“Good morning, please state your name and business.”
“I need to talk to Cassian,” Athena told the wrought-iron gate, not bothering with pleasantries.
“Certainly, Athena. We need to sort out direct access for you—come in.”
The gates swung open, and Athena bolted for Rutherford Manor, throwing dignity to the wind as she ploughed through the heavy double doors and pounded up the stairs to Cassian’s room before Rhiannon had a chance to greet her.
“Athena…What’s wrong?” Cassian asked, startled, as she burst into his room, an expression of pure panic on her face.
His fears were compounded as she shook her head, instead crossing the room and burying her head in his chest. Trying to stay calm, he wrapped his arms around her, holding her and trying to tell himself it couldn’t possibly be that bad.
But he knew. He knew it took a lot to upset Athena, and even more to scare her.
“Can you tell me?” he asked at last.
“Snape’s Headmaster,” she whispered into his robes. “He’s a loyal Death Eater and he knows all the Order’s secrets, and there’s a death sentence on all our heads. All the Order. He knows I’m in it. He was there at my initiation.”
He felt his stomach drop like a stone. “Don’t go back. Please don’t go back. You’re not safe.”
“They’ve made me Head Girl. I have no choice.”
“He wouldn’t kill you,” Cassian said firmly. “He wouldn’t. I know him. He was my Head of House. He wouldn’t kill a student.”
“He killed Dumbledore,” she reminded him flatly.
“He. Wouldn’t. Kill. You.”
“You don’t know that.” She pulled away, furiously wiping the beginnings of tears from her eyes. “I’ll be in the grip of the enemy, Cass. And I don’t know if I’ll survive it.”
“You will,” he said fiercely. “Look at me, Athena. You’ll survive. You’re an Occlumens. You’re from an old pureblood family. All you have to do is play the game.”
Diagon Alley wasn’t the same when Athena and her family went there to pick up school supplies, though if she was honest, Diagon Alley hadn’t been the same since You Know Who came out into the open at the end of her fifth year. There was no happy chatter and people were constantly looking over their shoulders. She saw countless parents stocking up on Hogwarts supplies with no child in sight, too fearful of taking them out into the open. The few students who were around were either sixth or seventh years, and none were wearing Muggle clothes; normally the Muggleborn or half-blood students wore them, especially in the summer holidays. She felt as though her entire world had changed overnight.
She bought her stuff as quickly as possible, calling in to Madam Malkin’s with her Head Girl letter. She and the Head Boy – whoever he was – got the collar of their robes trimmed in house colours to differentiate between them and the other Prefects – or indeed the other students. Although Athena had wanted to be Head Girl for years, now that it had actually happened she wished she hadn’t been chosen. She was going to be so much more conspicuous now, and with the danger she was facing, she would much prefer to be invisible.
She got the feeling Cassian would much prefer if she was invisible too. On second thought, Cassian would much prefer if she dropped out of Hogwarts and they immigrated to Italy and lived as Muggles. Apparently they were going to Italy on their honeymoon; he had a burning, unshakable desire to see the Colosseum and other Muggle Roman monuments. He was the biggest nerd she’d ever met, and she’d been in Ravenclaw for six years.
The atmosphere on Platform 9¾ was different to what she’d ever known it to be. There was no buzz of excitement, not even from first years; she could almost feel the apprehension emanating from students and parents as they reluctantly said their farewells.
“Study hard, stay safe,” Lucinda recited, as she did each year, but this time her final words had more weight. Stay safe. Athena had no idea how she could do that.
“Good luck,” Carcius said quietly, and Athena knew he wasn’t referring to her schoolwork. As he pulled her in closer for a hug, he whispered in her ear, “We’re just a Patronus message away. We’ll get you out if you need to get out. I promise.”
She felt a shiver run down her spine at that thought – we’ll get you out – and the reality of the world she was going into began to dawn on her. Nodding and forcing a courage she didn’t feel, she found Cassian, who was accompanying Evelina while their parents were at work, and waited while he farewelled his sister.
He looked over at her, his eyes saying what his words wouldn’t. Silently she stepped forward, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him. As if it was the last time she would ever see him. The last time he would ever hold her.
Maybe it was.
She heard the whistle of the train behind her and reluctantly pulled away from him, walking towards the Prefects’ Carriage without a backward glance; knowing if she turned around, she would never leave.
Professor Snape was the teacher on duty in the Hogwarts Express, with a small carriage to himself in front of the Prefects’ Carriage. He emerged to brief the Prefects on their duties – to enforce school rules, establish order within the school community and to report any transgressions to appropriate staff. It was the same speech given to the Prefects each year, and Athena paid it little heed – until she heard the final instruction.
“Any students who disagree with the Ministry or express their support for Undesirable Number One, Harry Potter, or the organisation ‘Order of the Phoenix’ will be punished. Prefects are expected to inform myself or those in charge of discipline, Professors Alecto and Amycus Carrow, if they hear any students expressing such views. Prefects who hold and express such views will face severe consequences that, let me assure you, will fit the crime of treason. You are dismissed. The Head Prefects are required to stay in the carriage for the duration of the journey.”
Nathaniel gave her a sympathetic glance as he trailed off to find their friends in the other carriages, and Athena was left with Draco Malfoy in his new green-and-silver trimmed robes, the contemptuous sneer gone from his face.
“Selwyn,” he said curtly.
“Malfoy.” She had never gotten along with Draco, and he had certainly been less than civil to her in fifth year when he discovered she was part of Dumbledore’s Army, but as a pureblood and a Ravenclaw, she had earned his grudging tolerance, if not respect.
“Miss Selwyn,” Snape called quietly from the doorway to his carriage. “A word.”
She followed him into the carriage, trying to calm her nerves as he slammed the door shut with a flick of his wand and soundproofed the room.
“Sit,” he said, not bothering to look at her.
She sat, resisting the urge to tap her feet or twist her hands in her lap. He was as observant as her when it came to reading people, and she had no desire to show fear. One thing she had learned in the last six years of having Snape as a teacher was that he was contemptuous of both fear and incompetence.
“I will not insult your intelligence,” he began. “You are naturally aware that any student found to be involved in the Order of the Phoenix – or indeed anyone at all who the Ministry has access to – will be executed. You are also aware of my knowledge of your involvement in said Order.”
“Do you have anything to say on the matter?”
“You’ve summarised it quite well, sir.”
He turned to her, his black eyes boring into her blue ones, but she didn’t flinch under his steely gaze.
“I will not implicate you,” he said, stepping closer and dropping his voice. He was speaking faster, more urgently. “I care not what your impressions are of me or however you may debate the point, but as Headmaster of this school my first duty is to the students. Do not misunderstand me on this matter. I will not fight your battles for you. I will not defend you from the Carrows, nor will I defend any other student. I will not attempt to intervene in matters of discipline, no matter what students they involve or what punishments. I will not stand in the Carrows’ way. They are Death Eaters, which should indicate what they are capable of. Do not cross them. Do not think of crossing them. But one thing I will offer, Miss Selwyn. The Death Eaters, the Ministry and the Dark Lord will not know of your involvement in the Order.”