"Right, you lot! Shut up and listen!" James shouted from the ground.
Cassie drifted across the pitch to join him, the team all assembling in a rough circle.
Snow was falling lightly across the grounds, melting before it could land and stain the grass white. It was late November, too late in the year for late night Quidditch practice. Cassie shivered, flexing her fingers before they froze solid to her broom. Thoughts of a warm fire and thick blankets felt like heaven. The common room, tea, the pile of homework she ha neglected to attend the last practice before the game.
"Hufflepuff tomorrow..." James rubbed his hands together as he spoke, breathing into them to keep his blood moving. "They're in good shape so we need to watch out. You all saw them play Slytherin? Good. Ronan and Georgie, keep Harper in your sight at all times. She's a menace once she's got the quaffle so the second you see her, block by any means."
The beaters grinned at each other. "No problem James!"
"That goes for you too Greg. Watch out of her, she always goes for the unexpected shot. Amy... remember to work with Cassie. She'll keep you right."
The newest member of the team nodded, giving Cassie a bright, toothy smile.
"Lewis... Just do your thing."
Lewis was a tiny fifth year, no bigger than most third year boys. He reminded Cassie of a toy somewhere had overwound that now wouldn't stay still. He zipped through the corridors and spoke at one hundred miles an hour but put him on a broom and no-one was a better Seeker.
"We've got this." James grinned, concluding their last practice. Most of the team gave a tired cheer, dismounting and wandering off towards the changing rooms.
She stayed on her broom.
"You too, Cass." James called back. His words hung like must in the air.
Through the layers of robes and thermals she could feel the steely cold of winter setting in. December was a whisper away.
"I know. I thought I might go for a walk." She didn't look at the forest but it was all too tempting.
"Nooo way. Can you imagine Emme's face if I showed up without you?"
Cassie nodded. That would be something, not as bad as the other girl though.
"Can you imagine Lily's?" She grinned and turned her broom to fly alongside him.
"Yes." He laughed, "Which is why you're coming back to the tower."
"How's that going?"
"You already know."
"I know, but I want to hear it from you."
"Alright, really well." James couldn't keep the grin off his face for long. He beamed, a rare glimpse of dimples appearing at the edge of his mouth. "What's she said? Is she happy and everything?"
"I'd assume so since she hasn't dumped you yet."
"Always a killjoy."
"That is my mission in life."
"Whatever you say." He climbed back onto him broom. "I'll race you back?"
Cassie never could turn down a challenge. She lent low on her broom and grinned, accepting the challenge.
"You're on, Potter."
They raced across the grass and back to the small block with changing rooms and showers, Cassie skidding to a stop and jumping from her broom a second before James arrived.
"Fuck off!" He let out a low chuckle and messed up his hair. "I'll meet you in ten."
James sped through the air, a blur of red shooting through the heavy white blur.
"POTTER HAS THE QUAFFLE!" Echoed around the pitch, almost drowned out by the echoes of a roaring crowd.
Matched with the screaming wind and the fast falling snow the sound merged into one dull moan, easy to block out. Easy to ignore.
She fell into a dive, pulling up as she came level with James, joining him as they soared around the pitch.
He threw her the Quaffle, vanishing in the opposite direction.
Cassie swerved the Hufflepuff chaser easily.
"YAXLEY APPROACHING THE GOALS! SHE TAKES THE SHOT!"
Her aim was perfect. She didn't stop to watch the ball fly through the hoop.
"SHE SCORES! GRYFFINDOR ONE HUNDRED AND TEN! HUFFLEPUFF ON NINETY! WE'RE SEEING SOME PLAYERS TIRE NOW BUT IT'S HARPER AGAIN WITH THE QUAFFLE-"
Cassie had to move like a rocket, pushing her broom through the gale force winds straight towards the small redhead in Hufflepuff yellow.
James was shouting something, his voice lost in the wind. Cassie squinted, trying to make out what he was doing. Four. Move four.
She nodded and dropped almost to pitch level, looking up for the shadow that was Harper. She sped ahead, counting in her head, waiting for the moment. Five, four, three... Any second now-
"AND HARPER HAS BEEN HIT! SHE'S DROPPED THE QUAFFLE!"
Cassie shot up, through a haze of white and collided hard with the red leather ball, falling slowly through the air. She wheeled around. Met Amy half way back to the posts. James was nowhere to be seen. Just a scared goalkeeper who couldn't see through the snow.
The crowd below her were bellowing out support. The old chant Go Go Gryffindor echoing.
She took aim, held the ball hard in her hand and- WHACK!
Something thwacked into the back on her head, the quaffle falling from her hand. She was dimly aware of someone small dashing past her, grabbing the ball as it fell and instead of throwing, flew straight threw the golden hoop. Tossing it lightly as she dodged the keeper.
Cassie clutched her broom and rubbed her head, her eyes watering and vision swimming.
"AND AN AMAZING GOAL BY NEW GIRL, AMY LANG. GRYFFINDOR ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY POINTS!"
If she got hit by one more fucking bludger then-
Lewis needed to hurry up. She was going to fall off her broom at this stage.
She flew low over the stands, racing around to meet Amy, passing by the mass of red and gold to a roar of approval, all of them wrapped up in overcoats, hats and scarves.
Someone shot past her, holding something distinctly red amongst the yellow and black robes.
"Shit." Cassie took off, tailing the chaser around the pitch until she took a sharp turn. Made a quick pass and collided hard with James.
"AND POTTER HAS THE QUAFFLE BUT- HE'S DONE IT! BELL HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH."
Cassie let the broom drop down to the ground.
She staggered off her broom. Unclasping her hands and whipping half frozen hair from her face.
The rest of the team landed beside her, each of them throwing themselves into the another's hug.
"We did it!" Lewis screamed at her.
"We knew we would!"
Singing was echoing off the stands, the whole of the Gryffindor stand dancing and chanting in union. Everyone had landed, everyone but James who soared over the crowd with a punch to the air and a flip on his broom.
"Show off!" Cassie scolded when he sailed back to the ground.
"Just drumming up support- LEWIS! EXCELLENT CATCH!" He ran off, an arm thrown around the smaller boy's shoulders.
The victory party was much like any other. By one o'clock Cassie was sitting in an armchair with Lily, surveying a room full of Gryffindors half drunk on whisky and half on sheer leftover excitement. They danced around, chatter loudly, occasionally a new round of singing would burst out and the whole room would be forced to join in.
"I might call it a night." Lily yawned.
"I won't be far behind you." Cassie had wet hair knotted on top of her head, a pair of cosy pajamas on and a bottle of firewhisky clutched in her hand. She felt the warm buzz of the drink settle in her stomach, the light haze around her vision. The alcohol giving her a tired, dreamy feeling. She was comfortable, drunk, tired, so much she was almost asleep.
"No, no, no!" A voice demanded, running over and grabbing Cassie by the hand. Sirius dropped an arm around her shoulders and one around Lily's. "Sitting down and going to bed is not on the cards tonight. Pete's pouring shots!" He span them into the centre of the room.
"Eugh no, it had better not be of that minging muggle stuff from the last time." She rolled her eyes and allowed him to drag her over.
"Noooo... We wouldn't do that to you... Again..."
He took a tiny glass from Peter and handed it over.
"Get that down you. You'll like it."
Cassie sniffed it. It was sweet, inoffensive. Shrugging, she tipped it back, gulping the odd sweet alcohol and washing it down with a swig of whisky.
"Damn, the girl knows how to drink."
"Too right she does." Cassie muttered and handed back the glass, her eyes meeting his. "Your turn."
The library was quiet at that time in the evening, especially on a Sunday. Snow had begun to settle on the windowsills and blanket the grounds but inside it was toasty warm.
Cassie sat at a table at the back of the library, tapping her quill on the paper, lost in thought. The sound was almost therapeutic, numbing her hungover mind into an easy lull.
The essay on Animagi was nearly done, she just had a conclusion to write and she would be finished. Only the last paragraph wouldn't come. She had started several times and every time ended up scoring it out, leaving the bottom of her parchment a mess of black scribbles and blotts of splattered ink.
The game played over in her head. The game, the party, the long morning in the bathroom holding Emme's hair out of the toilet as she moaned about never drinking again.
Sleep was close to claiming her, the lack of sleep from the night before beginning to wear on her. Her concentration unraveling, her mind absent as she picked at the loose strand of wool at the cuff of her jumper.
Her mind snapped back into focus at that voice, the hairs on her scalp prickling and standing on end.
One thought flashed across her mind, she didn't have her wand.
Eddie was standing at the end of the table, bang slung lazily over his shoulder, face guarded.
"What do you want?" Cassie asked, never taking her eyes off his wand as it hung loosely in his hand.
"Nothing. I just-" He trailed off, his eyes flicked from her to the floor, looking away before she could meet them.
She didn't really care anyway.
At least, that's what she told herself.
He cleared his throat, starting to walk away when it was clear that the two of them had nothing to say to one another.
"You're not going home at Christmas, are you?" Eddie stopped before he reached the bookcase.
Cassie looked up. Frowned, shook her head. "I- I don't know."
"You're thinking about it?" He asked quietly, looking off down the bookshelves.
"No, I just hadn't really though-"
"I'd start thinking, if I were you."
Well, Cassie drummed her quill harder, accidentally showering her right hand in ink, that was cryptic.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just- It's time to start playing the long game. If you want to be around to join in then don't go home." He nodded.
"What long game?" She made to get out of her seat but Edie shook his head, turning to browse a nearby bookshelf as he spoke.
"Do you have any idea what everyone says about you now?" Eddie bit his lip, half turned towards her and then stopped himself. "You go from all but declaring yourself to suddenly switching sides and now what, the boys think you lot are in the Order already."
It was too much to follow at once. Cassie wished she was more alert or awake. Even the idea made her a little uncomfortable. It was Dumbledore's elite, something to be feared.
"Who thinks I've joined the Order?"
Very few people knew what that was and they were exactly the people you didn't want marking you as a member.
"Just don't go home." He cleared his throat. "I'd also get back to the Tower, Evan and Severus are coming this way soon." He pulled a book out of the shelf and walked away.
Edmund Avery, a man of mystery and surprising statements.
She waited until he had vanished into the defence section and jumped to her feet, the conclusion could wait, Cassie collected her things up quickly, vanished the tea and headed for the door. Not fast enough.
In her haste she hadn't seen the two figures walking towards her. Not until she collided right into Rosier.
"Watch it!" He snapped, backing away before he had realised who he was speaking to.
When he did the scowl? melted into a deep sneer, the handsome lines of his face curling in disgust.
"What'chu doing here Yaxley?" He hissed.
It was a library, it didn't belong to him.
Her wand was lying in her room, on her bed beside a half empty bottle of whisky and the remainder of Emme's chocolate stash. She was an idiot. An idiot who forgot her wand at a time like this and went out alone despite being very clear to everyone else that that was a very stupid idea.
"Just let me past." She went to duck around him but Severus was standing there.
They were in shouting distance of the library, the librarian would be able to see them is she only looked up.
A pair of Hufflepuff sixth years walked past, slowing to watch as they entered the library.
Evan paused, relaxed, backed away. He watched the girls walk away and nodded to Severus to follow him, turning back to mutter "Filthy Blood Traitor.".
Cassie was still for a moment, letting the words settle around her. The feeling was oddly reminiscent of a time she had jumped from a cliff into an ice cold lake. It had been the height of summer and yet the water had swallowed her, driving the warmth from her body with an iron punch to the gut.
There was a time that would have seemed impossible. A time she looked at others and spat those words. But that was all a long time ago.
What had Eddie said to her?
Her head was a mess, flicking from one thought to another, too fast for her to follow. She needed space and time to make sense of it and of Eddie and his sudden u-turn into talking to her again. Why couldn't she go home? What the hell did her know about her family that she didn't. After all she had only heard form Leila, what, a few weeks ago? More?
Surprisingly, Cassie knew exactly who she needed to see.
She hurried back to the Common Room, walking in and instantly regretting her decision. It was almost empty, unheard of on a Sunday night, the single pair were tucked in the corner, a redheaded girl and a boy with messy black hair, heads bent close together and whispering.
They hadn't noticed her but Cassie felt the knot in her stomach loosed as she watched them for a moment, still hidden in the shadow of the portrait hole.
James had his fingers intertwined in hers, his eyes closed and a small smile on his face. Lily was relaxed, truly relaxed for the first time in a long time. She hadn't seen them alone like this since their first date. That had only been a month ago but already they were...
Cassie allowed herself a small smile and another moment before she had to interrupt them.
James was a Blood Traitor too. The whole Potter family was counted as some of the worst but he was happy, there with a muggleborn and it didn't bother him one bit.
James, Cassie happily acknowledged, was a far better person than she was.
She made a point of loudly emerging into the Common Room, the two of them looking up, deer caught in a wandlight as she emerged.
"Hi Cass!" James beamed.
"You two are disgusting, you know that, you've cleared out the whole room."
"Damn right." Lily looped her arm around his shoulders and shifted to face Cassie. "You alright?"
"Yeah, fine. Have you seen Sirius?" She blurted out the question before she could stop herself.
"Uh, no not for a while." James shook head and shrugged. "Why?"
"Doesn't matter, It'll be fine." She headed for the stairs, not missing the look that the two of them shared the moment they shouldn't she wasn't looking.
Her wand was lying on her bed, right where she'd left it. She picked it up and tucked it up her sleeve straight away.
Her essay was still in her bag, the conclusion still unwritten. It would have to wait.
She pulled out a new piece of parchment and a quill.
After a moment's pause she wrote two words down, Dear Leila, and then stopped.
A weight sat in her chest, a knot in the pit of her stomach, both were nothing compared to the riot kicking off in the back of her head. She didn't know what to write. She didn't know why she was writing or what the hell she would do if she got a response.
She wanted to know what Eddie had meant and when she had been cut so far out of the loop.
She used to walk a tightrope and now she was just falling.
Cassie couldn't remember when she had lost her footing. Before school even started, in the Summer. One night when she was woken up and dragged out of bed to find a scared, beaten blonde girl lying on the floor of her dining room.
That's when it had all gone wrong.
Cassie looked down at her parchment, the creamy paper marked by a wet spot. She wiped it away and forced herself to write something, anything, to her family.
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