Hello, everyone! I apologize for the long wait. I'm very sorry, but updates are returning in full swing! I also anticipate that there will be a maximum of six chapters left. The end is near! Thank you to those who have followed this story so faithfully! It means the world to be!
Be sure to review! And enjoy!
James found that he spent an unreasonable amount of time in Professor Clearwater's office. If he wasn't in class, in the Great Hall for his meals, or on patrol duty, he was in her office. He no longer did his studies or homework in the library with his friends or cousins. Instead he would take them to Professor Clearwater's office as soon as he was done with his classes. He would disappear before any of them could ask him where he was going, and he could come back when he knew they would have retired to their dormitories for the night if he wasn't on duty.
He knew his friends wanted to know where he was spending all of his time, why he was losing sleep, why he wasn't there both physically and emotionally. Only Dominique knew where James spent all of his time, and when she was free, she would occasionally drop by the office and find James sitting on the cold, stone floor with heaps of parchment surrounding him with different scribbles on all of them, the pensieve hovering a few feet away from him.
She often tried to tell him he had to take it easy, that he was overdoing himself. Sometimes she would find him curled up in a ball on the floor, pressing his fingers against his eye sockets, seeming to be in pain as if he could force his visions to come back on demand. They never did though. Sometimes Dominique wished they would though, for James' sake. For Harry's sake. For everyone. James had this undying determination and faith in himself, that he could somehow solve the murder of Alaric Rousseau, that he could free his father and prove him innocent of all charges. Dominique wanted to believe him, wanted to believe that that truth was out there, but everyone else was losing faith. And fast.
James didn't care what Dominique thought though. He knew she was beginning to give up, beginning to think that he was crazy or overdoing himself. A few times he had felt that conversation with her looming in the air between them, but she had held her tongue and not said anything, instead dismissing herself from the room and leaving James to his twisted thoughts.
He knew his long hours in Professor Clearwater's office were affecting his schoolwork. His failing grade on a Potions essay had shown that, but not only were the hours affecting his grades, but he was losing sleep. He could hardly run an effective Quidditch practice anymore, and as much as he hated to admit it, he knew that Lorcan had been right. Lorcan had predicted that he would lose it if he didn't manage his time better and if he didn't keep track of his thoughts. Well, he had organized his thoughts, but now managing his time was his last priority.
He was dozing off in his Transfiguration class when he heard Teddy dismiss the class. The shuffle of papers, books, bags, and the murmur of students brought him to his senses. He gave a snort, his eyes shooting open, and he wiped the drool off his chin. That was when he heard his name spoken across the classroom by Teddy.
"James! If you could stay after class for a moment..."
James nodded and looked to Norah beside him. He rolled his eyes at her, showing his distress, knowing that Teddy's tone meant much less than speaking pleasantries. "What's he want?" asked James, groggy.
"You were snoring. Maybe that has something to do with it," Norah muttered under her breath. She rose from her desk and slung her bag across her back. "See you later."
Her tone may have been irritated, but James realized that was the most he had spoken to her in a good two months. The last real conversation he remembered with her was on a snowy day in the middle of January out on the grounds. He, Albus, Norah, Lorcan, and his cousins had shared a great snowball fight, but ever since then, he couldn't really remember speaking to her other than her constant harping about what he was doing in his spare time.
James wrinkled his nose and slammed his Transfiguration book shut. He approached Teddy at his desk, rubbing a kink out of his neck. Seeing that James was approaching, Teddy leaned against his desk, folding his arms across his chest.
"Yeah?" James asked. He knew that he and Teddy had always shared the relationship that more resembled that of brothers, but ever since the new term had begun, James' tolerance of Ted had grown shorter. Perhaps it was the fact that, ever since assuming his position as professor at Hogwarts, Ted had grown more mature.
"I've been lenient, James. More than lenient," exhaled Ted. "You've got to set yourself straight."
"I'm trying," he commented with a heavy sigh.
"No, you're not," Teddy immediately cut him off. "I know when you're trying, and this isn't it."
He reached behind his desk to pull something off, and he pushed James' most recent essay onto his chest. James hand fumbled with the parchment and he looked down at his paper to see the large D at the top of the page, and he groaned.
"I had to give you a D, James. You're better than this, and I can't show favoritism. You only received a P on your previous essay, and have only made one E in the class this term. This means you absolutely have to receive an O on your final exam. Or you fail the class," Ted said softly.
"I don't wanna hear it," complained James.
"Yeah, well, you're gonna listen anyway," seethed Teddy. "It's not that I'm telling you that you need to be a better student, that you need to try harder in my class. I was a student once; I get it. But I'm trying to tell you that what you're doing isn't good for your health. I know what you're doing - "
"Dominique told you?!"
"Shush, and let me finish!" hissed Teddy. He grabbed the essay back out of James' hands. "I know Professor Clearwater said you could use her office as long as you like, but I'm sure she'll agree with me when I take this to her. We all want what's best for your health, and you wasting your life away, trying to change something that's out of your reach, isn't what's best for you."
"I will free my dad," muttered James in a deep voice. He glowered at Teddy, disappointed that everyone seemed to have lost all faith. "He didn't kill Alaric Rousseau."
"I don't think he did either, but you're not the Minister of Magic! You're just a student; you can't overturn a major Wizengamot case."
"I will," he breathed again.
Teddy rolled his eyes and came to the understanding that he couldn't change James' mind. "Whatever. At least get some rest and understand that you're a seventh year student. You have your N.E.W.T.S. in a month. If you really want to free your father, you'll realize that your grades are just as important in order to be an Auror. When you get out of Hogwarts, you can waste your life away in front of a pensieve all you want. Get your priorities straight."
"Is that all?"
"Yeah," sighed Teddy, shaking his head in disappointment at what James had turned in to. "Get out."
Teddy's talk with James didn't do much for him though. James found that as soon as he snatched his bag from his desk, he headed straight for the Headmistress' office. He didn't care what Teddy said; he just didn't understand. He had grown closer. Not by much. But closer to finding out the truth. If Teddy was going to tell Professor Clearwater and if she would then keep him from continuing to piece the puzzle together, then he would take all the time he could now.
Her office was empty, like it usually was. Professor Clearwater often made rounds throughout the school and rarely returned to her office for anything other than nighttime and for appointments. He headed straight for her pensieve and the cabinet full of the vials he had stored his visions and memories. He selected the one to which he had seen the Priori Incantatem and poured it into the pensieve. Without a moment to lose, he was leaning in and observing once more.
He didn't know what he was looking for. He knew that the vision didn't contain any sight of a decipherable person. There was only one body on the ground. From what he had noticed from
watching the vision over and over, the body on the ground had deep raven hair, long, and unfortunately shielding his face. But by the slender, sinew frame of the body and height of him on the floor, James only had one guess as to who it could be.
And that terrified him. He refused to believe it. Perhaps he wasn't dead. Perhaps he was just unconscious. He wouldn't make any assumptions. His work was too fragile to make any; one wrong assumption could send him spiraling in the wrong direction to the point where he could never recover.
Over the sound of the rain, thunder, and collapsing rubble, he still could not decipher the voices. There was just too much going on, but then the wand was thrown in the air, and once again he watched the Priori Incantatem occur. Alaric soon came, but that was when it ended.
Then he was jerked free of the vision, and he landed on the stone floor in a frustrated heap. Distraught, he slammed his fist into the floor, certainly causing more damage to himself than to the floor. He pressed his palms into his eye sockets, envisioning what he just saw over and over. He tried to pick up any additional little detail, and then he tried to force himself to see further. He knew it didn't work like that, that he couldn't command his visions to return, but he so desperately wished that it did work like that.
He then ended up spending hours in the office that day. Teddy didn't come by, to wish James was happy about. At one point he finally gave up for the time being. He ended up starting his Defense Against the Dark Arts homework instead and working on his Potions essay. He didn't know when he fell asleep, but he did, sprawled out along the floor with his papers sticking to him. He awoke when the sun had set; the moonlight illuminated the still empty office, and he grunted. Once again he had missed dinner. But there was no use in sulking over that fact; he resumed his tedious thinking when he pulled out his journal of intricate webbings of his visions.
When he didn't get anywhere and reached that blockade he was often hitting more and more, he let out a distressed shout and threw his journal clear across the room.
He was on the floor, rubbing his forehead, pushing at his eyes until they went numb, and grunting in frustration when he heard the door fly open with a bang. His hands jerked away from his face, and his eyes flew open. He half expected Professor Clearwater, but with an entrance like that, her appearance didn't make all that much sense.
He was surprised to see Norah standing in the doorway. She had an aggravated look on her face, and she put her hands on her hips. "Dominique told me you would be here."
"She needs to learn to keep her bloody mouth shut," muttered James.
"She's only trying to help! I, on the other hand, am here to tell you that you're late for our patrol duty!" she shouted in frustration.
"Ugh," he grunted. He pulled his papers and journal together in a stack and stored them beside the pensieve.
"This is what you've been doing? For months?" Norah began to question him.
James just ignored her as he shuffled about the room. He stored his things and left his bag securely in a corner of the office. He didn't wish to carry it with him during his patrol duty; he could come back for it later. He tried to think all of this through as he listened to Norah badger him with questions. As much as he wished to have a real conversation with her and as much as he missed her, the way she went about the situation only irritated him further. But just about everything irritated him more and more these days. He just didn't want to deal with any of it these days.
"Will you leave it alone?" he snarled and headed for the door.
Norah was right on his tail, chasing after him as he went down the stairs that spiraled downwards. "No, I won't leave it alone! You've been hiding out in Professor Clearwater's office for months! Dom didn't tell me what for, but what I saw surely isn't for means of sanity, James! And you've been losing it lately! What were you up to?"
"I was trying to clear my head, okay?" he muttered in a low breath.
"Clear your head is all you do these days!" Norah sighed. "What could possibly be going on up there?"
"You have no idea, Norah!" he rounded on her. They turned down an empty corridor, the light from the torches fading, and they were left in complete darkness. "You couldn't possibly begin to understand what's going on in my head, Norah. So don't even try!"
"James," she sighed. She was beginning to lose her edge. She could never stay angry at anyone for long, but with James she had an even smaller capability to hold her anger in place. In the dark corridor, standing beside him after he being so distant for so long, she took a bold step forward and put a hand on his chest. He fell back with her, his back resting against the wall and his chest heaving with his irritation.
She knew him too well. She knew that being angry with him wouldn't get anything done. If she wanted something from him, anger was never the way to do it. She knew from experience that being gentle and caring was what it took. Despite how upset she was with how he had treated her - hell, how he had treated everyone - over the past two months, she knew she would have to be gentle in this situation.
Her voice grew soft as she patted his chest. "I'm not trying to understand. But I could begin to try if you would just open up to me."
"Y-You..." he said. He didn't know how to argue back, that much was clear, but that meant Norah's method was effective. He was losing his edge. "There's a reason no one knows why I spend all my time there. I have to...I have to keep my grasp of what's real; I can't let that mix with my visions."
"Visions...?" Norah whispered, and she only then realized that so much had happened with James that she wasn't aware of. She wanted to ask further, but she let James go on. He was speaking, and that was enough. She didn't want to scare him off.
"Yeah. I see things now too. Sometimes. I can't control it, but it's confusing me. It's making me...lose it," he whispered.
Norah's sturdy hand on his chest turned more into one of reassurance. She rubbed gently; she could feel her fingers running over the undone buttons at the top of his shirt. She dipped in and felt his warm skin. One of his hands rose to cover hers, and he gave a squeeze. That was when he lost his train of thought.
He fell against the wall, sinking to the ground and pulling Norah with him. He entwined their fingers, not caring about what he had told her months ago. It had been months since he had had any sort of real conversation.
"I've missed you so much," he sighed, holding the back of her hand to his cheek. Even though she knew he was going through a rough time, Norah smiled. He was finally beginning to sound like himself again.
"That's the crazy thing, James. I've been here the whole time. You've chosen to let it get this bad."
"I know..." he muttered. "I don't know what's happened to me. I hardly know who I am anymore, Norah. I barely sleep. When I do, it's in class. I'm in the office all the time, watching those visions over and over, just looking for something that can change it! I know I can do it; I know I can. I can free my father. I'll get the right visions at some point. It will come together."
So that was what this was all about? Norah wanted to stop him mid-sentence, to reassure him, to tell him to calm down. But James seemed to have opened a floodgate, and it had all come pouring out. There was no stopping him until he was finished. She would just take the bits and pieces he gave her and would figure it out as he went along.
"I've been watching this one vision over and over. Like something more will come out of it each time. But I know it won't. So I don't know why I keep doing it. You see what I mean? I'm losing it, Norah. All I can think about is my dad...in Azkaban."
"Shhh," she whispered. He had taken his head into his hands at some point during his rant, and he had cut the circulation off of her hand. She pulled it free but instead wrapped her arms around him. He twisted about so that he was lying on the stone floor, his head in her lap. He looked up at her, her features unable to be seen. But he didn't need light to know what he was staring at; he had long ago memorized her features. All he could see was the glow in her eyes. He reached up and ran his fingers through her hair, her long curls that he hadn't touched in so long.
"I wish you had told me about this sooner," she whispered. "You know I'm always here for you. I wish you weren't feeling like this."
"Me too," he sighed. "I know you're always there. Even when I yell at you...You're still there."
She chuckled at that, and she was glad when she saw his teeth glinting with what little light there was. She ran her hands through his long hair; he was in bad need of a haircut, but she always seemed to like it best when it was this length. Her hands became still as she watched his face. She leaned forward, and without thinking about the one person that kept them apart, she pressed her lips to his forehead.
She could feel him heavily exhale, growing still beneath her, but she tried not to think too hard on it. When she pulled away, she only let her eyes refocus on his trembling lips. She felt like now was different. That maybe he didn't care what stood in their way, that maybe he wanted to be with her so desperately that he didn't let Albus get the best of him, that maybe he was so greatly lacking a relationship with anyone that he would let her do it. Maybe he would...
Then she leaned in.
Disappointment filled her when he rolled out from under her. He sat up, his chest suddenly heaving after being so still.
"N-No," he muttered, and Norah let out a sigh of defeat. "I'm sorry, but I still can't. I want to; now more than ever. But I still can't. You...I'm so sorry, Norah."
"I-It's okay," she said quietly. "I'm sorry I tried."
He nodded and moved closer to her. He knew that she was disappointed in him, however understanding, but he took her hand in reassurance. He squeezed and then asked uneasily. "Norah, you and my brother have been dating for quite some time now. I'm sorry, and don't take this the wrong way - but where do you think your relationship with him is going?"
"I-I don't know," she answered truthfully. "Albus is so different lately. At first it was due to how I felt for him. He's changed. Not like how you've changed. You...Now, I know that what you are going through is just a phase; it hasn't changed you permanently. But I've talked to Al about this, and I get nothing. There's nothing beneath it. Sometimes I wonder if it is because of me and if I just need to end it. Maybe it's best for all of us, but then there are the times when I know he needs me more than ever. I don't know, Jamie. He's changed so drastically that I know my feelings for him like that are gone..."
James felt guilty and conceited when he breathed a deep sigh of relief at that. But he listened to Norah continue.
"They're gone. But I can't bring myself to end it. You know he's fragile right now, for whatever reason. He needs someone."
"Right, but you can't stay with him out of pity," James whispered. He knew he was speaking for multiple reasons. Out of hope in the fact that he and Norah might one day have their time, and out of the true feeling that Norah couldn't stay with Albus out of pure pity. No one deserved that.
"I know. It will end at some point. I'm just waiting for the right time," she replied.
James didn't even hesitate to hold back his smile. He patted her hand and then laughed under his breath, changing the conversation.
"Well, this can hardly be called patrol duty," commented James.
"You're right," replied Norah.
James stood and helped pull Norah to her feet. They resumed their assigned patrol duty on the second floor for the night. Conversation flowed normally, easily, and Norah was glad to have James back. He talked like nothing was wrong, like the used to in the previous term on their long hours of patrol duty. They laughed, and James seemed to forget his befuddled thoughts and fear of his father's safety.
A good few hours of their patrol passed, and it had reached the early hours of morning without any sign of disruption. Their patrol was coming to an end when they heard footsteps and hushed voices coming from the end of the hall. They listened, trying to figure out the identity of the students out of bed before making it known that the Head Boy and Head Girl were also in the corridor.
"Pick up the pace, you bloody idiot," one of the voices, a boy, hissed.
There was another voice that followed. It was only a mutter, a weak retort, but it was enough to let James and Norah recognize the speaker. "I'll kill you..." Albus muttered.
"In good time, kid," the first boy said. "Now hurry up. We're late."
"What are we doing tonight?" Albus asked in a defeated voice, as if he had no way out of the set schedule. "My dad has had a change in plans. We're going to Azkaban."
"What?!" Albus almost shouted in surprise.
At that, James grabbed Norah's shoulders and pushed her into a corner. They hid there in silence, shock taking over the both of them, until the boys would pass. Norah was trembling, questions daring to leave her lips, but James pressed a finger firmly against them. James kept her backed into the corner, and finally the boys passed. They could make out Albus' shadow as they passed, unaware of the two seventh years pressed into the corner. The second boy James immediately knew to be Al's newest friend: Parker Namken.
They let them pass, and when they knew they were out of earshot, Norah whispered furiously. "W-What's going on? What just happened?!"
"I don't know..." muttered James.
So many different thoughts began to form in his head, mixing together, confusing him. So many possible things. But he didn't do the one thing he had learned from his many pensieve visits; he didn't make any assumptions. Instead he grabbed Norah's wrist and pulled her into the corridor once more.
"But we have to find out. Come on," he whispered.
"James! What do you think we will do?" she asked in shock.
He silenced her as they began to tiptoe a good distance behind the two sixth years. They twisted through the corridor, and they finally watched the boys slip into the girl’s lavatory.
"Oh my god..." James muttered in shock, staring at the large door of the lavatory that had been long ago abandoned. "The Chamber of Secrets..."
"J-James, what's going on?"
"I don't know," he answered again, but pulled Norah further in.
He let go of her hand as he approached the door. This part would be delicate work. He couldn't just open the door and barge in. He pulled down the handle and pushed it forward a tiny bit so he could hear anything that occurred in the bathroom. There was silence for a few moments, and then they heard Parker speak. He ordered Albus to do something, the words running together, and then James heard his brother speak Parseltongue clear as day.
There was the clear scraping of stone, and then James knew the boys had stepped into the entrance. He threw the door open and burst into the bathroom. There, one of the sinks had disappeared into the floor, revealing a perfect entrance from someone to enter through. It began to move, beginning its closure, and James grabbed Norah's hand, pulling her forward. "Come on!"
"We aren't seriously going in there!" she cried out.
But they both knew one thing. They had to follow Albus into that chamber. The time had come.
"We have to! This could solve everything! It's here. My answers are finally here; I just know it. Now come on!" he urged.
She pursed her lips, inhaled deeply, and gave one brave nod. She took James' hand again and together they slipped into the chute, landing directly in the middle of chaos.