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Chapter 14 : Journey.
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“Cassie?” James said, wrapping on the window of my car and watching me expectantly. I flushed slightly, as always, before frantically pressing buttons in an attempt to wind down the window in a casual way before James started laughing at me. Too late. Although he wasn’t quite laughing, he was pulling off a magnificent amused sneer.
“James,” I said, when the window finally rolled down as I’d been telling it to do for what felt like half my lifetime.
“Couldn’t you have just sensed for the right button?”
“Emotions, magic and memories, James. This car is a completely blank state.”
“Well then,” James grinned, “let’s make some memories.”
The blushing was predictable and, once again, James had engineered it.
“What is it that you wanted?” I asked simply, “apart from to mock me some more?”
“Well, my Dad told me to ask if I could catch a lift.” James shifted his position so that he was leaning more on the side of the car by his elbows. I wanted to tell him to get his dirty elbows off my car, but I was incapable of being rude. Anyway, if I stuck up for myself he’d no doubt give me a round of applause and start telling people about it – which would only be horrifically embarrassing and induce another blush-from-hell-moment.
“Well, sort of. Basically, Aunt Hermione is supposed to be working on this case, but she got a bit obsessed and forgot to eat for like twelve hours... so, she collapsed and the Healers aren’t letting her leave St Mungos for so many hours. Ron is giving evidence about this guy he court today, so my parents are having to take Rose and Hugo to the platform. But, you can only take five people in a car... and now there are seven of us, so he asked me to come over here and beg your dad very politely if we could catch a lift.”
“So you thought you’d ignore that and just be a... prat?”
“Yeah,” James said, “so?”
“Well, I’m driving myself.”
“I’ll pick my least favourite family member to accompany me then,” James said, “and I’ll update my last will and testament before we set off.”
“I suppose you’re going to tell your Dad how very polite you were about all of this?”
“Nah, if I said I’d polite he’d probably think I’d punched you. He has lived with me for quite a few years. I was just going to tell him that you agreed and that you’d be driving round to our house in a couple of minutes.”
“Great,” I said under my breath, sucking in some air and blinking a couple of times, “wonderful.”
“And Cassie?” James said, taking a step back from my car and grinning. “I will laugh at your atrocious parking. A lot.”
“Oh, that’s fine. I suppose you want a lift back to your house now, too?” I asked sarcastically, tapping my fingers angrily against the wheel of my painfully pretty car.
“That’d be great,” James said, pulling open the door and swinging himself into the passenger seat with a grin. “If I die – I’m glad I got to know you this summer.”
“If you die, will anyone believe I didn’t do it on purpose?”
“Look at you getting your wit on,” James grinned, “oh, and Happy Birthday Cassie!”
“Thanks.” I said, putting the car into reverse and promptly stalling. Bugger it all, it was going to be the longest journey of my life.
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?” Harry Potter asked, bending down to talk to me through the window with his large green eyes, “I could try and enlarge the car, if you prefer but -”
“Last time he tried, you could only fit one person on the back seat.” Lily supplied from the back, folding her arms over her chest and blinking a couple of times. Maybe James made me feel uncomfortable, but I’d become more or less immune to his presence over the past couple of weeks. But Lily? I couldn’t handle her at all. I shifted uncomfortable in my seat. Already the car felt too hot.
“No, no – it’s fine,” I said quickly, “after everything you’ve done, Mr Potter –really I don’t mind.”
“I mind.” Lily piped up from the back, “I mind a lot.”
“Well,” Harry said hopelessly, “see you at the other end!”
“Yep.” I said.
“Let’s hope we make it.” James added quietly.
I was very aware of the entire Potter family, plus a few Weasleys, watching me as I pulled out of the Potter’s driveway and onto the road that led up to their house.
“So, how come your Dad isn’t giving you a lift?” James asked.
“He’s working,” I muttered through gritted teeth, “he sprung this on me last night.”
“But, it’s your birthday?” James suggested, making himself at home by adjusting his seat and continually flicking through the endless radio stations –swapping every time there was an advert or someone had the audacity to speak, “surely, consider you’re like... practically an orphan anyway, he could have not worked on your birthday?”
I didn’t answer that. Primarily because it was the main thought that had been pulsing through my brain all morning – a continual tirade of ‘for God’s sake, I’m going back to Hogwarts today and it’s my seventeenth birthday and where the hell are you?’ – which was surely not going to have a positive impact on my first attempt at driving further than away from my house than the mile radius I’d attempted. Worse than that, I was going to have to tackle driving through the heart of London.
“So, the journeys about two and a half hours, right?” Lily asked from the back seat.
“Yep.” I muttered, my hands gripping the wheel so tightly my muscles were beginning to hurt.
“And you passed your driving test yesterday?” Lily said, I saw her lean forwards in the mirror and felt her eyes boring into the back of my neck.
“Well, that’s just bad parenting,” Lily sighed, folding her arms, “and I cannot believe that Dad would let us in a car with someone who hasn’t even been able to drive for twenty-four hours.”
“Shut it, Lily,” James said, glancing at me and taking in how I was gradually becoming more and more tense, “shut your mouth or you can ride in Dad’s boot. Forget it, Cassie – I’ve had a good sixteen and a half years of life anyway; you can kill me at will.”
“Thanks.” I breathed, flexing my fingers on one hand.
“God, if you’re just going to sit at the front and flirt continually then...” Lily said sulkily, pulling out her WCT music player and plugging in her headphones.
“Show some respect, woman,” James said, “her dad invented that thing.”
“Yeah, she didn’t.”
“She was the muse.”
I laughed at that. “I’ve never been anyone’s muse in my life, James. My Dad’s muse is boredom and money.”
“You’re breaking my heart,” James said, “I just wanted to admire Robert Banks in peace, and now it turns out his a neglecting parent who may or may not -”
“Do you want to not talk about that?” I said pointedly.
“Oh, she’s not listening anymore.” James said, turning round and glancing at Lily, “she’s listening to that bloody boy band. The ones that write songs about how in love they are with ugly girls. Load of crap. Either way, she can’t hear a damn thing – special sound blocking headphones.”
“Courtesy of my father?”
“Isn’t everything?” James said, forcefully changing the radio station as the beginning of a terrible cheesy rock song polluted the atmosphere within my car.
“Your presence here is, for a start Cassie-dear.”
“I’m not entirely grateful about my presence here.”
“I’m not that bad, am I?”
“Do you want me to answer that?”
“Awh, come on – admit it; I’m not as bad when you get to know me,” James said, now fiddling with the central heating and amusing himself by sending blasts of cold air at my feet. I glanced at him in the mirror before shaking my head in disbelief. “Cassie,” James complained, flipping down the mirror and glancing at himself before flipping it back up again, “you’ve got to talk to me, or else I’m going to get really bored during this two hour long car journey – and you really don’t want to see me when I’m bored.”
“I have,” I countered, “and I’m trying to drive here.”
“I know a song that’ll get on your nerves, get on your nerves, get on your nervvesss....” James began, tapping his fingers on the dashboard into a rhythm.
“James, you don’t have to try to be annoying – so will you just cut it out.”
“Cassie’s blushing!” James declared, pointing at my face as if there was a large crowd of people gathered around to witness this phenomenon. There wasn’t. Just Lily in the back of the car, James in the front and a lot of motorists who seemed to be getting more and more frustrated about my terrible driving.
“It’s not like it’s an unusual thing to happen.”
“Does driving make you gutsy?”
“Does my driving make you so antsy that you can’t bloody well sit still?”
“Guess I’m nervous.” James said, lying his hand flat on the dashboard and finally falling into a nice, comforting stationary position - I didn’t need to see his continual flitting moments out of the corner of my eyes for the entire journey to London.
“Why?” I asked in a tired voice, knowing that he was expecting me to ask and feeling like there should be away to avoid the humiliation of giving people exactly what they wanted.
I didn’t respond to that, mostly because I was trying to suppress my horror over the fact that James had genuinely just used the word ‘ennit’ and I didn’t think he was even being ironic. Fortunately, or not – depending on how you look at it –James took that as an invitation to continue talking about the boring and rather dull goings on in his day to day life.
It was ridiculous that we were talking about James’ problems when, as of yesterday, it was confirmed that the fact my memories had been changed was all seated in the fact that I was in ‘mortal danger.’
Recipient of spellwork is in mortal danger.
Recipient in mortal danger.
“... and that means that everything is going to be a bit awkward, you know? What with Ryan and that.”
“What are you thinking about, Cassie? Other than the road, I hope.”
“Do you think, if the danger had passed, they’d have changed it to the past tense?” I asked, turning to look at him before remembering that I was in control of a car and fixing my eyes on the road in front and, oh Lord, there was a roundabout coming up.
I hated roundabouts.
“So it would become... was in mortal danger?”
A glance to Lily in the back seat confirmed that she was indeed completely cut out from our conversation – too immersed in listening to songs that some boy bands wrote about fancying ugly girls. Very Shakespeare-seque, maybe.
“They probably don’t update the files very often.”
“The Ministry’s only been online for a year.”
“How do you know that?”
“They paid my dad a million galleons to set it up for them, okay?” I said, almost snapping before taking a deep breath and a sharp left turn - as dictated by the sat-nav.
“A million galleons?”
“It’s no secret we’re millionaires. Well, that he's a millionaire. Anyway, that’s how I was able to hack it so fast – but, does that mean I’m still in danger?”
“I don’t know.” James said, “but we’ll find out.”
He, too, glanced at Lily in the back. She was probably getting confused why we were continually looking at her, but then again she seemed pretty absorbed in texting on her mobile. Sometimes I thought that everything would be better in the wizarding world if my Dad hadn’t invented all this muggle-wizarding-gadget stuff.
“I haven’t worked that out yet,” James said, stretching back in his seat and beginning to adjust the head restraint slightly – I resigned myself to his continually fidgeting and tried not to be so absorbed in watching his almost ferret-like movements. It seemed absurd that someone as laid back and cool as James would be a nervous-fidget., “but, I swear I’ll work it out for you Cassie.”
“I don’t want you to do anything for me, James,” I said, so quietly I was half convinced my words were lost under the sound of the radio (James was jabbing at the buttons to increase the volume as one of his favourite songs came on). “Do it for the sake of the curiosity.”
“Cassie, it’s happened,” James said lightly, “I’m bored.”
“Sorry,” I said quietly, “but it has only been fifteen minutes.”
“You’re not talking,” James complained, “you’re just sat there driving your stupid car. Why don’t we talk about the mystery?”
I glanced at the back in the mirror to ensure that Lily wasn’t going to listen about the illicit details about how James and I had hacked into the Ministry system (it was beginning to sink in exactly how illegal that was, like going-to-Azkaban-illegal, and I was definitely beginning to wonder how the hell James had managed to convince me that it was a good idea. Because it wasn’t) just in case she told her father and we both got into serious trouble. Lily had fallen asleep, her head lolling to one side.
“Sure,” I said, deciding not to point how much the term ‘mystery’ grated on my nerves when we were talking about something that meant I was, or had been, in mortal danger.
“So, what do we know? We know that you had your memories wiped in certain areas, but not which areas, and that you might have been in danger at some point.”
“Mortal danger, James. They were quite specific about that.”
“Yeah,” James said, seeming uncomfortable, “well.”
“You can continue.” I said quickly, dreading the awkward silence that ‘mortal danger’ seemed to cause.
“... we know that your Dad’s a bit weird about certain things. That he’s really paranoid about your safety, that your Mum disappeared for no reason, that your name's been changed a couple of hundred times. I maintain that you’re being hidden from someone. Or maybe more than a person – an organisation?”
“Why?” I asked quietly, “why would anyone want to kill me?”
“I don’t know,” James said, “it’s not like you’re much of a threat to national security.”
“We broke into the Ministry system.” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but... you? You’re a bit too cute to be a security threat to anything. I mean, come on, when have you ever been horrible to anyone? Unless the whole impossibly-shy routine is a brilliant way to hide the fact that you’re actually a spy.”
“I’m not impossibly shy.” I said, blushing at being referred to as ‘cute’ and being called ‘shy’ and the fact that James was finding it hard not to laugh about the idea of me being a spy.
“But you’re all reserved.”
“There’s a difference,” I said, “just because I don’t run around Hogwarts yelling about my underwear it doesn’t mean that I’m shy.”
“But the blushing?”
“That just means I have an overactive face.” I said, hitting the slip road and the accelerator with my heart sinking slightly. I’d never driven on a motorway before and despite trying to avoid it for as long as possible, it really was a bit of a necessity for getting to London. I gripped the steering wheel tightly I pushed the accelerator down a little further.
“But, like, you’re not always yourself and you don’t stick up for yourself.” James contradicted, leaning back in his seat and raising his eyebrows at me, “are you just going to ignore me?”
“Look, James, I’ve never driven on a motorway before. Can you give me five minutes to get used to it?”
“Erm, yeah, okay.” James said. It irritated me beyond usually levels that he seemed to think that he was actually doing me a favour by giving me a few seconds of peace and quiet, and not simply accepting it as common courtesy.
I shifted in my seat, trying my very best not to move my hands/swerve/ kill someone.
“You’re doing pretty well,” James said quietly after a few minutes, “you think you have it figured out now?”
“Just drive straight.” I returned, taking a deep breath, “simple.”
“So, anyway, if you’re not shy like you say then why don’t you... stick up for yourself?”
“Why should I?” I asked, “I’m not permanently too embarrassed to speak, James. It’s just that when you and Ryan are taking the mick out of me and calling me crazy, everything I could say to you would only make you find the whole thing funnier. It doesn’t matter what I do, I’ll still be crazy-Cassie – and so I don’t see any reason to justify myself when there’s nothing to justify. I don’t think it’s necessary to put you straight.”
“You’re justifying yourself right now.”
“Because you’re asking.”
“So, if I were to just... ask you?”
“Then I’d probably tell you.”
“And I’ve never asked?” James asked, a crease forming in his forehead as he watched me carefully. As always, the second I knew that he was looking my face turned its familiar red colour. I ignored it, focusing on the road and trying to ignore James as much as it was physically possible. “Okay, but what about when you’re not acting yourself?”
“We just established that you don’t know anything about me, so I’d like to know when you think I’m acting like ‘myself’.”
“When you’re driving, for a start.” James said with a grin, returning to pushing random buttons on the dashboard as if a television would immerge from one of the drink holders to entertain him from the rest of the journey.
“And when you were hacking into the Ministry website – you just seemed more relaxed.”
“I’m plenty relaxed when you’re not hovering around in the background.”
“Now you’re justifying yourself to me,” James pointed out, “and I didn’t even ask. Does that make me special?”
“It means you’re more annoying.”
“That’s pretty special,” James said with a grin, “so I’ll probably take it.”
“Are we nearly there yet?” James asked, now switching through the wide variety of London-centric radio channels in an attempt to find something that met his standards.
“Yes.” I muttered in a tired voice, watching the red light and willing it to change just so that I had something to do other than concentrate on not murdering James for his continual talk. Admittedly, I was used to the fact that he couldn’t stand silence due to the events of the summer but I had thought that with the radio on that would be enough to keep his ears pleasantly full of noise.
Apparently, it was a lack of conversation that he objected too.
Not something that Lily seemed to have a problem with.
“Oh, okay,” James said, leaving a song that had so many drums in it I could barely here the fact that there was also a guitar and a singer involved. Still, I wasn’t going to demand he changed it – no doubt he’d just laugh in my face and call me crazy for thinking I’d listen to him. It wasn’t worth the effort of attempting speech, “we’re still alive, Lily! And look, we’re nearly here!”
“Great.” Lily said blearily, opening her eyes for a moment before leaning the other way and falling back into sleep again – how anyone could sleep with the continual stopping and starting associated with London driving I didn’t know.
“Wait, what happens to your car? If we’re getting the train, then... Oh, God – you’re not just going to abandon it are you? I know you’re filthy rich, but that would be cruel. Hell, I’ll charm her and fly her to Hogwarts myself if you’re just going to dump her. "
“No,” I said with a tired voice, “this is my birthday present, remember? He’s sending the house keeper to pick it up, I think.”
“You have a house keeper," James snorted, “crazy-Cassie and her house keeper,” I should have known that the oh so witty crazy-Cassie comments would be resurfacing very soon. “Sorry, habit.” James said after a few seconds.
That really did throw me, enough that it took me a few seconds to react to the lights changing back to green and that the rude driver behind me slammed on his horn. I blushed and then rushed starting off, stalling stupidly before finally managing to move off and cross the junction.
James kindly didn’t comment and instead just smirked a lot.
“He’s a bit of a shit for making you drive to school on your own on your birthday,” James said thoughtfully, “maybe you should have stood up to him, instead of waiting for him to ask?”
“Nice parking,” James said with a grin, turning to raise his eyebrows at me. Already, Lily had fallen out of the car as quickly as possible and was rejoining Hugo on the other side of the car park, where the Potters had just arrived, “oh don’t worry about her,” James said distractedly, “she’s just going through a bit of teenage angst – you’d probably understand more than me. She’s sometimes quite lovely, but...”
James still hadn’t gotten out of the car. I very much felt like I couldn’t get out of the car until James did, because this was my car and I wasn’t leaving him in it alone. I stared at him pointedly.
“Well, I guess we’re here.”
“Yes.” I said, waiting for him to unstrap his seatbelt and exit.
“That wasn’t such a long journey after all.”
He could speak for himself, I decided, and began messing about with my own seatbelt. He seemed to get the hint this time and exited the car a couple of seconds before I did. I locked it, stowing the keys into the depths of my pocket and staring at my car. It was strange, I wanted very much to feel attached to it and be excited about the fact that I now owned it, but I couldn’t bring myself to even it. Still, after it had been my trusty companion on one of the most awkward journey of my life I was beginning to feel the tiniest trace of affection.
“The trunks.”James prompted, straining his necks to see whether his parents were walking over here or whether we were to talk to them. Ginny Potter beckoned him over.
I pulled the keys back out, feeling foolish, and threw the boot open.
Again, James seemed woefully distracted and fidgety about something. Even without it being inside a confined space, it was exceedingly annoying. It made me want to stamp on his feet to stop him from prancing about like a first class idiot.
I pulled the two trunks out of the boot and placed them on the floor (chivalry is, most decidedly, dead).
“Wait,” James said, grabbing my wrist as I was about to shut the boot of the car. I froze.
Lily was now talking to Rose near the Potter’s car, where a whole variety of Potters and Weasleys and others seemed to have gathered and where now chatting away in excited voices, attracting a fair bit of attention due to the number of owls that were included in their luggage. Nobody seemed to have noticed the fact that James had done the strangest thing he’d ever done so far – reached out, caught my wrist and looked at me very seriously.
I don’t think my face had ever been so red and it didn’t even look as though he was going to laugh; instead he was stood there, lips partly slightly with every appearance of being very confused all of a sudden.
“What happens at school?”
If I was smart and witty and brave I’d have been able to be snarky: we learn, Potter, we attend lessons and we do homework. But, I was Cassie Jones (or at least, that was the name I went by – who knew what my real name was when you pealed back all the different surnames and returned to the original), and I was not smart or witty or brave.
“Do you want me to talk to you? Say hello in the corridors and what not?”
“It’s up to you James.” I said, wanting to pull my wrist very far away from him and be able to avoid him for quite a long period of time.
“But what do you want?”
“You wouldn’t let yourself lose friends for me, Potter.”
“No, we’re not – we’re colleagues.”
“You’re my friend.”
“You’re not very friendly,” I countered. “Do whatever you think is best, it doesn’t make a difference to me.”
“I’m not going to tease you and what not.”
“Okay.” I said, finally pulling my wrist out of his hold (and turning a marvellous shade of Gryffindor-scarlet in the process) and shutting my boot forcefully.
“I don’t expect anything from you just because you know my Dad’s a millionaire and that I’m in mortal danger. It doesn’t change anything.”
“No, but I know you and you’re not crazy... and well, it turns out the reason we started calling you crazy was because you told us something that was true. So, by my calculations, I owe you. And that changes things.”
Rose and Albus were beginning to glance over now and I was painfully aware that everyone would have plenty to say about the fact that James was casually hanging around (and randomly grabbing hold of my wrists), now that he actually had the option to be elsewhere and be doing other things, he was still talking to me.
“So, as we’re ‘colleagues’ I’ll work for my forgiveness, right?”
“You’re forgiven, so whatever.”
“Ah,” James said, puffing up his overly large chest and grabbing my trunk from the floor – as if I was incapably of carrying it myself (and there was the chivalry), “but I haven’t forgiven myself!” He said, with the usual James Potter bravado that I was beginning to become very much accustomed to.
“I suppose we can figure something out.” I muttered as James began to drag both trunks over to his parents, leaving me stood alone by my car.
“No, Cassie,” James said, stopping the car park and turning around to continue talking to me, “we’re going to figure everything out.”
Well, this is the sort of chapter that makes me want to sing FILLEERRRR, FILLER NIGHT YOU’RE FIGHTING TO FIND THE PLOT INSIDE A THRILLER-FILLER tonniggghhtttt! (lyrics inspired and virtually written by Michael Jackson), but alas... an update is an update. PLUS, it is a sign of exciting things to come! Yes, that was exciting enough that I whacked out an exclamative sentence.
Right? Right? Please review, it really does make my day :)
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