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Chapter 14 : People Are Puppets Held Together With String
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“…it’s time you heard the truth about Hogwarts.”
For a moment Cassie thought the words were absurd. The truth about Hogwarts? They’d told her everything already. When she first got there, they’d sat her down in that tent and told her…
“What…” Cassie looked curiously up at Harry, “What don’t I know?” She asked slowly.
“We told you the truth,” Harry said, “What we said before - it was the truth. The whole ‘knowledge is dangerous’ thing. They’ve cut down on a lot of the syllabus, you don’t learn half as much as you would have if you’d graduated before the laws changed -”
“I know all that.” Cassie said, struggling to understand, “What don’t I know?”
“Well that’s… that’s not all there is to it.” Harry took in a large breathe and heavily exhaled again. “They’re going to greater lengths to prevent any trouble. Did you ever… feel at school that you were just completely different to everybody else there?”
Cassie’s skin prickled at the question. “Yes,” She whispered. That was exactly how she’d felt. She was never truly happy there, or even content. She’d attributed it all the Ryan’s absence but it sounded like there was more to it that that.
She glanced sideways at her brother. His forehead was furrowed and his expression apologetic. “I wanted to tell you, Cass, honest,” He said, ardently, “But I couldn’t… it wasn’t up to me and -”
Ryan had known.
Cassie felt irrationally betrayed. He’d known the truth, this secret, and he’d kept it from her. A level-headed part of her mind reminded her that from a logical perspective it was the right thing to do on Ryan’s part. He had to do what was best for the family, for the whole wizarding society even. This was bigger than just she and Ryan.
But if Cassie was in his place, she felt sure she would have told him.
He was her brother.
But, a small voice in the back of her mind reminded her, she hadn’t told him about the necklace. He wasn’t even the person she’d gone to in the end, when she’d made up her mind.
It was Al.
When did Al take that place, as the most important person in her world? It had been Ryan for so long - fifteen years long. From childhood they’d been so much closer than usual for a brother and sister - they’d always chosen one another over friends. And then when Ryan left, her world had been so empty…
And Al had been the one there to fill it back up again. With his light. His light and laugher and his stupid, stupid hope.
Cassie hadn’t realised until now that Al hadn’t given up his spot as the centre of her world when Ryan was back in the picture. And Ryan… Ryan hadn’t really seemed to notice this. He was perfectly happy being just a part of her world, rather than all of it.
She wasn’t as close to her brother as she’d assumed.
With another painful wrench somewhere in her stomach, Cassie needed Al. She needed him to be ok and she needed him to be here.
I’m sorry, she wanted to say to Ryan. For everything. For not telling him about the necklace. For allowing him to drift away from her. For expecting to return and fall back into place with her brother as if they hadn’t been apart. For three years.
Instead she just took his hand. She hoped he could understand. He was fifteen after all. Not the little twelve year old that, if she was honest, she still pictured him as.
“Did you ever notice how… easily people seemed to conform, to obey, to be satisfied?”
Yes, yes and yes.
Cassie swallowed hard to get rid of an uncomfortable lump in her throat. It wouldn’t budge. “What’s… wrong with them?” She asked, her voice starting to sound faintly horrified.
She’d always thought she was the odd one out. The misfit who just couldn’t settle into the routine. She’d thought there was something wrong with her, to have to resort to all her reckless stunts to actually feel something…
“Did you know that there is a theory that all behaviour is driven by three basic motives?“ Hermione asked, taking over the explanation.
Cassie shook her head, mutely.
“These motives are achievement, power and intimacy, and they are thought to have an influence over every act, every though and every feeling we might have. Ordinarily, these motives have a different level of influence in every person. Some are more driven by power, having control over others -”
Ron gave a cough which sounded suspiciously like ‘Cole’.
“- some by achievement, the drive to continuously improve, to be the best -”
Ron gave another cough, sounding suspiciously like ‘Hermione’.
She ignored this and continued, “- and others by intimacy, such as forming relationships. Now these can be good and bad, obviously. A fair amount of each would of course be healthy. To most people, the only cause for concern would be an excessive need for power… but Cole doesn’t see it this way.”
Cassie thought back to school.
The need for achievement. That was obvious. Though everyone strove to pass their assignments and exams, there was no competition to be the best or to achieve the top marks. They simply wanted to pass. To be adequate. When Cassie ever did further reading and added extra to her essays, she was never awarded much higher marks than her peers, and was discouraged from adding ‘unnecessary detail’. She recalled a conversation with Nina, asking why Cassie had written all the extra detail on non-verbal spells… Nina just didn’t see the need.
The need for power. Less obvious but still clear to see, in the amicable way that everyone went about their routines. No disputes. No-one throwing their weight. No fighting. No arguing. The closest Cassie had ever got to arguing with her friends was when they encouraged her to put her worries about Ryan behind her, and even then it had all been just to keep the peace, so that there were no ugly feelings messing up the place.
The need for intimacy. That was slightly stranger, although Cassie recognised with a sinking feeling that this was true too. How distant she’d been from her friends, for the whole three years since Ryan had been gone. She’d barely been there at all, so often deep in her own thoughts, and yet they remained the ‘best of friends’. So little intimacy in their group and yet they retained the title. They dealt with all the everyday things, the surface issues, of course, in the way that any group of friends would. But though they’d made a real attempt to understand Cassie’s outward, ‘bizarre’ behaviour, they’d always reached a point where they wouldn’t pry any further.
“So he’s… what? He’s dulled down the motives or something?” Cassie tried to piece it together.
“We believe there must be some sort of a spell. Obviously these drives aren’t completely removed or else the changes in behaviour would be drastic, students would be physically unable to go about their lives… but yes, in a word. We believe that Cole has found some sort of way to reduce these drives to what he sees as a ‘reasonable level’.”
“So they won’t question anything,” Cassie said, partly engrossed still in her own thoughts. “But wait, I… what about me? Al?” She asked, “And how did you know? How did you get out… wait. Ryan.”
“Hold up, kid.” Ron help up a hand, “One enormous issue at a time.”
Cassie nodded, mutely, again. This was difficult to get her head around. She could barely focus on each individual thing she learnt without more and more questions forming. Maybe it was easier, if you didn’t have this drive for achievement thing. If you didn’t care about learning, you didn’t ask questions.
Cassie always asked questions.
“Basically, we got wind of what was happening.” Ron explained, “We were working in the Ministry,” He gestured between himself, Harry and Hermione, and several other members of the family, “They weren’t broadcasting it, of course. Top secret stuff. But… well. We’ve never been all that good at the whole keeping your nose out of other people’s business stuff. We had Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes - you probably won’t have heard of it, your deprived generation… extendable ears. Brilliant -”
Cassie wasn’t sure what sort of sense this was supposed to be making.
“- We had a shit load of practice at sneaking around where we weren’t supposed to, and most importantly we had the cloak… Bloody hell!” He looked quickly at Harry, “Tell me you have the -”
“Got it,” Hermione cut in, swinging up a small, beaded handbag with a smile. “Everything important was packed, of course.”
“Amazing,” Ron looked a mixture of relieved, bemused and resigned, “She’s amazing.” He told Cassie, who was still slightly unsure of where the conversation was going.
“Always the tone of surprise.” Hermione stifled a smile.
“Erm.” Cassie spoke up, impatient to understand, “So you found out… when did you find out?”
“They were still…” Harry seemed to search for a word, “Experimenting. I guess you’d call it. You probably wouldn’t have noticed anything, they were good. Very sly and underhand about the whole thing. It would have been in the summer of your second year. You probably won’t remember anything but that’s when it started. And you…” He paused again.
Cassie knew immediately. “Me,” She said, “I was one of the… they did something to me.” Her stomach churned.
Though she couldn’t remember anything suspicious at all from that year, she instinctively knew it was true. After all, just recently Cole had performed legilimency on her without her realising. If the students weren’t expecting to be… well, put under a spell, as it was… then they wouldn’t notice. Not if the caster was that good.
“Not exactly,” Hermione smiled. Cassie didn’t think there was really anything to smile about, but she continued, “They tried.”
“Tried?” Cassie echoed.
That sounded kind of like…
“You’ve got something, Cassie Cooper,” Hermione was still smiling in the odd way. Something like wonder, and curiosity, “It didn’t work on you.”
Of course. It suddenly fell into place and Cassie felt as though she’d known it all along. There’d just been too many questions flooding through her mind that she’d forgotten that vital piece of information. She was different to everyone else. She was the one who needed to know how everything fit together, to understand everything that was happening, to ask the questions that no-one else would.
“So when you first met me at camp…” Cassie jumped ahead.
“We knew who you were.” Harry confessed. “Well not… we knew you from the notes they had on you, I should say. You and Ryan.”
Ryan shared a look with Cassie that made her smile, if only for a second. Trouble. That’s what she and Ryan had always been. Trouble for their parents, trouble for their teachers… Cassie lost count of the number of time the two of them had driven their parents crazy with a ‘why’, ‘why’, ‘why’ argument.
“Yeah, I got it too,” Ryan shrugged, mockingly modest.
“When you were sort of an anomaly, and it turned out your younger brother was attending the next year, it gave them more of an opportunity to experiment. They could see if this was just a Cassie Cooper thing or if it could be genetic, something you’re born with or whatever else. And, as you can guess, it’s a Cassie and Ryan thing.”
Trouble. Always attracting trouble.
“Meanwhile, of course, we’d gotten the hell out of there and taken the kids with us. We didn’t have much of an understanding of what they were doing, just that it was invasive and experimental and could be permanent, for all anyone knew. We weren’t having anyone mess with our kids heads. But Al… well you know this bit. We weren’t smooth enough, and Al got left behind. We were still keeping an eye on things, still hearing bits and pieces and while we were planning an attempt to get Al, we found out that the experimenting was going further. Namely, on Ryan. It could have been either one of you, but Ryan was the one getting himself into trouble. He was the one that ended up in detention on a regular basis while you -”
“Didn’t get caught.” Cassie finished. True, before Ryan had disappeared she hadn’t gone to the same reckless lengths as she did in that awful, empty period, but she’d never had a completely clean record. She was just better at covering for herself. Ryan was a careless eleven year old. She had slightly more sense.
She felt sick again, in the pit of her stomach, at the thought of an eleven-year-old Ryan serving long detentions for his trivial wrongdoings, unaware that they were trying to enchant him, trying to mess with his mind…
“Right. It worried us, the stuff they were trying on Ryan. Nothing was working the way they hoped and so we feared it could all get out of hand. They lost sight of what they were doing, I think. That’s the only explanation I can think of. They stopped seeing that these were kids that they were experimenting on, real people, and it was only a matter of time before they went too far. But in breaking Ryan out, again, we weren’t smooth enough. They knew what was happening before we could get to Al. And this… this might sound awful to you, but to be honest, Ryan had to be our priority. Ryan was the one they were experimenting on; Al was fine -“
Cassie saw a problem with this. ”Al doesn’t… I mean Al hasn’t got… the spell thing. It doesn’t work on him, surely?”
Al was the one that made her probing nature a hundred times worse. Al was the one that raised more questions than Cassie had even known exist. Surely this thing couldn’t have worked on him - he still had his drive. He still had than need to know, to fix… to be friends.
“That’s another bit of a grey area.” Hermione answered, “Again, nothing we know is certain of course, a lot of this is purely speculation -”
It may be speculation, but Cassie knew that speculation from Hermione Weasley wasn’t something you doubted.
“- but the spell did work on Al. To begin with at least, he was just the same as everybody else. But that’s the thing. Cole may be diminishing the students motivation, but you also have to remember that there exists a difference at an individual level beforehand. Everyone is influenced by these motives to different extents. So although it appears that, at Hogwarts, everybody’s motivation is being reduced by a regulation amount, Albus still wasn’t quite so content as the others. Now, we think he partly has himself to thank for this, but also… well. As well as having an internally high drive, Al had external factors that drove him to ask questions. He was separated from his family. Of course he would be driven to ask why.”
Cassie chewed her lip as she came to terms with it all.
Al had more reason to try and find some answers. Just like, even if she didn’t have this freakish immunity, just like she would have had. The drive to find out what happened to her brother, that would have been enough to keep her mind focused.
“So.” Cassie tried to put it into her own words to make some sort of sense of it. “So they’re bewitching the students. Making them submissive and compliant. Because they’re scared that smart people could go dark. It doesn’t work on me or Ryan. It dull’s Al down a little but then he can shake it off.”
“Nice summary.” Ron nodded with raised eyebrows, “Smart.”
“And they know about me and Ryan. So… why didn’t they try anything on me after Ryan left?”
“That stumped us too.” Ron said, “And the only thing we can think of is that you weren’t causing any hassle. You were probably more trouble when your brother was there. After he was gone…”
Cassie stopped listening and remembered the state she’d been in when she’d returned to Hogwarts the following year. It hadn’t been long after the Auror’s had given up the search. She’d been… empty. A shell. Not even a shell, a broken shell. She couldn’t have caused trouble if she’d tried. It had been months, a year… maybe two, before she’d even realised that she could feel at all again. Then she’d had to resort to her risk-taking; the climbing, running and sneaking around.
But she’d never been caught.
Of course she was no trouble.
Until she met Albus Potter.
“So Al. Do they know about Al?” She asked.
“In a manner of speaking,” Harry said, sounding rather resigned, “Albus is a Potter. That’s enough for them, unfortunately. He could be as compliant as the next person and they still wouldn’t trust him.”
‘Albus Potter is trouble’. Of course. No one had wanted to associate with trouble…
“Does Al know?” She asked, suddenly. The whole family had been keeping this from her; would he best friend have done the same? He wouldn’t, she thought. Surely not…
“No. No, he didn’t… know. It’s dangerous knowledge, we didn’t even tell the other kids until absolutely necessary… we didn’t deliberately keep it from him, we just -”
“What are we going to do?” Cassie asked, suddenly feeling the same urgency that she’d seen in Harry earlier. “We’ve got to do something. For Al and Ginny and… for everyone. They can’t get away with doing this to people, it’s not right. Can‘t we tell someone or -”
“Be nice if we could,” Ron smiled, though it wasn’t very humorous. “What are we going to do, walk into the Ministry with our hands above our heads and hope they’ll listen to us long enough before throwing us in Azkaban?”
“They’d… they’d do that?” Cassie couldn’t quite believe it. Of course, she knew the reputation the Potters had. And Al had said himself, so long ago.
“Wouldn’t think twice about it.” Ron said, “We did try that. Unfortunately they weren’t our biggest fans anyway. And then they found out we knew about that and… well, you can see our problem.”
“But…” Cassie shook her head. There had to be something. Anything. “Not the Ministry, then. But the papers or something. You could go in, get them to do that legilimency thing on you, they could see it was the truth -”
“Who owns the papers?”
“Oh.” Of course. The Ministry ran the papers. “All of them?”
“Nowadays, yeah. The law’s not in our favour for anything. Coincidence, isn’t it.” Ron said, dryly.
“But surely not everyone in the Ministry knows about it,” Cassie was reasoning aloud the same time as she was in her head, it was the only way to concentrate, “Someone will listen… a parent. A parent will listen. If it’s about their kid, they’ll -”
“Thought of that too,” Ron said, grimly. “The thing is, memory’s aren’t too hard to fake. If you’re good - really good - then it’s damn near impossible to distinguish between a real and an implanted memory. And they know we have Hermione. There’s no reason for them to believe we’re telling the truth.”
As all of her ideas were cut off by an impossibility, Cassie felt as though she was being boxed in. Trapped inside this whole mess, this whole conspiracy. This was what the Potters and the Weasley’s had been dealing with for the past three years.
“What if you…” Cassie refused to give up, she was clutching at straws now, “You could get hold of someone who’s under the spell. You could figure out a way of breaking it, like an antidote or a cure or something -”
“Kidnapping?” Hermione asked, lightly, “Experimenting? Would we really be any different from them, if we did these things?”
“Besides, kidnap’s a whole lot harder than it sounds,” Ron interjected, sounding a whole lot less morally opposed to the crime itself than his wife, “Three years, remember. That’s how long it took us to get Al out.”
Cassie felt that punch in her gut again as the knowledge she’d temporarily pushed aside - the fact that her best friend was in danger, again - flared up.
“What are we going to do about Al?” She asked, suddenly frightened for her friend. Three years… they couldn’t wait another three years.
When she and Ryan had been difficult, merely by being immune to the spell, they’d experimented. Tried to up the dosage. What about Al? Susceptible to the spell but still difficult. What would they do to him?
There was a tense silence. During the explanation, it appeared that everyone had momentarily put aside any need for any plans. Now was the time to think.
“Wait,” Another thought struck Cassie in panic, “If they’ve already… if we’re too late to stop them doing it to him again… Can he resist this legilimency thing? What if they take his memories, what if they see that he was meant to come here?”
“She’s quick, for a kid.” Ron commented, “You wouldn’t make a bad Auror, you know. But you don’t have to worry about that. Hermione’s got enough protection around this place to slay a dragon. They’re getting nowhere near us for the time being, and by the time they can reach here, we’ll be long gone.”
“Speaking of which,” Harry squinted at his watch through the dim light of the cave. “We’ll need to get moving.”
“Moving?” Cassie asked.
Harry gave one brief, very strained and very tense, smile. “We’re alive, Cassie. We’re alive and we’re free, for the time being. And while this is the case, we still need normal things. Like food. Sleep. A place to rest that isn’t a damp, uncomfortable cave in the side of a hill.”
Cassie realised for the first time that she was exhausted. And starving. Dinner was supposed to be hours ago.
It seemed an age ago.
“There’s nothing we can do at the moment,” She said, the exhaustion, hunger and defeat all hitting her at once and making her feel weak, “Is there?”
He’d been so panicked earlier; so certain that they had to act quickly to rescue his wife and son. But of course he was. He didn’t want anybody messing with his family’s minds.
Even Harry Potter panicked, sometimes, it seemed. They didn’t teach that in History of Magic.
But now he was thinking clearly. He could see that they didn’t have a decent enough idea - or any at all, for that matter - what action to take. It would be a fool’s errand to go now, with no rest and no plan.
“Not tonight.” He said, gently, “Tonight we rest. Tomorrow… we think of something.”
“We have to,” Cassie nodded, firmly. She’d think of something if it killed her.
As Harry turned to converse with his family, she leant back against Ryan, needing to feel him there. Her hand felt warm in his and for a moment her eyes went blurry with fatigue. She could probably have fallen asleep right there and then if it weren’t for the regular stomach clenches every time she thought of Al, of Ginny, of everyone at Hogwarts, not a clue what was being done to them.
No drive for achievement - they didn’t have that need to develop their abilities enough to be a major threat.
No drive for power - they didn’t have that need to have an influence over others anyway.
No drive for intimacy - they didn’t have that need to seek assurance from others, they didn’t have the support…
How different were they to her? Sure, Cassie had never fit in. She knew exact how she felt at school. But how did they feel? What was it like to have your curiosity, your determination and your drive taken away from you?
A chill shuddered up the length of her spine. Every young witch and wizard in the country, all bewitched. All bound, all inhibited.
And just a handful of people who even vaguely understood what was happening, but with no power to stop it.
Cassie slept fitfully.
Of course it was no less than she expected; but that didn’t make her resent the dragging periods of an almost painful exhaustion and the sheer inability to shut down.
She found herself staring for what seemed like hours on end up at the dull brown canvas above her head, her eyes aching with tiredness but she just couldn’t keep them closed. She tried to kid herself that this was just like any other night at camp; the same canvas roof, the same sounds of other peoples breathing, the same swishing of the trees in the wind outside.
It was strange. Not once had she ever felt in any danger of discovery in her time at camp, and yet this reminder that the other side have magic… she couldn’t shake off the exposed, vulnerable feeling long enough to let herself fall asleep.
She wondered if anybody else was even asleep or whether they were all forcing themselves to pretend, as she was, to fool themselves into slumber.
She wondered if it was working any better for anyone else.
Any time she felt remotely close to succumbing, something would trigger in her head like some sort of alarm. Her veins would flood with a useless adrenaline as if her slowly clouding mind believed it had come up with a plan to rescue Al and Ginny, only to wake with a jolt and be replaced by useless defeat.
The hours passed excruciatingly slowly. Each time Cassie opened her eyes the canvas above her head was still dark. Morning was still way off.
She both hated and appreciated this.
She wanted the hours to disappear in the hope that somebody would wake up with some sort of a plan. They were all older than her, most of them. They’d been in these sort of situations before. They’d find something; they’d know what to do. Wouldn’t they?
And yet she needed the hours to drag; she needed these hours to search every thread of her mind for anything she could do to help. This wasn’t something that Harry Potter and the Golden Trio could think their way out of. Could she?
Every minute that passed was another minute that something could be happening to Al.
Cassie had realised when Harry had sat with his daughter until she fell asleep; until the tears dried on her face. She’d realised then, that no matter how much danger Albus was in, his mother was in a worse situation.
“Will they put her in Azkaban?” Cassie had whispered across the tent, not wanting to wake Lily and cause her any more distress.
She’d seen him flinch at the word, and he’d waited too long before answering.
“They could.” He’d said, his voice low and devoid of any tone.
Cassie knew that nothing she could say would be of any comfort to him. He’d sensed this. They were the last words spoken before everyone had each taken a roll mat on the floor of the magically expanded tent. Every single person was in the same tent tonight, in an unspoken agreement. They needed the company tonight.
After what seemed like a lifetime of lying and feeling useless, Cassie sat up. She felt hot, uncomfortable, hopeless, flustered and thirsty. She couldn’t lie still anymore.
Picking her way as silently as possible over the bodies littering the floor, she made her way to the zipped up entrance to the tent. She needed something. Air. Water. A drink, she decided, picking up a bottle to fill. She’d go to the stream.
For some odd reason, it didn’t scare her. She knew that, rationally, walking the fifty yards or so to the stream wasn’t really putting her in much more danger. But at the same time she knew that, by human nature, it ought to be frightening to leave the tent in the middle of the night.
But it wasn’t. She was clinging onto the hope that the fresh air and icy water would clear her head.
She slowly unzipped the tent, so that she didn’t wake anybody, and zipped it all the way back up before straightening up.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
The voice made her jump out of her skin. She opened her mouth to scream but her heart had leapt up into her wind-pipe, so all that came out was a stifled gasp.
She’d already swung her bottle - empty and flimsy plastic though it was - up in defence before a warm hand gripped hers and brought her weapon and her arm back down to her side.
“Shh.” James gestured warningly, frowning. He was apparently more worried about her making a great deal of noise and waking people up than he was about her harming him wielding her bottle. Quite rightly so, she realised, with a flush of embarrassment.
At least it was dark.
“Sorry.” She whispered. He was still holding her wrist down at her side, as if she were about to attack. She realised that this was the first time she’d come face to face with him since they’d been alone together in the cave, and so stepped back in a mix of apprehension and uncertainty, bringing her arm out of his grasp.
“What are you doing?” The moon cast the slightest glow on his face, enough so that she could see the doubt and suspicion etched so clearly on his face.
Of course he still didn’t trust her. He’d made that perfectly clear.
Although she couldn’t really blame him, Cassie was tired, thirsty and irritated at her own uselessness. She had to carefully control her voice to stop herself snapping at him. “I’m thirsty.”
His eyes bored into hers as he considered this. “And you were going to go off to the stream on your own?”
She recognised in an instant how completely dubious the situation looked. Just hours after betraying the family in the first place, here she was sneaking around on her own in the dead of night.
“I really am thirsty,” She said, overcome with weariness and feeling all together too weak to argue. She gestured with her bottle. Why the hell else would she be out here armed only with an empty plastic bottle? “Look I… whatever. Sorry. You don’t trust me, I get it. I’ll just… I’ll wait till morning then, I guess -”
His eyes flickered from her tired face - she could only imagine what a state she was in - to the bottle and back. Cassie was ready to go back to the tent; back to her futile ceiling staring. But the way he was looking at her was as if he hadn’t just accepted her resignation. As if the conversation wasn’t over.
Eventually he squinted down at his watch, sighed and sat down against a broad tree trunk. Cassie saw a mat spread out on the dewy floor, and realised that he must have been seated down there before.
“If you want to wait about quarter of an hour, Charlie’ll be out to take over for me. I’ll take you to the stream.” He said, stretching both arms out in front of him, lacing his fingers and popping his joints.
Cassie was momentarily stumped. Charlie? Take over?
They were on watch, she understood after a few seconds. Taking it in turns to stay awake in case of… well. Anything. Again, she felt that diminishing sense of vulnerability. Although Hermione had doled out their wands - she’d been wrong in assuming that hers was still stashed under her bed; it was of course in the beaded handbag along with everything else in case of emergencies - Cassie couldn’t fight the sinking feeling that if anyone were to find the out here, the unpractised group would be no match for them.
“Oh.” She said, thrown. “You don’t have to, I mean -”
“If you want a drink then wait. You’re not going on your own. If not go back to bed.”
Cassie wondered if she could kid herself that he was just concerned for her safety. Nope. She was ninety nine percent certain that he just didn’t trust her.
But he’d sat back down, his wand discarded a couple of feet away from him on the ground. Not exactly a defensive stance.
She hesitated. While she wasn’t keen on the edgy feeling she always seemed to be overcome by when in James’ presence, she was feeling far too wide awake still to go back into the warm, stuffy tent. It was more uncomfortable to fight wakefulness than it was to fight sleep.
“Thank you.” She said, quietly.
James only acknowledged this with a brief nod of his head.
Cassie was then left with the awkward question of what to do for fifteen minutes.
She could go back to bed. But even the thought of going back inside the humid tent to lie there wide awake made her stomach swirl.
Or she could wait out here. In James’ intimidating, mystifying presence. She glanced briefly around for where she was supposed to sit, if indeed she did choose to wait out here. On the damp floor, of course. She wasn’t about to sit on the mat, in that close proximity to him…
And why should she want to?
She was about to sink to the floor where she was but James caught her eye, causing her to freeze. His expression was incomprehensible as he motioned at her to come towards him with a small motion of one hand.
“Wh-what?” Cassie’s apprehension flared up. Why would he want her to sit near him? He made it clear he couldn’t stand her. Didn’t he? What -
“You’re in my way.” He jerked his head, beckoning her toward him again.
Cassie still didn’t understand.
“On watch.” He said, clearly, obviously thinking she was an absolute idiot. “I actually need to keep an eye on the surroundings, you know? Can’t do that if you’re sitting there distracting me.”
“Oh.” Cassie hastened to move aside. Of course he meant that. Idiot. “Do you want me to go back inside? I didn’t -”
“Just sit down.”
Cassie did so, mutely taking a seat on the very edge of the mat where he’d gestured. She didn’t look back up at him, rather choosing to study her slightly mucky hands in her lap instead. He seemed content with this, not breaking the silence. She wasn’t looking but she’d assume his keen eyes would be scanning the tree-line before them.
She hadn’t even know that anything had been arranged about keeping watch. There hadn’t been any sort of arrangement like that before.
That was before. Before Cassie Cooper came along and ruined everything.
She had to put things right. There had to be something she could do; could think of. No situation was completely impossible. She could feel that there was a solution to this. What was so frustrating was that it seemed to be just out of reach.
“Did I do that?”
For the second time in ten minutes, James’ voice made her start. She hadn’t expected him to be paying any attention to her but when he spoke and her eyes flew to his face, he wasn’t paying any attention to the woods around them at all. His eyes were on her bare arms.
Cassie followed his line of vision and looked down at her arms, despite their recent tan glowing pale in the moonlight. But where the length of white should be unbroken, it wasn’t. He eyes fell on the ugly discoloration on her upper arms; clusters of dark bruising that she hadn’t even noticed. Almost like…
“Oh.” Cassie traced the marks as she remembered. Finger marks on the outside of her arms, and a larger thumb mark on the soft inner part. James’ vice-like grip in his anger, his panic. Shaking her. He wouldn’t let go. Or he couldn’t.
She didn’t know what to say. It was obvious what the bruises were; she couldn’t lie. But she wasn’t going to sit there and say ‘oh yes, this was from your manhandling of me’.
Another surprise. Cassie didn’t know what she’d been expecting but it wasn’t this. That sounded like a sincere apology. She hazarded a glance up at him and the expression on his face… He shouldn’t care whether he’d hurt her. He shouldn’t look guilty; like he didn’t like seeing the bruises there.
The surprises kept coming. Cassie’s heart hammered in alarm at another abrupt noise before she realised that he was laughing. Shortly and not very cheerfully, but it was still a laugh.
“You don’t have to look so surprised,” He said, after. There was still the ghost of a very Albus-like smirk on his face but it faded as more guilt emerged. “I’m not a monster. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Cassie was still lightly tracing the bruising. His eyes followed her fingers.
He hated her. He shouldn’t care.
“I didn’t.” He said, again.
“I didn’t either,” Cassie said, softly, dropping her hands back into her lap. She hadn’t meant to hurt him, or anyone, by what she’d done. She never wanted to destroy everything they‘d built.
There was a long pause.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw him look back up to the tree-line. His voice didn’t invite any more conversation.
Neither of them said a word until Charlie emerged from the tent, viciously rubbing at his freckled face as if the motion would get rid of the drowsiness so apparent in his grey-blue eyes.
“Why I signed up for the five a.m. shift I’ll never bloody know -” He started to say through a yawn, but his eyes widened in surprise at Cassie sitting out there. His gaze flickered between her and James, but he surely must sense the silence between them, and he could see for himself the way they were deliberately sitting at opposite ends of the roll mat…
“Couldn’t sleep?” He blinked and the surprise was gone, and his expression understanding.
“Thirsty.” Cassie waved her bottle at him.
“I said I’d take her to the stream when you got out here.” James said, standing and stretching. His voice showed no evidence that the two of them had even spoken at all in their time out here, let alone the unexpected conversation they’d actually had.
“Couldn’t fill me up too, could you, buddy?” Charlie threw another bottle up at James before taking his nephew’s seat at the base of the tree.
James caught the bottle in one hand and turned towards the stream, through the trees. Cassie hurried up to follow him.
They made their way through the undergrowth in silence. James’ steps were a lot quicker and more practiced than Cassie’s, she noticed. He seemed to be able to sense where was stable enough to step and where wasn’t, without testing it first like she had to. She took to stepping where he already had, following in his footsteps.
She kept her eyes on the low-hanging branches as well, that James was having to stoop to avoid, or hold out of the way with his hands. She had the advantage height-wide here, there was less to get in her way. She did notice, however, that where any branches would have whipped back into her face after he’d pushed them aside, he’d hold them while she passed.
I didn’t mean to hurt you.
Of course he didn’t, Cassie thought. Just because he hated her; just because she wrecked his whole life out here; just because she put in danger two of the most important people in his life…
Well, like he said. He wasn’t a monster. He didn’t like her, or respect her, probably. But that didn’t mean he’d go out of his way to hurt her. He’d been angry. Panicked. Scared for his brother.
He hadn’t meant to hurt her.
Looking up to the dark outline of his figure in front of her, he could easily be mistaken for his brother. Maybe they were more similar in character than she’d assumed, as well.
Upon reaching the stream, he stopped to dip Charlie’s bottle into the running water. Cassie stood behind him, waiting to fill her own bottle.
The moonlight made his hair a warmer, more auburn colour than Al’s she noticed. His t-shirt pulled across his back and she could see his shoulder blades through the thin fabric.
“Why didn’t you want them to tell me the truth?” She found herself asking.
He stopped for a couple of seconds. Hadn’t been expecting her to ask that. Or anything, probably. Cassie was surprised herself; she hadn’t been planning on speaking at all.
James straightened, and looked straight at her as he screwed the cap back on the bottle. “Why do you think?” He asked. It wasn’t spiteful, just a genuine question.
Cassie shook her head. She was fairly sure that it wasn’t just because he didn’t trust her. “That doesn’t make any sense. What was I going to do with the information, if I couldn’t be trusted? I couldn’t tell Cole anything he doesn’t already know. So why didn’t you want me to know?”
For what seemed like a long few seconds he just looked troubled, as if he were searching for a reason himself.
“I… I don’t know.” He admitted. It was like the information surprised him. As if he’d assumed that it was for the more easily accepted reason - that he didn’t trust her - as well. Until now. And this realisation bothered him. “I guess… maybe… Like my Dad said, it’s dangerous knowledge. I guess I thought maybe if you didn’t know then if Cole ever tried to find out…” He trailed off, but the train of thought made Cassie freeze on the spot.
“Then I wouldn’t be as much of a threat to him.” She finished for him, in a rush. “If I ended up back at Hogwarts then…”
Throughout all of the tossing and turning; the hours of trying to shut off her mind and sleep, there had been something pushing at the boundaries of Cassie’s consciousness, trying to get her to put the pieces together and understand.
After all this it was James - ‘I’m-not-the-one-with-the-plan’ James - who planted the idea and let it grow.
“I know.” She said, her voice fairly quiet as she ran the possibilities through her mind. She was fairly certain. This… this could work. Then she laughed, and her voice grew in volume and incredulity, “I know!”
James wasn’t there yet. His face still bore that troubled expression, more perplexed now at her odd behaviour.
“I know.” She repeated. “I know what I’ve got to do.”
A.N. A quicker update! Yes? By my standards, anyway. Very well done by me, if I may say so myself...
Anyway, here it is - the truth! I hope it came across ok, was kind of difficult to explain and if I come up with a better way of doing it I may edit it (a little) but I wanted to get this up because I'm pathetically excited.
Please let me know what you think! I know some of you guessed something along these lines a long time ago so you will be very pleased with yourselves!
The truth. The 'drives'.
Alright, I admit. That's stil not all there is to it. But since when do I tell you everything at once?
And I couldn't resist putting another James bit in there :)
And Cassie's plan... any ideas?
Thanks for reading! Please leave a review!
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