Chapter 13 : Sommersi e Salvati
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"As sure as I'll ever be".
"You don't have to..."
"Oh, come on, Bill. You know I am broke, and that there is nothing I can do to find a better job, not in such a short time. And don't even try to put your sad face on... We both know you don't care."
"You don't care enough. If you had cared you would have never suggested such a thing in the first place. If you had cared you would have helped me finding a way out of this mess, not sinking further in my misery. I... I knew about your activities before, but never would I have imagined that you would have tried to drag me down with you in hell."
"You had a choice".
"No. I didn't, as well as I don't have now. I am desperate as I was before, and you are taking advantage of that. Now, please, let's get over with this so that I can finally leave for good".
Sirius couldn't stop replaying that interaction over and over again.
He remembered Cassandra's wonderful irises frozen as leaves in winter.
He remembered her expression being emotionless, her jaw clenched, her skin even paler than usual.
He remembered her squaring her shoulders as to get ready for a fight.
He remembered her gripping the leash so tight that her knuckles had turned white.
He remembered that Bill guy. A sort of Santa without the beard, his face kind and his tone gruff and friendly. Yet there had been something in his eyes... A hint of darkness, of well-hidden malevolence, that had filled the animagus' heart with cold dread.
He remembered the room. So white, so cold, so clean yet noxious. He remembered... He remembered the table. Metallic, grey as his eyes.
He remembered three people covered in strange white garments from the top of their head to the tip of their toes. They had tried to take him away, but Cassandra had gripped the leash even tighter.
He remembered as in that moment a hint of fear had flashed in her eyes, making her appear younger and more fragile. But the moment had passed and her soldier-like demeanor had been back in an instant.
When Cassandra had told him about the "bad thing" she had had to do to buy food and medicines, Sirius had expected many things. Violence? Maybe. Criminal activities? For sure. But he would have never, ever expected that.
He could still see the needle sink in her arm.
He could still smell the alcohol in the room.
He could still feel the sense of utter panic which had overwhelmed him as those beautiful green eyes had rolled back into her head and Cassandra's body had begun to fidget and jerk uncontrollably.
And those white people... They hadn't done anything to save her. They had just looked at those strange muggle machines which never stopped flashing and beeping... Bill hadn't done anything either, despite his face clearly conveyed his distress. He had kept writing on that damn notebook, glancing at his wristwatch from time to time.
Sirius had barked and growled desperately, trying to make them understand that Cassandra needed help, but nobody had moved a finger. It was then that the reality of things had finally hit the animagus.
Cassandra had never ceased to be an experiment.
The first time her birth had been the subject of the examination.
This time it had been her death.
She had sold her life for food, medicines and a car.
They had forced her into selling herself for those things, exploiting her despair, not giving her another way out.
Sirius remembered panic being replaced by anger, blinding rage he had felt only twice before.
Sirius remembered Bill's and the White people's eyes widening almost comically when he had finally decided to transform.
He remembered the glasses of the cupboards shatter and the telephone explode.
He remembered them trying to run away, and his raw magic freezing them on the spot.
He had hurt them like only a Black could do, leaving them conscious enough to explain how to fix Cassandra.
He remembered giving the green-eyed angel dozens of strange-looking pills.
He remembered the relief that had flooded in his veins when she had stopped fidgeting.
But she hadn't woken up, and now, a car and a couple of memory and disillusionment charms later, the girl had still to show her stunning irises to the world. Sirius Black kept driving, remembering, and occasionally glancing at the unconscious figure slumped in the seat beside him.
Cassandra was paler than usual, covered in cold sweat. The only sign that she was still alive was the almost imperceptible rising and falling of her chest and the occasional flinch of her limbs. She looked so fragile, so small, incredibly young and extremely old at the same time.
Sirius shook his head, forcing his grey eyes to concentrate on the street. He had tried to change them along with his hair and facial features, but that cold metallic colour was the signature of his soul: no concealing charm could modify it without changing the wizard's mind and heart.
Sirius kept driving, trying to ignore the fatigue. After fixing Cassandra's leg he should have rested his magical core for at least two weeks, but, of course, the circumstances of life had been against him, again. So there he was, fighting his dropping eyelids and the urge to push on the accelerator. He couldn't go beyond the speed limit. He couldn't afford to be stopped by those policemen, because he knew that, probably, an auror would be with them.
Night quickly replaced the twilight, Cassandra was still unconscious and Sirius was more and more troubled and tired.
They had planned their path just a couple of days before: arrive in Scotland using a muggle means of transport and then go to Hogwarts on foot, pretending to be a tourist and her dog exploring English verdant nature. Once at Hogwarts, camp in the Forbidden Forest, check on Harry and keep him safe from the rat.
Originally Sirius had thought about killing the traitor, but Cassandra, being the legitimate daughter of one of the most Ravenclaw-ish Gryffindor in the history of Hogwarst, had other plans in her mind.
She wanted to catch the rat and bring him to the Ministry of Magic.
Sirius had tried to convince her that the headmaster would be good enough to accomplish her intentions, but Cassandra had left no space for discussions. She didn't remember that man, but somehow she had the sensation that putting too much trust in the old leader of Light would have been a mistake. And who was Sirius to argue with a werewolf's instinct?
The Animagus tiredly looked at the car clock, pinching his thighs to fight the urge to stop and sleep. Midnight. They still had six hours of driving. No. He couldn't last six hours. He needed a break. He had to try his luck and find a place to sleep... His glamours were strong enough.. Nobody would recognise him. Probably.
Sighing deeply, Sirius glanced at Cassandra. She was shivering. Her lips were chapped and her breath ragged. From time to time a slight frown appeared on her forehead, as if she was having a real bad dream.
She needed a bed too.
He didn't look at the name of the Motel he entered, the young fighter safely held in his arms.
He didn't look at the old woman that handed him the keys of their new room. He didn't pay attention as he promised to pay for everything the next morning.
He didn't look at the room, letting his tired legs guiding him on an old bed that smelled of naphthalene and cigarettes.
He didn't look at anything. He just laid down on the cracking mattress, lifted the blankets and buried both Cassandra and himself under the worn out covers.
He looked at the sleeping windless angel, panic finally overwhelming him after the burst of adrenaline had subsided.
He didn't know how to do it. He didn't know how to take care of another human being. He had known once, when he was young, relatively happy and had to deal with an injured werewolf once a month.
Azkaban had taken away even that.
He knew how to deal with anger or panic, because that hellhole was filled with those two emotions.
But this... this was different. Cassandra was ill and unconscious, the top of vulnerability.
And he couldn't deal with that. He was the vulnerable one. He was the one Cassandra had fed, healed and dressed.
He didn't know how to do it. But he had to.
So he fought the urge to crawl in a corner and hide and took the shivering girl in his arms. She was cold and limp.
He held her close, smoothing her hair with his left hand, burying his face in the crook of her neck.
He inhaled the fading scent of cinnamon and orange, whispering comforting words, almost not noticing that the tears had returned in his eyes and he was now crying .
And he cried, and begged, and prayed until he fell asleep, just when the sun started rising over the first day of September, 1990.
The Kid A is sitting on a huge white bed surrounded by a strange, light blue curtain.
She wants to see what's beyond the curtain, but she is also scared that the wolves will find her.
She is filthy, covered in mud and blood which, fortunately, is not hers. The clean white sheets are tightly wrapped around her, but she still feels cold. However, that thin piece of cloth is still warmer than anything she had been previously allowed to wear, so she doesn't complain.
She is hungry, but that's no news. Her stomach is so used to hunger that doesn't even try to rumble.
She is tired, but every time she tries to sleep she hears the wolves howl and sees Big Wolf looking at her with those big, yellow eyes.
"I don't care if I am only fifteen. She. Is. My. DAUGHTER."
"Remus, my boy... You wouldn't be able to look after her. Between the school and your friends I am sure you'll be soon too busy to take care of a little girl like her. Nobody would judge you if..."
"What? If I abandoned like a broken doll? If I let her alone in a filthy orphanage?! NO. She is MY daughter and I WILL take care of her, no matter how hard it will be."
"... I know that at the moment you feel responsible for her, but you shouldn't. She is not even.."
"Professor, with all the due respect, I would not end that sentence if I were you"
Kid A knows one of the voices, and can't help by brighten up considerably, even though she doesn't really understand the subject of the argument.
It's her Dad! He himself told her so when she woke up. Not that she knows what a "Dad" is, but it seems something nice anyway.
He called her in a strange way... Sweetheart? She doesn't understand the meaning of that word either, but, again, it sounds like a good thing.
"I want to see her"
"She needs to.."
"She needs me."
And in a second, the strange curtain moves and Dad appears.
He is tall, well-built and covered in scars, like most of the men the Kid A has seen in her short life. His smile, however, is gentle and sincere, not wolfish or cocky or bloodthirsty. His eyes are huge and green like a forest in winter, not yellow and scary.
He looks at her and smiles even more broadly.
"Hey, sweetheart. How are you feeling?"
His voice is soft and deep, nothing like the screech of Mama Wolf.
Kid A can't help but feel the muscles of her lips twitch. What's that? Dad crouches slowly beside the bed, placing his arms on the sheets but not touching Kid A.
"Oh, a smile! I get you're feeling better! Are you hungry?"
Yes. But she can't say that. She is not allowed to talk. Fortunately enough, her stomach chooses that moment to grumble angrily and, surprise surprise, Dad chuckles! What a strange sound. It has nothing to do with Mama Wolf's or Big Wolf's off-color laughs. It is low and reassuring. And contagious. Before she can stop herself, a tiny giggle escapes her mouth. It's nothing, a normal ear couldn't even hear it, but apparently Dad does, because he smiles even broader than before. His eyes are alive and bright and radiate a warm, cozy feeling the Kid A can't exactly identify...
Cassandra sits with her back against a huge tree, playing distractedly with a dandelion as the wind makes her long blonde locks twirl in the air.
She is sad. Her Dad has argued with Sirius about her.
Her Dad is a werewolf, as she suspected, and doesn't want her anymore.
The little girl lets her green watery eyes wander, taking in all the details of the beautiful landscape around her.
The dim light of the twilight reflects lazily on the huge dark surface of the Lake, drawing shimmering patterns on the black pool of water. On the opposite site of the lake, tall dark trees signal the beginning of the not-so-Forbidden Forest, and the child's powerful eyes catch a brief glimpse of an Unicorn running in the woods. Beyond the Forest, an entire ocean of hills and Mountains isolate Hogwarst from the rest of the world.
Cassandra has never seen much of the world outside Hogwarst. She spent the holidays with Prongs' parents, occasionally visiting Lily's home. On one occasion the Marauders took her to Brighton, but that was the farthest she has ever been to the Castle. The lack of travelling, however, doesn't bother her much: she loves the peace and stability of her life.
But Dad told Padfoot she would live better in another family. Dad thinks of sending her away.
It's dark. And cold.
Something crawls in the dark.
Emerald eyes shine in the dark.
It's dark. And cold.
What's my name?
I don't know.
They call me freak.
I don't want to see the green light again.
"Yes, Uncle Vernon?"
"YOU BURNT THE BACON"
A tiny, skinny, black haired boy looks down at the huge frying pan on the cooker. The juicy, fat meat in it is frizzling happily, quickly gaining an inviting golden-brownish colour and emanating a mouth-watering scent. That bacon is perfect.
The child gulps loudly, his emerald eyes widened in fear.
He shouldn't contradict his Uncle.
"I... I don't think s-so, Uncle Vernon."
He expects the slap, but that doesn't stop his cheek from burning both from the pain and the embarrassment.
"DON'T YOU DARE CONTRADICT ME, YOU UNGRATEFUL CHILD!"
With that, a sort of human neck-less walrus grabs the pan and wobbles towards a perfectly neat table.
"Mama loves you... Dada loves you..."
Cassandra groaned loudly, trying to overcome the throbbing pain in her head. She felt like her brain could bulge out of her ears in any moment. Pressing her hands on her forehead, the girl winced as memories of the past hours came crashing on her battered mind.
The last thing she remembered was entering Bill's house with Padfoot at her side...
What happened to him?!
What if they had taken him away?
Forgetting for a second the hammering pain in her skull, the ex-soldier bolted up in a sitting position, immediately opening her eyes.
Stupid Human. You killed us!
Cassandra narrowed her eyes, trying to get used to the excessively bright light which surrounded her.
Why was there so much light? Where was she?
After a couple of minutes, the throbbing brain finally managed to gather some information about her current location. She was sitting in a sort of verdant, colourful garden, almost submerged by a sea of tall white flowers. Tall trees blossomed around her, and the lawn was dotted by small, flowery bushes.
The sky wasn't a normal blue. It was almost white, as if the sun brightness had increased tenfold.
Not a sound could be heard, neither from the usual London traffic nor from birds or other animals.
Rubbing the back of her head in confusion, Cassandra noticed that her hair wasn't ruffled and unkept anymore, but silky and glossy as before the war.
Looking down at herself, the girl saw that she wasn't wearing her own clothes either: her baggy green trousers and black top had been replaced by a long simple white linen, shirtless dress. Her feet were bare and... Wait.
Cassandra's eyes widened almost comically as she studied her right foot in fascination.
Her right foot.
Slim and elegant like her left one, but with a tiny mole on her big toe.
She almost jumped in surprise when the fingers started moving at her mental command, like little soldiers happily reunited to their general.
Muscular but soft. Thin, but not skinny.
Attached to her right thigh as if nothing had happened...
... Just like that!
...Did that mean...
Painfully slowly, the ex-soldier's green eyes wandered on the rest of her body. The skin glowed in the sun, creamy and tanned and, most of all, intact. Even the tattoos had disappeared.
Still looking intently at her arms, Cassandra quickly got up from the ground, starting to walk towards a bunch of particularly colorful trees.
She couldn't help but notice that her breath wasn't as laboured as usual, and that her joints didn't hurt.
It was like all her injuries had disappeared.
The grass bent softly under her feet, while a cool breeze played with her hair, dimming the warming effect of that blinding light. No sound could be heard apart from the trickling of water in the distance.
Everything was so peaceful and incredibly relaxing. Somehow, the athmosphere helped her already healed muscles to loose another bit of their tension, and suddenly she felt the need to close her eyes and spread her arms wide in the gentle wind.
Ah. What a blissful sensation. A wave of mint, lemon and earthly scents invaded her nostrils, giving her the wonderful sensation of being at home.
If this is being dead, then, my dear Human, I can definitely get used to it.
Slowly and perfectly relaxed, the girl wandered through that enchanted wood, occasionally brushing her fingertips against one of the many colorful flowers. It was only when she reached the bank of an electric blue river than she realised how much thirsty she was. She kneeled on the grass and gathered some water in her cupped hands, relishing in the sweet taste of the fresh liquid.
"Who are you?"
Cassandra jumped two feet in the air at the sudden voice, almost falling face-first in the river.
Of course. Not even in death could they leave her alone.
"What the hell..."
But the words died in her throat when she caught sight of the owner of the voice.
He was there. Just like in the flashback.
Equally short. Equally skinny. With the same emerald eyes and messy black hair.
He looked so similar to Prongs that, for a second, Cassandra believed to be in front of her beloved "uncle". But those eyes... Those were Lily's eyes.
Her now musical voice sounded broken and choked. Her eyesight became unfocused for the tears that had gathered in her eyes.
Little Harry, the baby she had listened to through the belly of his mother, the little brother she had never had the possibility to meet, the child for whom Sirius Black was ready to risk his life...
"Cassandra, you'll see, you'll adore him! He was such a sweet baby, always laughing... You know that his first word was Padfoot? Well, not actually Padfoot, more like Pa'foo, or something, but still..."
Sirius Black, the supposedly infamous murderer who had supposedly managed to blow up an entire street while laughing madly, melted every time "Prongslet" was mentioned. He had managed to make Cassandra curious about the mysterious child. With time, curiosity turned into fondness, and fondness into trepidation to see the now thirteen-year-old student.
And now, the child she had grown to love in the past weeks was there, in front of her, curious, scared and confused. And she couldn't help but understand why Sirius loved him so much.
"How do you know my name?"
He was there. Did that mean he was dead?
That couldn't... That couldn't be possible.
He was so young...
Well, she was young too...
No, he was safe.. Sirius had told her so.
He is safe until he gets to Hogwarst.
That's what Sirius had told her!
No. He couldn't be dead.
Confusion increased in the boy's eyes, but a hint of annoyance made it's appearance too.
Oh, get a grip, Cassandra.
"My...my name is C-Cassandra. Cassandra... Lupin."
She didn't expect his expression to change much, actually. He probably didn't know much about his parents, how could he know something about the sort of daughter of his sort of werewolf uncle? Imagine her surprise when, against all odds, the boy's eyes widened in recognition.
"Lupin? Are you related to... Professor RJ Lupin?"
RJ... Remus J. Lupin? Probably. Was he a professor? That she didn't know, although if that had been true, then part of the conversation she had overheard previously would have had much more sense.
"He is my father... sort of. Where are we?"
She couldn't voice her supposition. It would hurt too much to find that her assumptions were right.
Harry looked around briefly, before shrugging.
"I call it Sanctuary... It's a sort of little world inside my head, if that makes sense. I come here when I sleep or to have a bit of peace, but usually I am alone."
Cassandra felt her shoulders slump slightly in relief.
"So we are not... You know.."
"Dead? I don't think so... Well, I am not dead. I think I passed out, actually."
"Ah, ok! For a second I feared... Wait, what do you mean with passed out!?"
Cassandra unconsciously stepped forward, studying the boy in front of her intently. He wasn't wearing white clothes as she was, but a strange black uniform that she remembered from her first visit in Diagon Alley. It was a sort of classical wizard robe, similar to those that Muggle children usually saw in their fairy tales books. It would have been a rather plain outfit, hadn't it been for the red and gold patterns which adorned its hems and a sort of crest stitched on its front. It wasn't Harry's outfit, however, the detail which worried Cassandra.
The child was pale, with a sheen of cold sweat that covered his forehead. He was trembling, both in fear and cold.
"I...I fainted. I was in my usual compartment with my friends and Professor Lupin, when everything went dark and cold... Then those... Things appeared and... And I found myself here".
He was hiding something. Cassandra could smell the partially-hidden truth from a distance. But she could understand that. Carefulness around strangers was a good quality, after all. Trying to ignore the urge to make him spill the complete story, the ex soldier decided to concentrate on another detail of his story.
"Thing? What kind of thing?"
"A sort of magical creature... But how do you know me? It's because of the Boy-who-lived thing or... Are you real, anyway? And why are you here?! It's because of Voldemort? You are working for him?!"
Cassandra could see his muscles stiffen and his eyes flashing an even higher amount of annoyance, confusion and fear. Those emotions, however were soon hidden behind a mask of cold determination. It was that mask, that fake expression of confidence that made her heart drop, because she knew that behaviour too well. That was the face of a fighter, of a person who had never known a childhood.
Sirius won't like this. At all.
And it wasn't like she was enjoying it either.
"I.. I don't know what do you mean with the "boy who lived" thing, I... Came to know about your existence a couple of weeks ago. Before that I.. I didn't even know that magic existed. A common... Friend opened my eyes. And yes, I am definitely real, but no, I don't work for Voldemort, although I heard of him "
"How can I believe you?"
Wariness. So much wariness for a child of his age. Cassandra frowned, thinking, shifting uncomfortably on her feet.
" Ehr... I don't know... ask me something about the magical world. I suppose a servant of that git would know anything about it, but I don't."
It was Harry's time to shift uncomfortably. Cassandra knew that the sincerity in her eyes was confusing him.
"... What do you know about Voldemort?"
Wrong question, kiddo. A servant of a criminal of that level doesn't know anything about his boss' plans, and wouldn't tell you anything, anyway. If I was one of them I could trick you so easily...
It wasn't his fault, of course. Cassandra knew those things because of her training. Sighing at the fool question, the girl quickly answered.
"I know he was a git. I know he was against muggles and muggle borns. I know he killed many people, your parents included. "
I know he liked to mess with werewolves
But Harry didn't need to know that.
"But, dear... That's not a good question. I mean, everybody could answer the way I did, especially a person who's working for Voldemort. You should ask me something more specific. Not a spell, because I know latin pretty well and I know that most of the spells are in latin, so I could understand their action without actually knowing how to cast them. Ask me something about wizards and witches lives. I almost completely ignore that part."
Cassandra almost had to bit her lip in order not to smirk. Basic psychology. By admitting that the question was a weak one, and apparently not trying to exploit Harry's mistake, the girl was managing to finally win over the boy's diffidence.
The young Gryffindor stared at her, his mouth slightly opened. She stared back, arching a brow expectantly. After a couple of seconds Harry flushed slightly, lowering his eyes and clearing his throat.
"I... Ehr... I don't know... What... What is a quaffle?"
Cassandra stared in front of her, trying to analyze the strange word. Quaffle... Was that an animal? Maybe a sort of fluffy magical rabbit...
No... It wasn't a rabbit... It wasn't even an animal.
The name was familiar. Sirius never talked about Quaffles, though. Maybe the Marauders had said that word when she was a baby...
When Cassandra was a baby, the Marauders were young and careless teenagers. What do careless male teenagers usually talk about?
"Please tell me it is not a magical term for something that belongs to the fair sex. Please."
Harry looked at Cassandra, evidently taken unawares by her answer.
Then a look of realization crossed his emerald eyes.
Then he became as red as a tomato.
"No! I mean... Ew! Nononono... It's a ball. For a magical sport. Just... not.. Ew!"
He looked so revolted and utterly embarrassed by her implication that Cassandra couldn't help but snort in amusement.
" Why so disgusted? I am a female too, you know?"
That was the last straw. The boy's cheeks became if possible even redder, and the poor Gryffindor started stammering apologies mixed with other, unidentified mutterings, stopping only when Cassandra burst out laughing abruptly.
"Oh, relax, Harry! I'm only joking. Not about the quaffle part, though. I really didn't know what it was before you told me. Actually, I didn't know there was a magical sport before you told me about it."
Despite the embarrassed expression still plastered on his face, the bespectacled boy's demeanor relaxed visibly and his anxiety and wariness was gradually replaced by an ever increasing curiosity.
Oh, kiddo... You are far too trusting, even for a teenager.
Human, you wanted to gain his trust. Why are you complaining.
It's just... Come on! There is a girl dressed in white walking and talking happily inside his head. He shouldn't trust me only because I answered stupidly to a question about magic!
And tell me, human, what should he do?
I don't know. Wake up. Make me go away. Hex me. Punch me. There are many possibilities.
... You think too much, Human.
Amal... How many times do I have to tell you to shut up?
You don't mean it. You love me.
Cassandra shook out of her reverie with a slight jump. That wolf was awfully distracting.
"Yeah. Yeah I'm listening. I just... Nevermind."
Harry looked at the ex soldier like if she was an odd monkey just escaped from the zoo.
What a wonderful first impression. Now he thinks I am mad.
Which is partly true.
"Miss Lupin... If you... If you are not here for Voldemort, and if you don't want to hurt me...Why are you inside my head?"
Cassandra looked around, lost in thought. That was a good question.
"I don't... I don't have a bloody idea!"
An incredulous laugh escaped her lips, making Harry frown but smile slightly at the same time. Shaking her head in confused amusement, the girl started walking with no apparent direction, motioning the black-haired boy to follow her.
He complied, although keeping a safety distance. She didn't seem to notice, however, as she kept staring in front of her, gesticulating wildly as she tried to find a sense in what was happening.
"I was... I think I passed out too, you know? But I did because... Because of something that I agreed to do. To earn money... It's a pretty long story, actually, and I don't know if telling you would be the right thing to do. Not now, at least."
Cassandra could feel a brief wave of disappointment radiate from the boy walking nervously beside her.
"But... But you are in my head! I have every right to know!"
Cassandra stopped on her tracks and looked at him, her eyes betraying a mixture of sadness and uncertainty that made Harry flinch. She sighed, kneeling on the grass so as to be almost at the same eye level of the small wizard, but not daring to touch him.
"Harry, I... My story is complicated. Really complicated. I don't even know all its details, and after my recent discoveries I... I don't think I want to deepen my knowledge about my past. What you can know is that my name is Cassandra Lupin, you can call me Cass, I am technically the daughter of Remus Lupin and you must not tell him about this conversation. Not until I give you my permission."
Noticing that the boy was about to argue, the girl lifted a hand to silence him.
"As I said, it's complicated. My.. Father and I were separated by an evil man many years ago, right before you were born. Now Remus thinks I am a happy teenager who ignores the existence of magic, and he doesn't want to... Interfere with my new life. He is a very sad man, Harry. He suffered a lot, and I hold most of the responsibility for that. I don't want to disturb him further."
Harry, however, didn't seem to register the ex-soldier's last words, for he focused on a single detail of her little speech:
"Right before I was born? How..."
If possible, Cassandra's expression saddened further.
"I knew your parents very well. They were friends with my father and I called them Aunt and Uncle... I... I d-don't remember much about them, but... But they were great people. L-lily... She was almost a m-mother to me, I..."
The girl let her gaze shift downwards, not wanting to meet those piercing emerald eyes which, despite being those of a fighter, still held the innocent curiosity she had lost long before. Clearing her throat, and trying to swallow the lump that was constricting her throat, the girl went on talking.
"I wasn't there when they.. When they d-died. Our friend told me that... That they were gone and explained to me how they passed. Anyway... I can't tell you much more about me, I'm afraid. I am seventeen, and I was raised by muggles, just like you, I think. My experience with them wasn't pleasant, and it ended with me being disowned and hurt pretty badly. Our common friend helped me , and before I... Came here we were going to Hogwarst to check on you. We..."
Suddenly, a strange cacophony of sounds filled the garden.
... Cassandra, come on...
... Wake up...
The voices were confused and distorted, and their volume made the earth under their feet tremble dangerously.
The water of the river turned into a pearly white, and something in Cassandra's mind told her to jump into the strange liquid.
"..we have to go..."
She whispered those words almost reluctantly, lifting her ice-green eyes to meet the emerald orbs again.
"We have to go, but we'll meet again soon, okay? I don't know if it'll be here or in the real world, but it will happen."
"But... But who is that common friend of ours?! Dumbledore? And why should you check on me? "
Harry's expression quickly turned from curiosity to utter panic as the voices became louder and the sky began to fall down on them, bringing darkness into that place of light. God knew how Cassandra understood him, but she was the big sister, she had to act confidently. Taking a deep breath, and trying to ignore the earthquake which was now tearing the ground apart, the ex-soldier gathered Harry into a tight hug, smiling slightly as he slowly relaxed in her arms.
"Be safe, Harry. Please, please be safe. We'll come, eventually, but until then don't take unnecessary risks. And beware of rats, they are nasty creatures."
With that, just as the last piece of sky began to crumble, Cassandra gave the young wizard a wink and slid slowly in the white pearly water.
Later that night, Harry lied wide awake in his usual bed in the Gryffindor Tower.
He couldn't stop thinking about that strange girl... Cassandra. She looked similar to Professor Lupin, that was true. Their eyes were the same, and their hair held a similar shade of blonde.
Maybe she was really the professor's daughter... If she was real, of course. A part of the bespectacled boy's mind told him that Cassandra was only a product of his imagination, an illusion created by his own brain to make him feel less lonely. His heart however, told him otherwise.
Her voice... The way she talked, the answers she had given to him... Everything felt so real, and Harry was certain his mind couldn't be so creative even in a dream.
Truth be told, the young Gryffindor hoped that Cassandra was real. She was funny, and her eyes conveyed a love he wasn't sure to deserve. He knew he could trust her, although some of her sentences were quite cryptical.
Beware of rats... What did she mean with that? He loved animals, but surely rats weren't his favourite.
Sighing deeply, Harry turned on his left side to look at his best friend, Ron Weasley. The boy was snoring happily, his stomach satisfied by the delicious food of the house Elves. His mouse, Scrabbers, was curled beside him, breathing rapidly and occasionally twitching his tiny paws.
Maybe she meant to be careful around Scrabbers. Maybe the poor lad had a sort of contagious illness which could be dangerous for humans too. But then, how could she know about Scabbers?
Maybe she saw you and Ron in Diagon Alley when you went to buy the medicine for Scrabbers...
That was a possibility. But then, why hadn't she tried to talk to him?
Would you have paid her attention? Probably not. There were many people in the Alley who claimed to know him or to be related to him to some extents, he would have dismissed her quickly with a polite smile and a nod.
Harry turned and turned in his bed, trying and failing miserably to sleep a bit.
Just as his brain seemed to be ready to turn off the lights, something happened to shake the boy out of his sleepy state.
Soft and musical as a gentle breeze.
A child's giggle.
The young Lion froze, cold sweat trickling down his spine.
At Hogwarst, in the middle of the night, a child's giggle wasn't a good thing.
Maybe he had imagined it. After all, it was pouring rain outside.
Harry closed his eyes, breathing deeply.
He was being silly. There weren't children's ghosts at Hogwarst, apart from Moaning Myrtle.
But then, the giggle returned. Louder.
Harry shot up from his lying position, hastily grabbing his glasses from his bedside table.
This time, the giggle didn't fade in the silence of the night.
It didn't fade, because the tiny child in front of his bed didn't stop giggling.
Harry sat on his bed, paralyzed by terror, staring as the little girl giggled and waved her tiny hand at him.
She wasn't a ghost. But she wasn't real either.
She looked ethereal, impalpable, as if she was made of dust. Silver dust that shimmered in the light of the moon.
If Harry hadn't been so terrified, he would probably have found the scene quite fascinating.
The child stopped giggling, but kept smiling at him.
She looked familiar.
"W-who...w-who..". Harry cleared his throat, trying to gaining some of his courage and stop stammering like an idiot.
The child, however, spared him the effort, smiling even wider, lifting theatrically her left arm and spreading some of her dust in the air.
The powder twirled in the darkness of the room, assuming the shape of elegant, glittering letters.
"What... what do you mean?"
The words faded and reappeared in an instant.
Of the Pack
The children of the Pack
Shall defeat the Dark
Wake up the Alpha.
Who caused the Pack
The child looked up at the words, and Harry could see a dusty tear trailing down her cheek.
What the hell was going on?
Finally finding the Lion courage he was afraid to have lost, the bespectacled boy slowly scooted closer to the surreal scene in front of him, lifting a trembling hand to try and reach the dusty figure.
Just as his fingers brushed against the left cheek of the little girl, however, a new giggle erupted from her mouth, echoing in the darkness as the tiny child and the words were replaced by a twirling, blurry silvery cloud.
In an istant, the cloud floated out of the dorm, bringing with it the soft giggles of the little girl.
Those were only a few of the emotions that dominated Harry's mind.
But, as usual, curiosity was the strongest one.
So he got up, grabbed the Cloak, and followed the cloud.
The cloud kept floating. Harry kept following.
Corridors, Corridors, Corridors.
The paintings were sleeping. Even Flinch was nowhere to be seen.
Stairs, stairs, stairs.
Finally, the cloud stopped. In another corridor.
It was similar to the other corridors of the school, but the doors which led to the rooms were smaller, more like those of a normal house. Each of the doors held a signature.
Those were the Professors' headquarters!
The cloud had stopped in front of a specific door.
What's so special in this Professor? I dream about his supposed daughter, this... thing wants to bring me to him...
The door was dark. Professor Lupin was probably asleep.
But the cloud had stopped. It wanted Harry to enter the room.
Breathing deeply, Harry grabbed the handle.
Of course, the door was locked.
Maybe I could try with my wand..
I left it in the dorms.
Smart, Harry. Really smart.
As if understanding that the boy couldn't go further, the cloud twirled around rapidly and disappeared in a silvery blur.
Harry stood there, in the darkness and in the silence, trying to figure out what to do.
He didn't remember the way back to the dorms.
He couldn't stay in front of Professor Lupin's room for the rest of the night.
Panic quickly rising in his chest, the black-haired boy looked around frantically.
Most of the doors were dark, but in one of them light leaked through the keyhole and the . It was McGonagall's room.
Oh, well. I have nothing to lose.
Harry tiptoed towards the light, reaching the door and lowering his head so as to be able to glimpse through the keyhole.
"Come in, Mr Potter. The temperature is definitely chilly, and you wouldn't want to catch a cold at the beginning of the term, would you?"
Heart hammering in his chest, the young wizard froze to the spot, trying his best not to breath too loudly.
How the hell did she do that?!
"Mr. Potter, if you think you can stay there breathing like a consumptive orang utan, then you are wrong. Now, come in before I call Mr. Flinch"
Fantastic. Detention on my first day back at school.
Reluctantly, already imaging himself all alone in the dungeons brushing dirt cauldrons, Harry took off the Invisibility Cloak and hesitantly opened the door.
Professor McGonagall was quietly sitting at a comfortable looking armchair positioned in front of the only window in the room. Her hair were gathered in a tight bun as usual, but her dark robes had been replaced by a less stern-looking purple dress. Her lap was covered by a warm blanket and her hands were clutching a big cup of hot chocolate.
Harry stood there, fumbling nervously with his cloak, looking around as the Professor studied him with an arched eyebrow. After a couple of seconds, the cat animagus huffed in annoyance.
"Mr. Potter, why don't you sit down and tell me the reason why you felt the need to have a walk in the Castle at this time of the night?"
The bespectacled boy lifted his gaze in confusion, only to find out that the Head of Gryffindor didn't look stern and clipped as usual. In fact, her eyes held a hint of sadness and sympathy that reminded him of the strange girl in the Sanctuary.
Slowly, and still a bit wary, Harry sat on the armchair opposite McGonagall's one, never stopping to fumble with his cloak.
"I... I couldn't sleep..."
"Is that because of what happened on the train?"
Again, the Professor's eyes held no accusation or blame, just interest. And maybe concern.
Harry wasn't actually used to people expressing those kinds of emotions towards him. Mrs. Weasley and Hermione were always worried about him, that was true, but they always expressed their emotions in quite a...loud way, usually making Harry desire to escape from their deadly embraces and fussing words.
McGonagall, instead... She was worried, that was clear, but held a composure and a quietness that somehow reassured the boy and led him to trust the woman almost completely.
He still didn't know if he could tell her about his mental garden and the strange encounter of that night. He was afraid she could think of him as a psychologically disturbed young man, not to mention the fact that Cassandra herself had pleaded him not to tell anyone about her.
"Yes... I kept thinking about what... About those creatures..."
Well, that was partially true. Meeting the Dementors had left the boy wonder about the horrors of Azkaban. Did anybody deserve to spend years in a place haunted by those dark creatures? Did anybody deserved to constantly feel happiness being sucked away by those monsters? Probably Voldemort did.
The voice of Minerva shook him out of his reverie.
"... Ah, the Dementors... Dark, awful creatures. But they are useful, in a sense. They make you understand that, even in the utter despair, a thin base of happiness is always able to seep through the thick wall of sadness. It is like a pulsing heart inside our soul... For some people it's more fragile than for others, but it's always there. It's what makes us live, and only those monsters are able to extinguish that core completely. And when they do so... Well, then everything becomes dry, and cold, and dead."
Harry looked at the woman in front of him in surprise, trying to process what she had just said. He didn't expect his Professor to be so... Dumbledore-like.
Suddenly, a question formed in the thirteen-year-old's mind.
"Professor... Have you ever... Have you ever met one of them? I mean, of course everybody must have seen them by now, but... Have you ever come face-to-face with them like..."
"...like you did? Yes... Yes, indeed I have"
McGonagall turned to face the wall opposite the window. That side of the room was completely occupied by a bookshelf, which, however, didn't hold books at all.
It was crammed with pictures.
Pictures of young men and women, who laughed, smiled, waved at the camera or simply looked at it with an unreadable expression on their faces. Some of them were dressed with their school robes, others wore the Quidditch uniform, but the majority of them wore wizard or muggle clothes.
"I sommersi e i salvati**..."
Those strange words came out of her mouth as a barely audible whisper, but Harry heard anyway and looked at the woman in front of him in confusion. Noticing his questioning look, McGonagall explained him the meaning of those words, still keeping her tone low.
"It means the drowned and the saved in Italian. You know, Harry... I've worked as a teacher in Hogwarst for almost forty years, and I've been the deputy Headmistress for twenty. I have seen so many children running down the corridors, struggling to understands the secrets behind magic..."
The old woman sighed, still looking at those pictures, occasionally taking a sip of her hot chocolate.
" Some of those children had loving caring families who supported and helped them in everything they did. Others, however, weren't so lucky".
Without warning, Minerva got up from her seat and moved towards the bookshelf, motioning Harry to follow her.
"I try to help the most unfortunate students as best as I can. It doesn't matter if they are Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs or Slytherin... They are lost children, who need a guide. Sometimes I manage to save them from their demons, sometimes... I fail, and they drown."
Harry studied the pictures intently, trying to recognise some of the students.
On the left side of the door, Harry found some familiar faces.
He saw Lucius Malfoy, his body barely moving as he stared at the camera with an imperturbable expression in his eyes.
He saw Malfoy's wife, sitting on a bench in what seemed to be an exotic garden. She was smiling timidly, but there was a sadness in her eyes that didn't fit with her older self's cold behaviour.
"These ones are... Are the drowned?"
McGonagall simply nodded, her dangerously bright eyes wandering through the pictures of those lost souls.
"I tried... I really did. I talked to them, visited them regularly. But there are demons that we simply can't fight."
A sudden thought crossed Harry's mind, and the boy began scanning the shelves, searching for a specific face, but he couldn't find it.
"Professor... S-Sirius Black... Is he here too?"
The Professor stiffened slightly at the mentioning of that name, but nodded anyway, pointing a couple of pictures which hanged over the top of the door.
"He is over there, together with Professor Lupin."
With a wave of her wand, the two pictures gently moved from the wall to her outstretched hand. Harry leaned closer studying the two boys intently, and gasped in surprise as he noticed two facts.
First of all, the handsome dark-haired Gryffindor called Sirius Black was the same boy who populated most of his parents' wedding photos.
Secondly, young Professor Lupin wasn't alone in his picture. He was holding a four-year-old child with wavy blond hair and stunning ice-green eyes. Cassandra, alias the dusty silvery giggling child. Suddenly, the young Gryffindor felt the almost irresistible urge to tell McGonagall about the strange encounters of that day.
But he couldn't.
Cassandra had asked him not to tell anyone.
So he asked a different question.
"But... Are those two drowned or saved?"
Surprisingly enough, the Professor smiled slightly at the question, gently brushing her fingertips against the two pictures.
"...I don't know. Sirius and Remus had never been easy to read, Mr. Potter. They both come from dark backgrounds, and some people may think they have been faithful to the path that had been set up for them. But they are both Lions at heart, and I can't help but hope that, one day, I will be able to place them among the saved."
What? Sirius Black, a mass-murderer and escaped prisoner, a saved?!
"But, Professor... Sirius Black is.."
"A mass murderer? I can't be sure. Nobody can be. War has a shattering effect on the order of things, Harry. It mixes up truth with lies, modifying the reality, making us see demons that do not exist. In times of war we let fear guide our judgement or, even worse, we let more powerful people take important decision for us."
Harry frowned, confused.
Sirius Black? He was a killer. A criminal who had worked for Voldemort. There were proofs that supported these facts...The papers said so! Noticing the incredibly sad eyes of his otherwise stern Professor, however, Harry decided to let it go. It was clear that the woman had tried to save Black more than others: accepting this failure was probably too difficult for her.
After a couple of minutes of silent contemplation of the pictures, McGonagall shook out of her reveries and put the photos back to their places above the door. Turning to the bespectacled boy beside her, the woman told him to go back to bed, her voice low and slightly choked. Harry leaved quickly, startled by the curious conversation with his Professor and surely more confused than ever about the mysterious girl, the new DADA teacher and the supposed infamous Sirius Black.
He didn't now, however, that the old woman he had just left was thinking about the same people.
She remembered the time when Cassandra was at Hogwarst, a tiny girl with an easy smile and a passion for her young father.
She remembered a calm boy with a scarred face and an impressive brain who had found the strength to live in the eyes of his daughter and in the embrace of his friends.
She remembered a young, brave man with silver eyes and a golden heart, repeating constantly three words in his tiny, dark cell.
I am innocent.
* Inspired by the vision that appears in the sixth or seventh film of the series... unfortunately my memory refuses to give me further information!
**"Sommersi e Salvati" is a book written by the Italian author Primo Levi. SInce the book is about reflections on the olocaust, it is obvious that this chapter has nothing to do with it. I only borrowed the title, which, as specified in this update, means "the Drowned and the Saved" in Italian. Of course, I don't own anything.
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