Chapter 1 : An Almost Fiancé & an Old Letter
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I was six weeks away from my seventeenth birthday and living the supermodel's dream on my own in downtown New York City. It wasn’t the dream I’d had when I was six or seven—hell, big cities had been the stuff of nightmares—but it was a dream of some sort, and it was my life. From my apartment (however small) you could look out at the skyline: great silver buildings cutting into the sky, wisps of blue smoke mottling the heavens. Millions of people, churning away at their life around me. I was part of it. I was one of them.
I always felt insignificant looking out my window. I’d left home when I was 14 to start modeling, and at this point, no one besides my agent called anymore. Being a model wasn’t all that glamorous after all. You hear, "you're fat, you're ugly," enough times and the damage is permanent. At this point, I knew the following by heart:
1. I had a “squinty right eye” if I smiled all the way
2. The scar above my left knee meant print ads were “out of the question.”
3. My eyebrows always needed to be “fixed in post production.”
4. No matter how hard I tried, I “always looked sad.”
So there I was, 16 and yet feeling so much older, detached from reality, flotsam in the chaos of the city.
To be honest, I knew I was too young to be engaged. I know, I know. 16! It’s crazy! What was I thinking!!?
I’ll tell you what I was thinking. I was lonely. I was so, so alone. David's ring on my finger anchored me. It made me feel special, significant. I didn’t have to think about what it meant. It just made the loneliness go away. I mean, there’s other stuff too. I thought I was in love. But don’t we all?
I was 16, I was engaged, I was a model. Until August the sixteenth.
On the afternoon in question I was heading back from a particularly odd photo shoot with Vogue. Besides the fact they had covered me in blue feathers and I had to wear a sheer black scarf that was about thirty feet long, I oblivious to my impending ruin. I’d eaten quiche for breakfast and missed lunch. This felt important at the time.
Perhaps the angry storm that afternoon should have foreshadowed my impending doom. I was oblivious. Holding a plastic bag over my head, I caught a taxi, shivering in the backseat. I texted my Dad weird shoot but good pay! He sent back a thumbs up.
The Vogue photographer had liked me, I was sure of that. He sang my praises, complimenting my turquoise eyes and blond hair in a thick baritone, saying nothing of the squint.
“Your sad eyes are so beautiful,” he’d said. “So many stories.”
Not really. But I’ll take what I can get.
It felt silly to feel beautiful when makeup was such a dominating presence on my face. I could literally feel the foundation, a tangible weight on my cheeks, reminding me I wasn't beautiful; my hair was limp with rain; my eyes muddied with thoughts. Stop being so negative, I chastised. There was plenty to be happy about.
After all, they had given me a check. A fairly generous one, too. Seeing my face on the cover next month would boost my self esteem as well, not to mention give me an edge above Katelyn Wallace, my arch rival model. Sounds stupid, but I hated her to the core. Just seeing one ad with her signature cat-eyed smirk twisted my stomach.
I was excited to get back to the apartment. My boyfriend—no, fiancé-- of 9 months had flown in to see me. I know nine months isn't a lot for many couples, but David was the one. I mean, he had to be. At that point in time, I thought he was my soul mate; to anyone who asked I’d say, “we belong together.” I meant it, too.
The cab slowed alongside a flooded curb. Thunder cracked overhead. I tipped the taxi and, bent over, ran to the doorway. The doorman greeted me and as usual I didn't respond. David was here! David was HERE.
In the elevator, I straightened my trench coat and checked my hair and makeup in the mirror. I was wearing a fabulous pair of Miu Miu heels that had to be at least four inches tall. Normally when a heel gets that high everyone assumes you’re a stripper but these were too cute. I pride myself on my heel walking abilities. That's how I got a job as a model in the first place. Everyone else looks dorky or trips, but I know how to walk tall.
And that's what I did when the doors opened with a chime. I sauntered down the hall and unlocked the oak door to my apartment. I had to take a moment to straighten my face, after all, I was about to see **DAVID!!** and he would be happy to see me. My chest thrummed with adrenaline.
Trying to look collected, I swung open the door, watching my ring sparkle as it caught the light. David. Fiancé! Here! Right now!!!
Tip toeing inside, I nearly froze when I saw a rather large and lacy bra right in front of me. Was this his way of congratulating me for signing as a Victoria Secret model? A little unconventional and certainly suggestive, but we were engaged after all.
I couldn't help but grin when I saw the next present. A pair of incredible leather heeled boots. They had to be at least $800. Then a shirt, low cut and sheer. Yikes, what did this mean? He was four years older, and had always yearned for the more physical sides of a relationship. That was supposed to come after marriage though, right?
But then a sound came from my bedroom, a sound that stopped me in my tracks. A long, muffled moan. I don't why I didn't shout for him at this point, I guess instinct took over as I crept to my bedroom and peered in.
You can probably guess what was happening in there. Lying on my bed, shirtless was Katelyn Wallace.
It’s that weird feeling when you catch someone cheating. It’s so different and yet the same for everyone. The heart stops. Your blood cools. Everything knots itself then comes undone.
I won't ever forget the look on David's face when he saw me in the doorway. So. Fucking. Sloppy.
“Cass,” he said dumbfounded, in what must be the move of all-those-caught-red-handed. “Oh god.”
Katelyn Wallace let out a familiar catlike smile, peering out from underneath his chest. "Oh shit, Cassie. You’re back early,” she sighed. "How was Vogue?"
"Get out," I stammered. I wanted to sound strong. Bold. But instead I sounded like a feeble sixteen year old whose heart has just been broken. The world suddenly felt five sizes too large.
My fingers, moving on their own, pried the ring off my finger, let it fall off my shaking hand. I heard it hit the floor with a metallic ring, spinning like a coin.
This was treachery. I had run into battle alone.
Or, now I saw-- I had always been alone.
David sat up, shaking his head. "Cass--" he started again, but I didn't want to hear it. He had sent his message loud and clear. What a fool I'd been, thinking I could handle the world, thinking I could get goddamn engaged at sixteen!
"Just leave," I cried, tearing up. Snot started pouring down my nose. "LEAVE!" I shrieked, pointing like he didn't know where the door was.
He did, gathering his clothing into a wad as he ran. His eyes were vacant from emotion.
“DO YOU WANT THE RING BACK, ASSHOLE?” I yelled after him. He shook his head, so completely out of it, slamming the door behind him.
Katelyn paused to smirk at me as she put on her clothes (and boots).
"See ya, Cassie," she laughed. “Sorry about that.”
I'd never felt such hatred before, it raced through my veins, cutting into my palms. It was disgusting and wrong, but damn, it felt good.
Choking smoke filled the air. What the hell?!
Katelyn suddenly screamed and I saw her, bald. Tufts of burnt hair floated around her head. I was dumbfounded. Had she been wearing a wig? What the fuck was going on?
"WHAT THE HELL?!?!" she shrieked. I was too shocked to laugh or smile, only staring at the strangy, smoky haze about her head. Katelyn stormed across the room; so mad she twitched as she opened the door. “You’ll pay for this, you bitch,” she cursed, as ugly as a rabid dog.
I locked the door and cried for a good, long time.
Back to square one. Cassie Andrews: forever alone.
Nothing but a pretty face.
But I resolved to move on, loose myself in matriculating work. I was a kite, my string was cut, but someday I prayed I would land.
Hours turned into days.
I tried to come up with reasonable excuses for the hair explosion for a while. Such as, maybe her hairspray ignited. But eventually, I had to face the fact this wasn't the first time something that weird had happened. It was a particularly sad afternoon when I wandered over to my desk, fingering the old letter I yearned to forget. But I couldn’t.
I first gotten the letter when I was 11. At the time, I assumed it was a hoax. Or a joke. After all, wizards and witches don't exist. So the letter had ended up in some pile of cruddy memorabilia. When my Dad’s shift ended in London and we moved back to America, the letter came with. No matter how much I tried to shake it, I couldn’t.
Strange things had always happened to me-- after completely screwing up my hair for prom freshmen year, I had discovered it was curled perfectly when running outside, I was once nearly in a car crash but the car somehow jumped over me and my broken bike-- numerous incidents where people I didn't like had suddenly gotten bitten by a (a) snake (b) spider or (c) goat. The latter had only happened once. "I don't understand how a goat got in here," was all Angela said for weeks afterword. And now Katelyn's hair.
Despite my "racks o' cash" and fame, I hated modeling. I hated being told I was too fat; I hated wearing so much makeup my own mother couldn't recognize me when I visited her in the hospital; I hated that I was walking runways in Paris when she died, leaving me alone. Surprisingly, things had come full circle since I was eleven, leaving me alone again with this letter in my hand. It’s just a hoax. It’s just a joke.
My cousin had gotten one too. She’d sworn it was all true, and when I moved back to America, she said she’d been there. She sent me letter after letter, all of which I threw away.
I know you won't believe me, but it's true, Cass. Magic is real! Remember that time you said you could make things move? I believe you now. I can, too!
I wondered how Ally was doing. If she really thought she could fool me like that.
Or if she was telling the truth. I looked at the fading calligraphy again.
Dear Cassia Andrews,
I am pleased to hereby invite you to Hogwort’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Five years ago. A lifetime. I couldn’t help but wonder: what if I hadn’t ignored it completely? What if I had answered Ally’s letter?
Term Begins September 1st. That was in about 2 weeks time.
Part of it was David, part of it modeling, but honestly, something happened in me I still can’t explain. I made a decision. I don’t know how. But when I put that letter down about an hour later, it was to pull out my suitcase and pack my bags.
We all make terrible mistakes, but on the plane, I realized just how tragic my life had to be to make two within a year.
I regretted the entire idea I'd had. What the hell was I thinking? What was my plan for this wizarding nonsense? Where was I going to get the gear? H&M? The Gap? Who was I kidding?
At least I could visit Ally. Talk with her, laugh about the letter. She would feel bad for all the silliness and then we'd recover.
Maybe I could move in with her. Forget modeling, start anew. Change my name? Throw away my phone?
My optimism faded as soon as I stepped off the plane. It felt like I hadn’t slept for days. My feet hurt and my hair was disgusting. The once-stylish gold bangles felt moronic and I had a killer headache.
At Heathrow, I instinctively started toward the ticket booth to get a flight home and put an end to the short-lived adventure then-and-there. Halfway over, however, I realized that I needed to sleep. I ended up at a cheap B&B and passed out for 14 hours.
Instead of going to the airport to return to NYC straight away, I decided to go shopping for a little bit. Lose myself in a good-natured pastime. I could restructure this escape into a vacation. Glamorous! The other models were always talking about London, after all. Let’s see what this city has to offer!
I hit up all the stores nearby, finding a couple cute shirts and dresses. After eating lunch at the hotel, it was time to explore a bit. Hopefully I could find some eccentric vintage bar or little charm-peddler.
An odd woman greeted me at the front desk. It was intimidating. She didn't even have on a nametag, so I just approached and flung my crumpled map down.
"Excuse me," I said bravely. "Would you, uh, show me where I could, like, maybe find a sort of interesting store, or something?"
She laughed kindly, like we were on film. "Of course," she said in a melodic voice that dragged each word. Pulling out a perfectly round, purple-glass pen, she doodle a small star on a random road.
"You'll love this place," she swore. “It’s where all the locals go.”
Thanking her, I took my map, glancing over one last time to admire her glowing, blue eyes. Was she a model? Had I seen her before?
No! Cassie! Snap out of it!
A weird feeling stirred in my stomach as I wandered down a tree-lined sidewalk. That encounter had been anything but normal-- perhaps this wasn't really a cafe but maybe a killing shack.
Indeed, the instructions led me to a particularly suspicious portion of town. You’d expect me to have street smarts coming from New York City, but I’m a complete baby when it comes to wandering alone.
Instead of some cute, sunlit café, the instructions seemed to lead to a grimy, smoky pub called (I kid you not)
"The Leaky Cauldron."
By the fumes drifting out of the door, I would've bet there was a great deal of some sort of drug being smoked in there. Was this a hookah den? It really didn't make any sense. She’d said there’d be scones!
I cautiously wandered over to the door when, quite unexpectedly, a tall, hairy man burst out, clearly drunk.
"You'd be a muggle, eh," he drawled, "tryin' to peek in at us wizarding folk, well-"
"Good lord, Trevor, do I have to obliviate another muggle?" a deep voice piped up. Suddenly, standing in front of me was a tall, dark haired boy, my age or a bit older.
“You shouldn’t be here” he sighed, pulling out a short stick from his back pocket. “This won’t hurt at all—” he reached out toward me with the stick, as if to poke me in the chest.
Third grade instincts took over. I snatched the stick away and held it behind my back.
“What the hell are you trying to do?!” I yelped. “Seriously, back the fuck off or I’m calling the police.”
The boy blinked at me, then looked at his hand. “Did you just take my wand?” he asked in disbelief.
Clearly, he hadn't been expecting my quick reflexes. (Or at least, that's what I like to think, but in retrospect I think James let me snag it). "Give it back!”
“No!” I snapped, “now, listen to me, take a big step back or—”
"ALBUS!!!" he shouted, looking way less intimidating and more like a ruffled cat. At that point, my teenage-girl instincts kicked in and I realized that this boy was very, very attractive. Which doesn’t matter, of course, but I should probably admit that’s when it happened.
Then this “Albus” stepped out, and JESUS CHRIST.
I’ll blame James, because I don’t want to sound shallow, and looks were already on my mind, but OF COURSE I NOTICED. YES he was hot, YES I immediately noticed, AND MAYBE I thought about it, for an ephemeral moment. MAYBE.
This kid, Albus, looked at me than at the other guy. “Merlin, James. This is a public street. You couldn’t take care of this on your own?”
“She has my wand!” James hissed, jerking his head at me.
“HOW?” Albus shot back. “HOW THE FUCK DID SHE GET—never mind, god damn—get it back!”
“I can hear you,” I interrupted, “so if we could all just talk this out right here, right now, I could be on my way—”
James turned and looked at me. His expression tightened, then dissolved into a shrug. He held up with hands non-threateningly. “Hey, girl,” he said, smiling, “you’re completely right.”
“Don’t call me girl,” I snapped. The adrenaline was wearing off, I was starting to shake. “Look, I’m really, really confused right now, about what’s happening, and why you’re calling this a wand. I’m looking—” was I really going to say this out loud?! “--I’m looking for a place called Hogwarts, and I know I sound absolutely crazy, but I’m getting really scared that all of this might be real, and not some nightmare.”
“Hogwats?” James said skeptically. His hands dropped to his hips and he laughed in shock. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Damn right it’s real.”
Albus looked at me and his face softened. “Are you ok?” he said. “You don’t look like it.”
I bit my lip to keep tears from coming up. I refused to cry in front of anyone, strangers especially. “I’m fine,” I said. “You can have this back.” I threw the stick back at James, who quickly snatched it off the ground. He lifted it in the air and sparks whizzed from the ends, circling about his head.
“What’s wrong, Blondie, never seen a magic trick?”
My knees started to get weak. No. This couldn’t be happening.
“Are you ok?” Albus said again, moving closer. “James, for God’s sake, cut it out.” He cautiously reached a hand out and touched my shoulder. “I’m so sorry. Seriously. I’m Albus. Are you ok?”
So, judge me all you want. Was it looks or feelings or sleep deprivation, we’ll never know. But my guard collapsed in the face of this boy I’d never known, and I took the hug gratefully and buried my face into his shoulder. Tears rattled my chest.
“It’s ok, you’re ok,” Albus said, over and over. “You’re ok. It’s real. It’s all real.”
Finally, when I’d regained my composure, I managed to take a place at the bar and (gratefully) take down a chilly cocktail. I’m not one to drink before five, but I’ll consider this a decently special occasion.
“So,” James said. “I’m James Potter, and this is my brother, Albus.” James gave me a firm handshake, which I barely returned.
“Nice to meet you,” Albus said gently. He was still watching me like he expected me to go down in hysterics any second.
I finished my drink and straightened my posture. “Likewise.” My mom would roll over in her grave if I lost it twice in front of strangers. I’d be damned if I couldn’t at least pretend I was fine. “You can call me Cassie.”
“Is that your actual name?” James asked. “It’s cool if it’s not, I just want to know.” Albus rolled his eyes.
“It is,” I sighed. It would’ve been smart to lie. “If you’re trying to murder me, your scheme is working pretty well at this point.
“You’re fine, Cassie,” Albus said comfortingly. “Seriously, you ended up with two relatively decent blokes. Dim-witted, yes, but well-intentioned? Absolutely.”
“So, why don’t you tell us about how you, a fair-haired Yank, ended up in Camelot’s court,” James ordered, snagging a pint. “I’m actually pretty curious.”
“It’s a long story.”
“We’ve got all day,” Albus offered. “Or at least, what’s left of it.”
I didn’t know where to start. I certainly wasn’t going to tell them about David. But I guess it made sense to start at the beginning, with Dad’s job, and Ally, and the letter that changed everything.
This chapter has undergone significant revisions. Would love if you dropped me a review! Thx for reading! XOXO
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