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The Truth Will Set You Free

Say – John Mayer

‘I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you
hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.’


Pietro Aretino

 





‘Stac, what is it? What’s wrong?’

She took a deep, albeit unsteady, breath.

‘Creeten Zarlow isn’t my suitor, James. He’s my guard.’

 

 

James’ mind was having trouble processing what he was hearing. He shook his head, at a loss.

‘Wha- Stac, what- your guard? What the hell are you talking about?’

Anastacia was taking deep breaths, seemingly trying to calm herself down. When she’d managed to quell the shaking, she turned to James with a determinedly focused look on her face.

‘I need you to go get Scorpius. And Rose, if she’s there,’ she added by way of an afterthought, ‘you need to bring them out here.’

‘I’m not going anywhere till you tell me what’s going on,’ James declared, crossing his arms over his chest.

‘James, go,’ Stac commanded, in a voice he’d never heard her use before. His feet started to move of their own accord, responding automatically to the authority in her tone, and before he knew it, he was climbing back into the Gryffindor common room.

The party was still going strong, although it felt like years since he’d left. So much had changed.

And yet, Rose, Al and Scorpius were still standing in exactly the same corner that they had been when he’d left. For all he knew, they could still be discussing the same topic of conversation.

As James watched, Al turned to reply to someone behind him, then, with a nod to his friends, left the small group. James seized his chance and hurried across the crowded room as quickly as he could, avoiding the rest of his mates, to fetch up at their corner.

‘Hey, you’ve got to come help me. Something’s happened outside, something bad. Stac is going mental.’

‘Bad? What do you mean, bad?’ asked Scorpius sharply, his face suddenly alert, all traces of good humour gone.

‘Not here – tell you outside,’ James continued in a low voice.

He turned and made his way back over to the portrait hole, not bothering to check if they were following. He knew they would be.

Outside, he led the way down the corridor towards where he’d left Stac while filling them in.

‘We were talking, and Creeten Zarlow came out of nowhere and starting laying into me. Stac tried to pull him off, and he threw her at the wall. I went at him, but she stunned him. Then she started to go all panicky and made me come to get you two. Don’t know how you’re supposed to help, though.’

‘And that’s everything, is it? I mean, why would he attack you for no reason,’ Rose demanded suspiciously, ‘that doesn’t make sense. Tell us the truth, James. And don’t you dare say it’s because he’s a Slytherin.’

James hadn’t wanted to go into details around the younger boy, but he didn’t really have a choice. After all, they’d have to find out sooner or later.

‘I kissed her. Stac. And…she kissed me back. That’s when Creeten went at me. He obviously saw us.’

He looked at Scorpius to see how he would take the news. If they’d broken up on Christmas Eve, like she said, then that was only a week ago.

But Scorpius didn’t seem to be angry or hurt, merely…thoughtful. James wasn’t sure what to make of it.

By then, they had reached the dark section of corridor where he’d left the other two students. Stac was sitting with her back against the wall and her knees drawn up to her chest. She was holding her wand out in front of her and watching the inert body of Creeten Zarlow warily, as though guarding against him waking up.

Rose and Scorpius immediately went to crouch at her side, putting their arms around her.

Anastacia started a bit when they touched her, but the moment she realised it was Scorpius, she dropped her wand, buried her face in his chest and broke into hysterical, gasping sobs. Scorpius rubbed his hand over her back, looking very grave, and James had to turn away.

Clutching his wand so hard that his knuckles creaked, he fought hard to tamp down the piercing spear of jealousy that had thrummed through him the moment Stac had grabbed for the other boy. Just a moment ago, she had been kissing him, and now this? What was she about?

Anastacia was babbling in French, her words tripping over themselves in her haste. Scorpius couldn’t make out more than one word in ten, if that. Finally, he sat back, pulled Anastacia away from where she was leaning against his chest and gave her a gentle shake.

‘Nast! Slow down! I can’t understand you.’

Her eyes were wide, the pupils very dilated. As if she hadn’t heard him, she began to speak again, just as fast.

Scorpius gave her another shake, slightly more forceful this time.

‘Do I need to go get Celeste?’

She blinked, stared at him, and slowly shook her head.

‘Then breathe, and tell me in English.’

‘I stunned Creeten,’ she whispered after a deep breath, ‘he attacked James and so I stunned him.’

‘James told us what happened,’ Rose told her in a low voice, ‘it’s going to be okay.’

‘I stunned him,’ Anastacia repeated, as if she still couldn’t believe it herself, ‘I couldn’t let him hurt James. But he’ll wake up…and he saw us….my Father…’

But that thought was too terrifying to contemplate, and she would have collapsed back onto Scorpius if the blonde boy had not held her at arm’s length.

‘Here’s what we’re going to do,’ he told her, looking her directly in the eye and speaking calmly and slowly.

‘I’m going to take Creeten away from here. Then I’m going to Obliviate him.’

‘O-obliviate?’

‘Yes. When he wakes up, I’ll tell him he fell, or something to that effect. I’ll push him down a flight of stairs myself for authenticity if I have to.’

Rising, he pulled the dark-haired girl up alongside him.

‘Rose is going to take you to your common room. James can help me with Creeten.’

James looked up sharply when he heard his name, and Rose went to explain the plan to him.

While the others were both occupied, Scorpius spoke again.

‘I will Obliviate James too, if you want,’ he said in slow, careful French.

What?

‘I will make him forget everything that has happened tonight. We will say that he drank too much, and that is why he can not remember.’

He gave her a moment to consider, and she did. It would be the prudent thing to do, the safe thing, even. But…

Prudence be damned.

‘No. I can’t live with the secrets anymore. I’ll tell him.’

‘Then I will send him to you when we are finished.’

He squeezed her hand, then nodded to Rose, who had been standing off a little ways, giving them some space. Now she came forward, and the two girls left together in the direction of the Heads’ corridor.

Rose turned as they left and shot a tight smile back down the corridor. Scorpius nodded in reply, then watched, face impassive, until they had turned the corner and walked out of sight.

‘So…how good are you at Obliviating?’

At the sound of the dry voice coming from behind him, the blonde boy exhaled determinedly and turned back to the task at hand.

‘Better than you’d think.’

‘You’ve had practice?’

‘Not exactly, but I’ve had theory lessons from the best.’

Either side of Creeten’s inert form now, the boys regarded each other warily. It was James who broke eye contact, and the silence.

‘Guess we’d better get this over with,’ he muttered, looking down at the burly form at his feet. Taking out his wand, he murmured a charm, and the body rose in the air to hover a few feet off the ground.

James began to walk down the corridor, the Creeten floating along beside him. Scorpius followed along behind them.

‘Let me know if you want me to take over for a bit.’

‘I’ve got it,’ James muttered through clenched teeth. The hover charm wasn’t hard, but maintaining the space between Creeten’s body and the floor was taking a bit of concentration. Not that he was averse to knocking the git’s head along the flagstones, but it might wake him up again, and that would just be more effort.

‘Where exactly were you thinking of taking him?’ he asked, navigating his way around a rather inconveniently placed statue.

‘The stairs to the Entrance Hall. It’s close enough to the Slytherin dorms that I can legitimately claim he was in that area.’

‘Don’t know what he was doing up here,’ James replied distractedly, now trying to manoeuvre his baggage onto one of the moving staircases, ‘everyone else is in the common rooms.’

Scorpius didn’t reply, and James could have kicked himself when he saw the obvious answer to his rhetorical statement.

‘He was following her, wasn’t he?’

‘Yes. He was probably waiting outside Gryffindor Tower until she came out.’

‘Then why didn’t he see us straight away? Why wait? We were talking for a while…well, fighting, I guess. But the point is, why didn’t he see us earlier?’

At that moment, a deep, resounding bong sound filtered through the corridor. Scorpius felt it more than he heard it – the reverberations made the stones at his feet seem to shiver and quake.

A simple explanation, then – it’s now eleven o’clock. All this would have happened half-an-hour ago, making it ten-thirty – the changing of the Guard. Creeten would have just arrived, and you would have been the first thing he saw.

But Scorpius didn’t voice his thoughts. Nast may have decided to tell the older boy everything at last, but until she’d done so, he would keep his silence.

James responded to the silence of the two Slytherins with stillness of his own, and without further speech, they made their way to the top of the steps leading down into the Entrance Hall.

There, he lowered Creeten’s bulky form onto the stone floor and took a step back.

‘So-o…how do you want to do this?’ he asked haltingly, shoving his wand into the waistband of his black jeans.

Scorpius didn’t reply straight away. Instead, he took his own wand, and, pointing it at Creeten’s head, muttered under his breath. James saw a silvery stream leave the end of the wand and shoot down to the body at their feet, speeding through one ear and rippling out through the other. Then the silver stream dissipated and disappeared.

‘Is that it?’ James enquired curiously.

‘That’s it. He won’t remember anything after leaving the Slytherin common room earlier this evening. He would have had to come this way to get to Gryffindor Tower – I’ll just say he slipped at the top and fell back down the stairs.’

They both stood, staring, James with his hands in his pockets, Scorpius calmly holding his wand at his side.

‘I offered to Obliviate you too,’ he said quietly after a long moment.

James couldn’t find it within him to be surprised. He probably would have offered the same thing had he been in Scorpius’ shoes.

‘And?’

‘She asked me not to.’

That did surprise him a little. Surely it would be easier for everyone, Stac especially, if he just forgot about tonight.

‘And will you?’

‘I won’t go against her wishes.’

No matter how much I may disagree with them.

The words hung heavy and unspoken in the air between them. James ran a hand through his hair with an exasperated sigh.

‘What game is she playing at now?’

‘She’s not playing.’

Scorpius’ voice had dropped to a colder, lower tone.

‘She’s decided to tell you everything. But listen to her carefully. As you do, think about what she’s been through this past year, yes,’ he continued at James’ disparaging snort, ‘what she has been through. I can guarantee that everything she has done she’s done out of fear. Not only for herself, but for you and the others that she loves.’

His mouth twisted into a cold, mocking shadow of a smile.

‘You’ve known her for quite some time now. Have you ever known her to be scared without good reason?’

Silently, James shook his head. Scorpius inclined his own.

‘You would do well to remember that.’

Turning away, he made it clear that the subject was closed by kneeling down by Creeten’s still prostrate form.

‘Now, if you give me a hand pushing him down these stairs, that should be enough.’

‘With pleasure,’ James growled, glad to have an excuse to work out some of his frustration.

Only, this time, his frustration was directed at no one but himself.

 

 

 

 

 







 

There was a soft knock on the door of the Head’s common room. Anastacia, sitting on a sofa before the fire, started. As she watched, Rose stood up and went to open the door.

It was James. The two of them had a brief, whispered exchange, then Rose returned to Anastacia’s side.

‘Do you want me to stay with you?’ she asked quietly, her eyes flicking briefly back to her cousin.

James’ face was impassive. He stood braced comfortably with his feet apart. Just looking at him sent a wave of rioting emotions surging through Anastacia’s mind.

‘I…no. I need to do this alone.’

Rose nodded and flashed a brief smile of support. Her eyes were still concerned, but, thankfully, she didn’t make a comment about the tension between the two other students.

‘If you do need me, at all, for any reason, just send for me, okay?’

Anastacia nodded, and Rose left her, having another brief conversation with James before she walked out of the room.

James closed the door behind her, pointed his wand at the doorknob and muttered a spell under his breath. By virtue of his being made Head Boy, he could now control the enchantment that made the room inaccessible to other students.

Completing the spell, he turned to face the only other occupant of the room. She was standing before the fireplace, hands clasped tightly in front of her, anguish in her eyes.

*

‘James, I–’

He held up his hand to ward off her words.

‘Just…tell me the truth, yeah? That’s all I want to know.’

‘I’m warning you now – you’re not going to believe it.’

James took the seat closest to the door, and furthest from her. Sitting down, he crossed his arms over his chest and assumed what he hoped was a blank expression.

‘I think I’d like to decide that for myself.’

Nodding slowly, Stac slowly sank down onto the sofa. Her lower lip was trembling, but her back was straight and her eyes were dry.

‘Where would you like me to start?’

‘Who are you?’

It seemed the easiest thing to ask.

‘My name is Anastacia Claudine Sangraal.’

She took a deep breath.

‘I am…the youngest member of the only remaining Royal Wizarding bloodline.’

Silence.

‘What?’

‘I told you you wouldn’t believe me!’ she burst out exasperatedly, rising from her chair to pace once more in front of the fire.

‘Wait, hold on, calm down!’

She paused, looking at him, not sure whether to be hopeful or not.

‘You’re serious?’

‘Yes. I know it sounds…mad, but it’s the truth. For once.’

‘So you’re what, a princess?’

‘Technically. My…official title, if you want to call it that, is more along the lines of Archduchess.’

James examined her face, searching for some sign that this was all just a big joke. But her eyes were deadly serious, her expression earnest, if slightly mournful.

‘This is insane.’

‘I know it’s a lot to take in.’

‘Yeah, you got that right,’ James scoffed, rubbing his eyes. He suddenly felt tired.

Feeling a little calmer, Stac returned to her seat. Sitting down, hands folded primly in her lap, she waited.

Finally, James looked up, although he didn’t meet her eyes.

‘Well, go on, then. You can’t just leave it there. How the hell is there a Royal family that I didn’t even know about?’

‘No one knows about it. These days, you don’t even have nobility, and yet once upon a time, nobles, real, titled nobles were rife throughout the Wizarding world. Each noble family had estates and ruled over the people who lived on their land, whether they were wizards or Muggles. They had complete power, more than anyone today could ever imagine. One their own land, a noble could do whatever they wanted, without fear of the consequences. Including things like unforgivable curses. They treated Muggles like animals, and other, non-noble witches and wizards not much better. Above the nobles, you had the Royal families. We’re the only one now, but once upon a time, there were three.’

‘Three? How come there’s nothing about it in any of the history books? Even I couldn’t miss something like that.’

Stac’s eyes flickered to her lap.

‘There was a war. Several of them, in fact, fought all over the world. They started as little uprisings, but then they just…kept going. Until they got out of hand.’

She shifted in her seat.

‘The people, the normal witches and wizards, didn’t want to be ruled over in that way anymore, and, after all, who can blame them? They wanted democracy. And in their search for it, they destroyed everything that they saw as standing for the old world.’

‘Like the French Revolution.’

Stac looked up at him in mild surprise.

‘Yes. Rose told me about that once. At the time, I couldn’t understand why she mentioned it, even though I always like to learn things about the Muggle world. But you’re right – it was very like that.’

Her gaze became distant, as she focused unseeingly at a point beyond his shoulder.

‘It’s…difficult to think about it, really. So many of the nobles were cruel, autocratic monsters who didn’t care at all for those they had a responsibility for. But the way that they were killed…it was truly awful.’

Taking a breath and shaking off that frame of mind, Stac returned to the present and her story.

‘Of the three Royal families, only the European and the Arabic dynasties survived. The Asian dynasty was wiped out completely. The witches and wizards in Asia worked with the Muggles to destroy every last remnant. What they didn’t count on was the Muggles continuing the tradition of absolute power and totalitarian rule.’

She shot the fire a rueful glance.

‘Tension has been running high there ever since.’

‘And the other two?’

‘Worked together to ensure their joint survival. They intermarried, for a while. But eventually, the Arabic dynasty started to get restless. They were tired of living in secrecy. They tried to return to power, less than a hundred years after they were deposed.’

‘And?’

‘They were also destroyed. Every last member of the bloodline, killed. And so my family learnt the valuable lesson of living in complete concealment.’

‘Hence the lies.’

She smiled sadly.

‘The lies I’ve told you and everyone else have been the smallest part of the deception. Our very existence was wiped from history, from the records, from living memory. A century after the final wars, it was as if we had never existed. Which was why I was so surprised to hear Professor Binns mention it in class one day.’

A memory stirred at the edges of James’ brain. Another boring, non-descript lesson, a game of hangmen with Sam, Stac reacting to something the Professor said…

‘So that’s what gave you a shock.’

‘I couldn’t believe my ears. I really did think they were playing tricks on me.’

‘Do you remember what he said? I wasn’t really listening,’ he added, by way of explanation.

She favoured him with a look that clearly said, why am I not surprised, but continued on.

‘I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I was that shocked. He was talking about how the noble families ruled both the Wizards and the Muggles all over the world, and that they were ruled by the three Royal families. Nothing specific, but so much more than I ever expected anyone to know. Then he talked about how they had supposedly all died out in the 12th century, which was when all the wars were going on, but that some supposedly survived until the 16th century. Then he went on for a bit about how it all had to be untrue, since there was no proof.’

James nodded.

‘Yeah, I remember that last bit, but I didn’t hear what he said first up. I don’t think anyone did – you must have been the only one.’

Stac gave a nervous half-laugh.

‘Luckily for me, no one listens in History of Magic.’

She took out her wand and murmured something under her breath. A thick book appeared in her hand.

‘I even asked him about it, after class. He gave me this.’

She handed the book over to a curious James. The title was 101 Historical Myths and Legends, and the author, to his surprise, was Professor Binns himself.

‘He was quoting directly from the book that day. There’s a small section on it; the page is marked. It’s not a lot, but I don’t know how he even knows that much.’

James closed the book with a snap and put it down on the table next to his chair.

‘So that explains the secrecy – you were scared for your life.’

Stac sighed.

‘I wish I could say yes and leave it at that but…not exactly. Once, yes, but nowadays, the secrecy has just become a part of who we are. And even then, we’re not nearly as concealed as we once were. My father has many followers, these days, including some who are not original members of the Court.’

‘So why the lies?’

James’ voice had hardened, and Stac winced as she returned her gaze to her hands, clenched once more in her lap.

‘My father is…unbending. He has never been outside the Court, never spoken to anyone who is not a Pureblood and a Royalist. He was a male heir, the only male heir – far too valuable to allow to leave the safety of the court.’

‘But you’re the only heir at the moment, aren’t you? Or do you have brothers and sisters I don’t know about either?’

‘It’s only me. But I’m just a girl. I’m not nearly as important. I can’t rule the court myself; I have to marry and have a son.’

‘But still…it seems a bit weird for them to let you out for months at a time.’

‘The fact of the matter is that they just didn’t know what to do with me. I’m the first girl to be born into the family in six centuries. When I was younger, everyone assumed that there would be other children, so no one really paid that much attention to me.  By the time they realised that I was it, everyone had grown accustomed to disregarding me. I was going to attend Beauxbatons, but then Father wanted to move the Court to England, so I was sent here instead. The Court never did move, but I fought to remain here and they’ve allowed it.’

‘With a few compromises,’ James added, thinking of Creeten and the others.

‘Yes,’ Stac agreed, ‘there have been a few. But they’ve become less over the years. At least, they had.’

They both sat quietly in thought for a long moment.

‘Wow,’ James breathed eventually, ‘I definitely did not see any of that coming.’

‘What were you expecting?’ Stac asked lightly.

‘Dunno, but not that. I can’t believe you’ve kept that in for nearly seven years.’

‘It wasn’t easy.’

‘I can imagine.’

She laughed, a light, sighing sound that seemed to surprise even her.

‘No, you can’t! You really can’t! Merlin, there are so many things I’ve wanted to tell you!’

She laughed helplessly, her head in her hands. When she seemed to get lost in thought, James prompted her gently.

‘Like what?’

‘Like I hate Potions! I really, really hate it – I always have. I had governesses and tutors and all sorts of things when I was little, that’s the only reason that I’m any good now.’

James privately disagreed, but she was on a roll, so he didn’t interrupt.

‘I wish I could take Muggle Studies. The Muggle world is so…fascinating. All those…things! Things they have instead of magic! It’s amazing! And I always had mixed feelings about my hair being blonde – I hated it because it reminded me of my father, but I loved it because it made me look like Victoire and Dominique…and I could almost pretend…’

Her voice trailed off, and James nearly didn’t catch the end of the sentence.

‘I could almost pretend I was one of you…’

Again, she gave the laugh that was more of a sigh, and James found his internal struggle getting harder and harder. He wanted to hear the whole story before he came to any conclusion, but everything within him burned to put his arms around her and tell her it was alright.

‘And I love Quidditch. Oh, I love it so much! I love flying and the rush that you get from the game. And I was never allowed to play, never. I wasn’t even allowed to fly after I turned fifteen. Father forbade it.’

She raised her head from her hands and stared unseeingly at the ceiling.

‘It…killed me, not going to your matches. I could hear the cheering and the yelling and I had to sit inside and pretend I wasn’t interested, because they’d get suspicious if I went. And it was never good enough, watching the other matches when you weren’t playing. The other teams just highlighted what I was missing out on; I knew they were nowhere as good as you.’

‘That’s why you stopped going.’

‘Yeah…’

There was a longer pause. James leaned forward in his chair, bracing his arms on his knees and fisting his hands together in front of him.

‘You know what hurts the most?’

Stac knew a rhetorical question when she heard one, so she didn’t answer.

‘How you went to Scorpius for help. Again, I mean, even after…everything…’

His everything held a wealth of meaning that Stac couldn’t pretend to misunderstand.

‘I’ll always go to Scorpius for help,’ she tried to explain gently, but he cut her off.

‘See, that’s what I mean! It’s like you’re…you’re dependent on him, or something.’

He glared at his hands.

‘If you need him so much, why’d you break up with him?’

As soon as the words were out, he wanted to take them back. What a way to flaunt his vulnerability out in the open, for everyone to see.

To his surprise, however, Stac let out a brief, startled laugh, which she quickly stifled. But it was enough to make him sit up and glare at her in confusion.

‘What?’

Stac had her hand to her mouth. She looked equally confused, but in an amused way. Taking her hand away, she tried in vain not to smile.

‘Sorry. It’s just…after everything I said, that’s what most concerns you?’

James didn’t answer, and Stac stopped trying to hide her smile.

‘James, Scorpius and I were never really a…couple. He’s family.’

Brow furrowed, James stared at her. He obviously wasn’t sure whether to believe her or not.

‘He is, really – he’s my mother’s second cousin.’

‘You’re…related?’ came the slow reply.

‘You’re surprised? We’re Purebloods – we’re nearly all related, remember? His paternal grandmother was the sister of my maternal great-grandmother. But, regardless of all that, I think of him like a brother, and although I love him, that’s all he could ever be to me.’

‘So the two of you together…’

‘Was a scheme Rose came up with to try and keep you away.’

‘And you’re sure?’

She laughed again, and looked her answer, and he was satisfied.

‘Speaking of Rose, why did she know about this and I didn’t. I mean, I’m assuming she knows, from what happened tonight and what you just said and all.’

Stac paused, her face suddenly grave once more.

I didn’t tell her. She found out on her own.’

‘She found out?’

James voice was disbelieving.

‘I was shocked too, believe me, but she did. She took some things that she’d heard and researched them, then confronted Scorpius with the information and threatened to go to one of my guards if he didn’t tell her the rest.’

‘How long has she known?’

She shifted uncomfortably.

‘Since she was in third year.’

Three years!

‘Well, I didn’t find out that she knew until this year, either! I didn’t want her to know.’

Her voice dropped in volume.

‘I didn’t want any of you to know. I thought you’d all be safer if I kept the two parts of my life separate, and look how well that worked.’

‘I can’t believe she didn’t tell me.’

The words had an injured tone, and Stac rushed to defend her absent friend.

‘She felt that it wasn’t her secret to tell. Look, don’t be upset that she found out and you didn’t. You know what she’s like. You’re always saying she’s like her mother, and if half the things that the books say about her mother are true, then it’s really no wonder that she worked it out, is it?’

James shifted in his chair to look at her curiously.

‘What books? You’ve read about my Aunt Hermione in books?’

‘I’ve read about you all in books,’ Stac replied matter-of-factly, ‘any that I could get my hands on. When I first came here, I didn’t know anything about contemporary Wizarding history. I had no idea who the Golden Trio were, I’d never heard of Albus Dumbledore, and I thought that Voldemort was, well, on the same side as me, to tell the truth.’

She stared into the fire, her jaw set sardonically.

‘Imagine yourself, at eleven years old, opening a book one day and finding out that everything you know, everything you’ve been taught, is wrong. And not only is it wrong, but it’s considered by most of the world to be rank heresy.’

‘It would have been terrible.’

‘Yes…and…no. At first I told myself that what I’d been told was true, and that the book was a lie, but that didn’t last very long. I wanted that book to be true. I wanted to believe in the world that it portrayed.’

Her voice dropped to a lower, sadder, darker tone.

‘It seemed so much brighter than the one I’d come from.’

Involuntarily, she shivered, then shivered again. Absentmindedly, without even really thinking, James rose from his chair, crossed to the cupboard and pulled out the blanket that he’d fetched the last time they’d been in the common room together. Why was it that these days they only seemed to spend quality time together after something terrible happened?

Returning to where Stac was sitting, he laid the blanket across her shoulders and joined her on the sofa, sitting at one end while she was at the other.

Stac pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders, not so much against the physical cold as for a barrier against the cold reserve that was still pouring off James in waves.

‘Is there…anything I haven’t said? Anything you’ve been wondering about?’

James considered carefully, but one thing had come immediately to mind.

‘You can see Thestrals?’

Stac was taken aback. Of all the things he could have asked…

‘Ye-es. How…did you…’

‘It wasn’t just me – Margie and Jaya figured it out before I did. Remember when you saw them early this year? Hagrid was showing them to the fifth years?’

He shrugged.

‘I was picking up your timetable and you ran off. I saw where you were looking and I kind of put two and two together.’

She bit her lip thoughtfully.

‘And you want to know why?’

‘Among other things, yeah.’

Stac took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

‘It’s…a long story…’

‘I’m not going anywhere.’

Silence. They sat that way for a while, neither of them talking. Stac seemed to be gathering her thoughts. Finally, she broke the stillness.

‘The year I turned seven, I was given a new maid. My old maid, my nurse, left and…a new girl took her place.’

She smiled slightly, eyes seeing a faraway time long since past.

‘She was so…different. She wouldn’t let me have my own way all the time. The first time she told me off, I was so surprised I didn’t know what to do. It’d never happened before – I’d always done just what I wanted. No one had ever tried to stop me. But she did. I don’t even remember what happened, what was wrong, but she told me I was being a brat, and I that I had to stop.’

‘Bet that made you mad.’

Slowly, Stac shook her head.

‘No-o, it didn’t. Not really. It was so…new. I didn’t know how to react at first, and by the time I got over it, I’d realised that she really did care about me, not like all the other ladies who just pretended, trying to get ahead at court. She liked being with me, she liked me. And I loved her for it.’

Her gaze dropped to her hands, twining in her lap.

‘You have to understand – I didn’t come from a family like yours. I didn’t have a…a brave father who protected me or a strong mother that I could run to. I didn’t have brothers and sisters to share things with. The first real friends I ever made were Scorpius and Celeste, and I didn’t meet either of them until I was nearly ten. But this girl…she was the first person who showed me any kindness.’

More silence.

‘So…what was she like?’

‘Mad. Crazy, really. She must have been. I caught her one day, when she was sneaking out to go shopping.’

She breathed a laugh.

‘It was her day off, but once you join the court, you’re not supposed to leave without direct permission. I demanded that she take me with her, or I’d tell the Guard that she’d left me alone. So she did. She took me outside the house, alone, without telling anyone. We lived just outside Paris at that point. So she apparated us to le Marché de Merveilles, er, the ‘Market of Wonders’? It’s like Diagon Alley, but…well, French.’

Stac’s face was lit up, wholly consumed by her story.

‘I’d never been anywhere but our estates and the homes of some of my parents’ friends. Seeing all these people just…walking around, wizards and witches…it was amazing. Mind-blowing. It was the best day of my life. Before that, I’d never been shopping, or to a café, or even out in public. I loved it, every minute of it.’

James could almost see it – a young Stac, blonde, like when he’d first met her, darting from shop to shop, mad with excitement.

‘After that, she began to take me out regularly, sometimes even once a week. Mostly, we went to le Marché or other places nearby. Sometimes, though…we went to Muggle Paris. Just a few times, never staying long. But it was enough. I thought it was the most unbelievable thing I’d ever seen. Absolute madness. Incredible.’

She paused for breath, and something like a shadow passed over her face.

‘One day, she didn’t come to see me. Another maid told me she was ill. She’d promised to take me to a new café that was opening – I’d been begging her for weeks. I was so…spoilt.’

Her voice caught, and she stopped for a moment.

‘I was angry, and I told the maid that she couldn’t be sick, because she was supposed to take me out. I forgot that it was a secret because I was so selfish.’

James stomach sank like a stone. He could tell where the story was going, where it was going to end. Eyes closed, Stac continued.

‘The maid…told my father. He called me in to question me. I don’t know why. By that time he would have known about it all, if he didn’t know before then. He made me tell him everything that had happened, all the visits. Everything. Then the other maid came back in, with Creeten and Trelain’s father. He’s the Captain of the Court Guard. They said that my maid was waiting in my chambers. My father ordered another Guard to take me to my mother. As we left the room, I heard him tell the Captain to…deal with the situation.’

She was scarcely breathing now, her voice thin and thready.

‘As I went to my mother’s rooms, I kept replaying the whole thing in my head, and…I decided I had to do something. The guard was holding my hand, so…I bit him. Then I ran for it, straight to the maid’s quarters. He chased me the whole way, but he didn’t catch me in time. I don’t know what I was planning to do – warn her, maybe. It didn’t matter. I reached the door in time to see the Captain draw his wand. And that was it. She was gone.’

That was too much for James. Ignoring the logical part of his brain completely, he reached over and tugged Stac against his side, holding her tightly as she wept into his shoulder.

So she’d done some stupid things – they both had, him most of all. Yes, she should have trusted him, but a life like hers didn’t exactly promote trust, did it?

‘How old were you again?’

‘Seven,’ came the muffled reply, ‘old enough to remember, young enough to believe my father when he told me it was all my fault.’

She sat up, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand. James gently moved her hand and wiped her tears away with his sleeve.

‘After that, I did as I was told. I obeyed my father’s every order. It wasn’t until I came here that I finally began to live again.’

James couldn’t even begin to imagine having a father who’d do that to their child. His own Dad, he knew, had spent his whole life trying to protect his children from anything and everything that would hurt them. What would it be like to not be able to trust your own father to protect you?

‘It was around that time that my father began to change,’ Stac was continuing on, ‘becoming more the person he is today. He was never kindly, but I remember a time when he wasn’t so hard. And I know he loved my mother, once, even if he’s never felt that same love for me.’

‘How do you know he loved your mother?’ James asked curiously, ‘It’s just that, from what you said, it doesn’t sound like he’d marry someone for love.’

‘But he did,’ Stac related quietly, ‘my mother was his inferior, although, he does see everyone as his inferior,’ she added in a soft aside, ‘but she was quite below him socially. There was a slight scandal when they married, but he smoothed it all over by the simple fact his word is Law within the Court.’

‘So what happened? Doesn’t he love her anymore?’

‘When I was born, even though he would have preferred a son, he told mother that it was alright, that they would have other children. I don’t know why everyone assumed that there would be others. My father’s family has a long history of single children. But then, they also have a long history of male births, so maybe he thought both traditions would be broken. But after some time it became clear that my mother wasn’t going to have any more children, none that lived, at any rate.’

She shivered, and James settled the blanket around her once more.

‘I think that’s when he truly began to despise me. I represented the end of his line, and he couldn’t bear to look at me. That may even have contributed to him allowing me to be sent away to school.’

Finally, she met his worried gaze, and James reflexively reached out and clasped her shoulders tightly, his insides tight with fear. Her eyes were just as dead and hopeless as they had been on the platform when they’d first met. In an instant, he had a brief insight into the terrible world of her childhood. No wonder she had blossomed into such a conniving prankster at Hogwarts. The freedom would have been like a drug.

‘I hope you never meet him. He’s cruel, and violent, almost crazy with power, and he cares for no one but himself.’

‘Violent?’

James’ hands were shaking, and he had to remind himself not to hold her too tightly.

‘What exactly do you mean by violent? Has he done something to you?’

The dead look remained, and her eyes flickered to her lap.

‘I’m not…unaccustomed to Marcus’ particular brand of treatment.’

A soft growl ripped its way out of James’ throat, and Stac looked quickly up at him, her deadened mask replaced by a look of concern.

‘But, please, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Please, James,’ she added when he didn’t show any signs of moving.

Forcing the muscles in his body to relax one by one, James slowly unclenched his jaw and his hands. Letting go of Stac’s shoulders, he drew her closer to him instead. Covering them both with the blanket, and holding her tightly to his side, he took a deep breath in and let it out.

‘Okay. If you don’t want to talk about it, we won’t.’

‘Thank you.’

Stac was a comforting weight at his side, secure within the circle of his arm, and no one was coming to take her away. He allowed himself to calm down and set his mind to finding some new topic of conversation that would let her do the same.

‘Do you know what it was for me?’

‘What was what?’

Stac’s tone was confused – she wasn’t following.

‘When I finally figured out how I felt.’

He went straight on, not waiting for an answer.

‘The day you started going out with Malfoy. That night, actually – I figured out what I smelt in Amortentia.’

‘Amortentia?’

‘Remember, the day before that? When Jaya made some in Potions? To me, Amortentia smells like broomstick oil, and chocolate pudding, and lemon tart.’

‘Yours would smell like food.’

He poked her in the ribs, eliciting a mild squeak, then pulled her close again.

‘The oil, that’s obvious, and the pudding’s from this pub I like in Wales. The tart, though…I could never figure out what it was. And that night, it hit me.’

He moved slightly to the side, so he could see her face.

‘You remember, just after we met, when you pranked the Ravenclaw Quidditch team?’

Realisation dawned in her eyes, and she smiled, remembering.

‘With lemon tart.’

‘Exactly. That’s when I figured it out, only by that point, it was too late. Or so I thought.’

Nothing more was said for a few moments. When they did again deign to speak, James was well and truly reassured that he had, in fact, been wrong in his earlier conclusion.

‘That was the lesson that my cauldron exploded,’ Anastacia mused thoughtfully when their minds had returned to speech.

James nodded.

‘Mm, you didn’t have a great day, did you?’

‘Do you want to know a secret?’

‘What, another one?’ he asked wryly, earning him a swat on the nose and an elbow in the ribs.

‘Wait! I want to know! What?’

Stac seemed to be fighting back giggles, which unnerved him a little.

‘I wasn’t having a bad day…it was the Amortentia for me too.’

‘Why?’

‘There was a…new smell. Before, it’s always had something to do with my dreams. I smell the sea, because I’ve never seen it and I want to, so much. I smell the flowers in a cottage garden, because that’s all I want, a simple life. And I smell the Hogwarts Express, too, which is pretty self-explanatory.’

‘And the new smell?’

She didn’t know how to put it…what if he laughs? But he hadn’t laughed at anything else. He hadn’t accused her of making things up, even though her story was so bizarre that it didn’t sound true.

It’s James.

That settled it.

‘It was orris root.’

‘Orris root?’

James’ voice and face were confused, but cleared as he realised.

‘Irises. Mum keeps them in the laundry – she uses them in the washing.’

‘So when you get to the platform on the first day back, your clothes always smell of orris root,’ Stac agreed, smiling shyly, ‘it’s one of the things I look forward to the most. That smell always makes me think of…new beginnings.’

‘And you knew it was me?’

‘I didn’t want it to be. I tried to deny it – I didn’t want to put us both in that kind of a position, because I couldn’t see any alternative at that point. I can look back now and say that I should have done things differently, but back then I thought I didn’t have a choice.’

‘What would you have changed?’

‘I would have told you, for one thing, and sooner. When I think of all the time I wasted, time I could have spent with you, being happy. Not being scared.’

‘Speaking of being scared, do you remember the day we fought the Boggarts in Defence?’

‘Yes, why?’ Stac replied questioningly.

‘I can’t believe I didn’t figure it out then. I only found one Boggart that day – Sam took the rest of ours. It was in an old cupboard. Gave me the fright of my life.’

He paused for dramatic effect, and Stac cut in before he could continue.

‘If you say that it was me, lying on the floor and covered in blood, I’m going to hex you.’

James was stumped.

‘Okay, one, how did you know, and two, how the hell did you know?’

‘Wild guess.’

‘Based on what?’

‘Based on the fact that mine was exactly the same.’

That really threw him, but only for a moment. Then he laughed a short, barking laugh that made Stac smile confusedly in response.

‘I don’t understand. What’s funny?’

‘We’re such idiots!’ James burst out, laughing again, ‘Well, I’m an idiot, at least,’ he corrected as an afterthought, ‘you’re too amazing to be an idiot.’

Stac laughed now too.

‘I get it – because we had all these signs and it still took us too long to figure it out? You were right the first time – I am an idiot.’

‘If all the idiots in the world were like you, it’d be a much better place.’

‘Oh, you’re so full of it,’ Stac laughed, swatting him, ‘but seriously, everyone knew before us.’

‘Pretty much.’

‘Even Celeste figured it out before I did, and she barely ever saw us together.’

The name stirred something in James’ memory.

‘Speaking of Celeste, and it might be a dumb question, but why does she call you Grace?’ he asked curiously, ‘I thought it might be your middle name or something, but isn’t your middle name Claudine?’

‘It’s short ‘your Grace’. It’s my title at Court. That’s what they all call me, here. Everyone except Scorpius.’

‘You said he was one of your first friends?’

‘Mm, his family joined the Court when we were nine. He and I were friends from the beginning. His family still aren’t truly a part of the Court – they’re not there all the time, and they’re not always involved in everything. But they were close enough that I was allowed to be friends with him. I was supposed to be drawing him in. My father wanted to get to the Malfoys through Scorpius, and therefore through me.’

She laughed gently.

‘It didn’t really work, and he’s still trying, but I didn’t care. I was just happy to have a friend.’

‘You grew up with Creeten and Trelain, though? You said their dad was…around.’

‘Creeten was always…Creeten. He’s never changed. But Trelain…he didn’t used to be so hard.’

The expression in her eyes was faintly haunted.

‘In some ways, he reminds me of my father. Trelain was never…soft, or kind, or anything like that, but he wasn’t like he is now. Being in the Court as a man, not just a boy…it changed him. It changes them all.’

Her voice dropped very low.

‘I hate them.’

‘Then leave,’ James whispered, just as low. All of a sudden, the mood in the room had turned deadly serious.

‘It’s not that simple.’

Her voice broke with helpless pain.

‘If I left, they’d come after me. It wouldn’t matter where I went, they’d search till they found me. And there’s nothing they wouldn’t do to get me back. No line they wouldn’t cross. I’m the only blood heir. You think Purebloods are bad? The Blacks had nothing on my family.’

‘So what? My dad defeated Voldemort. I mean, come on. That has to count for something.’

‘I couldn’t do it,’ she protested, shaking her head, ‘I couldn’t put your family in that kind of a position. And…I’m afraid…

She did indeed look scared; her eyes were bright, but dry, and she was biting her lip.

‘Of what? We’re safe here. Scorpius is taking care of Creeten and the rest. We’re okay for now.’

‘He will have you killed.’

Stac’s voice was flat and unyielding.

That’s why I lied. I couldn’t care less about the Court or the history or any of it. But you…to him, you’re a blood traitor, and my friends are traitors and mudbloods. I got involved, despite myself, and by the time I realised just how much I needed you all, I was in too deep. I had to lie, because I couldn’t bear losing any of you.’

‘So what now, then?’

‘I should go,’ she responded, pulling away.

James refused to let her go, tugging her back down to her side.

‘Don’t you dare. Listen to me first.’

‘James–’

‘Shut your face. Shut it, or I’ll shut it for you, and you know I will–’ he countered when she opened her mouth to argue.

Still upset, but without trying to interrupt, Stac closed her mouth.

‘Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll keep it a secret, at least, to all non-Weasleys and Potters. If there’s one thing my family can do, it’s keep a secret. We’ll sneak, we’ll skulk, we’ll hide. We’ll do whatever it takes.’

Pulling her closer, he leaned forward until their foreheads were touching.

‘I only just found you. It’s going to take a lot more than this for me to give you up without a fight.’

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, what you’re suggesting.’

I love you.’

The words were soft, but ringing with truth. That truth killed the protest in Stac’s throat and made her take in a little, involuntary breath. Her cheeks flushed as blood rushed to her face, and her eyes were wide and somehow vulnerable.

‘You can’t know that,’ she whispered after a long, loaded pause, ‘we’re still at school; I’m not even of age yet! What do we know about love?’

‘You don’t have to believe me,’ James countered with a smile, ‘you don’t even have to say anything in return, but I know that I love you. And that’s enough for me.’

And in a strange way, it was. Somehow, Stac’s willingness to share her past had shattered the last of the illusions in James. He knew, now, that what he felt for her wasn’t a passing crush or an infatuation, but a feeling that ran deeper than anything he’d ever known before.

‘I’m not asking for anything in return. I know it’s weird and sudden and kind of unexpected, but I had to say it. It’s important that you know.’

It was just as well that he wasn’t asking for a reply, because Stac didn’t have the slightest clue what to say in response. She wasn’t even sure that she could have spoken if she’d known what to say.

‘It’s late,’ James went on when she made no reply, ‘in fact, I think it might even be early. You should get some rest.’

Stac didn’t want to sleep, but she was comfortable and warm and James was stroking her hair in a way that made it very difficult to stay alert.

‘I don’t want to,’ she tried, but a huge yawn in the middle of her sentence had them both laughing.

James closed the small distance between them and laid a gentle kiss on her temple.

‘I’ll stay here, just like last time,’ he breathed against her hair, lips brushing the outer whorl of her ear, ‘so don’t worry about anything. You’re tired – you should sleep.’

And he continued to stroke her hair, gently running it through his fingers.

‘That’s cheating…not being fair…’ Stac grumbled under her breath, but the movement lulled her, and it wasn’t long before her eyelids fluttered shut and her breathing slowed.

Even in sleep, she felt the safety that only came from being in James’s presence.

And for the first time in a long time, untroubled by night terrors or bad dreams, she truly slept.

 

 

 

 

 

 







 

To my lovely readers, I apologise for taking so long between updates! But this one is nice and long to make up for it. And, as an extra little treat, here is the passage from Professor Binns’ book (which had a limited release and is quite tricky to a get a hold of – I’m so lucky that someone I know has a copy!)

I have tried to answer the questions that I know have been floating around in people’s minds since the beginning of this thing, but if you have a question that hasn’t been answered, tell me in a comment and I will work it into a future chapter somehow!

Thanks so much for continuing, to read, and I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season (Christmas for me!) and a fabulous New Year!

Ta!

 

 

 

 

 







 

One of the least known legends of Wizardkind is that of the mysterious Royal Wizards. It is strange that this legend is so little known, as so many common-place stories, fairytales, and myths revolve around unknown Royal blood being miraculously discovered. However, the legend of the Royal Wizards, apart from being largely unknown to the contemporary Wizarding world at large, is shrouded, not so much in mystery as in pea-soup fog. So much so that it is rare for even the most dedicated scholar to ever come across mention of it in their readings.

The complete lack of primary source material makes it difficult to determine whether this legend is actually based on any real, historical proof whatsoever. What evidence and record can be found is either secondary or, more commonly, tertiary and as such can not be held in any great esteem.

Essentially, the legend goes that there were once certain wealthy families amongst the Wizarding community who owned large tracts of land and were both responsible for and effectively owned those who lived upon their land. They also wielded immense power within their estates, and were very much a law unto themselves.

These families, Nobility, if you will, ruled both Muggles and Wizards alike the world over. They in turn answered to the three ruling Royal families, one in what is now the Middle East, one in Asia, and one in Europe. However, by the end of the 12th century, none of these Nobles or Royals remained.

It has been theorised that there were, in fact, individuals still living up until the 16th century, controlling Wizarding and Muggle world politics from behind the scenes. However, this can be dismissed as a fanciful tale, as there is no proof to support it.

-          Extract from 101 Historical Myths and Legends by Cuthbert Binns

 
 
 
 
 

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