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~No bars, no locked door, but a prison all the same~

“What do we do Alexis?” Carl asked his wife, watching her eyes as they scanned the carefully scripted letters that graced the parchment she held in her hands. He leant back in his leather chair, a grim expression on his face. This was not a matter of national security, it was a matter of personal security. It was for the safety of his daughter.

“I really don't know Carl,” Alexis sighed, taking the seat opposite her husband. She placed the parchment, with its evil words, upon his desk and they both stared at it with anger and contempt, and also fear.

Carl leant forward and swiped the note from his desk roughly, reading the words one more time, praying that they had changed. “Stand down as Minister of Magic by midnight Sunday. If you fail to comply, you put your daughter in danger.” They were straight and to the point and there was no doubt to their meaning. What had happened in Diagon Alley wasn’t a random attack. There was some evil brewing and Carl had no idea what, or who, was behind it.

“She’s going to hate me Alexis,” Carl bemoaned, rubbing his eyes wearily. “But what other choice do I have? Hogwarts is not impenetrable to the compulsively determined. If someone wants to get to Cassie to get to me, then they will.”

“Are you sure all they want is you? You don't think they know do you?” Alexis asked with concern.

“No, I don't think so. This is political. Somebody wants me gone and they're playing on my greatest weakness. But I won’t stand down,” Carl said forcefully, slamming his fist onto his desk and causing his quills to rattle in their holder. “I will not give in to blackmail.”

“She's going to hate us Carl,” Alexis reiterated, feeling tears brimming at her eyes. This was the last thing she wanted to do to Cassandra, but was there any other choice? This was not some idle threat, this was real and as a parent you had to make the hard decisions, however unpopular it made you.

“I'll go to the school first thing in the morning,” Carl said, dread gripping him, not just from the unknown enemy, but also from the fear of how his daughter would take the news.

* * *

All eyes watched as the short form of Professor Flitwick crossed the common room floor. He was a very rare sight to see in the domain of the students, coming only in time of emergency or to tell them all to stop their raucous parties. His appearance did not bode well and everyone was on edge, wondering what had brought him here today so early, that breakfast hadn’t even been served. Like everyone else, Cassie watched as his little legs drew him closer and closer and she swallowed the lump in her throat as realisation hit that he was heading straight to her.

“Miss Hathaway,” Professor Flitwick squeaked, “Professor McGonagall would like to see you right away.”

Cassie nodded, catching Aimee's concerned eyes as she stood up from the sofa and followed him towards the Headmistresses office. Many thoughts swirled through Cassie's mind, none of them good. She knew she hadn't done anything devilish enough to be brought before the Headmistress for punishment purposes, which only left the possibility that something terrible had happened to her parents. Cassie bit her lip as the gargoyles slowly parted ways and they made their way up the spiral staircase.

As soon as the doors opened, Cassie spied her father, his face was lined, his hair was slightly disheveled and it didn't look like he'd slept much at all. Cassie felt the blood drain from her face as she saw him, her mind immediately fearing for her mother.

“Dad, what's happened?” Cassie asked, fear seeping into her voice as she rushed to her father and throw herself into his arms. “Is Mum okay?” His arms pulled her tight and held her for a moment before he released the hug.

“Everybody's fine Cassie. Something’s just come up that we need to discuss,” her father explained and Cassie immediately felt her anxiety ease.

“I'll leave you to discuss things,” Professor McGonagall said, standing up from her grand chair behind her desk. “I’ll return in fifteen minutes.”

“That will be fine, Professor,” her Dad said politely. Cassie watched as the Headmistress left with some confusion, and then turned back to her Dad, searching for answers.

“You may want to take a seat Cassie,” her Dad began.

Cassie immediately knew that the news her farther brought was not going to be good. Following his warning and bracing for the impact, she took a seat.

“I'm not going to like this, am I?” Cassie asked, trying to keep her emotions from tipping over into her voice. She watched as her father slowly lowered himself into a seat and rubbed his eyes, a sure sign that he was tired and under pressure. She'd seen him do this many times when he was on a case that he just couldn't solve.

“I'm very worried about your safety Cassie,” Carl sighed. There was no use hiding the truth from her, she was old enough to handle it and she had to be fully prepared for whatever might come. “I received a threat, stating quite plainly that if I did not step down as Minister, then you will be in danger. I don't think what happened in Diagon Alley was a one off event and I'm afraid that whoever’s after me will stop at nothing to get what he wants.”

Cassie knew exactly what he meant before he even said the words. Tears started brimming in her eyes as her father told her that he wanted her to be protected around the clock.

“But I'm in Hogwarts Dad, surely I'm safe here. It was bad enough over summer,” Cassie pleaded as she wiped the tears from her cheeks.

“If I could think of any other way to ensure your safety, then I would honey.” He hated seeing his daughter cry, hated knowing that it was all his fault. This was the life that he had chosen for himself and unwittingly he had dragged her straight into it.

“For how long?” Cassie asked, resigned in the knowledge that she had little choice.

“For as short as possible. The Auror Department is on full alert for anything suspicious, and I’m still trying to come up with a better solution. But until then Cassie, this is the best I have.”

Cassie nodded solemnly, resigned to her father’s decision. While she thought he was being slightly overprotective, she had no fight left in her. The ongoing battles and constant compromises during the whole campaign had worn her out and she didn't want to have yet another fight with her parents. Plus her Dad's face said it all and it was this look of fear more than anything else that stopped Cassie from fighting back.

The door to the office opened and McGonagall re-entered. Cassie hardly paid attention as the two adults discussed the arrangements for assuring her safety. There would be two aurors in the school at all times, and depending on what Cassie was doing and where she was, either one or both would have her in a direct line of sight. Larissa was going to have a field day with this one.

“Is that clear Cassandra?”

“ did you say?” Cassie stammered at the short sharp pronunciation of her full name.

“Were you paying any attention to what we were saying?” her Dad asked with a slight smirk.

“I heard bits and pieces,” Cassie answered sheepishly.

Carl shock his head with a smile, not at all surprised that Cassie had tuned out what could only be described as 'boring adult talk'. “Whilst in a classroom or other place where there are teachers present, the aurors will be nondescript. However, whenever you are with your friends, the aurors will be in plain sight.”

“So does that means I never get to do anything on my own?” Cassie asked, fearing that she may not be able to go on her morning runs or individual study time.

“An auror will have to be with you at all times,” Carl confirmed.

Cassie nodded once more. There was some more talking and then her father stood up and shook the Headmistresses hand. “Thank you very much for your time and understanding.”

“We will do everything we can to make sure she stays safe, Minister,” Professor McGonagall assured him.

“I am sorry Cassie,” her father said to her. “I really don't want to have to do this to you.”

“Then don't,” Cassie replied before she could stop herself.

Her father just smiled, knowing she didn't mean it and took her up into one more hug, giving her a tight squeeze before letting go. “The aurors will be here shortly. But honey, please just look after yourself.”

“I will dad,” she assured him, letting him go. He stepped into the fireplace and in a swirl of green he disappeared. As the ash settled in the now empty fireplace, Cassie let the tears fall.

The aurors arrived and Cassie immediately felt the lead weight of oppression bite into her. She hung her head as she walked through the castle to breakfast so she wouldn't have to see everyone's eyes, but she needn’t have bothered. No one was looking at her but instead at the swirling black clocks of the two stern faced aurors that shadowed her every move. Embarrassing did not cover it. Utter humiliation came close. Thankfully, once inside the Great Hall, the aurors took a nondescript position in the darkened corners, but even so, Cassie still felt their presence weighing down on her.

Aimee and Kathryn had been most supportive when they'd returned to the common room and joined in with her as she ranted about the world being unfair and that her father was overreacting. It made Cassie feel somewhat better but it did nothing to change the situation.

It was just after potions when the dreaded encounter occurred. Cassie left class with Kathryn, immediately picking up her shadows as they made their way back to their common room. Both girls were grinning at the successful vial of potion they'd just handed to the Professor, but as they rounded the corner they saw Larissa, leaning nonchalantly against a wall, her two friends were with her as always.

“I hardly think you’re famous enough to have body guards just yet,” Larissa jeered.

Cassie just glared at her, not having the energy to deal with someone who had no idea of what she was going though.

“No come back,” Larissa mocked her in a sing song voice that grated on her nerves. “I'm disappointed. I’m going to love watching you fall. I've already got my front row tickets booked.”

That was it. Cassie snapped. “You have absolutely no idea what is going on Larissa, so just quit it and leave me alone!” Anger seethed out of her and she wanted so desperately to reach for her wand, to curse the meddling Slytherin out of her life, but she was better than that and couldn't let herself stoop to the level of her adversary.

“Oh, I'm so scared,” Larissa sang sarcastically. She pushed herself off the wall and slowly approached Cassie. “What are you going to do to stop me? Tell your aurors to hex me. I can see the headlines now, 'Ministers daughter using aurors to curse defenseless student'. This will be good.”

Cassie stood her ground as Larissa approached, stopping several feet in front of her. She could sense Kathryn shuffling behind her uncomfortably. Larissa had always been like this, just trying to goad her into making a stupid decision out of anger. Cassie could not let her win. With a dramatic flick of her dark hair, Cassie started walking away at a fast and determined pace.

“I hate her,” Kathryn muttered, keeping step with Cassie.

“I don’t think there’s a word in existence which explains how I feel about her,” Cassie said back. “Unfortunately, pretending she doesn't exist doesn’t seem to be working.”

“One day everything will come back around to bite her, just you wait,” Kathryn assured her.

Cassie smiled halfheartedly. One day karma would take effect, and as far as Cassie was concerned, it couldn’t come fast enough. Things were hard enough as they were without Larissa exacerbating her frustrations at things she couldn't fix.

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