When I walked into the Great Hall for breakfast the flimsy, off-white newsprint of the Daily Prophet didn’t even catch my eye at first.
Tired and oblivious, I sat down at the Gryffindor table and picked up a slightly burnt piece of toast and added a hefty amount of the first spread within reach. My mouth watered a little as I eyed the full breakfast spread of meats, cheeses, fruits, and breads in front of me. As I moved my hand to reach for some bacon, I felt someone’s eyes on me. You’d think I’d be use to people watching me by now but I wasn’t -- it always made my skin crawl.
I paused and looked up. A couple of seats down from me, I saw four Second Years. They weren’t looking at me, they were staring at their food but... not eating and not moving. I moved my hand closer to the bacon while still eyeing them. I noticed one kid’s eye twitching.
I adjusted my position in my seat and they all jolted as the bench creaked under me.
“Is there a problem?” I asked sufficiently freaked out by the half-mannequins sitting next to me.
They all gasped, looked at me, and then looked away quickly.
“Hello?” I said flailing my arms around.
They all gasped again, looked at me, and then looked everywhere but in my direction.
“What is going on?” I asked edging closer to them.
Three of them didn’t even gasp or look at me before scurrying out of the Great Hall like I was some scary troll attacking them. One just stared at me. Eyes wide. Mouth wide open.
I tried to smile at him. “If you keep your mouth open like that, billywigs might fly in,” I joked. He started silently shaking in response. This was going swimmingly.
I pressed my lips together and looked at my reflection in one of the shiny goblets making sure something wasn’t on my face. Nope. Nothing out of the usual: tired eyes, wavy hair, and endless freckles.
I looked around the Great Hall and immediately shrunk in my seat. Much older and braver souls were openly nodding and pointing in my direction and gesturing toward half folded newspapers. I felt my face heating up as I slowly put the goblet down.
I finally peered at the paper sitting in front of me:
GOYLE, NOTT, AND AVERY STRIKE AGAIN!
Ah, so it was going to be one of those days. Perfect.
I took an aggressive bite of my toast and groaned before reading on:
Yesterday, Head Auror Potter announced that two Muggleborn Wizards were found with severe injuries...
The paper was removed from my line of sight and out of my grasp before I could read further. “Marrmph,” I cried out so articulately as Josh sat across from me. His lips, set in a thin line, told me he was ready for an argument.
He folded the paper. “You’re not reading this,” he said as he scooped eggs and bacon onto a plate. I dropped my piece of toast realizing that the appetite I had less than five minutes ago had disappeared.
I huffed at Josh and ran a hand through the knots in my hair. “Why wouldn’t I read it?” I asked grabbing a copy of the Prophet from the last frightened Second Year sitting next to me. This seemed to snap the boy out of his trance, as his eyes got even wider before he scurried away.
“Because,” Ama’s voice said as the news story in front of me disappeared for a second time that morning, “this one’s written by Brandon Skeeter. You turn into a sulky mess when he implies that you and your sister are being trained to be like your father and grandfather.”
“Which he does all of the time,” Josh added while sprinkling pepper on his food. “And then you get really sulky when he implies that your father is evil and has your mother under some mind control spell because she won’t publicly speak out against him."
“Which he writes all the time,” Ama added looking smug clearly proud of the arguments they were making. “And Cass, let’s try not to scare any children this time,” she said in a condescending tone.
“I would if they would stop staring at me,” I said while waving frantically at a particularly brave group of First Years who weren’t even trying to disguise the fact that they were openly staring at me.
Josh grabbed my hands and placed them on the table. “Stop being weird,” he said in a faux concerned tone.
I opened, shifted, and closed my eyes and mouth randomly making weird faces at Josh for good measure. He ignored all of them. Wanker.
“Did you hear about the party?” Ama asked Josh as if our entire school wasn’t still looking at me. Being at Hogwarts could feel like swimming in a fish bowl sometimes. For a second, I wondered if Addie had it right. When she caught wind of a particular news story, she just didn’t show up for meals in the Great Hall. One of her flings would bring her food or she would just go to the Kitchens.
“We have to go!” Ama shouted breaking me from my thoughts.
I made a face. There were way too many dances at Hogwarts these days. Deputy Headmaster Longbottom gave endless speeches to the Ministry about how we weren’t in the “Dark Ages” anymore so they needed to let students have more fun. I’m not sure if he was effective or annoying, but they gave him what he wanted. To my dismay, there are now dances or parties all the time (on top of the unsanctioned dances and parties in the Room of Requirement and in Common Rooms). During the spring and summer, we get to go to Hogsmeade nearly every weekend. Last year, a study was released that showed Hogwarts grades had actually improved since the change, easily solidifying Longbottom’s position as Headmaster when (and if) McGonagall decides to retire.
“Yes!” Josh sang responding to Ama, “I think I can convince the DJ to add karaoke! We can do some tunes together!” He pulled out the flyer for the dance and started reading over the entertainment.
That reminded me. I pulled out a crumpled up flyer from my pocket. “Why did you give me this?” I asked.
Josh and Ama looked down at the crumpled piece of paper. James or one of his teammates had sloppily written down information about where and when he was holding Gryffindor Quidditch try-outs.
“Because we know you. Because of all your awkwardness with Potter, you don’t want to try-out. You need a distraction and the team needs a new Seeker,” Josh replied with a wave as if the mater was settled.
“And you’re actually quite good,” Ama added quietly with an encouraging smile.
You know when you feel nervous about something? Not just mentally nervous but your stomach gets tight and your limbs get weak and numb. You can actually feel the difference in your body temperature. I wasn’t physically sweating but I just felt an urgent need to do something with my fingers. I wasn’t even at try-outs yet and I already felt like I wanted to vomit.
“We all know that Potter already has a favorite picked for the team. Try-outs are just a formality. And, I don’t think I need another reason to embarrass myself in front of James,” I stated quietly looking down the table where James was talking to Freddie with his arm slung lazily over a girl with shiny black hair and golden highlights. Freddie must have said something funny because James threw his head back slightly and let out a loud chuckle. The girl was sipping on her water as she rolled her eyes at him.
“But what if you show up and kill it?” Josh pressed in a high-pitched tone turning my attention back toward him. “We know you can kill it.”
Ama nodded her head in agreement. “Seriously, you can do this! Do it for all of us!”
“Who is all of us?” I asked making a face.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Isn’t that a thing that people say?” she asked looking at Josh for support.
“Sure, do it for us,” he said shrugging carelessly while arching an eyebrow. “Oh, Merlin but without me there,” he said eyeing the time on the flyer.
“Way to be supportive, Josh,” Ama chastised. “I’ll be there to support you.”
Josh nodded his head. “Ama will be there to support you,” he echoed.
I gnawed on my lip and drummed my fingers on the table. “Fine.”
The flames twirled, jumped, and danced as they consumed the wood in the fireplace. The Common Room was warm but never too warm. Never too cold either. Always at the perfect temperature. It was always cozy, the type of cozy that made your toes curl with content, the type of cozy that made you wanna curl up and take a nap. Every time it looked like the fire was dying down, new wood magically appeared surging new life into the flames. The flames would jump with a new intensity. They would twirl at a slightly different speed. They would dance to a slightly different tune. In a perfect world, I would sit in a trance and watch the flames all evening playing a game where I tried to guess which way the flames would move next.
But, my world is anything but perfect at the moment. I tapped my quill on the thin piece of off-white parchment a few more times. I looked at my bitten nails picturing Ama’s disgusted look if she saw me. I smirked imagining her muttering “RIP nail beds.” I had been sitting in the Common Room for an hour in the same burnt red leather armchair trying to think of an explanation to send to my grandfather. With recent technological advances in the Wizarding World, it no longer took multiple hours or sometimes days to send messages by way of owl. We had figured out a way for certain technologies to coexist with magic. But according to Grandfather Nott, writing a letter sent by owl was the “proper way.” In his defense, it was still the most reliable way to make sure you message got sent—you just had to wait awhile for it to get there.
Either Addie or Lily had gone to McGonagall because Alex Flint and Lance Goyle were punished with detentions every Saturday until the end of the year. So now the students of Slytherin had a real reason to hate me: I likely lost them the Qudditch Cup. Flint and Goyle were both members of the team but Saturday detentions made playing in the games impossible.
“Hi!” a high-pitched voice said cheerfully breaking me from my thoughts. I smiled as I craned my neck to see Lily Potter taking the seat across from me.
“Hi, how are you?”
“I’m okay,” she said slowly while looking down at the table and drawing patterns with her finger on the tabletop. “I wanted to say thank you for saving me.”
I shrugged. “It’s not a big deal at all,” I responded quickly.
Her eyebrows drew together. “But I heard James and Al saying that you could be disowned and that you have a huge scar on your face.”
I sighed, I was still hiding my scar with make-up until it fully faded and I wasn’t exactly advertising the fact that dear ol’ Grandfather might actually disown me. “Your brothers talk a lot, huh?” I asked unable to hide my annoyance.
“Sorry,” I said quickly while twirling my quill. “I just hate when people talk about me but I should be used to it by now.”
Lily nodded knowingly while pulling out some books from her satchel. “Yea, people talk about me a lot just because of who my mum and dad are.”
I laughed. “Same here.”
Lily looked up at me pursing her lips. “Is your dad or mum famous?”
“Well…” I started feeling oddly refreshed. Finding someone who did not know that my father was accused of committing various crimes was rarer than spotting a Thunderbird.
The moment was quickly gone though when understanding seemed to flash across Lily’s face. “Oh right, you’re a Nott.”
I nodded. "That I am. As I’m sure you can tell, it makes me extremely popular,” I said motioning around me. Ama and Josh were in their Sixth Year Potions class so Lily and I were in an empty part of the Common Room. Usually, the spots in front of the fireplace were extremely popular. However, every time Skeeter published an article about my father there was a period of time when Ama and Josh were the only ones associating with me while Addie was in hiding.
Lily was silent for a second. “Well, when my dad was in his Third Year he was fighting dementors and trying to stop his wrongly accused uncle from being locked up in Azkaban.” She gave me a toothy smile. “I’m doing nothing like that in my Third Year so I bet you are doing nothing like what your father is doing too.”
I let out a genuine laugh for the first time that day. I think I really like Lily Potter.
“Josh! We sound awful when we try to sing country music!” Ama complained for the 1 millionth time.
I fiddled with the strings of my guitar as I wondered how long this fight would take. I thought about playing a song to drown out their argument but it would likely only postpone the argument rather than settle anything.
“I think we can sound cool as an English band singing country music,” Josh responded in a terrible American southern accent.
"Mum and dad are fighting again,” I said turning toward a thirteen year-old with crazy curly red hair. The color of his hair was just like his dad’s and the texture was just like his mum’s. There was no doubt that said kid was the son of Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.
Hugo kept an unreadable expression on his face as he sat behind his drum set playing with his WizPhone. He barely acknowledged that I had spoken as he nodded his head ever so slightly.
So, I could say that it didn’t bother me at all that this thirteen-year-old child didn’t seem to acknowledge my presence or find me funny at all. However, if I said that, I’d be lying through my teeth. Hugo was a bit of a drumming legend. So last year, Josh convinced him to join our band. I have no idea how you convince a random teenager to waste time joining a band that never played in public but leave it to Josh. He could probably sell beauty potions to full Veelas. Since Hugo joined the band, I’ve been trying to talk to him about… anything... with very little luck. Oddly, it didn’t seem like Hugo had any prejudice against me based on my last name. It just seemed like he didn’t give a damn about my... existence at all. It was all very... off-putting.
“Your cousin, Freddie, is my partner in Potions,” I offered. “He’s interesting.”
Hugo pulled at his ear.
“I’m so happy that Rose is back in school. I’m sorry about everything,” I continued.
Hugo scratched his ear. I wondered if that was in response to me or if he actually had an itch.
Clearly, I had been “talking” through facial expressions with Freddie too much.
“We should play all sorts of music!” Josh complained loudly.
“I’m thinking about getting a new acoustic guitar,” I tried again. “Playing music is a nice escape from things.”
Hugo wrinkled his nose this time as he continued to stare at his phone.
Ama was now speaking Spanish, which meant she could be really mad. I stared over at my best friends wondering if I needed to intervene. Ama’s fists weren’t bawled and she wasn’t yelling so I was safe being an awkward mess with Hugo.
Josh was saying, “I can’t understand what you’re saying! No comprendo! No comprendo! NO COMPRENDO!” over and over again.
I looked down at my guitar ready to give up on connecting with a thirteen-year-old boy.
“You saved Lily the other night,” Hugo said barely above a whisper. I turned my head quickly to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Hugo was staring up at me with a determined look on his face.
“It wasn’t a big…” I started to respond automatically.
Hugo cut me off. “Lily’s my best friend… so thanks.”
“Um, you’re welcome,” I responded lamely but Hugo was already looking at his phone again.
“Alright guys, we’ve agreed on a song!” Josh said happily as Ama rolled her eyes and continued to mutter things in Spanish.
Today, the grass made a satisfying crunch as my feet hit the ground in quick succession. The lake was oddly still this evening. There were barely any ripples disrupting the smooth, glass like surface. It looked like a peaceful scene but for some reason it made my skin crawl. I stopped running and bent over to inhale a large amount of air. Instead of stretching, I sat Indian style imagining the world that was just beneath the surface of the pond. The Giant Squid no longer inhabited the water but Professor Hagrid spoke of other creatures and things still living in the lake.
I turned my head and jumped shocked by the presence of the boy that was sitting a couple of inches from me. I stared at his profile and inhaled more air trying to catch my breath.
“Where did you come from? Are you stalking me?” I interrogated Grayson.
He gave me the same carefree smile he sported in Charms a couple of days ago. “I guess, Cassie Nott is the only person that can run around the Black Lake in the evening?” he asked successfully making me feel silly. But, I still felt uncomfortable with him there.
I stared back out at the lake trying to control my breathing as I slowly reached for my wand in my pocket. “So, what type of revenge has your brother sent you to exact on me?”
Grayson snorted harshly and I wrapped my fingers around my wand a little tighter. “I told you I think what you did to Lance was badass,” he said as I heard him picking at the grass. “If I were brave enough I would have done it myself,” he muttered under his breath.
I slowly turned toward him. He was biting on his lip while looking at the grass blades in his hands. He looked up at me. “Being the Nott in Gryffindor probably has it lows but imagine being the Goyle in Hufflepuff.”
I opened my mouth to respond but he was already getting up to start running around the lake again. I watched him noticing how long his limbs seemed to be as he jogged away. I watched his back wondering why I hadn’t really noticed him until he called me over to sit next to him in Charms. He was apparently a freak just like me – purebloods in the "wrong" Houses. He suddenly turned around to face me as he jogged backwards. I made a face trying to hide the fact that there was blush creeping up on my cheeks.
He smiled at me and jogged in place. “Better hurry up before I beat you,” he teased before he continued running. I didn’t even fully comprehend what I was doing before sprinting after him.
A/N: No incredibly awkward James/Cass scenes in this but... next chapter, I promise you... Quidditch try-outs! (I’m actually excited for try-outs because it’s the first scene I ever pictured for this story! I hope you-all enjoy it too!)
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