“Hi Dad,” I said, hunched over in the secret passage just off the kitchens– the same one where I’d been stuck with James in a confined space for practically the whole night – “how’s it going?”
I was suddenly feeling very unsure about absolutely everything.
The longer I spent with a person the more I became used to how they sensed – their aura, I supposed – and having spent such a long time with James now I could easily pick him out of a crowd and know that he was there without looking (just concentrating a little, more so in Hogwarts where there were traces of everyone everywhere). I hadn’t ever experienced James when he was relaxed or honest, though, and given we’d been stuck in the expanse of corridor until the Prefect had stopped pacing outside the kitchen waiting for others to return or emerge from more creative hiding places, it hadn’t taken long for James to fall asleep.
It was horribly depressing that the only time James let his guard down was when he was unconscious, for one, but it was plain disturbing to be faced with the reality of all that was James Potter. People were different when they had all their barriers down, sure, but I didn’t want to know what lay below the bravado and the layers of attitude designed for public viewing. I didn’t want anyone to know about my daemons and worries and concerns; that I hated my Dad abandoning me, the overwhelming wave of insecurities based from this new knowledge that my life was a lie and that it bothered me that I was James’s pet project and he thought this would prove himself worthy of whatever it was.
I felt like I’d invaded James’s autonomy and I couldn’t even mention it to him without either blushing like an idiot or coming across as one of those crazy internet stalkers.
He had, half way through the night, dropped his head onto my shoulder.
“I’m all right, Cass,” Dad said. It was stupid that, given my Dad was the founder of the entire wizarding technological advances in the modern era he was so utterly unreliable at actually using them; our phone calls were sporadic at best and he never shook off that wizarding way of talking too loud. The connection at Hogwarts wasn’t particularly good thanks to too many phones trying to connect and send pointless messages (and calls to home, too, I supposed), and especially worse because the place was unplottable and, more so, a secret passage... our brief moments of communication definitely didn't line up to his vision. “How’s school?”
“Not… as dull as normal.” I said, thinking of this business about occlumency, potentially breaking into a teacher’s office and the weight of James’s head on my shoulder.
“Feel like I’ve hardly seen her,” I admitted, “how’s work? How are the new TVs?”
“They’re great,” Dad said, and I could nearly hear him smiling, “one day all these ideas are going to be accredited to you properly.”
“Planning on outing your fatherhood?” I asked, feeling slightly shaken as I pressed my head against the wall behind me. “I thought that would compromise my safety.”
“You’re getting old, Cass,” Dad said, “you’re all grown up.”
I didn’t feel very grown up. I felt like I was still stuck in the same skin as I had been when I was just a kid, before my mother had suddenly disappeared leaving nothing but a strange trace of a memory and a whiff of some companionship that I was still missing.
“Oh,” Dad said, and there was a sudden rush of static, “Cas, there’s a drama going on in advertisement, I’ve got to – ”
“ – Dad, I need a new laptop,” I said, suddenly, “one of my dorm mates spilt a hair removal potion on mine, and now the keyboard’s all stuck and really I don’t – ”
“- I’ll send one.” Dad said, quickly, and then all lines of communication of me and my father were cut and I was reacquainted, once more, with the dull hum of the dial tone. I always felt flat after my Dad rushed away from conversations, as though he was trying to escape me somehow; now my mind raced to far off conclusions of guilt and malice, but the worry had always been there. The neglected feeling that reared up its ugly head ever so often.
James was worried about something. James was really worried about something concerning me which seemed to stretch beyond the scope of being colleagues, or being worried about some far off ambiguous mortal danger that neither of us were really sure of. Something had happened in the past few days that had made James really scared. There was guilt – presumably about the Cassie’s crazy mantra that had plagued my pre-teen years – and then there was a dash of protectiveness that had taken me by surprise.
I didn’t trust James. I really didn’t want to trust James, but the more I found out about him the more it seemed his intentions were better than he let on. He wasn’t, as I would like to believe, a bad person. And the irritation that had flared up when he first stuck his nose into my business was beginning to deflate somewhat: he could have told the whole world about my Dad, he could have laughed in my face and wished me luck with dealing with my problems, he could completely ignore me at Hogwarts.
You shouldn’t have such low expectations.
The problem with the corridor was this: it reeked of the memories from the previous night, where I’d stayed awake for hours listening to James’s breathing, his head falling onto my shoulder, sensing everything unguarded that there was to James Potter in the midst of an uncharacteristic burst of insomnia. The longer I sat in the combined space trying to collect my thoughts about what had happened, the more I became sure of how to define the feeling that hung around the place – it might almost have been a happy memory, or one of comfort, or one of embarrassment, but I couldn’t pinpoint which it was or quite work out which emotions belonged to who.
And I really didn’t appreciate the lack of clarity.
“Cassie!” James said, beckoning me over as I entered the classroom in the North Tower, as if I was about to spontaneously start sitting with Tabatha and Lorna simply because we’d been stuck in a confined space together for the majority of the night. “Someone’s selling an A prototype WCT 400X!”
“Yes,” I said, sitting down on the poof next to him, “that would be me.”
“Excellent!” James said, “Can I buy it? Reduced rate since I’m your friend.”
“Staff discount, then,” James said, with two cups of tea all ready and waiting for me to arrive. I suspected that James actually really really liked divination, although why I had yet to pinpoint. Probably the love of the overdramatic and the ridiculous.
“James,” I sighed, “this is the laptop fund, I’ll sell it to the highest bidder.”
“Can I buy it?”
“Only,” I said, glancing at Tabatha nervously to check she wasn’t listening, “if you act as my go between. I can’t admit all this stuff is mine. And if you pay me a reasonable amount.”
“I’ll sell my phone,” James said, “add it to the list, don’t need to. So have you got a new laptop then?” James asked, glancing at the list. Of course James would have noticed the fact that my model of laptop had graced the list, given he was such a WCT fanatic.
“I told my Dad mine had been ruined,” I said, picking up my tea gingerly. I preferred tea from a tea bag, as opposed to leaves, for the large part – not least because there was no chance someone else would predict my death at the end of it.
“Good thinking,” James said, stretching out his legs onto one of the other poofs, “I’m glad you haven’t turned into a walking blush.” I sent him a questioning look. “Well, Cass,” James grinned, clapping a hand on my shoulder (which meant he’d voluntarily touched me at least three times, and they could all be chalked up to a desire to create dramatic effect – bloody idiot), “given how mentioning the S word - you know, the one that starts with s and rhymes with spandex – turns you into a rather skinny and somewhat attractive tomato, I suspected that you falling asleep on me in that corridor might make you feel a bit awkward.”
I stared at him for a long few moments. He was not pinning this on me.
Although I was, of course, now blushing spectacularly.
“You fell asleep on me,” I said, as firmly as I could manage with the little concentration left after trying really hard not to blush.
“I could light a match of your face,” James grinned, “you little liar.” I frowned at him and took another sip of my tea. “So,” James said, “we’re focusing on the laptop fund?” I stayed silent. “I reckon we might have shifted the rest of this stuff by the end of the week. People will snatch it up.”
I flicked through my new Divination book whilst using my silent weapon of choice against James.
“Oh, come on Cassie,” James pouted, “talk to me.” I blinked and finished the last dregs of too strong tea. “We had a lovely conversation last night.”
I turned to glare at him.
“Fine,” James said, rolling his eyes overdramatically, “I’m sorry. Now can I please see whether your tea leaves spell out ‘CASSIE WILL MURDER YOU’ so we can all move on from the messy business?” We both glanced at my cup of tea in unison, and I was slightly surprised to find the outline of a rather fuzzy but quite distinct skull. “Well,” James said, obviously trying not to smile, “that’s just unlucky.”
I shook my head and then we were both laughing, and it was weird and all too soon after being all too close to James all night. But we were laughing.
“We need to try the hypnosis again,” I said, once I’d recovered and shattered the skull’s head with my spoon before Trelawney could swoop down and try to convince me that a skull was a good thing to find in your tea, “and I think we should borrow some of Trelawney’s incense for it.”
“Fairly sure it’s a class C non-tradable substance,” James said, glancing over at where Trelawney was fluffing up her hair in her crystal ball.
“The great James Potter scared of breaking the rules?”
“It’s a mild hallucinogenic.”
“I can do without your sass, Cas,” James said, pointedly, “I will quest with you, but I will not fall into the depths of drug addiction.”
“It’s incense,” I said, “James, you said only Divination Cynics say it’s a mild hallucinogenic, and my Mum used it in front of a nine year old.”
“Your Mum also disappeared without a trace and probably agreed to your memories being changed.”
I found my face heating up, not with embarrassment, but a sticky sort of anger that rose to the back of my throat and made me want to cry. That was not okay. In fact, that was distinctly not okay to the point where I was sure it was one of the worst things that James had done.
“Look,” James said, closing his eyes for a second, “I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
There was a flash of that worry again, but it was too mixed in with other things to pinpoint the actual source. James had a real reason against this and, as much as I would like to believe it was concern about getting into trouble… considering we were planning several school-wide break ins and had hacked into the Ministry of Magic’s computer system I really doubted it was out of fear of getting a detention.
“Professor,” I said, slipping out of my seat and taking a few steps towards her. She immediately stopped staring at her rather alarming reflection and turned to me, misty eyed and severely wrinkled, “I’m working on a…erm, project,” I said, “about dreams and your incense really helps my concentration, would you be able to tell me where to buy some?”
Trelawney began on a slightly insane and worrying rant about how she could feel the power of the inner eye radiating from my very core before shoving a handful of bright bronze leaves and an incense burner in my direction.
Behind me, James had pressed his thumb into his forehead and was staring at his tea cup with a dejected expression that seemed to imply a lot more than not getting his way.
“Sorry about saying that stuff about your Mum,” James said, when the bell went a few minutes later, “s’laters, crazy lady.” And then he’d disappeared down the ladder without me, leaving to stuff the incense into my bag and clean up the teacups alone.
There was something wrong with James.
Last time I’d thought that he was acting out of character it turned out he’d been half attempting to seduce me to weed out my secrets, so I wasn’t about to ignore my instincts on this one. Particularly when my instincts were almost entirely based upon my sense – which to me were the most reliable perceptions I had about the world – and I knew a lot more about James than he probably wanted me to know.
So, James was worried about something. Thus, in the privacy of my own dormitory I was cataloguing all the different ways that James had been acting out of character throughout the past few days and weeks, trying to work out the exact incident where the worry might have stemmed from. After the hypnosis. Definitely after then.
“Cassie,” Leanne said, pulling back my curtain and glancing down at me.
Leanne had inherited more than her fair share of pretty genes – like her twin brother Luke - and was only not one of the popular crowd because she tried a little too hard and was more than a little liable to make a fool of herself. She did a lot better in foreign countries when she didn’t have the residue of the adolescence years (and me, Crazy Cassie, as a best friend) hanging over her head, and therefore usually filled up on self-confidence boosts from near strangers on exotic holidays in Florida or Barbados or the canary islands.
In fairness, that was precisely the same as what I had a tendency to do, only mine chalked up to being rich rather than being pretty.
“Why are you selling all your old stuff?”
“What?” I asked, glancing up at her and shutting my laptop with a firm click, lest she glance over at the screen and read the title ‘James Potter’s strange behaviour’ and take this as confirmed behaviour that he was in love with me, because – according to Leanne – that was the motivation for any male’s strange actions.
“The notices up in the common room. I know it’s your stuff.”
“Clear out,” I shrugged, not looking at her. I didn’t like lying to Leanne, given she was one of the few people I actually called a friend. Even then, she was a social butterfly compared to isolated little me. .We were used to each other not seeing each other all the time, just admittedly more often than we had lately.
“Could have given it to me,” Leanne sighed, lying down on her bed and glancing up at her ceiling, “are you and James dating or what?”
“No,” I returned, glancing at her.
I missed Leanne. Unlike James, Leanne was as straight as they came: uncomplicated and simple, I could read her motivations and loyalties like a book, and it was both refreshing and easy to know. The best thing about Leanne is that I could have easily seen through her even if didn’t have the ability to sense other’s emotions, because she was every bit the typical teen teenager that she might as well be a walking stereotype. “It’s just… he feels bad,” I sighed, “about the Crazy Cassie thing, given that what started it all was true.”
“And since Ryan has been trying to destroy his world.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking of the overly vulnerable expression on James’s face as he turned to talking about his sudden lack of friendships or social relationships, “he was debating you as a potential rebound.”
“Tell him I’m open to suggestions,” Leanne said, “although I have a date with Greg Holland this weekend.”
“Really?” I asked, turning over to look at her properly feeling oddly out of the loop.
“I said this year was going to be good,” she said, smiling self-consciously, “you will tell me if anything’s up, won’t you Cass? With your Dad and that? I know James knows now, but I really don’t think you should trust him with stuff.”
“Wasn’t planning on doing so,” I said, blushing slightly, because it was true – I’d never planned for James to be involved in my life in such a way. He’d essentially walked straight into my problems by eavesdropping and deciding that I was the project that would prove him worthy of his parent’s blood. It hadn’t been a plan.
“Yeah,” Leanne said, “good.” She always did like knowing everyone’s secrets. She liked holding all the cards. I guessed it was probably something to do with a somewhat competitive relationship with her brother, but I couldn’t deduce more than that. “Just been to the library,” Leanne continued, “finishing that charms essay, but it’s –“
My brain stuck for a few minutes. As far back as I could trace it, that was the first time I’d thought James’s behaviour to be slightly off. The James that I knew would not just be in a library, and I would have understood it if he’d nodded at the map and claimed that he was stalking me, but he hadn’t; James had said that he was returning a book.
I knew it was barely even an instance of something unusual, but suddenly I was immensely curious about the whole thing. The more I thought about it the more I seemed to convince myself that those few moments before we’d met in the library were the origin of James’s sudden and unexpected genuine worry about me.
Admittedly, since then he’d pressured me into taking Divination and then forgetfulness potion, and then got stuck in a small secret passageway with me… but, it all been underpinned by an odd sort of hysteria that I was sure I wasn’t completely making up.
“-the Library?” I asked, suddenly, glancing up at Leanne feeling almost certain as if I must have seemed utterly crazy. “I need to go to the library.”
“It’s going to close in half an hour,” Leanne said, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion, “what’s going on with you, Cassie?”
“Just need to get a book.” I said, dropping my laptop onto my bed and pulling on my jacket, “and I’m fine,” I said, feeling a stab of something like worry start up in my gut. I didn’t want Leanne finding out about this, and Leanne could be every bit as curious as James – if she was suddenly suspicious and searching for my laptops or my past library loans then, “I’d forgotten about the charms essay.”
“Right,” Leanne said, “well, you’ve been acting a bit weird this term.” Leanne said, finally, before shrugging her shoulders and offering me a distracted wave as I rushed out the dormitory.
It was probably pushing it a bit, but given how little time James spent in the library and how acutely aware of his presence and memory I was after a night with his head rested against my shoulder, I thought it might just be possible for me to trace which book he’d been returning of the library.
I closed my eyes between two shelves of History of Magic textbooks (where I thought it was least likely that anyone would see me) and tried to concentrate on James, as if to sense out the traces of here he’d been and what he’d done – he’d crossed the library to pause at my table, from… that shelf. There.
I wasn’t talented enough to pick out the exact book and was only just about sure that I knew where he’d been and wasn’t fabricating some elaborate fiction to pacify my own curiosity. It was like that first thread of magic that had pulled me towards the Potter’s home; a jolt of something familiar, pulling me forwards.
It wasa section that specialised in healing, in particular spell damage, and I pulled a few books out at random and glanced down the list of last loans before shoving them back into the shelf. Magic and the Brain: Memory. I paused, running a finger up the spine before easing it out of the shelf and flipping it open. James Potter.
There. I’d been overeating or overreaching the extend of what I could do – we’d agreed to do extra research, and his collection of muggle books about memory loss and amnesia had shown that James wasn’t opposed to wider reading when it was something he was interested in. If James really was more worried than he had been previously (which I was now beginning to expect was just another figment of my imagination), it most likely predated the reading of this book.
I sighed irritably but, realising Leanne would question my sanity further if I came back without a book, and decided to check it out anyway.
Need to go to Hogsmeade to acquire new laptop on Saturday. I texted James as I was waiting in line to have my library book stamped, shoulders slumped and cheeks burning from the embarrassment of believing my sensory scope reached quite that far.
Is that a two person job? James replied, after I’d exited the library again. Only I had plans to rebound on your best friend that day.
I decided not to answer that given time had repeatedly proven silence was the best way to deal with James Potter – if only the feeling was reciprocated.
There was nothing quite as irritating as unrequited silence.
Thank Wisty for the update! She nagged me (and bribed me). Merry Christmas Curioisty fans, and hopefuly this semi-filler will suffice until the next chapter (which will not be a filler, trust me on that one). Reviews are lovely, but thank you very very much for reading! :D