No, It can't be true.
I'm not that lucky.
Padfoot's mind was a mess. After that little flashback his brain simply stopped working. Could everything be so... easy? No. Those words... those words were only a coincidence... They HAD to be a coincidence.
Why shouldn't she be Cassandra?
It just felt... Wrong. Cassandra was a happy child. She had always been cheerful, talkative, sweet. This girl... Yes, she seemed to be sweet and kind, but... Missed that "something" that made Cassie be, well... Cassie.
Maybe she just grew up. After all, it's been thirteen years since you last saw her, so now she should be..
No. This girl couldn't be Cassandra. Cassandra was a bright, cheerful teenager, not a twenty-something, depressed and lonely woman.
Padfoot's heart sank.
He hadn't found Cassandra. She was still lost, and he was still alone.
Lost in his thoughts, the dog didn't notice that the girl had fallen asleep at some point of her breakdown and the sun was slowly rising on London.
Suddenly, something shifted beside Sirius.
Oh. She's awake.
The animagus closed his eyes, pretending to sleep. He didn't want to face her, he didn't want to look at her in the light. A small part inside him still hoped that his saviour was Cassandra, and the destruction of that hope would have meant an unbearable pain in his heart.
The girl finally moved from her lying position, grumbling and huffing like an angry wolf. Padfoot heard a thud, and a long string of half-whispered curses echoed in the small room.
Don't look. You don't want to know what happened. You are sleeping. Sleeeeping.
Sirius Black, however, was a curious man, and just couldn't resist.
The scene in front of him was... interesting. Apparently, the girl had tripped on one of the books on the floor and had fallen on the camp bed, being immediately "attacked" by dozens of colorful cushions. Now she was struggling to get up, kicking like a mad horse and throwing pillows all around the room. After a couple of minutes the young woman finally managed to reach a sitting position and dropped her head in her hands, yawning loudly. Her hair was ruffled, and this made her look more like a tired lion rather than an ethereal ghost.
She was wearing a baggy white T-shirt, which partly covered her slim legs. Well, her leg and a half. Truth be told, Sirius felt a bit sick at the sight of the stump of her right leg: the bandages which covered it where red with blood, and the rest of the thigh was full of long, deep gashes.
Suddenly something clicked in Padfoot's mind: those were not normal cuts. For the second time in a couple of hours the dog was reminded of his school days, but this time hope was replaced by a sense of terror and dread.
With his heart thumping painfully in his chest, Sirius raised into a sitting position, whimpering when his weight shifted on his battered paws. The sound seemed to catch the girl's attention, who lifted her head and looked at him.
Her eyes are really beautiful.
They are so..green.
Not Lily's green..
They look like two leaves of frozen sage...
Oh God. Ooooh God.
Padfoot's brain was stuck in a loop. Again. Those eyes were unmistakable. Those were Remus' eyes, the eyes he got from his mother. Those were Cassandra's eyes.
Sirius' heart was about to explode with joy and relief. He wanted to turn back human and hug tightly the young Maraudrette, never letting her go again. He wanted to lift her and swoop her in the air as he used to do when she was only a child. He wanted to take her hands and make her dance and laugh. He wanted to tell her that everything would have been alright, that now she was safe with her Padfoot. For the second time in twelve years, Sirius Black wanted to laugh.
But he couldn't. Not yet. He was an escaped convict after all, and probably even Muggles knew about his supposed crimes: even if Cassandra remembered him, which was highly improbable, she would believe him a mass murderer. He had to be careful and gain the girl's trust before even thinking about revealing his true identity. Still, at the moment he was a really happy dog, so he couldn't help but exult in a doggish way: he literally jumped on his not-so-little-anymore Cassie and licked every inch of her face, waggling his tail madly.
"Doggie! Agh!... Good morning to you too... Agh! Stop!". Cassandra laughed and tried to get free from the overjoyed Animagus. Her giggles, however, resulted only in making Padfoot's heart dance tip-tap in his chest, and the dog continued spreading his drool all over the poor girl's face.
They went on like this for almost half an hour, Sirius drooling and jumping up and down the bed and Cassandra laughing madly. Eventually, Padfoot's heart calmed down a bit and the ex-soldier was able to get ready for the day.
"My Lord, doggie... I'm covered in drool! Well, that means you'll have to wait a bit for your breakfast. I'm going to have a shower, just... don't destroy everything, ok?" . Padfoot was hanging off her words, his bright grey eyes filled with joy and love. He sat down on the bed, observing intently every movement she made.
Still smiling softly, Cassandra reached for a strange black thing, which had the shape of a leg.
Despite the happy look on her face, it was clear that the girl was in pain. She was pale as death, with dark circles under her eyes and bluish, chapped lips. Padfoot could see her chest rising and falling with clear effort, and her limbs shaking slightly. She gingerly touched the drenched bandages which covered her stump, and soon even her white hands were red with blood. Sighing, the girl took a small metallic box from under her bed, she opened it and placed it beside her. Then, she proceeded removing the dirty bandages.
Sirius wanted to look away, but his muscles were frozen and his mind confused. So he watched. He watched her long hands gently lift the gauze, revealing a swollen bloody piece of flesh which once had been a leg. He watched the muscles of her right thigh clenching painfully while blood slowly drew complicated patterns on the pale skin. He watched Cassandra as she took a big bottle out of the box. She leaned against the wall and took a huge breath. Then, she poured the content of the bottle on her wounds, grinding her teeth in order not to scream.
Padfoot wanted to look away, he really did, but all the strength seemed to have left him, so he watched. He watched as his Mauradrette let the bottle fall on the ground, her limbs to weak to hold such a light object anymore. He watched as she shakily took a needle and a string from the box and started stitching her own flesh. She didn't cry, or scream, or whimper. She worked rapidly, almost mechanically, her brows furrowed in concentration. Padfoot, on the other hand, wanted to scream and cry and kill the bastard that had dared to touch his Cassie. But he knew that wasn't his job. Those scars, those gashes... they were not normal. No human could have made them, yet no animal was able to produce such a damage.
Moony won't like this. At all.
Cassandra finished stitching and took new bandages from the box. Finally, the stump was covered again, ready to be trapped in that black thing. She rummaged with strings and screws for a while, then took the crutch and got up.
She was tall, like her father. Despite the scars and the pale skin, she didn't appear weak. Instead, she was wrapped in an aura of dominance and strength. She was broken, both physically and emotionally, but somehow she was finding the energy to go on with her life.
Padfoot watched her as she picked up some clothes from a carton box in the corner of that "house" and limped towards what seemed to be the bathroom.
She was humming an old Muggle song that Sirius had heard long before.
There is a house in New Orleans
they call the Rising Sun
It's been the ruin of many a poor girl
and me, Oh God, I'm one *
The cheerful tone with which she sang made Sirius' blood run cold. He knew how the song ended.
What happened to you, Cassie?
Minerva McGonagall wasn't happy. At all. She could have been at home, sitting on her favourite armchair and reading that new essay about Trasfiguration Filius gave her for her birthday. But NO. Of course, Dumbledore had to get in the way.
"Please, Minerva. I have an important meeting with the Wizengamot to attend ... You know that if I could I would have done this myself".
Of course he would. Still, she was the one who was standing in front of the gates of an old battered cottage in the middle of nowhere, trying to find the courage to go in and face the biggest failure in her life.
Sighing deeply, Minerva made her way towards the forest surrounding the house. She knew he wasn't at home. He hated that cottage, he had told her long ago, when he was still lucid enough to held a semi-logical conversation.
The forest was dark and quiet, even if it was eleven in the morning. No bird sang on the trees, no squirrel ran between the bushes. Even the spiders had left that place. Still, the silence was comfortable, and the shadow made it easy to stand August hot temperatures.
She walked, and walked and walked, thinking about the bad memories she would soon have to revive with a man she had tried to forget. She had felt sympathy for him, even pity at some point. She had tried to help him, talking to him, holding him while he cried. She didn't remember why she really got fed up and left him in his misery. Maybe she was just tired of being the strong one, the rock which couldn't be touched by the tragedies of life. She had regretted her decision so much, she had felt so selfish for leaving him alone. But now, the only emotion visible on her face was annoyance. Annoyance and anger. How could he, after all the things she had done for him, forget to mention this to her? HER? She was simply outraged, and Dumbledore's office was the proof of her wrath. Magic still radiated from her skin as she stomped her feet on the ground, jumping roots and broken branches which an almost feline grace.
Then, she saw him. Well, she saw his back. He was sitting on a rock, shoulders slumped and head bowed miserably. How could Dumbledore affirm that he had changed? He looked the same brooding man she had left on the same rock eleven years before. She stayed there, perfectly still, for minutes or hours, she didn't actually cared at that point. She knew he had heard her coming, he only had to gather the strength to acknowledge her presence. Finally, a deep, calm yet hoarse voice filled the silent forest.
"Good morning Minerva. It's nice to see you after all this years."
He didn't turn. He never did.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
He stiffened visibly, but still didn't move.
"I reckon Albus told you about our last meeting".
Now Minerva was literally trembling with rage, but still managed to sound calm.
"You didn't answer my question".
This time, the man shifted slightly. Minerva was able to see his pointed ears poking from his messy light brown hair.
"You can come here, you know. I swear I don't smell that bad"
The old woman huffed grumblingly, but finally gave in and came to face the object of her rage.
Albus was right: he had changed. Not in the way she expected, though. He was more... feral, in a certain sense. He had let his hair and beard grow freely, and now only a small part of his face was still visible. A long scar ran from the top of his forehead down to somewhere in his cheek, almost cutting his left eyebrow in half. His eyes however were still the same: huge, ice-green eyes were fixed on her face, filled with every negative emotion she knew. Sadness, anger, melancholy, worry, fear... guilt. Differently from the last time she saw him, however, those eyes were not glazed and unfocused, but bright and wary.
"Happy, now, Mr. Lupin?"
"Simply giddy, Minerva." He didn't smile. Not even the small, tentative smile he used to plaster on his face after a bad full-moon. It was like his facial muscles had been paralyzed.
"Now, please would you mind..."
"You didn't have to know. Nobody had to know. Albus sort of.. forced me to spill the truth. I made him promise not to tell anyone, but apparently he didn't listen". Remus interrupted her, his tone bitter and full of regret. He was still looking at her, not blinking once. A true alpha, she thought with a sigh.
"It was the best thing to do."
"NO! NO, IT WASN'T THE BEST THING TO DO! YOU HAD TO TELL ME! YOU HAD TO TALK TO DUMBLEDORE! YOU CAN'T PLAY GOD, REMUS! YOU CAN'T DECIDE WHAT IS BEST FOR OTHER PEOPLE, NO MATTER HOW RATIONAL YOUR IDEA MAY SEEM!"
Minerva had never been so angry before. A few trees even caught fire behind her. Remus, however, didn't seem disturbed the least by her sudden outburst. He simply kept watching her.
"She was happy."
Minerva stared at him. How could he? How could he even think a thing like that? But then again, he was Remus. He lived with the deep belief that nobody could be happy with him because of his condition. In his mind, the tragedies of his life did nothing but confirm his thoughts.
"How do you know that, Remus? Did you talk to her? Did you ask her if she was happy?"
Remus didn't answer, but still didn't lower his gaze to the ground. He blinked, though. Twice.
"That's what I thought. You didn't even try to approach her, didn't you? That's why you didn't tell anyone! Not because it was the right thing to do, but because you are a coward!" Minerva thundered, trying to gain some sort of reaction.
And a reaction she gained.
The werewolf got up from the rock. He was tall, maybe even taller than eleven years before. His face was still blank but his eyes betrayed the anger which was slowly overwhelming him. He looked dark and dangerous and, for the first time, Minerva found herself being scared by her former student.
"I don't think you understand how much courage I had to gather to leave her without talking to her. I don't think you understand how much courage did it take to admit that she looked happy and probably didn't need my presence in her life." His voice was low, almost a growl, and Minerva backed away slightly. She knew he would never change his mind. He was too stubborn. Still, she had to try and convince him about the absurdity of that situation.
"She loved you, you know that. She loved you and trusted you from the first time she saw you. How can you say that she doesn't need you?". The professor's voice was soft and barely audible, but Remus heard her anyway.
"Did Albus tell you where I last saw her?"
Minerva shivered slightly. His tone was so... cold. It looked like his heart was frozen.
Albus was right. He had definitely changed.
"No... he only told me that you saw her two years ago and decided to leave her for good".
Suddenly, Remus turned away from Minerva and started walking towards the cottage. The animagus followed him quickly, a bit startled. Without speaking, the werewolf entered the house, leaving the door open for the old woman.
"You can sit down if you want. I'll make some tea". With that, Remus disappeared in the kitchen, leaving a dumbfounded Professor McGonagall in the middle of the entrance hall.
Why is he acting this way? Usually when he's angry he growls for a bit then shouts until he loses his voice... This mask of indifference and coldness he has put on... it's not right.
Lost in her thoughts, Minerva sat on an old armchair near the empty fireplace. She didn't hear Remus approaching with two steaming cups of tea, and gasped loudly when he sat on the couch in front of her.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you" he said, although he didn't sound sorry the least. The werewolf crossed his legs and fixed his gaze on the fireplace, playing distractedly with the mug in his hands.
Minerva didn't know what to say or do. Maybe she only had to wait for Remus to speak up and tell her the full story. Maybe the werewolf expected her to forget everything and explain the reason of her visit. Finally, after a few minutes of unbearable quietness, the man broke the awkward silence.
"As Albus told you, I saw her two years ago, in December. I was walking in muggle London and there she was, sitting in a small restaurant and surrounded by a dozen of people of her age, maybe just a bit older than her. She was laughing at something a boy next to her had said. Maybe he was her boyfriend, I don't know... I wanted to go in, I really did. I wanted to grab her and take away from that bunch of muggles. Before I could even think about opening the door of the restaurant, however, I managed to overhear part of the conversation. It turned out she was going to graduate in a few months and was a bit sad because she would have left her friends to go working as a doctor in America. A doctor, Minerva. If she had stayed with me, she probably wouldn't have had enough money to go to a Muggle University! In that moment I understood that whoever took her away from me that day did the right thing. That person gave her a future. That person gave her the possibility of living a happy life in which the biggest problem is to decide what to wear on her graduation day. I couldn't go in and destroy everything, could I?"
Word after word Minerva felt her heart growing heavier and heavier. Remus was right: he didn't have a choice. If the girl was happy, nobody had the right to take her and mess up her life completely. It was probably too late to try and regain her love and trust, anyway. The Transfiguration teacher sipped slowly her tea, trying to hide the sadness which was rapidly overwhelming her. After a few minutes she managed to swallow part of the lump in her throat.
"How... how is s-she?"
For the first time, Remus Lupin's lips curled up in a small, sad smile.
"What can I say, Minerva? She is Cassandra. The most beautiful woman the world will ever see", and then, almost unnoticed, a small tear fell on Remus' beard, shimmering like a dying star.
The couple sat in silence for a long time, both too overwhelmed by memories speak without crying. After almost an hour, Remus finally found the strength to clear his throat and speak.
"So... I guess you didn't come here simply to scold me about my life decision, did you?"
Minerva shook out of her reverie and sat up a bit straighter.
"No, uhm... Well, actually Albus sent me. As you know, we tend to have problems keeping a Defence Against the Dark Arts professor for more than a year..."
Remus nodded, the cold mask of indifference finally disappeared from his face.
"... And we can say that last year was not an exception to this.. tradition."
This time the werewolf snorted with amusement. He knew that the previous year Gilderoy Lockhart had been the DADA teacher, and that was saying enough.
" So Albus was thinking if you.. if you would be interested in getting the job".
A loud crash echoed in the room as Remus' cup fell on the cold stony floor of the cottage. The werewolf, however didn't seem to care, since he was too busy staring open-mouthed at his former Professor.
"Are you... you are not joking, right?"
The animagus shot Remus a stern glare, immediately reminding him of his school days as a Marauder.
"Mr. Lupin, do you really think that I would abandon a good Transfiguration essay just to come here and prank you?"
"Ehr... Of course not, Minerva, sorry... It's just... I am a werewolf!"
"I am aware of this fact, Mr. Lupin".
"And... this.. this won't be a problem?"
"I am not planning to set your lessons during full-moons, and parents do not need to know about your condition, so I don't see any problem with you being part of Hogwarst staff."
"And... you're sure? I mean... apart from the werewolf thing I... I am not..ehr..."
Minerva arched an eyebrow. "Albus told me you quit alcohol years ago"
"Oh! Yes, yes, of course I d-don't drink anymore... I smoke sometimes but... but that's not a problem, is it? What I meant is... is that maybe I am not..."
Remus stopped his rambling, apparently lost in his own words, and looked at McGonagall with pleading eyes.
God, give me strength.
"Remus... I am sure you will be a wonderful teacher, if that's what is bothering you. I mean, I think you saved a whole generation of students from failure when you were at Hogwarst. I know that at the time your life was somewhat... easier, but you cannot let your past lead your future. You are strong, Remus. You managed to survive for thirteen years. Now it's time to start living."
Remus fixed his gaze in the fireplace. Minerva could almost hear the wheels in his brain working, processing the words she had just said. Finally, the werewolf smiled. A true, wonderful, huge smile.
"Thank you, Minerva. I... I would be honoured to accept your offer".
Minerva almost cried at the sight of the sudden joy radiating from the man in front of her. Almost. She was still a bit annoyed with him, after all.
"Now, Remus, You have less than a month to prepare for the incoming term. Tomorrow you'll receive the copies of the books you'll need. Albus will contact you in the next days to tell you about the full-moons". Satisfied with her short explanation, Minerva got up and prepared herself to leave.
"..Ah.. Remus? Please, shave".
With that, she disappeared.
Remus sighed and got up from the couch, his smile gone. It had been so easy to play the "happy and grateful man" part, even if only for a few minutes. Maybe pretending to be cheerful for a whole year wouldn't be that difficult.
Truth be told, the werewolf couldn't care the least about his future. At the moment he only wanted to sleep.
Please, let me sleep.
He slowly walked towards his bedroom and crawled under the covers. He didn't care if it was noon and the sun was shining. He only wanted to sleep.
Please, let me sleep.
He wanted to sleep, but he couldn't, because every time he closed his eyes he relived the feelings he had experienced on that fateful full-moon a few months before.
Yes, that day in the restaurant Cassandra was happy. But now, all Remus could feel when he closed his eyes was an umbearable pain and a murderous howl.
Cassandra wasn't happy anymore.
She was dead, and, again, it was all his fault.
* This song is called House of the Rising Sun. It is an old American song which has been adapted loads of times... I particularly like Lauren O'Connell's version, although it's a bit shorter than the original.