It all fell into place. As if she’d been smacked in the face, she suddenly understood it all.
Albus Potter was gone.
He’d run away.
When he wasn’t at breakfast, Cassie wasn’t worried. Of course it was odd for him to miss food, but he could have slept in, or been testing the patience of his numerous observers. After all, it had seemed like the old Albus Potter was back.
By lunch the story was all over the school.
He was gone.
The frustrating, maddening, painful thing was, he’d tried to tell her. That was what he was doing the previous night. Of course. In his deluded, rambling, nonsensical way, he’d been telling her what he was doing. What he had planned.
In the instant of understanding, Cassie was flooded with a useless enthusiasm for the idea before it was snatched away from in front of her.
She was too late.
She almost growled in annoyance. Why did he have to be so bloody cryptic? They’d had time, surely, for him to say ‘look, I’m running away, fancy coming?’. How long would that have taken?
A little self-righteous voice in the back of her mind told her that Albus was right to have been wary, Allen had been in the same corridor so would have probably overheard everything. Cassie didn’t want to listen to it.
She was furiously blaming herself for not understanding his riddles, so he surely deserved some of this hideous blame for not making sense in the first place.
She couldn’t believe he was gone.
Without waiting. Hadn’t he said he’d wait? She thought back, searching her confused memories. Yes he had. “I’ll always wait for you when I can.”
Obviously couldn’t wait for her last night.
She’d been bombarded with questions from Freya, Nina and Juliet as soon as she’d numbly taken her seat at lunch. Almost every other student was trying to subtly eavesdrop as well, but were obviously too polite to rudely demand to know what she knew.
All Cassie could do was shake her head.
No, she didn’t know what had happened to Albus.
No, she didn’t know where he’d gone.
No, he hadn’t told her. Not really.
No, she had no idea what was going on.
It was the truth.
She hadn’t even had time to think it through herself before the others wanted to know what she thought, so there was nothing she could say; she was too preoccupied.
She should have been paying attention.
She should have known that if it had caught the attention of the students it sure as hell had caught the attention of the teachers.
“Miss Cooper.” A commanding voice roused Cassie from her frantic thoughts.
She looked up into the intimidating, ice-blue eyes of the Headmaster.
“Yes, Professor Cole,” She nodded, warily. It was as if he was awaiting a confirmation that that was her name, rather than just a greeting. After all, Professor Cole rarely interacted with the students. He rarely needed to.
“We have a problem. Come with me.”
“But I don’t -” Cassie was prepared to deny knowing anything to do with Albus’ absence but a sharp glance from the Headmaster silenced her.
“Come with me.” He repeated firmly, his cool tone saturating her with trepidation.
She followed without another word.
In her six years at Hogwarts, Cassie had never been to the Headmasters Office. She didn’t know anyone who had. Even Albus…
She swallowed and shook her head. This abandonment hurt even more than the last. Because this time it was partly her own fault.
She followed the tall, broad back of the Headmaster as he swept down the stone corridors at a brisk pace. It wasn’t that she was struggling to keep up, not at all, but it was as if he were trying to make her lag behind, so he had something to berate her for.
It made her uneasy.
Cassie wondered what was going to happen. They were going to ask her about Al. Obviously. So they had been watching them. Obviously.
What were they going to say?
Did they suspect she’d helped him escape?
Was she going to be punished?
Suddenly, all those exciting punishments she and Al had talked about seemed a lot more frightening and sinister than anything remotely ‘cool’. And she was pretty sure that she’d be getting more than lines for this.
Professor Cole came to an abrupt halt in front of a statue of a gargoyle. He stopped so unexpectedly that Cassie almost trod on the back of his robes, she’d been concentrating so much on keeping pace with him.
“Uh, sorry,” She jumped back, then internally scolded herself for apologising to him. Why did he seem to demand such respect from her, so much more than the other teachers? And why was that respect saturated with such fear? Because of the circumstances? Or something else?
The Headmaster ignored her, and addressed the gargoyle in a dry, cold voice, “The solution to all peril is harmony.”
The hairs on the back of Cassie’s neck prickled as the gargoyle silently leapt aside and the wall behind it split slowly in two to reveal a spiral staircase. It was obviously a password. Bit of a fancy password, if you asked her. A gust of cold air washed over her, making her shiver violently. At least, she thought it was the air that did it.
Professor Cole stepped, unaffected by the sudden change in temperature, onto the bottom step and Cassie followed. But the Headmaster didn’t follow the spiral staircase; instead the staircase moved slowly upward of its own accord, the stone stairs grating against the walls.
He didn’t speak another word as the staircase made it’s painfully slow climb, giving Cassie plentiful time to get herself suitably agitated.
Whatever happened, she decided, she wouldn’t help them. Not at all. Al deserved that much. He’d tried so hard to keep it a secret - it worked almost too well - so she wouldn’t be the one to drop him in it now. He trusted her.
The staircase eventually came to a grinding halt at a tall wooden door. Cassie barely had time to glance at it around the Headmasters elbow before he’d swung it open and stepped inside.
“Sit.” He gestured to a hard-looking wooden chair on the opposite side of the desk to a grand, plush-looking, high-backed chair with its back to the closed curtains.
Cassie considered, as she obeyed the Professor’s order, than it could perhaps be a beautiful room, with its unusual circular walls, tall windows and the ornately framed portraits of previous Headmasters covering the walls. She recognised Minerva McGonagall, one of her parents favourite teachers whom they often referred to, and of course Al’s namesake - Albus Dumbledore, possibly the most famous Headmaster of them all.
“Miss Cooper.” The cold, aloof voice of Professor Cole snapped Cassie out of her thoughts and brought her back with a jolt to the room as it was. Despite the early hour, heavy curtains were drawn across the windows and the only light came from mounted candles on the walls, illuminating the troubled expressions of the portraits.
Cassie met his pale stare in acknowledgement.
“We have a problem.”
“I kind of guessed that,” She looked around the room pointedly. Her eyes stopped on Minerva McGonagall’s portrait. It almost seemed as if the elderly Headmistress was giving her a warning look, almost sympathetically.
“Why don’t you tell me what you think the problem is?” It wasn’t a question. And the way Professor Cole was adopting what he clearly assumed was a friendly voice was freaking Cassie out.
She met his eyes again, before sighing and dropping them sheepishly to the floor. “Look, we were only messing about - flying up to the roof. We didn’t do any harm and we’ve had our punishment -”
“This isn’t about some immature rebellion, Miss Cooper,” Professor Cole snapped, all amiable pretences dropped, “I neither know nor care about anything you’ve been punished for in the past. Your pathetic pranks do not interest me.”
It was worth a try.
“A student is missing.”
“Ok.” Cassie tried not to show that she couldn’t bear thinking about it. This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t.
“You know something about it.”
“No. No, I don’t… I -”
“How long have you known Albus Potter?” Excellent. So it was going to be an interrogation.
“I don’t know. Everyone knows him. Since I started here, I guess. I mean I’d heard of him before that but -”
“Miss Cooper.” The sharp voice flooded Cassie with that fear again. The fear of what was going to happen. This wasn’t predictable Hogwarts anymore.
“Since February.” She looked down at her hands, clasped in her lap.
“You never knew his family.”
“No. They were… gone, ages ago. No one knows where they are…”
“Just like Ryan.”
Cassie swallowed. “Yeah. Just like Ryan.”
“So you had that in common. You could relate to one another.”
“Except Albus wasn’t so estranged from his family. Was he?” The words were delivered with a cool, calm demeanour.
Cassie took in a slow breath. She wouldn’t tell him. But she was sure that the Headmaster would be able to tell if she lied. His stare seemed too intense to be normal. There was some sort of spell for that, wasn’t there? Obviously far too advanced for Hogwarts but… this wasn’t the usual situation anymore.
“Why wouldn’t he be?” She asked, assuming an equally cool tone.
“You didn’t discuss it?”
“He… he never said that. We didn’t talk about our families much. It’s hard, you know. But I… I guess it’s harder to be alone. So we hung out.” Cassie exhaled heavily. She hadn’t realised she’d been holding in the breath. She was relieved. She hadn’t lied. Not directly.
She couldn’t tell what the Professor was thinking. His eyes narrowed but it seemed more in irritation than anger. A small triumph.
“What did you talk about?”
Cassie bit her lip in the agitated way she must have copied from Al without realising. Defence, she decided, wasn’t working.
“Where do you think he’s gone?” She asked.
“Why don‘t you tell me where you think he‘s gone.”
“’The solution to all peril is harmony’. That’s a strange password -”
“What does it mean?”
“Miss Cooper.” The edge to his voice was suddenly as sharp as a razor blade.
Cassie took in a breath and tried to stop it shaking. At least her voice sounded confident. “Tell me first. What it means. Then you can ask me whatever you like.” Doesn’t mean I’ll answer it. She thought, privately.
Clearly the Headmaster was not used to people talking back to him like that. His exhalation was almost a hiss of rage that gave Cassie a warped sense of satisfaction. If only she could keep winding him up, maybe she wouldn’t be afraid.
Professor Cole nodded shortly, sat back in his chair and contemplated his folded hands before meeting Cassie’s curious gaze.
“Hogwarts has changed, Miss Cooper.”
Cassie nodded. Sure, it had. She knew that.
“It’s hard to pinpoint where this change began. Many would attribute it to the recent laws coming into action, in 2019. Of course, to those of us in the educational field, this is inaccurate. The whole framework behind the school has been changing for years.”
Cassie spoke up in his thoughtful pause. “When do you think it changed?” She remembered Al asking that very same question to Professor Buchanan weeks ago. She never found out what had the Professor so incensed by her friends words. She only hoped that Professor Cole was too engrossed in his own story to get that mad.
He considered for a few more moments. “All things considered, it really began twenty-six years ago, with the ending of the war. You know the story from History of Magic… Of course, after the defeat of Lord Voldemort it was expected that all threat was over. But the panic ensued. To get society back into order, the education system in particular… The wizarding world had suffered an immense injury. And there were two main ways people were trying to heal it.”
Cassie tried to relate this to her original question. How did it fit the password? ‘The solution to all peril is harmony‘?
“One set of wizards, your friend’s father as the main instigator, urged the idea of advancing education. Broadening it; widening it. He pressed that the wizarding world should learn as much as possible, discover as much as possible, to be prepared for anything. It was all about the challenge.”
That sounded good to Cassie. But it most definitely wasn’t the world she’d lived in.
“And the other half -” Professor Cole began but Cassie interrupted.
“Harmony.” She quoted.
“Precisely. It was absurd, what Potter was promoting. Was this not the very thing that had caused the Great War in the first place? Lord Voldemort was a prime example of exactly what Potter was endorsing. He’s studied the Dark Arts in great depth, more than any wizard before or since, and furthered them himself. It was no wonder such a terrible war followed. Knowledge is dangerous.”
“So the other half - you, I’m guessing,” Cassie calculated, “Were opting for the easy way out. Stupid people don’t make great Dark wizards.”
“Well put.” For a moment Cassie thought she say the hint of a smile on the Headmasters face. But it must have been a trick of the flickering candle light. When she blinked his expression was as frosty as before.
“And you won.” She said.
“The evidence is before you.” Professor Cole spread an arm as if to gesture around the room. Here he was. “We provide limits and protection to future generations. That’s what the laws were created for. A safer life for our children.”
It all made sense. But Cassie still couldn’t believe it. “By encouraging stupidity?” She demanded, “That’s… that’s… I don’t…”
The Professor’s eyes flashed, steely in the candle light. “It is for the good of our society. Control was needed, and it was given. The wizarding world is a better place because of it.”
Cassie thought of the hundreds of other students, how contented and happy they seemed. Happier than her. If they didn’t question it, why should she? Why couldn’t she be as content as them? What was so different about her?
“What did you and Albus Potter talk about?” The razor-edged voice was back. Apparently story-time was over and Cassie was back in the interrogation chair. It took her a few seconds to shake back the thoughts from her head. While she’d been listening to the explanation it had almost been possible to forget the circumstances. Now that unsettling fear was back. She glanced around the room again at the portraits. They were all watching closely, looking almost as if they wanted to contribute. But they didn’t.
She took too long to answer. The Headmaster was getting impatient.
“Did he tell you about his family?” He demanded, “Did he tell you where they are?”
Cassie chose to answer the second question with a sardonic smile. The fear made her uneasy, so she resumed the way of repressing it - winding the Headmaster up as much as possible. She sensed that it was a dangerous path, but in the short-term, it worked. “Nope. He never did.”
She wouldn’t have thought it were possible, but his eyes grew colder even than before.
“Don’t play childish games, Miss Cooper. Your friend may never thank you for it. You may not see him ever again.”
Another small triumph faded, along with Cassie’s smile and confidence.
“We assume that the Potters are out there, Cassie. And we know they’re dangerous. Albus didn’t ever tell you the reason he was left behind, did he?”
Doubt filled Cassie’s mind, mixing in an unpleasant way with her fear. No. He had never told her that.
“There is a reason behind it. Just the same way as there was a reason that they’ve never come for him. We don’t know what they’re doing out there, but if it’s anything along the lines of what they had planned for our society… they would have had no trouble coming to get him themselves. Which makes it all the more suspicious that they sent for him in this way.”
“You don’t know that they -”
“We’ve been watching him. Hoping it might give us a clue. Because he’s not the first student they’ve enticed away, as you know all too well.”
Cassie felt cold. “What are you…?”
“When did your brother disappear, Cassie?”
Her head swam. No. He couldn’t be insinuating this…
“Christmas. 2018.” Her throat was dry, making her voice hoarse. “In his first year… I was in second -” She struggled to work it out quickly in her head.
“And when did the Potters… leave?”
Cassie closed her eyes. “September, 2018. They all boarded the train but by the time it got to school…”
“Only Albus Potter remained.” Professor Cole finished in his cool, hard voice.
Cassie looked up, her forehead furrowed painfully. “You think they took Ryan.”
“We think it is a possibility.”
“Why would you… how -”
“Do you have any idea why your brother disappeared?”
Cassie blinked away hot tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. “No.” She whispered.
“We’ve been watching Albus Potter, Cassie. We didn’t want this to happen again. We hoped they might get in touch, we hoped that by watching him -”
“So why didn’t you stop him?” Cassie demanded, starting to get slightly hysterical, “You said it - you were watching him. You knew he was going to try it, so why didn’t you… why didn’t you stop him leaving?” Her voice caught on the last word, and it made the situation truly sink in. Albus had left. Her friend, her support. Just like Ryan. Not just run away, on their own terms. They’d been drawn into something unknown… something dangerous…
“Because of you, Cassie.”
The Headmaster’s voice, though it didn’t soften, lost the razor edge. “We thought he had a reason to stay.”
Cassie had to close her eyes again. She refused to acknowledge the tears.
“He disappeared. We didn’t anticipate it.”
“But you were watching -”
“You. That night, we were watching you. The two of you hadn’t spoken for quite some time before that night. And then when you did… we assumed he would try and contact you again.”
“So you missed it.”
There was a pause.
“We need your help.”
“Help you what? Find him?” Cassie laughed, humourlessly, “I can’t help you. I don’t know where he is.”
“But you know something.”
Cassie didn’t answer right away. She couldn’t lie. But she couldn’t tell the truth either. She wasn’t even sure she knew the truth.
She remembered the excited anticipation on Al’s face when they’d spoken. He’d truly wanted to escape.
She considered the idea that he’d been deceived… that this ideal situation wasn’t all it seemed.
But it was his family… surely they wouldn’t…
He could be in danger. Her friend could be in danger.
But he’d wanted this.
Cassie sighed. “I can’t tell you. He trusted me.”
“He could be in danger. He trusted them. Ryan trusted them.”
At her brothers name all resistance in Cassie seemed to waver. Could it be that her loss and Al’s were more closely linked than they’d suspected? Surely it couldn’t be… the chances…
But they had been thrown together. They had that in common, Professor Cole had said, they could relate to one another. Maybe it wasn’t such a coincidence after all. Misery loves company, and all that. They’d needed each other…
“I’m sorry. Albus trusted me.” Her words may have been strong, but to make the choice between betraying Albus or denying herself the possibility of finding Ryan… it was a painful choice. But Albus… he was here, and he was in danger. She knew that. Ryan, she agonizingly confronted the thought… Ryan could be anywhere or nowhere, for all she knew.
The Headmaster’s next words were razor-sharp again. “You are dismissed. Remember we would still use your help, Miss Cooper, if you choose your brother over your friend next time. But if you choose to lengthen his suffering… there is nothing we can do about it.”
“Did they ask you where he was?”
“What did you say?”
“I said I don’t know. Because I don’t.”
“Then what did they say?”
Cassie sighed heavily and rolled over on her bed, away from Freya. “I don’t remember it word for word, Frey. It doesn’t matter. They wanted my help and I couldn’t help them. That’s all.”
Freya echoed Cassie’s sigh. “Well you must remember something. Was he mad? Professor Cole never takes students to his office. We all thought you’d be expelled or something!”
Cassie shut her eyes and furrowed her forehead, trying to make the squeezing headache go away. “Can we not talk about it?”
“Oh.” Freya’s voice immediately softened into her ‘good friend’ voice. “Sure. I understand. I mean it must be awful for you that he’s gone, what with -”
Cassie sensed that she wasn’t going to like where this conversation was going. “I just want to sleep, Frey.” She interrupted.
There was a brief pause. “Of course. Sleep well, honey.”
The hangings were drawn with a low swish and Cassie was left alone. Completely alone. And that’s just how it would be. Now.
She was doing a good thing, she told herself. For Al. She would keep it all to herself, give him his chance to get away. Do whatever he had to do. Find his family.
Cassie thought about what Professor Cole had said about Albus’ family. It wasn’t really anything new.
She’d known that Harry Potter had been trying to change the academic syllabus, he’d wanted to teach kids things that weren’t appropriate for school. Dangerous things. That’s why he’d gotten such bad press - people didn’t want their kids learning stuff like that; they didn’t even want to consider the option that they’d ever need it. Voldemort was gone. There was no threat. And if they got rid of anything dangerous, there never would be again.
So then, with a distinct lack of anybody dangerous, Harry Potter quickly became Public Enemy Number One. Of course there were some who agreed with his outlandish ideas - his family mainly, and friends. A close circle. And there were those who didn’t remotely care which side won the political battle. But Cole and his team had won. ‘Knowledge is dangerous’, he’d said.
Therefore, Harry Potter was dangerous.
And, Cassie thought with a sinking feeling, she’d just let her best friend go to him. Not knowing anything, really. All Albus had to go on was a bunch of cryptic letters that he’d interpreted in his own way, most likely blinded by the fact that his was his Dad….
So surely he wasn’t in danger. It was his family…
She remembered some of the worst stories about the Potters. The older ones, from a time when Harry Potter had been around her age. The stories about how he was becoming unhinged, deluded… convinced that he was right, doing anything to do what he thought was best.
The most recent stories had followed on from that. About how Harry Potter wasn’t thinking about the welfare of his own children. He couldn’t live life just as a normal person, a father; he always had to be fighting for a cause. Now that he had something to fight for he wouldn’t think about anything other than his goal, not even his kids.
Which kind of fit. On that day, September 1st three years ago, all the Potters had disappeared from the Hogwarts Express. Apart from Albus.
What sort of a father would leave his own son behind?
But then she remembered Al talking about his family. He’d never given her any reason to believe the stories in the papers. He’d only even spoken of his father, his mother, his brother and sister with an air of affection. He’d so genuinely missed them, been sure that they were trying to help him escape for his own good…
But then, Cassie thought, when we’ve lost someone, we always do tend to remember them in a more positive light. When she thought of Ryan, she thought of his infectious smile, his never-ceasing optimism, his laugher, jokes and chatter. She didn’t really stop to think about how he could be so annoying sometimes when he was showing off about whatever new skill he’d learnt. She didn’t always recall the way he’d cling to her whenever he was bored or sad, the way she could never get a moments peace at home. She didn’t always consider how she sometimes used to wish he’d grow up a bit and stop being so immature…
She swallowed hard and willed back the tears even though her eyes were squeezed shut.
“If you choose your brother over your friend next time… but if you choose to lengthen his suffering…”
That wasn’t what she was doing, she thought fiercely. She wasn’t choosing Al over Ryan… that didn’t make sense. Because Al was here and Ryan… her brother wasn’t.
Besides, surely they didn’t know that the Potters had him? She admitted that the coincidence was strange, and the timing of it all made her uneasy but they didn’t know… it wasn’t certain…
And wouldn’t they have taken Al, if they were going to take anyone? Why would they take Ryan? As far as she knew he hadn’t even known the Potters, not really.
It struck Cassie that she was making an awful lot of excuses for a bunch of people she’d never met. Maybe she just didn’t want to raise her hopes… her hopes that Ryan was ok, just to have them dashed again.
It didn’t matter, anyway. Even if Ryan was with them, whether they were dangerous or not, she had missed her chance. Al had run away without her.
It didn’t matter.
Over the following week, these same thoughts plagued Cassie over and over. Different arguments muddled in together until she wasn’t sure what conflicted with what anymore.
One thing annoyed her just that little bit more, though.
“You do know something.” Professor Cole had said.
What did she know that they didn’t? Al had been running away, sure. She got that, but she was too late. He was running away to his family, she got that too. But so did they.
What help could she be? She couldn’t even properly remember what Al had said to her, not word for word. Certainly not enough to recite it to Cole, to help in anyway…
But the thing that annoyed her… the thing that annoyed her was that she even wanted to help.
Because of Ryan.
Cole had planted that seed of doubt in her mind. If there was even the slightest possibility that she could help Ryan… that she could even see him…
She’d thought she could ignore it. Logically, she didn’t want to raise her hopes. Logically she knew exactly what Cole was doing, manipulating her through her brother, making her feel guilty…
But logic didn’t always win the battle for prominence in decision making.
A week after Albus had disappeared, Cassie found herself writing a letter. She hated herself with every word, but she had to do it. She had to send it.
I’ll do it. Whatever you need to know.
She couldn’t get through a day knowing that she’d had the chance to find Ryan. She just couldn’t.
Her answer came at breakfast the following day.
“Miss Cooper.” It was Professor Buchanan.
Freya, Nina and Juliet watched with open mouths as a teacher approached Cassie for the second time in as many weeks.
Cassie knew what was coming.
“The Headmaster will see you immediately.”
Her second time in the Headmasters study, Cassie felt distinctly more nervous. Probably because this time she had the addition nagging sense of shame. Shame that she was betraying Al. Shame that she’d given in to his manipulative games.
“Miss Cooper, you’ve reconsidered.” It wasn’t a question. And you couldn’t really tell from the composed look on the Headmasters face that he was in any way surprised. He probably wasn’t.
“And you’ll answer all our questions now, of your own free will?”
Cassie snorted. “It’s not like you’re really giving me a choice. I’m not stupid, you know. I know exactly how you’re manipulating me but that doesn’t mean I can do a thing about it.”
“We always have choices, Miss Cooper. You’ve made yours.” Professor Cole smiled. A cold smile, with no comfort whatsoever.
“Great. Thanks. Look, just ask your questions.” Cassie looked down at her clasped hands, fighting the sense of shame. She was back in the same hard wooden chair. The interrogation chair, again.
“Are you going to tell me what you and Albus Potter talked about, the last time you saw him?”
Cassie bit her lip. This was it. “He didn’t make a lot of sense. He knew you all were watching him. And Allen… Allen Davies was coming down the corridor. So he was talking in code, kind of. I don’t know exactly what he said, I don’t remember exactly… obviously it meant he was running away but -”
“Will this help?”
With a subtle flick of his wand, Professor Cole summoned a shallow, stone basin to his desk. It had ancient-looking symbols carved on its surface that Cassie couldn’t interpret, and the contents glowed with an eerie silver light in the darkened room.
Professor Cole touched the silvery contents lightly with the tip of his wand and to Cassie’s astonishment, a smokey-looking figure appeared. It looked almost solid but not quite, with a dull grey colouring and a kind of faded look. The figure straightened up and rotated slowly in the basin.
It was Al.
Cassie’s first urge was to touch the figure. She knew it wasn’t actually Al, but seeing such a close representation of her friend made her want to just reach out with her fingertips…
“This,” Professor Cole’s words interrupted Cassie’s shock and she dragged her eyes away from the figure, “Is a pensieve.”
“How is it supposed to help me?” Cassie looked back at the dull grey shape of Al’s body. She couldn’t keep her eyes away from her. It was exactly as she remembered him, from his irritatingly tousled hair, his shirt-sleeves rolled up too far, even down to the warmth in his eyes… how could eyes made out of smoke be considered warm?
“A pensieve is a way of reviewing our memories. Memories we may have otherwise forgotten or disregarded.”
“You… you want me to put my memories in there?” The thought unsettled Cassie. Her memories laid out for the Headmaster to see. She’d been happy to answer his questions - she could easily stop before giving too much information. But with this device he’d see everything.
“No.” His reply relieved her. “I don’t need to. We will use my own.”
Cassie looked up sharply. “But… you weren’t there. How can you -”
“Have you ever heard of legilimency, Miss Cooper?”
“There is a spell one can use when required, to delve into the minds of others… to extract emotion or memories -”
“You can read minds?” Cassie blurted in panic.
“Do not be ridiculous,” The Headmaster snapped, “There is nothing so complex as the human mind. The very idea of reading it like a book is ludicrous. However it is possible to view memories. To extract and interpret them…”
“You took my memory.” Cassie understood quickly and narrowed her eyes. “Of what Al said to me before he left.”
“Forgive me.” The Professor didn’t sound remotely apologetic. “You were not co-operating. So we have here my memory of your memory in the pensieve, to view at our leisure -”
“Then you don’t need me,” A lump seemed to have quickly developed in Cassie’s throat. The Headmaster could see her memories. He’d taken them and looked at them. She felt violated, used and helpless. She hadn’t even realised. “You’ve got my memory, you know what he said. Go figure it out then, I sure as hell can’t. I don’t know any more than that.”
Professor Cole ignored the emotion and exhaustion in Cassie’s voice. “Yes. His instructions are indeed rather cryptic.”
“I told you.”
“Perhaps chosen… or designed… to be understood only by one person.”
Cassie’s eyes widened. “Me?” She laughed humourlessly, “Well he didn’t do a very good job, or else I probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
She was probably saying too much, but she didn’t care. They didn’t need her. That relieved her - she just wanted to leave the creepy, dimmed office and get back into the real world. But at the same time and aching sensation reminded her that if they couldn’t interpret what Al was saying, there was no way of finding Ryan.
“Perhaps you haven’t tried as well as you could.” The Headmaster suggested, “Perhaps you needed the correct motivation.”
“Motivation? I’ve lost my brother and my best friend. I’ve got plenty of motivation.” Cassie said, forcefully.
“So try again.” His voice was firm, and before Cassie could protest he flicked his wand again and the smoke-Albus began to speak.
“I miss us. What we did. You know?”
Cassie was startled to hear her own voice, as if from a great distance. The smoke-Al was staring into the space intensely. She remembered how that stare had felt when it was directed at her.
“Think about it. You do know. The stuff we did… talked about… thought about…”
“You know, right? We never got the chance to say it but I know we were both thinking the same thing. Work it out, Cooper. Shit. Davies. Ok. Um. Right. Well you know that. What we thought about. I’m definitely going to be thinking about that tonight. Ok? I’m thinking about it tonight but… we… but there’s not a lot of time. The… erm, circumstances… they’re not great. But it’s got to be tonight. The usual time. But just… in case… just… if you can’t work it out. Um. Right. Everything is totally straight-forward. Ok? I can’t… I’ll help as much as I can but the main thing you need to understand is… when you don’t understand, it’s straight-forward. All the time. Ok? And I’ll be there for you. I’ll always wait for you when I can. Ok? I’m always right here.”
At the end of Al’s speech the few seconds of silence seemed to hum.
“Well it kind of makes more sense now.” Cassie admitted, “But it doesn’t tell us anything more about where he is.”
“What makes more sense now?”
“Well it’s just obvious that he’s talking about running away. When he says ‘the stuff we thought about’… It was kind of an understanding we had, we just never said it aloud. Then he said he’d be thinking about it that night, he was telling me when he was going.”
“’The usual time’?” The Headmaster quoted.
“When we’d… sneak out,” It sounded childish even before she’d said it. Compared to this, “He’d always come to me at one o’clock. Well, that’s when he said he’d be there. It was around then, anyway. And then he said ‘right here’. That’s where he waited. I was supposed to meet him…” It was so glaringly obvious that Cassie wanted to smack herself in the head for not getting it at the time. If only she had…
“And the rest?”
Cassie looked up. “The rest of what?”
“The rest of what he said. ‘If you can’t work it out… everything is straight-forward’. How does that fit?”
“Oh,” Cassie thought for a second, then shrugged, “I don’t know. Kind of seemed like he was just making a point of how obvious he was being. How easy it was meant to be for me to understand.” She swallowed. The lump in her throat was back.
The Headmaster leant forward, forming a bridge with his hands and surveyed Cassie over the top of it. She wanted to shrink away from his hawk-like stare but she was already as far back in the wooden chair as she could get.
“And are you giving that your full effort? There is absolutely nothing else you would read into it?”
Cassie stared right back, warily. “No…”
“Or is it that you just don’t want to?”
When Cassie didn’t reply the Headmaster continued. “I have observed this memory over and over, Miss Cooper. The more I listen, the more I am sure that Mr Potter was not just requesting that you go with him that night, he was leaving you clues as to how to follow him, if you would so choose.”
Cassie sat very still. “I don’t understand.”
“Did you know that the statue where your conversation took place is an entrance to a passageway?”
An irrational shiver of excitement ran through Cassie as she considered that. The mysteries of Hogwarts never ceased to amaze her.
“No. I didn’t.”
“Few do, nowadays. Apparently Mr Potter is one of those few -”
“I expect he got that from his father,” A hoarse voice chuckled and spoke over the Headmaster, making Cassie jump. She sat upright and scanned the room for another person. There was no one. She’d known that. Then who…
“I asked you to be quiet, Dumbledore.” Professor Cole said, brusquely. He was looking at the portrait behind him. Cassie suddenly understood. Of course, she’d witnessed portraits talking throughout the castle before. But these had been silent during her interrogation, so it seemed especially strange for them to speak up now.
The wise old gentleman in the portrait didn’t look at all abashed. “My apologies, Benedict, I have done as you wished for as long as I could. I didn’t say a word as you cross-examined this poor child but -”
“That’s enough.” The current Headmaster snapped. “I did not ask for your input. Could you please just -”
“You should listen to him, Cole.” A nasal voice came from one of the portraits, but Cassie didn’t have enough time to identify it.
“Well since we’re now giving out input,” A shrill female voice spoke up. Minerva McGonagall. “I must also express my disapproval for what you’re doing, Benedict. Want you are asking of this young girl is -”
“Enough!” Professor Cole roared.
This time, the portraits were silent.
The Headmaster took a few moments to compose himself. Cassie breathed in carefully, suddenly afraid to make a lot of noise.
“What are you asking me to do?” She asked, quietly.
Professor Cole shot an accusing look at McGonagall’s portrait before answering. “I think what Mr Potter was leaving you, in his cryptic words, were instructions. I think he was informing you of how to follow him, if you should need to alone.”
Cassie stared, another shiver running down her spine. “You want me to follow him?”
The Headmaster smiled coldly, “I’ll get to that.”
“But he… I don’t understand. What -”
“As I was saying before our interruption,” The Headmaster continued, “The statue is an entrance to a secret passageway which leads to the cellar of what used to be a popular sweetshop in a village called Hogsmeade.”
Cassie had never heard of the village.
“I assume Albus Potter was informed of this passageway by his father, who I believe used it on more than one occasion during his years at Hogwarts. When Harry Potter was at Hogwarts, students were permitted to visit Hogsmeade, a nearby village, on certain weekends throughout the year. These visits have since been abolished, and the sweetshop subsequently closed down. It now houses a number of flats. The basement flat has never been lived in. It is owned by -” Cassie guessed the answer before he’d said it, “Mr Harry Potter.”
Cassie tried to place the information. “So you’re saying that’s how Al escaped. Through this passage. Then he could get out the other end because no one lived in that flat…”
“Conveniently,” The Professor’s voice dripped with derision.
“So what? You want me to go. What am I supposed to do once I get to the flats then? Guess?”
“In his instructions, Mr Potter was very clear that you ought to go straight ahead.”
“Oh good, as long as that’s not remotely vague,” Cassie said, sarcastically.
“He also was adamant that he would help you wherever he could.”
“Excellent. So you reckon he’s left me clues. Well my success thus far ought to be a good indicator of how helpful they’ll be.”
“So you’re willing to go.”
“What? No! I never said that… I meant…” Cassie shook her head.
“You said ‘how useful they’ll be’. That indicates you -”
“No! You said you just wanted me to answer questions.” Cassie felt distinctly exhausted, “Why can’t you go, you’re the one that worked it out. You do it. You’d probably get further than me.”
“As I said, Miss Cooper, the instructions were designed only for you -”
“But you understood better than me!”
“Using your memories.”
Cassie felt cold again at the thought that the Headmaster had been delving through her mind.
“So use them again.” She said, trying to stop her voice from shaking.
“It is inconvenient,” Professor Cole said, “When you could use them yourself. Even if I, or one of my colleagues, could follow the instructions, once we got there we would undoubtedly be detected and they would flee or attack before we had the chance to find your brother or anyone else. The Potters are -”
“Dangerous.” Cassie finished for him. “Sure. I get it. I don’t have a choice again, do I?”
“You always have a choice.”
“Yeah, yeah. Of course. I always have a choice but there’s no other way.” Cassie suddenly recognised what she was agreeing to in a surge of panic. “Wait, no! I can’t! I can’t do it. You know I can’t. I don’t understand his instructions -”
“But you will, once you’re on the journey and properly… motivated.”
“I am properly motivated,” Cassie insisted, hotly. “I told you, this is about my brother and my friend -”
“Once you are on the journey alone.” Professor Cole corrected himself. “I believe you will find yourself properly motivated.”
Cassie tried to imagine being out of the castle alone. She pictured herself roaming streets fields, forests, looking for impossible clues. She couldn’t do this.
“You said you just wanted me to answer your questions,” She said, helplessly. “I did that.”
“I said I wanted your help.” The Headmaster sat back in his chair. “This is for you as much as me, as much as for the good of society. You have to do this.”
“Why me? What can I even do once I get there?”
The Headmaster opened a drawer and produced a delicate golden medallion on a long, fragile gold chain. “This chain has been enchanted with a tracking spell. When the clasp is undone, a signal can be followed, leading the seeker to the chain. When closed, as it is now, it is inactivated. You will wear the chain, so the signal will be inactivated, as I am are you will be inspected for tracking spells upon your arrival. When you are absolutely sure you are in the right place you simply undo the clasp, and the signal will be released.”
Cassie eyed the necklace guardedly.
“It is simple.” Professor Cole assured her, and beckoned her forward.
“Wait, what are you -” Cassie asked, but could not stop him sliding the long chain over her head. She fingered the fine chain, trying to comprehend the huge task she was being given. “I can’t do this.”
“You can. You must. Think of it as an adventure.”
Cassie thought back to how dreary and repetitive each day had seemed before Albus had come into her life. Back then she would have killed for an adventure. Now here she was, no Albus again. She should relish this.
If only she could get rid of the guilt. If only she could forget for one minute how she was betraying her friend for this.
“For Ryan, Cassie. Do it for Ryan.”
Cassie didn’t have to think about it for more than three second. “Ok.” She nodded, hating herself. “I’ll do it.”
A.N. First things first.... QUICKEST UPDATE EVER!
Ok, that's out of my system. I'd like to congratulate you for just getting through that chapter, there was a lot to get through! It's not my favourite (no Al, sad) but its pretty informative and VERY important. But obviously not all questions are answered here. Cassie doesn't yet have the full story so if you're thinking, 'that's not enough to explain everything', you're right. Im sorry!
I'd love to hear what you think.... about...
Cassie being too late to go with Al
Professor Cole and his story
Cassie deciding to go; a bad thing for betraying or can she be forgiven?
What would you have done in her position?
And just one thing, if you recognsed aspects of this it will be because you've read the AMAZING Scott Westerfeld books - Uglies, Pretties & Specials (that's 3 books, not the titles). The idea for this story came from these books, and although its only loosely based on it, I just wanted to say I'm not stealing it!
Thanks for reading, please review!
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