Chapter 20 : Heist.
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“He’s… he’s a WCT fan,” I muttered, glancing down at my nails and biting my lip, “he was helping me sell my stuff.”
On hearing that I was going to Hogsmeade with James today Leanne had halted in her look-especially-pretty for date with Greg Holland mission to grill me about mynon-date. Without explaining that we were colleagues on a quest to find out why I was in mortal danger there wasn’t much I could say to convince her, and although I wasn’t entirely opposed to telling Leanne everything I – bizarrely – felt like I had to clear it with James first.
“So it’s a pity date?” Leanne said, turning back to the mirror and continuing the business of applying her lipstick. I could feel my face flushing slightly which wasn’t actually helping my cause, but I’d long since accepted that it was inevitable.
“It’s not a date.”
“Good,” Leanne said, hand on hip as she turned back towards me, “because I don’t care whether or not he’s being helpful or feels bad about calling you crazy, he’s still not exactly counteracted his sins against you yet.”
“Sorry?” I asked, reaching for the sealed box (courtesy of WWW and James – apparently if anyone but me tried to remove the money from the box it’d punch them in the face) that I’d shoved under my bed last night.
“If this was chick lit,” Leanne said, “and you were getting all mushy about someone who used to tease you I’d stop reading.”
“Leanne,” I said, dropping the box into my bag and raising my eyebrows at her, “you’re not making a great deal of sense.”
“He was horrible for years,” Leanne shrugged, “if you date him now, you’d be sending a message out to bullied girls everywhere that it’s okay if someone is a complete tosser to you, providing they have pretty eyes, nice abs and said sorry once.”
“Well, it’s not a date,” I said, my face still burning slightly, “and I really don’t think girls everywhere will be looking to me for dating advice, so it’s a moot point. Where’s my phone?”
“Oh,” Leanne said, turning around and looking vaguely sheepish as she pulled it out her pocket, “yours has better connection than mine does? Oh, look, James has text you,” Leanne said, “he says ‘hope you’re looking forward to our hot date.”
“You’re not joking, are you?” I asked feebly, my face burning. “And you probably won’t believe me when I say he’s being sarcastic, will you?”
“Not on your life, Cass,” Leanne said, handing over the phone with her eyebrows raised. Well, my life wasn’t as secure as previously thought so that probably didn’t mean all that much.
“It’s not… Leanne, just trust me on this one, will you? Look, see – text James potter, it’s not a date. Sent. Done.”
“Hmm,” Leanne said, turning back to the mirror and setting about inspecting her face to ensure that she looked acceptable. She looked nice, as per.
“Leanne,” I muttered, “I’m not even wearing makeup.”
“Oh fine,” Leanne said, waving this away, “it’s not a date, you’re barely friends, blah blah. Either way you’re about to be late, so hurry up and take your mysterious money box with you.”
“You look nice,” I said, finally, before shifting the weight of the bag on my shoulder and disappearing out of the dormitory feeling sufficiently unsettled.
“I think we should break into Professor Keitch’s office tonight,” James said, moments after emerging from the Wiz-gadget shop with the brand new laptop and an empty piggy bank, “it’s the weekend, so the teacher’s are probably at the pub... and they’re more lenient of the catch you out after curfew on the weekend.”
“Because they’re all at the pub?”
“Exactly,” James said, “we should get back and set up this laptop.”
James was near trembling with excitement over the newness of it. James’ love of technology was really the most irritating iron of the whole situation; I was almost entirely convinced that had my Dad not turned out to be his hero, James wouldn’t have cared at all. Our situations had almost reversed... his Dad was taking an interest in my ability (one that James, at the time, was convinced was fictitious) and he was taking an interest in my Dad... apparently, it was inevitable that our barely disguised jealous from both ends would make us slightly more interested in each other.
I just hadn’t expected that interest to upturn any of this.
“Cassie,” James whined, “stop thinking and start talking.”
“What’s your problem with silence?”
“Did you want an answer for that?” James asked. “Or is one of those things where, if I do talk, you silently freak out? Dig and then tell me to shut up?”
I glanced over at him.
Oh God, James was bothered by how much he’d revealed when we were stuck together in that secret passageway. Admittedly, I’d been feeling shaken up and insecure ever since James had admitted that this was his war. I was his cause. Still, I hadn’t realised it had bothered the ever unflappable (except not, because he was still worried and it was still bothering me) James Potter by getting under his skin.
And he wasn’t even aware of how much of himself he’d revealed whilst casually asleep on my shoulder. It was all backwards. I didn’t want to know this much about James.
“We can set it up in a cafe,”
“Desperate to spend more time together, Cas?”
“Leanne’s been asking questions,” I said, “and it’s easier than trying to set it up in the library.”
“How much setting up is there?” James asked, “Don’t you just turn them on?”
“I’m beginning to understand why your laptop is slow,” I said, shaking my head slightly.
“Are you going to teach me things?” James asked, his excitement palpable. “Cassie, are you ever going to teach me how to hack and program and stuff?”
“I’m not teaching you how to hack.”
“Does Hogwarts keep its records online?”
“No,” I said, “Although my Dad’s negotiating a contract. He wanted to leave it until after I’d left Hogwarts, so it’s a matter of paying his legal team to keep finding holes in the contract until I’ve graduated.”
“Because of your safety?”
“I guess,” I said, “I mean, that’s what I assumed. I didn’t ask.”
“I’m sensing serious communication issues,” James said, nudging me with his arm (which was at least the forth of fifth time he’d gone for friendly physical contact – for all my talk of remaining colleagues, I didn’t think James cared as much about my boundaries as I did).
“I’m sensing its none of your business.”
“Sassy Cassie,” James grinned, “although, it sort of is. Given this is what our quest is centring around.”
“This is my life,”
“I know,” James said, “and you’re going to have to let me in either way. You might as well tell me rather than wait till I find out via hypnosis, or occlumency, or suddenly remembered repressed memory.”
“Here,” I said, turning into the cafe on our left. “No one ever comes in here.”
“Lots of lonely Hogsmeade trips?” James asked.
This was often my refuge after shopping with Leanne, or just a sudden need to get out of Hogwarts. Once, Dad’s secretary had tuned up, in his stead, to deliver me my Christmas present. It was no startling confession about motivations, but it was personal enough for his casual insults to get at me.
“You can’t jump from asking me to divulge my life and saying stuff like that,” I said, face flushing, “if you want to know maybe...”
“Maybe?” James prompted. “I’m open to suggestions.”
“Look, it doesn’t matter. We’re just... colleagues.”
“Well, in the name of our working relationship,” James said, pausing mid sentence as he glanced over at the counter, “do you want a coffee? Tea?”
“Coffee,” I said, “Cappuccino.”
“I’m seeing the rich white girl thing,” James grinned, unnecessarily brushing a hand over my head to make a point, whatever that was.
“The two richest teenagers in the wizarding world walk into a coffee shop,” James said, “sounds like the beginning of a joke. I’ll go get the coffee.”
The laptop was pretty. I hadn’t managed to escape the love of technology during my childhood: Dad was always so passionate and excited about it that I threw myself into it to, which was why some of the projects became joint projects, how I ended up reviewing prototypes and giving him my opinion at every stage of every new product.... that way, it connected us together as well as driving us apart.
A love hate relationship, of course, because without the success of the phones and the music players and the laptops and the televisions, I might not have been so lonely.
“Can I take the plastic cover off?” James asked, setting down the tray so heavily the liquid sloshed over the edge of the cups. “Sorry. I’ll be careful. Please trust me with the pretty laptop, Cassandra questionable surname.”
“Yes, James,” I said, pushing the tray to one side of the table and setting the laptop between us.
“What’s your middle name?” James asked.
I stopped and looked at him.
“Meredith,” I answered, frowning slightly, “why?”
“It just makes things more dramatic,”
“Well, we certainly haven’t got enough of that,” I said, “what with my memories being fabricated, my father being a rich multimillionaire business man, yours being the saviour of the Wizarding world and us questing whilst your ex-best friend tries to ruin your life.”
“All right,” James said, grinning, “I take your point.” I blushed a shade of fuchsia that even Rita Skeeter wouldn’t have been seen wearing. “Anyway, Cas, I think it’d be beneficial to our relationship to redefine the rules.”
“I just think,” James said, reaching for his cup of tea, “that.... well, obviously this has got a lot more personal lately... and in light of that, I think we should make sure we both know that... well, Cassie, I respect you and I really would like you to trust me.”
“I don’t see that I’ve had much choice,” I said, watching him, “you’re in on this. I have to trust you or... well, I’m screwed. We hacked into the Ministry of Magic database, James, we could get arrested.”
“But you don’t trust me,” James said, sounding more whiny that I’d ever heard him done previously, “I want to be able to be helpful but you... you block me out of things. And I know that’s your right but... okay. I propose a veto system.”
“A veto system?”
“You have... six vetoes.”
“Um, I’m lost.”
“Cassie, I need to know what’s going on,” James said, “I ask you questions. You have six opportunities to decline to answer.”
“I suppose this is reciprocal?”
“Of course,” James said, “although, given you can sense everything about me anyway... I doubt I’ll need to use mine.”
“James,” I said, “you’re one of the fakest people I’ve ever met.”
“In which case,” James said, “I should run out of vetoes first.”
“This isn’t a competition,” I said.
“Of course not,” James said, “but if it were, I’d win.”
“James,” I said, frowning, “I see what you’re trying to do here, and it’s not going to work.”
“Cassie,” James said, pushing my cappuccino towards me with an eyebrow raise, “I understand your questionable relationship with your father and your leftover angst from your mother’s abandonment makes it difficult for you to trust people, particularly given it turns out your whole life is a lie, but do you really want to live in the past? Okay, don’t answer that. I want to help. I can’t help if you don’t let me in on some of the facts.”
“I have lists, I’ll upload them onto the laptop.”
“That’s clinical,” James said, pouting slightly as he tapped his fingers on the keyboard. One day, James Potter was going to learn to sit still and stay silent and I genuinely wondered what it would do to him. He might implode. I might not be too bothered about that. “Cas, I know what you said... but I don’t see how that’s going to work. Just, think about it? Yeah? Personally, I’d like to redefine our relationship as friendship.”
If I were less reserved, I might have told James that I would not fabricate a friendship to make him feel better whilst we worked together, to have him leave the second the mystery was unearthed and his personal quest to prove himself was wrong. I could have said that I knew the reason he wanted a ‘friendship’ was because I knew these things about him now, and the only reason I had for not telling the world about the real James Potter was common decency and the fact that he knew all my secrets too (not that anyone believed me, because I was a well known crazy)... and that didn’t seem quite good any enough to make him feel safe.
I didn’t want to understand James. I didn’t want to be sat encrypting files on this new laptop with the idea of discovering whether or not it was my father or someone else that meant I was in mortal danger (although logic dictated it couldn’t be my father – if the Ministry knew, which they seemed to, I could be suspended in the danger permanently). I didn’t want any of this.
“Promise you’ll think about it?”
“Okay,” I answered, “the password is Dramatic for these set of files, and variations of that to access the rest of it. I’ll need to recode the laptop so I can input my memories – ”
“- input your memories?” James asked.
“Like a pensieve,” I said, “I worked on it over the last few weeks of Summer. I think with some minor adjustments I should be able to get it work... then the memory of my Mum will play back like a video. Should be able to pause it.”
“That’s amazing,” James said, for once ceasing in his tapping and turning to look at me. I felt my cheeks heat up but forced myself not to look away this time.
“So,” I said, into the blush-filled silence, “we should plan this heist.”
“Where’s the invisibility cloak?” I asked.
“Well,” James said, glancing up at the ceiling with his usual air of drama, “bit of a long story...”
“No,” I said, “James, please don’t tell me you haven’t got it. We’re breaking into a teacher’s office! I’m not...”
“I’ve got the map,” James said, “relax, Cass, its fine. We’re not going to get caught. Keitch’s office is one floor up from here, she’s miles away in the staff room and –”
“ – you’re nervous,” I interrupted, my skin – for once – not feeling the need to flush, “let’s leave it to another day.”
“Cassie,” James said, “stop sensing my emotions and start listening to me – ”
“ – I’d be more willing to listen if you weren’t such a fake!” I hissed back, reaching for the door handle to the Hufflepuff Common Room and readying myself for a quick escape.
“Half an hour,” James said, grabbing hold of my shoulder and calmly (except not really, because he was – in actual fact – a whole buddle of nervous energy) leading me away from the door, “welcome to the land of the rule breakers, Cassandra-Meredith, you were not expected here.”
“It’s not the time for extra drama.”
“I definitely like you better at night time,” James grinned, “you’ve got spunk. Is this was sleep deprivation does to a Cassie? If so, I might have to try keeping you up all night more often,” James took a step backwards so that the dim light from the candle brackets had a chance to reach my face, and then grinned, “that’s the best blush yet.”
“Congratulations,” I muttered, just loud enough to cause James’ grin to redouble and expand across his face. If the humour wasn’t so entirely at my expense, the expression might have been slightly more infectious – but as it was, I was tired and James had forgotten the invisibility cloak, I was about to break into a Teacher’s office in the middle of the night and didn’t much feel like having my overactive cheeks being abused for other’s amusement.
“Come on,” James said, gesturing towards the stairs and stepping into the side of the corridor that was almost entirely obscured in darkness, “trust me, Cass, I’ve got your back.”
“Did you expect it to be open?” James asked, pulling his wand out and whispering, “alohamora. Right, I’ll check the map. You go find the file, read it, duplicate it, get married to it – whatever.”
“You’re definitely nervous.”
“I’m sorry I can’t control my emotions!” James hissed, “just look for the damn file.”
“I am,” I muttered back, almost silently, as I pulled open the draw of files and started riffling through them as neatly as I could. Butterworth, Cattermole... Hawkins, Jackson, Jones... “Got it.”
“Excellent,” James said, “because we have about five minutes before Longbottom heads up this corridor and we get busted,” James was suddenly right behind me, reaching out and grappling for the document as he tried to take in what it said.
Nothing new, anyway. Nothing remotely important.
Special Circumstances. Observe progress carefully. Parental issues (mother left when child aprox 6, location of mother unknown. Father not in contact with mother).
“You’ve got a star,” James said, “that’s...” he ran a finger to the bottom of the piece of parchment, “further information available on request. Classified. Fuck.”
“This is hopeless,” I said, turning the sheets over paper over as if something new might present itself. There were other bits of information – the marks on all my end of year tests, disciplinary reports (which James seemed to be interested in)... but nothing that was remotely helpful.
“It says the Professor is in correspondence with your Dad,” James said, pointing at a single line of inked writing, “Father is continually updated on daughter’s progress. That’s nice.”
“No it’s not,” I said, feeling my eyes burning with the injustice of it all, “it means my father’s spying on me, that he’s going to find out about Divination classes and that... well, it’s a bit suspicious and...”
I stuffed the file back in the cupboard and suddenly became very aware that we were stood in my Head of House’s office with no protection whatsoever.
“Let’s get out of here,” James said, grabbing hold of my hand and pulling me towards the door (as if I needed any more persuasion to be out of the place as quickly as possible), before quickly dropping it and heading down the corridor.
“What does the map say?”
“It says... what’s a nice way of saying we’re screwed?”
“ – James...?”
“Just, move away from the office door. No time to lock it just... run.”
Two corridors away from Keitch’s office, James pulled out the map again, glanced at the ceiling and swore.
“Okay,” James said, “this will do. Cassie, pretend to kiss me.”
“What?” I was fairly sure that no actual sound came out my mouth, although I had every intention of speaking; instead, my voice mouthed the word silently and my face burned red hot.
“Just do it!”
“Merlin’s sake,” James muttered, grabbing hold of my waist and pulling me into what was definitely not a kiss.
Our lips weren’t touching. It was probably more accurate to say that we were standing nose to nose with our eyes screwed shut as the both of us tried to remain as physically distant from each other as possible without actually stepping backwards... in terms of awkwardness, it would have been significantly better if he’d just kissed me – at least then I would have been a little distracted from the fact that I could feel him breathing and his distinct uncomfortablness was radiating through the air like a homing beacon.
It was awful.
James made a vague attempt at... pushing me against the wall, but ended up not achieving anything more than sending both of us tripping backwards, still nose-to-nose and still not kissing to the point where my elbow collided sharply with the wall behind me and I nearly swore.
I don’t think anyone had ever been so glad to have been caught after hours.
“Neville,” James said, letting go of me instantly and taking a good step away, “er, hi.”
I couldn’t even sense anything above the crippling weight of my embarrassment. Damn it James.
“Detention, both of you,” Professor Longbottom said, looking distinctly amused and, if I was honest, a little like he had probably just got back from the pub, “and don’t let me catch you again, James.”
“Don’t tell Dad about this?” James suggested, smiling at the teacher hopefully.
“Fine,” Longbottom said, shaking his head.
That wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t my Dad be friends with the teachers?
“I’ll just walk Cassie back to her dormitory then -”
“- no,” Longbottom interjected, “you certainly won’t. I’m making sure you going to bed, Potter. And you, Miss Jones.”
I nodded, still Scarlett.
“See you at the party tomorrow then,” James said, sending me one of his usual grins (but it seemed he was still suffering due to the extreme amount of awkward, because he didn’t quite meet my eye), “I mean,” James corrected, catching Professor Longbottom’s eye, “that long study session in the erm... library which involves absolutely no alcohol.”
“The only way I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Professor Longbottom said, “is if you keep it down...” and then their voices were fading down the corridor and I hadn’t yet moved.
I blinked and took a few deep breaths before forcing myself into movement.
James was still worried. He’d been more disappointed than I’d been when nothing had come up in my file. He’d wanted a lead more. He wanted to be friends and had initiated the most horrific fake-kiss of all time.
He was definitely up to something.
“Casssiiee,” Leanne said, pulling back my curtains and smiling a little too wildly, “come to the party.”
“I didn’t sleep well last night,” I said, “sorry, Leanne, I just don’t feel like it.”
“But it’ll be fun!”
“ – and you’ve already been predrinking, so I’d be the only person sober there.”
“There’s time to drink!” Leanne said, standing up and approaching the mirror again, lipstick aloft.
“Maybe later,” I said, “I’ve got to read this,”
“Magic and the Brain: Memory?” Leanne questioned. “What subject is that even for?”
“Divination,” I lied, flicking over another page, “you go. I might think about it if I finish this chapter.”
“Is James expecting you to go?”
“I have no idea,” I said, “wrong tree, Leanne.”
“Fine,” Leanne said, holding up her hands, “well, I’ll text you if it’s fun or if James looks all lost without you.”
I ignored her, blushing only slightly, and continued flicking through the book.
I was halfway through a lengthy chapter about the qualities of memories extracted by magic, but there was very little on manipulated memories – the donator of the memory may tamper with the content of a memory, but this is exceedingly obvious to anyone who has experienced memory before.
Well, that explained Harry Potter’s reaction to viewing that memory of my mother. He probably thought I was purposefully concealing something from him.
Text Leanne: party pretty god comeeee to parrtayy withme Cass!
Leanne was drunk, then.
Apparently, memory charms were actually exceedingly difficult and very subtle magic. Very strong, too. I turned over the page to chapter twelve, ignoring the new text messages. Chances were, it’d be increasingly difficult to understand drunken ramblings from Leanne.
One of the most dangerous things a witch or wizard could do is try to reverse memory manipulation through magical means or without appropriate supervision. Side effects include: serious headaches, crippling pain, permanent damage to ability to store memories, clinical insanity and complete loss of all memories.
Permanent damage? Insanity?
Individual can lose all grasp of who they are or regress to an earlier state. See case study, Bertha Jorkins.
James had checked out this book. James had read this book and realised that we could have caused me to forget who I was and decided that it might be better not to mention it. That horrible headache I’d had after I started to remember... James had known that was the beginning of my brain forcefully rejecting the idea of pushing past the memory charm (if that’s what it was... it seemed likely) and he had decided not to mention it.
That’s what he’d been worried. Worried and guilty. Because he thought his little chance to prove himself would land me as a vegetable in St Mungos, and our quest would actually drive me insane.
And then he wanted to be friends?
I picked up my phone feeling slightly numb. Three new messages. One from James.
Your best friend is very drunk and telling everyone about your dad. Come immediately.
I’d just like to take a moment to apologise profusely for the long update time. My excuses are a mixture of university, having a life (who knew!?), the fact that I’ve been focusing on Saving Grace/Not Just a Bystander (which are now both finished!) and my own idiocy in regards to planning. Good advice for when writing a mystery, keep track of what information the readers know and what they don’t. If you don’t do this, every time you stop writing for so much as a week at a time, you will have to reread the whole novel. Yup. Nice one, me.
This is a cliff hanger... but, I’ve had the next chapter buzzing round my head for days so that should be written and ready really soon (I mean it this time). Thank you to anyone with the patience to still be reading this! You’re great :)
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