By the time a week had passed Cassie had learnt four very important things.
One, James’ ‘latrines’ weren’t a pleasant alternative for a toilet.
Two, her little brother had definitely grown up.
Three, the Potter’s were anything but bad.
And four, she was about ninety-eight percent certain that she’d at some point made a very grave mistake bringing danger into their camp.
Regarding the first lesson learnt - Al had found her reaction to the latrines frankly hilarious… his impersonation of her facial expression won a few laughs until his mother pointed out that he wore that exact same impression when he’d first arrived. Al had scowled light heartedly and thrown a bread roll at her, which she caught and returned quick enough to bounce from his head.
As for the second - Ryan wasn’t the little scrap of a blonde kid that clung to his sister and chattered in a high-pitched way for hours on end. He’d grown up in all senses; the way he stood a couple of (very important, according to him) inches above his sister, the way his round face had slimmed out, the way his scrawny arms were now held with a wiry strength rather than resembling a pair of noodles. And it wasn’t just physically; his voice was at the same time so similar and yet so different in pitch and in the words he used - Cassie definitely detected some mannerisms that he shared with a lot of the Potters. And he no longer acted like the kid brother around her. When he’d take her hand he wasn’t seeking comfort, he was providing it. And when he’d chatter on to her he’d generally be assuring and informing. Cassie was in awe of the… well, the young man that her little Ryan was growing into, but she was secretly glad whenever he did unconsciously act in the ways she’d remember - lolling his head against her when he was tired, looking to her with a bright, proud grin when he did something right. He was fifteen, Cassie kept having to tell herself. Fifteen.
Then there was the large issue. The important one. The Potter’s weren’t bad.
As the week progressed Cassie felt herself warming to them and trusting them more and more, yet at the same time her stomach sank with the thought of what she’d done. What she could do to them and their home.
They were good people.
Sure, she’d been told otherwise - over and over again. But she only had to spend a few minutes with them, seeing them interacting with one another so genuinely and lovingly, to realise that she was wrong.
She just didn’t want to admit it. Didn’t want to accept it. Because once she accepted it, she had to accept the fact that she’d put them all in grave danger, that she’d almost betrayed her best friend, and that she’d lied about it.
She cursed herself for not admitting it in the first place. It wouldn’t have been hard. An honest mistake; they’d have understood. Harry Potter had said himself, Cole was manipulating someone who had nothing more to lose. They’d have understood.
But now she’d lied. She lied and, well, it seemed they trusted her. But if they found out she’d lied… they wouldn’t trust her again, surely. They wouldn’t trust her, and the warmth, the feeling of family and belonging… that would all be over.
It sounded dramatic, to say that she felt a part of the family. It had only been a week, she told herself. How could it take only a week to fit in here, when she’d had six years at school to do so and failed miserably?
But, silly as it may have sounded, that was exactly how she felt. Mainly because she was with Ryan - grateful for every second of her brother’s company. And because of Al - he’d always been able to give her that feeling of hope, with his undying optimism, sparkle and smile. And now, the rest of Al’s family.
Ginny Potter was the sort of energetic, hare-brained, affectionate mother that you couldn’t help but just relax around.
Harry Potter was a little more reserved, often the peace-maker between his wife and son, or wife and her brother during episodes of childish bickering, but just as likely to throw in a wry dig when it came to it.
Little Lily Potter - not actually so little; she was Ryan’s age, but Cassie would always group them together as the younger siblings - had been thrilled at the introduction to a new resident and had immediately shown Cassie her collection of what she deemed ’magical toadstools’ and explained each and every one very thoroughly. Cassie hadn’t been sure she was being entirely serious or whether it was all an elaborate joke to see how freaked out she could make the new girl, but had gone along with it.
The rest of the Potter-Weasley clan had been equally welcoming - if a little shocked at first - a lot of them seeming more in awe that Cassie had travelled so far alone for her brother and best friend, rather than wary or suspicious.
Most of them.
While the rest had encouraged Cassie to become involved in the work and chores - of which, it turned out, there were a lot when you weren’t using magic - one person in particular wasn’t so friendly. One person barely acknowledged her day-to-day, apart from to scowl if she was assigned to work with his group that day or if it were absolutely essential that he ask her something, he’d tend to do so through Albus.
Cassie thought - half-heartedly - that it could maybe be because he could tell how much it irritated his younger brother.
But she couldn’t even convince herself.
It was clear as day. James Potter did not like Cassie Cooper.
Didn’t like her; didn’t trust her.
Al had noticed this, and hadn’t hesitated in glaring back at his brother when he was giving Cassie a dirty look.
“I’m sorry,” Al had felt it necessary to apologise on James’ behalf, as if his brother’s behaviour reflected poorly on him, “Don’t take it personally -” Those were the exact words his mother had used “- he never used to be like this. When we were kids we got on fine, I mean we argued, yeah, but… he was never this depressing.”
Cassie had shrugged it off with a more nonchalant manner than was necessary, “You know me,” She’d said, airily, “Always bringing out the best in people,”
Al had given a brief smile, “It’s not you.”
“No? Then what is it exactly?” Cassie shook her head, “It doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s just annoyed that his brother’s only been here a week and then some stupid bint comes along and takes up all of his time.”
“We don’t spend all our time together,” Al reasoned. “I mean, you’re with Ryan a lot… or Lily, seeing as you’re the only one polite enough to listen to her rabbit on about Wargles or Drargles or something else no one’s ever heard of…”
To tell the truth, Cassie enjoyed Lily’s rambling about whatever creature she felt particularly fond of on a particular day. There was something soothing about listening to her dreamy voice telling you a million and one bizarre ‘facts’ and asking nothing in return. She wasn’t the only one, though. More often than not Al would turn up and sit in on his little sister’s lectures, although he wouldn’t quite be the passive audience that Cassie was, always interrupting or making jokes and generally infuriating his sister, as brothers ought to.
Cassie remembered him talking about that very thing, so long ago it seemed, in the very early days of their friendship. He’d said he wished he’d had the patience to listen to Lily’s chattering and James’ bragging. Well, he’d done half of it, at least. Somehow Cassie had trouble picturing James being light-hearted enough for long enough to brag about anything.
The glimpses of him lowing his guard around his family - mainly his mother, occasionally his father, Al or Lily - was like looking at a different person. Like looking at Al. But it never seemed to last. Not while Cassie was around anyway.
It didn’t matter, she scolded herself, this was more than she could have hoped for. She’d won the trust of all but one, she shouldn’t ask for anymore.
But there was still the issue of the necklace.
No more than an hour or two would go by without Cassie fiddling with the chain agitatedly; anxiously checking the clasp to check it was closed. Closed was good. Closed was safe. Open was betrayal.
She’d thought of just dumping it somewhere and hoping for the best. But then she’d run the risk of someone or something accidentally setting it off. And she couldn’t even take it far away, not yet. Whilst the rest of the group - even Lily, Ryan, Hugo and little Roxanne could apparate, whilst Cassie was still very much struggling to learn.
She also thought of burning it, vanishing it, burying it… but all this carried the risk of setting it off. She couldn’t pretend she understood how it worked. This was too dangerous.
She couldn’t deal with this on her own. She couldn’t do it. She had to tell someone.
But she’d lied.
She’d lied in the beginning and she’d lied again, automatically, when asked an innocent, friendly question about the thin, golden chain she wore.
“That’s a pretty necklace,” Ginny Potter had commented, idly, as Cassie and Al had arrived for breakfast on her first morning. Then all eyes were on Cassie, and she was already red enough as it was without further blushing. The embarrassment had started that morning when she’d woken up in Al’s bed, having innocently fallen asleep exhausted the previous night.
Of course Al was entirely unaffected, acting as if he woke up with an arm trapped under a girl’s neck every morning. But he couldn’t have, Cassie dismissed, he was the mysterious Albus Potter. The mysterious Albus Potter didn’t do things like that. Right?
Then they’d had to go through the embarrassing process of emerging from the boys’ tent together to a fair few raised eyebrows and/or smirks. Cassie couldn’t bring herself to protest that it wasn’t as it seemed - she didn’t want any more wrong-footed attention of that sort. Assumptions. People always made assumptions.
Cassie had leapt a mile when Ginny had made her friendly comment, a hand jumping to her throat at once. “Um,” Her thoughts raced, frantically for a non-guilty reply.
She’d been too flustered to notice the meaningful looks Al was receiving from his mother, but he sat back with his eyebrows raised.
“Don’t look at me,” He shrugged, “Not mine,”
Ginny Potter rolled her eyes, “Of course, no son of mine could be so romantic. Look what shining examples they have.” She jerked her head in the direction behind her where Ron was loudly asking Victoire Weasley - the girlfriend of the plain-looking boy, part of the captor team - if she really thought she needed the fat associated with the last sausage, and if not he’d gladly take it off her hands. Meanwhile, plain-looking boy was far too engrossed in a conversation with Harry to come to his girlfriend’s defence.
“Mum,” Al rolled his eyes right back, mockingly, “It’s not like -”
“Sorry, that’s rude of me,” Ginny ignored her son and spoke to Cassie, “I shouldn’t embarrass you on your very first day. You know, maybe tomorrow,”
“Mother,” Al scolded her half-heartedly, making Cassie smile.
“Sorry, sweetheart,” She laughed, breezily, and dished out a second portion onto each of their plates, “So, if you’re not behind the pretty necklace then who is? Is there some sort of another half I should know about, Cassie?”
Cassie told herself repeatedly to keep smiling and breathing. Sure it was a nosy question, but that was Ginny’s blunt nature. Nothing to worry about. She wasn’t suspicious. Not at all.
It didn’t help matters that Cassie could see Al looking mildly interested in the answer himself.
She opened her mouth with no idea what words were going to come out, but luckily Al snapped out of his interested gaze and defended her.
“Good sausages, Ma,” He said, his voice thick as he chewed. After a second of shrewd silence, Ginny had scolded him for talking with his mouth full and initiated conversation elsewhere, saving Cassie from having to answer.
She kept her eyes on her own breakfast, pretending she wasn’t aware that Al was studying her from across the campfire.
He didn’t get a chance to mention it, though. Not immediately. As soon as the last sausage had been claimed and Cassie had been informed of the name of every single person present (which she promptly forgot), people began to peel off into their separate groups with the air of purpose.
“What’s going on?” Cassie had directed her question to Al but he’d already been waved impatiently over by a group of five or six guys by the edge of the forest.
“Chores,” Ryan bounded over, keen to be her guide for the day, “Everyone has something assigned to do at the beginning of the day. Could take an hour, could take all day. Depends.”
“Chores?” Cassie could only repeat the unfamiliar phrase. Nothing like that at Hogwarts.
“Yeah. So, I’m usually assigned to firewood with the guys over there -“ He pointed over to where Al was heading, “- We use up quite a lot here, I mean it’s all we have to cook on. It’s pretty hard work but you get used to it,” His chest swelled with pride, “And there’s other stuff. Some people will go off to collect food - I’ve done that too. You have to be able to apparate, there’s not a lot around here. We have little sort of vegetable patches all over the country if you know where to go, but some stuff we’d need from a town or village. It’s too risky to send people who might be recognised so Teddy usually goes. He’s a metamorphmagus.”
Cassie followed Ryan’s gaze to where Teddy was talking to Ginny and his girlfriend, the beautiful Victoire, by a tent labelled ‘store’. As she watched, they finished their discussion, and after kissing his girlfriend goodbye, Teddy’s face contorted in concentration and in an instant, his plain-looking face was transformed into that of a ruddy, snowy-haired, elderly man. It was slightly alarming to watch; after donning a tatty old denim jacket he looked a genuine stranger.
“Useful,” Cassie managed to comment, not voicing her surprise and distaste.
“Uh-huh. He gets pretty sick of it but he’s pretty much the reason we’re all still here and healthy. It’s a lot easier and safer to go shopping than hunt ourselves.”
Cassie involuntarily pictured Ryan with a spear, and shook it from her head, “Shopping? How do you have money?”
“Took out our life’s savings,” Harry Potter came up behind them, “I had a fair bit from my parents, it’s enough to last us plenty longer,”
At this point Cassie was still a little in awe of him. “Oh.”
“So, today. Obviously we’d understand if you just want to rest,” He said, “But you might get pretty bored. Ryan thought you might want to just have a look around, see what everyone’s doing. Sound good?”
“Great,” Cassie felt overwhelmed and she hadn’t even seen anything yet, “Sounds great.”
And now, a week in, she felt like she’d been there forever.
She’d seen the group working up a sweat to collect firewood. Ryan was right, not only did it look like hard work, it really was. Cassie had volunteered to try it one day, feeling that she’d be just as strong as the boys. She was wrong. It was torture. But the challenging look in Al’s eyes made her stubbornly offer her services for the following day as well, no matter how much her shoulders ached, her hands burnt and her back seized up.
She’d seen the group collecting food from a distant countryside. Ryan took her by side-along apparition - a humbling experience - and that day they were digging up potatoes from a plot in Suffolk.
She’d seen James and a group working on the latrines. She hadn’t hung around long.
She’d seen a group cleaning around the camp; sweeping, tidying, arranging. Even that was difficult work.
All the things she’d taken for granted at Hogwarts and at home, all the things that magic would make so easy. Yet here, impossible.
It was a relief, in a way, to throw herself into it. Hard, physical work didn’t leave a lot of time for guilty thoughts. For desperately searching for an answer that wouldn’t betray people she cared about, as well as these people she was growing to care about. But nothing filled the day completely. There was still time for it to play on her mind in the lazy evenings, where most people were too exhausted to get up to anything much.
“So, about the necklace,”
It took a week for Al to bring it up. Mostly Cassie had kept it carefully tucked away to avoid any (however innocent they were) questions. But she’d seen the perplexed look on his face on more than one occasion and has assumed it kind of inevitable that he’d bring it up.
“What about it?” She sounded perfectly casual. They were sat with their backs against one of the log benches facing away from the fire - it was too hot to be in its glare - with their dinner trays empty at their feet. One thing Cassie was certain about was that she definitely appreciated food more out here. It was a much needed fuel after a day’s hard work.
Al shrugged and looked out into the darkness of the trees, orange firelight flickering against them, interspersed with deep shadow, “Just curious. You never wore it before.”
Cassie paused for a heart beat. He didn’t sound accusing or suspicious or anything like that. Of course he didn’t. Al trusted her more than she deserved. But there was something off about his voice.
“A gift,” She shrugged, praying he wouldn’t ask any more.
It was wishful thinking. Of course he’d ask more.
It crossed Cassie’s mind that she should maybe think before answering, and come up with something slightly plausible, but her mouth wasn’t in agreement with her head.
“A friend,” Her mouth said, before she could moderate it. She’d have kicked herself if it wouldn’t have looked seriously weird.
The next logical question he’d ask would be ‘what friend’. Cassie was already debating whether to claim it was Freya, Nina or Juliet. Or maybe a joint present. But her birthday was months ago… maybe they’d have gotten her a condolence present? When Al left? No, that was ridiculous… maybe…
“Davies?” He asked.
That threw her. She wasn’t ready for the sharp gust of air she inhaled in surprise, and coughed.
“Allen Davies?” She managed to choke out, after her coughing fit.
Al seemed to mistake her coughing as a sign of guilt rather than surprise, and her exclamation an admission rather than a question.
“It’s fine if it is,” He said, his eyebrows drawing together, “I just didn’t think you two were… you know. Any more.”
“We’re not! Oh God, we’re completely not.” Cassie wanted to laugh at the idea, “Of course we’re not. You know that, more than anyone…”
“Yet you’re wearing a present from him,” It was strange; his voice didn’t sound accusing or jealous at all. Just confused. Like he was trying to figure out the situation.
It made Cassie want, more than ever, to just tell him everything. It was ludicrous - he was under the impression that the tracking device she was shackled in was a thoughtful gift from her ex-boyfriend. The one who’d been trying to sabotage their friendship.
She was so close to telling Al he was being ridiculous and spilling the truth. The whole truth. She needed it off her chest, she needed to be able to breath properly again…
But the lies. The lies she’d already told. So many of them. So much trust that she’d gained. It would all be gone.
“It’s just something he gave me a long time ago.” Cassie heard her mouth saying, “It’s like a good luck charm. I always wear it when I travel.”
More lies to add to the list. Getting more and more absurd.
Why? Why was she doing this?
Al was quiet for a long moment, his eyes still levelled ahead of him at the dark trees.
“You’re here now.” He said, quietly.
“You’re here now. You’re not travelling any more.”
“Oh. Of…Of course.” Cassie didn’t know what he wanted. For her to take it off? She involuntarily tightened her grip on the fine golden chain, pressing it against her chest with her fingertips as if that would keep it safe.
“I know it take a while to feel like it.” Al carried on.
Now it was Cassie’s turn to feel bewildered. “What?”
“To feel like you’ve stopped somewhere. To feel like there’s nowhere left to run to. We’re here now, Cooper. We’re safe. Home.”
He was off on a completely different tack. Cassie breathed a sigh of relief.
“Right. I know, I just -”
“Don’t you feel it already? Like this is where you’re meant to be? As soon as I got here I -”
“I know.” Cassie interrupted, “I do, it’s just… you’ve got your whole family here. I’ve just got Ryan. And you. It’s just strange…”
“They’re all your family now.” Al smiled and nudged her. It wasn’t a hard nudge but her upper body swayed away from his, chilling a little before settling back in the warmth of arm to arm. “You fit in here. Home.”
“Home,” Cassie agreed.
Home. Of course. She was here with Al, with Ryan. The people she cared about most. And these other people she already felt so close to.
But did it feel like a home? It was a makeshift camp in a clearing in the middle of a forest. Sure it was comfortable, familiar even after this short period of time. But could it ever be a real home?
Yes, she realised. Maybe it could. She’d settled into the routine so easily that perhaps she could see herself feeling truly at home here. If it came to that.
If it weren’t for the chain.
Two weeks later
8th June 2023
Cassie’s shoulders blazed from the heat of the early summer sun and the wrenching pain right across her upper back. With a barely stifled groan she lifted her crudely made axe high above her head, relished the split-second of relief as it came swinging down before throwing her weight into the swing as it connected with the log she was chopping.
The axe hit the tree-stump-platform with a dull smack and the two halves of the log rolled off the sides. Cassie let the axe drop to her side with an unintentional satisfied smile at the minor job done. There was something instinctively rewarding about accomplishing something simple like that - even if it did cause you more physical pain than you’d ever have thought.
“Want to quit yet?” Al rolled more logs along the makeshift track towards her.
He and his brother were leading the initial felling of the trees. James was still in the shade of the trees cleaning off any debris caught in the double-handled saw, his bare shoulders hunched over - probably in exhaustion, Cassie thought. She’d demanded to Al that she be allowed a go at hauling the saw through the thick, living tree trunk. It hadn’t gone well. Not only did it require a fair bit more power than she was blessed with - it was a two-man job, working best with people of similar strength. She and Al hadn’t been well-suited in that department; by the time the saw had been wrenched from her hands for the twelfth time she admitted defeat.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Potter,” Cassie tossed her sweaty hair behind her stubbornly, “I’m doing just fine here.”
“I don’t deny that,” Al cocked an eyebrow at the growing stack of neatly chopped logs besides her ’work bench’. It was no smaller than anyone else’s - she’d been determinedly making sure of that. No matter how much more muscled the others were, she would keep up.
“Piss off back to your own job then. I‘m having fun.” She stuck out her tongue and stooped to pick up another log that needed to be halved. It took a lot of effort not to let out some kind of noise of pain as she straightened back up, but she managed it.
“Really?” Al grinned wickedly and gripped her shoulders as she turned away from him, his thumbs kneading her back as if in a massage. Except it bloody hurt.
The unexpected pain made her screech and twist away, raising her axe threateningly.
“What the hell was that for?!”
“You’re hurting. Why are you still doing this? If you’re proving a point, consider it proven. Seriously, don’t hurt yourself any more.”
Cassie scowled. His words were well-meaning, but it didn’t mean she was about to give in. She was unsure of when she’d turned into a competitive person - especially as this probably wasn’t the best way to win an unspoken challenge with your best mate. But that wasn’t the only reason she was still here.
“Come on, you’ve last three weeks. That’s better than any of the other girls,” Al offered.
“It’s not about winning,” She said, “I like doing this. It’s… I like it. It’s like, even though it hurts you get the job done. Satisfying.”
Al looked at her for a moment, “You are one strange girl, Cooper. Every time I think I understand you there’s something else,”
Cassie thought that was a bit rich, coming from Mystery Al. “That’s me - your regular conundrum,” She bared her teeth in imitation of a smile.
Al laughed in defeat, “Ok. So there’s no point me trying to persuade you to switch jobs with someone tomorrow?”
“Nope,” Cassie chirped.
“So I’ll have to endure seeing your face screw up with pain every few minutes?”
“I am not in pain,” Cassie denied, automatically.
“Oh, sorry. Must’ve mistaken the pure joy for pain. My mistake.”
Cassie couldn’t help but smile when the bright green eyes met hers, “Don’t you forget it,” She said, “Besides, it hurts you too. I can see.”
“Lies,” Al insisted, before breaking into another grin, “Alright, but don’t you spread it around. I’m a man. We don’t hurt. Ever.”
“Or, your brother doesn’t complain, so you couldn’t possibly,” Cassie deduced.
“Not everything in life is a competition, Coop,”
“Shut up,” Cassie shielded her eyes and took a swig of much needed water. It was warm from the afternoon sun, but quenched her aching, dry thirst, nonetheless.
He’d said it himself, everything was a competition between he and his brother. That was one of the first things he’d told her about James. ‘The most committed guy I know - and the most competitive’ he’d said. Cassie couldn’t say she’d really witnessed this yet - she rarely seemed to be in the company of James Potter, for which she was a little thankful. But a little pissed off. Why was avoiding her - the only one that didn’t like her?
Cassie jumped guilty as she heard his voice, as if he could tell she was thinking of him. She looked up to see him wearing his usual crabby frown and beckoning Al back over to the trees with a jerk of his head.
“No rest for the wicked,” Al stretched his arms above his head and clapped Cassie painfully on the back. She scowled. “Sorry,” He grinned.
“How much longer are we out here?” Cassie asked, for the first time allowing him to see how drained she was.
Al’s eyes skimmed over her stooped, tired shoulders and her forehead creased up against the glare of the sun, “You know you can go back now, if you want.” He said, half-heartedly. He’d know she wouldn’t leave before anyone else.
“How much longer are we out here?” She repeated.
“Not long,” He promised, “And it’s chicken stew for dinner. Let that motivate you,”
Cassie downed the rest of the bottle of water and shaded her eyes for a moment as Al jogged back over to the trees. He and James seemed to be exchanging a few heated words - well, heated on the side of James. Al was too laid-back to manage the same intensity. She couldn’t help but notice their similarities from this distance. Their bare shoulders, backs and arms were almost identical from behind, except for the deep tanned colour of James’ skin compared to Al’s more neutral tone. She supposed that was what you got for spending the past three years outside rather than at school.
She’d been paying too little attention to reality to notice James turning around, only becoming aware of it when she jumped out of her skin, realising he was glaring at her. In a hurry she picked up the axe again and arranged one of the last of the logs on her bench.
She managed to look from the corner of her eye over at the boys, just to see James jabbing one of the handles of the saw into Al’s ribs, and Al shunting the other end back in retaliation. Neither of them said a word, bad-tempered or otherwise, just got back to work with sawing the tree.
That was brothers for you, she supposed.
‘Not long’ till dinner, Al had said. It probably wasn’t long in reality, but it felt like ages that Cassie worked her way through the never-ending load of logs that he rolled her way, watching the sun dip lower and lower.
“I’ve never been so tired,” Cassie mumbled as she lolled against Al’s shoulder besides the fire at dinner. She was abandoning all pretences at being ‘tough’ now.
“Good, I was beginning to think you weren’t human,” Al replied, lifting an arm so that she could fit comfortably into his side. “It’s taken you three weeks to admit that.”
His arm was heavy against her aching shoulders and she shifted a little bit.
“Sorry,” Al muttered, lifting his arm again and seeming to debate where to put it. He ended up lowering it and putting it awkwardly around her waist. The comfortable ease of sitting so close suddenly changed in that simple move - it was different somehow.
Cassie didn’t know if it was good or bad. But she wasn’t going to mention it. And neither was Al, apparently.
“Your shoulders are really red,” He said, changing the subject entirely.
“They hurt.” Cassie said, sleepily, before realising that she was admitting it and adding, “A little.”
“They’re really hot,” Al put the back of his hand against them. It felt very cold, “But you’re shivering. I think you’re sunburnt.”
“Sunburnt?” It wasn’t a familiar thing. Every summer since she could remember, Cassie had never been sunburnt. She could vaguely recall her mother tapping her on the head with her wand every morning, and a pleasantly cool sensation running down her body. A sunscreen charm, she guessed.
Al came to the same conclusion at around the same time. “No magic,” He said, half to himself. “No sunscreen. Must be because it’s suddenly got so hot the last couple of days… Maybe you should kind of stick to wearing…uh, t-shirts,” He said, fiddling with the flimsy strap of her vest top.
“Mmm. That’s annoying,” Cassie murmured, but she was drifting off. A tiny part of her felt a little bad for falling asleep on Al - it can’t have been particularly comfortable - and the same part was aware of another deep male voice talking to him as she succumbed to sleep.
The next day Albus insisted that Cassie wasn’t going to be on firewood duty.
Needless to say she argued, and in the end he only managed to get her to agree by saying he wouldn’t either. So he apparated off with the food crew whilst she was left back at camp on cleaning duty.
“I would have been fine,” She grumbled to his mother, “I could have at least been outside,”
“He’s half Potter half Weasley,” Ginny shrugged, tossing a broom at Cassie across the tent, “There was no hope for him ever not being fiercely overprotective. I should know, I grew up with seven of them and married another.”
For a second Cassie looked down at the broom she’d caught in one hand in confusion, before realising that she was meant to clean with it, not fly it. Right. The original purpose for a broom.
“You don’t let them tell you what to do,” Cassie said, before wondering if it was offensive to moan to this woman about her own son.
“Nor do you,” Ginny smiled.
“Then why am I stuck on housewife duty?” Cassie cast a hand around the interior of the tent.
“Because,” Ginny shifted a camp-bed to the side of the tent, clearing the floor in order to sweep, “You know he’s right.”
Cassie lightly touched her tender, burning shoulders and sighed. Of course he was right. It would have been agony to be outdoors right now.
“Housewife duty,” Ginny scoffed, chuckling to herself, “We’ll see if you still call it that at the end of the day,”
Cassie soon learnt what she meant.
A new day, a new job, and whole new set of muscles aching. It turned out that shifting furniture, sweeping, clearing out the campfire… it was all a lot harder than it sounded.
Cassie enjoyed the active part of the job - the way she was on her feet, dashing from tent to tent, around the campsite, into the woods, to the stream for water… all whilst busy in conversation with the others doing similar jobs.
It was more sociable, she realised, than collecting the firewood. Probably partly because it was a big group of mainly females running about the place chatting non-stop rather than the more focused Potter-Weasley males. In that one day she felt closer to some of Al’s family - his mother, his cousins Rose, Victoire and Dominique and his aunt Angelina - than she had to anyone but Al and Ryan in the last three weeks.
In fact, she was far too busy talking and working to even realise how hard the work was, until it rolled around to late afternoon and the group of them made their way to lay down in the shade by the crystal clear stream. It was then, when she relaxed on her back with her aching feet dipping into icy water, that she realised that there was a dull pain in her thighs, her lower back had seized up, and her neck felt strained.
“Still pissed that my darling boy made you stay on ‘housewife duty’, Cassie?” Ginny called wickedly from where she sat against a tree trunk, deep in the shade.
Cassie laughed. It hurt. “Remind me to thank him,” She said. Perhaps she’d not give him too much hell when he got back.
The group of girls lapsed into a weary, peaceful silence, just listening to the stream trickle by.
“He’s a good boy,” Ginny mused.
He was. Cassie agreed. He came across at first just as a normal teenage boy - a bit of an oddity, true, but pretty much normal - but as he’d opened himself up to Cassie, and been reunited with his family, it became obvious that ‘good’ was exactly what he was. It was a simple way to describe him, but so apt.
After a few seconds Cassie asked, “Was it horrible? When you had to leave him behind?”
It took a couple of seconds for Ginny to answer, “It was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do. I’ve fought a war, I’ve thought the man I loved was dead, I’ve been to more funerals than anyone should ever have to… but leaving my son behind was probably one of the scariest times of my life.”
It struck Cassie as an odd answer to give. ‘Scary’. She’d meant ‘horrible’ in the way that Al had been left alone with no explanation, that he’d been abandoned almost. ‘Scary’ wasn’t the way she’d describe it. ‘Guilty’, maybe. Something like that. Why would it be scary?
She was about to ask, when Angelina interrupted, sitting upright, “We should probably head back. There’s still quite a lot to do for Roxy’s party…”
Of course, Cassie remembered. Little Roxy, the youngest of the family, was eleven today. It was supposed to be a time of celebration - the age where a child started school. Out here, it didn’t have the same meaning. Nonetheless, the family were going to make sure that Roxy Weasley had the eleventh birthday party she’d have had if things were normal.
It was more difficult to work now, the others were all arriving home for the day and making nuisances of themselves in every possible way. A quick dash to the stream to clean some of the cutlery ought to have taken two minutes, not the ten it took Cassie at this time, dodging around people with her heavy box, ushering bathers out of the way and going further upstream so she wasn’t washing them in other peoples dirt.
Al gave a sheepish grin when he returned, filthy and sweaty, obviously assuming he was going to be subjected to an earful or the silent treatment. For a second Cassie was tempted, then she felt a rush of affection for how he was sorry, and so settled on pulling a mock annoyed face.
“Sorry,” He grinned apologetically “Sorry, sorry, sorry…”
“Forget it,” Cassie couldn’t help but smile back, shaking her head, “I had fun, actually,”
Al looked briefly surprised but nodded smugly, “I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist the gossip,”
He had been worried.
“Yeah but I hoped,” He shrugged and deliberately threw his mucky arms around her.
“Thank you, that’s just lovely,” Cassie said, her voice muffled against his grubby t-shirt as she squirmed out of his grip, “And now I have to wash. Wonderful.”
“Care to accompany me to the stream, fair lady?” Al released her and offered an arm.
“I’d be honoured, good sir,” She gave a curtsy - probably looking pretty odd considering she was wearing jeans and a shirt - and linked her arm through his.
Cassie had found it weird to begin with - washing in the communal stream. But three weeks practice bathing in a pair of shorts and a vest had made it all seem pretty natural by now, and she was pretty sure that if she had to go back to showering in a cubicle on her own, naked, she’d feel very exposed.
By the time they returned, darkness was falling, and the camp was lit up with hundreds of multi-coloured, candle-lit lanterns. It took Cassie’s breath away for a second, it looked so simple and beautiful. Then she wondered briefly, in alarm, whether the candles had been charmed so that their flames burnt in the different vivid colours. Then she relaxed as she realised that the glass windows of the lanterns had just been painted. Each and every one of them. A lot of effort had gone into little Roxy’s birthday.
The lanterns were strung on rope from the trees surrounding the little clearing, and they swayed in the early evening breeze.
Cassie shivered. Her hair was still damp on her neck.
“I’m just going to get a jumper,” She told Al, and headed for her tent whilst he joined his family around the fire.
It seemed darker in the tent, compared to the brightly lit site, and Cassie had to half grope her way to her bed at the far end. She felt underneath through the few clothes she’d brought with her, finding a thick hooded jumper and hauling it over her head. As she stood back up she nudged something small and hard, lying on her pillow.
It took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the dark but she felt for the object and brought it to her face. A bottle. It was a bottle.
A shiny, plastic bottle in garish colours with a lot of writing…
She absently touched her shoulders through the thick sleeves of her jumper. They were still sore. Someone had… who? Who had thought to get her this?
Her immediate thought was Albus - he’d been the one lecturing her about how she shouldn’t be outdoors when she was hurting. But he’d been out at one of the vegetable crops today, she knew he had.
This was from a shop. It still had the price sticker on it, marked with a strange muggle currency that she couldn’t name. It must have been Teddy. Teddy was the only one with the ability to get into crowded, human inhabited places safely. He was the only one allowed.
So it made sense, she thought. Al had asked Teddy to get it for her.
She smiled. He was an idiot. A sweet idiot, but an idiot all the same. A ‘good boy‘, she thought, agreeing with his mother.
Laying the bottle back on her bed, she made her way outside to where the others were gathered watching Roxy open her presents with an adorable eleven-year-old excitement. Noting the big pile of wrapped presents, Cassie realised that Teddy must surely have either been on a large shopping spree today or else the family had been putting in these orders with him in advance.
“The Tales of Beedle the Bard! Thank you, Auntie Hermione!” She gave a wide, white-toothed smile as she tore gift wrap from the book. Cassie noticed Harry and Ron exchange looks which Hermione clearly noticed but ignored, paying attention to Roxy’s chatter.
Cassie smiled at the scene, the large family all gathered on the limited bench space around the fire. They’d managed to squeeze everyone around, even though some had to seat themselves between others’ feet, some were perched on laps and some were crowding round behind. All watching the little, dark-haired girl being spoilt rotten with various looks of fondness.
Roxy moved on to ‘Uncle Ron’s’ present, which didn’t receive the same enthusiasm.
“What’re these?” She picked what appeared to be some sort of a crystallised bug gingerly between two fingers with a curious expression.
“Sweets,” Ron answered, promptly, with a straight face.
Roxy smelt the ‘sweets’ suspiciously, but before she could get them anywhere near her face, her father swooped in and snatched the jar away.
“Oh no you don’t,” George said, with the air of catching someone in the act, “Don’t think I don’t recognise these, Ronniekins. Try to con my baby into eating a Cockroach Cluster, will you? I don’t think so, mate,”
“Ron!” Hermione chided him reproachfully, “How could you be so -”
“What are they?” Al, Fred, Hugo and Ryan crowded around the jar with interest, while the girls and adults pulled revolted faces.
“Vile things,” Ginny said, “I dare one of you to try one -”
“Great, now no one’s going to be fooled,” Ron said, glumly, “I thought now was my chance, seeing as none of the kids will have ever even set foot inside a Honeydukes…”
“You mean these are years old?” Hermione asked, appalled.
“Nah, got them from the one in Weston…”
“Hugo’ll try one, won’t you?” Ryan suggested, with a wicked grin that made Cassie smile.
“He will not,” Hermione said, firmly.
“I would,” Hugo piped up, determined to appear tough.
“No one will be trying them,” Angelina said, firmly, “I don’t fancy clearing up any vomit, thanks very much. Here, Roxy, open Mum and Dad’s present now…”
Attention was reverted back to Roxy and her pile of presents, but Cassie was fairly sure she saw George slip the jar into his pocket with a wink at his son.
She ended up behind Al, who had managed to claim a seat on one of the logs, and leant onto his shoulders.
“Thank you,” She whispered into his ear.
He turned his head, “For what?”
“For the sunscreen,”
“Sunscreen?” He was genuinely mystified.
“Yeah the… on my bed…” She stopped, “You didn’t get me the sunscreen?”
“You have sunscreen?”
“On my bed,” Cassie felt that the conversation wasn’t really coming to any conclusions, “I found it on my bed. But you didn’t…”
“I didn’t get it,” Al shrugged and frowned, “Did you ask Teddy?”
“No, I wouldn’t have thought to ask him for muggle stuff. That’s so strange…”
“Hmm. My mum, maybe?”
“I was with her all day…”
Cassie looked around the group. No one had mentioned a thing to her. Surely if someone had gone to the trouble of noticing her sunburn and making sure she got some sun cream… surely they’d have at least said something? But no one had.
“I’ll ask Teddy in the morning,” She shrugged, “It’s Roxy’s day today…”
People were beginning to get up and move around so that Roxy’s cake could be brought through. Cassie hurried to step aside so that they could get through and stepped right into someone solid.
“Ow. Oh, sorry…” She said, mechanically, before lifting her eyes and meeting a vivid blue pair. A pair that automatically made her swallow and try to move back, but there were people behind her, so she couldn’t.
“It’s ok,” For once James wasn’t wearing his trademark grouchy frown, in fact he looked almost close to content. Extremely unusual.
As Cassie swayed off balance from people moving past her he stuck out an arm to steady her, holding her up by her shoulder. Before she even had time to react to the sudden pain of pressure on her sunburn he let go as if it’d hurt him. How could he…?
“Watch yourself,” With a smile so small and brief that Cassie was fairly convinced that she’d imagined it, he turned away.
A.N. Another chapter! I'm sorry, it took me a while to get started but then once I finally got going I couldn't stop! I hoe you liked it, Cassie settling in at 'camp'. Although not a huge amount happens it's important that she's obviously come to her conclusion about the Potters but she's STILL stuck not knowing what to do. I know the right thing to do is tell them, but if you all say you could honestly admit that after lying already and that you wouldn't chicken out... then you're a bunch of liars!
Anyway, I'd love to hear what you think about...
The camp life... is it as simple and straight-forward as it seems?
How Al and Cassie are getting along (nudge-nudge)
The necklace - the issue AND Al's questionning
The case of the mysterious sunscreen... who EVER could it be.. :) hahahaa
Thanks for reading, please leave a review!
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