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Not Normal by 800 words of heaven

Format: Novel
Chapters: 6
Word Count: 24,661
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mild violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Humor, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Albus, Rose, Scorpius, OC
Pairings: Other Pairing, Rose/Scorpius, OC/OC

First Published: 10/02/2012
Last Chapter: 06/23/2014
Last Updated: 02/18/2017

Summary:


~UNDERGOING MAJOR EDITING~
Chapter 3: Edited

When the Four Founders of Hogwarts choose you to save the world from impending doom, you know it ain't gonna be a normal year...

Banner by angelica. @tda | Beta'd by PaulaTheProkaryote @HPFT





Chapter 1: {Chapter the First}
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

You know your life ain’t normal when you see dead people.

I know, I know. Dead people, Ellie? Like ghosts? You’re a witch! Of course you can see dead people! It’s part and parcel of the Hogwarts experience!

At this point, I would like to interject and inform you – whoever you are – that I don’t mean those kinds of dead people. Also, I am sure that your anecdote about Nearly Headless Nick, a half-consumed bottle of vodka, and a somewhat inebriated Dennis Creevey is delightful, but please save that one for another time. We are, after all, standing in a cemetery.

(No, it’s not because of that whole dead people thing, but more on that later).

Chris and I stood side by side, looking down at the marker signifying our mother’s final resting place. Adrienne Zhang Anderson had been a daughter to Chinese-French immigrants to the British Isles, a wife to a Muggle man who understood stone tablets more than his smartphone, and a mother to a pair of twins, gifted in magic just like her. She’d also been a Healer at St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, and when one of the most virulent strains of Magical Flu had swept across the country just over seven years ago, Healer Adrienne Anderson was on the front lines, fighting the epidemic. She’d been one of the last people infected, a cure discovered too little, too late to save her.

A breeze blew through the leaves of the elm tree shading her grave, masking my deep sigh. It had been a long time since I’d cried for the loss of my mother, but it still ached. Where there should have been lectures on my lazy habits, and arguments filled with adolescent angst, and laughter and shared eye-rolls over my brother and father, there was this great, gaping… nothing.

“Lovely weather today,” Chris murmured. Chris always talked about the weather when we visited our mother’s grave. It was one of his stranger quirks, but considering the rather unhealthier ways I’d seen people deal with grief over the years, thanks to my “gift”, I let him have it. It was lovely weather after all. The sun was out in full force on this bright August day, the sky was a piercing deep blue, and the breeze carried the subtle scent of roses in full bloom. I reached out my right hand without looking at him, and took his slightly clammy left one in mine. He gave it a small squeeze as we stood there, once again in silence, staring down at the marker.

We’d placed a fresh wreath of white roses on the grave, replacing the bouquet Dad had brought last week. Mum’s death wasn’t taboo in the Anderson household, but Chris and I never visited the cemetery with Dad. He’d never quite recovered from her passing, and I didn’t wish to intrude on his grief whilst he was here. Chris, I think, just didn’t want to see Dad cry again.

Ten seconds more of the silent standing, and I started to get restless. Quite honestly, I never really felt that close to my mother when visiting her grave. She’d been a no-nonsense woman, practical and efficient, and always expecting the best from us, yet full of this warmth that made me believe that she never doubted my ability to not only achieve, but surpass every one of those expectations. This place with obscenely manicured grass, markers in long neat rows, and the weight of loss and grief always pressing down on your skin held nothing of that. Not of her softly accented English, nor the comingling scent of disinfectant and jasmine perfume, nor the taste of her cheese and chive crêpes.

But I knew that Chris needed this. So I came with him whenever he wanted – even if it was our seventeenth birthday, and I’d rather be at home flicking through Mum’s old Muggle paperback romance collection.

“I’m going to go for a walk,” I murmured, not able to stand still any longer.

Chris glanced up at me, his light brown eyes – the exact same colour as mine – shining bright through unshed tears. This was also part of our ritual. I’d wander away for ten minutes, meandering around other graves and clusters of mourners, so that my twin brother could get rid of those tears any way he wanted. Then, we’d meet under the elm tree near the carpark, and we’d head home, and talk about the latest Doctor Who episode.

Chris nodded, and let go of my hand, turning back to look down at Mum’s grave.

I took a step back and headed left down the row, where there were fewer people loitering about. It never ceased to amaze me how many folks visited the cemetery on any given day. Most of them did it for no real reason, just wanting to feel a little closer to their dearly departed. I, on the other hand, was the special occasions type of cemetery visitor. Birthdays, deathdays, and holidays were more my jam.

My wand poked into my lower back with every step I took, but I ignored it, and just soaked in the feeling of the warm sun on my skin, the thick grass a cushion under my sneakers, and the light rose-scented breeze gently ruffling through my hair. I wanted to take full advantage of the rare creature that was the perfect English summer day. Even though September was still quite a warm month – thank you, global warming – Scotland never seemed to get the memo. Probably because the memo had been intercepted by Hogwarts, who enjoyed burning it in the Slytherin Common Room fireplace, going by how draughty the dungeons always were.

I reached one of the main thoroughfares in the graveyard, a larger than normal section of grass, that divided the area into even chunks. Turning right, I headed towards the tree that crowned the little hill that was the centre of the cemetery. From here, you had a pretty lovely view of the grounds. It wasn’t nearly high enough to obscure people into ants or anything, but it was a fair distance from any graves. Plus, it had a bench.

Reaching the well looked-after wooden seat, I slumped down into it, glad that the sun was shining from behind me, since I’d forgotten my sunglasses in the car. And being in a Muggle community, I couldn’t very well transfigure a stick into a parasol without someone noticing.

My gaze wandered aimlessly over the innumerous markers, lingering briefly on the odd mourner. Some were tending to the grave, cleaning them of leaves and old flowers, some were weeping quietly, and some, like Chris, his black hair glinting in the sunlight, were simply standing there. I wondered how many of them were like me, just a touch uncomfortable at being here at all.

You would think that with the whole “I see dead people” thing I’d be pretty comfortable in graveyards, and you’d be right – I was pretty comfortable here. As long as “here” was not where my mother was buried. In a strange quirk of the universe though, I didn’t actually have to spend much time in cemeteries. My particular brand of ghost was different to those you’d find at Hogwarts – those people had chosen to linger on the mortal plane for whatever reason.

My ghosts? They didn’t actually want to be here. Something was keeping them here, whether it was that they didn’t actually realise that they were dead, or that they didn’t want to leave their loved ones just quite yet, or that they had to exact revenge on their killers. As a result, they didn’t hang out in cemeteries all that much.

It could be argued that Hogwarts ghosts and “my” ghosts weren’t all that different – hell, I’d argued that with myself more times than I could count. But the unchangeable fact remained that there were a lot of dead people wandering around in the wide world of the living, and some (living) folks could see more than others. I, being a classic overachiever, could see even more than the usual garden variety of the dead. I don’t know how. I don’t why. But I could.

My eyes snagged on a dude, maybe my age, maybe a little older, not too far from me and my bench. He was dressed similarly to me: jeans, t-shirt, sneakers, and like most people here, was standing in front of a grave, staring down at it. I couldn’t see his expression from here, but considering that there was a dead person standing right beside him, I imagine he wasn’t thinking about rainbows and sunshine.

I sighed. Just my fucking lucky day. You’d think that dead people would give you the day off on your flipping birthday at least – but no, since the tender young age of five, I’d had the dubious honour of guiding these wayward spirits along to the Next Great Adventure. And no, I had no idea what that was. I was a pretty shitty travel agent that way. But since I’d never seen my mother after she’d died, I’d assumed for a long time that things couldn’t be so bad on the other side.

“Fucking stupid dead people,” I muttered. I was, thankfully, quite alone up here on my bench under this conveniently placed tree, so no one could give me weird looks for wishing ill on the dead in a graveyard. Trust me, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

I shuffled to my feet despite my annoyance. I knew I had to go down there and sort this all out. This, you must understand, was not because of any sort of altruism on my part. If I ignored this ghost, and it happened to catch on that I could actually see them – and they always, always caught on that I could see them – I’d never get any peace and quiet. One time, I’d tried ignoring the ghost of an old lady who’d died of old age, but she wouldn’t leave the mortal world – and more importantly, me – until I’d gone and yelled at the kids that lived in the same apartment block as her for breaking her window that one time.

Death clearly didn’t imbue any wisdom and knowledge on people. So really, it was best to tackle this here and now, before I was forced to yell at children again who hadn’t even been born when the “crime” had been committed.

But how to approach this. I couldn’t very well go up to this grieving individual and be like, “Hey! How’s it going? You have a dead person haunting you. Yeah, it sucks, but why do you think that might be?” Tried that once. Didn’t go down all that well.

So I decided for my usual approach – the good old “observe and hope the dead person goes away by themselves” manoeuvre. Albeit, this tactic has only ever worked three times for me, I am always optimistic that this time will be lucky number four.

I stopped in the row behind the grieving boy, three graves to the right of where he was standing, so I had a clear view of both the parties involved. I hoped no one decided to visit the person I was using as cover right now, because things could get very awkward, very fast.

That deep, dark hole I feel gaping inside me every time I think about all the time I don’t have with Mum is written clearly across this guy’s face. I was glad that I could only see the side of his face from where I was standing; it hurts just seeing as much as I could.

I took my attention off the living guy, pushing away the discomfort of seeing my own grief so clearly on someone else’s face, and focused on the real problem here: the dead girl. It’s a strange quirk of this particular kind of ghost-hood, but unlike normal ghosts, who look exactly like they did the moment they died, my kind look like the moment they felt most alive. For most people, that is when they died, but it’s too dangerous to assume that the way they look now is the way they looked in the last moment of their life. I’d once met someone who was wearing a wedding dress, and she’d died when she fell off a ladder – in her eighties. And most importantly, not wearing a wedding dress.

The girl – young woman – was maybe a few years older than me, probably university age. She was also dressed in jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers, like the grieving guy and myself. And that’s not all they had in common: their hair was the exact same shade of mousy brown, and their frizz was out of control in the same way, too. Their facial structures were similar – something about the slope of their nose, and the curve of their jaw. Probably siblings, then. Fuck.

I squinted a little to try and get a better look at the gravestone. The second date was from just three months ago. Double fuck.

“I can feel you staring at us, you know,” the woman said. I didn’t jump at the sudden voice, nor did my expression change. Twelve years is a long time to get used to seeing and hearing things you shouldn’t. These stuck-here ghosts look just like the living; there’s no otherworldly glow around them, no pearly, translucent filter. It can get a little disconcerting sometimes just how alive they look. But for the fact that they’re completely intangible like your regular, garden-variety ghosts, I wouldn’t blame you for mistaking them as one of the living if you saw one walking down the street.

(Side note: if you ever do see a dead person walking down the street who looks suspiciously alive, send me an owl, so I can finally meet someone else with this strange gift of shuffling them along to the next plane of existence. I’d love to swap strange encounters of the incorporeal kind over coffee.)

“Are you going to stand there all day like a creepy stalker?” she continued. I still didn’t reply. I couldn’t afford to open my mouth and blow my cover, but if she turned around and looked at me… ah. Now we could talk. Sort of.

I raised my eyebrow at her.

She raised hers back in turn. “What?” she asked, her eyes flat.

I raised my eyebrow a little further, and as subtly as I could, tilted my head towards her (maybe) brother.

“Cat got your tongue?” she sneered.

I pursed my lips and narrowed my eyes. Not seeing anyone close by in my peripheral vision, I lifted my chin, pointing it in her direction, and then jerked my head away, indicating the grass at the end of the row. And then I sauntered away, without looking back at her to see if she’d follow.

I heard a sigh from behind me, but nothing else as I headed towards the area I’d indicated. I looked around, making sure that no one was close enough to notice me having a conversation with myself as the ghost approached me.

She stopped in front of me, and we stood there, facing each other, under the bright August sun. I felt another cool breeze blow faintly across the hairs on my forearms. This wind, however, has nothing to do with earthly air currents, and everything to do with unearthly spectres that shouldn’t be standing in front of me.

Before she could open her mouth and give me more sass, I said, “What are you doing here?”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “That’s incredibly rude,” she replied. “What are you doing here?”

I kept my expression flat and a little bored. “My mother’s dead. I’m visiting her grave.” I jerked my head again, vaguely in the direction of Chris.

“Well, I’m –

Not visiting your dead mother.” I interrupted. Usually I’m not this rude, but I knew that I didn’t have much time until Chris started searching for me. And I can’t afford to have this chick follow me home. Whatever the fuck needs to be done, needs to be done now.

Her mouth snapped shut in surprise, and I took advantage of her silence. “Who is he?” I crossed my arms across my chest and look towards the dude still standing where we left him.

“Why should I tell you?” she asked instead.

I sighed. “Who else do you think can help you? I imagine all your attempts at communication have failed miserably so far, since you’re still here.”

She stared at me for a few seconds, her eyes searching my face. But slowly, her posture relaxed from defensive to a little defeated. “He’s my baby brother,” she said. Ah. So I was right. The “fuck” remains unchanged.

I unfolded my arms and nodded for her to continue.

“I – um… died three months ago,” she started. It was a relief to know that she realised that she was dead. I wouldn’t put it past people to not notice even if their gravestone hit them in the face.

When she didn’t seem that keen to continue, I prompted her. “How did it happen?” I asked softly.

She shoved her hands into the pockets of her hoodie and rocked back on her heels. “Car accident. It was dark and rainy. No one’s fault really, but you know.”

I nodded. “Sucks for everyone involved.”

She gave me a quick, small smile. “Exactly.”

She lapsed into another silence. If I had more time, I’d wait her out, let her tell her story at her own pace, but I didn’t have time. Chris could find me any minute. “And your family? How’d they take it?”

She shrugged. “As well as could be expected, I guess. My folks – well. They’re not okay. But they will be.”

I nodded again, and rocked back on my heels, mirroring her earlier move. “And your brother?”

Her breath hitched and a single tear fell down her cheek. When she spoke, her voice was watery. “He’s… he’s going to be fine, too. I know that. But –”

The tears rolled down her face in earnest now; her shoulders shook and her breath came in large, loud gasps. “But I can’t just leave him! He’s my baby brother! He needs me! You know, he’s graduating high school this year? Wants to be a paramedic. I’m not going to get to see any of that. I’m – I’m –”

“I know,” I murmured.

“How the fuck do you know anything?” she spat at me.

I didn’t rise to the bait, although I really wanted to. But arguing with ghosts about how the living can’t understand the pain of the dead was pointless. “My mum died when I was ten,” I said instead. “There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think about her and all the memories that I’ll never have because she’s not here.”

The girl stopped sobbing, and looked at me with wide eyes.

“And it really fucking sucks, too, because I actually could’ve had all of that, even with her dead.”

The girl took a sharp intake of breath.

“But I don’t really want that either,” I said, shaking my head, my lips pulling into a sad smile. “She died, and she moved on. It hurts like a bitch that she did – that she didn’t even drop in to say goodbye, but that’s life, I guess. She’s moved onto greater things. Which is just about the best I could want for her, really.”

The girl stayed quiet for a few moments. “Do you… do you think it… hurts?” she asked softly.

“What? Moving on? Nah,” I said, smiling a happier smile this time. “Countless people have done it before you, and countless people are going to do it after you. No one’s ever come back to complain.”

“Can you – can you come back to complain?”

I scrunched my face in thought. “Honestly? I don’t have a fucking clue. But if you can come back, could you come and tell me? For future reference, of course.”

Her lips, the bottom a little fuller than the top, pulled into a watery smile. “Okay,” she whispered.

I smiled back. “Okay,” I said. I blinked.

And she was gone.

AN: Hello, lovely readers! If this is your first time reading, welcome! If you are a returning reader, also welcome! I am currently in the middle of a MAJOR rewrite of this story – so that’s why things have changed. I hope you enjoy it though. Let me know what you think, by dropping a quick review! Thanks guys, I love all of you who give my work a chance.

This chapter was beta’d by PaulaTheProkaryote @HPFT. Thanks so much, Paula!

Adios, amigos! :D


 


Chapter 2: {Chapter the Second}
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You know your life ain’t normal when a Muggle throws a prophecy at your head.

Not literally, of course. It would’ve been better if she’d actually thrown it, though. Then I could’ve just ducked out of the way, and carried on with my life, sans faux-prophecy.

…I should probably backtrack a bit.

When Chris and I reached home from the cemetery, we were greeted with the exuberance that is Rose Granger-Weasley. There’s really no other way to describe the eldest child of Hermione Granger, Minister of Magic, and Ron Weasley, dedicated Chudley Cannons fan. Her black hair was crackling around her face in a barely contained halo, the tight curls quivering at the ends with her excitement.

“Happy birthday, Ellie and Chris!” she squealed, throwing open our front door before I could unlock it. She jumped a little to swing an arm each around our necks to pull us down into a hug. “Isn’t it great? You’re finally going to be able to do magic outside of school!”

She released us just as quickly as she’d grabbed us, and we both stumbled back. Chris rubbed his neck, whilst I gently twisted mine. “Dishes are definitely going to be easier,” Chris said, grinning easily. “Is Al here?” Yeah, we were neighbours with those Potters. Don’t ask me why the most famous man in recent British Wizarding history chose to make Muggle suburbia his home. And how he managed to buy a house next to one where other Wizarding folk lived. Maybe it was pheromones, acting as unconscious signals, pulling us toward each other. That would be super gross – but it would explain a lot.

“No, he’s home next door. Said he’d drop by later.” Rose replied, beaming. And still standing in our doorway. Whilst we stood outside.

“Um… Rose?” I ventured. “Can we come inside?”

She started, as if just realising where she was. Sometimes Rose’s excitement got the best of her. “Come in, come in!” she beamed, moving out of the way and waving us inside.

I stepped into the wide hallway after Chris, instinctively looking left first to make sure the door to the music room remained closed. I’d almost been flattened by an errant bass drum one time. Trauma like that changed you, made you wary of doors, and how they liked to be open a lot of the times without your knowledge.

“You’re home!” Dad cried, sticking his head out the open door of his study and into the hallway, heedless of the possible danger the music room posed directly opposite him. Now that I could do magic outside of Hogwarts, I might put some sort of repelling charm around that doorway…

“Indeed, we are,” I muttered, heading down the hallway. I heard Chris and Rose follow.

“Did you bring cake?” he asked, stepping in beside me as we headed towards the living room and kitchen.

I glanced over at him, and raised an eyebrow. An errant tuft of hair was sticking out the side of his usually neat ‘do. “You were in charge of the cake,” I replied. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’d forgotten, though. Ever since Mum had died, Dad had… lost a part of himself. He was a Muggle, a professor of ancient languages at the local university, so the absentminded professor stereotype was almost expected. Things had been really tough those first couple of years – for all of us. I’m sure it didn’t help that Chris and I weren’t even here for most of the year.

He flashed me a grin, all shiny white teeth and twinkling grey eyes. “I was kidding Bella,” he laughed. “I remembered the cake. You put it on the list. And I bought everything on the list.”

“Hmph,” I said, crossing my arms and leaning back against the kitchen counter.

“Can confirm,” Chris said, swinging open the door of the fridge. “I have visual on a white cardboard cake box with ‘Anderson’ written in black marker. Ooh, and a fresh carton of orange juice!” He grabbed the box out of the fridge, unscrewed the lid, and took a large gulp, straight from the source.

I wrinkled my nose in disgust. “Humans invented drinking glasses a while back,” I said.

“As well as food safety and sanitation laws,” Rose chimed in, in agreement. “Hugo and Dad do the same thing.”

“Do you think it’s genetic?” I asked. “Grossness? Like, it’s just coded into the Y chromosome.”

Dad laughed. “Probably. You have to train them out of it. I suggest aversion therapy.”

“Oh, like with dogs!” Rose said, clapping her hands once in glee. “You use a spray bottle and squirt water in their face when they do something naughty!”

All three of us laughed. In response, Chris made a face at us, and took an even bigger gulp out of the juice carton.

“I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll see you kids later,” Dad said. I nodded, and Rose gave a cheery goodbye wave. With an answering wave of his own, he headed back to his office.

“Hey, Chris! Want to play a bit of Quidditch?” I turned around to watch Albus Potter –  and the bane of my existence – barge through our sliding door, and into our living room.

“Haven’t you heard of knocking before entering a person’s residence?” I sneered at him.

Potter, with his racing broom swung over his shoulder, turned to grin at me. It had a distinctly evil edge. “If by person you mean yourself, Anderson, then most certainly not – since you’re not a person.”

As far as comebacks went, I was unimpressed, but Chris snickered. I glanced over at him and narrowed my eyes.

He stuck up his hands in apology, but kept on smiling. Chris had long ago made peace with the fact that his twin sister and his best friend simply did not get along. “Did your mum renew the charms on the boundary? I don’t know how often you can Obliviate a person without causing permanent damage, but Mrs Benedict must be nearing her quota.” Chris said mildly, choosing to ignore our less-than-civil greeting of each other – although he had snickered with Potter, the traitor.

“Mrs Benedict deserves a little memory loss,” Potter replied, unrepentant. “You reckon that woman has such a long neck because of all that stretching she does over our fence?”

“Al!” Rose admonished. “That’s not very nice!”

Potter shrugged. “Neither is she.”

I rolled my eyes, but refrained myself from commenting that he wasn’t very nice either, the ass.

“So,” Potter turned back to Chris. “Quidditch. Yes, or yes?”

Chris grinned. “I’ll just grab my broom.” He put the orange juice back into the fridge, and sauntered away towards the stairs. Just before reaching them, he turned around, an innocent look on his face. “Wanna play, Ellie?” he asked.

Potter snickered as he came towards the kitchen, and made a beeline for the fridge.

I narrowed my eyes at Potter, hoping I looked sufficiently threatening to shut him up. He quickly turned the snicker into a cough. I turned that same gaze on my brother. People always thought that he was the nice twin, but I knew the truth – it was all just a ploy to fool the outsiders. “I hate you,” I said.

Chris just laughed, immune to my vehemence after living with me all these years. “Love you, sis!” he said sunnily, and headed upstairs.

“You could still come and watch,” Potter said casually. I turned around to face him, and watched as he opened my fridge, and took out my orange juice, unscrewing the lid and drinking straight from the carton, without using one of my cups!

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rose hide her face in her hands, already tired of the argument that was about to come. Because all of my interactions with Potter were arguments – or those that involved words, at least. I tried very hard otherwise to avoid him, which was nigh impossible since he was such a goddamn fixture of our friendship group.

“Were you too stupid to learn to use a flipping glass?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest, hoping that he’d drop the whole Quidditch thing. Everyone knew that I was deathly afraid of heights – my dramatic faint in first year had guaranteed that. The fear was so deep, that I hadn’t even made it halfway to the flying lesson. Even watching people fly made me extremely nervous. I rarely attended Quidditch matches for this reason, much to the disappointment of my brother, who was a Chaser on the Gryffindor team.

Potter grinned, shrugged, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “Oh, I learnt how to use a glass. But would I have had the pleasure of pissing you off if I’d used one?” he fluttered his eyelashes at me.

Rose groaned, “Al, please. You could lay off for today at least.”

I smiled triumphantly. At least someone was on my side.

“You, too, Ellie,” Rose continued.

My smile immediately fell, and I scowled.

Potter grinned again. He looked a little like an angry chimpanzee. “So?” he asked, running a hand through his hair, causing the short, dark strands to stand every which way. The middle Potter kid looked a lot like his father – same green eyes, same black hair, same unnaturally pimple-resistant skin – but usually, Junior’s hair was significantly tamer than Senior’s infamous unruly mop. Unless he ran his hands through it, deliberately ruffling it. Maybe he thought it made him look cool and sexy or something. Rather, it added to the whole angry chimpanzee vibe.

“So, what?” I asked, sneering like he was an idiot, although I knew perfectly well to what he referred. Fucking asshole. My skin prickled just thinking about all that air that would be between them and the ground, just a flimsy stick of wood between them and certain death… I suppressed a shiver, lest it give Potter more fuel for the fire.

“Want to come watch some Quidditch? You’d be on the ground, so it would be perfectly safe. I know the stands freak you out –”

“The stands do not freak me out!” I snapped. The stands totally freaked me out. As if it wasn’t bad enough to watch your friends – and your twin – zipping and zooming around hundreds of feet above solid ground. No, you had to do it also from hundreds of feet above solid ground.

“Okay, okay!” Potter said, his green eyes widening in alarm. “Keep your knickers on!”

I was about to snap out another retort – I didn’t know which, since there were so many to choose from – but Rose chose that moment to interject.

“I’m sure Ellie would love to watch!” she said. Lies. I’d hate to watch. “But,” she shot me a warning glance, as if she sensed just how much I didn’t want to watch them all play Quidditch. “We’re going to the shopping centre.”

“We are?” I asked, as this was news to me. Since we lived in a Muggle neighbourhood, we honoured the generations-old tradition of teenagers haunting the local shopping centre.

“Yes,” Rose ground out. “We are.”

And if Rose Granger-Weasley said it, so mote it be.

 

***

 

We were browsing through the book shop, when Rose hit me with the real reason she wanted to come to the shopping centre.

“Do you know about the new store that’s just opened?” she asked casually, as we perused the new releases book display.

“Hmm?” I said, absorbed in all the pretty cover designs. I wouldn’t count myself as a fan of the mermaids and vampires genre (all the latest craze, launched of course by a series featuring vampire mermaids), but I had to admit that they just looked so pretty. All those blues and greens. That surprising flash of red, every now and then. If nothing else, the aesthetic was strong with this latest sensation.

Rose bobbed her head enthusiastically! “Yeah! A new store! Thought we could check it out.”

I paused, a paperback in one hand and a hardcover in the other, and looked up at Rose. Something was definitely up. She hardly ever suggested that we do things. Our friendship didn’t work that way. Most of the time, she’d just say that we were doing it, and either I’d placidly follow along, or be dragged kicking and screaming (figuratively, of course… except for that one time).

“What’s the store?” I asked cautiously. Either Rose was giving me a choice because she was trying to be nice to me, on account of it being my birthday and all, or she was certain that I’d vehemently refuse. She may be the Ravenclaw to my Gryffindor, but after several years of friendship, I was an expert in the ways of the singular creature that was Rose Granger-Weasley.  With my vast knowledge of her nuances, I guessed that it was probably the latter reason. Whatever place she was about to say, I wasn’t going to like it one bit.

She looked vaguely guilty, turning away from me a little, as if already preparing for my inevitable wrath. “It’s called Arbor Vitae,” she replied, in a small voice.

I frowned, puzzled. Perhaps I had been wrong. That didn’t seem too bad. “Oh. Why do you want to go to a health food store?” Because that’s what the place sounded like – a hippie health food store. And whilst I didn’t really understand the whole craze around kale and chia seeds, I didn’t screech “burn it!” every time I saw words like “macro” and “organic” and “vegan”.

“Um…” Rose looked even more uncomfortable, which made me even more confused. Something was definitely up.

“Are we about to rendezvous with your secret Muggle boyfriend, Rose?” I asked. “Because that’s totally cool. Although I don’t think you really want me there for that. You know I’m not very good with new people.” This was an understatement. I wasn’t very good with people, period.

“No! It’s not that!” Rose yelped, her eyes widening in surprise.

I nodded, still trying to be understanding about it all. “Of course. I shouldn’t have assumed that you were ready to label it. You know I don’t really get the whole dating thing, so if this is still all very new and hush-hush, I understand. Your secret is safe with me! Although, why on earth are you having a secret rendezvous at a health food store of all places –?”

“There’s no secret Muggle boyfriend!” Rose screeched.

I snapped my mouth shut in surprise.

“Or we’re-not-ready-to-label-it-person!” she continued, still screeching.

I was glad that we were currently the only two customers in the shop, because it was already awkward enough with the wildly obvious way the dude behind the counter was staring at us. I swivelled around and glared at him until he hastily turned away and pretended to frantically search the inventory on the computer.

“Okay… because I thought you and Scorpius were –”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake where do you get all these ideas?” Rose spluttered, her cheeks heating to a deep shade of – well, rose. “There’s no one! Least of all Scorpius Malfoy! We’re just friends!”

I hid a smile at that. Rose and Scorpius had been dancing around each other since third year. There was simply no need for me to get any ideas from anywhere – I’m pretty sure even the Bloody Baron shipped them. And since they were both Head Girl and Boy this year… I didn’t want to say “bow chicka wow wow” but what choice did I have, really?

“It’s a Divination shop,” Rose continued, sounding far more composed, even though a slight hint of red remained on her face.

I rolled my eyes. That explained why she was being weird about all of it. “For fuck’s sake, Rose!” I sighed. I had no fucking idea why Rose Granger-Weasley, the smartest kid at Hogwarts, was such a die-hard believer in Divination of all things.

“I heard that the lady who owns the place is psychic!” Rose continued gamely, ignoring my rather lacklustre response.

“Where did you hear that? The bottom of your teacup?” I asked, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “Was she having coffee with the Grim?”

Rose gave me a withering glare, all narrowed eyes and thinned lips. “We’re going,” she said flatly.

I sighed, knowing that there was no point in arguing. “I hate you,” I said.

“Love you, Ellie,” she replied.

Why did people keep on saying that to me today, thinking that it makes it all okay?

 

***

 

“For the record, I just want to say that this place is super creepy,” I whispered. We were standing in the heart of the small store, which was tucked away into a forgotten corner of the shopping centre, just before the entrance to the perpetually-closed public toilets and the emergency exit. The place couldn’t have been all that big, but it felt a lot bigger, thanks to all the dark shadows that lurked everywhere. The mood lighting was provided by dim antique lamps dotted around the place, standing on rickety cast iron tables that almost groaned with all the psycho – sorry, psychic – paraphernalia. The still air was heavy with the scent of incense, making my nose itch.

“It’s not creepy, Ellie,” Rose admonished, also, notably, in hushed tones. “It’s… atmospheric.”

I raised an incredulous eyebrow at her.

She shrugged, and moved deeper into the store.

I hurried along behind her, lest the shadows came alive and detected a non-believer in their midst. I shuddered at what they’d do to me – a life spent playing snap with tarot cards sounded a lot like eternal damnation.

“Welcome, children,” a disembodied voice came out towards us from what I assumed was the back of the shop. It was difficult to tell, since the darkness was particularly thick around that area.

I jumped at the sudden sound. Rose gave a little scream.

A laugh tinkled, reminding me of the small wind chimes Dad has hanging from the ceiling fan in his office, even though it sounded nothing like wind chimes. Spooky.

And then a woman stepped out of the shadows, and into the dusty light of the nearest table lamp. She was middle-aged, her pale skin painted a rather flattering shade of butter yellow thanks to the lampshade, with her dark hair piled on top of her head into a hairstyle that could only be described as ‘Angkor Wat’. She was wearing flowing clothes in shades of deep green, that swished gently as she moved towards us, upsetting dust motes into whorls and eddies that just added to her halo of not-quite-of-this-plane mystique. (She was wholly alive, though, since my ghost senses weren’t tingling.) Her forearms clacked with a dozen wooden bangles, also in varying shades of green. The overall effect was very Merlin-and-Morgana, but with a modern twist. At least she got full marks for aesthetic.

“Madame Cassandra,” Rose breathed. I looked over at Rose in surprise, wondering how she knew the woman’s name – and why it seemed as if she was almost about to bow over the lady’s hand – but her attention was ensnared by the woman in front of us. I had to admit that I was a little jealous by the way she was able to capture the attention of the entire room. Even the crystal balls seemed to glint a little brighter in her presence.

“What do you seek in Arbor Vitae?” she asked, her voice a touch deeper than I expected from a woman of her height.

“Oh, we’re just browsing,” I replied, my voice taking on that veneer of cheery false politeness you get every time you’re approached by a salesperson.

By the slight frown that marred Madame Cassandra’s forehead, and the look of mild annoyance that Rose gave me, this was apparently the wrong answer.

“Aren’t we?” I asked Rose, a little uncertainly.

Rose’s frown deepened, as if I kept on saying the wrong thing, but she turned back to Madame Cassandra with a smile and replied, “Yes. We were curious about your new shop.”

I tried to keep my face as neutral as possible at this blatant lie. I wasn’t even a tiny bit curious about this shop. Quite frankly, the entire place was freaking me out a little, which was really saying something. My frequent and often unpleasant interactions with ghosts had made me immune to quite a lot of out-of-the-ordinary experiences.

“… But I think we’ll be heading off now!” I said with more of that false cheer, a little too loudly. I grabbed Rose by the arm, and started dragging her towards the front door. She offered a little resistance, but I used my superior height to good use.

“What? We are?” she yelped, digging her heels into the hardwood-patterned linoleum. As if that would stop me. I had at least six inches on her. And even though Rose was a Seeker on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, she was no match for my determination.

“Yes, we are,” I ground out. “Bye!” I said over my shoulder, giving the creepy woman all dressed in green a wave with the hand that didn’t have a vice-like grip on Rose’s arm. “Have a nice day!”

“You do not believe, child?” she called out. Rose and I both stopped. Damnit. We’d almost made it out of there.

“I believe!” Rose squeaked.

I sighed and let go of her, turning around to face the woman. I took a half-step back in surprise to see how close she’d come to us. I hadn’t even heard her move. How could she keep her wooden bangles so silent?

She gave a warm smile to Rose. “I know you believe, young one,” the approval in her voice was apparent. “But you,” she said, looking at me, her voice becoming considerably cooler. “It is clear from your aura that you are dismissive of the mystical arts.”

If by mystical arts she meant hogwash, then yeah. I guess I was dismissive.

“Look –” I began, not sure why I was about to defend myself against a complete stranger.

She waved an elegant hand in my direction, already swatting away my argument. Who was being dismissive, now?

“There’s no need, child,” she said. “Not everyone can be open to the whispers of the universe.”

I opened my mouth to retort once more, but was again stopped. “I have some advice for you, though,” she continued.

“Um, I don’t really need –” I started. (See what I mean about not being able to avoid the faux-prophecy?)

“You have a trying year ahead of you, child,” she said. I swallowed my frustrated sigh. The whole “child” thing was getting real annoying. I didn’t react well to condescension. “Many twists and turns await you.” I refrained from rolling my eyes. Even though the woman had put on that completely false, slightly breathy, yet totally doom-laden voice of prophecy, she wasn’t saying anything particularly earth-shattering – or concrete. I learnt more about my future from reading my horoscope in Witch Weekly.

“Keep your friends close – especially those you don’t consider friends,” she continued. I looked over at Rose to see if she was buying any of this. Of course, she was wholly enraptured, more than making up for my distinct lack of enthusiasm. “Secrets can eat through your soul.” Well that was particularly morbid. And what did she know about my secrets? Not telling a living soul about seeing dead people had nothing on committing psychic fraud.

There were a few heartbeats of silence before Rose and I realised that Madame Cassandra was finally done with her crazy-ass prophecy – or whatever that unsolicited advice had been.

“Oh, thank you so much!” Rose gushed, almost rushing over to engulf the spindly woman in a trademark Rose hug, but controlled herself at the last moment. “We’ll be sure to heed your words!”

“We will?” I asked dubiously.

Rose’s elbow dug into my waist, quick and vicious.

“Ow!” I yelped. God, that woman had bony elbows!

“We most certainly will!” she emphasised, glaring at me, just to make sure I got the point.

“Okay, fine! Whatever,” I muttered.

Madame Cassandra simply smiled at us indulgently.

With one final incredulous look at her (which I fear was more spooked than I wanted it to be), I turned to leave the shop.

Once again, just before reaching its threshold, Madame Cassandra called out. “Oh, one more thing, child.”

I turned my head over my shoulder, trying to reign in my frustration (and unease).

“Happy birthday.” And with one last cool, knowing smile, she melted back into the shadows.

Spookier, and spookier.

AN: Hey y’all! Welcome readers, old and new! Once again, this is a serious edit of the previous version of the chapter. For returning readers: first of all, thanks for coming back. That means a lot. You guys are the best. Second, this chapter is most of the second part of the original first chapter, if you were wondering. Let me know what you guys think! I love hearing your thoughts. Until next time!

Adios, amigos! :D


Chapter 3: {Chapter the Third}
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

You know your life ain’t normal when you find Regulus Black in your kitchen.

… I have a bad habit of getting ahead of myself. Once again, let me backtrack.

Rose and I had returned from our surprisingly spooky trip to the shopping centre to prepare for the birthday party that was happening this evening. This, of course, had not been my idea at all. My introversion was severe enough that organised social gatherings, especially those where I was the star attraction, caused me more than background-level anxiety. What if no one comes? What if we don’t have enough food? What if no one likes the food? What if people think my house is lame? Or that my party is lame? Or that I am lame?

The people around me gave no fucks, of course. And if I were in a more rational, and less panicked frame of mind, I would thank them. Hell, I’ll be thanking them as early as tomorrow morning. I try to be very strict with myself concerning my insecurities, so I allow my family and friends to push me into uncomfortable situations like these. Plus, Chris loves parties, and he loves birthdays even more, especially his own. I couldn’t steal this joy from him. And Rose had put up a strong argument about how you only turned seventeen once. This was technically true about any age one turned, but I understood the sentiment.

So I’d agreed. We were going to have a party. Sort of. Perhaps sensing my unease through our twin bond (or perhaps hearing me utter the words “I am uneasy about this birthday party”), Chris magnanimously decided that we’d only invite the Potters, Rose (and her parents if they wanted to come), Scorpius, and my second best friend, Ben. Unfortunately, Ben and Scorpius couldn’t make it, and neither could Minister Granger, so we were a cosy party of eleven around our magicked dining table.

Dad had managed to pull himself away long enough from his beloved stone tablets to actually cook all the things I’d put on the list, with Chris assisting. I hated cooking, but loved delegating, so I’d been dubbed ‘event manager’. I’d ordered the cake, found all the decorations, and swept and dusted the day before. Rose had been instructed to actually put up all the decorations, as well as assist in the expansion of the table. When she’d complained that she’d never be able to do it all by herself, I’d relented and agreed that she was allowed to employ one Potter to help. Thank God it had been Lily who’d volunteered as tribute.

And amidst the swishes of wands, the flying of paper cut-outs and lanterns, the stirring of spoons, and the groaning of growing wood (the table), I found myself an hour past the sit-down dinner, and T-minus fifteen minutes from the blowing of candles and the cutting of cake. I leant in the doorway between our living room and the backyard, catching a moment of quiet for myself. Our solid timber table had proved too big to fit into the dining room once we’d stretched it to almost three times its normal size, so we’d moved it outside. In what must have been a birthday miracle, the perfect summer’s day had morphed into the perfect summer’s evening. The gentle hum of conversation commingled with the sounds of cicadas and the occasional car driving past. A little halo of light encompassed our garden, thanks to Rose’s keen eye for floating lantern placement. She always struck the right ratio between least number of lanterns used and the largest area of ground brightened. Just one of the many reasons that made her the quintessential Ravenclaw.

Chris, Potter, and Mr Weasley were laughing together about something, not far from the table. I could see Mr Weasley eyeing the large platter of summer fruits I’d brought out earlier. How long will it take him to levitate a piece of watermelon to himself, I wonder?

I smiled a little as I watched Chris. There was a certain air about Chris that drew the eye. Maybe it was the way he carried himself, or his smile, or his warm, open gaze. I think people called it charisma, and Chris had it in buckets. In freshly-washed black jeans and a neatly ironed button-down shirt, that charisma was almost shimmering in a halo around him.

My smile dimmed a little as my eyes drifted over to Potter, who was identically dressed, except where Chris’ shirt was a deep blue, Potter’s was soft pink. From afar, they could’ve been mistaken for the twins. Both had black hair, and similar slim builds, with Potter being a couple of inches taller. They even had that same charisma oozing out of their pores. My nose wrinkled thinking about how it was so unfair how some people got cool things coming out of their pores, whereas mere mortals such as myself simply got zits. Nowhere near as attractive a trait.

Before I could mutter a subtle curse of adolescent pimple-prone skin in Potter’s direction, my attention was caught by a loud laugh. Despite myself, my heart leapt in my chest, wobbling a little as it landed. My gaze snagged on where James Potter had his head thrown back in open amusement at whatever was happening in that little circle of people. He stood with Dad and Lily, and whilst Lily was objectively my favourite Potter kid, I couldn’t take my eyes away from James.

The embarrassing truth was that I had a good old-fashioned crush on James Sirius Potter. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know why. It simply was. For as long as I could remember, James had been the cool, fun elder brother, even if only by a year. And in typical girl-next-door fashion, I’d been harbouring a secret infatuation. My admiration had only grown since he’d graduated earlier this summer, and following in his mother’s sporty footsteps, already had a spot on the Tutshill Tornadoes Quidditch team. It made no sense to me how my crush could grow deeper once he entered a career that scared the heebie-jeebies out of me. Fortunately, I possessed enough of my faculties to realise that whatever my feelings for James Potter may be, our current relationship of neighbours-who-are-also-family-friends was unlikely to change. I was quite comfortable pining over him from afar. I mean, if James Potter ever asked me out on a date, I’d probably pass out from the ridiculousness of it all.

As I continued to smile somewhat goofily at the delicious sight of James Potter (that wild auburn hair, those rakish good looks, the roguish smile… swoon-worthy stuff), the hairs on my arm prickled in warning, despite the still night air. I glanced around to see where the fire hazard was, only to find Potter looking at me, his eyes narrowed. Our gazes connected, and I frowned. His damn lips suggested that they were about to launch themselves into a smirk, revealing a thrice-cursed dimple in his right cheek. I was saved from that smirky fate as his eyes flitted over to where I’d been looking: his elder, and quite frankly, much better brother. Dread slithered through my stomach, but just a touch, as if it were water dripping through a little crack in the ground. He wouldn’t be able to tell whom I’d been staring at: there were two other people there. He couldn’t. A small furrow of thought appeared between his eyebrows.

Could he?

He looked back at me.

I maintained the eye contact. If this turned out to be some sort of battle for power, I’d sure as hell come out alpha.

He raised his eyebrows, the furrow disappearing to be replaced with crinkle lines across his forehead; they clearly said, “I’m mocking you but I don’t know quite why.”

I swallowed, still maintaining the eye contact and my slight frown that said right back, “I’m not mocked by you or your eyebrows. Or your forehead.”

He glanced back in the direction of Dad, Lily, and James. My eyes, however, were glued to Potter. I’d have to disinfect my retinas later after such prolonged exposure, but I couldn’t look away. I was in too deep. Seventeen years. Seventeen years I’d successfully hidden my silly, harmless crush. And it was all going to come crumbling down around my head because I’d let down my guard. I’d felt foolishly safe, here, in my own backyard, under the romantic light of the full moon.

And then he looked back at me. Something flashed in his eyes. Crystal, perfectly faceted. Completely baffling. But then his lips finally did what they’d been threatening to do these entire past ten seconds. That smirk sprung to his face, and straight to my heart, which was hastily assuming the foetal position to minimise the damage.

The dread focused itself into a swift stream as the crack of doubt in my belly widened into a chasm. He knew. I knew he knew. And since his smirk only widened, he knew that I knew that he knew.

Fuck being alpha. It was time to beat a strategic retreat.

Even as I whirled away, and hurried into the safety of my living room, I knew that it was too late. The damage was done.

Albus Severus Potter knew my secret.

 

***

 

I leant against the edge if the kitchen sink, my body heavy against my arms. Deep breaths, Ellie. Deep breaths. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t so bad. So what that I had a crush on someone? I was allowed to have crushes on people. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, wasn’t hurting anyone. And so what if someone knew? I’m ninety-five percent sure that Rose knows; there’s an eighty percent chance that Chris and Lily know, too. And probably about seventy-five percent probability that James himself knows. I’ve had the crush for ages, things are bound to slip through the cracks. It takes a lot of energy to pretend that you have no feelings; sometimes you get tired.

Things were different with Potter, though. For some reason, things were always different with him. More complicated. Less clean. His status as my arch nemesis muddied the waters. The most worrying thing was that he’d find a way to use the information against me. He’d use my feelings, twist and turn them into something sharp and spiteful, and them stab me with them. Certainly not today. Probably not tomorrow. Maybe not the day after. But some day…

I knew this because I’d do the exact same thing if our situations were reversed. It’s what arch nemeses did, after all.

I moved to a cupboard and grabbed a glass, returning to the sink to fill it with some water. I was glad that I was alone in the house at the moment, the blissful reprieve giving me a few minutes to compose myself in privacy.

I took a sip of my water, staring at the empty space where our dining table usually was. There was nothing I could do, really – not until he actually did something. And I wouldn’t know what to do either until he did it. A frustrated sigh whooshed out of my nose. I disliked that I had to react rather than act, and I disliked it even more because I was forced into doing so by Albus Potter. That boy existed to be the Moriarty to my Holmes, the Master to my Doctor, the Joker to my Batman –

The hair on the back of my neck stood on end, blown by an ectoplasmic breeze. There was a dead person in my kitchen.

As usual, I gave no outward reaction, easily slipping into what I liked to call my “ghosting mode”. I lowered the glass from my lips, and gently placed it in the sink. Taking one last surreptitious deep breath, I steeled myself for whatever came next, and turned around.

And blinked in surprise at what greeted me.

His pale skin gave the suggestion of those bioluminescent creatures that lived deep within dark, dark caves, the effect multiplied by the contrast of his black t-shirt and jeans. I wanted to put him into one of those UV incubators they use for jaundiced babies, just to get some colour on him. But I could tell that he was – or had been, back when mitochondria were the powerhouse of his cells – quite fit. His arms were toned where they stuck out like sticks of chalk from the sleeves of his t-shirt, and the material of his jeans clung quite snugly to his leanly muscled legs. The way he stood in his calf-high boots – also black – legs shoulder-width apart, back perfectly straight yet perfectly relaxed, showed that he’d been trained to stand that way. No teenager would choose perfect posture over slouching otherwise. His hands were shoved into the front pockets of his jeans, and a knowing grin flashed across his handsome face.

“Hello, Ellie,” he said, his voice a pleasing tenor.

“Hello,” I croaked.

You’ll have to excuse my surprise. As I’ve said, it’s not normal to have Regulus fucking Black standing in the middle of your kitchen.

 

***

 

“Well, I must say, I’m rather flattered by your attention,” he chirped, clearly enjoying my shock. His voice wasn’t completely smooth like I’d first thought. No, it echoed of gravel, scuffing his words as they travelled through his voice box. “But I’m not your type. I’m much too old for you.” He winked, clearly enjoying the irony of the situation, since the bloke looked to be around sixteen.

I blinked again. I don’t think anyone has ever winked at me, especially flirtatiously. Even I knew that he was flirting, at least a little (despite essentially zero field experience), because he had that knowing grin back on his face.

I’d seen photos of Sirius Black, the elder – and more famous – of the Black brothers. Looking at Regulus now, I could see the strong familial link. Regulus had the black hair for which I assumed they’d earned their family name. It was long enough to be slightly wavy, even though it had been styled into something that could only be described as “preppy hipster”. How it had been styled, I had no clue. If the afterlife had spectral hair styling gel, this was news to me. Sirius and Regulus’ face had been carved using the same sculpting guide: that being the devilishly handsome one. His features were rounder than Sirius’, though. Where the elder was all sharp cheekbones and razor-blade nose, the younger had softness, curved rather than blunted.

Those ice blue eyes told the real story, however. His relaxed pose and devil-may-care grin may fool the casual observer, but one glance at those chips of ice and you’d know the truth: it had been a long time since this soul had known any warmth.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, attempting to shake myself out of it. I could think about how cute he was later. Right now, I had to concentrate on how dead he was.

He gave an insouciant shrug. “Just wanted to drop in and say hello. You’re my new assignment.”

I nodded automatically, before his words caught up with me. “Wait, what?”

He made a disappointed clicking sound. “So close, this time,” he muttered. “I’d almost had you.”

Had me?” I asked. “Where? When?”

He waved a careless hand in front of him, as if he could swat away my questions. “Don’t worry about it,” he said breezily. “All will be revealed in due course.”

I hated it when people told me not to worry. As if I actually wanted to worry, like it was something I enjoyed doing. Quite often, it had the exact opposite effect: my worry ratcheted up a few notches.

“Don’t tell me not to worry!” I snapped.

“Okay, okay. Don’t be lasagne.” He stuck his hands out in a placating gesture. “I’ll explain more once you’re at school –”

“Hold up; why do I have to wait until school –?”

“You ask too many questions!” he said, once again waving his hand around like that would dismiss what I was saying.

I took a deep breath, trying to centre myself. I didn’t fancy myself as someone who’d lose their cool at meeting a dead (sort of) famous person. I had to be professional. Take control of the situation.

“Do you know that you’re dead?” I asked.

He rolled his eyes. “No, I’ve always been invisible to the general population and had the ability to walk through walls. Although, know that you mention it, materialising into people’s kitchens is a new development.”

I controlled my own eye roll. I hated it when the ghosts gave me sass. “Then I’ll ask again: why are you here?”

“Wi-fi’s shit on my usual plane of existence.”

I stared hard at him to see if he was messing with me still. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t.

“Do you know how difficult it’s been to stream the new season of Doctor Who?”

“… You know what wi-fi is.” Today was shaping up to be one of those days. First the false Muggle seer with her phoney prophecies, and now this. A bona fide dead ex-Death Eater who streamed Doctor Who. There should be a limit to one out-of-the-ordinary occurrence a week.

“I’ve been dead for more than forty years, Ellie,” he said. I was surprised to hear the first note of seriousness in him since he’d materialised. “The afterlife gets real dull if you don’t keep up with the times.”

“So you just want my wi-fi password?” I asked, not really sure how to follow a declaration like that.

He laughed. “Oh, I don’t need your wi-fi password to use your wi-fi.”

My eyes widened in horror, and he grinned again. “Yes,” that grin said, “I can use my ectoplasmic talents to hack your wi-fi.” I got the distinct feeling that Regulus Black wasn’t my usual type of ghost. Something of my shocking realisation must have passed across my face, because his grin widened.

Before either of us could say anything else though, Regulus’ attention drifted to somewhere over my shoulder.

“Someone’s coming,” he informed me. “I’ll see you at Hogwarts.”

“But –” Before I could splutter anything else out past my shock, he was gone.

 

***

 

“Ellie?” my dad asked from behind me. I turned around to watch him walk towards the kitchen. I had a moment of panic as I wondered if he’d heard me talking to – or rather, spluttering – to myself. But all he said was, “What are you doing in here?”

I smiled, hoping I didn’t look as relieved as I felt. I’d really dodged the stunning charm this time. I was sure I’d be able to deflect any queries concerning my mental stability, but my long-distance encounter with Potter, followed so closely by the baffling appearance of Regulus Black and his claims of shitty wi-fi connection, had me off my game. “Just getting a glass of dihydrogen monoxide!” I blindly reached for the half-empty glass I’d placed in the sink. My fingers brushed against the glass’ smooth surface and I brandished it in the air, a trophy to signify my saneness.

Dad stared at me for half a moment more, his smile still bemused. But as I didn’t show any further signs of my weirdness, it morphed into something more genuine. I felt an unexpected rush of love for my father, and my own face relaxed into a genuine smile of its own.

I put the glass down, and trudged out of the kitchen. Reaching Dad, he enveloped me in a hug. I returned it.

“I love you, Bella,” he was the only one allowed to call me that. If anyone else tried, I’d hex them to the Kuiper belt.

“I love you, too, Dad,” I mumbled into his chest. He wasn’t much taller than me, but I snuggled myself deeper into his hug, like I used to do when I was little.

He gave a wistful sigh. “You’re all grown up, now.”

I smiled as he gave a little sniff, but I didn’t move from my somewhat squashed up position.

“Seventeen’s an important age. Your mum told me about it.” A lump formed in my throat, like it always did when Dad spoke about Mum this way. His voice held all his love and all his heartbreak, too.

He gently pulled me away from him, and fished for something in his pocket. I took the moment to blink my eyes rapidly, hoping to dissolve the rock of grief lodged in my throat.

By the time he’d retrieved the small blue box from his pocket with a triumphant “aha!”, we’d both composed ourselves.

He handed me the box, saying, “Your mother would’ve wanted you to have this today. She said it was tradition.”

The velvet was warm in my palm, the navy blue oddly familiar. I stared at it, trying to place where I’d seen it before.

“Open it,” Dad murmured.

With another frown, I flicked the box open. The lid swung up and back on its little hinge, revealing the treasure inside.

A worn watch greeted me. It’s black leather strap was soft and faded, and it’s face had a lifetime of scratches on it. The exposed cogs – as well as the numerals and hands telling the time – were still visible, though.

“I just gave Chris his,” Dad said, as I gently lifted it out of the box, turning it over to run my thumb over its silver-polished back. “It’s the same as yours. Your mum saw them in a shop somewhere in London when she was pregnant with you two. Said that she knew instantly that these were meant for you.”

I tried to marry the image of my practical, no-nonsense mother with this newly revealed clairvoyant. It didn’t quite sit right with my memories. But pregnancy was weird; what’s to say that a touch of clairvoyance wasn’t part of the deal?

“I –” I cleared my throat of those pesky emotions, and tried again. “Thank you, Dad.”

“Do you like it?” he asked, a touch anxiously.

“I love it,” I murmured, looking down at my gift again. The solid weight of the watch in my palm felt bittersweet. Mum should’ve been here today, with us.

“Good!” Dad said, injecting cheer into his voice. I looked up to see the shadows dancing in his grey eyes. I bit my lip, not sure if I should say something.

The decision was made for me when Chris burst into the living room, singing, “Time for cake!”

I laughed, clutching the watch tight in my hand.

“Time for cake!” Dad sang back.

I sighed, gently placing the gift back in its box, snapping its lid shut, just as I mentally snapped the lid shut on my grief. It was impossible to be sad when it was time for cake.

AN: Hello, folks! Welcome to the end of chapter three. For returning readers: yay! Regulus is back! Rejoice! I’d cut him out of chapter two, so I had to include him in the next one! For new readers! What do you think of Regulus Black? I hope you enjoyed my twist on him. He’s so much fun to write. Bonus if anyone picks up the Twelfth Doctor reference Regulus makes.

I horribly forgot to thank my wonderful beta, PaulaTheProkaryote, in my last chapter, so I’m thanking her twice, here. All hail Paula, Chakravartin of Commas!

The Hunger Games is written by Suzanne Collins. Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty were created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Doctor Who was created by Sydney Newman, CE Webber, and Donald Wilson, the Doctor was created by Sydney Newman, and the Master was created by Barry Letts, Robert Holmes, and Terrance Dicks. Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and the Joker was created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson.

Adios, amigos! :D

 


Chapter 4: {Chapter the Fourth}
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You know your life ain’t normal when you spend most of your free time in the library.

I sighed, leaning back into the uncomfortable wooden backrest. One would think that after a millennium of use, the chairs in the Hogwarts library would have been changed. They were still in great condition, though. You couldn’t say that about a lot of stuff made today, no matter how comfortable it is. Furniture just isn’t made like it used to be in the dark ages.

My neck was stiff after a solid evening spent leaning over my books and parchment. Sometimes I thought about what my crazy old ballet teacher would say about my posture, but most of the time I was too busy repressing memories of my crazy old ballet teacher. She made Xenophilius Lovegood, editor-in-chief of The Quibbler seem like your average Joe Blow.

I rubbed the muscles at the back of my neck, trying to get some of the blood flowing to help loosen them up. Unfortunately, amongst my many gifts, massaging wasn’t included, so all I managed to do was give myself a friction burn. Understandably, this did nothing to improve my mood. Two weeks into my final school year, and I was sitting at a table made in the Dark Ages, with nothing but my adorable lion pencil case for company.

My customary table was hidden behind the stacks that held the books pertaining to magical agriculture. It did not bode well for the future of the magical agricultural industry because it was a little-used area.

The library was quiet at this time of the evening, with curfew for the younger students long past, and the curfew for the fifth- and sixth-years fast approaching. I hadn’t bothered to find out when the seventh years’ curfew was. I assumed that Madam Pince, the grumpy immortal librarian would kick me out when it was time.

I sat for a few moments doing absolutely nothing but enjoying the quiet. I don’t know why I was this way; comfortable with being alone amongst a millennium of accumulated knowledge and dust, than I was amongst my friends working and laughing merrily around the Common Room fire. At least, I assumed that was what they were doing. I hadn’t really seen much of anyone since term had started. Chris and Potter were busy preparing for the Gryffindor Quidditch trials tomorrow morning; Rose and Scorpius were busy with their new responsibilities as Head Boy and Girl, as well trying to furiously deny the sexual tension between them; Ben was busy wooing another girl; and Amy was busy hanging out with the more social and outgoing of her friends, since the one remaining member of her usual gang was too socially awkward to even think about making new friends.

I frowned at that thought. When was the last time I’d had a proper conversation with someone outside of class? This was pretty anti-social behaviour, even coming from me. I usually waited until after Christmas to isolate myself. Ben fondly called it my “winter blues”. He could be a real sweetheart about things, sometimes.

As I tried to remember my social interactions over the last two weeks, my frown deepened. Even the restless dead had been scarce. Usually, there weren’t too many of the doubly non-corporeal around Hogwarts – I’d probably average a dead person ‘incident’ about once a month. It turns out, schools aren’t that popular with dead people. It was still strange that I hadn’t even seen anyone dead yet, though. They flocked at the beginning of the school year, giving me the rather creepy impression that they could sense my presence.

I sighed again. Not even dead people, who had nothing better to do with their time, wanted to spend time around me.

At that depressing thought, I stood up from my chair, thinking that perhaps a quick walk to stretch my legs and clear my head might be just the thing. A quick glance at my new watch told me there was still half an hour until the library closed for the night – longer, if the librarian couldn’t find me.

I stretched my arms over my head, and twisted my torso from side to side. I felt some of my vertebrae crack back into place, loosening the muscles around them. I shook my legs to rid myself of pins and needles, and half-meandered half- hobbled (pins and needles could be so debilitating) over to my favourite section of the library: the restricted section. I’d had a free pass since fifth year, when I’d asked my Astronomy professor, Professor Anu, for access to it in order to find a translation for an old Mesopotamian text on the phases of the moon. I’d timed my request rather well – she’d been so impressed with my previous essay on the modern zodiac that she hadn’t even looked at what she was signing. I’d left the slip blank, which meant that I had unlimited access for the rest of my natural life. When I wasn’t occupied with other projects, I hoped to find the secret to Madam Pince’s immortality amongst the forbidden stacks, so that perhaps my natural life may be just as extended as hers.

When the books weren’t severely disturbing, they had proven quite interesting in my quest for answers about my ‘gift’. There was practically nothing about death, or ghosts, or necromancy on the ordinary shelves – even in this modern day and age, death remained such a taboo subject.

Reaching the dingy metal plaque, I stepped over the low chain from which it hung. The air in the restricted section was still. The natural hush that pervaded a holy place of knowledge and learning was amplified here, with its tall stacks shrouded in clouds of darkness, and the dim torches casting more shadows than light. The place broke at least three laws of physics with its ambience alone. If I couldn’t find answers to my questions here, I did not wish to think about the kind of questions I was asking.

I took a deep breath of the still air and smiled, feeling better than I had in a while. There was something thrilling about being allowed in a forbidden place. All this wisdom and knowledge, kept from the masses for their own protection, and here I was, one of the chosen few, standing before it all, the secrets of the universe a mere cracked spine and blood-stained page away.

I walked to the stack farthest away from me. The restricted section was organised the same way as the main library, so I knew that the middle stacks, where I spent most of my time, housed the books on two of my favourite school subjects: Potions and Astronomy. My other favourite subject was Arithmancy, but there wasn’t anything really secretive or taboo about maths, so most of the books were out in the main area, conveniently only two stacks down from magical agriculture.

The books and scrolls about death and death magic, however, were almost exclusively hidden away in the restricted section, near the back, where not even the most ardent of couples after a moment or two of private smooch-time would dare venture. There was something in the air near those shelves that made you remember other, more important things you had to do or depending on its mood that day, warned you that if you came any further, the dust motes that seemed so happy and carefree in the sunlight shining through the single stained-glass window on the far side of the room would become far more sinister than any dust mote had a right to be.

For me, the only thing that was mildly deterring about the place was the scarcity of torches. What did I have to fear from arcane writings on death and the afterlife, when the answers to the very questions some of these authors were asking literally haunted me?

The two bookshelves were silent sentries on both sides. Most of the leather-bound spines had no names; if they did, time had long ago peeled them off. The scrolls in their individual pigeon holes on the right wall were even more anonymous. If someone ever made it this far, they would have to be quite determined to find what they looked for – Copernicus only knew when they would find it.

Even though I was amongst those unfortunates seeking knowledge that did its best not to be sought, it didn’t really bother me anymore. What was the matter with finding more questions than answers? A library wasn’t much use if not for the pursuit of knowledge.

I reached the back wall. Beyond the thick stone was the cool September breeze, wings of a frosty winter riding the currents of air. I placed my palms flat on the rough stone and closed my eyes. It was cold, any traces of the deep fires that formed the dark basalt long gone. Keeping my eyes closed, still breathing deeply, my fingers drifted over the bumps and dips towards the soft wood finish of the bookshelf. I let my thoughts drift with my fingers, letting go of the past few days, and simply enjoying the present moment. It was a technique I had read about back in fifth year, when my bouts of insomnia had begun. The idea was that I did it before I went to bed, so that I was relaxed to fall asleep, but I always felt more energised and focused afterward. Some of my most inspired essays had come after doing this exercise. Perhaps it was time to find a new relaxation technique.

My right hand coasted over the joining of the wall and bookshelf. My pinkie rested on the time-weathered leather of a book, the ridges and valleys of the cracked spine like a braid. My ring finger touched the dusty surface of the wooden frame, whilst my thumb and pointer still rested upon the roughhewn stone. My middle finger touched space. I opened my eyes at this unexpected find. I knew from performing this exercise on the other side of the room numerous times that the joining of wood and stone was flush, with not even a hairsbreadth of a gap between the two. I took a step back, but still kept my finger along the seam. The gap here was at least half the width of my thumbnail. I frowned, and leant in to take a closer look.

“Since when have you developed such an interest in walls, Ellie?” a coolly amused voice asked from behind me.

I jumped at the intrusion and pressed my back into the wall, as if I had made the crack. I’d been so engrossed by a bloody gap, that I had not noticed the tell-tale tingle down my spine.

“Regulus! What are you doing here?” My voice came out more breathy and panicked than I had intended. I had received a fright, but I wasn’t doing anything wrong. And it wasn’t as if a sixteen-year-old who had been dead for forty years could do something about it, even if I had.

He smirked, although his ice-blue eyes looked at me keenly. “Nothing, much,” he shrugged. “Just thought I’d check up on you.”

I frowned, and took a step away from the wall. “What makes you think I need checking up on?”

He rolled his eyes. “Come on, Ellie. It’s only been two weeks since the beginning of term, and you’re already hiding in the library from all your friends? Now, I know that I never completed my seventh year, but I’m quite sure that work doesn’t pile up that quickly.”

My eyes narrowed. “It’s none of your damns business – wait a second. How do you know I’ve been spending time in the library? Have you been spying on me?” Incredulity and accusation rose with every sentence I spoke.

The little git wasn’t even a little fazed. For a dead guy, he really had his shit together. He waved a careless hand. “Spying has such negative connotations. I prefer keeping tabs on a friend.”

My eyes narrowed even further. With the terrible lighting and the almost squinting, I was practically blind by this point. “You’re not my friend.”

He gasped, his face forming a perfect mask of outrage. “You wound me, Ellie!”

“Oh, cut the crap –”

“Is this a new thing, or have you been talking to yourself for a while, Anderson?” a new voice asked from the darkness.
 

This time, I yelped.

Both Regulus and Potter smirked.

“What are you doing here?” I asked Potter. I sensed that I sounded like a broken record. I’d asked the same question not two minutes ago of another adolescent male who was too cocky and handsome for his own good.

Potter raised his eyebrows. “It’s a library, Anderson. What do you do here?”

“I didn’t know you could read.” As far as witty comebacks went, this wasn’t one of my finer examples, but my nerves were a little frazzled, what with strange gaps in the wall, and annoying people popping up quite literally out of nowhere.

His lips pulled back in a sneer. “I may be an uneducated heathen, but at least I’m not insane like you.”

I inhaled loudly in outrage. “I’m not crazy!” Why was it that whenever one went to declare the wholeness of their sanity, it came out sounding the complete opposite?

“You sounded pretty crazy to me, just then.” I’d forgotten that Regulus was still standing there. I tried my hardest not to snap at him – I knew I sounded mad, thank you very much dead dude – but I couldn’t help glancing in his direction for a fraction of a second.

Potter caught my glance.

“If you’re not crazy, then what are you trying to hide?” he asked, his smirk once again returning to its rightful place on his rather good-looking mug. He walked slowly down the aisle towards me.

“Nothing! I’m not trying to hide anything!”

“Crazy and a liar, Ellie?” Regulus tutted. “Didn’t your mother teach you better?”

I really wanted to snap at the idiot, but I couldn’t, not with Potter only three feet away, holy Galileo how did he move so fast?

I took a half step back in surprise.

“Nervous, Anderson?” Potter asked casually.

I snorted. “What? Of you? Never?” I crossed my arms across my chest.

“Your body language suggests otherwise,” stated Regulus, oh-so-helpfully.

“Shut up,” I muttered out of the corner of my mouth.

“You said something, love?” Potter asked.

“Are you hearing things, Potter? I’m not sure if I’m the crazy one, here,” I snapped. This was something. Perhaps if I could convince him that he was the crazy one hearing things… It would be killing two birds with one stone!

Potter stood before me for a moment, his posture relaxed and his hands tucked in the pockets of his black school pants. The keenness in his gaze betrayed his otherwise nonchalant stance.

The silence stretched out. Potter and I stared at each, willing the other to break first, whilst Regulus stood between us, watching intently.

“What are you doing here?” I asked again, unable to take the uncomfortableness of the situation any longer. I internally winced at this sign of weakness. Now he’d definitely think I was up to something. I’d as much as screamed it by breaking the silence first.

“What are you doing here?” he asked back, taking half a step forward.

I leant back instinctively.

“That’s none of your business,” I snapped.

He raised his eyebrows. “Oh, and knowing what I’m doing here, is?”

He had me there. “He has you there,” remarked Regulus.

My mouth pressed into a thin line. “Go away.” I didn’t know to whom that was directed – I wouldn’t complain if both of them left.

“No.”

“I was here first.”

“You don’t own the place.”

I was becoming severely annoyed at Potter’s cool façade. Here I was, ten seconds away from losing my temper, and there he stood, as cool as the ice sheets of Antarctica.

“This is the restricted section,” I informed him.

He looked around. “I’m aware.”

“Then you’d also be aware that unless you have permission, this place has restricted access.”

“I’m aware of that, too.”

“Ooh!” Regulus said with glee. “What brilliant comeback will Ellie Anderson come up with this time? Has her famous wit finally met its match? Find out next, on the Sexual Tension Saga!”

Sexual Tension Saga? What on earth had this guy been watching on the telly? Gossip Girl?

“Perhaps your obtuseness is preventing you from grasping my subtext, Potter,” I began as sweetly as the circumstances allowed me. “If you don’t have permission to be here, get out.

“On the contrary, Anderson. Despite my obtuseness, I was perfectly able to grasp your subtext. However, since I am here, it seems your obtuseness is hindering your ability to read between the lines,” Potter finished with a smirk.

“Burn,” Regulus added, rather unnecessarily. If ever I did find myself in a situation where I was unable to read between the lines, I could at least count on my annoying ghost companion to fill in the blanks.

I sniffed and turned away, to stare at the bookshelf. “Very well, Potter. Point taken. Now feel free to run along to whichever section you were after. I believe I have been sufficiently defeated for one evening.”

“Oh, bravo!” Regulus cried. “And Anderson delivers the final thrust in this fascinating verbal fencing match, with a clear dismissal, thinly veiling a bruised dignity.”

… Where does this guy come up with shit like this? One minute, he’s all ‘TTYL’s, and the next, he’s commentating from the court of Queen Victoria? Is this guy even real?

“You still haven’t answered my first question,” Potter said, completely oblivious to the dead dude standing not two feet away from him.

“What question?” I asked, trying to focus on the book directly in front of my nose. It was rather difficult, what with Potter’s fat head blocking the dim light.

“Who were you talking to, just before I found you?”

“I believe I answered that question,” I said primly, trying to look as confident as I could as I pulled out the book. I hoped that it wouldn’t be covered in questionable stains, or worse, have a title like The DIY Guide to Making Your Own Horcruxes stamped in gold lettering across the front. I was quite sure that I would take a giant leap from ‘insane’ to ‘criminally insane’ rather quickly. Not that I cared what Potter thought of me. He could take a walk through Dante’s Inferno and never come back, for all I cared.

“You said you weren’t talking to anyone.”

“She’s lying, chump,” Regulus said to Potter, as if he could hear him. “She was talking to me.”

“That is correct,” I said, now flipping through the pages, not comprehending a single word of the tiny cursive print.

“But I heard you talking to someone,” Potter persisted.

I snapped the book shut. “Perhaps you were hearing things.”

“Why would I be hearing your voice?”

“Quite frankly, I don’t want to know, although I have a few ideas,” Regulus said with a sly grin.

What he implied made me almost gag.

“I don’t know!” I snapped, still recovering from what Regulus had said. Did he actually mean… that Potter, of all people… thought of me… in that way! Holy mother of Pride and Prejudice! That was positively disgusting!

“You were definitely talking to someone,” Potter said with confidence.

“Do you see anyone else here?” I asked. And he said that my powers of observation were weak!

“Well, no… but they could have snuck away…”

“What? Into a book, or something? Or perhaps you think that they’re hiding in one of the pigeon holes?” I jammed the book back into its space on the shelf – a callous act that I would never have done if I wasn’t so vexed with Regulus for interrupting my gap investigation and Potter catching me in the act of being vexed with an invisible dead person – and made to march away from Potter and Regulus.

“Was it your boyfriend?” he asked.

Regulus chortled as I tripped over his words. A quick glare in his direction and he quickly turned that chortle into a coughing fit.

“My –” I whirled around to stare at him. “My what?”

“Your boyfriend,” he repeated.

“What in Flamel’s name gave you that idea?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. I haven’t seen you around lately, and then I find you here, apparently alone, in a dark corner of the restricted section on a Thursday evening. What else was I supposed to think?”

“You hear a voice in the library –”

“Your voice.”

“And then automatically assume I had some sort of clandestine assignation with my secret beau?” I finished, ignoring his rude interruption.

“Well, not when you dress it up like a historical romance,” Potter admitted. “So who is he?”

“Who?” I asked, baffled.

“Your boyfriend, or beau, or whatever you want to call him. Come on, you can tell me. I can keep a secret.” He shot me what he probably thought was a charming and trustworthy grin. He dimpled too much for my liking.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, desperately searching for the calm I had before being so rudely interrupted by a couple of jumped up adolescent males. “He’s standing right next to you.” I indicated the space currently occupied by one deceased Regulus Black.

“What? Me?” Regulus asked, incredulousness shaping his features into the first genuine expression I’d seen on his face. “The mere thought is revolting! She’s not my type!”

For the record, dead dudes weren’t my type either.

Potter looked over at Regulus. “There’s no one there,” he said, slowly.

“What? You can’t see him?” I asked. “He’s about my height, dark, handsome.”

“You think I’m handsome?” Regulus asked, sounding rather pleased.

Potter looked at the apparently empty space beside him for a moment more. Abruptly, he looked at me, his eyes narrowing.

I schooled my expression into one of innocence.

He took a step towards me, once again invading my personal space. I didn’t move away this time – I was above such petty psychological tactics. “I’ll have your secrets, Anderson,” he murmured. “One way or another.”

And with that, he strode off into the dark mouth of the entrance.

I stood there for a moment, dread creeping into my stomach at the thought that Potter of all people would find out my secret. Just as quickly as the feeling had come though, I shrugged it off, the ludicrousness of the situation catching up with me. What in this universe could lead to Potter finding out my secret?

 
Later that night, I lay in bed too tired to read, but too awake to sleep. I thought over the events of the evening. What had begun as a rather uneventful trip into the restricted section, had turned into quite the show. There was the whole I’ll-find-out-all-your-secrets threat from Potter, as if after spending a lifetime of doing so, I was going to suddenly divulge my skeletons in the closet.

Then there was the whole a-dead-Regulus-Black-is-spying-on-me issue. This was rather more concerning. He’d promptly disappeared after another baffling “TTYL” after Potter had left, once again leaving me with more questions and answers. He clearly didn’t want to move on, so what did he want from me?

The strangest thing of all, however, was that gap in the wall. It was just a gap, but for the life of me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was so much more.


AN: Hello everyone! Long time, no update am I right? This chapter gave me a lot of grief, so I could really do with all the feedback you could possibly give me on this one, so that I could improve it. I am happier with it after some time away from it and a second draft, but I still feel that it has a rather long way to go. So really guys – lay it on me. I can take it, but more importantly, this chapter needs to take it! Thanks so much for reading!

PS: Gossip Girl was created by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, Dante’s Inferno refers to the first part of The Divine Comedy (by Dante, ergo it is his inferno), and Pride and Prejudice is by Jane Austen.

Adios, amigos! :D


 


Chapter 5: {Chapter the Fifth}
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You know your life ain’t normal when you’re running around your school in your pyjamas.

To be fair, I always ran in pyjamas – well, almost all my pyjamas. I slept in large t-shirts that usually featured a fandom that I was part of, and boxer shorts, also featuring a fandom I was part of. Sometimes, they were even the same fandom. It made sense that I just slipped on a sports bra and into a pair of running shorts in the morning. Mornings were hard enough without having to think about what clothes to get sweaty in.

After an hour running around the frost-covered grounds, I stumbled into my dorm room at a quarter past eight, insanely glad to find it blissfully empty. I’d of course timed my morning routine perfectly for just this occurrence: alarm at seven; begin run at quarter past seven; arrive all sweaty and gross at quarter past eight; leave for Great Hall at half past eight. I always crossed my fingers that no one had slept in when I needed to use the bathroom. More than one person could use it at a time, but bathroom time is just so personal. I didn’t really feel comfortable with people knowing my routine in intimate detail, even though I knew theirs. That didn’t make me a hypocrite – just well informed.

And besides, there was always this expectation of small talk, even when one’s mouth was full of toothpaste. It wasn’t as if I didn’t like the people who shared my dorm – they were all very nice people. It was just that we weren’t friends.

I headed towards the bathroom to do my morning routine: three minutes for a shower, two minutes for moisturising, two minutes to pull on my uniform, and three minutes to clean my teeth. Regretfully, my need to maximise my sleep time did not allow me to spend as much time as I would have liked on my teeth, but sacrifices had to be made for the greater good.

Then, out of the shower, a last minute check of my bag to make sure I hadn’t forgotten any homework, followed by a mad dash down to the Great Hall, hoping that the flapping ends of my undone tie would not one day fly up around my neck and choke me before I’d even had the chance to have my coffee. That would be a sad way to go, without even the bitter taste of coffee on my tongue.

By half past eight, I stood in the doorway of the Great Hall, surveying the scene. The four House tables greeted me as usual. Most of the students were down by now, and were beginning to settle into their daily morning routines. From what I had observed, they often consisted of finishing last-minute homework, attempting to hold a conversation with their friends, and consuming breakfast foodstuffs at a rate that suggested they hadn’t seen food in days, rather than mere hours. This often occurred simultaneously, which was both impressive and disgusting to watch.

I made my way over to the Ravenclaw table, pausing only briefly to give a sup-nod to Ben, who’d glanced up as I was passing and waved. I slipped into an empty seat opposite Rose and Scorpius, glad that the unspoken rule about always sitting at your own House table had eased considerably since my mother’s time. War sucked, but on the bright side, not everything that came after it did.

I poured a steaming mug of black coffee and listened to Rose and Scorpius’ conversation to see if they were talking about anything interesting.

“… But the timetables are already done for the next two weeks!” Rose cried. She looked a little too stressed for eight-thirty in the morning, even by Rose’s standards.

Scorpius shifted uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, Rose,” he explained. “But you know how Garrett is.” Garrett was a sixth-year prefect and the captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. As a general rule, I ignored anything concerning Quidditch, but Rose looked like she might be one timetabling upset away from an apoplexy.

“I accidentally told him that Al was having tryouts this Friday, so obviously –” Scorpius said it like it was a dirty word. I envied him the talent of making innocent, everyday words sound dirty – all I ever managed was sarcastic. “Ravenclaw just has to have their tryouts on Wednesday.”

“What? So Ravenclaw has a whole two extra days to practise?” Rose asked incredulously. My coffee still hadn’t cooled enough for me to drink, and neither had my Daily Prophet arrived yet, so I stayed silent and continued to listen to their sort of boring conversation about timetables and Quidditch. Scorpius seemed to have the situation well in hand, which was promising, since they were going to be happily married with three kids and a dog one day, but I still stuck around, just in case I was needed.

“The first match is between Hufflepuff and Slytherin anyway!” Rose continued.

“I know that,” Scorpius said as soothingly as he could. Rose seemed to take her timetables very seriously. “But we’ll just have to reshuffle things a little, so that Garrett isn’t rostered for Tuesday night.”

“But how?” Rose practically wailed. I winced a little at the sound. If she practised that wail enough, she could try her hand as a professional mourner at funerals. I’d read somewhere that they had to do a lot of wailing to make sure the spirit of the dead person moved on. Considering how many spirits of the dead were still wandering the mortal plane, I really thought the professional mourners would benefit from Rose’s raw talent at wailing.

“It’s okay, Red,” Scorpius said. He took one of her hands in his and wrapped them in what I assumed was a comforting hold, because Rose visibly calmed at his touch. Her muscles around her eyebrows and mouth relaxed and her shoulders slumped as some of the tension in them seeped away. I was very impressed with Scorpius. Combined with the use of his personal nickname for her, it seemed that he’d finally decided it was time to move their relationship forward. I took a sip of my coffee to hide my knowing smile.

“I’ll swap with him. He deserves to have the patrol right after the tryouts, just for causing you so much worry,” Scorpius continued.

I raised an eyebrow as Rose gave him a warm and somewhat shy smile. “Thanks, Scorp. You’re the best.”

Both my eyebrows rose as Scorpius blushed in reply and their gazes held for a lingering moment. I drank some more coffee to keep from rolling my eyes. I was totally happy for their budding romance and everything, but must they make googly eyes in front of me?

Rose and Scorpius’ lovely moment was ruined by the arrival of my paper. They jumped about half a foot away from each other, and Scorpius dropped Rose’s hand as if it had scalded him as the owl swooped in and settled on the table in front of me. It dropped the rolled up paper from its beak and shook itself to reshuffle its feathers into a more pleasing ‘do as it waited for me to fish out a knut from my pocket. Once the owl flew away with another fluff of its feathers, I unfurled my paper and began to read.

“Ellie! What are you doing here?” Rose asked, sounding as if this was the first time she’d found me sitting in front of her drinking my coffee and reading the paper.

I flicked my eyes towards her in acknowledgement and went back to my paper. I perused the flashing ad about “the sale to end all sales” at Flourish and Blotts. One could practically hear the shouty man trying to declare that yes, this really was the sale to end all sales – the last time had just been a test run. Although to be fair to the shouty man, Flourish and Blotts knew how to put on a good sale – after the school term started. Good thing there was free flying on out-of-store orders.

“Breakfast,” I replied, moving on from the front page to the Births, Deaths and Weddings section. It was probably my favourite part of the newspaper, the one page dedicated to the momentous occasions in people’s lives. It was interesting to see how different people celebrated those moments.

“Didn’t Ben convince you to sit at the Gryffindor table this week?” Scorpius asked as he broke a blueberry muffin in half.

“The Ravenclaw table always has the best coffee,” I replied distractedly. “And besides, it’s all Quidditch, Quidditch, Quidditch at the moment.”

“Ben isn’t on the team,” Rose said.

I shrugged. “But he used to be, and he likes talking strategy or whatever.”

I lost track of the conversation then as I finished drinking my coffee and reading the paper. My friends were well aware that I wasn’t fit for extended conversation until after the caffeine had kicked in.

As Scorpius scoffed the last bite of his blueberry muffin, I clicked the lid of my watch open and smiled to myself.

“What has you looking so happy in the morning?” Rose asked a little grumpily. It seemed that a disturbance in her precious timetable was still pissing her off, despite Scorpius’ best efforts and all that hand-holding.

“Nothing, really,” I replied. “It’s just that I have a whole extra minute to do up my tie!” It was the little things in life that were important, after all.
 

“Dear Kepler, how I hate plants,” I muttered as I poked a rather nasty-looking specimen who would rather bite my hand off than grow peacefully. Whatever happened to the good old days, when plants were autotrophs, simply happy to photosynthesise their hours away? Why did some of them feel the need to consume human flesh – more specifically, my human flesh?

“Why are doing this subject if you hate plants so much?” Scorpius asked. The both of us were sitting at a large table near the back, all by ourselves. I think we’d scared all the other students away years ago with our intense and naked dislike for plants. He was my usual partner in Herbology because Professor Longbottom knew that we hated plants equally. I think he wanted us to keep our negative energies away from the other plants. No point in pissing off more of them than necessary. Who knew what plants were capable of when they got into a real huff? They already wanted to eat me alive.

I shrugged and swatted a vine with wicked-looking thorns to stop it creeping up my hand to the sensitive skin exposed between my dragonhide gloves and pushed-up sleeves. Seymour Krelboyne only knew what the plant would do once it got a taste for human blood. “I don’t really know what I want to do after Hogwarts yet, so keeping Herbology seemed liked a good idea at the time. Why are you doing it? I actually think you hate it more than me.”

Scorpius sighed as he poured some soil and fertiliser into a new, bigger pot. Whilst he got his gloves dirty with dirt, I had to keep the crazy human-eating plant entertained before repotting. This was actually fine by me, because I think I hated dirt more than even plants. On an intellectual level I knew that dirt was an important part of any ecosystem. Even the Egyptians knew that one couldn’t grow crops in gold. That’s why they’d worshipped dung beetle, as gross as insects combined with organic waste was.

“Mum wanted me to do it,” he said glumly. Scorpius often sounded glum when he talked about his parents. I had the feeling they expected a lot from him. I was lucky in that way – my only living parent was a Muggle. I’d achieved greatness by simply being able to wave a stick and make sparks come out the end.

“Why did your mother want you to take Herbology?” I asked carefully.

He sighed again. “She loved Herbology when she was at school, so obviously I have to love it, too.”

“Was she good at it?”

Scorpius laughed then. “Oh, Merlin no! She almost failed her OWLs! She was so proud when I got an E for Herbology.” His voice softened a little at the happy memory.

I grabbed the creeping vine a little viciously as it tried to climb up my arm again. “I guess that’s okay, then. You’re free to fail in peace,” I joked, even though failing anything is no laughing matter.

He laughed again.

“So…” I began, in a not-so-subtle bid to change the subject. Talking about failing, even in jest was too much like tempting fate. And I didn’t even believe in fate. “How are Head duties going?”

Scorpius didn’t seem to notice how gauchely I’d changed the subject – he was too busy warding off a creeping vine of his own. The little green buds on his looked to have teeth to rival sharks in razor-like quality. “They’re okay, I guess. Mostly, it’s just patrols and organising the prefects at the moment.”

I paused for a moment, pretending that wrestling with a wayward vine that wanted to drink my blood required all my concentration. How could I bring up Rose and his possible undying love for her so that he wouldn’t think I was being a nosy busybody, even though I was? Should I just come right out and ask him? Perhaps that was a little too confrontational. Should I continue the conversation about Head duties in the hopes that he just indirectly confessed his feelings? That might take a little too long. Should I –

“Can I ask you something?” Scorpius asked suddenly, breaking my train of thought.

“You can ask whatever you like,” I said. “You have freedom of speech, which is always a nice freedom to have.”

“Er, thanks, I think.” He looked a little befuddled, as if his own train of thought had been derailed. He shook his head, and continued, “It’s Hogsmeade weekend in two weeks’ time.”

“Was that the question?” I asked. It didn’t sound like it, but perhaps he just forgot his high rising tone because he was still a little befuddled. I liked to think I had that kind of effect on people.

“No, er… my question is… do you think um… someone might like to go with me?”

Oh my Golgi. This was it. I was so glad I didn’t have to think up any schemes to focus the conversation on Rose. I directing conversation brought up images of natural disasters. “I’m sure someone, somewhere would like to go with you,” I off-handed. Inside, I was doing a ridiculous Irish jig, complete with a ridiculous leprechaun hat.

He didn’t seem to notice my dry tone, the poor bloke was that worried. “Well… it’s a mutual friend, actually,” he continued cautiously. I wasn’t quite sure if he was being cautious because of the vine that he kept eyeing as he mixed in some dragon dung with the dirt, or because he was worried about my reaction.

“It’s Rose, isn’t it?” I asked. It would be super awkward if it wasn’t, and I’d probably have to kill him for breaking my best friend’s heart by asking someone else out. Not that I didn’t respect everyone’s right to love whomever they chose, but still. I owed it to Rose for sticking so long with me.

His eyes widened in surprise, but after a moment his shoulders dropped in resignation. “Is it really that obvious?” he asked sheepishly.

I nodded. “Yeah, a little bit. But only since about the time you hit puberty. I think for all of the first half of second year, you did a marvellous job of keeping your feelings contained.”

He opened his mouth, then shut it, then opened it again. Finally, he said, “It hasn’t been that long – has it?”

I nodded again and patted him consolingly on the arm. After three awkward taps I stopped. Goodness, I thought physical comfort would become easier with practise. Obviously not. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think Rose has noticed.” I glanced at my hand in confusion. Was it something about my technique, perhaps? Was I hitting them too hard or something?

He hung his head dejectedly. Scorpius at least didn’t think my attempt at comfort had been bad, but I don’t think it counted because he hadn’t really noticed anything at all. “It should, but since I was planning to ask her out, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

That gave me pause. I considered his problem as I unwound the creeping vine from around my wrist. All my crushes had either been fictional or unattainable. I hadn’t ever considered a situation where I’d actually want the other person to know that I liked them in that way. There were too many unknown variables for my comfort. What if they didn’t like me back? Or worse, what if they did like me back? Then what did I do? Kiss them? Get a puppy together? Ask them to marry me? What was the socially acceptable response in such a situation?

But this wasn’t about me. This was about Rose and Scorpius. It was about the flavour of their wedding cake, and what colour they’d paint their kitchen, and where they’d go on their first post-retirement adventure together.

“I think that if you asked Rose to go to Hogsmeade with you, she’d say yes.” I decided to finally go with the truth. I couldn’t afford to play with fancy words when it was my friends’ one true loves at stake.

“Really?” Scorpius asked. The poor fellow was so far gone I could actually see the light of hope shining in his eyes. Or was that just sunlight reflecting off the greenhouse glass? “Should I say that it would be just as friends?”

“Do you want to go just as friends?”

“Merlin, no!” He blushed. “I mean –”

“I know what you mean.” Whilst I’d never had the dubious pleasure of asking my crush out, I’d read enough historical romances to know that it was a big deal. The characters were often proposing marriage however, which was a little more long-term than a date at Hogsmeade. That could be the reason for it seeming like a big deal. “If you don’t want it to be as ‘just friends’ then don’t say ‘yes, just friends’ if she asks. If she asks if it’s a date then say ‘yes, it’s a date’. You have to be honest with her, dude.”

Scorpius paused his digging in thought. Then he looked at me. “That was… very good advice, Ellie. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” I replied, once again acting nonchalantly.

And I wished to be named godmother of your first child. The leprechaun version of me was practically flying at the thought, I was internally Irish-jigging so hard.
 

AN: I’m so sorry this is such a filler chapter, but I did write it with more stuff happening, but then it was just so long, so I had to cut it in half :( Thanks so much for all the support for the last chapter – it means a lot to me. This chapter needs some serious criticisms, so lay it on me! Obviously, if there is stuff that you liked, mention that too!

PS: Seymour Krelboyne is a character that first appeared in the 1960 film The Little Shop of Horrors, which was directed by Roger Corman.

Adios, amigos :D


 


Chapter 6: {Chapter the Sixth}
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

You know your life ain’t normal when you’re stalking a fellow student.

At least I was being sneaky about it. I didn’t know her timetable, or where she liked to hang out, or who her friends were, or anything useful at all, really. Yet.

All I knew was that a dead person had been following her around for the last three days.

“Ben,” I began, giving him the chance to finish chewing his mouthful before launching into my investigation. It was lunchtime in the Great Hall, and since I was sitting at the Gryffindor table for a change, I was going to take full advantage of that.

One of the great things about Ben was that he knew everyone. And by everyone, I meant everyone. I may know all the members of my House, the professors, and all the ghosts, but Ben knew the members of all the Houses, each professor’s favourite colour, and how every ghost had died. His knowledge of the population of Hogwarts was scary. It must come from actually enjoying talking to people.

“Yes?” he asked, his eyes cautious.

“You see that Ravenclaw girl over there?” I asked, gesturing as subtly as possible with my fork.

“I see many Ravenclaw girls over there, since you’ve just pointed to the Ravenclaw table.”

I sighed. So he was going to be difficult about this. “She’s sitting four seats down from Scorpius, and down being in the direction away from the teachers’ table. She’s facing us, has black hair, and looks like she’s spent the last ten minutes crying in the second-floor girls’ bathroom.” I knew this to be a fact – I’d just followed her from there.

Ben shot me an alarmed look. “That was… rather more specific.”

“Well?”

“Well what?” he shovelled a large chunk of lasagne into his mouth, probably to avoid this conversation. Ben always got a little skittish when I started interrogating him about other students. The problem was, I didn’t know anyone else who had such a profound knowledge of our fellow peers as Ben.

I really should start thinking about making a spy network, or something. It could come in handy, and not just because of the ghost thing.

“Who is she?” I asked impatiently, waving my fork a bit for emphasis. Potter gave me a you’re-crazy-please-stop-waving-that-fork-around look from across the table. As usual, I ignored him.

Ben chewed and swallowed before replying. It was so nice when people came housetrained. “Alexia Duong,” he finally said.

I nodded, absently stabbing my own lasagne with my fork. The cheesy layer slid sideways and the meat sauce oozed out. I’d never quite learnt not to play with my food.

Ben sighed, finally accepting defeat and telling me what I wanted to know. “She’s in sixth year –” I knew that.

“– Did well in her OWLs –” I knew that also. Despite some of the kooky characters that called Ravenclaw House their own, no one did any less than “well” in OWLs. I knew that there were kids who slacked off in class, or those who were so brilliant that their brains just didn’t allow them to focus on such mundane things as schoolwork, but somehow, they all did well in OWLs and NEWTs. I had a feeling that there was some sort of support system set up within the House, to ensure that these kids passed with respectable grades. I was yet to learn whether this was inspired by genuine care for the members of their House, or a compulsion to maintain their better-than-thou façade.

“– And her boyfriend died in some sort of accident over the summer.” Aha! This must be the identity of my ghost! It also explained all the crying.

“Do you know what happened?” I asked, now stabbing my mangled lasagne with more vigour in my enthusiasm. Helping ghosts to move on could be a long and tedious process, so I’d learnt that it was best to go into these situations armed with as much intel as possible. The more I knew, the likelier it was that I’d be able to pre-empt their reactions.

Ben shrugged, reaching across the table for the apple pie, his favourite dessert. “Not really. I know that he was a muggle, though.”

I frowned. Whilst it was not impossible for muggle ghosts to enter Hogwarts, it was unusual. The bonds that had this bloke tethered to this plane must be strong indeed. I’d have my work cut out, then.

I couldn’t wait. I liked to pretend to myself that I hated my gift, but I couldn’t deny that it was a part of me. Helping these people move on was almost a compulsion, if only so that they’d leave me alone.

And helping Alexia and her dead boyfriend also had the added bonus of distracting me from a certain crack in the wall in a certain Restricted Section of a certain library.

“Rose might know more, of course,” Ben continued, staring at his apple pie as if he hadn’t eaten in ten years, rather than just ten seconds.

“That’s an excellent point,” I said, letting my fork clatter to my plate. “I’ll go ask her right now!”

Ben’s hand shot out to grab my wrist as I went to stand up, causing me to bounce painfully on the bones in my butt.

“You’re not going anywhere,” he said, steel creeping into his voice, his beloved apple pie momentarily forgotten.

“Why not? I have to go speak with Rose!” I cried. I was a woman on a mission. There were undead lives at stake!

“Because you promised to eat lunch at the Gryffindor table this week,” Ben replied mildly. His grip on my wrist had not loosened though. I gave it an experimental twist and his grip tightened. No escaping using superior physical strength, then.

“I’ll be right back,” I cajoled. “I just need to ask her about Alexia.”

“No, you don’t. You need to eat lunch. I’ve hardly seen you over the last couple of weeks.”

“What does that have to do with eating lunch? And Alexia?” I asked, bewildered.

Ben’s eyes narrowed in annoyance, but he ignored my question. “Where are you, these days?”

“In the library, studying. You know this, since we share the same table three times a week.”

“You shouldn’t be spending so much time alone,” he continued, finally letting go of my wrist and turning back to his apple pie. He gazed at it lovingly for a moment before digging in. “It’s not healthy.”

“Oh, she isn’t alone,” Potter piped in. For several blissful moments, I’d forgotten that he was sitting opposite to us, probably hearing every single word of our conversation. Some people had no manners at all, eavesdropping like that.

“Really?” Ben asked with interest. “Has our darling Ellie made new friends?”

Potter gave an evil grin. I stared at him with a growing sense of dread. Where was he going with this? “She’s not studying either.”

I inhaled in outrage. “Of course I’m studying! I’m taking ten NEWTs! All I do is study!” That, and stalk unsuspecting sixth-year Ravenclaws with undead stalkers of their own.

“What’s she doing in the library, then?” Ben asked, leaning forward in eagerness, completely ignoring me. This is why he knows so much about other people; it’s his weakness for gossip.

Potter leant forward, too. I’d say he was ignoring me as well, if not for the twinkle of Satan in his green eyes. “Anderson has a secret boyfriend.”

I felt like stabbing the smug look off his face with my fork.

“I do not!” I cried indignantly.

Typically, I was ignored. “Really? Who’s the lucky bloke?” Ben asked. He gave me a sidelong look. “Anyone we know, Ellie?” he asked slyly. He and Potter were now wearing identical evil grins.

“You know full well that I don’t have a boyfriend, secret or otherwise,” I huffed, folding my arms across my chest.

“Then why didn’t you tell me who you were talking to last week in the Restricted Section?” Potter asked, his smug look becoming… smuggier.

“For the love of Galileo! Will you let that go?” I cried, flinging my hands in the air. Only Potter could make me so dramatic during lunch – or at any time, for that matter.

“Is his name Galileo, then?” Ben asked, laughter sparkling in his eyes.

“And are you two already in love?” Potter chortled.

I growled in frustration, and hunched down in my seat, stabbing my cold lasagne once more. There was a small part of me that felt bad for the lasagne. It wasn’t its fault that I was surrounded by such douchebags. “This is why I don’t sit at the Gryffindor table,” I muttered.

Ben patted my arm consolingly. “It’s alright, Ellie. If you don’t want to tell us about your secret boyfriend right now, you don’t have to. I understand the excitement of clandestine love. My age brings great wisdom in such matters.”

“Ben, you still laugh at fart jokes,” I snapped.

“Farts are funny, okay?” he defended.

I sighed. It seemed as if my plans to find out more about Alexia Duong and her grief-ridden summer were stymied by none other than Albus Severus Potter.

But only momentarily, I vowed. Only momentarily.

~*~*~
 
That night, I lay in bed thinking. I hadn’t got a chance to speak with Rose about Alexia throughout the rest of the day, although some accidental stalking had garnered a little more information. Listening in on a conversation in the second floor girls’ bathroom, I’d learnt that her boyfriend’s name was Charles-but-everyone-calls-me-Chuck, he had been off to the local university in the autumn, and that he’d died in a car accident. Not bad for a few extra minutes spent in a toilet cubicle, although I didn’t really like to pretend to do the number two in public. It was all for a good cause, though.

However, it wasn’t thoughts of Alexia that kept me awake – no, it was thoughts of the same thing that had kept me awake for the past week. I couldn’t afford another night of fitful sleep because of that cursed gap in the Restricted Section! The other morning I’d woken up from a dream about it and Amy had asked me if I’d had a nightmare, I’d been so worked up. Little could I tell her that a bloody gap in a wall had me gasping awake in a cold sweat.

Folks, if anyone gifts you an intense curiosity for Christmas, politely return the gift and tell them that unless it came with an accompanying promise of a Nobel Prize or a declaration of world peace, they didn’t want anything to do with it. Curiosity was not a gift. It ate you up from the inside, leaving you with an unhealthy obsession for perfectly ordinary occurrences.

I’d tried progressive muscle relaxation to help my mind, body and soul calm down, but as usual, any meditative exercise led to hyperactivity in my frontal lobe. If I’d been working on a cure for something like douchebaggery, I’d be so grateful for this wonderful ability to focus. Since all I wanted to focus on was eight solid hours of uninterrupted sleep, I wanted to take hold of my newfound focus and shove it up –

A slight snore from across the room broke my concentration. I sighed gustily and pushed my covers away. It was time to do something about this life-debilitating obsession. I slipped into a sports bra and my red Converse All Stars and grabbed my favourite black zip-up hoodie. I forewent warmer lower body coverings and decided that my satin Batman boxers would have to suffice – I’d probably wake everyone up if I started rummaging for my running skins. I might not be completely warm, but at least I was adequately dressed that if the occasion called for it, I could run away from any authority figures that may choose to pursue me.

I tiptoed out of the dorm, not quite sure why I bothered with the stealth. We may not all be the best of friends (except for Amy, who was friends with everyone) but I knew that these four girls could sleep through a World War II air raid.

A quick glance across the Common Room assured me that it was empty – no one was around to notice my blatant disregard for curfew. A quick pat of my waistband assured me that my wand was still safely tucked under the combined elastic power of my boxers and undies, and I was set to take on whatever Hogwarts at night had to throw at me.

~*~*~
 
Sneaking into the library was surprisingly easy – there weren’t actually any doors that barred entry into the place, and nor was there any need for security spells. I guess the faculty assumed that no one would voluntarily sneak into a place conventionally associated with gross things like learning and knowledge in the middle of the night. Oh, how little they knew about teenagers – we were rebellious by design, laughing in the face of convention and societal norms.

That’s what I liked to tell myself anyway.

My shoes were soundless across the wooden floor. Aside from their loud colour, these babies were made for stealth missions. A bubble of giddiness rose up my chest as I stepped over the chain that barred the entrance to the Restricted Section. I wondered if James Bond felt like this in the early days of his career, before he got caught up in the tangled web of global espionage and randomly making love to exotic women.

The Restricted Section was spookier without the torches. I pulled out my wand, the glowing tip casting enough light to shroud the stacks of books in a giant cloak of shadows. Images of Dementors and Nazgul sprang to mind.

I took a deep, fortifying breath and made my way as confidently as I could to the end of the long room. No bookshelf was going to freak me out, no matter how much it wanted to kill me for the One Ring or my immortal soul.

The gap was still there, right between the stone wall and wooden shelf. My shoulders drooped in disappointment. It was so innocuous in appearance. How could a simple discrepancy between wood and stone cause me such strife? Once I’d gotten to the bottom of this mystery, I swore I was going to find myself the recipe for eternally dreamless sleep. Fuck the damage that would probably cause to my higher order cognitive skills – my frontal lobe needed to take a chill pill anyway.

I shone the light from my wand at the gap, squinting to see if that revealed the gap’s nefarious secrets.

No luck.

I took a step back and sighed. What on Gaia could that gap mean? It was possible that when the bookshelves were installed, the carpenter was simply too lazy to do a good job. However, considering the calibre of work to have come out of the Dark Ages (I mean, Hogwarts’ furniture had survived the use and abuse of a millennium’s worth of juvenile human beings) it didn’t seem likely.

I sat down on the cold stone floor with my legs crossed and stared at the anonymous row of books in front of me. As time slowly ticked away, my thoughts drifted toward all the adventure books I’d read over the years. If I were the hero in an adventure novel, what would an innocent gap in the wall mean?

A secret passage.

I shook my head at the ludicrousness of that possibility even as I reached for the books along the bottom shelf. I called myself ten different kinds of crazy as I removed them all and cast my light over the solid wooden backboard.

The backboard was a little dusty and free of any markings such as PRESS HERE FOR ENTRANCE TO SECRET PASSAGE.

Well, I hadn’t thought that would be the markings – it would make the secrecy of the passage a little too obvious.

I ran my hands over the seams of the backboard and adjoining shelves.

They were as solid as the Man of Steel’s totally ripped abs.

I huffed in disappoint. Those Dark Age carpenters really should be applauded for such good work, but really, was it too much to ask for a secret passage hidden behind a bookshelf in the restricted part of a library?

I sighed. I guess the whole secret passage idea was a bust.

I looked up at the bookshelf, towering over me. The feeble light of my wand cast the upper shelves into a black hole of darkness, but I knew how many more shelves there were.

Six more shelves.

Six more possibilities for hidden entrances to secret passageways.

Six more chances at being the hero of a best-selling adventure novel.

I got to work.
 
~*~*~
 
Fifteen minutes later, I found myself facing the backboard of the final shelf. I was sweaty, and there was ancient dust up my nose. I did not feel at all cheery about the fact that I was breathing centuries-old dead skin cells. This place really needed a good dusting. Possibly a vacuum as well.

This was it. This was my last chance at eternal glory as the hero of my novel. I took a deep breath and felt around the edges of the backboard, pinning all my hopes and dreams on a shoddy job in Dark-Age carpentry.

My breath caught.

I’d found a loose edge.

Trying to tamp down my excitement, I dug my fingernails under the edge and tugged gently.

The plank didn’t budge.

I tugged a little harder.

Still nothing.

I stood on tiptoe on the rickety chair, canted forward and leant most of my weight on the edge of the shelf right under my boobs, and yanked.

The board came free with an obscenely loud grating noise.

Before I could topple off my chair, I grabbed the edge of the shelf with one hand, and braced the elbow still holding the backboard against a wooden divider with the other. I took a few moments to congratulate myself on the road to becoming the next Lara Croft.

First, finding secret passages behind gaps in walls. Next – robbing the Valley of Kings.

I could just imagine the busty up-and-coming actress who would portray me in the book-to-movie adaptation.

Placing the backboard flat on top of the bare shelf, I regarded the exposed stone wall. It was the same stone as the rest of Hogwarts – boring old forged-in-the-fires-of-volcanoes basalt. Not even remotely exciting.

Adventuring wasn’t nearly as thrilling as it was made out to be.

I gazed at the rock, looking for any anomalies. My feeble wand light didn’t reveal anything at first glance. The stupid wall was as bare and featureless as walls could get, except for –

A sweep of my wand caught a glint of something in the bottom left-hand corner. I brought the wand closer and squinted once again, this time because the light was bad, and not because I expected to gain any insight from the exercise of facial muscles.

Surprisingly, it actually helped me focus the image: a rather crude interpretation of the Hogwarts crest was carved into the otherwise-blank wall.

Holy Sense and Sensibility, this was it. This was the key to the entrance to the secret passage I’d been fantasising about. This was the beginning of my book-to-movie adaptation.

Slowly, reverently, I reached out my fingers and gently brushed the inscription.

Nothing happened.

Perhaps it needed a firmer touch.

I pressed harder.

Neither a glimmer, nor a creak of shifting stone and wood.

I punched the wall.

All I got was jarred bones and bruised knuckles.

Well, wasn’t that just fan-flipping-tastic? I go to all this effort, just to literally hit a stone wall.

This kind of stuff never happened in the movies, along with toilet breaks and lower back pain.

Real life was so unfair.

I poked my wand at the carving in frustration.

“Stupid –” poke.

“Little –” poke.

“Piece of –” poke.

The sound of grinding rock had me pinwheeling on my teetering chair.

I finally righted myself and gazed at the void in front of me.

“Shit.”

~*~*~

I stepped cautiously off my chair, and stared at the darkness that greeted me. Where a bookshelf used to be, was now a gaping hole, the bookshelf in question having slipped backward and behind its neighbour. The goddamn gap in the wall was probably because one of the magic rollers had become misaligned.

I held my wand aloft and squinted some more, since it had been so successful last time.

Vague, blocky shapes came into focus.

At least they weren’t creatures that roamed the dark places in the world – they were never the shape of Platonic solids.

I took a step into the darkness, my wand still held aloft. As my eyes adjusted to the dim glow, the vague shapes began to look more and more like…

Crates.

I had to roll my eyes at my fortune. Typical. It would have been far too normal for me to find a secret passageway. No, I just had to go and find a secret storeroom full of secret crates. I crouched down next to one which was missing its lid, still hoping to find something of interest. Perhaps I’d just skipped the secret passage stage, and jumped straight to the secret treasure.

I held my breath in anticipation. What might I discover? Lost scrolls from the Library of Alexandria? Merlin’s secret diary? Excalibur?

I felt like crying at what greeted me: more books. For possibly the first time in my life, I was actually disappointed at the sight of flattened woodchips covered in ink and bound in the hide of a dead animal.

I didn’t know why I was so surprised at finding books in a storeroom hidden in a fucking library.

I stood up and walked further into the small room, my adventurous spirit most definitely crushed. I’d never see myself as a busty action hero on the silver screen now. I saw even more crates haphazardly stacked against the walls. Closer to the back were dusty suits of armour, the joints rusted at rather dejected angles. They looked almost as depressed as I felt.

A full circuit of the storeroom revealed only one thing of interest: right on the back wall hung a sheet. Age had not been kind to it. It was yellow, and water stained, and looked as if someone had forgotten to renew the mothball charm on it three centuries ago.

In spite its rather uninspiring appearance, I was still strangely drawn to the ratty old cloth. And despite my failures in adventuring so far, I still reached out and tugged at it.

The cloth came away to give me only a brief glimpse of what I guessed to be an old oil painting, before it slid down the wall.

I watched with a slack jaw as it hit the flagstone floor and balanced for half a moment along its gilt frame edge, before beginning its slow topple toward me.

I yelped and leaped away just in time as it hit the floor with a dull thud, the thick layer of dust suppressing the sound.

I stared with wide eyes and still slack jaw at the painting now at my feet, the old canvas sheet that had covered it still clasped in my hand.

Holy Shakespeare, I’d just ruined a probably priceless old painting. Whoever resided in it was going to kill me if that fall hadn’t knocked them unconscious. Did portraits even get knocked unconscious?

I glanced up at the wall where the painting had hung probably for centuries, hoping to find a hook or something so that I could return it to its rightful place before anyone in it woke up and screamed the whole castle down around me.

Instead of finding a hook like I expected, I was floored by the sight that greeted me for the second time in the past minute.

There, etched in stone, was another Hogwarts crest.

Whoever had done these carvings really needed to find some new inspiration, although I was impressed to note that their skills had definitely improved. The crest was much larger than the one in the library, and etched in minute detail. I could actually see the scales on the snake, and the whiskers on the badger. The eagle’s talons were wicked sharp, as were the canines of the snarling lion. The carver must have practised a lot since their shitty attempt on the bookshelf wall.

The shifting light and shadow in the room made the animals appear to almost move. They were all so real, so very there, it would have been a little scary if it weren’t so mesmerising. I’d only ever seen something like this etching in a documentary on the world’s oldest cave paintings, hidden up in the mountains of France. There was something about the way the animals were drawn that evoked the feelings that often accompanied being confronted with something so ancient and divine: awe.

Once again, without thinking, I reached out to trace them with a reverent finger. I wondered if the lion would chomp down its jaw on it when I touched it.

I caressed its mane, feeling the uniform ridges and valleys that defined its magnificent hair amongst the sandpapery surface of the stone.

The lion blinked.

I gasped and leaped back in shock.

The lion blinked again.

I clamped my hand over my mouth to contain my scream.

One would think that I’d be used to things moving that weren’t supposed to. I walked past portraits that gossiped over high tea without batting an eyelid. I glanced over yawning photographs of disgraced Ministry officials in The Prophet without a conscious thought. I sang along with suits of armour that belted out yuletide cheer during Christmas.

But never did I expect stone carvings to move.

I watched as the lion dropped to all fours and stretched, its front paws resting before its quivering whiskers, the tip of its tail swishing in the air behind it.

Then it stalked across its panel and into the snake’s. The lion watched the still-unmoving snake, before swiping its muzzle with his giant lion paw. The snake immediately came to life, rearing back in surprise, and sticking out its tongue, hissing silently.

“Holy mother of witchcraft and wizardry,” I breathed. This was unbelievable. The snake had now twined itself around the bottom of its panel and was now – oh my Curie was it going to attack the eagle?

The eagle didn’t seem as surprised as I was, because a fraction of a second before the snake struck, it gave a mighty flap of its wings and head-butted the snake right in its chin. The snake moved its head back into its own panel a little dazedly.

The apparent gust of air created by the eagle had finally awoken the badger. Its sensitive whiskers quivered, as if inquiring “Why all the violent awakenings, homies?”

The poor snake, which’d so far had a rough time of it, extended itself toward the badger’s sniffing nose.

I swear on my collection of vintage copies of The Quibbler, I’m not making the next part up. The badger actually booped the snake on its head with its nose.

Like, actually. An actual boop. One could not make this kind of shit up.

It had to be the cutest weird thing I had ever seen, a stone badger booping a stone snake.

Now that all the animals were awake, and the snake was somewhat mollified, it was time for the next weird thing: the crest began to glow.

And I don’t mean like, soft, crystal nightlight glow. I mean harsh, almost-blinding, creatures of deep ocean trenches that don’t have any eyes but creepy bioluminescence glow.

I screeched and scrambled back, almost tripping over the sheet now clutched tightly in my sweaty palm.

As if that wasn’t enough, the wall decided that it would just disappear.

Like, what even? After putting all that effort into moving carvings and a lightshow that resembled the predatory lure of a deep sea angler fish, why would the bloody wall disappear?

It made even less sense than what had already happened so far that night.

But things were about to get a whole lot weirder.
 
~*~*~
 
The now giant hole in the wall revealed the real secret behind the gap between stone and wood in the library.

I was surprised that I could see quite clearly inside this particular room. It helped an awful lot that there was a goddamn eternal flame burning in the centre of it.

I couldn’t have made something like this up even if I’d tried. I stepped into the warmly illuminated room. It was square, about fifteen feet across. The walls were a buttery limestone, richly illuminated by the merry blue-orange flames. What kind of fuel burnt blue and orange at the same time? Perhaps there were traces of calcium and copper chloride in it.

Or perhaps it was just magic.

I was sure there was a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

The flames danced away in a large metallic shallow dish atop a matching metal pedestal. The entire contraption resembled a very elaborate bird bath.

Behind the bird bath/fire-holder stood four statues that looked to be arranged in a trapezium around the flame. As I came closer to the hooded figures, I realised that a semicircular configuration was probably the more likely intention. The fire flickered over their cool surfaces; the blue causing the crystallised carbonate minerals to sparkle, and the orange caught the veins of impurities.

The overall effect of marble and fire was ethereal yet distant.

Still, somehow, these figures seemed familiar, in all their hooded anonymity.

A distant crash brought me rushing back to reality.

The feeling of familiarity disappeared. The statues began to look more sinister. The greyish darkness behind them deepened. The hair on the back of my neck rose in alarm.

There was something about this place that was no longer welcoming. The walls seemed to close in. The flame swayed erratically in a breeze that only it felt. The very air practically screamed INTRUDER ALERT! ANNIHILATE ON SIGHT!

I abruptly turned on my heel and walked out of there with alacrity. I didn’t stop walking until I’d reached the safety of my four-poster bed.

I released a breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding since I’d entered that creepy statue room. The pearl grey of false dawn filtered through the glass window beside my bed. The entire night felt more and more like a surreal dream with every deep breath I took. I focused my ragged thoughts on that clear predawn light, trying to banish that totally creeped-out-of-my-skin feeling.

Nothing else was real except for my breath and the autumn day that was just beginning to wake up from its slumber.

With that calming thought, I finally fell into my first deep, truly restful sleep in a week.

AN: Hey y’all! Welcome to the long-awaited chapter 6! I’m actually quite pleased with this chapter, despite how delayed it was. Stuff happens! We almost meet a ghost other than Regulus! Ben is awesome! Albus is annoying! And we finally find out about the mystery of the gap in the wall! Yay for fulfilled foreshadowing! Tell me what you thought about this chapter – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I love hearing it all!

Converse All Stars are owned by Converse, James Bond was created by Ian Fleming, the Nazgul and the One Ring is from The Lord of the Rings, written by JRR Tolkein, the Man of Steel is Superman and was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Lara Croft is from the video game series Tomb Raider, created by Toby Gard, and Sense and Sensibility was written by Jane Austen.


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