“Athena!” Hermione called with a definite tone of relief as she arrived at the Burrow for Bill and Fleur’s wedding. “Thank God, we had to get away from Phle—Fleur.”
“She looks fucking gorgeous,” Ginny commented darkly. “We’re having a crisis of confidence. Hey, Artemis.”
“Hey,” Artemis echoed. “Is she that bad?”
“She’s worse,” Athena replied matter-of-factly. “She was the Beauxbatons champion for the Triwizard.”
“Oh, that bitch!”
Ginny nodded approvingly. “Where are your partners?”
Athena swung around, seeing Cassian and Perseus making a beeline for a beefy looking guy on the other side of the field. “There’s something wrong with that picture.”
“That’s Viktor,” Hermione explained.
“Oh. Makes sense.”
“Who’s Viktor?” Artemis asked.
“Ohhhh. A Quidditch dude.”
Athena and Ginny exchanged glances, shaking their heads.
“Ginny!” Molly hollered from the doorway of the Burrow. “You’re needed!”
Ginny gagged, seizing Hermione’s arm and dragging her inside with her.
“So, yeah,” Artemis began, “No offence, but I don’t want to be hanging out with you all day. Later.”
Cassian was still engaged in conversation with Viktor Krum; from the look of his impressive arm movements, serious manoeuvres and tactics were being discussed.
“Lot of hassle for one day, isn’t it?” Fred mused, coming to stand beside her.
“It is a bit.”
“I told George, when I get married, nobody wears dress robes, and I’m locking Mum up.”
“If you get married,” she countered.
“Hey,” he protested, “That was a bit harsh.”
She reached out a hand and patted him unsympathetically on the head. “My apologies.”
“That your boyfriend?” he asked, nodding at Cassian.
“Good. That’s good,” he said firmly. “He’s more your type, isn’t he?”
“One could say that, yeah.”
“We never would have worked out.”
“We’re too different.”
“Entirely, irrefutably different,” she agreed, staring resolutely ahead.
“None of that should have mattered.”
“No, you’re right. It shouldn’t have mattered. But it did and that’s life.”
“Do you love him?”
“With all my heart.”
“Did you love me?”
“You already know the answer to that question.”
“I’m not sure I do.”
“It. Doesn’t. Matter. Anymore.”
“That’s not true.”
“I think I’ll be the judge of that.”
“Was it deliberate?” he asked, staring at Cassian’s back. “Choosing a Slytherin?”
“You honestly think that little of me?” she asked icily. “You think that I would go out with anyone to get back at you, to prove a point, to be spiteful? You know better than anyone that the only reason I would ever enter a relationship is because of love, and that should give you the answer to all your questions.”
She strode away, melting almost instantly into the crowd.
The encounter with Fred had rattled her. She just wanted to forget, though she knew that wasn’t dealing with things rationally, and she hated being irrational. They had broken up. A year ago. And the thought that her heart had still skipped a beat when she heard his voice worried her. She didn’t love him anymore.
She loved Cassian.
She knew that. Seconds she spent with him turned to minutes, turned to hours, turned to days, and yet she could never be around him enough. He thought the same way as her. He understood her. He trusted her with his life—he was under Unbreakable Vow even now to not reveal her involvement in the Order, and he had volunteered. She loved Cassian to a point that it frightened her.
So what was going on with Fred? She sought out Tonks, who had been the closest thing to an older sister Athena had since she was eleven years old.
“I need some of your great wisdom.”
“My great wisdom?” Tonks repeated, looking amused. “You’re the Ravenclaw.”
“Tonks, who was your first love? I mean your first true love.”
Tonks blinked. “A guy called Christopher, why?”
“Do you ever think about him?”
“Yes, sometimes. True love is one of those things…it leaves traces. I love Remus with all my heart, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get a funny feeling if I saw Chris in the street. You get over them, but you’ll always remember them. They’ll always mean something to you, because they were your first love. We’re women, Athena, it’s what we do. So, in answer to the question you’re really asking…just because you look at Fred and think what if doesn’t mean you love Cassian any less.”
“It’s frightening how you knew exactly what I was talking about.”
“Because you wanted me to,” Tonks said with a smile. “I never asked why you broke up with him. Fred, I mean. Obviously.”
“Not a conversation I want to have right now. We should go sit down, everyone else is.”
“But we will have this conversation,” Tonks said firmly.
“If you say so.”
“Merlin help me, I’m feeling sentimental,” Athena muttered, watching Bill and Fleur walk back down the aisle after the wedding. “And I don’t even know them.”
“Sentimental in what way?” Cassian asked.
“I don’t even know.”
Ginny came over, looking like she was sucking on lemons, and plopped into a chair beside them. “So that’s it,” she said gloomily. “I have a sister for the first time in my life, and it’s fucking Phlegm.”
“It could be worse,” Cassian said.
He glanced at Athena for support. “Uh…I actually don’t have any specific reasons, but I’m sure it could.”
“Do you think you stand a chance without Harry in the team?”
“Well,” Ginny said thoughtfully, “In the final last year, Harry was in detention, so he wasn’t playing, and…what happened…let’s see if I can remember…Oh yeah, we kicked your arse.”
That moment was still a sore point for Athena. “Don’t remind me. You won’t get away with that this year though. I’ll make the team train even harder than last year.”
Ginny sniggered. “You’re a seventh-year,” she pointed out calmly. “A seventh-year Ravenclaw. You’ll be so busy studying you’d be lucky to make it to the games.”
“My team can train at midnight,” she replied.
“No, they won’t,” Nathaniel declared, strolling up to them and resting an arm on Athena’s shoulder. “You get your team to train at midnight, your team will murder you in your sleep. Promise.”
“If she sleeps,” Ginny interjected.
“I’m a Potions extraordinaire,” he replied pompously. “Even more so than your Slytherin boy over there. I could slip you a sleeping potion and you wouldn’t even know the difference.”
“Who are you kidding?” Athena asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh yeah,” Nathaniel said. “You’re paranoid.”
“Better paranoid than dead.”
“Well, aren’t you all sunshine and roses today?”
“Oh, go snog Katya.”
“Maybe I will.” He departed, leaving Athena shaking her head.
“Ginny,” Cassian said conversationally, walking back to join them. “There’s a Muggle village down the road, right?”
“Yeah, Ottery St Catchpole. Why?”
“I’ve never really seen one. Come for a walk, Athena?”
“Sure,” she agreed immediately. There wasn’t a lot happening now; a number of couples were dancing but she had no desire to. Getting away from the crowd to spend time with Cassian was definitely an idea that held some appeal.
Cassian was strangely silent as they walked along the grass verge of the road into Ottery St Catchpole. Athena didn’t know whether to ask if he was okay or not; he would be aware she had noticed his silence, and if he wanted to talk, he would do it without prompting.
Cassian was nervous. He glanced around the village, trying not to let Athena notice. He felt incredibly self-conscious; surely the Muggles would look at him strangely. He was in robes for Merlin’s sake. And the last thing he wanted or needed was people watching him. He’d been silent too long. Athena would have noticed something. He cast his eyes desperately around, gaze alighting on the old stone clock tower standing in the middle of a park.
“A clock tower!” he announced. That sounded forced. Forced, and ridiculous. “A real Muggle clock tower, I wonder how old it is? Muggle stuff actually shows its age, you know. You can literally see the impact of the years.” That was better. That was more like him. He forced his inner historian to take over as he loped across the road to see it. He hadn’t been this nervous for his job interview, for his NEWT results, even for sitting the exams themselves. Why couldn’t he act normally? Athena could read the emotions of total strangers, and part of him wished she would ask him what the heck was wrong with him so he could ask her and get it over and done with.
Athena obligingly brushed her hand against the rough stone of the clocktower, watching Cassian as he walked around it, searching for the date it was built. It was normal behaviour for him, but he wasn’t acting normally. He seemed jumpy, trying too hard to convince her there was nothing out of the ordinary.
“Athena?” His voice came from behind the tower. “Come and have a look at this.”
He had found the date, then. Her curiousity mildly aroused—she was interested in history, sure, but she didn’t live and breathe it the way Cassian did—she walked around the corner to find him. He was down on one knee and, upon seeing her, reached out to take her hands in his.
“Athena,” he began. “You are my…world, and everything in it. I love you, more than even I can comprehend. I want to stand with you through the darkest of days ahead and whatever may follow…not as your boyfriend, but something more…eternal. Will you marry me?”
She couldn’t believe it. She could, but she couldn’t. She was seventeen, for Merlin’s sake—marriage? Now? In the near future? She still had a year of Hogwarts left…but through the reason came another, stronger voice. Yes. Yes, she wanted to marry him, be with him, more than she wanted some semblance of normal social order. They were at war. They could be killed in a year’s time, six months’ time. She didn’t want any regrets. Life and love was what mattered, and Cassian was both.
“Yes, really.” She grinned, pulling him to his feet and kissing him. His arms wrapped around her, making her forget about the war and everything else. For once, everything was perfect.
He drew away from her, feeling like the luckiest man in the world. He couldn’t believe he had asked her, and that she had said yes. She was only seventeen. He was only eighteen. But the war had forced them to grow up so much in the last two years that he sometimes forgot he was under twenty-five.
He reached inside the pocket of his robes and pulled out the little box he had hidden there.
“A ring?” she whispered, looking awed.
She did, her jaw dropping at the sight of the goblin-made silver ring inside, inlaid with three glittering sapphires.
“I knew blue and silver were your favourite colours,” he said, fidgeting with the sleeve of his robes. “And I thought, they’re symbolic, in a way. You know. House colours. Your blue, my silver.”
“Put it on?” she asked quietly, holding out her hand. Barely believing what he was doing, Cassian took the ring and slipped it onto her finger. She seemed lost in thought for a moment, staring at it, before wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him.