Chapter 25 : Brave Heart
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Life Is Good - Junk
‘Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.’
It had been two weeks. Two weeks since she’d put the accursed bracelet back on her wrist.
A lot of things could happen in two weeks. A lot of things had.
Ravenclaw and Slytherin had played the second Quidditch game of the season, which Anastacia hadn’t seen. Slytherin had employed some truly underhand tactics, by all accounts, resulting in multiple penalties for the Ravens, who had then caught the Snitch into the bargain. Needless to say, Slytherin as a whole was unimpressed.
Professor Ramira had been asked to speak at a big conference on Ancient Runes in Europe. She was away for nearly a fortnight, and had given the Seventh Year Ancient Runes class a huge translation task to complete in the mean time, along with some rather nasty threats of what she would do if they did not. Anastacia, who had completed the task on the day she’d received it, was therefore able to spend more blissful, if slightly frantic, hours in the library, researching.
Camsin Alecto had rejoined Anastacia’s Guard. He had been summoned home early one morning, as had Creeten and Scorpius. Celeste had come to tell Anastacia, who then received a letter from her mother, explaining the situation. Camsin’s father, who was a member of the Court Guard, had died suddenly. The letter hadn’t explained why, but the fact that her parents had attended the funeral suggested that he’d died while on Court business. Which raised another question; what was her father up to? What had Guillaume got his hands in this time? Information wasn’t forthcoming from either her mother or any of Celeste’s usual sources. The boys had returned a few days later, Camsin with eyes still tinged red from crying. Scorpius had then called a meeting where Camsin had been sworn back in as a member of the Guard. Watching this, Anastacia reflected on just how much things had changed since the beginning of the school year. Creeten had been the one to kick Camsin out, and now he was back, and there was nothing Creeten could do about it. And what’s more, he knew it. Scorpius was the one who wielded the real power now.
On a lighter note, Sam and Jaya had become a couple. This was surprising, and, to a degree, unexpected. Not just a couple who went to Hogsmeade together occasionally, which was all anyone had really ever seen in the cards for them, but a couple-couple. In the same sense that James and Stac were a couple. Although maybe not in the exact same sense, seeing as Jaya wasn’t wearing a piece of jewellery preventing Sam from touching her. They seemed very happy together.
Stac was trying very hard not to be too jealous of her friend.
Granted, Jaya was doing her best to still be there to help with the research and whatnot. But it did make things a little awkward at times. And it wasn’t as if Stac could go up and barge into the Seventh Year girl’s dorm anymore, either. You could never be sure what you’d…find there, now, as Stac and Margie had learned from experience.
So there were changes all round.
But the biggest change of all had come at the end of the two weeks, after dinner on the Sunday night. Anastacia had spent nearly the entire day researching. Scorpius and Rose had been with her for most of it, and Owen had joined them when Rose left to patrol the corridors. It was getting on for eight o’clock, and they were about to finish up for the evening. Stac was gathering up her books to return them to the shelves when her hand fell on a small volume. Without really knowing why, she put down the rest of the books and picked that one up.
It wasn’t a book of potions, or history, or any of the myriad of other subjects they’d tried in the hopes of finding something, anything, about blood magic. It was a book of Ancient Runes. Owen must have brought it over – he was finishing off Ramira’s assignment in his breaks from researching. The book wasn’t one that Stac had looked through before. It was complex and difficult, ambitious even for Owen. He seemed to have felt the same way – she was sure he hadn’t used it in his assignment.
Idly, she flicked through the pages. It seemed to be a book of stories, although there were a few spells and potions thrown in here and there, seemingly at random. It was hand-written, not printed, and some parts of the book seemed to have been added much later than others.
But it was one of the stories, not a spell, that caught Stac’s eye. Slowly, she blinked. Then blinked again.
The story was pretty standard – it was about a Princess, locked up by her father, who didn’t want her to get married and have some young hotshot threaten his hold on the kingdom. But the merit was in the detail – the king had bound his daughter to the wall of her room with a magic chain. Magic that was worked using her blood.
It seemed that the princess had managed, with the help of a handsome prince, of course, to find a way out of her chain.
Her heart in her mouth, Stac read through the rest of the story and then, almost trembling, turned the page. Some of the other stories were followed by spells that had something to do with the spells used in the story.
The page after the story contained a potion recipe.
A recipe like the one the princess had used.
A potion to break the hold of blood magic.
‘I’ve found it,’ she whispered, so softly that neither of the boys heard her. Looking up, she could barely form the words a second time.
‘I’ve found it.’
Owen and Scorpius glanced up, almost idly. Their eyes were blank, glazed after hours and hours of fruitless research; they hadn’t even registered what she’d said.
But Anastacia’s blazing face soon changed that.
‘Here,’ and she held out the book.
Scorpius took it from her carefully, cradling it as if it were made of gold.
‘But that’s a book of runes,’ Owen protested, ‘they’re fairytales. I was going to look through it for the assignment, but I couldn’t make sense of the syntax.’
Scorpius handed the book back.
‘I can’t read it,’ he said in a quiet voice, ‘are you sure it’s right?’
And she was. There was no way it could be anything else. They may have to adjust it a little, make a few tweaks here and there, but now they had something to go on. Now they knew what they were working with, whereas before they’d had no idea.
‘The library is closing. I suggest you make ready to leave.’
They all jumped. Madam Pince could do that to you. Her voice, when you weren’t expecting it, was rather like a bucket of ice-water being thrown unceremoniously over your head.
Stac grabbed her bag and the book and followed the librarian back to her desk.
‘Excuse me, Madam Pince, but may I borrow this book?’
She held out the small manuscript, reluctant to let it go even for a moment. The librarian examined the small volume.
‘That book,’ she pronounced in an unpromising tone of voice, ‘is very old, and very delicate. I do not think at all that it would be a good idea for it to leave the safety of the library.’
‘Please, Madam Pince,’ Stac struggled to keep the pleading note from her voice, ‘please. It’s very important.’
The librarian pursed her lips, her lips taking on the appearance of small, wrinkled prunes. She looked up at the girl in front of her, ready to refuse.
But something in the blue eyes stopped her. Some glimmer of…what was it? Desperation? Could it be hope? Whatever it was, it made Irma Pince close her mouth and change her mind. Instead of refusing, she nodded.
Thanking her, Stac turned on her heel and sped from the library, unwilling to give the librarian even a moment to change her mind.
‘So, it’s a start, at least,’ Stac concluded when they were all gathered in the Heads’ common room half an hour later. Owen, Rose and Scorpius were on the couch, while Sam and Jaya were both crammed into one of the armchairs. Stac and James were currently facing each other…from opposite sides of the room.
It was little things like that which constantly reminded her that they hadn’t won. Yet.
‘If you translate it, I can help you suss out modifications,’ Jaya offered, ‘only, I won’t be much good to you if it stays in runes.’
‘I’ll give you a copy tomorrow,’ Stac promised.
‘It’s not going be easy,’ Owen sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly, ‘regardless of what modifications we make.’
‘Yeah, well, it is blood magic, mate,’ Sam countered, ‘no one ever expected it to be easy.’
‘Yeah, I know, but aside from that. From what I can pick up, the potion itself has to be made fast. Really fast. The margin for error is tiny.’
‘And some of these ingredients are going to be difficult, I can see that already,’ Anastacia added, ‘there’s things I’ve barely even heard of. The only way we can get a hold of them is…well,’ she paused, ‘to raid the Dandy’s personal stores, I guess.’
‘Oh, great,’ Rose groaned softly. James was grinning.
‘She’s thinking of this story our parents used to tell. Well, our Dads, really. Back when they were in second year, Aunt Hermione made a Polyjuice potion.’
‘Was that the year your father defeated the Basilisk?’ Stac asked eagerly.
‘Yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, they needed some hard to get ingredients, so they raided Severus Snape’s storeroom. He was the Potions Professor at the time. He didn’t catch them, and he could never prove it, but he obviously knew it was them.’
‘I promised myself I wouldn’t end up like my dad,’ muttered Rose darkly.
‘You mean your mum,’ James corrected blithely, ‘it was all her idea, after all.’
‘Anyway,’ Stac continued in a loud voice, interrupting the fight before it could develop, ‘we’re going to need to get into his stores. Which means we need to find out where they are, for a start, and then we need to find a time when he isn’t there. And then we need some sort of a plan or a…a…lookout, or something.’
‘What about a distraction?’ Sam asked in a deceptively innocent voice. All eyes in the room went to him.
‘What kind of a distraction?’ Jaya asked suspiciously, ‘Because if it’s along the lines of what you guys usually do, then I am not getting involved.’
Stac felt James’ sudden look as if he’d touched her, and she blushed. Yes, okay, it was partially her fault that the boys had developed such a reputation over the years, but they’d contributed too! She was, however, a little glad that Jaya didn’t know the part she’d had in their adventures. Somehow she didn’t think her friend would understand.
‘Something small,’ Sam was saying, ‘enough that it gets him out of his office, but not big enough to attract too much attention.’
‘Why his office?’ Rose queried, frowning. Sam shrugged.
‘Okay, so maybe not his office. Wherever his storeroom is. We’ll find it, and then come up with something. Maybe some of us could take care of the distraction and the others could get the stuff we need.’
‘So, what do we actually need?’ Owen asked.
‘Lots, actually. The list of ingredients is pretty long. Umm…’
Stac paused to read the recipe again.
‘Okay, so some we can get easily. Lionfish spines, I’ve got those, hellebore, wormwood, aconite.’
‘Are you sure this is the right one?’ Jaya asked sceptically, ‘It sounds like a poison. You don’t have to drink it, do you?’
‘I don’t think so…no, I don’t. Anyway, the difficult ones are…well, brown-snake venom, for a start. That’s going to be hard.’
‘You have to get that from Australia, don’t you?’ Rose asked incredulously, ‘He might not even have it. I’ve never heard him mention it.’
‘Me neither. Let’s just hope his stores are well stocked. Okay, also powdered Graphorn horn, which I know he has because we used some a couple of months ago. And…’
She paused again.
‘Powdered dragon eggs. Chinese Fireball dragon eggs, to be exact.’
Sam whistled, and Owen grimaced.
‘Unlikely he’ll have them. Really unlikely. Would any old dragon eggs do?’
‘I don’t know,’ Stac admitted with a sigh, ‘as much as we were talking about modifying it, I don’t really want to make any changes. I mean, who knows if it’ll even work with the recipe as it is?’
‘We’ll just have to do the best we can with what we can get, I guess,’ Jaya added.
‘Right, good, now, what about this distraction?’ Sam asked eagerly, leaning forward in his chair.
Jaya, Rose and Stac soon found themselves kicked unceremoniously out of the room while the boys planned. Well, while James and Sam planned, presumably – Stac couldn’t imagine Scorpius and Owen having any part in it. she’d wanted to stay behind, wanted to know what was going to happen, but James had insisted that she wasn’t to be involved.
So that was why she found herself waiting, alone, in the Head’s common room two nights later.
They had found that the Dandy did indeed keep his storeroom next to his office. Sam and James where now off distracting him, whatever that involved. While he was gone, Jaya had been tasked with darting in and getting what they needed.
Anastacia had been ordered, ordered, mind you, to stay in the common room. Out of trouble.
She looked at the clock on the wall. They’d been gone for over an hour.
Out of trouble.
Dousing the lights, she took off towards the Potions Professor’s office.
She was about halfway there when she almost collided with three tall, hard, male bodies coming the opposite way.
‘Oh, good, you’re all alive!’
‘You weren’t worried about us, were you?’ Sam teased. His face was smudged with what looked like soot. In fact, all their faces were sooty.
‘So what did you do? And why are you here?’
That was directed to Owen. She hadn’t thought he was going to join in.
‘Never you mind,’ Sam told her in a superior tone.
‘And I came to make sure they didn’t get out of hand,’ Owen answered in his calm voice, ‘someone had to.’
‘Have you seen Jaya yet?’ Sam asked.
Stac was about to reply when another voice broke into their conversation.
‘What are you guys doing here?’
The group turned to see Albus and Daisy at the other end of the corridor. Trotting down to meet them, James tapped the side of his nose mysteriously.
‘That’s for us to know, baby brother.’
‘I know you’re seventh years and all, and Heads and that, but if you get caught out without a reason you’ll be in major trouble.’
‘So we won’t get caught,’ Sam replied easily, ‘anyway, what are two doing out?’
‘Patrol,’ Albus answered quickly, ‘so we’d better get moving.’
He took Daisy’s arm and they were about to move away, when James stopped them, frowning.
‘You’re not on patrol. Not till Friday. What are you really doing?’
Stac stared at him, shocked. She hadn’t even remembered that! Apparently he really was taking this whole Head Boy thing seriously…
Albus sucked in a quick breath and looked at Daisy. She was biting her upper lip nervously.
‘We’re…filling in,’ he said quickly, looking back at his brother, ‘ahh…you know, we kind of swapped, so, they’ll do ours and we’ll do theirs. Tonight. That’s why we’re here, you know?’
He was babbling now, but James didn’t seem to notice – he cut him off mid-sentence.
‘What was that?’
They all listened for a moment. There was a definite sound of something coming from down the passage. Moving together, the small group inched forward until they could almost see around the corner.
It was Filch and Prattle. Filch was complaining loudly about something. Who knew what. Who cared, really? It wouldn’t matter to the caretakers that the group just around the corner was made up of two Prefects and both the Head students. They’d turn them in to Neville anyway. And then they’d have to explain why they were up…better if they just snuck away. After all, Filch and Prattle hadn’t noticed the presence of the half-dozen Gryffindors, so they were safe to keep going.
‘That was a close one,’ Albus breathed softly. He turned to the others, standing behind him, all with stunned and horrified looks on their faces.
‘Should we head…guys? Guys, what’s wrong?’
Daisy pointed with a shaking hand to the ground by Albus’ feet. He looked slowly downwards…to see a pair of bright yellow eyes with slit pupils staring back at him.
In that instant, the cat let out a loud yowl, and Filch and Prattle sprung immediately to their feet. Without further ado, the group of students turned as one and raced back down the corridor in the direction they’d come. From the sound of things, Moxie at least was still on their heels, if not Prattle as well.
Ahead of them, the corridor separated in several directions.
‘Split up!’ James yelled to the others. Taking a handful of Stac’s robes, careful even now not to touch her skin, he chose a path at random, looking for a room to hide in. Behind him, Sam and Owen took different routes. He didn’t see where Albus and Daisy had gone. He hoped they were alright – he did feel sort of guilty about their involvement in this, which after all had almost nothing to do with them.
Unfortunately for James and Stac, the corridor they’d taken didn’t seem to have any rooms coming off it at all. After running up and down, looking in vain, they backtracked a little way and took another, smaller, corridor. It was more of a connecting path, really, and when they burst out into a wider passageway again, they saw Albus step into a room and close the door behind him.
They both hurried over to the door Albus had gone through. James wrenched open the door, surprising his brother, who was in the act of putting a spell on the lock.
Behind him, Daisy blinked up at them both, her pretty face taught with worry. The room itself proved to be nothing more than a small cupboard, half-full of cleaning materials.
‘Mind if we join you?’
James’ voice, though breathless, was light, but Albus’, when he answered, was anything but.
‘There’s no room!’
‘Come on, Al–’
‘No! Find your own!’
He half-glanced behind him, at Daisy, and then glared at his brother.
‘This has nothing to do with us! It’s not our fault you’re a bunch of idiots!’
Daisy laid a hand on his shoulder and murmured something to him. Albus turned slightly to hear better.
Stac looked to James. Predictably, his mouth was already opening, ready to give some angry report. Tugging on his robes, she smiled tightly at the two younger students then started to close the door.
‘You’re right - definitely no room. Don’t get caught.’
With that, she closed the door all the way and pulled James further down the corridor. He came, but not willingly.
‘What was that?’
They could hear faint noise coming from somewhere nearby. Filch and Prattle must be catching up.
‘There wasn’t any time to argue. Besides, I am not denying some other couple private moments together. I’m doing enough of that to us as it is.’
‘Do you still have the cloak?’
Throwing thoughts of his brother aside, James pulled said cloak out of his pocket.
‘But it won’t work. Moxie’ll smell us.’
‘There isn’t time for anything else. Come on!’
And she led the way up the corridor to a small alcove, wreathed in shadows. Muttering under his breath, James followed her and threw the cloak over them both.
For a moment, all they did was stand and listen. The sounds of pursuit were growing steadily nearer – there was no mistaking Filch’s outraged shouts and Moxie’s yowls.
Then, suddenly, at the same time, they became acutely aware of where they were.
In the dark.
In very close proximity.
In absolute silence.
Stac fought to keep her breathing under control. If she thought the past weeks had been bad…they were nothing compared to this. True, they weren’t actually touching, but it was a close thing. The cloak only stretched so far.
‘Umm…’ she began, unsure of how to go on.
‘Shh…’ James breathed from just behind her. His breath feathered past her ear and ruffled the hair around her face.
Truth be told, he didn’t really know what else to say. His mind had gone completely blank the moment he’d registered where they were. It was hard, very hard to remind himself that there actually was a reason he couldn’t reach out and touch her. Couldn’t pull her tight against him and cover her lips with his.
Not yet. No even if she had turned and was leaning ever closer towards him. Not even if her eyes were closing, and her hand was starting to rise towards his face…
A whining, nasal voice calling for ‘students to show themselves’ brought them back to reality. Never had James been so grateful to hear it. Thank Merlin for Filch and Prattle.
‘Don’t. Move.’ Stac breathed, almost silently, ‘Moxie.’
And sure enough, there was the cat, stalking down the corridor towards them. Behind her, more towards Daisy and Albus’ cupboard, were Prattle and Filch, who was holding the aging Mrs Norris tightly in his arms. Prattle was trying the handle to the cupboard, but didn’t seem to be having much luck.
Stac and James tried very hard to pretend they did not exist. They tried not to breath, not to think, to deny their very existence. Most of all, they tried to convince the cat standing in front of them that there was nothing to see, here.
Eventually, the cat seemed to get the message and moved away. Grumbling loudly, Filch and his apprentice moved off, taking their cats with them.
Letting out the breaths that they’d been holding, James and Stac cautiously stepped out from under the cloak. Checking the corridor carefully and listening for any sound of the returning caretakers, they retraced their earlier steps back up the hallway towards the cupboard.
James was about to open the door when Stac stopped him with a hand on his arm. Going to the closet, she tapped lightly on the door.
‘They’ve gone,’ she called softly, just loud enough so that the two inside would hear, ‘we’re going back to the Heads’ rooms.’
As they started back towards the common room, James was still frowning.
‘What was that for?’ he asked in confusion.
Stac just smiled and shook her head.
‘Just in case.’
‘In case of what?’
Luckily for everyone involved, they made it back to the Head’s common room without any further mishaps. Even more luckily, Jaya had been able to find all the necessary ingredients, even the elusive dragon eggs.
‘You should see that place,’ she was telling Owen enthusiastically when James and Stac entered, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it! I didn’t even know what half the stuff in there was! We’ve never used it in class. I bet he’s buying all that stuff with the school’s money, saying it’s for the students, and then keeping it for himself.’
‘Did you get it all?’ Stac asked eagerly, and Jaya smiled.
‘Yep, all of it. We didn’t even need to worry about the eggs, he had, like, three different types!’
‘Well, that’s great, but what now?’ Sam remarked from his seat on the couch. He and Owen looked like they’d been there for some time, both settled comfortably in chairs.
‘Where did you both get to?’ James asked curiously, ‘Did you hide?’
‘Nah, mate, ran all the way back here. Did Al and Daisy make it out okay?’
‘They...found a spot,’ Stac demurred, trying to change the subject, but James jumped in.
‘They were in a cupboard! My brother, in a cupboard with a girl! An actual girl!’
Predictably, Sam let out a whoop of approval. Jaya rolled her eyes at their antics.
‘If we could get back to the important things? We’ve got all this stuff, where are we going to make the stupid thing?’
‘Classroom?’ Owen suggested, ‘It shouldn’t take very long.’
Stac shook her head.
‘Too risky. Even if we put a charm on the door, someone might come along, a Professor maybe. We’d never be able to explain it.’
‘How about…Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom?’ James asked, with the tone of one trying to suppress a smile.
Stac eyed him suspiciously.
‘Is this another thing from your parents?’
‘It’s a good idea, though,’ Jaya said thoughtfully, ‘no one ever goes there, not if they can avoid it. It could work.’
‘Alright, the bathroom, then. Who’s involved?’
‘Well, me, obviously,’ Stac replied in response to Owen’s question, ‘and Scorpius. He’s the only one who can get hold of the proof that it works.’
‘And me,’ Jaya added, ‘you’re going to need help.’
‘Me too,’ James said quietly.
Stac glanced at him, bighting her lip, and then shook her head.
‘What? What do you mean, no?’
‘I mean you’re not coming.’
‘Like hell I’m not! There’s no way you’re doing this without me!’
‘James, listen, I’m not arguing about this with you-’
‘No, you’re right, we’re not arguing. If Scorpius is there, so am I!’
Someone cleared their throat, loudly. Stac and James turned to see Sam, Owen and Jaya all rise as one and make for the door.
‘And where do you think you’re going?’ Stac demanded, twin flags of colour flying high in her cheeks.
‘Look, I think I speak for all of us when I say if you two are going to have a domestic, we’re out of here.’
‘Shut up, we’re not having a domestic!’
But the others were already out the door and didn’t hear James’ protests.
Alone now, the room silent around them, Stac sighed and sank onto the couch.
‘James, I’m not going to change my mind. I’m the one who’s read the recipe; I’m the one who knows what’s going to happen. It’s going to be hard enough without you there. This is something that I have to do, but it’s not going to be easy. Please don’t make it any harder.’
Her voice had become very soft. Looking at her, James was surprised to find she was close to tears. But when he reached for her, she flinched and moved away. Suddenly furious at his helplessness, James turned away, speaking through clenched teeth.
‘I just want to help. I want to be there for you.’
‘I know. But this is something I have to do alone.’
The she groaned and dropped her head forward, into her hands.
‘I hate how this always happens! Look at us – we don’t do anything but fight.’
‘It’s because it’s all we can do. For now.’
He sat on the arm of the couch directly opposite and tried to relax.
‘It’s just a few days. That’s all. We just have to stay sane for a few more days.’
Her soft scoff told him what she thought of that, and he privately agreed. Easier said than done.
Rising to his feet again, suddenly unable to remain in the room, he made for the door.
‘Don’t worry – I’ll stay out of your way. I won’t be a distraction.’
As he left the room, he realised that his promise may well have been more for his benefit than hers. It would do him the world of good to avoid her for a few days, even though it was going to be difficult. But being around her at the moment…?
It was more than even his nerves could handle.
A few days later, Jaya, Scorpius and Anastacia met in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom. Myrtle wasn’t actually there – Stac had bought off Peeves with a couple of rare fireworks and he was blissfully distracting Myrtle while they worked.
Laying out the ingredients around the heating cauldron, Anastacia wondered for the millionth time what on earth they were doing. Who was she to think she could break such a complex bit of magic. She didn’t know exactly what had gone into the making of her bracelet, but she knew that it had taken all of her father’s strongest Wizards to make it.
‘You know,’ Scorpius commented idly from the other side of the pot, ‘I’ll bet your father didn’t let any Witches work on that bracelet.’
‘Of course he didn’t. He wouldn’t. You know what he thinks of us.’
Scorpius’ grey eyes were reassuring. He could always tell what she was thinking.
‘Maybe that’s where he went wrong. Maybe that’s where we’ll go right.’
‘Let’s just get this done,’ Jaya said to the room at large. She breathed in and out deeply, ‘Do we all know what we’re doing?’
The other two nodded assent. The ingredients they needed were measured, prepared and waiting in small bowls around the cauldron. Because of the speed with which the first sequence of items needed to be added, and the spells that needed to be said after each, they had elected to split the ingredients up between them.
‘Okay, we only have one chance at this,’ Jaya continued, ‘so we have to do it properly. Ready?’
Scorpius and Anastacia took out their wands and picked up their bowls. Jaya reached for the hourglass on a stool nearby. It was marked with small lines in different colours – the sand reaching those lines would tell them when it was time to add each element.
‘Here we go.’
And Jaya flipped the hourglass over.
Immediately, Scorpius tossed the shredded wormwood into the bubbling water, then pointed his wand at the liquid and began to mutter. Anastacia, eyes on the hourglass, waited until the sand reached the first line, then added the lionfish spines. Carefully, she counted to five under her breath and then tipped in the powdered dragon eggs. Then she too began to whisper, her wand pointed at the murky potion taking form.
Jaya was poised with one bowl in each hand. At the appointed moment, she poured the brown-snake venom into the bowl containing the powdered Graphorn horn, careful not to spill any of the toxic fluid. Letting the two mix for only a few seconds, just enough that they began to smoke, she then added them to the cauldron.
Scorpius was still muttering, his eyes intent. Jaya and Stac picked up the final bowls, eyeing each other across the pot.
‘Ready?’ Stac asked. Jaya and Scorpius nodded.
Together, the girls pitched the hellebore and aconite into the mixture, then, as one, the three students dived out of the way, hitting the floor and covering their faces with their arms.
And not a moment too soon. For when the last two ingredients merged with the rest of the potion, there was a small explosion. A cloud of noxious looking steam and smoke rose from the surface of the cauldron to spread across the space where their faces had been only moments before.
After a moment, Scorpius tentatively raised his head.
‘It’s alright,’ he told the others, ‘it’s done.’
Sighing with relief, the girls too sat up. Now they could relax a little – they had time before they had to add the next elements.
‘Well, at least it didn’t explode completely,’ Jaya said with a nervous smile, ‘I mean, that’s got to be a good sign, right?’
Anastacia certainly hoped so. The trouble was, they had no idea what this potion was supposed to look like. The recipe hadn’t contained any information about that. So as far as appearances went, they were flying blind.
Looking again at the hourglass, Scorpius picked up the knife that had been lying near his knee and handed it to Jaya.
Swallowing, Stac pulled a small bottle from her pocket and looked at it.
James’ blood. Earlier today, when Scorpius had told him about that part of the recipe, he hadn’t even blinked. Instead, he took the vial the blonde boy had offered and, as they watched, used his wand to open a line down his left palm. He’d filled the vial, corked it, and handed it over, easy as you please.
Stac had been horrified. She’d been frozen with shock while the blood dripped down his hand, and as soon as the bottle was full, had flown over and tried to work a healing on him. But James had stopped her.
‘It’s okay,’ he told her gently, hand on her shoulder, his touch muted by several layers of clothes, ‘I’ve got this.’
‘No, you don’t! Your healings always leave a scar!’
‘I know. It’s a reminder.’
He laughed at the sceptical look on her face.
‘Not for me! For you, you little idiot.’
‘A reminder of what?’
‘What you’re worth.’
The moment stretched, and behind them, Scorpius shifted uncomfortably.
‘Go on, then. Get out of here.’
Shaking herself out of the remembrance, Anastacia uncorked the bottle.
Grimacing slightly, Jaya cut the tip of her finger with the small knife and held her hand over the cauldron. The potion hissed as the first drops of blood hit the surface, and it began to turn a murky purple colour. Across from her, Stac emptied the vial of James’ blood into the cauldron. That done, she picked up the stirring stick and began to stir the potion, twelve times, in a counter-clockwise direction.
The potion began to bubble and froth, graduating from purple to a dark, sinister-looking blue. Stac took Jaya’s proffered knife. However, instead of cutting her finger, as her friend had done, she opened a painful-looking gash down her left hand. Since the spell had been constructed with her blood in the first place, they were going to need a far bit of it in the breaking.
Stac held her hand over the bubbling pot, watching as the blood dropped down and hit the liquid within. This time, the potion didn’t change colour, but the surface took on an oily sheen that was almost iridescent. Taking out her wand, she muttered a spell and the cut on her hand began to heal.
Now came the hardest part of all. Looking down at the steaming and hissing potion, Stac took in and let out a deep breath. Her sleeves were rolled up in readiness, the potion was complete. There was only one thing left to do.
‘Scorpius…I think you’d better leave.’
The blonde boy frowned.
‘I can handle it, Nast.’
‘No. I don’t think you can. And besides, even if you can, I can’t. This isn’t going to be pleasant, and you can’t do anything about it. You watching is only going to make it worse.’
With a deeper frown, Scorpius rose and left the room.
Jaya eyed her friend meditatively.
‘Do you want me to go, too?’
Slowly, Stac shook her head.
‘I think you’re removed enough to cope. Scorp...and James...they don’t really know what all this involves. If they saw what’s going to happen, they’d make me stop. They wouldn’t care that it’s necessary. They just wouldn’t want to see me in pain. That’s why I wouldn’t let James come. My own pain I can handle. His...not so much.’
‘Are you alright?’
Stac reached out a faltering hand. They didn’t have much time. But there had to be another way to do this, surely. She couldn’t do it, she just couldn’t…
James’ face rose, unbidden, in her mind. She thought of all the things he had to endure, all the sacrifices he’d had to make, and had made, and she knew she could too. Could and would.
‘Fine,’ she replied, and plunged her hand deep into the cauldron.
The boiling liquid covered her arm up to the elbow, and it was boiling; she could feel the skin on her arm blistering and burning. Biting her lip to keep from screaming, she grasped her upper arm with her other hand, forcing herself to keep her hand and wrist submerged. Great beads of sweat stood out on her forehead and blood filled her mouth as she bit completely through her lower lip.
Jaya watched in growing fear as Stac fought her every instinct in order to keep her hand in the cauldron. As much as Jaya wanted to go to her friend, to help her, she knew there was nothing she could do. This was something Stac had to face alone, and it had to be faced in order for the potion to work. All she could do was clench her hands into tight fists and try to remain in place.
As they both looked on, the water began to bubble less and less, turning from dark blue to bright, crimson red.
The colour of fresh blood.
Finally, the water was still. Every part of her shaking, Stac removed her red, blistered hand from the cauldron. Jaya was there instantly to mutter a healing spell, but it didn’t remove all the pain. There was a deep burning, deep down, right down to her bones, it felt, that wouldn’t go away. Also, the line down the middle of her hand, where she had cut herself, had turned a bright, angry crimson.
‘Did it work?’ Stac whispered at last.
In reply, Jaya stood and went to the door, letting Scorpius back inside. In one hand, he held the parchment ready. Sitting back down, he nodded to Jaya.
‘Umm…’ Jaya looked uncertain, ‘what should I do?’
‘Touch her face,’ Scorpius replied, looking at the parchment.
Jaya, feeling more than a little silly, reached out and laid her hand against her friend’s cheek. Really, if the situation hadn’t been so serious, it would have been positively comical. As it was, none of them were laughing.
‘Nothing,’ Scorpius told them, his voice beginning to sound hopeful, ‘it doesn’t register.’
‘Hold my arm,’ Stac told her friend eagerly, ‘just keep hold.’
Jaya did, and after a tense twenty seconds or so, Scorpius looked up at the two girls triumphantly.
‘It only registered the contact for a few seconds, then nothing.’
‘We did it,’ Stac breathed in awe, ‘we broke a blood magic spell. In a girl’s bathroom.’
‘Yes, we did it,’ Jaya reminded her with a gentle smile, ‘so why are you still here?’
For a moment, Stac looked blank, as if she couldn’t understand what the other girl was saying. Then her face lit up, brighter than Jaya had ever seen it. In one smooth movement, she was on her feet, in another, she was out the door.
‘Well,’ Jaya remarked mildly, ‘I guess we won’t be seeing her for a while.’
James was sitting in front of the window in the Heads’ common room. He was studiously making note of everything he could see out the window; observing the way the snow clung to the trees of the forbidden forest, noting the patterns the frost had displayed on the glass of the window, paying particular attention to the outcome of the snowball fight being fought on the grounds beneath him.
In all honesty, he was trying desperately to prevent himself from pacing. He didn’t want to pace anymore – he’d spent the whole morning walking back and forth in front of the fireplace and it was beginning to drive him crazy. At one point, he’d stopped and given himself a mental and physical shake. He never paced. When did he turn into someone who paced?
The day he started dating Stac, that’s when. Or maybe even before. Because that’s when he’d started caring for something so much that pacing seemed like a good option.
In an effort to stop, he’d gone to the window, where he was currently standing. But he didn’t know how much more of this waiting he could take. Pretty soon he wasn’t going to be able to stop himself from rushing off to the bathroom, just to see what was happening. Even if the result was a bad one, he’d rather know than be here, waiting with no information.
As he was focusing his attention on the scene outside once more, he heard the sound of running feet coming from the corridor outside. He turned around just in time to see the door to the common room fly open.
Stac was staring at him, panting, her cheeks flushed from her run through the castle. Her hair was a frizzy halo around her head, courtesy of the steam from the potion, her clothes were askew, there were smudges of ingredients on her face, and her arm still bore the faint marks of being plunged into a cauldron of boiling potion.
But she was smiling, the widest, most joyful and hope-filled smile James had ever seen, and he’d never seen anyone so beautiful.
Barely pausing to slam the door behind her, Stac took two steps into the room and flung herself into James’ outstretched arms. He caught her in the strong, sure grip of a born Chaser, pulling her so close and holding her so tight that she thought she would pop. Her feet weren’t touching the ground. For a moment he simply held her, his face buried in her hair, and then he was kissing her, or she was kissing him; she didn’t care which, and it didn’t matter.
James’ arms were around her waist, holding her upright, a fact for which Stac was very grateful – her legs felt like over-cooked noodles and she didn’t think she’d be able to stand on her own. She certainly couldn’t think, couldn’t form any thought at all, could only get caught up in the feelings rushing through her and try not to let them sweep her away. As close as James was holding her, after weeks of separation it didn’t seem to be enough – she wanted to be closer. Twining her arms around his neck in an effort to do just that, she pressed her body against him, fingers spearing through his hair.
She smelt of strange potion ingredients, of scorched fabric and smoke. But under it all, James could still smell her, that fragrance that to him was Stac. Maybe it was her hair, her perfume…he didn’t know. Didn’t care. He was shockingly aware of how frail she was in his arms – he’d thought she wasn’t eating properly lately – and had tried to ease back so that he didn’t hurt her. But she had protested most vehemently, pulling him back and holding tight. Then one of her small hands had drifted down to his cheek, framing his face, and his knees nearly buckled.
Pulling his head back a few inches, he stared down at her, his breathing decidedly uneven.
‘You did it?’
Stac smiled brilliantly, her own breath as ragged as his.
‘We did it.’
He pulled her head back to his and kissed her roughly, fiercely, as if he needed reassurance that he could. Stac was kissing him back just as ardently when he pulled away again.
‘What?’ she grumbled, trying to force his head back to hers, but he wouldn’t be moved.
‘What was that? Did you hear that?’
Stac listened, and, sure enough, there was the sound of someone walking past outside.
‘Did you lock the door?’ James whispered.
She raised her eyebrows. He nodded.
‘Sorry, stupid question. My mind was on other things, too. Hang on.’
Not letting her go, he fished his wand out of his pocket with one hand and locked the door, putting a silencing charm on the room for good measuring. Tossing his wand on one of the tables, he pulled Stac down to sit beside him on the sofa.
‘Now that’s taken care of–’
But he didn’t have the chance to say anything else. She simply wouldn’t let him.
Okay, first of all, I need to apologise for taking so long to write/put this up! I'm so sorry! You know how life has a tendancy to get in the way of good stuff? How much does that suck??
Anyway, hopefully this nice long update will somewhat make it up to you, and I'll just try to get the next one out as soon as I can.
And, on a little side note, I can tell you that the end is now in sight! This was never going to be a fic that dragged on and on forever. In fact, if my calculations are correct, we are about 10 chapters away from D-Day...give or take a few, depending on how the muse takes me... So hang in there!
Well, I think that's it for now, lovelies! Hope you're all safe and well!
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