Cassandra Lestrange's most vivid childhood memory was of her mother. At the time, she'd been a little girl just past toddlerhood, pretty and well-groomed, solemn for her age in the way some children of nobility can be. Her mother Bellatrix, tall and beautiful and powerful, knelt before her on the foyer of their family mansion, holding her daughter's face in her hands.
"Listen to me, Cassandra," her mother had said, "your father and I are going on a very important mission. Uncle Rab is coming with us."
"Is it a mission for the Dark Lord?" Cassandra had asked.
"Yes it is, my love," the older witch had said. "We're going to find him. We're going to find him, and aid him in his glorious return, and all will be well again."
"Am I staying at Aunt Cissy's?" Cassandra had asked.
At that, her mother had sneered. "No. Your aunt is likely at some party filled with filthy muggle lover Ministry members, kissing their feet in thanks for releasing that craven husband of hers. Those miserable traitors. You're to stay here. Your father and I made sure no one can get to you here."
"I'll be alright, mummy. Mimi will be with me," Cassandra had said, referring to the Lestrange house elf that had been tasked with tending to her needs since she'd been born.
"You're right," her mother had agreed, but she'd looked conflicted. "Mimi will take care of you. But you mustn't trust anyone else. Not Narcissa, or anyone who's turned their back to the Dark Lord in his hour of most need. It doesn't matter if they're family, or if you love them." Bellatrix had said intensely, trying to will the young girl into grasping the gravity of her words. "You can't ever believe a traitor of another to be loyal to you, no matter how trustworthy their acts may appear. You can pretend to if they're useful, but you must never ever forget what they are. Do you understand?"
Cassandra had nodded, and Bellatrix had smiled as she rose to her feet, kissing the top of her daughter's head.
Cassandra Lestrange's most vivid memory of her mother, also happened to be the last.
That night, Bellatrix Lestrange, along with her husband Rodolphus Lestrange, her brother-in-law Rabastan Lestrange and Barty Crouch Jr. kidnapped and tortured Frank and Alice Longbottom into insanity in a failed attempt to find information about the whereabouts of the Dark Lord, for whom they'd been searching since his defeat, over a year earlier. The four were captured by a team of Aurors shortly after, and in less than a month, all were sent to Azkaban to serve life sentences.
The morning after her parents' capture, young Cassandra Lestrange, alone with her family house-elves, woke up to her home surrounded by Ministry officials, Aurors and members of the press, who were eager to report on the fate of the heiress of two of Britain's most ancient and noble pureblood families, now besmirched by its adult members' heinous acts in service of the fallen Dark Lord Voldemort.
Scared and overwhelmed by the crowd that gathered at the property gates, just outside the borders of the charm that protected the estate from entry by any persons not of Lestrange blood, or without invitation from a Lestrange resident, Cassandra found herself weeping in the arms of her favorite house-elf, her robes wet with tears and snot. For several hours none of them could speak, and all that could be heard in the house was the young girl's sobs.
"This is horrible, horrible, horrible," the house-elf said finally, rocking her Mistress in her lap, trying to soothe the child. "The young Mistress will tell Mimi what she can do to make her better, or Mimi will throw herself in the fireplace!"
"I don't know, Mimi," she said. "I'm afraid."
"Mimi will fight anyone who tries to hurt her Mistress Cassandra, yes she will!" The elf said. There was a loud boom as yet another spell cast by one of the Ministry people trying to gain entry into the property collided against the charm that protected the house, and Cassandra began to sob again. Mimi cried with her, upset at the terrible situation her little Mistress was in. They continued weeping as the house-elf helped the girl bathe and clothe herself, and as she ate the meals prepared for her, and as she was helped into her night clothes and they lay down down to go to sleep holding each other's hand, Cassandra in her bed and Mimi on a large cushion placed on the floor. The moonlight shone through the window, and if anyone had looked into the young Miss Lestrange's bedroom that night, they would've seen two small bodies crying quietly all night long.
It was another seven days interspaced with loud noises and small land tremors caused by spellwork before the Ministry personnel concluded that it would not be possible to brute force their way past the charm restricting access to the Lestangre property without causing the house to collapse in itself, killing the young girl still living in it. By that point, the reporters who'd been at the scene in the first few days had been retasked to cover the trials of Death Eaters being carried out by the Council of Magical Law. Cassandra, Mimi and the two other family house elves, Gibbo and Hux, had watched these developments anxiously from the windows.
From what the young girl could understand from the copies of the Daily Prophet that were still being delivered to the house by owl, she knew her parents were not coming back. She also realized that the people outside the house wanted her, although she did not know what for, and feared what they might do to her once they got her. Her world had only ever consisted of her family and the rather small number of associates their parents had allowed into their home, and now her parents and her godfather were gone, and her mother had warned her not to trust the rest of her family. She didn't know what to do.
On the thirteenth morning since Cassandra had last seen her parents, when she stumbled sleepily from her bedroom into the dining room, beside the copy of the Daily Prophet she found waiting for her at the table alongside her breakfast every day, there was a letter.
The letter had been written in block letters, which was fortunate, since she had not yet learned to read cursive, and was addressed to her, from her aunt Narcissa. Before opening it, Cassandra called for her house-elf, who immediately popped by her side.
"Did Mercurius bring this letter, Mimi?" Cassandra asked, referring to the family owl.
"No, Mistress," the elf said. "The owl that gives the paper to Gibbo every day brought it, and Mimi put it there. Is Mimi a bad elf?"
"No, you're a good elf, Mimi," the child said, and the elf puffed her chest. "It's from Aunt Cissy."
"Is Mistress Cassandra trusting her aunt again?" Mimi said.
"Mummy said we can't never ever trust her. Do we have to trust her to read her letter, Mimi?" The girl asked uncertainly.
"Mimi doesn't think so. If the young Mistress doesn't like what the letter says, Mimi will burn it!" The house-elf replied.
Cassandra opened the envelope and read its content aloud, sounding out the more complicated words like she'd been taught.
My dear niece,
I hope this letter finds you well. Your mother, father and uncle Rabastan were unsuccessful in the mission they set out to accomplish, and I fear you will not be able to see them for some time. Your uncle Lucius, your cousin Draco and I have been very worried about you, since we don't know whose care you have been left in. We would like to have you over for tea, to make sure you are well. The floo connection seems to be locked, but I can come fetch you at any time you desire. I wait anxiously for your reply.
All my love,
Cassandra re-read her aunt's words. Despite her fear, she knew she would have to talk to an adult at some point. She had food, and Mimi, and her books, but a child couldn't live by herself, even if she did have a manor and three house-elves. However, she was aware that the only thing protecting her from the world was the fact that the house wouldn't let anyone in. If she left the house, or allowed her aunt in, they could take her away. Mimi, Gibbo and Hux would fight for her, but they might get hurt and even be killed. If Mimi died, she'd be alone. She wasn't sure she believed her aunt would hurt her, but father had said uncle Lucius was a worthless turncoat who didn't care about anything but his own skin, and Draco was just a baby, so they couldn't possibly be worried about her. That meant her aunt was lying. Of course, her mother had warned her about that.
"Mimi, if I go outside, can they spell me?" She asked.
"Their magic can't go past the gates, Mistress. Just like they can't get in, their magic can't either," Mimi said. Cassandra nodded. She had a plan.
That afternoon, after bathing, putting on her best robes and letting her house-elf braid her hair intricately, Cassandra steeled herself to walk out the door that separated her from the outside world. Her arms and legs were shaking. Mimi had been trying to change her mind from the moment she'd explained what they were going to do.
"It's going to be okay. It's going to be okay," Cassandra said quietly, squeezing Mimi's hand for reassurance, and walked out the door before she lost her nerve.
The two men keeping guard at the outer side of the gates leapt to their feet and drew their wands as soon as they noticed the front door of the Lestrange Manor opening. They blanched at the sight of a little girl walking in their direction. She matched the description of the Lestrange's daughter, but they'd been unsure she was alone in the house, or even alive at all.
As she walked towards the gates, head held high like she'd been taught, Mimi invisible by her side, Cassandra worked to stuff all of her fear, her sadness and the million different emotions she'd been feeling the past nine days into a tiny little box inside her chest, which she hid somewhere dark and secret. She would be fierce like her mother and steady like her father. Even if she was a little girl, she was also a Lestrange. She wouldn't let anyone see her fear.
She stopped walking three steps from the gate, facing the men who were eyeing her warily. She willed herself not to twitch, standing perfectly still and maintaining a neutral expression.
"I am Cassandra Zeta Lestrange, heiress of the Lestrange family and member of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black," Cassandra said, like she'd been instructed numerous times by her father. The men stared at her diminutive height for a few seconds, before one of them stepped forward decisively.
"Kingsley Shacklebolt, and my associate, Mr. Gawain Robards," the man who'd stepped forward said. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Lestrange." Neither of them bowed, which they should have according to her lessons, but she figured she shouldn't say anything. She had questions she needed to ask, and it wouldn't do well to start out by antagonizing the men she wanted answers from. Adults didn't appreciate being corrected by children.
"Did you fight against the Dark Lord, Mr. Shacklebolt?" She asked, having decided beforehand directness would be the best approach.
"Yes, I did," the man said.
She'd expected that answer.
"Have you ever betrayed anyone?" Cassandra asked. The two men seemed startled by the question, but she had to know in order to obey her mother. She'd read in The Prophet that the Dark Lord had lost the war, so it made sense that the people trying to get her were the ones who'd won. But if they were traitors, she couldn't trust them not to hurt her, even if they gave her their word that they wouldn't. If the man answered yes, she would go back inside and wait for the ones who kept guard at night to arrive, and ask them the same questions.
"I lied to my parents a few times as a kid, to avoid trouble and such," he said measuredly, "and I've lied when I had to in order to do my job, but I've never betrayed anyone."
She had also lied to her parents a few times when she got caught doing something she oughtn't be doing, and those lies hadn't seemed like betrayal to her. Her mother said she could always tell when she was lying, and she seemed more amused than angry whenever Cassandra spun tales of ghosts and gnomes and other magical creatures to explain a broken vase or stained robes. If those had been betrayals, the girl reasoned, surely her mother wouldn't have let her get away with it. She would've been disinherited, like great-aunt Walburga did with her blood traitor son. Being a liar, Cassandra Lestrange concluded, wasn't the same as being a traitor.
"Alright. I got a letter today," she said. "Would you like to see it?"
"Sure," Mr. Shacklebolt said. "Do you have it with you?"
"Mimi," Cassandra called out, and the elf popped between the two men, just like they'd discussed.
"Merlin!" The man introduced as Mr. Robards said, jumping, and Cassandra had to work to not to snicker. Mr. Shacklebolt accepted the letter from the elf, who immediately disappeared again. The two wizards read it, not seeming surprised or bothered by its content.
"I see. Do you know what it says?" Mr. Shacklebolt asked. She nodded. "Would you like us to take you to your aunt?"
Cassandra's eyes narrowed. If they weren't surprised by the letter, it meant they had already known about it. Her aunt really was working with them, and lying to her. Even if she'd already expected it, the betrayal hurt. Her mother had been right about Aunt Cissy.
"No, thank you. But I would like to owl her back," she said calmly. "Would you write the letter for me, Mr. Shacklebolt? I haven't been taught how to yet."
"If I do, will you let us inside?" He asked.
"No," she said. "But if you do, you can ask me a question, and I promise on my magic I'll tell you the truth." It was a vow she'd heard adults make before, and she believed it was meaningful.
"We have a deal, Miss Lestrange," the man answered.
"Mimi," she said, and again the elf popped between the men, this time bringing a writing desk, chair, parchment, quill and ink with her. When Mr. Shacklebolt sat down, the elf made herself invisible and retook her place behind Cassandra.
"Dictate away, Miss Lestrange." He said.
"Dear Aunt Narcissa," she started. In the letter, Cassandra told her aunt she'd read about what happened to her parents and her godfather, and that she was safe and taken care of by the house-elves. She declined her aunt's invitation for tea, saying she was too sad and scared to leave the house.
As she finished her dictation, Cassandra could see the corner of Mr. Shacklebolt's mouth curving up on an amused smile. Good. That meant he understood the meaning of her words. She had sat by her father's side on numerous occasions as he wrote his own letters in his study, marveling at the mysterious and duplicitous world of adults, where one used nice words to communicate angry feelings, and the language she was using had been entirely lifted from her father's communications. Her parents may be gone, but they had given her many gifts throughout her young life, and she was going to use as many of them as she could to keep herself safe.
"Could you summon your elf again, Miss Lestrange, so she can take the letter and your belongings inside?" Mr. Shacklebolt said, and at her call, Mimi did exactly that.
"Thank you for your help, Mr. Shacklebolt," Cassandra said.
"You're welcome," he answered. "May I ask you my question now?"
"Is there anyone else in the house with you - perhaps a family friend your parents asked to take care of you?"
"No," she said truthfully. "Only me, Mimi, Hux and Gibbo, our house-elves."
Mr. Shacklebolt accepted her response without comment, but she was not sure he believed her. If he chose to think she was lying, she reasoned, there wasn't much she could do to convince him otherwise. Knowing Mimi would be at the aviary giving the letter to Mercurius for delivery, Cassandra excused herself and walked back into the house.
The answer to her polite defiance came two days later, not by letter, but through a loud booming voice that Cassandra swore could have woken the dead.
"MISS CASSANDRA LESTRANGE, PLEASE COME TO THE GATES. YOUR AUNTS AND A MINISTRY REPRESENTATIVE ARE HERE FOR YOU," the voice shouted.
Mimi immediately popped in front of her, looking frantic. Before the elf could get a word in, Cassandra grabbed her hand, reassuring her.
"It's alright, Mimi. They can't get in and I'm not going out. I'm just going to talk to them," she said. The house elf nodded, calming down. The two of them made their way out of the house, Mimi invisible a step behind her young Mistress.
Narcissa Malfoy stood outside the gates, alongside a square-jawed, slim, serious looking witch and a woman whose appearance, for a moment, made Cassandra's heart skip, due to her resemblance to the girl's mother. They had the same aristocratic face and tall, imposing height. The only obvious differences, she noted, were the woman's hair color, a light brown to Bellatrix's jet black, and a softness in her eyes Cassandra had never seen in her mother's. The girl stood in front of the three women, waiting for an introduction.
"Hello, darling," her aunt Narcissa said. "It's good to see you, you look well. These are Amelia Bones and Andromeda... Tonks. Ms. Bones works for the Ministry of Magic and Mrs. Tonks used to be a member of the Black family, before she married off. We're here to talk about how you've been. We've all been worried about you all alone in the house."
"For the love of Circe, Narcissa," the woman who looked like her mother said, to which her aunt scowled disapprovingly. "I rather think she can handle the truth, if that letter is any indication. Amelia, may I?"
The Ministry witch nodded, and the other woman crouched so she stood at the girl's height, looking her in the eyes. "Hello, Cassandra. My name is Andromeda, and you're my niece. I don't know if you've heard of me, but I'm your mother and Narcissa's sister. I was disowned when I married my husband Ted, because he's a muggleborn. I'm here today with Narcissa because the Ministry has failed in securing you, so they thought you might come voluntarily with one of us."
"You're in the family tapestry by mother's side, but great-aunt Walburga burned your face off," Cassandra replied.
"I bet she did," Andromeda said, smiling. "Do you understand why the Ministry has been trying to get you?"
"I'm a child, and children can't live by themselves," the girl said. She wasn't sure that was their only motive, but she knew it was at least one of them.
"That's right," Andromeda said. "The Ministry thought you'd be more amenable to your aunt Narcissa, since we'd never met, so she got to write to you first. But I'd like to tell you that I've wanted to meet you for a very long time, and it would be a pleasure to have you in my family. I have a daughter a few years older than you, and she's always wanted a sister."
Cassandra looked at her other aunt. "Are you here to ask me to live with you too, aunt Cissy?"
"Yes I am, my darling," the witch replied. "Your uncle Lucius and I are ready to take you in, and would gladly raise you to be the outstanding young lady I've always known you can be, as I'm sure your parents would want."
"My parents are in Azkaban," the girl said. Her aunt nodded gravely. Cassandra didn't know where Azkaban was, but it didn't sound like a place anyone would want to be at. She turned to the Ministry witch. "Ms. Bones, are they ever coming back?"
"I'm sorry, Miss Lestrange, but no. Your parents committed very serious crimes, and they'll spend the rest of their lives paying for them in Azkaban," the witch said seriously, although Cassandra could tell she was trying to be kind. "That's why a decision in regards to your custody must be made. Both your aunts have offered to be your guardian, and the Ministry has concluded that both are fit to assume that role, so I leave that choice up to you. Once you make that choice, I will ask you to allow us access into the property, so your belongings can be packed and we can clear the house of Dark artifacts and other dangerous things. So I ask you, who do you pick to raise you?"
Cassandra pictured her parents, and wished more than ever that they had never left her. Never, never had she felt so alone. She wanted badly to live with the kind aunt she had just met, and would have even been happy once to live with her aunt Narcissa, but she knew that neither could be done now. She couldn't trust Aunt Cissy, and if her mother had never talked about her other sister, Cassandra didn't think she would like her to raise her daughter. She closed her eyes and thought about her options.
"Ms Bones, if I go with aunt Narcissa, or aunt Andromeda, I have to live with their families," she said. "I don't want to become a Malfoy, or a Tonks. I want to stay in my house, and be a Lestrange."
The witch sighed. "For all that I understand your wishes, child, I cannot abide by them. You must have a guardian. If not your aunts, than another relative. As the last scion of the Lestrange family, this house belongs to you, so you could ask your guardian to move in, but ultimately it would be up to them, as the adult in charge."
"I have a manor, and three house elves. And I can get out, but you can't get in. So it is up to me. I'm not leaving. Grandpa Cygnus can be my guardian, or Great-aunt Walburga, I don't care. I'm going to stay in my house," Cassandra said finally, and grabbed Mimi's hand, the signal for the elf to apparate them into the house.
As eventually reported by The Daily Prophet, the siege of Lestrange Manor lasted for thirty-two days. After failing to remove the charm denying entry in the first couple of weeks, various Ministry workers and close relatives tried to ask, bribe, lie, negotiate and intimidate the young Lestrange heiress into leaving the property and accepting the guardianship of her relatives, to no avail. It wasn't until her grandfather, Cygnus Black III, made a blood vow swearing to raise his granddaughter in her family home, that the child allowed anyone in.