There were some things boys were meant to ponder on sunny June afternoons. What would happen to them when they left school. Which of their classmates they’d still be in contact with in three months. Why it was so bloody hot all of a sudden. How big that squid in the lake really was.
Why the wizard didn’t get the witch.
Revision had come and gone, and Cillian Donnelly and James Potter had just finished their very last Hogwarts exam ever, the Defense Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T. Like all other seventh-years, they lounged at the shore of the Black Lake, taking in the sunshine and the smell of freedom for the first and perhaps the last time.
“It’s crazy,” Cillian mused, tossing a small pebble in the air. “You remember we were right here at the end of the first-year exams?”
James did remember. He and the other boys in their House had started an impromptu diving competition and Eric Gallagher had somehow been catapulted extremely far into the depths of the lake. Teddy had had to rescue the small boy.
Of course, Eric wasn’t the spindly first-year anymore. He was Waverly’s… something. James didn’t resent him for it, since he’d never had any concrete claim to her attention, and he didn’t treat Eric any differently because of the girl he sometimes took out and hung around.
“When d’you start your Wizengamot thing again?”
“Right after graduation, Cillian, I told you,” James said. He was about to give the exact date when all of a sudden his brother Albus ran up to him, his well-groomed hair blowing in the lake breeze. He seemed a bit out of breath. “Hey, there,” James grinned, “take it easy.”
Albus wouldn’t take it easy. Mostly because he was one of the most self-absorbed kids James had ever known, although no one else seemed to recognise that. But also because, it seemed, he had big news. “Party–Tower–going on now–spread the word–going to be bloody epic–” Then the fifth-year ran off, calling to more of his upper-year mates.
Cillian glanced at his friend, who was still watching his brother. “You don’t want to check it out, do you?” he said. “It’ll be those fifth-year ragers pretending they’re doing it for everyone, I guarantee you.”
“It could be fun,” James said fairly, knocking the pebble Cillian was playing with out of the air. “If we ignore them.”
“That’s difficult. You know how those kids are.”
“You’re such an old codger.” James grinned and leaped up from the shore. “Tell you what, I’ll think up something actually fun. I’ll meet you in the common room.”
Cillian, who had been passing his hand through the grass in search of the pebble, peered dubiously at him, but before he could protest, James had gone off towards the castle. And since James’ idea of real fun was not orthodox, to say the least, Cillian went over to another group of seventh-years who had ignored the middle Potter to exhort them to grace the little fifth-years with their exalted, exam-less presences.
Cillian reached Gryffindor Tower with his other friends about twenty minutes after Albus had made his party rounds, so when he arrived, he was a bit thrown by how over-the-top the common room had suddenly become. Streamers that changed colour and design every five minutes. Balloons spontaneously coming into being from a smoking machine in the corner. There were already people passed out on the floor, including a third-year with large hives on his cheeks. At the portrait hole, a sugar-high girl shook all of the boys’ hands, introducing herself as CEO and Chief Officer of The Confectionary LTD. Bright yellow and pink business cards were scattered on the floor and on the table near the back of the common room that had food and drink.
“Fifth-years,” Cillian muttered to himself. So over the top and so… tacky. (He hesitated to use that word, but he was a bit of an old codger so he didn’t really care.) He finally spotted James next to the stairs to the boys’ dormitory. He was sipping from a clear glass holding an amber liquid, looking very smug and mysterious.
“So what’s this fun you’ve decided on?” Cillian asked, leaning on the wall next to him.
James downed the rest of his drink and tossed the glass into a very empty rubbish bin in the corner. Then he fought his way to the stairs and began climbing them, leaving Cillian to scramble after him for the second time today.
Once they reached the top and the relatively quiet sanctuary of their abandoned dorm, James pulled a very small, opaque vial from his trouser pocket. “Turns out that the minute exams end, security for certain underground classrooms disappears,” he said with a practically devilish smirk. “One sip of this and–”
“You’re not serious.”
“James Sirius. So yeah, I am. I don’t have enough for a full hour, just fifteen minutes or so. No one’ll be looking, I’ve got Roxy’s hair here–”
Cillian was going to ask how he had obtained Polyjuice Potion so quickly and how he had stolen a strand of his cousin’s hair and why he was so sure that he, Cillian, wanted to be in Isla Quigley’s room. But he realised within a few seconds that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it’d be stupid to waste it.
Five minutes later, a lithe, dark-skinned girl wearing robes two sizes too big left James by himself again. He pulled out his wand after a moment and, pointing it at the empty vial, he said flatly, “Evanesco.” This task completed, he crossed his dorm to return to the party, but then the door swung open again. For a second he wondered that maybe his timing calculation had been off and the potion had already worn off. Then he realised that it was Waverly entering his room.
The tension wasn’t gone, though.
She waved to him, and he noticed that her now cottony-sky-blue nails seemed almost slickly shiny. He supposed she’d just painted them, perhaps in the privacy of the room Cillian would only now be reaching. “Was Roxanne just in here?” she asked. “I saw her coming down and I know she has my Astronomy tex–”
At least it worked for that long. “Nah. It was Cillian.”
Waverly’s eyes widened. “You’re trying again?”
James shrugged, and wished all of a sudden that he hadn’t Vanished the vial of potion. It would have been nice to share his triumph with the erstwhile inside man. “One last hurrah, you know? It was his idea in the beginning. Did you see him get up there?”
“I lost him… her?... anyway, once Cillian got down these stairs I lost him.” She seemed sad that she’d lost the opportunity to see what could well be history being made. “Does your cousin know what you’re doing with her hair?”
James shook his head. “I ran into her in the hall when I was coming back. She said she wanted to sneak into Hogsmeade now, wanted to borrow something off me. So while I gave her what she needed…” He broke off and filled the void with a grin.
“That does it, then. You’ve done it!” Waverly took a few celebratory steps forward, but stopped short of reaching James. “Probably, anyway. And without my help.” She sighed. “So much for an inside man.”
“Not like we very well could’ve had two of you running around the party,” James chortled.
“Yeah, one Waverly’s enough for all of us.”
There was silence. James hated silence. Desperate to salvage this moment and well aware that he might not get another conversation with her on her own, James threw words into the air. “How’re things with Eric?”
She didn’t seem to expect this question, but shrugged nonchalantly after a moment anyway. “I’m not the one to ask. I don’t think we were ever really together, you know? We weren’t exclusive or anything.”
James didn’t know that.
Waverly saw his shock and braved another step towards him. “Surprised? Him and Isla left the party together.”
“Really.” He also edged forward, making the distance between them nearly negligible. It could be covered with a hug. With… hmm. James didn’t think to imagine beyond that. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It wasn’t serious, I just said so.”
There was an opportunity knocking here. He was sure of it. He was sure she was sure of it, because–now that he thought of it–Waverly wouldn’t come up here to see if his cousin had just left. That was stupid. Waverly wasn’t an intellectual, but she wasn’t stupid. If she came, it was because she had guessed what he was up to.
If she came to him, it was because she wanted to see him.
“You know,” he said, looking at her too shiny nails (at this proximity, he saw that they wouldn’t dry evenly), “the way you said that… I dunno, but I get the impression that you’re reaching out to me again.”
“Do you?” she asked. There was no guile in her voice, which didn’t really surprise him. “Is that the impression I’m giving you? And what does that spark in you–a reference to something I’ve never heard of? Tell me, James.” She smiled. “I’m curious.”
He thought for a moment before replying. “There’s this fairytale princess, Rapunzel. A witch has her trapped in a tower, but she has this hair that’s long enough to pull a prince up to her. She falls in love with him. But you aren’t Rapunzel, you’re Waverly. And I don’t want to think of you in any other terms, you know?” His voice, which never shook unless he wanted it to, became quieter, almost to the point of oddly passionate silence. “I don’t think it really occurred to me back then that I could lose you–”
“I never went anywhere.”
“What do you think going to Hogsmeade with him was?” he asked.
She rolled her eyes. “It was a detour. And you could have had a detour if you wanted, and it could have become something really great, and I wouldn’t begrudge you or–”
“If I wanted a detour, I would have taken one.”
His hand found hers. Her body found his.
There was a question on her lips. “What happened to that princess?”
He thought for a moment. For someone so well-versed in literature and culture, he didn’t process a lot of the endings. He had always been content with knowing they had endings at all. “Depends on who tells the story, I think. One version says the prince gets her pregnant. When the witch finds out, she cuts Rapunzel’s hair and casts her out on her own. Then the witch uses the hair to lure the prince up to the tower and she blinds him. So they’re both desolate and alone for awhile, but then they find each other, and Rapunzel’s tears heal his blindness and they get married and live ha–”
“I get it, James.”
Disclaimer Do not own: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; or any iteration of the Rapunzel fairytale, although I did draw mostly from the Grimm version.
Author's Note Just an epilogue left, everyone. I hope you all liked this last 'official' chapter, and for the last time, I hope you enjoy what's next. Thank you all so much.