Skirt or jeans? that was the question. For the first time in... well, ever, Cassandra Lupin didn't know what to wear. Probably this had to do with the fact that she was getting ready to have a tour in a supposedly magic Alley hidden somewhere in London. Or maybe she was just a tiny bit nervous for the presence of a skinny, ill-looking escaped convict who was awkwardly sitting on a pillow in a corner of her flat.
Sirius Black. The man should have given her some answers, but at the moment, the teenager felt just more confused than ever. He stated that magic did exist with an easiness that freaked the girl out. Maybe he was mad. Maybe she was mad, and that was the most likely hypothesis since she had just seen the man turning into her beloved Doggie.
Cassandra kept rummaging into her cartoon boxes, increasingly frustrated with her own anxiety and doubts. She had to get a grip and follow Sirius' instruction, not act like some bloody hysteric teenage girl. She was a soldier, and in the past two years she had to do stranger things. Well, maybe not stranger, but certainly more frightening.
Cool, Cassandra. Deal with this situation as if it was some sort of mission. You are going to infiltrate in some kind of magic place...
God, this is ridiculous.
Shut up. SO... Magic place... that means magic people... How do magic people behave? I can't let them know I have no clue about their world.
Technically it's your world too.
Details. So, I have to blend in with these people. This means... skirt? Maybe. Hell, this is more difficult than I thought.
After a few minutes of deep internal struggle, Cassandra gave up and decided to ask for some advice.
"So... Those witches and wizards... They are like other people, right?"
Sirius frowned, confused by the question. What did she mean? Of course they were like other people.
"Ehr... O-of course... It's not that we have two heads or something..."
Cassandra looked up from the box, arching an eyebrow questioningly. The animagus couldn't help but noticing the similarities to Professor McGonagall's scolding expression.
"I didn't mean that. It's just that, since you said I should try to keep a low profile, I think I have to know a bit more about, you know, clothes, habits..."
Sirius' eyes widened in realization. The girl was right. Walking down the Alley wearing muggle jeans and a top, especially if you were covered in quite suspicious scars, could attract the attention of the magic population. Not that wizards and witches weren't used to muggle clothing, the problem was that Cassandra look definitely too old to be a Hogwarst muggleborn student and her appearance wasn't exactley plain, so people would soon notice that she was a stranger, a potentially dangerous stranger. Moreover, despite having been considered officially dead for at least twelve years, Hogwarst teachers would certainly recognize her stunning eyes and wouldn't hesitate to try and approach the girl. Sirius couldn't allow that. First of all, Cassandra would be enough shocked by the sight of the Alley, she certainly didn't need to be overwhelmed by questions. Secondly, Sirius needed Cassandra: the thought that she could abandon him to follow other wizards or witches was unbearable.
"Right... uhm... well, in.. in t-the wizarding world witches... witches don't wear trousers, not tight blue jeans at least. They prefer long skirts, dresses or... ehr.. you know... those drop crotch harem pants... I... I don't k-know if things have changed, though. It's been a while since I've been in our world."
Cassandra looked at him with a blank expression, then frowned a bit.
"Yep. That's one of the questions I have for you, actually. But it can wait... for now." She then returned to her rummaging, finally opting for her famous colorful skirt and a white blouse with long, semitransparent bishop sleeves. Before she could hide in the bathroom to get dressed, however, Sirius' hesitant voice echoed again in the small room.
"Ehr... If I were in you, I would also wear a pair of sunglasses and... maybe.. a patch on your cheek."
"A patch? What, witches and wizards are not used to the sight of a disfigured girl?"
Sirius winced at the harsh tone Cassandra used. He didn't mean that, of course. No scar could ever disfigure Cassandra's wonderful face.
"I didn't mean that... l-look I...I can't explain that to you. Not now, at least. Just... just note that those aren't normal scars, every wizard with a bit of common sense could see that. Don't show them."
Still a bit annoyed by his remark, but increasingly curious to understand what he meant with "normal" scars, Cassandra huffed:
"I didn't plan to. Now if you excuse me..."
Once in the bathroom Cassandra quickly got rid of her camisole and pyjama bottoms and put on the skirt. She pointedly avoided the mirror, not wanting to see the monster she had become. While lacing the strings of the blouse, however, she accidentally caught a glimpse of her reflection.
She looked like a walking dead.
Sighing, the girl put a white patch on her scarred cheek and grabbed a pair of black sunglasses. Maybe Sirius didn't mean to offend her with his advice, but it still hurt her already low self-esteem.
What a great start.
After "fixing" her face, Cassandra looked at her hair. It was messy and ruffled, a pale shadow of the wavy, glossy locks which once adorned her head. Resisting the urge to grab a pair of scissors and get rid of that blond mop, the girl managed to gather her hair in a low tress.
Out of the bathroom the girl tried not to meet Sirius' gaze and grabbed a small brown satchel, already full with her half-empty purse and some emergency medicines. When she finally turned to talk to the animagus, Cassandra found the man staring at her with an unreadable expression on his face.
"What? Not hidden enough for your taste? I can always wear a carton box on my head, you know. I'm sure that in this way nobody will notice me." Cassandra bit her lip, frowning: she didn't mean to sound so bitter and angry. Before Sirius could open his mouth to reply, she waved her hand dismissively, adding:
"Sorry... I know you didn't want to offend me, but you can't tell a girl to hide her scarred face and expect her to be happy... You'll have to explain a lot of things, Sirius Black. Now, do I look like a witch?"
With that, the girl open her arms in a theatrical way, half-smirking.
Yes. She definitely looked like a witch. A quite stunning one too.
"You... you are perfect. God, If only Remus could see you now..."
Cassandra tilted her head curiously. "Who's Remus?"
Sirius looked at her with sad eyes.
"R-Remus... Remus is your father's name, Cassandra. Remus Lupin".
Cassandra blushed and swallowed thickly, nodding almost imperceptibly. When she opened her mouth to speak, what came out was barely audible.
"I... I always tried to remember his name, in vain, of course. Remus Lupin... it doesn't ring any bell, you know? It's not like your pictures as a convict... It feels... empty."
As an Auror, Sirius Black had to deal with victims of horrible crimes. Most of them suffered from various grades of amnesia, usually due to the shock. Some of them forgot only the few hours before the attack, others had a black out which covered a couple of days. The younger victims could erase their whole short life from their memories, a sort of coping system if the trauma was too big to bear. Initially, the Animagus had thought that Cassandra belonged to this last category, but something was off... In fact, those children tended to immediately recognize their parents and remember their names, probably because their bond was really strong. Before her disappearance, the ex-soldier almost worshipped Remus, he should have been the first memory to come back to her mind. Instead, Cassandra still didn't remember his face, let alone his name. It was just like the mental image of his father had been torn off her brain...
Fighting dizziness and exhaustion, Sirius got up from the floor and approached Cassandra, coming to stand in front of her. An awful idea was slowly making its way in his brain, and he needed to verify it. Placing his hands on Cassandra's shoulders, the man whispered:
"Cassie... In your nightmare... did you meet anybody? Did anybody talked to you?"
Cassandra flinched slightly, a bit put out by the sudden contact. Nobody had hugged her or held her like this for a long time. Trying to ignore the urge to run away, the girl concentrated on the dream.
"No... The only human beings I saw were those scary hooded figures, a dead girl... Oh."
A man approaches you. He says: "Come with me, we'll find your dad".
" There was this boy... I... couldn't see him well, but I knew him. He was dressed like those scary figures, but he wasn't wearing a mask. He... he approached me and... and said he could bring me to D-dad". Sirius stared at the girl, dread freezing his limbs. Cassandra struggled to keep her composure, despite the angry tears that threatened to escape from her eyes. She wouldn't weep in front of Sirius Black. Not again, at least.
" I didn't trust him. I think... I think he did something to my Dad, but I don't remember what. Anyway, I didn't want to follow him, deep inside me I knew there was something wrong in his words... But I was so scared. I couldn't find Dad, despite having searched for him everywhere... So I trusted the man and took his hand. He... drew that stick... his wand and muttered something..."
"W- what did he said?" Sirius' heart was racing, his blood running cold.
"Ehr... A strange word... Obliviate! That's it. Then, everything went blank and the nightmare ended".
Sirius Black dropped his arms by his sides, taking a few steps backwards. That was it. A memory spell performed on a child. Cassandra was lucky to be alive and mentally healthy. Anger filled the escaped convict heart, and the same question popped in his head.
Who could do that to a child?
After all, he shouldn't have been so shocked: that man cassandra's described was a Death Eater, and Sirius Black knew very well that those kind of people could do anything, to everybody. Still.
Cassandra looked at him, confused and a bit scared by his reaction.
"Is that... is that a bad word? If it is, I'm sorry..."
Sirius sighed: there was no use in trying to explain the meaning of that spell to her now. She needed to believe in magic first.
"You really need to see Diagon Alley. The situation is more difficult than I thought, and you'll need all the proofs necessary. Be very careful, Cassandra, and don't talk to anybody. Please... Please be safe and come back here as soon as you can".
Be safe. Cassandra was pretty sure nobody ever said that to her, not in the last thirteen years at least. A small part of her was a bit annoyed at the lack of trust the man in front of her was showing. It was a really tiny part, though. Mostly, Cassandra felt her heart melting at the sincere concern Sirius Black was conveying through his stunning eyes. She smiled, arching an eyebrow.
"Don't worry. I know a few tricks that will make me invisible". She then made to grab her crutch, but hesitated.
"Mmmmh... Do wizards use crutches?"
Sirius looked thoughtful for a moment.
"Yes... but they are a bit different from that one. Maybe in twelve years they changed them, but I can't be sure".
Cassandra sighed, unconsciously massaging her stump. Fortunately enough, Charing Cross wasn't too far from her apartment, and this time she didn't have to carry a big black dog up and down London. However, her wound had reopened twice after the incident with Doggie/Sirius, and her flesh just couldn't bear another laceration.
" Oh, well...I can't take the risk to walk without this, not now. I don't care what your magic friends may think. Well, I'm off... Let's see if I'm utterly mad or the mass murderer here really told the truth". With that she grabbed the keys and got out of the flat, not before flashing Sirius a wolfish, mischievous grin.
Cassandra followed Sirius' instructions step by step. She walked down Charing Cross and stopped in front of Charing Cross Book.
That's it. If I don't find the door Sirius told me about, I go straight to the nearest hospital and I ask for a psychiatrist.
Taking a deep breath, Cassandra turned around, coming to face the opposite side of the street.
The door was there, small and plain as the escaped convict described it. Above it swung a wooden banner with the signature "Leaky Cauldron" on it.
Cassandra hurriedly crossed the street, almost getting run over by a truck. Under the writing there was the drawing of a Cauldron filled with some boiling liquid. The liquid was boiling for real, with bubbles floating around the small banner. Cassandra stared at it for a few minutes before being interrupted by a push which almost threw her on the concrete.
The girl, however, couldn't finish her sentence, because she was too busy taking in the appearance of the stranger who had just pushed her in order to enter... The Leaky Cauldron. The person in question was tall and had a huge beard gathered in many little tresses. He was wearing an outdated, dark purple velvet suit and his hands were filled with huge golden rings. He didn't even spare a glance to the stunned girl he had just run over and quickly entered the pub. In the left pocket of his suit was stuffed a black wand.
The ex-soldier stood there frozen for a few minutes. Living in a huge city like London she was used to seeing odd people walking down the streets with colorful garments and interesting hair... Most of the street spirits she knew were like that, and she herself wasn't exactly a lover of plain, "normal" clothes and accessories. Several piercings adorned both of her earlobes, although war made her lose the habit of wearing earrings, and a huge wolf howling at the moon covered most of her back. Not to mention the flying phoenix which wrapped its flaming tail around her right arm. All in all, Cassandra was pretty keen on oddities, so the strange outfit of the old man wasn't the problem. What freaked her out was the thought that maybe, just maybe, some of the street spirits she knew, some of the weirdoes and outcasts she used to see around the city...Maybe they weren't so lonely and abandoned after all. Maybe they where happy wizards and witches taking a quiet stroll in London... Was it possible? Was it possible that she, the smart, cunning Cassandra Lupin hadn't been able to recognize magic? She felt like the stupid, blind, superficial and snobbish girls Colonel Wilkins admired so much. The though made her want to kick herself.
Concentrate, Cassandra. 15 steps to the right...
Despite her previous musings, the girl couldn't help but feeling ridiculous. 15 steps weren't much, and she could clearly see that there was nothing like a narrow alley on the right of that pub. For some reason, however, she kept following Sirius' instructions.
Her heartbeat was frantic and her right hand gripped the crutch tightly. Those were the longest 15 steps of her life.
A wall. A white, plain, quite dirty wall. No alleys. Cassandra felt her heart sinking in her chest. For a few hours she had really hoped that magic was real and her family was there, in that mysterious world, waiting for her to come back home. Instead, there she was, standing in front of a wall, alone as always and mad as a hatter.
Just when the ex-soldier made to return to her tiny flat, however, something appeared on the plain wall.
Welcome back, Miss Cassandra.
"What the hell...", Cassandra stopped on her tracks, staring at the sign in awe. The small sentence was written in elegant, elaborated golden letters which glittered in the light of that sunny morning. Forgetting immediately about her long training in the Army, the girl threw all her common sense in the bin and reached out to touch the sentence. As soon as her finger brushed the rough surface of the wall the sentence disappeared and new letters morphed in the white background.
Thirteen long years have passed. I was afraid you would never notice me.
"What... what are y-you?" I am really talking to a wall. The irony of fate.
I am The Wall of Magic, dear. Messer Padfoot, Prongs, Moony and Wormtail created me a long time ago purposely to help the next generation of Marauders in their adventures and escapades.
Padfoot? Moony? Wormtail? Prongs? She remembered vaguely some of those names from her visions and guessed that they were the nicknames of her father and his friends, but her knowledge ended there. Who were the Marauders?
Miss Cassandra, the mischevious Maraudrette, the clever daughter of Messer Moony, doesn't know who the Marauders are?! That's an outrage! That's a scandal!
Oh. She had talked out loud. And offended the wall. Bad Cassie.
"S-sorry I... I didn't mean to offend you... It's just that.. uh... I've been away from a long time, and... Anyway, I was sent here to enter Diagon Alley without being noticed, and... ehr..."
Who sent you here? Messer Moony?
So Moony was her father. What a strange nickname.
"No... I was sent here by..."
Damn. She couldn't make Sirius Black's name, not in a street crowded with people...
"Ehr... you know... That guy... Black hair, grey eyes... he can ... turn into a... dog..."
Ah, Messer Padfoot! He used to come here from time to time to have a chat with this poor wall... Handsome boy, I may say. How is he doing? I haven't heard of him for twelve years.
Duh. Maybe he was a bit busy rotting in a cell.
"He... uhm.. Is.. fine. I think. Listen, Miss... Miss Wall, even though I would love to have a chat with you, I really have to enter the Alley, so... Could you please let me see the rest of the passage? Please..."
Umph.. How could I deny something to the mischievous Maraudrette, the Princess of all Marauders, the Heir of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Pranks and Incomparable Awesomeness? You only have to promise me a small thing...
Was Cassandra really going to bargain with a wall? Apparently yes.
"What... What should I do?" The girl looked around nervously. She had been talking to the wall for at least a dozen of minutes, and she was a bit worried that somebody could notice her and call the police. However, nobody seemed to care about the colorful, weird teenager, so she returned to her odd conversation.
Oh, nothing much, dear. If you could simply keep away the stray dogs from here, I would be eternally grateful. Those mutts think I am a public toilet.
... It made sense, in a very strange way.
"Ehr... Deal?". As soon as the word left Cassandra's lips, the pavement under her started trembling and, slowly, a crack formed in the previously intact wall. Soon pieces of plaster crumbled on the ground and the building in front of her was split in half by some unknown force.
After a few minutes, an incredibly narrow alley was there, waiting for a very stunned Cassandra Lupin.
Ignoring her trembling limbs, the ex- soldier made her way towards the end of the alley. Sirius was right: it was almost impossible to walk through that passage, and Cassandra had to pray any God she knew not to get stuck between the two walls. It didn't help the fact that two years of war had provided Cassandra with a dozen of possible attacks and incidents that could occur in narrow spaces, so the girl was slightly claustrophobic: not that she was going to have a panick attack or something, but she was certainly eager to get out of that bloody place. Finally, just as the darkness had become almost unbearable and the walls began to constrict Cassandra's chest, her right hand brushed against a cold, rough surface.
"Thank God..." . Tentatively, the girl stretched her hand in order to lay it completely on the wall. What happened then was destined to determine permanently Cassandra's love for the magical world.
Small strings of a bluish, delicate light gathered around the profile of Cassandra's hand, crawling on her skin and lazily drawing a complicated, marbled pattern on her arm. It was beautiful. Other sparks of light came to lighten the dark alley, dancing around the girl like small, ethereal fairies and reflecting their shimmering profile on her big, wide eyes. Those strange beings lazily floated towards the wall, leaving behind them a thin silver contrail. Cassandra watched in fascination as the fairies melted as soon as they touched the wall, creating the picture of a big, dangerous-looking dog.
The dog looked at her for a few seconds before padding slowly out of the wall. He approached Cassandra and studied her appearance, sniffing for any unusual scent. He was silent and airy, just like a ghost, and his paws left silver sparkling prints every time they touched the ground. The ex-soldier was fascinated by his elegance and regality, and couldn't help but wish she could touch the soft-looking, bluish fur of the fairy animal. In no time the dog finished his inspection and jumped again in the wall, sitting in front of the girl. He spared her another quick look before throwing back his head and howling silently.
Suddenly, Cassandra was falling. Forgetting about Sirius' previous advice, the girl couldn't help but screaming and twitching, trying to find a way to stop her fall. The sense of peace and warmth the dog had filled her with was soon replaced by panic. Everything was so dark, she felt like precipitating in the outer space. Fortunately enough, the descent was fairly short, and soon the girl landed on the ground with a loud thud.
"Ouch...". Cassandra lied on the ground for a few minutes, trying to make her head stop spinning. If magic means of transport were always like that, she would gladly keep taking the bus. After a while, she finally gathered enough strength to reach a sitting position, groaning loudly as her joint cracked soundly with each movement. Blinking a few times to adapt to the light, the girl looked around.
She was in another empty alley, certainly brighter and broader than the previous one, but still a plain, empty alley. Looking down, Cassandra noticed that the ground was different from the typical London concrete pavement: it was made of large, flat, sandy stones, and gave to the surrounding environment a welcoming, warm air. Not able to hide her curiosity anymore, Cassandra got up on her feet, trying to fix her crumpled clothes and grabbing the crutch, which had fallen a couple of feet far from her. Suddenly, the sound of happy chattering and distant laughs caught her attention and she turned around, coming to face the exit of the alley.
Slowly and wary, Cassandra made her way towards the source of those sounds, her mind shifting continuously between a state of utter fascination and cold alertness. When she reached the end of the alley, her heart stopped.
It was like a gingerbread village. Houses and small shops were crammed together on each side of a broad, long street crowded with people. The roofs of the buildings were pointed, colorful, and reached different heights, giving to the small town an air of cheerful mess. The walls were colorful too and had exposed beams, reminding Cassandra of Shakespeare and his wonderful plays. Each window and balcony was adorned with luxuriant flowers and plants and a strange kind of shimmering violet ivy covered most of the houses.
It was wonderful. It felt like home.
Careful not to display her surprise and wonder, Cassandra slowly wandered through the Alley, drinking each detail of the magical place. She tried her best not to look like a stranger. It was a trick she had learned in war: if you look confident enough in a certain environment, nobody will notice you. As a consequence, she quietly limped down the street, a calm and small smile gracing her lips. Thankfully her choice of outfit proved to be rather appropriate: as Sirius had said, nobody in the Alley was wearing a pair of jeans or a track suit, apart from some children who were looking around with an expression of stunned surprise and happiness. Most of the older women wore long dresses which clearly resembled the 1800 English or even Medieval fashion, whereas the younger ones could be seen in colorful, gypsy-like garments. On the other hand, both men and boys were wearing odd-looking suits or coats, although most of the youngsters had took off their jacket not to suffocate in the bright sun of mid- August.
Sirius was right: wizards and witches didn't have any particular physical characteristic and looked perfectly normal, apart from their odd outfits. There were some individuals, however, who could be considered particularly… weird. Actually, Cassandra didn't think they were human at all. There was an old-looking "man" who had half face covered in shining green scales and had long slimy tentacles instead of hands and fingers. Talking in a corner with a really short person, a young … woman laughed musically, showing her long, pointed, bright blue teeth to the whole alley. Not far from them a chubby-looking boy was trying to drag a huge tank filled with water in which a… siren was swimming peacefully, waving at the pedestrians and grinning in a quite devilish way.
Cassandra stopped in front of the shop the chubby man was trying to reach: it was an animal shop. Sort of. It was pretty large but the tonnes of cages which were piled on every inch of the floor made it quite difficult to enter the place. The girl couldn't tear her gaze off the strange creatures which populated the cages: fluorescent salamanders, two-headed snakes…
Lots and lots of fluffy grey owls quietly hoot on the perches of a stony cold room.
Little Cassandra likes the owls. They are funny and have big eyes.
Cassandra wants to reach the owls and touch their soft feathers. She knows they won't bite her, because animals love her, apart from the big bad Alpha, of course.
The small child lifts her chubby arms, but the perches are too high. Her big green eyes fill with tears, but she doesn't cry.
"What's the matter Cassie?"
That voice. That wonderful, deep voice. The tears disappear, the heart finds its peace.
"Daddy… Help me?"
Suddenly, Cassandra's feet leave the ground and she giggles, safely held in her father's embrace.
Pine and fresh earth. The scents of the forest.
"Alright, here we are Cub. Do you want to say hi to the owls?"
More giggles. Cassandra is happy.
"Yeah! Big white owl!"
Cassandra feels her Dad's chest rumble with a soft chuckle as he approaches the bird.
"This, Cassie, is a barn owl…"
The little girl pats the owl's head with her small hand, making him hoot happily. Unlike most of the child of her age, Cassandra never hurts the animals she touches.
"Hi ba'n owl. You're funny!"
Cassandra stumbled backwards, almost knocking over a cart full of dead bats.
Her head was spinning painfully, she had to gather all her strength not to fall on the ground.
It was too much.
It was wonderful, but it was too much.
Her brain was frozen.
She needed to…
She needed to sit.
And… And sit.
Slowly, leaning on her crutch more than necessary, the girl made her way towards a purple bench just outside the animal shop. She sat down carefully, trying not to convey her sudden tiredness and confusion. Her expression didn't change, and thankfully the sunglasses covered her now closed eyes.
Ok, Cassandra, turn on that pretty scientific brain of yours and think.
First of all, magic is real.
Maybe it's just an allucination…
No. You have a good imagination, but it's not so good.
Magic is real. And when you were a baby you lived in a magic world.
And you are magic. Because the… the wall recognised you, so you are magic.
You're magic, but… How?
That's another question for our dear Sirius.
Magic is real.
And you didn't notice.
Cassandra spent at least half an hour on the bench with her eyes closed, trying to calm her nerves. Fortunately, people were definitely too busy with their shopping to notice the unnaturally stiff girl.
Yes, Cassandra was stunned, but she had been trained to recover quickly from huge shocks too. Her brain knew that her current behavior was dangerous. She was letting her calm mask slip from her face, soon everybody would have been able to see her fear and excitement. She had to get a grip, as usual, even though at the moment she was fought between the urge to run around the Alley touching and watching everything and the need to find her Dad and hide in his embrace. She had to get up and keep walking, gathering all the information she could about that strange place. It was easy, after all. If only she could convince her leg and a half to move...
Finally, her limbs decided to collaborate, and the girl was on her feet again, her back straight and her shoulders squared.
Just walk, look and go home.
She didn't know the time, but she didn't care. She simply went on wandering through the alley, studying the strange people around her, listening to their conversations, admiring the shops and the stands of with odd, interesting objects and creatures. All in all, Cassandra had to admit that she was in her element: she had always been eager to learn more and more things, and now she had the opportunity to study and discover the mysteries of a whole universe!
When she finally found the bookshop, Cassandra felt like Heaven had opened its doors and thousands of angels had started singing. For the first time since she entered Diagon Alley the girl dared to enter a shop, and this time she couldn't help but grinning madly.
As any other building in the village, Flourish and Botts was wonderfully messy and crammed with items. Near the shop window there was a huge case full with… angry… furry… books? Curious, Cassandra approached the case tilting her head and observing as two volumes fought against each other, growling and biting like a pack of angry wolves. The girl chuckled lightly, finding the whole scene quite amusing, even if a bit macabre. Moving on, Cassie strolled through the shelves, reading the titles of the huge, ancient-looking volumes and brushing her fingers on the thick covers from time to time.
Merlin: the full history of the wizard who changed everything.
My life with Dragons.
The art of Healing: the use of herbs and potions through history
Healing. Cassandra picked the book from the bookshelf and opened it, flipping the pages with a fascinated expression. She felt like an historian in the middle of an ancient library: the pages were thin and delicate, adorned with elegant miniatures. The volume was filled with names of potions, mysterious ingredients and unknown herbs, and everything was described with the help of detailed, colourful and moving pictures. The girl looked around and, noticing that the owner of the shop was busy with a customer, quietly sat on the floor, her gaze still glued to the old volume. Apart from the beauty and the magic of the object itself, Cassandra was eager to learn something about the "art of healing" too. After all, she was a doctor with a never-ending passion for her job, despite the Colonel's attempts to make her hate it. She wanted to save people, and this "new" medicine offered a completely point of view regarding the healing process. She wanted to buy the book, and was already rummaging in her satchel in order to find her purse when she caught some parts of the conversation between the owner of the shop and his customer.
"So… We have here all the new books for Hogwarst second years… It's 50 galleons"
galleons? What the hell was a galleon? Cassandra peeked from behind the shelf, noticing a young boy giving a bunch of big golden coins to the owner of the shop.
Oh… A different currency. Wonderful… I suppose I'll have to ask Sirius about those "galleons" too…
Cassandra quickly looked outside the shop window, immediately noticing that the sun was setting. She had spent an entire day in Diagon Alley leaving that poor man all alone in a tiny flat with nothing but water and an half-finished pack of biscuit to eat! The girl immediately got up from the floor, ignoring her pained leg and almost bolting outside the shop. The ex- soldier marched to the small alley she had used to enter the town, oblivious to the strange creatures and people surrounding her. She was a few feet away from her destination when a picture abandoned on the ground caught her attention.
It was the photograph of a man with black hair and piercing grey eyes. His skin was pale and ill-looking, and his cheeks sunken. He was laughing, screaming and crying at the same time, looking around with a pained expression in his eyes.
Azkaban Prison? Cassandra had never heard of such a place.
It must be a magical prison. Maybe he was accused of killing wizards too.
As far as Cassandra was concerned, this discovery didn't change anything. It didn't matter if even the magical population believed Sirius was a mass murderer: the girl still firmly believed in his innocence. However, it was clear that Mr. Black's bad reputation had pretty solid foundations if both wizards and "normal" people knew about his supposed crimes. In fact, a day in Diagon Alley was enough for Cassandra to understand that witches and wizards weren't particularly keen on sharing their world with plain, non-magical Londoners, and Sirius was clearly part of this magical world: if he hadn't been considered a real threat, nobody outside the Alley would have known of his escapade.
Lost in her thoughts, Cassandra limped slowly, oblivious to the world around her. She was so concentrated on the delirious man in the picture that she bumped into a dark figure, almost falling down and losing her sunglasses.
"Pay attention!" the man all but barked, marching away and leaving an annoyed Cassandra behind.
"Well sorry, but I...", the girl however, never finished her sentence. She was to busy replaying that voice in her head. It sounded familiar, in a very unpleasant way...
"Come with me, we'll find your Dad"
Cassandra stood frozen in the middle of the Alley, her mouth agape and her limbs trembling. The hold on the picture lessened, and soon the laughing face of Sirius Black was floating in the air, dancing with the fallen leaves and playing with the wind like a free, happy, big black dog.
It had been almost eleven hours since Sirius Back had finally turned into his human form, and he was already eager to be a dog again.
Everything was easier as a dog: pain was more bearable, emotions and colours were dimmer and thoughts were more straightforward and clear. A huge bowl of food and a scratch behind his ears were good reasons to be happy, and Cassandra had covered him with delicious meat and cuddles for two weeks.
Being human was different. First of all, it was pretty painful: Sirius' joints were weak and damaged by years of immobility, humidity and starvation; His lungs were still slightly inflamed and each breath was like a fall in Hell; his now bare skin shivered with cold, even though it was a sunny hot summer day.
Secondly, his human mind was an utter mess.
Thoughts, feelings and emotions screamed and fought in his poor battered brain, playing with the last thin strings of sanity he still possessed. Some of them were familiar and didn't scare Sirius too much: there was Guilt, that cruel lady who had haunted him for twelve years and more, whispering in his sensible ears all the horrible crimes he had committed. There was Regret, an old, sad man who kept watching his past and murmur all the possibilities he had thrown into the bin.
If only you had been more careful and less… Gryffindor, you would have probably found Cassandra years before, you wouldn't have been sent into Azkaban and Harry wouldn't have been an orphan.
There was Fear, that small trembling child with a pale skin and grey eyes. He was always there, hidden in a corner of his mind, whimpering and crying, terrified by the thought of returning in that hell hole, receiving the Kiss, or, even worse, losing Cassandra again.
She was the thought that fed the worst of the ghosts in Sirius' mind, Memory. Oh, Memory was the cruelest of the spirits, cold and imperturbable in her dark floating cloak. She danced and laughed between the other ghosts, giving them more and more reasons to whisper, mutter and cry. In Azkaban she had simply played with the worst events int the Animagus' life, bringing them to the surface with a frightening vividness. She had been the Dementors' best friend, providing them with the few happy thoughts that coloured Sirius' life. Now the Dementors were gone, but the evil woman had soon found another playmate: Cassandra's memories. She kept replaying the horrible images the poor girl's mind had shared with him: blood, explosions, pain, loneliness… It was like a Muggle reproduction of his own childhood, with the important difference that, apparently, Cassandra didn't have any real friends.
Memory loved those images. With them she could feed Fear, irritate Regret and enrage Guilt. Most of all, with them she kept Shame and Sadness alive.
Sadness was an old friend of Sirius'. He had been deeply sad during all his life, even though he had always been good at hiding it behind a mask of furious outbursts and bark-like laughs. Somehow, Sadness abandoned him during his school days, especially with Cassie's arrival in his life. After the child disappearance she had tried to come back, but he had rejected her, wrapping himself in a thin blanket of hope and determination. After the fateful night of Halloween, however, Sadness finally won over the young man resistances and embraced him, making him drown in despair. Sadness went to sleep when he escaped Azkaban, his dog mind too happy to be in the open air again to accept her painful presence. Now, however she was there, sitting on Sirius' lap, covering his eyes with her long, humid hands. Sirius Black wanted to cry so much. He was desperate. Desperate because Cassandra Lupin, a living angel with wonderful eyes and a heart-melting smile, had lost her wings. She had been munched and spat by a world she didn't belong to, she had been rejected by her own universe. Despite all their efforts, despite all the plans the Marauders had elaborated to keep her away from destiny, Cassandra had followed the path the nature of their Pack had set up for her: she was an outcast, a lone wolf with more reasons to become a bloodthirsty beast rather than to behave like a human being. Her eyes were haunted and full of pain. Sirius saw himself in those eyes and couldn't help but being sad, because she didn't deserve to feel the way he felt.
Sirius saw himself in those eyes, but there was something different too. Something that made him feel proud and ashamed at the same time.
Shame. That was one of the emotions he had struggled so much to recognise. He wasn't used to that feeling. He was a Gryffindor, a Lion. Lions were never ashamed. He had always walked with a straight back ans squared shoulders, no matter how painful were the gashes on his back, no matter how many insults his cousins shouted at him from the Slytherin table. Sirius Black and Shame lived on completely different planets. Until now. Now Sirius Black was deeply ashamed. He was ashamed by his mind. He was ashamed because, even though Cassandra had endured similar sufferings and tragedies, the girl still had the clear mind and kind soul that characterized her as a child. Of course, her behaviour was a bit harsher than before and her eyes were haunted and at times cold, but she was still… pure. This made Sirius Black drown in shame, because he, a thirty-year-old ex-Auror known for his courage and recklessness, was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and couldn't control his thoughts and emotions. He was just like Fear, small, fragile and terrified, whereas Cassie, so young and delicate, stood straight and strong, ready to help a perfect stranger and face an hostile world alone.
Sirius Black was ashamed, but was proud at the same time. He had always been proud, mostly of himself. Now, however, he was proud of Cassandra. The little wolf, the big fighter. She didn't know it yet, but she was so similar to her father. You have to tell her. You have to tell her how much Remus will be proud of her. How much you are proud of her.
He had to tell her.
Cassandra was strong and alive, but was still broken. She had lost her wings.
He had to help her. He had to fix her.
He had caused so much pain.
He had suffered terribly.
He deserved to die.
But now she was there. Ready to forgive him. Ready to trust him.
He couldn't let her down.
He had to be strong despite his aching heart only asked for a forgiving, peaceful death.
He had to bring happiness and safety in Cassandra's life despite the fact that he didn't know what happiness was anymore.
Shame and Pride. An odd combination of feelings which managed to win over the evil laugh of Memory and the whispers of Guilt. And so, after hours of silent sobs and depressing thoughts, Sirius Black got up from the floor. At first he swayed and wobbled, still unused to be in a straight position. Then step by step, curse after curse, his cracking junctions managed to bear his light weight, and he walked almost normally. He paced and paced and paced. He forgot to eat and drink. He had to walk, to bring back his dignity and strength. Only in this way he would have been able to protect the wingless angel.
Cassandra found him exactly like that, pacing and muttering like a madman. He didn't even notice her presence until she loudly cleared her throat.
Sirius Black jumped at the sudden noise, terrified. It took him a couple of seconds to understand that the voice came from Cassandra and not from some Auror ready to arrest him.
Cassandra quietly closed the door behind her and leaned against the wall, watching him with amusement dancing in her green eyes. She waited patiently for him to catch his breath, not bothering to try and make any questions. After all, she had all the time of the world.
After a few minutes, Sirius finally managed to keep his heartbeat at bay and lifted his gaze in order to look at Cassie directly in the eye.
"D-did you have fun?" He wanted to sound cheerful and carefree, but the sort of croak that came out of his mouth betrayed all the hollow emotions he had experienced in the last decade.
Cassandra studied him for a while with a blank expression. Then she smiled. Not the wolfish, mischievous grin she had flashed him before leaving. A real smile, full of pure joy and wonder.
"It. Was. AMAZING!"
And she started talking. She limped up and down the flat, gesticulating like a woman possessed. Finally, after hours spent concealing her emotions, the ex-soldier was able to let out all her excitement and happiness. She described everything in detail, not missing a single brick of the enchanted Alley. Sirius sat down again, listening intently to her happy chatter. She was so… curious, interested… Alive. She was pure energy.
An unknown warmth shyly started spreading in the Animagus' chest. All of a sudden the plain room which Cassandra called home was… brighter. The temperature seemed to raise, and soon Sirius' skin stopped shivering.
What was that?... Could that be a sort of magic?
It couldn't be.
He was sure he would had never felt that feeling again, a least not in his human form.
It was there. After all those years. After all the pain.
It had been almost eleven hours since Sirius Black had turned back human. And finally, after eleven long hours, he didn't want to become a dog again.