“The incense,” James said, walking into the room of the requirement with two cups of tea and sitting down opposite me, “it’s often used by seers: divination-cynics say that it’s a mild hallucinogenic but seers and fortune tellers it opens the inner eye – I’m not entirely sure Sinistra knows that Trelawney’s burning it in her room, though.”
“Maybe that was in the potion,” I said slowly, taking the cup of tea and frowning, “that Mum was burning. She said it was dangerous to touch – blood red. We could work out what this is, couldn’t we? I’m rubbish at potions. Are you any good?”
“Not really,” James admitted “Lily’s forte, but she’s not to be trusted... I’ve been thinking, Cassie, we need... I think we need Molly.”
“Molly?” I asked, frowning slightly. “Your cousin Molly?”
None of the Weasley extended family were particularly inconspicuous, but Molly was remarkable in her own unique way: she was, in short, a near-genius and so politically minded that everyone was already half convinced she was going to end up as Minister of Magic. Despite still being in seventh year, she’d been involved in Ministry internships since before receiving the results of her OWL and I was almost convinced that they were employing her for some reason or other, whilst she was still at Hogwarts.
“Ministry insider,” James said, frowning slightly (confirmed Ministry worker, then, James was rubbish at keeping things quiet), “she wouldn’t blab, Cas.”
“It’s not that,” I frowned, “I don’t know her. Can we just... see how things go?”
“Sure,” James agreed, “so, the plan: what’s next? Breaking into the office, more hypnosis, occlumency, new laptop, potion, divination?”
“Let’s concentrate on the potion and divination,” I sighed, “Mum told me to never to look into my future and I’m in mortal danger, so she must have made a prediction. Those books you read about amnesia... sensory reminders? If we had the potion...”
“I don’t think we should push your mind too much.” James said looking almost as if he actually cared – which was strange and bizarre and complicated all at once. Damn, he shouldn’t be such an emotional being because it was immensely distracting.
“What, because you’re scared I’m going to go crazy?” I asked pointedly. “Let’s split up: you look in potions books, I’ll look in Divination books – I should probably study a bit of Divination given apparently I’m taking it as a subject now.”
“So you’re leaving?” James asked.
“Yes.” I said pointedly.
“But,” James said, making a big deal of pouting deliberately, “I made you tea and everything.”
“Last time you made me tea, a mad woman predicted my death,” I muttered, shrugging slightly as I frowned at him, “find me if you find anything important.”
“Found anything, Cass?” James asked loudly – why was he always so loud? – as he met me in the middle of the corridor towards the library. I shook my head: I’d covered a fair proportion of the syllabus, but it seemed a bit like bullocks to me – all I’d really found about potions was a small paragraph about potions related to Divination and the author was very opinionated and said that only the least able of seers, usually those who were merely petty fortune tellers, had to rely on potions to induce visions. I’d found myself feeling oddly protective over my mother’s career choice and had ended up rather forcefully shoving the book back into the suitcase and catching up on my charms homework.
As far as progress, I didn’t even think I’d improved on charms let alone my knowledge of potions associated with Divination.
“Only a dislike of Divination,” I said, pulling my bag further up my shoulder and blinking, “you got anything?”
“Yes,” he said dramatically, pulling out a flask of potion from his pocket, “did you know there’s a potion for forgetfulness?”
“No,” I said taking hold of the flask of potion and feeling it in my hands, “forgetfulness potion?”
“For mild amnesia and the absent minded. It’s a seventh year potion, apparently.”
“And you brewed this?”
“No,” James said, frowning slightly as he cricked his neck, “I walked into Hogsmeade and got it from my Uncle’s shop. The shop assistance fancies me. Maybe she could be my rebound?”
“Enough about your pathetic love life, James – what does the potion do?”
“What do you think?” James deadpanned. “I told her I’d gotten really drunk and couldn’t remember whether or not I’d made out with my ex.”
“Since your drinking this, I guess we’ll never find out,” James grinned, and I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not he was joking, “either way, it’s perfectly legit – they actually sell it a long side hangover cures. You just need to drink it and within the hour you’ll have better access to your memories.”
“I thought we weren’t going to mess with my mind?” I asked, frowning slightly as I turned the bottle over in my hands, “might this be dangerous?”
“Also got you some anaesthetic potion but, saying that, it’s pretty weak as it’s only designed for you to remember the night before but, well, I thought it was worth a try?”
“Okay, yeah thanks…” I said, frowning slightly, “you went all the way to Hogsmeade?”
“I had to go anyway,” James said, falling into step with me, “we’re having a bit of family party in the kitchens tonight and Freddie insisted I brought him half a litre of Fire Whiskey. Thing is, Lucy will dare him to drink it and he will and then Molly will have to clear up the mess and frankly, it’s going to be ridiculous and Lily is going to write home about it, buzz kill, and it’s going to be utterly messy.”
“Right,” I said, frowning slightly, “sounds… messy.”
“Exactly, Cassie. Anyway, I thought I’d drop this off with you because I really have to talk to Albus about this thing later… and you can tell me tomorrow how it goes. At some point. So, Cassandra Second Name, see you later.” James said, offering me a faux-salute before heading off down the corridor.
“Wait,” I said calling after him, “what if it hurts like last time?”
“Do what you did last time!” James said, turning around and waving at me before disappearing completely.
I don’t know why it felt so wrong to have James disappearing for his next big adventure, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all. And I didn’t like the fact that I still didn’t know what the hell was going on in James’s head, because he was a huge enigma and he didn’t make sense and why the hell was he pretending?
I stopped on my way back to the common room at the toilets and downed the potion, pushed myself up onto the counter so I was sat next to the sink and pressed my hands to my forehead, preparing myself for the onslaught of the pain.
The potion tasted like cinnamon and it made me feel dizzy. Everything that had happened in the past week seemed to become more focused and obvious somehow: I could remember small insignificant moments like stopping in the corridor to tie my shoelaces, noticing the strange concoctions of emotions that surrounded James and the way Leanne had gotten all flirty and silly about Jared Carter. I was strangely aware of all the dreams I’d had, which I’d previously forgotten, but when I tried to think back to remembering those things with James – about my parents – but I couldn’t remember anything more than I had the first time.
I tried to think back further but it only seemed to work up until last week, beyond that all the memories felt the same.
“Cassie?” Someone asked and I jerked out of my thoughts to find faced with a third year Hufflepuff. “Are you okay, Cassie?”
“Yeah,” I said, jerking myself out of my thoughts and pulling myself back into reality – I felt slightly drunk. Worse, even, I felt slightly drugged. It was a bizarre sensation. It was horrible. I didn’t have control, “just… feel a bit sick.”
“I’ll walk you back to the common room,” The girl said with a bracing smile, “get an early night and tomorrow if you still feel sick go to the hospital wing.”
“Yeah, thanks.” I muttered, pushing myself off the sink and taking a deep breath. Sometimes, just sometimes, Hufflepuffs were too damn nice.
Still, something about the thought of an early night was immensely appealing.
Blood red potion burning. A mother, a father and a daughter. Light conversation. I’d seen this before, this memory, with the cloudy mist of having something changed and altered and messed about with.
The same conversation. The same as before. The same fog. The same distorted words.
“Cassandra…never look into your future.”
Except there was one change: my mother had used a knife to chop up some strange purple vegetable before adding it to the potion with that pungent smell the seemed to fill up the room; suffocating.
The last time I’d been in this memory the knife had disappeared.
And now it remained on the table, glistening with blood red potion.
And it was the knife that made me scream.
I needed to tell James about the dream before it slipped away. I could have written it down, but that prospect didn’t seem to register until I’d pulled on my robes and was slipping out of my bedroom and into the common room, the corridor and heading towards the kitchens. He’d told me that’s where he’d be tonight and I could sense the presence of a lot more people in the kitchen than was usual (it averaged out at about one person there every other day), which fit in with the story of his family reunion or whatever it was.
How typically Potter-esque.
The dream seemed to have killed my ability to feel self-conscious and even my ability to blush and it was in a trance-like state that I found myself walking towards to the Kitchens, shaking slightly, as I tickled the pear and pushed open the door.
The sea of red heads and the general assortment of Weasley’s and Potters and the like turned to face me, then there was quite a few raised eyebrows and Rose Weasley turned to James with a pointed smile. James frowned, looking suitably embarrassed by my appearance, stepped over to my direction and frowned at me.
“What do you want, Cassie? We’re sort of in the middle of something here, Fred was just about to get out the Fire Whiskey –“
“I had a dream.”
James was slightly irritated and annoyed by my appearance, which grated on me slightly: considering we’d been getting on fairly well recently it was a bit insulting just to be dropped as soon as the quest wasn’t at the forefront of his mind. Admittedly, that was exactly what I wanted but still, to be confronted with the truth about the person I’d been spending the majority of my time with this late at night (or early, depending on how you looked at it) was as unsettling as the dream itself.
“Great, Cassie. You know I don’t really care about your dreams, yeah?”
“Because of the forgetfulness potion,” I said pointedly, “it was the memory from before, but things were different –“
“ – what?” James asked, grabbing my shoulders and looking at me seriously.
“There was a knife,” I muttered, “a potions knife… it disappeared before.”
“A knife?” James asked and he appeared to understand a little of how vastly important a knife was to things. A knife changed everything. A knife that had been removed made the whole story twist. Mortal danger.
“Covered in the potion.” I said and suddenly I wanted to cry. My head was beginning to hurt all over again, I was shaken by the memory of screaming, not getting enough sleep, the fact that something horrible as lurking just beyond me grasp. I almost wanted to take James up on his previous offer of a hug. The potion had been blood red, what if -
“James Potter,” A voice rang out from the doorway, full of authority and irritation, “I am going to murder you.”
“You’re late, Molly.” Roxanne put in.
“James’s shitty ex-mate has turned us in, he fucking followed you James!” Molly looked impressive and terrifying in the doorway. She let out a single exasperated sigh and then said. “Run.”
“Time to bloody well scatter!” Fred Weasley declared, grabbing the invisibility cloak and disappearing under it with Dom and Lucy. Lily ran to the doorway and there was a sudden crush towards the portrait hall, with people spilling towards the door half of the visible and half of them invisible and Molly Weasley out front hissing instructions at them.
“TOO LATE!” Louis yelled on the other side of the door. “SAVE YOURSLEF! LONGBOTTOM HAS COME TO ARREST ME!”
“Are all your family this bloody dramatic?” I asked, grabbing hold of James’s wrist and pulling him towards the other secret passage.
“What the hell are you doing?” James hissed, trying to pull his wrist out of my grasp. I don’t think I’d ever voluntarily touched him before.
“I don’t,” James said (although I didn’t have to sense emotions to know that was a lie: if he didn’t trust me a little bit then he should be running in the direction of the door as fast as possible), towards the little portrait so unassuming that normally no one usually noticed it was there.
I poked the pineapple and the portrait clicked open, wrenching it open before tumbling inside.
“God’s sake,” I muttered, “James, don’t just stand there: get in here.”
“What the hell is this?” James asked as he climbed into the small space behind the portrait and I slammed the door behind us. “Is this another secret passage? This isn’t on the map.” I decided not to answer that. “Thanks for saving my life, I suppose?” James said, ducking slightly and peering down the passage.
“You were only going to get a detention.” I said quietly, slumping down the side of the wall.
“Couldn’t you have found a bigger secret passage for us to hide in?” James asked quietly. I refused to answer that. “Where does this lead to anyway?”
“To my bedroom.” I said, blushing in the dark. It didn’t look like much like James could see in this level of darkness, though, so it wasn’t an issue.
“Excellent. Let’s go there.”
“I have dorm mates.”
“Say you’re brining me back for the night.” James grinned, nudging me slightly.
There were a long few moments of silence when I became more accustomed to the dark of the passage, meaning that James’s details came more clearly into view – not that sight made much difference, considering I could feel his presence much more acutely than I could see it.
“Sorry about earlier.” James said.
“Forget it.” I muttered, shrugging my shoulders deliberately and closing my eyes. I opened them again quickly, because I didn’t much once to sense James’s emotions.
“No I shouldn’t have been mean.”
“I know it’s stupid, but my family are the only people who are really talking to me at the moment and I didn’t want them to think badly of me.” That stung a little; that the idea of me talking to James in front of his family was so damaging to his reputation that he would refused to do it.
It was probably best if he didn’t talk.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” James said hastily, meaning some form of reaction must have shown on my face. Considering James considered me unflappable, I really wanted it to be just a lucky guess about my emotions rather than James actually being able to read my face – maybe something about being stuck inside a much-too-small secret passage with someone suddenly mean that you were practically cellophane. I couldn’t afford to have James look right through me. “Look, Cassie,” James said, his eyes wide and much too close to my face, “I just meant I think… I don’t know, I just don’t – ”
“You have your little persona. It’s okay, James, I get it.”
“No you don’t,” James said, frowning slightly, “why would you get it?”
“I can sense your emotions, James, you perpetuate your little image rather than say and think what you really feel. There is so much disparity between your face and feelings it’s… disconcerting.”
“So what are you saying?” James asked curiously.
“Nothing. I wasn’t saying… I was just, talking.”
“You’re much more confident in the dark, too.” James said. I blushed at that. By the way his lips tilted upwards slightly it seemed like he could see my face. “And you were saying something.”
“Fine, you’re fictional.”
“Yeah,” I said, looking away from and hearing his breathing magnified by the silence and the tiny space we inhabited, “you made yourself up: you act like an ass because that’s safer.”
“So you’ve got me all worked out?”
“Keep trying, then,” James grinned, “good to know I’m on your mind, Cassie. What am I feeling right now?”
“Tired?” I suggested, closing my eyes and leaning towards the portrait hole to sense out who was there. “He’s keeping guard, still.”
“Good,” James said, “let’s talk Cassie.” I stayed silent at that. “Because if I’m fictional then at least we have something in common,” Again, I didn’t talk, it was easier – James was slightly angry about me mentally dissecting him given I had such an advantage. “Because, Cassandra questionable surname, you don’t let anyone close to you.”
“Neither do you.” I countered, feeling my face heating up to absurd degrees as I sat there.
“Well then,” James said, “we make an excellent couple.”
I looked to the side again and let my head rest against the stone wall of the passageway, away from James. “Why are you helping me, James? I want a real reason.”
“Killing you, is it?” James grinned, nudging me with his shoulder again and nagging me for attention. “Unfinished puzzle. God, Cassie, I don’t know how you lived with your mind being a gigantic jigsaw with pieces missing for most of your life, given you can’t even resist not knowing all my reasoning for like… a few weeks. When did you get interested?”
“James,” I said, “it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to tell me.”
“This is why you’d be a rubbish detective – no commitment to the cause. Come on, Cass. Dig it out of me. Don’t try seduction though, it just pisses people off.”
“This is a rubbish idea.”
“Well, we’re delving into your past and your memories,” James said, “it’s only fair that everything is reciprocal.”
“Colleagues.” I muttered.
“Okay,” James said, taking an exaggerated deep breath, “it’s all because of this stupid conversation with my parents. You know I was grounded for punching Ryan, the tosser, but I got a good telling off and my Dad said some stuff that really hit home.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” I said stiffly, “I don’t want to know.”
“Anyway, Dad said that I’m a lot like my granddad – James Potter the first. He says that a lot, actually. It won’t mean anything to you but he was an utter legend – him, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin were best friends: pranksters, heart throbs, Marauders. Like I said, legends, so I always thought this was a great compliment.”
“James.” I said, wanting him to shut up – this was definitely breaking all the damn rules.
“Then Dad starts telling me about how when I was about my age he had to come to terms with the fact that his Dad used to be a bit of a shit, actually. About how he always stepped over the line and bullied and humiliated people, but that then there’d been a war so he’d sobered up, grown up a bit, became Head Boy, got married to the girl he always wanted and had a kid. Course, then the whole happy families situation got utterly ruined by Voldemort killing both of them. But,” James paused for a moment and clenched his fists slightly, “Dad basically said he’s scared because there’s no war anymore and that he didn’t want to have to come to the conclusion that his own son was a bit of a shit – not in those words, obviously, but…” James trailed off and the silence suddenly felt very very loud. “He said that he knows I’ve got a good heart and that I don’t have bad intentions but that he doesn’t want it to have to get to a middle life crisis before I stop arsing around.”
“So this is your war?” I asked quietly.
“Yeah,” James said, “this is my war. Mum piped up and started talking about Dad saving the world, as if I’m not acutely aware of that: but that’s just it, Cassie, all this stuff – this teen drama and rubbish – I hate all of it. Well, no, hate’s a strong word but it’s dull and it doesn’t matter. I know that. I know Natasha wasn’t my soul mate, or anything, but in my life there is nothing to fight for and there’s no way for me to, I don’t know, prove myself.”
“You don’t have to become a quester to change public perception of you,” I said, hunching my shoulders forwards to protect myself from him, “you could just stop acting.”
“I will if you will,” James said pointedly, “I want Sassy Cassie as a permanent fixture.”
“Don’t know how?” James suggested, without the usual air of drama that hung around his words like a bad smell – he sounded a bit deflated, actually, as though something he’d really been looking forward to had failed to meet his expectations and now he was left with that hollow disappointment. “Why don’t you let anyone close to you, Cass? I’ve been talking to your best friend and she does not suit you. Entirely too sane.”
“Why should I?” I asked, scrunching up my fists and pressing them into my legs.
“Mum walked out, Dad barely talks to you, best friend hardly cares, picked on at school – okay, no, I can see your point.”
“What about you?” I asked, but the question felt slightly hollow on my lips. Wrong. I wasn’t sure why we were doing this, but it seemed like it was almost a little too late to take any of the words back. They were out there now. I knew. I was in the knowledge. I very nearly understood James Potter and, it seemed, he’d been more observant about my life than I’d cared to realise – very much not a good thing.
“Just meeting expectations.” James said.
The silence rung around the passage way for a few more long minutes, with just the sound of our breathing filling in the empty space.
“Your motives are much more savoury than I expected.” I admitted when the silence got too much (which was wrong on all levels; I revelled in silence and James crumbled, that’s the way it was supposed to be).
“Well then,” James said, “you shouldn’t have such low expectations.”
“You shouldn’t perpetuate them.”
“Sassy Cassie,” James grinned, “so, Cassie, you’ve saved me from detention and got me to talk about all my emotional baggage – right knight in shining armour, you, but I suppose… well, Cassandra,” James said deliberately, raising his eyebrows in a way which invited me to be excited and wait with anticipation for the end of his sentence, “can I be your partner in questing?”
“Sure.” I muttered with an eye roll, folding my arms over my chest and wondering how much of James’s continual need to be dramatic was real and how much was an embellishment of that persona of his.
“You’re wrong about one thing though,” James said conversationally, “you implied that I’m actually not an ass – which you of all people should know is definitely bullocks. I’m a complete prat.”
That I could entirely believe.
You know how at the end of the last chapter I was really excited about having got a plan all sorted? When throwing out all my school notes (because I have now finished school for eevverrr) my Mum took it out the notebook it was in and threw it away. I have been very very upset about this, ahha, but... you know. I'll make it through somehow. Curiosity month is over but I've definitely fallen in love with this story again so don't be afeared when it comes to updates! Also, nearly at 300 reviews! I bet you all want to be the one who leaves that 300th review? right? ;)