The train rolled and whined to a stop in the dark station.
It was unusually warm, not a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind. Just an endless stay sky stretching out towards the dark silhouette of the forest and a wafer thin slice of moon.
Cassie climbed down before Lily. They should probably try to find the other girls, she thought to herself.
It had been a long summer without hearing from anyone and then there was the news about Mary... Emmy would be fine but Merlin knew how that would have affected Sophie.
"Come on, I said I would meet James." Lily was looking around the dark sea of robes.
She didn't notice the eyebrow Cassie raised or the look that followed her. She knew it.
They had to dance their way through first years going one way and friends screaming and hugging, heading in the opposite direction.
"He just went to find Black." Lily murmured, looking off in another direction.
"Lily!" Cassie grabbed her arm, attempting to shake some sense into her suddenly idiotic best friend.
"Oh calm down! It's not just him. Remus and Peter as well."
Cassie turned away from Lily, still scanning the crowd for James.
The hairs on the back of her neck were standing up straight. Her whole body was suddenly coiled, ready to run at any movement.
Then there was a new feeling, one she had come to recognise after years of avoiding it. This was nothing to do with Black, she shouldn't have stood so close to the carriages. That was an incredibly stupid mistake.
Hooves pawed the ground. A scaled face breathing out frozen air at her shoulder. Cassie glanced behind her.
If she really looked it would be obvious she could see them. A horse-like shape passed close to her. It's velvety black coat clung to the skeletal frame, bat wings folded in at it's sides. This one was young. Cassie watched it shaking its dark mane, it didn't like the harness.
The world seemed to fall away from it, it knew Cassie could see it. It shifted towards her. White eyes watched her with some kind of intelligence flickering behind them.
"Cassie! What is it?"
Cassie snapped her head around. She had been staring.
"Sorry, thought I saw something." Her voice trailed off into nothing.
"Is Yaxley coming or not?" She could here Black muttering from inside the carriage.
"Sorry." Cassie climbed up and took a seat between Lily and Lupin.
He gave her a wide smile. "Hi Cass. Good summer?"
"Remus!" She pulled him into a hug and then pulled away, holding his shoulders in her hands like a concerned mother looking at her child.
"As good as can be expected. How are you feeling? You look better." She scanned him for any sign of illness. He looked better, he really did. In fact, for once you could see that Remus was... Cassie struggled for the word for a moment. Hot?
Not in the same way as Potter, that was mostly just confidence anyway, or Black, who was- currently glaring at her hand touching his best friend.
She snatched it away.
"I feel better at the moment, Cass." Remus had been ill since before he started at Hogwarts He always looked peaky, some days worse than others. Some days he couldn't leave the dorm, he looked like a corpse in class and then vanished.
He gave her a reassuring smile.
Remus was very sweet, much kinder than the others. Cassie glanced at Pettegrew. She didn't waste her time trying to make a conversation with him. He followed Sirius's word too closely. He hadn't even noticed she was there. His eyes were glued to James as he chatted, Cassie stopped herself, as he flirted with Lily. And Lily wasn't hitting him. Or Jinxing him. She looked like she was enjoying it.
Across from her, Black was sitting back on his chair, feet crossed in front of him. Looking on like he was completely bored, still his eyes followed them, trying to work out exactly what was going on.
"Well, I think I can safely say that all expectations of this year so far have been way off." Remus whispered in a very matter of fact voice. "The world really is going mad."
Cassie covered a laugh, Lupin chuckling away beside her.
"James might actually be getting somewhere and you've been in the same carriage as Sirius for over a minute without hexing him."
"What are you two laughing about?" Sirius turned to watch them.
"This." Lupin let out something close to a giggle. "This whole thing is ridiculous."
"I'd agree with you there Moony. What do you think? Jump out the door and swim to school?"
"No you've done that already, remember?"
"So I have. I'm running out of ideas!" He sighed, leaning back as if dealt a mortal blow.
"Running out of girls too the last I heard, Mate." James grinned.
"He's scraping the barrel now. Was that not Pyra Zabini you were attempting to chat up on the train?"
Remus burst out laughing, Lily turning to gape at Sirius in complete shock. Even Peter sniggered to himself.
"Pyra?" Cassie frowned. He couldn't have been.
"Friend of yours is she?" He looked at her with blank eyes.
"Yes, actually. And she's miles out of your league."
He gave her a cold smile. "She's the best looking in the school, Yaxley. Myself excluded, obviously. I wouldn't say that's out of my league."
"One of the best looking." James added in quickly.
"One of..." Sirius conceded. "And a Slytherin so that loses her marks anyway."
Peter laughed, looking from Sirius to Cassie.
"Shut up." Lupin kicked him.
"She won't go for you Black. She's not an idiot and she certainly wouldn't stoop herself to that level."
"What would that be, Yaxley?" Sirius lent forwards. They were sitting on the edge of their seats, glowering at each other.
Sirius's dark grey eyes were fixed on Cassie's pale silvery ones.
"When you've sacrificed all your dignity attempting to collect every girl in the school then you automatically put yourself in a standard far to low for Pyra, or anyone else." Cassie hissed so low that her voice vanished into the air. Black heard though.
In a voice that was just a breath, he held her eye and whispered "Not anyone else, Yaxley. There's still the Death Eaters below me."
"That's it!" Remus shouted over whatever Black had started to say. He had heard every word. "Both of you shut up!"
Cassie looked out the window, up at the stars hanging in the sky. She wanted to be anywhere else. She could get her broom and fly until she found somewhere completely new.
The carriage stopped and the door snapped open.
"Well, in we go troops!" Remus jumped down first, Peter crawling out after him.
Cassie stepped down from the door, taking in the castle in one long look.
Lupin had a hold of her and dragged her away from Sirius as fast as possible. Apparently not fast enough.
"Oi. Look who it is."
Cassie didn't want to know.
James walked past her, steering Lily up the stairs, talking loudly about prefects and the need to get to the great hall quickly.
"Snivellus." Sirius purred in a voice like velvet.
"Don't, SIRIUS." Remus stopped in his tracks and grabbed Black with his other hand.
The boy was frozen facing Black. His wand clutched in his hand, shaking visibly even to Cassie. A look of pure hate almost dripping off his face.
Other students were looking over, curiously. Some Slytherins passed by, slowing to watch. One or two pulling their wands out.
Cassie couldn't be there, she wasn't allowed to be. It was completely against every rule that she had ever laid down.
"Remember the last time, Padfoot? You tried to kill him using me I seem to recall." Remus hissed in his ear.
Whatever he meant, it worked.
Black moved, letting Lupin drag the two of them up the stone steps and into the entrance hall. Cassie glanced back at the Thestrals before she went.
They stood, largely unseen, waiting for their charges to climb down before they moved on. The familiar buzzing at the back of her neck felt stronger. At a glance she knew why. Every since one of them was watching her.
She pushed into the great hall, winding through students until she climbed onto the bench next to Lily.
"Please don't tell me you'll be leaving me alone with him all year." She muttered as soon as she sat.
The Great Hall was beautiful. Hundreds of floating candles under the peaceful star-drenched sky. Not a cloud in sight. The benches were mostly full, one or two late comers squeezing in where they could.
"What did he say?" Lily squeezed her hand.
"He doesn't really think that Cassie. You know that right?"
"Then why hasn't he let it go in six years?" She pulled pulled her tie straight and glanced down at the doors. They had been shut tight, the last people took their seats.
On the far side of the room a laugh caught Cassie's attention.
She searched for a moment before she saw Pyra, sitting between Eddie and Evan Rosier. She was stunning, big eyes, high cheekbones, dark skin and a head of glossy back curls.
At the same time the girl looked back and her face burst into a pearly smile. She waved at Cassie, mouthing something she couldn't make out.
Pyra wasn't part of this fight. She never would be if everything turned out right.
The doors opened and McGonagall strode in at the head of an army of first years.
"Here we go!" Lily gave her an excited whisper.
"It's not like you haven't seen it before." Cassie laughed.
"No, but this is the last time! Enjoy it."
It was the last time. The last year, Cassie could enjoy that thought.
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