Ancient Awakenings - RorschachBlot - Hogwarts Legacy (Video Game) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 2 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 3 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 4 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 5: Interlude - Eleazar Fig Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 6 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 7 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 8 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 9 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10: Interlude - Matilda Weasley Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 11 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 12 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 15: Interlude - Aesop Sharp Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 16 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 17 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 18 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 19 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 20: Interlude - Ominis Gaunt Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 21 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 22 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 23 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 24 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 25: Interlude - Sebastian Sallow Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 26 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 27 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 28 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 29 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 30: Interlude - Eleazar Fig Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 31 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 32 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 33 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 34 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 35: Interlude - Aesop Sharp Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 36 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 37 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 38 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 39 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 40: Interlude - Poppy Sweeting & Lodgok Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 41 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 42 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 43 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 44: Interlude - Hogwarts Professors Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 45 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 46 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 47 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 48 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 49 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 50: Interlude - Eleazar Fig & Aesop Sharp Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 51 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 52 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 53 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 54 Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 55: Interlude - Aesop Sharp & Eleazar Fig Notes: Chapter Text Notes:

Chapter 1

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

In a cottage on the outskirts of a small village, a woman was humming to herself as she transferred her first loaf of bread onto the large wooden table. The room wasn’t large to begin with, and the dining table made it seem even less so. The fire crackled in the stone fireplace, a cast iron pot hung over it.

“Don’t even think about it.” A newly fifteen year old boy paused, pointer finger inches away from the simmering stew.

“But – ”

“Supper will be ready soon,” the woman interrupted, although an amused smile was threatening to take over her round face. “Be a good lad and fetch me some more water.” With that said she returned to her current task, checking the browning on the second loaf of bread. The dark haired teenager gave an impatient sigh and eyed the cooling honey cakes on the edge of the table no longer in her periphery. “Off with you now.” She made a shooing motion with one hand without looking his way. Before she could react, he swiped one of the small baked goods and was out the front door.

“James Evans, so help me! – ” she started but he didn’t stop, only slowing to scoop up the two empty water buckets sitting outside the home and continued down the path to the small river nearby. He didn’t get too far before running into his dad and little brother – who quickly spotted the sweet treat in hand.

“Mum made honey cakes?” the ten year old bounced up and down, unable to contain his excitement.

“She does for every birthday,” James replied, bringing it to his mouth to eat. He paused, seeing the hopeful expression on his little brother’s face. The teenager grumbled, but set the empty water buckets down and broke the honey cake in half. The young boy’s face lit up with a radiant smile at the offering. He crammed it into his mouth, licking the excess honey from his lips. James repeated the actions with his own half.

“Barbarians the both of you,” his dad commented, but the tone was amused rather than upset.

“Did mum threaten to leave you in the woods again?” the young boy teased, somehow knowing the treat had been acquired without her blessing. James rolled his eyes. His mum would sometimes promise to return him to the woods whenever she deemed him too mischievous. But it no longer held the same weight now that he was older.

“She threatened to leave you in the woods,” he muttered.

“Nuh uh, she only says that to you,” his brother stuck his tongue out at him before racing up the path to their small cottage.

"Brat,” James shook his head.

“Fetching water at his hour?” his dad frowned down at him, scrutinizing the water buckets.

“Mum asked me to,” James shrugged, picking up the empty buckets once more. With the extra baking this afternoon, it wasn’t surprising she needed an extra top up. His dad hummed, noting the setting sun. It would be dark soon.

“Be quick.”

“Yes, sir.” His dad clapped him on the shoulder and James was once more on his way. Minutes later he was crouched next to the burbling stream that ran near their home. James watched a mother deer with her baby fawn drinking downwind. He smiled softly at the sight, it was starting to lose its white spots. Summer was almost over, the leaves would soon begin to change color and animals would be stockpiling food for the winter. His family would be doing the same. He would be expected to help even more with the outdoor chores like hunting and woodchopping this year compared to the last.

The deer’s head shot up, ears swiveling. Their eyes met for a couple beats, before the mother and her baby were springing away. James let out the breath he'd been holding. He shivered and realized with a start night had fallen. Cursing his daydreaming he hurriedly picked up the now full water buckets. He was going to get an earful again no doubt. The air was quiet as he approached the cottage, as if the world was holding its breath. James was still a ways off when a bloodcurdling scream came from inside his home. He broke into a run, buckets forgotten and their contents pouring out. Light was spilling out of the open doorway, he could hear the snarling as he got closer. Floorboards creaked under heavy dragging footsteps.

*********

James Evans’ eyes flew open, his heart racing as he stared up at the wooden ceiling. A floorboard creaked nearby and his gaze darted to the side, a few feet away an old man with blue eyes wearing funny looking clothes was standing awkwardly. Recent memories flooded his half-asleep mind. Professor Eleazar Fig. Right.

“Ah apologies,” the man murmured, hands clasped in front of his torso, “I didn’t mean to wake you.” The professor glanced at the side table, James followed his gaze to see a small note resting on top. “I just needed to run a quick errand, I won’t be gone long.”

James closed his eyes and threw an arm over his face, trying not to flush in embarrassment.

“It’s fine,” he said, withholding a sigh. Really, what else could he say when the man had been so gracious about the teenager's unexpected stay before the start of term.

“Help yourself to breakfast,” the professor settled on after a few seconds. There was a pause.

“Thank you,” he muttered. The man still didn't leave. He could feel Fig’s hesitation, as he wavered between saying something about James’ nightmare and not overstepping.

“We can review basic charms when I get back,” he said instead.

“Yes, sir.” The professor finally left the bedroom and he heard the door close with a soft click.

James took another deep calming breath. Charms, a branch of magic. Magic. It wasn’t just a fictional tale to scare children into behaving. Witches and wizards were real and he had somehow unwillingly found himself counted among them. Strange how much his entire world could change in a matter of weeks. He huffed at the thought. Well, the world itself hadn’t changed, not really. But his perspective of the world had been forever altered, the blinders were off now so to speak.

Its eyes stared into his very soul, a low guttural snarl ripped from its throat, teeth glistening red as it stalked towards him.

James' eyes flew open and he threw the blankets off. Breakfast time. If he hurried he might even be able to get some practice in before Professor Fig returned. He was determined to succeed in this strange new world he’d been thrust into.

Notes:

Never posted a fic here before, but this won't stop bouncing around in my head so here we are. Will be mostly adding fluff and context to the game where needed and beyond. I've got a general outline, but if there's anything specific you're looking forward to seeing let me know and I'll work it in if I can :)

Chapter 2

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

James didn’t get much sleep his first night at Hogwarts. The previous day’s events continued to replay in his mind every time he closed his eyes. Mr. Osric’s look of sheer terror before disappearing behind dragon teeth, the searing heat of the dragon’s flames, and free falling to certain death. Then there was the whole ancient magic thing, being attacked by stone knights and goblins – James struggled to take another deep breath. Stop it, he told himself. He was alive and he was safe. That was the second time Professor Fig saved his life. He was never going to be able to repay the man at this rate. After hours of tossing and turning in the softest bed he’d ever laid on, the overwhelmed teenager finally fell into a fitful but thankfully silent slumber.

The next morning was less eventful – though honestly that wasn't much of a bar to reach. A surprising number of his new housemates seemed overly curious rather than horrified by the events preceding his late arrival. Some even suggesting in whispers it was some kind of ploy for attention. As if he wouldn’t already have enough eyes on him starting as a fifth year. At least Sebastian Sallow and Ominis Gaunt were friendly enough – and actually empathetic about him almost being roasted alive by a dragon.

When he finally made his way to Charms class – the field guide Professor Weasley provided was his saving grace, the school’s massive layout was terribly confusing – he looked around for an empty seat, and possibly a friendly face. He spotted Ominis and Sebastian at the far end of the room on the left, Sebastian’s eyes meeting his own.

“Here – behind you,” James looked away, turning to his right. “There is an open seat here.” A girl wearing Gryffindor colors smiled and waved at him. Not wanting to appear rude, he approached her.

“Thank you,” he said, joining her in the back row of desks.

“Hello, I am Natty,” she smiled, face completely open and friendly. She seemed genuine, if a bit forward.

“James”, he responded, taking the seat next to her.

“So you are the new student?” she continued. James forced a smile. It seemed like everyone already knew who he was, regardless of house. “Have you met Professor Ronen yet? – ” Thankfully said professor cleared his throat from the top of the stairs before beginning the lecture so he didn’t need to answer. It wasn’t long however until the professor was encouraging them to practice the summoning charm with a partner. He’d seen Professor Fig cast it around his home, and remembered reading about it in his charms textbook. He had yet to actually cast it though. James squashed the wave of nervousness and joined Natty, along with the rest of his classmates, in the middle of the classroom. He encouraged Natty to go first so he could watch her perform the spell.

“Accio!” The textbook was ripped away from him and flew into her outstretched hand. “Now you try.” She held the tome in front of her expectantly. James let out a breath, remembering Professor Fig’s lessons.

"Spellcasting is about intent and imagination. Magic responds best to strength of will and picturing the desired outcome. The wand movement and incantation will also affect your success, but not to the degree of having a clear goal in mind."

He envisioned the blue textbook flying out of Natty’s hands into his own, as if there was an invisible string he could tug on.

“Accio!” he repeated her earlier actions, and the book shot towards him just as he’d imagined. He grunted at the force it hit has palm. Thank you, Professor Fig. The man hadn’t been able to cover every spell in the short time they’d spent together, but having the individual attention of an expert in Magical Theory had its advantages.

“That is not bad!” Natty congratulated him. He was just glad it worked on the first try since the rest of his classmates appeared to have no issues with the charm.

“You are a swift learner!” Professor Ronen exclaimed. Which evidently translated to demonstrating his newfound skill in front of the entire class outside. The professor’s game reminded him of shovelboard, a game he’d once seen played when visiting a nearby town with his dad, except instead of shoving the balls away he was meant to pull them towards him. He soon realized – after his first attempt resulted in the ball rolling off the raised wooden court – the colored zones didn’t just act as targets, but markers where he could release the charm. The yellow middle zone seemed to be the sweet spot. Of course once he figured that out, the professor decided to throw a competitor in the mix to challenge him. Again he watched Natty go first, noted the way she cast and from where, doing his best to mimic her while adjusting for her mistakes. He gave a soft sigh of relief when he managed to win by 10 points. Not bad for being put on the spot, he should practice later when he had the chance though. Professor Ronen had a few more pairs compete on the court he’d assembled before they finally trudged inside for the rest of the class.

Once Charms was dismissed, Natty turned to him and he learned that she too started Hogwarts later than the rest of their classmates. James felt himself relax more as she talked about her experience, coming from a completely different school and country. She must have identified him as a kindred spirit. Her bold friendliness from before making more sense now. Although, James mused as she talked about Uagadou, perhaps that was just standard behavior for Gryffindors. The wandless magic especially caught his attention, Professor Fig said performing magic without a wand was extremely difficult. That sounded very useful though, he made a note to ask the Magical Theory professor about it. Although…perhaps he could talk Natty into giving a demonstration. She seemed eager to befriend him. Overall he liked Charms class, Professor Ronen was downright jovial for a teacher but it suited him. His enthusiasm was catching.

*********

What was it with professors and putting him on the spot on his very first day in class? James thought to himself as he faced off against Sebastian Sallow. His Slytherin housemate was dueling a Gryffindor student when he stepped into the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom.

He took up the stance he learned in his practice sessions with Professor Fig. Sebastian seemed quite comfortable dueling, he would need to strike quick and hard if he was going to stand a chance. As soon as Professor Hecat signaled for them to start, he struck. Magic surged around him just like when he faced off against the stone knights at Gringotts, except this time he wasn’t outnumbered. There was only one opponent to focus his attention on who apparently hadn’t expected such a sudden onslaught. The teen wondered belatedly if he had ruined any chance of becoming friends with the Slytherin but Sebastian was a good sport about the loss. If anything, he sounded intrigued when congratulating James after the match.

“Nice work,” his fellow Slytherin called after class was dismissed.

“I enjoyed that,” James answered with a smile.

“That duel was quite something. Everyone’ll be talking about it.” His face twitched. Oh goodie, more fuel for the rumors. He had yet to pass by any cluster of students that weren’t whispering to each other while glancing his way.

“It was certainly good practice,” he settled on.

“Practice?” Sebastian raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “It felt more like I was dueling an expert. Didn’t expect a new student to be so deft with a wand. Then again,” Sebastian’s eyes turned calculating, “perhaps this wasn’t your first duel?” Professor Fig’s words echoed in his mind.

"For the moment. I ask that you keep all that’s happened this evening between you and me."

“In fact it was, perhaps I have a knack for it,” James answered with a shrug.

“Be coy if you like, but I know better,” his fellow housemate shook his head, clearly skeptical. “Magic requires intention and talent.” Well, his reasoning was certainly sound. That was pretty close to what Professor Fig had taught him. “You know, you might be a perfect fit for a certain exclusive, unsanctioned dueling organization.”

“Exclusive and unsanctioned?” it was his turn to raise an eyebrow. That sounded dubious, then again Professor Hecat had heavily hinted that James should talk to Sebastian on dueling practice. “You have my attention.”

“Excellent! Knew I was right about you,” Sebastian responded as he anticipated. “If you want to get the most out of your time at Hogwarts, you’re going to need to break the rules now and then. Whether it’s joining a secret dueling club or sneaking into the Restricted Section of the Library – ” James couldn’t help but tilt his head at that. The Slytherin sounded like a wealth of information, the kind not found in books or given out by adults “ – you just have to be clever enough not to get caught.”

“Thank you, Sebastian. I’ll keep that in mind.” He would have to find this Lucan Brattleby sometime after his trip to Hogsmeade. He stopped by Professor Weasley’s classroom as requested. Apparently the professor grapevine was just as active as the student population one. She probed him again for more information regarding his arrival, but he stuck to Professor Fig’s story. What is a streeler? He wondered silently, as Professor Weasley moved on to other matters. Soon James was on his way to Hogsmeade with Sebastian at his side, he'd have to catch up with Natty later.

As they traveled down the road, a carriage pulled by Thestrals crossed their path.

*********

James stared up at the dark skeletal horses hitched to the waiting carriage, leather bat-like wings folded and tucked into their sides. The one closest to him turned its head and blinked milky white eyes at him. Were they blind?

“What are those,” he lowly asked Professor Fig, who was levitating the last suitcase onto the top of the carriage.

“Those are called Thestrals,” he answered in the same hushed tone. “Despite their appearance they’re rather peaceful creatures.” James hesitantly offered a hand for the creature to inspect, it reached its neck out and he could feel warm puffs of air on his hand. He noticed the look the carriage driver was giving them a few feet away.

“Why’s he looking at us like that?” the teen whispered.

“Ah well, unfortunately they have a bit of a negative reputation since not everyone can see them.” James frowned at that, the creature wasn’t small by any means. He gingerly touched the base of its neck with the back of his fingers. The Thestral snorted a warm breath onto his face but didn’t otherwise react. He slowly dragged his fingers down across its leathery and taut skin. He could sense Professor Fig’s hesitance and glanced in the man’s direction. Upon James’ questioning gaze he finally continued, “Thestrals can only be seen by those who have seen death.” It took a few seconds for his words to sink in.

A bloodcurdling scream

Blank eyes staring at him lifelessly

Hands wet with tears and still warm blood

A snarling monster turning and stalking towards him

Something warm prodded his face. James flinched, blinking rapidly. The Thestral had bumped his face with its nose to interrupt his thought spiral. Professor Fig was looking at him with concern, hand halfway outstretched as if to grip his shoulder. It dropped once he realized James was with him once more.

“Oh,” he said, forcing himself to speak. “That’s…a bit unfair.” And then George Osric was there, smiling and chatting away, asking to catch a ride with them. It would be one of the last things he ever did.

*********

“You alright?” Sebastian’s worried face was hovering in front of him. “You look a bit…pale.” James let out a shaky breath. In, out, in, and out. He nodded his head, quickly getting his breathing under control. They’d stopped on the side of the road, the carriage long gone. “I’ve always thought Thestrals pulling a carriage a bit grim,” Sebastian eventually spoke when James didn’t say anything. He sounded unsure for the first time since he’d met the other Slytherin. “Though…I suppose most people can’t see them at all.”

“But you can see them?” he asked. That was some small relief that he hadn’t frozen in front of his housemate for no visible reason.

“Unfortunately,” Sebastian answered. He paused again studying James’ face. “But you’ve seen quite a bit yourself first-hand too – like that dragon attack.” Right, of course he would assume that. It was all anyone could speak about.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” he looked away. He could see roofs in the distance through the trees, that must be Hogsmeade.

“Fair enough,” Sebastian stepped back. James glanced at him, the other teenager's voice and face were completely judgement free. Something inside him relaxed.

“Thanks,” he muttered.

“Of course,” his housemate's usual carefree smile returned. “Shall we?” He paired it with an overdramatic sweep of his arm. James snorted in amusem*nt.

“We shall.”

Notes:

I know the dragon attack was included as the reason for MC being able to see Thestrals for gameplay, but man from a storytelling perspective that sounded incredibly traumatizing - especially for a 15 year old. Was anyone else bothered by other characters making light of it or just me?

Chapter 3

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Their Hogsmeade trip went smoothly until it didn’t. Reflecting on it, he really shouldn’t have expected anything else. But to be fair, even Sirona Ryan admitted that trolls in Hogsmeade had never happened before. James tried to remain calm, to ignore the rising panic clawing inside his chest, to not think about the unknown magic he just wielded that exploded a troll. No one said a word about it, he didn’t know what to think about that. Should he be concerned? Or was that kind of thing considered normal in the magical world? The residents of the village largely went about their day, like it was business as usual. Sebastian had been impressed, bragging on his behalf in the Three Broomsticks to Sirona. The teen was curious of course, but James merely shook his head muttering "later." That night he dreamed of trolls and Victor Rookwood taking turns chasing after him through the streets of Hogsmeade. He woke up with a start, still tired. He glanced around the dorm room, his housemates were still sleeping. It must have been early morning, at least he had no classes today.

He quietly got dressed and tiptoed out. He made his way out of the dungeons and went straight to Professor Fig’s classroom. He got turned around despite his handy field guide – last time he listened to a stupid talking gargoyle – by the time he made it to the empty classroom, daylight was spilling through the windows. James eyed the assortment of stacked books throughout the room as he made his way to Professor Fig’s office. He paused at the base of the stairs, looking through a large circular glass. It looked familiar, hadn't he seen one in Professor Hecat’s classroom too? He briefly wondered what magical properties it had – surely it served a purpose? – before continuing up the stairs and opening the office door. He let out a relieved breath at the sight of Professor Fig studying a piece of parchment at this desk.

“Professor! I’m glad to see you,” he approached his mentor. The man’s presence had a calming effect and he could feel himself relax for the first time since yesterday’s events.

“And I you,” he straightened up, sweeping a critical eye over the teen. “Thank Merlin you’re in one piece, I heard about the attack. Trolls? In Hogsmeade?”

“I made one of them explode,” he blurted out.

“Pardon?” James clenched his teeth. He hadn’t meant to say that. He considered taking it back, ignoring it, anything but address it. But Professor Fig’s expectant face made him continue.

“The troll…it…it glowed purple and then exploded into tiny pieces…like…like the…” he struggled to get the words out, his throat was closing up, but the professor seemed to understand what James was trying to say.

“Godric’s heart,” he murmured, hands clasped in front. “Are you alright?” A pause. The teen jerkily nodded his head. Fig frowned and, after a moment of hesitation, walked around the desk so that he was now standing in front of James. The fifteen year old chewed his lip then shook his head at his mentor. “Let’s have some tea, shall we?” He glanced at the cluttered desk – surely the man had something better to do? – but Fig dismissed his unspoken concern with a wave of his hand. James silently followed the professor to a pair of armchairs. Fig paused to move a couple stacks of books with a flick of his wand so they could actually sit. Seated in the comfy chair, surrounded by leaning stacks of books, and the crackling fireplace in front of him – the teen could almost imagine himself in the professor’s study back at his home. With another wave of Fig’s wand, a tea set floated over to them and filled itself with tea.

He accepted the offered tea cup, and sipped the steaming liquid. Peppermint. His mouth curled into a small smile as something unfurled in his chest. Somehow the man discovered it was the teen’s favorite tea and apparently brought a stash to his office here at Hogwarts. Not for himself – Professor Fig preferred Jasmine tea - but for James. Before he could mutter his thanks his stomach growled loudly. He flushed in embarrassment.

“When’s the last time you ate?”

“Um…” the teenager furrowed his brow in thought. He hadn’t eaten before going to Hogsmeade, and they’d gotten back pretty late. “Yesterday?” He’d eaten lunch right? He caught sight of the frown and dropped his gaze to the floor, drinking more of his tea. It didn't happen often, but he hated disappointing his mentor.

“Feenky,” Professor Fig called out. Seconds later a small creature with spindly arms and legs popped into existence. It also had a rather disproportionate head and large droopy ears. James blinked. The creature seemed to be wearing an altered towel.

“What can Feenky get for you?” it – she? – asked.

“We’d like some breakfast please,” the professor requested.

“Of course,” the creature nodded her head. “Feenky will be right back!” There was another pop, and they were alone again.

“What…what was,” James tried not to gape, but he was failing spectacularly. Fig chuckled at his expression.

“One of the Hogwarts house elves,” he explained. “They perform tasks around school such a cooking, cleaning, and so on.” Before he could respond, the house elf returned with plates loaded with food. The fifteen year old stared at the loaded plate that materialized on the armrest of his chair. It was piled high with pastries, cheese, meats, and fruit.

“Can Feenky get you anything else?” she asked big eyes blinking up at them.

“No thank you,” Fig set his teacup down to grab his plate. The house elf looked at James.

“Er – I’m good…thank you, Feenky.” She beamed at him before disappearing with a pop. “…Sir –”

“Eat,” he gestured at the untouched plate. The teen gulped down the last of his tea – it magically refilled itself – and set it aside to dig into the prepared breakfast. After swallowing a few bites, he tried again.

“Sir, what’s the large circular glass in front of your classroom for?”

“Ah, that is a Dark Detector,” he replied, launching into an explanation regarding the purpose of the enchantments placed upon it, which segued into a lecture on why certain objects were enchanted and were sometimes better suited than a spell or a potion. James listened with interest as he ate his breakfast, long used to the Magical Theory professor’s tangents.

*********

He rolled onto his other side, trying to get more comfortable, but it didn’t help. He frowned in his sleep, he needed to stretch out. His eyes fluttered open as he tried to do just that. Instead he lost his balance and rolled off the reclined armchair.

“Ow,” he groaned, rubbing his face.

“Are you alright?” James glanced up and realized with mortification that he was still in Professor Fig’s office. He just face-planted in front of his mentor. He flushed in embarrassment.

“Fine,” he grumbled. The man had the gall to raise a skeptical eyebrow. James didn’t deem it worthy of a response and quickly stood up with what remained of his dignity. He silently brushed himself off and straightened his clothes. The edge of the professor’s mouth was definitely twitching now.

“Feel better?” he asked, thankfully dropping it. The rested teen nodded.

“How long was I asleep?”

“Just a few hours,” Fig responded, glancing back down at his desk. James blinked. The man gave up the privacy of his office and delayed a chunk of his work just to provide him with a quiet sleeping environment? He shifted uncomfortably.

“Sorry – ”

“No need to apologize,” Fig interrupted, tone still mild. He turned to face him again. “Do you remember what I said our first week together?” James frowned trying to remember, he didn’t like to think about that point in time. “One cannot not maintain the soul without maintaining the mind, one cannot maintain the mind– ”

“ – without maintaining the body,” he finished for his mentor. Right, the man had been worried at the time because he had been scarcely eating or sleeping. “I understand, sir.”

“Good,” the professor clasped his hands together. “Now, tell me about your visit to Hogsmeade.” The fifteen year old proceeded to recount the events of his outing, no longer feeling overwhelmed by it. James pointed out the section of the map that had traces of ancient magic floating around it.

“Once you’ve honed your defensive magic further, come and see me. I’ll let Professor Hecat know to expect you.”

“Yes sir,” he turned to leave but stopped at the door and turned around “Professor?” The man looked up from the map. “Thank you…for before.” His face softened.

“Remember what I said,” he responded. He paused before adding softer. “Should you need anything, you can always come to me.”

Notes:

I gave myself feelings. I love Fig, but this is the type of mentor he should have been for MC.

Chapter 4

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

A couple days later, he was lying in his bed late at night with the curtains drawn shut. James was sprawled on his stomach as he paged through the ancient tome he’d found under the Restricted Section, thanks in no small part to Sebastian. He frowned, he hoped his fellow Slytherin didn’t get into too much trouble on his behalf. He hadn’t expected the other teen to take the fall like that. He fingered a page as he pondered their escapade. Did Sebastian consider him a friend now? They’d had a few adventures together at this point– even taken down a full grown troll. That had to count for something, right? The only other classmate that came close was Natty, but he hadn’t see her much except a couple times in the halls. Which, honestly, he’d seen Ominis more frequently since they shared the same common room, but he hadn’t spoken to his housemate since the first morning of classes. Should probably make more of an effort there, he mused to himself. It was hard though, the whispers hadn’t stopped following him and making friends was hard enough without having to worry about people turning around and spreading rumors behind his back. Not to mention everyone had a four year start on him in everything, including forging bonds.

He flipped another page in the ancient book and glanced over at the Ancient Runes textbook he had cracked open nearby. He lowered his Lumos lit wand tip closer to better compare the two runes. James chewed his lower lip. He’d found a few matching runes, but he was missing a lot of context. And it was really slow going. He’d spent the last couple hours trying to translate it already and his best guess was the pages he’d reviewed were explaining some kind of theory but it didn’t make any sense. Bloody Ravenclaw must have written this, he grumbled to himself shutting the ancient tome. Professor Fig could figure it out tomorrow since he'd done all the legwork. Minutes later the teen was getting some much needed shuteye.

*********

James hurried to Professor Fig’s classroom, eager to show off his hard earned prize. He took the steps two at a time and opened the office door. He realized too late that the professor was meeting with someone. He froze. There was a sharply dressed man in a three-piece suit standing in front of his mentor’s desk.

“You cannot be serious,” the dark haired stranger scoffed. “Goblins working with Rookwood? Makes no sense.” James wondered if he could escape without either of them noticing him.

“It is – rather unorthodox, to say the least,” Professor Fig responded.

“Unorthodox? It’s inconceivable. It’s – ” his mentor was the first to notice him standing silently in the doorway, quickly followed by the stranger who looked over his shoulder. “ – ah, Fig. You have a visitor.” He paused before facing the professor again and muttering, “I’ll see what I can find out.” Conversation finished, he turned and approached James to leave the office. The stranger paused once they were almost parallel and stared down at him with a sudden intensity. Startled by the examination, James took a step back, gripping the shoulder strap of his satchel. Was the man upset about his accidental eavesdropping? Probably. But the stranger only hummed, face relaxing as if noticing his discomfort and continued out of the room. The teenager turned and watched him exit the office, noting the limp in his gait. When he was gone, James closed the heavy wooden door for good measure and hurried back to a thoughtful looking Professor Fig.

“Who was that?” he asked.

“Your Potions professor,” his mentor replied, brow furrowed. “You haven’t met him yet?”

“I have Potions this afternoon.” And the man already hated him. “Great.”

“Professor Sharp may seem…gruff…upon first meeting,” Fig clasped his hands together, expression smoothing. “But he is fair, and I trust his judgement.”

“Is that why you told him about Ranrok and Rookwood?” He asked, recalling the conversation he’d walked in on. “Did you tell him about the – ”

“No,” the professor shook his head, “just that the two seem to be working together for an unknown reason…which is technically true.” He tilted his head, gazing at James. “I’m sorry, did you need something?”

“Oh! I was able to search the Restricted Section while you were with the headmaster,” he dug into his satchel and pulled out the ancient tome. “It was a book we were after.”

“What?” Curious delight lit up Fig’s eyes. “That’s – wait.” His eyes narrowed. “You accessed the Restricted Section? How?” The teen opened his mouth then closed it.

“Er…perhaps best I spare you the details, sir.” His mentor raised an eyebrow at his response. “Technically, it was below the Restricted Section, just like on the map.” He presented the man with the discovered text. The distraction worked and Fig began to eagerly review the old yellowed pages. James told him about the additional Pensive memories he’d found. The professor’s fingers ghosted over the jagged edges where the missing pages had been torn out as he listened to the tale.

“I’ll have to take it with me to London,” said Professor Fig. “The headmaster has insisted that I speak directly to the Minister about George’s death.” His words were like a gut punch to the stomach.

“What will you tell them?” he managed to get out.

“I don’t know how much I dare say,” he frowned thoughtfully, rubbing his hands together. “George tried to convince the Ministry about Ranrok – but to no avail. My instinct is to follow the path we are on for the moment and keep the details to ourselves until we know more.”

“…How long will you be gone?” he worked up the nerve to ask. The man’s expression softened.

“A few days most likely,” he responded, then rolled his eyes exasperatedly after a moment of thought. “Perhaps a week if he proves to be particularly stubborn.”

“I’ll,” he swallowed down the rising panic at the thought of being completely alone again. “I’ll see what I can learn about the missing pages while you’re gone.”

“…Don’t neglect your studies,” his mentor offered after a few beats. “Your wandwork is improving by the day – but you’ll want to pay attention in Herbology and Potions. There’s more to magic than spellcasting.”

“Plenty to keep me occupied while you’re gone,” he forced himself to answer.

“You’ve done exceptionally well,” the professor leaned forward, a note of pride in his voice. James couldn't help a small smile at that. “I look forward to seeing all that you’ve accomplished when I return. And…” he paused before seemingly switching tracks, “be sure to spend time with your friends.” James blinked at that.

“Er…right.”

“…I’m told mealtimes are an excellent opportunity to break into established groups,” he gave him a meaningful look. James flushed but nodded his head.

“Understood, sir.”

*********

James was rather excited for Herbology class. It was one of the few Hogwarts subjects that seemed to have some overlap with the muggle world. His closest childhood friend had been particularly gifted in the care of plants and flowers. He’d skimmed the textbook, which contained diagrams and descriptions of many magical plants. But it couldn’t be that different than what he was used to surely?

His designated planter box that Professor Garlic directed him to was right next to a massively tall plant - the Venomous Tentacula – which snapped two red leaves shut around the carrot the professor had carelessly tossed in its direction. That’s a mouth, James realized numbly. Could it eat animals? A person? He whipped his head to look at Sebastian as if to ask, is that thing for real? His shocked face must have gotten his message across though because the other teen smirked at him. He’d never used ear protection when repotting a plant before. The reason behind it was not what he’d been expecting and he regretted pulling the mandrake out immediately.

Screaming. There was so much screaming. Stop screaming. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Please stop. Please Stop. Please Stop. STOP.

A hand closed around his own and forced the wriggling mandrake into the waiting empty pot. Blessed silence. James unscrewed his eyes and looked over to see Sebastian standing next to him. He let out a breath and released the death grip he’d had on the screaming plant.

“Thanks,” he muttered.

“Of course,” Sebastian shrugged. “You uh – ”

“I’m very sorry about that. Yours was a bit mature, I’m afraid,” Professor Garlic came up behind him. She paused, noting his expression. She lowered her voice. “Are you alright?”

“…Fine,” he managed. “Just…wasn’t expecting screaming.”

“So sorry, forgot you weren’t here when we first covered them,” the professor looked a bit sheepish now. “Anyway well done, we’ll be moving onto dittany now. No screaming this time!” James managed not to grimace at the joke until after she glided away. Pity, and here she’d been in the lead for being his favorite professor if only for not putting him on the spot in front of the entire class.

“You sure you’re alright?” Sebastian whispered next to him. “You look like…well…about the same on our way to Hogsmeade.”

“Nobody told me magical plants screamed,” he grumbled.

“Sorry, should’ve warned you,” he did seem genuinely apologetic. “I forget sometimes how new this must all be for you still.” James sighed but nodded his head. “Don’t worry, it’s just the mandrakes you got to look out for. And I think Professor Garlic’s done with them for today.”

“Yay,” he deadpanned. Sebastian snorted and returned to his nearby potting station. James was about to turn towards his own when he noticed out of the corner of his eye Ominis siting on his stool with his head co*cked. He frowned, a niggling suspicion forming in his mind, but the professor chose that moment to continue her lesson. The next time he glanced over, Ominis was busying himself with his planted dittany.

Notes:

I wrote the word stop so many times back to back my brain was playing tricks on me saying I'd misspelled it so I had to double check lol.

Next chapter will be an interlude, a chance to see a different POV. And then we'll return to our regularly scheduled programming. Are ya'll ready for more Sharp??

Chapter 5: Interlude - Eleazar Fig

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The best guess his colleagues had been able to come up with, was that it was a random bout of magic. But not the usual accidental kind produced by an untrained magically gifted child. No, this was much different. The air hummed with magic, it was absolutely saturated with it. But there was no recognizable signature of any known spell that could be identified. Standing in the abandoned cottage made Eleazar’s hairs stand on end. Something of great consequence had happened here, the details of what exactly was unfortunately a mystery. Strange unexplained magic was right up his and Miriam’s alley, the primary reason for his presence. His breath caught in his chest at the thought of her absence. She’d disappeared without a trace, no one seemed to know what happened to her. Every day that passed, the hope of finding her alive diminished more and more.

*********

Eleazar Fig eyed the dreary stone edifice with suspicion before passing through the black iron bars. Hopefully this place, or rather one of its residents inside, had the answers he was looking for. It was simple enough for a wizard of his caliber to charm his way past the guards and even get an escort to his objective. The guard he was following finally stopped at an iron gate at the end of the hall.

“Wake up monster,” he loudly banged on the iron bars with his baton. “You got a visitor. Don’t eat him.” Eleazar frowned at the cruel words. The guard turned back to him. “Seriously though don’t let him touch you, I don’t want to drag your corpse out of the cell.”

“Has he killed someone since he’s been incarcerated in here?” Fig asked.

“No,” the guard replied, turning to unlock the cell for him. “But I heard he killed three people with his bare hands including a kid before they finally locked him up. Ought to throw away the damn key.” Before the professor could respond, the door swung open and the guard impatiently waved him in. Probably for the best, he had used up all his polite conversation anyway. He slowly entered, allowing his eyes to adjust to the poorly lit enclosure.

The gray stone walls were cold and damp, the temperature seemed to drop when he entered the cell. Inside were only two pieces of furniture, if they could even be called that. There was a foul-smelling metal bucket in the far corner and a small cot that was definitely too short for the gangly teenager sitting hunched on it. He frowned upon further inspection. Actually he didn’t look gangly because of a growth spurt, but rather because he was underweight. The sharpness of the knees and elbows were too exaggerated, and when his silent companion finally lifted their head he could see the skin stretched tight over sharp cheekbones. Blue green eyes that he imagined once shown with a supernatural intensity were now cold and dull. He let out a long breath upon seeing the various cuts and bruises. Some were weeks old, others much fresher.

“Hello James,” he greeted softly. “My name is Professor Eleazar Fig.” The teen didn’t react, just continued to stare blankly at him. “Do you mind if I ask you some questions?” The hollowed eyes glanced to the cell door. “Oh don’t worry about him, he won’t be able to hear us.” A flicker of confusion then apprehension flashed across his face but they disappeared just as quickly. Eleazar withheld a sigh, it was heartbreaking to see such a young person look so tired and jaded. “Three weeks ago, an incident occurred in your family’s cottage. I’d like you to tell me about it.” He hadn’t thought it possible, but somehow his silent companion became even more rigid and still. Neither moved or made a sound for several long seconds, barely breathing.

Eventually, Fig stepped forward trying to look as non-threatening as possible. “Please,” he implored, and after a couple beats of hesitation he added, “I’m looking for my wife. She’s been missing for almost the same amount of time.” Something flickered in the boy’s eyes. Carefully telegraphing his movements, he pulled out the only still picture he had of Miriam, took another step forward to offer it for viewing. For several moments the teen didn’t react, but then, after a great deal of hesitation, slowly lowered his gaze to look at the picture. Eleazar held his breath studying the face carefully watching for any indication on what was going on in his mind. Almost a full minute passed before the teen slowly shook his head back and forth. No he didn’t recognize her or no he wouldn’t say anything? The professor held back his disappointment. “I’d still very much like to hear how you ended up here,” he tried again.

“You wouldn’t believe me” the fifteen year old finally spoke, voice raspy from disuse. He felt a surge of excitement but quickly squashed it. Eleazar leaned forward slightly, amusem*nt spreading across his face.

“Try me,” he dared. The young teen stared up at him. The professor met his gaze calmly. His wary companion must have seen something encouraging in his eyes because he actually continued, voice so soft Fig had to strain to hear.

“I was fetching water from the nearby stream. The sun had gone down…I took too long…” the man didn’t interrupt, letting the teen drag out the pause as he seemed to gather himself. “I heard screaming. The front door was open. I ran inside and…” his entire body shivered as if bracing himself. “I saw a monster ripping my family apart with its teeth and claws.” He was hugging himself so tight as if he squeezing himself hard enough would make him disappear. “I can still hear them.” Eleazar didn’t need Veritaserum or Legilimency to know the boy was telling the truth. His grief rested on his shoulders like a shroud.

“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” he said, forcing down the horror that threatened to grip him tight. He hesitated but he had to know. “What did the monster look like?” He received a glare in return.

“They say it was me, that I made up the monster because I couldn’t accept what I’d done,” he spoke with such venom, the sudden ferocity was jarring.

“What did the monster look like?” he repeated the question, maintaining his calm composure. There was a much longer silence this time as the fifteen year old sized him up, his eyes so narrowed in thought it looked like he was glaring at the professor.

“It had yellow eyes, and large sharp teeth. It had the head of a wolf, but the body was…stretched out…almost like…like it was part human. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t a human. It was a monster.” Fig hummed.

“Was it a full moon that night?” he asked. The teen blinked in confusion.

“I don’t know. What does that have to do with – ” Eleazar flicked his half hidden wand and projected the image of a half rearing werewolf in the corner. The boy turned white as a sheet and slammed himself against the wall behind him. Before he could say anything to soothe him, the professor was thrown back as well by an invisible force into the opposite wall. He groaned as the charm dropped. His terrified companion stared at the now empty spot.

“What’s going on in there,” the guard called from outside the cell. The professor scowled and cast a quick Confundus charm through the bars so they wouldn’t be interrupted.

“Of course,” he exhaled soflty, standing up and dusting himself off. “That’s how you survived, you’re the source of the magic.”

“How did you make it disappear,” the boy whispered, eyes not leaving the same spot.

“That wasn’t – ” Eleazar stopped. He didn’t want to confuse the teenager by telling him werewolves weren’t real, because they certainly were. “That was merely an image I conjured, to confirm we were thinking about the same thing.”

“Con-joured?” he asked, butchering the pronunciation, but he was finally looking at Fig again.

“Yes, Conjuration is a form of Transfiguration, one of the main branches of magic.” Confusion marred the boy’s face. He was losing him.

“Tell me, how did you manage to fight off the werewolf?” he asked. The boy had no marks or symptoms, he’d somehow escaped that night without any injuries-an impressive feat.

“It glowed purple and exploded into tiny pieces,” was his companion’s eloquent reply. The professor waited for him to continue with a more cohesive explanation, but he just stared up at Eleazar. Okay, he nodded like he understood. He didn’t understand, but this wasn’t really the time or place for that.

“How about we leave this awful place?” he said instead. He couldn’t leave a young wizard just coming into their power surrounded by muggles. That got quite a few blinks. “I’ll be right back.” He turned towards the iron gate. “Oh, hold on.” He spun around to face the pungent bucket and vanished it with a wave of his wand. “Much better.” The boy’s mouth had dropped open. Fig did his best to hide his amusem*nt and strode towards the iron gate and the inattentive guard. He began to weave an excuse mixing words and magic together, laying the groundwork for someone from the ministry to come in all official like and get the boy released. He glanced over his shoulder as the guard nodded confusedly and smiled at the sight of James Evans crouching in the corner where the bucket had once sat, poking the area with his finger.

*********

With no family to take the young teenager in, he was placed in Eleazar’s care. Partly because he had offered, and also because the boy was almost dangerously skittish with anyone else. Things didn’t immediately get better. The first week was the worst. James hardly spoke, he kept his distance, and getting him to eat or sleep was a daily battle. It was like living with a ghost. At the same time, he was forced to accept that Miriam was gone for good. The lack of answers surrounding her fate plagued him.

But Fig had always been a quick learner, and this situation was no different. He learned the boy’s favorite foods and drinks. He didn’t enter the guest room except to flick some cleaning charms around the place. When he found the hidden stash of food, he merely placed a preservation charm over it to prevent spoilage. The quiet teen remained standoffish, so he waited patiently for James to approach him in his own time. He left a plethora of magical textbooks, candy, and other items around the house to acclimate him to the magical world. He would cast a multitude of spells around the home, some he hadn’t bothered with in some time, pretending not to notice James’ sharp eyes watching his incantations and wand movements.

*********

It took nearly three weeks for the first breakthrough, although it was nothing like he had imagined.

“Is it true?” James’ faint question broke the silence one night. Eleazar blinked at the unexpected inquiry, looking up from his Magical Theory tome and over at his quiet ward standing nearby.

“Is what true?”

“Is it true that a werewolf would kill his best friend if they crossed paths?”

“Transformed on the night of a full moon,” the professor stressed. “Yes.”

“Because they can longer remember who they are.”

“That’s correct.”

“…But they can remember everything that happened once they’ve changed back?” Fig glanced down, noting a Defense Against the Dark Arts book clutched in one hand. Ah, the source of the barrage of questions.

“…Yes.”

“…that’s awful,” James said after a long pause. Eleazar let out the breath he’d been holding, relieved to see the boy's terrible experience hadn't robbed him of compassion.

“It is, isn’t it,” he agreed softly.

“This says there’s no treatment or cure,” he took a step forward, holding the book up to wave it, as if to emphasize his point. “And that they’re hated and feared even when they’re not transformed.”

“Unfortunately, that is also correct,” he responded, wondering where this conversation was going.

“If it’s such a terrible disease,” he continued, taking another step closer, “why aren’t more people working to find a treatment or cure to stop the spread?”

“That would certainly make more sense than letting prejudice guide one’s thinking,” Eleazar couldn’t help let out an amused huff. James stood still for a few moments before setting the book on the side table and taking up residence in the armchair across from Professor Fig. He stared into the crackling fire in the fireplace before murmuring, even quieter this time.

“So I really did kill someone that night.” He stopped himself from reaching out to his ward, remembering belatedly the teen was still uncomfortable with being touched.

“You were defending yourself,” he said firmly. “Leaving an encounter with a werewolf alive is no small accomplishment, let alone unmarked, even for a trained wizard…You have nothing to feel guilty about.”

“I should have been there,” James whispered. “I could have saved my family. They would still be alive if I hadn’t – ”

“We don’t know that,” Eleazar interrupted gently. “I understand how difficult it is to lose a loved one.” The teen’s eyes darted to Miriam’s moving portrait on the fireplace mantle and he paused to swallow a wave of grief. “But we cannot dwell on what ifs every day, that’s no way to live…And they wouldn’t want us to waste the rest of our lives in such a manner.” James remained silent after that, staring at the crackling logs. Fig let him be and returned to his tome.

“What are you reading?” Eleazar looked up with a smile, soon he was in lecture mode explaining Magical Theory, a field his ward had yet to learn about.

*********

The questions came much more frequently after that and they moved onto practical applications. Eleazar marveled at the fifteen year old’s ability to learn and master new concepts. He seemed driven to learn anything and everything about the magical world. It was like a fire had been lit and he was racing towards an invisible goal. He wondered sometimes what it was, but he never asked. James had opened up considerably since their first few weeks together, but Eleazar was always cautious to never pry in fear of causing a regression into the silent ghost with haunted dull eyes. Thankfully his ward continued to thrive at Hogwarts, despite the mess with Ranrok, Rookwood, and ancient magic. The Minister for Magic droned on, but Eleazar Fig’s mind was miles away, wondering what new challenge James Evans was racing towards now. He had every confidence that the young wizard would exceed expectations.

Notes:

Anddd that's a wrap on the first interlude. Leave a comment if there's any other POVs you'd like to see in the future :)

Up next - Potions Class!

Chapter 6

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“I saw an Auror badge on Professor Sharp’s desk,” a classmate whispered from her work station as James entered the Potions classroom. He passed by her as he searched for an empty station. That would explain why Professor Fig had included the man to help gather more information on Ranrok’s plans. “I bet he knows more than he’s letting on about the goblin rebellion.” Well, she wasn’t wrong there. He spotted Sebastian and Ominis at the far end of the room and picked up the pace to snag the last open spot at their station.

“Hey Sebastian,” he grinned – which the teen returned – and glanced to his right. “Ominis, good to see you.” The quiet Slytherin nodded back at him. James looked to the left at the last person occupying their group station. “Reyes,” he nodded.

“Evans,” she responded, not bothering to look up from her open textbook.

He pulled out his own textbook and set it on the brewing station. He’d just spent the last couple hours reviewing the text, not wanting to add to the poor impression he’d apparently made with the Potions professor earlier that day.

“Potions is one of the most challenging and hazardous subjects taught at this school,” Professor Sharp marched into the classroom, beginning to lecture immediately. James spun around. The veteran Auror was massaging his hands as he limped to the front of the classroom. “As fifth-years, you will be required to reach new heights of both discipline and intellect.” The gruff professor paused at a chalkboard to face the attentive class. James noted that he wasn’t just standing next to it, but leaning against the frame. He wondered if the man was in pain. It was strange to see an injury he’d seen often enough in his village growing up. In a world where the very laws of nature could be rewritten with a flick of a wand, it was a wonder the magical world had injuries and illnesses that magic couldn’t fix. Perhaps magic couldn't fix magical injuries?

“You will begin this term by brewing a Wiggenweld potion,” Professor Sharp continued to lecture. He held up a clear bottle with a familiar green liquid inside. “Mr. Thakkar, can you tell us why this particular potion might come in handy?”

“Yes, Professor Sharp,” answered a Ravenclaw boy at a nearby workstation. “The Wiggenweld potion can be used to sterilize and even heal a variety of injuries.”

“It can heal some injuries,” the man frowned, straightening his position, “but not all.” He tapped the wooden frame of the chalkboard as if in thought. That sounded like an awfully personal response, thought James. “Points for Ravenclaw,” Professor Sharp continued, turning to the round table nearby. “Before today’s class is completed, each of you will have brewed a Wiggenweld potion of your own,” he set the potion bottle on the wooden surface with a thump and prepared to sit down. “You never know when you might need it,” his dark gaze stopped on James briefly, before continuing to scan the class. “Please begin,” he concluded, settling in the armchair.

The teen immediately turned back to his station and started the assigned task, flipping the textbook to the section on Wiggenweld potion. Thankfully it was one he’d already reviewed after it had been introduced to him by Professor Fig. He carefully prepped his ingredients, making sure to follow the instructions meticulously. The ingredients were strange, and some of the notes in his book were overly detailed. Something as simple as stirring needed to be done in a specific direction and a certain number of times. It kind of reminded him of the times he’d helped his mum with the cooking when he was younger. He was giving the potion one last clockwise stir when the professor stood up and scanned the progress of the class. James finished bottling his completed potion.

“I see most of you have not forgotten how to stir.” His gaze met Sebastian’s who promptly rolled his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. He withheld the laugh that threatened to come out. His housemate’s eyes widened and he quickly went back to his potion that was still bubbling. He heard Sharp’s heavy footsteps approaching. He corked his Wiggenweld potion bottle and turned around to present it. The professor accepted the bottle and held it up into the light, giving it a gentle swirl. He lowered the bottle and returned it to the waiting teen.

“Hmm. Not an easy potion to brew. Well done,” James let out a relieved breath. “And from what I hear of your recent exploits in Hogsmeade,” which begged the question who exactly was gossiping with Professor Sharp of all people, “you’d also do well to practice brewing the defensive Edurus potion.”

“Yes, sir.”

“For the moment you can find the ingredients you need in my office – but in the future you’ll be expected to provide your own ingredients.” The teen nodded. He had yet to buy any, but he imagined the cost of them could add up quickly. “Some can be harvested from the plants you grow in your Herbology class and rarer ones can be purchased.” There was a pause. “Others, however, may be harder to obtain and will require you to be a bit more…resourceful.” The last bit was emphasized by the professor’s heavy stare. James blinked, was the man actually implying – “Come and see me when you’ve finished brewing, and we’ll see if it was skill or luck the first time around.” And with that, the veteran Auror turned on his heel and returned to his previous position. Well that was odd, he mused, turning back to his station. He flipped through the pages of his textbook to the Edurus potion, thankfully another one he’d reviewed just an hour ago, and noted the ingredients he needed to grab. He made his way to the professor’s office and was approached by a waiting Gryffindor.

“Did I hear Professor Sharp say that you have permission to go into his office?” the redhead asked.

“Yes…but why does that matter to you?”

“Brilliant! And it matters because you can be a part of something truly creative,” He grinned. “I’m Garreth by the way, Garreth Weasley, bit of a prodigy with potions if I do say so myself.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” James nodded, wondering what exactly he wanted. “Wait, are you related to Professor Weasley?” There did seem to a resemblance when he looked for it.

“She’s my aunt,” he answered, almost sounding rehearsed. The Gryffindor must get that question a lot. “Keeps too close an eye for me for comfort…but she can’t be everywhere. Listen, anyone with a troll-sized brain can brew an Edurus potion. I’m working on something that’s certain to be spectacular. I’m just missing one tiny, last ingredient that will add that extra spark.”

“I suspect that’s where I come in.”

“You’re as clever as I’d hoped.” James raised a brow at the flattery attempt. “I simply need a single Fwooper feather. As you’ll already be in Sharp’s office with his permission, perhaps you could grab it for me.” He received a winning smile. Was the boy seriously asking him to steal from their professor on the first day of Potions class?

“I don’t want to get on Professor Sharp’s bad side,” he shook his head. Correction, he didn’t want to get further then where he already was. He glanced to the front of the room but the man seemed preoccupied with reviewing paperwork.

“You won’t. Fwooper feathers aren’t that valuable,” Garreth waved a dismissive hand. “Sharp won’t even miss it.” James couldn’t help the unimpressed look that finally made its way onto his face.

“I have enough to worry about,” he shook his head again. “I’m afraid I can’t help you.”

“I understand,” the Gryffindor let out a disappointed sigh. “I’ll sort something else out.”

Inside the office he managed to gather the needed Ashwinder eggs and Dark Mongrel fur, pausing at the note left on the desk. Why was an old Auror memo sitting out? That was dated quite a long time ago. One of Sharp's first Auror assignments maybe? Why did he accept the Potions professor position in the first place? Soon he was back at his station, carefully following the Edurus potion brewing instructions. He finished bottling the potion around the same time Garreth Weasley’s cauldron erupted in an impressive amount of colorful sparks and effects. He had to admit it was a bit spectacular, not enough for him to regret his refusal to get involved.

“I brewed an Edurus Potion as you asked, sir,” James presented his finished product to the waiting professor. The man inspected it critically before responding.

“Glad you managed to stay on task. Not every class is so…eventful.” An amused snort escaped the teen. “I saw Mr. Weasley speaking with you earlier.” So he had been watching him. The teen doubted much got past the ex-Auror in his classroom. “He can be quite persuasive.”

“Right,” James couldn’t help but deadpan, which seemed to amuse Sharp.

“You’ve done well today,” the Potions master continued. He straightened at the praise, professor Fig had been right. “I confess I was skeptical, given the advanced nature of this class, and the fact that you’re a new student.”

“I’m glad I was able to meet your expectations,” he replied.

“A rare occurrence.” James couldn’t help but smile at that. “And you’d do well to remember that you’re not a Potion’s master quite yet.” Sharp raised a lecturing finger in response to that, as if to ward off the possibility of arrogance from his success. It didn’t have its intended effect though, the teen found it more amusing than anything else. “In addition to having a solid grasp of how to combine various ingredients, you should gain an understanding of the ingredients themselves,” the Potions professor paused his impromptu lecture as if to make sure James was actually listening.

“I will, sir,” he nodded. The man’s stern expression relaxed somewhat.

“Pay particular attention in Herbology,” he continued, clasping his hands behind his back. "The plants you nurture there are often essential to the potions you brew here…That will be all.”

“Yes, sir,” James hurried back to his work station to gather his things and followed his housemates back to the Slytherin common room.

*********

That evening he joined Sebastian and Ominis in the Great Hall for dinner. Sebastian carried most of the conversation, like he was used to it, although Ominis chipped in a few times. The cavernous room was buzzing with activity as it did during every mealtime. James didn’t think he’d ever get used to so many people in one room. His entire village could fit in here with room to spare. He rested his cheek on his fist and listened idly to the various conversations of his classmates. The problems they voiced, their anxieties and conversation topics, all sounded so minor. He glanced up at the faculty table, noting Professor Fig’s absence. He hadn’t realized until now how much he’d gotten used to having the man around. It was almost frightening how far he’d wormed his way past James’ defenses in the time they’d known each other.

“What do you think, James?” Sebastian cut his musings short. He glanced back at the two Slytherin boys sitting across from him.

“I agree with Ominis,” he said, no idea what they’d been talking about this time. It probably hadn’t even been a disagreement that required him to weigh in as the tiebreaker. But the reactions he received made it well worth it. Ominis outright laughed at his response while Sebastian sputtered.

“That’s not – what does that even – why would you – ?” he turned and elbowed his friend. “Stop laughing!” James let out a chuckle. Sebastian looked back and forth between the two. “You guys are the worst,” he said, but it was said without any heat. It was nice, James thought, this new feeling of being part of a group.

Notes:

the game did not have nearly enough Slytherin trio fluff or Ominis interactions

Chapter 7

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The next couple of days were fairly uneventful – well – his definition of uneventful. The arrival of the weekend meant a break from classes. James was finally able to catch up with Natty, who had wanted to meet off school grounds near the Lower Hogsfield hamlet. She’d been curious about Rookwood’s interest in him, but he was able to easily deflect it. He didn’t know her that well yet, and he didn’t want to betray Professor Fig’s trust. Her desire to go after Harlow was a bit odd, but very Gryffindor. James suspected there was something else driving the girl but he didn’t pry. He did, however, manage to learn more about Natty’s experience at Uagadou and the use of wandless magic. She also agreed to a future meetup to demonstrate and teach him the basics as she’d been taught. He’d been thinking about the dragon attack and his mentor’s use of wandless summoning. It had allowed them to portkey away instead of meeting the same fate as George Osric. He would ask Professor Fig about it too after he returned.

Natty left soon after, something about not wanting to attract her mum’s attention, and James decided to explore the surrounding area. He hadn’t been this far from the castle before and was curious to see what hidden discoveries the region held. A woman’s shout had soon drawn him into a battle with a group of Ashwinders. Apparently Rookwood had lackeys combing the countryside for him-lovely. The woman, a researcher named Nora Treadwell, had been nice enough. And though he didn’t usually care for riddles, the shared breakthrough on the Merlin trial had been interesting. James had also helped a goblin by the name of Arn. He’d sounded so distressed the teen couldn’t help but stop and ask if he was alright, which had somehow led to James sneaking into a goblin encampment to free the stolen enchanted carts. It had been equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. Arn’s utter joy and profuse thanks had made it worth it though. He was interested in seeing his paintings once the goblin had some available. He wondered if they differed from muggle and wizard paintings.

Unfortunately sleep had eluded him as of late, and tonight was no different. Giving up, he kicked his covers off and silently switched out of his pajamas for some regular clothes. With a quick Disillusionment charm, James snuck out of the dorms. After a few minutes of wandering the empty hallways, he eventually found himself standing in front of Professor Fig’s office door. After a moment of hesitation, the fifteen year old let himself inside. Even though he knew he wouldn’t see his mentor standing over his desk, he was still disappointed to find the room empty. He let out a sigh as he wandered past the stacks of books, perhaps reading one of them would put him to sleep. James paused by the pair of armchairs, except there was only one armchair now. The other had been replaced with a chaise lounge. He stared at it for long time, chest aching at the sight. He slowly approached the lounge and sat down. He fingers ran over the soft material. Soon enough he was curled up and drifting off to slumber.

It was the best sleep he'd had in days.

*********

James woke up and lazily stretched out as daylight streamed into Professor Fig’s office. He rolled onto his stomach, fingering the upholstery. He smiled softly to himself wondering when the man had made the swap. Had it been right before he left for his trip? Or after the teen’s first impromptu nap? Did he expect it to get used while he was gone? His eyes snapped up at the sound of the lock turning. He heard the door swing open and footsteps shuffle in.

“Professor, you’re back!” James hauled himself to his knees and leaned over the back of the lounge to greet his mentor with a wide grin. The words on his tongue died instantly, tasting like ash. It wasn’t Professor Fig standing in the doorway, but Sharp. The smile dropped and blood drained from his face. “P-Professor Sharp,” he stuttered. “What…what are you doing here?” The man frowned, striding into the office towards the anxious teen.

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” he returned.

“I asked first,” slipped out. The man’s glare turned frigid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He wished the furniture would swallow him up whole. Sharp was going to murder him and make it look like an accident. He clenched his mouth shut before it could say anything else dumb.

“How did you get into Professor Fig’s office?” he interrogated, arms crossed. James chewed his lip, that question seemed harmless enough. Surely he couldn’t get in trouble for using something that had been given to him, right?

“I…used the spare key he gave me.” That seemed to throw him.

“Why do you have a key to his office?” The teen frowned. He didn't understand the question. Why would he know the thoughts behind his mentor's actions?

“Why wouldn’t I?” he blinked in confusion.

“I asked first,” the Potions master returned dryly.

“Because he’s my guardian? I don’t know, he just gave it to me,” James shrugged his shoulders helplessly.

“Ah,” the professor exhaled, expression finally thawing as if several puzzle pieces had clicked into place. He made his way to the empty armchair, releasing a sigh once he was seated. The teen frowned but followed the professor’s lead and sat back down on the lounge, crisscrossing his legs and resting his hands in his lap.

“You didn’t know he was my guardian,” James realized belatedly.

“I thought his role was merely that of a mentor,” the Potions professor agreed.

“But he is my mentor.”

“A guardian is responsible for much more than a mentor.”

“…I guess,” James relented as he thought of everything Professor Fig had done for him – the late night talks, the surprise gifts, the endless patience. He picked at his shirt, looking anywhere but Professor Sharp who seemed to be scrutinizing him.

“Did you spend the night in here?”

“No.” The veteran Auror frowned but, for whatever reason, didn’t call him out on the lie.

“You miss him.” James scoffed at the statement.

“No I don’t,” he crossed his arms. The man raised a silent eyebrow. “I'm just…not used to him being gone.” Sharp hummed.

“Nothing wrong with that,” he spoke after a lengthy pause. “If you did miss him.”

“You don’t need to do this,” James shook his head.

“Do what?”

“Whatever this is,” the frustrated teen waved a hand. “I’m fine.”

“Are you?” Sharp asked.

“There’s nothing wrong with me!” he finally snapped. His mouth clicked shut and he glared at the empty fireplace. Great. He just yelled at the strictest professor in the school. The fifteen year old screwed his eyes shut and focused on his breathing like Professor Fig had taught him. After almost a full minute passed he’d calmed down enough to reopen his eyes. But Professor Sharp wasn’t staring at him, instead he was looking at the various stacks of books around the room. Something loosened in his chest.

“I’m sorry,” James apologized. “I shouldn’t have yelled.” The professor finally looked at him but didn’t say anything. He chewed his lip before forcing himself to continue. “I…I guess I’m just tired of everyone acting like they know everything about me.” He pursed his lips together to stop himself from saying more, distractedly tugging the hem of his shirt again.

“Most students’ introduction to magic isn’t so...harrowing,” Sharp finally spoke. “I’m sorry that’s been your experience.” The fifteen year old met the professor’s gaze but had to look away immediately. The look on the man’s face was the same he’d often seen Professor Fig wear. They sat in silence together again, but this time it wasn’t as uncomfortable as before. The Potions master seemed content to just sit there for as long as James needed him to. He didn’t force him to talk and he didn’t stare. The teen realized with a start that Sharp had the same solid presence as his mentor. The exteriors were different, sure, as well as their mannerisms. But otherwise they seemed remarkably alike.

“What was it like being an Auror?” James dared to ask. The Potions professor raised an eyebrow at the subject change.

“Interested in becoming one?”

“No. I don’t know. Maybe?” he absentmindedly tapped his thigh. “When I was in Hogsmeade, Officer Singer said I had the makings of an Auror. Professor Fig said they’re magical law enforcement, but it’s hard to imagine what that looks like.”

“Hmm,” the man considered him for a couple beats. “I spent years tracking down reprobates who dealt in artefacts of dark magic origin. I enjoyed a great deal of success as an Auror. However, success can make one complacent if one’s confidence is not tempered by humility. One overstep in battle changed everything.”

“May I ask what happened?”

“Yes, well, I suppose it is a matter of public record. My partner and I had tracked a suspect to a harbor in Scarborough. Trying to smuggle shrunken heads of all things.” He chuckled at the disgusted face the teenager made. “I had deduced that he was working alone…I was mistaken – and they knew we were coming. From the moment we stepped onto the ship, well – I barely escaped with my life. My partner wasn’t so lucky.”

“I’m sorry. I suppose being an Auror is awfully dangerous.”

“It is at that. But survival is not guaranteed for any of us.”

“I know.”

“Yes, I suppose you would,” Sharp murmured as he regarded him. Something flashed across his face, but it was too quick for the teen to decipher.

“Sir, why did you come to Hogwarts?” James asked, remembering the dated memo he’d seen laying out on the professor’s desk.

“Perhaps you haven’t heard the myriad of rumors they think I don’t hear,” the Potions master replied. He narrowed his eyes, that almost sounded like a joke.

“Was it due to an injury?”

“I would still be an Auror today if my injury hadn’t precluded it. The Ministry was all too ready to keep me on. Buried under parchment, of course,” the man scowled, “helping run the Auror Recruitment Program. But, if I’m meant for a life confined to a desk, well – I might as well share my expertise, while searching for a way to heal my blasted leg. And the Hogwarts library is not to be underestimated.”

“That’s very…practical of you, sir,” said James. “I hope you find a cure for your injury.”

“Speaking of practicality,” Sharp folded his hands. “You should eat. I doubt Professor Fig would be pleased about you skipping meals.” The teen glanced at the sunny window, then back at the veteran Auror.

“Are you threatening to tattle on me?” he asked incredulously.

“Perhaps,” the man’s mouth twitched in amusem*nt. “If you hurry you can still make it to breakfast.” James groaned but stood up anyway.

“Wait,” He turned back towards the professor. “You never said why you were here.”

“It can wait until Professor Fig returns,” Sharp gave a dismissive wave. James realized he must have found something for his mentor. But the professor didn’t want to leave whatever information he’d discovered in a place he - a student - had access too. Pity.

Notes:

you wouldn't believe the number of new words I've had to add to my spellcheck's dictionary

more Sharp this chapter to feed the soul :)

Chapter 8

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

His first real lead on the ancient tome’s missing pages came from a rather unexpected source. Arthur Plummly, a Hufflepuff in his year, had approached James saying one of the portraits wished to speak with him. The Slytherin teen had noted the moving paintings throughout the halls, but it was odd for one of them to seek him out. Apparently one of the previous Ministers for Magic, Eldritch Diggory, knew about his predicament and it was somehow connected to an unsolved decades-old murder. He was directed to seek out the portrait’s living great-niece in the nearby hamlet of Upper Hogsfield. When he met with Helen Thistlewood, the retired Auror filled him in on the details of the cold case, and he agreed to speak with this Anne Thisbe despite his reservations.

*********

Azkaban was cold and dark. James repressed a shiver, glancing at the surrounding stone gray walls. Memories of his own wrongful imprisonment sprang to mind. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, he thought. The air seemed to sap the very warmth from his body, and he could see faint wisps of his breath.

Shrieking howls filled the air, they clawed at his insides like nails on a chalkboard. Shadowy cloaked figures melted out of the walls high overhead. One by one they turned to him and the retired Auror, as if sensing fresh victims. And then they were diving forward with claws outstretched, hungry screeches rang in his ears.

“Expecto Patronum!” Helen Thistlewood shouted, a silvery rabbit sprang from the tip of her wand. The dark creatures halted their attack, hissing at the translucent animal, quickly returning to their previous positions. James let out a shaky breath, finally able to breathe again, the darkness no longer pressing down on him like a heavy blanket.

“W-what was that?” he asked.

“The Patronus charm,” answered the woman, glancing back to check on him. “The only way to repel Dementors, nasty creatures. I’ve tried convincing the Ministry the use of such monsters is unnecessary to no avail.” She eyed him one last time before turning around. “Stick close to me, this really is a dismal place, and mind your step.” He quietly followed her, warming his fingers absently. James glanced up at the Dementors gliding high above the rabbit Patronus. He couldn’t see much detail, but had the unsettling feeling they were watching him closely. He blocked out the prisoners they passed, focusing squarely on Helen Thistlewood’s back.

“What is that I hear?” a voice croaked at the end of the hall. “Perhaps death, in all its mercy, approaches.”

“Now remember,” Helen Thistlewood positioned herself next to the cell door, out of sight. “Anne has been here a long time. The Dementors aren’t kind.” He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Obviously. “Have patience and speak to her quietly and respectfully.” He glanced at the iron bars, hit with a sense of déjà vu. Except he wasn’t the one locked up, this time he was the visitor. He wondered if Professor Fig had felt this way upon their first meeting, the building apprehension, the wavering conviction. Heart thudding, he approached the cell door.

“Are you Anne?” he called, peering past the bars. A grimy humanoid figure sat on the floor, scratching at the far stone wall with their finger.

“Who’s there?” she answered back, voice rough and shaky from disuse. “Who speaks to me? Is that death?” her voice tilted up several octaves, “finally come for me?”

“I’m a student from Hogwarts,” he responded, trying not to sound unnerved. Her last question had almost sounded eager at the thought of death paying her a visit. “I found the book that you said would exonerate you.”

“Ahh! The book, the book, no one would look,” Anne’s raspy voice became excited. “None of the mages found the pages. Methinks the f*ckless knave meandered to his cave. My fate was surely sealed in Upper Hoggy-field.” The manner in which she spoke was unhinged, much like her mind. And yet…there seemed to be enough sanity left for it to not sound like complete nonsense.

“Are you saying that the missing pages are in a cave?” he breathed out. “Near Upper Hogsfield?

“Hogs, hogs. Field, field.” Her voice rose higher, becoming more animated. “Ruins house a vault concealed.”

“A vault. In some ruins. Near Upper Hogsfield?” he slowly pieced together, a plan forming in his mind. He frowned in thought. “I suppose it can’t hurt to look.”

“Can’t hurt to look. Can’t hurt to look. Go find the pages from your book!” James swallowed at the dismissal. Well, that was probably the most he was going to get out of her. Not bad judging by the state of her fractured mind. “Helen? Helen! Know you’re here. Come in closer. Be a dear.” Anne was standing now, abandoning her spot on the floor and facing the cell bars. James jerked back and glanced at the hidden retired Auror for direction.

“What is it, Anne?” Helen Thistlewood stepped in between the fifteen year old and the iron gate. Anne lunged at the woman, black smoke swirling in the outstretched hand, slashing through the bars at her neck. James caught the retired Auror to stop her from hitting the floor. Mad cackling filled the air. He glanced up in time to see the silver rabbit disappear. His heart dropped.

“Your Patronus!” he glanced back down at his injured guide. Suddenly he was being squeezed from all sides – he couldn’t breathe. His ears popped and the next thing he knew he was outside. He blinked rapidly at the change in scenery, eyes adjusting to the sun’s rays. They were back in Upper Hogsfield, outside her home. He kneeled on the ground next to Helen Thistlewood as she weakly propped herself up.

“You’re hurt,” said James, feeling his pockets for a spare Wiggenweld potion. He still had the one he brewed in Potions class.

“Go to the cave,” the retired Auror instructed, ignoring his concern. “You’re safe now, you have what you need.”

“You need help,” he insisted. She was clutching the oozing wound on her neck.

“I’ll be alright,” she muttered, “…once…St. Mungo’s.” And then she disappeared with a crack. James leapt to his feet, scanning the area. But it was no use, she was gone. He sprinted into the woman’s nearby home he’d visited only minutes before – door slamming open. Thankfully Minister Diggory was still in his frame.

“Sir,” he rushed forward. “Madam Thistlewood was injured during our visit. She dropped me off outside but disappeared again. She mentioned St. Mungo’s?”


“Merlin!” the portrait of the late minister exclaimed “I shall check on her at once.”

“Thank you,” the teen sighed in relief, but the picture frame was already empty. Once he’d regained his nerves, James searched the surrounding area for the cave. Hours later he found its location, solved the puzzle Richard Jackdaw had left for Anne, and discovered a note from the boy indicating the poor woman had indeed been innocent. Upon exiting the cave, he encountered the ghost himself and was able to convince him to lead the fifteen year old to the location of the missing pages. And his demise, but James tried not to focus on that bit.

*********

The chamber the teen eventually found himself in was jaw dropping. In front of him were 4 massive paintings, bigger than any he’d ever seen before in his entire life, and the one in front of him was occupied by a familiar figure.

“Has someone finally found our Map Chamber?” the portrait asked, peering down at him.

“I recognize you from the Pensieves!” the fifteen year old excitedly stepped forward. “You’re Professor Rackham.” He couldn’t wait to show his mentor.

“I am indeed,” the man nodded. “I must confess that I am surprised to see someone so young standing before me."

“I’m the same age that you and Isidora Morganach were when you started at Hogwarts.”

“You’ve paid attention,” the professor answered, obviously pleased. “And, might I presume, you share our…ability?”

“To see traces of ancient magic?” he clarified. “Yes, sir. I do.”

“As you have likely realized by now, our ability gives us a unique relationship with all forms of magic. We have much to discuss. But first – a map found in a certain book led you here. Place that book on the pedestal,” Rackham instructed, gesturing behind James. He turned and spied it at the top of the steps he’d descended minutes ago. He turned back to the expectant professor.

“I don’t have the book with me, sir,” he answered with a disappointed frown. Professor Fig still hadn’t returned, the Minister for Magic must be very stubborn indeed.

“Hmm. That is unfortunate. I’m afraid we must pause our conversation until you return with the book.” James sighed at the delay. He thought about pushing the man for more answers, it had been a very trying day after all, but the expression on Rackham’s face was resolute.

“The statues and carvings in the house on the cliffside,” he tried instead. “Those were you, weren’t they? Are you a Seer?”

“I am.”

“Did you know that I would be here?”

“I cannot say more at present,” the professor seemed mildly amused at his attempt. “Except to say that your presence here does not entirely surprise me.”

“But my age did,” James pointed out. The amusem*nt spread, but no reply came. He chewed his lip before remembering the professor’s first words.

“Why is this room called the ‘Map Chamber’?” he asked.

“I assure you that all will be clear once the book has been placed on the pedestal,” Rackham remained firm.

“Very well,” James groaned, crossing his arms. “I’ll retrieve the book.” Hopefully Professor Fig would be back soon. He wondered if he should send the man an owl.

“Good. We shall speak again once the book is in place,” he turned to exit the portrait.

“Wait! – ” the teen stepped forward, another question coming to mind. He was surprised when the professor actually paused, he hadn’t really expected the man to humor him.

“How – I mean – did you – ” he clicked his mouth shut. James fiddled with his fingers, trying to form the right words. The professor’s face seemed to soften as he waited patiently for the fifteen year old to figure out what he wanted to say.

“Did you know you were magical before?” he finally settled on. “How did you find out?”

“I can tell you if you wish, but I sense that is not what troubles you.”

“…Since I’ve learned about the magical world,” James swallowed, fingers tugging at the hem of his shirt, “I’ve been told how unheard of it is for someone to start Hogwarts so late, that wizards tend to show signs of magic much younger.” The portrait nodded in silent confirmation. “Was there any way I – you could have known about these abilities earlier?” Professor Rackham studied the teenager for a few moments.

“My family believed me to be a squib most of my younger life,” he answered. “It wasn’t until one fateful night, during a terrible storm, that I discovered my abilities. It was incredibly unexpected and saved me from an untimely demise.” The teen’s breath caught at the bare admission. “I suspect,” the man continued after some thought, “given the nature of the question, that the awakening of your abilities was not entirely different from my own.”

“Yea, I guess you could say that.” The professor gazed down at him quietly, seeming to know more than what James was willing to admit.

“Our abilities grant us a considerable advantage in many areas,” Rackham continued. “But it does not make us infallible. No one can know everything,” he paused before his lips quirked into a self-depreciating grin. “Not even a Seer.” As James gazed up at the portrait, he felt an invisible weight lift off his shoulders. It wasn’t his fault. He let out a deep breath. Professor Fig had tried to tell him as much, but it hit different coming from Professor Rackham. What happened to his family wasn’t his fault.

“Thank you.”

“Of course,” the portrait smiled down at him. “I shall see you again soon, hopefully with that book.” James huffed out a startled laugh.

“Yes, sir.”

Notes:

let's be honest, the Hufflepuff one was the best of all the house quests...it also works the best narratively so we're running with it

kinda weird they didn't make it the default though, it's not like the portraits can't - you know - move around

ALSO at the end MC just straight up assumes Helen gets the help she obviously needs??

Chapter 9

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Flying was the best thing about the magical world, James decided. His Ravenclaw classmate, Everett Clopton, had called him a natural. The broom hummed underneath him as he soared through the sky, seeming to intuitively know what he wanted. It reminded him of the way Mr. Ollivander had spoken about wands, as if they were partially sentient. Professor Kogawa wasn’t pleased with their impromptu excursion, but had noted with some pride how quickly he’d grasped the fundamentals of flying. James followed Everett’s recommendation and decided to visit Spintwitches in Hogsmeade later that day. Listening to the shopkeeper, Albie Weekes, talk about brooms had been rather fascinating.

The excitement had quickly waned once he looked over the prices though, 600 galleons was a lot of money. No wonder Everett complained about having to use the school brooms. James chewed his lip, doing a mental inventory of his finances. Even if he sold some of his unused gear and extra potion ingredients he’d be short. He supposed he could talk to Professor Fig about getting a broom once the man returned, but the idea of asking him for money left a bitter taste in his mouth. He was already paying for James to attend Hogwarts along with all the supplies that came with it. He hesitated between the Ember Dash and Night Dancer broom models. From his periphery, James could see Mr. Weekes about to start another passionate speech, this time on the merits of the brooms that had caught his eye.

“I don’t have 600 galleons on me right now” he finally admitted with poorly hidden disappointment. “I’ll have to come back later.” The teen immediately headed to J. Pippin’s Potions to scrounge up some extra galleons by offloading some potions ingredients. He’d asked the owner, Parry Pippin, how he acquired the ingredients for his potions during his first visit to the shop. The conversation had ended with the agreement that the Potions brewer would buy any extra ingredients James brought in from his travels. He did just that and eyed the various ingredients on the shelves – what in the world was stench of the dead? – when Mr. Pippins began to grumble to himself. The student glanced his way and noted the piece of parchment the man was studying.

“Everything alright?” he ventured after a beat.

“Ah, just another order from Fatimah Lawang,” the potion brewer answered, placing the parchment on the counter and returning to James with his galleons. The teen accepted his earnings.

“Who is that?”

“She’s a Potioneer down in Keenbridge down south,” Pippins explained, returning to the counter. “Every visit of late has turned into an argument, constantly complaining about the quality of my stock. But how can I maintain excellence when she orders so often – giving me no time to brew?” He stopped abruptly, seeming to realize he’d been venting to a fifteen year old student.

“I could make the delivery,” James offered, seeing an opportunity.

“You?” the man parroted with some surprise.

“I’m looking to buy a broom,” he added to provide context and perhaps gain some sympathy. “But I’m a bit short.”

“Hmm,” the man considered the idea. “I suppose it isn’t too far, and you have proven yourself to be quite capable.” It seemed the troll attack would provide some benefit after all. “Very well, I’ll get it ready for you.” James watched the shop owner package the invisibility potions. Once ready, he accepted the order and carefully tucked it into his satchel.

“You’ve no idea how grateful I am,” the man expressed. “Truly. You’re welcome to claim the delivery fee from Fatimah. Hopefully she won’t give you too much trouble.”

********

That evening James eagerly returned to Spintwitches, deciding to go with the more stealthy Night Dancer model. During the exchange, Mr. Weekes went on and on about broom upgrades and enhancements. With some persuasion, the teen agreed to help the shop owner gather the needed information on the condition he would receive the enhancements to his own broom for free. The man had balked at first, but when James had argued these upgrades would provide the broom proprietor with a significant edge over his competitors, he finally conceded.

The flight back to Hogwarts was even better than Everett’s tour around the castle during flying class. A laugh escaped him as he experimented with loops, barrel rolls, and dives. It was absolutely thrilling. Worries like Ranrok and Rookwood melted away. There were no expectations dragging him down as he sped through the sky. Anxiety from catching up on four years of schoolwork and making his mentor proud evaporated. James Evans ceased to exist. It was just him and the broom. As the castle loomed into view, he dived to the ground and sped around the Quidditch pitch. Hours later he finally paused, face flushed from the night air. He floated lazily about the pitch, close enough to the ground for the toes of his boots to brush the grass. His racing heartbeat slowed and he absently stroked the boom handle with one finger. It hummed in response. He slowly rose in the air and gazed at the castle in the distance. He should head back soon, Sebastian had wanted to meet with him about something. Not quite ready to leave just yet, he took one last lazy lap around the Quidditch pitch. He could get used to this.

*********

“How did you find this place?” James asked, voice filled with awe, following Sebastian into the secret room. Hogwarts seemed to be filled with them. He wondered idly if the castle held any more secret rooms like this one. Recalling the Map Chamber down below, the answer was likely yes.

“Ominis, he named it the Undercroft,” Sebastian answered. James smiled at the fitting name, spinning around to take in the chamber. “We used to play Gobstones here all the time – with my sister, Anne. She loved that infernal game,” the teen continued with a melancholy tone, causing James to focus his attention back on him. “What I wouldn’t give to lose to her again.” He cleared his throat suddenly. “I should tell you, I swore to Ominis I would safeguard this place, so, please keep this between us.”

“Of course,” he assured the other teen. “How did he find it in the first place?”

“Someone in his family knew about it. The Gaunts are full of secrets,” Sebastian frowned, a troubled look briefly passing over his face. “Ominis has no love lost for his family or their secrets, but this place is special to him.”

“Ominis told me about his family when we first met,” James mused remembering their introduction. He’d been much more welcoming compared to the rest of his gossiping housemates – one going as far to call him dragon food. “To say that he has ‘no love lost’ for them is an understatement.”

“Glad you understand. Anyway, the Undercroft has been a perfect place to sneak off to – away from prying eyes – and even practice otherwise forbidden spells.”

“Really?” Minutes later James was learning the blasting curse, Confringo. It was much like the fire-making spell, Incendio, that Professor Hecat had taught him – but with more range and force to it. Once he got the hang of it and was able to cast it with consistent results, Sebastian talked more about the time he’d spent in the Undercroft with Ominis and his sister Anne. When he mentioned meeting her, James agreed to join Sebastian the next time he visited Feldcroft.

“By the way, what was it you couldn’t discuss out in the hall earlier?” He stilled at the question.

“I…I can’t say really,” he stalled.

“Might it have something to do with Victor Rookwood?” Sebastian continued, eyes narrowed in thought. “He didn’t ‘mistake’ you for someone else in Hogsmeade, did he?” James chewed his lip wondering how much he should share. The other Slytherin had proved himself reliable, and had helped him a number of times already. And yet…

"My instinct is to follow the path we are on for the moment and keep the details to ourselves until we know more."

“Ranrok and Rookwood were behind the dragon attack,” James answered slowly, choosing his words carefully. “They seem to be working together, but I’m not sure what exactly their end goal is.”

“And that somehow involves you?” Sebastian frowned, not entirely satisfied with the vague answer.

“I think their original target was Mr. Osric.”

“The Ministry escort that –

“Became dragon food?” James filled in dryly. “Yea. Him.” The other teenager eyed him with an uncertain expression.

“That’s one way of putting it,” Sebastian finally answered. James looked away, embarrassed.

“Sorry,” he let out a deep breath after several moments, “don’t mean to be rude about it. I really don’t know much, and it’s not just me caught in the middle of it.”

“…You mean Fig?” He hummed in response but doesn’t say anything else. “Hmm…I suppose with both Rookwood and Ranrok after you, a bit more time practicing the blasting curse is in order.” James relaxed, thankful Sebastian was willing to drop the subject. They spent the next half hour blasting the hanging candelabras, turning it into a competition. When he finally left the Undercroft, his face was flushed with excitement. His good mood tanked immediately when he ran right into Ominis outside the secret entrance.

“Don’t lie to me! No one ‘stumbles’ upon that room. Sebastian told you didn’t he?” James grimaced at the boy’s accusation. “You breathe a word about this place to anyone and not even your precious Professor Fig will be able to help you.” Something dark and ugly gripped him. He instantly stepped forward, crowding the other Slytherin’s space.

“Threaten me all you like, but if you go after Professor Fig I promise it’ll be the last thing you ever do,” James growled. Ominis stilled at the sudden ferocity. However the warning didn’t seem to scare him and his expression turned introspective. After a few beats of silence James stepped back. “Trust me, Ominis. I know how to keep a secret. I won’t breathe a word about your Undercroft.”

“Sebastian is going to get an earful about this,” the other teen grumbled, brushing past to enter the secret room. James winced but kept his mouth firmly shut, anything he said or did would probably make it worse. Sebastian was on his own.

*********

James sought out the Potions master in his classroom the next day. Sharp was at the chalkboard in the front of the empty room, writing something under a diagram.

“I finished my assignments, Professor,” he said, approaching the retired Auror. The man hummed, setting the piece of chalk down before turning to him.

“Well, well,” he clasped his hands together, staring down at the fifteen year old. “I trust you were meticulous in your efforts? After all, shortcuts only ever lead to shortcomings.” The teen blinked, that was a rather grim thing to say to a student.

“Yes, sir. Of course.”

“Good. Ordinarily I’d say it’s not my concern either way. But you…” Sharp paused, something flickering across the professor’s face, “I want to make sure you’re well-prepared.” James swallowed at the admission. It was…odd…to have another adult besides his mentor show such concern. Perhaps it was a result from their earlier conversation in Professor Fig’s office. “Talent and resolve are a potent combination. It would be a shame to let that go waste.”

“Thank you, Professor,” a wide smile stretched across his face.

Don’t let it go to your head.” James barely managed to squash the grin. It was like the professor was allergic to compliments. Or maybe he was just trying to prevent another self-proclaimed Potions prodigy. “Now, let’s see how you fare with Diffindo. Wand at the ready.”

The teenager listened carefully to the Potions professor’s instructions, watching the wand movements with a critical eye. Soon enough he had the severing charm down and was hitting the dueling dummy consecutively. Pleased at the progress, James glanced over at the Potions professor, who was sitting at the round table in the front of the classroom marking essays. The room fell silent except for the shuffling of parchment causing Sharp to look up. James glanced at the training dummy, then back to the expectant professor.

“Sir, how does one go about casting silently?” The teen had noticed some of the professors performing magic without saying anything, and thought it more practical than announcing the spell each time. It would be especially useful in duels, he thought.

“It’s recommended,” said the professor with a disapproving look, “to master spellcasting with the incantation before even considering attempting to do so silently.”

“Of course, sir,” he placated. “But – I mean – wouldn’t it be more practical to be able to cast silently without announcing it?” The Potions master gave up all pretense of getting any more work down and folded his hands.

“Does this sudden interest have anything to do with your extracurricular activities?”

“…Sir?”

“Such as fighting goblins? Or dueling Ashwinders perhaps?” his tone was deceptively mild. James swallowed hard. He had thought, given Sharp’s previous occupation as an Auror, the man would be the perfect person to ask. But clearly he had miscalculated. How was it the man knew everything? He should have just waited to ask Professor Fig.

“I’m not sure where you heard that,” he forced out. “Sorry for being a bother.” He turned to escape the now stifling classroom.

Mr. Evans.” Jame gulped. He wanted to ignore the command but his feet were frozen in place. He heard the wooden legs of Sharp’s chair slide across the stone floor as the professor stood. He listened to the heavy footsteps approach but still didn’t move. The frowning Potions master finally entered his field of view, arms crossed. James’ eyes dropped to the floor. A beat of silence, then a sigh. “Mr. Evans.”

“It’s a valid question,” he defended, gaze still trained to the floor. There was another longer sigh.

“Silent casting is generally not taught at Hogwarts because it requires a level of intention and concentration that tends to be…challenging for children and teenagers.” James blinked at that. He supposed that made sense given the results some of the spells produced. He finally glanced up at Professor Sharp, his expression serious but not unkind.

“…generally?” he asked. There was a pause and the professor’s expression shifted.

“There have been known exceptions made for special circ*mstances,” he adds dryly with some mild amusem*nt. The man scrutinized the teenager for a several beats. “Show me again,” he gestured to the training dummy. James blinked.

“The severing charm?”

“Yes.” The retired Auror moved away, leaning against a nearby workstation. The fifteen year old frowned but did as he was instructed.

“Diffindo!” the dummy jerked back at the force of the spell.

“Less flourish.”

“Diffindo!”

“Visualize the spell before casting.”

“Diffindo!”

“Again.”

“Diffindo!”

“Focus.”

“Diffindo!”

“Now say it in your mind instead.”

Diffindo! The dummy crashed into the wall. He gasped, spinning to face the pleased professor.

“Good,” said the retired Auror. James flushed at the praise. “Do not attempt this unsupervised. Stick to using the incantations while spellcasting,” Sharp lectured. “…If you wish to practice silent casting, come find me.”

“Thank you, sir,” he grinned widely.

Notes:

Ominis needs a hug

Also I have a Sharp problem

Chapter 10: Interlude - Matilda Weasley

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The Hogwarts Deputy Headmistress and Transfiguration teacher was in her office preparing for the start of the school term when there was a sharp knock on the door.

“Come in,” Professor Weasley called, looking up from her work. The door opened and Professor Fig poked his head in.

“Matilda,” he smiled warmly, “Do you have a moment to spare?”

“Of course,” she waved him in. “What is it Eleazar?” The man approached her desk, wringing his hands. The woman was suddenly reminded of past students coming to her in a similar manner when feeling overwhelmed. “Would you like some tea?” she offered after he’s seated.

“Thank you,” he murmured. Weasley flicked her wand at the nearby tea set which floated through the air and clinked onto her desk. Fig didn't speak as the tea was prepared and silently accepted the steaming cup. Matilda studied her colleague over the rims of her spectacles. He looks tired. Not surprising given the tragic disappearance of his wife.

“Is it about Miriam?” she asked gently when her fellow professor still doesn’t voice his concerns. His eyes tightened.

“No,” he frowned. He took a bracing sip from his tea cup before finally gathering his thoughts. “It’s about the new fifth-year student, James.” The woman blinked at the unexpected topic.

“What’s wrong? Is he struggling with his studies?”

“We haven’t even started any of the material,” the man shook his head. There’s several beats of silence before he finally admitted, “I think I may be doing something wrong.”

“I doubt that,” she responded, primly setting down her tea cup. Never in the time he’d been teaching magical theory had she heard a student complain about the professor's teaching methods. “What seems to be the issue, Eleazar?”

“I fear his recent experiences may have left a permanent mark on his psyche,” Fig shared. “His introduction to magic and the events after were…distressing.” She raised an eyebrow at the vague answer. He sighed at her silent prompting. “He’s underweight and malnourished. I’ve already spoken to Sharp about a plan to address it, but the potions will have little effect if the boy doesn’t eat. He also refuses to sleep, I suspect due to nightmares.” Eleazar frowned and set the still full tea cup on her desk, folding his hands in his lap. “I thought, perhaps, you could provide some advice on how to get through to a teenage boy.”

“Ah, you mean Garreth,” she considered her nephew fondly. “Well, it sounds like ensuring the boy feels safe is the most pressing matter.” Her fellow professor nodded in agreement. “Give him time, Eleazar. I imagine the boy has a great deal to adjust to. I have no doubt with your patience and dedication he’ll come around eventually.” The man remained silent, unsatisfied with her answer. She let out a sigh. “Keeping in mind my nephew and your ward are two completely different people,” she stressed.

“Of course.”

“Teenagers can be terribly observant, especially about the most trivial things. They have their own preferences and desires like anyone else,” she paused. “What about talking? Does he – ?”

“No.”

“Consistent behavior then,” Matilda nodded to herself, “will likely need to be your primary way of communicating with him. Sometimes the smallest of actions can have the biggest of impacts in getting through to them.” Fig hummed to himself as if mentally filing everything away. “Noreen may have some advice or materials more…tailored to trauma victims.” The Deputy Headmistress added, thinking of the school nurse.

“Thank you, Matilda,” the professor smiled, appearing lighter then when he first entered her office.

“Of course, Eleazar,” she responded. “If there’s anything else I can do to help with his transition, don’t hesitate to reach out.”

*********

Professor Weasley looked forward to finally meeting James Evans. Eleazar hadn’t sought her out again, but she suspected that meant he was making progress with the teenager. Her eyes scanned the Great Hall once more, still no sign of Professor Fig or the new fifth-year. Something was wrong. It's not until the very last first-year was sorted and Headmaster Black approached the podium for his final remarks that the woman caught sight of Eleazar’s head poking through the double doors. She let out a sigh of relief, the frown easing from her face. She watched the teenage boy nervously trail after the headmaster to the front of the Great Hall, glancing behind him as if trying to catch sight of Professor Fig. But the man had already disappeared.

The sorting hat dithered silently before finally announcing “Better be – Slytherin!” The welcome feast concluded and the Deputy Headmistress showed him to his dormitory, promising to have a plate of food sent to the room. Her first impression of James Evans was that he was quiet and polite to an extreme degree, an unusual combination for the average fifteen year old boy. The next morning the teenager impressed her with his aptitude for spellcasting. She asked about the events preceding his arrival but he merely corroborated Fig’s story. She’s almost certain he wasn’t being completely honest with her, but it was his first day and he still seemed a bit shaken by the dragon attack. So she didn’t press, instead focusing her attention on the approaching Magical Theory professor.

The Deputy Headmistress tried again when the fifteen year old returned after his classes were finished for the day. Her experience with Garreth had proven surprise bids for information were often successful. But the new fifth-year was particularly determined to back his mentor. A great deal of loyalty to the professor, she mused given the short amount of time they’d known each other. It seemed Eleazar really had managed to get through to the teenager, although she could still see some cracks. She moved on.

*********

The school was abuzz the day after the Hogsmeade troll attack, many of the professors displeased at the breach in security. Professor Weasley noted that neither Fig nor his protégé were present for breakfast in the Great Hall. Hours later she made her way to the Magical Theory classroom. When she entered the office, she found her colleague staring at one of the armchairs in thought.

“Good morning, Eleazar,” she greeted, capturing his attention. He startled, turning abruptly.

“Ah, Matilda,” he smiled. “What can I do for you?”

“We missed you at breakfast this morning,” she explained, stepping further into the office.

“Ah, I was getting some extra work done before the first class of the day.” The Deputy Headmistress glanced down at his desk. A large piece of an ancient looking parchment was sitting on top.

“A map of Hogwarts?”

“So it seems,” he hummed. She raised a questioning eyebrow but he didn’t elaborate.

“I did not see Mr. Evans at breakfast this morning either,” the Transfiguration professor voiced.

“Ah,” Fig clasped his hands together. “He sought me out earlier today.”

“About the troll attack?”

“Yes.”

“How was he?” The man’s face softened at her concern.

“Upset,” he admitted. “But collected once he left.” He glanced back at the armchair from before. “He’s quite resilient,” Fig mused almost to himself.

“I heard Victor Rookwood was looking for him in the Three Broomsticks,” Matilda frowned. Her colleague matched it, blue eyes darkening.

“I instructed James to work on his defensive magic with Professor Hecat.”

“Very good…is there something wrong with your armchair, Eleazar?” she finally asked, he was clearly distracted by it.

“Not at all,” the man waved his hand dismissively. “I was merely thinking of replacing it.”

“Perhaps I can assist,” the Deputy Headmistress offered.

“Would you?”

“Of course,” she brandished her wand and approached the arm chair. The woman looked at Fig expectantly.

“Ah something that would allow one to stretch out,” he described. “A comfortable lounge perhaps?”

“Sleeping in your office, Eleazar?” she teased. The man chuckled amiably. With a swish of her wand, the armchair was replaced with a plush chaise lounge.

“Thank you, Matilda.”

“I’ll leave you to your – ” she glanced again at the map on the desk as she passed it “ – classwork then.”

*********

James Evans continued to surprise her. She hurried to meet the new fifth-year student on the seventh floor and found the boy peering inside the Room of Requirement.

“Merlin’s beard! I see you’ve wasted no time,” she exclaimed. She turned to the silent teenager with a pleased smile. “Well done.” The Slytherin student flushed at the praise. When he picked up the different Transfiguration spells within minutes, she realized that Fig wasn’t just being overly humble earlier as she’d assumed.

"I’m afraid I can’t take all the credit there, Professor. He has a rare…aptitude for magic, it seems."

The boy had smiled at his mentor’s words at the time – although he had seemed more amused then anything. How curious.

*********

“Good morning, Eleazar,” Professor Weasley greeted her colleague during breakfast at the faculty table. “How was your visit with the Minister?”

“Terribly boring, I’m afraid,” he replied, helping himself to the nearby eggs and sausages. He looked up in time to see James Evans enter the Great Hall next to Sebastian Sallow and Ominis Gaunt. They both watched the teenager listen distractedly to his talking housemate, eyes scanning the faculty table. His face lit up upon seeing Professor Fig.

“It seems you were missed,” Matilda noted softly. She glanced back to her colleague in time to see a pleased smile stretch across his face.

Notes:

Professor Weasley is the real mastermind behind the scenes

also Fig is finally back! darn useless ministers

Chapter 11

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Unable to contain his excitement, James sprinted up the office stairs and banged the large wooden door open. Professor Fig, who was standing in front of his desk, turned with a startled expression but it quickly morphed into a pleased smile.

“I was hoping to see you,” his mentor greeted warmly, blue eyes shining.

“Professor you’re finally back! I – ” James rushed in but the words get stuck in his throat. Fig patiently waited for him to finish. He swallowed thickly and looked away, gaze landing on the chaise lounge. “…I liked the new chair.” I missed you.

“Ah, good,” the man clasped his hands in front his torso. “Although I hope it didn’t get too much use.”

“No, sir,” James smiled softly at the concern.

“I apologize for the wait. Minister Spavin talks more than he listens. Ranted on and on about rogue dragons,” he shook his head in exasperation. “Wouldn’t listen to a word about goblins. Speaking of – ”

“ – Professor, so much happened while you were away,” James interrupted. Fig stopped talking immediately, brow raised. The teenager flushed, completely mortified. He’d never done that before. But the man merely gestured for him to continue, seemingly amused more than anything.

“…Eldritch Diggory’s portrait told me about a cold case belonging to his great-niece. Apparently the missing pages were connected but never found before the trial. So I went to Azkaban – ”

“You what?” his mentor interrupted. James froze. Gone was the calm and patient professor he knew. For the first time ever, the man looked incensed. It made him uneasy, his gaze dropped to the floor.

“As a visitor,” he mumbled, as if that would help. After a few seconds of silence, he hesitantly looked back up. The professor had his eyes closed and was visibly restraining himself. The man’s face eventually relaxed but when his eyes opened again James could see the outrage still there.

“Who?”

“Sir?” Fig took another calming breath.

“I’m not angry at you,” he explained, “but you couldn’t possibly have gotten inside without help. Who took you to Azkaban?”

“A retired Auror.”

“A name please, James,” said the professor, tone soft but unyielding.

“…Helen Thistlewood.”

“Hmm,” the man narrowed his eyes in thought. “…Just the two of you?”

“Yes.”

“That was incredibly irresponsible of her,” his mentor muttered. The teenager very purposely did not mention that the woman had also been injured during their visit. Fig took another deep breath before finally banking the anger. “Are you alright?”

“She apparated me in and out unharmed,” James nodded, relieved that the professor was no longer visibly irate.

“That’s not what I meant,” Fig’s expression softened. “Even without the Dementors, I imagine visiting such a place would be…unpleasant.”

“I’m – ” fine, he almost said. But he stopped, swallowing the words. James fingered the hem of his shirt as he collected his thoughts. “I don’t think I ever thanked you,” he said instead, so soft it’s almost a whisper. Which, now that he said it out loud, sounded so incredibly ungrateful. The professor tilted his head. “For getting me out.” His expression shifted to understanding. “I’d probably be in a similar state as Anne if you hadn’t.”

“Anne?”

“The prisoner,” he clarified. “She knew Richard Jackdaw before he died, he used to be a student here. I talked to his ghost and found a secret cavern. The missing pages were next to his skeleton and – since Jackdaw had followed the map – when I found the pages I found the location on the map.”

“I see,” the professor mused. “You have been busy.”

“Sir, it’s a room below Hogwarts,” he revealed.

“Why am I not surprised?” Fig shook his head in wonder. “Shall we?”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” James grinned. “Oh! And we’ll need the book.” The professor went to retrieve said tome. “The room is called the ‘Map Chamber’,” the teenager continued. “A portrait of Percival Rackham is expecting us.”

“Professor Rackham, really?” he picked up the ancient book, a curious look on his face.

“Yes, he’s – ” approachable, perceptive, kind “ – I like him.” His mentor’s eyebrows shot up.

“High praise, I look forward to meeting him.”

*********

The Map Chamber was even more incredible after the book was placed on the pedestal. Wisps of ancient magic leaked out of the tome to the ground and the center of the floor - that was previously an inky blue – exploded into brilliant flecks of light. It looked like the night sky. The two of them moved closer to inspect it.

“A map!” Fig realized with wonder, the floor rippled like water under their feet. James watched as the ground transformed again from a starry sky to a sparkling blue landscape. “There’s Hogsmeade,” the professor pointed out. “And over here – the Forbidden Forest. And of course, Hogwarts,” his mentor looked up at him, eyes shining bright with childish wonder. The teen returned his smile. “It’s magnificent…If only you were here to see this,” he whispered the last part to himself. The fifteen year old stilled. He wondered idly, if the man ever talked to anyone about the passing of his wife. He rarely spoke of her and James had always been hesitant to bring it up. He stepped closer to his mentor, shoulders almost brushing. The man turned his head and they share a look.

The moment was broken when Percival Rackham entered his frame. Together they approached the portrait.

“Hello, Professor Rackham. This my mentor, Professor Fig,” James introduced with a wave of his hand.

“How do you do, Professor Fig?” the Seer nodded in greeting. “And you, my young friend, see now why you needed to return with the book?”

“I do.” It was his turn now to be amused. “I also see why you call this room the Map Chamber.”

“That you have come this far tells me that you possess extraordinary magical ability – the potential and power of which you will unlock, should you prove yourself worthy. The location of four trials will, in time, appear on the map,” Professor Rackham gestured to the floor. “Trials that will test you – and give you access to invaluable knowledge. Trials that you must complete on your own,” James frowned at this new information. “Do you recall the Pensieve memory you viewed in my vault at Gringotts?”

“You and your friend Charles spoke of the Portkey,” he recalled, “and of trials you’d created for one who could see traces of ancient magic.”

“Precisely,” the portrait nodded. “Charles is another of the Keepers – ” is James noted, present tense. His eyes flicked to the other empty portraits “ – a designation we gave ourselves centuries ago in light of the knowledge that we have been bound to keep hidden. Until, perhaps, now.”

“Wait,” the fifteen year old interrupted, realization hitting him hard, “the passage from your ruins to Gringotts, everything in the vault, the Restricted Section, finding this room – none of these was a trial?

“They were an important part of the journey, but they were not trials themselves.” His heart dropped like a stone. They hadn’t made any progress. They were no closer to finding out what Ranrok was after. “The fact that you have come this far, however, bodes well,” Professor Rackham encouraged, noting the boy’s disappointment. “The trials were designed to ensure that the power and knowledge we have kept secret for so long does not fall into the wrong hands. They will test your abilities – both innate and learned. But of equal importance,” he raises a finger as emphasis, “everything you witness as you complete the trials will inform what you choose to do with all that we share. You will need patience. The trials have much to teach you. It will take time.”

“I’m afraid we don’t have the luxury of time,” his mentor finally spoke up.

“We have waited this long, Professor Fig,” the portrait cajoled. “Surely a few more – ”

“Respectfully, sir – ” the Magical Theory professor pressed on, not easily dissuaded, “while I do not know the secret you keep, I do know that our young friend here has seen traces – ” they shared a look, thinking of the events that led them to this point “ – traces of a powerful dark magic being wielded by goblinkind. And we encountered an uncommonly powerful goblin wielding such magic as we prepared to leave your vault at Gringotts.” He paused with a frown. “We may already be too late.”

“This is grave news indeed,” Professor Rackham confessed. He looked to James. “Young friend, do you trust Professor Fig?”

“With my life,” he answered without hesitation. Professor Rackham paused at the declaration and he could feel his mentor's heavy gaze.

“Then, in light of your considerable skill and all you have already accomplished,” the Seer determined, “we shall begin. You will find the location of the first trial marked on the map below you. Whilst Professor Fig may assist you in locating them,” the portrait stressed, “these trials may only be completed by one with our ability.” The teen can’t help but frown at the professor. He didn’t strike the fifteen year old as someone who repeated themself. Rackham gazed intently at him, but did not say more.

“Shall we have a look?” his mentor garnered his attention and they turned to study the map on the floor. “I know that tower, it’s not far.” They quickly made preparations before heading to the first trial. James wondered with some apprehension what waited for him at the tower.

*********

“Orders directly from Ranrok,” said James after reading the note in the tent. He and Professor Fig had just finished silently taking down all the camp inhabitants.

“These orders indicate that they’re after something to do with ‘names’,” his mentor pondered aloud. “What names? And why here?” As they left the tent they’re met with reinforcements.

“I will draw blood,” the presumable leader growled, unsheathing his weapons. James assumed a dueling stance next to the professor and fired off a series of spells in quick succession. The first enemy went down with a Levioso and Depulso combination. Fig took down another with a Confringo to the chest. A goblin charged them and tried to slice James in half. He managed to block the attack with a Protego and followed it up with a Diffindo.

“Expulso!” His mentor blasted an enemy back that tried to flank them. The teenager ducked and weaved trying to remember everything his professors had taught him. Magic thrummed around him, he could feel it singing in his very bones, begging to be released. His wand sparked blue. Instinctively, James pointed to the sky and made a slashing motion towards the ground. A bolt of blue lighting arced down from the sky and struck the last two goblins with a loud crack. His ears rung in the resulting silence.

“Godric’s heart,” Professor Fig murmured beside him. James winced. Right, his mentor had never seen him wield ancient magic like that before. He glanced towards him, reluctant to see the man’s expression. But there was no fear or disgust, just awe. “That was quite a feat of magical ability.” The teenager huffed a sharp laugh and relaxed.

“Thank you, sir.” They made their way through the still camp towards the tower. “Can’t imagine the goblins know about the trials. But they somehow know this place holds significance.” Fig hummed in agreement.

“This must be the entrance,” said the professor. James tried to open the door but it didn't budge.

“It’s locked.”

“Stand back.” He heeded the instruction. The man silently waved his wand and the doors suddenly opened. He blinked at the nonverbal magic.

“An unlocking charm?” he asked with interest.

“Very handy,” his mentor agreed. “No time now, but I can teach it to you back at the castle.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.” They entered the base of the tower and found Professor Rackham’s portrait at the very top of the stairs. He’s visibly disquieted at the proximity of the goblins.

“I’m afraid I cannot say more,” the Seer concluded. “As Professor Fig cannot join you, he and I will see you back at the Map Chamber.” He paused and leaned forward, “Remember what you see.” Rackham exited the portrait. The nervous teenager stood there for a few moments alone with his mentor.

“…I suppose I’ll see you back in the Map Chamber,” James finally said. Fig was quick to catch the look of trepidation on his face.

“Let’s find that ‘reservoir of ancient magic’, shall we?” the man encouraged. They returned downstairs and soon enough James noticed the trailing wisps of ancient magic leading him to the reservoir. With a wave of his wand, a shimmering doorway appeared. He glanced at his mentor who was staring at it in wonder then stepped through the translucent archway. He turned in time to see the air flicker and change color when Fig approached. The distorted blue-tinted image of the man wavered and then disappeared.

“Professor!” he called. But it was too late, the doorway was gone. He’d been separated from his mentor, just like in Gringotts. Lovely.

"These trials may only be completed by one with our ability."

He realized at that moment exactly what the professor had been trying to tell him, Rackham had meant it literally. Apparently the doorways actively composed of ancient magic could only be entered by one who could command it. Handy defense mechanism for the Keepers, frustrating inconvenience for James. Thinking on it more he supposed it made sense, these Keepers probably hadn’t designed the trials with a fifteen year old in mind. Professor Rackham’s reaction to his age during their first meeting was proof enough. The teenager heaved a sigh. It looked like he was on his own.

Notes:

Fig really should have had much more of a reaction to the whole Azkaban visit

Also dude just straight up bounces right before the 1st trial?

Chapter 12

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

When James returned to the Map Chamber, there was a man standing in the portrait next to Percival Rackham. Professor Fig turned away from the portraits and quickly ran a critical eye over the teenager. Introductions were made to the second Keeper, Charles Rookwood.

“What can you tell me about the second trial?” James asked, hoping it was nothing like the first. His side still ached from throwing himself to the side in order to avoid getting stomped on by the final Pensieve guardian.

“Before you proceed,” Professor Rackham, chimed in. “I would like to speak with Charles regarding the urgent situation involving the goblins.”

“The goblins?”

“The student has seen traces of a powerful dark magic being wielded by goblinkind,” the Seer gestured to James. “He and his mentor, Professor Fig, not only encountered goblins lurking outside of San Bakar’s tower – they also encountered a powerful goblin in my vault at Gringotts.”

“Hm,” Professor Rookwood frowned deeply. “I’m afraid it would be wise to halt the trials until we know more.” The teen’s face twitched.

“We shall defer to you in this matter,” said his mentor before James could say something ill-advised. The professor turned to him. “Are you alright?”

“Fine, sir.”

“…Are you sure?” His mentor was studying him closer now. He must look a sight.

“Just scrapes and bruises mostly,” he assured the man. He hesitated. “You wouldn’t happen to have an extra Wiggenweld on hand would you?” The professor patted his pockets and produced a green bottle.

“You may want to keep a few spares on you,” he advised, worry creeping into his voice.

“I did, but I already used it,” he accepted the second bottle and downed it in one go. He sighed as the aches begin to fade. “Sir, the name ‘Rookwood’. Do you think –”

“ – that there’s a connection to Victor? Perhaps,” he mused, “but we can’t be sure of its significance – if any. For now, tell me what you saw in the Pensieve.” James did just that.

“Hmm. Hopefully the next Pensieve provides more context. For now, we should learn what Ranrok knows,” he rubbed his hands in thought, “To be honest, I’ve no idea where to start.”

“I might know of someone,” the fifteen year old offered. “I saw Sirona at the Three Broomsticks speaking to a goblin once. They seemed friendly.”

“Well, it’s worth a try,” the man hummed. “See what you can find out. But don’t forget –”

“ – my studies. Yes, sir.” The teenager responded with no shortage of amusem*nt. They turned to leave the chamber but Professor Rookwood calls out.

“Before you go –”

“Sir?” the teenager paused, Fig stopped as well.

“Have you encountered swirling traces of magic in the world – aside from those along our path?” the portrait asked.

“Not that I recall,” James frowned. “What are they?”

“Evidence of the Keeper’s efforts to manipulate the power of ancient magic during our time. If I am correct – and I usually am – ” he forced his face to remain neutral. Apparently this Keeper was a bit more arrogant than Rackham. “ – you should be able to use them to inform and enhance your own magic.” The teenager considered the professor’s words.

“Thank you, sir, I’ll look out for them.” But first, sleep. He didn’t say anything when his mentor walked him back to his dormitory, just gave him a lazy wave. Thankfully the common room was empty and he slipped into bed without waking his dormmates.

*********

James was nervous about Beasts class. But Professor Howin’s no nonsense attitude inspired confidence and Hufflepuff Poppy Sweeting was eager to demonstrate best practices for him. He was later annoyed by his fellow classmates mocking Poppy after getting called out for harassing one of the Kneazles.

“That’s not funny,” he butted in, eyes cold as ice. The boy jerked back and the girl suddenly looked scared. They muttered excuses and quickly cleared off. When he turned to his Hufflepuff classmate, she was staring up at him with her mouth in the shape of a small oh.

“What?” James asked, suddenly self-conscious.

“That was brilliant!” the girl enthused. “They’ll think twice before coming near Persephone again. At least, while you’re around.”

“I’d hardly call them intimidating,” the teen boy shrugged his shoulders. He’d faced off against monsters like werewolves, dragons, and trolls. Two teenagers didn’t even come close.

“Poachers in training,” the girl bit out. “Shouldn’t even be in this class.” After Professor Howin dismissed them, James found himself trekking towards the forest with the Hufflepuff girl. They stopped in a clearing and Poppy let out a whistle. A piercing cry answered back and the sound of wings filled the air. His breath caught in his chest as a blinding white Hippogriff descended gracefully from the sky.

“Please meet Highwing!” the girl proudly introduced. “Isn’t she magnificent?”

“You’re friends with a Hippogriff?” he let out an amused huff. “She’s beautiful.” The beast seemed to preen at his words. Poppy talked him through the proper way to approach the animal. Sharp eyes followed his movements closely as he offered his best bow. Highwing responded with a bow of her own. Heart pounding, he slowly approached the beast and gently rested a hand on her neck. The Hippogriff blinked down at him but didn’t object. James gently stroked the feathers, they were softer than he expected. A smile worked its way across his face when he realized the beast was leaning into the petting. Soon the Hippogriff flapped her wings and took off into the sky.

*********

The next time he was in Hogsmeade, James found Sirona in the Three Broomsticks to ask about the goblin. They chitchatted some before he thanked the proprietor for her help and headed to the Hogs Head. Entering the tavern, the teenager instantly noted the different vibe. The building and its clientele were much rougher. There was also a smell that made his nose wrinkle. He scanned the room and spotted Lodgok seated at a table in the far corner. A sigh of relief escaped him and he approached the goblin.

“Hello, Lodgok,” he greeted, sliding into an empty seat. “Sirona said I might find you here.”

“She did, did she?” the goblin eyed him with curiosity. “Did she send you with news?”

“No,” the teen shook his head. “Actually, I wanted to speak with you. It’s about Ranrok.”

“Now I remember,” he exclaimed, eying the Slytherin student critically. “The Three Broomsticks – the day of the troll attack. You’re the student he’s after.”

“I am,” James swallowed. Had the goblin said that last bit a little too eagerly? “I need to know what he and his Loyalists are up to,” he pushed on, “so I can stay a step ahead.”

“Let’s say I did know,” Lodgok narrowed his grey eyes. “Why – ?” Suddenly a drunk stumbled past them and nearly sloshed his drink onto the goblin.

“Damn vermin,” he grumbled to himself, leaning heavily against the nearby fireplace. He gestured at them with his drink, nearly upending the cup again. “Whaddya lookin’ at.”

“I think you’ve had enough, mister,” James responded evenly. He hated drunks, nothing good ever came from them. Drunks meant angry shouting and fists.

“You friends with this thing,” the smelly man sneered, waving his drink at Lodgok, almost spilling the rest of it on him. The teenager felt his eyes narrow into slits, ancient magic thrummed in him.

“I said enough,” he growled lowly. The drunk jerked back hard, as if he’d been shoved, and dropped the tin mug with a clang. Blinking rapidly, he lurched away, hands scrambling blindly for the back door, startled eyes not leaving the teenager. James let out a breath when the unpleasant man left. He glanced back at Lodgok who was staring at him with a new intensity.

“Um, sorry about that,” he said, not entirely certain what just happened. The goblin considered him quietly.

“Years ago,” he spoke, “a heinous witch stole a sacred goblin relic. Rumor has it that it now rests in her sarcophagus – in a tomb accessible only by wizardkind. Ranrok and I had a – falling out – a while back. The relic could well repair the chasm between us.”

“Very well,” the teen picked up the implication. “I’ll retrieve the relic if you promise to share Ranrok’s plans with me.”

“We will have to trust each other,” Lodgok said, an odd expression on his face. “I that you will not abscond with the relic and you that I’ll share what I learn.” Minutes later they were headed towards the witch’s tomb. Quickly realizing that it would be a bit of a walk, James broke the silence.

“What exactly is this relic I’m supposed to retrieve?”

“A valuable heirloom known as the ‘Helmet of Urtkot’,” the goblin humored him. “The witch considered herself a collector and purchased the helmet as a trinket. She cared not what pain she caused the goblins.” Lodgok paused here before eventually continuing. “Goblins believe that the rightful owner of any object is its maker, not its purchaser.”

“Wizardkind see things differently,” James filled in. “And that makes it so difficult for goblins and wizards to work together?”

“The differences between our kinds are myriad,” Lodgok answered vaguely.

“That’s a shame,” he muttered, glancing at the passing countryside. It was quite peaceful out here, he mused. After a few beats of silence he looked back over to his traveling companion, realizing the goblin was quietly considering him again.

“It may surprise you to know that I do not believe those differences always to be insurmountable,” he voiced. “It is the reason I find myself traveling with you to this tomb today.” The teenager blinked at that. He supposed that made sense. He was wondering what the goblin was getting out of their deal, but wasn’t sure how to ask without it sounding insulting. “Ah, there it is. The witch's tomb.” James stared at their rocky surroundings. It was quiet, and they were alone, but there was something ominous about the area.

“Dreadful looking place, isn’t it?” he muttered.

“I wish you luck retrieving the helmet,” Lodgok turned and looked up at the teenager expectantly. “As a wand-carrier, you should have an advantage.” James cleared his throat, scrutinizing the dark catacomb entrance.

“I – uh – don’t suppose you have any idea what could be waiting for me inside the tomb?” Should he be going in there alone? Were magical tombs different than regular ones? Not that he’d been in either before.

“Considering a dark witch was involved, I suppose there’s a chance you may encounter the dark protectors known as Inferi,” the goblin mused. James blinked at the unexpected answer, head snapping back to his companion.

“Inferi?” he repeated, unable to completely hide his incredulity.

“Foul creatures that thrive on darkness and the cold,” Lodgok explained, evidently misunderstanding him. “Vanquish them with light, force, and – most effectively – fire!”

“…Right…brilliant,” he managed. This is a terrible idea, he thought as he finally marched forward and descended into the tomb.

*********

He hated it when he was right. After fighting his way through hordes of Inferi, James realized that the blasted helmet wasn’t even in the damn tomb. Ashwinders got to it first. Stupid Inferi. Stupid Ashwinders. Stupid Rookwood. He cursed in his mind as he made his way to the nearby camp to retrieve the stolen item. He snuck to the edge of the camp, hidden under a disillusionment charm. He was about to start picking Ashwinders off when a roar pierced the air. Heavy footsteps made the ground underneath him shake and a giant troll charged into view. The teenager was about to abandon this entire ridiculous quest and go crawling back to Professor Fig empty-handed when he realized that the troll wasn't one of Ranrok’s and started swinging its club at the closest Ashwinders. He watched silently, utterly dumbfounded, as the troll cleared the entire camp for him. The last wizard managed to hit the troll with a particularly nasty curse before he too was sent flying. The monster shuffled around unsteadily. Seeing his chance, James crept closer. The troll turned, club at its feet. He muttered a Flipendo, smacking the creature hard in the face with its own weapon. The troll fell to the ground with a heavy thud. The camp fell silent. He waited a few more moments before releasing the disillusionment spell and straightening up. Huh.

“Thank you?” he said to no one in particular. He retrieved the troll bogeys – gross! – and tucked them into his satchel with the rest of his potions ingredients, right next to his new stench of the dead collection. James quickly rummaged around camp looking for the helmet and pocketed any loose galleons he found. They won’t be missing that, he thought to himself. Eventually he found the stolen heirloom in a chest. He shoved it into his satchel and booked it out of the silent camp. Shame no one saw that, no one was ever going to believe him.

Notes:

the troll clearing the camp of ashwinders actually happened to me lol - I was pleasantly surprised

you know what the introduction of poppy means right? the start of poacher hunting season

Chapter 13

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“It is good to see you, my friend!”

“Hello, Natty,” James smiled at the Gryffindor girl. He’d been looking forward to this. They decided to meet in the Clock Tower Courtyard. With the Crossed Wands tournament over for the term, it didn’t see much activity now. She started the tutor session by giving a brief overview of her first year at Uagadou, explaining how wandless magic had been taught and incorporated into the lessons.

“I thought we could try summoning first,” she concluded. “As it is something you already know and one of the easier spells to cast without a wand.” Natty demonstrated the exercise for him, wandlessly summoning a book she’d left sitting out next to her schoolbag across the courtyard. There was no wand movement to copy this time, merely an outstretched arm. The textbook shot into her waiting hand, and she turned to him with a smile. “Just like that.”

“I’m ready,” he nodded, trying to appear confident.

“One more thing,” Natty held up a hand. “At Uagadou, this is usually done with an object that holds some kind of significance.”

“Why?”

“We were told it helps to have a personal connection,” she explained with a shrug, “when you’re first learning.”

“Oh.” James thought about it for a few moments, then dug out the slate blue river rock he kept in his pants pocket. He turned the smooth oval stone over in his fingers.

"I’ll beat you now!

"That’s what you said last time."

"This rock is a winner."

"I keep telling you, it’s all in the wrist."

“James?” Natty’s voice brought him back into the present. He turned the stone over one more time and looked up at her.

“How about this?” he asked, hesitantly offering it to her.

“Yes, that should work,” she answered softly, accepting the stone with great care sensing the value it held. They both took a few steps back and James held out his hand just as the Gryffindor had done earlier. He focused on the stone, imagining it flying into his hand, just like the first day of Charms class. But it didn’t budge. The teenager frowned and tried again, fingers splaying wider. It remained in Natty’s palm. He let out a frustrated sigh. Okay, he needed to do this a little differently. He didn’t have a wand so there was no movement to go with it leaving…what exactly? Imagining the action wasn’t enough either. He thought back to when Professor Fig had summoned the portkey while they were hurtling through the air.

Intention.

James let out a breath, he needed to want it more. He closed his eyes to concentrate, forcing himself to remember the feeling of free falling through the sky. He recalled the fiery heat at his back. The sound of the Portkey whipping in the air. The contact of his mentor’s hand gripping his own. His eyes snapped open and he glared at the blue rock with the same intensity he’d felt that day.

“Accio!” the stone flew into his outstretched hand. A victorious grin stretched across his face.

“Nicely done!” Natty congratulated. The next half hour passed quickly.

*********

It was the weekend again which meant the majority of his fellow classmates were sleeping in. It was also precisely the reason he was currently in the Great Hall – much less crowded. He ate breakfast alone, sipping a glass of pumpkin juice absently, as he reviewed various charms in his textbook. He glanced up at the faculty table, which was also similarly deserted. Sharp was one of the few professors present and the teenager wondered idly if he could get the man to agree to additional nonverbal casting practice today.

“There you are!” Sebastian plopped onto the bench beside him, interrupting his musings. “Listen, I’m heading to Feldcroft today to visit Anne. You’re coming right?”

“Of course,” James responded. “Said I would.”

“Cheers, I’ll meet you by the north exit Floo.”

*********

It’s a quaint little village, or rather, it would be without the goblin activity nearby.

“Feldcroft isn’t what it used to be,” said Sebastian once they arrive. “With Ranrok’s lot wandering about all the time, everyone stays out of sight. My uncle Solomon is a former Auror and refuses to look into it, even after Anne was cursed by one of them…I’m hoping a surprise visit from me and a new friend from Hogwarts – ” James warmed at the words “ – will help lift her spirits.”

The two Slytherin students approached a stone cottage with a fenced garden in the back. James followed Sebastian inside, mouth curling into a smile when the teen snuck up on his sister who was sitting at the table with her back turned. A tall dark-haired and intimidating looking man stepped out from behind the curtain and silently watched the exchange.

“Aha!”

“Sebastian!” Anne exclaimed in excitement, whirling around. She jumped to her feet and clasped her brother’s hands. “Where did you – ” She stopped suddenly when her twin produced a Shrivelfig from his sleeve. “ – Is that what I think it is?” Solomon stepped forward abruptly.

“We’ve been over this, boy,” he grabbed the fruit from his nephew’s hand.

“Hey!”

“Shrivelfigs cannot reverse a curse,” he continued to lecture. He looked at Anne, regret flashing across his face “Nothing can.” The man focused back on Sebastian. “The sooner you accept that reality the better.” The Shrivelfig dissolved with a wave of his wand and he turned away. The upset teen only managed to hold his silence for a few seconds.

“But we haven’t tried everything – ”

There is no cure,” the ex-Auror spun around, clearly frustrated. “When will you accept that?”

“Never! I can never accept it.” James flinched when Anne screamed out in pain, hunched over the table. Uncle and nephew suddenly stopped, all attention focused on the suffering girl.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Solomon muttered before attending to his niece, helping her sit down.

“Anne! I’m sorry!”

Leave.” James followed his friend outside, able to breathe again once they were no longer inside the cottage.

“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Sebastian grumbled. “If you don’t mind, I need a moment alone.” He walked away in moody silence. The door behind James opened and closed, and he caught sight of Solomon in his periphery. Not willing to face the strict man quite yet, he returned inside.

“I’m sorry, Anne,” he claimed the empty chair next to her. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“You didn’t! Truly,” she paused unable to hide a wince. “And I’m all right. The pain from this curse comes in bouts, and often suddenly. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s nice to meet you, by the way. You must be the new fifth-year Sebastian told me about.”

“Telling stories about me is he?” James asked with a smile.

“Only the good stuff,” she returned his grin. He huffed a laugh.

“Sebastian and I met my first day at Hogwarts in the Slytherin common room,” he explained.

“Oh the common room!” her eyes lit up. “I adored teasing first years about spotting mermaids through the window.”

“And here I thought Ominis came up with that idea.”

“All mine,” she grinned, but it soon faded. “I do miss Hogwarts. I wouldn’t mind being in Feldcroft, really, if it wasn’t so dreary now. Between the goblins at the castle and my uncle fighting with Sebastian whenever he’s home, it’s not the cozy retreat it once was.” That sounded stressful, he thought, wondering if it added to the flare ups.

“I wasn’t expecting your uncle to be so…angry.” It reminded him of the prison guards. He repressed a shudder.

“Uncle Solomon is frustrated,” she sighed with a grimace. “By what happened to me – and by Sebastian for thinking he can fix it. They both mean well. I know they do. But my uncle is right. This curse cannot be undone. I can feel it,” Anne closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Sebastian cannot take away my pain.” Her eyes opened and she looked at James beseechingly. “Perhaps you can help him understand that.”

“I…I can try talking to him. But I’m afraid it’s really up to Sebastian,” he shrugged helplessly. “He seems convinced that he can find a cure.” Anne let out a disappointed sigh, but didn't disagree.

“I can only hope he realizes the futility of his search for a cure soon,” she said instead. The girl let out another groan. “I’m getting tired, I should probably rest.”

“Sure,” he said. “Oh – ” the teenager dug around in his satchel and pulled out a package of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. “Something to make the place a little less dreary, Sebastian said you liked them.”

“Oh!” the girl exclaimed in surprise. “You shouldn’t have…but I’m glad you did.” She accepted the candy with a pleased smile. “Thank you for stopping by.” When James exited the cottage, he almost ran into Solomon who was a foot away leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.

“Sorry sir,” slipped out of the teen. Had the man been waiting for him to leave?

“I was about to check on Anne,” The ex-Auror straightened, arms dropping to his sides. “How is she?”

“She’s alright, said she was going to rest.”

“Nothing can be done for her,” was his automatic reply. After a pause he let out a frustrated sigh. “I apologize on behalf of my nephew. He doesn’t know when to stop.”

“I understand you’ve tried everyone from Nurse Blainey to St Mungo’s to no avail,” James ventured hesitantly.

“We have,” the man frowned. “My nephew thinks he knows better than the healers.”

“Perhaps the healers don’t know everything, sir. After all, new discoveries are made every day,” the teenager pointed out. “And Sebastian is single-mindedly determined to find a way to help his sister.”

“Some sort of dark magic cursed Anne,” Solomon shook his head. “And the goblins aren’t likely to explain themselves any time soon. The only thing to do now is keep her comfortable and stay out of the Loyalists’ way.”

“Does nothing help manage the pain?” James asked. Surely in the world of magic something could ease the girl’s suffering at the very least.

“The bouts come and go too quickly for anything to have an effect,” was his gruff response.

“…that must be very difficult.” Solomon studied the teenager intently for the first time.

“If you really want to be of help, you’ll make sure Sebastian does what he should do. Not what he wants to do.”

“I’m sorry, have you met Sebastian?” James clicked his mouth shut, unable to hide the wince. Angry men didn’t like sarcastic remarks. But it startled an amused snort out the man.

“They are my stubborn brother’s children,” he muttered, “especially Sebastian.” The teenager cleared his throat, noticing his friend in the distance looking his way.

“Pleasure meeting you, sir. Wish it had been under better circ*mstances,” and fled before he could hear the man’s response. Sebastian was pacing and muttering to himself as James approached.

“Are you alright?” he called softly.

“You got a first-hand glance at what I’m dealing with,” the other Slytherin bit out, ceasing his pacing. “I apologize for my uncle.” James paused at the familiar words. It was rather ironic that uncle and nephew had both apologized on behalf of the other’s actions instead of their own.

“I wasn’t expecting him to be so angry,” James confessed.

“He’s always angry,” the teen glowered. “He’s been angry since my parents died. After Anne was hurt, he only grew worse.” He clenched his fists. “It’s as though he blames me somehow. Always calling me my father’s son. But I’m the one trying to help her. He’s simply given up.” So they had butted heads even before Anne’s accident. He wondered idly if it was due to the strong similarities they seem to share. Solomon’s utter distaste at his nephew’s supposed inability to stop took on new meaning in his mind. Almost like it was personal. He doubted voicing his observations would go over well with his friend though.

“Both Anne and your uncle seem genuinely convinced that nothing more can be done for her,” he said instead.

“I refuse to believe that,” Sebastian shook his head. “Anne’s pain is more than physical. It has changed her entirely.” Sorrow flashed across his face. “I miss my sister. And I’m going to get her back. Come on.”

He followed his housemate to the village outskirts where they were suddenly accosted by goblins. The two Slytherins dueled back to back, flinging countless spells at the wave of enemies. They worked together in tandem. When one attacked, the other covered incoming strikes. The teenagers were outnumbered, but not outmatched. Despite the risk for injury, James couldn’t help but grin. Every other encounter he’d either been on his own or backed up by his mentor. This…this was different – and it was exhilarating. The last enemy was soon dispatched by their combined wandwork and they continued to their destination.

“This is where it happened,” Sebastian stopped. They were at an abandoned dig site, empty carts and pickaxes littered the area. Ruins of a cottage sat further up the hill. James listened to the sad tale. “Suddenly, an icy voice drifted out from somewhere in the smoke. ‘Children should be seen and not heard’. A blinding blast followed. They didn’t even give her a chance to run.” James let out a breath trying not to think about his own family’s demise. I’m sorry was the first thing he felt the urge to say. But his friend’s face was screwed up in anger, hands balled into fists. He didn't want condolences – probably received enough of those already – the teenager wanted answers. And, for whatever reason, Sebastian seemed to think James could help.

“That’s quite a violent response to a child wandering by,” he settled on. “Almost like…”

“…Like they’re hiding something,” Sebastian’s face eased. “My thoughts exactly. It may be grasping at Billywigs, but I keep thinking that there might be something here that can provide answers, help me find a cure for Anne.”

“I wonder why Feldcroft interests them so much?” James mused. “Why this village in particular?”

“And Rookwood Castle,” his friend added. “Shall we have a look around?” James’ head snapped around.

Rookwood Castle?” he repeated. His Slytherin housemate blinked.

“Yea, you remember Victor Rookwood? Apparently he has a fortress nearby,” the teen gestured at a castle in the far distance. “Wasn’t much of an issue before, but now the place is swarming with goblins. You said Ranrok and Rookwood are working together? Perhaps they’re using it as some type of base.” James narrowed his eyes in thought, it was looking more likely that the dark wizard was connected to Charles Rookwood after all.

They combed the area, searching for any clues the Loyalists could have left. His breath caught in his chest when he saw the familiar well and view. James looked over his shoulder at the old cottage behind him, completing the image in his mind. Isidora Morganach lived here, he realized. Hundreds of years ago the Keepers had visited this very place. He joined his friend in the ruins of Isidora’s home, gaze landing on a charred painting in the corner.

“Hey, Sebastian,” he called, kneeling in front of the burned piece. “Do you think this was damaged by the fire the night Anne was cursed?”

“Could be,” the teen guessed, “but looks intentional to me.” He had a point. The oddly shaped frame was largely undamaged, the painting itself received the brunt of it. He could only make out the lower half of a person sitting.

“You were right, Sebastian,” James stood, joining the other Slytherin near the open doorway. “This house did belong to a Hogwarts professor, hundreds of years ago.”

“How do you know that?” he asked, brow furrowed in confusion.

“I found a Pensieve that night in the Restricted Section with a memory that showed this house. There was a little girl and a drought – ” James hesitated for the briefest of pauses but continued “ – that girl became a Hogwarts professor. Her name was Isidora Morganach.”

“A Pensieve in the library?” the other teen asked. “I don’t follow, what does that have to do with a Hogwarts professor who lived centuries ago?” James chewed his lip, unsure how to answer. Sebastian caught on immediately. “It has to do with whatever you’re not telling me, doesn’t it.” He sighed sharply. James knew Professor Fig wanted to keep the whole affair between just the two of them. And given how quickly Mr. Osric had paid the price despite the brevity of his unknowing involvement, he was inclined to agree. But Sebastian was already involved. James didn’t understand how, but it seemed that his quest and Sebastian’s search for answers were intertwined.

“She was a Keeper,” he answered.

“Keeper? Like in Quidditch?”

“More like a Keeper of knowledge,” he clarified. “I guess we both have good reason to search this house.”

He found journal entries from Isidora in the basem*nt they discover, and there was an enchanted wall showing the Undercroft. He turned to Sebastian who was watching him closely.


“Ok, this may sound strange – ”he began.

“Honestly I doubt anything you say could surprise me.”

“I can see whispers of ancient magic.” Sebastian blinked.

“…I stand corrected.” A startled laugh escaped James. “What does that even mean?”

“The Keepers called it a powerful magic that can only be wielded by a select few,” he explained. “Professor Fig and I think Ranrok may have found a way to harness that magic’s power.” Sebastian frowned darkly at this. “This enchanted stone,” James pushed on, gesturing to the wall behind him. “I can see the Undercroft through it, like it’s made of glass. My connection with ancient magic lets me travel through these like windows.”

“Wait - are you telling me,” the other Slytherin looked at him incredulously, “that we can get to the Undercroft straight from here? Ominis will be floored.” His heart lodged in his throat.

“No – You can’t tell a soul,” he shook his head, “Not even Ominis. I’m not really supposed to tell anyone.”

“Your secret is safe with me,” Sebastian promised. James nodded, shoulders relaxing. He trusted the teen to keep his word.

They faced the portal – standing shoulder to shoulder – and James reached out to the swirling magic whispering to him.

Notes:

this chapter went on and on and it is completely Sebastian's fault

Chapter 14

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“What are you doing here?” Ominis asked suspiciously. It wasn't undeserved. The last time he’d spoken with the Slytherin boy alone, he’d threatened to end him. He still wasn’t sure which of them had been more surprised by the threat.

“Ominis, do you have a moment?” he kept his tone light to sound friendly. Sebastian was counting on him.

“What is it? What have you and Sebastian been up to now?” James paused at the accusation, the words cut deeper than he expected. He changed tactics last second.

“I owe you an apology,” he said instead. “I wasn’t honest with you before about the Undercroft. Sebastian did show it to me. He wanted me to have a safe place to practice some spells – to catch up to the other fifth-years. He didn’t think you’d mind.” Ominis sighed and most of the fight left his body.

“I suppose that makes sense,” he admitted. “It’s just – Sebastian’s been pestering me lately about something and I’m frustrated with him.” This was his chance, he wasn’t going to get a better opening.

“Don’t tell me he’s still going on about – what is it – a ‘scriptorium’?” James aimed to sound disinterested.

“He told you about that?” Ominis jerked back.

“He did. We were talking about Hogwarts founders and he mentioned it,” the teen shrugged casually. “Wouldn’t say much more, though.”

“Yes, well, he seems to think it contains the answer to saving Anne,” his fellow Slytherin quickly recovered. “I think it’s likely full of dark magic that is better left untouched.”

“Wait,” the fifteen year old’s thoughts screeched to a halt. “You’ve never been inside?”

“Of course not!” the boy exclaimed, as if insulted by the very idea. “I only know about it because of my favorite aunt, Noctua.” He stopped, cutting himself off.

“What about her?” James prodded when the other teen didn't continue.

“…She thought like I do,” Ominis eventually answered. “Didn’t agree with the family on the use of dark magic. In fact,” his face softened the more he talked about his aunt, “she’d hoped to convince my family that there was more to Salazar Slytherin than worshipping pure-blood status. She’d heard of this ‘scriptorium’ and thought its contents might shed some light on him. She even found the secret entrance – in this very corridor.” James couldn’t help briefly scan their surroundings, but held his tongue. “She wrote regularly to my father about her efforts to gain access, and then she simply vanished. No one else ever tried to enter.” He chewed his lip in thought, the other teen sounded genuinely heartbroken. Although, given what Sebastian had told him about the rest of the Gaunt family, maybe that wasn’t so surprising.

“I’m sorry about your aunt, Ominis,” he said. James was reminded of Miriam’s disappearance and how Professor Fig struggled with the lack of answers. “I can’t imagine losing someone like that. Don’t you want to find out what happened to her?”

“Aunt Noctua went down this path with good intentions and lost her life,” his housemate shook his head in denial. “I don’t want the same to happen again.”

“You don’t know that history will repeat itself,” he coaxed. “Besides, you said your aunt thought like you. This could honor her memory, finish what she started. You can get answers about Slytherin and Sebastian answers for Anne.” He could see the other Slytherin was wavering. He just needed one final push. “Look, Ominis, your aunt pursued this alone, but this time we could do it together.”

“Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why do you want to find the scriptorium?” That drew James up short. He hadn’t expected Ominis to ask that. Silence blanketed the hallway.

“Sebastian is insufferable when you two are fighting,” he answered. “And… I guess I’d like to make up for our last meeting.”

“For threatening to end me on Fig’s behalf?” Ominis pressed, sounding much more amused than he should about a death threat. James cleared his throat awkwardly.

“Yes…that.”

“What is he to you?” The teen frowned at the prying question. It wasn’t exactly a secret he was trying to keep, he just really didn’t like people poking their nose into his business. He eyed the other Slytherin, but the boy’s face was completely blank. James hesitated before taking a gamble.

“I guess you could say he’s my aunt Noctua.” Ominis blinked, startled by the answer. After several moments, his expression finally relaxed and a deep sigh escaped his lips.

“Very well, I shall tell you what I know. Fetch Sebastian.” James brightened immediately, he hadn’t been sure he’d be able to get through to him. He turned, stopped, and looked back, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“You know he’s down at the end of the hall.”

“Yes, I can hear him pacing.” He snorted at Ominis’ dry reply.

“Sebastian!” he called, giving up on any pretense of subtlety. “Come on.” The other teen jogged over to join them.

“Now you’ll share?” the Slytherin complained once he was closer. “You wouldn’t tell me when I practically begged.”

“It wasn’t you who told me what I needed to hear.”

Ominis shared what he knew regarding the entrance and soon enough they were able to open it. James lead their party of three down the stone staircase, the tip of his wand lit by Lumos. He ignored the two bickering teens behind him as they entered a narrow chamber.

“Dark, ominous corridors. My favorite.”

“No comment.”

“Come on, that was a good one.”

“A journal entry,” James interrupted, not wanting the banter to turn into real fight. He skimmed the page. “Signed by Noctua Gaunt.” His eyes flickered to Ominis, who was frowning.

“Gaunt? Ominis! – ” Sebastian whirled to face his best friend. “ – Your family was here.”

“I know,” the blond rubbed his hands uncertainly. “She was my aunt.”

“You knew?” Sebastian gaped. “And didn’t tell me?”

“Ominis," James cut in again, sensing the impending argument, “the journal mentions many challenges ahead.”

“That’s why I said this could be dangerous. Aunt Noctua kept my father informed until she vanished.” He and Sebastian inspected the room. James frowned at the amount of debris on the floor. Was there some kind of fight down here? He looked at Sebastian who was studying a crumbling piece of the wall. Wait a minute…

“Reparo!” he flicked his wand. The stone wreckage lifted off the floor and fit itself into the now intact wall.

“The rubble formed a relief of a person facing a snake,” Sebastian said for the benefit of Ominis.

“…That must be the voice I hear,” the Slytherin confessed. His head snapped to the other teen.

“A voice?” James stepped closer to him.

“It’s ancient…sinister,” Ominis continued. He repressed a shiver. “I hear a whisper saying, speak to me. I’m…I’m a Parselmouth,” he admitted, like it’s a dirty secret. “I can understand and speak to snakes.”

“That’s amazing,” he blurted out. He’d never imagined wizardkind had the ability to do such a thing. The magical world continued to surprise him. The other teen seemed startled by the admiration like it was completely foreign to him.

“It’s often associated with dark wizards,” he recovered quickly and shook his head. “I haven’t spoken it in ages, but I’d wager if I speak it now, the door will open.” He lowered his voice like he doesn’t want Sebastian to hear the next part. “I’m hoping you’re having second thoughts.”

“Second and third thoughts,” James admitted just as lowly, “but I still think we should push forward.”

“It’s ironic,” Ominis sighed. “When I left home, I vowed to leave the Dark Arts behind. And yet, here I am.” James felt a twinge of guilt at the boy’s words. “Stand back,” he instructed, then muttered to himself, “…I can’t believe I’m doing this.” A loud hissing came from the Slytherin and filled the air. The sound of gears turning could be heard and the stone snakes on the door began to move.

“It worked!” he grinned. “Ominis, you possess a rare ability indeed.” The blond flushed at the praise.

“Between the two of you,” Sebastian spoke up, “I’m starting to feel left out.”

“Between the two of us?” was Ominis’ confused reply. James glanced over his shoulder to give his friend a weird look.

“I – never mind,” the teen looked away, crossing his arms. They entered the next room. As soon as they crossed the threshold, the door shut behind them with a loud clang. The area they had just entered was like a maze with more than one gate in front of them. James spied another piece of parchment, and skimmed it.

“This journal entry,” he said to Ominis, “mentions getting lost and being unwelcome.”

“Poor Aunt Noctua.” He found a curled up snake statue and realized underneath it were the same symbols the gates had. He reached out to rotate the top one and the snake sprung to life. He froze at the glowing gaze. The poised snake began to turn and he could hear clicking. James suddenly had the unsettling feeling it was counting down to something. He quickly rotated the top dial to the first symbol he remembered seeing on the gate. He switched to the bottom dial to match the second symbol. His gaze flicked up to check the snake’s position in time to witness the statue complete its rotation. Without warning, the stone snake struck his face.

“Ow!” he jerked back.

“What’s happening?” he heard Ominis’ panicked voice ask from the other room. But the snake had already returned to its previous position.

“I’m fine!” he called. He quickly completed the second dial and backed away from the enchanted statue once he was done for good measure.

“That did it!” He hurried to rejoin his housemates. “Nice work,” Sebastian turned to him with a grin. The smile dropped once he saw James. “Your face.”

“What’s wrong with his face?” Any other time he would have made a joke with such a perfect set up.

“Snake bit me,” he muttered instead, his fingers gently prodded his stinging cheek. “Does it look bad?”

“I don’t think so,” Sebastian decided after carefully inspecting the small punctures. “Do you have a Wiggenweld?”

“Yea,” James dug into his satchel and pulled out the green potion. He downed an uncommon poisons antidote too just in case.

“Seems Slytherin liked to play games,” Ominis was frowning deeply arms crossed in agitation.

“Must run in the family.”

“Look in a mirror, Sebastian.” James rolled his eyes and searched for the next dial. He found another journal entry and – after getting the second gate open without any fuss – returned to Ominis. The boy was pacing again, wringing his fingers nervously.

“Ominis,” he approached him, parchment in hand, “your aunt wanted to change your family’s traditions.” The distraction worked.

“She did,” he stopped pacing. “And she was my favorite person in the world for it.” James blinked at the confession. He was so used to seeing the Slytherin closed off, but talking about his aunt seemed to really open him up.

“She sounds wonderful,” he said. “I would have liked to meet her.”

“…I think she would have liked to meet you too,” the other teen admitted with a sigh. When the final gate opened, they push forward to the next chamber. A loud clang sounds behind them.

“The gate!” Sebastian spun around. “I think we’re locked in…again.” James didn’t hear Ominis’ response. He was too busy staring at the end of the room where a pile of bones sat next to red glowing letters carved into the floor. He approached the skeleton with trepidation. Next to it laid a familiar piece of parchment. He slowly picked it up.

“Ominis,” he spoke, trying to break the news as gently as possible. “A skeleton. And Noctua’s last journal entry. She mentions being trapped here, blocked by an Unforgivable curse.”

“This…is where she died,” his housemate paled considerably. “This is where we’ll die. I shouldn’t have listened to either of you.”

“Ominis, I’m truly sorry about your aunt,” said Sebastian. “But, I know what to do.” James gave his friend a questioning look. “Tortured faces on the door and Crucio etched into the stone. My guess is if we cast the Cruciatus curse, the door will open. That’s why Noctua died. She had no one to cast the curse on.”

“Oh.” They were trapped and they were going to die slowly. Professor Fig would be so disappointed in him. But Sebastian wasn’t done.

“Ominis has the most experience with this. He should cast it.”

You’re joking.”

“You seem to be in Ominis’ favor,” the teen pushed. “Will you ask him?”

Absolutely not.” Sebastian huffed and turned toward the anxiously pacing Slytherin. But his hand snapped out to grab the other teen by the arm. “Are you seriously going to ask your best friend to relieve his worst memory?” He didn’t know if that was completely accurate, but from what he’d been told he could assume that experience was pretty far up there if it didn’t top the list. The pacing footsteps behind them stopped.

“As if dying in here is a better option than casting a damned spell!” Sebastian defended. He glared at his friend.

“Ominis, answer Sebastian,” he ordered without breaking their impromptu staring match.

“I won’t do it!” James gave the other Slytherin a ‘told you’ look. The other teen looked away and crossed his arms.

“Ridiculous,” he grumbled. The chamber fell into an uneasy silence for a long time. “Fine, it’s up to us then,” Sebastian eventually broke it. “…I can teach you Crucio or I can cast it on you.” James jerked back.

“Wait – you didn’t say you knew how to cast Crucio.”

“Because I’m not sure I do,” he answered hotly. “Ominis knows that, but he’s left us no choice. I don’t want to follow in Noctua Gaunt’s footsteps.” They both suddenly looked down at the skeleton resting near their feet. “I…I think I can cast it if I have to.” James swallowed hard. He didn’t want to die. He’d had so many close calls with death that it had started to lose meaning, but now it was staring him in the face. And it scared him.

“I don’t want to learn the curse,” he whispered. “Cast it on me.”

“Are you sure?” Sebastian hesitated.

“I can’t do it,” he admitted. “You know why.” Blue green eyes darted to the screaming faces carved into the door. Realization dawned on the his housemate's face, and yet he still delayed. “It’s fine, I can take it.” He’s finally rewarded with a sharp and silent nod. They slowly backed up from each other. James braced himself as Sebastian raised his wand.

“Crucio!”

Suddenly his entire body was on fire. He couldn't breathe. Every nerve was screaming at him. He thought he knew pain, but this is so much worse. He took it back, he wanted to die. Anything would be better than this. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it STOP.

When awareness finally returned, James realized he was lying on the cold stone floor. He worked to get his breathing and shaking under control. Sebastian was crouched over him, looking incredibly conflicted.

“Are you alright?” he heard Ominis call. He sounded frightened.

“I’ll survive,” he managed to grit out. “Please tell me that worked.”

“It did, we made it,” Sebastian answered. “We found Salazar Slytherin’s scriptorium.” His body was still screaming at him, but it was muted now, so James slowly forced himself to stand. His friend hovered nearby as if wanting to help but was too scared to touch him. The trio entered the room. James tried to pay attention but his thoughts were scattered. He was exhausted. He made his way up the stairs to the second level step by agonizing step. Suppressing a pained groan, he leaned against a desk for support. His hand landed on a piece of parchment. He looked down and blinked dazedly at the note that Salazar Slytherin apparently left out. He tried to read it but the words keep blurring and moving so he shoved it tiredly into his satchel. He’d deal with it later.

Sebastian soon found him. He was holding something. James caught the words ‘spellbook’ and ‘honor.’ But he couldn't be bothered to really listen. His body ached and everything was moving so slowly like he was underwater. Thinking was hard.

“We shouldn’t linger here,” Ominis’ concerned face came into view. There was more talking but there was a roaring in his ears now. He was really tired. He wondered if Professor Fig would care if he crashed on his lounge again. One of his housemates must have found an exit to leave the scriptorium because they were now in front of the Slytherin common room. James let out a sigh, the cool dungeon air helped him finally gather his sluggish thoughts.

“I meant what I said before,” Ominis was talking, James realized. Sebastian was pacing nearby. “We swear right now never to engage in anything to do with dark magic again.”

“Understood,” said the teen. “I’m truly sorry about your aunt, Ominis.” The other Slytherin sighed.

“I suppose after all this, I am grateful to know what happened to her…Thank you.”

James somehow managed to quietly drag himself to his bed. It was so late it was early morning. He realized with a tired groan that he had Herbology and Potions today. He downed a Wiggenweld potion but it didn't make the hurt go away. He tried another with the same result. A whimper escaped him. Hopefully the bone deep ache and random muscle spasms disappeared soon.

Notes:

best part of this quest is MC and Ominis bonding

Chapter 15: Interlude - Aesop Sharp

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

When Aesop Sharp first met James Evans, the first thing he noticed were the blue green eyes that seemed to glow with intensity. It caught the professor off guard, he’d seen eyes like that before years ago. He couldn’t help but frown, reminded of memories that belonged in the past. The boy seemed skittish, clutching the strap of his satchel and backing away from him. A thoughtful hum escaped the retired Auror and he smoothed his expression. Despite the various rumors that ran rampant through the school, he did not take pleasure in scaring students. The encounter was relegated to the back of his mind until later that day when he saw the fifteen year old in class. He seemed attentive and completely focused on his work, even neatly sidestepped Garreth Weasley’s attempt to pull him into one of his shenanigans. The Potions master was somewhat relieved, one experimenting student kept him busy enough. Aesop noted throughout their interactions that James Evans seemed equal parts intimidated and amused by him. He watched the teenager leave his classroom, trailing next to Sebastian Sallow and Ominis Gaunt. Hopefully the new fifth year continued to remain out of trouble, however considering the company he kept the odds may be stacked against him.

*********

A few weeks later, Sharp made his way down to Hogsmeade. Despite the warm weather, he took the Floo so as not to aggravate his leg. The road from Hogwarts to Hogsmeade wasn't a short walk and he was in a hurry. The bell above the door rang as he entered J. Pippins Potions.

“Welcome to J. Pippins Potions, I’ll be with you in a moment,” the shopkeeper, Parry Pippins, greeted as he finished stocking a shelf of potion ingredients. The Potions professor waited patiently by perusing some of the newer wares. “Here you go, Mr. Sharp.” The shopkeeper set his order on the counter.

“You’ve increased your inventory,” the retired Auror noted the extra potion ingredients filling the shelves.

“That would be Mr. Evans’ doing,” the man agreed. “Is there anything else I can get you?”

“…James Evans?” Sharp asked, eyes narrowed. The shop proprietor paused.

“Oh, I suppose he would be one of your students, wouldn’t he?” he smiled. “That lad has a savvy head on his shoulders. If he was a few years older, I’d consider going into business with him.”

“Mr. Evans is supplying your potion ingredients?” he asked, unable to hide his incredulity.

“Oh no, he’s not my main supplier,” Pippins quickly shook his head. “But he stops by once or twice a week to offload ingredients and I pay him a fair price for them.”

“Hmm, the shelf you were stocking just now…” Aesop critically inspected the section in question.

“Provided by Mr. Evans himself,” the man confirmed. “Excuse me.” The Potioneer returned to the back of the shop to check on a bubbling cauldron. A frown tugged at Sharp’s mouth as he left. The ingredients Pippins had been stocking included troll bogeys and stench of the dead. It seemed the rumors surrounding the fifth year’s extracurricular activities were not as farfetched as he’d assumed.

*********

Not many students chose to enter the Potions classroom outside of class unless they were desperate for his help. James Evans did not seem to share his fellow classmates reservations, stopping by once or twice a week even after completing his extra assignments.

“You do realize I have classes to teach,” the Potions professor commented once. Despite the remark he really didn’t mind answering the fifteen year old’s questions because the boy soaked up knowledge like a sponge. It was one of the joys of teaching, he'd discovered during his time at Hogwarts, when a student applied themselves to their studies with such single-minded determination.

There were a few times when the new fifth year’s inquiries threw him, like the nonverbal casting. When the retired Auror questioned his sudden interest on the subject, he had to stop the teen from fleeing the room. James had fidgeted under his critical eye as Sharp deliberated silently. He had considered the troubling rumors he’d heard circulating the school and the conversation they shared in Fig’s office. The Potions master also recalled the aptitude and focus he’d demonstrated in all the professor’s teachings. And if he was being honest with himself, he’d much rather the fifteen year old learn the proper way under close supervision than experiment on his own and likely blow a limb off. So Sharp decided to teach him, despite the official school stance. It was a special circ*mstance.

Apparently today was another one of those times. James Evans was back in the classroom running through his repertoire of spells and attempting to cast each one nonverbally on the training dummy. Aesop gave his leg a break from standing, and continued to observe from a seated position. Confident the teen was displaying the right amount of caution as he practiced, the professor eventually pulled out some paperwork he’d been meaning to get through.

“Sir, how do you go about counteracting a curse?” The quill scratching stopped abruptly and his thoughts raced to deduce the reason behind the question. The topic sounded innocent enough, but the knowledge required to create an effective counter could also be applied to the creation of curses themselves. He looked up and scrutinized the nervous fifth year.

“Dare I ask why?”

“Curiosity?”

“Try again.” The fifteen year old squirmed under his stare before abandoning his training and hesitantly approached the professor. It turned out said curiosity stemmed from Anne Sallow’s condition. The Potions master was aware of the girl’s situation, all of the professors were. He listened intently, learning of Sebastian’s one man search for a cure and how he’d pulled James into his quest. He couldn’t help but frown upon hearing the amount of pushback the Slytherin seemed to be facing for wanting to help his sister. While the chances of finding a cure in time sounded slim, it was understandable for the fifteen year old to struggle with accepting that and doing nothing.

“So I thought…” James paused here, fingers playing with the edge of his robe. “…I thought you might have a unique insight on how to go about that.” His eyes were glued to the table and the classroom fell silent.

“…Because of my personal experience,” he filled in the blanks, tone perfectly neutral.

“Yes, sir.” The teenager fidgeted and looked to be regretting all his life choices leading to this moment. Sharp considered him for a handful of seconds.

“Hmm…your reasoning is sound,” he allowed. Startled blue green eyes jumped up to meet his gaze. “The first step of reverse engineering any solution, curses included, is research. You’ll need to gather enough data to account for and dismiss the effects of any variables.”

*********

The retired Auror stopped by Eleazar Fig’s classroom to provide an update on his goblin activity findings.

“Fig,” Aesop greeted, upon entering the office. “I heard back from – ” he stopped, noticing James Evans sprawled upside down on the chaise lounge by the fireplace. His legs were curled over the top and his head was hanging off, a couple feet from the ground. The boy was holding open a textbook in front of his face, but it was obviously for show. “Shouldn’t you be in class,” his eyes narrowed.

“You know my schedule?”

“I’m your Head of House, I know the schedule of each year.” James grimaced but didn’t reply. Sharp glanced at Fig but the man was entirely unhelpful, his attention on the fifteen year old. “You realize skipping class is grounds for detention?”

“It’d be worth it,” the teen grumbled, still refusing to look at either of the professors. Sharp resisted the urge to immediately assign said detention. The boy was usually quiet and polite, but now almost seemed sullen. Clearly he was missing something here.

“What class are you skipping?” He knew the fifth year Slytherins had a class during this time block, but he couldn’t remember which one exactly off the top of his head.

“Defense Against the Dark Arts,” Fig deigned to answer when James didn’t. The teenagers’ grip on the textbook tightened. Aesop frowned in thought, trying to recall where Dinah would be in her curriculum this time of the year.

“Boggarts?” the man ventured, he was pretty sure she’d mentioned doing a practical review of them sometime soon. The fifteen year old’s jaw tightened. The professor let out a sigh. “I’m sure your classmates are just as nervous to be practicing in front of their fellow peers, but you cannot simply sit out whenever you feel like it.”

“Believe me, I’m doing them a favor,” James Evans was full on glowering at the book now. Sharp half-expected it to burst into flame.

“James,” Fig finally stepped in, tone gently chiding. The teen winced. “Your reluctance is understandable, but you do need to practice defending yourself against a boggart.” The office was silent for a few beats. The teen dropped the book on his chest and looked at his mentor with a grimace.

“Do I really have to?”

“Would you rather face one in a controlled environment with your professor?” the Magical Theory professor raised an eyebrow. “Or on your own with no warning or practical training?” The fifteen year old scrunched his face at that and finally rolled off the lounge, landing on his feet like a cat. He set the textbook on the nearby side table, his actions were hesitant now. James’ gaze flicked to Sharp briefly before focusing on Fig.

“Can I do it with you instead?” his question was low and unexpectedly vulnerable. His colleague’s expression softened.

“I’ll speak with Professor Hecat,” he promised.

“Thank you,” the boy exhaled, tension draining from his body. The Potions master suddenly felt like he was intruding on a private moment between the two, emphasized by James flushing when he glanced his way again. The spell was quickly broken and the teenager hurriedly grabbed his satchel that was laying on the armchair. “I’m going flying,” he muttered to Fig before quickly exiting the office. The entire exchange left him with more questions than answers. Whenever Aesop inquired about the new fifth year, Fig was surprising tight lipped about his ward. Speaking to his other colleagues had confirmed it wasn’t just with him. Matilda seemed like she knew more than she was letting on, but if she did the woman wasn’t sharing. The veteran Auror couldn’t tell if Fig’s reluctance to talk about his ward outside of scholarly achievements was general overprotectiveness or something else.

Sharp waited for the fifteen year old to leave the room, ensuring the door was firmly shut, before he shared his findings with the other professor.

*********

Sharp immediately noticed that James Evans was not in class when he entered the room. He gave a brief lecture on that day’s lesson, before assigning the tasks the students were expected to complete. The teenager still didn’t show. His attention shifted to Sebastian Sallow and Ominis Gaunt, who seemed distracted despite their best attempts to pretend otherwise. The professor recalled the only other instance he knew of the fifteen year old skipping a class. Brewing a common antidote potion didn’t seem nearly as anxiety-inducing as facing a boggart in front of one’s peers though. Eventually class was over and dismissed.

“Mr. Sallow, Mr. Gaunt,” he called, stopping the two boys in their tracks. “A word.” They approached him silently. He leaned back against the table to allow pressure off his leg without sitting down. He needed to maintain an imposing position if he was going to get any answers.

“Where is Mr. Evans?” he asked bluntly.

“…He wasn’t feeling well today, professor,” Gaunt answered, his fellow Slytherin was frowning at the floor.

“Oh?”

“Yes, sir.” The professor’s expression shifted, indicating his displeasure at the vague reply.

“I believe you have Herbology before Potions,” he tried again. “Did Mr. Evans choose to skip that class too?”

“He didn’t choose to skip it,” Sebastian glared up at him. “He really doesn’t feel well.” Ominis elbowed his friend and the teen looked away with an angry flush.

“And what exactly,” he drawled, “is preventing Mr. Evans from attending class today?”

“…a migraine,” shared Ominis hesitantly. Sharp hummed. He asked a few more probing questions that don’t really lead anywhere. He finally dismissed the two and they wasted no time escaping the classroom. The Potions master made his way into his office and took a small round bottle with a stormy gray substance inside. He called one of the Hogwarts house elves and instructed them to take the potion to the Slytherin dormitories. He directed the creature to ensure that James finished the entire bottle before returning to him. Less than a minute passed before the house elf returned with a full bottle informing him that the dormitory was empty.

Sharp frowned, the teenager must be in Fig’s office again. Taking back the round bottle, he marched out of the dungeons to the Magical Theory classroom. His colleague could at least have the decency to send a note to his fellow professors if he knew James wasn’t going to attend class that day.

“Sharp,” the older man looked up from the scattered pieces of parchment on his desk. “Did you need something?” The lounge was empty. The Potions master scanned the room, but James was noticeably absent.

“Fig. Where is your ward?”

Notes:

I imagine Sharp to be like a bloodhound when anything catches his attention

Chapter 16

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The Room of Requirement was a godsend. James would be forever grateful to Professor Weasley for introducing it to him. Not only had it been a place for him to catch up on schoolwork like Potions and Herbology, it had also become a haven the teenager could retreat to when everything became too much.

When he woke up a later that morning, James was still suffering from the aftermath of the Cruciatus curse. He cracked his eyes open and realized the dorm room was empty. The teen shot up in alarm and instantly regretted it. A loud groan cut through the air. Everything still hurt, a dull ache filled his body. At least it no longer felt like his insides were on fire. The fifteen year old hauled himself out of bed, gritting his teeth. He realized, after checking the time, that Herbology class was already halfway over. He’d overslept. Shame it hadn’t been particularly restful. Dressing was a painful affair. Once he was ready to leave the dorm room it was almost lunchtime. James grimaced, he really didn’t want anyone seeing him like this. The teenager still had a lot to learn about the wizarding world, but even he knew use of an Unforgiveable curse usually resulted in a one-way ticket to Azkaban. So he sneakily made his way to the seventh floor under the disillusionment charm.

He greeted Deek with a tight smile and did a brief check-in on his growing plants and rescued beasts. By the time he’d finished brushing Highwing, he was ready to drop from exhaustion. Limbs protesting, he staggered out of the meadow vivarium and found that the room had provided him with a plush looking sofa, thick heavy blanket and large pillows included. Sighing in relief, the teen shuffled over and flopped against the firm pillows. His eyelids slid shut for what only felt like a few minutes before the sound of someone calling his name woke him up. James blinked dazedly up at Professor Fig and Professor Sharp. He blinked again to make the image go away. It didn’t. His mentor knelt down so that he was close to eye level with the sitting teen and the Potions professor took up residence at the end of the sofa, discreetly massaging his leg. He realized belatedly the that the Magical Theory professor was talking to him.

“ – James.”

“What?” he finally responded, still half asleep. He was tired. Why did they wake him up? His mentor was looking at him with a great deal of concern.

“Why did you skip Herbology and Potions?” the man asked.

“I overslept,” he said. It was half true. There was no way he’d planned to go to Potions though. Sharp used to be an Auror and seemed to know everything. He made a conscious effort not to look at him and kept his attention focused on Fig.

“Why are you sleeping in here?”

“It’s quiet.” The older professor studied him like he could tell James wasn’t being completely honest with him.

“What’s wrong?” his mentor asked, softer this time. Not his usual ‘are you alright’. He didn’t even give James the opening to deny it.

“Nothing,” the lie tasted like ash on his tongue, but he couldn’t tell them. They'd send Sebastian to Azkaban. The teen was unable to fully repress a shiver at the thought of the nightmarish prison.

“James.”

“I’m fine.” Professor Fig didn’t frown, but he was obviously disappointed. His insides twisted at the expression and he had to look away. “…I’m just tired.” His mentor placed what was meant to be a comforting hand on his shoulder, but his body still ached and the touch made the pain flair up. The fifteen year old failed to suppress the grimace. Fig stilled and both professors’ attention honed in on the action. James clenched his jaw.

“Are you in pain?” Sharp demanded.

“No,” he said, still not looking at him. It was at this point his traitorous hand decided to spasm. The teen screwed his eyes shut in frustration. He could feel the cogs in their minds turning. “Go away,” he said, desperately trying to regain control of the deteriorating situation. “Leave me alone.” The fifteen year old’s heart raced and he struggled to keep his breathing even. There was the sound of fabric rustling and the sofa cushion dipped under him.

“Mr. Evans, look at me,” Sharp ordered quietly. The teenager didn’t move. “James.” He shook his head. The back of a hand touched his forehead. He jerked back, eyes flying open - giving a much closer Sharp the opportunity to catch his gaze. The teenager found himself unable to look away from the intense stare. It only took a few seconds for the man’s face to turn thunderous. James flinched. The veteran Auror receded, giving the teen space, but the anger didn’t go away. “Who?” his voice was low and promised retribution. He knew.

His mentor’s gaze snapped to the other professor, not catching on just yet.

“What is it?” Professor Fig asked. The Potions master looked at the fifteen year old, giving him one last chance to tell the truth. His insides burned. What would his mentor say? He was sure to be disappointed either way.

"Should you need anything, you can always come to me."

James screwed his eyes shut and took a steadying breath.

“…the Cruciatus curse,” he whispered, forcing the words past the lump in his throat. Sebastian would never forgive him. He heared a sharp inhale from his mentor. The air was still, like the silence before a storm.

Who?” Sharp repeated his question. James wordlessly shook his head, breathing becoming more ragged.

“Did someone threaten you?” Professor Fig pushed. The teen hugged himself tightly, wishing desperately that he could disappear into the sofa. He ached so much and he wanted to go back to sleep. There was more talking but he wasn't listening, the words merely washed over him. Finally, there was blessed silence.

“Drink.” James’ eyes snapped open at the order. Sharp was holding a brown murky potion in front of him as Deek peered around the professor’s shoulder. He popped away when the teen’s gaze landed on the elf. The potion was shoved closer, right in front of his face. “Drink, you’ll feel better.” He was pretty sure the veteran Auror was willing to force it down his throat at this point so he reluctantly took the vile looking concoction and knocked it back. His gag reflex kicked in. “Swallow it.” James slapped a hand over his mouth and forced the sludge down his throat. It didn't take long for the bone deep pain to finally begin to recede. A sigh of relief escaped him and his body relaxed for the first time since the scriptorium.

“…That was disgusting,” he managed to get out. He no longer ached and his mind cleared.

“Good,” Sharp frowned at him. “Who cast the Cruciatus curse on you.” He glanced at his mentor, possibly for reassurance, who was wearing the same expression when he found out about James’ impromptu trip to Azkaban.

“Poacher,” he exhaled. He could still salvage this. Neither professor was happy with his answer though.

“No it wasn’t or you would have gone to the hospital wing,” the Potions master promptly shot the attempt down. He leaned forward. “Did they threaten you?” he repeated Fig's question. The teen remained silent. His eyes dropped to his hands clutching a blanket and the silence stretched.

“James,” his mentor leaned closer, snagging his gaze. “You’re not in trouble. Please just answer the question.” He looked away, unable to meet the man’s patient look.

“I can’t,” he choked out.

“Why not?”

“B-because – ” he cut himself off. But Professor Fig waited him out and James knew he couldn't deny the man that he owed everything. “Y-you’ll send him to Azkaban.” A frown finally appeared out on his mentor’s face.

“Mr. Gaunt or Mr. Sallow then,” the retired Auror guessed and James’ heart leapt to this throat. They were so close to finding out and no matter how much he clung to the truth it was being pried from his grasp.

“S-stop,” he begged. He was shaking now, gasping for breath. “P-please s-stop.” Fig’s face became alarmed.

“James breathe,” he instructed, placing his hands on the teen’s shoulders. “Deep breaths, you’re hyperventilating.” He could feel his heart pounding. His ears were ringing. Why weren’t his lungs working? Fig was rubbing his arms, saying something to him. The teen tried to focus on the man. “That’s it, deep breaths. Breathe in, and out. Here, drink this.” The professor offered him a potion that had a light purple-pink sheen to it. Where did that come from? He shakily accepted and downed the vial of liquid. A wave of calm hit him and the shaking subsided instantly. His breaths evened out. Calming Draught, he realized, recalling the first time he’d been offered the very same potion his first week with the professor.

“You can’t send him to Azkaban,” the teen immediately continued, “the Dementors will turn him into Anne, he’ll – ” he stopped himself. He’ll hate me forever. He shivered, but the draught prevented him from hyperventilating again.

“…Anne?” Sharp frowned, expression perplexed.

“An Azkaban inmate,” Fig answered. There was a pause as the other man connected the dots.

He’s been to Azkaban?” Oh, now the Potions master was angry with his mentor too. Sharp looked like he was seconds away from going on a murderous rampage, starting with Fig.

“He wasn’t involved,” James groaned, coming to his mentor’s defense. This was not how he expected today to go. When there was no answer, he glanced over to see the ex-Auror visibly restraining himself. After several moments the man let out a long exhale and dropped that line of questioning. Knowing the stubborn professor, it was only a matter of time until it came up again. He was okay with future James dealing with that headache.

“Casting the Cruciatus curse,” Sharp said darkly, “requires the caster to want to cause pain. It won’t work unless they truly mean it. The Unforgivables are considered unforgivable because of their intent. If a student is willing to cast such dark curses on their fellow peers, it cannot be ignored.” When James didn’t answer, the Potions professor stood and turned to leave. The teenager swallowed, he had to make them understand.

“I asked him to,” James forced out.

“You what?” Fig looked horrified. “Why – ?”

“W-we were trapped,” he whispered lowly, hugging himself tighter. “There was no way out except to cast the Cruciatus curse. We…we would have died.” The silence was deafening.

“I think…” his mentor broke the sudden stillness, “…that you should start from the beginning.” So James took a fortifying breath and haltingly told the two professors about Salazar’s scriptorium.

*********

By the time he was finished, Fig had moved to the sofa and was sitting next to him. Sharp was standing nearby, half turned away, and pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Wiggenweld is not a cure-all,” the Potions professor was lecturing. He’d said as much on the first day of class. “And no salve is a substitute for common sense.” James grimaced, but didn't argue. He probably deserved that.

“How did you even find me?” the fifteen year old asked instead.

“Deek,” both professors answered at the same time. James narrowed his eyes.

“Don’t start,” Sharp reprimanded. “He did the right thing.”

“…He fetched both of you?” his brow furrowed in confusion.

“He appeared in my office,” Fig explained next to him. “I’ve never met the house-elf, but he somehow knew who I was.” The teen flushed at that. Okay, thinking about it now, he may have mentioned his mentor to the elf a few times. He glanced up at the ex-Auror.

“Why were you in Professor Fig’s office?”

“Because you missed Potions class.”

“Do you track down every student that misses your class?”

“Only the special cases,” was the professor’s dry response. James stared at the man. Was that another joke? Fig’s gaze darted back and forth between the two of them, watching the exchange. “What is this place?”

“The Room of Requirement,” he explained, remembering Professor Weasley’s words. “It appears when one is in real need of it.”

“And you had need of it?” his mentor asked.

“I…I needed a place to catch up on my schoolwork without distraction.” He wasn’t sure if he should say that the Deputy Headmistress had shared it with him. Would she mind? Were students even supposed to know about the secret room? “Herbology and Potions especially.”

“Really?” the Potions professor looked around the room, gaze landing on the meadow vivarium. “What, in there?” James didn't respond right away. He glanced at his mentor, then back at Sharp.

“Um…No.” His vague reply earned a raised eyebrow. He stood up with a put out sigh. “I guess it would be easier to just show you.” He led them to the meadow, shading his eyes at the sudden sunlight as he stepped through the doorway. He continued down the grassy knoll but soon realized that the two professors were no longer following him. James glanced over his shoulder and almost laughed at their dumbstruck expressions.

“Godric’s heart,” Fig whispered. Sharp was silent but seemed just as awed. Their presence quickly attracted the attention of the beasts within. The baby hippogriff trotted up to them with open curiosity.

“Hey bud,” he greeted when the baby animal affectionately headbutted him. He tried to smooth the feathers on its head but they remained stubbornly stuck up, giving the creature the appearance of bedhead. “Those are his parent’s over there, Highwing and Caligo,” he gestured to the white and black Hippogriffs nearby watching the humans closely.

“…Is that a unicorn?” the Potions master finally spoke. James glanced at said beast further in the meadow quietly observing them.

“That’s Hazel.” Her ears perk forward at the sound of her name. “She was injured recently, so I brought her here to heal safe from any poachers.” Fig bent down to greet the approaching blue and green Niffler.

“Rescued this one from poachers too, did you?” his mentor asked.

“Angry villagers actually,” was James' dry reply. “He was stealing heirlooms from the residents of Irondale.”

“What were you doing all the way over there?” Sharp frowned at him, finally looking away from the unicorn.

“Broom flight trial.”

“Break anymore records?” Fig asked, amusem*nt coloring his tone. He’d told the man how he’d blown past Imelda Reyes’ record, two seconds away from snagging the first place spot, much to the Slytherin girl’s displeasure.

“Of course.” He glanced down at the Irondale Pilferer burrowing itself in his mentor’s robes. “Watch your pockets,” he warned. The man lifted the creature up and it gave a disappointed squeak.

“So you rescue beasts from poachers and angry villagers,” the Potions professor mused, “when you’re not dueling goblins and Ashwinders?” Fig glanced at his colleague with a small frown. James didn’t answer, not wanting to incriminate himself. Instead he left the professors and approached Hazel to check on her healing wound.

“There, there,” he murmured, patting her neck, as he inspected the area. She snorted, blowing a breath of hot air on his face, earning a soft smile. The shy creature abruptly threw her head up and darted off. James turned to see his mentor approaching but the ex-Auror was nowhere to be found.

“Where’s Professor Sharp?” he asked. Fig’s face became far more serious. James swallowed, recalling the original reason they’d sought him out. He paled suddenly.

“He’s not going to – ”

“No one’s going to Azkaban.” The teen let out a relieved breath.

“Is he going to expel them?”

“No, but there does need to be a…conversation,” he affirmed, noting the fifteen year old’s expression. “We understand that there were extenuating circ*mstances, but it does not make the use of an Unforgivable curse any less concerning.” James looked away, wilting at the disappointed look. He’d lied to his mentor’s face, more than once. “I think,” the professor continued, tone softening ever so slightly, “that we should have a conversation of our own as well.”

Notes:

Did I really have Fig and Sharp play good, cop bad cop? Yes, yes I did.

Also the "no salve is a substitute for common sense" bit really is a Sharp dialogue in-game and I had to include it

Chapter 17

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

James finished his peppermint tea, but didn’t set the cup and saucer down. Instead he fingered the rim as if to delay the impending conversation. The teenager and his mentor were currently tucked into the reading nook on the second floor of the Room of Requirement between the swamp and coastal vivariums. Professor Fig didn’t seem particularly thrilled about the impending discussion either. The teen eventually let out a deep breath after a few beats of silence. He knew he couldn’t put it off forever, might as well get it over with.

“What did you want to talk about, sir?” James finally worked up the nerve to ask. The professor set down his half-finished tea with a clink on the nearby side table and he copied the man’s actions. Fig clasped his hands together and studied the fifteen year old in front of him, as if gathering his thoughts.

“I know the last few months have been very hectic and overwhelming,” he finally said. “And I’ve tried my best to give you the space needed to adjust to it all. But I can’t help but wonder now if – perhaps – that was a mistake.” James blinked, startled at the admission. Partly because he couldn’t think of another adult ever acknowledging their own mistakes to him, but also because he didn’t agree with the man’s assessment.

“Professor – ” His mentor raised a silent hand to halt his objections.

“I want to make it very clear,” he continued, “that I am always here in whatever capacity you need. I will never be angry at you for coming to me for help. You’ve come so far since we first met and I expect you’ll accomplish anything you set your mind to. But you’re still learning, and part of growing is making mistakes. I can’t help you through them if you don’t come to me.” The room was silent as James chewed his lip, slowly digesting the words.

“…I don’t want you to be disappointed with me,” he admitted in a whisper. A fond look spread across his mentor’s face.

“I could never be disappointed with you.”

“But you were – when – when you learned about - ”

“ - It wasn’t you I was disappointed with.” The teen frowned, confused by the answer. “I was disappointed with...” a sharp sigh escaped the man “... that I failed to instill enough confidence for you to trust me with such matters.”

“That’s not…” James struggled to form the right words. “I don’t…” His mentor patiently waited him out and he took a deep breath to center himself. “I do trust you – ” Professor Fig leaned forward suddenly.

“ – Then it explain it to me. Make me understand.” He swallowed at the intense gaze.

“I…I guess I thought it would go away on its own,” James muttered, playing with the hem of his shirt. “And…and you’d be obligated to report the use of an Unforgivable. I didn’t want to put you in that position.”

“That’s not your responsibility,” the man answered softly. “As your mentor…” he paused, “…as your guardian, it’s my job to make those decisions. You have enough on your shoulders already.” Fig reached out and placed a firm hand on James’ shoulder. “Look, I don’t expect you to share every little detail with me,” he shared. “You’re entitled to a sense of privacy. But I don’t want you to ever feel like you have to hide anything from me…Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” His mentor was looking at him with such open sincerity it made the fifteen year old’s chest ache. It was bizarre, to have an adult sit him down and tell him to take on less responsibility. All his life it had been the reverse. Look after your little brother. Help mum with the outside chores. Be the man of the house when dad was away. It was like Professor Fig was giving the teenager permission to simply exist. Something inside him loosened and his shoulders relaxed.

“…I understand, sir.” He answered, returning his mentor’s searching gaze. The man must have found whatever he was looking for causing his expression to ease, the beginnings of a pleased smile forming.

“Good,” he said, giving James’ shoulder a gentle squeeze before pulling back and leaning into his own chair once more. The affectionate moment was broken by the growl of the teen’s empty stomach. “For the love of,” Fig sighed and massaged his temples. “When did you last eat?”

“Um,” James flushed, looking down at his lap. “Yesterday?” It had been before the whole scriptorium debacle. The professor mulled something over before coming to a decision.

“Okay, from now on,” Fig instructed, “if you miss a meal in the Great Hall, please get something from the kitchen.”

“The what?” James blinked. His mentor proceeded to inform the fifteen year old about the Hogwarts kitchen, including its location and how to get in.

“A house-elf will ensure you get something to eat,” the professor finished. “But you didn’t hear it from me.” The man went as far to playfully tap the side of his nose.

“Of course, professor,” he answered, unable to suppress an amused laugh.

“Now,” his mentor folded his hands together and gave the teenager an expectant look, “tell me about your classes.” James grinned and told the man everything. He spoke about the different spells he’d been learning, he shared the various assignments he’d been given to complete from the professors, he even filled him in on the different jokes and gossip he’d heard around the school. The Magical Theory professor listened intently to the fifteen year old’s chatter with an indulgent smile.

*********

James squared his shoulders and knocked on the cottage door. Moments later, it was yanked open and the tall imposing figure of Solomon Sallow filled the doorway. He blinked down at the teenager.

“Oh, it’s you,” he glanced past the fifteen year old, as if looking for something. “Where’s Sebastian?”

“It’s just me, sir,” he answered. “May I come in?” The ex-Auror considered him silently for a few beats before stepping back to allow the teen into the home and closed the door behind him.

“James!” Anne greeted him with a gentle hug. “Oh, we weren’t expecting you.” The teen boy awkwardly patted her back and she thankfully let go, obviously amused.

“I – uh – was in the area,” he explained, “and thought I’d stop by to say hello.”

“It’s good to see you,” the girl enthused. “Thank you again for the candy, we very much enjoyed it.” He glanced over at Solomon who cleared his throat and gave a short nod of agreement.

“Glad to hear it,” he smiled, reaching into his satchel to reveal another package of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. “I brought more.” Anne gasped and accepted the sweets eagerly.

“Oh you’re definitely my favorite,” she grinned. A startled laugh escaped James.

“I dare you to tell Sebastian that.” Her eyes shined mischievously.

“Come and sit,” she waved him over to the table. “Tell me all about your time at Hogwarts.” He complied.

*********

“He never mentioned that,” Anne giggled. He’d just finished recounting his first Defense Against the Dark Arts class and the duel against Sebastian.

“Yes well,” James chuckled, “he was very gracious about the loss.”

“I wish I could have seen that,” she sighed. He hummed, not sure what to say in response to that.

“How have you been?” he asked instead.

“About the same,” the girl shrugged her shoulders.

“Listen, I – ” James paused, choosing his words carefully. “I was talking to Professor Sharp about countering curses – ” Solomon, who’d been standing nearby in the cramped kitchen, whirled around with an irate expression.

“I told you –

This isn’t about a cure – ” James interrupted, surprising both of them by the force behind his words. The cottage fell into an uneasy and confused silence. The teenager refocused his attention on Anne’s pale face. “I’ll do everything I can to keep looking for a cure, but…” he slowly pulled out a small leather journal and presented it to the silent girl. “I’m not sure if we’ll be able to find it in time to help.” He flipped open the cover, to show Anne the contents. He caught the ex-Auror in his periphery leaning forward to peer at the pages as well. “This is a logbook to document each attack,” he pointed at the writing already in the journal. “Each page includes room for factors like date, time, weather, what happened right before, and so on.” He leaned back when neither Sallow spoke right away. “This isn’t about finding a cure…but to help manage the pain.”

“I don’t understand,” Anne was the first to break their silence.

“Documenting everything we know,” James explained, “could help highlight any patterns that may have been missed. Professor Sharp – ” he stopped himself, unsure how much of their conversation to share. “…Professor Sharp told me that there are ways to refine existing treatments to be more effective. That any solution requires enough information to paint a complete and unbiased picture.” They were both staring at him now. He flushed and cleared his thought. “I mean, who knows, maybe it could help with finding a cure, but this way we could at least make the attacks less - uh – ” Anne interrupted his rambling by placing a hand on his own.

“Thank you.” The teen clicked his mouth shut and nodded. Solomon didn’t say anything, but that was probably the best reaction he could have hoped for. A hissing came from the kitchen, and the ex-Auror quickly turned to save the stew from bubbling over. The tension broke and James let out a silent breath. “Are you staying for supper?” Anne asked.

“Oh, no I don’t want to – ” the fifteen year old shook his head.

“Nonsense, we’d love to have you,” the girl insisted. She flicked her eyes over to the ex-Auror. “Wouldn’t we, uncle?” The man grunted his agreement and began to pull out bowls and spoons.

“I appreciate the offer,” James forced out. “But I really should be getting back to the castle.” Anne looked like she was about to protest. “My mentor will worry,” he added. Fig wasn’t expecting him, but he felt that he'd pushed his luck here far enough already.

“Oh, very well,” she huffed. “Do come again, though.”

“I will,” he promised, rising from the table. “Thank you for the hospitality.” The teen was soon outside and he paused to breathe in the cool evening air. The heavy wooden door behind him opened and closed, causing the fifteen year old to tense. He saw Solomon out of the corner of his eye, but the man didn’t speak straightaway. Instead they stood together in silence for a couple minutes, watching the sun set over Feldcroft. On the other side of the village, the vendor closed his shop for the day. A few residents finished up their last chores before turning in for the night.

“I haven’t heard her laugh like that in a long time,” Solomon finally admitted in a low voice. Startled, James glanced at the ex-Auror. He looked tired. The fifteen year old wondered for the first time if the man had any friends. He knew he didn’t have any other family. He thought of Professor Fig trying to conceal his grief concerning Miriam’s fate. He recalled the way Professor Sharp would attempt to hide the pain his injured leg caused him. Being an adult must be lonely.

“If nothing really can be done,” the teen answered, just as quietly, “shouldn’t we focus on making what little time she has left the best it can be?” The man crossed his arms and grunted. He hesitated before adding tentatively, “Perhaps something as simple as stress could act as a trigger.” The retired Auror frowned down at him.

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know,” James shrugged. “She said Feldcroft isn’t the cozy retreat it once was. And when I was last here she had an attack after – ” he stopped himself, not wanting to anger the man. Solomon seemed to know exactly what he was referring to though, judging by the more pronounced frown. The fifteen year old swallowed. “Thank you again for the hospitality,” he forced out and started to walk away. He only made it a few steps when Solomon’s voice cut through the air.

“Stop by again when you can. I’m sure Anne will appreciate it.” He halted in his tracks and looked over his shoulder. But the retired Auror had already returned back inside. James blinked a few times, confused by the exchange.

“Okay,” he muttered to no one in particular. Shaking his head, the teenager turned away from the cottage and hurried to the village Floo Flame to return to Hogwarts.

Notes:

Here’s some much needed Fig and James fluff

Also, I’m convinced that Solomon Sallow is just as emotionally constipated as Sebastian - if not more so

Chapter 18

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“You would be wise not to underestimate this student.” James heard Professor Fig’s voice carry as he entered the Map Chamber. “His aptitude for magic is beyond anything I’ve ever seen – and I’ve been teaching for a long time.” The fifteen year old’s insides warmed at the thought of his mentor boasting about his abilities, especially since he knew the man was rather humble by default.

“It is a joy to have such a student,” Percival Rackham agreed with a nostalgic smile. James made his way down the steps to join the Magical Theory professor.

“It…can be,” said Charles Rookwood, expression somber.

“Telling stories about me?” the teenager greeted his mentor.

“Only your countless achievements,” the man responded, with an soft smile. He flushed at that. Fig wasn’t shy with his praise, but it still caught him off balance.

“Right – um,” he floundered, clearing his throat awkwardly. “So the second trial…” Mercifully, the conversation moved forward. The fifteen year old had already briefed his mentor about his activities with Lodgok in the Room of Requirement. He informed the portraits about the piece of information the goblin had let slip before departing.

“Ranrok is searching for something?” asked Rookwood. “I feared as much. I’ve heard an unusual amount of activity – goblins and wizards, I surmise – when visiting my portrait at my castle.” James’ eyes narrowed immediately.

“Rookwood Castle?” he confirmed. Sebastian had been right.

“My former residence, yes,” the professor nodded. “That castle is also the location of your next trial.” Mentor and protégé shared a look.

“I’m sorry to tell you,” James shared, “that Victor Rookwood – evidently your descendant – is a dark wizard in league with Ranrok.

“My descendant – a dark wizard?” Charles Rookwood sounded appalled. “I’m afraid we’ve no time to waste. Not only is Rookwood Castle the location of the next trial, it is home to a source of power that would be devastating in the wrong hands.” James frowned at that. What did that even mean? “I do wish we had the luxury of time,” the portrait sighed, “however, I do not doubt your abilities. Find my portrait there as soon as you can.”

“Very well, sir.”

“Best of luck,” Rackham offered. He nodded his thanks to the Seer and prepared to depart with the Magical Theory professor for the second trial.

*********

The castle was crawling with Victor Rookwood’s Ashwinders and Ranrok’s Loyalists. James and his mentor cautiously snuck past the patrols under the disillusionment charm. He can tell by the low grumbling they pass that it was not a friendly alliance. The two found a big enough opening to slip inside, and made their way across a courtyard.

“If I’d known your plan was to dig up half the country –

“ – I wouldn’t have to dig if you could simply manage to bring me the child!” James halted in his tracks. With a tug of Fig’s hand, he followed the professor and hid behind some nearby crates. The two of them peered around their cover and silently eavesdropped on the conversation.

“We wouldn’t need the child if you hadn’t sent a dragon to retrieve the container I spent months and countless ministry favors tracking,” Victor Rookwood complained, sneering down at Ranrok.

You let them board the carriage,” the goblin argued with obvious contempt. “My options were limited once I knew it would be inconveniently beyond my reach at that infernal school.” Their disdain for each other was obvious, the perfect illustration of current wizardkind and goblin relations brought to life, James couldn’t help but think. He was instantly reminded of Lodgok and Arn. Not all goblins though, he mused.

“Have you not acquired enough power here?” Rookwood demanded, exasperated. “I allowed you to tunnel under my family home –

“ – Allowed me?,” Ranrok didn’t let the wizard finish. “You are here only because you are descended from a ‘Keeper’ and may at some point inadvertently become valuable.” James swallowed hard. How did the goblin know about the Keepers? Where was he getting his information? “We had an agreement. I will share with you the power that I discovered if you locate the stores of magic that are yet to be found!” Rookwood scowled at this. “So…unless you want another demonstration of my power,” the goblin’s black armor began to glow red and swirled around him. Suddenly James was back at Gringotts, watching Ranrok brutally kill the innocent banker that had escorted him and Fig to vault twelve. His breath caught in his throat. But the armor soon reverted to black and the tenuous allies parted ways. The teen calmed under his mentor’s firm hand and they crept further into the castle. He experienced a brief moment of panic when wood scaffolding collapsed under his feet, but James managed to absorb the brunt of his fall with a roll.

“I suppose that’s the quick way down,” Fig’s tone was light, but his expression gave away his concern.

“Not all of us can apparate,” the fifteen year old quipped back to assuage the man’s worry. “Maybe you should teach me that next.” That earned him a chuckle. They made it to the castle dungeons and found signs of goblin activity. There was a faint red glow ahead that mentor and protégé approached with caution. The remains of a silver metal sphere sat on the ground, the outer layers cracked open.

“This must be it,” Fig mused uneasily, “the store of magic and the source of Ranrok’s power.” He couldn’t fault the man, the light seemed to pulse with malicious intent. The longer James stared at it, the more it seemed to thrum, as if calling to him. But there was nothing there really, hardly even an echo.

“It looks empty,” he muttered absently. Red cracks snaked out from under the silver metal. The teen wondered faintly if it took Ranrok much effort to break open the container. If he didn’t know any better, it looked far more like something had broken out. A firm hand landed on his shoulder, yanking James back to this present surroundings. His mentor was looking at him with obvious concern.

“I’m fine,” he said before the professor can ask. He exhaled sharply, backing away from the open container. “We should…find that portrait.” They soon located it in a nearby study. “Professor Rookwood, they’re digging for ‘stores of magic’,” the fifteen year old updated the man, “and broke open some sort of silver container.”

“No! Things are more dire than I could have imagined,” the portrait fretted. “If, as you told Percival, a goblin in his vault was wielding a powerful magic, then they have somehow learned – it cannot be.” Learned what?

“Sir, they know you were a Keeper,” he added belatedly. “Ranrok used the term.”

“This makes no sense. How did – ?” Charles Rookwood stopped himself. “We shall discus this later. Right now, you must complete the next trial.”

“Sir, surely I’ve proven myself. In light of everything that’s happened,” he pushed for answers, “Wouldn’t it be wise to tell me more about these stores of magic?”

“The power you stand to wield must first be fully understood,” the Keeper shook his head. “The trial will ensure that. Power without knowledge is dangerous indeed. In the wrong hands – ”

“ – Like Ranrok?” James can’t help but emphasize drily.

“We will simply have to outwit him,” the portrait remained firm in his refusal, “and my unfortunate namesake.” The fifteen year old pursed his lips. He can’t help but feel like he’s being led around blindly, and he didn’t like it. If these stores of magic were under threat, why wouldn’t the professor tell him more? Why be so cryptic? He was missing a key piece to the puzzle. The teenager reigned in his frustration.

“Fine,” he sighed, crossing his arms, “Tell me where I need to go.”

“I shall reveal the path,” said the Keeper. “Professor Fig must leave you now.” He glanced at his mentor standing beside him. The man didn’t look happy, but gave James an encouraging nod. With another sigh, the teen searched the study, following the wisps of ancient magic. He manipulated the energy, causing a glowing doorway to appear.

“I would join you if I could,” Fig’s tone was regretful. “I shall await your arrival in the Map Chamber.” The professor paused, glancing at the watchful portrait, and stepped closer to the fifteen year old.

His mentor placed a hand on James’ shoulder, gripping it firmly. Be careful.

He offered a steady nod. I will.

*********

After the first trial, Professor Fig had sat James down for the teenager to describe exactly what he had encountered. Soon after, his mentor had begun to regularly take the teenager off school grounds to drill him in wandwork. Between Fig’s training excursions and Sharp’s practice sessions, James had noticed his spellcasting improve dramatically. He realized the more proficient he became at nonverbal casting, the easier spells were when he said them aloud. The Potions master had confirmed his shared observation with patient amusem*nt.

James rolled to the side, dodging a swing that would have taken his head off. He was so done with this trial. It wasn’t bad enough that he had to fight a horde of ancient knights. No, Charles Rookwood had decided to make it extra challenging by making some of the enemies invisible. He was going to burn the man’s portrait the next time he saw it.

“Arresto Momentum!” the fifteen year old cast with as much force he could muster, temporarily halting the invisible enemy in place. An enemy that he could actually see, tried to attack him from behind. He quickly pivoted and used an ancient magic throw to yank the weapon out of its grip and hurtled it back at the stone guardian. His strike was true and it collapsed into a broken heap. James charged through the glowing archway, making the last knight visible. He skidded to a stop, nearly running into the no longer slowed enemy. Its massive weapon was raised high, seconds from slamming down on top of the teen.

"What I’m about to teach you should help against those guardians. Do not use it unless your life is in danger. Understand?"

"Yes, sir."

“Reducto!” The stone knight was blasted into a pile of fine rock. James panted heavily to regain his breath, silently thanking his mentor. The respite didn’t last. The center of the platform began to glow – as if composed of molten lava – and a massive Pensieve guardian rose out of the floor. The fifteen year old groaned. “Should have expected that.” After several minutes of ducking, rolling, and flinging everything he had at the giant enemy, James managed to finish it off with a burst of ancient magic. The blue lighting brought the stone knight to its knees, before it sunk back into the floor. “What a relief,” he muttered. The teen made his way to the Pensieve up ahead and viewed the waiting memory.

*********

“You’re back,” Rackham greeted once James entered the Map Chamber. He gave the Seer a small smile and went to stand next to Professor Fig.

“And in one piece, no less,” Rookwood added, sounding much too pleased. James narrowed his eyes. “In light of the dire circ*mstances in which we find ourselves, it is most fortunate that someone so competent is following this path.” The praise was certainly deserved after that last trial, the teen thought. But he was still nursing a grudge, so he held his tongue.

“Are you alright?” his mentor asked, the man was scrutinizing him closely. He knew the professor could tell something was wrong by his silence.

“Fine.” The man hummed, still studying the fifteen year old.

“Wait,” his mentor stepped closer, reaching out and brushing the top of James’ shoulder before pulling back. “Stone?” he realized, letting the fine sediment fall through his fingers. He looked back at the teen with a sharp questioning gaze.

“Invisible enemies,” the fifteen year old deadpanned, giving Charles Rookwood a very unimpressed look. The portrait didn’t look the least bit sorry. Fig frowned at the painting as well.

“Only to those unable to see ancient magic,” Rookwood held up a finger, as if that made it any better. James felt his face twitch then realized Professor Rackham was watching him closely. He took a deep breath and exhaled the murderous tendencies.

“I shall keep the second artefact safe, as you advised,” the fifteen year old answered evenly.

“Good, shall we move on?” the insufferable man responded.

“The glowing strand that Isidora pulled from her father’s chest,” he pondered. “She called it pain but…” There had been no physical wound and the witch had mentioned the man’s grief at losing his son. So, emotional pain? He struggled to wrap his mind around the idea that mere concepts with no real substance could somehow be manipulated with magic. And yet, James had already witnessed in the Gringotts Pensieve that memories could be drawn out of person’s head, as if they were physical strands. “It almost looked like…like she pulled out a piece of him.” Traces of light had spilled out of the man’s chest afterwards, like an invisible wound had been opened. Rackham had even expressed concern about it within the memory.

The fifteen year old reassessed his next words in face of the sudden intensity he received from the two Keepers. “Unless I…misunderstood,” he added hesitantly, voice small. The Map Chamber was utterly silent. His poor mentor looked back and forth – clearly lost – but reluctant to speak and risk further upsetting the portraits.

“What is your opinion on the matter?” Rackham eventually spoke.

“Sir?”

“On the possibility of…your observation,” the Seer added unhelpfully, his expression unreadable. James swallowed past the lump in his throat. The teenager felt like he was standing on an invisible precipice and he didn’t know how to get back down.

“I don’t know if such a thing is possible, sir,” he answered slowly, choosing his words with great care. “The magical world is still very new to me. But, well, splitting off a piece of someone’s – ”soul, he wants to say. It’s the closest word he can think of to what he saw in the memory, but his instincts are screaming at him not to “ – essence,” he said instead last second, “doesn’t sound like a good idea.” Gradually their expressions cleared and the fifteen year old felt like he could breathe again.

“You will understand more about her actions as you complete the trials,” said Professor Rookwood, who seemed eager to move on. James nodded silently, not trusting himself to speak. “Introductions are in order. Allow me to introduce former Hogwarts headmistress, Niamh Fitzgerald.” The next few minutes passed by in a blur, the teen paid enough attention to not attract the Keepers' suspicion, but his mind was racing. For the briefest of moments, Professor Rackham had looked at James with the same alarmed expression that he’d worn in the memory with Isidora.

Notes:

can you tell I wasn't a fan of Charles Rookwood's trial?

and yea, the whole taking away pain/emotion thing gave me serious horcrux vibes

Chapter 19

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The crisp night air chilled his face as James shot through the sky on his broom. He hurtled between the empty quidditch stands and corkscrewed back towards the pitch. Body pressed tight to the humming broom, the teen pointed himself at one of the hoops that stood like silent guardians. He cleared the structure – like threading a needle – and spun in a tight circle to race towards the other side of the stadium. He pushed the broom to its very limits and it eagerly responded to the challenge. After hours of rolling, diving, and generally reckless flying, the fifteen year old finally skidded to a stop. His heart pounded as he gasped for air, eventually calming as he listened to the faint nighttime sounds with closed eyes.

"I think I know why the Keepers have been so hesitant to share anything."

His eyes snapped open and he tucked into a dive. Teenager and broom sunk like a stone, hurtling towards the ground. He stared it down without fear, pulling up at the last moment, the tips of his boots gently brushing the grass. The fifteen year old let out a pent up sigh, lazily circling the quidditch pitch.

“You realize it’s after curfew?” James’ head snapped to the side as he screeched to a stop. He caught sight of Sharp in the nearby stadium entrance doorway, leaning against the frame. When the teen didn’t immediately respond, the Potions master sighed and approached him at a sedate pace. He watched the man cross the wooden bridge and step onto the grassy pitch, frozen in silence. The ex-Auror stopped in front of him, arms crossed. That wasn’t a rhetorical question, the fifteen year old realized, he actually expected an answer.

“I couldn’t sleep,” he muttered, looking away from the intent gaze.

“So you decided to fly around the quidditch pitch alone at breakneck speeds.”

“It’s quiet.”

“Because it’s past midnight.”

“No,” he shook his head, “my – ” head, he was about to stay but stopped himself. James clenched his jaw and looked anywhere but the professor closely examining him. Something passed over the man’s face, but it was hard to decipher. He swung his legs absently, the grass beneath him swishing at the movement.

“…There are better ways to deal with sleeplessness,” Sharp finally acknowledged. The teen didn’t say anything, lips pursed into a firm line. He really didn’t want to talk about it. He hadn’t wanted to talk about it with his mentor either and had only shared his observations with the man because of their heart-to-heart in the Room of Requirement. The silence between them stretched and James was loath to break it. Instead he watched a herd of Thestrals soar across the night sky in the distance. The skeletal creatures plunged down towards the Forbidden Forest until the empty quidditch stands blocked them from view. “You can see Thestrals,” the professor remarked quietly, having followed his gaze. James shrugged wordlessly. “That must have been upsetting to see.” His tone was surprisingly gentle.

“Sir?” he asked, confused about what the man was referring to exactly.

“The dragon attack,” he clarified. The fifteen year old frowned. “I understand there was a man from the ministry present.”

“He was a friend of Professor Fig’s, I barely knew him,” the teenager immediately dismissed, unsure what the veteran Auror was getting at.

“Still a living, breathing human being,” Sharp continued. James can't help but snort at that.

“Not anymore,” he muttered darkly, recalling the image of Mr. Osric’s terrified face before disappearing with a crunch of dragon teeth. The professor paused like he was rethinking his next words.

“…If you need to talk about – ” he offered, sounding almost tentative.

“ – I’ve come to terms with it.” the fifteen year old cut him off. He really didn’t want to relive that day. Once was more than enough. But the loss of life hadn’t ended there. So many people had died in Ranrok’s quest for power, they were just collateral damage to him. James forced himself to take a calming breath. He drifted a few inches to the side, stroking the broom handle idly. Sharp didn’t speak again, instead looking up at the starry night sky. Almost a full minute passed before the teenager realized that the Potions professor was waiting for him to break the silence. He frowned at himself. The man was only trying to help, just like in his mentor’s office. He shouldn’t snap at him.

“That’s not why I can see them,” slipped out. Sharp’s gaze flicked back to him and he snapped his mouth shut. He hadn’t meant to say that. It was almost infuriating, how easily the ex-Auror could pull answers out of him. He swallowed hard, but the professor still didn’t speak. He waited him out, letting the teen steer the conversation. James wasn’t sure what to think about that. It was unexpectedly encouraging. “The Thestrals. I could already see them.” The man remained quiet, but his expression was open and invited him to continue. James wavered. He hadn’t really talked about it since the day he met Professor Fig. He looked up at the luminescent half-moon. “The night I discovered my magic,” he whispered haltingly. “is the same night I lost my – ” his throat closed up. He glanced back at Sharp, who seemed to quickly understand what remained unsaid.

“I’m sorry,” the man finally spoke, his expression so sincere like his mentor’s the fifteen year old couldn’t stand to look at it.

“I used to wish none of it was real,” James admitted quietly, like it was a dirty secret. “That none of it ever happened. But…but then I wouldn’t…” He never would have met Professor Fig. Or Sebastian. Or even Professor Sharp. There would be no one to stop Ranrok. The wizarding world would fall, and he was certain the following conflict would have spilled over into the muggle world as well. Despite the events leading up to it, James was glad to learn about the magical world. It had so many people and things to offer he never would have known about otherwise. It was a traitorous thought he struggled to bury deep. The introduction of magic had opened a door to countless opportunities – far more than he would have had in his tiny home village. And it had only cost him his family. It was a bitter pill to swallow. “I hear them talk about magic,” he changed course, thinking of his classmates. “They still find it wonderful and awe-inspiring. It’s not dangerous to them at all – doesn’t twist things until they’re unrecognizable, until they break.” A shiver escaped him and the broom hummed underneath the teen. James unconsciously drifted closer to Sharp. “I guess that’s why I like flying,” he murmured quietly. “It’s none of those things. It makes me – feel like before.” The fifteen year old worked up the nerve to meet the professor’s understanding gaze. Not surprising, given his career as an Auror.

"Spent years tracking down reprobates who dealt in artefacts of dark magic origin."

So much crammed into one sentence. James wondered what kind of artefacts Sharp had come into contact with while hunting down criminals – if the man had ever seen any of them used. Had he ever talked to the victims? The teenager thought about the fate of the professor’s Auror partner. Did he watch the man die? And then there was the glaring fact that he’d easily recognized the effects of the Cruciatus curse.

“As a general rule, magic is a tool like any other,” Sharp answered. “Its effects – good or bad – are determined by the user. Many of your peers will discover this in time after graduating. It’s...unfortunate that your first introduction was so skewed. However, magic is not inherently bad on its own.”

“…What about the Dark Arts?” the fifteen year old challenged. The Potions master frowned at him, but James forced himself to hold the gaze.

“The Dark Arts,” said the professor, eyeing the fifth-year critically, “is when someone tries to use magic with extreme malicious intent or the price required for the desired result comes at great cost – often times both.”

“Then what’s the appeal?” he couldn’t help but ask, brow furrowing in confusion. That didn’t sound particularly useful.

“As your professor,” Sharp raised a disapproving eyebrow, tone dry, “I’m quite certain explaining the appeal of the Dark Arts to you would be far from appropriate.” James flushed at the reprimand.

“I just meant – I don’t understand the attraction,” he mumbled, kicking the top of the grass.

“I sincerely hope you never do.” The silence was fraught with tension and the fifteen year old felt like he was walking on a tightrope. Don’t look down, don’t look down. The Potions master eventually let out a breath. “If I had to guess, it’s likely because you’ve already witnessed the high cost such magic has…It is not a shortcoming,” he offered, tone softening at the end. James considered the words, legs swinging absently, and silence fell between them. It wasn't as suffocating as before.

“Sir,” the teen ventured. “How did you know?”

“You’ll need to elaborate.”

“How did you know it was the Cruciatus curse?” Something dark flashed in the veteran Auror’s eyes, but it disappeared just as quickly.

“I recognized the signs,” he said. Now it was his turn to scrutinize the professor.

“…Someone cast it on you?” he hazarded a guess. The man hummed and James narrowed his eyes. But surely Fig knew the symptoms as well? If not personally than in an academic sense? And yet, Sharp had known within minutes. That indicated a familiarity. He stilled and the night air suddenly felt much colder. “More than once.”

“Observant,” the ex-Auror grunted.

“That’s – ” terrible, awful, horrifying, James couldn’t think of a word that fully expressed his revulsion. He couldn’t imagine going through that pain again and again, it was enough to drive a person mad. The teenager swallowed past the lump in his throat. “I…I’m sorry that happened to you.” Professor Sharp stared at him with a look the teen didn’t fully understand. It felt like the man was looking through him - like he wasn't even seeing the teen.

“The less glamorous side of being an Auror,” he said eventually.

“…I think that’s the only side you’ve told me about,” the fifteen year old was compelled to say. The professor looked far too solemn right now. “Are you sure you were part of the Auror Recruitment Program?” It worked. Sharp’s expression turned amused.

“I doubt I need to, considering the trouble you already seem to get into,” his stare seemed to pierce him, like he could see right through the teenager.

“I don’t go looking for trouble,” James defended. “It just somehow finds me.” The Potions professor gave him a disbelieving hmm. “Stop looking at me like that,” he muttered looking away.

“Like what?” the man asked. There was a ghost of a smirk on his face.

“Like you can read my mind,” he childishly scrunched his nose. “It’s not fair.”

“I’m not a Legilimens,” answered the veteran Auror. He was definitely smirking now.

“What is that?” the fifteen year old co*cked his head at the foreign term.

“Legilimency is a branch of magic that allows the caster to enter someone’s mind.”

“That’s a thing?” James recoiled, his broom propelling him backwards at the sudden motion. Sharp’s hand shot out as if to grab him, but the teen managed to quickly halt himself without intervention. The hand dropped. “I was joking, how do you even defend against something like that?”

“Don’t worry,” Sharp hastily reassured. “No one at Hogwarts is reading your mind. I doubt even a handful of its inhabitants know of Legilimency.”

“That’s not really comforting,” he grumbled, face pale. So if Rookwood managed to get a hold of him, it didn’t matter if James was able to withstand whatever torture the dark wizard could think of. There were other magical ways to get answers without someone’s consent. He hadn’t considered that. A shiver went down his spine. What else didn’t he know? The Potions master sighed, visibly annoyed at himself for inadvertently stressing the teen.

“There is a counter for it called Occlumency,” the professor shared in an attempt to calm him. “Magical defense of the mind against mental attacks, but it’s an equally rare branch of magic. I assure you, a fifth-year student has no need for either of them.”

“I was attacked by a dragon on my way to school,” James argued which earned him a pinched expression. The man took a couple steps towards the fifteen year old, closing the distance between them.

“Perhaps, instead of delving into obscure branches of magic,” Sharp responded softly, “you tell me what makes you think you have need of them?” The teen swallowed, mouth suddenly dry and looked away. How did he do that? Was it leftover interrogation techniques from his Auror days? Or practice from troublemaking students? How did he always maneuver the conversation back on track so effortlessly? James closed his eyes, suddenly angry with himself. He’d become too comfortable with the professor - too interesting for the man to ignore the rumors about the teen's activities like his colleagues. The fifteen year old realized belatedly that he’d come to rely on the Potions master as a second - if a tad grumpier - mentor figure, especially when Professor Fig wasn’t immediately available. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

“I should go back to bed,” the teen mumbled. The broom lowered, planting his feet firmly back on solid ground. Sharp frowned, not pleased with the answer, but didn’t argue since it was after curfew. The fifteen year old trudged off the quidditch pitch feeling the professor’s shrewd gaze follow him out of the hushed stadium.

Notes:

so this was meant to be some Sharp fluff anddd it kinda spiraled...whoops?

Chapter 20: Interlude - Ominis Gaunt

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Ominis’ first impression of James Evans was that the new fifth year seemed friendly enough, if a bit quiet. That could have been a result of the recent dragon attack though. He decided to reserve judgment until later. Whispers trailed in the teenager's wake everywhere. He heard rumors about the troll attack in Hogsmeade, how Victor Rookwood was after him and that he was Fig’s unofficial protégé. He was surprised when – on his very first day of class – James handily defeated Sebastian in a duel during Defense Against the Dark Arts class. No way that was his first duel, there was zero hesitation in his movements. Perhaps that was what garnered his best friend’s interest in the new student.

Worry gnawed at him the more he heard about their secret adventures and a part of him couldn’t help but feel threatened. It felt like Sebastian had found a more capable friend without any defects that had no qualms joining the other Slytherin on his troublemaking escapades. He often found them heads together, trading whispers. In a matter of weeks, the new fifth year became a frequent presence. Despite the other teen’s polite attempts and their shared connection through Sebastian, he stubbornly maintained a distance.

Ominis was furious when he caught James leaving the Undercroft and was quick to threaten to have him expelled – or at least he tried to. At the mention of Fig, something unexpectedly vicious escaped the other teenager. The dark threat took him by surprise. Nothing in the teenager’s previous behavior had even hinted that the new fifth year was capable of such a thing. It unnerved him more than he’d like to admit. He prided himself in his ability to read people, it was skill he’d quickly honed largely in part due to his family. It made him wonder what else he might have missed.

*********

“Ominis has the most experience with this. He should cast it.” His heart pounded at Sebastian’s words. No, never again. Once was enough, he’d never forgive himself for that brief moment of weakness. How could his best friend even consider such a thing? He fought down the rising panic as he paced back and forth. He was going to die in this dungeon, just like his aunt Noctua. He wondered what his family would think of his sudden disappearance. Would they be relieved? Curious? How long would it take for them to even notice?

You’re joking.” There was something dark in James’ tone – just like their encounter outside the Undercroft – that made him pause. He sounded personally offended which Ominis found bizarre. He'd given the teen no reason to believe they were on friendly terms.

“You seem to be in Ominis’ favor.” Sebastian was persistent, always had been in the time he’d known the other Slytherin. “Will you ask him?” He tensed, bracing himself for the question. He won't. No matter what James said this time he would not be convinced.

Absolutely not.” A surge of gratitude hit him and he let out a shaky breath. It was disorienting to have the new fifth year take such a protective stance. Why? Just last week he had promised swift retribution if Ominis so much as threatened Fig. And now James was defending him?. He didn't understand. “Are you seriously going to ask your best friend to relieve his worst memory?” Ominis tensed. Sebastian told him about that? Of course he did. He could not fatham his best friend’s interest with the new fifth year. He wanted to be angry at James for knowing such a personal detail about himself. But the irritation left as quickly as it came, redirecting towards his oldest friend.

“As if dying in here is a better option than casting a damned spell!” But it wasn’t just a spell. It was one of the darkest forms of magic one could cast on another living being. The torture curse was pure agony, he wouldn’t wish that on anyone. The screams still haunted his dreams.

“Ominis, answer Sebastian.”

“I won’t do it!” was his knee-jerk response. He belatedly registered the tone of James’ voice, like he already knew the answer and was merely asking to prove a point. He tried to tune out the arguing and focused on his breathing instead. Would they run out of air down here? Or was it lack of water that would finish them? The sudden silence caught his attention. What was happening? Had they come up with another solution?

“I don’t want to learn the curse. Cast it on me.” No, he had no idea what he was asking. Ominis opened his mouth to warn him but his throat closed, suffocating the words as old memories assaulting his mind.

"Cast it now or you’ll join the miserable creature on the floor."

Sebastian was suddenly hesitant about the proposition, as if the true scope of his solution and its ramifications were sinking in. Good.

“I can’t do it,” he heard James whisper. “You know why.” Ominis stilled, wondering what the teen was talking about. There was a trace of fear in his voice. Was the new fifth year already familiar with torture? He recalled the hushed conversation he overheard in Herbology class.

"Nobody told me magical plants screamed."

But James somehow convinced Sebastian to go ahead and cast the infernal curse and it was like one of his nightmares had come to life.

“Crucio!”

Screaming filled the air and something heavy hit the ground. It was James, he realized a split second later, hearing the teen writhe on the floor. His face twisted and Ominis desperately covered his ears, but it didn’t block out the terrible sound. His breathing became ragged and he was transported back to his family’s estate. He could hear the muggle thrashing on the floor at his feet. He’d finally given in and cast the Cruciatus curse on the poor sod. He was no better than the rest his family. No. No. No. No. No.

Eventually the chamber fell silent, only broken by James’ shaky breathing. They entered the now open scriptorium and – after taking a few moments to put himself back together – Ominis set his mind on finding an exit. As far as he was concerned, they couldn’t leave this cursed chamber fast enough.

*********

Ominis silently ran thin fingers along the upholstery of the armchair. Professor Sharp had called him and Sebastian into his office. He kept his face perfectly neutral, but he was almost certain that it had something to do with James. The other teenager had missed dinner in the Great Hall in addition to lunch and breakfast. He heard his best friend shift nervously in the armchair next to him. Judging by the proximity and height of his breathing, Sharp was leaning against the front of his desk. Ominis pictured the man frowning with his arms crossed. The the tone of voice gave him the impression that the professor did that a lot.

“Do you know what it means to use an Unforgivable?” Sharp finally spoke. Ominis’ insides turned to ice. He knew. Did James tell him? His mind raced, thinking of ways to prevent his best friend from being carted off to Azkaban. The man didn’t wait long before answering his own question darkly. “The Unforgivables are considered unforgivable because of their hostile intent. They won’t work unless the caster truly means it. In order to successfully cast the Cruciatus curse, you must want to cause pain.”

“We were trapped!” Sebastian exploded. “We didn’t have a choice!”

“Be quiet,” he hissed at his reckless friend before quickly turning to the ex-Auror. “Professor, you misunderstand. There was – ”

“I’ll stop you right there,” the Potions master interrupted. “I’m already aware of the why. What I want to know is the how.” Both teenagers fell silent.

“Professor?” Ominis asked. But the man’s attention seemed to be focused solely on Sebastian.

“How did you learn to cast the Cruciatus curse?”

“…I taught myself.”

“Really?” the tone dripped with skepticism. He felt Sharp’s attention shift to him next.

“He didn’t teach me,” Sebastian insisted. “I wasn’t even sure if I could cast it.”

“I would never subject – teach anyone that,” Ominis managed to force out, his even tone contradicting the sea of emotions rolling inside him. The very idea of spreading such agony made him sick. Something in his expression must have convinced the professor because he seemed to accept his answer.

“It is incredibly fortunate that Professor Fig and I found your friend when we did,” he changed course, briefly pausing as if sensing Sebastian’s growing anger. Ominis listened to his best friend fidgeting next to him. Given that he’d also experienced the effects of the Cruciatus curse firsthand, he felt a bit more sympathetic than his fellow housemate that James had apparently spilled the secret. “Were you aware that he was still experiencing lingering symptoms from the curse?” The two of them stilled.

“Where is he?” Sebastian demanded.

“Having a similar conversation about secrets and consequences with Professor Fig,” Sharp answered before leaning forward – his shoes scraped the stone underneath when he shifted his weight – to emphasize his words. “The Cruciatus curse can have devastating effects, even more so when cast by an amateur. Do you understand the severity of your actions?”

“He was still in pain?” Ominis asked softly.

Very much so.” He sensed Sebastian deflate next to him, anger leaking out of his body.

“Is he okay now?’ the other teen asked quietly, guilt seeping into his voice.

“Yes, but had I not recognized the symptoms for what they were –” he sounded so angry “– I’m sure he would have continued to resist our attempts to find out the truth.” Ominis blinked at that tidbit of information. It sounded like Fig and Sharp had ganged up on the new fifth year. He hadn’t given them up willingly. He could tell by the way Sebastian jerked next to him that the other Slytherin caught it too. His brow furrowed. The Potions professor had recognized the symptoms? Well, the man had been an Auror. He supposed that made sense. “While I’m aware of the extenuating circ*mstances surrounding it, the use of the Cruciatus curse – or any Unforgivable – will not be tolerated at this school,” Sharp continued to lecture. “Do I make myself clear?” They both nodded silently. “You’ll both be serving detention for the rest of the term…as will Mr. Evans.”

They both nodded again quietly.

"The only reason I haven’t deducted the entirety of Slytherin’s house points,” he added with a growl, “is that Mr. Evans insisted word of your escapade cannot become known due to Mr. Gaunt’s involvement.” There was a brief pause. “Given what I’ve heard about the Gaunt family, I’m inclined to agree.” Ominis sat in horrified silence. He had become accustomed to his family’s disappointment, and the disturbingly creative ways they came up with to express their displeasure. But the idea of them learning about Salazar Slytherin’s scriptorium, their utter delight at Ominis pursuing and discovering such a valued family secret – the mere possibility of being sucked back into the folds of his family as if he’d been trying to earn his way back into their good graces – made his stomach churn violently.

“Thank you, sir,” he whispered, attempting to maintain a collected composure. The resulting silence told him that he was not successful.

“As your Head of House,” Sharp further remarked, almost hesitant this time, “if you do encounter any issues at home, my office is always open.” Ominis didn’t react, polite mask sliding back into place. It was a thoughtful gesture, but he doubted the man could do much against the combined political clout of the Gaunt and Black families. The professor cleared high throat. “Right – you’re dismissed, Mr. Gaunt.” Said teen smoothly rose from his seat and turned to leave the office. “You’re not,” the ex-Auror quickly added when Sebastian moved to do the same. He paused at the door, looking over his shoulder. He couldn’t see it, but he could imagine the apprehensive look his friend was giving the teacher. “There’s another matter you and I need to discuss, Mr. Sallow.” Sebastian sunk back into his chair with a sigh. Sharp didn’t continue, presumably waiting for Ominis to leave his office. The blond pursed his lips into a firm line but heeded the clear dismissal.

*********

The next day, Ominis entered the Great Hall alone. His best friend had been unusually quiet since his one-on-one with the Potions master, choosing to sleep in this morning. As he made his way down the Slytherin table, he noticed James sitting alone up ahead. Every other time they'd shared a meal, Sebastian had been present – almost like a buffer. He’d never sat next to the other teen either, always across from him. Late last night, the other Slytherin had quietly approached him in the mostly empty common room. Almost shyly, he’d offered the journal entries from aunt Noctua. Ominis hadn’t even realized the other teen had kept them.

"I saved them for you. I think she would have wanted that."

He approached James and sat down next to him on the bench. He didn’t say anything though, just reached for the nearby sausages he could smell. Ominis felt his housemate tense and – for a brief moment – wondered if he’d miscalculated. Had he been too presumptuous? Perhaps the new fifth year was no longer interested in becoming friends. But James relaxed just as quickly.

“Morning,” the other teenager offered, bumping shoulders in greeting. The tightness inside his chest loosened and he breathed a little easier.

*********

It was the last day of reviewing boggarts in Defense Against the Dark Arts class. Ominis had put it off for as long as he could by hanging in the back of the classroom, but he knew he couldn’t delay it forever. Perhaps he should have skipped like James. Professor Hecat urged him forward when it was finally his turn. He already knew what it was going to be, he’d discovered it third year when they first covered the subject. He slowly stepped forward, wand at the ready. He could hear his classmates behind him shifting, many proactively covering their ears. He heard the air woosh as the boggart changed shape. Ominis braced himself for the tortured screaming that had haunted his dreams for years. The shrieks came, but their source was different this time. Suddenly he was back in Salazar Slytherin’s scriptorium with James writhing on the floor in pain and Sebastian standing over him.

The new memory caused many sleepless nights for the next several weeks.

Notes:

best boi Ominis finally giving James a chance - our golden trio is now fully formed, look out Hogwarts!

and we finally see the rest of the fallout of their scriptorium adventure, but from Ominis' POV

Chapter 21

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Before he knew it, Autumn passed and was replaced by Winter. James meet up with Poppy near the Forbidden Forest on one of the less frigid days. He assured the Hufflepuff that Highwing was safe and sound. The teen didn’t mention the Room of Requirement or the newborn Hippogriff though since this wasn’t the time and place. Anyone could be watching them out in the open like this. Instead he asked about the poachers, the reason he was there. The girl had sent him a message about their activities, saying it related to him. Apparently Victor Rookwood had placed a bounty on his head with orders to capture him on sight. The teen frowned at that but redirected the conversation back to the matter at hand.

“Does the name ‘Horntail Hall’ mean anything to you?” Poppy asked.

“I’m afraid not,” he answerd, although the word horntail sounded familiar. “Why, what is it?”

“The poachers’ best kept secret apparently,” she sighed, frustrated by the lack of information she was able to glean. The Hufflepuff briefed him on what she did know, including her idea to search the area. “If you ever meet my Gran, this trip never happened.”

“If I ever meet your Gran, I shall not speak a word of this,” James promised.

“I normally tell her everything,” a fond smile slipped out, “but she knows how I feel about poachers. I think she worries I’ll do something ill-advised.” A startled laugh escaped him.

“Whatever gave her that idea?” he couldn't help tease, causing the girl to flush.

“This way,” she turned on her heel and headed into the forest. He followed after the Hufflepuff. They didn’t make it very far before the sound of a horn pierced the air and a tall figure emerged from the trees above them. His companion gasped. “A centaur! Tread carefully,” she warned lowly.

“An entire castle to roam,” the centaur spoke, its tone rough as gravel, “yet you choose to wander here.” The phrasing struck James as odd, like he and Poppy weren’t supposed to be there. The words sounded accusatory, as if they were trespassing. A handful more emerged from the trees nearby – a silent display of force? Or backup? At that moment, James realized that he knew nothing about centaurs and their relationship with wizardkind. Was it as tenuous as the one with goblins? And merpeople? Did the magical community get along with any non-wizarding population? Signs were pointing to a resounding no.

“Please, we’re simply passing through,” the teenager answered cautiously. “We don’t want any trouble.”

“Do you take us for fools?” the centaur growled, tail flicking in irritation. “That we do not notice more and more of your kind around here – in league with the poachers?” James’ eyes narrowed at that tidbit of information.

“We aren’t involved with them,” he shook his head. “ If anything, we want to see them stopped.” His response elicited a disbelieving snort.

“I hope for your sake that is true. Our kind is swiftly losing patience with the poachers and those they work with.” The centaur turned away abruptly, departing with the rest of his herd before James could reply. Who were the poachers working with? The two students forged ahead, the path clear now.

“Not very welcoming are they?” he murmured to Poppy.

“That could have gone worse,” his companion answered. “Centaurs aren’t exactly fans of wizardkind. And the poachers aren’t helping matters.” James frowned at the confirmation. It was disappointing to hear, but there wasn’t much he could do about it at this point.

“Why would he think we had anything to do with the poachers?” he wondered. They were obviously students, unlikely to be part of whatever secret faction was in league with these poachers.

“I did notice the poachers talking with a few villagers in Hogsmeade. Perhaps that’s why the centaurs are suspicious,” the girl offered and James hummed in thought. The path they were following curved with the natural bend of the creek and he noticed a deer at the water’s edge up ahead. A smile touched his lips, and he was about to point out the sight of the drinking creature to Poppy, when a Dugbog suddenly launched out of the water. The monster clamps its jaws around the poor deer’s neck and dragged it into the murky depths below. The squealing pleas were cut off as suddenly as the beast appeared.

“That’s the third time I’ve seen a Dugbog behave that violently,” Poppy commented lowly and he realized that they had both stopped. The teen let out the breath he’d been holding. It felt like Mother Nature was personally reminding him how fleeting life was, like that was even necessary.

“It seems that a lot of beasts have been aggressive lately,” the fifteen year old said instead. He’d noticed the hostility in his travels across the region, but hadn’t realized it wasn’t normal. He’d just assumed it was the ordinary level of violence the magical world seemed to hold.

“I’ve noticed that too,” his companion agreed. “It’s almost like there’s something in the water.” Or the air, he thinks. Could Ranrok’s power somehow be corrupting the area? Every Loyalist he’d encountered had carried enchanted weapons, sharing a similar - if more muted - glow as their leader’s armor. The two of them continued down the path, eventually arriving upon a deserted camp. They immediately split up, looking for clues. Empty cages were scattered around the camp, along with a few pelts. He frowned at the campfire which was still smoking. The poachers hadn’t been gone long. James stilled. Could they still be in the area? He quickly cast a silent Revelio, but no enemies were revealed. His shoulders relaxed marginally. The spell had caused something to light up in the very back of the camp and he approached it slowly, alert for anything.

James stopped abruptly at the sight of goblin metal, crafted into the shape of a band. Or collar, he thought, recalling the dragon attacking his carriage. The teen swallowed past the lump in his throat and spun on his heel to return to Poppy. She was studying what appeared to be a shield.

“Poachers were definitely here,” he briefed her, “but I found something else…goblin-made.”

“I found goblin armor,” she admitted with a frown of her own. “I don’t have a good feeling about this.” He was starting to get an unsettled feeling too. An idea was forming in his head, and he didn’t like the picture it was painting. They continued down the path. “How do goblin and poacher interests align?” Poppy wondered. It was a valid question. It didn't take long for them to stumble upon another camp-this one actually filled with what looked to be poachers. They crouched behind the wooden fence, peering down at the handful of sentries below.

“Definitely poachers,” Poppy whispered, confirming his thoughts. “No creatures, though. So what are they doing out here?”

“Let’s find out,” he answered quietly. The Slytherin glanced over at the Hufflepuff. “Do you know how to disillusion yourself?” She nodded. “Good. Let’s try to keep the advantage of surprise for as long as we can.” They took out the unwary poachers quickly and quietly. James was pleased to note that Poppy was just as sneaky as Sebastian. It was almost like she’d done this before.

“Merlin, you’d think they were guarding the Minster for Magic himself,” the Hufflepuff remarked, which made James huff in amusem*nt. They slipped into the tent and ducked behind a stack of crates. Roars filled the air and the ground shook beneath his feet. Poppy gasped beside him when the sound of wingbeats could be heard and a green scaly creature rose in the air. Another spiked wing – a reddish brown – could also be seen between the cheering spectators.

“Are those dragons?” James hissed. Why did it have to be dragons?

“It’s a dragon fighting ring!” the girl realized. “This is Horntail Hall!”

“The name makes sense now,” he returned, attempting to squash his rising panic. “And the secrecy.” One of the dragons looked awfully similar to the one that attacked his carriage. The teen focused on keeping his breathing even. He couldn’t afford to fall apart here, surrounded by enemies and no Professor Fig or Calming Draught on hand to help. He also didn’t know how well his companion could handle herself in a fight if it came to that.

“No wonder the poachers were in Hogsmeade so much,” Poppy continued, completely oblivious to James’ inner turmoil. “Likely taking bets and spreading the word, given how crowded it is here. How could they possibly enjoy this? The centaurs have every right to be disgusted with wizardkind.” The fifteen year old was reminded of the dog fighting ring his dad had grumbled about to his mum late one night after returning from London. Many of the purebloods liked to boast their superiority, but it seemed to him that muggles and wizards shared more similarities than differences. “There must be more dragons here. The poachers are far too greedy to run a fighting ring with only two dragons.” He refocused on the Hufflepuff. Her gaze was confident and determined. It made him curious about what the girl did in her free time. Did she make a habit of sneaking around poacher camps? The boldness also reminded him of Natty. Poppy would have been a shoo-in for Gryffindor. “We should take advantage of most eyes being on the fight and look around, but discreetly. You especially can’t afford to be spotted.” He nodded in agreement, they’d come this far after all. James schooled his emotions and continued further into the magically expanded tent. The two of them – still disillusioned – snuck around and under the wooden stands. The Hufflepuff paused on the edge of a walkway, looking down into a different arena below.

“What’s going on down there?” she whispered. James knelt beside her to get a look as well. There was different dragon, chained to a metal platform. Its massive wings were pinned down by painfully sharp looking metal clamps. The creature was writhing as much as the restraints would allow - its neck bowed and head low - as one of the poachers fired spell after spell at the beast. The dragon had been muzzled like a dog. “They must’ve only just captured her. She’s putting up quite the fight.” The keening made something twist in his chest. The wizard blasting her seemed to take great delight in the pained noises his efforts garnered.

“Not a fair one,” he muttered, frowning at the sight. It was disorienting. The thrashing creature in front of him didn’t line up with the perception he’d formed of the beasts in his mind. It didn’t fill him with the usual heart pounding terror but rather an aching sorrow. “Not with her chained up like that.” He wondered for the first time about a dragon’s natural habitat and behavior. Professor Fig’s reaction to the carriage attack – "A typical dragon would never" – had implied that the beasts tended to leave wizards alone. Perhaps they only attacked if provoked? Or under the influence of Ranrok’s power, he thought darkly.

“Let’s even her odds, shall we?” Poppy answered eagerly, taking off soundlessly before he could respond.

What?” James hissed. Did she mean to free the creature? “Are you mad?” But it was too late, the girl had already turned the corner. The dragon below him keened again, tugging sharply at something in his chest. The fifteen year old groaned in frustration. “This is such a terrible idea,” he muttered to no one in particular, and hurried after his companion. He found the girl in an empty room, staring at a cage resting on top of one of the tables.

“Look! They’ve got a dragon egg,” she called softly. The teen joined her and peered through the bars. “Hebridean, from the looks of it.” She turned to him suddenly, eyes pleading. “We can’t leave it here.” James hesitated, glancing at the egg. Sure they could take it, but what then? The Room of Requirement was impressive, but he didn’t think it could house a dragon. And he didn’t like the idea of taking the egg to Brood and Peck, where would the proprietor possibly re-home the dangerous creature? He wasn’t sure he could trust her with any beasts to be honest, the whole re-homing thing sounded a bit shady to him. Could a baby dragon be released back into the wild? Surely it would need to be raised up to a certain point? “I hate to consider the plans they have for it,” Poppy added quietly. He frowned at the thought of a beast born and raised in captivity just to fight for sick entertainment. The teenager let out a sigh. It wasn’t really debatable, he’d have to figure out what to do with the egg later. He muttered a quick Alohom*ora, thankful his mentor had taught him the unlocking charm as promised, and carefully took out the dragon egg. It was breathtakingly beautiful, looking much like a purple starry sky except for the dark veins crisscrossing the shell.

“Alright,” said James once he’d tucked the precious cargo securely into his satchel. “I have the egg.” They continued down the passage, stopping short of the opening that led to the arena. The restrained dragon’s cries of pain were much louder now, he could even hear one of the watching poachers laughing.

“Ready?” Poppy asked beside him, crouched low. She looked like a coiled tiger ready to pounce. “The element of surprise will only buy us a few seconds.”

“Let’s make them count,” he returned, mentally preparing himself. Quick and efficient, he thought as he took in the contents of the arena.

“Careful! Ranrok will want this dragon intact!” acted like a signal, the two of them rushed forward as if launched from a cannon. He fired a Petrificus Totalus at the closest goblin, still unaware of their presence. The enemy immediately went down, attracting the attention of another nearby. James hit him with a quick Glacius, followed up by a Diffindo. The goblin dropped like a pile of bricks.

“Stop them!” someone shouted, alerting the rest of the enemies. The next few minutes were a blur of ducking, shielding, and firing off spells. An amused smile tugged at his lips at the sight of a Chinese Chomping Cabbage viciously taking down one of the poachers. It seemed Poppy had no difficulty holding her own. With an ancient magic throw, the fifteen year old launched a crate into the last enemy on one of the raised platforms. The wizard crumpled into a heap.

“We need to free her now before more show up!” the Hufflepuff yelled from across the arena. He realized with a grimace that he was closer to the writhing dragon. James gritted his teeth, squashing his doubts and fears, and pulled out a large pin that seemed to hold the restraints in place.

“Accio!”

The girl reached his side as the large golden pin clanged to the ground. The beast’s struggles to free herself increased tenfold and one of the wings came loose followed seconds later by the other. The two of them backed up and his eyes darted around looking for the closest exit.

“For the record,” he muttered lowly to his companion, “this was your idea.” Before she could respond, more poachers apparated into the arena. Slytherin and Hufflepuff raised their wands, bracing for another fight. But before a spell could be cast by either side, the muzzle shattered into pieces and the dragon raised her freed head. He winced at the earsplitting roar the creature bellowed, promising retribution to her captors. The masked wizard in front of them only had time to turn around in confusion before disappearing in the dragon’s maw. James flinched at the sound of crunching bones. The creature swallowed the rest of the poacher in one gulp. There was nothing left of him, just like George Osric. Focus! The fifteen year old scolded himself. He couldn't spiral now, not with Poppy standing frozen next to him.

The rest of the poachers ignored the two trespassing students, instead firing off a flurry of spells at the vengeful beast which only seemed to further anger her. The dragon opened her jaws, an orange glow forming at the back of the throat. His heart dropped. Fire. But these weren’t ordinary flames, magical fire produced by a dragon was much more powerful. Could a regular Protego even withstand such an onslaught? It was too late to run, the head was coming down fast. He could already feel the incoming blistering heat. The poacher furthest from them but closest to the dangerous creature attempted to shield himself, but the yellow barrier quickly fractured. His heart pounded and he struggled for breath. We’re going to die, James thought. His wand sparked blue.

Notes:

either Poppy has nerves of steel or absolutely no sense of self-preservation...possibly both

Chapter 22

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Between the first and second trials, James had returned to the Map Chamber alone to speak with Professor Rackham. He’d since found a few ruins containing echoes of ancient magic just like Professor Rookwood had speculated, increasing the teenager’s ease and capacity to wield it. Both Keepers silently observed his approach, no doubt curious about his presence and lack of mentor.

“Sir, I had a question regarding one of the Pensieve memories,” he addressed the Seer. The portrait gave him an encouraging nod.

“You told Isidora that…” he paused at the frown on Professor Rookwood’s face but soldiered on, clasping his hands together to avoid fidgeting, "…before you could train her to wield ancient magic, she must first master all that Hogwarts has to offer.”

“I did,” Rackham nodded.

“What did you mean by that exactly?” the fifteen year old asked. The words had been bouncing around his head more and more after each of his experiences with ancient magic. The professor looked down at him, not answering right away.

“What do you think?” he challenged instead, though not unkindly.

“Sir?” James’ brow furrowed in confusion.

“I can tell you have some thoughts on the matter,” the portrait allowed an encouraging smile. “I would like to hear what they are.”

“Well…you used it to bring a hamlet back to life from a drought,” the teen began with some hesitance. “And to transfigure the vault at Gringotts.” Along with Isidora’s conjuration of stone pillars, he added silently in his mind. The girl seemed to be a touchy subject though. “…Is ancient magic some kind of less strict precursor to regular magic?” The smile on Rackham’s face widened.

“What led you to that conclusion?” the Seer prompted. Even though the professor hadn’t confirmed or denied James’ theory, the fifteen year old couldn’t help but feel that he was on the right track.

“While I know I still have much to learn, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities between the incantations I do know and the results I’ve seen ancient magic produce,” he shared, confidence growing. “As a personal example, I’ve learned to push and pull objects nonverbally,” he thought of what he liked to call his ancient magic throws “ – like a combination of the summoning and banishing charms. Or pull the weapon out of a stone knight’s hands and throw it back at them – like the disarming and banishing charms have been merged together.” He wondered briefly if the finishing moves like calling lighting down from the heavens or exploding enemies into tiny pieces had their own comparable examples. “Almost like ancient magic can produce – well – more…and regular magic requires several spells to get a similar end result.” It was as if the incantations were a more polished form of magic to get a more specific outcome.

“Your thoughts and observations on ancient magic coincide with my own,” Rackham confirmed at last with a pleased nod. “As you’ve no doubt noticed, the use of ancient magic operates primarily without incantations, but rather with intent.”

“My mentor says that intent and imagination are essential to performing magic.”

“Your mentor is correct.”

“Sir, if that’s the case,” James couldn’t help but ponder aloud, thoughts racing at the newly discovered connection, “couldn’t ancient magic be used to power one of those incantations? If spells help focus magic, would combining it with the power of ancient magic produce an even stronger result?”

“Percival,” Professor Rookwood finally spoke, his tone uneasy. The Seer glanced at his fellow Keeper before focusing his attention back on the teenager, deliberating on his next words.

“We shall return to this conversation at a later point,” Rackham decided on. “For now, I recommend you continue to focus on your Hogwarts studies.” The fifteen year old frowned in disappointment. He wondered what the Seer would have said if the other portrait hadn’t intervened.

*********

James grasped at the ancient magic that flowed in his veins. He yanked on it hard, forcing the power to bend to his will.

“PROTEGO!” James bellowed, a blue shield forming around him and Poppy seconds before dragon fire enveloped them. He watched the nearby poachers get burned to a crisp – until there was nothing but piles of ash left – but his shield held and the two students remained safe. The creature cut off the stream of flames and raised her head to let out another bone-rattling roar. The ancient magic powered shield dropped and Poppy turned to him, eyes wide with shock. As the unrestrained beast lumbered toward them, James noticed the red tarp high above. He pointed his wand high in the air.

Incendio!” he shouted, channeling the remaining ancient magic still coursing through him. A searing hot jet of flame shot out of his wand, flashing up to the flammable material, and burned the cloth away in an instant. The distraction worked. Sunshine spilled into the arena, halting the dragon in her tracks. She looked up at the new opening and – after peering down at James for a brief terrifying moment – launched herself into the air. With just a few flaps of her wings, the creature was gone. The breath he’d been holding finally whooshed out. His heart was still pounding, but his lungs no longer feel like they were being constricted. The arena was on fire and a wooden pole crashed onto the ground just a few feet from them. The fifteen year old glanced over his shoulder at the way they had come. It was still clear.

“Let’s go!” he called to his companion, and they sprinted out of the collapsing arena. Horntail Hall had been completely deserted. They sprinted past empty stands and walkways – exploding out of the enchanted tent moments before it crumpled into a pile of ash. They scrambled up the hill in case of any lingering poachers, not slowing until they reached the previously abandoned camp they’d investigated hours earlier. Slytherin and Hufflepuff finally paused to catch their breaths.

“Are you alright?” James gasped, trying to calm his racing heart. That was the second time he’d nearly been eaten by a dragon. And yet he’d somehow managed to keep functioning without a Calming Draught. He hadn't been frozen by terror in need of rescuing. Professor Fig would be proud if he ever told him…but then he’d have to tell his mentor what he’d been up to in the first place.

“That was a Hebridean Black!” Poppy exclaimed, expression lit up with excitement.

“Like…like the egg?” was his eloquent reply. The girl was nearly roasted alive by a dragon and that was her response? Poppy Sweeting was absolutely mad when it comes to beasts, James decided then and there. How was she in Hufflepuff?

“It must belong to her, I don’t think she knew they had her egg,” the girl continued. “She wouldn’t have left without it.”

“Lucky for us she didn’t,” he muttered, his breathing finally evened out along with his heartbeat. “What now?”

“I don’t know,” Poppy shook her head in thought. “Nothing about this day was expected – ” James huffed a laugh at that “ – not the goblins and definitely not the fighting ring. The last thing I planned on was a dragon egg. Speaking of,” a confused expression crossed her face, “how did you cast a shield strong enough to withstand dragon fire?” He stilled at the question. The fifteen year old considered and dismissed several explanations in rapid succession.

“Intent,” the teen settled on with a shrug. The Hufflepuff raised a disbelieving eyebrow but he didn’t elaborate. “What should we do with the egg?” She frowned at the conversation change, but blessedly dropped the subject.

“I’d much rather we have it than the poachers – at least for now,” she mused, “but I don’t think we should keep it indefinitely. It’ll be hard hiding something like this from Professor Weasley for long.”

“I have someplace safe to store it for now,” he offered tentatively. “But I’d rather be rid of it before it hatches.” His companion nodded. A cold gust of air made the fifteen year old shiver. “We aren’t helping ourselves just standing here. Let’s get back to the castle, we can sort this out later.”

“You’re right,” Poppy agreed as she rubbed her hands to warm them. “If there’s anything the poachers are good at it's tracking their prey – and right now we’re it.” She turned and hurried up the path, missing James’ frown. The teen watched her departing back for a few seconds, mulling over her words, but he quickly caught up to her. The fifteen year old had his own secrets, it would be hypocritical of him to pry.

*********

Transfiguration was a fascinating subjects, thought James, as he watched Professor Weasley change an owl back into a book. How did that even work? How sentient was the book while transfigured into the owl? Could it follow commands? Deliver a letter? This particular branch of magic seemed to rely especially on imagination. Thankfully the teenager had no issue with that, having grown up with his head in the clouds according to his parents. He frowned and pushed that thought away. He’d also gotten plenty of practice in the Room of Requirement, the place had become quite homey – he rarely spent any time in the Slytherin common room anymore.

Today they were transfiguring marbles into butterflies. The classroom was soon filled with them, and the fifteen year old was reminded of the strange young woman he’d met at the Three Broomsticks that had asked him to ‘follow the butterflies’ into the forest. A really odd request from an equally odd girl, but there had been a small treasure chest at the end so it had been worth the effort. Class was soon dismissed and the teen approached the Deputy Headmistress.

“You wanted to discuss my progress so far this term, Professor?” James asked.

“I did,” she smiled at him. “You seem to have had no trouble in getting up to speed – and frankly – excelling in your schoolwork this year.” The fifteen year old flushed at the praise.

“Thank you, Professor,” he answered. “The extra assignments and instruction from the other professors have been helpful.”

“As I suspected they would be,” she responded, “Now, it seems you’ve been making good use of the opportunities presented by your Field Guide. Of course, the guide isn’t the only measure of success.” Her expression turned thoughtful. “I’ve heard that you can brew an impressive Edurus Potion.” James blinked at the unexpected recognition. Had Professor Sharp told her that? Now he felt guilty for avoiding the man lately. He knew the Potions master’s compliments were hard-earned. “Hopefully you won’t need it any time soon, but it is a valuable potion to have when it is needed.” The teen cleared his throat, embarrassed by the ex-Auror’s approval. It felt undeserved after the way their last encounter on the quidditch pitch ended.

“Thank you, Professor.” She thankfully changed the subject as if sensing his discomfort.

“I will say, I’m especially impressed with all you’ve accomplished…in light of the rumors of your extracurricular activities.” Uh oh, on second thought, was it too late to switch back to his potion-making skills? He should have known she’d try again. The woman seemed convinced that he and his mentor were up to something. And while she wasn’t wrong, he wasn’t sure where exactly she had gotten the idea. James was certain he hadn’t let anything slip. The Transfiguration professor was exceptionally persistent, even if it would never amount to anything. He’d never throw his mentor to the wolves like that. “Was your visit to an ex-Auror in Upper Hogsfield connected in any way to Professor Fig? I can’t begin to imagine what that was about.”

“Not at all,” he answered, making a conscious effort to maintain an even tone and eye contact. “I was merely interested in learning more about the Auror Program. I saw Professor Sharp’s Auror badge and was intrigued.”

“I see,” she replied, expression giving nothing away. “Perhaps next time you could save yourself a trip and ask him instead.”

“Professor Sharp seems to have a - um - colored view on the matter,” the fifteen year old quickly recovered. “I thought another point of view would provide a more comprehensive picture.” The Deputy Headmistress hummed at that, but didn’t seem willing to push that line of questioning since it involved the gruff Potions master.

“I admire your penchant for learning. But do remember that your classwork and Field Guide are designed to educate you thoroughly. It’ll be the end of the year in no time and you’ll want to be well-prepared for your OWLs.” Right. He should probably prep for those more. Perhaps he could ask Professor Fig about that at his next study session with the man. Technically they were detentions assigned by Professor Sharp due to the whole scriptorium debacle. But his mentor had stepped in, insisting on overseeing them himself to ensure the teenager didn’t fall behind in his studies - particularly the specialized lesson plan he’d designed for his charge. That had been the official excuse. The unofficial reason, of course, was to ensure the fifteen year old was free to complete the trials and uncover more information on Ranrok. James hadn’t been present for that disagreement, but it must have been an impressive sight to see. “I’ll provide a final assessment at that time to ensure that you’re ready for your exams. Until then…well done.” Professor Weasley offered him a pleased smile that the fifteen year old couldn’t help but return. “You are dismissed.”

Notes:

I enjoyed the quest Fire and Ice, but really none of the poachers even attempted to shield themselves?? And no way a regular protego shields against a magical fire breathing dragon. It wasn't just me right?

Chapter 23

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Is this Mr. Bickle’s home?” James asked Natty. He’d passed by this area a few times before. It was the same little village - a cluster of homes really - where the fifteen year old had found Arn on the side of the road despairing about his lost livelihood.

“I believe so,” the girl confirmed with a nod. “He supposedly has evidence against Harlow. We need to speak with him.” There was a dark haired women pacing in front of the stone cottage in question. He could hear her muttering to herself, words forming as he approached.

“Where could Archie have gone? If anything happens to him…” Well that didn’t sound encouraging.

“Are you alright?” James asked the distressed woman. “We’re looking for Mr. Bickle.”

“My husband…is dead!” the newly widowed woman gasped, tears streaming down her face. “He killed him!”

“Oh – I – I’m terribly sorry, Mrs. Bickle,” the teen faltered, sharing an uncertain look with his companion. “Um…who killed your husband?”

“Theophilus Harlow! I’m sure of it!” anger temporarily replacing her grief. “He’s been threatening my husband for weeks, and – ” a sob escaped the distraught widow. “Where is my son? Where is Archie!” Ever the realist due to his own past experiences, the worst possible scenarios come to mind.

“I don’t mean to be grim,” he ventured hesitantly, “but could Harlow have taken him?”

“Archie’s satchel is missing, so he may have left on his own,” Mrs. Bickle took a few breaths, trying to calm herself. “Hopefully he’s just gone wandering, as he’s prone to do.” James’s shoulders relaxed marginally. Perhaps it was just a case of bad timing then, his own little brother had wandered off a time or two when he was younger. The fifteen year old’s chest ached at the thought. “I hope he wasn’t here when Harlow – when my husband – ” she struggled to restrain her sobs.

“Perhaps you should alert the authorities,” James tried. That was the irresponsible thing to say, right? Professor Fig had wanted to him to take on less responsibilities, he was pretty sure that included possible murder and kidnapping.

“I’m afraid to leave,” the weeping mother fretted, wringing her hands, “in case he comes back home.”

“Do you know which way Archie might have gone?” Natty asked.

“He has a little hideout in the forest south of here,” the woman sniffed. “He never wanders far, but if he witnessed Harlow doing something to his father – ”she broke down again. The Slytherin tried not to grimace at the weeping.

“We’ll find your son, Mrs. Bickle,” Natty, ever the Gryffindor, promised. James withheld a sigh. Well…he tried. His mentor couldn’t fault him for that.

“Thank you. Oh, what am I going to do?” the widow rubbed at the tear tracks on her face, trying to pull herself together.

“Please do not worry, Mrs. Bickle,” his companion tried to comfort the grieving woman. “We will bring Archie home.” The teen suppressed a wince. He was certainly no expert, but he was pretty sure you weren't supposed to make promises like that when someone went missing. He hoped for the mother’s sake – and Natty’s – that the boy really was alright.

“Let’s go,” he urged before the well-meaning Gryffindor could make any more guarantees. They hurried out of the tiny village, in the direction of Archie’s hideout.

“When I took the letter we found to Officer Singer, she told me about Mr. Bickle,” Natty briefed him. The fifteen year old frowned, feeling a sudden wrongness he couldn't quite pinpoint. “He had been doing the same thing we are – providing Officer Singer with evidence to take down Harlow. I had hoped to speak with him about what he had found but…it seems we are too late.”

“What did Officer Singer say about the letter you brought her?” he asked. Surely that was enough cause to at least launch an investigation?

“She thanked me, but clearly felt that it was not enough,” the girl complained, unable to hide her frustration. “It is a shame that Hippogriffs cannot speak. Your friend Highwing could provide all the evidence against Harlow that we need.” James merely hummed but didn't respond. He sped up at the sight of a clearing up ahead.

“This must be Archie’s hideout,” he mused, taking in the tent and impressive dragon skeleton. He smiled at the 'Beasts Welcome' sign. Natty called the boy’s name, checking to see if he was nearby. James approached the tent, frowning at the items strewn about. The place looked ransacked. He knelt down to study the fading footprints in the snow. His heart sunk, those were way too big to belong to Archie.

“Someone else was here,” James scowled.

“He would not have done this to his own hideout,” the Gryffindor agreed. The teen stood with a sigh and cast a Revelio. A set of golden footprints appeared for them to follow. Further along, they were accosted by wolves but quickly defeated them with ease. “I hope Archie didn’t cross paths with that wolf pack,” Natty worried aloud. James spotted something hanging on a nearby tree and jogged over to it.

“Archie’s satchel!” he unhooked it from the tree branch. “Why would he leave it behind?”

“He was likely running from Harlow,” his companion commented, “perhaps he was distracted?” The Slytherin pursed his lips. It seemed intentional, otherwise they should have found it dropped on the ground. Almost like – clever, he thought. The boy had tried to leave a clue behind indicating which direction he’d gone. James quickly stowed it within his own satchel, thankful for the extension and featherlight charms Professor Fig had added to it when he gifted the bag to the fifteen year old. They continued to hurry after the golden footprints.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” Natty admitted after a few seconds. “Harlow must have a reason for pursuing Archie.”

“He must think the kid saw something,” James acknowledged. “…I hope he didn’t actually see Harlow kill his father.” It wasn’t something you ever forget. The teen tried not to think of his own family. He took a deep breath and focused on the feeling of the cold winter air settling in his lungs.

“He would never overcome it,” answered the girl, tone darkening. He glanced at his companion, noting the mess of emotions on her face. Was she overly invested or was this somehow personal? They paused at the fork in the road, the spell had worn off causing the golden footprints to fade. James cast another Revelio, this time revealing multiple sets of footprints.

“Harlow caught up to him,” said Natty. “This is not good.” James immediately scanned the area for any signs of conflict. He didn’t see any blood or a body. Would Harlow be willing to kill a child? They picked up the pace. He really hoped the boy was still alive. They crested the hill and startled a pair of Thestrals.

“They are beautiful, are they not?” the Gryffindor remarked. His head snapped to the girl.

“You can see Thestrals too?”

“I witnessed death when I was nine,” she explained. He swallowed at that. As difficult as losing his family was, he couldn’t imagine experiencing that so young. “Saw my first Thestral shortly thereafter. I found comfort in it. I still do.” She glanced over at him and their eyes met. There was a look of sincerity in her gaze. “I think those of us who have witnessed death deserve some comfort.” The calm words nearly steal his breath away. Her expression was so genuine and unperturbed on the subject of death. It was a different type of grief he hadn’t seen before. He was familiar with his own and Professor Fig’s, but for the most part they just didn't talk about it to avoid hurting each other. He thought about Professor Sharp’s earlier attempt to encourage the teen to talk about it. Talking helps, he’d heard the platitude before, but he’d never really believed it. Was this the result of that? Or was it just the passage of time?

“I’m sorry that happened to you,” he murmured. She must have seen something encouraging in his expression – that he understood – because she actually continued.

“I was with my father when he died. My mother was away, and I felt quite helpless,” the girl confessed with some hesitation. “It was a long time ago, but in some ways it seems like it was only yesterday. I – ” she came to an abrupt halt. James glanced ahead, following her stare, and saw the camp at the bottom of the hill. They instantly ducked behind the closest rock. “They must have Archie,” Natty whispered beside him.

“We should take them out quietly,” he responded lowly. “Or they could threaten to hurt him as leverage.” His words earned a nod of agreement. They disillusioned themselves and managed to petrify the handful of sentries. Once the way was clear, the two of them snuck into the Ashwinder tent. Enchanted tent, James silently corrected himself. It was bigger on the inside, like the dragon fighting ring.

“I did not expect this tent to be so large on the inside,” his companion muttered. “That complicates things a little.” He frowned, wondering briefly if they should leave and alert the authorities. Could they afford to? Was there enough time? Was Archie unharmed? He didn’t know. Natty fidgeted next to him impatiently. James let out a soft sigh. They’d come this far already, might as well see it through. Disillusioned, Slytherin and Gryffindor silently crept further into the tent. He slowed at the sound of a pair of Ashwinders talking ahead.

“You don’t think he saw it happen, do you?”

“Course he did. Why else would he have run?”

“He’s just a child. We should release him.” Something loosened in James’ chest, they weren’t too late. He tapped Natty’s shoulder, pointing at the girl, then the scout. He pointed to himself, then the assassin by the fireplace. She nodded and he quickly edged around the room, sticking to cover to avoid being seen.

“Harlow will decide what to do with him once he gets back.” He reached his target and glanced over his shoulder just in time to see the scout go down. The assassin turned her head at the sound. James cast a quick Petrificus Totalus and the Ashwinder joined her companion on the floor. He let out the breath he'd been holding. Natty joined him and they continued to the next room. There was a handful this time. He chewed his lip as he contemplated the best way to get past them.

“Please let me out!” a scared voice called from below. Archie. He was confident they could take out the three on the perimeter without alerting their friends. It was the two in the center he was unsure about. He turned to Natty again, this time pointing her towards the scout behind the wooden crates on the left and the witch closer to the center. The girl could take the woman out from behind cover if need be. He pointed to himself and the two scouts on the perimeter to the right. Hopefully he could down them and the wizard in the center of the room without too much trouble. They split up. James ducked behind the couch to avoid being spotted and took out the first Ashwinder. He peered around the wooden barrel in time to see the witch go down.

“What the – ” he took out the second scout with a silent Petrificus Totalus. Sharp’s lessons were really starting to pay off.

“I know you’re there!” shouted the last Ashwinder, wildly scanning the room. He was hit with two full body-bind curses at the same time, flipping in the air and dropping to the ground with a painful sounding thump. A snort escaped James, almost feeling bad for the wizard.

“Is somebody there?” Archie called nervously from below. He and Natty dropped their disillusionment charms and hurried over to the half-hidden stairs leading to the level below. They found the missing boy in a wooden cage. The fifteen year old clenched his jaw at the sight. It was a poacher cage. They locked him up like he was a beast.

“Please,” the boy spotted them, “I need your help.”

“Keep a look out,” he muttered to Natty before approaching the kid. One of the Ashwinders had mentioned that Harlow was away and they had no idea when he was set to return. “It’s okay Archie,” James soothed. “We’re here to get you out.”

“How do you know who I am?” the boy’s eyes widened.

“Your mum sent us to find you,” he explained, unlocking the cage with an Alohom*ora. Archie was silent as the teenager opened the door. “Are you alright?”

“A man called Harlow,” the boy whispered. “…he killed my father.” Well that answered that question.

“…I know," he answered softly. The fifteen year old hesitated for a brief moment before stepping forward and putting a firm hand on the kid’s shoulder. He gave it a gentle squeeze. “I’m sorry.” The boy’s eyes began to water. “We’re going to get you home, okay?” He got a small nod in response. He glanced over at Natty waiting at the top of the stairs, keeping a lookout for any more Ashwinders. “Listen, Archie,” he knelt in front of the boy so that they were eye level. “I know you’ve been through a lot – and I promise we can talk about it later – but right now I’m gonna need you to be very quiet. Can you do that for me?” the boy sniffled but nodded again. “Good lad,” he praised, rubbing the boy’s arms a few times like Fig did when he was trying to calm the teenager. “C’mon then, stick close to me.”

He tapped Archie’s head with his wand, casting a silent disillusionment charm, before doing the same to himself. He felt a hesitant hand grip his cloak tight. They silently snuck back up the stairs to Natty, who’d also disillusioned herself. James’ shoulders were tense as they made their way out of the tent. His gaze remained alert, constantly scanning the area for more Ashwinders or Harlow. But they didn’t run into anyone else and escaped the hideout without any more conflict. They didn’t slow until they were almost two miles from the tent.

James finally stopped and dropped his and Archie’s disillusionment. Natty followed his lead and dropped hers as well. The boy was trembling but remained silent as promised.

“Okay Archie, it’s later. Do you – ” he only got a few words out before the boy latched onto him, sobs escaping his small frame. The teen exhaled softly and rubbed soothing circles on the kid's back, letting the boy have a good cry. “How old are you, Archie?” he asked after a few minutes. He got a watery ten half-muffled into his shirt. James grimaced. The same age his brother had been. “You did so well,” he persevered, drawing both from past experience as an older brother and what he imagined his mentor would say. “Silent as a mouse you were, not to mention leaving your satchel for us to find. That was very clever.”

“You found it?” the boy finally pulled away to look up at the fifteen year old.

“We did,” he confirmed with a small smile. “I have it right here.” He pulled the satchel out and handed it to the kid who grasped it tightly, like the bag might disappear on him. Archie stared at it tearfully, his lip quivering.

“My father made it for me,” he whimpered. James chewed his lip uncertainly.

“It’s well made,” he offered. Archie sniffled, but didn’t burst into tears again like the teenager feared he would. “Let’s get you back to your mum, okay?” The boy nodded shakily. He hesitated for a few more seconds before giving the brim of the kid's hat a gentle downward tug, covering his eyes. The teasing action earned him a small smile. Archie practically clung to James the entire trip back.

Notes:

it's kinda ironic really that despite being the MC our companions sure seem to drag us along into a lot of trouble...

MC: please don't do the thing

literally any companion: I'm gonna do the thing!

Chapter 24

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

That weekend James met up with Sebastian on an overlook near Upper Hogsfield. The sun had set hours ago and it was quiet except for the occasional nighttime noise. His gaze darted to the nearby headstones before focusing on his waiting friend.

“Hey,” he greeted tentatively.

“Hey yourself,” the other Slytherin returned. It was the first time they’d been completely alone since the scriptorium. Sure they had talked afterward, but there had always been other students or teachers nearby. Despite the recent adventures with Poppy and Natty, this last week had felt unexpectedly empty. It was as if the three of them – James, Sebastian, and Ominis – were out of sync.

“I’m sorry again about – ”

“I told you, we don’t need to talk about it,” the other teen waved off his apology.

“…I kinda feel like we do?” the fifteen year old insisted, but it came out more like a question.

“What’s there to talk about?” his housemate shrugged. “Sharp told us what happened.” James looked away, shoving his hands in his pockets to stop from fidgeting.

“I…I just want to make sure we’re good,” the teen forced out, eyes darting back to his friend’s face.

“I wouldn’t be here if we weren’t,” a snort escaped the other Slytherin. He crossed his arms. “Listen, this is the view painted on the canvas that was left on that triptych. There’s an abandoned mine nearby – surrounded by Ranrok’s Loyalists.” James frowned at the subject change, but it was nighttime and there were enemies nearby. So he dropped it.

“They must be searching it,” he mused. “We should find out what they’re up to, but quietly. I’d rather not draw their attention.”

“Very well,” his companion agreed. “After you.”

The two Slytherins disillusioned themselves and snuck down the hill past the goblin camps. James could feel Sebastian’s simmering anger. His friend was taut as a bowstring, but thankfully did not give in to the impulse to attack the nearby Loyalists. They paused at the mouth of the cave.

“Rumor has it,” Sebastian murmured next to him, “this mine was closed long ago due to an infestation of spiders.”

“Brilliant,” James deadpanned. Half the caves surrounding Hogwarts seemed to be filled with spiders. “Can’t be worse than the Absconder,” he muttered, thinking of the Acromantula den he’d entered to retrieve the family heirloom. That may have been a bit of an overreach on his part, he probably wouldn’t have made it out without the help of ancient magic. Silver lining - he had discovered another finishing move and added another rare potion ingredient to his growing collection.

“The what?” Sebastian furrowed his eyebrows, confused by the strange nickname.

“Acromantula den,” he elaborated. His companion blinked at him a few times.

“You took on a – ” the other teen began but cut himself off, “ – of course you have. You probably don’t even need my help.”

“Of course I do,” James was quick to assure, “we make a good team.” A pleased look settled on his friend’s face.

“We do at that,” he agreed with a grin. As they headed inside the cave opening, a spark of mischief flickered in his chest and the fifteen year old couldn't help but indulge it.

“Besides,” he continued. “I need someone to outrun in case there are too many – buy enough time for a tactical retreat.”

“How very Slytherin of you,” Sebastian rolled his eyes. “You really think you can outrun me?”

“I outdueled you on my first day,” he teased.

“I was going easy on you,” his friend protested, giving him a mock glare. “And I’m still waiting for that rematch.”

“Just tell me when and where,” said James. “I’d be happy to beat you again.” His companion elbowed him but didn’t continue the banter because of the two goblins ahead with their backs to the approaching teens. Two full body-bind curses downed the pair of enemies, and the two students carried on down the path.

“This mine looks like a tomb,” the fifteen year old noted, eyeing the worn surroundings. He carefully peered over the ledge, spotting broken debris below.

“It was closed after accidents were reported,” Sebastian commented, studying the integrity of the support beams. “Now, I see why.” They continued with no small amount of caution, eyes alert. But the tenseness of their shoulders relaxed more and more the further they progressed into the cave without any incidents.

“I don’t see any goblins in these webs,” James remarked. For a place closed due to a spider infestation, they had yet to see any.

“Too disgusting for even a spider to prey on,” his friend growled. The dark tone made him frown, but it was understandably a touchy subject. He made a note to stop by and visit Anne soon to check how much data had been added to the logbook. The distracted thoughts caused James to slip on the steep incline ahead and his feet gave out from underneath him. The teen scrambled for purchase, but there was nothing to grab hold of and he slid down into a stack of barrels. He grunted at the impact, but the now broken containers did halt his descent.

“Well, well. What do we have here?”

James' head snapped up and he realized that he was in a cavern occupied by a handful of Ranrok’s Loyalists. There went his plan to not draw any attention. The teenager sprung to his feet, wand at the ready.

“Glacius!” he froze an enemy on his right, rolling forward to avoid the arc of an axe from his left. “Diffindo!” he followed up, swinging his wand behind him. The frozen goblin shattered and his nearby companion stumbled back holding his chest.

“Confringo!” Sebastian shouted behind him, finishing the enemy with a burst of explosive flames. Mouth twitching at the fiery entrance, he turned to face the remaining Loyalists. He spotted one in the corner, readying his crossbow. Oh no you don’t, he thought, yanking it away and slamming it back into the goblin. The force knocked the enemy into the stone wall behind him and he slid to the ground.

“Levioso!” his friend levitated the last remaining enemy high into the air. James pointed his wand at the airborne enemy to finish the combo.

“Descendo!” the goblin slammed into the ground with a loud crunch. He winced at the sound.

“How many of Ranrok’s Loyalists are in here?” Sebastian huffed, unperturbed by the violence.

“Too many,” he answered, frowning down at his now muddy clothes “They definitely think there’s something here they want.” The other Slytherin noticed the movement and stepped closer.

“Scourgify,” he muttered, removing the worst of the muck with a casual wave of his hand.

“Oh, that’s handy,” James blinked at the cleaning charm. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” The two Slytherins continued further into the abandoned mine, stopping briefly to repair a broken bridge, and defeated their first cluster of spiders.

“It’s no wonder spiders give people goosebumps,” he wrinkled his nose at the leftover carnage.

“Could be the hairy legs…or the soulless eyes…or the venomous fangs,” Sebastian listed off. James glanced over at his companion. “Or any number of endearing qualities, really.” He studied his housemate’s face.

“…do spiders give you goosebumps?” he asked, those had been some curiously specific details.

“No,” his friend denied a little too quickly. James pursed his lips to stop them from curling into a smile.

“It’s okay, Sebastian. I don’t like them either,” he admitted. The other teenager crossed his arms.

“I thought you said you took on an Acromantula.”

“Not for fun,” an amused huff escaped him. “I could die happy never seeing another spider.” His companion only hummed but seemed to relax after that. Further down the path they were accosted by another cluster of spiders. They must have reached the fringes of the rumored infestation.

“We’re making quick work of them,” Sebastian commented once the creatures were all dead.

“Professor Hecat would be proud,” he responded.

“She would at that.” They shared an adrenaline-fueled grin. The tunnel narrowed for a bit, forcing them to duck low to avoid hitting the ceiling, before it eventually opened up to the largest cavern yet. The echo of voices made them halt. They pressed themselves to the wall and peered around the corner. It was filled by even more of Ranrok’s Loyalists, at least twice the number they’d taken down before. James frowned. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way around or through. It was hard to tell from this angle and distance.

“Well?” his friend whispered beside him.

“Looks like another fight on our hands,” he sighed.

“Why am I not surprised?” the other teen replied. James grimaced at the pleased tone but didn’t say anything. They only managed to pick a couple off before the others wised up.

“You’ll pay for that!” one of them shouted after the fifteen year old hurtled a red explosive barrel at a pair of enemies, downing them instantly.

“Levioso!” his fellow Slytherin targeted the goblin that had threatened James, then used a Depulso to hurl the enemy into the wall with such force the stone cracked. The teenagers worked together to take down the Loyalists, dodging and dancing around ranged attacks sent their way, and blocked the closer heavier swipes with well-timed Protegos. Despite the danger, James could feel his magic singing. It thrummed and welled up inside him like a fountain and he embraced the sensation. Sebastian already knew what he was capable of, had seen it first-hand before. It was almost freeing, not needing to hide his abilities. Just as the last enemy crumpled, a horde of spiders burst from the ground. The largest one – the matriarch – charged Sebastian from behind. James thrusted his wand at the creature – a silent snarl twisting his face – and yanked it toward himself. The hissing spider spun through the air surrounded by blue magic, shrinking smaller and smaller. The now tiny matriarch landed at his feet and the fifteen year old stomped on it viciously, grinding it flat with his heel. The rest of the spiders were dispatched fairly easily with the two of them back to back. The last one screeched loudly – twitching upside down – before it succumbed to the flames.

“We certainly cleared the room,” his companion huffed as they stopped to catch their breath.

“Don’t know why Gryffindors get all the credit for bravery,” James couldn't help the wide grin stretching across his face. “We Slytherins are teeming with it.” How many enemies had that been? At least a dozen including the spiders, right? He wondered what his mentor would think. He’d like to think the man would be proud. Maybe a little worried, but mostly pleased at his progress, surely?

“And we’re much more fun to fight with,” Sebastian boasted. He laughed but couldn’t argue with that. They discovered some rune symbols and managed to open the locked door tied to them. The friends scanned the area they found themselves in. It looked like some kind of secret hideout. He paused at the table in the center of the hidden room and skimmed the piece of parchment.

“What do you have there?” Sebastian asked, craning his neck to peer over the other teen’s shoulder.

“A journal entry by Isidora,” he replied. His companion hummed, losing interest, and left his side to explore the rest of the room. James glanced back at the note, frowning at the words. It sounded like the witch’s first attempt to remove painful emotions, like he’d seen her do to her dad in the Pensieve memory. But the writing was jumbled and disorienting – especially the part after the woman’s discovery. He shoved it into his satchel and joined his friend in exploring the area. A nearby chest procured a large rolled up piece of canvas. He carefully unfurled the edge of it, enough to make out painted brushstrokes of a landscape on the other side.

“Sebastian – I think I found something!”

“Brilliant, our efforts weren’t in vain after all.” There was a nagging sense of oddness to the room, primarily its existence. He already knew that Isidora was a touchy subject with the Keepers. He was pretty sure there had been some kind of falling out between them - possibly caused by the young witch discovering and experimenting with a new way to wield ancient magic. James crossed his arms in thought, feeling like he was on the cusp of something. If he could find out more about Isidora and what she had been up to, perhaps that could shed some light on why the Keepers were so hesitant to tell him anything.

“Why would she create this space?” he pondered out loud.

“And why hide it behind cryptic rune symbols and ancient magic that no one but you could see?” Sebastian added. James blinked. Actually that was a good point, because Rackham would have been still alive at the time and he was certain the professor didn’t know about this place. This hideout was far removed from the reach of Hogwarts and had no known ties to Isidora, like her cottage in Feldcroft. The fifteen year old glanced down at the rolled up canvas. And why leave something like this hidden so far from the Undercroft?

“Let’s get this back to the triptych,” James finally decided, maybe it would provide some answers. They found another enchanted passageway, just like the cellar, and were soon transported back to Hogwarts. The teens unfurled the canvas, lining it up within the smaller frame on the right. It fit. Now only the center frame remained empty. The fifteen year old studied the newly acquired landscape.

“Do you recognize it?” he asked his fellow Slytherin.

“The good news is, I do, in fact.” There was an unspoken but.

“And the bad news?

“We’re in for more trouble.”

“Of course we are,” James sighed.

“Ranrok has taken over a huge mine and the surrounding area,” his friend explained. “Marunweem has suffered for it. It’s as bad as Feldcroft’s become.” The other teen turned to him. “Should we head there now?” The innocent question ended up triggering an argument. James expected to hear back from Lodgok soon. He needed to discover Ranrok’s plans and where exactly the goblin leader was getting his information on the Keepers. But his friend was too blinded by his prejudice to understand.

“You know goblins cursed my sister to shut her up,” the other Slytherin clenched his hands. “Said she should be ‘seen and not heard.’”

“I do but not all goblins – ”

“ – Not all goblins what?” Sebastian angrily cut him off. “Have you forgotten Feldcroft? Have you forgotten the mine we just went through?” His friend hadn’t always been this temperamental had he?

Please,” James tried again to get through to the other teen. “You’re not listening to me.”

“Why would I listen to someone so ignorant?” The disagreement suddenly halted and the Undercroft fell silent. James swallowed hard. The barbed words tore into him, leaving the fifteen year old feeling raw and exposed in a way he hadn’t experienced in a long time. He looked away, eyes blinking rapidly. Why would Sebastian say something so cruel? Doubt began to seep in, making him think back and second guess every past interaction. Had he missed something? Had he been too eager to make a friend in this terrifying new world he’d found himself? He didn’t know what to do. Fight or flight. He was frozen, words stuck in his throat. But what good would they do against his friend’s sudden hostility. Don’t let them see. The confidence he’d built up the last few months wavered, precariously balanced on the foundation Professor Fig had helped construct. Not enough. His heart pounded and his ears rang. Never enough. He couldn’t think but his head wouldn’t shut up. It was deafening. It was quiet. What was real? James turned on his heel and bolted out of the Undercroft.

Notes:

aww James and Sebastian's first fight :(

Thank you so much for all the kudos and comments! I started this mostly to get my brain to shut up lol but I'm glad so many of you enjoy it :)

Chapter 25: Interlude - Sebastian Sallow

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

James Evans was the talk of the school from day one. While their first meeting was in the Slytherin common room, it was the duel in Defense Against the Dark Arts class that cemented Sebastian’s interest in the new fifth year and it quickly grew from there. The trip to Hogsmeade, their first Herbology class, the rumors that followed in his housemate’s wake, they all added to the mystery surrounding his new friend. In a matter of weeks they were practically joined to the hip and Sebastian felt like he’d found a kindred spirit.

He didn’t regret sharing the Undercroft with James - the other teen knew how to keep a secret - and he really could benefit from having a place to practice and catch up to the rest of their peers. But he did regret not saying anything to Ominis first and it took him hours to calm the other Slytherin down. Despite his repeated attempts to bring his two closest friends together, his oldest friend remained distant and aloof. James tried to be friendly regardless of the constant rejection, but eventually retreated back to the polite and quiet mask he tended to hide behind.

*********

The heavy door closed behind Ominis and Sebastian tried not to fidget under Sharp’s heavy stare. What else did the man want from him?

“I understand,” the Potions master eventually spoke after nearly a full minute of silence, arms still crossed as he leaned against his desk, “that you’re looking for a cure for your sister.” The teen stiffened, expression turning mulish. “That the best healers can’t help her.” He braced for what he knew was coming next, what every adult had told him. That his efforts were futile, that he should just give up and resign himself to watching his twin waste away. There was a pause. “Frustrating isn’t it?” Sebastian frowned at the unexpected turn. He looked up from the stone floor and at the professor. “Doesn’t stop you from trying to fix it anyway, does it?” He swallowed at the knowing gaze and looked away. How dare he, the teen thought. How dare he pretend to know what Sebastian was going through.

“Don’t,” he muttered lowly.

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t pretend like you understand,” the teenager growled. “No one does.”

“I understand that you’re under a lot of pressure,” the professor continued anyway. His eyes were hard, but his tone was surprisingly soft. “That you think the responsibility of finding a cure is on you alone.” Sebastian ground his teeth. He felt like his thoughts and feelings had been laid bare and he hated it. “Your dedication to your sister is commendable, but it can also blind you.”

“She’s my sister,” he blurted out, anger rearing its head.

“I know.”

“You don’t,” the teen argued hotly. His anger rushed through him like a tidal wave and the words spilled out. “I have to save her, I can’t just watch her suffer. Everyone tells me that I should give up. But I won’t, I refuse. I’ll never stop looking for a cure. You can’t make me.” He glared defiantly at the Potions professor, daring him to say otherwise.

“I have no intention of halting your search for a cure,” Sharp replied. The answer instantly deflated Sebastian’s anger and replaced it with confusion. “I understand your desire to find a cure for your sister’s pain, Mr. Sallow,” the man continued, shifting his weight off one of his legs. The action reminded him of the rumors surrounding the Potions master - including the tales of his previous career and departure from the Auror force. “That isn’t the point of this conversation.” The room was quiet for a few moments and he realized belatedly that the professor was waiting for a response.

“…I don’t understand,” he said, finding the nerve to meet the unrelenting gaze.

“This is me telling you to take heed,” Sharp warned, but not unkindly. “Your need to save your sister could lead you down a dark path chasing after false promises.” Sebastian frowned and opened his mouth to protest, but the man wasn’t done. He held up a silent hand to stall any objections. “Everything has a price, especially when it comes to the Dark Arts. And quite often that cost isn’t apparent until it’s far too late.” The teen clicked his mouth shut. He wanted to argue – to shout at the professor – that he didn’t know what he was talking about. None of them did. But he resisted the urge. Something told him that if anyone could understand the overwhelming need to find a cure no one else believed in, Sharp would come the closest. “Consider for a moment that the cost is losing your sister. What if your quest to save Anne turns you into something unrecognisable. So much so that she never wants to see you again?” His insides froze. The thought of never seeing his twin again was unacceptable, he’d never be able to accept such a rejection. His shoulders tensed further and his hands gripped the arm chair tight.

“What am I supposed to do then? I can’t just do nothing,” Sebastian insisted. “She’s – ” She was all the family he had left. Solomon didn’t count, the man could hardly stand to look at him half the time.

“…I’ve done my own research on treating curses that cause pain,” the man shared. His gaze snapped back to the Potions professor. “It’s not unreasonable to believe that the answers I seek could overlap with your own search.” He jaw dropped in disbelief. Was Sharp actually offering to help him?

“You can’t be serious,” slipped out. Sebastian clenched his mouth shut, but it was too late. Instead of looking insulted, the professor seemed amused.

“Do you really think I don’t have my own circle of contacts to call upon?” Sharp asked dryly. “Or a great deal more experience and resources to utilize and aid in such a search?” The teenager blinked unable to argue with that logic. A war of conflict waged within him. One side, he should take advantage of such a wealth of information, it could only help in his efforts to save Anne. The other side argued that the professor was an adult and couldn’t be trusted. The man would turn him in the moment he thought Sebastian was doing something he didn’t approve of. Except…Sharp hadn’t turned the teen in for the whole scriptorium fiasco. Not yet. He crushed the thought ruthlessly.

“What do you want?” he asked, equal parts hopeful and suspicious. The professor studied him silently and Sebastian wondered what the man saw.

“The next time you think you may have discovered a cure,” Sharp replied, his words came out slowly like he was choosing them with great care. “Come to me. I may have already come across it in my research. If not, we can work on it together...I’d very much like to avoid a repeat of this week’s events.” The teenager winced at the reminder of the scriptorium and guilt pooled in his stomach again. He hadn’t really wanted to hurt James. He’d just wanted out. Sebastian felt like a failure for not noticing his friend was still in pain. The other Slytherin had been quiet, sure, but it hadn’t struck him as unusual at the time. He frowned at himself. Instead he’d been more focused on Salazar’s spellbook.

“Okay,” he exhaled. The teenager would try just about anything to save his twin, even if it meant accepting whatever help his professor was offering. A small part of him was still hesitant and distrustful, but the larger part of him insisted that he should at least consider any possible aid and determine its value before dismissing it. Sharp quietly studied the teen for a few more beats before straightening from his desk.

“Report here tomorrow evening after supper,” the man concluded. Sebastian scrambled out of the armchair, recognising the dismissal. He hurried to exit the office but the Potion professor’s voice stopped him when the teen gripped the door handle. “One more thing.” He turned with a grimace. Of course there was something else, but Sharp almost seemed hesitant for a moment before continuing. “What I’m about to say does not leave this room.” Sebastian gulped at the unyielding tone and nodded mutely. “Despite the incredible amount of pain he was in, Mr. Evans was very distraught at the idea of losing your friendship,” he revealed, “to the point of experiencing a panic attack.” His breath caught in his chest and any lingering feelings of betrayal dispersed. James had still tried to cover for him, even at the cost of his well-being? “Do keep that in mind the next time you see him.” Sharp’s eyes held an unspoken warning. The teen swallowed, recalling all the past times he’d teased James about being the Potions professor's favourite. Suddenly the jokes didn’t seem so far-fetched.

“Yes, sir,” he muttered, earning a silent nod. He couldn't escape the office fast enough.

*********

Sebastian knew James was incredibly self-conscious about starting Hogwarts late. He knew that his friend felt so far behind on everything pertaining to the magical world. The new fifth year had even admitted late one night in the Undercroft his insecurities regarding his lack of knowledge, fearing it would end up costing him greatly. So why had Sebastian targeted those doubts and thrown them at James’ feet like that? His friend looked away like he couldn't stand to look at him anymore. His eyes were blinking rapidly, as if he was trying not to cry in front of Sebastian. Guilt and shame pooled in his stomach, making him feel sick. But before he could figure out the right words to take it back – to tell his housemate that he didn’t really mean it – the other teen turned heel and practically fled out of the Undercroft. His shoulders slumped.

Sharp was going to kill him if he ever found out. Sebastian grimaced. Correction, when he found out.

*********

Magical Theory was an interesting class. Unlike many of the core subjects, it was an elective only offered to third through seventh years. Sebastian tried to pay attention to the lecture, Professor Fig was explaining the similarities between fire and freezing spells. Despite the wildly different results they produced, apparently the working mechanics behind them were nearly identical. But he was distracted and the words just ended up going in one ear and out the other. Amit Thakkar shifted beside him, completely focused on jotting down notes. The Ravenclaw even included a few diagrams. He couldn’t stop his gaze from darting over to his normal desk partner, who was seated on the other side of the room next to Natsai Onai. He let out a small sigh wishing – not for the first time – that Ominis had signed up for the class too.

"Why would I bother if I can’t create spells?"

He didn’t agree with his friend's belief that his lack of sight would prevent him from creating spells if he had the interest to do so, and the Magical Theory class had other benefits. But his oldest friend could be stubborn when he wanted to be. Thankfully the lecture was almost over. He refocused on the blackboard – covered in an outline of today’s topic – at the front of the room.

“No homework today,” Fig wrapped up, clapping his palms together. “But we will be having a review next class so I highly recommend you look over the material before then.” Excited whispers broke out among the students. Magical Theory reviews meant dividing into teams and competing for house points. With a flick of his wand, the professor returned their marked essays from the previous week. Sebastian frowned at the note scrawled at the top right corner of his parchment.

Please see me after class.

His heart thudded. What? His eyes flicked over to the passing mark scrawled on the other top corner of his assignment. His brow furrowed in confusion. Fig soon dismissed the class and his peers spilled out of the classroom. The teen slowly gathered his things, but there wasn't much to delay the upcoming conversation for long. He reluctantly approached the professor, thoughts racing to determine what this could possibly be about.

“Ah, Mr. Sallow,” the man looked up from his desk, offering him a disarming smile. “You have a question for me?” He blinked at that. What? The professor’s gaze drifted up over his shoulder and the teen craned his head to look behind him. James had paused at the doorway, a puzzled frown on his face. Natty tugged on his sleeve and whispered something in his ear. The Slytherin huffed and left the room closely followed by the Gryffindor girl. He turned back to face the expectant wizard. It was just the two of them now.

"Professor?"

“Forgive me for asking,” Fig clasped his hands in front of his torso, “but is everything alright between you and James?” Sebastian blinked at the personal question. Oh, right. He must have noticed they weren’t sitting together like they usually did. But it felt out of place for the man to actually comment about it.

“Fine, professor,” he answered which earned him a thoughtful hum. Sharp blue eyes seemed to look right through him and the silence stretched. The teenager resisted the urge to fill it.

“James mentioned a fight,” the man finally revealed. “But he refused to say more on the matter.” What?

“With all due respect, sir,” he couldn’t help but scowl a little. “I don’t see how that pertains to you.”

“I’m not trying to insert myself into a disagreement between friends,” Fig slowly shook his head. “That’s bound to happen and part of life.” His piercing gaze narrowed and his tone became deceptively mild. “But it does pertain to me when someone causes James to relapse into bad habits. I’ve put in far too much time and effort for him to backslide over a mere argument.” What was that supposed to mean? Just how long had the professor known his housemate? The other teenager referred to Fig as his mentor, but the way the man spoke alluded to a much stronger familiarity.

“Look, I understand your concern as his mentor – ”

“ – And guardian,” the professor interrupted lightly, but there was a steely resolve in his gaze. Sebastian stilled.

“Guardian?” he repeated dumbly.

“Yes.” How could a tone be soft and unyielding at the same time?

The Slytherin swallowed realizing his mistake too late. Sharp had seemed the obvious choice to look out for when it came to those with a strong interest in James and his well-being. He had completely overlooked Fig. The mild-mannered old man was easy to underestimate, the very definition of unassuming. Looking at the Magical Theory professor now, he couldn’t help but wish he was back in Sharp’s office instead.

Notes:

man I really struggled with this chapter...mostly Sebastian's fault (again) but some of the blame lies with Fig too lol

Chapter 26

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Here we are,” Poppy announced. James looked around at their snowy surroundings. The girl’s knowledge on dragons was incredible. He reckoned the girl could teach a few of their Beasts classes herself. His hand dipped into the satchel at his side, fingers gently stroking the smooth dragon egg nestled inside – the reason behind their visit to the region. “The terrain’s typical of where the breed would nest,” she explained, going as far to share her thought process on how the poachers had captured the escaped Hebridean in the first place.

“You got all of that from simply standing here?” he asked dubiously. How long had the Hufflepuff been freeing beasts from poacher captivity in her free time?

“You’d be surprised how easy it is to think like a poacher.” James blinked at that and something niggled at the back of his mind as another piece fell into place belonging to the puzzle of Poppy Sweeting. “Shall we see if she’s home? We only need to return the egg.”

“Only,” James snorted. “You make it sound so simple. But this is a dragon we’re talking about.” He’d seen a couple times now just how capable these creatures were of ending a person’s life.

“Hebrideans can be aggressive,” his companion allowed, “but they’re also very clever. She caught on quickly when you showed her how to escape the tent.” The Slytherin pursed his lips into a firm line. She wasn't wrong, but it had been a risky gamble nonetheless. “She’ll understand why we’re here once she sees her egg.”

“And how exactly are we supposed to go about returning this egg?”

“Her nest will likely be in the heart of the den,” Poppy noted. “Which she will be keeping guard over…It might also be more charred than anywhere else,” the girl added as an afterthought. Lovely, he thought.

“Let’s go find our dragon and return her egg,” he sighed. The sooner they got this over with, the sooner they could return to the castle.

“Wonderful! Let’s go,” the Hufflepuff marched up the hill. He wondered briefly if the girl was even capable of feeling fear before trudging after her. They trekked up the mountain on foot. “If she sees us flying about she might take it as a sign of aggression – or food,” his companion shared, making the fifteen year old grimace. This just gets better and better, he thought. The dragon in question flew high above, confirming that they were in the right location and that the creature was truly collar free. It was one less thing to worry about. James couldn’t help but pause briefly at the large pool of blood on their left wondering uneasily what had caused it. They eventually reached an abandoned camp.

“I wonder how many they brought to capture her,” the girl commented. He followed her gaze, noting the dead poacher on the ground. He crouched down next to the corpse, spotting a piece of parchment half-sticking out of a pocket. He scanned the document and frowned at the words. “At least ten usually.” James’ eyes narrowed silently. Poppy Sweeting seemed to know an awful lot about poachers. He wordlessly shoved the note in his satchel for later and they continued further, only stopping for a moment to repair the broken bridge. As soon as the last piece settled into place, the dragon soared over them a second time, wings beating the air.

“There she is again,” James whispered, stiff as a statue.

“She’s breathtaking!” the Hufflepuff gasped in delight.

“From a distance,” James stressed lowly. Unshackled and free, the dragon appeared much less sympathetic now and was more reminiscent of the one that had attacked his carriage. They continued up the hill once she was out of sight.

“I wonder how good her eyesight is? ” Poppy mused as they entered a small opening at the base of a rocky outcrop.

“What?” he halted underneath the cover, causing her to stop as well.

“I don’t imagine the poachers fed her well, and from a distance we probably look like sheep to her,” the girl shared carelessly. “Hebrideans love sheep.” His insides turned to ice and his breath caught in his chest.

“Poppy, I swear to God,” was all he managed to choke out before his throat closed up. His hand shot out to grab the nearby rock in an attempt to center himself. It was rough and cold against his palm. He wasn't falling through the air with Professor Fig. He was standing on the ground next to Poppy Sweeting. Perfectly safe, he thought hysterically. Not about die.

“Oh!” she gasped, “I’m sorry, I completely forgot!” He forced himself to look up from the frozen ground. Poppy's eyes were wide and her face a tomato red, looking like she'd finally remembered the rumors surrounding his arrival. She quickly looked away, as if mortified, and gave the teen time to calm himself.

“It’s fine,” he said once he felt like he could breathe again. “Just…no more comments on what dragons like to eat – please.”

“Of course,” his companion immediately agreed, wringing her hands nervously. “I’m sorry,” the girl apologized again. “I…I’m not used to this.”

“What, returning lost dragon eggs?”

“No,” she scuffed the ground, unable to meet his eyes. “I mean…talking to other people.”

“…Well…I’m not exactly an expert myself,” he admitted after a couple beats. “C’mon, let’s not wait around for this egg to hatch.” Poppy let out a relieved breath at his attempt to lighten the mood and they continued down the path, surrounded by rocky walls on either side. They dropped down a couple ledges and were confronted by two massive carcasses at the edge of some ruins. He didn’t recognize the beasts, but going off the large horns and sheer size of the creatures he can’t imagine it being the first – or second or third – choice of prey for a dragon. James could see Poppy biting her lip out of the corner of his eye but she didn’t say anything. They continued down the steps which opened to a stone courtyard connected to crumbling walls and archways further ahead.

“What was that?” the words barely left his companions mouth before the air was filled with the sound of beating wings, followed by a bone-rattling roar. The dragon glided overhead and landed on the crumbling ruins in the middle of their path, her glittering purple eyes staring right at the two students. She’d finally spotted them.

“Great,” he muttered. The creature’s mouth opened wide and the back of her throat began to glow. James’ hand shot out to grab the Hufflepuff’s arm and they lunged towards cover. They managed to slide behind a stone wall seconds before it was blasted with a stream of dragon fire.

“No turning back now!” Poppy shouted over the noise. The stone wall held up against the onslaught but he could still feel the residual heat. “Remember we don’t want to hurt her!”

“Tell her that!” James retorted. The assault stopped and he hesitantly poked his head out. The beast let out another ear-splitting roar, causing the fifteen year old to wince. There was cover scattered throughout the courtyard but it was risky. They’d have to be quick and there would be no room for mistakes. “Wait,” he turned back to Poppy, digging out two clear glass bottles filled with a milky white liquid. “I have a couple of Invisibility Potions,” he showed her. He always kept at least a couple on hand. “Do you think we could sneak past her that way?” The girl pursed her lips in thought.

“I don’t know,” she frowned. “She’ll still be able to smell us.” James chewed his lip uncertainly.

“What if we distracted her?”

“How?” They paused when another jet of flames slam into their cover for a handful of seconds. They’d have to move soon. He forced one of the potions into her hands and shoved the other back into his pocket.

“I’ll go first,” he said, heart thumping. “She won’t be able to catch me.”

What?”


“No time to explain,” he held up a hand to halt her objections. “Just follow my lead, okay? I’ll draw her attention.” He turned away, not giving the girl a chance to protest. He carefully peeked around the corner, eyes landing on the nearest cover. The teen let out a sharp exhale. He could do this. He’d done it once before on accident. He could do it again. Ancient magic flowed through his veins and rushed to answer his call. He remembered the way it had encased him before, like a thin cocoon. James imagined himself next to the stone wall a few yards away, willed it, and propelled himself forward with as much force he can muster. And then he was crouched next to that wall. He blinked rapidly to reorient himself. He pressed his body against the new cover and looked back at Poppy. The girl was gaping at him in shock. From her point of view, it would have looked like the fifteen year old had vanished in a flash of blue light only to reappear nearby.

“How? – ” Her eyes widened and she ducked back down behind her cover, a torrent of flames slamming into it once more.

“Drink the damn potion!” he roared before turning and propelling himself to the next stone wall further in the courtyard. The teen took a few seconds to catch his breath and steeled his nerves. The stream of flames cut off. He took one more bracing breath and stood up from his crouched position. “Excuse me, ma’am!” He shouted at the dragon, attracting the beast's attention. “Please don’t kill us. We’re just trying to – ” He dropped back behind the wall seconds before it was assaulted by fire. “Poppy?!” He called out a few moments later, hoping the girl was making use of the distraction.

“Over here!” she answered, her voice coming from a different direction than her previous position. Good, she had taken the potion. The jet of fire cut off and the dragon peered in the direction his companion had shouted from. Purple eyes scanned the area, unable to catch sight of the invisible girl. The beast began to sniff the air. James scowled, and picked the next cover to hurtle himself to. Ancient magic curled around him again and the teen reappeared next to his target. He was almost to the stone arches underneath the dragon who let out a frustrated roar.

“I have to say,” he continued, popping out of cover once more. The creature’s head snapped to the fifteen year old. “This is a very rude welcome – ” He ducked down to avoid being roasted alive. The two of them managed to make it to safety under the stone arches. The dragon became fed up with their guerilla tactics and – after letting out a low growl – flew away.

“How did you do that?” Poppy’s voice asked from next to him, startling the teen. The Hufflepuff was still invisible.

“Later,” he answered, racing up the nearby steps. They reached another section of the ruins where the dragon sat, as if waiting for them. “Same thing,” he said to his companion before propelling himself forward again with ancient magic. It answered his call just like last time. The more he used it, the easier it seemed to bend to his will. He tried not to dwell on what that could mean. Right now it was saving him from being burned alive.

“Get to that opening below her!” Poppy shouted. They’d made it past the second courtyard. They just had to get past the last few stone walls before the path continued into the mountain itself. He spotted the opening the girl was referring to, the dragon perched just above it. The creature caught sight of the teen and opened her maw wide.

“Brilliant,” he muttered. James pulled back and pressed himself firmly into the stone bricks just as it was blasted with dragon fire. It was the smallest wall yet and the sleeve of his robe was singed.

“If we can get to that entrance, we can get to her nest!” his companion called, drawing the beast’s attention and cutting off the fiery assault. He took advantage of the distraction and propelled himself to the base of the mountain. If he could get close enough, the angle would protect him from her fire. The creature let out an angry roar, as if coming to the same conclusion. The fifteen year old stopped to catch his breath inside the tunnel entrance. He could hear the sound of beating wings and, for a brief moment, the ground shook beneath his feet.

“She’s leaving!” Poppy hissed next to him, making James jump again. “Quickly!” They raced through the rocky tunnel and the air beside him began to shimmer. The Hufflepuff reappeared seconds later. The Invisibility Potion had worn off. Reaching the tunnel exit, they paused at a broken bridge. James cast a quick Reparo and they sprinted across it. “Now if we just return her egg, we can hopefully make it out without too much fuss,” his companion whispered urgently.

The teen carefully took the egg out of his satchel and placed it on a raised rock. That should be noticeable enough for the mother dragon. The sound of beating of wings filled the air and he quickly backed up. Wind whipped around them and the dragon landed in front of the two students roaring loudly. James was half a second away from casting another Protego, but no flames came. The dragon abruptly shut her mouth and peered down at the purple egg in front of her. James didn’t dare move a muscle. There were so close to the creature, far too close for comfort. Poppy, the mad girl, took an entranced step forward, catching the beast's attention. The dragon stretched her head forward, lips curling as a growl rumbled in the back of her throat. The Hufflepuff quickly retreated, almost right off the edge of the cliff. James instinctively reached a hand out before he could stop himself.

The dragon turned to him, eyes cutting right though him. Ancient magic swirled just under his skin, but he dared not reach for it in fear of setting the creature off. The snout slowly inched closer and James shuddered at the gust of hot air that hit him. The tension was so thick and heavy it was a wonder that he and Poppy were still standing under the weight of it. The dragon let out another – almost inquisitive – rumble and the ancient magic inside him stirred again, like it wanted to come out. James desperately tamped it down. The large nose bumped his chest and he flinched at the contact. His heart was beating frantically in his chest. He couldn't breathe. Please please please go way, he silently begged in the safety of his mind. As if she could hear his thoughts, the head finally retreated from his personal space and jaws – strong enough to snap a grown man in half – carefully picked up the dragon egg. Giant bat-like wings unfurled and the dragon took off, flapping her wings until she was just a speck in the sky. The air trapped in James’ lungs finally rushed out. The fifteen year old hunched over, gripping his knees tightly, and gulped large breaths of air.

“Are you alright?” Poppy asked. James screwed his eyes shut but nodded weakly. What just happened? His heart was pounding so hard. How could the girl not hear it? He focused on the breathing exercises Professor Fig had taught him and eventually managed to calm down. “I think she remembered you.” He forced himself to straighten and open his eyes. His companion was looking at him curiously. “From Horntail Hall,” she added.

“Maybe,” he replied, because she was clearly expecting an answer. But his tone was doubtful. After all Poppy had been present as well but the dragon hadn’t had the same reaction to the Hufflepuff. No, it was almost like the beast had been curious about him. Like she could sense the ancient magic inside him. He shivered at the thought. “I guess she did seem cleverer than I expected.”

“Gran says creatures are a lot cleverer than most people realize,” she easily agreed, they turned back towards the bridge and made their way down the mountain path. “The important thing is that we survived it, and we returned her egg.” Poppy hesitated for a few beats before continuing, almost shyly. “Thank you for doing this with me. Wouldn’t blame you one bit if you wanted to head back to the castle and never think about dragons again.”

“God yes,” slipped out before he could help himself. He winced and glanced at the quiet girl next to him. She was playing with her fingers nervously as they remerged from the rocky tunnel they’d passed through minutes earlier. “If – uh – you come across any more creatures that need help, let me know.” It did the trick. His companion perked up at that and met his gaze.

“Really?” she asked, unable to contain her excitement. Something inside him softened at the eager expression.

“Yea, just…promise me one thing,” James added.

“What’s that?”

“No more dragons.” A startled laugh escaped her and she quickly covered his mouth, eyes wide. The fifteen year old offered her a grin, hinting it had partially been a jest. Shoulders relaxing, Poppy dropped her hands and returned the smile.

Notes:

Poppy is a gem, but sometimes I swear the girl has no filter lol

Chapter 27

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Lodgok’s letter finally arrived and James prepared to meet him at a goblin mine south of Keenbridge. He briefly stopped at the hamlet to drop off Fatimah Lawang’s latest order for Mr. Pippin and flew to the planned meeting location. He found Lodgok waiting for him on an overlook nearby, quietly taking in the view. The fifteen year old touched down a few feet away and approached him.

“Hello Lodgok,” he spared the goblin a smile before diving right in. He only had a few hours before nightfall and he was far from the safety of Hogwarts. “A friend who speaks Gobbledegook is meeting us. Before he arrives, could you tell me why we’re here?”

“Of course,” his ally nodded. “Unfortunately, presenting Ranrok with the Helmet of Urtkot did not have the effect I’d hoped.” James shoulders slumped. All that trouble had been for nothing? “Because he knew the details surrounding its plunder, he presumed I’d had help from a witch or wizard retrieving it.”

“How else did he expect goblinkind to get the helmet back?” his brow furrowed.

“I’m afraid we do not have the luxury of rational expectation when it comes to Ranrok,” he received a helpless shrug. That was the second time Lodgok had described the rebellion leader as unreasonable. Was Ranrok even willing to make amends? Or did James need to find another way to get to him? “Damn Bragbor and his blasted journals.”

“Bragbor?” he questioned, catching the low mutter. Lodgok paused before letting out a sigh.

“An ancestor of Ranrok’s…a renowned metal-worker,” the goblin added, studying the teen closely. He hesitated for a moment before continuing. “If we are to work together, I suppose I must tell you more.” The fifteen year old’s eyes widened as his companion did just that – describing journals that spoke of a pair of repositories built for a group of witches and wizards. Excitement filled him. This was it. This was the source of Ranrok’s knowledge, how he knew about the Keepers – why the goblin always seemed one step ahead of him and Professor Fig! When Lodgok described the repositories as large, magically fortified receptacles crafted from goblin metal, James instantly thought of the broken container he’d found cracked open shortly before the second trial.

“Rookwood Castle,” he exhaled.

“That is where we began our search,” his ally confirmed.

“What do these repositories contain?” he asked. “Is that the source of Ranrok’s power?”

“He was convinced that they contain a magical power that wizards wanted to keep for themselves,” Lodgok nodded slowly. “For centuries, wizards have refused to share their magical knowledge with goblins. Many goblins – myself included – have spent our lives mistrusting wizardkind,” his expression soured as he scoffed. “Your kind will not even let us carry wands.”

“I’m sorry,” slipped out. It was a dumb thing to say he realized belatedly. One apology could never make up for centuries of poor treatment. Except he couldn’t help but feel like it needed to be said. The general disdain wizardkind seemed to have for any non-magical person bothered him deeply. The headmaster’s contempt for non-purebloods, the centaurs’ frustrations with the poachers, even Ranrok’s unfortunate past with wizards – it was all so frustrating. Any life-changing knowledge was discovered and instead of sharing it to help as many people as possible, it was hoarded with jealousy. Ridiculous. Lodgok was staring at him with open curiosity. James grimaced. The teenager was supposed to be gathering information on Ranrok and his plans. All he had to do was listen but he just had to open his big mouth. Why had Professor Fig trusted him with this? He obviously had no idea what he was doing. Before either of them could break the silence, the sound of crunching footsteps approached. James whipped his head around, tense shoulders relaxing at the sight of the familiar figure.

“Ah, this is my friend I told you about,” he introduced with a wave of his hand, “Mr. Oakes.” Adelaide’s uncle nodded his head at Lodgok. The wizard addressed the goblin, but James didn’t recognize what came out. A pleased look appeared on Lodgok’s face and he answered the man with a similar string of sounds. They repeated this a couple times and he realized that they must be speaking Gobbledegook.

“Excellent,” the goblin switched back to English for the teen’s sake. “I shall await your return here.”

“Excuse me?” James blurted out. Lodgok wasn’t joining them in the mine? This was his idea in the first place.

“We need to know what Ranrok is plotting and I suspect a careless Loyalist may have left behind their plans somewhere. However I cannot risk anyone reporting my presence to Ranrok. Remember, you cannot be seen.” He didn’t like it, but the goblin had a point. Being spotted sneaking into a mine and digging around for information would derail the plan to get back into Ranrok’s good graces. James pursed his lips but gave a wordless nod. He turned on his heel and approached the mine entrance. The teen stopped just outside of view, the magical door had a familiar blinking eye scanning the area in front of it. He turned to Adelaide’s uncle who was crouched next to him.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Oakes. I didn’t know this would involve infiltrating a goblin mine,” the teen grimaced. “I completely understand if you wish to leave since – ”

“Nonsense,” the wizard waved off the fifteen year old’s apology. “I owe you my thanks for your help freeing me before. It’s the least that I can do.”

“I’m not dragging you into this just because you feel that you owe me,” James scowled. This man was all the family Adelaide had left, the thought of making her an orphan filled him with dread.

“Ranrok is a threat to the entire wizarding world,” Mr. Oakes returned just as seriously, “including my niece. If my knowledge of Gobbledegook can somehow help avert a war then I shall help in whatever way I can.”

“…Alright,” he let out a sigh. He ignored the twinge of guilt that he was leading the man he'd previously freed from goblin captivity back into danger. Mr. Oakes was a grown man. It wasn’t like he was dragging one of his classmates along. “I have a few Invisibility Potions just in case.” The Slytherin had started carrying twice as many on his person after his adventure with Poppy. “Stay close, and if we’re discovered be ready to apparate us out.”

*********

James squeezed his eyes shut, ignoring the rolling of his stomach. He’d side-along apparated a few times before with Professor Fig, but it felt just a tiny bit gentler – if such a word could be applied to something like apparition – with his mentor than just now. He wondered if the smoothness of the feeling varied from person to person. Or if factors like a familiar person versus a stranger affected the experience.

“Thank you, Mr. Oakes,” said the teen once he no longer felt like the world was spinning. He straightened from his hunched position and offered the wizard a grateful smile. “I couldn’t have done this without you. Now if you don’t mind, I need to have a word with Lodgok.”

“You’re quite a capable young man,” his companion remarked, head tilted curiously. “I can see why Adelaide speaks highly of you. Take care Mr. Evans.” And the wizard disappeared with a crack. James returned to Lodgok, who was waiting patiently right where he left the goblin.

“They’re building enormous drills,” the fifteen year old reported. “Ranrok must be searching for the other repository.”

“I fear you are correct,” his ally agreed with a nod. “But other than Rookwood Castle, I do not know where else he plans to search.” James hummed. So it was a race against time until one of them found this hidden repository.

“I’ve been wondering,” he ventured hesitantly, “about something you said before we entered the mine.”

“Yes?” James chewed his lip, trying to decide how best to phrase his question. The goblin had been helpful thus far, but the teen felt so far out of his depth – that one sentence could insult his ally to the point of breaking ties thanks to the conflict-ridden history between their races.

“If you share Ranrok’s views, then why are you helping me?” If his companion didn’t believe in Ranrok’s agenda, he could just not get involved. But instead he was actively working against the rebellion leader and the rest his own kind. Why?

“I expected Rookwood Castle to be deserted when I arrived to begin my search,” Lodgok shared thoughtfully, eyes glazed as if he was reliving the memory, “so was surprised to find a witch there who had set up some sort of improvised research site. She was studying something so intently that she almost didn’t notice me.” He paused for a few beats and looked away. “When she looked up, I thought she would react with fear – or disdain – ” James swallowed at the goblins tone indicating it was the common reaction he received. “But instead she did something that I will never forget,” Lodgok turned away completely, wonder filling his voice, as he looked off in the distance caught up in his tale. James stepped forward to join the goblin’s position overlooking the valley below.

“Without a moment’s hesitation,” he continued quietly, “she smiled…and asked me to sit with her. She told me that she was a researcher, and showed me a small, oddly-shaped container with a strange symbol on it.” The teen’s gaze snapped to his companion, thoughts racing ahead, and he had the strange feeling of déjà vu. Like he already knew how this story ended and was hearing the beginning of it for the first time. “She was certain it was made of goblin metal but was unable to open it,” Lodgok looked up at James, his eyes teeming with an unspoken emotion, and his voice softened. “She wanted to work together.”

“Miriam,” the fifteen year old exhaled, chest tightening. It was strange the relationship he seemed to share with a woman he’d never met. It felt like there was a connection between them, tied together by a thread of ancient magic.

“Yes,” his startled companion blinked. “But how – ?”

“Professor Fig’s wife,” James explained. “My mentor, he told me of her research – and I know of the container.” It was the entire reason he was here. It was why the dragon had attacked his carriage. The cause of Mr. Osric’s death. It had led to the discovery of his abilities – completing the trials – everything. Miriam – and Lodgok it seemed – had unknowingly set the series of events in motion.

“The reverence with which she talked of goblins and their intelligence and skills – it caught me entirely off guard,” his ally eventually continued. Lodgok further recounted his meeting with the witch and the partnership they had forged. It sounded like she’d entirely won the goblin over. He spoke of Miriam with such fondness. The story picked up after the witch’s departure and the arrival of Ranrok’s recruits. They began digging, searching for the repositories referenced in Bragbor’s journals.

“Ranrok was thrilled with our discovery,” Lodgok shared but his expression soon turned sorrowful, “He was furious when I told him about Miriam. Berated me for trusting a witch.” He turned his head away, as if suddenly afraid to look at James. “When I heard she had been killed – ” His insides turned to ice.

“ – Did Ranrok murder her?” the question sprung from his lips. Had Professor Fig ever found out what happened to his wife? He’d never asked, too scared to bring up such a painful topic with his mentor.

“I don’t want to believe it,” Lodgok whispered, “but – I don’t know.” His entire frame was tense, and he still wouldn’t look at the fifteen year old. The goblin’s shoulders hunched as if bearing a heavy a burden. Guilt. James realized. Lodgok expected the teen to be angry. He swallowed. Would Miriam still be alive if Lodgok hadn’t told Ranrok of the witch? That seemed to be his companion's belief. Or would the rebellion leader have found out about the container anyway? Perhaps instead of George Osric being eaten by a dragon, it could have been Miriam. He let out a shaky breath.

“A wise man once told me…that we cannot dwell on what ifs,” he answered so softly, the cold winter wind almost whipped the words away. But Lodgok heard them and his eyes snapped to the teen’s face. “Ranrok has a lot to answer for.” George Osric, the Gringotts bank teller, and now Miriam. How many countless others would have their lives cut short because of Ranrok’s crusade? His companion stared up at him for a long time before something seemed to ease in him.

“After that, something shifted in me,” the goblin picked up his tale. “I had seen how the power from the repositories was transforming Ranrok – transforming all of them…I could no longer remain a part of it.”

“Thank you, Lodgok, for telling me this.” His ally placed a hand on his chest like he wasn’t used to receiving such gratitude, his expression softened and a sigh escaped him.

“Ranrok never found all of Bragbor’s journals. But the ones he did find suggest that another repository was built, far greater in size than the one beneath Rookwood Castle.” Unease filled James. The cracked open container he’d found had been fairly large on its own. And the rebellion leader seemed to wield a great deal of power already. “What you’ve discovered here today worries me deeply. If Ranrok learns of the location of that repository, I fear we shall be destined for a great war.” The foreboding words rested heavily on James’ shoulders. Lodgok began to turn away. “I will find out what Ranrok knows.” The teen realized with a start that he was about to leave. “Watch for my owl.”

“Wait!” he stepped forward, hand outstretched. His companion paused, taken aback by the outburst. “Sorry,” he flushed. “I – um – had a question.” The Slytherin hesitated for a few seconds, but this was probably the best chance he’d ever have. He had to make it count. “I have a friend who was cursed by goblins,” The fifteen year old ventured carefully. “She’s in a great deal of pain and it’s slowly killing her. She was trying to help – ” he cut off his rambling. “Do you know of any way to help her? Nothing else has worked.” His companion’s face was suddenly unreadable. There was no way to tell what the goblin was thinking. “Please.”

“If I do not?” Lodgok asked. James looked away, a frown tugging at his lips.

“Then I shall keep searching,” he shrugged, trying to hide his disappointment. He’d really hoped his ally would - at the very least - have a starting point for him, given that he seemed to have a much deeper understanding of goblinkind and their abilities. He had already tried asking Arn when he ran into him again on the side of the road selling his wares. But the poor goblin was an artist at heart and far removed from the intricacies of such matters.

“What kind of weapon was she cursed with?” The tentative question interrupted the teen’s musings.

“Weapon?” his gaze snapped back to Lodgok.

“…Goblin magic primarily centers around enchanting objects,” his companion explained with a note of hesitation in his voice. James realized belatedly how his question could be interpreted. He’d just asked a goblin to share magical secrets – probably jealously guarded – with a wizard, hence his companion’s reluctance to discuss the subject. He didn't dare speak as Lodgok continued. “If she was cursed by a goblin, you’ll need to break the enchantment on the item. Or destroy the object entirely.” The silence between them was fraught with tension, like they were balancing on the edge of cliff. James thought back to how Sebastian had described the accident.

“I don’t know,” he admitted with a frown. “Whoever cursed her was hidden by smoke caused by a fire. When it was cast, the curse caused a blinding blast.” His ally furrowed his brow at the description.

“That does not sound like any goblin curse I’ve heard of,” he shook his head. His companion paused before venturing uncertainly. “Are you sure it was a goblin that cursed her?” James mulled over the question.

“Well…I wasn’t there myself,” he drew the words out. “But I was told they only saw goblins that night, no one else.” Lodgok gave a perfectly neutral hmm. The teen’s eyes narrowed at the reserved response. “I don’t think they’d purposely lie about something like that though,” he shook his head. “It would only prevent the girl from getting the help she needed.” The silence stretched between them. The sun hung low in the sky. He’d need to leave soon. The fifteen year old tried not to fidget as Lodgok considered him.

“If she truly was cursed by goblins,” his companion replied, face easing – had he thought James would be insulted by his earlier question? – and offered him a helpless shrug. “Then it is not one I am familiar with. I’m afraid I cannot help you.” A disappointed sigh escaped him.

“Right. Well…thanks anyway, Lodgok,” the fifteen year old said. “I appreciate it – truly.” The goblin studied the teen quietly, an odd expression on his face.

“I hope you find the answers you’re looking for,” he remarked before departing. A cold gust of air made James shiver. The Slytherin quickly pulled out his broom and took off for the Keenbridge Floo. He couldn’t help but frown as he replayed the conversation in his mind. He hadn’t outright said it, but Lodgok seemed to think something else had cursed Anne. But if goblins weren’t the cause behind her suffering, what was?

Notes:

I like Amit, but MC dragging him along into a goblin cave was a questionable choice. I really thought we'd be able to have Adelaide's uncle help us when he said that he also spoke Gobbledegook.

Chapter 28

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

After their last afternoon class, James and Natty went to Hogsmeade to gather evidence of Harlow’s blackmail. They interviewed Mr. Bickle’s friends before splitting up to gather more info on the Ashwinders. His companion left for the Hog's Head while the Slytherin asked Sirona Ryan about the matter. The bartender was a wealth of information on the town’s happenings. The woman had even started informing James of nearby poacher activity whenever they popped up after learning of his efforts to thwart them.

“It seems you and Lodgok are getting on,” she commented lowly before the teenager departed.

“Excuse me?”

“He mentioned you in his last letter,” she revealed, flicking her wand to the side to summon a couple of empty glasses at the end of the bar. He glanced over his shoulder at the multiple patrons filling the tavern and turned back to the bartender, lowering his voice.

“He’s certainly been helpful,” the teen answered. “Thank you again.”

“Of course,” she waved him off. “Take care now.” James exited the Three Broomsticks and scanned the area for Natty, but the girl was nowhere to be found. She must still be at the Hog’s Head, he thought. The teen made his way to the more seedy tavern, circling around back. He shouldn’t go inside if she was still in there. The fifteen year old examined the docks – this could be a good place to wait and watch for her – when something resting on one of the crates caught his attention. Natty’s wand. Dread filled him. She could cast without it, but it had been placed there purposely to send a message, much like Archie’s satchel. He picked it up and stowed the wand in his pocket, quickly muttering a Revelio. Orange footsteps lit up, tracking through the back door of the tavern. James grimaced. Instead he circled the building and let out a relieved sigh finding the tracks continue out the front door. The glowing footprints lead him to a nearby cellar connected to the Hog’s Head. His eyes narrowed. Was the tavern some kind of front? He disillusioned himself and quietly entered the basem*nt. It took him a couple minutes to discover the hidden door. The largest wooden barrel opened to reveal a secret room. Not just a room, he realized noting the expansion charm, it was like a secret hideout. He silently approached the stone balcony and peered down into a room filled with Ashwinders. Now where was Natty?

“It’s not going to work,” one of the wizards below was speaking. He’s built like a brick wall. “Using that girl as bait? No one’s coming for her.” Bingo! He should get backup. Officer Singer would have to do something about kidnapping right? “We ought to just kill her.” His breath caught in his chest. “Only a Hogwarts student would be arrogant enough to come in here alone.” The casual words hit him like a sledgehammer. Natty was bait. For him. He chewed his lip. Did he even have time to get help? Could he risk it?

“Girl’s been nothing but trouble,” the Ashwinder’s companion replied. “About time we locked her up.” James scanned the large room again. It was filled with enemies, but they were also pretty spread out. Maybe he could use that to his advantage. Steeling his nerves, the fifteen year old crept down the stairs and into the room below. He ducked behind the nearest cover. He watched the milling Ashwinders for a full minute, mentally plotting the best course around them. The closest enemy turned, distracted by one of their friends dropping something, and the teen scurried past. He slowly inched his way around the perimeter of the room until he reached the bottom of some wooden stairs. A dangerous looking witch lingered on the platform. He glanced down at his disillusioned hand. No good, he needed to be invisible to sneak past the Ashwinder that close. An Invisibility Potion? He grimaced. He'd have no control on when it wore off though. If only there was a way to – oh. The fifteen year old screwed his eyes shut in concentration. He pulled at the ancient magic inside him and twisted it to his will. He imagines the power sliding over him and shaped it to his match his intent. James waved his wand to reapply his disillusionment charm, only this time supercharged with the power of ancient magic. He felt it settle over him like a cloak. He opened his eyes and startled when he was no longer able to see even a shimmer of his hand. He squinted bringing it closer to his face and accidentally hit his nose. The teen blinked rapidly, refocusing on the spell to prevent it from dropping. Concentrate! He scolded himself. Okay, he could do this. Step by step he carefully approached the wooden stair case.

“Be on the lookout for the girl’s friend,” the witch called out, drifting to the side of the platform to scowl at one of the Ashwinders below. She must be the one in charge. James carefully inched up the stairs, not daring to breathe. His heart thudded in his chest as he silently tip toed past her. “If they’re daft enough to even try coming through here,” the woman muttered to herself, crossing her arms. Soon he was at the top of the stairs and skirted around a couple more enemies. Where was Natty? She had to be around here somewhere. The Slytherin snuck down a corridor and carefully slipped around a heavy wooden door. There was a large ornate desk in the middle of the room, laden with books and parchment. An office. His eyes darted around, but there was no sign of Harlow. James straightened from his crouched position approached the desk. He was about to start digging through the documents for information when the sound of a shoe scraping against stone caught his attention. Further in the room on opposite ends were wrought iron bars and –

“Natty!” the fifteen year old exclaimed, his overcharged disillusionment charm dropping.

“You found us!” the girl gasped. “I knew you would! I found Mr. Rabe.” She gestured to the other occupied cell. Found was a bit of a stretch but he dutifully checked on the abducted curse-breaker.

“Are you alright Mr. Rabe?” he asked. The man had been missing for a few days now. He seemed tired but uninjured.

“I am,” the wizard answered. “Thank you for coming. Please, I need my wand to break the curse on these locks. These cells are heavily warded.” A quick Revelio revealed a hidden chest resting on the desk. James opened it with an Alohom*ora, nestled inside was the wizard’s wand along with the missing book of poems and Rosie's love letter. He shoved the beautiful tome into his satchel, making a note to return it to Mr. Philbert, and a spark from his wand burned the note to ash as Mr. Dibble had requested. He returned the curse-breaker’s wand and watched with interest as the wizard dismantled the enchantments on the cell. It took Mr. Rabe a handful of minutes to free himself and Natty. He returned the Gryffindor her wand was well.

The heavy wooden door creaked open. A firm hand landed on James' shoulder and suddenly he was being squeezed on all sides. Just as suddenly the world snapped back into focus and he could breathe again. The teen staggered but managed not to fall on his face. He realized that they were just outside Hogsmeade. He whirled around. Mr. Rabe dropped to a nearby bench, grasping the edge tightly. Natty hovered next to the wizard. “I'm okay,” he assured her. “I just need a moment.”

“Natty, go find Officer Singer,” said James. “I’ll watch over him.” She cast one more worried look at the freed curse-breaker before giving a nod and taking off towards the nearby town. The fifteen year old sat down next to the wizard whose breathing had evened out and grip on the bench had loosened.

“Thank you,” Mr. Rabe finally spoke. “I owe you my life.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” the teen shook his head. The wizard huffed a laugh.

“I do, I don’t know how I could ever repay you.” James grimaced but dropped the subject and gave the man next to him time to recover from his ordeal. Mrs. Rabe would be relieved to learn her husband was unharmed. The fifteen year old blinked as a thought occurred to him and he turned to the wizard.

“Your wife mentioned that you’re a curse-breaker for Gringotts,” he remarked.

“I am,” Mr. Rabe nodded.

“What does that mean exactly?”

“It means I counter and remove curses for a living,” the man responded with a small smile. “Gringotts has a number of artefacts that come into its possession that often requires someone with my skills…especially since the items often hold great value. I cannot go into further detail though.”

“May I ask why?” he tilted his head curiously.

“Secrecy vows. All Gringotts curse-breakers are required to take them.” James chewed his lip.

“So, you have experience countering goblin curses?” he asked hesitantly. The man examined the fifteen year old.

“I do.”

“And wizard curses?”

“…Yes…” The teen’s heart began to beat faster.

“So you’d be able to tell the difference then?” he continued, excitement leaking into his tone. “If a curse was of goblin or wizard origin? Or can a curse come from something else?” Before Mr. Rabe could answer, Natty ran up to them followed closely by Officer Singer. The woman immediately sent the man home to recover after confirming he had no injuries. The witch turned to the two students with a displeased expression, hands on her hips.

“Miss Onai, your mother will not be pleased to learn that you’re still risking your safety pursuing these dangerous men.”

“Actually,” James stepped in, “Natty and I learned of several Hogsmeade residents who have had their lives threatened by the Ashwinders. In addition to abducting Mr. Rabe – to blackmail his wife – and Natty, Rookwood and Harlow have also extorted Agabus Philbert and Otto Dibble.”

“I will look into all of that,” Singer sighed, holding up a hand to silence him. “As for the two of you – while I appreciate what you’re trying to do – please let the authorities handle the Ashwinders.”

“With all due respect, Officer,” the Slytherin couldn’t help but challenge. “The authorities haven’t done much about any of this.”

“There’s more to taking down an organization like the Ashwinders than simply storming in and hauling them off based on a few accusations,” the woman frowned deeply. “I must insist that you leave them to us.”

“Mr. Bickle is dead – ” he tried again.

“ – Enough. We shall have no further discussion on this,” she cut the teen off, clearly fed up. Singer glanced at the silent Gryffindor. “Natsai – you may wish to speak with your mother about this before I do.” She turned on her heel and left before either one of them can respond. James scowled at her departing words, they almost sounded like a threat.

“My mother will not like this,” Natty sighed before offering James a small smile. “Thank you again for rescuing me. We should head back to the castle.”

*********

The next morning, James stopped by the Potions classroom hoping to catch Sharp before his first class. The man was indeed alone, writing out the day’s lesson on the chalkboard at the front of the room. The veteran Auror paused in his class prep upon noticing the fifteen year old approach. He set the piece of chalk down and gave the teen his full attention.

“Can I help you, Mr. Evans?” he drawled. It was the first time he’d sought the Potions master out since their late night talk on the quidditch pitch.

“Hello, sir,” he greeted, shoving his hands in his pockets to stop them from fidgeting. The action earned him a raised eye brow. “I – uh – was wondering if you knew Officer Singer?”

“Only by reputation,” he crossed his arms, eyes narrowing. “I don’t know her personally.”

“Oh,” he looked away, second guessing himself. Of course the man didn’t know everyone in law enforcement. But he hadn’t known who else to go to for something like this. I guess I could try Professor Fig, he mused. He’d been hoping to get a second opinion from someone with personal experience though.

“Why do you ask?” the man prompted. James chewed his lip, studying the professor. His expression was neutral, giving no indication what was going on in his head. He briefly considered turning on his heel and escaping the room. Sharp wouldn’t chase after him with a class starting soon, right? The ex-Auror patiently waited for the teen to respond like always, and maybe that was what convinced him to share with the professor his concerns. James told him about Officer Singer’s lack of action regarding Theophilus Harlow. He recounted the troubles different Hogsmeade residents had faced – the death of Mr. Bickle and Archie’s subsequent kidnapping. The Potions master listened intently to the entire story, a thoughtful frown on his face.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s nothing, but it’s been bugging me since – ” he cut himself off. The teen hadn’t mentioned Natty’s name once during his tale. The Gryffindor’s mother already knew of their involvement, but it felt wrong to just give her up like that to the Potions professor. He cleared his throat at Sharp’s expectant look. “Officer Singer told a friend of mine that Mr. Bickle was helping her gather evidence against Harlow. But why would she tell a student the name of one of her sources? And how much evidence does she need before Harlow can be arrested? I just can’t tell if it’s – you know – carelessness or…” He trailed off uncertainly, the fifteen year old’s unspoken accusation hung in the air. The veteran Auror let out a pensive hmm.

“I’ll look into it,” Sharp eventually said and James let out a relieved sigh. He’d half-expected to have his worries dismissed. In his experience, most adults seemed easily angered by perceived slights. Officer Singer had become increasingly irritated at having her actions questioned by a couple a students.

“Thank you, sir,” he murmured, an invisible weight lifting from his shoulders. The man didn’t put up with any nonsense. If the Potions master felt it was worth investigating then perhaps it wasn’t just his imagination. The fifteen year old turned to leave. He had his own morning class to get to.

“Just a moment,” Sharp called, halting him in his tracks.

“Sir?”

“Report here after supper,” the professor instructed. “I’d like to review your spellcasting.” James blinked.

“I…I have detention with – ”

“ – I’ll send a note to Professor Fig to let him know you’ll be serving it with me tonight,” the veteran Auror smoothly interrupted. “I doubt one evening will interfere with…” his gaze narrowed briefly, “whatever remedial lesson plan he has set for you.” He should have known the man wouldn’t just let him go after avoiding him for so long.

“Yes, sir,” the teenager grimaced. A flicker of amusem*nt passed over Sharp’s face.

“Think of it more as a check-in, if that helps,” he added lightly, “to track your progress.” It didn’t help.

Notes:

silly James, you can't hide from Sharp

Chapter 29

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

James Evans hated quills. They were messy to write with and made his hand hurt from pinching something so narrow for long periods of time. Sometimes the feathers were so large and big that they’d block his view of what he was writing or even brush against his face if he leaned in too close. Fountain pens were much more practical. Professor Fig had noticed the fifteen year old eyeing some during their trip to London before the start of term and had bought a number of them. The teenager had since learned – while working his way through various spellbooks and practicing any that seemed useful – to charm the pens to not run out of ink or dry out. His use of fountain pens instead of quills had quickly attracted Sebastian’s attention and his friend had asked to borrow it. He was still waiting on getting it back. The second pen he’d given to Amit as a thank you for the boy’s telescope, something he’d forgotten to replace after the dragon attack. The third one…actually he wasn’t sure what happened to that one. After that some of his classmates had started asking about them. He hadn’t wanted to give away the rest of his dwindling supply, but some of them had offered money for the enchanted pens. And that was how James Evans accidentally started the side hustle of selling charmed fountain pens at Hogwarts in his limited free time.

His experiments of charming different muggle items hadn’t ended there. He’d managed to charm a pair of leather notebooks so that whatever was written in one of them appeared in its twin as well. The teen had also accidentally made his boots soundless so that no matter how hard he stomped his feet the motion didn’t produce any sound. He’d actually been trying to make them repel water – wet feet were the absolute worst – but it had been a handy feature in his adventures so he’d left the enchantment in place. It was for this reason that the fifteen year old paid close attention to the spells Mr. Weekes added to his broom. James had been so preoccupied with finding Natty that he’d completely forgotten to get the latest upgrade when he was in Hogsmeade yesterday. He chatted with the shop owner while the man added the enchantments to his broom. He departed with a promise to check on the next broom flight trial per their agreement. The fifteen year old headed back to the Floo behind Spintwitches and paused at the sight of a house-elf sweeping the ground outside of a nearby shop.

“Hello!” she called, her big eyes lighting up. “Pardon me.” He glanced over his shoulder but there was no one else around. She must be talking to him.

“Um – hi,” he approached the elf. “Did you need something?”

“I was wondering if you would be interested in having your own shop – and a house-elf to help you with it.” He raised a surprised eye brow. “Penny’s the name. Penny’s mistress is selling this shop – and Penny is most eager to start working with the new owner!” His mouth curled into a small smile at her enthusiasm. “It might surprise you to know that Penny can sell practically anything.” And then the elf went ahead and demonstrated it by talking him into buying the place. He’d never imagined himself as a shop owner. But with the amount of things he came across and collected in his travels, the idea of offloading it all in one place – and getting some galleons in return – did sound appealing. Plus, instead of his peers tracking him down in the halls or during mealtimes for his enchanted fountain pens, he could just sell them here. Penny was an odd duck, going as far as to hold her breath to stop herself from talking at one point. But Deek and Feenky were a bit peculiar in their own way too so he didn’t dwell on it.

“Alright, Penny,” he held up his hands in surrender. “I’ll go find Madam Mason.”

“Oh, this is splendid news, indeed!” the house-elf exclaimed, bouncing up and down excitedly. “You won’t be sorry! You can find Mistress Mason at her home on the north edge of the village. Penny does hope she gets to work with you.” He found the widow just where the elf said he would. She was siting outside of a stone cottage, reviewing a piece of parchment in her hands.

“Hello – Madam Mason?” he cleared his throat. “I understand you have a shop to sell?”

“Why, yes!” the witch stood, tucking the sheaf of paper away. “Yes, I do. Are you interested?” He asked her a series of questions, and she had a reasonable answer for each one. She was a strange old woman, especially the clause about buying the shop back for a reduced price if he failed. Her words about one bad apple spoiling the barrel – in this case Hogsmeade – sounded like pureblood drivel. He couldn’t help but feel like she wasn't being completely honest with him, but the contract looked straightforward enough. And it wasn’t like buying a shop was nearly as dangerous as fighting Ranrok’s Loyalists or Rookwood’s Ashwinders. Worst case scenario, he’d be out of a chunk galleons.

Transaction complete, he hurried back to the shop. It was already Thursday. If he got a head start on getting the place cleaned up, he could focus on stocking up on inventory this weekend. Penny was where he left her and jumped up and down with joy when the teenager informed her that he’d purchased the shop. It was a mess inside, like a tornado had come through and knocked everything over. But a wave of his wand and a snap of Penny’s fingers made quick work of putting the shop back together. He glanced out the window. He’d better Floo back to Hogwarts soon if he didn’t want to miss supper.

“Mistress Mason wanted Penny to be sure and give you this key,” The house-elf wrung her hands after offering it to him. “It opens a chest in the back room of the shop.”

“Yes, she said it contained some of her late husband’s belongings,” he accepted the key and turned to enter the backroom.

“Penny wonders if you should open the chest,” the elf murmured quietly before sucking in a large breath and covering her mouth. The fifteen year old paused and blinked down at her.

“Are you – holding your breath again?”

“Penny must get back to work now,” the house-elf said and immediately began to scrub the floor. He watched her for a few moments, but Penny was completely focused on her task and did not look up. He narrowed his eyes. Well that was…weird. He let out an annoyed sigh and went into the backroom. The sooner he got this over with the sooner he could get back to Hogwarts. James unlocked the chest and the lid practically sprung open under his hand. He peered into the trunk and noted it was much bigger on the inside with a ladder leading down to a stone floor far below. What was it with wizardkind’s obsession to magically expand everything? He sighed again and descended into the chest. The moment his feet touched the ground, he heard the lid above close with a loud thud and the ladder in front of him disappeared in a flash of purple light.

James whirled around with a frown. He seemed to be in some kind of cellar. It kind of reminded him of the Ashwinder hideout below the Hog’s Head. The teenager pursed his lips and continued forward, wand at the ready. The basem*nt was much bigger than he had expected and the stone floor turned to wood in the corridor at the back. The cramped hall opened up into a room filled with an assortment of clutter. He eyed the spiderwebs covering some of the items. It was such an odd collection, containing everything from a gold bird cage to faceless mannequins. It reminded him of the Room of Hidden Things on a much smaller scale. His eyes landed on a medium-sized chest at the very back. That must be it. He approached the trunk and knelt down to open it.

“Odd,” he muttered. “Why would someone store just one hat in here?” It didn’t even look like a piece of clothing Mr. Mason would have worn. The fifteen year old turned to leave. Supper was probably over by now. Professor Fig would not be pleased if he found out. He needed to hurry back before Sharp tried to assign him even more detentions. He was about a foot away when the wooden door slammed shut on its own. “That’s not very hospitable,” he mumbled, unease filling him. He turned around and one of the wooden mannequins was now posed in the middle of the room. The teenager frowned at it. He was pretty sure it hadn’t been there before. He took a hesitant step forward and the room plunged into darkness. His heart leapt to his throat and he cast a quick Lumos to light up his surroundings. The room had somehow been cleared of all clutter except – James took a startled step back – above his head a handful of mannequins hung limply, like something invisible was holding them in the air.

“Oh, goody! Someone to play with.” His eyes darted around the room as he tried to pinpoint the source of the malicious voice. “You seem a cunning sort. What fun this will be!” There was no one else here. He didn’t see anyone. Where was that coming from? “…For me at least.” The words sent a shiver down his spine. The door behind him reopened, except it was completely different. Instead of the familiar gray stone he’d passed earlier, the wood floor was carpeted and the walls were covered in wallpaper. This may have been a bad idea, he thought to himself as he inched forward, wand in front. Something ice cold went through him, causing the teen to shudder violently. All the open doors branching off from the hallway slammed shut as something blue shot past them. “What – who’s there?” he called. But whatever it was had disappeared. The previously closed door at the end, in turn, opened almost welcoming in a mocking way. A high pitched eerie laugh filled the air, causing his shoulders to tense further. He swallowed as he slowly entered the next room. It was cluttered with boxes and barrels and more mannequins. He didn’t see an exit. James took a few cautious steps forward and then he was plunged in darkness again. Heart thumping, he went to cast another Lumos but the room lit up on its own. The fifteen year old jumped at the pile of bones that had appeared next to him. He spun around. The entire room appeared to be a dungeon cell now - piles of skulls and bones littered the floor. An empty iron cage hung nearby. His breath hitched and an invisible band stretched tight around his lungs. It felt like he was back in the cell where Professor Fig had found him. The door he’d previously entered creaked open and James sprinted for it.

The corridor had changed again, the end of it leading even lower. He paused at the top of the stairs and a swarm of bats fluttered past. The teen grimaced. The next few minutes were just as anxiety inducing as he looked for an escape from his ever confusing surroundings. What was this cursed place? He’d never seen anything like it before. He entered another hallway past a set of double doors and the door at the end shot backwards, as if the entire corridor was being stretched out.

“Hmm,” the mysterious voice returned. “You might survive a bit longer than the others.” Fear gripped him tight. There had been others? How many? And what had happened to them? The fifteen year old ran down the hall and slammed the door open before it could disappear on him. He entered a large chamber, the floor turning back to stone. There was a cracked tile inlay in the center of the room. A toppled over wooden chair at the far end lifted in the air on its own, a seated humanoid figure appearing. He glowed a familiar blue, the color due to his suit, and a white powdered wig sat atop his head. “Oh! You’ve come so far so quickly,” the man – no, ghost? Or was it a poltergeist? – spoke. “Well done! You might be just the playmate I’ve been looking for.”

“Who are you?” he forced the words out, braced for an attack.

“Fastidio is the name,” he twirled out of the chair, sweeping into a mocking bow, “causing chaos is my game.” He sounded like Peeves. So…poltergeist? How did one even fight something that was neither alive nor dead? “I do hope you enjoy my playground,” the wide grin conflicted with the menacing tone. “I encourage you to tell everyone about it…if you make it out.” The floating chair suddenly hurtled toward him and James ducked to avoid the projectile. “Please try. If you get to the end, perhaps we can come to some sort of…arrangement.” Fastidio drifted backwards toward a set of ornate looking double doors. “I do want your shop to succeed after all.” And then he was gone.

The next few minutes – hours? Days? He lost all sense of time – were an absolute nightmare. How long had he been trapped down here? He was so tired and hungry. He trudged on through sheer willpower alone. He didn’t want to die on his own in a cursed dungeon like Noctua Gaunt. The frequent jump scares from various enemies like spiders and mannequins wore him down. The constantly changing surroundings and lighting was exhausting. By the time James reached the graveyard, he was ready to commit murder. Either this shop was going to kill him, or he was going to kill it.

“Finally!” The teenager jumped when the poltergeist appeared over his shoulder before flying backwards pointing at him with glee. “You – my inordinately clever friend – appear to have traversed this seemingly never-ending dungeon relatively unscathed.” He zoomed forward into the fifteen year old’s face and James flinched at the sudden proximity. “And now I supposed you’ll want to go,” Fastidio pouted, spinning away. “Everyone leaves me – usually in a straightjacket – never to return.” The mixture of hostility and disappointment the poltergeist spoke with was disorienting. Did he just admit to driving the previous tenants mad? How many poor souls had Madam Mason sent to St. Mungo’s? James glowered as Fastidio continued his dramatics. “I’m starting to take it personally. I’m tired of having no one to play with.” He halted in the air. “…Ooh! Tell you what, I’ll make you a deal.” Red eyes bore into his own blue green. “If you match wits with me now and agree to give me unfettered access to the shop, for say one day a month, to have a little fun, I will sign a contract – ” The poltergeist prattled on, but the teen wasn’t listening. Could anything unalive even be held to a contract? Anger swirled inside him and his magic itched just under his skin, begging to be released. Ancient magic slowly began to leak out. Fastidio paused his rambling and drifted closer with a curious tilt of his head, eyes lighting up with interest. “Ooh, that’s new. Where did Cassandra find you?”

It was the last straw. James wanted out. He wanted to see his mentor again. He wanted to talk to Sebastian even though he was still mad at his friend. He wanted to practice spellcasting with Sharp. He wanted to fly on his broom. He wanted to spend time with his beasts in the Room of Requirement. But most of all, he wanted this stupid poltergeist to GO AWAY AND NEVER COME BACK.

Fastidio began to convulse, his glowing image flickered in and out of focus, face screwed up in pain.

“What are you doing you little cretin?” the poltergeist snarled, expression shifting to inhuman fury, as he clutched his sides. Fastidio glowed bright – the light so blinding James had to close his eyes. A loud blood curdling shriek filled the air causing the fifteen year old to clamp his hands over his ears. There was a loud earth-shaking BANG that made him lose his footing. When he cracked his eyes open, he was lying on the wooden floor right where he started next to the open chest he’d found the hat in. He got up slowly, looking around wildly. What happened? The teen flinched violently at the mannequin sitting on the ground nearby. But it didn't move.

James bolted for the exit. The ladder he’d come down before was back and he scurried up it in record time, banging the chest lid open and falling out onto the floor. He reached behind and slammed the trunk shut, leaning against it as he caught his breath. His heart was pounding and his hands were clammy. He gulped down the fresh air like a starved man. It was over. He was back. He wasn’t dead. He screwed his eyes shut as he fought to regain control. He could have died and no one would have ever known what happened to him. He didn’t know how long he sat there, but the panic eventually receded and the fifteen year old could finally think straight again. Was Fastidio gone? His eyes narrowed. That witch had tried to kill him. Had possibly murdered other people. He wondered briefly how her husband had died. The faint sound of scrubbing registered in his mind. His nostrils flared. Penny. James lurched to his feet and out of the back room.

“Hello, Penny,” he practically growled. He did not take kindly to anyone that tried to kill him thank you very much.

“Oh, Penny is glad you’re back!” the elf had the gall to say.

“You knew exactly where I was going when I entered that chest.” She wrung her hands and admitting that many past tenants had indeed ended up in St. Mungo’s. When he pushed her for answers, the elf tried to hold her breath again. Despite his best efforts, it seemed the house-elf was still beholden to Madam Mason. He needed to find Officer Singer. The woman couldn’t ignore attempted murder surely?

“Penny is so sorry. Penny wanted to tell you everything. Truly.” The elf had tears in her eyes and it tugged at something inside him. But he was too angry right now and left the shop. He blinked dazedly at the sun cresting the horizon. Just how long had he been trapped? The teen quickly found Officer Singer in the town square and rushed up to her.

“Cassandra Mason sold me her shop and tried to kill me with a haunted dungeon,” he informed her all in one breath.

“I – Cassandra Mason sold you her shop?” the woman was taken aback by his sudden arrival.

Did you not hear the bit about the dungeon?” he asked incredulously.

“No,” she stammered. “No, I heard that bit too.”

“She’s done this before,” he continued, “driving other people mad.”

“I wondered what was going on,” the witch mused. “She seemed to have had a great deal of trouble keeping a tenant in that shop.”

Well?” It finally spurred the woman into action. They raced to the widow’s cottage on the edge of town. Cassandra Mason exited her home like she'd been waiting for them. Singer began to speak, ordering the witch to come with her. But the widow blasted the officer back into the neighboring stone wall and she slumped to the ground. Madam Mason tried to do the same to James but he managed to block her blasting curse at the last second. Anger flooded him and ancient magic swirled around him. He wordlessly pointed his wand at the witch and lifted it high in the air, the woman’s body followed the movement. He slammed it down and Madam Mason hit the ground. He lifted her up and threw her down again. And again. The air was still. Hogsmeade was quiet. James’ heavy breathing slowly evened out. Officer Singer was on her feet and inspected the still form of Madam Mason.

“She’ll live,” the witch murmured, glancing up at the fifteen year old. There was a wariness in her eyes that wasn’t there before. “I’ll make sure she files the paperwork granting you ownership of the shop and the elf.”

“You may want to look into the death of her husband,” he muttered to Singer. Whole thing seemed a bit too convenient, but he was also in a pessimistic mood. The officer gave him a silent nod.

*********

James blinked and realized he was outside his mentor’s office. How long had he been standing there? The teenager shoved the heavy wooden door open and stopped short. Both Fig and Sharp were inside, leaning against the desk between them, eyes wordlessly locked on each other. His noisy entrance caught their attention and broke the staring match. He looked between the two men, feeling like he had just interrupted a very important conversation.

“…Is this a bad time?” he asked, voice small.

“James!” Fig recovered first and practically rushed him. Sharp was a mere step behind, his critical gaze taking in every detail of the fifteen year old's appearance. “Where have you been?” His mentor gripped both his shoulders, blue eyes searching. The man frowned when he was unable to repress the trembling any longer. “What happened?” Fig asked softly. His jaw clenched. Even if he knew what to say, he didn’t think he could get the words out. A sniffle escaped him as he stared at the professor’s face. He’d come so close to never seeing it again. His eyes flicked over to Sharp, who was watching him closely. It was almost ironic how elated he was to see the veteran Auror, given the lengths he’d gone to avoid him. His gaze focused back on his ever patient mentor – a man who had become such an integral piece of his life. James stepped closer, bridging the distance between them, and flung his arms around his mentor’s torso. A whimper escaped him as he burrowed his face into the professor’s neck. After a brief – terrifying – pause, Fig returned the embrace and rubbed comforting circles in the teen’s back. “It’s alright. You’re safe now.”

Notes:

guess who decided to start the haunted hogsmeade shop quest at 11 o'clock at night in a pitch black room like.an.idiot.

Chapter 30: Interlude - Eleazar Fig

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“I think I know why the Keepers have been so hesitant to share anything.” Fig and James were in his office next to the crackling fire. The professor had insisted even though it was late. He could tell the teenager was already exhausted by the second trial even before he’d been interrogated by the Keepers regarding the most recent memory. Something was clearly bothering him though. He'd noticed the fifteen year old’s quiet and distracted demeanor. He leaned forward in the armchair, studying his ward sitting across from him on the chaise lounge. James was clutching his still full teacup as if it might disappear, peering into the steaming liquid like it held all the answers to the universe. “I think,” the teen glanced up and Fig gave him an encouraging nod. “I think Isidora did something that scared them and…they’re afraid I’m just as bad as her. Or worse.”

He abandoned his half-empty tea cup on the nearby side table and joined the fifteen year old on the lounge. The professor moved the untouched tea out of the way and gripped the boy’s shoulders firmly.

“James I want you to listen to me very carefully,” Fig spoke slowly to emphasize his words as he stared into timid blue green eyes. “There is nothing wrong with you.” A series of emotions flashed across the teenager’s face, the strongest – heartbreakingly – was doubt. “You’re a good person.”

“I’m not,” the teen argued, shaking his head. “Not always.”

“Not a single person is always good all the time.”

“You are.” Eleazar’s chest tightened at the immediate response. The absolute trust the fifteen year had in him was both endearing and terrifying. He’d worked so hard to get past the teenager’s barriers, to get him to open up. Now that he’d gotten past those defenses, he had noticed just how much James clung to him – as if afraid he would disappear too. It was why he kept pushing the boy to expand his network of friends. Fig was an old man, he wouldn’t be around forever. One of his deepest fears was that the loss of his presence would cause the fifteen year old to backslide. That he'd become even more fractured than the shell of a person he'd first met.

“Not even me,” he answered softly. The disbelieving frown the man received almost made him laugh. He took a deep breath – not wanting to touch the topic with a ten foot pole – but he needed the teen to understand. “I abandoned Miriam to her research and wasn’t there to save her. I don’t even know how she died. That’s not very good, is it?” James stilled, expression so painfully hesitant. He was always like that whenever the woman was brought up.

“…I thought we weren’t supposed to dwell on what ifs,” he whispered, causing a brief chuckle to escape Fig. It was the kind of thing his wife would have said and the thought made his heart squeeze tight. It was a shame James and Miriam would never get the chance to meet.

“My point is,” he persevered, “the world isn’t split into good people and bad people. We all have light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.” The professor placed a hand on the fifteen year old’s chest, just above his heart. “That’s who we really are.” James was silent as he digested the words, absently biting his lower lip. Eleazar patiently waited, giving his ward as much time as he needed. The teen eventually let out a sigh and his face eased.

“What if we’re not enough to stop Ranrok?” Fig didn’t let his own worry show. He’d agonized over that very question late at night when he couldn’t sleep. The professor had made countless trips to the ministry – thankfully much shorter than the first – and reached out to a number of his contacts. But no matter how much he pleaded or argued, everyone seemed content to bury their head in the sand regarding the threat Ranrok posed.

“You let me handle that.” He squeezed James’ shoulder. “All you need to focus on is honing your magic.” An amused smile tugged at James’ lips. The familiar words had turned into an inside joke at this point.

“Yes, sir.”

*********

His worry spiked when James began to withdraw. He was still present physically but it was like a mental curtain had been drawn. He managed to gather that the teenager had a fight with his friend Sebastian Sallow. Which was regrettable, but a part of life. It was bound to happen at some point. But he couldn’t help the fifteen year work through it in a healthy way if he didn’t know what the root of the problem was. Sallow had also refused to reveal the nature of the argument, but he did let slip that he’d accidentally called James ignorant. The boy had guiltily added it was something his ward had previously confided in his housemate about. Fig had remained fairly neutral during the entire exchange but had stressed to the Slytherin student that James’ trust was hard-won.

The professor was currently at his desk reviewing the latest news on Ranrok – courtesy of the Daily Prophet – when the door to his office banged open to reveal a disgruntled Potions master in the doorway.

“Sharp,” Eleazar blinked at the intrusion. “Don’t tell me you had a change of heart.”

“Where is he?” the veteran Auror scowled.

“Who?”

“Don’t play games with me Fig,” the irritated man strode into the room, door closing shut behind him. “What mysterious errand do you have him on now?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he straightened to his full height, “and I don’t like what you’re insinuating.”

“Anyone with eyes can see how attached the boy is,” Sharp crossed his arms. “If you told him to jump he’d ask how high.”

“Hold on,” Fig brought his hand up. “Did you really leave James in your classroom just to pick a fight?” His question brought the man up short and a flicker of doubt crossed his face.

“He never showed,” he revealed after a couple beats, righteous anger fading. The room fell silent as the Potions professor seemed to reassess the situation. “Are you saying you don’t know where he is?”

“Well I don’t track him all hours of the day,” Eleazar muttered. He tapped his chin in thought. James had briefly stopped by after lunch to complain about the Potions professor insisting on overseeing his detention tonight before heading to his next class. So it wasn’t like he’d been unaware of the change.

“He doesn’t make a habit of missing appointments does he?” his colleague asked, anger replaced by unease.

“No,” the older professor responded, “he does not.” The teenager had been making an effort to keep Fig in the loop ever since their talk in the Room of Requirement. Worry saturated the room as they both considered the last time the fifteen year old had been missing for a significant amount of time. He called Deek but the house-elf did not know where James was either. The rest of the Hogwarts elves were included in the impromptu search but the teen was nowhere to be found despite hours of searching top to bottom. He must be somewhere off school grounds.

“Could he have gotten tangled up with Ranrok or Rookwood’s lot again?” Sharp questioned with a frown.

“Pardon?”

“I’m not an idiot Fig,” the Potions master snapped. “I know he’s involved in something that you’re clearly aware of. But no matter how often I ask, the boy refuses to say a word every time.” The man’s expression turned thoughtful. “At first I thought it was out of fear, but now I’m inclined to believe it stems from some misplaced desire not to betray your confidence.” Again…equal parts endearing and terrifying. His blue eyes narrowed.

“I can’t imagine you make a habit of badgering all your students. Why are you so interested in James?” Eleazar challenged. The Potions professor glowered.

“Is it really so hard to believe I’m concerned about the well-being of one of my students?”

Yes. You’ve been the most vocal of all the professors on his activities. As his guardian I would like to know why.” The look he gave the man was hard and unyielding. He was fed up with the frequent bids for information and disapproving remarks. Sharp looked away and didn’t speak for a long time. Finally, he wordlessly reached into his suit jacket, pulling out a small moving photograph, and carefully set it on Fig’s cluttered desk. He peered down at it and his breath hitched at the sight of familiar blue green eyes. A soft smile tugged at the woman’s lips, the same shy expression he’d seen James wear on the rare occasion.

“Who is she?” he whispered.

“Eleanor Crowley.” He tore his gaze away to look back up at the ex-Auror. The man’s face was so stiff it looked to be carved out of stone. “Married to Henry Crowley. They had a son named Jamerson.” His heart squeezed. “A group of dark wizards attacked their home one night. Burned it to the ground with Fiendfyre while the family was trapped inside.” The Potions master’s eyes were hard as diamond as he recited the story like he was reading from a report. “That was twelve years ago.” His thoughts raced. They tripped over each other vying for his attention.

“How old was the son?” he dared to ask, like he didn’t know where this was going.

“Three.” The math added up. Fig let out a long exhale as his hands gripped the edge of his desk tight.

“The chances alone are…”

“I know.” He took another fortifying breath.

“…James has never mentioned anything to suggest he was adopted,” he finally admitted lowly.

“Which is precisely why I haven’t said anything,” Sharp responded, expression shifting to show his frustration. He leaned against the desk, matching Eleazar’s stare with a glare of his own. “I’ve been trying to gather more information to confirm my suspicions, not that you’ve been any help in the matter.” Fig frowned at the accusation. He’d purposely deflected and stonewalled any interest the other professor’s showed in the fifteen year old largely in part because of his connection to ancient magic. If word got out about the power he wielded – if the Ministry found out – Eleazar dreaded to consider the lengths many would go to just to get their hands on the teenager. Despite Miriam’s research combined with his own, he still didn’t know why the primordial magic had vanished without a trace.

“Who was she?” he asked, softer this time. How did the man know about this mysterious woman that reminded him so much of his ward? Sharp didn’t answer right away, inner turmoil clear on his face.

“…My sister,” he eventually admitted so quietly Fig almost missed it. His chest tightened at the words. Uncle, his traitorous mind supplied. Blood ties were highly valued in the wizarding world. A direct connection like that would overrule any other type of – he crushed that line of thought ruthlessly. The office was fraught with tension and neither professor was willing to break the hushed stillness that had fallen. He didn’t know how long he stood frozen in silence when the office door thumped open to reveal James. The teenager was a mess. His clothes and hair were askew and he was covered in dirt. There was also a wildness in his eyes that Eleazar hadn’t seen since their first few weeks together. Blue green eyes darted between the two men uncertainly.

“…Is this a bad time?” he asked, sounding so incredibly vulnerable it spurred him into action.

“James!” he exclaimed, relief flooding him at the sight of his ward. He rushed to the boy, checking him for injuries – gripping his shoulders to convince himself the teenager was really standing in front of him. He frowned at the tremors running through the fifteen year old’s frame. “What is it?” he whispered. He could feel Sharp hovering nearby, but kept his focus on the teen in front of him. There was a sniffle – he looked like he was about to cry. And then suddenly James was hugging him tight and burrowing his face into the crook of the professor’s neck. The physical affection shocked Fig – it was the very first time the teenager had ever initiated such a thing, being very particular with his personal space – but the man soon returned it, comforting the distressed boy as best he could. “It’s alright. You’re safe now.”

*********

“Now,” Fig settled next to James on the chaise lounge and Sharp sat in the nearby armchair. The teen was so close that their shoulders were nearly touching. He’d never been this clingy before. The physical affection, while heartwarming, was also rather concerning as he wondered what could have triggered it. “What happened?” The question caused the boy to stiffen even more, holding himself so still it was as if he’d turned into a statue. His blue green eyes closed shut as he took a shallow breath and the silence stretched.

“Where were you?” Sharp finally asked. He had moved the armchair closer to the lounge and was seated directly across from the teenager.

“…Hogsmeade.”

“The entire time?”

“Yes.” Eleazar’s gaze darted back and forth at the exchange before he realized what the veteran Auror was doing. He'd narrowed the question to be less overwhelming.

“Where in Hogsmeade?” The teenager didn’t answer right away. Fig placed a steady hand on his ward’s back.

“…A dungeon…I think.” James exhaled shakily.

“You think?” The two professors shared a confused look. The fifteen year old shrugged helplessly.

“I don’t know what it was exactly.” He chewed his lip. “I was trapped…like the scriptorium.” Both men tensed at that comparison. “Except…it kept changing – and there was a poltergeist.” Eleazar’s eyebrows rose higher and higher as the teenager haltingly shared his tale. A haunted shop. With a cursed dungeon. Sold by a widow. If he was a drinking man, he’d be cracking open a bottle of firewhisky right about now. Sharp didn't seem to be fairing much better and had pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation about halfway through. He had so many questions, like why the teenager had bought the shop in the first place. But more importantly…

“How did you get out?” Fig asked gently. James had moved to hug his legs while recounting his experience and his chin now rested on his bent knees as his eyelids began to droop.

“He disappeared.” Both men blinked at that.

“He let you go?” Sharp asked somewhat incredulously.

“Not exactly,” James fidgeted. “I think I banished him?”

“…You banished a poltergeist?” the Potions professor repeated dumbly. It was a fair reaction since Peeves was still at Hogwarts. There were rumors of an attempt to get rid of the troublemaker many years ago that had backfired spectacularly.

“It was an accident.” The fifteen year old looked at his mentor, face hesitant. “Kind of like the troll but…different.” Ancient magic, the man realized.

“I see,” Fig responded quietly. Sharp frowned, eyes darting back and forth between the two. Eleazar could see the wheels turning in his head.

“I thought Aurors were supposed to be more impressive,” James commented idly. “But Madame Mason took her down pretty quickly.”

“Officer Singer isn’t an Auror,” the Potions master corrected. “She’s only local law enforcement.” His gaze turned pensive as his voice took on a lecturing tone. “Aurors go through a much more rigorous selection and training process.”

“Obviously,” the teen muttered, amusing both of the professors. James blinked a few more times. He looked exhausted.

“You should eat,” said Fig, “and get some rest. I’ll send a note to excuse you from today’s classes.” Sharp didn’t say anything, instead rising to his feet and returning the armchair to its previous position with a flick of his wand.

“I need to speak with Officer Singer,” the Potions professor commented lowly. His dark gaze rested on Eleazar for a brief moment before exiting the office. He let out a breath once his colleague was gone. This was not how he’d expected the day to go when he woke up this morning. The man shook his head and pushed everything to the back of his mind to focus on his ward.

“How about some waffles?” Tired blue green eyes lit up. He’d introduced James to them early on in his stay and they’d been a favorite ever since. He ruffled the teenager’s reddish brown hair. “Wait here.”

Notes:

YOU GUYS - I have been waiting for this reveal for so LONG, you don't even know.

Also, I love Sirius Black. That man was robbed. Robbed I tell you.

Chapter 31

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The next day he swung by the Summoner’s Court, curious who his next opponent would be. He hadn’t really planned to continue playing the game – especially after all the duels he started to get into with Loyalists and Ashwinders. But Leander had been persistent about facing off with James and he’d wanted to take the arrogant Gryffindor down a peg. Okay, he may have also still been annoyed about what his classmate had said about Sebastian. Then he’d been talked to it by one of his Ravenclaw classmates, Samantha Dale, who was actually quite nice so it didn’t take much effort on her part to convince him. Honestly, it had just spiraled from there. The fifteen year old paused at the sight of Professor Ronen standing on the raised dais.

You’re my Summoner’s Court opponent?” he asked in disbelief after joining him.

“Indeed I am,” the jovial man returned. “Professors are allowed to have fun once in a while too, you know.”

“Of course,” the teen quickly recovered. The man’s smile was infectious. “I look forward to playing against you.”

“I’ve been playing this for eons, so you haven’t a chance of winning,” he gave the fifteen year old a playful wink. “How about we get started anyway?” James’ mouth curled into a grin. That may be true, but he’d been practicing his charms, like Accio, under much more challenging conditions than this. He wondered briefly if he should let the professor win – what adult wouldn't be displeased about losing to a teenager? – but Ronen seemed unlikely to get upset over something like that. Did he even have an ego? “That’s no way to treat a professor,” his opponent said when his red ball was knocked off the platform. He froze for a moment – had he miscalculated? – but the man’s words were quickly followed by a sharp laugh and his shoulders eased. “Delightful to see such mastery from one your age,” the professor hummed when the teen managed to eke out a win. “Well done! You’ve beaten me at my own game.” He warmed at the praise, ducking his head in embarrassment.

“I had a good teacher,” the fifteen year old answered.

“A flatterer, I see,” Ronen chuckled. “Although, I daresay it’s not unwarranted. I shall accept the compliment humbly.” His eyes crinkled good-naturedly. “I suppose that makes you the new Summoner’s Court champion…Do not let it go to your head.”

“You sound like Professor Sharp,” slipped out. The man guffawed and the teen couldn’t help but chuckle a little as well. His eyes drifted to the milling students behind Ronen and he caught sight of Sebastian entering the castle. His smile dropped and his chest tightened. He hadn’t been in the Great Hall or the Slytherin dormitories the entire week in trepidation of running into his housemate. Were they still friends? He wasn’t sure.

“Something the matter?” the professor asked. James’ attention snapped back to him.

“No.” The man gave a neutral hum.

“I must say,” Ronen remarked, “you’ve done quite well with catching up to your peers.” James swallowed, the compliment landed surprising close to his previous thoughts.

“Thank you, sir.”

“I hope your classmates and other professors have helped you feel settled?” he continued. “I’m sure it’s been quite an adjustment, but friendly faces have a way of easing change I find.” The fifteen year old hesitated and looked away. The Hogwarts rumor mill still churned and whispers trailed in his wake even in winter. But it had calmed down some and became easier to tune out with the friendships he’d formed.

“They have,” James murmured. He missed Sebastian, but he wasn’t sure what to say to the other teen. At least Ominis had been noticeably friendlier. He’d only seen the other Slytherin in passing only a few times though because it was hard to avoid one without the other being nearby.

“Good,” said Ronen. The fifteen year old expected the professor to leave, but he didn’t. Blue green eyes flicked back to warm brown. The man was observing him quietly, but not in a judgmental way. He chewed his lip. James had talked to him a few times after Charms class, and the man had been surprisingly open to answering his questions. His ever upbeat mood reminded the teenager of his mentor in some ways, except Professor Fig’s good humor tended to be more sly. He wavered.

“What do you do when – ” the teenager paused uncertainly, distracted fingers tapping his leg. The man waited patiently, giving him the courage to carry on “ – when they disappoint you?”

“Hmm,” Ronen nodded his head in thought, “that is a tricky thing. Accepting the help of others makes us stronger than we could ever be alone. But it can also open ourselves to the deepest of hurts.” James blinked at the professor’s words. They resonated with what his mentor had told him earlier. Except the way he’d worded it emphasized the dichotomy, like two sides of the same coin.

“I suppose,” he allowed.

“What should I take away from my loss?” Ronen gestured to the scattered red and blue balls, still positioned in James’ favor.

“Sir?”

“While I had experience on my side,” the professor continued, “You seem to have an intuitive understanding of how things work and interact with each other.” The man waited for his understanding nod before pressing on. “That does not mean one is better than the other – both have their strengths – but rather it is an opportunity to learn and grow.”

“So you’re saying that,” he scrunched his face as he tried to parse through the layers of the metaphor, “opening ourselves up to others is not a weakness, but an effective strategy?”

“Precisely!” Ronen enthused. “No one can be perfect at everything – how exhausting! No, we are social beings and meant to seek out others.” He placed a hand on his chest, crinkling the purple robe underneath. “Especially those who challenge us to be our very best selves.” James considered the man’s words.

Poppy had developed a habit of dragging him along on adventures that made him to face his fears. The idea of confronting another dragon still filled him with anxiety, but no longer made his body freeze in terror. Natty had continued to help him hone his wandless magic and acted as a grounding influence. It was so easy to forget and dismiss regular everyday problems, some that people like Harlow created, when he had things like Ranrok and ancient magic to worry about. The Gryffindor was a big believer that just because someone else’s problems seemed smaller, didn’t necessarily make them less important. Omnis had been a breath of fresh air once he finally opened up. He didn’t seem to actually want anything from James, except maybe his quiet company. The other Slytherin didn’t try to drag him into trouble, didn’t dig into his past, didn’t try to force anything really. The blond seemed perfectly content to just spend time with him whatever form that took.

Sebastian…he’d been the fifteen year old’s first friend that he’d let past the outer shell. His housemate had been a good measure for him to compare the rest of his peers with while he’d still been trying to get his bearings. The other teen had also stepped in a few times when James’ past experiences had overwhelmed him. Sebastian had made his first few weeks navigating the massive school – and the wizarding world at large – much more tolerable. Except now he seemed to be fixating on dark magic. Ever since the scriptorium his dependable friend had seemed to become more and more volatile. The question that plagued him the most was what exactly had changed? Or was Sebastian just finally showing his real colors? James let out a breath. Doing nothing wouldn’t produce any answers, he’d let it sit unresolved long enough.

“Thank you, professor.”

“Of course!” the man smiled. “No go and enjoy the rest of your day.”

*********

The gate closed behind him as James entered the Undercroft. His chest tightened at the sight of Sebastian sitting cross-legged on the Slytherin green sofa shoved up against the stone wall. It was one of the few pieces the teenager had added to the room after learning to conjure items in the Room of Requirement. His friend didn’t notice his entrance right away so absorbed he was by the textbook cracked open on his lap. His housemate finally looked up when James approached. The tome was quickly closed and set aside. The fifteen year old wordlessly sat down next to him, copying his friend’s seated position. They sat together in silence for a few moments as if bracing themselves for the impending conversation.

“So…you’re probably my best friend and I don’t want to fight,” James started tentatively, picking at his pants leg. “But I can’t just forget what you said. I shared that in confidence.”

“I know,” Sebastian muttered before clearing his throat uncertainly. “I – uh – shouldn’t have said that.” His jaw clenched like he wanted to say more but nothing else came out.

“Why did you?” he asked after a beat, partially relieved that his friend seemed to regret the fight too.

“I don’t know,” his companion shrugged. “It just came out.” James frowned at the non-answer and let the silence stretch. His friend fidgeted beside him. “I guess because I knew it would hurt,” he finally added, scowling at the floor. “…I’m sorry.” The fifteen year old studied his classmate quietly for a few more moments before gently bumping shoulders.

“You can’t let you anger control you like that,” he murmured. The other Slytherin blew out a gust of air but gave a small agreeing nod. “I know you’re desperate to save your sister.” Sebastian stiffened. “And I swear to you that I’m doing everything I can to help. You know that right?” His friend looked over at him, meeting his gaze for the first time.

“I do,” he whispered.

“Good,” the teen exhaled softly. “Then I need you to trust me. If your sister really was cursed by goblins,” Sebastian’s gaze darkened but he didn’t interrupt, “then it would make sense to pull information from those knowledgeable in that area, yes?”

“…I suppose…”

“Your uncle said Anne has seen multiple healers,” James pushed on. “But I’ve been thinking. What if she was cursed by something not widely known?” Sebastian’s brow furrowed. The idea had been bouncing around his head since his conversation with Lodgok. He recalled what Professor Sharp had said about rare branches of magic like Legilimency and Occlumency. What if the reason the healers couldn’t help Anne was because the curse was unlike anything they’d ever seen before? Besides finding out who exactly cursed her – if they were even still alive – the next best thing was likely finding a specialist that recognized it. Someone that may have seen it before. “I know a Gringotts curse-breaker who’s agreed to meet with Anne.” His friend jerked in surprise.

“How do you – ”

“I rescued him,” he waved off the question, not wanting to get sidetracked, “that’s not important though.” A snort escaped Sebastian. “He said he could visit her next week, and if he doesn’t recognize it then he has other friends in the field he’s willing to reach out to.” His friend ducked his head and clasped his fingers, tugging at them.

“Thank you.”

“Friends should have each other’s backs,” James answered with a shrug. It earned him a wide smile which he immediately returned. His chest loosened and his shoulders relaxed. His eyes dropped to the old looking textbook sitting on the other side of Sebastian. He blinked at the weathered cover.

“Is that…”

“Salazar Slytherin’s spellbook,” his friend’s eyes lit up and he turned to grab it, “difficult to interpret, but fascinating.” He set it back on his lap and reopened it, giving James a clear view of its contents. “Evidently, he encouraged teaching dark magic here at Hogwarts. Neither the Imperious Curse nor the Killing Curse were unforgiveable during his time.” James frowned at the scrawled text on the pages. It wasn’t written in regular English. Ancient Runes perhaps? No, not quite. Maybe a code? That sounded like something the founder would have done. “He believed students should be prepared to use dark magic when necessary – not to fear it. That’s why we had to use Crucio to gain access to the scriptorium.” James shivered, remembering the after effects of the Cruciatus curse. His friend paused to study the teen, concern leaking into his expression.

“Not something I’m eager to repeat,” he murmured.

“I guess he didn’t want his knowledge shared with anyone afraid of the power of dark magic,” Sebastian continued, voice hesitant now like his mind wasn’t completely in the present. “…I don’t regret using it, otherwise we’d still be trapped down there…But I am sorry for hurting you.”

“I asked you to,” said James. “But maybe I shouldn’t have…It was a difficult situation.”

“Yea,” the other teen exhaled shakily. They sat together quietly for a couple minutes, recalling how close they’d come to sharing Noctua Gaunt’s fate. Sebastian idly fingered one of the ancient tome’s pages. “This spellbook references a lost relic which – from what I can tell – grants the holder the power to reverse dark magic curses.” James stilled, remembering his talk with Sharp on the quidditch pitch. Was there a difference between dark magic and the Dark Arts? Or were they considered one and the same?

“But at what cost?”

“What?”

“Everything has a price,” the fifteen year old continued. “If it was that easy curses wouldn’t be so hard to counter.” He glanced back down at the spellbook. It almost felt sinister to him, which made him feel like an idiot for even considering such a thing. It was just a book. But it was from Salazar Slytherin who’s motives seemed questionable at best. After he was no longer experiencing symptoms from the Cruciatus Curse, James had dug out the journal entry he’d found in the scriptorium. The Slytherin founder had talked about his disdain for non-pureblood witches and wizards – even going as far to muse about purging them from the school. They sounded like the ramblings of a madman. “I don’t doubt that Salazar Slytherin is an expert when it comes to the Dark Arts, but he doesn’t strike me as someone interested in healing people.”

“You sound like Sharp,” Sebastian muttered, frowning down at the open spellbook in his lap. James jerked, causing his friend’s gaze to snap back at him.

“That’s brilliant!” His housemate blinked in confusion. “Professor Sharp has experience handling dark artefacts, maybe he can help.”

“You’re joking,” his friend scowled.

“Sebastian, we already know that Slytherin likes to play games and leave traps,” he huffed. “I’m not trying to stop you, but we need to be smart about this or next time we might actually die. And you’re no use to Anne dead.” His words drew the other teenager up short. Instead of snapping back, he glared at the floor. James eyed the book that his companion was clutching tightly. “What if he trapped the spellbook itself? The guy is obviously paranoid. What if this relic is some kind of trick?” Sebastian clenched his teeth, but couldn’t refute the concern. The number of traps and tricks they’d encountered down in the scriptorium gave enough legitimacy to James’ words.

“What if he doesn’t give it back?” his friend asked lowly, eyes narrowed. “I can’t just give up a possible cure for Anne.”

“I don’t think he’d confiscate it unless he thought it was truly dangerous,” he responded. “And if he insists holding onto it, then we’ll demand an explanation why.”

“Like he’d actually give an answer,” Sebastian snorted in disbelief.

“He always has before,” James shrugged, “and I’ve asked him a lot of questions.” His friend looked at him, skeptical but wavering. “Look, I know he can be…intimidating, but he does seem to help anyone who asks for it. At least, in my experience.” His classmate’s face suddenly turned thoughtful, as if reminded of something.

“Okay,” he let out a sharp breath. “Let’s go.”

“Go where?” They whipped their heads around to see Ominis entering the Undercroft. He approached them, expression wary. “What are you two up to now?”

*********

“Professor, do you have a moment?” James poked his head into Sharp’s office. The man was seated behind the desk in here for a change, reviewing some official looking documents. The veteran Auror’s mouth opened to respond but closed it when he looked up and spotted Sebastian and Ominis hovering behind the fifteen year old. The man raised a silent eyebrow. “We – uh – wanted your professional opinion on something.” The Potions master studied his face. Sharp set the parchment in hand back down onto his desk and waved them inside. James shut the door behind him once his friends had shuffled inside. He gently bumped shoulders with Ominis who was stiff as a statue. The teen clearly didn’t want to be there, but his desire to prevent them from possibly getting into trouble had won out. James glanced at Sebastian who stood quietly on his other side, glaring at the desk. The teenager resisted the urge to roll his eyes and looked at the expectant veteran Auror. “We think we may have found something to reverse Anne’s condition,” he continued before the silence can become stifling. “But we’re unsure about its…” he paused to determine the right word that would get his point across without aggravating his best friend, “…credibility.” He stared hard at the professor, hoping the usually perceptive man caught on. His heart thumped when Sharp’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly.

“What did you find?” he asked, tone perfectly neutral, with his chin resting on interlaced fingers. James glanced at Sebastian again, who finally raised his gaze from the wooden desk to meet the professor’s stare.

“Salazar Slytherin’s spellbook,” he answered, chin jutted out stubbornly. All three teenagers held their breath, but the Potions master didn’t visibility react.

“Is that so,” he murmured softly, eyes flicking to James and Ominis, but soon returned to Sebastian. “From the scriptorium, I presume?” Sebastian nodded stiffly.

“Given your experience as an Auror,” James added, “we thought you’d be the best person to…inspect it.” The professor studied them for a few beats before leaning back in his chair.

“Very well,” he drawled. “Let’s see it then.” The fifteen year old waited for his friend to produce the tome, but nothing happened. The urge to roll his eyes grew stronger. Instead he prompted Sebastian with an elbow which earned him a scowl. He met the glare head on. Trust me. Sebastian eventually let out a huff and pulled out the ancient spellbook – carefully setting it on Sharp’s desk. The veteran Auror scrutinized the old book for a handful of seconds before tapping it with his wand, causing the tip of it to flare a sickly green.

“What was that?” James and Sebastian asked at the same time. They shared a glance before refocusing on the frowning professor.

“A detection spell I’ve often used in the field,” he flicked his wand to open the locked chest behind his desk. Salazar Slytherin’s spellbook levitated in the air and flew inside before the lid clicked shut.

“Hey!”

“There are a number of charms and hexes imbued in that spellbook,” he ignored Sebastian’s outburst, meeting the glare with an unyielding stare of his own. “Have you been experiencing any changes in behavior or mood? Any unusual dreams?” The questions halted the Slytherin teenager, anger morphing into confusion.

“What?”

“The incantations placed upon that spellbook are meant to ensnare anyone who handles it,” Sharp continued, shrewd eyes not leaving Sebastian’s face. “Compel that person to obsess over the contents, encourage them to lash out and push others away, interrupt their sleep, and so on. The overall purpose – from what I can tell – is to isolate the reader to the point that they form an extreme attachment to the item.” James’ breath caught in his chest and his head snapped to his best friend, who’s expression was frozen.

“It mentioned a lost relic that could reverse dark magic curses,” Sebastian protested, unwilling to let it go just yet. But the hot anger from before was gone.

“Such promises often have strings attached,” the man frowned.

“Does it require direct contact to work?” Ominis finally spoke up, gaining everyone’s attention. “The incantations,” he added when no one answered him right away.

“No,” said Sharp, eyes back on Sebastian, “although it would increase their hold. The chest has warding that should cut off any possible connection.” James watched his friend closely who seemed to be at war with himself. His jaw and fists were clenched, and his glare could have burned holes in the professor’s desk. But he hadn't stormed out of the office. And he didn’t seem to be immediately dismissing the notion that the spellbook really was dangerous.

“Can they be removed?” James asked. The ex-Auror’s gaze refocused on him and he was quiet for several moments as he deliberated.

“I’ll look into it,” the man eventually responded. “If they can, it will require a specialist.” Sebastian pursed his lips into a hard line. He grasped his friend's arm.

“It’s okay, we’ll keep looking,” he promised lowly. He received a short jerky nod before the other teen turned heel and marched out of the office.

“Thank you, professor,” Ominis offered before chasing after their housemate which left him alone with the Potions master. James let out the breath he'd been holding and his shoulders relaxed. That had probably gone about as well as it could have, all things considered. He turned back to the silent veteran Auror.

“Thank you, sir,” he sighed. The man had done exactly what the fifteen year old had hoped he would. Sebastian’s desperation-fueled descent had been stopped for now with their friendship still intact.

“I’m assuming this…consultation was largely in part your doing?” he asked, voice still serious but with a hint of amusem*nt now. He wouldn’t have caught it if he wasn’t so practiced in trying to read the enigmatic professor.

“Actually, I didn’t have to do much convincing,” he shrugged. Honestly, he’d expected Sebastian to put up more of a fight. That earned him a pleased sounding hum. His eyes narrowed in suspicion but Sharp’s expression didn’t give anything away. It wasn't fair.

“I’m glad to hear that,” he answered the teen, shrewd eyes taking in his appearance. “You seem better rested.”

“I – uh – took a nap in Professor Fig’s office,” he flushed slightly at the reminder. The teenager had slept through most of his mentor’s afternoon classes. He’d woken up in the middle of the last one and – after hearing through the wooden door a familiar topic Fig had already versed the teen on – he’d waited out the rest of the lecture by reading one of the professor’s magical theory tomes in his office. A small frown tugged at the corner of Sharp’s mouth and he folded his hands on top of his desk.

“As your professor,” the man spoke slowly, gaze never leaving James’ face, “not only am I here to prepare you for the magical world, but to help provide a safe learning environment as well.” The fifteen year old blinked at the sudden sincerity. “...If you need anything, you can always come to me.” He swallowed. The earnest promise echoed the same thing his mentor had said countless times before. Perhaps he should bring it up to Professor Fig. The veteran Auror was already helping them indirectly, both by gathering information on the goblin rebellion and helping the teenager with his spellwork. He had no doubts the man was capable of keeping a secret, maybe he could help even more if he knew the full scope of what they were facing. They just had to explain it right. Sharp might be displeased at the idea of a student completing the trials, but James was literally the only person that fit the criteria. He’d get over it. The man only remained persistent because he used to be an Auror and could tell there was something else going on. It was in his nature to dig for answers. Once he knew the full situation he’d drop it.

“I know.”

Notes:

Some much needed love to Ronen this chapter, dude is probably one of the best professors tbh. He's just so wholesome.

So I've had like no time to write the last couple weekends, and then I realized we're over 70k words? What?? I reviewed and updated my outline, we're just over halfway though. Assuming nothing else *like half of Sharp's scene this chapter* pops up unexpectedly. Thank you all for the comments and kudos! And yes, without giving too much away, I have...many plans...for certain characters 👀

Chapter 32

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

A week later, James raced up the steps leading to his mentor’s office and rushed inside.

“Is it ready?” he asked, eager to confirm the contents of the note he’d received at breakfast that morning.

“It is,” Professor Fig chuckled at the teenager’s excitement. His gaze dropped to a silver decanter sitting on the desk between them. The fifteen year old studied the ornate bottle.

Shortly after his meeting with Lodgok, James had shared with his mentor the building and use of the massive drills to aid Ranrok’s search. The two of them had returned to the Map Chamber to update the Keepers in the hope of convincing them to reveal the next trial location. Niamh Fitzgerald had been swayed and shown it to be in the headmaster’s office. Which was a problem because neither of them knew the password to get inside. Fig had quickly devised a plan to acquire it from Scrope, Black’s house-elf. But it would require a disguise. James picked up the decanter filled with Polyjuice Potion, and gave it a hesitant sniff. His nose crinkles at the smell.

“What if I’m caught?” he delayed.

“You’ve had a month to observe Professor Black,” his mentor encouraged. “Remember, most people will not want to be caught in conversation with the man. Use that to your advantage.” The teen nodded and took a bracing breath. “I’d do it myself,” he added regretfully. “But I’ll be occupied keeping him off school grounds.”

“How?”

“I’ve told him we’re to meet a liaison from the ministry in Hogsmeade,” the professor explained. “That should give you plenty of time to find Scrope. I suggest you look for Professor Kogawa. She’s taken to badgering the poor elf about quidditch in the hopes that he can convince Black to change this mind…Thus far unsuccessfully.” An amused snort escaped James.

“Okay,” he looked back down at the silver bottle in his hand.

“Drink as much as you can,” his mentor warned. “The more you’re able to get down, the longer the potion will last.” He gave the man an absent nod and knocked back the concoction. The fifteen year old resisted the urge to gag, it was almost as gross as the potion Sharp had given him in the Room of Requirement to make the Cruciatus curse go away. He slammed the ornate flask back on the desk with a loud clunk to stop himself from dropping it. His insides began to burn, the sensation spreading to the very ends of his fingers and toes. A grunt escaped him as his legs and shoulders painfully stretched, like someone had taken hold and began to pull on them. His hands and fingers twisted and lengthened. He could feel his shoes become too tight as his feet grew in size – his clothes causing the same problem for the rest of his body. The restrictive feeling quickly disappeared and his eyes flew open in time to see Professor Fig waving his wand at him. He let out a relieved sigh once the transformation was complete.

“How do you feel?” his mentor asked. A burp escaped James.

“I won’t forget that taste any time soon,” he joked, startling at the deeper voice that came out. He cleared his throat and straightened his posture, clasping his hands behind his back just like he’d seen the headmaster do many times before. “How do I sound?”

“Convincing,” clear blue eyes crinkled in amusem*nt. “I’ve taken the liberty of transfiguring your robes.”

“Thank you, Professor. I supposed we’ll meet again in the Map Chamber.” A curious expression crossed the man’s face.

“It’s rather strange to hear gratitude coming from Professor Black,” Fig remarked. “I’ll see you there.” He gave his mentor a good five minute head start before he left the Magical Theory classroom as well. He turned the corner and was immediately accosted by Sharp.

“Professor,” the Potions master called. He almost looked over his shoulder before remembering that he currently looked like the headmaster. “A moment of your time, please.” The teenager briefly considered turning around and sprinting in the other direction, damn the consequences. But he hesitated too long and the veteran Auror had already reached him. “Professor, I was hoping to catch you. I – ”

“Oh, I – uh – places to be, Sharp,” he tried to brush him off. That was in line with the headmaster’s character, right? “Places to be.” He attempted to sidestep the Potions professor, but the man mirrored the movement.

“Of course, sir,” he continued, hands placating and expression neutral. “Only…” he cleared his throat and a flicker of uncertainty crossed his face. It stopped James from trying to escape again. The ex-Auror had always seemed so confident and unflappable to him, what could possibly make him so hesitant? “…you’d asked me about a particular potion and I – well – I…” Sharp lost for words was a disorienting sight.

“I did?” slipped out. Idiot, he was talking about the headmaster. “I did! Yes. Well, spit it out, Sharp. I don’t have all day.” The look of hesitation grew, drawing his interest like a shark to the scent of blood.

“Probably best not to discuss it here, sir,” his eyes flicked to a pair of passing students walking by. No. Absolutely not. He was not going anywhere private with him, James would be found out in a matter of seconds. He needed to get rid of him.

“I assure you, Sharp,” he narrowed his eyes and gave the professor his best haughty look. “You may speak freely.”

“Very well,” the man frowned but seemed just as eager to escape this conversation as James. “I’ve brewed the Cure for Boils you wanted. I can drop it by your office when it’s convenient.” A startled laugh escaped the disguised teen which he immediately turned into a cough.

“Of course. Yes,” he recovered quickly, clearing his throat. “No need for all the cloak and dagger.” A devious idea formed in his mind. He blamed his mentor. “Just have a student deliver it.”

“A student,” Sharp repeated. He stared the professor down, daring him to question the headmaster. It worked. “Very well, sir. If you insist.”

“I do,” James answered, putting as much force behind the words as he could muster. “And thank you, Sharp.” He saw Sebastian come down the stairs over the Potions master’s shoulder. “I just hope you’ve brewed enough for all my boils.” His words echoed down the hall, making the Slytherin student freeze in place. The professor gave him a wordless nod and finally let him leave. The polyjuiced fifteen year old strode forward, slowing briefly in front of his friend to give him a quick wink. Sebastian jerked back in surprise.

“Move along, Sallow,” he chided the startled teen and hurried down the stairs. Mischief reared its head as he considered all the things he could do disguised as the headmaster. The absolute chaos he could sow. The clock tower rang in the distance. Damn. How long did he have? Not nearly enough time to cover the entire school. Pity. He’d have to make use of the little time he had then on the way to Madame Kogawa. This time of day she was likely somewhere outside. He spotted Garreth Weasley up ahead. Perfect.

“Mr. Weasley!” he called. The Gryffindor froze in his tracks. “What are you doing here?” James interrogated the student, nose pointed in the air like everyone was beneath him. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Yes, of course,” Garreth stammered. “All sorts of places I’d rather be right now,” he muttered lowly before clearing his throat and offering his best innocent smile. “Do you – uh – need something from me?” Right. Excuse. He needed an excuse. His thoughts raced.

“I’m looking for my house-elf,” the polyjuiced fifteen year old recovered. “Surely you’ve seen him?”

“Ah, the little one-eared fellow?” the Gryffindor responded. Scrope had one ear? “I saw him heading to the Great Hall moments ago. Muttering on about your – um – sterling graces, sir.” His eyes narrowed. While he doesn’t think the other teenager would lie to the headmaster’s face, he also seemed eager to be rid of Black’s presence. And the obvious tacked on flattery attempt made the entire answer questionable. He tilted his head in thought and Weasley gulped at the stare.

“I am watching you, Mr. Weasley,” James remarked. “Mr. Redding, tells me some of his Billywig stings recently went missing.” The name drop of the Honeydukes owner made Garreth tense. “Prime potion ingredient. And I know you fancy yourself a skilled Potioneer.”

“What? But – sir – I haven’t been anywhere near Honeydukes. I – ” he let the Gryffindor sweat for a few moments before cutting him off. Didn’t want to push him too far or he may be tempted to turn James in.

“Bah! That’s enough from you. Just know that I have eyes and ears everywhere,” he scowled down at the nervous teen. Hopefully that would be enough to discourage Garreth from roping James into any more of his experiments. He’d only agreed to the most recent attempt to learn about the secret passageway his classmate had mentioned. “On your way, Mr. Weasley.” He dismissed, and continued his search for Scrope. Not even two minutes passed and he nearly ran into Ominis.

“Mr. Gaunt. Where do you think you’re going?” he asked before thinking it through.

“I beg your pardon, sir?” the blond paused. “I’m simply on my way outside.”

“Taking the day off, eh?” he responded, sneering in disdain. “Typical student, wasting the hours away.”

“I – I have to write twenty inches on dittany and its uses.” Guilt twisted at the sudden hesitation on his friend’s face. Okay, too far. He could probably tone down the Black impersonation just a bit. “Was heading to the greenhouse.”

“Ah. Yes. Mixed with – um – ” he racked his brains. What had Sacharissa Tugwood called those plants used in her beauty cream? “Bubotuber pus makes a fine – ” wait, would the headmaster even use such a thing? No, he’d be vain about… “ – mustache paste. Yes! Mustache paste, I find.” He cleared his throat when Ominis didn’t answer right away. This was a terrible idea. He should have kept walking.

“Are you feeling alright, sir?” the other teen finally asked. “You don’t seem yourself.” James blinked. Did Ominis know the headmaster outside of Hogwarts?

“I assure you I am quite healthy, Gaunt,” he rebuked. James drew himself to his full polyjuiced height. “If I need a medical diagnosis, I shall head to St. Mungo’s.” He marched off before his friend could respond, escaping through the nearby door. A cluster of students were in front of the Viaduct Bridge. “I haven’t time for any of you at the moment,” he announced, garnering their attention. “None. None at all. Move aside.” They quickly scattered and he strode forward, head held high. Think I’m getting the hang of this. Madame Kogawa was straight ahead and made a beeline to him.

“Professor Black,” the flying instructor blocked his path. The irony nearly made him laugh considering he’d actually been seeking her out. “Again, it is not too late to reconsider your decision regarding quidditch. We…we could still have trials and a somewhat shortened season.” She clasped her hands in front as if to strengthen her plea. “It would be better than none at all.”

“But – the injury, Madam Kogawa,” James protested weakly. He still didn’t know why the entire season had been cancelled. He hadn’t cared enough to ask.

“Professor – more than one student has taken a bludger to the head on our pitch,” the witch scoffed. The disguised teen clencheed his jaw to stop it from dropping open in shock. He’d heard enough of Imelda’s quidditch ramblings to know what a bludger was. Getting struck in the head by them was considered a common occurrence? Was she mad? “I daresay it knocked some sense into them,” she scowled briefly, before the expression cleared as she continued. “And they’re fine now. The fact that it happened to be a pure-blood, well, that’s no reason to –

“What nonsense!” slipped out. The more she talked, the more horrified he was to hear such disregard for student safety. He’d seen firsthand the damage head injuries could cause. The village idiot back home had been kicked in the head by a horse and had never been the same since the accident, hence the unfortunate title. Perhaps James hadn’t given Black enough credit. Though it sounded like he hadn’t done anything until a pure-blood’s safety had been threatened. Still. “That…you would trivialize the health of a student over a silly game,” he added when he realized Kogawa was staring at him.

“A silly game?” anger flashed across the woman’s face. “I – you are quite impossible sometimes…Sir.” She pursed her lips into a firm disapproving line. “I’ve a good mind to write to the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the ministry about you.” His eyes almost lit up at the thought.

“Good idea! I can even provide the parchment should you need it.” The flying instructor was struck dumb by the response. “Now, where is my elf?”

“I – parchment?” to her credit, Kogawa recovered almost immediately, eyebrows furrowing with determination. “Very well, I will – and with pleasure! And I spotted Scrope in the Great Hall. Seems to be avoiding me.” Huh, so Garreth had been telling the truth after all.

“I wonder why,” he hummed. “Good day.” He crossed the Viaduct Bridge and made his way to the Great Hall. He wondered idly if the department that the witch had mentioned would reply. He really hoped so, that would keep the headmaster occupied for a bit. He paused just outside the castle entrance as he crossed paths with Cressida Blume.

“Miss Broom,” he remarked. “A word.”

“Oh, professor,” the girl startled as if she hadn’t expected to be addressed. “This is an interesting surprise…It’s Blume, by the way.”

“Remind me of your area of affinity, Broom,” he continued, not bothering to correct himself. The headmaster had always referred to James as the new fifth year. If he couldn’t remember the name of a student starting at Hogwarts under such unusual circ*mstances, he doubted the unlikable man would bother to try with a random Gryffindor student. “O.W.L.s are swift approaching.”

“Charms, sir. Nonverbal spells,” he couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at that. Not an easy subject to master, especially without guided instruction. It had taken him months of practice with Sharp to get to the point that James could reliably cast nonverbal spells. “Might work on one that makes me disappear,” the girl mumbled lowly, fidgeting at his reaction.

“Well keep at it, Broom,” he encouraged. She blinked up at him and the polyjuiced teenager realizes belatedly that the headmaster would never say such a thing without including an insult. “Before you know it, you’ll be as invisible as that new fifth year seems to be,” he tacked on.

“He’s not invisible, sir,” she shook her head. “I’ve seen him near the library. In fact, James helped me with my – er – heavy books.” How unexpected. The girl had seemed nice enough when they first met, the main reason why he had bothered to help her with her predicament. But he had never anticipated she would defend him against Headmaster Black of all people. He let out a disbelieving hum and aimed to stay in character.

“Speaking of invisible, where is my blasted house-elf,” he muttered, striding past Cressida. The girl let out a relieved sigh at the dismissal. He was just outside the Great Hall when James was ambushed by none other than the Hogwarts Deputy Headmistress herself.

“Professor,” she called out. “I need to speak with you.” So close!

“Ah, Professor Weasley,” he attempted to brush her off, “I’m quite busy –

“ – of course, sir,” unfortunately the witch was not easily deterred. “Only a moment, please.”

“Fine,” he sighed. She opened her mouth to speak but he continued before she could bring up whatever was on her mind. “Since I have you here, I’d like to speak with you about Fig.”

“Oh,” she blinked at that, “very well.” It was almost impressive how nothing seemed to throw her. He cleared his throat and straightened to the headmaster’s full height.

“I’ve decided to give him a bit more…leeway with his time.”

“Leeway, sir?,” confusion clouded the witch’s expression. “Are you sure that’s wise? I confess I do worry about his students. He’s rarely here as it is.”

“He’s handling some official Ministry business for me,” James revealed with all the authority he could muster. The teenager had heard enough of his mentor’s complaints on Blacks’ errands that the excuse should be believable.

“I see,” Weasley noted, pausing to consider the explanation for a few moments. “But sir – if I may – I am wary of how much time the new fifth year seems to be spending away from the castle – supposedly on Professor Fig’s behalf.” He couldn’t help but frown at her words. Where was she hearing this? Unfortunately she took it as silent encouragement to carry on. “I’ve heard unsettling rumors of their escapades. Everything from sneaking into the Forbidden Forest – to confronting Ranrok’s Loyalists and Rookwood’s lot.” That was not good. It seemed the women was just as persistent as Sharp.

“What? Goodness. You cannot possibly believe that,” he scoffed. Absurd, he thought, make her think the rumors are absurd. “Why, I heard that the new fifth year has slayed countless dragons which is absolutely ridiculous. I wouldn’t put much value into such stories.” The Deputy Headmistress didn’t look convinced, but he could see that a seed of doubt had been planted. “I’ll handle Fig,” he promised. “You simply keep doing the wonderful job you’re doing.”

“I – well – I – um – thank you,” the woman was at a loss for words and James wondered if the headmaster had never complimented the witch before. Unfortunate really, given how much she seemed to hold the school together. “But I am happy to look into – ”

“That will be all Professor Weasley,” he didn’t let her finish. He needed to be gone. Like now. “Good day.” James marched past her and – thankfully – she didn’t try to stop him. That ought to give Professor Fig some breathing room, he thought to himself as he finally entered the Great Hall. He spotted Scrope cleaning the Owl Lectern. James took a deep breath and approached the house-elf. At first Scrope was confused and reluctant to reveal the headmaster’s password. But the disguised teenager was well-practiced now in his impersonation of Black. James nearly rolled his eyes when he found out it had to do with blood status – not to mention in French. Scrope disappeared with a pop and the polyjuiced teen turned to exit the Great Hall but stopped at the sight of the lectern. He glanced at the tables filled with students from all four houses. He probably wouldn’t get another opportunity like this ever again, might as well take advantage – right? He stepped up to the gold stand and cleared his throat.

“Attention, students,” he clasped his hands behind his back and lifted his chin, “I hereby decree that the Great Hall be forthwith decorated in the stunning banners of Slytherin. I shall be taking no questions at this time…Or ever.” He blinked when green banners immediately unfurled from above. It was as if the room itself had heard and heeded his flippant order. Startled shouts erupted from the students below. A small burp escaped him and James’s heart thumped. He was out of time. His eyes darted around for a nearby escape. There! The balcony above the hall, he’d discovered it a few weeks ago during his stakeout on the headmaster. He'd never seen anyone else up there. He quickly made his way to the hidden area, ducking behind a changing screen right as the Polyjuice Potion wore off. The transformation back was much less painful. The fifteen year old glanced down and realized his clothes were back to normal too. He let out a breath, relieved his mentor had thought ahead. Okay, he had the password to the headmaster’s office. Onto the third trial.

James got past the gargoyle with the newly acquired password and slowly entered the office. The walls were covered with portraits of past headmasters, but most of them seemed to be sleeping or empty. The fifteen year old froze at the sight of one watching him closely. But the man just winked at him and he offered a small smile in return. Perhaps Black wasn’t popular with the portraits either. He found Niamh Fitzgerald soon enough and she directed him to the antechamber in the very back. The teenager approached the pedestal as instructed and reached for the floating storybook that had appeared. A bright glow filled the room – forcing him to screw his eyes shut – and he felt a stretching sensation.

Notes:

Guys we finally got to one of the best missions! Was a little disappointed we couldn't mess with more of our companions, so I threw Sebastian in.

Are you ready for the third trial? It's gonna be a doozy 👀

Chapter 33

Notes:

Just a heads up - Niamh's trial includes a lot of corpses in case you're like me and didn't clock just how many your first playthrough. Like a questionable amount for being inspired by a children's story. Nothing graphic, but James will be noticing the bodies throughout the trial. Feel free to scroll down to the page break if need be :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

It was as if he’d been transported into the storybook itself. His surroundings were now black and white, himself included he realized a beat later when he looked down. The small village ahead reminded him of his home. Niamh was nowhere to be found, but encouraged him forward. Her voice echoed around him. The words didn’t make much sense, but his lack of understanding didn’t diminish the foreboding tone. Just as the fifteen year old entered the small village after crossing the bridge, a giant hooded skeleton emerged from the cloudy sky. His breath caught in his chest at the sight and he immediately ducked behind a stack of crates nearby.

“Death takes many forms,” Niamh’s disembodied voice warned. “Avoid each of them at all costs.”

The menacing figure slammed a bony hand into the ground, fingers clawing deep into the dirt. From where the tips of Death’s hand touched the earth, smaller hooded figures surfaced. A nearby villager shouted in alarm and ran away from the skeletal forms. The closest one pointed a bony finger at the fleeing man and slashed the air. The villager cried out in pain and dropped dead. James flinched at the sound of the body hitting the ground. He dropped back behind the crate, pressing his back firmly into his cover. His heart pounded in his chest as terror gripped him. It wasn't real, he told himself. It was just a trial. He couldn’t really die here, right? His fingers unconsciously curled against the ground, loose dirt burying underneath his nails. It felt real. But it couldn’t be. This was way different than the previous two trials. Why? The others had been focused on his connection to ancient magic. So what was Niamh testing? He concentrated on his breathing and forced the panic down. He needed to keep moving. The faster he completed this trial, the faster he could escape.

It took him a few tries to successfully cast a disillusionment over himself. And when he finally did, he noted that he wasn't completely invisible. The teenager clenched his still shaking hands. It would have to do. Heart in his throat, he crept from cover to cover. It took him a few moments to gather enough courage to make the short unprotected crossing while the robed skeletons had their backs turned. He let out a breath once they were behind him and he rounded the corner of a stone cottage. He froze at the sight in front of him.

A slip of a girl close to his age sat on the ground, arms wrapped around her knees. Next to her was a rotting corpse, the decomposition so far gone he couldn’t even tell if it used to be a man or a woman. The smell alone threatened to make him sick. Not real, he desperately repeated the mantra. He took a calming breath through his mouth and forced himself to push on.

“I should have run when I could,” the girl lamented as he passed her. “I’d be free by now.” The overwhelming grief stopped him in his tracks. His eyes darted to her devastated expression and his chest tightened. The fifteen year old chewed his lip. Even if this was real, he wasn't sure if he could actually do anything to help her. The scent of death filled his nostrils. James flinched and scurried down the path. He pressed up against a stone wall to avoid the falling debris caused by streams of black smoke which transform into more skeletal figures. Where was Niamh? He hid behind another stack of crates, studying the cloaked figures’ patterns. He waited for an opening and scuttled past once their backs are turned. The teenager nearly tripped over a corpse in his haste to leave Death’s proxies behind and he felt the urge to gag. He took a few moments to calm his racing heart behind a couple of large wooden barrels. He crept past another group of cloaked figures, this time aiming for a shallow creek bed. It would further remove him from their line of sight.

Just as he was about to mentally pat himself on the back, Death himself materialized above and leaned over the bridge to peer into the river below. The teenager ducked behind cover, holding his breath. Bad idea, bad idea! He didn’t move even when the looming figure disappeared. He glanced over his shoulder, considering backtracking, but there was no opening. Forward then. He braced himself and inched forward, quickly making his way to the bridge up ahead and beyond. He climbed out of the kill box and back onto solid ground.

“How could this happen?” a woman’s voice whispered somewhere nearby. He rounded the corner and something crunches under his foot. He glanced down. Another corpse. He’d stepped right into their rotting chest. This time he really did throw up. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, nose scrunching at the smell. Not real, he reminded himself. It was starting to feel like a losing battle though. What did Niamh want from him? He spotted a ladder ahead and scrambled up it as more tendrils of smoke slammed into the ground. He rolled onto the thatched roof just as the darkness took shape of hooded skeletons. He let out a shaky breath. That had been close. He continued on a few rooftops to get past the dangerous enemies. Eventually they ran out and he had to drop back to the ground. There was a young boy pressed against the wall on his right. Wide eyes stared straight at him, stopping the fifteen year old in his tracks. He craned his head around but there was no one else there. He glanced down at himself, but the disillusionment was still in place. He looked back at the young villager who continued to look right at the teen.

“I’m scared,” the boy whimpered. Not real. He swallowed. His eyes flicked to the side, noting the deathly figures patrolling ahead.

“Stay here,” he murmured back. The kid was about as well hidden as one could be in this death trap. He wavered. He wanted to help him but he needed to keep moving. His fists clenched with indecision.

“Don’t leave me,” the stranger whispered. James flinched. He couldn’t help him. The boy was better off here than following him. The teen lurched forward, ignoring the low sniffling. It felt like he was failing his little brother all over again. He took it back. This was the worst trial by far. He’d much rather deal with Rookwood’s infuriating puzzles and invisible enemies than this. He continued to sneak past clusters of enemies, having to hold his breath at one point to make it past a couple piles of rotting corpses. Death loomed ahead with more of his proxies forcing James to turn heel and backtrack, but more cloaked figures slammed into the group in his path. Biting back a gasp, he darted into a nearby building. He waited for Death or his shadows to follow him inside but they didn't. The band around his lungs loosened and he felt like he could breathe again. He made his way past the prowling enemies on the floor above and into a nearby building by crossing a dubious looking makeshift bridge.

A flash of light caught his attention. Floating in the middle of a small courtyard was a cloak. He frowned at it. What good would a piece of cloth do? But it continued to glow and James carefully approached. It was like it had been placed there just for him. He glanced around. Still no sign of Niamh. The fifteen year old slowly reached out to grasp it. The material felt fluid and silky underneath his fingertips, it almost seemed to shimmer as he grabbed hold of the cloak. James threw it over his shoulders and the hood fell down low over his eyes. He glanced down and jerked in surprise. Am I invisible? He silently crept back to the alley way crawling with Death and its proxies. The fifteen year old held his breath as he passed by, but none seem to detect his presence. He made a beeline for a familiar looking courtyard. As soon as his feet passed the edge, his surroundings began to glow and he was forced to screw his eyes shut again.

“You have outrun Death thus far, but have yet to find me,” James opened his eyes, whipping his head around to find his previous surroundings – except for the small stone platform where he now stood – gone. The mysterious invisibility cloak had disappeared as well. “Keep searching, but this time you will be unable to hide.” His eyes landed on the wand floating in front of him. “Wield the wand you see before you. Do not squander its extraordinary power.” His brow furrowed in confusion, but did as the Keeper instructed. Black and white surroundings returned, but the fifteen year old was distracted by the rush of magic that flowed through him. The heady feeling reminded him of ancient magic. But it wasn’t. He recognized the feeling as just regular magic, but…more. A wall of loose stone blocked his exit out of the courtyard. He casts a Bombarda to clear the way and the rubble EXPLODED. He took a step back at the scale of destruction. He’d never gotten such a result before. The teenager glanced down at the mysterious wand in his hand. Could a wand be more powerful? He thought they only acted as conduits. That the source of power originated from the witch or wizard themself. His lips pressed into a thin frown but dropped the line of thought. He shouldn’t delay.

It didn’t take long for streams of smoke to come howling down from the sky, slamming into the ground. Dread gripped him tight at the sight of the cloaked skeletons. He brandished his new wand uncertainly. One of them pointed its finger at him and something dark shot toward the teen. He instinctively put up a Protego and the shield held. He launched a Depulso at the shadowy figure that had attacked him and the enemy was sent flying off the edge of the cliff. Gaining confidence, he hit the rest of the cloaked figures with his hardest hitting spells and they went down far more quickly than he expected. Soon enough he was alone again and he glanced back down at the mysterious wand. It thrummed with power. James shook his head and pushed on, carefully stepping over yet another pile of bodies. He took out more of Death’s shadows in the large courtyard further ahead, along with a few shadowy mongrel looking creatures. The force of his spells shook the ground, even the sound of his basic cast seemed to echo off the surrounding walls. It was baffling and incredible.

By the time he was accosted with the next wave of enemies – this time with Death itself watching – James was in his element, dodging and shielding attacks with ease. A shadowy troll charged toward him and the fifteen year old called down lighting with his ancient magic, frying the enemy instantly. His heart was racing, not from fear but the thrill of the fight. The mysterious wand sang in his grip, as if urging him on. The last enemy fell to his onslaught and Death’s looming figure turned away. He was alone again. A flash of light caught his eye, and he saw a familiar looking courtyard to his left with something floating in the middle.

James’ panting slowed as no more enemies popped out. Not that any of them could defeat him. He was unstoppable. No one could stand against him. He blinked at the thought. But this place wasn’t real. It wasn't like he could take it with him…could he? The wand warmed in his hands. Such a powerful wand would make stopping Ranrok much easier. He’d crush the goblin like an ant. Victor Rookwood too. Anyone who dared get in his way. The fifteen year old jerked, dropping the wand like it burned, his breath suddenly unsteady. Where had that come from? He swallowed as he stared down at the innocuous looking wand. It was like tapping to ancient magic, except so much easier. Powerful results with little effort. A shortcut.

"I don’t understand the attraction"

His conversation with Sharp on the quidditch pitch suddenly came to mind, when it had veered towards the topic of the Dark Arts.

"I sincerely hope you never do."

His hands began to shake. He hunched over, gripping his knees as panic threatened to consume him. His eyes closed shut and he struggled to get his breathing back under control. His heart thumped in his chest like it wanted to escape. No, no, no, he thought. Not here. He crouched down to ground itself, fingers tangling with the grass.

He pictured Professor Fig’s face in his mind. Deep breath in, deep breath out. The sight of his mentor helped him eventually wrestle back control and calm down. After several minutes he stood back up. The mysterious wand was still on the ground. James frowned at it for a handful of seconds before turning and racing towards the waiting courtyard. A small stone hovered in the center as if waiting for him. It looked like a regular pebble, if a little oddly shaped, but he was wary this time as he gingerly plucked it out of the air. Blinding light surrounded him and the closed his eyes tight. It soon faded and he cracked them back open to see new surroundings fade into view. His shoulders tensed when he realized he was now in a graveyard.

“You are far from finished,” Niamh’s voice filled the air. “Pass through the mourners ahead. Nothing is what it seems.”

James inched forward, eyes darting back and forth for enemies but nothing jumped out. It really did seem to be a graveyard filled with mourners dressed in black.

“I can’t believe she’s dead,” a lady on his right murmured as he passed her.

“Poor Niamh,” a man commented further on. “Gone so young.” The teenager’s head snapped in the direction the voice came from. But the villager didn’t react to the fifteen year old’s presence. None of them did, he realized as he continued further into the graveyard.

“May her memory be a treasure to us forever,” a voice whispered somewhere from his left as he climbed the steps in front of him. He froze at the sight of Death peering down into the courtyard he’d just entered. Black empty eye sockets stared into his soul before the cloaked figure turned away and vanished. A relieved breath escaped him and his eyes dropped down to the body laid out on the stone slab in front of him. He approached it with trepidation. The surrounding graveyard began to bleed away once his feet hit stone. The teenager stared down at the dead woman, Niamh Fitzgerald. He’d found her. But, what now?

James held up the small stone in his fingers to study it. He turned it over to discover strange etchings carved into the hard surface. He flipped it over to check the other side, but it was completely smooth. The teen rolled the stone back to its marked side, squinting at the strange symbols.

“You found me,” Niamh spoke, lifting her head. The fifteen year old jumped away from the now animated corpse. “But you cannot undo what’s been done,” the Keeper continued as she sat up on the stone slab. “The magic of the stone can only conjure a shadow of my former self.” The headmistress stood, and new surroundings formed around them. A stone walkway with crumbling pillars on either side and a giant familiar statue leaning over a Pensieve in the distance. He glanced back down at the stone in his hand. This rock could bring people back to life? His fingers tightened at the thought and he looked at Niamh for confirmation. As if understanding his silent question, the witch nodded. His lips pressed into a firm line. But he could see through her like she wasn’t all there. A shadow, she’d called herself. He glanced back down at the stone. Something that could bring souls back from the dead, but only as echoes. A ghostly shadow that couldn’t be touched. No hugs, no physical comfort, just a translucent reminder of what had been lost. It sounded maddening. Not real. He set the stone on the now unoccupied stone slab. He wanted nothing more to see his family again, but not like that. When his gaze returned to the Keeper, her expression was more open as if pleased by the action. She turned and began walking down the stone pathway. James hurried to catch up.

“There is no light without shadow as there is no shadow without light,” Niamh shared once he was parallel with her. “Simply because you can eliminate darkness does not always mean that you should.” His brow furrowed as he considered the words. They sounded like a lesson and warning wrapped together as one. The witch stopped at the edge of the raised stone platform that the Pensieve sat on. “Remember that as you witness my memory.” He studied the Keeper for a few moments, eyes flicking the way they’d come and back to the woman. He silently reviewed the trial in its entirety. The mysterious cloak. The powerful wand. Even the ethereal stone.

“This wasn’t just a test of skill, was it?” he finally asked.

“No.”

*********

James’ head was spinning from the latest Pensieve memory when he entered the Map Chamber. His mentor smiled at him, eyes scanning for any hint of injuries.

“Is it true? Has someone completed the first three trials?” The last empty frame was now filled by a man wearing purple robes and a turban.

“It is, and I have,” the fifteen year old stepped forward.

“But…” he frowned at the teenager, “you are so –

“ – young?” he easily guessed. “I know. You must be Professor Bakar.”

“I am,” the newest Keeper nodded.

“Please to meet you,” James returned the nod. “The Pensieve memory I just witnessed – was Isidora…inhaling painful emotions?

“She was,” Bakar responded, voice guarded. The fifteen year old chewed his lip, recalling the last time he’d inquired about a memory about the witch. Before Isidora had stored the painful emotions away. Now she was consuming them. If those strands were pieces of souls like he thought, then the woman had begun to inhale parts of other people. The idea sickens him.

“That’s…disturbing,” he ventured. “She called it a source of strength? How did she gain power from it?” The dark bubbling power reminded him of the glowing aura Ranrok’s armor had given off. Perhaps they were connected? If they were, understanding how Isidora had harnessed that power could help him figure out how to stop Ranrok. He wasn’t sure if he’d be able to defeat the goblin otherwise, even with the help of ancient magic.

“It was disturbing,” the Keeper answered, eyes narrowing. “Although, I wonder why you are asking about her power. I hesitate to reveal the location of my Pensieve to someone who – perhaps – has yet to understand the responsibility of power.”

“You misunderstand, professor,” he quickly assured the portrait. “I do. I ask because a dangerous goblin called Ranrok has accessed the repository at Rookwood Castle. The magic imbued in his armor reminded me of Isidora’s power. He plans to use his new abilities against wizardkind.” The man was still frowning at him. The teen glanced to the other Keepers, but they were all silent. “If I knew how you stopped Isidora,” he pushed, attention returning to Bakar, “then perhaps I could stop Ranrok the same way.” Because it was becoming quite clear that was what had happened. The witch had refused to halt her actions despite the pleas and warnings of the other Keepers.

“I see,” his expression hardened, as if reminded of something unpleasant. James swallowed, wondering if he said something wrong. “The knowledge you shall gain after you witness my memories is too valuable to share without further consideration. I shall require time to confer with the other Keepers.” A firm hand stopped him from protesting further. He turned to his mentor.

“It seems we have no choice but to wait,” the man remarked, “frustrating as it is.” He lead the tired fifteen year old out of the Map Chamber. The wizard halted once the doors close behind them. His mentor’s hand slid down from his shoulder to his wrist and gently rotated it to reveal faint traces of dried vomit on his sleeve.

“Is this what I think it is?” the professor asked. James flushed at the reminder of his loss of control.

“It's nothing,” he pulled his wrist out of the man’s grasp. A concerned frown appeared on his face.

“What happened?” The teenager looked away. He tried not to think of the dying villagers, the multitude of decaying corpses he’d stumbled upon, the ever-present stench of death.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” James turned and practically fled down the hall before his mentor could ask any more questions, taking the stairs two at time.

Notes:

As much as I enjoyed the 3rd one, it seemed rather passive for being a test so I added a decision component.

Poor James can't seem to catch a break with these trials. It's almost like he's reaching a boiling point and someone's going to find out what's going on 👀

Chapter 34

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

He found them in the Forbidden Forest after his talk with Professor Sharp on the quidditch pitch. James had been searching the area for potion ingredients that could only be collected at night when the teenager spotted the Thestrals. He watched them for a few beats, hesitant to approach because of the young foal surrounded by the five adults. The fifteen year old took a small step back – intending to leave the clearing – but the scrape of his sole against the ground attracted the herd’s attention. He froze at the handful of milky white eyes staring at him. The forest was silent as the impromptu staring contest stretches.

“Ah…don’t mind me,” he murmured quietly, hands half raised in surrender. “I was just leaving.” The closest Thestral let out a snort and began to approach him. His heart thudded in his chest. He glances backwards, wondering if he should make a break for it. His only experience with Thestrals had been the ones hitched to the carriage in London – but those beasts had been tamed. This was a wild herd. He startled when a warm breath touched his cheek. James stiffened, facing the Thestral blinking down in front of him.

“Hello,” he whispered. The creature lowers its head and bumped its nose into the teen’s chest. The familiar action caught him by surprise. “That’s impossible,” he exhaled. The calm beast let out another snort and the warm air tickled his face. With a great deal of hesitance, James slowly reached out to stroke the Thestral’s neck. The creature didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it leaned into his touch. The fifteen year old thought back. There had been five Thestrals secured to the carriage. He studied the foal watching him curiously. It looked awfully young. A month old maybe? It was similar in size to a regular horse of that age.

“What are you lot doing here?” he asked lowly. The rest of the herd cautiously approached him while the one he was petting bumped his chest again. A small chuckle escaped him. “It isn’t safe here,” he continued as if they could understand him. “This forest is filled with poachers. They’ll come after you, especially your little one.” That earned him a round of huffs and snorts. The foal in question shyly peeked its head out from behind one of the adults. “Hi there,” he smiled softly. The baby whickered quietly at him, leaving its hiding spot to come closer. James held his hand out – palm facing up – for the young Thestral to sniff. Warm puffs of air made his fingers twitch.

“What do we have here?” James’ head snapped towards the malicious sounding voice. A pair of poachers stood on the other end of the clearing. The teenager immediately marched through the herd until he was standing between the Thestrals and the wizards. “Oh ho, a student? Think you can stop us?”

“Wait,” the poacher’s partner tilted his head, “isn’t that – ” Before he could finish his train of thought, his friend had already attacked the fifteen year old. James blocked the spell with a Protego, quickly firing back a Stupefy. The unexpected stunner took the wizard down. The teen charged the remaining poacher, hoping to gain distance from the shuffling Thestrals behind him. He rolled underneath the raised wand and fired off a Depulso at point blank range. The man went flying into a tree and didn’t get up from his crumpled position on the ground. The teenager scanned his surroundings for more, but no reinforcements came out. There must be a new poacher camp close by.

James frowned and looked back at the nearby herd. While the Thestrals were agitated and had retreated into the trees, they slowly returned back to the clearing once things had calmed down. He had half-expected them to fly off but apparently tamed Thestrals were not as easily startled as their wild counterparts. He cautiously approached the creatures, hands out in a calming manner.

“It’s okay,” he soothed, “they can’t hurt you now, but this area isn’t safe. I’m pretty sure there’s more in the area.”

The one that had bumped his chest earlier – possibly their leader – came closer at the sound his voice. The foal poked its head out from behind the same green Thestral as before, likely one of its parents. “You should leave this place…or I can take you somewhere safe.” Milky white eyes stared down at him for almost a full minute before a deep exhale tickled his face. The teenager reached his hand out and the Thestral rested its nose against his palm.

*********

James couldn’t sleep that night after the third trial. His dreams were filled with rotting corpses and wails of grief. Death chased after him, black empty eye sockets threatening to consume him. So the fifteen year old snuck up to the seventh floor to the Room of Requirement to check on the various beasts he’d rescued. He lingered in the swamp vivarium filled with Thestrals, Mooncalves, and Giant Purple Toads. The leader of the Thestrals, who he'd named Sepulchria, nosed his chest in greeting. Her foal trotted over to bump him as well. The baby Thestral had quickly picked up her mother’s mannerisms and had begun to treat it like a game.

“Hey little one,” he murmured. The foal nibbled on his sleeve and gave it a sharp tug. “Really? Now?” She gave the material another demanding tug. “Alright,” he sighed. The foal perked up and took off in the opposite direction. James rolled his eyes but gave chase. They were largely ignored by the other beasts in the vivarium, long used to the antics of the foal. As much as he enjoyed playing tag with the foal, he couldn’t wait until the pregnant Mooncalf had her baby so the young Thestral would finally have a playmate close to her own age.

The impromptu game did lift his spirits though and by the time he left the vivarium, his hands were steady once more. So the teen spent the next few hours tending to his plants and brewing potions. He double checked that his inventory had been completely restocked before heading over to the large wooden table filled with his various research projects. He put away the multitude of books and documents on werewolf lore – shoving the organized stacks into the corner – and spread out the material he’d gathered on curses, primarily their shared effects and how to treat them. He also had a few tomes on the table regarding spell creation and magical theory. Each text had a bookmarked section that could prove promising, but he needed more information to reference them with Anne’s situation. It was time to retrieve the logbook. It should have enough detailed information to draw upon now after almost two seasons.

James glanced out the nearby window. Daylight was beginning to stream though. Being able to set the mood of the room had been neat at first, but it was much more practical to know whether it was daytime or nighttime. Deek had made it so with a snap of his fingers when the teen had requested it. Speaking of, the house-elf was probably in the other wing now. He tapped his fingers, leaning against the large wooden surface, as he glanced down at his accumulated research. Today was the day that Mr. Rabe had promised to visit Anne. The teen had already informed the girl and her uncle during his last visit to Feldcroft. Solomon had been irate, going on and on about false hope. It had taken James several minutes to remind the ex-Auror that this was just as much about finding answers to better treat Anne’s symptoms. Or maybe gather enough information to help someone in the future. He secretly hoped the Gringotts curse-breaker would also be able to help them find a cure for the girl herself, but he dared not voice the thought aloud. Sebastian had that covered.

The fifteen year old dropped his head into his hands with a groan, elbows propped against the table. The last thing he wanted to do was be around other people right now – especially if he was going to be playing peacemaker – but he’d promised to be there when Mr. Rabe visited that afternoon. He’d better hurry if he wanted to arrive in Feldcroft before Sebastian. The teen straightened and made his way to the Room of Requirement’s exit. He paused next to Deek – who thankfully wasn’t cleaning for once and was actually enjoying a snack – to speak to the house-elf.

“When you have a minute, would you mind doing me a favor, Deek?” James asked.

“Of course!” the elf peered up at him eagerly. “What can Deek do for you?”

“Can you let Professor Fig know I’ll be spending the day with friends?” the fifteen year old requested. “So he doesn’t come looking for me?”

“Deek can do that,” the house-elf nodded.

“Thanks,” he said and left before the elf could think to ask why his mentor might be looking for him.

*********

“This does not look like any goblin curse I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Rabe commented quietly in the Sallow home. The wizard leaned back in his chair near the dining table, Anne sitting opposite him. “I don’t recognize the exact spell that was used, but it shares more similarities to those produced by dark wizards.”

“It can’t be,” Sebastian protested from his standing position in the kitchen. Solomon frowned harshly from his spot near the front door. “It was the Loyalists. The night Anne was cursed, all she saw were goblins.”

“I’m sorry,” the Gringotts curse-breaker shook his head, “but taking into account the story you told me, symptoms” he gestured at the filled logbook on the table, “and her physical condition…I doubt it came from a goblin. It just doesn’t fit the pattern.” James watched his friend clench his jaw and fists for a few seconds as the other teen attempted to reign in his emotions before finally speaking.

“Maybe it was an Ashwinder?” he offered. “They could’ve been hiding in the smoke from the fire.”

“Rookwood’s lot?” Solomon’s eyes narrowed. “What business would they have here?” The fifteen year old stilled. Right, Victor Rookwood’s alliance with Ranrok wasn't well known. He felt Sebastian stiffen next to him.

“I’ve run into a couple camps filled with both Loyalists and Ashwinders,” he shrugged casually, keeping his tone even. He glanced back at Rabe who was watching him with a curious expression. “How do we treat it?”

“You said the healers at St. Mungo’s had never seen anything like it before?” the curse-breaker directed his question to the ex-Auror. James let out a silent breath when the conversation moved on. He needed to be more careful of what he let slip around Solomon. He was no Sharp, but the man had been on the Auror force for a number of years before retiring.

“No,” the uncle shook his head. “They said nothing could be done.” Mr. Rabe hummed in thought.

“I’ve seen one other curse that produced comparable results,” the wizard revealed with a slight frown. “It was an old family developed curse, passed down through the generations…I’m inclined to think Anne’s may have a similar origin.”

“So how do we cure her?” Sebastian demanded.

“Well,” the curse-breaker mused, “ideally find out if there’s already a counter the caster knows.”

“And if we’re unable to find them?” James asked. The wizard didn’t answer for several moments.

“I should still have some notes back home on that curse I mentioned,” Rabe said eventually. “Perhaps you can use them to reverse-engineer something that could help.” For a few beats no one spoke and the cottage fell silent. The man cleared his throat uncertainly. “I’m sorry, that’s probably not what you wanted to hear. I – ”

“You don’t need to apologize, Mr. Rabe,” Anne assured the curse-breaker. “Thank you for coming out today.” The wizard soon left with a copy of the logbook and a promise to reach out to his colleagues.

“I’ll – uh – take this to Professor Sharp then,” the fifteen year old comments, giving the original logbook a wave. He tried not to fidget at the awkward hush that had fallen. “He might be able to make some sense out of it.” Solomon’s jaw was clenched tight as he glared at the wall, arms still crossed from the moment Mr. Rabe had entered the home. Sebastian offered a quiet and distracted nod. Anne gave him a strained smile. James cleared his throat. “Right. Um, good to see you again,” he offered to no one in particular and escaped the suffocating cottage. The teenager exhaled quietly once he was outside. Good news, the curse wasn’t from a goblin. Bad news, they’d probably have to create a counter without knowing the exact spell cast. Brilliant.

*********

Sleep didn’t come easily that night either, even in the Room of Requirement. James cursed himself for getting back from Feldcroft so late. He’d meant to get some Sleeping Draught in Hogsmeade but J. Pippin’s Potions had already been closed by the time the fifteen year old had returned. He groaned and rolled off the plush sofa. He glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner – just past ten. The teen wavered before leaving the room disillusioned, and snuck his way through the quiet halls to the Hogwarts kitchen. He dropped the charm on the final flight of stairs. James reached the bottom and immediately froze. Standing in front of the hidden door, wand raised to tickle the pear, was none other than Professor Sharp. He swallowed hard. He was completely exposed. Before the fifteen year old could make a hasty retreat back up the stairs or put his disillusionment charm back in place, the retired Auror turned and spotted him. For a moment he wasn't sure which of them was more surprised.

“Mr. Evans,” the Potions master recovered first. “What are you doing here?” He blinked a few times as he tried to think fast.

“I - um - was sleepwalking?” the teen barely withheld a grimace at the weak excuse. To be fair, his brain was running on fumes at this point due to the lack of solid sleep. Sharp frowned, clearly unamused. “I’ll just,” he pointed behind himself, “go back to – ”

Evans,” the man’s stern tone halted his retreat before it could even begin. The teen gulped. The professor pinched the bridge of his nose as he seemed to collect himself. “Were you really about to raid the school kitchen?” he finally asked, hand dropping back to his side.

“The kitchen?” he valiantly tried.

“Don’t tell me you were going to try and break into the Hufflepuff common room,” the man returned dryly. Wait that was down here too? He wondered, eyes darting down the hallway. He’d only seen a wall of oak barrels along the wall around the corner.

“Er…no,” he decided on. That would probably get him into more trouble.

“How do you know about the kitchen entrance?”

“I – uh – stumbled upon it while collecting field guide pages – ” stop lying, he clearly doesn’t believe you.

“ – who told you?” Sharp asked with an exasperated sigh, arms crossed.

“I’m not getting them in trouble,” James stated, raising his chin to meet the man’s stare head on. Something flashed across the professor’s face.

“There’s no rule against students knowing about it.”

“Oh.” The fifteen year old flushed, feeling like an idiot. He hadn’t needed to lie then. Okay so clearly he wasn’t at his best. It had been a long few days. He looked away from the expectant expression Sharp wore. “…Professor Fig worried I was missing too many mealtimes.” He squashed the urge to fidget when the veteran Auror didn’t respond right away.

“…I’ve noticed your absences in the Great Hall,” the Potions master remarked quietly, tone neutral. The fifteen year old’s gaze dropped to the floor. Sometimes it was because of the trials. Other times the teenager was busy exploring the surrounding regions. Then there had been that time he’d been avoiding Sebastian. None of those reasons he was willing to share though.

“It’s…loud,” he finally offered, scuffing the floor. “I’m still not used to it.” He glanced back up at the silent professor. Sharp was considering him before he finally let out another sigh.

“Very well,” he beckoned the teenager closer, tickling the pear with his wand in the other hand. James stared, rooted to his spot. A doorknob appeared and the portrait swung open. “After you,” the Potions master prompted the fifteen year old.

“Really?” he couldn’t help but ask. Was he hallucinating right now? He felt like he was hallucinating.

“Before I die of old age please,” Sharp muttered. James opened his mouth. “Don’t,” the man warned, eyes narrowing. The fifteen year old shut his mouth and wordlessly entered the kitchen.

Notes:

next chapter is an interlude, one guess who's pov it will be...

Chapter 35: Interlude - Aesop Sharp

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The next time he was in Hogsmeade, Sharp sought out Officer Singer. He found the witch in the town square and introduced himself.

“I hear you have an Ashwinder problem,” he remarked casually. A flicker of irritation crossed her face before the woman’s expression smoothed.

“It’s being handled,” she assured him, a hint of exasperation leaking into her voice. The Potions professor hummed. His gaze redirected to the bustling residents of the wizarding village but he continued to watch her out of the corner of his eye. Sharp had reached out to a colleague that was still on the Auror force about Singer. A clean – if a bit short – record came back. His educated guess was that while the young witch may be a tad inexperienced, there was nothing to suggest any maliciousness. “Overeager students jumping in headfirst will only complicate matters.”

“So Harlow and Rookwood are being investigated then?” he murmured lowly.

“Of course,” the officer sighed, “but I’m not going to share any details with a couple of teenagers. It’s a delicate situation.” He waited for her to continue, but she didn’t elaborate further. Her gaze was focused on their surroundings, a slight frown on her face, but it seemed more thoughtful than anything. “I’m guessing Miss Onai approached you because of your experience as an Auror? She’s quite persistent.” Curious, why would she assume it had been Natsai Onai and not James? The pause caused the woman to glance at him.

“There’s been an unusual amount of…activity in Hogsmeade this year,” he finally noted. Sharp found himself unwilling to correct her. James had already garnered enough attention without him adding to it. “I’m not the only professor concerned about the safety of Hogwarts students.” The town usually only required the posting of one law enforcement officer due to its residents and proximity to the school. It was generally considered an easy placement. Still…it was odd that additional backup hadn’t been added to the assignment. Or even the occasional Auror with the spike of Ashwinder activity in the area.

“I can’t speak about the details of an open investigation with you Professor Sharp,” Singer admitted, going back to observing their surroundings, “even with your history as an Auror. But I promise the situation is being handled.” He studied the witch for a few moments before giving a nod and excusing himself. He needed to pick up some ingredients at Pippins’ before returning to Hogwarts. Officer Singer’s words had sounded genuine enough and her unwillingness to share details on an active investigation were protocol. Perhaps the few tidbits the woman had let slip to James and his friend Miss Onai really had been due to inexperience.

He picked up his order of potion ingredients and headed toward the nearby Floo Flame. The witch had seemed a bit eager to be rid of him though. And while he knew that many found his presence to be intimidating, his gut told him that there was something else at play. Over a decade of experience made him inclined to believe that Singer was holding something back. If Sharp’s suspicions were correct, and James really was Jamerson, then perhaps the boy had inherited his father’s instincts. Henry had always seemed to have a sixth sense when it came to reading people.

Sharp reached the Floo and was about to use it when he noticed a new shop across the street. Viator’s Odds & Oddities. That was new. The place had been boarded up the last time he’d passed by. The professor considered the much improved appearance with a tilt of his head and approached. A bell chimed overhead when he entered the shop. The veteran Auror blinked down at the house-elf that seemed to be paging through a ledger near the counter. A wide smile stretched across the creature's face as it closed and set the book down to greet him.

“How can Penny help you?” she asked, big round eyes peering up from under her straw hat. The familiar name made him blink. This must be the shop James had told him and Fig about. His gaze swept around the room, cataloguing the various wares. Odds and Oddities was an apt name. Items ranged from an assortment of clothing and books to furniture and enchanted objects. His eyes narrowed at the stack of writing utensils on the counter. They looked like metal quills without the feather. Sharp looked back to the waiting elf.

“James told me about this place,” he offered her a disarming smile. She perked up at the teenager’s name. “What can you tell me about it?”

*********

The Potions professor wrapped up his research for the evening. He leaned back in his chair to stretch his stiff limbs. The clock on the mantle struck ten. Sharp blinked at the time, realizing belatedly that he’d missed supper in the Great Hall. The man rose from his desk with a frown, he hadn’t realized how late it was. He glanced at the heavily warded chest in the corner. He’d moved Salazar Slytherin’s spellbook to the more secure chest in his personal quarters, partially as a precaution in case Mr. Sallow was tempted to retrieve it from the less protected office. He threw on his suit jacket and headed toward the kitchen. It was a bit of a walk, but he could take his time without silent eyes watching his slow pace.

The last thing he expected was run into James Evans who seemed to have the same idea despite the late hour. The defiant chin took him by surprise. For a split second, it felt like he was looking at a young Henry. The imagery faded just as quickly as it came. He waved the fifteen year old inside and they sat on the end of one of the tables. The Potions master decided on tea and a sandwich. James was given a large mug of malted milk without any prompting. Sharp raised an eyebrow. How many times had the teen been down here? The fifth year didn’t look at him and instead slurped his warm drink.

“Couldn’t sleep?” he eventually broke the silence, sliding his now empty plate to the side. It disappeared a handful of seconds later.

“How did you know?” Ellie had used the same trick with Jamerson to make the toddler sleepy.

“Because it’s after curfew,” Sharp said instead. He noted the dark circles under the boy’s eyes. He’d looked much better rested just a few days ago since he’d last seen him. What had changed?

“Mr. Rabe visited Feldcroft today,” James muttered. The professor listened as the teenager shared the curse-breaker’s findings. He flipped through the offered logbook detailing Anne Sallow’s bouts of pain. The amount of information that had been gathered in the journal was impressive. He’d clearly been paying attention during Sharp’s impromptu lecture.

“The frequency seems to be increasing,” the fifteen year old frowned into his half-empty mug. “Not sure if the weather has anything to do with it or if it’s getting worse.”

“I should be able to brew a modified pain potion with this,” he mused aloud, catching the teen’s attention. “She’d have to take it regularly instead of after an incident has been triggered, otherwise I doubt it would have an effect.”

“…I suppose that’s something,” James fingered the rim of his mug absently. “Thanks.” Sharp slid the book into the inside breast pocket of his suit. “I hope it’s enough to keep Sebastian from doing something rash,” the teenager sighed, resting his cheek onto his fist. “I’m glad he’s got someone else in his corner now to help…but I worry sometimes that it’s not enough.” Sharp took a sip of his tea, letting the boy speak. He’d noticed in their past encounters that James talked most when he was at ease or distracted. He was frustratingly skittish and prone to retreating – both metaphorically and physically – whenever the Potions master pushed too hard. “I mean, I get it. Of course he’s desperate to save his sister. I’d be the same – ” the fifteen year old abruptly cut himself off and his grip around the mug tightened.

Sharp’s eyes narrowed. He’d assumed on the quidditch pitch when James had been unable to make himself say the word ‘family’, he’d been referring to his parents. Now the professor wondered if there had been a sibling. Or maybe there had been multiple. Muggles tended to have more children than wizarding families according to his late Auror partner. He repressed a grimace and shoved the thought away.

“Is that what’s been keeping you up?” he asked gently. There was a darkness that clung to the boy that worried Sharp. It hung on him like a cloak. Yet it was completely at odds with the compassionate heart – buried deep under layers of defenses – that reminded him so much of Ellie it made his chest ache. Sometimes the fifteen year old looked like he was bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. No teenager should have to deal with that. It nearly drove him mad that Fig seemed to be aware of James’ activities and hadn’t put a stop to any of it. If anything, the man seemed to be encouraging his ward. Which he didn’t understand because he’d seen with his own eyes just how much the Magical Theory professor cared for the boy. He was still missing far too many puzzle pieces to fit them together into a clear picture.

The corner of the teen’s mouth tightened at the question. Sharp considered the boy quietly as he deliberated how best to pull the answers out of him. He’d have to be indirect. Anything too straightforward and the fifteen year old would shut down, maybe even flee the kitchen. “Perhaps your brain is trying to tell you something,” he murmured. James' brow furrowed and he looked at the veteran Auror questioningly. “Sometimes dreams are our body’s way of telling us to face something.” The teenager’s frown was immediate.

“…or just bad memories,” he grumbled, scowling at his now cold malted milk. Sharp held his breath, keeping his expression open and relaxed. He let the silence stretch and the teen predictably began to fidget. Blue green eyes flicked up at him. “How long did it take for you to stop having nightmares about losing your partner?” His insides froze. If anyone else had asked, he would have snapped that it was none of their business. James’ face was hesitant, eyes beseeching. He knew how personal the question was yet he’d asked anyway. Still, the fifteen year old’s shoulders were tensed like he was braced for Sharp to yell at him. The veteran Auror lets out a sharp exhale. It had taken years for those particular dreams to stop, although he still carried the guilt to this day. But the nightmares had plenty of other material to work with.

“Too long,” he eventually admitted. “I had to accept what happened that night…that no matter how much I wished otherwise, the past can’t be changed. We can only learn from it and try to do better.” The teenager stared at him like he hadn’t expected to get such an honest answer. The man cleared his throat. “I know it hurts,” he added softly. “But talking about it can help. It’s not just a phrase adults like to hear themselves say.” The boy’s eyes dropped back down to the wooden table and a hush fell between them. It continued for so long that he began to wonder what else he could do to get the kid to talk.

“I failed my brother,” James whispered lowly, gaze still trained on one of the wooden knots. “He was still alive when – ” the fifteen year swallowed hard. His eyes slid shut and his jaw clenched. The look of utter grief on the teenager’s face made Sharp’s heart squeeze painfully tight. “…my parents were dead but he was still breathing,” he continued with a shaky breath. “He was my responsibility and I wasn’t there. I couldn’t save him.” The mug was being clutched with a death grip. His fingers twitched as he felt the urge to put a calming hand over it, but the boy was standoffish when it came to physical contact. He’d only ever seen Fig – along with Gaunt and Sallow to some degree – breach that invisible bubble. “Part of me knows that I couldn’t have done anything even if I had known about magic – I know that. But…I still feel like…I should have…that I failed him.”

“Your family’s death wasn’t your fault.” A sarcastic snort escaped the teen.

“You don’t even know what happened to them.”

“I know you,” Sharp continued undeterred. “You’re fiercely loyal and protective of those closest to you. If it was in your power to stop it I have no doubt you would have.” James stared up at him, eyes wide. “You’re fifteen with less than a year of magical education. The progress you’ve made – that I’ve witnessed – is staggering.” The boy flushed at the praise but didn’t look away. “I’d like to think some of it was my doing, and I’m sure Professor Fig played a major part as well.” James swallowed and gave a hesitant nod. “I think you’re being too hard on yourself,” the Potions master confessed, voice gentling. “Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy.” Both Ellie and Henry had been rather self-assured people. He hoped the teenager hadn’t somehow gotten that from him.

“I suppose,” the teen allowed.

“How about this,” the retired Auror leaned forward. “If you wouldn’t say it to Professor Fig, then you shouldn’t say it to yourself.” As much as he personally disliked the other man at the moment, the words seemed to hit home for the boy. “No one can see the future except seers, and even they don’t know everything.” Something flashed across the boy’s face too quick for him to catch, but the edge of his mouth began to curl into a small smile.

“I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right,” he returned bluntly. It had the intended effect. Blue green eyes sparked with amusem*nt.

“What was that about not letting things go to one’s head?”

“Sound advice any student could benefit from.”

“But not professors?” James tilted his head, expression far too innocent. Sharp stilled at the look. It was the same one Ellie used to give him when she was trying to win an argument.

“Not that I recall,” he hummed faintly.

“…They say memory is the first thing to go,” the fifteen year old commented nonchalantly. The professor’s eyes narrowed and he was dragged firmly back to the present.

“Did you just request more detention?” was his dry response. Months ago the boy wouldn’t have dared to tease him so brazenly. Even now James didn’t flinch, his grin actually widening. Despite the half-hearted threat, something warmed inside him. He hadn’t just been referring to academic progress earlier.

“I already have detention.”

“I’m willing to add to it.” The teenager paused like he couldn’t quite tell if the Potions master was being serious. He squashed the laugh that threatened to come out. Not many people were willing to verbally spar with him like this.

“So long as you’re fine with me sleeping in your class,” he eventually replied with a shrug. Which begged the question how he was managing to balance his studies and extracurricular activities on top of eating, sleeping, and attending classes. Sharp’s eyes narrowed in thought. Unless he wasn't doing it all on his own. Either the fifteen year old rotated whichever area he was falling behind in – and given the recent sleep deprivation he’d witnessed that had to be at least partially true – or he was getting more help in other areas than the professor had realized.

“Potions is one of the most challenging and – ” he couldn’t help but lecture.

“ – hazardous subjects taught at this school,” James finished with an eye roll, but his tone was fond. “I know. It’s actually one of my favorite subjects.” Sharp cleared his throat and ignored the spike of satisfaction the words caused.

“…Good,” he settled on. “You do seem to have a knack for it.” A yawn prevented the teen from answering.

“Sorry,” the fifteen year old blinked slowly.

“It’s late,” the professor waved off the apology. “Get some rest.” He received a tired nod back as they both got up from the large wooden table. “Just a moment,” Sharp halted James as he passed the man to exit the kitchen. The fifteen year old turned and blinked at the offered vial of dark purple liquid. “I believe you’re familiar with this brew?” Before the start of term, Fig had requested Sleeping Draught along with a number of other potions to help the boy’s transition. He’d just been the mysterious new fifth year to Sharp back then.

“Yes, sir.”

“Just a drop,” he warned when the teen accepted it. James nodded, carefully tucking the small container into his pocket.

“Thank you, sir…for everything.”

Notes:

Viator is supposed to be the Latin word for traveler, considering MC has quite a large collection of things they come across in their travelers, I figured a different name would be more fitting of what their wares would look like.

Also, I can totally see Sharp trolling people and no one realizing because of his reputation.

Chapter 36

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

James woke up that morning feeling much more refreshed. He lazily stretched on the plush sofa as daylight trickled into the large ornate Room of Requirement windows. The teen glanced over at the grandfather clock in the corner. Ten o’clock. His eyes widen and he lurched to his feet. He was halfway to the exit before he realized that he didn’t have classes today. His posture loosened and he decided to check in with his plants and rescued beasts while he was there. He was in the back room reviewing a copy of the logbook with Anne’s symptoms at the massive oak table and cross-referencing it with a few bookmarked texts when a voice called out near the Room of Requirement entrance.

“James? Are you in here?” The fifteen year old jerked up at Professor Fig’s voice. He set his materials down and climbed the stairs that separated the two rooms. He found his mentor peering up at the newest vivarium that had appeared on the second floor after rescuing a phoenix of all things. The man turned toward him once the teen drew closer, a soft smile on his face. “Ah there you are.” The professor paused to study him. “You’re looking well rested,” he added with a pleased look.

“Professor Sharp gave me a Sleeping Draught,” the teen shrugged. He received a somewhat startled blink. “I – uh – ran into him last night.” Fig hummed.

“Why don’t you tell me about it?” he said, gesturing towards the nearby sofa. “I was hoping to catch up with you anyway.” They sat – James cross-legged and facing the man – and he told his mentor about his run-in with the Potions master outside the school kitchen. He kept out the more personal bits that Sharp had shared though. He still couldn’t believe the man had been that upfront with him. But maybe he shouldn’t be? The veteran Auror had always answered the teenager’s questions. And helped James every time he worked up enough nerve to ask for it.

"I want to make sure you’re well-prepared."

“I was thinking,” he added at the end, fingers picking at his pants leg. Eyes briefly darted down and quickly returned to Fig’s expectant face. “Maybe…maybe we should tell him.” That earned him a raised brow. “I mean – he’s already helping isn’t he? Like digging for information about Ranrok and Rookwood? And the extra lessons outside of class?” His heart pounded at the look Professor Fig was giving him but he didn’t stop. “If he knew about the trials and repositories too, maybe he could help even more.” His mentor was frowning at him, likely moments away from disagreeing. “He used to be an Auror, right?” he scrambled to add logic behind his argument. “So he already knows how to – um – investigate. He has experience with dark wizards and keeping the peace. And I’m sure he can keep a secret. I don’t think he’ll tell anyone if we make him understand why it’s important to keep quiet.” He swallowed uneasily once he ran out of words. The man still didn’t look happy, but his expression had turned a touch thoughtful like he was actually considering the idea.

“You should listen to your ward.”

Their heads snapped to the Room of Requirement’s entrance. Next to it stood an unimpressed looking Sharp. James stiffened. How long has he been standing there?

“Sir,” he managed after a few beats of silence. “What are you doing here?” The professor approached them, his gaze taking in the teenager’s appearance before settling on Fig.

“What about these trials and repositories?” he demanded. James failed to suppress a wince. The cutting question only seemed to set his mentor on edge.

“That’s none of your concern.”

“Oh, I think it is.”

The fifteen year old closed his eyes with a groan.

“It’s being handled. You don’t need to – ”

“ – clearly I do when it involves risking the safety of teenagers – ”

Fingers tightened their grip on his pants leg.

“ – every precaution is being – ”

“ – your ward looked like death warmed over last night – ”

“Stop it!” James snapped, eyes flying open. A nearby lamp shattered into a million pieces. Both professors drew back with matching expressions of embarrassment. The teen covered his face at the loss of control. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He dropped his hands back into his lap once he felt more steady and focused on his mentor. “Look, he’s already involved and he’s not going to stop digging.” He chanced a glance at the silent Potions master. The man was watching him closely, eyes drilling holes into his soul. James looked back to Professor Fig who was also regarding him carefully. He chewed his lip. “I don’t want him to end up like Mr. Osric,” he admitted softly. Something flashed across his mentor’s face and his gaze darted to Sharp. After several moments the older man finally let out a breath.

“I suppose you have a point,” his mentor offered with a small smile. Strange, it looked a little sad too. “You might as well have a seat,” he said to Sharp. The other professor was frowning but summoned a nearby chair to give his bad leg a break from standing. “The dragon attack was intentional.” James relaxed as Fig recounted their journey to Hogwarts – the carriage ride, the portkey, Gringotts, Ranrok. He didn’t reveal the fifteen year old’s connection to ancient magic until Sharp insisted how irresponsible it had been to drag a teenager along due to recent events. His mentor glanced towards him before answering, as if asking for his permission. His insides warmed and James gave a boneless shrug. He didn’t care if the ex-Auror knew. The man had made it pretty clear he was invested in the teen’s well-being.

“James has the ability to see traces of an ancient magic,” Fig said.

“And wield it,” he muttered. Sharp's eyes narrowed and flickered back and forth between them.

“…Yes,” his mentor agreed after a brief pause. “Given the nature of the attack, there was no guarantee that whoever was after the portkey wouldn’t come after James as well. It would have been more risky to leave him alone.”

“And where do trials and repositories fit in?” the veteran Auror pressed. His mentor continued with their search and discovery of the Map Chamber along with its Keepers.

“Your visit to Azkaban was overseen by one Auror?” Sharp repeated, expression thunderous. He was very stuck on that part. James shifted uncomfortably but it turned out he didn’t need to answer the possibly rhetorical question.

“Believe me, I’ve already spoken to her about it.” His gaze darted to Professor Fig. There was that rare fire in his eyes again.

“I’d like to have a talk with her as well,” the veteran Auror scowled. His mentor actually nodded and James suddenly felt thrown at the united front. It didn’t last long though. “You mean to tell me that you’ve been allowing a fifteen year old – with just a few months of training – risk their life to –

“ – If I could complete them myself I would,” his mentor snapped back.

“He can’t,” James interrupted before the tentative peace could dissolve into another fight. Sharp’s attention shifted to the teen and Fig used the brief reprieve to reign in his frustration. “Like he literally can’t. No one can except me.”

"These trials may only be completed by one with our ability."

“A safety measure, I guess,” he added after a beat, “to prevent anyone else from accessing the information inside.” The ex-Auror still didn’t look happy, but the explanation seemed to have mollified him somewhat. “Professor Fig has been helping wherever he can outside of the trials, like extra training and information gathering.” Sharp’s focus returned to his mentor, a frown still on his lips but his gaze was considering.

“I’d like a few minutes alone with your guardian,” he eventually said. James looked at Professor Fig and frowned when the man didn’t disagree. In fact he almost looked resigned, like he had expected it.

“You’re not going to yell at each other again are you?” the teen grumbled, eyeing the ex-Auror suspiciously. “Because I gotta say, sound carries in here. And if I hear you picking a fight again I’m revoking your membership.” He was rewarded with an amused expression from his mentor and an affronted look from the Potions professor.

“I do not pick fights,” Sharp immediately denied.

“Uh, yea, you kind of do,” tumbled out of his mouth before his brain caught up. The newfound bravado nearly dried up at the look the retired Auror gave him, but this related to Professor Fig so he pushed on – minus the attitude. He wasn't an idiot. “Anytime I see you two together you’re disagreeing over something, usually in Professor Fig’s office…Which, you know, kind of implies you were seeking him out.”

Sharp pinched the bridge of his nose, but didn’t contradict the teenager's words.

“No fights,” he eventually promised. “Just a talk.” He judged the sincerity on the man’s face and – with one last glance to his mentor – stood up and climbed the stairs to the coastal vivarium.

He preemptively raised his hand to shade his eyes as he made the transition from the Room of Requirement to a sunny beach. He slipped his boots and socks off before making his way further into the vivarium. The teenager briefly checked in with the flock of rescued Diricawls, even gave Gwyneira a scratch in her favorite spot just below the jaw, and cut across to the hidden stretch of beach on the far left. He sat down a few feet away from the lapping waves and burrowed his toes into the warm sand. The teen closed his eyes and took a deep breath of the salty sea air. He lost track of time, focusing on nothing but a handful of sensations. The heat of the simulated sun warmed him and slowly unloosened the tightness in his muscles. The not-too-hot sand grounded him, feet halfway buried between the fine granules. The sea breeze was strong and smelled nothing like death.

The sound of footsteps interrupted his drowsy state and James opened his eyes. He was somewhat surprised to be joined by both Professor Fig and Sharp. Must have come to an agreement, he mused, as they joined him on the sand on either side.

“This place is magnificent,” his mentor shared on the teenager’s left. On his right, Sharp wordlessly stretched out his legs. James hummed in response and the conversation lulled. He frowned at the lapse in silence, at odds with the matching looks of determination he had spotted moments earlier. It didn’t take long before realization closely followed by dread filled him.

“You want to know about the third trial,” he muttered.

“Yes,” Sharp confirmed. His stomach lurched and his breathing hitched.

“Is that really necessary?” he scowled at the rolling waves. They looked colder now. The sun’s shine was dulled by the wispy cloud in front of it. Professor Fig set a firm but comforting hand on the fifteen year old’s shoulder.

“We wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important,” he offered softly. James swallowed and anchored himself to the solid weight of his mentor’s hand.

“It wasn’t like the other two,” he said once he’d worked up enough nerve. “It was meant to be a test of character, not just skill.” The teen shared the details of the third trial. He tried not to dwell too much on specifics – like the constant sights and smell of death – but judging by the frowns they seemed to read between the lines just fine. “I think,” James contemplated out loud, fingers curling into the warm sand, “Niamh wanted to make sure I’m not like Isadora. It was almost like a lesson.”

“It sounds like she drew inspiration from the Tale of the Three Brothers,” his mentor agreed.

“The what?”

“It’s a fairy tale wizarding children are told,” Sharp finally spoke, teeth no longer gritted. He glanced at the teen and his face seemed to soften ever so slightly. “It’s meant to encourage humility and wisdom. The wand represents – ”

“That power corrupts?” James curled his toes as he remembered the feel of the wand. The absolute might he had wielded and the force his enemies had dropped underneath it. So easy. Way too easy.

“And not to seek it,” the veteran Auror nodded. “The stone is meant to teach…” The man hesitated, like he was trying to be tactful.

“What’s dead should stay dead?” he filled in dryly, ignoring the clench of his stomach.

Eyes that used to look at him with such trust and devotion now stared up at him blankly, completely devoid of life. His hands were having trouble grabbing anything, too slick from tears and blood. His ears were ringing at the sudden silence. The screams had stopped but he couldn’t hear anything. Thiscan’tbehappening.

“…Something like that,” the professor agreed.

“And the cloak?” he prodded when the man didn’t continue.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“Pretty sure that one’s a muggle saying,” he slanted Sharp a look which earned him an amused snort.

“Still relevant,” the man insisted. He rolled his eyes but didn’t get the chance to argue back.

“But why that tale,” Professor Fig pondered. “The Tales of Beedle the Bard contained numerous stories. Why the Tale of the Three Brothers?”

“Perhaps it tied in best to her Black Death backdrop,” Sharp grumbled looking decidedly unimpressed.

“The point of these trials is to make sure I’m not like Isidora, right?” James reflected. “Like…that seems to be one of their biggest fears?”

"There is no light without shadow as there is no shadow without light"

“In the Pensieve memory, Niamh asked Isidora to stop,” he continued uneasily, “but she didn’t. She even used ancient magic on the headmistress to…” his eyes narrowed in thought, remembering the sight of Isidora pulling a piece – of what appeared to be the woman’s very essence – right out of Niamh’s chest.

"Simply because you can eliminate darkness does not always mean that you should."

“…Oh.” His mind flitted to his family. He thought of the many research projects he had started. Anne’s illness. Professor Sharp’s cursed leg. Werewolves. The deteriorating situation between goblins and wizards. Sebastian’s worrying obsession with dark magic.

Not everything can be fixed. Not everyone can be saved.

James let out a breath and his gaze hardened. He needed to find the last piece of that triptych.

*********

“Nice teamwork,” Sebastian praised. The stone room reverberated from the loud thud.

“Nothing like an angry troll to bring friends together,” James quipped back. He felt almost nostalgic thinking of their first team up in Hogsmeade. The two of them made their way through the rest of the ancient building – buried inside a mountain! – with much less resistance. He wondered who this placed had once belonged to. When he voiced the question to Sebastian, his friend merely guessed Isidora with a shrug because “the triptych pointed us here.” But that couldn't be right. No way a Hogwarts professor could afford a place like this. So…a noble? An ancient family of magic users?

There were certainly signs of Isidora’s presence though – most telling was the worrisome journal entry he found. This ‘haze’ she mentioned made him wonder just how much whatever she was doing was changing her. It certainly seemed to be having some kind of effect. He’d already noticed the progression in the Pensieve memories. The change wasn't exactly physical, but her eyes were different. They were heavier and more lined. The bags underneath had become more and more pronounced. It felt like it wasn't just Isidora looking at the Keepers (at him) in the memories. It sounded silly when he thought about it, but he couldn't quite shake the feeling.

“Could this be another area Isidora created?” Sebastian asked when they finally stumbled upon what appeared to be some kind of workshop. It was even more spacious than the previous one they'd found.

“She must have honed her skill with ancient magic here,” James murmured as he cast a silent Revelio. There was a table on the far left, where he found yet another journal entry. The last paragraph made his stomach churn as it confirmed the theory that had been slowly forming in his mind. The undercroft, the triptych, the clues. Isidora had left a secret trail – something he was certain the Keepers didn’t know about – for someone to finish what she started. He looked up from the parchment and scanned the room more fully. She hadn’t just trained here. It looked like Isidora had actually lived here. James eyed the nearby stack of books on the desk. After a moment of deliberation, he slid them into his satchel before heading towards the staircase on the far side of the room. On the second floor he found more scrolls and notes that were shoved into his bag. In the corner was what appeared to be a bed – or the remains of one after centuries of decline. And on another table –

“The final canvas piece of the triptych,” James snatched it up with a thrill. “We found it!” They shared a brief but triumphant grin.

“Isidora should not have had to keep all this secret,” Sebastian shook his head. Ever the avid researcher, his fellow Slytherin had been disheartened at the sight of so much lost knowledge – eagerly helping James clean the place out and into his satchel.

“The Keepers and Isidora didn’t see eye to eye on the use of ancient magic,” he shared. “She went through a lot of effort to tell her story without their knowledge though.”

“Shame you can’t talk to her like your Keeper friends.”

Friends is a bit of a stretch,” he rolled his eyes with a huff. “They barely trust me as is.”

“What, the Evans charm doesn’t work on them?” Sebastian mocked. James shoved him and they shared a laugh. “Perhaps completing the triptych will shed more light on all of this.” He hummed in agreement and searched for the exit. He found the ancient magic infused wall soon enough and pulled them both back into the undercroft. His heart was pounding when the final canvas piece was added. He’s about to meet Isidora. He was sure of it. James and Sebastian backed up in anticipation. Seconds passed and nothing happened. His brow furrowed and he glanced at his friend who only offers an equally confused shrug. He stared back at the empty portrait. Did they place it wrong? There’s a sound of displaced air behind them. The pair of Slytherins whirl around to see a Pensieve with a glowing light hovering above the basin.

“Another Pensieve,” he murmured, thoughts racing.

“This is what we’ve been chasing?” Sebastian sounded underwhelmed. James looked back at the triptych. Isidora still hadn’t appeared. Where was she? He turned and stepped closer to the waiting Pensieve. Maybe he was supposed to view the memory first?

“I wonder – ” the teenager murmured as he reached out to the swirl ancient magic, like so many times before. The light changed form and became liquid, dropping out of the air into the waiting basin below.

“What is it?” his friend stepped closer, interest piqued. A memory, he thought. She hadn’t just left notes. Isidora left a memory too. A memory the Keepers definitely weren’t aware of. James gripped the sides of the pensive.

“Let’s find out.”

Notes:

I'm back! ~

Sooo I've been like super busy - obviously - but I've finally had some time to get back into writing because I miss it and I've already got the next chapter halfway finished so it definitely won't be a *checks notes* yikes, almost 3 month wait?? All the comments and kudos have been amazing, you guys are great. Happy reading :)

P.S. SHARP KNOWS. This is not a drill - our grumpy potions professor has finally found out and he is NOT a happy camper.

Chapter 37

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

His mind was a tangle of thoughts.

“She took away the pain.”

Conflicting emotions warred inside him. The portrait remained blank. This was all wrong.

“I knew it. I knew there was a way to help Anne.”

“Something isn’t right, Sebastian,” James finally spoke. Where is Isidora? He needed answers. He needed to know if the buzzing thoughts in his head were correct.

“What do you mean? You saw what she did.” He looked away from the still empty triptych – wrong, wrong, wrong – to face his best friend.

“No, not the memories,” the teen waved a dismissive hand at the Pensieve, “the portrait.” He stared at it hard. “…I think the reason Isidora hasn’t appeared is because she can’t.” Sebastian finally left the Pensieve and joined him to study the canvas.

“I don’t follow.”

“We’ve seen that view before,” he pointed. “The abandoned home in Feldcroft. The destroyed painting. It was her.”

“So someone destroyed a bit of enchanted canvas,” the other Slytherin began to lose interest in the triptych, turning back to the Pensieve, “but we found the memory.” James pursed his lips in thought, debating himself.

“I’ve seen that first memory before,” he finally admitted lowly. Sebastian blinked at this. “But it wasn’t the same. How can two memories of the same event be different?” There was a few beat of silence.

“What do you mean?” the other teen decided on. Watching Isidora take her father’s pain away had seemed much more insidious when viewing Professor Rookwood’s memory. Dark wisps of magic had bled out of the man’s chest – there had been faint angry whispers. But here, it had felt more hopeful. Except…

“It felt…fragmented?” he tried to explain. “Like it was pieced together except it wasn’t completely whole.” Also the whispers had been much louder. “Can memories be tampered with?” It felt dumb to ask but he’d already seen that they could apparently be pulled right out of people’s heads. He remembered Sharp mentioning branches of magic that had to do with the mind. If witches and wizards could read and shield the mind, did that mean they could manipulate it to?

“Like the Memory Charm?” Sebastian frowned.

“The what?”

“Obliviate,” his housemate shared. “It allows the user to erase specific memories from an individual's mind.”

“…You can do that?” Panic shot through him. Was that commonly known? If someone deleted one of his memories would he even know? Were they gone forever?

“James,” Sebastian stepped closer and placed a grounding hand on his shoulder. “It’s use is highly regulated by the Ministry. It’s mostly used on muggles to maintain the Statute of Secrecy.” So most witches and wizards just didn’t think to use it on their peers? That didn’t really make him feel better. “Misuse can get you a cell in Azkaban, so don’t worry about it…alright?” The teenager forced himself to take a deep breath and his pounding heart began to slow.

“Right…okay,” he managed. Just don’t think about it. The other Slytherin stepped back, hand dropping back to his side and eyes flicking back to the Pensieve.

“You already knew?” he asked, tone hesitant. He could see the silent question in Sebastian’s eyes. “Then…why…”

“I have no idea how Isidora did what she did,” he explained. He was pretty sure he knew what the other teenager was thinking and he couldn’t have his friend thinking that. “It took her years of study and practice to get to that point. And – ”

Each time I breathe in the haze, even a little, it's as though I become more capable. I am being rewarded for my courage. Rewarded for using this magic the way that it was meant to be used.

“ - It’s a delicate form of magic. What are the long term effects? What if it does more harm than good?”

“More harm than good?” Sebastian repeated disbelievingly. “How can you say that?”

“What if it changes me too?” James continued. He had to make his friend understand. “What if it turns me into…” a monster.

“…something unrecognizable?” the other teen filled in with a look he couldn’t quite decipher.

“Yea,” he exhaled softly. The undercroft was silent for several moments as Sebastian seemed to ponder the issue.

“You’re not Isidora,” he decided. “You’re better than her.”

“Sebastian – ”

“ – You’ve overcome all the Keeper’s challenges. You’ve more than proven yourself,” his friend argued. “You have the ability. I know you can wield it.”

“But what if –

“ – I’ve seen you control it, James,” his housemate was not easily deterred. “Not the other way around. You. control. it. If anyone can use this ‘ancient magic’ without being changed into something else, it’s you…I trust you.” He could see the warring emotions on Sebastian’s face. He could see the desire to push for answers – to push for results. But his friend was holding back. He was trying to be better. Instead he was making an effort to reassure James. That he wasn't going to turn into a monster.

Monsters like werewolves that stared into your very soul and ripped people to shreds with teeth and claws. Monsters that stalked their victims when the sun went down and darkness seeped into your very bones. Monsters who twisted and pulled at things that should not be meddled with –

“I’ll look into it,” he promised, taking another calming breath. He’d review the reading materials and notes Isidora left behind tonight in the Room of Requirement. Perhaps they could shed some light on the how. James remembered the burnt portrait in Feldcroft. Who destroyed it then? Had the Keepers figured out what Isidora was up to centuries ago? But they couldn’t know, there wouldn’t have been a trail for him and Sebastian to follow.

And what about that memory with the goblin, who could only be Bragbor? The power stored in the repositories wasn’t ancient magic. It was something else entirely. Pieces of other people’s pain – magic – souls – Isidora somehow merged together into something new. If Ranrok got his hands on the final repository, would James be able to stop him? He needed to find it before it was too late.

*********

The next morning he rushed down the stairs to the closest Floo. He needed to take a closer look at Isidora’s cottage in Feldcroft. Perhaps there was a clue that he and Sebastian had missed during their first visit.

“And where are you off to in such a rush?” Sharp’s drawl stopped the teen in his tracks. He wiped the grimace off his face before spinning around to face the man.

“Feldcroft,” James made a conscious effort not to fidget. The professor’s raised eyebrow lowered.

“I see. Perhaps you can save me a trip and deliver these then,” he gestured to the potions satchel at his side.

“Sir?” he blinked at the unexpected segue. He dropped that way too easily.

“You are on your way to visit Anne Sallow, I presume?” the eyebrow was raised once again.

“Oh – yea,” he agreed. He might as well while he was out there. The professor’s eyes narrowed.

“Unless,” Sharp crossed his arms, “you’re rushing off to another trial –”

“– I’m not,” James was quick to assure. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pacify him.

“Where is Fig?”

“He’s looking into San Bakar for location ideas,” the fifteen year old shrugged. “Said I should take the weekend off.” Both professors had seemed rather disturbed by the last trial, his mentor especially.

“You should.”

“I’ll be fine,” he rolled his eyes, “just need to check something real quick.” The retired Auror let out a disapproving sigh before straightening.

“Very well, let’s go,” he strode towards the nearby Floo flame.

“Wait, what?” James scrambled to follow. “You’re not coming.” He gulped at the withering gaze sent his way. “I mean, you don’t need to come,” he amended. “That’s really not necessary, sir. I’m sure you have much more important things to do today.”

“You’re a magnet for trouble,” Sharp disagreed. They were at the Floo now.

“I am not,” it was his turn to cross his arms.

“Your carriage was intercepted by a dragon on the way to school – ”

“ –That’s hardly my fault – ”

“ – a troll attacked Hogsmeade on your very first trip – ” the professor carried on completely ignoring his protests.

“ – I mean…technically, but that was only because – ”

“ – and in your free time you’re choosing to visit places like Az – ”

“ – okay okay,” James held his hands up to stop the tirade lest someone pass by and overhear. “God, you’re persistent,” he muttered. Apparently it was loud enough for the man to hear because a flash of amusem*nt crossed his face.

“Thank you.” He didn’t dignify that comment with a response and instead gave the professor his most unimpressed look.

*********

“You wanted to look at a burnt portrait?” James let out a sigh and stood from his crouched position within the long abandoned cottage.

“I think it was a portrait of Isidora,” he answered Sharp, absently tapping his chin. “I thought it was originally damaged in the fire the night Anne was cursed. But it looks intentional, right?” The veteran Auror ran a critical gaze over the burnt canvas.

“It does,” the professor agreed.

“I think it was the Keepers,” the fifteen year old shared. “They’ve been so tight lipped about anything to do with ancient magic or Isidora. What if this was their way of preventing her from sharing her side?” Sharp turned from the destroyed portrait to study James.

Her side?”

“Well…yea, every story has two sides right?” He chewed the bottom of his lip. “Obviously they had a major falling out. Why else go through such lengths to hide anything to do with her?”

“I thought she was using it on people without their permission?” Sharp frowned.

“I mean, yes, I don’t agree with that,” he shook his head. “That’s obviously bad. But one of the first Pensieve memories was about using ancient magic to end a drought. This place,” the teen gestured his hands around, “used to be dead. People were dying. And they made it rain. Ancient magic brought life back to this hamlet…What’s so bad about that?” The Potions professor hummed in thought.

“It sounds like they didn’t have an issue with her until Isidora began using it on people,” he offered.

“True,” James nodded. “Isidora started out with good intentions. She wanted to give her father peace.”

“What changed? Does the use of ancient magic corrupt the user?” James shook his head, eager to dismiss the look of concern from the professor’s face.

“No, Professor Rackham has never given that impression,” The tension in Sharp’s shoulders melted away. “…Maybe if used the way Isidora did?” The man glanced back down at the burnt portrait and frowned. He bent down for a closer look, even tapping it with his wand. “What is it?”

“I thought these Keepers lived hundreds of years ago?”

“They did.”

“This doesn’t look to be centuries old,” he explained, straightening back to his full height. “It’s much newer. A year – if that.”

“No, it can’t be,” James shook his head. “Isidora – ”

“Not the portrait,” Sharp tacked on. “The damage to it.” The fifteen year old frowned and crowded the destroyed canvas next to the professor.

“I thought you said it looked intentional?” he asked, squinting at the burn marks and uneven coating of ash.

“It does.”

“…but that doesn’t make any sense,” he turned to face a thoughtful looking Potions master. “Why would someone destroy Isidora’s portrait if it wasn’t one of the Keepers?” Movement behind the professor caught the teen’s attention. “What is that?” He exited the crumbling cottage and had a clear view of the dark billowing columns of smoke. His breath hitched. Feldcroft was under attack. Anne.

“James – ”

The teenager took off down the hill before Sharp could say more. Please be okay, please be okay, he chanted in his head as he sprinted toward the village. He scrambled down the stone steps as fast as he dared. The sounds of shouting and battle reached his ears after he crossed the stone bridge. Once he was inside the village, James immediately cut across to the Sallow home. In the distance he saw both Anne and Solomon fighting to push back a horde of goblins.

“Stay back!” Solomon shouted as he defended the both of them from Ranrok’s loyalists. “Keep out of the way!”

“There’s nowhere to go,” was all Anne managed to get out before one of the goblins between them and their home charged her.

“Keep out of sword’s reach!” Solomon roared, turning to cast a shield charm but was forced to spin away last minute to avoid being sliced in two by a glowing axe. James called upon the well of ancient magic singing to him and hurtled himself forward in a flash of blue light. He skided in front of Anne and his sudden appearance bought a couple seconds – enough time to cast a blue tinted Protego – before the goblin overcame the shock and brought down his dual swords. The weapons harmlessly bounced off the shield.

“You alright?” the fifteen year old risked a glance over his shoulder – catching Anne’s wide eyes and a jerky nod – and refocused on the enemy in front of him. He released the shield and fired off an overpowered Depulso. The goblin shot back into the stone wall a few feet back and dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes. He didn’t get back up.

“Uncle – to the right!” he heard Anne shout behind him. James whipped around in time to see one of the loyalists try to get the drop on the ex-Auror. A jet of flames struck the goblin in the chest and forced him to immediately retreat a few feet back, desperately trying to pat out the blaze.

“Got him,” Sharp called from nearby. Solomon nodded his thanks and the two retired Aurors began to work in tandem on the horde of goblins facing them down. James paired off with Anne. One of the enemies tried to sneak up and stab the girl from behind which he took great offense to. The teen shoved the goblin back with a Depulso and hit him with a bolt of lightning from the sky. He heard a startled gasp to his left but didn’t have time to look or else risk being overrun. The fifteen year old focused on shielding and firing off his most offensive spells. He couldn’t dodge and weave like he so desperately wanted to because of Anne. She was not nearly as mobile a fighter and he privately wished Sebastian was here.

“They’re closing in!” Anne warned and James noticed the handful of remaining goblins were now attempting to approach them from all sides at the same time.

“Back to back!” he shouted. When he felt her back pressed against his, he raised his wand – the tip was blindingly bright – and blue flames shot out. The jet of blue fire arced around them in the blink of an eye – so close he could feel the burning heat – and pulsed outward on all sides. The searing flames eagerly devoured the screaming goblins, leaving nothing but a pile of ash behind – their red hot armor and weapons was left resting on what little remained. “Is that all of them?” he asked Anne, eyes darting around for more enemies.

“I think so,” the girl murmured. The crunch of footsteps made them both turn to see Solomon and Sharp making their way towards the two teenagers.

“Okay, Mr. Sallow?” James asked, taking in their disheveled appearance – gaze lingering briefly on the Potions professor – but they both appeared unharmed.

“Thanks to you and Aesop,” the man nodded and went to check on Anne, who was clutching her stomach with a pained expression on her face. The teen blinked at the unfamiliar name. It wasn't until Anne’s “I’m fine, Uncle” that James realized through the power of elimination. His eyes flicked over to Sharp, lips curling into a grin. Aesop? He mouthed to the professor.

“Looking for detention, Mr. Evans?” the man asked, tone deceptively mild.

“Pretty sure that’s an abuse of power,” he grumbled, but dropped the subject. Solomon was guiding Anne back into their home and the girl insisted that James and Sharp join them. Soon enough they were all inside settled at the table – save for Solomon who was brewing a fresh pot of tea. By the time it was ready and everyone had a cup, the Potions master had finished presenting and explaining the case of potions he’d brought.

“This is most kind of you,” Anne thanked the professor again. Solomon, now joined at the table sitting next to her, also nodded his thanks. Her gaze slid over to James who was sitting on her other side. “A bit different from the usual offering.” The fifteen year old blinked.

“Oh,” he realized a moment later. This was the first time he’d ever visited the Sallow home without a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. “Sorry, I didn’t bring any today.”

“Unacceptable.” He’d be worried if not for the amused glint in her eyes. He was reminded of their first meeting when the girl had admitted to playing tricks on first year Slytherins.

“Deepest apologies,” he placed a mocking hand on his chest. “I’ll bring double the amount next time to make up for the error.”

“Very well,” she sniffed, nose pointed in the air like a stuffy noble. “Your oversight shall be tolerated.”

“…do you have any idea what they’re talking about?” Sharp asked Solomon. Anne’s serious expression cracked first and the two teenagers descended into a fit of giggles.

Notes:

I almost had Sharp say "it's hereditary" after the persistent comment but that felt way too on the nose for him (he's def thinking it though)

And yes Solomon and Sharp were - at the very least - colleagues. I imagine their time on the Auror force largely overlapped (hence being on a first name basis)

Chapter 38

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

This may have been a bad idea, James finally admitted to himself after the last pillar crumbled within the mine. Rumbling could be heard as the ground shook. The teenager threw out his hands to maintain his balance. A few rocks tumbled down from the ceiling but fortunately the cavern quickly stabilized. He exhaled a breath of relief. One less thing to worry about.

That just left Lodgok unaccounted for. Where was he? The arrival of the goblin’s letter had been long awaited, but the contents had been unsettling. He had hoped to find his ally outside the mine and catch him before going in. When it had become apparent that he must be too late for that to work, he’d reluctantly snuck inside. It had only spiraled from there. Sure, he’d managed to stay out of sight for the most part, but then he’d stumbled upon Ranrok himself giving a speech to a large number of his loyalists. The fifteen year old had just managed to put down all the followers but now he ached like he’d just completed both Professor Rackham and Professor Rookwood’s trials back to back. He'd blasted the support pillars to destroy the drill – hoping the setback would buy some time.

You.” James whipped around at the accusatory tone. Ranrok was back and he did not look pleased. “That is unfortunate,” he commented, glancing at the now out of commission drill. “No matter. We will build another.” He didn’t answer, instead watching for any sign that the goblin was about to attack. He’d never been this close to the rebellion leader before, and certainly not on his own. It was unnerving.

“I found this one lurking outside,” Victor Rookwood’s rasping voice drew both of their attention. James clenched his teeth at the sight of Lodgok captured by the dark wizard. The goblin was hunched over as if to shield whatever he was holding. The fifteen year old’s grip on his wand tightened. Could he raise it and fire off a spell in time? Rookwood seemed to read his mind and – with a casual flick of the wrist – easily disarmed him. His heart dropped as the wand streaked through the air into the man’s waiting hand. He hadn’t felt this vulnerable since the night the werewolf tried to eat him. This was a really bad idea. He should have waited for Professor Fig. This couldn’t possibly get any worse.

“Lodgok? Come to make amends, little brother.” James twitched, eyes darting to Ranrok. What? His ally – was he really though? – didn’t correct him. Why does the universe hate me? he silently despaired. He spared a quick glance to his confiscated wand, but Rookwood maintained a tight grip on it.

“I came to stop this,” the goblin denied, backing up slowly towards the teen.

“What is this you’ve brought me?” Ranrok demanded, aggressively crowding Lodgok until the goblin reluctantly handed it over after one last glance towards James. “It cannot be,” Ranrok muttered to himself, paging through the journal before slamming it shut. He turned and glared at Lodgok. “All this time, you knew,” he growled. “You knew where it was.” His armored hand glowed a malicious red and Lodgok was blasted off his feet. The moment the rebellion leader turned his back, James rushed to his downed ally.

“Are you alright?” he asked lowly – not daring to take his eyes off the two threats nearby – as the goblin pushed himself back onto his feet.

“I will never understand you, Lodgok,” Ranrok sneered. “So gullible. That witch did not consider you an equal. She, like all wizardkind” here he briefly glared contemptuously at James before refocusing on his brother, “sought only to use you.” No, the teen thought. Miriam wasn’t like that. But the rebellion leader was so filled with hatred – and perhaps it wasn't completely unjustified – that he couldn’t accept anything else.

“You’re wrong, Ranrok – ” Lodgok disagreed.

“ – The young ones are especially deceitful,” the other goblin accused, malevolent red eyes boring holes into James. “They are taught to hide their disgust for us as they exploit us.” The fifteen year old shook his head but didn’t speak. He doubted anything he said would get through to the rebellion leader. Blue green eyes darted back to the stolen wand, but it’s captor was not easily distracted.

“Astonishing that our ancestors ever trusted each other,” Rookwood spoke, inching closer to Ranrok. But the goblin barely spared the dark wizard a glance.

“All this time,” the rebellion leader grumbled. “Looking everywhere for the final repository – searching in vain for Bragbor’s last journal!” He didn’t notice Rookwood’s sudden stillness, or the calculating expression, but James did. “Wasted my time chasing a child,” Ranrok continued, completely missing the dark wizard slowly rotating towards him. “And my little brother knew where it was all along…But now,” he lifted the book, “I don’t need you…I don’t need any of you.” The last part was directed at Rookwood, who’s lip curled dangerously. Anxiety surged through James as the tension peaked. His fingers flexed.

“I was bringing it to you,” said Lodgok. He glanced down at the goblin and realized the admission was directed towards him. Relief that he hadn’t been betrayed swirled inside him. But the respite was short-lived.

“You are a traitor to our kind!” Ranrok roared. Red hostile magic bubbled out of his armor and shot towards them.

“Protego!” James quickly threw up a wandless shield. There was a brief look of surprise from his enemies, but the powerful magic easily broke through the paltry defense and Lodgok was thrown several feet back into the mine’s rocky wall. No! The cavern began to shake. Rookwood was the first to recover.

“Avada Kedavra!” The dark wizard shot a stream of sickly green light at Ranrok’s back. James used the distraction to run to Lodgok’s side, sliding next to his still form. Anger and fear coursed through him and ancient magic hummed underneath his skin. James threw his hand out towards Rookwood but his wand was still held tight by the man. The mine continued to shake and large rocks began to fall from the ceiling. Frustration welled up inside him. The cavern was going to cave in. James gritted his teeth – recalling hours and hours of practice – and ancient magic leapt to answer his call. This time the teenager reached out towards Ranrok, focusing all his intent on one thing.

Accio!” he bellowed. Bragbor’s journal was ripped from the goblin’s loose grasp. The rebellion leader’s face twisted with fury at the sight of James catching the flying book. He roared and a wave a vile red magic hurtled towards the teenager. James threw himself to the ground – over Lodgok – and the jet of red light passed mere inches above his head.

“Take me back,” James hissed lowly, clutching his downed ally tight. He felt a jerk somewhere behind his navel.

*********

James woke up on the chaise lounge in Professor Fig’s office. The waffles and nap made him feel loads better after that disaster in Hogsmeade. Although Peeves had better not cross paths with him today or he just may banish the school poltergeist too. He sat up and spotted his mentor leaning over something at his desk. The teen got up and slowly approached to avoid startling the man.

“Professor?” Fig looked up and a soft smile stretched across his lined face. His guardian looked older than before, like the man had aged in the short time he’d been asleep. He couldn’t help but briefly wonder about the lifespan of wizards and immediately shoved the uncomfortable thought out of his head.

“James, how are you feeling?”

“Better, thank you, sir,” he couldn’t help return the smile. He leaned against the desk, now standing opposite his mentor. There was a metal pendant necklace he’d never seen before on the man’s desk. “What are you working on?”

“Ah, well, given your proclivity to get into trouble – ” James flushed at the gentle reprimand “ – I thought I’d better do something about that.”

“Professor?”

“Since restricting you to the castle isn’t an option,” his mentor continued, “I determined this is the next best recourse.” He waved at the pendant resting on the desk.

“…a necklace?” the fifteen year old squinted at the rather plain looking item.

“A portkey.” His eyes snapped back up to his guardian. “This one is a bit different from the Gringotts key. Instead of being activated by touch,” he tapped the pendant to demonstrate the lack of reaction. “The portkey will be triggered by a phrase instead.”

“…I don’t understand.”

“You can keep it on your person at all times without accidently triggering it,” Professor Fig patiently explained, “since it will only activate after the passphrase is spoken. If you ever get…stuck again…this portkey will transport you to the Hogwarts hospital wing.” His breath caught in his throat when he finally realized what the man was offering.

“I’ll have a way out,” he exhaled as a weight lifted from his shoulders. He glanced down at the innocuous looking pendant before looking back to his mentor “…Thank you, sir.”

*********

They landed with a loud thump on the floor of the Hogwarts hospital wing. The nearby clock read just past seven. It was dinner time. James pushed himself to his knees and inspected Lodgok. The hand that had previously clutched the goblin tightly now hovered hesitantly.

“What in Merlin’s name?” The teenager jerked up to see Nurse Blainey rushing over to them. She paused at the sight of Lodgok.

“He needs help,” James insisted. “Please.” His words prompted her into action, levitating the goblin to the farthest bed in the room near the windows with a flick of her wand.

“What happened?” she asked briskly, her wand continuously in motion. Vials hurtled through the air from the adjacent room she must have been in during his arrival.

“He was thrown into a wall,” the fifteen year old explained. He watched her work in silence for a few moments, tamping down the strong urge to fidget or talk so as not to distract her. A few more beats of activity passed before the witch finally slowed her ministrations. “Is he going to be okay?”

“He’ll recover,” she replied and James let out a relieved sigh. She glanced at the Slytherin student. “I must admit, this is the first time in my ten years here someone brought a goblin to be treated.”

“He’s a friend,” the teen immediately bristled. Lodgok had more than proven himself at this point.

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” she held up a pacifying hand. “I was only remarking on the…unusual effect your presence has brought.” He blinked at that, unsure how to respond. She didn’t seem to expect one though, turning away and heading back towards the room near the hospital wing entrance. The fifteen year old pulled up a chair and sat next to the bed.

A wave of exhaustion hit him as he reflected on what just happened. He looked down and realized he was still gripping Bragbor’s journal. It should have felt like a victory, but it was a hollow one. Rookwood stole his wand - probably snapped it by now. His chest tightened and his eyes watered. James slammed them shut. He can’t break down now, there was too much at stake. He clenched his jaw and breathed deeply. In. Out. In. Out. He opened his eyes when he no longer felt like he was about to cry. Okay. Focus on the win. He could get a new one. I want my old wand back. He viciously shoved the wave of loss down and focused on the book still gripped tightly in his hand. He let out a shaky breath.

A quick glance confirmed that Lodgok was still unconscious. James flipped the journal open and began skimming. It was a wealth of information. Bragbor didn’t just record his interactions with Isidora. It included insights on goblin metalwork: notes on how the repositories were made and why, theories on how to best contain Isidora’s ‘leftover’ magic, and ideas on how to make the entire process more efficient.

It wasn't until the teen reached the end that the goblin revealed the location of the large repository. Hogwarts. It was under the school. His stomach twisted. Good news, it was nearby. Bad news, the journal didn’t share how to get to the last repository.

“James!” The teenager jerked up to see Fig and Sharp entering the hospital wing. The professors paused after clearing the privacy curtain Nurse Blainey had raised when Lodgok came within view.

“Is that – ” Fig blinked.

“Lodgok,” James explained with a wave. “Ranrok tried to kill him.”

“When was this?” Sharp asked.

“Um,” the teen glanced at the clock. It was almost eight now. “About an hour ago?” The Potions master crossed his arms looking unimpressed.

“What happened?” The fifteen year old swallowed. The two transfigured and summoned their own chairs and James quickly summarized the events leading to their arrival.

“Rookwood stole your wand?” Sharp interrupted, eyes narrowed. His composure cracked for the first time.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, blue green eyes darting to his mentor. The Potions professor blinked at the response.

“That’s not – I mean – ” the man suddenly seemed unsure and looked at Professor Fig. His mentor reached out and griped his shoulder firmly.

“You don’t need to apologize, James,” the older man offered. “Unlawful possession of another’s wand is a serious offense because most witches and wizards aren’t able to cast spells without it.” He stiffened.

“Is it…unlawful to know wandless magic?”

“Of course not,” Sharp huffed. “But it’s incredibly difficult.” He glanced between the two, brow furrowed in confusion.

“…But Natty can?”

“Miss Onai grew up performing magic without the use of a wand,” Professor Fig explained, “before her magic had settled.” His face scrunched.

“Then why don’t – ”

“Because magic is much easier to control with the assistance of a wand,” said his mentor. “Not to mention, the methods of Uagadou are jealously guarded by its practitioners.” He blinked. Oh.

“It’s also a precaution,” Sharp added. What? “The Ministry can better – ”

“We’re getting off track,” his guardian cut in before James could hear more about that that interesting tidbit. The other professor sent Fig an unimpressed look – probably not used to being interrupted – but didn’t argue the point.

“Um…I brought us here before the room caved in,” he wrapped up, glancing past the listening professors to make sure the nurse was still in the adjacent room.

“How?” The veteran Auror asked with a frown, immediately catching the lack of detail. The teenager hesitated and glanced at his mentor.

“The portkey?” the man guessed. His shoulders relaxed and he nodded back. He hadn’t been sure if he should say anything after being told the creation of portkeys tended to be highly regulated by the Ministry.

What portkey?” Sharp slanted the older professor a look. Fig quickly filled the man in – James even tapping the pendant helpfully during the explanation. A look close to grudging approval flashed across the other professor’s face before he glanced down and noticed the book in the fifteen year old’s lap.

“Bragbor’s journal?” the Potions master speculated. “How did you – ”

“I summoned it.” The man’s eyes narrowed.

“Before Rookwood disarmed you?”

“…No.” The two professors stared at him blankly. The room was silent for a few seconds before realization took over and they shared a stunned look.

“You can do wandless magic?” Sharp demanded. The teen winced.

“…Yes?” The man pinched the bridge of his nose and muttered something that sounds suspiciously like ‘of course you can.’ His mentor was still staring at him, but he seemed more pleased than anything.

“Does it say where the final repository is?” Professor Fig leaned forward once he had collected himself. James frowned.

“It’s under Hogwarts.”

Notes:

sooo several divergences here...thoughts? questions? reactions? 👀 *rubs hands in anticipation*

Chapter 39

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

They had a location. Finally. Now if only he could convince the Keepers to stop being so difficult!

“I’m just saying, is the fourth trial even necessary?” James tuned back into the conversation happening behind him as he marched down to the Map Chamber. Sharp was of the belief that they should just head straight toward the repository under Hogwarts – completely bypassing the Keepers. Except it didn’t address the question of how to access the repository. And given the hoops he had to jump through just to get this far, the teen was skeptical it would be as simple as walking right up to it. And while Fig was no more fond of the Keepers than his colleague, he also thought doing so could risk missing something vital.

“We don’t know what information the last Pensieve holds,” he answered the Potions professor. “And each one has contained an artefact that I’ll apparently need.” He frowned in thought. “Maybe to somehow act as a guide to find the repository?” he muttered to himself. Or perhaps to unlock a hidden gateway? They seemed fond of those. He paused outside the doors to glance between the two professors. “Play nice, please,” he said to Sharp, before entering the chamber, not giving the man a chance to respond. The fifteen year old stood tall, doing his best to project confidence as he approached the waiting portraits.

“Hello young friend.”

“Professor Rackham,” James answered with a nod. All four Keepers shifted their attention to a frowning Sharp. He grimaced at the man's crossed arms. “This is Professor Sharp,” he introduced, quickly smoothing his expression. “The Hogwarts Potions professor.” He noted the varying expressions of curiosity and confusion so he elaborated. “He’s also an experienced Auror and has been assisting our investigation into Ranrok and Rookwood.” There, that sounded nice and professional.

“An Auror?” Professor Rookwood questioned.

“We do tend to be better trained to handle threats against wizardkind,” the man in question offered dryly. James’ eyes slammed shut. For the love of

“What he means to say,” the teenager nearly grounded out, giving the professor an unimpressed look, “is that he has skills and contacts in areas Professor Fig and I do not. Since – you know – we’re so pressed on time.” He took a steadying breath as the portraits all scrutinize him. “Look. I trust Professor Sharp or he wouldn’t be standing here, can we please focus on the matter at hand?”

“…Very well,” Professor Rackham tilted his head. “You came here for a reason, I presume?” The tension in the fifteen year old’s shoulders unfurled and he focused his attention on San Bakar. He gave a very brief recount on what had recently transpired – leaving out the loss of his wand, of course. He didn’t need to give them any more reason to doubt his abilities.

“You brought a goblin to Hogwarts?” was the first thing the Keeper said. His jaw tightened. Not this again.

“He’s a friend.”

“And yet, in the same breath you claim the wizarding world is being threatened by his own brother?” San Bakar challenged. There was a look in the portrait’s eyes that he couldn’t quite decipher. The teen’s gaze darted to the other Keepers but they remained unhelpfully silent. Had goblin relations been even worse during their time?

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to judge others by their relationships,” he settled on. “Especially the ones they inherit.”

“You’re saying this goblin is not what he seems?” James frowned at the wording. His eyes narrowed slightly at the Keeper, feeling like the man was trying to trip him up. His lips thinned and he spared a glance to his mentor. The man didn’t jump in though, his confidence and belief in James clear to see. He swallowed.

“…The world isn’t split into good people and bad people,” the fifteen year old murmured lowly, but it still echoed in the chamber. He glanced back to San Bakar. “Everyone has light and dark inside them, what matters is the part they choose to act on.” James straightened to his full height. “I’m saying it’s the choices a person makes that matters. You cannot hold someone accountable for the actions of another.”

“No?” the Keeper lifted an infuriating eyebrow.

“No,” he challenged, chin held high. “It’s not right.” The portrait didn’t respond, instead taking a few moments to study the teenager before giving a neutral hum. He took a fortifying breath. “I understand you have your reservations, professor. But at this rate – there won’t be a repository left for me to…do whatever it is you think I’m going to do.” Blue green eyes flicked to a thoughtful looking Professor Rackham. “I can’t help but feel like we’re cutting it pretty close already.”

“This journal you acquired, it belonged to Bragbor?” San Bakar questioned. His expression was smooth and gave nothing away to the likely disapproving thoughts swirling in his head. “Does it say where the final repository is?”

“Yes.”

“And yet you came here?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” the portrait’s expression finally shifted into a frown. James tilted his head at the question, brow furrowing.

“Because there’s still one more trial,” he said like it’s the most obvious answer. The Keeper stared down at him but the teenager didn’t waver. He met the gaze head on with quiet resolve. The chamber was silent for several beats.

“Very well,” San Bakar finally broke it. “The next trial will involve an exceptional level of magical skill – and a nuanced ability to interact with beasts.” James blinked at the sudden acquiescence. He glanced at the other Keepers but their expressions merely show varying levels of approval. “Find a face of stone and tendrils. You must engage with any beast that is part of the trial on your own.” Here he sent a dubious look to Fig and Sharp – the grumpy Potions master especially. “Should you prove successful, I will meet you in the Pensieve room.”

“Thank you, professor.”

*********

The three of them stood shoulder to shoulder on a nearby bluff overlooking the beach. Large ivory bones rose out of the sand, just like Professor Fig said.

“Are you sure – ” Sharp began.

“ – For the last time, yes,” James didn’t let him finish. He let out sigh, trying not to let his frustration show. The man was simply concerned about his well-being, but it didn’t make the doggedness any less annoying. “I doubt it’s as straightforward as just subduing a Graphorn, there must be some ancient magic connection…It can’t be that easy.”

“Easy,” the Potions professor scoffed lowly, but the teen ignored him.

“A borrowed wand is better than no wand,” his mentor tried again. He’d already offered back at the carving – the face of stone and tendrils – that they found hidden behind a wall of dense foliage, but the fifteen year old shook his head. He just couldn’t make himself accept the man’s wand. It felt wrong.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, tone much more confident than he felt.

“At least take this,” Sharp grumbled and shoved something into his hands. He held it out for a better view and blinked at the item.

“…a leather overcoat?” he gave the retired Auror a weird look.

“It’s enchanted,” the professor explained. James realized upon closer inspection that there were runes carefully stitched all along the inside. “It won’t stop you from being trampled,” he warned, “but it should offer an extra layer of protection.” The fifteen year old shed his plain overcoat and replaced it with the new one. It was a few sizes too big – meant for a full grown man instead of a teenager – but not loose enough to hinder his movements. He twisted back and forth to test the fit and a familiar scent filled his nostrils. The teen stilled and hesitantly pressed his nose into the leather collar of the enchanted overcoat. He didn’t recognize the smell but a strong feeling of safety flooded him - enveloping him like a warm and comforting hug. The strange sensation made his chest tighten.

“James?” Professor Fig’s voice interrupted his train of thought.

“…Where did you get this?” he asked softly. Sharp was watching him closely.

“An old friend,” he answered after a beat of hesitation.

“Um…thanks,” he fidgeted, then straightened. “I’ll return it after the trial,” he promised. Something like this had to cost a small fortune. From his limited knowledge on enchanted objects, the more protections it had the more valuable it was considered. The veteran Auror stared at him, gaze unreadable.

“Keep it.” He jerked in surprise.

“Really?”

“It suits you,” the man shrugged. “I’m sure he’d want you to have it…what with all the trouble you seem to attract.” James rolled his eyes at the quip but didn’t argue the point. It must have belonged to his late Auror partner.

Thanks,” he repeated, sarcasm leaking into his tone. Sharp’s mouth curled into a surprisingly genuine smile. He faced the beach once more. “Okay,” he let out a breath. “I’m ready.”

“We’ll be here if you need help,” Fig placed a firm hand on his shoulder.

“I know,” he smiled. “I’ll be fine.” The man gave him one final squeeze before letting go. James lightly bounced on the balls of his feet as he thought back to his adventures with Poppy. “I’ve faced off against a dragon, I can take on one measly Graphorn.”

“Professor Fig was with you,” Sharp was quick to remind him. He blinked at the reply before realizing the man thought he was referring to the carriage attack.

“…Right.” The ex-Auror immediately fixated on the hesitation like a bloodhound.

“Are you implying – ”

“ – No, sir.”

James.”

“Gotta go!” The fifteen year old wrapped himself with ancient magic and hurtled himself to the sand below. He appeared on the beach in a flash of blue and allowed himself a pleased smile. He’d been practicing on increasing his range from a few feet to several meters. It would come in handy shortly.

“Alright, Lord of the Shore,” he muttered to himself as he rounded the bend, “show yourself.” The ground trembled and a massive Graphorn – far larger than the previous two he’d seen when returning the dragon egg with Poppy – came into view. James swallowed. The beast spotted the fifteen year old. “E-easy,” he murmured lowly. The creature threw its head back and let out a bone rattling roar. The horned head lowered and the Graphorn charged him. The teen’s eyes widened and he barely managed to wrap himself with ancient magic and hurtle himself out of the beast’s path. Fast!

“Can’t we talk about this?” he called. The creature quickly recovered and slid to a stop. It let out another ear shattering roar before charging again. “Come on, come on,” he muttered calling upon his magic, it leapt to his desperate call. “Confringo!” the blast did nothing to slow it down. He dodged again. The next few minutes were filled with a lot of dodging and going through his list of spells to see what affected the Graphorn. It was a pathetically small number and the beast shook them off with little difficulty. He couldn't keep up the barrage for long though. While he managed to fire off most of the spells, each attempt was much more draining than usual.

“You’re certainly fierce,” James grumbled, and yet he couldn’t help but admire the creature. Think, think, think. What was the point of this trial? Was he supposed to use ancient magic to subdue the animal? The teenager tried a few ancient magic throws, but they seem to have little effect except possibly angering the Graphorn. James winced. Well that didn’t work. He backed up until he hit a stone wall. He tilted his head and an idea formed. The shaking ground warned him of the charging beast’s imminent arrival. Ten feet. He stood his ground. Five feet. He readied his magic. Two feet. James flashed away as fast and far as he could manage.

CRACK!

The fifteen year old quickly regained his bearings, noting the newly formed fissure in the stone wall. There was a moment of stillness as the Graphorn lay stunned on the ground. Did he do it? Wait, the beast was moving. The creature rose to its feet, seemingly unscathed.

“Ugh – seriously?” he groaned. What was he doing wrong? This was San Bakar’s trial, right? What would he be testing? The Graphorn’s chest rumbled as it let loose it’s fiercest roar yet. Except this time the beast itself seemed to glow. Like a sun inside the creature was lighting up. Like magic. Something stirred inside him and he was reminded of his strange encounter with the dragon. She had bumped his chest – like a large dog – as if she could sense the well of ancient magic inside him.

The Graphorn was charging again and James hurtled himself to the opposite side of the area to buy himself time to think. San Bakar had been the most reserved of the Keepers. Beating a creature into submission did not sound like something he would approve of. He thought back to their conversation in the Map Chamber. A roar and pounding strides interrupted his musings – the large creature was faster than it had any right to be. He flashed again, this time to the center of the beach. The man had seemed to respond positively to the teen’s quiet determination.

"The next trial will involve an exceptional level of magical skill – and a nuanced ability to interact with beasts."

“Come on, Evans, you can do this,” he reassured himself as the Graphorn roared again, skin glowing and something tugged at his very core. He widened his stance and stared the beast down as it charged him. The fifteen year old kept his breaths even as he pulled hard at the ancient magic swirling just below his skin. He focused on exactly what he wanted and pictured it clearly in his head. When the animal was bearing down on him he threw his hands up and heaved. Sweat dripped down his temples as he strained but his magic responded and the Graphorn’s paws were lifted off the ground. The beast rumbled as it arced over his head and was flipped onto its back – landing several meters behind the teenager.

James hunched and clasped his knees to stop himself from keeling over. He panted at the effort, trying to refill his lungs with precious air. The Graphorn was still for a handful of seconds – like it wasn't quite sure what just happened – before rolling over and rising to his feet. Goddammit. A whine escaped him. He was so tired. I want my wand back. What in the world could the most cautious Keeper want –

The teenager paused. San Bakar had been wary of him. Overly suspicious that he was just as untrustworthy as Isidora. Niamh’s trial had been a test of skill and character. If the first two had been similar, focusing solely on skill and intellect…what if the last two were also very much the same? The Graphorn bellowed its displeasure, glowing bright. Ancient magic swirled and tugged at his gut.

This was a test of restraint.

The beast charged James once more who stood frozen with sick realization. What if he was wrong? He swallowed as the world slowed to a crawl. He could probably attack the creature again, surely it was feeling as worn down as he was? But…that wasn’t the point of this. Niamh’s Pensieve memories had been a warning – how Isidora refused to stop. San Bakar’s trial – it seemed – was meant to force a decision under pressure.

To make the choice to not use his magic.

The fifteen year old took a steadying breath and raised his hands in clear surrender. He bowed his head, eyes closed, and knelt in the sand. Ancient magic sang underneath his skin –

The dragon let out another – almost inquisitive – rumble and the ancient magic inside him stirred again, like it wanted to come out.

– and this time James did not tamp it down. He released his hold and felt it saturate the air. Please, he begged in the privacy of his mind. Please work. It felt like everything from his heart pounding anxiety to his cautious hope for the future were laid bare. Moments crawled by as he braced for impact. But it did not come.

A burst of warm air hit his face. The teen flinched but nothing else followed. The beach was quiet. He cracked his eyes open and slowly looked up. The Lord of the Shore stood like a sentry peering down at him. Their eyes met and the beast lowered its head, but not as a sign of aggression. Ancient magic thrummed between them.

“I need your help, friend,” he exhaled, slowly rising to his feet. The Graphorn rumbled back. It sounded friendlier than before. James carefully reached out and placed a tentative hand on the beast’s lowered forehead. He earned a hum in response, and some wriggling tentacles. His mouth curled into a smile. Ancient magic swirled around them – it was almost a heady feeling. “Ready?” he asked. The Graphorn’s throat vibrated. His fingers gave the creature a quick scratch and he slowly approached the animal's side. The Lord of the Shore remained still. James took a fortifying breath and pulled himself onto the Graphorn’s back.

Notes:

yes, the enchanted leather overcoat used to belong to *exactly* who you're thinking 😏

next chapter is another interlude! can you guess who? 👀

Chapter 40: Interlude - Poppy Sweeting & Lodgok

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Poppy Sweeting couldn’t remember the last time she had so much fun with a peer. Not just that – but a friend – with two legs! Gran had been so pleased to hear about James Evans (minus the dragon of course, she didn’t want to worry the older witch). She asked about the new fifth year regularly in her letters to Poppy, offering encouragement and advice in this uncharted territory the girl suddenly found herself.

She was so anxious early on about accidentally driving the teenager away. She nearly ruined it during their trip to return the dragon egg. He had always seemed so untouchable to her, confidently breezing through Beasts class and scaring away bullies with ease. Not to mention his impressive magical aptitude. The sight of him hunched over on the verge of a panic attack had startled Poppy and she immediately backpedaled. James didn’t hold it against her though and she was exceedingly grateful. Months go by as she witnessed the Slytherin’s quiet patience and compassion. It was a far cry from how many of the rumors painted him – everything from an attention seeking braggart to a hot-tempered dueler with little mercy.

When she finally came clean about her parents and her abhorrent connection to the poaching community, part of her worried about her friend's reaction. Would he call her a hypocrite or view her with suspicion? Instead James merely blinked at the admission, like something had slotted into place, and responded with a “sounds awful.” So shocked by the lack of reaction she'd been unable to answer right away. The teenager had then outright teased the girl about her Gryffindor tendencies. It was so odd and strangely comforting how well he balanced understanding with lightheartedness. It only further strengthened their friendship and her desire to never give him reason to regret their association.

“Here comes your boyfriend,” one of her housemate snickered nearby at the Hufflepuff table. She scowled at the sixth year, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to have much of an effect. The three girls huddled together, whispering amongst themselves, and shot looks her way as James Evans approached. None of her housemates could seem to fathom just what exactly the new fifth year saw in Poppy. She wasn't quite sure either and had never worked up the nerve to ask. The Slytherin casually dropped onto the bench next to her and snagged a buttered roll.

“Any word from Dorran?” he asked lowly, shoving the breakfast pastry into his mouth without preamble. The action made her mouth curl into a smile.

“He recognized the symbol,” she confirmed. “He wants to meet tonight.” James nodded and finally seemed to notice the giggling sixth years nearby shooting them not very subtle looks.

“Ignore them,” Poppy huffed. Most of her housemates were fine – really. But it was like her gran always said, you’d find bad apples everywhere. She must not pull off the casual tone she was aiming for though because the other teen was frowning now.

“They bothering you?”

“Nothing I can’t handle,” she dismissed with a shrug. James hummed but didn’t push. It was one of the things she liked about him. Later, the same girls sprinted by in the hall, desperately trying to hide their faces now covered in angry red boils. James didn’t say anything the next time she saw him, but Poppy couldn’t help the extra wide smile stretched across her face.

*********

James Evans was a very peculiar wizard. Lodgok didn’t have much of an opinion regarding the young student before their meeting. Sure there were plenty of rumors, and he caught sight of the boy as he left the Three Broomsticks. His brother certainly seemed interested in the child, especially after James and one of his classmates took down a fully-grown troll on their own in Hogsmeade. Which – fair – many adult wizards wouldn’t be able to manage such a feat. But it wasn't the stories about the teenager’s magical prowess that cemented his abnormality in Lodgok’s mind.

It was their first meeting, from the moment their eyes met, that he realized James was unlike any other wizard the goblin had met. The teenager entered the Hog’s Head Tavern looking overwhelmed by the atmosphere. When his gaze settled on Lodgok in the corner, the tense expression on the boy’s face eased. The look of relief – directed at him – was so bizarre. He could not help but be reminded of another that looked at him without an ounce of disgust many months ago. Except this child – astonishingly untouched by wizardkind’s prejudice – went a step further and immediately came to Lodgok’s defense. Never in his entire life had any wand carrier defended him in such a capacity. It was completely unheard of.

Afterwards James seemed embarrassed about the encounter. But not for defending a goblin – no. Rather, his use of wandless magic. He’d heard stories of wizarding children instinctively using magic to protect themselves when threatened. And yet the young wizard had called upon it to shield Lodgok. So he took a calculated risk and floated the proposal of working together. The boy readily agreed, showing no aversion at the idea of working with a goblin.

When the teenager showed reluctance at the idea of entering the tomb, he half-expected the young wizard to break off their temporary alliance. Instead the fifteen year old discovered the helm of Urtkot had already been recovered by Victor Rookwood’s lot and stole it back for him. The young wizard reminded him so very much of Miriam. He found himself hoping that teenager did not meet a similar fate as the kind witch.

*********

Lodgok’s quest to sabotage the drills went wrong from the very start. His brother’s cursed ally found him outside the mine and his insides froze when he realized James was inside with his brother. He saw the shock that flashed across the young wizards face upon that revelation. And yet, the teenager came to his aid the moment there was an opening. It made him hopeful for the future, that perhaps not all wizardkind hated goblins - that they could overcome their differences and work together. It prompted him to explain that the journal had been intended for James. When Ranrok turned his magic on him – a crime amongst their people – he did not expect to wake up.

He appeared to be in a castle, a hospital room he realized upon further inspection. There was a witch nearby that approached and explained to him how he’d come to be here. Hogwarts. James had brought him to a wizarding stronghold – one goblinkind had not dared to come near for centuries for fear of risking their wrath – seeking help on his behalf. It absolutely floored him. The child had no care for long held societal expectations, breaking through them like they weren’t even there. He wondered briefly what kind of upbringing could cause the teenager to have such little regard for the rules and beliefs of wizardkind.

It pained him to finally accept that Ranrok was forever lost to him, corrupted by whatever magic he had discovered in the repository below Rookwood Castle. To raise a hand against a blood relative was grounds for exile in goblin culture. It was one of the worst crimes one could commit. It saddened him to realize how far his brother had fallen. He owed James Evans a life debt now for dragging Lodgok out of the mine, no doubt saving him from certain death. Did the boy realize the full ramifications of what he’d just done? He couldn’t be certain, but Lodgok had a feeling that the young wizard was just as oblivious to goblin customs as those belonging to his own people.

He was not left alone for long before an older wizard with graying hair and blue eyes entered the hospital wing. His expression was rather neutral – compared to James at least, although that wasn't really a fair comparison – but the man seemed pleased to see the goblin conscious.

“Do you mind?” the wizard asked, gesturing to a nearby chair. Lodgok blinked at the question.

“By all means,” he managed. The old man sat with a tired sigh. He was silent for a few seconds as he studied the goblin.

“Forgive me,” the wizard cleared his throat, placing a hand on his chest. “My name is Eleazar Fig.”

“Ah,” Lodgok realized, “the mentor.” The man blinked at that.

“Yes,” he nodded, hesitating for a brief moment before continuing. “James speaks highly of you.” The goblin parsed through the words, turning them over in his mind. But he did not detect any hidden meaning behind them.

“…He’s not what I expected,” Lodgok admitted. Fig’s eyes crinkled and he let out a chuckle.

“Yes, he tends to have that effect,” Eleazar answered with a fond smile, it made the man look years younger.

“Where is he?” he asked. Part of him had expected James to be present upon his awakening, although perhaps that was too presumptuous even for the odd teenager. Something flashed across Fig’s face and, for a moment, Lodgok wondered if he had crossed a line.

“He’s collecting something to enter the final repository,” Eleazar revealed after a thoughtful pause. The goblin did not dare ask the location, he was incredibly reluctant to test the wizard’s patience – especially in Hogwarts of all places.

“I owe him my thanks,” he offered with some trepidation. He was not eager to bring up the matter of life debts, especially without James present. But this man was the boy’s mentor and would no doubt learn about it eventually from the teenager himself. Though their interactions had been brief up to this point, even he could hear the idolization in the fifteen year old’s voice whenever he talked about Fig. The old wizard was quiet for a moment as he studied Lodgok, absently rubbing his chin.

“Yes, well…James is very protective of his friends,” Eleazar shared. The goblin blinked.

“Friends?” slipped out before he could help it. But the wizard didn’t show any derision at the idea, instead his mouth curled into a small but proud smile.

“Indeed,” the man’s eyes crinkled, as if remembering something amusing, “he was quite clear on the matter when defending your presence here.” Lodgok was silent, not sure how to respond to the admission. James Evans had been firmly categorized as an ally in his mind, of course. How could he not be after proving himself over and over? But he had never imagined the boy would ever view the goblin as anything more. His mind drifted to Sirona Ryan, the only wand carrier he’d ever considered a friend in his many years. To have another consider him their equal – it was mind boggling. Something warmed in his chest.

“He’s…” words were difficult and Lodgok struggled to organize his thoughts. James Evans was so many things, a curious enigma for sure. “Quite something,” was all he managed to say. But Fig did not take offense to the lacking response as if he could tell exactly what Lodgok was thinking.

“Yes, he is,” the man murmured. James’ mentor shifted in his chair, almost like he was working up the nerve to say something, eventually opening his mouth. But before he could speak, a scarred wizard marched into the room with a slight hitch in his gait.

“Fig,” the man greeted. The wizard’s eyes darted to Lodgok, as if noting his conscious state, before quickly returning to his colleague. The goblin ignored the quick dismissal. It was nowhere close to the worst reactions he'd ever received. “Did you – ”

“Yes,” Eleazar nodded, standing from his seated position, “Matilda has been informed.” The sharply dressed man grunted and crossed his arms once he reached the other wizard. Although, Lodgok further reflected, perhaps the man was just exceedingly blunt. He also appeared stressed. “Where is James?” the older man asked, gaze flicking towards the hospital wing entrance. The frown on the still unnamed wizard’s face deepened.

“…Rookwood took him,” the man growled, eyes dark with retribution. The temperature of the room suddenly dropped and Lodgok became still as a statue. He was filled with sudden unease at being so close to two angry wizards.

“What?” Fig’s voice was dangerously calm. His colleague grimaced.

“Outside Ollivanders,” he added. “Someone must have tipped him off. He and one of his lackeys were waiting for us.” The man’s dark eyes flicked to the silent goblin once more, gaze considering, before refocusing on the other wizard. “Is he still wearing it?” he asked lowly. It didn’t take long for Eleazar to realize whatever his colleague was hinting at.

“As far as I know,” he returned, glancing at the middle of the room. Lodgok followed his gaze but there was nothing notable there as far as he could tell.

“But he hasn’t used it yet,” the scarred wizard scowled.

“…I’m sure there’s a good reason.” Fig’s colleague hummed darkly. The room was deathly quiet for several intense beats. The goblin wondered if he could slip out without attracting the wizards’ attention. Before he could make a decision, Eleazar seemed to finally remember his presence.

“Oh, where are my manners?” he gestured to the unidentified wizard. “This is Aesop Sharp, a professor James looks up to.” The comment broke the man out of his silent glowering and he spared Eleazar a startled look. Curious. The newly introduced professor shifted his attention to Lodgok.

“…Mr. Evans is rather fond of you,” the man offered by way of greeting. They studied each other for a few seconds.

“He is a friend,” the goblin ventured, searching for any sign of disapproval. Sharp merely hummed, but didn’t seem surprised by the admission.

“Yes, he said as much,” the professor replied, quickly losing interest and glanced back at his colleague. “I’ve been meaning to ask, since when could he apparate?” Eleazar snorted and shook his head.

“You mean with the Graphorn? I’m not sure he can,” the boy’s mentor shared. “It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen before.” Sharp spared Lodgok a scrutinizing look before refocusing on Fig.

“A side effect?” he asked lowly. The goblin wasn’t sure what exactly the two wizards were talking about, and he dared not ask. The two men were clearly protective of James and despite their almost friendly behavior so far, he was not fool enough to believe it wouldn’t change in an instant if he gave them reason to view him as a threat. Did they know of his connection to Ranrok?

“Possibly,” Fig shrugged. The tense vigil was broken by a bright flash and loud thump in the center of the room. Lodgok jerked at the unexpected entry. The two wizards jumped to attention, wands drawn. It took the goblin a moment to realize why. Tangled in a mess of limbs on the floor were James Evans and Victor Rookwood.

Notes:

I'm pretty sure Poppy has a tiny crush on MC. Also, it’s a shame Fig and Lodgok never get the chance to meet.

Side note: this fic has now crossed the 100k threshold?! I never imagined this would be so big when this idea first starting bouncing around in my head. Appreciate all the support <3

Chapter 41

Notes:

Yes, I know San Bakar tells the others that Niamh is alive. Not sure why they fake us out like that, since one of the Keepers dying would have given much more weight behind the Keeper’s reluctance to trust MC. Also Niamh looks the same in the trial/her wake like she barely aged so I’m running with it.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The memories in San Bakar’s Pensieve were chilling. The dead look in Mr. Morganach’s eyes was going to give James nightmares for weeks. Had Isidora really done that to her father just by taking his pain away? Or had the previous effects only been temporary? And had she accidentally taken more and more to fix it until there was nothing left? Or did she even care? The Isidora Morganach that greeted the Keepers in the caverns below Hogwarts was not the same witch the teen saw just a few Pensieve memories ago. The darkness was so much stronger now. Something stared back out of Isidora’s eyes. Something no longer human. The dark rings around her eyes, the pale complexion – she looked sick. How much of the witch that just wanted to bring her father peace was left? Gray shadows writhed on the floor around her, but they were difficult to focus on. They broke apart when he looked at them and only formed back together in his periphery. The whispering was louder – he could almost make out the words. He was tempted to tell the Keepers to stop talking so he could hear what the voices were saying, but they were just memories from hundreds of years ago.

James gasped when Isidora blasted them back with a wave of powerful magic – vile and corrupted just like Ranrok’s power – and Niamh landed against a rock at an awkward angle with a loud crack. Rackham and Rookwood dueled against the witch while San Bakar ran to the fallen Keeper, but the headmistress did not get up. Isidora began to overpower the two wizards and Niamh still did not stir. San Bakar noticed the losing battle and fired the killing curse at Isidora. Time stopped. Shock flashed across the witch's face but it was quickly chased away by the eerie green light. Her eyes dulled and the dark not human thing disappeared from her face. The fifteen year old flinched when her body hit the ground in a boneless sprawl. Rackham knelt over Isidora, a pained look on his face. Rookwood and San Bakar checked on the fallen headmistress but she still did not move. And James realized with horrifying clarity that the Niamh in the Pensieve memories appeared to be the same age as the Niamh in the third trial.

"You found me. But you cannot undo what’s been done. The magic of the stone can only conjure a shadow of my former self."

He swallowed. Well. That certainly explained the Keeper’s extreme reluctance to trust him. He stumbled back into the Map Chamber, thoughts clamoring. The portraits, Fig, and Sharp were all waiting for him and he tried his best to pay attention. But he was quietly panicking because he’d been depending on using the same method the Keepers used with Isidora to stop Ranrok. Except that wasn't an option. The Potions master insisted on accompanying James to Ollivanders and his mentor said something about going to see Professor Weasley. How was he supposed to stop Ranrok now?

*********

“Mr. Evans is also in need of a new wand,” Sharp commented once the special wand (crafted with pieces of ancient magic artefacts) was safely stowed in James’ satchel.

“Oh?” the wandmaker’s gaze darted to the fifteen year old. His chest suddenly ached at the reminder.

“Yes, sir,” he mumbled. Ollivander’s eyes rested on the nearby clock indicating the late hour before giving the Potions professor a significant look. But the man was not easily swayed.

“It’s urgent,” Sharp narrowed his eyes. The older man raised an eyebrow but conceded the point.

“Very well,” he sighed, turning his attention to the shelves of wands stacked heavy with wands. “Let’s see,” he murmured lowly. “You had a Yew wand, fourteen inches with dragon heartstring…” he stopped in front of a leaning tower of boxes, “…unyielding flexibility.” The wandmaker had James try out half a dozen different wands, but none of them felt right. I want my old wand back. A frustrated sigh escaped the fifteen year old and Mr. Ollivander hummed in thought. “How unusual…Tell me, how long have you been without your previous wand?” Too long.

“Um, a few hours?” he frowned suddenly. Had it really only been that long? It felt like ages. “Since seven.” The wandmaker turned towards him sharply.

“Well there’s the problem!” he declared. “That’s not nearly enough time. You’re still attached to your old wand.” The teenager squinted in confusion, eyes darting to the waiting Potions master. But the man seemed just as lost.

“Come again?” he asked. Mr. Ollivander adjusted his spectacles and cleared his throat.

“Your connection seemed particularly powerful, yes?” the man asked. The teen nodded, remembering the wandmaker telling him as much months ago. “I’ve never witnessed such a strong match,” he continued, rubbing his hands together. “I imagine it only strengthened the bond between you and your wand.” The shop fell silent as the fifteen year old waited several beats for the wizard to finish his explanation.

“Okay?” he prompted, still confused. “And?”

“Well you can’t expect to match with a new wand if you’re not open to it,” Mr. Ollivander said, throwing up his hands, like it was the most obvious thing.

“But I’m not doing anything,” James immediately denied. The wandmaker frowned and stared like he could see right through the teenager.

“So you don’t want your old wand back?”

“Of course I want my old wand back!”

“Well there you go,” the wizard answered with a wave of his wand, turning towards the back of his shop and away from the shelves of boxes.

“Mr. Ollivander,” Sharp intervened also losing patience. “He needs a wand.”

“Be that as it may,” the wandmaker sighed, “I cannot find a match if the boy is closed off.” James scowled. “Any wand here will only work as well as a borrowed wand. Which – as I’m sure you already know – are notoriously inconsistent.” The man gestured wildly. “I cannot force the impossible.”

“This is a waste of time,” the teenager ground out. I want my wand back.

“James – ” Sharp gave him a disapproving look, but the fifteen year old ignored it. He wordlessly stalked out the door and slammed it shut behind him. And immediately spotted Victor Rookwood strolling down the cobblestone street on his right. He froze and his fingers twitched to grab his wand which triggered another wave of loss and anger at the reminder.

“I’m afraid you’re on your own,” the dark wizard drawled as he approached. His gait was even and unhurried like he had all the time in the world. “I’ve ensured that we have a moment to ourselves.” The door to Ollivanders opened and Sharp stepped out, brandishing his wand. “Oh, come, come. No need for such theatrics.” He raised his hands in a pacifying motion, wand still lighting gripped between his fingers. “In light of what Ranrok now knows, you must agree that our interests are aligned.” The fifteen year old frowned. What? The retired Auror tried to block him from Rookwood’s view but James stepped around the attempt, refusing to be intimidated.

“Our interests will never be aligned,” he snapped back. The dark wizard frowned and his gaze narrowed.

“You would let goblins take what is rightfully ours?” Rookwood scorned. He paused, studying James’ expression, and changed his approach. “The final repository belongs to wizardkind…We would be fools not to work together.”

“You heard him,” Sharp practically growled, wand steadily pointed at the other man. “He’s not interested.” Rookwood scowled at the Potions professor before refocusing on James.

“…Might this sudden visit to the wandmaker have something to do with our – mutual pursuit?” the dark wizard asked. His face twitched but James didn’t say a word. “Out for some late night shopping?” the man prodded again. Well, he wasn't exactly wrong.

“Last warning,” Sharp cut in lowly. The fifteen year old took a deep breath, drawing strength from the veteran Auror's presence.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” James lied through his teeth and Rookwood’s face twisted with anger.

“That repository is my birthright!”

“Charles Rookwood wouldn’t have wanted you near it!”

Sucharrogance…” Rookwood shook his head, backing away. “Should’ve known better than to try and reason with a child,” he muttered. Cold dark eyes cut back to James. “I’ve always said, children should be seen and not heard.” Blue green eyes widened at the familiar phrase.

“What?” he exhaled softly feeling like he’d been sucker punched in the gut. Several puzzle pieces fell into place. Victor Rookwood cursed Anne. They’d been looking in all the wrong places. No wonder they had yet to find a cure. He jerked forward a step and realized his mistake too late. A hand grabbed him and he felt himself yanked through a narrow tube. James barely managed to land on his feet and quickly realized he’d been side-along apparated into an Ashwinder hideout.

“WAIT!” he threw his hands up in surrender before anyone attacked. The unexpected action was enough to buy him a few precious seconds. He’d only have one shot at this. He needed to choose this next few words very carefully. “You wanted to talk,” he stated, tone even and confident – a stark contrast to the storm of emotions just below the surface. His eyes found Rookwood on a nearby battlement. “Let’s talk.” The man's lip curled with malevolent amusem*nt but he didn't answer. Some of the man’s lackeys glanced back and forth between the two, eager to attack but not wanting to interrupt the exchange with their boss.

The fifteen year old felt the weight of the metal pendant on his chest, hidden underneath his shirt. He wasn't trapped. He could leave whenever he wanted. The comforting thought helped calm his racing heart.

“You wanted my attention,” he added coolly, like he didn’t have over a dozen wands pointed at him while unarmed. He was fairly confident he could flash behind cover before one of the enemy’s spells could hit him. “You have it.”

“I thought our interests didn’t align,” Rookwood sneered. But it was an answer, which meant they were talking. As long as the teen could keep the dark wizard talking then there was still a chance.

“I have questions,” James confessed, arms still raised in cautious surrender. “And it sounds like you actually have something of substance to offer.” Rookwood’s gaze narrowed in interest just as he’d hoped. Come one…take the bait.

“Meaning?” he drawled.

“Call off your dogs,” the teenager firmly requested, “and we’ll talk.” Grumbling started up somewhere on his right from the closest Ashwinders, but he didn’t take his eyes off Rookwood. “Just the two of us.” The dark wizard stared down at him, eyes searching for any falsehood. He must have found enough sincerity because the dark wizard actually disapparated and appeared a few feet away from the fifteen year old.

“After you,” the man gave a mocking gesture towards an enclosed area to their left. It looked like some kind of covered storage room. James’ raised hands slowly inched down, eyes darting to the watching Ashwinders. But none of them made a move. Not trapped, he reminded himself. I can leave at any time. It helped him keep his breathing even. His composure remained calm and confident. With Rookwood so close, he couldn’t have the man doubting his nerve. Steady. He took an assessing step towards the suggested meeting place. Rookwood watched him closely but didn’t say or do anything. He took another step. The Ashwinders grumbled but seemed to quickly lose interest – some even turning away.

James slowly made his way to the storage room, without completing turning his back to Rookwood or any of the man’s lackeys – which he seemed to find entertaining judging by the look in his eyes. They eventually reached the closed off area, away from prying eyes and ears, without incident. The air between them was fraught with tense silence.

“Well?” Rookwood prodded as the fifteen year old mentally plotted his course.

“What were you doing in Feldcroft?” he started with. The dark wizard actually rolled his eyes.

“That’s your bargaining chip?” The man sounded disappointed.

“Think of it as a test,” James challenged. “To see if you’re capable of holding a conversation without threatening a potential ally.” The amusem*nt returned as he gave the teenager a considering look. “Let me rephrase,” he offered. He needed to hold Rookwood’s interest for this to work. “Why did you burn Isidora’s portrait?”

“Ah,” the wizard sounded pleased and pointed a finger at him. “I knew you had potential.” James remained silent which earned him a smirk. “Very well…the witch refused to cooperate.”

“…Go on.” The man bared his teeth into something that was probably meant to resemble a smile, but it was far from kind. Fortunately for him, Rookwood acquiesced to his prompting with little resistance.

“She declined to answer any questions put to her,” the dark wizard continued, lip curling in displeasure at the memory. “Insisted she would only speak to one who shared her ability.” His heart plummeted as he wondered just how much Isidora had revealed. The man’s eyes narrowed in thought, studying James, but he didn’t say anything more. He realized as the silence stretched that Rookwood was waiting for James to shed light on the matter. He carefully didn’t react. Steady.

“So you burned Isidora’s portrait,” he said instead, “and then Feldcroft’s residents came running when they realized the cottage had caught on fire.” The dark wizard tilted his head but did not disagree with the theory. Now came the tricky bit. “What curse did you use?” Rookwood was quiet for a handful of seconds before his expression shifted.

“I see,” he replied, voice silky smooth and deceptively agreeable. His eyes shined like he'd just struck gold. “This is about the girl.” James forced his breathing to remain steady. He couldn’t give the man the reaction he was looking for. If the teen showed any desperation – revealed just how important Anne was to him – it was game over. He’d have no leverage. “It’s an old family thing,” the man continued after a beat of silence. So Mr. Rabe had been right. “Lethal, I’m afraid. But slow. She must be in agony if she’s still holding on,” he mused darkly. Cold eyes glittered like a snake in the dark. “Is she dear to you?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” the fifteen year old scoffed. His attempt triggered a flash of amusem*nt. James rolled his eyes, trying his best to project detachment. “Is there a way to reverse it?” Rookwood tilted his head as he studied the teenager.

"If there isn’t?” he poked.

“Then I have no use for you.” The wizard nodded his head slowly looking unsurprised by the answer.

“Lucky for you there is,” he hummed with a twirl of his wand. “Where’s the final repository?” The entire reason the teen’s gamble had worked.

“I’ll need proof of the cure.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Rookwood mocked, throwing his words right back.

“Consider it a sign of good faith since you tried to kill your last ally,” James pushed. The dark wizard scowled at the reminder but quickly smoothed his expression.

“Tell you what,” he offered in a velvety tone. “I’ll return your wand as a sign of good will to cement our…partnership.” James breath caught, composure cracking for the first time and Rookwood’s attention immediately latched onto it.

“You still have it?” he couldn't help ask. Why hadn’t he snapped it?

“You haven’t replaced it?” surprise briefly flashed across the man’s face.

“I’ve been rather busy,” was his dry reply.

“Have you?” the dark wizard murmured, gaze calculating. James didn't answer, neatly avoiding the obvious trap. “Do we have a deal?” The teen pursed his lips in thought. No way he was going to actually tell the dangerous wizard where the finally repository was. But he could only stretch this out for so long and he could feel it drawing to a close. “You’re running out of time,” his adversary goaded. “Ticktock.”

“Where is it?” Rookwood patted the right side of his chest. Blue green eyes scanned the area. Inside pocket? He took a moment to focus and – yes! – he could faintly sense the familiar thrum of his wand. He briefly wondered if the purple overcoat had runes stitched inside it too.

“Alright,” he allowed.

“The repository?”

“Wand first,” James insisted. The man scowled.

“The location.”

“What, so you can murder me right after?” the teenager rolled his eyes. “I’m not an idiot.” Rookwood’s expression twisted with rage as his patience ran out. In the blink of an eye the dark wizard closed the gap between them, grabbing the fifteen year old by the collar, and slammed him against a nearby wall.

Tell me,” the man grounded out, “where the final repository is.” James’ hands flew up to grab Rookwood’s wrists. The dark wizard’s hold tightened and pressed him harder into the wood slats to stop the teenager from escaping his grip. The fifteen year old huffed a laugh and a crooked smile stretched across his face.

“Take me back.”

For a split second, James enjoyed the sight of Rookwood’s confusion before he felt a familiar tugging sensation behind his navel.

Notes:

Yes, James has a dragon heartstring core wand. The irony is not lost on me (or him). His wand is meant to signify our boy’s innate power, fierce protectiveness, and stubborn nature.

Couldn't find a way to fit this into the chapter so I'm putting it here

Rookwood: mwahaha your professor isn’t here to save you now
James: bold of you to assume I asked him to tag along

Chapter 42

Notes:

Heads up: it gets a little bloody in this chapter, mostly confined to the italicized flashback. Feel free to skip that chunk if it's not your cup of tea :)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

James hit the ground hard and immediately found himself locked in a wrestling matching with Victor Rookwood on the floor. The man quickly recovered though and easily threw the teenager off. The dark wizard was on his feet in an instant but stumbled a second later. The man’s head whipped around in confusion, taking in the hospital wing, before a full body-bind curse sent him crashing back onto the floor. The teen’s head snapped to the direction the spell had come from to see Professor Sharp only a few feet away, wand still out and pointed at the now petrified Rookwood. James offered his biggest and brightest grin to the veteran Auror.

“Nicely done, sir!” slipped out. The full weight of the professor’s dark glare landed on the fifteen year old. But he was riding so high on the feeling of success it slid right off. The fifteen year old hauled himself to his feet and proceeded to straighten his clothes and brush himself off.

“Are you alright?” Professor Fig asked, who he realized was just a few feet behind Sharp, wand also trained on the now frozen form of Rookwood.

“Of course,” he answered, satisfied smile still firmly in place. He stepped around the fallen dark wizard and squatted down in front of him. “Can’t apparate out of Hogwarts!” he cheerfully informed the man. Quite unnecessarily, as Rookwood had found out when he attempted to do so the moment he’d leapt to his feet. The dark wizard’s eyes were murderous, but he was unable to do anything about it. The teen casually turned him over and reached into the right inside pocket of the purple overcoat. “I’ll just take this.”

“James – ” both professors were quick to admonish but stopped short once the teenager pulled out his missing wand. It warmed in his hands and he clutched it tight close to his chest.

“I can’t believe that actually worked,” he muttered with a soft laugh as he walked over to the surprised professors. The teenager finally noticed an awake Lodgok sitting up in bed looking understandably bewildered. “Oh – hey! You’re up, how are you feeling?” The goblin blinked. Once. Twice. Just as he was about to answer –

“What in Merlin’s name is going on in here?” The fifteen year old jerked around to see the Deputy Headmistress standing in the doorway of the hospital wing, flanked by an equally confused looking Nurse Blainey. Blue green eyes darted to Victor Rookwood still lying on the floor, to Lodgok, and back to Professor Weasley.

“…I can explain?”

*********

It turned out, there wasn't really a lot to explain. Apparently Professor Fig had already filled in the Deputy Headmistress while the teenager was in Hogsmeade and temporarily kidnapped. Actually, James pondered, is it considered a kidnapping if it was voluntary?

“So I am to believe that you engaged with a known criminal to negotiate a false deal,” Professor Weasley recounted with no small amount of exasperation, “before transporting said criminal within the boundaries of Hogwarts thus endangering all its inhabitants? Is that correct?” James bit his lip.

“I mean, not exactly. There was an experienced Auror waiting to apprehend him,” the fifteen year old reasoned. “And I knew Rookwood would be disoriented.” The witch raised a delicate brow.

“You knew Professor Sharp would be waiting here?” The teen blinked at the question – glanced at the frowning Potions master – and looked back at the waiting Deputy Headmistress.

“It’s Professor Sharp, ma’am.” The room was silent for a several beats before a tiny flicker of reluctant amusem*nt flashed across her face.

“Some rather quick thinking for a fifth year student,” Professor Weasley noted, expression finally relaxing. “Although…perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“I mean,” James waved to himself, “Slytherin.” Her mouth curled into a small – almost indulgent – smile.

“Well, we’re glad to have you back safe and sound, Mr. Evans,” she nodded. “It’s rather late, get some rest.”

“Rookwood – ”

“Won’t be going anywhere soon,” she assured him. Sharp had already secured the dark wizard with what seemed to be Auror methods before the man had been carted off to a cell in one of the school’s towers. “We’ll alert the authorities in the morning at a more respectable hour to ensure he doesn’t escape.” She spared the room and its inhabitants one last glance before departing.

“She’s right,” his mentor said, coming close enough to rest a hand on the teenager’s shoulder. “You should be in bed.”

“Technically it’s early.” This earned him an unimpressed look from Sharp, who was still crossing his arms. “Can I at least eat something first?” James grumbled. The Potions master couldn’t honestly be mad at him, could he? “I’m hungry.” The complaint gained him a little sympathy. The fifteen year old waved to Lodgok as he was escorted out of the hospital wing. Fig took pity on him and didn’t make him walk all the way down to the dungeons. Instead they stopped at his nearby quarters in the Faculty Tower and had a house-elf bring up a plate of food. Soon his eyelids were drooping and his guardian waved him off to bed in the next door room, while both professors stayed up to continue their discussion in the armchairs by the fire. The teen was much too tired to even think of attempting to eavesdrop. He was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.

*********

James startled awake a few hours later. Sunlight streamed through the windows and it took him a few moments to realize where he was. The fifteen year old stood with a yawn and took a moment to stretch and loosen up his joints. He left the bedroom and found his mentor in the same armchair – did the man even sleep? – nose in a book. His colleague was nowhere to be found.

“Good morning,” his presence was noticed right away. “To be honest, I thought you’d be out longer.”

“Where’s Professor Sharp?”

“He left to inform the Aurors about Rookwood,” the wizard shut his book and set it on the nearby side table. Damn. He’d wanted to talk to the dark wizard before the authorities brought him in. He still needed to get information on how to reverse Anne’s curse. Although…maybe the Aurors would have better luck getting straight answers out of the man. And it wasn't like he was going anywhere. They’d have plenty of time to question him. James twitched when he noted the time the clock on the wall displayed.

“I’m gonna grab something from the Great Hall before class,” he said before taking off, not giving his guardian a chance to respond. He actually needed to tell Sebastian the news about who really cursed his sister before the other Slytherin heard it from someone else, but that would take a lot longer to explain. Besides, his friend was probably still at breakfast anyway. Natty stopped him in the Entrance Hall.

“James!” she ran up to him, eyes wide. “Did you hear that Officer Singer finally arrested Victor Rookwood?” He blinked, caught off guard by the news.

“What?”

“I just saw them,” the Gryffindor shared with a wide smile. “Do you think she’s going to finally arrest Theophilus Harlow too?”

“But…she’s not an Auror,” his face scrunched in confusion. Professor Fig had specified Aurors, hadn’t he? Now it was the girl’s turn to frown.

“So?” An uneasy feeling began to spread through James. The Potions master wouldn’t have gone to Singer, right?

“Was Professor Sharp with them?” he asked.

“No,” Natty shook her head. “Why would he be?” The teen’s chest tightened.

“Which way?” She pointed. “Go tell Professor Fig,” he ordered. “Faculty tower, second door on the left.” He turned and sprinted away.

“What – ”

“Hurry!” he threw over his shoulder, quickly leaving her and the hall behind. He exited the castle and caught sight of two figures in the distance. It didn’t take long for him to confirm that the pair were indeed Officer Singer and Victor Rookwood. His pounding footsteps made them turn. The fifteen year old skidded to a stop just a few feet short, wand raised.

“Mr. Evans,” Officer Singer gave him a deep frown. “Just what do you think you’re doing?” She had one hand on Rookwood’s shoulder while the other held her own wand at the ready. The sight of the dark wizard still in handcuffs briefly gave him pause. Doubt reared its head but he quickly dismissed it. Professor Sharp was meticulous. He trusted the man to follow through on everything he said. Something was off.

“Who told you Rookwood was at Hogwarts?” he asked, wand firmly trained on the both of them.

“That’s none of your concern,” the witch returned with clear disapproval. “You’re interfering with due process. Put your wand away and – ”

“ – Who told you,” he growled. The witch’s gaze narrowed.

“The proper authorities,” said the woman, “whom you should – ”

“I want a name,” the fifteen year old practically snarled, “or I swear to God I’ll drop you both.” Officer Singer glared at his disobedience. Rookwood watched the whole exchange with sinister amusem*nt. The woman didn’t immediately respond and his grip tightened on his wand. “You’re not here to arrest him,” he scowled, her silence confirming the theory forming in his head. “You’re helping him escape.”

“He’s got you pegged, sweetheart,” the dark wizard said after several beats of silence. The witch’s nostrils flared in anger and she turned - most likely to berate him. The man struck like a snake, disarmed her – wand dropping to the ground – and held her close to act as a shield against James. The teen clenched his jaw at the spiraling situation. The manacles fell off and Rookwood plucked his apprehended wand from Singer’s pocket. The fifteen year old’s breath hitched as he realized the shackles had already been partially undone.

“Let her go,” he instructed evenly, trying to hide his agitation. The dark wizard was armed and this time he had a hostage. The man smirked as his wand tapped the witches throat.

“It seems your services are no longer required,” he murmured into her ear.

“I said – ” James took a step closer, wand still raised. The criminal’s gaze drifted to the side, like he was looking at something behind the teen.

“By all means,” Rookwood answered far too agreeably, tapping her throat with his wand and shoving the witch forward. He fired off a stunner but the man had already disapparated away. No! The fifteen year old stomped his foot in frustration and whirled around to chew out Officer Singer. But the witch was stumbling around, clutching her neck. Red seeped out from underneath her fingers. His stomach dropped the same time the woman did. He scrambled to her side as she convulsed, silently gasping for air. Rookwood had left a parting gash in her neck. His hands gently pressed down in an attempt to slow the bleeding.


“I – I don’t think a Wiggenweld is going to fix this,” he stuttered as their eyes met. Her gaze was pleading and it rubbed his insides raw. Her lips moved soundlessly. His hands were so red he could hardly see the skin.

*********

The sudden hush was only interrupted by a soft gurgling noise that made him want to vomit. Or maybe it was the overwhelming stench of blood in the air. He squeezed his eyes shut but he could still see the twisted bodies of his parents next to the overturned dining table. Mum was missing her arms and dad’s torso had been ripped open, guts spilling out. James heaved but no more bile came out. The monster had disappeared with a purple flash and heart stopping bang but he half-expected it to come back and finish the job. There was a low scraping noise and the gurgling noise increased. James turned his head, gaze darting around to find the source. He almost threw up again when he found it. The teenager crawled on his hands and knees over to his little brother who was somehow still alive. The young boy’s eyes were glazed as he struggled feebly. Angry red scratches had mutilated his small frame, but it was the deep neck wound that was the most concerning. He hurriedly placed both hands over the gash to slow the bleeding just like his dad taught him before his very first hunting trip. He winced at the squelching sound it made. Desperate blue green eyes scanned for something that could be used for bandages. Something small landed on top of his hands. He glanced down and realized that his brother’s attention had focused on him, and one small hand now clutched his own which were still firmly pressing down onto the gaping neck injury. The boy’s eyes were clouded with pain and his lips moved soundlessly.

“It’s okay,” he forced out. “The monster’s gone.” The pain in his brother’s eyes bled into fear as his struggles weakened. “Hold on, just – .” He needed to get help. As if sensing his thoughts, the grip on his hand tightened. “You’re gonna be okay – ” he offered a reassuring, if somewhat shaky, smile “ – just, hold on.”

“James.”

The bleeding was starting to slow and the fifteen year old let out a shuddering exhale. It was actually working. He looked back at his little brother’s eyes in time to see them dull. The life in the boy’s face disappeared and his movements stilled.

“James.”

No. No, no, no, no, no.

“You’re okay,” he muttered. “Come on, look at me.”

Something squeezed his shoulders tight and he jerked back. The monster!

*********

“James, look at me,” said an old man with startling blue eyes kneeling in front of him. “That’s it,” he said when the fifteen year old did. “Deep breaths now,” he coached. His heart was pounding and his chest was too tight. He couldn’t breathe. “Come on, just like we practiced.” Wrinkled hands rubbed his arms up and down and the motion was oddly comforting. Familiar. “You’re safe, James,” the man promised. “You’re just outside Hogwarts, remember?” The teenager blinked. Hogwarts. He focused on the man in front of him. Professor Fig. His mentor. James let out a long exhale. “Back with me?” the wizard asked kindly. He gave a jerky nod. Seconds later his gaze was darting around for Office Singer.

“Where – ” he croaked. Fig gave his shoulders another squeeze to ground him.

“Sharp took her to St. Mungo’s,” the man explained. The fifteen year old’s expression twisted.

“I…I – I didn’t mean – to - ” he stuttered.

“I know,” the professor didn’t make him finish. “I saw what happened.” James swallowed past the lump in his throat unsure what else to say. He was saved by a nearby crack and displacement of air. Sharp was back.

“S-she was working w-with Rookwood,” he forced out because the professor would want to know that. The Potions master approached and crouched so that they were nearly eye level.

“We assumed as much,” he responded softly.

“Is…is she gonna…” The veteran Auror searched James’ face for a few moments.

“She’s with the best healers now,” he said, voice uncharacteristically gentle. Which wasn't really an answer, but the teenager didn’t push. His eyes briefly slipped shut. He was so tired.

“James.” The teen jerked back awake. Both professors were watching him carefully. “Are you able to stand?” He frowned at the question and pushed himself to his feet. Not injured, he wanted to say. But it felt childish, so he didn’t. James looked down at his hands and realized they were shaking. He could see the skin again. Someone must have removed the blood. His fingers curled. They even got underneath the nails.

“James.” Blue green eyes jumped back up. His mentor was gripping his shoulders again. “Deep breaths.” He gave a shaky nod.

“We…we need to - ” he started.

“ - Easy, we’ve got time,” Sharp reassured.

"You’re running out of time. Ticktock."

James frowned. Rookwood had been taunting him. But why that specifically?

"In light of what Ranrok now knows, you must agree that our interests are aligned."

The dark wizard had come to him. He had assumed because the rebellion leader had not taken kindly to the murder attempt. But what if…

Ranrok muttered to himself, paging through the journal before slamming it shut.

“No…” he realized with sickening clarity. “We don’t.” All this time they’d been operating under the assumption that the repository was safe. That Ranrok was stuck without Bragbor’s journal. Except he’d paged through it. How much had he seen? Is that what Rookwood had meant? Did the goblin say something to him before they parted ways?

“James?” Professor Fig’s grip brought the fifteen year old back to the present. “What do you mean?”

“He knows,” he shared, panic rising. How much time did they have? “Ranrok knows.”

Notes:

Guys I’m having like a disturbing amount of fun writing Victor Rookwood…dude was way too underutilized and I don’t want to kill him off just yet – send help

Chapter 43

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“We leave our legacy in your hands,” Professor Rackham concluded. And the starry map comprised of tiny pinpricks of light disappeared as the floor itself began to move. It churned, turning into liquid, and began to drain. The entire section was made of ancient magic, James realized, watching in awe. Is that how they were able to create such a unique and magical looking map? He wondered if he could somehow replicate it.

“Astonishing,” Fig marveled lowly. Sharp didn’t speak, but even he looked impressed by the display. Soon a door became visible as the pool of ancient magic completely disappeared. The three of them hurried down the steps and through the entrance to the repository. I hope we’re not too late, the fifteen year old worried. They were met with a large ornate bridge. James tensed as they crossed it, half-expecting it to flood with water like when he first discovered the Map Chamber. But nothing of the sort happened. He let out a breath of relief once they were past it.

“Will the school wards protect against an incursion from below?” the teenager nervously asked.

“I fear they may not,” his mentor admitted.

“If they don’t now, they most certainly will in the future,” the Potions professor grunted.

“Professor Weasley and the others should arrive soon,” Fig continued as they passed under an iron archway into the actual caverns. “Hopefully we’ll find nothing but the repository down – ” The ground began to shake, and stalactites fell from the ceiling, as a massive drill broke through the wall down below.

“You were saying?” the veteran Auror commented dryly. The Magical Theory professor shot the man an unimpressed look.

“Do you think Ranrok is here?” James asked as they quickly made their way down the rocky path to the invading party of goblins.

“If his Loyalists are here,” his mentor sighed, “then I doubt he is far behind.”

“We can take them,” the teen said before darting ahead to the loitering enemies.

James – ” Sharp hissed, arm outstretched to stop him. But he was too late.

“Search the area,” a goblin warrior called. “It must be here somewhere.”

The fifteen year old hit the first cluster hard and fast, transforming one of them into an explosive barrel and hurling it at the other two. BOOM! Fig and Sharp soon joined him in taking down the other enemies and they made quick work of them.

“Can you not run ahead?” the Potions master nagged with a disapproving look.

“Taking down a handful of goblins is a regular weekday for me, sir,” the fifteen year old huffed. The man’s eyes narrowed. “I mean weekend,” he quickly amended. But the damage was already done. His gaze darted to his mentor but the man had left him alone with the veteran Auror to inspect the drill. Traitor.

“We’re having a long talk about every one of your extracurricular activities after all this is over,” Sharp asserted with a frown. James grimaced.

“Yes, sir,” he sighed with slumped shoulders, before quickly escaping to join his guardian. The Magical Theory professor pointed his wand. There is a flash of blue and the drill – bigger than even the Lord of the Shore – slammed back into the hole it came from. His jaw dropped.

“Let’s go,” his mentor said, completely downplaying the impressive feat he’d just displayed.

“You’ve got to teach me that one, sir,” James practically begged.

“Of course,” the man chuckled, “once we’re no longer fighting an invasion.” The teenager bounced with excitement at the idea as the three of them continued through the cavern. Not much further along, a couple of armored trolls broke through the stone walls like they were made of paper. They worked together to take the pair of enemies down, alternating offensive and defensive spells in tandem.

“I can’t believe you took down one of these in Hogsmeade,” Sharp grumbled next to him. Ancient magic sang in his veins.

“Would a demonstration help?” the teen quipped back. The Potions master frowned in confusion before realizing what he meant. Not giving the man a chance to even think of protesting, James pointed his wand at the troll and let the power surge out of him. Purple cracks of light streaked across the creature’s skin before it exploded with a blinding flash and deafening bang. Sharp blinked at the lack of remains and looked down at the fifteen year old who smiled back nervously. He hoped he hadn’t just scared the man. The veteran Auror pinched the bridge of his nose.

“How – ”

“ – I hate to inconvenience you,” Professor Fig called as he dodged a swing from the remaining troll, “but there’s still one more.” They startled into action and joined the Magical Theory professor in taking down the enraged enemy. The creature was soon relieved of its club and smacked in the head with it. The ground shuddered as the troll fell unconscious.

“They’re no match for us.” James boasted. The professors scanned the area.

“A dead end,” his mentor muttered. “Now what?” The fifteen year old went to join the two wizards but stopped upon noticing wisps of ancient magic floating up from the floor. A portal must be nearby, he realized. He changed course and followed them to a section of rocky wall that had a faint glow pouring out of a small crack.

“Professor!” he called, gaining both of their attention. “This wall – ” Comprehension flashed across his mentor’s face and he waved the teenager back. A quick blast and they continued through the opening. The three of them hurried down the path and eventually came to an overlook that opened into the largest cavern yet. They paused to observe the hordes of enemies down below, a mixture of goblins and trolls. James noted some were clustered around burning fires. Had they been camping under Hogwarts? For how long? Just as he was wondering how the three of them were going to get past the army, several cracks could be heard. The teen’s head snapped to the left and relief filled him at the sight of several professors appearing.

“The goblins have somehow evaded the castle’s defensive charms!” he heard Professor Ronen shout. A barrage of offensive spells were sent down to the enemies below.

“Steer them this way.” That sounded like Professor Onai. “We shall make quick work of them.” Fig turned to him.

“Ready?” his mentor asked. He gave the man a determined nod. The three of them rushed through the thinning horde of enemies. James prepared to take out a trio of goblins as they approached a stone bridge but they were quickly levitated out of the way by Professor Hecat. The teen sent her a thankful grin as he passed the witch. They reach another dead end – where was the path? – and more goblins poured out to rush them.

“How nice of you to stop by,” one of them sneered, twirling an axe. The fifteen year old took a dueling stance and began to bombard the enemies with his hardest hitting spells. Sharp and Fig joined him. Despite the danger, a thrill of exhilaration ran through him. He was nowhere near the professors' level, but months of practice allowed him to keep up with the flurry of attacks. He was no longer dead weight like the beginning of the school term and it felt good. Just as they were starting to whittle down the number of enemies, a fighter troll burst through a pile of rock and pounded the ground with its club. The next several moments were a test to stay out of the creature's way. Twin curses eventually sent the giant enemy spinning off balance and tripping into a stone column. The pillar crumbled and plummeted toward James. The fifteen year old called upon the ancient magic buzzing under his skin and halted its descent. He gritted his teeth at the crushing weight of the stone pillar. Too heavy. The strain was suddenly lifted and he whirled around in time to see the Deputy Headmistress send the object hurtling into a group of goblins.

“Thanks, Professor,” he huffed out a tired breath. She sent a smile his way before turning to fire off a hex at another enemy.

“James,” his guardian called. Blue green eyes found the man and the teenager heeded the beckoning hand. “That’s our way forward,” the wizard pointed across the now visible chasm and stone archway beyond. The cavern shook with the sounds of battle.

“Apparate across?” he asked and received a confirming nod. The circular shadow forming around the teenager's feet made him realize belatedly that the tremor had broken another shower of stalactites loose from the ceiling. He looked up in time to see a large piece nearly a foot from his head. His eyes widened in surprise. Before he could bring his wand up, the large piece of rock suddenly halted and changed direction, instead slamming into a pair of goblins nearby. He spun around just in time to see the headmaster lower his wand, lip curled in disdain. He blinked. Did…did Black just save him from being crushed? The man wasn’t looking at him though, but rather glaring at his mentor.

“Fig,” he snapped during the brief lull. Said man startled, tearing his eyes away from the now crumbled pieces of stalactite. “I have words for you.” His guardian froze at the foreboding tone.

“Headmaster,” Sharp thankfully intervened, “we need to – ” the professor was gesturing towards the newly revealed stone archway across the nearby chasm.

“ – Yes, I know,” Black retorted coldly. The wizard’s dark gaze landed on James and he stiffened. The man usually ignored him, he’d never been the sole focus of his attention before and it made him anxious. “Don’t just stand there, Evans,” the man scolded. “Get a move on.” His jaw dropped. The headmaster actually knew his name? Black was already turning away though, like James wasn’t worth another second of his time, and fired off a rather nasty looking curse at a goblin trying to sneak up on Professor Weasley.

He wasn't left to flounder for long though. Professor Fig grasped James’ arm and apparated them across the chasm. It only took a few steady breaths for the fifteen year old to recover, long used to the feel of his mentor’s magic. A handful of seconds later, Professor Sharp joined them with a soft crack. They turned to give one last departing wave to the battling Hogwarts professors – James gave the Deputy Headmistress a two finger salute – and made their way through the stone archway to the waiting repository.

In the next chamber, they were met with two giant Pensieve guardians standing sentry. The three of them cautiously approached. The moment their feet touched the intricate stonework, the insides of the massive sentries lit up with blue ancient magic – as if waking from a long slumber. They slowly marched forward, helmets tilted down in obvious intent. Massive swords were held aloft in the air, ready to bring down at a moment’s notice. James shuffled at their unfriendly approach. The Keepers didn’t honestly expect him to fight more guardians did they? Wait…His coat pocket felt warm. Of course. He quickly pulled out the special wand crafted with ancient magic artefacts.

The teenager stepped forward and held it high as ancient magic swirled inside him. He pointed the wand high in the air for clear display and loosened his hold on ancient magic. It permeated the air around him and the wand in his hand began to glow. The primordial force became so thick and heavy that it begins to bubble out of the very tip and silver droplets hover in the air. The two Pensieve guardians halted their march to observe the teen’s demonstration before finally falling into a still alert but more relaxed stance. Enormous glowing swords – nearly as tall as their owners – were rotated 180 degrees as ancient magic concentrated along the hilts – and slammed down into the ground. The accumulated magic raced down the length of the weapons and pummeled into the ground. James’ knees shook at the massive presence of ancient magic released. The bubbling magic streaked across the ground to the locked gate behind the sentries and sank into the door. He can feel the door unlock and made an effort to memorize the sensation for future reference. The glow faded and the doors swung open. The fifteen year old let out a relived breath and eased his way past the silent guardians followed closely by his two professors. The doors swung shut behind them the moment they cleared the archway.

“We made it.” James exhaled as he took in the familiar cavern. It seemed even bigger in person than in the Pensieve memory.

“It looks like we got here before Ranrok,” his mentor observed.

“I can’t believe this has been under the school for hundreds of years,” said the Potions master. The teenager continued forward, crossing the stone bridge to the large sphere of goblin silver slowly rotating in the center. He was nearly a meter away, hand outstretched, before something grabbed his arm and pulled him back. The teen blinked rapidly, as if coming out of a daze.

“James?” his guardian had placed himself between the glowing container and the fifteen year old. Sharp mirrored his colleague’s stance.

“Can’t you hear them?” he blinked at the two men. Whispers overlapped each other like waves on the beach, the most frenzied drowning out the rest.

“Hear what?” the veteran Auror questioned, expression pinched in concern.

“The voices,” he said, confused how they couldn’t hear the rising and falling cacophony behind them. Fig’s grip tightened on the fifteen year old’s shoulder.

“I don’t hear any voices,” he said softly after a beat of silence, worry evident on his face. James swallowed, glancing back at the repository containing Isidora’s leftover magic, and concentrated.

"Why did you leave me alone" – "I miss you" – "It hurts so much" – "Please make it stop"

So many different voices competing to be heard, it was difficult to pick the words apart.

“They’re still in pain,” he realized with a start. “It’s like…there’s pieces of people in there.” Sharp’s eyes narrowed and he looked over his shoulder to give the swirling mass a wary look. Fig pressed his lips into a thin line, but he kept his gaze firmly on the teenager. Was that why the Keepers hadn’t been able to destroy it? Because there were slivers of people held within the confines of the goblin silver? His insides twisted at the idea. It was horrifying but also…kind of sad. It seemed cruel to doom someone – even if it was only a tiny piece – to such a fate. Were they even aware? His train of thought was interrupted by a loud crack behind the closed door. He whipped around. That sounded like something had been crushed, like rock or metal. A faint reverberation carried into the chamber through the doors, as if something heavy had just fallen to the ground. The Pensieve guardians!

James sprinted back over the bridge and took a defensive stance with his wand in front of the doors, his two professors joined him on either side moments later. He strained to hear any more sounds of struggle and the doors slammed open. Ranrok strolled in, armor glowing red. Vague outlines of the sentries’ remains could be seen just past him. His grip tightened on his wand.

“The arrogance of wizardkind,” Ranrok greeted with a scowl. “Goblins built this repository.” His arms spread out as he took in the cavern. “It belongs to us.”

“You have no claim to it, Ranrok,” James shook his head. “Not after what you’ve done.” Murderous red eyes slid from the teen to his guardian standing next to him.

“…I’ve been wanting to play with this,” the rebellion leader said after eying their drawn wands. He reached within the folds of his cloak and pulled out a uniquely shaped nearly white wand.

“Miriam’s wand,” his guardian gasped softly, shifting forward. James’ chest ached at the cruelty. What a terrible way for the wizard to have his wife’s death confirmed.

“Fig,” Sharp warned under his breath.

“If she’d simply handed over the container,” Ranrok egged the wizard on, “all of this could have been avoided.” Red eyes studied the man’s trembling frame and he bared his teeth. “Foolish, self-important witch.” Fig’s patience snapped and he sent an impressively bright curse at the grinning enemy. Ranrok blocked it with the ease one would swat a fly. “Seems you were two of a kind,” he noted with a sneer. “She didn’t know when to give up either.” Ranrok’s armor glowed and he shot a stream of malevolent magic at them. Sharp quickly threw up a shield but the angry red force effortlessly broke it. Except James had learned from their last encounter and he was ready for it this time. The teen yanked at the ancient magic humming just under his skin and twisted it to conform to his will.

Protego!” he bellowed. The air shimmered blue and the attack was rendered harmless. The goblin scowled. Sharp surged forward, sending a flurry of curses and hexes at the rebellion leader. Ranrok batted them away. His mentor quickly joined in with his own onslaught of spells. Their enemy continued to block and parry the bombardment with little difficulty. James wrapped ancient magic around him like a cloak and disappeared in a flash of blue. He reappeared a few feet behind the goblin and shot an overpowered Confringo at Ranrok. The attack actually hit him and made the rebellion leader stumble. Ranrok snarled and shot a beam of condensed swirling magic but James flickered away in another flash of blue.

This back and forth continued for several minutes. Sharp and Fig’s magic had little effect on Ranrok, more of an annoyance than anything really. But it certainly acted as a suitable distraction as the fifteen year old flashed around and attacked from multiple angles – forcing the goblin to split his attention and efforts. The rebellion leader let out a frustrated growl as he seemed to come to the same conclusion. His armor flared red and it was like a writhing mass of living shadows exploded outward. Even with his ancient magic powered shield, the force pushed James back several inches. Blue green eyes scanned the area to check on the professors. Sharp was leaning against the rocky wall, looking dazed. Fig was backed up to the edge of the drop off that lead to the caverns below. The teen’s heart leapt to his throat.

Like a viper, Ranrok blasted his mentor with another concussive wave of malevolent magic. James leapt forward – arm outstretched – and grunted in pain as a swarming ball of Ranrok’s magic slammed into his side. His vision blurred as he crashed into a rocky wall hard. He struggled to fill his lungs with air. The fifteen year old’s eyesight cleared just in time to see writhing shadows wrap around his mentor and shoot away from the ledge. The dark shape dropped.

NO!

James dragged himself onto unsteady feet and staggered toward the ledge. Ranrok didn’t bother to attack him though. Instead, he turned to the Potions professor who was using a rocky handhold to pull himself back onto his feet. The rebellion leader lifted a clawed hand, grinning terribly. Sharp raised his wand, mouth set in a grim line.

And

James

saw

red.

Notes:

Ok, I realize this has taken a rather dark turn – but I promise there is a happy ending!

Next chapter is another interlude (bet you won’t guess who)

Chapter 44: Interlude - Hogwarts Professors

Notes:

So I realized while working on this chapter that past Rory had an idiot moment and technically the next chapter is supposed to be the interlude...but we're at the point that untangling and fixing the pacing is too much of a hassle so we're making do *resists the urge to throw my computer monitor out the window*

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Matilda Weasley was at a complete loss for words. It was not a common occurrence. In fact, she could count the number of times it had happened on both hands and still have fingers left over. Apparently, today was one of those days, the witch thought as she stared at her longtime colleague and friend sitting across from her. The now cold cup of tea sat forgotten on her desk as Fig fidgeted in his seat.

“Matilda?” the man broke the silence.

“I knew something was going on, but I never imagined…” the Deputy Headmistress finally managed with a shake of her head. “Why didn’t you say something earlier, Eleazar?” The wizard had the decency to look embarrassed. They did, after all, regularly discuss the new fifth year’s progress throughout the school term. There had been plenty of opportunities for the Magical Theory professor to bring up the issue. Well, she admitted to herself, the man had brought up his concerns about Ranrok and an impending goblin rebellion. But this was much more than that.

“I’m sorry, Matilda,” he apologized again. “I should have, I know. I just – ” Fig pursed his lips as he studied the stack of parchment essays on her desk. “I was worried about it getting out.” It took her a few seconds to realize where his thoughts were.

“You mean about James?” The other professor hummed. “Eleazar, I assure you we all – ” she paused at the look he gave her and amended her statement. “Most of the professors here are devoted to the safety and happiness of every student in this school.”

“There is very little information on this ancient magic,” Fig shook his head slowly. “It went extinct centuries ago. My biggest concern is the target it will put on James’ back if word got out about his abilities.” The man stopped and frowned. “Well…more of a target.” The whole concept of the trials upset her greatly and she absolutely did not agree with the idea of a teenager completing them. If she ever met these ‘Keepers’ they were going to have words about appropriate expectations for students newly introduced to the magical world. But she understood the difficult position the wizard had been put in. She was very much aware of the downright fierce protectiveness Fig held for his ward. The number of comments the Deputy Headmistress had received from the other professors – Aesop especially – about Eleazar’s reticence to share anything outside of James’ scholastic achievements being the most obvious.

“He’s certainly come a long way,” Matilda offered. The worry on the man’s lined face melted away, replaced by a soft look.

“Yes, he has," the man answered with a fond smile.

“You’ve done an excellent job with him.” Fig’s cheeks reddened at the praise.

“I hope so,” he murmured.

“Eleazar,” she gave him a stern look over her spectacles, “the boy practically worships the ground you walk on.” The embarrassed flush spread across his entire face, even reaching the tips of his ears.

“Ah well,” he absently tapped the arm of his chair, “some of the attachment, I think, is due to the special circ*mstances and timing of our – ”

“Eleazar.” He stopped and nervously met her serious gaze. She took in the healthy color of his skin and bright eyes, a far cry from the husk of a man whose wife had gone missing only a handful of months ago. She wasn't sure why he was so hesitant to take credit for his impact and influence over James, but the profound love between guardian and ward was clear as day.

“I’m glad you two found each other,” she admitted softly. Fig’s mouth curled into a small smile and his shoulders relaxed. The classroom was silent for a few moments before the witch sighed.

“You said he went to Hogsmeade?” she asked, getting down to business.

“Sharp is keeping an eye on him,” the other professor confirmed. The Deputy Headmistress nodded. If anyone could keep the teenager out of trouble, it was the veteran Auror.

“I’ll inform the others. What’s our timeline?”

*********

Phineas Nigellus Black was not having a good week. The announcement to cancel quidditch had gone over like a lead balloon – even some of the staff were grumbling about it – and now he had the Minister for Magic hounding him for answers about a dragon attacking a carriage. All because a ministry employee had gotten himself killed. Absurd, as if he were responsible for the man’s ineptitude. This was Fig’s fault and Black went to the Magical Theory professor’s office to tell him as much.

“Fig, I have work for you,” he entered the office and declared. “Come.”

“Headmaster, I am with a student,” the older man had the audacity to protest, “and my schedule is – ”

“Your schedule will wait, indefinitely, as will your student,” he insisted with a scowl. For a brief moment he bothered to spare a glance to said student and noted absently that it was the new fifth year. The teenager watched him with wide eyes. He immediately dismissed the boy and refocused on a startled looking Fig. “I would think that after all the trouble you caused me with Osric you would be eager to make amends,” he continued. He had no intention of being dragged down by the other professor’s dealings. Spavin was demanding answers, like why a ministry official had been present in the first place. Fig could deal with this mess. He had better things to do than play messenger. “My office,” he ordered, tone brooking no arguments, “five minutes.” And walked out without another word. He was halfway down the hall when the bells in the bell tower decided to go off. Black grimaced at the sound. Something else he would have to deal with.

*********

Students part like the sea in front of the headmaster as he passed through the Defense against the Dark Arts tower. He ignored the various looks cast his way and obvious whispers. Petty rumors were beneath him and he had no patience for them. A flash of fire caught his attention up ahead and he scowled. Such blatant rule breaking, within his sight of all people, was a rather brainless choice and he altered his brisk pace to address it.

“It’s Black!” A Ravenclaw hissed to his two Slytherin classmates. “He’s coming!” A lesser man would have rolled his eyes at the dense comment.

“My book,” a Hufflepuff despaired over his burning text, “my poor book.”

“Now look what you’ve done,” the Slytherin girl muttered lowly, but still loud enough for his sharp ears to catch it.

“He’s nearly here!” the Ravenclaw panicked and winced at the unimpressed look he gave the boy. “Er – hello, Headmaster.” Black withdrew his wand and pointed it at the still burning book nearby on the ground.

“Glacius,” He put it out with a casual flick before refocusing his attention on the frozen Slytherins. “Well?” he demanded when they fail to say anything. It prompted a response, but not the from the desired place.

“They took my book, sir – ” the Hufflepuff started.

“I wasn’t talking to you,” the headmaster cut off the boy’s whining.

“Sir, I can ex – ” the failed lookout tried.

“ - We’re very sorry, Headmaster,” the Slytherin girl smoothly interrupted the Ravenclaw. Finally, a sliver of intelligence.

“Putting my reputation at risk,” he reprimanded the group with a frown, “with your infantile antics.”

“He’s a half-blood, sir,” the Slytherin had the impudence to interrupt his lecture. This was why he despised children. No manners when addressing their superiors. He caught the new fifth year watching the exchange from his periphery.

“The wise rabbit doesn’t seek to outrun the tortoise,” Black admonished, “because it’s not necessary.” The Slytherins wilted under his gaze. As they should. Their blatant behavior was an affront to the noble house of Slytherin. “On your way.” The pair, along with their Ravenclaw friend, eagerly heeded the dismissal. “And you,” the headmaster directed at the Hufflepuff, who looked much too pleased by the dressing down, “stay out of their way.” Surprise flashed across the student’s face, but Black was already turning to leave. He had other business to attend to, he’d dallied long enough.

The new fifth year wordlessly passed by, not even sparing him an intimidated glance like the rest of his peers. It made the headmaster pause long enough to look over his shoulder and saw the Slytherin crouched next to the Hufflepuff, head bent towards the younger boy as if whispering something to him. Black narrowsed his eyes but the sudden ringing of bells distracted him and he marched away with a frown. He had ordered Moon to take down the blasted things, who had dared return them to the tower? He blamed the new fifth year. Ever since their unusual arrival it had been one headache after another. This posting wasn’t without its issues, but this year had been particularly troublesome. Now where was that infernal caretaker?

*********

If anyone asked Phineas Nigellus Black, Hogwarts Headmaster was a well-respected position – only second to Minister for Magic – that he was proud to hold. He reminded himself of this fact when he found out the school was about to be invaded by goblins. Goblins. His name would be forever ruined if Hogwarts fell during his tenure. Fig was apparently involved – of course he was. The headmaster stewed in anger as Professor Weasley quickly briefed the staff on the situation, some of the teachers sending nervous glances Black’s way as his magic all but crackled around him. The school wards seemed to be intact from what he could tell, but apparently the enemy’s plan was to tunnel from below. It wasn't a terrible idea, he admitted in the privacy of his mind, since the majority of Hogwarts’ protections were dedicated to safety measures above ground.

The professors split up – some heading to the caverns beneath the school, while others took positions throughout and around the castle just in case. The student population had already been escorted back to their dormitories. Before the headmaster could leave the staff room as well, a portrait informed him Minster Spavin was calling him through the Floo network. Black rushed to his office. He spent months building up favor to several contacts in the ministry including the minister himself and Spavin finally decided to call now? Right before the school was to be invaded by goblins? His political opponents would have a field day if the Minister for Magic was at Hogwarts while it was attacked – or Merlin forbid – overrun.

This was somehow the new fifth year’s fault, he decided with a scowl as he entered the office. Black marched to the flickering green fire, ignoring the portraits of past headmasters and headmistresses. It took longer than he would have liked to convince the man they should postpone, even apologizing (through gritted teeth) for the inconvenience. Something had come up, terribly unfortunate. What was that? Oh nothing to be concerned about, just some Hogwarts business that required his attention. Yes, we should soon discuss the merits of the new magical creature bill coming up for a vote next month. Oh, that reminded you of your school days? It was a trial of patience as Spavin tended to never shut up once he got talking. Finally – after nearly fifteen minutes – the headmaster was able to end the call without insulting the wizard. He stretched his back out with a sigh as his thoughts returned to the present, more specifically the caverns below the school.

Honestly, the new fifth student attracted trouble like no other. If Black didn’t know any better, he’d suspect the teenager was somehow doing it on purpose to irritate him. The boy’s only saving grace was the above average competence he showed compared to his peers – not really that high a bar to clear though. The headmaster apparated below and took a handful of seconds to take in the scene. Dozens of heavily armored trolls and goblins were spread out below, intermingled with the battling professors. He frowned darkly at the crates and abandoned campfires – evidence that the enemy had been present for more than a just a couple hours – making a mental note to speak to Professor Weasley about updating the school wards to cover such an oversight. The witch’s experience as a curse-breaker would come in handy.

Black caught sight of Fig several levels below and apparated to the wizard’s position. He quickly sidestepped a glowing bolt from a nearby ranger’s crossbow and sent back one of the more vicious curses from the Black family collection. The cavern shook with the sounds of battle, loosening a shower of stalactites from the ceiling. One of them plummeted to the ground right above the new fifth year. He watched it fall for a fraction of a second before halting the object and changing its course with a casual flick of his wand – crushing a pair of goblins instead. So many people had made such a big deal regarding the teenager’s arrival, he could only imagine the fuss his death would generate. Not worth the hassle.

“Fig,” he called out coldly during the brief lull. The man startled at his voice as if just noticing his presence. “I have words for you.” The Magical Theory professor did a rather impressive impersonation of a statue.

“Headmaster,” Sharp intervened, “we need to – ” the man was gesturing towards a stone archway across the nearby chasm.

“ – Yes, I know,” he snapped. Time and place. He could chew out Fig later. His gaze landed on the man’s protégé and wide blue green eyes stared back. He still wasn't clear on why exactly the new student was involved in all this, but he would get answers. Later. “Don’t just stand there, Evans,” Black rebuked. “Get a move on.” The boy’s jaw dropped open like a fool. Charming. The headmaster turned and fired off another Black family curse at a goblin dumb enough to think it could get the drop on the Deputy Headmistress. The two of them wordlessly joined forces against the group of goblins leading the next wave, blasting them with a barrage of attacks. The next time Black glanced over his shoulder, the fifth year was gone along with Fig and Sharp.

*********

Aesop Sharp knew there was a good chance not all of them would make it out of these caverns alive. It still didn’t prepare him for the sight of Fig being hurled off the cliff to the cavern hundreds of meters below. The veteran Auror hauled himself to his feet, using a rocky handhold to regain his balance, and pointed his wand at Ranrok. His mind whirled with tactics, considering and tossing dozens in a matter of seconds. Regular magic seemed to have little effect on the goblin leader and his surroundings didn’t have much to offer in terms of ammo. James was staggering to the ledge where the Magical Theory professor had stood just moments before, completing disregarding Ranrok. Sharp prepared a curse to stop the goblin from attacking the teenager but soon realized the enemy was paying just as little attention to James in return.

Instead, glowing red eyes focused on him burning with intent. The rebellion leader lifted a clawed hand. A terrible grin stretched across his face revealed sharp jagged teeth. Silver armor lit up with twisting malevolent magic and he knew instantly what Ranrok was planning. He met the stare with a glare of his own, lips thinning into a grim line.

The temperature suddenly dropped and an unnatural wind picked up. The Potions professor braced himself as oxygen stealing gales whipped around the tight space. The air howled. His eyes were drawn to James and it was like the boy was standing in the center of a hurricane. The teen’s hair was practically standing on end from the force of the gusts and his eyes looked like they were actually glowing. A heavy pressure saturated the air and Sharp felt like something primordial was pressing down on his lungs. A spiderweb of cracks began to form underneath the fifteen year old’s feet, branching out in all directions, as small pieces of loose rock trembled and began to rise in the air.

“You’re going to regret that,” James spoke, slow and deliberate, attention solely focused on a surprised looking Ranrok. The tone was dark and gravelly like it was coming from deep inside his chest. Gone was the mischievous teenager that enjoyed teasing him. Blue green eyes so often filled with curiosity and glee were now cold and unyielding. Aesop shivered at the drastic change. The goblin leader actually took a cautious step back. But it was too late. James flickered forward – arm outstretched – and a second later the both of them were gone in a flash of blue light. The pressure lessened and he could finally breathe again. The Potions professor stared at the now empty spot as his mind tried to catch up on what just happened. Where did they go?

He was not left wondering for long. A flash of blue appeared several meters away and two figures materialized high in the air, hundreds of feet above the cavern below. One of the shapes began to plummet. The other seemed to hover for a fraction of a second – as if existing outside the laws of time and space – before disappearing with a blue flare. Sharp watched the falling shape sink like a stone. A writhing mass of shadows seemed to burst out in all directions and brought the figure to an abrupt stop before it hit the ground. His fists clenched tight as magic on a level he’d never heard of, let alone seen with his own eyes, played out in front of him down below. He could barely track the two figures moving so fast, they were more blurs than anything. Flashes of blue and red slammed into each other repeatedly, causing the cavern to shake.

Instinct urged him to join the fight, to help James. But this was on an entirely different level. He’d probably be more of a hindrance than anything. He scowled at the thought, not happy with the idea of doing nothing.

Wait.

He could do something. Sharp flicked his wand and cast a quick Revelio. There! He apparated down to the floor below, appearing next to a still Eleazar Fig. He knelt down next to the other professor.

“Still with us?” the veteran Auror muttered lowly as he cast a handful of diagnostic spells learned from a decade of experience. He blinked at the slowly rising and falling chest, and frowned at the results his wand produced. “Fig,” he grasped the older man’s shoulder tight, casting several field enchantments to stabilize his condition. The Magical Theory professor’s eyes cracked open, taking a few moments to focus on Sharp.

“James,” he groaned. Aesop pursed his lips and looked over his shoulder in time to see a ball of blue flame expand like a balloon. He turned back to the boy’s wheezing guardian.

“Holding his own,” he reassured. Sharp dug around the small magically expanded potions satchel he’d brought along, pulling out a vial of shimmering purple liquid. “Here,” he offered, uncorking it. “Drink this, it’ll help.” Blue knowing eyes pinned him in place.

“I’m not a fool, Sharp,” the man huffed without accepting the potion, instead weakly clutching his chest. The veteran Auror did his best to ignore the wet rattle. It took him a few moments to decide how to phrase his next words.

“It will buy you some time,” he said. There was a weighty silence between them before Fig ultimately accepted the vial and shakily downed the contents. The wizard heaved several times like he couldn’t quite catch his breath.

“Aesop,” the man rasped. “Don’t leave him alone. Even if he’s not...” His insides were like shards of ice, scraping everything raw.

“I’ll keep an eye on him, Eleazar,” he forced out evenly, a sharp contrast to the sea of rolling emotions just below the surface. “No matter what.”

Notes:

There's a light at the end of the tunnel I swear! Boss showdown fight is up next, are you ready? 👀

Black was also criminally underutilized. I’m blaming it on a mix of real world issues (budget? since he’s voiced by Simon Pegg?) and poor writing. Makes for good comedy, sure. But nuanced characters are much more interesting and realistic. I def think the headmaster is a pompous ass and very much a product of his time but that doesn’t automatically equal incompetence. He’s certainly not in the books as a portrait, just exceedingly difficult. He mostly strikes me he as someone who’s actions are primarily directed by his self-perceived reputation above all else.

Chapter 45

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Professor Fig was gone. Fury and grief consumed him. James was going to obliterate Ranrok.

He yanked at the ancient magic buzzing angrily under his skin. He called upon it until it began to leak into the air. He pulled and pulled until he was practically drowning in it. The raging inferno inside him pushed the fifteen year old to reach farther than he’d ever tried before. An invisible boundary he didn’t even realize was there shattered under the weight and ancient magic flooded him. James gasped as he struggled to control the primordial force ripping through him. There was so much – far too much – he felt like he was going to burst. He couldn't think. His mind was filled with a loud buzzing. He needed to…He wanted…Glowing blue green eyes landed on a surprised Ranrok and his world suddenly narrowed.

“You’re going to regret that,” he thought – no – said. He flashed forward and grabbed the goblin. They teleported away, appearing seconds later high in the air hundreds of feet above the cavern floor below. Let’s see you try to fly, he thought before releasing the rebellion leader.

Ambient magic in the air twisted and pulled at him and he took a moment to wrestle it back under tenuous control. It felt like subduing a dragon with his bare hands. James managed to flicker down to the ground before he too could go splat like a bug. He watched Ranrok plummet downdowndown with dark satisfaction. Except magic exploded out of the glowing silver armor – swirling red and black shadow – in time to break the goblin’s fall.

James scowled.

The air around them crackled and hummed to the point that his ears were ringing. Ranrok recovered from his unexpected save just in time to get struck by a massive bolt of lightning. The goblin grunted in pain.

Good. He wanted it to hurt.

The teenager darted forward and a blue ball of flame flared into existence behind him, swelling larger and larger like a balloon. He swung it around and slammed it into Ranrok.

He bared his teeth at the crater it created. The fire flickered out, revealing a swirling mass of writhing black. The churning shield dropped moments later to reveal Ranrok largely unharmed. His teeth ground together and a growl ripped out of his chest. With a flick of the wrist, twisting shadows shot forward, flattening and thinning into something sharp. James jerked away sharply and the spear streaked by with a stinging kiss to his cheek.

He snarled as first blood went to Ranrok. The fifteen year old charged again. The goblin raised a hand to meet his attack. He flashed behind and let lose a massive explosion at point blank range. Ranrok flew through the air. He didn’t let up. James flickered again into a blind spot and hurled a razor thin blade of compressed air. Blue green eyes trailed the spray of blood with a sense of pride for a handful of a seconds. An angry mass of malevolent red magic slammed into his stomach. James wheezed. He couldn’t breathe. He darted away before Ranrok could land another hit.

The two of them pounded and tore at each other in bursts of blue and red and black. It was wild and disjointed, like two frenzied animals desperately clawing at each other. The cavern shook and echoed with the fury of their clashes. Ancient magic howled like an angry sea god and they were but mere specks caught within its savage embrace. The teen ignored the brutality, all he could see was Ranrok.

Murderer! Attack. Dodge. Lunge. Destroy. Stop the monster. MakehimHURT.

James held the goblin tight with the fraction of primordial force he wielded. Ranrok spiraled high in the air before crashing down with a large crack. He absently registered the grunt of pain. Waves of seething intent brought the rebellion leader up and down a second time even harder. He did it again and again and again. His lungs were burning and his skin felt like it was peeling – as if the very sun was inside him and trying to break free – but he didn’t stop.

He needed to make Ranrok pay.

The goblin made a desperate attempt to halt his barrage by launching a sharpened bolt of red and black – like a crossbow – right at his chest. He barely managed to dodge it, turning certain death into a graze, and got even with another bolt of lightning. The entire cavern was filled with an eye watering and blinding blue pulse.

James cracked his eyes open once the light faded. He staggered towards Ranrok, braced to defend against another attack. But the goblin lay still on the ground. Finally. The teenager stood unsteadily over the defeated rebellion leader. It was over. Ranrok would never hurt anyone else ever again. He would make sure of it. The sound of a shoe scraping across stone broke through his racing thoughts, immediately commanding his attention. He jerked around to see Professor Sharp standing nearby with his hands half-raised in surrender.

“Easy,” he said lowly. His tone was calm and soft like he was approaching a spooked animal. “It’s okay,” he continued to murmur. “You did good, James. Now…let it go.” His wand remained firmly pointed at Ranrok. A raging storm of magic and intent still tumbled and crashed inside him. The persistent burning had become an afterthought, he could barely feel it anymore. Besides…He didn’t care. It was so much better than the alternative that awaited him.

“I don’t want to,” he forced out. Dark eyes studied him intently for a few beats of tense silence.

“It’s hurting you,” the man tried again. “You need to let go before it kills you.” The words almost had an opposite effect, reminding the teen of his objective and glowing blue green eyes flicked back to Ranrok. His nostrils flared in righteous anger. He didn’t know the killing curse, but he didn’t need to. Fire, decapitation, it wouldn’t take much now to end it permanently. The monster killed Professor Fig – with a smile. He deserved it.

“James,” something in the tone dragged his gaze back. Sharp looked like he wanted to take a step closer but didn’t dare. The fifteen year old stared at him blankly. If the man tried to lecture him about right and wrong he just might hex him. His mentor was dead because he was too slow to stop it. He failed again. Surely the veteran Auror of all people would understand. “Please.”

His wand dipped ever so slightly at the admission.

“Whatever you’re doing right now,” the man continued, words slow and unhurried like he was selecting them with great care, “your body can’t handle it.” His jaw clenched as conflict raged inside him. “And I don’t want to see the end result.” The outright unfairness of it all threatened to consume him. His vision blurred.

“I can’t,” he shook his head. The loss of his guardian had opened up a bottomless chasm. The blazing inferno inside was the only thing holding him together. He couldn’t let go because if he did, he would break. And there was no Fig around this time to help put the pieces back together. Too late. Always too late.

“You can,” Sharp reassured without hesitation. “I know you can do it.” Something wet stung the cut on his cheek and the teenager realized that he was crying. “Please.” The wind dropped and the air stilled between them.

James stared at the professor. In all the time he’d known the man, he’d never known him to ask anything from anyone. Sharp was always confident and collected. It was like an unspoken rule. He didn’t put up with any nonsense. He had a reputation for being strict and detached. And yet…the man had always been there to help the teenager whenever he sought it out – never failed to answer any of his questions or provide extra training outside of class. But now…he almost looked scared, the teen realized with sickening clarity. Scared and worried that he couldn't reach James. Guilt suddenly gnawed at him and the last vestiges of ancient magic dispersed.

“There you go.” He looked away, unable to meet the man’s piercing eyes, and took a shuddering breath. In. Out. In. Out.

“Professor Fig…” the fifteen year old choked out. Sharp looked to the side and James followed the gaze to a protruding shape on the ground in the distance. His breath hitched and a whine escaped him.

“…He’s waiting for you,” the man offered almost gently. Blue green eyes darted back to the veteran Auror.

It took him a few seconds to understand the meaning behind the words before taking off in that direction. The teen fought past impending exhaustion as he ran as fast as his feet could carry him. He felt so empty and wrung out. The fight had completely drained him to the point that he couldn’t even flash himself forward with magic like he so desperately wanted to. Please, please, please.

James skidded to a stop at Fig’s side and dropped to his knees. His heart clenched at the sight of his mentor so still.

“P-professor?” he stuttered out, hand hovering over the man’s barely moving chest. The man’s eyes opened to reveal blue eyes – usually so sharp and clear – now clouded with pain and fatigue.

“James,” the man answered faintly. The teen leaned closer, hand finally lowering to make gentle contact. His guardian raised a hand of his own to clasp it.

“I…” he swallowed past the lump in his throat and tried to steady his breathing. “I – I stopped him, professor. I stopped Ranrok.” Fig’s expression softened.

“I knew you would.” He tried to blink away the tears threatening to fall, but it was a futile effort. His mentor shakily reached out and wiped them away. “I’m so proud of you.” Something keened in his chest. He could feel cracks forming. “Miriam…would have…loved you…too.” The hand brushing his cheek fell to the ground and a shudder went through the man.

“No,” the teen whimpered, “please…don’t – ” His breathing became ragged. His head snapped up to Sharp who had joined him on the man’s other side.

“Do something,” he begged the Potions master. The man looked at with something akin to sympathy.

“James…” the man’s tone was flat. Like there was no point. No. The fifteen year old began to hyperventilate. No, he couldn’t lose someone again. It wasn’t fair. Don’t leave me, come back. Sharp was saying something but he paid it no mind. The teenager clutched onto his mentor, as the man’s breathing became shallower and shallower. His head dropped until his forehead pressed against the man’s chest.

SOMEBODY HELP ME.

Moments later, a bird’s sharp cry pierced the air. James jerked up to see a phoenix soaring towards them – the same one he’d rescued from poachers weeks ago. How did it get in here? The creature landed a foot away from the teen and trilled up at him. He blinked at the bird which had turned its gaze to his fallen mentor. His eyes darted back and forth between them.

“Can…can you help him?” he asked, bewildered by the bird’s presence. The phoenix stared at him with shiny eyes and bent over Fig with its head co*cked to the side. Sharp – he noted absently – seemed to be struck dumb by the presence of the creature. The phoenix blinked and a tear slipped out. The drop fell into his mentor’s slightly parted mouth. One. Two. Three tears dripped out of the bird’s eye before it straightened back to its full height. James watched with bated breath as seconds dragged by. Slowly, little by little he almost missed it, the color began to return to Fig. His guardian’s faint and unsteady breathing evened out to something fuller and deeper. What the hell just happened?

“How – ”

“Phoenix tears have healing powers,” the Potions master murmured lowly, wide eyes still trained on the bird. The teen gazed back at the magical creature calmly watching him.

“You…you heard me?” he asked in disbelief. The Phoenix trilled back. His eyes watered. “Thank you.”

Notes:

Fig lives! See? Happy ending :D

So, in case it's not clear, James basically takes in too much ancient magic and becomes more of a conduit than truly commanding it. Imagine a blend of the avatar state and an obscurus in terms of raw destructive power and intent.

Chapter 46

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Seventy one. Seventy two. Seventy three.

James counted as he watched the steady rise and fall of Fig’s chest.

Seventy four. Seventy five. Seventy six.

He could faintly hear Professor Sharp and Nurse Blainey shuffling around and talking lowly in the hospital wing, but he didn’t take his eyes off his mentor.

Seventy seven. Seventy eight. Seventy nine.

His head was throbbing. Every part of his body hurt. He was tired and cold and empty. But Fig was alive and he didn’t dare look away.

Eighty. Eighty one. Eight two.

They must have come to some kind of agreement because the school nurse approached him a second time.

“Mr. Evans, you need to rest,” she urged. “Your magical reserves are completely depleted. To be honest, I’m rather surprised that you’re still conscious.”

Eighty three. Eighty four. Eighty five.

“I can give you a Sleeping Draught to help you fall asleep,” she continued. “How does that sound?”

Eighty six. Eighty seen. Eighty eight.

She huffed softly after a few moments of silence and stepped closer.

“Mr. Evans,” she said, this time going as far as resting a hand on his shoulder. “I must insist – ”

“Don’t touch me,” he snapped, blue green eyes tearing away from his guardian for the first time to glare at Nurse Blainey. The startled witch let go immediately. His gaze drifted back to his guardian when she didn’t make any further attempts to persuade him.

Eighty nine. Ninety. Ninety one.

There was a quiet sigh and footsteps departed. More murmuring filled the room. James ignored it. The faint sound of rustling feathers could also be heard. The phoenix was perched on the railing at the head of the bed as if also keeping vigil over the resting Magical Theory professor. He was so incredibly thankful Deek had told him about the creature in need of rescuing. If he hadn’t –

Ninety two. Ninety three. Ninety four.

Soft footsteps approached again. The fifteen year old scowled silently but didn’t spare the nurse a glance. Curiously, she didn’t speak right away.

Ninety five. Ninety six. Ninety seven.

The mattress dipped underneath as the witch sat next to him. He tensed at the proximity, the arms looped around his knees tightened - drawing them even closer to his chest. The woman still didn’t say anything, like she was waiting for more of a reaction.

“He’s going to be fine, James.” He blinked at the deeper voice that definitely did not belong to the school nurse. Professor Sharp. He let out a soft breath as something inside his chest loosened. The teenager didn’t move, but his posture uncoiled ever so slightly.

Ninety eight. Ninety nine. One hundred.

“He’ll be here when you wake up,” the Potions master carried on evenly. “Nurse Blainey says he’ll make a full recover. He just needs rest…like you.”

“He wasn’t breathing,” the teen finally spoke, voice cracking from disuse. It had been so close. Another minute and his mentor would have been lost forever. He restarted counting from zero.

One. Two. Three.

“He is now,” Sharp reassured without missing a beat. “Your phoenix healed him. He’s going to be okay.”

“Not mine,” James objected.

“No?” the man sounded amused. “He certainly seemed to recognize you.”

“He’s free to come and go as he pleases,” the fifteen year old insisted quietly. “I don’t own him.” The magical bird let out a soft trill as if weighing in on the conversation. The Potions professor didn’t pursue the subject.

Four. Five. Six.

A tentative hand was gently placed on his shoulder. When he didn’t make any attempt to shake it off, the grip firmed.

“You’re exhausted, James,” the wizard persisted. “He would want you to get some rest.” A shudder went through the teen, recognizing the truth in the words. He didn’t want Fig to wake up just to be disappointed with him. Still.

“I can’t leave him,” he muttered.

“You won’t be. You can take this bed.”

Seven. Eight. Nine.

“I’ll watch over him,” Sharp continued when he didn’t respond. “Just like your – the phoenix you befriended.” James swallowed as he turned the idea over in his mind.

“…Promise?”

“I promise.” The fifteen year old deliberated for a few more beats. Professor Sharp always kept his word.

“…Okay,” he eventually yielded. His eyelids were getting rather heavy. The hand on his shoulder gave one last squeeze before dropping away. The man left but soon returned with a change of clothes. A privacy curtain was erected with a flick of the wand and the fifteen year old was left alone to change into the pajamas. He went through the motions with a tired sigh. The ripped and bloody clothing was left in a haphazard pile on the floor. He silently watched his guardian inhale and exhale for a handful of seconds.

Ten. Eleven. Twelve.

He glanced at the nearby mattress that he had previously been sitting on. A tremor went through him as he stared at the gap between the two beds. It was less than a meter, but it felt like a gaping chasm all the same. Blue green eyes drifted back to Fig. The teenager wavered for a few more beats before curling up next to his recovering guardian.

Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen.

He didn’t even make it to twenty before he was out like a light.

*********

James woke up several hours later, no longer feeling like he was about to drop dead. The privacy curtain was still up, except he wasn't pressed up against his mentor. Instead he was in his own bed now, but the gap had been eliminated. Someone must have moved the bed closer while he was asleep. The teenager quietly watched the rise and fall of Fig’s chest as he wondered for a brief moment who was responsible. A low warble greeted him and he tore his gaze away to look at the phoenix still standing guard in the same spot. A soft smile stretched across his face.

“Thank you,” he murmured lowly. The creature puffed up its feathers as if pleased by the recognition. He slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, and finally noticed the figure on the other side of his bed. James blinked at the sight of Professor Sharp fast asleep in an armchair. He stared at the man’s disheveled appearance. Guilt churned in his stomach as he remembered the promise he had demanded. He wasn't sure how much time exactly had passed. But he was pretty certain the answer was long enough the veteran Auror was going to have a painful crick in his neck when he woke up.

The school nurse bustled in like she had sensed the teen was up. He watched wordlessly as she went through a number of diagnostic spells to check on him. She took a few moments to give a brief examination to the sleeping professors as well. Sharp startled awake while she was finishing up with him which startled Nurse Blainey in turn.

“Honestly, Aesop,” she muttered under her breath before leaving them alone.

“How are you feeling?” the wizard asked. James shrugged. “Have you eaten anything yet?” He shook his head. The professor hummed, dark eyes studying him. “You should.” The teenager frowned and looked away. The idea of leaving the room continued to fill him with anxiety and he especially did not want to go to the Great Hall.

“I’m sorry,” he said instead, absently fingering the soft pajamas. “You didn’t need to stay here.”

“It’s fine,” Sharp waved away his apology like it wasn’t a big deal. Even though one of the first things he’d done was rub his neck and stretch out his legs. “I think a change of scenery would be good for the both of us,” the man said after several beats of silence. “Why don’t we go to the kitchen?” The corner of his mouth turned downward and blue green eyes darted back to his sleeping guardian. The Potions master shifted when he didn’t answer right away. “James.”

“That’s too far.” Sharp exhaled a soft sigh.

“Alright,” he said, “somewhere closer then.” James fidgeted.

“…I don’t want to leave him,” the teen admitted quietly. The Potions master didn’t immediately dismiss the confession. Instead his expression became a touch thoughtful like he was actually considering it.

“I’m sure your – the phoenix here can keep an eye on him,” Sharp acknowledged with a glance at the magical bird, “and come find you should Eleazar wake while you’re gone.” The fifteen year old’s face scrunched in confusion. Since when were the two professors on a first name basis? He wasn't really given time to dwell on it though, the veteran Auror was giving him an expectant look. James chewed his lip, eyes darting to the creature. As if sensing his dilemma, the phoenix gave a gentle bob of its head. His gaze returned to the waiting Potions master, taking in the rumpled appearance and the dark bags under the man’s eyes. He wavered.

“Just for a little bit?” he confirmed. “We’ll come right back?” He received a nod. “…Okay.”

*********

The Potions professor didn’t even try to persuade the teenager to leave the faculty tower. Instead they stopped at a door just a couple levels down that he’d never really paid attention to before. James scanned the room inside and realized it was Sharp’s personal quarters. There was a seating area with chairs and a fireplace – along with a desk – just like his mentor’s room. To the far right there was a doorway that the teen assumed led to a bedroom. His gait hitched when he caught sight of a wheelchair. Thankfully the veteran Auror was too busy summoning a tea set next to one of the armchairs to notice. They settled next to the soon crackling fire and a house-elf brought up a couple of plates loaded with food.

The room was silent except for the sounds of eating and the fireplace, but it wasn't an uncomfortable one. James stole a glance at the man’s outstretched leg. He’d never seen him using any type of walking device and wondered about the presence of the wheelchair. Was it a lingering remnant from a time shortly after his injury? He couldn’t imagine the professor would keep such a thing around for sentimental reasons, falling on the almost extreme side of the practicality spectrum. Did it remain in his quarters because he still had need of that level of assistance? He toyed with the idea of asking about it, but eventually decided against it. He wasn't sure how to bring it up without sounding exceedingly invasive. There were many rumors regarding the Potions master but the one about the man valuing his privacy – very much – was one of the few he knew to actually be true.

He half-expected Sharp to encourage him to talk, to determine how he was coping. He knew any other professor would – the Deputy Headmistress especially – they’d done it enough times throughout the school term. But the man seemed content to let him eat in peace and something settled in his chest. The veteran Auror only gave him a disapproving look when he slowed to a stop halfway through his plate. The fifteen year old rolled his eyes but finished the rest of the food, eyeing the nearby shelves heavy with a wide variety of books. He speculated about their contents. Were they about curses? Dark magic? Meant to assist in the pursuit to heal his leg? Or maybe potions? What kind of texts would even interest a master? Did they need to follow recipes? Or could they create their own? He finally broke the tranquility to voice the question.

“A little of both,” Sharp explained, mouth curling into a small smile. The professor began to lecture on the unique situations an expert Potioneer may need to adjust a recipe – "masters only, don’t even think of trying this yourself" – and how they were even able to make such a determination. This segued into an impromptu lesson on the importance of Herbology and how a thorough education on various plants in the field transmitted to knowledge on potion ingredients and predicting their effects. The teenager knew the two subjects shared a connection, but he hadn’t realized just how deeply intertwined they were. Apparently mastery in potions also required a high level of knowledge in both beasts and plants.

Blue green eyes drifted up to the fireplace mantle and he noticed for the first time since entering the room the small collection of moving photographs on display. There was one with a much younger looking Sharp in Slytherin Hogwarts robes holding some type of award up. Another framed an older couple, possibly his parents? The fifteen year old froze at the next one. There was a vaguely familiar looking man with reddish brown hair – a brother maybe? But his attention was primarily captured by the smiling women next to him and her blue green eyes. He’d seen her before, years ago. In his dreams.

“Who is she?” he asked, interrupting whatever the Potions professor had been saying. Sharp paused and followed his gaze. His expression quickly became unreadable and something flashed across his face.

“Do you recognize her?” the man returned in a measured tone. James frowned at the lacking answer. It was just a dream, the woman was only a figment of his imagination. At least, that was what he had assumed for years. But…if the mystery woman was real – she can’t be – did that mean the rest of the dream was too?

“I don’t know who she is,” he said. The tone wasn’t very convincing though, given his mind was largely occupied by something that should not exist.

“But you’ve seen her before,” the veteran Auror persisted. It was neither question nor statement, but something in between. The teen bit his lip, suddenly wishing his mentor was present. He’d never brought it up before because it was just a dream – a nightmare really. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to think about. He hadn't even thought about it for years. His parents had no doubt been relieved after his younger brother had been born if only because the nightly visits for comfort had stopped. His brother had been a hugger even in his sleep and – he shoved the painful thought away.

He swallowed at the expectant look Sharp was giving him and shrugged helplessly. The man seemed to gather himself as he took a deep breath.

“Where have you seen her before?” He brought his feet up onto the armchair and hugged his knees. The Potions professor – oddly – did not correct the action.

“It was just a dream,” he mumbled, glancing at the floor. “It…it’s not real.” There was a tense pause and he wondered again how the wizard could have a photograph of a woman from a long forgotten nightmare. Actually, better question – why.

“Can you tell me about it?” His lips pressed into a thin line at the question. The casual tone rubbed him wrong but he couldn't pin down the reason behind it. His eyes darted back to the waiting professor who was still as a statue. The unusual sight was disquieting.

“It’s not a nice one,” he hedged uncertainly. “There’s…a lot of screaming, and…fire.” Sharp barely hesitated to give an almost jerky motion for the teenager to go on. Blue green eyes were drawn back to the mystery woman.

“It usually starts the same,” James shared, fingers tapping nervously, “with a woman singing. But then the fire comes…”

Notes:

*Aaron Burr voice* here comes the big talk - the moment you’ve been waiting for ~

Fig will wake up soon but for now...time for some answers!

well…next chapter lol

Chapter 47

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

A woman was singing somewhere nearby. He couldn’t make out the words, but the familiar melody filled him with feelings of love and safety. James blinked contentedly at the ceiling, little brightly colored figurines lazily circled above his head. A flash of gold zipped around them. Something warm and soft cocooned him. He wished he could listen to the happy tune forever, but it soon cut off like it always did. The room darkened as smoke poured in.

The once comforting cocoon was now suffocating and confined him like heavy restraints. He fought to kick the blanket off. Almost like clockwork, the screaming started. He knew to expect it by now, but the sound still filled him with terror. He finally managed to free himself and crawled to the edge of the mattress where the carved wooden bars were. He pushed himself up to a standing position and tried to climb them. But no matter how hard he tried, James couldn’t get a good enough grip to pull himself up, as if it had been designed to be escape proof.

His heart thudded as the hallway flickered orange. Roaring flames infiltrated his room like unwelcome guests and he whimpered. His cries soon joined the disjointed shouting. He called out for his mum and dad as the fire quickly surrounded his prison. He could hear pounding footsteps. There was a loud thud like something had been thrown into a wall. The hallway flashed yellow and his room shook. Like a savior heeding his cries, a woman appeared in the doorway, blue green eyes wide and raven black hair wildly askew. Her face was covered in soot and burns – like battle paint – but it did nothing to hide the obvious fear.

The desperate woman reached out towards him but there was no room to enter, the entire room was on fire. The flames eagerly devoured everything in sight and the air shimmered with sweltering heat. His vision began to blur from the tears, but it was still clear enough for him to see something red and writhing slam into the woman drawing out a bloodcurdling shriek. She disappeared from sight back into the hallway. James trembled as the room burned hotter and hotter. The scream cut off abruptly and the woman did not return. He wanted to leave this awful place.

Something inhuman appeared in the doorway. It swirled and licked the wooden frame like fire but it moved like it was alive.

He craved the return of safety that had been cruelly stolen from him.

The fire creature growled and stared at him hungrily.

He wished with all his might for his protector to return.

The billowing mass of flame stalked towards him.

HE WANTED TO BE WITH HIS FAMILY AGAIN.

James startled awake. The cottage was cool and quiet, nothing like his nightmare moments before. His thundering heart threatened to beat right out of his chest. He tried to calm it with deep breaths like dad had taught him, but it along with his brain were still shouting dangerdangerdanger. He pushed himself to a sitting position and hugged himself.

"You’re going to be a big brother, James. That means you need to be brave."

He choked back the whimper that built up in his chest. He couldn’t be a baby anymore, he thought to himself as he glanced at the wooden cradle in the corner of the bedroom. For the first time in weeks, the infant inside was sleeping soundly. He hugged himself tighter and bit his lip, eyes drifting to the thin blanket hung across the room in a feeble attempt for privacy. Just a dream, he told himself. It wasn't real. Repeating his mum and dad’s words didn’t help though.

With a shaky breath, James scooted out of bed and tip toed to the makeshift curtain. He noiselessly peeked around the fabric, and saw his parents fast asleep in their bed. He hesitantly inched closer to the side his mum was on. As if sensing his presence, the woman cracked open a tired eye. They stared at each other for a handful of seconds. The young boy shuffled in place but didn’t say anything, remembering his dad’s words about courage and responsibility. His mum let out a sigh but lifted the blanket in silent invitation. He eagerly dived underneath the cover and accepted the quiet comfort she was willing to give. It took a while for him to fall back asleep, but he was warm and surrounded by his family so it was okay.

Some of those early nights it felt like there was a gaping hole in his chest – like something was missing – and nightmares came to fill it. But the hole soon grew smaller and smaller until one year it was completely forgotten and the dreams finally stopped.

*********

Sharp didn’t breathe a word as James described the once reoccurring nightmare. In fact, the man hardly moved at all looking much like a statue. Only attentive dark eyes gave him away. The room descended into silence once he finished and two pairs of eyes stared into the crackling fire.

“Do you know what Fiendfyre is?” the professor finally spoke, tone soft and gaze unfocused like his mind was miles away.

“No.”

“It’s dark magic,” he revealed, not sounding at all surprised by the teenager’s answer. “The curse produces enchanted fire that cannot be extinguished by normal means.” The fifteen year old blinked at the explanation and studied the Potions master. After their talk on the quidditch pitch, he’d never expected Sharp to willing explain any type of dark magic to him. The man shifted in his seat as if sensing the attention but didn’t meet his gaze quite yet, instead looking at the photograph.

“My sister, Eleanor Crowley,” he finally shared the identity of the mystery woman. “She and her husband, Henry, were attacked by dark wizards. They used Fiendfyre to burn the home down. Wards were raised beforehand to cut off any means of escape.” He chose that moment to look at James who sat frozen in mounting horror. “They had a toddler named Jamerson,” he continued, dark eyes trained on him like he was searching for something. “Until recently, I thought all three had been burned to ash that night.”

“That’s – God,” the fifteen year old grimaced as his stomach threatened to rebel. What an awful way to die. It sounded just as terrible as being ripped apart. “I…I-I’m sorry that happened to your sister,” he stuttered out. What else could you say to something like that? And why had Sharp even bothered to tell him? He could have told James to mind his own business. He fidgeted when the professor didn’t respond right away. “Did…did they catch them?” Something flashed across the man’s face.

“They did.”

“Good.” The veteran Auror continued to watch him, expression slowly morphing as the silence stretched from cautious expectation to fond exasperation.

“You have her eyes,” the wizard eventually added. “I recognized them when we first met.” The teen stared as puzzle pieces clicked into place. Blue green eyes darted back and forth between the photograph of Eleanor Crowley and a mildly concerned looking Sharp.

“Wait…are you saying,” his heart pounded in his chest and his head was a cacophony of thoughts vying for his attention. “….B-but that would mean.” He floundered for a few moments, arms tightening around his knees and drawing them closer to his chest. “No. No, my parents were – ” he shook his head as his entire world was flipped upside down for the second time in less than a year “ – I mean…they would have s-said something…right?” The professor’s face eased slightly.

“James, you just recounted almost word for word what happened that night,” said the man with a soothing tone. “Including an accurate description of Fiendfyre which you already confirmed you didn’t know about.” His mind recognized the truth behind the words – it made sense, he couldn't find any fault in the logic – but remained stuck on one thing.

“But…I don't understand...Why wouldn’t they tell me?” Why had his mum and dad kept such a huge secret from him? Had his little brother known? He didn’t think so judging by the way he used to hang off James all time. Had his parents not told anyone? Had they been ashamed? He mentally ran through all past interactions with a fine tooth comb, starting with his family then widening the scope to include the other villagers. Sharp seemed to falter, like he'd been expecting a different reaction, but recovered quick enough.

“Perhaps they planned to when you were older,” he offered delicately. “Or maybe it just didn’t matter to them.” The fifteen year old considered each guess briefly before giving a jerky shrug.

“I guess we’ll never know.” It came out more bitter than he'd meant it to. The room was silent for several long seconds. A groan escaped the teenager and he facepalmed at the sudden realization. “She did tell,” he sighed. “She literally threatened me with it.”

“With what?”

“She...she used to promise to leave me in the woods when I was – um – getting on her nerves,” he flushed. “Except, she never said it to my brother.” The teen bit his lip. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I mean, I thought it was just one of those things parents say to their kids to make them behave, you know?”

“You think they found you in the woods?” the veteran Auror tilted his head.

“Well…my dad was a woodworker,” he shrugged. “It wouldn’t be much of a stretch, would it?” Sharp hummed quietly and asked the name of the village. When he told him, the wizard got up and returned with a map. After almost a full minute of examination, he made a soft oh noise.

“What is it?” Dark eyes flicked up to study him briefly before the professor spread it out between them.

“This is your town, yes?” the Potions master pointed to a spot on the chart. James blinked.

“Sure.” He winced at the look he received. “I don’t know how to read a map,” he defended hotly. The disapproving expression cleared.

“I’ll teach you,” the veteran Auror murmured lowly. His finger dragged along the paper to another spot. “This is where…” he looked up when Sharp trailed off.

“Where your sister lived?” he filled in softly. The man grunted in agreement. Blue green eyes dropped back down to the map as the finger moved again like it was tracing something.

“And here,” he pointed to a third spot, “may have been your destination.”

“Wait - what?” James leaned forward, face scrunching in confusion. The professor backtracked and pointed out the three locations again.

“What does that look like to you?” Sharp prompted, never one to waste a teaching opportunity.

“Um…a line?” he guessed with a frown. His eyes narrowed in speculation. “Oh, like a path.” This answer earned him a hum of approval and his insides warmed at the praise.

“It almost looks like a failed apparition attempt,” the man mused softly, mostly to himself.

“…I didn’t realize toddlers could do that?”

“They can’t. Not usually,” the professor absently tapped the edge of the map. “But they can perform accidental magic as a form of self-defense should the need arise.” Sharp was scrutinizing him again. “And I can only imagine how that mixes with your – what did you call it? – ancient magic?” The teenager considered the theory for several moments.

“…huh,” he finally decided on. The veteran Auror let out a faint snort and went to roll up the map. “Wait,” his hand darted out to point at the third location, halting the action. “You think this was my target? Why?” The older wizard hesitated. “What was here?” James pushed for an answer.

“Me.” The fifteen year old stilled at the admission. “That’s where I was the night it happened.” His gaze flicked between the chart and Sharp.

“Oh,” he exhaled, withdrawing his hand from the map. His life had been threatened and he’d unconsciously sought out his uncle for protection. His fingers began to tap out a rhythm on the side of his leg. “I’ve never had an uncle before,” he confessed shyly. “I mean, what does that even look like?” The Potions professor didn’t respond right away.

“What do you want it to look like?” the question was open and patient. And while he appreciated the sentiment, it didn’t help to clear up his confusion on the matter.

“I don’t know,” he shrugged as his fingers moved on to picking at his shirt. He was still in the pajamas he noted idly. “What does an uncle usually do?” The wizard leaned back in his armchair, expression contemplative.

“Well…it can depend on the family,” he hummed softly, “but uncles often act as a mentor figure – providing instruction and support. They’re sometimes sources of fun or confidants. They can also act as a role model or a guardian if need be.” James co*cked his head in thought, reviewing the different roles listed.

“So…kind of like…what you do now?” he verified with a small teasing smile. A soft laugh escaped the man.

“Yes, I suppose so.” The idea, he decided, didn’t bother him at all. The teen jerked when he suddenly remembered.

“What about – um – Professor Fig?” he asked lowly, immediately anxious.

“What about him?” Sharp encouraged without missing a beat, like he’d been expecting it. The teenager looked away, no longer able to meet the steady gaze.

“What if,” he fidgeted as he struggled to word his thoughts in the least offensive phrasing. “What if I like…um…”

“Staying with Eleazar?” the man took pity on him. There it was again, he thought at the use of the other professor’s first name. He gave a nervous nod. “…James, look at me.” He swallowed and heeded the instruction. “As long as you’re safe and happy, I have no desire to interfere.” A relieved breath escaped him which made him instantly feel bad. The veteran Auror didn’t seem offended by the reaction, but he still felt like he had just insulted him.

“I mean – it’s not that I don’t, you know – ” Sharp held up a hand to halt the rambling.

“You don’t need to explain yourself,” he offered. “I understand.”

“…You do?”

“You’ve had a lot of changes thrown at you in a matter of months. It makes sense for you to crave some stability.”

“Oh…okay.” Something close to fondness flashed across the wizard's face before he cleared his throat.

“Did you have any other questions for me?” Something akin to nervousness spread across Sharp’s face, as if such a thing were even possible. He wasn't really sure what the man was asking, but the odd expression and the way he was holding himself gave James the distinct impression it was something specific – like whatever he was thinking of was obvious and they should be on the same page. Unfortunately he was drawing a blank. So he defaulted to snark since the professor had already demonstrated a surprising amount of tolerance for it.

“Does this mean I can get away with calling you uncle Aesop?” Sharp huffed a laugh.

“During class? No,” he pointed a finger to emphasize his point. “Uncles can also give detention if they happen to be your professor.” James rolled his eyes but didn’t argue the point. He was so used to calling the man ‘sir’ or ‘professor’, the idea of using anything else felt downright weird. Before he or the veteran Auror could utter another word, a burst of flame appeared just above the top of the armchair near the teen’s head. The action startled him to grab for his wand. The accompanying trill made him soon realize he was staring at a phoenix, the very one left to watch over his mentor. He jumped to his feet.

“Professor Fig?” he asked with bated breath. The bird bobbed its head up and down. Seconds later the teenager was out the door and racing up the steps to the hospital wing.

Notes:

That’s right, James unknowingly used ancient magic to transport himself to safety aka Sharp. Except, he’s a toddler, so he missed the mark and accidentally appeared in the woods where his adoptive dad found him the next morning and brought him home.

anddd now you know *insert jazz hands*

Chapter 48

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Fig was sitting up talking to Nurse Blainey and the Deputy Headmistress – privacy curtain now removed – when James skidded into the hospital wing.

“Professor!” the fifteen year old beamed, completely ignoring the two witches, and launched himself at his mentor. He burrowed his nose into the man’s neck, ears picking up a soft oof. The arms around his guardian’s torso loosened ever so slightly, but he didn’t let go. Fig returned the embrace, giving a few reassuring pats.

“As you can see,” Professor Weasley spoke somewhere over his shoulder, “we are all quite relieved to have you awake and well.”

“Thank you,” his guardian returned, and James reveled in the rumble of his voice.

“We can talk more later,” the Deputy Headmistress said when the teen failed to let go. A pair of footsteps departed and they were left alone.

“Thought I lost you,” he mumbled into the shoulder. A firm hand rubbed comforting circles into his back.

“I’m still here.” A tremor ran through him and James took another inhale of his mentor’s familiar scent. Fig didn’t say anything further while the teenager convinced himself that the man was real and alive. Once he’d calmed down enough to finally let go, he scooted back but remained sitting cross-legged on the bed – a knee resting against his mentor’s leg to reassure himself Fig wouldn’t disappear on him.

“I’m…I’m glad you’re okay.”

“And I you,” his mentor returned, hand resting on his shoulder. “Nurse Blainey told me you nearly drained your magical reserves.” James flushed and shrugged at the obvious concern. With some prompting, he haltingly informed the professor on what had happened in the repository. Sharp joined halfway through the retelling, and eventually took over when the teen skirted uneasily around Fig’s almost death.

“There was an Auror team here earlier sent by the Ministry,” the man tacked on. James blinked at the blunt declaration. When had this happened? Dark brown eyes flicked over briefly, noting his surprise, but returned to the silent Magical Theory Professor. “They’ll likely return once word gets out you’re awake now.”

“Why?” He received a raised eye brow and resisted the urge to fidget.

“Statements.” There was a brief pause. “They’ll have a few questions for you as well, due to your presence in the caverns. But the role you played isn’t well known outside the three of us and Professor Weasley.”

“Why am I just hearing about this?” his face scrunched in confusion. He felt like he was missing something obvious. “I haven’t seen any Aurors?”

“Your guardian was unavailable.” Sharp let out a soft exhale when his blank look remained. “As an underage wizard, you’re entitled to have an adult responsible for your welfare present.” Oh…that made sense. Except he still wasn't clear why the Potions master hadn’t stepped in. If not as a blood relative – he didn’t know at the time, James reminded himself – then at least as his Head of House? “Especially given no crime has been committed and the investigation is more for show.” The teen looked between the wizards, debating which line of questioning to prioritize.

“You say that like the Ministry has something to prove.” Something close to approval briefly flashed across the Potions professor’s face.

“Minister Spavin is concerned about public perception,” Sharp allowed after a beat, “given the many documented and ignored attempts,” an amused look was directed towards Fig, “to call attention to the danger Ranrok posed and the following assault on Hogwarts.” The fifteen year old frowned at the mention of the rebellion leader. He realized belatedly that he didn’t know what had happened to the goblin. “The lack of action paired with the threat to safety of a large percentage of the underage wizarding population could be interpreted – by some people – as gross negligence.”

“Where is he?” James asked.

“Who?”

Ranrok.” Was he being held prisoner in the castle like Rookwood had been? Or had the Aurors taken the goblin? Were there other prisons besides Azkaban? That was only for wizards, right? He stilled when Sharp didn’t respond right away, instead glancing at the teenager’s mentor. The Magical Theory professor didn’t say anything, but seemed to give whatever confirmation he was looking for.

“…Ranrok is dead.” His breath hitched and his stomach flipped. Had he killed the goblin? He didn’t remember doing that. Noting his growing panic, Fig reached out and placed a calming hand on his shoulder.

“I thought – did I – ” he couldn't get the words out. He remembered being angry. The fight was a bit of a blur, but he was mostly certain Ranrok had still been breathing as he stood over the downed enemy. He tried to kill Professor Fig. He deserved it. The teen shoved the thought away. Self-defense and protecting those precious to him was one thing, but the idea of eliminating someone at his mercy – even an enemy – chilled him.

“No,” the Potions master denied. “From what I can tell, the power he wielded was unstable. Your fight further disrupted that and…” the man’s expression turned contemplative “…dispersed it. I guess you could say it didn’t agree with him.” James blinked and looked at his mentor.

“The ability to see and wield ancient magic is inherent,” his guardian mused. “Ranrok gained the power – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say an imitation of it – through the use of goblin silver.”

“It seemed to come out of his armor,” he offered and his mentor hummed.

“Perhaps he withdrew too much,” Fig speculated. “The imbalance could have led to overcompensation…” the man was tapping his chin in thought, voice tapering off as his eyes being to glaze over. "…much like the Wyndham effect…in which case a Quisling cascade would be triggered resulting in complete magical exhaustion…” James shared a look with Sharp.

“In summary he overdid it,” the veteran Auror cut off his mentor’s impromptu theorizing. The other professor cleared his throat and gave a half-embarrassed nod. Dark eyes drifted to the fifteen year old and pinned him in place. “Much like you.”

“Sir?” The Potions master crossed his arms.

“You were nearly sent to St. Mungo’s.” He jerked in surprise.

“What? Why?

“Your magical signature was so faint,” the professor continued, looking decidedly unimpressed, “the diagnostic spells almost didn’t detect any traces left.” You’re very lucky, his eyes said.

“Well, I’m fine now,” he shrugged, in an attempt to downplay it. Sharp’s nostrils flared and his gaze darkened.

“James,” his mentor cut in, saving him from possibly being murdered, “Absolute magical exhaustion is fatal if you completely empty your magical core. Nurse Blainey said that you were very close to that threshold.” The teen swallowed as the full meaning of their words finally sunk in. He idly picked at his pajama bottoms.

“Oh…sorry.”

“Just – please don’t push yourself to such an extreme again,” Fig sighed. The teenager chewed his lip. He didn’t regret it, but he also didn’t want to further worry his guardian.

“Okay.”

“And refrain from using magic while your body recovers,” his mentor added belatedly.

“What?” Indignation swelled inside him but it was quickly squashed by the look the wizard gave him. James grumbled under his breath but didn’t further object. Fig didn’t do it often, but when he put his foot down there was no point in arguing the matter.

“What about my classes?” He absolutely did not whine. It was a very legitimate question.

“Cancelled for the remainder of the week due to recent events,” The Potions professor provided, expression and posture relaxing. He spoke to James but he was eyeing Fig like the man had done something worth noting. His gaze soon drifted back to the teen. “They’ll resume next week. Special accommodations can be made if need be.” He scowled. Great, more fuel for the rumors. The room was silent for several moments as the conversation stalled.

“Have you eaten?” his mentor asked, reminding James of his recent discovery. The fifteen year old nodded, blue green eyes darting to a quiet Sharp, reclined in his armchair on the other side of the bed. The veteran Auror met his stare and gave a half-shrug with one shoulder. He got the impression the professor would follow his lead either way. He fidgeted, anxious – and a little bit excited – to tell Fig, but he was also reluctant to dump even more on the man.

“…something else happen?” the older wizard asked, quickly catching on. James took a few seconds to gather himself, while crafting a smooth and concise delivery of the news in his head. It abandoned him the instant he opened his mouth.

“So – uh – apparently, Professor Sharp is my uncle?” what should have been a statement came out more as a question. James cleared his throat. “I mean - he is,” he said more firmly, resisting the urge to pull at the hem of his pajama top. “We pretty much confirmed it.” A variety of expressions – too quick for him to catch – flashed across his guardian’s face.

“…Oh?” he settled on. The teenager took a deep breath and shared everything he’d learned. His mentor didn’t interrupt even as a number of emotions flickered across his face, eyes only leaving James once to briefly study Sharp whose composure gave nothing away. Fig was quiet for a long time after the teen finished. “…I see,” was the first thing he said. “Unexpected but welcoming news, I’m sure.”

“Sir?”

“To learn that you still have family left.” The fifteen year old bit his lip, bothered by his mentor’s reaction, or lack thereof. It wasn’t unkind, but there was definitely something off. He considered his guardian for several long beats.

“I mean, I kind of already do,” he decided on, voice tentative. “But it’s nice to have more.” He only saw it because he was watching Fig so closely, but the slight tension around the man’s eyes he hadn’t even realized was there disappeared. A familiar fondness settled on the professor’s face as he gave the teenager’s shoulder a firm squeeze. His insides warmed. Far too soon, the hand dropped and his mentor glanced at Sharp.

“Have you talked to your friends since waking up?” Fig asked, refocusing on James.

“Not yet.” His guardian gave a thoughtful hum.

“You should. I’m sure they’re worried about you.” The fifteen year old frowned, not liking the idea of leaving.

“But – ”

“ – I’ll be okay,” the older wizard gently interrupted with a casual wave of his hand, not giving him a chance to fully voice his objections. “Besides, I need to speak to Aesop.” Blue green eyes darted between the two professors but Fig didn’t further elaborate. Had something happened? Why were they suddenly on a first name basis? He got the sudden impression of being outnumbered and didn’t like it. Part of him began to actually miss when the two weren’t getting along.

A musical trill called for his attention. The phoenix had returned to its post on the metal bed frame during their reunion – "What a magnificent creature," Fig had said, causing the bird to preen. The phoenix ruffled its feathers and flapped its wings. It gave another chirp, dark eyes darting to his mentor and back to the teen.

“Fine,” he said with a huff. Even the magical bird was ganging up on him…totally unfair. He made sure to at least grab his now clean and repaired clothes before he was practically kicked out. He could only imagine the comments he'd get for wandering the castle in pajamas.

*********

James found Sebastian and Ominis in the Undercroft.

“There you are!” his best friend greeted, jumping up from the Slytherin green couch where the two had been seated to race over to him. Ominis got up and approached at a more sedate – but no less concerned – pace. “None of the professors except Sharp would tell us anything, and he wouldn’t say much the utter – ”

“ – Are you alright?” his other housemate asked, bringing Sebastian’s rambling to a halt.

“Fine,” he answered with a small smile, “just tired.” This earned him a disbelieving snort.

“I think you mean magically exhausted,” Sebastian voiced, arms crossed. “That’s what Sharp said. Must have been some battle to drain you.” James shrugged and made his way towards the study nook they’d created a few weeks ago. His friends followed and soon they were all settled on the nest of floor cushions and blankets in a small circle.

“What happened?” Ominis asked softly, expression giving away the teenager’s unease. He chewed the bottom of his lip as he considered the other Slytherin. Sebastian was still the only person he’d told, and that was mostly because of his accidental involvement. Natty and Poppy knew Victor Rookwood had taken an interest in James, but not why. Nevertheless, if anyone could understand the importance of keeping a secret it would definitely be Ominis, and the other fifth year had become a close friend after the scriptorium debacle. He glanced between his two housemates – his closest friends. They were a unit, he decided, and they should all be on the same page.

“You can’t tell anyone,” he prefaced. “Like, what I’m about to say doesn’t leave this room.” The other fifteen year old straightened at the serious tone.

“Of course.”

“Well, it started with my carriage to Hogwarts being attacked. The dragon was sent by Ranrok…” Ominis listened quietly, cloudy eyes widening further and further as James condensed the last few months. A look of understanding settled across his face as missing bits of information seemingly clicked into place.

“Somehow that doesn’t really surprise me,” Ominis eventually shook his head with a sigh. “I knew you were helping each other with more than just finding a cure for Anne…but I never imagined…” the Slytherin trailed off in thought.

“There’s something else,” James added, gaze focusing on Sebastian. “Before Rookwood attacked me outside of Ollivanders, he said the exact same words Anne heard right before she was cursed: children should be seen and not heard.” His friend paled. Ominis stiffened beside him.

“Wait. What – what are you saying?”

“It wasn’t one of Ranrok’s lot that cursed Anne. It was Rookwood,” he shared, emphasizing the true culprit. “It was Rookwood all along.”

“This – this can’t be,” Sebastian was shaking his head in denial as he struggled to accept the revelation. “It was the loyalists. It’s always been them. The night Anne was cursed, all she saw were goblins.”

“Once Rookwood allied with Ranrok, Isidora’s estate became of interest to them both,” James persisted. The other teenager’s breathing was uneven - and he was gripping his knees tight – but he was still listening. “Sebastian, it was Rookwood who started the fire. He admitted it. That’s why he was there the night Anne was cursed.”

“Rookwood didn’t want anyone to know he was working with Ranrok,” Ominis exhaled, looking equally pained and horrified.

“So he cursed her,” Sebastian growled. “And she’s never been the same.” The Undercroft descended into frigid silence and James waited for his friend to process the revelation. The other fifteen year old cycled through several emotions – anger the most prominent. After a long stretch he seemed to visibly restrain himself and let out a long breath. “It wasn’t a goblin. I owe you an apology.” Sebastian hesitantly met his gaze and was rewarded with a relieved smile.

“Not all goblins,” he said softly, bumping their shoulders. His housemate huffed a quiet laugh at the reminder.

“All this time I thought goblins were the enemy,” the teen sighed, “but it was never that simple.” There was a brief pause. “I don’t suppose Rookwood told you which curse he used?”

“Yes, an old family curse,” James offered.

“Is there a – ”

“He said there was, but – ”

“ – He told you?” Ominis cut in with a frown. “Why would he do that?”

“I can be very persuasive when I want to be.” It was meant to be a joke, but a look equal parts amused and resigned flashed across the other teenager’s face.

“I’ve noticed.” James twitched at the dry response, but the small curl of Ominis’ mouth told him the Slytherin wasn’t upset with him.

“Did Mr. Rabe ever send you those notes?” he redirected to Sebastian. His friend gave him a sour look.

“Yes, but they’re difficult to interpret.” He was quiet for a few moments. “…Do you think Sharp would help?” James couldn’t help but jerk at the professor’s name. Uncle, he mentally corrected himself. The other fifteen year old seemed to misinterpret the reaction and hurriedly tacked on as if to justify himself. “I mean, he’s probably come across something like this before during his own research, right?”

“…Right.” Sebastian’s eyes narrowed.

“I suppose I could reach out to Mr. Rabe,” he allowed, sounding less certain, “but I think it would be better coming from you.”

“Sure.” His friend continued to scrutinize him. James withheld a fidget.

“What is it?” the other teen pressed. “You’re acting weird.”

“So, um, there’s one more thing,” he confessed, folding under the twin expectant looks. “I just found out, I don’t think it’s quite…I mean, I’m still…” He gestured vaguely. Sebastian’s stare didn’t waver and Ominis raised a delicate brow. He took a steadying breath. “…Professor Sharp is my uncle.” The Undercroft was dead silent.

“…Sharp…is…” Sebastian was the first to recover, if only partially.

“My uncle. Yes.”

“But he’s…” the teenager’s hands waved in the air as if the ambiguous motion could better convey his thoughts. “And you’re…” James patiently waited but his friend was unable to finish, ultimately falling silent. Ominis, meanwhile, who had been completely frozen, now buried his face into his hands, a soft high pitch noise escaping him. I think I broke him, the fifteen year old reflected…He had just dumped quite a bit on the other Slytherin. He gave them another handful of seconds to process the news before launching into yet another explanation. It was kind of ironic really. Sebastian had always insisted – mostly joking – that James was Sharp's favorite. He just knew his friend was going to bring it up again if only to rub it in his face.

Notes:

Fig is back! And yes, Sharp totally ran interference with the Aurors like a good uncle :)

Also, they made such a deal about how rare the ability to wield ancient magic was and then Ranrok comes along and does it without issue or any consequences? Uh nah, we’re addressing that too.

Chapter 49

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Ready to finish Harlow?” James tensed at the question.

“Wait, I thought you had a lead?” he asked. That was what the note had said. Looking for clues was supposed to be straightforward and effortless – no strenuous use of magic necessary. It was why he’d come so soon after waking up in the hospital wing.

“I received an owl from Mrs. Bickle,” Natty confirmed with a nod. “She wondered if we were having any luck going after Harlow and suggested we could gather evidence from a friend near Manor Cape.”

“She warned us to stay out of it,” he frowned. He should know because the widow had repeated her warnings when he’d stopped by a week after the kidnapping. Archie had been ecstatic to see him again and dragged James to his hideout, but not before the woman had spent at least twenty minutes fussing over the fifteen year old. “She was rather adamant about it.”

“Precisely.” It only took him a couple seconds to comprehend the pleased look.

“The letter didn’t come from Mrs. Bickle, did it?” he asked, rather unnecessarily, with a sigh.

“I do not believe it did,” Natty shook her head. “Harlow intends to ambush us.”

“And you want to spring the trap?” he shuffled in place, unsure about the idea. Fig had been rather clear on James not using his magic for the next few days minimum. He felt fine though.

“We have the upper hand,” his companion insisted, “and I do not fear Harlow.” Neither did James, but that wasn’t his biggest concern.

“What about Rookwood?” He was still a little shaken by their last encounter. No one had brought up Officer Singer’s condition and he had not yet worked up the nerve to ask. He was pretty sure what the lack of answers meant and didn’t want his speculations confirmed. Besides, the dark wizard would no doubt be vindictive after being deceived by a teenager.

“I do not think he will be a problem,” his friend mused. “He has not bothered to show up before. No, this sort of trickery is all Harlow.” James chewed his lower lip in thought. Her reasoning was mostly sound, except Rookwood was no longer distracted by Ranrok. She didn’t know about his connection to the goblin, he reminded himself. Then again, without his former ally to aid in the search of the final repository, the dark wizard was likely preoccupied with finding another way to get his hands on his so called birthright.

“Shouldn’t we, you know, tell someone?” he wavered.

“I tried to send an owl to Officer Singer,” she confessed, “but it would not accept the note.” His stomach dropped. Did that mean what it sounded like? Or did St. Mungo’s just not allow owls? Natty was quiet for a few moments as she studied him. “I am sorry, I should not have dragged you out here. You were just released from the hospital wing, yes?”

“It’s fine,” he shrugged. They’d started this crusade against Harlow together after all.

“I do not know who else to notify,” the girl admitted. “Perhaps you could go get back up.” She turned as if to leave.

“What about you?” he asked, halting her in place.

“I am tired of waiting,” Natty told him, posture ramrod straight and eyes burning bright. “Harlow’s reign ends today.” And then she took off towards the nearby manor at the top of the hill.

“Wait – ” but it was too late, she’d already disappeared around the bend. James groaned. He knew he should tell someone, but he didn’t have an owl available – not to mention the lack of parchment or pen to write the note itself. And there was not enough time to fly to the closest Floo. He couldn’t let Natty face the castle full of Ashwinders on her own. If Harlow was willing to go through such lengths to set a trap, he wouldn’t be alone.

Ugh…Gryffindors.

*********

“Little Natsai Onai, innit? And her excruciatingly loyal companion,” Theophilus Harlow sneered at the two students. The pair of them had managed to take down the handful of Ashwinders waiting for them, but James could feel himself flagging. Apparently he was not as recovered as he’d previously thought. His connection to ancient magic was almost sluggish and took much more effort than usual to call upon. It felt like when he’d first been learning to wield it. “You two have become quite the annoyance.”

“Thank you,” he snarked back, earning the wizard’s attention as intended. He didn’t like the way the man was eyeing Natty.

“Oh, you’ll get your comeuppance,” Harlow taunted, a knowing look in his eyes. “…sooner than you think.” The hairs on the back of his neck prickled. The Slytherin spun around and threw up a Protego just in time to shield them from the incoming spell. Victor Rookwood scowled but didn’t delay in following up with a barrage of attacks. James was forced to defend and heard Natty do the same against Harlow behind him.

Rookwood was merciless and the fifteen year old was barely able to keep up with the onslaught, let alone return fire. He gritted his teeth at the unfamiliar situation. Even if he could flash around like he wanted to, he couldn’t risk leaving his friend unprotected from behind.

“Here to cut me down?” Rookwood threw out along with a nasty looking curse. James flinched at the reminder and almost failed to parry the attack.

“I’m taking you in again,” he managed in a mostly steady tone, sending a Glacius and Diffindo the dark wizard easily blocked. “And you’re going to tell me the cure to your family’s curse.” A cruel smile spread across the man’s face.

“Oh, but there isn’t one,” he returned with no small amount of sick delight, “rather defeats the purpose, no?” The fifteen year old stilled. Rookwood didn’t follow up with another attack, but instead dug deeper with his barbed words. “I thought you knew better than to be so gullible,” Rookwood tutted condescendingly. “Then again, you are still a child.” He wrestled with the building storm of anger and frustration whirling around inside. Deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out. “Your friend is as good as dead.”

“You’re lying,” he snapped. He had to be.

“Perhaps…” the dark wizard gave a casual shrug. “I could be lying now.” Blue green eyes narrowed as he scrutinized the man. “Or maybe I was lying before…Can you tell the difference?” James ground his teeth unwilling to admit that Rookwood was right. The dark wizard let out a chuckle in response to his silence. “You’re more clever than I gave credit,” he allowed after a beat, “but your inexperience still shows.”

His enemy chose that moment to strike, wand flicking up and twisting in a flash. James was jerked forward. For a split second, he saw the pendant around his neck lift up and hover in the air, before the taut chain snapped and the plain necklace flew into Rookwood’s waiting hand. No! The dark wizard tapped the inactive portkey with his wand and it crumbled into tiny pieces. The fifteen year old tensed at the sight of their escape route being destroyed.

“Let’s see you cheat death this time,” his enemy goaded. Time slowed as the tip of the man’s wand began to glow green. He could hear Natty behind him. If he dodged the oncoming attack – like his instincts were screaming at him to do – it would hit his unaware companion. His eyes darted around but there was nothing nearby big enough to block the killing curse for him to summon. He desperately yanked at the tiny pool of ancient magic – so small, nothing like the roaring inferno from before – to power a Protego, but it was slow to respond. Far too slow.

I’m going to die, he thought. The teenager braced himself and several things happened at once. There was a flash of fire in his periphery, a flurry of red dived in front of the killing curse and the jet of green light disappeared as if swallowed whole. The figure burst into a fiery ball of flames and a pile of ash dropped to the ground. Rookwood and James were both struck dumb by the surprise intervention.

“…Was that…a phoenix?” the dark wizard was the first to break the silence. The teen’s nostrils flared as righteous anger surged inside him. The magical beast he’d promised to protect was dead. For the first time, something akin to uncertainty flashed across Rookwood’s face. James raised his wand, ready to fling a truly impressive barrage of spells his way, but the man disapparated. The fifteen year old waited for the wizard to reappear elsewhere, but he didn’t. He snarled.

“Crucio!” the familiar word made his insides freeze and spun around just in time to see Natty drop to the ground with a scream.

“Petrificus Totalus!” Harlow was caught by surprise and the curse hit the dark wizard squarely in the chest. He followed it up with a stunner when his friend’s cries of pain didn’t immediately stop. That seemed to cut off the connection and her screams petered out. But the shaking didn’t. His stomach twisted in guilt as he knelt beside to her. There was no doubt in his mind that she took the torture curse head on lest he be hit with it, just like he’d been willing moments earlier with the killing curse.

“Natty!” James startled, wand jerking up towards the shout. Professor Onai was running towards him. She was closely followed by Sharp, along with a witch and wizard he didn’t recognize. He forced himself to relax and lowered his wand. His heart was still pounding, high on adrenaline. The Divination professor knelt on the ground next to her daughter, opposite him. The Potions master joined them while the unknown witch and wizard cautiously approached Harlow.

“Sir,” he directed toward Sharp, “she was hit with the Cruciatus curse.” Professor Onai made a sound of distress. The man nodded and quickly rummaged in his potions satchel. He soon pulled out a familiar brown sludge looking potion and handed it to Professor Onai. The woman bent down, speaking softly to her daughter, and managed to get the girl to drink the vile concoction. The witch and wizard from before – Aurors? – finished restraining Harlow and disapparated with their prisoner. The tremors left Natty and her breathing evened out.

James looked over his shoulder, eyes resting on the broken remains of the portkey his mentor had gifted him. He got up and went to gather the pieces. Maybe it could be fixed? The teen stopped when he realized the nearby mound of ashes was moving. He knelt down next to it just as a small wrinkled head broke free. Small dark eyes blinked up at him. He stared at the tiny flightless baby bird. Oh…right, he vaguely remembered something about phoenixes being reborn from ashes. Relief filled him. He gently cupped his hands around the small creature and lifted it out of the pile, carefully wiping it clean.

“Thank you,” he murmured. The magical beast chirped at him. A pair of leather shoes appeared next to him and he followed them up to see a displeased Sharp frowning down at him. James slowly stood up. The professor was crossing his arms in clear disapproval. The fifteen year old tucked the baby phoenix into the breast pocket of his coat. Sharp’s gaze followed the action, but he did not seem surprised by the sight of the magical bird.

“Do you have any idea,” he finally spoke, voice so low it almost grated like gravel, “how incredibly irresponsible and reckless that was?” James swallowed. Was that a rhetorical question? “You could have been killed.” Dark eyes briefly flicked down at the baby phoenix head poking out of his pocket and back to him. “In fact, you nearly were,” he corrected with a growl. “You’re not supposed to be using magic so soon after – ” the man cut himself off and scowled. It was quiet for a few of moments as the professor seemed to struggle for words. “What. were. you. thinking?” the man finally decided on. When James didn’t respond right away he gave the teen an expectant look. Oh, he actually wanted an answer this time.

“I couldn’t let Natty face them alone.”

“You shouldn’t be facing them at all. I thought you would have learned from – ” The teen failed to suppress a wince.

“Officer Singer?” he forced out woodenly. Sharp pinched the bridge of his nose and took a calming breath.

“Next time, alert the proper authorities – ”

“ – But I – ”

“ – and don’t jump in headfirst after,” the older wizard continued, completely disregarding his protest. James glowered at his feet. He hadn’t even wanted to be here in the first place. The baby phoenix burrowed deeper into his coat pocket, completely disappearing from view. Too bad he couldn't do the same. The fifteen year old scuffed the ground. He could tell Sharp it had really been Natty’s idea, but doubted that would truly appease the man. Besides, she was probably already in a load of trouble with her mom and he really didn’t want to add to it. Especially since she just took a Cruciatus curse for him.

“…Sorry.” Sharp was quiet for several moments, his gaze never leaving the teenager. Eventually he let out a long exhale of air and most of the anger drained from his tense frame.

“James,” the man crossed his arms, fingers twitching like he wanted to pinch the bridge of his nose again or grab his wand and hex something. Maybe both. “I know you’re skilled for your age, but you have been incredibly lucky so far. Someday that luck will run out and I don’t – ” his jaw clenched shut and he looked away.

He was suddenly reminded of their recent conversation. He already knew the veteran Auror had lost his partner on the job, had it been around the same time his sister and brother-in-law had been killed? The teen realized now that no grandparents had ever been mentioned. Did that mean they were dead too? Did Sharp have any other family? Or friends? What did the man do in his free time besides research?

“I’m sorry,” he repeated softly, considerably more genuine this time. The Potions master took another deep breath through his nose.

“You’re telling, Eleazar,” he finally said. James immediately grimaced.

“Do I have to?” he groaned. “I don’t want to stress him out while he’s still recovering.” Sharp twitched.

“You should have thought of that before hurtling yourself into danger,” he denied without an ounce of mercy. James grumbled but didn't argue further, he'd already seen firsthand just how stubborn the ex-Auror could be. He scooped up and pocketed the remains of the broken portkey. Sharp grasped the teenager’s shoulder. “Merlin save me from self-sacrificing idiots,” he muttered so lowly James almost missed it before apparating them away.

Fig was waiting for them back at the hospital wing. James barely had a chance to spare a glance to a sleeping Natty with her mom keeping vigil in a nearby chair, before the Potions professor kept his word. The fifteen year old haltingly told his mentor what happened, with no less than three increasingly exasperated prods from Sharp.

“You’re mad,” he fidgeted in place when his guardian didn’t speak right way.

“I’m not angry, I’m disappointed.” The fifteen year old practically wilted. That was so much worse. The entire exchange ended with James being grounded from leaving the castle. By that point he was too exhausted from the fight and cowed by the look in Fig’s eyes to truly object. The baby phoenix chose this moment to poke its tiny wrinkled head out of his coat pocket, almost triggering another lecture.

Notes:

lol can you imagine? This teenager comes along and takes on trolls and Ashwinders with little to no effort, presumably kills Ranrok (a goblin that wields a power even Rookwood can’t counter). And just when it looks like he’s finally going to rid himself of this nuisance, a phoenix swoops down out of nowhere.

Rookwood moments before apparating away: Merlin’s trousers what else can this kid do??

Also *gasp* any guesses on which part Rookwood is lying about? 👀

Chapter 50: Interlude - Eleazar Fig & Aesop Sharp

Notes:

extra-long chapter incoming because Fig and Sharp would not shut up

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Eleazar woke up with snatches of half-remembered memories swirling in his head.

"Not yet, my love. You are still needed."

He recalled the faint sensation of ghostly hands cradling his face. Miriam. He was almost certain he’d been talking to her just now. Except… He cracked his eyes open and realized that he was in the Hogwarts hospital wing. The faded daydream drifted away as he slowly pushed himself into a sitting position. A flash of red – fire? – in his periphery startled him, but when he turned his head there was nothing there. His attention was soon captured by Noreen and Matilda standing a few beds away talking lowly. The school nurse was the first to notice his conscious state and quickly approached him, the Deputy Headmistress in tow.

“How are you feeling, Eleazar?” Nurse Blainey asked as her wand went through a number of diagnostic spells.

“A little tired,” he hummed thoughtfully, mentally taking stock. A few aches and pains maybe, nothing significant though. “But I feel alright. Thank you, Noreen.” The woman huffed softly.

“It’s not me you should be thanking.” He blinked and looked to Matilda for clarification.

“Apparently a phoenix was involved,” the Transfiguration professor supplied with a small smile, equal parts relieved and amused. “Your ward is quite resourceful.” James had a phoenix? Since when? Pride unfurled inside him. Of course he did. The boy had a whole menagerie of rescued beasts. If anyone had the temperament and patience to tame a phoenix, it would be James. His eyes drifted back to the direction he’d previously seen the burst of color. Matilda followed his gaze. “I suspect it left to inform him that you’re awake. He hasn’t left your side since the battle.”

“Where is he?” he asked, bothered by the teenager’s absence. James wasn’t one to change his mind once it was set. If he wasn’t here…

“Aesop convinced him leave,” Noreen provided, finishing her examination. She paused and her expression twisted. There was a clear look of indecision on her face.

“What is it?”

“He’s fine now,” the nurse preempted. “I expect Mr. Evans will make a fully recovery.” Worry and dread filled him.

“What happened?”

“He almost drained his magical reserves,” Noreen informed him. “His system was practically empty, nearly gave me a fright.” His stomach dropped like a stone. As the Magical Theory professor, he was quite versed in the consequences of complete magical exhaustion. His hands gripped the bed sheets tight. “Like I said he’s alright now,” Nurse Blainey tacked on, noting his spike of distress. “That boy is quite resilient. He just needs rest. Avoiding the use of magic for the next few days – maybe a week – will aid significantly.” Fig let out a slow breath and nodded. James wouldn’t like that – he was always up to something – but he’d just have to deal with the inconvenience. Matilda looked like she was about to say something else, probably something to do with the repository, but she was cut off.

“Professor!” His chest warmed at the sound of his ward’s voice. There was a blur and suddenly he was being squeezed tight. Most of the air was knocked out of him but he returned the embrace anyway. The two witches left to provide mentor and protégé some privacy to catch up. They were only interrupted twice during James’ retelling of recent events. The first was a burst of flames right over the metal bed frame. Eleazar blinked into the dark eyes of a phoenix. At first he didn't dare move, concerned about startling the magical bird. He’d never seen one before with his own eyes, let alone so close. If he reached out his hand could touch the shimmering feathers.

“What a magnificent creature," he exhaled softly. The phoenix, as if it could understand him, began to preen. After a moment of deliberation, he added, “I’m told I owe you my thanks.” The magical beast trilled and flapped its wings. The second was Sharp, who settled in the armchair on the other side of his bed. The man remained quiet as James recounted his tale, but the fifteen year old began to falter towards the end – particularly after his victory against Ranrok. When Aesop took over, it soon became clear why.

The news about the Auror team wasn’t surprising, they’d need to figure how much of James’ role should be revealed. Victor Rookwood was still at large, and Fig wasn’t confident the Ministry wouldn’t make a move on the repository if they found out about it. When James asked about Ranrok, Aesop’s eyes flicked over to him. He could guess by the look on the man’s face what the outcome was and the silent question. As much as he’d rather avoid the conversation, he knew the teenager well enough that if his questions weren’t answered here, James would go searching elsewhere. He gave an almost imperceptible nod.

The veteran Auror had recently begun to defer to him when it came to recognizing James’ limits. Fig knew his triggers and boundaries best, so it made sense. He just wasn’t used to his colleague acknowledging it. He kept this firmly in mind when his ward revealed that yes, Sharp was indeed the boy’s uncle. It was no longer a matter of what if.

The first thing he did was squash the urge to glare at the Potions professor – it helped when the other wizard turned his head away as if to give them a semblance of privacy. It was a childish reaction – obviously that discussion would happen between the two – but part of him wished he’d been present for it. The second thing he did was suppress the anxiety that threatened to leak out on his face. James had become just as skilled at reading him and – despite his personal feelings on the matter – he really didn’t want to get in the way of the boy’s only remaining blood tie before it even had the chance to grow. Eleazar’s heart swelled in his chest when James indirectly called him family. For the boy to even make such a comparison, highlighted just how far he’d come since they’d first met.

As much as he wanted to keep his ward close, there remained some things that needed to be addressed without the teenager present. So he gently shooed James out, encouraging him to check in with his friends. Neither professor spoke while the fifteen year old shuffled out, throwing glances over his shoulder, waiting until there was no risk of him overhearing their conversation.

“It wasn’t planned,” was the first thing Sharp said, almost defensively. Fig turned his head towards the Potions master. The man was still crossing his arms, which conflicted with his deceptively relaxed posture, eyes focused on the phoenix. The magical bird silently cleaned its feathers, content to entirely ignore them.

“…I believe you,” he answered, catching the slight loosening of tensed shoulders. Despite the numerous headaches the veteran Auror had caused him, he knew objectively it largely stemmed from concern – that hadn’t made it any less frustrating to deal with though.

“James expressed an interest in staying with you,” the Potions master continued, addressing his biggest worry. “I have no objections.”

Really?” he blurted out incredulously. After all those arguments pertaining to the teenager’s well-being? The jabs about Fig being a lacking guardian? The other wizard cleared his throat and nearly squirmed in his seat – the out of character behavior would have made him laugh if it wasn’t painfully reminiscent of his ward.

“So long as he’s safe and happy,” Sharp tacked on. He nodded at the reasonable condition.

“Given your…interest, I thought you would want to take on a larger role?”

“He needs stability.” Which was unexpectedly insightful coming from someone with no experience in child-rearing. That wasn't fair, he mentally amended. Surely he had some interaction with James as a toddler?

“Not what I asked.” The other professor frowned at him, but Fig wasn’t easily dissuaded. He needed to know what Sharp wanted.

“I’ll take on whatever role he needs me to,” Aesop gave a casual wave completely at odds with his pinched expression. “I’m not going to force anything. Besides you’re…” there was a brief pause as he seemed to flounder for a few seconds. “He’s more comfortable with you.” The man’s jaw tightened after that and he went back to watching the phoenix, giving Eleazar time to parse through the explanation and study the other professor. Sharp shifted minutely after a few beats of silence like he’d just stopped himself from fidgeting. Oh, he thought after a moment of realization.

“I have an unfair advantage,” he huffed softly. The ex-Auror’s brow furrowed slightly, curious gaze drifting back to him. “I think,” he added slowly as if testing the words, “had you been in the same position, he’d be just as attached to you.” The Potions master hummed quietly, face pensive.

“You make it look so easy.” A startled laugh escaped him and Aesop’s mouth curled into a small smile. “You do,” he insisted. “I can barely get him to talk to me some days.”

“Believe me, I know,” Fig couldn’t help but commiserate “…Whatever you’re doing seems to be working though.” He rolled his eyes at the disbelieving look sent his way. “Professor Sharp complimented my potion making skills today,” he offered in his best James imitation. “Professor Sharp is teaching me nonverbal spells. Sebastian won’t shut up about me being Professor Sharp’s favorite. Why don’t more people ask Professor Sharp for help?” A pleased expression worked its way across the retired Auror’s face. “Honestly, Aesop, James talks about you every week. I think he’s plenty comfortable with you.” The man in question actually flushed and broke eye contact.

Eleazar was reminded that despite the impressive reputation and rumors surrounding the Potions master, Aesop was barely in his thirties. He was the second youngest professor, only conceding the number one spot to Mirabel Garlick by a handful of years. The room was quiet for a several moments, but it was more relaxed than before.

“Ellie and Henry set up a trust fund,” the other wizard eventually volunteered with a note of hesitance. It took him a few seconds to understand what the man was getting at. That had to be over a decade ago.

“You never – ”

“ – No.”

“You don’t need to – ” a stubborn expression began to form “ – I suppose we can figure that out later.” Sharp’s posture loosened at the concession. “…How did he take it? The news?” His ward hadn’t really voiced his thoughts on the matter. He wasn’t sure if that was because of Aesop’s presence, or maybe it was an attempt to spare Eleazar’s feelings.

“About as well as could be expected,” the man hedged. “He didn’t seem bothered by the idea.” It probably hadn’t sunk in yet, Fig mused. There was something in the way his colleague was holding himself and the way he delivered the answer that pulled at his attention.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.” He could have left it there. He had no desire to pry into the younger professor’s business. But this was James’ uncle and something was clearly troubling him.

“Doesn’t seem like it,” he commented, tone neutral. Sharp’s expression twisted but he didn’t snap like Eleazar half-expected. The man shifted again before exhaling.

“He didn’t ask about them,” he admitted so lowly Fig almost missed it. “I thought he would but – ”

*********

It was a foolish expectation to have, Aesop realized. James was too young to remember his parents. Ellie and Henry were essentially strangers to the boy. And that really hurt. The pair had been so excited when they’d learned of his nephew’s imminent arrival, eagerly preparing the nursery and absorbing any piece of child-rearing knowledge they could get their hands on. Ellie had practically glowed with anticipation during his visits – when she was no longer suffering from morning sickness – and Henry had lit up with the same level of excitement. The couple had playfully bickered who their son would take after more. Which Hogwarts house he would be sorted into. Which branch of magic he would be the most exceptional at. In the end, they’d only had three short years with their son before being ripped away.

“…Does James know he can?” Eleazar asked. Aesop frowned at the question. Of course he could, the fifteen year old had a right to know. He said as much. The Magical Theory professor waved the words away. “Yes, I know – I meant…James has never once asked about Miriam, but it’s not from lack of curiosity. He’s rather…sensitive…about bringing up departed family.” The Potions master considered the explanation. That would be consistent with the boy’s reticence to mention his own. As frustrating as Eleazar could be, his insight on James was often helpful.

“I see,” he murmured. He’d have to find a way to tell the fifteen year old then without making the teenager feel pressured to do so. He shelved the thought for later. “There was something else I wanted to ask you.” He glanced at the hospital wing’s entrance and the closed door leading to Noreen’s quarters to ensure they were still alone.

“Oh?”

“The underage apparition.” His face pinched in thought. “Or…whatever he’s doing.”

“Yes, I noticed that too,” Fig hummed, lips pressed into a thin line. “It doesn’t seem to follow the typical rules.” Which was an understatement to say the least. The sound (or lack thereof), the flash of light, the speed – all indicators that James was doing something different. Not to mention how the fifteen year old could manage it back to back without missing a step. Sharp considered himself fairly proficient at apparating – his job as an Auror had demanded it – but even he would be hard pressed to transport himself at the same speed and regularity.

“You think he’s using ancient magic to do it?”

“I do.” Aesop wondered if the teenager’s modified way of apprating could be tracked by normal means. “And you’re certain he was trying to get to you?”

“Yes.” Eleazar was rubbing his chin.

“Curious,” the older professor mused faintly. “Until today, I was under the impression that James had shown no signs of magic before – ” He stopped abruptly causing Sharp to narrow his eyes. Fig cleared his throat. “Before the age of fifteen,” he amended. The Potions master resisted the urge to press the man for more details. James had already hinted that something traumatic had happened to his family the same night he’d discovered his magic.

“Was his life in danger?” he asked instead. It certainly had been the first time.

“…Yes.”

“That would meet the requirements then,” Aesop deliberated, not taking his eyes off the Magical Theory professor. “Although I’ve noticed he still has outbursts every so often.”

“I believe it’s a side effect of his late maturation,” Eleazar nodded. “From what I can tell, James has the reserves of a full grown adult, but at the development stage of an eleven year old.” The Potions master blinked.

“You don’t mean – ”

“ – That his magical capacity is still growing? Absolutely.” Sharp was quiet for several seconds.

“...That’s mildly terrifying,” he admitted. The fifteen year old’s fight with Ranrok had been a sight to behold. The scale of power and destruction had made him feel insignificant in way nothing else had before. To think that the boy’s reserves could become even larger was difficult to wrap his mind around. That didn’t make the teenager unbeatable though. He was still annoyed at himself for failing to keep James safe from Rookwood outside Ollivanders. Thank Merlin for that portkey. A laugh escaped the older wizard.

“Indeed, Professor Rackham may know more,” Aesop scowled at the mention of one of the Keepers. “He and Isidora started late as fifth years as well. I believe the primary reason James didn’t show any accidental magic growing up was because his body couldn’t afford to. It didn’t have the usual surplus to expend a normal magical child would.” The veteran Auror made a noise of agreement.

“So, not a result of trauma then?” he verified, shoulders relaxing. After the fire, Sharp had sought to check the Hogwarts admission records just in case. The headmistress at the time, Eupraxia Mole, had been sympathetic and checked the Book of Admittance for him to confirm that no, Jamerson had not been written down – nor any variation thereof. It had shattered the last fragment of hope he’d been holding onto like a sledgehammer.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, given the nature of – ” he gestured vaguely, not really wanting to say it out loud. “Children are known to suppress upsetting memories,” he recalled from his years as an Auror. And really what could be more shocking for a three year old than to see their mother attacked? To hear her dying screams? Aesop swallowed and shoved away the sickening thought. “I thought – maybe – he did the same to his magic. Since the attack was magical.” Fig was quiet for a moment.

“He’s not an Obscurial,” the Magical Theory said, though not unkindly.

“I know that,” he retorted, even if the declaration soothed that particular fear. “I just meant…He could have – subconsciously – felt the need to hide.” Eleazar frowned but didn’t immediately dismiss the idea. “You said this ancient magic is intent based, right? I don’t know if you’ve ever met a toddler, but they tend to be very – ”

“Yes, I understand,” the other wizard lifted a halting hand. The room fell silent as both men reigned in their frustration.

“I don’t know,” Fig eventually broke it while rubbing his temples. “Maybe. It’s such a unique circ*mstance and there’s hardly any records to support either theory.” The older professor dropped his hands back down with a sigh and looked at him. “I think the important thing to keep in mind is that James is here now – safe.”

“Yes.” That much they could agree on. He left shortly after so Eleazar could rest. The older man was mostly healed thanks to the phoenix tears, but he was still recovering from a near-death experience.

Later that evening he stopped by the hospital wing to pick up their conversation. The Aurors would be returning soon and the three of them would need to be on the same page. Fig was in the middle of pointing out that they should call Professor Weasley to loop her in when the phoenix perched on the bed railing abruptly disappeared in a flash of fire. Sharp closed his eyes in exasperation when it didn’t reappear.

“Deek,” he called out. The house-elf appeared a moment later. “Do you know where James is?” Deek shook his head and popped away to find out.

Your ward had better not be in trouble again,” he growled.

“Don’t you mean your nephew?” Eleazar raised an eyebrow.

“No. He definitely learned it from you.” They were interrupted by another displacement of air. But it wasn't Deek. Instead a familiar house-elf wearing a straw hat was peering up at both of them.

“Please excuse Penny,” the creature wrung her hands. “James asked Penny to give you this.” She produced a small bit of parchment and offered it to him. He quickly accepted and skimmed the scrawled note.

I have a lead on Harlow. Meet me near Manor Cape.

He stilled. Harlow? As in Theophilus Harlow? Victor Rookwood’s second in command? His nostrils flared and he shoved the piece of paper at Fig to read. Naturally, this was when two Aurors were escorted into the Hospital wing by Professor Onai.

“Excuse me,” the unfamiliar witch spoke. “We’re here to – ”

“ – Not now,” Aesop snapped, mind whirling. He needed his potions satchel, but it was all the way in his classroom. Why had he left it there? He didn’t have time to waste. If only he could – oh, right. He called Deek back to fetch it. Eleazar, meanwhile, was briefing the two Aurors and Divination professor – who looked particularly displeased – on the situation. “Let’s go,” he said once his bag was in hand, and the four of them hurried to the nearest Floo.

Not a day after leaving the hospital wing and James was already hunting down dark wizards. Even Henry hadn’t managed such a record. How in Merlin’s name had the teenager not been sorted into Hufflepuff like his father?

Notes:

If you’re familiar with Naruto, think of James’ capacity to wield ancient magic similar to a jinchūriki’s built up tolerance to demonic chakra. I imagine that’s a big reason why those able to wield ancient magic 1. Have to be born with it (babies tend to have the highest plasticity) giving them the required nature to not die from it. 2. Are such late bloomers because their bodies need time to adjust/build up a tolerance to the unrefined power of ancient magic.

Fun fact: according to lore, children must perform accidental magic more than once for the Book of Admittance to allow the Quill of Acceptance to write their name down. This is supposedly to prevent mistakes (like admitting a Squib). Two examples of accidental/underage magic we’re given that I’m primarily drawing from are Neville Longbottom and Harry Potter.

Neville performed his first bout of accidental magic as a baby, but no one saw it. He doesn’t perform underage magic again – despite the incredibly stressful situations he’s put into – until he’s 8 (typically any child showing no signs of magic by 7 is considered a Squib).

Harry is another character that has absolutely no knowledge of magic but still performs it instinctively to protect himself in stressful situations. He also has a few outbursts even after getting his wand, showing a precedent how accidental magic can be closely tied to trauma. This is additionally supported by the existence of Obscurials – however they must be aware of magic in order to form an Obscurus.

James too falls outside the normal criteria of underage magic:
1. His connection to ancient magic allows him to perform impressive feats if his intent is strong enough
2. Mixed with underage/accidental magic triggering in stressful/life threatening situations
3. He experienced a very traumatic event during a key period of development (mentally, emotionally, magically, etc.) and suppression is a pretty common coping mechanism (which ties back into intent)
4. There was no one around to teach him about magic when he was old enough to fully grasp the idea, and the two remaining authority figures in his life told him the dreams with magic in them were not real

Chapter 51

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The Aurors returned later to get James’ statement – asking about his involvement with both the Ashwinders and the near Hogwarts invasion. The wizard let his partner take the lead, behavior clear that he would rather be anywhere else. The witch was fairly thorough with her questions, but it seemed to be more a matter of professionalism than actual interest. They briefly spoke with Natty too before taking their leave and the Gryffindor girl was released from the hospital wing later that same day.

After another twenty four hours confirmed that his mentor was clearly on the road to recovery – Nurse Blainey insisted on another day of observation despite Fig’s protests – James was sufficiently confident to leave the man long enough to head all the way down the Map Chamber. Sharp joined him, unwilling to let the teenager out of his sight. Once the Keepers had been fully informed of Ranrok’s failed attack and demise, Professor Rackham instructed the fifteen year old how to repair the two broken Pensieve guardians and reseal the repository doors, which just left the hole in security beneath the school. Sharp was quick to voice that particular issue was already being handled. He must mean Professor Weasley, the teen thought as she was the only staff member he’d seen the veteran Auror and his mentor speak to at length since the battle.

“There’s one more thing,” he said after receiving a smattering of praise for his recent efforts, blue green eyes drifting to Charles Rookwood’s portrait. “You remember, Victor Rookwood?”

“Yes, my unfortunate descendent,” the Keeper frowned at the reminder.

“He cursed a girl earlier this year,” the teenager continued, watching the man’s face closely for any sign that he should stop. “He previously told me that it was an old family curse and tried to use the cure as leverage. Except during our last encounter he claimed that there wasn’t a cure.” The portrait hummed with narrowed eyes. “Sir, can you confirm which is true?” Rookwood was silent for several moments as he scrutinized James, who did his very best to maintain a calm and collected exterior – and not remind him of Isidora in any way.

“…Describe it,” the Keeper decided on. He let out a slow breath and did so. Sharp even added a few comments from his own involvement and observations. The tightness around Rookwood’s eyes lessened, as if satisfied that James wasn’t pursing this endeavor alone without any supervision. “That does sound familiar,” the portrait sighed, “although it was not nearly as…unforgiving during my time.” His composure cracked for the first time.

“Does…does that mean you can’t help?” he asked quietly. Charles Rookwood studied him again for a handful of seconds before - possibly - taking pity on him.

“I cannot tell you if there is a cure,” the Keeper shook his head, “because during my time there was not. And even if there had been, it’s quite possible the curse has been so refined it would no longer be effective.” His stomach dropped at the news and he tried to hide his disappointment. Judging by the look he received, he was not completely successful. “I can - however - tell you the intent behind it when my great uncle created the spell.” He added with a tilt of his head.

“With all due respect, sir,” the teen offered, “I’m not sure how that would help?”

“Knowing the why behind a problem can be just as important to the how when searching for a solution,” Rookwood lectured, seemingly more amused than upset by the question. “The original purpose was to incapacitate by taking over the witch or wizard’s magical system. It would wear off naturally depending on the strength and will of both parties involved.”

“Until it was made lethal,” Sharp muttered rubbing his chin in thought.

“Yes,” the portrait’s expression darkened. “Originally it was only meant to infiltrate the system to the point of immobility.”

“What do you mean infiltrate?” James asked. He’d never heard of someone describe a curse in that way before.

“Perhaps that’s not the best way to explain it,” the Keeper amended. “My uncle was a wizard who preferred subtly and trickery as most duelists expect more direct attacks.” That actually sounded pretty clever, the fifteen year old admitted to himself. “Instead of depending on the need to overpower his adversary’s magical ability, the spell was meant to look like a failed attempt. In reality, it entered their magical system undetected and used their own network to spread until they were incapacitated.” Something niggled at the back of his mind the longer their discussion continued. A silent condition that infiltrated and took over the body? Drained it of all strength until there was nothing left? That sounded awfully familiar. He’d seen it before, or at least something like it.

“So the intent for the curse – ”

“ – Technically it was merely a hex at the time – ”

“ – spell,” James resisted the urge to roll his eyes, “was to take advantage of the victim’s own magical system? And their body couldn’t stop it because – well – it would be like trying to fight against itself, right?” Charles Rookwood’s face brightened.

“Precisely,” he nodded, sounding pleased. “…Your mentor was right about you,” the portrait added after a thoughtful pause. He barely registered the unexpected compliment, mind whirling at the implications. The village blacksmith had been struck down with a mysterious illness that seemed to behave in a very similar way. The burly man had been reduced to a frail skeleton in less than a year as the life was sapped from his body. The fifteen year had seen firsthand the effects of the unknown disease. He knew more than most of the villagers – except the ailing man’s family – just how quickly and thoroughly it had reduced the former metal worker into a shadow of himself before claiming his life. His dad and the village blacksmith had often worked together since their crafts closely aligned and more often than not depended on their coordination. Having no sons, James had often assisted the dying blacksmith where he could in his limited capacity and free time.

“But…how do you – I mean,” slipped out before he snapped his jaw shut. He took a few breaths to calm down. It helped him bury the inner turmoil. “Um, thank you, sir,” he settled on. He needed to speak to Professor Fig, without a Keeper audience.

Now.

*********

I’m an idiot, thought James as he flipped through Anne’s logbook in the hospital wing. How had he not noticed the pattern before? The symptoms even followed a familiar progression! The curse didn’t seem to have the same level of aggression as whatever the illness the former blacksmith had though – could that be due to Anne’s magical ability? Or perhaps the potion Sharp had created? The professor had recently taken the girl’s feedback and tried to make it even more effective. She was currently taking the third variant. From what he had heard the treatment had slowed the curse and diminished the pain by a significant degree. But it hadn’t halted it completely. The potion had only bought them more time. He let out another sigh. A hand gently rested on his crisscrossed knee. The teenager jerked up from his hunched position to look at his mentor.

“What is it, James?” the man asked, like he could sense the teenager’s thoughts. James returned the logbook to an equally expectant Sharp sitting nearby.

“I’ve seen this before,” he finally shared, “back home…well, something like it.” He told them about the unnamed illness that had taken the blacksmith’s life, but not before turning the once bear of a man into a mere husk.

“It sounds like a muggle disease,” said the ex-Auror. “It’s incredibly unlikely that he was actually suffering from the same – ”

“ – I know that,” James impatiently waved the words away. “But you can’t deny the similarities.” Sharp’s mouth thinned but he gave a reluctant nod. "It’s as if his body has turned against him," a doctor had said, unable to find the cause. Later there had been suspicion, especially from the more devout villagers. Whispers of divine punishment had spread. Years of service to the community seemingly forgotten in the face of the unknown. It had made James resentful how easily so-called friends could turn like that. The oldest daughter had spent more and more time outside of the village to avoid the stares and hushed rumors. He missed those shared afternoons on the riverbank. It felt like a lifetime ago.

“James.” The teen was yanked back to the present.

“How do you remove something that can’t be detected?” he asked, anxiety spiking again. The hand on his knee pressed down, as if to ground him.

“Each magical signature is unique,” his guardian explained. “My guess is that either the curse is faint enough to escape normal means of detection.” James frowned. Considering the severity of Anne’s symptoms before treatment, that didn’t sound likely. “Or its signature is close enough to the host to avoid notice. The trick, is knowing what to look for in order to spot the difference.”

“How do you do that?”

“I’m afraid that’s not my area of expertise,” Fig’s expression turned apologetic. “But I imagine it would take someone with a high level of sensitivity to pull apart the magical signatures.”

“Like a curse-breaker?” he asked. James wondered if he should reach out to Mr. Rabe again.

“Perhaps,” his mentor hummed. The fifteen year old immediately stood up to send an owl to the Gringotts curse-breaker. If he hurried, he could make it back from the school owlery before sunset. Sharp straightened in his seat.

“James,” the man began.

“It’s on school grounds,” he snapped and flushed at the twin unimpressed looks he received. “I’ll come right back,” he hastily added. Lady Luck seemed to smile upon him because not a second later Poppy Sweeting poked her head into the hospital wing.

“There you are, James! I – ” she halted her approach upon noticing the two frowning professors. The Hufflepuff awkwardly cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, am I interrupting?”

“No!” he instantly denied. “I was just leaving.” Fig opened his mouth. “Actually,” the teenager tacked on. “I was just heading to the Owlery. Mind joining me?” Poppy - bless her - went along with it.

“Sure.”

“Great!” he returned with a too wide smile. The girl gave a startled blink but didn't say anything. “There,” he said to the silent professors, “not alone. I’m sure we’ll be perfectly fine on school grounds.” Sharp wasn’t looking at him though, but his Hufflepuff friend. Dark eyes studied her with something akin to suspicion.

“Alright,” his mentor eventually sighed. “But hurry back, it’s almost dinnertime.” James bolted out of the room - dragging a bewildered Poppy along - before either man could change their mind.

*********

Thankfully, Poppy Sweeting did not comment on the weird encounter. Instead – once they were clear of the castle and it was just the two of them – she shared an update on the golden snidgets they’d found (the original reason she’d sought him out). James, in return, showed her the baby phoenix still nestled in his coat pocket. She cooed at the sleeping bird. The fifteen year old had since brushed up on his knowledge on the magical creatures. Phoenixes were very fond of warmth, especially after being reborn. Until he could set something up in the Room of Requirement, he had decided to keep the baby bird on his person. The creature seemed perfectly content to remain in his pocket and soak up the body warmth.

The letter was quickly drafted and sent off. Task accomplished, the pair of them headed back towards the castle.

“You haven’t been in the Great Hall,” Poppy expressed, tone curious. He couldn’t help but tense ever so slightly. James had done his utmost to avoid the school population after Ranrok’s failed invasion. If he heard the title ‘Hero of Hogwarts’ again, it would be too soon. He really hoped it didn’t stick. “I mean – not that you have to,” the girl backtracked when she noted his sudden discomfort, “It’s just – no one has seen you lately and I was – um – worried. And then I heard about Rookwood and Harlow – ”

“It’s fine,” he let out a huff, shoulders relaxing. Poppy's cheeks reddened, probably due to the winter wind. The sun hung low in the sky, nearly kissing the horizon.

“…I could grab you something?” she offered. “So you don’t miss dinner.” His mouth stretched into a wide – much more genuine than before – smile.

“Thanks Poppy, but I’ve got it handled.”

“Oh, okay,” she ducked her head down, cheeks flushing even more. He picked up the pace so they could escape the cold bite of the air.

“Actually,” he said after a few moments of silence. “I have a better idea.” His companion perked up. “Have you ever visited the school kitchen?”

“What?” her eyes widened. “I mean – no, I haven’t.”

“We’d better fix that,” he grinned. “Come on.” They made a quick detour back to the hospital wing to appease Fig and Sharp. Then the Slytherin and Hufflepuff pair raced off to find Sebastian, Ominis, and Natty. The group of teenagers made their way down to the Hogwarts kitchen, waiting for a gap in the flow of students to sneak in without being noticed. James didn’t want the secret room to become too well known. Soon enough they were settled at one of the tables with a small spread of entrees, snacks, desserts, and drinks.

“I can’t believe I never knew about this place,” Sebastian complained once again as he downed his third pumpkin pastry. Ominis, sitting next to the other teen, rolled his eyes and selected a mouthwatering treacle tart.

“Its existence isn’t much of a secret,” he scoffed. “The location, on the other hand…”

“How did you learn of it, James?” Natty asked from across the table. Poppy nodded in agreement next to her, but the Hufflepuff’s mouth was full of pumpkin juice.

“Professor Fig told me about it.”

Really?” Sebastian’s brow pinched. “Why would he do that?” James shrugged.

“Because I’m his favorite.” Poppy choked on her drink and Natty immediately began to pat her back. The corner of Ominis’ mouth curled up and Sebastian sputtered.

“How is it you’ve been here less than a year, and all the professors like you so much?” his housemate protested.

“I’m sure not having a reputation of rule-breaking for the past four years helps,” Ominis commented dryly which earned him a scowl and light shove. James elbowed his friend in response.

“Don’t pick on him for stating facts, Sebastian,” he teased.

“You must admit they have a point, Sallow,” Natty chimed in, the corner of her mouth twitching. Poppy covered her mouth after something that sounded suspiciously like laughter slipped out.

“Yes, clearly Ominis is the one being ganged up on,” Sebastian crossed his arms and sulked in his seat.

“I hear it builds character,” said Slytherin remarked without an ounce of mercy, polishing off his dessert.

“I hate you all,” Sebastian muttered.

“No you don’t,” James bumped their shoulders and reached for another frosted pastry. His friend grumbled lowly but didn’t disagree.

They spent the next few hours in the kitchen and James felt lighter than he’d felt in a long time. The heavy pressure of recent events began to drift away like a passing storm.

Notes:

Wow I can’t believe it’s been over 2 months you guys, since this got updated :/

Appreciate all the comments/kudos/etc.! Had to prioritize some other stuff so didn’t have the time/motivation to write much but I’m trying to get back into swing of it :) Next chapter is already outlined, so shouldn’t be nearly as long a wait lol.

Fun fact: Sharp has not forgotten the dragon comment during the 4th trial and Poppy has a reputation of her own

Chapter 52

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

James hadn’t realized just how often he left Hogwarts until he was restricted to the castle. He rotated between the Undercroft, the kitchen, and the Room of Requirement to prevent himself from going stir-crazy with mixed results. Spending the majority of his hours indoors was weird when most of his life growing up was spent outdoors in the woods. He had plenty of people to distract him though. Both Professor Fig and Sharp insisted on daily practice lessons – focusing on theory in their respective specialties since he wasn’t supposed to be using his magic. And classes were scheduled to resume soon. In the meantime, he spent the rest of his time split between research projects, catching up on schoolwork, and spending time with his friends. The sudden downtime was weird but kind of nice after all the nonstop running around and fighting to stop Ranrok.

The impromptu lockdown had one other unexpected effect.

“Go, go, go!” James hissed as he sprinted down the hall, dragging Ominis along by the sleeve. Sebastian – a couple steps ahead of them – looked back over his shoulder.

“Is he – ”

“ – Shh!” The trio dashed around the corner and hurriedly slipped into the secret entrance leading to the Undercroft. Safe from prying eyes and ears, they finally stopped to catch their breathes.

“He’s going to murder us,” James was the first to speak.

“No he won’t,” Sebastian quickly denied. “Nobody even saw us, the sun is barely up.”

“No, seriously,” James shook his head. “When he finds out – ”

“ – you mean if he finds out,” his best friend had the gall to laugh.

“He’s the headmaster, Sebastian. Of course he’s going to find out!” James argued hotly.

“I can’t believe I let you two talk me into this,” Ominis moaned to himself.

“Don’t be so dramatic, Ominis,” Sallow rolled his eyes, surprisingly at ease for a dead man walking.

“He has every right to be concerned,” James stubbornly crossed his arms. “This was a terrible idea!”

“Hey, you thought it was a great idea,” Sebastian reminded him with an accusatory finger. “Yesterday you said, and I quote – ”

“ – I’ve been stuck in this castle for an entire week! Remember?” he threw his hands up in the air. “Clearly my decision-making has been compromised. Besides, it wasn’t supposed to hit Black! It was supposed to – ”

“ – This is even better – ”

“ – How is this better?

“I can never look him in the eye again,” Ominis muttered, completely ignoring the other two, as he cradled his head in his hands.

“Don’t worry, Ominis. No one actually expects you to look them in the eye.”

“Sebastian!” James smacked his housemate’s arm.

“What? It’s true.”

“You can’t just say things like that!”

“He knows what I mean. Right, Ominis?” Said Slytherin was doing a remarkable impression of Professor Sharp after one of Garreth’s potions experiments had gone awry.

“Oh my God,” James buried his face in his hands.

“Look, everyone will think it was Garreth anyway,” Sallow waved his hands, as if the casual gesture could dismiss all their impending problems. “We’ll just lay low for a while until it blows over.”

“Sebastian,” Ominis glared in the teenager’s direction, “we all know you are incapable of doing such a thing.” The accused teenager instantly clutched his chest in mock pain.

“Wow. That really hurts, Ominis. Right here…Oh I forgot, my hand is on my chest because – ” James slapped his hand over his friend’s mouth before he could get another word out. The glare directed at the now silenced Slytherin morphed into a full-blown glower.

“When the headmaster finds out, I will not defend you.” Sebastian made a face beneath his hand – it was his only warning – and then something wet was touching the palm.

“Argh!” he immediately yanked his hand away like the appendage had been set on fire. “That’s disgusting!”

“What?” the glower disappeared, making way for confusion. “What happened?”

“How old are you? Five?” James scowled as he wiped his hand dry on Sallow’s sleeve. It was well-deserved.

“Can’t argue with results,” Sebastian gave a boneless shrug, looking way too pleased with himself. “If it works, it works.”

“He licked my hand,” he finally muttered for Ominis’ benefit. A look of disgust quickly spread across the blond’s face. “Unbelievable.” James stomped over to the Slytherin green couch.

“Where are you going?” Sebastian called after him.

“Away from you!” he threw over his shoulder.

“Now who's acting like a five year old!”

“You both sound like five year olds,” Ominis muttered. The three of them spent almost half the day in their secret hideout before daring to poke their heads out again. The entire school was – as expected – buzzing like a kicked over hornet’s nest.

*********

Two days later everyone was still talking about it – in the Great Hall, in the hallways, even in Potions class much to Professor Sharp’s consternation. The veteran Auror was forced to continually make rounds among the students to minimize distractions. He’d already prevented three explosions in the first half hour alone.

“I still can’t believe someone hit Black with a Dungbomb!” Samantha Dale hissed lowly from one station over. James resolutely did not look at Sebastian or Ominis. Likewise, his friends remained completely dedicated to their own potions.

I can’t believe they haven’t been caught yet,” Poppy answered with a note of awe in her voice.

“Garreth keeps saying it wasn’t him,” Dale continued, shooting the boy in question a considering look.

It wasn’t!” the Gryffindor was quick to attest with a glare, after ensuring Sharp was on the other end of the classroom. “Potions are my area of expertise.”

“That’s a stretch,” someone muttered. James kept his gaze fixated on his cauldron and textbook, meticulously putting together the Calming Draught he’d been assigned.

“I heard it was Peeves,” a classmate further down shared, “getting back at the headmaster for something he did as a student.”

“No, I heard it was one of the ghosts.” Unfortunately for them, the pair weren’t quiet enough and quickly garnered Professor Sharp’s attention. “Because he – sorry, sir!” James glanced over his shoulder in time to see the Potions master glaring at the gossiping classmate. As if sensing his gaze, Sharp turned his head towards the Slytherin. James snapped back to his cauldron before they made eye contact and concentrated on finishing his potion. Thankfully class soon ended without any further incidents. The three of them quickly gathered their things to make their escape.

“Mr. Evans, Mr. Sallow, and Mr. Gaunt,” the veteran Auror called out as they made a beeline to the door. The trio stilled and slowly turned towards the professor. The rest of their class trickled out the door – some even sending sympathetic looks – as the man gestured for them to join him at the front of the room. They reluctantly did so. Sharp crossed his arms and leaned against the table he often used as a desk.

“Is there something the three of you would like to tell me?” he asked, tone deceptively mild. The three teenagers shook their heads. “Are you sure?”

“What do you mean, sir?” James dared to ask, making him the primary target of the professor’s attention.

“I find it odd,” Sharp drawled, dark eyes narrowed, “that my entire class had difficulty concentrating on their cauldrons today save for the three of you.”

“Wait – are we in trouble for actually staying on task?” James felt his eyebrows raise.

“Should you be?”

“…That sounds like a trick question, sir.” The Potions master gave an unimpressed hum. He stared them down for a few more seconds like his glare alone would make them crack. They withstood it admirably.

“Mr. Sallow, do you have anything to add?”

“No, professor.”

“Hmm, Mr. Gaunt?”

“Dinner will be starting soon, sir,” Ominis spoke, voice even, “and we still need to stop by the common room.” The corner of James’ mouth twitched dangerously. Only the blond could manage to sound both completely put out by the delay yet perfectly respectful.

“Very well,” Sharp said with a tired wave of his hand. “Mr. Sallow and Mr. Gaunt, you are dismissed.” James frowned at being left out. His two friends hesitated – Sebastian sent him an uncertain look – but the pair were quickly shooed out of the classroom. The veteran Auror refocused his attention on the remaining fifteen year old. “James.”

“I thought uncles were supposed to be fun,” he grumbled and crossed his arms. Sharp’s expression twitched.

“You’re not supposed to be using your magic.”

“I’m not.”

“So you weren’t involved in the recent rumors involving Professor Black?”

“I don’t engage with the rumor mill,” he offered. “Too unreliable in my experience.” The ex-Auror stared at the teen flatly for a long time before letting out a deep sigh and pinching the bridge of his nose.

“James.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Did you hit the headmaster with a Dungbomb?”

“I did not.” Technically it had been Sebastian’s fault.

“What about Mr. Sallow or Mr. Gaunt?” Sharp tried again.

“What about them?”

“Did either of them drop a Dungbomb on the headmaster?” the Potions master pressed with no small amount of exasperation.

“No, sir.” It had been an accident after all. The target had been someone else. Black was just unfortunate enough to pass under the archway first. A matter of bad timing really. Again, Sebastian’s fault. He should have known leaving that part of the setup to the least impatient of their trio was a bad idea.

“Really.” It was impressive the amount of skepticism the wizard was able to fit into just one word. James merely blinked up at him blandly.

“Sir, Professor Fig won’t be happy if I miss dinner again,” he eventually said when it didn’t seem like Sharp was going to continue that line of questioning. He received another hmm before the professor finally waved his hand in dismissal. The teenager spun on his heel and marched towards the classroom exit.

“James,” Sharp called when he reached the door. He paused and looked over his shoulder. “Next time you feel the need to aggravate the headmaster, the faculty would greatly appreciate it if the fallout occurred during winter break and not before.” He blinked at the odd comment. It was only because he knew the man so well and had a lot of practice reading his face that he managed to catch the ever so faint lines of amusem*nt.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir,” James grinned widely and darted out of the room.

*********

Ancient Runes was a fascinating and unexpectedly contradictory subject. It was like learning a completely different language, except the rules and meaning behind each symbol could sometimes – at least on a cursory level – be at odds with each other. The rune Thurisaz was a prime example and the current focus of his attention. James chewed his lip as he considered the assignment, legs idly kicking the air from his prone position on the chaise lounge. The sound of rustling pages could be heard from the general direction of Professor Fig’s desk.

Provide two unrelated examples in which Thurisaz could be used.

Some writings interpreted the rune to have the literal meaning of ‘giant’ while others leaned towards the translation ‘thorn.’ Again, contradictory in more ways than one. There was the matter of scale, one being much larger than the other. Then there was the fact that each word had both literal and metaphorical meanings. And of course, one was rather mundane while the other had magical origins. An overall perspective revealed the many recorded use cases were all associated with danger and protective powers against challenges in some way. The fifteen year old let out another exhale as he pondered the problem.

Ancient Runes was one of the subjects he’d made significant progress in during his ‘recovery’ as it did not require the use of magic to practice. Well…not yet, he privately amended. The class remained largely theoretical in nature until NEWT level. Since he was preparing for his OWLS, the actual creation and activation of runes had not been covered. But he had another reason for diving into the area of study with such single-minded determination. Ancient Runes was a NEWT level skill required by all curse-breakers, something Mr. Rabe had confirmed during their ongoing correspondence.

“I hear we have you to thank for the Headmaster’s recent surliness.” James’ head jerked up from the textbooks and parchment sprawled in front of him. He blinked a few times as he focused on the expectant expression on his mentor’s face.

“…You’ve been talking to Professor Sharp,” he noted flatly. He knew this was going to happen. He wasn’t sure what exactly had triggered it, but ever since Ranrok’s invasion the two professors had appeared to be – dare he say it – on friendly terms. There had definitely been some kind of truce he hadn’t been witness to. Except now that they’d set aside their differences and were no longer constantly butting heads, the pair of wizards had joined forces to gang up on him. It was incredibly unfair.

“I also heard that whoever was responsible has yet to be identified due to lack of evidence,” Fig continued, gaze equal parts amused and disapproving.

“Oh?”

“James.” The Slytherin gave the professor his most innocent look. His guardian abandoned his position next to the massive desk and – after some hurried reorganizing on James’ part – joined him on the lounge. “James, you cannot go around throwing Dungbombs at the headmaster.”

“That sounds like slander,” he muttered. His mentor’s acute blue eyes pinned him in place.

“Anything you’d like to share with me?” Fig asked with a knowing expression. James swallowed and looked away, gaze landing on his Ancient Runes homework.

“Yes,” he said, refocusing on his mentor. “What’s a scenario that Thurisaz could be used for?” The question earned him a raised eyebrow. Fig was silent for a few moments but ultimately entertained the abrupt segue.

“What do you have so far?” James’ face soured at the reply. The older wizard was always willing to help the fifteen year old with his schoolwork, but he was not one to just give out the answer. No, he believed that James should work out the solution himself. Apparently it would stick better. Rubbish.

“Um, maybe it could be incorporated into a protective barrier?” he offered tentatively. With an encouraging nod, James explained his reasoning which helped him flesh out the idea into a more concrete answer. Once his mentor had shared his opinion on the scenario, he hurriedly recorded it on his parchment before it could be forgotten. Fig helped him work through a second example which devolved into an analysis on the origins of Ancient Runes. “So, it started as a way to leave secret messages?”

“That’s the most popular theory,” his mentor nodded. “I believe it originated as a way to communicate completely separate from muggles. Keep in mind that the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy wasn’t signed until 1689.”

“But runes can be used to channel magic,” he argued.

“Correct. Either that was another reason behind their creation or quickly discovered as their use spread. Perhaps a bit of both. The point, is that Ancient Runes allowed wizardkind to escape muggle notice when desired.”

“But you just said that muggles did know about them,” James frowned. “Even had a name for them. The – Fu – um – the – ”

“The Futhark alphabet.”

“Yea, that.”

“Well of course the muggles noticed the runes themselves,” Fig chuckled. “Rather difficult to hide them completely with their widespread use. No, I was referring to the meaning behind the runes themselves.”

“Then how does the…the Futhark alphabet exist?” the fifteen year old stumbled only a little bit over the name this time.

“The use of Ancient Runes became so widespread that muggles began to adopt them, which – of course – made their prevalence even more common.”

“Kinda defeats the purpose of secret messages if everyone knows about it,” James pointed out. “Doesn’t it?”

“Well, by that time they were primarily being used for their magical potential,” Fig said with a casual wave of his hand. His confusion must have been apparent because his mentor huffed a quiet laugh and changed tactics. “You’re familiar with Merlin, yes? Or the vikings?”

“Of course, wizards mention him all the time.”

“No, I mean – you’d heard of them even before learning about magic, correct?”

“Oh…yea.”

“They’re more prominent examples of when something from the wizarding community became so well-known that it spread to the muggle side as well,” his mentor explained. James gave a hesitant nod. “Except muggles often have their own way of remembering things. I can’t tell you how many things they get wrong about Merlin.”

“But they didn’t get the – um – Futhark alphabet wrong.”

“No, that mostly remained unchanged. That’s largely in part due to muggle populations like the vikings.”

“What do you mean?” James asked, brow furrowing. “I thought they were raiders.”

“Throughout history, the more daring muggles would sometimes draw inspiration from wizarding knowledge. The vikings were one such group. They, more than any other population, used Ancient Runes in every facet of daily life with their magical applications in mind.”

“Wait – I thought muggles couldn’t – ”

“Well, yes,” the professor amended with a smile, “they practiced them as well as they could. However there are a few known cases of a witch or wizard posing as a shaman.”

“…huh.” The room was silent for several moments as the teenager pondered the impromptu lesson. “If the use of Ancient Runes was so common, why aren’t they now?”

“A good question,” his mentor praised. James flushed. “A number of factors could be attributed to their loss of favor. The same limitations we face with them today were an issue, I’m sure, like convenience. And the use of wands was gaining widespread appeal. Then you have the rise of literacy among the muggle population, increasing hostilities between them and the wizarding world, the ever increasing need to hide the presence of anything to do with magic,” Fig listed consecutively before trailing off. James chewed his lip in thought.

“If they’re so inconvenient,” he wondered aloud. “Why still use them today?”

“They still have their specialized use cases,” the Magical theory professor allowed, “but a master in the subject, like Matilda, would be better equipped to answer that particular question.”

“…Matilda?”

“Sorry, I mean Professor Weasley,” a brief look of embarrassment flashed across the man’s face. James tilted his head at the news.

“I thought her area of specialty was Transfiguration?”

“Yes,” Fig nodded. “But before her appointment here at Hogwarts, Professor Weasley worked as a curse-breaker – both for the Ministry of Magic and later as a freelancer.” He didn’t react for several long seconds. “…James?” He startled.

“Sorry,” he said, noticing the look of worry on his mentor’s face. “Just thinking.” His guardian gave a neutral hum when he didn’t say anything more. A quick glance at the clock showed it was almost dinner time.

“I suppose I’ve kept you long enough,” said the professor. He quickly gathered up his homework and shoved the materials into his satchel. “And James.” He looked up to meet Fig’s weighty gaze. “I hope whoever was responsible is not planning on making a habit of targeting the headmaster.”

“Um…it was probably an accident,” he offered tentatively, resisting the urge to squirm. “I don’t think they’re eager to make an enemy of Black.”

“See that they don’t.”

“Yes, sir.”

*********

After James finally convinced Professor Fig to lift the recovery lockdown – thanks to a significant amount of cajoling and bargaining on his part – he spent an entire afternoon flying over the countryside. The fifteen year old took great delight in the untethered sensation, employing a variety of loops and dives throughout his flight, and only stopped to gather the occasional potion ingredient. It had been awhile since he’d restocked and he was beginning to run low.

As the sun dipped low on the horizon, James turned around to head back to the castle. His mentor had requested that the teenager return in time for supper in the Great Hall. Not so high in the sky now, he noticed a collection of stones in the distance that appeared to have been unnaturally placed in a semblance of a circle. A Merlin trial, he realized. He considered the odd grouping for a couple seconds. I’ve got time, he decided as he swooped down low.

James didn’t really care about puzzles, they just didn’t interest him. And yet every time he came across a Merlin trial he felt a compulsion to interact with it. This was the ninth one in the series that he’d found scattered around the highlands surrounding Hogwarts. The fifteen year old wondered how many the legendary wizard created as he watched pillars rise up from the ground to form a familiar structure. So used to the same figure composed of leaves signaling the completion of the trial, he almost missed the abnormality. The figure still held a sphere in its left hand but the other was raised this time instead of down at its side. And it was pointing straight at James.

He halted in his tracks at the sudden change. The divergence didn’t end there. As if sensing his attention, the finger curled and the hand seemed to beckon for him to approach. James stared. When he remained rooted in placed, the figure repeated the same action. He took a fortifying breath and cautiously heeded the invitation. His shoulders tensed as he neared the figure.

The instant he was standing under the structure, the small sphere of leaves was pressed against his chest. The leaves exploded into action, breaking apart to whip around him. The wind suddenly picked up, adding to the frenzied movement, making his eyes water. Ancient magic itched under his skin and James raised his arms to protect his face but no harm came. He could barely see anything though. His vision was cut off by the flurry of leaves encircling him and he was abruptly struck with a strong impression of familiarity. A strange feeling of rightness settled over him completely at odds with the bizarre situation.

The frantic motion stopped just as quickly as it started. The leaves halted in midair and then dropped to the ground as if cut from invisible strings. James hurriedly backed away from the structure, heart beating wildly in his chest. He stood frozen, watching the pile of leaves but they did not stir. What the hell was that? He scanned the area but all was quiet. His breathing slowly evened out when nothing else happened.

It seemed Merlin had an irritating sense of humor. James decided any future trials would be avoided with extreme prejudice.

Notes:

God I just wanted to include a small snippet of the silver trio spending time together and that somehow turned into several pages of them being chaotic gremlins.

During my research into Ancient Runes, I learned that they share a strong connection to the Futhark alphabet. This can be further divided into Elder Futhark and the Younger Futhark – two ancient runic writing systems used by the Old Norse people in Northern Europe. I primarily drew inspiration from Elder Futhark for Fig’s lecture.

Also the insane amount of Merlin trials is completely driven by gameplay reasons so we’re whittling that down to a much more digestible 9. That’s the number of trial types and the number represents wholeness/completeness so we’re running with it. Okay? Okay.

Chapter 53

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Things had been going really well lately. James was currently passing all of his classes, winter break was just around the corner, and Mr. Rabe had said he’d be available to meet soon in their last correspondence. The Gringotts curse-breaker had been curious about the recent information the teenager had shared courtesy of Charles Rookwood and wanted to discuss it in person, instead of going back and forth via owl.

He should have known the relative calm wouldn’t last.

James scowled as he stared down at the Daily Prophet during breakfast in the Great Hall, but it did nothing to change the contents of the newspaper. On the front page was an article covering Ranrok’s failed invasion of Hogwarts. The big black letters 'Hero of Hogwarts' reflected back at him. Fig and Sharp had been adamant about minimizing the fifteen year old’s involvement – which had been largely successful. It was kind of scary what the two could accomplish when they put their heads together – and Professor Weasley had been in perfect agreement. The rest of the school staff had been likewise tight-lipped on the subject to anyone who hadn’t been present as well.

The most surprising had been Black. The headmaster had been an unexpectedly staunch supporter in playing down the danger the goblin attack had posed to the school. Given his boastful nature, James had expected the opposite reaction. His mentor had theorized Black viewed Ranrok’s invasion as a personal attack and – despite the ultimate failure – saw the media dwelling on it as a risk to his reputation. Apparently he wanted the entire matter to be forgotten as much as James did, which was just fine with him.

That wasn’t the biggest problem though. Even with the lack of details included in the article, its very existence created another headache for the teenager. News of Ranrok’s attack – particularly the target – was spreading like wildfire. And it would soon reach the ears of Victor Rookwood, if it hadn’t already. The dark wizard wasn’t an idiot. The only times James had come out on top were due to sheer unpredictability. Rookwood would surely put the pieces together. Would he dare attack the school? Or would the Ashwinder leader’s attempt to get his hands on the repository be more indirect? That sounded more in line with the man’s past behavior. Would he try to come after James again? Probably.

If only there was a way to get rid of the repository itself. But Professor Rackham had said it couldn’t be destroyed, the very reason why they’d chosen to hide it instead. James tapped his finger absently as he continued to burn holes into the newspaper. Even if he managed to fend off Rookwood’s next move, what about the time after that? Or what if someone else found out about the repository’s existence and decided to come after it too? What if something happened after he was long dead? Several centuries separated him and the last two people with the special ability after all. There was no guarantee that someone else with the ability to see and use ancient magic would be around to protect the secret power. Keeping it hidden away seemed like a temporary fix at best. Getting rid of it completely would be the ideal solution.

“Trying to set the paper on fire with the power of your mind?”

Sebastian’s voice interrupted his train of thought as Ominis lightly bumped shoulders with him. James blinked at his friend sitting across from him at the Slytherin table.

“Normally I’d suggest using a wand if you actually want it to burst into flames,” the other teen continued with a casual shrug, “But who knows with you.” The light tone conflicted with his worried expression. A huff escaped him at the teasing words and Sallow’s face eased somewhat.

“The Daily Prophet isn’t known for being a paragon for truth,” Ominis added from his seat next to James. “Whatever they’re saying is a Ministry approved version of the truth…or someone with a significant amount of clout.”

“Doesn’t matter,” James answered lowly after checking none of their classmates were close enough to overhear. “This is all Rookwood needs to figure out the location of the final repository.” He glanced over at the faculty table and caught sight of Fig and Sharp discussing something. Whatever it was, the topic was engaging enough that they didn’t notice his attention. He turned back to his friends. “It’s only a matter of time until he comes after it too.”

“Let him try,” Sebastian glowered, hand curling into a fist. “You’ll beat him just like Ranrok, except next time we’ll be there to back you up.” Ominis’ mouth was pressed into a firm line, a hint of displeasure on his face, but he gave a nod of agreement. James didn’t like the idea of his friends tangling with Rookwood – the wizard was dangerous as he’d found out during their past altercations – but the instant support made his chest feel a little less tight.

“If he even makes it past Professor Fig or Professor Sharp,” Ominis tacked on dryly, earning twin snorts of amusem*nt.

The Great Hall buzzed with overlapping conversation as the trio continued to finish their breakfast. There were only a handful of classes left and then they’d be free to leave the castle for holiday. He’d have to visit lower Hogsfield again soon like he’d promised Archie.

“Any plans for winter break?” James asked the pair of Slytherins.

“Just heading back to Feldcroft,” Sebastian shrugged. Meanwhile, Ominis’ face had twisted into a sour expression.

“I’ll be heading home too.” He was reminded of the various stories he’d heard about the Gaunt family. None of them had been particularly flattering. Worry curled in his stomach.

“You’re more than welcome to visit anytime,” he offered, gaze darting to his friend across the table. “Both of you,” he quickly amended. The blond let out a soft exhale.

“I may take you up on that,” he admitted quietly after a beat of hesitation.

“Thanks, but shouldn’t you – uh – clear that with Fig or something first?” Sebastian asked. “I had to with my uncle for Ominis.” The corner of his mouth twisted down as if recalling an unpleasant memory.

“I’ll give him a heads up,” he shrugged. “But he won’t mind. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

“What do you mean?” Ominis tilted his head curiously.

“Believe me, Professor Fig would be thrilled at the idea of me having friends over,” James huffed a laugh. “Because that’s a normal thing teenagers do apparently.”

“He does realize that nothing about you is normal, right?” Sebastian raised his eyebrows. He knew his friend was referring to his ancient magic abilities. But his guardian had been alluding to something else entirely – namely James himself. The professor’s eyes always brightened whenever the fifteen year old talked about his friends or mundane things like classes and homework.

“Must have been too busy foiling Ranrok to notice,” he drawled, doing an impressive Sharp impression. Judging by the matching expressions Sebastian and Ominis wore, his friends agreed with the assessment.

*********

“I say we let him be the one to cast the Trip Jinx on Sharp.” The words made James freeze at the bottom of the staircase and his head whipped around to find the source. Blue green eyes quickly honed in on a blond Hufflepuff boy several meters away, half-hidden by an alcove, talking to a Ravenclaw and a Gryffindor.

“Sharp’s a horrid choice,” the girl in blue protested. “We might hurt him more than he already is.” Their Gryffindor companion had the nerve to roll his eyes.

“He’ll be fine,” the boy in red gave a dismissive wave, “As if we could do any serious harm. Man used to be an Auror, remember?” James memorized the faces of the students on their way to becoming his least favorite people.

“All the more reason to target someone else,” the Ravenclaw pointed out.

“If we want to even come close to matching whoever got Black,” the Hufflepuff argued, “Sharp is our best bet.” James’ face darkened. This wasn’t just a group of his classmates being stupid. It was also partially his fault. He slipped underneath the staircase and cast an ancient magic powered disillusionment charm, turning himself invisible. The group of students went back and forth on the matter for several more minutes before deciding to go through with the awful plan. Something dark and ugly came over him – much like when Ominis had threatened Fig outside the Undercroft.

James gripped his wand tight as the clandestine meeting broke apart. The Ravenclaw and Gryffindor ran off to Herbology class and the Hufflepuff headed downstairs. He ghosted behind the other boy focused on completing his mission. After months of sneaking around Ashwinder and Loyalist camps, trailing a fourth year Hogwarts student was laughably easy. The fifteen year old resisted the urge to immediately attack his classmate. He hadn’t done anything yet. The other boy might still back out.

They were nearing the Potions classroom when Sharp’s distinctive gait echoed down the hall. The Hufflepuff pressed himself against a recess in the wall and James ducked behind his own cover, positioning himself diagonally so he could see the other boy’s face. The Slytherin’s gaze narrowed as the footsteps approached and his classmate still did not abandon his appointed task. The Hufflepuff slowly raised his wand and several things happened back to back.

James flicked his wand and sent a stinging hex at the other boy’s face, dropping his disillusionment a second later. Sharp had been an Auror after all and would be on guard after such an attack. He didn’t want to find out firsthand what the wizard had in his repertoire of spells. The Hufflepuff cried out in pain – dropping his wand – and clutched his rapidly swelling face. A beat later and Professor Sharp was upon them, wand drawn and a severe expression on his face.

“Mr. Evans,” the Potions master growled. “Did you just attack one of your classmates?” He didn’t respond to the question. Merely pocketed his own wand and dropped his gaze to watch the writhing Hufflepuff. A handful of whimpers had slipped out during their brief exchange. Good. With one final look directed his way, Sharp quickly focused on the hunched over boy. A seventh year Ravenclaw turned the corner, took in the scene in front of her, and promptly turned on her heel to leave. “Just a minute, Miss Dagworth. I need you to escort Mr. Abernathy here to the hospital wing.”

Less than ten minutes later, James found himself on the receiving end of Sharp’s disapproving glare in the Potions classroom office. The man was ramrod straight, not even leaning against the desk behind him like he usually did, as he frowned down at James.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” The question was quiet but no less intense than the dark eyes pinning him in place. James crossed his arms, unconsciously mirroring the professor and shrugged. “Try again.” The fifteen year old swallowed at the disappointed tone but kept his jaw locked in place. Instead his gaze drifted to the side, focusing on the assortment of shelves in the corner loaded down with various potions. “James, you cannot go around hexing your classmates.” His mouth pressed into a firmer line.

He couldn’t bring himself to tell his uncle the truth. Despite the strict and aloof façade the man projected, he knew better than anyone just how self-conscious Sharp was about his injury. The pains he’d gone through to find a cure for the curse that nearly robbed him of his life. For it to be targeted so blatantly and carelessly by a handful of his peers because of something he did filled him with rage and disgust.

“Attacking another student unprovoked – ”

“It wasn’t unprovoked,” James snapped before he could stop himself. Dammit. The office fell silent again as Sharp waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t.

“Did he say something to you?” the veteran Auror asked. The teenager glared at the corner of the desk this time, mouth clenched shut. “James.” He remained a statue. Neither of them spoke for a long time. “This isn’t like you,” the man muttered, partially to himself. He was still angry, but there was a hint of puzzlement in his expression. “What did Mr. Abernathy do to provoke such an attack?” It was a nice desk, the fifteen year old thought to himself as he refused to engage. He’d never looked at it so closely before. The wood grain indicated it was a high quality.

There was a long sigh as Sharp pinched the bridge of his nose. The wizard finally leaned back against the desk ever so slightly and he adjusted his stance.

“You’re not leaving this room until you provide a reason,” the man stated. “You can tell me, or I can drag you up to Eleazar’s office and you can tell him. Those are your two options.” James’ frown deepened. He could tell that Sharp meant it. Bad enough his uncle was angry and disappointed with him, he didn’t want to deal with his mentor’s reaction at the same time. Also, marching him up the stairs to the Magical Theory classroom would only further annoy the Potions professor.

“He irritated me,” he forced out, still refusing to meet the dark gaze. There, the veteran Auror had an answer now and could stop hounding him. All that remained was the matter of punishment.

“…He irritated you,” Sharp repeated flatly, looking rather skeptical. James offered a half-hearted shrug and didn’t say anything else. The man studied the teenager with a furrowed brow. The silence stretched but he didn’t provide any further clarification. “You realize I can’t let this go? Not without an explanation. Hexing another student - especially on school property - is grounds for detention.” He had expected as much. Another boneless shrug filled the pause. He watched out of the corner of his eye as the confusion on his uncle’s face began to replace the anger. “James,” the man tried again, tone softening, like he was trying to appeal to the teenager. His stomach twisted violently.

“Can I go now?” he gritted out. Sharp stared at him for several long seconds.

“…You’re already serving detention until winter break,” the professor eventually said with a frown. “Which means additional detention would need to be assigned when you return.”

“Whatever,” he muttered. He had assumed that would be the case. The office fell silent for several moments, like he was waiting for the teenager to say something else.

“Fifty points will also be deducted from Slytherin.” James barely withheld a grimace at the declaration. His housemates were going to kill him when they found out. He certainly wouldn’t be making any new friends in the foreseeable future.

“Yes, sir,” he settled on since the veteran Auror was clearly expecting an answer. Sharp watched him for another handful of seconds before letting out another long sigh and waving his hand in silent dismissal.

James couldn’t leave the office fast enough. Despite the consequences, he didn’t regret it. He’d do the exact same thing if given the chance.

Notes:

So the whole tripping Sharp quote is an actual NPC dialogue and I thought: James would lose his absolute sh*t if he ever heard that 🙃

Chapter 54

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. Rabe,” said James as he and the other wizard stepped out of the Bickle home. It was rather crowded with the number of people present, and he was a bit apprehensive to have the upcoming conversation in front of all that company.

“Of course,” the Gringotts curse-breaker responded. “I must admit, your last letter intrigued me. I’ve never heard a curse described in such a way.” They walked down the path towards the Black Lake. “Tell me about it again, leave no detail out.”

“It was originally a hex meant to…” he recounted as their footsteps echoed on the wooden boards and they wandered towards the dock where James had met Grace Pinch-Smedley and helped retrieve her family’s astrolabe.

“Where did you learn of it?” his companion asked once he'd finished.

“An ancestor of Rookwood,” he said with forced casualness. He couldn’t tell him about the Keepers, but if he was vague enough the man would likely make his own assumptions.

“Victor Rookwood?” Mr. Rabe frowned, coming to a halt on the dock. James mirrored him.

“Yea, he’s the one who cursed Anne.” The older wizard studied him for a few moments.

“I see,” the man murmured, lips forming a firm line. “I know you’re skilled, but please – tread lightly. Victor Rookwood’s reputation is well-earned.” James gave an appeasing nod. He had no intention of seeking out the dark wizard, but he had a feeling their paths would clash again soon. It was only a matter of time and he was not looking forward to it.

“What about the curse?” he prodded gingerly. The wizard’s expression turned thoughtful.

“It sounds like – in this case – creating a counter-curse is our best solution,” Mr. Rabe shared, tapping his chin absently.

“In this case?”

“Well, there’s a number of ways to break a curse depending on the type and intent.” James recalled Sharp’s lecture that had covered the basics of countering curses.

“There are different levels right? Ranked by complexity?” he offered which earned him an impressed hum.

“Generally, a curse can be reversed either by breaking down the vigor of the curse, or dismantling it like one would pull apart a piece of clothing.”

“…That second method sounds kind of strenuous,” said James apprehensively.

“It is,” the Gringotts curse-breaker agreed. “Unfortunately it is the safer approach when a living being is involved. Otherwise you risk damaging their magical system.”

“But this curse specifically targets the magical system,” he pointed out.

“Yes,” Mr. Rabe frowned. “Along with that strength of will component you mentioned. Intent can be a powerful thing, and when you factor in more than one the results can become difficult to predict.” The pair fell silent for a handful of seconds as the older wizard pondered the matter. “This will definitely require the use of Ancient Runes,” the curse-breaker muttered lowly. “Potions or an incantation will not be enough.”

“What do you mean?” James asked. “Are they more powerful?” The man shook his head.

“Not always,” he shared. “It depends, really.” His mouth curled into a smile at the look of confusion on the teenager’s face. “Spellcasting allows you to manipulate your magic yes? And potions allow you to – in a way – manipulate the magic surrounding you, through the ingredients collected,” Mr. Rabe explained. James furrowed his brow in thought as he attempted to follow the reasoning, giving a small nod for the other wizard to continue. “Wards are a mixture of both since they’re comprised of two parts – the activation and the intended effect itself. Much like potions allow you to produce results regular spells cannot, Ancient Runes can manipulate magic to a degree other branches cannot.”

“…What do you mean manipulate the magic surrounding you?” he asked. Something about the distinction rang as odd in his mind.

“Well, it’s commonly referred to as ambient magic.”

“Ambient magic?” he repeated dumbly. He hadn’t heard that descriptor used before.

“The world is filled with magic and can be found all around us,” Mr. Rabe explained, gesturing vaguely to their surroundings. “Magical creatures, plants, why – even the very air if some scholars are to believed.” James blinked. “I’m not surprised your professors haven’t covered it yet, since it’s considered NEWT level theory.”

“Ancient Runes…is a framework of your intent? Powered by ambient magic?”

“They can be, yes,” the Gringotts curse-breaker agreed.

“And these wards are the only way a witch or wizard can form a connection to this…ambient magic?”

“Exactly, it’s most useful in specific scenarios though – like curse-breaking – because Ancient Runes requires precision and prep if you want to make use of their full potential, along with intent. Those are the three aspects you must master to become an expert in the subject.”

“Precision and prep – referring to knowledge and use of the script itself?” James hummed, earning a nod. “And intent…”

“A key component for any type of magic,” said Mr. Rabe, “but especially with Ancient Runes.” The fifteen year old thought back to his homework in the subject.

“Because the wards themselves can be ambiguous?”

“Yes.” James chewed his bottom lip. The language was different, but the concepts themselves sounded very familiar. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say they could apply to ancient magic too. He mulled over the idea for a handful of seconds. Would Professor Rackham be open to another discussion on ancient magic now that he’d proven himself by completing the trials?

“So…I could use Ancient Runes to mimic the same results as spellcasting?” he confirmed. “Because they’re both acting as frameworks for my intent?”

“Well – yes, I suppose you could,” the curse-breaker allowed. “Though it wouldn’t be terribly efficient. In most situations, using a spell would be faster.” Maybe not for a normal witch or wizard, James thought. He wondered if he could combine his use of ancient magic with Ancient Runes. What kind of results would that produce?

“Huh.” Mr. Rabe let out a chuckle.

“Of course, Ancient Runes can be used for mundane purposes too, like recordkeeping,” the older wizard continued, turning back towards the Bickle home. James fell into step with him.

“They’ve been around for a long time,” he noted, recalling Fig’s lesson on the subject’s history.

“Yes, far older than Merlin himself,” Mr. Rabe agreed. “Ancient Runes have existed for as long as wizardkind began to keep records. That’s another reason why mastery is important for curse-breaking. Many of the artefacts I work with are so old, that the writings pertaining to them – like warnings – are not in any other language.”

“I suppose that is a bit important,” he said lightly, causing a soft snort to escape his companion. As they neared the thatched cottage, James noticed Archie waiting outside. The young boy jumped to his feet when he caught sight of them.

“Are you done talking?” he asked, lightly bouncing on the balls of his feet. The fifteen year old and Gringotts curse-breaker shared an amused look.

“I’d like to reach out to a colleague, if you don’t mind,” the man remarked. “For sensitive matters like this, collaborating with other experts tends to…” his eyes flick from a curious Archie back to James “…reward thoroughness.” The young Slytherin picked apart the meaning behind the words, sparing a quick glance towards the fidgeting ten year old.

“Precision?” he asked, refocusing on Mr. Rabe.

“Yes,” the other wizard answered, expression easing.

“Alright,” he said. The man was the expert after all. “Thank you, Mr. Rabe.”

“Of course.” James turned his attention to a practically vibrating Archie.

“Race you to the hideout?” the teenager offered.

“You’re on!” the boy readily agreed and took off like a bullet with James hot on his heels.

*********

The next hour was filled with the ten year old showing off his latest sketches (usually composed of magical beasts), several rounds of the game yes and no, and a short match of Gobstones. James noted the low position of the sun in the sky and realized they would need to start heading back soon.

“Christmas will be weird this year,” said Archie lowly. The teenager turned back towards the younger boy, the odd tone of voice catching his full attention. Archie wasn’t looking at him though, instead focused on the remaining Gobstones between them.

“Your dad?” he tentatively verified after a beat.

“This will be the first one without him,” the boy confirmed with an absent nod. His companion lined up his next shot and James was quiet for a few moments as he deliberated his next words.

“This will be my first Christmas without my family too,” he settled on, drawing Archie’s gaze. “It’ll be…different, that’s for sure.” He hadn’t really thought about it much – he hadn’t had the time with Rookwood, and Ranrok, and everything else going on. But the fact had been circling the perimeter of his mind more and more lately, often times with anxiety or dread on its heels. Archie leaned back, abandoning any pretense of finishing the game.

“Mother doesn’t cry as much,” the boy shared after a handful of seconds, “but she doesn’t talk about him.” James hummed lightly as he studied Archie’s face. It was unusually blank except for the slight tension between the eyebrows.

“Do you want her to?” he asked carefully.

“I don’t know,” Archie shrugged. “I guess? I miss him.”

“Have you told her that?”

“No.”

“Well…maybe you should.” The ten year old nervously tapped the side of his foot on the ground. “Maybe she hasn’t said anything because you haven’t.”

“You think so?” Archie asked, pulling his gaze from the abandoned Gobstones to look at James.

“Only one way to find out,” he shrugged. The younger boy thought about it for a few moments before letting out a soft exhale.

“We used to pick out the Christmas tree together,” Archie shared lowly. James tensed ever so slightly.

Every year his dad had been in charge of finding and chopping down a tree for the village square. Last year had been the first time he’d deemed the teenager old enough to take a more active role instead of just tagging along. He had been so excited at the show of trust, eagerly utilizing all the past lessons his dad had bestowed in order to pick out the perfect tree. He wondered who would take over the duty this year.

“Have you found one yet?” he asked, tone surprisingly even. Archie shook his head. “Well, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You could start a new tradition instead.” The younger boy turned his head and stared into the woods.

“…I do want to,” he said, “but I don’t – ” He glanced back at James. “I mean – could you – um…”

“Come with?” he filled in. Archie nodded shyly.

“It’s an important task, James. The tree resides in the village square all winter and the greenery gives us hope that the world will not stay cold and dark. Winter, like all things, is temporary and will eventually pass.”

“...Sure,” he said, after a steadying breath. “Did your dad use an axe?” Archie perked up at the question.

“Yes, he would enchant it to cut down the tree. But we should bring it anyway.” So he could still be present if only in a spiritual sense, he didn’t say. They stood up and retrieved the axe – still buried in the stump outside the Bickle home. James carefully tested the blade just like his dad taught him. Yup, still sharp.

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s go.” The pair returned to the woods and hunted for the perfect Christmas tree. Archie did most of the talking, although James chimed in occasionally – usually with bits of knowledge borrowed from his dad. It didn’t take them long to decide on one that fit their requirements. The ten year old wasn’t sure what incantation his father had used in the past, but that was fine. James had no qualms about chopping the tree down manually. It was achingly familiar in a bittersweet way. They did, however, use magic to haul the tree back to the house. He wasn’t above the use of levitation spells.

The reactions they received back at the cottage varied from surprise to amusem*nt. Mrs. Bickle spared them a wistful smile before clearing space for their prize. As Archie chattered away and the Rabes prepared to depart, James grew introspective as he recalled something else his dad had often said.

“Christmas is meant to be shared. No one should spend the day alone.”

He glanced at Professor Fig, who seemed to be ganging up against Mr. Rabe with the curse-breaker’s wife about something, as an idea slowly took shape in his mind.

Notes:

Okay, I know this one is a little bit shorter – but the next one is a big boi (possibly the longest one yet?), I just need to edit it.

Anyway, the part between James and Archie was only meant to be a snippet to show they were still in contact and then it kind of got away from me lol. Got some extra world-building/lore thrown in here for curse-breaking. Let me know what you think! I always found the idea of magical theory and ancient runes (and how they interact with the world) super interesting so hoping to incorporate it wherever possible.

Chapter 55: Interlude - Aesop Sharp & Eleazar Fig

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Aesop Sharp wasn’t a fool, he knew when James wasn’t being completely upfront with him. The teen shared the same tells as Ellie, and he had over two decades to learn them growing up.

James Evans didn’t go around attacking people – especially his own peers. Not without good reason. It wasn’t in his nature. Merlin, the teenager had just spent the entire term running around the school and the surrounding area completing favours for anyone with a pulse. The staff even had a running bet on what kind of task “Hogwarts’ Errand Boy” would perform next. Fig had largely stayed out of it, content not to interfere with the social bonds and friendships James’ efforts had produced. Sharp himself had observed the network James was building – unwittingly? Difficult to tell how much was planned and how much was luck with him – predominantly composed of the wizarding world’s future leaders and subject matter experts.

So why had the fifteen year old remained stubbornly quiet in his office? Provoked, he’d indirectly claimed. But what did that mean exactly? With anyone else, he would have suspected some form of intimidation was at play. But this was James. Things like dark wizards and threats of violence didn’t seem to daunt him like they would a normal student. The boy had the nerves of a Gryffindor – of an Auror.

Sharp had been on his way to the library when he’d happened upon the scene. The most jarring had been the utter calm and lack of remorse James had displayed while the professor checked the seriousness of the Hufflepuff’s injury. The intentional targeting of the face – where the stinging hex would do the most visible and painful damage – did not go beneath his notice. Calculating blue green eyes hadn’t left the Hufflepuff student until he’d been escorted around the corner to the hospital wing. The darkness that clung to James had been heavier – more prominent than usual – and it unnerved him to see it so close to the surface.

The teenager’s reticence in his office reminded him of Ellie. He recognized that stubborn set of the jaw, the pinch between the brows. He’d faced it far too many times whenever his sister had made her mind up about something and couldn’t be swayed. But the level of ferocity and viciousness shown were all James. It was concerning with no obvious cause behind it. Especially if the younger Slytherin had chosen to use a curse instead of a hex, then they’d be sliding dangerously close to expulsion territory. Eleazar needed to know, he decided as James left. And he would inform the Magical Theory professor. But first, the hospital wing. He suspected he would find answers there.

The young Hufflepuff was sitting on one of the beds near the entrance – his face looking much improved. The swelling had reduced significantly and the disfigurement was almost gone. Noreen had likely instructed him to stay until the effects of the hex were completely gone, which would be within the next half hour if he remembered correctly.

“Mr. Abernathy,” he greeted. The Potions master did not sit down but remained standing once he was beside the bed.

“P-professor Sharp,” the boy stuttered, eyes widening before dropping to the stone floor.

“Care to explain what I witnessed?” he drawled, noting the nervous energy wafting off the Hufflepuff.

“What do you mean, sir?”

“I think you know exactly what I mean.” The boy swallowed and his shoulders hunched. Sharp frowned when the room fell silent but let it stretch uncomfortably long, never taking his gaze off the Hufflepuff. Most students found it stifling and – predictably – Abernathy began to fidget. Lucky for him, the young teen didn’t share the same level of stubbornness as James.

“I’m so sorry – I never should have – it was a stupid dare – ” His eyebrows raised higher and higher as the boy haltingly admitted why he had been near the Potions classroom. Sharp tamped down the instinctive anger at having his injury targeted in such a way. He had plenty of practice from ignoring the rumors that circulated the halls – especially his first few years of teaching. Children could be rather shortsighted he’d quickly learned.

The explanation did provide some much needed context though. James must have somehow overheard their plans. And the fifteen year old had immediately rushed to defend him. His chest tightened and Sharp couldn’t speak right away, making the Hufflepuff fidget. His outward visage did not betray the storm of emotions swirling inside.

“James is extremely protective of his precious people. I hesitate to consider what he wouldn’t do for them.”

Eleazar had warned him when he’d brought up the topic of the teenager’s attachments – or lack thereof. The Slytherin’s circle of trust was worryingly small for his age, even more so given the magical power he wielded. At the time, the veteran Auror had been under the impression it had only been comprised of the Magical Theory professor. He could see the strengthening ties with a few peers like Sallow and Gaunt, but he wasn’t confident about the amount of stress the burgeoning connections could withstand. Like Fig almost being killed by Ranrok. The older wizard had admitted quietly that he feared such a loss would fracture the fifteen year old. Sharp realized that, at some point, he himself had been included in that very small circle. It was a goal he’d certainly been aiming for, but actually having it confirmed in such a way still caught him flatfooted.

“I see,” he forced past the lump in his throat, voice deceptively steady. The Hufflepuff – who’d been watching him apprehensively – winced and dropped his gaze back to the ground. The boy accepted the loss of house points and detention without complaint and Sharp left the hospital wing. Eleazar could wait. He needed to talk to James.

He found the fifteen year old in the Room of Requirement. Deek pointed him down a hallway that opened up into an even bigger room at the base of the stairs. Sharp took in the massive space with the level of awe it deserved. Potting stations lined the perimeter of the room, soaking up the plentiful sunlight, while a number of potion stations had been placed along the far wall. His gaze landed on a distracted James hunched over a large oak table, in the center of the space, piled high with stacks of textbooks and loose papers. Was this where he kept his schoolwork? The teenager’s head jerked up once he was closer. They stared at each other for a handful of seconds.

“Sir,” he greeted, though it came out half-strangled. James cleared his throat and straightened to his full height. “What are you doing here?” Aesop hesitated, noting the tensed shoulders and pinched expression. It was a valid reaction considering how their last conversation went.

“What are you working on?” he asked instead, in an attempt to put the teen at ease.

“I asked first.” And suddenly he was in Eleazar’s office again. James grimaced like he hadn’t meant to say that. Just like the first time. Fond nostalgia bubbled up inside him and the corner of his mouth curled into a smile. How strange to think that early talk between them had only been a few months ago. So much had changed since then. The teenager’s frame relaxed marginally at the expression and his face smoothed out.

“I spoke to Mr. Abernathy,” he offered neutrally. Several emotions flashed across James’ face too quick to catch.

“Oh?” What an Eleazar response, Aesop thought. He even got the tone right.

“As your professor, I cannot condone the hexing of your classmates,” he said, earning a frown. “Such behavior runs the risk of you getting expelled and it would be a shame for your potential to be stunted like that.” He took a steadying breath as he ordered his thoughts. “However as your uncle, I appreciate the intention behind your actions…It’s been a long time since someone jumped to my defense with such enthusiasm.” James bit his lip at the admission.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out. Okay…that wasn’t the reaction Sharp had been expecting.

“What for?” The teenager shifted his weight uneasily for a few moments.

“I – They were trying to one-up the whole – uh – Black getting hit by a Dungbomb thing,” he confessed, face twisting into an annoyed expression. He considered that with a soft hum. James had claimed to not be directly responsible, but he must have been involved enough to feel guilty that it had inspired his peers to go after the Potions professor.

“I’m more bothered that you didn’t explain yourself in my office,” Aesop shared. The younger Slytherin tilted his head as a hint of bewilderment flickered across his face. “In the future, should it come down to sparing my feelings or being candid, I would prefer the truth.” The fifteen year old’s mouth curled into a frown. “I want you to be comfortable enough to always be honest with me.” James looked away, eyebrows pulled down.

“…Adults say that, but they don’t usually mean it.” Sharp immediately squashed the wave of frustration before it could show on his face. He really wanted to know who taught his nephew that unfortunate life lesson and have a talk with them. He took a calming breath to keep his tone and body language relaxed.

“Please believe me when I say that I do,” he said. “I’d like to think I’ve built enough trust for you to do so.” There was a long heart-stopping pause before James finally gave a slow nod. Blue green eyes darted back to meet his gaze.

“…I’m not sorry for hexing him,” the teenager offered hesitantly, “but I am sorry for not telling you why.” A small huff of laughter escaped him and the rest of the tension drained from James’ frame. It was a start.

“One more thing,” Aesop added, remembering a past conversation with Eleazar. “While I admire the desire to protect me, it is not your responsibility.” The words earned a startled blink. “I’m the adult, James. It’s my job to look out for you, not the other way around. Understand?” The fifteen went through several expressions before landing on faintly resigned.

“You’ve been talking to Professor Fig,” James complained lightly.

“He knows what he’s talking about,” he crossed his arms, “You should listen.” Blue green eyes widened.

“Wait…did you just – ” Aesop scowled.

“Don’t tell him I said that.”

“Oh, I’m definitely telling him.”

“Troublesome,” he muttered under his breath. But the answering grin made him drop it with only a put out sigh that was more for show than anything else. “So,” he said instead, eager to change the subject. “What are you working on here, schoolwork?” He gestured vaguely at the covered oak table next to them.

“Uh, no – it’s more like a research station,” James shared, gaze returning to whatever he’d been reviewing before Sharp entered the room. “I was going over some stuff that might help with Anne’s curse.” He blinked at the piles of books and papers littering the piece of furniture.

“All of it?” he asked disbelievingly, dark eyes scanning the nearest covers. There were a lot of resources here.

“Well…” There was a clear note of hesitation in the teenager’s voice and Aesop soon realized why when his gaze landed on a tome with the title Lycanthropy: A Complete Guide. Next to it sat A History on Werewolves. And beside that was a sheaf of parchment, the top one displayed diagrams that seemed to be analyzing the phases of the moon. His heart sped up.

“James.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Why are you studying lycanthropy?” He just barely managed to keep his voice neutral despite his ballooning dread. He tore his eyes away from the table to study his nephew, gaze running up and down several times. But no symptoms stood out. When was the last full moon? A fortnight ago? James had been sticking pretty close to the castle lately. Surely he hadn’t – “You’re not – ” He struggled to finish the sentence – horrified at the possibility – but the teen seemed to understand his unspoken question and quickly shook his head.

“No.” Relief flooded him. Merlin, the boy was going to make him go grey early. He took a few breaths to calm his racing heart.

“Why are you researching werewolves, James?” he asked again, an edge to his voice. If the teenager hadn’t been infected by the terrible disease, then what reason could he have for studying the dark creatures?

James was silent for so long that Aesop began to wonder if he’d pushed too far again. But his nephew didn’t look like he was about to bolt like he had on the quidditch pitch. Instead he was still as a statue. He’d never seen the boy so stiff. Not after the dragon attack, not after any of the trials, not even after the failed goblin invasion.

“I…” the fifteen year old eventually spoke, tone so low he had to strain to hear it. “I’m trying to find a cure.” Sharp’s eyebrows shot up. “Or a treatment at least.”

“Why?” he couldn’t help but ask. A familiar flash of grief crossed the boy’s face.

“To stop the spread,” he responded softly. “So it…it doesn’t happen again.” James’ fists were clenched tight and his mind seemed miles away. Blue green eyes – usually bright with mischief – now dull as if watching something only they could see. Almost like he was reliving – Aesop inhaled as puzzle pieces fell into place.

“The Thestrals. I could already see them.”

“The night I discovered my magic, is the same night I lost my – ”

“I failed my brother. He was still alive when – ”

“My parents were dead but he was still breathing.”

Oh.

Oh.

That explained a lot, he thought as the ugly truth dawned on him. He should say something, he realized after a few seconds. But words felt so inadequate. He placed a tentative hand on James’ shoulder. The teenager didn’t react. His grip tightened and he grasped the other shoulder as well, just like he’d seen Eleazar do on multiple occasions. The contact seemed to work, bringing the boy back to the present, and Sharp held his gaze.

“I’m so sorry that happened to you,” he offered gently. James’s eyes were suspiciously shiny and he turned his head away, like he was ashamed.

“I was too late,” he confessed lowly. “I wasn’t there to…to defend them.” And suddenly the fifteen year old’s overprotective nature made a lot more sense. He felt a sudden loss for the James that had existed before that night and wondered how much of the teenager he now knew was a byproduct of such a tragedy. Two tragedies, he mentally corrected himself. Twice now the young teen had lost his family in a far too gruesome way. The excessive retribution – no doubt – was a learned response to make sure it didn’t happen a third time.

“James, look at me.” His nephew heeded the order. “It wasn’t your fault,” Sharp said firmly.

“I…I made it explode,” he continued shakily, “like the troll in Hogsmeade.” The veteran Auror’s brow furrowed slightly as he remembered hearing about the incident. “I stopped it.” It took him a few beats to realize the point James was trying to make.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Aesop repeated, voice unyielding.

“The door was unlocked,” he shared, like he hadn’t heard the professor. “They left it open because they were waiting for me. I should have – ”

“ – That’s enough, James,” he interrupted before the teenager could spiral further. James took a ragged breath but remained quiet. Watery eyes stayed focused on the Potions master and he knew he had to say something. Of course the death of his family wasn’t the boy’s fault, but he could understand the twisted logic behind the argument. Grief had a way of doing that. He needed to use another approach.

“Sometimes…” Aesop swallowed and took a fortifying breath to force the words out. “Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And we blame ourselves to regain a sense of control. Because it’s less terrifying than the alternative.” James stared at him with such a fierce intensity, like he was hanging on the professor’s every word. Merlin, this was nerve-racking. How did Eleazar stand it? “The only one to blame for your family’s death…is the werewolf that killed them.” The room was silent as his words were absorbed.

“…It’s dead. I killed it.”

“…Then it can’t hurt anyone else, can it?” James was quiet for several seconds, a deep frown marring his face.

“It wasn’t in its right mind.”

“No.” Blue green eyes drifted to the stack of materials about lycanthropy. They weren’t given the chance to linger – a gentle shoulder squeeze brought them back to the waiting professor.

“The disease killed them,” James muttered. That was probably the best he was going to get for now. Reassurances could only do so much, time would be the biggest healing factor. He knew that all too well.

“Yes,” Sharp agreed softly. There was another pause.

“…I miss them.” He wasn’t sure which of them moved first, but soon James was hugging him tight – like he might disappear too – head burrowed into the professor’s chest. The occasional faint sniffle filled the room and – after forcing himself to relax – Aesop carefully returned the embrace. It had been years since he’d let anyone this close. He felt so out of practice.

“I know,” he murmured, rubbing the teenager’s back in a half-remembered pattern. “I know.”

*********

“He’s been asking about James,” Johanna Bickle commented after Archie left the cottage. Daisy Rabe smiled into her teacup and Eleazar Fig spared the door a fond look. The three of them were gathered around the small table in the kitchen.

“James was adamant about visiting before the end of term,” the professor shared.

“It’s been…good – for Archie,” the widow added haltingly, staring into her cooling tea. “The company…having someone to…look up to again.” Daisy placed a supportive hand on her friend’s arm. The woman took a steadier breath and managed to meet Eleazar’s gaze. “He’s been a wonderful influence.”

“Ah, I’m afraid I can’t take all the credit there,” Eleazar offered a self-depreciating smile.

“Be that as it may, I am thankful they had the chance to meet,” said Mrs. Bickle, “despite the circ*mstances.”

“And my dear, Isko,” Mrs. Rabe added, sending her own smile the professor’s way. “I shudder to think what would have happened had James not found him.”

“Yes, well,” Fig cleared his throat. “He does have a habit of getting involved.” It caused him equal amounts of pride and worry. Daisy’s expression turned mischievous.

“Isko tells me James is quite the apt student,” she divulged. “I’m told he has an impressive intuition when it comes to magical theory and curse-breaking.” Eleazar warmed at the praise.

“I’ll have to make sure he doesn’t steal him away,” he returned, mirroring her tone. The fifteen year old had many interests and would have trouble narrowing down his focus when it came to picking a career.

“If he decides to go into curse-breaking and needs a reference, I don’t doubt Isko would be first in line,” the witch offered dryly. As if summoned by the use of his name, Mr. Rabe re-entered the cottage, pausing briefly when three pairs of eyes landed on him. He soon joined them at the table, snagging the last available chair. A flick of a wand ensured a teacup was filled and placed in front of the wizard.

“Your protégé has a sharp mind,” he told Fig, blinking when his audience laughed in response. They spent the next hour chatting, giving Archie and James a chance to catch up. Before he knew it, the sun was hanging low in the sky and it was time to return to Hogwarts.

James was quiet when they finally left the Bickle home with a distracted air surrounding him. His brow was furrowed as he chewed his bottom lip. Something was weighing heavily on the teenager’s mind as they walked towards the nearest Floo. The easy silence between them wasn’t broken until they reached the edge of Hogwarts.

“Do you think Professor Sharp has anyone to spend Christmas with?” the fifteen year old asked tentatively.

“I don’t know,” Fig hummed lightly. Aesop had always been exceedingly private about his personal life, but he was leaning towards a resounding no.

“Should…would it be okay if…” James trailed off uncertainly, but the question in his eyes was clear.

“I think he’d be pleased to receive such an invitation,” he answered. Just yesterday the younger professor had burst into his office with the frantic energy of a first year on their first day of school. It had taken a few moments for the man to slow down enough for him to get the full story.

“And then he hugged me, Eleazar! He – ”

“I’ll ask him after Potions class,” his ward smiled, gaining confidence in the idea. They entered the castle and Eleazar accompanied the teen to the Slytherin common room entrance since it was just after curfew. In a couple days winter break would begin and the students would be heading home on the Hogwarts Express. James had asked many questions, both excited and nervous about the prospect.

“I’ve never been on a train before! Does it really whistle?”

Before he knew it, James would be sitting his OWLS with the rest of his classmates. The fifteen year old was still playing catch-up in a number of subjects. But Fig was confident he would be ready come springtime if he continued to apply himself with that single-minded determination. He was proud of how far James had come already and looked forward to watching the fine wizard the teenager would become.

Notes:

Wow Sharp gave me a lot of trouble this chapter, I kept having to rewrite chunks of his interlude. Getting him to open up but still remain in character was *bangs head on desk* a fine balancing act. Think I managed though. Oh – and I’ve got an idea/some written snippets for a Winter Break/Christmas oneshot. Let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in reading.

ALSO, this whole responsible adults AU has run wild and grown much larger than I originally imagined. Like, entire story arcs for 6th and 7th year and beyond have been running rampant in my head. I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think I need to break this up into more digestible chunks. Basically, instead of this being a standalone longform story – it’s turned into a part one of a series (whoops).

But what about Anne’s curse? You may ask. Don’t worry, we’re getting to that. But as you can probably guess we’ve set up like 90% of the foundation, all that’s left is one last discovery and the implementation of a solution.

So what else is there? Here are just a few of the ideas I’m planning on exploring more in part two:
- A cure for Sharp’s cursed leg
- James contributes to a breakthrough in werewolf treatment/cure
- More worldbuilding concerning ancient magic and James’ background
- James and co deciding on their future careers
- Additional shenanigans but this time with more companion involvement

If there’s something I didn’t mention, feel free to drop a comment below and I’ll work it in if possible. Thank you everyone for all the support and I’ll see you in the next one! 😊

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Job: Manufacturing Agent

Hobby: Skimboarding, Photography, Roller skating, Knife making, Paintball, Embroidery, Gunsmithing

Introduction: My name is Lakeisha Bayer VM, I am a brainy, kind, enchanting, healthy, lovely, clean, witty person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.