The other women, on the other hand, appeared to be accepting the enthusiasm with a weary, affectionate tolerance.
“I don’t understand,” Cassie put aside her cleared lunch plate and frowned up at Al, who apparently couldn’t sit still.
“Don’t understand? What’s not to understand about the Monthly Family Quidditch Battle?”
Cassie shook her head, but his smile was contagious, “This is ridiculous. What about chores?”
Al stared for a moment, “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought I was talking to my best mate. Have you seen Cassie Cooper around anywhere, by the way?”
“I’m not saying I’m not up for it,” Cassie said, defensively, “I just don’t see… you all just give up working for one afternoon a month to play Quidditch?”
“Well,” He drew out the word as he reached for Cassie’s hand to haul her up from the log she was perched on, “The word ‘Quidditch’ is used lightly. See, we don’t have Quaffles. Or Bludgers. Or a Snitch. So really it’s just six a side, get a football through the makeshift hoops and avoid the apples.”
“Apples?” As they passed the storage tent, Cassie followed his gaze to where his cousin’s Fred and Hugo were arguing over a sack of old apples. Each had a bat thrown over their shoulder. She understood. Rather than avoiding a cannon ball, you had to avoid some soft apples. Well that was safer. And more disgusting.
Al grinned at her look of disgust, “You can be on my team. We’ve got Fred and Uncle George as beaters. It’s definitely a case of you’d rather be with them than against them.”
Cassie suddenly realised something important, “Wait. I’ve never played Quidditch in my life.”
“Yeah, but you can fly. Fast. Which gives us a legitimate reason to replace Uncle Charlie.”
“What? I can’t just knock him off the team! He’s family -”
“He’s fine with it.” Al dismissed, pulling Cassie through the forest. “He and Uncle Bill have appointed themselves as team managers. And anyway, it’s kind of my fault it even started in the first place.”
“But you’ve only been here for about…”
“Just over a month.”
“So it‘s not actually a monthly thing -”
“Yet. It will be after this one.”
“Right…” She realised he was still holding her hand. But that was because he was pulling her, guiding her, the right way. Right?
“So, we used to play all the time. Back, you know. Before. In the summer, at Easter, Christmas… Obviously they didn’t really play a whole lot out here. Then I got here, and me and James got, uh, talking. About how we’ve both captained the Gryffindor team. We got into a slight disagreement -” Cassie rolled her eyes, “- And so we started off having just a little race. And then the others got involved. And then it just kind of grew into a match.”
“That is so…” Cassie began.
“Cool?” Al supplied with a flash of his crooked grin.
“Typical.” Cassie said. It was so typical of Al. To go through the stress and trauma of running away from a place where he was under almost constant surveillance. To arrive at a hidden camp, be finally reunited with his family, and in the midst of the seriousness of the situation, start up a friendly game of Quidditch.
It wasn’t long into the match before Cassie would debate her use of the word ‘friendly’.
“Where are we going?” She asked as she allowed herself to be towed along.
“To the pitch.”
“You do not have a pitch -”
“Alright. More a small clearing.”
“Wait, I don’t have my broom…”
Al waved the two brooms he held in his free hand, “Jeez, Cooper. Anyone would think you didn’t want to play -”
Cassie pulled a face at his back.
“I saw that,” He didn’t turn around.
She sighed and quickened her pace to walk alongside him, “So what position am I supposed to play?”
“Up to you. I’d say you’d be better of as a chaser but if you want to play keeper to start with then I’m sure Teddy will swap.”
Cassie shook her head to get it round the information. “Chaser is fine. Ball through hoop, right? How hard can it be? So who’s on our team?”
“Ok, so we have Fred and Uncle George as beaters. They’re awesome. It’s like watching the same person play two positions, Mum reckons it’s like back when Uncle George used to play with Uncle Fred at school. Then Teddy’s keeper - he used to play at school, captain as well. And then chasers are me and Aunt Angelina… hey, she was captain when she was at school too actually…”
Cassie felt a little apprehensive. “So, let’s get this straight. You and your brother were both captains, your dad, your mum, your aunt, your Uncle Charlie, Teddy…” She trailed off, half expecting him to list a few more family members.
“That’s about it,” He grinned. “And Ryan would probably have made captain if he’d have stayed at school too. He’s a right bossy little shit -”
“Ryan plays?” Cassie felt an oddly proud, almost maternally. It was silly. Of course he’d play. Ryan would never have passed up the chance to join in on something like this. And he’d been good at flying, she remembered…
“Uh-huh,” They arrived into the clearing, or the ‘pitch’. Cassie saw that some people were already airborne, tossing a ball around and yelling, whilst others were sprawled around on the grass in the sunshine. “Makes an awesome beater alongside Hugo. So then we’ve got Uncle Ron as their keeper and then James, Mum and Dad as their chasers. Dad always makes excuses for playing shit because he‘s ‘not a chaser‘ but it‘s no excuse…”
“So who won? The last match, who won?” Cassie asked, shading her eyes from the sun and seeking the sandy head of her brother. She saw him hovering just a few feet from the ground, his bat firmly in his hand taking quick, powerful swings at the rapid throws being aimed in his direction by…
Ryan had his back to her, and James was a fair distance away facing him, his usually sullen face actually opened up into a more good-natured half-smile as he concentrated on lobbing the apples at Ryan.
Cassie could hear Ryan’s bark of a laugh as the throws became quicker and quicker as he struggled to return them all, yelling objections at what sounded like encouragement coming from James.
It troubled her, seeing the easy way in which her brother got along with James. The more time went by, the more glimpses she got of the more Albus-like qualities in James, only when he was unaware of her presence, interacting with his family and Ryan.
Particularly Ryan. It had become apparent that there was some sort of a brotherly bond between Ryan and James, just as Cassie’s intuition had told her when she’d first arrived. Over the past couple of weeks she’d begun to see the way Ryan looked up to James, and the way that James treated him as more of a younger brother than she’d seen him act towards Al.
She thought maybe it was the competitive thing Al had told her about. Al and James were so similar in age, build, ability… if Al weren’t so easy-going they probably would’ve had difficulty getting along at all. Sure, they loved one another; as it was, Al’s laid-back demeanour provided the opportunity for them to occasionally have a conversation without it turning into a challenge of some sort. But their relationship was definitely different from the typical brotherhood Cassie had seen in anyone else.
Al demonstrated this in his answer, “Well it’s… that’s not really important…”
“You lost, didn’t you?” Cassie turned to him with a wicked grin at his displeasure.
“Little bit, yeah.” He grimaced at her delighted laugh and playfully threw an arm around her neck and over her face to shut her up. “Don’t say a word. Besides. We’re going to win this time.”
“Yeah?” Cassie’s voice came out muffled from where he’d crushed her into his chest. She pushed away - his front was rather hard against her face - with her hands on his shoulders and grinned up at him, “What makes you so certain?”
He imitated her, baring his teeth and gripping her shoulders, “Because we have you, of course, Coop.”
Cassie laughed, “Flattered though I am, your optimism may be unrealistic…”
Al raised his eyebrows, “Yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe I should lower my expectations… Maybe you don‘t have what it takes…”
Cassie scowled and punched him in the stomach. It hurt her hand. Working hard out here had hardened up his already considerable muscle tone. She wondered if she’d gotten stronger too.
“No?” He was still holding her by the shoulders. He was smiling but his eyes were bright and intense in the bright, mid-afternoon sun. Or perhaps that was because she wasn’t often this close to his face… “Prove it.” With a further quirk of the corner of his lips, he let go and strode over to the rest of the team.
Her first instinct that the match may not be as friendly as she’d first expected was when Al and James, opposing captains, punched one another in the arm instead of shaking hands. Al explained something about a dead arm. Cassie was mystified.
Her second instinct was as she was lined up with some of the best Quidditch players to ever have passed through Hogwarts. This wasn’t just a kick about in the park.
“Ok, you know the drill,” Charlie Weasley said, sounding bored, “Keep it clean -” Both Al and James’ faces were a little too straight. Cassie thought she saw Al wink, “- and below tree height. Ready?”
“Below tree height?” Cassie asked.
“Yep,” Angelina, standing to her right, explained, “Safety. In more ways than one. To keep us hidden, and… well. No magic. You don’t want to fall from a great height. A broken bone will take a long time to heal on it’s own.”
Cassie swallowed. She was used to being the brave one. The one with the guts, the reckless one. From her climbing and her ‘stupid acrobatics’, as Al called it. But, she realised, she’d never been in completely serious danger. She’d always had her wand. And any healing spell she didn’t know, the school nurse certainly would.
Out here… not so much.
“Below tree height,” Cassie nodded, “Right.”
“So Albus says you’re fast,” Angelina asked, “Just how fast?”
“Fast enough,” Al sauntered back over from the ‘handshake’.
“For what?” Cassie didn’t like this pressure.
“You see Charlie? He’s going to lob that ball in the air. You need to grab it.”
“Oh.” Sounded simple. She could do that. She passed her broomstick from hand to hand, “Sure. When -”
In one chaotic second Cassie managed to smack Al in the chest for springing this on her, and at the same time swing her broomstick underneath her and kick off. If she had to explain how, she wouldn’t have been able to. It took a further second and a half or so for her to reach the football-Quaffle and it wasn’t until after the worn plastic ball was safely between her fingertips that she realised three things.
One, she was an idiot for doing exactly as her best mate told her without questioning.
Two, everyone was staring at her.
Three, this was a game. A competition. She wasn’t the only one with the job of going after the ball.
With a churning sense of mixed satisfaction, embarrassment and the usual nervous anticipation, her eyes met the narrowed blues of her opposition.
She’d just beaten one of Hogwarts youngest Quidditch captains.
James too was stopped in mid-air - closer that everyone else. Cassie internally groaned. Of course he’d be the one she was up against. Life was just like that.
This wouldn’t be good for his murderous hatred.
Then she felt a little stupid. Every single person on both teams had paused. She was pretty sure that didn’t happen in a Quidditch match. Not that she’d paid a great deal of attention but…
Had she done something wrong?
“Uh. Now what?” Cassie had no idea who she was asking, but she was certain she saw James’ glare flicker for a second as his lip quirked.
Cassie stared for a moment, as if to make certain it was him speaking. He didn’t directly speak to her. Ever. Not voluntarily. Perhaps once or twice since that awful first day.
She composed herself and glanced back at her team, “Where?”
The lip quirked again before the frown settled back in. “Anywhere. Before I take it from you.”
He spoke as she was looking backward, and as she turned her head back towards him he was darting forwards and the ball was snatched from her hands. Not roughly.
If she wasn’t looking she may not have even noticed. One second it was there, the next the ball and James were away.
With that, as if they needed some sort of familiarity, everybody else was moving.
“What just happened?” Cassie was bewildered.
“You beat James,” Angelina was chuckling to herself as she passed by in pursuit of her nephew.
“James got beaten by a girl,” Cassie heard Ginny calling from further away.
“We weren’t expecting that,” Harry called, too.
“I was.” Al appeared alongside Cassie. “But that’s not it, you know Coop. We’ve got a game to play - ow! -”
Cassie delivered two swift slaps around his head, just enough to make him jump.
“What was that for?”
“For being a moron.” Cassie informed him, “That was so embarrassing! You could have at least told me what I was meant to do… or done it yourself…”
“I knew you could do it,” Al dismissed.
The sound of cheering made Cassie look up. “And now they’ve scored.” She gave Al one last slap for luck. “Moron.”
“Next one’s ours,”
Cassie had to smile at his lop-sided grin and customary optimism.
“Come on, I’ll get him back for you. No one snatches from a lady.” He bumped her broomstick lightly with his and climbed a bit higher.
“You’re an idiot. And I don’t need you to get him back.” Cassie followed.
“It’s my pleasure. Really.”
They’d started the next play already. Cassie kept further back from the others, in some space. She had no idea where she was meant to be but this seemed as good as anything. It wasn’t like she’d be any good in the midst of things anyway, having no idea what to do.
She watched as Ginny sped up the pitch with the ball tucked firmly under her arm, a stream of red hair behind her. Al followed at a reasonable distance. Then as Ginny passed the ball swiftly over to James, Al seemed to switch into gear and accelerated sharply to easily catch up to his brother, swiping the ball with a convenient elbow to the shoulder on the way.
And James was supposed to be the competitive one? She rolled her eyes.
Of course, the difference was in their expressions. Al’s wicked grin showed that he was doing it for his own amusement. James more seriously had the drive to win.
Al looked up with a raised eyebrow to Cassie as he rapidly changed direction towards their attacking goal.
“No!” Cassie shook her head, frantically. It was fair enough being forced to speed up to grab the ball when it was thrown in the air but she was pretty sure that if she was in possession of it and was faced with a trio of Quidditch legends speeding towards her she’d drop it in panic.
Al nodded with a grin.
“No! Stop it, don’t… don’t pass to me, Al don’t - ” She backed away, half-laughing but definitely serious underneath…. But of course Al didn’t listen.
She managed to catch the pass without fumbling, which she considered a feat in itself. Then panicked. Was she supposed to move now? Everyone else seemed to move when they had the ball… where was she supposed to go?
In a fluster she lobbed the ball hard back towards Al, who was now speeding further up the pitch. Her aim was kind of off but he darted to the left with ease, with not even a slight wobble, stuck out an arm to catch it and carried on.
Now it was James on his heels.
Getting closer to the goal, dodging Ron, closer and closer and…
When they were just outside an arms length away, almost in the same instant, both boys lunged forward from their brooms; James throwing himself to tackle his brother and Al stretching towards the wooden hoop…
Cassie winced and held her breath as, in a chaotic flurry of thumps, the two of them tumbled into a heap a few meter past the hoops.
She’d not even decided that it was safe to breath again when she heard an unruffled, “Goal,” from the two tangled bodies.
She let out her breath in a sigh of relief. If Al was able to make irritating jokes he was fine. Well. Debatable. He’d probably be making carefree jokes on his own death-bed.
“Did I not say keep it clean?” Uncle Charlie approached the scene with an air of weary acceptance.
So this was what the ‘not above tree height’ rule was for. If Al and James had been any higher than the head height they were flying at, they would have ended up with more than a few bruises.
Al and James ignored Charlie and made an attempt to get up. There was a misplaced elbow - or perhaps not so innocent - accompanied by a winded grunt and a thud of a fist on skin. Cassie looked to their parents to see if this scuffle was going to be broken up but everyone wore the same bored, tolerant expressions. This had obviously been how the last ‘Monthly Quidditch Battle’ had gone and, if she wasn’t mistaken, most of their childhood. She stared back at the boys, now able to climb to their feet, and realised they were laughing at one another.
“Play nice, boys,” Ginny said, leniently.
Al grinned and stuck out a hand. James smirked and slapped it in a boyish ’low-five’ sort of thing. Apparently all was ok.
The rest of the match passed in much the same way. It wasn’t Quidditch like anything Cassie had seen before.
It became obvious very quickly that it was more of a Quidditch match between everyone else and a ‘who can drag the other from their broom the most’ between Al and James. Every time it happened Cassie was sure that one of them (James) was going to lose patience and turn on the other, but each time they both accepted it with a laugh, congratulated the instigator and kicked off to start it all over again.
What was even more obvious was their talent.
Whilst in the middle of a friendly ’drag your brother off his broom’ game, both of them still managed to contribute to their actual team and both score and prevent a decent number of goals each. The brothers could easily run rings around everyone else, from Ryan - never having played a real Quidditch match before - to those who had captained a Hogwarts team, to those who had played professionally.
Cassie was sure she must have seen Al play before, and even James. She’d been to the Quidditch matches at Hogwarts, she’d had to show her support to Allen back in those days, and she’d even been mildly interested in the sport.
But she was sure she’d have noticed how exceptional the Potter brothers really were.
She couldn’t say that it had particularly stood out. She considered that maybe you could only really appreciate how skilled they really were when they were playing against someone of equal talent.
The fortunate thing about their rivalry however, was that Cassie hadn’t needed to worry about being on the receiving end of any James Potter evil glares. He was far too preoccupied to spare any energy for anyone but his brother, so Cassie was safe to join in playing with everyone else. She became more and more confident as the match went on, even managing to score a goal at one point with a rather patronising set-up from Al.
She hadn’t realised that hours had gone by until she noticed that there weren’t twelve people in the air anymore. She looked around and saw that quite a lot of the players had discarded their brooms and sat under the shade of the trees with the non-sporting members of the family.
“Is it over?” She asked Angelina, who was gracefully touching down and dismounting.
“It is and it isn’t,” The tall, dark woman shrugged, “This is around the time that everyone else gets fed up and leave the stubborn ones to fight it out,”
Cassie climbed off her broom, her legs feeling oddly jelly-like after so long in the air, reminding her of her days of travelling here. She shaded her eyes against the setting sun and noted that the two identical silhouettes were the only ones still air-borne.
“Leave them to it,” Angelina advised.
“How long will they go on for?” Cassie couldn’t imagine either of them being the one to suggest that they call it a draw.
“Till someone drags them home for dinner,” Angelina said, “Speaking of, we should probably get cooking. You can come with us, stay here, whatever you want. Probably be an hour or so…”
“I’ll stay,” Cassie found it strangely therapeutic and hypnotising to watch the two dark shapes making patterns in the pink, streaky sky, “Someone needs to drag them down.”
Angelina smiled, “Well done today. If you don’t mind me saying, I think you and your brother would have made excellent Quidditch players if given the chance.”
“Thanks,” Cassie laughed, “Ryan more than me, I’ve got to say…”
“He’s had more practice. He’s been playing with James whenever they’re not working for the last three years, you only picked up a broomstick a few months ago,”
Cassie remembered Al talking about how much James used to practice. Apparently losing his home hadn’t changed this. She hoped he wasn’t going to turn Ryan quite so obsessive.
“We’ve both had good teachers, I guess,” Cassie commented, absently. Many people in the wizarding world would have killed for a Potter to teach them to fly. She and Ryan had both had that luxury. Although, Cassie thought she’d gotten the better end of the deal…
“The best,” Angelina smiled, “See you later. Dinner in an hour.”
Cassie settled in the shade with her back against a thick tree trunk, ready for a bit of an early evening snooze while she was waiting. She was sure that Al and James would be far too interested in their own competition to bother her…
Who was she kidding?
Raised voices broke into her consciousness, making her have to open her eyes in irritation.
“Coop! Back me up.” Al thudded to the floor, leaping neatly from his broom a few feet from the ground and striding towards her.
James touched down a few feet further back, talking over the top of his brother. “Not a chance, mate. I’m telling you it’s a hundred and seventy to a hundred and fifty -”
“Who won last time, again?”
“On a technicality… Cass, tell him -”
Both of them were looking expectantly at her. Cassie didn’t know where to look without being intimidated by such similar damp t-shirts sticking to lean, sturdy bodies, sweaty dark hair over furrowed foreheads and vivid, intense eyes.
Incidentally, she thought it rather unfair that the three Potter children were blessed with such pretty eye colours. From little Lily’s warm, caramel brown to Albus’ striking, unusual green to James’ severe, icy blue. How was it remotely fair that those three got all the nice colours and she was left with a murky green-grey-brown?
“Um…” It took a moment for her to focus and for words to come to her, “I was trying to sleep.” Wasn’t the best response, perhaps, but words at least.
After a moment’s pause Al laughed. James didn’t.
“So I’m guessing no one knows the score. Well, we’re not calling it a draw -” Al sounded thoroughly repulsed.
“First to score wins?” James’ eyes flickered to the abandoned ball in the middle of the clearing. He was closer to it.
“Fuck off.” Al quickly analysed his chances, shook his head, then grinned, “Hey. Extra player.” He nodded at Cassie.
“What? No way -” Cassie folded her arms, “Go fight it out between yourselves, I’m not -”
Not getting involved. That was what she’d intended to say. Their ‘game’ was brutal enough between the two of them, and she was pretty sure that James hated her a lot more than he was compelled to compete against Al so it probably wouldn’t go well.
But, of course, her protests were ignored.
“Listen, this will be good.” Al was enthusiastic, “Penalty shoot-outs, but out of position. We’ll take it in turns to be keeper, Cassie shoots -”
“I didn’t agree to this.” Cassie said, loudly.
“Best saves out of five or something.” Al ignored Cassie again. Wonderful.
Initially James didn’t look thrilled at Cassie’s sudden involvement but after a few seconds thought a contemplative smile spread across his face. “You know, that’s not a bad idea…”
“It’s an awesome idea -” Al was not modest.
“It’s not happening,” Cassie hastened to point out.
“Aw, Coop, come on…”
“Please? All you have to do is throw a ball ten times. Easy…”
“It won’t settle anything,” Cassie pointed out, “You’ll both save every one.”
“You’re not that bad, you’ve scored today…”
“Come on. It’ll be easier than in a match. Promise.” Al turned on the puppy dog charm.
“Al…” Cassie scowled.
“For me?” He bared his teeth in a mocking smile.
James made a mildly disgusted noise and turned back towards the middle of the clearing to fetch the ball.
“Idiot.” Cassie frowned.
Al chuckled and pulled her up, “So that’s a yes?”
Cassie sighed, “This is going to be humiliating. But fine. If that’s what you both want…” She looked to James’ retreating back.
Al jogged to him, towing Cassie along with him. “Ok, Jimmy?”
“Not if you’re going to call me Jimmy.” He replied, briskly, picking up the ball.
“Mum’s allowed…” Al pointed out, with a grin. Cassie had to hide her own smile.
“Well until you wake up as a middle-aged ginger woman, you can’t.”
“I’m going to tell her you said that.”
“Fuck off, Al.”
“Are we doing this?” Al snatched the ball from James’ hands and tossed it to Cassie.
James shrugged, then narrowed his eyes suspiciously, “I don’t know. Surely I’m going to be at a disadvantage. She’s not going to try as hard against you…”
“Yeah, that’s not how Cooper rolls,” Al interrupted with a brief wink. Cassie shrugged. He was right. She was just as motivated to score against Al as James.
“Well you… you’ll know how she plays. I think you know your girlfriend a little better than me…”
In a weary tone, as he must have said the same thing at least twenty times previously, Al said, “It’s not like that…”
“Enough with the girlfriend thing.” Cassie rolled her eyes in exasperation. “It’s been three weeks. Can you really not tell that we’re just -”
“Yeah, I don’t care.” James cut her off, kind of rudely. “Fine. Let’s do it.”
He kicked off.
Cassie exhaled in a huff. “Doesn’t that annoy you?” She asked Al.
“All the…” Cassie gestured hopelessly.
“Assumptions?” He asked.
Al studied her curiously for a moment, “Never cared what anyone else thought before, so I sure as hell don’t now. Why do you?”
“Because,” Cassie shrugged, “It’s your family. It’s weird…”
He seemed to find something incessantly amusing and laughed loudly, before clapping Cassie on the shoulders (good thing her sunburn had cleared up) and dismissing it with a, “Lets just play.”
With a sigh, Cassie obliged.
Easy, as Al said. Just throw a ball ten times. Perhaps by a slight fluke, actually score a goal against one of them. Settled.
After three shots apiece, she hadn’t scored a single goal.
“This is pointless,” She said loudly, having had the ball returned to her with ease for the sixth time.
“You’re doing fine,” Al said, pulling up besides her and shaking her shoulders a bit, “Just relax. You don’t have to sit there all uptight and throw it from a specific distance each time. Move about a bit, whatever.”
“We’re going to be out here all night,” Cassie complained, “I’m never going to score. It’ll just have to be a draw, you’ll have to come to terms with it -”
“Nope, someone’s got to win. Or else we’re all just losers.”
“Come on. Hit me.” Al wasn’t remotely offended and swooped off back towards the goal.
Cassie grudgingly turned back around to face him. Maybe if she sped right at him… maybe it’d catch him off guard. Maybe if she lunged at him like he and James had been doing to one another all match…
It was worth a try.
Instead of just flinging the ball in the general direction of the plastic hoops (Cassie now recognised them as Muggle hula hoops of differing shapes and sizes) she took in a deep breath, leant forward and shot towards her friend.
The expressions passing over Al’s face were easy to read. Surprise, satisfaction, and concentration.
It took her just over a second to reach him. Just over a second for these expressions to pass in succession. Just over a second for her to realise that it hadn’t worked.
He was ready.
And she wasn’t. With a start of panic she realised that she hadn’t allowed herself enough time to stop or duck him. What had she expected, that he’d just conveniently move out of the way?
Yanking on her broomstick with all her might, Cassie leant sideways into a swerve, perhaps it would give her enough time, she might make it past him…
She braced herself for the impact, screwed up her face ready…
With an involuntary grunt (not very ladylike), she felt a hasty, rough grip on her shoulders followed by a - much softer than expected - impact against her side.
She was ok. It was ok to open her eyes.
“Yeah, that didn’t really work, did it…” Al chuckled.
Cassie was still catching up to what happened. She’d been about to crash into him. He’d cushioned the crash.
“It was a first go. Just do it like that but… better -” ” Al let go of her shoulders. Cassie felt his hand catch on something. Something on her neck…
“Hey!” Shocked as if she’d been doused in ice, Cassie’s eyes widened in horror and her hands flew to her neck.
“Hey? What -” Al let go as if he’d been burnt, but that just pulled even more and…
“Al! Stop.” Cassie fumbled at the chain, pulling his hand out from where it had gotten caught beneath it, and feeling frantically along the smooth, cold, golden line of the necklace for the clasp. It had to be closed still, it had to be…
It was closed.
Cassie was sure she visibly relaxed as she let go of the chain, as Al was looking at her in bewilderment. His hands were still raised defensively.
“What the hell?” He asked, taken aback.
“N-nothing.” Cassie shook her head and tucked the chain back inside her t-shirt. “Nothing, it’s fine I… I just thought it was broken. Sorry…”
“Ok…” He still looked rather bemused that she’d gotten into such a state about it, “Maybe you should… you know, maybe you should take it off. While we’re playing.”
Cassie was still holding the collar of her t-shirt down as if that were making it more secure. At least she was wearing one of Al’s t-shirts, she told herself. If she’d been wearing anything with a more remotely feminine neckline it would probably have been pulled apart way earlier in the game.
So stupid. She should have thought about that before. Should have taken it off, left it behind at the tent… dumped it anywhere…
No. She would never dare do that. If she dumped it somewhere it could be set off. Or worse, one of the family could find it and set it off themselves.
“I don’t really feel like playing anymore.” Cassie said, looking determinedly downwards. She couldn’t look him in the eye. Who knew what he was thinking… aside from the obvious - that his best mate was an actual head-case.
“But we just… it’s a draw. Come on, just three more shots to go.”
“I don’t want to play anymore.” She repeated, feeling like a brat with every word. “I’m sorry.”
The apprehensive silence couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but Cassie felt the side of her face burning under Al’s perplexed stare.
“Ok,” He finally said, “Ok, fine. What do you want to… do you want to go back?”
Cassie nodded, feeling terrible.
“Ok. Fine. I’ll just…” Al headed down to retrieve the ball, and for the first time Cassie realised that James had just witnessed the whole thing. She touched down lightly herself, some distance away.
Great. This would provide the elder Potter more fuel for his dislike of her. At least she’d made sure before that ’brat’ couldn’t be included on the list of things he could hold against her. She’d thrown herself into helping everywhere she could around the camp as selflessly as she was able to. Compensating a little for the immense internal guilt, sure, but helping nonetheless.
Now, however, she fully deserved that title.
“To be continued?” She heard Al say. She didn’t look around, but could see them from the corner of her eye.
“What the hell was that?” James asked, sounding just as thrown.
“I’m not sure. She’s not… I don’t know. Can we just…?”
“To be continued,” James nodded, “Sure. Everyone knows who the better Potter is anyway…”
“We’ll see,” As usual, Al wasn’t quick to rise to the bait, “Hey we’re just going to…”
“I’m starving. I’m heading back for dinner.” James said, “Hope she’s… you know. Ok. Not… uh, crazy.”
It was Cassie’s turn to be bewildered. James Potter was referring to her in a non-hostile manner. Alright, not directly, but… this was a first. Definitely. She’d been so sure that this would give him more reason to dislike her.
Al was a little hesitant as he came back over to Cassie. She couldn’t blame him. It had been completely out of character.
“You ok?” He asked, curiously. He was a couple of paces away, as if he didn’t want to crowd her. Or was scared to go near her. One or the other.
Cassie followed the smooth, cold line of the chain around her throat with one finger.
She could do this. She had to.
She came to her decision.
“Sure. I need… I think I need to talk to you.” She said, looking up and meeting the concerned stare.
“Ok.” Al nodded, uncharacteristically serious. Almost as if he could sense it. “I’m listening.”
“I just…” Cassie pressed her fingertips to her head. She was doing it. She couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. There couldn’t be anymore stupid, careless, close calls like that. There couldn’t be. “I just need a minute.”
“I can give you that,“ Al chewed on his lip, his habitual old agitated sign, “Do you want to walk? We could go to the stream…”
They walked in silence through the shade beneath the treetops. As usual, Al offered his hand to guide her through the more overgrown parts. As if nothing were wrong. As if she wasn’t about to bring his newfound freedom crashing down around him.
No, she told herself. He’d understand. It was Al. He’d understand and he’d probably know exactly what to do about the necklace. He always knew what to do.
But this was different. This wasn’t just a matter of keeping something from him. This was bigger than a lie, this was huge. Huge and dangerous, and it didn’t just affect him.
But she had to tell him.
Her breath caught in her throat and with a start of surprise, she stifled a sob.
What good was crying going to do? Cassie Cooper did not cry.
“Coop?” The sob caught Al’s attention. It almost made her smile, the stricken look on his face. If there was one thing he didn’t know what to do with, it was tears, “What’s…hey. Hey, it’s ok,” He pulled her close, his arms surrounding her and one hand holding her head to his shoulder.
This was just about enough to tip Cassie over the edge, but she fought it. Shaking her head, she took in a deep breath, “I know. I know, I’m… fine. I’m not crying.”
It took a couple of seconds for her voice to sound convincing, but it got there.
Al took her by the shoulders and held her at arms length, “What’s wrong?”
The weaker part of her longed to just reply that nothing was wrong. That she was being silly, that she was tired. To just go back to avoiding the issue, the cowardly way.
The stronger part stopped herself.
But she still had to turn away from him. She turned away, walked the couple of steps over to the stream and perched herself on an overhanging rock, hugging her knees.
Al didn’t move for a second. Then he sat a little further upstream, where the rocks were more uneven and a couple of gnarled, spindly old trees tangled over the rushing water.
“What did you want to tell me?” He asked.
Cassie opened her mouth, keeping her eyes on the clear, running water. Then she closed it. She had no idea where to start.
“Coop. Come on. You can talk to me.”
She nodded, and focused on keeping her breathing slow, smooth and even. In. Out. In. Out. She dangled one leg over the edge of the rock, her toes just high enough to keep dry. Her legs swung in time to her breathing. In. Out. In. Out.
“Cassie.” The unfamiliar sound of him calling her first name made her look up involuntarily. Their eyes locked and Cassie couldn’t look back away. Al was the one that looked back down at the water first.
“Ok,” He sighed and stood up, “If this is about the necklace, I’m sorry. I know you’ve been wearing it the whole time and everything but I didn’t realise it meant so much to you -”
“I hate it.” Cassie said, cutting him off.
“I hate it,” The words tumbled out of her mouth now, “I… I hate and if I could just take it off right now and throw it in the water and never have to worry about it again I… I’d do it. But -”
“You can.” Al walked along the edge of the steam towards her, “Cass, you don’t have to feel like you have to wear it. It’s just a necklace. You can -”
“No,” Cassie shook her head, “You don’t understand, it’s not…”
“So explain,” Al came to a stop right behind her. He sat beside her, one leg hanging over the edge and the other drawn up in front of him, mirroring her.
Cassie could feel his eyes on her even thought she was looking stubbornly downwards. She squeezed her eyes shut.
“I’ve done something really bad.” She said, quietly.
There was a seconds pause. It seemed intensely quiet - just a faint bubbling of the stream and, if they paid attention to it, the distant voices of Al’s family back at camp.
“What kind of bad?” Al asked.
Putting your whole family in danger kind of bad, Cassie thought.
“I lied.” She said.
“Coop,” Al smiled and yanked playfully on her arm, “Come on, you got to give me more than that. Spit it out…” His grin faded as she met his eyes, unsmiling.
“You’re… you’re going to hate me,” She said, keeping her eyes on his, making the most of the amity in his gaze while it lasted. Would he ever look at her like that again?
“I don’t think so,” He shook his head, his eyes not leaving hers. In that moment, Cassie believed him. She believed that nothing could come between them, not even this. Look at how much they’d been through together already…
Nothing like this.
It scared her. More than the reactions of his powerful family, she was scared to tell Al and to lose what they had.
Maybe that was why she did it. To prolong the moment where he didn’t hate her.
Or maybe it was something else.
Whatever it was, she did it. Leant forward, shifted her weight over the arm she was leant on, towards him.
He was still staring into her eyes. Not moving.
She was inching closer to him, definitely closer than they’d ever been before and -
“Dinner!” The combination of a deafening crack and yell jolted them both out of the moment as someone - it took a second for Cassie to register that it was Ryan - apparated from nowhere right behind them. By the time that second was up she didn’t even have time to rearrange from the rather compromising position he’d found them in before Ryan shoved them both hard in the back with a bout of laughter and shoved them into the stream.
The shock of landing in the cold water face first, combined with a dull thud to the back of the head as Al’s elbow hit her, left Cassie disorientated for a second, just floating gently in a rather dazed way, before an arm shoved roughly under her arms to drag her up to the surface.
“Hell yes you made us jump,” Al was telling Ryan as he propped Cassie up against the bank. He was far more composed than her. Apparently he adapted to shock quite well, “But I think accidentally almost killing your sister takes away a good few comedy points,”
“Sorry, Cass,” Ryan crouched down, “You’re ok, right?”
“Sure,” Cassie spat out a mouthful of water, “Just… uh, wasn’t expecting that…”
“That was the point,” Ryan grinned in boyish accomplishment, “Anyway, dinner’s ready. That was the message I was meant to deliver.”
“Great,” Cassie hauled herself out onto the grassy bank and squeezed water from her hair, “Be right there. You don’t have to wait for me, I’ve got to change and everything now…”
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Ryan laughed as he bounded away, “Sorry again!”
“No you’re not,” Cassie called after him, tolerantly. She’d probably forgive her brother for anything...
Anything? A little voice in her head spoke up.
Yes, she told it. If Ryan was the one to betray everyone, of course she’d stick by him. And he’d stick by her. She knew that much. He’d be disappointed in her, sure, but he was her brother.
Question was, was the same true for Al?
“Um.” He ruffled a hand through his wet hair and it came to rest on the back of his neck. This was probably the first time that Cassie had seen him look uncomfortable.
Because she was acting weird. In general. Right?
Or, of course, because of that strange little moment right before Ryan appeared…
“Um.” She replied, wringing water out of her t-shirt.
“You had something to say?” Al prompted.
“Right,” Cassie glanced back over her shoulder towards camp, in the direction Ryan had taken off in. Dinner. He’d been calling them to dinner. If she told Al now, it’d most definitely interrupt dinner. Everyone would hear at once how she’d betrayed them. If she waited, however…
She bit her lip in the nervous way she’d copied from Al, “After dinner?”
Al was just looking at her, his head a little on one side. There were still water droplets on his eyelashes. The moment he blinked they’d be gone…
He sighed, shrugged and ran his hand back forwards through his hair all in one motion. “Sure. Ok.”
They fell into step, making their way through the undergrowth back towards camp. After a fair few steps in a tense silence, Cassie glanced up sideways and let out a brief laugh.
“What?” Al looked thrown.
“You look ridiculous,” She smiled and pushed his sodden hair back from where it was plastered to his forehead. His skin was hot compared to his cool, wet hair.
“You don’t look so perfect yourself,” He was halfway through retorting when he trailed off, because her fingers were still on his face.
Cassie realised this in the same instant and withdrew her hand immediately, “You… uh, your face is hot. Burnt. Maybe you’re, you know… sunburnt.”
After just one awkward second Al morphed back into his normal self and shook his head in protest, “I do not need the sunscreen -”
“I wasn’t saying… look, don’t start that again,” Cassie was relieved to get back into a tired old debate.
The mystery of the sunscreen hadn’t been solved - when Cassie had asked Teddy about it the next day he’d not had a clue, said it had just been added to his list without him realising - but had formed the basis of many squabbles between Cassie and Al. Usually based around Al being deliberately too liberal with the stuff and turning Cassie into a slimy monster, Cassie retaliating, and generally ending in a big mess for everyone.
“I don’t need it! I’m fine with a little bit of burn, the only time I’ve looked completely sodding stupid is when I let you put the stuff on me -”
“That was an accident!” Cassie declared.
“Sure - hand prints on my back - a mistake anyone could make…”
“Precisely.” Cassie smiled, innocently.
“You’re still not coming near me with the stuff tomorrow.”
“We’ll see.” Cassie replied, automatically, but her stomach clenched. He probably wouldn’t want her anywhere near him at all tomorrow. None of them would.
She wondered what would happen when she told them. She wasn’t foolish enough to listen to that tiny ray of hope that whispered that they might forgive her. Would they kick her out? They couldn’t send her back to school surely, she knew too much. Would she be kept here, a prisoner rather than a ‘guest’ or ‘family member’? Or worse?
“Hey, Coop?” They reached the edge of the clearing. Night was falling and the firelight lit the outside camp with a warm, orange glow whilst the lanterns inside the tents threw shadows and silhouettes against the rough, faded-brown canvas.
Cassie looked up and cringed a little at the troubled look on Al’s face. It didn’t belong there. And to make it worse, she knew that things weren’t going to get better any time soon.
“Later,” She swallowed, “Please?”
“Whatever you say.”
They parted; Cassie to the girls tent and Al to the boys to change out of their wet clothes.
“What happened to you?” asked Dominique, watching from her bed as Cassie trudged across the canvas floor, dripping.
“Ryan.” Cassie replied with a grimace.
Dom nodded in understanding. It wasn’t uncommon for Ryan or Hugo to be the ones acting half their age pulling various pranks on whoever they could. Especially on a day like today, where they’d weren’t exhausted by a day of chores.
“So what’s the verdict?”
Cassie’s head jerked up in surprise. “Pardon?” She asked, keeping the shake out of her voice.
Dom carried on without looking up from the bundle of fabric in her lap. She was often found sewing - frequently fixing things but more often than not making some sort of a creation of her own.
“What’s the verdict?” She repeated, “The match? You stayed, right?”
“Oh,” Cassie breathed again. She hadn’t realised she’d been holding her breath in the first place. Of course Dom was talking about the match. Wow, she scolded herself, way to be paranoid there. “Sure. Yeah. Um, it was a draw. In the end.”
Dom looked up. “Excuse me?”
“It was, you know, a draw…” Cassie shrugged, pulling out dry clothes and gladly discarding of her cold, wet ones.
Dom was still staring. “You’re kidding. My cousins would not agree to a draw. They’d still be out there now, if that was what it took to get one over on the other.”
Cassie privately agreed - if she hadn’t had her little panic attack she was fairly certain that they’d have forced her to keep playing until, by some miracle, she managed to score past one of them.
“Well, more of a rematch,” She corrected herself, “They agreed to draw for the time being, but the words ‘to be continued’ were definitely mentioned.”
“Typical,” Dom put down her sewing, “But I’m still fairly impressed that they even agreed to that. James doesn’t give up - ever. And Al seems to find it impossible not to wind him up.”
That sounded about adequate.
“Dinner?” Dom held open the tent flap and Cassie ducked out.
She didn’t know if it was because she wasn’t sitting with Al for once, or simply because it was about to end, but Cassie was truly appreciative of just how accepted she really was by the rest of family.
In the space of time it took to fill herself up on two portions of a thick leek and potato soup and crusty bread, Cassie had been proudly shown the latest addition to Lily’s fungi collection, complimented on her flying by more than one ex-professional Quidditch player (for which Al claimed full credit from across the camp fire), and mockingly awed for managing to get the Potter brothers to come to a civil agreement about the outcome of a Quidditch match.
It was almost enough to make her briefly forget what she had to do. The confession she had to give. Almost.
But not quite.
Throughout the meal, the jokes, the idle chatter, she still wasn’t free from the nagging thought of what she had to do and how she was going to say it.
“- of course, we’ve known each other since we were in nappies,” Victoire was telling Cassie the (very long) story of how she and Teddy ended up together. Dominique had yawned pointedly on more than one occasion, but it hadn’t stopped her older sister. Although Cassie had giggled along with Dom like a couple of twelve-year-old school-girls, she was secretly actually absorbed in the tale of such a simple, strong love.
Perhaps it was the way that Victoire looked so thoroughly smitten as she was telling it, or perhaps it was how completely in love the two seemed now having gone through so much.
“- the best of friends for a long, long time,” Victoire smiled as Teddy rolled his eyes at the cliché, “Then I couldn’t stand the mug once we got to school. Suddenly he could show off his stupid ability for all the girls who absolutely mooned over him-”
“I was finally getting a reaction,” Teddy protested, “You lot didn’t bat an eyelid at it at home, how d’you think an eleven year old kid is going to react -”
“That doesn’t give you the excuse to be an arrogant toe-rag at the age of seventeen,” Victoire reprimanded him, lightly, “As I told you once or twice -”
Teddy let out a brief cough which sounded suspiciously like ‘every day’.
“So what happened?” Cassie asked, “When did you stop being an ‘arrogant toe-rag‘?”
“I wasn’t arrogant,” Teddy maintained, but his eyes twinkled. Cassie couldn’t believe she’d ever thought him to be so utterly plain and indescribable. When she spoke to him, and really looked at him, she saw past his ‘ordinary-looking’ features and saw the way that, when all those plain parts were fitted together in the way that he was, he was actually very handsome. And when he looked at his girlfriend he seemed just as stunning as her.
“You were horrifically arrogant!” Victoire scoffed, “Putting on whatever face would get you whatever you wanted from whoever you wanted. And thinking that would work on me…”
“I must’ve asked her out at least a hundred times.” Teddy wasn’t particularly abashed by this. In fact he sounded fairly proud. “But she had to be difficult.”
“You had to learn!” She told him, then turned back to Cassie, “He had to learn that he couldn’t just get what he wanted because he had a pretty face. So I pulled him down a peg or two. Said I’d never agree to go out with him until he wore his real face.” She tapped him lightly on the cheek.
Cassie automatically followed the movement, and Teddy laughed at her unasked question, “Yeah, this one. Boring mug I was born with. No fun at all.”
“It’d been so long since he’d not been putting on an act that no one could remember what his real face was,” Victoire said, “Even his grandmother, even Harry. No one knew him, so he wasn’t himself anymore.”
“How did you know?” Cassie asked, “That it was his real face in the end, I mean.”
“When I’m sleeping,” Teddy explained, “I’ve got no control over it. Back to this every time. Once Vic saw that, she knew.”
“And after you stopped with those ridiculous ‘model’ faces, I knew you were worth it,” She ruffled his hair.
“Oh, you mean you don’t like this?” Teddy took both her hands, looked deep into her eyes and in an instant his every features sharpened; nose, cheekbones, jaw became more angular. It gave him the haughty, bored look of a fashion model, and the entire effect was rather sleazy.
Victoire wrinkled up her nose and shoved him away from her with a disgusted, “Eurgh,” and Teddy reverted back to his normal face with a grin and pulled her back towards him.
Cassie smiled at the two of them, now fully distracted in one another. It was the epitome of loving someone for who they really are. Nice to see. And simple.
How she wished her own problems were so simple.
“Want to take a walk?” As if to reinforce her anxious thought, Al leant over onto her shoulders from where he’d appeared behind the log she was perched on.
Cassie swallowed before nodding, firmly. Yes, she told herself. This was about to happen, “Sure. Where to?”
“Wherever. Stream again?”
Again, they walked in silence. Though this time, Cassie didn’t give a passing thought to how unusual and uncomfortable it was for the two of them to have nothing easy to say to one another. This time she was busy sorting things out in her mind.
She was psyching herself up, really. No time for panic, worry or tears. No time for the possibility of chickening out. She had to do this now; now that she’d come to this decision.
It was hard. Of course it was. And there was no easy way to begin. She’d just have to say it. I made a mistake. An awful mistake. And this is the situation.
They reached the stream and Al leant back against a thick, overhanging tree. Cassie was about to move herself a little further away from him - it would be easier that way, she thought, maybe the betrayal on his face would hurt a little less - but he stopped her with a swift, gentle grip around her wrist.
“Coop,” He said, firmly. Even when he was sounding serious there was something in his face that just triggered some sort of instinct in her that just made her want to smile. Made her want to make him smile. Even in this situation. “You’re acting really… this is just really unlike you.” He pulled her around and took both hands in his so that she had to look at him, “You had something to tell me?”
Cassie nodded resolutely. Absolutely. She could do this. But no words came to her.
“Should I be worried?” Al asked.
The automatic response was to tell him no, of course he shouldn’t be worried. She didn’t want this. It kind of hurt to consider that, yes, he probably should be worried.
“I never meant to.” Cassie found her voice, “Please, just remember… I never wanted this to happen…” She took in a deep breath. “I made a mistake. An awful mistake.”
Al didn’t say anything. He was just looking at her. Through the dark, all she could see of his face was the smooth, straight outlines of his nose, his brow and his jaw. No colour. No detail. But it didn’t make it any easier to look at.
She had to look away. A soft, dappled pattern of moonlight through the canopy of the treetops glimmered over the running water of the stream. The light was dull, dark, silvery and…
There shouldn’t be gold. Not in the stream.
She stopped breathing. Her hands wrenched out of Al’s grip and flew to her neck.
Her bare neck.
“Cass, what’s -“ Al stood up from his post against the tree and reached for her, but recoiled as he was splashed with icy cold water, “What’re you… get out of the water, are you insane?”
Cassie couldn’t feel the cold. She lunged into the water, not noticing it soaking through the denim of her jeans up to her thighs and splashing up her front, into her face and her eyes.
She waded the few feet across the stream, towards where the moonlight flickered on the rocks on the other side. She plunged her hand down into the narrow gap between two rocks. Her fingers met something hard, smooth; something long, thing and delicate.
She almost didn’t want to look.
With shaking hands she held it up to the moonlight.
Al’s voice was fraught. “What the hell is going on -”
With a sinking heart, Cassie’s eyes followed the smooth line of the gold chain in her numb fingers, all the way along the delicate golden chain to the clasp…
“Too late,” Cassie’s voice came out hoarse.
“Too late? Too late for what? What’s too late? What’re you -”
A.N. "They're coming." NOO!
I had to do it! As much as it saddened me to cut short all the fun and games at camp, the story had to continue! I hope you liked it... writing the (non-) confession part was hard, and what rubbish luck there, hey? Ha.
I'd love to hear what you think...
Of the usual, the Cassie/Al, Cassie/James?
She finally got the guts up to tell him, too, I know a lot of people hated her for not doing it sooner.
What do you think's going to happen next?
Thanks for reading, please leave a review!
Write a Review No Solid Ground: Try To Speak But Nothing's Coming