“Tara, love,” James sighed dramatically, dropping onto the bench across from me. “I need some advice.”
“Shouldn’t you be sitting at your own table?” I raised an eyebrow at him as I scooped some potatoes onto a plate.
“Shouldn’t you eat something other than carbs?” he shot back, gesturing at my plate that contained nothing more than potatoes, toast, and a piece of pie. “I didn’t even know they served pie at breakfast.”
Rylie, who sat to my right, snorted into her pumpkin juice. “She bribes the house elves to send her sweets at meal times.”
“Rivers,” James scolded mockingly.
“I don’t bribe them!” I cried defensively, throwing Rylie a dirty look. “I ask.” Hillow the house-elf was always more than happy to oblige my sugar requests. “Anyway, what did you need advice on, Jamesie?”
He wrinkled his nose at the nickname while Rylie chortled. James shot her an irritated glance before turning back to me. “I heard you’re acquainted with Maya Deutch.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh Merlin, James. Tell me you’re not planning on asking out that bint.”
“Why not?” He frowned.
“For one thing, she dated your brother last year,” Rylie informed him with a broad grin.
“Oh come on,” James moaned. “How’d I not know that? He’s my brother.”
“What about your brother?” Speak of the devil. Albus and Scorpius arrived and joined us at the breakfast table, Scorpius sliding in next to me and Albus sitting by his brother on the other side. The prick shot me a smirk and a wink before reaching forward to fill up a plate.
“You dated Maya Deutch last year?” James asked Albus.
Scorpius snorted. “‘Dated’ is a strong term.”
Albus shrugged. “We… crossed each other's paths once or twice.”
I rolled my eyes. What a git. “Told you, Jamsie. She’s a slag.”
“Has to be, to have slept with Al,” Scorpius smirked. I beamed at him.
“Oi!” Albus protested. “Not true. I’ve dated girls of substance.”
“Are you including Deutch in that category?” Rylie grinned.
He paused. “Well- no.”
I smiled triumphantly at James. “There you have it, Eldest Potter.”
He sighed, leaning forward and resting his chin on his arms. “Bloody hell. Do you know how hard it is to find a girl who hasn’t already dated Fred, Albus, or myself?” He complained.
“Or Scor,” Albus added, looking thoroughly amused with his brother’s conundrum.
“You’re really quite the family of manwhores, aren’t you?” Rylie deadpanned.
“Malfoy’s not family. And Teddy wasn’t,” James argued. “And I doubt Hugo will end up so either.”
“Louis will,” I grinned.
“Louis already is,” Albus snorted in a rare moment of agreement for the two of us.
The others continued to discuss James’s dating life. I looked up, distracted, as owls began to swoop through the Great Hall with morning mail. One, a lovely barn owl with a gorgeous white face, dropped a letter straight over my plate, nearly landing in my breakfast.
Scorpius snatched it out of the air with Seeker-reflexes before handing it to me. I smiled at him gratefully before tearing it open.
You’ve been back at Hogwarts for a week and I haven’t heard from you once! If I don’t hear back from you, you’re getting a Howler. Don’t test me.
Graduate life sucks. I miss you all terribly and Victoire is driving me absolutely round the bend with her wedding plans- for fuck’s sake, I don’t care about what color the bloody napkins need to be! Like people can actually tell the difference between burgundy and maroon. I told her I’d be a rubbish maid of honor. It should have gone to one of the Delacour cousins, honestly.
Anyway, tell me about Hogwarts! Malfoy took over as Quidditch captain, right? Tell him if he works you too hard, I’ll fly back to school just to beat him over the head with his own broomstick.
I expect to hear all about your classes and my cousins and how annoying Al is and anything else you can think of! Write back soon, please, I’m dying over here. Tell everyone I say hello.
P.S. Keep an eye on Lou, would you? Curse away any particularly slaggy girls that go near him. I don’t want him turning into one of my other cousins.
I smiled, folding the letter. “Dom says hi,” I informed the group. “Oh and Scor, she said if you work us too hard at practice she’ll come back to Hogwarts just to beat your head in with your broom.”
The blonde rolled his eyes. “I won’t be working anyone too hard. Just hard enough.”
“Which still won’t be enough to beat Gryffindor,” James smirked. “Especially now that Lily’s playing.” He turned and looked across the Great Hall over at the Gryffindor table, where his sister sat with Rose and a couple others.
“I’m surprised you let her play,” I grinned. “You barely let her even look at a broom up until last year.”
“It became an ethical dilemma,” James frowned. “It was either protect my baby sister, or let her play for the good of all of Gryffindor.”
Albus rolled his eyes. “That’s not at all dramatic.”
“You’re just jealous that she’s in my house,” James retorted.
“We don’t need her,” I said confidently. “We’ll win regardless.”
“Assuming you don’t clobber Albus mid-air during a game again,” Riley snickered. “You almost got kicked off the team for that.”
Scorpius glowered from my other side. “Yeah, Tara. None of that shite this year.” Albus smirked across the table until Scorpius turned his glare to him. “You too, Al. I was there, I know you provoked her.”
Albus gaped at his best mate. “I did not.”
“Keep telling yourself that, Potter,” I snorted, standing up from the bench. “I’m off to Care of Magical Creatures.”
“I can’t believe you’re keeping that for N.E.W.T.s,” Scorpius shook his head.
“It’s interesting,” I argued.
“You’re bonkers,” James told me.
I glared. “You’re all annoying. Except Rylie,” I smiled at my light haired friend. She rolled her eyes and waved me off.
As I left the Great Hall, heading for one of the courtyards that would lead outside. Before I could get very far down the hall, however, I heard someone call, “Rivers!”
I reluctantly slowed to a stop, turning to face him. “Potter,” I greeted coolly. “Following me, now? I have a class to get to.”
He grinned easily and strode up to my side, his hands resting leisurely in his pockets. “That’s fine, I’ll walk you there.”
I groaned, but continued by route outside anyway while he followed. “Must you?”
“You have yet to make good on the first part of our deal,” he reminded me. “You have to show me those passageways. I’ve simply come to make sure you haven’t forgotten.”
“Never,” I smiled sardonically at him.
“Great. Want to meet up after classes tonight?”
“I don’t particularly want to,” I rolled my eyes. “But I will.”
“Brilliant! It’s a date.” The bastard winked at me. I resisted the urge to flick him across the forehead.
“It’s not a date, prick,” I snapped. “It’s blackmail.”
“Hey, you could do worse,” he shrugged.
“I really don’t think I could,” I narrowed my eyes at him. We were outside by then, walking through the grass down toward Hagrid’s hut.
“That hurts, Rivers, really,” he held a hand to his chest dramatically.
“Would you sod off already?” I sighed. “I said I’d meet you. Just leave me alone.”
Something unrecognizable flashed in his eyes briefly before he assumed his usual smirk. “Fine, fine. See you tonight, Rivers.”
I watched him go, his hands back in his pockets, while he whistled some familiar tune I couldn’t quite place. I scowled to myself. I didn’t want to share my passageways- they’d been mine alone for years. The only other people who knew about them- the house elves- didn’t use them.
I sighed. He had no idea how much I valued the inner walls of Hogwarts- to him it was a fun new secret. To me? They’d been an extension of my home.
The small girl, with bright blue eyes and soft brown hair, started to panic. Where could her mother have gone? The Room would make a loo if they needed one, and it was the middle of the night, so she could think of no other reason for the woman to leave.
Taking another uneasy breath, the girl tentatively lifted the blanket and swung her legs over the side. She hopped down off the bed and made her way to the door.
The girl stared at it for a long while. Her mother had made it very, very clear that she was never to touch that door, let alone open it.
Her oldest memory of trying to leave was from about five years before. She must have been around four years old, and while she suspected she’d probably tried to leave many times as a toddler, that particular incident was the oldest one she could actually remember.
She had been playing with a toy broomstick while her mother sat in a chair by the window, knitting. Something outside had caught her mother’s attention; the older woman stared out the window with a sad, wistful expression.
The little girl dropped the tiny broom softly and crept toward the door. She giddily reached up for the knob, prepared to finally see what was outside.
“What are you doing!?” her mother suddenly cried out. She pulled out her wand and flicked it quickly, and the little girl flew back from the door, landing harshly on the floor a few meters back.
The mother stared in horror as the little girl sat up in a daze. “Merlin,” the young woman wailed. “Oh no, oh gods,” she ran forward and cradled the girl, who had started to cry. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” She stroked the girl’s head as the child sobbed. “I didn’t mean it. I just didn’t want you to leave. I’m sorry.”
The girl hadn’t gone near that door since.
She wondered, often, what was on the other side, but she never again tried to leave. She did, however, ask constantly why she couldn’t leave. Her mother’s answer was always the same.
“It’s too dangerous.”
Her mother would never elaborate, and if the little girl ever pressed for details, or begged to leave, her mother would either yell at her or burst into tears.
But her mother wasn’t here, now. Where was she? Normally, the woman only left once a week, on Mondays, to stock up on food and supplies that couldn’t be created by the Room. The little girl was certain that it had been Thursday when she’d fallen asleep- so why was her mother gone?
The little girl took another step closer to the door, her hand reaching for the knob. Her breath hitched slightly when she finally grabbed hold and turned. She tugged briefly and, for the first time in her life, opened the door.
Normally when her mother left, the woman made her stand far away from the door so that she couldn’t get a glimpse of what was outside. That made this the first time that she had ever seen the other side.
To her astonishment, it was a corridor. She was inside some sort of massive building, with high ceilings and thick looking walls. It was like a castle of some sort, the little girl supposed. She’d seen enough of them in books to have a good grasp at what a castle should look like.
She crept down the dark hallway, squinting to try to get an idea as to where she was going. The hallway seemed to stretch on forever to the young girl. For being almost ten years old, she was rather small. It just made everything seem so much more intimidating.
Suddenly, she heard footsteps. With a small gasp, the girl darted sideways, feeling around for a wall. What she actually found astounded her. Her hand placed down on the corner of a picture frame, in which a knight stirred slightly in his sleep, and the wall seemed to shake slightly.
She felt air where she had been leaning only a moment before, and suddenly the little girl was falling to the side. She gasped as she quickly moved her feet to steady herself before she could hit the floor. The footsteps were still coming, however.
The little girl felt along the wall again, still barely able to see. Finally, she found some piece of stone that stuck out slightly, and the wall closed itself once more, leaving the girl encased in some sort of dark passageway.
She listened as the footsteps came and went, until she at last let out a sigh of relief. Turning, she realized that the passage she stood in continued further down. She kept one hand on the left wall as she hesitantly started forward, grateful that she had never really feared the dark.
Plus, in here, the thunder was hardly audible.
The little girl picked up the pace a little, continuing down the passageway. She reached a few staircases at points, and let her feet carry her along, her curiosity outweighing her apprehension.
She felt like she’d been traveling for years by the time she finally found another protruding rock in the wall to press against. This one opened another panel of a wall, and she all but tumbled out into a brightly lit room.
Looking around, the little girl was astonished to find that she was in a kitchen of some sort. The place was rather large, with a few tables lined along the wall she had emerged from, and a whole line of stove tops surrounded by shelves of pots and pans.
The strangest part, however, was what inhabited the room.
The girl recognized them from one of her books- they were house elves. She watched them with wide eyes as they scurried about busily, cleaning some pots and pans and working on what looked like breakfast.
One of them noticed her staring from the corner and quickly ran up to her. The girl jumped back anxiously.
“Hello Miss,” the creature smiled at her. It had weird, grayish-purple skin, and large eyes. But its face was friendly, which the girl found comforting.
“Hi,” she said softly. It was the first time she’d spoken to someone that wasn’t her mother.
“Miss can call me Hillow!” the elf squeaked in a high voice. “Can Hillow get Miss something to eat?”
The little girl’s eyes went wide. “Oh, er- sure! I’m not sure what I’d like, though,” she admitted. “Something sweet, maybe?”
Hillow nodded enthusiastically. “Of course, of course! Hillow will get you some treacle tart!”
The elf rushed off, only to return moments later with a plate that the girl tentatively took. “Th-thank you,” she said.
“Miss is not needing to thank Hillow,” Hillow assured her. “Hillow is happy to help!”
“You don’t have to call me Miss, you know,” the girl said shyly. “I have a name.”
Hillow beamed. “What would Miss like Hillow to call her?”
The little girl hesitated. She wasn’t sure whether she could trust this creature. However, Hillow was clearly nice, and the treat she’d brought the girl smelled so amazing it made her mouth water.
Finally, she smiled back at the elf.
“My name’s Taralyn.”
I smiled at the memory. The house elves had always been kind to me. They were the first to get me interested in learning about magical creatures- hence my continuation of Hagrid’s class. Not a lot of students continued with it into N.E.W.T.s, since it wasn’t particularly essential for a lot of jobs.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to pursue something animal-related. I just enjoyed the class.
That morning, Hagrid presented the small group of us with some relatively large birds called Diricawls. The birds ran around the enclosure Hagrid had set up, but none of them moved to disappear.
“This lot’s not scared of yeh, see,” Hargid explained. “So they don’t got any reason to be runnin’ off.”
I saw in the grass, letting one of the birds run up to me happily. I ran a hand down its back and it squawked slightly. I smiled at it.
“He likes yeh, I reckon,” Hagrid beamed at me.
“I like him too,” I grinned. “So you said Muggles thought these guys are extinct?”
“Dodos, they called ‘em,” Hagrid nodded. “With the lot of ‘em disappearing at will, they convinced Muggles that they don’ exist at all!”
I looked at the bird, who ran itself under my hand in an almost cat-like fashion. “That’s amazing.” Hagrid left to help one of the other birds, who’d gotten a foot stuck in the fencing, while I kept petting the Diricawl near me. Another soon came to join us, and I found myself happily petting both.
“They like you a lot more than me,” a nearby student complained- Alex Donnovan, a Ravenclaw I’d shared classes with for a long time. He reached out to pet one of the birds, but the Diricawl only snapped its beak at his fingers. “Bloody hell.”
I laughed. “Maybe they’re put off by the blue,” I gestured to his tie. “No one likes a nerd after all.”
He shot me a wry look. “Funny.”
Alex was a decent looking bloke, with light brown hair and chocolatey eyes. He had a bit of boyish cuteness about him, his somewhat curly hair looking soft- I for one could absolutely see myself running my hands through it. Of course, that meant almost nothing- I’d once caught myself fantasizing about running my hand through Albus Potter’s hair, and I considered him an obnoxious prick, so clearly the hair-thing could apply to anyone. Although, to be fair, I actually had once ran my hands though Albus’s hair- but I digress. I'm not supposed to think about that.
Still, Alex and I had always maintained a friendly disposition toward each other, and to be honest, I was starting to feel a little needy for attention. I hadn’t dated anyone since maybe January or February.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have said no one,” I said softly, smiling at Alex.
He raised an eyebrow. “That right? Didn’t know you’re into nerds, Rivers, I would’ve- ow!” He pulled his hand back, now bleeding from the Diricawl’s bite. “Fuck,” he muttered.
“Yeh ought to get that checked out, Donnovan,” Hagrid tsked, coming back toward us. “That’s a right nasty bite.”
Alex shot the bird a dirty look. “Yeah, alright.” He stood up and shot me a parting grin. “We’ll continue this later then, yeah?”
“Definitely,” I agreed. “Go take care of your battle injury.”
He chuckled and waved his good hand at me before heading back up to the castle. I watched him go a little wistfully- bloody hell I needed a snog.
I couldn’t quite figure out why it’d been so long. I supposed it was because I spent all my time with the Weasleys and Potters. At this point, the lot of them were essentially family to me, so dating one of them wasn’t appealing, and other Hogwarts blokes were typically too intimidated by them all to come near me.
Or, at least, I hoped that was why. The other reason would have been that I was unappealing, and no one wants to think that of themself.
I glared at the ground as I recalled the last time I’d been snogged. It was hardly something I wanted to think about. Instead, I pushed the memory away from my mind, and focused my attention back on the birds.
I met up with Albus later that evening, being a woman of my word. I’ll admit, I had considered as many ways to get out of it as possible, but there was no use. He had the upper hand.
We met up outside the common room after curfew passed, to make sure no one else would catch us. I’d told Riley I was going to the kitchens.
“Evening Rivers,” Albus smirked. He looked far too pleased with himself for the mere act of existing.
“Hi,” I grumbled, standing a few feet away with my arms folded. I knew the use of surnames was mutual, and that it would be weirder if we suddenly switched to first names, but it bothered me that he was the only member of his family who called me by my last name. For Merlin’s sake, it was a made up name. I didn’t like hearing it when it wasn’t necessary.
“Don’t look too excited there,” he rolled his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I said sardonically. “I forgot how civil we usually are.”
“We could be. We have moments.” He was right, I suppose. We got along on rare occasions.
“Very brief moments,” I said through gritted teeth. “Let’s just get this over with.”
He sighed dramatically. “Fine, fine. Show me your secrets, Rivers.”
I scowled, uncrossing my arms and walking over to the nearby portrait of Hallows, who was dancing around the frame per usual. “Most of the passages have hidden entrances along the paintings,” I explained. “Some of them are found from finding the right spots to push on the walls.”
“How’d you find them?” Albus asked, tilting his head, coming closer to watch me press the corner of Hallows’ painting. The wall, sure enough, slid away before us, revealing an opening to crawl through.
“None of your business,” I snapped. “Come on. Lumos.” I lit the end of my wand as he followed me inside. Once past the entrance, the passageway opened up so that we could stand properly. “They all have spots on the inside of the walls to press to close them.” I showed him this particular one, and we were suddenly standing in an enclosed darkness, the only light being that at the end of my wand.
“So none of them open and close with magic?” Albus raised his eyebrows.
“None of them,” I shook my head. “I suppose that’s why people like your grandfather never found them, despite finding the other passages. They were expecting to have to use magic.”
“You stumbled upon them while living here, then, didn’t you?” Albus guessed. “Did you live here even before starting Hogwarts?”
“I’m not answering your nosy questions, Potter,” I told him frustratedly, starting down the path. He followed me a little clumsily at first, until he remembered to light his own wand to see where he was going.
“Fine, no more personal questions. How many passages are there?” He asked.
“They’re all interconnected,” I explained. “So in a way… one.”
“That’s kind of amazing,” he said quietly. “How many entrances?”
“That I’ve found? About twenty,” I explained. “None of them lead into any of the other common rooms, only stopping outside them. About a dozen open up in classrooms, one is in the kitchens, one in the library, and the rest open in various corridors.”
We continued along the way, stopping every once in a while for me to show him certain spots that opened up. One of the first ones I showed him was the entrance to the kitchens- he was elated at that spot. Continuing on, we headed up several sets of stairs along the way.
“So have you told anyone else about these?” Albus asked. “Riley, Rose, James?”
“No,” I sighed. “I never even told Dom, and she was practically my Hogwarts mother.” I faltered as I said the words, realizing the oddity of them. My real mother was technically my Hogwarts mother, wasn’t she? We lived here. I took a deep breath, lucky that Albus hadn’t picked up on my stammer. “Anyway, let’s be real, if I told anyone from your family, eventually you’d all know.”
“That’s true,” he agreed. “The Wotter family runs on a hive mind.”
“I know,” I frowned as we turned a corner and started up another flight of stairs. “I can’t tell Lily anything anymore.”
“Why, because she told James about that arse Ashwell trying to get in your pants last year and the bloke ended up in the hospital wing?” Albus asked in an annoyingly casual tone.
“Yes,” I said. “James didn't have to do that I could have handled it myself.”
“You were dating Henry Bradford at the time, weren’t you?” Albus recalled. “Why didn’t you tell him?”
“How did James end up being the one to beat the git up then?” He asked in a weird tone. I couldn't place what was off about it.
“Because Henry wouldn’t pick a fight with anyone,” I rolled my eyes. “Which I was grateful for, because like I said, I could have handled myself.” He didn’t need to know that Henry Bradford was actually just a spineless loser.
Albus said nothing for a moment as we continued down the dark hall. His eyes were squinted in thought, illuminated by our wands’ lights.
We passed by numerous more entrances. I showed him the way to the library, the different common rooms, the classrooms, and the other exits.
“I didn’t like Bradford,” he suddenly said, breaking the silence.
“I know,” I nearly smiled. “You were hardly subtle.”
“He was dreadfully boring.”
“Hence why we broke up.”
“I bet he was a rubbish snog, too.”
I glared at him. That was a step over the line. “Shut up, Potter.”
“Well? Am I wrong?” He looked at me challengingly. We stopped walking, standing about a foot apart in the passageway.
“You said no more personal questions,” I reminded him. “We’re almost at the last passage entrance- can you control yourself until then?”
“I was just a little curious,” he smirked. “But it doesn’t matter- your neglect to answer the question is an answer in itself.”
I groaned and started back down the path, moving more quickly this time. I just wanted to get to bed already.
“I didn't even need to ask, really,” Albus continued. “I was pretty sure you’d had better regardless.”
“Nope,” I shot back with a pointed look. “Every snog since has been just as horrible if not worse.”
He snorted. “I’m sure.” He sounded very unconvinced.
“Just stop bloody talking already,” I snapped. We’d reached the last passageway entrance, up on the seventh floor. “This is the last one. The spot for it is here-” I pointed to the knot along the wall. “And it closes with a painting of a knight.”
“Got it,” Albus said quietly. “That’s all of them, then?”
“That’s it. Think you’ll remember them all?”
“Probably not,” he admitted. “But at least I remember the first one- I’ll have to get used to it before I remember them all.”
“Great. Feel free to start practicing then- I’m going to bed.” I turned away to start rushing back to the common room, my eyelids heavy.
He reached out and grabbed my wrist before I could go. “Rivers,” he said quietly. “Sorry for bringing it up.”
“Bringing what up?”
“You know what,” he said, still in an unrecognizably soft tone. “I wasn’t supposed to- I said back during the summer that I wouldn’t bring it up- we’d agreed we’d pretend it didn’t happen. So I’m sorry.”
I stared back at him in surprise. The two of us didn’t usually apologize to each other.
“I- it’s fine,” I said at last. “Thanks.”
He released my wrist, his face hard to read through the darkness; he’d lowered his wand considerably, making it hard to see his head at all.
“I’d best start practicing finding these entrances then,” he said. “I’ll see you around?”
I nodded back. “Yeah. Er- night Potter.”
I headed back for the common room, trying not to focus on the way he’d leaned against the wall to watch me go, or the burning sensation along my wrist from where he’d held it. Mostly, I was just trying not to remember what had happened a couple months before that he’d chosen to bring up this evening.
I let out a frustrated sigh once I was out of earshot. Albus Potter would never stop irritating me.
Yay another chapter! Let me know what you thought! I promise the whole story won't constantly be back-and-forth between real time and flashbacks. It's just the first few. I like keeping information until it's actually needed for the purpose of this story.
And now you know that Albus and Tara have had a snog-related run-in before!! Hope you enjoyed!
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize, it's all JK Rowling as always.
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