Chapter 19 : I'll share in your suffering to make you well
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She couldn’t quite place it. Just sort of... warm, safe, almost happy...
For one fleeting moment she remembered waking up curled against Al’s chest back on the first night at camp.
But in the same instant it was gone. She was alone in the tent. The stuffy, too-small tent. The flap was wafting open in the morning breeze and her back felt cold, not warm.
But she’d slept. An involuntary smile crept over her face, feeling strange after... how long had it been since she smiled? She didn’t know. Probably the same amount of time she hadn’t slept. Or more. She had to touch the corner of her lips to believe it was real.
“Look, I know I told you to sleep, but this is taking the piss.”
Cassie jumped at the voice, still not quite back to reality – clinging to this little piece of happiness. For just a couple of seconds she felt apprehensive at the thought of seeing him after her humiliation last night. Nerves cut through her little bubble of happiness until a grinning face peered through the flap.
It startled her for a moment. She hadn’t seen that face grin since he’d been messing about with Ryan. Grimace, maybe. In an attempt at a smile. But this was new.
“You look different.” He observed, noticing the traces of a smile on Cassie’s face.
“Likewise.” She acknowledged.
She half expected it to make him uncomfortable, to snap at her, or at least to jerk him back to his military-style persona.
But he shrugged. “It’s nine thirty. You’ve slept a full eight hours. You don’t look half-dead anymore. What’s not to be happy about?”
“A full eight hours?” Cassie repeated, in surprise. “I did that?”
“And I didn’t get... you know... at all?”
“Well,” For the first time James looked a little uncomfortable, “A couple of times you sort of... it looked like you were going to... but it’s alright. You got through it.”
“I don’t remember.” Cassie frowned. “How? How did I get through it?” In her experience, she’d never been able to stop herself slipping into the grips of a nightmare.
“Well you... I... it doesn’t matter.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “We should make a move, anyway. Don’t want to waste the extra ground we can cover now.” He backed out of the tent and Cassie heard the sound of bagged being sorted and zips being pulled.
She blinked at his sudden departure. She hadn’t missed his evasion, and had the worrying feeling that he wasn’t being entirely honest. Had she done something embarrassing? She really couldn’t remember a thing. It was the deepest sleep she’d had in a long time.
She shook her head. Whatever it was, it didn’t matter for now. What mattered was making up the ground she’d lost being weak and tired, and getting to Al sooner.
She got ready that morning, for the first time, with a smile on her face.
It would appear that happiness is catching, Cassie thought. She’d known that sleep would improve her general state tenfold. But she hadn’t counted on it making James a whole lot more pleasant as well.
It was almost strange to start with. Cassie still assumed at the back of her mind that it wouldn’t last. That he’d suddenly remember that they were on a mission and would snap his heels and march off.
But he hadn’t. The entire morning he’d been civil, almost friendly. Of course, the brilliant sunshine and the fresh, crisp air in the aftermath of the two-day rainstorms may have helped. Cassie felt like she could finally breathe. And she hadn’t even noticed difficulty breathing as one of her symptoms before.
In the afternoon, Cassie hadn’t even realised she was singing absent-mindedly under her breath before she picked up the same notes being hummed in a low voice from up ahead. Another smile stole across her face and she didn’t stop.
By the time they made camp for the night, James was almost high with excitement, showing her how far they’d come today compared to every other day combined. He deemed it safe to sleep outside tonight as well. He strung up their extra tarp between some trees to block most of the wind, creating a sheltered semi-circle with a view above of the canopy interspersed with starlight.
It was almost perfect, Cassie thought. So perfect that she felt guilty for sort of enjoying it. It didn’t mean anything, she told herself. It just seemed that way because it was so, one hundred per cent more bearable than the days before. She still remembered why they were there. That was what made her so happy. That she could do this properly now. She could reach Al. Without going mad on the way.
Maybe, anyway. If the paranoia didn’t kill her first. She was just getting a fire started. James had disappeared now and then to set, then check, snares. They were eating meat tonight, he’d announced. Cassie wasn’t convinced. She had her dehydrated meal at the top of her pack just in case.
Even though he only disappeared for minutes at a time, she couldn’t help but feel extra vulnerable on her own. Every sound from the woods was someone stalking them. Every scream was a...
Wait. That was a scream.
Cassie dropped her box of matches as once and was on her feet, staring into the trees. Which direction had it come from?
“James?” She called. There was only a hint of panic in her voice. “James.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. He was swearing. He was ok enough to swear.
After another couple of seconds she heard a loud scuffling and rustling through the trees. Too loud. James didn’t make that sort of noise. He moved far too stealthily. This was almost as loud as Cassie herself blundering through the woods.
“James?” She called again, more uncertainly, just as he staggered into view. “What’s -”
She took him in head to toe. He was pale, and there was a sheen of sweat on his face despite the cool evening air. He leant heavily on one leg and braced himself against a tree.
He held up a rabbit on a wire. “Got us a feed.” He said, weakly.
“What happened?” Cassie ignored his feeble attempt at a joke.
She could see his hand shaking. “My foot.”
Hey eyes went straight to the foot that he held slightly off the ground. His boot was tattered an caked in dried mud. As far as she could tell, it was just as in tact as it usually was. But she knew he wouldn’t be acting like this for nothing.
Cassie looked at him critically. If it wasn’t for the tree he was braced against, she was sure he’d be swaying. She’d never seen him like this.
“It is not.” She deduced. “Sit.” She pointed to the – still unlit – campfire where their packs waited.
To his credit, he did just that. He untied his boot, the laces crusted with dried mud. Small clouds of dust puffed up as he pulled them apart. He was taking great care to breathe slowly and evenly, Cassie noticed. He stopped one the laces were untied and the boot loosened.
Cassie looked up at his face, to the boot and back again. “I’ll do it.” She reached for the boot.
James hands caught hers. They were cold and clammy. “Wait.” He didn’t let go. “How are you with blood?”
Cassie’s eyes widened a little. “What have you done?”
“Just sort of... forgot where I laid the snare...” James let go of her hands, his hovering above the boot as if he was still unsure whether he could take it off. They were shaking. So was his voice, no matter how much he tried to hide it. “The wire...”
As he spoke Cassie could see what he was talking about. She could see, if she wiped away from dried mud, the tear where the wire had cut clean through his boot. It must have been sharp. Or his boots must have been in terrible condition. Which, of course, they were. No magic.
Cassie looked up at his face, lips pressed together, determined. His back curved over and his clammy face too near hers. Too near the injury. He hadn’t taken his eyes off it.
How was James with blood, Cassie thought, was the right question. Terrible – quite obviously. How had he managed to tend to her head when she’d fallen?
If he could make himself do that, she could make herself do this. She had to. And she couldn’t do it with him hovering over her, anxious.
“Sit back.” She told him, pressing his shoulder away from her.
To her surprise, after just a second of resisting, he did as he was told without a word. Looking up at the canopy above their heads he exhaled hard, lips pursed as if to control it. “Do you know what you’re... doing?” He asked, only sounding slightly apprehensive. He was good at hiding his pain. He was right – he would have been a good Occlumens.
Cassie chose to ignore the question, fishing out Ryan’s pain potion from James’ pack. Along with some alcohol cleansing wipes and a roll of bandages. “I’m going to take off your boot. It’ll probably hurt. But only for a little bit. I’ll clean it and get the pain potion on as soon as I can. Ok?”
James swallowed, eyes not leaving the trees. “Ok.”
Cassie loosened the boot as much as she could, aware of the fact that although James looked like the picture of ‘casual’ - leant back on his hands, good leg propped up and bad leg stretched out in front of his – his fingers dug into the mud, knuckles white.
She wished she was good with lightening the mood. She wished she could think of a single joke or anecdote to take his mind off it. Yet another situation where Al would have been far more adept than she was.
But he’s not here, Cassie told herself. And you’ll never find him if you can’t sort out James’ stupid foot. She had to do this. She couldn’t do it Al’s way. She had to do it hers. Fast, without thinking too much and hoping for the best.
The boot was a loose as it was going to get. Cassie placed a hand on the sole of the boot – trying very hard to ignore the dark stain leaking from it – and one firmly around James’ ankle.
“Ok. Pulling it off.” She said, just to warn him.
She felt like it came off fairly easily. One quick, smooth motion. Of course, she wasn’t the one with her back arched and head back, teeth gritted in pain.
“Ok. There. It’s ok.” She said, not sure it was really helping but unable to think of anything better.
She was left with a black sock, pale and dusty from the ankle up and dark, shiny with blood from the ankle down. At least it was too dark to see the vivid red, she thought idly.
“Right. Sock next.” She told him.
At least James had had the foresight to pull off the wire before hobbling back to camp. She could see skin through the tears and wasn’t sure she’d have been able to maintain this calm, detached manner if it had been caught in the wire.
She peeled off the sock more carefully, not wanting the torn fabric to pull at the wound. This time she didn’t look back at James’ face and kept hers carefully angled away so he wouldn’t see her wide, panicked eyes.
She hoped she’d managed to stifle her shark intake of breath enough that James couldn’t hear it over his own laboured breathing.
Blood aside, his foot, like the sock, was remarkably clean. Above the sock line his legs were dark with dust and dirt, stuck to his skin with sweat. Below, they were relatively clean, which Cassie was thankful for. This would be easier to clean.
Blood oozed from a neat, tidy cut; almost straight across the arch of his foot. It carried on slightly up the outside of his foot, where his shoes had been the most worn. But the inside, where they were more intact, was fine. Other than that, Cassie felt helpless. She couldn’t tell how deep it was. What was ‘deep’ anyway? There was a lot of blood. A lot. But it seemed to be just... oozing. Not spurting out like she realised she’d been dreading.
Still. This was more than she felt comfortable with. Was it deep enough to have cause any muscle or ligament damage? She had no idea. And James’ ability to hide his pain wasn’t helpful.
“Right.” She said, briskly, “Now I’m going to clean it.” She ripped open the packet of wipes and hesitated only for a second before beginning. She wiped the blood from around the cut first. There was a lot of it. That was one wipe used. She yanked out another.
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” James said, conversationally. She could feel him flinching as she got to work wiping the actual cut.
“It’s fine.” Cassie shrugged, not sure if she was lying or not. She’d finished with the next wipe and moved on to dousing it with healing potion. More blood was oozing from the wound. When would it stop doing that? At this rate she’d get through the whole packet. Was she supposed to stop it somehow?
She whipped her head around, bewildered but reassured by the slight smile she could hear in James’ voice. He was still staring determinedly up at the trees, but now his eyes were closed. The corners of his mouth were almost upturned. But his teeth were clamped firmly on his bottom lip.
Cassie felt her own lips curling up involuntarily as she focused firmly on carrying on with cleaning the cut. This was ridiculous. He was making her feel better. He, James Potter. With his foot sliced open and a very inadequate nurse tending to it. Once again, behaving uncannily like his brother.
The healing potion was getting nowhere. Was it supposed to work quickly? Maybe it was only for shallow cuts and grazes like her head. There had to be another way.
Cassie searched the back of her mind. Surely someone back at camp had cut themselves? Surely she’d seen that. There had to be a way of making it stop without magic.
“I think you need to put pressure on it.” James volunteered, obviously sensing her hesitation. “That’s what we did when Fred cut his hand on a saw. Tied it up really tightly in a bandage and eventually it stopped.”
It seemed like a bit of a pathetic solution to Cassie.
“But the potion...” She felt reluctant to leave it up to muggle remedies.
“You’ve used even more than I did.” He eyed the bottle. Cassie hadn’t realised it was conspicuously empty looking. There was maybe just an inch left at the bottom. They better hope there were no other accidents along the way.
“Ok.” Cassie shook her head to clear it and yanked out a bag of bandages. It wasn’t in very good order. She dug around and came up with a couple of thick pads that she thought might absorb some of the blood, and a roll of sturdy enough looking bandage. “This isn’t going to be pretty. I’m just going to... it’ll be fine.”
And it was. Sort of. Like she’d said – not pretty. Kind of lumpy and not wrapped particularly neatly. But James seemed to think it was tight enough. And his toes weren’t turning blue or anything. He wasn’t even sweating anymore.
“Can you feel it?” Cassie sat back, looking at it uncertainly.
“I can’t feel anything.” James shrugged. His entire body seemed to have loosened up. If it weren’t for the joke of a bandage and the indent from where he’d been biting his lip, you’d never tell anything had happened.
“I guess we’ll just... check it tomorrow.” Cassie said, trying to sound knowledgeable about Muggle healing remedies.
“Sure. Now,” James pulled himself toward the fire and hitched himself up onto his knees. “About that rabbit...”
While James seemed to have regained the ease and cheerfulness from before his injury instantly once the pain was gone, Cassie hadn’t. It was a reminder, almost. The light mood today had been inappropriate. They had a plan. A mission. They were walking into almost certain danger. They were constantly in almost certain danger.
They were in the woods with no magic. They were vulnerable. This had proved that.
Sure, it was a good thing that Cassie was no longer acting like the walking dead. But it was no excuse for them to get complacent.
Complacency could mean the end of them. And the end of Al and Ginny’s chances.
It turned out pessimism was contagious. The roles were reversed, almost. Cassie was the one ignoring James’ light-heartedness, almost to the point of rudeness. He hadn’t entirely stopped, though. Cassie had watched him closely, to see if his foot would start hurting again. He’d kept up the cheerfulness to the point that she was sure he was covering up his pain. She just had no way of proving it.
They’d settled into their shelter side by side as usual – James had dismissed Cassie’s protests that she may wake in screaming terror and promised to wake her before that happened – by the time the upbeat mood faded a little.
Now that her mind was rested, cleared and recovered from the stress of the day, Cassie couldn’t help but be bombarded with additional unhelpful thoughts.
Al. Her task. Hopelessness.
“Where do you think they are?” She asked up at the stars rather than directly to James.
He didn’t answer for a moment. “I don’t know. Dad says we can’t be sure -”
“I don’t mean what does your Dad say. I mean what do you think? What does your gut tell you?” She didn’t know why, but she felt that she needed confirmation that she wasn’t the only one with a torrent of possibilities, each worse than the last, running through her mind.
“I don’t think they’ll know what to do. It wasn’t meant to happen that way. They were supposed to have more. Everyone. You. You were supposed to help them; to tell them everything you knew. And we weren’t supposed to be so organised.”
Cassie held her breath. She could tell from the smooth way that James’ was talking that he’d been thinking about this constantly.
“They’ll be confused. If anything, they’d have expected us to retaliate earlier. Maybe – hopefully – they think we’re still keeping you against your will. They think we’re animals, after all.” There was no bitterness in his tone, just deliberation. That was James, weighing up every detail and forming an educated guess. “It’s not in the papers. They wanted to be able to plaster it all over the news – The Dreadful Potters Caught. But we weren’t. They’re keeping it quiet – so they’ll be keeping them somewhere quiet. Maybe at school. It’s summer, after all. No one’s there. Plenty of places to keep people quiet while you do what you want to them -”
Cassie swallowed audibly, fear sparking tears in her eyes. This was precisely what she hadn’t wanted to think about, but hadn’t been able to help it. And James’ tone, so calm and controlled.
He heard her stifled sob and rolled onto his side.
“Sorry.” He looked uncomfortable, anxious that she might start crying again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean -”
“No.” Cassie closed her eyes. “You did mean it. That’s what I’ve been scared of too.”
“But I mean... there’s no need to -”
“You were honest.” Cassie roughly wiped her eyes. “I needed to know if I was... if I was the only one going mad with all these horrible, dark thoughts about what might...” She exhaled hard and closed her eyes.
“It doesn’t make you a bad person. That you can think like them.” James rolled back onto his back. “It’s smart. Thinking it all through the way they would. It’s what makes a good Auror.” The way that he said it sounded almost like he was repeating words someone had said to him. Cassie could imagine a slightly younger James, worried about all the dark possibilities of what might happen to the brother that they left behind. Worried about what it said about him – that he could think of these things. And a wise, kindly father comforting him. Those were Harry Potter’s words.
Cassie was glad that Al had those months with his family before he was caught. Those memories could override years of Ministry slander about the cruel Potters. They might be what gets him through whatever it was that was happening to him.
Could it override those feeling of betrayal? Cassie felt hollow remembering the look on his face when they’d been caught; when Buchanan had spoken to her like an old friend.
To think of Al, alone and likely hurt. And betrayed, on top of everything.
“Do you think he...” Cassie trailed off, realising she’d been off on an Al tangent in her head and that James had no idea what she was thinking. It was a stupid thing to ask James Potter anyway. It took him months and months to let his suspicions about Cassie go. Why should Al forget it any quicker?
“He’ll forgive you.” Surprisingly, James had followed her train of thought without prompting. Cassie wondered when she’d become that obvious.
“I don’t...” Cassie could voice her despair at the thought that he might not. This might be too big a betrayal even for Al.
“Trust me.” James said, still looking straight up at the stars. “He’s my brother. I know how he feels.”
Cassie rolled over onto her side, away from James. She shouldn’t be this easy to read. What was the point of Occlumency if you wore your thoughts all over your face?
“Good night.” She said, shortly.
“Good night.” James’ voice was softer. She heard the rustle of his sleeping bag, followed by a long, stretched out silence with just the wind in the trees audible.
Cassie came to with a surge of guilt, a flood of shame and the lingering despair that was common to all of her nightmares.
It was a more gentle awakening, this time. Like she’d been on the verge of lapsing back into a peaceful sleep.
Her face was damp with the usual tears. Her mouth slightly dry but her throat wasn’t sore. She was sure she hadn’t been screaming.
Had she managed her nightmares? Alone?
It was only then that she became aware of the warm weight over her side and against her stomach. She immediately sat bolt upright and shifted away.
James was still half asleep, stirring more now that Cassie had moved so abruptly.
“What are you -?” He blinked, sleepily. It was almost dawn, Cassie noted. There was a cool, grey light just beginning to emerge.
“What are you doing?” Cassie hissed, utterly bewildered and unable to keep the feeling distinct from the remaining guilt of her nightmares. James – with his arm around her? It made no sense.
“I’m sorry.” James hitched himself up onto his elbow. “I didn’t mean... I wasn’t trying... It’s not like that! Look, it just worked the other night. You were crying and it was going to get worse and I couldn't wake you up. So I just...” He shrugged, still looking uncomfortable and defensive. “And you... you were ok. After that.”
Cassie felt goosebumps spreading over her arms. “You were the reason I didn’t have any nightmares last night?” She felt slightly let down. Almost like he’d stolen her thunder. She’d thought she could manage it now...
“Maybe.” James didn’t seem to want to look at her. “Look, I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. That was why I didn’t tell you. It was just the easiest way – I needed to sleep too and it was the only way you’d stay quiet and -”
Cassie knew she should feel grateful. At least a little bit. But she couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt that remained from her nightmare. It was alright. He was just trying to help. To comfort her. It just felt... wrong.
“I just... don’t think it’s a good idea.” Cassie found herself unable to make eye contact now. She looked down at her lap and concentrated very hard on the tartan patterned blanket whilst keeping her voice low and casual.
“It doesn’t mean -” James tried again to defend himself.
“I know.” Cassie cut across. Of course she knew it couldn’t possibly mean anything between James and herself. She just couldn’t shake the guilt. “I just...” She didn’t know how to put it into words. The more she tried to forget the guilt and shame from her nightmares – that guilt and shame at betraying Al – the more impossible it became to separate that betrayal from the feelings she was having now.
“Fine.” James said, quietly, with an air of slight exasperation. “What do you want me to -”
“Just wake me up. Whatever it takes. Slap me or... anything.” Cassie’s voice had gotten rather brusque. Anything to get rid of this uncomfortable intimacy. “Please.”
“Fine.” James rolled on to his side, away from Cassie. Even though he could surely only expect an hour’s more sleep at most.
Cassie waited a moment, willing the guilt and irrational resentment to subside. It was a bad idea to go back to sleep still feeling that way.
But it wouldn’t. She suspected it would stay with her a long time.
A.N. Thanks for keeping with me guys! I know to HPFF users are much fewer now so it means a lot that there are still so many keeping up with No Solid Ground. Let me know what you think so far - I know people are missing Al, but if it makes it any easier, I suspect there'll be just the one more chapter without him. That's one more chapter until we get back to Hogwarts! Think Cassie and James will make it?
Thanks again! Rx.
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