ll go down and hit that git with a curse so bad his grandchildren will feel it.’

Anastacia didn’t reply, but her hand crept up to tangle itself in the front of his jersey and she pulled herself a little closer. James started to stroke her hair absently, intent on her half-hidden face.

‘Stac…tell me what happened?’

He regretted the question the moment he saw the effect it had upon her. Her previously relaxed form suddenly tensed, and she tried to pull away.

But he held tight and wouldn’t let her go, fighting to keep her close.

‘Stac! I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked! It’s okay, calm down, you’re safe here.’

Just as before, the fighting turned to shaking, and she stopped trying to pull away, suddenly becoming limp in his arms. He gathered her closer, whispering soothing things into her ear, trying to still the shudders that wracked her slender frame.

‘What was that?’ he frowned, not quite catching what she’d said.

She turned her face up a bit, so that her voice wasn’t so muffled by the blanket.

‘I don’t know what happened,’ she whispered hoarsely. James winced to see the bruises on her throat that had so affected her voice.

‘I don’t know how it happened; it just did.’

‘Okay, okay, that’s alright,’ James reassured her, unaware that he was rocking her back and forth, ‘everything’s alright.’

They stayed like that for what seemed like a long time, until Stac raised her head again and whispered,

‘What were you doing up?’

A closed look flitted across his face momentarily, although she couldn’t see it, facing away from him as she was. But before he could answer, she did so herself.

‘Actually, don’t say. I don’t want to know. I’m just glad you did.’

James stared at his hands. He was glad she didn’t want to know, because what in Dumbledore’s name was he supposed to say? How could he tell her what had really happened – that Al and Rose had come back from their prefects meeting looking all serious and worried, and that he’d pretended to be asleep on the couch so that they’d talk freely when they sat down nearby? How Rose had gone on about Stac being on the warpath because Marcus hadn’t shown up, and Al had told her that Stac had sent Scorpius back to his dormitory and wouldn’t let him look for Marcus with her.

He had to admit, at first he’d just thought to follow her in the hope that she was finally sick of the Slytherin boy, nothing else. But when he’d looked everywhere he could think of and still couldn’t find her…he too had started to worry. He’d even considered braving his friends in his room to get to his invisibility cloak and map rather than relying on his natural sneaking skills.

Finding her in the corridor with Antoniou…it was as if all his nightmares had suddenly and horribly come to life. He’d had his wand out and pointing at the Head Boy’s heart before his mind had even caught up with his hand. In that moment, he’d wanted nothing so much as to kill Marcus as slowly and as painfully as possible. It was only Stac’s presence and the fear he’d sensed radiating from her that had stayed his hand.

But he didn’t tell her all that. He simply answered,

‘I’m glad I did too.’

Still facing away from him, Stac began to talk. He voice was low and painful sounding, and she didn’t look at him, staring into the fire instead.

‘I went looking for him. I don’t know why. I should have just left him and gone to bed. But I was worried, isn’t that stupid? I was worried about him.’

James didn’t dare say anything, for fear that she wouldn’t continue.

 ‘When I found him, he was acting all…strange. That should have been a sign…but I was so mad at him that I just ignored it. I told him I’d tell the Headmaster about how he was always skipping his duties, and he said if I did, he’d tell everyone that I was in on your pranks and that I disrespected him in Hogsmeade. You heard about that, I’m sure?’

‘Yeah,’ James murmured gently, ‘I did.’

‘I think the whole school heard it, or heard about it. I yelled at him, and he yelled at me, and I slapped him, and he slapped me, and it all just…disintegrated. Next thing I knew, I was up against the wall and he had my wand and…’

Her body shuddered at the memory.

‘If you hadn’t come when you did, I don’t know what I would have done.’

‘Well, I did come, and you’re safe, and clean, and warm now,’ James went on in his soft voice, ‘and I’ll bet it doesn’t feel like it at the moment, but this will fade, eventually. It won’t last forever.’

Stac sighed, and James hugged her tightly. He was a little surprised that she was so, if not composed, then dry-eyed, but then again, this was Stac – the girl who never cried.

‘D’you know, I think the best thing right now would be sleep,’ he remarked gently, rubbing circles on her back with the heel of his hand, ‘how about you give it a go?’

There was a pause, a long one. Then Stac twisted in her sitting position to face him.

‘Can I sleep in here tonight?’ she asked in a small voice, ‘And…will you stay?’

‘For as long as you need.’

She let out a breath that she had evidently been holding and her frame relaxed a little once more. Settling herself more comfortably on the couch, she pulled the blankets up to her chin and closed her eyes.

James raised his wand and muttered the spell to dim the lights, but he didn’t turn them off completely. With the fire’s glow, the room was bathed in a warm, golden light, and hopefully looked like a fairly non-threatening place now.

A small hand crept slowly into his. Looking down, James saw that Stac still held her wand firmly in her other hand, tense in that respect at least.

Jem?’

The word was a thready whisper, strained and painful.

‘I was so scared.’

He couldn’t help it. A single tear slid slowly down the side of face. Bending his head, he brushed her forehead lightly with his lips.

‘I know, Stac, me too. Me too.’







Oi.
That is all I can say. Tell you what, this was tricky to write. Sorry about the wait, oh darling readers of mine, but something rather unfortunate happened a while back in that I accidently saved a blank document over the nearly-completed first draft of this chapter. Naturally, I was fuming, and then I got writers block when it came time to start again because I was so mad that I'd lost all that work.
But, it turns out that this was just my muse teaching me a little lesson - sometimes you need to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and start again.
I did.
And do you know what?

I like it much better this time around.

Oh, and just an extra note - if you have this song, listen to it after you've read the chapter as well. I was listening to it randomly the other day and I realised that it's basically James' themesong at the moment. Listen to the words - they're his words.
Poor darling boy...


Chapter 17: As Darkness Breaks
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                                                Stunning image by bluebird @ TDA
                        


As Darkness Breaks



With Or Without You – U2

 ‘Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.’
Samuel Johnson









It was dark. Dark, all around her. It pressed in against her, suffocating, sucking the air from her lungs. Something held her arms to her sides, preventing her from moving. Whatever it was, she couldn’t twist free. It was all encompassing, hot and harsh against her skin.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew James should be there. He’d promised not to leave her alone.

But he wasn’t there. He had left her, left her all alone with the dark and the fear and the memories.

She couldn’t even cry out, because something was covering her mouth. She tried to breathe, but no air came to her lungs. Gasping, choking on nothing, she struggled and fought against the invisible foe–

‘Stac! Stac, wake up! Wake up!’

Light hit the back of her eyelids as whatever had been holding her back was wrenched away. Someone was shaking her gently, hands holding her shoulders.

‘It was only a dream, Stac, that’s all. Wake up.’

Just a dream...

She awoke with a gasp, eyes flying open in surprise and fright. James let go of her shoulders and held her tightly, rubbing her back with one hand.

‘It’s okay, we’re here now.’

Still gasping and shaking, Stac let him support her. On the floor by the couch, she could see the red blanket that he’d spread over her last night. That must have been what was holding her down.

James followed her gaze and answered her unspoken question.

‘You got all tangled,’ he explained, ‘and all the thrashing only made it worse.’

Stac shuddered and took a deep breath, trying to slow her racing heart. As her focus turned more external, she became aware of another presence in the room. She stiffened in James’ arms, suddenly on edge.

‘It’s alright;’ he soothed, again responding to her very thoughts, ‘it’s just Sam.’

It took a moment before the words made sense to Stac.

‘S-sam?’

He was the last person she was expecting at the moment. But, sure enough, over James’ shoulder she could see a curly-haired boy, sitting by the fire. His face, so grave, looked completely different than usual.

The fear in her frame had begun to subside, so James nodded to Sam and the dark boy made his way over to join them on the couch. Tentatively, he placed a large hand on Stac’s shoulder.

‘Stac, I’m...I’m so...’

Words failed him. His whole body shook with suppressed rage as he took in for the first time the bruises that covered her body. Visibly controlling himself, he drew her into a tight embrace.

‘I’m so sorry,’ he whispered brokenly as he released her, ‘we should have been there.’

Stac squeezed his hand wordlessly, grateful that in this moment she had two of her best friends back, even if she knew it couldn’t last.

‘Sam got suspicious when I didn’t come back last night,’ James explained in a determinedly light voice, ‘and when I wasn’t back early this morning, he decided to come looking. Nosy git,’ he grinned as he threw the last remark at his friend, who smirked in response.

At least they’re talking again, Stac thought in relief. She hadn’t missed the tension between the two boys over the past few weeks.

‘I looked at the map,’ Sam went on, continuing the story. Stac knew they were just trying to distract her, but she was grateful nonetheless.

‘It showed you both down here, but you weren’t moving and James was pacing all around the room. So I decided to come down and have a look, you know, find out if you two had made up or whether I needed to avenge your murder or whatever.’

‘Avenge her murder?’ James shot back in mock outrage, ‘What ever happened to a best friend is the one who’ll help you hide a body?’

‘Sorry mate,’ Sam shrugged as Stac giggled, ‘I know where my loyalties lie.’

James grumbled away under his breath, trying to draw out the conversation, but the pale light coming through the windows suddenly caught Stac’s eye.

‘Wha-what time is it?’ she gasped suddenly. If it was breakfast, or nearly that, what was she going to do? She couldn’t skip the meal altogether, that would make her Guard suspicious. But what about her injuries? She was alright with healing minor cuts and scrapes, but at the moment there were too many for her to deal with.

James switched back into soothing mode with barely a break in conversation.

‘It’s alright, don’t worry – it’s just gone five o’clock. Everyone’s still asleep. I sent an owl to Neville last night; he said he’d meet us here this morning. I can tell him you’re awake if you want him to come now.’

She nodded silently, the light banter of before already forgotten, and James sighed inwardly.

‘Here, mate, I’ll send it,’ Sam offered quietly, ‘you stay with her. Make some...tea, or something.’

He got up and went to the window, where James’ owl Gaius was waiting outside. James stayed beside Stac, not touching her but offering support by his presence alone.

‘Are you going to be okay, talking to Neville?’ he asked softly.

She nodded.

‘I just want to get this over with so that I don’t have to deal with it any more. At the very least, he has to be removed from his post, and if that means I never have to talk to him again, that’s enough.’

That was not enough, and they both knew it, but neither said anything more on the matter. Sam finished sending the owl and rejoined them. James got up to make the suggested tea, and in silence they waited for the Headmaster to arrive.

They weren’t waiting long. Before ten minutes had passed, there was a soft tap at the door. Sam stood up and let Professor Longbottom into the room.

The Headmaster’s face was also very different than Stac had ever seen it before. Grim, yes, but almost...downcast. As if something had saddened him very much.

 ‘Thank you, Sam. Miss Sangraal, James,’ he greeted them, taking a seat opposite.

‘Thank you for coming, Professor,’ Anastacia started softly, but the Headmaster cut her off with an outstretched hand.

‘Forgive me, Miss Sangraal, but there is no need for thanks. If anything, this situation is my fault – I was the one who gave Mr Antoniou his placement and I should therefore be held accountable. Now,’ he continued on in the same dismayed, if brisk, tone, ‘I have had some explanation from Mr Potter, but I would like to hear your version of events.’

The retelling of the night before did not get easier with times, and there were more than a few occasions where James’ strong hand in her own was the only thing that kept Stac going. Reliving the night somehow made it all seem very real, and she was incredibly glad when the tale was at an end.

The Headmaster sat for a long moment in silent thought, hands clasped under his chin, brow furrowed. Finally, he sighed deeply and sat forward.

‘I can see no reason to doubt your retelling, especially in light of your physical injuries. I will, of course, need to meet with Mr Antoniou to hear his tale, however, this is not an incident that I’m simply going to let slide.’

His face took on a very hard expression.

‘You can be assured that there will be very serious repercussions for Mr Antoniou’s behaviour. I think it’s safe to say that you won’t have to worry about running into him again, at least not at Hogwarts.’

He would have continued, however, at that moment there was a soft knock on the door of the common room.

James and Sam were on their feet instantly, reaching for wands in case it was Marcus come back. Neville signed for them to be seated and went to the door himself.

Opening it a crack, he had a hurried conversation with the person outside, before pulling the door wide and letting a tall, blonde boy into the room.

‘Nast?’ Scorpius whispered in horror, his eyes taking in the purpling bruises spread across her face and neck.

Anastacia was at a loss. Beside her, James was tense, waiting to see what she would do.

Luckily, Neville made her decision for her.

‘I believe Mr Malfoy was waiting to walk you to breakfast,’ he explained, deftly ignoring the fact that the meal was still at least an hour away, ‘but perhaps he would consent to escort you to the hospital wing?’

Scorpius nodded in agreement and turned to mutter something to the Headmaster, who nodded in reply.

‘If you would, Miss Sangraal? I’ll have some food sent up, and you are of course excused from classes for as long as you need.’

With a final press of James’ hand, Stac stood and allowed Scorpius to escort her from the room.

‘What the hell happened?’ Scorpius hissed in concern as soon as they were in the corridor. He was practically dragging her along, trying to get her to the hospital wing and away from prying eyes as quick as possible.

‘I’ll tell you in there,’ Stac answered softly, ‘never mind that now – what did you say to Longbottom?’

‘I told him there’s no point in Pomfrey healing you,’ Scorpius responded tightly, ‘your father’s going to want to see you like this.’

Anastacia’s heart sank. She stumbled, missing a step, and Scorpius held her tighter, supporting her weight easily.

‘Try not to think about it. I’ll be there – tell me what happened and I’ll back you up.’

He pressed her hand comfortingly.

‘We’ll figure something out.’

Which was all very well and good...but she’d rather have James there, any day.














 

It had been difficult, but the two Gryffindor boys had succeeded in waiting until the door was closed to begin their tirade.

‘The bastard tried to rape her, Neville!’

‘James, I–’

He tried to rape her!

‘I’m aware–’

‘Did you see her face? ‘Cause there’s worse than that, too.’

James! Enough!’

His face red, James paused in his diatribe, panting just a little from the force of his anger. Beside him, Sam glared balefully at the Headmaster.

Neville ran a shaky hand through his hair as he looked at the two boys.

‘I know,’ he sighed finally, ‘that this is hard for you. I know;’ he hurried on before they could interrupt, ‘I saw it all. Believe me, I’m just as shocked and disgusted as you are. More so,’ he added painfully, ‘since, at the end of the day, it’s nearly all down to my actions.’

James seriously doubted that he could possibly feel it more than they did.

‘Trust me when I say that I will do everything in my power to make sure that Marcus doesn’t get away with what he’s done,’ Neville continued, his face regaining it’s hard expression.

Sam scoffed lightly, shaking his head, but didn’t volunteer a comment. Neville frowned and looked first Sam, then James directly in the eyes.

‘I’m aware that all you want to do at the moment is go out and maim Marcus. However, that can’t happen. Hear me out,’ he begged, holding up a hand to ward off their furious protests.

‘What, we’re supposed to let him walk around as if nothing’s wrong? He just gets away with it?’ James demanded angrily.

‘Of course not,’ Neville assured him, ‘but the moment you lift a hand against him, you become exactly the same. It’s going to be much harder for me to get anything done about this if I have to defend you at the same time.’

‘So what?’ Sam challenged, ‘We sit around like good little boys while that bastard goes and ruins our friend’s life? Not bloody likely!’

Neville sighed again.

‘Boys, please. I’m trying to do what’s best for everyone here. Preferably, that involves having Mr Antoniou removed from Hogwarts. But if you two take some sort of…retaliation on him, then I’m left without a leg to stand on.’

There was no reply. He gripped James’ shoulder tighter and smiled grimly.

‘Work with me here.’

When that didn’t elicit a response, he tried a different tack.

‘For Miss Sangraal? Let’s try and make this as painless for her as possible, shall we?’

Finally, both the boys nodded, and the Headmaster turned to take his leave.

‘Remember boys; no fights, no ambushes, no revenge of any kind,’ he reminded them over his shoulder as he stepped through the door. He stood there, just over the threshold, until he heard their muttered Sir.

Then, with a last grim look, he left.

 












 

Neville might have made James and Sam promise not to do or say anything to Marcus, but he’d forgotten to extend that order to the rest of the Wotter clan.

He’d also forgotten to forbid James and Sam from nonchalantly mentioning the incident to the rest of their friends and family.

Therefore, there was now a group of very angry young people who had quite rapidly developed a desire for Marcus Antoniou’s blood.

Fortunately for Marcus, the boys of the family were late risers, and so didn’t hear the news until just before breakfast, making it downstairs too late to do anything.

Unfortunately for Marcus, the girls of the family were not only early risers, but were a lot angrier than the boys and a lot less shy about showing it.

This resulted in quite a ruckus at breakfast.

What happened was this; Marcus was sitting with his friends at the Ravenclaw table, as per usual, talking, laughing, seemingly fine, when a contingent of females moved towards him. At first Marcus didn’t notice anything amiss; females sought him out constantly. He saw it as his due.

However, as they drew closer, it became evident that these were not his usual fans. Perhaps something in the scowling and grim expressions gave it away. Or perhaps it was the way that a number of them were fingering their wands menacingly.

Whatever the case, at some point Marcus realised that these girls must have heard what had happened the night before, at which point any sane or decent boy would have attempted to make a speedy exit.

Marcus was neither particularly sane nor at all decent.

Instead of running, he leaned back and regarded the approaching girls with a look of smug disinterest. As they drew closer, the smug expression evolved into a full blown smirk. He stood to his feet.

‘Where’s your brother, Rosethorn? Hiding away upstairs?’

His voice, although clearly heard by all the girls, was still low enough to be lost amongst the general noise.

‘I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, really. Them sending girls to do their dirty work. Or have you all just come begging for your turn?’

Rose almost ran the last few steps towards him, drew back her arm, and punched, not slapped, punched him square in the face. Marcus’ head snapped back and he brought his hands up to cradle his nose, which was streaming blood.

Next, Dominique surprised him with a low blow to the stomach that laid him on the floor, one hand stretching for his wand, which had fallen from his grasp.

Molly stomped first on the reaching hand, and then on the wand, splintering the wood under her foot. For good measure, she ground her heel over the top until the shards of wood and unicorn hair were torn and broken on the floor.

‘That’s for Anastacia,’ Rose declared in a carrying voice, much to the astonishment of the surrounding students, many of whom were watching with open mouths.

‘Oh, don’t look so shocked,’ Dominique added scathingly as Marcus cowered on the floor before the fury of the girls, ‘you know exactly what we mean.’

‘Your amazing Head Boy attacked the Head Girl last night,’ Molly told the room at large by way of an explanation, ‘and if it wasn’t for the fact that she’s just completely brilliant and better than him at everything, he might have got away with it, too.’

‘Are you quite finished, girls?’ Professor Vem asked from the staff table, his voice dangerously low.

‘Almost, Professor,’ Lily replied sweetly, raising her wand, ‘this won’t take a second. We just have to make sure that he won’t be able to hurt anyone again.’

And she gave voice to a harsh-sounding spell that was unfamiliar to all those listening. Marcus yelled out in pain and clutched his forehead. When he brought his hands away a few seconds later, large red letters stood out on his brow, as if they had been burnt there:

Girls Beware

‘You bitches!’ Marcus screamed towards the girls’ departing backs, ‘you bloody bitches! Professor,’ directing his attention now to the staff table, ‘they attacked me! You saw it! They have to be punished!’

Professor Vem looked down the staff table to his right, then to his left, and then returned his gaze to the boy standing dementedly before him.

‘I’m afraid I didn’t see anything,’ he announced in a cold voice, ‘in fact, I suspect you’ll find that no one saw anything like you describe.’

And he sat back down in his place and resumed eating.

Marcus stood pole-axed and staring for a moment. When no help was forthcoming, he stumbled down between the rows of glaring and whispering students, picking up speed, until he was running for his life out of the Great Hall.

There was a dull noise from the other side of the Hall. A group of Slytherins stood as one and made their way silently out of the door. One of them, a particularly large and mean looking boy, was cracking his knuckles and swinging his arms to warm up the muscles as he went.

They left, and, for a moment, there was silence.

Then, from outside, there came the high-pitched sound of a terrified scream.

Professor Vem paused, a spoon of porridge half-way to his mouth, and looked thoughtful.

‘That’s interesting,’ he commented to the suddenly silent Hall, ‘Mister Antoniou seems to be saying something.’

Another moment passed in silence as all the students waited for his reaction.

With an unconcerned look, he turned to Professor Shinto, who was sitting next to him.

‘Yakusa, perhaps you should go ask Mister Antoniou to speak more clearly.’

The Transfiguration Professor bowed over her plate, stood, and made her unhurried way down the rows of tables to the door.

Professor Vem resumed his breakfast without so much as a word.

Which was definitely more than could be said for the students. For the rest of breakfast, discussion raged as rumours and conjecture were thrown around like toys. By the end of the meal, at least half the student body were swearing that they had witnessed the attack, or knew someone who had. Some said that Anastacia had obviously been in the wrong, some that Marcus had finally gone too far. Still others wondered if there was more to the story than they were being told.

Of course, everyone wanted to know how the Wotters and their friends were involved, but unfortunately none of them were available for comment. They seemed to have collectively decided to forgo breakfast that morning. Pity, really…

To no-one’s surprise, the Heads of Houses disappeared soon after the altercation between the Gryffindor girls and Marcus. The group of Slytherins that had left didn’t return, either, although no-one really thought to remember them.

Not when there was so much juicy speculation to be made…

 













 

‘Well, I certainly won’t have him. He’s a disgrace to the Ravenclaw name. If you don’t throw him out, he’s certainly not coming back to my house.’

Professor Ramira crossed her arms over her chest and frowned at the other Professors gathered around the room. The head of Gryffindor House was sitting in a chair before the fire, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. The Headmaster sat behind his desk, leaning his chin on his fisted hands, his face very grave.

‘Isn’t that just like a Ravenclaw; absolving themselves of any responsibility?’

Professor Danté’s snide remark brought a gasp from both Professor Ramira and Professor Phariseen, the Head of Hufflepuff House.

‘And what do you mean by that?’ inquired Professor Ramira stiffly, the barely controlled anger colouring her tone.

Professor Danté shrugged.

‘Exactly what I say – you Ravenclaws always boast that you’re so superior, but at the slightest whiff of a scandal, you protest that you had nothing to do with it.’

Professor Ramira seemed to swell and grow, not unlike a cat when it draws itself up to twice its size to try and scare off enemies.

‘I’ll have you know that there was never any indication of this kind of behaviour. Nothing to ever make us believe that the boy was dangerous. Indeed, he hid his true nature so well that even those closest to him were fooled. The Head Girl herself knew nothing of his true activities until last night!’

‘And yet you are his Head of House. Surely the fault of the matter lies at your door!’

‘The fault of the matter is at no one’s door,’ Neville interrupted wearily, ‘so peace and have done with it. I didn’t call you here to listen to you argue. I called you so that we can decide how to handle this matter.’

‘Preferably in a way that minimizes damage and hurt to all involved,’ added Professor Vem from his seat by the fire.

‘Expel him,’ Professor Phariseen suggested forcefully in his thickly accented voice, ‘get rid of the rot before it spreads.’

‘And you a Hufflepuff,’ Danté continued in his previous tone, ‘really? What would dear Helga think?’

‘We Hufflepuffs are kind,’ Phariseen countered stiffly, ‘not stupid.’

‘Oh? And I’ve been mistaken all these years.’

Enough!’ roared Vem, surging to his feet and holding the greying Hufflepuff Professor back.

‘This is getting us nowhere!’

‘I quite agree,’ Neville concurred, his tone laced with distaste, ‘Alexander, if you refuse to contribute anything worthwhile to the discussion, I’ll ask you to leave.’

‘Don’t treat me like a child, Longbottom!’

‘It seems to be the treatment you prefer, judging by your behaviour.’

The Potions Professor opened his mouth on a furious retort, but Professor Vem pushed him forcefully towards the door of the study.

‘Out.’

Glaring at the room, Danté sullenly stalked out.

‘I have to agree with Mordecai;’ Professor Ramira continued once the door had closed, ‘much as it pains me to send any student packing, I really can’t see any other solution…’

‘You might not have to think of anything at all,’ interrupted Professor Shinto breathlessly as she hurried through the door.

All the other teachers turned to look at her questioningly. Panting slightly, she held up a piece of crumpled parchment.

‘The Antonious arrived a moment ago. Apparently Marcus used the fire in the staff room to Floo them. They only stayed long enough to inform me that they were pulling their son out of school effective immediately, and would we kindly send his things after him.’

She handed the parchment to Neville, who skimmed it and then wordlessly handed it to Vem.

‘Last I saw, they were chivvying the boy out the front door. I’m guessing they apparated as soon as they left the school grounds,’ the small dark woman continued, ‘they’ll be long gone by now.’

Neville leaned back in his chair, one hand over his eyes.

‘Well, at least now the decision has been taken out of our hands,’ offered Professor Phariseen softly.

The Headmaster grimaced at his words.

‘Yes, but at what price? I promised that the boy would be punished, and yet he seems to have slipped off scot free.’

‘I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that,’ Professor Vem countered mildly, thinking of the morning’s events.

The Headmaster seemed about to comment, but was interrupted by an insistent knock at the door.

Professor Shinto started.

‘Oh, I almost forgot! There are some students here to talk with you, Headmaster. They say it’s urgent.’

‘They’ll have to wait, Yakusa,’ Neville started wearily, but she interrupted him.

‘Miss Sangraal is with them, Headmaster.’

Neville paused briefly, then drew in a deep breath.

‘Show them in.’

The small group trouping through the door did not look like they would have taken kindly to being told to wait. Creeten’s face was murderous, as were the expressions worn by Iago and Reuben, who followed on his heels.

Scorpius came through next, his arm around Anastacia. Professor Ramira visibly shuddered at the sight of the slight girls’ face, which had yet to be healed.

The rest of the guard waited outside the study, faces stony and hard.

‘Headmaster,’ Scorpius began politely. It had been agreed that he would do the talking, since his English was better and he was less likely to explode with rage than Creeten.

‘Miss Sangraal’s parents have requested she return home briefly. My own parents have asked that I accompany her, as have the Zarlows and the Trevellans.’

He gestured broadly to the rest of the boys both within and without.

‘All our parents have requested our presence at home, as a matter of fact. We have come to ask if we may use one of the fireplaces.’

Creeten had been all for leaving without giving notice, but Scorpius had luckily been in a much clearer state of mind and had managed to convince him that it would be a good idea to get the Headmaster’s permission before they went.

‘Of course you may,’ Neville nodded as he gave permission in a slightly despondent voice.

‘Miss Sangraal, please inform your parents that everything will be done to try and bring some good out of this situation. I will personally owl them as soon as you are gone.’

Anastacia inclined her head, wincing slightly at the sting of her cuts as she did so.

‘Ianto?’ Neville continued, and Professor Vem stood to his feet.

‘If you’ll follow me? You can use the fireplace in my study.’

He led the group of students from the room, shutting the door behind him as he went.

‘Sweet Merlin, her face!’ Professor Ramira exclaimed in a shocked voice after the noise from outside had faded, ‘Is that what he did to her?’

Somewhat shakily, she lowered herself into a chair. Professor Phariseen, looking a little shaken himself, sat down next to her.

‘Why hasn’t she had it seen to? Surely Poppy would have been able to do something.’

‘I understand that her father would like to see to the healing personally,’ Neville explained, leaning back in his own chair, ‘at least, that’s what Scorpius Malfoy told me. I understand he’s an old family friend, so I trusted he would know.’

Silence reigned for a long moment as the teachers pursued their separate thoughts. Finally, the small Professor sighed and rose from her seat.

‘Expel him, Neville,’ she stated baldly as she made for the door, ‘make it so that he’ll never be able to come back. And don’t you dare punish those girls. They did us all a favour by giving him a lesson he’ll never forget.’

She paused, fingers on the handle.

‘No man should be think he can do something like that to a woman and get away with it, no matter who he is.’

Then she opened the door and was gone, followed closely by the greying Divination Professor, who mumbled something into his beard as he went.

Left alone, Neville clasped his hands behind his head, closed his eyes, and started drafting his letter to the Sangraals.















Hmm...
It would seem that Marcus has got his just desserts (by the way, what does that expression even mean? If anyone knows, please tell me...)
And I can now safely say we've pretty much seen the last of him. Good riddance to bad rubbish (which, incidentaly, is an expression that makes a lot more sense...)
So what did you think? Anyone who says the punishment didn't fit the crime? Let me know.
I remain, as always, your humble author, stuck in a cage with a whipcracking muse standing over me, hungry for some small piece of feedback.
Ta!


 

Chapter 18: A Family Reunion *
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Asterix chapter again! Aren't you lucky?




                             
                                                                                A Family Reunion




Thinking Of You – Katie Perry

‘Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us,
and sometimes, they win.’

Stephen King

 
 



 

The spinning journey through the Floo network made Stac’s pounding head hurt even more, and she was very glad that someone caught her arm upon arrival. Otherwise there was a strong likelihood that she would have gone sprawling on her face in front of the entire Court.

Which, all things considered, was probably not the best way to make an entrance.

For that was where they were; in her Father’s presence chamber at their French estate. When her vision cleared, she saw she was standing in a long room, about half-full of witches and wizards of various nationalities. After months at school, the rich velvets and satins sported by the crowd looked strange and out of place, and she was nearly blinded by the shining, sparkling jewels worn by so many.

Almost everyone in the room was regarding her with open curiosity, polite courtier’s masks forgotten in their surprise.

 Behind her, Anastacia heard the rest of her Guard arrive, joining Creeten and Scorpius, who were standing beside her. Scorpius had been the one to take her arm and steady her when she had stepped out of the fireplace.

Now he led her forward, down the length of the room, to where her parents sat in two raised chairs. Stopping a respectful distance from the two adults, Scorpius and Creeten bowed low and stayed that way, while Anastacia inclined her head and sank into a small curtsey.

Barely a moment passed before they were given permission to rise, and Anastacia found herself facing her Father for the first time in months.

He looked exactly as she remembered – dark blonde hair, pale skin, dark eyes that seemed at odds with his fair complexion. Those eyes were now staring deep into her own, and Anastacia fought to suppress a shudder. She took a breath to steel herself against the familiar feeling that he could see straight into her thoughts.

Behind his chair, Anastacia could see Creeten’s father, looking sharply at his son. She wondered what he was thinking. For such a thing to have happened while two of his sons were in charge…and he being the head of the Court Guards, as well as her father’s personal Guard…he couldn’t be happy at the moment.

With a sudden, liquid movement that drew her attention, her Father rose from his chair and came towards her. Taking her hands in his own, he kissed her first on one cheek, then the other.

Ma fille.’

Mon pere.’

‘A chair for our daughter,’ he called over his shoulder, still speaking French, the official language of the Court.

Instantly, a smaller version of his own chair materialized to the left of where he was sitting.

Still doesn’t do his own spell-work, Anastacia noted dully as she allowed her Father to lead her to the chair and help her to be seated. It wasn’t that he couldn’t – he was perfectly capable of casting his own spells. Especially those to do with control and domination.

However, that was simply the way things were done here – he ordered, they obeyed.

She was so glad she’d left. Imagine not being bothered to conjure your own chair?

Her Father resumed his seat and looked out over his Court.

‘Now,’ he initiated in a level voice, ‘who will make clear to us what has happened?’

Creeten stepped forward and bowed again, his hand over his heart.

‘Begging your Grace’s pardon, I will explain.’

The man in the chair nodded regally.

‘Proceed.’

Creeten stood straight, hands behind his back, once again reporting to his superior.

‘Little over a week ago, at the last visit to Hogsmeade village, her Grace was involved in an…altercation. She was visiting the village in the company of Mr Scorpius Malfoy and during the visit she exchanged words with the Hogwarts Head Boy, Marcus Antoniou. They had a brief conversation, during which Antoniou claimed to speak Italian. He then proceeded to insult her Grace in public, unaware that she spoke and understood the language. Her Grace became distressed and made a reply. Antoniou tried to attack her, but was stopped by Mr Malfoy.’

Here Creeten paused to acknowledge Scorpius, who indicated that he should proceed with his story. A slight movement at the corner of her eye caught Anastacia’s attention. When she turned her head slightly to look, she saw Astoria Malfoy clutching her husband’s hand. They were both pale and she looked nervous.

‘The remainder of her Grace’s Guard were summoned and arrived on the scene within minutes. Antoniou was warned and sent on his way. The incident was then reported to the acting Head of her Grace’s Guard.’

A small sound came from somewhere in the room and several heads turned towards the sound. Anastacia’s was one of them. From her vantage point, she saw Trelain, standing on his own amongst the crowd. It seemed that he had been the one to make the noise. His presence was more than a little surprising, as was the fact that he wasn’t standing with the rest of her Guard.

But she had little time to wonder. Creeten was continuing with his story, and so she left thoughts of Trelain for later.

‘We, the Guard, were told that the situation was irrelevant and not worth pursuing. We were effectively ordered not to add to her Grace’s Guard detail and not to follow or pursue Antoniou in any way.’

‘And you were ordered this by the Head of the Guard?’ her Father interjected in his quiet voice.

‘Acting Head, yes, your Grace,’ Creeten confirmed.

‘I see. Continue.’

‘It seemed that Antoniou would let the situation pass, although that went against our expectations. He had been humiliated by both the Guard and her Grace, and we had suspected that he would try to retaliate. Last night, our suspicions were confirmed.’

The burly boy paused for a moment, as if unsure how to go on. Anastacia imagined he was considering his words very carefully. How in Merlin’s name was he supposed to tell her father that his daughter had very nearly been raped on his watch? And in front of the majority of the Court, no less?

‘Last night, Antoniou lay in wait for her Grace as she completed her patrol, then caught her alone in a secluded corridor.’

A ripple of shock ran through the courtiers watching. Many faces turned to glance quickly at Anastacia, before darting their gaze away.

‘He…assaulted her.’

He paused as another murmur, louder this time, went through the room. Anastacia fought to keep her face blank as more eyes came to rest on her form. This time, no one even bothered to pretend they weren’t staring.

‘As you can see,’ Creeten continued, ‘what Antoniou did to her Grace was unforgivable. However, she managed to fight him off and escape.’

‘And you witnessed this?’

Creeten coloured to the roots of his hair.

‘No, your Grace, I did not. But Mr Malfoy,’ and he gestured Scorpius forward, ‘Mr Malfoy was there.’

Scorpius bowed deeply, and raised his head to look directly at the older man.

‘By your leave, your Grace?’

Out of the corner of her eye, Anastacia saw her Father incline his head, giving Scorpius permission to speak. As he began his version of events, she tried to breathe deeply and not let on how nervous she was.

They’d had less than half an hour to come up with this story before her Guard had come swarming into the Hospital wing and started fussing and crowding around her. Scorpius had said he’d be fine with what they had managed to put together, but she wasn’t so sure.

A few minutes later, she found she needn’t have worried. Even though he hadn’t been raised at Court, Scorpius was a born courtier. Honestly, his lies were giving Rose a run for her money.

‘Her Grace and I had agreed to meet after our patrols,’ Scorpius was explaining to her parents and the Court at large, ‘so that I could accompany her back to her room. However, she never arrived at our meeting point. After a few minutes, I began to grow suspicious. I followed the route she would have take on her patrol. At one point, I thought I heard voices coming from further down a deserted corridor, so I went to investigate.’

If the situation weren’t so serious, Anastacia would be fighting back giggles at how Scorpius had managed to capture the attention of the entire Court. Why, the women were positively hanging on his every word!

‘I arrived in time to witness her Grace fighting off a boy who was bigger and stronger than she. He had stolen her wand and backed her against a wall, so that she had nowhere to go. My appearance distracted him momentarily, and in that moment, before I could act, she had taken back her wand, as well as his own, and used them to stun him. Before he could recover, I subdued him physically and moved her Grace to safety. I then threatened him and sent him on his way, with a warning that he was never to come near her Grace again. Then as her Grace was quite severely injured, I helped her back to her rooms and stood guard outside her door overnight.’

The silence in the room after Scorpius had finished his tale was a tangible thing. Every eye was on Anastacia’s father, waiting for his reaction.

After a moment of thought, the man in question turned slightly in his chair to face Anastacia herself.

‘And this is an accurate account?’ he asked in an unreadable tone.

She nodded, hands clasped in her lap.

‘Yes Father. It is just as Creeten and Scorpius have told you. Marcus waited until I had finished my patrol to confront me. We had words, and the situation got out of hand.’

Pausing, she fought against her better nature. As much as she wanted him punished for what he’d done and tried to do, without a few well-placed defending words, Marcus’ life could be forfeit.

‘I don’t believe that he intended for…this, to happen,’ she continued, making a small gesture, indicating her face, ‘I truly believe that he only wanted to frighten me. He wasn’t expecting me to…respond in kind. That made him angry, and he lost control.’

She saw the corners of her father’s mouth firm and tighten, and, accustomed as she was to reading the signs of his anger, hurried on.

‘It is no excuse for his actions, none whatsoever. It is merely an explanation, a way to understand the regrettable situation that occurred.’

Anastacia’s mother reached out and placed a hand on her husband’s arm. Gently, she pressed her fingers, begging him for peace in the only way she could.

Still the breathless silence pervaded the court. Anastacia knew exactly what they were thinking, as clearly as if she could read their minds. This wasn’t over yet. Not by a long way.

Without warning, her father’s gaze snapped up to find the tall young man standing apart from the rest of his daughter’s Guard.

‘Trelain Zarlow.’

The carrying words were an order, one that Trelain followed immediately. He pushed past his brother to stand before the raised chairs, where he lowered into a deep bow.

And waited.

‘You have not been attached to my daughter’s Guard for long, have you Trelain?’

‘No, your Grace,’ he replied, still bent from the waist.

‘Remind me again why I put you in the position?’

Now he did raise himself somewhat, his face coloured with confusion.

‘Your Grace?’

‘Answer the question, boy,’ came the even reply.

Another ripple of tension ran through the room like a wave. This was not good, not good at all. The whole court knew that voice – it was the calm before the storm.

Trelain seemed to have suddenly become conscious of the same thing. Anastacia saw his throat move as he swallowed, hard. With a shock, she suddenly realised that this young man that she thought of as so…immovable, was afraid of her father. Just like she was.

Just like they all were, in a way.

‘Your Grace, you placed me in the position of Head of her Grace’s Guard because you had concerns about the then current Head. You worried that he was not taking the proper precautions when it came to her Grace’s safety and well-being.’

‘I see. And yet, in all the time that your brother has acted as Head of the Guard, there has never been an incident like this.’

Trelain’s throat worked again.

‘Your Grace speaks the truth. However, your Grace, nothing of this kind occurred during my previous years as Head, either. Though truly regrettable, it was a situation unlike anything we have ever seen, one that could not have been prevented.’

‘Liar!’

Gasp. Silence.

Anastacia pressed her hand to her mouth as she tried to swallow back the word, but it was too late. There it was, out in the open for all to hear. She had interrupted a closed conversation between her father and one of his soldiers. She had interrupted a men’s conversation.

To her far left, her mother had gone very pale under her makeup. Her eyes were wide with fear as she regarded first her daughter, then her husband.

Anastacia too was fearful. What would her father do now? He wouldn’t reprimand her in front of the court, surely, but once they were away from the many eyes…

Instead, to her complete surprise, her father turned to her with a slight smile on his face. He inclined his head and spoke in an astonishingly level and calm tone, with even the smallest hint of warmth.

‘You would speak, daughter?’

Anastacia took a deep breath. She didn’t know how Trelain had managed to swallow – her mouth had gone bone dry.

‘Respectfully, Father, I would.’

Another deep breath. Scorpius looked up in silent support.

‘As you have been told, on the day that I first had words with Marcus Antoniou, myself, Creeten and Scorpius met with Trelain to discuss matters. He dismissed the incident out of hand.’

‘It was of no great importance.’

Trelain’s hard words brought about another gasp from the courtiers. They had never expected anything like this.

Anastacia glanced at her father. He seemed to be almost…enjoying himself. Certainly, he didn’t look as if he were going to stop the conversation anytime soon.

So she turned back to Trelain, who was glaring at her from hooded eyes.

‘Of no great importance? He called me his ridiculous little whore! In the middle of a street full of people!’

She didn’t even hear her audience’s reaction, so focused was she on the argument.

‘People who couldn’t understand a word he said!’

‘He tried to attack me! He would have succeeded too, had Scorpius not been present.’

Both of them standing now, they faced off across the small space. Anastacia had taken a step forward so that she was at the front of the raised floor. Trelain’s face was twisted with rage into an ugly grimace.

‘He was a stupid, angry little boy who had no control over his emotions. He was weak and disgusting.’

‘Perhaps to you. But to me, he was the stronger, larger boy who held me against a wall and tried to force me!’

‘Are you sure? Or did you go willingly?’

Anastacia staggered back as if dealt a physical blow. Her head was reeling. What?

‘Do you have something to say, Zarlow?’ her father asked for them all, his voice silken in the quiet space.

There was a warning in his words, but Trelain was too angry to hear it.

‘Why didn’t she summon help immediately? If she had summoned us in the normal method that has never failed before, the Guard could have found her within minutes. Why did she wait until someone happened upon her? Or did she only pretend to be upset because she was found? Is this all just an elaborate ploy to try and pretend innocence?’

'Enough!'
Another voiced came roaring out of nowhere. Suddenly, Trelain was sprawled on the floor, his feet swept out from underneath him.

Standing over him, gazing down with a mixed expression of rage and disgust, was Trelain Zarlow I, the head of the Court Guard.

His own father.

‘Hold your tongue! Idiot boy!’

The older man’s voice was rough and harsh with distaste. Turning from the boy slumped on the floor next to him, he bowed deeply before the dais.

‘Your Graces, I beg forgiveness for my wretched son. I do not know what makes him speak so. I can only beseech your indulgence, and promise that he will be punished appropriately.’

The glare he sent back did not bode well for Trelain, who paled as the enormity of what he’d done seemed to hit him for the first time.

Anastacia’s father gazed coldly down on the scene.

‘Take the boy out of my sight. He is henceforth removed from any active service and will not enter my daughter’s presence again until he has proved himself. Captain,’ he addressed himself to Trelain’s father, who bowed once more, ‘see to it that he re-enters training. It would seem he has forgotten the little he has learnt.’

Trelain Senior nodded his head in acknowledgement, and then bowed firstly to Anastacia and then to her mother. With a final scowl, he seized his oldest son by the arm, yanked him to his feet, and marched him out of the room.

Several men in the uniform of the Court Guard followed him, their faces set and expressionless. The Court parted to let them through, speculative gazes following the small group until they left the room.

Anastacia’s father stood to his feet with the same liquid grace he’d shown before.

‘We will retire now,’ he announced to the room at large, ‘there is much to discuss.’

The courtiers before him bowed and curtseyed, eyes downcast. Anastacia’s father held out his hand and raised her mother from her chair.

‘Come, wife. We will talk in your chambers.’

He turned his head to look at Anastacia.

‘Daughter. Join us.’

And with that, they left the room by a small door behind the dais. Anastacia walked behind her parents, Celeste falling into step beside her. The younger girl brushed her hand, and Anastacia struggled with the urge to reach out and hold on like a child.

As the small group swept into her mother’s presence chamber, the few waiting women who had remained behind rose from their seats around the room and curtsied. Anastacia’s father handed her mother into a chair and beckoned for the chief lady-in-waiting.

Celeste’s mother hurried towards him, studiously not looking at her daughter, her face showing no sign of surprise at her presence.

‘Your Grace?’

‘Summon my wife’s healer. Have her join us immediately. My daughter requires her attentions.’

She curtsied and bustled from the room.

‘The rest of you may leave us,’ he continued, speaking to the remaining women, ‘we will call if we have need of anything.’

There was a rustle of silk as the women curtseyed as one. Celeste gave Anastacia one last faint smile as her sister-in-law, Manon, frowned and shepherded her out of the room.

Anastacia grimaced. Manon was Creeten and Trelain’s sister, who was married to Celeste’s older half-brother, Fritz. She too had been one of Anastacia’s watchers while at Hogwarts – she had even been the one to escort Anastacia to the Hogwarts Express on her very first day. Unfortunately, like her brothers, she was a real piece of work.

Her father’s voice broke through her thoughts.

‘Well I must say, this is not quite what I was expecting from your final year of school. Although, granted, you did make quite an impression upon the emissary. So hopefully some good has come of this situation.’

Anastacia struggled to return to her present situation.

‘E-emissary, sir?’ she stuttered, looking to her mother for guidance.

‘From Don Enrique Guerrero y Marquez. You remember him, darling? We spent a summer at their villa. You met his son, Duardo?’

‘Y-es. Yes, I remember. He went to Durmstrang?’

‘Don Marquez has sent an ambassador to stay at court. Officially, he is here to foster good relations between his master’s household and our own.’

Officially? That meant there was…unofficial business caught up in here too.

Her suspicions were confirmed as her father turned back to face them both, a look of smug triumph on his face.

‘However, the Don has also expressed great interest in you, daughter. His son is of age, and heir to one of the largest Muggle-free areas left on this forsaken earth.’

He spat the words like a curse, and Anastacia felt the old anger burn inside of her, directed in part at herself. What had she been thinking, all that time, trying to make friends at school? Friends like Terry, a Muggle born, and Josh, a half-blood. The danger she’d been putting them in…

‘We should be grateful that the emissary took your little…outburst as a show of pride in your virtue. You were lucky.’

His voice was soft. Anastacia sucked in a nervous breath, her eyes locking with her mother’s frightened gaze.

‘Yes, sir.’

He came to stand in front of her, and her eyes fell to look at the floor, head bowed.

A hand came out of nowhere to grab her chin. Although he was most likely unaware, the grip on her jaw was tight enough that her bruises stung and ached. Anastacia’s face was pulled up so that she looked her father in the eye.

‘It will not happen again.’

‘N-no sir.’

The pain in her lips and cheeks made her want to cry out, but she remained silent as he turned her head first one way, then the other. The movement was jerky, and her neck protested as it moved back and forth.

Finally, he let her go, taking a few steps back and turning away. Anastacia rubbed her jaw with a shaking hand, ready to drop it back to her side the moment he seemed about to turn around.

‘How was this allowed to happen?’

‘Sir?’ she asked, uncertain. She’d already explained her part of the tale. Why was he questioning her again?

‘How did he get close enough to do this?’

‘He…surprised me. I wasn’t expecting it.’

‘Is that all it was?’

‘I-I…don’t understand…’

He swung back to face her, anger shining in his dark eyes, and Anastacia shrank away in fear.

‘Is there truth to what the Zarlow boy says? Is this a lie, to excuse an assignation gone wrong?’

‘No! No, father–’

He took another menacing step towards her, and Anastacia threw herself down, cowering on the floor beneath his sudden wrath.

‘You will tell me the truth! By your name, you will tell me the truth!’

‘Please, father–’

Would you dishonour your family?

No!


The fear coursing through her made her scream out her desperate answer. Her father paused. Behind him, Anastacia could see her mother, still seated in her chair. Although her face was white with fear, her eyes were closed and she was half-turned away from the scene before her, as if she wished not to see.

Anastacia bowed low, crouching on all fours, her forehead touching the cold stone of the floor.

‘Father, I swear to you, I have not dishonoured my name in any way. I would never do so, I swear it!’

She swallowed hard, terrified tears pattering onto the floor.

‘My only wish is to serve my family.’

There was no reply for a long time. Anastacia remained crouched on the floor, expecting any moment to be yanked roughly upright, or cuffed around the head.

Instead, her father’s boots began to move away. She raised her head slightly, enough to see him go to stand by her mother’s chair.

‘Have the healing performed, say what you must, and send her back.’

Raising her hand to his lips, he laid a lingering kiss on her fingers. Then, without a backward glance for his daughter, Guillaume Claude Patrique Sangraal, the last remaining male heir to the Royal European Dynasty, strode from the room.

 






As the door closed behind him, Antoinette sprang from her chair and flew to her daughter’s side.

‘Oh, my darling, my precious child,’ she sobbed, pulling Anastacia into her arms.

Anastacia clung to her mother, her body shaking uncontrollably. Together they wept, Antoinette pressing kisses on her daughter’s dark hair and rocking them both back and forth. The ladies in waiting stood solemnly by, affected in various ways by the release of such pent up emotion and fear.

When she had cried herself out, Anastacia allowed her mother to help her up. Lady Elena, her mother’s chief waiting woman and Celeste’s mother, hovered nearby, then assisted in helping Anastacia into a chair.

‘The healer is here, your Grace,’ she murmured softly, and Antoinette nodded gratefully.

‘Come,’ she beckoned the slight woman forward.

The lady bowed and came to stand by Anastacia’s chair.

‘Look here, at me, your Grace,’ she ordered, suddenly all business as she examined Anastacia’s battered form.

Celeste came to stand by the side of the chair, clasping one of Anastacia’s hands in both of her own. The healer turned the bruised head this way and that with a touch that was much gentler than her father’s.

Nevertheless, the healing was not at all pleasant. At one point, there was a loud pop as a cracked rib was fitted back into place, and many of the women hissed in sympathy.

Eventually, finally, it was finished. Anastacia touched a finger gently to her eye, relieved to find no trace of the puffy, swollen skin that had been so painful.

‘Thank you,’ Antoinette told the healer warmly, ‘you may leave us.’

The slight woman bowed once more and took her leave.

‘Lady Carnaille, Lady Celeste, Countess Moureu, Lady Abbondanze, you may stay. The rest of you may go.’

The soft order was met with a murmured chorus of your Grace, and the unnamed women took their leave. Anastacia was sure that she saw Manon Zarlow glaring at Celeste as she went and was very glad that the older girl had not been allowed to stay.

When the doors closed yet again, Antoinette nodded to Lady Elena.

‘Raise the wards.’

Taking out her wand, the other woman went to the door and raised the enchantments that safeguarded the room from both attack and unwanted listeners.

Meanwhile, the rest of the waiting women were busying themselves gathering chairs and tables, preparing tea, and laying food before their ladies.

‘How are you feeling?’ Antoinette inquired anxiously of her daughter.

Anastacia nodded, then winced as the movement caused a shot of pain to lance through her head.

‘Better,’ she admitted, ‘although I have a raging headache.’

Celeste handed her a cup of tea and she murmured her thanks. On the other side of the small table, her mother, Lady Elena, did the same for Antoinette, then stood behind her chair.

Anastacia smiled weakly to see them. Celeste’s mother and her own were cousins on their mothers’ side. Antoinette was also related to Celeste’s father, Barnabus Montrose, but on her father’s side.

But their mothers had been friends since childhood, much in the way that Anastacia and Celeste had been close. When Antoinette had married Guillaume, Elena had followed her to join the new household. She had even married into it – married a much older man, a widower with two sons already.

Now, Elena stood ready to give Antoinette support as she needed, just as Celeste stood, ready and waiting, by Anastacia’s side.

‘What did my father mean, when he told you to say what must be said?’ Anastacia demanded, too tired and emotionally wrung-out to even pretend at subtlety.

Antoinette sipped her tea, her eyes inscrutable over the rim of her cup.

‘Things have…changed, since last you were home,’ she replied eventually, ‘it would seem your father no longer intends to wait until you have finished your schooling before he…accepts an offer for your hand.’

Anastacia was so shocked she nearly dropped her teacup.

‘No. No. It can’t be true.’

‘My dear–’

It can’t!

Antoinette swallowed, controlled herself, and spoke in a pain-filled voice.

‘Your father has only your best interests at heart. When he informs you of his decision, you would do well to…accept it gracefully and thank him.’

Thank him? For bartering away her life as if she were a cow to be haggled over?

Her mother was still speaking.

‘It is my belief that he will allow you to finish your year before the agreement is made binding, but you must know that he has every intention of creating a betrothal contract with the Don in the next month or so.’

She smiled weakly.

‘You liked Duardo, remember? You thought he was…nice.’

No, I didn’t. I thought he was a whiny little mummy’s boy with no backbone and a stick up his behind. He was cruel to me and he treated his servants like dirt. I only pretended to like him because father ordered me to.

‘And you will still be able to go back to school, although why you would want that is beyond me. I tried to have your father transfer you to Beauxbatons for the remainder of the year, but he threatened to have you brought home for good.’

Antoinette had attended Beauxbatons herself, and could never understand Anastacia’s reluctance to make the switch. Guillaume had been educated at home. It had been considered too risky to let the sole heir out into the world for school. In fact, Anastacia was the first ever blood heir to be schooled outside the court.

Hence the Guard.

‘Now darling, it won’t be as bad as you think. Spain isn’t far away, and you can still spend a good percent of your year here.’

Her mother was still trying to make her feel better, but, surprise surprise, it wasn’t working.

‘And we can start planning the wedding just after you graduate. That will be nice, won’t it?’

An arranged marriage, Anastacia thought dully. The one thing you promised yourself you would never allow them to trap you into.

For she had seen what such an arrangement could do. Had watched over the years as her smiling, vibrant mother, once the most beautiful women in the world, had shrunk into a scared, silent little mouse.

And there had been love there, once. Guillaume, for all his faults, had loved her mother. But many years had passed since then, many years filled with neglect and abuse and control. Filled with anything but love.

Something warm and coppery flowed into her mouth. With a start, Anastacia realised that, in an effort to keep calm, she had bitten straight through her lip.

Taking a deep breath, she calmed her rollicking emotions. Hard as it was to stay silent and not voice the thoughts screaming through her head, she said not a word. Instead, she calmly sipped her tea and waited to be sent away, again.

All this because she had caught the hidden meaning in her mother’s words – do not fight this. You can not win.

And the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her that her mother was right.

 






 
*

By the time they left Professor Vem’s office later that afternoon, lunch was nearly over. Scorpius offered to walk Anastacia back to her room, and she accepted gratefully. She didn’t know when she’d be able to deal with school again.

‘Stac!’

Someone called her name loudly from the far end of the corridor. Anastacia turned to see James and Sam making their rapid way towards her.

‘Where have you been?’ James demanded tightly, ‘We’ve been looking for you all day.’

‘You shouldn’t be out here like this,’ Sam continued more gently, ‘you need to rest, recover. You look like you’re going into shock.’

He reached out to tug the robe she was wearing tighter around her body, but a glare from Scorpius stayed his hand. All three of the boys could see the shivers that racked her small frame, but only Scorpius knew that they were not from cold, but from fear.

Fear, because Creeten’s footsteps had not died away when he’d rounded the corner. Both Scorpius and Anastacia knew he was still there, waiting out of sight and listening, hyper-vigilante after the warning he’d been given.

Nevertheless, Scorpius removed his own robe and draped it around Anastacia’s shoulders.

‘While this is no doubt a touching scenario, I fail to see how Miss Sangraal’s wellbeing is any concern of yours.’

James ignored him, of course.

‘Stac, Marcus isn’t here anymore,’ he told her urgently, ‘his parents came and took him away. Neville would’ve expelled him if he stayed, if he’d still been alive to be expelled,’ he added darkly.

‘Thank you for your input, Mr Potter,’ Scorpius countered in a level voice, ‘was there anything else you wished to say?’

‘Yeah, as a matter of fact, there was,’ James addressed him finally, the anger in his voice rising clearly.

Sam put a hand on his arm, murmuring for him to calm down, but James shook it off.

‘Where were you, eh? If you’re so concerned about her safety and you care for her so much, where were you last night when she was being attacked? Where were you when she needed you?’

There was a faint sound from around the corner, a sound that was insignificant to James and Sam, but that held a world of meaning for Anastacia and Scorpius. Panic shot through her at the thought of Creeten coming out and confronting James, especially in his new frame of mind. So she did the first thing she could think of.

‘What are you talking about?’

James started. Stac was staring at him with wide eyes, her brow furrowed in confusion.

‘I…found you, remember…’ he trailed off, suddenly unsure of what was happening.

But she was shaking her head, peering at him blankly.

‘No-o,’ she answered, drawing out the word, ‘Scorpius found me.’

She tightened her grip on the blonde boy’s arm.

‘Scorpius was with me all night. He came to me when Marcus was attacking me, he sent Marcus away, he took me to the Head’s common room, and he stayed with me all night.’

Sam was gobsmacked, and James didn’t look much better. Scorpius couldn’t help shooting the latter a look of pity as he started turning to leave. But James wasn’t finished.

‘Bollocks he was!’

He seized her arm and tugged her away from Scorpius, ignoring her soft gasp of surprise.

‘Stac, it was me! You know it was! I was the one who found you, I was the one who stayed with you all night, yes, all night,’ he emphasised, meeting Scorpius’ cool gaze with a glare.

‘I don’t care if that makes your stupid, pretty-boy mad, because it’s true. I care about you, Stac. I’m not going to let anything happen to you, even if other people forget about you sometimes.’

Far from focusing on his words, Anastacia was doing her best to breathe normally. Creeten was going to round the corner any second, see James holding her, and go on the attack. That wasn’t an option.

‘Unhand me,’ she said in her frostiest tone.

James froze, confusion painted plainly across his face.

‘Wha…but, Stac, I…what?’

Unhand me.’

Slowly, fingers unclenching one by one, he let her go. Once free, she moved quickly to stand behind Scorpius, refusing to meet James’ gaze.

James stood like a man in a dream, mouth open but issuing no sound.

‘I think it’s time you left,’ Scorpius said quietly, his voice not unkind.

The taller boy made no move to adhere to the suggestion. Instead, it took Sam tugging on his arm and practically dragging him a couple of steps before James moved on his own.

Scorpius and Anastacia watched until the two boys were out of sight, before breathing a sigh of relief. It proved to be a very quick sigh, however, as the next second saw Creeten rejoin them in the corridor.

‘What was that about?’ he queried in a tense voice.

Scorpius shrugged.

‘The Potter boy obviously thought to take advantage of her Grace’s delicate mental state in order to take liberties.’

Regardless of Anastacia’s ‘delicate mental state’, Creeten questioned her next.

‘Your Grace? Your father doesn’t wish for you to be speaking to those kinds of people, as I’m sure you’re aware.’

Usually, Anastacia would have drawn herself up to her full height (all 5 feet and 4 inches of it), fixed him with a glare and, if she deigned to answer him at all, speak in her snootiest voice.

Now, however, she simply didn’t have it in her. Looking up into Creeten’s scowling face, she was at a loss.

‘I never want to see him again. Please ensure that I don’t have to suffer through his presence at any time for the remainder of the year.’

Creeten was visibly surprised by this, but he bowed and murmured his assent, before allowing Scorpius to lead Anastacia away, down the corridor towards her room.

‘Nice bit of acting there, Nast,’ Scorpius murmured approvingly as they moved out of earshot.

But Anastacia shook her head.

‘It wasn’t acting, Scor. I don’t want to see him again. I can’t. I can’t keep doing this to myself. I should never have let him stay last night. Not only am I putting him in danger every time I go running back to him, but I’m driving myself mad.’

She let out a laugh that was almost a sob.

‘It seems that I spend my days doing nothing but crying and complaining. Well, no more. I won’t have any more of it. It’s time I…accepted my father’s authority and…adhered…to his plan.’

She stopped walking suddenly. Scorpius drew alongside her.

‘I can make it from here, thank you.’

‘Nast…’

Smiling, she patted his arm.

‘Don’t worry about me. And thank you, for everything you’ve done. Forgive me if I continue with the charade for just a short time longer. I promise it will end, soon.’

There were a hundred, no, a thousand things that he could have said. Your father’s plan is ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to do this. Hold on just a bit longer.

Have you seen the way he looks at you?

But, instead, he said nothing. He merely kissed her lightly on the forehead and walked away, as she had asked.

He hated himself for it, but he walked away.

 






On the other side of the castle, James was fuming. What had started out as confusion had gradually progressed to hurt, pain, and sorrow. After that, it had only been a small jump to anger and, eventually, rage.

At that current point in time, he was stalking through the corridors, glaring at everyone who dared to cross his path. Sam was jogging along beside him, doing his best to keep up.

‘Mate! Oi, mate, slow down! Mate!

James rounded on him angrily.

What!

Sam, slightly puffed, reached out and gave his friend a good shake.

‘Look, I know you’re pissed, okay? I get it. But you’ve got to calm down. Everyone’s staring.’

And they were – the corridors were thick with people on their way to classes after lunch. Out of the corner of his eye, James saw a group of fifth year girls, including Sylvia Blackthorn. They were all giggling and glancing his way coquettishly, and James could have sworn he saw Sylvia bat her eyes at him.

Sam was talking again.

‘What?’ James demanded, refocusing on the conversation.

Sam sighed.

‘I said, have you thought that maybe she had a reason to say the stuff she did?’

‘Like what?’

‘Like…I don’t know, maybe she was trying to stop Malfoy getting jealous or something. Maybe he actually does have some sort of hold on her, like you said.’

James shook his head as if to clear it.

‘Whatever. I don’t care.’

‘Mate, come on–’

‘No, seriously mate,’ James interrupted him, ‘I don’t care. Before, yeah, we had a fight. She ignored me, but I thought she was just pissed about that. Now? I don’t even know who she is anymore.’

‘Come on, there’s got to be a reason.’

Yeah, there’s a reason, alright, James thought to himself bitterly. I don’t know what it is, but if was that she wants to make me as mad as possible, she’s doing a bloody good job.

The giggling of the fifth years drifted across the corridor to his ears. They hadn’t continued on to class, but were still standing in the same place they had been when he’d first looked. The Blackthorn girl was most definitely giving him the eye.

And that made up his mind for him. Stac might not want to be near him, but other girls did.

‘Oi, Sylvia!’ he called out without warning, leaving Sam and striding down the corridor towards her.

Two could play at that game.








Oye. This does not look good, does it? Anyone else getting a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach? Any sympathy for Stac? Obviously not a nice home environment, that one...
As always, I adore everyone who reads, but I love feedback even more! Please write me! I shall love you forever!
Ta!


Chapter 19: The Nightmare At Christmas*
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An asterix chapter! Yay! Hopefully by now you know the drill. Enjoy!








                             
                                               Stunning image by phantasmagoria @ TDA


The Nightmare at Christmas


The Moment I Said It – Imogen Heap

And she finally stopped playing their song,
when she realized she was dancing alone.
Anonymous




Sylvia Blackthorn was not a cruel girl, per se. Being cruel would involve being concerned with someone other than herself, and that wasn’t anything she was ever likely to do.

She was, however, something nearly as dangerous – ruthless, in the way that only someone who was completely and utterly self-obsessed could achieve.

This ruthlessness was, in her mind, what separated her from the crowds of nameless and faceless girls throughout the school vying for attention. It was what made her stand out, stand apart.

It had, admittedly, led her to do some strange things, mostly in the pursuit of destroying her rivals. Occasionally, even she was surprised at the lengths that she would go to in order to get what she wanted, but that was of no matter.

And it wasn’t like anyone knew about any of it. Although, her twin brother, Theo, who had long since washed his hands of her, called her a crazy bint to anyone who asked. And he’d refused to speak to her in public since their third year, when she’d made a Gryffindor girl bald simply because he’d said the girl had nicer hair than her.

But whatever. Theo was in Hufflepuff, and everyone knew that Hufflepuffs didn’t have any worthwhile opinions, anyway.

It was this self-obsession-driven ruthlessness that had caused her to dye her blonde hair brown earlier in the year. All her minions – because girls like Sylvia didn’t have friends, just hangers-on, or followers, or minions – had bemoaned the loss of her ‘flaxen tresses’ as they’d called them (they were Ravenclaw minions, after all), but Sylvia had gone ahead with it anyway.

And now look at her – being asked out by the hottest catch in the school, James Potter himself.

Because Sylvia was no fool. Vain, yes, egotistical, definitely, but not a fool. She knew that James was rebounding, although she didn’t exactly know why. She knew that at least a small portion of his interest came from her resemblance to a certain Gryffindor Head Girl.

But…whatever. In this case, she wasn’t inclined to make a fuss.

No, indeed she wasn’t. What she was inclined to do was drape herself over her new boyfriend at the Gryffindor table the next morning at breakfast. The evil glares and death-stares of the girls around her, from all the houses, gave her a warm, almost comforting feeling.

‘Morning, handsome,’ she purred, brushing her lips across his cheek.

James, for his part, didn’t look like a man who has suddenly found a beautiful girl draped over his lap.

He looked like a man much annoyed.

‘Morning,’ he answered tersely in a clipped tone, ‘sitting with us, are you?’

Sylvia paused, but only for a moment. She was, after all, a Ravenclaw. Her mind worked at least at the speed of light, even first thing in the morning.

‘I thought I should. Since we’re…well, I don’t have tell you what we are.’

Across the table, a redheaded girl Sylvia vaguely recognised as being related to James pretended to gag. Sylvia ignored her.

‘But if you’d rather I left…’

She cast her eyes down and let out the slightest of sighs. The technique, which she’d been perfecting since second year, never failed. In fact, not only did it have a 100% success rate, but it delivered results in less than five seconds.

Usually.

To her utter astonishment, James Potter waited a full ten seconds before inviting her to sit down.

‘No, no, stay. Come on, have a seat. Here, budge up, will you?’

This he issued to the boys sitting on either side of him. One of them, a dark skinned boy with dreadlocks met Sylvia’s eyes with a stony expression before moving over to make room.

Sylvia simpered sweetly as she took a seat. Once again, the girl across the table was staring at her, this time with an expression of disgust. Sylvia looked her up and down derisively, then smirked condescendingly.

‘James, I know it’s no affair of mine who you choose to have your flings with, but I won’t eat with a bint,’ the redhead said in a carrying tone, her eyes never leaving Sylvia’s.

Next to her on the seat, Sylvia felt James shift uncomfortably.

‘You’re right, Lils, it’s nothing to do with you. So leave it, okay?’

‘Except that when your new toy sits there judging me, then it becomes my problem too, yeah? So do us all a favour and get over your problems some other way.’

With that, the girl stood up from the table and strode out of the Hall. With a sigh, Rose got up to follow her.

‘I’ll get it,’ she announced to no one in particular as she left. The slightly darker-skinned boy who had been sitting next to her also got up.

‘I’ll come too,’ he offered, glancing quickly across the table and away, ‘I’ve suddenly lost my appetite.’

‘Funny, me too,’ replied a blonde girl a few places away, ‘there must be something going around.’

This didn’t bother Sylvia at all. In fact, she was quite glad they were leaving. Fred and Dominique Weasley were both in her year, but there was no love lost between any of them.

However, within a few minutes, James and Sylvia found themselves sitting alone, with large gaps on either side where the rest of James’ family and friends had been.

But a girl like Sylvia Blackthorn wasn’t about to let a little thing like family disapproval stop her. She saw James’ jaw tense and heard him take in a breath to speak. But before he could open his mouth, she leaned in close and whispered smoothly in his ear.

‘Forget them. Think about something else. Like that I have a free lesson first up. If you’re interested, there’s a…nice little place I know on the third floor. It doesn’t have much of a view, but it’s private…cosy…’

Taking his silence for an affirmative, she stood to her feet and started to walk out of the Hall. Before long, she heard footsteps following her.

She smirked. This whole…relationship thing was going to be a piece of cake.

 








Rose and Albus stood in a second floor corridor, watching the rapidly retreating backs of their assorted friends and family. Lily, almost incoherent with rage, had started to rant as soon as they’d left the Hall. More than a few of the younger students within earshot had run off in fright, and Rose had quite a difficult time in restraining her before the cavalry had arrived.

Eventually, a long-suffering Owen had graciously offered to escort her back to the tower. Familiar with his favourite cousin’s rages, Hugo had rolled his eyes and volunteered his moral support. Accompanying them was a scowling Dominique, who had Molly hanging off one arm and Josh holding firm to the other, as they tried to prevent her from going back and doing something she’d regret.

Or, at least, something she’d have to pretend to regret if any of the Professors caught her at it.

Sam and Jaya had repaired to the library to spend their free period together, in a similar fashion to Margie and Terry, and Fred had disappeared somewhere along the way.

‘Have you ever wondered if there’s just a little too much Pureblood in us?’ Albus asked absently, as the noise from down the corridor faded away.

Rose stared at him in confusion.

‘What the hell are you talking about?’

‘It’s a legitimate concern. Inbreeding causes madness, after all, and do you know any families more mental than ours?’

They stared at each other, hazel eyes and green meeting in shared thought.

‘You may have a point…’ Rose conceded slowly.

Together in companionable silence, they headed towards the stairs to the third floor. On the last few steps, Albus drew breath and turned to face his cousin.

‘So, cut line – what’s going on?’

Rose raised one bemused brow.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Don’t play that with me, Rosie, you were born a liar. What’s up with you lately? You’re secretive,’ he revised, ‘well, more than usual, at least, and you’re always slipping off somewhere. So out with it. Extra coursework? Weird new hobby?’

Shh…

‘Some guy we’re going to have to murder? What?’

Shh!’

‘Don’t you shush me, woman!

‘Albus, you idiot, shut up!’

She raised one hand in the air in front of his face. Her head was cocked to the side, as if listening for something. Albus frowned, cocked his head to the side as well, and tried to hear…whatever it was.

From somewhere down the hallway, there was the faint, but clear and unmistakable sound of two students…getting better acquainted.

‘At this time of the morning?’ Rose murmured with an incredulous look, ‘How are they even awake enough?’

‘Never mind that,’ Albus sighed resignedly, ‘let’s just get this over with.’

Not really bothering to be quiet, he led the way towards the small door set in the wall. Pulling out his wand and checking that Rose had hers as well, he yanked open the door.

A young man fell backwards onto the ground, his shirt partially undone and his hair somewhat dishevelled. With a squeal, a brown-haired girl fell on top of him. Albus was amused to note that even when startled, she still took a moment to arrange herself to her best advantage.

Then he glanced at Rose’s face, and all traces of amusement fled.

James Sirius Potter!’ his cousin shrieked, her face nearly as red as her hair, ‘What the frick do you think you’re doing?’

‘Piss off, Rose! It’s none of your business what I’m doing.’

‘Or who you’re doing, it seems! You’re seriously going at it with a slag like her? In a cupboard, of all places!’

‘Oh, like nobody knows what little Rosy-Posy gets up to with her Slytherin boyfriend, hey?’

Sylvia’s pretty face was twisted into a nasty sneer. James opened his mouth to say something, who knew what, but Albus beat him to the punch.

‘Shut it, Blackthorn. You’re out of line.’

She threw him a dirty look over her shoulder.

‘Oh, bite me, bambi. Who’s going to stop me? You?’

Albus’ gaze narrowed.

‘Yeah, me. Prefect, remember? I just happen to outrank you. So that’ll be twenty points from Ravenclaw.’

‘And two weeks’ worth of detentions,’ Rose added darkly, taking one of the younger girl’s arms and pulling her roughly to her feet.

‘Two weeks!’ came the indignant shriek, but Rose ignored her.

‘And as for you,’ she continued, glaring down at her scowling cousin, ‘give me one good reason why I shouldn’t march you up to Neville right now.’

James got slowly to his feet, his eyes unreadable.

‘Because in the Weasley scheme of things, I outrank you.’

His cousin just shook her head, disgusted.

‘Detention. Two weeks. Different detentions,’ she added, glaring at Sylvia’s sulky face, ‘and so help me, James,’ she continued when he opened his mouth to argue, ‘if you try to worm your way out of it or anything like that, so help me, I’m owling your Mum.’

He glowered at her, but showed no sign of giving in.

And Grandma Molly.’

All the tension leeching from his frame, James bowed his head in defeat.

‘Get out of here,’ Albus told them disgustedly, ‘I don’t want to look at either of you.’

Without a backward glance, James started off down the corridor. Sylvia took one last look at Rose’s face and, very wisely, headed in the opposite direction.

Watching them go, Albus shook his head.

‘You’d think he’d have better taste,’ he started mildly, but Rose wasn’t listening.

‘Stupid, stupid, stupid boy!’ she ranted quietly, ‘After everything we’ve done. Everything we’ve gone through, all for him, and this is what he does in return? How can someone be that dumb and still breathe?’

She had unconsciously started pacing across the floor, and Albus had to reach out and snag her arm to get her to face him.

‘Alright, that’s enough – what the bloody hell is going on, Rose?’

Groaning, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger, Rose avoided his gaze.

‘Al, I can’t tell you, okay? Even if I could, I couldn’t. Leave it alone. It’s just something I need to do.’

Glancing over his shoulder, she sighed.

‘Speaking of which, something you need to do is get out of here right now.’

Turning to follow her line of sight, Albus saw his best friend slowly making his way up the corridor behind them. Turning back to face her, he scowled.

‘Oh, so Scorp can know, but I can’t, is that it?’

If he’d been a dog, his hackles would have risen.

‘Albus, get your head out of your arse and get out of here.’

‘Rose–!’

‘Look, I know for a fact that Daisy went back to the dorm to get her books and that she doesn’t have a date for the Ball. And that Laurence Burns is planning to ask her at lunch.’

Completely torn, Albus glared at his cousin.

‘That’s not fair. You’re playing dirty.’

Rose didn’t reply, just pushed him in the direction of the common room. With another glance behind him, Albus reluctantly left, breaking into a jog as he reached the stairs.

As Scorpius drew level with Rose, he raised one silver brow.

‘Do I want to know what occurred?’

‘James. Broom cupboard. Sylvia Blackthorn. Detention,’ came the terse reply.

‘And Albus? He’s catching on?’

‘Not to what’s actually happening,’ Rose sighed, ‘just that something is happening. And he’s not happy.’

‘Hopefully this won’t take too much longer. Nast’s father has shown how much he trusts me now.’

They’d met briefly the night before so that Scorpius could explain the new developments.

‘If things keep moving along this way, she should be able to get some freedom back soon. I hope.’

‘How is she?’ Rose enquired softly.

Scorpius’ pale gaze turned pained.

‘Not…well. Her father is a…hard man. The visit home wasn’t easy for her. hell, it wasn’t easy for me, and I didn’t have to see him alone. She’ll get over the fright and everything, but it might take awhile.’

‘Can you blame her? Discounting her father, if what happened to her the other night happened to me, I wouldn’t leave my room for weeks.’

‘If anyone tried to do that to you, the only place they’d be leaving would be this plane of existence,’ Scorpius muttered darkly, causing Rose’s cheeks to flush a gentle red.

Grinning up at him, she asked in an archly teasing voice.

‘So…do you have a date for the Ball?’

Rose!’

A surly Fred was prowling down the corridor towards them, his eyes narrowed into slits.

‘Come on,’ he commanded, grabbing hold of her arm, ‘we’re going.’

‘Fred! Let me go!’

‘I need your help with my Charms homework,’ was the sullen reply, and an exasperated Rose found herself being pulled, against her will, back to Gryffindor Tower.

Scorpius was watching them go, thoroughly bemused, when he became aware of another presence. Looking around, he saw Celeste standing by his side. She too was watching the two departing students.

‘Was that Fred Weasley?’ she queried. Her voice was soft and sounded odd.

‘Mmm,’ Scorpius replied easily, ‘why?’

‘Nothing,’ she sighed. A grin curved slowly across her face.

‘He’s certainly something else, though, isn’t he? Lovely muscles on him.’

‘Celeste.’

Quoi? It doesn’t do one any harm to look.’

Her voice dropped lower.

‘And I do quite like what I see. Yes, I do indeed.’

Celeste. Is there something else you wanted to say?’

Straightening, the dark-haired girl snapped her attention back to the weary looking boy beside her.

‘Only that I’m going to see her Grace now. Is there anything you wish me to tell her?’

‘Perhaps not to tell her. But there’s something you might be interested in knowing. Actually, since it’ll probably be common knowledge soon, you may just want to…warn her.’

‘I’m intrigued,’ Celeste returned smoothly, ‘do tell.’

‘You know the broom cupboard down the way? Well…’

 










A short time later, Celeste nodded regally to the Guard stationed outside the Head Girl’s room and rapped smartly on the door. Then, without waiting for an answer, she opened the door and strode in.

‘Grace! Grace, are you awake?’

Groggily, Anastacia raised herself on her elbows and rubbed her eyes.

‘Well, I am now.’

Celeste clucked apologetically.

‘Sorry. Just checking. I arranged to have some breakfast brought up, if that’s any consolation.’

As she sat up, Anastacia caught sight of the sunlight streaming in through the open drapes. She frowned.

‘Shouldn’t you be at class by now?’

The other girl shook her head, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

‘Vem caught me in the Hall and said I could spend the day with you. That is, if you want me to,’ she clarified.

Anastacia nodded.

‘Please. In a way, I hate myself right now, so it would be good to have someone to talk to.’

‘Grace, don’t say that,’ Celeste soothed, brushing the older girl’s hair back from her face with a gentle hand.

‘Why not?’ Anastacia asked dully, ‘It’s true. I’ve made a complete mess of everything. This whole idea, everything I’ve done…’

She trailed off. They’d made the decision, Scorpius, Rose and herself, not to involve Celeste, at least, not directly. However, while they might not have told her their plans themselves, there wasn’t much going on at Hogwarts or in the Court that Celeste didn’t know about.

‘I respect your decision not to let me in on your plans, however…if I might offer some advice?’

Anastacia nodded, her eyes downcast.

‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing? Forgive me, but there seems to be a lot of unhappy people around these days. Very unhappy. Whatever you’ve chosen to do, are you sure it was the only way to proceed? Could nothing else be done?’

‘I don’t know!’ Anastacia groaned in an agonised tone, ‘I don’t know anything anymore!’

Throwing herself down, she buried her face in the pillows. Celeste made a face and patted her back soothingly.

‘I’m sorry, Grace, I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sure that whatever path you’ve chosen will come right.’

‘Will it, though?’ Anastacia demanded, suddenly sitting up again. Her hair was in disarray and not for the first time Celeste was aware of the dark, bruise-like circles under her eyes.

‘I’ve hurt everyone I care for, I’ve lost the best friend I’ve ever known, I’ve backed myself into an impossible corner with my father, and I’ve destroyed the person I love most in the world. How can it possibly come right?’

Celeste frowned, at a loss.

‘Is there any way you can fix things?’ she asked finally, ‘Can you find a way to tell the others? Or even just James?’

‘I’ve taken things too far. We’re in too deep now, Scorpius and Rose and I.’

The older girl’s voice was strained and rough.

‘If I back out now and I choose to tell them everything, Rose and Scorpius will pay any price I do. Perhaps even more. And that’s not even considering the danger the others would be in if they knew.’

‘We never tell anyone,’ Celeste nodded in defeated agreement. What choice did they have? What choice had they ever had?

‘I don’t want to talk about it anymore,’ Anastacia declared, struggling to keep her lower lip from trembling. ‘There must be something else we can discuss?’

She made a vain attempt to smile.

‘You’ve been downstairs – any new gossip since breakfast?’

‘Hmm, well, Creeten is preening over his reinstatement, although he does glare at Scorpius when he thinks no one’s looking.’

Creeten had been given a formal reprimand by Anastacia’s father in front of the entire Court, but was then allowed to retake his position as Head of the Guard. Now, however, he shared the position with Scorpius, who had greatly impressed his Grace with his actions.

‘But gossip? Let’s see…apart from Sylvia Blackthorn being shunned by almost the entire Gryffindor table, a developing attraction between a first year Weasley and a certain Scamander twin, some sort of…agreement being worked out by Jaya Sarin and your friend with the strange, ‘dread’-something hair and Rose and Scorpius being madly in love with each other?’

She shrugged blithely.

‘No. Nothing new. Oh, wait,’ she continued, pausing for effect, ‘I think I might be too. In love, that is.’

Anastacia smiled and breathed a laugh.

‘And who is it this week?’

‘Less of a who and more of a what – the what being the muscles on Fred Weasley’s rather divine chest.’

That raised a chuckle, and Celeste, firming her resolve, decided to strike while the iron was hot.

So to speak.

‘Actually, there is something else.’

‘Oh?’

‘Scorpius thought you should be warned. So that you weren’t surprised.’

The good humour faded rapidly from Anastacia’s face. Her eyes grew blank, but she continued to meet Celeste’s gaze.

‘Go on.’

‘The Potters and Weasleys – they rejected Sylvia this morning because she’s…with James.’

‘With?’

The single word held a wealth of questions and a tone that twisted Celeste’s heart.

‘I’m afraid so. According to Scorpius, Rose and Albus found them together. From what I hear, Rose in particular was most…displeased.’

There was brief period of silence in which Celeste wondered if she had gone too far.

‘Grace?’

‘I’m alright.’

The words were firm, decisive. Sitting up straighter, Anastacia took in a breath and let it out before she spoke again.

‘It’s no more than I deserve. The way I’ve treated him…he has no way of knowing that it was all for his sake.’

Gone was the pain in her voice. Celeste sat and marvelled at her resolve, and wondered wildly what she was supposed to do now.

Good friends are those who can lift you up when the world is collapsing around you, who can set you back on the solid earth and set the world to rights again.

But sometimes, even good friends can do nothing. And this was clearly one of those times.

Accepting her defeat, Celeste squeezed her friend’s shoulder briefly, pasted on a smile, and did the best she could.

‘Well. Now. You have lots of planning to do, I’m sure. I can help with some of that at least.’

Anastacia inclined her head slowly. Celeste bounced off the bed, trying to fill the painfully empty room with her energy.

‘Wonderful! Now, then,’ she declared, clapping her hands, ‘breakfast!’

 










 

The next couple of weeks passed in a haze. Anastacia was so busy trying to single-handedly finalise the arrangements for the Christmas Ball that she almost didn’t have time to think about the sorry situation she now found herself in.

Almost.

Scorpius had already volunteered, and received permission, to escort her to the ball. Celeste promised to take care of all primping and dressing requirements. Rose secretly dropped by every now and then to reassure her and bolster her resolve. They were all being so nice and kind to her that it was almost stifling.

Yet, every time she was alone, it wasn’t to those three good friends that her mind turned. Rather, it was to another group of friends entirely.

It was those particular friends who occupied her thoughts one afternoon in December as she sat in the Head’s common room, going over some final plans. Roger Farlow, standing unobtrusively by the door, nearly got bowled over as an ecstatic girl burst through.

Celeste’s eyes were shining, her whole face lit up from within.

‘Celeste? What’s happened?’

Pas ici,’ she breathed, shooting a look at Roger Farlow, ‘not here.’

Excusing them both, Anastacia led the way into her room. When the door was shut behind them and they were sitting on the bed, Celeste, nearly bursting with the weight of her news, clasped both of Anastacia’s hands in her own.

‘Duardo Marquez has run off with his sister’s maid,’ she announced with no preamble, ‘they’re currently holed up somewhere in Switzerland. It’s a huge scandal.’

‘What?’ Anastacia breathed.

Surely she couldn’t have heard right…

‘Of course, his father’s gone straight out to get him back, but they covered their tracks well. The search hasn’t been very successful.’

‘You’re joking.’

The older girl’s voice was flat with shock.

‘Oh, there’s more – it turns out the maid…is a Muggle-born!’

Celeste stopped, frowned, and corrected herself.

‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but it does present a rather interesting twist on the situation, non?’

‘Father will never accept him now!’

Anastacia started to laugh, stopped herself and looked up, her eyes wide.

‘I don’t know what to do! This is…amazing!’

‘Don’t do anything, for now,’ Celeste cautioned, ‘I don’t think you’re supposed to know yet. Wait until your parents write to tell you.’

If they tell me,’ Anastacia corrected, and the other girl nodded wryly.

‘If they tell you. But you’re right – there’s no way your father will accept him now, which takes your list of prospective husbands down to, oh, I don’t know, none, maybe!’

Both of them burst out laughing in sheer, giddy relief. Anastacia realised that the prospect of the betrothal had been hanging over her head like an axe. It felt so good to be rid of it.

‘Now will you let me dress you?’ Celeste pouted plaintively, and Anastacia had to laugh.

‘Fine, fine, yes,’ she gave in graciously.

They both nearly fell off the bed as Celeste squealed and threw her arms around her.

‘Finally! You have to see what I had sent over for you!’

Anastacia submitted to the younger girl’s ministrations with a smile, doing her best to focus on the night ahead. The dress Celeste gave her was beautiful, the work she did on her hair and makeup was pure magic, and Anastacia tried, she really did, to let it all distract her.

Too bad it wasn’t quite that simple.









 

To an outside observer, it would seem that Hogwarts had, for one strange afternoon, gone completely mad. Or that the students had vanished altogether. Either way, it was fairly clear that this was no ordinary evening.

All over the school, girls were vying for mirror and bathroom space. In some dormitories, friendships were forgotten as some females nearly came to blows in the pursuit of perfection.

Other rooms saw a slightly higher level of decorum.

‘Bloody hell! Where are my bloody heels?’

‘Who the frick took my goddamn mascara?’

‘That’s my sodding dress you’re sitting on, you cow! If it creases, you are so beyond dead!’

‘Yet another peaceful evening in Gryffindor Tower,’ Jaya smiled to herself as she put the finishing touches on her makeup, prudently using a compact instead of fighting her dorm-mates for the mirrors.

Margie, having found her shoes at last, tottered over to the bed and held on to one of the posts as she attempted to slip them on.

‘Not all of us find it easy to make the transformation from student into goddess, Jay. At least have some compassion for those less fortunate ones out there. Myself being exhibit A.’

Jaya examined the girl standing behind her in the small mirror, scoffed and returned her attention to her makeup.

‘Shut up. As if you are. Poor old Terry is going to have heart failure when he sees you. That’s if he manages to look higher than your legs.’

Margie blushed and muttered something, smoothing her dress nervously.

‘Think so?’

‘Know so. Stop fiddling, take a breath and push those two bints out of the way so that you can see for yourself.’

‘Oi! Who are you calling a bint, bint?’

Margie smiled and elbowed her way in front of the two other seventh years currently fighting over the long mirror. Jaya watched her start to gradually gain confidence by the second with a slight smile.

Margie wasn’t the kind of girl who usually dressed up, but for this, their final chance at a school ball, she’d let Jaya and the Weasley and Potter girls talk her around. The result was a stunning green dress that perfectly matched her eyes, hugged her every and ample curves, and turned her into an old-school movie siren. Coupled with generous amounts of hair lotion, a bit of help with makeup, and the highest heels Jaya had ever seen, and Terry wasn’t going to know what hit him.

Jaya closed the compact with a snap and got to her feet.

‘Well, that’s me done. Anyone ready to come down yet?’

‘Of course I’m bloody not done, not with you lot hogging the mirror!’

Margie sidestepped, wobbled on her insane heels, and backed away from the disaster zone as quickly as she could.

‘I’ll come. This is madness, it is.’

She took the other girl’s arm for support and they slowly began to make their way down the stairs.

‘By the by, Jay,’ Margie murmured softly as they neared the bottom and the common room, from which the sounds of male voices were rising, ‘thanks for everything tonight. And…you look stunning, love.’

‘Ta,’ Jaya grinned, stepping into the common room.

And receiving confirmation of Margie’s compliment from the look on Sam’s face.

‘Sh-shall we?’ he managed to choke out when his facility for speech finally returned.

Behind them, Terry didn’t seem to be faring much better. In fact, the grand majority of boys in the room wore expressions ranging from shock to awe.

Jaya’s smile got wider, and she held out her hands to Margie, Daisy and Rose, all standing around her.

‘Come on, girls,’ she called, linking arms with her friends and leading them out of the common room, ‘we done good.’

 

 









The Entrance hall was in chaos. It was a battle just to make headway, and eventually Anastacia gave up trying to force her way through the crush and simply followed in Scorpius’ wake.

She saw Margie, glowing under Terry’s admiring and hotly possessive eyes. Jaya was hard to miss, dressed as she was in bright orange. More than a few girls around her were looking on with envy – of all of them, she was the only one who could pull the colour off.

Rose was wearing dark green, severely and simply cut, and was attracting many admiring looks, as was Daisy, who was sweetly beautiful in pale pink. Albus was standing next to them both, meeting each admiring look with a challenging stare.

All things considered, it was probably a good thing that the ball was only open to those in fifth year and above. Otherwise, the Potter and Weasley boys might even run out of manpower jinxing every male that looked at the female members of their family.

All this passed in a rush as Anastacia and Scorpius cut through the crowd on their way to the Great Hall. They reached the doors, and, all of a sudden, there they were – Sylvia Blackthorn, in a dress that looked about six sizes too small, and James, coldly dashing in a black tux and dress robes.

The four of them came face to face very suddenly, and momentary surprise showed on James’ face before he schooled it back into his usual cold, hard expression. Sylvia just glared snottily at the other two students.

Anastacia and Scorpius’ faces didn’t change for a moment. Stac had worn her courtier’s mask so much recently that it was becoming her default facial expression.

‘Oh. My. Gawd. That’s what you’re wearing? I thought even you had better taste.’

Sylvia’s nasal tones floated across to Anastacia, who ignored her. James was looking right through them both, and that stung enough that she just had to try and get his attention, regardless of her resolution.

But for once, her perfect English failed her.

*

‘James. You look…charment.’

She waited for him to reply. But he didn’t. He continued to look past the two of them as if they were not even there. Sylvia gave a simpering little giggle and shot the older girl a triumphant smirk.

Scorpius felt Anastacia’s hand tighten on his arm as she realised that James wasn’t going to answer her. He was about to jump in and say something when James turned to smile brilliantly at Sylvia.

‘Why don’t we go inside?’ he suggested smoothly, ‘There doesn’t seem to be anyone worth our while out here.’

And they turned and left the other two standing, stunned, watching them go.

‘He’s never…ignored me before.’

Anastacia’s breathing was shallow, coming in quick gasps, and Scorpius pulled her in front of him, framing her face in his hands.

‘Nast, breathe. You’ve got to pull yourself together.’

She nodded, making an effort to calm herself down, and he dropped his hands from her face and took her hand in his. Gently, he placed it once again on his sleeve.

‘Remember what we agreed? You’ve got to go in there now and pretend like everything’s fine, okay? Otherwise all this work will have been for nothing.’

She nodded again, closed her eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and opened them again.

‘I’m ready.’

Scorpius squeezed her hand and nodded to Professor Vem, who beckoned them over to the door to the Great Hall. Inside, Professor Longbottom cleared his throat and stepped towards the lectern.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, invited guests, welcome to the Christmas Ball! And now, to open the evening with the first dance, I give you our wonderful organizer and Head Girl, Anastacia Sangraal!’

The entire Hall was cheering as Anastacia and Scorpius made their way down the long central aisle to the dance floor set up in the centre of the room. They halted in the middle, bowing and curtseying to the Professors and guests lining the staff table. Then Scorpius took Anastacia in his arms and, as the music swelled around them, they began to dance.

 

James watched furiously from the sidelines. He tried desperately not to look, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the blonde and brown heads, so close together. Polite clapping rose from the people surrounding them, and other couples began to take to the floor. Sylvia tugged at his arm, and he reluctantly led her out to dance.

 

Anastacia’s face was like a mask of pain, her eyes downcast. Scorpius nudged her forehead with his own and smiled at her when she looked up.

‘Smile;’ he reminded her, ‘everyone’s watching.’

She remembered and did so at once, her face settling into a travesty of her normal bright grin, but it was enough to fool her watchers, if no one else.

I can’t do this anymore, she thought brokenly, ready to give up. But a little voice in her head piped up with  Rose’s constant words.

Chin up.

She squared her shoulders and let the dance sweep her away once more.

 

On the other side of the room, Rose sat on a chair against the wall, twisting her hands, trying to breathe deeply. Everything was coming to a head, and yet it wasn’t the conclusion of their plan that she was worried about. She’d barely thought about that at all.

For some bizarre reason, she was more upset that Scorpius was dancing with Anastacia, and that scared her. It scared her because she didn’t understand it; he was a friend, a very good one, yes, but just a friend, after all. It wasn’t like she had any claim on him. And yet every time she looked over to the dance floor and saw them together, a little pain shot through her chest.

She clenched her hands into fists and tried to endure.

 

Anastacia’s attention was caught by an annoying little nasal giggle behind her. She lost her concentration for a moment and stumbled. Scorpius instantly stopped dancing and steadied her.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked, his eyes concerned.

She tried to smile, barely managing.

‘Of course,’ she assured him softly.

Scorpius didn’t look convinced.

‘Perhaps we shouldn’t dance anymore,’ he suggested.

Anastacia nodded gratefully. Scorpius bowed and lifted her fingers to his lips, looking for all the world like he kissed her hand. They were the only two who knew his lips brushed his own thumb on top of her fingers, and did not touch her at all.

 

James saw Anastacia stumble, saw Scorpius right her, and cursed under his breath. What right had that...that, that boy, to hold her against himself? Then he saw Scorpius lift Anastacia’s hand and he swore again, louder this time. Sylvia looked at him in surprise. Barely even thinking, he grabbed for a boy who was standing alone nearby.

‘You two dance, okay? I have to go.’

He didn’t wait to hear their reply, but turned on his heel and strode out of the hall.

 

Anastacia sensed a disturbance behind her and turned in time to see James palm Sylvia off and exit angrily. A quick glance around showed that her watchers were all engaged in other activities and not looking at her. They had expected her partner to look after her all evening and had dropped their posts.

She faced Scorpius again, her eyes frantic.

‘I have to…I can’t just…’ she didn’t try to explain.

How could she explain? She herself didn’t really understand the compulsion that was already pulling her out of the Hall, forcing her to follow the rapidly retreating figure.

Scorpius nodded, worry mixed with understanding in his eyes.

‘Be careful. Be quick,’ was all he said.

She turned and hurried after James.

 

‘Potter?’

The boy in question didn’t slow, didn’t turn, didn’t give any indication of having heard. He kept walking, pushing through the crowd of people milling around the dance floor and heading towards the door. Everyone around him looked so happy, so completely different from how empty and broken he felt inside.

‘James!’

Still he did not turn. He had reached the door, had passed through it, back into the entrance hall. There were hardly any people here now – they were all in the Great Hall. He kept going, striving just to put one foot in front of the other until he could get upstairs to Gryffindor Tower and his room and lock the door behind him, lock the world out forever.

Jem!

That did it. He turned furiously to face the small girl who had followed him out of the hall.

‘Don’t.’

She blinked at him confusedly.

‘Jem? I–’

‘Don’t call me that.’

His face was hard, his eyes burning. Anastacia took an involuntary step backwards.

‘You lost the right to call me that the moment you started going out with that git.’

For a moment her mouth hung open in surprise, then she firmed her jaw and stepped towards him again, her voice a fierce whisper.

‘I am sorry that you’re confused, I’m sorry that you don’t understand what’s going on. I’m sorry you’re hurt, I am. I know you don’t trust me anymore, but once you did. Please…trust me now?’

It was a risk, saying that, even though there was no one around to hear it. But it didn’t seem to do any good. James glared balefully at her.

‘It’s not just that! It’s what you’ve chosen, all of it; you’ve…you’ve….betrayed…your house.’

That stung.

‘I have not!’

He wasn’t even listening, wasn’t registering the anger and hurt in her eyes.

‘I get that you’re the Head Girl and you’re supposed to represent everyone, yeah, alright, but you’re a Gryffindor! Not a Slytherin! And yet you never come to Quidditch, you hang out with gits like Malfoy all the time, and as soon as you leave the tower, it’s like you’re a different person, someone just like them, someone I don’t even recognize. Just like now. For all I know, this could be the real you. The other you, the one I’m friends with, that could be the lie.’

His fists were clenched at his sides, the short nails biting painfully into his palms.

‘You’re so wrapped up in bloody secrets that you don’t even know who you are!’

‘Stop it!’ she cried forcefully, ‘Just stop!’

Unbeknownst to the two of them, the entrance hall had started to fill with people once more; the members of the Weasley and Potter families, finding their fearless leader missing, had gone looking for him, some dragging their friends along. Hot on their heels was a furious Sylvia, looking for her erstwhile date, and Scorpius, aristocratic features pinched with worry.

Scorpius moved to stand on the other side of the hall to the gathered Gryffindors. Rose hung back by the door with Daisy and Jaya. Albus came to stand next to her, his face confused.

‘What’s going on?’ he whispered, but Rose shrugged noncommittally and didn’t answer.

James was too angry to notice the small crowd they were attracting or to see the tight look Scorpius was sending his way.

‘Who’s the one who found you that night, hey? Me. Not him. Because you’re one of us, and we protect each other.’

His voice was pleading now, begging her to understand.

‘They weren’t there to look after you then, were they? What makes you think they’ll look after you now?’

‘James…not here…’ Her voice had dropped to a whisper. Anastacia bit her trembling lip in an attempt to hold back her uncustomary tears. Suddenly she was afraid. The contempt, the…dislike in his eyes wasn’t something she’d ever had to deal with before. She didn’t know what to do.

 ‘Please, Potter…just…’

‘That’s enough,’ said Scorpius, stepping away from the wall and drawing the group’s attention. James’ eyes widened as he took in the small crowd for the first time. He looked back to where Anastacia still stood, unsure of what to do.

For a moment, no one moved. Conflicting emotions rose in his eyes. To the enthralled spectators, he seemed to be a man fighting to make a decision.

Finally, decision evidently reached, he took a small step forward. Then another. Then a third.

Which brought him very close to where Stac stood. Eyes locking with hers, he raised one hand and brought it up to almost touch the side of her face.

Anastacia couldn’t move, couldn’t tear her eyes away from the hazel ones above her. As James’ face drew ever closer, she took in a sudden, almost frightened breath.

James froze, his approach stopping suddenly. Changing tack, he dropped the hand he had brought up and instead took one of Stac’s hands in his own.

Keeping his eyes fastened on hers, he bent slightly from the waist, raised the hand to his lips and brushed a kiss across the top of her fingers.

In exactly the same place that Scorpius had, to all intents and purposes, kissed her earlier.

A shock like…lightning coursed through them both. Awareness blossomed in its wake.

Stac tried desperately to draw a breath, her lungs refusing to work properly. She had defeated the urge to let her eyes close when his lips had first brushed her fingers, but had been able to do nothing against the slight shudder that rocked her body, running from her head to her toes.

And James had seen it. That much was evident in his slight smile, in the almost smug expression in his eyes when he straightened once more. His voice, when he spoke, was almost normal – cocky, bright, assured that whatever he wished would happen.

‘Alright, then. Choose.’

She stared.

‘What?’

‘Choose. Now. Them or us,’ and he pointed to the group of Gryffindors, including Rose and Albus, standing by the door. Then he jutted his jaw out at Scorpius, whose face was blankly impassive.

‘Him or me.’

Anastacia’s mouth fell open. She floundered for a moment, unable to say anything. The smug look slowly faded from James’ eyes. His face took on the same darkened, closed look that it had worn for the past weeks.

‘So that’s how it is.’

‘Ja-Potter, I…wait, I didn’t say–’

‘You didn’t have to. I should’ve…’

He shot her a disgusted look, his hands clenching into fists at his side.

‘Don’t bother coming back to Gryffindor Tower.’

He turned to leave and began to walk slowly, brokenly, towards the stairs.

Scorpius went to Anastacia’s side, but she shook him off angrily. He was throwing her out? After everything they’d been through together, he wanted her out?

Hurt, betrayal, anger – no, fury – pulsed through her. For one second, for one, brief moment, she couldn’t be who she usually was.

She couldn’t hold back the emotion behind a courtier’s façade and pretend everything was fine.

She didn’t have that strength anymore.

Somehow, somewhere inside, Anastacia found a tiny speck of willpower left. She carefully drew it out, bullying her clamouring wits into submission, and made herself her tight throat open enough to let words through.

‘I should have known not t-to trust a P-Potter,’ she managed to choke out.

Her voice was soft, but the entrance hall was so quiet that her words were as clear as if she had shouted. There were gasps and a collective intake of breath from those watching. James halted, and for a moment it seemed he would turn and speak…

But the moment passed, and he went on once more, walking faster now, running when he got to the stairs.

Anastacia waited until he was out of sight before allowing the rigid control that held her upright to drop. Once again Scorpius reached for her and once again she pushed him away.

‘Nast…’

‘No!’ she whispered furiously, her face twisting with pain, ‘No more. I’m done. With all of this. I won’t have any part of it.’

Turning on her heel and yanking up her long skirt, she stalked off in the direction of the Head’s corridor. Scorpius gave a muttered curse and hurried to follow in her wake.

The rest of the students stood rooted to the spot, dumbfounded at what they’d just witnessed. Sylvia and the few friends who had accompanied her out looked stunned. One by one, they started to whisper and then chatter to each other, drifting back into the Great Hall as they did.

Only the group of Gryffindors stayed, not sure what to make of the scene. When they were the only ones left in the hall, Albus let out a low whistle.

‘Well, not sure about you, but I certainly did not see that coming. Something else, perhaps, but not that.’

Daisy set her hands to her hips and was glaring in the direction of the departed Slytherins.

‘How dare she! After all he’s done for her!’ she burst out angrily, unconsciously echoing her friend’s earlier sentiments.

Jaya was shaking her head thoughtfully.

‘Well, if nothing else, it shows that Scorpius is a good guy, at least. I mean, James was manhandling his girlfriend and he barely reacted.’

‘Yeah, catch me letting some guy get away with that,’ Sam agreed in a low voice, ‘so don’t go getting any ideas, hey?’

He slung his arm around Jaya’s shoulders and started to lead her inside. Terry joined them, deep in conversation with Josh and Dominique.

 ‘I have to say, I agree with Jaya,’ Margie said in agreement, ‘they do make a good couple. They just sort of…fit, don’t they? What do you think, Rose?’

Rose didn’t look at them as she pushed away from the wall she’d been leaning on and headed for the stairs.

‘I think I’m going to go to bed.’

The three of them watched her go. She’d almost reached the top of the staircase before Daisy sighed and gave a resigned shrug of her shoulders.

‘I guess that means I should probably go after her.’

She bid the other two a good night and followed her friend, calling loudly for Rose to wait.

‘What a night,’ Margie breathed in amazement, ‘who knew this was going to happen when we got up this morning?’

‘Oh, I think some people had an inkling,’ Albus theorised softly. Margie looked at him questioningly.

‘I have a feeling it’s been brewing for awhile,’ he confided, ‘although I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea why the fireworks went off tonight, of all nights.’

But Margie had caught a glimpse of the two dancing couples earlier in the evening. She smiled wryly.

‘Now there’s where I might be able to shed some light on the situation. Why don’t we go back into the Hall and I’ll fill you in?’

Albus very gallantly offered his arm, which she took, and they rejoined the, now somewhat subdued, festivities.











Hello dearies! I'm back! And, to apologize for my most terrible absence, I bequeath to you a lovely long chapter. Am I forgiven?
And for those of you who are cranky at me for the shockingly depressing tenor of my last few chapters, I have three words for you;

Two To Go.

Make of that what you will. So, like? Dislike? Favourite bits? Parts that you hated? Let me know - I love your feedback. It is like manna from heaven, my dear ones.
So after that horrid long note, I bit you farwell for a short time and promise to return soon.

Ta!


Chapter 20: Longer Letter Later *
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

                                            
                                                                Longer Letter Later

 Uncomfortably Slow – Newton Faulkner
 

‘It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.’

William Blake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 












 

On Christmas morning, James was woken at an ungodly hour when a small, warm body landed on top of him.

Rffrghmmhrgh,’ he grumbled eloquently, trying to push the body away and go back to sleep.

Unfortunately, his sister was having none of it.

JAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMEESSSSSSS! Get up, get up, get up! It’s Christmas!’ Lily shrieked at the top of her lungs, tearing his covers off and latching onto his arm.

James had no choice but to follow as she pulled him off the bed and towards the door. Around him, his year mates were sitting up, expressions mostly sour at being woken in such a manner.

‘I’m so glad I’m an only child,’ Owen muttered in an uncommonly bad-tempered voice.

Lily paused to stick her tongue out at him, and the sandy-haired boy had to smile. Pulling on a red robe, nearly tripping over his sleepy feet, he joined James, Lily, and now Sam as they made their way down to the common room.

Downstairs, the rest of the Potters, Weasleys and associates were nearly assembled. Dom and Molly were propping each other upon the sofa, Dom in the middle of a wide yawn. Louis, Dom’s tiny, pale little brother, was curled up half on top of them, already asleep again. James grinned down at the little thing. Poor Lou was only in second year - it seemed all the excitement of the past few days had gotten to him. Dom was absentmindedly stroking his pale hair as she spoke to Molly.

Across the room, on another sofa, Rose sat between Albus and Daisy, her red hair sticking up in all directions. On the floor in front of them sat Hugo, leaning back against Rose’s legs and talking animatedly to Tessie. Lily, depositing James in front of the fireplace, went to join them. Lucy sat next to them, part of the group but still apart, as usual. Dressed predominantly in blue, even though she wasn’t wearing her school uniform, she managed to look both superior and small at the same time. Hugo and Tessie were trying to engage her in conversation, but it seemed to be hard going. Hugo sent James an exasperated look, which he returned. The one member of their family not in Gryffindor could be a bit difficult to relate to at times.

Between the two groups, Fred sat dozing in one of the armchairs. Owen took one of the other chairs, as did Sam.

A few moments later, Terry appeared, followed seconds later by Jaya and Margie. James wasn’t surprised that they were alone – the other two seventh year girls, while nice enough, had never really been a part of their group, preferring to spend time with friends from other Houses.

Sam pulled Jaya down onto his lap, her laughter recalling Fred to the land of the living. Seeing that everyone was present, he sat up straight, rubbed his hands, and addressed the group.

‘Right! That’s all of us, then. Shall we get started? Father Christmas, over to you.’

There were peals of laughter around the room as James suddenly found himself wearing a rather elaborate red suit, complete with padding, hat, boots and white beard, courtesy of Rose and Albus. Taking it all in his stride, he bowed extravagantly and strode over to the tree.

While the Potters and Weasleys didn’t usually spend Christmas at school, they had, on occasion, done so in the past, usually when one or more sets of parents were travelling over the holidays. However, no matter where they spent the holiday, for them, Christmas was always a time to be together, to be a family. No matter what petty squabbles or fights were currently in progress, everything was suspended for that one day.

Picking up the first present from under the tree, James was happy to find that it was one of his.

‘To Albus. Merry Christmas. From James.’

Amid much laughter, the present was handed over. James screwed up his nose in impatience as Albus carefully dealt with the wrapping paper, but it was worth the wait to see Albus’ face when the gift was finally revealed.

‘How did you…never mind. I don’t want to know. Just…thanks.’

He carefully laid the blocky package on the seat beside him and got up to give James a tight hug. Daisy, examining the present, wondered aloud what it was, and Albus hurried back to his seat, taking it off her with the nervous air of a new parent.

James grinned. The hours he’d spent searching old Muggle shops in London seemed suddenly worthwhile. He’d overheard Albus talking to their mum about Muggle photography, heard the passion in his voice – the same passion that James felt when talking about Quidditch. He’d looked at dozens of cameras, payed what he suspected was a ridiculous amount for this boxy hunk of shiny metal, which the salesman had assured him was vintage, even though he was pretty sure it was just old.

But to see that look in his brother’s eyes…James would happily do it all again.

The next present was to Dominique from Victoire and Teddy, which turned out to be some sort of necklace or something. James wasn’t really sure why a simple piece of jewellery necessitated screaming and groans of envy, but apparently, it did. Of course, the fact that Victoire was currently one of the highest payed models in the Wizarding world and therefore had access to the very latest…everything…may have had something to with it.

Present after present was handed out, and for over an hour, the air was thick with laughter, shouts, exclamations and exuberant ‘thank you’s. James received a framed jersey signed by all the members of the English Quidditch team from Albus and Rose, a set of pyjamas in the colours of the Westgate Winged Horses, with ‘Potter’, and the number ‘01’ inscribed on the back, from Lily, chocolates from Fred, Louis and Hugo, cologne from Dom and aftershave from Molly (who, he suspected, had been shopping together) and a book (of course) from Lucy.

From Sam he got a great alarm clock that groaned and told itself to turn off before going to back to sleep. Owen gave him a book called The Life and Times of Quidditch Greats, the last chapter of which was blank, except for a note reading, one day, hey, mate?

James, Josh and Jaya had all bought each other new Chaser’s gloves at the same time, and so opened their presents together. Margie and Terry had chipped in together to buy the team a giant red banner, resplendent with a golden Gryffindor lion and featuring the names of the seventh year players in curling, ever-changing script.

Other gifts, from family and friends not present, were also amazing, including his parent’s usual gift – a new season pass for the Westgate Winged Horses.

Sitting back in an armchair as the fuss started to wind down, James smiled and reflected on what a good haul he’d got.

Fred was being forced into his sweater from Grandma Weasley, Louis sitting next to him resignedly, already wearing his bright blue one, complete with a large ‘L’ on the front. The girls were cooing over clothes and jewellery, trying things on to extravagant praise. Hearing a faint clinking, James turned around to see plates and dishes of food appearing on tables near the staircases.

Breakfast, it seemed, was a ‘serve-yourself’ affair this morning. As the other Gryffindor students drifted downstairs, drawn to the smell of food, James, still in his costume, joined them and the rest of his family in doing justice to the houselves’ excellent cooking.

A while later, after the food had disappeared and presents of chess and exploding snap had been broken in, the females of the family disappeared upstairs to change for lunch. They returned quickly with the excited information that it was snowing.

Sure enough, it was, as was confirmed by those who rushed to window to look. Great fat flakes were dropping down past the windows, which led Fred and Hugo to suggest a snowball fight be scheduled for after lunch. The majority of the group agreed, and, joining the rest of the House, began to file out of the portrait hole and down to the Great Hall.

James stopped off at his dormitory on the way, as he’d forgotten that he was still wearing a costume and didn’t much fancy going to lunch dressed as a fat tomato.

When he returned to the common room after changing, it seemed to be empty. Pausing briefly to push some of the piles together a bit more neatly, something caught his eye.

Under the tree, where he was sure nothing had been a moment ago, was an innocuous looking envelope. He crouched down and pulled it out, even more surprised to see that it was addressed to him.

Sinking down onto a sofa, he slid his thumb under the lip of the envelope, opened it, and pulled out the parchment inside.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 












 

 

*

Albus hurried back down the stairs after dropping off his precious new camera. He had been halfway down the corridor outside before he’d realised he was still holding it, and as much as he loved his friends and family, he wasn’t really willing to risk it amongst them, especially not today.

Rounding the last curve of the staircase, he was surprised to find James sitting quietly, alone, on one of the chairs.

‘Waiting for me?’ he queried in an amused voice, striding around to the other side of the sofa to stand in front of his brother.

But James’ face was hard and pinched. Nothing remained of his earlier carefree air. Instead, he was staring into the fire without seeming to see it at all. Albus’ heart sank.

He noticed something sticking out of James’ clenched fist. Something pale and parchment-like…

‘Is that a letter?’ he asked curiously.

James grunted in reply, and Albus suddenly had something close to an epiphany.

‘Is it from Stac?’ he continued, his voice impassive.

‘It’s nothing,’ James muttered darkly, crumpling the note up and throwing it into the fireplace.

He missed. The best chaser in Hogwarts’ history…missed.

The scrunched-up ball of paper rolled to a stop by Albus’ feet. He bent and picked it up. Glancing at James, who was determinedly looking in the other direction, Albus smoothed out the paper and began to read.

Dear James, it began, in a slightly scrawled but familiar script,

 

I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.

What else can I say but that? It’s the truth – what happened last night was wrong and I wish I could take it all back. Believe me, I never meant to hurt you this way. I never wanted to hurt you at all, but…things got complicated. Please know that you still mean…so much to me, even though you probably hate me after all I’ve put you through.

We need to talk. It’s all changed. I tried to do things one way, and that didn’t work. So I’m trying the opposite. This isn’t easy for me, but I’m going to try.

I…understand if you want to rip this letter up and throw it into the fire, but I’m asking you, begging you not to. Give me another chance to make things right. For everything we’ve been through, I ask for that much.

Stac.

 

Folding the paper up, Albus sat next to his brother on the sofa.

‘You’re just going to…ignore it?’ he asked softly.

James bristled at the tone of mild disappointment.

‘Hey! It’s not my fault she went and got a personality transplant, y’know! I tried to talk to her! I tried to get her to talk to me, but she wouldn’t. So I moved on. I did what I could, but…it wasn’t enough.’

Abruptly standing up, he went to pace in front of the fireplace.

‘And suddenly I’m just supposed to drop everything and come running, just ‘cause she tries to offer some sort of stupid, half-baked explanation? No way. Not likely.’

‘Why not?’ Albus challenged in his quiet voice, ‘You want to go.’

‘No, I don’t!’

‘It wasn’t a question, James.’

James glared at his brother. Albus held his gaze, green eyes level. Finally, James flung himself back down on the sofa and put his head in his hands.

‘Yeah. I want to go to her. How stupid is that?’ he agreed in a muffled voice.

‘It’s not stupid at all. It’s completely understandable.’

Raising his head, James fixed Albus with a glare full of self disgust.

‘Yeah, if I was a complete head case. She’s betrayed every single trust I ever put in her. And I still feel…drawn to her. Linked to her, somehow.’

His gaze dropped back to the floor.

‘It’s like a prison. How can that be understandable?’

‘You love her.’

James scoffed, sinking back into the cushions and crossing his arms. His voice, when he spoke, was hard and expressionless.

‘I’m still at school, Al. I’m not even eighteen yet. I don’t know anything about love.’

‘Yeah, you do,’ Albus disagreed, his voice rising slightly, ‘you know a lot about it. Look,’ he continued when James turned away in disbelief, ‘if Lily or I, or Rose, or mum or dad hurt you like she did, you’d feel the same. You’d be mad, yeah, you’d be furious, but you wouldn’t give up on us. You’d keep fighting for us, always, even when you thought there was no hope left. That’s love. That’s why you keep going back. It’s not ‘cause you’re a mental case or stupid or anything like that. You have to go back to her. You’re never going to get away from it.’

He sighed, turning the letter over in his hands.

‘Real love never gives up…and it doesn’t just end.’

‘What, did someone give you a subscription to Mills and Boon for Christmas or something?’ James countered cruelly.

Albus just smiled wryly.

‘Or something,’ he agreed, standing to leave. Looking at the letter in his hands, he reached out and set it down on the sofa where he’d been sitting.

‘Merry Christmas, James.’

James listened to his brother leave through the portrait hole before he turned around. The pale parchment on the red sofa caught his eye. Picking it up once more, he crossed to the fireplace.

His brain sent the signal for his fingers to open and let the cream coloured paper drop into the flames, but for some reason his fingers refused to cooperate. For a whole minute, he stood in front of the fire. Then, with a sigh, he turned away, tucked the letter into the pocket of his jeans, and followed his brother from the common room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 












 

 

Christmas lunch at Hogwarts wasn’t usually a grand affair, as most students spent those holidays at home. This year, however, with the majority of the students from sixth year upwards remaining at school, the Hogwarts houselves had outdone themselves.

Many of the decorations from the ball were still up, but the four House tables had reappeared and were also festooned with holly, pinecones and other garlands.

All around the Hall, students were in varying stages of consciousness. Many people looked worse the wear for the night before, whether due to fatigue or…other reasons. Lily, bright eyed and still excited, waved James to the seat next to her and held out a cracker.

James gave himself a mental shake and tried to focus. He tried out a smile, which was difficult, but not impossible, and pulled the cracker with his sister.

From across the table, Albus sent him an inscrutable look, then returned to a conversation he’d been having with Rose.

As the meal went on, James found himself relaxing inch by inch. Lily, Tessie, Dom and Molly were comparing presents, excitedly showing off various pieces of jewellery and articles of clothing. Victoire’s presents seemed to have gone down well on the whole, James heard as he idly eavesdropped on their conversation.

As the puddings and their golden plates disappeared from the table, Professor Longbottom stood to his feet at the staff table and cleared his throat.

The noise and chatter throughout the Hall faded to a low hum, then died out altogether. Neville was beaming down on the assorted students, his round face split by a wide smile.

‘Merry Christmas, everyone!’ he called out happily, and was met with a chorus that ranged from murmurs to exuberant cries of reply.

‘I hope you all had a wonderful time last night, those of you who attended, and that everyone was pleasantly surprised when they woke up this morning. I have some very good news for you all, news that I was planning to keep until the beginning of term, when the rest of the school joined us again. However, the rest of the staff and I have decided that it can not wait.’

James looked at the other teachers at the table. Professor Vem was also smiling, Professor Ramira was looking at her plate, and the Dandy was positively scowling up at the Headmaster. From all this, James concluded that whatever Neville had to say was good news for Gryffindor, at least. He sat up straighter to listen.

‘As you will all know by this time, Miss Anastacia Sangraal has been acting in her capacity as Head Girl alone for some time, now. While everyone can see that she is perfectly capable, the teaching staff have nevertheless been engaged in finding a person to assist her. That person will take up the position of Head Boy.’

So that was why Ramira had such a blank face. It had to be hard for her. James couldn’t remember ever having heard of a Head Boy being expelled before. That the first one ever came from her House couldn’t be easy.

‘I assure you that we have considered the appointment at length,’ Neville was continuing, ‘and we’ve come to a consensus. Without further ado, students, I present to you your new Head Boy, James Potter!’

There was stunned silence throughout the Hall as every face turned towards the Gryffindor table. Then, like a wave, applause and cheering spread through the room.

Rose and Albus’ faces were stunned even as they cheered. Lily was hanging off James’ neck, yelling like they’d just won the Quidditch cup. Next to her, Dom was shaking her head and Molly and Tessie were screaming themselves hoarse.

On James’ other side, his year mates were catcalling, Sam’s brown face split in a wide grin. Josh and Owen were hovering between loud cheers and laughter at Terry’s wide open mouth.

All this James took in in less than a second. After that, he searched the crowd for one face in particular. His gaze went first to the Slytherin table, but Scorpius Malfoy, his pale face unreadable as he applauded politely, was sitting alone.

Finally he found her, sitting a little way down the Gryffindor table, between a laughing Jaya and a bemused Margie.

Anastacia’s face was pale, her blue eyes even bigger than usual. She was clapping, which was something, he guessed, but it was almost as if she didn’t know she was doing it, like she was on autopilot.

As he watched, Margie turned abruptly to face her friend, almost as if she’d only just remembered Stac was there. Taking in the wide eyes, she reached out and put a hand on Stac’s shoulder. The other girl jumped slightly, then nodded in response to something Margie asked her. James was much too far away to hear, but Margie looked concerned.

Stac, however, seemed to reassure her friend, and when they turned back to the action unfolding, her blank mask was in place once more. She looked calm, composed…and utterly detached.

‘Settle down, settle down,’

Neville was trying vainly to regain some control. The Gryffindors in particular were having none of it.

‘Qui-et!’

Professor Vem’s firm command had every student instinctively clamping their mouths shut and sitting back down. Neville nodded to him gratefully.

‘Thank you. Now, I know that this will be a shock to many of you, but as I have said already, we considered this matter at length and have decided that Mr Potter is the most suitable person for the position.’

His gaze narrowed slightly, and suddenly he became more like the Neville James had seen the morning after Marcus’ attack – more sure, more capable. Infinitely more threatening.

‘I am aware that some of you have heard rumours regarding Marcus Antoniou’s dismissal as Head Boy and departure from this school. I ask now that you forget everything that has happened and reject what you’ve heard as just that – rumour. It is my hope that we can put the events of the past few weeks behind us…for good.’

And, while it may have been a product of his tired and overwhelmed brain, James could have sworn that the Headmaster looked straight at him as he said those last few words.

Which raised an instant suspicion in his mind.

Neville said a few more, inconsequential, things, then released them to do as they pleased. James didn’t wait around to be congratulated or to talk to his family. As soon as Neville let them go, he was off, ducking and weaving his way out of the Hall before anyone even had the chance to look for him.

As he strode quickly through the corridors, it suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t visited the Headmaster’s office in…months. It had been the longest time he’d ever stayed out of trouble in his life.

‘Hello, James!’ squawked the gargoyle guarding the staircase in surprise, ‘Haven’t see you in these parts for a while.’

‘Not today, Anthony,’ James muttered as he made his way up the stairs.

Reaching the top, he was surprised to find the door to the Headmaster’s office standing open, with Neville visible beyond, sitting behind his desk. James paused, momentarily thrown.

‘James! Come in!’ Neville invited cheerily. James grimaced, but obeyed, shutting the door behind him.

With no preamble, he crossed the room with long strides and leant heavily on the desk.

‘What the hell are you doing, Neville?’

There were shocked exclamations from the portraits lining the walls, and the Headmaster frowned slightly.

‘James, I’m aware that your family and I go back a long way, but that’s no excuse for disrespect. Especially after the position you’ve just received.’

‘Bugger the position!’ James interrupted heatedly, ‘Because I don’t want it! What were you thinking? There are heaps of guys out there that deserve it more than I do! Their parents are going to go spare when they hear. Everyone’ll say that I only got it because I’m dad’s son and he’s your friend. You know how much trouble I’ve been in over the years–’

‘All of which you were cleared of earlier this year, remember?’ Neville reminded him mildly, retaking his seat, ‘As for the rest, since when does it bother you what people think? And if everyone is going to claim I only gave you this position because of your father, then why didn’t I do so from the start? In fact, why didn’t I do so from the start…’ he mused to himself, his voice trailing off as his mind followed some other tangent.

‘Because I’m right irresponsible prick, that’s why!’ James answered exasperatedly, ‘Ask anyone! Ask Ramira, she’ll tell you. Wait,’ he held up a hand and paused, ‘you can’t tell me that she agreed to this?’

‘Not exactly,’ Neville conceded, and James rolled his eyes.

He opened his mouth to say told you so, when Neville cut him off.

‘Actually, she suggested it.’

What?’ spluttered James, ‘As if she did!’

‘I said we reached a consensus,’ Neville replied, ‘well, all the Professors involved in the selection process agreed that you were the right man for the job, myself included.’

James sat down, heavily, in the chair in front of the desk.

‘I must admit,’ the Headmaster continued, ‘I am a little surprised by your reaction. I would’ve thought you’d be happy. At the very least, this gives you a chance to keep an eye on a certain friend of yours.’

In front of him, James shifted imperceptibly in his chair. Neville’s eyebrows twitched slightly towards the ceiling. Behind them, Professor Dumbledore gazed down on the unfolding scene with an unreadable expression.

‘So that’s the problem,’ Neville commented in a low voice, ‘now, that’s something I hadn’t anticipated. You’ve fought, then?’

James snuffed a laugh.

‘You could say that.’

Neville started to rub his temples tiredly.

‘James,–’ he began, but the door to the office opened suddenly and cut him off mid sentence.

Anastacia was standing in the doorway, her face coloured with obvious shock at seeing James in the office.

‘Ah…H-headmaster…I’m sorry, I’ll wait outside.’

‘No, no,’ Neville beckoned her back, ‘please, come in. it seems I have to talk to the both of you anyway,’ he continued, shooting an uncomfortable James a look as Anastacia took a seat.

Neither James nor Anastacia could look at each other, so they both kept their eyes fixed firmly on the Headmaster’s face.

‘Listen to me, you two, because I’m only going to say this once – I don’t care what has happened between the two of you. I don’t care about any petty fight you’ve had, or anything you’ve said. It doesn’t bother me at all. What will bother me is if it affects your ability to work together. Because, like it or not, you are going to be working together. The decision has been made and it is final. So now you both need to step up and be adults.’

He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

‘I’m not asking you to like each other, although it saddens me that two people who used to be such good friends now won’t even look at each other. But you will do your duty by this school and by me.’

There was no reply. Neville sighed and stood up.

‘Work something out. It you can’t be friendly, at least be civil. But make it work.’

Walking around the desk, he strode out of the room and shut the door behind him, leaving two stunned students sitting silently in his wake.

Anastacia was the first to speak.

‘I…I guess he’s serious, then?’ she tried. Her voice sound strange and forced.

James couldn’t find the words to answer.

‘I guess…we just have to do as he says. You know, make it work. Be civil.’

She held out a slightly shaking hand.

‘Friends?’

James finally turned in his chair. He eyed her outstretched hand dubiously, then raised hazel eyes to her face.

‘Maybe not. Let’s work on…acquaintances first, shall we?’

Anastacia’s face fell, and James did his best to ignore the twinge that it caused in his stomach.

‘Sure. Acquaintances.’

They shook hands lightly, both steeling themselves against the shock that the contact brought, both doing their best not to let on, both dropping hands as soon as possible. As soon as they had, James stood up quickly.

‘I’ve got to…go…somewhere…’ he gestured vaguely out to the corridor and started to leave.

‘I’ll see you at the party, then?’ she called out as he left.

James mumbled some sort of a response and stumbled away down the corridor, down the stairs, and out into the rest of the school.

Somehow he made it back to Gryffindor Tower, although he had no memory of the trip. Climbing in the portrait hole, he was almost physically thrown off his feet by the sudden wave of sound.

The noise was even more intense than it had been in the Great Hall, mostly because the common room was a smaller space. Lily hugged James fiercely round the middle, her eyes shining.

‘I already owled mum. She’s going to go bloody mental, you realise.’

‘Lils,’ James chastised distractedly, his mind still back in the Headmaster’s office.

His sister gave him a shake.

‘Come on, Jim, snap out of it. We’ve got loads of stuff from the kitchens – Sam and the others are throwing you a party to celebrate.’

Something in his mind fell into place.

‘Party…’ he breathed, realisation gradually dawning.

‘Yeah, too right we’re having a party. This needs celebration!’ Sam declared loudly, and the people around him cheered enthusiastically.

‘So when’re you moving into your new room, then?’ Josh asked curiously, handing James a butterbeer.

James nodded his thanks and took a fortifying sip as he thought.

‘After the New Year’s party,’ he decided suddenly, ‘I’ll stay here till then.’

‘After New Year’s?’ Sam protested, ‘But, that’s ages away.’

‘Five days,’ Josh corrected, and pulled Terry over to join them, ‘it’s going to be a wicked party, though!’

Five days, James thought to himself as the talk rose around him.

Surely five days should be enough time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 












 

Hey all! Just clearing up some apparent confusion, first - no, I was not saying that there are only two chapters left the the STORY, only that there are two chapters until you will all fall on my neck and love me forever...or something along those lines...

So...hang in there, k?

Much love to you all, and if you love me...comment?

Ta!

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 21: Best of the Bad Days *
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Okay, author's note time! Just to let you all know (since my Beta thinks I should explain), this chapter is the same as the previous chapter, but from Stac's perspective. It gives a bit of an insight into what's going on in her head.
Enjoy!


 
 

 

 

 

 









                            
                                          Stunning image by the_tofuubeaver @ TDA
                                          Because we all love a little bit of The Doctor...


 

Best of the Bad Days

Sweet Silver Lining – Kate Voegele

‘Anyone can give up; it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.’
Anonymous


 
 

 

 

 

 






 

In the Head Girl’s bedroom, Christmas morning dawned like any other day. There was no pile of presents waiting for her at the end of her bed, no friendly face to greet her as she woke.

In her heart of hearts, Stac felt like there was probably something right about the situation, almost as if she didn’t deserve to have good friends and presents, even today.

For a long while, she simply lay in bed. No one came to rouse her, no one came to wish her a Merry Christmas. She didn’t wonder where everyone was.

Celeste and Scorpius both had friends outside of the court, not close friends, but friends nonetheless.  Most of the members of her Guard were fairly close, and would no doubt be spending the morning together. Those…other friends, the ones she tried not to think about, would be doing the same.

She wasn’t even sure if she could call them friends anymore. Not after last night…

A painful feeling twisted through Anastacia’s stomach. The emotion was physical, so much so that she gasped and instinctively curled into a ball on her side. Clutching her stomach, she willed the feeling to go away, desperately trying to think of other things.

It was no good. The memories rose up against her will – the look of fury on James’ face when he’d first spoken to her, the touch of his hand against her cheek, the shocked faces of the onlookers.

The pain that she’d caused, plainly written there across his features.

Never before had she hated herself this much.

Never before had she felt so completely and utterly alone.

No wonder no one was coming to wish her a good morning.

When the pain started to subside, Anastacia got up from the bed. With no clear aim or intention in mind, she found herself making her way to the small desk in a corner of the room. She had sat down and taken out a fresh piece of parchment and her quill before her brain even had time to catch up.

Looking at the parchment, she had no idea what her subconscious mind had planned to do. What was she supposed to be writing?

Another image from the night before surfaced in her mind, and she shuddered. Suddenly, the whole writing lark made a bit more sense.

Dipping her quill into the inkpot, she began to write.

  

 

 







 

When Celeste entered the Head Girl’s room an hour later, she was surprised to find Anastacia, fully dressed and dry-eyed, sitting on the window seat, staring outside.

‘Your Grace,’ she greeted quietly, dropping a small curtsey as she drew closer, ‘Merry Christmas.’

‘It’s snowing,’ Anastacia stated calmly, as if she hadn’t heard either the greeting or the good wishes.

Celeste crossed to her side. It was indeed snowing; great, fat flakes spiralling down out of the sky. The ground was already blanketed in thick, white snow, and the new snowflakes were falling soundlessly to join it.

‘How are you feeling, Grace?’ Celeste queried softly. The older girl looked fine, but with her, how could you tell?

‘I’m fine. Did you have a nice morning?’

‘Yes, thank you. I saw Scorpius earlier.’

‘Oh?’

Anastacia’s voice was light, as if the comment was the most inconsequential thing she’d ever heard.

‘He’s outside. He’s been out there for awhile now – he wants to talk to you.’

‘Tell him I’m sleeping.’

‘He’s quite insistent.’

He was, in fact, furious. Anastacia had refused to talk to him the night before, taking refuge in her room, where he couldn’t follow her. Scorpius was highly concerned for her mental wellbeing after the incident in the Entrance Hall, and the fact that she wouldn’t even discuss matters with him had made him even more edgy. He’d practically ordered Celeste to make Anastacia come out and talk to him, if only for a moment.

The girl in question sighed lightly.

‘Did he tell you what happened last night?’

There was no reason she shouldn’t know, so Celeste nodded.

‘He did. I saw him this morning threatening a group of Ravenclaws with the complete dissolution of all their House Points from this year if they breathed a word of it. I pressed, so he told me. Was that alright?’

‘Fine, fine. It hardly matters.’

 Something was most definitely up.

‘If it matters so little, why are you avoiding Scorpius?’

Now Anastacia finally turned away from the window, the first hints of emotion in her eyes.

*

‘I want nothing more to do with his ridiculous plan. All it has done is cause hurt and destruction. I don’t want to do that anymore.’

She sighed.

‘In fact, I don’t want to leave this room ever again.’

There was a long pause, during which Anastacia continued to stare out at the scene below. Eventually, Celeste heaved a sigh and swatted her friend on the arm.

Cretin!

‘What?’ Anastacia gasped, spinning in her seat to face her friend. Celeste had never before laid so much as a finger in her, even in jest. Now, she glared at Anastacia as the latter sat, rubbing her arm.

‘Stop it. Just stop it. I know you are hurting but, really? You are being so selfish. So stop.’

Her English had become strained and fragmented, but she refused to slip into her courtier’s French, keeping the discussion completely separate from the Court.

‘What about Scorpius, who is sick with worry? What about Rose? Last night was so very difficult for her. Or what about me? Me, who knows nothing at all about this, who has had to make all the guesses for myself, and who must still sit and watch you be hurt.’

The truth of her words hit Anastacia like a blow. She sucked in a breath at the unexpected discovery, her gaze falling to the floor.

‘I’m sorry. I hadn’t even thought about it in that sense.’

Celeste’s face softened.

‘I know. I am sorry you are hurting; I am. But you are being a child, when you need to be a woman.’

She paused.

We need you to be a woman. There is so much confusion; here, at Court. You are still our leader here, no matter how much you wish it otherwise.’

Spreading her hands in front of her, she sent her friend a helpless look.

‘We who have been raised apart from this world are not always sure of how to act, even after all this time. We take our cues from you. If you give up, what are we to do?’

‘Yes, I know, but–’

‘And your other friends? Forgetting James; what about Terry, hmm? What of him, a Muggle-born? If you can not keep the Court and their agents satisfied, if they see need to investigate your dealings here, who will protect him?’

The older girl kept her gaze on the floor, shamed by her friend’s words. Celeste saw the capitulation in her posture, but didn’t stop.

‘The school, too. You are in a place of authority, of relative power. The students look to you, so many times, to see an example. If you give in to hurt and melancholy, like a child does, what example is that, hein?’

‘Okay, enough,’ Anastacia agreed with a sound somewhere between a sigh and a laugh, ‘you’ve succeeded in making me ashamed of myself.’

Celeste coloured slightly.

‘That was not my intention, Grace.’

‘Really? Are you sure? In any case, it doesn’t matter – it’s what I needed.’

For a moment, seemingly lost in thought, she held her hand against the cold glass of the window pane.

‘Please tell Scorpius that I shall meet him in the common room shortly.’

‘Grace.’

Celeste bobbed her curtsey and left. Anastacia removed her now chilled hand from the glass and placed it on her forehead, then briefly on each cheek. Then, dragging in a breath, she stood, smoothed her skirt, and exited the room.

 
 

 

 

 





 

‘Nast!’

Scorpius greeted her enthusiastically, if a trifle censurably. Anastacia allowed him to take her hands and help her to a seat while she gathered her thoughts.

‘I’m sorry for…stalking you, I guess, but I was worried. You have to understand that.’

And the worry was indeed plain in his grey eyes. She tried to smile and reassure him, but Scorpius was having none of it.

‘Why did you just run off? The whole thing worked – he’s mad enough that he won’t come close to you. It’s taken the decision out of your hands.’

His voice was laden with confusion.

‘I thought this was what you wanted?’

‘I don’t know what I want anymore!’ Anastacia burst out in desperation. Rubbing her eyes, she tried to clarify.

‘I wanted him to stay away because I thought Creeten was going to hurt him. Then I needed him to stay away because of the betrothal agreement. But now you’re sharing the position with Creeten and the betrothal is off…’

Her voice trailed off, also confused. Scorpius tried to understand, but it wasn’t making any sense.

‘So…how does this change anything? If you thought he was in danger and something this drastic was necessary, then isn’t he still in danger, no matter what else has happened? Nast, none of this is making sense.’

‘I know! I can’t help it! Uh…’

She was still rubbing fiercely at her eyes. Scorpius waited a second, then took her hands again, forcing her to look at him.

‘Alright, so it makes no sense and its stupid and we’re all just a bunch of fools that got caught up in it.’

His smile had a hollow, bitter cast to it that made Anastacia remember Celeste’s words.

What about Rose? Last night was so very difficult for her.

Seemed like Rose hadn’t been the only one who’d found their playacting difficult.

‘Where do we go from here?’

It took a moment to realise the question was directed at her. When she did realise, she shrugged.

‘I don’t know. I guess we just have to make it up as we go along. Although,’ and she smiled, ‘I think it safe to say that our…relationship…has probably reached the end of its usefulness.’

Scorpius laughed softly.

‘You’re probably right. So…what will you do now?’

She stood, finally making a decision.

‘I’ll see you at lunch.’

Scorpius also stood, eyeing her resolved expression warily.

‘You don’t want to walk down with me?’

‘No, you go. Tell the rest of them that it’s…over between us.’

‘What would you suggest? Strong and stoic? Or heaving mess of emotion?’

The cheap joke raised a slight smile, at least.

‘Possibly the former? Just a suggestion, but I have a feeling that my guards aren’t likely to respect their new leader if he turns into a wreck from a simple relationship breakdown.’

Scorpius smiled as he bowed, and left to do as she’d said. For her part, Anastacia waited until she was alone in the room to pull out the thing she’d been hiding in her pocket during the conversation.

Laying the letter on the table, she took out her wand and muttered a charm. The letter disappeared from sight. She had full faith in her abilities, and if everything went to plan, it should now be lying under the Christmas tree she knew full well would be gracing the Gryffindor common room.

She’d done all she could. Now, the rest was up to him.

 

 
 

 

 

 






 

Christmas lunch at Hogwarts wasn’t usually a grand affair, as most students spent those holidays at home. This year, however, with the majority of the students from sixth year upwards remaining at school, the Hogwarts houselves had outdone themselves.

Many of the decorations from the ball were still up, but the four House tables had reappeared and were also festooned with holly, pinecones and other garlands.

All around the Hall, students were in varying stages of consciousness. Many people looked worse for wear from the night before, whether due to fatigue or…other reasons.

Anastacia was one of those who claimed the former as their excuse. The bruise-like dark circles under her eyes were thanks to a lack of sleep rather than an excess of alcohol. She entered the Hall quietly and stood for a moment by the door, considering.

She didn’t have to sit with Scorpius and the others. Apart from the fact that he would have told the rest of the Guard about the end of their fake relationship by now, it was also a holiday, and no one would really be watching her.

But she couldn’t sit with her old friends…could she?

As luck would have it, Margie and Jaya were sitting a little way from the Potters, Weasleys and associates, deep in conversation. Anastacia, her heart lightening just a little, made her way towards them.

They looked up as she drew closer, and for a moment the pale girl felt a flicker of worry. They had every right to turn her away now. Her perceived rejection of James last night hadn’t just been against him – it could be seen as a rejection of their whole circle, these girls included.

But Margie and Jaya simply smiled and made room for her to sit between them. As she sank down gratefully onto the bench, both girls looped their arms around her and held their friend tightly.

‘It’s been too long,’ Jaya said simply.

‘Much too long,’ Margie agreed, ‘we’ve missed you.’

‘I missed you too,’ Anastacia replied quietly, then took a breath and hurried on, before she lost her nerve, ‘look, about last night–’

‘What about it?’ Margie interrupted smoothly.

Anastacia stared at her smiling face, then turned to look at Jaya, who wore an equally bright expression.

‘Th-the fight,’ she continued unsurely, ‘with James…’

‘Hmm, he did get a little out of hand, didn’t he?’ Jaya mused, ‘Bless him, we haven’t had a Quidditch match in ages – I think it’s making him a little mental.’

‘Just like a man,’ Margie agreed, ‘taking out frustration on someone else. We should have given him a punching bag or a cage of Cornish pixies for Christmas.’

When Anastacia gave her a look, she blinked innocently.

‘It would have given him something to do, at least. Speaking of presents, yours is upstairs. I’ll send it over after tea. I wasn’t sure how you’d be feeling this morning.’

‘What’s going on?’Anastacia demanded, at a complete loss, ‘Why are you doing this? It’s bizarre!’

Jaya pressed her hand gently.

‘You’ve had some bad days. We all have. There have been rumours and stories and lots of people have been hurt, all of us included. But we don’t want to lose you.’

‘You’re our friend,’ Margie agreed, ‘and although you can be a right twat,’ and she gave the other girl a playful shove, ‘you’re our twat. If there’s a problem, like there seems to be now, we want to be there for you, no matter what.’

‘And today, our being there for you is forcing you to forget about everything that’s already happened and enjoy the holiday, carbs and all,’ Jaya laughed, piling both their plates high with the food that had just appeared on the table.

Margie held out a Christmas cracker with a cheesy smile, and Anastacia found herself giving in to their injunction, despite herself.

With a laughing sigh, she pulled the cracker.

Jaya and Margie’s ploy of distraction worked well all throughout the meal, and Anastacia was just recovering from a fit of giggles as the room around her began to quiet down. Looking up, she saw the Headmaster standing in his place at the staff table, smiling out across the room.

The noise and chatter throughout the Hall faded to a low hum, then died out altogether. Neville was beaming down on the assorted students, his round face split by a wide smile.

‘Merry Christmas, everyone!’ he called out happily, and was met with a chorus that ranged from murmurs to exuberant cries of reply.

‘I hope you all had a wonderful time last night, those of you who attended, and that everyone was pleasantly surprised when they woke up this morning. I have some very good news for you all, news that I was planning to keep until the beginning of term, when the rest of the school joined us again. However, the rest of the staff and I have decided that it can not wait.’

This was a surprise. Usually, the Headmaster gave her at least passing prior knowledge when he was going to tell the school something. Anastacia looked at the rest of the Professors, and saw mixed expressions. Professor Phariseen’s face in particular was conflicted, as if he wasn’t completely in agreement with what the Headmaster was about to say.

 ‘As you will all know by this time, Miss Anastacia Sangraal has been acting in her capacity as Head Girl alone for some time, now. While everyone can see that she is perfectly capable, the teaching staff have nevertheless been engaged in finding a person to assist her. That person will take up the position of Head Boy.’

Anastacia gave a start upon hearing her name mentioned, then another when she registered the subject matter of the Headmaster’s talk. This wasn’t just important, it was huge! Why hadn’t he told her about this in advance? Surely this was something she should know about!

 ‘I assure you that we have considered the appointment at length,’ Neville was continuing, ‘and we’ve come to a consensus.’

Well, at the end of the day, could anyone really be worse than Marcus? Yes, she hadn’t been told, but the Headmaster had said that he hadn’t meant to tell people today. Maybe he’d been planning to tell her, and had just let his enthusiasm run away with him. Which suggested that the chosen person was considerably better than Marcus, so that was a relief, at least.

‘Without further ado, students, I present to you your new Head Boy, James Potter!’

There was stunned silence throughout the Hall as every face turned towards the Gryffindor table. Then, like a wave, applause and cheering spread through the room.

Anastacia felt like she’d been punched in the stomach, literally. She was distantly aware of the good feeling coursing through the room, could hear people around her cheering and laughing, but she couldn’t seem to connect.

She tried to breathe, but couldn’t. Her lungs were refusing to work, but she stubbornly kept trying, again, again…again…

Finally, she managed to drag in a gasping breath, one that rapidly turned into a cough. In the noise and commotion, she managed to hide it, and dazedly started to clap. Luckily enough, her survival instincts had started to kick in and as a result she didn’t really have to consciously think about acting the same as everyone else.

She looked wildly up the table, searching through the red and blonde heads until she found one with dark hair.

James looked just as shocked as she felt, which made her feel a little better. Obviously, the Headmaster hadn’t thought to discuss this with him, either. He’d probably assumed James would have just accepted happily.

Who wouldn’t? After being offered the most prestigious, privileged position in the school, who would be fool enough to refuse?

James seemed to be searching for something amongst the crowd…or someone… Seeing the direction his gaze was starting to take, Anastacia quickly dropped her own to the table. She may have managed to avoid his eyes, but she could feel his gaze find her, rake her. Consume her.

Whatever blood had been in her face drained completely, and she fought a shiver that leapt up her spine.

A hand on her arm made her jump and recalled her to her surroundings. She turned to see Margie staring at her worriedly.

‘Are you okay?’ she asked in concern, her voice raised to be heard over the continuing noise.

Stac nodded, and took in another steadying breath.

‘I’m fine,’ she added, trying to smile, ‘just fine.’

And she was…outwardly. With her mind letting go, years and years of training were able to take over. Even though she could still feel his eyes on her, she could ignore it somewhat and focus her energy on deciding a course of action.

Which she did, not listening to a word of the Headmaster’s explanation that came next. She felt rather than heard the loud roar of her Head of House as he called for silence and dimly registered that the Headmaster was talking.

Another touch on her arm woke her from her planning, and she looked up to see the students gradually emptying from the Hall. James had already left, as had a good deal of his family, but the students around them were, of course, speaking of nothing else.

Jaya and Margie traded looks, then Margie opened her mouth to enquire of her friend’s well-being, but Anastacia spoke before she could.

‘Really, I’m fine,’ she protested, ‘a little shocked, but fine.’

‘We’re all shocked,’ Jaya agreed, ‘I don’t think anyone saw that coming.’

The pale girl just nodded, and Margie took her hand.

‘Come back to the room with us? You’ve not been up there for ages.’

Anastacia shook her head slowly.

‘Much as I’d like to, I don’t think I’m really welcome there at the moment. Besides…I have something I have to do.’

She smiled at them as best she could.

‘Maybe after? I’ll see.’

With a squeeze of Margie’s hand, she left, joining the lines of students pouring out the doors into the Entrance hall.

Before she’d even reached the stairs up to the first floor, Scorpius was by her side, taking her hand and helping her up the steps. She didn’t try to make him stop, didn’t waste time trying to send him away. If she was going to try and convince the Headmaster to go back on his decision, she couldn’t waste her energy on anything else.

Because he had to go back on the decision, of course. James couldn’t be Head Boy anymore than she could publically be seen as his friend. Sending a letter and attempting to repair bridges in private was one thing, but this was something else completely.

And if she couldn’t make the Headmaster see that, without explaining everything to him, well, then, she’d just have to try something else. Like resigning her own position…although she hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

To Anastacia’s great surprise, Albus met her on her way up to the Headmaster’s office. He nodded briefly to Scorpius, who looked just as shocked as Anastacia.

‘Mind if I borrow Stac for a moment? I promise it won’t take long.’

Scorpius paused, weighing up the options. No one was around, no one would see…

‘Alright, but only shortly. And don’t go too far.’

Albus took Stac’s arm and led her a little further along the corridor, so that they were out of earshot.

‘Before you go haring off to demand James be removed from his post, think about this for a moment.’

‘Albus, what are you talking–’

‘I know about the letter,’ he interrupted. When she looked pained, he hurried to explain.

‘James was reading it when I came into the common room. He gave it to me to look at. Stac, it really cut him up.’

‘He threw it away, didn’t he?’ she whispered, the colour leaching from her face. Well, now, at least she knew. But Albus was shaking his head.

‘No, he didn’t. He was going to, but he didn’t.’

Reaching out, he took one of her hands in both of his.

‘He still cares for you, Stac, even though it’d kill him to show it. But you have to know that. Don’t give up on him just yet. Maybe this is a chance for him to get his head back in the right place.’

He squeezed the pale, cold hands suddenly lifeless in his own.

‘Think of this as…a second chance, for the both of you. I’ve got no idea what’s going on, and truth be told, I don’t really care anymore. All I know is that you’ve both stuffed up along the way. But forget about it. Take this chance. Don’t throw it away.’

Stac stared up at him with an expression of pure shock. Whatever she’d been expecting him to say, it clearly hadn’t been that. Then, Albus compounded her surprise by leaning in and pecking her quickly on the cheek.

‘As far as I’m concerned, you’ve always been one of us,’ he explained affectionately, ‘and you can’t get rid of us that easily.’

Still holding her hand, he towed her back to where Scorpius stood, expressionless, leaning against the wall.

‘That’s it. You can have her back now.’

‘No, you can’t.’

That was Stac. Her expression still abstracted, she waved away Scorpius’ proffered arm.

‘There’s something I have to do. Alone,’ she emphasised when the pale blonde boy straightened, ready to accompany her.

Without waiting for a reply, she continued down the corridor towards the Headmaster’s office.

Both the boys watched her leave. When she’d rounded the corner, Albus turned to Scorpius with a light sigh.

‘Think once this is all sorted, we could be mates again?’

The other boy’s face was anguished.

‘Al…’

‘It’s alright,’ Albus offered placating, ‘I know you’ve had bigger things to worry about lately, but...’

He trailed off, and the unsaid words hung between them, clear as day.

I miss my best mate.

Guys didn’t talk about feelings. They just thought about them very loudly.

Scorpius tried for a smile, failed, and settled for clapping his friend on the shoulder. In unspoken agreement, they headed in companionable silence to the kitchens.

Maybe they could con the houselves out of some of the teacher’s leftover eggnog.

  

 

 

 






Anastacia was nearly running by the time she reached the small corridor outside the Headmaster’s office. She had bolted up the stairs, not even bothering to return the gargoyle’s affectionate greeting, and was now hurrying towards the door as fast as her legs would carry her.

Without pausing to knock, she grasped the handle and turned, fully intending to launch straight into her tirade the moment the door opened.

Only…

She wasn’t expecting James to be there. She’d thought he’d be off celebrating with the rest of the House, or lording it over his relations, or something.

She certainly didn’t expect him to be sitting in a chair in front of the Headmaster’s desk, looking for all the world like a little boy caught doing something wrong.

And even the Headmaster’s usually calm and serene expression was unusually ruffled. What was that about? What had they been discussing?

Stupid question. Of course they’d been talking about her. She wondered what James had told Neville already. He was an old family friend – she expected he’d take James’ side, no matter what story he told.

All these thoughts passed in the time it took to blink her surprise once. Then Anastacia became aware of her position – standing, frozen, in the doorway, her hand still on the doorknob.

‘Ah…H-headmaster…I’m sorry, I’ll wait outside.’

She turned to leave, trying to get away from the many eyes staring at her from all around the room, but Professor Longbottom called her back before she could go.

‘No, no, please, come in. it seems I have to talk to the both of you, anyway.’

He looked at James, then, and there seemed to be something significant about the look, but Anastacia was rather preoccupied, so she didn’t follow it too closely.

She took a seat in front of the desk, which placed her next to James. Luckily, he didn’t try to catch her eye as she sat down. Instead, he stared at Neville, who was regarding them both shrewdly.

Thinking that this was a good idea, Anastacia followed suit and fixed her eyes firmly on the Headmaster’s face.

 ‘Listen to me, you two, because I’m only going to say this once – I don’t care what has happened between the two of you. I don’t care about any petty fight you’ve had, or anything you’ve said. It doesn’t bother me at all. What will bother me is if it affects your ability to work together. Because, like it or not, you are going to be working together. The decision has been made and it is final. So now you both need to step up and be adults.’

He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

‘I’m not asking you to like each other, although it saddens me that two people who used to be such good friends now won’t even look at each other. But you will do your duty by this school and by me.’

There was no reply. Anastacia was speechless. When he put it like that… It made everything she’d done sound so…childish, and inconsequential. He was right, and if there was one thing she knew about, it was duty. But, unlike her home life, this duty hadn’t been thrust upon her. She’d worked for it, sacrificed for it, and gladly accepted it.

Now it was time to show she deserved it.

But she still didn’t know what to say. So she said nothing.

Neville sighed and stood up.

‘Work something out. If you can’t be friendly, at least be civil. But make it work.’

Walking around the desk, he strode out of the room and shut the door behind him, leaving two stunned students sitting silently in his wake.

Anastacia was the first to speak.

‘I…I guess he’s serious, then?’ she tried. Her voice sound strange and forced. How bizarre, she thought, to feel…strange about talking to James.

Still, there was no reply. Why won’t he say something?

‘I guess…we just have to do as he says. You know, make it work. Be civil.’

She held out a slightly shaking hand.

‘Friends?’

James finally turned in his chair. He eyed her outstretched hand dubiously, then raised hazel eyes to her face.

‘Maybe not. Let’s work on…acquaintances first, shall we?’

Her heart sinking, Anastacia tried to smile. Yes, it wasn’t what she wanted, but it was something.

‘Sure. Acquaintances.’

They shook hands lightly, both steeling themselves against the shock that the contact brought, both doing their best not to let on, both dropping hands as soon as possible. As soon as they had, James stood up quickly.

‘I’ve got to…go…somewhere…’ he gestured vaguely out to the corridor and started to leave.

‘I’ll see you at the party, then?’ she called out as he left.

James mumbled some sort of a response and stumbled away. The moment he left the room, Anastacia slumped in her chair, all the tension that had been holding her upright leaking away.

‘What am I going to do?’ she mused quietly, her head dropping onto the back of the chair, her eyes closed.

‘How long until that party?’

Anastacia sat bolt upright. That voice…dry, practical, so very familiar…

Professor McGonagall?’ she whispered wonderingly.

‘I asked you a question, Miss Sangraal,’ the voice continued.

Swivelling in her chair, Anastacia came face to face with her old Headmistress…staring down at her from one of the walls.

‘Professor…I didn’t know you had a portrait here.’

‘A fairly recent addition. How long until this party that you speak of?’

‘Uh…five days? Why do you ask?’

‘Well, that seems to give you plenty of time.’

‘For what?’

 ‘To prepare yourself.’

Anastacia was still at a loss to understand where the conversation was headed.

Pardon, I’m not sure what you mean. What are you suggesting?’

‘My dear, I am suggesting that you use your time wisely, as befits a woman in your current position.’

The portrait gazed benevolently down at her, spectacles winking and features softened into a slight smile.

‘For a start, I suggest that you go and find a simply marvellous dress…’

 

 

 






 

 



Hmm...one to go...

So! Any thoughts on the future? Anyone think they know what my big lead-up is leading-up to? Any theories? Would love to hear them, so let me know!

Have so much coursework to do, but luckily for you, the next chapter is already written! So all you have to wait for is the queue and it shall be out to you promptly, my darlings! Hope you've enjoyed everything so far!

Ta!

  
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 22: Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow *
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                                                       Amazing image by Squiggles @ TDA

 

Partying Is Such Sweet Sorrow

 Bleeding Love – Leona Lewis

'Love is a friendship set to music.'
E. Joseph Cossman

 
 






 

The last five days had been hell on earth.

After living through them, James thought he’d never complain about anything for as long as he lived, provided he didn’t have to go through something like that again.

Five days of forced civility, of Neville glaring at him and pulling him aside for little ‘chats’.

James had had more ‘chats’ with the Headmaster in the past few days than he wanted to have again, ever.

There had been the expected jubilant owls from his mother and grandmother, as well as several other members of his family. James didn’t really know what to think about those. He was happy that his mum was proud of him, for once, but what would she think if she found out how begrudgingly he went about his Head Boy duties?

This was one of the many things that Neville had threatened him with over the past five days.

To his credit, James felt that he was doing the best he could, under the circumstances. For a start, there were so many duties assigned to the Heads, things he’d never even thought about before. He’d known that they were in charge of the Prefects and their duties, but he hadn’t known that that included a weekly meeting with said Prefects. Or, which was worse, that he was actually supposed to contribute to the meeting.

Their first such conference had been held two days ago, and it had been an unmitigated disaster. He’d been late, because he’d forgotten and then couldn’t find the room, Stac had snubbed him from the start, and then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, she’d told him off in front of everyone for being rude to one of the Slytherin Prefects.

After the meeting had concluded, they’d exchanged some rather tense words on the proper etiquette at such an event, but had stopped the exchange before it progressed into a fully-fledged fight.

By mutual, unspoken, agreement, they were both spending the absolute minimum amount of time in each other’s company. When they were forced together, usually on the Headmaster’s direct orders, they maintained a generally polite, if cold, relationship. But it wouldn’t last long. James could feel it.

And tonight was quite possibly the use-by date for their civility. The Gryffindor New Year’s party was going to be a massive event, and Anastacia was reportedly going to attend. It would be the first time they’d be attending a social event together in their new capacities, and James really didn’t know how it was going to go.

The rest of the school, on the whole, thought that they had a normal, easy relationship. Maybe not friendship, exactly, there were too many rumours flying around for that.

But no one suspected how they really felt about each other. Every time they were in the same room, sparks flew. They couldn’t have a conversation without arguing, couldn’t hold a discussion without butting heads, couldn’t even say a few passing words without making jibes at the other person.

Anastacia had closed down completely. The only time she became even slightly animated was when they argued. And something about her impassivity fuelled James’ anger. Every time they had an encounter, he would leave it fuming, snapping at anyone in his way.

Sam and Josh had become really good at quickly summoning James’ broom, handing it to him, and pushing him out the door.

Owen had become even better at giving James slightly mournful, slightly disappointed stares from across the room.

Terry was completely wrapped up in his relationship with Margie, and James wasn’t sure he even knew what was going on.

Which was fine. The less people that knew the better.

So far, those that did know about the true nature of the relations between the Heads were his close friends, his family, and Scorpius Malfoy, the latter only because he’d inadvertently walked in on one of their…discussions.

These days, James couldn’t even think about Malfoy without getting mad.

Currently, he was in the Gryffindor seventh year boy’s dorm, getting ready for the party. He’d decided to move into his new rooms the next day, so tonight was both a New Year’s celebration and a goodbye party of sorts for him. His mates had been in awe of his new room and common room, and had already tested the charm that kicked groups of people out of the common room if they stayed after a certain time. It had produced amusing results.

Barely glancing at himself in the mirror, James headed down the stairs, to where the party was starting to get into its stride. As soon as he stepped into the common room, he was immediately flanked by a group of giggling girls, all doing their best to stand the closest to him.

His star had certainly risen with his new post, and James found himself being sought out by more girls than ever. Sylvia Blackthorn had tried to stake her claim, at first, but she no longer held any interest for James. He’d told her so, almost point blank, but that hadn’t stopped her from pressing, again and again, interrupting moments with his friends and family to try her suit.

That had stopped a few days ago. He didn’t exactly know why, but he thought the militant gleam in Lily’s eye when she’d come down to dinner one night might have had something to do with it.

Tonight, however, he didn’t want to think about Head’s business, or psychotic stalkers, or lectures, or anything like that.

Tonight he wanted to forget about it all and have a good time.

And by Merlin’s ragged blue undies, he was bloody well going to!

 

 

 

 

 






 

 

She was wrong.

Five days hadn’t been enough time to prepare herself.

She doubted five hundred years would have been enough.

It was times like these that Anastacia was glad that the Head students had separate rooms from their respective houses. She was going to pieces in front of the mirror and she was supremely grateful that there was no one else around to witness it.

The entire contents of her wardrobe had been flung unceremoniously on her bed, which was quite literally groaning under the weight of so many shoes and dresses and jackets and shirts and trousers and other assorted paraphernalia only found in the far reaches of a teenage girl’s closet.

The only non-rumpled item of clothing was a dress hanging neatly on the outside of her wardrobe door. Taking her old Headmistress’ advice, Anastacia had indeed gone out and bought a new dress. It had looked fine in the shop, but now…

Stop it, she told herself fiercely. It looks exactly the same now as it did in the shop. The only difference is that you weren’t a mental case when you bought it.

The dress was beautiful. It was made of some silky material, it was a lovely shade of blue that matched her eyes well, and she’d loved it when she’d bought it.

Now she hated it.

Sighing, she pulled the dress on over her head and looked at the effect critically in the mirror. How on earth could she look perfectly normal all through the day and look so hideous now? Telling herself she was being ridiculous, she brushed out her hair and slipped on a pair of blue earrings. She also got out the makeup kit Rose had given her for Christmas and put some mascara on, feeling a little devilish.

Yeah, a little mascara and I’m the school bad girl. Grow up, Anastacia.

She grabbed a pair of shoes and a black cardigan. The common rooms, with their roaring fires, were lovely and warm, but the corridors were still freezing. She should really take a proper jacket, even if she was only going to Gryffindor Tower, but she didn’t want to have to remember it later.

Denying herself a final look in the mirror, she strode out the door and past the Heads’ common room. James had yet to move in to Marcus’ old room, so he wasn’t here to walk over with her.

She tried not to be too grateful for that. Everything was spiralling out of control, and the less time they spent together, the better.

With a loud sigh and a mental rebuke to stop being such a coward, she set off for Gryffindor Tower.

She didn’t encounter anyone on the way. No doubt they were all at celebrations of their own. The trip took less time than usual because she walked fast to keep herself warm in the draughty passageways.

The idea to hold a big New Year’s celebration had seemed like a good idea at the time, way back in October, but now Anastacia was cursing her consent to the decision. All it meant was that there were more people around expecting her to be normal and less places for her to hide if everything became too much.

When she reached the tower, she paused outside the portrait hole. With hands that only trembled slightly, she smoothed her hair and skirt. She took a deep breath and looked up at the Fat Lady apprehensively.

‘How do I look?’ she whispered nervously.

The Fat Lady smiled at her maternally.

‘Beautiful, dear, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.’

‘Thank you,’ Anastacia whispered gratefully, ‘Nouvelle année.’

The portrait swung forward and she hesitantly climbed through, steeling herself to be normal, or as normal as was possible in light of recent events. What she saw upon her entrance, however, was enough to stop her cold.

The room had been decorated lavishly with streamers and enchanted lights. Photos of the past year lined the walls, smiling, waving, and pulling faces at the people below them. The room was packed, and not only with Gryffindors; some Ravenclaws and a good number of Hufflepuffs had evidently been invited to join in the fun. Scorpius, who stood in a corner talking to Rose and Albus, was clearly the token Slytherin.

But that wasn’t what had caught her attention.

James stood in the centre of the room, surrounded by a large, predominantly female, group, most of whom were ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ over his shiny new badge. He was lapping it up, his face split by a huge grin, obviously enjoying the attention. As Anastacia watched, Claudia Higgins, a Ravenclaw fifth year wearing a top cut so low that she threatened to spill out of it at any moment, reached out to lay her hand on his arm, giggling at something he’d said. James smiled down at her and at the rest of the group.

Anastacia felt sick. Suddenly she couldn’t bear to be in the same room. Turning quickly on her heel, she climbed back through the portrait hole and beat a hasty retreat.

 

 








 

James caught a flash of blue out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head just in time to see a long mane of brown hair disappear through the portrait hole. Rolling his eyes at the theatrics, he turned back to the surrounding girls, but was stopped midsentence by sudden feeling of being watched.

Looking up, he found Rose and Albus staring at him from across the room. Rose’s face bore the infamous Weasley glare, while Albus was coolly impassive. As he met their eyes, Rose jerked her head in the direction of the portrait hole.

Sighing inwardly, James reluctantly strode off to follow, not even bothering to say goodbye to his fan club.

 

 

 






 

She ran along the corridor, coming to a stop only when she could no longer hear the noise from the party. Leaning against the stone wall, Anastacia raised her cold hands to her forehead, trying to dull the throbbing pain that was starting up behind her eyes. For a moment, she concentrated on her breathing, attempting to slow the gasping sobs threatening to overwhelm her.

What was the matter with her? Why did she care who James was talking to? It was a free country, last time she’d checked. They’d made a truce, but that didn’t mean anything. He could speak to whoever he liked about whatever he liked.

Then why did she feel as though she’d just been punched in the stomach, again?

That wasn’t it, she told herself stubbornly. It was just shocking to see him enjoying himself like that. She’d thought that the past few days of feigning civility had been as hard for him as they had been for her.

Apparently not.

She sighed brokenly. Why did the party have to be tonight? Stupid question, she thought wryly. This had basically been all her idea, after all.

Of course, back then she hadn’t thought she’d be at this much of a loss. She hadn’t known what would happen.

But she really needed to talk to Rose and Scorpius, and she couldn’t. For the second time this year, she really had no idea what to do.

‘Sangraal!’

Her head whipped around in shock and horror. Of all the– why did he have to choose this one night to be observant?

James finally spotted a dark figure in the shadows against the outer wall of the castle. He trotted down the corridor, peering into the darkness.

‘Sangraal? You right?’

Anastacia turned her face back to the wall and could have groaned aloud.

‘Go back to your party, Potter.’

‘Fine. I will. I only came out because Rose and Albus made me.’

He turned angrily and took a few steps in the direction he’d come, before pausing and throwing back over his shoulder, almost as an afterthought,

‘I didn’t ask for this, you know. Being Head Boy and all. I was trying to refuse it when you came barging in.’

She sniffed disbelievingly.

‘Whatever.’

The sound stung him, and he swung back around to face her, his eyes narrowed.

‘You don’t believe me?’

‘Do you think I’m stupid? Being Head Boy gives you power and position. Only a fool would turn that down.’

‘Well, I guess I’m a fool then.’

She turned away so that he could no longer see her face.

‘I guess you are. Now, shouldn’t you be getting back? I’m sure there’s at least one girl in that room who hasn’t thrown herself at you yet.’

That was too far. He knew girls like Sylvia and Claudia Higgans were only after him because of who he was – he’d always known, because it had always been that way. But for her to say it–! As if that was what he cared about!

That was crossing a line.

James covered the small distance between them, game face on, ready for war. She wasn’t the only one who knew how to hurt someone else.

‘You think you’re so perfect,’ he told her sneeringly, ‘you think you’ve got it all together. And yet you can’t even hold yourself together, can you? What are you, jealous? Because people never like you as much as they like me?’

She didn’t reply, so he went on.

‘Is that why you had to take Malfoy? ‘Cause no one else would take you? ‘Though a little birdie told me he dumped you. Guess he didn’t like you either.’

That got a response. She whirled around on the spot to glare at him.

‘Shut up, Potter.’

‘No, Sangraal.’

He couldn’t remember ever having called her by her last name before tonight. There was a brief, split second of hurt that flashed through her eyes before she had a chance to control it, but he saw it before she did, and it felt good. It felt good to think that she was being made to feel as rotten as he already did.

‘Do you think you’re above us, do you? Is that it? Is that what’s made you so upset about me replacing Marcus, the fact that now you can’t pretend that you’re better than me?’

She’d flinched at the name, but stood her ground, meeting him glare for glare, refusing to answer for her actions.

‘You go on all about me and girls, but what about that harem of blokes you drag around, hmm?’

The glance she sent him was murderous.

‘Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.’

He smiled at the small victory of getting her to answer back, but it was a cold smile with a cruel edge.

‘Oh, I understand. I understand that you can’t do anything without their approval, can’t go anywhere without them, you can’t even talk to someone if they don’t want you to.  Tell me, did they chaperone your dates with Malfoy? Or did he get special privilege ‘cause he’s one of them?’

Scoffing, he looked away briefly, then refocused on her face.

‘You know, my sister used to look up to you so much. End of first year, she told mum she wanted to be like you when she grew up. Now? Well, I guess you’re not really a role model any more, are you?’

Stac’s eyes were dull. Her face, when she turned it up for him to see, was pale and tense with checked emotion.

*

‘Are you enjoying this?’ she demanded balefully, ‘Does it make you feel good, hurting someone like this?’

James took a small, involuntary step away, driven back by the level of emotion in her voice, but recovered himself and shot an angry reply back at her.

‘I’m not the one who meant to hurt people.’

‘No? And what do you call this, then? A friendly discussion?’

‘I’d call this your temper running away with you. Your fault, not mine.’

She gaped at him, speechless, and all of a sudden the victory didn’t feel quite so good anymore. He tried to hang onto the anger, but it was starting to slip away, slowly being replaced by a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.

‘Don’t you dare judge me. Bastard.

Stac’s voice was hoarse, thick with accent and emotion. James had been looking away, trying to stop the guilt and regret from rising. Both of those emotions vanished at her words, and he raised his eyes to her face once more, wearing a cynical smile.

‘Right back at you, sweetheart.’

‘I tried to make everything right with you! I did everything I could.’

‘Yeah, ‘cause a frickin’ letter’s just going to erase the past and make it all better. Grow up. You put us through hell for months and months, and now you just expect everything to be okay? I know you went up there to try and force me out of this position. If it wasn’t for that, I might actually have quit. Now I’m going to do it just to spite you. Neville might be forcing us to work together, but do me a favour? Don’t pretend that there’s anything more than mutual dislike between us anymore.’

She sneered aristocratically at him.

‘Don’t flatter yourself that you know anything about what goes on in my mind.’

‘I know that it must be a pretty twisted place for you to think Malfoy’s a good idea.’

‘Well, he’s certainly better than Sylvia Blackthorn. And at least I don’t shag the first person who lets me drag them into a broom-closet. Or anything that moves, for that matter.’

‘Maybe that’s your problem. Maybe you’re so sexually frustrated that all you need is a good shag to sort you out. Maybe M–’

But he bit off the sentence before he finished. Even now, even in the midst of their biggest fight, he wasn’t about to bring that night up.

Some things really were taboo.

But, it seemed, not for her.

‘What, James?’ she demanded furiously, ‘Maybe Marcus had it right? Maybe you should have let him go ahead? Is that what you’re saying?’

‘No!’ he ground out vehemently. And it was the truth. No matter how much he hated her, he’d never regret his actions that night. How could he?

‘I was your best friend for years,’ she continued, ‘all I needed you to do was trust me. And you couldn’t even do that.’

‘Trust you? When you pushed me so far away I may as well have been in Antarctica? Where the hell do you find trust in a situation like that?’

‘I needed you to find it! I don’t care where or how! You have no idea what I’ve been through–’

‘What you’ve been through! What about me? One moment you’re coming to Quidditch games and refusing to sleep unless I’m there,–’

‘–can’t believe I suffered through all of that for someone who didn’t even want me–’

‘–the next you’re shunning me completely and swanning around with that git!’

‘–let alone wasn’t worth it!’

They glared at each other from across the space, breathing hard. Stac was fighting tears and losing. The first crystal drops had already started to hang, prism-like, from her lashes.

And something in James, some wall, just…shattered.

‘You…stupid…’ he began brokenly, but Stac interrupted and took up the attack anew.

‘Stupid? I’m stupid? I’m not the one who can’t see past an ancient grudge that isn’t even mine t –’

But she got no further.

James, moving like a man possessed, crossed the small distance between them, took her face in both hands, and firmly pressed his lips to hers.

A shock like lightening lanced through Anastacia at that first contact. Her eyes flew wide and her hands, half-raised instinctively in front of her, fisted in the front of his shirt. Weakly, mind not sure where to focus or what to do, she tried to push him away.

But the body before her was heavy and muscled, and her movements had no effect. None, except that James reached between them, not breaking the contact, and took both of her wrists in his hands, effectively cutting off her leverage.

Fear leapt to life inside of her. Then he leaned into her, and panic roared.

Through the kiss, James dimly realised that she was struggling, fighting him.

That she was trying, not simply to resist, but to escape.

And that she was becoming increasingly frantic.

Breaking the contact between them, he watched, bemused, as she desperately twisted her hands from his grip and pushed him away with all the strength she possessed. Staggering, she took a few steps away and leant against the wall. Her breath sawed in and out raggedly, and James realised with a start that she was one step away from hysterical panic.

Then his world suddenly came crashing down as he realised why.

‘Stac…god, Stac, I’m so sorry…I never should’ve–’

‘Get away from me!’

Her strangled cry held an element of terror, and James winced at the thought of the memories his rash actions must have called forth.

But other than self-loathing, and the concern for her well-being, he was empty of any other feelings. All the anger, and the distrust, and every other emotion that he’d been stocking up for days and weeks and months had gone. Disappeared, as if it had never been there at all.

‘Stac?’ he tried again, taking a step towards her. She shrank back, but he held his ground.

‘Stac, look at me. I’m not Marcus. It’s me. It’s James.’

She did look at him, then, her eyes as wild and as frightened as they had been on the fateful night he’d found her. Maintaining that eye-contact, he took another, smaller, step in her direction.

‘It’s James. Listen to me – I will never, ever hurt you.’

Stac’s lungs were tight and her heart pounding with fear, but as he spoke, his words came crashing through.

Not Marcus… whispered some part of her brain, and all of a sudden, the fear started to subside. With a great sigh, she tumbled forward into James’ outstretched arms.

James held her as tightly as he dared, thanking whatever benevolent saint was passing that he had stopped in time, before the black memories had swallowed her whole.

‘It’s alright, it’s alright,’ he murmured against her hair.

A strange case of déjà vu went winging through him.

Pressed against his chest, anchored by the steady sound of his heartbeat, Anastacia tried to bludgeon her rioting wits into action.

‘You have to go.’

But she couldn’t bring herself to let him go long enough for that to happen. Nor did he seem particularly willing to let his arms loosen their iron grip.

‘Stac…what I said, about not hurting you? I meant it.’

That brought her back to their current situation with a start. Letting go of his shirt, she moved to step back.

For a moment, his arms stayed in place. Then, with obvious effort, he released her from his hold.

‘You hurt me before. With what you said,’ she replied in an even voice, eyeing him warily.

James ran his hand through his hair in frustration.

‘Forget what I said. I just wanted to get you back for how I was feeling.’

Eyes locking on hers again, he made to move forwards, but stopped at the warning in her eyes.

‘Stac…’ he swallowed, the effort that this speech cost him evident in his stiff posture.

‘I’m…sorry, this isn’t easy for me,’ he explained slowly, ‘it’s not something I’ve really had much experience at…’

Anastacia’s face was a mask of confusion.

‘I…I’m mad about you, Stac. I figured it out the day you started dating Malfoy, but I reckon it’s been going on much longer than that.’

Heart thumping wildly in his chest, James stared at Stac, who was avoiding his eyes. Glancing briefly at his face, she slanted her gaze away again, looking at the floor.

‘I’m not taking the mick, Stac, I mean it. I’m serious.’

‘No. Stop it…you can’t.’

Her voice was firm, controlled even, but the look in her eyes as she raised them to his was anguished. He was reminded again of their fight during the Christmas Ball, when she’d turned that same expression on him as he’d reached out to touch her.

Which made him remember something else, too.

‘You feel something for me,’ he said, in what was not quite a statement, but not quite a question, ‘I know you do. You couldn’t hide then, and you can’t now.’

‘Stop it,’ she demanded.

Now her lower lip was starting to tremble, while her hands clasped and unclasped restlessly in front of her. Her gaze had returned to the floor, and it seemed force of will was the only thing keeping her upright.

James took a small step forward, then, when she made no sign of protest, another, and another.

Which brought him right up to her, so close they were almost touching. He reached down and stilled her hands. Stac froze, still refusing to meet his eyes.

‘Look me in the eyes,’ he begged, voice very low, ‘tell me you feel nothing for me, and I’ll believe you.’

Anastacia looked down at her hands, now twined in his, and then up into his face, closer than she could ever remember it being before.

‘Don’t ask that of me, Potter.’

James shook his head.

‘No, no more Potter. Just…James.’

‘I…can’t,’ she pressed, shaking her head, but his face was drawing ever nearer and she was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on what she was saying. ‘Potter – James – there’s something…about me you don’t…know–’

She gasped in surprise as his lips, soft and mobile and oh-so warm, lowered onto hers, gently, barely making contact.

‘I don’t care,’ he breathed against her mouth. His warm hands slid around her waist, supporting her full weight as he drew her closer to him. Anastacia found her hands making their way along his arms of their own accord, all fear forgotten. This was different, this was good

No! This was not good! She tried to make herself pull back, but couldn’t.

‘I don’t care,’ James whispered again, his lips now laying soft kisses at the corners of her mouth, ‘I don’t know anything about your family or your past, and I don’t care. I know you, and that’s all that matters.’

It was so hard, so hard, not to give in. Not to lean close and let her lips touch his again. That one, small touch had sent shudders racing down her spine. The temptation to let him try again, to try it herself, was so strong…

James lifted his head from hers a fraction, looking into her blue eyes, trying to read whatever secrets were hidden in their depths.

Anastacia…

His arms tightened around her, pulling her even closer, until she was pressed against his chest. His eyes bored into hers, leaving her with nothing to hide behind. She bit her lower lip nervously and his eyes darkened, hazel shot with old gold.

Jem–’, she protested in a strangled whisper, ‘we…we can’t. What if someone sees?’

‘Let them,’ he growled in his throat. Anastacia shivered, her eyelids starting to fall closed against her will.

Jem…’ she murmured again, but this time it was more plea than protest and James, needing no further invitation, set his lips gently to hers.

Again, she gasped, shocked by the strange feelings lacing through her body, unlike anything she had ever experienced. Her hands clutched at his hair, trying desperately to find something to steady herself as his lips moved on hers, soft and beguiling. She didn’t have time to think, couldn’t find it in herself to move away. Every fear she had at the thought of their discovery, every dark moment of residual memory, they were all swept aside by the aching sweetness of his kiss, a sweetness that stole her breath and made her toes curl.

Much too soon for her liking, James raised his head.

‘Well,’ he faltered, his voice cracking slightly, ‘that didn’t seem to go all that badly. I mean, we didn’t get struck by lightning or anything. The castle’s still standing.’

Anastacia was astonished to realise that he was nervous. Scared, even. James Sirius Potter, the biggest egomaniac to grace Hogwarts since his grandfather, was scared! Of her! Or, at least, of the power of her opinion. She smiled at him shyly, feeling much younger and smaller than her years.

‘We could always try again,’ she theorized quietly, ‘perhaps it only works through repeated use.’

James nodded shortly and brought his head back down to hers. Anastacia stretched up on her tip-toes, sliding her arms around his neck, her fingers into his dark hair. One of his hands came to cradle her face; the other still held her waist tightly. It was a good thing too – without it, there was a strong chance she’d have fallen, as her knees had gone completely weak. Anastacia shuddered as a searing heat brushed her lips and then opened her mouth on a sigh.

It was a few minutes more before either of them raised their heads, Anastacia with her eyes still closed. As she tried to remember how to open them, she heard James give his throaty chuckle, the one that made her feel as if she’d just been hit with the Jelly-Legs curse.

‘Castle still standing?’ she asked with a soft laugh, eyes still shut.

‘Yep,’ came the reply. She finally managed to make her muscles obey and found herself staring once more into a pair of sparkling hazel eyes. He looked happier and more at peace than she’d seen him for months. More like the old James. He laughed again.

‘Third time’s the charm.’

The third time definitely did seem to do the trick. The dynamic of the kiss had now somehow changed. James held her against him fiercely, and she found herself clutching him just as tight. They were now pressed against the wall, Anastacia using it as leverage to stand taller, bringing her face closer to James’.

Once, fear started to rise in her mind and made her tense. But James gentled his approach as soon as she stiffened, soothing her, gently reminding her of his promise, and in short order the dark wave of emotion subsided. It didn’t rise again.

One of her hands had returned to the back of his neck, but the other was trapped between them, spread on his chest. She tried to move it to join the other, but there wasn’t enough room.

However, as she moved it, or attempted to move it, sideways, James groaned softly. Anastacia, fascinated, moved her hand again, drawing it slowly across the broad planes of his chest, even more surprised to find the muscles tensing under her hand.

 ‘Stac–’

Suddenly, James was pulled away with a jerk. Anastacia opened her eyes confusedly and saw a tall blonde boy throw James against the opposite wall of the corridor. His arm swung back, and then his fist connected with James’ face with an audible and sickening crack. James slid to the ground dazedly, blood pouring from his nose.

Anastacia’s jaw dropped. She ran forward.

Creeten! Arrête! Arrête maintenant!

Forgetting herself completely, she tried to tug him away, but the boy threw her off with a shake of his arm. She landed on the floor, somewhat stunned and winded.

James was on his feet instantly, his vision a haze of red.

‘You bloody bastard!’ he roared, ‘Don’t you touch her!’

He strode forward, intent on finishing off the boy in the most horrific way possible, but before he had the chance, there was a cry of ‘Stupefy!’ and the boy crumpled to the ground.

Anastacia groaned and leaned back against the wall. James hurried to her side.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked concernedly.

She nodded vaguely, then noticed James’ face.

‘You’re hurt!’ she cried, raising her wand again.

Episkey! Tergeo!’ James’ nose grated dully, flaring hot and cold and eventually returning to normal. When he looked down, his clothes were clean, showing no traces of blood or dirt.

Merde.’

He looked at Anastacia again, anxiously, but she was staring at the prostrate figure on the floor.

‘Merlin’s beard, I’m so dead,’ she breathed worriedly.

James laughed cautiously.

‘Why? Stunning a member of your fan club who happened to see us together is hardly cause for someone to murder you.’

‘No, James, you don’t understand.’

Her voice had taken on a panicked quality that made James more than a little worried. He tried to take her in his arms, to pull her closer, but she wriggled away, pointing at the stunned boy.

‘That’s Creeten Zarlow.’

‘So?’ he asked, not seeing the point, ‘One of your Slytherin suitors is pretty much like the rest.’

‘James, he’s not my suitor.’

The panic had spread to her eyes, which were even wider than usual in her white face. Her breathing was shaky, and it occurred to James that she might be going into shock. He reached for her again, taking her hand in his. This time, she allowed him the contact.

‘Stac, what is it? What’s wrong?’

She took a deep, albeit unsteady, breath.

‘Creeten Zarlow isn’t my suitor, James. He’s my guard.’

 

 

 

 






 

 

 

Wow, cliff-hanger much? Sorry, guys, I promise that all will be revealed shortly. And when I say all, I do mean all; questions will be answered and theories held up for testing. Stay tuned! Ta!

 
 
 
 


Chapter 23: The Truth Will Set You Free*
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

                                 
                                  Brilliant image by Anna_Black @TDA

 

The Truth Will Set You Free

Say – John Mayer

‘I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you
hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.’


Pietro Aretino

 





‘Stac, what is it? What’s wrong?’

She took a deep, albeit unsteady, breath.

‘Creeten Zarlow isn’t my suitor, James. He’s my guard.’

 

 

James’ mind was having trouble processing what he was hearing. He shook his head, at a loss.

‘Wha- Stac, what- your guard? What the hell are you talking about?’

Anastacia was taking deep breaths, seemingly trying to calm herself down. When she’d managed to quell the shaking, she turned to James with a determinedly focused look on her face.

‘I need you to go get Scorpius. And Rose, if she’s there,’ she added by way of an afterthought, ‘you need to bring them out here.’

‘I’m not going anywhere till you tell me what’s going on,’ James declared, crossing his arms over his chest.

‘James, go,’ Stac commanded, in a voice he’d never heard her use before. His feet started to move of their own accord, responding automatically to the authority in her tone, and before he knew it, he was climbing back into the Gryffindor common room.

The party was still going strong, although it felt like years since he’d left. So much had changed.

And yet, Rose, Al and Scorpius were still standing in exactly the same corner that they had been when he’d left. For all he knew, they could still be discussing the same topic of conversation.

As James watched, Al turned to reply to someone behind him, then, with a nod to his friends, left the small group. James seized his chance and hurried across the crowded room as quickly as he could, avoiding the rest of his mates, to fetch up at their corner.

‘Hey, you’ve got to come help me. Something’s happened outside, something bad. Stac is going mental.’

‘Bad? What do you mean, bad?’ asked Scorpius sharply, his face suddenly alert, all traces of good humour gone.

‘Not here – tell you outside,’ James continued in a low voice.

He turned and made his way back over to the portrait hole, not bothering to check if they were following. He knew they would be.

Outside, he led the way down the corridor towards where he’d left Stac while filling them in.

‘We were talking, and Creeten Zarlow came out of nowhere and starting laying into me. Stac tried to pull him off, and he threw her at the wall. I went at him, but she stunned him. Then she started to go all panicky and made me come to get you two. Don’t know how you’re supposed to help, though.’

‘And that’s everything, is it? I mean, why would he attack you for no reason,’ Rose demanded suspiciously, ‘that doesn’t make sense. Tell us the truth, James. And don’t you dare say it’s because he’s a Slytherin.’

James hadn’t wanted to go into details around the younger boy, but he didn’t really have a choice. After all, they’d have to find out sooner or later.

‘I kissed her. Stac. And…she kissed me back. That’s when Creeten went at me. He obviously saw us.’

He looked at Scorpius to see how he would take the news. If they’d broken up on Christmas Eve, like she said, then that was only a week ago.

But Scorpius didn’t seem to be angry or hurt, merely…thoughtful. James wasn’t sure what to make of it.

By then, they had reached the dark section of corridor where he’d left the other two students. Stac was sitting with her back against the wall and her knees drawn up to her chest. She was holding her wand out in front of her and watching the inert body of Creeten Zarlow warily, as though guarding against him waking up.

Rose and Scorpius immediately went to crouch at her side, putting their arms around her.

Anastacia started a bit when they touched her, but the moment she realised it was Scorpius, she dropped her wand, buried her face in his chest and broke into hysterical, gasping sobs. Scorpius rubbed his hand over her back, looking very grave, and James had to turn away.

Clutching his wand so hard that his knuckles creaked, he fought hard to tamp down the piercing spear of jealousy that had thrummed through him the moment Stac had grabbed for the other boy. Just a moment ago, she had been kissing him, and now this? What was she about?

Anastacia was babbling in French, her words tripping over themselves in her haste. Scorpius couldn’t make out more than one word in ten, if that. Finally, he sat back, pulled Anastacia away from where she was leaning against his chest and gave her a gentle shake.

‘Nast! Slow down! I can’t understand you.’

Her eyes were wide, the pupils very dilated. As if she hadn’t heard him, she began to speak again, just as fast.

Scorpius gave her another shake, slightly more forceful this time.

‘Do I need to go get Celeste?’

She blinked, stared at him, and slowly shook her head.

‘Then breathe, and tell me in English.’

‘I stunned Creeten,’ she whispered after a deep breath, ‘he attacked James and so I stunned him.’

‘James told us what happened,’ Rose told her in a low voice, ‘it’s going to be okay.’

‘I stunned him,’ Anastacia repeated, as if she still couldn’t believe it herself, ‘I couldn’t let him hurt James. But he’ll wake up…and he saw us….my Father…’

But that thought was too terrifying to contemplate, and she would have collapsed back onto Scorpius if the blonde boy had not held her at arm’s length.

‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’ he told her, looking her directly in the eye and speaking calmly and slowly.

‘I’m going to take Creeten away from here. Then I’m going to Obliviate him.’

‘O-obliviate?’

‘Yes. When he wakes up, I’ll tell him he fell, or something to that effect. I’ll push him down a flight of stairs myself for authenticity if I have to.’

Rising, he pulled the dark-haired girl up alongside him.

‘Rose is going to take you to your common room. James can help me with Creeten.’

James looked up sharply when he heard his name, and Rose went to explain the plan to him.

While the others were both occupied, Scorpius spoke again.

‘I will Obliviate James too, if you want,’ he said in slow, careful French.

What?

‘I will make him forget everything that has happened tonight. We will say that he drank too much, and that is why he can not remember.’

He gave her a moment to consider, and she did. It would be the prudent thing to do, the safe thing, even. But…

Prudence be damned.

‘No. I can’t live with the secrets anymore. I’ll tell him.’

‘Then I will send him to you when we are finished.’

He squeezed her hand, then nodded to Rose, who had been standing off a little ways, giving them some space. Now she came forward, and the two girls left together in the direction of the Heads’ corridor.

Rose turned as they left and shot a tight smile back down the corridor. Scorpius nodded in reply, then watched, face impassive, until they had turned the corner and walked out of sight.

‘So…how good are you at Obliviating?’

At the sound of the dry voice coming from behind him, the blonde boy exhaled determinedly and turned back to the task at hand.

‘Better than you’d think.’

‘You’ve had practice?’

‘Not exactly, but I’ve had theory lessons from the best.’

Either side of Creeten’s inert form now, the boys regarded each other warily. It was James who broke eye contact, and the silence.

‘Guess we’d better get this over with,’ he muttered, looking down at the burly form at his feet. Taking out his wand, he murmured a charm, and the body rose in the air to hover a few feet off the ground.

James began to walk down the corridor, the Creeten floating along beside him. Scorpius followed along behind them.

‘Let me know if you want me to take over for a bit.’

‘I’ve got it,’ James muttered through clenched teeth. The hover charm wasn’t hard, but maintaining the space between Creeten’s body and the floor was taking a bit of concentration. Not that he was averse to knocking the git’s head along the flagstones, but it might wake him up again, and that would just be more effort.

‘Where exactly were you thinking of taking him?’ he asked, navigating his way around a rather inconveniently placed statue.

‘The stairs to the Entrance Hall. It’s close enough to the Slytherin dorms that I can legitimately claim he was in that area.’

‘Don’t know what he was doing up here,’ James replied distractedly, now trying to manoeuvre his baggage onto one of the moving staircases, ‘everyone else is in the common rooms.’

Scorpius didn’t reply, and James could have kicked himself when he saw the obvious answer to his rhetorical statement.

‘He was following her, wasn’t he?’

‘Yes. He was probably waiting outside Gryffindor Tower until she came out.’

‘Then why didn’t he see us straight away? Why wait? We were talking for a while…well, fighting, I guess. But the point is, why didn’t he see us earlier?’

At that moment, a deep, resounding bong sound filtered through the corridor. Scorpius felt it more than he heard it – the reverberations made the stones at his feet seem to shiver and quake.

A simple explanation, then – it’s now eleven o’clock. All this would have happened half-an-hour ago, making it ten-thirty – the changing of the Guard. Creeten would have just arrived, and you would have been the first thing he saw.

But Scorpius didn’t voice his thoughts. Nast may have decided to tell the older boy everything at last, but until she’d done so, he would keep his silence.

James responded to the silence of the two Slytherins with stillness of his own, and without further speech, they made their way to the top of the steps leading down into the Entrance Hall.

There, he lowered Creeten’s bulky form onto the stone floor and took a step back.

‘So-o…how do you want to do this?’ he asked haltingly, shoving his wand into the waistband of his black jeans.

Scorpius didn’t reply straight away. Instead, he took his own wand, and, pointing it at Creeten’s head, muttered under his breath. James saw a silvery stream leave the end of the wand and shoot down to the body at their feet, speeding through one ear and rippling out through the other. Then the silver stream dissipated and disappeared.

‘Is that it?’ James enquired curiously.

‘That’s it. He won’t remember anything after leaving the Slytherin common room earlier this evening. He would have had to come this way to get to Gryffindor Tower – I’ll just say he slipped at the top and fell back down the stairs.’

They both stood, staring, James with his hands in his pockets, Scorpius calmly holding his wand at his side.

‘I offered to Obliviate you too,’ he said quietly after a long moment.

James couldn’t find it within him to be surprised. He probably would have offered the same thing had he been in Scorpius’ shoes.

‘And?’

‘She asked me not to.’

That did surprise him a little. Surely it would be easier for everyone, Stac especially, if he just forgot about tonight.

‘And will you?’

‘I won’t go against her wishes.’

No matter how much I may disagree with them.

The words hung heavy and unspoken in the air between them. James ran a hand through his hair with an exasperated sigh.

‘What game is she playing at now?’

‘She’s not playing.’

Scorpius’ voice had dropped to a colder, lower tone.

‘She’s decided to tell you everything. But listen to her carefully. As you do, think about what she’s been through this past year, yes,’ he continued at James’ disparaging snort, ‘what she has been through. I can guarantee that everything she has done she’s done out of fear. Not only for herself, but for you and the others that she loves.’

His mouth twisted into a cold, mocking shadow of a smile.

‘You’ve known her for quite some time now. Have you ever known her to be scared without good reason?’

Silently, James shook his head. Scorpius inclined his own.

‘You would do well to remember that.’

Turning away, he made it clear that the subject was closed by kneeling down by Creeten’s still prostrate form.

‘Now, if you give me a hand pushing him down these stairs, that should be enough.’

‘With pleasure,’ James growled, glad to have an excuse to work out some of his frustration.

Only, this time, his frustration was directed at no one but himself.

 

 

 

 

 







 

There was a soft knock on the door of the Head’s common room. Anastacia, sitting on a sofa before the fire, started. As she watched, Rose stood up and went to open the door.

It was James. The two of them had a brief, whispered exchange, then Rose returned to Anastacia’s side.

‘Do you want me to stay with you?’ she asked quietly, her eyes flicking briefly back to her cousin.

James’ face was impassive. He stood braced comfortably with his feet apart. Just looking at him sent a wave of rioting emotions surging through Anastacia’s mind.

‘I…no. I need to do this alone.’

Rose nodded and flashed a brief smile of support. Her eyes were still concerned, but, thankfully, she didn’t make a comment about the tension between the two other students.

‘If you do need me, at all, for any reason, just send for me, okay?’

Anastacia nodded, and Rose left her, having another brief conversation with James before she walked out of the room.

James closed the door behind her, pointed his wand at the doorknob and muttered a spell under his breath. By virtue of his being made Head Boy, he could now control the enchantment that made the room inaccessible to other students.

Completing the spell, he turned to face the only other occupant of the room. She was standing before the fireplace, hands clasped tightly in front of her, anguish in her eyes.

*

‘James, I–’

He held up his hand to ward off her words.

‘Just…tell me the truth, yeah? That’s all I want to know.’

‘I’m warning you now – you’re not going to believe it.’

James took the seat closest to the door, and furthest from her. Sitting down, he crossed his arms over his chest and assumed what he hoped was a blank expression.

‘I think I’d like to decide that for myself.’

Nodding slowly, Stac slowly sank down onto the sofa. Her lower lip was trembling, but her back was straight and her eyes were dry.

‘Where would you like me to start?’

‘Who are you?’

It seemed the easiest thing to ask.

‘My name is Anastacia Claudine Sangraal.’

She took a deep breath.

‘I am…the youngest member of the only remaining Royal Wizarding bloodline.’

Silence.

‘What?’

‘I told you you wouldn’t believe me!’ she burst out exasperatedly, rising from her chair to pace once more in front of the fire.

‘Wait, hold on, calm down!’

She paused, looking at him, not sure whether to be hopeful or not.

‘You’re serious?’

‘Yes. I know it sounds…mad, but it’s the truth. For once.’

‘So you’re what, a princess?’

‘Technically. My…official title, if you want to call it that, is more along the lines of Archduchess.’

James examined her face, searching for some sign that this was all just a big joke. But her eyes were deadly serious, her expression earnest, if slightly mournful.

‘This is insane.’

‘I know it’s a lot to take in.’

‘Yeah, you got that right,’ James scoffed, rubbing his eyes. He suddenly felt tired.

Feeling a little calmer, Stac returned to her seat. Sitting down, hands folded primly in her lap, she waited.

Finally, James looked up, although he didn’t meet her eyes.

‘Well, go on, then. You can’t just leave it there. How the hell is there a Royal family that I didn’t even know about?’

‘No one knows about it. These days, you don’t even have nobility, and yet once upon a time, nobles, real, titled nobles were rife throughout the Wizarding world. Each noble family had estates and ruled over the people who lived on their land, whether they were wizards or Muggles. They had complete power, more than anyone today could ever imagine. One their own land, a noble could do whatever they wanted, without fear of the consequences. Including things like unforgivable curses. They treated Muggles like animals, and other, non-noble witches and wizards not much better. Above the nobles, you had the Royal families. We’re the only one now, but once upon a time, there were three.’

‘Three? How come there’s nothing about it in any of the history books? Even I couldn’t miss something like that.’

Stac’s eyes flickered to her lap.

‘There was a war. Several of them, in fact, fought all over the world. They started as little uprisings, but then they just…kept going. Until they got out of hand.’

She shifted in her seat.

‘The people, the normal witches and wizards, didn’t want to be ruled over in that way anymore, and, after all, who can blame them? They wanted democracy. And in their search for it, they destroyed everything that they saw as standing for the old world.’

‘Like the French Revolution.’

Stac looked up at him in mild surprise.

‘Yes. Rose told me about that once. At the time, I couldn’t understand why she mentioned it, even though I always like to learn things about the Muggle world. But you’re right – it was very like that.’

Her gaze became distant, as she focused unseeingly at a point beyond his shoulder.

‘It’s…difficult to think about it, really. So many of the nobles were cruel, autocratic monsters who didn’t care at all for those they had a responsibility for. But the way that they were killed…it was truly awful.’

Taking a breath and shaking off that frame of mind, Stac returned to the present and her story.

‘Of the three Royal families, only the European and the Arabic dynasties survived. The Asian dynasty was wiped out completely. The witches and wizards in Asia worked with the Muggles to destroy every last remnant. What they didn’t count on was the Muggles continuing the tradition of absolute power and totalitarian rule.’

She shot the fire a rueful glance.

‘Tension has been running high there ever since.’

‘And the other two?’

‘Worked together to ensure their joint survival. They intermarried, for a while. But eventually, the Arabic dynasty started to get restless. They were tired of living in secrecy. They tried to return to power, less than a hundred years after they were deposed.’

‘And?’

‘They were also destroyed. Every last member of the bloodline, killed. And so my family learnt the valuable lesson of living in complete concealment.’

‘Hence the lies.’

She smiled sadly.

‘The lies I’ve told you and everyone else have been the smallest part of the deception. Our very existence was wiped from history, from the records, from living memory. A century after the final wars, it was as if we had never existed. Which was why I was so surprised to hear Professor Binns mention it in class one day.’

A memory stirred at the edges of James’ brain. Another boring, non-descript lesson, a game of hangmen with Sam, Stac reacting to something the Professor said…

‘So that’s what gave you a shock.’

‘I couldn’t believe my ears. I really did think they were playing tricks on me.’

‘Do you remember what he said? I wasn’t really listening,’ he added, by way of explanation.

She favoured him with a look that clearly said, why am I not surprised, but continued on.

‘I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I was that shocked. He was talking about how the noble families ruled both the Wizards and the Muggles all over the world, and that they were ruled by the three Royal families. Nothing specific, but so much more than I ever expected anyone to know. Then he talked about how they had supposedly all died out in the 12th century, which was when all the wars were going on, but that some supposedly survived until the 16th century. Then he went on for a bit about how it all had to be untrue, since there was no proof.’

James nodded.

‘Yeah, I remember that last bit, but I didn’t hear what he said first up. I don’t think anyone did – you must have been the only one.’

Stac gave a nervous half-laugh.

‘Luckily for me, no one listens in History of Magic.’

She took out her wand and murmured something under her breath. A thick book appeared in her hand.

‘I even asked him about it, after class. He gave me this.’

She handed the book over to a curious James. The title was 101 Historical Myths and Legends, and the author, to his surprise, was Professor Binns himself.

‘He was quoting directly from the book that day. There’s a small section on it; the page is marked. It’s not a lot, but I don’t know how he even knows that much.’

James closed the book with a snap and put it down on the table next to his chair.

‘So that explains the secrecy – you were scared for your life.’

Stac sighed.

‘I wish I could say yes and leave it at that but…not exactly. Once, yes, but nowadays, the secrecy has just become a part of who we are. And even then, we’re not nearly as concealed as we once were. My father has many followers, these days, including some who are not original members of the Court.’

‘So why the lies?’

James’ voice had hardened, and Stac winced as she returned her gaze to her hands, clenched once more in her lap.

‘My father is…unbending. He has never been outside the Court, never spoken to anyone who is not a Pureblood and a Royalist. He was a male heir, the only male heir – far too valuable to allow to leave the safety of the court.’

‘But you’re the only heir at the moment, aren’t you? Or do you have brothers and sisters I don’t know about either?’

‘It’s only me. But I’m just a girl. I’m not nearly as important. I can’t rule the court myself; I have to marry and have a son.’

‘But still…it seems a bit weird for them to let you out for months at a time.’

‘The fact of the matter is that they just didn’t know what to do with me. I’m the first girl to be born into the family in six centuries. When I was younger, everyone assumed that there would be other children, so no one really paid that much attention to me.  By the time they realised that I was it, everyone had grown accustomed to disregarding me. I was going to attend Beauxbatons, but then Father wanted to move the Court to England, so I was sent here instead. The Court never did move, but I fought to remain here and they’ve allowed it.’

‘With a few compromises,’ James added, thinking of Creeten and the others.

‘Yes,’ Stac agreed, ‘there have been a few. But they’ve become less over the years. At least, they had.’

They both sat quietly in thought for a long moment.

‘Wow,’ James breathed eventually, ‘I definitely did not see any of that coming.’

‘What were you expecting?’ Stac asked lightly.

‘Dunno, but not that. I can’t believe you’ve kept that in for nearly seven years.’

‘It wasn’t easy.’

‘I can imagine.’

She laughed, a light, sighing sound that seemed to surprise even her.

‘No, you can’t! You really can’t! Merlin, there are so many things I’ve wanted to tell you!’

She laughed helplessly, her head in her hands. When she seemed to get lost in thought, James prompted her gently.

‘Like what?’

‘Like I hate Potions! I really, really hate it – I always have. I had governesses and tutors and all sorts of things when I was little, that’s the only reason that I’m any good now.’

James privately disagreed, but she was on a roll, so he didn’t interrupt.

‘I wish I could take Muggle Studies. The Muggle world is so…fascinating. All those…things! Things they have instead of magic! It’s amazing! And I always had mixed feelings about my hair being blonde – I hated it because it reminded me of my father, but I loved it because it made me look like Victoire and Dominique…and I could almost pretend…’

Her voice trailed off, and James nearly didn’t catch the end of the sentence.

‘I could almost pretend I was one of you…’

Again, she gave the laugh that was more of a sigh, and James found his internal struggle getting harder and harder. He wanted to hear the whole story before he came to any conclusion, but everything within him burned to put his arms around her and tell her it was alright.

‘And I love Quidditch. Oh, I love it so much! I love flying and the rush that you get from the game. And I was never allowed to play, never. I wasn’t even allowed to fly after I turned fifteen. Father forbade it.’

She raised her head from her hands and stared unseeingly at the ceiling.

‘It…killed me, not going to your matches. I could hear the cheering and the yelling and I had to sit inside and pretend I wasn’t interested, because they’d get suspicious if I went. And it was never good enough, watching the other matches when you weren’t playing. The other teams just highlighted what I was missing out on; I knew they were nowhere as good as you.’

‘That’s why you stopped going.’

‘Yeah…’

There was a longer pause. James leaned forward in his chair, bracing his arms on his knees and fisting his hands together in front of him.

‘You know what hurts the most?’

Stac knew a rhetorical question when she heard one, so she didn’t answer.

‘How you went to Scorpius for help. Again, I mean, even after…everything…’

His everything held a wealth of meaning that Stac couldn’t pretend to misunderstand.

‘I’ll always go to Scorpius for help,’ she tried to explain gently, but he cut her off.

‘See, that’s what I mean! It’s like you’re…you’re dependent on him, or something.’

He glared at his hands.

‘If you need him so much, why’d you break up with him?’

As soon as the words were out, he wanted to take them back. What a way to flaunt his vulnerability out in the open, for everyone to see.

To his surprise, however, Stac let out a brief, startled laugh, which she quickly stifled. But it was enough to make him sit up and glare at her in confusion.

‘What?’

Stac had her hand to her mouth. She looked equally confused, but in an amused way. Taking her hand away, she tried in vain not to smile.

‘Sorry. It’s just…after everything I said, that’s what most concerns you?’

James didn’t answer, and Stac stopped trying to hide her smile.

‘James, Scorpius and I were never really a…couple. He’s family.’

Brow furrowed, James stared at her. He obviously wasn’t sure whether to believe her or not.

‘He is, really – he’s my mother’s second cousin.’

‘You’re…related?’ came the slow reply.

‘You’re surprised? We’re Purebloods – we’re nearly all related, remember? His paternal grandmother was the sister of my maternal great-grandmother. But, regardless of all that, I think of him like a brother, and although I love him, that’s all he could ever be to me.’

‘So the two of you together…’

‘Was a scheme Rose came up with to try and keep you away.’

‘And you’re sure?’

She laughed again, and looked her answer, and he was satisfied.

‘Speaking of Rose, why did she know about this and I didn’t. I mean, I’m assuming she knows, from what happened tonight and what you just said and all.’

Stac paused, her face suddenly grave once more.

I didn’t tell her. She found out on her own.’

‘She found out?’

James voice was disbelieving.

‘I was shocked too, believe me, but she did. She took some things that she’d heard and researched them, then confronted Scorpius with the information and threatened to go to one of my guards if he didn’t tell her the rest.’

‘How long has she known?’

She shifted uncomfortably.

‘Since she was in third year.’

Three years!

‘Well, I didn’t find out that she knew until this year, either! I didn’t want her to know.’

Her voice dropped in volume.

‘I didn’t want any of you to know. I thought you’d all be safer if I kept the two parts of my life separate, and look how well that worked.’

‘I can’t believe she didn’t tell me.’

The words had an injured tone, and Stac rushed to defend her absent friend.

‘She felt that it wasn’t her secret to tell. Look, don’t be upset that she found out and you didn’t. You know what she’s like. You’re always saying she’s like her mother, and if half the things that the books say about her mother are true, then it’s really no wonder that she worked it out, is it?’

James shifted in his chair to look at her curiously.

‘What books? You’ve read about my Aunt Hermione in books?’

‘I’ve read about you all in books,’ Stac replied matter-of-factly, ‘any that I could get my hands on. When I first came here, I didn’t know anything about contemporary Wizarding history. I had no idea who the Golden Trio were, I’d never heard of Albus Dumbledore, and I thought that Voldemort was, well, on the same side as me, to tell the truth.’

She stared into the fire, her jaw set sardonically.

‘Imagine yourself, at eleven years old, opening a book one day and finding out that everything you know, everything you’ve been taught, is wrong. And not only is it wrong, but it’s considered by most of the world to be rank heresy.’

‘It would have been terrible.’

‘Yes…and…no. At first I told myself that what I’d been told was true, and that the book was a lie, but that didn’t last very long. I wanted that book to be true. I wanted to believe in the world that it portrayed.’

Her voice dropped to a lower, sadder, darker tone.

‘It seemed so much brighter than the one I’d come from.’

Involuntarily, she shivered, then shivered again. Absentmindedly, without even really thinking, James rose from his chair, crossed to the cupboard and pulled out the blanket that he’d fetched the last time they’d been in the common room together. Why was it that these days they only seemed to spend quality time together after something terrible happened?

Returning to where Stac was sitting, he laid the blanket across her shoulders and joined her on the sofa, sitting at one end while she was at the other.

Stac pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders, not so much against the physical cold as for a barrier against the cold reserve that was still pouring off James in waves.

‘Is there…anything I haven’t said? Anything you’ve been wondering about?’

James considered carefully, but one thing had come immediately to mind.

‘You can see Thestrals?’

Stac was taken aback. Of all the things he could have asked…

‘Ye-es. How…did you…’

‘It wasn’t just me – Margie and Jaya figured it out before I did. Remember when you saw them early this year? Hagrid was showing them to the fifth years?’

He shrugged.

‘I was picking up your timetable and you ran off. I saw where you were looking and I kind of put two and two together.’

She bit her lip thoughtfully.

‘And you want to know why?’

‘Among other things, yeah.’

Stac took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

‘It’s…a long story…’

‘I’m not going anywhere.’

Silence. They sat that way for a while, neither of them talking. Stac seemed to be gathering her thoughts. Finally, she broke the stillness.

‘The year I turned seven, I was given a new maid. My old maid, my nurse, left and…a new girl took her place.’

She smiled slightly, eyes seeing a faraway time long since past.

‘She was so…different. She wouldn’t let me have my own way all the time. The first time she told me off, I was so surprised I didn’t know what to do. It’d never happened before – I’d always done just what I wanted. No one had ever tried to stop me. But she did. I don’t even remember what happened, what was wrong, but she told me I was being a brat, and I that I had to stop.’

‘Bet that made you mad.’

Slowly, Stac shook her head.

‘No-o, it didn’t. Not really. It was so…new. I didn’t know how to react at first, and by the time I got over it, I’d realised that she really did care about me, not like all the other ladies who just pretended, trying to get ahead at court. She liked being with me, she liked me. And I loved her for it.’

Her gaze dropped to her hands, twining in her lap.

‘You have to understand – I didn’t come from a family like yours. I didn’t have a…a brave father who protected me or a strong mother that I could run to. I didn’t have brothers and sisters to share things with. The first real friends I ever made were Scorpius and Celeste, and I didn’t meet either of them until I was nearly ten. But this girl…she was the first person who showed me any kindness.’

More silence.

‘So…what was she like?’

‘Mad. Crazy, really. She must have been. I caught her one day, when she was sneaking out to go shopping.’

She breathed a laugh.

‘It was her day off, but once you join the court, you’re not supposed to leave without direct permission. I demanded that she take me with her, or I’d tell the Guard that she’d left me alone. So she did. She took me outside the house, alone, without telling anyone. We lived just outside Paris at that point. So she apparated us to le Marché de Merveilles, er, the ‘Market of Wonders’? It’s like Diagon Alley, but…well, French.’

Stac’s face was lit up, wholly consumed by her story.

‘I’d never been anywhere but our estates and the homes of some of my parents’ friends. Seeing all these people just…walking around, wizards and witches…it was amazing. Mind-blowing. It was the best day of my life. Before that, I’d never been shopping, or to a café, or even out in public. I loved it, every minute of it.’

James could almost see it – a young Stac, blonde, like when he’d first met her, darting from shop to shop, mad with excitement.

‘After that, she began to take me out regularly, sometimes even once a week. Mostly, we went to le Marché or other places nearby. Sometimes, though…we went to Muggle Paris. Just a few times, never staying long. But it was enough. I thought it was the most unbelievable thing I’d ever seen. Absolute madness. Incredible.’

She paused for breath, and something like a shadow passed over her face.

‘One day, she didn’t come to see me. Another maid told me she was ill. She’d promised to take me to a new café that was opening – I’d been begging her for weeks. I was so…spoilt.’

Her voice caught, and she stopped for a moment.

‘I was angry, and I told the maid that she couldn’t be sick, because she was supposed to take me out. I forgot that it was a secret because I was so selfish.’

James stomach sank like a stone. He could tell where the story was going, where it was going to end. Eyes closed, Stac continued.

‘The maid…told my father. He called me in to question me. I don’t know why. By that time he would have known about it all, if he didn’t know before then. He made me tell him everything that had happened, all the visits. Everything. Then the other maid came back in, with Creeten and Trelain’s father. He’s the Captain of the Court Guard. They said that my maid was waiting in my chambers. My father ordered another Guard to take me to my mother. As we left the room, I heard him tell the Captain to…deal with the situation.’

She was scarcely breathing now, her voice thin and thready.

‘As I went to my mother’s rooms, I kept replaying the whole thing in my head, and…I decided I had to do something. The guard was holding my hand, so…I bit him. Then I ran for it, straight to the maid’s quarters. He chased me the whole way, but he didn’t catch me in time. I don’t know what I was planning to do – warn her, maybe. It didn’t matter. I reached the door in time to see the Captain draw his wand. And that was it. She was gone.’

That was too much for James. Ignoring the logical part of his brain completely, he reached over and tugged Stac against his side, holding her tightly as she wept into his shoulder.

So she’d done some stupid things – they both had, him most of all. Yes, she should have trusted him, but a life like hers didn’t exactly promote trust, did it?

‘How old were you again?’

‘Seven,’ came the muffled reply, ‘old enough to remember, young enough to believe my father when he told me it was all my fault.’

She sat up, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. James gently moved her hand and wiped her tears away with his sleeve.

‘After that, I did as I was told. I obeyed my father’s every order. It wasn’t until I came here that I finally began to live again.’

James couldn’t even begin to imagine having a father who’d do that to their child. His own Dad, he knew, had spent his whole life trying to protect his children from anything and everything that would hurt them. What would it be like to not be able to trust your own father to protect you?

‘It was around that time that my father began to change,’ Stac was continuing on, ‘becoming more the person he is today. He was never kindly, but I remember a time when he wasn’t so hard. And I know he loved my mother, once, even if he’s never felt that same love for me.’

‘How do you know he loved your mother?’ James asked curiously, ‘It’s just that, from what you said, it doesn’t sound like he’d marry someone for love.’

‘But he did,’ Stac related quietly, ‘my mother was his inferior, although, he does see everyone as his inferior,’ she added in a soft aside, ‘but she was quite below him socially. There was a slight scandal when they married, but he smoothed it all over by the simple fact his word is Law within the Court.’

‘So what happened? Doesn’t he love her anymore?’

‘When I was born, even though he would have preferred a son, he told mother that it was alright, that they would have other children. I don’t know why everyone assumed that there would be others. My father’s family has a long history of single children. But then, they also have a long history of male births, so maybe he thought both traditions would be broken. But after some time it became clear that my mother wasn’t going to have any more children, none that lived, at any rate.’

She shivered, and James settled the blanket around her once more.

‘I think that’s when he truly began to despise me. I represented the end of his line, and he couldn’t bear to look at me. That may even have contributed to him allowing me to be sent away to school.’

Finally, she met his worried gaze, and James reflexively reached out and clasped her shoulders tightly, his insides tight with fear. Her eyes were just as dead and hopeless as they had been on the platform when they’d first met. In an instant, he had a brief insight into the terrible world of her childhood. No wonder she had blossomed into such a conniving prankster at Hogwarts. The freedom would have been like a drug.

‘I hope you never meet him. He’s cruel, and violent, almost crazy with power, and he cares for no one but himself.’

‘Violent?’

James’ hands were shaking, and he had to remind himself not to hold her too tightly.

‘What exactly do you mean by violent? Has he done something to you?’

The dead look remained, and her eyes flickered to her lap.

‘I’m not…unaccustomed to Marcus’ particular brand of treatment.’

A soft growl ripped its way out of James’ throat, and Stac looked quickly up at him, her deadened mask replaced by a look of concern.

‘But, please, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Please, James,’ she added when he didn’t show any signs of moving.

Forcing the muscles in his body to relax one by one, James slowly unclenched his jaw and his hands. Letting go of Stac’s shoulders, he drew her closer to him instead. Covering them both with the blanket, and holding her tightly to his side, he took a deep breath in and let it out.

‘Okay. If you don’t want to talk about it, we won’t.’

‘Thank you.’

Stac was a comforting weight at his side, secure within the circle of his arm, and no one was coming to take her away. He allowed himself to calm down and set his mind to finding some new topic of conversation that would let her do the same.

‘Do you know what it was for me?’

‘What was what?’

Stac’s tone was confused – she wasn’t following.

‘When I finally figured out how I felt.’

He went straight on, not waiting for an answer.

‘The day you started going out with Malfoy. That night, actually – I figured out what I smelt in Amortentia.’

‘Amortentia?’

‘Remember, the day before that? When Jaya made some in Potions? To me, Amortentia smells like broomstick oil, and chocolate pudding, and lemon tart.’

‘Yours would smell like food.’

He poked her in the ribs, eliciting a mild squeak, then pulled her close again.

‘The oil, that’s obvious, and the pudding’s from this pub I like in Wales. The tart, though…I could never figure out what it was. And that night, it hit me.’

He moved slightly to the side, so he could see her face.

‘You remember, just after we met, when you pranked the Ravenclaw Quidditch team?’

Realisation dawned in her eyes, and she smiled, remembering.

‘With lemon tart.’

‘Exactly. That’s when I figured it out, only by that point, it was too late. Or so I thought.’

Nothing more was said for a few moments. When they did again deign to speak, James was well and truly reassured that he had, in fact, been wrong in his earlier conclusion.

‘That was the lesson that my cauldron exploded,’ Anastacia mused thoughtfully when their minds had returned to speech.

James nodded.

‘Mm, you didn’t have a great day, did you?’

‘Do you want to know a secret?’

‘What, another one?’ he asked wryly, earning him a swat on the nose and an elbow in the ribs.

‘Wait! I want to know! What?’

Stac seemed to be fighting back giggles, which unnerved him a little.

‘I wasn’t having a bad day…it was the Amortentia for me too.’

‘Why?’

‘There was a…new smell. Before, it’s always had something to do with my dreams. I smell the sea, because I’ve never seen it and I want to, so much. I smell the flowers in a cottage garden, because that’s all I want, a simple life. And I smell the Hogwarts Express, too, which is pretty self-explanatory.’

‘And the new smell?’

She didn’t know how to put it…what if he laughs? But he hadn’t laughed at anything else. He hadn’t accused her of making things up, even though her story was so bizarre that it didn’t sound true.

It’s James.

That settled it.

‘It was orris root.’

‘Orris root?’

James’ voice and face were confused, but cleared as he realised.

‘Irises. Mum keeps them in the laundry – she uses them in the washing.’

‘So when you get to the platform on the first day back, your clothes always smell of orris root,’ Stac agreed, smiling shyly, ‘it’s one of the things I look forward to the most. That smell always makes me think of…new beginnings.’

‘And you knew it was me?’

‘I didn’t want it to be. I tried to deny it – I didn’t want to put us both in that kind of a position, because I couldn’t see any alternative at that point. I can look back now and say that I should have done things differently, but back then I thought I didn’t have a choice.’

‘What would you have changed?’

‘I would have told you, for one thing, and sooner. When I think of all the time I wasted, time I could have spent with you, being happy. Not being scared.’

‘Speaking of being scared, do you remember the day we fought the Boggarts in Defence?’

‘Yes, why?’ Stac replied questioningly.

‘I can’t believe I didn’t figure it out then. I only found one Boggart that day – Sam took the rest of ours. It was in an old cupboard. Gave me the fright of my life.’

He paused for dramatic effect, and Stac cut in before he could continue.

‘If you say that it was me, lying on the floor and covered in blood, I’m going to hex you.’

James was stumped.

‘Okay, one, how did you know, and two, how the hell did you know?’

‘Wild guess.’

‘Based on what?’

‘Based on the fact that mine was exactly the same.’

That really threw him, but only for a moment. Then he laughed a short, barking laugh that made Stac smile confusedly in response.

‘I don’t understand. What’s funny?’

‘We’re such idiots!’ James burst out, laughing again, ‘Well, I’m an idiot, at least,’ he corrected as an afterthought, ‘you’re too amazing to be an idiot.’

Stac laughed now too.

‘I get it – because we had all these signs and it still took us too long to figure it out? You were right the first time – I am an idiot.’

‘If all the idiots in the world were like you, it’d be a much better place.’

‘Oh, you’re so full of it,’ Stac laughed, swatting him, ‘but seriously, everyone knew before us.’

‘Pretty much.’

‘Even Celeste figured it out before I did, and she barely ever saw us together.’

The name stirred something in James’ memory.

‘Speaking of Celeste, and it might be a dumb question, but why does she call you Grace?’ he asked curiously, ‘I thought it might be your middle name or something, but isn’t your middle name Claudine?’

‘It’s short ‘your Grace’. It’s my title at Court. That’s what they all call me, here. Everyone except Scorpius.’

‘You said he was one of your first friends?’

‘Mm, his family joined the Court when we were nine. He and I were friends from the beginning. His family still aren’t truly a part of the Court – they’re not there all the time, and they’re not always involved in everything. But they were close enough that I was allowed to be friends with him. I was supposed to be drawing him in. My father wanted to get to the Malfoys through Scorpius, and therefore through me.’

She laughed gently.

‘It didn’t really work, and he’s still trying, but I didn’t care. I was just happy to have a friend.’

‘You grew up with Creeten and Trelain, though? You said their dad was…around.’

‘Creeten was always…Creeten. He’s never changed. But Trelain…he didn’t used to be so hard.’

The expression in her eyes was faintly haunted.

‘In some ways, he reminds me of my father. Trelain was never…soft, or kind, or anything like that, but he wasn’t like he is now. Being in the Court as a man, not just a boy…it changed him. It changes them all.’

Her voice dropped very low.

‘I hate them.’

‘Then leave,’ James whispered, just as low. All of a sudden, the mood in the room had turned deadly serious.

‘It’s not that simple.’

Her voice broke with helpless pain.

‘If I left, they’d come after me. It wouldn’t matter where I went, they’d search till they found me. And there’s nothing they wouldn’t do to get me back. No line they wouldn’t cross. I’m the only blood heir. You think Purebloods are bad? The Blacks had nothing on my family.’

‘So what? My dad defeated Voldemort. I mean, come on. That has to count for something.’

‘I couldn’t do it,’ she protested, shaking her head, ‘I couldn’t put your family in that kind of a position. And…I’m afraid…

She did indeed look scared; her eyes were bright, but dry, and she was biting her lip.

‘Of what? We’re safe here. Scorpius is taking care of Creeten and the rest. We’re okay for now.’

‘He will have you killed.’

Stac’s voice was flat and unyielding.

That’s why I lied. I couldn’t care less about the Court or the history or any of it. But you…to him, you’re a blood traitor, and my friends are traitors and mudbloods. I got involved, despite myself, and by the time I realised just how much I needed you all, I was in too deep. I had to lie, because I couldn’t bear losing any of you.’

‘So what now, then?’

‘I should go,’ she responded, pulling away.

James refused to let her go, tugging her back down to her side.

‘Don’t you dare. Listen to me first.’

‘James–’

‘Shut your face. Shut it, or I’ll shut it for you, and you know I will–’ he countered when she opened her mouth to argue.

Still upset, but without trying to interrupt, Stac closed her mouth.

‘Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll keep it a secret, at least, to all non-Weasleys and Potters. If there’s one thing my family can do, it’s keep a secret. We’ll sneak, we’ll skulk, we’ll hide. We’ll do whatever it takes.’

Pulling her closer, he leaned forward until their foreheads were touching.

‘I only just found you. It’s going to take a lot more than this for me to give you up without a fight.’

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, what you’re suggesting.’

I love you.’

The words were soft, but ringing with truth. That truth killed the protest in Stac’s throat and made her take in a little, involuntary breath. Her cheeks flushed as blood rushed to her face, and her eyes were wide and somehow vulnerable.

‘You can’t know that,’ she whispered after a long, loaded pause, ‘we’re still at school; I’m not even of age yet! What do we know about love?’

‘You don’t have to believe me,’ James countered with a smile, ‘you don’t even have to say anything in return, but I know that I love you. And that’s enough for me.’

And in a strange way, it was. Somehow, Stac’s willingness to share her past had shattered the last of the illusions in James. He knew, now, that what he felt for her wasn’t a passing crush or an infatuation, but a feeling that ran deeper than anything he’d ever known before.

‘I’m not asking for anything in return. I know it’s weird and sudden and kind of unexpected, but I had to say it. It’s important that you know.’

It was just as well that he wasn’t asking for a reply, because Stac didn’t have the slightest clue what to say in response. She wasn’t even sure that she could have spoken if she’d known what to say.

‘It’s late,’ James went on when she made no reply, ‘in fact, I think it might even be early. You should get some rest.’

Stac didn’t want to sleep, but she was comfortable and warm and James was stroking her hair in a way that made it very difficult to stay alert.

‘I don’t want to,’ she tried, but a huge yawn in the middle of her sentence had them both laughing.

James closed the small distance between them and laid a gentle kiss on her temple.

‘I’ll stay here, just like last time,’ he breathed against her hair, lips brushing the outer whorl of her ear, ‘so don’t worry about anything. You’re tired – you should sleep.’

And he continued to stroke her hair, gently running it through his fingers.

‘That’s cheating…not being fair…’ Stac grumbled under her breath, but the movement lulled her, and it wasn’t long before her eyelids fluttered shut and her breathing slowed.

Even in sleep, she felt the safety that only came from being in James’s presence.

And for the first time in a long time, untroubled by night terrors or bad dreams, she truly slept.

 

 

 

 

 

 







 

To my lovely readers, I apologise for taking so long between updates! But this one is nice and long to make up for it. And, as an extra little treat, here is the passage from Professor Binns’ book (which had a limited release and is quite tricky to a get a hold of – I’m so lucky that someone I know has a copy!)

I have tried to answer the questions that I know have been floating around in people’s minds since the beginning of this thing, but if you have a question that hasn’t been answered, tell me in a comment and I will work it into a future chapter somehow!

Thanks so much for continuing, to read, and I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season (Christmas for me!) and a fabulous New Year!

Ta!

 

 

 

 

 







 

One of the least known legends of Wizardkind is that of the mysterious Royal Wizards. It is strange that this legend is so little known, as so many common-place stories, fairytales, and myths revolve around unknown Royal blood being miraculously discovered. However, the legend of the Royal Wizards, apart from being largely unknown to the contemporary Wizarding world at large, is shrouded, not so much in mystery as in pea-soup fog. So much so that it is rare for even the most dedicated scholar to ever come across mention of it in their readings.

The complete lack of primary source material makes it difficult to determine whether this legend is actually based on any real, historical proof whatsoever. What evidence and record can be found is either secondary or, more commonly, tertiary and as such can not be held in any great esteem.

Essentially, the legend goes that there were once certain wealthy families amongst the Wizarding community who owned large tracts of land and were both responsible for and effectively owned those who lived upon their land. They also wielded immense power within their estates, and were very much a law unto themselves.

These families, Nobility, if you will, ruled both Muggles and Wizards alike the world over. They in turn answered to the three ruling Royal families, one in what is now the Middle East, one in Asia, and one in Europe. However, by the end of the 12th century, none of these Nobles or Royals remained.

It has been theorised that there were, in fact, individuals still living up until the 16th century, controlling Wizarding and Muggle world politics from behind the scenes. However, this can be dismissed as a fanciful tale, as there is no proof to support it.

-          Extract from 101 Historical Myths and Legends by Cuthbert Binns

 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 24: Just An Ordinary Boy *
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Stunning image by Smile @ TDA

Just An Ordinary Boy

Ordinary Day – Vanessa Carlton

‘The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.’
Thucydides

 

 

 








 ‘Nast? Nast, are you awake?’

The soft knocking on the door penetrated the silent room.

Anastacia stirred, slowly reaching wakefulness. Vaguely, she registered that someone was calling for her and that she had to get up.

When she eventually forced her eyes to open, she was somewhat surprised to find herself in the Heads’ common room. Dawn was evident in the faint glow under the drawn curtains, and last night’s fire was smouldering low in the grate. She was half-lying, half-sitting on one of the sofas, propped up on a cushion of some sort, with a blanket and what felt like another cushion draped over her middle.

Still bemused, she moved restlessly, trying to sit up. To her utter shock, the warm weight that she had thought to be a cushion moved, pulling her in closer, refusing to let her go, and she realised that it was, in fact, an arm.

In the split second that the events of the previous night came rushing back and she remembered precisely where she was, warm lips brushed the back of her neck and a low voice whispered sleepily against her ear,

‘Morning, love.’

And that was that. Sufficiently distracted, Stac turned her mind to more important things than whoever was at the door.

Scorpius could wait a few more minutes.

 

 

 

 

 









More than a few minutes later, Anastacia opened the door, blushing rosily and with a soft smile. Rather than let her friend in straight away, she stepped outside and closed the door behind her.

Scorpius’ face was carefully blank, but his eyes were dancing. Anastacia looked up to meet those eyes and immediately looked away, blushing even harder.

Now Scorpius smiled.

‘So I’m assuming he stayed, then?’

‘We had a lot to talk about,’ Anastacia replied in a small voice.

Scorpius’ grin widened, but it was Rose, coming up the corridor behind them, who commented.

‘Knowing James, I’m sure there were plenty of things you did besides talking.’

She and Scorpius laughed together, eyes gleaming and faces alight. But Anastacia’s smile faltered a little, and she didn’t join in the laughter.

‘You’d be surprised…’ she mused quietly. Then, taking a deep breath, like one about to dive in to a deep pool head first, she turned to Scorpius.

‘I told him everything – absolutely everything,’ she said in a rush.

Scorpius’ expression went from amused to blank in a fraction of a second.

‘I doubt it,’ he answered in an even tone, sounding as if he were merely commenting on the weather, ‘because there was something you forgot.’

Anastacia started to protest – how could she have forgotten something? – but was silenced when he held out his hand.

‘Sorry to be the bearer of bad news,’ he continued in that same, maddeningly even tone.

Rose looked between them in confusion and saw that Scorpius was holding a plain, silver bracelet, unremarkable except for a small blue stone set in the centre of one side.

But Stac was looking at the piece of jewellery with an expression of pure horror.

‘You’d better come inside.’

And she opened the door to usher them both into the common room.

 

 

 

 

 









James turned at the sound of the opening door, only to be confronted by the sight of his cousin and Scorpius Malfoy walking into the room behind his…what? Best friend? Girlfriend? The thought stumped him for a moment, but the look on Stac’s face soon drove it from his mind.

She crossed the room so that she was standing between him and the other two, but she didn’t come to his side. With a sinking feeling, he realised that he recognised the signs – Stac was shutting down, shutting him out…just like she had whenever she was being watched.

Well, things were different now, he thought defiantly, and he went to stand next to her. Looping an arm around her waist, he drew her to his side.

She didn’t resist, but she didn’t lean against him or soften her rigid stance at all.

Rose was looking at them both with a bemused expression, one that meant she was trying to decide whether to show laughter or genuine happiness. Scorpius…was just as blank as Stac.

This was not good.

‘I know this is not a good time, and I hate to…rain on your parade, but there’s something that Anastacia forgot to tell you.’

‘What, no congratulations?’ Rose asked quizzically, turning to face Scorpius, her expression rapidly changing to confusion, ‘What’s this about, Scorpius?’

‘As…happy…as I am that you two have worked things out,’ Scorpius continued on as if he hadn’t heard. The wry twist of his mouth suggested to James that he wasn’t particularly happy at all, not right now.

‘There’s something that makes this situation very dangerous for both of you at the moment.’

‘What, besides the crazy guards and a pure-blood-obsessed court?’ James asked with quiet scorn.

His words found a mark. Scorpius coloured slightly, and James felt a flash of triumph. Maybe the boy hadn’t thought that Stac would tell him everything, maybe he’d thought that she wouldn’t trust him enough, but she had and she did. And it felt good to finally be able to rub his nose in it.

‘Yes;’ Scorpius continued after a moment, ‘this.’

And he held out the bracelet.

James looked at it dubiously.

‘What is it?’

‘Would you like to tell him or shall I?’ Scorpius asked Stac.

In reply, she turned and buried her face in James’ shoulder, refusing to meet his eyes. James tightened his hold on her, his expression daring the other two to comment.

Scorpius nodded grimly and explained.

‘It’s a tracking bracelet. It’s designed to allow Anastacia’s guards to keep an eye on her. They can use it to check her position at any time.’

‘What?’ James breathed in surprise, ‘That’s crazy.’

‘It can also be used as a summoning device;’ Scorpius continued talking as if he hadn’t heard the exclamation, ‘pressing the blue stone sends out what is essentially a distress signal and alerts all the guards to her whereabouts.’

‘So that’s what you pressed,’ James mused, ‘after Marcus spoke to her.’

Now Stac lifted her head from his shoulder in surprise.

‘What? How did you…?’

‘I was there, down the other end of the alley. I saw him,’ and he jerked his head in the Slytherin’s direction, ‘touch something on your wrist and a moment later, all the flunkeys turned up. But if you can use it as a distress signal, why didn’t you call for help when Marcus attacked?’

‘It was being renewed,’ Stac told him in a low voice, ‘it has to be renewed every few years. I wear a fake one when I don’t wear it,’ and she held out her hand.

Sure enough, around her slim wrist was a bracelet seemingly identical to the one Scorpius held.

‘Why does it have to be renewed?’ Rose asked curiously, ‘surely whatever enchantment makes it work wouldn’t wear off in a few years.’

Stac was silent, and it fell to Scorpius to answer the question, which he did in the quiet, bland voice that he only used when matters were deadly serious.

‘It’s blood magic.’

Rose sucked in a surprised breath, and James’ stomach gave a sudden twist. Even he, who never paid attention in class and couldn’t do Potions to save himself, even he knew about blood magic. Big, difficult, mostly-unbreakable things that took many Wizards and Witches to work. Spells and potions that included the blood of those that worked on them and in this case, he was willing to bet, the blood of the person they were intended for.

‘Once the bracelet is in place, it can’t be removed, except by the creators. Believe me; we’ve tried, many times.’

In the back of his grey eyes, there was something…unusual. With a shock, James realised that Scorpius cared about Stac, really cared. Not in a romantic way, but in a way that suddenly made sense of a lot of the things that he’d done. And this led to another revelation.

Scorpius may not like him, but as long as he made Stac happy, as long as he kept her safe and was the best thing for her, Scorpius would support and help him.

The tricky thing was going to be keeping himself in a position where he remained the best thing for her.

‘So why is it a problem?’ Rose asked, still confused, ‘If she’s already been wearing it for years, why should it change anything now?’

‘It has a…memory,’ Stac told her slowly, ‘it keeps track of everyone that touches me in anyway while I’m wearing it. And…well, how…’

She blushed and looked away, but she didn’t need to complete the sentence for the rest of them to understand.

So. The bracelet would keep a record of whoever touched her – and how they touched her. Suddenly Scorpius’ concern didn’t seem misplaced.

‘I’m sure you see how this is going to affect anything you might have planned on,’ the blonde boy was saying, ‘I wish I could provide a solution, but as far as I can see, there is none.’

James’ head was still reeling from the knowledge that his best friend had been effectively wearing a leash her whole life. That knowledge, coupled with the sudden dashing of so much of his new hope, was starting to boil away inside him.

‘So, basically, what you’re saying is that just when they’ve finally grown up and admitted how much they need each other, they can’t be together, is that it? And you just can’t see a solution?’

To James’ surprise, Rose sounded just as angry as he felt. A quick glance at her face confirmed it – the tips of her ears were starting to turn red, something that only happened when she was really furious.

Scorpius seemed surprised as well.

‘Wha-, no, I mean – that’s right. I can’t see a solution.’

‘And don’t you think that last night or a few days or even weeks ago would have been a more appropriate time to mention this? If not to them, then at least to me? Anyway, forget about that,’ she continued, suddenly changing tack, ‘what’s with this whole, sorry, I’m just giving up now, kind of attitude, anyway? Aren’t you one of the head Guards or something? Can’t you pull some strings or something?’

Pull some…you have no idea what you’re talking about!’

‘Well, obviously not, since you apparently don’t tell me anything anymore? When did this whole secretive side of you develop, hmm? I thought we were in this together!’

Both their voices had risen to shouts. Scorpius had taken a few steps back in surprise when Rose had started talking and they were now squared off across from each other.

‘I’m not being secretive! I forgot about the bracelet until it came back, that’s all. And don’t tell me to pull some strings with the Guard – you have no concept of what that entails.’

‘Oh? Don’t I? Then tell me, Scorpius; explain to me what the point is of you hanging out with them if you can’t do anything to help!’

‘Fine!’ came the furious reply. Scorpius was even paler than usual – not with anger, but with hurt, Anastacia suspected – and his hands were clenched into fists at his sides. He glared at Rose as he spoke.

‘The world Nast and I live in is not and has never been a good one. It is cruel and ruthless and will utterly destroy you the moment you set a foot wrong. It operates in ways you can’t even imagine. Nast’s father rules the majority of Europe by fear alone, and anyone who opposes him or displeases him or crosses him in any way is dealt with immediately and without mercy.’

Rose showed no sign of softening, her arms still crossed and her eyes still narrowed, and so he ploughed on.

‘You remember when you asked me why I could see Thestrals? And I told you it was because I’d seen some guy have a heart attack in the street? It wasn’t. It happened at Court when I was younger. We were playing a game of hide and seek, and Camsin Alecto and I were hiding in a cupboard in this little room. Nast’s father came in with Creeten’s dad and this other guy. I don’t remember what the other guy had done, something stupid, probably, but he wouldn’t apologise for it. The Captain was ordering him to apologise for his actions, and he was just standing there, silently.’

His shoulders drooped imperceptibly, the only outward sign of how much this memory affected him.

‘So His Grace nodded to the Captain, and the Captain pulled out his wand and killed the man. Simple as that. One moment he was alive, the next he was dead. And that day, unbeknownst to them, two little boys lost their innocence forever.’

Rose was silent, the flush fading gradually from her cheeks. James looked at Stac, but she was looking at Scorpius, understanding clear in her blue eyes. And yet another thing became clear to James – Scorpius was right.

He and Rose could never understand what they had been through. Their parents could, maybe, or their grandparents, but not them. Their world was safe and sanitized – their parents had worked hard to make it that way. This was why Scorpius and Stac needed each other; because there were things about them that no one else would understand.

‘I-I’m sorry,’ Rose offered softly, but Scorpius made a sharp gesture with his hand, as if to brush it off, and turned away from her. Rose started to colour again and opened her mouth, about to let out a harsh reply.

‘Could we have a moment?’ Stac asked in a quiet voice, breaking the moment and the spell of anger that seemed hold sway over the two younger students.

Rose nodded tersely and made for the door. Scorpius hesitated for a moment, then held out the bracelet once more. When Stac made no move to take it, he sighed and laid it down on the table by the far sofa. Then he followed Rose out of the room, closing the door behind him.

‘Stac, hear me out,’ James begged as soon as the door was closed, ‘just…listen, for once, okay?’

She had crossed her arms defensively over her chest, but she didn’t try to interrupt. He took it as a good sign.

‘What Scorpius said, about your dad?  About him being so powerful and all? I want to be able to give you some kind of a solution, but I just can’t. I can’t say that I get it or that I understand what it’s like, because I don’t. But there is one thing I understand…’

He paused, checking that she was still listening. She was.

‘It’s the fear. I understand the fear. Not because I’ve been through it, but because I just get it. And maybe it’s just me thinking that I understand after hearing my parents talk about it for years, but I understand the things that fear does to you.’

‘Your parents talk about fear?’

Her voice was small and thin. James ploughed on.

‘All the time. Mum says that when Voldemort was in power, there wasn’t a day that she didn’t wake up terrified and stay that way ‘till she went to sleep. And not just mum and dad – my grandparents talk about it too. I mean, they had to live through it twice.’

He took a step closer.

‘But the thing I understand about it, the thing that dad always explained to us, from the earliest days, is that fear is power. I mean, Voldemort, now, he was exactly what those idiots following him were trying to stamp out. If he hadn’t scared the piss out of them from the very beginning, they’d have turned on him sooner or later. But he did scare them, and they fought for him till the end. It’s the same with your dad, no, listen,’ and he reached out and took her gently by the arms as she tried to turn away.

‘As long as you’re afraid of him, he’s got power over you, and he’ll use that to control you. The only way you’re ever going to get rid of him is if you lose the fear.’

‘That’s easier said than done.’

‘But could you try? Could you just…try?’

Still holding on, he peered down into her face, trying to read the thoughts behind her eyes. Stac looked back with an intense expression.

‘Do you want me to try…for…you?’

James smiled as he let out a surprised breath that he hadn’t even realised he’d held.

‘Well, I guess…no. Not really.’

Letting go of her arms, he straightened, still looking down into her upturned face.

‘Not for me. For you. For yourself.’

Stac stepped away now, and he let her. Her gaze was on the floor, and she seemed to be mulling over his words in her mind.

The silence stretched for a long moment. James was steeling himself for a polite but distant refusal when she eventually spoke.

‘There are books on blood magic in the Restricted Section.’

‘Wh-what?’

Not the answer that he’d been expecting. Finally, bright blue eyes met hazel, and James found, to his surprise, that the blue eyes were beginning to burn with determination.

‘I saw some books last time I was there, ones that might be useful. And Scorpius and Rose are insanely intelligent, and maybe Jaya might help, and Owen…maybe…maybe we can do something.’

‘Stac, that’s…that’s great! Really?’

‘You’re right,’ she said with a funny half-smile, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this for you, even though I am, sort of. But I’m doing it for me too…sort of? Does that make any sense?’

‘None at all…but I know exactly what you mean.’

Still smiling faintly, she turned and walked over to the window, almost in a daze.

‘I think…I think I forgot about hope. I forgot how to hope. Or maybe…I never really knew how, not really.’

James crossed the room to stand behind her, close, but not touching; supporting, but not overwhelming.

‘Maybe it’s time to learn.’

The smile that she gave him was dazzling. James blinked a few times, feeling like he had to clear his vision. Watching him, Stac’s smile only grew larger, and then she stepped closer, against his chest, into the circle of his arms.

When she turned her face up to his, James closed the space between them and set his lips to hers. The kiss was slow and sweet, the kiss of two people who had all of time.

When they eventually drew apart, James rested his forehead against Stac’s brow.

‘What are you thinking?’ he whispered, his breath fluttering the hair around her face.

Her answering smile was both beatific and mischievous.

‘Well…they know I have the bracelet now…they’re going to expect me to put it on…’

The good feeling that James had been experiencing a moment ago began to die away, but Stac pressed herself closer.

‘But they won’t really expect me to put it on right away…they won’t look for it until the afternoon…and it’s only just morning…’

Catching her drift, James began to grin once more.

‘Afternoon…that’s ages away, isn’t it?’

Nodding vigorously, Stac stretched her arms up and around his neck.

‘Hours and hours…’

Hours and hours, indeed. Just like Scorpius, the Guard could wait.

 

 

 

 

 

 








 

After all the events of the past few months, telling the Potters and Weasleys and their close friends of her true origins was almost anticlimactic. There were no angry outbursts, no accusations of lying or protestations of disbelief. If anything, the news was met with fascination and a degree of excitement, especially from the boys.

Originally, Stac had only wanted to tell the older members of the group, not wanting to place the pressure of such a secret on the young ones, but James and, more surprisingly, Rose were adamant that it had to be everyone.

‘Splitting us up into people who know and people who don’t is only going to make things worse,’ James pointed out reasonably, ‘we’re not going to be able to discuss it around the others, we’d have to pretend around our own family, and we’d have to lie. Lots. Which is fine, but not, you know…around us. To us.’

So, in the end, it was all the Potters, Weasleys and associates who gathered in the Heads’ common room the next night, with the exception of Lucy Weasley. When Stac had pointed out that she didn’t even know Lucy well, and that the young Ravenclaw truly had no need to know the secret, even James and Rose had been forced to agree.

James locked the door and turned to see his sister and brother emerge from under the invisibility cloak.

‘So, that’s it, then?’

Albus nodded assent and took a seat. They had all sneaked in separately under the invisibility cloak. Scorpius was, to all intents and purposes, Stac’s guard for the night, but there was no sense in taking the chance of some other Slytherin seeing the rest of them out and about and heading in the direction of the Heads’ corridor.

The pale blonde boy himself was seated next to Rose, facing Stac, who stood by the fire, steeling herself. The rest of the group were perched on chairs and couches around the room. Everyone was attentive, aware that something big was going on. Tiny little Louis’ eyes were wide as he sat wedged tightly between his sister and Molly. Albus had requested that Daisy be included in the group, and Rose had seconded the motion. Jaya, Sam, Margie, Owen, Terry, Josh, they were all there, all eager for the long-awaited information.

Stac’s explanation was brief, with little of the background that she had delved into when telling James, but it was enough. Enough to bring worry to the faces of her girlfriends, to elicit grunts and gasps of surprise from the group as a whole.

When she had finished, James came to join her, standing in front of the group.

‘The reason we’re telling you this, the reason it’s all come out is because Stac and I are together.’

‘Finally!’ Margie cried, and there were a few whoops and laughs as what little tension was left in the air dissipated completely. James grinned and looked over at his girlfriend. She was blushing, it had to be said, but she was smiling too, so that was something.

‘We know it’s probably dangerous, well,’ he amended when Stac flicked him a look, ‘it is dangerous, but we’re willing to take the risk and try. It’s worth it. But it’s not going to be easy, and we might need your help at times. We just wanted to know if we could count on it?’

‘What kind of a stupid question is that?’ Sam asked. From around him came sounds of agreement.

‘Anything you need us to do, we will,’ Jaya added.

‘For now, nothing,’ Scorpius answered to the room at large, standing to his feet. James bristled slightly, and was amused to see Sam, Terry and Josh do the same. The Gryffindor boys were having a hard time believing that this Slytherin was, in fact, their ally, and James was sure that it was only for his and Stac’s sake that they were putting up with him at all. Owen, as usual, seemed to take it all in his stride.

‘But just be wary,’ Scorpius continued, ‘the rest of Guard can not know. They can not even suspect. If they do, there is nothing any of us could do to help, in any way.’

He looked at James, eyed him steadily.

‘As they said, the danger is very real.’

James inclined his head slightly to acknowledge the other boy’s warning.

‘He’s right. This is bigger than all of us. We wouldn’t have told you all if we didn’t trust you so much already. But it means no gossiping, no talking about it in places that people might overhear, not even hinting at it to your friends,’ he said, looking particularly at Louis.

His cousin nodded, face very serious. Dominique put her arm around her brother and hugged him close.

‘He knows what’s at stake. We all do.’

‘Thank you for trusting us,’ Molly added softly, looking at Stac.

Surprisingly, the older girl’s face broke into a smile.

‘You have no idea how…strange this is,’ she said hesitantly, ‘I’ve kept so many secrets for so long…telling people feels…completely wrong. But…I’m glad I did.’

Sensing that the serious part of the meeting was over, the girls got up to embrace their friend, reassure her and ask questions, while James’ year mates drifted over to his side.

They didn’t speak – they didn’t need to. James knew they were happy for him, and happy to finally know what was going on. He knew that they would help him in any and every way they could, and that was enough. telling his mates had taken a huge weight off his shoulders – he could only imagine how Stac was feeling, after having to carry her burden basically alone for so many years.

‘So…Malfoy? He’s legit, then?’ Terry asked suspiciously.

James nodded.

‘Wish I could say otherwise, but he is. He doesn’t buy into any of that Court stuff Stac was talking about. He’s not thrilled about us being together, but I think that’s more from worry than anything else. He’s not kidding about the danger. None of us are.’

‘Too right,’ Josh agreed, ‘I heard about what they did to Marcus.’

‘I saw what they did to Marcus,’ Owen added mildly, ‘and if they’re just a junior version of the guards at that court place, then we all need to be careful. You especially,’ he cautioned James.

‘Look, mate, you don’t need to tell me. I know all about it.’

‘Now you’ve got us, at least,’ Sam added easily, ‘we can watch your back, help keep them off the trail.’

‘Yeah…’

‘Well, this is all a bit heavy – time for a change of scene,’ Terry interjected.

He snatched the invisibility cloak from where it was draped over the arm of a chair and, turning to face the rest of the room, raised his voice.

‘Who’s for a kitchen raid?’

  

 

 

 

 

 








 

Surely it must be wrong to be this happy, Stac thought to herself as she walked into the Great Hall for breakfast a week later.

She couldn’t remember a time when she’d been so at peace, so happy just to be. Not even back at the beginning of the year, or in years past, because there had always been the secret hanging over her.

Now…she was free. Not really – she was still watched almost constantly, but she found that she no longer cared.

After getting Creeten back to the Slytherin dorm, Scorpius had related the story about him falling down the stairs. Mortified and desperate that the tale shouldn’t get out to the rest of the Guard, Creeten had sworn the younger boy to secrecy. As a result, Scorpius now had a rather effective hold over his co-Captain. The subtle threat of exposure was enough for Creeten to allow Scorpius freer rein within the Guard, allowing more freedom for Anastacia herself.

*

Stac made her way to the Gryffindor table, sliding into place beside Jaya. As soon as she sat down, a paper airplane landed on the plate in front of her. Smiling, she opened it and read the contents.

Morning. Want to come sit by me? I want to hug someone. I tried with Sam, but he got shifty-eyed and threatened to hex me. Do you think he’s coming down with something?

Suppressing a giggle, Stac took out her wand and tapped the paper. The words disappeared, and she crumpled the paper and put it in the pocket of her robe. Then, looking up briefly, she found James’ face some way down the table and gave him a quick smile.

James…

Being with James was unlike anything she’d ever imagined. Partially because she hadn’t ever even tried to imagine it, hadn’t hoped for something as wonderful as that. But she didn’t think she would have been able to imagine it if she’d tried. Never before had someone gone so far out of their way to prove to her, no, not even prove – just to show her how much they cared.

In public, their relationship was no different to before – to all appearances, they only just tolerated each other. They were civil, but that was the extent of their ‘friendship’.

In private, though, it was a whole different matter.

Stac would wake to notes on her bedside table, scrawled letters in James’ nearly illegible writing. Every time they passed in the corridor, he glared balefully at her, and only she could see how his eyes crinkled at the corners. How hard he had to fight to keep the glare from turning into a grin.

He’d even begun pulling his weight in regards to Heads’ duties. For the first time, Stac found herself not having to do anything in a prefect meeting as James smoothly conducted the order of business and dealt with complaints. And when one of the Slytherin prefects made a snide remark, instead of hexing him to kingdom come, James just raised his eyebrows and threatened a detention.

But best of all were the glances that he gifted her with when no one else was looking. The few stolen words – ‘You’re beautiful’ breathed softly as they passed, ‘I love you’ in an empty corridor.

The day that he whispered ‘Mon seulement amour’ – my only love – in her ear in the crush of the Great Hall, her heart nearly stopped. It certainly skipped a beat. Dom, who had done the translating, had been watching them closely and broke into gleeful giggles that wouldn’t go away.

And while her days were spent in a state of peaceful bliss, Stac’s nights were spent in thorough and painstaking research. Jaya, Owen, Albus, Rose and Scorpius assisted her, and most nights they could be found in the library, pouring over any text that could be counted as even slightly significant. James was also researching, although not with her group so as to avoid suspicion. If the others noticed that Stac’s research became increasingly frenetic as the days passed, they didn’t comment. Scorpius did grumble when her nights started to stretch longer and longer, but not too much. He joked with Rose and Albus about being on ‘suicide watch’ and spent the early hours of most mornings trying to bully his friend into bed.

Personally, Stac was beginning to get desperate about the situation with the bracelet. At first, she’d thought that she’d be fine being in a relationship with James that didn’t contain any tactile elements. But to discover what it was like to…well, to kiss him, and then to have that taken away? It seemed too cruel.

For the first few days, James hadn’t had any physical contact with her at all. not a single hug, or a squeeze of her arm, or even the brush of his hand in the hallway. Eventually, Stac had stomped up to him in a frazzled temper one night.

‘You can touch me, you know?’ she’d demanded, ‘You always did before, so they’re not going to suspect anything now. As long as…you know…nothing…else. For pity’s sake, I don’t have the plague!’

She was beginning to wish she hadn’t said anything. James had obviously taken her at her word, and Stac was beginning to find just how intimate he could make a seemingly normal bit of contact.

It was never anything much, never anything that would make her Guard suspicious. Just small things.

The burning pressure of his hand on the small of her back as he led her into a room. The brush of his knee against hers when they sat next to each other. The warm caress of his breath on her cheek when he whispered in her ear.

Stac threw herself into her work. Class was the only time that their forced separation seemed like a good idea – it was hard enough to concentrate when he was in the same room and she could feel his gaze. She was certain she’d never get anything done if he’d been any closer.

His unique form of psychological seduction was having a crazy effect on her senses, and yet, to her chagrin, he didn’t seem to be affected at all. Or so she thought.

And then one Saturday night she took a brief reprieve from research and joined him in the Heads’ common room. James was reading some text by the fireplace. Locking the door, as had become their custom, Stac leant against the wall and studied him.

The firelight gilded his profile, glinting off his hair and making him seem older, more mature than his seventeen years. Sensing her stillness, he looked up and smiled a slow, thrilling smile that made warmth flood from her head to her feet. She was sure that she had to be blushing.

‘Hey.’

‘Hey.’

Time seemed suspended as they looked across the room at each other. Finally, Stac tore her gaze away and set it on the thin band of silver around her wrist.

‘Stupid thing,’ she grumbled distractedly, ‘ruining everything.’

She glanced up and blushed again to see him still staring.

‘You have no idea how much I want to kiss you, and I can’t.’

There was a sudden rush of movement. In what seemed like only a second, James had crossed the room and was standing in front of her, his hands braced on the wall either side of her head. Their bodies were scant inches apart. Stac took in a quick, shocked breath, the warmth from his body washing over her.

The firelight behind James rendered him little more than a silhouette, but Stac could just make out his narrowed eyes, his intent expression. His gaze seemed to be fixed on her lips.

The moment stretched longer, tension filling the air between them. Neither one seemed to be able to breathe properly. Then James lowered his head until their lips were a hair’s-breadth apart.

‘I have a fair idea what it’s like.’

For one insane moment, Stac thought he was actually going to kiss her, and, oh! she wanted him to.

But instead, he took in a deep breath and stepped backwards. It was clearly a struggle, but he did it.

‘That’s why I’m going to get back to researching. So that I can finally do exactly what I want to do.’

And he sat back down and picked up the book. Stac marvelled at his will power. Merlin knew she wouldn’t have resisted if he had kissed her.

‘James, this isn’t fair to you, all this pressure and problems and making you wai–’

‘I don’t want to hear it.’

His voice was rough and low.

‘Stac, even if you were just my friend, I’d be helping. No one deserves to be leashed like that. As it is…’

And he looked up at her one final time.

‘I don’t care how long this takes; months, a year, several years. I’ll be right there with you, waiting.’

The tension was beginning to build in the room again – Stac felt it was time to retreat to the safety of the library. She turned to go, and James’ voice fell softly in the room.

‘Je t’aime.’

I love you.

That same warm feeling flooded her body. Some instinct was telling her to run, but she didn’t. I’m brave, she told herself. So, with her back still to him, she smiled, then finally, haltingly, answered.

‘Je t’aime, Jem.’

 

 

 

 

 

 








So, come on - who's happy now? I know I am. Finally, I get to write happy stuff! And you all thought I was going through a depressive phase - told you I was leading up to good stuff!

Anyone feeling just a little love? Anyone want James as a boyfriend? Anyone love that song? I know I do. Funny thing is, I was trying to write this chapter to another song and it just wasn't working. This stupid freaking chapter has been stagnating for months because I simply couldn't make it work. And then I heard that Vanessa Carlton song again...and I sat down at my computer...and I wrote most of the chapter in about two hours. I guess you've just got to find your muse.

Speaking of muses, time for a shameless plug - if you haven't already, go over and read Operation Happy Ending by frenchy19. Yes, I will admit, I do have a vested interest in the story, yes, the writer is my darling beta, but I promise you will like it. And if you don't...you need more chocolate in your life. Because clearly the only thing that would impede your judgement to that degree is a deficit of chocolate. But seriously, it is flippin' funny - I have no gift for comedy and frenchy19 is a star for it. Just read it, kay? Cool.

Other than that, have a lovely day, dearies, please review (reviews are mother's milk to authors, etc, etc) and see you again soon!

Ta!
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 25: Brave Heart
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                                                          Amazing image by wishaway @ TDA

Brave Heart

 Life Is Good - Junk

‘Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.’
Omar Bradley
 

 

 

 

 







 

It had been two weeks. Two weeks since she’d put the accursed bracelet back on her wrist.

A lot of things could happen in two weeks. A lot of things had.

Ravenclaw and Slytherin had played the second Quidditch game of the season, which Anastacia hadn’t seen. Slytherin had employed some truly underhand tactics, by all accounts, resulting in multiple penalties for the Ravens, who had then caught the Snitch into the bargain. Needless to say, Slytherin as a whole was unimpressed.

Professor Ramira had been asked to speak at a big conference on Ancient Runes in Europe. She was away for nearly a fortnight, and had given the Seventh Year Ancient Runes class a huge translation task to complete in the mean time, along with some rather nasty threats of what she would do if they did not. Anastacia, who had completed the task on the day she’d received it, was therefore able to spend more blissful, if slightly frantic, hours in the library, researching.

Camsin Alecto had rejoined Anastacia’s Guard. He had been summoned home early one morning, as had Creeten and Scorpius. Celeste had come to tell Anastacia, who then received a letter from her mother, explaining the situation. Camsin’s father, who was a member of the Court Guard, had died suddenly. The letter hadn’t explained why, but the fact that her parents had attended the funeral suggested that he’d died while on Court business. Which raised another question; what was her father up to? What had Guillaume got his hands in this time? Information wasn’t forthcoming from either her mother or any of Celeste’s usual sources. The boys had returned a few days later, Camsin with eyes still tinged red from crying. Scorpius had then called a meeting where Camsin had been sworn back in as a member of the Guard. Watching this, Anastacia reflected on just how much things had changed since the beginning of the school year. Creeten had been the one to kick Camsin out, and now he was back, and there was nothing Creeten could do about it. And what’s more, he knew it. Scorpius was the one who wielded the real power now.

On a lighter note, Sam and Jaya had become a couple. This was surprising, and, to a degree, unexpected. Not just a couple who went to Hogsmeade together occasionally, which was all anyone had really ever seen in the cards for them, but a couple-couple. In the same sense that James and Stac were a couple. Although maybe not in the exact same sense, seeing as Jaya wasn’t wearing a piece of jewellery preventing Sam from touching her. They seemed very happy together.

Stac was trying very hard not to be too jealous of her friend.

Granted, Jaya was doing her best to still be there to help with the research and whatnot. But it did make things a little awkward at times. And it wasn’t as if Stac could go up and barge into the Seventh Year girl’s dorm anymore, either. You could never be sure what you’d…find there, now, as Stac and Margie had learned from experience.

So there were changes all round.

But the biggest change of all had come at the end of the two weeks, after dinner on the Sunday night. Anastacia had spent nearly the entire day researching. Scorpius and Rose had been with her for most of it, and Owen had joined them when Rose left to patrol the corridors. It was getting on for eight o’clock, and they were about to finish up for the evening. Stac was gathering up her books to return them to the shelves when her hand fell on a small volume. Without really knowing why, she put down the rest of the books and picked that one up.

It wasn’t a book of potions, or history, or any of the myriad of other subjects they’d tried in the hopes of finding something, anything, about blood magic. It was a book of Ancient Runes. Owen must have brought it over – he was finishing off Ramira’s assignment in his breaks from researching. The book wasn’t one that Stac had looked through before. It was complex and difficult, ambitious even for Owen. He seemed to have felt the same way – she was sure he hadn’t used it in his assignment.

Idly, she flicked through the pages. It seemed to be a book of stories, although there were a few spells and potions thrown in here and there, seemingly at random. It was hand-written, not printed, and some parts of the book seemed to have been added much later than others.

But it was one of the stories, not a spell, that caught Stac’s eye. Slowly, she blinked. Then blinked again.

The story was pretty standard – it was about a Princess, locked up by her father, who didn’t want her to get married and have some young hotshot threaten his hold on the kingdom. But the merit was in the detail – the king had bound his daughter to the wall of her room with a magic chain. Magic that was worked using her blood.

It seemed that the princess had managed, with the help of a handsome prince, of course, to find a way out of her chain.

Her heart in her mouth, Stac read through the rest of the story and then, almost trembling, turned the page. Some of the other stories were followed by spells that had something to do with the spells used in the story.

The page after the story contained a potion recipe.

A recipe like the one the princess had used.

A potion to break the hold of blood magic.

‘I’ve found it,’ she whispered, so softly that neither of the boys heard her. Looking up, she could barely form the words a second time.

‘I’ve found it.’

Owen and Scorpius glanced up, almost idly. Their eyes were blank, glazed after hours and hours of fruitless research; they hadn’t even registered what she’d said.

But Anastacia’s blazing face soon changed that.

‘What! Where?’

‘Here,’ and she held out the book.

Scorpius took it from her carefully, cradling it as if it were made of gold.

‘But that’s a book of runes,’ Owen protested, ‘they’re fairytales. I was going to look through it for the assignment, but I couldn’t make sense of the syntax.’

Scorpius handed the book back.

‘I can’t read it,’ he said in a quiet voice, ‘are you sure it’s right?’

‘Positive.’

And she was. There was no way it could be anything else. They may have to adjust it a little, make a few tweaks here and there, but now they had something to go on. Now they knew what they were working with, whereas before they’d had no idea.

‘The library is closing. I suggest you make ready to leave.’

They all jumped. Madam Pince could do that to you. Her voice, when you weren’t expecting it, was rather like a bucket of ice-water being thrown unceremoniously over your head.

Stac grabbed her bag and the book and followed the librarian back to her desk.

‘Excuse me, Madam Pince, but may I borrow this book?’

She held out the small manuscript, reluctant to let it go even for a moment. The librarian examined the small volume.

‘That book,’ she pronounced in an unpromising tone of voice, ‘is very old, and very delicate. I do not think at all that it would be a good idea for it to leave the safety of the library.’

‘Please, Madam Pince,’ Stac struggled to keep the pleading note from her voice, ‘please. It’s very important.’

The librarian pursed her lips, her lips taking on the appearance of small, wrinkled prunes. She looked up at the girl in front of her, ready to refuse.

But something in the blue eyes stopped her. Some glimmer of…what was it? Desperation? Could it be hope? Whatever it was, it made Irma Pince close her mouth and change her mind. Instead of refusing, she nodded.

Thanking her, Stac turned on her heel and sped from the library, unwilling to give the librarian even a moment to change her mind.

 

 

 

 

 








‘So, it’s a start, at least,’ Stac concluded when they were all gathered in the Heads’ common room half an hour later. Owen, Rose and Scorpius were on the couch, while Sam and Jaya were both crammed into one of the armchairs. Stac and James were currently facing each other…from opposite sides of the room.

It was little things like that which constantly reminded her that they hadn’t won. Yet.

‘If you translate it, I can help you suss out modifications,’ Jaya offered, ‘only, I won’t be much good to you if it stays in runes.’

‘I’ll give you a copy tomorrow,’ Stac promised.

‘It’s not going be easy,’ Owen sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly, ‘regardless of what modifications we make.’

‘Yeah, well, it is blood magic, mate,’ Sam countered, ‘no one ever expected it to be easy.’

‘Yeah, I know, but aside from that. From what I can pick up, the potion itself has to be made fast. Really fast. The margin for error is tiny.’

‘And some of these ingredients are going to be difficult, I can see that already,’ Anastacia added, ‘there’s things I’ve barely even heard of. The only way we can get a hold of them is…well,’ she paused, ‘to raid the Dandy’s personal stores, I guess.’

‘Oh, great,’ Rose groaned softly. James was grinning.

‘What?’

‘She’s thinking of this story our parents used to tell. Well, our Dads, really. Back when they were in second year, Aunt Hermione made a Polyjuice potion.’

‘Was that the year your father defeated the Basilisk?’ Stac asked eagerly.

‘Yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, they needed some hard to get ingredients, so they raided Severus Snape’s storeroom. He was the Potions Professor at the time. He didn’t catch them, and he could never prove it, but he obviously knew it was them.’

‘I promised myself I wouldn’t end up like my dad,’ muttered Rose darkly.

‘You mean your mum,’ James corrected blithely, ‘it was all her idea, after all.’

‘Anyway,’ Stac continued in a loud voice, interrupting the fight before it could develop, ‘we’re going to need to get into his stores. Which means we need to find out where they are, for a start, and then we need to find a time when he isn’t there. And then we need some sort of a plan or a…a…lookout, or something.’

‘What about a distraction?’ Sam asked in a deceptively innocent voice. All eyes in the room went to him.

‘What kind of a distraction?’ Jaya asked suspiciously, ‘Because if it’s along the lines of what you guys usually do, then I am not getting involved.’

Stac felt James’ sudden look as if he’d touched her, and she blushed. Yes, okay, it was partially her fault that the boys had developed such a reputation over the years, but they’d contributed too! She was, however, a little glad that Jaya didn’t know the part she’d had in their adventures. Somehow she didn’t think her friend would understand.

‘Something small,’ Sam was saying, ‘enough that it gets him out of his office, but not big enough to attract too much attention.’

‘Why his office?’ Rose queried, frowning. Sam shrugged.

‘Okay, so maybe not his office. Wherever his storeroom is. We’ll find it, and then come up with something. Maybe some of us could take care of the distraction and the others could get the stuff we need.’

‘So, what do we actually need?’ Owen asked.

‘Lots, actually. The list of ingredients is pretty long. Umm…’

Stac paused to read the recipe again.

‘Okay, so some we can get easily. Lionfish spines, I’ve got those, hellebore, wormwood, aconite.’

‘Are you sure this is the right one?’ Jaya asked sceptically, ‘It sounds like a poison. You don’t have to drink it, do you?’

‘I don’t think so…no, I don’t. Anyway, the difficult ones are…well, brown-snake venom, for a start. That’s going to be hard.’

‘You have to get that from Australia, don’t you?’ Rose asked incredulously, ‘He might not even have it. I’ve never heard him mention it.’

‘Me neither. Let’s just hope his stores are well stocked. Okay, also powdered Graphorn horn, which I know he has because we used some a couple of months ago. And…’

She paused again.

‘Powdered dragon eggs. Chinese Fireball dragon eggs, to be exact.’

Sam whistled, and Owen grimaced.

‘Unlikely he’ll have them. Really unlikely. Would any old dragon eggs do?’

‘I don’t know,’ Stac admitted with a sigh, ‘as much as we were talking about modifying it, I don’t really want to make any changes. I mean, who knows if it’ll even work with the recipe as it is?’

‘We’ll just have to do the best we can with what we can get, I guess,’ Jaya added.

‘Right, good, now, what about this distraction?’ Sam asked eagerly, leaning forward in his chair.

Jaya, Rose and Stac soon found themselves kicked unceremoniously out of the room while the boys planned. Well, while James and Sam planned, presumably – Stac couldn’t imagine Scorpius and Owen having any part in it. she’d wanted to stay behind, wanted to know what was going to happen, but James had insisted that she wasn’t to be involved.

So that was why she found herself waiting, alone, in the Head’s common room two nights later.

They had found that the Dandy did indeed keep his storeroom next to his office. Sam and James where now off distracting him, whatever that involved. While he was gone, Jaya had been tasked with darting in and getting what they needed.

Anastacia had been ordered, ordered, mind you, to stay in the common room. Out of trouble.

She looked at the clock on the wall. They’d been gone for over an hour.

Out of trouble.

Screw that.

Dousing the lights, she took off towards the Potions Professor’s office.

She was about halfway there when she almost collided with three tall, hard, male bodies coming the opposite way.

‘Oh, good, you’re all alive!’

‘You weren’t worried about us, were you?’ Sam teased. His face was smudged with what looked like soot. In fact, all their faces were sooty.

‘So what did you do? And why are you here?’

That was directed to Owen. She hadn’t thought he was going to join in.

‘Never you mind,’ Sam told her in a superior tone.

‘And I came to make sure they didn’t get out of hand,’ Owen answered in his calm voice, ‘someone had to.’

‘Have you seen Jaya yet?’ Sam asked.

Stac was about to reply when another voice broke into their conversation.

‘What are you guys doing here?’

The group turned to see Albus and Daisy at the other end of the corridor. Trotting down to meet them, James tapped the side of his nose mysteriously.

‘That’s for us to know, baby brother.’

Daisy frowned.

‘I know you’re seventh years and all, and Heads and that, but if you get caught out without a reason you’ll be in major trouble.’

‘So we won’t get caught,’ Sam replied easily, ‘anyway, what are two doing out?’

‘Patrol,’ Albus answered quickly, ‘so we’d better get moving.’

He took Daisy’s arm and they were about to move away, when James stopped them, frowning.

‘You’re not on patrol. Not till Friday. What are you really doing?’

Stac stared at him, shocked. She hadn’t even remembered that! Apparently he really was taking this whole Head Boy thing seriously…

Albus sucked in a quick breath and looked at Daisy. She was biting her upper lip nervously.

‘We’re…filling in,’ he said quickly, looking back at his brother, ‘ahh…you know, we kind of swapped, so, they’ll do ours and we’ll do theirs. Tonight. That’s why we’re here, you know?’

He was babbling now, but James didn’t seem to notice – he cut him off mid-sentence.

‘What was that?’

They all listened for a moment. There was a definite sound of something coming from down the passage. Moving together, the small group inched forward until they could almost see around the corner.

It was Filch and Prattle. Filch was complaining loudly about something. Who knew what. Who cared, really? It wouldn’t matter to the caretakers that the group just around the corner was made up of two Prefects and both the Head students. They’d turn them in to Neville anyway. And then they’d have to explain why they were up…better if they just snuck away. After all, Filch and Prattle hadn’t noticed the presence of the half-dozen Gryffindors, so they were safe to keep going.

‘That was a close one,’ Albus breathed softly. He turned to the others, standing behind him, all with stunned and horrified looks on their faces.

‘Should we head…guys? Guys, what’s wrong?’

Daisy pointed with a shaking hand to the ground by Albus’ feet. He looked slowly downwards…to see a pair of bright yellow eyes with slit pupils staring back at him.

Moxie.

‘Bollocks.’

In that instant, the cat let out a loud yowl, and Filch and Prattle sprung immediately to their feet. Without further ado, the group of students turned as one and raced back down the corridor in the direction they’d come. From the sound of things, Moxie at least was still on their heels, if not Prattle as well.

Ahead of them, the corridor separated in several directions.

‘Split up!’ James yelled to the others. Taking a handful of Stac’s robes, careful even now not to touch her skin, he chose a path at random, looking for a room to hide in. Behind him, Sam and Owen took different routes. He didn’t see where Albus and Daisy had gone. He hoped they were alright – he did feel sort of guilty about their involvement in this, which after all had almost nothing to do with them.

Unfortunately for James and Stac, the corridor they’d taken didn’t seem to have any rooms coming off it at all. After running up and down, looking in vain, they backtracked a little way and took another, smaller, corridor. It was more of a connecting path, really, and when they burst out into a wider passageway again, they saw Albus step into a room and close the door behind him.

They both hurried over to the door Albus had gone through. James wrenched open the door, surprising his brother, who was in the act of putting a spell on the lock.

Behind him, Daisy blinked up at them both, her pretty face taught with worry. The room itself proved to be nothing more than a small cupboard, half-full of cleaning materials.

‘Mind if we join you?’

James’ voice, though breathless, was light, but Albus’, when he answered, was anything but.

‘There’s no room!’

‘Come on, Al–’

‘No! Find your own!’

He half-glanced behind him, at Daisy, and then glared at his brother.

‘This has nothing to do with us! It’s not our fault you’re a bunch of idiots!’

Daisy laid a hand on his shoulder and murmured something to him. Albus turned slightly to hear better.

Stac looked to James. Predictably, his mouth was already opening, ready to give some angry report. Tugging on his robes, she smiled tightly at the two younger students then started to close the door.

‘You’re right - definitely no room. Don’t get caught.’

With that, she closed the door all the way and pulled James further down the corridor. He came, but not willingly.

‘What was that?’

They could hear faint noise coming from somewhere nearby. Filch and Prattle must be catching up.

‘There wasn’t any time to argue. Besides, I am not denying some other couple private moments together. I’m doing enough of that to us as it is.’

Private moments-?’

‘Do you still have the cloak?’

Throwing thoughts of his brother aside, James pulled said cloak out of his pocket.

‘But it won’t work. Moxie’ll smell us.’

‘There isn’t time for anything else. Come on!’

And she led the way up the corridor to a small alcove, wreathed in shadows. Muttering under his breath, James followed her and threw the cloak over them both.

For a moment, all they did was stand and listen. The sounds of pursuit were growing steadily nearer – there was no mistaking Filch’s outraged shouts and Moxie’s yowls.

Then, suddenly, at the same time, they became acutely aware of where they were.

In the dark.

In very close proximity.

In absolute silence.

Stac fought to keep her breathing under control. If she thought the past weeks had been bad…they were nothing compared to this. True, they weren’t actually touching, but it was a close thing. The cloak only stretched so far.

‘Umm…’ she began, unsure of how to go on.

‘Shh…’ James breathed from just behind her. His breath feathered past her ear and ruffled the hair around her face.

Truth be told, he didn’t really know what else to say. His mind had gone completely blank the moment he’d registered where they were. It was hard, very hard to remind himself that there actually was a reason he couldn’t reach out and touch her. Couldn’t pull her tight against him and cover her lips with his.

Not yet. No even if she had turned and was leaning ever closer towards him. Not even if her eyes were closing, and her hand was starting to rise towards his face…

A whining, nasal voice calling for ‘students to show themselves’ brought them back to reality. Never had James been so grateful to hear it. Thank Merlin for Filch and Prattle.

‘Don’t. Move.’ Stac breathed, almost silently, ‘Moxie.’

And sure enough, there was the cat, stalking down the corridor towards them. Behind her, more towards Daisy and Albus’ cupboard, were Prattle and Filch, who was holding the aging Mrs Norris tightly in his arms. Prattle was trying the handle to the cupboard, but didn’t seem to be having much luck.

Stac and James tried very hard to pretend they did not exist. They tried not to breath, not to think, to deny their very existence. Most of all, they tried to convince the cat standing in front of them that there was nothing to see, here.

Eventually, the cat seemed to get the message and moved away. Grumbling loudly, Filch and his apprentice moved off, taking their cats with them.

Letting out the breaths that they’d been holding, James and Stac cautiously stepped out from under the cloak. Checking the corridor carefully and listening for any sound of the returning caretakers, they retraced their earlier steps back up the hallway towards the cupboard.

James was about to open the door when Stac stopped him with a hand on his arm. Going to the closet, she tapped lightly on the door.

‘They’ve gone,’ she called softly, just loud enough so that the two inside would hear, ‘we’re going back to the Heads’ rooms.’

As they started back towards the common room, James was still frowning.

‘What was that for?’ he asked in confusion.

Stac just smiled and shook her head.

‘Just in case.’

‘In case of what?’

‘Just…in case.’

Luckily for everyone involved, they made it back to the Head’s common room without any further mishaps. Even more luckily, Jaya had been able to find all the necessary ingredients, even the elusive dragon eggs.

‘You should see that place,’ she was telling Owen enthusiastically when James and Stac entered, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it! I didn’t even know what half the stuff in there was! We’ve never used it in class. I bet he’s buying all that stuff with the school’s money, saying it’s for the students, and then keeping it for himself.’

‘Did you get it all?’ Stac asked eagerly, and Jaya smiled.

‘Yep, all of it. We didn’t even need to worry about the eggs, he had, like, three different types!’

‘Well, that’s great, but what now?’ Sam remarked from his seat on the couch. He and Owen looked like they’d been there for some time, both settled comfortably in chairs.

‘Where did you both get to?’ James asked curiously, ‘Did you hide?’

‘Nah, mate, ran all the way back here. Did Al and Daisy make it out okay?’

‘They...found a spot,’ Stac demurred, trying to change the subject, but James jumped in.

‘They were in a cupboard! My brother, in a cupboard with a girl! An actual girl!’

Predictably, Sam let out a whoop of approval. Jaya rolled her eyes at their antics.

‘If we could get back to the important things? We’ve got all this stuff, where are we going to make the stupid thing?’

‘Classroom?’ Owen suggested, ‘It shouldn’t take very long.’

Stac shook her head.

‘Too risky. Even if we put a charm on the door, someone might come along, a Professor maybe. We’d never be able to explain it.’

‘How about…Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom?’ James asked, with the tone of one trying to suppress a smile.

Stac eyed him suspiciously.

‘Is this another thing from your parents?’

‘Might be.’

‘It’s a good idea, though,’ Jaya said thoughtfully, ‘no one ever goes there, not if they can avoid it. It could work.’

‘Alright, the bathroom, then. Who’s involved?’

‘Well, me, obviously,’ Stac replied in response to Owen’s question, ‘and Scorpius. He’s the only one who can get hold of the proof that it works.’

‘And me,’ Jaya added, ‘you’re going to need help.’

‘Me too,’ James said quietly.

Stac glanced at him, bighting her lip, and then shook her head.

‘No.’

‘What? What do you mean, no?’

‘I mean you’re not coming.’

‘Like hell I’m not! There’s no way you’re doing this without me!’

‘James, listen, I’m not arguing about this with you-’

‘No, you’re right, we’re not arguing. If Scorpius is there, so am I!’

Someone cleared their throat, loudly. Stac and James turned to see Sam, Owen and Jaya all rise as one and make for the door.

‘And where do you think you’re going?’ Stac demanded, twin flags of colour flying high in her cheeks.

‘Look, I think I speak for all of us when I say if you two are going to have a domestic, we’re out of here.’

‘Shut up, we’re not having a domestic!’

But the others were already out the door and didn’t hear James’ protests.

Alone now, the room silent around them, Stac sighed and sank onto the couch.

‘James, I’m not going to change my mind. I’m the one who’s read the recipe; I’m the one who knows what’s going to happen. It’s going to be hard enough without you there. This is something that I have to do, but it’s not going to be easy. Please don’t make it any harder.’

Her voice had become very soft. Looking at her, James was surprised to find she was close to tears. But when he reached for her, she flinched and moved away. Suddenly furious at his helplessness, James turned away, speaking through clenched teeth.

‘I just want to help. I want to be there for you.’

‘I know. But this is something I have to do alone.’

The she groaned and dropped her head forward, into her hands.

‘I hate how this always happens! Look at us – we don’t do anything but fight.’

‘It’s because it’s all we can do. For now.’

He sat on the arm of the couch directly opposite and tried to relax.

‘It’s just a few days. That’s all. We just have to stay sane for a few more days.’

Her soft scoff told him what she thought of that, and he privately agreed. Easier said than done.

Rising to his feet again, suddenly unable to remain in the room, he made for the door.

‘Don’t worry – I’ll stay out of your way. I won’t be a distraction.’

As he left the room, he realised that his promise may well have been more for his benefit than hers. It would do him the world of good to avoid her for a few days, even though it was going to be difficult. But being around her at the moment…?

It was more than even his nerves could handle.

 

 

 

 

 









A few days later, Jaya, Scorpius and Anastacia met in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Myrtle wasn’t actually there – Stac had bought off Peeves with a couple of rare fireworks and he was blissfully distracting Myrtle while they worked.

Laying out the ingredients around the heating cauldron, Anastacia wondered for the millionth time what on earth they were doing. Who was she to think she could break such a complex bit of magic. She didn’t know exactly what had gone into the making of her bracelet, but she knew that it had taken all of her father’s strongest Wizards to make it.

‘You know,’ Scorpius commented idly from the other side of the pot, ‘I’ll bet your father didn’t let any Witches work on that bracelet.’

‘Of course he didn’t. He wouldn’t. You know what he thinks of us.’

Scorpius’ grey eyes were reassuring. He could always tell what she was thinking.

‘Maybe that’s where he went wrong. Maybe that’s where we’ll go right.’

‘Let’s just get this done,’ Jaya said to the room at large. She breathed in and out deeply, ‘Do we all know what we’re doing?’

The other two nodded assent. The ingredients they needed were measured, prepared and waiting in small bowls around the cauldron. Because of the speed with which the first sequence of items needed to be added, and the spells that needed to be said after each, they had elected to split the ingredients up between them.

‘Okay, we only have one chance at this,’ Jaya continued, ‘so we have to do it properly. Ready?’

Scorpius and Anastacia took out their wands and picked up their bowls. Jaya reached for the hourglass on a stool nearby. It was marked with small lines in different colours – the sand reaching those lines would tell them when it was time to add each element.

‘Here we go.’

And Jaya flipped the hourglass over.

Immediately, Scorpius tossed the shredded wormwood into the bubbling water, then pointed his wand at the liquid and began to mutter. Anastacia, eyes on the hourglass, waited until the sand reached the first line, then added the lionfish spines. Carefully, she counted to five under her breath and then tipped in the powdered dragon eggs. Then she too began to whisper, her wand pointed at the murky potion taking form.

Jaya was poised with one bowl in each hand. At the appointed moment, she poured the brown-snake venom into the bowl containing the powdered Graphorn horn, careful not to spill any of the toxic fluid. Letting the two mix for only a few seconds, just enough that they began to smoke, she then added them to the cauldron.

Scorpius was still muttering, his eyes intent. Jaya and Stac picked up the final bowls, eyeing each other across the pot.

‘Ready?’ Stac asked. Jaya and Scorpius nodded.

‘One…two…THREE!’

Together, the girls pitched the hellebore and aconite into the mixture, then, as one, the three students dived out of the way, hitting the floor and covering their faces with their arms.

And not a moment too soon. For when the last two ingredients merged with the rest of the potion, there was a small explosion. A cloud of noxious looking steam and smoke rose from the surface of the cauldron to spread across the space where their faces had been only moments before.

After a moment, Scorpius tentatively raised his head.

‘It’s alright,’ he told the others, ‘it’s done.’

Sighing with relief, the girls too sat up. Now they could relax a little – they had time before they had to add the next elements.

‘Well, at least it didn’t explode completely,’ Jaya said with a nervous smile, ‘I mean, that’s got to be a good sign, right?’

Anastacia certainly hoped so. The trouble was, they had no idea what this potion was supposed to look like. The recipe hadn’t contained any information about that. So as far as appearances went, they were flying blind.

Looking again at the hourglass, Scorpius picked up the knife that had been lying near his knee and handed it to Jaya.

‘It’s time.’

Swallowing, Stac pulled a small bottle from her pocket and looked at it.

James’ blood. Earlier today, when Scorpius had told him about that part of the recipe, he hadn’t even blinked. Instead, he took the vial the blonde boy had offered and, as they watched, used his wand to open a line down his left palm. He’d filled the vial, corked it, and handed it over, easy as you please.

Stac had been horrified. She’d been frozen with shock while the blood dripped down his hand, and as soon as the bottle was full, had flown over and tried to work a healing on him. But James had stopped her.

‘It’s okay,’ he told her gently, hand on her shoulder, his touch muted by several layers of clothes, ‘I’ve got this.’

‘No, you don’t! Your healings always leave a scar!’

‘I know. It’s a reminder.’

He laughed at the sceptical look on her face.

‘Not for me! For you, you little idiot.’

‘A reminder of what?’

‘What you’re worth.’

The moment stretched, and behind them, Scorpius shifted uncomfortably.

‘Go on, then. Get out of here.’

Shaking herself out of the remembrance, Anastacia uncorked the bottle.

Grimacing slightly, Jaya cut the tip of her finger with the small knife and held her hand over the cauldron. The potion hissed as the first drops of blood hit the surface, and it began to turn a murky purple colour. Across from her, Stac emptied the vial of James’ blood into the cauldron. That done, she picked up the stirring stick and began to stir the potion, twelve times, in a counter-clockwise direction.

The potion began to bubble and froth, graduating from purple to a dark, sinister-looking blue. Stac took Jaya’s proffered knife. However, instead of cutting her finger, as her friend had done, she opened a painful-looking gash down her left hand. Since the spell had been constructed with her blood in the first place, they were going to need a far bit of it in the breaking.

Stac held her hand over the bubbling pot, watching as the blood dropped down and hit the liquid within. This time, the potion didn’t change colour, but the surface took on an oily sheen that was almost iridescent. Taking out her wand, she muttered a spell and the cut on her hand began to heal.

Now came the hardest part of all. Looking down at the steaming and hissing potion, Stac took in and let out a deep breath. Her sleeves were rolled up in readiness, the potion was complete. There was only one thing left to do.

‘Scorpius…I think you’d better leave.’

The blonde boy frowned.

‘I can handle it, Nast.’

‘No. I don’t think you can. And besides, even if you can, I can’t. This isn’t going to be pleasant, and you can’t do anything about it. You watching is only going to make it worse.’

‘Nast–’

‘Please.’

With a deeper frown, Scorpius rose and left the room.

Jaya eyed her friend meditatively.

‘Do you want me to go, too?’

Slowly, Stac shook her head.

‘I think you’re removed enough to cope. Scorp...and James...they don’t really know what all this involves. If they saw what’s going to happen, they’d make me stop. They wouldn’t care that it’s necessary. They just wouldn’t want to see me in pain. That’s why I wouldn’t let James come. My own pain I can handle. His...not so much.’

‘Are you alright?’

Stac reached out a faltering hand. They didn’t have much time. But there had to be another way to do this, surely. She couldn’t do it, she just couldn’t…

James’ face rose, unbidden, in her mind. She thought of all the things he had to endure, all the sacrifices he’d had to make, and had made, and she knew she could too. Could and would.

‘Fine,’ she replied, and plunged her hand deep into the cauldron.

The boiling liquid covered her arm up to the elbow, and it was boiling; she could feel the skin on her arm blistering and burning. Biting her lip to keep from screaming, she grasped her upper arm with her other hand, forcing herself to keep her hand and wrist submerged. Great beads of sweat stood out on her forehead and blood filled her mouth as she bit completely through her lower lip.

Jaya watched in growing fear as Stac fought her every instinct in order to keep her hand in the cauldron. As much as Jaya wanted to go to her friend, to help her, she knew there was nothing she could do. This was something Stac had to face alone, and it had to be faced in order for the potion to work. All she could do was clench her hands into tight fists and try to remain in place.

As they both looked on, the water began to bubble less and less, turning from dark blue to bright, crimson red.

The colour of fresh blood.

Finally, the water was still. Every part of her shaking, Stac removed her red, blistered hand from the cauldron. Jaya was there instantly to mutter a healing spell, but it didn’t remove all the pain. There was a deep burning, deep down, right down to her bones, it felt, that wouldn’t go away. Also, the line down the middle of her hand, where she had cut herself, had turned a bright, angry crimson.

‘Did it work?’ Stac whispered at last.

In reply, Jaya stood and went to the door, letting Scorpius back inside. In one hand, he held the parchment ready. Sitting back down, he nodded to Jaya.

‘Umm…’ Jaya looked uncertain, ‘what should I do?’

‘Touch her face,’ Scorpius replied, looking at the parchment.

Jaya, feeling more than a little silly, reached out and laid her hand against her friend’s cheek. Really, if the situation hadn’t been so serious, it would have been positively comical. As it was, none of them were laughing.

‘Nothing,’ Scorpius told them, his voice beginning to sound hopeful, ‘it doesn’t register.’

‘Hold my arm,’ Stac told her friend eagerly, ‘just keep hold.’

Jaya did, and after a tense twenty seconds or so, Scorpius looked up at the two girls triumphantly.

‘It only registered the contact for a few seconds, then nothing.’

He grinned.

‘It’s broken.’

‘We did it,’ Stac breathed in awe, ‘we broke a blood magic spell. In a girl’s bathroom.’

‘Yes, we did it,’ Jaya reminded her with a gentle smile, ‘so why are you still here?’

For a moment, Stac looked blank, as if she couldn’t understand what the other girl was saying. Then her face lit up, brighter than Jaya had ever seen it. In one smooth movement, she was on her feet, in another, she was out the door.

‘Well,’ Jaya remarked mildly, ‘I guess we won’t be seeing her for a while.’
 

 

 

 

 








James was sitting in front of the window in the Heads’ common room. He was studiously making note of everything he could see out the window; observing the way the snow clung to the trees of the forbidden forest, noting the patterns the frost had displayed on the glass of the window, paying particular attention to the outcome of the snowball fight being fought on the grounds beneath him.

In all honesty, he was trying desperately to prevent himself from pacing. He didn’t want to pace anymore – he’d spent the whole morning walking back and forth in front of the fireplace and it was beginning to drive him crazy. At one point, he’d stopped and given himself a mental and physical shake. He never paced. When did he turn into someone who paced?

The day he started dating Stac, that’s when. Or maybe even before. Because that’s when he’d started caring for something so much that pacing seemed like a good option.

In an effort to stop, he’d gone to the window, where he was currently standing. But he didn’t know how much more of this waiting he could take. Pretty soon he wasn’t going to be able to stop himself from rushing off to the bathroom, just to see what was happening. Even if the result was a bad one, he’d rather know than be here, waiting with no information.

As he was focusing his attention on the scene outside once more, he heard the sound of running feet coming from the corridor outside. He turned around just in time to see the door to the common room fly open.

Stac was staring at him, panting, her cheeks flushed from her run through the castle. Her hair was a frizzy halo around her head, courtesy of the steam from the potion, her clothes were askew, there were smudges of ingredients on her face, and her arm still bore the faint marks of being plunged into a cauldron of boiling potion.

But she was smiling, the widest, most joyful and hope-filled smile James had ever seen, and he’d never seen anyone so beautiful.

Barely pausing to slam the door behind her, Stac took two steps into the room and flung herself into James’ outstretched arms. He caught her in the strong, sure grip of a born Chaser, pulling her so close and holding her so tight that she thought she would pop. Her feet weren’t touching the ground. For a moment he simply held her, his face buried in her hair, and then he was kissing her, or she was kissing him; she didn’t care which, and it didn’t matter.

James’ arms were around her waist, holding her upright, a fact for which Stac was very grateful – her legs felt like over-cooked noodles and she didn’t think she’d be able to stand on her own. She certainly couldn’t think, couldn’t form any thought at all, could only get caught up in the feelings rushing through her and try not to let them sweep her away. As close as James was holding her, after weeks of separation it didn’t seem to be enough – she wanted to be closer. Twining her arms around his neck in an effort to do just that, she pressed her body against him, fingers spearing through his hair.

She smelt of strange potion ingredients, of scorched fabric and smoke. But under it all, James could still smell her, that fragrance that to him was Stac. Maybe it was her hair, her perfume…he didn’t know. Didn’t care. He was shockingly aware of how frail she was in his arms – he’d thought she wasn’t eating properly lately – and had tried to ease back so that he didn’t hurt her. But she had protested most vehemently, pulling him back and holding tight. Then one of her small hands had drifted down to his cheek, framing his face, and his knees nearly buckled.

Pulling his head back a few inches, he stared down at her, his breathing decidedly uneven.

‘You did it?’

Stac smiled brilliantly, her own breath as ragged as his.

‘We did it.’

He pulled her head back to his and kissed her roughly, fiercely, as if he needed reassurance that he could. Stac was kissing him back just as ardently when he pulled away again.

‘What?’ she grumbled, trying to force his head back to hers, but he wouldn’t be moved.

‘What was that? Did you hear that?’

Stac listened, and, sure enough, there was the sound of someone walking past outside.

‘Did you lock the door?’ James whispered.

She raised her eyebrows. He nodded.

‘Sorry, stupid question. My mind was on other things, too. Hang on.’

Not letting her go, he fished his wand out of his pocket with one hand and locked the door, putting a silencing charm on the room for good measuring. Tossing his wand on one of the tables, he pulled Stac down to sit beside him on the sofa.

‘Now that’s taken care of–’

But he didn’t have the chance to say anything else. She simply wouldn’t let him.
 

 

 

 

 







 


Okay, first of all, I need to apologise for taking so long to write/put this up! I'm so sorry! You know how life has a tendancy to get in the way of good stuff? How much does that suck??
Anyway, hopefully this nice long update will somewhat make it up to you, and I'll just try to get the next one out as soon as I can.
And, on a little side note, I can tell you that the end is now in sight! This was never going to be a fic that dragged on and on forever. In fact, if my calculations are correct, we are about 10 chapters away from D-Day...give or take a few, depending on how the muse takes me... So hang in there!

Well, I think that's it for now, lovelies! Hope you're all safe and well!
Ta!
 
 
 

 
 
 


Chapter 26: Many Happy Returns *
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

For everyone who is still here riding this storm with me....







Gorgeous image by lilscratchy at TDA!



Many Happy Returns *






Bubbly – Colbie Caillat

‘And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.
It’s the life in your years.’

Abraham Lincoln




 

 





 











‘So…you know what next week is, right?’

James and Stac were curled up comfortably on the sofa in the Heads’ common room, where late evening usually found them these days. Stac still found their very being on that sofa together miraculous. To think that less than a month ago, this was all just a distant dream, the best of imaginings, but unreal nonetheless. And now it was real.

‘Hmm…next week…let me see…’

She was trying to concentrate, she really was, but that was easier said than done.

‘James, stop it! Prat!’

Especially when she was being tickled…and quite mercilessly at that.

‘Birthday!’ she finally managed to gasp out, ‘It’s my birthday!’

Giving him a final swat for good measure, Stac half-clambered, half-fell off the sofa and dashed to the other side of the room.

‘It’s my birthday, I remember now, leave me alone!’

James hadn’t made a move from his comfortable position, so Stac felt safe enough to creep back over and hesitantly drop into one of the armchairs near the fire.

‘So…’

He didn’t reply, so Stac probed deeper.

‘Have we got anything planned? Should I start worrying about putting something together?’

‘I don’t think you need to worry about it at all,’ James replied, stretching luxuriously and running a hand through his hair, ‘I have a funny feeling it’s pretty much in hand already.’

Far from making Stac feel better, this only turned her worry meter up a notch. She loved her friends, of course she did…but the thought of them planning some big event without her restraint or calming influence? Only a fool wouldn’t be concerned.

‘Don’t stress so much,’ James said easily, reading it on her face, ‘Rose is in charge of most of it.’

Well, that made her feel better, at least. Rose was a fine substitute as a voice of reason.

She hoped.

‘So, do I get to know anything at all?’ Stac wheedled, moving back to the sofa and slowly sliding back into James’ open arms. But if she was hoping that her proximity would coerce James into telling her something, she was very much mistaken.

Jem, tell me, ple– stop that, tell me what they’re planning…Jem…stop it, that tick– James!

The incorrigible boy looked up from where he was kissing her neck at the sound of her shriek.

‘That was a bit shrill, don’t you think?’ he asked mildly.

Anastacia humphed, her face flushed and her hair escaping wildly from its braid. She would have tried to regain her dignity by brushing the hair off her face at least, but both her hands were being held tightly in one of James’ significantly larger paws, so that wasn’t an option.

So she settled for a glare, levelling it squarely at the innocent looking boy who had somehow manoeuvred himself underneath her.

‘You’re not going to tell me anything, are you?’

Smiling like a cat next to an empty birdcage, James slowly shook his head. Stac let out a frustrated sigh.

‘Well, let me go, then. If you’re not going to tell me, I may as well go and get some study done. Then this weekend won’t be a complete waste.’

‘Study? Exams aren’t until July, Stac.’

‘So?’

‘It’s January!’

‘Exactly!’

Stac tried to tug her hands free, but James wasn’t giving in.

‘I have an idea of something else that we could do. Something that doesn’t involve study.’

Stac raised her gaze to James’ face once more, only to find that his smile had become rather more wolf than cat. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she caught his drift.

‘James…’

But in the end, she gave in and decided to follow his idea. He could be very persuasive when he wanted to.

It looked like the weekend was going to be a complete write-off, after all.

 

 

Birthdays were a big thing in James’ extended family. This had taken some getting used to for Stac. In her family, no one really cared about the day that she was born. It wasn’t as if she was a boy and could be called a real heir, after all. Her Father’s birthday, of course, was celebrated in great and grand style, with noble witches and wizards coming from all over the world to pay tribute to him in the hope that he wouldn’t try to take their land or wealth. But no one cared about the girl.

But James had grown up celebrating birthdays in quite a different way. In his family, such celebrations were almost an art form and followed a set of rather strict rules. The birthday person was to be woken in the morning with their favourite breakfast in bed. While eating, they were presented with the gifts from their immediate family and serenaded in loud, embarrassing, out-of-tune voices. At least, James claimed that this singing was part of the rules. An important part of the rules, according to him. Stac had her own reservations about the truth of that.

Then, during the day, all the extended family would come over to help prepare for the evening. That night, the birthday person’s friends would also come over and there would be a massive party with heaps of food, presents, music, and games. Yes, games, whether it was a party for a 5-year-old or a 50-year-old. Again, this seemed to be a very important part of the whole deal, and Stac had learned long ago not to question it.

Birthdays at Hogwarts necessitated some changes, of course, but not many. Stac had still been woken on the 28th of January for the past five years by all her friends, male and female, crowding into her dormitory, bringing food and showering her with gifts. And food – Sam at an early age was easily excitable and had a tendency to throw whatever was closest to hand. It had taken all of a month in second year for him and James to figure out all they needed to get into the girls’ dormitories was a couple of broomsticks. And it only took them that long because they’d never needed to think about it before. After that realisation, literally nowhere was safe from them.

But this year was going to prove too much of a challenge, even for them. Boys being in the Head Girl’s bedroom was a physical and magical impossibility, and as much as they would have liked to continue the tradition themselves, the girls of the Potter-Weasley clan and Stac’s female friends decided it wouldn’t do for her guards to see a group of them filing in, free as you please.

So it was Celeste who woke Anastacia this year. As luck would have it, it was a Saturday, so she’d even been able to have a lie-in, and there’d be another one tomorrow, after the party. Celeste had brought freshly-baked rolls and proper hot chocolate, and the two girls talked comfortably as they ate.

Celeste was always wonderful, and Anastacia had been neglecting her shamefully in recent weeks, what with all the chaos surrounding the bracelet and her new relationship. It was surprisingly relaxing to be able to sit and talk with her, without any other interruptions.

Breakfast done, Stac dressed, allowed Celeste a brief moment to check her over, and then sped off to Gryffindor Tower. As far as she knew, none of her guards were even aware that today was different to any other day. If her luck held, it would stay that way.

Upon entering the Gryffindor common room, Stac expected…something. Something loud, certainly, and probably tinged with a touch of illegal activity, but definitely something.

What greeted her was…nothing.

No one.

Rien.

No, wait – there was a sign!

Attached to the staircase that led up to the girls’ dormitories was a sign reading, UP HERE!

Bemused, Stac followed the stairs, encouraged onwards by further signs at intervals saying things like, THIS WAY!, KEEP GOING!, and HURRY UP!.

There was a final sign on the door of the seventh year girls’ dormitory, and Stac took a moment to brace herself and get her ‘surprised face’ in place before she entered. Although she didn’t know how they expected her to be surprised. They hadn’t exactly been subtle about what was going on. Briefly, she wondered about the other two girls in their year that weren’t part of their friendship group. Poor things, being woken up relatively early on a Saturday morning. Maybe they’d just decided to spend the previous night somewhere else.

So, as Stac opened the door, she was fully expecting everyone to jump out at her with loud yells and fireworks.

But, again, there was nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. In the middle of the room, with a big smile, was Nilla, one of the head Hogwarts house elves. Stac stopped in front of her, now quite sure of what to do.

‘Nilla…this is a…surprise…’

The house elf, all two and a half feet of her, beamed up at Stac.

‘Yes, miss, it is a surprise! A surprise for you!’ she squeaked happily.

‘Uh..If you say so…’ Stac ventured, not sure what to make of the situation.

‘If you would give Nilla your hand, miss.’

‘Sorry, what?’

‘Your hand, miss,’ the house elf stressed, holding out her own little palm in invitation. Stac, after a brief moment of hesitation, took the hand offered to her, tensing slightly in anticipation.

There was a brief moment of nothing where she felt incredibly silly and nearly asked again what was going on. Then, suddenly, there was a wrenching sensation that started in her stomach and made its way outwards to the rest of her body. It felt like she was being torn in a dozen directions and the only stable thing that was anchoring her to reality was that tiny little hand in her own. So she held on to Nilla with all her strength.

*

Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the horrid sensation was over. She was no longer holding Nilla’s hand, but was clasped in a strong, warm and familiar set of arms, held tight against a strong, warm and very familiar chest.

‘Breathe, breathe, you’re alright,’ someone said against her hair.

Or at least, she thought they said that. The chest under her ear was rumbling with the words and she was having a hard time understanding what was going on.

When her head had stopped spinning enough that she felt it was safe to take stock of her surroundings, Stac hesitantly opened her eyes.

James’ warm hazel peered down at her concernedly.

‘Feeling better?’ he murmured, not yet letting her go.

‘Did…did I just side-along apparate with a…a house elf?’ Stac choked out disbelievingly. She’d never heard of such a thing, not ever! Trust James to come up with such a bizarre way of getting around the whole ‘no apparating or disapparating in Hogwarts’ thing. Because it would have been him, surely – no one else would have ever dreamed up, let alone considered such an insane idea.

Sure enough, when he was sure she was okay, James’ face broke into a grin.

‘Brilliant idea, hey? Getting the house elves to do the apparating for us.’

Brilliant might not have been the word she used for it. Painful, yes, insane, definitely, but brilliant? She was going to have to think about that one.

Shaking it off, Stac stepped out of the circle of his arms to look around her.

And nearly ran back into his arms again.

‘Is…is that the…sea?’

As far as she could see, there was water, shining and sparkling under the early morning sun. They were standing on grass at the moment, but just ahead of them, Stac could see glistening white sand. The water was a clear blue and foamed white where it met the shore. A large open-sided tent had been set up on the grass off to their right a few metres, and Stac could see her friends, already in summer clothes and bathing suits, splashing through the water and lying on towels on the sand.

‘James…where are we?’

‘Australia! Isn’t it brilliant?’

There was that word again. But Stac almost didn’t hear, so busy was she focusing on the other word that he’d said.

Australia! Are you out of your mind?’

‘Lord Howe Island, to be exact,’ came a voice from behind them.

Stac spun around and came face to face with a grinning Owen.

‘Owen! I can’t believe you would let them get away with this! How could you?’

‘Of course he could! It was all his idea in the first place, wasn’t it, mate?’ said James easily, slinging an arm over Stac’s shoulders.

‘Owen!’

The other boy didn’t look ashamed in the slightest.

‘And it was his idea to use the house elves, but I’m sure he told you that. I’ve just got to say, mate,’ Owen continued, a look of deep respect coming over his face, ‘that really was a brilliant idea.’

James nudged Stac.

‘Told you.’

‘Okay, you two, that’s enough. Why don’t you go get us something to drink and let the poor girl get changed?’

Jaya and Margie spent a moment or two shooing the boys away, especially James, who was somewhat reluctant to leave but was persuaded with the prospect of Stac in a bathing suit. Then her friends took Stac off to a secluded corner of the beach and another, smaller, tent which, thankfully, had sides.

‘But I don’t even own a bathing suit,’ Stac protested as they bustled her inside the tent.

‘We brought one for you!’ Margie announced happily, tossing a few scraps of material in the opening. Then, she waited, holding up fingers for Jaya to see as she counted the seconds.

One – two – three –

There was a muffled shriek from inside the little tent, followed immediately by Stac’s head poking out of the opening, an incredulous expression on her face.

‘You can not seriously expect me to wear this! There’s hardly anything to it!’

‘Hmm, do you think that’s why James picked it out?’ Jaya asked with mock seriousness.

Margie had her hand in front of her mouth and was trying desperately to stave off one of her giggling fits. Taking another look at Stac’s face, she lost the fight completely and collapsed into a twitching pile on the sand.

Jaya, meanwhile, took pity on her poor friend and held out a slightly more substantial two-piece.

‘Here. This is the one we really brought for you. We just weren’t going to say anything if you didn’t mention it first. Margie owes me two sickles. She said you’d be brave enough to go out in the other one.’

‘Yeah, thanks for nothing,’ the other girl sat up, suddenly serious, ‘you could have at least tried it on.’

‘Enough!’ came a wail from inside the tent, ‘It’s my birthday! Leave me alone!’

 

Once she was properly attired, although she still felt horribly naked and exposed having been in winter-bound Scotland less than an hour before, Stac was allowed out of the tent. Now, however, she was blindfolded and led along the path by Margie and Jaya, presumably back to the spot where she’d arrived.

When they drew closer to the sound of the waves, Stac could hear whispering, muffled giggles and lots of shushing. But nothing could have prepared her for when the blindfold came off.

‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY!’

The tent in front of her was full of her friends and tables groaning with food and drink. Fresh flowers covered every leftover space and were scattered on the grass and sand. Behind it all, the most perfect stretch of beach beckoned, empty and waiting. Picnic rugs, towels, folding chairs and huge umbrellas were arranged in little groups, and there was a pile of balls and broomsticks waiting off to one side.

Stac’s chin trembled, and she raised her fingers to her mouth to try and hide it. But James saw it, and he rolled his eyes teasingly as he pulled her tightly against his side.

‘Woman! Don’t go and spoil it all by crying!’

‘You’re all mad,’ Stac informed the group at large when she had her emotions under control once more, ‘what on earth possessed you?’

Sam shrugged.

‘James said you wanted to see the ocean.’

‘Well, yes, but…Australia? Does anyone know we’re here? What if the Headmaster goes looking for us, or–’

James wrapped a large hand over her mouth as everyone else laughed.

‘Can you not be Head Girl? Just for one day?’ he pleaded.

One day couldn’t hurt, surely.

And what a day! Stac did see the ocean; saw it, swam in it, ran screaming out of it when Sam gravely informed her he’d seen a shark. She played in the sand like a child and built sandcastles. In fact, she grew quite serious about the whole business of building sandcastles, and threatened to jinx people who, as she described it, ‘walked too heavily’ nearby.

They ran races on the beach, beginning with serious, timed matches and descending into silly, made-up categories. The boys were constantly being handicapped, culminating in a race where Sam and James were tied together back-to-back and began half a mile and half a minute behind Jaya and Stac.

And they still managed to win.

Then they had mock battles in the shallows, with one person on the shoulders of another. Most of the girls, Stac included, refused to participate in these matches, but Fred and Dom proved to be a brutal and unbeatable team.

All this was interspersed by frequent trips back to the shore for food and long moments of relaxation on the sand, soaking up the warm sun. Rose was conspicuously absent, but when Stac asked after her, she was met with silence or the information that Rose was busy.

She didn’t know what scared her more – the thought that all this had been organised without Rose or that this wasn’t the thing that Rose had spent the last week preparing.

All day, Owen, in his usual responsible manner, trotted around from group to group checking that everyone was covered in Muggle sunscreen.

‘You’d think we’d have a charm for this by now,’ Sam complained after Owen forced him to reapply the sticky cream.

Owen just shrugged.

‘Probably do. The Australian wizards would, at least. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that. We just wouldn’t ever need to know it, living where we do.’

‘Exactly,’ Jaya chimed in drily, ‘it’s probably the first thing you get taught at school here. They learn charms to stop sunburn, we learn charms to keep the rain off.’

Around midday, everyone gathered near the tent again, this time to give Stac the gifts they’d brought along.

Margie and Jaya had stayed true to form and bought her a beautiful red dress. Sam and Terry had obviously been dragged along on the same shopping trip and told exactly what to buy, as their presents were a pair of coordinating shoes and a nice jacket. There was also jewellery, books, new quills and ink, perfume, lots and lots of chocolate, and other sundry items, the smallest of which was more that Stac had ever received for her birthday from her own parents.

James’ present, when everyone else had dispersed back into the water and the two of them were sitting on a rug under a shady tree, was a kiss precisely on the end of her nose and a raised eyebrow.

Resisting the urge to swat him, because sometimes she felt that was all she ever did, Stac smiled up at him.

‘This has been the best day ever. Thank you.’

James didn’t even roll his eyes at her sentimentality.

‘It’s not over yet.’

He had a point.

‘Well, then, I can think of something we should be doing.’

She leaned in closer towards him, and, like clockwork, he mirrored her movements. But at the last second, Stac jumped to her feet, leaving James trying to catch himself before he fell face-first onto the rug.

‘Last one in the water likes Moaning Myrtle!’

 








Nilla and a dozen or so other house elves returned to fetch them a few hours after noon. The trip back was just as horrid as it had been before, but at lease Stac knew what to expect this time. Back at the castle, there was just enough time to get for a basic clean up before running down to make an appearance at dinner. If the Headmaster or any of the other teachers noticed the vague hints of sunburn here and there or the faint whiff of saltwater coming from some of the boys who hadn’t yet showered, they didn’t mention anything.

Stac’s anticipation, which had been rising since the meal had begun, only grew higher when Margie and Jaya casually informed her that they would be accompanying her back to her room, to ‘help her get ready’. This was apparently code for ‘lots of faffing about with makeup, lots of laughing and a fair few jokes at our boyfriends’ expense’.

‘Oh, I knew that was going to look great on you! See, Margie, look at her! And you didn’t believe me!’

‘Alright, okay, I bow to your superior fashion wisdom, oh wise one!’

‘She wanted to buy the blue one.’

‘Stac looks good in blue!’

‘See? Crazy.’

‘But I do look good in blue! I like blue!’

‘Barking, both of you.’

Stac had to admit, it was a very nice dress. Not one that she would have usually chosen for herself, but…who was she kidding? When was the last time she’d chosen a dress for herself, other than the Yule Ball? Nearly everything she owned was chosen by someone else.

‘One day, Jaya,’ she mused quietly as she smoothed the dress down her thighs, ‘you are going to have to teach me to shop.’

An ecstatic sigh had both Margie and Stac turning around curiously. Jaya sat gazing at her friend, her face beatific.

‘Darling…I thought you’d never ask.’

The red dress was possibly the shortest thing Stac had ever worn, excluding the bikini at the beach that morning. It reached to about mid thigh and had a scooped neckline and long sleeves. It was also definitely the tightest thing Stac had ever worn, which wasn’t saying much considering her wardrobe consisted mainly of robes and capes, but still. It was a little…unsettling.

‘Are you sure it’s appropriate?’ Stac asked for the tenth time, ‘Not that I don’t love it, I do! But it’s a bit…different.’

Margie turned her eyes to the heavens, and then looked back at her friend.

‘Stac, it’s got sleeves and you’re wearing tights underneath. You’re practically a nun.’

‘What’s a nun?’

Jaya, wanting to stop any sort of questioning before it got out of hand, changed the subject.

‘So, how have things been between you and James? You know, since…’

Since I broke the blood-spell that enabled my crazy father and his mad friends to spy on my every move? Since then?

‘It’s been…I don’t know…’ Stac tried to explain with a smile, ‘I mean, for you, I guess it would be normal, now, how we are. For me, it’s anything but. But…I like it.’

Jaya nodded, her expression not really one of satisfaction.

‘That’s…good. It’s nice, you know, seeing the two of you together and stuff.’

There was silence as Margie and Stac exchanged a glance. Neither of them could follow whatever it was Jaya was getting at.

‘I’m just asking, cause…you know, I was wondering if you two, now that you’re, you know, so close and all, if now you –’

‘Jaya Sarin, bite your tongue!’

Margie’s voice a loud, slightly shocked and not as joking as she probably intended it to be.

‘I know what you’re going to ask, and don’t you even think about it! What are you doing, trying to shock poor little innocent Stac?’

Jaya started to say something in reply, but Margie bundled her off the bed and towards the door before she could get it out. Stac watched them go, not sure that she wanted to ask what was going on.

‘Sorry about that, we seem to have overstayed our welcome! Your escort should be here any minute. See you later!’

The door closed behind them, and Stac sat slowly down on her now vacant bed. Why was Jaya so interested in her relationship with James all of a sudden? Surely it was old enough to no longer be a novelty. Shaking her head, she put the whole incident out of her mind and stood to compulsively check her clothes once more.

Luckily, James arrived before she could talk herself out of wearing the beautiful red dress. Stac grabbed the jacket that was her other present and went to the huge windows that lined one side of the room.

Opening the window as wide as it would go, Stac stepped up on the low ledge and took James’ proffered hand. With his help she manoeuvred herself onto the broomstick in front of him.

‘There has to be an easier way to do this.’

James pulled her closer and wrapped his cloak around them both.

‘Yeah, but this way is more fun.’

He gave the window a push to close it, and they sped off towards Hogsmeade and the Three Broomsticks.

 

The Weasleys and Potters had been holding their birthday parties at the Three Broomsticks for the past few years. Strangely enough, it hadn’t been James’ idea. In their first year, Tessie had decided to throw a party for Lily, and being a bright little thing had organised all the arrangements and spellwork by herself. The party was such a success that Lily’s family, namely her older cousins, had talked Tessie into making such events a more central part of the family birthday celebrations.

So now, when there was a birthday coming up, Tessie would put down lots of Darkening spells and Imperturbable charms so that the neighbours wouldn’t know what was going on. Then, on the night of the party, she would make sure her parents were asleep and give the all clear, at which point the students would sneak out of their dormitories on broomsticks and head over to Hogsmeade.

Tessie was a remarkably capable witch to begin with, and the amount of practice that she’d accrued for these particular spells over the years meant that she was now very, very good at what she did. The Three Broomsticks didn’t look inhabited. There was no light showing through the windows or under the door. But when that door was opened…

The music assaulted Stac’s ears, making her want to clap her hands to the sides of her head, but the beat already had her body moving of its own accord. All around, people were dancing, laughing, singing along to whatever song came on, and generally having a great time.

Floating candles provided most of the light, from large ones over the dance floor in the centre of the room, to tiny little ones dotting the outer edges. The overall effect was a dimly-lit, almost mystical space that felt more starry-woodland-clearing than interior-of-a-pub. There were even trees and bushes growing here and there, adding to the general theme, as well as providing convenient places for couples to seek some privacy during the proceedings. Sam and Jaya could already be seen scoping out those convenient places for future reference.

Away from the dance floor, giant mushrooms served as tables, while smaller ones provided seating. Grass covered the floor, and some people were sitting on picnic rugs, chatting away as comfortably as if they weren’t in a room with trees growing from the wooden floor.

All this, Stac took in during the few seconds that she stood on the threshold. Then James was pulling her hand, laughing, and tugging her onto the dance floor. Everyone else in the room had turned to see them arrive, and Stac soon found herself separated from James as she received hug after tight hug from all her friends.

‘This place looks amazing!’ she managed to gasp as she surfaced from Dom’s arms to find Rose, beaming, in front of her, ‘You’re a magician.’

Rose’s grin grew wider.

‘I wish I could take all the credit, I do, but I was only a liaison. Someone else was in charge of decorating.’

The redhead pointed to someone over Stac’s shoulder, and she turned around to see Scorpius and…Celeste?

The younger Slytherin’s face was carefully blank, so clearly she wasn’t exactly comfortable with her surroundings, but she summoned a smile when met with Stac’s astonished gaze.

‘Celeste? But…how?’

‘Rose realised she was in over her head,’ Scorpius provided smoothly, his hand resting, almost negligently, on the younger girl’s back, ‘so we asked Celeste if she would mind helping out. She has such a knack for these things, after all.’

In spite of his studied calm, his message was broadcast loud and clear to all the others around them – Celeste was to be left alone, not heckled, not ribbed, nothing. Anastacia saw it, recognised it, and did her bit to cement the message. Stepping closer, she drew Celeste into a tight hug.

The younger girl gradually relaxed under Anastacia’s arms, and when they drew apart, she was smiling faintly.

‘I’m not going to pretend it was easy, because it wasn’t,’ she commented drily in French, ‘and I don’t think they were very happy with my involvement to begin with.’

‘But we’re very grateful now,’ Dom concluded in the same language, drawing level with the two girls, ‘and if we’d known you could make this place look so good, we would have asked for your help years ago.’

She handed the surprised Celeste a drink and linked their arms.

‘Mind if I steal her?’ she asked Stac, in English now, ‘Fred has been ogling her all night. I’m anticipating a lot of fun making him squirm.’

She turned to Celeste.

‘That is, if you don’t mind?’

Celeste ran a careful hand over her hair, checked the front of her dress, and gently bit her lower lip so that it reddened. Then she met Dom’s gaze with a glowing smile.

‘Mind? Just point me in the right direction!’

Scorpius stood next to a bemused Anastacia as they watched the two girls walk away.

‘I feel like the world has gone all…upside-down, somehow.’

‘Tell me about it,’ Scorpius replied feelingly, ‘you’ve only just got here. I’ve been trying to deal with this all week.’

Neither voiced what both of them clearly knew. For Rose to have trouble organising anything was out of the question, even if the end product might not be as ornate as Celeste’s. So there had to be another reason that the Slytherin girl had been brought on board, and the most likely one was that Scorpius and Rose thought it was time that James’ family got used to her.

Which meant that they saw James and Stac’s relationship lasting for an extended period of time.

Stac slipped an arm around Scorpius’ waist and felt his arm tighten on her shoulder in response.

‘Thanks. To both of you.’

He knew. She didn’t have to say it, but she said it anyway.

‘Hey! There is one person in this room that is allowed hands on the birthday girl, and that is me!’

James appeared in front of them, mock-glaring and tugging an eye-rolling Rose behind him. Anastacia and Scorpius laughed, but Stac noticed that Scorpius was quick to let her go.

‘If you’re trying to set up a hands-off policy, I think you’re a bit late,’ Stac started with a laugh, but James had picked her up and was bodily carrying her back to the dance floor before she could get anything else out.

‘James Potter! Put me down!’

‘Will in a moment.’

‘You’re not a bloody caveman! Put me down this instant!’

There was a loud, long-suffering sigh, and Stac found herself being deposited on the edge of the crowd of dancers.

‘What was that for?’

James gave her his best innocent look, complete with puppy-dog eyes and quivering lower lip.

‘I wanted to dance with you?’

Stac, of course, melted in the face of such an insurmountable attack, and a few seconds later they were in the thick of the throng, dancing with the best of them.

The rest of the evening passed at high speed, as all enjoyable times have a tendency to do, but there was no shortage of memorable moments that would be enjoyed again and again for years to come.

Terry dancing like a demented grasshopper while Margie looked on, consumed with helpless giggles.

Fred rendered momentarily speechless in the face of Celeste’s smile, unable to do anything but stare at her.

Albus and Daisy emerging from the shrubbery at the edge of the room, Albus very pink around the ears and Daisy with a demure yet quietly self-satisfied expression.

Sam’s cocktail inventions that grew more inventive and more vividly coloured as the night wore on, and Jaya’s self-imposed challenge to sample every single one of them.

Tessa, Lily and Hugo dancing hand-in-hand on the edge of the floor, and the dawning realisation that came to Stac when she saw the way the young Weasley looked at the young Longbottom.

Yet another realisation, although not quite so dawning, when Rose and Scorpius, dancing happily next to each other a moment ago, turned bright red and seemed at a loss of what to do when a slow song suddenly started to play.

Louis fast asleep under one of the tables, while Dom drew an interesting assortment of pictures on his face and Molly made colourful patterns in his hair.

And James, dancing like a fool with Owen and Josh while, downing shot for shot with Sam, glaring good-naturedly at Scorpius, thanking Celeste for all her hard work in the most gentlemanly manner and remembering her name, and all the while keeping Stac’s hand firmly in his own.

They had danced, they had played some very, very silly games, and they’d all eaten far too much food, and Stac was just wondering what else could possibly happen, when–

‘Presents!’ a small voice piped up.

Tessie was standing on one of the big mushroom tables so that she could see above the crowd. Stac frowned up at her.

‘But you’ve all already given me presents, this morning.’

‘Maybe we should say, present,’ Albus corrected, coming forward with a box, ‘singular. There’s one more we didn’t give you this morning.’

‘And cake!’ Tessie continued. She, Lily and Hugo were all as high as kites from all the sugar they’d eaten.

‘There’s cake too, there’s cake! Cake, cake, cake, I love cake!’

Stac looked at Sam suspiciously, to see if he’d been slipping drinks to the younger ones, but he shook his head with his most virtuous expression.

‘Here,’ Albus continued, offering the small box to Stac, ‘this is just a little thing, from all of us.’

Stac dubiously took the box and opened the lid. Inside, nestled on a bed of soft cotton, was a small golden vial. She didn’t need Albus’s explanation to guess what it was.

‘It’s Felix Felicis. There’s about enough in there for a good couple of weeks, if you use it wisely.’

Felix Felicis was expensive, hard to get hold of and really hard to make. Stac didn’t really want to know how Albus had come by such a substantial amount. She suspected it might have something to do with the Veritaserum he’d also managed to get hold of at one point.

Regardless of all that, she quietly closed the box and handed it back to a stunned Albus.

‘Stac…I mean, don’t you like it? It’s just…we all wanted to get you something special, I guess…’

He trailed off as she smiled warmly at the assembled group. Her friends, her family.

‘It’s wonderful, thank you so much for the lovely thought. But…today…I’ve never been happier in my life.’

Looking around at everyone, feeling James’ arm around her waist, she knew that it was true.

‘And…I don’t really feel like I need…luck anymore.’

And turning in his embrace, she stretched up on her toes and kissed James, in front of all their family and friends, dead on the lips. James, never one to miss an opportunity, tightened his arms around her and returned the kiss, passionately, deeply, uncaring of the whistles and catcalls that were filling the air.

But it was little Louis, momentarily awoken from his spot under the table, sitting up and rubbing his painted eyes, that provided one of the best memories of the night.

‘Eww!’ he announced, his young voice ringing out clearly in a lull in conversation, ‘Get a room, you two!’

 

Later, much later, so much later that it was really earlier, Stac pulled James’ coat tighter around them both and snuggled back into him as they made their way back to the castle. They’d been some of the last to leave, with only Rose, Scorpius and Celeste staying behind to clean up. Tessie had left some very sleepy instructions on how to dismantle her spellwork when they were done, and had then been taken back to her dormitory by Jaya. Lily and Hugo had been carried out by various cousins some time before, dead to the world, and Dom had taken Louis back hours ago, after his sleepy declaration.

The whole day had been so far beyond belief, and now it was over. Just a short broom ride between the two of them and tomorrow.

‘Don’t fall asleep on me yet,’ James mumbled, ‘I’m not holding on to the broom, steering, and catching you if you fall.’

Stac ignored him and closed her eyes. Then she opened them again to glare at him over her shoulder.

‘I felt that poke! Don’t even think about tickling me, James Potter.’

‘Me?’ James asked, eyes full of innocent indignation, ‘Never! Can you really think I’d do such a thing?’

Grumbling a little, Stac resumed her comfortable position.

‘Prat.’

‘Love you too.’

 







So...I'M BA-ACK! Yay!


 

Sorry for being away for so long, and thanks to everyone who reviewed and told me to get my butt into gear and start writing again. Thanks even more for saying it in much nicer words than that!


 

I won't make excuses, because there's no point now that I'm back. Suffice to say that I am very sorry that it took too long to get this chapter up.


 

I can also confirm, CONFIRM, that there are eight (8) chapters and an epilogue (EPILOGUE) remaining to this story. The epilogue is already done and is something that I was going to publish as a one shot, but my lovely Beta has told me to tag it on the end so that people don't get confused when reading it without the backstory.


 

So I will try my hardest to get those next chapters out as soon as possible, but it will also be sad because then it will be finished! I'm not sure I'm ready to let these characters go yet! Boo!


 

As always, your reviews are much, much, much appreciated and I look forward to hearing from you all (hint, hint...)


 

Ta!


Chapter 27: Sticks and Stones
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



Awesome graphic by Lady Took!

Sticks and Stones

February Song – Josh Groban

‘Love is saying 'I feel differently' instead of 'You're wrong'.’
Unknown

 











‘So we’re leaving from Neville’s office tomorrow at 4, and then we’ll get back Sunday night. And he’s already said that we have to be in class on Monday. I know. I argued against it, but he wasn’t listening. I tried my best.’

They were sitting on the sofa in the Head’s Common Room, ostentatiously studying, although James hadn’t read a single word in about an hour. Instead, he was transfiguring various objects around the room into cakes. Every now and then, Stac would roll her eyes and transfigure them all back in one fell swoop. He still couldn’t figure out how she was doing it.

‘Don’t worry, I’ll take notes for you. You can sleep up the back. Oh, wait, that’s all you ever do on a Monday anyway.’

For that she received a well-placed elbow in the ribs.

‘Well, you’re going to be exhausted too. Trust me. Maybe we should get someone else to take notes, and then you can sleep with me.’

As soon as the words had left his mouth, James froze, but it was too late to take them back.

Sleep with me? Had he really just said that? Not that it wasn’t what he meant to say, but…not like that!

He opened his mouth to try and explain himself, but Stac didn’t look shocked or outraged. She looked confused.

‘Why will I be exhausted?’

‘Uh…well,’ James stammered, hoping that this meant she hadn’t noticed his gaff, ‘the party’s going to run all Saturday night, and then mum’s going to make us help clean up the next day. And if I have to clean, you have to clean. None of this sitting around while I do all the work.’

But instead of laughing or telling him to sod off, Stac’s face fell a little.

‘James…you know I’m…not going, don’t you?’

The words took a moment to sink in.

‘Wait, what?’

He was still smiling, but it was starting to fade.

‘James, I told you this. We talked about it.’

‘Yeah, ages ago! Before we were even going out. I thought things were different now.’

‘I…I’m sorry. It’s just too much of a risk.’

James sat up straighter and looked at her incredulously.

‘A risk? Stac, we went to Australia for your birthday.’

‘Yes, but that was…sudden! It was only for a few hours, and no one else knew about it. Everyone knows you guys are going home for the wedding. Half of Gryffindor’s going. What is it going to look like if I disappear at the same time?’

‘Can’t Scorpius and Celeste cover for you?’

‘Not for a whole weekend!’

Scowling slightly, James sank back into the cushions of the sofa.

‘I wanted…to introduce you to everyone, you know? To my parents and that.’

‘I know,’ Stac sighed as she curled up beside him, ‘I’m sorry.’

Propping her chin on her knees, she tried to make her voice light.

‘But there’ll be other times, I promise. Don’t worry about it.’

James shrugged noncommittally.

‘Sure. Whatever.’

Pulling away from him, Stac sat up.

‘James, this isn’t my fault. I don’t want things to be like this, they just are. Okay?’

‘Well, you didn’t have to just dismiss it all straight away like that.’

‘Dismiss what?’

‘Coming to the wedding.’

‘James, that was never an option to begin with!’

‘Of course it was an option! There’s always options, you always have options!’

‘Not this time! What has gotten into you?’

‘Oh, so now it’s my fault? Excuse me for wanting to take my girlfriend home and introduce her to my family. Of course, what was I thinking? What a stupid idea.’

‘Oh my goodness. I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. Seriously, James, grow up.’

‘And now I’m immature as well. Thanks.’

‘Are you even listening to yourself? This is ridiculous.’

‘No, what’s ridiculous is you being too afraid,’ he made the word mocking, ‘to come home with me. My dad’s the head of the frickin’ Auror’s office, Stac. The whole place is going to be swarming with Ministry people. What the hell do you think is going to happen?’

‘The whole reason for keeping secrets like this is to stop anything happening before it starts, you idiot!’

Stac’s control on her English was starting to slip a little, a sure sign that she was legitimately furious.

‘It’s not them being able to stop whatever things that I’m worried about, it’s all the damage that could be done before they stop it!’

‘Seriously. You seriously think your dad would send someone to bust up my cousin’s wedding just because I brought you along? Stac, when was the last time your dad did anything? You’re all petrified of him, and he makes all these threats but he never actually does anything. Why the hell are you scared of him anyway? Maybe you’re the one who needs to grow up.’

For a moment, she physically could not speak. Her throat closed over the words she was about to throw in his face and she struggled to inhale past the blockage in her chest. When she did manage to talk again, her voice was dangerously soft.

‘You think I’m a child for being afraid of my father. And you think there’s no reason that I should be.’

Her grip on her temper was perilously close to snapping completely. Taking in a deep breath, she stood and took a step back, away from him, closer to the door.

‘Maybe this weekend is exactly what we need. Some time apart.’

The words sent a chill feeling down James’ back, but he ignored it and looked her square in the eye as he nodded.

‘Yeah. Time to think. Away from each other. A break.’

The moment stretched as they stared across the space, neither one breaking eye contact. Last time they’d fought like this, it had ended in a kiss and a much-needed explanation.

History didn’t look likely to repeat itself today.

Finally, shaking her head, Stac turned to go.

‘You are an utter fool, James Potter.’

James rolled his eyes and scowled at her.

‘Look, you’ve made yourself pretty clear, okay? So why don’t you just leave it?’

‘Fine.’

‘Fine!’

Fine!

And she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

James waited only until the sound of her footsteps had faded away down the corridor before he too stormed from the room, heading for Gryffindor Tower. With any luck, she’d go straight up to the girls’ dormitory and they wouldn’t have to meet in the common room.

Unless she’d gone to Slytherin. She could have gone to Scorpius…James growled and pushed the thought to the back of his mind. What did he care if she went off with Scorpius? They were on a break, weren’t they?

Fortunately for both parties, Stac wasn’t in the Gryffindor common room. Sam and Josh were, but not for long. Catching sight of James’ face, the quickly hustled him up the stairs to his old room.

‘What the hell happened to you?’ Sam asked curiously when the door was closed behind them.

James grunted something that almost sounded like ‘Stac’.

‘Oh, dear,’ Owen commented mildly. He was sitting on his bed, reading a Quidditch magazine, ‘Trouble in paradise?’

‘Shut up, Owen,’ James grunted again, slightly more clearly this time. He flopped down on what used to be his bed. Only it wasn’t a very easy flop, as the boys had started using the empty bed as a sort of general storage space and it was pile pretty high with stuff.

‘Wait,’ Josh clarified, sitting on his own bed, ‘did you two have a fight?’

‘Yeah, is this your first fight?’ Sam carried on, ‘I can’t believe I missed it! Would you consider a do-over? You know, just so I could be there this time?’

Sam!

What?

‘Not helping!’

‘Who said I wanted to help?’

‘What was it about?’ Josh enquired curiously, sitting on his own bed.

James scowled up at the hangings above his head.

‘She’s not coming to the wedding. I know, right?’ he continued when Sam made a sound of disbelief, ‘That’s what I said. But, apparently, it’s too dangerous. Or something. I don’t even know anymore. We were having a perfectly normal conversation, and then, boom! This happened. And I don’t even know what this is!’

‘So…how did you leave things?’ Sam asked slowly.

There was a pause before James replied.

‘We’re on a break.’

No one really knew what to say in response to that.

‘For how long?’ Owen asked eventually.

James shrugged.

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘Mate, that’s messed up,’ Sam protested, ‘after everything you two have been through, you’re breaking up over this?’

‘We’re not breaking up,’ James protested, sitting up, ‘we’re just on a break.’

‘Oh, yeah, sorry, cause that’s completely different.’

‘Look, I don’t know, okay? I don’t know what’s going on! She just…she went off all...pissed, and I don’t know, that made me pissed. So we’re on a break.’

‘Doesn’t sound too serious, then,’ Owen observed, putting down the magazine, ‘just go and apologise to her.’

‘I’m not apologising to her!’

‘Fine. Get used to a life alone.’

‘Come on, Owen, lighten up,’ Josh objected lightly, ‘it’s not a matter of life and death.’

‘What, we’re only supposed to apologise in matters of life and death?’

‘All of you, leave me alone, ‘kay?’

There was another moment of silence, punctuated by Sam and Josh rolling their eyes at each other from across the room.

‘Besides, it might be…more serious than all that,’ James said softly when he spoke again.

‘Why?’ Sam inquired in a dubious voice.

‘I said some stuff–’

‘Great, of course you did.’

‘Shut up. It was stuff I didn’t mean, but it was about her dad.’

‘Her dad?’

Now Owen just sounded angry.

‘Are you actually that much of an idiot? You brought her dad up in a row? No wonder she’s sore at you!’

‘Hang on, it wasn’t all my fault! I just said when was the last time her dad actually did anything, you know, bad? It’s not we’ve seen it. And I know she keeps saying he’s really dangerous and all, but he’s never done anything here, not that we’ve seen.’

‘Yeah, not that we’ve seen being the operative words. Don’t you wonder why that is? Maybe, just maybe, Stac knows what the hell she’s doing, did you think of that?’

‘Okay, break it up, you two,’ Sam interjected, moving to stand between them, ‘it’s not worth us arguing over, okay? James’ll just apologise to her, when he’s ready,’ he added when James glared at him, ‘and it’ll all be sweet again, alright?’

 

It wasn’t all sweet again. James didn’t apologise. He didn’t really have a chance. Stac avoided him like the plague all the next day. He couldn’t get close to her at mealtimes, she sat right up the front in class, and she ignored him and hurried away when he tried to talk to her in the corridors.

And then it was time to go to the Headmaster’s office, time to leave, and he still hadn’t spoken to her. His friends took one look at his crossed arms and sullen expression and thought better of asking how it had all gone.

James went into the fireplace after Albus, and stepped out into his Aunt and Uncle’s living room. Everyone, the entire extended family and friends, were all staying at Ron and Hermione’s house for the weekend. Out the window, he could just see a small tent city set up in the backyard.

Turning back to the room, James saw his mum, standing to one side with Albus and Lily. Ginny Potter had celebrated her fortieth birthday a few years ago, but she didn’t look a day over thirty. She was still slim and smiling, and her red hair still shone brightly. James took a deep breath, fixed what he hoped was a passable smile on his face, and went to join his family.

‘James!’

Ginny hugged her eldest child tightly, then immediately pulled back and began to brush soot and dust off his clothes.

‘Look at the state of you! I keep telling Ron he needs to clean out that chimney, but do you think he listens to me?’

‘Where is Uncle Ron?’ Albus asked curiously, looking around the room.

James looked too. There was his Aunt Hermione, bustling around, efficiently greeting students and showing them where to leave their bags. Rose was right behind her, offering food and drinks, the perfect little hostess.

James turned back to see his mother smile tightly.

‘Your uncle and your father are still at the office. But they’ll be along, later. They’re a little snowed under with…paperwork.’

Paperwork. That was mum and Aunt Hermione code for ‘I don’t want to talk about what they’re really doing’. So James just hugged his mum again, and went to find his mates.

The male cousins and their friends were all in the one tent together, and there were a lot of them. The tent was magically enhanced on the inside, of course. Even so, it was a bit of a squeeze. James was amused to see that the boy’s tent was on the other side of the garden from the one the girls were staying in. Separating them were tents for all of James’ aunts and uncles and Teddy and Victoire’s adult friends. It seemed Aunt Hermione was ready to have all the students come to stay, but not exactly ready to trust them all.

Owen, Sam, Josh, Terry and James quickly claimed a room in the tent, then headed back outside to see what was happening.

It was easy to see why Teddy and Victoire had decided to have their wedding at Ron and Hermione’s house. Not only did it have the largest garden, but it was also in some of the most beautiful country in England, nestled on the shore of a lake in the Cotswolds.

The Victoire’s French grandparents were also staying onsite, but in the house with Ron and Hermione and James’ grandparents. There were, however, several very attractive French cousins wandering around the place, giggling and chattering and tossing their long hair. A disproportionate number of them seemed to be female. James caught quite a few of Teddy’s friends looking around themselves in disbelief, and Josh had to be virtually dragged away from his ogling position near their tent.

A quick trip into the kitchen provided them with plenty of provisions to cover the long wait until tea-time. James submitted himself to the requisite kissing, hugging and fussing from his grandmother, and emerged at the other end with an armful of cakes, which he considered a good trade for momentary embarrassment.

James had intended to suggest that they head down to the lake, away from the madness that was the backyard, but the first thing that he saw when they finally exited the kitchen was the seventh year Gryffindor girls.

They were glaring at him.

It wasn’t a good sign.

Margie jerked her head in the direction of the girl’s tent and stalked off, not even bothering to check that they were following.

For a split second, James considered not obeying her unspoken order. What would happen if he just took his cakes and ran? What was the worst that they could do?

‘I wouldn’t,’ Jaya advised, her eyes narrowing as she read his intentions, ‘I really wouldn’t.’

And she turned to follow the other girl into the tent.

With a sigh, James and the boys did the same.

 

Luckily, the tent seemed to be empty. All the same, no one said a word until they were safely inside Jaya and Margie’s section and the connecting door had been closed.

‘Okay, spill,’ Jaya demanded as soon as they were alone, ‘what the hell is going on with you and Stac? Did you have a fight or something?’

‘Why are you asking?’ James countered somewhat sullenly. All he wanted to do was eat his cakes and forget about everything. He wasn’t really in a mood to discuss matters, certainly not with Stac’s friends.

‘Because the two of you didn’t even speak to each other all of Friday,’ Margie replied flatly, ‘she sat with us at mealtimes and didn’t look your way once, and it was pretty damn clear she’d been crying. So what happened?’

‘Yeah, we had a fight,’ James told them grudgingly, hoping they’d leave it at that.

Rose chose that moment to come walking through the door, Dom and Molly close behind her.

‘This is you and Stac, is it?’ she asked, looking at James shrewdly.

James’ frown deepened. Did everyone in the world have to know about the vagaries of his love life, including his baby cousins?

‘What’s it to you?’ he asked crossly, ‘What Stac and I do or don’t fight about is none of your business.’

‘Well, it had to be pretty bad,’ Rose mused aloud. To James’ horror, she settled down on one of the beds, clearly intending to stay for a while.

‘Stac looked completely cut up about it, so it must have been bad. What did you say?’

‘Like I said, none of your business.’

‘Mate!’ Sam exclaimed softly, ‘do you want to get back together with her or not? Because if you do, this would be a pretty good time to ask for advice.’

James couldn’t argue with that.

‘Fine. It was stupid, just about why she wouldn’t come to the wedding. She said she didn’t have a choice, and I said you always have choices, and then she started to worry about what might happen if she did come. So I asked her why she was so scared, I mean, it’s not like anything was actually going to happen. Like I told her, half the Ministry’s here – who’s going to try something at the moment?’

‘Is that all?’ Margie asked, eyebrows raised.

James winced.

‘Not quite. When she said something might happen, I asked her why she was so scared of her dad. I mean, it’s not like he’s ever done anything to us before. Why would it be different now?’

He hadn’t expected the girls to react well to this piece of news, and, true to form, their response was less than pleased. Margie let out a frustrated groan and looked heavenward for support, Jaya frowned at him like he was the lowest form of life, and even his cousins sent a scowl his way.

‘What the hell, James?’

Owen was sitting back, arms folded, a disgusted look on his normally calm face.

‘Exactly what I said,’ he told Jaya, nodding in agreement with her latest outburst, ‘honestly,’ he went on, now directing his words at James, ‘you probably couldn’t have hurt her more if you’d tried. Well done.’

‘Hey, now, hang on, it’s not like I meant it!’

The expressions around him didn’t change.

‘People say stuff they don’t mean all the time, it happens. Especially in the middle of a fight. And I’m not completely unjustified – when have we ever seen any proof of what her dad’s done, hey? All we’ve ever had is her word about it. I’m not saying she’s lying, I’m just saying maybe she’s more scared than she needs to be. Maybe someone from the outside looking in, someone who hasn’t grown up with this bloke around all the time, maybe then he wouldn’t seem so bad.’

Crack!

James grabbed the side of his face and ducked as Rose tried to slap him again.

‘Bloody hell, Rose!’

He looked around for support, but no one was trying to wrestle her away like usual. After a few seconds of ducking and weaving, she finally gave up of her own accord.

‘How can you even say that? You have no idea what that girl has been through for you!’

‘Yeah, everyone keeps saying that, and no one’s telling me anything, so how the bloody hell am I supposed to know!’

‘Her dad sent Trelain Zarlow to kill you!’

Silence.

‘What?’

James was sure he must have heard incorrectly, but Rose’s face, while grim, was deadly serious.

‘Her dad decided she was getting too close to all of us, you in particular. He was negotiating a marriage for her with some other family and he didn’t want them to hear any bad reports about her. So he sent Trelain Zarlow back to the school with orders to stop you from getting near her. He had express orders to kill you if you kept it up.’

It seemed James wasn’t the only person hearing this news for the first time. Around the room, his friends wore similarly shocked expressions. Margie and Jaya looked particularly shaken.

‘Wait, hang on, I’ll deal with the whole…killing thing in a moment,’ Margie asked, shaking her head, ‘but…she’s getting married? They’re, like, arranging a marriage for her?’

‘She was,’ Rose clarified, ‘it’s not on anymore. But while it was, they were watching her like hawks.’

She turned back to James.

‘That’s why we had to do the whole thing with Scorpius. It was my idea, and I’ll admit it wasn’t the best one out there, but we didn’t have much time. We had to do something that would make you want to back off completely. It was one of the only things I could think of. She didn’t want to tell you, then; she thought it would put you in danger.’

James couldn’t reply. He was having trouble thinking, let alone forming words.

‘She didn’t want to do any of it, but she did it for you,’ Rose continued. Her voice and eyes were accusing as she stared at her cousin.

‘Even after Marcus attacked her and she had to go home and see her father, she still used that as something to protect you with. Celeste saw what happened between them, her and her dad. He just about killed her, and yet she still managed to pin everything on Trelain and make her dad completely forget about you.’

Nothing Rose said was going in. Nothing was making sense anymore. It hadn’t for some time, not since she’d dropped the bombshell that Stac had, quite literally, saved his life.

‘That’s what she meant,’ he muttered, mostly to himself.

‘What?’ Rose asked contemptuously.

‘When we fought, she said I was a fool. An utter fool. That must have been what she meant.’

Suddenly, he stood to his feet and made for the door.

‘I have to go.’

‘James,’ Josh called out, but Sam and Owen hushed him.

‘Let him go.’

 

Blindly, somehow, James made it back to his tent. Stumbling into his section, locking the door with a wave of his wand, he sat on the floor in the middle of the room. What the hell was wrong with him? Regardless of the fact that Stac had stopped one of her dad’s minions from writing him off, putting that completely aside, what the hell had he been thinking? So she wasn’t coming to the wedding. So what? What right did that give him to call her out? He’d waited so damn long, first to figure out how he actually felt, and then to be with her, and he’d risked it all on something as stupid as this?

He had to do something. He couldn’t get back to school right now, but he had to do something, had to talk to her…a letter! He’d write her a letter!

First he had to find some paper and a quill. Of course, none of the boys had brought anything even remotely related to school work with them, not even the usually reliable Owen. Eventually, James just tried a summoning spell and hoped for the best. He ended up with a few pieces of mismatched parchment and a bright pink quill, but it would do the trick.

Then he had to try and figure out what to write. He had planned to try and work everything out before he started, but once he put quill to parchment the words just seemed to pour out and he’d filled up all available space before he knew what was happening. So then there was nothing to do but put the letter in an envelope, address it and find an owl.

Sam found him later, sitting down by the lake.

‘Here, I saved you one,’ and he tossed a cake to James, who caught it despite himself.

‘Thanks,’ James replied, but he wasn’t really hungry anymore. He picked at the icing half-heartedly as Sam joined him on the ground.

‘So, what you’d decided to do?’ Sam asked.

‘I sent her a letter. Can’t even remember what I said. Pretty sure it was the most pathetic thing anyone’s ever written. But it was true, all of it.’

‘Well, that’s something, at least. Now you