Chapter 3 : Light in the Dark
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“Just some stuff,” Cassian replied vaguely.
“Me, in other words.”
“We may have mentioned you.”
“Asking his help in something, were you?”
“Don’t ask questions I can’t answer,” he replied easily, using words she had told him many times.
“Can’t answer, or won’t answer?”
“With you it means the same thing.”
Athena shrugged dismissively, turning her attention to the potions book lying open on the table. “So when are we getting started?”
“After dinner,” Cassian replied. “I want to be able to go straight through from start to finish, I can’t afford to leave it for half an hour. Ever pulled an all-nighter before?”
“Not even once?”
She paused to consider the question. “No. Late nights, but never all night.”
“Then tonight should be fun,” he said with a grin. “I feel like a kid, this is exciting. You know what we need? Butterbeer.”
“Do you have any?”
“Somewhere. I’ll track it down after dinner. We’ll need food as well, breakfast is a long way off.”
“There are three stages to an all-nighter,” Cassian informed her as they gathered potion ingredients after dinner. “Stage one, concentration. In the best cases it lasts for a few hours, maybe until shortly before midnight. Stage two, silliness. That’s the fun bit when you’re overtired. Stage three, crashing. Usually kicks in about four in the morning.”
“You speak from experience?”
“Definitely. I wasn’t Dux for nothing, you know.”
“Oh, I definitely know that.” The image of Cassian stalking the corridors late at night before exams reciting notes and muttering profanities under his breath was not one that would go away quickly.
“Looking forward to the silliness stage,” she commented, grinning. “I can’t say I’ve ever seen you in that state before.”
“Likewise. Haven’t seen you, that is.”
“Silliness is not in my nature.”
“We shall see, my love, we shall see.”
The night progressed much like Cassian had predicted; they started out intent on the task, and barely a word was spoken between them until midnight as they measured, chopped, crushed and simmered an array of ingredients. After that, there was little for Athena to do. She strolled around the room, helping herself to the food and wondering if it was too early to start clearing things away. Then she sat down behind Cassian, plaited his hair, proclaimed that he looked like a girl and insisted on calling him Cassie.
“May I remind you,” Cassian pointed out mildly, “That you’re the one who finds me attractive, and now you’re saying I look like a girl.”
“Not really. You don't look like a girl, you just have very feminine hair.”
“You’re the one who plaited it.”
“So I did,” she observed. “Doesn’t suit you, I think I’ll take it out.”
“Oh, shut it. I’m still completely aware of what I’m doing. It’s two in the morning, and I don’t even feel tired.”
There was a brief moment of silence.
“I could be living under a bridge in six months time,” Cassian said glumly. “If I fail my NEWTs. I could be living with trolls, and compared to me, they’ll seem highly qualified. I could be living with trolls in a few hours, in fact. Trolls, big fat Ts on a piece of parchment.”
“You’re a downer when you’re tired.”
“But trolls!” He stirred the potion broodingly.
“What would you rather,” Athena said thoughtfully, handing him a small vial of pomegranate juice, “Fail all your NEWTs, or have me break up with you?”
“The second, I’d win you back.”
“But what if you couldn’t?”
“We both know you couldn’t live without me.”
“It’s a hypothetical situation, answer the question.”
“Then I’d fail my NEWTs.”
Cassian rolled his eyes. “No, Athena. I’d give my life for you, but not my grades. Merlin’s beard.”
“Wait. You’d give your life for me?”
“Haven’t we been over that?” he asked, looking puzzled.
She shook her head.
“Oh. Well, I would,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“And I’d do the same for you,” Athena returned, concentrating intently on the potion in front of her.
“I love you.”
“I would certainly hope so,” she said, still not moving her gaze from the potion.
“Do you think they’ll take over?” he asked quietly, and she turned sharply to him, surprised by the change in subject.
“Yes.” There was a finality in that word, a finality she hadn’t yet acknowledged aloud, and suddenly everything was made real again; the mission the next night, the war, the Dark Lord, the reason for the potion bubbling away in front of her…
“How much do you love me?”
“How far is it from the east to the west?” she responded, glancing sideways at him and hoping he wasn’t going to suggest what she thought he was.
“We don’t know if we’ll make it through this war alive. Hell, you could die tomorrow.”
“Thanks for that reminder,” she replied. He was going to suggest it. She couldn’t pretend she wasn’t disappointed with him.
“This could be the last time we’re together.”
“I’m not sleeping with you,” she said sharply.
He looked legitimately taken aback. “I wasn’t going to suggest it. I know you better than that, and you know me better than that.”
“What did you mean, then?” she asked, embarrassed.
“I just wanted to ask…I mean, not properly or anything, but just to ascertain your thoughts on…just throwing the idea out there…the prospect of maybe sometime…obviously in the future…uh…marrying me.”
“Who else would I marry?” she asked, perfectly aware her matter-of-fact response was nothing like what he was expecting.
“Oh. Right. Ah, excellent point. I just didn’t know your thoughts on marriage in general…”
“To be perfectly honest, neither do I.”
“You know I’m old-fashioned. My morals and values are out of another century…”
“Part of the reason we belong together.”
“Yes, but, at the same time…it just…the thought of being someone else, not being me, am I making any sense? My identity always being tied to yours. It’s a struggle for me to even be in a relationship…Don’t look at me like that, you know it’s true.”
Cassian sighed. He didn’t know whether her fiece independent streak was something he loved or hated in Athena, but considering all the problems it had already caused in their relationship, he was leaning more towards the latter. She hated being tied down. Not because of commitment issues, she was as committed to him as he was to her—or at least, that was the impression he got—but because she was so dead scared of anyone else having control or influence over her. He had done everything in his power to make her trust him, and to her credit, she had tried as well—but he knew there was always a part of her that would trust no one but herself.
Athena shuffled closer, wrapping her arms around him and leaning her head against his shoulder.
“I’m not going to stop trying though,” she said softly.
“Cassian?” Rhiannon called, appearing in the doorway of the potion room. “There’s an owl from the Ministry.”
“NEWTs!” he cried in a voice halfway between horror and elation, leaping to his feet and bolting down the hallway.
Rhiannon turned to Athena with a shrug. “I hope for all our sakes that’s what it is,” she commented mildly. “How are you this morning, Athena?”
“Tired. I’m not used to all-nighters.”
“I can’t say I am either.”
“YES!” Cassian’s voice came from the kitchen. “Yes yes yes!”
“He passed,” Rhiannon affirmed.
“Four Outstandings!” Cassian greeted them when they walked into the kitchen, waving a piece of paper in the air. “Do you know how hard it is even to pass?” He bounded across the room, kissed Athena and headed for the door.
“Going to the Ministry!” he called, and was gone.
Bewildered, Athena stared at the doorway he had just Disapparated from.
“He must be applying for a job,” Rhiannon commented. “He’s keeping it all very hush-hush, but he’s got one in mind, and apparently he’s now qualified for it.”
In the time it took Athena to eat breakfast and retrieve the Felix Felicis from the potion room, Cassian had returned triumphant.
“Archives,” he announced. “I’ve just been accepted as the historian in the Archives Office at the Ministry.”
“Congratulations,” Rhiannon said proudly. “We’ll have to have some people here for dinner tonight to celebrate—can you make it, Athena?”
“No, I can’t, sorry…I’m busy tonight.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. We’ll have to have you and your parents around sometime…I knew your mother at Hogwarts, I haven’t seen her for years.”
“Yeah, definitely. I should probably get home…”
Cassian was silent as he walked her down the long walkway to the gate, and Athena felt bad about taking the excitement of his new job away from him.
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “I’ve got the Felix Felicis. It kept the others safe when the Death Eaters came—they didn’t even have that much. When do you start at the Ministry?”
“Next week. I’ll be an intern of sorts for the first month or so, but Grandad’s planning on retiring at the end of August, so I’ll take over.”
“Very good pay,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ll be able to buy us a house within a year.”
“No need,” she told him. “I inherit Selwyn House.”
“And I inherit Rutherford Estate,” he replied with a wave of his hand, “But I don’t want to kick my parents out too soon.”
“Yeah, fair point.”
“I want to live in Godric’s Hollow, I’ve decided,” he proclaimed. “So much history.”
“Yes. Godric’s Hollow. Definitely.” She grinned at him. “A Slytherin living in Godric Gryffindor’s hometown. Oh, the irony.”
“We just won’t tell the neighbours.”
“You look happy,” Artemis said in an almost accusatory tone when Athena arrived home.
“Yeah,” she said matter-of-factly. “Good night with the girls.”
Artemis narrowed her eyes. “You don’t have girls’ nights. I know, because you told me. You told me the closest you get is when we stay up all night the first night of every holidays pigging out on Honeydukes stuff and gossiping. Besides, you’re really happy.”
“Is Dad home?” she asked.
“No, he’s at work. Don’t change the subject.”
“I wasn’t,” she replied. Normally she would tell Artemis to bugger off and mind her own business, but she had a strange need to actually be sisterly with her sister. “We should go to my room.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Artemis declared, skipping ahead and bounding onto Athena’s bed. “So, spill.”
“I was at Cassian’s,” she began.
Artemis’s eyes grew wide. “Athena!” she whispered in a shocked voice. “Did you…you know?”
“No, I did not,” she replied crisply. “Let’s make that abundantly clear.”
“So, what did you do?”
“Made Felix Felicis,” she said, pulling the vial from her robes and tossing it onto the bed for Artemis to inspect. “I mentioned what the Order’s doing tonight. He freaked, and spent all night brewing this for me.”
“Awww!” she cooed, picking up the bottle. “That is so cute. So you just brewed potion all night?” she asked, sounding disappointed.
“You said it, not me.” Artemis set the potion down. “So, is that why you’re so happy? You have liquid luck, and you spent the night over a cauldron with Lord Rutherford?”
“Don’t call him that.”
“That’s what he looks like. Like an 18th century aristocrat.”
“Just because he has long hair.”
“And manners. Anyway, you didn’t answer my question.”
“I bet you spent half your time snogging, and you’re too refined to admit it.”
“There wasn’t actually that much involved.”
“Sure.” Artemis hopped off the bed. “When are you guys going to the Burrow for your Harry-rescuing business?”
“I think we’re meeting there at eight.”
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