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 After just a week, Cassie felt like she’d gone back in time.

                “I know, I know.” Freya gestured dramatically from her position cross-legged on Cassie’s bed. “You went after Al and brought him back, blah, blah. I know what you’ve been telling everyone. I just thought that maybe you might know something about, you know, his family. That’s where he ran away to, right?”

                “He didn’t make it.” Cassie’s insides burnt with guilt as she added, “Thankfully. Who knows what would have happened to him if he did.”

                “Freya,” Nina admonished from where she was perched on her own bed, practicing wand motions with her quill. “Cassie’s told us what happened. You’re not saying you don’t believe her?”

                Freya sighed, slumping her shoulders in defeat. “No, of course not. It just seems... I just can’t imagine him willingly coming back. He’s Albus Potter. He’s...”

                “He’s trouble.” Cassie chimed in, the phrase seeming almost sing-song from the amount of times she’d heard it over the years. “Well, people change. He realised he’d made a mistake.”

                “Well, he doesn’t seem all that happy to be back. He had a detention under his belt on day one.” Freya said, before bouncing off the bed to her own sweeping books into a bag for tomorrow’s class. “Hey, did you all see Douglas Glass ask me the date in Potions today?”

                With that rapid change of subject, Cassie was freed from questioning. Even more quickly than usual. And it felt strange.

                “Yes, Freya.” Nina humoured with a roll of her eyes. “We all saw it. And we’ve all heard about it three times since then.”

                Juliet gave a quiet giggle from where she was already tucked up in bed but didn’t comment.

                “I’m just saying – he could have asked anyone for the date. But he asked me...”

                Yes, Cassie thought, it was like going back in time. But with tiny, odd little changes. Nina practicing wand motions with her quill, after their wands had been collected in their first class. Freya, always the most curious of the group, nagging about where Cassie had been for months on end, rather than why Albus Potter was spending time with her. Juliet... well, Juliet was as quiet as she usually was. Only now that Cassie knew it was most likely unnatural, she worried for her reserved friend the most.

                Now she knew that the students were being somehow magically controlled, she found herself watching them closely. Viewing them as they were; faded versions of teenagers, lacking that drive, that energy, that curiosity. Cassie felt like she could almost see it, just couldn’t put her finger on it. What exactly was it that was so unnatural about their vague interest? Their shallow questions about her whereabouts last year? The way they were so easily placated by her vague responses in turn?

                Cassie watched them. All day, every day. It was most obvious with her old friends, her dorm mates. She noticed the way they’d seemed so much more animated and curious on day one; squealing, excited and shocked at her presence in the Great Hall. That was the day there’d been the most staring. The most obvious buzzing of whispered conversations behind Cassie’s back.

                She noticed the way that day by day, even hour by hour, that curiosity had seemed to peter out. Until now – here they were, as superficially interested as they had always been. Even Freya was relatively easy to appease after just a few minutes.

                Something was happening to them, the longer they stayed in the castle.

                How had she missed this before? It seemed painfully obvious.

                Somehow, some way, the students were being controlled. Cassie was going to make it her mission to find out how.

                It hadn’t been a task she’d been charged with. No, if Albus’ father or any of his family – even Al for that matter - found out she was prepared to take dangerous measures to find out, they’d be furious.

                But, Cassie thought, they weren’t here. They didn’t need to know. Not until she had results.

                Even after a week, she felt agitated and suffocated beyond belief. She couldn’t just sit and wait until the day that tiny piece of metal in her arm would drag her and Al away from this place.

                Seven weeks until that day. Seven weeks was too long to sit around and do nothing. Just as she was sure that the Wall in her mind was firmly in place to keep out Cole and Buchanan, Cassie was sure she could do this. She could do everything in her power to find out what they were doing to the students.

                And her plan began here. Watching.

               

 

**

 

 

Al was waiting for her outside the Great Hall at breakfast time. Cassie groaned to herself. That meant...

                “Raining.” Al pushed himself off the wall and slung an arm around Cassie’s shoulder. When he’d done things like that even a week ago, it was met with raised eyebrows, bugged eyes and hushed whispers. Now the streams of students just bypassed them like a rock in a stream, with barely a second glance. “No breakfast date today. Sorry, just try and keep your disappointment to yourself.”

                Cassie smiled, elbowing him in the side. Underneath the playful gesture she smothered the trapped feeling that she couldn’t escape outside with Al for their breakfast or their cherished lunch hour.

                “I’ll try. God knows someone’s got to keep the ego in check.” She quipped lightly, feeling Al rest his cheek against her hair for just a moment as he guided them towards the Great Hall. “Wanna skip? We haven’t earned our wand privileges yet so the worst we can do is nap in Transfiguration. It won’t hurt anyone.”

They could go to the classroom early, she thought. They couldn’t exactly talk freely, but at least they wouldn’t be under the beady eyes of Buchanan and Cole. Cassie was sure she left every meal with shoulder cramp after being so tense the whole time.

“You can’t skip a meal, Cassie.” A voice interrupted her burying her head into Al’s shoulder. “It’s a school rule.”

Cassie sighed and stood up straight, Al’s arm still over her shoulders. “Since when has it been a school rule to eat, Allen?”

“Since always. You’ve just never read the rules.”

“It didn’t strike me as necessary.” Cassie said, baring her teeth in an attempt at a smile.

“Clearly.” Allen glanced at Al for the first time. “Potter.”

Al grinned, amused as ever. “Davies. Thrilling though it is to spend every moment of my day in every one of your classes, I’d really rather we kept these extra-curricular chats to a minimum.”

“I’m Head Boy. It’s my duty to -”

“Eight.”

“What?”

“How many times you’ve told me you’re Head Boy. Eight.”

Allen’s complexion coloured slightly, but he continued to look scathingly at Al. “Very funny. Perhaps I’d give your memory the benefit of the doubt if you didn’t keep losing points for your house. Ten point from Gryffindor for rudeness.”

“Oh, come on Allen, that was barely rude -” Cassie’s attempt to stick up for Al was slightly ruined by Al’s responding laughter.

“Nice.  Well, it’s been a pleasure, as always. I’m going to go and eat breakfast. Wouldn’t want to break a school rule, now, would I?” Al steered Cassie with him towards the hall, watching Allen stride ahead of them.

Cassie nudged Al’s hip with hers. “You’re such a wind-up.”

“Me? He took points from me because I made a funny.”

                “You provoked him.” Cassie rolled her eyes. She secretly enjoyed these moments when Al’s carefree, slightly immature side came out. If she didn’t look too closely, she could ignore the strain underneath it all.

                “His existence provokes me. No wait, that’s unfair. His existence in close proximity to me provokes me. He’s everywhere we turn. I think he fancies one of us, and let’s face it – it’s probably me.”

                “Clearly. I hear he goes for modesty. You’re so in.”

                “Of course I am. He’s just playing games with me. Keeping me on my toes.”

                Cassie slipped her arm around Al’s waist just before they reached the Hall and pulled him into a hug. “Be nicer to him.” She whispered.

                “What?” Al looked bewildered as he pulled away. “Why?”

                Cassie shrugged, holding eye contact deliberately. “It’s important... to me. He’s my friend.”

                Al ‘s smile faltered for just long enough that Cassie knew he got what she meant. Well, probably not exactly. But close enough.

                “Sure,” He said, “I’ll try. If it’s important to you.  I don’t really get why, though. You’ll have to explain it to me later.”

                “I’ll try.” Cassie promised. “Later.”

                Al sauntered off to the Gryffindor table as if no coded conversation had happened.

                Cassie watched him go for a moment before taking her place at the Ravenclaw table.

                As she had twice already just today, she felt that familiar pang of longing that she could just talk to him. Openly. No codes. No subtle gestures filled with hidden meaning. Just words. The way they used to.

                After a few minutes Allen joined her.

                Cassie continued to stir her soup absent-mindedly, waiting for him to speak.

                “You know what I’m going to say.” Allen said, after a minute or two.

                “Albus Potter – bad news?” Cassie smiled brightly.

                “It would be nice if you’d actually think about it.” Allen ignored her smile.

                “It would be nice if you might give him the benefit of the doubt before judging him just because you don’t like him.”

                “I don’t dislike... alright, I don’t like him. I don’t trust him. He’s on his hundredth chance here, quite generously, and he acts like he’s above it all.”

                “I don’t know about ‘generously’.” Cassie muttered, thinking back to Al’s gaunt frame and defensive way of holding himself when she’d first arrived. The wound on his face. The display of control she’d seen from Cole. It certainly didn’t seem to her that Al had had a generous welcome. Not that he would talk about what happened. She’d tried to press him for that information twice on their runs. He’d brushed it off both times.

                “It is generous. After all he’s done -”

                “You don’t know what he’s done.” Cassie snapped.

                “And you do.” Cassie was suddenly aware of how closely Allen was watching her. It wasn’t a question. She met his cool stare for a moment.

                “You know,” She said, quietly, “A wise man once told me not to question things. Sound familiar?”

                His cheeks coloured slightly. “I’m just looking out for you.”

                “You don’t need to.” Cassie said. “The headmaster and I have an understanding. Albus and I are back now. We’re finishing school. He trusts us.” It was a slight lie. Cassie didn’t think there would ever be a time that Cole would trust Al. There were times where she couldn’t tell if he entirely trusted her either. But her wall, her story, was infallible. She knew that.

                Allen looked sceptical still.

                “You’re awfully curious.” Cassie said, under her breath. “Different to everyone else. You once told me to be careful about that.”

                Allen concentrated on his soup. “I’m Head Boy. It’s my job to be curious.”

                Cassie bit back the urge to call ‘nine’, as Al would have, and watched Allen’s precise movements spooning soup into his mouth. She still wasn’t sure about him. She hadn’t been since the first day of term.

                Of all the reactions, Allen’s had been the most... well, the most real. While others had peered curiously at Cassie and Albus and whispered behind their backs, Allen had been stunned. And it seemed genuine. It was the first thing Cassie had noticed about him.

                The second had been his Head Boy badge.

                An interesting combination, she’d thought. Head Boy – big responsibilities and, to some degree, party to some of the more discreet operations within the school. Yet he had appeared entirely shocked at Cassie’s return. It appeared he had no idea that she and Al would be back, or where they’d been.

                And, more interestingly, he seemed almost desperate to know. To understand.

                Not a common trait at Hogwarts nowadays.

                Cassie had been debating it for weeks. He was Head Boy. If any student knew about the mind control, it would be him.

                But the Headmaster hadn’t disclosed some of his other secrets to Allen – the presence of Cassie and Albus, where they had been in their absences and what they had been subjected to upon their return.

                But he was so curious. So unlike the other students. And, unlike the others students, he hadn’t let it go. In the weeks that Cassie had been watching him, he had been watching her right back. More so, every day. He couldn’t be under their control. Could he? He seemed so much more like Cassie than anyone else. It couldn’t be working on him.

                Because it wasn’t working? Or because they didn’t use it on him on purpose?

                Cassie was itching to find out. She needed to get on Allen’s good side again. But it had to be believable. He was the most ‘awake’ person in this school, besides her and Al. She couldn’t fool him like she could fool the others.

                She wasn’t sure if she was fooling him now. He didn’t seem to totally trust her. But he still tried to warn her to stay away from Albus. And, much as his personal enmity irritated her, she knew that was genuine. Anyone could see that Al was subject to the scrutiny of every teacher in school.

And, if they cared to watch more closely, the unfair treatment.

In the month since school had begun and wands had been collected, other students were slowly being allowed wand privileges in class. After two weeks, a handful of students had the privilege of being allowed to use their class for a brief practical part of class, before they were collected in again at the end of class. Not Albus Potter. Even when he engaged in his irritating games – the ones where he’d answer questions before the teacher had finished asking them for his own amusement. Times like that where he demonstrated a full and comprehensive understanding of the theory and content of the topics they studied, times where other students would have been granted their wand privileges immediately.

Albus Potter hadn’t.

Now, just a couple of days before the month slipped into October, she and Al were among the minority group in class that were not granted wand privileges.

Cassie had been trying to keep under the radar. Not showing off, like Al. Just making her way through the material as required. Quietly. She knew that she had grasped it far quicker than her classmates. She knew that the teachers knew, too.

But she also knew that they didn’t trust Al. Therefore, by association, didn’t trust her.

Allen’s advice made sense. Distance herself from Al, and she would gain their trust far quicker.

But Cassie couldn’t do that. Both for herself – she lived for those few and far between shared moments with Al – and for the plan. She was Girl in Love. She would continue to be.

She needed to be with Al. She also felt like she could learn something important by befriending Allen.

Those two options didn’t combine very well.

 

**

 

A few days later the afternoon was unusually clear. As had become customary, a run was arranged between Cassie and Al with just a smile, a raised eyebrow and a nod towards the window. As usual, wands were summoned to Allen. Cassie felt a wave of vulnerability as her wand, only just granted to her and Al, slipped through her fingers and sped towards the front of the class.

As usual, Allen counted up the wands silently before vanishing them silently and stowing his own wand in his robes.

It bothered Cassie to see a nonverbal spell being used so casually on an hourly basis, when she’d gone through so much grief last year for even mentioning them. It bothered her that no one seemed to care.

It bothered her that she didn’t know where he was sending them.

Yet another thing she needed to find out.

But then Al caught her eye and, fifteen minutes after that smile and quirk of his eyebrow, she was watching him jog down to hallway to where she waited in the entrance hall.

Just as she opened her mouth to berate him for being late, he picked up speed and bypassed her, throwing a taunting grin over his shoulder.

“What’re you waiting for?” He called.

Cassie didn’t need any more prompting. She took off after him, ignoring the bitter wind and relishing the sunshine on her face.

“Hey, congratulations on receiving your wand privileges,” Al grinned, in mock awe.

Cassie rolled her eyes, “And you, sir. The last two. They couldn’t keep us waiting forever.”

“I half expected it.”

So did Cassie. She’d been surprised to see her wand materialise on her desk in Charms, glancing up at the professor to make sure it wasn’t a mistake. He’d acted as though nothing had happened. She’d then suppressed a smile as she saw Al pick up his own wand, eyebrows raised. He hadn’t made any smart remarks, thankfully. Cassie was sure it wouldn’t take much for the privilege to be revoked.

Cassie waited until they were at the furthest point from school on their ever expanding route. As they neared the boundary to the forest Cassie skirted around to where the ground became more rocky, and clambered to the top of a pile of large boulders.

Without a word, Al followed and settled himself into a sheltered nook they’d discovered the previous week. He unzipped his jacket and Cassie felt the warm fleece flood her with his body heat as he wrapped her up and pulled her down to settle between his legs. She closed her eyes for a moment and just enjoyed the feeling of his jacket, his bony knees, his arms wrapped around her. For a moment she could imagine that they were in that faraway place that they both fantasised about. She wondered what her role in those fantasies was. Was she the friend that he kept happy, safe and entertained? The one he kissed on the forehead? Or something more?

Was he painfully aware of every sensation when he lowered his head and pressed his cold, rough cheek against hers? Did he breathe in deep to try and capture her scent for a few seconds?

Or was that just her?

She opened her eyes. “We have to find out where those wands are going.”

It didn’t help that she felt him shivering against her back.

“Maybe I could ask my new mate?”

She heard the humour in Al’s voice and twisted to pull a face of mock awe. “You figured it out!”

“Of course. We share everything, me and my mate. It’s not like it’ll be hard or anything.”

Cassie sighed, leaning back against him or anything. “This is why you have to be nicer to him.”

“Nice? I think his head would explode. Actually...” Al mused. “It could be fun to try.”

“I’m not saying you have to be best mates. Just nice enough that we can spend time with him.”

“Oh, you mean you. Are you trying to take him from me?”

Cassie sighed, watching the wind whip the trees back and forth. “We have to find out where those wands are going.”

“He’s not going to tell us.” The humour was gone.

“I’m not exactly going to ask.”

“Then what?”

“I just need to get him to let his guard down. He’ll give something away.”

“He’s in their pocket. It’s dangerous. I don’t know if you’ve heard but he’s Head Boy -”

“I’ve got it covered. You just need to - ”

“Keep them out. Right. Because I know what that means.” His voice was laced with tired sarcasm.

Cassie felt that twinge of guilt again. Mixed with a slither of dread. He was getting sick of her. How much longer could she ask him to stay in the dark and be good? It didn’t come naturally to him, that’s for sure. He wasn’t a blind follower.

“Do you trust me?” Cassie asked, her voice stronger than she expected.

Al sighed. He shifted backwards on the rock and leant forward, his weight heavy on her shoulders as he loops his arms around her.

“Do you trust that I trust you?” He asked, semi-playfully.

Cassie smiled weakly turning her head to his. The wind tousled her hair across her face. Perfect. He was about three inches from her and here her hair was, attractively in her eyes, nose and mouth. Fantastic.

He smirked brushed back the stupid hair. Cassie willed her face not to be pink, but she was pretty sure it was already glowing from the fierce wind.

“We’re not giving up.” He whispered. “Right?”

“Not giving up.” Cassie echoed, unable to summon any words of her own with his face this close. She jumped at the feeling of his lips, warm and smiling against her temple.

The head again. Always the head. And this time he was laughing with it.

Fantastic. Truly.

“Are you doing this on purpose?” She whispered, half hoping the wind would snatch her words away.

She felt the smile broaden against her skin and his arms tightened around her.

He pulled away, leaving a cold patch where his lips had been, and whispered barely audibly in her ear. “Are you?”

Part of Cassie just wanted to stop in this moment. To keep it pure. Not to ruin it.

But part of her needed to bring it back to reality to see if it would stay.

“Did you just answer my question with a question?” She asked, remembering their first meeting.

“I learnt from the best.”

“You’re so annoying.”

“I know.”

 It was light-hearted teasing again. But he was still holding her close, just as he had been. For a few moments they watched the grass bowing rhythmically with each gust of wind.

“So.” Al spoke again, his voice at a normal volume. “We’re making friends with my favourite Head Boy. What else?”

“I don’t know.” Cassie responded, almost automatically. “Just carry on.”

Carry on watching. Watching everyone.

“This is the vaguest plan I’ve ever been a part of.” Al commented. “But I’m in.”

“You better be.” Cassie said. “I can’t do it by myself.”

“I know. I told you, it’s me he’s after.”

Cassie rolled her eyes. “He’s not ‘after’ anyone.”

“Well that’s a kick in the guts.”

Cassie chuckled. She knew they had to make their way back to the castle soon. But she didn’t want to. She wanted to hold on to what was left of the moment he’d almost acknowledged this... this thing between them.

“But seriously. Is buddying up to one person really going to help?” Al asked.

Cassie blinked, caught half in her own thoughts.

Buddying up to one person.

One person.

“Coop?”

She’d been doing this all wrong. Not the Allen part. The Allen part had to happen. They had to find out where the wands were going. She had to find out if she was right about Allen in any way.

But the other part of the plan – the watching.

She’d been doing it all wrong.

She’d been watching them all. Every last person in this school.

How could one person keep track of hundreds? How could she be watching them all, really? She couldn’t. Not in a meaningful way. There was no way she could keep track of all the hundreds of ways hundreds of people could be being controlled.

One person.

She needed to be closely watching one person. One person that she knew was being controlled. That’s where she’d find the answers.

One person. One person being controlled. One person she had access to.

Cassie smiled to herself. “Al, you’re a genius.”

She could personally think of three.

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