Muffled sounds of a conversation drifted from below. Footsteps, the sound of a door banging. She couldn't tell who it was, curled under the duvet with her eyes tight shut against the sunlight. Cassie lay still, soft sheets balled in her hand, wallowing in warmth before she would have to get up. Before she had to deal with the outside world.
Behind her Sirius stirred, the bed shifting with his weight as he moved slowly to his feet. He padded softly across the carpet, a shadow falling across Cassie as he passed the window and stopped. There was silence, a pause then-
"You know you're shit at pretending to sleep?" Sirius asked with a hoarse laugh. "You always have been."
Cassie opened her eyes, regretting it instantly as the light hit her.
"Morning." He grinned, leaning back against the window frame, still dressed in last night's clothes. "Or afternoon, I should say."
"Afternoon then." Her voice was groggy, her throat dry and cracking. She winced at the sound, then again as she felt a dangerous pulse of nausea.
"Feeling like shit?" He asked.
"The extra bottle will do that to you."
Cassie rolled her eyes and shifted to the edge of the bed. Her jeans had cut harsh marks in her side, her legs stiff and soar as she stood up.
There was an awkward pause, where Cassie looked down to her hands and Sirius looked out the window.
"That shouldn't have happened." She finally spoke up, clearing her throat.
"You said so, several times actually. Straight after and then when I was trying to help you up the stairs and then again when you were meant to be going to sleep." Cassie groaned, silently cursing herself. Sirius shrugged. "Don't worry about it. Everyone's allowed to let go and go overboard sometimes."
"You did nothing wrong." Sirius smirked, looking a little sheepish for a moment. "It was just a kiss."
"Yeah- I need to go." She got up, finding one shoe and then the other and pulling them on, needed to get out of there.
"Cassie, It's not a big deal."
Yes, it was.
They had been in the garden talking, and Merlin, she had been drunk. It was hazy, too hazy, but she remembered him kissing her and, Cassie grew still, and she remembered how it made her feel.
"You're right but just, don't turn this into something it's not."
She didn't need him adding to everything. Not right now, not with her head spinning.
It took Sirius a second but he nodded.
"Yeah. You're right."
Cassie felt her stomach contract, her mouth grow dry. She might have blushed, not that it mattered, he was back to staring out of the window.
"Not that I-"
"It's fine." Sirius cut through her. "We really don't need to complicate things more." He held out an arm, offering a hug that she accepted, closing her eyes and leaning into his chest.
"Cassie..." Sirius whispered, resting his chin on the top of her head, chuckling softly. "I hate to say it, but you really need a shower."
The first few weeks back couldn't have gone slower if they'd tried.
Quidditch was followed by studying, studying by snow and snow by more Quidditch. Cassie felt free in the sky, like she was leaving life behind on the ground and soaring high above it all. No matter how hard she tried though, she always had to land, usually to the sound of James roaring instructions across the pitch.
It had been a subdued start to the new year, the train journey back to Hogwarts was significantly calmer than their departing trip. Cassie had instantly agreed with Emme when she suggested the girls sit in their own compartment, not bothering to spare the boys a look as they set off in search. Sophie joined them as they left King's Cross, slipping into an easy conversation about going back to NEWTs and the endless amount of homework they had to catch up on.
Something about those first few weeks felt off. It was almost too mundane, too easy, the domestic pattern of classes and meals and studying for once overshadowing everything else.
All the while something buzzed in the back of Cassie's mind, something she buried deep, ignored and avoided.
"You're Cassiel Yaxley."
Cassie looked up from the book she was reading, A Complete Guide to Poisonous Plants and Ferocious Fungi, and studied the girl in front of her.
She had no idea who she was beyond being short and rather stout, an unassuming mop of mud brown hair pulled back in a severe ponytail and a Ravenclaw tie pulled so tight it almost reached her chin.
"Yes." Cassie raised an eyebrow at the girl, who couldn't have been more than a fourth year at a push, and gave her a look that asked what the hell she was doing there.
"You don't remember me, do you?" She asked, voice cool and confident despite the fact she was visibly shaking.
"No." Cassie marked her page and shut the book, realising that this wasn't going to be over quickly, whatever it was.
"I was at your house in the Summer, my auntie brought me along to one of the parties."
"There were lots of parties in my house over the Summer, I can't say enough remember much of them."
"I don't imagine so, you were drunk by the time we got there and it was only five and o'clock. My auntie said that if that had been me, she'd have cursed my ears off."
Cassie gave her a bitter smile and shrugged her shoulders. That could have been any of the numerous events that her mother had thrown between the start of June and that night mid-August when she had escaped. It all felt like a very long time ago.
"Who is your aunt?" She asked the girl, her voice dripping with a little of it's old Yaxley superiority.
"You're Queenie's cousin?"
Unfortunate girl. Cassie had little time for the Slytherins these days but she had never had any time for Queenie Blishwick. She was one of the hangers on who had attached themselves to Eddie back when they had started to get serious about joining up.
"Yes, my father is her uncle."
She racked her brain for a moment, trying to remember as much of the Blishwick family tree as she could. She had never really payed attention to them. They weren't rich, powerful, weren't particularly attractive and they weren't included on the Sacred Twenty-Eight list that had been obsessively drilled into the head of every Yaxley.
"You're Lucile Blishwick?" Cassie nodded.
The girl instantly looked relieved, she relaxed somewhat, pulled out the seat across from Cassie and sat down in a hurry.
"I wanted to ask you something but I didn't really know if I should or if you would mind." She blurted out in a hurry. "You see there isn't really anyone else I can ask unless you count, you know, Sirius Black."
The splodgy red blush that spread over the girl's face told Cassie all she needed to know about this girl's thoughts on Sirius. She was sure the slight colour on her own cheeks at the mention of his name could be read in a similar way.
"What is it?" She glanced quickly around her quiet corner of the library. There was nobody in earshot. Infact, as Cassie gave the room a second look she could see nobody atall, which was unusual for that time of day.
"Why did you decide to leave home?"
She turned and stared at the girl.
"At Christmas my parents and my auntie were all talking about it. They said that you had gone the same way as Black and that it was a loss for the family. She said that your mother was angry because you had left and I just wanted to know why you did"
"What exactly were they saying?" Cassie lent forwards, ignoring the question and asking one of her own.
"My aunt said that your mother was furious about it because you were- well you know- everyone knows that."
"Exact words." Cassie snapped.
"I don't remember."
"Because you were practically the next Bellatrix Black and that instead of taking after her, you'd gone after the other cousin and that it was a disgrace."
Cassie paused, nodded, absorbing the information with a silent mantra of the word shit on repeat.
"Okay." She said after a moment. "Thank you for telling me that." She picked up the book and her bag, half stuffing the thing into the nonexistent space. Oddly calm, she pulled it onto her shoulder.
"You didn't answer my question though!" The girl protested, getting up to block Cassie's way.
Cassie looked down at her and for the first time noticed a flash of desperation in her.
"I didn't leave, I just never went back."
"Honestly I don't know why I didn't. I've been wondering ever since then if I made the right decision, and I'm still not sure that I did."
"My auntie wants me to join up." Lucile blurted out in response. "I met your uncle over Christmas he said I had potential."
There it was. She sounded completely horrified at the idea. More than that, she looked absolutely petrified by the idea. Horror filled Cassie as well, along with panic and a sudden urgency and the distinct image of blonde hair and blood running across the floor, green lighting the room.
"Run." She whispered. "Run, now, to Professor Dumbledore and tell him everything. Ask for help. Don't leave it until it's too late."
"Is that what you did?" The girl grabbed onto the sleeve of her robe as she made to leave.
"Yes." She lied. Cassie met the girl's watery blue eyes and nodded. "Trust me."
She left her there, rushing out of the library still trying to get the bloody book into her bag. She hardly noticed the emptiness of the corridors or the rattle of noise coming from the entrance hall until suddenly she was in the middle of it. Cassie pushed through the sudden crowd, still caught in an odd dream.
She needed to get to her dormitory. She wanted a space to think and nobody would be back there until just before dinner. She was almost at the stairs, practically numb to everything around her when one word caught her attention.
Cassie suddenly whipped around, her surroundings snapping into sudden focus. The noise hit her.
Yelling. Gearing. Whispered conversations and then the feral screams coming from the group at the centre, the ones everyone was looking at.
Cassie had her wand drawn in a second, switching direction and pushing, shoving, forcing her way to the front of the makeshift circle of onlookers.
Edmund Avery stood back, breathing heavily, a cut to his lip shining red, face white and furious. A hand was clamped hard on his shoulder, Evan's, holding him back. He wasn't the only one. Tristan Mulciber was further away and from a quick glance the only thing stopping him from charging at Sirius was the slim figure of Regulus Black getting in the way.
Almost straight across from her The Marauders stood in a ragged group, Remus and Peter physically blocking Sirius back while James was looking up at the pack of students on the stairs, yelling in a voice he never used.
It took Cassie a second to realise what was going on. James, the Head Boy of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was taking control.
Emme was suddenly at her side, Lily a moment later, white as a sheet as she took in the scene before she calmly walked to James's side.
More people were gathering around. The Carrows, Snape, bloody Blishwick and some of the other Slytherin girls. Pyra was there, hanging back from the rest and watching the scene with a dubious expression.
This wasn't hissed comments in class or private battles in abandoned corridors. This was scarily public. Everyone was there and everyone from fourth year Hufflepuffs to a pair of second year Ravenclaw boys had their wands drawn. This was what it was to be at Hogwarts these days, outside of her own bubble it was as if the castle itself was preparing to go to war.
She barely heard what James said but the crowds around her started to shift, to reluctantly move away all the while looking back over their shoulders. The boiling rage that had filled the entrance hall was simmering away.
"This is bad." Cassie whispered under her breath, glancing at Emme who wore a matching panicked expression. "This is really really bad."
Emme nodded, turned to look around her.
"What the hell happened?" Cassie snapped, her voice rising carelessly above a whisper, drawing a few unwanted stares.
"I don't know, we were on our way to meet you when they walked past and suddenly..."
Remus had let go of Sirius while Peter still had a hard grasp on his robes.
"You know what he's like." Emme finished.
Sirius was still yelling, a stream of words coming from his mouth that Cassie couldn't understand. Mulciber was yelling back, almost wrestling Regulus in a bid to get free.
"They weren't duelling?"
"No, they were fighting."
Cassie rolled her eyes and marched into the centre pushing past Remus and Peter to grab Sirius by the collar.
"What the fuck are you doing?" She hissed under her breath, meeting his eyes for the first time since new year.
"Wouldn't you like to know." He shook off Peter in one move and took off up the stairs.
Cassie didn't wait to be told, she dropped her bag by Emme's feet and went after him.
She struggled to keep up.
He was faster, taller, striding down the hall quicker than she had ever seen him move. With his wand still brandished and a deep scowl etched onto his face he almost frightening, certainly enough to part the sea of students milling about between classes.
"Sirius!" Cassie yelled after him, following him as he ducked behind a tapestry and then emerged onto a staircase.
"Black! Will you actually talk to me for a second or are we back to this?" She grabbed the back of his robes and forced him to turn and look at her. "What's going on?" She added a little softer.
"Nothing. He deserved it, that's all."
The stairs moved, landing at the short bit of corridor that met the Fat Lady's portrait.
"WHY?" Cassie followed him into the Common Room and past the crowds of silently watching Gryffindors. She didn't pay them the slightest attention. "Why would you be that fucking stupid?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Why are you so interested all of a sudden? You've not spoken to me in weeks and now you're yelling at me like you've got any right to."
"I wonder how that feels."
"Don't bring that up. I've apologized enough for that."
"Then don't act like you're oh so innocent with this. Are you going to talk to me or not?"
"He called you a blood traitor." He spat the words, throwing them like a curse.
"So? You've never cared about that!" Cassie followed him as he stormed up the stairs and into the boy's dormitory. "You said that it was‘practically a badge of honour since you-'"
"Yes but you do!" He practically shouted back. "You do care and he knows that just as well as I do."
"But it's just Mulciber, ignore him."
"And what about Avery? Because he got involved pretty quickly."
"Why are you bringing him up? It's not about him it's about you getting into fights over trivial comments."
"Can you hear yourself? You're telling me it's trivial when you spent years worrying about what they thought of you? You've always had one foot in that world and one with us so you have no right to turn around now and lecture me about this!"
She took a deep breath, biting back the instinct to snap.
"I'm trying." Cassie managed to say, eventually. She took a seat on the bed behind her.
"At New Year you said you were done with them." He was hurt. It rang through his voice clear as day.
What was it she had said? Don't make this something it's not. That had worked. The last few weeks had been nothing but awkward running in corridors, avoiding eye contact or speaking like polite strangers and sitting with James between them at all times. It had been ridiculous.
They were alone together for the first time since that morning. Through the fluttering dread there was another feeling that was making her heart beat a little faster.
That was- that wasn't important.
"I am." She couldn't quite hide the doubt in her voice. "At New Year I wasn't me."
"You're telling me."
"I didn't mean that." Her head was a mess, walls collapsing everywhere she turned. She hated that he could do that to her, be it screaming at each other or being this close, hidden in his room so close he had a way of getting under her skin.
He was watching her, every emotion running through her crossing his face one after another. He pushed the hair back from his face with an exasperated sigh, he looked at her and her breath caught in her throat.
He shouldn't have kissed her, but he did. Cassie should not want to kiss him again, but she did.
She moved to him, her fingers knotting in his shirt and pulling him towards her, close enough their cheeks brushed, his breath light on her skin. There was a pause, Sirius closed his eyes but then waited, stopped just short of kissing her.
Cassie was the one to kiss him, to brush her lips against his. At first he stayed where he was, reluctant or hesitant.
Doubt caught hold of her. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe he didn't feel the same way sober or she had fucked things so spectacularly that he didn't want her any more.
Then he was kissing her with a kind of fierce hunger. His hand brushed against her shoulders, down her back and then caught her with a hard grip on her waist, her hips. She felt dizzy while he seemed desperate.
Time might have flown or stood still, Cassie didn't know, she didn't want it to end. The hurricane in her head seemed to fade away as she melted into the feeling of his body against hers and the hard pressure of his lips.
Then it was over.
He let her go, turned away with a violent shake of the head.
"I need to ask you something." He whispered.
She frowned, confused for just a moment before he turned to face her. The expression on his face wasn't what she had expected.
Cassie had known Sirius since she was born. She had seen doubt and suspicion and hate when he looked at her but never had she seen pain like that. And that, more than anything else, scared her.
It must have shown in her face, either that or Sirius was just good at reading what was going through her head. Somehow the latter seemed more likely. He had always been too good at that.
The look made her pause before she responded, give herself a moment to breathe and shake the feeling of his touch from her body.
"What is it?"
He took a long time to form the next sentence and then seemed to force each word out.
"What happened to Mary?"
Of all the things he could have asked, when she was there, her heartbeat still soaring and her cheeks still flushed. She closed her eyes, swallowing the fear that was rushing through her blood and burning away anything else.
She took a deep breath. Opened her eyes.
"I'm not going to answer that."
Because she couldn't make herself talk about it. Even to him. She had to bury it.
"You can't make me talk about it."
"Yes I can. Because I knew her and... I've got a right to know how she died."
"That's what he said in the hall."
Mulciber. Mulciber knew about Mary. Cassie needed to know how and know who else knew. Rosier? Eddie? Who else had he told? No- she knew who he had told.
"I didn't think it was true."
Until, the unspoken end to the sentence was clear, she had confirmed it.
Sirius looked as though he might be sick. He took a deep breath started to form a word and then stopped, shook his head. He didn't meet her eye or look at her at all.
She couldn't say anything. Panic was taking over faster than she could control it. It was too much. The girl in the library, the boys in the entrance hall, the blonde lying in a pool of her on blood on a polished floor and green, green, more flashes of green light. She shook her head, shook the images from before her eyes.
Sirius looked at the ceiling, the floor, anywhere but her.
He turned, didn't look back as he crossed his own dormitory and pushed the door open. There wasn't a pause in his footsteps as they descended down the spiral staircase and vanished.
Her hand flew to her mouth, holding back whatever noise was building in the pit of her stomach..
She didn't know how but she made it out of the room, out of the common room without anyone giving her more than a quick glance. Cassie had a talent for escaping, she always had. Escaping and running and flying, three things that went hand in hand when she thought of it like that.
It was with a detached calm that she made it through the castle, ending up at the top of a tower she knew well, holding onto the railing of some rattling steps as she let her eyes drift to the clear grey sky.
She needed- she needed...
She didn't know what she needed.
She raised her wand into the sky- numb as she closed her eyes and thought of a time simpler than this. The image came in a blur of green grass, post exam bliss and sun hitting off the black lake then a blast of silver light burst from the end of her wand. The thestal hovered for a moment, wings beating gently.
"Help me." Cassie whispered, pitifully quiet.
She didn't move as bells rang and the sun set and not even when footsteps came pounding up the stairs behind her, as hands pulled her up and turned her into a tight hug.
She clung to his robes, digging her fingers in until she was sure she must have been hurting him, marking his skin with dark bruises. It helped, so much that after a moment she could take a shaking breath. He smelt like home, like Sunday nights spent lying on the thick, musty carpets in her parents drawing room and sunny afternoons trying to climb the tallest pinetrees on the Avery's estate. He was safe, he understood. He wouldn't ask her why or tell her to be better than she was.
He didn't expect her to be any better than a Yaxley should be.
"I've got you." He whispered into her hair. "You're alright."
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