can i just. ramble about the lost prophecy for a moment. my most loved and simultaneously detested chapter (ok well. the forest again is up there but that one’s just...fucked up. in a genuinely disturbing way. happy to talk about that any time too tho lmfao). anyway im going to put my thotstm under a cut because i have a lot of them but yeah im just Thinkng
anyway like - i dont actually dislike dumbledore as a character, but this chapter is like...the largest of many moments where i really question why he’s the moral centre of the series...uh, you could make an argument hes not, but then what are your other options? harry? snape? like...no, i don’t think that we need a “moral guide” in any story, but undeniably the narrative suggests that dumbledore’s morals are the Ultimate good, which is why it’s, like...something harry’s willing to die for. but he says in the lost prophecy to harry “five years ago ... you arrived at hogwarts neither as happy nor as well-nourished as i would have liked, perhaps, but alive and healthy. you were not a pampered prince, but as normal a boy as i could have hoped under the circumstances.” let’s not forget that in this very same book harry’s uncle quite literally strangles him - and that’s, you know, five years after his arrival at hogwarts. of course, there’s the fact of them learning in cos that he’s not supposed to do magic outside of hogwarts, but it is mentioned that the dursleys kind of like...backed off of harry in certain respects after he went to hogwarts, because they were afraid of magic. well, anyway, dumbledore also says right after this “five years ago you arrived at hogwarts, harry, safe and whole, as i had planned and intended. well - not quite whole. you had suffered. i knew you would when i left you on your aunt and uncle’s doorstep. i knew i was condemning you to ten dark and difficult years.”
what’s really interesting to me is that like...when he says this, harry doesn’t respond. what he does respond to is when dumbledore says he left him with petunia because she was lily’s last living relative: “she doesn’t love me. she doesn’t give a damn -” and dumbledore interrupts with “but she took you. she may have taken you grudgingly, furiously, unwillingly, bitterly, yet still she took you.” this is also the moment we learn that dumbledore was the one who sent the howler to petunia at the beginning of this book, and what did that say - “remember my last.” so...yeah, honestly? i’ve always found it kind of weird that the dursleys kept harry around, especially after he went to hogwarts. from what all of what dumbledore says here, it sounds a lot like they were threatened into taking harry. or. petunia was, at least. and in the very beginning of dh, there’s that moment where petunia looks back and harry thinks she looks like she has something she wants to say to him, but she doesn’t. this always felt kind of, like...strange. even if she did love her sister, it wouldn’t make that much sense for her in that moment to be thinking of lily, whom she hadn’t seen in, like, twenty years, when she had been housing harry for sixteen. if anything, it’s just that she (parallel to snape? lol. which, unrelated really but interesting - love in the prince’s tale how every time we see snape talking to dumbledore about harry he’s saying he’s just like his father, until dumbledore tells him harry has to die. and then he calls him lily potter’s son. just interesting. but anyway. i digress) never bothered to see harry as anything but lily’s son, but i really feel like...yeah, okay, they clearly had issues, but i don’t get the impression that petunia blames lily for forcing harry into her life. blames her for dying, maybe, but...dumbledore was the one who brought harry there. dumbledore gave her the mysterious letter. when she gets that howler, she’s described as, like, pale and shaking - clearly very afraid. she doesn’t show much concern over voldemort at, like, any point. even in dh, she’s not arguing against anything like vernon is, but she’s not exactly telling him why they oughtn’t be. which leaves me to think that the person she’s afraid of if they kick harry out isn’t voldemort (after all, she’s not stupid. it’s entirely logical to conclude that voldemort would leave her and her family well enough alone if they cut harry off entirely. sure, the wards protect them too, but realistically they’re probably not at any higher risk than any other muggles. in the lost prophecy, dumbledore says that voldemort chose sirius because kreacher had informed them that sirius was the person harry loved most. it wasn’t merely a matter of him being harry’s godfather. the emotional attachment was highly relevant in that decision). rather, i get the idea that she’s afraid of dumbledore.
and this makes sense, right? because in this chapter, the whole time, he’s talking about a plan. he had a plan. he had a plan, and he ruined it by caring too much about harry’s wellbeing. implying, of course, that the only way he could follow through on this plan was to neglect harry’s wellbeing. he says here that he hadn’t wanted harry to suffer at the hands of the dursleys, no, but there is the suggestion in his dialogue (and this is something that comes up in the beginning of hbp too, when he comes to privet drive. he says something about how the dursleys did better by harry than by dudley, because by spoiling dudley they made him unkind or whatever. this one really pisses me off lol but - whatever. not the point) that he would rather harry have been abused than spoiled and arrogant. i’m not the first to say it, and i can see why people disagree, but i really do think dumbledore’s plan relied on harry being abused. it makes a lot of logical sense. and i don’t think it’s a coincidence that the person dumbledore gives the task of telling harry he has to die to is snape, whose background is very similar to harry’s in this regard. an abused kid is a lot less likely to value his life...especially if one of the only adults who ever cared for him is the one saying it’s better if he dies.
and, okay, no one else does either and that’s just on weird narrative choices for the sake of plot convenience imo, but i do think it’s significant that dumbledore never really disparages harry for not trusting adults. he finds him after he faces quirrell, sure. fawkes saves him in the chamber of secrets. dumbledore suggests using the time turner. he comes to the ministry. but he praises harry for doing things on his own. in many ways, he sets him up to do so. he doesn’t even suggest trying to find a way to get harry out of the triwizard tournament. even in this specific chapter, when harry can’t look at him because he feels so guilty over having gotten others hurt or worse, his tone is described as kind, and his gaze is not “accusatory.” only in hbp do we really see dumbledore working with harry on something (when they find regulus’s locket) - and he does this with the awareness that he’s going to die, and harry will be left to do everything that remains on his own. interestingly, harry does feel betrayed by dumbledore when he sees snape’s memories. but it’s so fleeting. he forgives him just as fast. it seems that he wholly believes that dumbledore didn’t want him to die - it was just necessary. but dumbledore did at least try to give him a way to stay alive, with the hallows, if lily’s blood tying him to voldemort turned out to not be enough. harry’s entire life was planned out by dumbledore, and in the end he still forgives him, because he thinks dumbledore just didn’t have any other choice.
which is like...a huge gripe i have with harry potter in general, actually. there’s this ongoing theme about choices. right from when harry chooses gryffindor over slytherin (not about to say this was a bad narrative choice, but the impact of the story would’ve been a lot more significant if he had bee in slytherin imho but whatever) but time and time again we see like...sure, voldemort chose harry over neville, but otherwise...there’s only one interpretation of the prophecy. there’s no other way to rid harry of the piece of voldemort’s soul he’s carrying than for him to die. snape must be the one to kill dumbledore. it just seems misplaced, with this big theme of the power of choice, for so many things to just...only have one solution. and ironically, you know - in ootp before they go to the ministry, hermione says harry has a “saving people thing,” and in gof ron said he had a “hero complex” or something, right? and voldemort knows that too, but so does dumbledore. and when harry dies, dumbledore says he has a choice whether to pass on or go back, but he adds, too, that he thinks more people might be saved if harry goes back. so i think, honestly...that wasn’t a choice at all. and i think dumbledore knew that too, which is why he said it. but it’s funny, obviously, when everything else he did was to ensure harry would be willing to die...but in this moment, he wants him to live. in a way, i think that’s almost more cruel, to be completely honest. make him accept something, and find peace in it, then turn it back around...yeah. there sure are things worse than death, dumbledore. it’s what you did to this literal child lmfao.
anyway, back to the chapter in question, though. the line harry has about petunia sticks out to me, but so does this one, when they’re talking about sirius: “people don’t like being locked up!” and then he says “you did it to me all last summer,” but what really gets me about this is that harry wasn’t exactly locked up, then; he was just cut off. nobody was telling him anything. he felt trapped, and alone. but he had been locked up. in the cupboard under the stairs, in dudley’s second bedroom...i mean, in cos he was very literally locked up. to the point of needing to be broken out. and what’s really interesting to me about ootp as a whole is that, like...people are calling harry crazy, right? they’re saying he’s some sort of delinquent. that he’s dangerous and disturbed. and isn’t this exactly what the dursleys told people about him? isn’t this their entire cover story for where he goes to school? “st brutus’s secure centre for incurably criminal boys.” a “first rate institution for hopeless cases.” they tell him from the time he’s young that his parents were, like, unhinged drunkards who got themselves killed in an accident that was all their own fault.
here’s another thing - harry is really defensive of cedric’s death. for someone who was fed lies about how his parents died for ten years, that makes a lot of sense to me. his aunt and uncle lied to him about the circumstances of his parents’ deaths in such a way that robbed them of their honour and bravery; harry isn’t going to accept anyone doing the same to cedric, especially considering that they were all three murdered by voldemort personally, and that all three were momentarily revived by the priori incantatem. similarly, there are a lot of instances in this book where harry wants to turn to sirius, thinking he is the only person who could understand how he feels having his name smeared in the papers. and here, in this chapter, he puts his situation parallel to sirius’s again - in saying they were both “locked up.”
so, the interesting thing about this to me is that this whole time, harry is angry about sirius. he’s angry that sirius died. they’re talking about how sirius hated being locked up. they’re talking about how it’s dumbledore’s fault that sirius died. in this moment, harry is blaming dumbledore for sirius’s death - and as soon as he does, he turns it back on himself. when he says “you did it to me all last summer,” he’s no longer talking about dumbledore ordering sirius to stay in grimmauld place. now, he’s talking about dumbledore never reaching out to him after his fourth year. he’s angry at dumbledore for what dumbledore did to him. my points above are to say, essentially, that the things in this book that make harry so angry are not merely a matter of being angry at being called a liar or worse, or on behalf of cedric. he’s angry because the wizarding world has begun treating him exactly as the dursleys always did. and dumbledore is the very persona of the wizarding world to harry (and probably plenty of others; he’s pretty powerful and influential, never mind being headmaster of their school). he accuses dumbledore of locking him up. but the only ones who actually “locked him up” were the dursleys.
this isn’t the only place where certain things pop up that make me really stop and kinda go oh for this reason. there’s a line in dh, actually, while harry, ron, and hermione are on the run where harry thinks that he’s the one who’s dealing with their lack of food the best, because “he had endured periods of near starvation” in his time living with his aunt and uncle. it’s a total throwaway. by the next paragraph, it’s irrelevant, and it never comes up again. this specific line in the lost prophecy, “people don’t like being locked up,” is really grim to me. harry’s not talking about sirius here. he’s talking about himself. and dumbledore’s reaction to this is also really...something.
“dumbledore closed his eyes and buried his face in his long-fingered hands. harry watched him, but this uncharacteristic sign of exhaustion, or sadness, or whatever it was from dumbledore did not soften him. on the contrary, he felt even angrier that dumbledore was showing signs of weakness. he had no business being weak when harry wanted to rage and storm at him.”
and from here, he springs into his explanation, right? about his plan. but this specific passage does read like genuine remorse to me. maybe he’s feeling the pressure of having made the mistake of not telling harry anything, since it is ultimately his lack of knowledge that moved him to the ministry, but i think it’s significant that he’s reacting specifically to harry’s line about being locked up. and that he starts talking not first about the summer harry mentions, but about when harry was eleven. and he says harry had suffered in those ten years. he says he knew he would. if he’s showing remorse here, then...he’s feeling remorseful over what he felt he had had to put harry through for the sake of his plan. he’s feeling remorseful for leaving harry in an abusive situation.
i have no doubt that dumbledore cared for harry. if it’s not obvious anywhere else, then it certainly is in this chapter. he says “i defy anyone who has watched you as i have - and i have watched you more carefully than you can have imagined - not to want to save you more pain than you had already suffered.” then a little later “i have watched you struggling under more burdens than any student who has ever passed through this school.” we know from when they talk in dh that dumbledore considers harry a better person than he was. i think it’s easy to see, from dumbledore’s perspective, exactly why harry is so impressive to him. he holds the one quality dumbledore couldn’t, though he obviously wanted to: selflessness. he says so here, too, when he talks about what sacrifices he might be making by trying to maintain harry’s happiness, something he, dumbledore, wants for him. the end of this chapter, too, really strikes me for this: “you may, perhaps, have wondered why i never chose you as a prefect? i must confess...that i rather thought...you had enough responsibility to be going on with.”
but harry is, in essence, what dumbledore made him into. he’s explaining it all here, just to say, in the end, that harry’s fate is "kill or be killed.” and in dh, he says in snape’s memories that he suspects harry has already guessed, or at least knows on some subconscious level, that he’s a horcrux. by this point, the end of harry’s fifth year - it’s highly likely that dumbledore has already come to this conclusion, at least in part, himself. he implies it in snape’s memories, when they talk about harry needing to learn occlumency. he says something about knowing harry well enough to know that he won’t leave anything unresolved in the end, that harry isn’t like that (which is something he has in common with snape in the end; we see snape very dedicated to ensuring he has followed through on every last one of dumbledore’s orders, and he only dies once he has given harry his memories as was his “duty.” interestingly, they both also put all their faith in dumbledore, then feel betrayed when they learn that dumbledore hasn’t been completely honest with them but still follow on his orders anyway, for the sake of the greater good, even though they know dumbledore used them). looking at this in terms of child psychology, though...it’s abundantly clear that harry is very desperate to have adult figures in his life that he can trust, and who in turn trust him - but at the same time, he doesn’t want to be treated like a child, because he didn’t have a childhood.
anyway, my greater point here is this - harry is actually extremely affected by the dursleys’ abuse and he and dumbledore both know it is dumbledore’s fault it happened at all. but harry forgives him, and has a hard time blaming him at all, really, because he also knows dumbledore loves him, and the thing he wants above all else is to be acknowledged and loved for who he is. it’s why he doesn’t like being kept out of the loop, it’s why he can’t stand being “locked up,” or otherwise somehow stifled. and when dumbledore is talking about how much harry has suffered, so much more than any of hogwarts’s other students...that’s acknowledgement of everything he caused, and he does display real remorse for it here imo. but it doesn’t alter his plan. it doesn’t change anything. considering that dumbledore let his love for grindlewald blind him before, it’s no wonder that he’s a person, now, who values the “greater good” even above those he loves - because he does love harry, and even though harry often doubts this i think there’s never really a point where he doesn’t know on some level that it’s true too - but what’s really interesting is that harry, at this point, is not like that. i mean, he’s just played right into voldemort’s hands because he only cared about saving sirius, never mind that he knew it was a trap. the only person, in fact, that harry doesn’t mind sacrificing for the greater good - or the good of other people, those he loves - is himself. that’s why it’s so easy for him to forgive dumbledore in the end, i’d say.
but, yeah. i think this chapter is just...so interesting. and painful. it’s the moment, for me, where we most see how affected harry is by everything. it’s this huge culmination of his angry throughout this whole book, yes, but it’s more than that - it’s things he’s been repressing since he was a small child, anger at an abusive situation, guilt and confusion over what happened in the graveyard, and, most importantly, i think, grief for himself, which is placed equivalent in its parallel to his grief for sirius. it’s very fitting, too, when sirius was, after all, his last hope of having a family, or at least a parent, that was his own. before harry’s hearing, they talked again about harry living with sirius (in this case, if he really was expelled from hogwarts). it’s something they both want, but can’t have - and it’s something that no one else has ever offered to harry. sirius dying takes that away from him, and so his reaction to sirius’s death is not just about sirius, but also about a ten-year-old boy who had spent all his living memory (except, of course, for the memory of his mother being murdered) living in a cupboard and being told he was a freak and a waste of space. who didn’t know anything akin to happiness until he went away to hogwarts, where his life was put in danger again and again but at least here, finally, people cared about him. and it’s something most victims of abuse have to experience at some point (usually as adults, in the case of abused children). it’s a very, very poignant form of grief. and it’s cyclical, too; it doesn’t just “go away,” like any sort of grief or trauma. when i read this chapter, this is the grief i’m seeing. i think it’s why sirius’s death is the one that affects him the most, of all of them (dumbledore’s too; the mentor figure, the headmaster of the only place he ever called “home,” which he knows after dumbledore dies that he can never return to).
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Face the Music
Word Count: 5,572
Timeline: Between seasons 9 and 10
Trigger Warnings: Brief Mentions of Toxic Parent and Eating Disorder
Summary: If you ask Cole, there are some things in life better left forgotten. Especially embarrassing experiences that you would prefer not to talk about. They certainly shouldn’t be used as blackmail or as entertainment for others, and everyone should just learn to move on. Although maybe his friends aren’t the only ones that need to move on.
Link to read on Fanfiction.Net:
Cole burst onto the deck of the Bounty, swinging the door shut behind him. Zane looked up from the control panel, looking startled. “Cole?”
“Zane!” Cole ran over to him, gasping for breath. “Quick, what’s Kai’s cell phone password?”
Zane pulled back, raising an eyebrow. “What?”
“Don’t play coy with me, I know you have the passwords for everything programmed into your database! Now hurry, what is it!”
“I never denied that I did, but why would I tell you? That’s confidential information.” Glancing down at the cell phone, he asked, “Does Kai know you have his phone, Cole?”
“Uh… yeah, if it helps you sleep at night.”
Zane crossed his arms. “Cole…”
“Come on, Zane, help a friend out! It’s important!”
“Cole, that is not my secret to tell. Unless it is an emergency, you don’t need to know.”
“But it is an emergency!”
“Oh really? Who’s in danger?”
“My pride,” he snapped. “C’mon, Zane, please, what do you want? I’ll do your dishes for a month! Or- or, uh, take patrol duties for the next three weeks. Hey, hey, what about cooking, you like that, right? I’ll buy you some new appliances!”
“Cole, you cannot bribe me-”
“Hey guuuuys,” Kai larked, popping his head through the door and sliding over to Cole. Before he could even react, the master of fire was plucking the phone out of his hands. “I’ll take that, thanks.”
“Give it back!”
“It’s my phone!”
“I didn’t give you permission to take that video!”
Kai batted his eyes innocently. “What video?”
Cole lunged for him. “I will kill you, spike head-”
“Gotta catch me first,” Kai shrilled, neatly ducking his arm and dashing back belowdeck, laughing maniacally.
“Thanks a lot, Zane. Who knows what he’ll do with that now?”
“I don’t understand. What is going on?”
Cole sighed slowly. “He’s got… a video. I need it to be deleted.”
“What kind of video?”
“Seriously Zane? Can’t you take a hint? I obviously don’t want to tell you.”
Zane just stared at him expectantly.
Cole rubbed his face in his hands. I can’t believe I’m doing this. “He still has the video from… from Laughy’s. With the Sons of Garmadon.”
Zane is smiling now, crossing his arms. “I don’t know why you are embarrassed to tell me, Cole. I was there, remember? I saw you sing-”
“Okay, okay, Zane, I get it! Just stop talking about it!”
“I don’t see why talking about it would be an issue-”
Cole lunged forward, pressing a hand over his mouth. “You don’t understand,” he hissed under his breath. “They’re everywhere. They’re obsessed with that video, and they’ve been dangling it over my head ever since we returned from the First Realm. They’re trying to blackmail me!”
“Oh yeah, it’s not just Kai- Jay’s in on it too, the jerk. You think you know who your best friend is.”
“Cole, I think you’re overreacting, what could they possibly do with it? Everyone here already saw you sing, it’s fine.”
“You really think Lloyd, Nya and Pix have spared a second thought to think about me after everything they had going on here? I was hoping they had forgotten about it by now, but if Jay and Kai have their way-”
“I’m not going to help you steal Kai’s phone, Cole. If you need me for anything actually important, let me know.”
“This is important,” Cole yelled after him, but Zane was already gone.
Fine, he huffed. If no one is going to help me, I’ll do it myself.
“Hey Cole? Kai and Lloyd want me to play Fist-to-Face 3 with them, will you take patrol duty for me tonight?”
“Yeah?” Cole reclined in the kitchen chair, stretching his arms behind his head. “And why would I do that?”
“Oh, I dunno… perhaps because you wouldn’t want a certain… video to accidentally leak…” Jay waggled his phone teasingly in the air.
Cole stood up sharply. “You wouldn’t.”
“I dunno… would I? I guess we’ll find out.”
“Fine, fine, I’m going, I’m going,” Cole grumbled. “Want anything while I’m out?”
“We’re almost out of Doritos. And can you get the strawberry Fanta?”
“Are you a heathen? Who drinks the strawberry?”
“It’s not for you,” Jay snapped. “And for your information, it tastes very nice.”
“Whatever. You at least gonna pay me for this, bozo?”
Jay slapped a twenty into his hand. “This is all I got on me. Buy yourself a little somethin’ with the change.”
Cole mock bowed. “Whatever you say, master.”
“Ah, come on, I’m not cruel, come join us when you get back.” As Cole walked out the door, he called after him, “I’ll save you some Bagel Bites!”
Cole rolled his eyes. He didn’t know how he got into situations like this.
He was really starting to hate that stupid video.
By the end of the week, which had been filled with similar scenarios, Cole had had it. I’m not going to take this slander anymore! They can’t just push me around like this, I’m the master of earth!
The monastery was buzzing with the chatter of his friends on the hot afternoon. They were all wearing swimsuits, and Lloyd opened the door, leaning out lazily as a wave of hot air wafted into the cool monastery.
“Stop standing there with the door open, nitwit, you’re letting all the hot air in,” Kai snapped, shoving him out the door, nearly sending him to the floor, before Zane caught him by the wrist with his usual lightning reflexes.
“Kai, there is no need to get physical.”
“Can it, Zane, I’m just playing around, right bud?” Kai slung his arm around Lloyd’s shoulder, ruffling his hair.
Lloyd shot him a glare. “Get off of me, you lump, I’m melting here. Are we going swimming or not?”
“Ouch, looks like someone skipped his coffee today. What’s wrong, baby boy, did I hurt your feewings?”
“You wanna get punched? ‘Cause I will not hesitate to punch you.”
“You wanna throw hands with me, bro? I’d prefer not to have a squished pancake as a brother, but if you say so.”
“As soon as I cool down a bit, you are toast.”
“You cool it, mister. Are you forgetting everything amazing I’ve ever done for you?”
“Don’t mind him,” Nya called to Kai, coming over to elbow Lloyd from the other side. “He gets grumpy when he’s hot.”
“I hate you both.”
Zane sighed. “I swear, it’s like the heat is melting their brains.”
Nya shrugged. “They must have like, low heat tolerance or something. Don’t ask me why they always get so loopy like this.”
“Hey, it’s like 100 degrees, don’t blame me if I’m a little uncomfortable!” Lloyd snapped, his words slurring slightly.
“Yeah, bud, even I think you’re starting to get to be a little much now. Come on, let’s get you in the water.”
As the team shuffled out the door, Jay turned back to face him. “Hey, Cole, aren’t you coming swimming with us?”
“Yeah, I’ll be out in a minute, just give me a sec.”
Jay shrugged, and Cole waited for a moment, until he heard the door click.
Finally! I thought they’d never leave.
Hurrying down the hallway, he popped his head into the bathroom, where Kai and Jay had just thrown their clothes into a pile on the floor when they had changed. Getting on his knees, he dug through it and pulled out Jay’s shorts, extracting his cell from it. Pulling a slip of paper out from his pocket, he quickly typed the numbers in, and…
The phone unlocked.
Cole broke into a grin, praising Jay’s inability to remember passwords and always writing them down somewhere where a very desperate earth ninja could find them.
He opened the camera app and deleted the video.
There. Halfway done.
Kai’s phone wasn’t in his pocket, so he snuck over to his room and found it charging on the nightstand. Biting his lip, he pulled out his phone and glanced at the camera footage he had captured the previous night.
It showed a bird’s eye view of the living room, and Kai was sitting on the couch, watching TV. As he reached for his phone, Cole zoomed in on the device and watched carefully as he typed in the code.
Okay. Cole repeated the same code on Kai’s phone.
Cole felt panic flare inside him. What were the chances that Kai had changed his password in the one night since he’d filmed this?
“It didn’t work because I have one of those fingerprint ones, too.”
Cole whips around to see Kai standing in the doorway, Jay hovering behind him. “Jay told me you were lingering, and I just got a feeling, y’know? That you were up to something.”
Cole huffed, tossing him the phone. “Why won’t you just delete it, Kai? This has gone on for long enough.”
“I like the video, Cole. It puts a smile on my face on the… hard days.”
“Oh, spare me the pity card. I know plenty well that you have more than enough other ways to keep yourself entertained.”
“What about Jay?” Kai grabbed the lightning ninja by the shoulders, shaking him gently. “Think of your friend, Cole. He has no sense of entertainment, he needs something to keep him going.”
“Oh please,” Cole snorted. “Stick Jay on Youtube and he’ll be entertained for hours. He gets distracted way too easily.”
“Oh come on, Cole, this is way better than Jay’s stupid cat videos-”
“I do not watch cat videos!”
“Don’t lie to me, zaptrap, you’re lame.”
“Dude, who’s side are you on?”
“Look guys, I don’t have time for this. Just delete the video, and we can be done with this whole thing.”
“No, that’s not how this is going to work. You’re going to go outside with the others, and forget this whole thing ever happened. Otherwise, this little video might end up on the internet.”
“What?” Cole shrieked. “You can’t do that, dude, it’s an invasion of my privacy!”
“Last time I checked, this was a video of Rocky Dangerbuff, not you. Is it you in this video, Cole?”
Cole felt his face heat as he scowled at them, and Kai and Jay burst into laughter.
Kai slapped a hand on his back. “If it makes you feel any better, it wouldn’t have worked anyway. You really think we’re dumb enough to keep the only copies of the video on our phones? You’d be searching for hours to delete all traces of it.”
Cole balked at him. “Seriously? How many copies did you make?”
Jay grinned. “You forgot this wasn’t a solo operation, dirtclod. I’m the tech guy around here. There’s no way you’ll be able to override my programming.”
Cole groaned, putting his face in his hands. “I hate you guys.”
“Hey, that’s what friends are for, right?” Kai laughed. “C’mon, dude, it’s hot, let’s go swim.” Cole reluctantly followed them out the door, grumbling.
“This won’t go on forever, you guys. Sooner or later, I’m gonna find a way to stop you.”
Kai laughed. “We’ll see about that, Cole, we’ll see.”
“Are you sure this is really something I wanna be getting involved in?” The nindroid asked, her glowing green eyes scanning the monitor screen.
“It’ll be fine, Pix, I promise. They might be a little annoyed at first, but within a couple days, they’ll have completely moved on to something else to make fun of. All you have to do is get rid of one measly video for me.”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it that, exactly. Jay went pretty deep with this program. But I think I’ve located the source material.”
“And?” Cole asked, placing his hands on the table and leaning forward. “Does that mean you can delete all the data?”
“Yes. Every known record of it developed into the Bounty’s database will be erased.”
“Do it, quick!”
Pixal turned to the computer again, and Cole held his breath as her fingers flew over the keys for a moment. Then, she pulled back.
“Is it done? Did you do it?”
“Yes. It’s gone.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Cole sighed, slouching against the wall. “I’m so glad that’s finally over. Pix, you’re a lifesaver.”
A small smile played on her lips. “I do what I can.”
“Well, you’ve just saved me a lot of trouble. I owe ya one.”
“We’ll see. Anyways, if we’re done here, I’m going to go help Zane work on those hull repairs to the Bounty.”
When he walked down to the kitchen for dinner that night, for the first time in weeks he didn’t feel a constant dread hanging over his head.
The relief didn’t last long.
It was only the evening of the next day when Kai came marching into his room, Jay on his heels. Cole glanced over at them nonchalantly from where he was laying across his bed, reading a Starfarer comic. “Can I help you?”
“You know what you did, stop acting so innocent.”
Cole grinned, stretching. “What can I say, bro, I outplayed you.”
“You could never,” Jay snorted. “You had help!”
“Hey, two against one was never a fair game. Let’s just say I was evening the odds a little bit.”
“Who helped you?” Kai hissed, pointing at him. “Spill, now!”
“Sorry fellas, but I’ve sworn to secrecy. You’ll have to find your information elsewhere.”
“It has to be either Nya, Pixal, or Zane,” Jay insisted. “Nya’s the only one with the advanced enough technical skills to be able to override me, and Zane and Pixal are attached to the system, so they can get pretty much anything they want with enough computer skills.”
Kai rolled his eyes. “Great job, sparky, now we've eliminated it down to three out of the four possible suspects. What amazing deduction skills.”
“Hey, I don’t see you doing any better! And it’s actually three out of five. We know it’s not Master Wu, either.”
Both Kai and Cole raised an eyebrow at that.
“Jay, you’re joking. Master Wu. Helped Cole. Delete a blackmail video?”
Cole snorted. “Zaptrap, if Wu ever found out about what was going on, he’d give us a stern lecture, make us meditate for a few hours, then, probably like, stick us on patrol duty for the rest of the night or something.”
“Shut up! Look, it doesn’t matter, alright? If you just tell us who it is, we’ll leave you alone.”
“Fat chance.” Cole got up out of bed and strolled past them, towards the door. “You don’t have anything against me anymore. That blackmail’s not gonna work anymore.”
“Who told you that?”
Cole stopped, turning towards Kai slowly. “What?”
“Who told you we didn’t have access to the video anymore?”
Cole gaped, glancing back and forth between Kai and Jay. “What!? That’s impossible, she-” he bit his lip sharply, cursing himself. “I mean… we deleted all copies of the video. How could you still have it?”
“Aha!” Jay gasped, pointing at him. “Did you hear that? He said she! Which means we’ve narrowed it down to Pixal or Nya!”
Cole ignored him, narrowing his eyes at Kai. “You’re bluffing. You don’t have the video.”
“Oh yeah? Jay, you still have it?”
The blue ninja stuck a hand into his pocket, and, pulling it out, flashed a small blue object between his fingers. Cole looked closer, and felt his stomach drop as he recognized what it was- a flash drive.
“Yep, it’s all in here! Even the most advanced computer codes will do nothing to reach our backup. Looks like you’ve run out of luck again, Cole.”
“Are you kidding me? This is impossible!”
“Come on, Cole- all we want to do is have a little fun with it. Let us keep the video, and we’ll leave you alone.”
“And if I try to get rid of it again?”
“Oh, I dunno, maybe it could find its way… onto social media.”
Cole nearly choked. “Kai! You wouldn’t!”
“Keep your nose out of it, and I won’t! C’mon, Jay, we’re done here.”
Cole flopped back down onto his bed. Social media. Kai couldn’t put the video on the internet. It would be all over the city by morning.
He had said he wouldn’t do it if Cole stopped trying to get rid of the video, but Cole didn’t trust that one bit. Now that the idea was planted in his head, Cole was afraid he could do it at any time.
There was no question about it. He had to destroy that flash drive.
Kai and Jay were out on the last evening patrol.
This was the time.
Glancing down the hallway to make sure no one was there, he eased open the door to Kai’s room and slipped inside.
He was fairly certain they would’ve kept the flash drive in Kai’s room, specifically to throw him off after he had seen Jay holding it earlier. Also, Kai’s room, while still a mess, wasn’t as bad as Jay’s, so Cole much preferred to search his, anyways.
But it was still going to be more difficult than he had hoped, he realized with a groan as he glanced around the room.
Kai’s bed had a small stack of comic books and magazines strewn across it, with more on the nightstand and even a few on the floor. His laundry had been mostly shoved into a corner, but a few lone shirts and socks had been left randomly. Most of his stuff appeared to be in bins that had been stuffed under the bed and in the corners, but there appeared to be no order to what was in them, just a hag-tag of random junk, save for one crate in the corner which was full to the brim with various weapons, leaving several of them spilling out just asking for a sliced toe in the morning.
The worst was the dresser, though- there were several hair products lined up, even though Cole knew he already had more than enough in the bathroom, a handful of letters, only a couple of them opened, some more comics, a couple empty cups, and enough earrings and other jewelry to last him a lifetime. Cole never understood why he needed so many. Sure, Kai had a ton of piercings, more than the rest of them combined, but Cole swore he had never seen him even wear half of these. Kai had almost as much jewelry, (or, as he liked to call it, “bling”) as he did hair products, which was really saying something.
Sighing, Cole walked over to search through one of the bins that looked like it may have had the techy stuff in it- or at least, the somewhat mechanical stuff- maybe- or, actually, not really, he had absolutely no idea what kind of system Kai had going on here.
Reaching in, he pulled out a tablet, a flashlight, a spare video game controller, a baseball cap, a worn stuffed dragon, a barrette that he was pretty sure belonged to Skylor- Cole blushed at that one, shoving the box away. These things were Kai’s. There could likely be things in here he didn’t want Cole to see.
He wasn’t trying to snoop, though- all he wanted to do was find the flash drive, and leave.
Turning away, Cole began to sift through another bin. A sword- small and uneven, but fairly solid- this one wrapped away with much more care than the others- had a label scribbled on that read “Kai’s first sword.” A photograph, ripped down the middle, the remaining side with a very young Kai hugging an even younger Nya, and a ripped shawl stained with blood that had never come out-
Cole jumped back. Okay, so maybe there was some sort of order to these boxes. And that one was none of his business. He wasn’t sure he even wanted to look any further, anyway. He didn’t doubt that Kai and Nya had been reserved about their lives before meeting them for a reason.
Cole was beginning to feel guilt weight down on his chest already, cold and heavy. He shouldn’t have seen that. He shouldn’t have seen any of this. He was blatantly disrespecting one of his closest friend’s privacy just to delete some stupid video he was embarrassed about.
I should go.
As he sped towards the door, he tripped over something and fell to the ground with a thump. Turning back, he saw it was a book that he had set aside while pulling things out of the bin, having spilled open after he tripped on it, allowing him to see that it wasn’t a book at all, but a photo album.
It was open to a page where Cole had his arm slung around a very grumpy-looking Kai, ruffling his hair, with Jay and Lloyd bent over laughing in the background. It was followed by a bunch of pictures of Kai with the worst bed hair Cole had ever seen- desperately reaching towards the camera, presumably to strangle whoever was snapping photos. Occasionally, one of the other ninja would pop in, holding him back for the photographer, or posing goofily next to the groggy fire ninja.
Cole felt a grin spread over his face. He remembered that day, when Kai had stayed up so late playing video games that he had forgotten about his hair in the morning- and the whole team had been more than eager to take advantage of the one time the fire ninja wasn’t looking so attractive. Kai had threatened to murder them in their sleep, but he had been laughing through it all, too.
That’s the same thing happening here, Cole realized. I’m being a baby about this. They’re just playing around with me. Like I haven’t done the same to them a thousand times.
Cole neatly closed the book and slid it back into a bin, leaving the room with his heart feeling significantly lighter.
It hadn’t been a moment too soon, either, as when he was walking down the hallway, he passed Kai and Jay returning from patrol.
“Everything okay, Cole?”
“I’m fine,” he said quickly, too quickly. Luckily, Jay didn’t seem to notice. Kai raised his eyebrow slightly but didn’t press the issue. “Whatcha’ up to?”
“Just heading to bed.”
“Sweet dreams, little glow worm.”
Jay burst into snickers, and Kai grinned wickedly. Cole put his face in his hands, and brushed past them. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t quite as over this as he thought.
The next morning, he was awoken by a knock on his bedroom door. Pulling on a tank top, he opened the door to find Zane standing there.
The nindroid had an apologetic look on his face, holding up his cell phone. “Have you checked social media yet?”
“Kai posted your karaoke video.”
“He what?!” Cole shrieked, ripping the phone out of his hand. There, right under Kai’s grinning profile picture, was the video of him singing at Laughy’s.
“That dumbass,” Cole cried, flopping back onto his bed. “Do you know how bad this is? And it’s not just any old social media account, it’s Kai’s. The guy has like, seven million followers on Ninjagram, and almost as many on Chirp and ChatSnap. This will ruin me.”
“I’m sorry, Cole. I didn’t think he would do this.”
“I didn’t either. He promised he wouldn’t, as long as I didn’t try to delete the data!”
“...Didn’t you, though?”
Cole glowered at him. “Well, maybe, technically, I did, but he didn’t catch me! How would he know?”
“Cole, what kind of ninja headquarters would this be if we didn’t have security cameras?”
“Shit! Why would he be checking that? Oh, I’m never going to forgive him for this.”
“Cole, forgive me, but I think you’re overreacting a little. Sure, it’ll probably get a few laughs, but in a couple hours, everyone will have moved onto the next thing. You’ll be fine.”
“You don’t know that! I’m not just like some random cat video, I’m a famous ninja! Pretty much everyone knows about me, they’re going to linger on this for a while, trust me.”
“Cole,” Zane said patiently, amusement sparkling in his voice. “I think you’ll survive. Come have some breakfast, that always makes you feel a little better.”
Cole opened his mouth to argue, but Zane was already walking out of the room, so Cole reluctantly followed.
Cole sat down at the table, glaring down into his lap, as Zane slipped him a plate of waffles. He couldn’t even make it all the way through his meal before Kai and Jay inevitably showed up.
“Hey Cole,” Kai smiled, “wonderful morning, isn’t it?”
“You shut your dumb mouth,” Cole snapped. “I don’t even want to look at you.”
“Woah, someone’s feisty.”
“I saw what you did! I can’t believe you did that.”
“I can’t believe you went through my stuff,” Kai barked back, and, despite himself, Cole felt himself flinch. “I was just upholding my side of the agreement.”
“Hey, Cole,” Jay interjected. “Look on the bright side. You’re practically famous! The video already has five million views!”
“I’m already famous, you moron, which, in this situation, makes it even worse.”
Jay blinked, obviously not expecting the hostility of his response. “Cole, chill, it’s just a-”
“Hey guys!” Cole looked up to see Lloyd, Nya, and Pixal walking in. Lloyd grinned as he caught sight of Cole’s plate. “Aww, Zane, you made waffles? Did you buy-”
“Yes, Lloyd, there is plenty of whip cream.”
“I’m just checking! It wouldn’t be the first time I was a few minutes late and some hogs ate all the whip cream.” He shot a glare at Jay, who shrugged nonchalantly.
“Ya snooze, ya lose, green machine. It’s not my fault you have no sense of timing.”
“I have plenty of sense of timing! I’m just…”
“Easily distracted,” Nya chimed in.
“Am not! You were just as distracted as I was!”
“You’re the one who showed it to me just as we were trying to go to breakfast!”
“Well, you didn’t have to watch it, you could’ve just walked away!”
“How could I not? That one’s a keeper-”
“What are you two on about?” Kai laughed.
“There’s this video blowing up on the internet-” Pixal began.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Cole groaned. He glared at Kai. “Now look what you’ve done. You’ve gotten them-” he pointed an accusatory finger at Lloyd and Nya- “laughing at it too.”
“More like them and the rest of Ninjago-”
“Seriously? I can’t with you,” Cole fumed, then promptly spun around and stormed off to his bedroom, locking the door. He flopped onto his bed face first and yelled into his pillow.
He had wanted to laugh this whole thing off. He really had. But how was he expected to be chill when it was all over the internet?
Part of him was just angry with himself, though. Why did he let this rile him up so much? Why was he so upset? Zane was right, it was just another random video, wasn’t it?
Why was it the end of the world if people saw him sing?
“Back straighter, Cole.”
Cole flinched at the hit before it came, and the man rolled his eyes. “How do you expect to ever perform well if you can’t even have good posture?”
“I’m trying dad, but I’m tired. We’ve been doing this for hours. Can I go have lunch now?”
“It’s not time for that yet, Cole. First, we need to work on this piece more. Now, start again, from measure twenty-one.
He shuffled through the pages of music, and as he began to sing, all he could imagine was that stern face peering down at him, and all of a sudden his voice was coming out wobbly.
“Tone shape, Cole! You need to keep a consistent tone. Don’t let it sound wavery and messy.”
Cole’s stomach growled loudly, and he flinched at the look on his father’s face. “Please, dad, I’ll be able to concentrate more if I’ve eaten.”
“Fifteen minutes,” his father snapped. “Then right back to work.”
Cole remembered running to the kitchen, worried there wouldn’t be enough time, and eating as much food as he could manage. But it had been too much, his father would be angry with him, what was he going to do-
He had thrown most of it up in the bathroom later that night.
“Cole, you need to try harder. Singing and dancing of just “average” quality aren’t going to cut it when you become part of the next generation of the Royal Blacksmiths.”
“But dad, I don’t want to be a Royal Blacksmith. I don’t even like to sing.”
“Nonsense! This is a family legacy, boy! Do you wish to break such noble tradition just because you weren’t willing to work hard enough?”
“That’s what I thought. Now, back to work.”
A knock. “Hey, Cole, can I come in?”
Cole pulled his face out of the pillow, frantic to find it wet. He quickly wiped at his eyes before getting to his feet and trodding to the door, unlocking it and opening it slowly. Kai stood there.
“What do you want?”
To his surprise, the red ninja flinched. “Can we talk?”
Cole turned and laid across his bed. “What’s there to talk about?”
Kai took a seat on the edge of the bed, keeping his distance from Cole. “Are you… are you actually angry about this? Like, for real? I thought we were joking around.”
Cole didn’t answer, merely grunting into his pillow.
Kai hesitantly scooted a little closer. “I’m sorry. I would’ve stopped if I knew it was making you so uncomfortable. I really wish you had said something about it.”
Cole shrugged. “Well, I didn’t.”
“I’ll take it down, if you want.”
“Like, I know it’s too late now,” he said hurriedly, “and that a bunch of people have already seen it, that I’m not fixing my mistake by doing this, but- I can take the video offline now, so at least no one else sees it.”
Cole was about to thank him, when a sudden urge flowed over him. “Y’know what,” he said, sitting up, “No.”
“Don’t bother,” Cole told him. “It’s no big deal. It’s just some stupid video.”
“I thought you were upset.”
“I was. And still am, a little, if I’m being honest. But I’m tired of spending so much time worrying about what others think of me. It’s exhausting, and no fun. It’s time I started thinking about how I view myself.”
“Are you sure? Because I know you hate singing-”
“I don’t, though. I used to like it.”
Cole shrugged halfheartedly. “Let’s just say… my dad didn’t make the right decisions. Pushed me too hard to be something I wasn’t. Kind of hard to enjoy singing with him barking over my shoulder about it every spare second. Basically sucked all the joy out of it.”
Kai swung his feet back and forth. “That sounds rough. I wonder if my dad would’ve been anything like that, if he… if he’d stayed.”
“You were forced, in a way, too. Forced to grow up too quickly, to raise your sister on your own.”
“Yeah, I guess I was.” He shot him a small grin, although Cole could tell it was forced. “We’re alike in that way.”
“I wish we weren't,” Cole sighed. “No one deserves to go through that.”
Kai laughed dryly. “I learned a long time ago that life’s never been fair.”
“Have you talked to your dad at all, recently?”
“...Not really. I mean, apart from letting him know we were alive and stuff… after the First Realm.”
“Maybe you should reach out to him. Before it’s too late.”
“I know, I know… but I’m not really sure if I want to. I don’t know if that makes me sound like an awful person, but… he was never there for me. They were never there. I know it wasn’t their fault, but… it still stings. Those years, before I came here, were some of the hardest of my life. And I was just a kid! How was I… how was I supposed to…”
“It’s okay,” Cole put an arm around his shoulder and pulled him close. “I’m not sure if I want to forgive my father, either.”
“I wouldn’t blame you. What kind of person treats their kid like that? Judges them so harshly? Oh gosh, why didn’t you say something, Cole, I’m really sorry about that video.”
“I told you, it’s fine. You guys aren’t my father. I know you won’t judge me for my quirks. And, if you want to laugh at me, if the people of Ninjago want to laugh at me, that’s fine. So I’m weird. So I sing stupid songs about glow worms and sing out of key and put on really, really bad disguises. You can tease me all you want, but really, you love me for it, and I’m done doubting that. That’s what true family does.”
Kai smiled sadly at him. “I’m sorry that you didn’t find that out sooner, Cole. You’re an amazing person, and you deserve a family who will treat you like one.”
Cole smiled, slinging an arm around his shoulder. “I already have one.”
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