Chapter 17 : Atoms For Peace
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Somewhere, in old books forgotten by the majority of the magical population, it was written that the Lupins had received those eyes as a gift from Nature herself. This gift, however, had soon turned into a damnation.
Everything had begun thousands and thousands of years ago, when the verdant British Island stood peaceful and silent in the troubled waters of the ocean.
The Forest covered every single inch of its rich soil, and the strangest creatures populated its caves and trees. Those creatures lived in peace, without a care in the world, completely unprepared to face the deep changes that were about to come.
In fact, nobody could have predicted the arrival of a new, strange, extravagant population: the Trojans.
The Trojans were not Centaurs, nor Sirens. They were not Nymphs, nor gnomes, nor dwarfs nor elves. They looked like them, however. They were taller than gnomes or dwarfs, but smaller than Elves and Nymphs. They didn't walk on four legs like the centaurs, and did not screech like the Sirens, but they were good with the arrow, and were loud and obnoxious.
The Trojans were numerous. Smaller, taller, with a strange, pinkish complexion and short, dark, curly hair or long fluffy beards. Some of them were beautiful, other were ugly. Some of them had smooth skin and toned flesh, others looked frail and wrinkled.
Initially, the creatures of the forest looked curiously at such an odd people. In some cases they even pitied them, because they were always angry, or sad, or melancholic. They only looked happy at night, when a good fire lit their faces and a purple liquid was poured in wooden goblets. Soon enough, however, innocent interest and pity were replaced by fear and despair.
Those Trojans, those… Humans, didn't know anything about the magnificence of Nature and her children. They didn't care about the island, they didn't care about its inhabitants. They only wanted space to build their artificial caves and use their huge, intimidating devices. Since the island was apparently full of trees and nothing else, those deranged people decided to create their own space.
They cut the trees, they filled the caves.
Most of the creatures didn't know the meaning of violence, and stood there, paralyzed in fear, watching as their homes were smashed by the cruelty of the strange newcomers. They stood there, until a child saw them.
A baby girl, so different from the other Trojans that for a second the dwarf that saw her didn't associate her with that horrible people.
She was tiny, she was perfect.
Her skin was as white as alabaster, her hair a soft golden cascade that fell graciously on her small shoulders.
She fixed her gaze on the dwarf, but at the same time, she didn't see him. In fact, her eyes were dull, and grey, and unfocused.
She was blind.
She was innocent.
The dwarf should have run away. He should have hidden like the other creatures of the forest had done after noticing a human coming into their direction.
But he didn't. Because the little girl was lost, and he had a kind heart that prevented him from leaving her to her fate.
No, he couldn't. Instead, he called the only creatures that could have solved that problem.
You see, the wolves were the only ccreatures on the island that truly knew the meaning of blood. They were the guardians of the Forest, the beings responsible for the safety of its people.
They had tried to defy the Trojans. They had tried, sacrificing their own innocence to preserve that ot the others, but they had failed.
They had failed, because sometimes a single human can cause more damage than a giant in a castle of glass.
Wolves hated failure. It made them feel weak, although no creature in the forest blamed them.
Wolves were dangerous, ferocious powerful. But they were also wise and brave and loyal. And they were famous for protecting cubs of any kind or species.
And that child was definitely a cub to protect.
Alun was the wisest of the wolves. He saw the child, and immediately noticed she had something wrong.
She didn't smell of death, of blood, of cruelty.
She smelled of foreign species, of family.
She was magical.
Alun and the wolves understood that if she was magical, that meant that other humans could be magical too. So the Guardians began searching. And what they found blinded them with rage.
Magoi. This was the name with which Trojans addressed "barbarian", "dangerous" humans.
The Magoi were human beings who had been cursed by Gods. "Dark" creatures who could light a fire with a wave of their hands or start a storm with simple pirouettes.
The Trojans, of course, didn't understand the pureness, the innocence of magic. They didn't understand that those people could do what they did was that they had such a deep connection with the elements to actually be able to talk to them.
The Trojans didn't know that what they considered a curse was actually a blessing, so they kept the Magoi isolated from the "normal" citizens, forcing the young men and women to work as servants for the poorest families.
As a punishment for their darkness, Magoi pregnant women were forced into drinking a potion that would make their daughters blind and their sons incredibly fragile and sensible to any kind of sickness.
The Magoi were pariah, isolated, despised, tortured. They didn't have anything apart from a battered piece of cloth to cover their limbs.
Alun found them, cowering in a dark corner of the rapidly growing village. He found them and they saw him.
They didn't run, or fight, or scream: they just looked at him with vigilant or empty eyes.
Alun looked at them one by one. They were all so different from the other humans. They all has fair skin and blonde hair. They didn't speak, but somehow, the wolf got the impression that they could talk to each other without opening their mouths.
Soon enough, Alun noticed that a man was looking at him more intensely than others. The man was hunched in a corner, surrounded by women, children and who seemed to be the healthiest boys in the group. It looked like everyone was trying to protect the man, who had tears running down his sunken cheeks.
Those tears, however, were drying up, and a weak smile grew to grace the battered face of the venerated Magoi.
It wasn't a question. It was a name, or a verb, or an adjective. Alun, despite his wisdom, didn't know the language of the Trojans, and that was clearly a Trojan term. However, something in the hopeful tone with which that word was spoken told him that "Cassandra" was the little cub found by the gentle dwarf.
Amber eyes met the watery-green ones, and after a moment, a second wolf appeared from the woods with a confused child on his back.
The man smiled wider, and so the poor people around him. Slowly and painfully, he rose from his comfortable spot on the floor and limped towards the gigantic Alun. Pointing at himself, the man said:
And, then, still smiling, Lycao rose a hand to the sky, and heavy rain started pouring on the Trojans who were trying to burn the Forest.
This was the beginning of a long, prosperous friendship between the Creatures of the Forest and the Magoi. The magical humans fought side by side with the wolves, and managed to regain the control of the island. The Trojans became servants, even though in no way were they being treated as bad as they had treated the Magoi, and Alun and Lycao reigned together in wisdom and justice.
No woman or man of the Magoi was forced ever again into drinking that potion. On the contrary, Nature gifted even the blind ones with magnificent, bright, powerful ice-green orbs.
It was said that whenever two pair of those eyes met, raw energy would lash out and change the course of time irreversibly. It was said, that two sets of the Magoi eyes could bring eternal peace or never-ending suffering to the people around them.
Many stories were written about the magic behind those eyes. Many wonderful, endearing stories of heroes and fighters, of strong women and ingenious men.
This however, isn't the time to tell these stories. Because what matters now is that, on that Saturday of September, for the first time in decades those legendary green eyes met again.
Cassandra looked at her father for the first time in thirteen years. Remus saw his daughter staring at him for the first time in 4745 days.
They held the gaze for a second, a second that lasted an eternity.
She felt him, his energy, his power. She felt the sheer determination and rage pouring out of his pores, she felt the desperation and loneliness slowly leaving the heart of her Alpha.
She felt his love. Waves and waves of love washing over her, overwhelming her. It was a kind of love she had craved for years, but never received. It was the unconditional, raw, blinding love, that she knew she had felt before but just couldn't remember when.
It was confusing. She remembered the conversation she had overheard before falling into a whirlwind of darkness and odd places, she remembered that she was the Kid A, a creature, a robot.
She remembered that she had supposed Remus Lupin had loved her, because, seriously, who could take care of a toddler without feeling a single ounce of love? But she had thought that love was more pity than, well… this.
It was confusing. But it also felt so incredibly good. It was like drinking fresh water after days of thirst, or… or waking up from the first full night of sleep in months. She felt refreshed, comfortable, ecstatic, energetic. It was just so incredibly great, that she couldn't stop the tears from forming at the corner of her eyes.
For a second, she even forgot she had been stuck in a damn limbo for more than a damn week and that she couldn't. Wake. Up.
Remus felt her. Her pain, her strength, her despair. He felt the hope that had been crushed. He felt the panic that made her breath hitch and her limbs tremble. He felt the tiny sphere of imperfect, unstable and untamed power that had always been connected to him, and now just felt so horribly far away.
He could see now, that his daughter, his Cassandra, had never been happy after her disappearance.
She was so, so broken, but her huge heart hadn't change at all.
And he felt sad. Angry. And happy, oh, so incredibly happy.
Because Cassandra was alive. Cassandra was alive, was strong, and magnificent, and was there.
And he loved her so much. And he was so proud of her.
And he knew she felt the love. He knew she was relishing in that dramatically foreign sensation, he knew that his love was making her feel better.
And so he felt so strong and determined. He whispered a word he knew only she would hear.
He broke the magical contact of those legendary pair of orbs, and opened the cage of the wolf.
Her body didn't feel so heavy anymore.
Actually, it felt even lighter than before.
Why do we feel so light?
I think I have an idea, human…
Her stomach was growling.
She was hungry. Really hungry.
She was starving.
When had been the last time she had eaten something?
Sirius gave me some soup, I think… two days ago? Three?
What day is it today, anyway?
It was with this whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that Cassandra Lupin woke up after more than a week of coma, bolting out of the comfortable, warm bed someone had placed her into and immediately regretting her sudden action.
The floor wasn't comfortable. Nor warm. Not at all.
Oh, come on, Human! Could you please be a tiny little bit less self destructing?! I live in this body too, thank you.
Amal. You have the most remarkable ability of complaining in the less proper moments, you know that?
Cassandra rubbed her head with a groan, trying to detect any ache or feeling of uneasiness that could indicate a state of illness. But she felt nothing.
Not the "nothing" she had usually felt after the werewolf attack, but the nothing of… the nothing of a relatively unfortunate soldier who had happened to be stuck in a fight more often than not. This meant that she was sore, her joints ached, her breath was a bit difficult thanks to the incredibly good aim of that incredibly mad rebel… But the burning pain caused by the claws of that creature… that, was certainly diminished, if not gone.
After the quick check up of her physical condition, the ex-soldier proceeded to the next step: opening her eyes.
She had already snapped them open when she had woken up a couple of seconds before, but it had been very bright and incredibly painful.
Probably Amal was right: she needed to be more cautious.
And so, in a quite comic way, Cassandra squeezed her eyelids tight before slowly opening her left eye.
A blurred, unfocused, red-black-grey mess. Mmh. Encouraging.
After a couple of highly suffered seconds, the girl repeated the process with her right eye.
Same mess. For a couple of seconds.
Then, painfully slowly, the crystalline woke up and started functioning again.
The… Room was… Nice.
It was clearly a bedroom. From her position on the floor, Cassandra could delineate the profiles of a big double bed in front of her, a huge wooden wardrobe on the opposite side of the room, a couple of armchairs next to a wide, curtained window beside her, and a stone fireplace on the wall opposite the bed.
In said fireplace, a fire was happily crackling, drawing orange and red shadows over the dark walls. In fact, the fire was the only source of light in the whole room, although Cassandra could tell from the thin lines of white coming from the little holes in the shutters that outside the sun was still high.
Curious. Whoever had brought her there must have known that her eyes would be extra sensible after a prolonged period of unconsciousness.
Maybe Sirius brought me here. Maybe he's just outside the room, waiting for me to wake up.
No. Sirius wasn't there. The same instinct that had stopped her from bringing him straight to the police told her that her favourite dog was not outside the door, nor in the same building as her.
There was no mint, nor lemon in the air.
Three-year-old Cassandra sits at the large window of the living room, looking intently at the garden outside. Well, at the road beyond the garden, to be precise.
Dad told her they would have been home in a couple of hours.
"Just the time to bring Padfoot's things back from his previous house and we'll be back"
But they are still not home. And a couple of hours have already passed.
It's not that they haven't been out before. Grandmother Dorea always tells her that Dad, Pads and the others are young and sometimes need some time for themselves.
But Padfoot's ex-house is dark, and ugly, and full of dark and ugly people. She knows that, because she has lived with Pads for almost two years now. And she hears the nightmares. And she sees the way he looks after one of those terrors.
And she sees the scars on his back.
They are different from those of Dad. Dad's ones are darker, and less logical.
Padfoot's ones are almost white, and incredibly logical. Almost as if the one who has inflicted them had projected them before grabbing the whip.
Moreover, Dad's scars do not form letters. Padfoot's ones do. "Blood Traitor", "Un-aborted monster", and "Disgrace", to be precise.
Cassandra knows it has been Sirius' first Dad to do them. She shouldn't know that, of course, because she's too young.
But she has ears, and eyes. And a brain that "works too much", as Hagrid would say.
A hand on her little shoulder shakes her out of her reverie. Turning around, the child comes to stare directly into Gran's kind hazel eyes.
"Don't worry, sweetie. They'll be back in no time. Maybe they just stopped to have an ice cream."
But Cassandra knows that Dorea is distracted. She can see that from the frown that lingers on the woman's forehead, as well as the fact that Gran usually knows that the girl hates being called "sweetie".
Only Dad can use nicknames with her. Dad, Padfoot, Prongs and Lily.
And none of them is there now.
Cassandra only shrugs and goes back to her previous activity.
Why did they have to go and gather Pads' things now, anyway? He has everything he needs here.
A small bubble of anger swells in the child's heart as she realises that, probably, the Marauders have lied to her.
Cassandra sniffs the air. No mint, no lemon, no earthly scents.
Cassandra shook her head, tying to clear her still confused mind.
No. I can't fell into one of those flashbacks again. I just got out from those… whatever they were.
It wasn't the time for these amenities.
She needed to get out of there and find Sirius. Because he was in trouble, that was a fact.
He was always in trouble.
Grabbing the thick woollen plaid and the duvet beneath it, the ex soldier tried to get up from the floor, immediately noticing two things.
The first one was she wasn't wearing the prosthesis.
The second one was that her muscles almost weren't able to support her body, and that her head was still a bit dizzy.
These discoveries, however, almost came too late, and Cassandra had to use all the strength left in her arms not to fall on the floor again. Thankfully, the combination of wolfish reflexes and sheer determination helped her to fall not-so-gracefully on the huge bed instead.
Mmmmh… this bed is so soft… Have I ever been on a bed so soft and comfy? Wait, since when do I use the word "comfy"? Maybe I should rest for a bit…. No! Cassandra, you are a soldier, and a sort of wolf, and you slept for… a lot, so don't you dare to fall asleep! Now you find your damn prosthesis, grow a pair and find that damn mutt.
And so, Cassandra crawled on the bed, groaning and sighing and panting.
Maybe the wolf wound had healed. But the rest was still the same.
Finally, the girl reached the opposite side of that fluffy trap. Fighting for a couple of seconds with the mess of blankets and plaids, Cassandra eventually managed to raise her right arm and tried to feel for the smooth, cold surface of her fake leg somewhere in the darkness. Her eyes, in fact, were far too tired to try and focus further the objects in the room.
Here you are. Horrid thing. I should have chosen that one with the wireless detector.
Rolling on her back, the ex-soldier blindingly fastened all the stripes of that deathly traps, stopping from time to time to calm down her heart or to ease the uncomfortable trembling of her hands. She hadn't felt this uncomfortable since when she wore the prosthesis for the first time. This time, however, she didn't have an entire crowd of ex-colleagues watching her as if she was a sort of clown.
Finally, after seconds that seemed hours, Cassandra let her half leg fall heavily on the duvet, her breath ragged and her hear thumping in her chest.
How will I ever manage to get out of here if I can't even do such a simple thing without having a half heart attack?
She had to. For Sirius.
Where was he?
Was he cold? Was he hungry?
Probably not. He was worried, and scared, and those two emotions could do wonders to the feelings of hunger and cold.
But that didn't mean that his stomach was full, and that the temperature wasn't too low for him.
He was injured after all. He still had traces of pneumonia, his joints were still irritated and he still didn't have enough corporeal fat.
And the darkness had overwhelmed him again. She knew that. She could almost feel the mess in his head… just like she had felt the love from…
She shouldn't think about that.
She had to worry about Sirius. The man who would protect anyone apart from himself.
Cassandra stared at the wooden ceiling above her, endeared by the complex pattern of the red shadows that twirled on the dark material.
Where was Sirius?
He could be lost.
He could have returned to London.
Suddenly, a messy head of raven hair crossed the girl's mind.
Her voice was little more than a croak, but she didn't care.
She needed to get out of there, she needed to go out and.. Wait.
Where was she, by the way?
That she didn't know. But there was only a way to find out.
It took Cassandra five minutes to reach the doorknob.
Five, painfully slow minutes during which her knees wobbled dangerously, her hands shook and a long string of colourful curses escaped her lips.
But then, she did it.
She hesitated before touching the door, though.
Maybe it's electrocuted. Maybe there's a hidden camera above my head, ready to warn whoever keeps me here about my escape.
Following an automatic reflex, Cassandra looked around, trying to catch a glimpse of an eventual red light hidden in the darkness.
The girl sighed, staring intently at the door in front of her. Her eyes were slowly getting used to the lack of light, and now she was able to notice the elegant decorations engraved on the wooden surface, patterns vaguely lambed by the warm light of the flames. The drawings depicted forests, stags, does and wolves, frozen in the action of running around and escaping from mysterious entities hidden behind the trees. Studying the refined work of art more closely, one could see that the leaves….
It was almost imperceptible. But it was clear.
This meant only one thing: the house was a magical one.
Cassandra's heart swelled with a mixture of curiosity, fear and worry. She had never been into a wizard home, not in the last decade at least, and a part of her couldn't help jump up and down in excitement, ready to explore every corner of the mysterious building. Amal and the rest of her brain, however, told her to hold her horses.
She wasn't there to have a happy chat with a witch or a wizard. She actually didn't know why she was there and who had brought her there. She needed to get out of there, possibly alive, and she didn't know if wizards had some sorts of magical alarms or shields that could trap her in that room forever, and she didn't liked this. Not at all.
Well, I can't stay here forever, can I?
Careful, Human. We need your hands.
And I don't plan to lose one of them in the near future, thank you very much.
What if the door burns you?!
Oh, stop it! You could be a rabbit for the courage you are showing, seriously.
Taking a deep breath, Cassandra braced herself and grabbed the doorknob.
Blinding, artificial light invaded the dark room, forcing the girl to cover her face with her hands.
Come on. It's only the light of a lamp.
Squinting her eyes and trying to ignore the throbbing pain in the back of her head, the ex soldier took a couple of steps outside her comfortable prison and looked around.
She was in a corridor. A wide, not too long corridor illuminated by one, two… ten oil lamps. The wall was covered by a cream wallpaper and an incredible number of moving pictures.
No human being was in sight.
Wobbling slightly on her still weak legs, Cassandra crossed the corridor and came to look directly at one of the pictures.
Three people, a man, a woman and a child.
The man was tall, well-built, with chocolate-brown hair, dark eyes and a warm smile that lightened the world. He looked calm, relaxed, at ease. He was wearing a white shirt and a pair of black trousers that seemed to come from a Victorian Age museum. He had a hand on the left shoulder of the child and an arm around the waist of the woman.
The woman was beautiful. Tall, but shorter than the man, she was slim and delicate, with the fairest skin Cassandra had ever seen. She looked so elegant in the long, precious looking lilac dress she was wearing, but the way in which her huge mass of curly black hair twirled in the wind and the way she leaned against the man, laughing and showing her perfect white teeth, conveyed a sense of freedom and happiness that left the observer almost breathless.
She is running.
Running on the tall grass of the end of summer.
Running with the wind.
Running in the sun.
She is happy.
She knew the child.
"Don't you dare to move a muscle."
Cassandra froze at the sound of a young female voice coming from behind her. Her battered body automatically stiffened, as to get ready for a fight, but deep inside she knew her muscles were useless.
She was trapped.
Suddenly she noticed that her hair wasn't gathered in a ponytail anymore, but fell free on her shoulders, messy and untidy and sticking in every direction. She also noticed that she wasn't wearing her clothes, but a light nightgown too large for her that was sliding slightly down her right shoulder.
That was certainly not a comfortable outfit for an eventual fight. Not to mention the fact that she looked a bit like a crazy girl just escaped from an asylum.
Something told her that the mysterious feminine presence behind her was holding a weapon directed to her back. She doubted it could be a gun, since her small experience with magic had taught her that Muggle weapons were almost unknown to the eyes of wizards and witches.
A knife? A wand?
She could face a knife. Even not being able to fight properly, she could hope to be fast enough to run down the stairs she could spot from the corner of her right eye.
But a wand? She had only caught a glimpse of a wand back when she had visited Diagon Alley. She didn't know anything about curses and jinx, and however the things you did with a wand were called. The only spell she remembered was Obliviate, and she doubted the person behind her would use it against her.
Could she stand a chance against a wand? Probably not.
The sudden command caught Cassandra by surprise, almost making her jump. Instead, the ex-soldier slowly complied, careful not to lose her balance and trip on her unsteady feet.
The person who had cornered her was a girl, two feet shorter than her and probably just as tense as she was.
Chocolate. She smelled like chocolate.
She is running.
She is happy.
She is fast.
The tall grass brushes against her arms and legs. She turns around, but keeps running backwards.
"Run FASTER, Neffie! We'll miss it!"
A little girl runs towards her, panting and spluttering and laughing at the same time.
She's older than her, but younger. She has shocking pink hair and bright violet eyes, but Cassie doesn't care.
Neffie is her friend.
And they will be friends forever.
Cassandra stared at Tonks with her legendary eyes wide open.
That name had come out of her mouth as a barely audible whisper, and obviously had gone unnoticed by the girl in front of her, who apparently had not recognized her at all.
Friends forever indeed.
Oh, don't be an hypocrite. Just because you remember to know her, it doesn't mean you have that much of a knowledge about your playing afternoons together.
No, she didn't.
Maybe she could act as if she did.
Studying the colourful girl in front of her, the ex-soldier noticed that Neffie didn't look as cold and determined as her voice tried to convey. In fact, the hand which held the wand was trembling slightly, her eyes looked puffy and red from crying and her pink hair had assumed a bluish tone at the extremities. She was distressed, sad, and insecure. Incredibly easy to manipulate.
Squashing down the conscience that told her not to play with her old friend's feelings, Cassandra schooled her features into what she hoped could be interpreted as submissive and pleading.
"N-neffie? … N-neffie, w-what are you d-doing? It's me…Cassandra…"
For once, the ex-soldier was grateful for the sort of croak that came out of her mouth. It made her look on the verge of tears.
I didn't know you could be such a bastard, Human.
It's called survival, Amal. Do you want to get out of here or not?
The pink haired girl looked at her, confused.
Come on…. Come on, fall for it….
Widening her eyes and staggering backwards, Cassandra feigned a shocked demeanour.
"Y-you…Neffie, you do remember me, right?"
Silence. Neffie looked more and more confused, and the ex soldier could see the wand being lowered almost imperceptibly.
Careful not to attract the pink-haired woman's attention, Cassandra started inching towards the stairs.
Neffie was lost, that was clear, but for some unknown reason she didn't lower the wand completely.
Maybe she received a sort of military training too… One of the things they told me first was not to lower my weapon no matter what my instinct told me to do.
Cassandra didn't want to look at the wooden stick in the other girl's hand. A part of her, in fact, remembered that staring at the loaded weapon held by your adversary could be interpreted as a weakness. The other part was terrified by that unknown object that could cause such a great damage in such an easy way...
And the worst part is, that is a weapon I will never be able to use.
However, in this particular case an apparent weakness could fall at her own advantage. Her adversary was young, visibly upset and confused. And her eyes reflected a deeply trusting nature, one of the worst flaws a fighter could have.
So, not caring to hide her fear, Cassandra lowered her eyes slightly, just to raise them again with an expression of sadness and hurt plastered on her face.
Come on... Ten steps... Then stairs, door and... Run.
"Neffie... How could have forgotten who I am? You said... We said we would be friends forever..."
Geez, to hell with medicine, I should have become an actress!
"I... I d-don't..."
Come on girl! I have to find Sirius, I don't have the time to listen to your blabbering!
The wolf inside her was getting impatient, and to say the truth, even Cassandra could feel her usual cool head beginning to heat up.
"I lived in pain for years, I suffered and pleaded for help every single night, and you were here, all that time, growing up happy and loved and you FORGOT about me?!"
This time at least the ex soldier didn't have to school her features, not completely at least. She wasn't that angry with Neffie, not enough to rant and whine in front of her, of course. She was, however, a bit jealous of the radically different life her friend had had apparently the luck to live up to that day: a family, magic, a home... A sure identity...
The half-shouted angsty blabbering, anyway, did the trick. Guilt flashed in the expressive eyes of the pink-haired young woman, who unconsciously took a step forward, lowering her wand a bit and opening her mouth to say something, probably "sorry".
But Cassandra didn't care, because as soon as the wand lost its aim to her heart, she bolted towards the stairs.
Well, maybe it would be more accurate to write that she stumbled towards the stairs.
Her legs were wobbling dangerously, her muscles were sore and her bones cracked at each movement. Not to mention that her lungs hurt and her heart wasn't used to this kind of movement anymore. But Cassandra was tough, and, not listening to the words screamed by Neffie, she managed to scramble down the wooden stairs covered by a thick purple moquette.
Not listening, however, was probably her biggest mistake.
Because if she had paid attention she would have understood the meaning of the curse, and she would have dodged.
But she didn't, and the Pietrificus Totalus reached its aim.
What the hell...
She was paralysed. Her arms, her legs... She could feel, but she could not move. Her muscles were rigid, almost...frozen.
WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO ME!
She didn't have time to dwell too much on her new condition, though, because alas, gravity functions even in the wizarding world, and alas, when the curse had hit her she had been running down a block of stairs.
So she fell.
Step by step.
On the floor of the hall.
Well... We do have reached the hall, after all. Now, Human, could you please explain WHY THE HELL YOU GOT HIT BY A CURSE.
Ah... This is a curse? Oh, well, if you're such an expert in the subject of curses WHY THE HELL DIDN'T YOU WARN ME?!
I THOUGT YOU WERE LISTENING
I AM NOT A FREAKING WOLF. I DON'T HEAR EVERYTHING.
Their panicked ranting went on for another couple of seconds before the two inhabitants of that poor brain of them were briskly interrupted by a thundering scream coming from another vaguely familiar voice.
"WHAT IS GOING ON HERE"
Cassie and Neffie look at each other, their expression of utter glee quickly turned into one of oh-so-sincere guilt and sadness.
Andromeda observes as the two troublemakers walk slowly out of that mess of flour, sugar, eggs and other unidentified substances to go and stand in front of her.
Please don't do your puppy eyes, please don't do your puppy eyes...
But Neffie is half Black with the ability of enlarging her eyes as much as she wants, and Cassie is technically a wolf cub.
Of course they'll do the puppy eyes.
Closing her own eyes with her best intentions of looking exasperated, but actually trying not to watch their mournful expressions, Andromeda sighed tiredly.
Nymphadora is almost six. She is an intelligent girl a bundle of laugh and energy. But she isn't that much of a troublemaker, not intentionally at least.
Cassandra isn't even four yet, but yet she is far more cunning than her best friend, she could be the perfect Slytherin. She is the epitome of troublemakers. What would you expect by a little girl raised by a bunch of teenage boys full of dangerous ideas, hormones and werewolf venom?
Andromeda loves Cassie. Really. She has even agreed to babysit her for a week in order to let the group of Gryffindors have some time for themselves without having to mind curse words and rude gestures.
Not that they do. But it is always good to hope.
Anyway, Andromeda loves Cassie, but sometimes the little girl is a bit too...mischievous.
Thankfully she is Remus' daughter, not Sirius'.
That's probably the reason why she can understand when she goes too far. Most of the time.
"It's not Neffie's fault, Miss Tonks. I asked her why you have all those things in the kitchen, and she told me you use them to cook. I asked her to make cookies."
Andromeda opens her eyes and melts at the sight of such a tiny creature with such a serious expression plastered on her face, ready to defend her friend in front of an angry parent like any good Gryffindor would do.
And then she remembers why she has accepted to babysit her, why she has let her corrupt her relatively obedient child and why nobody has ever, ever been able to scold Cassandra Lupin apart from Remus (and he himself does it only when he is really, really angry, a thing that doesn't happen often).
Cassandra Lupin has lived for the first two years of her life in a dark, humid basement with a multitude of children like her, fed occasionally by a mysterious female that ignored the poor babies at best, threatened and hurt them most of the time.
Cassandra Lupin came to the world in the darkness, and now she needs fun, and carelessness, and laughter and light to forget the nightmares she has every night.
If that means that she'll have them all wrapped around her finger, then so be it.
Andromeda had pretended to forget lots of people during her life as a Tonks.
Her Slytherins friends.
Of course that didn't mean she had actually forgotten them. She had simply crammed their memories in a tiny chest of drawers at the back of her head, trying and succeeding to cover that figurative piece of furniture with tonnes of new experiences and journeys.
With Cassandra it had been easy. She had been a sweet girl and her daughter's best and only friends, that was true, but she was still a member of Sirius' group of friends. Andromeda had never been a close friend of Remus Lupin and James Potter, and she had actually took care of the child for no more than two weeks in two years. She had been sorry for her disappearance, she had cried a bit, but nothing too melodramatic.
She had still a picture of her, though. Somewhere in her study, a tiny moving picture of a chubby golden haired baby waved at the world, smiling and saying something, maybe Pumpkin Juice, maybe Hippogriff. Maybe I love you too Daddy. Andromeda had never asked.
The woman in front of her wasn't Cassandra Lupin.
She was a skeleton, a shell, covered in nasty-looking scars, clearly induced by a werewolf.
She was pale, her skin was sweaty and incredibly fragile. If you looked closely enough, you could see the bluish veins and arteries pulsing below the thin layer of cells.
She was disfigured. Two long, dark scars split her left cheek in three, and reached her upper lip. Whenever she had talked or screamed in her coma, they would have stretched the skin and fought against the movement of the muscles.
She was ill. That of course had been obvious from the start. When Nymphadora had apparated home, her eyes red and puffy and what looked like a dead hobo in her arms, the middle-age healer had been to the point of scolding her daughter and throwing that magnet for parasites to the nearest muggle hospital. Then, she had read the message.
I'm innocent. I told you. I'm innocent but it's my fault.
I escaped. You know that too. She helped me and now she needs your help. She is ill I don't know. Ill. It's my fault. But I'm innocent and she says I shouldn't say I'm sorry, but I am.
I need to find him. Them. I have to save them. So we'll be a family.
But she can't come. She's ill. She needs you.
She's in danger. Because I'm in danger. It's my fault.
I don't know what happened.
She is Cassie. Cassie Lupin. Cassandra Lupin.
You know her.
It was frantic. Badly planned. Badly written.
It was the message of a desperate man. A man she had tried to forget for more than a decade.
"Nymphadora, what the hell are you doing?! I told you to check on her, not to curse her!"
Andromeda' heart clenched ever-so-slightly at the sight of those ice-green eyes shifting rapidly from her to Nymphadora. The pink-haired witch, on her part, was breathing heavily, a whirlwind of emotions conveyed by her kaleidoscopic hair.
"She was outside her room! Looking around! Then she started talking, calling me Neffie, saying she was my friend and then she ran off like a Hippogriff on fire, just as I was starting to listen to her! What could I do?! She clearly is crazy, mum, this was a mistake. I should..."
Andromeda knew what Dora was trying to say.
Call the Aurors. Send her to a muggle asylum.
But she couldn't.
Aurors would have wanted to read the message. Then, Sirius would have been doomed.
And she couldn't do that to him. Not after ignoring him for twelve years.
Andromeda felt like crying as the nickname "Neffie" came out of Dora's mouth.
Only Cassandra had been allowed to call her like that. It had been special, a symbol of their friendship. And now, thanks to her own desire to forget, Dora had forgotten her childhood companion.
"Dora, undo the spell. Now"
Nymphadora looked at her curiously, clearly hesitating. She had been trained well, Meda mused distractedly, Moody was a good teacher.
After a couple of seconds the metamorphmagus sighed and lifted the wand again, muttering a "Finite" begrudgingly.
Immediately, that woman that once had been Cassie begun coughing and spluttering, struggling to regain her breath. Andromeda winced remembering the bad state in which the girl's lungs were.
"What. The. Hell. Was. THAT".
Gone was the sweet, musical voice of the chubby child in the picture. Cassandra's adult voice was hoarser, deeper, similar to that of a smoker, probably due to the deep-looking scar that split her throat in two.
Oh, and the expression. Anger, wariness, fear, hate. Those ice green eyes were flashing and shooting daggers at her.
Ignoring the wand pointed at her and the clear pain of her weak bones, Cassandra managed to get up from the floor, resting her hands on her knees for a minute and breathing deeply before raising her head again.
After a second of shock, Andromeda opened her mouth to reply to the girl, only to be interrupted.
"You know what? Forget it. I don't know who brought me here, and I don't know what the hell this sweetie did to me, I don't care. Thank you for your... Hospitality, now I need to find a friend. If you excuse me"
With that, Cassandra all but marched towards the door, not giving the two stunned women a second glance. Almost without noticing, Andromeda tried to stop her by grabbing her arm. And the young Lupin froze.
Her eyes became glazed and her breath stopped. For a second, the disowned Black feared to have induced a state of shock by only touching her. It wouldn't have been a surprise, considering the trauma the girl had certainly endured.
A moment later, however, everything went back to normal. Cassandra's eyes blinked once and regained their previous sharpness. Her jaw clenched again, and her muscles tensed under the older woman's grip.
What had just happened?
Andromeda cleared her throat, swallowing the lump and gripping the girl's arm tighter. Cassandra struggled, but didn't look as determined as before.
"Cassandra, I know who you are searching for. But he's not here and he wouldn't want you to be with him. He left you with us so that we could heal you and keep you safe."
Something unreadable flashed in the girl's eyes. Her lips pursed, she frowned. But kept struggling.
Andromeda knew she had to give the teenager proofs. Clearly, the girl wasn't what could have defined a trusting lad.
Fumbling with a pocket of her dress, the woman showed Cassandra the crumpled page of a muggle book on which the message had been written.
"Read. Then you'll know I'm not lying."
The girl complied, initially more interested by the page in itself rather than the words written on it. When her eyes scanned the last line of the piece of paper, Andromeda didn't get the reaction she had expected.
"He told you."
Frowning, Cassandra managed to get free from Meda's grip and took a step backwards, her eyes full of dread and...
... Was that disgust?
"He says he told you. That... That he told you he was innocent"
The girl was whispering, but that didn't manage to soften her voice. On the contrary, it made it sound more like a growl.
Andromeda knew what was coming. She only didn't know if she could bear it twice in two days.
Just as she began to answer, her daughter's voice resounded in the room, increasing her mother's panic tenfold.
"Wait a minute... So you... Cassandra... You know Sirius is innocent too?"
Always the direct one, her daughter.
Cassandra scoffed, shooting Dora an unimpressed look.
"Well, duh, Neffie. Did you read this message or not? I helped him. I dressed him, fed him and healed him as much as I could, which I think is more you lot have ever done in a lifetime. Now, being you wizards, and clearly not being you intentioned in proving my friend's innocence, I don't have any interest in staying here and watch you call the Aurors."
Before she could move another step, however, Dora talked again.
"I am an Auror in training"
Exhaling a bitter laugh, Cassandra exclaimed in a mock-cheerful tone:
"Oh, that's fantastic! Now I have even less time to find the lad and save his backside! Thank you, sweetie, you really did me a favour!"
Trying to understand how the two girls had shifted from hexing each other to held a semi-normal conversation, Andromeda studied her daughter's expressions, quickly turning from one of uncertainty, to one of urgency and exasperation.
"Oh, don't be sassy! I don't know who you are or why you called me Neffie, but you helped Sirius, and you say he's innocent, and apparently you know him better than I do, and he's my second cousins once removed or something like that...Although I was seven the last time I saw him, so yeah... Anyway you say he's innocent, and I found out yesterday that apparently everyone in my family knew he is innocent apart from me and believe me, this pissed me off more than a bit, so I suppose he is innocent... Well, point is, I am an Auror in training and I can help you. Help you helping me helping him I mean. If you want. Of course."
In different circumstances, Andromeda would have teased her daughter for her inability to formulate logical speeches in moments of anxiety. But she was too dazed by the fact that the two girls were bounding over a mistake she had made to say something.
On her part, Cassandra narrowed her eyes and slightly tilted her head to the side, showing her interest in the other girl's messy proposal.
"So you're telling me that you are sure that Sirius Black is innocent? You are telling me that you are a relative of his, ready to help him after that your mother has hidden her knowledges about his role in the death of James and Lily and the killing of those people? That you are even ready to trust a woman you don't remember to help him?"
Dora just nodded, her jaw clenched and the extremities of her hair dark blue.
"You cared for him when you were young. Almost as much as I do."
It wasn't a question. Cassandra was simply thinking aloud.
A lonely tear slid down Dora's cheek and chin, falling silently on the purple moquette.
"He was a good cousin. And a better friend."
Cassandra kept studying the metamorphmagus, and Andromeda could almost hear the wheels in her head turning. After a while, a mischievous grin spread on her face, stretching the scars but not reaching her eyes.
"Well, Neffie. You seem sincere, and I could use some help after all. I will tell you who I am and what I know, since I think you are in need of more information. You, on the other hand... You will help me with this magical world, starting from that wand."
Dora snapped something back, but finally agreed and started leading Cassandra back to the bedrooms, both ignoring Andromeda completely.
After wobbling up a couple of steps, however, the skinny legless girl stopped and turned slightly so that her scarred cheek was visible to the older woman.
"Sirius is a sweetheart, Mrs. Tonks . I'm sure he forgave you for not saving him. That doesn't mean I think you should be forgiven".
And she was gone.
Andromeda reflected on the sense of déjà vu she had just experienced, still stunned by the rapid change in events.
It has always been like that. Dominant Cassandra, coming up with ideas, judging and planning, and Dora offering her help.
This time, however, the two friends weren't planning a prank.
They were trying to right a wrong she had committed long before.
And she couldn't find the voice to stop them.
Moony was pissed.
Those freaking dumb humans had messed up everything.
And his Human had let them do so, locking him away like a naughty puppy.
Now the pack was shattered.
The Grim was somewhere near, but not near enough to be sniffed properly.
The Fawn was in the castle and kept trying to get past the old woman in the room to speak to him. The little one was a determined one, that was sure.
The Stag was dead. And so the Doe. Just as he had begun to get used to the idea of not eating the lads.
The Rat was a freaking traitor and he HAD KNOWN THAT FROM THE START, but OF COURSE, nobody ever listens to the angry wolf, not even the supposedly genius Human that carries him around!
He had never liked him.
Oh, and The Cub. That was simply PRECIOUS.
His Cub, their Cub was lost somewhere in the freaking isle, lost, lonely and hurt.
AND SHE COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED IF ONLY HIS DAMN HUMAN HAD NOT LISTENED TO THAT OLD MANIPULATIVE WIZARD.
Oh, yes, Moony was pissed.
Could you please stop howling? Jesus, Moony, my ears are bleeding!
SO YOU LEARN WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU LISTEN TO THE OTHER HUMANS
Come on! I was fifteen at the time! I needed to trust someone!
YOU HAD TO TRUST ME! I AM ENOUGH! THE PACK IS ENOUGH! THE OTHER HUMANS DO NOT UNDERSTAND US! I THOUGHT YOU HAD LEARNED THE LESSON THE FIRST TIME!
AND DON'T YOU THINK I PUNISHED MYSELF ENOUGH FOR A JUVENILE MISTAKE?!
... You are right. I messed things up in quite an extraordinary way. And it is my fault. But I was young. I am young. You made mistakes when you were young too, Moony, if I recall correctly. Sometimes quite big.
And those were the reasons why Moony couldn't stay pissed at his Human for too long.
You see, when the venom of a werewolf infects a human, the human is destined to die unless a wolf spirit decides to save him.
Usually, if the human is young a young wolf will save him.
With Remus Lupin, however, only a soul had been there for him.
The soul of an ancient, wise wolf, who had been immediately attracted to the incredibly intelligent child, last heir of a family the wolf had always respected.
Anul, or Moony, had always loved cubs, and his Human had been and still was an abandoned Cub, full of fear and lies. The wolf loved the Human, even though the child wouldn't listen to him, even though he had tried to lock him in a cage.
Anul cared for his Human, and couldn't stay pissed with him, because his Human was young, lonely and scared, characteristics that couldn't always be hidden behind an extraordinary intelligence and a kind soul.
His Human had meant well by putting him in a cage. That he knew, although it was difficult to accept.
And the young son of Lycao was right. Even Anul had made big mistakes in the past.
You, Human, will be the death of me one day.
And you of me, Moony.
The title of this chapter is actually a song written by Thom Yorke alone and belongs to the album The Eraser. The summary is an exerpt of the lyrics. Of course, I don't own anything.
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