AN: Apologies to lost_slayer. This should have been out about two months ago. Here is the part you requested. Again, sincerest apologies, but this part was awfully tough to write.
WARNING: More angst than I usually care for here. You might need tissues. Seriously.
*~* Mileage *~*
Things had settled into a sort of a pattern.
They were like robots going through the motions. It was almost normal. Almost.
Tara was becoming increasingly more bitter about Sirius leaving her. The more bitter she became about it, the more moody Harry Potter got. Soon a month had passed since Sirius's departure with no word from him. Tara slept little and ate only because Willow and Snape or Fred and Amy forced her to. Not even Draco could break her from her bitterness. The only people she even saw outside of Potions class were Fred and Amy. Especially Fred. The thin Texan had taken it upon herself to become friends with Tara. Her pupil Cassie agreed, but Cassie had also warned Fred to watch her heart. Fred had not understood... at first.
It was on one of her forced visits to Tara's rooms that it happened. She was alone today because Amy was having a bad day. Amy had those sometimes. One of the ghosts had accidentally floated into Amy's path, the former rat had passed through the ghost, then had a complete meltdown hissy-fit freak out. She was currently in the infirmary with Willow. As strong as Amy appeared to be getting, she was still VERY fragile.
But back to the 'it'.
Fred had brought some melon for Lil Spi the bat. She was chattering on about what she was teaching Cassie this week when she noticed Tara had started crying.
"Oh, hon, don't." Fred said with despair in her voice.
The twiggy brunette sat on the edge of Tara's bed and engulfed the curvy blonde in the fiercest hug her thin arms could muster. She held her, and stroked her back and her blonde hair. She'd only gotten to know Tara a very little bit, but what she knew of her made her care for the assistant professor quite a lot. Tara had a big heart, and most of the students simply adored her.
Before she knew it, one thing had led to another and she and Tara were kissing. And not that friendly peck kind of kissing she and Cordy did either. Tara's tongue was in her mouth... and Fred sorta liked it. She pulled herself closer to the warmth of the blonde witch's body... only to encounter the slight roundness of her pregnant belly. Fred shot back in shame.
"Sorry!" She and Tara shouted at one another almost in unison.
Then Tara placed a hand over her mouth and giggled. Fred smiled. Tara motioned for her to sit back down. She did.
"I... I'm a lesbian, Fred.... a-and you're very pretty... and I'm sort of..."
"You don't gotta say." Fred whispered shyly. "I didn't mind you kissing me."
"I just... Sirius... I don't want to hurt you."
Fred looked at her. "If I give you something to cling to right now, that's all right by me."
"You deserve better."
Fred hugged her. "I just want you to not cry anymore. I breaks my heart, Tara. You're so good to ever'body... even Spike."
"Spike's my family." Tara whispered against Fred's bony shoulder.
It felt so good to hold a woman again. Not that she wasn't missing Sirius. She was. She ached for him, but she was aching in a different way for Winifred Burkle now. Tara maneuvered herself until she was in a position to kiss the lanky brunette again. Fred held no hesitance. It must have been difficult for her here. She didn't have people the way the others did. Tara decided she would stop feeling sorry for herself and be Fred's 'people' for her. Everyone needed an anchor.
She didn't know what she'd do if Sirius came back. She wasn't going to think about that now. What she was going to think about was the willowy, no pun intended, Texan currently letting Tara lower her back onto Tara's bed.
Despite the fact that Doyle was screaming 'was she sure she wanted to do this?' rather loudly in her head.
Neville Longbottom was worried. Cassie Newton had not gotten better since the attack at Hogsmeade. She got a little worse every time he saw her. She was so nice and affable, it broke his heart. He hated to see her suffer so.
"Hi, Neville." Her voice was very rough. Her breathing seemed even more labored than usual.
"Hello, Cassie." He smiled. She always seemed to light up when he visited. He liked that. No one else looked at him so. "I brought you something."
"Oooo, a chocolate frog. Thank you, Nev."
She loved sweets. It was something he could give to her. She gave him bright eyes and soft smiles. The least he could do was cater to her sweet tooth.
He looked at her oddly. "What will?"
She placed her hand over his where it rested on the bed. Neville blushed at her soft touch. He barely knew her, but she stirred feelings in him that he didn't know he had.
"You'll know the kind of love your parents knew." She whispered. "It will come from the least likely place."
She placed her fingers on his lips. "Don't think too hard about it, Nev. When it happens, just don't hesitate because of the way things have always been. Follow your heart. Some rules are meant to be broken."
Why did he get the feeling she was trying to tell him more than what she was saying?
She sighed. "Yes."
She leaned up off of her pillows. "Yes." Was all she said before her lips touched his.
Neville had never been kissed before. He wasn't rightly sure what he ought to be doing. Cassie nudged his lips apart with her tongue, and Neville had to bite back his moan. This was just lovely and beautiful. He didn't know a kiss could be like this. If he'd known, he would have pursued kissing a bit more and a bit sooner.
As Cassie pulled back to breathe, Neville noticed her breath was even more labored than before. She was even shaking a little.
"We shouldn't have-"
"Don't. I'll remember it always." She nuzzled her cheek against his.
Neville tightened his arms around her a little.
"I'm jealous of her already."
"Who?" Neville asked, brow furrowing.
"The one who gets to bask in the warm glow that is your love, your care."
"That's... that's you." He whispered nervously.
"It isn't. Oh, how it wish it was, but..."
"Cassie?" He pulled back to look at her. There was something she wasn't saying.
"You'll understand soon enough. You might not like it, but you'll understand. Some things are just how they have to be, Nev. Don't forget that." She smiled a sad little smile then. "I wanted it to be me, but it isn't in the cards... or whatever else things like that can be in."
"I don't like this."
"I mentioned that you might not."
Neville rose to pace. "Why are you talking like you're leaving?"
"Because I am."
"What? Buffy's taking you home? But I thought-"
"I never said I was going home."
"Then say!" He shouted. Dread was forming in the pit of his belly.
"I loved you too." Her eyes were bright with tears. "More than I ever thought I could. I wanted more time. You're so strong but fragile. You're the most beautiful person I've ever known, Nev. Never forget that."
"Are you saying good-bye to me?"
"Yes." Her eyes suddenly went wide. She started gasping for breath.
"MADAM POMFREY!" Neville vaulted himself back onto her bed. He grabbed her arms and tried shaking her. "No!"
Madam Pomfrey shoved him aside. "Cassie? Cassandra!"
Neville collapsed to the floor. She couldn't have... died. He refused to accept that. There was a great gasp of air. Raspy, but it was breathing nonetheless. Neville shot to his feet. She was breathing. Madam Pomfrey was running her wand above Cassie's chest. A soft pink glow was being emitted. Madam Pomfrey shook her head.
The school nurse looked at him with a drawn expression. "I am afraid Miss Newton is not doing as well as I would like. Excuse me, Mister Longbottom, but I do believe I should contact Miss Summers. Perhaps you should gather those friends Cassandra has made here... and see if you can locate Miss Burkle."
"What are you saying?"
"She's dying, Mister Longbottom."
Neville ground his teeth not to cry. Why must the people he decided he loved always be taken from him in one fashion or another? Would he always be alone? Was he doomed like that?
But Cassie didn't die that night.
In fact, she woke near dawn doing a bit better. Bedside vigil had been kept by Neville, a lot of Gryffindors, some Slytherins, a Texan, and a vampire slayer anyhow. When it became apparent Cassie wasn't going to 'kick it'. Many of them went on their way.
Cassie said she needed to speak with him. So Harry was standing next to her bed shifting from foot to foot. She'd said she had things to tell all of them, but Harry first. He was waiting nervously.
She said an awful lot about strength and destiny, but what stuck with him was... "Things that are lost are sometimes not lost forever, Harry. Please remember that."
Harry shivered. He didn't like the feeling of foreboding that came with that.
Each of them that had been considered her friend had received some sort of cryptic or not-so-cryptic message.
For Draco, it was a not-so-cryptic... "You mother has risked much for you of late. Love her for it. For she loves you enough to die for you. Nearly has, in fact. More than once."
"Do not fear the darkness." Was all Dawn got.
There was a "Be the rock others break themselves against." for Ron.
A "Your gifts are not taken lightly." to Ginny.
"Do not doubt your heart for it is as strong as your mind." Was said to Hermione.
Connor was given a "Don't fight the magic, or it might fight you back."
"Forget who you were, and be who you are." in Lily's case.
After everyone had left, only Neville stayed. Not even Madam Pomfrey's threats kept him away. He didn't like this at all. Then again, Cassie had said he wouldn't.
"I didn't want to go with everyone here, watching me. It's better just you and I. I'm so glad we met. Are you glad we met?" Her voice was so very weak.
"Yes." Neville whispered.
"This is selfish of me... because you aren't mine-"
"You aren't. You'll know that one day, but will you hold me until I fall asleep?"
"Of.... of course." Neville said nervously as he crawled into her bed next to her.
He leaned back against her pillows, and Cassie rested the top half of her body against his. "This is nice. You're so warm."
She was dying. He knew it. He could feel it. Tears started to spill over onto his cheeks.
"Don't be upset, Nev. This is what's supposed to be. It can't be changed."
"Why not?" He asked, hating the way his tears came through in his tone.
"Some things just... are."
"Why do you have to be one of them? Why can't there be more... time?"
"Because I have, like, this purpose that's way bigger than you or me. I wanna be selfish and stay right like this. I wanted to throw all my clothes off and lie down with you forever the moment I saw you, but it isn't meant for us. I want it, want you, but I have a path and you have a path and our paths aren't the same path, you know?"
"I don't know!" He cried.
"You DO know. You just don't want to accept it."
"It's not fair."
"It'll seem a little more fair one day, Nev. I promise. There's someone so in love with you in your future that it'll scare the pants off of you."
"Wish it were me, but..." Her voice was getting weaker. "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep, and... miles... to... go... before... I..."
There was a soft hiss of air, and he couldn't feel her breathing anymore.
"Cassie?" Neville shook her. "Cassie?"
He slipped out from behind her and rested her against the pillows. She looked peaceful. Very peaceful. Neville kissed her forehead, then the tip of her nose, then her lips. She was already getting a bit cold. He straightened his spine, told himself he had cried all he was going to cry because now he had to be strong, and went to tell Madam Pomfrey that Cassie had passed.
In a way he felt honored that she wanted to spend her last moments with him, but in another way he was angry as hell at the fates for snatching her. She'd said she wasn't the one for him, much as she wanted to be, but tell that to his breaking heart right now.
Tara stopped by Fred's room. Now she was the one who needed to offer comfort. The entire school was set in mourning. Even students who had not known Cassie at all were being somber and reverent. Some of them who had even gotten to know her a bit were too upset to attend classes. Mainly there were three Slytherins and five Gryffindors who had holed up in the guest student quarters to ride out their grief. Neville Longbottom had gone to class though.
Not that he was actually there. No professors called on him for answers, and even Snape had not shouted when the boy had melted his cauldron for lack of attention to anything outside his own pain.
Tara was just heartsick about this. How many more blows could they take this year?
She rapped on Fred's door .
"Go 'way!" A broken voice said from the other side of the door.
"Fred? Winifred, it's Tara. I brought you some food."
"Fred, please let me in."
"You need to eat. You really shouldn't get any thinner."
The door opened a tiny crack. Tara nudged it open with her hip as she pulled the service tray Dobby had piled with food for the 'Misses Winifred' into the room. The tray was filled mostly with tacos. The house elves had gone to a lot of trouble to get them too. But Dobby had said they did not mind because the Misses Winifred was so good to them. He said they hated to see her so sad.
"That smells like tacos." A muffled voice said from the vicinity of the pile of bedding on the bed in the darkened room.
"It is tacos."
That certainly got her out of bed. "You brought me tacos? How? Why?"
"I did. Dobby got them, and I wanted you to eat."
"Fred, you've been very kind to me. I want... to repay your kindness. It's not good for you to wallow and not eat."
"Is that all?"
Tara sighed and started to pace a bit nervously. "N-no. That's n-not all, but it has to b-be all right now. I refuse to use you... n-no matter how wonderfully amazing you feel to me."
"What if I don't mind?"
"I liked the way you felt too."
Tara groaned and buried her face in her hands. "Don't SAY that."
"Even if it's true?"
"You deserve better that what I can offer you right now."
"Well, maybe all I want right now is what you can give me."
Tara stalked across the room in a manner that would have made Spike proud and pushed herself onto her toes so her lips could meet the other woman's. It was rough and passionate... something she'd learned about with Sirius.
But she wasn't going to think about him right now.
"We'll sort it all out later, ok?" Fred whispered against Tara's hair. "I just really need someone to hold me right now."
"All right. I can do that."
The day Neville Longbottom snapped would live in infamy for years to come.
He'd just been numb since Cassie had died in his arms. Numb. He wanted to believe what she had said about him feeling again, but he just saw no end to the gray void he seemed to be trapped in when he awoke every day. Nothing could get to him now.
Until Pansy Parkinson started shooting her mouth off.
"... don't see why everyone's moping about like a bunch of kicked puppies anyhow. She was just one stupid little weak muggle. Good riddance, I say."
The next thing Pansy Parkinson knew, she was on the ground and her bottom lip had been split from the vicious backhand Neville had sent her way. Crabbe and Goyle moved to defend her 'honor'. They soon found themselves hexed in rapid succession by a very angry Neville Longbottom. Raven Hope was just staring with wide blue eyes. Pansy started to gather herself to rise.
"Don't." Neville hissed in a low and menacing tone.
Pansy stopped moving. She recognized a tone like that one, and Longbottom had his wand trained on her.
"You don't know a damned thing about Cassandra Newton, Parkinson, so if I ever... EVER hear you speak of her again the way you just were.... they won't even be able to find all the pieces."
"Are you MAD?!" She screeched.
"Maybe just a little." He said in a not-all-together manner.
Pansy actually had sweat bead up on her brow as she swallowed nervously. Perhaps loosing his muggle had snapped Longbottom. His parents, after all, had been tortured to madness. Maybe that sort of thing ran in the family.
"You hit me." She accused.
"And it was very satisfying, I must say."
Raven could not hide her snicker at that. She snorted with laughter. Pansy's eyes narrowed and she did something very stupid. She pulled her wand. Neville disarmed her, hauled her to her feet with one hand bruising her upper arm, and pressed the tip of his wand into the soft white skin of her throat in movements so fluid if they hadn't seen it was Neville Longbottom with their own eyes, the spectators of this scene would not have believed it.
"Give me a reason." He whispered shakily.
"Don't be stupid, Longbottom." Raven Hope whispered, her hand on the wrist if his wand hand.
"Stay out of it, Hope."
"Look, Longbottom, Pans doesn't want to die or be permanently damaged any more than you wish to be expelled for inflicting. Do consider carefully here."
Neville didn't move. A muscle in his jaw ticked. His hand tightened on Pansy's upper arm. Pansy let out a little whimper.
"Would your Cassandra have wanted this for you?"
Neville loosened his grip on Pansy. Raven hauled her away. The other girl let out a fearful sob. Raven pulled Pansy into a hug and stroked the girl's short black hair, but she was looking at Neville Longbottom like she was seeing him for the first time... and perhaps she was.
"What is the meaning of this?" Said the shrewd voice of McGonagall.
Neville's eyes widened.
"Let me handle this." Raven hissed. Then she looked at the professor. "Nothing a'tall, Professor McGonagall. Just that I suggest you have Longbottom be more careful about his elbows. He caught poor Pansy in the face."
Pansy sputtered and tried to break Raven's embrace. The blonde tightened her arms.
"On accident, a'course. He was just about to apologize. Weren't you, Longbottom?"
Neville was completely baffled. Why wasn't she telling on him? Why wasn't she letting Parkinson tell on him? Parkinson obviously wanted to, so why was Hope preventing it?
"What happened to Crabbe and Goyle?" McGonagall asked with narrowing eyes.
"Oh, those sillies." Raven said. "They thought Neville did it a'purpose. Anyone could see it was just him being clumsy Neville Longbottom like always."
"I hexed them to keep them from hurting him. I mean, it wouldn't do for Slytherin to lose points because certain people were overzealous about protecting their friends, now would it?"
"Well, Longbottom?" McGonagall asked.
"Well what?" Neville snapped.
"You were going to apologize to Pansy." Raven said through her teeth.
Neville snorted. "Like hell I was."
Raven was hard-pressed not to cackle with laughter. She was liking Frank and Alice's boy.
"Longbottom." McGonagall said in a scandalized tone.
"The day I apologize to the likes of THAT Slytherin pit viper is the day Voldemort drops his frilly pink knickers and asks for a good buggering from Harry Potter."
You could have dropped a pin and heard a clang in the shocked silence that followed that announcement.
"My... office." McGonagall spat out in barely veiled rage. "NOW!"
Raven was not able to keep the very slight smirk off of her face as she watched Neville Longbottom stalk off towards McGonagall's office behind the very very angry Deputy Head Mistress. The family blood in her veins liked a balls-y smartarse. Always.
Remus was very worried about his daughter. She had been acting a little off since Cassie Newton's death. Granted, everyone who had contact with the girl was acting a little off, especially Neville Longbottom, but Remus was getting an almost guilty vibe with Tara.
It wasn't until he accidentally bumped into Miss Burkle a few days later that he realized why.
He almost fell over with the shock of it. Merlin help him, was he wrong? He couldn't be right. But his sense of smell had never lied to him before.
"Remus?" His assistant asked.
He just looked at Anya, then Fred, who was still apologizing and stalked off.... towards the dungeons. Anya gave Fred a curt nod, then grabbed her robes and took off in a out and out run to catch Remus. She knew angry when she saw it. Hell, she'd been a vengeance demon for how many centuries?
She wasn't in time to stop him from flinging Snape's classroom door open and stalking in.
Remus ignored him. "Tell me I'm imagining things!" He hollered at Tara.
"Lupin!" Snape barked. "What is the meaning of this?!"
Remus looked at him then. "I will hex you where you stand. Stay out of it!"
"Remus..." Anya said in a calming voice.
He suddenly grabbed Tara's arm and dragged her out into the hallway. Several students rose to watch.
"Back in your seats!" Snape snarled. "Anyone leaves their chairs or so much as breathes irregularly, and it's one hundred points from your house!"
With that, he grabbed Anya's arm and pulled her out of the door, kicking it forcefully to shut it. The slam liberated some dust from the door frame that the house elves must have been missing in their cleaning since before Severus had even been a student in the Potions class.
Remus was shaking Tara. "Tell me it's not true!"
"Tell you WHAT'S not true?!" She cried.
"How could you of all people forget a werewolf's very keen sense of smell?"
Tara sucked in air through her nose and took a step back.
"That's right." He said nastily. "The two of you are all over each other. How could you do this to him?"
Tara let out a hollow laugh. "Friends 'til the end, huh, father?"
Anya had a hand to her mouth in shock.
"He left me with little choice. It was always doomed. I don't mean to, but I can't stand having his child in my belly and no arms to hold me and chase my fears away." Tara started crying. "He left me here to do all of this alone, and I suppose I want to punish him for it."
"Tara, honey, please think about what you're saying. Merlin, think about what you're doing... to you, to her... to HIM. He doesn't deserve-"
"Don't talk to me about what he deserves, father! You aren't the one who BEGGED him to stay then watched him walk away anyhow! Don't you DARE!"
She was sobbing furiously now. Snape butted in. Yes, this was a bit of family business, but she was his friend. She had insisted upon it, so he was doomed to act accordingly.
"Enough." He said evenly as he went to put an arm about Tara's shaking shoulders.
Tara collapsed against his black robes weeping as if her heart were breaking. Snape just threw Lupin a very cold look before leading Tara off in the direction of her rooms.
It was eerily quiet in the dungeon corridor after the sounds of Tara's sobs had faded due to distance.
"Remus..." Anya said quietly.
She could feel his hurt, his pain. She could feet how it was torn between his best friend and his daughter. He loved them both so completely. They were all the family he had left. His heart's division was so thick in the air she could nearly taste it. Anya reached out to touch him.
He shied away. "Don't."
"No. Why, oh why, did I ever think a creature like myself could love people a not hurt them."
Anya gasped. Surely he didn't believe that. His lycanthropy had nothing to do with any of this.
Remus turned and practically ran off.
Anya tried to chase him, but he knew the school so well. He lost her after only a few turns, and Anya was left with the unfamiliar and unsettling feeling of wanting desperately to ease some pain and not having any tangible pain before her to ease. Except her own... and the only was to ease hers was to ease Remus.
It was a vicious circle she was already hating.
end part 44
AN: If you didn't know, Cassie's last words were from Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening".