Cassie hurried into Transfiguration, discarding her soaked cloak and taking the empty chair between Lily and Sirius.
McGonagall didn’t look up from the stack of papers she was marking as Cassie pulled out her books and fished an eagle quill from her bag. She simply added, without hesitation, “Five points from Gryffindor.”
Cassie copied down the title, Advanced Animagus Theory, something nice and dull to waste her last class of the term. Tomorrow morning everyone else would be heading off home.
Sirius stretched out in the eat next to her, rolling his head back and yawning. He had been half dozing off when she took a seat, Cassie guessed he would've been asleep by now if she hadn’t made a point of banging into him on her way past. He sat up, tugged his shirt straight and brushed a hand through his hair, flashed her a half smile.
“Where were you?” He whispered.
“The forest.” She caught the question on his face and shrugged. “I had a free period.”
“So, naturally, you wanted to go outside, hang out in the forbidden forest and see a bunch of death horses?”
“That about sums it up.” Cassie glanced up from her parchment to copy down the next question.
“You’re... really weird sometimes.”
“From you that’s practically a compliment.”
“Oh, you think?”
“Because normal people actively call themselves Padfoot.”
He just grinned and went back to his parchment.
They wrote in silence for a while, the room quiet but for the sounds of quills scratching away, matched with the sniffs and coughs of a cold-stuffed Hufflepuff. She scored out a line, then another, changing the wording again and then changing it back. McGonagall seemed to have a talent for turning interesting topics into theory dull enough to put you to sleep.
There was a rustle a creek of old wood and suddenly a piece of crumpled parchment was dropped onto her desk. James swung forwards in his chair again, turning and winking at Lily before he went back to work.
Cassie opened the note. Scanned it one. Twice, almost letting out a squeal and stopping herself just in time.
With a sharp kick to the back of his chair James looked around again, the smile plastered all over his face told her this was exactly what he expected her reaction to be.
“Next month?” She tied to keep her voice low but it wasn’t easy. She wanted to scream. Or dance. Or both at the same time.
“Better bring your A-game.”
“That’s the Slytherin game.”
“Then you’d better bring your fucking A-game.”
It was official, scouts from the Montrose Magpies would be coming to see her in less than three month’s time.
“Wow. Look at you two.” Sirius lifted an eyebrow as he passed the note to Lily. “Prongs and Yaxley, Quidditch stars in the making.”
Cassie couldn’t stop smiling. Just knowing that she could be one of the Magpies, that maybe she was that good was enough for her. She sat, a quiet bundle of energy, writing half nonsense and dying for the bells to ring.
It was a long hour. The longest. Finally a bell went.
“Are you fucking kidding me! MARCH!!” She burst out the moment McGonagall dismissed them practically jumping over her desk to give him a hug.
“I told you they would be here. It was McGonagall's idea, I wanted them to see the best team and for that we need a practiced team.” He was nodding, talking as Captain Potter and not as James.
“Oh that would be brilliant.” Lily passed the note to Peter and Remus. “Imagine if you both got a spot!” She almost looked pleased with herself.
Snow crunched under her feet as Cassie wandered through the trees, the early morning sun hitting off the ground and sparkling.
It wasn't long now until they would be heading off to the train.
Cassie hadn't given much thought to what she was doing over Christmas. Or rather, she had been avoiding thinking about Christmas at all costs.
Emme was going away with her parents, she'd be back before New Year if all went to plan and Lily was having a quiet one at home. James and Sirius would be at the Potter’s with Remus and Peter showing up on Boxing Day and staying for the rest of the holidays.
Cassie had assumed she would be staying at the castle. Going home was apparently out of the question, she still hadn’t heard back from Leila, and she had somehow come to the conclusion that she had nowhere else to go. That lasted until the night before, half way through a bottle of cheap wine liberated from Hogsmeade when Emme had burst out laughing and shaken her head.
“Why would you be staying here? That's shit.”
“I can't exactly go home, can I?” She muttered, looking up at the canopy of her bed.
Clothes covered every inch of the room. Books were being used as coasters, shoes as pillows. The amount of stuff three girls could pack into three trunks was scarily impressive.
“Don't be stupid. You're staying with Lily over Christmas and then the two of you are both going to Potter’s for New Years and I’ll meet you there.”
Cassie looked doubtful but two girls stared back at her like this was old news.
“You don't have a choice. You can't be here by yourself and no offence I'm not staying with you… So you'll have to come with us.” She looked to Lily for confirmation, smirking when the redhead nodded.
“When did you decide this?”
“November.” They both answered.
“And you didn't think to tell me?”
“It wasn't important at the time.”
Clearly Lily’s priorities weren't quite in line with Cassie’s.
“Staying with the Evans’… Tuney is going to love this!”
Lily’s smile only grew as she realised what Cassie meant.
It was only a few hours until they left, giving Cassie just enough time for a trip into the forest.
She had found the herd easily enough. Slowly she was recognising the feelings, the small voice that told how and where to find them.
Thirty or more Thestrals were stretched through the trees, not far from the still shore of the half frozen lake.
Most of them had accepted her with no more than a toss of glossy, black manes, though a few trotted over and smelled her, nudged her, followed her as she walked through the trees, wrapped in a red hooded coat.
There were a pair of foals playing in the snow, half grown wings flapping about awkwardly when they toppled over.
Cassie watched them all, content and relaxed, taking a moment to herself before she would have to go. Six months ago, the sight of Thestrals made her feel sick but now they were an oddly soothing presence.
She rested her hand against a warm body of the gangly beast, feeling the snow melt from her glove and blood start to run through her fingers once more, brought back to life by the contact.
“CASSIE!” A voice shouted, someone running along the side of the Lake towards them.
Every head looked up, white eyes fixing on the boy bounding noisily up the hill, tails swishing and manes shaking. They backed away from the sound, nervously twitching.
“Cass!” Sirius yelled, wandering up the hill towards her. “Unless you are wanting to stay here… We need to-” He paused.
His shoulders seemed to twitch then he suddenly froze, eyes flickering around him.
“How many are there?”
Cassie shrugged. “A few. How can you tell?
“Lucky guess. Where's the nearest one? Point me.” He asked enthusiastically.
She waved him over, placing a reassuring hand on her Thestral.
Sirius approached with care, slowly moving to stand right next to her. Where the thestral was moving around, backing away it left marks in the snow, marks that Sirius was watching with open fascination.
Something about him seemed to worry it, it shuffled back until Cassie stopped it with another hand.
“I don't think it likes you.” She laughed.
“I seems so.” He was still looking at the snow shuffling around, not at the living, breathing creature right before him.
“Can’t blame him really, I don’t like you either.”
He barked out a laugh, earning himself another round of blank looks from the creatures he couldn’t even see. “That’s a lie and you know it.”
They wandered through the snow, trailing their way through the trees and back towards the school.
“What is it about them then? You just find yourself drawn to the death horses?” He asked as they headed back along the lake.
“Everyone thinks they're terrifying, death monsters.” She gave him a look. “If you see them you'll die and be cursed forever and doomed and they foretell bla bla bla. But they're not.” Cassie shoved her hands into her coat pockets to keep warm. The red standing out against the white snow and the bare trees. “Maybe I can relate.”
“I wish I could see them- I mean of course I don't! Not like that.” He corrected very quickly when he caught the look on her face. “Looking at pictures and reading descriptions don't to them justice I'd imagine.”
“When were you reading about them?”
“We were in the library a while ago and Remus found a book of dangerous creatures.”
“Dangerous?” She parroted in a doubtful voice.
“It had things like Dragons and Werewolves in it.” He said a little uncomfortably. “But we read the page on Thestrals.”
“I’ve met a werewolf once. Greyback, did you ever meet him? I didn’t like him all that much.”
“Best avoid Werewolves.” Sirius muttered, chewing on his lip like he was holding back a smile.
She laughed and nodded. “I'll do my best.”
James was asleep before they left Hogsmeade, head resting on Lily’s shoulder and snoring softly, leaving the rest chatting happily about their plans. Cassie sat in the corner, knees tucked up to her chest and leaning back against the cool window. They were all a little squished, fitting seven Seventh Years, three of which were incredibly lanky boys, into one compartment was becoming a struggle.
Christmas was going to be good, different but good. A Muggle Christmas sounded very odd indeed.
James woke up as they passed through Yorkshire, jumping as Cassie won a game of Wizards Chess against Remus. Small pieces of a King shooting off around the compartment.
“Haha! Two to me.” Cassie flicked her wand and the fragments of marble and granite sped back together, rearranging themselves on the board.
Sweet wrappers and the remains of lunch were littering the floor. Lily had tucked into a book and Emme, Sirius and Peter were debating the apparent downfalls of roast turkey.
“Is that really what you're playing?” James yawned. “How about something else… Extreme Exploding Snap?”
“Extreme?” Lily was suddenly interested, glancing up from her book.
“Made up some new rules, Evans.” Sirius explained. “Just watch.”
The pulled into London in the dark, Cassie stepping off amidst the chaos of trunks and brooms and parents rushing to meet their children. She struggled with an owl cage in one hand and navigating her trunk with the other, hovering to one side while Lily looked around for Mr and Mrs Evans.
“Cass.” Sirius appeared beside her. “Can I have a word.”
She nodded, leaving her things under Lily's care and he pulled her to the side, to the quiet end of the platform by the back of the train.
“Right. So. The thing is...” Sirius started, shoving his hands into his pockets. He took a deep breath. “Before New Year-”
The voice rang out behind her. Bored, privileged and obviously unimpressed with just a hint of an accent rolling through.
Sirius coughed awkwardly, taking a step back from her and looking up at the newcomer.
“Hi Leila.” He nodded his head politely, spoke as though he were talking to a particularly venomous snake. “It’s been a while.”
“Sirius.” She barley spared him a glance.
Cassie bit her lip, screwed up her eyes and looked around.
Cold silver eyes were fixed on Cassie, her golden braid tucked out of sight
“You're coming with me… Right now.” She hissed. “No arguments Cassiel.”
They appeared in a quiet side street, rain pouring, water gushing down the pavement and weaving between the cobblestones in the road. Streetlamps flickered at the end of the lane, the light not quite reaching Cassie as she looked around, wildly searching for anything that would tell her where she was.
Leila still had a grip on her arm, fingers white, the bones shining through her skin at the knuckles. A great opal shone on her finger, the stone banded in silver, the metal twisted to look something like wings. She was breathing hard, her lips pressed close together. She hardly seemed to notice when Cassie pushed her off, backing away and looking around.
“Why’d you bring me back?” She recognised the spot, the dirty lane. They were just off Charlotte Square. Turn right at the end of the road, walk for ten minutes and Cassie would be home. Turn left and you would be in the middle of a packed city, muggles finishing of Christmas shopping and duckign out of the rain.
“It’s Christmas, I thought you’d like to see your family.” She snapped. There wasn’t any real power in her voice though.
“You didn’t think to ask? Or answer that letter? Or tell me anything that’s going on?” Cass threw an irritated look at her sister and started backing into a blocked doorway to give herself some cover. For all she knew her uncle was waiting in the shadows. Rabastan could be anywhere. Her mother could be there and Cassie didn’t want to see her. Not now.
“Will you listen to yourself!” Her sister looked out from under her hood, glaring with gritted teeth. “Merlin's sake! Can you stop being so self centered for just a second?”
Cassie bit back her response. Leila had no right to call her self centred, not when she was the master of that particular artform.
Instead she asked, “What’s wrong with you?” narrowed her eyes, watched Leila closely.
She had a hood pulled over her head, a thick cloak wrapped around her shoulders. Cassie suddenly realised that she looked like someone who didn’t want to be seen which, Cassie almost smiled, must have been difficult when you were Leila Yaxley and had spent your whole life believing you were Morgana reincarnated.
“I’m not meant to be disapparating. It makes me sick.” She almost whispered.
Cassie didn’t want to ask why. She could make a guess.
Leila seemed to have recovered, at least enough to stand straight.
“Why does it make you sick?” She finally managed.
“Never mind that.”
“Then why did you come to get me? Why not Mum?”
Leila hesitated, then reached deep into a pocket and took out a piece of folded parchment.
“This was sent to Uncle Corban, he showed it to Mum and ever since then it's- well, it's been pretty much all they've spoken about.”
Cassie took the parchment, flipped it open and read down the page.
“Who sent it?” She asked after a moment.
“We don't know. I thought you might.”
She shook her head, folded the paper over and passed it back.
“Is it true?” Leila asked after a moment of silence.
“All of it?”
She looked completely horrified. Leila had seen Cassie at school, she knew fine well who she was friends with. She hadn't seen everything though. She hadn't seen the last few months. When Cassie read it all in one list it looked pretty bad. When that list had been sent to her mother it suddenly looked a whole lot worse.
“Don't say ‘Cassie’ like that.”
“How do you want me to say it? You do realise what this means?”
“Then how could you have been such a fucking idiot?” Suddenly she was yelling “Did you even think what this would mean for us? Or me? What about the fucking family Cassie?”
“Don't talk to me like that.”
“WHY NOT? WHAT ABOUT DAD?”
And just like that wands were drawn.
Cassie was shaking. She could see it in her hands and feel it in the pit of her stomach. She could beat Leila in a duel any day. Her sister was too slow, too cautious.
“Don't bring him into this.” She managed to keep her voice calm. Just. “It’s nothing to do with him.”
He was in Azkaban, far away from this mess. The mess that he caused and stoked and fueled and then abandoned Cassie to deal with.
Leila looked like she might jump at her, toss the wand aside and simply throw herself at her little sister and tear at her hair like she used to do.
“This isn’t about that girl from the summer, is it?” She hissed low.
Cassie said nothing. Even a mention of Mary was enough to shut her up.
“If you didn’t want to be in the room you could have left.” Leila was being deliberately cruel now. “You didn’t even like her.”
It wasn’t that easy though.
“I…” Cassie started to lower her wand, an odd numbness was spreading through her, her body shutting off in an attempt to stop the panic.
“Eugh- It is about her, isn’t it?”
Leila needed to shut up.
“I mean, it’s not like you hadn’t seen that happen before and she was just a stupid little mudblood. I mean, did you have one conversation with her in six years that didn’t end in the two of you screaming or storming off? Didn’t think so. Would you have even cared if it was someone you didn’t know?”
“I lived with her.” Her voice was a ghost.
“You tolerated her!”
“That didn’t mean they had to kill her.”
“She was practically dead anyway.”
“I don’t care what you think. You didn’t see her.”
Bloody, brused, dressed in thin pajamas like she had just been dragged from her bed. She probably had been, Cassie reminded herself. Mary had seen Cassie in the same moment Cassie had recognised her. That had been the worst part of the whole night.
“I think you need to stop the stupid Gryffindor bullshit and go tell Mum that you’re sorry and that you want to come home.”
“But I don’t.”
There was nothing else to say but that.
Leila shook her head, not listening to her for a second.
“This,” She pulled out the letter, “can all be explained. Whoever sent it could have been wrong. Or someone making up stories to get you in trouble. Corban will have to accept it if Mum forgives you and she will. I know it. She wants you to come home.”
“I’m not coming home, Lei’.”
She’d said it now. She couldn’t take it back.
“For Merlin’s sake, Cassie! I know you’ve not had it easy recently but you’re a Yaxley. You belong with us.”
“I’ve not had it easy? How would you even know? It’s not like they make you sit there! Do you have any idea what it’s been like, or what that was like. I can’t unsee it. Sometimes I wake up and she’s there then I remember and I just feel sick because she won’t ever be there again. Yeah, I didn’t like her but she didn’t deserve that.”
Leila hesitated, half way to saying something when she stopped. Nodded. For just a second there was a tiny spark of pity visible in her, a glimpse of a sister who actually cared.
“For the record, I don’t think you should have been there. That was cruel.”
“I wasn’t given a choice.”
Leila shrugged. It didn’t matter that much to her after all.
“You haven't told anyone about any of this, have you?”
It took a long time for Cassie to answer but when she did she was honest.
“Good. Keep it that way.”
“I think… I think somebody might have an idea though.”
“Black? What makes you think that?”
“He said something, a really long time ago and I can't even remember what he said but…”
She had told him a lot. More, she realised at that moment, than anyone else. Sirius was smart and like it or not he knew her, understood her in a way that few people did.
“Why were you even talking to him?”
“We’re sort-of friends again.”
“You don’t say.” She said with the arch of an eyebrow and a purse of her lips.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Leila smiled a little sadly.
“I guessed you might say that. When I saw you in the station with Black I realised something was up with you, you’d ever have spent time talking to him before...” She gestured towards their house, towards home.
Cassie wasn’t sure what to say to that.
“At least he’s a pureblood.” Cassie could have sworn she saw Leila smirk, just for a second, then she tucked her hair back under the hood, adjusted her cloak. “Will I see you soon?”
“Yeah.” Cassie answered half under her breath. “Maybe.”
She wouldn’t. Cassie was sure of that before Leila reached the streetlight.
She arrived at Lily’s front door as the clock struck seven, a muggle wireless rattling off the news in the living room, the smell of cheap tobacco clinging to the walls, to the carpets under her feet. She drifted silently down the hall, lost in her own little world as she entered the kitchen.
There she was hit by a wall. Noise. Lights. The smell of coffee and too many bodies all rising and rushing at her. Lily was by her side instantly, James hovering at her shoulder. Peter stood by the sink, wand already drawn, while Remus crossed the room to her.
Cassie blinked, the world coming back into focus.
She shook her head. She hadn’t expected them to be there and the last thing she wanted was an interrogation. Instead she looked to the only boy still sitting, the only one who hadn’t bothered to get up and crowd around her.
“I spoke to my sister.”
“And?” Sirius prompted.
“I don’t reckon I’ll see her again for a while.”
“That’s shit.” He nodded to the seat next to him with no more than a slight tilt of the head.
“No…” She crossed the kitchen, pulled out the chair and dropped down. It took a deep breath and a moment so compose herself before she could finish. “It’s alright. I’m alright.”
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