My life changed forever on the afternoon of August the sixteenth.
I was six weeks away from my seventeenth birthday and was living the supermodel's dream on my own in downtown New York. From my apartment you could look out to see the skyline: great silver buildings cutting the sky, wisps of cloud and smoke mottling the heavens.
Looking out my window always reminded me of how small I was, how insignificant. Deep down, I believed that my death would truly end me. There would be no legacy, no footnote in history. Just a grave, a eulogy, and I would be gone.
This little insecurity had clung onto my heart ever since I became a model, strengthened by the inevitable, "you're fat, you're ugly," etc. I found myself detached from reality, flotsam in the chaos of the city.
I knew I was too young to be engaged. But deep down, having David's ring on my finger anchored me. I felt special and loved, significant.
Until August the sixteenth, that was my melancholy paradigm.
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.
Perhaps the angry storm that afternoon would have foreshadowed the impending doom. I was oblivious. Holding a plastic bag over my head, I caught a taxi, shivering in the backseat.
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. Despite that, it felt silly to feel beautiful when the makeup was such a dominating presence on my face. The foundation was 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 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. At that point in time, I thought he was my soul mate; my mantra:"we belong together".
The cab slowed alongside a flooded curb. I tipped the taxi and, bent over, ran to the doorway. The doorman greeted me and as usual I didn't respond. What did it matter?
My thoughts returned to David. In the elevator, I straightened my trench coat and checked my hair and posture in the mirror. I was wearing a fabulous pair of Miu Miu heels that had to be at least four inches tall. Of course, 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, 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. Thrilled is more like it. Trying to look collected, I swung open the door, watching my ring sparkle as it caught the light.
Tip toeing inside, I nearly froze when I saw a rather large and lacy bra right in front of me. A smile crept onto my lips as I realized this was 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 grinning when I saw the next present. A pair of incredible leather heeled boots. They had to be at least $800. And a shirt, low cut and sheer. I smirked. Was this David's way of sending me a message? He was four years older than me, and he always yearned for the more physical sides of a relationship.
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. With my about-to-be fiancé!!! I froze. Watched them kiss.
I won't ever forget the look on David's face when he saw me in the doorway. In a sickening jolt, I realized he wanted me to get home when this was happening.
Katelyn Wallace let out a familiar catlike smile. "Hello, Cassie," 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. My ring was too big for my fingers, my hand was shaking. I could hear it hit the floor with a metallic ring, spinning like a coin.
It was treachery. I had run into battle alone.
Or, now I saw-- I had always been alone.
David sat up. "Cass--" he started, 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 shrieked, tearing up. Snot started pouring down my nose. "LEAVE!" I shouted, pointing like he didn't know where the door was.
He did, limping as he ran. His eyes were vacant from emotion. Katelyn paused to smirk at me as she put on her clothes (and boots).
"See ya, Cassie," she laughed. I'd never felt such hatred before, it raced through my veins, cutting into my palms.
And then there was a loud bang. Choking smoke filled the air. What?!
Katelyn suddenly shrieked and I saw her, bald. Tufts of burnt hair floated around her head. I was dumbfounded. Had she been wearing a wig?
"WHAT THE HELL?!?!" she screamed. I was too shocked to laugh or smile. Katelyn forced her way across the room; so mad she twitched as she opened the door.
I locked the door and cried for a good, long time.
Back to square one. Cassie Andrews: forever alone.
I was 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 knew I would land.
Weeks merged into months.
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.
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. Yet things had happened to me-- after screwing up my hair for prom freshmen year, I had discovered it was curled perfectly, I was nearly in a car crash but the car somehow jumped over me and my broken bike, and 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, even if I'm 9 pounds underweight; 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 when I was eleven, leaving me alone again with this letter in my hand.
Cass, please come. You would love it here. My cousin and I had been close until she moved to England on my tenth birthday. After months of gossipy correspondence, I received this letter from her then nothing else.
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 really telling the truth.
Term Begins September 1st. That was in about 2 weeks time. And I don't know why, at that moment, I made a decision. And I certainly don't know how. But when I put down that letter 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 thought it tragic I had to make two within a year.
I regretted the entire idea I'd had. Where was I going to go to score my wizarding 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 and then we'd recover.
Maybe I could move in with her. Forget modeling, start anew.
My optimism faded as soon as I stepped off the plane.
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. Halfway there, however, I realized that I needed to sleep. I ended up at a cheap B&B and slept for 14 hours.
Instead of going to the airport to return to NYC, however, I decided to go shopping for a little bit. Loose myself in some good-natured pastime.
I hit up all the stores, 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.
The typical man at the front desk was replaced by an odd woman this time. She smiled at me with dreamy blue eyes.
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?"
The woman laughed kindly. "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 small road.
"You'll love this place," she told me. Thanking her, I took my map, glancing once again to admire her glowing, soft blue eyes.
A weird feeling bubbled in my stomach as I walked down a tree-lined road. That encounter had been anything but normal-- perhaps this wasn't really a street but maybe a killing shack.
Indeed, the instructions led me to a particularly suspicious portion of town. And instead of an off-the-wall pawn shop, there was the oddest pub called "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 really what she'd starred? It didn't make any sense. 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 perhaps or a bit older. And he was holding a wand. I didn't know what he was going to do, but anytime I hear the word "obliviate" and potentially applies to me I get worried. Third grade instincts took over.
I snatched the wand out of his hand and held it behind my back. Could I break it by snapping it or would it kill me? I decided to keep it there out of his reach, hoping wizards were useless without their wands. Half of me was reeling in shock that wizards even existed. The other half focused on staying alive.
Clearly, the boy hadn't been expecting my quick reflexes. (That's what I like to think, but in retrospect I think James let me snag it). "Hey," he'd cried, slightly bewildered, "give me my wand back!"
"No," I'd said, sounding like a foolish toddler. He frowned huffily, then turned back to the doorway.
"ALBUS!!!" he'd shouted. At that point, my teenage-girl instincts kicked in and I realized that this boy was very, very attractive.
But then this "Albus" had stepped out. My heart stopped in my chest. This had to be a joke. Was it a coincidence that in my first day in London I see the most attractive man in my life? It had to be a sign of some sort. My heart kicked into full gear. Well, if I was going to die, I could take it.
Pointing his wand calmly at me, he turned skeptically to the other boy. "James, you can't take care of this by yourself? For goodness sakes, this is a public street."
Unfortunately for me, the place was deserted. My murder would be forgotten, a city legend. "Are you even a muggle?" Albus asked curiously.
Wondering if I could move my lips in the presence of the two boys, I managed "a what?"
"A muggle. A non-magic person."
Well here was an enigma. Which one wouldn't get me killed?
"No," I lied. "I'm going to this place called Hogwarts with my cousin Allegra Hendrickson."
"No way!" exclaimed James, his eyes lighting up. "But you're not a first year!"
"Obviously," muttered Albus quietly.
"I'm-uh- going to try and go, anyway."
"Awesome," said James. He stuck out his hand. "James Potter," he said, shaking my hand firmly. I squeezed in what I hoped what a confident shake. Apparently this situation had turned from murder to cordial introductions. "And this right here is not my brother. His name's Albus Weasley."
Rolling his eyes, Albus reached for a handshake. Scared to look in his eyes, I remembered this time to introduce myself. "Cassia Andrews," I said. "But you can call me Cassie."
"Have you got your gear?" inquired James. "No offense, but I can tell you don't have a wand on you or anything."
"No," I muttered embarrassingly. "You're right I don't have anything."
"I'll take you to Diagon Alley," James offered earnestly. I caught my breath.
"James, what the hell, you have a girlfriend. Do you think Kendra--" Albus didn't even have to finish.