Same procedure as every year...
Bruce sighed as he pushed his way through the crowds, Cass in tow like a lost child on a fairground. they had talked about this, of course, about the need of not talking to the press, of just walking straight ahead while smiling and uttering “hello” and “sorry, no time” in every direction, but neither did Cass smile very much, nor did she speak a lot, and while Bruce trusted her not to punch any of the pushy reporters in the face—unlike some of his sons—he did not want her to bolt either.
“Missy Cain,” a particularly assertive, quill-wielding journalist shouted as he reached for Cass’ free hand and Bruce sighed again.
It was Alfred who ultimately sent the man flying down the street with a flick of his finger and Bruce was grateful for that. Centuries-old house elves were forgiven the occasional overprotective gesture much faster than underaged witches who had not even purchased their wands yet.
“Oh, thank god most of them behaved,” Alfred eventually said with a quick huff as the door to Wayne’s Wizardry Workshop closed behind them, submerging the noise of the crowd instantly in blissful near-silence. “I am terribly sorry, Master Bruce. I hope my actions will not result in any trouble for you.”
“They won’t,” Bruce assured him with a smile. “Thank you for that.”
Cassandra took a deep warrior’s bow in agreement—one fist pushed against the palm of her other hand in front of her chest, as always—and just like that the concern was gone from Alfred’s face. Bruce was not surprised. While Barbara and Stephanie all but lived at the manor thanks to their relationships with the family, it was Cass who was the first official female Wayne in the family since Bruce’s mother—God rest her soul—had passed. Alfred’s joy at having a girl to take care of after the many boys Bruce had adopted had been all but palpable. She was the apple of his eye and any gratitude from her was worth more than an entire Gringots vault to Alfred.
The object—a quaffle—flew past Bruce’s ear with a sharp swish and landed securely in Cass' hands, as if catching objects with a somersault was as natural to her as breathing. She hugged it tightly to her body and stuck out her tongue at Dick when he gestured to her to throw it back towards him.
“Not allowed.” The words came out quiet and still slightly hesitant, but at least they came out at all. That was a relief. Cass had worked hard on practicing her speech since her letter arrived, but it was still all very unfamiliar to her. Even the doctors in the hidden, magical mirror wing of Wayne Enterprises had not been able to fully fix her aphasia. She understood spoken language now, yes, but written? A nightmare.
How long has it been now, Bruce wondered. Five months since he adopted her? Six? It felt like yesterday.
“That’s right, Cassie,” Barbara apparated right next to her, but Cass never even flinched. Had she been able to sense it? Or had Cain’s... training... just desensitized her that much to sudden danger? Barb shot Dick a sharp look. “No spell-casting and Quidditch-playing in the workshop. A seventh year student should really know that by now.”
“Cass is not even a student yet!”
“And yet she has more sense than you. Amazing.”
Barbara’s smirk was accompanied by a soft giggle from Cassandra and the sound warmed Bruce’s heart. Genuine expressions of happiness had come to her with just as much difficulty as words, but she was getting there. She would be alright. She would be just alright at Gotham School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Surrounded by normal students. Dozens of miles away from him. In an as of yet undetermined House.
God, give me strength...
They walked swiftly, but without hurry, past the broom R&D and magical equipment repair sections, down to the elevator at the end of the hall. Bruce pushed the button for the lowest level and was not surprised at all when Damian dropped through the ceiling hatch a split second before the elevator descended.
“You are late.”
“Blame the quill-slingers.” Dick rolled his eyes at his little brother’s rudeness. “How bad was it this time?”
“Alfred had to remove one of them,” Bruce said as flatly as possible, but of course Dick knew what that meant. It was clear from the grin on his lips.
“Can’t go a year without at least one idiot trying.” Then, as if a sudden memory had struck him, Dick laughed out loud. “At least you had Alfred running guard duty, not Jason.”
Bruce swallowed to suppress another sigh. He remembered that year. Jason had nearly gotten himself expelled from the school before he had even started, but even Bruce had to admit that watching an eleven-year-old muggle-born wizard cast a non-verbal spell hard enough to all but staple a handsy reporter to the nearest wall had been equal parts horrifying, impressive, and entertaining.
And speaking of Jason, of course he was here, too. Bruce caught sight of him the moment the doors to Lucius’ wand storage opened. The bright red of his robes was hard to miss among the more clinical marble and silver that adorned the room. He was perched on one of the upper levels, a heavy book in one hand and an apple in the other.
That is, until Barbara Accio-ed the fruit to her. “No eating in the workshops!”
To the far right, Stephanie looked up from the game of Wizard’s Sorry! she was playing with Tim with a sheepish grin. “Told you she’d take your food, Jay.”
“Yeah well, next time I’ll just have to eat faster.” He closed the book carefully and turned it so that Bruce could see the title. “The Wandmaker’s Guide to Woods and Cores,” Jason proclaimed proudly. “Tim, Steph and I have been taking bets as to what kind of wand Cass will get. Winner gets to dump their homework on the losers for a week.”
By his side, Cass froze, just for a blink, but Bruce had seen it. So had Jason. He was by her side in an instant, his free hand gently on her shoulder and his eyes level with hers.
“It’s okay, Cass. No pressure. Whatever wand you pick will be awesome! This is just a silly game between Tim, Steph and me. No need to be perfect.”
Cass swallowed hard, a gesture that Bruce had learned to recognize as a symptom of her conscious and systematic dismantling of an abusive childhood. Cain had never allowed her to be anything less than perfect. She really needed to hear it said out loud. Every single time.
No need to be perfect.
Behind them, the elevator pinged softly, followed by even softer footsteps. Bruce could tell that it was Lucius, even before he had made his way around the crowd and in front of Cass.
“Why, hello there, Cassandra! How are you today?”
“...Nervous...” Cassandra admitted with a rueful frown and Lucius laughed.
“You are in good company then. The boys were all shaking like leaves when they got theirs.”
“Were not!” Jason, Dick and Damian shouted almost in unison, and on any other day that would have been enough to make Cassandra relax a little.
Today was not that day. Today, she stood frozen to the ground, eyeing the rows upon rows upon rows of shelves around her as if they were assailants armed to the teeth.
Lucius, thankfully, was entirely undeterred and merely pointed at the table in the center of the room. “Please put the quaffle over there, Cassandra.”
Cass did as she was told, while Dick paled. “Lucius... that’s my favorite quaffle!”
“And your sacrifice is greatly appreciated,” Lucius replied with a sly smile. Then, he set out to find a wand.
The first one he brought to Cass was made of cypress wood and unicorn hair and the symbolism was not lost on Bruce. He could never in a million years picture Cassandra performing dark arts. He could, however, easily picture her rushing towards a heroic death.
Cassandra took the wand with the most delicate touch she could muster, waived it at the quaffle, and immediately sent the ball shooting across the room, hitting a dozen shelves with enough force to bend the locks, before Dick finally vaulted into the air and caught it.
At the very least, Dick made sure to return it to her with a smile. “No harm done. No need to be perfect on the first try.”
Lucius grinned and went for another wand from one of the higher shelves. Hornbeam and unicorn hair. It certainly seemed like a good choice for someone so passionate about doing good as Cassandra.
That is, until she waved it at the quaffle and nothing happened. Two seconds later, she wand shot from her hand, piercing the ball like a sniper rifle shot and embedding itself in the stairs leading to the high shelf in the far left.
“Reparo!” Tim barely even looked at the ball as he waved his wand at the quaffle. Both holes—entry and exit—closed without any trouble. “No need to be perfect on the second try either.”
Cassandra nodded and swallowed hard.
The third wand was made of rowan, with a dragon heartstring at its core. A good, dependable combination. Bruce relaxed a little. Rowan wands were always good matches for those pure at heart. Surely this was it.
Cassandra had hardly so much as pointed it at the quaffle before the ball turned into molten slag.
Lucius took the wand from her with a cautious sigh and locked it back in its little box.
“We are going to be here all night, are we not?” Damian looked unhappy. Of course, he was about to look a lot unhappier in just a minute.
Steph was the first to descend on him, scolding him for being so insensitive, followed by Dick trying to be the diplomatic mediator, followed by Jason telling him to stay out of it, followed by a barbed jab at Jason from Damian, which Bruce thankfully did not catch fully, followed by Tim’s reply that those were bold words coming from a House Dumas student, which Bruce unfortunately did catch.
And just like that, the room descended into chaos.
“Why do we have to be here anyway—“
“You are the lousiest moral support ever—“
“Not naming any names, but—“
“Hey remember that time you went through six wands before—“
Alfred’s voice cut through the room like a hot knife through butter, and so did his stunning and silence charms. Rarely had Bruce ever seen him look so disappointed.
In the center of the room, Barbara had knelt down next to Cassandra and the molten quaffle.
“It’s okay, Cassie.” She brushed a gentle hand through Cassandra’s short black hair. “It’s alright. This happened to all of us. It always takes some time to find the right wand.”
“Maybe there is not,” Cass said with what sounded like anger, but felt like sorrow. “Maybe no wand wants me.”
“Why not?” Barbara raised her eyebrow. “You’re a witch, Cassie.”
“I can fight good without a wand! Really good.”
‘Well. Not good. You fight well.’ Bruce could all but hear Barbara swallow the words before they made it out of her mouth. “And you’ll be just as excellent fighting with spells soon! I know it,” Barbara finally replied. “You will do so—much—good!”
She wanted to believe it, Bruce could see it in her eyes, but in the end, they focused on the quaffle, reduced to a sorry puddle of brown, acrid-smelling liquid spreading slowly across the floor.
“If this was a person...”
For the first time since he had met her, Bruce could see sheer panic on her face and the sight broke his heart. It was the kind of frozen fright you found in survivors of severe trauma, in those who had been to hell and back. The others could see it too. Alfred, Barbara, Stephanie, Jason, Dick... even Damian.
Lucius took a deep breath and headed for a shelf near the door. The case Accio drew into his hand looked old and dusty, a far cry from Lucius’ usual standards, as if he had gladly forgotten about it at some point. Perhaps it was a mercy that Cassandra was focused entirely on the dead quaffle. Bruce did not want to think about how she would feel if she could see the dread and apprehension in Lucius’ body as he approached her slowly and unlocked the case.
“Can you try one more, please? For me?”
Cassandra sighed, straightened up, and reached into the box.
It was a truly beautiful wand. At only eight inches, it was almost ridiculously short, but it had an air of elegance to it that Bruce had rarely seen. It was hard to tell whether the delicate, yet simple pattern carved into the ivory-white wood resembled dragon scales or rose petals. Both seemed true depending on the angle in which one looked at the wand.
In Cassandra’s hand, the wand looked like it had never belonged anywhere else.
“It is... warm.” For the first time since they had arrived in the wand department, a hint of a smile graced her lips and Bruce let out a deep breath he hadn’t known he had been holding. She looked at the murdered quaffle, back at the wand, back at the quaffle, back at the wand.
“Go on,” Barbara encouraged her.
“You can do this, Cassie!” Which one of her brothers had said that didn’t register in Bruce’s brain. Not that it really mattered.
“It does not need to be perfect, Miss Wayne,” Alfred added.
Perhaps it was the familiar mantra or maybe the name ‘Wayne’ that she had earned for herself that gave her the courage to try again. Cassandra pointed the wand at the quaffle... and watched in wonder as it sprung back into somewhat spherical form, wonky and not entirely solid and definitely not fit for a game yet, but at least you could tell it had once been a quaffle.
Jason was the first to cheer, but the others soon joined him. As Alfred released the spells that had bound them in place, her siblings approached her quickly. Hugs were shared and encouraging words were traded, yet no-one held her longer than Bruce and the way she clung to him melted his heart. Cass may not have been his flesh and blood, but she was his daughter. She was a witch with a wand and she would be alright.
It wasn’t until he released her back into the jubilant custody of her siblings that Bruce noticed the somewhat grim look on Lucius’ face.
“What’s wrong, Lucius?” Bruce made sure to dial his voice down to a whisper. “The wand is perfect for her.”
“It’s a wand of aspen, Mr. Wayne,” Lucius replied at equal volume. Bruce shrugged. “Aspen is good. And if Cassie will be as good with magic as she is with her fists, she’ll be the greatest duelist the wizarding world has ever seen, with a wand to match.”
“Its core has both unicorn and thestral hair.”
Bruce’s heart sank.
Only people who had seen death with their own eyes could see thestrals.
And only wizards who had killed with their own hands could use thestral-core wands efficiently.
This is it, Cassandra thought glumly. Ten minutes from now, everyone will know. Everyone will be disappointed and angry.
She swallowed hard and forced the muscles of her face to remain still, even when faced with that ugly sorting cowl.
She could call it ugly, because she knew what beautiful cowls looked like. Batman’s cowl was beautiful. So was Nightwing’s and Robin’s and Batgirl’s most of all. The sorting cowl, though... the sorting cowl was hideous. It looked like it had spent the last three centuries in an attic with a very angry dog from hell, and it moved in ways that no human face could. She hated it.
Of course, now was not the time to say any of that out loud.
An Indian girl with the most beautiful long black hair she had ever seen walked up the steps, sat on the stool, and put on the cowl. It called her a metamor-something—Why do some words have to be so very long?—and blabbered on for a bit. Then it called her a Crowne and the hall cheered. Apparently being a metamor-something was a good thing. Good for her. Good for House Crowne. Maybe it would help them keep the tapestries in this hall.
“The tapestries change, depending on which house has the most points,” Barbara had explained to her. “All year long, you can gain points for your house by being a being a student with good grades and good behavior, or you can make your house lose points, if you are rude, break the rules, or anything like that.”
Will my house lose points if I cannot keep up, because I cannot read, Cass wondered? Because she had to run each book and note through that text-to-speech spell—Dicta litterarum!—Barbara had taught her, and that took time. Hell, just getting the permit for her to perform a spell like that in her first year had been a nightmare. At least so Bruce had said.
She remembered asking Barbara in which house she could cause the least trouble for Bruce, just before she had gotten on the train to the castle. Barbara had only laughed at the question. Now that she was here, Cass knew why.
She had seen them when she had entered the hall. Dick had been almost directly in front of the entrance, in the very back of the middle column that belonged to House Crowne. “A house that most people don’t even notice”, Bruce had explained to her. “Until they suddenly produce some of the best and most terrifying wizards ever.” People had been outraged that Dick had not been sorted into House Wayne, but he had proven himself ten times over. He had a good chance of becoming Head Boy this year. Cassandra was happy for him and even more so for Stephanie, who sat a little further down the same column, wearing the same blue on her uniform.
Only one column to the left, Cassandra had spotted Barbara, in the yellow colors of house Elliot. “It’s a house full of incredibly smart wizards,” Tim had explained to her. “And there’s a running joke that ‘there’s a fine line between genius and madness’ should be their house words,” Stephanie had added. Bruce had glared at her for that. No wonder. Both Barbara and Tim belonged to that house. And Barbara and Tim were insanely smart. Cassandra would not argue that.
The left-most column belonged to House Dumas and Cassandra was not sure if she should hope to be sorted into that or not. Barbara had said they were almost a cult—very strict, very focused, very tough, bordering on brutal and often not friendly at all. The more people described it to her, the more it sounded like training with Cain. She would feel right at home. She would also have to spend all year around Damian. “Please not House Dumas,” Cassandra whispered while the cowl sorted another student.
That left only two Houses, the ones seated to the right of House Crown: Kane and Wayne. Jason had given her a thumbs-up and mouthed “good luck” at her from where he was sitting with the fifth year Kanes. Nobody had been surprised when the street-rat of the family had been sorted into a house known for being stubborn, fierce and ready to bend or even break rules. Cassandra hoped everyone who had made fun of him for it choked every time they saw his Prefect badge.
And that left House Wayne. Known for its philhand—phallant—its love for people and for its strong moral code. “A house for people with two-hundred percent perfectionism and zero percent work-life-balance,” Jason had joked one time, with a wink at Bruce. That would explain why it had so few students.
To everyone’s surprise, not a single one of Bruce’s children had been sorted into this house. Not even perfect Dick Grayson. Not even Bruce’s own flesh and blood, Damian.
Cassandra frowned. Whichever house she got sorted into... there was a good chance she would bring shame to either Bruce or one of his children.
“Cassandra Wayne!” The teacher with the student list was kind enough to look like she had to find her in a crowd. Since there were only three first-years left, it did not help much, though. Cassandra took a deep breath, straightened her robe, and forced her feet up the stairs, one step at a time.
It was said that the sorting cowl could look right into a person’s mind and heart. She hoped it would keep her secrets between the two of them.
The stool was just a little too high for her. Jason had warned her of that. “When you live on the streets for years as a kid, your body doesn’t grow right.” She hoped her little hop onto the seat would be interpreted as enthusiasm instead. At least she kept her balance. Cassandra sighed and forced the muscles in her face to relax once more. From four of the five columns of tables and chairs in front of her, her siblings waved and smiled in encouragement.
And then the cowl came on.
It smelled of... Gotham. Cassandra wondered why she found that strange. This was Gotham City. Of course the cowl would smell like Gotham. But it wasn’t just that it reminded her of Gotham. She could smell the salt of the sea, as if she was standing in the waves. She could smell the sour smoke of a factory chimney, as if she was perched on a roof. She could smell the rain. Since when did rain smell?
“Aha!” The cowl’s gruff voice bounced around inside her head like a rubber ball. “Another honorary Wayne! So... where do you come from?”
Please don’t tell, please don’t tell, please don’t tell! Cassandra’s face remained blank as a mask, but her heart was in her throat and her brain was grasping for her memories in despair, like a thief trying to stuff their stolen goods into a hideout before the police arrived.
Please don’t tell them about Cain! Cassandra did not know her mother. She knew that Bruce suspected her to be a very powerful, but also sadly very evil witch he knew. She did know her father, though, and he was nothing to be proud of. Nothing at all. The memories came back unallowed. She wanted to scream. She wanted to run. She forced herself to sit still.
He had taught her a thousand ways to kill, but not a single word. He had given her a thousand weapons, but not a single hug. What kind of father--? What kind of man--?
“Ah, I see.” To Cassandra’s surprise, the sorting cowl almost sounded like it was apologizing to her. “That is truly unfortunate... very unfortunate...”
‘Unfortunate’ was not the word Cass would have used, but she was not going to argue.
“Well, I suppose where you come from is not nearly as important as where you are going. Where shall we put you then?”
The cowl fell silent again. What felt like an eternity later, Cassandra wanted to smack herself for not counting the seconds. How long had she held up things now? There were another two children waiting to be sorted. There was a hall full of people waiting to eat. And now she was hungry. Wonderful.
“House Dumas perhaps,” the sorting cowl, mused. “You would feel at home there, yes, and it would make you strong. Even stronger than you are now. They would not mind what happened in Macau either.”
Cassandra froze. Up until now, her blank face had been a deliberate mask. Now, it was her body growing colder than ice and her mind hoping that the ground would open up and swallow her. Please don’t tell them, please don’t tell them, please don’t tell them...
She still remembered it like it had been yesterday, even though it had been three years now. The pain and fear in the man’s eyes. The sheer... despair... as his life slipped from him by her hand, the terror as the darkness closed in around him. And then... nothing. Absolutely nothing. Everything he had ever been, all the things his body had shouted—gone in an instant. All because of her.
We do not kill. It was Batman’s one rule, Bruce’s one rule.
Please don’t tell them, please don’t tell them, please don’t tell them...
And then, the cowl laughed.
It was a strange sound, like a strong gust rattling sheets of metal. The cowl laughed and laughed and laughed, until Cassandra was sure it had gone insane. Even Stephanie was no longer smiling at this sorting. Even the teachers were starting to look worried. Had something gone amiss? Had that clown-faced Death Eater somehow gotten into the Castle and jinxed the cowl?
And then, all of a sudden, the old leather dragged a memory from her head that hit her harder than any punch, any bullet ever had.
She could still see it clearly in front of her eyes—how she had stopped the fight between Cain and Bruce. How she had refused to go back with Cain. She remembered the look on his face as he had left. She remembered how much it had hurt when she had started crying in the rain.
Most of all, though, Cassandra remembered the warmth that had flooded her from the outside, when Batman had wrapped his cape around her. She remembered the warmth that had flooded her from the inside, when Bruce had told her that it was going to be fine. That she could stop running now. That she would never have to deal with Cain again. That she had a new home now, if she wanted to.
She remembered the moment she had lost a false father and gained a true father instead.
And despite her best efforts, the memory made her cry.
“You understand it now, don’t you, child?” The sorting cowl softened around her head. Soft and warm like that hug. Soft and warm like that moment she had stopped being lost and alone. “What is your name, girl?”
Cassandra flinched. If people knew who her natural father was, they would probably call her Cassandra Cain, but she had not even been Cassandra back then. He had never bothered to give her a name. That had been Barbara. With him, she had been nothing. He had no right to her name. None. At all.
“Cassandra Wayne!” The sorting cowl almost jumped off her head in excitement. She resisted the urge to pull it back down and wiped the tears off of her face instead. “Do you want to know why there are so few students in House Wayne every year?”
She didn’t, but even Cassandra I-have-lived-in-the-wild-on-the-run-from-my-assassin-father-for-the-last-three-years Wayne could tell that no-one would like that answer. “Why?”
“Because light cannot exist without shadow,” the cowl explained patiently. “Only those who have not just looked into the abyss but gone down there themselves can truly appreciate the freedom, the happiness outside of it, how precious and fragile it is, and how fiercely it needs to be protected.”
That makes sense, Cassandra thought, but if that is so, then what has Bruce lived through?
“I have been sorting students for three-hundred and forty-seven years now,” the cowl continued, “and if there is one thing that has always been true, it’s that after darkest night comes brightest day. And you will shine bright, Cassandra, if only you are given a chance to be the greatest.”
“WAYNE!” The sorting cowl’s voice boomed like thunder. Cassandra could have sworn it shook the tapestries in the hall. “Wayne, Wayne, and a hundred times House Wayne, or I will be a clown’s nose!”
Somewhere between the ringing of the cowl’s voice in her ears and the cheers from the assembled students, Cassandra lost the ability to hear or think. Someone took the cowl off of her head and just as usual, her body reacted by itself. Hop off the stool. Walk over to your house. Yes, that one. On the very left, when seen from the podium. Down the stairs. Over to the left. Sit on the bench. Smooth out your skirt. Smile at your new house mates.
As little as an hour later, Cassandra would no longer remember who it had been that had shaken her hand and fastened a black-and-white tie around her neck, but she would never forget the warmth that spread through her entire body as she traced the fabric with her delicate fingers. She would never forget the pitch black bat with the shining blue eyes that had fluttered in the rafters in excitement, as if this was the happiest day in his entire life.
Cassandra smiled. She was a Wayne in every way that mattered and she was going to be greatest.