Chapter 15 : Midnight Stroll, Fifth Year.
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Beta'd by Gina (justonemorefic).
From an idea by shanelizken!
The room was dark. The faces of Hogwarts’ old headmasters peered out of the gloom, spluttering and snoozing in their sleep. A single beam of wand light flittered around the room and illuminated the hundreds of books and small ornaments that lined the shelves. The jewels on the sword of Gryffindor twinkled in the light, and the Sorting Hat snored from the shadows.
A boy, dressed in pyjamas, crept around the room. His feet made no noise on the dark oak floor, a bag slung over his shoulder. Upon approaching a large chest, he withdrew a huge collection of old keys from his pocket. He picked one and stuck it in the lock. It clicked open and he lifted the lid gently. A strange clicking and whirring emerged from the wooden box, and he swiftly closed it and looked around, scared that the sound has woken the portraits or worse, the headmaster himself. He then proceeded to open cupboards and drawers and hidden doors, rummaging through papers and files and broken quills and bottles of ink. He paused occasionally, and looked up at the old sleeping professors to check that they had not awoken and, after a moment of silence, returned to his work.
A cat shot out from the gloom, weaving quickly between the boy’s legs. He moved to steady himself, and stood on the cat’s tail. It shrieked and clawed at his pyjama trousers, still mewing profusely. The boy tried to pull the cat off him, but he fell to the floor with a loud crash and a loud swear word.
Another wand was ignited, and the room was suddenly filled with light. The boy blinked stupidly, and the cat wandered off, leaving his trousers in tatters. The portraits stirred.
“What are you doing here?”
The boy rubbed his eyes and grumbled, faking tiredness. He yawned loudly, stretching his arms hugely.
“Potter, what are you doing here? You should know that this is the headmaster’s private study, you’ve been here enough times.”
James Potter opened his eyes wide. The headmaster - Professor Greenberg - was tall and imposing and cloaked in a long, dark green dressing gown. His eyes were drooping with tiredness, but his mouth was flattened into a straight, thin-lipped grimace. It made him look older than his fifty years.
“James Potter. What are you doing in my office?”
James’ heart race increased as it always did when he had to improvise or when he was being told off. He loved the adrenaline rush. It was the same with Quidditch. It was what made it so addicting and so exciting.
“What?” He mumbled, making his voice thin and weak as if he was confused.
“Potter. Listen to me,” Greenberg said, “you have been caught sneaking around the headmaster’s study at an ungodly hour. Why are you here?”
“But I was... I was just in my...”
“In your what, Potter?”
“In my bed. Which started to fly.”
“Potter, if you are making a joke, you should know now that I am not in any mood for frivolity.”
“No, sir. I promise I’m not joking, sir.”
Greenberg crossed his arms, and looked down at James. The headmaster had a snout-like nose, and thick, greying hair and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. James recalled the many times that he and Amelie had made fun of Greeny and his nose. He also remembered the many times the professor had told off the two of them.
James took a deep breath in, and a deep breath out. It steadied his heart rate.
“Well, sir, I was in my bed. Then my blankets became massive wings and I flew down into the Gryffindor common room where there was a gigantic acromantula so I had to fight it before it ate my mother and some first years. Then it came back to life and I had to run out of the common room and down a massive slide and then I was attacked by a tiger and then you woke me up.”
Greenberg stared down at James, his eyebrow cocked and his upper lip curling. James toyed with the shirt of his pyjamas.
“What are you trying to say to me, Potter? That you think this is all a dream?”
James knew it would be too far if he extended his hand and touched the headmaster in the chest, as if to check he was real. Instead he yawned again, and shuffled his feet.
“No, sir, of course not.”
“Will you tell me why you are here?” Greenberg said angrily, “otherwise I will once again have to threaten you with a detention and a letter to your parents.”
“I told you sir,” James replied, pouting slightly, “I was on a slide and then I was attacked by a tiger.”
“So you are trying to tell me that you were sleep walking.”
Greenberg’s voice was disbelieving and monotone. James smiled inwardly.
“I suppose so,” he answered brightly, pushing his small bag behind his back so that the professor did not see it, “but you can never really tell. I really thought I was being attacked by a tiger.”
“And, Anton, it is very bad luck to wake a sleepwalker.”
James and Professor Greenberg looked up. The old teachers in the portraits were fully awake now, and listening intently to their conversation. A very old man, with long grey hair and beard and half-moon spectacles, smiled down at James. His eyes were twinkling blue and James was pretty sure that there was a picture of the man at his home in Godric’s Hollow. It was his brother Albus’ namesake.
“Dumbledore,” Greenberg said exasperatedly, “please, let’s be serious. I’m very tired and I think that…”
“I once sleepwalked all the way from the kitchens to the top of the Astronomy Tower in my third year,” Dumbledore reminisced, smiling crookedly, “I had fallen asleep in my midnight bowl of porridge and dreamt that I was chasing after a gigantic dirigible plum.”
The current headmaster pinched the bridge of his nose and frowned as the other portraits became involved in the conversation, each adding their own anecdote or angry comment and suddenly their talk and laughter filled the room.
“I remember,” Dumbledore continued and the other old headmasters fell silent, “that I thought of the twelfth use of dragon’s blood while dreaming. Turns out I had unconsciously headed down to the potions cupboard and stuck my hand in a barrel of the stuff.”
Greenberg opened his mouth to interrupt, but an old man with shiny black hair was too quick for him. James chuckled quietly at the indignant look on his headmaster’s face.
“Oh do be serious, Dumbledore,” Phineas Nigellus answered, “We all know that you didn’t discover those uses. According to Rita Skeeter…”
“Phineas, we all know that the only truthful thing Rita Skeeter has written was something to do with the state of your hair and that marvellous story about a young Harry Potter!”
“Harry Potter! Now there’s a boy who did plenty of ‘sleep-walking’, if you know what I mean.”
“If you mean that he was always out of bed and traipsing around with that stupid map and his invisibility cloak, then yes, he was a sleep walker. He was out and about walking when other people were sleeping!”
James felt a burning sense of appreciation for his father, who had once told his children all about his various escapades around school. He had handed down his invisibility cloak to James and the Marauder’s map to Albus. He had told them of the Room of Requirement, of the various hidden passageways, of the Chamber of Secrets.
“Would please all be quiet whilst I try and make up my mind?” Greenberg said loudly, gesticulating wildly. It reminded James of the time that Greeny caught him and Amelie sneaking into Hogsmeade last year.
“Just let him off,” one headmistress said from the last frame by the door, “you always do because you want his father and uncle to come in and talk about the war next Friday.”
Greenberg crossed his arms, his eyebrows knitting together in thought.
“And if you give Potter Junior another detention for… for sleep-walking,” the woman said tiredly as it was the stupidest thing in the world, “then you know his mother will come in and shout and make a fuss and her husband won’t come in and give the talk and your students will have no inspirational figures and go mad and riot and hang you off the flagpole by your underwear like the Slytherins used to do to you when you were at school.”
James used all of his power to keep the laughter inside his lungs. Greenberg blushed, pushing his glasses further up his nose and shoving his hands deep inside his dressing gown pockets.
“Am I dreaming?” James asked innocently. Greenberg glared at him.
“I always thought you were a very gifted student, Anton. A little reserved, but very bright,” Dumbledore added.
“Perhaps, Greenberg,” Phineas Nigellus continued, “perhaps you could use some of those brains to try and stop this infernal rain!”
“You can leave now,” the headmaster said and James smirked, “but if you feel like a midnight stroll through my private quarters again then I will have a talk with your parents about suspension.”
James rolled his eyes. Like that was going to happen.
“Don’t mention the underwear thing to anyone. Especially not Professor Harding.”
“Of course not, sir. I wouldn’t dream of it.”
Greenberg nodded thoughtfully. Some of the old headmasters were laughing in their frames. Dumbledore winked at James as he left.
James smiled as he descended the moving staircase. He knew would always be able to improvise his way out of anything. And if he couldn’t, then he could always bring back childhood memories of being suspended from a flagpole by your underwear, and he was sure the headmaster didn’t want that being spread around.
He ducked around a corner, and paused to slip his hand into his bag. He pulled out a folded sheet of parchment and tapped it once with his wand.
“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
James quickly located the dot he was looking for, and slung the invisibility cloak around his shoulders. He traced it with his fingers, turning left and right through the corridors of Hogwarts. He was close, he just needed to turn right and head up another staircase and he would find her. They needed to plan the next few stages of the prank. He had failed to retrieve what he was after in the headmaster’s study, and now he and Amelie would have to plan what was going to happen next.
James stopped on the middle step of the staircase, and stared at the map. Another dot had appeared, right next to Amelie’s, and James ignited his wand to examine the name more closely.
Distinguishing his wand light, James rushed up the stairs and onto the corridor where Amelie and Clements were standing. He crept silently, trying to ignore the snores of the portraits or the clanking of moving suit of armour. An owl hooted somewhere. Someone snorted with laughter.
James could tell he was close. He didn’t need to look at the map.
Amelie was against the wall, dressed in her pyjamas. Clements was standing close to her - too close to her - and his hand was resting on her hip. James raised his eyebrows.
Clements was whispering something in Amelie’s ear, and she was smiling, her hands resting on his forearms. James wanted to look away, but he didn’t really know what to do. Part of him wanted to run up to them and pull them apart, still thinking of Amelie as the little girl he had met on the station wearing dungarees. Another part of him suggested that he should just leave them be, that Amelie was man enough to take care of herself. Clements was reasonable at Quidditch and Fred had told James that he was pretty clever, so perhaps he was all right.
Clements pressed his lips to Amelie’s cheek, and she laughed again. Her fingers entwined with his.
James found himself pulling off the invisibility cloak, as if it was somehow impairing his sight. His feet were moving of their own accord towards the couple. He saw Clements move closer to Amelie. Their lips met.
It was weird. It was like the time James and Albus had spied on Lily, when she went to playground with the boy from her Muggle primary school. They had kissed then, but it was after he had proposed to her with a liquorice ring, and it had been messily on the cheek. There had been jam everywhere.
James was watching someone kiss Amelie. Someone was kissing his sister, but at the same time he was watching someone kiss his partner in crime and his Quidditch buddy and his Potions partner and his best friend and his girl. There was no jam now.
James clenched his jaw. He couldn’t look away. Her hands were now around his neck, and she was closing her eyes and stroking his hair and making noises and...
James blinked twice. The invisibility cloak slipped from his fingers and he quickly bent to pick it up. He mumbled something incoherently and he heard Clements snigger smugly. James growled. Perhaps he wasn’t all right after all.
“Potter,” the blond boy said haughtily. His hand was resting on Amelie’s lower back.
“Clements,” James answered, “what are you doing up so late?”
“I could ask the same of you,” Clements said, looking pointedly at the ends of James’ pyjama trousers, which were in tatters from the evil cat that loitered around Greenberg’s study.
“I asked first,” James replied quickly.
“I was just taking a midnight stroll...”
“I’m sure you were,” James mumbled, and Amelie shot him a glare.
“...And I bumped into Amelie. She looked so lonely so I thought I would keep her company.”
“How chivalrous,” James added sarcastically. Amelie clenched her jaw as the blond boy removed his hand from her back.
“Right, well I’m going to go,” Clements said, turning to face Amelie, whose eyes were now fixed on the floor, “I’ll see you around, Amelie? Perhaps tomorrow?”
She nodded, still not looking at him. She shifted her feet.
“Potter,” Clements said in farewell, turning around and walking down the corridor and out of sight. James grimaced and Amelie turned to face him.
“So. Did you get it?” She asked.
“I didn’t. There was a cat and the portraits and it was dark and did you know that Greeny used to get bullied when he was here?”
“Well that’s great. That’s really, really fantastic,” she replied sarcastically, “what are we meant to tell the Slytherins now?”
“We can just tell them that the competition’s over. We’re forfeiting this round.”
“So they get to gloat and tell the whole school how they beat the famous James Potter? I don’t think so. I don’t want to be friends with someone who is such a push-over.”
“So what do you suggest?” James asked loudly and angrily. He couldn’t get the picture of Clements with his hands clamped around Amelie’s waists and his lips on hers out of his head. It was distressing when all he usually thought about was Quidditch.
Amelie shrugged. Her hair was still a bit dishevelled from where Clements had run his fingers through it.
“Perhaps you could ask your new boyfriend what he would do. He looks like a stand-up guy,” James said sardonically. Amelie sighed exasperatedly.
“Merlin, James. You are so very irritating.”
“Are you two dating now? Are you going to do the whole holding hands and red roses and going to Madame Puddifoots thing? Because I’m really not all right with that.”
“It’s not like you’ll be coming along with us.”
“Oh so you are going to Puddifoots?”
Amelie stiffened. James laughed.
“No, really. That’s hilarious. I know how much you like pink and dainty cups of tea and cupids and confetti and cucumber sandwiches and public displays of affection...”
“Shut up James.”
“I can imagine you two now, in the future, outside your grand country house with your two little daughters dressed in identical outfits and a unicorn in the front garden and flowers everywhere and you’re wearing a nice pink flowery dress and you smell of flowers and sunshine and rainbows and all that is good in the world.”
“And I can imagine you all alone with a bottle of firewhisky and daddy issues. Can we move on now?”
“No,” James teased. Amelie smiled and punched him lightly on the shoulder. He felt better. It was simply his overprotective brotherliness coming into play, he convinced himself. He would hate it if some boy was touching Lily in that way.
“Please James. Don’t mess this up for me.”
“Who said that I was going to mess anything up?”
Amelie raised her eyebrows disbelieving.
“Alright, fine. I won’t do anything. But if he turns up tomorrow with an elephant’s trunk instead of a nose, just know it’s not my fault.”
She rolled her eyes.
“I think that you are just...”
They both heard footsteps approaching. James quickly looked at the Marauder’s Map, only to see two moving blobs heading their way. They both dived underneath the invisibility cloak and watched as an ancient Argus Filch shuffled along, coughing and wheezing and pulling a boy along by the ear. It was Nicholas Clements. James clamped a hand over Amelie’s mouth to stop her from gasping.
“What are you doing up so late, boy?”
“I was sleep walking,” Clements answered, wincing as Filch pinched harder on his ear.
“Rubbish excuse, nobody gets away with that one.”
James smirked from underneath the cloak. Filch pinched Clements again, and he cried out. James heard Amelie gasp and he rolled his eyes.
“The Potter boy is out tonight,” Clements said quickly, “he’s planning a prank in the Headmaster’s office.”
Filch smiled crookedly, and sniffed the air like a bloodhound. James wanted to rush out from underneath the cloak, hex him and then punch him in the gut.
“No one likes a tattletale, boy,” he said smarmily, “but I’ll left you off. Is that girl with him again? Hughes? Hollis?”
“No,” Clements replied dramatically, chest heaving as if Argus Filch pinching you on the ear rivalled being hit in the stomach by a bludger, “Amelie’s in the common room.”
James heard Amelie sigh lovingly and he grimaced. He mimed vomiting and Amelie hit him on the shoulder. Filch and Clements wandered off further down the corridor in the direction of the Headmaster’s office. James was sure that Greeny would be wonderfully happy to have another visitor so late at night.
Amelie pulled the invisibility cloak away from them and began walking in the direction of the Gryffindor common room, James following her closely, checking the way was clear on the Marauder's map.
They had reached the corridor with the portrait of the Fat Lady, and Amelie paused, turning to James. Her eyes were slightly glazed over.
“Nick asked me on a date yesterday,” she said. The Fat Lady snored blissfully in her frame as James stored the map away.
“That’s why we were kissing,” she explained, “I’m not some...”
“You’re not some sort of slag,” James finished for her, struggling to forget the picture of Amelie twirling Clements’ blond hair in her fingers.
“I just thought we should make that clear,” she said quietly, “It’s the first time I’ve done this.”
“What, talked about your feelings?” James asked sarcastically and Amelie smiled.
“No. Dated anyone.” She was blushing, and James could see what Nicholas Clements could see in her. She was nice to look at. She answered questions in class. She made people laugh. She was really good at pranking people.
“So you’re asking me for advice...” James said uncertainly as the two of them made their way into the empty common room. Amelie shook her head violently.
“The only advice you give that is worth listening to is stuff about skiving lessons or Quidditch or pranking.”
“You never know, I could be a real romantic at heart.”
“I’m sure you are,” Amelie answered, fiddling with a hole in her jumper. They both sat down on the sofa in front of the dwindling fire. James fixed his torn pyjamas trousers with a wave of his wand. The rain thundered against the windows.
“You’ve been with girls before, though. At Quidditch parties and stuff. I’ve seen you.”
James wondered whether she had thought about jam and jealously and hair twirling and brothers and sisters at those Quidditch parties.
“I haven’t been with a girl, not in that way,” James said quietly, hoping she picked up on the euphemism, “and I wouldn’t really call what I’ve done dating. It’s nothing special.”
Amelie nodded. They both felt uncomfortable. They rarely made anything serious unless it was about Quidditch or raging a pranking war with the Slytherins.
“So you can’t give me any advice,” she said with a hint of laughter.
“It’s times like these when you wish you had a girl for a best friend,” James answered, smiling.
“No,” Amelie grimaced, “they’d force me to wear pink and perfume and like unicorns.”
“I could write to Victoire if you want. I know she’s into all that.”
“Please don’t. She’ll feel she’d have to visit us and then we’d have to speak to her.”
“Good point,” James replied, and the two of them laughed before falling into a comfortable silence.
“I just want to know,” she started unsurely, “whether you... whether you think that... whether you are all right with this. With me and Nick.”
James found himself inexplicably drawn to her lips. He watched them form the words before his brain recognised the words and processed them. He kept thinking of her kissing Clements in a dimly lit corridor, in a dimly lit classroom, in a dimly lit bedroom...
“Yeah,” he answered, “I’m fine with it.”
“Are you sure?”
“As long as your first born child is called James then I’m totally happy for you.”
“Oh please, I’m going to call it Jimmy. Just to piss you off.”
“I hate you.”
“You love me.”
TWO MORE! GAAAAAAH.
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