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Love, Eternal by PhoenixFlame86

Format: Short story collection
Chapters: 7
Word Count: 35,635
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Albus, James (II), Lily (II), OC
Pairings: James/OC

First Published: 04/09/2014
Last Chapter: 06/15/2020
Last Updated: 06/15/2020


Sequel (of sorts) to Shatter Me. A look into Charlotte and James's life Post Hogwarts! These will be one off chapters that provides snapshots into their lives in the years following graduation.

Chapter 1: House Rules
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Today was the first day of the rest of our lives. 


We’d left the safety of Hogwarts exactly twenty four hours ago, and had been too tired, and wired, last night to have any time to talk about what all this was going to mean. This townhouse was going to hold three people full time, and at least two more part-time and it already felt too small for me. 


We’d definitely need to establish some rules, which was my only plan today. If the rest of the damn house would wake up. It was nine o’clock, and I’d been up for three hours. In that time- I’d showered, dressed, left the house to go to the corner coffeshop, loading up on coffee beans and pastries, and bribing them to give me a container of cream. When I’d gotten home, I’d set about deciding what else I wanted to do with this place now that I had time in front of me. 


I wrote down a grocery list, and a plan for that room in the back, figuring it would best to switch that around to be Dom’s room. It was right off the backdoor into the backyard, giving her some privacy if she wanted to have people over. By people, I meant gentleman callers that would be around for a bit, and then not. She hadn’t found her person yet. 


The quartz countertop was covered with torn off pages from a white notepad, some stained with bits of jam and splotches of coffee. Groceries, paint colors, home accessories, and what I wanted for house rules, which would differ depending on if Harper was here full time or not. 


I sat down with a huff, looking up the stairs and waiting from someone, anyone to come down and relieve my boredom. I hadn’t yet had a chance to retrieve my electronics from the Potter’s house, and didn’t have many books here either. I added a trip to the bookstore to my list. 


I wondered about heading back out into the neighborhood, when I heard a door open. Harper yawned, her arms above her head as she exited her room. “Morning Charlie. Do I smell pastries?” 


I smiled. “Yes, I got them a few hours ago. There’s also a chai latte for you, though you’ll need to warm it up.”


“Uh, you’re a full blown witch now. Can’t you wave your wand and do some … magic?” She grinned, holding the cup out for me. I grabbed my wand and flicked it, muttering a spell under my breath. 


“All that I learned in seven years and the first real thing I do post graduation is warm your tea up.” 


She beamed at me, tearing into a cherry danish. “Thanks! What’s with all the lists? Geez Charlie, how long have you been awake?”


I looked at my watch. “Three hours and forty five minutes.” 


“Can I shower and pop over to the Potters for the day?” 


“Sure, as long as Lily’s parents don’t mind.”


“We’re almost fifteen, they don’t care. Plus, you’re going to discuss house rules today, which don’t really apply to me since I’ll only be here during the summer and for short breaks. I’ll do whatever you all agree to.” 

“Even if it means no ordering pizza after ten pm?” I shot back, wrapping my hands around my own mug of tea. My latte was long gone, and I’d had to settle for the tea I could find in the house. We really needed to raid a grocery store. 


“That’s a stupid rule that will never stick with yahoo and dingus upstairs.”


A male voice drawled, and I looked up, biting back a laugh at James’s hair. “Who are you calling a dingus and a yahoo?”


“Pretty obvious if you ask me.” She said, darting past him to go back to her room. “I scribbled a few things on the grocery list. And I still need a few things for my room.”


“House stuff we can talk about tomorrow, and we’ll go shopping too?”


She nodded, and I turned my attention to James, who plopped down next to me. “Your lovely sister called me a dingus.” 


I laughed. “She’s heading to your parents in a bit, we should probably go with her. I doubt Dom will wake up until noon. Eat and shower now, please.” 


He nodded, snuggling into my side, his eyes drifting closed. I smacked his leg, and stood up, laughing again when he fell over. James pouted at me. “We have no food.”


“We have pastries and cold coffee. You can have that, or whatever is at your Mum’s house. Either way, my computer and phone are at their house, and since you’re living here now, I figure you’ll want some stuff from your house.”


He grabbed two chocolate croissants and shoved them in his mouth before heading back upstairs. I followed him, to make sure he actually showered, poking my head in to Ava’s room to see Dom sound asleep in a dark room. I’d leave her a note, not that she’d care. She was staying here for a week- then leaving the same day as James to meet her sister in Paris. 


I stayed in my room just long enough to see James get in the shower, ignoring his requests to join him. I wondered what he might want from his house, and how I’d have to rearrange things. This needed to feel like his space too. 


His house was quiet when we arrived a half hour later. Al looked up from the chair, reading, and smiled. “Hullo guys. What are you doing here? Bored of adulthood already?”


“I bet James is here to borrow a book on cleaning spells cause he’s already made a huge mess.” Lily said, coming down the stairs. 


“Shove it squirt.”


She just stuck her tongue out at him, and draped her arm over Harper. “Can I sleep over tonight Charlotte?” 


“Course. Al, you’re welcome to join the insanity if you want.”


“I think I’ll take a quiet house tonight, thanks though.”


“I’m gonna make some food, then pack, then we head back love?” James asked me, shoving his sister as he walked past her. 


“Sure. My stuff is in your room, make sure to pack that.”


“Aren’t you gonna help me?” He asked, frowning. 


“You’re an adult, aren’t you?” I said with a laugh, earning approving stares from his siblings until I backtracked. “Of course I’ll help.”


“James, you don’t deserve her.” Lily said, dragging Harper upstairs to her room. Two peas in a pod, their red heads already bent, gossiping about something. Dom and I had been like that when we’d been younger, and were still very close, but never like my sister and her best friend. 


I sat down next to Al, picking up a newspaper and reading it, giving James about an hour by himself upstairs before I went up. Not much had been done. 


“You’ve packed next to nothing.”


“Not true love.” He said, smirking at me from his spot on the floor. “I packed almost all my clothes, they’ve already been whisked away to your place.”

“Our place,” I corrected, “besides, don’t you want anything else?”


“What do I need? Old posters, fragile trophies, and books I’ll never read? The only place I’d put any of that would be the office, and that’s gonna be Dom’s room … it’s fine. This will always be my room, I don’t need to do everything now.” 


“Just make sure you have what you what, and need. Which means plenty of underwear and socks, and your video game system. I’m sure Harper will be more than happy to play with you over the summer.”


“I’ve got all that I need in those two boxes,” James grabbed my hand, and pulled me down to his lap, “and right here.”


I dropped my forehead to his. “You’re getting awfully sappy lately, better not let anyone hear you.”


“I know I’m leaving in a week, I already miss you.” He said back. 


“You’re not moving to Siberia, James. We’ll be just fine.”


“It’ll just be you and Harper for a bit there, while Dom and I are gone. Are you going to be okay?”


“With my younger sister? Yes, I’ll be fine. It’ll be good, give us a chance to talk about things. With our parents, and Ava and all that. She’s already bugging me about letting her redecorate the cottage Mum left me that I told her she could have.” 


“She won’t graduate for a few more years, what’s her rush?”


“Independence, obviously.” I sighed, looking around his room, climbing off his lap. “I should head back home, someone needs to get food for the kitchen, and lots of it.”


He looked around too, shrugging. “I’m all done for today. Let’s send this off, and head out. I’ll need sustenance if I’m going to go up against Dom later.” 


“Our discussion won’t be that bad.” 


He just laughed, and stood up. With another look around his room, he flicked his wand and a few more things disappeared. “Let’s go stock the house. You get the food, I’ll get the liquor.”


We left his room, James heading downstairs while I wandered down the hallway to Lily’s door. I knocked on the partially shut door, and pushed it open. “Harper?”


She and Lily were sitting on her bed, legs tangled in each other while they looked at something on Harper’s laptop. I recognized the neon yellow case she’d gotten for it, covered with stickers. Something about the way they were sitting nagged at me, but I didn’t want to dwell on it much, or think anything bad. 


Harper looked up at me, pulling away from Lily a bit, her fingers going to her hair in the way she did when she was nervous. I frowned for a second, wondering, but shoved the thought away. “Yeah Charlie?”


“James and I are heading back out. We’re gonna get food for the house, and I’ll make a family dinner tonight? Anything in particular sound good?”


“Can you make carbonara? And garlic bread?” Lily asked me. 


“Sure. Be home by five please.” I stared pointedly at my sister, backing away when she nodded and waved me away. I stood alone in the hallway for a moment, wondering if I’d need to have a different kind of conversation with Harper when it was just the two of us. 


I walked downstairs, to see Al by the fireplace with James. “This one changed his mind, and wants to come over tonight, told him to just come now.”


Al looked at me weird. “Is that alright?”


“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”


“You have a strange look on your face.” Al said, grabbing a handful of powder. “You sure you don’t mind?”


I smiled, shaking my head to clear my thoughts. “I’ve told you before Al, you’re always welcome at our place. Maybe you can come food shopping with me while James unpacks, if you want?”


“Sounds good to me.”


 James and I apparated back to our place, to find Al had already arrived via the fireplace. James went upstairs to unpack while Al and I went to the store, Dom having left a note that she had shopping to do for her trip and would be back to help with dinner. Her idea of helping was filling wine glasses, and providing commentary like I was competing on a food show. 


After we got back, Al, ever the polite one, helped me unload bag after bag after bag of food. The fridge and pantry had been bare of all but a few things. 


“What’s bugging you Charlotte?” Al asked finally, holding a jar of mustard. 


“Nothing’s wrong. I’m thinking something, need to sort it out myself first.”


“You’d tell us though, if something was wrong and we could help?” He asked, his eyes roaming my face for any clues.


“Of course. I promise, nothing is wrong. I’m just trying to figure something out.”


“Can I be blunt?” He asked, startling me. 


“Does this have to do with our sisters?” 


I wanted to keep a tight hold of my reaction, but I failed, my eyes widening as I stared back at him. “How’d you guess?”


“I’m the quiet, intuitive one remember? Are you wondering the same thing I am?”


“Depends on what you’re wondering.” I said back, cautious. 


“Should we wait for them to tell us that they’re dating?” He said, quietly. “There’s been lots of clues, really, I’ve just seen them more than others. Is that why you’re upset, that Harper might be gay?”


“Absolutely not! Would it bother you if Lily was?”


“Not in the slightest. Did you just start to piece it together today, and that’s why you’re a million miles away?”


“You’re definitely the intuitive one.” I said. “Yeah, I didn’t even walk in on anything, it just felt private. Something about how they were sitting with each other … it only makes me nervous because I’ve already had one sister with big secrets that didn’t talk to me.” 


“If we’re both right, Harper will talk to you when she’s ready. Which, is why I haven’t said anything to anyone. It’s not my business.” He was still holding the jar of mustard, but put it down, shutting the pantry door behind him. 


“I won’t say anything if you don’t.” I smiled at him, gathering all the reusable bags we’d bought and putting them in a cabinet near the pantry. “Want to help me figure out how to turn the office into a bedroom for Dom?” 


He followed me, and we worked out a plan. 





A few hours later, the three of us that would be living here full time gathered at the dining table after it had been cleared off. Al had returned to his house after eating, and the girls were up in Harper’s room. 


My sister insisted that she didn’t care what the rules were unless it directly involved or affected her, in which case, she wanted me to bring her downstairs. Harper had already told me she fully planned on helping with meals, errands, and picking up her own messes. She wouldn’t pick up after James or Dom though. 


“Alright bestie, cousin, let’s get down to business here. Charlotte, this is your house, so what are you thinking?” Dom said, linking her fingers together, and grinning at me. 


“It’s our house …” I started to say, getting interrupted. Go figure. 


“Not really, it’s all in your name. We’re living at your place, so you’re kinda the head boss lady around here. James can shove it if he disagrees with me.” Dom stared pointedly at James. 


“Fully agree there, it’s her house, whatever she wants is fine by me.”


“Even she makes you clean the bathrooms?”


“Sure. It’s just a flick of my wand, it’s not like I’ll be on my knees scrubbing the floor.”


“I’d pay good money to see you with rubber gloves on, scrubbing the toilet out.” 


“Can you both shut up?” I said, holding my hand up. “My rules, or requests, are pretty simple. Everyone helps with everything except what directly applies to them. James and I will clean our areas of use, and Dom, you clean up yours. Everyone will help with errands and common use areas. I got a pad to keep on the fridge so everyone can make note of what we need.”


“Fair enough, but no one gets to touch my Equadorian fair trade coffee beans.” Dom said, leaning back in her chair. 


“Fine.” I snapped. “We can create shelves in the pantry and fridge dedicated to each person, if that makes everyone happy.”


James leaned across the table, grinning at Dom. “If you touch my ice cream, I will attack you with a pimple spell.”

“I’m sorry, am I living with children? Why are you both being so possessive over food? New rule, if you eat food that belongs to someone else, you’re on the hook to replace it. Not even just food- if you use something that belongs to someone else- replace it!” 


“I’m sorry Charlie, but I will only be making so much money, and James over here is of the male variety and as such, especially as a pro athlete, will come home and devour every crumb in sight. I like expensive things.”


“Guess what Dom, I have money. I like Charlotte’s idea. If you use up what’s not yours, you replace it.” James shot back. 


“That goes for staples too. If someone makes brownies at three in the morning and uses all the flour, that needs to go on the list.” I said, staring at Dom. 


“Why are you looking at me?”


James snorted beside me. “You’re going to be the one needing brownies after your midnight sexcapades. Speaking of which … are there any rules about guests being brought over? I am not dealing with her pretty boys in the morning.”


This might get uncomfortable, I thought, looking back and forth between the both of them. They both looked at me, then at each other. 


A sigh spilled out of me, and I bit my lip before speaking. “I’m going to preface this by saying that I really want this to feel like everyone’s home, but at the end of the day, I guess Dom is right and this is primarily my house that you all are living in. I’m a quieter person, so if you want to have people over during the day, ask all parties that will be here first. If it’s one person stopping over for a bit- whatever- but a heads up would be nice. No planning on throwing parties of any kind unless you have the approval of everyone else. If you do have people over, for whatever reason, it’s your responsibility to clean up after said party. Dom, there’s a reason you’re getting the office with the semi-private entrance. You’re an adult, and I don’t want to interfere with your personal relationships, but be respectful. Especially when Harper is around.”


“What about you two?” Dom asked, pointing to both of us. “No sex in the living room, or on the kitchen counter. You keep it in the bedroom, or your private bath. I’ll keep my relations in my bedroom. Speaking of which, when will that be done?”


“By the time you get back from Paris. You said you didn’t care what was changed architecturally as long as you had privacy, and most of the bookcases stayed.”


“Perfect. And then I can pick out furniture and decorate the room?” 


I stared at her, wondering how we’d gotten off topic. “You should really pick all that stuff out soon, that way when you get back, you can move right in and everything will be done. I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t break walls.”


“Are there any other major rules we’re forgetting to talk about?” James asked, looking to me. 


“One more thing, James, I demand a girls night once a week where you disappear so I can catch up and have bestie time with Charlotte. You can sleep at your house that night or something."

“The fuck?” James shot back. “You’re not saying I can’t sleep in my own bed, with my own girlfriend whenever it suits you.”


“I didn’t say that. I said once a week. We can even pick a day, like Sunday, or something, so you’ll always be prepared!” Dom beamed at him. 


“Dommie, I say this with love, but fuck that. Take a few hours if you want to do whatever, I’ll stay out of your hair. But I’m not going spend one night a week at my parents house. Charlotte?”


“She’s already regretting agreeing to have both of us under the same roof. It’s okay, Charlotte, we’ll figure it all out as we go along. Nothing needs to be perfect right away, even though you like it like that. But you love James, and he’s far from perfect, so you’re already getting good practice in!” Dom grinned, wiggling her eyebrows at James, who glowered at her. 


“Can we be done now?” James asked. “I can’t take anymore of her.”


“She’s your cousin.” I said, laughing. 


“I have a date soon anyway, but don’t worry, I won’t be bringing him back here. Harper and all that. I’ll be back late, don’t wait up.”


I stared at her, touching the new ring I wore on my thumb, an enchanted rose gold band. “Let me know that you’re safe.”


She touched the matching ring on her thumb. When we’d both realized that we’d be living in the city, even as witches, we decided to come up with a simple way to tell the other that we were safe. The ring would warm gently when everything was fine, and turn ice cold if something was wrong. 


“It’s just a late coffee date Charlie, but I’ll let you know that I’m cool. I’ll also make sure to clean up after I make brownies later tonight.” She winked at James, and headed upstairs, leaving us alone. 


“All I want is for you two to not blow up this house.”


“I can’t make any promises.” James said with a smirk. “It’s still relatively early, what do you want do tonight?”


“Hmm, curl up on the couch with a bottle of wine and some popcorn, and watch a movie?” I replied, reaching for him as he stood up. “Sound good?”


“Yeah, love. If I can pick the movie.” He grinned wickedly. 


“Not Die Hard. Not again.”


He pouted. “I wasn’t going to suggest that! Maybe I was, but fine, we can watch something else instead. As long as it’s not some chick flick with Ryan Reynolds. You gush over him too much.”


“I mean … have you seen that man? He’s very attractive.”


“I’m very attractive.” James laughed, puffing up his chest. I snorted, and threw a pillow at him, drawing an extra think knit blanket over me. 


“Always modest, James.” I shot back, looking up as Harper came down. “You and Lily need anything?”


“If you’re watching a movie, can we come watch too? You’re making popcorn right?” She asked, and I nodded. 


“How about you guys pick the movie tonight, maybe we can make this a weekly thing when you’re around.”


“Works for me. As long as there’s popcorn and ice cream. LILY! GET DOWN HERE!” She shouted up the stairs. Lily ran down a moment later, and curled up by herself in the overstuffed chair. Harper settled next to me, leaving James to find his own spot. 


The girls settled on Tangled, a favorite of Harper’s from when she was little, and that night was everything I’d hoped for. Of course, it was only our first week in this house, but here we all were, together. Or mostly, but there was the definite promise of more nights like this with anyone we wanted. 


It wasn’t so bad, leaving school, when these kinds of memories were waiting to be made. 





Chapter 2: Ridgeview
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It was mid July, and I’d spent the bulk of the last few weeks decorating the townhouse, and reading. So much reading. I explored my neighborhood more, finding new restaurants to get takeout from, and a tiny, delightful dessert shop with homemade ice cream that I stopped at more times that I wanted to admit. Their cardamom rose pistachio gelato was my new favorite thing in the world. 


For the most part, I’d been by myself the last few weeks. Dom had started working full time after getting back from her Paris trip, and though we hung out in the evenings when she was free, we weren’t getting as much time together as we’d hoped. To make up for it- we were planning a two week trip to tour Italy and Spain at the end of August before my schooling began again. 


Harper and Lily spent a lot of time at the Potter’s house, and at Diagon Alley. The opposite of what I had with Dom, most of the time I had with my sister was in the morning. We had a new routine of eating breakfast together at the island. She made the coffee, and I made the breakfast. It had been a really good time for me to experiment with new recipes, our current favorite was a mushroom quiche loaded with fresh parsley and carmelized onions. 


James was in and out a lot, spending a lot of time training with the Cannons, and preparing for the upcoming season. I both loved and hated our time apart. In a way, it had probably been a good thing for us to keep some distance so we didn’t spend our entire summer bound at the hip, staying in bed all day. I’d end up pregnant at that rate, and that wasn’t something either of us was in any way ready for. Still, I missed him. A lot. He’d been gone more than we’d anticipated. 


I’d actually spent a lot of time with Al, which had been nice. I no longer wanted to be alone in my life, and he was a good person to spend time with. We were similar in personality and Al was the only person I was close to that enjoyed going to bookstores and museums as much as I did. 


Life had fallen into a routine, which was about to get interrupted. It was almost time to go to Ridgeview and visit Ava, see how she was doing and what the recommendation was about her coming home. I was so anxious about it all, frequently waking up with panic attacks. 


I didn’t feel ready to have her come live here, especially given how much James and Dom were gone. Shoving us together after all that had happened felt like it would be too much, which of course made me feel massively guilty, and awful. She was my sister, and though I hadn’t heard much from her since she went to the school, I got simple reports from her teachers. That added to my anxiety, because though I knew for certain that she was sober, she wasn’t very open during therapy sessions. 


A big part of me hoped that meant she’d have to stay. I couldn’t help her, that much seemed obvious, and Harper had flat out told me that she wouldn’t work on her broken relationship with Ava if our sister returned this summer. I’d tried to get her to vocalize why she felt so strongly about staying separated, but Harper refused to talk about it. I’d started to think I should make her go to therapy too, but didn’t want to upset the balance we’d found. She and I were closer than ever, and she was opening up to me about a lot of things she’d never bothered to talk to me about before. 


We hadn’t talked her possible sexual orientation, because I really didn’t want to bring that up. I hoped that by showing Harper she could count on me, that eventually, when she was ready, she’d talk to me. If indeed there was even anything to talk about.


I looked at the clock, and then to the fireplace. Al was coming over again today, and spending the night. Tomorrow morning, both of us were going to Ridgeview. Part of the few days we’d spend in Colorado would include a bunch of visits with Ava, and I figured she’d be happiest to see her old friend. We were going to travel to Colorado via a special Floo network, starting at the Ministry. From there we’d go to New York, and then to Colorado. 


Ginny, who had taken Ava in the first place, had told us to expect a draining journey. Traveling that quickly over such long distances wrecked the body, so on her recommendation, we were arriving in Colorado two days before my meeting at Ridgeview so we could acclimate. I’d gotten us a nice hotel in Boulder, which was the closest large city to the school. 


I saw a flash of green, and Al stepped out of the fireplace, a travel bag thrown over his shoulder. He smiled at me, but I saw the dark circles under his eyes. “Thanks for letting me crash here tonight.” 


“Of course. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m really glad you’re coming with me. I couldn’t do this alone.”


“James made sure to remind me that I’m to keep you away from American boys.” He said with a chuckle. “He feels bad that he can’t go with you.”


“And he’s slightly worried that I’ll meet someone else?” I responded. “He didn’t tell me any of this.” 


“You’re the first girl he’s ever really cared about, and now you’re traveling to another country without him.”


“To check up on my sister that was banished from school because of drug use. I’m nervous, are you?” I asked, changing the topic. It was sweet that James was worried, but it was not what I needed to think about. 


“Yeah, I’m nervous about seeing her. I hope she doesn’t mind that I’m coming.” 


“She doesn’t, I told her. I think she’d rather see you than me.” 


He grunted, dropping his bag by the stairs and walking back into the kitchen. “I’m gonna make tea, would you like some?” 


“Sure.” I settled on the chair and waited for the water to boil, pleased that he’d finally made himself comfortable here. “You all ready for our trip across the sea?”


“Got clothes, hiking boots, books, and my camera. I’m all set. Should I bring Ava anything?”


“I’m glad you asked, they said we could bring gifts if we wanted, but they’ll need to clear it first to make sure it’s okay. They run a pretty tight ship there. I was going to make a batch of her favorite cookies, and spell them to stay fresh until I can pass them off. What did you have in mind?”


“Tea. How very British of me, right? I want to remind her of home, and what she can come back to.”


I sighed. “That’s what the meeting is about, if she’s ready to come back. I want her to … but I also don’t want her leaving a controlled environment unless she’s actually ready. I’m an awful sister.”


Al placed a cup of tea in front of me, and I smelled the floral white tea he favorited, that I started stocking here. Everyone in my family had a favorite, and I was amassing quite the collection - black, green, white, and herbal. “You’re not awful Charlotte. She needed help, you did what was right. It’s up to her to come back, to home and to herself. That’s what I worry about most, I feel like she’s still going to be angry.”


“We’ll find out in a few days, won’t we?” I said back. 





Colorado was quite stunning, and Boulder was an amazing town to wander around. Ginny had been right- the trip here had been brutal on us physically and we experienced whatever the magical version of jet lag was. Al in particular was quite taken with the mountains, and I could tell that regardless of what happened with Ava, I had a feeling he’d want to come back here and explore more. 


It was scalding hot the day of the meeting, and both of us were grateful to be heading into the mountain peaks after breakfast, just to feel cool air again. I hadn’t slept much the night before, giving up on the idea entirely about 4:30, and sat on the deck of my hotel room, looking up at the clear night sky. 


Al and I didn’t talk much through breakfast, making it back in time to meet our escort. Apparating required knowing where you were going, and since we’d never seen the school, and Al couldn’t even do it yet- a teacher was coming to meet us, and then he would take us there. We only needed it the first time, the next time we went, Al could hang on to me while I apparated. 


When he was nervous, he was still as a statue, so different from James, who fidgeted like crazy. I alternated between bouncing my leg, tapping my fingers on the desk, and forcing myself to still while we waited. A loud pop sounded, and person appeared in the room. 


“Charlotte Gray, I assume?” He said, smiling. 


I nodded, taking him in. He was very tall, and broad shouldered, with light brown hair and a beard that a lumberjack would be envious of. Pale blue eyes took me in, meeting my stare. “Sorry, yes I’m Charlotte.” 


“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Professor Harwing. I’m the outdoors teacher at Ridgeview, which I gather is something you don’t have at Hogwarts?”


“No. The closest we have is Care of Magical Creatures, which takes place outside. Very dangerous stuff.” I said with a smile, turning to Al. “This is our friend Albus. I was told it was alright if he came along to spend time with Ava while I’m meeting your Headmaster?” 


“Headmistress, and of course. Whenever you both are ready, we’ll head out.” He held out both arms, his muscles rippling under his shirt. Maybe he was a lumberjack hiding underneath nice clothes. I held tightly onto his forearm, watching Al do the same on the other side, my other hand tightening on my bag. 


The hotel room disappeared in a flash, and I felt that familiar pressure on my body as we travelled, arriving a moment later to an open field of wildflowers. I sucked in a breath as we looked around, staring in awe at the sight before me. I thought the school was near the mountain peaks, but it was actually midway down one of the mountains, the property settled on a very large valley, dotted with grassy fields. Horses dotted the landscape, and I spied other farm animals at the edge of small lake. The school itself was on a large ridge overlooking the grassy plains, backing into a flat stone wall. It reminded me of a mountain chalet. Warm wood, with lots of windows, it was two stories tall, boxes of flowers outside every window. At the edge of the field sat small stone cottages that reminded me of Hagrid’s Hut at Hogwarts, on a smaller scale. 


In my mind, even though I’d seen pictures, I was imagining something that looked more like a prison. But this … it looked like heaven. It was warm and welcoming, and stunning really. Maybe it needed to be so that it didn’t feel like a prison, because everyone here wasn’t here voluntarily. This was a rehabilitation center. 


Al looked awestruck. I couldn’t stop staring either, the mountains rising all above us, the peaks heading into the clouds, still dusted with snow even in July. He broke the silence first. “This is remarkable.” 


“It’s never what people imagine, but we’ve found that living in beauty, and privacy, can often help with some of the mental challenges our students face. Come, let’s get you to your meeting.”


“Where’s Ava?” I asked. 


He pointed towards a worn wooden fence that were keeping all the horses on the property. “Your sister has taken quite a liking to the horses here. She’s at the edge of the pasture there, by the barn, brushing off Athena. That horse is her favorite, she says it reminds her of something from home but won’t tell me what.”


“My owl is named Athena.” I said, surprised. 


Professor Harwing smiled slowly, nodding. Albus looked to me and then walked off. “You’ll get a chance to see her later Charlotte. She was too nervous to meet you in person.”


“I’m her sister though.”


“From what I gather, you two have had a complicated relationship. Being family doesn’t automatically make everything easy, or better. In my experience, it makes it harder. Students here always do better with friends than family. There’s too many expectations in a familial unit.”


“Sounds like you have some experience with that.”


“You may know this, but every teacher here has been where Ava has been. We’ve all been taken in by the darker side of magic, and are here because we know the mental and physical battles these students face. It wouldn’t work otherwise.”


I was a step behind him, heading up the wide steps, onto the even wider deck, and through the  double front doors. I noticed the large hand woven rug just past the entrance, a swirling mass of dark and light colors, then I looked up and my jaw dropped again. Outside was pure, rustic countryside with wood and stone. Inside, it was purely contemporary. Lots of brass, and glass, and blonde wood accents. Plants were everywhere, but it wasn’t cold. Brightly colored rugs covered the wood floors, and abstract art covered the walls. 


“This place seems like an expensive retreat, not a rehabilitation school for wayward witches and wizards.”


Professor Harwing was interrupted from replying by someone calling my name. “Charlotte Gray, I presume? I’m Headmistress Helem. Welcome to Ridgeview.”


I turned to see a very striking woman at the foot of the stairs. Tall and willowy, with sharp bone structure, she should be terrifying, but she looked like your best friends Mom. The kind of woman that was always baking, that would always listen to you speak, and was always prepared to give a hug. 


“It’s nice to meet you Headmistress. Your school is quite lovely, not at all what I was expecting.”


“Let’s go to my office and speak. Thank you Gregory.” She nodded to the teacher next to me, leading me up the stairs, carpeted in an ivory and gray geometric pattern. We turned left at the top of the stairs, and I was led down a long hallway to a set of double doors at the end of the hall. Her name was emblazoned on the door in a silver plaque. 


Once I passed her, she shut the doors behind us, walking past me to sit behind her large desk. I settled in one of the comfy chairs across from her, my eyes drifting to the purple orchid on her desk, in full bloom. I’d always loved the delicate flower. 


“So, Charlotte, let’s talk about Miss Ava.” 


I leaned back in surprise, expecting small talk and pleasantries before getting down to it. “Oh, of course.”


“I don’t mean to sound rude, but I’ve learned that it’s best to not beat around the bush. You aren’t here so I can ask what you think of the weather, or my design choices. You’re here because your sister was sent to us, to help her.”


“How is Ava?” I hated that my voice wobbled, but I felt like a child all of a sudden. 


“I know this is a lot for you, you’re only eighteen, right?” When I nodded, she continued. “This is a lot for you, but I’d like to keep this simple, and be a little blunt, if that’s alright with you.”


“Of course.”


She smiled at me, linking her fingers together, before settling her warm green eyes on mine. “I’m sure you’re wondering, now that Ava is reaching the end of her sixty days, if I’ll recommend her staying or moving on?”


“Yes, I have been wondering. Her letters haven’t filled me on much, so I really can’t say I know how she’s been doing.”


“Academically speaking, Ava is doing remarkable. I had her transcripts from Hogwarts before she arrived, and knew that she was intelligent and somewhat gifted, especially with Transfiguration and Potions. She’s been dedicated in her classes, has done well with her exams. Ava has quite taken to helping with the horses, and other animals, so she’s become quite close with Professor Harwing.” 


“So she’s doing well? Does that mean she can come …” I stopped when she held up her hand. 


“Part of being at this school is attending private and group sessions. Every student here, most of them are around Ava’s age, have been deposited on our doorstep because of misuse of dangerous magic, drug use, self harm, you name it — we’ve seen it. Really, we have tri-fold of expected behavior here. It’s a requirement to attend academic classes, to assist in the running of this school via chores, and to participate in therapy. Ava has shown great progress academically, and has surprised me with wanting to stay busy helping with chores. However, she has refused to open up during therapy sessions. She has refused to admit to any wrongdoing, and refuses to admit that she has a problem. I take it you’re familiar with that attitude.”


I sighed, slouching with something akin to sad relief. “You could say that. She’s always been very stubborn, and very proud. Both of our parents could be described that way, so I can’t say who she takes after, not that it matters all that much. What does it mean, that she’s not participating?”


She reached across the desk, and laid her hand gently on mine. I got a gentle whiff of her perfume, and even that was warm and welcoming, the scent reminding me of a fuzzy white blanket, or your favorite sweater. Something like white blossoms, figs, and hazelnuts. 


“It is my recommendation that Ava remain at this school. How do you feel about that?” She asked bluntly, though her tone was very gentle. It was odd, her entire demeanor was some combination of soft, fluffy puppy and gale force winds. “Please, be honest with me Charlotte.”


I looked at her, and bit my lip to keep from crying. “Honestly, it’s a relief to hear you say that. It’s not that I don’t love Ava, I do, and when she’s ready … when I’m ready honestly, I want her to have a place at my home. Neither of our parents care much about the three of us, so we’re all the other has. I want to help Ava, but I struggle to imagine what I can do to keep her clean and healthy if she leaves here too soon.”


“You’re response is better than most of the parents I’ve talked to. Intelligence must run in your family Charlotte. Ava is a tough cookie, but she’s also very fragile and vulnerable. It’s very clear that your upbringing has dealt a significant amount of damage, which is why she’s here. She doesn’t talk about it much, so we have a hard time piecing together the best ways to help her. But, and I truly believe this, she is finding some healing by being here. Especially with the horses, it’s remarkable. I’ve never seen her happier than she is when she’s riding, or caring for them.”


“I’m glad to hear it. I didn’t know what to expect today.”


“I wish I could tell you I thought Ava could return to England, and spend the rest of summer with her family and friends. We don’t want to keep anyone here. I want her to return to Hogwarts, because she belongs there. However, she also needs help. And distance, from whatever it was that was hurting her.” 


“Could I take her out to dinner?” I asked, startling myself with the question. Where had that come from? 


“If you’d like. We also have a private wing here that is used for family visits, to provide a sense of normality without leaving the grounds.”


“I’ll let Ava pick.” I muttered, looking down at my lap. “What happens to Hogwarts, in the fall. It’s only about six weeks until term starts, will she be ready then?”


“That’s up to Ava. I’m in touch with your former Headmaster, who is taking my advice into account, much like you, about her future. I do not think she’ll be ready to return to Hogwarts in six weeks.”


“When could she return?”


“I believe they will be happy to let Ava back after Christmas break, provided she has made significant progress here. She could also make a move to another school if that seems a better fit.”


I looked around her office again, staring out the floor to ceiling windows, and to the stunning view of the grassy fields and the lake glinting in the bright, afternoon sunlight. I drew in a deep breath, letting it out in a quick breath. “Is everyone that comes here so … broken? For lack of a better word? I don’t mean to sound like I don’t care, I’m just trying to understand.”


She smiled, and pushed a box of tissues to me. I hadn’t realized I’d been crying, but there was a tear ready to drop down my face, another one behind it. She also pushed forward a carved bowl full of chocolate candies. 


“Take one, please. I’ve found that chocolate always helps. To answer your questions, yes, everyone that comes here is broken in a way. But being broken doesn’t make you bad, or unworthy. Most of these kids that come here have been dealt a bad hand and didn’t know how to deal with it in a healthy way, or even in a non-self destructive way. They’re hurting, but they’re not bad. Broken isn’t bad, it just means you fight more battles than anyone realizes. Most of the kids that leave here, they go on to live happier, healthier lives, but they always carry internal scars. It’s the nature of life.”


“Does it help me to think of her as broken?”


“Admitting you think you’re broken is often a good first step to take. Without recognizing what you feel about yourself, you’re never going to fix anything. Ava just needs to open up here, and she’ll find healing. All the magic we possess Charlotte, and we can’t fix these kinds of things. It takes a strong spirit and a drive to want a different life. She doesn’t want a different life yet. So, as I said, I believe she will be best left here. That is, of course, your choice to make. As her official guardian, it is your call, since she’s still underage.”


I stared out the window again, following the line of the fence down to the barn. “I’m over my head here, so if you recommend she stays, I’d like to keep to that recommendation. However, I’m happy to take advice on how to tell her so she doesn’t hate me.”


She looked at me, and I saw pity in her eyes, but understanding as well. “My biggest piece of advice to you dear, remember that you can’t control the reactions of other people. If Ava wants to be angry, she’ll be angry, but I think she’ll be relieved. As much as she misses her sisters, and I promise you she feels that way, she’s not ready to face all that yet. She’s smart enough to know she’s where she should be, she just needs to give in and open up, and that’s our job to figure out. Keep sending her letters, send her gifts, tell her you love her and that whenever the time is right, she has a home with you- as long as that’s the truth- then tell her.” 


“You’ve been very helpful, Headmistress Helem. Thank you.” I stood up, feeling like my time with her was over, and holding my hand out. She smiled back, but refused my handshake, instead coming around the desk to hug me. It was a maternal kind of hug, but very different from Ginny’s. When James’s mother hugged me, there was a fierce protectiveness there. When Miss Helem hugged me, it was like being draped with something fresh out of the dryer, warm and instantly comforting, but gentle. 


“I’ll keep writing to you of her progress.”


“Thank you.” I repeated, and led myself out of her office, shutting the door quietly behind me. That was that- Ava was staying, and I felt horrid all over again as the relief washed over me. I walked down the stairs, unsure where to go next, until I saw Professor Harwing waiting by the door. 


“Albus and Ava are riding the horses in the pastures. I thought we’d go down there and you could see her.”


I nodded, and followed him back into the bright sunshine. “I asked the Headmistress if I could take Ava out to dinner, and she said it was okay, but that there was also a wing here. Should I tell my sister it’s non-negotiable, or should I let her decide if she wants to spend more time with me.”


“I’d let Ava decide, and then follow that.”


“You do like to be blunt around here, don’t you?” I asked, laughing quietly. 


“It works better than you’d think.” He stopped to smile at me. “I have other things to attend to, but they’re just down there. If you’d like to come back again before you leave, just send me a fire message.”


He turned and walked away before I could say anything, and I clenched my fists at my side, drawing in a breath of clean, mountain air. It was time to see my sister. I walked down the gravel path to the fence, looking out towards the tree line. Al and Ava were riding towards me, distant figures for a bit until they got closer. 


Ava looked — happy. I’d never seen her look like that before and wanted to cry with relief. On top of a dappled Appaloosa, my sister looked relaxed and healthy, laughing with Al. She’d gained weight, and it was only when she got even closer that I realized she’d cut her hair into a bob, the look hidden underneath a black cowboy hat. 


Albus nodded in my direction, smiling, looking relaxed himself. That’s when Ava noticed it was me. They rode up, stopping just on the other side of the fence. Ava slid off her horse, tying the reins loosely around the post. Her expression was hard to read when she turned to me. 


“Hey Charlie.” She said, quiet. 


“Ava.” I replied, smiling. I laid my hand on the horses neck, patting gently. “I hear you’ve become quite fond of the horses. You always did like them as a kid.”


“They’re easy compared to people. They don’t want anything from you but food and love. How’d it go with Miss Helem?” She asked nervously, leaning into her horse. Albus led his horse further down the fence, letting it graze on the tall grass. 


“How about we have dinner tonight, in town, or here, and we can talk. Catch up, I want to know how you’ve been doing.” 


Her eyes narrowed for a second, and I saw that familiar anger burning back at me. “I’m sober, that’s what you wanted right?”


I took a deep breath before responding. “I wanted you to get better, to find happiness again, and yes, I wanted you to get sober and stick with it so you didn’t throw your future away.”


“So your letters have said. I don’t want to sound mean Charlie, but I don’t really want to do dinner. I don’t want to pretend we’re something we’re not, and you and me, we’re not close. I do believe you care about me, but you’re not what I need right now, so I really hope Miss Helem told you that I can stay. I like it here.”


“This isn’t a resort Ava, and this isn’t meant to be a replacement for Hogwarts. You belong at school, with your friends, with Harper.”


“Harper? The sister that won’t even talk to me because she’s so pissed that I dared to screw up?” 


I sighed, again, pinching the bridge of my nose. “That’s not why she’s mad at you! Ava, come on. You can’t be mad at us, we didn’t do anything.”


“That’s kind of the point, you guys never stepped in to help before all of this happened. You just watched and waited, and then dumped me here.”


“Mabye, on some level, you’re right. But Harper, she’s younger than you, and I’m not much older than you. It was never supposed to be our job to keep you from those choices. You made those choices, not us, and it’s not fair for you to blame me, or her, for what you did to yourself.”


She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at me, and all thoughts I’d had about a tentative reunion vanished in that moment. She was never going to let me in, at least not for a while, so there was no point. 


“I have things to get back to, so you should probably leave now.” 


I glared back at her, unable to stop the anger from showing. I’d wanted to remind her that I loved her, and that I was here for her, but what was the point. I couldn’t do anything if she wouldn’t let go of her anger towards me. “I want you to get better Ava, so that you can live the best version of your life possible. If that won’t include me — fine, but I’ll sleep better at night knowing you’re sober and away from bad people, even if you want to keep hating me for it. This could have been so much worse … this place, it’s your chance to have a better life for yourself Ava. I hope you’re thinking about what will make you happy beyond all this, because at some point, you’re going to have to enter reality and work hard at getting the life you truly want.”


“Words of wisdom from a girl that just last year was a total nobody, and now you’ve bagged one of the most eligible men in the European Wizarding world.”


She was still on the other side of the fence, but I stepped closer, the worn wood pressing into my body as I leaned forward, tapping her near her heart. “You know what Ava? I decided last year that I wanted to change my life, and I did. James didn’t just fall into my lap. I decided I wanted a different life, and I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone more times than I can count in the last twelve months. Literally all I want from you is for you to decide the same thing. What do you want, and more importantly, who do you want to be? Your call.”


I couldn’t leave in anger, and laid my hand on her shoulder, trying to smile through my annoyance. Albus was walking back towards us, looking between us like a referee watching a match. “Ava, you need to get to class, right?”


She finally turned her vicious gaze away from me, her body instantly softening when he touched her. “Yeah. I need to leave. It was good to see you Al, are you going to come up again?”


“I don’t know, but keep writing me, yeah?”


They hugged, and I waited. I had to see what she’d do. She turned to me, and pursed her lips, then grabbed the reigns and walked towards the other horse without so much as a verbal goodbye. She just looked over her shoulder at one point, her shoulders slumped, and her face a mess of tears. 


“That was awful.” I said, turning to Al. “Are you ready to go?”


“Yeah.” He said sadly. 


We left Colorado the next morning, two days early. As beautiful as this city was, I couldn’t stay anymore. My words to Ava rang through my mind, I had created a different life for myself, and I wanted to get back to it. 


I left hoping that eventually, she would stop hating me. 










Chapter 3: Date Night & Dreaming
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I did not recognize my life anymore. 


It was unlike anything I could have ever expected, but it was better than I ever dreamed. Mostly. Classes had begun a few months ago, and I was knee deep in books studying to be a Healer. I was still an early morning person, while Dom was not, and James was in and out constantly. Mostly out, but not cause he wanted to be. 


I joked about replacing the solid front door with a revolving one. I’d imagined that we’d all have loads of time together, relaxing and cooking, and the like, but instead, we all kind of flitted around doing our own things, colliding at random times for meals and socializing. 


Dom was loving her life, and was surprising me with her commitment to keeping things neat and clean, and was always happy to stop by the store on her way back. Her interest had always been in creating potions, especially ones that would change your appearance, so she’d gotten a job at a magical beauty salon, and came home every other day with a different hair color and style. 


James was thriving on the Cannons, fitting in to the existing team well, and finding a new friend in the backup Keeper that started about the same time as him. Nate was a frequent guest for dinner now, much to Dom’s delight. He was just her type, and though he was much calmer than her, he kept up with her flirtatious jabs better than most guys I’d seen her with. I was waiting to wake up one morning and find him in my kitchen with nothing but his skivvies on. 


Harper and Al were, of course, back at school. Ava was still at Ridgeview, and I’d be going back after Thanksgiving to discuss her next step. It was nearing Halloween, and I was going to meet Harper for lunch at Hogsmeade soon. She and I wrote each other frequently, and of all the good things in my life, I was most grateful for my blossoming relationship with her.


As for me, my life had boiled down to a pretty easy routine. I woke up early, had a few cups of coffee while reading textbooks or reviewing my homework, then I went to classes in the morning, had lunch at home, went back to a long afternoon class, then came home and made dinner. I always made a ton of food, waiting for people to drop in. Despite the rule about giving roommates a heads up before bringing people over, Nate and Dom’s new work friend Emmaline stopped by most nights. Since it was now kind of expected, I didn’t mind. 


Tonight, however, I was very much looking forward to. For the first time in weeks, James and I were getting a date night. He’d just gotten back from a game in Scotland, and demanded that Dom leave for a night or two to give us the place to ourselves. James also demanded that I dress up a little for tonight, but wouldn’t tell me where we’d be going. He was going to meet me here after training. 


At four thirty, my watch beeped at me, and I shut the textbooks my eyes had been straining to read. There really was only so much medical information a human brain could take in. I dumped the cold cup of tea by my elbow, and headed upstairs to my bathroom, starting a hot bath. If James wanted dolled up … he’d get dolled up. I had just enough time to do everything — shave, facial, nails (thanks to Dom’s rapid dry potion), and makeup. 


I doubted we were going to a ball, so left things simple but classic. A few sprays of my favorite fancy perfume, that only I saved for special occasions, an expensive blend of white flowers and sandalwood. Red lipstick and red nails were paired with a simple side ponytail, and a smoky eye. I zipped into a fitted little black dress with lacy cap sleeves, and a gentle pleated skirt with a very low back. I finished the look with a pair of wedges, in case we ended up walking a bit somewhere. 


At five minutes to six, I walked downstairs, wondering where James was. He said he’d be back by 6. I looked around the living room when I got downstairs, but didn’t see any sight of his giant bag of sports gear, or his new favorite jacket. I glanced at my watch again, frowning, waiting. 


Knock. Knock. 


I whipped my head towards the front door, wondering who would be arriving right now. I began to feel nervous then, until I opened the front door and melted. James stood on the doorstep, grinning like a cat that had caught a mouse, holding a large bouquet of roses and lilies. “I never did do this properly before, so I’m here to pick you up.”


I wanted to reply with something snarky, but I was too touched by the gesture to do much but take the flowers and smile. James was in clean jeans, with a crisp button down shirt and heavy leather jacket.


“I was starting to worry about you.” I said, falling into his arms after he stepped through the door. James caught me perfectly, dropping his head to my neck to place a few gentle kisses. “I miss you.”


“I plan to remedy that tonight. Whenever you’re ready, my love, we have a dinner to attend.”


He held out his hand, his hazel eyes sparkling with delight and something else I couldn’t quite place. “You look stunning, Charlotte. I’m a lucky man.”


“Are you going to tell me what we’re doing tonight?”


“Let’s just say we’re recreating one of the best nights of my admittedly short life.” He grinned, wrapping both arms around my waist. “Are you ready?”


“Do I need a jacket?”


“No, we won’t be outside long.”


“Ahh, a clue.” I said. “Let me at least get my purse.” 


“We need to leave soon before I lose track of my plans tonight, and strip you out of that lovely dress.” James said, his eyes roaming over my figure. 


I grabbed my purse, and my own leather jacket out of the hall closet before linking my hands with his, figuring we were going somewhere close. James winked at me, and we apparated, appearing on a dark side street. My best guess is that we were nowhere near London anymore, and my brows furrowed trying to figure out what we were doing. James draped his arm over my shoulder like he often did, grinning and whistling to himself as we turned the corner onto a more brightly lit street. 


He kept walking, still grinning, until I caught sight of a building further down the street, a memory flashing back to me. “Is this …?”


“Yeah. I figured we could go for a movie after too, if you wanted. Or just go back home and make out, cause I was stupid and didn’t do that last time.”


James had brought us to the Italian restaurant where we’d come last summer, on our first date that wasn’t really a first date. I turned to James, and melted, touched by this thoughtful gesture. “You’re earning some good boyfriend points tonight.”


“I need to keep surprising my stunning girlfriend so she doesn’t get too pissed that I’m always off with other guys.”


I laughed. “Teammates.”


“C’mon, my love, let’s go eat.”


I leaned into him, our fingers linked, as we walked down the street and into the restaurant. It looked identical, down to the same waitress turning to greet us. Much like last time, she clearly wanted to completely ignore me in favor of flirting with James, her eyes roaming over him, an appreciative smile on her face when she walked us to a booth in the corner. She put the menus across from each other, but James slid in next to me, his arm around my shoulder, only looking at her long enough to order us wine. 


She stared at him, and feeling territorial, I grinned at her and waved, snuggling closer to his side. 


James nuzzled my neck, his fingers tracing circles on the bare skin above my knee. “Gods, I’ve missed you so much.”


“You’re the one that had to go and be a professional athlete.” I joked. “Aren’t you happy?”


“I love it, more than I thought I would. I always liked the discipline that came with it, and I’ve gained a lot of new muscles, which should make you happy.”


“I love you no matter what.”


He grinned at me, his hand sliding behind my neck to pull my face towards his. He kissed me gently. “Good to know. I love what I do, but I miss you like crazy and wish we had more time together.”


“Me too, but it’s alright. I like having quiet time, and my studies are only going to get crazier. I hope you’re happy though, I don’t want you to be upset with your career because we don’t see each other as much as we’d like.”


The waitress came back, interrupting our conversation, wine glasses on a tray. She laid them down in front of us, and still managed to ignore me while asking James he’d like. “We’ll split a Caesar salad, she’ll have the fettuccine alfredo, and I’ll have the lasagna. Can we also get some extra garlic bread, I’m starving today for some reason.” 


“All that working out must make you hungry.” The girl said with a wink.


James looked up at her in surprise. “I guess.”


The girl leaned into the table a bit, staring down at him. “Is there anything else I can do to make this first date special?”


At that, James brought my hand to his lips, his eyes only on me. “We’ve been together a while actually. Had our first date here well over a year ago, and we’re very happy. Thanks though.”


I laughed when the girl actually pouted, but was relieved when she walked away. “You’re breaking her heart again, she waited on us last time and left you her number. Also, we haven’t been together since last summer like you told her.”


He smirked at me, taking a sip of his wine. “That was our first date, we just didn’t have our second one for a while, and I knew then you’d be my girlfriend one day, so I say it counts.” 


“Do you even care about breaking her heart?”


“I only ever care about breaking your heart, and hope I never, ever do it.” 


I smiled. “This is really sweet James, getting to have dinner out, and here of all places.”


“I’m glad you’re happy. It’s all I want.”


“You have to want other things too James.” I said with a chuckle, so it didn’t sound harsh. 


“I do, but for now, what I want is to make sure you’re happy. We all left school expecting to have a lot of time together, and now you’re spending a lot of time alone. I feel bad, Dom does too.”


“It’s alright, I don’t mind. I’m out of the house a lot for classes, and when I’m home, I have so much reading to do for school, I hardly notice that you guys aren’t around. Except that it’s far too quiet some nights. Dom spends a lot of nights out at clubs.”


“I wish we had someone else there with you. I worry about you alone in that townhouse.” 


“That house can’t fit another person. It’s going to be hard enough if Ava comes back and needs a room.”


“Any word from her lately, you haven’t said much about her when I’ve been home.”


“That visit to Ridgeview and our brief conversation proved that she’s angry at me. I know Al gets occasional letters from her, but I don’t. I doubt they’ll let her stay for another term, so she’ll either have to come back to Hogwarts, or transfer to Illvermorny. Whatever it is, I’ll figure it out.”


“And classes, those still going okay?”


“Doing well with the Herbology stuff, but advanced potions was tricky until I started doing study sessions with another student. We meet up for tea a lot after that class and he gives me his notes.”


James stared at me, raising an eyebrow, his tone quiet and controlled. “He?”


I stared back. “Yeah, he. Tristian studied at Illvermorny, but is living here while he does the program.”


“Is he gay?”


“No. Why would you ask that?”


“Because I don’t know how I feel about you hanging out with another guy.”


“He knows I’m happily taken, and hasn’t shown the slightest bit of interest in me.”


“Then he is gay.”


“No, he’s definitely straight.”


“So he has flirted with you?”


I finally lost my cool and glared at James. “This is our first real night together in weeks, I don’t want to spend it arguing about a guy I only see twice a week for study sessions that I have zero interest in.”


“Alright.” James said, but he said it in a way that told me he was now going to worry even more about what I was doing and with whom while he was away. Great. 


Our food arrived then, and we were provided with a distraction. James inhaled his food, and the rest of the dinner passed in relative silence. He was clearly still stewing over my mention of my having a male acquaintance. I sort of wished I hadn’t said anything, because it had sort of ruined the evening, but I didn’t have anything to hide, and my dealings with Tristan were purely related to school. 


The waitress was eyeing us, smirking and giggling with another girl about her age. I spoke quietly, breaking the ice. “She’s probably going to give you her number again.” 


James gave me a very intense look. “I’ll ignore it, just like last time.”


“I’m sorry if I upset you.” I replied. 


“Let’s get out of here, and talk elsewhere. We can do a movie down the street first if you want? I don’t want to kill the evening.”


“I’d rather go home.”


He sighed. “Charlotte, I’m sorry. You got all dressed up, I don’t want to shorten this night before we need to.”


I laid my hand on his face, kissing him quickly. “I remember you wanting to peel me out of this dress. You can do that once we’re home.”


“Oh yeah?” He said with a delicate grin. “I’d very much like to keep that promise, if you'll let me. Wait here love, I’ll be back.”


He slid out of the booth and walked up to the two girls, handing a couple of bills to the waitress, before he turned to me and held out his hard. I grabbed my jacket that I’d shoved in the corner of the booth, and practically skipped over to him, my skin tingling with anticipation. He had a predatory look in his eyes, and I figured I was in for it tonight. 


It was fully dark out when we left, and James quickly pulled us down the side street, sliding both arms around my waist, lowering his mouth to mine, before apparting back to my backyard. “Home sweet home.”


“Let’s hope Dom isn’t here with a new guy. I’d hate to interrupt them.” I said, walking up the steps, and unlocking the back door with a quick wave of my wand. 


“I kind of bribed her to stay away tonight, and tomorrow morning. Let me tell you, your best friend robbed me.”


I laughed. “She should get into Magical Law.”


“She’s smart enough for it, took about half my monthly salary to convince her to stay gone.”


“You wouldn’t give up that much just for twelve hours of privacy.”


“Oh, that’s not what I bribed her for. Partly, yes, but also so we could do whatever we wanted, wherever we wanted, except her bedroom.” James wiggled his eyebrows at me, draping his jacket on the back of a chair, before sliding mine off and dropping it atop his. 


“I’m glad you’re not mad at me.” I said, changing the subject, running my hands over his arms as he drew me into his body, his hands clasped behind my back. 


James dropped his forehead to mine, squeezing me tightly. “I’m not mad at you. I’m envious, and worried. I’m not here as much as I’d like to be, and you’re my world Charlotte. I’d give up everything to keep you by my side. You’re all that matters to me.”


I laid my hands on his chest, tucking my head into the crook of his neck. “James, that's exactly why I think it’s so important for you to have something beyond me that’s so important to you. We’re eighteen, there’s so much life ahead of us. Make sure you accomplish some dreams before we get too serious.”


He pulled back, frowning. “I love you Charlotte, and yes, I love being on the Cannons, but I’d give it all up in a heartbeat if I felt it was getting between us. That’s why I’m worried when you mention a guy for the first time tonight, I worry that he’ll make a move, or you’ll be hurt by someone else and I’ll be off in another country.”


James started pacing, and I froze, wondering where all this was going. I wondered if he thought I was falling out of love with him, or if something else was going on. “James … come sit down, let’s talk.”


“We are talking.” He snapped, running his hands through already wind tousled hair. 


“Do you think I’m going to fall in love with someone else?” I asked, kicking off my wedges and settling on the couch, balancing delicately on the edge. 


“Of course I do. I’m gone … all the time. Before I signed with the Cannons, I imagined waking up next to you every morning, and being home every night to hear about your day and your classes. I imagined this summer to be a million other things. I miss you. I have pictures of you plastered all over my locker, and I take them with me on games, especially the ones you can't make it to. I know we’re only eighteen Charlotte, and I know that means we’re young, but I know how I feel about you. I know how much I’ve changed since knowing you, and I don't want to go back to a life of meaningless hookups. I want you, and I …”


“What?” I pleaded, feeling my face crumple with sadness. “What do you need, or feel?”


“I need to know that same dream is still there, when things calm down. My future still has to include you.”


“James, come sit down.” I begged, waiting for him to come next to me. When he did, I climbed onto his lap, grabbing his face with both hands until he looked at me. “You are what I want for my future, and you’re who has my whole heart and soul. You're everything to me James, and I still want that dream too. Please trust that, and don’t ever worry about what I'm doing when you're away, because I promise you that ninety percent of the time, it’s related to school.”


“And the other ten?”


“Making a fresh cup of tea because the one I made got cold.” 


James chuckled, flipping me over onto my back in one very smooth movement. “Tell me you love me, I need to hear it.”


I smiled up at him. “I love you.” 


“Can I take this dress off you now, and wrap myself around you? I need all of you.”


I tapped his nose, but smiled. “Careful James Potter, before you start sounding possessive. You already have all of me.”


“I’d never be possessive, but can’t promise to always be above getting jealous.” He kissed me then, a deep, intense kiss, and I forgot what we’d been talking about. 


He was true to his word, and slowly peeled my dress off me, palming my back as he slid the zipper down slowly, his mouth on mine. It landed unceremoniously on the floor, tossed aside by James, who was now far more interested in looking at the lingerie set I had on. It was sheer and bright red, with bits of lace in specific places. 


He growled, pulling my back to his front, his hands everywhere. His voice was low and husky in my ear, the same ear he nipped at a moment later before dropping kisses on my neck. “I don’t recall you owning anything like this.”


I turned around and took a step back, trying to feel brave standing in front of him in racy, red lace lingere, but I couldn’t help but feel self conscious. This wasn’t something I’d ever done before, but the look in his eyes helped the nerves melt away. “Dom and I went shopping last weekend, I picked this up, thought you might like it.”


“Feel free to get more stuff like that to surprise me with.” He growled, ripping his shirt off, and the undershirt he had on. He was right, he’d definitely gotten new muscles, his six pack now an eight pack. James saw me looking at him, biting my lip, and grinned. “I”m happy to give you another few seconds to enjoy this view, but then I’m coming after you, and I’m going to bury myself in you love.” 


“You’d have to catch me first.” I said, darting into the kitchen, putting the island between us. His laugh sounded with mine, and we danced around the house, James never getting quite close enough to grab me. Until I thought to run upstairs. My short legs failed me, and he caught me halfway up. 


I blinked and it seemed like we were already in the bedroom, and on the bed, and then James was kissing me while I fiddled with his pants. It wasn’t long before our clothing was on the floor, and we were tangled in the sheets, wrapping ourselves around each other. We didn’t fall asleep for a good long while. 





The next morning, I woke up to the sound of rain. I blinked a few times, fighting back the urge to fall back asleep. There wasn’t anything I needed to do today but grocery shop and have dinner with Dom at a new wine bar we’d found, so I had all morning to lay in bed if I wanted. 


With James. I stretched, grinning, my body sore in all the right ways. We were thoroughly tangled up in each other and the sheets, his arm tight around my stomach, holding me to his body. I tried to gently peel his arm off, so I could use the bathroom and brush my hair, but the moment I shifted an inch, James mumbled. 




I smiled, turning in his arms to face him, my fingers rubbing the stubble on his face. One hazel eye opened to peek at me before he shut his eye again. 


“No?” I repeated quietly. 


“Stay here, with me.”


“I wasn’t going to leave the house, just the bed.” I replied. 


His response was to tighten his grip around me, nuzzling his head in the crook of my neck. “Charlotte.” 


My name was a prayer on his lips, and I kissed him gently. “James.”


His eyes finally opened, still cloudy with sleep. His smile was gentle and heartbreaking in its purity. We stared at each other for a bit, James still fighting back sleep. His eyes drifted closed again, and I waited until he was safely asleep before untangling myself from him. I padded softly into the bathroom, turning on the shower. 


I meant to just take a quick shower — but after I shampooed my hair, I just stood there, letting the hot water rush over me while my mind drifted. I jumped back into reality when I felt hands on my hips. James, on my mind, and all over my body. 


I turned around in his arms, letting him pick me up, and back me into the wall, the water pouring over him now. My legs wrapped around his waist, my body opening as he slid into me, his mouth capturing the sigh that bled from my mouth. He worked slowly, comfortably holding me against the wall as he moved, working me towards that delightful release. Even when it was over, both of us happy and sated, he held me there in his arms, his mouth on mine. 


“I want it to always be like this.” He said finally, putting me down gently, turning to the practical side of showering. I smelled his shampoo that reminded me of a cold winter morning and breathed deep. I didn’t want to tell him that I’d used his shampoo a few times just so the world smelled like him, even if only for a moment. 


“I mean, it’s can’t always be like that. Eventually we’ll become an old married couple that has sex only on special occasions, and argues all the time.” I said with a laugh, walking behind him to wrap my arms around his waist. 


James laughed, and I kissed his back before stepping out of the shower. I grabbed my hair brush, spelled with a trick of Dom’s, to instantly dry hair as you brushed through, my body still wet but my hair dry and shiny. I dried off, putting on a bit of mascara before heading to the closet to get dressed. 


I headed downstairs before he could pull me back into bed, setting about making coffee and starting omelettes for us. 


James came down a few minutes later, just as I was sliding his eggs onto a plate. He was wearing nothing but loose jogging pants, and I admired his shirtless chest all over again. “There are perks to being the girlfriend of a pro athlete. The view is great.” 


“I aim to please.”


“Oh, you’ve taken care of that plenty in the past twelve hours.” I said with a broad smile, turning back to the stove to make my own eggs. 


“I still plan to add to that tally, all over the house. It is why I bribed my cousin to leave for a bit.” 


“Eat your eggs before they get cold.” I shot back, taking a sip of coffee to hide my smile. 


“Do you ever think we’ll get to live alone together, and do this everyday?” He asked after a few minutes, his omelette entirely gone from his plate. He got up, heading right for the container of blueberry scones I’d made two days ago. 


“I hope so. I have a feeling Dom will want her own place next year, but there’s still Harper and Ava. I imagine there will be a time a few years down the road when you and I can be alone.”


“Before kids.” He said, serious. 


“Well, yeah. You think about kids?”


“I think about kids with you, but I don’t want them right now.”


“Oh good, cause I’m definitely not ready for kids.”


“But you want kids? With me? A house with a garden in the countryside, and dinner parties, all that?”


I put my cup down, laying my hand against his face when I climbed onto his lap. He was being far too serious for my taste, especially since it was still before nine. “James Potter, you tell me what’s going on right now, you’re freaking me out.”


“Connalley is retiring at the end of the season, and the Cannons want to offer me the starting spot, for a three year contract and a lot of money.”


“That’s amazing news! Why do you seem depressed about it, and why didn’t you tell me sooner?”


“They just talked to me about it yesterday after training. I don’t know Charlotte, I spent the last two months of school thinking about where we’d be in five years, and in every scenario I ran through my mind, you were always there. Since I started all this right after graduation, I’ve hardly seen you. It’s already hard on me, not seeing you, doing this for another three and half years? Singing that kind of contract won’t just mean training and games, it’ll mean interviews and promotional stuff. You're going to be slammed with school and your internship in the spring. How will we survive that and still love each other?” James rambled on and on, finally taking a deep breath when he asked the question that had clearly been bothering him. 


I kissed him first, waiting until he responded in kind before leaning back, the counter digging into my spine. “I’m not a Seer James, I can’t look into the future and tell you what’s there. I can’t tell you how we’ll do in two years when both of us are insanely busy. All I can tell you is that, yes, I see a future with you, and we’ll just have to promise to work hard and when we have time alone, to keep that as alone time as often as we can. We’ll have to try writing more, I’ll try to make it to more games. That’s all we can do … stay committed and work hard at it. Like everyone else.”


James bent his head to my neck and held me close. “It’s so hard, not seeing you. I’ve tried to talk to Coach about getting to come home every night, but he says it’s important for team building that we spend time as a team, and by the end of it all, I’m so tired, it’s just easier to crash at the bunker.” 


I ran my fingers though his hair, trying to cherish how vulnerable he was being, and then feeling awestruck at just how much he loved me. “Let’s get through this year, this season, and maybe we go look at a house closer to where the team is based. Dom can stay here, in the city. I can get to classes easily no matter where I am in the country, and then I’ll be closer to you for as long as you stay with them. Because, you are going to sign that contract for three years if it’s a good deal. You’ve wanted that since you were six years old, you’re not going to pass on it just because you miss me. I won’t allow it.”


He looked at me then, smirking. “You won't allow it? It’s my life.”


“It’s our life, and if you pass on that opportunity, you’re going to resent me down the road. It’s human nature. We’ll make it work.”


“That might be a good plan. Because otherwise I’m going to lose focus thinking about you with someone else.”


“I don’t want anyone else.”


“Now, sure. What happens when you’re mad at me, or missing me, and someone else is around.”


“Nothing happens. I would never do something like that.” 


“I’m being jealous, aren’t I?”


I nodded, smiling. “You just miss me, that’s a good thing. You’re the pro Quidditch player, I should be worried about you meeting some fangirl that’ll stop at nothing to get in your pants. Every other week in America there’s a story about some famous athlete that got caught cheating on his girl. Statistically, you’re more likely to do something than I am.”


James furrowed his brows, fingers on my hips digging in tighter. “Do you worry about that with me? You know I’d never do that.”


“Not really. I probably should, given your history with girls before me.”


“That just seems like another reason to finish out my one year contract and be done.” He said, lifting me onto the edge of the counter so he could pace around the kitchen. 


“No. I’m sorry James, but this can’t be how our future starts- by you giving up a dream. You can have both- the career dream, and me. You and I just need to find news ways of staying connected.”


“I like when you put your foot down. It’s kinda hot.”


I rolled my eyes, and jumped off the counter. “I’m glad that me being realistic turns you on, but can we be done with this conversation. You have to leave tonight to prepare for your game in Belgium, so can we do other things? Please?”


“Alright, love, whatever you want.”


“That’s your way of saying we’ll talk about this another time, isn’t it?” I asked him, heading upstairs. 


He yelled after me, “One hundred percent correct!”


I sighed, and walked back into the bedroom to flop onto the bed, face first, hearing him coming up the stairs. Of all the conversations I thought we’d have today- him giving up a dream and where we’d be in five years— realizing none of it was what I expected. It was amazing to me that he thought about us that far ahead. My brain only thought about two months in advance, to my next meeting at Ridgeview and to the upcoming holidays and what kind of Christmas tree I’d get for the house. 


As James fell into the bed next to me though, my mind opened a door, and I began imagining what might be. The house we might buy together, what kind of engagement ring I’d want, and what our wedding would look like. What our kids would look like- we’d probably have quite a few- and what we’d call them. Once that idea settled in my head- I felt worry too, but shoved it aside. 


I had to stay in the moment, just for today. 















Chapter 4: Christmas Confessions
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They say London was one of the best cities in the world to visit at Christmastime, and they were right. It was magical, and living in the heart of the city proved to be quite the experience. Twinkle lights were everywhere you walked, and wreathes hung off lampposts, store windows glittering with tinsel and brightly wrapped presents. If only we could get a real dusting of snow, then it'd be perfect. 


The Quidditch season had taken a break for the later half of December so everyone could spend time with family, which meant James was home. Hogwarts had let out for their holiday break, so Harper was also around all the time. As Ginny and Harry were still working, Lily and Al now showed up at my house in the mornings and when they actually went home, it was late in the evening. My mostly quiet world had gotten turned upside down, but I actually quite loved the constant sound of talking and laughing. 


Dom had two more days of work, and then she’d be here until just after Christmas too, which she was very much looking forward to. I didn’t know if that was because she was happy to spend time more time with me, or because Nate often showed up during the day, but either way, my house was stuffed full, and the trick James and I had learned about conjuring mattresses out of thin air was coming in handy. 


Everyone in my house was happy, except for one. Ava had left Ridgeview, against her wishes, and was returning to Hogwarts in January. Headmisstress Helem had told me that as much as they wished that Ava could stay, their job as a school was to get them sober and stable enough for them to go start practicing what they’d learned at the school as far as living without their vices. Ava had been set up with a therapist, that she’d meet at Hogsmeade twice a month once she was at school. I was also looking for a family therapist for the three of us, because there was no way I was going to do this in the summer. 


Harper and Ava were super frosty with each other, arranging their schedules to mostly avoid each other. The only time they couldn’t was at dinnertime. Professor Harwing has suggested setting simple rules and requirements for Ava’s return to my house- to keep her accountable. Aside from making her help with chores, and sitting down with all of us for dinner, I didn’t make her participate if she didn’t want to. I'd tried to make a rule that everyone had to take over cooking dinner one night of the week- but had quickly backtracked on that when James and Nate had almost burned the kitchen down attempting to make jerk chicken. 


I’d tried to talk to Ava a few days after she’d gotten back, and had been shut out, so I hadn’t tried again. It was agonizing to me, and her attitude towards me was making things harder with everyone. Harper, Dom, and James were all getting protective of me. I wanted to find a way to help her feel included, but as it was her own behavior causing the issues, I couldn’t fix it. 


Tonight, I was throwing a holiday party at the townhouse, and was out shopping with Dom, for food and Christmas gifts. It wasn’t going to be massive, but Nate would be there, along with some of James’s teammates. His parents had promised to stop by for a bit to say hi, and Freddy was already over playing Mario Kart with James. Lily, Harper, and Al had been left in charge of cleaning and decorating while Dom and I were gone. 


After a few hours, and a long break at my favorite coffeeshop for gingerbread lattes, we headed back home. I smiled when we walked in, because I had always loved the sight of a fully decorated Christmas tree near a roaring fireplace, with stockings above the mantle. Presents were already stuffed under the tree, and the whole house smelled like pine and cinnamon, with a hint of orange and clove. I also smiled because Nate had arrived while we were gone, and I would never tire of seeing Dom actually blush.


I’d never tell James, but he was a very attractive guy. He looked like a modern Viking- pale blonde hair and deep blue eyes, with a neatly trimmed beard. The moment he saw Dom, he grinned. 


“There she is.” He called, and Dom melted a bit at that Scottish lilt of his. 


I stared at her, and bit back my laugh. He was the only guy that I’d ever seen get under her skin like this. Since I knew she wouldn't respond, I spoke. “Hello Nate. I’m glad you could come tonight.”


“I wouldn’t miss it, thanks for inviting me. I brought loads of whiskey.”


“Let me guess, Freddy is already drinking some?” I asked, depositing bags of food in the kitchen. Dom had taken the gifts to hide in her room until we could wrap them another night. 


“I object!” He said, but held up the bottle next to him with a grin. “How did I never know how good Scotch could be? ”


“Cause you always liked girly liquor before.” Dom said, walking into the room. She’d somehow managed to fix her already perfect appearance, her hair curled into perfect waves, and a new low-cut sweater on. It was the color of a holly berry, and kept slipping down her shoulder, showing off that she wasn’t wearing a bra anymore. Paired with bare feet- she ended up looking like a modern Aphrodite. Nate was practically drooling as he made a beeline for her, and then they were gone to us, their conversation with each other would no doubt exclude the rest of us for a while. 


James winked at me when I looked to him, and I smiled, throwing on an apron to begin cooking. Harper and Lily thundered down the stairs a moment later, initially doing nothing but getting in my way while they rooted around for snacks, but eventually they helped me make food. Two hours later, everything was prepped. Ham was roasting in one oven, while bread baked in the other. Veggies had been chopped, dips made, and things set out on the counter for pouring into bowls when it got closer to dinnertime — chips, crackers, candied nuts and dried fruits, along with a mix of olives. 


When I took stock of the room, I was surprised to see Ava sitting on the stairs watching everyone gathered around the TV while a game of Mario Party was being played, everyone working together to river raft. I took off the apron and washed my hands, before joining her. 


“Hey.” I said quietly. 


“Hi.” She responded, staring at me. 


“How are you today? I’m sorry I haven’t seen you much.”


“You’re busy with your party, it’s okay.”


I didn’t want to fall into that potential bait. It wasn’t okay to ignore her, but since she usually just snapped at me or ignored me, I also didn’t seek her out. “I thought it would be a nice thing to do, but keep it kind of casual. Remember the parties Father always used to host — black tie affairs with elegant food, and we had to wear white gloves that needed to stay clean or else we’d get in trouble?”


“I hated those gloves. And most of those dresses.”


I smiled, tightly. “You and I agree on something. I hope you’ll join in tonight. Some of James’s teammates will be here, you haven’t met them yet. And Dom is brining a friend from work- she’s a big personality though, I warn you.” 


Ava shrugged. “I’ll think about it. If I don’t join in socializing, can I still have the food you made?”


“Of course. But I do hope you’ll have fun tonight Ava, it’s almost Christmas. Besides, you know what Professor Harwing told you, that it’ll be important for you to get back to doing what normal people do.”


“Normal people?” She snapped. 


I sighed. “I didn’t mean it like that, just that you’ve been removed from a lot lately. This could be a good thing- meet some new people, eat good food. You don’t have to play games, if you don’t want, but please come downstairs later.”


“Do I have to wear a fancy dress and heels? Put on makeup? Look presentable for you?” She bit back, her anger bubbling to the surface. 


“Wear jeans and a t-shirt for all I care. This isn’t formal, it’s just friends getting together to celebrate the season.” I stood up, daring to lay my hand on her shoulder. “Think about it, that’s all I ask.”


“I’ll think about it.” She said, looking down with a sad gaze as everyone laughed and talked loudly. 


I left her there and went straight for my bathtub. It was time for a very long soak in hot water and bubbles before I got ready tonight. I was going to wear a dress, because it was a party, and I’d bought something new for the occasion. Strapless and short, it was a rich red color that reminded me of poinsettias, with a corded silver belt. I’d probably looked like a Christmas ornament, but it was a holiday party, so whatever. 


I let my mind drift as I stepped into the bathtub, and just relaxed. As much as was possible with an angry sister, and a half dozen people yelling loudly downstairs. 




The party had started a few hours ago, and it was exactly what I’d wanted. Mostly casual, with friends hanging out, eating tons of food and drinking whatever they grabbed. Music played in the background, and everyone was happy and having fun, which helped me relax. This was the first real event I’d thrown in my house, and I was now able to enjoy it, keeping my wine glass filled while I sat on the edge of the sofa. 


I’d had a very interesting conversation with James’s Aunt Hermione, who had stopped by with Ginny, Harry, and Ron. She was very curious about all that I was learning with my schooling, and was pretty much the only person outside of my classmates that listened to me speaking about all things medical without their eyes glazing over. It was kind of an honor to just sit near her, because her skill set went above most magical people alive. They all left as soon as James’s other teammates arrived, and Dom's work friend, plus a few others. Rose showed up with Scorpius, and I was grateful the Wotter clan had accepted that pairing. Roxie came too. Neither of Dom's siblings could make it- Louis in France with their mother's family, and Victorie in Australia for something or another.  


All in all, there were about sixteen people here. Any more and the house would feel cramped. Everyone was having fun though, and that was all I cared about. Watching Dom and Nate avoid being under the mistletoe together had turned into a drinking game, and James was about ready to cast a spell to physically bind them together until they kissed and broke their sexual tension, but I told him not to. Dom knew Nate was boyfriend material, and when she was ready to make that commitment, she’d be all over him. It was just a matter of time. 


Harper was currently destroying Nate, Lily, and Al at a game of Monopoly. I laughed when the board was “accidentally” flipped, ending the game. To my surprise, Ava had come down and asked to join in the next game, which ended up being Scrabble. Lily, smartly, backed out to get food for herself. Scrabble in my family was vicious. It used to be the only game we every really did as a family, and our parents taught us to take no prisioners. The victor was usually myself or my mother. 


This might be a good thing for my sisters- a way to spend time together. Knowing how these games usually went, it would also be a good way for them to get some anger out in the form of competitiveness. Or, they’d ruin the party with a fistfight. 


I still couldn’t believe the world I’d fallen into sometimes. 


Halfway through the game, when it was very clear the winner was going to be one of my sisters, Nate gracefully backed out and made a beeline for me after he’d filled his glass with whiskey. 


“Hullo Charlotte. Thanks again for having me tonight.”


“Of course, you’re practically family now, as often as you’re here.”


“If your best friend would ever let down that delightful wall she keeps up to pretend she doesn’t like me, I’d be here even more often.” He grinned, his attention on me, but his eyes on Dom. She’d changed yet again into a long, Grecian looking dark green dress with gold bangles running up and down her arms. 


I laughed. “You seem quite sure of her interest in you.”


“An unfortunate side effect of my heritage- stubbornness and blind confidence. Plus, she can’t stop staring at me.” He wiggled his fingers towards her in a wave, laughing deeply when she grinned, then caught herself and shifted her features into a glare. 


“I’m very tempted to let James loose, and have him lock you two in a room together.” I muttered, smiling into my glass. 


“Oh no. I’m going to win her affections all on my own.” He said proudly. “I hope she didn’t see me get my ass handed to me from your sisters. She is a Ravenclaw, I imagine intelligence is important.”


“Dom is more about the wit than the intelligence, but I think you’re safe, she was busy during your game. I hope my sisters warned you about how competitive we get with that game. All games, really. It’s an awful family trait.”


“Speaking of warning, your sisters are very different people. All three of you are. Harper, she’s a spitfire and a doll, I quite like her. But Ava … she’s uh …”


I laughed again. “Be honest, it’s alright. She’s an acquired taste.”


“You can say that again. Is she always like that?”


“Yes. I struggle to remember if she ever had a soft side, but no, she’s always been fierce and intense. Harper is the same, but it’s different. Harper doesn’t want to maim with words, Ava does. It’s an awful thing to say about my sister.”


“She’s a bitch, if you don’t mind me saying. Might explain all her issues. James has told me a bit about all of it, I hope that’s alright.”


I looked at James, on the other side of the room with some of his other teammates. He caught me looking and winked. “It’s alright. It’s funny, except not, how all three of us had the same hand dealt to us, but we all manage it so differently.” 


“Let me guess,” Ava said, interrupting us, “you're telling him all about your screwed up sister.”


I hadn’t realized the game had ended, and looked over to see Harper with a shit eating grin on her face, letters scattered on the floor as if someone had swept their arm across the board. I really needed to lock that game away somewhere. 


Ava was still staring down at me, Al coming up behind her. “Ava, not tonight. Don’t make me out to be the bad guy, tonight of all nights.” 


“How dare everyone see that precious Charlotte doesn’t have a perfect life.” She stalked off, shoving past James to head up the stairs, her door slamming behind her. 


“I’m sorry Nate, I should go.”


“No, Charlotte. Let me. I’ve been meaning to talk to her anyway, alone.” Al said, laying his hand on my shoulder to keep me down. James was staring at us from across the room, worry scrunching his features together. He left and went upstairs. 


I tried to shift my attention to something else, but couldn’t shake the need to go talk to Ava, and apologize. We sort of had been talking about her, but not in the way my sister seemed to assume. James held out his hand for me when I neared, and I trailed my fingers on his arm, but walked past him to climb the stairs. I was aware that everyone was watching me, but couldn’t care too much about that now. 


Her door was open a crack, and I meant to knock, I really did. My hand hovered in a fist above the door, but I heard them talking, and froze. My brain screamed at me to either leave and give them privacy, or knock, and interrupt. Apologize. 


I didn’t neither, lowering my hand, and shifting to the side a bit to listen in, feeling awful.


“If I demand absolute honesty will you give it to me?”


“Yes. I can do it with you, but not anyone else in this house.” Ava said, sitting on her bed, shoulders slumped. 


“How are you doing, really?” Al asked. 


"I was wondering when this inquiry was coming. Finally checking in on your former friend that's shown how fucked up she is?"


“You’re not …”


“Fucked up? Yeah, I am. I spent six months at a school getting sober and learning to own the feelings that led to becoming a drug addict, and sex addict, let’s be honest. I enjoyed being clean, but it’s taking every bit of everything that I learned at that school to keep me from sneaking out and seeking out Avery for a hit of something. Whether that’s a line of morsque or a hard fuck, I don’t know.”


I couldn’t see his face, but I could hear the frustrated scowl that came out of his mouth. “What the hell Ava, why would you say that?”


She sighed. “I get that you still see me as that put together but very independent friend you used to have, and you can’t for the life of you understand why I all of a sudden, with no warning, started doing hardcore drugs and hanging out with a loser like Avery. That’s not me Al, and the reason I always felt most comfortable with you is because I thought you could see through that mask, and just never pushed me on it.” 


“You’ve never told me … about any of it. How you started, when you started, why you started … why keep up something you know could kill you?”


“Have you ever done drugs Al? Don’t answer that. I know the answer is no. You’re too pure.”


“I’m not pure.”


“You are, in more ways than one, but where I’m sitting- that’s not a bad thing Al. I lost my virginity when I was fourteen, and started doing drugs when I was thirteen. No one knows that though.”


I sucked in a breath, putting my hand over my mouth to avoid giving me away. She’d been doing things for that long?


“Why Ava?”


“Because I’m broken and the drugs made it all go away, even if it was only temporary. I’m worthless Albus, there’s nothing anyone really loves about me. My parents don't even want me, and there’s no way you can ever understand how much that shatters a person. It’s permanent, that feeling of not being wanted. It alters everything inside of you. I’m the worst of both of them- and so I’m the least important.”


“You’re important to me. And Charlotte, and Harper. You do have people that care.”


“Charlotte and I will never be close, ever. I stay here because I have nowhere else to go, but she will never know me, or understand me. Every time she looks at me she’s just going to see her broken little sister, the drug addict.”


“You don’t give her enough credit.”


“I know you two have become closer, and I don’t want to bash her. Hell, I wanted to be her, growing up. Before our parents got divorced, they fought all the time, and when they didn’t, we might as well have lived in the polar ice caps for all the warmth they showed to each other, or us. I always envied Charlotte, and her ability to get caught up in other things. She was always so contained, in her own world, especially with books. Even as an eight year old, she spoke better than teenagers, and was always reading. It was her escape. I guess somewhere along the line, I looked to find my own, and found drugs.”


“But why take that step? You know they’re bad for you.”


“You’re never going to understand the why because you’re whole Al. You’re not broken inside, unwanted and unloved. I wanted to feel good, at first, that’s all it was about. Weed made me laugh, and forget. And when I realized that it helped me forget, I fell all in. Who wants to remember that they hate themselves and that they feel worthless. Drugs, especially the hard core ones, had a way of making me feel good. I needed that feeling. I needed, desperately needed, to feel like I belonged to some part of myself. It was an escape from the demons in my head, and in my soul.”


“You always seemed so confident Ava, like nothing could touch you, and you were as strong as a goddess.”


She snorted, a bitter laugh following. “Mental battles aren’t ever seen on the outside, Al. None of you have any idea about how hard I fought the thoughts in my head, and how hard I tried to seem normal, to seem okay. I was never okay. I’m not okay now, but I’m trying.”


“I wish you’d talked to me.”


“And been pitied? No thank you.” 


“Can I trust you to stay inside tonight and not seek out that escape?”


“You’re going to have to, so is Charlotte. The ever present big sister.”


“Do you even know how much she worries about you, how much it hurt her that you decided to turn all your lifelong anger onto her?”


“Look, I know you two are close now. That’s not a good look for you- boyfriends younger brother filling in while James is away.”


“Don’t fucking be like that with me Ava. Don’t sit there and act like I don’t care, or turn all those twisted feelings into something they’re not. I’m sure you’re having a hard time adjusting to being here, in your sisters house, and preparing to go back to a school that knows you got kicked out for all kinds of bad things. That’s not an excuse. You said you wanted to come back because all that you learned at Ridgeview would mean nothing if you didn’t face anything. You say you’ve fought mental battles I’ll never understand- you’re right. My parents are tough sometimes, but they love me, and Lily, and James. I’m sorry you have the parents you do- but you don’t see either of your sisters making the choices you made.”


Ava snorted, and I heard her feet hit the floor as she started pacing. “Charlotte is so far from perfect it’s not even funny.”


“Stop attacking her. I’m over it. Stop using anger as a defense mechanism Ava.”


She snapped back at him, hissing her words. “It’s what I’m good at.”


“If you don’t try to be better, for yourself, or for anyone else, you’re going to fail at sobriety. I don’t have any experience with this kind of thing except for you, and I can see that coming a mile away. You don’t get to put any of this on anyone else. So, for the last time, stop blaming her.” 


This moment could be everything. Ava would either back down and apologize, or hold onto that anger like it was a lifeline and wield it freely, and often. I was so broken hearted when she chose the latter. 


“I think you’re in love with her Al. Waiting for James to screw up and fuck some two bit floozy, so you can swoop in? You two are far more compatible anyway. I’ll never understand why James picked her when he could have anyone.”


I could hear the sadness in his sigh, his voice quiet but edged with steel. “Don’t ever come to me and say I never tried. You had a choice, now and all those times before, to let that anger you carry win, or to rise above it. I’m done. Be angry, and go end up in a ditch some night because you let that be more important than anything. Find fucking anything Ava to be better than that anger, so that you can live.”


I barely stepped back in time, flattening against the wall to avoid Al crashing in to me as he barreled out of the room. He tuned and saw me, his face a mask of contained fury, before he stalked downstairs, turning towards Dom’s room and the back door. I heard it slam shut a moment later. 


“I know you’re out there.” Ava said, and I stepped inside. 


“Why do you hate me?” I asked bluntly. 


“It’s easy, you’re everything I’m not.” 


“That’s not a reason to hate me.” I said back. "I'm doing the best I can here Ava."


“All of us were born to be fucked up, but you’ve sailed clear through it. Steady as a child, star student at Hogwarts, top of her class in your post Hogwarts education plan, and happily dating one of the most sought after men in the Wizarding community. James could literally have anyone he wanted, and he only has eyes for you. How are you so perfect?”


No one else in my life could get me to snap like Ava could. I was tired of defending myself against my own sister, and was saved from replying by my best friend, who slammed into the room like a tornado, rushing past me to back Ava into a wall. The fury that could explode from the two of them might level this entire block of apartments, and my mind whirled with ways to separate them. 


“That’s. Fucking. It. Get out of my fucking house if all you are going to do is attack the only fucking grown up person in your life that’s trying to help you! Do you see your loser parents here, trying to help you navigate anything? No, because they’re fucking losers. You know who has been there for you, worrying about you and wondering every gods damned day what she can do to make things better- for you and between you? You guessed it- your big sister. I would’t have let you back in my house after half the things you’ve said to Charlie. But here you are- in a newly decorated room exactly to your taste. She bought food that you love, and ordered you fucking Hawaiian pizza, and let me tell you girl, pineapple has no place on a pizza. It should be a banned item, but she got it for you, because you like it. Gods, I can’t even stand to look at you.” 


Ava was boiling with anger, and it was such a familiar look. It was too hard to see, because I knew she hadn’t grown enough to contain it, and worried about what would happen with her once we all left her room. That new bedroom set might end up as sawdust on the brand new rug. 


“You’re one to talk.” Ava spat back. “You’re taking advantage of my sisters hospitality, because you’re the second daughter that your parents don’t quite love as much as their first. Victorie has already bought her own house, and is engaged to the love of her life, right? What are you but a minor tech in a salon that’s probably slept through half of London by now. Are you pregnant yet, any plans to fully throw your life away?”


“Ava!” I shouted. “That’s enough. You don’t get to come into this house and talk to anyone that way, especially my best friend.”


“There it is, you pick her over me.”


“You’re so fucked up Ava, that’s not what this is.” Dom shouted. 


“She just said, and I quote, especially my best friend. You can say whatever you want to me, but I can’t tell you the truth.”


“You’re lashing out. I know it well Ava, one bitch to another. You don’t get to dictate how I live my life, and guess what sister, I’m happy. I’m content, and I sure as hell know who the fuck I am. I’ll own that goddamn salon in a few years, and you’ll see my name plastered on magical beauty products shortly after that. As for attacking me for sleeping around- you don’t get to judge on that, you slept with Avery. I, at least, have standards for who I let into my body. You have none. So shut the fuck up Ava, and look around. This could be pretty good for you, if you let it.”


She ignored Dom completely, fixing her gaze on me. “Send me away, I dare you. Let me get out of here. I don’t belong here, and you don’t want me. Let me go.” She begged, and it finally snapped into place then. We’d never be close, and I could never save her. She’d never let me, not until she let go of all that anger that masqueraded as intense pain. 


“You have nowhere else to go, so for now, you can stay here, in this room.” 


“You’re not my parent, you can’t ground me.”


Dom started to speak, but I held up my hand, silencing her. “Actually, I can. Our mother disappeared two years ago, and Dad is more than happy to shell out money when we need it but that’s about it. Which means that I have become your legal guardian, and I get to make the decisions about you. Your return to school, any school, is conditional upon you being connected to me — the responsible older sibling. You and I are just going to have to figure out how to be cordial until you turn seventeen and can live your own life. Until then, you’re stuck here.”


I turned around, and walked downstairs, straight into James, who waited at the bottom of the stairs with his arms held out. I’d never wanted to have our own place more than I did in that moment. I didn’t want this anymore- being her guardian. There was no one else though, and as much as her being here caused me massive panic attacks- I wasn’t going to abandon her like everyone else. 


“I change my mind. I want to go to Illvermorny, and go live with Aunt Diana in New York.” 


“The Aunt that hasn’t seen any of us in over ten years.” I said, more as a statement than a question. 




I pinched the bridge of my nose, taking in a breath so deep it hurt my lungs. It came out as a single word. “No.”


Ava shrieked, and stomped her foot. I’d have found it comedic, if not for the juvenileness of it all. “I hate you.”


This was a phrase I’d been warned about. Every parent of every difficult, or strong willed child heard it at some point. My mind flashed back to last Christmas, when Ava had seemed to be opening up to me, when I’d had hope that we could be okay, as sisters. Seeing her gaze now burst that tiny dream into pieces. 


“Fine. You had a choice when you left Ridgeivew, and that was Hogwarts or Illvermorny. You chose to come back, and there is no time left to change your mind. Get through this semester, and if you still really want to live back in New York, we can try to set that in motion before the summer. But you’re going to have to think long and hard if you really want to spend your very last year of school in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people.”


Ava shrieked again, and slammed her bedroom door behind her. Dom looked ready to charge in there, but a firm gaze from James and myself stopped her. She didn’t need any more attention, any more chances to yell about the injustice being done to her. 


Everyone had watched us fighting on the stairs, and I was tired of it all with her, but I couldn’t give up. Couldn’t send her away, because that would just solidify her belief that her family didn’t care, and wouldn’t try. The times when panic attacks woke me up, I wonder if my drive to prove my loyalty to her was worth all that it was causing in me. There had to be something to fight for with her, someone had to fight for her, because she certainly wasn’t doing it herself right now. 


By all accounts, she was the outwardly strong willed one, but even she admitted she was weak inside, for giving in all those times even though she knew what she was doing was bad. Me, everyone thought I was meek and quiet, but inside, I found, I was just as strong willed as her. I hadn’t quite known it existed until the past year or so- but it was there. I was strong too. 


Could I be strong enough though?


Chapter 5: Broken
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

**A/N- Two things- one this chapter will deal with the topic of addiction in a different way than I’ve written about before, and two, this chapter is entirely from Ava’s POV. When I set out to write these one off stories following James and Charlotte post-Hogwarts, I intended to keep it all from Charlotte’s POV, but as I’ve gotten into it, I realized that there are a few moments that will have more impact coming from other people. Also, the song lyrics below belong to Evanescence.** 






If I smile and don't believe

Soon I know I'll wake from this dream

Don't try to fix me I'm not broken

Hello I'm the lie living for you so you can hide

Don't cry





Have you ever wanted something so much it hurt you? 


I wanted so much not to be a bitch. I wanted to rise above the anger that had carried me through the last few years, to let go of that tether, and see what a new life could be. To be broken, but pasting the pieces of myself together with something like forgiveness and a desire to be better than what hurt me. 


That anger though, it was like quicksand. I’d pull myself out of it, falling into misery instead, and try so hard to follow the light, but everytime I was faced with anything, it was like the quicksand appeared beneath my feet, and I sunk down deep. 


I really wanted to be better. 


I wanted to be … happy. Whole. Clean. I wanted to be brave like my sisters, and others that I knew that decided their demons didn’t own them, they just existed alongside their soul. 


I wanted to be better than the worst that everyone thought of me, that I proved over and over again to be true. I wanted to look at myself in the mirror and be content with the person that stared back. I wanted to see … me. That girl I should have been before my childhood twisted and changed me forever. 


I lost that person so long ago, so long that I barely remembered when I’d first lost myself. When had I first made that turn onto the thorn covered road through dark woods? When had my ability to read people turned into snapping their weakness at them, when I was the weakest of them all?


I failed all the time. I failed at being stronger, for my sisters, for my friends, for myself most of all. I failed to try harder. 


Fail. Fail. Fail. 


The words that chased the broken. 


Not good enough. Not strong enough. Not lovable. 


I couldn’t tell you if those thoughts first wormed into my mind because of my mother or father, but I knew it started with one of them. I’d tried to make my older sister believe that so much of what was wrong with me was her fault, but the truth was, she’d been my north star for a while. I pushed her away because I wanted our parents first, I didn’t want her to be the one reaching for me when I cried. 


She did, for a long time, until I pushed her away too many times that she stayed back. A child herself, she thought she was doing what I wanted. I wanted my mother to soothe my tears, to hug me and tell me that I was her darling love. I wanted my father to pick me up and make me laugh, make me forget about whatever I’d cried about. It was always nanny, and I pushed her away too. 


I always pushed people away, too afraid to let them in. Too afraid to give others space when I still so desperately wanted it to be them- mother and father. They were supposed to be the guiding light, the people that showed me how to be. They created me, and my sisters, but they wanted nothing of us but to leave another few notches in their families lines. 


I was broken because of it, the demons in my mind telling me that I didn’t deserve happiness, or to be loved. That I didn’t deserve to love myself, or be proud of who I was. Those demons were so easily quieted by other demons- white powders, inky vials of potion that tasted of licorice, green buds, and liquid that burned. The demons quieted when I was stripped of clothing, and letting someone else crawl over me and in me. 


Not falling into those demons was the hardest fight I’d ever had. I wanted that release every moment of every day. That release from my pain, because all those things took it away. Until it didn’t and everything came rushing back, so I found new drugs that lasted longer, that made me lose myself even more. 


I loved and missed that feeling — floating on a warm wind far away from myself, and my pain. My trauma. That’s what it was, I learned, from a therapist at Ridgeview. Trauma, to be born, but not raised. To exist, but not to be celebrated and loved. It was human nature, I was told, to look to your parents to know how to model yourself. It was pure biology, and when that mirror wasn’t there, it had soul altering effects on a person. 


In my young mind, I’d started thinking that there was a cure for all of this. I wanted to know why — why was I born to people who didn’t want to be parents? It was the only thing strong enough to keep me from finding Avery, or anyone, that could supply me with those powders and vials. Needing answers, turning thoughts and feelings over and over in my mind until I gave myself a headache, too afraid to even take anything that could help with that, in case I found that quieted my demons too. 


I needed to live with them, turn the light on them, and fight them. Tell them I was stronger than they were, and I would win the battle. I imagined myself as an avenging warrior, wearing battle armor and wielding a fiery sword, slicing them down with a stare and a belief that I was good, and worthy, and they would not win. 


Usually that beautiful image fell apart, and I imagined that same warrior tucked in the corner of a dark room, crying and screaming to be left alone. She was the essence of me, so much potential to be strong, but letting it all get to her instead. 


I hated myself, I thought, feeling the sunshine peeking through the leaves of the tree I sat under, the wrought iron bench digging into my bare back, my cotton dress cut low in the back. I was waiting, in a small park, across the street from a boutique hotel. Where I’d tracked my mother down. 


Yup. My mother. In London, for months, who hadn’t reached out to a single one of her daughters. Who had still left our family manor boarded up and unaccessible, keeping her children from anything that helped them stay connected to who they’d been and where they belonged. 


I’d been here, on this bench, for the past few days. I’d seen her before, but lacked the drive to follow her. I regretted it afterwards, and came back, promising myself that today- I’d do it. I’d make her face me, and I’d ask her that single burning question. 




It was all that mattered to me anymore. Why give birth to three girls that you wanted nothing to do with? Why, over the span of our childhood, did you mostly ignore us, and seem angry that we even existed? You can prevent children from becoming even little tiny cells, if you’re careful, so why not try harder if you were so desperate to not be a mother? Why, after all of that, did you still show brief moments of kindness, that made it all that much harder? 


I could see into the front of the hotel, where there was a little tea shop affiliated with said hotel, and saw her sitting by herself at a table for two. It was such a cute little shop, what I could see of it from here. Dainty chairs painted in beautiful pastels, wallpaper with budding flowers and crawling vines, and fresh flowers in hand blown glass vases on every table. 


There she sat, her hair the same dark, dark brown as Charlotte’s, tied into a low bun, a wide brimmed pale hat on her head. Her nails were painted dark red, her lips the same color. She held that tiny tea cup so delicately, but I couldn’t see what was within. She always reminded me a bit of Audrey Hepburn — in style at least, never in personality. She wore slim black pants with a white blouse, and a simple pair of black flats. I studied every bit of her I could see through that window. Yesterday she’d worn a dress and heels. The day before, a long skirt with a simple shirt and jacket with rolled up sleeves. 


I’d followed her the past few days, saw her routine. She had tea in the morning at the cafe, always with a scone, of which she only ever ate half. Then she’d walk out of the hotel, and head to the market around the corner. I’d been too scared to follow her inside, but could always see a baguette sticking out of her bag when she left. Then she’d walk to the river, and sit down on the same bench, where she’d read for about an hour before heading back to the hotel. I never stuck around after she went back in.


I was terrified to talk to my own mother, and my heart squeezed, my brain flashing to my childhood. When it was late at night, and I was awake in bed, scared and crying, I always told myself a story with my eyes clenched tight. When no one came, night after night, my tears silent, I fell into that dream and used it like a warm blanket, an idea that gave me comfort. 


I dreamed that we were one happy family. That my sisters and I were thick as thieves and happy, and our parents were always there, telling us they loved us and encouraging us to be better. It was always on a warm summer day, and we were always going on a picnic underneath a giant oak tree. I dreamed that I tripped over a tree root, and was caught by my father, who threw me up on his shoulder. 


That same dream had carried me through many bad nights, and in all of them, I remained a little girl, though Charlotte and Harper were always their current age. 


My heart skipped a beat, squeezing in panic as my mother stood up, and prepared to leave. 


Follow her. 


Talk to her. 


Make her answer you. 


I stood up, wavering, gripping the arms of the bench I sat on. My feet moved, the stone solid underneath my own pair of flats and then I was past the gate, and standing on the sidewalk. I was there as she left the hotel, in bright sunlight, squinting cause I’d left my sunglasses behind. 


Like moving though molasses, her face lifted, looking around. I saw her eyes sweep over me, moving to the next person, continuing her walk. I wanted to crumple, and scream, thinking that she’d seen me and hadn’t even known who I was. That her daughter was so close to her. 


Until, she stopped mid-step, her head turning. She turned a half step, and found me again, staring me down, her brows pulled in confusion. 


Move. Go to her. 


Talk to her. 


I couldn’t move, frozen in time and space. Tears spilled down my face, and I struggled to find the words I wanted to speak quietly and calmly. Instead, I found, all that built up energy could come out in a scream. A single word. 


I screamed, scaring the person walking behind me, and the birds in the trees. 


“WHY?!” I shouted at her, rushing across the street, nearly colliding with a young woman on a bike. She had peonies in the bike basket, I noticed, my favorite flower. 


I stopped in front of her, caring, but not, how I must look to her. The daughter she hadn’t seen in more than a year, sober for the first time in a while, and bawling her eyes out on the street. She’d never been fond of any type of public displays of emotions. 


She said my name, quiet, sounding like it had to be torn from her throat. 


“Why?” I asked again, shuddering as I struggled to breath. She still wasn’t smiling, or reaching out for me. 


I knew then, she thought my question was about why she was in London without telling us. She didn’t know what I was really asking. The why that cracked out of me was about so much more than the past few weeks, it encompassed my entire life. How do you convey that with a word? 


She said my name again, the sound ending in a question, and I couldn’t take it anymore. My hand flew to my mouth, and I ran, shoving past her to barrel down the street, my small purse bouncing against my side. Charlie’s house was in an entirely different neighborhood, but I’d run there if I had to, to get away. I couldn’t look at her anymore, and see anything other than what she’d been. 


Eventually I stopped, and hailed a cab, ignoring the drivers’ questions about my sanity. He really didn’t want to know. I cried the whole way to my sisters, shoving a wad of bills at the driver, then barreling up the stairs, and through the front door. It crashed open, to a sight that broke me a little bit more than I was already broken in that moment. 


Another thing I’d run from. A friend, that might have been so much more, if I hadn’t been, well … me. I’d seen them around school, sure, but had mostly been able to avoid the sight of their blossoming romance. 


Albus and Saoirse, wrapped around each other in a passionate embrace on my sister’s couch. They flew apart the moment after the door hit the wall, and I saw Al’s eyes widen in concern when he saw me. 


I croaked out my sisters name, rushing up the stairs when she pointed. She was halfway out the door by the time I made it halfway up the stairs and I rushed into my room, my hand slapped over my mouth in a pitiful attempt to stop the sobs. First, I’d failed at unleashing on my mother. I’d failed to get a real reaction out of her, she really hadn’t seemed to care that her middle daughter found her. 


I failed to be a good enough person to date Albus, and now he was starting that journey with someone else. Someone that deserved him. 


The covers of my bed were a welcome cave, but I didn’t stay in there long. The moment Charlotte came into my room, I found her, let her hold me while I bawled. Her shirt was damp with my tears before long, but she held on tight, her hand rubbing up and down my back.


I cried for all the things I’d never gotten from my parents as child, as a teenager. I cried for all the times I pushed my sisters away. I cried for the sight of my lost friend with someone else. I cried, I cried, I cried. All that I’d been holding back came out, but the words that echoed in my mind stayed. 


They sunk in deeper. 


I’m not worthy. 


I’ll never be loved. 


I’m so pointless my own mother doesn’t want me. 


My breath stilled, and I pulled out of my sisters arm, turning away from her to grab a pillow and pull it close against my body. Her hand rested on my shoulder, and she called my name. She asked what was wrong, but I said nothing. 


It was one thing to let the words trampling through my mind continue, but to voice them? I couldn’t do that, not now. Not until I was strong enough to handle it. If I’d ever be strong enough to handle it. 


She tried to get me to open up, to reach out for her again, like she did when I was a child. I did the same thing I’d always done, pushed her away because it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I cried again when she left, shutting the door behind her. My hand reached back for the door before I could pull it back, the sad part of me still wanting her. 


Come back. Hold me. Make me better.

Love me. 


She did love me, I knew that. Honestly, she was probably the only person in my life besides Al that tried to look beyond all my awfulness to see what was true. Harper always just kind of followed me because I was older, and bossy, and she was kind of drawn to intense people. 


Charlotte had tried, and tried again. Could I really fault her for keeping her distance when all I did was throw all my anger at her? Tell her to go away? She was just doing what I asked. 


I spent the entire day in my desk chair, writing in my journal all the things I couldn’t say out loud. Apology letters to my sisters, and Al, just to get the words out. Hateful, angry letters to my parents blaming them for everything that was wrong with me so I didn’t have to take any responsibility for what I’d done, what I’d become. An addict. 


Finally, I fell asleep, and dreamed. Nightmares twisted my body, trapping me in my sheets, more tears staining my pillow. Until I woke up, and shattered. All that control I’d so tightly wound turned to dust at my feet. I couldn’t do it anymore, living with all of this. There was a reason I sought out drugs, and then sex. I needed that constant escape from all of this unrelenting pain. 


Sleep addled, and wrung out from my nightmares, I sent off a message before I could think about it, before I could catch myself, and then I changed into an all black outfit, and slipped out of the house. I could hear Harper and Lily watching something in her room, and wanted to see her, to be like we’d been before I’d broken that relationship up too. When she looked up to me, when she was always there. 


I wanted to crawl into Charlotte’s dark room, and wake her up, tell her to stop me from what I was about to do, what I was going to seek out. But she was asleep, and I didn’t want to wake her. She’d handled enough where I was concerned. 


I tried to stop myself from walking out the door, and winding my way through town until I found Diagon Alley, turning down a narrow passage into the darker world of Knockturn Alley. The part of myself that believe I could be so much more screamed at me to not walk through the door of the dirty inn, to turn back from the stairs, to not knock on door number 3. 


Don’t Ava. Don’t do it. 


I said it over and over again, but the moment the door opened, and I saw that familiar, grinning face holding a vial of that inky, black potion, I was lost to reason. I stepped inside, and the door thudded behind me, feeling like the door was shutting on any chance I had of being a good person. I was beyond caring, needing it all to go away. It had to go away, I couldn’t take it anymore. 


I downed the vial he gave me in a goblet of cold pumpkin juice, and the second one. Already, I felt better, those nasty monsters in my head quieting as I floated above it all, away from myself. I was air, and clouds, bathed in the soft glow of sunrise. That’s how it had always felt, like I was free flying in the morning sky, my favorite time of day, though it was deep midnight outside. 


His mouth was on mine, and detached from myself, I let him do whatever. I gave him my body, and took whatever he gave me, riding higher and higher until I was about to float into space, and float away forever. 


Something’s wrong. 


I don’t feel good. 


This isn’t right. 


Nothing was working right. Not my lungs, or my heart, or my eyes, but somehow, I pushed him away and left the room. Left the gritty inn, falling headfirst into the stones outside, the sky just beginning to lighten outside. 


He followed me, sneering and begging for more of me, offering more of what made me float. I couldn’t take anymore, already feeling like I didn’t belong to any part of myself anymore. I had floated too far away this time, and was terrified. I grabbed his arm, and uttered a single name, begging him to ask for help from that name I’d given him. 


I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, and fell against the wall of the building, falling head over feet into fathomless depths I hadn’t encountered before. I felt arms around me, fading in and out, things coming in short bursts. 


Stars blinking out of the sky, warm arms holding me tight, the scent of something familiar. Then bright lights and shouting, my body being poked and prodded by Healers. I assumed they were healers, but they’d never fix me. 


I was broken, so untethered from myself that the Earth was already a pale blue dot as I drifted further through the stars, towards a bright, warm light. I wanted to go there, because it seemed safe. It told me that if I passed through it, it would all be over, all the pain and sadness. I would be welcome there, every part of me. 


I heard familiar voices, following me in space, and screaming, someone begging me to wake up, to come back. I didn’t want to wake up, but I didn’t want to leave either. I heard more begging and pleading, and the three little words that I’d heard too little in my life. It followed me as I spun through the stars, the same two phrases over and over again. 


Come back. 


I love you. 


Come back. 


I love you. 


Something held my hand, warm and smelling of white flowers, I was aware of that. I could hear her begging the Healers to fix me, asking what she could do. It’s what she wanted to do- fix people. It must be why she tried so hard with me. That voice, cracking with tears, begged them to fix me, to bring me back. 


I heard them say they didn’t know what to do, that I’d taken too much, and the potions weren’t working. In space, I reached back and blinked, suddenly floating above myself on a bed, sheets stained around me with spilled drops of different potions meant to bring me back to life. 


It hit me then, what was happening, and I panicked, trying to peddle through the air to go back into my body. Oh Gods, what had I done to myself?


Pale as a silver ghost, my closed eyes ringed with wet mascara and dark circles, I was … I was an unholy mess. My hair was tangled with dirt, and specks of what I could only assume were spittle or vomit, the same flecks around my mouth. Next to me sat my sister, holding my hand, tears streaming down her face. 


She was alone, and I wondered where Harper was, still staring down at myself. Pain lanced through my body, and I watched as I convulsed on the bed, hearing my teeth chattering from the force of the tremors. People swarmed around my body, trying to shove my sister out of the way, but she held on. 


She held on, repeating the same phrases over and over again. 


Come back. 


I love you. 


I reached for my body, but my fingers passed through my solid form like I was nothing. I was nothing, and screamed into the room, begging for anyone to hear me, to help me back. I sought anything that could tether me to myself, not quite wanting to give up. 


Until I felt a warm breath on the back of my neck, and the world smelled like all the things I loved. Chocolate, campfires, and honeysuckle. It smelled of cozy kitchens, and backyard parties. It smelled like home, the home I wanted. It smelled like Charlotte’s house, the one I’d been too blind to see. 


My body convulsed on the table again, and I saw the Healers looking to each other, trying not to look at Charlotte lest they see what was on their faces. They couldn’t heal me. It was up to me. My spirit had to fight for life back in that world.


I turned and looked into that warm, bright light that floated behind me, blurring out that sight of the back of the room. It offered everything I’d ever wanted, and I looked down at myself. I could see the years in front of me, the fight it would take every day to stay sober, to not be angry, to repair fences. 


I wanted it … but I didn’t. 


I was broken, and this was my way out. 


I closed my eyes, and reached out my hand, feeling bright sunlight and a soft breeze. It enveloped me, and I heard the sounds of laughter, felt grass beneath my feet. I felt no pain, no fear, only love. Somewhere, far behind me, in that circle of darkness closing from the world I’d just left, I heard a gut wrenching scream. 


I looked around, and felt that last tether snap as soon as that circle closed, leaving a grassy field dotted with wildflowers everywhere I looked. A large house sat in a valley, surrounded by gardens, sunlight blinking off of endless glass windows. Birds flew overhead, singing and calling for each others. 


A large oak tree stood at the edge of a field, a stream running underneath it, winding all the way back down to the hosue. In front of me were my sisters, laughing, and holding out their hands for me. I grabbed onto Charlotte, and she pulled me along, together we collapsed onto a soft flannel blanket, a woven picnic basket on the corner, bread and grapes peeking out, along with a bottle of wine. I heard laughter behind me and looked, my heart aching as I saw my dream. 


A small boy ran between my parents, my mother and father, glowing and happy. My fathers arm around hers, and her voice sweet as she called after all of us, beaming with pride and love. The small body of my brother slammed into my legs, and more laughter sounded, familiar teasing. 


My father winked as he passed by me, laying his large hand on my shoulder before tackling my brother with tickles, his giggles filling the air. Another hand laid on my shoulder, and I turned, to see my mother as she’d never been in life. Full face bright with color and joy, she laid her hand on my face and smiled. 


My darling Ava, I’m so glad you’re here. 


We love you so. 




**A/N. Two of these in one chapter. When I restarted Risen (now Shatter Me), and decided to continue the post Hogwarts world, I struggled a lot with what to do about Ava. In the original post world I wrote (formerly called Arise), she lost her fight with addiction and died. Part of me wanted to change that, to give her and her sisters a happy ending where Ava was concerned. But one of the bigger changes I made between Risen and Shatter Me was changing the tone of the story. Risen was more comedic (I thought), and Shatter Me is a bit more serious. Plus, as you might have guessed from reading these two stories- addiction is a matter very close to my heart. It’s a terrifying disease that has woven in and out of my own life personally- through people very close to me. My brother is an addict, who recently relapsed after many years of sobriety.  My cousins are addicts. I’ve had friends and co-workers, and bosses, that were addicts. It’s a never ending battle, and far too many people lose their fight. I’m very fortunate that the people close to me are still alive, and fighting, but for Ava … I decided to keep her original ending, and hope you all don’t hate me for it. One thing I’ve learned as I’ve worked to improve my writing skills is that there are moments where it’s important to suspend reality and give into fantasy, and others where reality is needed. This felt like one of those times. If you’ve struggled with addiction yourself, or have loved ones that have, you have all of my love and sympathy. It’s a brutal battle. Whatever you’re fighting- stay strong.



Chapter 6: Hello, Goodbye
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Harper’s POV




My fingers trail over your gravestone, bathed in warm afternoon sunlight. Can you feel me Ava? Do you know I’m here? 


Ever since you left this world, I’ve had this heavy sadness that follows me like a ghost, attached to me with a chain. Sometimes that sadness floats farther way, but it’s always there. It goes hand in hand with the regret I feel on a daily basis that I can’t seem to forgive myself for. I made the same mistake as you, letting anger win out over everything. 


I wasn’t there for you in your final moments, was too angry that you’d fallen into your habits again to be there. I didn’t even come to St. Mungo’s, staying in the house, pacing the whole time. I ripped apart a few pillows waiting, and didn’t even cry at first when Ginny came back with the news. Lily cried, but I didn’t. Al cried, staying at our house that night, still covered in you, but I didn’t. You begged him to save you that night, and he tried so hard, do you know that? 


You’re gone Ava, I’ll never see you again. I hope wherever you are, you’re happy. Maybe you fell into a better world where things were as they should have been, all of us as a happy family. I’ve started having this dream since you died, where we’re all having a picnic under an oak tree, and you’re so blissfully happy. I pray it’s true for you, cause it’s certainly not true for us. 


Dad wanted to bury you in the family plot, but Charlotte fought him tooth and nail to lay you to rest here. She said that in life, you were happiest in Colorado, far away from everything that hurt you so much. So, she bought a plot of land with pastures for horses, and a small log cabin, and buried you under this tree that looks over it all. We planted flowers all around you, mostly peonies. You always loved them so much. I can’t look at them now without crying. 


I miss you Ava, so much it hurts sometimes. I thought we’d have so much more time together, time to repair things. Time for you to get better, for all of us to get better. I thought in a few years, we’d be three sisters united, still bearing scars but happy despite all of it. 


I had this idea that when I stopped being angry at you for the choices you made, for not being stronger, that I’d ask you why you did those things. Why fall into bed with Avery, the exact type of guy that should have made even your skin crawl. Why allow those powders and potions into your bloodstream, to take you away from reality. Why? Why? Why? 


You can’t answer me now, so I’m left to fill it all in myself. Charlotte found those letters you wrote the day you died, and they sounded like suicide notes, but she’s so certain they’re not. You have no idea how much your death shattered her, Ava, and sometimes I’m still mad at you for hurting her. She tried so hard to reach out to you, to give you something stable, to give you a better future, and you destroyed her. But, none of this was about her, or me, was it? 


It was us not able to understand the disease you carried. I’ve read a lot about addiction since you died, and understand that it’s not just something you can will yourself to be stronger than. It’s not a bad habit, like biting your nails, or being negative. It’s a battle, something you would have had to fight everyday for the rest of your life. I’m sorry Ava, that I didn’t understand. I thought you were being selfish, and stupid, and I knew you could be so much more. I didn’t understand that trauma hit us all differently, and it hit you hardest of all.  


I’m so, so sorry. It took a while, but I can’t stop crying when I think of you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I should have been there. I should have been brave like Charlotte, holding your hand until the very end. 


The day after you died, Mum showed up on the doorstep, said she’d seen you the day before and heard about what happened. She wanted to share her condolences, like you were the daughter of a friend, and not a daughter of her own blood. She wanted to talk more about the change in decor at the townhouse. 


Gods Ava, I wish you could have seen what that did to Charlotte. It was such a strange, dual moment, her realizing what had set you off and that instant bit of forgiveness that passed over her face. Then she was unleashed. I’ve never seen her like that, ever. I didn’t think she could do something like that, scream at mother. She screamed, and eventually forced her out of the house. Charlotte told her that she never wanted to see her again, that she didn’t deserve to breathe the same air as us. 


I was so proud of her, for saying what we’d all wanted to see, her igniting with power. I think you and I both underestimated her, but I know I won’t do that again. Despite losing you a year ago, she’s doing so well. James is still madly in love with her, though they don’t see each other enough, they’re endgame. She’s gone headfirst into her Healer apprenticeship, motivated by your death to learn more than they knew. Her speciality is going to be magic and addiction now. She’s still trying to save you, even in death. God, it’s painful to watch sometimes, but at least she’s remembered how to smile and laugh again.


I’m thinking more and more about the future, one more year at Hogwarts before it’s all done. I’m not sure what my life will be, what I want to do, but I know I don’t want to be behind a desk. I love being outside, and moving around a lot. I don’t want to stay put, not like Charlotte. Lily feels the same, we both want to travel a lot. We’re gonna live together after graduation. Like, live together. I love her. 


Did you ever know, about me? That I’m gay? I always wanted to tell you, used to stay up late some nights imagining how it would go with you. I knew Charlotte would be cool with it, but I never could settle on how you’d react. You’d either be supportive, and tell me you already knew and what took me so long— or you’d tell me that it wasn’t cool and you didn’t want to know. 


I always felt like it was obvious, that we were definitely more than best friends, but I guess we hid it better than I thought. At first, for many,  many years, that’s all we were — best friends. Then something changed, slowly at first, and then — boom. We were more. I wish I could have told you, and known what you thought. 


I wish you’d been able to find someone you loved. Always used to think it would be Al, and then I’d think it was stupid that all three of us sisters fell in love with each of the Potter children, like a perfect fairytale. James and Charlotte are forever, that much I know. They’ll be engaged in a few years, I know it, and then I’m betting I’ll be an Auntie to a boat load of little rugrats not long after. Charlotte’s going to find so much healing as a mother, I almost wish she could get pregnant now. But no. There’s other things she needs to do first. 


What else? 


Al is … doing okay. He misses you, feels partly responsible, like Charlotte. He wishes, like all of us, that he’d tried harder to push back when you pushed us away. He’s dating someone new now, and I like her a lot. Sierra has helped him heal a lot, she’s so positive. Sometimes too positive. She’s American, from California. A Thunderbird from Illvermorny that hails from a family that owns a vineyard. She’s an incredible cook, even better than Charlotte. You probably don’t want to hear about her though do you? 


What else can I tell you?


Charlotte and I have decided to host a yearly camping trip with Orion once I graduate, and later when he’s old enough, our other new brother. Apollo. He’s the spitting image of you as a baby, maybe you reincarnated into the same family. I hope not, for your sake. Our brothers will at least have a semi-decent mother. She loves them, but she also loves planning parties and being the wife of a powerful, busy man. Father is the same parent he always was, now he just had boys to pass along the family name. 


After you died, Charlie and I decided we didn’t want them to feel like we wanted nothing to do with them, despite our massive age gaps. So we’re always going to invite them to come to London for holidays and will plan a yearly trip with them. We’re taking Orion camping through Yellowstone in a few weeks, he’s looking forward to seeing bears and wolves. James is coming too. 


It’s hard to think about the future without you in it. Somedays, my brain tricks me into thinking you’re just off on a grand adventure in a tropical island, and I’ll think about what we’ll do when you get back, and then I remember it all over again. Me talking to your gravestone will be all that I have with you. Forever. 


It’s such a painful word, forever. I’ll never touch you again, or see you smile, or help you with anything. You’ll never help me anything. Never help me make midnight cookies again, or tell me a story when I can’t sleep like you did when I was little. 


If there’s any part of you that’s still here, can you send a sign, that you’re happy? I couldn’t bear to think of you living in pain in a different life. You carried enough here. Send a sign please. 


I need to go now. Charlotte will come out later, but for now, she’s working on fixing up the cabin so we can come visit and have a safe place to live. It’s a good thing we have magic to speed it along. 


So yeah, next time I’m here, if you’re happy wherever you are, make one of these peonies white instead of this bright pink we planted. It can happen right, I’m a witch after all, who’s to say you can’t change the color of a flower from another dimension? 


I love you Ava. I miss you. 


I wish this was different. 


I miss you. 


Chapter 7: Looking Ahead
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**A/N- Back to Charlotte, finally! If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking around. Just a few more chapters after this one, and then the journey is over, and I’ll actually move onto other stories. Including, hopefully my own novels. This chapter takes place two years after the previous one- so three years after Ava’s death. ** 






The past few years had been … a lot. More than I could process sometimes. In the past four years, I’d graduated Hogwarts, moved in with my boyfriend, lost a sister, gained a brother, and was finally a fully certified Healer, with a bonafide speciality, something most Healers didn’t bother with. Since addiction and psychology weren’t specialities like they were for Muggle doctors, I chose to do what I could with magic, and spent a lot of extra time learning about obscure plants, herbs, and their uses in potions. 


The next few years had the potential to be just as crazy and life-altering. Harper had graduated and was now living in the home I bought in Colorado, with Lily. They seemed very happy there, but we didn’t see them nearly enough now that they were gone. Dom had moved in with Nate, in a tiny cottage that wasn’t at all her type, but she had changed so much that she didn’t care. It had taken them almost a year of knowing each other before they’d both gotten drunk one night at a party, and hooked up, which finally allowed them to say how much they cared about one another. We were expecting either a pregnancy or engagement announcement any day now. 


So we’d lost Dom as a roommate, but gained Al and his girlfriend Sierra. I say we lightly, as James was still away a lot, so it was mostly me, and them. They were a good fit, and I quite liked her, but I was feeling ready to move on from this house. I constantly felt like I was invading their privacy. I wanted to keep it in my name though, as a townhouse in central London was stupid to pass up, 


Which meant, for the first time as an adult, I was house shopping. So was James. 


We wanted completely different things. 


I wanted something small and cozy, on the outskirts of a town, something we could live in for a little while, maybe keep as a vacation cottage after we ended up with something bigger. James wanted to start with something bigger, find that perfect house that would last us for twenty years in the middle of nowhere, so he could go out on his broom whenever he wanted. We planned on looking at more places online tonight, since the homes for sale by fellow witches and wizards were few and far between. 


First, I had a press conference of his to attend. James was going to announce that he was joining the Montrose Magpies for a massive two year contract. It was mostly that money that was going into buying a house. 


I wanted nothing more than a place to call my own, without roommates. It had been great, these past few years, living with Dom, and now Al … but I was ready. Ready to move on to the next phase in my life. Schooling complete, a hard task for true Ravenclaw, and a job secured, I wanted to keep moving ahead. I’d be joining a research division of St. Mungo’s in Scotland, where I’d put my skills with Herbology to use finding new potion combinations to heal all kinds of ailments. Like the damage left behind by use of magical drugs. 


Since Ava’s death, I’d learned to appreciate things more, to cherish moments more. I’d learned to take risks, and be bolder, though the latter was possibly being surrounded by so many stubborn and hot headed Wotters. It was nice, feeling like I knew myself, that I’d found the person I thought I could be when I was sixteen. I was still an introvert, still patient and calm, still an avid reader … but I wasn’t a wallflower anymore. 


The clock chimed in the hallway, letting me know I needed to stop my train of thoughts, and go get ready. I didn’t used to attend these events of his, but he got so tired of being asked if he was single and having people not believe him that part of the last year of our relationship was going out more to be seen by photographers. I basically despised it, but it came with the territory, and after a few photo ops, everyone got the message that he was still with me and they stopped asking. They also stopped showing up every time we left the house. 


We’d weathered the storms of the past few years pretty well, largely because of how he’d helped me through Ava’s death. If I’d felt alone then, like he wasn’t there, we’d probably have split up by now. We still didn’t see each other much, but we’d stuck to our promise to make the time we did have count, and he was there for me after my sister overdosed, at every turn, he was there for me. If he couldn’t be there, he made sure someone else was. When we carved out time for each other, we made sure not to talk about his job or my school, we made it work. 


I knew everyone was wondering when we’d get married. Witches and wizards had a tendency to get married fairly young, but that tradition was growing as the world barreled through the 21st century. Schooling done, a new job started, my mind had turned to the next step. Getting married, and kids. I hoped kids wouldn’t happen until James was done with professional Quidditch. With such a huge family though, it might not a big deal if it did happen. 


Focus Charlotte. Good lord. 


Get dressed, and leave!


My mind wandered all the time lately, and I quickly showered and changed into dark skinny jeans and a warm sweater, adding some light make-up, and grabbing tall boots and a rain jacket. It was fall in England, sunshine was no longer my friend. I quickly threw my long hair into a loose braid, and closed my eyes, thinking of James. 


I felt the familiar tug, that bit of blackness swallowing me up, and then I was there, in his room at his parents. From there we’d apparate together to the team headquarters in Scotland for the conference. When I popped into his room,  I saw that he was getting dressed in front of a full length mirror, and looked at me where I stood behind him. James beamed when he saw me, and I melted a bit. 


It still made me tingle sometimes, how much I could tell he loved me when he looked at me. I wondered often just how I’d gotten so lucky with him, and was determined to not take any of it for granted. Sure, we still fought and bickered, but I wouldn’t want anyone else to look at me that way. 


“My love.” He said, finishing knotting his tie before drawing his suit jacket on. James looked so good in a suit, filling it out with defined muscles, and I failed to bite back my grin at the sight. 


“Where do you want to go after you tell the sporting community you’re continuing your legacy for a ridiculous sum?”


His features arranged into such a James look- an impish smile followed by a casual shrug. “How about a picnic? I know a spot.”


“You know a spot?” I said with a laugh. 


He winked, turning to face me. “Trust me Charlotte. You’ll love it. 


“A picnic?” I asked, staring at him when he pulled me into his arms. “Is this picnic basket already packed, or do I need to go out during your interview and get food?” 


He just kissed me, his hands tightening around my lower back. “It’s already packed, love, give me some credit. Say you’ll do it, please.”


I wondered then if there was something much bigger happening tonight, and my heart raced at the idea that this picnic might not be an innocent meal. I narrowed my eyes, searching his face for clues. He caught my gaze, and laughed. 


“I can read your thoughts, and no, I’m not proposing tonight.”

“You could just say that to throw me off.” I threw my arms around his neck, and looked deep into his hazel eyes, twinkling with delight. 


“I could. But I’m not. I promise you, Charlotte, when I propose, it’s not going to be during a simple picnic. You know me, it’ll be a spectacle where there’s lots of people around to take pictures and cheer after you say yes.”


“So you think I’ll say yes?” I asked, grinning. 


“Like you’d pass up being married to me.” He grinned back, kissing me quickly. “Now, I have to go and talk to some people before this starts. C’mon, let’s go.”


I grabbed his hand and we appeared into a new room altogether, what looked like a meeting room for the team, with chalkboards and whiteboards all over the wall. Little figures raced across them, arranging into plays and plans I couldn’t understand. A few people looked at us and went back to what they were doing, tapping their wands at specific boards to make the figures move again. 


“Friends of yours?” I asked. 


“Training staff for the Magpies. I haven’t met them all yet. Grab a seat and wait for the show to start, and the moment I’m allowed to leave, we’ll go somewhere special.”


“Where you’ll propose and you think I’ll say yes.” I shot back, smiling. 


He laughed, his hand on the door. “Not the event happening tonight, and when I do ask, you will say yes.” 


“Cocky bastard.” I said, hands on my hips. 


“You love me.” He said, laughing again before shutting the door behind him. 


Yes, I did. I loved his confidence and how he spoke his mind, that he knew who he was and made no apologies unless he was in the wrong. We still made a good pair, all these years later, and I knew, when that moment came where he’d present me with a ring — I’d say yes. A thousand times, I’d say yes. 


He’d been with me through all my big moments, all the ways I’d changed since the start of my final year at Hogwarts. We’d been lucky to grow together, and it was time for me to support him as he began another big step in his life. I left this room, taking off my jacket while I walked along a small hallway, and then darted past a curtain to a small room. I picked a chair in the back, leaving the front for the journalists and teammates. People were milling about the room, everyone’s eyes flicking towards the small table and single chair at the front of the room. 


James came out by himself a few minutes later, cameras flashed, and everyone calling his name at once. He held up his hand, and silence eventually fell. 


“I’m gonna make this quick as I have another engagement to attend shortly.” He found me in the crowd, and smiled quickly before looking away lest he draw too much attention to me. Everyone already knew who I was, so it was sweet, but pointless. 


“James, is it true …”


He held up his hand again. “After three amazing years with the Cannons, and a lot of thought, I have decided that it’s time to move onto the next phase in my career. With the support of my family and loved ones, I have decided the right step for me is to join the Magpies. They have proven track record of success and I’m thrilled to be joining the coaches and my new teammates as we work towards winning a championship.”


More cameras flashed, and reporters sent question after question his way. Mostly about if his former team, his new team, his new salary, it went on and on. I watched James’s eyes glaze over more than a few times, and the quick shake of his shoulders that meant he was trying very hard to stay focused. It’s not that he didn’t care about this part of his job, but he did find it tiring and annoying. He wanted to train, and fly, and win. When he lost, he wanted to figure out what he could learn from that. 


A tiny witch with emerald green hair held up her hand and waited. When James pointed at her she spoke. “Hullo Mr. Potter, and thank you. I’m Miranda from Witch Weekly. How is this new move going to affect your relationship with your London based girlfriend? Any announcement we should be expecting soon, wedding bells perhaps?”


James smiled politely, but it was obvious that tension had settled over him. These questions in particular annoyed him the most. “Miranda, hello. My personal life is something that I’d like to keep private, so I won’t be answering your questions. I can promise you that if anything big happens in my life in connection to my girlfriend, my cousin Dominique is likely to yell it so loud from the rooftops that you all will hear about it before my own parents do.” 


Another reporter raised their hand. “Speaking of your parents, how does your mother feel about you continuing the family legacy?”


James smirked. “She’d like another championship trophy with the family name on it. My mother remains a highly competitive person.” 


Everyone in the room laughed, some old enough to remember when Ginny Potter herself played professionally. I tuned out the rest of the questions asked, as most of them I’d heard more than a handful of times before and I let my mind wander to what James had up his sleeve tonight. It’s possible it was nothing more than a picnic in a pretty, secluded spot. 


I doubted it. He definitely had something up his sleeve. 





I was right. 


When James was done with his announcement, and the many questions thrown his way about his decision, his new team, and his life in general, he found me holed up in the same room we’d first arrived in. “Need to head back to my parents for the picnic basket, you ready?”


After we’d popped back to his house, answered his parents questions about the press conference, and then grabbed the picnic basket, we apparated yet another time. James made me close my eyes, and wouldn’t let me open them until he gave the okay. 


“Alright love, first impressions … what’d you think?” He asked, standing behind me. His hands were warm on my hips, his breath soft against my skin. 


I opened my eyes, to see the last rays of the sun peeking over the horizon, the sky full of clouds tinged orange and pink. We stood in a grassy field, sloping gently towards a two story brick house with a circular gravel driveway. In the center of that circle was a large tree, the leaves turning color as we inched closer towards winter. Halloween was only a few weeks away now. 


I turned my head and looked at James. He smiled, but held his finger to his lip, and grabbed my hand. I stayed quiet while my mind swirled with ideas, letting James pull me closer to the house until we crossed under large wrought iron gate attached to warm colored bricks that marked the entrance to the property. Manicured green lawns sprawled in all directions around the house, another very large tree to the right of where we stood, under which was a painted bench and large bushes. They looked like hydrangeas, and would be beautiful in the spring. 


The  front of the house was warm red, russet, and sand colored bricks. The rest of the house looked like stucco painted a pretty buttery cream.  A double glass front door with iron detailing led into the house, a bay window to the far right. For such a classic looking house, there were actually quite a few windows, which would mean the inside got plenty of light.


 In the spring, there would be a riot of color as flowers bloomed, but now the gardens that dotted the front yard were bits of green and withering branches. I’d seen a small pond somewhere on the grounds when we’d first arrived. 


It was a beautiful, large home, and I felt safe here. It must belong to someone James knew, and he brought us here for privacy.  Until I caught sight of the white sign behind me, with big red lettering.  


“James, why are we having a picnic at a house with a for sale sign?”


“Tell me what you think first.”


I frowned. “I think I need to see the inside to form a full opinion because I think I know what this all is about.” 


“I was hoping you’d say that.” He pulled a key out of his pocket and grabbed my hand, leading me inside. 


Despite its size, it was a cozy space. The house was clearly staged, there was nothing personal about any of the rooms that I could see. Wooden floors, aged but cared for, ran through the entirety of the house, in a warm golden blonde. Immediately to the left of where we stood, the front door right behind us was an office with double doors. In front of us was a grand staircase leading upstairs, and a formal dining room towards the right. Closer inspection showed that the bay window was part of a cozy living space dotted with overstuffed chairs.


Towards the back of the house, overlooking the manicured lawns and meticulously kept gardens was the kitchen. Two walls were only lower cabinets, above which were long windows to make the most of the incredible views of the sweeping hills beyond. Another wall was floor to ceiling cabinets, and a large island in the center. The outside of the house was pure traditional, with the brick and wrought iron everywhere. Inside, work had definitely been done. Inside it was way more contemporary. 


The kitchen was all white cabinets, with pale gray countertops, and shiny stainless steel appliances. The fridge was about as wide as I was tall, with double ovens, and a large white farmhouse sink set underneath the middle of one of the large windows. It was a dream kitchen, a chef’s kitchen, and I ran my hands over the countertops, imagining what it would be like to cook meals here. The kitchen opened into another very large living space with a massive stone fireplace and plush carpet, French doors on one side leading out to a deck in the back yard.


I could already see how this house would look for Christmas, with a massive tree in the corner of the living room, garland draped over the fireplace and up the stairwells, the house smelling like orange, clove, and pine. I could see everyone gathering on sofas, and around the kitchen island, while I cooked in the kitchen. I could see myself with a cup of tea on a rainy day, sitting on the deck, watching kids run around the yard. 


It was a beautiful image, but it was just the two of us right now. This house could fit way more than that, was intended for that. This house was for a large family, which we definitely weren’t. 


“Are you going to say anything anytime soon?” 


“Do you want to buy this house James, is that why we’re here? It’s beautiful, but massive. This place has what … four bedrooms?”


“Six actually, and three and half bathrooms. Chef’s kitchen, an office, two living spaces, formal dining, a small library upstairs, and another small building at the edge of the backyard that could be turned into another office or workspace, or a gardening shed. It sits on over fifteen acres, giving us plenty of space to hide our magic, and the closest neighbor is nowhere close to us.” 


“So you’re a realtor now?”


He laughed, but rubbed the back of his neck anxiously. “No. But I found this place, and it felt like home.”


I narrowed my eyes, searching his face, before my features opened up in shock. “James Potter! Did you already buy this house?! Without me seeing it first?!” 


He had the decency to look mildly ashamed of himself, but he was still hopefully smiling as he walked towards me. “I can always pull out of the offer, but yes. I’ve already bought the house.”


“James, this house is far too big for us!” 


“For now, yeah. But I’d rather buy what will work for us in ten years too, so we’re not constantly moving. I love that the house I was born in is the same house my parents still live in. I have memories carved all over that house.” 


“Dents in the wall where you hit your stubborn head too hard.”

“That too.” He laughed. “I was shown this place a few weeks ago, and the moment I walked in the door, I could picture us here. Having a wedding in the backyard, raising our kids, Christmases and summers with nieces and nephews. It’s a great house with a ton of space. Come on, love, I bought you a house. That’s romantic, right?”


I rolled my eyes, but smiled. “It does feel like home.”


“Does that mean I don’t have to pull my offer?”


“Can we afford this?”

“We’re both rich, we can definitely afford this.”


I stared at him, crossing my arms over my chest. I desperately wanted to be mad at him, for doing such a big thing without including me. Except … it was the exact kind of house I’d have looked for and wanted when I felt it was the right time to get something this big. 


James worked really hard to bite back his grin, but failed when he saw me cracking. I rolled my eyes, my mind already whirling with ideas about what to do here. “So when do we move in?” 


He whooped in delight, and ran to me from across the room, picking me up and spinning me around and around in the middle of the mostly empty living room. I held on for dear life, smiling against his neck until I started to get dizzy. I told him to put me down, but he didnt, he just stopped and kissed me so thoroughly, I got dizzy for another reason. 


“Want to eat now? First meal in our first house?” James asked, grinning. 


“Give my stomach a few minutes, but yeah.” 


He kissed my cheek, and walked into the kitchen, where the wicker basket sat on the island. I walked up behind him, wrapping my arms around his waist, rising to my toes to look over his shoulder. 


Oh James. 


Coming out of the basket were all of my favorite things. My favorite bottle of wine, my favorite cheese, a crusty baguette from my favorite bakery, fresh fruit, olives, and lastly, a chocolate hazelnut torte I’d become obsessed with in the past two years, from a restaurant we frequented on date nights. 


He turned around, wrapping his own arms around my waist, and stared down at me, his hazel eyes warm. “Please tell me you’re okay with this.”


“You being way over the top and buying us a house? I’m not mad. It’s beautiful.”


“Good.” James kissed my nose and went back to preparing the food while I wandered all over the house. I looked upstairs, my jaw dropping at the sheer size of the master bedroom and bathroom. The soaking tub was big enough to fit three or four people. 


The small library was already my favorite room in the house though, and I already itched to fill it with books on all kinds of topics. I’d save the shelf right next to the stained glass window for my favorite books. The window bench under the other window was wide, and needed a much thicker cushion, but I knew my butt would spend a ton of time there. A small marble fireplace took up a corner, so it could stay cozy and bright in the dark winters, and during the warmer months, I’d throw open the main window and smell the flowers in the gardens below. 


James called up for me, and I skipped down the stairs, taking it all in. This is exactly the kind of house I would have picked- classic details with warm accents meant for actually living in comfort. When I walked into the living room, I saw James waiting on a large blanket in the middle of the living room, food spread out all around him, holding two glasses of wine. He smiled at me. 


“I can’t wait to spend a lifetime here with you.”


I stopped dead in my tracks, visions from romantic comedies floating through my mind. “James, is this …” 


He laughed. “I told you it wasn’t happening tonight.”


My breath left me, and I was surprised at how sad I felt, and I glanced down at my empty finger. I responded quietly, aware that he was staring at me. “Okay.”


“Lottie, you seem upset. Are you sure you’re not mad about me buying this house?”


“I’m not mad or upset about the house.”


He paused, looking at me. “Ah. You’re upset because I’m not down on one knee?”


It was time for honesty, some of it anyway. “Surprising me right now too James, but yeah, I’ve been thinking about what’s next. Since school ended, and I have a few weeks before I start that job with St. Mungo’s, all I’ve been thinking of is the future. I didn’t even realize that I’d been thinking so much about the future and where we’d end up…”


James smiled, slow and sexy. “Love, you’re my entire world. Don’t think for one moment that it’s not coming, our future together is certain. I can’t think of my life and not see you in it. But, proposing is just as big a deal for a guy as it is for a girl. I’m only asking that question to one girl, and it will be special. This was too easy of a moment Charlotte, and I wanted today to be about this step- buying a house together.”

“Technically, you bought a house and left me out of the process.” I smirked, even though I still felt like crying. That split second of thinking that box was about to come out of his pocket has blown through me with the force of a hurricane, and I was left reeling now that I realized this wasn’t the night it was happening. 


Get it together Charlotte, it’s not a big deal. 


“Charlie, I promise you, you’ll get that ring. It’ll be special. But I just signed another contract with a pro team, and I’ll be just as busy the next two years as I have been the last three. Maybe more. I loved my time with the Cannons, but despite all their efforts, they weren’t the highest caliber team. The Magpies have been lately, and I’ll need to up my game. Can we just enjoy this night, this moment, and talk about that future that is coming and what we want out of if?” 


James took a sip of wine, and held out the glass meant for me that he’d set aside a few minutes ago when we’d started talking. I took it from him, and took a very big sip, tasting dry earth and red fruit. I followed the sip with a shallow breath, turning away from him. His arms wrapped around me a moment later, his mouth near my ear. 


“I’m sorry if I ruined this, tonight.”


The sorrow in his voice made me turn around. I laid my hands on his face, seeing sadness in his eyes. It made me want to cry, because I never wanted him to look like that. “You didn’t ruin anything James. I jumped to a conclusion, it’s on me.”


“I promise you, we’ll have many years to fill this house with memories.”


“Yeah?” I asked, kissing him quickly. “Like what?”


He smiled. “Like a Christmas party this year, to celebrate all the good things that have happened. We’ll have a giant tree in the corner of the room, and loads of presents under it. We’ll have a wedding in the backyard, ours or Dom’s, or both. Our kids will grow up here. We’ll have endless family dinners, and parties, and memories. Charlotte, I want to have memories here. With you. With our four or five kids.”


"Four or five? Let's start with one and go from there." I shot back. 


"I counter with three."


"I still say let's start with one. If they're anything like you were as a toddler, I probably won't want another." I said with a laugh, remembering how much hell he could raise when he wanted to. 


"If they're anything like you, love, I'll be the luckiest man in the world. We'll start with one, and go from there." He kissed me, and the image of a little girl with his eyes floated to my mind, raising hell. 


“Who knew that annoying kid from Hogwarts was so romantic."


“I was never annoying.” James said with an offended gasp. 


I snorted. “You most certainly were.” 


He shrugged, smiling down at me. “Maybe I was, but at least I got the girl in the end.” 


I grinned, wrapping my arms around his neck. “That you did.” 


“So tell me love, what are you going to do with this room?”


James led me over to the blanket, and listened while I prattled on about what I’d already envisioned for this house, the fabrics and colors, which corners I’d fill with plants, and what the first meal I’d make would be. 


I imagined the same future James talked about happening here — endless family gatherings mostly. After a lifetime of feeling alone in my own family, my own genetics, and the loneliness that came with massive houses and quiet halls, I’d grown to love and cherish the noise and chaos that came from spending time with the Wotters, and looked forward to hosting them here. 


Our own house, that belonged to us. No more roommates. My own quiet corner of the world, for now, until James retired from Quidditch and we worked on starting a family. I’d plant a tree in honor of my sister, and another tree each time I had a baby, or something incredible happened. I wanted a forest of trees around this house to remind me of who I loved, and what was worth celebrating in this life. 


I pushed aside the sadness that had warped my evening, and looked around again. I looked at all that we had built together, and what would come next. I looked at James, smiling at me, eager to build something with me. So what if I didn’t have a ring yet, I’d be too busy soon to plan a wedding. I was still very young … I didn’t need to worry about a wedding, or babies. I had a career to build, and a massive house to decorate. 


It was enough. For now.