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Chapter 18: You'll never change what's been and gone.
A sleepless night felt like an eternity. Cassie knew that. She’d had far too many of them. But a sleepless night next to someone who you just one hundred per cent didn’t understand?
The rain came and went in waves. Never quite ceasing beyond a gentle pattering, but occasionally hammering down on the canvas to the extent that she worried the tent might not hold. After all, it had already failed in the magic department. Who knew?
James woke up on a couple of those occasions. But as soon as Cassie heard... or felt... him stir, she turned quickly away from him, her eyes tightly closed. She couldn’t tell if he were worried too.
If Al were here, she couldn’t help but think, she’d be grateful that he’d woken up. They’d talk about it. Joke about whether the tent could hold. They could have any one of the hundreds of pointless conversations they’d ever had, mumbling across the space between them until they succumbed to sleep.
Well. Until he slept anyway. Sleep wasn’t for Cassie.
It didn’t really make a difference, she thought. Who she was here with. The nights would still be long, tense, and on the occasion that she did fall asleep – frightening.
The nights were still her enemy.
That’s what she had to remind herself when her gut ached for Al.
She wondered if she’d tell him about the dreams. He’d have told her, if it were the other way around. He’d tell her anything. She was the one that put up and clung to these unnecessary barriers.
She wondered where he was now. She wondered if he was sleeping.
She wondered if he would ever forgive her.
Yep. A sleepless night – one spent torturing herself with these questions – was definitely an eternity.
She was relieved when James woke early, as the dawn light began to wash over the tent.
Relieved, but still rolled away, as if she were still sleeping. She didn’t know why. They’d talked. He’d seemed a bit more human. But that didn’t mean she was a single step closer to understanding him. Not really.
And, for some reason, she didn’t want him to know she’d been lying awake. Not even for a single minute.
Fortunately, he didn’t hang around long. She heard him let out a sleepy sigh and roll his head in her direction. Although her face was out of his line of vision, she squeezed her eyes more tightly closed. Then she heard the click and pop of his joints as he presumably stretched out his arms, before unzipping his sleeping bag and clambering out of the tent.
Cassie let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. She let out an involuntary yawn and rubbed her eyes, flinching as she caught the wound on her head. Apparently Ryan’s pain potion had worn off, despite James using probably ten times the necessary amount.
She experimented, lightly touching the lump of a bruise and pulling faces. It was ok. Didn’t hurt unless she touched it or expressed some form of surprise of disapproval, stretching the skin on her forehead.
The constant, throbbing headache, however... that was another story, another cause. An extra night without sleep didn’t help in that department. She sat up, wincing as the blood felt like it stormed her head and the throbbing briefly reached an unbearable level... before subsiding. To the dull ache that she felt herself becoming more and more used to.
She pulled on her clothes and waterproofs in a hurry – the rain was still lightly pattering above her head – and unzipped the tent.
James was clearing the remains of their fire – damp, lumpy ash in a heap – with a foot, muesli bar in his hand. He glanced up, squinting as rain dripped into his eyes.
“You’re up. Sleep well?” He sounded brisk, determined. Didn’t give her the chance to make up a lie. She wondered if she’d imagine the gentle tone of voice from the tent last night. He tossed her a muesli bar. “Eat. Drink. I’ll pack up. Then we’ll move.”
Short, sharp, abrupt. No time for awkwardness. No time to dwell on how difficult the day ahead would be in the humid, unpredictable rain.
As she unwrapped the muesli bar, Cassie wondered if he did it on purpose.
He looked up at her briefly, as he brushed past to put down the tent. Pulled a face that didn’t quite resemble a smile. More a grimace. But she got the gist.
She wasn’t so great at smiling herself nowadays.
“You should put some more potion on that.”
It was evening, again. The rain had finally ceased, though the entire forest was still slick, muddy and dripping.
Even though the minutes – hell, the seconds – had dragged like a million years throughout the day, night seemed to catch up on them far quicker than they liked.
It had been a frustrating day. The rain, the mud, the humidity. It had slowed them down. They’d covered more ground than they had the day before – obviously – but it still felt like nothing in the grand scheme of things. Cassie almost felt like if she looked behind her she’d see the spot that they’d camped in last night.
Of course, the forest all looked the same to her.
It didn’t help that James had been extra cautious, extra accommodating today. It felt like they’d taken a break to sit and drink every half hour. And he’d definitely slowed the pace. It might have been – like he argued – the rain and the terrain. It stopped eventually. But the ground was soft and slippery.
Or it might have been the fact that his companion had spend half of the previous day unconscious. Who knew.
Cassie looked up at James’ words, across the dim glow of the carefully crafted fire. He caught her eye for just a second – long enough to nod pointedly at the wound on her head.
Cassie touched it gingerly, making a conscious effort not to wince. “Nah. It’s fine, see. We should save the potion.”
James looked steadily at her. For the first time all day. It was unnerving. “It’s not healed.” He said, levelly.
“It’s fine.” Cassie repeated, having to look down to avoid his eyes.
There was a small pause. Cassie could imagine him pressing his lips together in order not to snap. Hang on, where did that come from? When had she taken enough notice of him to pick up on his mannerisms?
“Just put some potion on it.” He did sound very calm. And persistent.
“It’s healed.” Cassie looked up, tapping it. Then regretting it when it burned a little.
“ Just a little bit of potion. That’s all it needs -”
“Oh how do you know.” Cassie was the one that snapped.
There it was again. Pressing his lips together. He even exhaled sharply enough for her to hear it over the low crackle of the embers between them.
Cassie found herself involuntarily curling up defensively, her arms locked around her knees. James slouched position leant sideways on one fist looked a lot more in control. Damn.
She could feel his gaze flicking between the fire and her face. She kept hers firmly on the glowing embers.
“I don’t.” He spoke first. “I don’t know. I don’t have a clue how you’re supposed to use a healing potion and... shit. I wish Ryan was here. But neither do you. So I think we should just make sure it’s healed or else it might get infected.”
Very calm. Very composed. A very well put together case.
“And I just don’t want to waste it.” Cassie retorted, annoyed that her argument was a lot shorter.
“Just a little bit.” Damn he was persistent.
That shut her up. She didn’t know if she’d ever heard him say that before.
The exhaled heavily and held out her hand for the potion.
To his credit, he didn’t look smug.
After dabbing the lightest amount onto her head – to which James frowned, thought he had to admit her estimation of the correct dose was probably more accurate than his – Cassie felt a brief cooling sensation that made her have to consciously resist applying more immediately.
She wouldn’t waste it.
They each ate a ready-meal in silence, the night darkening quickly. Cassie was struck by the thought that she really ought to make conversation – wasn’t that normal? Was that was a normal person would do in this situation? Then she wanted to laugh. Nothing about this situation was normal.
She was on a two-week trek, for God’s sake, with someone who seemed incapable of treating her civilly despite their joint goal of finding his brother.
They both knew what they were here for. What more was there to say?
Especially after the silence had gone on so long. After a while, James got out his map and compass and started to study it. As far as Cassie could tell, the map barely told them anything – just whether they were going vaguely in the right direction and whether they were going to be traipsing uphill or downhill. What she needed was a detailed map telling her when she might trip over a root, stumble into a hole or be whipped in the face by a hanging branch.
She wondered if James was having the same problems, or whether she ought to be worried by her dull reflexes. It had been three days now. Since she’d slept. One night back at camp worrying. One on the road. Three days and she’d had barely more than an hour’s sleep all together. And even that was the most minimal snooze. She couldn’t risk anything more. Not with that tent.
But each day was only getting harder. She could feel it in the heaviness of her legs; the aching in her head, back, everywhere; the longing just to lie down –anywhere – and fall into a blissful, dreamless sleep.
Another night. No more sleep.
This one was harder. It was such a sweet, sweet relief to lie down – warm – to stretch out her tight muscles in her sleeping bag, to rest her aching head back on a makeshift pillow of clothes.
She almost wanted to cry. A weird response to comfort.
Just rest, she told herself. A rest is good. A rest is surely almost as good as sleeping, anyway.
“Have another drink.”
“I don’t want one.”
“Just do it.”
“I don’t want one.”
Cassie couldn’t get rid of the unnerving sense that she was on the verge of tears. She wasn’t upset about anything. Not even angry. Just frustrated. With herself. With this crummy situation. With James. Trying his best to feed her up; thoroughly confused about the fact that no matter how much he forced food and drink on her, she didn’t seem to be getting any better at this.
“You’re tired. You’re swooning all over the place like a drunk. You look like you’re about to faint on me. Drink.” James no longer had that hard, couldn’t-really-care-less look about him. Not anymore. The confusion in his face bordered desperation. Cassie could see that it was eating away at him, not understanding this.
She could understand. She didn’t particularly like it either. Of course, eating and drinking more than her fair share should make her stronger. Should give her a little more endurance. Obviously.
But it didn’t make a difference. Or, if it did, it was minimal.
Although she, unlike James, understood it a bit more. You couldn’t replace a pure good night’s sleep with anything. No matter how they might try. Stuffing her with enough food that she felt sick most of the day. Pouring water down her throat every half hour so that she felt like her stomach might explode with the weight of it. It didn’t help.
She was putting off the inevitable. At some point she was going to have to sleep.
“Do you think the weather might ease up soon?” She asked, ignoring the bottle he held out.
With a scowl and barely suppressed growl, James stuffed the bottle back in his pack. He walked away a few paces with his arms crossed and looked up at the thick grey cloud above their heads.
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Maybe. It doesn’t look like it’ll rain all that much the rest of the day. Maybe a couple of showers. And we’re heading over that direction.” He pointed in a generally – thank God – flat direction. “It should probably get better tomorrow. Might even be warm enough to sleep outside.”
To sleep outside.
That was exactly what she’d been waiting for. As soon as they weren’t forced to share that stupid, useless, wannabe-magic tent... then she might be able to risk a full night’s sleep.
Sure, it would be horrible. She hadn’t forgotten that. But she might be able to get away with it. If she, or James, would sleep a little way away from the tent... just out of earshot...
Again, she felt the out-of-place urge to cry. This time out of relief.
Sleep. Tomorrow she could sleep.
It must have shown on her face. The relief.
When James turned around a flicker of amusement crossed his face. Again, she was involuntarily drawn to it. That look that was so like Al’s.
“Don’t look to ecstatic about the whole thing.” He said, with what could probably class as a smile. “There’s still one more night in that good-for-nothing tent before then.”
“But just one.” Cassie returned the smile. The action felt unusual. She wondered how long it had been since she’d smiled easily. Because it was easy. It used to be, anyway.
“For now.” James warned, but half-heartedly. He didn’t want to ruin this rare camaraderie either.
For now was just fine, Cassie thought. As long as every once in a while she could get that precious night’s sleep... she just might be fine.
James had been right. Just one more afternoon shower, and even that had been more of a drizzle. Cassie had discarded her rain jacket at the air grew warmer and more humid and hadn’t had to put it back on the whole afternoon. Even as they reached camp and set up the tent, even as darkness settled, it didn’t feel like it would start any time soon.
It almost made the deep rooted exhaustion feel bearable.
Cassie almost suggested she sleep outside tonight. Now that the possibility of actual sleep was on the horizon, she craved it.
One more night, she told herself. One more night. That should be easy.
No need to raise James’ suspicions, suggesting she sleep outside on the wet ground tonight. She could wait. One more night. One more endless night.
It almost felt like a routine already. They’d take it in turns. Cassie would go and wash. James would go and wash. Cassie would get changed in the tent. James would get changed in the tent. Cassie would clear up her stuff from outside. James would clear his stuff up from outside. Cassie would settle down in the tent. James would settle down in the tent.
All without acknowledging it. Obviously.
It was particularly humid that night. Probably the aftermath of two full days of rain. The sudden lack of the comforting patter of raindrops on the tent was extremely noticeable. Cassie was very aware of each breath that was taken in the tent. Wondering if she was breathing too loudly. Controlling her breaths in slow, steady streams.
The sound almost became hypnotic. She listened as James’ breaths relaxed into the slow, deep pattern of sleep. Matched her breaths to his. Strangely hypnotic. Especially in their warm bubble in the middle of the woods.
It became that she almost couldn’t remember exactly what lay the other side of the canvas walls. She couldn’t hear the whisper of the wind or the rustle of leaves.
She could just breathe.
For just one instant all she was aware of was being roughly shaken, woken in a fright.
Then it all came back.
She’d fallen asleep.
It had happened again.
She sat bolt upright, a gasp for air tearing at her throat and barely recognising the strangled sound come from her mouth. She was drenched in sweat, her hair stuck to her neck and her eyelashes wet with tears that she couldn’t remember crying.
“It’s ok! It’s ok. I’m here. It’s ok. It was just a dream.” It took several seconds for her vision to clear and for her to recognise James squatting on his heels in front of her. Another few seconds for her to feel his cool hands gently prying her fingers from where they were clenched around her blanket.
The images were fading too quickly for her to remember, as they always did. Leaving her with only the remnants of pure, agonising terror. Pain. Guilt.
Just a dream. She wasn’t so sure. She was more tempted to agree with Hermione’s idea that she really couldn’t suppress all those loud, glaring emotions twenty-four hours a day. They had to come out somehow.
As cool fingers pried her own one by one from their vice-like grip, she felt the shivers begin as the sweat cooled on her neck. She attempted a steady breath. Failed. It shook just like her hands.
This was bad. And just to top it off, he’d witnessed it.
As well as those traces of fear and anxiety, she was flooded with embarrassment and humiliation. All that talk about how she wasn’t really weak. She couldn’t have done a better job of proving herself wrong.
Cassie drew her knees to her chest and buried her face in her arms. This couldn’t have happened. How had she let it?
“Cassie.” James sounded a little less gentle now that she wasn’t making inhuman noises. Still scared. But not quite so soothing.
Cassie didn’t respond as she focused on her ribs expanding and contracting with each breath. It calmed her. And stopped her wondering what the hell she was supposed to do now.
“Hey.” James – forgivably – was getting impatient. “Look at me.”
Cassie wiped her eyes on her sleeve and lifted her head. A gentle, cool breeze fluttered through the tent. James had opened the tent flap, realising that the humidity wouldn’t be helping the calming process. Always the practical one.
The cool air flickered by the cold sweat on her back, making her shiver.
Meeting James’ eyes, Cassie couldn’t summon up the energy to try and interpret and of the expression in them. In the dark, with only the reflection of the moonlight through the open flap, she couldn’t even see the colour of his eyes. She could kid herself she was with Al.
“What was that?” He asked – just short of demanding. That wasn’t all that different to what Al would say. Al lost his patience too, sometimes.
It was Al. It could be Al. If it was Al, what would she do?
Cassie dropped her eyes. Colour or no colour, those eyes on anyone were too intense to meet for any substantial period of time.
“I’ve...” Her voice was a little hoarse. She cringed at the thought that she might have been screaming. “I’ve been getting these nightmares...”
James stopped short of uttering a sarcastic ‘ya think?!’ but his face said it all. But he kept quiet, making her feel like she had to continue.
“I... Hermione thinks it’s from the occlumency. From keeping everything locked down when I’m awake. She thinks it’s everything I don’t want to think about. Or have anyone else know about.” Her voice was monotonous – surprisingly calm and neutral. If a little hoarse.
James still didn’t say anything right away. It was like he was waiting for something else. She didn’t have anything else. This was her – everything laid out for him to see. No secrets. Not anymore. If she’d felt weak before, she felt entirely vulnerable now.
“Why?” James asked. “Why now?”
“It’s not...” Cassie hesitated.
Should she tell him? Would he be furious? As mad as he’d been the day she’d let them take Al? That was a side of him she was not keen to see again. But she’d made a deal with herself that day that she wouldn’t lie to the Potters again. She wasn’t doing a very good job of it so far.
“It’s not just now.” She said, not meeting his eyes. “It’s every time I sleep.”
She hoped he’d understand from that. She didn’t want to spell it out.
James looked sceptical. “I think I’d notice if you thrashed about like that every night...”
Apparently she would need to spell it out. She met his eyes, trying to convey with a look.
Slowly, comprehension dawned. “You’re not.” He said. “You’re not sleeping.” He didn’t sound angry. Yet.
Cassie slowly shook her head.
“When was the last time you...” He now sounded monotonous. It put Cassie on edge.
“The night before we left the others.” Cassie said. Despite the churning in her stomach, it felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. It felt good to tell someone. To share.
Even if that someone would be furious.
For one beat Cassie flinched, sure there would be hell to pay.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Cassie blinked. A little bit of anger, sure. But way more in the way of frustration and concern.
“Wha... I...” She didn’t quite know what to say. There wasn’t a polite way to say ‘why the hell would I?’.
“You haven’t slept in three days.” James said, emphasising each word like she was an idiot.
Cassie shrugged, helplessly. Even in the dark those eyes made her feel like she was under a very bright spotlight with all her flaws to see.
“You should have told me.” James continued, then corrected himself. “Or you should have told someone. We could done...”
“Done what?” Cassie butted in. “There’s nothing anyone can do...”
“You don’t know that.”
“I know that if anyone could it would be your Aunt. And she didn’t come up with any miracle cures.” Cassie pointed out, shortly.
That shut him up for a moment. “You can’t just not sleep.” He said, stubbornly.
“I don’t have a choice.” Cassie said, relieved to hear that her voice didn’t sound so hoarse and pathetic now. And her hands had even stopped shaking. Almost. “This is the only way. I’m the only one that can get back to Hogwarts and find out what’s going on with Al and your Mum. I won’t go back.” She added, suddenly afraid he would make her. “You can’t make me. I’ll go on my own.”
He seemed surprised at that. As if it hadn’t even crossed his mind. “I won’t. I won’t make you.” Of course. That was the one thing they agreed on. That getting to Al and Ginny was of the utmost importance.
“I know it’s not good. It’s not... helpful.” She said. “But it is what it is. I’m trying.”
“I know.” James still looked as though he was frantically trying to figure out the answer. Like this was some kind of problem he could solve. “But what if...”
“This is the only way.”
“People die without sleep, Cassie.” He pointed out.
“I wasn’t going to not sleep. I was just waiting until the weather cleared up and then I’d sleep... somewhere away. From you.” It sounded extra awkward, spoken aloud.
He looked a little relieved that she wasn’t on some kind of suicide mission. They sat still for a few moments – Cassie with her arms wrapped around her knees and James leant on one hand. She wasn’t gripping the blanket anymore. She didn’t even feel clammy.
But now what?
“You should sleep now.” James said, decisively.
Cassie was a little startled. She’d interrupted his sleep now, too. Tomorrow would be extra hard. She felt guilty.“But it’s still wet outside...”
James let out a short, surprised laugh. “Not outside. Here.”
“I can’t”. Cassie felt the anxiety creeping back. She couldn’t do that again. “It’ll just happen again.”
“You have to. You don’t... you look so much better already. Less pale. Less ill. And you were only asleep a couple of hours. If you can get a few more...”
“I can’t.” Cassie felt her heart fluttering in a panic. “Seriously.”
“You can.” James said, soothingly. “It’s ok. I’ll be right here. I’ll wake you up before it gets too bad.”
She must have looked doubtful.
That was how Cassie found herself curled up, feeling the most comfortable and relaxed she’d been in... she couldn’t even remember.
She trusted him, she realised. If nothing else she trusted James to stick to his word and wake her before it got too bad.
Knowing that was overwhelmingly comforting.
After two sets of breaths became slow and even, she welcomed sleep. And when the fear and anxiety started building it was over before it had really began.
And all she was aware of was a warm weight on her side.
A.N. Next chapter! I know it's been ages and I've been very inconsistent. But I just want to thank everyone that's stuck by it - particularly those that keep leaving me those lovely reviews letting me know how much they think about this story! It keeps me going, so thank you.
As always, let me know what you think.