Meanwhile, James has been flirting with a couple of Durmstrang girls, which seems to annoy her.
Table of Contents So Far
Classes resumed on Monday morning. Titouan Boulanger looked quite dejected, and seemed to have lost some of his contingent of admirers. The regular Beauxbatons students seemed a little distant, and both Robards and Shevchenko had told their charges not to gloat about their good placement in the First Task. This had mainly warmed up by dinner, and James had a perfectly decent conversation with Valentin Blanc about a completely unfair essay they'd been assigned in Charms. "It's not an exact science!" Valentin protested. "You can't make a logical argument about why one Charm is superior to another one. It's about what feels right when you're doing it."
On Tuesday at lunch, he had a letter from Dad, describing the broadcast of the First Task. Dad actually sounded quite excited about it, and hoped they'd start using the mirrors to broadcast Quidditch games as well. Teddy had got the patent on the thing, but had promptly sold it to Kirley Duke, who said he had ideas for how to use it. Teddy says he has enough to do without going into the entertainment business, Dad wrote, though he says one of Kirley's ideas may make it possible to make something like a movie from books by that author he's fond of, Jim Wolf. He wanted me to stress that to you, as he's waiting for word from you--it's apparently your turn.
James looked at his half-finished Charms essay, shoved it into his bag, and got to work on the third chapter of the Marauder novel. He'd thought of a title for the book--Heroes' Hazard--but if he was going to sell Teddy on it, he'd have to introduce the idea that there was some great threatening force that was dangerous to all of them equally, but they'd have to face it to get through the adventure. His idea was still pretty formless, and he'd have to write it out in summary for Teddy since it was a change--he thought it would be fun to have each of them get totally distracted in turn, then Violet Owens would figure it out somehow and get them back on track. It would look like the hazard was really Diara, who was distracting Raymond, but it would really be something else, maybe something she'd accidentally brought with her, so that at the end, everyone would see that she was safe. And it would turn out she wasn't a goddess, like they thought, just a shapeshifter who'd got caught by the same whatever it was that had caught them, and got herself distracted right out of her proper time. He thought Teddy would like it. The goddess bit had always rankled him, and he'd thought it was probably the Purveyors' mistake. James took out a paperback of Mischief Managed to check the last few chapters.
"Reading that rubbish again?" Celia asked, sitting down beside him and glancing at the book and tutting in mock disapproval. "I hear the author is actually so gauche that he..." She closed her eyes and shook her head dramatically. "I can't even say it out loud, it's so embarrassing to be from the same country. He writes"--she leaned down and stage-whispered--"happy endings."
James made a great show of looking over his shoulder, then opened the book to the last page, and shoved it at her under the table. "It's true," he whispered conspiratorially. "Check out the last page. It's totally... ecstatic. Everyone's alive, and they get a treasure."
Celia took the book and fanned herself with it. "I don't know how he gets away with writing things like that in decent society."
"He's obviously an incredibly fearless individual, who scoffs in the face of convention."
Celia grinned and pocketed the book (even though she'd already read it at least twice). She went back to her normal tone of voice. "I'm going exploring on Saturday," she said. "Up the river, to Ville-Sauvage."
"You mean the place where we're absolutely not supposed to go without an adult?"
"Do you really think there's a single student at Beauxbatons that doesn't know the way around there? And I'll bet anything it'll be in the tournament somehow. Are you in?"
James nodded. "Yeah, sure. Are we bringing anyone else?"
"Well, not your Durmstrang girlfriends." She got up. "I have to get to class. I'll see you later."
James put his things away, letting his mind work on its own. Part of it was still working on the story, and what Diara might be carrying with her that would get everyone in trouble. A bigger part was pondering the fact that Celia had twice complained about him spending time with Durmstrang girls. He wondered if he'd be able to get away with taking her to the Yule Ball after all. He wasn't sure what it would be like to be liked by someone like Celia, and maybe this was how it would be.
This turned out not to be a productive line of thought, at least during classes. He barely heard most of Madame Laurent's talk about the Age of Enlightenment at Beauxbatons. He thought about asking her, but when he got back to the Hogwarts train, she was deep in discussion with Darcy Lynch about something, so he just went to his room and finished his essay, then settled into a game of wizard chess with Scops, who--after winning--asked James exactly what was distracting him.
"Do you think Celia would say yes if I asked her to the Ball?" he asked.
Scops shrugged. "No idea. Maybe you should wait until they actually announce the thing. Everyone will be asking everyone then, and if she says no, you can just pretend that she happened to be the first one you thought of, not that you'd been planning it."
"Did I tell you that Al has a girlfriend?"
"You've told everyone in the south of France that Al has a girlfriend." Scops idly re-set his chessmen. "D'you fancy another walloping?"
James shook his head. "My chessmen would kill me."
Scops shrugged indifferently. He seemed disinclined to discuss the subject of Celia, so James let it drop.
The next few days seemed to go at an incredibly slow pace. He managed to finish all of his homework, write a fairly polished chapter for Teddy, read every news report he could find on the First Task (some, perversely, had taken the lack of any disturbance as an ominous sign that the "curse" was lying dormant), and wrote a long letter to Al and Lily. Celia didn't make any special effort to talk to him, and by Saturday morning, he was beginning to wonder if he'd imagined the whole thing.
He met her by the river, in the shadow of the Durmstrang ship, for their expedition up to Ville-Sauvage. They'd decided to leave breakfast separately, so no one would follow. There was a school expedition up to the mountains, but neither of them had wanted to go (James because Celia wasn't going, Celia because she spent a night every month up in the mountains as it was). All of the activity was on the far side of the grounds from the river. No one was really paying attention to them.
"All right?" Celia said.
"If we get caught, we just got lost having a stroll up the river."
James pondered suggesting that people might think it was a romantic stroll up the river, but opted not to bring the subject up. Celia did not look like she had the Yule Ball on her mind, and was dressed more for hiking than for strolling. Instead, as they started walking, he said, "Have you heard much about it?"
"Only what's in Madame Laurent's class," Celia said. "Prehistoric, abandoned magical village. Her grandfather used it during the Resistance."
"Wonder why it got abandoned."
Celia grinned over her shoulder. "Clearly, they had a game of some sort there, and something bad happened, and everyone left because of The Curse!"
"Right." They walked for along while without talking. He could feel the mountains more than he could see them, curving in toward the river.
The reached a rocky slope and scrambled up it. Here, the Sentinelle was cutting through a shallow gorge--maybe seven feet deep. There was a line of trees between the river and the palace, and for a moment, James felt almost like he was walking around the Forbidden Forest, though the trees were entirely different.
Celia stopped and looked around. "Now, this looks more like home." She peered ahead. "I think I see a few standing stones. That could be it."
"Maybe." James went on, now a few steps ahead of her. "You'd think that after the first task went off without any problems, they'd be apologizing about curse-talk."
"No glitch except for the first monsters getting loose."
"But that was weeks ago. Nothing's happened since."
Celia didn't answer this. They'd reached a thin row of trees that stretched across the path, and beyond it, James could see a circle of broken stone walls, and a sheer cliff, marked with cave entrances. Celia smiled. "Look what we accidentally stumbled on! Let's go--"
But before she could finish, a screeching roar echoed off the stone face of the cliff.