This Too Must Pass
Russian Roulette – Rhianna
‘Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.’
Martin Luthor King, Jr.
Martin Luthor King, Jr.
March 1st. It was a Wednesday. Middle of the week. Wednesdays were always hard. Equidistance from the weekend on either side. Wednesday brought out the optimist/pessimist, half-empty/half-full debate in people. Did you see Wednesday as the week being nearly over or only just starting?
In hindsight, when there was finally the luxury of hindsight, it seemed almost fitting for the world to end on a Wednesday.
Camsin was standing in the Entrance Hall when Celeste walked through after lunch. She was running late for Potions, not because she had a legitimate excuse, but because she hated Potions and tried to minimise the time she spent around the Dandy. Seeing Camsin gave her pause, because she hadn’t seen him in lunch, or even breakfast. After yesterday’s unfortunate close-proximity incident, she’d kept a weather eye out, ready to run the moment he appeared. But he never had.
Seeing him here, now…suspicious…
Sticking a polite, hopefully not interested-looking smile on her face, and mostly because it bought her more time away from the dungeons, she went to him.
‘Camsin. Shouldn’t you be in class?’
‘I have…business here.’
He looked so smug. She wanted to slap him. Hard. Repeatedly.
‘Oh? Business? That sounds…mysterious.’
Oh, how she wanted to slap him. Look how low he was making her stoop. To using her manipulating voice on him. In a moment, she was going to gag, she was.
Now she wanted to kick him.
Kick him somewhere he’d really feel it.
‘I didn’t know you were a member of Creetan’s Guard again.’
Okay, maybe that dig was a little low, but she was curious, and she’d be damned if she’d let him stonewall like that. It had the desired effect, at any rate – Camsin coloured, frowned, and then looked cross.
‘I’m not. For good reason. Creetan didn’t even see it. What a wonderful Guard he is.’
He was scowling, still cross.
‘Camsin? See what?’
She made her voice go very small and fragile, and hated herself for it.
‘Is there something I should be…worried about? Is something wrong?’
That shook him out of his blue humour, as she’d guessed it would. That’s how he wanted her, after all, a fragile little thing he could control.
‘No, no, there’s no need for you to worry. It’s just…’, he paused, considering whether to tell her, then gave in, ‘Her Grace.’
Celeste had never understood the idea of blood freezing in veins. She did now. A hot feeling washed over her, and in its wake everything in her body seized and went very, very cold.
‘She was seen. With the Potter boy. With the Potter boy, if you take my meaning. Those idiot twins saw her. Thank heavens they came to me instead of to Creetan. I sent word to her father this morning, straight after they told me. Its exactly what Creetan deserves.’
She couldn’t breathe. She was going to faint. She couldn’t faint. But…she couldn’t breathe.
‘His Grace will be arriving at any minute. I’m to greet him here and then show him to the Headmaster’s office.’
The news drove the polite courtier’s façade completely off Celeste’s face. She stared at Camsin’s smug face in disbelief.
‘You’re…mad. His Grace hasn’t left the Court for somewhere like this in…it’s never happened before!’
‘This is hardly an everyday occurrence.’
Celeste fell silent.
‘I know, I’m overwhelmed myself,’ he continued pompously, ‘and just think what he’ll say when he finds out it’s all my doing. Creetan will never live this down!’
Without a word, Celeste started walking away.
‘Where are you going?’
Camsin’s voice rang with surprise. Celeste turned to face him again.
‘I’m going to tell Anastacia, that’s where I’m going.’
That shocked him. His eyes grew wide, as if he couldn’t quite understand what she was saying.
‘But…she disobeyed His Grace. She’s done wrong.’
When this got no response, his gaze became hard.
‘Perhaps you should examine where your loyalty lies.’
‘No need,’ Celeste shot back, her voice like ice, ‘I know exactly where it lies; with her. Where it always has and where it always will.’
And with that parting blow, before he could curse her or worse, she hurried away towards the rest of the castle.
Luckily, that morning found James and Stac together in History of Magic. Professor Binns barely paused in his monotonic recitation to give permission for the Heads to leave. Both of them, feigning knowledge of what was going on, followed the younger girl out of the room and into the corridor.
‘Celeste, what is this about?’
Celeste grabbed Anastacia’s hand before the door had barely closed behind them and pulled her close. Her eyes were huge, frightened, and desperate.
‘He is here. Your father is here.’
The instant the words were out of her mouth, James felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. Glancing at Stac, he saw her face was just as shocked as he felt.
‘The Farlow boys saw you together, the two of you.’
‘No, they can’t have, Scorpius would–’
‘They saw you! And they were confused, so they told Camsin, and he went straight to your father. He didn’t want Scorpius or Creeten getting the credit. And now your father is here, in the village I think, and he will be in the castle at any moment.’
Celeste was looking at Anastacia expectantly, and not without reason. She was used to following the older girl’s lead, working on her ideas.
But Stac’s face was still blank. She was struggling too much with the implications of these events, too much to think. So James took charge.
‘So now’s when we stand up to them.’
That pulled Stac out of her thoughts.
‘Are you mad?’
‘We get the teachers, we get my parents, my family, the Ministry, whoever it takes. We stand up to them.’
‘There isn’t time! And if he’s here…James, the Guard will be here too. That’s fifty men, more, maybe. It would be a massacre. People will die.’
‘So…what will you do?’ Celeste asked, looking from one to the other.
There was only one option left.
Letting out a kind of sob, Stac once again protested.
‘We can’t! Haven’t you listened to a thing I’ve said, ever? We can’t outrun them, we can’t!’
‘We can if we go now. Just go, don’t take anything but the clothes on our backs. We can do it.’
Stac was seconds away from terrified tears, one hand clutching his shirt, as if to keep him from leaving. The other was held tightly by Celeste.
‘If we go, we will be running forever. It will never stop. We won’t be safe.’
She drew in a panicked breath, struck by a new thought.
‘You’ll never see your family again. I couldn’t do that to them!’
‘Never is a long time. Anything could happen,’ James replied as gently as he could, ‘but if we’re going to go, we have to do it now. This second.’
In answer, Anastacia let him go and hugged Celeste, briefly and fiercely.
‘Thank you,’ she whispered, tears beginning to stream down her face.
Celeste was crying too.
‘Send word if ever you can.’
James also hugged the young girl quickly, echoing Stac’s words.
‘Thank you. For everything.’
Taking Stac’s hand firmly in his, he hurried down the corridor.
‘As soon as we get outside, we’ll summon brooms. Then we can get far enough away to apparate, and then…we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.’
They were heading away from the front of the school, James guessing that Stac’s father was more likely to come through the Entrance Hall. As he hastened down the hallways, he tried to concentrate on the task at hand and not to think about what this meant, but it wasn’t easy. Somewhere in this very castle were his friends, their friends, who had no idea what was happening at this moment in time. Friends that were going to expect them to come down the dinner this evening, to be in their rooms tonight, who were going to wonder and worry when they didn’t show up for breakfast or classes the next morning.
Friends he might never see again.
That wasn’t something he could control at this minute, so he pushed it aside.
Stac’s hand was shaking in his, and she held on to him so tightly that her nails were digging into his flesh. James had been running through his mental map of Hogwarts, and he knew there was a door to the outside just ahead, not even 400-metres away. They ran down a flight of stairs and it was so close now, so close. Just around this corner, then–
They stopped dead, side-by-side for a second before James automatically stepped in front of Stac, wand raised in his outstretched hand.
Before them, men in black cloaks with hard faces and empty eyes stretched away, down the corridor. James didn’t even bother trying to count. His eyes flitted frantically from person to person, searching for an escape. Behind him, he could hear Stac’s breathing become shallow and panicked, could feel her trembling as she stood pressed up against his back.
A tall man stepped slightly ahead of the group and sketched a bow. He said something in a harsh-sounding language.
Stac’s shaking increased in intensity.
‘Trelain…and Creeten’s father,’ she breathed to James with difficulty, ‘the Captain of the Guard.’
So…not her father. Maybe he hadn’t come after all. Maybe Celeste got it wrong, maybe Camsin was bragging about something he wasn’t certain of. Maybe it would all come good.
The Captain repeated his earlier phrase, more intently now. He was looking over James’ shoulder, at Stac, and the expression on his face made anger curdle low in James’ stomach.
‘Sorry, mate, you can say anything you like when you’re at home, but here at Hogwarts, we speak English.’
Stac gave a tiny gasp, and he squeezed her hand encouragingly. Tentatively, she returned the pressure.
‘Well,’ the man said slowly, his voice still low and harsh, ‘it seems you have courage, Mr Potter. But I would advise you to give up that courage now, turn around, and leave. This is none of your concern.’
‘Like hell it isn’t,’ James retorted, then stopped. Drawing in a deep breath, he fought for calm. Getting angry and riling these men up wasn’t going to help matters.
‘Look,’ he continued in a more level voice, ‘Stac- Miss Sangraal, and I are leaving now. You’re not going to stop us. This isn’t your problem.’
The Captain took another step towards them, his face unreadable.
‘Mr Potter, with all due respect, you have no idea who you are dealing with.’
‘Oh, no, I know you exactly who you are,’ James assured him, ‘and who you work for. It doesn’t change anything. We’re leaving. So you can go back to wherever you came from and tell your boss that his daughter is…taking an extended holiday. Maybe if he’s lucky, we’ll send him a postcard.’
‘Why doesn’t she tell him herself?’
James was about to tell the eerily composed man that the only way they’d get Stac back to her father was over his dead body, when out of the corner of his eye he saw movement amongst the black cloaks.
Like the parting of the sea, the mass of shadowed figures split down the middle to allow a tall, blonde man to pass through their ranks. The man was handsome in a cultured, well-bred way, with high cheekbones and a slight aristocratic sneer.
Stac’s father. There was no mistaking the family resemblance. The same blue eyes, so warm and lively in Stac’s face, gleamed coldly under his fair brows, like the eyes of a snake.
James had expected his appearance to send Stac in even more violent trembling, but she was oddly still behind him. He desperately wanted to see her face, to see what she was thinking, but he couldn’t risk taking his eyes from the situation in front of them.
‘Anastacia, ma fille, il est temps de revenir.’
Stac didn’t seem to be breathing at all, but she managed to say, ‘He…says it’s time to go.’
‘Thanks, I kind of figured,’ James replied tersely, trying for dark humour.
It didn’t lift the situation. The men who had parted to let their leader past continued to reposition themselves, coming ever closer to the pair, almost slipping around them on one side. James quickly moved so that they had the wall at their backs. Now he faced the mass of dark cloaks head on.
That meant now, he knew that much. Stac was still frozen behind him.
‘Anastacia, nous sommes las de cette. Si tu ne viens pas maintenant, il va mourir.’
Her quick intake of breath filled the quiet corridor. The Captain’s face showed no emotion as he took his turn to translate.
‘His Grace grows tired of this. He says to her, come now, or the boy will die.’
Unbelievably, James felt movement behind him. It so shocked him that Anastacia was standing beside him before he could stop her.
She stopped him with a hand on his arm, then faced her father. James didn’t know what to expect, but all his expectations fell short of the next piece of reality.
It wasn’t loud. It wasn’t a shout or a war cry. But it was a victory. They both knew that. Whatever happened, from this moment on, there had been victory in that small, quiet word.
‘I won’t go back with you. Not ever again. I will never go back to that place, or back to the Court, or back to you. Your time is over. The world has moved past you. No one is afraid of you anymore.’
Her voice shook, her hand on his arm shook, but her gaze never faltered.
‘I am not afraid of you anymore.’
If the situation hadn’t been so fraught, it would have been comical to see the changes overtake her father’s face. It was quite clear he had never been told no in his life. Regaining some of his composure, the look that he levelled at them both was murderous.
‘You will stop this insanity at once and return to where you belong. And then maybe I will kill the boy, just to remind you of your place!’
‘You’re twisted,’ Stac went on as if she hadn’t heard him, as if he hadn’t just spoken English, a language he clearly despised. To James’ amazement, it almost sounded like…pity in her voice.
‘I don’t know why you are, but you are. These people that you taught me to hate and to revile, the mudbloods, the traitors, they’re not the monsters you say they are. They’re good, and kind, and they have been more of a family to me than you could ever be. You are the monster, not them.’
Her voice was growing stronger as she went on. James took her hand, and she clutched at him like a lifeline.
‘And this boy, that you want to kill? He loves me, he loves me. And I am going to run with him, somewhere you will never find us, because I love him too. And if there is one thing you do not understand, it is love.’
Her father’s jaw was clenched. Some of the Guard shifted restlessly behind him, and the Captain’s face was red with rage.
‘If you want to kill him, kill us both. Because you do not have a daughter any more. I choose him.’
With a sudden rush of movement, the Captain raised his wand to strike.
Dozens of people appeared out of nowhere, all over the corridor. Dressed in Auror, Ministry and Professors’ robes, they were spread around the edges of the men in black. Off to James’ right, between him and the guards closest to him, were some very familiar faces.
Harry Potter’s normally placid face was set. Beside him, Uncle Ron and Neville were nearly unrecognisable, their eyes equally hard, their expressions equally determined. Professor Vem stood next to Teddy, short and plump Professor Ramira behind them. His Uncles, the Ministry, his father’s friends…they were all here. Why? And how?
‘Guillaume Sangraal, you are under arrest, as are your men. Place your wands on the ground and put your hands behind your head.’
James used the momentary distraction to pull Stac behind him once more. She went easily, seemingly as nonplussed by the sudden events as he was.
Coolly, as if his Guard hadn’t just been surrounded by armed Aurors and Ministry officials, the Captain addressed Harry.
‘This is a mistake. I think you will find that Mr Sangraal has a…diplomatic immunity, so to speak. It would be best for you to let him go.’
‘Fine,’ Harry replied, without missing a beat. James forgot himself for a second and shot an incredulous look at his father.
‘You’re free to go, Mr Sangraal. Now. You have one minute to get off the grounds. After that, you will be taken into custody, by force if necessary.’
To James’ continued’ amazement, Guillaume thought for a moment, then inclined his head in the Head Auror’s direction. Without a word to his Captain or the Guard, he turned his back on his daughter and began to walk away.
All eyes were on Guillaume as he made to leave, most of them suspicious. James couldn’t quite believe that it was going to end as easy as that. Something definitely didn’t seem right. All around him, Aurors still held their wands outstretched, evidently feeling the same.
Harry in particular was watching Guillaume intently. He’d seen too many men like him, power hungry, power crazed, even, and he knew the terrible things they were capable of doing when they felt backed into a corner.
So when Guillaume did start to turn, the people around him were already acting. The moment that the blonde man spun on his heel and raised his wand in James’ direction, a dozen shield spells were already moving to intercept whatever he sent their way. Many of the watchers, Harry included, had even started to move, with arms reaching to pull the two students out of the path of Guillaume’s curse. James himself had brought up his wand, only seconds after the Aurors, and cast his own protective spell.
But none of them were faster than Stac. So attuned was she to her father’s shifting moods and deeds, she had sensed his action before it had even begun. Whether it was some small warning, in his face or body or voice, that had alerted her, she didn’t know. But her intuition, honed from years of fiercely won survival, had recognised some danger sign and taken over.
No one except for Scorpius had ever stood between Stac and a blow before. No one had ever intervened in her father’s actions. And despite James and Scorpius’ actions in the past, the thought that anyone would actively step up and try to protect her was still an utterly foreign concept. Stac gave no thought to what the people around her might do. In her mind, it was up to her to protect both herself and James. So she stopped thinking and acted on instinct alone.
She slipped around the boy in front of her and, with two quick steps, moved directly into the path of the curse.
As if in slow motion, James saw Stac recoil, the curse hitting her high in the chest. Her head snapped back, and her wand fell from her hand to clatter on the floor. Then, slowly, she began to crumple to the ground.
James gave a strangled cry and rushed to catch her. For a moment, all was still.
Then the air was rent with cries and bursts of light. Spells sizzled as they were thrown and filled the corridor with noise as they hit the walls and floor.
Guillaume was quickly absorbed back into the ranks of the men in black cloaks, who were all firing off curses at the approaching Aurors. Professor Vem took up a post in front of the two students, now on the floor, gazing warily out at the heaving crowd and preventing any of the dark cloaked men from coming near to them. The other Professors were aiding the Aurors where they could, casting spell after spell at the intruders to their home.
Harry was in the thick of it all, bellowing orders left and right, now directing his Aurors further down the corridor, now capably returning the furious fire sent his way, glancing every so often at his son, bent over the body on the floor.
James didn’t see the looks his father sent in his direction. He couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything except hold Stac’s shaking form and pray for some kind of a miracle.
‘No, no, no,’ he murmured, a tremor in his voice. She was pale, so pale…but there was no blood. Why was there no blood? Blood he could deal with, he knew what to do with that. Stop the bleeding, but how do you stop the bleeding when there isn’t any?
Stac was wheezing, struggling to breathe. James tried to sit her up, tried to help. Maybe she was just winded. Maybe the spell had missed her and she’d winded herself when she fell.
But her face was grey around the edges, and she couldn’t open her eyes or focus her gaze properly. James had seen winding before, in Quidditch, and this was definitely something else.
‘Teddy! Teddy, I need you!’ he screamed desperately, deaf and blind to the chaos raging around them. Clutching Stac to him as gently as he could, he tried to brush the hair off her face, but his hand was shaking too much to be of use. So instead he grabbed her hand and held it to his chest.
It was cold.
‘Don’t you leave me,’ he managed through gritted teeth, unheeded tears starting to spill over his cheeks and onto her robes, ‘don’t you dare leave me. If you do, I swear on Dumbledore’s grave, I will kill you.’
Stac’s breathing was growing more and more choked, and her lips were starting to show a purple tinge. But the corners of her mouth kicked up slightly, and for a moment he could have sworn she was smiling at him.
‘Dra…drama…queen,’ she gasped out with difficulty, and James gave a strangled half-sob, half-laugh.
‘I know, sorry, sorry,’ he apologised. If she could talk and take the mick, it was going to be okay. It would all be alright.
But those few words seemed to have used up all her strength, and a second later, her eyes fluttered closed.
This time, they didn’t open.
James stared in disbelief at the body in his arms, and then Teddy was there, kneeling on Stac’s other side.
‘James, put her down, let me look.’
He couldn’t get his arms to work properly.
‘James, let go! Come on!’
Someone put their hand on his shoulder, and his father’s voice came from behind him.
‘Let her go, mate, let Teddy do his job.’
Carefully, James lowered the limp body to the ground. Teddy immediately bent over the still form, wand in hand, muttering under his breath.
‘Poppy!’ he roared after a moment. There was something in his voice that sent the air whooshing out of James’ lungs. He’d seen Teddy deal with werewolf attacks, splinching, even unforgivable curses. But he’d never before heard him use that tone of voice.
Madam Pomfrey bustled over to join Teddy, and a moment later she too was calling out for help. James tried to get closer, to see what was going on, but his father wrapped an arm around his shoulders and wouldn’t let him go.
‘It’s okay, mate, just give them a minute. They know what they’re doing. It’ll be alright.’
But it clearly wasn’t going to be alright. Stac’s face was still as pale as in death, and she wasn’t moving. A small crowd had gathered around and were pointing their wands down at her body, but…she wasn’t moving.
James couldn’t stand to look anymore. He turned away from the group, and noticed for the first time the state of the situation around them.
The corridor itself was a mess. Windows were shattered, with glass lying all over the floor. Great chunks had been gouged from the walls, and the flagstones were blasted apart in several places.
And all around, Aurors and Professors were standing over inert bodies in black cloaks. James counted at least three dozen before he gave up trying. Professor Vem was calmly walking through the debris, examining the unconscious guards before tying them up in rope with his wand. Neville and Uncle Ron were discussing something in low voices nearby, and Uncle Bill was checking identities of the fallen men against a list.
But it wasn’t only the Guard who had met with casualties. Professor Phariseen was slumped against a wall, clutching his chest, while Professor Ramira patted his hand and spoke to him in a soothing voice. The elderly Professor’s face had a distinct grey edge to it.
Many of the Aurors walking around also bore marks of the skirmish. A few were gathered in a knot to one side of the corridor, working healing spells on each other. Neville had a long gash running down one arm, but he didn’t seem to be aware of it.
‘Okay, then,’ James heard Teddy say from behind him, and he turned back to see what had happened.
The older Witches and Wizards had raised Stac’s body off the floor and were moving off down the corridor with her floating in front of them. As James hurried after them, one of the figures broke away from the group and intercepted him.
James was suddenly engulfed in a tight hug. He’d been taller than his mother for years now, but it didn’t make any difference. Just the fact that she was here suddenly made him feel better.
‘What’s going on, where are they taking her?’
‘Sweetheart, let’s get you cleaned up, okay?’
‘Mum! Where are they taking her?’
His mother looked up at him, her face pinched with concern.
‘James, she’s…it’s not looking good.’
And just like that, the slight feeling of relief was gone.
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Teddy doesn’t know what she was hit with. None of us do. It’s not something we’ve ever seen before. They’re taking her to the Hospital wing.’
‘No, no,’ James protested vaguely, ‘they should be taking her to St Mungo’s. Why’re they keeping her here?’
‘They can’t move her, James’, his mother explained softly, ‘They don’t want to risk it. Until they know what’s wrong they’re trying to keep her as still as possible.’
As if on cue, Teddy’s voice rang out clearly across the room.
‘Send someone to Mungo’s, I need Alex here yesterday. Alex Fielder. They’ll find him in spell damage. I don’t care what he’s doing, get him here!’
James’ mum inhaled sharply and took his arm, turning him away when he would have gone to his godbrother.
‘But, Alex… Alex will know what to do, won’t he? And then, once they figure it out, they’ll take her to Mungo’s, yeah?’
‘I don’t know, James,’ she answered honestly, ‘I really don’t. Right now, my priority is you. Let’s go clean that face, and then we’ll see what’s happening, is that alright?’
Professor Vem was close enough to hear the end of the conversation, and he looked at James sharply, then turned to call to the Headmaster.
‘I’ll take Ginny and James to my office. Send word if you need anything?’
Neville nodded and waved them off, now deep in conversation with Uncle Bill. Uncle Ron had disappeared, and for some reason this was very worrying.
‘Where’s Uncle Ron?’
‘With your father, probably,’ his mother replied, steering him down the corridor behind Professor Vem.
‘Working. I’m sure they’ll be back when they’re done, don’t worry.’
Working. Back soon. Back here. Where were they if they had to return? Not here at the moment, then. Somewhere else. Mum was here. Mum was next to him. Why was mum here? How had mum got here in the first place? How did she know?
‘Why are you here? How did you get here?’
Coming down all the flights of stairs was difficult because his legs were very tired and he stumbled a bit. Professor Vem took his other arm and between the three of them they managed to make it down to the Second Floor without incident.
‘Why are you here, mum? How did you know what was going on?’
‘I didn’t. Your dad sent me a message that said you might be in trouble, so I came straight away. One of the scariest trips of my life.’
‘How did dad know?’
They’d reached the office, and Professor Vem let go of his arm to open the door and let them in.
‘I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him when he gets back. Sit. I’m going to clean your face up, okay?’
Apparently there was a cut on his cheek. He hadn’t even noticed. Maybe a flying piece of rock had hit him. The washcloth was cold on his face, and the cold leeched down into his bones. Just a cut. It wasn’t a big thing. A little thing. Must have been a little thing, to only leave a cut. If it was a big thing it would have taken his head off. But just a little thing. Stac…that was a big thing. Very big thing.
He tried to stand up, but it was difficult with his mother still cleaning his face.
‘James, what are you doing?’
‘I’m going to see Stac. I need to see her.’
‘You can see her later, let them have some time to do their work.’
‘I need to see her.’
‘You need to sit down,’ and she pressed him gently but firmly back down onto the chair.
He was still cold. The chair was cold. The washcloth was cold. His knees started moving first, coming closer and apart, closer and apart until they were knocking against each other. Then his teeth starting chittering together.
His mother muttered a word that, although a semi-regular part of his own vocabulary, he had never heard her use before.
‘Ianto, he’s shaking. Do you have a blanket?’
Professor Vem pulled a quilt from somewhere and draped it around James’ shoulders. He also handed his student a glass of water.
‘Drink,’ he commanded in his calm voice and James instinctively obeyed. The water did nothing to help with the shaking, but at least it gave him something to do. He finished the glass and looked up at his teacher expectantly, waiting for his next instruction.
‘James, listen to me. Are you listening? You’ve had a big shock. Your body’s going to start to shut down. I need you to breathe, nice and even. Don’t forget to breathe. Can you do that?’
Forget to breathe? Who forgot to breathe? Was that even possible?
‘In and out. Come on, now.’
He did, but only because it was another thing to do.
‘Okay, good, good. Now, James, tell me – where were you and Anastacia going?’
‘Stac?’ and he tried to stand again, but his mother and Professor Vem had a firm grip on either arm.
‘You can see her soon, James, but not now. You’d only be in the way at the moment. Tell me where you were going.’
‘…we were running away.’
His mother gave a quick intake of breath and her grip tightened.
‘Why were you running away, sweetheart?’
‘Someone saw us together, yesterday. They told her dad. He was coming here to take her home. I think he wanted to kill me. He’s threatened before.’
‘Ginny,’ Professor Vem interrupted, shaking his head. Of James, he asked, ‘How did you know he was coming?’
‘Celeste Montrose told us. She’s Stac’s friend. She’s my friend too, I guess. She warned us, and we decided to run.’
Something was niggling at the back of his mind, just out of reach.
‘You didn’t think to go to Neville, or tell your father?’ his mother was asking, but he ignored the question, trying to find the thought that eluded him.
‘He was aiming at me,’ and his stomach turned over as he realised the implications of that elusive thought, ‘He wasn’t aiming at her.’
‘No. I don’t think he was,’ Professor Vem agreed slowly.
‘It’s my fault she’s hurt. He was trying to hit me, not her.’
‘It isn’t your fault!’ his mother protested, ‘None of this is your fault, don’t you dare think that.’
‘But if I’d told dad or Neville, they could’ve stopped it.’
‘We don’t know that, James,’ Professor Vem said quietly, as his mum looked away, stricken.
James didn’t reply.
‘I think that’s enough questions for now,’ Professor Vem continued, taking the glass from his pupil, ‘We can talk about it later.’
But James had given way to the thoughts, and now that he had, he couldn’t stop them. A million different scenarios were now playing through his head, some what-ifs or could-have-beens, but even more versions of what was to come. And now, in his mind, they all ended the same way.
‘Stac is going to die, isn’t she?’
One second he was fine, and the next he was encircled by his mother’s arms, crying uncontrollably into her shoulder, sobbing as he hadn’t done in years, great, racking sobs that made his whole body shake.
He had no idea how long the tears lasted, but when he could see again, Professor Vem was gone and the light outside the window had dimmed considerably.
His mother was no longer sitting beside him – she was doing something by the fireplace. When she noticed his return to sensibility, she held out a mug of tea and motioned for him to come and get it.
He rose on shaky legs that would hardly hold him and struggled over to join her. The heat from the fire felt wonderful against his legs, which only made him feel guilty, like he didn’t deserve warmth and comfort.
‘Ianto went to check how things are going in the Hospital Wing,’ his mum informed him quietly, ‘If everything’s alright, we’ll go up and see her, okay?’
James tried to drink his tea, but he couldn’t remember how to make it go down.
His mother gave him a rueful smile.
‘What I said before, sweetheart…I didn’t mean it, not like that. You’re not at fault in any way. Please don’t think that you are. What happened was horrible, but it wasn’t your fault.’
It wasn’t much, but it kind of helped.
‘I have to say, this wasn’t the way I anticipated meeting your girlfriend. Not that I even knew you had a girlfriend. Were you intending to tell us about her, ever?’
‘Dad didn’t tell you? Teddy and me were talking about it at the wedding and he was there.’
‘No. No, your father did not tell me. How odd. I will have to talk to him about that.’
Mum’s tone had turned worrying, but they were saved from any further discussion of the matter by Professor Vem’s return.
‘So?’ James demanded immediately.
‘I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go over there, James.’
‘Are they finished healing her?’
‘Then I’m going.’
It wasn’t until he got to the Hospital Wing and walked inside that he realised what Professor Vem had been talking about. The Healers had finished with Stac for now, yes…but that didn’t mean she was better.
Far from it, actually.
He lasted less than a minute in the little, private room they’d put her in before he had to leave, blindly stumbling his way outside and sinking down onto a chair. She was so pale, barely breathing, with an angry red mark like a burn peeking above the collar of her shirt. He assumed it was from the curse hitting her.
All those Healers, and nothing had changed. She was just as still as when he’d held her in his arms in the corridor. Was that only this morning? It couldn’t be. It was a lifetime, an age ago.
Voices reached him, and the mention of his name made his brain switch on in spite of itself. They were coming from just outside Stac’s little room.
‘Why did they let James come?’
‘Do you really think anyone was going to be able to stop him?’
He looked. Alex and Teddy were standing there, arguing in low voices. They’d obviously found the other man, then.
‘They should’ve stopped him. Ted, I can’t do anything. I haven’t seen anything like it before, not ever.’
‘Alex, come on! There’s got to be something we can do! She’s…family.’
Teddy shot a significant look in James’ direction, and Alex followed his gaze. James stared back at them both dully, too much in shock to care that they were discussing him right there.
Alex sighed deeply and ran a hand through his hair.
‘Mate, I wish there was something I could do, believe me. But I’ve tried everything I can think of. Nothing’s worked.’
‘Can we take her to Mungo’s?’
‘No, it’s better to keep her here. She’s…stable, so to speak. She needs to be kept as quiet as possible. We can look through cases back in London, ask around, see if anything turns up, but at the moment that’s all I can think of. Keep her still, keep an eye on her, and hope she comes out of it by herself.’
‘And what are the chances of that?’
‘Truthfully? Slim, at best. Slim to none, if we’re being really truthful.’
‘So what can we do now?’
Alex’s eyes flickered quickly to James, and then back to Teddy. He chewed the inside of his lip for a moment, clearly debating how to answer. In the end, he pulled a face and decided on quiet honesty.
‘Start preparing everyone. If she’s as good as family…let them know it might be time for them to come in and say goodbye.
The edges of James’ vision started to grow blurred, then grey, then black. He was dimly aware of Teddy coming towards him, but his godbrother seemed to move very slowly.
‘Ted, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but you’ve got to consider–’
Told you I was nearly finished with it...
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