Cassandra was not the kind of girl who spent 5 days per week thinking about what to wear on Saturday night, but no one could say that she was a hermit either. Actually, the girl was a true street spirit: she loved wandering through the streets of London late at night, not to get drunk and forget her miserable life, but to observe, listen, and dance.
She observed the other spirits, who managed to make London heart beat even when most of its citizen were asleep in their beds or unconscious on the ground.
She listened to the melodies and songs which echoed in the dark alleys.
She danced. Break-danced, to be precise. God knows how much the girl loved to twist, jump, fall, feeling her muscle stretch and her junctures crack slightly when the movement was too rash. She loved the rhythm and the adrenaline that spread in her organism every time the music started. Breakdance fixed her heart when she was twelve and saved her life when she was fifteen.
Now a wolf had eaten her ability to dance, but Cassandra still had eyes and ears, and London heart kept beating in the darkness. So, on a wonderful Saturday night, the young woman got dressed, put a bit of make-up on her scarred face, and limped out of her tiny apartment.
She sat on the bonnet of an old car, trying to absorb the life which surrounded her. Everything was so perfect, and for a few minutes she felt like her old self again. Soon, however, something broke the equilibrium.
A whimper. A soft, almost imperceptible whimper, coming from what seemed to be the shadow of a black stray dog.
Cassandra loved animals, sometimes even more than human beings. That was the main reason she didn't immediately try to kill the wolf on that fateful night. She just couldn't even conceive the idea of harming such pure and innocent creatures. And so, Cassandra Lupin, a hair-trigger soldier with a broken heart and a cold soul, melted in front of a poor lost puppy and found herself holding an unconscious dog in the middle of a dark alley.
What the hell am I going to do now?
The girl looked around frantically, searching for anyone who could help her carrying the canine. In fact, she knew only a veterinary who would have welcomed the animal at that time of the night, but he lived far away from that part of London, and Cassandra didn't own a car. Actually, she didn't even have enough money to hire a taxi.
"Ok, Cassie. You are a soldier. You have carried men twice your size with mines exploding all around you. Walking to the vet while holding a dog will be easier than eat a piece of cake..."
Yeah, you wish. Cassandra reached for her crutch, only to realize that the only way to carry the dog implied the use of both hands. Damn.
With a grunt the girl got up from the floor, her right leg already complaining rather loudly.
"Ok. I've got you doggie. Now you'll have to be patient, all right? Well, you don't look too worried, do you?"
Cassandra kept talking to the sleeping form she held tightly in her arms, trying to ignore the pain and the fatigue. A step at a time, she walked past the first block of flats, then the second, then the third. Sometimes she had to stop and sit for a while, not only because of the prosthesis but also because of her battered heart, not used to bearing such great exertions anymore. After a while, she started feeling a hot liquid soaking her large colorful trousers.
The wound has reopened. No. nononononono....
The pain was almost unbearable, but that poor creature needed her. Gritting her teeth and sweating visibly, Cassandra kept limping towards the vet, praying to find him at home. With an almost 90-year-old lad you can never be sure.
It was almost dawn when the strange couple finally reached Bill Thompson's house. By the time she reached the door, Cassandra's breath was ragged and her limbs were shaking dangerously. She dropped herself on the last step, adjusting the still asleep dog beside her. Ignoring that it was not five in the morning yet, she banged on the door with all the strength she had.
While waiting for the old man to get up, the girl leaned against the wall, looking properly at her new friend for the first time. He was skinny. No, more than skinny: Cassandra could have easily counted all his bones if it hadn't been for the thick, dirty and long black fur that covered his limbs. His paws were covered in curdled blood and dirt, and deep gashes covered his body. It looked like the poor lad had been running in a forest for a lot of time. The wounds, however, weren't what worried Cassandra: the real problem was the dog's ears were too hot for his own good. He had a very high fever, probably caused by an infection or an excessive stress.
After almost ten minutes of waiting, Cassandra started banging on the door again, this time with more energy.
"COME ON BILL, I KNOW YOU ARE HERE! WAKE UP YOU OLD COOT!"
"ARE YOU DEAF?! MOVE YOUR BIG BACKSIDE FROM THAT BED AND OPEN THE DOOR!"
Still no answer.
"OK, YOU LAZY GIT. IF YOU DON'T LET ME IN THIS ISTANT I'LL GO TO MR. MOLTON'S CLINIC. HE IS SO YOUNG AND SMART... PROBABLY HE WOULD DO A VERY GOOD JOB. AFTER ALL, YOU ARE ONLY A 90-YEAR-OLD PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A..."
Cassandra, however could not end her rambling speech, as a pretty angry man suddenly burst the door open, leaving the girl laying supine on the floor of the entrance hall. Bill's scowl, however, turned quickly into a worried frown when he realised who was the author of such a commotion.
".. Cassie? What are you doing here?! You look awful!"
"Seriously, man, I'm moved. We haven't seen each other for two long years and the first thing you say is that I look awful!", Cassandra huffed, slowly and shakily getting up from the floor, the unconscious dog tightly held in her arms.
"Anyway, I'm here because this poor dog needs the help of a good veterinary... I... I know I've disappeared for two years, and I know you probably don't want to have anything to do with me anymore, but..."
"Come in. It looks like you need some good tea". Before Cassandra could reply, the old man dragged the strange couple inside and made his way towards the kitchen. The girl looked around, noticing that nothing in the furniture had changed.
Sometimes things don't change, she thought with a sigh, while smirking slightly at the thought of the nickname she had given to Bill long before... Mr Teapot. After all those years is still suited mr. Thompson perfectly. First of all, the old man silhouette resembled that of a large teapot. Secondly, the veterinary was of the opinion that, no matter how bad things could be, there was nothing a good cup of tea couldn't solve.
"Thinking about Mr Teapot again, aren't we?"
Cassandra looked up from her steaming mug, grinning.
" Reading my mind again, aren't we?"
Bill chuckled lightly, but he soon turned serious again.
"So, dear, I think you owe me an explanation. Not that I don't like being woken up by your... Musical voice, it's just that I was sleeping rather peacefully, and your sudden appearance is... Confusing. You were the one who said you'd have been gone for good, after all".
Cassie sighed heavily, looking at the dog sleeping peacefully on the floor. Yes, she remembered her last meeting with the veterinary. It occurred just before the beginning of the girl's mission for the Army. She was terrified of going on that plane, because she knew that something bad would have happened to her. However, Colonel Wilkins had forbidden her to talk to anyone about her "new job", so she had to swallow her panic and act as everything was normal.
She lied to Mr Thompson. She said that she had been offered a place as a surgeon in an American hospital. She said she was happy, and that she would have sent him a postcard. At the end of her last encounter with the man, however, something inside her broke, and she felt the urge to add those last words: "I may not come back, Bill. Just... Try to remember me as long as you can".
"I've never forgotten you, you know? I thought about you every night before sleeping... Where have you been, dear?"
She wanted to tell him. She really did. She needed someone to know about what happened during those two years. The dog, however, deserved the vet's attention more than her, so she lied.
"I told you, I've been in America for a couple of years. I came back because... I missed London. And I had a car accident. Nothing serious, just a few scratches, but it made me realise that the New World is not right for me. Now, please, help me with this poor boy here. I found him in an alley near home... He is so thin, Bill, I've never seen such a skinny dog before. And his paws...God, they are bleeding so much".
Bill finally gave up his attempt to make her spill the truth and lazily waved his hand towards the door behind him.
"Alright.. Put him in my old study and start cleansing his wounds. You know were the bandages are". Cassandra almost jumped from her seat, the pain in her leg completely forgotten as she lifted the dog carefully in her arms.
"Ok, doggie, now we are going to fix you, and in no time you'll be back chasing squirrels".
She wanted to wake him up and make sure he was still alive, but the dog kept sleeping. More and more worried about her new friend, Cassandra turned on the lights of Bill's old study. It was a small squared room with nothing but an operating table, a sink, an x-Ray machine and a battered cupboard in it.
The girl laid the animal on the cold metallic table and started searching for bandages, woollen cotton and alcohol. She then proceeded cleansing the dog's wounds, realising that some of them were infected. Dirt covered every inch of the animal's body and, even though his fur was thick and black, millions of fleas could be seen walking on his skin. Soon Cassandra understood that there was no point in disinfecting the wounds without giving the dog a proper bath. In that moment, Bill entered the room and started rummaging with the x-Ray machine.
"Before you move him further we'd better check if he has any broken bones... Come on, young lady, help this old man here with this evil machine."
Despite the worry, Cassandra managed to smile at the vet's words. He had never liked the x-Ray machine, that was a fact. It was too heavy, too expensive, too... Technological. And Bill didn't like technology. At all. Fortunately, Cassandra was a little bit more open-minded, so in no time the dog was diagnosed with a few bruised ribs. Not too bad, considering his appearance.
After a long bath in which tonnes of insects, leaves and God-knows-what-else were left swimming peacefully in London sewers, Mr. Thompson auscultated the patient's heart and lungs. It came out that the poor dog had a bad pneumonia, which explained the fever. On the other hand, the cuts which covered his body proved not to be so deep as previously expected, even though some of them were badly infected.
"So... I gave him a high dose of pain killers, so he'll probably be asleep for the rest of the morning. I am also giving him a IV therapy, because at the moment he's too weak to handle proper food. In a few days, however, he will be able to eat on his own, so make sure you buy this particular brand of dog food. You will also have to buy this medicine for his lungs and this shampoo to get rid of the last fleas. Don't worry about him, he'll be fine in a week".
Cassandra, however, was too busy reading the "shopping" list with wide eyes to be happy for the dog. Medicines, food... Those items were all extremely expensive, and the girl's salary was definitely too low to pay for them. Suddenly, the teenager felt her eyes filling with tears.
I am becoming a damn hormonal girl.
"Cassie? ...w-why are you crying dear? I thought you would have been glad to hear that our little friend here will be fine..."
"I...I'm happy Bill, of course... I-it's just that... I.. I can't afford these things. Hell, I hardly manage to buy food every day, a-and I have my own medicines to b-buy, and..."
"Wait a minute. Why should you have to buy food? I thought you still lived with the Colonel"
Suddenly, Cassandra found the floor particularly interesting. Why did she said that? Bill didn't have to know what happened to her. He wasn't her psychologist!
Oh, well. Now I can't take it back.
After a few minutes, the girl finally managed to open her mouth to speak, although what came out was barely a whisper:
"C-colonel W-Wilkins d-did not appreciate my current physical s-state and sort of.. Sort of kicked me out"
Taking a deep breath, the ex-soldier looked up at the old man in front of her, who flinched slightly at the sight of her pained expression.
"Now I am living in a two room flat and I am broke. Before the... Trip in America I could use the money I earned by dancing or working in the bookshop as I wished. You know that every time I brought an injured animal I paid the bill without complaining... Now, however... I work in a hardware store, but the salary.. Isn't very high. Hell, yesterday evening I had to carry this dog and walk to your house because I couldn't even take a taxi! I had to stop taking pain killers because I couldn't afford them, and God knows how much I need them!"
Cassandra's hands started shaking violently, but she kept her composure. She wouldn't lose her dignity, at least not completely.
Bill stared at her for a while, his old brain trying to understand what to say.
"Listen... Cassie... I won't ask you what actually happened in the past two years, since you clearly refuse to tell me the entire truth. However, since you've never acted this way in front of a bill to pay, I do believe in what you said about the Colonel, and I'm deeply sorry for what he did to you. Now, how about we leave this poor lad to his beauty sleep and we have a cup of tea? ". The old man then smiled fondly at his favourite teenager and patted her cheek.
"Wipe away your tears, my child. You know I can't stand the sight of an upset lady. We'll find a way out. We always do."
Suddenly, Cassandra remembered why she had never considered Mr. Thompson a proper friend, despite all the afternoons spent in his study healing injured creatures and chatting about her dreams. She had gotten herself in a big trouble.
If I get old, I will not give in
but if I do, remind me of this
Remind me that once I was free...
Padfoot was flying. Yes, he was peacefully floating in the sky like he used to do when he was young and still had his friends... and a broom, of course.
Maybe he wasn't flying. Maybe he was dead, and this was Heaven. It was strange, though. Why couldn't he find James, or Lily? No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't see them... Actually, he couldn't see anything. Everything was so foggy and dark.
Maybe he wasn't in Heaven, after all. Maybe he was in Hell, like all the other members of his family.
Still... there was that voice... that sweet hoarse voice that reminded him of someone...
Whatever happens, If we're still speaking
Pick up the phone, play me this song. *
That was a Muggle device.
Wait. Muggles. London. London crowded with muggles. At night. With music...
The street spirit!
Maybe he wasn't dead, after all. Padfoot sniffed the air, just to be sure. Yes, the mysterious singer was definitely that strange street spirit he had met in the alley: he could feel his nostrils slowly filling with the wonderful scent which had lulled him to sleep. This time, however, cinnamon and orange were mixed with other smells, less pleasant: alcohol, blood... Oh. Now he remembered. That girl had taken him to the "veterinary", who, if his schoolboy memories didn't trick him, was a sort of healer of Muggle's pets. Suddenly, a soft touch almost made him jump with fear.
"Oh, you're awake! You gave me a heart attack! Bill said you'd have woken up after a few hours, but obviously he was wrong, the prat.. Come on, doggie, open your eyes please..."
Whimpering softly, Padfoot complied, careful not to be completely blinded by the ambulatory bright lights. When he finally opened his eyes, however, he found out that the light was dimmer than he thought. Actually, it was almost dark.
After a few minutes, the dog managed to focus on his surroundings. He didn't know where veterinarians worked, but that didn't resemble a St. Mungo's room at all. First of all, in St. Mungo's nobody slept on the floor, and at the moment he was certainly lying on an old yet clean parquet, probably wrapped in a rather soft plaid. Sirius waited for the girl to say something, but she simply kept stroking his fur, which, by the way, felt much cleaner than before.
Encouraged by the young lady's silence, Padfoot dared to lift his head and look around more properly. He was in a small room, dark because the only sources of light were three or four small candles left on the floor. A small camp bed lied on the opposite side of the room, and next to it there was an oil lamp. Piles and piles of books lied scattered on the floor, as well as lots of newspapers and some sort of flat, circular... things.
On his right the view was occupied by a huge black squared object... a television? It was on, and Padfoot could see the light coming from the muggle device. The walls were probably white, and were covered with posters. Then, Sirius turned his head on the left, and there she was, his street spirit, his saviour, grinning madly at him.
"Good evening, doggie"
Her face was hidden in the dark, but Sirius could still catch glimpses of her appearance: she was beautiful. She had long, wavy hair which fell graciously on her shoulders and gently brushed against his legs. She was thin, and the small flames of the candle drew intricate red patterns on her tonic arms. Her eyes were big and shining in the darkness, but Padfoot wasn't able to determine their colour.
Bloody hell, this place is darker than the street where I found Harry.
"No, doggie, stop! You'll hurt yourself!", he heard the girl exclaim. Huffing loudly he fell back on the floor. She was right. He wasn't strong enough to get up, let alone walk. Why did he choose to go to London in the first place? Why didn't he keep following his godson?
Because little Prongslet got on the Knight Bus leaving you trembling behind a fence. Get a grip on yourself man.
Mentally slapping himself for having forgotten that probably Harry was safe in one of his friends' home, Sirius tried to relax.
I have to recover and get used to the presence of other human beings again.
Only then I'll be able to face Harry, Remus and Cassie. Oh.
Really smart, Padfoot. You wander through London streets for hours and you don't even find a clue about Cassie's current whereabouts.
Maybe she doesn't live in London. Maybe she is still in Scotland.
That's right... So... Why did I come to London, then?
Because you are a lazy git who can only think about food and having fun.
Before one of the many voices inside his head could reply, however, the girl started speaking again.
"Hey, doggie... Why are you so sad? You don't have to worry, you know... You have been asleep for a couple of days, so now you may be a bit confused... But apart from this you are perfectly fine! Tomorrow I'll start giving you some real food, and maybe you'll even be able to walk around a bit!", she sounded happy and excited, but Padfoot could hear that something was wrong. Suddenly, the girl lied down so as to look at him straight in the eye.
"You know... I had to do a bad thing to buy your things. A very bad thing. But it was worth it. You are worth it. Because you are innocent and pure and you don't deserve to d-die..."
Panic started rising in Padfoot's chest as he saw a small tear trailing down the girl's cheek. Panic and guilt.
If only she knew who he really was...
Other tears fell on the floor, and soon the girl's breath became ragged. Before Sirius could think about what to do, the young woman buried her face in the dog's fur, sobbing loudly.
What did she have to do to save me? No, come on, don't cry...
"Do you think he'll ever forgive m-me? I... he i-is a g-good man. I know t-this. He is.. honest and s-smart and r-respected. W-why should he want t-to d-deal with a poor, dangerous p-person l-like me?... I'm .. I'm a monster! Oh, God..."
The girl kept crying, and Padfoot was lost in thoughts. He remembered those words, and he remembered the person who had pronounced them.
"Hey, Cassie, what's up darling?".
A young Sirius Black kneels in front of a tiny four-year-old girl who looks very worried.
"It's Dad, Paddy. He is not feeling well.."
Black's grey eyes widen in understanding. That's it. Little Cassie is a smart girl, too smart for her own good. She knows everything.
"Ehr... I think that your daddy is perfectly fine! Come on, why don't you go to play a bit with Lily and the other girls? I'm sure they need your help with whatever subject they are studying!"
Cassie's worried expression, however, turns into a sceptic frown.
"But Paddy...Auntie Lily is playing with Prongs and Marley doesn't want to play with me!"
Damn Marlene. Sirius will have to talk to her about this.
"Ok... what about Wormy, then? I think he is in the Common Room eating and... Well, he really needs your help with his Transfiguration essay"
Now Cassie is clearly disgusted.
"No, Not Pete, pleeease! He smells of cheese and talks like a mouse."
Sirius can't help but chuckle at the girl's antics. Still, he needs to talk to Moony. Alone.
"Very well, young lady... This is my last offer. How about Hagrid? He smells of dead hens, but you don't mind that smell, do you?"
Suddenly, the child's frown turns into a grin. A pretty wolfish grin.
"Yes! He'll let me touch the Hippogriffs!". And she runs away happily, leaving a slightly pale Sirius behind her.
"Hippogriffs... Naaah, she's just kidding..."
Still thinking about baby girls and huge magical creatures, Padfoot enters Gryffindor seventh years' dorm, where, of course, Remus is studying.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"When are you going to tell Cassie about your furry little problem?"
A book falls on the floor with a loud thud.
"W-what? Sirius, we talked about this! She's too young!"
"Oh, Come on, Remus! She may be a child, but she is smarter than anyone else in this school! She learned how to read when she was three, Remus. Three! And do you actually think she has never heard of a werewolf before? Hell, she has lived with them for the first two years of her life! Now she keeps asking about you, why you are always so pale and tired... She thinks you are ILL, for God's sake! She's worried, and probably even hurt by the way you keep lying to her!"
Remus doesn't say anything. He just stares at Sirius with his ice-green eyes. He stares, and stares, until the first tear falls.
"Look, Moony... I didn't"
"OH, SHUT UP! DO YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW THAT SHE IS A SMART GIRL? DO YOU THINK THAT SEEING HER SO WORRIED DOES NOT BREAK MY HEART?! I KNOW SHE IS SMART, AND KIND AND LOVING. BUT IT WAS MY... KIND WHO ALMOST KILLED HER! WHY WOULD SHE WANT TO DEAL WITH A POOR, DANGEROUS MAN LIKE ME?! I'M A MONSTER!...OH, GOD.. I'D BETTER LEAVE HER TO A PROPER FAMILY INSTEAD OF KEEPING HER NEAR A BEAST!"
Remus stops shouting abruptly, his tear-strained face suddenly as pale as a sheet.
Cassandra is there, observing him.
She has tears in her beautiful eyes, fear clear on her face.
"Please, Dad... I'm sorry.. d-don't leave me."
"Please, Dad... I'm so sorry.."
Padfoot looked down at the girl sobbing in his fur and froze.
* the lines come from Radiohead's song A Reminder, a B-side released together with the album OK Computer.