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The Undiscovered Country

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His last moments are filled with the horrified screams of those he has come to call his brothers.

 

 

Little Cassiopeia Black is born to Pleiades and Bronagh (née Pyrites) Black in the year of our Lord 1979.

 

He is born squalling with such a vigour as the witch midwives have never heard before. They reassure the concerned parents that he is completely healthy, and that his energy means he will be strong magically, later on in life.

 

It is almost like he is mourning a thousand souls, the house elves whisper as they clean the manor.

 

Little Cassiopeia Black spends months weeping for those he has left behind, even when he doesn't know their names.

 

 

Little Cassiopeia (now Cass, as his full name is too much for a three year old's tongue) Black is brought up to believe wholeheartedly in his family's pureblood principles.

 

Others, especially muggles, are to be looked down upon, they say. They are not like us. We are above their filthy mundane ways.

 

It is hard to believe in such ideas when, nightly, he is plagued with terrors that show him exactly what it feels like to be more powerful than the ones he loves, and ruin them every time he tries to save them.

 

And yet, he abides by his family’s principles. Little Cass Black has always tried to be a good soldier.

 

 

Little Cas Black's first magic appears when he is five, when a little boy with green eyes scrapes his knee.

 

He doesn't think, he just runs over to the boy and heals him.

 

It doesn't matter that he is a muggle.

 

It does to his family, though.

 

They take him home for a small, but necessary bout of reeducation.

 

Little Cass Black has never experienced accidental magic, and he certainly wouldn't waste his precious power on the unworthy.

 

 

Not-so-little Cass Black's not-so-first magic appears when he is ten, when his cousin Draco comes round for tea.

 

Cass has never been fond of his pompous relative, but when Draco boasts loudly of all the (unlikely) things he is going to do when he goes to Hogwarts (despite not having received his letter), Cass explodes.

Not literally.

 

But all the lights in the room do.

 

Not-so-little Cass Black was never really made for abiding the presencefollowing in the footsteps of self-righteous fools.

 

 

His Hogwarts letter arrived, and in a rare display of affection, his father insisted on taking the young boy to Diagon Alley himself.

 

Their first stop was Flourish & Blotts.

 

There his father pulled him aside and told him to buy all the books that he wanted. Money was never mentioned.

 

It was there- wandering through the crooked and enchanting stacks of books- that he met someone who reminded him of a person he didn't know.

 

There was the same restrained energy in her small form, her bushy hair exploded like the intelligence be felt residing within her head. She spoke animatedly to her parents about the pile of volumes and heavy tomes in her arms. That seemed familiar too. They were shaking their heads.

 

Money was mentioned in hushed tones; it was an issue for them.

 

He walked over to them before he even realised it.

 

She looked up at him with inquisitive and surprised brown (the same colour too!) eyes, and in that moment he felt like something had fallen into place.

 

He barely caught a glimpse of the title of the book she was reluctantly placing back on the shelf before Cass was yanked away and his father was berating him for attempting to talk to a mudblood.

 

But even though Cass Black had never questioned the orders he had been given, in that moment he chose to rebel. It just felt so fundamentally  wrong  to do as his father said.

 

So as they exited the shop, as they passed the girl with her parents and her woefully small pile of books, he knocked into her shoulder purposely,  and dropped a book from his enormous stack into her hands as he did so.

 

It was the same book from the top of the pile she had held, and wanted.

 

It wasn't until she explained to him later that he understood why ' Hogwarts: A History'  had always been Hermione Granger's favourite wizarding book.

 

For the first time, disobeying his father felt just so fundamentally  right.

 

Their next stop was the Magical Pets Emporium, where (like the book shop) Pleiades Black told his son to buy whichever pet he wanted.

 

He browsed through the cat section for a while, enjoying the feel of their fur, but soon he found himself in the owl part of the shop, standing in front of the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

 

It is a Greater Sooty Owl, the shop assistant told him, extremely intelligent and imported from Australia.

 

Cass didn't really care. All he cared about was the wings, black as the night sky, covered with white dots that could have been stars.

 

His back itched between the shoulder-blades, and he scratched it absentmindedly; troubled by the feeling that something, something like those wings shouldn't be on the bird, but on his back.

 

He bought the bird, and called it Gabriel. The name didn't feel quite  right,  but it felt truer than any other name he could give it.

 

It was only when they went to Ollivanders’ that they encountered problems.

 

The elderly man greeted them cheerfully, and they began the process. When they had quite literally gone through every wand in the shop, Cass felt close to tears, and his father's previously proud face (which had been sinking with every wand tried) was a deeply etched frown.

 

"Mr Ollivander-" he began, but the wizened wandmaker shuts him off.

 

"Unusual, yes, quite unusual," he said, and examined Cass with even greater intensity. "But not unnatural. Your son is not the first to come into my shop and go through my entire stock: we shall simply have to use other means."

 

With that he produces his own wand, old and weathered with use, and swished it experimentally.

 

"This is a method used by wandmakers all over the world; it charms the feet of the buyer to lead him to the materials best suited to him. And don't worry," he assured Cass' father, who was about to open his mouth (no doubt to complain), "A wizard that experiences this kind of problem often grows to become one of the most influential wizards of his day."

 

And with that, Ollivander murmured an incantation under his breath, tapping Cass on the head.

 

It was a strange sensation, Cass thought. It was almost like a haze had surrounded him as he walked around the shop. Ollivander followed closely behind, scribbling frantically onto a notepad every time he stopped. By the end of his meditative journey, he had stopped no less than ten times.

 

If Ollivander was confused by this, he didn't let on.

 

"Curious," he whispered, "Curious, but not condemning. I have never made a wand with this mixture of materials, or even this number of them before, but it will be my pleasure to do so. However, I cannot predict what shape would be best, or how to properly use all of these materials, so," he smiled apologetically at Cass, "I will use another shortcut spell. It will do the work for me, and do it best for you."

 

Watching as the wand made itself was magical. Quite literally.

 

A soft word from Ollivander, and they're away! All different kinds of materials- wood, feather and fibre- spun closer and closer around a light, that grew brighter and brighter as the materials become closer, until it hurt to look at!

 

Until suddenly, the light was gone, the wand was complete, and Cass( iopeia ?) Black was left feeling almost bereft, hollowed out.

 

But, when he held it for the first time, Cass was pleased with the wand. It reminded him of home, even though he is hard-pressed to define the term— the Black manor had never felt quite that way to him.

 

The wand was a curious design: simple and elegant, yet complex within its simplicity. There were hidden aspects that did not immediately lend themselves to the eye.

 

It was rather longer than most wands, almost dagger-like in length, and it certainly contained a sense of sharpness around it in its slenderness. The main body of the wand was made from the dark vine wood, and inlaid into this were two wings, one of aspen and one of ash, stretching up halfway to the tip, as they wound widdershins up the wand. Where the delicate spines should have been for the individual feathers, strange sigils were inlaid in their place, a single one on each, and every one different. These were from the yew, willow and fir wood, and Cass had a strange feeling that he should have known them. A slim handle of cypress resided at the base.

 

The core was made of three materials; Threstral hair, Thunderbird tail feather and Snallygaster heartstring.

 

Even Ollivander was confused over the last part.

 

"All of my wands are unique," he said,"But I feel that this one is truly one of a kind."

 

Cass Black had never quite fit into the expected mold.

 

 

That night, Cass held his wand in his hands again. His father had told him it was to be kept it in the box (all the better for keeping the shine), but he was still filled with the aftereffects of disobeying; a dizzying electricity in his veins that would not allow him to sleep. So, in the dimness of his room, lit only by the orange haze from the muggle lamps outside that managed to work its way around the gaps of his forest green curtains, he examined the wood, and gripped the ends tightly, as he brought it closer to his eyes to make out the runes.

 

It was like he had finally begun to live.

 

And Cass Black was not about to let that feeling go.

 

 

The train station was an experience he was not expecting.

 

He had almost thought that it would be too much for him- all the noise and people milling about- but Cass was surprised at how the hustle and bustle calmed his mind. It was another piece(like so many others) that he realised that he was missing.

 

He stood for the perfunctory kiss he received from his mother, and a businesslike hug given by his father, but finds it confusing. If they had truly loved him, why did they not act this way at home? He felt like a puppet, dangled around for his parents amusement. Sometimes, Cas wondered if his mother felt the same way; she only seemed to love her husband when someone who mattered was watching.

 

Their house was by no means empty, but the residents were quiet inside.

 

Devoid of love.

 

Devoid of laughter.

 

Devoid of love.

 

He could not have been  happier than the moment when whistle blew, and he was allowed to leave. Inside the train, he spotted the bushy-haired girl, who was trying and failing to convince people to share their compartments with her. He was about to go and talk to her, when he was intercepted by Draco Malfoy.

 

The rest of the train ride was filled with staring out of the window stonily, while listening to Malfoy's inescapable, endless anecdotes, and tales of (unfeasible) feats he'd managed since getting his wand.

 

It was not a fruitful journey, by any count, but at least it gave him a chance to test that shield-charm he'd read about to stop the spittle spread by the posturing buffoon.

 

Cass Black would  not  be forced to like people like  him.

 

 

Cass' name was among the first to be called for the Sorting.

 

He was purposefully standing near the bushy haired girl, wishing that he would work up the confidence to talk to her, and exchange stories about the castle, when he was shocked out of his stupor of longing. Shaking with trepidation, he made his way up to the stool.

 

There was no real reason for him to be worried, he told himself. The Black family- any of them worth notice had always been Slytherins.

 

The thought was hollow in his heart and head.

 

" Well, " the hat whispered in his head, and calmed his nerves. It was as though he hadn't realised he'd been missing this method of communication. " We haven't had one of the light ones at the castle since its construction.

 

"W-what?"  Cass thought, confused. He had never heard of the term before.  "Light one? What's a light one?"

 

"Ah,"  the hat murmured diplomatically.  " Well, moving on, I think we can definitely rule out Gryffindor. I'm not sensing the kind of foolhardy bravery in here. Selfless? Yes, but not to the extremes that Gryffindors can exhibit. You seem to have an affinity to Ravenclaw, but that is not the place for you. I'm afraid Slytherin is quite out of the question, so that leaves -"

 

" No!"  Cass projected as hard as he could. " Please not there, anywhere but there, you said I can be in Ravenclaw, put me there, please! "

 

The hat was quiet for a bit.

 

" I'm going to let you in on a little secret, " it said finally.  " Sometimes I put a person… Not where they fit in best, but where they need to go most. It's true that you have the curiosity and innate wit of a Ravenclaw, but it is not what you need. Just like your uncle needed to learn to be brave, I think you need to relearn your kindness, loyalty and strength, so it'll have to be-

 

"HUFFLEPUFF!"

 

Shock. Complete and utter silence, like a blanket had been thrown over the Hall. As Cass made his way to the Hufflepuff table, half-hearted clapping and confused whispers started up. He slumped into a seat and stared at the varnished wood in front of him.

 

He looked up again somewhere around " Bones, Susan, " and Cass made an effort to keep track of the Sorting. He was about to return his gaze to the table when " Granger, Hermione " was called, and the girl who had so intrigued him bounded to the front. Despite everything, he felt his hopes rise. Maybe she would be in Hufflepuff, maybe he would be able to talk to her, maybe-

 

"GRYFFINDOR!"

 

And maybe he should have learned not to dream.

 

 

The next morning could not come quickly enough. Cass knew what was waiting for him in the post, and he wanted to get it over with, and to keep it as far away as possible at the same time. He hadn't made any friends yet: it was not likely his rabbit-in-the-headlights act, the night before, had endeared him to them.

 

That, or the disturbed night of sleep from his tossing and turning. He doubted he got a single wink.

 

Blearily, Cass raised his head from his arms, and watched Hermione. She was chattering away to her peers at the Gryffindor table, and he couldn't help but notice the way they interrupted, or made any and all efforts to shut the conversation down. The sympathy that rose within him at the sight of her failed effort was swiftly forgotten with the arrival of the morning post.

 

His queasiness immediately returned, only to be stopped at the sight of Raphael: his family's owl. Now his insides felt like ice. Cass knew that the news of his apparent failure would have gotten back to his parents, but he didn't believe it would be for another day at least. With trembling hands, he took the parchment envelope from Raphael's talons, and left the Hall swiftly.

 

In the relative privacy of an alcove, he removed the seal with a cutting charm (another spell he had practiced before he arrived at school: the Black manor had wards in place which allowed underage magic to go unnoticed) and removed the letter gingerly.

 

Immediately, an empty coldness gripped his body, from the skin of his head to the tips of his toes.

 

He hated it! Whereas the Sorting Hat’s words brushed lightly over his thoughts as gently as possible, his family’s sentences held Cass’ brain in an icy cold grip. The searing pain only sparked his anger more.  

 

' Dear Cassiopeia'  his parents' voices said, invading his brain. How he  despised  the Black family's way of communication.

 

' We were sitting down to dinner, last night, when we received a correspondence from you cousin Draco. You cannot imagine our surprise, when, expecting news of your successful sorting into Slytherin together, along with how well you were settling in, we discovered you had not been sorted into the noble house of your ancestors, but into the swelling pustule of a useless house.

 

' It cannot be expressed how entirely disappointed we are in you. It is feasible that even Gryffindor would have been a more acceptable spot for you. The house of lions may be abhorrent, and beneath a person of your breeding, but at least it has produced  some  admirable wizards. Your new 'home' is a dwelling of the useless, stagnated and impure of blood.

 

' Cassiopeia, you have lost our respect, your privileges, and- it is entirely possible- your inheritance in one fell swoop, unless you manage to redeem yourself.

 

'Yours,

'Mother and Father.'

 

"Excuse me, Cassiopeia! Are you alright?"

 

There was a hand shaking his shoulder. Opening his eyes, he registered the hard stone beneath him, and the odd angle he was sitting at. At some point he had slipped from the alcove and found himself sprawled, half on the floor, half propped up by the stone ledge.

 

"Hello? Can you hear me Cassiopeia?"

 

He looked up to see who was talking to him, and-

 

Oh.

 

It's  Hermione .

 

Words forced their way from his parched throat.

 

"H-how do you know my name?"

 

She blushed, like a steam engine trying to slow down, and took a breath.

 

"My name is Hermione Granger, I've got your timetable. Professor Sprout was handing them out, but I mentioned that I saw you leave the Hall before she started, so she sent me to give it to you," she said professionally, before she looked over her shoulder, and asked him secretively, "Did you see the ceiling? They mentioned it in Hogwarts: A History- thank you for that, by the way- but it doesn't say how they did it. At first I thought they used a Vanishing charm, covered by an-"

 

"Imperturbable charm, I know, but it just looks like a roof from the outside, so it would have to be some kind of-"

 

"One-way Disillusionment charm," they finished together.

 

Shyly, he held out his hand. She took it.

 

"Call me Cass, just Cass please."

 

"Pleasure to make your acquaintance. Now, what classes do we have together?"

 

Cass consulted his timetable.

 

"Oh, we only share Herbology, Astronomy and History of Magic," he replied, trying to hide his disappointment.

 

Hermione hesitated.

 

"Would you like to meet in the Library at some point? We can study, swap notes, books?"

 

He smiled, and she pulled him to his feet.

 

"I'd love that."

 

And for the first time in his life, it felt like the truth.

 

  ∞  

 

The first term continued in much the same way: he didn't make many friends, but then again, neither did Hermione, although they still had each other. The library was their hometown, and they shared knowledge, compared charms and spells, and consoled each other over its heavy oak tables.

 

He lent her all of the magical texts and tomes that she never had the chance to buy.

 

Through tattered books brought by the school owls (and then Gabriel, once he convinced her she could use him) in the strange 'plastic' bags sent by her parents, Hermione introduced him to Holmes, Eyre, Einstein, Watson, Crick and Wilkins.

 

Through her, he greeted Poe by the hand, discussed theories with Oswell, climbed higher than he ever thought before with news of Voyager 1 and 2, wondered at how muggles put men on the moon before wizards even knew of electricity, and was amazed by Mendeleev.

 

But there were still days when the disgusted looks from his former playmates, uncomfortable stares from his housemates, and the way his dormitory fellows always seemed to shut him out of pre-bed conversations, bothered him.

 

He noticed that the other children at Hogwarts were not like him, even the purebloods, who, like him, were unloved by their parents, and often they were not touched or shown particular kindness at all. Most were passed on to house-elf nannies at birth, but even they had been able to keep up with social norms. Cass’ own understanding of humans seemed to become  stationary  at around the time he turned five.

 

It's on those days that he felt a fire burning beneath his skin, screaming at him to let it out, all his anger, and destroy everything in his sight.

 

It's on those days that he didn't allow anyone- even Hermione- see him when they don't have to.

 

He isolated himself, and one day when he was hiding on the Seventh floor, across from a strange tapestry of extremely ungainly ballet dancers in a section of disused corridor that it happened.

 

Cass was curled up in a ball against the wall, fingers stuffed in his ears, trying to block all  sound,  all  noise and thinking, over and over again,  I need to let it out, I need to let it out, I need to let it- '

 

"Oof!"

 

The wall had disappeared behind him, and he registered, in a confused, upside-down state, that is a door where there wasn’t one before, and he has fallen through.

 

Cass picked himself up, and looked around, not noticing the doors closing silently behind him as he dusted himself off.

 

He was in a high- ceilinged room, fanned vaulting covering the expanse of room, with headless dummies lining the far mirrored wall. In the reflection he saw, beyond his shocked face, a wall of books. Spinning around, he went to see what they were.

 

' Handy Spells for the Pickled Wizard .'

 

' Useful Jinx's for the Jinxed.'

 

'Defense Spells for Beginners.'

 

So many books on defensive and offensive spells! He looked around for a bag to put some in for further reference when he left, and suddenly one appeared by his side. Cautiously, he dropped a dusty volume in, and, feeling no difference in weight, looked in.

 

It was a  bottomless bag !

 

He absolutely had to tell Hermione!

 

As soon as the thought passed through his mind, another bag appeared, perfectly suited for his friend, even with a little ' HG ' embroidered on the strap in Gryffindor colours.

 

Quickly, he put them down and set to work trying new spells.

 

By Halloween, Hermione and Cass had used the room for spell practice so much, that they were into Second year charms already, and Cass' aim was so incredible, he's able to send a tiny fireball at the letters Raphael tried to carry from his parents, and succeeded in sending them up in flames, even when the owl attempted to dodge.

 

Cass wasn't in Hermione's Charms class, so it's only at the Feast that he could find out from Parvati where she is.

 

At once, he went up the stairs to the Girls' bathroom, having paused only to stuff some food in a compartment of his bag.

 

"Hermione?" he whispered, knocking gently on the bathroom stall door. Sniffles and barely-concealed sobs lead him to where Hermione has been hiding.

 

"W-what do you want, Cass?" she replied wretchedly. "Why don't you go away and leave me alone like all the others?"

 

"What others, Hermione?" he murmured, and sat down on the floor, waiting for her to come out. "Should I go and use the Bat-Bogey hex that I heard the Twins talking about the other day on them?"

 

That got a laugh out of her, albeit a wet and snotty one.

 

"No..." she said. "It would damage our integrity."

 

"Who did this? Do you want to talk about it?"

 

"That s-stupid Ron  Weasley  did it: I was only trying to help him, it's not  my  fault he can't take instruction!"

 

"C'mon, say it with me now: Ron Weasley is a stupid git."

 

" Ron Weasley is a stupid git. "

 

"Do you want to come out?" Cass negotiated as he opened his bag. "I brought some food from the Feast."

 

There was an unlatching sound, and the door swung open, Hermione quickly sat flinging herself on the floor beside him. He put an arm around her shoulders and rubbed gently, rejoicing when she put her head on his.

 

"What spell was it, anyway?"

 

" Wingardium Leviosa, " Hermione replied, taking a cinnamon roll from his hand.

 

"Really? That's such an easy spell!"

 

And it was, really.

 

It was easy to do, but he couldn't explain, in that first Charms lesson,  when he watched that feather fly and then float to the ground, he had felt a surge of sadness and nostalgia. It felt as though it should feel  right.  But it didn't.

 

They sat there in silence for a few moments.

 

Thump.

 

Thump.

 

Thump.

 

"What was that?" Hermione asked, getting to her feet. "It's too loud to be a student or teacher."

 

Suddenly, there was a smell in the air: earthy, pungent and musty.

 

The thumps grew closer and closer, until-

 

"Merlin's beard," he breathed. "It's a troll."

 

And it was: tall, enormously so; its head almost brushed the ceiling,  and it stooped to get in. Its great feet plodded forward, one at a time, slowly,  thump, thump, thump,  trailing its great club behind it.

 

"Hermione," Cass murmured, as quietly as he could, inching his hand towards Hermione's. "Don't move. It can't sense movement well. I will cause a distraction. The moment I do, I want you to cast  Immobulous  at it, and run for the door. I will follow. Find a teacher. Got it? Don't nod, just squeeze my wrist."

 

She does.

 

1,2,3-

 

"Ducklifors! " Cass hisses, drawing the troll’s attention to a squadron of ducks he transfigured the lights into.

 

" Immobulous! " Hermione murmured, and they scuttled to the door, while the troll was distracted, only to find it locked.

 

" Alohamora, " he tried, but the door wouldn't open.

 

"It won't work," Hermione informed him sadly, shaking her head as they turned back to the troll. "It's a deadbolt on the outside. We're going to have to fight it ourselves."

 

"The  Immobulous  isn't working," Cass realised, bringing his wand up again. "It's too big, what do we do!?"

 

"I've got an idea," she replied, watching the troll turn away from trying to swat the ducks with its club. "Go for its eyes, I'll try to get the door open."

 

" Conjunctiva! " Cass hissed, and over the troll's pained yells, whispered, "Would  Colloshoo  work?"

 

"No," Hermione said, between trying every variant of  Alohamora  known to man. "It's not wearing any shoes. Try the water jet spell; that should keep it down for a bit."

 

" Aqua eructo,"  he whispered, shooting a blast of water directly into the trolls inflamed eyes. The troll reeled and swung its club wildly, smashing a row of stalls and sparking a scream from Hermione.

 

"Wait, cast it again, just at the club this time!" Hermione grinned, "I have an idea!"

 

" Aqua eruto! "

 

" Ebublio! "

 

And at that moment, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley himself burst through the door, to see the troll's club explode into a cloud of bubbles.

 

"Merlin's Saggy Left Arse-Wrinkle!" Ron yelled, "What the hell was that!?"

 

"That was you attracting its attention, you dimwitted housecat!" Cass growled. "We need to get out! Go!"

 

"Why are you here!?" Hermione demanded, as she cast the  Collorptus  charm on the door, sealing it with a squelch, once they were on the other side. "It'd better not be to insult me again!"

 

"We locked you in by accident!" Harry tried to explain. "We were here to rescue you: we'd no idea you were still inside!"

 

"Rescue us!?" Cass shouted, "It's your fault we were even in the bathroom in the first place!"

 

"Not the time, Cass, look!" Hermione called, her voice turning panicky, as the troll smashed through the door: wood swiftly turning to splinters.

 

"Wait, Hermione," he said, raising his wand once more. " Colloshoo  may not work, but this might!  Epoximise! "

 

The troll let out confused grunts as it discovered it could no longer move its feet.

 

"That won't hold it for long," Hermione said. "Its too strong!"

 

"Harry!" Ron gasped, "The chandelier!"

 

"You're right!" Harry shouted, before aiming his wand at the chandelier, chained to the roof directly above the troll. " Diffindo! "

 

The chain snapped neatly, and it was almost comical to watch the clunky candle holder fall and hit the troll on the head, whereupon it fell to the ground, feet detaching from the floor with a squelch.

 

A few moments later, a troop of teachers round the corner, with MacGonagall as their lead.

 

"What on earth did you think you were doing!?" she screamed as she saw them with the troll. "Trying to fight the creature!?"

 

"We didn't really mean to," Hermione started, unsure. "I- uh... I lost something up here today, and Cass came to help me find it..."

 

"I heard the troll coming, Professor," Cass continued, backing up Hermione's lie. "We jumped into the bathroom, to hide, but it must have seen us, because it followed us in."

 

"That doesn't explain why Mister Potter and Mister Weasley are here," Snape pointed out shrewdly, beetle-black eyes studying the two.

 

"We heard them mention finding Hermione's..." Harry explained, looking between them as he failed to come up with an item.

 

"Bookmark," Hermione supplied swiftly.

 

"Yes, exactly, and when we heard about the troll, we came to warn them," Harry finished triumphantly. "We didn't realise it would be up here, we just wanted to get them to safety."

 

"We got here just in time to help them defeat it," Ron interjected.

 

Flitwick came out of the bathroom, stepping gingerly over the remains of the door.

 

"It would seem they're telling the truth, Minerva," he squeaked. "Very impressive too: whose work was it with the ducks? That's third year magic at least!"

 

Shyly, Cass raised a hand.

 

"Mine, sir," he murmured. "I was trying to distract it, so Hermione and I could escape."

 

"30 points to Hufflepuff for that wonderful piece of magic," Flitwick told him warmly.

 

"But, I insist," Snape interrupted smoothly. "We must deduct 10 points each from Gryffindor for recklessly disobeying orders that were for their own good."

 

"But then, of course, Severus," a bright voice called, as Dumbledore made his way down the corridor. "We must award 15 points to Mister Potter, here, for his excellent  diffindo,  and another 15 to Miss Granger for her admirable  collorptus  charm."

 

Thwarted, Snape spun back around to face the students.

 

"What are you still doing here!?" he hissed. "Off to bed with you!"

 

Once they were out of eyeshot, Cass turned to Weasley and extended his wand.

 

"Apologise for what you said to Hermione," he commanded, sparking a shocked gasp from Hermione.

 

"What!?" Weasley gaped, his jaw dropping.

 

Unimpressed, Cass raised an eyebrow.

 

"She was only trying to help you, earlier," he said coldly. "And need I remind you it was  your  fault we were trapped in there? If I were you I'd be feeling thankful for what we just managed to do."

 

" Fine, " he groused, thrusting a reluctant hand out in Hermione's direction. " Sorry. "

 

She took it.

 

"Apology accepted," she replied.

 

Harry turned to Hermione after Ron started to walk off.

 

"I really am sorry," he said sheepishly. "You're very clever, and thanks for what you did with the troll."

 

Cass cocked his head to the side.

 

"What do you mean?" he said in confusion. "You're the one who knocked it out."

 

"Yeah," Harry admitted, scratching the back of his head. "But you two did the rest of the work."

 

"Harry, come on!" Ron shouted.

 

"See you tomorrow," Harry called, and jogged off to join Ron.

 

Hermione went to follow them, but Cass put a hand on her shoulder and raised a finger to his lips.

 

Murmuring a spell under his breath, he made a gesture with his wand, and when Harry spun round to gape at them, they grinned, attempting to stifle giggles.

 

"Bye Cass," Hermione whispered, throwing her arms around him, and then ran to join the others.

 

Cass had a nice view of Ron Weasley's newly bright fuschia robes as they rounded the corner, before he returned to his dormitory.

 

A smile lingered on his face at the memories of Hermione's impromptu hug.

 

All was well.

 

  ∞  

 

Somehow, their little band of two turned into a band of four, as they were joined by Harry and Ron. It was not quite a perfect merge, but soon, they were meeting in the school library or the Room, practicing spells and generally learning more about each other.

 

Becoming closer.

 

There was something about Harry. It was not the green eyes (they aren't quite the same as the thing he can't remember) but the self-sacrificing love he felt for everyone he met that called to him.

 

Even in Ron, there was something that sparked a longing for something that he didn't know, that he couldn't quite remember. The first time he laid eyes him, he was describing a Quidditch team with such admiration and love, that Cass felt a flash between Ron, to another nameless person who shared his red hair and love for teams and strategy, even though he didn't know who.

 

They were sitting at the Gryffindor table together, one breakfast, a week or so before the Christmas holidays, when, after Cass had performed his morning ritual of sending his parents' letter up in flames, Draco came up to them.

 

"Cousin," he sneered, his upper lip curling, "Your parents requested I give you this if you decided to perform that ridiculous exercise today. You ought to be careful of the kind of people you socialise with," the blond prat continued, casting snide looks at his companions. "Mudbloods and traitors do not good company make: I doubt you'd want to see that inheritance of yours going into my hands."

 

Cass curled his hands into fists beneath the table.

 

"Please refrain from calling my friends those names, Draco," he asked stiffly, staring resolutely at the grain of the table.

 

"What?" Draco said, faux-innocently. "Gawker, Weasle and Hairy Trotter?"

 

"Hey!" Ron yelped indignantly.

 

"Ron, be quiet," Cass commanded. "I will deal with this: give me the letter, please Draco."

 

"Actually," Malfoy grinned, "I don't think I will."

 

" Expelliarmus ," was all Cass said in return, and the letter flew into his hands.

 

As Malfoy turned to leave in a huff, Hermione whispered something under her breath, and his blond hair turned into stripes of red and gold.

 

With shaking hands, Cass opened the envelope, and stiffened as the oh-so-familiar feeling of ice grips his spine.

 

' Cassiopeia ,

 

'We command that you desist with this ridiculous practice of incinerating the letters we send you. Your cousin Draco has let us know of your carelessness of whether anyone is harmed, and we cannot have you besmirching the noble name of Black with this reckless and dangerous behaviour.

 

'However, we find ourselves unable to fault your performance in class, as your teachers have informed us of your exemplary progress with magic. Although, this has only started to redeem you for the shame you brought upon us with your disastrous sorting.

 

'We believe you should stay at Hogwarts over the holidays.

 

'Mother and Father.'

 

"Cass? Cass are you alright?" Hermione said worriedly.

 

He looks around, and realises he has been staring into space, holding the crumpled paper in a death-grip.

 

"Just my family's method of communication," Cass smiled grimly, before passing the letter over. "Here."

 

For a few moments, Hermione was gripped with the same icy hold that he experienced. When she surfaced, she grimaced, and laid it gingerly on the table.

 

"You're right, that's absolutely horrible!"

 

Wordlessly, Cass sent the offending piece of parchment up in flames.

 

"How did you do that without speaking?" Harry wondered.

 

"Lots and lots of practice."

 

  ∞  

 

A few days later, Cass watched the carriages leave for Hogsmeade station, through a small window, high up in the school.



He couldn't sleep that night; too unnerved by the quiet in the dormitory, so under his newly-mastered disillusionment spell, he snuck out of Hufflepuff to explore the parts of the castle he hadn't seen yet.



He was in a cold corridor somewhere in the upper floors, when he heard two ghosts conversing a little way away, and Cass ducked into a chamber, not knowing if they could see through such spells.



Hearing the ghosts’ conversation drift away, Cass was just about to leave, when he spotted the mirror.



It stood in the middle of the room, stark and alien against the relative normalcy of the desks pushed to the walls. The frame was made of a heavy, tarnished, gold-like metal, and when he looked up, there was obscure writing on the edge.

Standing on tiptoes, Cass tried to read the words, but then he noticed his reflection-



And fell away, tripping and hitting the floor when he saw that the room was no longer empty. He twisted, turning frantically, only to find himself alone, under the looming mirror.



He looked back at it, drawing closer as he became braver, and examined the reflection.


He himself was in the mirror, but there was another person overlaying him. The man had his eyes and his hair, but was older, and wore a strange coat. And -behind the man- were the shadows of wings.



It was puzzling, but his attention was diverted to the other people in the mirror, standing to either side of him.



At his sides were his school friends, but behind them were adults: one with a hand clasping the shoulder of his older self, a green-eyed man. He wore a strange striped shirt over a dark one advertising two kinds of electrical currents, and winked at him with an easy smile, before he said something to the adult with his face.



On his right, mirroring the pose of the other man, was another, although this one seemed to have been stretched out; he was much taller than any normal human Cass had ever seen. In keeping with the overgrown proportions of him, is his hair. It brushed his shoulders, and was much darker than the hazel of his eyes.



Clustered tightly around the two men were several other figures.



One, a small redhead raised her hand in an obscure gesture: two fingers on each side of the hand, her thumb pressed to her palm. Hesitantly, Cass mirrored his hand in a poor approximation of hers, and she grinned at him, and the other figures laughed with him.


Another person- this one with blond hair- waggled his eyebrows at him, and smirked around a lollipop, like the ones his mother used to keep around for Grandmother Walburga before she died. Except, he doubted these ones tasted of blood.



Staggered behind those people, were four other figures: females, this time. A redhead and a dark-haired woman held hands, and they too smiled at him... But their expressions were sad and wistful all the same. There was resignation in their pale, blue eyes.



The last two seemed to have more of a familial connection. The taller, older one had an arm slung around the shorter one, their heads together, sharing the same blond hair. She held some kind of alcoholic beverage in her hand and raised it teasingly at him, wrinkles deepening in a smile.



"Who are you?" Cass whispered, shocked by the feelings of longing and sadness that rose within him.

 

The green-eyed man crouched down to his level, and put a hand to the glass to steady himself— Cass surprised himself by reaching up to press his palm flat against the man's own. He smiled sadly down at Cass, because the boy could not truly hope to make contact, before he rummaged in his pocket, and produced a strange object.



It was a muggle contraption, Cass could only assume, because he had never seen any type of wizarding tabletone with the same size and shape. The black, clunky rectangle had a handwritten label stuck on the plastic, but the letters were in a strange language: distorted by the mirror lens.


He would have spent hours there, sitting in the presence of the mirror people, but all too soon, he heard a teacher’s patrol, and knew he had to return to the dormitory.



When Cass returned the following night, the mirror was gone.



He couldn't decide whether he felt disappointed or relieved.

 

  ∞  

 

The feeling of loneliness was partially abated by the company of Harry and Ron over Christmas.

 

He didn't much like Ron when they first met, but Cass had to admit the redheaded boy could give him a run for his money at Wizarding Chess.

 

They first played on Christmas Eve, when, tired of watching Ron wipe the floor with Harry ( over, and over, and over again ), he none too gently nudged the Boy-Who-Lived out of his chair, and slid into place opposite Ron.

 

"My turn," is all he said, cracking his knuckles and rolling his neck.

 

The game was close, neither player giving anything away, but at the last moment, Ron managed to rip victory from the jaws of defeat; capturing Cass' king in checkmate at last.

 

"Again!"

 

They played late into the night, winning and losing in equal amounts, and only stopped when the fire dipped low, and Percy- Ron's prefect brother- came to make Cass go back to Hufflepuff.

 

He returned immediately the next morning, barely stopping to stuff his presents in his bag and pull on some clothes.

 

Hermione had given him several brand-new muggle science textbooks (all A level and above). He sent her a leather-bound volume of Foreign Magical Cultures, as well as theory books to go with it.

 

It was the happiest Christmas that Cass Black had ever had.

 

  ∞  

 

Once the holidays were over, it was back to business as usual, although Cass couldn't help but notice the strange, intent looks Professor Quirrel was giving him. There was a cold presence around the man; like grave-dirt and mould.

 

He paid it no heed though, and set to helping his friends with the mystery of what lay beneath the trapdoor.

 

When Summer arrived, and Dumbledore left the school, he followed them down through the hole.

 

Somehow, the creeping tendrils of Devil's Snare caused a burst of accidental magic— an intense white light that hurt the other's eyes. Hermione's Bluebell Flames were not needed at all- the plant shriveled away from the amazing brightness.

 

When it came to the room of the flames, Harry and Cass split the small potion between them, and passed through untouched.

 

Quirrel was in there, and once he had them both trapped in ropes, he surveyed them carefully.

 

"Black," he whispered, pale fingers dancing spider-like over Cass' face. "You are full of the strongest power I have ever seen: it exists within and without you, and will be the perfect energy source for bringing back my master..."

 

"Your master?" Harry asked foolishly. Cass cursed inwardly: why must he attract the attention to himself!?

 

Quirrel smiled slowly, and reached up, unraveling the long turban, until there is-

 

A face, a horrible face, of the kind Cass had never seen before. The eyes looked as though they were cut with a knife, and the nostrils and mouth seemed to be slashes from the same instrument.

 

In a hissing, sibilant voice, it commanded Quirrel to take the power from Cass.

 

"Do not kill him, Quirrel; I may have use of him yet. Know your bounds."

 

And then there was a wand touching the skin over his heart, and it burned,  and it burned- it burned- it -!

 

Days later, when he awoke, Harry informed him, eyes wide and with awed speech, that his very eyes had started glowing, and the light that they had seen him produce earlier, had seemed to leach up Quirrel's wand.

 

"He was barely holding it in by the time he got to me!" Harry explained. "He was shaking and the moment he touched my skin, he exploded!"

 

"Where did the light go?" Cass asked curiously, tracing the area that the wand touched him absentmindedly.

 

"Dunno; seemed to just sink into you again."

 

And that was the end of that, and also the end of his freedom, it would seem, for as soon as he returned home, Cass was put under house-arrest by his parents.

 

They... Torture wasn't the best word, because Cassiopeia knew it was for his own good, and would restore honour to the family name... But there was no other way to describe the pain he went through. Cassiopeia had to pay for his sins, and an entire year's worth of ignoring instructions, carrying on with the wrong kind of person (" A mudblood, really, Cassiopeia ?") and disagreeing with their family’s message is a lot to atone for.

 

And he had to atone.

 

If redemption could be reached through burns and kicks, who is he to know any better?

 

The price of peace was pain.

 

And he ( they/him/who ? The deafening chorus inside him) craved peace.

 

He learned to associate kindness and curly hair with hurt, humiliation and horror, when they ( his caretakers/guards/parents ) extracted his glowing memories and turn them rank and ruinous.

 

Afterwards he felt sullied, as though the goodness and relative purity he had before had been sucked out.

 

They would have him believe that this was from the realisation of the filth he had polluted his mind with, and, eventually... He ceases to disagree.

 

It is what he comes to believe.

 

( Is it ?)

Chapter Text

The baby's crying, and he won't stop. Sammy was never this loud- but it doesn't matter. Because Cas is dead.

 

Cas... is  dead .

 

And this time, he's never coming back.

 

"C'mon, kid," he pleads the squalling child, "I know your mom's gone, but we fed you and we changed your diaper, so what is it?"

 

He bounces the baby nephilim gently, and strokes his forehead as he calms down.

 

"Maybe Cas would know what to do," Dean murmurs, moving his calloused thumb over the kid's soft, downy hair. "Shoulda seen him when he had to play babysitter. Never would've pegged him for a baby kinda guy."

 

The tiny thing burrows his head into Dean's armpit, balling his fists and bringing his legs up to his chest, before kicking them out again. He catches himself smiling at the baby: a small one, only just managing to fight off the legions of pain waiting to attack, but it's a smile nonetheless.

 

Carefully, Dean stands up, trying to keep as level as possible. Earlier, he'd put Sam on kid duty: getting him to hold the baby-  Jack , Kelly called him  Jack - while Dean went and created a temporary cradle for him. It's nothing more than a cardboard box with towels spread inside, but they'd been too busy laying low that they hadn't the time to buy a proper one, so it will have to do. Maybe soon they'd go back to fetch the one Kelly made from the house where—

 

His train of thought derails and he spends a few seconds staring off into space.

 

Dean hums as he makes his way down the winding corridors of the Bunker, only realising as they take the turn to the hall leading to his room that the tune is ' Hey Jude '. It pulls him up short for a moment. Mary-  Mom - is gone. He'd only just come to know her properly, and now where is she? They might never get a chance to make up for their mistakes.

 

When he gets to his room, Dean carefully places Jack down in the mock cradle, and lies back, kicking his shoes off, and shuts his eyes.

 

Then Dean opens them again, because who is he kidding? He's never getting to sleep tonight.

 

Cas is dead.

 

Dead .

 

Part of him scoffs, and wonders for how long, but another part of him, a tiny niggling doubt, in the back corner of some far recess in his mind, wonders.

 

Billy the reaper said they wouldn't let him or Sam be resurrected, so why should it be any different for Cas?

 

He hopes he's wrong.

 

He needs Cas, Sam needs Cas., hell! Jack  needs Cas!

 

But he's never coming back. Hope is a trap.

 

He's  never  coming back.

 

Ever.

 

And, hell, if it doesn't leave him feeling like the biggest douche in the world when his best friend in the entire world is off lying in a freezer, ready for them to b-

 

Ready for them to  burn  him in the morning.

 

Something in him breaks at the thought.

 

Suddenly, he's up; lifting the makeshift cot and carrying it down to Sam's room. Hefting it with one hand, Dean knocks, before pushing it open to see his brother hunched on the bed inside.

 

"Sammy?"

 

"Dean? What are you doing?" Sam says, getting up.

 

Dean hands him the box.

 

"I gotta," he says, jerking a thumb down the hallway. "I gotta go check on Cas, say a few things, you know?"

 

Sam's eyes soften immediately.

 

"Of course, I understand Dean," he replies. "Take as much time as you need."

 

"Shut it," Dean snaps gruffly. "No chick-flick moments, I'm telling you."

 

He walks down to the empty kitchen, trailing his fingers along the wall as he goes. His footsteps echo, each one bouncing throu gh the Bunker, now so vacant and empty.  It wasn't so long ago that they'd believed everything would be fine, that things would be okay, because they had  Mom  back,and Cas-

 

Cas was still here. Kinda weirdly preoccupied with Kelly, and the whole spooky nephilim, but…

 

Still alive.

 

How stupid of him.

 

Stupid, and  too proud,  because when hads  anything  ever gone well for Dean Winchester!? Anything that he hasn't managed to screw up or not manage to hold on to, because he's too freaking stupid!

 

Why does he even allow himself to hope?

 

It only makes everything worse when things finally start to fall.

 

Eventually, he finds himself standing in the anteroom of the kitchen. The original Men of Letters must have meant for this to be some kind of pantry, but with only Sam and he in residence, its only occupants have been a sad bag of flour and some sugar for coffee.. Still, the room is cold and dry, perfect for its current purpose.

 

Well, now it has a new tenant. Dean’s footsteps falter as he makes his way over to the lone figure lying still on one of the long metal tables. Cas, who had once seemed so large and full of life seems so much smaller in death. Fragile. Defenceless.

 

Suddenly, Dean is filled with shame: Cas was-  is-  his greatest friend, and he covers him with a threadbare sheet. Not even a proper funeral shroud. You'd think the Men of Letters would have had something like that, what with them always being killed.

He pulls it back, until Cas' head is exposed, and looks at him. If he didn't know better, didn't  see  the light pouring out of his eyes as the blade went in, he'd think he was only sleeping.

 

But now his friend will never wake again.

 

Ever.

 

Slowly, Dean cards his fingers through Cas' chaotic hair; something he never got to do in life, but always wanted to.

 

"Miss you, bud," he whispers softly. Somehow, it seems that no sound should disturb this room. If he can just pretend… pretend that Cas is not wearing the clothes he died in, and is in pyjamas instead, he can imagine that Cas is only sleeping, and that he can wake him up.

 

Caught up in this fantasy, Dean goes to shakes Cas' shoulder, but the moment he touches the cold fabric of the trenchcoat, the dream is shattered.

 

The room is timeless no more; Cas is still dead.

 

He kneels by his side, clasping his hands together on the table. From this angle he can see the stern profile of his friend's face. Pointing heavenward, to the place he'd never visit again.

 

"Cas," Dean begins, licking his dry lips as he searches for something to say. "It's gonna be different without you here. Jack's gonna grow up eventually, without ever knowing his dad- you were his dad, Cas, good ol' Luci was just a sperm donor- and me and Sam'll grow old without you. I mean, we would've anyhow, but now we won't have you with us on the way."

 

He ducks his head, attempting to banish the tears threatening to rise.

 

"C'mon Cas," he breathes, shutting his eyes as he tries to send a message to Cas. "Just, if you can hear me, wherever you are, man. Find your way back to us. We  need  you."

 

Dean stands, turning to go, before a thought stops him in his tracks. He shrugs out of his jacket and balls it up. Gently, he lifts Cas' heavy head, and slides it under, crafting a pillow for the dead angel. His hands moved away, but before he leaves, Dean hesitantly brushes his thumb over his friend's chilled cheekbone.

 

Hurriedly, he rushes from the room, determined not to look back.

 

On his way to bed, Dean snags a bottle of Jack Daniels. In his room, he's just unscrewed the lid, and is preparing to take a swig, when a sound stops his arm midway to his mouth.

 

Jack crying.

 

Dean studies the bottle for a moment, and walks to his sink. The whiskey makes an amber whirlpool as he pours it down the drain. He didn’t need it, didn’t want it around. It was better to get rid of it than to risk being drunk if the kid needed him.

 

 

Early the next morning, Dean is woken by an incessant tapping at his door.

 

He's just pushed himself into a sitting position, when Sam ducks his head around the door. His little brother makes a face at the empty bottle on the side.

 

"I didn't drink it Sammy," Dean protests, squinting against the sudden influx off light. Sam frowns disbelievingly, stepping through the partially open door. “I’m not like Dad, I can’t put a whole bottle of Jack away in one evening.”

 

"C'mon Dean, you can't keep doing this with Jack around," his brother pleads. "I miss Cas too, but we've got other things to worry about."

 

"' Other things to worry about '?" Dean quotes back at Sam. "My best friend may be dead, but don't you think for one second that I will  ever  be like Dad!"

 

His little brother seems unsure for a second, but stands, brushing himself off as he holds out a hand. Dean takes it, pulling himself up.

 

He looks at him for a moment, before pushing past him.

 

"Get your boots on, Sammy," he calls over his shoulder. "We've got a body to burn."

 

  ∞ 

 

Dean carries Cas to the pyre himself. Sam had protested, not sure if Dean could do it, but he had picked Cas up anyway.

 

He needs to do this himself.

 

His body feels weak and fragile, like that of a baby, and as he lays Cas on the pile of unlit wood, Dean finds himself overcome with an urge to see his friend's face one last time. He freezes, arms half-lowered, until Sam lays a comforting hand on his shoulder.

 

"I can do it if you don't want to," his little brother murmurs behind him.

 

The idea of someone else sending Cas off snaps something within him, and he gently places the swaddled body onto the bed of logs, before turning to him with his hand held out. Sam hesitates.

 

"Candy's dog," is all Dean says. Reluctantly, Sam hands the lighter over.

 

They get to work dousing Cas with lighter fluid, and he is about to drop the lit device when something stops him.

 

"Dean?"

 

He sighs and flips the lid closed.

 

"We're not doing this, Sammy," Dean states, unwrapping the soaked fabric from around Cas' body. "Not until we know,  for sure , that Cas is not coming back. Until we've exhausted every possibility, I am  not  burning my best friend's body!"

 

And with that he carries Cas' limp body back the Bunker.

 

∞ 

 

Even the thought of Jack isn’t enough to keep Dean from draining beer after beer that night, and as the hours grow longer, the further he slumps against the side of freezer door Cas’ body is interned inside. He stares morosely at the opposite wall; waiting for revelation that never comes, and it is with heavy heart and even heavier eyes, that Dean drifts into an alcohol induced slumber.

 

∞ 

 

He stands in a huddle of people, all facing something he can’t make out. Frowning, he shoulders his way to the front, pushing past long-gone friends.

 

It’s one of these dreams again.

 

Determinedly, he ignores Charlie, and pushes past Hannah, until he comes to a halt at the side of a familiar trench-coated man.

 

“Cas?” he chokes, clasping his friends shoulder, trying to turn him towards him. “Cas, what is this?”

 

But the angel will not look at him.

 

Instead, he remains facing stoically down at something out of his view. Puzzled, he twists to see what is so captivating and grins.

 

There is a small boy standing in front of them. He is separated from the rest of them by a pane of glass, and if he didn’t know better, he’d say that this was a younger version of Jimmy Novak. The resemblance is uncanny: head tilting to the same degree Cas’ always tilted to, cobalt eyes narrowed in exactly the same way. His scruffy hair curls around the edges of his collar, and he has to smile at the snitches patterning his pyjamas. He turns to whisper something in Cas’ ear:

 

“So a baby without a trenchcoat, huh?”

 

He half-expects him to glower, but the man stays where he is. This troubles him. He leans forward, only to find his friend’s facial expressions matching those of the boy before them. Shock and curiosity flit across Cas’ features, and now he turns his head this way and that as he mimics the child’s amazement.

 

A strange feeling possesses him, and he crouches, putting a hand on the glass to steady himself. Cas stays still, but his almost-clone flattens his own palm against his. He smiles pityingly at him, because he can never hope to actually touch him, and fishes something out of his jean’s pocket.

 

Deans top 13 Zep TRAXX

 

He offers it to the boy, and stays for minutes, or hours, or days, before he is-

 

∞ 

 

-Back in his body again.

 

Dean groans, already bemoaning his hangover and checks his watch. His mouth tastes perpetually bitter.

 

03:13.

 

Only five hours since he fell asleep. He stands, wincing at the cracks and aches in his back. Turning to leave, a thought stops him in his tracks, and Dean pivots round. A few paces and he’s opened the heavy freezer door, wincing at the rush of cold air.

 

Hesitantly, he removes the new cloth from over Cas’ body, and takes the cassette from his pocket gently. Cas had been carrying it when he died.

 

Dean smooths a hand over his friend’s hair, and returns to his room. Quietly, he inserts the tape to the ancient machine by his bed, and falls asleep to the quiet sound of Led Zeppelin.

 

∞ 

 

He wakes to find a small, hot weight on his chest.

 

“The hell?” Dean murmurs drowsily, staring down with bleary eyes at the napping nephilim curled up on his sternum. “How’d you get here?”

 

Jack snuffles, opening his eyes, and sneezes.

 

All the lights in the room flicker.

 

“Aw, balls,” he mutters. “I bet you’re gonna be a barrel of laughs.”

 

Chapter Text

The train ride back to school felt exactly the same as the first, only even colder and emptier than before.

 

But if this is purity, then Cassiopeia would do all he can do to maintain it.

 

And if he did not, well...

 

His fingers tightened around his wrist, and then released, and he hissed in pain at the sensat ion it created.

 

He  had to  be good, for his own sake and his ( not/only ) friends.

 

  ∞  

 

"Cass! Cass!" he heard a voice calling behind him.

 

With a sigh, he prepared to turn away the conflicting and familiar tones, and force her to leave him alone.

 

"What could you possibly want with me, Granger?" Cassiopeia said coldly, turning to look down his nose at the bushy-haired lioness.

 

She visibly deflated,confused ( Why? He doesn't associate with people like her ), and tried to reach out for his arm. He flinched away sharply ( contact bad, bad don'tletthemtouchyou !), and her face crumpled.

 

"What's the matter, Cass? Did something happen over the holidays?" she questioned, stepping closer once again, and so Cassiopeia mimicked her, and moved a pace back. "You can always talk to me about it."

 

That last statement, the very idea of receiving ' help ' from a mudblood, rankled him, disgusted him so much, that he drew himself up to his full height and glared at her.

 

"I do not want 'help' from people like you," Cassiopeia growled, invading her personal space. "I may have been confused last year, and strayed from the righteous path by associating with you, but I have been brought back to the true way, so don't expect to act like my friend this term."

 

"Act like your friend? What do you mean!?" she scowled, and he saw a flash of anger in her eyes.

 

It almost made him hesitate, but in the end it only served to spark his fury.

 

"I mean; you are a worthless owl dropping that I will not be sullied by. You and those like you, trivial dithering idiots, who only want to steal my magic for yourself, and drain the Wizarding World of all goodness!"

 

She laughed.

 

"Oh, I see, a joke! That wasn't very nice, next time try not to hurt my feelings, Cass-"

 

"DO NOT call me CASS!" he yelled in her face, and ripped her hand away from where it had tried to rest on his shoulder. "Leave me alone, and do not  ever  try to talk to me.  Again ."

 

And with that he stalked away, leaving her alone in the train corridor.

 

  ∞  

 

Cassiopeia sat alone at the Sorting Feast this year, surrounded by people, but alone in his head. He traced the handle of his fork over the same track of table over and over again, not noticing the strange looks people gave him when the increasing pressure wore a groove in the varnished wood.

 

He barely paid attention to the list of names and subsequent sortings, and with each person under the Hat, his world became a little more grey.

 

When it was time to return to the dormitories, Cassiopeia sank gladly into the release from reality that sleep would grant him.

 

Or so he hoped.

 

  ∞  

 

Cassiopeia fell into a well-worn pattern: studying, schooling and sleep. His plate grew emptier with every passing day, as his stomach rebelled more at the thought of food with every mealtime.

 

He slipped further into grey, and allowed himself to fade into oblivion. Cassiopeia no longer registered the faces of people; he only wished for them to go away.

 

In accordance with his parents wishes, when the Quidditch try-outs came along, Cassiopeia went to try his luck. He had flown before, and proven himself to be quite good at it, but only in the privacy of the Black Summer estate. The flying lessons the prior year were cancelled due to an accident, so none of his so-called 'peers' had seen him fly.

 

"Black, Cassiopeia!"

 

He swallowed, keeping back the bile that was waiting in his empty stomach, grabbed his broom, and pushed off, and he's-!

 

He's up and away!

 

The air was nothing but a passing thought, as he split it with the Nimbus 2001 gifted by his parents to ensure that he did them proud. Cassiopeia looped, laughing in joy, just to show that he could, before he swung round to the spectators on the ground.

 

"I'm ready!" he hollered. This was the best he had felt in weeks, and Cassiopeia buzzed on the adrenaline flooding his system.

 

"Alright! Let's go," the burly quidditch captain grinned, rising into the air. "We're gonna start with some non-magical balls, just to get a feel for whether you're best suited to playing Seeker. 1, 2, 3!"

 

And with that, McAvoy lobbed a small metallic ball, passing close to Cassiopeia. All he had to do is reach up and grab it.

 

The captain raised his eyebrows, but hefted another, and threw: this time far to Cassiopeia's left.

 

It's harder, but he still caught it easily: swooping down to catch it, and came up with plenty of air to spare.

 

Cockier than before, Cassiopeia tossed the small leather sphere back to the bemused McAvoy.

 

"Well, if you're so sure, Black," he yelled, reaching into his back pocket. "I suppose we can move to the snitch!"

 

There was barely a moment's notice, before the humming metal ball was up in the air, darting this way and that. With a laugh, Cassiopeia swooped after it, ignoring its various feints and false direction changes. Soon, he'd homed in on it, and had it literally within his grasp.

 

"Do it again, and you'll have a spot on the team for sure!" McAvoy whooped. "Black, if you're this good consistently, maybe we'll beat Potter!"

 

So he released the crafty golden device, and Cassiopeia did exactly that: proved himself to be as good as his first time, catching it again and again.

 

When he returns to the ground: McAvoy is practically beaming, and the engulfed Cassiopeia in a tight, sweaty hug. He endured it stiffly, not sure whether to reciprocate or to withdraw, caged within an unwelcome embrace.

 

It didn't matter, because all too soon ( and soon enough ) the older boy was letting him go, and turned to the rest of the team.

 

"C'mon, guys!" he yelled gleefully, and Cassiopeia wondered if he has even heard of an indoor voice. "I'd like you to meet our newest member: Cassiopeia Black! From what I've seen today, this boy is the best hope we have at defeating Gryffindor this year. Sorry, Diggory, but it's Chaser for you," McAvoy announced cheerfully, ignoring the disappointed looks the ex-Seeker was giving him. "Don't give me that! You were getting too big for the role, anyway. Black, here, is still small and skinny, but with an eye like that, he'll take up the Keeper gloves when Turpin leaves. Alright? We clear? Good. Dismissed, everyone! We did some good work today!"

 

There was lightness in his feet as he left the Quidditch pitch, but with every step, it leached away, and the oncoming night only seemed to mirror his mood.

 

He returned to his bed with the ball of light in his chest ebbing away.

 

 

This seemed to set the trend for the term: his happiness soared with every flight, only to be pinioned, his wings clipped and bound, as soon as he touched the ground.

 

Cassiopeia's grades flew as high as his broom, and why shouldn't they? His only pastimes were studying, spell practice and Quidditch. There was no room for dalliances with meaningless people in his new, bright, wonderful life.

 

There were no colours in his sterile, clean world.

 

Green.

 

Red.

 

Yellow.

 

Blue.

 

They meant nothing to him.

 

Before he knew it, Christmas had arrived, and he was free from the troubled stares of the teachers, and the nagging doubt ( that was NOT there ) in the back of his mind.

 

There was only apprehension left.

 

He studied the land beyond the glass, mind focused on nothing . Cassiopeia was well acquainted with his wan and haggard reflection by the time the train reached King’s Cross.

 

Was he welcomed back with open arms? Did they ( parents/jailers/doctors/captors ) love him and hug him until his ribs creak? There was no comforting smell of perfume, but there was the tackiness of his mother's ochre lipstick that clings to his cheeks.

Cassiopeia was checked first for illness, and to be pronounced pure, then was allowed to be alone.

 

And that was how he spends the holidays: suffocated in silence.

 

Christmas Day itself was no different: the Black family was not and had never been close, and once the obligatory presents had been exchanged and food eaten, he retreated to his room.

 

He had just allowed himself to sink into a slump on the floor, gazing up at the ceiling, when an incessant tapping at the window snapped him out of it.

 

Irritably, he swiped back the heavy curtains, ready to hex away any errant twig, only to find Gabriel perched on the sill.

 

Cassiopeia opened the stiff window, grimacing at the screech of the reluctant frame, and took the package his owl held out to him. Once relieved of his burden, Gabriel flapped off into the night.

 

Confused, Cassiopeia tore into the precise packaging, and shook out a heavy metal bowl. A tightly-rolled letter followed.

 

Intrigued, he placed the bowl on his dresser, and examined the enchanted decorations. A dragon swam leisurely on the deep carnelian background, lapis lazuli scales contrasting the delicate gold outlining. Forest green, filigree leaves rustle and moved in an unseen wind. Shifting it slightly, he examined the runes, both foreign and familiar, on the bronze inside.

 

Cass(iopeia) settled back, and unrolled the letter, blinking in surprise when a small heavy wooden instrument, similar in shape to a beater's bat, fell into his lap. His curiosity heightened, he brought the parchment up to read.

 

' Dear Cass,'  it began.

 

' I'm sorry for ignoring your wishes and writing after you told me not to talk to you, but it's Christmas, and I thought I might honour our old friendship by giving you one last thing.

 

'I thought you might not welcome another set of muggle textbooks, so I got my dad to take me around all the second hand shops in Diagon Alley. Last year, you gave me a book all about magical cultures, and when I saw is in that strange magical curio shop,I thought it might just be the thing for you.

 

'It's called a Tibetan Singing Bowl, and magical monks use them to meditate with, so they can be in better touch with their magic. Muggles do  it sometimes to unwind, and you've been looking rather stressed recently, which made me think this would be right for you.

 

'I won't lie and say that I wouldn't care if you truly don't want to be friends, but if you change your mind, I will always be here and care for you.

 

'Hermione'

 

He set the letter down, pausing for a few seconds, before he hesitantly slid it into the hidden compartment he had created in his bedside table. He was certain that his parents must never find it. Cass(iopeia) took up the stick, and ran it round the inner edge of the bowl, and was pleasantly surprised when the enchantment took it from his hands, continuing to trace the same track.

 

He lay back, folding his hands over his sternum, and allowed himself to drift off to the mellow ringing tone.

 

 

The train ride back to school was no different to his past ones, but this was the first time that he'd given in to the temptation and commandeered his own compartment: he locked the doors and put up silencing charms to block out the noise from the corridor.

 

Once that was complete, Cassiopeia brought out the Singing Bowl and a small cushion he'd managed to purchase from the same shop that Hermione had bought the bowl from. The shop owner had boasted that it was from the same set as his other meditative tools. Cassiopeia didn't really care: all that mattered is that it served its purpose.

 

He sat, placing his limbs in the correct position, and-

 

Breathed .

 

Breathed until he was no longer a soul trapped in a cage of flesh.

 

From the research he had done over the holidays, Cass(iopeia) knew that generally, some kind of visualisation was practiced. He didn't know where he got the image from, but when he let his mind loose, he imagined that he was a great, shining, beacon of light, pulsing and beaming from beneath his ribcage.

 

Within Cass(iopeia's) mind, the confining flesh was no longer there, and he was  free .

 

Alas, all too soon, his alarm chimed, and he opened his eyes, and found himself back within his bones, levitating a few feet in the air.

 

As he let himself down gently, Cassiopeia turned to find a gaggle of students gawping at him from the corridor. Irritably, he raised his wand, and with a few quick motions, slammed down the blinds, which allowed him the privacy to change into school robes.

 

At the start of the term feast, he turned to the Gryffindor table, and levitated a parcel over to Hermione.

 

Inside was a rolled up set of bamboo strips held together with invisible demiguise hair. When untied, the unrolled strips formed a kind of calendar in table form. This was to be keyed to the user's magical signature, and automatically put down any timetable they had, including appointments or other such dates.

 

If Hermione looked on the inside of the packaging, she would see a note detailing the aforementioned steps, along with a shorter, more personal message:

 

'Thank you for your gift.

 

'Now we are even.'

 

Cass( iopeia ) turned back to his meal and resumed not eating.

 

  ∞  

 

This term started off no different to the last, but as it wore on, he became more aware of colours out of the corners of his eyes, and before he knew it, light was leeching back into life.

 

And with it, news of the petrifications.

 

Cassiopeia was aware of these facts before, but it had been a more abstract way: he registered them, but did not process. It was with newfound knowledge that he saw the fear for the first time.

 

People were pack animals, and with a manner befitting of a Black ( good/proper/proud ), Cassiopeia curled his lip at the opportunists making quick money from the terrified herds. He himself had nothing to worry about regarding the 'Heir', but it did anger him to see his own kind so harried at the thought of something that was not out to get them. 

 

This Cassiopeia, however, had house pride, so whenever he saw a student of Hufflepuff being conned into buying a sham amulet or charm, he would always find a way for a more capable replica to replace the useless junk they had been sold.

 

He did not allow them to know it was him, though.

 

Naturally.

 

But his remembered strength had not made it any easier to swallow food, and he was met by nausea that shook him by the hand every time he attempted (and failed) to choke down sustenance.

 

This was not important, however, so Cassiopeia removed the disgust and revulsion, and buried himself in schoolwork and Quidditch. And it was a little easier.

 

Before he knew it, the Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff match was upon him, and Cassiopeia was not nervous, not nervous at all: he had played well in the past few games, an d won them all. His dearly beloved cousin was simply not as good as he thought, and Cassiopeia's victories had brought them further up the table than their house had ever aspired to reach.

 

Yet he still felt the dread curled deep in his gut.

 

It seemed that they were barely in the air before the whistle was blown and they were called down again.

 

"Professor!" McAvoy was growling, shouldering to the front of the mash of players. "What's going on?"

 

" Somebody better've died... " a disgruntled voice muttered at the back.

 

McGonagall twitched; the closest Cassiopeia had ever seen her to losing her stern, unruffled persona.

 

"50 points from Hufflepuff for that insensitive and thoughtless comment, Ross!" she snapped. "One of our best students very well could have! Black, Potter, come with me. Bring Weasley."

 

In a daze, Cassiopeia followed the professor, not entirely noticing the path to the Hospital Wing. When had the floor started tilting? Surely the walls were not reverberating with his every step?

 

Only when they were drawn to a stop at the foot of a bed did he notice the unnatural stiffness of familiar limbs, and the wiry fullness of the hair spread out on the pillow. Drearily, as if through a haze, Cassiopeia wondered at the resemblance to a muggle portrait, in real life, viewed through glass.

 

Like a bug.

 

Then, as if the last puzzle piece had fallen into place, Cassiopeia finally realised who it is occupying the bed.

 

"Hermione?"

 

Suddenly, his mind was full again, and everything he had been missing was clamouring for attention: his torture (because that was what it was), the pain and the loss and all the good parts that made him feel. A strange memory of healing a child, and helping Hermione up, now untainted by the veil his abusers had pressed over his eyes.

 

He could  see  now, and it was so bright, and so loud, and he, and he-!

 

Slipped into the welcoming darkness.

 

  ∞    

 

He walked along in the empty place, surrounded by endless night. There was no direction here: no time, no light. Nothing.

 

How long had it been since he came here? It seemed like he had been walking forever. He continued on, alone in the dark.

 

“Hey Jude…”

 

A soft voice startled him, and he turned, only to find himself-

 

Standing in a room. The close walls were illuminated by a single lamp, and through the warm glow it emits, he could see the beginnings of a mural and a half-built cot. Something drew his attention, and he twisted towards the source of the music.

 

A man stood silhouetted in the mellow light, singing to something in his arms. He bounced it gently, and he stood back as the man walked over to an overstuffed sofa, and continued his song.

 

Suddenly, he stiffened, and looked around disbelievingly. He didn’t think the man could see him, but bluehis eyes roved the room, searching for something that wasn’t there.

 

“Cas?”

 

  ∞   

 

When Cass opened his eyes, it took a few moments to reorient himself, as the remnants of his dream slipped away.

 

He could not recall a single aspect of it.

 

He was lying in a hard bed, with blankets drawn up to his armpits that smelled strongly of antiseptic. The world was silent but for the faint  scritch-scratching  of a quill, and when he looked up, tried to maneuver his body into a sitting position, he became aware of a needle digging into his arm.

 

Instinct told him to tug the offending article out of the crease of his elbow, but as soon as he reached to do so, echoing footsteps clacked   hurriedly towards him, and when he looked up, dazed, it was to find Madam Pomfrey looming over him.

 

"Oh, no you don't, Mr Black!" she scolded, and batted his hand away. "You, young sir, are severely malnourished. This. Is. For. Your. Own. Good!"

 

"Mal-Malnourished?" he heard his voice asking, as if from far away, and ran his tongue around his chapped lips. The healer noticed this, and quickly handed him a glass of water from the bedside table.

 

"Yes, it happens when people don't eat enough for prolonged amounts of time, and end up using their own fat reserves to make up for it. Just check your ribs if you don't believe me!"

 

He did.

 

If he so wished, Cass could count every one of them. It was rather worrying.

 

"Anyway, we'll be keeping you in for a while for observation: make sure you get some weight put on. Might be good to check your head, too; thought you were going to get concussion at the turn you took at the sight of your friend," she went on, checking a magically-updating chart at the end of his bed.

 

"My friend?" he asked in confusion, before the dots connected and he remembered the reason he was in the Hospital Wing in the first place. "Hermione!"

 

And there she was, as still as the last time he saw her. The dread unfurled in the pit of his stomach, and he already knew, but asked the question anyway.

 

"What happened to her?"

 

Madam Pomfrey let out a sigh, and her face settled into frown lines that Cass suspected had only gotten deeper in the past few months.

 

"Petrification: just like all the others."

 

He looked around, and felt sick to his stomach with the realisation that there were four other people, living statues frozen in terror, in beds around the room. His stomach rebelled, and he retched. Thankfully all that came up is caught by Madam Pomfrey with a bucket.

 

Cass was shocked at how little there was.

 

"I'm afraid we're going to have to send an owl home about thi-"

 

"NO!"

 

He snatched her wrist as she went to move away, pleading. Madam Pomfrey hesitated visibly.

 

"I wouldn't normally do this, if it weren't for the other results that came up when I ran the diagnostic spells. Please answer this honestly, Mr Black: are you safe at home?"

 

He curled up, bringing his knees up to his chest and rested his read on them, not even able to meet her eyes.

 

"No," Cass whispered into his arms, and finally, finally allowed himself to shake apart.

 

The motherly healer held him as he sobbeds, letting out all the pain he'd managed to hoard since the start of the Summer holidays, murmuring nonsensical comforts into his hair.

 

   ∞   

 

Later, when he was dry-eyed and composed again, Cass heard footsteps approaching Hermione's bed. Thinking it was Madam Pomfrey, he looked up, only to find Harry and Ron approaching.

 

His book fell from his limp hands with a soft thud.

 

Instantly, Ron's head snapped up, and he turned a mottled red.

 

" Black ," he accused, marching over to Cass, who flinched, and tried to scurry back, only to be stopped by the rails. He tried to shield his head with his arms, but the IV limited his maneuverability, and Cass was forced to curl into a small, trembling ball in the corner.

 

"Ron, stop!" Harry whispered urgently. "Can't you see he's terrified?"

 

"But look at how he treated Hermio-!"

 

"Just what is going on here?" came the welcome reprieve of Madam Pomfrey's voice. Ron immediately backed up and half-raised his hands defensively.

 

"Professor, we were just-"

 

"Terrorizing a patient who has been through what you can't even imagine?" she interrupted coolly, raising an eyebrow. "A patient under my care? Or should I say, a friend who you should have been looking out for when you saw the warning signs?"

 

"W-What?" Ron said in confusion. Harry looked more closely at Cass, and hung his head in shame.

 

"Ask him yourself," she responded, before going to stroke Cass on the shoulder. "Just don't be irritated if he doesn't answer. Mr Black? It's alright. They'll apologise, and then, you can have a nice talk, if you so wish. You don't have to do  anything  that you don't want to, Mr Black: let me assure you of that."

 

Still quivering slightly, Cass sat up, and tried to meet the boys eyes.

 

"Cass?" Harry asked gently. "Do you want to tell us about it?"

 

He nodded shakily, and shuffled closer to them to start to recount everything that had happened since the start of the previous Summer.

 

As he got further along with his story, Cass became louder, his words surer, but every once in a while, when describing the hell he was put through, his voice cracked, and he has to look away.

 

One of those times, Harry caught his shoulder, and smiled reassuringly at him.

 

"It's alright," he explained. "My family used to keep me in a cupboard."

 

Cass blinks owlishly at him.

 

"What part of that is ' alright '?" he replied indignantly.

 

The other boy grinned, glad that his distraction had worked, and Cass continued with his story.

 

By the time he reached the end, Ron was looking a little remorseful, and he extended a hand. Cass took it carefully.

 

"I'm sorry, mate," he said sheepishly. "But this doesn't mean that I'm forgiving you for ignoring Hermione for the entire year."

 

"I wouldn't expect you to," Cass answered truthfully, tactfully not mentioning the Troll Incident of the year before.

 

When they left, he leaned over to Hermione's bed, and whispered to her.

 

"I think things are going to be alright."

  ∞     

 

Over the next few weeks, Cass received homework and library books from the two boys and read them aloud to his silent neighbour.

 

Later, he realised that this excessive reading for prolonged amounts of time is probably what caused his voice to break at about the second week; he sounded like he had been gargling gravel.

 

Being on the other side of Hermione, Cass missed the moment when Harry and Ron pried the crumpled piece of notepaper out of her hand, and ran off to deal with the monster, but he was informed of it after the incident.

 

"Why didn't you see it before!?" Ron exclaimed.

 

Cass gestured wordlessly to his bed's position.

 

Once the mandrake solution had been administered, he waited for her to awake. One by one, the other victims start from their unnatural stillness, but hours passed, and Hermione was still stuck in the Basilisk's web.

 

"Please," he begged finally, screwing his eyes shut and bowing his head. "Wake up, please! I'm so sorry for the way I treated you, I'll do anything, anything! If only you'd wake up!  Please ."

 

"... Cass ?" a slurred voice asked.

 

His eyes snapped open.

 

"Hermione!"

 

And nothing could stop him from tearing out the IV, and vaulting over to her side. Well, his knees buckled, but Cass just saw this as an opportunity to sink to the floor and envelope her in a hug.

 

"Cass!"

 

And everything was alright again.

 

Chapter Text

“Dean,” Sam says impatiently, trying to grab his attention.

 

“Mmmn?” he hums noncommittally, eyes still tracing over Aztec concepts of time. Ugh,why the frigging hell did the Men of Letters even have this stuff? He can’t see any point to it-

 

“Dean!” his brother interrupts, slapping his hand over the page he was reading. “You’ve got to stop this!”

 

“Stop what Sammy?” Dean snipes, extracting the book from Sam’s colossal mitts. He retreats to one of the leather reading chairs. Much better. Cocking an eyebrow at his little brother’s annoyed expression, he throws one leg over the other; assuming a careless pose. “Who’d’ve guessed that the great bookworm would try to stop me from reading?”

 

“I’m serious, Dean,” Sam warns, advancing on him again. “We’ve been through all of the books the Men of Letters had on every subject with even the slightest link to Cas, and we’ve come up with a whole pile of nothing. Nothing , Dean. You need to move on: Cas isn’t coming back.”

 

“Why the hell d’you think that, huh?” he growls. “Cas could be right there, just waiting for us to get him back, and you’re telling me to ‘ move on ’?”

 

“How are you so sure, Dean!?” Sam cries, clenching a fist in his hair with agitation. “What makes you so sure that he’s not dead!?”

 

“Because I saw him in a dream, okay!” Dean yells, throwing the weathered tome to the floor.

 

The lights flicker.

 

“Aw, crap,” he curses, following the sound of crying at a run. He doesn’t miss the questioning looks Sam shoots after him.

 

Turning the corner, he bursts through the thin wooden door, slowing down as he reaches the cradle.

 

“Hey there, buddy,” Dean murmurs, picking up the baby nephilim, who calms as soon as he’s in Dean’s arms. “Quiet down, alright?”

 

The first few times it happened, he’d come charging into Jack’s room, shotgun loaded and at the ready, only to find him crying fitfully with no ghosts in sight. After the fifth incident, Sam ended up going over the room with an EMF meter.

 

After the sixth, it had been a cleansing ritual.

 

Eventually, Dean connected the dots, realising it was Jack’s doing.

 

“And there we were thinking it was Kelly, you little rugrat,” he teased when they finally figured it out. Neither he or Sam mention the possibility of Cas.

 

Now though, he just strokes the baby’s head singing the first thing that comes to mind, just a jumble of nonsensical words, because he’s too tired dammit to think of anything better!

 

The past month has been especially tiring. Dean had read up on everything he could find about babies, and somehow he didn’t think, no matter how disgusting, that their dumps could burn through certain materials.

 

Nephilims, man. Ugh.

 

It had taken some trial and error before Sam had been able to work a spell that made Jack’s diapers industrial strength.

 

Time and dead nose cells.

 

Freaking babies: his favourite shirt would never be the same again!

 

Mentally, he thanked Cas for stocking up on that many diapers. If Dean hadn’t grabbed a few of the 50 ( 50 !) boxes, it could have been bye bye Impala. As it was, he and Sam had only sacrificed some of their clothes to the cause. They soon learnt not to wear anything they liked when changing Jack.

 

Speaking of Sam, it was surprisingly funny watching the sasquatch trying to deal with the small nephilim. For the first few weeks, Jack had a habit of staring directly at Sam’s chest, focusing intently on his pectorals. Eventually, Dean had discovered the truth and immediately fell about laughing: it was programmed into a baby’s head to look at a woman’s breast area, as they knew that was where their next meal would come from. With his long hair, Dean could definitely see why Jack would get confused.

 

“C’mon Samantha !” he crowed. “I’ve been telling you to cut it for years !”

 

It was even worth getting Sam’s Bitchface No27 as a reply.

 

When they originally left the house where Cas-

 

When they originally left the house, they were in too much of a hurry to pick anything up, so Jack was left with a cardboard box lined with towels. Dean went back a few days ago, since they’d been too busy to go before, to choose what to take back to the Bunker with him. He grabbed the cradle, dismantling it so it would fit in the Impala.

 

God knows why Kelly wanted the damn thing: he’s spent days on it, and it just won’t work!

 

Next to go in Baby were the clothes. Kelly had obviously planned and prepared everything Jack would need until early childhood, with everything in carefully labelled boxes stacked in a closet in regimented piles.

 

There were a few items that didn’t fit with the smart but comfortable jumpsuits and dungarees, though: an ugly-as-hell tan jacket thing with weird patterns, and a knitted, multi-coloured hat in the shape of a monkey’s head.

 

That stank of Cas alright. The little dork woulda loved that.

 

The thought of Cas struck him like a knockout blow from a prizefighter. Dean physically doubled over, clutching the soft garment to his chest as he fought back tears, great punching sobs that tried to force their way out of his chest.

 

Eventually, he stopped, and loaded the things back into the Impala, ready to go.

 

At the last minute, something stopped him, and Dean turned back, padding up the stairs to the room where, if everything had gone to plan, Jack would have grown up. He stared at the mural for a moment, snapping a photo on his phone so that the nephilim would have something from this house.

 

He shut the weary wooden door with a sense of finality: everything that they might have use of had been collected, and they had no idea what kind of paperwork there might be for the house, so there was no chance of them using it.

 

But this, this was the place where Sam and Dean’s lives had changed irreversibly. They’d gained and lost family in one fell swoop, and would now be responsible for a tiny life for the next eighteen years.

 

On the return trip, Dean peered out of the Impala’s windscreen, the light filtering through the bronzing leaves speckling the road with filigree shade. Allowing himself to sink into the kind of trance long road trips usually inspire, he lets himself imagine Cas sitting in the passenger seat.

 

He would sit stiffly, almost uncomfortable, almost not, as he would squint out at the road ahead. They would sit in silence for a while, before Cas eventually breaks the silence.

 

“Dean,” he would say, nothing more, just his name, and that would be enough for Dean.

 

“Yeah, Cas?” he would drawl in reply, not caring in the least, not at all. Cas would shift in his seat, clearly wanting to look at him, but his gaze would remain fixed on the road.

 

“I’m sorry,” he would begin haltingly, twitching as he would struggle to find the words. “I- I never meant to leave you. You know that, don’t you Dean?”

 

But even in his imagining, Dean can never make Cas say the words that he desperately wants to hear.

 

I’m sorry.

 

I need you.

 

I’m coming home.

 

He shakes himself out of his fantasy and focuses on the road home.

 

A few days later, he suggests the idea of recreating the mural to Sam. The great dork loves the idea, and immediately sets to ordering all the things he would need.

 

When Dean looks at him in surprise, Sam sheepishly admits to taking a few extra credit art classes back at college.

 

But they come in useful, because a week and a bit later, Sam has almost completely mimicked the painting on Jack’s bedroom wall. He even paints a cartoon-esque version of Dean and himself standing beneath the tree.

 

The leaves were Dean’s favourite part to do. Sam roped in his help for them, liberally coating his hands with paint before instructing him to slap them onto the wall. It felt a little bit childish at first, but he had to admit watching the foliage build up beneath their hands in varying shades of green made him grin like a small boy.

 

They even managed to get Jack to press a few onto the wall. The little nephilim had been staring up at their work in wonder, and eventually Sam managed to persuade him to let Jack have a go. He was actually more interested in trying to eat the paint, but Sam caught a few candid photos of Dean grinning as he pressed the baby’s hands to the wall gently as Jack gazed at them with amazement, face smeared with the bright green pigment.

 

Eventually, it’s almost complete, and that night Dean walks Jack around his newly decorated room, singing Hey Jude to him softly.

 

On his third rendition of the song, a shiver goes down his spine, almost as if someone is watching them. He stiffens, looking around for the presence. It feels familiar, almost like…

 

“Cas?”

 

And then it’s gone.

 

Trying and failing to shake it off, he lays Jack down in the temporary, towl-filled cradle and sets about trying to sleep on the overstuffed second-hand sofa he’d found while trawling Kelly’s house.

 

The next morning, Dean cracks his eyes open wearily, blinking at the dimly lit room. He draws himself up, stretching with a grimace at every pop of joints, and makes for the corridor: anxious for his early morning coffee.

 

Something- the nagging sensation of something not quite right- pings at the back of his brain, and he pivots in the doorway; stari ng back into the room.

 

Son of a bitch ,” he breathes, before calling over his shoulder, “Sammy! Did you do this?”

 

On the half-finished mural, illuminated by the light pouring from the open door, beneath the squiggly foliage of the painted tree is a new addition.

 

Standing between the cartoon-like depictions of Sam and himself is a stunningly lifelike angel.

 

Castiel.



Chapter Text

Cass spent the train ride back to King's Cross in a compartment with his friends. He needed help moving around the train, his limbs and body weak from the prolonged starvation he put it through, and the loud shrieking of students as they passed by still caused him to flinch, but these problems were lesser than what he expected, for the help his friends offer him.

 

But as the open countryside grew into the suburbs of London, Cass found himself overcome with shivers, trembles that wracked his body and paled his face. Hermione noticed his shortness of breath and helpless fear, and reached for his hand.

 

"Don't worry, Cass," she reassured him. "You'll be fine. I'll make sure of it."

 

He nodded, not trusting his mouth, and the train pulled to a stop.

 

They piled out of the carriage, and he looked around, both wanting to find and not wanting to see-

 

"Cassiopeia," Pleiades greeted, as he clamped his long hand on Cass' shoulder, a pale imitation of the reunions that he saw mimicked all around them. "I see you did not listen to our advice."

 

"T-the other compartments were all full, Father," he rasped around a leaden tongue. "They were the last people I asked."

 

The reptilian eyes narrowed, and Cass felt his heart leap into his throat.

 

"And the first, I gather?"

 

"Come, dear," Bronagh interjected. "We must be getting home: we wouldn't want any of Cassiopeia's dear friends to be late."

 

The monster confined in human skin appeared to be appeased by that, and turned, half-dragging Cass with him.

 

"And we  must  be getting home."

 

 

The first thing they did when they reached the mausoleum that Cass refused to call his home was throw him in his room.

 

"I think a few days fasting, to drive in the message," Pleiades said, winking he slammed the heavy wooden door behind him. "Think upon your sins, dear son."

 

Cass heard the clicking of locks behind him and sat quietly in the silence for a few minutes.

 

It was late by this time, for Bronagh had been to various appointments on their way, and Pleiades had desired to keep them in public for as long as possible; projecting the perfect image to the all-seeing eyes.

 

Once he had catalogued the sounds of the house winding their way into silence, Cass rose from his bed quietly. He took out his wand from a hidden compartment in his trunk: the fake, taken by his captors, was a mere ruse that Hermione had enchanted. Then, tool in hand, Cass set to work, shrinking his trunk and a few other belongings that he could not bear to leave behind, and stuffed them inside his infinite bag. He made a detour to his wardrobe: removed the fake panel from the back and retrieved a substantial stash of money. Dressed in his darkest clothes, Cass slung the bag over his shoulder, slid open the window, grimacing at the creaking, and flew out the window on his broom.

 

He left the place he could no longer call home with all of his worldly possessions on his back.

 

A few hours later, bleary-eyed from too long spent flying against the wind, Cass finally allowed himself to swoop lower, homing in on a small house at the end of a dirt track. He flew close to the ground, the low hedges that rose on either side guiding him like railway-tracks. Finally, he dismounted a few steps from the faded door, and rapped on it, looking around. Hearing steps coming closer, he stepped back, and it swung open, a rumpled man in muggle clothes standing in the doorway.

 

"Cass Black, isn't it?" he said, extending a hand. "I'm Mr Granger. Please come in, Hermione said you'd be coming to stay."

 

 

The Granger household was situated on the crossroads between four fields. They did not own the house, merely rented it from a local farmer, as Hermione explains. The dental practice where her parents worked was closed the summer before their first year, and they had little money until they moved out of London for their new jobs.

 

"It's actually a lot nicer," she said the next morning, as they sipped lemonade in a patch of shadow while in the small garden at the back of the property. "In London, it was really loud, and Mum and Dad didn't always feel it was safe enough to be outside alone, so when we moved out here, I suppose it was a blessing in disguise."

 

She turned a page of her book, swinging her legs back and forth above her head, as she lazed on her stomach.

 

"I like it anyway," Hermione carried on. "Much more green things. The garden's about the same size, but there are fields as far as the eye can see."

 

Indeed there were: Cass could look out a window in any direction, and there were fields, filled with swaying, heavy heads of wheat, blending into one golden sea and separated only by the distant line of the road. For the most part, it was quiet, but occasionally, a car buzzed past, only adding to the chittering of insects and birds.

 

This place was peace indeed.

 

Over the course of the next few weeks, Cass recovered; gradually building strength that had been lost in his months of near-starvation, and developing a healthier color from the bike rides and walks to the nearby town for library books they shared together. He read while perched in the crooks of trees that Hermione taught him to climb, and in the cool of the evenings, when no one else was around, Cass took to the air, and eventually persuaded an almost hysterical Hermione to lose her fear of flying. Eventually, she was competent and confident enough to race him down the dirt track: him on the bicycle and her on the broom.

 

Hermione's birthday happened during the school term, so when they celebrated it a week earlier, Cass was included too.

 

It was a small occasion, just them, a cake and a modest pile of presents, but the atmosphere was a kind and cosy one. When it was Cass' turn to hand his to her, she took it with a smile that stunned him.

 

The Grangers had taken him into Diagon Alley with them when the Hogwarts letters had arrived, and when Hermione was occupied with measurements for new robes (having shot up a few inches the year before), Cass again entered the dusty and cramped interior of the  Midas & Sons' Curiosity Shoppe.

 

There, he purchased a flat case, about the size of shoe-box. It was made from a dark wood, with strange gold runes curled around the corners.

 

When Hermione looked at him in confusion, he explained.

 

"It's a more refined version of the infinite bookcase," Cass started, taking her hand. "You place your hand, like so, on the lid, and thinking of the book you need, open it. If it's a book you've already put in, it will be there."

 

And, doing exactly that, he opened the lid, and right there waiting for them was a brand new leather-bound book.

 

"I thought it might help with Care of Magical Creatures," he said shyly.

 

"' H. P. Lovecraft's Guide to Creatures Obscure and Terrible' "   Hermione read the gold-embossed letters. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

 

She hugged him tightly, and he felt a steady glow rekindle itself in his chest.

 

"Anything for you, Hermione."

 

By the time they returned to King's Cross Station, he was a healthy shade of tan, teeth shining like pearls out of his sun-kissed face. They made a fine pair; his bronze skin finely complimented her hickory shade. Gabriel hooted happily at Crookshanks, the surly, ginger half-kneazle bought with Hermione's birthday money, as they pushed their trolleys through the barrier. Unfortunately, they arrived too late to get a compartment to themselves, but in the last carriage, they found one occupied by a lone sleeping man. Seeing no other options, the two slipped inside, starting a quiet conversation.

 

Finally, the train pulled away from the station, leaving Cass the safest he'd felt since fleeing to the Grangers'.

 

Before long, they were joined by Harry and Ron.

 

As it turned out, the reason that Ron has turned into a freckle-monster is because the Weasleys had spent the summer in Egypt, courtesy of a cash prize. The red-headed boy spent until they were almost out of London describing their exploits in great detail.

 

Harry raised his voice a little, pitching in about how they'd met in Diagon Alley, a while after he'd had to leave his relatives' house.

 

"Why did you have to leave?" Hermione asked curiously. Harry looked away sheepishly.

 

"Uh, I might have blown up my aunt?" he replied, the answer coming out as a question.

 

Unfortunately, Cass had just been about to swallow a mouthful of pumpkin pasty, and choked at what the other boy said. While Hermione was busy trying to dislodge the food, the Boy-Who-Blundered hurriedly explained.

 

"Not like an explosion!" he spluttered. "Like a balloon! A balloon!"

 

Ron was too busy cackling to be of any assistance, but the added noise made the sleeping man grunt and shift in his stupor. Instantly, they quietened down, and Ron whispered to Hermione.

 

"Who's he?"

 

"R. L. Lupin," she said.

 

"How d'you know that?" he asked incredulously. Hermione sighed.

 

"It's written on his trunk, Ron."

 

They lapsed into silence for a few moments, before resuming conversation. After a while, they became brave enough to start a game of Old Warlock.

 

The time passed, but suddenly, the train pulled to a halt.

 

"Why's the train stopping?" Ron asked, peering out of the window to the dark world outside.

 

"It's not Hogwarts yet," Harry said. "What's going on?"

 

The lights went out, plunging them into near-darkness.

 

"That's not good," Cass whispered, feeling dread rise in his gut. He stood slowly, and walked to the door cautiously.

 

And then a cold presence was sliding it open with its corpse-like hand and-

 

Laughing, cackling, evil voices, evil presences, evil  things  inside his mind, his body, choking on the black, living tar, whispering such dark things, telling him what they, what  he   is going to do, how he is going to help them. Living tendrils invading his lungs, his stomach, pumping his blood vessels full of dark, malevolent, disgusting things, that are ALIVE .

 

The light was disappearing above him, and he reached for it desperately, wanting to see his brothers again, hoping against hope that they will not do to his friends as they did to him. They mustn't, he will not let them.

 

Cannot hurt Sam, Dean.

 

Must protect them. Don't hurt them.

 

But he heard their pleading, heart-wrenching screams all the same.

 

And they cursed him. His name, him, him, always him, he could not save them.

 

Sam!

 

Dean!

 

SAM!

 

DEAN!

 

"Expecto patronum !" a hoarse voice shouted, and suddenly, he could BREATHE!

 

Cass sat up, choking, gasping, sucking deep lungfuls of clean, fresh air.

 

Someone placed a hand on his shoulder, and before he knew it, he was crouching in the corner, one hand curled protectively around his head, the other brandishing his wand at any potential threat.

 

From the shocked gazes of Hermione and his friends, Cass realised they didn't expect that either.

 

Cautiously, he stood, surveying the cramped compartment. Harry was slumped on the floor, and Ron was huddled by the window.

 

"Wha-What happened?" he rasped. "Why is Harry like that?"

 

"He is like that because he had a severe reaction to a dementor," said a new voice. It is R. L. Lupin, awake, and returning to the small compartment. "You did as well, judging by your screaming."

 

"What!?"

 

"Oh, don't worry about it, Black," Lupin replied, rummaging around in his pockets. "Perfectly normal in people who have experienced trauma. Now, chocolate, eat this; it'll make you feel better."

 

Warily, Cass took the proffered bar from his hands, and unwrapped it carefully. Nibbling a small section off, he swallowed the rich chocolate, feeling it warm him almost immediately.

 


Lupin smiled, and grabbed his arm, hauling him to his feet.



"Better, isn't it?" he said, brushing dust off Cass' shoulders. His hands lingered for a moment, and the man's expression turned distant. Cass was just about to comment, when Lupin snapped back to himself, and stood back. "Now, we should be arriving at Hogwarts soon."



Indeed they were. The train pulled up at Hogsmeade Station to buckets of pouring rain, and the group hurried out to the carriages.



Only Hermione and Cass had the knowledge to cast the umbrella charm, so by the time they were all ensconced in the warm carriage, both Ron and Harry were completely soaked.



When they reached the castle, the four were greeted by Professor McGonagall on the steps, somehow quite dry despite the apparent lack of umbrella or conjured shelter.



"Mr Potter, Mr Black, Miss Granger!" she barked once they are within earshot. "Come with me!"



They exchanged uneasy looks, and walked over. Ron cast a glance back as he headed into the Hall.



"We're not in any trouble, are we Professor?" Hermione asked nervously, wringing her hands. "We only just got off the train!"



"No, Miss Granger," McGonagall said brusquely, marching on ahead of them. "Quite the contrary."



She directed them into an office, and as soon as Cass stepped through the low stone archway, he was enveloped in a warm hug.


He stiffened at first, then registered the fragrance of fresh linen and the distinctive pine antiseptic used by the Hospital Wing, and relaxed.



"Hello, Mr Black," Poppy Pomfrey whispered, before releasing him and checking him over. "You're looking healthy, I hope your Summer went well."



He nodded, feeling a smile threatening to break through, and let it.



"I stayed at Hermione's house for the holidays."


She smiled warmly at him, and chucked him under the chin.



"Well, I'm glad to see you're alright: I was very worried about you."



"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey," Cass replied, and stepped forward into another hug.



When they let go again, she immediately turned to Harry and took out her wand.



"Now, Professor Lupin tells me you had a nasty run-in with a dementor on the train. I told Albus those things shouldn't be allowed on school grounds, but it was at the Minister's insistence," Madam Pomfrey grumbled. "There, everything reading as normal. Rest up and eat lots of chocolate: doctor's orders."



"Why would the Minister insist on having the dementors here?" Hermione asked curiously.



"Do you mean to say you don't know?" McGonagall snapped, gripping the edge of her desk. "It's been all over the muggle news!"



"With all due respect, Professor," she replied timidly. "Our telly's been on the blink for weeks."



"The reason the dementors are here is to defend us from a terrifying mass murderer: Sirius Black has escaped from Azakaban Prison."



"You must be careful this year, Mr Black," Madam Pomfrey warned him. "You'll be under extra scrutiny this term, too."


"Why?" Harry asked, confused. "They share the same last name, what's that got to do with anything?"



"Because we don't just share the same last name, Harry," Cass explained, his heart sinking. "Sirius Black is my uncle."



"Mr Potter, that is all we needed you for," McGonagall interrupted. "Please go and enjoy the rest of the Feast."



Once he had left, the Head of Gryffindor returned to her desk, and produced an envelope, motioning at them to sit.



"Now, the amount of options the two of you put on your forms isn't normally allowed, but given the promise shown in the two of you, the Ministry made a special case."



Intrigued, Cass and Hermione leaned forward in their chairs.



"What do you mean, Professor?" he asked, interest sparked.



"Well, nine is the average number of OWLs a student takes. You two are taking four more than that. If it wasn't for your intellect, the school would've made you drop those extra subjects, but since this is such a special case, the Ministry is letting us have a new technology just for the two of you: Timeturners."



She passed the strange contraptions to them. Cass examined his.



There were three rings around a small hourglass in the centre, made of delicate glass, which, upon closer observation appeared to have dust that moved in all directions at once. The sturdy, burnished-gold rings had odd runes at intervals for time, change, eternity and inevitability. It reminded him of the diagrams of atoms he had found in a muggle textbook at Hermione's house over the Summer.



"The innermost ring is for minutes, the middle for hours, and the outer for days. Since you will only be using these for lessons, I trust you will not be trying the day ring any time soon. Now that you've had your briefing, why don't you use your first shift going to the Feast?"



Hermione and Cass shared a look. They took their Timeturners, and thanking Professor Mcgonagall, left the office.



In the quiet hallway, Cass turned to his best friend, and smiled.


"Ready? We'll need to go back about twenty minutes if we want to get in a little bit after Harry."



Together, they fumble with the devices.



"1,2,3!"



It was amazing, standing inside the spinning vortex and watching time rewind itself: the square of light, shining in through the window, tracking back up the wall.



They made it into the Hall, just in time to see the last First-Years get sorted. Hermione slid into her seat across from Harry, and as Cass sat down at the Hufflepuff table, he heard them talking.

 

" What was that about, Hermione ?"

 

" Oh, just time management ."

 

 

Cass enjoyed his new classes: they pushed him more than the ones he'd had the previous few years, and the teachers were always eager to give him extra help and work, whichever one he needed more.

 

He knew he surprised a lot of people by taking almost as many subjects as the Gryffindor Princess herself. Many people underestimated the serious Hufflepuff, some (his parents, for example) went as far as to put him down for all his perceived failures, simply because they thought he was just another quidditch-obsessed idiot, never noticing his quiet successes. Nevertheless, it was actually Hermione who persuaded him to take as many as he wanted, encouraging him when she saw the parental abuse he experienced, and pushing him because she knew that his marks were almost as good as hers. Even when he no longer believed; when the whispering voices that came with the dementors refused to go away.

 

Little Cass Black was not so little anymore, and he refused to let anyone see him that way.

 

Hermione and he had worked out a timetable for shifts, as they had come to call their uses of the Timeturners; they had the first two lessons as normal, then used them at the end of break to go back to the start. Then it's break again, which they spent meditating or doing homework, before attending the next couple of lessons, with another shift back to the end of break once they finish lunch. One lesson, then a free period for studying or rest- whichever one was more appropriate at the time- before having the rest of their day as usual. They decided that repeating Saturday for recuperation and getting ahead on schoolwork was the best idea.

 

At their first Ancient Runes lesson, Cass stayed behind after the end to talk to the professor.

 

Professor Babbling was a slight creature: a waif-like teacher whose tightly-pulled-back hair had a habit of escaping in wisps around her face. This, along with her wafty robes, gave the appearance of a wraith. She was an excellent and entertaining professor, precise and to the point with her explanations of various runes, but certainly earned her name when it cames to going off on tangents about the American bastardisation of the English language.

 

He had been a bit worried for a while, wondering if she was being genuinely prejudiced, only to be reassured when a fellow Hufflepuff informed him that her wife was educated and a part-time lecturer on Ley Lines at Ilvermorny. She didn't actually mean it, and was only venting a pet peeve.

 

After the rest of the students trickled out, Cass rose from his seat, and approached her desk.

 

"Is there anything I can help you with, Mr Black?" she said absently, not looking up from the loose rolls of parchment scattered all over her desk.

 

"Yes, Professor," he answered, and placed his wand on top of the sturdy wooden surface. "I was wondering if you might help me identify these runes?"

 

Babbling's eyes widened as she picked up the wand, examining the etchings on the wood.

 

"My, my, boy," she breathed."I haven't seen Enochian in a  very  long time."

 

"Can you translate them?"

 

"No, not me," Babbling answered, handing it back over. "The language itself is nothing more than an academic curiosity created Dr John Dee: a prominent wizard at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. He was even her Court Magician. I never studied the language myself, I always thought it wasn't applicable to magic, but if it's on your wand, then I'll be damned: there's some use for it after all."

 

"So you can't help?"

 

"Did I say that? No; you can think of this as a task for extra credit. I know there are some books on theoretical runic languages in the Library, why don't you see what you can find?"

 

With a smile, she ushered him out of her classroom, and he continued his day.

 

By the time the end of the day came around, and Defense Against the Dark Arts was the last thing in his schedule, Cass was two Shifts in and exhausted, wanting nothing more to do with his homework, only  and have a nap before Astronomy.

 

Maybe his lack of sleep would explain his behaviour in the class...

 

He watched for a few minutes as his fellow students attacked their worst fears successfully, observing their reactions and determination to win.

 

Then it was his turn and the boggart was upon him and it was-

 

The man from the mirror spread his arms wide, and smiled a predator's grin beneath pitch-black eyes. He flipped the jawbone knife, drawing attention to the strange mark on his arm, and sauntered forward.

 

"What? No words for your best buddy?" the monster before him drawled. Cass' throat closed up in fear.

 

He took another step forward, and he was-

 

A sad woman with bright blue eyes. Her shoulder length hair was ruffled like his, but when she opened her mouth, viscous blood flowed from it.

 

"You  killed  me, brother."

 

Ashen wings flared behind her, and she took another step forward, and she was-

 

A blond-haired man in a V-neck. He stared into Cass' eyes and repeated that cursed line:

 

"You  killed  me, brother."

 

Another step, another person, that same  damned  sentence,  over  and over again. Countless faces and forms, some that could not even be described as human, all repeated that  stamp  of guilt. Finally, he was backed up against the wall, wand clutched in hand, and an auburn-haired woman loomed over him.

 

"Don't worry, Castiel," she said, raising a silver drill. "I'm going to  fix  you."

 

Somehow, he found the willpower to bring up his wand and shout:

 

" Riddikulus !"

 

The creature spun away and turned to face him again. This time it wore the guise of his older self from the mirror, but horrible, wrong, drenched in water.

 

"You're gonna have to try harder than that, Cassie!" it laughed, black liquid leaking from every orifice, taking squelching steps towards him. Something within Cass broke.

 

" Riddikulus Riddikulus Riddikulus !" he yelled in its face, forcing the boggart back with every crack of his wand.

 

Finally, it fell, twisting in shape to that of a honey-haired man, sucking a lollipop; another one of the mirror people.

 

"Hey, little bro, good to see ya," he smirked, before sobering and looking him right in the eye. "Remember what I said; look after that fish, alright?"

 

And then he was gone, changed into the biggest fear of another person.

 

When he turned to his friends, shaking with adrenaline and fear, he found them looking at him with confusion and fear.

 

"Cass," Hermione started gently, but he could see the underlying current of unease thrumming through her body. "Who were those people?"

 

"I don't know," he answered dully.

 

"Why did they keep accusing you of killing them?" Ron demanded.

 

"I don't know."

 

" Riddikulu s!" Lupin called, banishing the orb-shaped boggart into a white balloon, destroying it once and for all. Cass noted the strangeness that a person might be afraid of the moon, and mentally jotted it down for later. "Well done, everyone! Class dismissed for today!"

 

As Cass turned to go, he hears the professor calling after him.

 

"Mr Black! A word, please!"

 

Reluctantly, he walked over to Lupin. The man gripped his shoulder tightly, and a moment later, they're in his office.

 

"Whoa!" he gasped. "How did you do that!? Apparating in Hogwarts is impossible!"

 

Lupin smiled sheepishly.

 

"Not if you're keyed into the castle's magical signature. A, uh...  Runes  project from when I was a student. Besides, it's only within the castle itself, not in and out," he conceded, before moving on to his point. "Now, Mr Black, I called you back, because frankly, I have  never  seen anyone with such a severe reaction to a dementor. If you would like, I can teach you a spell to repel them. It is fairly advanced magic, but your teachers tell me you should be capable of such things."

 

"I would like to know, sir," Cass replied, perking up until he wrinkled his brow in confusion. "Are you not going to ask me about my boggart?"

 

Lupin smiled down at his scarred hands sadly, before glancing at a photo on his desk. Cass couldn't see the face from where he's standing.

 

"Sometimes I find it's better not to know. Now, I’ll not keep you any longer. Go and enjoy the evening."

 

And with that he motioned for Cass to leave.

 

 

Over the next few weeks, Cass thrived. Sometimes, it felt like he was drowning in classes, but somehow he managed to use the pressure to excel.

 

Even Quidditch was better, which he didn't think was possible. But this year, there was no wool over his eyes, and the veil that clouded and dampened every emotion had been lifted. His skills as a Seeker improved, which, as a crowing McAvoy yelled, wasn’t even thought to be possible.

 

There was something about flying after the glinting little ball, that reflected the light and just made it shine, that felt  right  to him. Almost as if this was his duty. Almost as if it were a person. Almost as if he  knew  it.

 

Flitwick personally hunted him down for the Frog Choir: he wasn't going to miss filling the slot for the bass they so desperately need when it had been empty for so long. Surprisingly, Cass did well. It felt right singing together, the same rightness he felt when flying, and he had an aptitude for calming down the toads when they got stage-fright, so that helped of course. 

 

He kept up with coursework and homework easily, thanks to  the Timeturner. While in some of his classes, Cass found the work a little tricky at times, in Ancient Runes the knowledge just seemed to flow out of him, like a never-ending stream. He'd always been good at whatever language that he tried. It felt  right . Almost as if he'd known them all his life.

 

In Magical Art, he was pleasantly surprised by the theory and mathematics involved. Cass had originally convinced Hermione to take it with him for the non-academic factor, but was amazed by the sheer precision and thought that it involved. Not only did students have to get the proportions right to the millimetre, using formulae and ratios not unheard of in Arithmancy, they also had to have a large knowledge of the plants and elements in the paint they used to invoke the gestures and idiosyncrasies of their subjects . Different substances had different properties, Professor Daubermann explained: ochre may be perfect for a portrait with implied or explicit violence, but not for the study of an innocent child. Cass loved the sheer difficulty of it sometimes, but always found himself coming back to the same subject every time they had a free painting homework: luminescent wings, always slightly different, but amazingly beautiful in their complexity. At first, his attempts at the animation spells left them either moving sluggishly or jerking unnaturally. In time, though, the slowly flapping wings started to run like silk, and there was a quiet grace to them. Daubermann looked them over with awe, and offered to find buyers for the series. Cass considered this, and allowed the professor to do so; knowing he will need the money if his parents went through with their threat and disinherited him.

 

He always kept some paintings to himself; the ones of balls of light, swirling and mysterious. Cass felt foolish for thinking it, but every time he tried to show Daubermann, a small possessive part of himself told him to keep them private.

 

His sessions with Lupin went well, too. The wan professor met him every Saturday evening to practice the Patronus spell with him. At first, Cass perspired and gritted his teeth every time he attempted to cast it, until Lupin stopped him.

 

"You are trying too hard," the tired professor explained. "The happiness of the memory will not flow through your wand if you force it. Think of it lightly: don't squash it with desperation."

 

So Cass did.

 

At first, he tried to use his first meeting with Hermione. This memory was happy, but also tinged with the fear he felt that first morning, so he tried another. The next one he tried was when he found the strange mirror with the people inside. However, this one was marred with the terror of the boggart lesson, and stained with longing for something he didn't know he wanted. Jumping from recollection to recollection, Cass came across the memory of when he saw Hermione's house, like a beacon in the night, all those weeks ago. That particular image, of a light in the dark, a hope fighting against the fear and horror, resonated deep within him, and he clutched the memory with a passion.

 

This time, when he tried the spell, it  worked ! A wave of euphoria rolled through Cass with that memory, and out of the wand camer a little silvery-white bee. It buzzes around his head, and he laughed, only petering out when he remembered why he went in the first place. The small flying patronus flickers and died, and Lupin smiled in approval at the short but successful display.

 

"Good!" he cheered. "Now, Black, try again, just with a little more energy."

 

So he did, this time focusing on the phrase ' a light in the darkness ', and a great surge of feeling surged through his veins, lighting up every synapse in his brain and leaving sparks in its wake. A bright, shining sword erupted from his wand, the handle where his hand was, the blade an awesome thing of deadly beauty: needle-like and sharp as the most cutting of words.

 

Lupin stared at it with a gobsmacked expression.

 

"Well," he said, clearing his throat and attempting some display of normalcy. " That's  never happened before."

 

"Really, sir?" Cass asked, swishing the blade in figures-of-eights idly. He raised an eyebrow. "What does yours look like then?"

 

A grin twitched on the professor's face. He muttered the spell, and a large wolf trottedout of the wand, cantering around their heads. Cass couldn't help but smile in return. Lupin looked at him wistfully.

 

"You know, Black," he said to him."You look almost exactly like your uncle sometimes."

 

"It's all the inbreeding, sir," Cass replied automatically, wringing a surprised laugh out of Lupin. He hesitated for a moment before asking, "Did you know him at school?"

 

Lupin looked down sadly, and the wolf faded slightly.

 

"We were in the same year," he said quietly, gaze flicking once again to the photo on his desk. "I knew him distantly. Worked on a few projects together. Always seemed like such a nice person. He was a bit of a prat, but you know teenage boys. An genius prankster who would have given the Weasley Twins a run for their money."

 

"I see, sir," Cass murmured.

 

"Can't help but feel sad for the wasted potential, you know?" Lupin said, turning away, and the wolf flickered out completely. "I think it's time for you to be heading to bed, don't you Black?"

 

Cass nodded his assent and made his way back to his dormitory.

 

He didn't speak of the encounter to his friends.

 

Chapter Text

On Halloween, their session was cancelled. Cass didn't think much of it, assuming the professor had taken the day off for the holiday.

 

There was a Hogsmeade trip, but since he'd been too busy hiding out at Hermione's the previous Summer, Cass didn’t have a signed slip. It didn't particularly bother him, but he couldn't help the blip of loneliness that he felt upon seeing Ron and Hermione walking away together.

 

Cass spent the day researching the runes on his wand, and adding notes on anything interesting he found. A passage concerning werewolves caught his attention, and he scribbled down the title for future reference.

 

By the time his friends returned, the ache in his chest had lessened somewhat, but when he laid eyes on the cold-reddened cheeks and bright eyes of his best friend, Cass was shocked by the double-time of his heart beat.

 

"Hello Hermione," he greeted her, overcome by an uncharacteristic shyness. She pulled him into a hug, and he clung to her briefly, before they disentangled themselves. Grinning, she rummaged in her bag for a moment, before pulling out a package.

 

"I noticed you were running a bit low on that special Moonstone paint you like," Hermione said, smiling as she presented it to him. "I thought you might want some more if you're going to continue with those wings Professor Daubermann is always harping on about."

 

He took it from her hands reverently.

 

"Thank you," he said sincerely, meaning it with every fibre of his being.

 

"It's just paint, Cass," she replied, chuckling.

 

But it wasn’t. When Cass said thank you to her, he meant it for every time she had ever stood up for him, or helped him with anything, or saved him from his own self.

 

Later that night, when sitting at the Gryffindor table with them for the Feast, Cass found his eyes straying to Hermione, whether it was her hair, her eyes, or her hands as she gesticulated wildly to demonstrate her point.

 

Afterwards, the Hufflepuffs were only just safely ensconced in their common room, when Professor Sprout came tearing in, commanding them in her strong voice to go to follow her to the Great Hall. Students whispered among themselves, wondering for what reason they've been moved. Then, one pupil muttered that it must have been Sirius Black, and soon all the voices were rising in hysteria over pure speculation. Cass barely restrained himself when it came to making biting comments.

 

When they arrived in the Hall, he immediately ran over to his friends.

 

"Do you know why we're down here?" Cass demanded, searching their stricken faces. "Because it takes one idiot saying there's a mass-murderer running around before that's all people will believe!"

 

"Cass," Hermione whispered, placing a hand on his arm. "It  is  Sirius Black."



He jerked back.


"What!?"

 

"He slashed up the Fat Lady's portrait!" Ron said, nodding frantically. His shock of scarlet hair was a great contrast from his pale-as-milk skin. "She won't come back!"



"My uncle-  my psychopathic killer of an uncle - is in the castle, right now, and you think that a  portrait  is more important that the people he's targeting?" Cass said disbelievingly.



"What?" Ron asked, bewildered.



"He means me, Ron," Harry murmured, looking down. "Me and Cass. Black is after us."



They quieted down after that, and soon Dumbledore arrived to direct the setting out of sleeping bags and told them to go to sleep.

 

 

Soon, the Gryffindor Vs. Hufflepuff Quidditch match was upon them, and Cass was looking forward to this one in particular. They hadn't been able to play the previous year, due to Hermione's petrification, so he and Harry ribbed each other in a friendly manner.

 

The rain was thundering on the roof above them, as McAvoy gave them their pre-match speech.

 

"Alright, guys!" he roared, clapping his hands together. "Time to show those lions what for! What are they!?"

 

"Measly housecats," the team mumbled back. Cass wondered if their captain was consciously trying to emulate the Gryffindors they were about to face.

 

"WHAT ARE THEY!?"

 

"MEASLY HOUSECATS!" the assorted players yelled back, rejuvenated by McAvoy's infectious enthusiasm. He whooped, and whipped out his wand.

 

The entire team took a step back.

 

"Uh, Andy?" Helen Davis asked nervously. "What are you doing?"

 

"Just a little something to help,  I   promise ."

 

"Yeah, remember that time you tried to cast Cheering Charms on us and ended up giving us uncontrollable sneezing?" Archie Blischen said, in a voice much higher than his usual register. "I thought Malfoy was going to fall out the air laughing. Morale, my  arse ."

 

"The only reason we won that match was 'cause Cedric bonked his head on the damned Snitch; thought he was gonna get concussion!"

 

"Don't worry, everyone!" McAvoy shouted over the top of the grumbling. "It's only an Impervius Charm!"

 

There was a rush for the door.

 

"Even getting wet is better than your shoddy spellwork!" an unidentified beater shrieked back.

 

"EVERYONE, SHUT UP!" Cass yelled, going red in the face. When the team turned to look at him, he spreads his arms placatingly. Calmer now, he continued, "I think we can all agree that there is nothing worse than a spell gone wrong, McAvoy's especially. However, I have a compromise: why don't I do it instead?"

 

Grudgingly, the players agreed, and allowed themselves to be given the protection the spell offered. The more resourceful of them put the charms on their goggles, and soon everyone was kitted up.

 

Once they got up, it was clear who had the advantage: the Gryffindor team had no protection whatsoever, and it affected their playing, making them sloppier. In contrast, the Hufflepuffs scored goal after goal, their morale and energy boosted by their opponents failures.

 

The second half was where it all changed.

 

Harry spotted the Snitch, and they both flew for it: Cass was on his tail and closing in. Then, all sound vanished, like a blanket had been thrown over the pitch: muted by an invisible force. He looked down, and staring back up with their eyeless faces were the dementors. Cass sucked in a breath, and climbed higher and higher, trying to escape the tendrils of grief and fear that followed him up.

 

"Harry!" he screamed, trying to attract his friend’s attention. "Harry!"

 

But there was a limit to how far they could go, and suddenly, Cass was overcome by cloying helplessness. He drew his wand, and tried to summon his patronus, but it flickered and died. Feeling the desperation rising in his throat, Cass focused on the magical phrase:

 

A light in the darkness.

 

A light in the darkness.

 

A light in the dark-

 

The shining sword burst into light, just as Harry fell and plummeted. Cass grasped his arm, keeping a tight hold on him, but the weight was too much, and they sank. He looked down at the quickly approaching dementors, and panicked, his glowing weapon of light fading and flickering.

 

They fell, and Cass was pulled into unconsciousness, seeing only another bright light as his vision failed.

 

∞ 

 

Dark things whispered impossible truths in his ears.

 

"Cas?" the mirror man- Dean- gasped, running over to him. They were in a strange place again: a plain where things drifted into and out of shapes. He grasped Cass' shoulder, and hugged him close, before sinking down to his level. "Buddy, we're so worried! You gotta tell us where you are!"

 

"You again," Cass murmured, drawing his head closer, scrutinizing the other man's face. "Who are you?"

 

"I'm Dean," he said staring into his eyes. He stated it as if unsure of it himself. "I-I'm your best friend."

 

"Why should it matter?" Cass mumbled, turning away again. "I'll just forget you as soon as I wake up."

 

A hand jerked him round again.

 

"What!?" Dean pleaded, gripping Cass' arms tightly. "Tell me where you are, please Cas! We gotta get you home, c'mon man!"

 

"Why am I afraid of you?" he replied, running his fingers over Dean's exposed forearm. "When Professor Lupin showed me the boggart, it had your form. But its eyes were...  Black , and it had a strange mark on its arm. You don't have that, Dean. Why not?"

He almost missed the quick intake of breath.

 

"There were other people too, Dean. They told me I killed them," Cass continued conversationally, before looking up at the other man. "Am I a killer, Dean? Why did I see them? I don't know who they are..."

 

Dean's eyes were filled with pity and other emotions that Cass did not understand.

 

"Cas-"

 

 

Gasping, he jerked awake, looking around wildly. There was something missing, he knew that instinctively, but what?

 

"Cass!" Hermione breathed, running over to him. She had been sitting by another bedside, with a shock of black hair poking out onto the pillow, and Cass couldn't help the brief surge of jealousy he felt. "Are you alright?"

 

"Why am I here?" he asked, running through his list of pains mentally before he realised. "The dementors! Harry, is he alright!?"

 

She smiled in relief.

 

"Yes, you too. You know, it's thanks to you that the two of you didn't fall to your deaths. What was that spell you did that drove the dementors away? Professor Dumbledore did the same when you fell the last few feet, but yours looked different..."

Cass twitched his lips in an approximation of a smile.

 

"It's called a patronus," he explained. "Professor Lupin taught me how to do it. The spell is supposed to form as an animal, but mine manifests as a sword sometimes. He doesn't know why."

 

"Well, I'm glad you did it," she replied. "Otherwise you two would be splattered across the pitch."

 

Harry stirred across the room from them.

 

"Guys?" he mumbled. "What's going on?"

 

"Apparently I just saved you life," Cass said, winking.

 

The other boy blinked in confusion.

 

"Uh, thanks, I guess?"

 

He immediately resolved to never wink again.

 

Suddenly, the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff teams surged into the Hospital Wing, arguing loudly.

 

"We're having a rematch," McAvoy snapped, stabbing a finger at Oliver Wood.

 

"Andy, mate," Wood countered. "This way, we both have an equal chance at winning the Cup, okay?"

 

Cass leaned over to Katie Bell, who was the closest Gryffindor.

 

"I thought your captain was obsessed with winning the damn thing," he said. "What's he doing?"

 

"Yeah, he does want it. He's just also obsessed with appeasing his boyfriend!" she huffed, before uncrossing her arms and whispering to him, "Thanks for saving our Seeker, anyway. We need him."

 

Across from them, the players had just hefted the splinters of Harry's broom onto the bed. Even from where he was, Cass could almost sense the grief the other boy was feeling.

 

"Hey," he said, a thought occurring to him. "What happened to my broom?"

 

One of the miscellaneous players tossed his broom into his arms.

 

"You're lucky Madam Hooch knows some serious repair magic, mate," she said. "Snapped clean in half it was! Must have landed on it funny."

 

She shrugged and turned away.

 

Once they have all left, Hermione turns to him.

 

"Who're Sam and Dean, Cass?" she asked. "When they found you on the floor, you were screaming their names!"

 

He stared out of the window into the night.

 

"I don't know."

 

∞ 

 

A few days later, once Harry and Cass were released from the Hospital Wing, the other boy came up to him.

 

"Ron told me about the spell you cast: What is it and where did you learn it?"

 

"Professor Lupin taught me," Cass answered. "I can ask him if he can give you lessons, but I can't guarantee that he'll say yes."

 

Harry smiled grimly.

 

"Good enough for me."

 

In their next session, when Cass told Lupin of Harry's request, the teacher nodded.

 

"I can do that," he replied, then hesitated. "Black... I watched what you did on the pitch the other day, and I don't think you need any more lessons. Frankly, I'm amazed that you managed even that much! But if this is our last session, then there is something I need to tell you."

 

He sat and motioned for Cass to take the seat opposite him, and picked up the mysterious photo, which Cass had never seen the face before, and turned it around.

 

He sucks in a breath.

 

In the photo, four boys were laughing and joking under a blazing sun. They sat on the roots of a great tree, pushing and shoving in th eir fun. One was obviously Remus, younger, still scarred, but undeniably him. Another looked to be Harry's father, because who else could it have with a face so similar? There was another one, but he was small and dumpy, almost unnoticeable.

 

And the last...

 

The last boy was Sirius Black.

 

He appeared to be couple of years older than Cass was, but it was almost like looking into the face of his older self. If it weren't for the grey eyes, longer nose and Gryffindor tie, Cass could have almost believed he was looking into a seer's prophecy.

 

"Sir?" he asked Lupin, flicking his gaze between the younger and older incarnations of his professor.

 

Lupin looked away, ashamed.

 

"When I was in Hogwarts, I was in a group of friends who liked to call themselves the Marauders. Harry's father, James, was best friends with Sirius and we always pulled pranks together. You would have believed nothing would have split us apart. When the war came, and Lily and James had to go into hiding with Harry, Sirius was trusted with being their Secret Keeper. You are familiar with the Fidelius Charm? Good. They lived under it for almost a year, before... Before  Sirius , James' greatest friend went to Lord Voldemort and told him everything. You see Peter, here?" he said, breaking off to gesture at the other boy, who ducked away in the photo, unused to the attention. "After the Dark Lord murdered James and Lily, Peter tracked Sirius down. He...  Confronted  him, and tried to arrest him. Poor Peter: he was always so predictable in his casting, and Sirius just knew where to hit him hardest."

 

Lupin made eye contact with Cass, and swallowed, before ducking his head again.

 

"There were 12 muggles on the street that day. And Sirius... He  murdered  them all, Peter too, in one giant explosion. They only found his finger."

 

He paused for a moment, clearing his throat.

 

"I can't give any lessons until after Christmas, I'm afraid. I have a history of being off then for illness, and I'm very busy. Please pass that on to Harry."

 

Cass recognised it as the dismissal it was, and left, shutting the door quietly behind himself.

 

As he sank into his bed, he noticed his calendar tacked onto the wall.

 

Over Christmas there was a Full Moon.

 

Frowning, he flicked through it, checking all the dates Lupin had been absent from class.

 

Full Moon.

 

Full Moon.

 

Full Moon.

 

Every time he was unable to teach, for whatever reason, there had been a full moon.

 

Suddenly, Cass recalled the lesson where Snape had covered for Lupin: he had discarded the actual syllabus, and taught them about werewolves instead.

 

His mind flashed back to the scars littering the visible parts of Lupin's body, and remembered how he always seemed to be exhausted and in pain every time he returned after his absence.

 

He wasn't...

 

Could he be...?

 

But Cass refused to jump to conclusions, and over the next couple of weeks, he did what he did best; observed and researched.

 

Arithmancy proved to be useful in this respect, for it allowed Cass to run all the data he'd managed to compile; finding out all the probabilities, and letting him evaluate each one. Finally, Cass analysed his results, and found that yes, Lupin  must  have been a werewolf.

 

Years of hearing vile tales about werewolves flashed to the front of Cass' mind, but he had spent the last few months in introspective doubt : All the myths his parents had ever told him had so far been self-serving lies, so he shook it aside. From his research, Cass knew that they were only dangerous on the night of the Full Moon, and, having dredged up an article about the discovery of the Wolfsbane Potion, he understood that with it, they would keep their right minds.

 

So, Cass decided to reserve his judgement on the matter, and resolved to observe Lupin some more.

 

 

Madam Hooch insisted that Cass must not use his Nimbus rigorously for at least a few weeks, so when Hufflepuff played Ravenclaw in their next match, they were completely and utterly flattened. Still unable to ride his own broom, Cass had to make do with one of the ancient Shooting Stars that the school kept on site. The clunky and ugly broom moved sluggishly across the pitch, only changing pace when a gust of wind caused it to go into jerking spasms, which left him hard-pressed to stay on.



Needless to say, it was one of the worst defeats they'd ever suffered. The team had lost before, usually due to a better opposing Keeper, but they'd never lost in a manner as humiliating.



"Suppose someone won't be sleeping on the sofa tonight, eh?" the unidentified beater ribbed McAvoy. "I bet Wood'll be pretty happy that we're out of the running!"



He then ran out of range before the burly captain could defend his honour.



At least their defeat gave Cass something to share with Harry; the other boy had been withdrawn since the loss of his beloved broom. It was not as good as it could have been, given that Cass would regain his own soon, whereas Harry had lost his for good. Still, Cass could always help Harry when it came to picking out a new one.



At the last Hogsmeade weekend of the term, he was once again left alone watching his friends leaving him for the lights of the village. Cass asked Harry if he'd like to spend the day with him, but the other boy looked at him shiftily and mumbled some excuse before taking off.


Abandoned in the Entrance Hall, Cass huffed and headed off to the Library to get some work done. This time, his purpose was to research the runes on his wand.



From his sparse knowledge from Ancient Runes, Cass knew that the placement of runes was vital for their purpose. Surprisingly few wizards had them on their wands, Babbling had said, Cass recalled. He created a pile of tomes and books to look through, making his own mess, quite unusual for him.



Annoyingly, the Hogwarts Library had little in the way of theoretical runic language books, but it did have a directory, that Madam Pince handed over grudgingly when he asked where he might find them, so that he might order some.


He was just poring through his fifth volume, when a hand cme smacking down in the pages. Cass jerked up, his reading glasses almost falling off his face with the sudden movement.



"Did you know?" Harry hissed, breathing heavily. He's flanked by Ron and Hermione, although the latter looked troubled.



"Know what?" Cass asked in confusion, leaning away from the volatile boy.



"That Black is the reason my parents are dead!" he snapped, pulling him up and tugging him along to a quiet section of the stacks when Madam Pince gave him a stern look. The other two tagged along like baffled ducklings.



"Yes," Cass admitted, deflating. "Lupin told me, but since it took him weeks of Patronus lessons to let loose about it, I figured that I probably shouldn't tell you."



Harry backed away, betrayed.



"You knew, and you didn't tell me?" he whispered, turning away.



"Harry! I'm sorry, but I thought I wasn't allowed to say!" Cass said beseechingly, reaching out to touch the other boy's shoulder.



He whipped around, slapping his hand away and shoving him. Taken by surprise, Cass stumbled and fell, staring up at him in fear. His instincts were screaming at him to run, hide, anything!



"So you thought that it might be a bad idea to tell me something I might need to know to stay safe, did you?" Harry snarled, advancing on him. Cass crawled backwards, unable to break eye-contact. "I can't believe you, Cass, you're just as bad as your uncle!"



And with that he turned and storms off. Ron blinked down at Cass in shock, then made to follow Harry.



"Hermione?" he said in confusion. "Aren't you coming?"



She leaned down by Cass, helping him up, and refused to relinquish his hand when he stood.



"It's not Cass' fault," she said, lifting her chin. "He thought he was doing the right thing."



It was at times like these that her hair reminded him of a lion; bristling and full of righteous anger.

 

 

The group split into two: Cass and Hermione on one side, Harry and Ron on the other. Cass wanted nothing more than to make things right, but Harry was still fermenting in rage, with Ron loyally and stubbornly defending his side. The situation only got worse after Christmas, when Harry received the Firebolt, and Hermione, playing the responsible one, alerted McGonagall to the situation. Cass could feel the stress wearing Hermione down, and he was the one to comfort her, petting and stroking her wild hair, when finally she broke and cried into his arms.

 

"I was just trying to keep him safe!" she sobbed, burying her face in his fuzzy green jumper. He shushed her and murmured nonsensical comforts, while pretending he couldn't feel the warmth of her soul crystalising under the weight of her guilt.

 

The entire situation was only resolved after Sirius Black's second attempt on Harry's life. Harry came to Cass the morning afterwards and apologised, revealing that he'd actually wanted to make amends for a while, and only (Ron's) pride had stopped him. The realisation that if Black had succeeded in killing Harry, meant that he would have died whilst being angry with one of his best friends, made him apologise.Cass congratulated him on his fully-corporeal patronus and they turned to talking about Quidditch instead.

 

However, the fighting wasn't over in their friend group, only this time Harry and Cass were stuck in the middle while Ron and Hermione argued over Crookshanks’ grudge against Scabbers. Cass attempted to make an argument that Crookshanks was only acting on instinct and didn't mean a thing about it, but the glare Ron sent his way was enough to make him back away from the entire issue.

 

It was only when Hagrid's hippogriff Buckbeak was sentenced to death that the four were truly friends again. Ron agreed to help Hermione to file an appeal for the creature's case, and Cass used his Timeturner on the sly, and used up extra hours trying to find any legal loophole they could leap through. He liked law: it seemed familiar to him, but not  for  him.

 

One time, when they were returning from consoling Hagrid, they were confronted by Malfoy and his mindless goons.



"Well, well, well," the arrogant prat sneered, looking at the four of them. "Cousin, looks like I'll be getting your inheritance after all. Just look at what you've been up to, sullying yourself with filth like Potty, Weasel, and lets not forget, the Mud-"



SLAP .



Well, not really a slap. More like a slap with one hand and a punch with the other, followed by a wand digging into the fleshy part of Malfoy's neck as Hermione backed him up until his back was pressing into the bark of a tree.



"Listen here, you pig," she snarled, increasing pressure on her wand. "I have had it up to here with your incessant idiocy, and if I hear another word, I am going to  hex  you into a  million pieces ! Understand!?"



Malfoy made a muffled noise.



"I said,  do you understand !?"



"Yes, yes, I do!" Malfoy stuttered, grimacing in pain as he replied.



Hermione stepped back, taking the wand away but keeping it ready.



"You have until I count to five to get out of my sight," she informed him, and Malfoy ran, his lackeys blundering after him before she could even start.



With that, the dark-skinned girl turned round to find her three friends gawking at her.



"What?" Hermione said sheepishly. "I learnt it from that muggle movie we saw over the Summer."



Cass thought he was in love.



No.



He was certain.

 

 

A few days after Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup (a fact that McAvoy tried to hide he was displeased about around his partner), the quartet made a trip to Hagrid again.

 

When Hermione reached to get a jug from the cupboard, Scabbers, who they had all believed to be dead, launched himself from it, and made a break for the outside world. Luckily, Cass managed to catch the runaway-rat, Seeker skills specifically honed for this kind of task. Suddenly, they heard people coming down the path, and the other three ran off under the Invisibility Cloak, Cass fleeing after them with a Disillusionment Charm keeping him from the Minister, Dumbledore and McNair's view.

 

He had just released its hold on him when he heard the thud of the axe.

 

Cass and the other three ran through the edge of the trees, until they came out near the Whomping Willow. Scabbers made another attempt at freedom, and shouting, Ron tried to hold him still. Out of nowhere a great, black dog bounded up to them, clamping its teeth on Ron's arm. The boy yelled, and was swiftly dragged away, too swiftly for them to help.

 

The beast was tugging Ron beneath the Willow when he made eye-contact with Cass. They were still holding it when his leg suddenly snapped, and he was pulled out of sight: the only evidence he had been there at all was an agonised scream.

 

"No!" Hermione yelled, charging towards the tree. Cass froze it with a quick flick of his wand,  and stopped a branch that was about to slam into the back of her head.

 

She didn't notice, and kept running on, leaving Harry and Cass with no choice but to follow her.

 

The dark and enclosed space of the tunnel sparked memories in him of one of Pleiades favourite tactics: a coffin-like box inspired by the Chokey. At home, when he was in it, it had stinging hexes and would burn his feet when he moved. But Ron was in danger, so he managed to push his fears aside.

 

When they emerged into a filthy room, there was only a moment before Black attacked and stole their wands. The sight of the killer had Cass' throat closing up with barely restrained panic, and the fact that he was defenceless only scared him more.

 

The escaped convict advanced on him slowly, and while the others backed away, over to Ron, Cass was transfixed, his feet stuck to the floor as his eyes were glued to Black's deranged stare.

 

"Who are you?" he murmured, examining Cass' face. "Some better version come back to haunt me?"

 

"He's your nephew!" Hermione spat. "So don't you dare hurt him!"

 

This seemed jolt Black out of his fixed concentration, and he straightened up, allowing Cass to scuttle back to the relative safety of his friends.

 

"Why should you be afraid of me?" he asked. "Only one of you will be dying tonight."

 

"And that will be you, Black," a snide voice snapped, as Professor Snape removed the Invisibility Cloak.

 

"Unlikely, Severus," a hoarse voice said, and Snape toppled, revealing Lupin standing behind him, holding his wand.

 

"You're not going to touch Harry!" Ron gasped through his pain at Black. "We won't let you!"

 

"Why should he kill Harry?" Lupin asked, entering the room. He went over to Black and they embraced, hugging each other tightly. Something twanged in Cass' chest at seeing two friends reunited after so long. "When he was not in fact the one who betrayed James and Lily?"

 

" What ?" Harry said, shocked.

 

"It was not Peter who tracked Sirius down and confronted him that night," the professor explained. "In fact, it was the other way round."



"You mean..." Cass began, putting the pieces together.



"Yes," Black confirmed. "I convinced them not to use me as Secret Keeper, but rather to let Peter take my place." Here he had to stop, suddenly choked up. He regained control of himself and continues. "I was not the one who condemned you parents, Harry, but I am the one who caused their deaths."


"But Pettigrew's dead!" Hermione exclaimed. Black laughed.



"Well, that is a question I would like answered," he cackled. "How a man can be dead and yet standing right there!"



They look, but only Ron and Scabbers were where he pointed.



"I'm not him!" Ron squawked indignantly.



"No, but your rat is!" Sirius snarled, grabbing the wriggling creature.



"You see, that's how he escaped Azakaban," Lupin said, freezing the rat with his wand. "Humans are affected by dementors, but animals aren't: my friends all became animagi to help me. Animagi can't be infected by-"



"Werewolves," Hermione, Cass and Lupin all finished together. He looked at the two of them in surprise, then chuckled.



"I suppose I shouldn't be shocked that it was the you two who figured it out."



"You see," Sirius said, poking the rat with his wand. "He staged the confrontation, and then when he blew up the street, all he had to do was transform and leave a bit behind for the aurors to find. A finger to be precise. That's how I realised he was posing as your pet, Ron. The little rat was in the picture in the paper, and I'd recognise that four-fingered hand anywhere!"



And with that, he lashed his wand at the rat. It grew and engorged in size, gradually transforming from a thin-haired rat to a balding, portly man.

 

"Hello Peter."

 

In time, the two (conscious) men subdued and bound Pettigrew, and took him up to the castle.

 

"Harry," Sirius said in the tunnel, Cass only a few feet behind. "Would you like to come live with me once this is all over? I know Vernon and Petunia, and somehow I don't think you'd want to stay with them a second longer than possible."

 

"Really?" Harry answered, sounding so eager that Cass had a hard time restraining himself from bursting out, that yes, yes he also wanted a home with a loving relative! But if Snape (who he'd been given the honour of levitating out) had a few more bumps that necessary, then nobody was any the wiser. "I'd love to come and live with you!"

 

Sirius coughed.

 

"I don't actually have a house yet, but once my name is cleared, I'll find a place for the both of us."

 

"What about Cass?" Harry asked, and he had a hard time fixing his eyes on Snape to pretend he hadn't been listening in on their conversation. "You didn't see what he was like last year after his parents got to him."

 

The other man sighed.

 

"Pleiades always was a bit of a bad apple. I guess he didn't get hugged enough as a child."

 

He could barely hold back a biting comment at that.

 

Finally, they made it out, only to find that night has fallen.

 

"Oh, no," Lupin breathed, gazing transfixed at the sky. Cass followed his line of sight and gasped:

 

A full moon shone through a veil of clouds.

 

He spun to the professor, who was already shaking with the beginning of the transformation.

 

"Sir! Did you take the Wolfsbane Potion?"

 

Lupin looked over at him, the white of his eyes turning yellow as he spoke.

 

"Children," he rasped. "You had better run while you can."

 

They stood still for a moment, before Sirius shouted at them.

 

"Run! Freeze the rat and run!"

 

But it is too late: Pettigrew took advantage of the distraction and knocked Ron out, shifting into his Animagus form, and the brown rodent slinked off through the grass. Sirius turned into the Grim, and lured the fully-transformed Lupin away. They followed him, leaving Snape where he lay.

 

Once down by the lake, they stopped, hiding in the tree fringe, and watched as Lupin slashed his claws over Sirius' stomach, the dog whining piteously. Luckily, the werewolf fled away from them all, in the other direction.

 

The three of them rushed down to his side, where the unconscious man was changing back to his human shape.

 

"Sirius! Sirius!" Harry whispered urgently. "Wake up!"

 

"Cass, Cass look," Hermione said numbly, and he lifted his head, only to find himself staring down a dementor horde. Already, he could feel the weeping doubt, blanketing fear, and grief descending upon him.

 

Cass lifted his wand, but the words were leaden on his lips, and the spell sputtered out before it even started. He tried again, summoning the magic words, and all it created was a small bee, buzzing languidly around his head. It faded within seconds, and deep inside, he knew he would not be able to cast it again.

 

As the dementor swooped down to take his soul, a bright light was the last thing he saw.

  ∞ 

 

Waking up is something that Cass had never gotten used to, but the sensation of greeting consciousness in the Hospital Wing was something that had only gotten more common with time.

 

Hearing Snape accuse his friends of lying was worse, but he couldn't conjure enough energy to care, staring listlessly up at the ceiling.

 

It was how he missed joining the entire Time-Travel trip that Harry and Hermione took, although it didn't stop him from sneaking up to see his uncle.

 

The man was slumped on the floor, head held in his hands as he awaited his fate. Cass stood by the door silently, until Sirius looked up and was startled by the sight of him.

 

"Nephew, aren't you a little short to be my rescuer?" he said, grimacing.

 

Cass walked in slowly, then knelt a few feet away. He tilted his head.

 

"Why did only you offer to take Harry?" he asked, tightening every muscle in his body so he wouldn’t cry. "Why not  me ? Why a always the one left behind?"

 

"Cass?" Sirius said, concerned, sitting up.

 

Cass stabbed a hand viciously into his own chest."Why? Why didn't you escape sooner when you knew, you  knew  they had a child?  Why ?"

 

This last word was a wrenching sob, a horrific gasp;Cass could no longer hold the pain in. He buckled, curling in on himself. Sirius came up quickly to support him and hugged the crying child to his chest, stroking Cass' back until he stopped.

 

"Nephew, don't worry," he said. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you when you needed me."

 

And then he pushed Cass away, and Hermione and Harry were at the window, and his uncle left, probably never to be seen again.

  ∞  

 

A few days later, Cass was sitting his last exam of the term, feeling drawn and empty.

 

The Magical Art exam had a small written paper, followed by a free-painting part, where the students were also required to cast the movement charms.

 

Cass stared at the blank canvas for a few minutes, invisible cogs turning in his head as he wondered what to paint. Then inspiration hit him, and he pulled out his brush to get to work: swirling, burning, bright orange sparks in a cloud of his signature Moonstone pigment, interspersed with splashes of calm and intense, cobalt.

 

His work was drawn from the iconography of the muggle religion Christianity.

 

He had painted Hermione's soul.

 

Chapter Text

“Jack,” Dean warns, waving the spoon at him threateningly. “We’ve been through this.”

 

The nephilim scowls, scrunching up his face even more. Dean knows- without a doubt- that he will not be able to get the baby mixture in his mouth.

 

“J, I know this is worse than leviathan slime, but do you see anything else? ‘Cause I sure don’t.”

 

It makes no difference: Jack just turns his head to the side even more resolutely, ignoring Dean’s attempts to feed him.

 

“I’ll give you candy, c’mon buddy, just open up,” he tries, sighing when the baby makes no sign of even hearing him.

 

“Really Dean? Bargaining?” Sam asks disapprovingly. He crosses his arms from where he’s been spectating in the doorway, leaning against the frame. “I can try if you can’t?”

 

No ,” Dean insists, twisting round to look at his brother. “I’ve got this, Sammy. You go curl your hair, or whatever you do in your free time.”

 

“Jerk!”

 

“Bitch!”

 

“Don’t swear around the kid!”

 

“It’s a term of frigging endearment, you big girl!” he hollers back at his brother’s retreating form.

 

Dean turns back to the confused nephilim, who is staring up at him with a frown on his squidgy face. He raises an eyebrow at Jack .

 

“The faster you eat this, the faster I can read you a story.”

 

Grudgingly, Jack opens his mouth a bit when Dean next tries, but the moment the foul mixture hits his tongue, he screws up his face in revulsion and refuses to eat any more. Dean sighs, looking heavenwards for guidance, before dropping his eyes. Time for the last resort.

 

Here comes the airplane !” he singsongs, weaving the ugly plastic spoon towards the kid. Jack’s face scrunches up again, and this time he starts bawling, great wailing cries that fill the kitchen, echoing down the tiled corridors of the Bunker. Dean sets down the spoon and reaches out to the nephilim, until the baby’s no longer there, having disappeared with a quiet flapping sound .

 

He curses, looking around for the small child, only to find him looking extremely confused on the top of the rickety shelving unit. Dean rises slowly, making his way over carefully, trying not to scare the kid.

 

“Stay right where you are Jack,” he murmurs quietly, attempting to reassure him. “I’ll get you down, no problem.”

 

Dean reaches up and takes the shocked nephilim from the top, cradling him in his arms as he searches for Sam.

 

“Wish Cas was here,” he mutters, following the line of glow-in-the-dark paint down the dark corridors. The statement stung slightly less than when he had first started saying it, but with each day since his death it got a little easier. Like the immediate pain of a broken bone compared to the ache of a long-healed wound before the rain. “Bet he’d know what to do with your freakiness.”

 

Jack had recently begun teething, and was having a bad time of it. Every night, he woke them up with horrible crying, and with every occurrence, the lights blew out.

 

After the third time replacing the bulbs, Dean and Sam gave up, resolving to fix the electrics later. To solve the darkness problem, Sam picked up a can of luminous paint to guide them through the Bunker.

 

“Sammy,” Dean says, placing Jack on the table in front of his brother. “We got ourselves here a teleporting nephilim.”

 

“Seriously?” his little brother says, looking up from his book in interest. “I didn’t expect him to start so soon.”

 

“Yeah,” he replies, grinning as he chucks Jack under the chin. The nephilim promptly scowls at him. “But guess what? Now, we have to not only have to make the Bunker childproof, we need need to make it flying-baby proof.”

 

Crap .”

 

“My thoughts exactly.”

 

 

Turns out, no matter how powerful nephilims grow up to be, a line of unlit holy oil will still stop them, if not when they’re older.

 

Dean discovered this one day in the storeroom, when he knocked one of the jars of the sacred liquid over accidentally. He got it upright almost immediately, but a steady trickle managed to escape.

 

Jack had been steadily bum-shuffling towards him, but a puddle of the spilled oil ran across his path, stopping him in his tracks. Dean turned his back for a moment to find a cloth with which to mop it up, only to be summoned by an indignant and shocked cry.

 

Thanks to that discovery, every room they don’t want Jack in now has a thin line of Holy Oil around its perimeter. It pisses the nephilim off like crazy that he can’t follow Dean into certain rooms anymore, and it cracks him up every time he spots the nephilim shooting daggers at him as he sits right up against the barrier. The baby has recently taken to scooting around the Bunker on his ass determinedly, sometimes for hours on end, so excited with his new mobility.

 

Dean still has a bruise from Sam swatting him, after he joked about attaching a cloth to Jack’s nappy to save on cleaning.

 

He doesn’t regret a single word.

 

Still chuckling at the memory of Sam’s comically outraged face, Dean slips under the covers of his bed, drifting off into a sleep that has come more easily to him with every passing month. Maybe… Maybe things are going to be alright.

 

Even without Cas.

 

 

He looks up, and finds himself in a strange landscape. The land is flat and grey, but somehow smoky and immaterial as well as solid beneath his feet. The thick fog drifts in and out of shapes, some completely unrecognisable to his dull eyes, some he feels he ought to know but exist just outside of his reach.

 

He walks in the land where time has no meaning and where distance is just a passing thought. Strange voices catch at his mind, telling him things he shouldn’t know.

 

Something- an errant thought, an uncontrolled instinct- compels him to turn, and when he twists, he spots a figure huddled on the floor, the impossible mists blowing him in and out of focus.

 

But a gust of the non-existent wind ruffles the cloud of dark hair atop the teenager’s head, and his heart does a double beat in shock.

 

He’d recognise that hair anywhere.

 

It’s Cas .

 

Before he’s even realised it, he’s shouted his name and us running over to his best friend, babbling things he can’t even remember as he draws him to his chest tightly. He never wants to let go.

 

“Buddy, we’re so worried! You gotta tell us where you are!”

 

The boy blinks at him, not even pretending to listen as he shifts his head closer to his own, cataloguing his every feature.

 

“You again,” Cas states quietly, searching his face as if he means to plot it in the stars. “Who are you?”

 

It’s more of a wondering to himself than a proper question, but all the same, he feels like someone’s just poured icy, liquid lead into his gut.

 

“I’m Dean,” he says in shock, staring into Cas’ eyes as if imploring him to know. “I- I’m your best friend.”

 

"Why should it matter?" the teenager sighs as he turns away from him, watching the ever-changing landscape bleakly. "I'll just forget you as soon as I wake up."

 

He yanks him round again, acting automatically on the last sentence.

 

"What!?" he pleads, holding both of Cas’ arms tightly. "Tell me where you are, please Cas! We gotta get you home, c'mon man!"

 

"Why am I afraid of you?" Cas questions, again as if to himself. But as the ex-angel continues tracing the skin of his forearm left bare by his short sleeved shirt, the words seem to be more pointed at him."When Professor Lupin showed me the boggart, it had your form. But its eyes were...  Black , and it had a strange mark on its arm. You don't have that, Dean. Why not?"

 

He sucks in a surprised breath, and curses mentally. Of course his demon self would be Cas’ worst nightmare: it was for him too.

 

"There were other people too, Dean. They told me I killed them," Cas continues blithely, glancing up at his stricken face. "Am I a killer, Dean? Why did I see them? I don't know who they are..."

 

He chokes out a single word as he reaches for his best friend, wanting to shut out all of his fears with his embrace.

 

"Cas-"

 

But it is too late; Cas’ body drifts away like smoke on the wind, and he is left alone in the bleak landscape for what feels like forever.

 

When Dean wakes up, he isn’t entirely unsure that it wasn’t.

 

 

The dream that he isn’t entirely sure was a dream leaves him shaken for the next few days. He’s off kilter, missing the moments where he’s supposed to laugh, to crack a joke that will leave Sam trying not to guffaw with shock. Eventually, his title brother kicks Dean out of the Bunker, toting a family grocery trip for him and Jack. He tries to protest, but the stern look Sam levels at him discouraged Dean from saying anything.

 

He was irritated at first, but the moment he buckles Jack into the special car seat, Dean relaxes, and finds himself looking forward to their day out.

 

“Hey, kiddo,” he calls over the music filling the car, a few minutes into their drive. “How ‘bout we go driving, huh?”

 

Jack is too busy gazing slack-jawed at his own hands to care.

 

“Right you are, JJ,” Dean sighs, drumming his fingers in the steering wheel. “Let’s go.”

 

It’s a beautiful day, even in Dean Winchester’s long memory of hours spent travelling to a new hunt, the road eaten up beneath Baby’s tires. The sun beats down on the tarmac, and he rolls down his window, resting an elbow on the rim as the warm breeze, now chilled from the speed of the Impala rushes past his face, filling him with life. An easy grin creeps across Dean’s face as they race down the narrow roads to the nearest town.

 

Cruising into the parking lot, he steps out of the Impala,blending in perfectly with the Saturday morning shoppers. Dean sits Jack down in the trolley and pushes into the store. They make straight for the fresh produce, grabbing a broccoli for the baby to chew on for the rest of the trip. It keeps him occupied, and lets Dean snap cute photos of him while he stares at the exciting and entirely novel things.

 

Dean hums as they work their way through the store, not even complaining when he spots all the health food crap Sam snuck on. Finally, he pays for their stuff and leaves. As Dean strolls out of the store, a woman rounds the corner.

 

“Oof!” She gasps as the trolley plows into her midriff before Dean can stop it. The plushie in her hands flies into the cart, where Jack discards his broccoli, and begins chewing on its head immediately.

 

“Hey, are you alright?” Dean says, hurrying to her side. The woman grimaces, but straightens up with difficulty.

 

“I’m fine,” she winces, patting down the injured section. “Just wasn’t looking where I was going, sorry.”

 

“Nah, it was my fault,” he replies, turning to Jack. “C’mon bud, give the lady her toy back.”

 

He attempts to tug the plushie out of Jack’s hands, but the nephilim’s grip tightens, scowling up at Dean in a manner so similar to a Cas that he almost wants to cry. He tries again, but the kid’s bottom lip starts wobbling in a way that Dean knows is not coincidental. Dean raises an eyebrow at Jack, about to yank it out of his hands, but the woman stops him.

 

“No, no,” she interrupts, placing a hand on his arm. “I was just taking it to Goodwill anyway. I’m Penny. Penny Mues.”

 

“Are you sure, Miss Mues?” Dean asks, relinquishing his hold on the toy. Jack goes back to sucking on it furiously.

 

“Yes,” Penny replies. “My wife Erica and I were just coming back from our godson’s birthday party. We didn’t realise he was deathly afraid of tortoises, but now we know…”

 

He turns to examine the plushie more carefully.

 

It’s a winged tortoise.

 

An actual winged tortoise.

 

What the hell.

 

Dean looks round again to find Penny embracing another young woman further down the street. She must be Erica. They glance back at him, smiling furtively, before linking arms and walking away slowly. He makes an aborted wave, before loading the shopping into the Impala.

 

Returning home, he drives down the road out of town, bordered with warehouses and deserted save for him. The window is open as he enjoys the breeze, and this is when Dean notices the blood.

 

Slowing, he pulls the Impala over to the sidewalk. Hesitating for a moment, Dean places Jack in the footwell, motioning at him to stay quiet, and locks the car behind him silently.

 

Holding his gun at the ready, Dean sneaks inside, following the trail of red liquid. It’s bright and fresh, so the victim must have been taken in only a while ago. The track of coppery-smelling blood is smeared across the asphalt, as though the person was dragged into the building.

 

The cool of the dark warehouse is a great contrast from the glare of the beating sun outside, and Dean blinks a few times to let his eyes adjust.

 

A whimpering sound alerts him to someone’s presence, and he peers around the corner cautiously.

 

It’s Erica, Penny’s wife.

 

She’s lying, half-propped up by the wall, with a gag stuffed in her mouth. By the look of the makeshift bandage around her leg, and her eyes glazed over in pain, the crude manacles around her wrists are the only things keeping Erica even partially upright.

 

Looking behind him, Dean scurries over to her. He shakes her shoulder gently, and she mewls pitifully, turning away from him as he checks the leg wound. It’s bad, but not a death sentence. The son of a bitch who did this clearly wants Erica alive and weak.

 

“Hey,” he murmurs, tugging the gag from her mouth. “I'm going to get you out, okay?”

 

Her head lolls to the side, and she stares up at him, electric blue eyes pleading with him desperately.

 

Penny …” is all Erica manages to get out before the last bit of energy leaves her, and she slumps, her eyes fighting to stay open.

 

Dean reaches for the manacles, checking for something he can use to open them. There are strange symbols, almost like… Enochian? Dread settles in the pit of his stomach as he looks down at her eyes, half hidden by drooping eyelids. They’re so bright a colour they could be shining.

 

He could have sworn they were brown earlier.

 

Penny ,” Erica slurs again, tears threatening to escape. “ Help… Penny .”

 

A muffled snarl rips through the building, and she moans again, this time in fear. Dean spares one more look at her before he makes for it, following the indistinct angry noises. Finally, he gets close enough to hear what the person is saying. It’s male, deep, and as he nears the source, the formal manner of words begins to clarify things.

 

“-Tell me where it is, sister!”

 

Dean peeks rounds the corner, almost flinching at the sight.

 

Penny is strung up against a rack, almost exactly identically the one the angels had expected him to torture Alistair on all those years ago. She twitches and shakes, grace streaming out of long thin wounds on her arms and torso. Another figure- an angel - he realises is heating the end of an angel blade in a brazier. Spotting a familiar jar set to the side neatly, he understands with horror and disgust.

 

The other angel is burning her with her own dagger. Using Holy Oil to slow the healing and increase the pain

 

And it must be her own, because there’s a great, crude, heavy sword on the floor, and if Penny had that, he doubts the angel would have been able to catch them.

 

“Tell me Penemue! Where is the nephilim?”

 

Dean freezes. He’s here for Jack. The angel is here for Jack.

 

Penny sobs, breath hitching in fear as the other angel approaches with the glowing hot blade. She shakes her head manically, trying to pull away from the burning metal.

 

“I-I don’t know, brother. Please, Dumah! Let Eracus and me go! We don’t know, we don’t- Aaah !”

 

Tired with her babbling, the other angel- Dumah - presses the blade onto the bare skin around her neck. Unperturbed by her screams, he squats down in front of her and waits for her to fall silent.

 

“You and Eracus have defiled yourselves beyond  all reason, further perhaps than Castiel. Maybe, if you help me and give me the information I need to eradicate the abomination, Heaven will let you return. So. Let’s try that again, sister: where is the nephilim?”

 

Penemue hangs her head, panting as she tries to regain her composure. Then she lifts it, fire relit in her eyes as she spits Dumah in the face.

 

“I will not help you murder an innocent child .”

 

He wipes his face, regarding the saliva on his palm, before leaning in again.

 

“How about I ask Eracus, sister? I’m sure she’d be more accomodati-“

 

“No!” Penemue pleads, straining against her binds. “Canada, they went to Canada, to keep the child safe-!”

 

She doesn’t get any further, because this is the exact moment where Dean buries the sword in his back. The flare of heat on either side tells him that Dumah is dead. His wings are as burned as the skin on Penemue’s body.

 

The angel relaxes, and Dean can tell that she thinks he will free her, but he levels the sword at her, narrowing his eyes.

 

“Are you going to go after me and my family?”

 

“No,” she murmurs, her eyes fixed on the gleaming metal. “I lied, I would not have told him where you were. I do not even know where myself.”

 

“But if you knew, you would have told him if you thought it might save Eracus,” he says. It’s a statement, not a question, and Penemue hangs her head in shame.

 

“I’m sorry,” the injured angel whispers, curling in on herself. “Are you going to kill us?”

 

“That depends,” Dean replies, watching her face. “Did you curse the toy?”

 

“I would never! Not to a child!” Penemue cries, jerking against her bonds. “Please, is Eracus alive? I don’t know how badly she’s wounded!”

 

He surveys her sincere and anguished expression for a moment before picking the keys off the wooden table. Dean clicks the locks open, and catches the angel as she slumps, unable to stand. They make an awkward dance to the other room, him half-supporting her as she regains her strength.

 

As soon as they reach Eracus, Penemue lunges to her side, falling to her knees in desperation to help her wife. With fumbling fingers, the angel tries each and every key on the rusting chain, until the right one pops the manacles off.

 

Cradling Eracus’ face, Penemue weeps horrid wretched sobs, resting her forehead against the other woman’s. She strokes fitful fingers over her wife’s cheeks, as if reassuring herself that she’s real.

 

“I’m so glad you’re alright,” Penemue chokes out helping Eracus to her feet. “I’m so sorry, this is all my fault!”

 

Eracus stands with barely a limp, clutching the other angel’s hands. She presses kisses on the tops of her knuckles, murmuring reaffirmations that she is here, that she is alive .

 

Dean looks at her curiously, wandering how she seems to be fine. At that moment, they turn, allowing him to see how the blue light seeping from Penemue’s wounds fades, and the burned skin emerges unblemished.

 

“The chains,” Eracus rasps, clearing her throat as she notices his gaze. “They dulled our grace, suppressing our strength and slowing our healing. Thank you,” she adds sincerely. “I doubt I would have survived much longer, were it no t for you.”

 

“Why were you here at all?” he asks brusquely, brushing aside their thanks. “Will more follow?”

 

“No,” Penemue replies, hooking an arm around Eracus’ waist. “We were only passing through ourselves. The toy did belong to my vessel, and she was going to give it to her godson, but he began to hate them some time after the Fall.”

 

“The Fall freed us,” her wife continues. “We do not wish to return to Heaven, and that makes us a threat in some of the angels’ eyes. Dumah was the tracker that faction sent after us, and we believe he must have decided to kill two birds with one stone. Literally.”

 

“So, will the God Squad send more?” Dean says, tucking his gun back into its hiding place. “Because I want you well away from my family if they do.”

 

“No,” Penemue answers, fishing a card out of her pocket, offering it to him. He takes it, reading the script. “Back in Heaven we were the custodians of the Great Library. A few weeks after we found each other when we fell, a red-headed woman found us. She gave us human identities, and now we wish to use them to set up our own bookshop.”

 

“It’s at least an hour from here,” Eracus says, studying Dean’s face. “We won’t be endangering you at all.”

 

“Fine,” he says gruffly, sliding the card in his coat. “But one slip, one slip, and I will be coming after you.”

 

They leave the warehouse silently, and Dean drives them to their car on the other side of town. The two angels spend the time cooing at their nephew, and since Jack doesn’t seem to mind, he lets it pass. A few minutes later and they’re watching Eracus and Penemue trundle away in their cornflower yellow 1970 volkswagen bus.

 

He fishes the business card from his pocket and reads it silently.

 

Maybe someday Sam would like to visit ‘Knowledge’s Domain’ .

 

Chapter Text

This time, returning on the train seemed to drain his energy. Cass tried to keep up a bright and happy facade, but as the journey continued, he felt himself being worn down.

 

However, not long into the trip, a tennis ball-esque owl flew through the open train car window, nearly flattening itself on the other side. It landed in Harry's lap, and he took the rolls of parchment from its claws, amused.

 

"There's one for you," he said, handing the first to Ron, before he turned to Cass. "And one for you."

 

Cass unrolled his carefully, turning away from the others slightly.

 

' Nephew ,' it read.

 

' I would like to apologise for not extending my invitation to you as well. At the time, I believed that you were happy where you were, and I didn't want to disrupt what seemed to be a perfectly fine state of affairs by uprooting you.

 

' It was also not my intention to distress you so. I grew up in the same kind of household that you did, and I ran away from it quite happily, but I wasn't aware when we first met that it was that way with you. My brothers swallowed my hag-of-a-mother's pureblood message and begged for more, whereas I was more cynical, and it showed in the way we were treated. I'm sorry I didn't suspect that Pleiades followed the same path that he did as a child, but with far more sadistic tendencies than when we were young.

 

' I am truly sorry I didn't escape and come for you earlier.

 

' However, if you would like to fix things between us, then I will be waiting at the station in my Animagus form.  I would like to get to know my nephew better, and if you feel the same way, then feel free to join me on my travels (evading the aurors in sunny climes) this Summer.

 

' I'm sure we'll have much to talk about.

 

' Your uncle Sirius .'

 

He hid a quiet smile, and then let it shine: He didn't have to be afraid anymore.

 

"Hermione? There's been a change of plans."

 

Suddenly, this Summer was looking better than ever.

 

  ∞  

 

Nervously, Cass played with the strap on his bag, pulling his trunk behind him. Gabriel clucked at curious onlookers from his perch atop his luggage.

 

A warm, wet nose nudged his leg, and Cass looked down, finding a grinning dog wagging his tail at him. He bent down to pet the animal, and whispered:

 

"Hello Sirius."

 

His uncle woofed at him, and trotted off, turning around when he reached the corner. Cass followed him, and eventually, they reached a deserted alleyway, where Sirius morphed back into a slightly grubby man. He ruffled Cass' hair, and tugged him over to his side.

 

"Ready for an adventure?"

 

And then they disappeared.

 

The next few weeks passed in the same way: Sirius apparated them to a new country, and they spent time seeing the sights, being tourists, and visited the magical areas, his uncle always in disguise, before they hopped off to another region when he believed they'd spent too much time in one place.

 

Along the way, Cass picked up a fair bit of French, passable German, and a smattering of various dialects. This knack for languages was something he's never been able to explain. He also amassed a number of interesting and occasionally magical souvenirs for himself and Hermione, along with many spells he couldn't wait to try.

 

After a month of this, Cass was dropped off at the Grangers, to spend a week with them before he met up with the Weasleys and Harry for the Quidditch World Cup, as they'd arranged beforehand.

 

At first, Mr Granger was ready to call the police: when Hermione had mentioned Sirius, it had been in more of an abstract sense, an 'Oh, he'll be travelling with his uncle' kind of classification. What she had failed to mention was that Cass’s uncle was the apparent mass-murderer Sirius Black, whose face had been plastered all over Muggle news for months since his escape.

 

Thankfully, the situation was resolved, and Sirius left the house uneviscerated.

 

But not before he'd had a chance to cast the magic-warding spells: charms that would allow the teenagers to practice magic in peace.

 

  ∞ 

 

The  week passed in much the same manner as the last Summer: Hermione gushed over the spellbooks and foreign gifts he brought back with him, and they got down to work immediately. Preparing for the spell-crafting aspect of  Arithmancy the following year, Cass even drafted up formulae and equations for a jinx that would leave the cursed person  with the sensation of being about to sneeze, and then never being able to do so, for days on end.

 

"What was your accidental magic?" Hermione whispered into the still air one night. The silence of the summer night was only disturbed by the rustling of bedsheets as she twisted and turned before this moment.

 

He was lying on the floor of her bedroom, looking up at the constellations that they had spent all day painting on the ceiling, and then enchanted with animation charms. He had been pondering the fact that she had chosen to paint Cassiopeia right over her head, before she jolted him out of his reverie. It didn't look much like the Cassiopeia of myths; rather, it looked more like himself, reading spectacles perched low on his nose as he perused a book.

 

It pleased him: the idea that she would want him close to her.

 

Cass cleared his throat, turning so that he faced towards her, even though it was not clear in the twilight of her room.

 

"I trust you remember Draco? The ignorant prat at school?" he breathed, huffing a laugh as she chuckled at his description. "He's my cousin."

 

"Really?" Hermione mock-gasped , and there was the creaking of bedsprings as she pushed herself up on an elbow, searching for his face in the dark. "I have a feeling I'm going to like this story."

 

He smiled, an act that became easier with every moment spent in her company.

 

"It was when I was ten years old," Cass started, casting his mind back to the memory. "Draconis Stupidus had just had his own first sign of magic, and-"

 

"What was it?"

 

He laughed again.

 

"Ridiculous: all he did was turn a red piece of fabric green, because he didn't like the association with Gryffindor."

 

She snorted.

 

"Stands to reason. Go on."

 

"Well..." Here he licked his lips, wondering how to go on. Haltingly, he started again. "We'd been invited to a celebratory dinner at the Malfoy estate, and while the adults were discussing politics, the children were banished to the old nursery..."

 

Again he trailed off.

 

Cass remembered the day well, but the memory of it still filled him with fear.

 

"It started with the lights. Draco was spouting off all these unlikely things that he could do at Hogwarts; how he was going to be top in every subject, single-handedly win the Quidditch cup, put the muggleborns in their 'rightful' place... And then there was this ringing in the air. Like someone had run their finger around the edge of a glass, but louder and, suddenly, the lights started growing brighter. The metal in the room started shaking, and when I stood up, which I didn't even register happening, I saw my reflection in the great mirror before me, right before everything shattered. And I swear, Hermione, I  swear  I had wings."

 

Silence.

 

Hermione drew in a shaking breath.

 

"What happened next?" she asked quietly.

 

"My parents took me home pretty quickly, after that, but they were convinced my little performance was from being filled with fervour for the 'pureblood message'. Anyway," he said, trying to inject a shot of lightness into his tone. "It's not like anyone was talking about Draco's little party trick after that."

 

She reached down to take his hand, her thumb stroking over the dry skin soothingly, and it's then he understood that she had seen right through his bluster.

 

"My story is a lot less exciting," Hermione teased, trying to take his mind off it. "When I was six, I managed to knock myself out levitating a book of the top shelf, that I was  not allowed to read, Hermione ! I heard my mum coming up the stairs and panicked, dropping the book, which landed right on my head." She paused for a moment. "I always thought it was the concussion that made me imagine that. At least, I did before Professor McGonagall showed up on our doorstep."

 

He lifted her hand to his lips and brushed a kiss atop the fine-boned knuckles.

 

"Thanks, Cass."

 

"You're welcome, Hermione."

 

And they stayed that way, until the morning: hands still touching when Mr Granger came in to wake them .  

 

  ∞  

 

The Weasley homestead was like no house he'd ever seen before: the entire construction reminded Cass of a piece from one of the modern art museums he'd dragged Sirius to over the Summer.

 

When the family actually emerged from the wonder of architecture, Cass blinked, thinking for a moment that he'd been hit on the head and was seeing double. He'd known that Ron had a large family, but Cass assumed the red-headed boy had meant three other siblings, rather than six. The only other Weasleys he'd met before were the Twins and Ginny, both in excellent circumstances.



It was like staring at a ginger mirage.



He blinked a few times for good measure, standing there gawping, until Mrs Weasley came bustling over and enveloped him in a hug.



Cass relaxed at that: the smell was different, but the denamour and warmth was almost the same as Madam Pomfrey.



Harry jogged over, and tugged Hermione and Cass into the house, all the way up to Ron's room. Once in there, the dark-haired boy flopped back onto the bed and grinned at them. He was just about to open his mouth, when Ron burst in, having evaded his mother.



"How's Sirius?" Harry asked, sitting up. "Where did you go?"


Cass smiled at him, digging something out of his overnight bag, and tossed it to the boy. He caught it with ease, carefully unwrapping the packaging.



"What is it?" Harry said, pulling out the strange leather device.



"Wand holster," Cass explained, sitting on the floor in front of Hermione, who was sitting on the only available chair. He leaned back against her legs. "Specially enchanted for magical bullfighters in Spain: it's impervious to the Expelliarmus Charm, by the way. I thought it might come in handy."



The Boy-Who-Lived's smile brightened for a moment, before faltering.



"I suppose you went to a lot of countries, then," he said, quieter than before.



Cass leaned forward, catching his wrist.



"Harry," he began solemnly. "Believe me, you were his first choice, not me! I just happened to be the natural stand-in. Okay? I wanted you to be there with us."



"Let's not get down when we're going to see the World Cup," Harry said, standing up and heading out the door. "Ron, come on."



Cass let his hand fall, and stared after the boy. Hermione rested her hand on his shoulder.



"It's okay, Cass," she told him, squeezing his shoulder. "Everything's going to be fine."



He wasn't entirely sure that he believed her.

 

  ∞  

 

The Quidditch World Cup was loud and bright and amazing, leaving Cass unable to feel sad for long. Music and people from every country populated the grounds, and Cass couldn't wait to greet every one.



Food sizzled invitingly at stalls, and he found himself bewildered by a wink from a pretty French boy while waiting in the line for a snack. Cass blushed, unused to the attention, and smiled back, causing the boy to hide his face behind tousled, chestnut hair. Just as he was about to leave, he spotted the boy mouthing ' See you soon '.



He wasn't particularly invested in the outcome of the game, but since their hosts were supporting Ireland, Cass bought a dark green scarf, with golden shamrocks embroidered on the ends. It was the least ostentatious he could find.



Cass cheered along with the crowd, and when he looked to his side he spotted Hermione, the light catching on her shining smile. Breath got stuck in his throat, and he froze involuntarily, until a person slammed into him, and she held his arm tightly as she guided him back to the tent.

 

The smile stayed with him, an infectious grin that refused to go away, even as he slid into sleep.

 

Was he in Heaven?



Cass might have known. 

 

  ∞  

 

Then they were awake, and they were running. The campsite was burning and there were screams in the air.

 

He couldn't look back, even when Hermione twisted and staggered to a halt to stare at the poor, poor muggles hanging in the air, he didn't stop: just grabbed her arm and kept sprinting for their lives, pulling her along behind him.

 

Cass had been helpless at the hands of people like that mob before, and he never planned for any of his friends to have it happen to them.

 

As if some fantastical being had heard his innermost thoughts, a voice roared behind him.

 

"CASSIOPEIA!"

 

He turned on instinct, some primal part of him screaming not to let the predator at his back.

 

Pleiades leered as he spread his arms out wide, silhouetted against the jumping flames.

 

"What? Not even a smile for your dearest father? You disappoint me Cassiopeia."

 

"Run, Hermione!" Cass hissed out of the corner of his mouth, the figure in front of him seeming larger than humanly possible by the fear he still held for him.

 

"But Cass!"

 

"I said run!" he pleaded, knowing he couldn’t do the same. His feet were stuck to the ground, because the monster under the bed was alive and well, and stalking towards him.

 

Something within him broke, and he went to flee, following after Hermione and he could almost taste freedom-

 

SSSSSSSSS , came the sound of the bola whistling through the air, and Cass had only the barest of moments to feel the sinking of his heart, as he was tackled by the conjured rope.

 

A shriek tore through the dark, and he sobbed in fear, knowing the monster had gotten Hermione as well.

 

He made a half-hearted attempt to reach for where his wand had fallen a foot away from his outstretched arm, before a steel-toed boot came down hard on it, snapping his lifeline clean in two.

 

"No!"

 

Pleiades squatted down to his level and cocked his head.

 

"Son, I think it's time we had a proper talk about your priorities," he said blithely, ruffling Cass' hair in a way that made him want to scream. Everything about the man kept sending him back to the small child who used to hide in his wardrobe: knowing that no matter how scary his nightmares were, there were nastier monsters living within his very house. "Such as, who is this piece of  filth  that keeps sullying our  darling  boy?"

 

The broad man stood up, gripping Cass by the collar as he pulled him up with him.

 

"Ah, ah, now, Cassiopeia," Pleiades chided, tapping Cass' wrists with his wand. A thin piece of twine slithered round them, pulling them tight enough to stop his blood and to keep him from struggling. "Can't have you resisting when I'm trying to teach you a lesson. Think we'd have beaten that into you last Summer, before you so rudely interrupted our training. Now, dear one, why don't you introduce me to your...  Friend . I'm sure we'll have a lot to talk about."

 

And with that he leveled his wand- a crude piece of dark, lined wood- at Hermione, and spoke a single word.

 

" Crucio ."

 

" Hermione ! No, Father, don't! Please stop! Stop it!" Cass cried over the awful sounds of her broken screams. Babbling now, "Father, stop, just stop, I'll go with you,  just leave her alone !"

 

Pleiades flicked his wand away, releasing his curse, and studied Hermione's limp form, for a moment. His lip curled.

 

"You know what, Cassie? I don't think I shall.  Avada ked -"

 

"NO!"

 

Without thinking, acting purely on instinct and the adrenaline flooding his veins, Cass lifted his bound hands, and, with something that was not quite and yet more than adrenaline,  pushed .

 

Light erupted from behind the eyes of what used to be his father, and the corpse fell to the ground, dragging Cass with it; bringing him face to face with burnt-out sockets.

 

Sirius was the one to find them later, drawn to the distress flares sent up by Hermione: Cass was trembling on the ground by his father's corpse, staring into space, with her screaming for help at his side.

 

His uncle's choked gasp at the sight of his brother finally broke the catatonic state Cass was trapped in, and he looked up- still-shining eyes meeting Sirius' shocked ones.

 

Another set of footsteps came running up behind the older man, then stuttered to a halt.

 

"Sirius, Sirius, look! His eyes, they're glowing!" Remus breathed.

 

This seemed to knock Sirius out of his trance.

 

"Come on," he said, grabbing Cass by the arm and dragging him upright. "We need to go. Or must I remind you, Remus , that I am still a wanted criminal?"

 

"Wait," Hermione's hoarse voice broke through. She was helped to her feet by Remus, who made quick work of the conjured bola. "Hi- His wand," she rasped.

 

"What about it?" he replied testily.

 

" Sirius ," Remus gasped, having picked up the two halves of Cass' wand. "Look!"

 

He passed a hand over his face in an effort to keep his composure, then turned back to the other man.

 

"Send a message to the others, I'll take these two back to the Burrow."

 

"How are we going to explain this?" Remus hissed, stabbing a finger at Pleiades' corpse. Sirius sighed.

 

"Accidental magic, purely instinctual. The Ministry'll lap it up."

 

 

When Cass turned up at Ollivander's a few days later, the wizened man looked at him with a gaze tinged with pity.

 

"There are few worse things that can happen to a wizard than losing his wand," he said, turning the sign over to ' Closed'  and motioning for Cass to follow him to the back of the shop. "I will make you a new one, but I doubt it will be any less complicated than before."

 

And he was right.

 

When the elderly man was finished, Cass picked it up and looked the wand over:

 

It was less different to his old wand than he expected, with the same pattern of wings and general shape. However, this time, it was sharper, longer; even the feathers had a knife-like edge to them, and the runes had a more intense feel to them.

 

  ∞  

 

Returning to school felt different this year: Cass was still on edge from the encounter (murder) with his father, and every face seemed to be hiding secrets.

 

He was sitting at the Hufflepuff table during the Welcome Feast, which meant he missed Hermione's realisation of House Elf labour in Hogwarts ( although he was informed   in much detail   later ). He was, however, present for Dumbledore's announcement of the Triwizard Tournament.

 

The idea of three trials rang somewhere in the back of the undiscovered part of Cass' mind, but he paid it no heed.

 

The new DADA professor, Mad-Eye Moody seemed to be perfectly normal at first glance, but something in Cass raised its hackles at the sight of him and refused to relax. There was a feeling, like an acrid stench, every time the man passed Cass' eyes, and if he looked just so out of the corner of his eye, a strange mottled black aura appeared around him. Mustard yellow flecks curled tantalisingly around the edges of his body.

 

Cass just couldn't shake the feeling that there was something  wrong  about the man.

  ∞  

 

Lessons passed normally, the only real change was the difficulty of syllabus. However, thanks to their gratuitous use of the Timeturners the previous year, Hermione and he were able to perform the more advanced spells with ease, having practiced them the year before.

 

In Magical Art, Professor Daubermann moved them from the field of painting to live models and sculpting.

 

"You will find that those of you also taking Ancient Runes will have an easier time of this," he said in the first lesson, clapping his hands together in the airy studio. "And next year, we'll be progressing to magical body art and transformation. I expect those who decide to do NEWT Magical Art to excel at this!"

 

"Magical body art, sir?" an unnamed Hufflepuff asked, uncertain. "Is that how you got your hair like that?"

 

Professor Daubermann had a thatch of thick hair on his head. It wouldn't seem strange or magical at all, if it wasn't for the ever-shifting palette of colours that swirled through at every moment. Cass found that he could usually predict his mood from the particular shade of puce presented in the professor's plaited locks.

 

"An ill-timed spell at the time of my conception!" he roared with laughter. "I like your attitude, Martian!"

 

 "It's Marshall, sir," the sullen student informed him.

 

"Right you are, Memphis!"

 

Cass liked the classroom. One of the blank, plastered walls was covered with canvases and sketches, lit by the wide windows on the opposite side. The ceiling was a hodgepodge of murals in chalk, paint and other pigments, all moving in perfect harmony to each other. Even the floor was magical, tiled with colours of every description, even some that couldn't be found in Daubermann's hair. These moved too, forming flashes of one image for a few moments, before they dissolved and created new ones in seconds.  On the professor's desk, a small terracotta newt organised the hectic system frantically. Anvil, his Magical Art Mastery project, lumbered around the classroom, sniffing students and offering supplies from the boxes strapped to his back. At first, Cass had found the great metal crocodile intimidating, but now he made sure to scratch the living sculpture under the chin every time he entered the lesson.

 

Nothing but a big softie, Anvil was.

 

The next few weeks passed swiftly, and it seemed like it had only been the 1st of September, when Cass wakes up on the 30th of October.

 

All the students waited outside for the other schools to arrive, most complaining of the cold, and Cass barely supressed a snort when he heard a Gryffindor muttering about Snape wanting to poison them all. He knew the man wasn't an especially good teacher, but his punishments were certainly better than the possibility of what would happen, should a potion go disastrously wrong.

 

Seeing the Beauxbatons horses made him want to study the genetics of the species, and he was curious about the cloth of their robes. Did the weave ha ve a warming charm? Was it made from magical fibres? Apparently not, if the shivering of the students was anything to go by.

 

The appearance of the Durmstrang delegation made his jaw drop, along with a great many others. The moment he saw the spinning mast emerge from the whirlpool, Cass wanted nothing more than to interrogate the pupils about its mechanics.

 

It was irritating, though, watching some of the foreign students pick at the food and curl their lips in disgust. If there was something wrong with the food, he thought in exasperation, either find something that did appeal, or be polite about it!

 

Cass did manage to get one of the Beauxbatons girls into a fascinating conversation about the spells in the school building itself. Apolline was a sixth year Magical Art student, specialising in Architecture, and was not at all hesitant to engage in a debate on the merits of different charms with a Hogwarts fourth year.

 

He attempted to make a few friends with the Durmstrang students, but it seemed that they were under orders not to engage too much with the Hogwarts students. Only a couple of the stern, fur-clad pupils exchanged pleasant conversations with him, and usually in the same manner as they would give directions.

 

Still, Cass was trying to be all the help he could.

 

The next night, when the Champions were called, Cass cheered for all of the chosen people, especially when a student from his own house, someone he knew no less, was called!

 

He had never felt prouder of Cedric Diggory than in that moment, even as he blinked and saw a pale mist surround him for a split-second.

 

Just his imagination, Cass told himself, not letting the image dampen his good spirits.

 

He was only just turning back to his food, when another name was called.

 

"Harry Potter!"

 

Cass choked on a mouthful of chicken. Apolline slapped him on the back a few times for good measure.

 

Even from his seat at the Hufflepuff table, he could see the sickly turn of Ron's face, fading from a bright and cheery grin to the curdled cast of jealousy.

 

Oh, no, he thought, grimacing.

 

Cass had no plans on being drawn into another feud with his friends over something that was outside their control, because he knew Harry, and no matter how resourceful the boy was, he'd never be able to manipulate that Age-Line. Ron could stuff his ill-thought-out bitterness.

 

Instead, he turned back to Apolline, and bounced theories about the moving staircases off her.

 

It was surprisingly cathartic.

 

  ∞  

 

As it turned out, not many other students shared his view of the situation, and Cass was shocked to find himself resented by many members of his own house. He turned away from those misguided pupils, who had turned their noses up before looking to see what lay beneath.

 

The annoying badges that his prat-of-a-cousin was circulating doesn't help. Every time Cass saw them, he made a point of changing the lettering discreetly, so that they read ' Ignoramus Maximus '.

 

It seemed that not many people found this as funny as he did, so it became a common occurrence for Cass to have to stick their feet to the floor once he'd done so.

 

And if they got free, Cass just transfigured random objects into ducks and/or dragons, before making a run for it. Sometimes he enchanted the suits of armour to pull them into a waltz while he made his escape.

 

This seemed to earn him a degree of respect, after a while, and even the Weasley Twins acknowledged him with appraising smirks in the hallways.

 

   ∞ 

 

This year, he actually had his Hogsmeade slip signed by a family member. It might not be his actual guardian, but apparently even an almost-mass-murder was enough for the magic.

 

For most people it was a relief; getting away from the heavy stone of Hogwarts to the relative peace of the village. Students from every school browsed shop windows and congregated on street corners.

 

For Cass, it was even more of a reprieve, escaping from the heavy stone and atmosphere of Hogwarts. Being friends with the Chosen One had not brought him any kindness in recent months. The bright, early November sunlight seemed to wash away the darkness brought about by his recurring nightmares.



Cass had not told Hermione yet, but murdering Pleiades left him without a single untroubled night. He had even taken to abusing his Timeturner, going back hours in the hope of making up for lost sleep.



It didn't matter, because the sun was shining, and Cass looked forward to seeing his uncle later.



Harry was frogmarched between two of his friends: Ron was still too angry with him to come along. Hermione and Cass held a large sheet of paper in front of them, covered with incomprehensible diagrams and scribblings to stop anyone walking into the invisible person between them. They got a few odd looks, but otherwise, the plan worked.



Finally, they slid into a booth at the Three Broomsticks. Cass folded the enormous sheet, sliding it into a section of his bag he'd enchanted to be an infinite pancake folder. As he closed the partition, an amazed gasp sounded from his left. Turning, Cass found the boy from the World Cup staring back at him with slate-grey eyes.



"Is that a never-ending bag!?" he asked excitedly, gesturing towards Cass' satchel. "I'm studying Arithmancy at Beauxbatons, but we're nowhere near this level of magic!"



Surprised, Cass smiled at the boy, pleased to have found someone other than Hermione who appreciated the art of numbers. He turned in his seat, finding an easier position to talk to the teenager.



"Yes, actually," he started, grinning. "I didn't enchant the original bag, but I built up the rest of the spells over time." He stopped again, before sticking out a hand shyly. "Cassiopeia."



The other boy took it, shaking firmly.


"Marcel."



They sort of stared at each other for a bit, before a distinct cough from Hermione reminded them they had company, and disengaged their hands.


"Nice to meet you, Marcel," Cass said, clearing his throat and ducking his head. "I, uh, I'm with my friends right now, but if you'd like, we could meet later to talk?"



"Yes," Marcel murmured, before standing and turning to go. "I would like that very much, Cassiopeia."


"Just... Cass, please."



"Of course, Cass. See you when I see you."



When he turned around, Hermione was looking at him rather frostily.



"What?" he asked, sipping his butterbeer. "We were just discussing Arithmancy!"



This seemed to jolt Hermione a bit, and she appeared to scramble for an answer.



"You said friends, plural, Cass," she snapped irritably, picking at the label on her bottle. "There's only one of us, visible, at the table."



"I'm sorry, Hermione," he apologised, calming down. "I didn't realise I'd made such a blunder."



Cass looked around, realising the other person with them was no longer there.



"Where's Harry?" he whispered out of the corner of his mouth as he picked up his butterbeer.



"Moody saw him," she explained, flashing a smile at him teasingly. "Somebody was too busy making moon-eyes at a certain Frenchman to notice."



Cass blushed, looking up at Hermione through his lashes.


"I'm sorry," he murmured, squeezing her hand, before dropping it. She didn't seem to notice, and gathered her stuff instead.



"I'll leave a note for Harry," Hermione said, before tugging on his arm. "We need to go to The Palette."



'The Palette' was their nickname for the 'Palette and Pot Paint Shop', which actually sold all kinds of art supplies. It was crooked and cramped, and both of them loved the place. Precarious stacks of canvases and notebooks lined the pathways in the shop, propped up by sacks of Ganges River Clay. Brushes of all kinds were displayed beneath the glass-topped desk, and a strange machine waited among the paint samples and cans. When a customer pulled the lever, three colours whirled up on the spinning dials, all magically inclined to make a pleasing selection of pigments that went together.

 

Today, Cass ran the tips of his fingers over the tired wooden shelves at the back of the narrow front room, letting the warm light filter in through the half-shuttered windows and calm him. He basked in the quiet, and let his gaze drift, searching for anything that would grasp his attention. Finally, a set of clay tools caught his eye, and he drifted closer, lifting the set gently for closer inspection.

 

The tools were obviously second hand, but their worn cherry handles were still in good shape, and the metal uncorrupted and sharp. He ran a nail over the smooth surface, thinking that a few pyrographed runes and a coat of varnish would make the set perfect.

 

Setting them down on the counter, Cass smiled at the tired shop owner, before paying, and spotting a slim box of paintbrushes behind her head. 

 

"How much are they?" he inquired politely, thinking they'd do nicely for Hermione's Christmas present. The woman glanced back and smiled, placing them on the glass before him.

 

"One of a kind  Abraxan hair brushes," she recited, as if reading from a script. "We get ‘em special from a relative of the wandmaker  Gregorovitch, same person who made those tools, come to think of it. Lookit the wood; exactly the same it is!"

 

He examined the handles, and sure enough, the grain and shade were almost identical.

 

"I'll take both then, please," he replied as he reached for his wallet.

 

   ∞  

 

After supper, Cass disillusioned himself, and made his way up to Gryffindor' Common Room. As agreed, Harry opened the way for him, and they waited by the fireplace for Sirius' message.

 

When his uncle appeared in the fireplace, he was overjoyed to see him again. They exchanged pleasantries, and discussed plans, all groaning over Harry's encounter with the reporter Skeeter. When it was his turn to be interrogated, Cass mentioned Marcel's name with uncertainty, and nearly jumped out of his skin when Sirius started barking with laughter. Once the subsequent shushing had occurred, his uncle sobered up, and turned to him seriously.

 

"In most pureblood families, the policy is the Heir and the Spare, usually with only the spare being allowed to pursue relationships with the same-sex," Sirius said, over Cass' spluttering, and waved his protestations off. "I wouldn't care about your sexuality anyway, I know the Muggle world is still working through their issues with it, but I couldn't care if this family is wiped off the map entirely. I know it's not disqualifying adoption, and blah, blah, blah, but really, Cass; this concerns you and you only. What kind of surrogate parent would I be if I condemned you for loving people?"

 

He broke off there, and darted a look over at Harry.

 

"I've got to go, sorry kids. Now Cass," Sirius said urgently. "Help Harry through this with everything you have, alright? He needs your help."

 

Cass nodded, and they sat in silence as his uncle's face dissolved into embers.

 

"So, you're gay then?" Harry said awkwardly. "Not that I care or anything."

 

He shook his head in silence.

 

"Not gay," he replied, standing up in preparation to leave. "Just not straight either. I don't really  think  about people in that way, you know?"

 

Harry murmured his assent, and Cass left the silent room under the weight of the Disillusionment Charm.

 

He felt the castle's rhythms and wakefulness slowing to a halt as he made his way back to the dormitory.

 

It was time to get some sleep.

 

Chapter Text

The First Task was a pit of adrenaline at the bottom of Cass' stomach. They'd spent days going over spells and strategies for fighting the dragons, even going as far, and failing, to try and create a spell with Hermione and his shared knowledge. Finally, they had come across an idea that might have worked, and laboured on it until 2 AM the day of the task, until Harry had finally mastered the charm.

 

Now all they could do was wait and see.

 

Shuffling through the stands, Cass tried to find a good seat among the bustling spectators, starting as he heard his voice called out over the noise.

 

"Cass! Cass! Over here!" Marcel yelled, motioning for him to join the French boy and his friends.

 

He grinned, and went over to them, and Hermione followed behind him.

 

"Marcel!" Cass said happily, clasping him on the shoulder. "Thank you for saving seats for us!"

 

The other boy laughed, throwing back his head.

 

"Anything for you Cass," he replied, going to take his seat.

 

"I don't think we've been introduced," Hermione stated icily, shoving her hand at Marcel. He took it, and shook hesitantly. "I'm Cass' friend, Hermione."

 

"It's nice to meet you," Marcel said, and shoved them to their seats gently, taking the one next to Cass. "Now let's enjoy the show!"

 

Cass enjoyed the view he can see from his vantage point, and how Marcel seemed to sit a little closer than necessary.

 

He enjoyed the pointed glare he could feel coming from Hermione a little less, though, but those only lasted until the Task began.

 

Cedric, Fleur and Krum all completed the task, the crowd whooped and winced with equal regard at their near failures and brushes with injury. Cass is particular felt his breath catching in his throat as the Chinese Fireball crushed its real eggs, and only Marcel grasping this hand could make him calm down. Hermione harrumphed next to him and shifted further away.

 

Finally, it was Harry's turn to compete.

 

He stepped out into the arena, faltering a little at the sight of the dragon crouched over her clutch. Then his lips thinned and his face took on a cast of determination. Drawing his wand, Harry cried the spell that they'd spent so long working on.

 

" Accio Firebolt !"

 

The slim broom flew from Hermione's open bag and into Harry's hands. He leapt atop it, and began swooping and feinting in an attempt to grab the dragon's attention. At first, it didn't work, but soon the Horntail was taunted into the air, allowing Harry to dart down and snatch the egg.

 

Silence.

 

Then suddenly, the crowd erupted into cheers: the loudest support coming from the Gryffindor.

 

Harry stands gobsmacked in the middle of the arena, as the judges tallied their scores, and looked even more shocked as the marks left him tied with Krum.

 

That night, Cass celebrated with the Gryffindors, and when Harry opened the egg, he was the only one who did not cover their ears in pain.

 

The shrieking noise sparked a longing in his chest, an aching wish to know what the voice ( because that was what it was ) was saying, and most of all to open his mouth wide and respond in kind…

 

It scared him.

 

The feeling terrified him so much that he pretended to cower with the rest of them, just to appear normal.

 

 

A few days later,  Cass was sitting at the Hufflepuff table when Hermione threw herself down next to him.

 

"Read it," she insisted, thrusting a pamphlet beneath his nose. Cass took it reluctantly, setting his morning toast aside.

 

"SPEW?" he asked, reading the title warily.

 

"The Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare," Hermione recited, removing it from his hands and flipping through it. "Our long terms are the complete freedom of House Elves, with the same rights granted to humans, but currently, we're aimed towards making then aware of the horrible conditions they have to suffer under."

 

"Hermione," Cass said, pushing the paper down gently. "House Elves are perfectly happy the way they are. Freeing them would only bring them misery."

 

"They would be better free and miserable, than slaves and happy," she snapped. "Besides, most aren't even happy: did you even meet Dobby?"

 

"No," he replied, picking up his toast again with an air of finality. "But from what I know, Dobby is the exception,  not  the rule. They're much happier left alone-"

 

"And it would also be the wrong thing to do!" Hermione hissed, slapping her pamphlet down on the table. A few people were beginning to look their way. "It would not be morally right for us to let them say like this!"

 

"What do you want me to say!?" Cas snarled, slamming his mug down on the table, slopping tea on his hand. He winced, and grunts out between gritted teeth. "They need wizards in order to live! None of them want to be free! Remember the House Elves of Cologne, Hermione? They came all the way to Britain because one witch's blunder freed them, and they couldn't cope!"

 

All heads in the hall were now looking their way, drawn by the argument.

 

"Fine!" Hermione bit out, gathering her things as she went to leave the Hall. "But if one witch did it, than one witch can do it now!"

 

In the silence that followed her dramatic exit, Cass looked around at all the faces staring back.

 

"Please return to your meals!" he said loudly. "This does not concern you, go gather gossip elsewhere!"

 

He glared down at the cold food in front of him, and shoved the plate away, swinging his bag over his shoulder as he headed to his first lesson.

 

 

When McGonagall announced the event of the Yule Ball in their next class, Cass felt his stomach roll. If she had told them a few days earlier, he would have asked Hermione and everything would be fine. Now his face soured, as he surveyed the grim prospect of finding a date.

 

In the library the next day, he heard Krum approach Hermione, and ask to take her to the Ball.

 

He tried not to shove the book back onto the shelf too violently at her assent.

 

Later, Cass was walking down the corridor to Charms, observing giggling girls travel in packs as they gossipped over the ball, when a cloud of indigo and cerulean sparks exploded above his head.

 

He looked around, and was bemused when a tall Beauxbatons boy went on one knee at his feet and held out a glass rose, its transparent petals tinged with crimson. Cass took it automatically, raising a skeptical eyebrow as the boy placed a kiss on his other hand dramatically.

 

"Cassiopeia, would you do me," he began, sharp grey eyes glinting mischievously. "The pleasure of attending the ball with me?"

 

Cass laughed, throwing his head back, pretending to not know him.

 

"I will if you stop calling me Cassiopeia," he replied teasingly, already knowing the answer before he asked. "It's Cass, Monsieur...?"

 

"Chatelaine. Marcel Chatelaine, Cass."

 

"Then it would be my pleasure, Marcel. I look forward to seeing you at the ball."

 

The French boy grinned, and planted a kiss on Cass' stunned lips, before running over to his friends, and shouted triumphantly:

 

" Il a dit oui !  Il a dit oui !"

 

They cheered, and lugged Marcel onto their shoulders, roaring in celebration.

 

Cass laughed, feeling the encounter brighten his mood considerably.

 

 

The day of the ball dawned bright and fresh with snow. As was tradition, Cass met the trio in the Gryffindor Common Room to exchange presents. Although he still treated Hermione a little coldly, it was only in response to how she addressed him.

 

However, when he passed his present over, she thawed considerably.

 

"Thank you," Hermione murmured, and embraced him hesitantly. "I'm sorry for getting so angry with you."

 

"I'm sorry for not taking it seriously," he replied, and she handed him his present, still examining the brushes carefully.

 

It was a box with a spinning dial. When Cass looked at Hermione curiously, she explained.

 

"I made it myself," she said. "Whenever you're stuck for a word with an essay, the display shows the one you need. It's like a remembrall, but  better. "

 

He was touched by the thought she put into the gift, and touched her arm gently.

 

"Thank you, Hermione," he replied, meaning every single word.

 

When it was time to get ready for the Ball, Cass helped Hermione with her things. He cast Softening and Cooling Charms on the soles of her small high-heels, and when she turned around, he threw a spell over her that would make it appear as though sparks flowed from her dress. He even ensured they were the same shade of periwinkle as the floaty material. When she spun round to him, a swirl of them appeared, and she gasped.

 

"Thank you, Cass," Hermione whispered, hugging him. "I hope you have a wonderful time with Marcel."

 

"And you with Victor."

 

His own robes were a royal blue, lined with shiny cobalt fabric. With her new knowledge of Magical Needlework, Hermione had helped him embroider silver snowflakes on the cuffs and on the edges of the same colour as the inside. She had even enchanted them to move.

 

They walked down to the Entrance Hall together, arm in arm. If they didn't know better, people would have assumed they were together: a matching set. As it was, they separated on the stairs, each going to their prospective partner.

 

Marcel wore rich, forest green robes, edged with black. As Cass got closer, he saw that there were small leaves picked out in autumn orange, bright against the dark velvet background.

 

He found himself smiling brilliantly as he took Marcel's arm. The French boy spun him, and laughing, they bumped into each other, smiling foolishly. Cass ducked his head.

 

"Hello," he said, smiling up at the taller boy. Marcel adjusted his crooked collar.

 

"Hello yourself," he replied, rubbing Cass' cheek as he let his hands rest on his shoulders. Cass took his hands gently.

 

"Would you like to dance?" he asked, looking around a the empty space clearly designed for it.

 

"We shall at some point," Marcel said, squeezing his hand. "First,  cher , dinner, and then the Champions open the floor."

 

Cass suppressed a laugh and failed.

 

"I bet Harry'll love that: he's got all the grace of a beached whale!"

 

They chuckled together lightly, then turned as Ron approached, dragging the aforementioned Champion behind him.

 

"Did you know Hermione was going with Krum!?" he demanded loudly, attracting the attention of several people.

 

"No," Cass answered shortly, having no patience for the red-headed boy’s irrational anger. "I had no idea that she was keeping her date a secret from you, because of your rudeness. I had no idea that she confided in me, because someone didn't believe that she wouldn't be asked at all, and therefore available to go with him. I also had no idea that I would be enjoying myself so much tonight, so goodbye. You may speak to her in the morning: I will not let you ruin this for her."

 

As they turned away, Marcel looked at him with wide eyes.

 

"Wow..." he breathed, smoothing down Cass' errant lapels. "I had no idea you could be so fierce."

 

He shrugged.

 

"I'm a badger at heart."

 

When all the plates were cleared away, Marcel lead him down to the dance floor. They watched Harry stumble through the first dance, clearly steered by Parvati Patil. Finally, it was time for their go, and as the rest of the guests swarmed the floor, Cass turned to his partner.

 

"My mother only let me learn the male steps," he began uncertainly, beginning to panic. Marcel laughs.

 

"Everything is fine, then," he said teasingly. "Because my mother made me learn both!"

 

They took to the floor, seamlessly integrating with the other dancers. The two gained a few odd looks from some Muggleborns, but their attention was soon taken by Fred Weasley and Angelina Johnson's energetic swing dancing, leaving the couple to dance in peace.

 

It was one of the most natural things that Cass had ever done. When he was a child, Bronagh had put him through rigorous lessons, clearly anticipating soirees that he would never attend. Now, he felt a grudging thankfulness to the woman, as spinning and twirling with Marcel was as smooth as oiled silk. They were well matched, and it was almost as though his partner was able to anticipate Cass' next step before he knew himself, making it as easy as breathing.

 

Before they knew it, it was eleven o'clock, and they were both tired. Taking Marcel by the arm, Cass lead them out into the gardens. For a while, they walked in silence, drinking in the beautiful decorations and the faint sound of music from the Hall.

 

Suddenly, Marcel halted and turned towards Cass, tilting his chin up and brushed his lips across his own. Drawing back, Cass blinked at him, neither saying a word.

 

Then Cass heard talking, and looked down the path, spotting Hermione walking hand-in-hand with Krum. A flash of jealousy curled through his gut, and he pushed Marcel into the wall running along the edge of the path, kissing him hungrily. Marcel responded in kind, and it was only when the other couple passed that he pulled away.

 

"You are like a tiger!" Marcel murmured deliriously. " Rrrrrrrrrrrrr !"

 

They laughed, and then Cass released him, stepping back.

 

"I think the Ball will be over soon," he said apologetically, offering his hand to Marcel, who used it to get him properly upright. "Thank you."

 

"No problem, Cass," the other boy replied, resting his head on Cass' shoulder. "It was my pleasure."

 

When they reached the turning to the Hufflepuff Common Room, Marcel kissed him gently, before leaving for Ravenclaw Tower.

 

Cass watched him go silently.

 

It was one of the best nights of his life.

∞ 

 

 The weeks after the Ball were filled with happiness, days of joy leaving Cass giddy. Marcel and he spent time together, discussing everything and nothing at all.

 

Hermione and Ron seemed to get over their mini-row, and everything appeared to be fine.

 

However, with every day, Cass saw Harry sinking further into a depression. Rita Skeeter's most recent article slandered Hagrid, and left the half-giant a wreck, forcing him to take temporary leave from his job. Cass wouldn't mind normally, given that he actually wanted to pass his OWL, but he felt a strange kinship and sympathy for the man, as he himself was reviled by his own kind for something out of his control.

 

All these thoughts were put aside, because somehow, Harry found the secret to the egg and learned of the next Task.

 

It was Underwater: they knew that, just not  where .

 

Cass had always steered clear of the Black Lake, feeling a deep distrust of the dark waters. It was one of the reasons that he was glad he was not sorted into Slytherin; knowing that their windows were underwater. Usually, he was in good control of himself, but on the first night, crossing the great expanse of water, Cass felt a deep,  primal  fear of the troubled waters, and gripped the boat’s edge so hard that he was afraid he'd left hand-shaped dents. It was a relief to get on dry land again, like nothing he'd ever known.

 

The sheer prospect of it made him sick: water, cold, dark, deep water, pressing in on every side, invading the eyes, the nostrils, the mouth, choking and snuffing, dragging him deep down to depths no man had ever reached before.

 

Even thinking of it raised the urge to vomit.

 

Not wanting Harry to suffer this horrific, paralysing fear, Cass devoted his best efforts to helping his friend. Hermione and Ron dedicated hours of their free time to solve the dilemma. He even tried the Room of Requirement, but all the things he received were solutions far past Harry's skill level.

 

Eventually, Marcel took charge of his ever-increasing stress, and lugged him off to the disused Quidditch pitch. Since the Cup had been cancelled for the year, there was no one there, and it was only used when the Captain decided their team needs a remedial session.

 

Basking in the rare February sunlight, Cass lay back on the grass, enjoying the prickling sensation he experienced. Then, a weight fell on his midsection, and his breath punched out of him in a  whoosh . He looked up, finding Marcel grinning down at him as he wielded a bat.

 

"I'm a Seeker, not a Beater," Cass grumbled, hefting the identical one, in his lap, as he stood. Marcel pecked his cheek in amusement, before tossing a small leather ball at him. Cass caught it on instinct and asked:

 

"What are we doing? I feel I need an explanation."

 

"You need to let off some stress, mon canard," Marcel explained, gesturing at the sky.  He used the nickname he came up with when Cass told him of the troll incident in First Year. It meant duck, and he pretended to find it annoying, if only to keep up appearances. "So, we are going to play a game: Every time we hit our own ball, it changes colour. There are ten colours, and the first person to get theirs to gold wins. They are charmed to avoid you, though, mon chou, so you'll have to work hard."

 

Cass opened his mouth to point something out, but Marcel interrupted him.

 

"Also, hitting the other person's ball will move it back a colour."

 

He closed it, and raised his head, accepting the challenge.

 

"Just be warned, Cassie," Marcel said, winking. "My team at Beauxbatons have won every year since I joined."

 

"Then let the best sportsman win."

 

They took to the air, and if Cass thought anything could beat the Yule Ball, it would be this. However, that wouldn't be right, for the Ball was music and light, whereas this was in a class of its own.

 

A class of exhilaration and speed.

 

Marcel didn't make it easy for him, swooping into his path to keep him on his toes, but Cass was adept at dodging from years of avoiding bludgers, and made feints here and there to throw the other boy off. Marcel's laugh filled the crisp morning sunlight, and he felt a grin creeping up his face.

 

All too soon, the game was over, and they collapsed on the grass. Cass rolled onto his side to face Marcel, toying with the errant curls on the top of his head. His face took on a cast of tenderness, and he leaned in to brush a kiss over Cass' chapped lips. He smiled into the sensation, and they lay there for a while, complete in each other's presence, until the sound of oncoming footsteps awakened them from their daze. Cass extended a hand to Marcel and pulled him up.

 

The other boy  tsked  at him, and combed his fingers through Cass' hair, teasing out erstwhile blades of grass from the windblown strands.

 

They looked at each other, before heading back to the castle in companionable silence.

 

  ∞ 

 

Cass was up with Marcel, at the top of the Astronomy Tower, the night before the Second Task. Hermione had banished them, because his heightening stress channeled through his magic; turned her hair into a ball of static and rattled the books on the shelves. Chuckling, Marcel had pulled him out of the Library, and he felt her heavy stare on his back until the heavy door slammed behind them.

 

Now, he rested his head on Marcel's shoulder and curled his fingers into the soft wool of his jumper. If he closed his eyes, and tilted his head just so, Cass could imagine he heard the stars breathe.

 

The morning snuck in with blush-pink skies and the faint brush of clouds on the horizon. Somehow, they'd spent the night up on the lonely peak without realising it. Stretching, they reawakened cold limbs, and headed down to the Hall.

 

So caught up in the presence of Marcel, Cass didn't notice the absence of his friends until it was almost time to go down to the Lake. He looked around, wondering where they were, and turned to Marcel, only to find he was chatting to his friends merrily.

He stood silently in the stands, his hand lying limp in the other boy's hand.

 

Finally, the Champions dove (or, in Harry's case, flopped) into the Lake, and out of sight. There was no way for the spectators to see what was going on, so they spent the next hour playing Exploding Snap and Firewhiskey Rummy.

 

The light had just begun to tinge with the promised red of sunset, when finally, Krum broke the surface. Cass didn't even show the slightest thought for decorum, and vaulted the rail, pelting down the narrow walkway to the water's edge.

 

His only care was the wellbeing of his friend, who was being supported through the lapping waves to the platform.



He skidded to a halt, barely centimetres away from the freezing water, and dropped to his knees, anxious to help Hermione from the Lake. She had woken up, and was looking around, but the deep chill of the water had triggered bone-deep shivers, preventing her from climbing out herself. 



Cass hissed as her icy fingers clutch his own, and heaved her out. Not wasting a moment, he whipped out his wand, and cast Warming Charm after Warming Charm over her quaking body, paying special attention to her hands and feet. Eventually, with the help of some well-placed Drying Charms, she was back to her normal temperature, and Cass heaved a sigh of relief. Helping her to her feet, he looked round at the stands.



Marcel stared back at him stonily, before gathering his things and stalking off. Cass almost went after him, but hesitated when Hermione started coughing and retching.

 

He looked back after she was safe in the hands of Madam Pomfrey, only to find the seat Marcel once occupied filled by an opportunist.  

 

  ∞

 

As they made their way back up to the castle, a familiar dark owl came winging his way. Raphael dropped a letter in Cass' hands before flapping off again.

 

He opened it, frowning: this was the first time Bronagh had tried to contact him since Pleiades died.

 

Maybe he should ignore it- ball the parchment up and toss it into the Lake-  as his conscience was telling him to.

 

Should he?

 

A small nagging doubt at the back of his head whispered that maybe he should try to reconnect with his mother.

 

But after what she had done? Standing by while his father tortured and reduced him to a perfect pureblood puppet? Why should  he  forgive  her  for that?

 

"Cass? Are you alright?"

 

He looked up, jolted out of his thoughts by the hand on his arm. They were by the steps, and he had come to a complete stop: absolutely absorbed in his thoughts.

 

"I- I," Cass whispered, eyes wide as he searched Hermione's face for answers that he would not find. "I don't know... I need some time to think."

 

And with that, he rushed off, hurrying away to one of the disused classrooms on the Seventh Floor. In it, there was a den he had constructed for himself, hidden even from his closest friends, complete with wards allowing only him entrance.

 

There, sitting cross-legged in the nest of cushions and fabrics, Cass slid  his nail under the wax seal and pried it off. The letter sprang open, cream parchment tinged with amber and rose from the softly-glowing runes carved into the walls.

 

He frowned. This missive was not enchanted in the usual manner, which meant one of two things:

 

  1. A) This was not from Bronagh.
  2. B) She was too weak to perform the spell.

With trembling fingers, Cass brought it closer to his eyes and began to read:

 

' Dear Cassiopeia,

 

'Darling son, I know we have never been close, but the healers at St Mungo's have given me a lot to think about.

 

'It's a death sentence, Cassiopeia. The Dragon Pox is killing me, and they say I only have months to live. You wouldn't expect it, Cassiopeia, but now that I am dying, I have all the time in the world to think upon my sins.

 

'I am sorry, my love. So, so sorry, and I know there is very little that this apology will do, but I just wanted to repent of all the hardships your father and I brought upon you in your short life. You have been through things that no person should experience, no matter a person of your age! My hands are filthy with the pain we wrought on you, and all I want before I go is to wash them clean.

 

'You have every reason to reject this invitation, but all the same, I ask of you that you visit, so that you and I can make amends, and I can depart this world feeling like I have become even half of the mother you deserved growing up. And still deserve.

 

'Bronagh Black (née Pyrites)'

 

The letter fell from his hands, and he stared ahead with sightless eyes.

 

Hours ( minutes/days? ) passed before he left the room. Cass passed silently through the teeming corridors, filled with all emotions, and wondered how many more he would feel before departing this life.

 

Professor Dumbledore sat behind his desk when Cassiopeia entered the office, almost as though he had been waiting for him.

 

"My mother is dying," he said shortly, not waiting for the Headmaster to speak. "I wish to visit her before she goes."

 

The wizened man's face softened imperceptibly.

 

"Of course, Mister Black. I will notify your Head of House. When do you hope to leave?"

 

"As soon as possible," Cass replied, turning to exit.

 

He packed in silence, taking more than he would need, for that same voice that told him to leave the letter was now telling him that he would stay longer than anticipated.

 

The thought was as disturbing as it was comforting.

 

He stepped through the emerald flames with a heavy and yet light heart, finding himself in the waiting room of St Mungo's Hospital. Clearly, the Healers had been expecting him, for they guided him up the stairs remarkably quickly.

 

Cass stepped through the doorway, and looked around, processing the strong light filtering in through the open window. A lone anemone flower rested in a cut-glass vase on the faded-white window sill. And finally, his gaze completed its passage to his mother, laying in the hospital bed. A veil of glowing dust motes, illuminated by the beams dividing the room in two, separated the two generations of Black, and as he drew closer, he found that the dancing light was not the only thing creating a visual effect on the woman before him.

 

Looking at her was almost like recovering a painting warped and dulled by age: Bronagh's skin appeared paper thin, stretched across her face and visible body like a reptile that had not been able to shed its skin. Her once-lustrous and thick hair was thin and dry, the previously bouncy curls that seemed to quiver with energy now hung from her near-skeletal skull. Coming closer to the bedside, Cass became aware of the rattling breaths drawn in and out of her struggling lungs. Even as he watched, a series of terrible coughs wracked her body, and when he looked up, a few specks of blood spotted her chapped lips.

 

Shocked, he flinched away: this image of death before him so  foreign  and  strange , that he had difficulty connecting it to the woman he once knew.

 

The woman he once called mother reached out to him, and this time he saw it. Saw the nearly imperceptible filmy layer of silver sparking over her skin.

 

"W-What is that?" Cass said, for lack of anything else, wanting to avoid the subject of her impending death for as long as possible. He walked past the outstretched hand, and sat in the chair by her side.

 

"It stops me from infecting others," Bronagh replied, lowering her arm resignedly. She toyed with an object in her lap. "Perfectly safe to touch, don't worry."

 

"How did it happen?" he found himself asking. She didn't look up.

 

"Silly, really," Bronagh snorted, looking over to the flower on the windowsill. "I came to regain our reputation after the debacle of your father's death- recreate our good image- and some insane escapee infected me."

 

"Debacle?" Cass interrupted incredulously. "I killed him! He tried to kill me! You call  that  a debacle! You know what," he bit out, making to leave. "I think I've had enough."

 

"No!" she cried, heaving herself up until she could grab his arm. "I'm sorry, this is harder than I thought it would be. I didn't mean to incense you... I only..."

 

He sat tiredly. This was going to be a long and arduous process.

 

"I came here for answers," Cass said coldly. "Let's at least pretend we can speak in cordial terms."

 

"Of course."

 

Over the next weeks, Cass gradually pieced together the story of his mother's early life. The Pyrites had been a rich family, living in rural Ireland in the beautiful Sidheholm House, their ancestral home.

 

"You didn't know I came from there?" Bronagh laughed, surprised. "I suppose it's because I had to hide my accent: Walburga ( that bitch !) didn't want her son's prize wife to have an unseemly accent."

 

"You can use it again, if you would like," Cass said hesitantly, placing his hand over hers. "I wouldn't mind... Mother."

 

She covered it with her own.

 

"That's a lovely idea," she replied, assuming her lilting Irish brogue with ease, even after so many years. "But I think we both know we're past that honorific. My name is Bronagh."

 

Every day, she grew weaker. Her voice dwindled and became quieter, but it regained strength and life as she recalled Aoife.

 

"My sister," Bronagh explained, looking to the faded picture on her nightstand. In it, a scruffy little girl waved at them, tucked under the arm of another, primmer one in a smart dress. "I was a rather rambunctious child up until the age of eight. She was older than me, our parents' perfect child. I was never supposed to marry Pleiades, but when she died, it became my duty. That was when they truly began to crush my spirit. Before then, they didn't care as much about me, I was never their prize cow, so they let me run free. After that, they pushed me into a mould I was never supposed to fit, and when I refused to change to their ideals, well... You can see what happened."

 

She tugged down the collar of the flimsy hospital gown, revealing odd marks. When Cass shifted closer, he gasped:

 

Scars.

 

Scars which spelled 'Property' in old, silvery burn marks.

 

He must have reached out to her, because Bronagh pulled the fabric back into place sharply and smiled at him tightly. He settled back in his seat and gestured to the photo.

 

"What happened to Aoife?"

 

An odd expression passed over Bronagh's face, and for a moment, Cass saw the raw pain of her loss: not dulled by the passage of time. The wound must have been deep indeed if the edges could still cut after all this time.

 

"Killed," she rasped, fingers clamping over a clumsily beaded bracelet. "Killed by a  filthy  muggle rapist!"

 

"I'm sorry," he whispered, shaking hands grasping hers gently. "I know I can't make it better, but I am  truly  sorry that you had to live through that."

 

"They never let me mourn her," Bronagh mumbled, seemingly to herself. She stared at her hands, withdrawing them from Cass' and turning them this way and that. "Suddenly there was no more Aoife, and I was pushed into the spotlight. I never wanted it to happen."

 

Cass reached out, and drew her into a gentle hug, stroking her hair. She sniffled into his shoulder, and, he reflected, it was almost as though their roles had been reversed: her the child and him the parent.

 

  ∞ 

 

Over the next months, Cass stayed by Bronagh's side, watching helplessly as she was gradually overtaken by the disease. They did not always need to talk, and most mornings they sat in silence as he completed the work sent by the school. She was always watching him, though, and he returned the favour: cataloging each and every detail as he saw them, but also trying to peer past the shell of a woman to find the child she once was.

 

Finally, it was time, and he sat by her, holding her hand as Bronagh took her last breath. All was quiet, until-

 

" Aoife, " she sighed, blank eyes gazing upwards, and it was over. Cass imagined (or did he?) a light leaving them, and it was almost as though the shell of a body was lighter, emptier, colder. No longer animated by the spark of life.

 

But as he left the hospital, a brief feeling of warmth settled over him- a pale imitation of a hug- and he smiled a watery smile.

 

She was at peace at last.

 

A familiar black dog waited for him by the hospital steps, and he followed it numbly, until at long last, they arrived at a building.

 

Once inside, his uncle changed back, and Cass surprised himself, launching himself at Sirius. The man engulfed him in a strong hug, and Cass buried his face in his shoulder, weeping snotty, ugly, wretched tears for the woman he never got a chance to call his mother.

 

Chapter Text

"Hey, Jackie!" Dean growls playfully, scooping up the happily screaming toddler. "What have I told you about going in the kitchen?"

 

He goes through the swinging kitchen doors, scanning the diner for a familiar face. Spotting who he was looking for, Dean jiggles the beaming child on his hip, rubbing their noses together before setting him down.

 

"Be good for Charlie, you little monster," he warns, leaning down to Jack's level. "What would your Uncle Cas think?"

 

"Beebeebeebeebee!" the toddler chants and Dean sighs.

 

"That's right, buddy: act nice for Uncle Bee-Bee." He straightens up, pinching Jack's cheek lightly before turning to the young redheaded woman deeply entrenched in her laptop. "Charlie? Charlie."

 

"Mmmn, what?" she jerks up, eyes widening at Dean's annoyed face. "Oh, shi- shoot! I did it again! I'm sorry Dean, I didn't mean to!"

 

"Yeah, " Dean replies, scratching his nose tiredly. "I know. Just, for all that you've got this great project, remember to look out for Jack too? He's walking, and I can't watch him all the time! So please, just-"

 

"Keep an eye on him, I know," Charlie answers sheepishly, before pointing at something behind him. "Hey! Cas is here!"

 

And sure enough, when Dean turns, Cas is standing right there: the sunlight streaming in behind him turning his rumpled form into something angelic. He steps into the diner, finger-combing his ever-scruffy hair. The glass door swings shut; the light is cut off, and the halo effect dissipates. Dean has to grin; there is no one who is quite as down-to-earth as his friend.

 

Cas makes his way to the counter, slinging his weathered briefcase down flat on the top as he slides onto a stool. He looks weary, the bags beneath his eyes deeper than usual, and Dean feels a surge of sympathy.

 

"Hey," he murmurs gently as he goes behind the counter. He pours a slug of coffee into a cup and slides it to his friend. "You look like hell, man. I can get Ash or someone to watch Jack if you're too tired. There's a bed in the back if you need it?"

 

"No," Cas scowls, glaring into his mug as if the depths of the bitter drink with reveal all. "I'm fine."

 

"Are you sure?" Dean says disbelievingly. "You're working yourself into the ground, buddy."

 

"It doesn't matter, Dean, " his best friend replies. He looks up, searching his eyes seriously. "I'll always be here for you-"

 

 

Dean pushes through the masses of people unhurriedly. It’s Labor Day and all the crowds have turned up to the Kansas City Zoo to enjoy the national holiday and unseasonal warmth.

 

The blazing sun flares down on them from overhead, and he squints against the near-blinding light. He curses himself for not accepting the sunglasses Sam offered to lend his as Jack tugs him along by the child lead. The excited toddler is almost ecstatic from his first visit to the zoo. Until now, the only exotic animals he’s ever seen have been on the Discovery channel.

 

“Jack, c’mon buddy!” Dean grumbles, shouldering past another sunburned tourist. “Slow down! The lions will still be there in ten minutes!”

 

“Lioz! Lioz! Lioz!” The tiny child barks, his little arms flapping as he pulls against the straining child lead. After one especially strong yank, he pulls it out of Dean’s hands, running off away from Dean with the rope trailing behind him.

 

“Jack!” he shouts, lunging after him. Dean follows the sound of the child’s pealing laughter, exiting the end of the crowd completely as he looks around for the kid frantically.

 

Finally, he turns his head and relaxes.

 

In a small sitting area, completely empty of people due to the draw of the food vendors, a dark-haired man spins the happily screaming toddler around him. He draws him in, nuzzling his nose against Jack’s in a sweet Eskimo kiss, a wide smile spreading across his face. The man turns to Dean, and he cannot help himself from crossing the short distance in a few great steps to engulf his friend in a firm embrace.

 

“Hey, Cas,” Dean murmurs into the space by his ear, drawing back at the sound of Jack’s grumbling to drink in the sight of his unabashedly grinning face.

 

“Hello, Dean,” Cas replies, leaning into him again before slipping out of his arms. A little regretfully, Dean releases him. With all the troubles that have been happening recently, he understands if his friend needs a little space. “It’s nice to see you.”

 

Dean opens his mouth to day something, but Cas is already turning away to tend to Jack, who is nagging at him to see the monkeys in the next enclosure. They stroll along, side by side, as Dean begins to enjoy the oven-like temperature grudgingly. Eventually, they reach a small secluded area in the shade, and stop, Cas handing the child lead back to Dean as they stand together, almost touching while Jack continues to act like Dean gave him cocaine instead of a square of nougat

 

“How’re you and Kelly?” he asks, bumping shoulders with Cas as they watch Jack squeal with excitement at the whooping monkeys.

 

“Fine, thank you, Dean,” his best friend answers, his lips curling into an absent smile as he observes his three-year-old stepson. “We should win the custody battle soon. Thank you for looking after him while we go through this.”

 

“No problem,” Dean grins at him, slapping a hand on his shoulder. “You’re gonna win, no doubt about it. Luke is an ‘abusive assbut’, as you said last week.”

 

Cas flicks a side eye glance at him, face turning wistful and regretful as he looks at his best friend. He sighs, rubbing a hand over his face.

 

“Yes, but despite the fact that he is an abusive assbut, as well as being an alcoholic, he’s one of the best lawyers in Chicago.”

 

“Yeah,” Dean agrees. “Sam always thought so when he worked at his firm. Kid used to call him, get this, ‘ Lucifer ’.”

 

A chuckle slips out as Cas ducks his head. He looks up at Dean, smiling to himself as he grasps his arm.

 

“Thank you,” Cas says to him, the sincerity shining out of his eyes as he lets his hand fall. “You are making this whole ordeal easier.”

 

Something rises in Dean’s throat, and he swallows, preparing to say the words.

 

“Cas, I-“

 

 

 

 

Needle.

 

Blue.

 

Where…?

 

Blurry images.

 

Something not right.

 

Darkness.

 

 

 

 

"Night buddy," Dean yawns. Cas' eyes follow his arms as they stretch, ending up propped on his shoulders. He rubs his face tiredly. "That last game wiped me out."

 

"Goodnight Dean," Cas says fondly. He flicks the screen off and starts cleaning up the empty takeout cartons, stacking their dirty plates. "I'll be up as soon as I've finished up here."

 

"C'mon, Cas," he protests half-heartedly, already knowing it's useless. "I can do it the morning."

 

"Get to bed," his best friend scolds. "It's past 11. Besides, Dean; you know I just want to help."

 

Something sticks in Dean's throat. He swallows.

 

"Yeah. You do."

 

Cas looks up, mouth opening to say something, and-

 

 

 

Pain.

 

Snarling.

 

Sluggish movement.

 

Where…

 

Shouting.

 

Fear.

 

Darkness.

 

“Dean!”

 

 

"Hey Sam," Dean says absentmindedly. The phone is wedged between his shoulder and head as he chases Jack's mouth with a spoon. "How's it going on LA?"

 

" It's amazing Dean," his brother blurts, and he has to grin at his excitement. " We met Emma Watson, and get this: she complimented Eileen on her 'aptitude for volunteer work'!"

 

" That's awesome, Sammy," Dean laughs, finally getting the utensil into the baby. Jack' s mouth falls open and the applesauce drops with a wet splot. "Really? I thought we were doing great."

 

" Dean?"

 

"Not you, Sammy. The baby ," he replies, then pauses and snorts. "But if you're into that, I bet Eileen can dig it."

 

" Dean! You're such a jerk!"

 

" Love you too, bitch."

 

" Anyway, how's Cas? Does he like his new job?"

 

"Yeah, " Dean smiles, looking over his shoulder into the sitting room. His best friend is conked out on the sofa, absolutely exhausted. "He loves it-"

 

 

fighting

 

blurry faces

 

where

 

pain

 

dean

 

small voices far away

 

dean

 

who

 

“DEAN!”

 

silence

 

 

 

The first sight that greets him when he opens his eyes is the roof of the Impala. For a while, Dean just lays there; listening to the deep thrumming of her engine as he feels the vibration of the car eating up miles beneath her wheels. He shifts his head with herculean effort, hefting his head up to peer over at Sam.

 

His little brother is humming fretfully as he steers the car at breakneck speeds. Dean almost asks why he won’t just put a cassette in when he hears burbling from the passenger seat.

 

“Jesus, Sammy,” he groans, falling back into his previous position. “You took the kid with you! On a hunt?!”

 

To his credit, Sam doesn’t slam on the brakes, and he only swerves a tiny bit before resuming his proper course.

 

“That’s what you’re worried about!?” he demands, lowering his voice as he remembers the baby on board. His eyes remain fixed on the road, but Dean can see his little brother’s brow twitching with annoyance. “I just rescued you from a truck load of djinn, and Jack is the first thing you think of?”

 

“He can’t look after himself, Sammy.”

 

Dean’s quiet statement seems to suck the last bit of energy from Sam, and he slump his shoulders, the exhaustion from the past few days obvious on his face. They spend the next few minutes in silence.

 

Eventually, he feels his eyelids sag, and lets himself drift off to sleep.

 

 

The slam of the Impala door wakes him. Dean groans, the jolt of the car going right through his head and echoing into a headache of demonic proportions. Cracking his eyes open, he attempts to heave himself into a sitting position, but his arms feel like jelly and he falls; all strength leached from his body.

 

“Sam?” Dean croaks, craning his head as he tries to see his brother through the windows. The answering creak of the door opening behind his head is reply enough for him, and he relaxes as Sam’s strong arms reach in and pull him out. One hooks around his midriff as his little brother supports him through the Bunker to his room. “Where’s Jack?”

 

“I put him in his crib as soon as we got in,” Sam murmurs, helping Dean into his bed. He clicks the light off, moving to stand in the doorway. “The djinn toxin should be out of your system in a few days. Go to sleep, Dean.”

 

Despite the fact that he’s just slept for at least an hour, he’s out almost as soon as Sam shuts the door.

 

blink and he’s hovering above a familiar boy’s head. cas grins, the wind blustering his hair about as he and an older man perch on a train hurtling along through a foreign and beautiful country. they are among many vibrantly clothed people sitting on its roof precariously.

 

 

turn his head and he’s shadowing the same teenager as cas blushes, surprised by another boy’s interest. he turns to the laughing girl at his side, stumbling over his words in pleased shock. they huddle together as they weave through the crowd.

 

 

shut his eyes and he’s looking on as cas whirls with the same boy. they spin and leap through a sea of people, robed in starburst colours. their eyes never leave each other.

 

twist and they rest beneath a kaleidoscope sky, spinning away from them as time ceases to exist. cas leans against the other boy, ignorant to the fingers carding through his flyaway hair softly.

 

 

Dean jerks awake, heart beating wildly as it races away from him. Suddenly nauseous, he barely reaches the side of the bed as he retches over the side, emptying his stomach of bile. There’s nothing remaining of the quick dinner he ate before going out to hunt what he’d thought were vampires. That was three days ago.

 

Exhausted from the movement, Dean slumps back in his bed, staring up at the ceiling with tired eyes as he tries to stay awake. He clicks the lamp on his bedside table on, thinking the light will help. Then he remembers its occupant:

 

Mary smiles at him out of the picture frame, snuggling a four-year-old Dean to her chest. It’s a secret grin, a furtive twitch of the lips that lets you know she’s holding something back. He guesses they finally know what it was.

 

Dean rolls over, glaring at the opposite wall resolutely. If he truly loved Mom, really wanted her back, then why didn’t he see her in the djinn dream? Why did he see Cas, instead of the woman he’s been missing for almost his entire life?

 

He heaves himself out of bed, grimacing as his foot lands in the puddle of vomit. Dean grabs the nearest plaid shirt and wipes down his skin, before mopping up the rest of the bile. With great effort and the help of the supporting walls, he shuffles his way out into the corridor. He’s slower than usual, but eventually, Dean makes it to the laundry room. Quickly and efficiently, he prepares the machine and shirt for a wash, and loads it with the rest of the waiting clothes, before setting it off. Dean turns to leave, and-

 

Cas stands there nervously. He’s facing away from Dean, tapping his foot as he waits for something, before looking up to someone on his left who isn’t there. Then he perks up, his slight shoulders dropping as he relaxes and winds his arms around thin air, murmuring to another invisible person. His mouth moves, forming words that Dean can’t hear, but it’s evident that he’s speaking to someone he loves.

 

“Cas?” Dean breathes, frozen to the spot. He rushes forward, making to embrace his friend, but passes straight through him, falling to the floor. He barely catches himself on his hands and knees, looking back to see his friend disperse like smoke in the wind. “No!”

 

Unsteadily, Dean rises, tottering towards the place where his friend stood, mumbling to himself desperately.

 

“Cas? Buddy? You still there? Where are you?”

 

Eventually, he curls up into a ball where the angel had appeared, shaking as he comes to terms with the fact that Cas is gone.

 

Dean only gets up when the washer finishes, its beeping echoing in the silent room.

 

 

Jack crawls towards him, frowning with a look of such intense concentration, Dean feels it shouldn’t be on a baby’s face. The nephilim isn’t as small as he was when he was born, but surprisingly he doesn’t grow as fast as they’d expected him to. Sam spouted some educated spiel about him probably maturing faster in an unsafe environment, but Dean was too focused on the idea of Jack having that much trust in them to pay too much attention.

 

He shakes the plushie at the small child enticingly, sparking a rush of movement from Jack. After the nephilim burbled some unintelligible nonsense when Sam played this game with him last week, the great sasquatch had pronounced the toy ‘Nougat’, after the splurge of syllables Jack had attempted to let loose. Already, Nougat is a little stained and discoloured from Jack refusing to let go of it, wanting to take the winged tortoise with him everywhere. Dean dreads what will happen when he tries to take it for washing.

 

Speculatively, he twists the plushie in his hands, stroking a finger over the soft and fluffy surface. If Cas were here, Dean thinks, tweaking one of the dove-grey wings, he’d probably launch into a lecture regarding the similarity to some obscure angel’s true form. Maybe something about historical inaccuracy of ancient depictions of his siblings.

 

Suddenly, Jack yowls something, and as Dean turns to look, he feels as though the bottom has been yanked out of his stomach.

 

Cas is there again. This time, he sits on something invisible, eyes focused on someone to his left as he smiles. Once again, he begins to speak, spreading his mouth into a pleased grin as silent sounds spill from his lips.

 

Cas pauses, his mouth pursing shut with indesicion, ducking his head as he offers his hand to the other person. It moves up and down as the invisible figure takes it, proffering a single word.

 

Dean is stuck, entranced by this silent film playing out in front of him. Finally, he blinks, and Cas disappears, drifting apart into the air like ink in water. Is it the remaining djinn toxin forcing him to see the life his friend might have had? Why does he see only him, instead of all those he’s lost along the way?

 

He only snaps out of his stupor when Jack reaches his lap, tugging the forgotten toy out of his frozen hands. The nephilim slaps his still fingers with a sticky hand, jerking Dean back into the world of the living and forcing him to play with the baby once again.

 

 

Late night insomnia triggered by the disturbing waking visions leaves him jittery and so, instead of spending hours staring into the dark, Dean makes his way down to the kitchen. He’s just opening the heavy freezer door and pulling back the fabric covering his best friend, ready for a midnight chat, when the worn fabric of the trenchcoat catches his eye. Guilt strikes Dean like a ten-tonne bull; how dare his best friend’s treasured belonging be so stained and dirty?

 

Murmuring an apology to his silent friend, Dean manoeuvres Cas’ unresponsive limbs out of the heavy fabric, folding it under one arm. He pads back down to the laundry room to begin his chore.

 

Methodically, Dean removes the lingering bloodstain from the back, ignoring the nausea that threatens to rise. He then cradles the garment like a newborn as he lays it on the waiting machine and sets it off.

 

Once the coat is washed and dry, Dean stitches the crude cut in the middle of the tan expanse shut carefully, as if every new insert of the needle could revert the trenchcoat- and with it time- to the past, where Cas was still alive and things were finally looking up.

 

As he finishes the last one, he clips the thread with his teeth neatly, before clasping the trenchcoat to his chest. Finally, Dean lets the tears fall, staining the fresh fabric with salty tears as he pleads with cold and uncaring air:

 

“Cas, just come back to me, buddy. Please. I need you.”

 

Chapter Text

For a few days, all Cass could do was lie on a dusty sofa listlessly. His will seemed to have been sucked out through his chest, leaving a gaping hole in place of his heart, and all had turned to grey.

 

"Of course," Sirius remarked, upon hearing Cass' description. "That may just be the wallpaper."

 

Unsurprisingly, his uncle was the one who managed to reintroduce light to Cass' world. 

 

It took him by surprise that Voldemort had returned, given that he hadn't read a newspaper or heard from his friends since he went to St Mungos, but Sirius took his mind off it.

 

Mainly through redecoration.

 

The Order of the Phoenix was using Sirius' childhood home as their headquarters, meaning the entire home would need some  very  deep cleaning. It had not been inhabited by a human since the death of Cass' grandmother, Walburga Black, ten years prior. The only other tenant since then was Kreacher, the rickety House Elf. And a whole host of unwelcome pests.

 

He could understand why his parents chose not to live here.

 

"You know," Sirius began, surveying the drab interior of Grimmauld Place's hall as they prepared to start the purification. "I never did care much for green."

 

He had a point, Cass agreed, mentally. The entire décor of the house was centred around the Slytherin colours, but instead of bright and invigorating shades with subtle silver highlights, the decorators seemed to have focused on the 'Black' family home part, and made everything as dark as possible.

 

"Alright," he said, turning to his uncle, and surprised himself by narrowing his eyes. "As long as you don't make it all red and gold."

 

Sirius barked out a laugh, and they set to work.

 

Soon, they had the old wallpaper completely stripped away, and the ancient chandeliers down for inspection. However, all their good progress came to a halt when they arrived at the portrait.

 

"My mother was a hag ," Sirius muttered viciously, as they attempted to pry the cackling painting off the wall.

 

" Is ," Cass bit out between gritted teeth, pulling with all his might. "The artist caught that really well!"

 

Finally, they gave up, and agreed to come back at a later date.

 

"Why won't the painting come off?" he asked his uncle, as they stripped the upper stories of the generations-long collection of mounted House Elf heads.

 

"The cow must have spelled it with a Permanent Sticking Charm," Sirius groused, levitating the 53rd wrinkled head down the stairwell. Using his seeker skills, Cass caught it easily, and put it on the ever-growing pile.

 

"There must be another way do get it off!" he called back, looking over his shoulder at the ominous frame.

 

"Might as well just blast the bloody wall to pieces!" Sirius shouted, and sent a fireball after the 54th.

 

"Actually," Cass grinned, "That might not be a bad idea!"

 

He headed up the stairs to explain his plan.

 

Excited whooping swiftly followed, and Cass was hard-pressed to stop his uncle from vaulting the banister in his anticipation of removing his mother.

 

They were nearly three stories up.

 

A few minutes later, the necessary stabilising charms were in place, and they were ready to start. Sirius sliced through the bare brickwork like a hot knife through butter, with his careful cutting charms. They were left with a section of wall jutting out about a foot on either side of the portrait.

 

With the help of intently guided levitation charms, they moved the wall to one of the emptied rooms, and leaned it against the bricked-up fireplace.

 

"Well," Sirius said, gesturing to Cass. "Your idea, you do it."

 

Surprised at the smile on his face, Cass raised his wand:

 

" Ducklifors rosa !"

 

And they were surrounded by almost luminously pink ducks.

 

"Pink?" his uncle asked, bemused, over the enraged shrieks of the portrait. "Why pink?"

 

"Well, this way, if any escape, we'll know which ones we transfigured."

 

"Alright," Sirius agreed, before grabbing the painting with a maniacal grin. "Now, Mother! Time for witches like you to get burnt!"

 

Cass stifled a grin, before realising he didn't have to, and went to repair the wall (and re-transfigure the ducks) as he joined in with his uncle's cackling.

 

By the end of the week, the two of them had half-redecorated the house. The hall and central staircase, with all hallways leading off had had the stained and dark wallpaper replaced with a new pattern: thick stripes of steel grey and midnight blue, lit by delicate, magical, silver chandeliers.

 

The kitchen that for so long was a dark, grim room, with smoke-stained, mustard yellow walls, had been redone with a shining new coat of cream paint, and tiling around the magic-run aga and sink. Cass had been able to put his half-done Magical Art OWL to use: he dabbed dots of paint, creating delicate, moving, fantastical creatures. A niffler with its paw in the biscuit tin, caught in the act. A demiguise in a chef's hat, appearing and disappearing from view. Hippogriffs and hippocampi cantered and swam around the borders of their ceramic land.

 

And, to commemorate who completed the entire project, he painted a badger riding on a lion's back.

 

Somehow, he thought Sirius would enjoy that.  

 

 

About a week or so later, the first of their guests arrived: The Weasleys.

 

They  oohed  and  ahed  at the entrance hall, impressed until they came to the clear boundary of where the clean, beautiful area ended and the decrepit hallways began. Ron swiped a finger down one of the doors curiously.

 

"What's the big, red cross for?" he asked Cass as he stood to one side. Mrs Weasley was dragging her husband around to look at each and every thing she could see.

 

"Oh, those?" he replied absently, keeping an eye on Sirius with the Twins. He made a note to monitor their various schemes. "They're for the rooms we haven't got round to doing yet. Fred, George!" Cass interrupted himself, walking over to the pair. He pushed the door they had been opening firmly shut. "I wouldn't open that if I were you: do spiders the size of plates sound fun?"

 

They exchanged crafty looks, but stepped away, holding their hands up in mock-defense.

 

"Mother!" the first cried melodramatically. "Help us!"

 

"Save us from the vicious badger, Mother!" the second soon joined in.

 

"Fred, George," Mrs Weasley snapped, dragging them down by their ears. "I will not have you being rude to our hosts!"

 

Her husband was ignoring her in favour of interrogating Hermione, who had just been ushered in by another dark-skinned wizard. She looked at Cass beseechingly, and he laughed, going over to them.

 

"Hello, Mr Weasley," Cass greeted him amiably. "I'm sorry, but I need to borrow Hermione for a moment."

 

"Thank you," she breathed, peeking up at him. He smothered a laugh. Since she last saw him, Cass had shot up several inches, finally hitting a growth spurt. “How are you? You left halfway through the term!”

 

He ducked his head, glancing back at the chattering group in the foyer.

 

“Come on,” Cass sighed, grabbing Hermione’s hand.  “Let’s go somewhere private.”

 

He tugged her down a few twisting corridors to the servants’ stairway: a narrow set of steps completely soundproofed to stop long-dead Blacks from hearing the Help. Resting his back against the heavy door, Cass shut it with a click.

 

“My mother died,” was all he said.

 

Hermione’s eyes widened, and she flinched on her stair seat: an aborted attempt to go and comfort him. He padded over silently and sat on the one beneath her, jumping at the loud creak it made. Slender fingers touched his head, sliding through his hair, and Cass relaxed into the calming motion.

 

“Oh, Cass,” Hermione murmured softly. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“I didn’t realise I could miss her so much,” he said bleakly, staring off into space. “I didn’t really know her ‘til the end, and now…”

 

“It’ll be alright,” she replied quietly. “I lost my grandpa when I was nine. He was always there for me, but I never really began to know him until I came across his war diary after his death. I wish I was able to ask him more…”

 

She trailed off, and Cass turned, wrapping his arms around her middle. They sat in silence for minute or two, until-

 

CRACK !

 

They jolted apart, both whipping out their wands, only to find the Twins grinning down at them.

 

“Two little lovebirds sitting in a tree,” sang one.

 

“K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” the other finished loudly. They smiled as one: Cass found it uncannily creepy.

 

“Don’t do that!” Hermione hissed, trying to mask her shock with anger. “We could have hurt you!”

 

“What would poor, dear Ronniekins think?” the first (was it Fred or George?) continued, ignoring her flaming cheeks and heaving chest.

 

“That his darling paramour is waltzing off with a different man!?” the second gasped dramatically. They mock-swooned, one even conjuring a fan to flap himself with. The other followed suit, producing smelling-salts from nowhere.

 

Having reached the end of his tether, Cass shot a stinging hex at them, and they apparated away, leaving only their echoing cackles behind.

 

Fuming, he turned to Hermione, only to find her holding in giggles. Immediately, his sour mood brightened, and they collapsed laughing over each other.

 

“Come on,” Cass chuckled, holding his hand out. “I’ll show you to your room.”

 

He neglected to mention it was the one next to his.

 

Some time later, Cass was shaken awake by the feeling that someone was in the house. His suspicion was only reinforced by the heavy thud of the troll-leg umbrella stand, which Sirius insisted they kept, as it fit in with his ‘aesthetic’.

 

He padded out of his room, wand drawn. Peering over the bannister, he heard the murmur of voices and spotted a familiar dark-haired head. Hearing movement, Cass looked over his shoulder. Hermione poked her head around her bedroom door, hair mussed up from sleep.

 

It’s Harry ,” he mouthed, and her eyes widen. She beckoned him over, and he hurried past her. She closed the door with a quiet snick , and turned to him.

 

“Did you know he was coming?” Hermione asked in hushed tones.

 

“No,” Cass replied, shaking his head. “I may be his last living relative, but Sirius shares almost nothing about the Order with me.”

 

Blast ,” she cursed, flinging herself down on the bed. He took a seat on the elegant armchair in the corner gingerly, waiting for her to speak. Eventually, she huffed, and turns on her side to look at him.

 

“Do you think he’ll be angry?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Dumbledore said we weren’t to write to him,” Hermione replied, narrowing her eyes to annoyed slits.

 

“Can I use that as my excuse?” Cass teased, trying to cheer her up. “All I can say is ‘I forgot’.”

 

She chuckled, and rolled onto her back, flinging her arms out above her halo of bushy hair.

 

“I hope he’s alright,” she murmured quietly. “I know the Dursleys aren’t the least bit kind to him.”

 

He rose, padding over to sit by her on the bed.

 

“Don’t worry,” Cass murmured, almost to himself as he traced invisible patterns over the delicate skin of her forearms. “It’ll turn out alright. It always does.”

 

 

His advice, as if pressed into his mind like a seer’s prophecy, came true, and even though Cass could still feel the anger simmering beneath Harry’s skin after his initial outburst, the atmosphere in 12 Grimmauld Place was much lighter after that. There was a restrained kind of hope sitting on people’s chests; the kind that burned until all were dead.

 

He and Hermione became even closer than before; talking late into the night, before he had to return to his own room.

 

Cass didn’t tell her, but as their words wound around each other with the strength of tree roots, he picked out each flower he painted into the wallpaper he created just for her, peeking out from the ivy painstakingly streaked on the surface.

 

Dahlias.

 

Bellflowers.

 

Baby’s Breath.

 

Red Daisies.

 

Sunflowers.

 

Elegance and dignity, unwavering love, purity of heart, unknown beauty, and lofty thoughts were all woven into the declaration that she would never discover was there.

 

Cass wished with all his heart, soul and mind to tell her of his love, but whenever he had the words ready, they stuffed up in his throat and refused to come out.

 

Hermione would never know how much he loved her.

 

She would never truly get to appreciate how all he created was made for her.

 

And it killed him a little, every time he noticed Ron’s eyes tracking over her face, her body, her hands, because the surging, irrational anger demanded that they ought to be his, even if she was not made to be owned in the first place.

 

It felt like everyone was holding their breath, but the moment Harry was cleared of all charges against him, it was finally time to celebrate.

 

Then all of a sudden, the school year loomed closer and closer, faster than anyone thought it could. The letters arrived, Ron and Hermione were made prefects.

 

“Why weren’t you?” Hermione asked in confusion that day, as she fiddled with her scarlet and gold badge. “I mean, you’ve never slipped up, never really gotten into trouble.”

 

“Well,” he replied, quirking his lips at her bafflement. “I also haven’t spent every day since First Year sucking up to Sprout, unlike Macmillan.”

 

She smirked just a little at that, and the ripple of pride swepts through his body like a burst of sunlight.

 

I love you ’ waited on his tongue, but he was too slow, because a moment later, Mrs Weasley was calling for lunch and Hermione was away before he could do anything about it.

 

A week or so later, they were on the train and back to school. People who, the year before, had been tripping over themselves to get on Harry’s good side shunned them and made snide comments in their direction.

 

It stung a little, because even though he had never been high profile, Cass had never been hated by the crowd just for who he associates with.

 

The tinge of doubt and worry only becomes greater when they reach the school.

 

Cass made to get into a carriage, when he was brought up short by Harry, who had come to a halt in front of the snorting ebony steeds.

 

“W-where did they come from?” he asked, gesturing to the skeletal beasts. “They weren’t there before!”

 

“What are you talking about?” Cass asked in confusion. “They’ve always been there.”

 

“Harry, mate,” Ron said unperturbed. “There’s nothing there.”

 

Cass and the Boy-Who-Lived exchanged a glance, before getting into the coach. A girl who reminded Cass of a walking cloud was already sitting there serenely.

 

“Ah, hello,” she said dreamily. Her eyes never strayed from Cass, and he started to blush in embarrassment. “It’s so good to finally meet you.”

 

“And you are?” Ron said, hiding a laugh.

 

“Loon- Luna Lovegood,” Hermione introduced her, flushing a little at her slip. “Fourth year Ravenclaw.”

 

“Does it hurt?” the misty girl suddenly addressed him. “To have so much of you stuffed inside such a small body? I imagine it would be quite cramped.”

 

Hermione and he shared a look as he began to buy in a little to her first assessment.

 

“What do you mean by that?” he asked gently.

 

“You’ve got so many limbs, and heads and so much more all squeezed into a tiny, fleshy box. I thought it might hurt. But, then again, you are made of light.”

 

Silence hung in the coach after her statement, and it stayed until they arrived at the castle. As Cass stepped out onto the pebbled court, Luna caught him by the arm.

 

“I’m so sorry about your wings,” she informed him sincerely. “They’re so burnt and tattered, it hurts to look at them.”

 

“What?”

 

“You shouldn’t worry about it, though,” she continued as if he hadn’t said a thing. “All things heal with time.”

 

And then she was off, skipping away into the crowd.

 

Cass stood there, struck dumb by the seemingly innocent statement that rang through his body like a death knell, until Hermione took his arm and walked him to the Hall.

 

There was a new teacher this year. Cass didn’t really pay attention to her apart from giving her a once-over. He never made a habit of listening to the start of Term speeches: they were usually just the same thing rearranged in a different way, but this woman’s words just grated on his nerves as she driveled on and on in her irritatingly sickly-sweet voice. To pass the time until she shut up and the food came out, he imagined her in male form.

 

Tallish, a balding head, bug eyes. That seemed about right. An annoyingly proud way of walking, as though every problem in the world was taken care of. The self-assured motions and ticks, every single word soaked with grease, just like the shiny top of his head.

 

A pointed cough to the left of him reminded him of where he was, and Cass jumped a little to find that he had once again left a groove in the tabletop from carving the end of his fork into the wood.

 

He put it down, just in time to hear the end of the speech.

 

 

Later, in the Hufflepuff dormitory, Ernie Macmillan was puffing out his chest like a bullfrog to let the light gleam off his prefect badge at just the right angle as he spewed words that he thought makes him sound big and intelligent.

 

“Of course,” he continued in his thread of mindless vitriol. “I knew right from the beginning that there was something wrong with Potter. You-Know-Who back from the dead? The likelihood is that Potter just snapped and killed Diggory himself. What do you think, Black, hmm?”

 

Cass stared at the idiot with revulsion for a moment, before snapping the drapes around his bed shut with a slash of his wand. He planned to sleep untroubled, thank you very much.

 

And if Macmillan had misplaced all of his clean underwear by morning, well… It wasn’t Cass’ fault, was it?

 

 

Cass doesn’t have DADA until the end of the week, but when he did, he agreed with Hermione’s assessment completely.

 

The Umbridge woman was a complete and utter hack. She taught them nothing, took points off students of ‘less than pure blood’ for no reason whatsoever, and expected them to keep a civil attitude when she driveled on about things close to their hearts.

 

Umbridge took an interest with Cass in particular.

 

She seemed to take insult at him from the get go, taking great joy in picking apart all of his apparent failures and casting doubt on things he treasured.

 

But it was when she likened him to his uncle that he snapped.

 

It was not the fact that she insulted Sirius that he minded; it was the fact that Umbridge said the ‘apple does not fall far from the tree after all’.

 

In his mind, the link between his father and Cass was a live wire, one that he stayed clear of on pain of death.

 

He stood, refusing to look her in her smug little face as he packed his bag, storming out of the classroom.

 

“And you can expect to meet me in my office for detention on Friday evening!”

 

 

Hermione was understandably sympathetic of his encounter with the hag, since Umbridge had been doing her best to punish Hermione too. Unluckily for the toad, she was too clever, and too used to getting abuse from teachers like Snape to react to Umbridge.

 

“It’ll be alright,” she said to him a few hours before the ordeal. “I expect the worse she’ll have you do is write a few hundred lines.”

 

And that was exactly the worst that could happen.

 

Umbridge let him into her office with a gleeful, wicked smile, and he knew immediately that what she was going to do would hurt more than an achy hand.

 

The moment Cass set quill to parchment, pain ripped through the skin of his hand. Looking down, he saw that the words ‘ I will not consort with those of muddy blood ’ carved into the flesh.

 

Horrified, he stared at Umbridge with revulsion and fear, only to find her visage to be one of sadistic joy.

 

“A lesson to you, Black!” The hag trilled, only for her expression to change to one of shock and confused anger when she saw his hand. Cass looked down to see what could have possibly made her mad, but when he did, he saw-

 

Light. Bright, clean, pure light poured out of the wounds brutally sliced into his hand. As it faded, the skin was again whole, as if it had never been cut. He stared down at it in wonder, amazed at the miracle that had just happened.

 

“Again!” Umbridge screeched, slamming her palm down on the rickety wooden desk. “Another line! Write again!”

 

So he did. Every time, every single time, the same thing happened over and over again. The words would bite his flesh, the light would appear, and all would be healed. Cass grew to love the wonderful shine that appeared like magic out of his body when he was hurt, but something about it lead him to the edge of grief each and every time it glowed.

 

Finally, at past 11 o’clock, Umbridge was forced to let him leave, but with strict instructions to return each and every Friday night for another detention.

 

So he did, and each time it went the same way. Eventually, the hag was forced to let him go, and didn’t bother with the detentions again. She still took points off him for ridiculous reasons, but Cass was never on the wrong side of the blood quill again.

 

Harry was though, and it hurt his chest to see his friend in so much pain, fermenting in his anger and rage. Cass longed to reach out, but was never able to draw the courage.

 

Hermione never noticed Cass’ pain. He hid it too well, and although she noticed something wasn’t quite right, he explained it away with stories of exam stress, and she happily went back to knitting lopsided scarfs and hats for the Hogwarts elves. Cass would have tried to tell her that only the headmaster had the power to dismiss the elves, but since their disagreement in fourth year, he was wary of broaching any subject involving S PEW.

 

 

Umbridge’s rise to ‘High Inquisitor’ angered Cass, and for days he walked around feeling as though someone had lit a fire beneath his skin. It was clearly just an excuse to exert more of the Ministry’s control over Hogwarts, and although he found great pleasure in breaking the rules that she went about setting, the induction of the Inquisitorial Squad (conspicuously all Slytherins) made it much harder to do without being caught.

 

When Hermione broached this idea of the DA, he jumped to accept the plan, having fallen behind with the lack of proper DADA lessons. After a shaky start, their meetings went well, and Cass felt rather stupid for not suggesting the use of the Room before Dobby beat him to the punch. He was still proud of Dobby for how far he’d come.

 

"Professor?" he asked in Ancient Runes one day, a thought occuring to him. "Is there a point where ley-lines converge in Hogwarts?"

 

Babbling looked at him in surprise, before recovering.

 

"Uh, yes! There is actually!" she replied. "There's a cave somewhere beneath the school. It's the reason the founders built here, you know: they linked the castle, and it's where Hogwarts' magic comes from."

 

"Thank you, professor," he said, before turning back to his work.

 

Their current project was to figure out their name signs. It was fairly difficult, even more so for students who didn't meditate regularly, because the task required them to sink into a meditative state, relaxing with only one goal in mind, until their pencil began to sweep across the page, following the rune that was theirs and theirs only.

 

It took a little time, but soon enough, Cass felt his hand moving in complicated patterns. He didn't release the magic at work, but allowed it to continue until he no longer moved, enjoying the sense of cool power flooding his body. Opening his eyes, Cass looked around, finding himself to be the only one finished. Most people seemed to be scrunching their foreheads up in frustration, and very few appeared to have actually reached the meditative state needed. 

 

Examining his paper, he smiled at the sharp angles and unforgiving curves.

 

Now all he needed to do was learn Apparition.

 

 

In Magical Art, they had moved on to body art and transformation. It was not quite animagus metamorphosis, but they began to learn about magical tattoos and the kind of hair colouration spells that Flitwick could only dream of. Those were far more advanced than the bog-standard mustard yellow charm, and remain permanent until changed to normal or an entirely new one.

 

One day, when Cass was completely absorbed with his Ancient Runes homework, Hermione turned his hair a searing electric blue, as close as she could get to the colour of his eyes, without telling him. He received odd looks for the next day, until he finally looked in the mirror and found what she had done.

 

Strangely, Cass decided that he rather liked the colour, and rather than reverting his hair to its normal pigment, he toned down the brightness of the blue, and added other shades until it was a beautiful turquoise streaked with cerulean and with highlights of cobalt and royal blue. To any onlooker, it seemed that he wore the sea on his head. It drew many admiring looks, and Cass resolved to keep the colour for as long as he liked, judgment be damned.

 

The other main advancement they’d made was in Magical Tattoos. Since they were all underage, Professor Daubermann only let them use the temporary pigments. They acted in exactly the same way, only the non-permanent paint would disappear either with a spell or after a certain time period.

 

After his first, Cass knew he was hooked. The little bee that he made to  mimic his patronus buzzed around his body, not confined to any one area. He thought of it as a talisman, an outward representation of the light that existed within him: a guardian who he carried on his skin forever.

 

The next one was a single columbine bloom, surrounded by a wreath of blue-eyed-grass flowers. Bronagh had spent an entire morning describing the flowers that grew around their estate in Ireland, particularly Aoife and her favourites. Her sister’s columbine was eternally protected by Bronagh’s love. Situated on his right shoulder, Cass liked to think that with her memory flowing through his wand arm, he could never make the wrong decision with his true conscience in place. When he thought that she was the angel on his shoulder, the idea made him chuckle, almost as if it had been an inside joke with someone he used to love.

 

Each morning Cass was greeted by the sight of them blooming out of their buds and it gave him the strength to face the day.

 

Hermione liked to tease him about his new ‘punk persona’ (whatever that meant), with all his tattoos and dyed hair, but she didn’t know about his last, most previously secret one.

 

Around his left ankle was the start of a chain of names. In tiny, minuscule block capitals, Cass had begun printing the initials of all the people who’d changed his life for the better or left their mark on him in some positive way. Hermione was the first, of course, but after her name came Harry and Ron’s, followed by Madam Pomfrey. Also commemorated on his skin, for now and evermore (if the permanent ink he’d filched was as good as it professed to be) were Bronagh and Sirius. There was much more space on his ankle for the people to follow, but somehow he felt he was missing a number of specific names.

 

Returning over and over again to Hermione’s collarbone, where he’d first inked the temporary tattoo onto her, was a songbird. It had beautiful wings and wondrously amber and gold plumage, and the way it flitted around her body reminded him of her never-wavering spirit. When she’d asked for it, Cass happily obliged. It was the first time anyone had put their complete trust in him and it made his heart beat double time every time he put the enchanted needle near her skin.

 

Da-dum .

 

Da-dum .

 

Da-dum .

 

Beating for her only, for evermore.

 

 

The next few weeks passed in a haze of art coursework for his OWL and avoiding Umbridge as much as possible.

 

Cass didn’t think he’d ever been that happy.

 

Of course, it all came crashing down when Ron’s father was attacked in the Ministry of Magic.

 

The Weasleys were rushed home a few days before the Christmas holidays,. and Cass and Hermione were forced to wait until the end of the Winter term before they could know the full story.

 

Hermione stayed at Grimmauld Place that Christmas. If it wasn’t for the spectre of Mister Weasley’s injuries and Harry’s vision, Cass would have   thought that nothing could be better.

 

He woke up every morning to the sound of Hermione moving around in her room to get ready for breakfast; he always managed to time it right so they could walk down together. Their days were filled with fun and enjoyment with all of their friends: sometimes they continued with the deep clean of the house, investigating the strange artifacts and dark talismans they found in the rooms. Once, Cass even found a Wizarding version of the Rosetta stone, which instantly gave the user the ability to read whichever language their chosen text was in as long as they held it. He offered it to Hermione, but she waved it off, insisting that she would prefer to translate the scripts herself. A while later, he saw her pick up the stone guiltily.

 

They would often talk long into the night, discussing and debating each and every topic they came to. It was like having the other half of his soul right alongside him. Sometimes, they even fell asleep before one could go back to their own room, waking up the next morning to find themselves in a tangle of limbs.

 

Cass thought he liked those nights the best.

 

A while later, he heard Ginny speaking to Harry.

 

“But how do I know if I’m being possessed?” he was hissing in desperation.

 

“Do you forget what you’ve just done?” Ginny countered. “Find yourself standing in a place you don’t recognise with no memory of the past few hours? Do  you wake up from a sleep you don’t remember entering with blood on your hands?”

 

Harry was tellingly silent.

 

“Then I guess you’re not possessed.”

 

Cass slipped away silently, horrified at how familiar the symptoms sounded, even though he had never experienced them himself.

 

 

The day they returned to school, Cass paid a trip to the foundations of Hogwarts. Following the instructions he’d wheedled out of Sirius over the Holidays, he found the Cornerstone within half an hour.

 

His uncle had been very specific about how to go about the next step. The wards of Hogwarts were too old to be persuaded by just a few flicks of a wind, so he had to carve his name sign into the block of quartz that was bigger than himself. Trailing his fingers over the few runes already hewn into the stone, he caught a snatch of the personalities of those who had come before him.

 

The marks with a clean crack through the middle were lifeless, and Cass knew they were dead.

 

As soon as his tools left the steadily shining rock, a pulse went through it, and a burst of light was emitted from the Cornerstone , lighting up the dark chamber around him.

 

Immediately, a wash of awareness ran through him, and Cass felt the boundaries of Hogwarts, along with instant knowledge of all its hidden crannies and secret places, including a few he suspected even the Twins didn’t know about.

 

He couldn’t feel the people in the ancient castle, but Cass could sense a great darkness hiding within it, although he couldn’t pinpoint where.

 

Cass smiled.

 

Time to get to work.

 

Cass had more time in the evenings over the course the next term. Harry was always disappearing off to ‘remedial poti ons’, and Hermione was up to something, so most of the time it was just Ron and him ‘revising’ in silence. However, it did give him more time to work on his next project.

 

The lump of clay sat innocuously on the worn worktable. Cass contemplated it; the cool silence of the Come-And-Go-Room pulling him into a trance. As if of their own accord, his fingers grasped a smooth-handled tool and set to work.

 

Hours passed as he carved the firm clay into crude lumps, shaped them into the semblance of a creature, and teased fine details from the earthy skin. Finally, Cass baptised it with glaze; the magical liquid eddied as it clung to the lifeless creature, working its way into every cranny, clinging tightly to the animal as if it could bring it to life through sheer will.

 

Eventually, Cass slotted two flat stones into the waiting eye sockets. The thick jet disks were smooth, highly polished, and featureless except for the sharp rune engraved in each of their centres.

 

Gently, he placed the delicate on a tray in front of the kiln and, after a moment of hesitation, slid its eyelids shut.

 

If Cass had chosen any other day to fire his creature, he would have been driven half-mad from the impossible waiting: the fear and insecurity of whether it would shatter from the heat. But here, he could monitor its progress and be close in case of emergency.

 

However, it was still with heart-lifting relief that he removed each brick from the opening and took his creature out into the fresh air.

 

Cass slid his fingers over the runes carved into the palms of its hands, shocked by the burst of cold he experienced: his magic had been drawn in to the form create new life.

 

“I name you Echo.”

 

With a grinding of limbs, the terracotta demiguise came to life.

 

 

Over the next few weeks, Echo proved indispensable. After a little training, Cass was able to send it out to gather information. Its chameleon skin let it turn near-invisible as the little demiguise trailed after members of the Inquisitorial Squad, and sometimes even Umbridge herself.

 

At the end of every day, Echo returned to Cass, and his creator absorbed all it had seen each day. In return, as Cass learned, he channelled magic into the terracotta creature through his marked hands: giving it energy for each day.

 

At first, Echo was nothing more than an automaton. She had no more desires or individual thoughts than an algorithm and never moved outside his given instructions. However, as time went by, Cass’ demiguise evolved into a thing not quite human, but more than a computer. Echo had more initiative, showed signs of emotions, and on a few memorable occasions, managed to warn Cass of the Squad before they had a chance to act.

 

Eventually, Echo was not just life-like, she was the image of life: the only thing betraying her as not real was the scraping of pottery limbs as the demiguise swung through the halls of Hogwarts. In the evenings, Cass would play with her by the fire, improving her reflexes and tricks, teaching the almost-primate how to sneak even better than before, as the other Hufflepuffs looked on in amazement.

 

Together, they created new ways of spycraft, and it was one particular method that got them into trouble that day.

 

The Inquisitorial Squad had become more volatile, striking out before the DA had a chance to react. More innocent students were hurt, and the members were looking for opportunities to lash back.

 

Through trial and error, Cass had crafted something in response. The bond between model and creator was stronger than ever, and the curious demiguise was eager to please her master. Careful research had revealed something to Cass, and within a few days it was ready.

 

Cass gripped the carved oval of quartz and exhaled; focusing on what he wanted to see.

 

Echo’s mind chattered gently, and made way before his own as he took the reigns.

 

It was disorientating at first: the pottery primate’s vision was alien to his own, completely black and white. Echo’s eyes were capable of sight far more detailed than his own, but the price of the stones was the loss of all colour.

 

They took a shuddery step, the combined wants of each mind battling for dominance in a single head. Finally, his wants won out, and their movements ceased to be disjointed.

 

It was thrilling, seeing the world from a different level. He’d expected it to be harder, but there was something natural in taking control, in taking residence in another’s body.

 

He leapt up to the ledge running alongside the top of the corridors, trotting along it as he let the creature’s innate invisibility cloak him with a cool wash, the chill penetrating deep into his clay bones.

 

Finally, he/they slowed down, coming to a halt as they surveyed the meeting below.

 

“The Room of Requirement, that’s where they’ll be,” Edgecombe said, and looked at the two Squad members flanking her with fear.

 

“Thank you,” Umbridge simpered, sniffing slightly as she turned to go.

 

Cass tensed, ready to run back and save his friends when suddenly he was frozen.

 

“My, my, what do we have here?” The hag murmured in delight, levitating his body up. Cass felt the invisibility slip away from him. “A spy? How wonderful? Well, I suppose we’ll have to put a stop to this .”

 

And with that, she drew her wand back, and hurled him into the-

 

ECHOECHOECHOECHOECHOEECHO

 

Dimly, Cass was aware that he was screaming. Everything was too bright, too colourful and loud, his own thoughts small and his mind too empty for his brain to handle. Someone cradled his thrashing body, stopping him from injuring himself on the cold hard floor of the Room.

 

Finally, Cass came back to himself enough to choke out:

 

“They’re coming. Run. Run!”

 

And with all the strength he possessed, Cass grabbed the arm of the person holding him- Hermione, it was Hermione ( who else ?)- and twisted.

 

CRACK !

 

They landed on top of the Astronomy Tower, and that was all Cass knew before he slipped away.

 

 

a river as red as blood.

 

“kill them Ccastiel. it is your father’s command.”

 

no, so many small younglings. their souls are untarnished, they are still pure.

 

“do not disobey, Ccastiel. Y you know what will happen.”

 

he did?

 

darkness fell, then a light so bright it hurts his many, many eyes, why did it hurt, he was still holy.

 

wasn’t he?

 

 

Cass was not included in the punishments dished out to the rest of the DA members.

 

Instead, he was locked inside a room with no light, no sound, nothing except complete and utter sensory deprivation.

 

Nothing, apart from the bright, unbearable flashing lights and awful screeching noise that occurred when he was least expecting it. They reduced him to a crying, screaming ball, unable to deal with the polarised experiences.

 

Cass received food at odd intervals. He was not able to tell how far apart the meals came, or even if they were regular at all, because when he ate it, things he had never seen before, not even in his magical, amazing world, appeared before his eyes.

 

Strange, many-limbed, impossible creatures with bodies ungoverned by the laws of nature flew and swam before his eyes. They reached out to him, inviting Cass to join them, but no matter how hard he tried, he never could.

 

Sometimes he watched their beautiful wings flare up and burn as he buried a knife in their bodies.

 

He wept. Endless grief and pain wracked him as Cass watched thousands of them die at his own hands.

 

At other times, the walls turned to horrible fire and immensely hot volcanic rock, while the floor was flooded with lava.

 

Cass could always hear terrible voices laughing as he scrambled to find a safe piece of rock to stand on.

 

Occasionally, he flew down into the depths of that awful place, dodging horrifying creatures, scarred and burning as they attacked him.

 

Always, he tried to reach the pure, shining light at the bottom, almost hidden but for the hordes of hellish creatures, and always he failed.

 

On the rare occasions that Cass managed to reach the wonderful light, it was tarnished, completely blackened and rotting, the lovely and pure thing fadingtearing into dimmer lights as they screamed, turning into the very thing  he sought to save it from.

 

Three days, they told him.

 

Only three days trapped in the chamber.

 

When they finally dragged Cass out, he was a gibbering mess, curled up and shaking in a puddle of his own urine and fecal matter.

 

It felt like much longer.

 

Under the influence of the healing potions Madam Pomfrey drugged him with, Cass heard her weeping.

 

He could not stop the leaking of tears out of his own eyes as he realised that he had finally done what Umbridge had wanted him to do.

 

Cass had broken.

 

 

It was many weeks before Cass could truly feel as though he was beginning to feel alright again.

 

He still had nightmares every night of what she had done to him, and what was worse was he began to see them outside of his dreams. Some students were clean and pure, the golden galleon Hermione created for the DA shining on their foreheads. On others, a vile skull-headed snake wound tightly around their throats, a noose to foreshadow the deaths they would suffer because of their allegiance to Voldemort.

 

A dark, vile presence hung around Umbridge, and Cass tried as much as he could to ignore it.

 

The hair that he had grown so fond of only added to the attention that the hag and her dreadful acolytes paid to him, and it was with shame and regret that he returned his colourful hair to its normal pigmentation. It didn’t help.

 

Hermione proved indispensable to him in those terrible weeks. She was never far from his side, helping him catch up with the schoolwork he’d missed during and after his experience. She offered words of comfort, and her steady hand combing through his unruly curls grounded him, as they revised his assignments with his head on her lap.

 

With Hermione’s help, Cass aced his OWLs. Even in his Magical Art, Professor Daubermann allowed him extra time to complete his project, due to the circumstances.

 

He was stuck for many weeks, before inspiration struck him.

 

The wings came first.

 

Carefully, Cass tattooed the great, impossible wings onto the volunteer’s back. They were ever-changing, flitting through every colour known to man (and others besides) as they stretched this way and that, not bothered by basic biology.

 

Next, were the limbs and torso. The body was scale in deep, royal blue, and the light reflected off them with the feeling that they were being honoured to shine on this individual. The many arms were gold and silver, with titanium for nails and claws.

 

It was beautiful and savage all in one.

 

When Cass was finished, he made to leave, only to be stopped by Daubermann.

 

“You must name it, Mr Black, to complete the task.”

 

Cass considered this for a while.

 

“Balthazar. I think that fits it best.”

 

 

A while after, Cass agreed to tutor Hermione with the Patronus spell.

 

Together, in the mirrored halls of the Come-And-Go Room, they went through the enchantment.

 

She frowned in concentration as she recited the incantation again and again, but to no avail. At first, Cass stood by, enjoying the annoyed pursing of her lips, but after a while, he slipped off the table and walked over to her.

 

“You’re holding your frame too tightly,” he reprimanded Hermione gently, taking her wand arm lightly. Cass assumed a pose behind her, almost completely mirroring her body. A little thrill ran through him at the little distance between them. Almost close enough to touch.

 

Carefully, Cass moved his hand through the air, guiding her through the motions as he gripped her wrist. Moving back, he let his left hand drop from Hermione’s upper arm, intending to slip away. However, as Cass’ hand fell, her fingers tangled in his, and she smiled at him. Cass’ heart stuttered.

 

She was beaming- a bright almost-gasp of surprise and wonder- as the first whisps of electric blue mist sprouted from her wand. As it condensed, forming an animal, Cass looked up, catching his reflection as he did. Despite its tarnished surface, the mirror still managed to highlight the joy on their faces: flushed cheeks and laughing grins illuminating their happiness.

 

Overcome with recklessness and euphoria, Cass drew his wand and cast his own, exuberant in his elation as he watched his glowing bee join Hermione’s gambolling otter. It wove circles around the flowing animal, skimming over its ethereal fur.

 

Eventually, they let them fade away, and in the relative darkness, she turned to him.

 

Suddenly, the room felt much smaller, and the little space between them became electrified. Her hands skimmed up his arms, finding their place hovering above his neck. They settled there, and it was the most natural thing he had ever felt.

 

Cass stepped closer, Hermione stretched onto tiptoes, and he leaned in-

 

“Umbridge has got Harry!” Neville yelled, running in on them, interrupting their almost-kiss.

 

“What!?” Hermione demanded, recovering more quickly out of the two of them, her face a bright, blushing red.

 

“Come on!”

 

They ran to her office, only to be apprehended by the Inquisitorial Squad outside the door. Cass watched in horror as Hermione led Harry and the hag into the Forbidd en Forest.

 

After a few minutes, Ginny attacked suddenly, disarming her guard (in more ways than one). Quickly, Cass did the same, and soon, they were free.

 

When Harry and Hermione returned, they travelled to the Ministry of Magic, using the threstrals. Cass wrapped his arms around Hermione tightly, since she couldn’t see the threstrals. To her it would have appeared like she could have fallen at any moment. Even through the fear that ran through his body and the anxiety of what was to come, Cass relished that she needed him , after it being the other way round for so long.

 

Finally,there was something he could do for her.

 

He followed them into the Department of Mysteries, finally putting his skills to the test as they battled against the death eaters who had been lying in wait for them. Eventually, they were forced into a great amphitheatre, centred around a strange, roughly-chiselled archway. Cass and the others were led to it, fearing for their lives, until at the last moment, the Order apparated in, freeing them from their captors. He made his way over to his uncle, deflecting spell fire from other attackers and guarding their backs.

 

They laughed as they fought, the tide finally turning in their favour, until Cass froze, seeing Bellatrix about to cast a spell he knew he would not be able to stop—

 

"NO!" he screamed, shoving Sirius out of the way of Bellatrix's spell.

 

The curse missed him by inches, and he flinched away as he felt the air rush by his face.

 

But the momentum from both of these actions was too much, and Cass felt himself topple.

 

Topple.

 

Toppling.

 

Through the Veil and into the world beyond...



Chapter Text

“Hey, Dean!” Sam calls, peering intensely at his laptop.



“What’ve you got, Sammy?” Dean answers absently, pinching Jack’s toes playfully. The djinn toxin seemeds to have worn off after the incident with Jack, and now he can truly appreciate the way the nephilim giggles, bucking his legs. Dean smiles as he shares his glee.



“You know how we thought there were no more books?” his brother says, looking up from the screen. “That might not actually be true.”



“What?” Dean says, turning towards his brother in shock. Jack harrumphs, sniffling now that Dean is no longer paying him any attention. He picks him up, bouncing the baby as he makes his way over to Sam. “You better make this good, Sammy.”



“Yeah, so get this,” Sam replies, rotating the laptop towards him. It shows a map of a densely wooded area. “Cuthbert Sinclair’s base. With that many supernatural creatures, I’ll bet he’s also sitting on a truckload of the kind of books we need.”



Dean leans forward, inspecting the map more closely. A hope rises unbidden in his chest and he quashes it swiftly. There’s no room for hope here.



“I guess we’d better take a look then.”



He goes to leave, but Sam stops him.



“In the morning,” he warns. Dean feels a surge of annoyance at his tone, but pushes it down. He’s right after all.



After settling Jack into bed, Dean rests on the overstuffed couch for a minute, allowing the tension from the day to leave him. He sighs, tempted to let his body drift off to sleep, but intuition tells him to keep alert.



To pass the time, Dean removes the emergency shotgun from beneath Jack’s changing table and sets to cleaning it. The repetitive and remembered motions lull him into an almost meditative state as his hands move over the gun. Eventually, he finishes, and rests the shotgun over his legs. Dean leans back and soon slips into unconsciousness.



A while later, motion calls him out of his slumber, and he watches drowsily for a moment as the strange dark figure leans over Jack’s cradle. He hears the man murmur something to the baby, but the words are slurred together by the last vestiges of sleep clinging to him. A bright wash of light finally jerks Dean out of his haze and he stands slowly, loading the gun as silently as possible with the salt rounds in his pocket. Anything else and he risks harming Jack too.



“I don’t know who the hell you are,” Dean growls, readying the shotgun. “But get away from the baby.”



The slim man turns, his young face frozen in shock, and Dean’s breath catches in his throat. It’s him.



“Cas?” he breathes, stepping forward, ready to embrace his long lost friend, but Cas’ body flickers like that of a ghost and disappears into the air. Dean freezes, his shotgun partially lowered as he realises that his friend is no longer there.



“Cas?! Cas!” he shouts, pleading with someone who can’t hear him. A sniffly hiccup from the cradle startles him, and, setting the loaded gun to the side, Dean scoops up the grizzling child. “Hey, hey, calm down. Everything’s alright, I promise.”



Jack has just stopped whimpering when Sam bursts through the door.



“Dean!” he demands, long hair smushed to the side of his face. “What’s going on?”


“Could you be any louder?” Dean snipes, bouncing Jack gently as the baby nephilim chews on his fist in distress. “I just got him to stop crying!”



“What happened?” Sam continues, scanning the room. Dean tries to nudge to shotgun out of sight, but Sam snatches it anyway, checks and finds it loaded. “Dean! Tell me!”

 

“I saw Cas, okay!?” he says, feeling on the verge of punching Sam, if not for the baby. He doesn’t know.



“Cas was here?”



“No, Sam, he was… He was like a ghost,” Dean replies, staring down at Jack. Sensing his discomfort, the baby nephilim reaches up to him, and Dean nuzzles his little fingers with his nose. “He was standing next to the cradle. I thought he was a monster at first.”



Sam squeezes his shoulder comfortingly, before fishing an EMF detector out of the top draw of the dresser. He scans the room thoroughly, covering each square inch.


“There’s nothing here, Dean,” he says, pocketing it. “If that was Cas, he wasn’t a ghost. And if it wasn’t Cas… Then it wasn’t one either.”



Dean remains silent, brushing his thumb over Jack’s cheek repetitively as the baby’s eyes fixed upon his.



“We could put down salt lines, if you want?” Sam suggests quietly, startling him.


“I’m fine,” he answers with a raw voice, placing Jack in the cradle once more. “I’ll just stay in here ‘til morning.”



“Try to get some sleep,” his little brother says gently as he leaves the room.



Dean shuts the door with a click before going back to the crib. He picks up the abandoned shotgun and settles down to watch for the night.



The next morning, Dean wakes from a careful catnap crankily. He’s tired and irritated from a night of brief naps and restless slumber.



Nothing coffee won’t fix, he thinks, holding Jack with one arm as he finger-combs his hair with the other. The kid’s old enough to crawl, old enough to shuffle on two feet with the furniture as supports, but Dean’s too impatient to make him walk the entire way from nursery to kitchen at this age.


At the table, Sam isn’t looking much better, nursing a mug of some fruity yogurt crap. He catches a whiff of it as he passes, seating Jack in his high chair on his path to the fridge.

“That stinks, Sammy!” Dean says, absolutely horrified. “Trying to kill yourself with that thing?”



“Actually,” Sam replies pointedly, raising his head so Dean can see his bleary eyes. “I’m trying to do the opposite— it’s not my fault you’re the one who’s doing his best to raise this kid on sugar, carbs and fat.”



“I am not,” he says, grinning as he grabs the essentials for coffee from the cupboards. “I just appreciate having the finer things in life.”



“Dean,” his little brother says, and Dean can hear the unsaid ‘are you kidding me? “You’re the one eating Lucky Charms.”



“Yeah, well- you’re eating frigging Lucky Cha- shut up.”



Later, when they’re getting in the Impala, Jack thinks it’s funny to give a static shock to Sam every time he tries to the buckle the car seat. It creates an amusing mix of muffled cursing mixed with peals of baby’s laughter. Jack only stops when Dean clips them together himself. The next hour in the car is filled with Sam’s childish annoyance at the fact that Dean is  apparently the favourite.



But as soon as he pops a tape in the player, everything brightens up, and Dean lets the tension that’s been clinging to him go a little. There’s still an undercurrent of anxiety, but he puts it down to the unknown waiting inside Sinclair’s base.



He makes a point of axing any thought that even relates to the possibility of getting Cas back.



Hope is not allowed.



Instead, Dean laughs and guffaws, pretending that he isn’t running on caffeine and two hours sleep at best. Sam shoots him a few side eyes, but says nothing, keeping up with the pretence. It is a dance they are both well acquainted with.



Drawing up outside the entrance to Sinclair’s creepy murder-bunker sends a curl of apprehension through his gut. The last time they’d been there, Dean bore the Mark, and his fingers trace his forearm reflexively.



“Dean?” Sam asks quietly. “I can go in on my own…?”



“Nah,” he replies trying to toughen up like Dad always taught them. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”

Sam performs the ritual to create the entrance to Magnus’ creepy lair, and with a last look between them, they step into the spider’s bunker.

 

Jack looks around curiously at their new surroundings, twisting round in Dean’s baby rucksack thing to babble at him.

 

“Shhhhh!” he whispers, looking around for any monsters. “Gotta be quiet for me bud, alright?”

 

The small child settles down, staring at every new thing in curiosity.

 

He flicks the beam from his torch round the corner, following the stench of blood and rotting. Dean sweeps the light over the floor, looking for the source of the rank smell and gags.

 

“Sam,” he calls quietly, keeping the torch fixed on what he’s found. “I think I found what happened to the monsters.”

 

His brother rounds the corner and grimaces, covering his mouth and nose with his sleeve.

 

Ew ,” his muffled voice says, and they both pick their way around the orderly pile of mutilated corpses. Dean can pick out the unsheathed fangs of vamps and the creeping tattoos of djinns. “ What the hell happened ?”

 

“More like who,” Dean murmurs, covering Jack’s eyes with one hand as the nephilim tries to look around it. “No, c’mon buddy, you don’t want to be seeing this.”

 

They slip through the dark hallways of the strange place silently,  completely undisturbed. Eventually, they come to the lounge where they first encountered Sinclair.

 

“The hell?” Sam whispers, sweeping his light over the dusty and abandoned shelves. “There’s nothing here, someone’s taken them.”

 

“Think it was Crowley?” Dean asks, trying to calm a suddenly whimpering Jack. “Guy was the only person who knew how to get in, apart from us.”

 

“Wouldn’t put it past him,” his brother replies, drawing a finger over the wood, grimacing at the filth he brings up.

 

Crowley ?” a petulant voice demands behind them. The two men spin, bringing up their firearms, but a sizzling nose sounds, and suddenly Dean can’t move. He jerks and tries his very hardest to get out of his current position, but only his eyes are mobile. Finally, Dean looks up to see a disgusted looking woman standing by the far wall, hand still plastered to a burnt look sigil. “ Puh - lease , as if Crowley could do this.”

 

She claps her hands,and the lights buzz to life, illuminating the irritated woman properly. Her face is waxen and haggard, while her clothes are worn and poor quality, but she still manages to carry an air of regal disdain that Dean would probably smell at a hundred paces. The woman stalks over, producing a knife from the depths of her tattered many-layered skirt. A few muttered words and the wound on her hand is sealed over.

 

She slices the knife through the straps on Jack’s baby carrier efficiently, lifting the struggling nephilim out. Dean almost bursts a blood vessel trying to move, pleading with the kid to use his freaky powers, bite her, anything!

 

The woman just purses her lips at his flailing limbs, sniffing at his panic.

 

“Now now, none of that,” she mutters, pressing a finger to his forehead. “ Dormeo .”

 

Instantly, like he’s just been hit on the head with a sack of flour, Jack slumps, his eyelids slamming down like a vault doors. She shoulders him, shifting his weight so she can slap some leather cuffs around his wrists, sealing them shut with another whisper of Latin. Even in the limited light, Dean can see the stylised runes one the surface.

 

“Well,” she smirks, turning to them again. “Ciao. I sincerely hope we will never see each other again. At least for your sakes if not mine.”

 

And with that she sashays out of Sinclair’s bunker. Now that there is no one maintaining the spell, the lights flicker and shut off, plunging them into near darkness.

 

Eventually, after a few minutes of straining, Dean feels movement slowly returning to his limbs. With effort, he manages to heave his way over to his brother.

 

“Sammy?” he wheezes, searching the complete and utter night. “Sammy? where are you?”

 

Hearing laboured breathing to his left, Dean drags his heavy legs in that direction. A flashlight clicks on, and he squints against the sudden brightness, peering through the bright glare to see his brother’s face.

 

“Dean!” Sam breathes, clutching his arm. “She took Jack!”


“I know, Sam!” he snaps, but already he can feel the fear coiling up beneath his ribcage, making it harder and harder to draw breaths. “Let’s go, she might not have gotten far.”

 

But as soon as they step from the portal to the outside world, a note on the Impala’s hood, held in place by a tired clay bowl, tells him they can’t do so.

 

Try a tracking spell and it’ll blow up in your face. Literally. Catch me if you can!

 

For all that he is about to fall apart with worry, Dean can’t help but snort.

 

“Really? She makes that reference? Bad movie, right Sammy?”

 

But his brother is too busy examining the contents of the bowl to listen. He pulls a knife from his pocket, poking at the burnt remains of various ingredients.

 

“From what I can see,” he says, almost to himself. “She appears to be telling the truth. I read about some failed experiments on anti-tracking spells in the Men of Letters archive, but they were never completed, or at least never came to a satisfactory conclusion. The date stamp was a few days before Abaddon came.”

 

Dean winces at the reminder of the Men of Letters massacre, taking out the keys for the Impala.

 

“I say we get back to the Bunker and look through the books for spells we can try. But if the hag was lying, then look out for a car anyway.”

 

 

“Light it up, Sammy.”

 

Gingerly, Sam jabs the lit spliffnt at bowl filled to the brim with ingredients. They’d smashed up the witch’s own spell casting bowl earlier, and one of the shards sits proud, placed at the peak of the mixture of herbs and other things Dean would like very much to stop thinking about. Brings back memories of the frigging rabbit from years ago. Bleh. He hates witches.

 

Carefully, Sam recites the incantation. They wait for a few seconds. Nothing happens. Finally, Dean turns to his brother.

 

“Sammy, it’s not worki-”

 

BOOM !

 

A pillar of flame erupts from the pot, blasting a few feet up in the air.

 

“Well,” Sam starts diplomatically in the silence that follows. “At least we did it outside.”

 

“Yeah,” is all Dean can say, staring at the charred terracotta. “You got that right.”

 

They head back inside, Dean trudging along next to Sam’s gargantuan steps eating up the land. Three hours searching after a race back home, his brain going a mile-a-minute to Baby’s similar pace, and they had one spell to show for it.

Which didn’t work.

 

Great. Just great.

 

Inside, Sam leans against one of the index card boxes.

 

“It’s no use!” he snaps eventually. “We’re never going to find them!”

 

With that, he slaps his hand down on the top. There is a groaning noise, and with a great heave, a small drawer pops out of the side.


“Sam,” Dean says, rising carefully. “That wasn’t there before.”

 

His little brother shoots him a dirty look, before peering into the tiny wooden box carefully.

 

“Huh.”

 

“Huh?” Huh !?” Dean snipes. “A drawer appears from nowhere, and ‘huh’ is all you have to say?”

 

“Can it, Dean,” Sam hisses, lifting something from it. He places it on the table in front of them.

 

The item is a battered journal, bound in soft leather and embossed with worn, gilt words. He squints at the tiny cover, trying to read the barely-there wording.

 

H-nry

 

Winc-e-ter

 

MoL Spel-craft Journ-l

 

“Weird,” Sam remarks, opening it gently. “I wonder why he hid it…”

 

“This Grampa’s secret diary or something?” Dean jokes, trying to mask how intrigued he is. “Think he used it for wet dreams?”

 

“That’s our grandfather , Dean!” Sam chokes, completely grossed out. “Dad’s dad!”

 

“So there isn’t any? Not even repressed 50’s porn doodles?”

 

“No!” his baby brother squawks, swatting at him. “Looks like Henry was actually looking into the kind of things the MoL wouldn’t necessarily approve of.”


“Like?”

 

“Nothing especially bad, not Magnus bad, anyway, but…” Sam trails off, tapping the page in front of him. “These spells he was working on are the kind of thing he might have needed bringing up Dad. I guess the MoL didn’t like people wasting time on things that weren’t related to the supernatural. Henry must have been really committed to raising Dad...”

 

“So is there anything useful in there?” Dean asks, trying his hardest to push down thoughts of absentee fathers. “Something to gank the witch?”

 

“Hey, do you remember that story Dad told us once?” Sam says, eyes still fixed to the page. “About getting lost at the car show when he was small? Wouldn’t have told us unless he was drunk… Anyway, he said he was only gone for half an hour, before Henry showed up, running right up to him. There were loads of people there, Dad was right in the middle of a crowd, Henry wouldn’t have been able to see him, but he just went on shoving his way through the masses of people until he came to Dad.”

 

“So?” Dean says, frustrated. “How is this going to help us find Jack?”

 

“I think I found why,” Sam replies, pushing the tattered book towards him. On the top of the left page is a load of equations, written out painstakingly in printed chicken-scratch handwriting. On the right page is a large title announcing the spell, followed by a brief description and instructions.

 

“‘ Mother’s Love ’?” he reads, before going through the rest of the cramped writing. “Is this-?”

 

“Yep,” Sam grins smugly, crossing his arms.

 

“Why would it work?” Dean snaps, getting up from the table. “The witch disabled all tracking spells, remember?”

 

“Not quite,” his little brother replies infuriatingly. “Most rely on using organic material from the trackee, or a prized possession, which I’m assuming is what the witch has blocked. This uses ‘blood from the imprinted parent’ to fuel the spell. She won’t have that, won’t guard against it.”

 

“Yeah, but I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, Sammy,” he snarls. “We’re not Jack’s parents!”

 

Imprinted , jackass,” Sam says, rolling his eyes. “Like a duckling on a human. Doesn’t have to be biological.”

 

“So what? You bleed in a bowl and shazam? That how it’s going to go?”

 

“i was thinking you’d give the blood…” Sam muttered, crossing his arms. “You’re the one going all Mama Bear on us.”

 

“Fine,” Dean snaps. “But only because I’m his favourite.”

 

 

He stalks down the corridors of the Bunker, en route to the storeroom. When he hears a faint noise, Dean stops and changes direction, following the sound.

 

The noise is quiet and low, but as he gets closer, Dean begins to make out words. They are distressed and higher in pitch from fear, but the deep voice reminds him of someone he is determined not to think about.

 

“- Anyone there ? I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where I am ?

 

Dean rounds the corner, finally finding the source of the noise.

 

“What the-?”

 

It’s him. Cas.

 

Almost as insubstantial as a ghost, but it’s his best friend all the same. Younger, not quite an adult, but not a teenager, and wearing a bloodstained and grimy school uniform.

 

“Cas?”

 

“Dean, get down!” Sam yells, and he does, of course he does.

 

Dean hits the floor and almost instantaneously his friend disappears with a volley of salt blown through him. He looks up at his quaking brother holding the still-smoking shotgun, Cas’ scream of pain still ringing in his ears.

 

“You saw that? You saw him too?” He says, not quite daring to believe it himself. The first time he saw Cas it was easy to dismiss slightly, pretend his friend isn’t dead and that sleep had taken the seeds of his longing and grown them into a pain-filled dream. “Cas was there, wasn’t he? Sam, did you see?”

 

“Cas?” Sam gasps, his fingers on the gun loose and twitching as if they want to take back the shot they just fired. “That was Cas? I’m sorry! I didn’t know!”

 

He helps Dean up, apologizing all the while, but he just keeps walking on, entering the storeroom and gathering the ingredients mechanically. With Sam on his heels, Dean takes the armload of spell parts to the site where they'd attempted the earlier tracking spell. The ground is still slightly singed from their failure as he sets them out in the manner Henry’s journal had specified.

 

Finally, he slices the heel of his hand, carefully avoiding any tendons and ligaments as he drips his blood over the mixture of spell elements. Handing the worn book to Sam brusquely, Dean stands a safe distance away.

 

“Say it,” he says shortly. “Do the freaking spell, just do it quickly so we can get to Jack as soon as possible.”

 

Silently, Sam takes it from his hands, and recites the Latin required. Then he lights the splint and sets the contents of the bowl aflame.

 

This time, there is no great explosion,or pillar of fire. Instead, a rush of warmth- a gentle heat that reminds him of the distant, time-blurred memory of the Christmas before Sam was born- flows through him. It is the epitome of all things kind, the glow of his treasured memories of the time before the Yellow-Eyed Demon, the days before things went to hell. The childhood he never got to have.

 

It fades gradually, but there is a faint tugging sensation that remains, a longing deep in his chest towards a certain direction. Turning to Sam, something catches his attention. Just out of the corner of his eye, Dean spots a faintly glowing strand of light. If he looks at it too closely, it disappears, but since it leads off in the direction that the tugging follows, Dean’s bet anything that it follows Jack.

 

“It worked, let’s go.”

 

They drive in silence for about an hour, Dean staring straight ahead as he follows the longing that will lead them to Jack. Sam shifts uncomfortably after a while.

 

“D’you want to talk about Cas?”

 

He lets his answer stew for a while, the words turning stagnant in his mouth, before letting fly.

 

“Sure, why not,” Dean bites out. “Not like I haven’t been seeing him in my dreams for the past few months.”

 

“Do you want to talk about those?”

 

“Yeah, fine. They’re not nightmares, I mean, there are nightmares, but every once in a while I get a really vivid dream. Like a vision. And it’s Cas, not the Cas we know, but a kid.”

 

“A kid?” Sam interjected, twisting in his seat to look at Dean. “The one I shot earlier wasn’t a kid, Dean.”

 

“Remind me what kids do again, Sammy?” He snipes. “Oh, Yeah: they grow . The Cas’ I’ve been seeing, every dream I’ve had, there’s at least a year between their ages. Some other version of him is growing up in a different place, and I don't know if we should drag him back into all this…”

 

“But if you’ve already met, I don’t see how he can do back to a normal life. Most people don’t forget being shot full of salt.”

 

“That won’t be a problem,” Dean mutters, on auto-pilot as he drives the Impala down the never ending road.

 

“What?” Sam says. Dean sighs, pulling one hand away from the steering wheel to gesture with it.

 

“Every time I have a dream, every time we see each other, it’s like he has amnesia. He never remembers me. Cas always forgets.”

 

“Oh,” Sam says quietly. Then he perks up slightly, as if experiencing an epiphany. “What if it’s not Cas? It could just be someone who only looks like him.”

 

“Nah,” Dean replies, squinting against the sun. “I’m pretty sure it’s Cas. Hacked in to Jimmy Novak’s school  records and everything just to make sure. Found photos of him when he was small.”

 

Sam shifts uncomfortably, clearly wanting to say more, but reconsidering.“Are we close?” he asks, tactfully changing the subject.

 

“Yeah,” Dean replies. The pull in his chest has been growing stronger over the past few minutes, and now it feels almost like someone is trying to rip his heart out of his chest. “Jack’s definitely close by.”

 

Suddenly, the direction changes to somewhere behind them, and he slams on the brakes, bringing the car to a halt. Cautiously, he waits for a few moments, seeing if the witch is on the move. When nothing happens, Dean reverses, wincing when the pulls shifts again, this time to the direction they were following. Swiftly, he slides the Impala into the grassy section between the two lanes.

 

“Get out the car,” he says, opening his door. “He’s that way.”

 

Sam stumbles after him, shocked by the sudden order.

 

“Dean?”

 

“Get your gear, get whatever things you need, he’s in there and we’re going in.”

 

And with that, Dean continues to march across the wasteland-like field, following the pull in his chest. Eventually, he crosses some kind of barrier, because the next thing he knows, Dean is standing in a dark and cool concrete corridor. Sam appears behind him and immediately falls silent as they fall into hunting mode.

 

Silently, they pad down the empty hallway as they search for the witch.

 

After a while, the two come to a junction. Sam makes to head down the left, but Dean puts a hand on his arm, motioning him down the right. This part seems to be a prison or lab area, because they pass cell after cell of monsters stretched out on operation tables; some dead and partially dissected, others hooked up to all kinds of equipment and looking like they wish they were too. Some are even opened up while they are alive. There must be some kind of warding preventing sound from escaping, because as each creature lays eyes on the Winchester brothers, they start moving their mouths to scream, an awful silent film playing out live in front of them.

 

A wash of cold flows down Dean’s body. If the supernatural creatures are all kept like this, then what’s stopping her from treating Jack this way too? The same thought must have appeared in Sam’s mind too, because they speed up in unison.

 

Finally, they come to Jack. His cell is softer than the others, and through the glass door, Dean can see it’s decorated in a poor mimicry of comfort, a shag rug to stop him from being hurt if he falls, a changing table and set of cleaning tools to keep the space sterile for experimentation, bright lights to make visibility better during examinations. The shiny tools- sharp edges glinting under the cool fluorescent bulbs- in the glass-fronted case tell him enough about what she plans for later.

The baby doesn’t appear to be harmed, and the only monitor in his cell is a computer showing bright shapes and puzzles. Jack sits before it uncertainly, pawing at the electrodes stuck firmly on his head.

 

Dean grabs the handle and tugs violently, trying to get to his child, but it won’t open. The pull rooted within him is pounding in his ears and all the way through his body, and he knows that it will only stop once Jack is within his arms.

 

“Huh,” a voice intones coldly, behind them both. “I didn’t expect you to get here so quickly.”

 

They spin, guns pointed at the witch standing before them, hands clasped behind her back. She’s traded the heavy overcoat for a clean white labcoat, and her hair is pulled back from her face tightly.

 

“Winchesters!” she grins, throwing her arms out in a mock-greeting. Their pistols fly out of their hands. “How happy I am to see you!  You know, I’ve never had archangel vessels- well, any angel vessel- to experiment on, and now I have two!”

 

Dean tries to rush her with the knife he has stowed in his boot, but a wave of her hand, and he’s stuck. He glances at Sam to find him in the same predicament.

 

“You know,” the witch continues conversationally, strolling over to them. “I bet that no one’s ever documented the effects of the demon cure before, so my name may well go down in supernatural history!”

 

She leans in, examining his face as she scans it for outward signs of demonic habits.

 

“I never got to run experiments on cured vampires either. Blasted Campbells really did subscribe to the ‘loose lips sink ships’ ideology.”

 

Behind her, Dean can see Jack looking at him, his face strangely focussed. Blind to the child in his cell, the witch trails a blunt fingernail over the place where Dean’s anti-possession tattoo lies.

 

“I wonder how much strain one of these can take before they become obsolete,” she murmurs, almost to herself, as Dean watches Jack’s small face turn dark red as he begins to shake. Tiny golden fractures begin to appear on the witch’s skin, light pouring out dimly. She continues ruminating on various future experiments, until she freezes, the latticework of cracks almost blotting out untouched skin.

 

Then she shatters with a burst of gold light.

 

It’s a little anticlimactic really; one moment she’s there, the next she’s a small shower of golden ash floating to the floor. Dean turns to look at Jack properly; the restrictions on his movement vanished with the witch’s death.

 

His eyes are glowing.

 

Jack sways from the effort of killing her and flops forward in a slump. Dean rushes into the room, the door no longer locked by her spell, and scoops him up. Finally, Mother’s Love ceases, and he can relax in Jack’s proximity.

 

Leaving the room, he freezes.

 

All of the cell doors have swung open. Sam looks at him, and they set off down to the left corridor, dispatching all of the tortured monsters in their prisons.

 

This is mercy. Dean doesn’t know what the monsters have done, what crimes they may or may not have committed, but with the witch no longer keeping them alive for her sick experiments, none of them will survive their wounds.

 

It’s this or a painful, drawn-out death.

 

The left hallway appears to be a residential/research suite. Dean searches the witch’s rooms while Sam takes the books and notes from the shelves in the small library, not caring what he may find, only removing them in the hopes that there might be something useful in them.

 

Rifling through her dresser, Dean comes across a Manila folder. He plucks it out of the drawer and flicks through it, looking for any information about the nameless witch. On the first page is a photocopy clipped to a load of neatly ordered pages.

 

“‘ Jemima Cherch hailed for academic prowess’ ” he reads, strolling back into the main room. Sam looks up from the heavy tome that lies open on the table. The witch must have been reading it when they broke in. “‘ The child prodigy is currently studying advanced biology at the University of Edinburgh, and is looking forward to furthering her academic career with her great-uncle Sinclair over the Summer. ’”

 

Dean slides the photo out of the paper clip and flicks it to Sam. His little brother catches it easily and examines it, looking up in realisation.

 

“She look familiar to you?” he says, quirking an eyebrow.

 

“It’s the witch,” Sam murmurs, holding his hand out for the folder. Dean gives it to him readily, and he scans each page intently. “Wow, she must have been brilliant; her parents were pushing her for the Nobel Prize…”

 

“And then she disappears,” Dean continues, throwing himself down on the chair next to Sam. He picks up jack, cuddling the baby reflexively. “People suspect good old Uncle Sinclair of her abduction, but oh no! It turns out he’s recorded as being dead for almost thirty years!”

 

“But it’s more than that,” his little brother says, eyes fixed on the page. “Magnus was grooming her as his replacement: There’s records of experiments he performed on her to increase her IQ among other things… I guess one day she finally snapped.”

 

“‘ Snapped’ ?” Dean mocks, gesturing around them. “This isn’t snapping, Sammy; this is growing out of your collar and into a larger cage.”

 

They fall silent for a few moments, before Jack makes his presence known with a burbling wail.

 

“Aw, man,” Dean groans, throwing his head back. “She messed up your meal schedule didn’t she?”

 

Rising, he jerks a thumb at the door.

 

“I’m gonna get Jack some food, you finish up here and load the things into the Impala.”

 

Sam looks around, wrinkling his nose.

 

“I don’t think it’ll fit, Dean,” he says, turning back to his brother.

 

“The witch’s gotta have a ride around here,” Dean says. “We’ll just take that too. I don’t want to stay in here a moment longer than we have to.”

 

With Jack looking on with interest, they fill the Impala, along with the outdated Ford in the hidden garage, with the witch’s library. Sam also insists on taking all of the miscellaneous files where Jemima Cherch had recorded her experiments.

 

Alone in Baby, Dean stares out of the dusty windshield, falling into the meditative haze that often comes with long car journeys. He’s should clean the Impala soon, he thinks. Doesn’t want his Baby getting gross and dirty. Would Cas care? That the car Dean loves so much is uncared for and neglected? Would he still care for the baby in the passenger seat, now that he no longer remembers them? Would Cas still-?

 

Jack gives a great squealing laugh, startling Dean back to the present. He looks over to see what is so funny, smiling absentmindedly when he sees a disgruntled farmer rinsing bright, mottled dyes from his herd of sheep, as smirking teenagers watch from a safe distance. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what happened there. Grinning, relieved that Jack is safe, Dean pops a tape in the player and the rest of the trip is filled with the sounds of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits.

 

 

Leaving Sam to poring through Cherch’s books to find anything on alternate universes, Dean returns to his room. Secluded in his own space, he takes out a phone hidden in one of his drawers. Silently, he presses the on button, watching it boot to life gradually. With a final piece of hesitation quashed, Dean opens the photos folder, thumbing through the pictures inside.

 

They’re all of Cas.

 

Candids that he’s taken over the past nine years. There is almost nothing that Dean has guarded more carefully than this phone, even getting Charlie to back up the files to a memory stick, just to minimise the chances of losing these photos. Some of them feature others, usually the shoulder of Sam, or Bobby’s back, but the main ones are focussed only on Cas. The angel had never really taken to scheduled photos, like the one from the day before Jo and Ellen died, but in these secret snapshots Dean had been able to capture those fleeting emotions. The real ones, not forced for a camera, ones where his obvious uncomfortableness outweigh anything else he might try to show.

 

He’s just flicking through them, letting the nostalgia and pain dance twined together beneath his ribcage when he hears it:

 

“-To go home. I don't know where I am, I don't know where I am!”

 

Cautiously, Dean pokes his head out into the corridor, spotting the young Cas curled up in a ball on the floor. He walks over silently, only alerting the shaking boy to his presence when he’s a few feet away.

 

“Cas?”

 

The boy jerks backwards, as if electrified, but freezes in place, not even moving when Dean places a hand on his shoulder. He stares at the gentle touch, before finally looking him in the face, terrified and hopeful all at the same time.

 

The eyes are exactly the same: a little younger, a little wider, but it’s definitely Cas.

 

Dean could hug him and never let go.

 

“It is you, isn't it?" he says as his gaze roves Cas’ face, cataloguing everything that makes this new Cas, his Cas. "You gotta tell us where you've been, we need you, man! We've gotta get you home."

 

"You can do that? " the young Cas queries, sitting up. " You can get me home?"

 

Dean breathes a sigh of relief, clapping him on the shoulder.

 

" Yeah, it'll be just the four of us ."

 

" What? "

 

" You, me, Sam and Jack, remember?" he replies, a frown puckering his brow. "In the Bunker, just like always."

 

" Th-this isn't my home," Cas says, his face mimicking Dean’s. "I need to get home, you don't understand, I need to find my friends, I need to go home!"

 

One moment, Dean’s crouched on the floor next to a kid that needs consoling, the next he’s pinned to the wall by the gangly teenager. The unnaturally strong forearm pressing down on his neck isn’t helping matters either.

 

"Who are you!?" Cas snarls. "Why do you seek to keep me here!?"

 

"Dean," he wheezes in reply, black spots darting across his vision. "I'm Dean- your best friend..."

 

Cas’ eyes widen in shock and he steps back slightly. His arm falls from Dean’s throat, brushing his hand against the spot where he left the handprint all those years ago.

 

Suddenly, a glow emerges in Cas’ chest, spreading to every part of his body until he looks to be made of light. He stumbles away as Dean reaches out to him. His hand passes through Cas’ body as if through thin air, and Cas scatters into particles of light, like dust motes in the sun.

 

His balance gone, Dean falls to the floor, then huddles with his head on his knees, boiling with failure and frustration.

 

He doesn’t move for an hour, too busy attempting to internalise his pain that his friend was there, and Dean let him get away.

 

 

Chapter Text

He sat up, gasping for breath, and struggled to his feet as he saw the world around him. His gaze jerked frantically over shadowy hills and dusty ground. Thunder rumbled ominously in the indistinct clouds above.

 

"Hermione!" he screamed, desperately looking for someone to help. "Sirius! Harry! Anyone, please, somebody help me!"

 

But there was no one there.

 

He spun, trying to find anything he can use to find his way back, and-

 

A forest.

 

The entire landscape had changed in the span of time it took him to turn. Everything was muted: colour, sound, even the air felt as though a blanket was pressing down on him. He gaped, his breaths coming in rapid puffs of air. The woods seemed to stretch on forever without any change, and in the distance he heard the faint calls of things better left in the dark.

 

A dim sun was dragging through the veil of cloud to sunset, and he could already feel the night drawing in. Somehow knowing the monsters would only be more dangerous at night, he looked for a tree to hide in. A suitable one appeared, and he scaled it quickly, curling up in the junction between two sturdy branches.

 

He hid his face in his hands, trying to calm down. The cold sapped warmth from his chilled fingers, and with difficulty, he drew his wand, murmuring the words for a Warming Charm.

 

Nothing happened.

 

Frantically, he tried again, not realising the increased volume of his words was attracting all manner of creatures.

 

Crack .

 

His head jerked to the right, finding a ravening beast with a maw of jagged teeth glaring back at him. It lunged, and he jerked back, putting out a hand for purchase, only for it to slide through thin air, and then he was-

Falling.

 

Falling.

 

Falling, until he-

 

Hit the ground with a thud.

 

He pushed himself to his feet, looking around warily.

 

"Hello?" he called cautiously. "Is anyone there?"

 

A muffled squawk came from behind him. He turned, finding an occupied cradle. He moved forward slo wly, marking the indistinct mural on the wall. It must have been some kind of tree, but the only illumination was a small nightlight above the baby's bed. He leaned on the side of the cradle, almost falling when his forearms passed right through. Flailing, one of his fingers was caught by the baby. A wash of golden light passed through his body, and when he tried again, the wood was solid to his touch. He dangled his hand over the baby's face, stroking its wispy hair.

 

"Who are you, then?" he murmured, smiling at the gurgling child's gummy grin.

 

"I don't know who the hell you are," a gruff voice commanded behind him. "But get away from the baby."

 

He turned, finding the man from the mirror standing with a shotgun at the ready. Both of their eyes widened, and the other man made to step forward and raise the gun, but his fingers had already slipped from the baby's fingers, and he was-

In the dark.

 

Panic rose in his throat. Another change. This wasn't good.

 

He looked around, studying his surroundings yet again. This time he was alone in a darkness that never seemed to end. Directionless and empty. There was no light, he couldn't even see the floor that he knew was there, and yet when he looked down his hands, feet and body were all visible.

 

"Hello?" he pleaded. "Is there anyone out there?"

 

"Who are you?" a deep, gravelly voice asked behind him.

 

He spun, backing away as he saw his older self from the mirror. He appeared slightly older, but this time, there was a great bloody stain on the front of his shirt.

 

"Is this some trick of Lucifer's?" the apparition demanded. "Where are Sam and Dean? Tell me who you are!"

 

"M-My name is Cass," he answered, taking one step back for every one the man took towards him. "Who are you? Where am I!?"

 

"What have you done with my friends?" the man shouted, and Cass started running, trying to get as far away as possible. "Come back! Come ba-!"

 

Except Cass could no longer hear him. Something tripped him in the darkness, and when he landed, a long corridor yawned before him, tiled in sha des of grey up to chest height. He moved along it slowly, scarcely noticing the lights that only seemed to flicker when he passed them.

 

"Where am I?" he beseeched. "Is anyone there? I don't know where I am, I don't know where I am!"

 

He drifted along the seemingly endless corridors, trying to find some kind of marker, until he rounded a corner and walks straight through the same green-eyed man from before.

 

"What the-!" he blurted, spinning to face him. "Cas-!"

 

"Dean, get down!" another voice yelled, and when he did, a blast rang out behind him, and suddenly his torso was on fire with pain, and-

 

He was back in the dark again.

 

Hopelessly, he curled up into a ball, resting his head on his knees.

 

"I want to go home. I just want to go home. I don't know where I am, I don't know where I am!"

 

"Cas?" a gentle voice asked.

 

He jerked back, staring up at the man from the mirror. Transfixed, he did nothing as he placed a hand on his shoulder, drawing closer.

 

"It is you, isn't it?" he continued, searching his face. "You gotta tell us where you've been, we need you, man! We’ve gotta get you home."

 

"You can do that?" he asked, perking up. "You can get me home!?"

 

The green-eyed man relaxed, grinning at him.

 

"Yeah, it'll be just the four of us."

 

"What?"

 

"You, me, Sam and Jack, remember?" the man replied, frowning slightly. "In the Bunker, just like always."

 

"Th-this isn't my home," he said, brow wrinkling in confusion. "I  need  to get home, you don't understand, I need to find my friends, I need to go home!"

 

Suddenly, he found himself on the other side of the room, his forearm pressed over the man's throat.

 

"Who are you!?" he demanded. "Why do you seek to keep me here!?"

 

"Dean," the man gurgled. "'m Dean- your best friend..."

 

Shocked, he let his arm fall, and as it did, his fingers brushing against Dean’s left shoulder. Some force made his hand press against it- a strange magnetism- and an electrifying feeling began to run through his veins. He could make out Dean saying something, but his words were drowned out by the ringing in his ears.

 

He fell to the ground, and when he looked up-

 

Hermione and his friends were staring down at him, made-up faces and formal clothing doing nothing to conceal their shock.

 

Chapter Text

For the next few days, Dean goes through the motions of normal life. He still smiles at Jack, playing and goofing around with the kid when necessary, but the moment no one is watching him, the fake grin falls from his face. Nights are longer now that he can’t sleep longer than a couple hours, and the time spent awake, staring into the darkness, with only his thoughts for company, encourage the bags beneath his eyes to grow. His face becomes haggard as Dean loses energy, and it’s not long before Sam notices it too.

 

“Read,” his little brother orders, dropping a book on the tabletop one day.

 

“Good morning to you too, Sammy,” Dean smirks coldly, pushing the cereal he’s only been playing with aside. “Good sleep?”

 

“Better than what you’re getting,” Sam snaps, refilling his cup of coffee. He dumps it in front of him, sending the dark liquid sloshing about.

 

“Careful, Sam!”

 

“You,” his brother continues, ignoring his petulant cry completely. “Are going to read that and tell me if you find anything we can use.”

 

Sullenly, knowing Sam is right, Dean pulls the book towards him and starts flicking through. Hours pass as he’s absorbed in the book, as it’s more interesting than he anticipated.

 

Eventually, something catches his eye, and he leans in, rereading the section intently.

 

“Sam!” Dean calls over his shoulder, eyes still fixed on the page. “I think I got something!”

 

Footsteps pound closer as Sam runs into the room, homing in on Dean. He waves his little brother closer, tapping the book with a finger as he grins at him .

 

“Think this might work?”

 

 

The ride to the house where Jack was born is tense and verging on optimistic. Dean is tempted to crush it, to seem wiser by foretelling failure, but he lets hope rise, fluttering in his chest, because hope is allowed. They’re going to get Cas back. Not now, but soon.

 

And soon is very, very good.

 

Even so, the hope that he finally managed to set free is crushed when they round the back of the house and see the wings.

 

“Oh, man,” he mutters, looking at where the rain and time have blurred the edges of the ashy imprints. It’s been almost a year, he’s not sure what he was expecting, but even so, it’s one thing to have no hope at all, but having it ripped from just out of your hands is even worse. “We’re never gonna get that stuff up, not without contaminating it.”

 

Sam laughs nervously beside him.

 

“Yeah… About that,” he says, before squeezing a strange gold-egg object, almost exactly like the one the British Men of Letters gave them to get rid of Lucifer.

 

However, Dean doesn’t have time to think more about it, because as soon as the mystery button is pushed down, pure ash and soot from the burnt wings siphons off from the ground, funnelling through the air until it is sucked into the device. The previously stained earth is empty of the imprints of Cas’ death, making it seem like he was never there at all. Maybe some things can be reversed after all.

 

Turning to his brother with a gobsmacked impression, Dean gapes at him. Sam smiles sheepishly, shaking the metal egg as if to say ‘ta-dah!’.

 

“I tampered with it,” he explains, showing a few new runes scratched into the surface, and the empty spaces where others have been obliterated. “The wings weren’t going to stay perfect, Dean, not even angel wings are stubborn enough to withstand a year’s water damage. So, I improvised.”

 

Dean grins at him, smile big and wide, throwing his arms around his little brother. His stupidly, amazing, bitch of a brother.

 

“Thanks,” he mutters, drawing back, trying not to let his jubilation show. Sam smiles back at him, his eyes softening.

 

“It’s alright, Dean.”

 

Jack giggles at the dust-motes dancing in the sunlight on the way home, batting at them with glee. Dean feels another smile creep up on him, and this time he allows it to grow until he feels like he just won’t stop grinning. At this rate, his cheeks are going to get a cramp: he hasn’t felt this happy since Cas was with them.

 

Hoping that the angel might hear his prayers, he shoots one off quickly:

 

'Hey, Cas. We miss you, buddy.'

 

 

The next item the spell calls for is a little more risky. It involves leaving Jack and Sam alone in a barely-safe motel room while he goes sneaking out, under the cover of night, to ‘borrow’ a plant from a high-class greenhouse with extremely high prices.

 

Dean has to admit he feels a bit like a secret agent as he skulks around the dark interior of the main greenhouse. The only light is a vague scattering of moonlight seeping in through the glass panels above, gleaming dully on the waxy leaves of the maturing plants. Luckily, he has a flashlight Sam procured for him especially: a small red light that should be less noticeable than a white beam of it.

 

Soon, Dean finds the right shrub. The flowers look kind of black, but he figures it’s just the colour of his flashlight. He removes it from the planter box quickly and efficiently, wrapping it in a plastic bag which he places in his duffel carefully.

 

Back at the motel, he places his find on the table triumphantly. Sam looks up from where he’s rocking Jack’s travel cradle and grimaces.

 

“Dean, you got the wrong plant,” his little brother groans quietly, careful not to wake the sleeping nephilim.

 

What ?” Dean says, horrified at his mistake. “But the flowers! They’re exactly like the pictures!”

 

“Yeah, but they’re blue , not purple ,” Sam says, pinching the bridge of his nose impatiently. “Can you go and get the right one?”

 

“Not right now,” he answers, peeking out the window at the lightening sky outside. “Great job, Sammy: now we have to wait for opening hours because someone forgot basic science.”

 

“Jerk.”

 

“Bitch.”

 

As soon as the watch on his wrist hits 09:00, Dean and Sam slide out of the Impala in their freshly ironed suits. They breeze past the nursery’s front desk, flashing their badges as they pass the receptionist who clearly hasn’t woken up yet, and appears to be held up solely with the aid of caffeine. She doesn’t appear to notice.

 

Finally, the brothers reach the greenhouse, and Dean is finally able to appreciate it in the full light of day. However, the effect of the flowering plants and leafy shrubs is diminished by the bustling police force in swarming the area.

 

“This many?” Sam murmurs to Dean in confusion. “Why so many people for a missing plant?”

 

One of the nearby cops must have heard his whispered question, because he pauses in his path, leaning over to them.

 

“Morning gentlemen. The Sheriff is old Mrs Medley’s son,” he says, rolling his eyes. “She owns the place, and her thumb is as controlling as it is green. Something happens, even the smallest little incident like this and she has us all called down to… ‘Investigate’.”

 

“I see, thank you, Deputy,” Sam replies, presenting his badge again. “We’ve been called in because there are suspicions that the stolen plant could be instrumental in a state-wide... Drug scheme. Our assignment is to seize any suspicious vegetation.”

 

The Deputy’s eyes widen, and he steps out of their way, pointing over to where Dean stole the plant the previous night.

 

“Anything I can do to help, just ask,” he babbles. “It happened just over there.”

 

“Thanks,” Dean says brusquely, already pushing past the hero-worshipping cop. As soon as they’re out of earshot, he drops to a whisper. “‘Suspicious vegetation’? I guess we’ll have to arrest that poison ivy from sixth grade then, huh?”

 

Shut up ! I thought we agreed onto to talk about that!” his little brother hisses, and Dean cackles, drawing strange looks from several passers by.

 

A sour-faced elderly woman glares at them as they bag up the right plant and leave with it, but the sheriff standing by her side must have been informed of the crap Sam fed them, because she makes no move to stop them as they waltz out with the second major ingredient for their spell.

 

 

Finally, they return to the Bunker. Immediately, Sam sets to work repotting the stolen plants, slapping a label on each one to ensure Dean doesn’t mistake one for the other again. Luckily, they’re able to hook a couple of grow-lights up to the old fixtures in the cloak room, balancing the pots on a bench, and upending buckets beneath them to catch runoff water. Dean makes a joke about getting some real “magic” plants when they’re in Colorado next. Sam blows him off with a smile.

 

Once the two plants are safely ensconced within the “greenhouse,” Sam removes several leaves from the required shrub and sets to drying them in the warm oven. Now they can move on to the final component of their spell.

 

It is with great sadness that Dean takes Cas’ blade from his bedside table. The angel’s favoured weapon was a splinter of his grace, and now that it might be destroyed, it feels like another piece of Cas is being taken away. Dean strokes a finger down the handle, admiring the sheen of the beautiful metal for the last time, before getting up to find Sam.

 

His little brother is in the kitchen, removing a covered bowl from the oven. He checks inside, not realising the other man’s presence, as he peels the saturated paper towel from the top.

 

“We good to go?” Dean asks, toying with the dagger. Sam jumps, twisting to look at his brother leaning against the doorway. The taller man yawns, drawing a hand over his face as he turns to examine the dried husks in the dish.

 

“I think it should be just one more round before they’re ready,” he says, before looking at Dean once more. “Then we get Cas back.”

 

Dean grunts in acknowledgement as he makes to leave the kitchen, before a quiet voice stops him.

 

“What if he doesn’t want to come?” Sam murmurs, placing the bowl back in the oven slowly.

 

“What?” Dean asks in astonishment tinged with anger. “You got something to share with the class, Sammy?”

 

“What if he’s happier where he is?” Sam says, shifting uncomfortably. His fingers drum a nervous rat-at-tat-tat against the worksurface. “Every time you’ve see him over here, Cas has always been distressed, so maybe he’d be happier where he’s been living for however long it’s been.”

 

No,” Dean snarled, stalking over to him with a predator’s gait. “I don’t care, Sam. He’s only been scared because somebody shot him in the chest with rock salt! I get that he’s afraid because he can’t remember, but Cas didn’t remember being Cas when he was Emanuel! We are getting him back!”

 

Sam regards him silently, before standing up and removing the bowl from the microwave. He pushes past Dean and walks out into the corridor.

 

“Fine, but be prepared to leave him there!”

 

They stand in the dungeon in brooding silence as Sam prepares the spell, taking more time than necessary to set the ingredients out. Eventually, he turns to Dean.

 

“I’m sorry,” he says, brushing off his pants as he stands. “I know we want to get him back at any cost, but we have to be prepared for any eventuality.”

 

“Fine, yeah, okay,” Dean says tiredly, tugging a hand through his hair as he sighs. “Let’s just get on with it.”

 

He slices the heel of his hand with the blade, wincing as it reopens the half-healed cut from their previous spell. Efficiently, Dean daubs the sharp metal with his blood, making sure the entire surface up to the handle is covered. Passing the dagger handle-first to Sam, he flattens a band-aid over the bleeding wound, staunching the red liquid swelling from the cut.

 

His little brother lights the bowl of crushed and mixed spell ingredients, murmuring Latin as he passes the dripping angel blade through the flames a few times. Finally, Sam takes the gently steaming dagger and coats it with the shifting ash of Cas’ wings. The closer they get to their owner’s weapon, the  more agitated they become, until they settle on the surface, calming completely.

 

Sam inspects his handiwork, before passing the blade to Dean. He lifts Jack, pressing the handle into his tiny hands, and lifts him. Carefully, Dean recites the words that will let him see his best friend again, and lowers the kid slowly. A golden rift follows the point of Cas’ angel blade, twisting and turning in a nonexistent wind.

 

As the crack in the fabric of the universe tears open, Dean is struck with all manner of thoughts that he can’t help having in this moment. His stomach twists with fear as he lets the creeping doubts back in, to hack away at his surety.

 

Would Cas remember them? Would he still want them? Would their entire endeavour fail? Nervously, he send a final prayer, hoping against hope that Cas will hear his words.

 

“Stay here, buddy,” he murmurs to Jack as he sets him down, who blinks up at him owlishly as he holds the ethereally glowing blade in the bottom of the rift. They need the nephilim and his power to keep it open, preventing them from becoming trapped in the other world. He looks to Sam.

 

“Ready?”

 

“Yeah: let’s kick its ass.”

 

Dean takes a deep breath and steps through the portal to the world beyond.

 

Chapter Text

"Where am I?" Cass rasped. "What happened?" 

 

Hermione rushed to his side, snapping her wand out to cast diagnostic charms. Blearily, he noticed the array of people in the... tent? A vaguely familiar blonde woman halts spinning in her flared white dress, approaching with her red-headed partner.

 

 "Why don't you tell us, mate?" Ron said indignantly, trying to mask his pale face with aggressiveness. "You were gone for a year!"

 

"A year?" Cass gasped, now seeing that they all looked older than when he saw them in the Department of Mysteries. "How? Why didn't you look for me?"

 

"We all thought you were dead," a red-headed man said with Harry's voice. "Everyone saw Bellatrix curse you, and when you fell through that weird curtain thing, there was no body."

 

Hermione gripped his arm and dragged him to his feet. She opened her mouth to say something, but a ghostly lynx leapt through the ceiling, opening its mouth to report in a deep, reverberating tone:

 

The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming .”

 

“Cass, Cass, we’ve got to go!” she babbled, running out of the tent. He half-turned, before there were several great CRACKS as grimy men in ratty robes appeared in the middle of the dancefloor. Their faces were concealed by skull-like masks. Cass stared at them for a moment, struck dumb with shock, until the nearby flash of a spell knocked him out of his stupor. He ran after his friends, stumbling in the dark.

 

Suddenly, a hand caught his, and Hermione was pelting along beside him.

 

As Ron and Harry ran off into the dark, Hermione tugged him to a halt.

 

“What are you doing?” he hissed, heart thumping and pumping frantically with the surge of adrenaline.

 

“This may be the last time I see you for a while,” she said urgently, looking behind them. “Owls won’t reach me, so take this.”



She presented him with a small metal bird, just like the one she had made for her Art OWL. Cass took it without question, pocketing it silently. He trusted her absolutely.



“When you’re in private, push the eyes in at the same time,” Hermione instructed, before pulling him into a quick hug. She let go, holding him at arms length, and pecked him on the cheek. “I’ve got to go.”



“Take me with you,” Cass pleaded, but she shook her head. “Please!”



“I’m sorry Cass,” Hermione murmured, as she released him, turning to go. “I’ll see you when I see you.”



And with that she was gone, disappearing into the dark.



“Hermione!”

 


The Death Eaters attempted to interrogate him, questioning him relentlessly about where he’d been. Uneasily, the rest of the Weasleys stood around, but there was nothing they could do. They clearly expected him to have been on a mission for the Order, and so tried to aggravate him to make him slip up.



It wasn’t easy, but Cass let the barbed words slip off like water, shaking off their accusations.



“I don’t know where I was.”


“I can’t remember.”



“I don’t know what happened.”



After all, it was the truth.



The little bird burned in his pocket like a sacred talisman, keeping his silence. He treasured the strength it lent him, for Cass knew he would not betray his friends as long as he lived.

 

Later, in the early hours of the morning, while the sun was still half-asleep, Cass took the jeweled hummingbird and pressed the two eyes in.The beak fell open, and a slimb scroll poked out of the hollow inside. He took it, and unfurled the paper.

 

It was blank.

 

Cass felt a surge of disappointment go through his chest: he’d somehow expected there to be a message printed in Hermione’s precise hand on the thin paper. He went to scrawl something on it, but found his quill hovering above the surface, unable to press down. Something inside made him tuck the tiny scroll back inside the hollow bird, pressing the beak shut.

 

Then immediately, he opened it again and scribbled a list of questions down, then rolled it up and slid it back in.

 

The growing light made the iridescent surface of the hummingbird shine, illuminating violet streaks and ultramarine specks in the wine-dark metal skin. He stroked a finger down its back, from head to tail, and smiled when it came to life. It hovered and fluttered from one place to the next, considering him.

 

Then, suddenly, it was gone, disappearing into the beautiful sunrise.

 

 

The train was emptier than it had been in years, and it took Cass a while to realise it was because a large number of muggleborns and half-bloods had chosen to stay behind from school. He couldn’t exactly blame them.

 

He noticed that most of the students travelled in packs, clustered together so as to protect themselves. No one was brave enough to walk alone in the corridors unless they were Slytherin or ‘pure’ enough to pass unhindered.

 

Cass’ own wand was always ready for action: slid up his sleeve where he could whip it out at a moment’s notice.

 

Silently, he slipped into the compartment where some members of the DA sat. Neville rose, and Cass saw his wand held at his side.

 

“Who originally charmed your hair blue?” he said, jerking his chin up as he dared Cass to answer.

 

Cass ran a hand through it involuntarily: why was Neville asking him this question?

 

“H-Hermione,” he replied, confused. The other boy relaxed slightly, putting his wand away. He reached around Cass to shut the doors, casting a spell on them quietly.

 

“So no one can hear us,” Neville explained, settling back in his seat. “Not sure who to trust these days.”

 

“But why the question?” Cass asked bewildered, sitting down where one of the other compartment occupants gestured.

 

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed,” one of the boys said dryly, kicking one long, slim leg over the other. “But you’ve been dead for a year. Had to make sure you’re not just some polyjuice-drinking replacement, hacking bits off your corpse.”

Cass raised an eyebrow at him.

 

“Anthony Goldstein,” he introduced himself, holding out a hand. Cass shook it, amused, and sat back as he waited for more information. “I was in the DA, but we never really spoke. How did you manage to resurrect yourself by the way?”

 

“I never really died,” Cass chuckled lightly, trying to mask his uncertainty. “One moment I’m falling through this arch thing, the next I’m on the floor at Bill Weasley’s wedding.”

 

He looked around the compartment as they laughed, finally landing his eyes on a face he knew.

 

“Wayne?” he said, trying to inject a degree of lightness into his voice. “Do you know what happened to my things?”

 

The boy startled, not expecting to be addressed.

 

“I’m not sure…” he began, and Cass felt his heart sink. “I saw your uncle go into the dormitory after… You know. This was after what happened at the Ministry, after he was exonerated. I saw him leave with something under his arm. It could have been a shrunken version if your trunk, it could have been a covered owl cage. I’m not sure, sorry.”

 

“Thank you anyway,” he replied quietly, glad to have heard news of his uncle, no matter how outdated. Cass had been under almost permanent surveillance after his reappearance, leaving no time for anyone to bring him news of the year he’d-

 

The year he was missing.

 

Swiftly, Neville changed the subject, and they spent the rest of the journey in painfully-bright, uneasy chatter.

 

It was only a few hours in before Anthony broke and told him of their new custodians.

 

 

Life under the Carrows was hell. They ruled Hogwarts under an iron fist, lashing out at whoever they felt deserved their ire most. Snape did nothing to police them, letting the foul siblings to run around like rabid dogs, and as the days went by, it only appeared to get worse.

 

Eventually, the remaining heads of the DA had a meeting.

 

As usual, the initial statements were made by Longbottom, the closest thing they had to a commander. He obviously wasn’t used to speaking to a group, even to one as small as them, and kept fumbling with his words. Something within Cass whispered that he could do it, but the idea of being in that position unnerved him, and he knew better than to try it.

 

“We need somewhere to stash the kids,” Neville insisted, rubbing his tired eyes. “The ones that can’t pass under the radar or just can’t take it anymore.”



“The Room?” Anthony Goldstein suggested, looking up from the Map. Harry had passed it on to Ginny at some point in the summer. “They only got in last time because we didn’t have a specific enough set of demands. If we got the right requests, then no one should get in but us.”


“But we’d need someone in the entire time!” Ginny groaned, clapping a hand over her eyes. “It would never work!”



“I could do it,” Cass said quietly. The others looked at him in surprise. “The Carrows already have a vendetta against me for being Hermione’s friend. I’d be more safe here anyway. This just gives me a better reason for staying here.”



Neville had an odd look on his face, but they agreed readily, and before long there was a list of commands for the Room on the table.



As the others filed out, the heavy door shut behind them with a heavy thud. Cass picked up the paper and started running through them mentally.

 

A place of protection.

 

Thick metal bars snaked across the wood, curling around each other to reinforce the surface.

 

A place of shelter.

 

The windows became deeper in the stone as the walls thickened outwards. He turned, trailing his fingertips over the tabletop as he surveyed the Room.

 

A place of comfort.



It became cosier, with warm lights and great, turquoise, glass panels at the far wall, silhouetting a wrought iron staircase against it. Worn Persian rugs littered the cool stone floor beneath the central table, giving the stronghold a softness it was lacking.  He walked up the intricate stairs, spying cunningly hidden leaves and moving creatures in the metalwork. Cass came to a small landing with three doors leading off it.

 

A place like home.



Behind the first was a beautiful bathroom: filled with gleaming sea-green tiles and cream paint.



Behind the second was a wonderful bedroom: old-fashioned and cramped. A small fire burned in the grate, and the remaining floor space not taken up by the (dark wood) four-poster and battered wooden desk was covered by a thick rust-red rug.



Behind the third was the workshop of his dreams: a section given over to painting and sketches, another dedicated solely to pottery. The wheel was still splattered with clay from the last person who used it.



And finally, the one Cass truly needed: metalwork.


He shut the door behind him firmly, and set to work.

 

Before long, students of all ages were trickling in through the doors, at first only one or two, but soon enlarging to nearly six a day. The Room expanded to fit them; the bedroom morphing into a long corridor with rooms branching off from it, names of occupants neatly labelled on the doors. The bathroom also turned into multiple washing facilities, as many as were needed. After their latest brainstorming session, Neville and Cass had worked a way to get food into the Room: house-elves would bring the raw ingredients for them to cook (doing it themselves would draw far too much attention), while Aberforth provided them with the things the Room was unable to give.

 

It took a bit of trial and error with the great kitchen the Come-And-Go-Room had created, but soon they had a rota worked out so all the food prep was done fairly. There were some interesting results at first, but the cookbooks that they worked out from home recipes helped them grow more skilled. Cass was an enormous fan of Neville’s Belgian pancakes.  

 

Overall, Cass rather enjoyed the atmosphere in the Room. He was allowed more time for his work, now that more students could cover the commands in shifts, and the absence of schoolwork released him from time restraints. The time-turner was long-gone in any case.

 


“Cass?” Anthony called, shepherding a little second-year over to him one day. “I’d like to introduce my cousin Jutta Hervorragend; she’s going to be staying here for a while.”



The small girl stuck her hand out, and despite the tears streaming down her face, Cass saw from the determined set of her jaw that she was trying to be brave. She held her other hand cradled to her chest, like an injured animal does with a hurt limb.



“Hello Jutta, it’s going to be lovely having you here,” he said gently, crouching down to her level as he shook the proffered limb. “Do you mind if I take a look at your hand?”



She nodded fitfully, holding it out to him, and Cass took her wrist carefully. It was awfully blistered, and there were lacerations of the palm. The odd angles of her fingers told him immediately that they were broken.



“Oh dear, Jutta,” he murmured quietly, before looking up at her. “Would you mind telling me what happened?”



As she began her story in short, sniffly sentences, Cass ran his wand over the top of her hand lightly, drawing the skin back together as best he could. The fingers made quiet snick, snick, snicks as they snapped back into place.



“I was in Dark Arts, copying things down from the blackboard, and suddenly, Professor Carrow started shouting at me. H- he said, ‘why are you using that, you stupid silly girl!’ It was only a ballpoint, Spatzi!” Jutta pleaded, twisting round to look at Anthony. It jolted her hand, and she let out a pained hiss. “J-just like Mutti likes to use!”



“I know Kuschelbär,” Anthony said, rubbing her shoulder. “I know, and there’s nothing wrong with it.”



“Mutti… your mother?” Cass asked, frowning as he tried to knit the bleeding flesh of her palm back together. “Would that be the Frau Hervorragend who wrote the Morpho Menelaus trilogy? It’s one of my favourite Wizarding series.”



“Yes,” Jutta said, nodding proudly. “And I was using a biro because she always told me they were much better than manky old quills, so I was only doing what she told me to do! But Herr Carrow just went completely mental! When I tried to tell him, he dragged me out of my seat and- and he-“



Her face crumpled, and she started crying in earnest. Anthony engulfed her in a hug, whispering, ‘Das tut mir leid, Schneckchen, das tut mir leid,’ as she sobbed into his jumper, curling her uninjured hand into the knitted fabric. He pulled away slightly, and continued with the story:



“He took out his belt and started whipping her hand with it,” he stated, never once ceasing in rubbing her shaking shoulders. “Apparently, Herr Carrow must have placed some kind of curse on the buckle, because it burnt her hand as he beat her with it. Unsatisfied with her lack of ‘penance’, he got out his wand and broke her fingers so she would not be able to use one of the ‘filthy muggle contraptions’ ever again.”

 

Cass longed to swear and curse at that vile man, but he restrained himself, knowing it was not the time to get visibly angry. Instead, he put a hand under Jutta’s chin, tilting it until she was looking him in th e eye.

 

“Jutta, I know this is hard, but I need you to be strong for your Mutti. I know she would be proud of you for lasting this long, but you’re going to have to keep it up for a little bit longer. Is there anything your parents used to say to you to help you sleep after a nightmare?” he continued, preparing to lie in order to comfort her. “Mine used to say ‘the angels are watching over you’.”

 

It wasn’t true in the slightest, but if it helped the little girl in front of him, Cass would tell her he had wings.. Besides, it sounded somewhat real to him. It sounded right .

 

“Vatti liked saying golems were looking out for me,” Jutta answered, smiling softly as she remembered the words of comfort.

 

“Golems?”

 

“Yes!” her eyes shimmered, and she gestured with her uninjured hand. “They were great, big, clay men that the rabbis created to protect our people! Your country had the Statute of Secrecy because of the witch hunts, ours held on for much longer, because our golems kept us safe.”

 

“Really?” Cass replied, considering the idea. “How would one go about making a golem, Jutta?”

 

Her answering grin was enough to spark one of his own.

 

Over the next few weeks, Cass and Jutta made a fast friendship. Since the belt had been cursed, the wounds on the young girl’s palm refused to be healed by magical means, so she was forced to use her non-dominant hand to cast spells. The added difficulty frustrated Jutta, and she became fitfully angry at her apparent uselessness.

 

In response, Cass took her under his wing: pronouncing her to be his assistant in his workshop, even granting her the nickname ‘Lehrling’. She wasn’t excellent by any means, but the potential was there, and he himself knew what it was like to feel as though he could do nothing. She needed time.

 

Jutta flourished under his attention, and soon they had a design plan for the golems.

 

First was the skeleton: a metal backbone and outline of stickfigure-esque antimony. Cass knew that half of magical art was symbolism, and the Room and been helpful with providing metal that correlated with protectiveness and adaptability, traits that corresponded with golems.

 

Next came the clay.

 

Layer by layer, Cass and Jutta built up the golems’ bodies. Time had no meaning in the cool workshop as they slaved over the clay soldiers. He carved the great ‘eyes’ himself, chiseling the Hebrew words of life and protection into the highly polished jet.

Finally, they completed the last step: inscribing the names of the students the golems needed to protect, before bleeding on the parchment.

 

They placed the scrolls in the golems’ mouths, shutting them gently and breathing on their faces, before a standing back to watch as they came to life.

 

There were twelve of them, one for each of the tribes of Judeah, and they were amazing.

 

Levi was gentle; loving to sit and talk with their charges quietly.

 

Reuben was funny; part of the protection they offered was the freedom to laugh.

 

Asher was kind; they would always know when just to listen.

 

Gad was helpful; there was no task that they were not trying to assist with.

 

Joseph was imaginative; they told the best stories, and often the children would wait up long into the night as they listened to their stories of Yaweh and Israel.

 

Benjamin was stoic; they would not have socialised at all if it wasn’t for Mi Lau, the tiny second year girl with a scowl as dark as thunder, coaxing them out of their shell.

 

Judah was calm; their presence always served to keep the peace in the room. They often found themself asserting their serene presence when a certain group of fourth years began to get rowdy.

 

Issachar was wise; students came to them to speak and they would always depart with a lighter and more resolved soul.

 

Zebulun was encouraging; the children sometimes came to the Room, and they would always be livened up by Zebulun.

 

Dan was honest; sometimes it felt that no one told the students the truth, but they would always dispel their worries with truths that were hard to come by.

 

Naphtali was frank; they would always be able to snap panicking and moping students out of their funk with a few well-placed words.

 

Simeon was watchful; if it wasn’t for them, pettiness and cruelty in the Room would have been rife and everywhere.

 

And so the weeks passed.

 

 

“I hate that we don’t know what they’re doing,” Jutta grumbled as they walked into the workshop after another fruitless meeting. The atmosphere in the Room had only grown tenser and angrier as the months had gone by. As more students poured through the great doors, an equal number of students who remained were scared into submission by the inhumanity of the Carrows and their master’s agenda.



“It’s like a hive mind we can’t hack into!” Anthony griped, leaning against the rough stone wall. He and Cass had grown close over the past few months. “We have no way of finding out what they’re going to do next!”



Cass slid onto his supple leather seat, clicking the witchlight on over his design desk. Sifting through the loose papers on the tilted surface, he came across the design for Echo. A pang went through him at the thought of the little clay demiguise who had been his eyes when they didn’t realise how bad things were really going to get.



Then suddenly, a connection flashed in his mind and he gasped.



“Cass?”



That was it! A hive mind! Instantly, he grabbed a quill and began sketching frantically, getting the beginnings of the idea down in splotchy, splattered ink. Grinning, Cass turned and held the messy design up to them.


“I think it won’t bee a problem for much longer.”



Anthony groaned, knocking his head against the wall before smiling back at him.



“That was awful .”



Jutta grabbed her wand and they set to work.



The next set of designs were refined on the stand as they worked from the drawings. They were then discussed, and each individual part debated over. Jutta and Cass then set to work creating the prototypes, as theirs were the only hands trained enough for putting together the tiny machines. They  poured in magic in while they worked, knowing that the more alive they were, the better. Then Anthony put them to their limits, testing them with anything and everything that could happen.



Finally, they were ready.


As Cass breathed them into life, he ensured that each of them knew what their task was. He pushed knowledge and loyalty into them, making sure each knew their purpose.



Unseen by midnight passersby, the mechanical bees flew out of a tiny opening in the impenetrable wall. They buzzed quietly from the Room out into the dark and empty corridors of Hogwarts, each going to their designated place. Once they reached them, the bees nestled into waiting crevices, or used their tiny hacksaw teeth to chew a place for them to sit. In position, they settled down, minuscule jet eyes switching on.



In the Room, the DA watched in amazement as each polished stone screen blinked into life. Silence fell as they watched in awe, until the last one lit up with a black and white view of its vantage point.



“They’ve done it!” an excited fifth year cheered, sparking a mass jubilation in the Room.



They could see the whole of Hogwarts.



Cass grinned, letting himself be pulled into a hug by Jutta and Anthony, joining in their celebration as they jumped up and down with joy.



For the first time in months, it felt like things were going to be alright.


A few days later, Jutta came to him with her own design.


“What have you got for me, Lehrling?” Cass asked gently, scanning the neat page. It was precise and to the point, just like the person who had brought it to him. “I can see a few areas where you’ve gone wrong, and one or two things I think can be improved, but this is a great start. Would you allow me to help you make it?”



Jutta’s beaming smile was answer enough for him. He tugged one of her tight plaits lightly and wrapped an arm around her as they entered the workshop.



“I think you’ll surpass me soon,” he smiled teasingly. “‘The Amazing Jutta and her Wonderful Works’, how does that sound?”

 

Then everything went to hell.

 

“They took Luna,” Neville rasped, his eyes a bloodshot, red-rimmed mess. “On the train home. The Death Eaters have her now.”

 

Silence fell in the Room. The bottom dropped out of Cass’ stomach. Things had been feeling like the end of their ordeal might be soon, but with the horrible kidnapping staring them in the face, they were forced to return to reality. A tremor ran through him, and the edges of his vision whitened for a split-second.

 

He shoved back from the table violently, stalking into his workshop, slamming and locking the door behind him.

 

He slapped his welding goggles into pace and got to work, channeling all of his anger into his creations.

 


Later, Cass sat at his bank of screens, surveying the school. Over the past few weeks, each and every cruelty committed had passed beneath his all-seeing eyes. It sickened him. Each child sobbing brokenly as they tried to conceal their pain and loneliness added to the ever-growing weight on his chest, and eventually he had to stop.



Cass turned away from the display, looking to Neville. He flattened the sheet of commands on the table by the other man’s side.



“I- I can’t,” he babbled, backing away. He needed release, to be free of the suffering for just an hour, a minute, the barest second!

 

The Room obliged, forming a dark space.

 

He walked within it for a while, gazing upon the beautiful balls of glowing energy swirling within the endless room.

 

They were exactly like the ones he’d painted back in his third year.

 

The experience, and memory,  calmed him.

 

 

Cass and Hermione didn’t exactly communicate regularly.

 

They spoke through the tiny metal bird, but they were wary of their messages being intercepted, so the two used codenames: Bee and Fisher, after their respective patroni.

 

The letters were always brief, as they were unable to put any real information in without fear of their enemies finding them. Usually, they were nothing more than a few lines.

 

I’m alive.

 

We’re safe.

 

Things are well.

 

These messages, no matter how short, always renewed Cass’ energy for the next few days, filling him with life he’d forgotten how to possess.

 

But no matter how hard he tried, he never managed to write the one thing he wanted to say most:

 

I love you.

 

Finally, the day they’d all been waiting for arrived, and they left the Room, suddenly Cass felt alive again as he watched Hermione’s brave and fiery face from within the crowd.

 

He ran up to the Room as soon as he heard the order to prepare for battle, and let loose his creations.

 

First came the birds.

 

They flocked, silent as death on the bannisters, the stone shrieking under their metal claws. The bleak light gleamed off their gleaming bronze plumage, sharp as the most cutting words, and just as lethal. They opened and closed their savage beaks decisively, eying the waiting students with mock anticipation.

 

Next were the the packs of wild dogs.

 

They were closer to wolves, but no one would dare come near their terrifying platinum forms to find out. Serrated teeth were cleaned and coated by tongues filled with clear venom that Cass had managed to concoct from ‘borrowed’ chemicals taken from under Madam Pomfrey’s selectively blind eye. Anyone bitten by one of the petrifying beasts would die soon, either of blood loss or poisoning. Even if it didn’t come from their mouths, the hooked claws were enough to kill.

 

After them came the golems.

 

They lumbered on, cool and supple clay moulding to fit the surfaces they stood on. No one but he and Jutta knew how, but with careful planning and long thought, Cass had made them impervious to spell damage. Instead, they would absorb the energy, and, through the special runes on their palms and head, could send it surging out in a killing strike.

 

Cass’ piéce de resistance came in the form of his wasps and hornets.

 

They too were metal, and he handed them out to the students. Contained in a metal chrysalis, when released, they would multiply with the Gemini Charm, turning into a swarm of deadly flying insects. Their shiny metal carapaces would disorientate the attackers, and the stings were soaked with poisonous juices from the Venomous Tantanctula. Upon command, they would return to their shells, ready for another use.

 

And then they went to battle.

 

Finally, he was able to put the skills he had spent so long honing into use. Cass slashed and whirled with his wand: a Cutting Charm there to incapacitate a ravening werewolf, a Tripping Jinx here to give running students time to escape. He was a bottled storm, chaos in motion. He cut a swath through the scattered Death Eater forces, a snarl on his face as Cass showed the true qualities of a Hufflepuff: Loyalty and protection.



The Stymphalian birds circled above his head, and at his curt commands, they stormed packs of the enemy, slashing with bronze talons and ripping with savage iron beaks. At a motion from his hand, their deadly metal feathers volleyed in a lethal fan, embedding themselves in the Death Eater’s bodies.



But eventually, the storm was too big even for him to master: caught up in duel, Cass tripped as he backed away. The brimstone yellow curse missed his head by inches and his wand landed several feet away. With his birds occupied protecting the others, Cass was defenceless. He considered his options and found none. Hopefully, death would be quick.



As Cass raised his gaze, preparing to meet his end head on, a violently scarlet spell flew into the Death Eater’s chest. It absorbed into their torso, and their limbs flickered as they thudded to the floor.



Heart caught in his throat, Cass twisted, gaping at his rescuer.



Hermione.



She stood there panting, righteous anger alive and evident on her face. Swiftly, she grabbed his hand, dragging him upright, and Cass stumbled after her as they ran for cover.



“You’re alive!” Hermione breathed, throwing her arms around him as they clung to each other furtively. Cass inhaled her distinctive scent. It was buried beneath grime and sweat, but it was her nonetheless. Lemony and sweet.


“Hermione, I-“ he started, but at that moment, Neville ran round the corner, a pack of Death Eaters at his feet.



“Cass!” he shouted as they immediately started covering him with spell fire. “It’s time to unleash Big Fiery!”



Big Fiery was another of Cass’ creations. They pelted up to the Room, exchanging curses as they ran, and finally skidded to a halt outside it. Cass flung the great doors wide open, whistling as he thought of what he needed.



“Come on boy!” he yelled, backing away from the force he knew was about to erupt from there. “Time to fight!”


“Is that a-?” Hermione gasped as she stumbled back.



“Yeah,” Neville grinned viciously.

 

Merlin ,” she breathed. “Daubermann’s going to give you an O star!”


With a scraping slither, Big Fiery emerged from his cage. Molten fire glowed behind empty eyes as the great metal dragon snaked forward. Cass clambered onto its back, avoiding lethal spikes and razor-sharp scale edges. The beast had been his yearlong project, and now it was finally time to let him loose. Big Fiery whipped his mace-like tail back and forth with anticipation as he geared up to a run. Quickly, Cass reached down for Hermione’s hand. She hesitated.



“I know you’ve already ridden a dragon this year,” he teased, and she rolled her eyes, clambering on behind him.



“That doesn’t mean I want to repeat the experience,” she grumbled. “Neville? You coming?”



The other man shook his head, turning to go.



“I’ve got to look after my people on the ground.”



“Wait,” Cass called after him, throwing the wasp chrysalises after him. Neville caught them, eyes widening as he realised what they were. “Even if you can’t control them properly, they’re keyed to go after Death Eaters. Good luck.”



Neville nodded.



“You too.”



A nudge to his plated sides, and Big Fiery started to thunder along, sparks flying as his long wingtips scraped the floor. He picked up speed as they rounded a corner, flinging a group of Death Eaters to the side with a single sweep of an enormous limb.



With a snap of his wings, Big Fiery took to the air, Cass whooping with exhilaration as they climbed. Hermione’s arms tightened around his middle as the wind blew past their faces with even greater force. Finally, they soared above the battleground below, Big Fiery’s quicksilver wings filled like enormous sails as he glided through the air. Cass felt a flicker of pride: they’d been the most difficult part to build. All of the younger students had helped where they could, positioning the great metal expanses to the best of their abilities.



It had brought them together, and now they would get to see their behemoth fly.



Carefully, Cass reached behind him, tapping Hermione’s hand.



“I need you to hold on to me,” he shouted over the roaring of the wind. “I’m going to be unresponsive for a while, so if you feel me falling, stop me.”



“What?” she called in confusion. “ Unresponsive !?”


“Just trust me!”



And with that, Cass slid his hands into the waiting slots and-



tipped into big fiery’s mind for the very first time.


it took a little time to find his way around a great-flame-one’s mind, but once he was in, everything slipped into place.



with a great bellow, he swooped down, careful to envelop the two small-two-leg-weights on his back with comforting tendrils of iron. the female stank of fear- a bitter-acrid stench- but the other smelt empty.

 

but he was a dragon and he had work to do.

 

his wild-wind-wings folded in as he plummeted towards the rapidly approaching earth, snapping out to skim the ground as his flames erupted from deep within. they incinerated a gaggle of screaming dark-foul-two-legs, a waft of flamed flesh lighting up his system as it triggered a deep primal call.

 

landing in a predator’s crouch, he used his club-spike-tail to wipe out another group of foul-dark-two-legs. his power-great-paws crushed some more beneath them: the snap of their twig-brittle-ribs music to his ears.

 

he spotted a single dark-foul-two-legs grappling with a light-good-two-legs and clasped them with his slim-strong-claws as he took to the air. casually, he plucked the screaming attacker from its victim, letting it plummet to a painful end.

spotting magic-flash-energies fireworking at the stone-hilly-tops, he glided over, curious to see what was happening.

 

a gemini-red-two-leg was backing up against a wall, fending off magic-flash-energies from dark-foul-two-legs. he laughed at something another red-two-leg said, caught unawares by the wall tumbling behind him.

 

quicker than lightning, he snatched them out of the way of the falling stone, holding them tightly to his chest as he burned the would-be killers to a crisp.

 

hovering above the ground, he deposited the two-legs, watching with a reptilian eye as his beating wild-wind-wings flattened the bare vegetation beneath him. the gemini-two-legs became one as they embraced each other desperately, and he turned his head to each side as he heard the other two-legs whispering.

 

isthatcass

 

isheunconscious

 

waitishermioneuptheretoo

 

at a thought, he landed, withdrawing his mind-tendrils from the smouldering mass of the great-flame-one, until he-

 

-Gasped, inhaling deeply as he became Cass again.

 

“Thank you!” George yelled, tears streaming down his face. “Thank you!”

 

Harry came pelting up to them with Ron at his side.

 

“Hermione! You’ve got to come with us!”

 

So she did, running after them. Cass was left alone, and cursed as he remembered his charge, and pegged it in the other direction.

 

Stumbling into a courtyard, he scanned the place desperately.

 


“Cass!” a scream rang out behind him. He spun, wand at the ready, only to find a trembling Jutta held by Fenrir Greyback. The werewolf bared his teeth at Cass, but his eyes were fixed on the savage knife pressed to the terrified girl’s jugular. He nipped her ear playfully, a drag of yellowed teeth over soft skin, and Jutta pressed her eyes shut, her breath coming in short gasps.



“Let her go,” he said carefully, making eye contact with his petrified apprentice. He could not risk cursing Greyback: Jutta’s body shielded too much of him to try, and the knife. The knife . “What do you want?”



Greyback smiled.



Death .”



Jutta’s eyes flashed wide in fear as he drew the blade from ear to ear, creating vivid, scarlet smile of blood.



“NO!” Cass screamed,whipping out his wand to curse the monster to oblivion as Jutta’s body slumped to the ground. Greyback laughed until he didn’t: too dead to reply.



He ran over to her body, cradling it as he cast spell after spell to try and save her life, but she bled out in his arms.



She died staring him in the eye.



Cass didn’t think he would ever forget the look of pure terror on her face, not even if he lived for a hundred, million years.



“Jutta! Jutta!” he cried, shaking her slightly. Her body flopped like a rag-doll and Cass stopped, curling into her body helplessly as he sobbed. “Lehrling, Lehrling, Lehrling.”



Eventually, he stopped, his grief transformed to mindless rage. Cass stood, a snarl twisting his features as he turned to go. A few charms later, and Jutta’s corpse floated behind him as he started his rampage of revenge.



He was a force to be seen as cut through the Death Eater troops. If they hadn’t seen Big Fiery earlier, his enemies would have mistaken him for the dragon as he decimated their army. Her innocent blood stained Cass’ hands, and he was determined to wash it off with that of those who would kill without consequence. He had been restrained by his morals before, but now he was liberated, free to cause pain as he saw fit, and Cass felt the battle-madness sweep through his veins as he lit his blood on fire with rage and unholy glee at the lives he took. Cass killed, and he killed and killed and killed, until-



Until the Death Eaters were retreating and there was no one left to kill. Empty, he stared into the middle-distance as the mindless murder disappeared from his system. A hand jolted him out of his daze, and when he looked, Hermione was staring at him with horror on her face. He looked around and saw people streaming to the Hall.



“What happened?” she whispered, eyes wide as she traced the blood drenching his previously white shirt to the red flecked on his face and smeared on his hands, and finally, to Jutta’s hovering body.



“It’s not mine, Hermione,” Cass said dully. He lowered Jutta’s lifeless corpse and took it in his arms.



He set off for the Hall, his faithful apprentice’s body cradled in his arms. It seemed so much smaller than in life: as though the moment she died something was sucked out of her. Cass stroked her hair with the fingers of one hand, trying desperately to ignore the great ruby wound. As they approached the rows of the dead, he laid her down in the empty space between Tonks and Lavender. Cass saw the Weasley Twins embracing, and saw Sirius consoling a weeping Remus.



If he hadn’t saved Fred, would she have lived?



If he hadn’t saved Sirius, would Remus have joined his wife on the floor?



A life for a life.



Who knew what kind of butterfly effect his actions had?

 

Cass slumped next to her body, rubbing an unclean hand over the other. He examined the rust flaking off his palms, picking at the dry red deeply ingrained around his nails. His motions were mechanical, empty and emotionless.



“Jutta?” he heard a shocked whisper behind him. Cass turned to see Anthony frozen behind him, hands outstretched as his face twisted into that of a broken man. His body stuttered slightly as he tried to process the impossibility of what had happened. “H-how?”



Cass opened his mouth, but the words did not come, and he hung his head in shame. He looked up, trying again to explain this horrible tragedy.



“Anth-“



“You were supposed to keep her safe!” Anthony screamed, grabbing him by his bloodstained shirt. He shook Cass frantically, mad eyes brimming over with tears. “You were supposed to protect her!”



He swung wildly, clouting the other boy round the face. Cass took it, falling to the ground as he made no attempts to defend himself. He knelt, head up as he waited for the next hit, knowing he deserved each and every one.



But it did not come.



Instead, Anthony stood above him, hand frozen in the air as he stared down at Cass. He fell to his knees, clinging on to Cass as he sobbed into his shoulder. Cass’ hands found their way to Anthony’s back, stroking gently as they wept for their friend. Anthony clasped his jumper tightly, as if he’d never let go, while he sobbed.



“Nephew?”

 

He turned in Anthony’s tight embrace to find his uncle standing behind him.

 

Sirius was much more gaunter than Cass remembered, but he seemed just as strong as he’d always been as he scooped him into a hug. Cass felt the tears soaking into his shoulder.

 

“I thought you were dead,” Sirius murmured, staring at his last living relative with amazed eyes. “I-I thought you were gone. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you.”

 

Cass tried to smile, reaching up to grasp his uncle’s shoulder. His weak imitation stuttered. It was too soon to rejoice.

 

“I was dead, but now I am alive,” he replied honestly. “And now we are all together again.”

 

 

Cass stood by Sirius’ side when Hagrid, surrounded by victorious Death Eaters, brought out Harry’s body. He felt his uncle stiffen, having gained a nephew only to lose a godson.

 

“He’s not dead, he can’t be!”

 

“I know, uncle. I know.”

 

And then he was alive again, and the final battle was over, and-

 

They were free.

 

He was free.

 

Cass would never have to worry about Voldemort again.

 

A laugh burst out of him, and soon everyone was celebrating.

 

Celebrating the war they’d won, the lives they’d saved, and the lives of those they couldn’t. Tears were shed, but not all of them were from sorrow.



Later, after most of the impromptu festivities were over, Cass went to find Hermione.

 

He found her sitting under the remnants of the bridge, her patronus flying over the water. Silently, Cass came up behind her, and put an arm around her shoulder.

 

“Your patronus,” he murmurs, entranced by the capering bear. “It’s changed.”

 

“Yes,” Hermione said, curling into his side as she observed her luminescent animal. “After you died- After we thought you were dead, I tried it. Again. To see if I could.”

 

Silently, Cass cast his own patronus, and the happy little bee was sent buzzing as it zoomed over the bear’s fur. It left a ghostly trail behind it, like the afterimage of a neon light.

 

“I tried to summon up all of my memories of the times you made me laugh,” she continued, and Cass felt her hands tightening around his middle imperceptibly. “Every time you made me smile. All those days you comforted me. Each and every good thing about the years we were friends.

 

“I didn’t know if I could be happy in a world without you. I had to know. I took out my wand, said the words, and… There it was.”

 

He laid his head on hers, fingers wound in the soft fabric of her jumper. They sat in silence, each blessed with the presence of the other.

 

“Bears and bees go quite well together, don’t they,” Cass sighed into her hair. He felt the shuddery laughing sob she gave.

 

“I always had to be brave, you know?” Hermione mumbled. “For Harry and Ron. I never got to properly grieve you.”

 

She pulled away from him, and he looked down at her; face glistening with tear-tracks. The light of their dancing patroni lit them like star trails.

 

And suddenly, she kissed him.

 

Softly at first: a simple brush of lips against another. Then, as he began to respond, Hermione deepened it.

 

Eventually, they pulled away, and held each other tightly as they began to weep.

 

An absolute yin and yang: damaged, but still beautiful.

 


It was a year after the war.

 

Cass stood by the small gravestone numbly. He stared down at the speckled grey stone, lichen already creeping up the pristine surface. A year had not weathered it, but he could almost sense the rain and wind chipping away at it, sharpening the edges and roughening the surface until it was smooth once again, with all inscriptions blotted from human memory.

 

Already, the flowers were curling round it, buoyed by the rich nutrients the grave’s occupant offers them. They bent under the gale, buffeted by the late April winds, their bright heads bobbing against the dull stone.

 

Kneeling, he laid fresh blooms down on the raised lump where she lay. Cass traced the words picked out in gold.

 

JUTTA HERVORRAGEND

‘BELOVED DAUGHTER, MASTERFUL MAGICIAN, SKILLED CRAFTSMAN

‘DIED A VETERAN OF OUR WAR

‘GOD GIVES, GOD TAKES, GOD’S NAME FOREVER BE BLESSED .’

 

As he went to leave, he brushed against the leaves of a small sapling poking out of the soil.

 

In accordance with Wizarding custom, Jutta’s parents had planted her wand above her grave. If a muggle were to come across a magical cemetery, they would assume it was a forest, so filled with every kind of tree they were.

 

Cass thought it was one of the most beautiful things their people could do with dying: taking someone’s death and returning it to life.

 

There were other mourners there on the anniversary, but by some unspoken rule, they did not talk or even acknowledge the others’ presences.

 

He rose and walked silently out of the graveyard, not disturbing the branches as he passed.

 

 

In the years after the war, Cass became an artist.

 

He went to the Euro-Glyph School of Extraordinary Languages, and finished it with extraordinary grades. Then he came back, took up his tools and ever looked back.

 

Hermione entered the Ministry, smashing through every glass ceiling with a ferocity that astounded everyone except for those closest to her. Cass was eternally proud of her, and their love bloomed over the next few years.

 

They never married, feeling that what they had was enough in the eyes of the God they never truly believed in.

 

Cass’ guardians returned to the school.

 

Big Fiery made his residence under the bridge where Hermione and he had started their new life together. The drago n liked to send up puffs of smoke to frighten the students occasionally, but was always gentle with any pupil brave enough to come to him. He could be seen doing laps of the school grounds almost every night.

 

The golems continued to guard the school, almost doing a better job than the teachers and the prefects combined to keep the student body content and safe.

 

All was well.

 

 

The day he found the trenchcoat, it felt like a voice inside him was saying- no, screaming at him to get it.



So he did.



Later, he made up reasons for himself to justify why he bought it. It was easy enough to explain: the coat was long and baggy enough to pass as a new kind of robe, and they were popular enough in the muggle world that no one batted an eye at it.



Still, he knew that the reasons he used in public would not make up for the truth he was trying to conceal from himself.



He bought it because it felt right.

 

It was a few days after that when the voices started.

 

hey cas… miss you

 

It scared him. One moment he could be standing making dinner, and the next moment a whispering voice, buzzing in and out, static hiss in his ear.

 

don’t worry… doi… fine

 

Cass didn’t dare speak to Hermione about it. Something told him that she might not like what she heard. Even when the voice started coming days apart, instead of months like they used to.

 

me agai… coming soo...

 



“Cas! Cas!" a gruff voice is shouting after him as he walks down a street in muggle London, almost 15 years after the war.



He turns, of course he does, and-



There are two men running after him. They are shouting at him, and he doesn't know why. Something in him screams danger, but a greater, dormant part of him is rising up: It is warm, and he knows it, because it feels like home, and it feels like the puzzle piece that he never really knew was missing is right there in front of him, and it feels right .



But these new feelings are strange and familiar and everything at once and he needs to leave because it is all too much and not enough at the same time and he needs to leave to process it and-



Frightened and lost, he apparates away, not caring who would see him.



He appears in an alley, surprising a tramp, who runs away quickly from the man who can drop out of thin air, and sags his entire body against the grimy wall.



Then they are there again, this time almost running past the entrance of the small gap between the buildings, then slowing quickly, and cautiously approaching him.



"Cas," the smaller one says. He has a brown leather jacket on. Cass feels that he should know it. It is a face that should be familiar and yet the memories are dulled by time. "Cas, buddy, are you okay?"



Whipping out his wand, Cass shouts at them:



"Who are you!? Why are you following me!?"



They exchange looks, and the bigger one approaches slowly.



"Cas?" he begins gently, and in a flash of something that was and wasn't, Cass has a glimpse of this same man, but he is crying and flinching at things that Cas can't see. "Cas, don't you remember us?"



"What!- No!" Cass cries incredulously, rubbing one of his eyes, trying to combat the sharp headache that is building there. "Why would I know you? You're just muggles!"



The smaller one chokes in surprise, and Cass has a sudden vision of the man choking on water, while his black eyes glare at him. The men from the mirror! He realises suddenly. They are the men from the mirror all those years ago!

 

"Muggles!? What the hell, man!? This isn't Harry Potter!"



"I don't know, Dean. We have no idea what kind of universe this is."



Cass scratches at his shoulder blades frantically with one hand, the other gripping his wand with increasing shakiness as he flickers is gaze at both of them.



"H-how do you know my friend?" he queries, looking between the two nervously.



The men share a look, and Cass(iopeia?) remembers/thinks? of the same look, shared over and over again, in different costumes and clothes, but always the same.



"Are you married?" the shorter one- Dean he heard the other one call him- asks, edging closer. "To a chick named Daphne?"



"No!" Cass snaps, feeling like he has had this conversation before. The itching has appeared inside his head too, like this is all something he should know. "My wife's name is Hermione!"



"OK," Dean says, pouting slightly as he processes the information. "Is your name Emmanuel?"



"What is it with these ridiculous questions!?" Cass growls. "My name is Cass Black!"



"It's alright Cas," Dean soothes, reaching out to him. "We don't care. Remember? We'd have you anyway-"



"Cursed or not," Cass whispers, finishing the sentence he did not know he knew, as the man’s hand finally touched his shoulder

 

And, suddenly, his mind is filled with millennia of memories, his birth, the Earth's creation, the Fall, his flight into Hell, Dean, Sam, Dean, Dean, Dean, his deaths, his rebirth, his new life, Hermione- everything up until this point.



When he comes back to himself, he is kneeling on the alley floor, his wings displayed in their shadow form. He - Cassiopeia/Cas/Castiel/Cass?- is holding his angel blade in one hand, almost a complete mirror to the wand in his other.



Cas looks up at Sam and Dean.



He stands.



When they hug, it feels like the last piece has been slotted into place.



He is whole.


 

"Hermione?" Cass calls as he enters their house. He shucks his shoes off, gesturing at the Winchesters to do the same, chuckling as they stand in the hallway awkwardly. 


"In the kitchen!" she shouts back.



When he enters, she's standing at the workbench for potions.



"The Office closed early today, so I decided to get a start on the Pepper-Up potions I've been meaning to..." Hermione trails off as she turns, catching sight of the two other men in the kitchen. "... Improve. You didn't tell me we had guests today, bee."


Her eyes narrow as she takes in the way they're gawping at the magical appliances in the room.



"Especially not muggles," she mutters, turning to Cas. "Bee, is everything alright?"


"Hermione, I have something to tell you," he says gravely. "I am the Angel of the Lord known as Castiel."



She smiles.



"Did George put you up to this? It's good to see him joking again. Still," Hermione teases, kissing him softly as she ruffles his hair. "I'd have expected him to choose something more extreme than the Angel of Thursday."


"Hermione," he says, pleading almost, she turns back to her work.



"Bee?"



He takes a breath, allowing his wings to show in their shadow form. All the lights in the house flicker, and the radio starts switching between stations.



When he stops, she is visibly shaken, but trying not to let it show.



"I see you've improved at illusions since fifth year," she tries, attempting to make light of what she's just seen.



Gently, he takes her hands, and brushes a kiss over the exposed skin of her forearm, wiping away the ugly scarred word.


"That's not real," Hermione breathes, trying to hold the panic in. "Nothing can heal that: it was a cursed blade, Cass! The scar will never go away! How did you do that!?"



Cass takes her in his arms and let's her collapse and collect herself; feeling the moment she finally relaxes.

 


"You're really an angel, aren't you," Hermione whispers into his shoulder.



"Yes," he replies, tucking his head on top of hers.

 

“How?” she whimpers, her brain overloading with all of the possible knowledge.

 

“I- I died Hermione,” Cass murmurs, running through memories from almost 40 years ago that seem as clear and crisp as yesterday. “I was dead. And, then I wasn’t. Somehow I ended up here, and you have no idea how glad I am that I did. I was alive for longer than the Earth has been here, but it wasn’t only after I met you, Sam and Dean that I truly began to live.”

 

“What happens now?” Hermione asked, frowning as she stood.

 

“I’m not sure,” Cass replied, following her to the table. “Sam! Dean! How did you get here?”

 

“Uh, long story short, we made a portal,” Dean answered, swiping a finger down one of the moving paintings. “Who’s Wifey over there?”

 

Hermione bristled slightly.

 

“My name,” she snapped. “Is Hermione .”

 

“Granger,” Cass supplied. “Hermione Granger.

 

The Hermione Granger?” Sam asked, looking like all of his Christmases had come at once. “As in, Golden Trio Hermione Granger?”

 

“Yes?” she replied uncertainly.

 

Sam almost bounced over to shake her hand reverently.

 

“It is such an honou r to meet you!” he said earnestly. “I’ve read so much about you, you were my favourite character and-“

 

“Sammy had a crush on you when he was twelve.”

 

“Dean!”

 

What !? It’s true!”

 

“Yeah, but you don’t have to say it-!”

 

“Guys!” Cass shouted breaking up their squabbling. “The portal! What about it!?”

 

The two brothers exchanged a look.

 

“Well, the thing is,” Sam began awkwardly. “If you want… to come back with us…”

 

“You’d have to leave pretty damn soon,” Dean continued.

 

“We were just kind of assuming you’d come, but now…” the other brother trailed off, looking between Cass and Hermione.

 

“What do you think?” Cass said quietly, turning to his partner. “There’s no magic of our kind in that place that I know of, but there are many monsters and creatures. Magic exists in a different way there.”

 

“I’m not sure, Bee,” she sighed, linking their fingers as she swung their arms between them. “On the one hand, we’d have to leave everyone behind, but think of all the things we could discover in your home! All the species to document, all the things to learn! And besides, I lived as a muggle for the first ten years of my life. I think I could learn to deal with it anyway.”

 

“Alright, we’ll go then?” Cass replied, starting to smile. “You’ll come too?”

 

Hermione smiled in return.

 

“Of course!” she said, but then her face fell. “How are we going to explain this to our friends?”

 

“We can’t, they’d never believe us,” he cursed. “And they’d be out of their minds with worry if we just went missing! What can we do!?”

 

“They can’t worry if you’re dead,” Dean stated, albeit uncomfortably. “They’ll grieve, but eventually they’ll move on.”

 

“Huh,” Hermione said, thinking it over. “We need to take our belongings with us, but it would look strange if they went missing. A fire? That way no one would be able to tell what was there and what wasn’t.”

 

“That’s a good idea, actually,” Sam mulled, and they set to work.

 

All of the essentials were shrunk and stuffed inside one of the two infinite bags. Clothes, toiletries, keepsakes and memories. They didn’t take all of the furniture, just the things that they couldn’t bear to leave behind.

 

The self-sorting desk Cass had made as a wedding present for his wife.

 

The magical clock that used to hang in Sidheholm House.

 

All of their most precious things went into the bags.

 

The worst-case-scenario mentality had never really left Hermione after their awful year on the run, and as a result, there was a large number of seedlings and plants, magical woods and clay, backup wands and a Timeturner each. Everything that they might need and more.

 

Whenever everything was packed, Cass hesitated.

 


"There is one last thing I must do," he said, and apparated them to Sidheholm House.

 

It was a fine Summer's day, and the breeze tickled the foliage of the surrounding bushes and foliage. Swiftly, he went to the black walnut  planted over Aoife’s grave, taking a cutting carefully. Then he walked over to the hawthorn growing strongly out of Bronagh’s and did the same.

 

One jump later, and they were in the cemetery where Jutta was buried.

 

The larch had only matured since the last time he was here. The trunk was solid and the bark becoming weathered. A feathery beach tickled his face as Cass reached in to snap off a cutting from her wand tree.

 

Looking around for the last time, he turns to his friends and smiled, breathing in the air of the land of his second birth for last time.

 

"Let's go home," said Castiel.