There were some things that boys were destined to ponder on rainy March afternoons. Why the Cannons were so pitiful, and why they still managed to hold onto such a passionate fan base. What that whole business with the Elder Wand really meant, in the long run. What made the Wizengamot a legitimate political institute in this day and age. How house-elves could churn out delicious food all the bloody time. How Knight to E4 still rocked as hard as they probably did when they were seventeen.
What the girls’ dormitory was like.
It was Cillian Donnelly who first voiced it one particular Sunday afternoon. “It’s crazy that no bloke’s been inside there,” he said, out of the blue, over a chessboard. He’d been practicing for a tournament that one of the Weasleys was organising. “The girls’ dorms, I mean.”
He was facing James Potter, who didn’t care about the game but was a damn sight better despite that. “Castle to F-6.” As his castle plowed across the board, he said, “I’m sure there have been. There’re rumours and all about it.”
“What rumours?” asked Cillian. He was keeping a careful eye on the castle, which seemed to be humming with excitement for an attack, though he couldn’t yet see where or how it would come.
James leaned back in his chair. “Teddy always said he’d done it. Never said how, but I’m sure he got Nicky or Victoire or someone to help him,” he mused further.
“Then that’s the first step,” Cillian said. “Get an inside man.”
“Inside girl. You know it’s been your move for the past forty seconds.”
“I’m thinking, Potter.”
“Of the game or of seeing Isla Quigley’s knickers?”
Cillian glanced up from the chessboard and glared at his friend. “For one thing, you know I have no interest whatsoever in Isla Quigley. Or her knickers.”
“I’m sure you don’t.”
“For another, if you want to do this for that reason, you’re never going to get an inside man.”
“Inside girl, and I never said I wanted to do it.”
“You don’t want to? What the hell is wrong with you?”
In James’ case, it was usually the clinical but somehow charming nonchalance he’d developed to practically everything in his life. It wasn’t that he was mean or cold. He just was, content with charmed detachment and cool affection. It was an attitude that had really hit him in adolescence, not because of any traumatic experience, but because he realised that it worked for him very well. He knew it could be a liability sometimes, but when someone was as prone to spurts of dangerous spontaneity, as Cillian was, a bit of levelheadedness could be healthy.
“I never said I didn’t want to do it, either.”
Cillian grinned, and with one last despairing glance at the chessboard, took out his wand and jerked it to the left. Crying indignantly, the remaining pieces were swept as if by an invisible hand into the wooden box from which they had come. “Wouldn’t have stood a chance against Hugo anyway,” he sighed. “Better focus my attention on the realm of reasonable success, right?”
James couldn’t argue that there was a reasonable chance in the first place. “Sure. So have you concocted a plan already, or were you going to wait and pounce on the next girl to come down the stairs?”
“Can’t just pick up any old bird.” Cillian got up and positioned his chair next to James’, so both of them would have a view of the enchanted stairs. “We have to think this through carefully, got to consider all the possibilities. Like, Ruth’s probably out of the question, and I don’t think Mack–”
“How about her?” James pointed at the blondish figure coming down.
Cillian glanced at her. “Oh. Okay, yeah, she’ll do.”
The prospective inside man James was suggesting was Waverly Ward, and, as he knew full well, the only seventh-year Gryffindor girl who would be even slightly willing to help.
“You can talk to her,” Cillian said after a moment where they were both staring at the staircase. “From me it’d seem like a sick joke. From you it’d sound like–”
This was something that James hadn’t anticipated, but he completed his friend’s sentence with a smooth, “Mischievous fun? Yeah, I’ll do it. You go… take a walk or something and we’ll call you back later.”
Appreciating the positivity inherent in the statement, Cillian didn’t object and got up. He stretched his arms before ambling off, and James debated waiting for him to reach the portrait hole before realising that Waverly was also heading in that direction.
“Oi! Oi, Waverly!” He made a beckoning gesture–nothing so wild as frantic waving, but nothing unduly intimate. Though he was friendly with her, maybe even friends with her, depending on the day, he didn’t want to be too presumptuous. Not that he ever was.
In any case, she responded with a bit of dubious interest, and came to stand in front of him. “Hi.”
“Hey there, Waverly. You busy?”
“Depends,” she said carelessly. “But I’ve been cooped up in either my room or the library all weekend and I’d appreciate a little distraction.”
James patted the seat that Cillian just vacated. “I wanted to talk to you about a much bigger distraction, if you don’t mind.”
“Well isn’t that mysterious,” she said rather dryly. “You’ve stoked my curiosity now, James.” In any case, she cautiously sat down, ink-flecked hands settling on her lap. He also spotted the kernel of legitimate curiosity in the sardonic delivery, and smiled to hear it.
“Waverly,” he said, the name rolling off his tongue, “have you ever heard of a bloke getting in the girls’ dormitories?”
“Nope,” she said. “The stairs become a slide and the alarm goes off and everything. Can’t get in.”
James leaned in closer, aware now that he was turning on the charm in a significant way. He wasn’t quite sure why, because he certainly didn’t care that much about the endeavour. But Waverly was a girl, a fairly pretty girl, and she was itching for a distraction. He figured he might as well make her feel better about abandoning her work. Satisfied with his rationale, he let the charm radiate from his eyes and shift his posture and stopped questioning it. Questioning charm led to souring charm.
“That doesn’t mean that a bloke can’t get in,” he said. “It just means it’s more… difficult. Think about it. An alarm goes off and it becomes a slide. What kind of deterrent is that, really? Not a very good one. Getting into the girls’ rooms could very well be as easy as a bloke being levitated up the stairs. It could be much more involved than that, I dunno, but it makes sense, doesn’t it, to assume that it’s not impossible for the determined to get in?”
“I guess so,” she said, seeming intrigued despite herself. “But why are you so determined to do it?”
“Well, firstly because Cillian really wants to do it. I imagine it has something to do with Isla, and I’m nothing if not supportive of that relationship.”
“He fancies her? Never would’ve guessed.”
“It’ll become obvious when he’s pawing through her sock drawer.”
“As long as it’s just her socks,” she said, “I don’t mind.”
James, grinning despite himself at the memory of Cillian’s assertion from a few minutes ago, continued. “Now can I give you the eloquent version of why? I had this all rehearsed in my head as you were walking over.”
“Now I’m legitimately excited. A rehearsed speech and everything! Very smooth.” She smirked at him, but not in an antagonistic or uppity way. It was, as most of James’ interactions with people were, friendly.
“I try.” He inclined his head, gracious and self-effacing. “You see, when you think about it, the problem of the barrier is a challenge handed down by Godric Gryffindor himself. He basically put up a sign in front of your dorms that says no blokes allowed. So obviously, any freethinking bloke is going to try to get in. And I personally–speaking for Cillian as well–believe that it would be an insult to the Founder’s indomitable spirit to not take up the challenge. It’s a little bit of fun, too, you know, in the long stretch between hols and exams and stuff. We think we’re going to need an inside girl, though, which is where you come in.”
“That doesn’t sound right.” At his blank expression, she clarified, “Inside girl. Is that really a thing?”
“Technically,” James acceded, “it’s called an inside man. I just thought it’d be more appropriate if I used inside girl for you.”
“Oh, I don’t mind.” Then she gave him a rather cheeky, playful grin, which James considered a good thing. “But yeah, sure, I’ll do it.”
He was a bit surprised by how quickly she accepted the invitation, but didn’t show it. “Excellent.” James grinned widely, to denote that he really was happy to have her on board, because he honestly was. It would be more interesting with someone else in the mix, after all. Enliven the dynamic and all that. “Really excellent. Cillian’s out walking now, but when he comes back we can start brainstorming stra–”
But then Waverly stood up and pulled out her wand, fault lines in what James half-thought could have become a moment shaking. “Get up.”
“You said it yourself,” she said, “it might be as simple as levitating yourself up the stairs. So we might as well try it out, yeah?”
For all of the charm he’d ever thought he exerted or was thought to have exerted, James himself felt charmed, maybe even fascinated, by the inside man’s balls.
Disclaimer The title of this story and part of the summary are in fact inspired by Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which in no universe would I ever want to have written.
Many thanks as well to ahoythere at tda for the super hipster/fluffy chapter image.
Author's Note What? Gubby is legitimately trying her hand at fluff now? Yes, dear readers, it's true. As some of you may know, this has been a very long process, involving at least seven other stories started and unceremoniously copy-and-pasted into my Deleted Documents document. Happily, this particular plot bunny grew and grew into a completed short story, which means it's utterly prewritten for everyone's convenience. I'll try to update as often as I can. All of my love to Gina, for her lessons on contrivance and putting up with thousands of words of my inevitably elitist fluff, and the rest of the crew, for putting up with my freak-outs and declarations that fluff is impossible and totally ridiculous. I've only just realised that is neither of those things.
Hope you all enjoy what is to come!
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