It was a damp, soggy morning. The frozen ground was solid under her feet as Cassie dashed across the lawns, as far away from the school as she could get.
Her slippers were sodden from the frost, water seeping through and and chilling her skin with its icy touch.
A miserable November day was emerging from the night, the sun still hidden behind the horizon and the moon still visible, pale and full on the horizon, a shadow against the lilac-grey sky.
She had no idea what time it was. The castle had been empty. Not a soul running to the library before breakfast or milling about the common room.
Cassie reached the treeline.
Nobody would look for her out there. The tallest place in the building, that's what Eddie had pointed out once. She was a long way from that.
She ran into the trees, up and away from the Black Lake, not knowing exactly where she was going, just out of sight. Somewhere to think.
Cassie stopped when her body gave up. The whisky, the excesses of chocolate and cake finally catching up to her.
She doubled over, bracing herself against a tree, choking and coughing up the remnants of the night before. She gasped for breath, whipping the last from her mouth with the back of her hand. Her eyes were watering, her body weaker than she had ever felt.
They knew now.
She sat against a tree, curling her legs into her chest and drawing a breath. The acidic taste still lingered in her mouth, coating her tongue.
She had known after all, right from the start she had known for certain.
"I'm sorry." She didn't know who she was talking to, anyone who would listen.
She sat there for some time, lost and feeling sorry for herself. Alone with her miserable thoughts. Or not quite alone...
There was the sound of hooves moving slowly through the dead leaves on the ground. The snort of air and that feeling, that cold drip crawling up the back of her neck that Cassie had come to recognise and even, though she hated to admit it, looked forward to.
She blinked, her eyes focusing on the dark shape weaving its way towards her, dragging its wings on the ground as it moved.
"Oh..." Cassie froze as she made eye contact with the beast.
It moved towards her cautiously. Unsure what to do.
Had this one had sought her out?
Once she had been taken into the forest with Hagrid and Dumbledore, they had dropped a great slab of meat onto the ground and waited for one to appear. The two of them explained what the creatures were, why she could see them. She had hated them for so long thanks to that. Who wanted to see death?
It was more gangaly than the others, a little skinnier and clumsy. Its wings were still too big and its legs a little too long. It was young. That was presumably why it was less than a metre from an armed and alarmed witch.
Cassie climbed to her feet.
It bowed its head. Curtains on black hair falling over its neck.
"Hello." She whispered, reaching out a hand.
Her heart was beating double-time. Her hand shaking.
It tossed its head, its mane flying around, taking a step to meet Cassie's outstretched hand.
Shock ran through her as her hand came in contact with the Thestral.
It was warm. She didn't know what she'd expected but warmth ran through her fingers, blood coursing under the thin coat. It was alive and, Cassie was taken aback with the thought, absolutely beautiful.
It's coat was like silk under her fingers, its mane feather light and glossy, its bones like brittle twigs where her hand ran over one. It was incredible.
Cassie felt a smile spreading over her face. A little more confident, she ran her hand down its forehead, noticing where the smooth hair became hard, black scales.
It blinked, its white eyes vanishing for a moment.
Time seemed to stand still, calm flooding back into Cassie. She took a deep breath, wiped the tears from her cheeks.
She was so caught up in the moment she didn't hear the footsteps approach.
She looked up, blinking through raw, red eyes.
The Thestral flinched around, its head snapping to look at the intruder.
Sirius lent against a tree. Soaking wet form the rain and panting slightly. He had a hand pressed to his side, something red bleeding through his fingers.
"What happened?" Cassie blinked, dropping her hand.
He looked down at his side, shrugging absentmindedly.
The blood had caught the attention of the Thestral. It seemed to sniff the air experimentally.
"No." Cassie ordered, her voice croaking slightly.
And to her surprise it listened, turning and wandering off into the trees. Maybe the herd was near, maybe it would come back.
Cassie turned back to Sirius. He watched her with narrowed eyes, looking at the spot on the ground the thestrals wings and brushed soggy, dead leaves.
"Move your hand."
"Was that one of them?" He still watched the forest floor.
"Yes. Move your hand."
Reluctantly he let go, blood oozing from a shallow gash in his side. She focused, twirling her wand in a sewing-like motion, watching as white light fixed the skin back together.
"How did you find me?"
Sirius hissed, flinching away as she muttered the spell under her breath. "I found the trail on my way back to school." He said through gritted teeth.
"Yeah... it's a long story I could just tell- Shit! Thanks Cass." He let out a long breath and looked at his newly healed skin, visible through the large bloody rip in his t-shirt.
"What did that?"
She looked up at him, tucking her wand back into her pajama pockets.
"WHAT?" Cassie flinched back, looking up with wide horrified eyes.
"Kidding. I got into a fight at the pub we went to last night. His bad aim was my good luck." He chuckled. "You're crying? In the forest... with a Thestral? What happened?"
He was still in the clothes from last night. Soaked, even though it hadn't rained since three in the morning. Wide eyed with dark circles underneath them. He hadn't been back to the castle. He didn't know.
"You don't have to look at me like I'm insane. What really happened to you?"
"I'll tell you if you tell me. You know I'll get it out of you."
She thought about it for a second. He would go back to hating her, Sirius had been quite close with Mary for a little while. Would that be any worse than before though? Was it worth the risk?
"Mary's dead." She said matter of factly.
"We've known this for a while." Sirius whispered. "What's changed now?"
"They've found her body or... I don't know. Something happened last night in the Ministry that made them certain."
Confirmed dead in horrific scenes. That had been the headline.
"I don't know why they've waited this long but if they've suddenly given her body back then it must mean something and- I'm so sorry Siri."
She was desperately trying not to cry again. She was furious with herself, why did he have to be the one to witness this? Tears rolled down her cheeks before she could blink them back.
"Why are you sorry?" He frowned, taking a step towards her.
Panic had taken over again, Cassie was shaking. Both from the cold and from fright. She couldn't get the words out.
"Cassie, answer me."
"Then tell me about something else."
"Tell me who you saw die."
Cassie blinked at the directness. Normal people wouldn't have put it quite like that.
"The first one."
Had she said that out loud? Had he guessed?
"Alright." She whispered.
She could remember it clear as day, the argument that had lead to her running away from Leila, snatching a wand from the dining room table and running for the stairs. Turning on her sister. Managing to force some acid green sparks from the end of the wand tip and threaten some toy or another that Leila had loved at the time.
Cassie's eye caught a flicker on the edge of the rug, a foot appearing from nowhere and then gone the next second. They had been told to look out for anything, no matter how small. She almost dismissed it and went back to threatening her sister when the rug shifted in the middle, a large boot print burying itself in the carpet.
Taking a huge gulp of air Cassie shouted for her father, shouted for help.
He appeared instantly, a blur of black robes and blonde hair, apperating into the hall and turning to the point his youngest daughter was watching, sending a white curse flying before she could blink.
Something fell against the floor, the heavy sound of a body dropping.
"Tatiana!" He yelled, holding out a hand of each of his girls.
Cassie grabbed it quickly, clinging to his robes, her eyes never leaving the dark stain growing on the carpet.
A flick of his wrist and the cloak had flown off, leaving a slim man with red hair lying unconscious on the ground.
Her mother reached the top of the stairs, running down to meet them, giving a crying Leila a soft stroke of her hair before she turned to Cessair, "What happened?" she hissed.
He nodded to the carpet and with a casual flick of his wrist a cloak flew across the room, leaving a man lying unconscious on the ground.
"Ministry?" Her mother whispered. "Is he alive?"
He nodded, letting go of Cassie to roll up the sleeve on his left arm.
"Without a doubt."
"You're calling Him?"
"Yes, he wanted a Ministry one."
"Get the girls out of the here then."
"What if there's more if them? I can't send them off by themselves."
Tatiana Yaxley's face went pale. She looked around for a moment before she spotted her wand in Cassie's hand, snatching it quickly and taking a stand with her back to her husband, watching the stairs and the exits from the large hallway.
Cassie had turned to her father, she watched as he took his wand and turned the tip to the black skull that had marked his forearm for as long as she could remember. Both of them flinched as the wand touched his skin. Her mother's grip tightened on Cassie's shoulder for a second. Her father's eyes might have watered.
A moment had passed. A breath. There was the near silent sound of fabric whispering against the floor, another of feet walking on polished wood and then the shudder as a heavenly creature slithered across the floor.
"My Lord." Cessair nodded, taking a step back. "We have one."
A figure in a black cloak, hood drawn over their face swept across the hallway.
"You have not dissapointed me, Yaxley."
He nodded his thanks.
Cassie flinched back as something brushed against her leg, the smooth, dry skin of a gigantic snake.
"You have done, very well." A bone white hand appeared from within the cloak, extending a wand and then twisting.
The limp man on the floor was suddenly hanging in the air, heald like a marionette hanging off strings.
"‘Ana," Her father started to push Cassie behind him, his voice dropping to a gentle whisper as he addressed her mother. His eyes never left the wand in that hand. "Take the girls up stairs."
"Stop." The figure turned to face them. Cassie got one look at a pale, contorted face, dark hair and blood red eyes watching her, staring into her own before he turned to smile at her mother.
Well... He bared his teeth at her mother, a smile would imply warmth.
"One may stay." He offered. Commanded.
Suddenly the vice like grip fo Cassie's shoulder returned, nails clutching her desperately and drawing her back from the man.
After a heartbeat her father spoke up.
"Thank you my Lord. It is the greatest honour."
Her parents shared what seemed a silent conversation, looks passing between them before her mother shook her head.
"Cassiel? She's too young."
Cassie frowned at that.
"It's got to be her," Her father shook his head and turned towards her sister. "Leila, go to your room."
"No." Tatiana ordered, almost shaking, eyes dark and shiny with tears. "No, she's still a baby."
"Leila, your room." Their father ordered again.
"I said NO!" Her mother's voice rose to a wail as she turned to the hooded figure, the one silently watching the struggling man on the floor, a long finder stroking the still head of the snake.
Cassie didn't know what had changed but suddenly the air became very still, the man floating over the floor was completely forgotten. She could feel her heart hammering away in her chest, feel brush of Leila's hand reaching out for hers, the two of them taking in the look of bare terror on their mother's face.
"My Lord I-" She stammered before their father interrupted.
"‘Ana, take Leila to bed. Now."
She said nothing, bowed to the Dark Lord and swept up the stairs, gripping Leila by the shoulders and moving her on.
She didn't look back at Cassie.
As their footsteps rose high above them she looked up at her father, curious rather than afraid of confused.
"Come here.Stay quiet." Her father mumbled softly, talking as he would to a frightened animal..
"Dearest Tatiana is displeased." The Dark Lord mused.
"She is forever grateful to you, my Lord. Before anything else." Her father was almost begging.
It felt wrong. It was odd to see a man like her father begging to anyone but Cassie was still too intrigued to worry. Her attention passed from the man to the snake, and then to the eyes that watched her.
"If you are certain..." He spoke before his voice morphed into a gurgling hiss, a chant that she could not understand or follow.
As the crooning stopped the python at the Dark Lord's feet began to move, it slithered closer to the man in the air and twisted around his feet, working up until his whole body was wrapped in coils of scaly rope, thick as her neck and rippled with muscles.
With some silent que the snake's head went back, her fangs bright and glittering with venom. When they came down on the man's neck, he screamed. But fixed to the spot by a morbid fascination, watching wide eyes, Cassie didn't make a sound.
She could feel Sirius watching her as her story trailed off, the hours that had followed would be burned into her mind forever more. She couldn't describe those.
"Cassiel Yaxley look at me." He turned her face towards his, his touch feather light on her jaw.
She took a breath. Held it and then when he nodded, she let it out.
Sirius had suddenly gotten much closer, his arms wrapped around her shoulders and pulled her to him. He was soaked, smelling like a wet dog and absolutely freezing but Cassie didn't care.
She lent her head against his chest, feeling a solid beat through the thin t shirt.
"Never blame yourself for the things your family does. Trust me." She could feel his voice as he spoke, murmuring deep in his chest.
She nodded against him.
An hour later they walked through the front doors.
It seemed as though the entire school was emptying out of breakfast, chatting loudly until the two came into view.
They entered with their heads held high, each walking with the sort of strut that a only born and raised pure-blood could manage. They were soaked, dirty. Sirius in a bloody, ripped t-shirt, hair plastered down his face, Cassie in now filthy pajamas with leaves in her hair and bloodshot eyes, they walked past the Great Hall doors with nothing more than a grin to James and headed up to the common room.
"That'll keep them talking for a while." Sirius laughed, looking over his shoulder as the noise built up behind them.
It was, mercifully, empty. Nobody saw Cassie follow Sirius up the boys staircase.
Joke as they might, she didn't need any new rumors getting out.
"Here," He threw her a bundle of clothes from his trunk. "get changed."
Sirius left the room, giving her enough time to peel off dirty clothes and pull on a soft, clean pair of pajama bottoms and a baggy woolen sweater. They smelled fresh, clean, and like everything else in Gryffindor tower, they smelt like home.
He came back some time later, showered, changed and balancing two massive plates of food.
"Don't worry. Nobody saw." He handed one to her and took a seat on the bed beside her. "James is taking care of not going to classes. According to everyone else we both have fucking horrible hangovers from last night."
"I didn't even drink that much." Cassie said as she stabbed some eggs with her fork.
"That is a criminal oversight, next year we're going all out." Sirius took a seat beside her, digging into his own food. "I've got a plan already."
"Always a plan..." She muttered through a mouthful of food, making him grin.
"Do you remember when we went to that house down in the Lake District?"
Cassie nodded, stacking the more food onto a slice of buttered toast.
"Isn't that the one you set on fire?"
"That one exactly. We're going to go back there next year."
She smiled, discarding her plate and dropping back to lie on the bed. She had liked that holliday. There had been forests to explore, hills to climb. She had taught Regulus how to ride a broom and gone swimming in the calm waters.
"I thought you hated that holiday?"
"I did." He frowned, lying back to join her. "Two weeks with Bella? Why do you think I set the house on fire?"
Everyone had been going crazy. Her parents putting out the flames while Sirius's mother was threatening every punishment under the sun, not something to be taken lightly in the Black household. Cassie had turned to her father and asked why everyone was so angry. If she had started a fire with magic there would have been celebrations.
"Then I'm sorry. Everyone was nice and angry until I spoke up." She grinned across at him, receiving a satisfied smirk in return.
"Ah... The last time my mother was proud of me."
They both burst out laughing.
"Do you think you'll ever see her again?" Cassie asked after a moment, rolling onto her side to face him properly.
He shook his head.
"I don't want to."
Cassie nodded, she didn't blame him. If she was in his situation she wouldn't either.
She stopped herself before she boarded that train of thought, best not think too hard about her own situation.
"What about you, do you think you'll see your dad again?"
It was certainly possible. He was still alive, just trapped in hell with the key thrown away. Once upon a time she had dreamed that she would get him out, Leila still did, she still dreamed that one day the Dark Lord would open the door to his cell and spirit him back to them.
"He won't be the same anymore." It had taken her far too long to work that out. "Nobody goes to Azkaban for ten years and comes out the same."
Cassie would rather be dead than go through that. She had been there once and that as enough.
Sirius's eyes were on her. He was playing with a strand of her hair that had landed where bronze and black mingled on the sheets between them. She could feel his breath tickling her cheek, couldn't bring her eyes to meet his.
"I'd better go." She pushed herself up and collected her pile of dirty clothes from the floor.
"Cass you don't have to. I shouldn't have brought him up."
"No it's not that. It's fine." There was a slight blush edging up her cheeks, Cassie had her hand on the door and looked back.
Sirius was sitting up, an eyebrow raised and a small smile playing on his face, wet hair dropping over his eyes.
"You could stay here, get some sleep."
"Nice try." Cassie forced a laugh.
She left in a hurry, running down the stairs and across the common room. She showered before going to bed, relaxing under the steaming hot water before redressing in Sirius's pajamas, brushing the tangles from her long, damp hair with a small, content smile as she pushed open the door to the dorm room.
At first it seemed like she was alone but on second look, Sophie's bed was occupied. The small blonde was lying fast asleep huddled under two blankets,her own and one dragged from the now bare spare bed. Mary's bed.
As she watched on Sophie opened her eyes. She looked straight at Cassie and after some time she nodded in greeting.
"Are you alright?" Cassie asked.
It was a stupid question but there was nothing else to say.
"Are you?" Sophie whispered.
"What do we do now?"
Cassie hated feeling sorry for Sophie, the girl she had known for the last six years would never have lowered herself to this.
What did she say to a girl hurting like that? Cassie could think of only one thing.
"We'll fight back."
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