James was cornered, and he knew it. His eyes flicked from side to side, looking for an exit strategy that wasn’t there.
Cassandra stroked the back of his hand, playing the part of reassuring lover. They were in bed together, and Cassandra had waited until now to make her move. “Why are you reacting this way?” she asked, as if she didn’t already know. “You knew I was marrying someone ‘high up on the Death Eater food chain,’ as you put it.”
“I didn’t know it was Snape,” he hissed.
“Why should that make any difference, James?” Cassandra asked her voice soft and alluring. “I have him in the palm of my hand.” Just like you.
“He’s a snake in the grass and you’d be better off getting rid of him,” James half-spat.
Cassandra’s gaze flickered to his face. “If I did that, I would have no news to give you. Why are you so angry about this, James? I knew you disliked him, but I didn’t pick you for the sort to hold a grudge.”
He was uncomfortable now. She was getting closer, Cassandra was certain. It didn’t matter if she had already heard the story once from Severus, let James think he had confessed to her some dangerous secret, if she could get him to confess.
In a way, James reminded her of Severus, and vice versa. They were both defensive and stubborn.
A fitting prey, for the likes of me,
she thought. Her father had always called them “prey,” as if he was teaching his children how to hunt rather than lie.
“It’s complicated,” James said, still anxious. Cassandra stroked his hair, and forced herself not to smile when he unwillingly relaxed under her touch.
“And you think I haven’t heard complicated stories before?” Cassandra asked. “James, you should know I keep your secrets… I reveal nothing that people do not already know.” Or think they know.
James sighed and Cassandra slipped next to him. For whatever reason, James trusted physical intimacy as much as Cassandra was suspicious of it, and being physically close to him might make him more talkative. “I… It wasn’t supposed to happen; I just want to start off with that…”
Yes, Severus was very clear that none of it was supposed to happen.
“It was just supposed to be a one-time thing, put him in his place, you know?” James said, rubbing at his eyes.
“I’m not sure I understand, James,” Cassandra lied.
“I slept with him,” James said flatly. “I thought… It was a control thing; I thought I could overpower him…”
“And in the end he overpowered you,” Cassandra said, as if she was just understanding what he was telling her. James might have been a dominant force in every other aspect of life, but in the bedroom he had a lack of will. He wanted to be taken care of when he was in the sack, he didn’t want to rule.
“How do you know that?” James asked suspiciously.
Cassandra touched his face. “You’re as easy to read as a book, James, and I have
been living with Snape for the past three weeks. I know how he operates.” She snuggled against his shoulder. “So what happened? How did you… break it off, I suppose?”
James sighed almost wistfully. “I knew what he was, what he was going to be. A Death Eater. I couldn’t let him still hold that power over me, so I left.”
Cassandra hit upon a realization that Severus had missed. “You loved him, didn’t you?” she asked, sitting up with an awed expression on her face. “You were in love with him.”
James rolled away. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“James,” Cassandra pressed closer, wrapping her arms around him and kissing the back of his shoulder. “It’s alright. Honestly, don’t you think I’ve heard worse?”
James didn’t answer.
“James… do you still
have feelings for him?” Cassandra asked, shocked.
“I said I don’t want to talk about it,” he growled. James could be a foul person to be around when he was touchy.
Cassandra traced her fingertips along his arm, thinking. Severus must not have known, or he was a better liar than he let on. Did her fiancé ever return James’ feelings, or was he like her, in that he used and refused to feel?
She would have to investigate this further.
Of a sudden James sat up, turning to stare at her. “Have you slept with him?” he asked with accusation in his eyes.
“What?” Cassandra asked stupidly, caught off-guard.
“Snape, have you slept with him?” James demanded.
Cassandra threw up her walls. “And what if I had?” she asked coldly. “Are you going to throw me out? He’s my fiancé, by Merlin’s name; he would expect to reap some reward from that relationship.”
“So you have,” James said, wounded and angry.
“I never said that.”
“You didn’t have to.” James glared at her.
Cassandra pushed him back on the bed, straddling his waist. “Merlin’s beard, James—I’ve been ‘the other woman’ for close to a year, and now you’re upset because you’ll be ‘the other man’? I told you when this began that I wouldn’t be ‘yours alone’ and you were willing to put up with that.”
“I didn’t think it would be Snape,” he hissed.
“So you didn’t think I’d end up fucking your ex-lover, is that it?” Cassandra asked, really and truly angry now. “Well, whatever happened between you and Snape is done now,
and you’re getting married to Lily Evans, remember?” Cassandra made a sound of disbelief and climbed off of him. “I can’t believe you.” She started pulling on her clothes.
Realizing he risked her leaving, James reached for her. “Cass…”
This time, Cassandra let him use the nickname. She was still angry, but she pretended to hesitate.
She couldn’t afford to lose James this late in the game. “You knew what you were getting into,” she said in a low voice, “You said you were willing to pay the price.”
James touched her thigh. “I am,” he whispered, “Merlin’s balls, don’t leave, Cass. I’ll do whatever you want.”
It was too easy. He was too easy to overcome, to rule, when he felt his heart was at stake. He was such a Gryffindor in that way. No wonder Snape had hurt him so much.
Cassandra looked down at James, as if she had forgiven him, and leaned over to kiss him. “Don’t do that to me again,” she warned. “You’re getting married, and so am I. It’s too late to back out of this now.”
He looked like he might believe her, which was good. James pulled her down and wrapped his arms around her. “Maybe one day, when this is over…”
Cassandra hushed him before he went any farther. “It does us no good to dream about maybe
when right now we only have this way,” she murmured, “I know only this one way to live, and it does me no good to dream of happy endings.”
He hated it when she said things like that. “You always talk like everything is doom and gloom.”
“My mother jumped off a roof when I was thirteen, James. For me, everything is.” She stroked his hair as his head settled on her breast. She was only a year older than him, but sometimes it felt as if there were decades between them. James had lived a good life for most of his childhood… Cassandra had spent the first years of her life impoverished, and the next few being taught how to lie and cheat and blackmail.
“Cass,” he murmured, “I don’t know what it is about you, but—”
Cassandra hushed him again. “Not now, James… no words just now.” She nestled against him. “Words never did me any good.”
But deep down, she was aching for someone to say to her what he’d been about to say, and mean it.
“Cousin,” said a proud voice.
Cassandra looked up from her paperwork, arching an eyebrow. “Good morning, Lucius, can I help you?”
“I was very pleased to hear about your engagement,” Lucius said, completely ignoring her question. “You and Severus are such a match pair.”
Cassandra glanced at Umbridge, who was listening intently. “Yes, Severus and I are planning for the wedding to be in about a year,” Cassandra said, scratching something on parchment. “We haven’t decided yet where it will be.”
“Malfoy Manor will welcome you, as always,” Lucius said with a smile.
Cassandra feigned a smile. “Of course,” she said. She looked past Lucius as another approached. “Ah, Mr. Cresswell, good morning.”
“Good morning to you as well, Miss Diamond,” Cresswell said with a smile. “Does Fudge have a moment?”
“He does,” Umbridge piped up, standing. “The Minister has been expecting you, Mr. Cresswell, I’ll tell him you’ve arrived.”
“Thank you, Dolores,” Cresswell said amiably.
“So,” Lucius said, putting his hands on Cassandra’s desk. “Tell me; is there anything for Severus at the Ministry?”
“You know I can’t do that, Lucius,” Cassandra said, giving him a sharp look and nodding towards Cresswell, who appeared to be paying them no mind. Still, Cassandra had learned not to trust appearances.
“Of course, of course, how silly of me,” Lucius said dismissively, “I simply couldn’t imagine that he would stay at the apothecary with a bride like you.”
Umbridge had caught the tail end of that with her return, Cassandra was sure. Dolores gave her a suspicious look, no doubt wondering what she was up to, marrying a wizard who was not a Ministry official.
Though, short of marrying the Minister of Magic himself, there was little to be gained by marrying a man who worked at the Ministry.
“Severus is quite content where he works, for the time being. As it is, I did not think it would be fitting to nag him about his position when we’ve only just gotten engaged.”
Cassandra turned away to file her paperwork. “Haven’t you anything to do, Lucius? I have work from here to Avalon and I’m not getting any of it done discussing my engagement with you.”
“Of course,” Lucius said, though she could tell he was a bit miffed. “I’ll leave you to it, then.”
Cassandra pursed her lips as Lucius left. So he was calling her cousin
now. That was new. What was it her mother had always used to say? Ah, yes—fair weather friends melt away like spring snows, but winter friends are friends forever.
Not that sayings like that had done Aoife Diamond any good. Cassandra could still remember that morning, waking to Narcissa’s dreadful shriek and going to the window to see what was happening. She had thrown open the frosty pane only three days after Christmas, and looked down at the ground, and there lay her mother’s body, broken and blue, and dead.
Narcissa had shrieked for hours, it seemed, and Cassandra had sat at her window, numb and staring, unable to take her eyes off of her mother’s cold corpse.
There had been frost on her mother’s dark brown hair.
Every time Cassandra put on her dark hair to deal with James, she looked in the mirror and saw her mother’s face. Her blond hair and her lies were all that her father had given to her.
So whenever James looked at her, what he saw was the face of Aoife Diamond, tinged with Cassandra Diamond’s lies. It was an illusion, all an illusion.
Cassandra couldn’t remember the last time she had been genuine for more than a few moments at a time. Ever since her mother died her every move had been calculated, analyzed.
And now she was marrying one man, and sleeping with another.
Another who was still in love with the man she was marrying.