Cassie couldn’t believe her ears.
“Summer school?” She repeated, dumbly.
“Yes.” Buchanan was feigning patience. He had been since she’d returned, she thought. Acting like the fatherly figure, like they were old friends and he was looking out for her. It was unnerving.
"What does that even mean?” Cassie asked, feeling agitated as she had since she’d woken in the morning and Al wasn’t there.
It wasn’t fair. She’d barely had time to glance up at Al’s stone expression after the kiss – that heartbreaking, unfair kiss – before she’d broken down. The utter despair that had overcome her was so like that in her nightmares that she’d felt weak – light-headed. She hadn’t realised she was sobbing until Al had caught her before she hit the floor, and the sheer panic that she might not be able to maintain her mental wall against Buchanan and Cole while she felt this overwhelmed..
She’d woken up feeling mortified about the whole thing. She’d been so worked up that the nurse had had to force a sleeping potion – a damn strong one – down her throat. The last thing she remembered was choking on it, the lights glaring and Al’s arms not letting go of her.
She could only hope that they wrote off her enormous overreaction as the ‘desperate girl in love’ thing. And what had Al thought? After everything – her betrayal, her frantic whisper in his ear, that kiss...
He’d never forgive her. Of that, she was certain. He might have gone along with it. Kissed her. Held her. But that was Al. He was loyal still, despite what she’d done. He wouldn’t give her away.
But she wasn’t sure even he could get past this.
It must just seem to him that she was looking out for herself. He couldn’t know that she’d come back for him. That she was trying to put things right. That she would do anything to take it all back. She’d even wish that they’d never met if it would make things right for him.
But all he could see was the girl he’d thought was always on his side letting him down.
Her first question, when Buchanan had paid her a visit that morning, had been to ask where he was. She’d been fully prepared to hear her worst fears were true, but Buchanan’s response had thrown her.
“It means exactly what it sounds like.” Buchanan’s patience slipped and he frowned at her stupidity. “Summer school. Mr Potter and yourself have missed half a school year each. You couldn’t be expected to keep up with your peers after that.”
Cassie’s mind spun to keep up with this bizarrely normal idea. “But... Al’s seventh year. Was seventh year. He should be finished. He should be able to leave.”
It was exactly like she and his father had feared. Expected, really. That they’d find a way to keep Al under control, even though he was old enough to leave now.
“He missed the best part of his final year.” Buchanan replied, smoothly. “And he never was a... a dedicated student. Mr Potter will be repeating his seventh year.”
“But he... can you do that?”
“The Headmaster is able to decide that any student is legally required to continue schooling until they are deemed accomplished and safe enough to use their magical abilities in the community.” It was like he was reading from a textbook.
Cassie blinked, her mouth still slightly open. “I... didn’t know that.” She said, biting back outraged retorts. It was beyond what she’d expected. If what Buchanan was saying was true, they had utter power over every student. If Cole approved it, Al could be made to repeat this year again and again...
Cassie shook her head. “So that’s what you’ve been making him do? Study for the stuff he’s already done once?”
“Like I said, Mr Potter was never a committed student. It was decided that he would benefit from the revision of past material, a structured day and discipline.”
Cassie’s stomach twisted at the dismissive way he spoke. She could only image what this ‘discipline’ would entail. From Al’s defeated frame yesterday, the clearly-used bed at the other end of the hospital wing, the healing wound on his face... And that was before she even considered the underhanded spells, or whatever it was Cole had been using to control the students. Al could have been an unwilling subject to any kind of experimentation.
“I’d have thought this would have pleased you.” Buchanan said, frowning. “You will share classes. You’ll be... together.” It clearly made him uncomfortable to say so.
“Yes... I suppose.” Cassie forced herself to calm down. “It just... surprised me. That’s all. So that’s where he is now?”
“Can I join him?”
“Not today.” Buchanan looked incredulous. “You still need to recover.”
She’d half expected that. Sure, she’d woken up clean of mud, blood and sweat, and her nose was back in place, but she still felt weak. In her body, anyway. She’d sort of grown used to it. And she was definitely stronger than when she hadn’t been sleeping. All of that was worth it as long as her mind was strong enough to pull this off.
“Tomorrow?” Cassie asked, determined to find a way to be will Al. To find some kind of way to be alone just for a few moments. She needed a way to explain.
“Can I at least go to my dorm? I’ll rest I swear.” Cassie just needed to get out of the small, enclosed space of the hospital wing with its constant supervision. Buchanan seemed to be in more often than not, and that damn nurse never seemed to leave. Cassie couldn’t stand it. She’d spent the past couple of weeks completely vulnerable, out in the open. She’d never have thought she’d crave that again.
“Oh, you won’t be returning to your dorm until term begins.” Buchanan said, airily.
“You’ll be staying here until then. Both yourself and Mr Potter are not in good health. You’re weak from your escape. He hasn’t been properly looking after himself. He hasn’t been eating well. Cooperating with our plans for his wellbeing. We’ve decided it’s best if you’re kept here under supervision. He has been staying here all along, after all.”
It got worse and worse. How was she supposed to talk to Al when they were followed around everywhere? She searched for an advantage. At least they wouldn’t be holed up in their dormitories in their towers on opposite sides of the school. They’d be here, in the same room.
But under supervision.
There had to be a way around that.
She and Al had found a way around the rules so many times. Surely if anyone could do this, it was them.
Cassie had thought for sure that she would be waiting for Al to get back all day. That she’d be flooded with inspiration when she saw him and figure out a genius, foolproof way for them to speak in private.
Instead, she fell asleep.
When she woke, she was disorientated.
It was getting dark, the sun low in the sky. Early evening, at a guess.
But something about the eerie quietness made her hesitate. Made her slip out of bed and pad silently across the floor to the bed at the end with the drawn curtains.
Al was fast asleep. Cassie watched him for a moment. He even looked troubled in his sleep. His eyebrows were drawn together in a frown and the corners of his mouth turned down. Nothing at all like he’d looked the night she’d snuck into his tent on that first night at camp.
She glanced around. There was a light in the nurses office, but no one directly in the room. Maybe she could wake Al up now, and at least whisper a few things to him before someone noticed.
She reached for his shoulder.
“Miss Cooper.” The nurse hissed. She stood in the doorway, her arms folded.
Cassie jerked her hand away and backed away from the bed. Al was still fast asleep.
“I was just -”
“It is five thirty in the morning! Have some consideration! Mr Potter needs his sleep.”
Cassie stopped on her way back to her bed. “Five thirty in the morning?” She understood instantly. The eerie quietness. The sun low on the horizon. It wasn’t sunset. It was sunrise. A tray of food delivered to her at lunch time... “You... you drugged me!”
The nurse wasn’t fazed. “Of course I did. You needed to recover. You were agitated.”
“You were. And you are.” The nurse was a tough case. She was obviously on the Buchanan-Cole side. The bad cop to their good cop. “Do you need some more?”
“No!” Cassie said, defiantly. Sure, she was feeling agitated. Trapped. Treated like a naughty child again –even though she was supposed to be on their side. But she did not need to be put back to sleep. She saw that her trunk had been summoned from her dormitory. All those clothes that must have sat there unused for months on end. “I’m... I’ll... I’m going for a run.”
The nurses eyebrows disappeared into her grey hair. “A run? I don’t think that’s appropriate...”
“It helps me when I’m agitated.” Cassie plastered on a fake smile, kidding no one. She rummaged through her trunk, found a pair of shorts and the standard issue dark blue Ravenclaw t-shirt and flung them on to the bed. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She beamed again and swished the curtains shut in the nurses face.
Ten minutes later, Cassie was slipping out of the front doors into the early morning sun. It was that easy. The nurse didn’t even come out of her office to stop her. Sure, she’d almost certainly informed Buchanan and Cole, and Cassie was pretty sure one of them was watching from their quarters right now.
But what was she going to do? She was on foot. She hadn’t had her wand returned to her since she got here. And, most importantly, she was on their side. They hadn’t shown any suspicion so far. The thing they appeared most worried about was Al tainting her. As far as they knew, they’d looked into her thoughts. They had the truth. She was theirs. Al was the bad one. The one keeping them out.
Once more, Albus Potter was bad news.
And, if it didn’t stay that way, his whole family could be in grave danger.
Cassie took in a deep breath and watched the sun sparkle on the lake for a moment. The sky was still streaked with pinks and oranges in the early hours. It was beautiful. Peaceful.
Still a prison.
Still, she felt calmer out here. Less stifled. Just like she always had. How many times had she let herself out of the castle at night just to feel free? She’d come full circle.
Her aches and bruises had been healed, so she fell into an easy rhythm as she jogged towards the lake. Not as fast as she used to be – those weeks of minimal sleep and crippling stress had robbed her of more of her fitness than she’d liked to admit – but it felt better than she’d hoped. The week or so of decent sleep and the strenuous journey had given her a renewed strength. Slight strength, anyway.
Time seemed to slip away as she ran – a product of the thoughts whirling around in her head with no solutions. She needed to talk to Al, she needed a way to get her wand, she needed to keep up the pretence... she needed to talk to Al, she needed her wand...
Before she knew it, she’d completed a lap of the lake and wasn’t ready to stop. Her legs carried her forwards and she retraced her first lap.
She was so absorbed that she didn’t register the rapid sound of footsteps until they’d caught right up to her. For an instant she was sure it was going to be Buchanan or Cole, ordering her back in. But that was ridiculous, teachers didn’t run...
It was only when she glanced across and made eye contact that a tentative smile grew on her face and the weight she hadn’t realise she’d been carrying lifted.
Green eyes collided with hers and she was greeted with a ghost of a smile. That was all. In another second Al’s eyes were looking ahead, their steps in time as they continued the circuit. But the ghost of a smile remained.
She pressed her lips together, the stupid smile threatening to take over her face and her heart seemed to swell up with some sort of cross between relief and joy. She stole another look at him.
His sports vest – not the standard issue like hers, but a more fancy quidditch one made of some sort of shiny material – used to be tight. It looked looser. He’d definitely lost weight. She could see the shape of the muscles in his arms too clearly and all the bones in his hands. His face had a sort of hollow look to it, but that might have been the dark circles under his eyes.
He must have been aware of her looking at him because his eyes snapped back, catching her. It was her turn to look ahead. The warm glow she’d been feeling when he’d joined her diminished a little, coloured with worry.
After a long few seconds he looked ahead again, both of them continuing the run. Cassie felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickling.
“They’re watching us.” She said, quietly. It was half a question, half a statement.
“Yep.” Al confirmed, briefly. His voice. Short. Serious. But the first time she’d heard him speak since her arrival.
“And listening?” She said, almost under her breath.
“Inside.” Al confirmed again.
Cassie nodded. They were constantly supervised. Even when they didn’t realise. But out here they should be fine. The wind was loud, making small waves break on the edge of the lake. The trees rustled and birds called. There was no way they could hear them unless they were directly nearby. They just had to be careful.
They ran further, while Cassie’s thoughts raced around her head. She struggled to make sense of them – to decide what she could tell him and what she couldn’t risk. And what he would believe. Her cheeks flushed with the thought of the kiss. What had he thought about that? She’d seen his face turn hard and cold, he’d known it wasn’t real. Was she imagining him holding her in his arms before she passed out?
They had reached the far side of the lake, and Al was visibly struggling. Cassie had thought she was unfit. The Albus Potter she knew could have ran the lake five times over without breaking a sweat. Probably with a cocky grin and asked how many more.
Buchanan was right. He definitely hadn’t been ‘looking after himself’.
Cassie slowed her pace and jogged over to the lakeside. She kicked off her shoes and sat back with her feet in the shallows, leaning back with her weight on her arms as she recovered. Both from the run and from seeing Al like that.
He’d followed her over but paced beside her, breathing heavily.
“You’ve changed.” She said, a small smile on her face to hide her concern.
He gave her his brief ghost smile in acknowledgement and looked her up and down. “Likewise.”
She hadn’t been expecting it, but she couldn’t argue with that. He’d have been expecting the strong, cheerful Cassie from camp. But the couple of months since then had been filled with more than he knew. It must have been a shock to receive this stressed, weak Cassie instead.
She gave a small laugh.
He joined her by the lakeshore, sitting closer to the water than she was. The tiny waves started to soak his shorts, but he didn’t move.
He hadn’t lost that uneasy expression. Cassie tried to slow her thoughts once more, to decipher what he needed to know. She had to tell him something. He was completely in the dark. And he still thought she’d betrayed him. He still had no idea who’s side she was on. But she couldn’t justify wasting time defending herself. They probably only had minutes before their privacy was over and they were summoned inside.
“You have to keep doing what you’re doing.” She said, with more urgency than she’d intended. She’d meant to be calm and in control. She’d meant to reassure him that there was a plan, that she had this covered. Instead, she sounded panicked; it was all spilling out. He kept looking straight ahead, trepidation breaking through his mask. “Keeping them out of your head. They got into my head before, it’s how they knew you’d gone. You have to keep blocking them out.”
It probably barely made sense to him. He hadn’t known that Cole had stolen her thoughts before they’d left. He probably didn’t even know that there was a type of magic that could do that. He’d been blocking them out of his mind through his own stubbornness.
But he didn’t act surprised. She could see him processing the information but he didn’t let anything else through the mask. She longed for a glimpse of what was going on in his mind. Did he understand. Did he have even an idea that she hadn’t wanted to betray them all?
“They have to think I’m on their side. I have to go along with it. We have a plan.”
“We?” Al asked. Cassie hadn’t missed how he was speaking in one word answers and questions. But Buchanan had said he hadn’t been speaking at all. At least she got his from him.
For the first time, he looked away from the clear grey waters and made eye contact. Cassie saw the urgent question in his eyes. He had no way of knowing if they were ok.
She nodded. “We’ve been so worried about you.”
His relief was evident.
“Both of you.” She added.
His head snapped back up. “Both?”
Alarm flooded through Cassie. She hadn’t asked about Ginny yet. She hadn’t been able to. Buchanan and Cole couldn’t know that she cared about anyone other than Al.
“Your... your mum.” She said, her voice becoming more high-pitched with her unspoken question.
“She’s not... she was never...” His eyes were wide. “It was only ever me. I never saw her. I heard her voice when we...got caught. But then she got away. She had to have gotten away. Right?”
Cassie’s stomach dropped and her mind turned into a whirlwind once more. “We... we thought you both...”
For a moment neither of them could speak.
Ginny had never been caught. Or had been caught, and had gotten away early. They’d never considered it.
But if she’d gotten away, where was she now? Why hadn’t she met them? Why had she left a devastated husband, son, daughter with no way of knowing she was safe?
If she was safe.
“You’re sure?” She asked Al, he voice low.
He looked helpless. “No. I thought I was. But where would she...”
“I don’t know.” Cassie cut him off, knowing she couldn’t hear it aloud.
They stared out at the lake.
“Tell me what happened. What’s going to happen.” Al said, keeping his voice determinedly even.
Cassie felt her stomach twisting. “I can’t. Not everything. If they find a way into your head...”
“I don’t even know what that means. I can’t just go on not knowing...”
“You have to. They can’t know anything about us. We choose what they see. Keep them out of your head. You’ve been doing it so far. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. They can’t know anything. Especially about your mum.”
“What if I can’t?” It was the first time Cassie had ever heard Al question whether something was in his ability. It showed how much they were breaking him. She’d never have thought anyone could do that to him.
Cassie reached out and gripped his hand. It wasn’t tender. Or romantic. It was two broken teenagers finding strength in each other.
“You can. You have to. They can’t win.”
At least summer school would take their minds off everything, Cassie had thought. At least it would give them something to do, to pass the time. Perhaps she wouldn’t then spend the whole day pretending not to stare at Al, to search for all the ways he was hurting. Perhaps she wouldn’t spend all day wondering whether she’d told him the right thing, whether there was any more he needed to know.
She hadn’t mentioned the reason for the kiss. She’d meant to, that first day. Just to give him some kind of hint. But before she could figure out how to put it, they’d spotted Buchanan in the entranceway waiting for them.
“We’d better go if you’re going to be ‘on their side’,” Al had said. “Wait. Do I have to be on their side?”
“Not if it’ll make them suspicious.” Cassie had said, distracted. She’d wanted to find a way to beg him not to give them an excuse to hurt him anymore. She hadn’t known how.
“But I’m on your side?” He held out a hand as they walked back towards the castle. His ghost smile was there again. With a hint of humour. Was this a peace offering? Did he understand?
“If you want to be.” Cassie said, her own smile wry and tentative. She slid her hand into his. She could feel his knuckles, sharper than usual. But he could feel hers. They could only get better from here.
“Always.” He’d squeezed her hand, some of his old energy coming back through, and towed her back towards the castle
Cassie had felt like she couldn’t quite wipe the smile entirely off her face every since.
It worked. While she was wistfully picturing the damage she wished she could do when Buchanan finally returned her wand for summer school, she was the picture of the girl in love. The girl thrilled to be here, to be safe, to be with Al.
That was with the assumption that summer school remedial studies would actually involve practicing the magic they’d missed.
“No wands?” Cassie had repeated dumbly, just as stumped as she’d been when they’d mentioned summer school. It had been an unsettling morning, and this topped it off.
First, the look on Buchanan’s face when Al had tucked into his breakfast with gusto. No comment, but a look of displeasure combined with a smug sneer that, to Cassie, read that he was sure that Cassie was here, Al’s mental wall would be easier to break through.
It wouldn’t, Cassie had to be careful to keep the smug sneer from her own face.
Followed by the odd escort of the nurse, Buchanan and Cole all the way to the classroom they would be using in the dungeons. Cassie could see why they’d chosen this particular dark and dingy classroom. If anything inspired hope, this wasn’t it. All the better to break Albus Potter.
“That’s right,” Buchanan had said. The nurse had since departed back for the hospital wing, while Cole lurked at the back of the room. “New policies, this year. Each student will be required to hand in their wand at the beginning of the year. Wands will be handed out each class to those who have demonstrated the capacity to safely use them. They will be handed in at the end of each class.”
“How can we demonstrate the capacity to safely use them if we never use them?” Cassie asked, pointedly.
“It is a matter of earning trust.” Buchanan said, calmly once more. “Once the aptitude has been demonstrated, and we have trust in your abilities and behaviour, you will have earned wand rights. Some will earn this right early on. Others -”
“Others will never be trusted no matter what they do, because of who they are. Sound about right?” Al was leaning back on the back two legs of his chair, his arms spread on the desk behind him. There was an air of nonchalance in his posture and tone, but his eyes – usually clear and warm - were hard. He didn’t appear surprised by the ‘no wands’ revelation. But then, he’d been here longer. And Cassie couldn’t imagine him being allowed a wand thus far.
Buchanan, on the other hand, raised his eyebrows at this. Of course. Al hadn’t been speaking. Of course, he’d been ‘uncooperative’. But this was new. And apparently it was working.
“If any student were to demonstrate an understanding of the Principles of Safety, Secrecy and Order and to comply with these principles in their daily etiquette -” Buchanan was starting to raise his voice.
“But, alas, they’re still a Potter. So they’re screwed.”
“If any student were to display the sheer arrogance and complete disrespect for authority -” Buchanan was now right in front of their seats in the front row.
“If authority were to display any moral code, perhaps such students would -”
Buchanan’s face, already contorted with cold rage, showed the precise moment where he snapped. In an instant Cassie could do nothing but watch his eyes light with fury and the desk bearing most of Al’s weight vanish into thin air.
Al saw it the moment before it happened. With an ear-splitting screech of his chair he managed to spring to his feet the instant before his weight threw him backwards, where his head would have cracked against the cold stone floor. Still the air he gave off was filled with nonchalance, other than his clenched fists. A spark of challenge lit his eyes.
“Getting slow, old man.” He whispered, dangerously.
Cassie had been able to do nothing but watch, speechless. Now she couldn’t keep quiet anymore. She had to make him stop this. Though her veins buzzed with adrenaline that wanted nothing more than to finish Buchanan off, she couldn’t forget why they were there. It was always there, in icy clarity.
“Al, stop -” She started, but trailed off in horror.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Al’s body convulsed with violent tremors. His knees bent, shoulders braced, and teeth gritted, it was as if he were fighting an incredible force trying to push him to the ground.
Cassie whipped her head to Buchanan. “Stop! What are you... stop it, now!” She cried, panic seeping into her voice. But Buchanan, it appeared, had recovered from his brief loss of control. He wasn’t even holding his wand. He had backed away, sitting calmly at his desk as if he was even slightly bored.
Cassie turned back to Al, who was now gripping the edge of the desk his both hands, his head bowed and still shuddering violently. Cassie could feel the whole desk moving with the magnitude of the tremors.
“Al, what’s...” She took his arm and gasped. His muscles were straining hard, shaking. She could even feel that downward pressure forcing him down. She could feel it like a giant, invisible hand pressing on his shoulders. But he was fighting it. “What’s happening?”
Then she noticed Cole had moved from his quiet seat at the back of the room. He was walking up the middle aisle of the classroom, slowly but deliberately. Then Cassie saw the wand in his hand and the concentration in his cold, pale eyes.
He stopped directly in front of the desk that Al was bracing himself against.
“Found your voice, Potter?” Cole’s silky voice was low and commanding. “Almost like you’ve found a reason to try.” His eyes slipped to Cassie for just a second.
Al’s head wrenched up, staring Cole in the eye. Cole couldn’t hide the surprise on his face. Whatever he was doing to Al, whatever this magic he was using to try and force him to the floor, he hadn’t been surprised that Al could fight it. It clearly wasn’t the first time this had happened. But he was surprised now. Why? That he’d fought so long? Or that he could lift his head?
“You won’t do that. Even you wouldn’t.” Though his breathing was laboured, Al’s voice came out cool and clear. “She’s innocent.”
With a flick of Cole’s wand, the heavy wooden desk jerked forwards. Caught unaware, Al lost his grip and slammed to his knees. His head thudded hard against the desk and he let out a growl of pain.
“Cooperate.” Cole said, as if nothing had changed.
“No.” Al lifted his head once more and stubbornly looked him straight back in the eye, his back straight despite the violent force that was almost visible in its power.
“Cooperate, and in time you can start fresh. You don’t have to be a Potter anymore.”
Another jab of Cole’s wand and Al was forced forward onto his hands. Cassie could picture the giant force pressing him down clearly now. It was winning. He was tiring.
“Stop it!” She yelled once more, sinking to her knees beside Al, no idea how to help or make it stop. She was useless without a wand.
It was as if she wasn’t even there.
“Don’t underestimate our impatience.” Cole said, his voice low and calm.
What did that mean?
Al fought hard for another long few seconds. Cassie could see him decide it was over. She could see the moment he chose to give up. All at once he stopped fighting, the shuddering stopped and his arms gave way. With a thwack, his forehead hit the floor, his forearms braced either side of his head.
After another few, Cole lifted the curse. No longer forced firmly to the floor, Cassie could see Al’s back free up – she could see his ribs moving as he recovered through deep, uneven breaths. She fought the angry tears that threatened to spill over, now that the immediate threat had stopped. She curled a hand around one of Al’s. The skin on the heel of his hand was rough and broken from Cole’s final push. His blood patterned her palm. But he entwined his fingers through hers, firm as always.
“You said he was safe.” Cassie accused, not wiping her damp eyes. Perhaps it would help. “You said you were keeping him safe – you promised.”
Accuse them like you have no idea, her mind told her. Fool them. Make them think you never thought them capable. Don’t let them see that this is what you feared all along.
“As safe as he can be.” Cole said, his wand now back in his robes and folding his arms. “He will never be truly safe until he can function harmlessly within the wizarding community.
"He can.” Cassie said. “We both can, I promise...”
“Prove it.” Cole flourished his wand and two textbooks swooped from Buchanan’s desk to the one he’d forced out of place to make Al submit.
“Earn our trust.” Buchanan echoed. The booked thudded open and the pages flicked forward in an invisible wind, to the beginning of the first chapter: ‘an overview of the principles’.
Cassie looked helplessly from the two teachers to Al. He had taken his hand from hers and was now holding his head in his hands. His breathing slowly settled. He lifted it slowly, staring Cole back in the eyes again as if nothing had happened. A deep bruise was already darkening on his temple from the table, followed by the floor.
He moved slowly to his seat without saying a word, or even looking at Cassie.
Not quite recovered herself, it took Cassie a few more seconds to follow suit.
“You may begin.” Buchanan said, as Cole moved toward the classroom door.
Cassie couldn’t even begin to fathom how she was supposed to begin to read what looked like the most boring chapter known to man after watching her friend subjected to borderline torture. Smudges of his dried blood were still on her hand.
All she could do was watch Al. Who was watching Cole. He’d done it again – assumed that mask of sheer, cold indifference and continued to stare at the headmaster.
“Begin.” Buchanan repeated, with more force.
Cole paused in the doorway and looked back. “Your teacher has spoken. It is your duty to obey.”
Albus continued to stare. Cole stared back. Despite his clear dislike, he couldn’t hide the interest, or curiosity, from his face. It was like Al was a puzzle that Cole was determined to crack. Even if it meant breaking him apart and rebuilding.
“Lost your tongue again, Potter?” Cole asked, softly. “Shame. You could do well to learn from your cooperative friend.” He looked from Al to Cassie. “Miss Cooper.” He nodded a farewell and swept from the room.
Cassie felt sick at being the ‘cooperative’ friend. He was trying to manipulate them both. It wouldn’t work. Al knew she had a plan. They couldn’t take that away from them.
Al dropped his eyes to the book now that Cole was gone. But they weren’t moving. He wasn’t reading. Cassie did the same. But, a voice in her head argued, perhaps you should read it. Know your enemy.
She was halfway down the first page when a warm hand curled around hers. She looked up and met clear green eyes. He let down his mask, just a moment. For her. It’s ok, his eyes said, urging the worry from hers.
She produced as much of a reassuring smile as she could and squeezed his hand, still slick with blood.
She couldn’t help but glance up at Buchanan, who was eying their entwined hands with a look of distaste. That induced a true smile that she couldn’t quite suppress. Especially when a glance at Al told he he’d seen the same thing. For the first time since her arrival, she saw the wicked, sparkling grin of the old Al, just for a few seconds. But it had been there. Weary and bruised though he was, it had been there.
“Get on with it.” Buchanan snapped, annoyed and uncomfortable. He didn’t mention their hands.
And, holding on to one another and suppressing smiles at a small victory, they did.
A.N. Thanks for reading! It's great to hear that there are some dedicated people are sticking with HPFF and this story, every time I hear it it's a little more inspiration to keep writing! Thanks again, and watch out for the nexter chapter!
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