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“So, your childhood,” James said lunging over the room and grabbing a slice of pizza distractedly. His eyes were fixed on the huge screen that had made its home in our living room within the past week and it was very obvious that he really didn’t care about whatever I had to say. Maybe he was trying to care but, not being used to it, he was failing quite badly, “tell me about it,”

James missed his mouth with his pizza, his eyes glazed and ridiculous. I rolled my eyes at his profile and found my irritation flaring up again. James Potter’s company made me decidedly uncomfortable and I still hated the idea of James being sat there in my sitting room, watching my television and eating my food.

I decided that ‘so your childhood – tell me about it’ did not merit a response and instead turned my own gaze towards the direction of the screen. Quidditch again, the muggle way this time, and apparently it was my fault he’d missed the game in the first place. Even though he’d been on holiday at the time.

After my extended period of silence James turned around vaguely and stared at me expectantly. I stared back. “So?”

“I am not discussing my childhood.” I returned flatly, picking up a slice of pizza for myself and staring at the pepperoni as if it was personally responsible for this situation. It wasn’t like I had some dark mysterious past that I didn’t want to reveal – well, I suppose that has yet to be determined – but I just did not feel comfortable talking about something so personal with someone who I genuinely did not like. I didn’t really talk about my childhood, at all; Dad didn’t like talking about it, Leanne didn’t really care about what I did when I was three years old... and who else was I going to discuss it with?

“I’ll tell you about mine?”

“That is not necessary,”

“So, we’ve lived in that house for as long as I’ve been alive,”

“James,” I said warningly.

“I’ve never moved liked you... So I don’t really know what that was like. Mostly I remember playing Quidditch with my excessive number of cousins at the burrow – that’s where my grandparents live, on my mum’s side, obviously – it was always slightly suffocating and I used to spend hours crying about it in the cupboard under the stairs. Your friendships are dictated by who’s the same age as you in that sort of circle, and we were mostly left with each other. I was always left with Dom and we pretty much hated each other until Hogwarts. Dad was always closer to Al, so I don’t know him really well which kills me inside. I’m a little bit too mischievous for their liking and they were always just yelling at me – all very tragic. I got on with Uncle George better, and Freddie – but I didn’t see him much as he’s a little younger. Being the chosen one and all that, didn’t really see Dad until I was about seven and he cut down on his work hours because he wanted to actually see his baby girl grow up and I was permanently and emotional scarred by neglect and loneliness.”

“How much of that was true?” I asked dryly.

“Hmm...” James considered, taking another piece of pizza from the plate with a grin, “not much really. We’ve never moved house... and Quidditch was encouraged. Dom and I were best friends forever,”

“Were?”

“Well,” James said pausing to bite, chew and swallow his piece of paper, “she disagrees with my attitude to girls,” I raised an eyebrow, “I dated her friend and er... didn’t end well. Anyway, your turn,”

I don’t know how exactly James had managed it, but he had somehow ensured that I was a lot more comfortable at this point.

“Well, we lived by the sea when my mum was around. She was a seer and Dad worked at the ministry doing something or other. I was pretty young at the time. Then she left and -”

“Wait, how old were you when she left?”

“Six? Seven?” I suggested trying very hard to concentrate on the memory and finding it difficult, “it’s hard to focus on it, I... I should know, but I don’t,” James nodded, “I remember that... well, that’s the memory I showed to your Dad so I guess that’s the one that’s been changed and I have no idea what actually happened. But she left all of a sudden and we were alone. We moved out of the house. Actually, we moved abroad for that year. France... I think we were going to stay there but then Dad’s business started becoming successful so we moved back. We moved house about every six months. Dad would be elsewhere most of the time but when he was back he’d always treat me: ice cream, holidays, camping trips and walks. He became rich. The houses became bigger, the absences more prolonged and the treats more extreme.”

“Your mother was a seer?” James asked, considering this. “A real seer? Or one of those frauds?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged.

“We should break into the department of mysteries and find out,” James said with a smile that suggested he was enjoying the idea a lot more than he was letting on.  I rolled my eyes, leant back on the sofa and let myself be absorbed into Quidditch, just so I didn’t have to think about how I’d revealed much more than I was comfortable with to someone who was almost definitely going to use it as fuel for his ‘Cassie is crazy campaign’ as soon as school restarted.

*

My driving instructor gave me a weak smile before exiting the vehicle and leaving my sat in the car feeling exhausted. He’d been slightly bemused by the idea that I was to be taught how to drive in my own car – a ridiculously shiny posh car that I had inadvertently fallen in love with without meaning too – rather than in his little car with dual controls, but had went with it because Dad was paying him over three times the amount he’d intended to charge (and driving lessons weren’t exactly cheep in the first place). Dad had confunded the poor guy when he’d asked for me to prove that I was seventeen and this had done nothing to calm my nerves about the whole thing – who wanted to learn how to drive in a car that cost more than what most households owned in a year and with a driving instructor who’d recently been confunded.

Now I was several days into my crash course in driving. My legs hurt from using the clutch excessively, the car had been beyond hot due to the poor excuse for summer heat and I had managed to stall more times than I’d ever done before in a period of about ten minutes. It had not been a good lesson whatsoever.

“Good lesson?” James asked, throwing open the door and sitting himself down on the passenger seat, “I saw your parking issues,” I’d gotten used to James being incredibly rude by now, but I still managed to find some indignation to draw up from somewhere about him getting into my car uninvited and insulting my parking (yes, I had mounted the curb, but I’d only swerved to the left because there was a really big lorry driving in my direction and I was scared for my life).

“There was a lorry,”

“It was a van,” James corrected, “anyway... isn’t you learning to drive slightly illegal?”

“Mildly,” I answered, tapping my fingers on the wheel and trying to get used to my position in the front seat, “but dad wanted me to learn,”

“So he disregards the law? Interesting,” James said thoughtfully, “hey, you being able to drive could be useful for out little mission!”

“It’s not a mission,” I contradicted, “this may be just some game to you, James, but this is my life you know. It’s not some great... plotline to enrich and fuel your dramatic lifestyle. This is me having my head messed with.”

“That is both the longest and most dramatic sentence you’ve ever said,” James said making me flush furiously. I glared at the steering wheel and thought cooling thoughts to de-red my ridiculous cheeks, “and that was a beautiful blush, come on Cassie – I’m sorry if it seems like I’m not taking this seriously, but that’s just me,”

“Well that changes everything,” I muttered under my breath. James smiled at this comment, one that wouldn’t have escaped my lips at all in his presence as little as two weeks ago, and at his smile I found myself blushing all over again. There was something a little too friendly about the way he seemed to appreciate that I was becoming (inadvertently) more comfortable in his presence – mostly because his presence now had a habit of making me angry.

“This is a bloody nice car,”

“Early birthday present,”

“This car belongs to you?” James asked longingly, “can I borrow it sometimes?”

“If you pass your driving test and pay for insurance, sure thing.”

“So now you start thinking about the law,” James sighed, “what does this do?” James continued reaching forward and beginning to press buttons at random. He turned on the air conditioning, the radio and the left indicator before I decided that any second now he was going to hit the ‘stop start’ button to the left of the ignition and things were going to go terribly wrong. So I took the keys out of the ignition and let engine go dead, “I suppose you’re used to driving around in limos and what not?”

“Not exactly. Anyway, stop acting like you’re not rich too – your Dad’s Harry Potter. You’re probably the person my age in the country to have a similar amount of money,”

“But Dad doesn’t spend any of it!” James complained, “Gives it to charity and stuff,”

“Pass us your phone,” I instructed  him. He removed it from his pocket it and placed it into my hand with an eyebrow raise, “Sixth generation deluxe addition,” I said turning it over in my hands, “reinforced, extra long battery, inbuilt music system... wireless internet facilities, synching technology. Yeah, this phone costs over a hundred galleons,” I handed it back to him, “and no doubt you’ve got as many texts and minutes as you could possibly want – that’s another twenty a month. Don’t act as if you’re not spoilt too.”

“Well, it’s not as good as your phone.”

“Point proven.”

“Well you’ve got a jaguar!” James exclaimed, “With a satnav!”

“Of course I’m spoilt,” I returned pocketing my keys, “I’m the only family my Dad has – no parents, no siblings, no aunts, I’m the only thing he’s got.”

“See, that doesn’t make any sense,” James said leaning against the door on his elbow, “speaking from experience, people don’t let rich people go.  Even if your dad was disowned by his family or something, they’d all come crawling back when he becomes the richest man in Britain. His friends from Hogwarts would try to get back in touch, ex-girlfriends, distant relatives... he’d have someone trying to get in touch with him and unless he rebutted all attempts then -”

“Well, Robert Banks isn’t his real name,”

“What?” James asked in shock. I was suddenly hit by a wave of how frustrating it was that James would lick my Dad’s feet if I asked him, whilst he was more than happy to use me to fill up his empty summer with endless hours of entertainment and such.

“He changed his surname when he went into business, I think; I mean... he used to be Robert Bradshaw,”

“Bradshaw?” James questioned, “Why didn’t you mention this before? That could be really important – when about did he change his name? Before or after your mum left?”

“I don’t know, it was a long time ago,”

“That’s good!” James said eagerly, “that means your memory has been changed so you don’t remember it!”

“No it doesn’t,” I countered, “there are hundreds of things I don’t remember about when I was young,”

There was an odd silence as I sat there and began to contemplate that my whole past might have been rewritten without me even knowing. James looked for a second like he was about to speak then thought better of it – for which I could only be thankful, because suddenly my head was clouding over with the possibility of my whole life being some strange and intricate lie that I would never understand. If I couldn’t trust my own memories to be accurate then what the hell could I trust?

“What’s your earliest memory?” I asked, leaning against the steering wheel to look at him carefully.

“I remember mum bringing Lily back from the hospital just after she was born. I thought she was some sort of toy but then she started crying and I decided I didn’t like her very much. I told Uncle Bill that I wanted mum and dad to take her back and get a refund,”

“So you were?”

“About four?” James suggested, then he saw my expression, “but I only remember that because it’s the sort of story everyone likes to tell at Christmas.”

I nodded and swallowed, looking down at where my feet uselessly rested on the clutch and the brake feeling ever so slightly dismayed. When was my earliest memory? I could hardly remember – mostly the past was a confusing smudge of details half remembered, and conversations that I could hardly follow about consequences and avoiding something... I could sometimes picture what I once wore, places I visited and my mum’s old fashioned perfume prickling at the corners of my mind.

“It could be anything then,” I said, “I mean, for all I know my entire past could have been planted in my head. My dad might not be my dad, I could have been kidnapped or something – how am I supposed to know?”

“No,” James said, “your dad is your dad – you have the same nose,”

“Magic could change that,” I returned wildly, feeling strangely like I was standing onto the top of a cliff and woozily hanging over the railings to take a glimpse at the bottom: the result wasn’t the comfort I had thought it would be, there was a wide open space of nothingness to fall through before the ground would rush up and greet me, “I might not even be human, I could be some strange sort of nymph transfigured to look like the offspring of Robert Banks, nee Bradshaw.”

“Firstly, that’s silly. You’re definitely human and you’re definitely Cassie Jones-Banks-Bradshaw,”

“Comforting,” I muttered.

“Your dad wouldn’t have bothered making you look like him only to hide you from the world, that’s illogical and stupid – no, you haven’t been kidnapped and your whole childhood hasn’t been rewritten, just details,”

“Well if you think you know so much about it, what do you thinks going on?” I asked, soundly overly huffy and irritated mostly because I was trying to suppress the emotions that came with the idea that it wasn’t just the one memory that had been rearranged and altered, but a whole host of other little things that, to me, were concrete facts.

“It’s all to do with you being hidden,” James said thoughtfully, “that must be why you have your mothers surname, why your dad changed his surname, you being omitted from everything about your dad... so... someone’s trying to murder you,”

“I don’t want to criticise,” I said feeling the weight of a whole lot of tears pressing at the back of my eyeballs uncomfortably, “but it was quite a big leap from being hidden to murder, and one that I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with. Who’s trying to murder me?”

“Either your Dad or someone else.”

“Why the hell would my Dad want to murder me?” I demanded angrily, “You can’t just go around and insinuate that my dad wants to kill me James!”

“If I was to write a letter to you how long would it take to get to you?”

“A week or so. All my mail is searched and read before I get it,”

“Text?”

“Dad has to approve all the number’s that try and have contact with my phone before I receive everything from them,”

“And then he reads your messages?”

“Probably,” I admitted.

“How many addresses to you use?”

“Six,”

“How many do you live at?”

“None of the six used,”

“So either he’s trying to protect you or he’s trying to control and hurt you,” I stared at him suddenly feeling another wave of irritation: what right did James Potter have to sit himself in my car and then start talking about absurd possibilities that I really didn’t want to consider – not for anything. Dad was the only person I had in the world and maybe it was true that he had a couple of strange and absurd habits (some of them being downright weird) but I’d just assumed that it was standard paranoia that comes with being a billionaire, rather than anything that had any foundation.

“Dad’s all I’ve got,” I said fiercely, “and anyway, you think if he really was going to ... hurt me or something then, then, he’d probably have bugged the car or something! What if all of this is nothing – some strange blip in nature, or just a circumstance that looks bad but is actually just something stupid,”

“Your right,” James said, “we shouldn’t talk in the car. Come over to mine, the only bugs there are Lily and Al – and they’re more like incessant flies than earwigs. Besides, it’s really hot in here since you foolishly turned off the air con,” I flushed again (although I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why this time) and dutifully got out of the car.

I locked the car and pulled out the house keys in one fluid motion.

“Are you coming to mine then?”

“Aren’t you going to look pretty stupid if one of your friends comes round and you’ve got Crazy Cassie in your room? Aren’t your siblings going to embarrass you by telling the world about how we talk now?”

“I haven’t had a friend round since the summer started and having a girl in my room won’t make me look stupid, whoever the girl may be.” James contradicted folding his arms and raising his eyebrows at me challengingly. I flushed at that and folded my own arms feeling annoyed but not being able to find words to express why I was annoyed. I was the one who’d insinuated that I was somewhat of embarrassment and of course James wasn’t going to disagree with the assumption, but still I didn’t like the way his voice had formed the word ‘whoever.’

“I’d rather you invited your friends round and let me stay here and work it out on my own,”

James sighed irritably. “Look, Cassie, right now you have more friends than I do. Okay?”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought you’d worked it out,” James said frowning, “Natalie, well, you know we were going out right?”

“Sure, for like five months or something.”

“Four months, three weeks,” James corrected, running a self conscious hand through his hair and looking more than slightly pained, “She cheated on me,”

“With your best friend Ryan?” I finished, suddenly remembering seeing it on Spellbook and the strange way James had reacted when we’d ran into Ryan at the furniture stall.

“Right,” James muttered, shoving one hand into his pocket and pushing his glasses up his nose when the other, “so then she was pretty pissed off at being caught, so... well she spread some stuff and I got mad and broke Ryan’s nose on the Hogwarts express  - which he fully deserved – but that confirmed it for most people. I’d pissed off Lily by threatening to write home about the fact that I’d caught her drunk – she’s like nine for god’s sake – so she told mum and dad that I’d gotten into a fright and broken someone’s nose, which is why I was grounded.”

I could feel everything clicking into place slightly and it definitely explained both why James had been such a moody git and why he had so much time on his hands to take me on as some absurd project to discovery my history with me. If this had been a normal summer for James Potter, he’d have been out somewhere half way across the country most days, drinking at house parties and snogging girls somewhere.

“It’s been pretty shit, to be honest,” James muttered, “I haven’t had anything to do and every so often people stick loads of photos on spellbook of parties that I should rightfully have been invited too. Even Al was invited to some of them! And Lily! They both started to realise what had happened at that point, then Lily started grovelling for forgiveness and then on holiday I just decided to hell with it. So I told Lily it didn’t matter and... why am I telling you all of this? I suppose you don’t really care, right? I’m just the annoying git who spends the whole year calling you crazy and having competitions to see who can make you blush most.”

“Well, I am sorry,” I said after a long moment, but even I wasn’t sure exactly why James had gone into such great depth about the whole saga. Saying he’d fallen out with his friends would have easily done the trick, although maybe not quite as well because – annoyingly – there was this part of me that now felt slightly sorry for James Potter.

“Don’t be, there all tossers for not hearing me out, right?”

“Or just easily led,”

“Either way Cassie, as crazy as you may be, you currently have more social status than I do. Never thought I’d see the day, but here we are.” I blushed at the slight and wondered whether it was impossible for James to have a conversation with someone without making the other person feel very very small. I also wondered whether this might be his problem in the first place – that he was far too superior for his own good and that everyone was more than happy to see him knocked down a pedestal for awhile – no matter how brutally.

Then again I’d decided a long time ago that popular people had no heart or feelings whatsoever and therefore I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised that his friends had been fickle enough not to care about James on his fall from grace, and cynical enough to suspect that within a week of returning to Hogwarts James would be talking to his friends again and ignoring me completely, which was actually exactly what I wanted.

“So having me in your room will actually improve your reputation?” I questioned (with a predictable blush), “I’ll go get my laptop,” I muttered in response to his exaggerated wink.

 ***

“So, DoM and SC” I began, “come up with anything?”

“I was thinking about asking Dom about the DoM thing,” James said with a grin, closing the door as I sat down on his bed awkwardly and flipped open my laptop, “but I decided against it. I searched the internet and it came up with a few things: the ‘DoM’ theory (dominance of magic); a very bad Quidditch team that some idiots are trying to set up ‘dragons of Manchester’ but nothing that seemed that relevant. I thought maybe we should look at the bits that are classified as confidential on the document.”

“Okay,”

“If you look at the columns above and below it,” James continued pulling out a duplicated copy of the entire document (so he’d listened to my advice after all) and flicking to the right page. I noted with a stab of satisfaction that he’d gone to the effort of highlighting the line with my name on, and had underlined the ambiguous bits we didn’t understand , “I’m pretty sure that the bits we’re not told are the reason why and the spell used – which means it wasn’t just a standard memory modification.”

My phone bleeped. I pulled it out and turned it over in my hands. Leanne: What’s going on!? I’m at your house now but your Dad says you’re at the Potter’s house. What!?!? Come back soon!

“If your Dad reads all your text messages then he’ll know that we’re investigating stuff,” James said suddenly.

“Look, I don’t know if he reads the messages – just that he can easily do if he wants to,”

“And you copied that document onto your laptop! He’ll know!”

“James, now you’re the one getting paranoid,” I said, “he’s not stalking me!”

“Cassie, we don’t know what’s going on, do we? Of course chances are he hasn’t done anything wrong – he got authorisation, after all – but he definitely doesn’t want you to know about it, otherwise he wouldn’t have got your memory wiped. So you need to delete everything on your laptop before he finds it,”

“You’re not suggested we do it all on paper?” I asked incredulously.

“No, we do it on my laptop.”

“I think I’d rather do it on paper,” I commented darkly, “oh come on, James, your laptop is rubbish,”

James muttered something about how not everyone could get free top of the range laptops with integrated printers and how I could easily score him something fabulous if I wanted to, whilst pulling his laptop off his desk and in doing so sending a pile of books crashing to the floor.

I stared at the books feeling as though I had been winded. James had apparently visited the muggle library and had retrieved every book on amnesia – included three volumes of teenage fiction – one of which he was apparently half way through if you took any notice of the battered Chudley Cannons bookmark.

I didn’t say anything but my surprise was so obvious that it was James’s turn to flush slightly and hastily retrieve all the books from the floor and shove them into some dark corner of his room where they were no longer visible, “I thought reading up on amnesia might help,” he said lamely, “I mean, if we provided the right triggers and stuff then you might start to break the spell, so it... it is a bit like amnesia really,”

James was actually taking this seriously. I mean, reading teenage books serious (and anyone but teenage girls who read those things were seriously brave and more impressive beings than myself).

I remained silent at a loss of anything else I could say. I blinked a few times and then wordlessly began copying all of the relevant files to James’s crumbly old laptop feeling very badly done to as I had to use his worn out keyboard which crunched when you pressed certain keys due to the food that had fallen between the gaps between the letters, and you couldn’t even read the ‘E’ due to overuse. The sad thing was, the laptop was only just over a year old – and he’d already managed to run the poor thing to the ground.

I sidetracked slightly by rewriting some of his software to make the whole thing faster. James didn’t question this but instead absorbed everything I was doing as though memorising it for later use, and looking rather excited when I managed to download more memory space by entering my account details into the WTC website.

Then I deleted everything off my own laptop that was related to it, tracking the files backwards to delete any history of their presence – because it would intrigue Dad a lot more if I’d half attempted to delete something and I knew full well he’d then take that as a challenge to retrieve the document. I renamed all the ghost files (an irritating fault Dad was required to leave in so Aurors could track wizarding files even after they’d been double deleted) to boring things such as ‘transfig homework’ which would hardly entice him to read them, then deleted their content leaving nothing but an empty space in their wake. It wasn’t irrecoverable but it would be a lot of effort.

“How did you do that?” James asked after I’d finished and he was pressing buttons on his laptop and delighting in the fact that I’d just made it three times faster.

“I helped design most of them,” I admitted, “I could probably get that up to four times the speed if I could be bothered,”

James pushed the laptop in my direction with a grin. I waved this off and refused to take it, instead turning over the copied ministry document in my hands curiously. “If I could hack into your Dad’s ministry account,” I began slowly, “then I might be able to find out a little more,”

“How long would that take?”

“I’m not very good at hacking so, about a week?” I suggested, “If I spent a couple of hours a day trying to break into their software... I dunno,”

“You should try it,” James said, “and teach me how to hack things,”

I turned the parchment over in my hands for the forth times and then stopped with a sigh, “James,” I said, “I think you need to improve your sleuthing skills,”

Then I pointed out the large grid on the reverse side of the parchment where each abbreviation the document used was listed in miniscule font in a long list.  ‘W’ was identified as witch/wizard which was so obvious that I wondered if there was a point listing it and ‘DoM’ apparently meant ‘Department of Mysteries.’

Obviously. Inside, I was kicking myself (and wondering exactly why that wasn’t thrown up by James’s internet search). I glanced down to search for a ‘SC’ but found nothing... which probably meant it was the name of the Unspeakable that had cast the spell.

James was looking sheepish. I glanced over at the mostly hidden pile of books on amnesia and then turned back to him smiling “I’ll give you bonus marks for effort though, if it makes you feel any better,”

It rather looked like it didn’t.

A/N - This took forever, didn't it. Sorry all. For all thoes who guessed that DoM meant Department of mysteries, nice one! Why don't you all try guess whats going on this time? Sorry again for the long wait, I really need to sit down and rewrite my plan for this story. Anyway, reviews are appreciated as always :)
Thanks for reading! 

 

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