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Chapter 3 : Taking Hold of Me
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James hung up just as he got to the visitor's entrance, almost gasping. Each step had been painful, it was like the potion had worn off too quickly. Death didn't want him to die easily, painlessly; this was his consequence for his deal, he knew. So, he gritted his teeth and he stepped inside.
The Ministry's atrium was far from empty, but thankfully not so full that James had to worry about being knocked into. He weaved through crowds all the way down to the elevator, waiting for one to empty before entering, then he pressed the button to his desired floor.
The Archives was empty apart from the bored looking woman at the desk in front; it would be, he knew. Not many people came down to the Archives; this was where the cold cases and old, solved Auror cases came, where the records of every witch and wizard in Britain was stored, where old or banned magic was kept locked up so not to fall into the wrong hands. Occasionally law enforcement would come down, or anyone who needed to see or change their records. No one was allowed in, the woman would get it. James knew of only one person who not only could successfully sneak in, but did so frequently, who knew so much more than he should because of it.
The Archives was Hugo's playground.
James stayed by the elevator, hidden from the older woman's view and waited. It was almost twenty minutes before Hugo stepped out of the elevator and James didn't ask how his cousin had managed to get out of school. That wasn't his problem right now.
"Get us in there, Hugo," he whispered.
With a slightly suspicious look, Hugo pointed his wand at James then himself and muttered a spell, then started walking. James followed cautiously and was amazed when the woman didn't look up or notice anything at all; Hugo had cast two successful disillusionment charms.
"Where are you?" Hugo asked as soon as they stepped through and he'd taken his off.
"Right in front of the door. How are you able to use magic?"
Hugo pointed his wand, hitting James' arm when he cast the spell, and watched him expectantly. "I found a spell in here that blocks the Trace. You look like crap, what's up?" James shook his head; he knew he'd have to tell his cousin, Hugo would never stop asking, it was just too hard. Hugo was the youngest, just sixteen years old. He shouldn't be burdened with James' mistake, but he had to tell someone. "What are we looking for?"
"A book for summoning Death," he whispered, grasping his chest again.
"What? Why?" Hugo asked, paling slightly as his mind came up with possible scenarios. "James, what did you do?"
"Did you know that when you die, you're given a choice as to whether you move on or become a ghost?" he asked. Hugo shrugged, muttered about reading theories. "Well, sometimes the person, or thing, that gives you that choice can bring you back. For a price."
"How would you know that?" Hugo asked. The answer came to him as soon as the question left his lips. "The Quidditch match last year. You did die."
"The one who gave me my deal was Death, disguised as a girl. She gave me one year exactly."
"Tomorrow," Hugo whispered, remembering the date James had fallen off his broom as though it were yesterday. It had left their family shaken and protective for months. They'd only just gotten over it. "You came back just to be taken away a year later? Why would you make such a selfish deal? Why would you put your family through that again?"
"Because I was too scared to die," James cried. "Now she's killing me in the exact same way I died last year, only it's happening slowly and more painfully. She's breaking my body one bone at a time and I need to talk to her. I'm not waiting till it's killed me. Help me, Hugo. Please."
"What are you going to tell everyone? What are you going to tell your parents?"
James tried to shrug, dropping his shoulder quickly when pain shot through his body. "I don't know. I'll think of something. I'm good at that."
Nodding cautiously and wanting to hate James just as much as he hated the situation he'd been put in, Hugo wiped away the few tears he hadn't even felt falling, and pointed to a shelf of books at the end of the row in front of them. "I read a few books on Death here. It seems like a good place to start."
James followed and they got to work, reading through every book they could find for as long as they could; Hugo had to get back to school before people realized he'd gone and James had to get to his apartment with a reasonable enough excuse as to why he'd left Kate in the hospital before he saw her. He knew she'd come, scared, yelling at him for demands as to what's going on, but he knew already that she'd never know. He couldn't upset her, she couldn't hate him for being selfish and stupid. Hugo had already started to ignore him, refused to look at him.
"Here," Hugo muttered after an hour of searching. He threw the book in his hands onto James' lap and got up off the floor. "It's supposed to be a summoning spell, but it's not only dark magic, but it's so old. Like before the Founders'. I don't even know if it works now."
"Thank you, Hugo," James told him sincerely, grimacing as he got to his feet. "I'm sorry I'm putting you through this. You're the only one who could have helped me."
"You're an idiot, James," Hugo said without malice. "To do something like this? Something as stupid as making deals? I've read enough to know that they never end well."
"What would you have done, Hugo? You can't tell me you'd have just died! You wouldn't have tried to save your own life?"
"Is that the normal thing to do?" he asked. "If you want someone to say that you did the right thing then you're talking to the wrong guy; I take life as it comes and if I'd been in your shoes, then I can say that, knowing who I am, I probably would have died."
"Maybe I should have talked to Al," James muttered, then regretted even thinking it. His brother was the cautious one, a constant worrier; who knows what he would have done if James had told him. No, he was safer talking to Hugo.
The look his cousin's face told him he thought the exact same thing.
"But I probably would have done something to save the life of my family, which means I don't particularly hate you for what you're going to put us through when I'd put them through the same thing to save you," Hugo finished quietly, almost reluctantly. He'd never say this if James weren't dying.
Then Hugo did something James didn't expect; he hugged James, quick and before he could make a noise in protest. It was barely enough to touch his ribs, let alone hurt him, and James found himself grateful that he'd gone to Hugo for help, that someone would know what was really happening and be able to care about him now.
"I assume you're going to act like nothing is happening, so not to worry the family now, which means I'll have to be in school and pretend I don't know when you... when it happens," Hugo whispered sadly. "So, now will be the only time I get to do that. The last time." He furiously wiped away the tears falling down his cheek and pointed his wand at James, then at himself. "We should go."
Hugo didn't take off the disillusionment charm until they were safely in the elevator, the book hidden in James' jacket. They didn't speak until they were outside and around the corner.
"G-good-bye, Jamie," Hugo said quietly.
The weight that word carried on his cousin's shoulders was not lost on James and a lump formed in his throat.
"Good-bye, Matty," he murmured the boy's middle name, the name he preferred to be called when around people who didn't know him because it didn't sound as old and weird.
With one last nod and the smallest of smiles, probably because of the name, Hugo went back inside to Floo to school, leaving James alone with the book. With a heavy heart, he started the thankfully short walk to his apartment.
He didn't get far; the pain caused him to fall to his knees and he grasped his sides, knowing that the snap he'd heard was his own ribs.
Death was getting closer, taking hold of his body, his life.
James knew what he had to do.
A/N: Wow a new chapter. And this is planned to the end, so I hope to have it finished soon. I hope you liked this chapter, please let me know what you think. :)
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