I'd been avoiding thinking about it too seriously because of the obvious implications.
If this didn't work, Jane would have to end me.
I couldn't be sure that's what it meant, of course, but Jane—hungover and startled by my presence last night—hadn't been as good at hiding her thoughts. When I'd told her she was the Executioner, I saw the alarm on her face. I could see that something had occurred to her. Something that she didn't want to tell me.
What else could it be but a failsafe—my cyanide pill?
My resolve to find James and apologise became stronger.
I was so close—so close I could taste it on my tongue—to achieving control. My anger towards James had been too hasty. I shouldn't have pushed him away … but I didn't know where to find him. The obvious answer was to go to the Gryffindor common room, wait there or in Charlie's room ... but neither was appealing because it meant I'd either run into or have to be around Charlie.
There was no doubt in my mind that he was the Reason.
The Grey Lady said that reason governs the heart—and what was more wild, more desperate, than what was in my heart? I wanted more than anything in the world to have utter control over this ... this black thing inside of me. This parasite that was feeding off my trauma. It was such an ugly thing and yet ... No, I couldn't think of it as anything but terrible. If Charlie knew my thoughts, he'd spiral further off the deep end.
He was already annoyed with me that I didn't want to discuss Creevey or the Grey Lady with him. It wasn't even like he had anything interesting or new to say! He just kept going over and over about how suspicious Creevey was, how we shouldn't have listened to the Grey Lady without doing our research first—but it was all too late and so what was the point! We were all in too deep and if I didn't succeed then Jane—
I had to find James.
I needed the Map.
I started, ripped out of my thoughts, and turned.
'Rose,' I blurted, blood flooding my cheeks at once. She jogged up to me, looking pleased to see me but distracted and tired. My limbs had seized up. I wracked my brain for something normal—something friendly—
'I wanted to apologise,' she said brusquely, in her usual fashion. Her cheeks were flushed, too, but not out of embarrassment like me. We were in the Entrance Hall and she had clearly just come from the Slytherin common room. Had she been with Albus or Scorpius …? 'For kissing you. I truly don't know what came over me. It was a mistake.'
This took me aback.
'No,' Rose said under her breath. She looked at me, eyes fixed with determination. 'No, sorry. That's not what I meant to say.' She inhaled deeply through her nose and exhaled, looking very much like a sinner in the gallows. 'What I mean is that I shouldn't have kissed you. You have a boyfriend and you … I shouldn't have attacked you like that—'
'You didn't attack me ...'
'—and it wasn't fair of me. To put you in that situation. I just want you to know that I'm very happy to forget that it ever happened. I completely get it if you can't or if you need time or—or—' Rose faltered; it was clear she hadn't expected to get this far and talk for so long. She looked at me a little helplessly. 'Um.'
'I don't need time,' I said quickly. Whatever she was going through, I couldn't lose her as a friend. Right now, the number of people I could talk to was dwindling. 'I completely forgive you. I wasn't—I wasn't angry with you or anything. I was just surprised …'
An awkward silence fell between us.
'Right,' Rose forced out, eyes darting away. 'Well. Good.' She pressed her lips together, as if to stop herself from revealing too much, but then the words burst forth. 'I'm still—I'm still figuring things out. Like, things about myself. And I was worried about you and it all just—it just came out the wrong way—I think I turned into a little bit of a fuck boy. Kissing you so you would stop talking—because the things you were saying, Cecily—we should really—'
Reason governs the heart.
Both Rose and Charlie had made it crystal clear that the way I was learning to control my Obscurus wasn't good. They both believed there was more risk in it than reward, but that was only if I failed. And I wouldn't fail.
'Rose,' I interrupted. She broke off mid-sentence, mouth still open. 'I said something terrible to James. He's my Challenger, by the way—I don't know if I told you—and—and you were right. My past—my anger and pain—it's not who I am. If that's what fuels my control then I don't want it. I want to be in control because I'm at … because I'm at peace. James is the only one who can help me with that and I need your help because I fucked it up with him.'
Rose closed her mouth. Then, after a beat, she said, 'What happened?'
I bit my lip and told her how we fought in the Room of Requirement—all the predictably-Rose emotions flickered across her face in rapid succession: shock, fury, horror, vindication (when I punched James in the face)—and then, stumbling over my words, I told her what I'd said to him in the Hospital Wing before he walked out.
Cheeks still flaming with anger over the fact that James had set me on fire, Rose huffed.
'The good news—' she said this grudgingly '—is that that doesn't mean he's angry with you. At the very worst, he's mildly irritated but definitely not offended. That sort of stuff—insults about his parents or his money or whatever—that's never bothered him. I don't think it's occurred to him that you think he'd stop helping you over that conversation.'
'Really?' I said dubiously. 'He seemed really angry.'
'You haven't seen James angry,' she muttered. Her gaze flickered away, her expression shifting slightly as she became lost in some thought. She looked almost … sad. Then she shook her head once, as if to ward off a fly, and when she looked at me again, her expression was clear and untroubled. 'Anyway, don't worry about him. I expect if he called it a day that means he expects to see you on Monday.'
I hesitated. Then said, 'okay.' I had to defer to her judgement on this. He was her cousin, after all.
She took a step forward, almost involuntarily. Her features softened, the usual lines of haughty arrogance melting away. Unfairly, I worried that I'd given her some sort romantic signal—which I felt immediately guilty about. I couldn't go around thinking that her kindness was something more all the time. You need a friend, I told myself fiercely. And you don't have many options.
'Are you okay?' she asked gently. 'I feel like so much has happened over the past couple of days … Jane said she told you about Creevey leaving St Mungo's ...?'
I shrugged. 'I know that you guys suspect him. You think he was trying to hurt me or—or force the Obscurus out of me so that he can use me or something but … but I just know he was looking out for me, Rose. You don't have to believe me but … I really do think he wants to help me. I'm not worried if he left St Mungo's. After what I did to him … I just glad he's okay.'
I expected her to caution me, to tell me not to be a fool.
'Yes,' she said instead, sounding thoughtful. 'I've been thinking along the same lines myself. He left St Mungo's—but what if he did it to protect you? To avoid answering the same questions we were afraid of when we took him to the hospital? I think he was trying to protect you. To make sure no one would find out about … you. I wondered, even, if he'd maybe gone back to the orphanage …'
For a moment, I was too astonished to speak.
Had she really changed her mind about Creevey? Was this one less battle I would have to fight?
'Charlie thinks he's working with the Grey Lady,' I blurted, unable to help myself. I had to know what she would make of that. If that would reignite her doubts. 'That they're both up to something. That—maybe—the thing we're doing is part of their plan and that plan isn't to help me at all but find a way to use me somehow. For something.'
Rose looked at me seriously, properly troubled now.
'I can't say that it hasn't crossed my mind,' she said slowly. 'We don't know why the Grey Lady approached you—or how she knew to approach you. It's suspicious but … but you say it's helping? You truly believe that you're getting better?' There was such hope in her eyes—I could almost feel her need for this to be true.
It was a relief that I didn't have to lie.
'Yes,' I told her. 'It's helping. I feel … lighter. Less burdened somehow. It doesn't feel like I'm doing anything sinister but … but I can see that it looks bad. I know that it looks bad to you.' My eyes cut up to meet hers. 'With my Obscurus appearing at will … would you trust me if I said that it doesn't feel bad? I don't feel angry or sad or upset … but calm? It's working and I need to keep going so I have perfect control.'
This time, Rose hesitated.
'Yes. I … I trust you. I believe you.'
The relief I felt was overwhelming; my entire body went numb and I had to resist the melodramatic urge to fall to my knees. I didn't realise how taut I was. How tightly coiled every nerve and muscle in my body was with the tension to hold myself together, to not completely fall apart as all the doubts and misgivings tore at me. I needed someone to support me. To tell me that what I was doing was right. That I wasn't making a terrible mistake. I hadn't realised until now.
'There's … there's one more thing,' I said. I bit my lip, nervous again. 'The titles …'
'What?' said Rose worriedly. I could hear the strain in her voice as she fought to stay calm. 'What about them?'
'Jane … she's the Executioner. The Grey Lady never said what it meant but …'
Rose recoiled as if I'd slapped her, understanding at once.
'You think—you think that she—'
'If this doesn't work,' I whispered. 'I think she's the only one who can kill me before it's too late.'
'I could speak to mum or—or dad—'
I looked at Albus wretchedly. 'Al, this is insane. Your dad shouldn't be using the Unforgivable Curses on you—'
His eyes flashed. 'Dad said their Defence Professor used them on students in fourth year—'
'Mum told me the same story!' I cried. 'The Imperius curse was the only one he ever used on actual students! Mad-Eye—or fake Mad-Eye—whatever—he never used the Cruciatus curse!' I got to my feet, too agitated to be sitting down. 'This isn't right, Albus. Your dad can't do this—if mum knew—she would never—never let him—'
'You can't tell your parents,' Albus said flatly. 'I've told you because I trust you. Because I'm worried about James. Not because we need your help. Especially not your mum's.'
'What's that supposed to mean?' I demanded. 'Mum would fix this. She wouldn't—she wouldn't let anything happen to Harry—'
I began to protest but with an blank look, Albus tore his sheets aside and got out of bed. I saw a flash of pale skin—EURGH!—and whirled around with a shriek, covering my ears as well as shutting my eyes.
'You could've just told me you wanted to put your clothes on!'
'My mistake. I forgot your first instinct is to argue and not listen.'
Ugh. Yes. It was my fault that I saw anything—not that I did. Just blurry—gross—UGH.
Still, I didn't turn.
I needed a minute.
'What did you mean, Albus? About mum? About not wanting her help and being worried about James?'
'I mean your mum's help isn't the kind of help we need or want. And I'm worried about James because … because I don't think he's done with the Wave. I know it's officially over but the forest fire—the Sorting Hat—those were only distractions. He never told me the whole truth but I began to suspect … he had something bigger in mind, Rose. I hate using Legilimency, you know that, but I had to because—he's too good. At lying. At keeping secrets. I needed to know what he was doing.'
I turned around to face Albus.
Rose's face was pale, so pale that he could see the spiderweb of pale green and purple veins in her eyelids. He questioned, for the first time, his good sense in telling her about his father. About his … schooling. He thought Rose could handle it, that she might finally be able to understand the necessity of secrecy, that some things were too terrible to be shared. Maybe he was wrong. But it was too late now.
He supposed, upon this reflection, that it was a good thing that he'd lied about Lily.
'I tried to look into his mind,' he said presently. 'I tried to figure out what he was planning.'
'Tried?' Rose whispered.
'I told you he was good at Occlumency. But I caught a glimpse of something—something he'd let slip by accident because he's usually much more careful than that. I don't think he ever expected me to try anything; he didn't prepare himself for it. Still—still he shut me out before I could see anything concrete. He didn't speak to me for weeks after.'
'What did you see, Albus?'
'The Ministry,' he said, his voice hard and flat. 'In flames.'
'What?' Rose was horrified. 'The Ministry in flames? Albus …'
He drew in a deep, steadying breath. 'I know. This is the problem with Legilimency. It wasn't an image, not like a photograph. It was another … impression. And you have to almost coax a thought into someone's head before you can read it. We were talking about what the Wave would take on next—after the disaster of the Forbidden Forest. I was trying to tell him that we went too big, too conspicuous. We needed to find a way to make an impact on a smaller scale but he wanted to go even bigger. I didn't understand why—it felt like he was deaf to all logic and reason and … and I wanted to know what he was thinking. That's when I saw it. That's when he shut me out and agreed to Lulu's suggestion to destroy the Hat without a vote.'
'He's not—' Rose broke off with a nervous, breathless laugh. 'He isn't going to burn down the Ministry.'
'What I saw doesn't mean that's what he wants.'
'You're losing me.'
'It's the feeling,' he said impatiently, frustrated that he didn't have the language to explain himself accurately. 'It's the emotion—the—the intention behind the image. I told you—what I saw—what I read—it wasn't even an image! Are your thoughts like images? Are your thoughts language?'
Rose drew back slightly at his intensity. 'Er—'
'No they're not,' he huffed. 'They're like wisps of smoke. So no. The Ministry in flames is not what James wants. But—but … I'm better at this than James in only one way.' Albus closed his eyes, wondering, again, if he would be revealing too much. How much could Rose take? He couldn't allow himself to regret that he'd already told her things he and James had promised each other, in the dead of the night, that they would take to the grave. If he did that, he would be lost. 'I'm better at understanding what I see. James is too literal, less nuanced. He doesn't have the … the knack for … subtlety.'
'Please, Albus.' Rose's voice tinged with desperation now. 'Just tell me.'
'I think he wants to target the Ministry. Or—or someone who represents it.'
Rose actually took a step back, like he'd pushed her. He studied her warily, waiting for her to make the connection, to understand what he was trying to say even if he couldn't say it. Because the idea was so abhorrent. So awful that he couldn't speak it into existence. He refused to believe that his brother's thoughts had strayed into that much darkness.
'I have to tell mum,' she blurted. Albus gritted his teeth; it had been a mistake to think he could trust her. 'No, Al, listen to me. This has gotten out of hand. I can't tell anyone about the Sorting Hat! I can't tell anyone about Cecily! I can't tell my parents about what your dad is doing to you and James! And now you tell me James might want to hurt mum?! If what you're saying is true then he needs to be stopped, Albus!'
'And we can stop him!' he said loudly, hating himself so thoroughly. Why had he said anything! This was pointless! 'I know we can! James got carried away! He hates dad—he wants to punish him and I understand it, Rose! The need to show him that he's the only fucking threat we're facing! It may have just been an errant thought! A desire, rather than a plan! Give him a chance, Rose! I can't do this without you but if you—if you tell anyone—'
'What?' Rose's voice had dropped dangerously low; her blue eyes searched his, disbelief glittering like sapphires. 'You'll do what, Albus? Erase my memories? Tamper with them? Tell me what you're threatening me with so I know where we stand—'
'I'm not threatening you!' Albus shouted. He whirled away from her, panic and anger battling it out, trying to seize the upper hand and control his next moves. He forced his heart rate to slow down, forced a calm he didn't feel. 'I'm not threatening you. But you'll be ruining my family if you tell anyone what I've told you. My brother—' whatever he was about to say stuck in his throat. He looked at her. 'What would you do to protect your family?'
A charged silence fell between them as Rose absorbed the question, the implications, the connection he was drawing to what he would do for his.
'Anything,' Rose whispered. 'Everything.'
'Another problem with Legilimency,' Albus forced out, lunging at Rose's momentary stillness like a lifeline, 'is that I can only speculate. I haven't given James a chance to explain what I saw. He never offered one and I was too … too much of a coward to ask. But maybe we could … together, we could …'
'Of course I'll help you,' Rose said, looking suddenly anguished. 'Of course I will.' Her features twisted in despair. 'I'm sorry! I'm sorry for everything! I'm sorry I don't know what the right thing to do is!' She grabbed his arms, fixing him in place, as if he wasn't already leadened. 'Okay. Okay. I refuse to believe James would want to hurt mum—no matter how much he wants to hurt your dad. We'll make him explain.' Her eyes hardened suddenly. 'And then we're going to do something about uncle Harry.'
Albus had to smile, however pathetically, at his cousin's determination. Her ability to be so optimistic and believe so much that there was any way to help them with dad was nice, but in vain. There was no way for him to explain how his family had deteriorated over the years, how every public outing, every show of unity and togetherness was hard fought and bitterly won. Even mum had begun turning away from it. Although, it wasn't clear if she knew about the Unforgivable Curses.
'There's nothing you can do, Rose. He's our dad.'
The spark in her eyes vanished.
Albus almost felt bad; she was having to go through the same realisation that he had many years ago.
By the time James and I left the Library, it was nearly dinner. I was completely astonished. So dumbfounded to discover so much time had passed when it felt like only minutes that I'd raced to the nearest window, nose practically flat against it, unable to believe that it was dark outside!
'That's the trouble with time,' James said from behind me, sounding amused. 'It keeps going forward …'
I whirled around to face him. 'I can't believe we were in the Library the whole day! I can't believe you stayed and did nothing for hours!'
'I helped you.'
'You helped me,' I acquiesced. 'Still. It was very noble of you.'
'It was completely selfish, actually.'
'I like spending time with you,' he said simply. 'You make me happy.'
James didn't give me any time to process the clash of emotions that elicited. The confusion, the longing, the fear and guilt. He started to walk away, towards the Entrance Hall, looking back only once to see if I was following. After the smallest fraction of hesitation, I did.
'Remember what you said to me?' James asked suddenly. 'The day we destroyed the Sorting Hat? About wanting to fix the system and breaking it? About making noise and giving no solutions?'
'Yes,' I said, surprised. Why was he bringing this up? 'I still haven't figured out why. To be honest, I've kind of forgotten about it. No one's even talking about the hat anymore. Even the Professors.'
James let out a short laugh. 'Our plan of misdirection worked even better than I'd hoped. The Professors have no suspects, no one to blame but themselves for their lax security. They only thing they can do now is get on with it and start thinking of a different way to choose and sort students. It won't be a concern until this September anyway.'
'So what about it? Are you going to tell me why the Wave wasn't very helpful for a bunch of activists?'
James grinned. 'There's nothing to tell. You figured it out.' I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. 'I didn't want to fix anything. I wanted to break everything.' I hadn't realised the corners of my mouth were lifted up in a smile until it fell. 'You don't like hearing that, do you? Because that isn't the guy you wish I was or wanted me to be? I told you I'm not noble, Kit. I'm selfish.'
I studied his profile, the light smattering of freckles dusting his high cheekbones, his bowstring lips and thick, angled eyebrows. A rougher, less graceful faerie prince.
'Because I'm an angst ridden teenager who can't confront his inner demons and takes it out in destructive ways.'
We looked at each other sideways for a moment—before I turned away pointedly, pressing my lips together.
'I got this book, for my birthday. Called The Wave. I didn't know who it was from—'
'There was no card. The book—'
'Did you not find that weird?'
'No. Well, not more than usual.' His expression was mystifyingly apprehensive. 'I get a lot of gifts from people … Mostly from people I know, of course, but some from …'
I gasped. 'Your admirers?!' I knew he had fan girls!
A dull flush rose up James' cheeks—and I laughed, a sound of pure surprise and delight. I think that was the first time I'd ever seen James Potter blush!
'Anyway,' James stressed. 'The book was about this experiment—a teacher's experiment to show his students how easily the Germans allowed Hitler and the Nazi party to rise to power. How they were able turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed and reconstruct their moral values to fit the society they lived in. It was an interesting book. I don't know who thought I'd enjoy it—it wasn't exactly fun reading but …'
'Is that where you got the idea for the Wave?'
'In a way, yes.' James hesitated—and this wasn't his usual hesitation, where he was calculating and weighing his words carefully. This was a more human hesitation, like he truly didn't know what words to use to express himself. 'It was the complicity of the people that struck me. The water was warm at first and when it started to get hotter, it was uncomfortable, but not unpleasant and ... before they knew it, they were being boiled alive ...'
We stopped in front of the barrels outside the Hufflepuff common room. I spun around my heel to face him, lip pursed in thought. There was a reason he was telling me this. He was answering my earlier question the only way he knew how. Indirectly, skirting around a clear and concise answer, making me work it out in my head. Making me connect the dots.
I knew he wasn't testing me—this was just the best he could do, for now.
It gave me a weird burst of pleasure that I was able to read him like this. Had I really observed more than I'd realised about him over the years? Even over the short period of fake-dating? Because somehow, intrinsically, I knew he wasn't trying to be evasive and vague. He really was trying to answer my question and open up. He just … didn't know how.
'I get it,' I said after a moment. 'You didn't want to fix anything with the Wave. You just wanted to disrupt society—or Hogwarts—to make people angry. To make them pick a side and care about something, even if it's not your side they're picking. Although I don't why you think that isn't noble—it's completely the opposite of selfish that you wanted to break their complicity in … in …' I trailed off, a slippery thought wriggling into my mind. It wasn't even anything tangible, just a nebulous, pulsing feeling … 'No one was looking … why wasn't anyone looking?'
'The … Muggleborns … She was drowning!' I shouted suddenly. 'And no one was looking!'
'Okay crazy,' he said, though through his slight alarm I detected a hint of fondness. 'What are you talking about? Who are you talking about?'
My research wasn't as useful as I'd hoped. Mor Wump—the author of A Brief History of Magical Maladies—was woefully unprepared to tackle Obscuruses. The chapter on them had only been three pages. Three pages. The entire book was six hundred pages long! He made a few sweeping, general statements about magical repression and the resulting parasitical Obscurus. But without modern knowledge of mental health, he had nothing concrete to add to the academia.
He didn't know what I—what we—knew.
Cecily had become an Obscurial because her Muggle parents were unprepared. Unprepared to accept the overwhelming idea that magic existed, that wizards and witches existed, and that we weren't evil or possessed. Unprepared to reconcile their religious beliefs with the fact that their child was not normal to their standards. One essential consequence of our laws of secrecy was that Muggles couldn't hope to understand their magical children without the Ministry's help.
So where was the Ministry when Cecily's parents needed help?
'I need you to reorganise the Wave,' I said abruptly.
James laughed, then realised I was being serious. 'What? Why?'
I looked at him.
'I have a cause, James. And I want to break something.'
I walked up the stairs. Turned right on the landing and walked to room number four. Creevey came up behind me. I moved aside automatically. He fished in his robes for the key. He put the key in the lock and opened the door. I walked inside. There was someone on the bed—Lulu Heap, I recognised absently—and she shot to her feet, eyes wide. I stood by the desk, waiting.
'Professor?' Lulu's voice was high with anxiety.
'It's alright, Miss Heap.' Creevey pulled his hood down and sank into the chair by the desk. He ran a hand through his hair, the other gripping his wand tightly. 'She's fine. Are you ready?'
My eyes passed over her. I didn't wonder what she was doing here. I didn't care. My mind was empty. Blank. I felt no calm, no fear. I felt nothing. Creevey got to his feet, transferring his wand to his left hand. He held out his right hand which I took at once, fingers curling around his wrist just as his locked around mine. We stood facing each other. Lulu stepped forward, wand arm hanging limply by her side. Her eyes kept flickering over to me.
'Professor?' Lulu whispered. 'Are you sure …'
'Quite sure, Miss Heap,' said Creevey curtly. 'If you would place your wand on our hands and get ready.'
Lulu tore her eyes away from me, face pale, and placed the tip of her wand on our linked hands. A split second before he did, I sank down so that we were both kneeling. Lulu's wand followed, as if dragged by a magnetic pull. Her eyes were even wider than before, lips dry, cheeks bloodless.
'Will you, Jane,' Creevey intoned, 'abandon all your plans that involve Cecily Waters and her condition? Renounce all your beliefs about what the Executioner might mean and act as though the title had never been given to you?'
'I will.' The words were pulled from my mouth. I barely knew I was making them.
A thin jet of brilliant gold flame issued from the tip of Lulu's wand and wound its way around our hands like a red-hot wire.
'And will you, Jane, swear not to harm me or Lulu Heap when I release you from the Imperius curse? Will you swear never to reveal the nature, content and context of any and all of our conversations, past, present and future?'
A second tongue of flame shot from her wand and interlinked with the first, making a fine, glowing chain.
'And, if the time ever comes that you feel it … necessary … to end Cecily's life—' Lulu's hand twitched, but she didn't withdraw her wand '—will you promise to break your wand in half and wield no other, so that you are unable to carry out that task?'
Lulu's face glowed red in the blaze of a third tongue of flame, which shot out from her wand, twisted with the others and bound itself thickly around our clasped hands. It pulsed there for a moment as the magic bound itself into my skin, my muscle, veins and arteries and bones, into the very atoms of my being. Bound itself so tightly that should I act against my vows, it would pull the very life out of me to repay the debt. It flared once, brightly, and then was gone.
Creevey released me from his Imperius curse.
I shuddered, feeling as though I had walked through a ghost, like I'd plunged into a river of ice, and broke my fall with my palms. I stayed there, on all fours, just breathing. My eyes were shut, my limbs trembling with absolute, poisonous, hateful anger. It coiled and lashed and whipped inside of me like an inferno. How could this have happened to me? How!
'You told her about the Sorting Hat,' I spat. I looked up at Lulu, full of loathing. 'You gave her the idea.'
'Yes,' Creevey said calmly. Lulu darted behind him, looking terrified—which was, finally, a proper response. 'And I'm sure since you've made that connection, you've already drawn some other conclusions. So yes, I was also the one who gave James Potter the idea for his … club. Not as directly, of course. I had to make him think it was his idea, otherwise it wouldn't have worked.'
'What wouldn't have worked?' I snarled.
My nails dug into the wood as I pushed myself up to my feet, fingers curling into fists by my side. Every instinct urged me to lash out at them, tear them both apart limb from limb for forcing me to make an Unbreakable Vow, but I couldn't. Not if I wanted to live.
'I was telling you the truth, Jane. I will not use Cecily as a weapon. I will not allow you to manipulate her and unravel all the years hard work it has taken to get her where she is today. The Grey Lady is toying with all of us, can't you see?' He smiled grimly, correctly translating the disgust and hatred on my face as distrust. 'Cecily will incorrectly believe that your title means that you are her executioner, just as you incorrectly believed. Already, she will push herself too hard to master control. She will make mistakes. Your plan to use her for your own greed would have resulted in her death.'
Ignoring him, I looked at Lulu, jerking my chin up to Creevey. 'Is he what you meant? When you said you didn't need the Wave? When you said you'd rip me out of this world?'
Lulu said nothing, but she was clearly frightened and that filled me with enough satisfaction to address Creevey again.
'You fucking liar,' I spat. It gave me a rush of adrenaline and power to swear at a Professor. Of all the insane, crazy things that had happened in the last twenty minutes, telling my Defence Professor to fuck off felt uniquely illegal and thrilling. But Creevey merely raised his eyebrows, his face was otherwise unreadable. 'You never chose. Obscurials versus Hedges. You didn't choose.'
I took a sudden step forward and Lulu moved back so fast her back hit the wall, but Creevey didn't so much as flinch. He knew I couldn't do anything. Couldn't touch him, couldn't hurt him, though I yearned to. I could taste the bloodlust on my tongue, but my vision was clear. When Creevey was dead for what he did to me, I would make sure to remember every single last detail of his demise.
'This is a long game we're playing, Jane,' Creevey murmured, as if reading my thoughts. 'There are a lot of moves still left to play.'
'And your mistake was in thinking I am a pawn!'
He moved towards me, and I involuntarily scrambled back. He was much taller than me, much older than me, and much more powerful. I didn't know why I hadn't thought about these things before. I could only blame my own hubris. I was Icarus and he was the sun.
'I'm bringing the Ministry to its knees, Jane,' he snarled, his voice velvet and honeyed. 'I will take it apart from the inside out until there is nothing left but ashes. Did you really think you had any chance at outsmarting me? You are nothing more than a wilful, arrogant child.'
I breathed in and out heavily, staring into his dark, depthless eyes.
'You have questions,' he said, breaking the charged, electric silence. 'I will answer them … then maybe you'll understand.'
Murphy was crazy. Absolutely insane.
But James couldn't help the ridiculous pride he felt in her, even though it was objectively the wrong response to have to the situation.
She had just … surprised him.
She was always doing that.
After promising her he would gather everyone, he set off at once. The Wave was over, of course, but he would get all seven of the people helping Cecily. The pseudo-Wave. Murphy wouldn't tell him what she was up to but he had a feeling ... Besides, he didn't want to guess—he wanted to watch her tell the others and ... witness her.
And—if that wasn't enough to make this day infinitely wonderful—being her friend had been surprisingly effortless.
She was easy to talk to—even though it was hard to hold her attention for longer than three minutes (he'd started timing how long it took her to interrupt him after the fourth time she'd done it). But there was something else, too, that made him covet her undivided and wholehearted attention.
She lived in a country so different to his, a country that was safe and full of love, where there was no pain or fear, and from the moment he'd met the Murphys, all he'd wanted was to seek asylum in their land.
In retrospect, he figured that this was why he'd always been drawn to her, like an orphan who wanted a family. A dark, melodramatic comparison, but true ... Actually, he was probably more like an alcoholic. Charlie was a cold beer on a hot, sunny day—perfect, satisfying, a drink to start the day with and a drink he was content to end the day with—but Murphy was ... Murphy was like an expensive, vintage and rare brand of firewhisky. The kind that made his blood flush with heat and his head swim with sunlight.
How had it even happened? In the beginning, she'd just been his best friend's annoying little sister, and yes, he'd probably enjoyed making her uncomfortable more than usual (hadn't Charlie always been irritated by how he hovered around her before he was dragged away?). But when had ... this happened? This desperation to have her want him—the real him?
When he thought about it, only one answer really came to mind.
It had been something in her letter, funnily enough. She'd written a lot of crazy, ridiculous things—memories that he remembered differently, ardent, hopeless, despairing passion, quotes from Muggle literature when her own words failed her—but there was only one thing that he actually believed.
She had said that he was like the sun, and that she was afraid of fire but for him, she would gladly burn.
He believed it because—before she found out about the Wave—that was exactly how she'd looked at him. Like he was the sun and she was desperate to burn. He didn't know why. He had no idea what he'd done, what he'd said or what lies she'd believed for her to hold him in such high regard. But now that it was gone—he wanted it back.
The need burned in his blood like molten, volcanic fire, flooding his muscles with chaotic energy he couldn't expend. He found himself constantly flexing, just to stop himself from doing something stupid—like shoving her against a wall and kissing her until she was gasping his name. He had his more noble desires—but he could hardly help the R rated thoughts that ran amok in his head when she was so close.
Being in the Restricted Section with her had almost been too much for his self-control.
He found that telling her things—not deeply personal things, not yet—but things he'd never thought to tell Pauline (not that she'd've been interested anyway) was actually a good way to distract himself from those less noble thoughts. Telling her about how he'd gotten the idea for the Wave, hinting—lightly—at his motivations, and even talking about his dissertation ... it had been nice. To just talk.
It hadn't been easy, and he'd found himself stopping and restarting a sentence more than once ... because his control was stamped into his DNA, a by-product of his manufacturing. And there were so many things he couldn't tell her ...
He was at the Slytherin common room entrance when it suddenly struck him how stupid—how drunk—he had been in promising her to show her the real him.
The common room entrance rippled and James stepped back automatically. The black mood—the one that promised cruelty and a ruthless lack of sympathy—descended on him quickly, like a curtain being yanked shut. He barely registered Albus stepping through the shimmering dungeon wall that still looked solid. Albus did a double take, eyes flickering over his face in that overly perceptive, analytical way of his. With one look, Albus could read his mood. With one word, he could read his thoughts.
'James,' Albus said, sounding surprised. 'What are you doing here?'
'Looking for you,' he said shortly. 'Kit wants us all to meet in the Kitchens in half an hour. Do you know where Cecily and Rose are? I can get Charlie and if you get Jane.'
'What?' Albus searched his face, uncomprehending. 'What do you mean Kit wants us all to meet? For what?'
He heard the razor thin edge of suspicion in his brother's voice and, all at once, the chaotic energy inside of him found its mark. His hatred peaked—hatred at himself, of course, because he hated no one—not even his father—more than he hated himself—because turning his fury inward didn't cost anyone even a fraction of what it cost him—and he dearly hoped Albus would give him a reason to hit him.
He took a step forward, towering over his little brother easily. He almost smiled when Albus raised his chin slightly to look up at him. Face to face, they sized each other up, and it became almost embarrassingly clear how Albus paled in comparison. As far back as either of them could remember it had been that way. If James had Herculean waves, Albus had Hyperion's long curls; if James was muscular and broad shouldered, Albus was skinny and lithe; if James was charming and luminescent, Albus was quiet and reserved.
'Something on your mind, Al?'
With the terrible lighting and Knockturn Alley-esque corridor, the question sounded vaguely sinister, but Albus' barely reacted.
He met his gaze impassively and James bared his teeth in a wide, humourless grin. Self-control was not only in his DNA, but his brother's. They were too good at this. Deflecting and evading. Their confrontations were not like other brothers'. They were burdened by just a little too much competition. They couldn't help it. Their father had been thorough in his training. They always performed better when they were trying to best each other. But it didn't, of course, create the healthiest of relationships between them.
'Not at all,' Albus said easily. 'Something on yours?'
'Yes, actually—funny you should ask. I was thinking about one of dad's little speeches. It's one of my favourites actually—where do you think he comes up with this stuff? Oh wait, you don't know what I'm talking about. You'll recognise it though.' James cleared his throat and recited: '"Easy prey. Fools who wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked so easily. Weak people!". Quite the motivator, isn't he? Seriously—where does he come up with this stuff?'
Albus' eyes hardened.
'What's your fucking point.’
James raised his eyebrows in insolent mirth.
'Do I look like easy prey to you? I wasn't expecting it, you know. And you've gotten better, much better. It's been such a long time since I've felt you in my head … I almost didn't recognise you. So what did you see? What's got you all wound up?'
If he hadn't seen that face almost every waking hour since it had come into this world, he wouldn't have been able to detect it. The slight tightening around Albus' eyes, the muscle that jumped in the corner of his mouth. His little brother's subtle tells. The ones James could read as easily as a menu. Albus was unnerved.
'Let's talk about it later,' he said without inflection.
'No, we've got time. Let's talk about it now,' James goaded. Everything was a trigger and he was the bullet. 'I know you're dying to. You think I'm unhinged. You think there's nothing I wouldn't do … I would push mum in front of Killing Curse if it meant hurting dad. That's what you think, isn't it?'
All the blood drained from Albus' face, just as James knew it would.
He laughed softly and stepped away, pushing his hair out of his eyes.
'Jesus, Al. What the fuck man?'
'You've been shutting me out!' Albus said, abruptly furious. 'I've been trying to fucking talk to you for weeks, you fucking dickhead. You're the one who kept going on and on about going bigger—you risked everyone getting caught—'
'Actually no,' James said, features hard, eyes cold. 'I think that was your psychotic girlfriend who nearly fucked us over.'
'Then Lulu?' Albus hissed. 'And the Sorting Hat? The fucking Sorting Hat?'
'It worked didn't it? No one even fucking cares about the hat.'
Albus looked away in disgust. 'You weren't thinking about anyone in the Wave. You didn't care if you jeopardised us—you think just because you don't care about the consequences that no one else should. We swore to them that no one would get caught—'
'And no one has,' James snapped. 'They all agreed to the consequences. They knew if things got down to the wire they would have to take the blame. What the fuck is your problem?'
'My problem is you!' Albus roared. James' mouth curled. Finally, they were getting somewhere. 'My problem is what I saw! You tell me what I saw James! And don't fucking lie to me!'
In one swift move, James had Albus pinned against the wall, his forearm pressed against Albus' neck, his wand at his temple. Albus' cheeks flushed with splotchy red patches, but his eyes were flat and unafraid. This was an old dance; they remembered the choreography perfectly. Albus' fingers dug into James' arm but James barely felt it. There was no fight that James wouldn't win—magical, physical, mental. He was superior in every way.
'You will never look in my head again.' His voice was low and deceptively calm, the threat simmering like hot oil beneath his perfect control. 'You will never even think about looking in my head ever again. Yes?'
'Yes,' Albus choked. 'Yes.'
James eased his arm but didn't move away. Albus coughed for air, his face returning to a more normal colour.
'What's happening in three weeks, Al?'
'Get off me James. I get it!'
'Get off me!' Albus brought his knee up to James' stomach—and hit nothing. Just like with everything else, James knew what Albus was going to do before he did it. In a flash, James had dropped his arm and moved away. Albus stumbled forward and shot a look of pure loathing up at James. He grinned in response; the physical altercation was already forgotten. 'Arsehole.'
'Tell me,' he said. 'Tell me what's happening in three weeks.'
'Do you really think I need you to fucking remind me?'
'Yeah. I do.' James flicked his eyes over his brother. 'I need to hear you say it.'
Albus' jaw locked, working furiously.
'If you can't remember why we started all of this,' James said lightly. 'Then I won't be able to trust you anymore.'
'For fuck's sake—' Albus gritted his teeth, lancing his green eyes up to meet James'. 'Lily's birthday. You motherfucker. I haven't fucking forgotten. She turns fifteen.' James softened as his voice broke. The touch of fear and panic in his voice was real enough that his body relaxed automatically. Lily was the only thing in the world they didn't disagree on. 'And that's when he starts. At fifteen.'
'That's right,' James said firmly.
Fifteen equaled Unforgivables.
Albus met his gaze, agitated. 'You have to tell me the plan, James. You can't keep me in the dark on this. I have to know. You can't …'
'Don't tell me what I can't.' James turned away. 'There's nothing I can't do anymore, Al. Dad will not touch her. He should have never touched you.'
'There was nothing you could do ... You have to stop ...' Stop blaming yourself.
Albus didn't have to say it.
'Wish I'd just killed him.'
Albus was aghast, but this was how James felt. He wished he had the strength, the fortitude and the fucking courage to kill his father before he'd started slowly killing Albus. He wished he could do it now, before he started killing Lily. There wasn't enough space in the universe for the rage he felt. The hatred and seething anger for the childhood he was robbed of. There wasn't enough destruction he could leave in his wake to match the debris of his brother and sister's lives. But there was one thing he could do. Only one thing he could do short of killing his father to make him pay for it all.
'You have to stop saying stuff like that,' Albus begged, and he so rarely begged or pleaded, even when he was being Crucio'd. James looked at him expressionlessly. 'I don't care if you think it but please. Please stop saying stuff like that.'
'I only say it front of you because you know I don't mean it.'
James wondered why he couldn't just tell him. Why was he preventing himself from saying the only decent thought he'd had since Albus walked out of his common room? The one that would show him he was capable of nothing. Why couldn't he tell him that as much as he hated his father, he loved him, too.
'I trust you,' Albus said. 'I trust you, James. Just tell me what your plan is.'
This was why he couldn't tell him.
Albus depended on him to be stronger, more ruthless than him. To be able to do whatever it took to protect Lily. If Albus only knew how he truly felt—sick and afraid—he could easily convince him to give up. James was constantly doubting himself and it wouldn't take much. Because underneath it all, Albus was the better man. Because he wouldn't hesitate at all to tell the world their family's secrets if it meant stopping dad.
But James wasn't that self-sacrificing.
'I'm going to make him lose everything,' he said. 'His job. His reputation. His family.' He paused, waiting for Albus' reaction but he didn't give him one. 'I'm going to make him wish he were dead.'
Albus sagged against the wall and slid down it, burying his head his hands, elbows on his knees.
'Okay, James,' he said, sounding exhausted. 'Okay.'
'Really? You're not going to tell me that it would be easier if we just told someone what was happening to us? That there's no need for any of this if we're willing to be eviscerated by the media and by people for years to come? That it's worth the attention and the shame if it means Lily will never be Crucio'd? We may never have normal lives again, but maybe dad will see what it's like to be on the other side of the prison bars at Azkaban?'
Albus looked at him, his mouth twisted in unhappiness. His gaze was unsettlingly perceptive and sad. As though he could tell that behind the contempt and acidity of James' words, there was only one person for whom telling the truth would be devastating for. And that person wasn't Albus and it wasn't Lily.
'Well?' James demanded.
Slowly, Albus shook his head.
'No,' he said. 'I'm not going to tell you that. I do have one question though.'
'Why ... the Ministry ... in flames?'
'You're good, Al,' he replied curtly. 'But I'm better. You didn't actually think I was going to show you something real, did you?'
'I really fucking hate you.'
James studied him for a moment; despite being brothers and only a year apart in age, the two of them couldn't look less alike. Albus was shorter—though that wasn't saying much, he was still six foot—and skinnier. He was built like a rapier whereas James was a broadsword. His nose was longer, his lips thinner, his hair ink black and eyes green, but he had the same cutting jaw and high cheekbones.
The same fury that ran like an electric undercurrent beneath his skin.
But where fury had turned James into the blinding, destructive force of a dying star, it had transformed Albus into the cold, quiet death of endless space.
I played my conversation with Creevey over and over again in my head.
He was right—I finally understood.
I knew everything now. But it was all worthless, worse than useless information. Because I couldn't do anything about it. I was bound by an oath as final and as inevitable as death. In fact, it was death. That was what Creevey had given me. Cursed knowledge.
My emotions had swung wildly out of control since Creevey had released from his Imperius curse. I diagnosed myself as being slap-happy. One second I was brimming with metallic rage, the next I was laughing hysterically, stuffing my fist into my mouth to choke back laughter and my rising hysteria. Lulu had been quite horrified.
That stupid fucking dumb bitch.
I grinned humourlessly now, picturing her stupid fucking dumb bitch face. She hadn't moved an inch from the wall as Creevey debriefed me. Detailing his plan without reservation, knowing I was incapable of so much as breathing if it meant I was breaking my vow. I'd swore to never tell anyone what he told me. Past, present and future. I admired his thoroughness. He'd truly thought of everything.
He said he wasn't theatrical, but tell me, what was more dramatic than a plan that was decades in the making?
From the Potters to Lulu Heap ... from the Grey Lady to Cecily ... he had thought of everything.
Knowing what I did now—about the unfortunate fate of the Potter children—so much of their behaviour made sense to me. James' false bravado and sauntering around being a prick. Albus' glacial walls, his distrust of anyone new. Still ... I hadn't understood, at first, how gifting James a book for his seventeenth birthday was guaranteed to send him down the right path, but Creevey spent a lot of time explaining it to me.
Everything fell into place after Albus turned fifteen. That was when baddie Harry Potter started subjecting his children to the Imperius and Cruciatus curses (can you believe Creevey had figured out what Baddie Potter was up to by eavesdropping? The Potters were more careless than I thought). Creevey had gathered a few important details from the heated, hissed conversation in the dark:
1. James hated his father;
2. He was desperate to stop him; and
3. His hatred bordered on murderous.
According to Creevey, the conversation had been very insightful and only proved to him more that Harry Potter needed to be done away with. He was unhinged and paranoid. Hardly capable of being Head of Magical Law Enforcement. It wasn't until much later that he thought James Potter's hatred for his father might be genuinely useful. He'd seen an opportunity. A way to tear the Ministry apart from the inside out until there was nothing left but ashes. There was a way for the Potters to be their own destruction. He thought it would be neater. A problem that would take care of itself.
So he sought to give them the right tools to orchestrate Harry Potter's demise.
Creevey knew that James had been devastated when his brother turned fifteen. But by the time he'd come up with a plan, Albus was no longer an incentive to provoke James as strongly as before. So he waited. Because he knew what was coming.
Lily Potter's fifteenth birthday.
It was quite ingenious.
So apparently this is where Lulu Heap enters the narrative: He'd smelled the weakness on her like a rotting carcass. Not that he'd used those words, exactly. He didn't go into detail about how he'd manipulated her—probably something about being Muggleborns—I didn't care—but he had her plant the seeds that would grow into the Potters' subsequent actions. She befriended Albus (Creevey told her to play on his innate sense of virtue—funny, wasn't it? A Slytherin with virtue!), told him she wanted to start a club at Hogwarts for social and political issues, and it didn't take much for the idea to take a life of its own.
Knowing how motivated James was, that he would do anything to prevent Lily from suffering the same fate as Albus and him, Lulu's guidance was essential—without her, the Potters would have gone straight for the jugular (what this meant, I didn't know; did Creevey really think the Potters would commit patricide?) and that didn't work with Creevey's timeline.
Lily's birthday meant more than either of the Potter boys could have imagined.
It was Creevey's deadline, too.
With the Potters taking care of themselves now, Creevey had more time and energy to focus on the Minister.
Anyway, I was utterly convinced that there was nothing he didn't know. Not because he was smarter than me or better at magic than anyone else—but because he was shameless, guiltless, above nothing and without principle.
Apart from Cecily, of course.
She was the only thing that he had any moral code about.
It didn't make sense to me, his love for her. The kind of love that he would kill or be killed for. The concept was alien to me. Even when I willed it to happen with Albus, the feeling eluded me, like it was avoiding me.
A pointless course of thought.
The real problem here was that Creevey had rendered me useless. Worthless. He had told me everything and more, told me things that I could have used to wreak havoc, if I wanted, but I was bound tighter than a pig being roasted over a spit.
Part of me wanted to laugh, but then I also wanted to scream.
I hadn't moved from my bed since I'd woken up because from the minute I was conscious, I began going through every word, every turn of phrase, every double meaning in my vows, to find a way around. Was there something Creevey had missed? Something he'd overlooked in his haste? But no. He wasn't hasty ... and yet ...
Will you, Jane, abandon all your plans that involve Cecily Waters and her condition? Renounce all your beliefs about what the Executioner might mean and act as though the title had never been given to you?
Abandon my plans that involve Cecily and her condition. Did that mean I could do something—say something, at least—that had nothing to do with Cecily's "condition"? Renounce my beliefs about the meaning of the Executioner. That I could do easily. But act as though the title had never been given to me ... how would I do that?
And will you, Jane, swear not to harm me or Lulu Heap when I release you from the Imperius curse? Will you swear never to reveal the nature, content and context of any and all of our conversations, past, present and future?
His choice of words was faultless. Harm was so vague. Words could harm, pinching could harm. He made it so that I laboured over every word before I said them out loud. But what if someone else could harm him? If someone else did, and I asked them to, would the indirectness of the act be covered by the vow?
I discarded the idea—it was too risky.
The second clause of the vow was the most infuriating.
There was nothing I could do there—it was watertight.
And, if the time ever comes that you feel it … necessary … to end Cecily's life ... will you promise to break your wand in half and wield no other, so that you are unable to carry out that task?
I let the words sink into my mind, examining it for a flaw, for the chink in the armour. On the surface it appeared smooth and impenetrable, like the strongest metal on earth. There didn't seem to be a scratch on it and yet ... there was a flaw in it, wasn't there? I couldn't see it ... but the words rang in my mind discordantly. Somewhere, it struck a flat note. There was something he'd missed.
I set it aside for now, because my rage was coming back and I knew if I let it get to me, I would set something on fire. So I went back to the first clause, thinking it over. Obviously the words were designed to catch me out, to make me think that no matter what I did—for he knew I'd try to work may way around these vows—a trap was waiting for me.
Ugh—this was useless!
If only Cecily knew! If only she knew about the Muggleborn Obscurials! She would be distraught, driven to bloodlust and rage. She would surely call for blood. The Ministry's blood. With her power, she could bring them their knees. Change laws. Oust the Minister of Magic from power. Install herself or … or ...
There was nothing I could do.
Besides, Creevey was right. The second I told her that I'd met with him without telling anyone, she wouldn't trust me. Despite the fact that she believed Creevey was helping her, instinct would kick in. She would think I was brainwashed or Confunded, that as one of the people who suspected Creevey, it wouldn't make sense for me to believe him.
Could she be convinced that as the Executioner, I wouldn't be executing her but a plot?
Abruptly, I tore my sheets off me and swung my legs off my bed. Perched on the edge, I wondered what I was going to do.
That was when Roxy walked out of the bathroom, gaze sweeping over me and pretending like I wasn't there. I watched her as she dressed in sweats and a jumper, probably on her way to dinner. She looked up at me suddenly, her dark eyes like two stones. Our gazes locked and for a moment, we stayed like that. Both of us unmoving, both of us staring at the other with nothing to say.
I tore my eyes away from her and went to take a shower. As I turned the faucet on, I heard the door click shut. As I stepped into the lukewarm water, too impatient to wait for it to get hot, another thought entered my mind.
Was Roxy going to be a problem?
So … we are gathered here today … tonight, rather—' Kit broke off, seemingly confused. 'That sounded a lot like a wedding thing, didn't it? You know, the thing a priest says before he marries someone? Oh my God.' She looked at Charlie wildly. 'Do wizards have priests, Charlie?! Mum's Muggleborn—mum and dad didn't have a wizard's wedding! Will I have a wizard's wedding?! Do you guys use priests?!'
This question was directed at Rose, who grimaced like she was in pain. Charlie looked at her … then his gaze slid to Cecily, who had not met his eye once since she'd come in with Rose. Cecily hadn't left her side once, hovering behind her, attached to her hip. She was sitting beside Rose now, her eyes firmly planted on the floor. His eyes flickered over the rest of them: James, sitting forward eagerly; Albus, looking pale and exhausted (when didn't he?); Jane, who didn't look like she was paying attention to anything.
'Yes,' Rose said. 'We have priests. Some wizards and witches believe in Muggle religions. In fact, some people think Jesus was a wizard. You know, because of the water into wine thing. It's a simple transfiguration really—'
'Can we get back on topic?' James interrupted impatiently. 'Kit has something important to say.'
Charlie looked at his sister as she blushed a dull pink. His eyes darted between her and James suspiciously. She had told him to stop interfering in her love life—which he had—and she'd made a ridiculous mess of it, just like he knew she would. She was dating Jack Day, whom he hadn't spoken to in ages (Jack was avoiding him, the cowardly git), but still hung out with James, who was obsessed with her. It was slightly irritating that it was his sister that James fancied, but he supposed he couldn't begrudge his best friend actual happiness (but why did it have to be his sister?).
'That's right,' Kit said, raising her voice and looking at everyone importantly. 'It's quite simple really, the reason we're gathered here today … tonight.' Charlie caught the way Rose rolled her eyes. 'Er, it's about my dissertation.' She looked at James, who nodded encouragingly back, and swallowed nervously. 'Actually, it's not about my dissertation so much as what my dissertation is about … or what I found out about …'
'Kit,' Cecily said. Charlie looked at her, straightening up. It was the first time she'd spoken since arriving. 'What's going on? Is everything okay?'
'Oh yes! Everything's okay!' Then she was anxious. 'Well, as far as I know. Is there something I don't know?'
Charlie didn't miss the furtive look Cecily shot Jane—because he was watching her every move. But Jane didn't notice. She was still staring off into space, her eyes glazed, her expression blank. What was with her? Normally she'd be saying something aggravating or telling them that Cecily was falling behind on her training. She hadn't spoken to him since dropping the fucking Creevey bomb and, for some reason, it made him furious.
'Everything's fine, Kit,' James said restlessly. 'Just tell everyone your idea!'
'Stop pressuring me! You're making me nervous!'
'I'm not pressuring you!' He sounded affronted. 'I'm supporting you!'
'Support me less! Wait! No. Don't. Ugh!' Kit pressed her fingers to her temples and closed her eyes. 'Nothing's wrong! Nothing's wrong except … except for everything. I had an idea. And I wanted to see what you guys thought of it.' When she opened her eyes again, they were fixed on Charlie. 'I want … I want the Wave to come back. I have a cause and … and I think we … I think we should be the new Wave.'
No one said a word.
Out of the corner of his eye, Charlie saw James open his mouth. He didn't give him the chance.
'Absolutely not,' Charlie said flatly. Kit's features twisted wretchedly. But he wasn't going to fall for that. Those annoyingly big, pitiful eyes. She did that every time she wanted to get her way and she almost always did. Everyone thought she was an innocent idiot but she was far from it. 'The Wave is over, Kit. There's no fucking way.'
'Oh come on, Charlie,' Kit said exasperatedly. 'You don't understand. James explained the whole thing to me!' Albus shot James a look, which he ignored. 'It's not what you think! It's not about doing stupid, reckless things for no purpose. There was never meant to be any solutions to the problems they spoke about! Everything they did—both acts of—of—'
'Protest,' James supplied. He caught Charlie's furious eye and looked away hastily.
'Protest, yes, thank you James—both acts of protest were about disrupting society. About waking everyone up from their silent complicity in things that should matter. There are things we can't stay quiet about, Charlie! There's things we shouldn't be quiet about! I can see that now.' She tore her eyes away from him and looked at Cecily. 'You know what I realised, Cecily?'
She looked up at Kit, expression unreadable.
'I think … at different times … we've all said the same thing to you. We … we all said that … that someone should've been looking. The Ministry should've helped you and your family, right? Where were they when you started to show signs of magic? Surely they knew you were Muggleborn? Why weren't they looking? Why didn't they see you when you were drowning?'
Cecily's face paled.
Charlie made a jerky movement, as if to reach out and comfort her, but realised at the last minute that he was too far away. So he watched Rose take her hand, lacing her fingers tightly through hers. His brow furrowed as he stared at their intertwined hands.
What if the Heart means … friendship? Like Jane or … or Rose?
He shook the thought out of his head.
Just because he hadn't seen her the whole day didn't mean that she didn't love him anymore. He was being insecure and ridiculous. He knew she was just avoiding him—avoiding him because he kept bringing up things she didn't want to talk about. Like Creevey. And the Grey Lady. He resolved to not talk about them anymore. Well, not until he was sure she wasn't mad at him.
'They would if they could have,' Cecily said, her voice barely above a whisper. 'They couldn't have known.'
'No. They should know better than anyone,' Rose said, to Charlie's surprise. Of everyone here, he had assumed that she would disagree as strongly as he did to the Wave reorganising. Frowning, she looked at James, as though searching for confirmation of something. 'There's a Trace on every witch and wizard in Great Britain. Cecily performing underaged magic should have flared up like a beacon.' Her gaze slid back to Cecily. 'They would've known at once that you were a Muggleborn.'
Cecily let out a breathless laugh. 'What does it matter?' She looked at Kit. 'What does any of it matter? They didn't look. They didn't see what was happening and it's too late to fix that.'
'No it's not,' Kit breathed. 'It's not too late. I want to make the … the loudest statement yet, Cecily. I want to make the Ministry acknowledge their mistake. They should've looked! Just think how many other Muggleborns they might have ignored! Think about the possibility of other Obscurials like you out there!' Cecily's face was ashen with horror. 'I can't be quiet about this, Cecily. Even if you don't want to do this …'
She looked at James, for that support she supposedly didn't want. He took her hand in his, squeezing it. Charlie's eyes lingered there for a moment before flicking up to meet Kit's. She reacted at once—retracting her hand and wiping it on her jeans like she'd touched something contaminated. And, because he couldn't help it, he looked at James. He was frowning.
'This is a worthy cause, Cecily,' Kit said quickly. 'Something to scream about, don't you think? Something to set the Ministry on fire for!'
Albus, Rose and James all reacted at once to that, stiffening in surprise. Everyone noticed it. Kit looked at James sheepishly.
'No,' James said, sounding slightly strained. 'Well, yes actually.'
Rose laughed a little maniacally.
As always, it fell on Charlie to be the voice of reason.
'And what are you planning on doing exactly?' he said, unable to restrain the edge of disbelief and anger colouring his voice. Kit looked at him, grimacing. 'What's your genius plan this time?'
'Well,' she began defensively. 'I don't have one. I wanted to see if you guys thought it was a good idea first—'
'It's not! It's not a good idea!' Charlie said loudly. He shook his head, jaw clenching. 'Sorry but—Kit, you're not getting yourself expelled because you've turned into a political activist overnight. I won't allow it!'
'This isn't a political issue!' Kit protested furiously. 'This is about the children, Charlie!'
'Where's your proof?!' he demanded. 'Where’s the proof that there are Muggleborns out there like Cecily—’
A strangled, choking noise interrupted him.
Everyone turned to look at Jane. She was sat ramrod straight in the armchair, her face bright red, her mouth pressed into a furious white line. Her eyes darted between Charlie and Kit.
'What?' Charlie demanded.
Jane opened her mouth, then closed it. She looked like she was going to explode. Albus' brow furrowed slightly.
She looked like she was desperately trying to say something but couldn't. After a charged moment, Jane exhaled, the blood draining from her face. She slumped against the armchair, looking positively furious.
'Jane?' Albus said. 'Are you—'
'I'm fine,' she snapped. She looked at Charlie with what he thought was unwarranted loathing. 'Don't ask her for proof you thickheaded neanderthal! Find it your fucking self if you need it so badly! Do you think your sister is stupid enough to make baseless accusations without doing the research? If you think your sister is a fucking imbecile then just say it, Murphy!'
James sucked the air between his teeth. Charlie shot him a look of disbelief but James only shrugged. The fucking twat.
'I won't allow it, Kit,' Charlie said fiercely, turning back to her. This was insane! Why was no one agreeing with him?! Couldn't they see what a terrible idea this was? 'Every act of protest—' he said this with unmasked disgust '—has been a fucking disaster! The Forest fire nearly killed you! We almost tore Hogwarts apart trying to stop Lulu from destroying the Sorting Hat! None of you have even stopped to think what Imogen, Rudolph or Lulu might do because they hate us! We already have a fucking target on our backs! And I know this is something you care about but I won't let you risk—'
'Let me? Let me!' Kit rose to her feet, her face incandescent with incredulity. 'I thought I told you that that bullshit was over, Charlie! You can't let me do anything! I don't need your permission! I'm seventeen! Out of all the girls here—I'm the one who can do something! I'm responsible for myself! I'm not some stupid, helpless, idiot! I know what the risks are! I'm willing to face the the consequences, Charlie! For this, I would gladly get expelled! This is more important than you or me or mum and dad or school! And if you can't see that—then I don't know who are you anymore!'
Charlie stared at his sister, completely speechless.
'Isn't she incredible?' James said wondrously to no one.
Kit was still looking at him, but her features softened, like butter melting, and she looked unhappy again.
'I'm sorry but it's true, Charlie,' she said. 'If the others agree to do this … you won't be able to stop me. And I want you to help us, but I understand if you won't.' She addressed the rest of them at large. 'This isn't just important to me. That's the problem. This should be important to everybody.'
Charlie turned to Cecily and was unsurprised to find her looking straight back at him.
He couldn't read the expression on her face but, somehow, he knew exactly what she was looking for. It felt like he'd be hammering the last nail on the coffin that was their relationship if he didn't voice his opinion. How could Cecily trust him, how would she ever believe him when he said he loved her, if he didn't think this … cause … was worth the risks and consequences? It would be tantamount to saying he didn't think she was worth fighting for. And he knew where stood on that point at least.
'Of course it's important to me.' When he spoke, he spoke only to her. 'But it isn't up to you, Kit. It's up to Cecily. This may be your idea but … this is Cecily's cause. So? What do you say, Cecily? You know I'm with you—no matter what.'
Her eyes flickered away from him. She looked at everyone, biting her lip. A nervous habit that made Charlie ache to press his lips against hers. But he followed her gaze, trying to see what she was seeing. Both James and Albus were impassive and unreadable as always—although, the former seemed amused. Kit was nervous, of course, but hopeful. Rose was still frowning, as though she was thinking very hard about something. And Jane … Jane was paying attention now, sharply, almost hungrily focused on Cecily.
'I … I don't know,' she said. 'I get what you're saying Kit but … this has never been my thing, you know? My problems aren't everyone else's—'
'But that's not what this is,' Rose interrupted. She seemed to have made a decision about something. 'We're not making your problem everyone else's. What happened to you might be happening to other children. And I can't … I can't stand the idea of that. Can you?'
Cecily looked at Rose, startled. Then her features crumpled. She buried her head in her hands and Rose's arms automatically went around her. Cecily pressed her face against Rose's chest. Charlie took a step forward, heart leaping, but didn't dare move any closer. Was she crying?
There was a moment of silence where no one said anything. Charlie wasn't even sure if anyone was breathing. Then—
He had Cecily in his arms in less than a second. He crushed her against him, feeling her wild heartbeat slam against his. He wound his fingers through her bleach white hair, soft and shiny, falling in waves that looked like snow down her back—and she smelled like snow, clean and piercing, fresh and like the blue sky. He couldn't risk losing her. Apart from his family, she was the most important—most precious thing to him.
'What should I do?'
He felt, rather than heard, the words vibrate against his chest. They were meant for him and only him. He buried his face in her hair, his lips at her ear. She felt so small and fragile in his arms. In that moment, it seemed utterly impossible that she was a force of destructive rage.
'It's your choice, Cecily,' he murmured, just to her. 'But I'm with you, always. Can't you see it now? How easy you are to love?' She laughed a watery laugh of disbelief; he held her closer, almost trying to fuse with her 'Everyone here loves you so much that they will do anything—follow you anywhere. And that's how much I love you. Whatever you decide.'
Cecily gently pulled away, furtively wiping her eyes with the sleeves of her jumper. When she faced everyone—Kit anxiously perched on the edge of her seat, like a bird about to take flight—she drew in a deep, steadying breath. Charlie squeezed her hand reassuringly.
'Okay,' Cecily said. 'We … we find proof first. Make sure that I'm not the only one—because if it was just me, then this isn't a cause and it would be … revenge. And I don't do revenge.' She threw James a fierce, piercing look. He gazed back mildly. 'So we do this the right way. No fuck ups. No duels or mistakes. We do it right. And this time, we give them a solution. We're going to fix the problem … if there is one.'
'I'm in,' Rose said firmly.
Cecily looked at her with a radiant smile.
'I am,' Kit said happily. 'Of course in!'
'Since you'll need someone to make sure no one dies,' James said. 'I don't see how I can't be there.'
Cecily narrowed her eyes at him but before she could retort, Albus followed up with a 'I'm in, Waters' and her irritation subsided. She turned to face Charlie.
'I already told you,' he said, smiling faintly. 'I'll follow you any—'
There was another strangled, choking noise. It was Jane again. But this time she was—was she laughing? She had staggered to her feet, her hands on her knees, her whole body shaking with the force of her hysterical laughter. She managed to straighten up for a moment, tears of mirth running down her cheeks, but as soon as she looked at Cecily, her face contorted and she was laughing uncontrollably again.
'What the hell is wrong with you?' Charlie demanded.
Jane tried to reply but it was incomprehensible. She wiped the tears from her eyes and tried again. 'Nothing!' She threw her head back and laughed and laughed. They all watched her stumble towards the hearth, propping herself against it, catching her breath. 'I've never been better! Ha!'
'I think that might mean she's in,' James observed.
This sent Jane into another bout of laughter which no one could bring her back from.
Two things: 1) the description of the Unbreakable Vow was taken basically word for word from the sixth book because ... well ... it was perfectly written and this is all a fever dream of plagiarism anyway haha, and 2) the little speech James recites to Albus is paraphrased slightly from something Snape says to Harry when teaching him Occlumency.
What else? I'm not terribly happy with this chapter—I wrote it almost immediately after I'd posted the previous chapter and have spent some days editing, but for whatever reason, it's been fighting me for perfection lol. ANYWAYS, thank you ALL for your amazing reviews and to every silent reader—THANK YOU!
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