You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com


The After Before by delacourweasley

Format: Novel
Chapters: 33
Word Count: 217,339
Status: COMPLETED

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

Genres: Drama, Horror/Dark, Humor, Romance, Angst
Characters: Harry, Draco, Ginny, Albus, Fred II, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Scorpius, OC
Pairings:

First Published: 10/10/2017
Last Chapter: 07/06/2019
Last Updated: 06/14/2020

Summary:
TDA2theafterbefore-adrift.png

 

For Cornelia Burke, the before was all so simple - of course, aside from the stifling societal expectations, inter-house Quidditch tensions, and intrepid family secrets. But she just had to have a headache on the Hogwarts Express, didn’t she?  

 

A story of Shakespearean insults, enigmatic Gryffindors, & Cauldron Cakes. 

 



Chapter 1: Chapter One
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 

 

He was late.


There was no getting around it, now. Earlier, he was just maybe out of sight; lurking somewhere behind the many guests milling about the venus. Forty-five minutes ago, and he was probably in the powder room; thirty minutes and he was running tardy, perhaps stuck in conversation with some middle-aged, already tipsy Avery - there were always at least three middle aged, already tipsy Averys - but by now, an hour after the unofficially late start to the event (one could never arrive to such a party on time, of course), he was late.


And I couldn’t even rationalise his lack of attendance to myself anymore, because he was never late. He was almost annoyingly responsible and reliable; the kind of student that always had an extra inkwell on hand and who ironed his shirts the night before he wanted to wear them. Plus, he knew I hated events like these, with their pompous atmospheres and phony dispositions, so, quite honestly, unless he was dead, there was really no viable excuse for-


Sit still, Cornelia. Cross your ankles, not your legs. And stop slumping your posture. It is most unladylike.”


Fucking hell.


Suppressing a sigh, I met the disapproving watch of my Grandmother, Esmeralda Carina Burke. Named after the hue of her glinting eyes - the only similar traits between us - my grandmother had never been someone to ignore, much less to defy. I grew up both fearing her and despising the way she always seemed to point out every flaw no matter how small, and tonight was no exception.


“Sorry,” I said quickly, smoothing out the creases that had worked their way up my deep purple dress. It was a wonderful piece of fabric; made from satin and embroidered with minuscule floral designs, it hugged my slight curves perfectly and spilled out like a waterfall. I would have enjoyed wearing it at any party but this one.


The Amesbury Gala was an annual event hosted by two of the most prominent Wizarding families: the Yaxleys and the Rosiers. Held on the Rosier Estate’s rooftop in Alderley Edge, the Gala was one of the most important social events of the year for Pureblood witches and wizards. The premise of it was always to raise money for something completely useless and irrelevant; this year, it was to commission a new sculpture for the Ministry of Magic lobby, even though there was already a perfectly good one in place.


What did you just say?” My grandmother’s thin eyebrows twitched slightly together as her gaze sharpened and displeased lips curved downwards, making her resemble a hippogriff zeroing in on its prey.


Sorry.” I worked hard - so hard to keep from rolling my eyes back up to the expansive sky, but it clearly was not enough of an effort for Esmeralda. Nothing ever was, really, but I honestly couldn’t care less about truly pleasing her.


“Speak in complete sentences,” she snapped, the severity in her eyes intensifying, if possible; she now looked like a hawk, an eagle, about to swoop down and devour its target.


I’m sorry.”


“No contractions.”


I. Am. Sorry.” Every word was enunciated separately with rather the same bluntness of a fist banging onto a table.


“Better.” Esmeralda said severely, then rose, her navy blue robes shimmering gently, reflecting oil lamps and candlelight off of the beading. “Now, come. And fix your dress. It looks much too short.”


How a floor-length gown could possibly look too short, I’d never know, but I obliged her order anyways, even though if he were here like he was supposed to be I would probably be off skiving the event with him, and at this point, I started thinking about all of the possible things that could have happened: maybe his father fell ill, maybe he was sick, maybe they fucking both were - but soon there was no time to overthink, because a gratingly adenoidal voice came from behind my grandmother and I, commanding our attention.


“Ah! Esmerelda, I have been looking for you all night!” 


“Beatrice,” Esmeralda turned around to face the two women who were approaching, her features attempting to transform into something friendly; rather, the expression just made her look much older than she actually was. “It has been much much too long.”


“It really has!” The woman who called out placed her hand on her heart, no doubt in an attempt to showcase the large, ostentatious rings she was sporting on each finger. Her obviously dyed blond hair was blown into a rather unattractive bob, which was so full of hairspray that when she moved it remained completely still; she resembled one of those ridiculous women on Keeping Up with the House Witches of Oxford - in fact, maybe she was one.


“You look radiant.” Nodded the second woman who still stood slightly behind the one named Beatrice. I had never seen her before, and with her dark skin and strangely accented deep voice - French, maybe? - she was a stark contrast to the first woman’s shrillity.


Esmeralda inclined her head slightly- the most response I’d seen her display for a compliment in a long while - and then stepped aside to reveal me. “You must remember my granddaughter, Cornelia.”


“How lovely!” Beatrice squealed, leaning in to inspect me further. “Oh, she’ll have no trouble finding a suitable husband.”


“She has your eyes.” remarked the second woman, her own deep browns focusing on mine intently, as if she was attempting to discover some truth in them. I stared back at her, and as I did this strange, almost foreboding sense of uneasiness came over me, like this woman who I had never met knew something about me that I didn’t. We didn’t break our gaze, either of us, and out of my peripherals I saw my grandmother glance to the unnamed woman and then back to me.


“Cornelia,” Esmeralda snapped after a pause. “Go to the powder room at once and fix your hair. It looks dreadful.”


“Oh, I think it looks darling!” Beatrice gushed, clutching my arm with her long, deep red fingernails, and as she did the mysterious woman finally broke eye contact with me. “You don’t need to fix anything!”


Esmeralda swiveled her head to gaze sharply at Beatrice until her smile faltered, then turned back to me.


“Go.”


Without any more prompting, I turned on my heel and escape gratefully into the bathroom nearby. Since he wasn’t here yet, I would take hiding in a lavatory over interacting with stuffy people any day. And, as a bonus, it was an extremely well kept bathroom - ornately decorated, gold trimmings and white roses upon every surface - but I didn’t notice much of it as I leaned my elbows against the cool marble counter and gazed into the mirror.


There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the way my hair looked, or at least I didn’t think so. It was its usual golden-brown hue, falling in loose waves just past my breastbone. However, the rest of my face looked foreign and unfriendly, since the second Esmeralda saw me when I arrived at her estate this afternoon, she called upon her stylist, Madame Cruz, to fix me up to her liking. Now, my eyes were layered with thick lashes and dark colors; my tan skin buffed to be rather pale without a hint of life, making me look fierce and rather cold. This was Esmeralda’s- or, rather, the Pureblood - way: tough, flawless, unemotional. To have any pink on my cheeks would be a sign of weakness.


As I surveyed myself in the mirror, I pinched my cheeks hard, just to spite her.


The powder room door swung upon with a crash, and without preface I found myself surrounded by the proclaimed Hogwarts trio of wealth: Lyra Rosier, Calliope Yaxley, and Sephina Selwyn; all three exclusively friends with only Purebloods and forever attempting to add me to their little entourage as well. But they knew by now that it was futile; even if I still came to events like these I was never really there, just like my brother hadn’t been, and I think they wrote me off as a lost cause long ago.


“We saw you come in here and we knew we had to say hello!” Seph Selwyn squealed, pulling me into a delicate hug. She was a talker, the sweetest out of all of them - but, that wasn’t exactly saying much, considering that they basically ruled the Slytherin House as they pleased.


“We weren't sure if you would come,” said Lyra, haughtily, as she looked me up and down and then glanced towards the mirror to adjust her cleavage.


“We weren’t.” Calliope affirmed, raising an eyebrow carefully. She was the undisputed leader of the group - not just because she was a Seventh Year, but because she exuded the quietly dangerous power of an Alpha.


“But you did,” Calliope continued. “How has your summer been?” The intonations of her phrasing didn’t meet the coldness of her gaze, and it was so fucking fake that I wanted to tell her off for it right then and there. But while I knew I could do what I wanted over the safe roof of Hogwarts, I had to play the part here.


So fabulous, and yours?” I replied, just as insolent and proper, like I had been raised to do.


“Adequate,” Calliope pronounced unemotionally, glancing around the powder room. Her midnight black hair was curled perfectly down her back, and with the contrast against her alabaster skin she looked absolutely lethal.


“Until this party, of course,” Lyra jumped in, not to be overshadowed by Calliope. “Honestly, it's so much work I don't understand why our mothers put up with it every year.”


“Everything looks lovely,” I said, because I had to, and Calliope nodded once in approval of my statement.


“Anyways. you have to come sit in our train compartment tomorrow, Nellie.” said Lyra, and although she made it sound like an invitation, a friend reaching out to another friend, it was a thinly-veiled order. But Lyra wasn’t dangerous; rather, she had the means to be, but was always too preoccupied with the latest gossip or Witch Weekly magazine to ever really fit the part.


“She has those other friends, remember?” Calliope’s lips curled into something awful, and I again had to fight the overwhelming sensation to tell her off or slap her or something radical. Lyra may not have been a threat, but Calliope - like I said, she was lethal.


“Well, we’ll see each other in our NEWTs, right?” Seph asked cheerfully as Lyra pushed open the powder room door, either not understanding the tones her friends were using or choosing to ignore them - I could never tell with her.


“Of course,” I simpered, as Seph followed Lyra out the door, waving her hand in an enthusiastic farewell.


“We will see you around this year,” Calliope said, low and forceful, stopping the door from falling shut with the heel of her stiletto. “After all, you really only have two years left. Don't you, now?”


I knew exactly what she meant. Two more years to have my fun, to do what I wanted before my grandmother tightened the noose-like leash around my neck and pulled, hard. But I already knew that I’d go down fighting, just like my brother had. No matter how much Calliope threatened me, I had nothing tying me to this life.

 

 

 

 


When I finally emerged from the powder room some minutes later, a quick glance over to the corner told me that Esmeralda was still occupying the same vicinity as before, allowing me to duck behind a large statue of Helio the Helpful and escape being caught by her omnipotent eye.


“Hello, Cornelia.”


For a moment, hope surged through me - that is, of course, until my brain deciphered the voice and determined that it wasn’t him, but Christian Flint, a Slytherin in the year above me. With his gelled back honeycomb hair and piercing blue eyes, it was undeniable that he was attractive - extremely so, in fact - but I was always turned off by men that Esmeralda approved of, and even more so by those who acted as though this type of life was desirable.


“Christian.” Nevertheless, I extended my hand to him, just like I was taught. As he grabbed it and pressed his lips gently onto my skin, it took all I had not to burst out laughing at the ridiculosity of this role I was playing, or retching with disgust at the fact that I as even playing it at all.


“How has your summer been?” He handed me a glass of champagne, and I eagerly took a large gulp, and Jesus, why didn’t I think about alcohol before? I was going to have to be much more than tipsy if I was going to survive the rest of the night.


“Fine, thank you. And yours?”


“Fine,” nodded Christian. “Can I just say that you look absolutely stunning in that dress?”


“I don’t know, can you?” I shot back, then immediately a rush of mortification and heat spread to my cheeks. “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry, I-it’s a Ravenclaw reflex. Thank you. For saying I look fine. Or nice. Or whatever you...” I trailed off, filling the abruptly painful silence with another sip of my drink.


But Christian only grinned, his formal demeanor relaxing ever-so slightly; enough that he suddenly seemed like just any old guy I went to school with. “It’s no problem, Cornelia.”


“Nellie,” I said quickly. “I mean, you can call me Nellie, if you’d like.”


“Nellie, then,” he replied, raising his champagne glass. I busied myself with picking up a new chute of bubbly, glancing furtively around the venue, searching in vain for that one particular face - God, was I going to murder him-


“Maybe I’ll see more of you this year,” said Christian, then, in response to my confused expression, added quickly, “Because we’ll both be in NEWT level classes, of course.”


“Oh, right,” I said, albeit slightly relieved that he wasn’t insinuating that we would be spending time together. “Of course.”


“Christian!” A booming voice called from a few feet away, its owner obscured by the impressive statue I had been hiding behind.


“I’d better go. Later, Nellie.” Christian called, any signs of a forced formality forgotten as he smirked at me and disappeared from view.


And so, I was left alone again, but thankfully not for long, because-


“Wotcher, Corn.” Someone tapped my shoulder, and I whipped my head around so fast that my hair hit me in the face.


“Where have you been?” I hissed, stepping backwards slightly so I could dig the heel of my shoe into his foot.


“Millicent Avery caught me,” Scorpius Malfoy winced, his usually neat white blonde hair slightly askew, as if someone had just ruffled it. “You look like you’re holding your own out here, anyways.”


He was right, but I glared at him anyways. Scorpius Malfoy and I were distantly related - as all Purebloods are, I suppose - but he was more family to me than anyone else. Our mothers, when they had been around, were best friends after they met at a Hogwarts and Beauxbatons mixed event at age twelve, and as a result they raised Scorpius and I together like siblings. Scorpius was one of the only people who still called me Corn like my mother had; everyone else stuck to Nellie besides Esmeralda, who insisted that Nellie was repugnant and sounded like the name of a horse, and my father, who probably wasn’t even aware that I had a nickname in the first place.


“Well, I’m not,” I huffed, secretly only relieved that he had finally shown up. “I had to have a conversation not once, not twice, but three times! Can you even imagine how traumatised I am? Do you have not a shred of regard for my mental or emotional stability?”


“Come off it, you almost never have to do this!”


He was annoyingly correct again, but I still scowled back, too stubborn to allow him the satisfaction of an admission. Esmeralda only plucked me out of my usual lifestyle twice a year - once during the summer and once during the Christmas holiday - to parade me around at social events like a show horse; after the nights were done, we went back to our separate lives and pretended the other didn't exist until the next party. Scorpius, however, was forced to endure many more hours of polite small talk and blatant illiberality, and I was thankful that my appearance was only deemed necessary once in awhile.


“Besides,” continued Scorpius. “This one isn’t so bad. At least the Mulcibers aren’t here.”


“But, what fools these mortals be!” I gestured around me. Everyone seemed to be incredibly irrational, and for a brief moment it reminded me of A Midsummer Night’s dream, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, when all of the characters were drunk off of fabricated love and the chaotic, elusive night.


As if to prove my point, a man suddenly stumbled face first into me, pouring his glass of red wine straight onto my chest.


“Oh, darling, I am so sorry,” he grinned rather sloppily. As he looked up, I recognized him immediately; Damien Rosier, the brother of Lyra, who graduated the same year as my brother.


“Here, love,” Rosier advanced closer to me, his smirk widening. “Let me help clean you up.”


“No, it’s fine,” I hastily took a step back as Rosier whipped out a handkerchief and attempted to pat the front of my chest with it.


“We’ve got it, thanks.” said Scorpius firmly, his wand materialising into his hand.


“Well, what’s going on here?” Pansy Zabini stopped to observe the scene, her puckered face contorting into an expression of horror. “Oh, no! You’ve had an accident!”


“Yes. Perhaps I should go home, get cleaned up…” The hopefulness in my voice was much too transparent, and Scorpius elbowed me sharply in the back. Luckily, Mrs. Zabini seemed too drunk to notice.


“Nonsense, go on and use magic! With all these important people around, it’s not as if you could get in any trouble!” she winked and then cackled, as if what she said was absolutely witty.


“One sees more devils than vast hell can hold.” I muttered as Mrs. Zabini teetered away, her margarita spilling slightly over the edge and splashing onto the marble tiles below.


“What is it with you and Shakespeare tonight?” Scorpius chuckled as he led me to the side of the balcony, cleaning my outfit with a simple wave of his wand.


“I’m feeling poetic,” I said. “Or angsty. Either way, I’m in the mood. Did you finally get to reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream?


“Honestly, it was just a lucky guess that it was Shakespeare,” said Scorpius, rolling his eyes slightly. “Usually when you sound that weird it is.”


“Shakespeare was first on the recommended Muggle literature list!” I protested weakly, knowing full well that Ravenclaws were the only students who were even aware that there was suggested reading, not to mention amongst those who actually did it.


“Anyways. How’s the rest of your vigilante summer been?” Scorpius asked. After staying alone at my house for two weeks, forced to do nothing but take long, lonesome walks and catch up on my reading at a local cafe, I journeyed to Malfoy Manor to visit Scorpius. However, I could only stay for a week, because Scorpius went to spend the rest of his summer with Albus Potter, his best friend, in the Potter’s summer house in Australia. So, my best friend Mia Templeton came to my rescue and invited me to live with her for the rest of the summer in London. Although Mia’s parents are Muggles and there was no magic anywhere we managed to entertain ourselves completely. The majority of our days were spent shopping and frequenting restaurants; our nights consisted of bad romantic comedy movies and homemade ice cream. We even journeyed to France for a few days, just the two of us, entirely because Mia wanted to see if voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir would work as a suitable pick-up line (it did, but only because Mia was wearing a low cut tube top and jean shorts smaller than those of a primary schooler).


“Great,” I smiled affectionately. “Although, being in a Muggle house for so long certainly rubbed off on me. Are you acquainted with Netflix?


“Er, no, never heard of him,” said Scorpius as he glanced around furtively. “But Corn, this certainly isn’t the place to bring up anything to do with Muggles.”


He was right, of course. Nothing relating to Muggles - including Muggleborns - would be an appropriate topic of conversation at an event such as this one. Maybe that’s why my brother was never mentioned anymore. He had associated himself with taboo, and as a result he had become one.


“How was your summer with Albus?” I asked.


Scorpius snorted. “Eventful. His family is insane; I don’t think I’ve had more than a minute to myself in two months.”


“Lucky you,” I said, rather bitterly, because even though I was happy for him for having a fun summer or whatever, I was insanely jealous he spent two months in freaking Australia. “Excited for tomorrow?”


“As much as I’ll ever be,” said Scorpius sarcastically, but I could tell he that he really was looking forward to returning to Hogwarts. “Are you?”


“It’s hard to be excited when you’re stuck doing something so fucking boring,” I said, but from the way he smiled at me, it was obvious he knew I was eager as well.


“It’s only a few more hours. Cheers?” Scorpius held out another flute of champagne - an invitation to our fate.


“Cheers.” I said glumly. I accepted the glass.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 


By the time Esmeralda deemed my presence appropriate enough to allow me to leave the Gala, it was well past midnight. Scorpius’s father apparated me to the end of my driveway, saying nothing more than a few words as usual. With only a brief well-wish for the year and a hug goodbye, Draco spun on the spot and disappeared, leaving me to walk through the looming wrought-iron gates and up the winding entrance alone.


Where I lived was small, for a Pureblood manor. There were only three stories, and the separate wings were relatively small and secluded. Nevertheless, the house was a cold, unforgiving place. It was a labyrinth of hallways and locks; a maze of unknown rooms and empty walls. For years, I tried to understand the secrets of it; I peeked under doors and through windows, I used spells and physical force, but it was to no avail, and eventually I stopped trying.


Being raised by my father - or, rather, existing in the same space - had taught me that it was futile to pose questions about anything potentially considered private: the past, the rooms, the war, my mother. Esmeralda simply pretended the questions weren’t there in the first place, allowing unfinished business and loose ends to occupy the space around our conversations constantly. In my father’s eyes, however, every fact of life was “privatised,” or “classified,” or “Ministry knowledge only.” As an Unspeakable, he pulled out phrases similar to those like change from his pocket - always at the ready, jingling around in the air, utterly worthless. And I never pressed him further. Just like our house, we tiptoed around the secrets of each other, neither of us courageous or concerned enough to cross the line.


So now, as I carefully padded through the empty foyer and ballroom towards the East Wing - the only place in the estate that resembled some sort of home - I didn’t bother to wonder whether or not I was alone. Even if my father was here, I wouldn’t see him much less speak to him, so it didn’t really matter.


I walked through the informal living space, passed the kitchen and servers quarters, until I reached the end of the hall, where dark stained double doors marked ‘library’ dominated the walls.


It wasn’t really much of a library, I suppose. There were only a scattering of books, and even those were written in ancient text and layered in dust as old as the Chamber of Secrets. But it was my favourite place to stay. It was conveniently next door to my bedroom, allowing that I only had to venture a few feet away from my comfort zone each time I was home.


Slowly, I sank down onto one of the velvet sofas, pulling off my shoes one at a time and massaging my aching feet gently. When I was around six or seven, I watched my mother do the same thing after events like the one tonight; her dark hair spilling around her shoulders as she looked up at me to smile tiredly. I would always imitate her, pulling off my trainers in a similar fashion; one by one, just as slowly, as if each tug was painful and the success of removing the shoe an unparalleled relief. But I didn’t like remembering things like that - in fact, I only did think of her when I was less than sober - so I busied myself with the threads of the carpet beneath my feet, exploring how they weaved in and out of each other like waves in the sea; riding out to the tide of the fabric where they stopped their pattern without any warning or indication at all.


A faint noise comes from across the room jolted me. The dark brick fireplace seemed to be quivering slightly, sending faint vibrations through the floorboards and shaking every surface subtly. Without warning, the fireplace burst into green, flickering flames, and for a split second, I wondered if it was my father returning home from work - but that thought was soon cast away, since I knew my father hadn’t been to this corner of the house in years. I snatched my wand off of the end table I placed it on, preparing for the worst, just as a dark figure tumbled headfirst out of the fire.


“Stupify!” I shrieked, sending a red beam careening off towards the intruder, where it ricocheted off the siding and smashed into an empty vase, exploding shards of glass into the air.


“Jesus Christ, Nellie!” My brother flung up his arms to shield his face as I sent another spell towards him.


Adam?


“You almost fuckin’ killed me! What the hell?”


“Well, it’s not like I was expecting you,” I said defensively, sinking back onto the couch in an attempt to calm my racing heart. “What are you doing here?”


“I was just picking up some stuff. Christ, Corn, you look skinny. Have you been eating?” Adam asked, stepping closer into the light to inspect me. His chestnut hair was tousled by his recent Floo journey; the trip had also left some dark soot on his skin, covering the delicate freckles that dusted his nose. He appeared taller than usual - perhaps since it had been over two months since I’d seen him last - but everything else looked the same: his wide shoulders, his light blue eyes, the pale scars that tattooed his tanned skin.


Yes,” I said defensively, crossing my arms over my unfortunately small chest. “You haven’t been back here in a year and you’re just ‘picking up some stuff?’”


“‘Course,” said Adam casually, as if absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary. “Listen, is he home?”


“Probably not,” I said. “I mean, he works twenty hours a day, and even when he’s here I never see him, so how am I supposed to know where he is? It’s not like when I hear a potential burglar I think, hey, where’s my father right now? since he wouldn’t be much help in a situation like that, anyways - he’d probably just say, ‘That information is top secret, Cornelia,’ as I got stabbed, or something…”


Adam suddenly grinned. “Are you under the influence?”


“What? You haven’t seen me in months, and instead of asking me how I am or anything you accuse me of being inebriated? How dare you, honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been more offended in my life-”


“Oh, you so are-”


“I can’t believe I’m even entertaining this notion, but...how would you be able to tell, anyways?”


“You get really chatty,” said Adam. “Is this what you’ve come to? Drinking by yourself the night before school starts?”


“No,” I scowled, gesturing to my dress. “Do you even see what I’m wearing?”


“Ah. Rosier’s Gala?”


“Unfortunately,” I muttered as he crossed the room in two long strides and flung himself on the sofa next to me. “How’s Annabelle?”


Adam graduated from Hogwarts three years ago and immediately moved into a flat in Soho with his Muggleborn girlfriend, Annabelle. Since then, he had only been back to the manor twice - once to pick me up for back-to-school shopping, and another time to retrieve some of his old Quidditch supplies, since he claimed they had sentimental value and would probably be displayed in the Quidditch Hall of Fame one day, or some hogwash like that.


Adam smiled widely. “She’s great. Almost done with preliminary Healer training.”


“That’s good,” I said. “I’m staying with you for Christmas holidays, right?”


“Of course,” he nudged me. “Except for when Grandmother kidnaps you for the Ministry Ball. I have no control over that one.”


“You could come,” I suggested hopefully, and he snorted with sort of a cynical derision.


“What, and have her try to kill me again? I’m dating a Muggleborn! I’m not welcome anymore! Besides, to get out of it you just have to snog a Muggle or a blood-traitor in front of her. Simple as that.”


Simple?


“As long as you’re good at dodging curses, then, yeah. Simple.” Adam laughed once, but his finger ran down the length of his scarred arm, and my stomach clenched at the thought enduring what he had.


“Anyways, I doubt she’d do to you what she did to me. You were always the favourite,” Adam stood, stretching his arms towards the vaulted ceilings. “Being in Ravenclaw somehow isn’t as offensive as Gryffindor.”


“I wonder why?” I asked sarcastically. “At least we’re not a bunch of obnoxious attention seekers-”


“At least my typical insults don’t come from the fifteenth century,” retorted Adam, walking to the large shelf across the room. “What did you call me last time? A venomous hunchbacked hog?”


“Poisonous bunch-backed toad.” I muttered despite myself.


“You are such an undercover nerd.” Adam shook his head. He began fingering through the assortment of books, finally resting upon one large volume bound in ancient, crackling leather.


“What’s that?” I sat up a little straighter as he pulled the book out of its case.


“Just a little light reading I never finished.” He made his way back to the couch, but I was staring at him incredulously.


“A book?” To my knowledge, Adam hadn’t willingly read anything not pertaining to Quidditch since he was ten. “You came back here for a book?”


“Annabelle wants to read it. ‘Parently it’s really rare or something.”


“Let me see, then,” I reached for the book, but he slid it behind him just as my fingertips came close.


It was that simple motion that changed everything. One moment Adam was here grabbing some stuff on a social call, the next there were ulterior motives - deception, things to be hidden and kept secret - and Merlin knew how sick I was of the goddamn secrets in this house.


“Give me the book, Adam.” I locked eyes with him - and then he knew, he knew that I knew something wasn’t right.


“Another time,” Adam smiled slightly, but it was clear he was only doing it to keep up the appearance of casualty, even as it was so obviously and irreparably shattered.


So I asked why, and Adam said because, so then I told him that that wasn’t a real answer, and he told me that it was a dumb question, at which I then lunged towards the book, but he managed to shield it with his body, as if he were a bodyguard and I was some desperate groupie trying to get onto a band’s tour bus, and I kept trying to grab the stupid book, but he kept on blocking me with his stupid, strong, Quidditch-built arms, so at long last I gave up, resolving to scoot as far away from him as I could and ignore his presence.


After only a few moments of complete quiet, Adam sighed. I knew he would break easily; he never had been one to allow silence to not be filled with something or other.


“Just - please, Corn - trust me. You don’t want to read this. Not yet. In a few months I’ll send it to you, okay? When I’m done?”


I continued to stare stonily straight ahead of me, sending daggers at the hand-carved rocking chair opposite.


“I will give it to you. Just not now. Trust me, alright?”


It’s not like I was one of those people who was always emotionally guarded and couldn’t trust anyone with even the smallest things like a grocery list - I wasn’t - but I also wasn’t exactly jumping at the opportunity to take everyone’s words for truth. But it was Adam, my brother, and I decided it was better to let him win this one than to continue fighting. I would probably lose, anyways; quitting while I was ahead was the smartest move in the scenario.


“Okay.” I said finally, allowing him to pull me into a final hug, the prize stashed safely behind him.


“You should really get to bed. I’ve seen your eyes droop like that; it’ll only be minutes before you’re out cold.”


“I am not tired.” I scorned, but Adam merely laughed and tousled my hair affectionately, rising as he did so.


“See you for Christmas, Corn. Don’t do anything stupid this term.”


“Don’t worry. I’m not a Gryffindor.”


“You wish you were that cool.” he chortled into the darkness, grabbing a handful of Floo powder from the bowl next to the remnants of the vase I destroyed.


As I sleepily watched him leave, I was comforted by the remembrance that while my mother would take off her shoes wearily, Adam as an exuberant nine year old would run around the room with his trousers over his head, oblivious to the fact that something could be wrong in the world. That’s what occupied my thoughts as I drifted off to sleep; not my mother or the shoes or the weariness, but Adam, happy and carefree, like he had somehow always managed to remain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


Disclaimer: I do not own anything you recognise here. Also, A Midsummer Night's Dream belongs to Shakespeare!

 

 

 

 

 

 



Chapter 2: Chapter Two
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns everything you recognise here. Also, Shakespeare belongs to Shakespeare.


 


 

 

 

 


I sighed with relief as I pushed my trolley through the bustling platform, coming to rest against a brick column near the middle of the train. I had very nearly been late this morning, and it was a great consolation to have somehow managed to make it to Platform 9 and ¾ with fifteen minutes to spare.


I had awoken only thirty minutes earlier to sunlight streaming in from the high arched windows above the fireplace mantle. Adam was right; I had passed out on the library couch in all of my evening attire. Thankfully, I’d had the decency to think ahead and pack all of my Hogwarts belongings before I left for the Gala, but now I only had a few minutes to get properly dressed and ready. As I pulled my trunk through the dark hallways of the manor after I had cleaned myself up, an electric pain seared behind my eyes and made its way beneath my temples. I didn’t think I had had enough to drink to be hungover, but there it was: a raging, throbbing, mind-numbing migraine; painful enough to stop me in my tracks to rustle through my smaller bag for something to alleviate it with.


A slight squeak of a chair made me jump. Usually, when I set off for King’s Cross, my father was already at work and goodbyes were rarely, if never, exchanged. But there he was, in his purple Unspeakable robes, rising from a velvet armchair in the foyer.


“Cornelia,” his thin lips pulled together in a slight smile as he clasped clasping his hands together. I could see a faint line on his finger where his wedding band used to be. “Have a good term.”


“Thank you.” I nodded curtly as I made to move past him. It felt strange to address him directly; I hadn’t had an actual conversation with him for months, and even that had only consisted of light pleasantries and superficial details of my life.


“Cornelia,” my father called after me as I was almost out the door. When I turned back, his mouth was open slightly, as if he was unsure of what to say. His greying hair was parted and combed neatly, his face clean shaven, his spectacles clear and gently resting upon the bridge of his long nose, all like usual. But there had been something urgent about the look in his eyes - they pierced mine, green to green, as if trying to convey some imperative message or signal that I could not for the life of me decipher.


But maybe I had only imagined it, for when he finally spoke, he just said, “Be safe,” like he always did before I departed for school, and watched me leave without a word of affection or otherwise.


The train emitted a shrill whistle and exhaled a thick cloud of steam into the overcast sky above, jolting me back to my place on the outskirts of the Platform; my throbbing head flinched in response to the harsh noise. I gathered my belongings and began moving towards the train rather slowly, due to both the intense pounding of my skull every time I took a step and the thick crowd of people, all milling around and calling to one another.


“Hey!”


“Oi! Nellie!”


Two boys bounded over, coming to a haphazardly stop right in front of me. While both were wearing casual Ravenclaw apparel, one was tall and tan, with golden curls that somehow managed to look windswept even as we were underground; the other was slightly stockier and had darker, shorter hair.


“Kato! Benjy!” I stepped forward just as the latter swooped me into a bear hug. Benjy Waterson and Kato Millican, Sixth and Seventh Year Ravenclaws respectively, had been on the Quidditch team with me for the past three years; although they used to tease me mercilessly, they were now two of my closest friends.


“All right, Nels?” Kato grinned, grabbing me the moment Benjy let go. I couldn’t help but notice how strong his grip was was; when he came that close to me I could feel my stomach flutter slightly and my skin grow warmer than usual.


“As right as I’ll ever be,” I said as he released me, and Jesus my head still hurt but I smiled through it anyways.


“How was your summer?”


“Fine,” I shrugged; the picture of blasé. “Yours?”


“Great! I learned some French,” replied Benjy.


“Yeah, right,” Kato scoffed, before I could say anything. “Say something cool, then.”


“Nellie: tu es une pomme,” said Benjy, quite confidently, although his accent sounded anything but French.


I wrinkled my nose. “I am an apple?


“The apple of my EYE!” Benjy crowed, then high-fived exuberantly with Kato. “Boom! Pickup line!”


“Is that all you know how to say?” I asked drily.


“Yeah, but it’s enough,” said Benjy earnestly. “I mean, think about it! I know all the pronouns, so I can say I am an apple, you are an apple, we are all apples-”


“And, why would that be helpful in any way?”


“It’s just cool, okay? Don’t hate, bro.”


“It’s really not,” I said, feeling a twinge of satisfaction when Kato agreed with me.


“Well, we’d better find a compartment,” said Benjy. “See you on the train?”


“Sure,” I waved as they walked away. Kato glanced back at me over his shoulder, his eyebrows quirked slightly together and a soft smile on his lips. Had I only imagined it, or was he looking at me like…? No, he couldn’t have been. I couldn’t afford to let my mind wander in the way it often did; there were never any beneficial outcomes to over thinking, anyways.


“Hello!” A voice trilled, piercing the muffled voices and train utterances. "Wait for me!"


"You're here?" I asked in mock disbelief as a beautiful girl with caramel skin and dark wavy tresses struggled with her luggage in front of her. "On time?"


"My dad changed the time on every single watch and clock in the house," Mia Templeton rolled her eyes, hugging me tightly with the arm not holding her trunk upright. "So, don't think this will last."
 


"Never," I said somberly. After we met in our First Year aboard the Hogwarts Express, my friendship with Mia had just sort of materialized into a constant, rendering it impossible to pinpoint an exact moment or time when it had definitively started. It was just a simple, irrefutable truth: she was my best friend, and I hers.


Mia took a step backwards, holding me out at arm’s length to inspect me. With her big brown eyes and high, angular cheekbones, Mia was easily one of the most appealing girls in Hogwarts; standing next to her I looked as unexotic as could be. Not to mention that she had the biggest bust of any girl in our year. Although, she liked to mention it a lot, now that I think about it.


“Wow. You look like hell.” Mia pronounced after a few seconds.


“Thanks,” I said irritably, jerking myself out of her reach. I hadn’t had time to apply any makeup over the dark circles under my eyes this morning, and I didn’t even bother to try to fix last night’s hairdo into something presentable.


She frowned, leaning in to scrutinize me further. “Are you seriously hungover on our first day?”


“Don’t you remember why I left your house? The Gala?”


“Oh, right,” Mia smacked her forehead rather dramatically. “And you’re only hungover? If I had to go to one of those, I would be in Mungo’s-


“Wish I were,” I muttered sardonically, just as something hit me from behind, causing me to yelp out in pain.


“Hola, ladies,” Milo Cunningham had slung both of his arms around Mia and my shoulders, leaning on us so hard that I nearly collapsed under the weight.


“Jesus, Milo,” Mia groaned, managing to shove him away. “How much did you eat this summer?”


“Ha ha,” Milo deadpanned, his slender frame slouched like it normally was. “You’re just so hilarious I could die.


“Did you grow even more this break?” I had to crane my neck more than usual to look him in the eye.


“I’m nearly two metres now,” announced Milo proudly. I glanced at Mia in alarm; with his eyes enlarged by his thick glasses and his long, spindly legs, Milo already looked like a grasshopper with hair. If he kept growing the similarities would only become more pronounced.


“The London Zoo giraffe called; he wants his fucking legs back,” said Mia, and Milo told her to fuck off so loudly that a few parents glanced over to us, absolutely scandalised.


“So, what did you do this holiday?” I asked as we made our way to the train.


“Well - okay, great story, I went canoeing and I overturned the boat because I miscalculated how rocky it would get if I stood up in it, and I stood up in it to try to reach a Barnabus fig that I spotted - they’re quite rare, you know, as figs go-”


“I’ve heard that,” I said, as seriously as I could manage, while Mia didn’t even attempt to hide her derisive snort.


“Exactly! So, there I am, trying to investigate this fig, when splash I’m in the water! Only, I don’t know how to swim, so now I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to die, I’m going to die, all for a stupid fig,’ but then - and you’ll never believe this -” he said excitedly, his words beginning to blend together with the anticipation of getting them all out. “I start to float! I survived! All thanks to this ingenious Muggle contraption! It’s quite complex, but essentially it’s a covering with these incredible water-resistant properties-”


“Milo,”


“-which allow the person utilising it to be propelled-”


Milo.


“-ascended, really, against even the strongest of currents-”


“Milo!”


What?


“You were wearing a life jacket,” Mia told him, rather bitingly. “It’s a neon orange vest with foam in it.”


“Er, well, yes,” said Milo, slightly crestfallen. “But, it’s still a good tale, eh?”


“Nay,” Mia and I replied at the same time.


“You two are no fun,” Milo pouted, helping to lift up the end of my trunk so I could shove it onto the train.


“Well, at least he got his stupid story out of the way,” Mia panted slightly with the effort of navigating her belongings through the rather narrow corridor of the train. “Now we don’t have to suffer through the rest of the trip.”


“I can hear you, you know,” said Milo, slightly annoyed. “I am literally directly behind you.”


“Really? I thought you were figuratively behind me.”


“Har har, you’re just too epigrammatic-”


“Ugh, I know!” she exclaimed; Milo couldn’t help but break out into a smile as Mia wrenched open the door of a compartment near the end of the train.


“Oi, what took you wankers so long?” A tall boy with auburn hair and dark eyes snapped, his arms crossed tightly like a bouncer in front of a nightclub.


“Milo just had to tell one of his riveting stories,” Mia rolled her eyes, then squealed, launching herself towards the three Slytherin boys who were spread out over the plush seats - on one side sat Scorpius and Albus Potter, while opposite them was Flynn Klein, the surly-looking security detail.


“I’ve missed you guys!” Mia sounded muffled as her face was buried into Flynn’s shoulder, while I hugged Albus and Milo thumped Scorpius on the back in a similar fashion to how one would play a bongo drum.


“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all missed each other, our summers were fantastic, so on, so forth, et cetera. Can we move on, please?” Flynn barked, peeling Mia off of him limb by limb.


“You’re in a right twist,” Mia commented lightly as she plopped down next to Albus opposite him.


“Well, I just got stopped by three separate First Years who wanted to know stupid stuff like how Harry Potter takes his tea,” said Flynn sourly.


“Why?” asked Albus, mystified, while I took a seat next to Flynn.


“Everyone always thinks I’m a Weasley,” Flynn rolled his eyes. “You lot didn’t invent red hair, you know.”


“We may as well have,” said Albus somberly, while Milo sniggered.


“Besides,” continued Flynn, a hint of his familiar spark coming back. “It’s almost an insult to be mistaken for a Weasley. I mean, I’m obviously much more attractive-”


That comment earned him a smack on the neck from Albus and a collective groan from the rest of us, even though we were all thoroughly accustomed to Flynn’s egocentrism and terrible sense of humour.


“Pretend all you want - we know you were dying to see us,” said Mia airily, and Flynn relaxed, grinning back at her in his casual fashion.


“Okay, you’re right. I did miss you guys. Especially you, Nellie,” Flynn poked me in my side. “Had to go the entire holiday without my favorite ex-girlfriend.”


Flynn and I had tried dating all the way back in Second Year in the kind of embarrassingly awkward way that only twelve year olds can manage, but after Flynn leaned in for a peck and we both burst out laughing, we decided it was best to lay our relationship to rest once and for all. Now, he brought it up every chance he got, much to my annoyance.


“I’m sure you managed just fine,” I said wryly, but Flynn stoutly shook his head and planted a wet kiss on my cheek before I could squirm away from him.


“Been waiting to do that all summer!” he said proudly, while Mia shrieked with laughter and I wiped off his saliva, unable to keep my giggles contained.


“You shouldn’t’ve gone to bloody California for a month and a half, then,” said Milo loftily.


“Oi! I invited you!” Flynn said indignantly. “Not my fault your parents thought you would overdose on some of the devil’s lettuce in big, bad, scary America-”


“Shut up,” muttered Milo, but he was grinning. Milo’s parents were strict - extremely so, in fact - but perhaps they had a good reason to be; Milo’s older sister, Evie, had gotten into so much trouble in her Hogwarts days that Milo’s parents weren’t taking any chances on him.


“And, why didn’t we get the invite?” Scorpius interjected, Al nodding emphatically beside him.


“Because you and Al were off in freaking Australia, probably flirting with kangaroos or something stupid like that-”


“We did not flirt with them!” Al protested. “We courted them, like gentleman-


“Anyways, I think Nellie here had the worst of it - I heard she had to stay with some absolute nutter=


“Hey!” Mia leaned across the seat to smack Flynn on the arm, but he dodged her easily.


“How were the States, though?” Scorpius asked.


“Great,” said Flynn dreamily. “Hot dogs and tan girls in bikinis on every corner.”


“A dream come true!” Milo said, albeit rather bitterly. I think he was still rather peeved he couldn’t’ve joined in on all of the tan bikini fun.


“Milo, how was your holiday?” Al asked, even as I locked eyes with him and shook my head emphatically, trying to say, No! Don’t ask! But because Albus was kind, or stupid, or some ungodly mix of the two, he pressed on, even going as far as to appear interested.


Milo launched into his Barnabus fig story again - Mia interrupting him every couple of seconds to emphasize how stupid it was - while the train began to chug slowly outside of the platform. Whenever I wasn’t at Hogwarts, I felt strangely restless and unsettled, as if something in my life was out of place or just a bit off, so usually I was nothing short of ecstatic to be on the train, surrounded with excitement and my best friends and the upcoming prospects of the year. But for some unknown reason, as the charred bricks and dark tunnels were replaced with expansive skies and rolling grass, I couldn’t pull myself to enjoy the moment as I normally did.


“You okay, Nellie?” Flynn asked after I hadn’t contributed to the conversation in some time.


“She’s in one of her moods,” Albus smirked, to which I indignantly refuted by attempting to flick him on the arm.


But I was in one of my moods - the kind where energy seemed to seep out of my bones, leaving me irritable and more pessimistic than usual. It wasn’t just the pain in my head, it was the train ride, the upcoming year - the repetition of things, the impossible cycle we all seemed to be caught in. I didn’t want to be stuck, but trying to break out of it was like trying to jump out of a moving car - it made you nauseous to even think about. So I didn’t fight it. I never did. My emotions were always so strong and quick; it was always best to just let them crash over me and ride them out than to try to understand why they took a hold of me like they did.


“She’s just hungover,” supplied Mia. “Speaking of which, shame on you, Scorpius!”


“What? Why?”


“You totally got Nellie drunk!” Mia accused, while Albus and Flynn snorted.


“Well, yeah,” Scorpius shrugged. Milo high-fived him. “But not that drunk.”


“I honestly was barely a little more than tipsy,” I lifted my head up slightly. “I don’t know why I feel like such utter shit.”


“Your tipsy is my wasted, Nellie,” said Mia primly while I shot her a look.


“Maybe you’re not hungover,” Al suggested. “Maybe it’s just a headache.”


“Whatever it is, it’s murdering me.” I slumped back against the wall.


“Well, we’d better get going,” Scorpius jerked his head towards the door. “Molly Weasley is Head Girl this year, and she told Al that she would be cracking down hard.”


Al grimaced as he stood up. “She’s doubling the amount of patrols we have this year. Doubling.


“Oh, the woes of being role models,” said Mia dramatically, throwing a hand over her heart and pretending to swoon. While to an outsider both Al and Scorpius being Prefects could be seen as a progressive movement against fulfilling gendered expectations, that wasn’t really the case; it just so happened that their Sixth Year Slytherin girl counterparts were all such horrid choices it only made sense to have two male Prefects.


“Hey! Role models can still have problems!” Albus contended, while Flynn told him to piss off and I chucked a chocolate frog at his head, which he deftly avoided.


“Oh!” Milo jumped up from his seat as well, his head nearly hitting the ceiling. “That reminds me. I have to get something from Phillip McSwain.”


What reminded you?” I asked. “I sincerely hope it wasn’t role model.


Phillip McSwain, a Slytherin Seventh Year, was Hogwarts’s resident black market dealer. He always had various things hidden deftly in the pockets of his cloak - some dangerous, most illegal, all valuable - and he had accumulated quite a reputation with both the students and teachers. If you needed anything, from weed to concert tickets to Unicorn dung extract, McSwain was the one you went to.


“No, it was the chocolate frog,” said Milo, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Besides, what he’s giving me is really rare, so-”


“If it’s one of those biting barnacles that keeps trying to eat people’s fingers…” warned Flynn as Milo followed Scorpius and Albus out the door


“It’s not!” Milo promised, then grew serious. “But, I do wonder - how much do you think-”


“No!” We all snapped at the same time.


“Fine, fine,” Milo muttered, and then he was gone, too. As the door fell shut, the cacophony of the compartments around us permeated our peaceful room, and I huddled further into the corner, determined to block out the growing noises.


While Mia and Flynn began arguing about whose set of Exploding Snap cards were better, I leaned my head against the cool glass of the window, watching the landscape blur by as the train sped through the countryside. When I was little, Adam used to always get nauseous when he looked out of a moving vehicle, but for some reason the fleeting figures and colours always seemed to calm me down. They were soothing, in a way; the images of outside seemed to stand still for one, fleeting second before they were completely replaced with something new, and I found myself able to relax into the blurred shapes and scenes. But soon, even the tranquil backdrop wasn’t enough to distract from the commotion outside.


“God,” I finally moaned, as the raucous laughter only increased in volume. “Do they think they’re the only people on the train?”


“Probably,” said Flynn, not even bothering to look up from his intense game of Exploding Snap with Mia.


“Okay,” as I sat up, the throbbing in my head increasing significantly. “That’s it. I’m going in.”


“Nellie,” said Mia, suddenly nervous. “Don’t. That’s-”


“I don’t care who it is,” I snapped, wrenching open the compartment door and marching into the hallway, only to find what was to be expected: a whole group of Seventh Year Gryffindors, mostly girls, sprawled in an open compartment and spilling out into the corridor. Four or five people were sitting in the middle, while the rest of the group crowded around them, looking up at them as if they sat on thrones.


“Would you kindly shut up?” I snapped, standing in the aisle and crossing my arms over my chest.


“What, are we disrupting your reading?” jeered the boy in the center of the commotion, who I immediately identified as Albus’s older brother, James. His friends sniggered along with everyone else, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t in the mood to put up with their attitudes, and I certainly wasn’t in the mood to be walked all over.


Wow,” I drew out the syllable. “That’s really witty. We’re Ravenclaws, so we must be reading! Smashing originality!”


“I’d like to think so,” James Potter drawled over the titters. “Besides, now you are disrupting me. That’s not very Ravenclaw of you, is it?”


And I know I shouldn’t have responded to him - I knew he was just trying to rile me up - but what he said was just so offensive or anti-feminist or something that I couldn’t resist.


“Oh, so you think everyone in Ravenclaw is just docile and submissive and reads all day without ever uttering a sound?”


“Don’t they?” Potter smirked, glancing past me down the corridor. Instinctively, I followed his gaze, and then wished I hadn’t - because there was Milo, running down the aisle of the train, carrying a large book in each hand while somehow still managing to wave exuberantly at me.


It was moments like these where I knew somewhere, out in the deep darkness of the universe, some powerful being was out to get me.


“Nell-O! Guess what?” Milo exclaimed as soon as he was close enough, nearly dropping one of the thick volumes in all of his excitement. “I got the new objective editorials about bubotuber species in tropical climates!”


“Shut up, Milo,” I hissed, dragging him back into our compartment as he looked around with confusion, somehow surprised to find himself amidst the roars of laughter from the Gryffindors.


“Have fun with your books!” someone called as Flynn stood up and shut the compartment door with a bang.


“Great,” Mia groaned, covering her face. “Now we’re starting off the year as Gryffindor’s new joke.”


“Well, at least you seemed to get your point across,” said Flynn, smirking as I collapsed back into my seat and scowled at the floor. The noise had only increased, and I knew it was at Milo and my expenses.


“They’re a bunch of pricks, anyways,” said Milo encouragingly. He was always unfazed by ridicule; a talent that had certainly aided him throughout the years. “Besides, Nellie, you’ll shut them up in Quidditch, right?”


“Of course,” I glanced up. “Gryffindor doesn’t stand a chance.”


“That’s the spirit!” Flynn said cheerfully. “Now, c’mon, play Exploding Snaps before you have lunch. It’s getting a bit boring, me demolishing Mia over and over again.”

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


The Slug Club car was its usual, luxurious experience. Professor Slughorn, the elderly Potions master with a flair for the extravagant, already dominated the huge compartment, resting comfortably at the head of the table, on which hors d'oeuvres and crystal water glasses were placed. Thankfully, the place settings closest to him were already filled with students, so I was able to settle into a seat closer to the middle of the table. As I sat down, Christian Flint caught my eye and nodded a hello; I merely smiled slightly in response, not wanting to call any attention to myself with Professor Slughorn in hearing distance.


I had been a member of the Slug Club since Third Year - the earliest age students can be invited to join. I was only a part of it because of the legacy of my family, although Slughorn claimed it was because of my Charms skills to avoid accusations of elitist favoritism. If that was really the case, then Scorpius would’ve been invited to join ages ago, but the connotations that always accompanied the Malfoy name overshadowed even the most extraordinary of talent.


“Hey,” Albus took the seat next to mine, nudging my shoulder a little. His eyebrows always quirked a tiny bit upwards when he spoke, making him appear more sincere or intuitive than most people his age, but as he glanced over to me he was smiling easily. Al just had this certain charisma, almost magnetism about him; it was like in those Muggle shows, where there would always that be one older man who gave sage, quotable pieces of advice - that was Al, except younger and a little more prone to getting so piss drunk he couldn’t even stand up.


“Hi, Nellie,” Rose Weasley leaned around Al to grin at me. “Good summer?”


I smiled back. “Pretty good, yeah.”


Rose, although she had a fiery personality and was so argumentative it was a bit scary at times, was also one of the kindest people in our year. She stuck up for all of the underdogs in the school and practically made it her goal to be nice to every single student. In fact, the only time I’d ever seen her really angry was when she got annoyed with her cousins (which was often) or when she spoke to Scorpius. For some reason, Scorpius and Rose got along like oil and water, and Albus was always trying to mix them together to no avail.


“How was your holiday in Australia?” I asked, as Catherine McDonough pulled out the seat next to Rose.


“Great,” said Albus quickly, before Rose could open her mouth. “Aunt Hermione’s parents live in Sydney, so we ended up spending a lot of time with them.”


“They’re absolutely nutters, though,” Rose shook her head, her eyes widening with emphasis. “Grandad kept trying to convince me to let him poke at my teeth with metal sticks; he wanted to do it so badly I was terrified he would try it while I was sleeping.”


“I’ve told you, it’s just dentistry,” said Al, a rather uncharacteristic eye roll accompanying his words.


“I know what it is!” Rose snapped. “I just didn’t want any part in it! Besides, Mum told me not to egg him on-”


“And asking him exactly how to use a drill wasn’t egging him on?”


“You know I only said that to distract him from asking me if I had a boyfriend!”


“That’s true,” Albus relented, and Rose nodded at him, appeased. Al, the ever patient and composed, unlike Rose, always knew when it was time to stop arguing.


“So, Al,” I dropped my voice slightly as Rose turned to Catherine McDonough. “How was your summer really?


“Actually good, except for Scorpius and -” Al gestured to Rose with a slight jerk of his head. “We’d all be hanging out and they’d be fine one moment and then insulting every single thing about the other the next. It was exhausting.”


“I don’t get why they hate each other so much,” I shook my head incredulously.


“I think they’re just too similar to be friends,” mused Al. “But Scorpius gets along really well with Lily and she’s even more blunt than Rose, so I really don’t understand what their problem is.”


“Al!” Catherine McDonough called, and as he turned to face her my ears picked up on a different conversation a little ways down the table.


“...so, of course I say, ‘are we interrupting your reading,’ and just as she’s getting all worked up about unfair Ravenclaw stereotypes, Cunningham flails down the corridor jabbering about some new Herbology book!”


The people around James Potter exploded into laughter, and I felt my face burn with a mixture of humiliation and anger at being mocked, even if he hadn’t mentioned me by name.


“So pathetically predictable, the lot of them, I mean honestly...”


“What’s gotten into you?” Albus nudged me, presumably noticing the scowl that was set in stone on my face.


“Your brother is making fun of me and Milo!” I hissed. Albus followed my gaze to where James was spread out over the plush velvet cushion and shook his head slightly; an unspoken instruction to ignore him. But, I couldn’t - I couldn’t - because I wasn’t calm and controlled like Al, and whether I liked to admit it or not, I did care about how people perceived me, and the fact that James Potter felt superior enough to look down upon me made me resentfully impassioned.


Before I could say anything else to Al, Professor Slughorn clinked his salad fork against his glass, calling everyone to attention.


“Welcome, welcome, to the first Slub Club event of the year!”


We all clapped politely, and then collectively held our breaths, wondering who would be Slughorn’s first target. I couldn’t help my gaze from flickering back to James Potter, who appeared completely unimpressed with the entire ordeal.


“It’s so good to see you all, although, I have seen a few of you rather recently... like Mr. Flint, who I ran into at that Ministry Exposium a few weeks back!”


I breathed a sigh of relief with everyone else, allowing myself to relax into my seat for the first time since I sat down.


“If I recall correctly, you were deep in conversation with Thaddeus Huckson, inventor of the Gregorian Potion’s technique and part owner of the Wimbourne Wasps!”


“Yes, sir, I was,” said Christian. I could almost feel the disdain rolling off of Albus. “And, in fact, I saw him again last night, at the Amesbury Gala.”


“Ah, the Rosier’s and the Yaxley’s event!” Slughorn exclaimed delightedly. “I couldn’t attend this year, what with teaching duties and whatnot, but how was it, mm?”


“Great. Actually, Nellie Burke was also there,” Christian inclined his head towards me, and my face froze into what I fervently hoped resembled a smile. “She was wearing the most stunning dress, too.”


At that I choked slightly on my own saliva, while Rose gasped and looked eagerly towards me and James Potter made a sound between a snort and a gag.


“Ms. Burke was?” Slughorn swiveled to me, an almost greedy grin spreading across his rather chubby face. “Marvelous! Ms. Burke, how was your summer?”


“Fine, thank you,” I smiled politely, mentally preparing myself for the onslaught of inquisitions that Slughorn always threw at his selected students. It wasn’t all that hard to get through for me, considering that he only cared about one thing-


“I presume your father is doing well - yes?”


“Yes,” I nodded. “Although if he weren’t, I wouldn’t know. He’s very busy.”


“Well, yes,” Slughorn acquiesced rather dejectedly, then perked up instantly. “Of course he is, as one of the Heads of the Department of Mysteries! He was in Slytherin, in my House, as were all the Burkes...except for you, of course! And Adam! How is he, hm?”


“He’s great, sir. He’s in talks with the Tornadoes about transitioning to a full-time player instead of a reserve.”


Oho!” Slughorn cried. “You know, it was through me that he managed to get in contact with Chang, yes...And, James, m’boy! That’s your old Quidditch Captain we’re talking about! Are you going to follow in Adam’s footsteps, or rather, your mother’s?


“I don’t know yet, sir.” James Potter’s head had jerked into attention when his name had been spoken, but now his voice was low and husky, contrasting sharply to the jeering taunts I had just been victim to an hour earlier. His jaw was set in a hard, unrelenting line, and as he shifted in his seat it became clear that he was distinctly uneasy with the line of questioning Slughorn had chosen.


“Well, what about being an Auror like your father? Merlin knows you have the blood for it!”


“Perhaps you should ask Albus,” Potter inclined his head respectively. “He just received an Outstanding on his Defense Against the Dark Arts OWL.”


Albus shot his brother a deadly glare, to which James responded with a satisfied smirk, as Slughorn turned all his attention onto him in his usual inquisitorial fashion.


As Albus struggled through his interview (“Your mother never told you how she made it into this little club? No?”), my gaze drifted back to James Potter. I’d never really looked at him - not really, since he was James freaking Potter, the hypnotic mascot of teenage heartthrobs in Hogwarts, in Britain. His face was immortalised in the gossip columns of Witch Weekly and devilish reputation hyperbolised so much that there had never really been a need to look at him, because it was a fact, not an opinion that he was fit, and he was everywhere all the time, and as a result he had faded into the background of my daily routine instead of becoming something to centralise it around like so many other girls did.


But for the first time maybe ever, I really looked at him. It was almost embarrassingly evident that he and Albus were related - both with their dark hair and clear, ivory skin, but they looked more like cousins or distant relatives than brothers. James Potter was a smidge shorter, a shade tanner, and slightly more muscularly defined; his jawline was sharper, his dark eyes more piercing, and the neutral friendliness that characterised Al’s expression was intimidating upon his face. But yet, something about the eldest Potter was so alluringly enigmatic that I rather understood why there was always this fevered excitement concerning him.


As I looked, without warning Potter whipped his head around to glare at me full on. The intensity of his gaze doubled as his eyebrows narrowed and his nostrils flared up slightly - but then his expression turned disdainful, disgusted, as if I were unworthy to even be in his presence.


We both turned away from each other at the exact same time, and although everything in me wanted to glance over again, I didn’t allow myself to until I was facing the back of his head as we filed out of the Slug Car an hour later.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


“Oh, Jesus fuck am I glad that’s over.” Mia collapsed onto my four-poster bed, heaving a sigh so heavy I was sure her lungs would collapse from the force of it.


The feast seemed to drag on for a couple more eternities than usual. After a particularly long sorting - partially because the Sorting Hat sang a six verse ballad and partially because one of the First Years sat quivering under the hat for the better part of five minutes (only to have the hat feebly yell, Slytherin! and practically collapse with exhaustion), our Headmistress chose to recite one of the most dry and rule-filled speeches I had ever been a victim to. Usually in situations like this, Flynn would make some terrible comment, to which Mia would smack him, while Milo would then interrupt with something so peculiar and arbitrary that the previous altercation would be completely abandoned as we all united against him. Unfortunately for my entertainment levels, however, at the beginning of the year feast, Houses were required to sit at their corresponding tables, meaning that Scorpius, Albus, and Flynn bid us goodbye at the winged horse carriages to search for their other roommates. So, Mia, Milo, and I - having arrived at the table rather late and failed at finding spaces near my Quidditch friends - were forced to sit next to Patrick Halloway, a year-below who was unhealthily obsessed with magical fungi.


But, now Mia and I were back in the comforts of our own dormitory, safely tucked away from talks of living rocks and the Opera-singing mold Patrick had bred himself over the summer, finally able to enjoy the beauty and comfortability of Hogwarts.


The dormitory was exactly how we had left it; the light blue curtains over each window slightly ajar, the furnace on the west wall burning steadily, the dark wood floors shining with a matte sort of luster. We grew day by day; we aged every single second of every minute of every year, but yet the room never did.


Georgina Rivier was already holed up in her bed with her curtains drawn like she always was, most certainly attempting to get ahead on tomorrow’s unassigned homework so she could show the rest of us up in class. Our fourth roommate, Willow MacMillan, was on her way back from the bathroom, and our fifth roommate was nowhere to be seen.


“Hi Nellie, hi Mia,” Willow smiled warmly, pausing on her way towards her bed on the other side of Mia. “Good holidays?”


“It was great. How was yours?”


“Loud,” Willow rolled her eyes slightly. “Honestly, if we hadn’t come back today I think I would have murdered my siblings.”


“How many are you up to, now?” I asked, and Willow dropped exasperatedly on the bed next to us.


Eight,” she groaned. “I’m thinking of tying my mum’s tubes myself.”


“Jesus,” said Mia. “I only have one sister and even that’s too much for me to handle.”


“I’m just happy to be back here and away from them,” Willow said fiercely. “Except, now the twins are First Years, and I just know they’re going to get in loads of trouble that I’ll have to deal with. I mean, before we even got to the Platform Jonah had tried to change the zipper on Luke’s fly to a snake.”


“Did he do it?” I asked.


“‘Course not,” Willow snorted. “Managed to catch Luke’s crotch on fire for a few seconds, though.”


I laughed delightedly and Mia opened her mouth to respond, but before she could the door burst open. There stood our fifth roommate, Katria Stevens, her platinum hair perfectly straight and her lipstick somehow still impeccable even after the feast.


“Willow, there you are.” Katria tapped her manicured nails on the door impatiently without so much as a glance towards Mia and I. “I need you downstairs so you can make me look good in front of Benjamin Waterson.”


I stifled a snort; I knew Benjy wouldn’t give Katria the time of day, no matter how low cut her top was - and it was quite low, mind you.


“Catch up more later?” Willow asked as she dutifully followed Katria out the door.


“Sure!” I chirped, but all three of us knew it held no promise or meaning at all. We only talked to Willow when Katria wasn’t around and vice versa. That was simply the way our world worked, and, just like the dormitory, it would never be subject to change.


Ugh,” Mia flopped down onto the bed again, her entire body as limp as an overcooked noodle. “I don’t think I can stomach another year of living with Katria.”


“How did she even get put in Ravenclaw?” I lay down next to Mia, my light hair getting tangled in her dark waves.


“She does have an uncanny sense for gossip,” Mia admitted begrudgingly, and then added quickly, “Even though she’s horrible.


Katria, a Pureblood from some deep hidden part of Austria, somehow was always up to date in the comings and goings of Hogwarts, possibly because she started half of the rumours herself. The way she could use gossip to turn people against one another was unfortunately brilliant, and she wielded her evil power any way she could. In fact, she once got Rose and Roxanne Weasley to stop talking to one another for two weeks, a feat that was almost unimaginable based on how close the two girls were.


“Well, some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall,” I said gravely, trying hard - so hard to keep the edges of my mouth from turning upwards..


“No,” Mia said fiercely, and then again. “No. I’ve put up with your stupid Shakespeare lines all summer, don’t you dare torture me with it now. It’s like you have an addiction to being annoying, honestly-


“Did you know Shakespeare invented the word addiction?” I asked innocently, and even though she launched a pillow at my head and declared that she was disowning me effective immediately, she was laughing so hard that she kept snorting.


Mia and I spent the rest of the night laying side by side on her mattress, gazing up at the decorative molding on the ceiling above us, and talking about nothing of importance like we always did, and it was nice, so nice to be back in the land of comfort and consistency.


But for some reason, even as I shut my eyes in my familiar four poster bed, with the same, unaged curtains and blankets and sheets surrounding me, I couldn’t shake the ethereal notion that something - perhaps everything - was different.

 

 


 




Author's Note: I know what you might be thinking. Another James Potter romance? Really?  To that, I would respond - yes. Kind of. This story may start out fluffy and cookie cutter, but I promise it is anything but that, so please, please review! There are hidden gems in every chapter that will start to become more apparent as the story develops - see if you can spot them! And THANK YOU for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up next...trials, favours, and stomach problems.

 

 

 

 

 



Chapter 3: Chapter Three
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 

“Well, folks,” Milo raised his Dancing Hippogriff Night Club shot glass in the air. We mirrored him. “Here’s to our second-to-last first week at Hogwarts.”


“Aye,” Flynn nodded. “To Sixth Year.”


“To Sixth Year,” we repeated. We drank.


“It’s funny how fast this has all happened,” Mia mused, kicking her legs out from where the rest of our feet were dangling over the balcony of the North Tower. We were sitting on the ledge, all in a row, nothing under us but the safety railing seven feet below.


The six of us had been coming out to this spot ever since Second Year, when after coming back from Hagrid’s late one night Albus somehow manage to stumble upon a secret door while trying to evade the Prefects on duty. The rooftop was the perfect location: quiet, serene, with a circumference overlooking both the Black Lake and the Forbidden Forest, and we had all grown to appreciate it as our place.


“What has?” I replied, even though I knew what the answer would be.


“Growing up,” said Mia simply.


“Seems like yesterday Milo was only a metre and a half and seven stone,” remarked Al. “Oh, wait - he still is seven stone.”


“Remember when you almost made us stop coming here because you were afraid of heights?” Milo shot back, but the edges of his mouth were curved upwards, just like Al’s were as he raised his hands up in a shrug.


“Remember that night when Flynn accidentally told both Hadley Stevenson and Brittany Gorgon to meet him up here?” I supplied. After both girls showed up and realised that Flynn had only set up a romantic candlelit dinner for one of them, they each took turns hexing him. When we found him hours later, he was lying on top of the rose-petal covered mattress he had conjured (just awful, I know) with so many ailments on his face and skin that he was almost unrecognisable. In the end, it was fine - Flynn learned his lesson, we all got a good laugh, and Brittany and Hadley became practically inseparable.


“Oh, Jesus,” Flynn groaned at the memory. “I couldn’t walk right for a week.”


“One of Flynn’s finest fuck-ups,” Mia sighed contentedly.


We were all silent for a moment, satisfied, as we gazed into the great beyond of the darkness, towards the vast lake and sprawling grounds. I think we were all feeling the same thing - that wistful, wrenching nostalgia that seemed to grasp your heart when you could sense something vast nearing its end, but it was stupid to feel that way - we had two entire years left - so we let the mood rest in the vague spaces around us instead of making it palpable by acknowledging it.


“Another round?” Flynn coughed, and we held out our glasses, relieved for a bit of a distraction.


“Scorpius,” said Mia suddenly, and the blond haired boy who was swinging his legs back over the balcony in a dismount froze. “Where are you going?”


“Sorry,” said Scorpius apologetically. He stood up carefully, standing up tall above us back onto solid ground. “You’re all going to hate me, but I have to go.”


What?” I gaped at him.


“But this is a tradition!” Mia protested.


“You’re kidding, right?” Flynn asked, and then again, more urgently. “Right?


“What could you possibly have to do at this moment that isn’t getting pissed on the roof?” asked Milo, genuinely curious. We waited for his answer.


“Stomach problems,” Scorpius replied after a hesitant beat. “And I have that entire Runes essay.”


“It’s Friday night-


“It was due yesterday,” replied Scorpius. He had been inching closer and closer to the door, and was now already halfway out as he called, “See you all tomorrow?”


We answered in grumbles and half-hearted waves, and the second the door closed shut a weighted sort of quiet fell upon us all.


Stomach problems?” Flynn finally repeated with an expression of disgust. Mia frowned quizzically at me, but I shook my head, I don’t know any more than you do.


“He’s been acting shifty all week,” commented Al. “Showing up late everywhere and always running off after class.”


“What, did you replace his moisturizer with dragon poo again?” Flynn sniggered.


“Oi! That was you!” Albus argued, and Flynn grinned cockily as an admission of guilt.


“This is a tradition,” Mia repeated, from down on the end next to Al. She was still apparently focused on Scorpius’s abrupt exit, but we all knew that if we let her go on about it she wouldn’t let it go for the rest of the night.


“Well, more for us then!” exclaimed Milo, in sort of a falsely cheery voice, as he poured himself another drink, and refilled the rest of ours with the wave of his wand.


The more I thought about it, the more I realised what Albus had said was true. A couple of days ago, Scorpius had disappeared from lunch without saying anything at all. And, just yesterday, he had blown me off, so subtly that I hadn’t realised its significance until now. I had been coming back from Divination when I spotted him a little ways down the corridor, and I had to literally run to flag him down, he was walking so fast.


“Where are you going?” I had asked rather breathlessly once I managed to catch up to him.


“Just to the library,” Scorpius said, glancing around past me. “See you later?”


“Wait!” I grabbed his arm as he turned away, already walking. “Do you want some company?”


“No,” he had said rather quickly. “I have to go back to my dorm first, and then the showers, it might be awhile.”


But as he had walked away, it hadn’t been in the direction of his dormitory or of the library. Scorpius had gone up the stairs, as if he were going towards one of the Towers or the Hufflepuff Common Room. He had lied.


“You gonna drink that, Nel?” Milo pointed to my full glass of Gillyrum, and with a sinking feeling I realised that I too would have to deny a drink.


I grimaced. “I’m all set.”


Milo shrugged and set the bottle down behind him, but Flynn stared at me incredulously.


“Are you taking the fucking piss?


“I have Quidditch trials early tomorrow!” I said defensively. “At least I didn’t up and leave!”


Flynn shook his head through my words. “What have we come to? Half of us think that our actual responsibilities are more important than getting piss drunk?”


“Since when is two out of six of us half?” Mia asked crossly.


Jesus, Mia, I was just trying to make a point-”


“Well, make it more mathematically correct-”


“Must you always be so literal?”


“Must you always be so uneducated?”


“We go to the same school, in case you’ve forgotten-”


“I try, but I never can,” Mia sighed dramatically, and Flynn grinned tiredly and relaxed his defensive posture as we all started laughing. That was just the nature of their relationship: they were always butting heads and bickering, but it only rarely translated into an actual argument.


“How late do we want to stay out?” asked Milo. He glanced to me, and I knew he was thinking about the ungodly hour I would have to wake up at the next morning. Milo was just like that; he was absolutely clueless when it came to social cues, but he genuinely cared about all of us and would try to help with anything when he could.


“Might as well just pack up,” exhaled Flynn. “No use drinking this if no one’s going to get pissed.”


I’ll get pissed with you,” said Al, like it was some immeasurable sacrifice the rest of us weren't willing to make, but Flynn waved him off.


“Better wait until Scorpius sorts out his diarrhea or whatever. Stomach problems.” Flynn muttered again under his breath, shaking his head rather disgustedly.


As we climbed back through the window and made our way through the empty corridors, speaking solely in hushed tones and breaking that precedent only when a giggle could not be contained, that intangible melancholy feeling of everything ending never fully dissipated.

 


 


 

 

 


The morning air was still layered with a veil of fog as I traipsed down the dewey hills and towards the Quidditch field with my broom slung over my shoulder. It was an ungodly hour to be up and about - only a quarter to seven - yet there I was, by some miracle fully awake, dressed in my Ravenclaw sweatshirt and a pair of athletic shorts that I’d had to wake up Mia for in order to obtain. I hope you fall off your broom, Mia had groaned as she threw the pants at me and turned over in bed, and as I left I made sure to shut the door extra hard, just for her enjoyment.


There were already at least fifteen hopefuls seated near one another in the stands as they waited for the trials to begin - although why they were so early, I didn’t know. My teammates from last year were huddled together in the center of the pitch; as I approached the group one of them stepped forward, his arms crossed and his foot tapping impatiently.


“You’re late,” Moose barked the second I was within hearing distance. Moose was a nickname (somehow, his given title was much, much, worse), but yet it fit him in a strange, indiscernible way; perhaps having something to do with his tendency to, not unlike a moose, head-butt others when provoked.


“I’m not!” I protested. “It’s six forty-five. I’m fifteen minutes early."


“Well, everyone else is here, so you’re late.” Moose glowered, his mouth set in a disapproving scowl. With his frizzy dark hair and pasty skin that refused to tan no matter how long he forced us to stay out in the sun, Moose did not resemble the typical Keeper that Witch Weekly fancied doing cover stories on. But he was good - really good, in fact, and was such a skilled strategist that contending him was really only for sport.


“Since when is being early a punishable offense?” I argued, setting down my broom by my feet.


“Fifteen minutes early is fifteen minutes late,” said Moose loftily. He was known for spouting rather catchy, sometimes rhyming sayings that were often completely and utterly void of any wisdom at all. My personal favorite was, "Rather a Bludger to your pole than a Quaffle in our goal." He just had such a beautifully poetic way with words.


“What about Beck?” Kato Millican spoke up, winking at me, and as he did I found myself grinning back at him almost unconsciously.


“Oh, yeah,” Moose glanced around. “Fine. Burke, you’re off the hook this time.”


“Off the hook for being early?” I feigned excitement. “Oh, today is my lucky day!”


“Don’t push it,” growled Moose, and I shut up. Not because I was necessarily afraid of him (although sometimes I was; being headbutted really did hurt), but because I was dramatically out of shape. I couldn’t afford to run more than I had to.


“How’d you lot know to be here so soon, anyways?” I turned to the rest of the team.


“Sometimes,” Benjy put his hand on my shoulder and fixed his eyes on some unseen point in the distance, as if he were Professor Celestia, the Divination teacher who was rather lacking in the legitimacy department. “We can sense a single change in thinking, just by listening to the vibrations of the air."


“And, other times we hear Moose ranting around the boy’s dormitories and know that he’ll be particularly keen to start Trials.” Kato chuckled, elbowing Benjy in the stomach.


“Hey,” Beck Davidson joined our circle. “Why’s everyone so bloody early?”


“Late!” Moose yelled, pointing at her. Beck, a Seventh Year Chaser, merely rolled her eyes in exasperation. Since she had been on the team for five seasons and was in the same year as Moose, she was more than accustomed to his erratic behavior.


“I was taking out the extra Quaffles,” Beck dropped the duffel bag she’d had slung over her shoulder at Moose’s feet. “Something you pissers forgot to do, I might add.”


“Nevertheless, now that we’re all here-” Moose glared pointedly at Beck, who rolled her eyes again, adding in an extra sigh for effect. “I have something to say, so listen up, you miserable lot.”


“Oh, no,” groaned Kato. “Please, Moose. It’s trials. We don’t need a speech.”


“Today marks the beginning of a new season,” Moose continued on as if he had not been interrupted. “Today is the start of something great. We are on the cusp of becoming legends. But, in order to make it there, we all have to work like never before. We all have to push ourselves harder than every day that came before it. We ALL have to WANT to - no - NEED TO WIN!”


“Right now, I just want bacon,” Benjy volunteered quietly.


“A hot bath,” I added.


“My warm bed,” Kato sighed contentedly.


Do you want to get cut?” shouted Moose, the veins on his neck bulging dangerously. “I mean it! If someone outplays any one of you, I have no problems booting you from the team. Understand?”


“Yes,” we all chorused, except for Beck, who muttered, “Fat load of toadshite.”


“Okay,” Moose turned around towards the crowd that had assembled, breathing hard. “Let’s go.”


“D’you reckon we’ll be done by eleven?” Beck asked anxiously as she balanced a Quaffle on her fingertips while we walked towards the stands, Moose leading the way. “I told George Hannover I could meet him by then.”


“You’re in luck, then, Becks,” smirked Kato. “Hannover’s so daft he won’t be able to tell what time you get back.”


“Shove off!” Beck threw the Quaffle at him with rather alarming force, but he caught it easily.


“Hey,” Moose gave her a dirty look from the front of our pack. “Save the hard throws for the air.”


“Don’t worry. I have plenty more where that came from.” Beck shot a look at Kato, who grinned semi-apologetically and tossed the Quaffle back to her.


“Kato does have a point, you know,” Benjy piped up from behind me. “Hufflepuffs aren’t exactly known for their time-keeping abilities."


“Hufflepuff,” said Moose. We all looked at him, but he was lost in thought - probably daydreaming about all the different ways that we could embarrass the Hufflepuff team when we played them in March.


“Anyone want to bet on how long it takes us to get out of here?” I dropped behind Moose slightly, so he wouldn’t overhear. “I say five hours.”


“Five?” Kato scoffed. “You’re mad, Burke. I’ll say two.”


“Did you get Obliviated after trials last year? Those were nearly four hours and there was only one spot to be filled!”


“I’ll take the odds on five,” said Beck. “But I’m still hoping for less than four.”


“You’re on,” Kato shook Beck’s hand and then mine, just as we reached the stands.


“Okay, you lot!” Moose yelled. He adjusted his Captain’s badge on his robes while the crowd quieted down. “Get down here and separate yourselves into Chasers and Beaters!”


The students rose and noisily clambered down the metal steps and onto the field. As expected, the group trying out for Beaters was largely male-dominated, although there were a few girls who looked like they couldn’t be older than thirteen thrown in the mix. The Chasers, which appeared to be almost double the amount of Beaters, had much more of a gender and age variation, and at once I scanned the group, searching for people with typical builds for the position.


“Welcome to trials,” Moose began, and the crowd quieted at once. “As you know, under my leadership Ravenclaw has been talented enough to win the Quidditch Championship twice in the past four years - and I expect to come out victorious again this season.”


Several players glanced at one another in awe, but beside me Benjy nudged me, his face red and taut with the effort of keeping his hysterics under control. Moose had boasted that statistic more times than the number of goals he had saved, even though he hadn’t been captain for one of the wins.


“Before anything else, I'd like to make something very clear-” and at this, Moose’s tone grew fierce as he took a step forward, “nothing is about luck. We don't win with it, we don't play with it, and you certainly won't make the team with it. I’m looking for a Beater that can employ power and exceptional aim while flying at top speeds. I'm looking for a Chaser who can predict the moves of their opponent; a Chaser who knows how to throw strong passes to their teammates and how to work with them seamlessly. If any of you think that you don't fit those qualifications - leave now.”


“Well, fuck, then, I should be going,” remarked Beck, a little louder than I’m sure she intended, and Moose whipped around to glare at her as a few titters broke through the crowd. I thought he was going to tell her off, right then and there, but as he surveyed us, all holding back grins, Moose simply sighed heavily and turned back towards the group.


“All right, you lot, we’re starting with laps.”

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 


Trials lasted until around noon, much to Beck’s dismay. While we usually ate meals together after practise, today she dashed off to meet her Hufflepuff beau while Kato and Benjy opted to go back to bed, leaving me to sit with my usual group of friends in the Great Hall.


“Hey, Nellie-O,” Milo said as I took a seat at the Slytherin table. “How were the tryouts?”


“Oh, just great. Fantastic, even.” I took a heaping serving of mashed potatoes, splattering them onto my plate so forcefully that they hit Mia across the table.


“Honestly, I never know if what you’re saying is sarcastic or not,” Mia sniffed, delicately wiping off the food from her blouse. “You use sarcasm so much that it’s hard to tell when you’re not trying to be witty.”


“Gee, thanks-


“See!” Mia pointed accusingly at me, as if we were in a courtroom and I was incriminating evidence. “Do you all see what I must put up with?”


“We pity you,” Flynn shook his head sadly from next to Milo.


“Truly a shame,” agreed Albus.


Such a tragedy,” said Milo, and I found myself breaking out into a grin despite myself.


“So, what actually happened?” Flynn asked, handing me a napkin to clean up my mashed potato explosion.


“Well, for starters, basically everyone was complete shit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large group of people which such low levels of talent.”


“I’m sure they weren’t that bad,” Albus reasoned, but I shook my head stoutly, because they were.


The first flying group had been absolutely terrible- so awful that Moose cut their session short and collectively told them they would make the team when Voldemort came back to life. The next few clusters were subpar - decent enough that we couldn’t cut them all right away, but still so poor that even Benjy Waterson, King of Optimism, began to doubt that we were going to find players talented enough to keep up with the rest of the team. Finally, after hours of gruelling exercises, we managed to find two people with sufficient potential. Cicely Brown, a Fifth Year, impressed everyone by managing to score on Moose with an around-the-back flick into the middle goal post, and the Fourth Year Jack Robinson - although he seemed to be a bit of a hothead - hit a Bludger so hard that it rocketed all the way to the opposite goal post.


“Well, at least it’s over!” encouraged Milo, always the positive voice of the group.


“I wish it were,” I groaned. “Moose booked the Quidditch library already, so right after lunch we have to go start to strategise, even before our first practice! It’s ridiculous!”


“That does seem a little intense,” Al acquiesced, as Mia made a sound in between sympathy and disgust.


“Oi,” Flynn said abruptly. “Where the hell is Scorpius?”


Albus shrugged. “He hasn’t been around today.”


Mia leaned forward slightly. “It’s weird, right? That he isn’t around?”


Yes!” I hissed emphatically, because finally it wasn’t just me being overly sensitive to my cousin’s daily whereabouts.


“He could just be stressed,” Milo offered. “I’ve heard Runes is starting off the year heavy.”


“Maybe he’s still feeling peaky,” Flynn grinned evilly. “I wonder - what would make him feel better?”


“Some booger flavoured Bertie Botts’?” suggested Milo, with a false air of innocence.


“I was thinking more along the lines of some hair growth solution in his pumpkin juice,“ said Flynn. Both boys glanced expectantly at Albus, who sighed.


“This is wrong,” said Albus finally, shaking his head slowly.


“Oh, c’mon-”


“If we’re doing this, we have to do it right,” Al continued, a devilish smile lighting up his features in an almost boyish manner. “I think Ghost-Pepper Peanuts will do the trick.”


Yes!” Milo hissed fiercely, high fiving him.


“Ooh, I love it when Al talks dirty,” Mia pretended to swoon, and in response Al waggled his eyebrows at her mock suggestively.


“Come on,” I whined, a bit put out. “I had something perfect to quote at Al.”


There was a pause.


“Let’s hear it, then,” said Milo, wearily.


“Conscience doth - hey! - make cowards of us all,” I managed to get out, as all four of them chucked various items from their plates at me the second I started speaking.


“My conscious does not doth make me a coward as much as your knowledge of literature doth make you annoying,” Al grinned as he wiped some squash from my arm, while I squirmed away from him in a halfhearted attempt to feign upset.


“You are hereby banished from this table,” Flynn declared, nudging me so far off my seat that I had no choice but to stand up. “If you think Salazar Slytherin would’ve stood for such nerdery, you are sorely mistaken.”


Nerdiness,” I emphasized as I scooped my bag off of the ground. “The word is nerdiness, you dipshit.”


“Even I would have corrected you on that,” Al jibed, and as everyone began to rash on Flynn for his terrible grammar instead of me for my excellent application of knowledge, I began my journey towards our team meeting.


The Quidditch room was a rather small, luckily soundproof lounge in the back corner of the school library. At first, it was just built so that people would stop taking books to the pitch, but over time it had developed into being a hallmark team meeting location for all Houses. Complete with comfy armchairs, miniature model pitches, Magik Erase Boards, and every text on strategy and technique imaginable, it served as an ideal location to construct plays and go over past matches.


Needless to say, it was Moose’s happy place.


“Well, look who took her sweet time eating lunch,” Benjy put his hands on his hips as I walked through the doorway and shut the door, evidently the the last person to arrive


“I’m not even late,” I said scornfully as I collapsed in the chair next to him.


“Fifteen minutes early is fifteen minutes late!” Kato mimicked in a strangled high pitch voice, reducing Beck into a fit of giggles.


“All right,” Moose put his hand up, and we all fell silent. “First of all, congratulations again to our two newest members.”


Cicely Brown beamed, while Jack Robinson raised his eyebrows and frowned slightly, leaning back in his chair with his arms resting above his head. I think he was trying to come off as indifferently arrogant, but it really only made him appear to be rather constipated.


“Welcome to the coolest squad in Hogwarts,” said Benjy solemnly, and then his expression grew purposefully dark. “Are you prepared for your initiation?”


“Initiation?” repeated Cicely, clutching a strand of her curly dark hair as her eyes grew wide.


”He’s kidding,” Moose shot Benjy a look, who merely relaxed back into his chair and grinned, pleased with his handiwork. “No hazing.”


Anymore,” Kato muttered, and all of us senior members of the team all shared meaningful glances. A couple of years ago, a complete ban was put on any kind of Quidditch induction ritual after the Slytherin House team tried to force their newest recruits to spend the night in the Chamber of Secrets and one kid offered to cut one of his own toes off instead of doing it.


“Trials were your initiation,” said Beck. “Couldn’t imagine a worse hell to be put through than that.”


“Well, get ready for Hell Part Two,” Moose broke in roughly, but secretly I think he was rather pleased that we considered his trials to be as bad as eternal damnation. “Now, let’s get started.”


Moose began rambling on about team rules - No skipping practice, no fighting, no fun, etc - while I quickly lost focus and began staring out of the tiny window that I was seated next to. I could remember my first day on the team easily; it had been pouring, and when we were changing in the locker room afterwards I didn’t have a single item of dry clothing. That was how Beck and I first became friends - she had said something along the lines of, Jesus, you look like a drowned cat, and then tossed me the only sweatshirt she had. I’m used to this shit, she said, and soon enough, you will be too.


“Burke!” Moose barked, breaking me out of my reverie. “Are you listening?”


“Yes,” I glanced up immediately, meeting Moose’s glare innocently.


Moose held my gaze for a moment longer, then turned back to the rest of the group. “We’re going to break down everyone’s strengths and weaknesses so that we can come up with a strategy that best suits our individual needs. Cicely and Jack, it’s fine if you don’t have much to say yet. So, who wants to go first?”


“I will,” Beck raised her hand, smirking slightly. “Lay it on me.”


“Alright,” Moose wrote Davidson on the board. “Positive stuff first, people.”


“You have insane accuracy,” Kato volunteered. ”Especially when we’re on the go. You always manage to throw the Quaffle exactly where I’m going to be a second later.”


“I always see how focused you are on the Pitch,” I jumped in, trying to make up for my lack of participation earlier. “You’re always so intense and completely in the zone.”


“Nice,” Moose scribbled furiously, great intensity, “and one more?”


But before any of us could respond, the door of the study burst open - and there stood
the remaining four members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, led by who else but-


Potter,” Moose growled.


“Afternoon, Moose,” James Potter raised his eyebrows, strolling into the room without a moment of hesitation and motioning for his players to do the same.


“What do you want?” Moose snapped, no hints of amusement anywhere in his posture.


“Isn’t that obvious?” Potter replied, and although his tone seemed quiet and civil enough, his eyes glinted coldly. “I would like to use the Quidditch library.”


“And, here I thought you had better deduction skills than that,” said Moose loftily. “This room is occupied.


Burn,” Jack Robinson whispered under his breath. Cicely shoved him.


“Seeing as you got the Pitch for the first half of today and I haven’t even gotten a chance to hold my trials yet, it’s only fair that me and my team can use this space.”


“But we’re here now,” said Moose, firmly, and I felt a surge of pride for him for standing his ground. “So, again, the room is occupied. Come back later.”


“No, I don’t think we will," said Potter offhandedly. Usually, when he spoke he was detached and rather surly, but as his sneer deepened, everything became as clear as day to me. James Potter didn't care about Quidditch; he didn't give two shits about who got the room - he just wanted to antagonise us, to feed into Moose's well-known anger in a way that would entertain him. He was creating a spectacle, a show which made him both the main attraction and the primary benefactor, and he knew it.


"Go." Moose snarled.


“What are you going to do about it, Moose?" Potter's face lit up even further as he took another step forward. "Or, should I say…D’Artagnan?”


And at that, Moose’s face turned an unhealthy shade of plum, because he had just been called by his real first name, a piece of intelligence that he had fought to keep as top secret as possible for all seven years he had attended Hogwarts.


“You-how did-get out!” Moose spluttered incoherently, his left eye twitching, and in response Kato stood up, motioning for the rest of us to do the same.


“Potter, I suggest you leave before this turns into something you don’t want it to turn into.” Kato drew his wand in what seemed like a menacing way, but even as Charlie Finnigan and Josh Danvers stepped forward, Potter merely blinked and raised an eyebrow lazily.


“What, are you going to hex me in the middle of the library?” Potter smirked. He had called Kato’s bluff, and we all knew it.


“Let’s just go,” Dominique Delacour-Weasley whispered from behind her cousin, and all at once both teams erupted into conversation.


“Did you hear that? Your own team wants to desert you-”


“That is not what I meant-”


“-might as well just listen to her, since you’re only as strong as your weakest member-”


“We aren’t going anywhere-”


“So, then are you only as strong as Beck?”


“Well, you aren’t staying here-”


“Oh, do you really want to go there, Danvers? After your little performance issue?”


“We have just as much of a right to be here as you-”


“You’re fucking mad, Davidson-”


“Are you all attempting to spy on our team so you lot can actually win for once?” I said, and although it wasn’t meant to be directed at James Potter, he was the one who responded.


“Don’t you have a cousin to marry, or something?” Potter snapped, barely rewarding me a second glance, and that - that stupid joke that somehow tied me back to all of the Pureblood relatives that I never wanted to think about, ever - that’s what really got me angry. Both sides were all arguing in one big, disconcerted mess, but that statement made it personal, and I heard the next words exit my mouth before I fully knew I was saying them.


“Don’t you have your daddy’s legacy to exploit?” I shot back, taking a step forward. “Or have you finally realised that your surname can’t get you everything in life?”


As both teams reacted to my insult with varying levels of pride and outrage, James Potter’s expression shifted as quickly as the sky before a flash storm. The way he had provoked Moose was mirthful and purposefully antagonising at best, but as he turned to stare at me, his eyes hardened, the smirk that had been playing on his lips curling into something fierce. James Potter always looked so inherently annoyed or impressively bored with only the smallest hints of amusement, but this - this was completely different. This was rage and hostility. This was contempt.


“Repeat that,” said Potter, his voice so low that everyone around us had to lean in slightly to hear it.


“You heard me.”


“I don’t think I did.”


“Do you need me to put it in simpler language so you can understand?” I leaned forward with a new vengeance as I remembered his comments upon the Hogwarts Express. “I’m sorry I used so many advanced words. I guess I’m just used to be around Ravenclaws. You know what they say - we’re always reading.”


A flickered eyebrow gave away his recognition of the significance of the phrase I had just uttered, but he did nothing more other than clench his fists more tightly than before.


“Then, I’m sure you and your captain,” he spat out the word like it was sour milk, “wouldn’t mind if us Gryffindors stuck around. You know, to study.


Before I could bite back, with renewed confidence Moose stepped forward once again.


“Take the room, Potter,” said Moose steadily. “We’re done here. Besides, with the talent we have this season, we’re not as much in need of extra planning as you are.”


“Fine,” Potter snapped, not even glancing in his direction. We were still glowering at one another, his dark eyes piercing mine with no hint of forgiveness, and our gaze only broke apart once Kato nudged my back slightly to get me to follow the rest of the team out the door.


“Fucking prick,” Moose grunted the second we reached the corridor. He was breathing hard, and we all knew him well enough to understand that he needed a few minutes of space to regain his composure and authority.


“Are they always like that?” Cicely asked, rather worriedly, where all six of us were sort of huddled in a circle, Moose pacing back and forth and muttering to himself a little ways away.


“Pretty much, yeah,” said Benjy lightly. “Keeps things interesting, at least.”


“But, Beck, that line about Danvers’ ‘performance issues’ absolutely killed me,” Kato grinned, clapping her hard on the back.


“Me? What about Nellie over here?” Beck pushed me slightly. “I mean, Potter was practically speechless! I’ve never heard you use such fighting words before, it was savage!”


“He made fun of Milo and me on the train,” I said, in explanation, but Beck plowed on regardless.


'Daddy’s legacy to exploit,' absolutely brilliant, you’re my hero, honestly-”


“She’s so badass,” agreed Benjy. “Like - Nellie - is it weird to say I’m a little turned on right now?”


Yes!” I cried. Kato smacked him on the back of his neck.


“All right, you lot, focus up,” Moose barked from a little ways in front of us. “We’re going to relocate to the pitch for about an hour, and then you’re free to go.”


We all nodded quickly and straightened up, even though Beck whispered, “I’m turned on, too!” while Jack Robinson sniggered behind his hand and Benjy raised his arms up as if to say, See?


“Nellie Burke!” someone called, from down at the end of the hallway, and both Beck and Kato stopped walking with me while the others continued around the corner.


“What is going on?” Beck asked slowly, glancing to the figure approaching us and then back at me.


“No idea,” I said slowly, my eyes trained straight ahead. “Meet you all at the Pitch in five?”


Beck raised her eyebrows and even Kato looked mildly confused, but I waved them off, just as Katria Stevens, our Roommate from Hell, stopped directly in front of me.


“Hi, Nellie!” Katria chirped with transparent falsity, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Beck pretending to gag as she and Kato rounded the corner.


“What do you want?” I asked her sharply, and even though it was unavoidably harsh Katria didn’t even flinch.


“I need you to do something for me,” said Katria confidently, tucking her platinum hair behind her ear in one swift movement.


I merely raised my eyebrows, unimpressed by her statement.


“Well?” I finally asked, after she didn’t do anything but stare innocently back.


“You are going to set me up with Albus Potter!” Katria squealed, and then both narrowed her eyes into an expression that was remotely terrifying. “Or else.”


“And, why would I do that?” I asked coldly. I didn’t bother asking about the or else; usually, her threats had to do with cursing someone’s hair to be perpetually frizzy, and I wasn’t exactly going to give into demands based on some momentary changes to my appearance.


But regardless of my tone, Katria began to smile.


“Because, I know something about your dear cousin that you’d want to know,” she simpered, and suddenly what she had to say captured my full attention. “Something big.”


“What?” I asked urgently, lowering my voice.


“Has he been acting, oh, I don’t know…distant lately? Maybe a bit absent?”


I opened my mouth and then closed it again, while she appraised my reaction with a growing sense of satisfaction.


“Well, I kno-ow why-y!” Katria exulted in a high pitched sing-song voice.


“Tell me!” I demanded.


“So, you agree?” Katria stepped closer. “To set me up with Albus?”


“Fine, yes, whatever,” I brushed aside her request impatiently. “Now, what is it?”


Katria’s grin grew wider once again with her victory. She resembled an alligator just about to swallow its meal, and I knew I would regret selling my soul to her - that is, until she opened her mouth.


“Scorpius Malfoy has a secret girlfriend. And only I know who it is.”

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns everything you recognise. Also, the Shakespeare quote of the day is courtesy of The Merchant of Venice (bonus points to you if you knew it!)

Notes: I have absolutely loved hearing so many of your wonderful opinions so early on in the story! Thank you all so much and please keep reviewing!

 

 

 

 

 

Up next...sleepwalking, empty endorsements, and duplicate wands.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Chapter 4: Chapter Four
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


“This is insane!” hissed Flynn. “You know what? No. I take it back. You are insane.”


“I’m not!” I whispered hotly, from beside him. “I just want to know what’s going on, and I know Albus won’t agree to go out with Katria!”


“Why wouldn’t he? Katria’s fucking fit!”


“Is Al really the type to look past someone’s personality?” I countered, and even though Flynn knew I was right, he pressed on.


“Convincing him to go out with her would be a lot easier than what we’re doing right now!”


“Well, we’re already here, so we might as well just follow through with it!”


“Oh, no,” I could see Flynn shake his head, even through the thickness of the dark. “I’m not doing anything. The second I think someone’s coming I swear to Merlin I’ll sacrifice you to save myself.”


“Fair enough,” I conceded. I adjusted my position slightly from where I was crouched in the shadows of a third floor unicorn tapestry, and my knee bumped against Flynn’s slightly, earning me a murderous glance in return.


It had been my idea to try to catch Scorpius out on his Prefect patrol with Jase Knightley, a Slytherin year-above who Scorpius had been friends with since Second Year. Jase was always bragging about his latest flings and hookups, and I knew that Scorpius would easily feel inferior to him and blurt out the name of his girlfriend just to prove himself. I obviously couldn’t tell Albus about the devil’s deal I struck with Katria, and since both Mia and Milo were absolutely crap at keeping secrets (one time, I told Milo that I kissed Henry Mulligan and he proceeded to accidentally magnify his voice and repeat it for the entire Great Hall to hear), I was left with no choice but to enlist Flynn Klein, King of Complaining, to help me spy on my cousin.


“Time?” The King himself grunted quietly, letting his head fall back against the marble of the wall with a dull thunk.


“Eleven-oh-eight. Should be any minute now.”


Flynn snorted but said nothing more in response.


“I just don’t get why Katria had to pick Al!” I whispered after a moment, frustrated. “She’s never shown any interest in him before! ”


“I mean, everyone’s at least a little in love with Al,” avowed Flynn, and I couldn’t help but agree with him. Al’s quiet charisma had not gone unnoticed amongst the female population of Hogwarts, and he had quite the following of girls who had mistaken his naturally kind and inclusive nature for something more. “Why didn’t you just ask Scorpius if he’s dating anyone? Seems a lot easier than this mess of a plan.”


“He wouldn’t have told me,” I said ruefully. “If he hasn’t told us now, he sure won’t just come out with it.”


“Bloody hell, Nellie,” Flynn groaned, but he didn’t press it any further as he knew there was at least some grain of truth in what I said.


“Well, now we have loads of time to catch up, just the two of us!” I exclaimed brightly, beaming at what I could see of him in the darkness.


“Great,” he monotonised. “Just what I wanted.”


I shot Flynn a look, and after a moment of pretend annoyance he finally smirked, pulling me close so that I could rest my head on his shoulder. This was not unusual for me and Flynn, or for me and any of my friends, really. We were all so close that touching didn’t seem especially intimate anymore.


“Any secret girlfriends I should know about?” I asked, glancing up at him and then down to my watch again. 11:09.


“Nah. You know me,” Flynn replied easily, and I did. He had never been the type to date anyone for more than a couple of days, instead choosing to solely partake in random drunk hook-ups with girls that he wouldn’t recognise the following morning. He was practically the opposite of Mia: she fell in love with a new guy every week without fail, and he only pretended to believe that true love existed when he was trying to get a girl into bed. “What about you? Anyone special over the summer?”


“This summer?” I asked incredulously. “You mean, when I lived with Mia Templeton for two months?”


“Okay, fair,” Flynn acknowledged. He had seen Mia in action with men just as much as I had. “But, Nellie, I’m telling you - this is your year.”


“My year for what?”


I was expecting him to say something positive or encouraging, like your year to shine, or find true love - but I really shouldn’t have been surprised that he came out with: “Your year to stop being such a bloody nerd and become cool like me!”


“Since when has getting rejected by half of our year translated to being cool?” I retaliated, and as Flynn began to argue back I heard footsteps at the end of the corridor.


“Shh!” I sat up immediately, pushing myself off of Flynn and almost smacking him in the head in the process. “Someone’s coming!”


“If they close in, I’m out,” Flynn warned, and I shushed him again as the voices grew louder.


“...can’t believe Hiddleston assigned us such a long essay so early in the year.“ That was Scorpius - I’d be able to discern his voice from others in a room full of a hundred people - and now I just needed him to come nearer, close enough that I could Confound him a little without him seeing me...


“I know,” the second voice groaned, and as soon as I heard it my mouth dropped open. “We haven’t even been back for three weeks yet!”


“That’s not Jase!” Flynn hissed. “You twit, Nellie, did you mix up the rotation?”


“No, I swear I had the right date-”


“Well, clearly you didn’t, which means all of this was for-”


“Shut up!!” I clamped my hand over his mouth, just as the people in the corridor abruptly stopped talking.


“Did you hear that?” asked Scorpius, hushedly.


“Hear what?” his partner asked, and her voice sounded so familiar that I could nearly place it - just nearly.


“Back there,” said Scorpius, and I could hear his footsteps carefully approaching our hiding spot.


“I’ll check the other side,” his partner said, and as Scorpius neared closer to the tapestry I thought, please, please turn around and walk away, hoping that maybe, in the years that we had basically been brother and sister we had developed some type of telekinesis communication connection. But before I could put it to the test, in a true Slytherin fashion Flynn shoved me from behind, hard, causing me to lose my balance and tumble right out from behind the tapestry and onto the feet of my cousin.


“Nellie?” Scorpius asked, aghast, as I scrambled to back away from him. “What are you doing here?”


“Erm,” I said, collecting myself off of the floor which as much dignity as I could manage. “We were just-”


“We?” he interrupted, looking rather alarmed.


I glanced behind me, right as the tail of Flynn’s cloak was flitting around the corner.


“The royal we,” I revised quickly. God, was I going to murder Flynn later. “Which is me. And me - I - am...out for a walk.”


“A walk?” repeated Scorpius skeptically, just as Rose Weasley came around the corner, and I felt like smacking myself because of course the voice belonged to Rose.


“Nellie?” she peered at me. Her eyes were a deep brown, but as the light from Scorpius’s wand hit her irises I could see there were miniscule flecks of gold reflecting, too. “What are you doing here?”


“Walking,” I smiled sheepishly at her. “I’m really sorry to disturb you, I’ll just be going back to my dorm then-”


“Weasley will probably deduct points,” Scorpius shot a look of disdain at his partner. “She doesn’t have a soul, see.”


“And Malfoy will probably give you a detention,” remarked Rose instantly, her voice smooth and confident as if she were answering a question in class, “since he clearly doesn’t possess the mental capabilities for compassion and empathy.”


“How about no one does anything and we just pretend that this never happened?” I suggested rather loudly over the sound of Scorpius telling Rose to go shove a broomstick into a very unsightly place, but as I did I could hear new footsteps, from the opposite direction that Rose and Scorpius had come from.


“Who is that?” Rose whispered, argument forgotten momentarily.


“Oh,” I peered through the darkness, and then relaxed my stance slightly. “No, it’s fine. It’s probably-”


But as the figure neared closer, I could plainly see that it was not Flynn Klein, returning to help me like the good friend he was, but Professor Aurora Sinistra, the shrewd Deputy Headmistress and Astronomy teacher.


“Professor Sinistra,” Scorpius spoke, as she stopped directly in front of us. “What are you doing here?”


“I was passing by and I heard voices,” said Sinistra. With her long neck and thin features she rather resembled some sort of bird, and it only took a few seconds for her to zero in on me. “Ms. Burke, what brings you out of the comforts Ravenclaw Dormitory on this evening?”


“Sleep walking?” I guessed. Sinistra sent me a severe look before turning to Rose and Scorpius.


“And, Ms. Weasley, I don’t recall you being on the patrol list for tonight.”


“Jase Knightley asked me to switch,” explained Rose quickly, and then shot a glare towards Scorpius. “Conveniently left out who I would be patrolling with.”


“Like I would’ve come if I had known you would be my partner,” Scorpius bit back, and I could tell Rose was going to respond, but Sinistra stepped forward.


“That’s enough. Detention tomorrow night, Ms. Burke,” she said sharply. “Now, I suggest you get back to your dormitories. All of you.”


“But, Professor,” Rose protested, as Sinistra turned away from us, already starting down the hallway again. “We haven’t finished our rounds-”


“Patrols are over!” Sinistra called as she rounded the corner.


“Really nice going, Weasley,” Scorpius snarled, sending Rose a look so vicious that I automatically stepped in between the two of them.


“Die in a hole, Malfoy,” replied Rose sweetly in response, and then turned to me. “Rotten luck getting caught. See you in Herbology tomorrow?”


“Of course,” I said warmly, giving her a slight wave as she disappeared in the direction that Sinistra had.


“So, let me get this straight,” Scorpius said mildly as we began walking in the direction of my dormitory. “You can spew off witty insults in a second, quote obscure Shakespeare passages in any conversation - but yet, when you get asked what you’re doing out of bed the first thing that comes to mind is to say sleep walking?”


“I don’t think well under pressure!” I protested, rather weakly. I was still scowling from Sinistra’s brief arrival, and internally cursing Flynn’s cowardice in every language that I knew.


“Oh, I know,” said Scorpius, trying not to laugh. “Remember that time you tried to throw a Quaffle at Adam but you missed and hit the window? And when your mum came in to see what the noise was, you told her a baby dragon had flown into the glass?”


“I remember,” I said rather shortly, not wanting him to continue, and I knew Scorpius would understand why. After a pause, he seemed to realise his mistake, glancing at me a few times to try to catch my gaze in an attempt to convey some sort of apologise with his eyes, but I kept my eyes faithfully trained straight ahead, and after a moment he turned away and thankfully lapsed into silence for a minute or two.


“Bullocks,” said Scorpius suddenly, just as we were nearing the moving staircases. “I forgot my Potions book in the Prefect lounge.”


“I’m sure it’ll be there tomorrow morning,” I said, and then smirked. “Like a Prefect is going to steal someone’s book-”


“I really need it tonight,” pressed Scorpius, stopping at the base of the staircase. He glanced around, to the left and then to the right quickly, and when he met my gaze he seemed unusually urgent. Not like he had just forgotten his book, but like he was late for something important. So, even though a sense of doubt at his words gnawed at the lining of my stomach, I told him good luck and gave him a half hearted wave as he disappeared around the corner, leaving me to stare at the spot where he had just been, utterly cold from the topic at hand and the lack of success of my mission.

 

 

 


 

 

 


“Well, what did you think would happen?” asked Beck. Mia tutted in agreement beside her, and I glared at them both irritably.


“That I would figure out who Scorpius is dating and not get caught out of bed after hours?”


“Too easy,” Beck smirked, shaking her head, and I made a face at her before returning to my tomato soup. After the disastrous attempt to spy on Scorpius, I’d caved and filled Beck and Mia in on my predicament. Beck promised not to say anything and Mia swore to only drop three hints a day to Scorpius about his deception, which was about as good as I was going to get with her.


“Well, I guess you’re gonna have to try and actually get Albus to go out with Katria,” said Mia rather unsympathetically. Beck didn’t even try to hide her derisive giggle.


“I will do it,” I said rather fiercely. My hair was in a tight ponytail from Quidditch, the elastic pulling at my scalp, and I undid it with one pull, feeling the relief that came with the simple action.


Mia glanced behind her and then faced Beck and I again, smiling that impish smize that only she could pull off. “Well, here comes Albus now,” she said slyly. “Hit him with your best shot.”


“I don’t need him to fall in love with her,” I said quickly, as Al, accompanied by the other three boys in our group approached us. “I just need him to take her to Hogsmeade. That’s all Katria said I had to do.”


“Easier said than done,” Beck warned sagely, and I hissed something rather rude just as the four boys reached us our group.


“Hola, ladies,” said Milo brightly, slowly lowering his gangly frame down onto the bench that Beck and I were sitting on.


“What’re you guys all whispery about?” asked Flynn with slightly narrowed eyes. He hated to be left out of anything, whether it be a small joke or a side conversation, and would stop at no lengths to unmask the topic at hand.


“Hogsmeade,” I said, rather clippedly. I was still quite annoyed at Flynn for acting so selfishly the night before, and as he looked back at me he gave me a sheepish grimace: the most of an apology I would get. “Who we’re taking.”


Al wrinkled his nose. “Isn’t that still a few weeks away?”


“Well, some of us like to plan ahead,” said Mia, with that air of superiority she somehow managed to pull off so well.


“Not you,” Scorpius retorted. “Don’t you usually tell every guy that asks you ‘maybe’ and then pick someone, like, an hour before the gates open?”


No,” Mia said, obviously offended, and then paused. “Oh. Actually, yes. I do.”


“That’s just cruel,” Flynn shook his head. “At least I never have a problem getting a date, since I’m clearly superior to all other males at Hogwarts-“


“Last year, you asked out twelve girls before one of them finally said yes,” Mia scoffed.


“But they did say yes,” Flynn leaned back easily and gave her a pointed look. Scorpius snorted.


“Who are you going with, Scorpius?” Beck asked, and I shot her a glance of gratitude for helping me with my subtle interrogation before leaning in slightly, anticipating his answer.


But Scorpius only grinned and slung his arm around Al. “Me and Al are going to go on a date. Finally taking the next step in turning our friendship into something more.”


“We got closer over the summer,” Al nodded seriously. “Much closer.”


“Well, I for one would love to see the two of you together,” Flynn remarked. “Two of Hogwarts most eligible bachelors off of the market means more of the wealth for Flynn.”


“Did you just call us eligible bachelors?” Al looked mildly amused, and Flynn merely shrugged.


“What about you, Milo?” asked Mia. “Who’re you going to bore with fungi trivia this year?”


But Milo, in a way only Milo could truly ever pull off, was staring off into space intently, his mouth slightly ajar and curved up into a distant half smile.


“Milo,” Al said, and then again, louder. “Milo!”


Milo jumped in his seat slightly, and then focused back in on us, beaming as brightly as he usually did. “Sorry, I was just thinking about my own demise!” he exclaimed. “What were you saying?”


We all stared at him.


“Hogsmeade trip,” said Flynn finally. “Who we want to take.”


“Oh,” Milo frowned. “Well, I hadn’t really thought about it yet-”


“Sorry,” Scorpius held his finger up. “Milo, mate, can we go back to what you just said?”


“That I don’t know who I’m going to take?” asked Milo, rather perplexed


“No, that you were thinking about your own demise?


“Oh. Yeah!” Milo nodded vigorously, as if nothing were out of the ordinary.


“And, why is that, exactly?” I asked, and then regretted it instantly. Milo’s mind always wandered into the most bizarre of places, and sometimes it was better to just let him be Milo on his own.


“Well, Scorpius said ‘gates,’ which made me think of the Gated Longhorn Dragon, which made me remember that they can kill humans in twelve different ways, and then that made me think about which way I would rather be killed by!”


“I followed that,” said Beck serenely.


“And, which is your preferred way to die?” Albus asked mildly.


“Electrocuted,” Milo replied instantly. “Beats getting beaten to death by your own severed limbs.”


“It sure does,” Albus said gravely, then stood. “I’ve got to go the library for a minute. See you all at Potions?”


Mia nudged me quite obviously above the table, and I quickly said, “Do you want company?”


“Nah,” said Al simply, already walking away. I briefly considered chasing after him, forcing him to spend time with me, but soon thought against it. I would see him in Potions - plus, we would have tea later, so it wouldn’t be hard at all to drop some careful hints about Katria.


But talking to Al soon proved difficult, and I couldn’t successfully get him alone until we were leaving our rather late dinner. Everyone else was still in the Great Hall, enjoying a luxuriously long dessert before turning in for the night, but since Al was on nightly patrol and I had detention, we had bid the others goodnight a few moments ago. There was silence in between us as we went along, but it was a contended quiet, as it always was with Albus. He wasn’t the kind to fill gaps in conversation with meaningless chatter like my brother Adam or Mia, and normally I wasn’t either, but right now I had an agenda to fulfill.


“Sooooo,” I drew out the vowel, twirling my hair around my finger. “Who’re you going to take to Hogsmeade?”


“Nellie, I have no idea,” said Al. “It’s in, like, five weeks.”


“Well, yeah, but you have to ask someone one to two weeks beforehand, so it’s really only like three!” I exclaimed, my overdone enthusiasm


Al shot me a weird look. “Who’re you thinking about going with, then?”


“Unimportant,” I brushed his question aside, sidling a little closer to him. “But, what do you think of Katria?”


“Katria?” Al repeated, wrinkling his nose. “Katria Stevens?


“Yeah!” I exclaimed brightly, and oh God it sounded so fake even to my ears, but I was already smiling so now I had to keep it going, even though I probably looked like a fucking Jack O'Lantern or a hyena or something.


“Why?” asked Al, looking rather alarmed, and that was when I knew exactly what to say. Al valued attractiveness, as did all teenage males, but above all he valued character and good intentions, and if he was under the impression that Katria had suddenly acquired a soul or undergone some sort of quest for self-improvement, his perception of her would shift unconsciously.


“She’s-” I fought the urge to vomit, “changed a lot this year.”


“Hm,” said Al, and then again, with his eyebrows furrowed tightly. “Hmm.”


And even though he changed the subject to my detention, citing that I would be late if I didn’t head over soon, I knew that I had successfully planted the seedling of an idea in his mind.


I arrived in the Transfiguration classroom at nine o’clock sharp, rather proud of my readiness in showing up on time. Over the years, Mia’s tardiness had certainly rubbed off on me, and I had unknowingly adopted her poor time management habits and was now actively working to reverse them. My fantastic punctuality was wasted, however, seeing as the classroom was completely empty with no signs of Professor Hiddleston or any other students. Sighing loudly - I so could have had time for a bit of pudding - I threw my things down at one of the desks in the front and perched myself on the table adjacent. I wasn’t upset about the detention, necessarily - I wasn’t a do-gooder like Rose Weasley (or Scorpius, for that matter) - but I did feel a bit internally angry at myself for slipping up so early in the semester. I’d only had three detentions last year, one of which was a direct result of Moose making us have a midnight practice, and I didn’t exactly fancy the idea of beating that score.


The door creaked open, and a polite greeting to Professor Hiddleston was about to curl off of my tongue when I realised who exactly had just entered the room.


Of course I had to be doing a detention with Albus’s older brother, and for a split second I wondered if my punishment was simply having to endure hours on end with James Potter’s insufferable personality. If it was, I knew I wouldn’t make it out alive.


“Oh. It’s you,” Potter spat, not even attempting to hide the disdain that marred his words.


“Astute observation,” I remarked drily, refusing to face him and instead focusing my attention on Professor Hiddleston, who had entered the classroom behind Potter and was now filling two large buckets with a soapy water stream from his wand.


“Welcome to detention,” Hiddleston droned, conjuring two sponges. His voice always had a nasally sort of quality to it, as if he’d had a head cold for about a decade. “You will be hand-scrubbing the floors of this classroom. We transfigured mice today and there are droppings everywhere.”


I wrinkled my nose at the floor - which I only now discovered was indeed coated in little splotches of poop - but didn’t say anything to outwardly give away my displeasure.


“Now, give me your wands. They will be sent back to your Common Rooms and will be in your dormitory by the time you are completed with your task.”


Potter handed his to Hiddleston with no hesitation whatsoever, and then met my reluctant gaze for the first time since I had cursed him out in the Quidditch Library a week or so ago. His scrutiny was impassively cold, and although normally I would have shrank away from such an irate and hostile expression, I squared my shoulders and shot him a similar look back until he turned away and retreated to the far corner of the room, grabbing a bucket in the process.


“How long will we be here?” I asked Hiddleston rather sourly, taking a bucket and a sponge as well. The words came out rather unkindly, and I was thankful that Hiddleston was so used to his own monotony that he didn’t seem to notice when anyone else’s tone of voice differed.


“Until you’re finished,” Hiddleston smiled blandly. He adjusted his thick black frames, interrupting their descent down his long, slightly crooked nose, and after a nod and a quick, “Get to it, then,” he had slipped back out the door, leaving the two of us alone together.


It could have only been about a minute of quiet, as Potter stared unmovingly at his bucket and I stared at mine, but the silence was deafening. As it pressed itself into my eardrums, I found myself opening my mouth to start a conversation. Perhaps I was more like Adam and Mia than I thought: silence like that just made me feel uncomfortable, in an indiscernible sort of way.


“What did you do?” I asked quietly. It wasn’t friendly, exactly, just a rather cynical, we’re in the same boat sort of question. I half expected him to ignore me completely, but after a moment and a faint sigh he responded.


“Fred Weasley and I got caught trying to dilute the drinking water with fainting fancies.” He barely glanced in my direction when he spoke, instead choosing to hunch over the ground and begin to scrub.


“Then where is he?” I asked, picking up my sponge as well. The floor was made of old hard wood panels, and many of the droppings had become smeared inside the thin grooves of the oak.


“Administration learned long ago to never put us in detention together.” Potter still refused to look at me, but now a breath of humour laced in between his words.


We worked in silence for a few moments, until his curiosity triumphed his pride like I was certain it would.


“What’d you do?” he grunted, his back still turned away from me.


“Out after curfew.”


“And what were you doing out after curfew?” Now his tone was lilting and suggestive, and I balked at the connotations.


“Nothing!” I protested, my voice squealing slightly, and Potter snorted. He never took his eyes off of the floor, but even so as he spoke again his smirk was easily discernible from my vantage point.


“Knew it would be something tame.”


“You know what, Potter?” I snapped, strangely offended by the implications that I was disciplined or docile, just like he had insinuated on occasions before this one. “This would be a whole lot more pleasant if we didn’t speak.”


Potter straightened up, finally facing me full on. I had never noticed it before, but eyes were a curious color, light, almost, and strangely as they pierced mine I found them almost too intense to look into. Like they were trying to peer into my soul, to analyse me by only my expression. Like they could see something inside of me I didn’t want them to.


“My thoughts exactly, er...” Potter paused, as if about to retaliate with my name, but instead simply stood there with his mouth slightly ajar.


“You don’t even know my name?” I asked, and then snorted. “Typical. To be expected, really, from someone as self-obsessed as you-”


“I know your name, Burke,” he glared at me with somehow more ferocity than before, perhaps having to do with the way his eyebrows narrowed and jaw squared out. “I’d have to be pretty oblivious not to, considering you’re my brother's mate. Just don’t know what to call you.”


“Nellie,” I said, before I could stop myself.


“Nellie?” Potter repeated, thinly veiled disgust apparent. “Sounds like the name of a horse.”


I glared frostily at him and turned away, more determined than ever before to finish my work quickly, but as I went to wet my sponge once again, something caught my eye: Potter’s side of the room was entirely sparkling clean, as if it had never been filthy in the first place.


“How did you-?”


“Always duplicate your wand ahead of time, sweetheart,” Potter drawled, somehow managing to sound extremely bored and infuriatingly patronising at the same time. “Aren’t you meant to be a Ravenclaw?”


And without so much as another glance in my direction, he strode out of the classroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


Disclaimer: I do not own anything you recognise.

Note: A couple apologies: I am sorry for the lengthy time it took me to update - finals season definitely took a toll this semester. But I am home for break for a month and have the next few chapters mostly written! Also, apologies for the length of this chapter. In my mind, it serves as sort of a bridge piece - too long and fluffy to add to the chapter next, but too short for me to be fully satisfied with it. Anyways, THANK you for your absolutely wonderful reviews! Everytime I get another one it makes me immediately return to my story and work harder at it. Keep reviewing, please!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up next…Wizard’s Chess, eyelashes, and unofficial scrimmages.

 

 



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

Disclaimer: I don't own anything you recognise. Macbeth - Shakespeare. Mary Poppins - P.L. Travers; Haper Collins Publishing.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


I’d grown to love the way the light shone through the Great Hall windows on mild autumn days like this one. It bathed the entire room in a golden afternoon glow, glinting softly off of the chandeliers and making our irises seem lighter and our faces more lively. Time seemed to move at a leisurely crawl during occasions like these, when we were all just lounging about at the tables, having our tea and biscuits. Albus had been reading some tattered children’s book he claimed his father sent him, but now he was stretched out across the bench, eyes closed but still alert enough to contribute a small comment here and there. Flynn and Scorpius were playing Wizard’s Chess, a particularly nasty game, too, and Scorpius’s pawn was just so violently eviscerated by Flynn’s queen that even Flynn’s pawns looked rather scandalised. Mia and I had our Charms proofs spread out in front of us, untouched but still remaining present, as if hopeful that we might change our minds and do our work. It was these kinds of moments that seemed to stretch past the realm of our regular and ordinary days and become their own entities entirely; it felt as if life itself was just boundless, indestructible, even.


The only thing that made everything seem just a little less infinite was my Quidditch bag, sitting under my feet and serving as a reminder that time was not simply a construct; as soon as the sun journeyed past the windows the world would speed up once more and we would return to our responsibilities and obligations. But even so, it was nice to savour it while it lasted.


“Rook to A5,” yawned Flynn.


“Bad move,” grunted Al, from the bench.


“No, it wasn’t - ah, shite,” Flynn cursed, as Scorpius sent his black knight to massacre the quivering pale rook.


“Alright,” I snapped my fingers. “What has four legs, soft fur, and nose how to find what it’s looking for?”


“Erm,” Mia frowned, twirling her dark hair around her pointer finger absentmindedly. ”A golden retriever?”


“A niffler,” said Al lazily, his eyes still closed.


“Pawn to C6,” said Scorpius, and Flynn scowled with concentration.


“Okay, I’ve got one,” Mia leaned forward, and then smiled slyly: her classic I have a dirty little secret look that she’d practically patented. “What has a long neck, short attention span, and once thought that a booty call was the same thing as a butt dial?”


“Milo,” all three of us said, just as the riddle himself catapulted his body into the seat next to Flynn, his mouth already moving faster than his speech would allow.


“Guess what?” cried Milo, and then once more. “Tomorrow’s Trivia Night!”


Fuck yes!” yelled Mia, drawing the attention of nearly everyone in the nearby vicinity.


“What the hell is a trivia night?” asked Flynn rather crossly, as Mia began to do a little dance in her seat and Al sat up from the bench begrudgingly.


“It’s our House’s version of a Gryffindor get together,” I explained, and even I couldn’t help but bounce up and down a little. “It only happens a couple times a year.”


Al wrinkled his nose. “A Ravenclaw Common Room party has to do with…learning?


“What would a Slytherin one be, the whole lot of you sitting in a circle plotting how to revamp the Chamber of Secrets?” I shot back, and Mia snorted.


“But, it just seems so boring!” protested Flynn, moving his queen away from the grasps of Scorpius’s bishop. “Why can’t we just do what we normally do and get drunk with the giant squid?”


“It’s not boring, it’s fun! Fun!” Milo repeated, waving his arms for emphasis.


“How?” groaned Scorpius. “It’s like school!”


“The catch is, when everyone’s pissed out of their minds it’s a lot harder to remember the exact technique of a bubble charm,” said Mia slyly, and Flynn perked up instantly.


“There’s alcohol involved? Why the hell didn’t you lead with that?” asked Flynn indignantly, Scorpius adamantly agreeing along with him.


“Anyways, you all better be there,” said Milo, settling into his seat much more calmly than before. “I’m hosting it this time, so-”


“Wait,” said Al, a slowly incredulous smile spreading across his cheeks. “You’re hosting it?”


“Oh, we’ll be there,” said Flynn, nodding emphatically along with Scorpius. “Definitely will be there.”


Milo, seemingly unaware that his friends’ newfound enthusiasm did not stem from relatively kindhearted places, beamed.


“Anyone do that Charms assignment yet?” Albus asked, and just like that, we settled back into the leisure our untouchable afternoon.


“No,” Mia replied immediately, holding up our blank parchments so Albus could see just how far we had come along. “Have you?”


“Nah,” said Al, idly. “Might get a start on it tonight, though.”


“I really can’t be arsed to do that until next week,” said Flynn, tearing his gaze away from the chess game for a split second. “I barely scraped an A on that OWL; it’s not like Flitwick expects a lot out of me.”


“Nothing,” I corrected him. “He truly expects nothing out of you.”


Flynn moved a piece on his board and then grinned at me, his auburn hair flopped slightly to the side. “Great strategy, innit? Can’t disappoint if you never raised the stakes in the first place.”


“What a truly perceptive philosophy,” Mia pronounced, and as we all laughed I glanced up towards the grand windows only to realise that we were not bathed in the warming light anymore; the sun had passed, and with it the time. Nothing ever really stopped for any of us, however much we wanted it to.


“I’ve got Quidditch,” I stood, slinging my bag over my arm, and everyone called out a quick goodbye before returning to their golden moment, where everything still remained vast and unbroken. Perfect, in a way.


“Checkmate!” I heard Scorpius say triumphantly, and I caught the start of what I assumed would be a long rant of expletives by Flynn as I exited the Great Hall.

 




“Oi!” Moose yelled, just outside the door of the women’s changing room. “You lot have fifteen seconds to finish changing! Everyone else is always ready at least two minutes before you three-“


“They don’t have boobs, Moose!” Beck yelled back, and he quieted immediately, his footsteps stomping away from the entrance after a moment or two.


“Is he always this punctual?” asked Cicely lightly, peeling off her shirt in one fluid motion. The first few practices Cicely had been rather subdued, but as she had grown accustomed to the team dynamics she had loosened up a bit, even going so far as to join in on all of us ragging on Jack, who had established himself early on as kind of an annoying younger brother.


“Usually he’s worse,” I said darkly, as I adjusted the neck of my sports bra with one hand and grabbed my blue practise jersey with the other.


“He’s better than he used to be,” commented Beck, rather acerbically. “At least he doesn’t time us anymore.”


“Gave us thirty seconds to put our entire uniform on,” I shuddered at the memory. “Liam Gilbert, the old Beater, nearly broke into tears when he wasn’t ready on time.”


“Yikes,” Cicely made a face, and then straightened up, grabbing her broom with one hand and her water with the other. “Ready to go out?”


“Let’s make him sweat for a few more minutes,” I grinned, slamming my locker shut. “Merlin knows he could learn some patience.”


We emerged from the changing rooms only eleven seconds after my statement, since it turned out that Beck had even less patience than Moose and couldn’t stand to just sit around with no apparent end goal in mind. It’s called leisure, Rebecca, I said as she pushed passed me to the door, and she grumbled something along the lines of, I’ll be leisurely when I’m dead, as we joined the rest of the team outside.


“Took you long enough,” muttered Moose, but he thankfully did not press the matter further, perhaps having something to do with the murderous expression upon Beck’s face. “Two laps - go.”


“I still don’t get why we have to run,” puffed Jack Robinson, from behind the rest of us. “We’re flying, for Merlin’s sake!”


“Running makes us have better endurance,” Kato called out to him. “Which, out of all of us, you need the most.”


I didn’t even need to turn around to know that Jack had made some sort of a face at him, since I heard the corresponding grunt and surmised that Kato had seen and flicked him, or something. I just kept running, savoring the way the fresh air expanded my lungs and spread the blood in my veins a little faster, and when we were finished, I was perfectly energised and hardly out of breath.


“Thirty seconds break, and then we start!” Moose called, lugging out the Ravenclaw Quidditch box across the clipped grass to where we stood as a group.


“Only thirty seconds?” grumbled Jack, still visibly panting from our warm up. Benjy squirted some of his water at him.


“Hey, Nels,” said Kato, and as I turned to him he frowned. “You’ve got an eyelash on your cheek.”


“Oh,” I frowned, too, going a bit cross-eyed trying to spot it. “Could you get it, then?”


“Yeah,” said Kato. He stepped forward slightly, leaning in to peer at my face with his stormy blue eyes, and that’s when it fully registered to me how close he was. My hair was in a loose ponytail, with wisps coming free around the frame of my face, and as his hands made contact with my skin I found myself vehemently wishing that I had bothered to brush it into something more appealing.


“Hold on,” Kato murmured, his fingertips brushing my cheek lightly. “It’s not catching.”


I looked up, just as he looked at me, and he stopped moving, his fingers still resting on my face. My heart was pounding, galloping like a runaway hippogriff, and I was certain he could hear it, or at least feel it, since his chest was so close to mine and his hands were still on my cheek, as soft and as gentle as butterfly wings-


“Idiot. Let me get it,” Beck pushed forward, rolling her eyes, and Kato stepped back quickly and glanced around, as if he had only then remembered that we were in the middle of the pitch with the entire team surrounding us. I blinked a few times, settling myself, because I had definitely exaggerated the whole interaction in my mind, and besides, I didn’t even like Kato like that - did I?


“Got it,” Beck announced triumphantly. “Now I get to make a wish!”


“What - no!” I protested, successfully distracted from my stupid overthinking. “It’s my eyelash, I get to wish on it-”


“Too late,” she pronounced smugly, and I gawked at her absolute cruelty.


“That’s just barbaric, Beck,” Benjy shook his head in horror, but Beck merely grinned proudly, taking his admonishment as a compliment. Of course she would - Beck had always been inherently tough, sometimes a bit too resolute and harsh for people’s tastes. She worked hard to preserve that reputation, too; she spoke out of turn frequently, hexed people she didn’t like in the corridors, and never stayed with one partner for longer than a couple of weeks, citing emotional unavailability as the root cause. But she so had a sweet side, and I stand by that analysis even though she would most likely murder me if she ever found out I’d called her anything short of intimidating.


“Well, what did you wish for?” Kato asked Beck, seemingly recovered from our brief moment, if you could even call it that.


“No one gives a damn what she wished for,” Moose said harshly as he tossed a Quaffle to Kato, who caught it with one arm. “Now, I want Chasers to do some chest passes and then switch to lobs for ten minutes each.”


“There may be a slight problem,” Cicely cautioned, and then pointed across the field towards the lockers, where seven people, all with brooms, were approaching.


“Hold on,” said Kato, peering across the field. “Isn’t that Hufflepuff?


“Maybe the Pitch has been double booked!” Benjy proposed gleefully. “Oh, what a joyous day this would be if we had to leave early-”


“Say that again and I’ll schedule us for four hours next practise,” Moose barked, and although Benjy quieted down, it did not stop him from doing little wiggling dance moves as the Hufflepuff team neared.


“Davies,” called Moose, once they were close enough. “What’s going on?”


“I believe we’ve booked the Pitch, Moose!” William Davies called back, just as amicably. Moose and Davies had always gotten along well, and in another world they might have even been friends. Alas, Moose’s inherent paranoia surrounding his strategy and Quidditch in general had ultimately prevented the two Seventh Years from growing close.


“So have we,” said Moose, able to speak at a lower volume now as Hufflepuff stopped in front of him. “What do you propose we do?”


“Split the time?” Davies suggested. He really was quite handsome, with sandy blonde hair and tanned skin that seemed to accentuate the subtle striations of muscles on his arms, but unfortunately for most of the female population he was taken; Ana Clearwater and Davies had been dating for almost two years now and were considered the golden couple of Hogwarts.


“You’re already warmed up - how about you get it for an hour and thirty, and then we get to come back at five?”


“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Moose shook his hand firmly. “Cheers, mate.”


“Cheers,” Davies grinned, then turned back to his team, who didn’t look phased in the slightest.


“Alright, we’re going to relocate temporarily to the Quidditch Library!”


“Hufflepuff,” Benjy pronounced dreamily, as the team shuffled off of the Pitch and back towards the locker rooms. “The Canada - no, the Mary Poppins of Houses.”


“What the hell is a merry pop in?” asked Beck, rather irritably.


“Okay, let’s refocus,“ Moose clapped his hands together. “As I was saying - chest passes and then over the shoulder lobs, working on power first and then accuracy. Waterson and Robinson, get twenty passes in a row with the Bludger and then get with the Chasers to do a weave and dodge drill. And, Burke, you’ll be warming me up to start and then you’ll switch to feints. Good?”


“Not good,” said Beck darkly, and as we all turned towards her she jerked her head towards the other side of the Pitch. Because there, coming out of the locker rooms while Hufflepuff players filed in, was none other than the Gryffindor Quidditch team.


“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” growled Moose, throwing his Nimbus 5000 on the ground with that aggressive frustration he just channeled so spectacularly.


“What do you think they want?” Kato asked casually, but he was standing straighter with his shoulders squared back, already in battle stance.


“Wouldn’t it be an absolute riot if every team had this time slot?” Cicely mused, tugging on a strand of her curly dark hair.


“Blimey, if Slytherin doesn’t show up now I’m going to be gutted,” Benjy crowed, seemingly unaware of the heightening aura of tension in the air.


“Wait - did you guys plan this?” Beck asked, just as lightly as Benjy had, and I found myself trying to force myself to be as relaxed as they were, even though I felt my muscles tensing up slightly. “Is this supposed to be one of those stupid inter-House team bonding activities?”


Benjy snorted. “There’s no way they ever do that again after what happened last time-”


“This is not planned,” barked Moose, his eyes not straying from the ever-approaching Gryffindors.


“What happened last time?” asked Jack, and I almost giggled at the thought of it.


“They tried to mix up all four teams and have us do relay races, but everyone ended up just hexing the Gryffindors-”


“And then the Gryffies got fed up so they released all of the Bludgers from the training kits-”


“So it was just Bludgers gone absolutely rogue-”


“-and half of the Hufflepuffs got scared and conjured whistles to try to make everyone stop freaking out-


“-but then the Bludgers went towards whoever was whistling-”


“-bloody hilarious, but complete mayhem.” Benjy finished.


“So, then, why is Gryffindor here?” asked Cicely, biting her lip. We all turned to Moose expectantly.


“I don’t know,” Moose snarled. “It was probably Madame fucking Hopkins messing up the schedules; ever since she had that thing she’s been completely unreliable!”


“You mean, her newborn baby?” I asked him flatly, but all he did was wave me quiet as the red-clad pack stopped in front of us, led by James Potter, a Captain’s badge pinned loosely onto the sleeve of his shirt in a manner that somehow looked more inadvertent than not. His dark hair was already perfectly windswept in a similar faux-accidental manner, and I briefly wondered how long it took in front of the mirror for him to achieve that look.


“Moose,” James Potter said loudly, with the air of annoyance and arrogance that always seemed to wrap itself around his words.


“Potter,” said Moose, much more curtly than his adversary.


“It seems that the Pitch has been overbooked.”


“It seems it has.”


Both teams waited anxiously while the two Captains glowered at one another.


“I gave you the Quidditch Room a couple of weeks ago,” Moose finally spoke up, and I was proud that his voice did not cower away from Potter’s dominance in the slightest.


But James Potter only nodded solemnly in acknowledgement. “You did. But I’m afraid that has no bearing on our current situation.”


“No bearing?” said Beck angrily, and Benjy pulled her back slightly.


“Well, considering the fact that my team has already begun practice,” Moose snapped, “we will be using the Pitch until five, when Davies has it.”


“Fine,” said Potter, much more easily than I expected him too, although it still had a sour quality to it. His ever-sharp gaze flitted around the semicircle that our players had formed around Moose until it almost reluctantly came to rest upon me. As our eyes met, I narrowed my eyebrows slightly in response to try and convey just how utterly abhorrent I thought him to be, especially after our shared detention. But as he gazed back unblinkingly, James Potter’s expression flickered from his usual mask of indifference to an almost curious countenance. His eyebrows were turned slightly down in a way that made him look more like Albus than ever before, and the seemingly raw genuinity added something to his expression that I couldn’t place.


But as soon as I had registered the change in appearance, the illusion was shattered as Potter faced Moose once again.


“How about we play for it?” Potter demanded. His cool impassivity had vanished entirely, and he was staring down Moose intensely, as though his life depended on it.


“Oh, for fucks’ sake,” Beck said loudly, but Moose didn’t acknowledge her in the slightest.


“Play for it?” repeated Moose, his eyes completely fixed on Potter, and the second he said it I knew he was a goner. For Moose, despite his lack of efficient comebacks and overall fluency when confronted with an unpleasant situation, would never, ever turn down a fight, much less something so reliant on his reputation. He was confident and rational, but above all he was proud, and even if he pretended to be unsure of his decision outwardly the second Potter had proposed it he had started concocting a strategy in his mind.


“Yes,” Potter stepped forward. His eyes were burning with an almost boyish type of excitement, and he really did seem absolutely enthused about the idea he had just proposed. “No refs, trainer Snitch, light Bludger use. Let’s fucking play for it.”


There was a beat of weighted silence. Then-


“You’re on.” Moose said fiercely, shaking Potter’s outstretched hand, while Kato swore under his breath and Cicely whispered something panickedly to Jack.


Ground rules were quickly discussed by the captains - no aiming Bludgers to injure, no physical contact, forty minute playing period - while our team stood off to the side, huddled in a little circle and speaking a few decibels below a normal volume.


“We can take them, easy,” Kato said to the five of us without preamble. “They’re a newer team than we are.”


“They have two star players, but we have depth,” Benjy added. “Potter and the girl Weasley might be equal with us, but the rest of them are definitely below.”


“Plus, their Keeper is new,” I chimed in. “She’s only a Fourth Year, named-”


“Jasmine Hornby? Oh, I know. Fuck, she’s got a rack on her,” Jack said dreamily, and Beck immediately shoved him.


“Oi!” he yelped. “No need to hit me just because you don’t have big ti-”


“Say it, I dare you,” Beck hissed, and although I wasn’t even involved in the altercation I felt a bit scared for the repercussions that Jack was about to face.


“Little Jackie here didn’t mean it,” Kato grinned evilly, pushing Jack much harder than Beck had and ruffling his hair. “Right?”


“Right,” said Jack with a false air of confidence, but it was easy to tell that he was a little rattled.


“Okay, people,” Moose joined our circle, the Gryffindors also huddled in a similar fashion a few metres away. “Here’s what I need you to do.” And then he paused dramatically, and we could all feel the intensity buzzing in the air; we were eager for it, hungry for it, and perhaps that’s why his next words were so jarring. “Lose.


What?” I cried, unable to contain my reaction.


“Are you mad?


“Is he ill? Dying?” Benjy attempted to feel Moose’s forehead with the back of his hand.


“Hear me out,” Moose pulled away from Benjy. “Gryffindors are cocky and headstrong. If they think it’ll be an easy win for them, we’ll have no trouble taking them by surprise in the actual match. We need their guard to be down, and this is the best way to do it.”


There was a moment of silence. Then-


“I hate it,” announced Beck. “I mean, it’s brilliant, but I hate it.”


“I don’t like it much either,” said Moose grimly. “But we have to sacrifice our pride today for a win tomorrow.”


“Isn’t the match next week?” I asked, with the full intention of annoying Moose. He ignored me.


“So, what do we do?” Cicely bit her lip. Moose swelled with pride at her question; I suspected being looked to for leadership was a turn on for him, really.


“Chasers, make bad passes that look like they could have been good. I want them to be slower than usual and for the angles to be just a little bit off. In fact, throw to everyone’s left side so that it’s harder to catch it. Robinson and Waterson, don’t distract their Chasers with Bludgers and don’t talk with one another. Communication on the field right now should look disjointed, and everyone needs to act frustrated. And...Burke - I want you to pretend to be so aggravated with how we’re playing that you take Robinson’s bat and smack him with it.”


“What? Why me?” Jack yelped.


Moose straightened up, and the rest of us followed suit. “Because for once, Nellie has to be focused on not catching the Snitch, and if she acts like she’s more concerned with what everyone else is doing it'll be more believable.”


“But why does she have to hit me?” Jack whined.


“For your comment earlier,” said Moose as he turned around, beginning to walk back towards the Gryffindors. “You deserve a good whack after that.”


“Hey,” said Kato nudged me, as we began to follow the rest of the team. “Be careful, all right, Nels?”


“You, too,” I told him, smiling wryly. We were all walking in separate groups: Jack and Cicely; Beck and Benjy; Kato and I. We hadn’t meant for it to happen like this, but maybe it was a good thing; it made us seem more nervous, more disjointed than it would have if we had walked up all as one team. Already I was entirely preoccupied on the minute details of the game plan just like I was for every Quidditch match, and being able to be so rationally strategic in my mind once again was a welcome feeling.


“Is your team ready?” Moose asked Potter the second we stopped in front of the Gryffindors.


“Obviously,” Potter drawled, gesturing to his players, who were all already sitting on their brooms. “The trainor Snitch has already been released. Since you were here first, you’ll play as the home team, meaning that we will start with the Quaffle.”


“Of course you will,” Moose muttered, and then straightened up, clamoring on his broom as we did the same. “Alright, then, on my count. Three, two, one - go!”


And all at once, fourteen players shot into the air like fireworks into the open sky.


It was just as beautiful an afternoon outside as it had been inside the walls of the Great Hall. The crisp autumn air ballooned directly into my lungs, and as I continued my descent up into the sky I could feel it circulating my body, coursing through the blood that nourished my arteries and fed into my capillaries and pumped my heart. It was an unparalleled feeling, sort of an all-natural adrenaline rush, and I closed my eyes, savouring the sensation.


I’d almost forgotten that I liked to start every match with my eyes shut, if only for a couple of seconds. It helped me calm myself, allowed me to find my center so that I could concentrate to the best of my ability. Moose had taught me that trick right before my first match as a Third Year, and it had never failed to at least heighten my own personal intensity.


As I heard the telltale yells of the Chasers scrambling to get the Quaffle, I took one more long, deep breath in, focusing on the sound it made as it rushed of my nostrils, feeling the way it pushed in my stomach and relaxed the tension in my shoulders. And then I opened my eyes, and I just let myself see, see the dull glimmer of the goal posts as the sun reflected off of them and the baby hairs on Beck’s face and the glint of the silver locket hanging over Dominique Weasley’s red rayon tank top. I could see everything, and in this focused, hyper-attentive state - this was where I felt the most alive. It was my freedom; my power; my ataraxic release.


The scrimmage had started intensely; the Gryffindors were putting everything they had into the play, just as we expected them to. Potter was dominating with the Quaffle, keeping possession for most of the time and only relinquishing it when Dominique Weasley was open. It seemed like he had a distrust for Danvers, an observation that Moose had surely already noted.


I let myself watch the play from above all of my teammates, relaxing into the familiar patterns that characterised essentially every match. Normally, I would start off by scoping out the entire Pitch, but today I only began really doing anything of importance after I noticed the Gryffindor Seeker on the opposite side of the field, practicing a rather jumbled zig-zag search. So I began to do a weave feint: I pretended that I was intensely following the Snitch, flying up and to the side and then down again abruptly, and within seconds the Gryffindor Seeker - I think he was another one of Al’s cousins - was on my tail. He didn’t catch on to the fact that I was following absolutely nothing for nearly ten seconds, and when he finally did he pulled out of the slight dive I had caught him in and sped off towards the opposite end of the Pitch, trying to recover from the distraction, and I grinned to myself. Adam had taught me that move one summer long ago, as we practiced together deep in the open fields behind the looming darkness of the manor.


It just doesn’t seem necessary, though, I’d told him as we were walking back into the manor. I mean, why not just do a Wronski feint?


You don’t always need to be flashy, Corn, he had said, and then grabbed my arm in warning as we passed through the West Wing. Once we made it to our side of the house Adam turned to me once again, grinning easily. Sometimes the best plays are the ones no one suspects are plays at all.


And, indeed, the feint I’d just practiced had been a good play, but I needed more. Because once I got the Gryffindor Seeker to not trust me anymore, if I actually spotted the Snitch it would give me that much more of an advantage.


And so, with a slight prompting from my fingers, my broom dipped straight down in a perpendicular angle to the rest of the players. I could hear people yelling at the Weasley Seeker and telling him not to fall for it, but I didn’t care; I wanted him to learn complacency - and that’s where it sort of hit me: I loved Quidditch, not for its for its athleticism or furor or risk, but for the millions of different scenarios that could unfold in such a short amount of time, for the way it made you think.


“Be careful, Nellie!” I heard Kato yell for the second time, and I waved him away as he missed a pass interception from Dominique Weasley. It was good practice for me anyways; diving low had always been one of my weaknesses.


The thick of the gameplay recorded as almost background noise in my head. Cicely scored, but it was an absolute blunder of a shot, and it was clear that it only went in because of the Keeper’s mistake. Gryffindor was mollified, though, as they then scored forty unanswered points all in a row.


A Bludger whizzed past by my ear, much too close for my liking, but I managed to dodge it at the last minute and steadied my broom a second later, righting myself right next to our goalpost, where Moose had just missed an embarrassingly obvious right-hoop shot from Josh Danvers.


“Nellie!” shouted Kato, from a few metres behind me. “Be-”


“Kato, tell me to be careful one more time and I swear I’ll put a Silencer on you!” I shouted back, not even bothering to hide my annoyance in my tone. I didn’t need help; I certainly didn’t need protection, and the fact that he thought it his place to offer such things was moderately offensive. Moose gave me a subtle thumbs up from the goalposts, for following the plan and publicly yelling at a teammate, I suppose, but as I turned around it wasn’t Kato who I met eyes with. Although it was so fleeting that it practically never happened, I could’ve sworn I saw the ghost of a smirk on James Potter’s face before he turned sharply and sped off towards the Quaffle on the other side of the field.


Beck, who had held possession all the way across the Pitch, missed her shot, but it was just barely off in a way that really did look believable. Potter regained the Quaffle and passed it off to Dominique Weasley, who immediately chucked it to Josh Danvers. Danvers tried passing it back, but on instinct Kato nabbed it out of the air. However, Kato made up for his mistake well; he passed the Quaffle off much too quickly, allowing Gryffindor to easily take control once more. Usually, I didn’t watch the game play so intently, but I was trying to distract myself from being so focused. I’d done my feints and flashy plays, and now all I could really do was go around in circles and wait for the end of the game.


“Is now a good time to embarrass Robinson?” I asked Moose quietly as I flew past him, and even though his gaze never left the Quaffle I caught his curt nod out of my peripherals.


It didn’t take me long to find the right moment to begin my little act. Jack was conveniently stationed towards the center of the play, and I flew over to him, my face already set in a scowl.


“Oi! Robinson!” I yelled at him, raising my voice so that everyone around me could hear what I was saying. “Do you actually call this playing?”


“Nellie, wait-” Jack hissed, but I had already grabbed his Beater’s bat and was brandishing it at him, and yes, I was rather enjoying it.


“If you can’t fucking hit the ball, maybe I should knock some sense into you!” There, that was absolutely brilliant acting, Nellie, really well done-


Wait!” Jack had his hands up; not in annoyance, but in self defense. “Bludger behind you!”


I turned around, just in time for the dark mass speeding straight at me to glance off of the bat in my hands and ricochet off into another direction - a direction, as it turned out, that was right in line with the left shoulder of Gryffindor Quidditch Captain James Potter. The Bludger hit him with an audible crack, loud enough that every player turned their attention to it, and I could hear Moose’s expletive from all the way across the field.


“Burke!” James Potter shouted, immediately clutching his upper arm with his good hand. “What the fuck was that for?”


“It was an accident!” I yelled back panickedly, quickly handing back the bat to Jack as both teams made their way over to us.


“Like hell it was!” Potter roared. “Everyone on the ground, now!


“This is why you shouldn't have tried to hit me,” muttered Jack as we made our descent, Moose in front of us, and I honestly considered grabbing the bat from his hands once more and hitting him for real this time.


The second our feet touched the ground, mayhem ensued. It was like the argument both teams had gotten into in the Quidditch Library, only worse, because this time everyone was screaming and there were no threats of a cranky librarian to keep us from hexing one another.


“Why the hell are ye trying to injure our Captain?” A Beater named Charlie Finnegan yelled, throwing his bat on the ground in anger and taking a step towards me.


“She wasn’t!” Benjy insisted, automatically shielding me with his arm, even as I tried to push him away.


“It was clearly an accident-”


“This crosses the fucking line-”


“-pathetic, really, just because you were losing-”


“Oh, it ‘crosses a line?’ Cry me a fucking river, Danvers-”


“It was in self defense-”


“Go fuck yourself, Davidson-”


“Self defense of what?"


“Honestly I will, I do it so much better than you-”


“You broke the only rules we’d laid in place-”


“Can we all just calm down for a-”


“Dom, shut up!


“Nellie has terrible aim; she would make the worst Beater ever-”


“He’s honestly right-”


“Irrelevant, considering that you’re so bloody thick you thought it would be a good idea to-”


Don’t fucking talk to her like that!


“Everyone SHUT UP!” Potter roared, and both teams quieted at once. His jawline was set and sharp as he stopped directly in front of me, still clutching his left shoulder. He didn’t appear to be mocking like he had been the night of our shared detention, or even vaguely curious as he had only thirty minutes before; he was back to his unforgiving enmity, and I resented him for the way a simple glare could make me feel so small and inferior. But I stood my ground; perhaps no more out of necessity than out of a personal spite for him.

 
“Why did you have the bat?” Potter asked me calmly, and somehow it betrayed more danger in it than if he had continued yelling.


“I was trying to hit Jack with it,” I replied honestly. Potter narrowed his light eyes at me, and without warning an inexplicable energy materialised in the already tensioned atmosphere. It wasn’t like how Kato and I had locked eyes earlier; this was somethings more raw and powerful, a silent conversation of turbulence. It seemed to draw our gazes into one another and hold them there, and as it surged between us Potter lowered his hand from his shoulder slowly, the shell of his distant presentation fracturing ever so slightly.


“You’re a terrible liar, Burke,” Potter said finally, his voice slightly lower than usual. Our gaze still hadn’t been broken, and I could feel my heart racing with what must’ve been adrenaline.


“So you should know that I’m telling the truth.” I said, but it came out quieter than I meant it to.


Potter continued to stare at me, and I to him. Finally, thankfully, he turned his head away, rustling his hair with his good arm, and the strained electricity that had crackled in the spaces between us dissipated immediately.


“It’s getting windy. We should go in.”


Both teams erupted in outrage - What, Potter, are you scared? - We’re not scared, we just gutted you! - but neither Moose nor Potter paid them any mind.


“He’s right,” said Moose, and at that everyone fell silent immediately. “Hufflepuff will be back soon, anyways.”


I arranged my face into something shellshocked, nudging Benjy so that he would do the same - although, maybe that wasn’t the best idea, since he merely opened his mouth slightly and looked super high instead of horrified.


“Then, you don’t mind if we take the Pitch for the remainder of the time?” Potter asked smoothly, and I could see that that had been his plan all along. Get us into a weak position and then force himself back into the upper hand. Only this time Potter didn’t realise we would benefit from it.


Moose sighed heavily; the sound was tired and full of resignment. “Yeah. Whatever.”


There was a shocked silence. “Did Moose just...give up?” Dominique Weasley finally whispered, her face alight with some sort of awe.


“Don’t read into it,” Beck shot back at her, as Cicely pulled her away to continue with the rest of the group as we began to walk back to the Locker Rooms, our heads down and our brooms dragging on the ground.


“I’m going to yell at you, now,” Moose informed us quietly, and then screamed, and I mean screamed, “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU LOT - this is working better than I thought it would - TERRIBLE PASSES, NO AIM AT ALL - great job, everyone, really well done - LAPS UNTIL EVERY SINGLE PERSON CRIES - take the rest of the night off - NOT ONE WORD OUT OF ANY OF YOU!”


“I thought for certain we were found out when I missed that center shot,” Beck shook her head rather disbelievingly as the Gryffindor’s raucous laughter only increased. “Who knew they’d be stupid enough to fall for it at all?”


“I knew,” said Moose harshly. “That’s why I bloody told you to do it in the first place.” But secretly he was satisfied with our day's work, and this was his way of letting us all bask in the brief moment of success and accomplishment.


“Gryffindor,” I smirked, as all seven of us continued up the hill, victorious to one another. “The Macbeth of Houses.”


“What the hell is a mock bath?” asked Beck, crossly.

 

 

 


 

 

 


Author's Note: The thoughtful reviews for this story have been amazing and I'm so excited for you all to read the next few chapters, which have been some of my favorite to write! Please keep reviewing, you have no idea the amount it motivates me to keep writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up next...A story of mini quiches, inconclusive hangovers, and Milkshakes.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 



Chapter 6: Chapter Six
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Disclaimer: Anything you recognise is owned by J.K. Rowling, except for: Gucci Gang (Lil Pump; Warner Bros Records); Milkshake (Kelis; Star Trek and Arista Records); Mr. Brightside (The Killers; Island); The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare.


 


 

 


“Alright, alright!” Milo yelled. “Order!”


Aakash Dayton banged a large gavel from the podium adjacent to Milo’s, and the room fell silent.


“Welcome to the first Ravenclaw Trivia Night of the year!” Milo shouted, and the crowd immediately erupted into cheers. “Now, the rules are the same as always: Fifth Years and up only, no more than five to a team, only one wand, no textbooks, and no Extendable Ears - yes, I’m looking at you, Harkins.”


Francesco Harkens grinned sheepishly, stuffing what looked like the aforementioned item back into the front pocket of his jeans.


“Once we have completely finished asking the question and have given you the allotted amount of time, you can show us your answers on the Erase-Parchment,” Milo continued. “If it is correct, your team will receive the designated amount of points and an optional (but highly encouraged) shot of Firewhiskey for each member.”


“Firewhiskey?” Scorpius repeated warily. “We’re going to be fucked-


“That’s the point!” Mia squealed, without taking her eyes off of the front of the room.


“And, now,” Milo grinned evilly from his podium, which bore large cursive letters reading Master of Ceremonies. “The moment you’ve all been waiting for...CATEGORIES!”


I cheered along with the rest of the crowd, while Mia pounded her fist on the table and Flynn looked vaguely constipated.


“The categories for today are...Quidditch Myths and Mishaps, Guess that Muggle Song, Past Defense Against the Dark Arts Teachers, Care of Rare Magical Plants - that one’s for you, Patrick - and, everyone’s favourite - Goblin Wars Nobody Gives a Shit About!”


“FUCK yeah!” I heard Kato loudly exclaim from behind us.


“Ravenclaw is fucking mad,” Albus shook his head in a mix between bemusement and horror.


“As we always go from left to right in teams...Without further ado, the Beaters are up first!”


“We’ll take Quidditch Myths!” Beck called. Her team consisted of Kato, who was wearing a ridiculous hat with a flapping raven on it; Moose, who from the looks of it had started drinking much earlier; and Ilana Darlington, another Seventh Year and one of Beck’s closest friends.


“Myth or mishap?” Milo began dramatically, and everyone leaned forward in anticipation. “In the 1939 Quidditch World Cup preliminaries, an Algerian Chaser had his foot accidentally amputated by an unforeseen telephone wire. Ten seconds, starting now.”


“Definitely myth,” Flynn scoffed, just as Al pronounced, “Completely a mishap.”


“No, no, it’s true,” I insisted, scribbling rather illegibly on our board. “Moose used it as an example once of why we shouldn’t let our feet dangle.”


“I don’t understand how you play Quidditch, Nellie, so much can go wrong,” Mia fretted, and Scorpius sniggered and called her a mum just as there was a little ding.


“Time’s up!” Aakash Dayton announced. He was a year-below but looked more like Third Year, with his scrawny frame and bowl-shaped haircut that was reminiscent of the 90’s in the worst possible way. “Show your boards!”


I raised ours triumphantly in the air, and within seconds five shots of Firewhiskey had materialised on our table. We took them all at once, banging them back down onto the wooden surface in unison, and even though it burned my throat I couldn’t help but grin a little.


“All right, the Ravencools are up next!” Milo exclaimed, and at that team name Flynn looked so disgusted I had to punch him so that he wouldn’t call attention to himself.


“Past DADA teachers, please,” the Fifth Year leading the Ravencools said confidently. Kato yelled, “Fuck yeah!” again.


“This is a multi-answer response,” Milo began, pausing for effect before continuing. “Your team will earn 10 points for each correct answer; three correct will earn you the shots. The question is..list all Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers who were either a Death Eater or host to one....go!


“Okay,” I said, as Mia began to write furiously, Severus Snape, Carrow, “who else?”


“You are so lucky to have me on your team right now,” Albus grinned. “Quirrell, Mad-Eye Moody-”


“Mad-Eye Moody?” Flynn hissed. “There’s no way he was-”


“Death Eater on Polyjuice potion,” Al supplied, and Flynn looked mildly impressed.


“Who else?” Scorpius snapped.


“Ten seconds!”


“Voldemort?” Mia guessed.


“Voldemort wasn’t a teacher, d’you think he could’ve controlled a class looking like Mr. Albino Snakenose?” Flynn scoffed.


“Well, do you know any more, or are you just going to insult my suggestions-”


“It was a suggestion in dire need of insulting-”


“Will you two just stop bickering?” asked Al tiredly.


“Time’s up!” yelled Milo, and Mia grabbed the board away from Flynn and held it up, pouting slightly even after we had taken our newly conjured round of shots. I exchanged a long glance with Albus and Scorpius, the kind of look that just so clearly articulated the resigned fatigue aspect of being friends with Mia and Flynn.


“Now,” Milo cried over the hum of the crowd, and I snapped back into attention. “Guess that Muggle Song!”


“First and foremost, you should all be grateful I’m Muggleborn and that I have an excellent taste in music,” said Mia haughtily.


“Wasn’t your most listened song last year that song that says “Gucci Gang” over fifty times?” Scorpius asked drily.


“It’s catchy, okay?” defended Mia, as Milo relinquished the honor of reading the question to a rather over-eager Aakash.


“In a highly-acclaimed Muggle song by pop-artist Kelis, the lyrics go: my blank brings all the boys to the yard,” Aakash announced, stumbling slightly over the last bit of the sentence. “The blank is the title of the song - go!”


Mia squealed, turning to me excitedly. “Ohmigod, this is like the easiest question - Nellie, do you know it?”


“Why would I know it?” I asked, a bit panickedly.


Mia tutted, disappointed, grabbing the marker from where it sat by Albus. “You clearly still have a long way to go on your Muggle culture education,”


“Mia, your Muggle culture education consisted almost exclusively of which Kardashian is or isn’t pregnant.”


“Valuable information!” she insisted, as she scribbled the answer onto the board. “C’mon, Nellie, think!”


“I told you, I don’t know!”


“You’ve heard this one before!”


“I really don’t think I have!”


“Times up!” Milo called, and Mia held up the answer over our heads, sending me a slightly exasperated look as she did.


“It was Milkshakes,” she pronounced. “Obviously.


“Oh, so obviously,” said Scorpius, while Al added, “I mean, of course it was.”


“Wait,” Flynn held up his hand. “Her milkshakes bring boys to her house?”


Yard,” corrected Mia. “Milkshakes is an innuendo.”


“Actually, it’s a euphemism,” I said, and I recieved insults from all sides as I downed my Firewhiskey, gasping slightly at the way the amber liquid seemed to physically sear my throat.


“It’s our turn to pick next,” coughed Albus, making a face as he set down his shot glass.


“I got this,” said Mia smugly, and as Milo addressed us, she chose Guess that Muggle Song once again, which she obviously nailed (“Are you all deprived? You guys have seriously never heard of Mr. Brightside?!”).


It continued on this way for awhile - hours, maybe, but after we had gotten nine questions right and had taken just as many shots each, it didn’t really matter how late it was or how long it had been. I think time lost its importance after Flynn thought that the earth was only two thousand and twenty three years old and the rest of us died laughing; or maybe it was when Mia fell off of her seat reaching for another drink and we howled - either way, we were free from the constraints of time and space and stress and it was absolutely perfect. My chest felt like it was bursting, my lungs expanding, and with every breath my smile grew wider, because I was alive, and the air was clean and I loved my friends and I couldn’t think of a time where I had been happier. It wasn’t just ecstasy but a peace, a thrilling kind of calm where everything seemed in the right place, and I allowed myself to bask in this moment of pure joy and elation for as long as it lasted.


But gravity was a strict ruler of the universe, and what comes up must come down. That night, after we had stayed talking in the Common Room for hours once the game had ended and I was finally back in my own four-poster bed, now mostly more tired than intoxicated, I had a strange dream.


The only way I know how to characterise it is as the visual equivalent of having something on the tip of your tongue. Every thing, every feeling in the dream was incredibly close, nearly tangible, so almost reachable - but only that: almost. There was no plot, no characters or dialogue or otherwise; instead, it was more a flurry of colours and sounds and instincts than an actual dream. Nevertheless, elements of it lingered in my subconscious throughout the night as sort of a constant source of discomfort, but when I awoke I had such a ferocious headache that all thoughts about the dream were rendered unimportant in comparison.


“You’re just hungover,” Mia pressed. In an unusual bout of selflessness, she had brought me some dry toast and pumpkin juice from the kitchens, but I still didn’t feel appetised enough to touch it.


“I really don’t think so,” I said, chewing the side of my lip like I always did when I was thinking about something intently. “It feels like what I had on the Hogwarts Express-”


“Where you were hungover,” Mia insisted gently, but still I shook my head, and then stopped, wincing at the increase in pain that came with the slight movement.


“I can’t describe it, but it feels like something...I don’t know. More than a hangover.” I scowled, frustrated that I couldn’t seem to convey the significance of it.


Mia frowned slightly, putting her hand to my forehead in a rather tender, motherly gesture before she stole a piece of my toast. “Well, I hope you feel better,” she said finally, going for the pumpkin juice as well. “Are you still going to the dinner?”


The dinner. Slughorn’s first unofficial event of the year: an intimate dessert party that only certain members of his club were privy to. I groaned at the mere thought of it.


“You don’t have to go,” said Mia, much too encouragingly. “You can stay in with me and rest. I’ll paint your nails, even.”


“I have to,” I told her, even though relaxing in the comforts of the dormitory sounded much too tempting. “I don’t think Al would forgive me if I didn’t. Besides, you know what happens when I skip.”


My Grandmother had once heard word that I had not been frequenting Slughorn’s events - passed on to her by the likes of Calliope Yaxley, no doubt - and the ensuing conversation was nothing short of terrifying. But that was only when I was a Third Year, and I shuddered at the thought of what such a talking to would look like now.


Mia tutted; a sound of mingled sympathy and disappointment. “Well, then,” she said, sliding off her bed and standing up, “you should take something for your headache before we go meet everyone for tea.”





“You look like death,” was Flynn’s compassionate welcome as Mia and I sat down at the Slytherin House table about an hour later. “Like, really terrible.”


“Oh, like you look absolutely fantastic,” I snapped, laying my arms down on the table so that I could rest my head on top of them like a pillow.


“Well, I feel fantastic,” said Flynn, heartily. “It’s called a high tolerance, Burke. Look it up.”


“I’m not even hungover,” I told him rather crossly, although the words were muffled into my sleeve. “I just have a migraine.”


“Another one?” Scorpius prodded me slightly. “You okay?”


“I’ll be fine,” I glanced up at him, and he flashed me a quick smile. Last night after the trivia, I could sort of remember the conversation we’d had while draped over the Ravenclaw couches. His potential dishonesty about his personal life had been gnawing at the edges of my thoughts for days, and so finally, with alcohol running through my veins and the excitement of the night coursing through me, I’d rounded up the courage to ask him if there was anything he was hiding from me. No, of course not, he had said, and he’d had the tact to look confused. Is something wrong? And I told him no, that I was just wondering why we hadn’t been spending more time together, and in response he’d hugged me and promised to make more of an effort this term. And in that moment, as we returned back to the conversation, where Milo had just recited the entire Mermish alphabet backwards and Flynn was trying to balance himself on top of one of the speaking podiums, I had believed him - or at least, I’d really really wanted to. But now that I thought back to it, there had been this look in his eyes that made me doubt his earnesty. His face had never wavered from the perfect picture of perplexion, but his eyes - they had been intent, full of alarm. Of fear.


“Are you still going to the Slug Club dinner?” Milo asked me, spraying crumbs all over the table. He was wearing a vintage canary yellow Martin Miggs: the Mad Muggle t-shirt that sort of slumped over his lanky figure, and I briefly wondered if he’d owned it for the past six years without ever having to go a size up.


“Mmmfh,” I grunted at him in affirmation, settling back into the crook of my elbow so that I could still see a rather tilted view of everything around me.


“Why do you even put up with that rubbish? Flynn asked, coming across rather brashly as he normally did. “If I were you, I’d tell Slughorn to fuck off and never look back.”


‘Oh, like you would ever be invited to one in the first place,” Mia scorned, but it wasn’t her usual banter; the way she spoke had a rather vindictive undertone, and in response Flynn immediately grew sour. “And, even if you did, you’re not Gryffindor enough to ever tell someone as powerful as Slughorn to shove it.”


“Well, you’re not in the club, either,” Flynn retorted, his ears slowly turning a rather alarming shade of red as his expression grew cruel. “And if you were, what would you talk to Slughorn about? Who wore it better in Witch Weekly?


“Oh, and I’m sure you’d have so many riveting things to say,” Mia shot back. “Would you tell the story of the time you got rejected by every girl in our year? That’s happened about ten thousand times, hasn’t it-”


“But, I mean, I bet you’d find your way in somehow,” continued Flynn loudly over Mia’s insult. “After all, you’ve dated - no, sorry, shagged almost every guy in there.”


“Whoa,” Albus interjected over Mia’s gasp, his eyebrows raised high into the hairline of his messy black hair.


“Both of you - chill,” Scorpius ordered, putting out his hand like a stop sign.


“He started it-”


“No, she did-”


“What is the matter with you two?” I interjected, lifting my head up slightly. “You’ve been arguing...nonstop...” but as I said it, my mind flashed back so vividly to my dream the night before that I almost gasped. Words hadn’t been spoken in the dream, exactly, but somehow everything else was the same: the feeling of the cold wood against my cheek, the slight tautness of the tension in the air, the indescribable aura that seemed to wrap itself around the edges of my vision, pushing and pulling and pulsing around the bodies of everyone and everything present.


“What?” Al asked, shaking me slightly. “Nellie?”


“Sorry,” I muttered quickly, and as suddenly as the strange sort of déja vu had come it was gone. I blinked mulishly, and then again. “Just the headache.”


Scorpius frowned at me, clearly concerned. “You really don’t have to go-”


“I really do,” I met his gaze, and as I stared at him slightly tortured he nodded once with understanding.


“We should get ready, then. Can you two please apologise to each other?” asked Albus as he stood up from the table, and Mia and I mirrored him. “Or at least not kill one another tonight?”


“I’ll do my best,” Mia sighed dramatically, ever the martyr as she flounced away after Albus. I shot one last wry look to Flynn, who was still resolutely scowling, waved at Scorpius, and then followed them out of the Great Hall.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 


“Well, you look great,” said Mia wistfully. Although she had frequented many of Slughorn’s parties as either my guest or Al’s, she had always wanted the chance to come to one of these types of dinners.


“You’ll have way more fun than I will tonight,” I told her, hoping to refocus her away from dwelling in her own misery, a passtime she often pursued. “Aren’t you all going to some Hufflepuff thing?”


“Yeah, but it isn’t the same without you and Albus,” Mia pouted, her infamous look that could make men and women alike fall at her feet and succumb to her bidding.


“You’ll do without,” I swatted her slightly. “Besides, we might be done in time to join you.”


“Oh, I hope so!” Mia immediately brightened, clapping her hands together. Her quick mood changes were often startling to those who didn’t know her well, and yet her temperament was the quality that gravitated most people towards her. Her smile after a frown was like a rainbow after a hurricane, and I often found myself wishing that I had the abilities to dazzle like she so naturally did.


“Nellie, wow,” Willow MacMillan squealed, as she entered the dormitory. “You look fantastic!”


“You think?” I asked her, fingering the hem of my dress. It was a little black number, the kind that followed the slight curve of my body all the way down to the start of my waist, where it flared out slightly. I’d paired the dress with black high heels that I was only slightly wobbly on and a simple diamond necklace that dipped low towards the exact middle of my bosom. The waves that normally appeared in my hair were straightened out thanks to Mia’s impeccable wand work, and I’d even gone as far as to swipe on a smudge of smoky eyeshadow above my mascara.


“Oh, definitely,” said Willow, warmly. “You look so sophisticated - is it a Slug Party?”


I grimaced good-naturedly. “Yeah, it is.”


“Well, have fun!” Willow beamed, running a hand through her almost white blonde hair. “Meanwhile, I’ll be stuck here doing that Charm’s proof I’ve put off.”


“Ugh, I haven’t even started it,” Mia moaned, flopping back into her bed. “It just seems like such a tomorrow problem, you know?”


“You’ve said that the past three yesterdays,” I said, headed towards the door, and Willow snickered from her bed.


“Oh, go overdose on some caviar,” Mia said flippantly in farewell, and I waved at the pair of them before leaving the dormitory to join Albus, who had been waiting for me by the Ravenclaw eagle knocker like both the gentleman and good friend that he was.


“Hey, have you thought any more about what I told you about Katria?” I asked him after a few minutes of silence. Might as well be my usual blunt self instead of that giggling idiot I was the last time I’d brought up the subject.


“Yeah, a bit,” Al frowned slightly. “I’m still confused - is she being nicer to you lot, or something?”


And here was the epitome of my moral dilemma. I couldn’t sprout straight up lies about Katria Stevens’ apparent redeeming qualities when there were really none, especially since I still didn’t have a shred of evidence that Scorpius actually did have a girlfriend. So I’d have to think of something that seemed plausible but still vague enough to convince him of her character.


“She’s acting like she wants to be,” I finally came out with. “She told me how nice she thinks you are. I think she just needs someone to let her. To show her that there are better ways to act.”


And if before when I brought up Katria I had gotten into his head, right now I had just gone for the kill. For Albus, just as many other nice men, had a touch of a saviour complex. He was inherently good, so by default he wanted others to be too, and if someone wasn’t they automatically became a project of sorts - and I’d just given him the biggest fixer-upper of all.


“She mentioned me? Wow,” said Al. He always kind of blushed when he thought about pretty girls - even more so when he had to talk to them - and as I could see that telltale pink I felt a strange mixture of both guilt and victory.


“Hey!” Rose Weasley shouted from a bit down the corridor. “Nellie, oh thank God you came; I don’t think I can get through this alone.”


“Alone?” asked Al slightly indignantly as we reached her, but Rose merely waved off his tone and stepped closer towards me.


“You look great,” I told her, and it was true. Rose’s hair was curled slightly at the ends, splashing as an accent against her navy blue cocktail dress and nude heels, and even though I was still taller than her the way she held herself so confidently seemed to eradicate any existing height difference.


“Me? What about you!” she squealed. She was a bit like Mia in how every one of her syllables seemed to fill with such passion, but that was about as far as the similarities went, since Mia, as much as I adored her, was just naturally more extra.


“We all look very nice,” Albus broke in. “Shall we go in, now?”


“You’re eager,” remarked Rose, as we conquered the last few metres to the entrance of the supper.


“I’d just rather not have to make a dramatic entrance like last time,” he shot back, and Rose scowled in response.


“You know that wasn’t my fault! I couldn’t find my barrette!”


“Oh, yeah,” said Albus as he wrenched open the door and stepped aside so we could move past him inside. “Because a single hair clip can make you thirty minutes late.”


As Rose came up with an assuredly sharp reply, I entered the vast chamber in which most Slug Club events aside from the annual Christmas party were held. The room, Slughorn’s “office,” was dimly lit with dark velvet curtains covering what I assumed were blank spaces of the ornately decorated wallpaper, creating an ambience that was not unlike that of a speakeasy, or a debonair cigar club. It was an undeniably elegant location, and I could sort of understand the appeal of being invited to dine in such an exclusive area of the castle.


Thankfully, the round mahogany table that guests were already seated around was only half filled, and Rose and I quickly found our spots next to one another at the far side of the table, while Albus was placed in a more favourable seat next to Professor Slughorn himself.


Calliope Yaxley was a few chairs down from me, and it was almost strange seeing her without Lyra and Seph flanking her on either side. But she held her position regally: her black hair was in a mercilessly tight chignon and her lipstick was a deep red, contrasting sharply to her alabaster skin and matching the polish on her manicured nails impeccably. When she saw me she gave me a slight nod of approval, and I knew I could trust her to send good word on my behavior back to the Pureblood community.


Catherine McDonough was also here, as was Dominique Weasley and, almost surprisingly, Phillip McSwain, Hogwarts’ resident black market dealer. But perhaps the biggest shock came from the raven haired boy wearing a dark suit with a slim tie across the table from Rose and I. Aside from the traditional Hogwarts Express meals, I couldn’t recall seeing him anywhere near any of the other Slug Club events. Even Albus did a little bit of a double take when he took his place next to his brother, who was already drinking what appeared to be a goblet full of mulled mead and looking every bit the part he was supposed to.


“Rose!” someone called, and as we both turned around the person squealed. “And Nellie!


“Diana!” Rose and I both exclaimed, me much more unenthusiastically, as the dark-haired girl who had just caught our attention stopped in front of us.


Diana Jenkins was rich - not blood status, Pureblood wealthy, but new money loaded. Her grandfather (a former pupil of Slughorn’s, of course) invented some Quidditch technology that was used in all of the Firebolt series, and had his own line of men’s hair styling products (I still didn’t really understand how the two were related). Diana herself was nothing special; aside from her well-off family, her only other notability around Hogwarts was her tendency to talk herself out of a room.


“How are you?” I asked, and Diana plowed into her usual spiel - classes are killing me, God, I miss summer - while Rose nodded politely along, pretending to be engaged in the conversation since she was too nice to roll her eyes discreetly like I did.


“Oh!” Diana exclaimed suddenly, and I snapped into attention. “I almost forgot - well, you two know I hate to gossip,” she lowered her voice, and it was so classically Diana that I almost laughed out loud. Because Diana was gossip, if gossip could take shape in a person - she wore bright red lipstick and used lots of hand gestures and never stopped talking, even if no one was truly listening anymore.


“But?” posed Rose. She may have been nice, but she wasn’t so pious that she didn’t want to hear about the latest news around school.


But,” Diana continued excitedly, “I’ve heard that William Davies and Ana Clearwater are splitting!


“You’re kidding?” my mouth dropped open. Davies and Ana had been together since before my brother Adam had graduated. It had become such an expected thing that I couldn’t see either of them without the other; it was like trying to imagine bread without butter; tea without biscuits; Moose without Quidditch.


“I’m not,” Diana insisted, as Rose and I exchanged scandalised looks. “Rhea Admin confirmed it!”


“But, they’re like, the couple,” Rose marveled. “I can’t believe this.”


“I know, I was absolutely floored when I heard - oh, look, I think they’re starting the hors d’œuvres, I’d better find my seat. Chat later? Yes? Yes? Good. Ta ta!” Diana called, and as she walked away I slumped into the back of my chair, exhausted with the sheer effort of interacting with her.


“God, that girl,” I muttered, and Rose merely smiled vacantly in response just as Slughorn clinked his dessert spoon against his glass of wine.


“Welcome, welcome!” Professor Slughorn chorused, and every small side conversation quieted at once as he took his seat. “I’m so delighted all of you could join me for dinner tonight."


His beady, watery eyes flickered around the table, allowing time to rest on each and every one of us. His strategic future success stories; his handpicked loyal disciples. It took all I had to keep my smile plastered onto my face.


“Some of our friends couldn’t make it,” continued Slughorn. “The entire Slytherin Quidditch team can’t just skip their practice, now, can they?” But from the way he said it sort of sounded like he had wanted the team to pick his little dinner over their allotted practice time, or rather expected them to.


“Now, I happen to know that many of you are very connected to the Quidditch world - ah, like Mr. McSwain!” and here, Slughorn swiveled to face Phillip, his expression almost hungry with eager. “I’m sure you’ve all heard of Danny McSwain - legendary Tornadoes Keeper and a former pupil of mine!”


Everyone around the table gave little murmurs and nods of recognition, except for Phillip, who continued eating his mini quiche uninterrupted.


“Tell me - what’s it like having such an influential man as an Uncle?”


“Yeah, er, I dunno,” Phillip grunted, tossing his shaggy hair out of his eyes with a flick of his head and setting down his fork. “It’s ‘aight, I guess.”


“But it must be so fascinating to watch him play at such an extraordinary level!” Slughorn pressed, clearly impatient to discover whether or not Phillip possessed his uncle’s interests.


“I mean, I don’t really follow Quidditch, so…” Phillip shrugged casually, refocusing back on his quiche, and Slughorn gave him a rather frigid smile before turning away.


“Well, I for one greatly admire your uncle, Phillip. We use his techniques regularly,” James Potter spoke up, his voice unusually earnest, and it was so obviously designed to suck up to Slughorn that I nearly gagged. Based on the sour expression that crossed Al’s face, he felt the same way.


“Well you would, James, m’boy, as Captain of the Gryffindor team!” Professor Slughorn exclaimed gleefully, and just like that, his chagrin at Phillip’s disappointing lack of knowledge about Quidditch had disappeared. “Now, James, how’s the beginning of your season going?”


“Spectacularly, sir,” Potter replied immediately, and then locked his light eyes with mine only too purposefully. “We’re on track to win our first match next Saturday.”


And here, even though I had to dig my nails into my palm to remind myself not to retaliate or hint at Moose’s strategy, I merely regarded him coolly until he turned away back to Slughorn.


“Well, with Quidditch skills like your mother’s you certainly won’t have to worry!” cried Professor Slughorn, oblivious to the insult. “I daresay if you work hard and put your mind to it you’ll be Britain’s next big star!”


“Thank you, Professor,” Potter inclined his head at the compliment, and I didn’t think he could act more cavalier or exhibit a more smug expression until he said: “But who needs any work when you have natural-born talent?”


Slughorn boomed out a surprised laugh; the sound of it echoed slightly throughout the room. “Who indeed!”


“You can’t be serious.” It took me a moment to register that it had been my voice to cut through the conversation and ring clearly throughout the chamber, but it had been, and all at once every single eye was on mine.


“About what?” James Potter finally asked, regarding me with his signature indifference.


“Everything,” I answered. “Forgive me, Professor, but in real life, you can’t have a true talent if you’re not willing to work hard.”


“Some people are just born with natural gifts,” Potter said coolly, before Slughorn could respond.


“Even if you’re born with abilities, they don’t mean anything unless you work to cultivate them,” I replied, my words rather clipped.


“On the contrary,” Potter said airily. “There comes a point where no amount of work will change the means that someone is brought into. You should know all about that, shouldn’t you?” he smirked, and I knew he was once again referring to my blood status.


“Certainly no more than you.” My eyes flashed, and now he was just as unsmiling as I was. That turbulent electricity that crackled between us at the Quidditch Pitch had returned at full strength, and as I could feel it as a palpable force in the air I just knew that Potter felt it, too, even if he was somehow able to remain more impassive than I was.


“People are tied to their assets just as much as they are to their hair color or bone structure,” said Potter, in a manner that somehow managed to seem both harsh and patronising. “Are you really suggesting that a little bit of concentration would change all of that?”


Obviously not,” I retorted. “I’m suggesting that you could be the world’s best Quidditch player, but if you’re never handed a Quaffle your talent would be utterly wasted.”


“And, I wonder - who gets handed the Quaffles?” Potter leaned forward, and I unconsciously did the same. “Who gets those equal opportunities?”


“My point is that there are unequal opportunities-“


“But have you benefited from that, Burke? Have you been given more than a fair chance to cultivate any talents you may have?””


“You speak an infinite deal of nothing.” I fumed, straight from The Merchant of Venice, but no one seemed to catch my quote.


“And you speak as though you’ve never once left your little cloud nine and touched down to reality."

We glowered at one another unbreakingly, and as I silently bristled in my seat and he much more calmly in his, the worst part about the whole thing wasn’t the fact that there were fifteen other people in the room displaying varying levels of shock and interest, or even that I had drawn so much attention to myself in the first place; it was that Potter was right. I was right too, completely so, but James Potter had grains of truth in what he said, and if Albus or Scorpius or anyone else had brought it up I would have probably agreed with them. I did get better chances than others because of where I was born - and that was the argument I had been trying to weild in the first place before he somehow stole it away and turned it against me.


The hostility in the atmosphere was about as conspicuous as the exaggerated tick of the florid grandfather clock in the corner or the loudly silent lack of silverware clattering - that is, until Potter turned away from me and faced Slughorn, his expression suddenly returned to its usual vacantly civil presentation.


“Excuse us, Professor,” said Potter smoothly. “Burke here is just a bit infatuated with me.”


I nearly choked on the sip of water I had just chosen to take, and a few seats down Diana Jenkins whipped her head back and forth between Potter and I as if she were watching a muggle tennis match, her eyes wide with intrigue.


“She’s had this schoolgirl crush on me for ages,” Potter continued. “Bit embarrassing for both of us, really, so I’m sorry if it interrupted our evening.”


“Nonsense, nonsense, James, m’boy!” Slughorn cried. “I love when conversations get a bit spruced up!”


“He’s joking,” I said urgently, but my reputation had already been mangled to the point of no recovery, and Al shot me an empathetic glance before sending a rather uncharacteristic glare towards his brother.


“Well, do you know, Ms. Burke, who you remind me of?” said Slughorn to me, eagerly, and the mood of the dinner settled back down to its traditional level as Slughorn began one of his long-winded stories. “Hermione Granger - yes, your mother, Rose! I remember, she was always so fiery and quick to her wit; she was in this little club, too, yes…”




It had taken nearly two hours more for the party to come to a close. I had spent the remainder of the evening silently stewing to myself, doing the bare minimum and only contributing to the conversation when Slughorn addressed me directly. Now, members were milling around the exit, the most eager of the bunch jostling for a chance to speak to Slughorn one on one, and I rather hoped to escape to the corridor quickly to avoid interacting with anyone else.


“That was so fucking long,” said Albus tiredly, as we managed to slip out the door unseen. Out in the dungeons, noises seemed to echo a bit, and since the door to Slughorn’s office was still open the hallway wasn’t as much of an oasis as I thought it would be.


“Then, let’s get out of here,” I said, pulling on Al’s hand slightly to make him walk faster. I’d managed to go the entire night without having to hold a conversation with people like Calliope Yaxley, and I wasn’t about to sacrifice that success now.


“I told Rose I’d wait for her,” Albus gently peeled me off of him.


“She’s a big girl; she can find her way back-”


“You don’t have to run, like this, you know,” said Albus, rather bitterly. “I’m pretty sure my brother was, like, the first guest to leave.”


“That’s not who I’m trying to-” I began, but then halted as a girl my height stopped directly in front of me. Ironically, in my haste to depart I had run into the Queen of Hearts herself.


“Nellie,” Calliope Yaxley smiled coldly, placing one of her deep red nails on my arm, and my shoulders immediately stiffened so that I was standing up straighter. “So good to see you.”


“And you,” I emphasised with the usual old-money intonations. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Albus back up slightly, understanding that this would be a conversation just between the two of us. “That was an interesting meal, wouldn’t you agree?”


I didn’t actually want to make small talk; I just desperately wanted to make sure that she didn’t believe Potter’s ridiculous fabrication to Slughorn - and I was pretty sure she didn’t, but something inside me still needed that little bit of validation so I could sleep soundly at night.


“As was I. I found it to be a bit too political for my tastes.” Calliope articulated, her dark eyes drilling into mine, and I knew exactly what she meant by that statement.


“My thoughts precisely.” I said, in that stiff rhetoric she always preferred to speak in, and Albus glanced from me to her, rather bewildered.


Calliope nodded, and she seemed appeased. “Well, I do hope to see you around the Slytherin Common Room more frequently this term.”


“Of course,” I agreed, but even I could see right through the act I was trying to sell.


“Bye, now,” Calliope called over her shoulder, but then she paused, turning back to face us. “Oh, and Albus?”


“Yes, Calliope?” Al replied, just as formally. I noticed he straightened up as well.


Do convey to your brother how dangerous it is to attempt to publicly humiliate someone like Nellie.” she simpered, and the significance of it was not lost on Al as he gave her a quick nod. For someone like Nellie meant Purebloods with power, and Al knew just as well as I did that an attack on one of us could be perceived as an assault on all.


“Well, that was a disaster,” I muttered, as Calliope disappeared around the corner towards the Slytherin Common Room.


“Are you okay?” Albus asked me, but before I could respond Rose rushed up, her mouth already moving a mile a minute.


“Nellie, I am so sorry for James’s attitude; I really don’t know what got into him, he was being-”


“A prat,” Albus interrupted, and Rose glared exasperatedly at him.


“I was going to say insufferable,” she huffed, then turned back to me. “But, yes. He is both of those things.”


“It’s fine,” I said, even though it was really very Not Fine At All. “We’ll shut him up in Quidditch next Saturday anyways.”


“I hope you do,” said Rose warmly, even though she was a Gryffindor. “He needs his ego deflated a bit.”


“A lot,” muttered Al. He was clearly still upset about the whole ordeal, but when I glanced at him questioningly he merely gave me an infinitesimal shake of his head.


“Anyways, see you in TransFig on Monday?” asked Rose, and after I nodded and said my goodbyes all three of us parted ways.


I’d always sort of appreciated the way Hogwarts looked at night. While most of the castle was lit by everburning torches that threw looming shadows across the walls, the dungeons tended to be much darker, and I liked that, perhaps because I’d never been afraid of the dark. In fact, as a child I refused to use a nightlight because I loved the thick ambiguity that darkness brought, and I suppose it was always a bit of a comforting thing for me, when I knew that nothing could see me. Never mind that I couldn’t see anything either - all I really cared about was that I was enfolded by the darkness, safe and undetectable.


But here, as I walked through the scarcely lit dungeons all alone, I just couldn’t find it in me to enjoy it. I was still stewing over the way Potter had managed to both eradicate my credibility and embarrass the pants off of me with only a few lines, and I kept playing that game in my head where I imagined better comebacks and then pretended to deliver them perfectly until a noise brought me back into reality.


It was like my unconscious prayers had been answered. Because ambling along down at the end of the corridor was my redeeming chance in the form of James Potter. I don’t really know why he was going towards the West staircase, since it was in the opposite direction from the Gryffindor Common room, but he was there, all alone and somehow managing to saunter in the most infuriating way possible, and without thinking I stalked up to him and shoved the back of his shoulder, hard.


“What the fucking hell was that?” I hissed without prelude as he turned around.


But James Potter only smiled lazily back at me, as if he had expected me to find him all along. “What was what, sweetheart?”


“Don’t call me sweetheart, you demeaning arsehole - why did you say something so false and utterly humiliating like that in front of Slughorn? Are you mad?


“Well, I was right, wasn’t I?” said Potter innocently. “You do fancy me.”


“You are incorrigible!” I growled in a voice very unlike my own.


“Ooh, big word,” he taunted, his smirk widening to almost unseen lengths. “Ouch.


I shook my head in absolute disbelief at his room-stifling arrogance, and then pushed past him, since I clearly wasn't going to get any sort of point across without him twisting my words.


“What I’d like to know is why you say bad things about me without provocation,” Potter called from behind me, just as casually and noncommittally as before, and I whipped around to face him once more.


“Without provocation?” I asked disbelievingly. “Your personality is enough provocation! God, I hate talking to you-”


“Do you?” Potter asked, and when I didn’t respond, he continued. “Okay then - what is it? What is it that riles you up so much? What exactly do you hate?” His voice was low and taunting, but controlled - too controlled for the topic at hand. And yet, I could feel it - the uncontrollable poisonous desire to cause hurt that bubbled up inside me. It started deep in my stomach and permeated my veins and spread its bittersweet flavour out over my tongue, sending my heart into a frenzy with the anticipation of wounding his ego in exactly the right place so that it would sting for days on end.


I could feel it, but even as I was aware of myself, I realised that Potter wanted exactly what I did. He was enjoying every second of this argument, taking immense pleasure in goading me, and we were similar in that way, James Potter and I; we fought for the adrenaline and the bloodlust and the rush of the hunt, not for the power that accompanied it. It was the same reason Potter hadn’t simply kicked us off of the Quidditch Pitch two days ago; everything he did was about the competition and the trigger happy arguments that ensued, not necessarily the unequivocal victory over the opponent.


And so, although I understood that responding to James Potter would give him the immediate upper hand, I took the bait regardless. The battle high was too hard to resist; the reward was seemingly greater than the risk - and besides, I’d never been one to reign in my emotions, anyways.


A deep breath in. And then - “Your ego is so large that you’re practically choking on it! I mean, it’s pathetic, really, how much you crave attention and unconditional positive regard, and I wonder - does it stem from how famous your family is? I saw how you were on the train when Slughorn asked if you wanted to be like your parents. Tell me, Potter, how inferior do you really feel compared to them? Compared to anyone?


It was a low blow. I knew that. Albus had struggled with the expectations that came with his surname for years, and here I was, exploiting it for my own selfish reasons. And Potter seemed to feel that way too, as his light eyes pierced into mine intensely, but then the muscles pinching his face into something fierce relaxed and he laughed.


“I’ve figured you out,” said Potter. He had regained the casual control he’d managed to wield earlier, but somehow it sounded more deadly than ever before. “So don’t think you can try this act on me. Don’t think you can try to analyse me and expect me to run away with my tail between my legs.”


“And, why not?” I shot back, but even I could hear the desperate edge to it. “I was right, wasn’t I? You have an inferiority complex.”


“Maybe I do,” Potter shrugged off the notion easily, as if I had just told him it might rain tonight instead of accusing him of having a personality disorder. “But who doesn’t? You, however, have much more serious problems.” A step forward, his eyes brightening with their fierce intensity. “There’s something off about you, Burke, and I see right through you and your little act. You’ll argue anything and everything from the security of your soapbox, and I’m sure it’s all very noble and great. But get this,” he advanced forward again, cold eyes glinting, head lowered, teeth bared with the prospect of his kill. “Once you step off of it, once you stop pretending to be something you’re not - you are nothing, Burke. Nothing. Because you’ll always be a Pureblood, and you will never be a good person, no matter how hard you try to convince everyone otherwise.”


After what I’d said to him, I deserved it, I knew that, but I truly did not expect him to be able to sense my insecurities as well as he did, much less for him to say something that actually stung so much. He had equated my blood status with my morals like so many others had, but this time he had made it overtly personal, and now I was nothing but his prey caught in a corner - no more defenses, no more clever ploys, nowhere left to run.


“I’m not pretending to be anything - I’m not a bad person,” I told him, as my breath caught in my throat as his truth burned my ego. “I’m not, and I don’t care if you don’t believe me.”


“Oh, you do care,” said Potter. “You care so much more than you want to. But, you know. Whatever helps you sleep at night, sweetheart.”


And with that, he shot me one final knowing look - an expression of unequivocal victory - and set out down the corridor, hands swinging in his pockets, leaving me standing in the empty hallway in my cocktail dress and stilettos: a fly, stuck in the carefully woven web it had flown through just to spite the spider.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


Author’s note: Whew. Well, please please please let me know what you thought of this chapter, since it marks sort of a beginning in the story, in a way. Also, I’m interested to see if anyone has caught some of the little Easter eggs that will be pivotal to the story later! The next chapter is rather short and to the point, but the one after is probably one of the longer ones. And then after that, everything really takes off. Hope you enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Up next…breakfast, Bludgers, and vendettas.

 

 

 

 

 



Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Disclaimer: I don’t own anything you recognise from the Harry Potter series.
 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hey, Corn,


How’s everything? Is Moose running you to the ground with laps?


I’m really sorry, but I can’t make it to your match today. Annabelle is working overtime and I can’t exactly skip my practise when I’m so close to being signed on as a starter. But, I know you’ll kill it out there and I’m rooting for you, even though you’re playing my House and stuff, which should say a lot about how good of a brother I am.


Hope your classes are cool (except I know they aren’t because school is boring). Give Scorpius a very manly hug for me (adding in some back-pounding should do the trick). Stay out of trouble (even though I know you won’t). Miss you.


Love,

Adam




Sighing loudly, I tossed the letter back onto the long wooden bench I was perched on next to my broom locker. Adam’s owl Olmit had dropped it off earlier while we’d been eating breakfast in the Great Hall, and I’d only just had a chance to open it. Now, I sort of wish I hadn’t.


“Something wrong?” asked Benjy from beside me, pausing in his quest to shove his left boot on without untying the laces.


I shrugged noncommittally, grabbing my royal blue uniform off of the floor. “Adam can’t make it today.”


“Ah, that’s cheese,” Benjy patted my arm. “Will your parents be here, at least?”


“Nope,” I said cheerfully, pulling my arm through my robes.


“Why not?”


“I didn’t invite them,” I said, and I suppose that wasn’t a complete lie.


“All right, Burke?” Moose called from across the room.


“Never better, Captain,” I grinned, saluting him with the hem of my robe, and he nodded back at me before disappearing back into the Captain’s office, clearly pleased with my enthusiasm.


“I don’t understand why the rest of you aren’t so nervous,” fretted Cicely from across the bench, wringing her hands together. “Why aren’t you nervous? Why?” she asked again rather hysterically, and in response Benjy held out his water to her, as if a little hydration would calm her down.


“Because we’re prepared,” said Kato, batting Benjy’s arm away. “We know our strengths, and we know their weaknesses. We’re going to take it minute by minute, play by play, and we’ll all help each other out. We’ve got this, Brown. Have a little faith.”


Cicely smiled up at Kato gratefully, and I could’ve sworn I saw a faint tinge appear on her normally tan skin.


“I just want to see the look on Danver’s face when we destroy them,” said Beck. Her hair was in two french braids, accenting her sharp cheekbones and making her seem that much fiercer. “And Potter’s. And Finnigan’s. God, I hate the lot of them.”


“Don’t get emotional about it, Davidson,” barked Benjy, scowling and clearly attempting to imitate Moose. “Play how you need to play or I’ll have your fucking head.”


“I swear to Merlin, if you lot don’t fucking play your best I’m going to murder each and every one of you individually!” Kato sprang up, slamming his hand against the wall for emphasis, and I snorted, because that was something Moose had actually said to us last year during a match against Slytherin.


“If you lot don’t do better we’ll have double laps for the next week!” Jack tried to join in, but he got the intonations of Moose’s voice just so obviously wrong, and all of the veteran players exchanged looks.


“Oh, I’m Jack,” Beck imitated, her voice significantly more high pitched than normal, “and I’m twelve even though I try to act like I’m eighteen, and I think I’m really fucking cool - I am, right, guys?”


“I don’t sound like that!” Jack protested, but in his earnest his voice squeaked slightly and the rest of us couldn’t hold in our snickers, even Cicely. “And I’m not twelve, I’m a fucking Fourth Year!”


“Robinson, stop yelling,” Moose snapped as he exited the Captain’s office, which only made us laugh harder. “The rest of you - get it together, we only have two minutes until line up and I want to say a couple of things.”


“Oh, Jesus,” I muttered, but I suddenly didn’t feel like messing around anymore. Maybe it was that the imminence of the upcoming match was suddenly real, but as Moose stood in front of us an aura of intensity settled in the air so naturally that I don’t think anyone else really acknowledged the shift. That’s just how we were as a team: we could fuck around and have our fun, but when we needed to be serious we were.


“Today is the day,” Moose began, his dark curls unusually flat from already wearing his helmet, “when everything we’ve worked for will be put to the test. Today is our chance to prove not only to Hogwarts, but to ourselves that we are prepared to meet the challenges that a sport like Quidditch brings. Every single one of you needs to push yourself harder than you ever have before. There can be no try harders or do betters; there will only be SUCCESSES and TRIUMPHS! So, let’s line up, give it our fucking all, and come home victorious. Let’s be the winners that we know we are.”


I was nodding along with his words with the rest of the team, considerably amped up, but then Beck said, “We are home,” and the fervor in the atmosphere was shattered a little bit.


“Fucking hell, Davidson,” Moose hissed. “Just - everyone get in line. Now.”


“I’m surprised Moose didn’t kill me just now,” said Beck, lightly, as she stepped into place behind me under the stadium. Although I could see the feet of spectators, due to a muffling charm we couldn’t hear the roar of the crowd just yet. “He must be more nervous than I thought.”


“Well, I mean, it is Gryffindor,” I said, but then stopped when I saw the look on Cicely’s face.


“All right, Brown?” Beck asked rather brusquely.


But Cicely shook her head. “What if I mess this up for everyone?” she whispered, and although I think she only wanted me to hear Beck leaned in, too.


“You won’t,” I told her, confidently. “Besides, it’s just one game; we’ll have so many more just this season-”


“But it’s in front of the whole school,” Cicely whimpered, her eyes wide.


“Then let’s give them something to cheer about,” Beck said sharply, and the sound of it was just so Beck, so unwaveringly steadfast and sure, that Cicely managed to give her a small smile before facing front again, considerably less fidgety. Cicely may have been nervous, but I didn’t doubt her abilities for a second; the moment she was in the air her confidence would return like it had never been compromised in the first place.


Eddie Raymond, a Hufflepuff and the commentator of the day finished announcing the Gryffindors, and just as he shouted "Ravenclaw!" Moose turned to us, his eyes blazing.


“You’re all more than ready for this,” he said forcefully, and hearing that bit of unwavering faith our leader had in us somehow gave us an extra boost of courage that we had unknowingly been missing; it made us all straighten our posture and harden our jaws and hold our heads high as we walked out into the bright morning sun. Warriors, undeterred by the ominence of the battle.


As expected, most Houses were in blue to support Ravenclaw, aside from the usual bunch of Hufflepuff stragglers who preferred to go against the grain. Regardless of who was supporting whom the stadium was packed and loud, and with the wind blowing a little harder than usual I had to strain to even hear what the Quidditch officiant Madame Hopkins was saying as we joined the Gryffindors in the middle of the Pitch.


“Welcome to the first match of the season!” Hopkins boomed, her voice now magnified by her wand, and the cheering only increased. “Both of your teams have been working very hard, and I trust that whatever the outcome today you will all behave in a manner that reflects positively onto your Houses!”


Behind me, Beck shifted, and I could feel her press her hand slightly into mine in a gesture not of anxiety, but solidarity. Good luck, the squeeze said. We can do this.


“Now, first things first. Captains, shake hands.”


As the two boys stepped forward, I could sense James Potter’s presence in the spaces around me as apparent and as imposing as the tempo of my racing heart or the whipping of the wind across my face. I hadn’t spoken to Potter since the Slug Club dinner, hadn’t even seen him since then, and I knew if I surrendered now to the polarizing electricity that always seemed to burn and crackle between us, my concentration would be off for the rest of the match. So I didn’t look, even though I knew, just knew that he was staring at me. For the next few hours, Potter could not be my adversary or even my enemy; he could exist as nothing more than an unworthy opponent, and I trusted in myself completely to play in that unemotional manner.


“Take your positions!” Hopkins called, and everyone rose into the air at once; Gryffindor on one side of the circle, Ravenclaw on the other, while the Keepers flew towards their respective goal posts. “Players, are you ready? On my count, then. Three, two, one-“


Five blue-robed players shot up straight into the air, already in formation, and Kato passed the Quaffle so quickly to Beck that if I had blinked I would have believed Beck caught it in the first place. Gryffindor was lazy; they weren’t even in position yet, and so Beck managed to score, sailing the ball right through the middle hoop with the Keeper still adjusting her gloves. As I rose higher and higher in the air above everyone, the Quaffle went from the Gryffindor Keeper to one of the Weasleys and then was snatched so abruptly out of the air by Cicely that Potter still had his hands outstretched for it as she lobbed it to Kato. We were like a textile machine; we were moving as one, weaving in and out unanimously like fibers in thread, and after only five minutes we had already scored six times.


“Millican to Davidson, quick pass around the back to Brown, back to Millican, and - RAVENCLAW SCORES AGAIN!"


“Timeout!” Potter hollered, speeding towards Madame Hopkins, and with the accompanying screech of the whistle we all flew towards our goal posts, landing on the solid ground beneath it.


“Beck, that pass to Cicely was beautiful-“


“Did you see Potter’s face when I stole the Quaffle?”


“Oi! This is perfect!” Moose growled at us, his eyes alight with fierce excitement. “They’re completely off guard!”


“I’m sorry for calling you insane at the scrimmage, you beautiful, brilliant young man,” Benjy proclaimed, reaching out to wrap his arms around Moose, but Moose side-stepped him easily.


“Keep doing exactly what you’re doing and stay focused,” said Moose, as Madame Hopkins’ whistle screeched. “Grow this lead as much as you can.”


We rose up into the sky once again, and even though I was fucking exhilarated I let my eyes fall shut as I flew, allowing the fresh air to run through my capillaries and settle the buzz down a bit. And slowly, as my breathing got slower and my shoulders relaxed, I was able to detect the faintest of sounds around me: the woosh the Quaffle made as it sailed from person to person, the distant chirps of morning birds, the slight snarling of the Bludgers, and after I listened for a few moments I let my eyes flicker open, completely in my own controlled world, my senses sharp and perfectly tuned.


My gaze swept the openness of the field, but instead of watching the game play I looked for movement, for reflections, for slight shimmers in the way that the scenery should have looked. My goal was to locate the entropy and disorder of my minute surroundings, and although I sat perfectly still in place with my eyes canvassing every single centimeter of the pitch, all that was supposed to be serene remained unfortunately boring.


But everything is always undisturbed until suddenly, it isn’t.


With hardly any warning at all, a Bludger came careening into my path, and as I swerved to avoid it another came speeding past me to my left, forcing me to drop my height down a few metres to get out of the line of fire.


“And, the Gryffindor Beaters seem to be zeroing in on Nellie Burke, the Ravenclaw Seeker. In my opinion, it would be a crime to ruin a face like that with a Bludger, so - NELLIE, WATCH OUT!"


I managed to flatten myself against my broom just as another object went whizzing over my head, so fast and so close to me that I could feel it raise my hair up.


“Benjamin Waterson intercepts the Bludger and hits a nice one off at Weasley, Dominique Weasley that is, who drops the Quaffle. Ravenclaw back in possession.”


I flew a little higher, trying to get away from the thick of the game play so I could re-enter my concentration, but now it was apparent that the Beaters were following me - fuck - so I pushed my broom a little faster, trying to seek security in the center of the game play.


“Go to Robinson!” Beck shouted as I passed by, and I yelled an incoherent affirmation back at her while I approached Jack, who was only a few seconds away from my position. But Jack didn’t seem to notice that I was following him, and just as I opened my mouth to shout directions his broom veered sharply around until he was flying directly at me, his bat brandished in his hand and his mouth already moving.


“Nellie, look out!” Jack yelled, flinging out his arm like a shield in order to protect me from a Bludger I hadn’t even seen that was directed towards my head from Charlie Finnigan. The Bludger hit the wood of Jack’s bat with a dull thud and reflected back off towards Cam Carpenter, the other Gryffindor Beater, almost immediately. As Jack righted himself metres away from me, both of us still flying towards the Gryffindor goalposts, Charlie Finnigan grabbed a hold on the end of my broom, pulling it backwards so that any of my momentum forwards was halted. By the time I realised what was he was doing - by the time I understood that the Bludger he hit only moments before had merely been a distraction, and that I was now immobilized in the exact spot Jack had just been with Carpenter already in a follow-through position directly in front of me - it was too late.


It wasn’t like everything happened in slow motion. It was that the speed of time shifted slightly, sharpening for just that moment, allowing me to become fully aware of every sensory detail that was being processed by my brain. I could feel my fingertips on the wood beneath them, smooth and centered; I could feel my clothes brushing against my body and tracing patterns on my skin; I could feel my muscles pulling gently on my bones, I could taste the teeth in my mouth, and I could see a Bludger speeding towards me, flying, floating delicately like a stray leaf in the brisk autumn air. From my position as forcibly frozen in the sky, I could see that if I ducked, even slightly, the Bludger would hit me straight in the head, surely rendering me unconscious.


So, as I remained stationary, I closed my eyes, resigned to my fate. I could feel my eyelashes brush my cheek. I could feel the air tickle my throat as I took a breath in, in, in.


And then time returned with vengeance.


The Bludger hit me directly below my rib cage, knocking any oxygen that I had just obtained out of my lungs and into the open sky. I was heaving, gasping so desperately for even an ounce of air, but my knees were squeezing my broom as tightly as possible, and my hands were centered and tight in textbook perfect technique, and through the pain and windedness and confusion I thought, even Moose couldn’t yell at me for this.


Eddie Jordan roared something indignantly as the crowd gasped as one entity, and Finnigan released his hold on my broom and sped off right when Madame Hopkins blew her whistle; the sound of it was piercing and harsh, bringing me outside of my own mind and back into the cacophony around me.


“That was an absolutely DISGUSTING display!” Hopkins screamed, flying over to where the Gryffindor team was now clustered. “Penalty shot and injury time-out for Ravenclaw! Finnigan, if you try something like that again you will be removed from the team before you can say Quidditch!”


“Are you okay?” Beck asked me immediately as soon as I landed where the rest of the teak was already gathered.


“Fine,” I nodded, but no one else was listening.


“What the fuck are they doing?” yelled Benjy.


“After this is done, I am going to murder Finnigan!” Kato glared at the red clad figures on the other side of the pitch. James Potter seemed to be yelling at Charlie Finnigan and Cam Carpenter while the rest of the team flew around in aimless circles above them.


“Focus! We have a major issue on our hands,” Moose glanced at me, his expression more somber than I had ever seen it. “They’re trying to kill our Seeker.”


“I’ve only been hit once,” I said, pointing to my stomach, which surprisingly wasn’t throbbing like it really should have been. In fact, other than the fact that I couldn’t completely catch my breath, I only felt a hint of a sharp cramp in my abdomen. “Besides, I’m fine. It missed my ribs, thank Merlin.”


“You’ll still feel that later,” said Moose. “Once the adrenaline wears off.”


“And there’ll be more coming at you, Nellie,” Cicely bit her lip. “This is kind of what they did to Slytherin last year, except-“


Way worse,” Benjy growled. “I’ve never seen them focus on one person like this.”


“It’s a strategy, I guess,” I said, all too aware of how hollow my voice sounded. “Kill the Seeker and we can’t catch the Snitch.”


“Why you, though?” Jack frowned. “Did you spit in their pumpkin juice or something?”


“No, I - Potter.


“What?”


“I hit him with that Bludger during our scrimmage last week, remember?” I spoke quickly, as the pieces fell together in my head. “And then, we argued at a Slug Club dinner last Saturday. He told me I was a bad person because I’m a Pureblood.”


“You think he’s targeting you because of your blood status?” asked Cicely, but it wasn’t contradictory, just bleak.


“That amongst other things. Look, we know Potter, and we know what his methods look like. But this isn’t a method and it isn’t strategy; it’s revenge.”


My words hung in the air as an irrefutable truth, and as everyone exchanged horrified glances Moose clapped his hands together hard, trying to refocus our wavering attitudes.


“That doesn’t matter right now,” he said bracingly, as Madame Hopkins blew the warning whistle. “Benjy and Jack, you’re on protection, and that means not attacking Finnigan or Potter, how ever much you want to. Chasers - we need as big of a lead as possible. Preferably by one hundred and sixty points. And, Burke...don’t die, for fuck’s sake.”


“I’ll do my best,” I said as I mounted my broom again, but it didn’t even sound convincing to my own ears.


Beck took the penalty shot and made it, the Quaffle sailing beautifully through the middle hoop. But now everyone was much more distracted and inconsistent, and as I returned to my position high above everyone else I couldn’t help but notice that our play seemed just slightly off from before. We had lost the dynamic energy that we’d managed to harness earlier, and after only ten minutes the score seemed to reflect that.


“And, Potter regains the Quaffle. Meanwhile, his two henchmen - I mean Beaters - seem to have stopped illegally aiming for the Ravenclaw Seeker. Potter passes Dominique Weasley, back to Potter, he shoots - HE SCORES! The match is now 90-40 to Ravenclaw!”


As the bell rang, indicating the goal from Potter, I decided to pull out a feint. It wasn’t going to be anything special - we were barely thirty minutes into the game, anyways - but I thought that we needed something to spruce our moods up. The play would either distract our opponents and the Seeker or make him not trust me at all, and so with that in mind I dove from my watching position abruptly, making up a pattern that a Snitch would travel on and following it accurately in my head.


“Nellie Burke seems to be chasing after something - is it the Snitch? She looks like she’s going faster, now - how the hell has Louis Weasley not spotted this yet?”


And sure enough, moments later the Gryffindor Seeker turned around in midair, and I nearly laughed out loud when all of his teammates started yelling their conflicting opinions on whether or not to follow me. But my distraction had served its purpose, because due to Gryffindor’s arguing Kato managed to escape two Chasers and score. As I slowed down and shot a grin at Louis Weasley, who swore at me and took off in the other direction, I realised that I was strangely out of breath.


So I changed direction lazily, hoping to go back to my position up high for a relaxation, but the moment I turned around I spotted Charlie Finnegan directly in front of me, and I only had time to mutter, fucking hell! before the Bludger rammed directly into the side my skull. But even though it stung and the crowd gasped, I continued flying, waving everyone’s concerns away. It really didn’t hurt that badly; it was only a dull throbbing in my left temple and it was almost an asset to me, seeing how the constancy of it helped distract from the erratic pricks of hurt in my abdomen.


“Nellie Burke gets hit again with a Bludger and there is somehow no penalty - Madame Hopkins, are we watching the same game?”


Madame Hopkins shot Eddie a dirty look but nevertheless as I passed by her she moved a little closer to where more of the game play was occurring.


“Are you okay?” Benjy flew besides me, and I nodded and waved him away, just as one of the Gryffindor Chasers sped past him with the Quaffle. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to find that calm center that always helped me locate the Snitch, and I really thought Benjy had left the vicinity to go chase down one of the Weasleys, but everything happened so quickly that I’m still not sure how much time was in between me opening my eyes once again and the realisation that yet another Bludger was careening straight towards my face. But the next moment was horrifically clear: Benjamin Waterson was falling off of his broom, his eyes already closed and his nose already bleeding.


“No!” I screamed, diving downwards, reaching out my hand to grasp his arm - but he was too far for me to reach, and I kept going and going until the safety charms kicked in and he was levitated in the air, drifting slowly down to the ground as if he weighed nothing more than a feather.


I barely heard the screech of Madame Hopkins' whistle as I watched the medic on duty levitate Benjy and whisk him off of the Pitch, but Beck flew beside my broom and redirected me towards the goalposts, where the rest of our team was already convened on the ground.


“Holy shit,” said Cicely rather shakily as we landed, leaning on her broom like she needed it to stand.


“He’ll be fine,” said Kato dismissively. “He gets knocked out about every other game.”


But all of the veteran players knew full well that whenever we lost a Beater we usually fell dramatically behind in goals, and the atmosphere was undeniably bleak as we all glanced around at each other.


“Focus up!” Moose barked, and as I looked at him I instantly felt a rush of determination to finish the game, perhaps having something to do with the way his face never betrayed any other resolve but perseverance. “They’re playing dirty but we can’t give them the satisfaction of stooping to their level!”


“But, what do I do?” asked Jack, urgently. “I can’t play offensively and protect Nellie at the same time-”


“Protect Nellie,” Moose said immediately, and even though Hopkins’ whistle had blown moments ago he still held out his hand. “And Burke, I know you like to concentrate in your own way, but for fuck’s sake, pay more attention to your surroundings.”


Usually, I would have been defensive and argued against him - I’m trying my fucking best - and he would’ve said something along the lines of, There is no trying your best, there’s only doing your best - and for fucks’ sake, do your best! But for some incommunicable reason I didn’t have the energy nor the stamina to respond to him, so I merely nodded weakly, trying not to smile for fear of aggravating the already sore facial muscles by my left temple. My body was beginning to tense up and become strangely sore, and as I climbed back onto my broom and took off into the sky I had to hold back a wince at the sensation.


I rose higher and higher until I was securely above every player with no Gryffindor Beaters anywhere near me. After what seemed like an hour of being targeted by Bludgers I was finally away from all of the action, at long last free to relax my tense posture and reenter my usual hypervigilant state of concentration.


But as I steadied my broom and tried to suck in a deep breath, something felt off. It was my head, I think; it felt like it was spinning slightly, taking twice the amount of time to produce a coherent thought or notion, and perhaps that’s why it took me so long to realise that I was breathing irregularly. But my vision was still clear, and despite the bizarre dizziness that seemed to hit me in waves, each one more powerful than the next, I still managed to search the field high and low how I normally did until my eyes landed on a glint of gold, so brief and intermittent that anyone else would’ve passed it off as a reflection from the sun, or as nothing at all. But I immediately took off after it.


“Seeker Nellie Burke seems to be following something...is it another feint or is it the Snitch? Too bad Weasley was once again too stupid to realise - ow, Professor!”


I was close enough now that I could see the Snitch’s delicate wings fluttering, could see where it wanted to change direction a millisecond before it did, and I followed its movements almost instinctively. It was like a dance, an ebb and flow of the tide: when the Snitch flew farther, I flew closer; when it turned to the left and then to the right again, I mirrored its actions, perfectly in sync.


Even as I was so utterly focused on the dance, other sensory information flitted through my thoughts like background noise. I could feel the wind washing over my body like a tidal wave; I could see a streak of red outside my peripheral vision following me but not nearly close enough to be a threat; I could feel the slight uncomfort in my stomach begin to increase as I went faster and faster on my broom, but I didn’t stop the dance, I couldn’t stop - faster and faster and faster - until I reached out and-


“NELLIE BURKE HAS CAUGHT THE SNITCH! RAVENCLAW WINS!


And then, I was on the ground and my teammates were huddled around me, screaming and jumping and shouting like lunatics. I willed myself to move my arm up into my field of vision, and there it was. The beautiful, elusive, golden Snitch, laying in the prison of my grasp. I had done it.


“You’ve done it!” Moose bellowed, picking me up to twirl me around. As he did, I felt the uneasiness in my abdomen mount, morphing into a sharp, stabbing pain that seemed to dull every one of my other senses. My vision went dark for a moment, as if thick clouds had suddenly blocked my view of the world, but by the time my awareness for my surroundings returned I was back on the ground, Moose out of my sight, surrounded by people jostling and yelling and laughing and congratulating me.


“You were such a champ out there, Burke!”


“Honestly, Nellie, I don’t know how you didn’t fall off your broom after that hit-”


Such foul moves by Finnigan, he better get suspended-”


“FUCK THE GRYFFIES!”


“Oi, Ravenclaw! Celebrate later - we’re checking on Waterson now!”


“Party in the Common Room tonight!”


“Nellie, that was incredible!” shouted Kato, fighting through the throng of supporters to step closer. “Listen, I-”


“We have to go see Benjy,” I said through the dysfunction around me, and I think it sounded normal because Beck and Kato began to follow Moose, who was already leading the way. But I didn’t feel normal - not nearly - and by the time we reached the Hospital Wing the rather urgent sensation where I’d gotten hit by the first Bludger had somehow intensified. Everyone immediately went to crowd Benjy’s bed - some maroon-clad people in the mix - but now it hurt too much for me to even finish the last five steps, so instead I leaned against the corner wall by the entrance, trying to settle my erratic heartbeats and regain my composure.


“Is he okay?”


“Of course he’s fine, he’s Benjy-


“I didn’t mean to hit him, I swear-”


Wow, did it hurt-


“Oh, but you did mean to target Nellie?”


“That was an accident, I was aiming for Robinson, but-”


“Then Finnigan accidentally held onto her broom?”


Like, really badly-


“Well, yeah-”


“Where is Charlie, he should apologise to Nellie-”


“Shut up, Dominique-”


“Well, he should! She got hit right in the head by his Bludger!”


“Wait - where is Nellie?”


“Hey,” I blinked slowly, and then there was a rather blurry Kato, gazing down at me with a furrowed brow. “You okay, Nels?”


“Erm, yeah. It just hurts,” I managed to say, and I tried to take a deep breath in, but pain flashed deep in my chest, acting as a barrier between me and the oxygen that I desperately needed.


“What does? Your head?”


“Burke!” James Potter was suddenly in front of me, so close that I found myself backing even further into the wall of the Hospital Wing. “I swear I didn’t ask them to do that.”


“We still won fair and square, Potter,” I spit out my remaining air as a wave of nausea crashed upon me. My head was beginning to feel lighter and lighter, as if it were slowly disconnecting from my body nerve by nerve, axon by dendrite, particle by particle by particle.


“I know,” Potter pushed Kato out of the way, whose hands immediately clenched by his side into tight fists. “But I also know I’m the first one you would suspect, and I’m telling you I didn’t instruct Finnigan to target you.”


“Yeah, right,” I sucked in another anguished-laced gasp as I turned away from James, trying to get back to Kato, Beck, anyone but him. “It really hurts-”


“Nellie?” Kato tried to move Potter out of the way to get closer to me, but Potter warded him off, his glinting eyes refusing to leave my face.


“What hurts, Burke?" Potter smirked slightly, still in front of Beck and Kato, but strangely the mocking expression didn’t meet the sharpness to his eyes as he moved even closer. “Do you need an ice pack? A plaster?”


“Fuck off, Potter!” Kato growled, pushing him to the side in an attempt to reach me, just as Beck and Mia appeared behind Kato.


“Nellie?”


“Nellie, what’s wrong?”


“God, you’re fucking pale-”


“Hurts,” I think I said, but I wasn’t sure, wasn’t sure of anything anymore except for the agony, and I leaned against the wall more heavily, my legs growing less and less strong enough to keep me in an upright position.


“What hurts, Burke? Look at me,” Potter demanded, more urgently, as he shoved Kato back into his original place farther from the wall, still standing in front of everyone else.


“This is your fault-“ Kato pushed Potter again, “-you sent Finnigan after her-“


“I didn’t-“ another shove, from Potter this time, “Burke, what hurts?”


But now, I couldn’t form words, and all at once it was like a translucent curtain had been lowered in front of my vision, rendering everything hazy and separating me from the real world. I regarded everything like I was watching from behind the fourth wall - Potter shoving Kato further behind him, Kato retaliating, Potter blocking him again - until my arm stretched out on its own volition, practically floating in the air as the pandemonium around me - Kato’s fist sailing through the air, Potter’s hand coming up to block it - became more and more distant. The last image that stayed with me was another arm reaching out towards mine - an impression in a mirror, a reflection on a lake, a shadow in the night - as I faded away into the deepening darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Note: I find Quidditch matches extremely tedious to write, so I apologise if this update did not come as soon as I said it would. The next chapter will be back to my normal sort of writing flow, and the one after that marks the beginning to what will turn into a very unusual plot. So PLEASE keep reviewing - you have no idea how much they motivate me and even give me ideas!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up next...a story of Obliviation, spleens, and Cauldron Cakes.

 

 



Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: I don't own anything you see here! The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime belongs to Mark Haddon, copyright Jonathan Cape.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“She should be awake by now.”


 

“Heldman said anywhere in the hour.”


 

“Well, we’re almost out of the hour and she isn’t awake yet!”


 

“What if she doesn’t know who we are?”


 

“Don’t be stupid, Mia; she got hit in the head, not Obliviated."


 

Flynn.”


 

“Sorry.”


 

It was a surreal sort of thing, regaining back a level of control that you weren’t aware you had ever lost. It was as if my body and my being had somehow become separated from one another and were just now merging once more, the soul piece of me floating back down to my physical form. Slowly, like pins and needles, I could feel myself again, could feel exactly where my fingers and limbs and toes were in relation to the rest of me, but I still couldn’t control my muscles enough to move them. So as the sounds around me began to grow clearer and clearer, all I was able to do was emit a little moaning sound, as delicate and as feminine as a cow giving birth.

 

“Oh, thank God,” I felt a warm hand grasp my arm, and all at once my senses came rushing back, leaving me squinting against the newly bright light I could see.

 

“Nellie? Do you know who you are?” someone asked anxiously from directly above me, and I knew it was Mia even before I was able to focus my blurry gaze onto her big brown eyes, which were wide open with concern.


 

Obviously. I wasn’t Obliviated,” I said hoarsely, and I heard multiple laughs of relief; even Mia, who would usually hate to be ganged up on as the butt of a joke.


 

“How do you feel?” Scorpius asked anxiously from beside my head, and I realised his hand was the one holding mine.


 

“Fine,” I croaked. The hazy images in front of me slowly sharpened, revealing a whole group of people crowded around my bedside. “Did we win?”


 

“Yes, Nellie,” Benjy reached over to tousle the top of my head affectionately, in the sort of way you would ruffle the hair of a young child. “We won.”


 

“Did I catch the Snitch?” I asked, as the memories of the match slowly flooded back to me. “I did, right?”


 

“Yeah. And it was bloody brilliant,” Beck grinned at me from where she was perched on the end of my bed. Her raven hair cascaded down her shoulders easily, looking fabulous for just after a Quidditch match, and I could tell she had showered up thoroughly. Beside her was Moose and Milo, with Benjy, Kato, Flynn, and Mia flanking the sides of my cot. Scorpius sat closest to me, with Al in the chair next to him, and as I looked up at him he squeezed my hand in response.


 

“Wait! You should be in bed resting!” I gasped, pointing to my left at Benjy, who looked perfectly fine and very not unconscious.


 

“Nah, I got discharged already,” said Benjy. He glanced at Moose quickly and then back to me, his usual megawatt grin somewhat lacking in strength.


 

“Already? But you were knocked out!”


 

Benjy merely shrugged, while Albus took over. “What do you remember, Nellie?”


 

“After landing on the ground?” I frowned, trying to make sense of the foggy memories that were frustratingly out of reach from my general perceptions. “Nothing, I suppose.”


 

No one spoke for a moment. Kato became rather preoccupied with cracking his knuckles, while Beck worked hard to avoid looking me in the eyes.


 

“So, what’s wrong with me?” I asked lightly, very aware of how thin my voice sounded. “Did the hit to my head make me pass out?"


 

“No,” Moose shook his head. His dark hair was neatly combed down around his face, and as he went to adjust a curl, I caught the time on his watch. “It was that first Bludger that did you in. It ruptured your spleen and caused internal bleeding. You passed out because your organs began to shut down.”


 

“Nice,” I muttered. “But, hey! It’s only five o’clock and you lot are all showered and changed! What, did you all abandon my bedside the second you dumped me here?”


 

Flynn and Mia exchanged frowns, while Kato, Scorpius, and Milo scowled down at the floor, practically stone figurines.


 

Benjy grimaced. “Actually, it’s not five o’clock.”


 

“Then, what is it?” I glanced from person to person, hoping to catch someone’s eye, but no one would meet my gaze.


 

“Well, it is,” revised Benjy. “But-“


 

“It’s tomorrow,” announced Beck. “The match was yesterday.”


 

What?” I yelped, sitting up. “Ow,” I said as an afterthought when a wave of dizziness and pain hit me.


 

“You really shouldn’t try to move just yet,” Kato helped Mia lower me back down. “You’ll be in the Hospital Wing for at least another couple of days."


 

“Missing valuable practice opportunities,” muttered Moose. Beck smacked him round the head.


 

“Why was I out for so long?” I demanded, but before anyone could answer, there were angry stomps, and then the matron, Madame Heldman, was nose to nose with my guests.


 

“How many of you are in here?” she screeched. “I said three of you may stay. Only three! She needs her rest!”


 

There were noises of dissent from my friends, but they all rose from their seats, leaving just Mia, Scorpius, and Beck by my side.


 

“Guys, it’s okay,” said Benjy, shooting me a quick smirk. "The more rest she gets, the quicker she can go back to being our Bludger punching bag."


 

“Exactly,” said Heldman briskly, as she checked all of the potions by my bedside.


 

“We’ll visit you later, okay?” Flynn grinned down at me, his auburn hair blown to one side in a style I’m sure he thought looked perfectly windswept. “After you don’t look so post-mortem.”


 

“Gee, thanks,” I muttered. Milo laughed.


 

“I’m glad you’re alright, Nels,” Kato paused over me to smile his lopsided smirk, brushing some hair from out of my eyes lightly. “Thought we were going to have to find a new Seeker.”


 

“Moose would’ve resurrected me just to kill me again,” I said casually, speaking through the way my breath caught in my throat and my stomach fluttered slightly.


 

“Get some rest,” Kato saluted me, and then the large group was gone.


 

“Burke, drink this,” Madame Heldman ordered, and I obediently took the vial from the matron. It smelled awful, so I pinched my nose, threw my head back, and took it as a shot. Beck started to snigger and promptly made a drinking joke, at which Heldman admonished her for partaking in such activities and stomped off to her back office, muttering about youths and their destructive party cultures.


 

“How do you feel?” Scorpius asked after a couple moments of silence. Delicate purple circles were easily visible under his translucent skin, and as I inspected him further, it appeared that he hadn’t washed up like the others had.


 

“How do you? Did you stay here all night?”


 

Scorpius grimaced slightly; a reluctant yes. I opened my mouth, prepared to lecture him, but I stopped once I saw the tortured look in his eyes.


 

I knew why Scorpius had stayed. For him, this was like when Astoria passed away a few years ago. She had been sick and frail for a long time, ever since she gave birth to him. But when she was finally ready to let go, Scorpius wasn’t there with her, and he still hasn’t forgiven himself for it.


 

So instead of telling Scorpius off, I clasped his hand tightly. “Go sleep, Scor. You look absolutely terrible; you’re doing everyone around you a disservice, really.”


 

“I can stay,” he offered, but it was weak and without conviction.


 

“She’s fine, Scorpius,” Mia squeezed his shoulder tightly. “You can visit her again tomorrow morning.”


 

Rather reluctantly, Scorpius stood up. “I’m so relieved you’re okay, Corn. You really scared us for a moment there.”


 

“Sorry. Love you.”


 

“Not your fault. Love you, too.”


 

We hugged. And then, he was gone.


 

“So,” I turned to Beck and Mia, who had migrated to the chairs closest to me. “What happened after I caught the Snitch?”


 

“Like, the full story?” Mia’s eyes gleamed slightly, the prospect of dramatising a tale too enticing to pass up.


 

“Go for it,” I said. I’d rather get it over now in the privacy of my hospital bed than hear it as a distorted fable later.


 

“Okay, so, you were playing Quidditch, people kept trying to hit you with balls, Benjy fell, you caught the Snitch, blah blah boring, whatever, and then you landed on the ground,” said Mia, twirling her dark hair around her finger, round and round and round. “I mean, you were acting like you were fine - Moose even picked you up.”


 

“And then we were in the hospital wing, and we were all worried about Benjy - especially Dominique Weasley, do you know anything about that?” Beck asked eagerly, but I shook my head.


 

“I think everyone was all over Benjy because he had just woken up, but then I realised you weren’t with the rest of us.” said Mia rather proudly. “And Beck and I were right behind Kato when he was trying to talk to you.”


 

“You still seemed okay, just...out of it,” said Beck, and as she bit her lip I could tell she felt some level of guilt for not helping me earlier. “And then Potter came up and started trying to tell you that he didn’t order Finnigan target you - which is bullshit by the way - and Kato got mad and they started yelling.”


 

“And then you passed out - no, wait!” Mia interrupted herself excitedly, leaning forward. “James was, like, teasing you when you said you were in pain, but when you passed out he somehow lunged forward past Kato - who was trying to physically fight him, by the way, honestly, what was he thinking? But James caught you just before you hit the ground!”


 

“And so I was trying to slap your face and get you to wake up, but then Potter felt your pulse and started swearing and then just sort of scooped you up - and, I have to be honest - at first I thought he was going to, like, take you to a secluded place to finish the murdering job, you know?”


 

But,” Mia shot a pointed glance at Beck. “James put you directly on a cot and yelled for Heldman until she took it seriously. And Kato was absolutely furious at him; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so mad-”


 

“And when Heldman kicked everyone out Kato absolutely lost it so Moose had to calm him down before he was allowed back here to see you later.” interceded Beck. “And then when he saw Potter go in to check on you, he nearly had it with him again, right then and there.”


 

There was a more important element to the story than the one part I clung onto. Kato had gotten into two fights, but for some ineffable reason, all I could focus on was-


 

“Potter visited me? Why?


 

“Beats me,” shrugged Beck. “When he came we didn’t even know if you would be okay yet. Besides, he only stayed for a couple of minutes, anyways.”


 

“He probably just felt guilty that he told his Beaters to try and kill me.” I scowled.


 

“I mean, maybe, but - eurgh, I hate to say this - Potter sort of saved you,” said Beck, grimacing as if she had bitten into something sour. “He figured out it was your stomach that was injured, not your head, which we all thought it was, including Heldman.”


 

“It was a miracle he did. A few more minutes, and you could have been...” Mia shuddered delicately, while Beck grew uncharacteristically moody. The atmosphere was shifted now, as the grim weight of the past few hours settled in the space between their words, and I knew it would be up to me to turn it around.


 

“Right,” I said briskly. “Well, I’m not dead, so everything’s fine.”


 

“Moose was so angry with Finnigan he head-butted him and got a detention.” said Mia conversationally, attempting to lighten the dark cloud of what ifs that had descended upon us.


 

“‘Course he did,” I rolled my eyes. “Is Finnigan in any trouble at all?”


 

“As far as I know, he has weekday detention for a month,” Beck nodded. “I don’t think they’ve figured out the Quidditch side of it yet.”


 

“A month? That’s so much!” I marveled, more vindicated than before.


 

“Kato lobbied hard on your behalf,” Mia grinned rather slyly, and this time, at the mention of Kato I sat up a little straighter.


 

“Why was Kato so mad at Potter?”


 

“They’ve never gotten along,” Beck shrugged as she inspected the strands of her hair, the tension gone from the shape of her shoulders. “They’re always competing in class and on the Pitch. You just ended up being their newest argument.”


 

I frowned slightly, and although something just felt off about the statement, I said, “Listen....Beck, I think I fancy Kato.”


 

“That’s great!” Mia squealed, while Beck continued to examine her split ends like she had been doing before I had said anything.


 

I waited for a moment. “Beck? Did you hear me?”


 

“You don’t,” said Beck conversationally, still enthralled with the tips of her hair.


 

“What?”


 

“You don’t fancy him,” Beck finally looked up, smirking slightly. “He’s protective of you, not to mention fit, which makes you think you fancy him, when really you just desperately wanted someone to crush over.”


 

Mia pouted and tried to argue it - “Kato is so right for Nellie!” - but I merely gaped at her.

 

 

“I think you’re right,” I said finally. I only really felt feelings for Kato when he was paying attention to me or being guarding, and as much as I wanted to really like him, I just didn't. But still, I couldn’t deny that I felt a certain level of connection with him - the butterflies were real, however lightly they might’ve fluttered. “How’d you know?”


 

“Same thing happened to me and Henry Mulligan when I was a Fifth Year,” said Beck, and then grinned her usual impish smile. “Well, I suppose the same thing happened with you and Henry too, since you dated for most of last year.”


 

I narrowed my eyes. “That was different.”


 

“You could say that.” Mia pursed her lips disapprovingly, and I shot her a look. She had never hid her intense distrust for Henry, the one real boyfriend I’d ever had, even as we were dating.


 

“Anyways, it’s always the Quidditch ones with you,” said Beck airily, leaning back in her chair.


 

“It is,” Mia seconded, and after a brief moment of indignation I had to shrug in agreement.


 

Beck and Mia continued talking about the new drama around campus and other relatively trivial things while I allowed my heavy eyes to fall shut and my head to rest back against the soft pillows behind me. I was just beginning to drift off - or at least, I thought I was - when a persistent prodding of my arm jolted me awake.


 

“All right, Nels?” Flynn Klein asked brightly, peering into my half opened eyes, Milo and Albus hovering behind him.


 

“Yeah,” I said groggily, pushing myself onto my elbows so that I could look at them, wincing at the pull in my abdomen. “What time is it?”


 

“Around ten,” Flynn supplied, throwing himself into one of the chairs beside my bed. “Breaking curfew just to see you, I might add.”


 

“How selfless of you,” I said dryly, but Flynn of course took it as an actual compliment.


 

“We just wanted to check in and bring you some Cauldron Cakes,” said Al, and then paused. “Milo, where are the Cauldron Cakes?”


 

Milo grinned guiltily and shrugged from behind Albus, his entire frame ducking with the motion.


 

Christ, Milo,” Flynn rolled his eyes up to the high ceilings and then back down. “Well, in any case, we brought you another gift.”


 

“We did?” Milo glanced at Albus, but he seemed just as perplexed.


 

“Me,” Flynn pronounced. “I mean, c’mon! I’m basically a God. My presence itself is a present, innit?”


 

“Please make him leave,” I said to Albus and Milo, who were both attempting to slap the back of Flynn’s neck, an action that was commonly used across Hogwarts as retribution for some stupid or disappointing action.


 

“So, how do you feel?” Milo settled down in the chair next to me, putting up his spidery legs up on my bed and resting them atop mine.


 

“Like shite,” I said cheerfully, kicking his feet away. “How are you all?”


 

“You’re lying there half dead, and you ask us how we are?” Al asked mirthfully, but I could see fatigue etched into the lines of his face and I knew Scorpius hadn’t been the only one with a sleepless night.


 

“Well, I for one am sub-par,” Flynn said before I could respond, leaning back into his seat in a comfortable way that only he seemed to pull off. “I got rejected by Kinsley McDermott earlier today.”


 

“What’d you do?” asked Milo, warily.


 

“Well I saw her leaving the Great Hall, right,” Flynn started, and I settled back into my pillows, anticipating one of his long and highly embellished tales. “And so I said ‘lo 'cos she's well fit, and then she asked me how I was and I told her I was really gutted about your condition, Nels. So then she starts trying to comfort me - because keep in mind, I was very distraught - and she asks me what would make me feel better, so then I told her if she went to Hogsmeade with me I reckon I’d feel much less upset about you probably dying. And for some reason that didn’t seem to sit well with her.” He ended with a rather put-off shrug, and Albus and I stared at one another for a moment before I turned back to Flynn.


 

“You used me as sympathy bait?” I asked him incredulously, although I wasn’t mad, not really. Flynn was always doing stupid stuff like this and getting into trouble for it; it was much more entertaining to make fun of him than to actually be offended at his brazenness.

 

 

“I tried to use you as sympathy bait,” Flynn corrected. “I didn’t actually do it.”

 

 

“That’s another neck, mate,” Albus shook his head, and even though he reached over to slap Flynn’s neck Flynn dodged him, using my cot as a shield against Al’s attempts, and honestly it was so nice to be back into the familiar flow of things; of Flynn being annoying and Albus settling everyone down and Milo just being forever clueless and, well, Milo.


 

The three of them stayed and talked until I became tired enough to tell them to piss off and leave me alone. I had just fallen into a comfortable sleep when a loud noise jolted me awake; the sound was so sudden I immediately jolted up in bed, glancing around wildly before I even had a grip on my surroundings.


 

Bang.


 

“Hello?” I asked after a moment to the world of uncertain darkness over the sound of my heart pounding in my chest. It had sounded like the door falling shut, but there was no one there and no evidence to would prove it had even been open in the first place.


 

A couple of moments later, after my pulse had slowed and I had settled back down into bed, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention.


 

A single cauldron cake sat on on the edge of my bedside table, a golden Snitch painted delicately into its frosting.


 



 

When I was released from the Hospital Wing two days later (with strict directions against physical activity or stress of any kind), I received a hero’s welcome back to Ravenclaw. Flowers had been placed by my four-poster bed, chocolates piled up on my nightstand, and get well soon cards strewn across my sheets.  Benjy and Kato even conjured a red carpet from the Hospital Wing all the way back to the dorm, but around the Statue of Barnaby the Great they were caught by Professor Longbottom, who insisted they undo their handiwork.


 

My friends, however, were not as supportive as the rest of my House.


 

“God,” Mia wrinkled her nose, shifting her posture away from mine. “That fucking stinks.


 

“Well, I can’t help that,” I said defensively, screwing the top back onto one particularly pungent potion that Madame Heldman had given me.


 

“Please,” said Scorpius, from next to me on the Ravenclaw sofa. “For the greater good of everyone around you, have a mint.”


 

I stuck my tongue out at him as I settled back into the cushions, but I still took the candy he’d held out to me, sucking on it in a rather put-off manner.


 

“Hey!” said Flynn suddenly, from the armchair across us. “Hey, guys! Raise your hand if you still have a spleen!”


 

“I do, I do!” Milo bounced up and down in his seat like an excitable child, while everyone else kept their arms in the air with this slight smugness that I absolutely resented.


 

“Funny,” I scowled. “Really funny, making fun of the temporarily handicapped girl-”


 

“Oh, no,” interrupted Albus, sadly. “She’s in denial.”


 

“Nellie,” Scorpius said to me, very slowly. “You will never have a spleen. This is not temporary.”


 

“I know Post-Traumatic Spleen Disorder is a very difficult thing to grapple with, but you better accept your condition now,” said Mia gravely, attempting to clutch my hand into hers.


 

“I have accepted it!” I protested, ripping my arm away from her reach. “I don’t feel any different; it’s like it’s still in there-”


 

Albus gasped, a look of delight spreading across his face. “Oh, my God,” he pronounced. “She’s got phantom spleen syndrome!”


 

“I don’t fucking have - ergh!” I flopped my face into the sofa pillow, flipping the my finger into an obscene gesture behind me.


 

“I miss the old Nellie,” sighed Flynn after a moment, the sound of it heavy and full of longing. “The one who was so nice to all of us. And who had a spleen.”


 

“God, I’m almost glad that I have to meet with Flitwick right now,” I said, my words slightly muffled by the pillow as everyone made similar noises of assent.


 

“Well, you know what they say,” said Milo, heartily, and I could just tell he’d been waiting to get this one in. “Keep your friends close and your spleens closer.”


 

“Right,” I sat up from the couch, stray wisps of hair floating in front of my face, while Scorpius fistbumped a very proud Milo. “Thanks, guys. I’ll keep that in mind.”


 

“Have fun at your Charms recitation!” Mia called, as I grabbed my backpack and stalked towards the exit. “Don’t lose an appendix this time!”


 

At that one, I couldn’t help but laugh, but I held it in until after the porthole door had fallen shut - I obviously couldn’t let their egos inflate any more than they already had.


 

In the span of just a couple of days, I had not only lost an organ but additionally fallen so behind in all of my classes that I needed to go to extra hours to catch up on the material covered, as well as do extra review work to make up for the time I hadn’t been in class. Like the great friend that he was, Milo had taken it upon himself to finish a Potions’ essay for me (in my handwriting no less), but the stress of all the other unfinished work I had yet to tackle was still an unwelcome weight on my shoulders.


 

Something else was bothering me, too. My secret nighttime visitor, or “The Curious Incident of the Cauldron Cakes in the Nighttime,” as Mia had dubbed it, still remained a mystery. Every single one of my friends swore up and down that they hadn’t snuck in to leave me the dessert, and none of them knew who had either. So who did it?


 

And I was rounding the corner, mulling over this, when without warning a hand clapped itself over my mouth and I was being tugged sideways behind a floor-length tapestry. On instinct I twisted my head away from their grip, prepared to lick or bite or do something, but before I could they released their hold over my face, and as I whipped around a powerful sort of jolt ran through me the instant I realised who it was.


 

“So,” James Potter said casually, his eyebrows slightly raised in the indifferent disposition I’d come to expect from him. “You’re alive.”


 

I wrenched myself away from his grasp as quickly as I could and took a large step back. “What the hell are you doing?”


 

Potter shrugged slowly, as if he didn’t know himself, all the while never removing his sharp eyes from mine. “Needed to make sure you were okay.”


 

“Well, I am,” I said frostily, crossing my arms over my chest. “No thanks to you.”

 

 

“Actually, it was thanks to me, Burke.” Potter was suddenly glaring at me, any ounce of mirth or civility erased from his expression. “Look, you told me to piss off and you were fine, and then suddenly you’re in my arms all pale and barely fucking breathing and everyone thought you would die, for Godric’s sake!”


 

“Well, you didn’t have to help me,” I retorted, but he was on a roll; his hard eyes were blazing and his hands were clenched tightly into fists, and I could tell that once he started there would be no stopping him.


 

“Just how absolutely juvenile are you? Why the fuck didn’t you just stop playing after you got hit? Then your spleen wouldn’t’ve exploded all over your other bloody organs and caused this mess-“


 

“Are you asking me to apologise for getting hit with a Bludger?” I interrupted, matching his anger easily. “That you ordered against me?”


 

“I didn't! I already said, Finnigan targeted you by himself, I even told him to not do it again, but-”


 

“Well, the least you could do is apologise to me for not controlling your players, but then again I still don’t buy the fact that Finnigan just felt like murdering someone he barely knows!”


 

“I am not apologising! Besides, I helped saved your life! You should be thanking me!


 

“So, this is about you feeling like a fucking hero?” I said, and now the familiar energy that always seemed to crackle and burn in between us had returned malignantly. “I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised, since you think the bloody universe revolves around you! Fuck!” I hissed, as my abdomen began to feel as if it was being stabbed from the inside out.


 

Slowly, I took a few breaths to calm myself. Potter sighed, the sound of it long and heavy, quite unlike anything I’d ever heard from him before.


 

“No,” he said finally. He ran his hand through the back of his hair to the front a couple of times, his eyes cast down, as if looking at me was a punishment he couldn’t bear to take. “You’re right.”


 

I blinked once, rather shocked that he had just admitted defeat, and through my confusion all I managed to squeak out was, “I am?”


 

“Yes,” Potter looked up at me, and even though there were no hints of jest or deception etched into the slight frown knit between his brows, I was still instantly suspicious. Because it shouldn’t’ve been that easy, right?


 

“I should apologise for the way I treated you at Slughorn’s dinner, too,” Potter continued, and as he reached up to ruffle the back of his hair I saw the edge of what looked like a dark tattoo on his bicep. “It was completely out of line.”


 

“Oh, it was out of line when you told me I was nothing and then equated my morality to my blood status?” I asked acerbically, my previous incoherence forgotten. “Really, was it?”


 

Yes,” Potter snapped, and then softened once more. “Yes, it was, and I truly didn’t mean it.”


 

The quality in his gaze that reminded me a bit of Albus was back and more earnest than ever before, and as I struggled with how to respond I could feel him tracking my every move, his light eyes less dangerous and more analytical with every second that went by.


 

“It’s...fine,” I came out with finally, brushing away a few wisps of hair from my face as I did. “I said some things, too, that weren’t nice. So it’s fine.”


 

But James Potter shook his head. “It’s not. I just needed to tell you that I don’t have anything against you, and that I did not order Finnigan to target you." When I didn’t say anything, he rushed on. “Because Sinistra and Hopkins are holding a disciplinary meeting about it tomorrow, and they’re going to ask you.”


 

Oh. His ulterior motives were suddenly so transparent that I almost laughed out loud at my own stupidity for believing his apology.


 

“So, it’s not only about you being a hero. It’s politics.” I spat, and now I was seething - I knew it shouldn’t have been that easy and that he shouldn’t be trusted, and yet I’d almost wanted to trust him - so stupid, Nellie, getting tricked by something as obvious like that.


 

“It’s my Captaincy,” Potter shot back, almost pleadingly, but I wasn’t falling for it again. “My career. And I am telling you, completely openly and honestly, that I had no part in what happened.”


 

I shook my head in disbelief. “And why should I believe you? You have every reason to lie.”


 

“I will prove it to you,” he said, and the way his eyes seemed to blaze with something that could only be undiluted determination made my insistence of his guilt flicker and falter once more. “I can. But I need you to trust me first.”


 

 


 

“To trust him?” Beck repeated. “What a bloody psychopath, trying to squirm his way out of trouble and force your hand like this, that’s unbelievable-”


 

“I don’t know,” said Mia thoughtfully, leaning her elbows against the Ravenclaw table and resting her head in her hand. The natural light from the windows behind her was mostly obscured by thick clouds, but the setting sun managed to escape the blanket of grey for a split second, and for that one moment and she appeared to be almost illuminated by the golden rays. An angel, with a halo made of dust motes and photons. “He seemed pretty adamant that it was Charlie going rogue. Plus, he was really worried when you were in the Hospital.”


 

“Not enough to take a shred of responsibility or explain himself!” Beck leaned forward, and the sun disappeared behind the safety of the clouds once more.


 

“But, he did visit Nellie at, like, midnight when we were all waiting for Heldman to give us an update. He could’ve gotten in trouble, but he still came.”


 

“A guilty conscience,” Beck insisted. They both turned to me expectantly.


 

“I...don’t know,” I admitted meekly, and Beck growed with frustration.


 

“Out on the pitch, you said it yourself! You told us this was Potter’s revenge at you!”


 

“But, I don’t know if that theory makes sense,” I pressed back at her. “He’d already embarrassed me in front of Slughorn - why would he want more than that?”


 

“He wouldn't,” Mia agreed emphatically, and Beck sighed exasperatedly.


 

“You really think that Finnigan just...went after you all by himself?”


 

“That...also seems unlikely,” I winced, and Mia threw her hands up in the air in annoyance.


 

“Nellie, you are a lot of good things, but decisive is not one of them,” she huffed, tossing her dark hair back from her face in a way that only she would ever be able to pull off.


 

“Well, the meeting is in fifteen minutes,” Beck checked her watch, smirking slightly. “I hope you’ve sorted it all out by then.”


 

“Fuck,” I groaned, just as someone tapped my shoulder.

 

 

“Nellie,” Albus said, shifting from his left foot to his right foot in a way that made it painfully obvious that he was nervous. “Can I talk to you?”


 

“Yeah, ‘course,” I said, sliding out from the bench.


 

“Good luck!” Mia called after me, and Beck mumbled something similar but much less enthusiastic as I followed Al, waving goodbye to both of them.


 

“How’re you feeling?” Albus asked me once we were well outside of the Great Hall, but I brushed his question away with a wave of my hand.


 

“Just get to it. Is this about your brother?” I asked, and Al grimaced in a clear affirmation.


 

“Look, I know none of this concerns me,” he said evenly. His green eyes were kept perfectly trained in front of him, and after a moment I mirrored his attitude, as neither of us slowed our strides. “But I know my brother, and if James said he didn’t have a part in it, he didn’t.”


 

“You know, after the Slug Club dinner your brother told me that I was a bad person because I’m a Pureblood,” I remarked rather bitterly. “But, you know. I’ll keep that in mind.”


 

Al sighed, finally stopping to look at me. “Nellie-”


 

“No,” I said, and I softened my tone considerably. “Sorry. I get it. I would do the same for Adam.”


 

“I know you would,” said Al, smiling down at me in that comfortingly mild way he always did as we began walking again. I hadn’t realised he had gotten to be so tall over the summer, but he had to have at least an advantage on Scorpius now, a feat that was impressive on its own.


 

“You can’t be mad at me for telling them what I think,” I warned him. “Even if you are, you can’t be mad at me. You just can’t.”


 

“I know. I won’t be.” Albus said, and as I reached the door leading to Professor Sinistra’s office, that was the one thing I knew for certain.


 

“Ah, Ms. Burke. Please, sit down,” Professor Sinistra said the moment I entered, gesturing to one of four open chairs that were across from her and Madame Hopkins. Hogwarts was largely divided over her as an administrator: some people absolutely demonised her, saying that she was much more hardcore in her duties than necessary, while others swore up and down that she was one of the fairest Depuy Heads that we’ve ever had. I personally didn’t have much of an opinion on the matter; aside from the detention she gave me a few weeks prior I’d never really had much of an opportunity to interact with her.


 

“I’m sure you know why you’re here,” Professor Sinistra began after a nod from Madame Hopkins. “As Deputy Headmistress, it is my duty to handle all potential violations of the student code of conduct. I, along with Madame Hopkins, will be conducting the investigation into what happened during the Ravenclaw versus Gryffindor Quidditch match.”


 

“Right,” I said rather awkwardly at her pause.


 

“Let’s get to it, then,” Sinistra said briskly, and Hopkins conjured a notepad and quill. “Can you tell me what happened the first time you were injured during the match?”


 

“Er...I was just looking for the Snitch when a bunch of Bludgers came at me and I realised the Gryffindor Beaters were following me. So I flew away from them towards Jack - Jack Robinson - for protection, but then another one came at him so he had to stretch all the way out to block it, and since he had flown straight through it I was left unprotected with another one coming right at me. And I couldn’t move because Charlie Finnigan was holding onto the end of my broom.”


 

“Okay,” Madame Hopkins said, speaking up for the first time. She had a round, inherently kind face, and she smiled encouragingly at me before asking her question. “Do you believe that Mr. Carpenter, the Gryffindor Beater who hit the Bludger that caused your injury, meant to aim for you?”


 

“No,” I said. “He was clearly aiming for Jack Robinson, but it was a bad shot. It wouldn’t have hit anyone unless-”


 

“Unless Mr. Finnigan hadn’t grabbed the end of your broom so that it would make contact with you?” Professor Sinistra finished, her long neck raising up slightly.


 

“Yes,” I nodded. Hopkins scrawled something on her notepad.  


 

“And the second Bludger Mr. Finnigan targeted at you that hit your head - was there anyone in your general vicinity?”


 

“I don’t think so,” I said, but I honestly couldn’t really remember. “Maybe Benjy and Dominique Weasley?”


 

“Okay,” said Sinistra, and now she leaned in closer, her bird-like features sharpening. “Now, do you have any reason to believe that Charlie Finnigan was instructed by anyone to intentionally harm you?”


 

And there it was. I had been preparing for this question for the past day, mulling over the possibilities and principles of each potential answer almost obsessively. But yet, when it came down to finally make a decision, I didn’t hesitate in the slightest. I just knew - not what the real, unabridged truth was, but that innocence until proven guilty was still innocence, and even a slight risk of condemning a blameless individual was too much of a liability.


 

“No.” I said, clearly. “I don’t.”


 

Professor Sinistra and Madame Hopkins both glanced at each other and then back to me.


 

“In that case,” Sinistra said finally. “Galinda, go fetch Potter and Finnigan, please.”


 

“They’re here?” I asked dumbly, and Sinistra looked at me a bit strangely, and I realised a second too late it was because that was what a fucking disciplinary hearing was, a compilations of accounts and a mediation - Merlin, I was seriously thick.


 

It was only moments before Charlie Finnigan and James Potter were sitting down in the chairs adjacent to mine, thankfully leaving an open seat in the middle of us as a divider. I kept my face turned forward until Sinistra nodded at me and turned to Charlie expectantly, her eyes narrowing.


 

“Mr. Finnigan, is there anything you’d like to say before we begin?”


 

“Erm,” Charlie muttered, much more to the carpet than to me. “Nellie, it was wrong to target you, and I’m really sorry you got hurt.”


 

“Is that an adequate apology, Ms. Burke?” Hopkins asked, and her voice seemed to soften slightly as she addressed me.


 

“Yeah,” I muttered, even though Finnigan sounded about as sincere as Calliope Yaxley looked when she smiled.


 

“Well, alright,” said Sinistra, briskly. ”Finnigan and Potter, stay here. Nellie, you are free to go. Thank you for your cooperation and I hope you’re healing well.”


 

I nodded quickly at the two administrators, and even though I could sense the gaze of James Potter on me, could physically feel the way his cold eyes were boring holes into the back of my skull, I refused to look back at him. I just had handed him yet another victory, and I wanted nothing less but to witness his triumph.


 

The air outside of the office seemed less stifled than the tensioned atmosphere within, and I allowed myself to take a slow breath, in through my mouth and out through my nose.


 

It was over. Everything would be normal again. The thought was comforting, but hopelessly naive. Because no sooner had I taken two steps, Potter burst out of the room, glancing around maniacally before he settled on me. And as he barreled towards me, I had everything prepared in my head. I was going to tell him that I didn’t say what I did for him, but because there was no evidence he was involved, and Al practically begged me to, and all of that, but before I could even open my mouth Potter was pulling me behind a tapestry for the second time in twenty-four hours.


 

"Don’t move,” Potter murmured in my ear, low and urgent, and then he was gone as quickly as he had come.


 

For a moment, I just listened to myself breathe quick, startled breaths, but then I heard the door to Sinistra’s office open once again and I suddenly understood what Potter was trying to do.


 

“What’d you get?” Potter asked gruffly. They were only a few metres away, and I had to clap my hand over my own mouth to stop myself from gasping noisily.


 

“Can’t practice for three weeks and I have detention for four. Not bad, considering.” And here, Charlie chortled slightly.


 

“Considering what?” Potter asked, and although his voice was controlled, it was almost too much so, as if he were fighting against some fury hidden beneath. When Finnigan didn’t respond, Potter continued.


 

“Considering the fact that you purposely targeted a Seeker - the one position that is illegal to aim for - against my direct orders?”


 

“Well, yeah,” Finnigan said casually. There was a moment’s pause.


 

“Why the fuck  would you think that was a good idea?”


 

“Are you joking?” Charlie matched Potter’s tone. “Burke nailed you with a Bludger in our scrimmage! It was an eye for an eye!”


 

Don't try to make this about me, Finnigan.” And I could hear their footsteps stop, right in front of my hiding place. “It wasn’t an eye for an eye, it was an eye for her head, so tell me, what do you have against Burke?”


 

“C’mon. You know who her family is, right?” Finnigan hissed. “Her grandfather was Thelonious Burke! They’re bloody Death Eaters!


 

It was a shock to hear my grandfather’s name uttered from the lips of someone like Charlie Finnigan when I had only ever heard it spoken by anyone in my family accidentally. It was common knowledge I was a Pureblood - especially after the infamy of Borgin and Burkes, a dark magic shop that used to belong to my great Uncle - but I had no idea people still remembered the legacy of them, that they still held grudge against me for all of the terrible things they did.


 

“Thelonious Burke is dead, and there are no more Death Eaters,” said Potter, coldly. “If you can’t leave your personal prejudices off of the pitch, you will no longer have a position on my team.”


 

“Are you taking the fucking piss-”


 

“Play my way or don’t play at all. Your choice.”


 

There was a weighted pause, and even though they were far enough away from me I held my breath, waiting for the final verdict.


 

“Fine.” Finnigan finally muttered. Their footsteps resumed down the corridor, leaving me still crouched behind the musty smelling tapestry, utterly perplexed at the revelations that had just been exposed.

 

 


 

 

Author's Note: We are BACK! I have a bunch of chapters written so please please review to let me know how you like the direction/just to say hello again!

 


 

Up next....A story of letters, stars, and fetuses.



Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



 

Disclaimer: I don’t own anything you recognize.

 

 


 

 

“So, we’re sitting in class, right, and since it’s only October we’re obviously not doing anything too special. But Marielle Crosby - God, I don’t know how she fucking comes up with this stuff - Marielle raises her hand and tells Slughorn that she can’t participate in today’s class for moral reasons. So Slughorn is like, ‘er, why not,’ and Marielle says it’s because she doesn’t believe in using babies for potion use.”


 

“Babies?” Milo leaned forward out of his armchair slightly, rather alarmed. The hues of the Ravenclaw Common Room combined with the faint light from the tall stained glass windows set a bluish tinge to his face, making him appear even more pale than usual. “What babies?”


 

Flynn closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose in between his thumb and forefinger before saying, “She thought that faetoose was the same thing as fetus.”


 

“No!” Mia gasped from next to me, wonderfully aghast.


 

“Are you kidding?” I couldn’t help but laugh. “Faetoose is a fucking plant-”


 

“I know! And so Slughorn had to literally explain to her that no, the little green stalk in front of her was not an unborn child!”


 

“That’s unbelievable,” Mia snorted rather scornfully, tossing her dark hair back in a bit of a haughty manner. “I mean, was she born with half a brain?”


 

“Well, actually, it’s possible to have half a brain and be completely mentally functional,” said Milo, conversationally.


 

“Well, anyways,” Flynn brushed the trivia aside. “I reckon she-”


 

“Which would be better, to be born with half a brain or have it removed?” Mia interrupted him, and Milo frowned with concentration at the question.


 

“Definitely born,” I said immediately, “then there’s more neural plasticity-”


 

“But what if you had it taken out at a young age?” Milo leaned forward once again, his eyes bright. “Then there would still be plasticity, but your brain would have also developed the necessary connections to-”


 

“God, will you guys quit being so Ravenclaw?” Flynn cut in, and we stopped, but not before Milo whispered, “Just think of how much the cortical map would rearrange!”


 

“Anyways, since we’re on the subject of Potions,” said Mia, and I knew that whatever would come next would have absolutely nothing to do with Potions. “I’ve been talking to someone new recently who happens to share that class with us.”


 

“Don’t you already have a date for Hogsmeade?” I frowned, and she groaned loudly in response.


 

Yes - Joshua Hadley. I didn’t know how to say no - I couldn’t bluff and tell him I already had plans when he asked so damn early!”


 

Indeed, Mia was so highly sought after that she was usually approached weeks before the actual date - or in this case, a full month before.


 

“So, then who’s this new guy?” asked Flynn, his forehead already creased into a certain distaste.


 

“Michael Corner!” exclaimed Mia, but her eyes darted around to take in our individual reactions, not quite matching the bright expression on her face. Even though Mia was bolder than font, she also valued our opinions way too much, and I could tell that this time she wasn’t going to receive the response she was searching for.


 

“Oh, man,” Milo muttered after a pause.


 

“Corner?” I wrinkled my nose. “Really?”


 

“Yes,” said Mia, immediately on the defensive. “He’s fit, right?”


 

“I mean, I guess, but he’s…” Milo struggled with the right word to characterise the Gryffindor in our year, and I fully understood his plight.


 

“He’s a lot smarter than he acts, okay?” Mia crossed her arms, clearly annoyed with our reactions.  


 

“Well, he acts like an absolute-” and Flynn said something else here, but it’s so offensive and vile that I absolutely could never repeat it, nor would I ever want to.


 

“What is wrong with you?” Mia hissed, after Milo rose out of his chair only to slap Flynn on the back of his neck, the sound resounding with a loud whack.


 

“That’s what he is!” Flynn protested, dodging another blow, from me this time. “And you’re still going to be infatuated with him-”


 

“There will be no feelings involved!” Mia snapped, tossing her hair back in much angrier movements than the minute before.


 

“Oh, you wanna bet?”


 

“There won’t be!” Mia insisted, her voice taking on that shrill sort of quality that indicated she was upset.


 

“Apologise,” ordered Milo gruffly to Flynn, and just as he opened his mouth to say something that was most likely not going to be much of an apology, a snow white owl sailed in through the open window, flying just low enough to drop a single letter in my lap before taking off back into the outside air.


 

“Is that...for you?” Mia asked me, her voice much softer than it had been moments before.


 

The slight smudge of the ink, the all capital cursive of my name, the way the quill made deep indents into the surface of the parchment - I would have recognised it from a mile away.


 

“Yeah,” I said softly, running my finger lightly over the paper to feel the dimensionality of the words.


 

“Do you need to go?” asked Milo, rather worriedly, and I nodded numbly, standing even though my legs felt rather wooden all of a sudden.


 

“We’ll come by later,” Flynn called after me in an unusually quiet voice, and I could hear the three of them lean in to speak in hushed tones as I walked briskly away, the previous altercation between Mia and Flynn forgotten.


 

It wasn’t exactly nerves that I was feeling. It was more of a stomach clenching anxiety, an intrepid sense of foreboding that settled in the air around me, heavy and suffocating. Just find Scorpius, I thought to myself, and as I passed pillars and suits of armour and portraits, it became a mantra of sorts.


 

But mantras didn’t help me locate the whereabouts of my cousin. I was just cursing the size and breadth of the castle when I spotted a flash of messy black hair by the Great Hall doors.


 

“Al,” I called, and as he turned around, I realised he wasn’t standing by himself - bullocks  - but now that I had called out I had no choice but to approach him.


 

“Have you seen Scorpius?” I asked the moment I stopped in front of him, determinedly focusing my gaze solely onto him.


 

“No,” Al said. “Is something wrong?”


 

I could feel James Potter’s gaze boring into me as I spoke, but I didn’t face him.


 

“I got a letter.”


 

“Oh.” Al’s eyes widened instantly, his mouth drooping sympathetically. “Okay. I’ll help you find him.”


 

“Thanks,” I flashed him a smile that surely came out as a grimace, still steadfastly ignoring his brother, who from what I could tell hadn’t looked away from my face.


 

“You okay?”


 

“Fine,” I nodded, and the action of answering Albus took up as much space in my brain as the thought of how to escape the omnipotent eyes of James Potter. I didn’t want him analysing me or reading me right now to use as ammunition later. I wasn’t in the mood for his mind games, and I certainly didn’t have enough energy to carry on an argument.


 

“We’ll talk later,” Albus said over his shoulder to James as he began to walk in the direction that I had come, me trailing behind him slightly.


 

“What, a letter is more important than me?” Potter asked indignantly, but Al only shot him a look, and when I caved and finally allowed myself to glanced back at him, Potter was staring at the pair of us with a curious, almost distrustful expression.


 

“I think Scorpius was in the Common Room,” Al said to me once we rounded the corner. He was never the kind to press on issues, and I loved him for that.


 

“Great,” I nodded, but my thoughts were still muddled from the recent interaction.


 

“Thank you for what you did, by the way,” Al shot me a sidelong glance, and I snapped back into attention. “For James, I mean. At the hearing.”


 

“I really only did it for you,” I told him, even though something deep in my stomach twinged uncomfortably at the lack of truth that the words held. “But he did prove himself in the end, I guess,”


 

“Yeah, he told me all about that,” Al frowned. “I’m sorry you had to overhear it, though. You’re not at all like the family members that came before you, and it’s so unfair some people still group you with them”


 

I was about to tell him that it was fine, that I was used to it, expected it, even felt like I deserved it - but before I could we were interrupted by someone calling my name.


 

“Hey! Nellie! Nellie, can I talk to you for one quick moment?” Beck yelled, and strangely, she had Willow Millican by her side. Not that seeing Willow was strange, exactly - it was just that she was never not with Katria, meaning that she never really hung out with either Mia or Beck or I unless we were in Ravenclaw Tower.  


 

“I really have to-”


 

“Just one minute,” Beck pleaded, and her eyes looked so wild and urgent that I really couldn’t argue.


 

“I’ll catch up in a second,” I told Albus, who nodded and subtly disappeared around the corner.


 

“What’s this about?” I asked Beck, still largely focused on the envelope between my fingers.


 

“Tell her what you told me,” Beck ordered Willow, and although people who weren’t used to Beck’s brusqueness were usually intimidated, Willow didn’t seem to be so at all.  


 

“For the record, I think it’s insane and I don’t stand by it at all, okay?” Willow held up her hands, as if it would free her from whatever deed had taken place. “But, Katria told me that she’s trying to get set up with Albus Potter because she thinks that if she can date him, she can somehow work her way up to going out with James Potter.”


 

“Isn’t that crazy?” Beck said, glancing at me to gauge my reaction, but I kept my face impassive, even though it all suddenly made so much sense that was why Katria wanted so badly for me to set her up with Al.


 

“I just thought you should know,” Willow grimaced in apology, “Since I heard about her little blackmail deal it’s really been bothering me. Anyways, I’ve got to get to the Astronomy practical.”


 

“Thank you for telling me,” I said honestly, and as she rounded the same corner that Albus had she gave us a little wave.


 

“If Katria lied to you about her motives…” Beck murmured in my ear, and I knew exactly what she meant. There was never any real evidence that Scorpius was doing something secret in Hogwarts, much less dating someone, and I suddenly felt as if I had betrayed his confidences by not believing him. 


 

“Nellie,” I heard Albus call, and when I turned around he was with Scorpius, who was clutching a white envelope in his hand, his complexion a similar colour.


 

We went where we always did to open the letters - in the windowed alcove behind the tapestry of centaurs attacking some ministry official. We sat there, just sat, until finally I took a deep breath, asking him if he was ready, and since he was always ready for stuff like this he said yes. We opened our envelopes at the same time; me ripping through mine with my pointer finger, him delicately peeling back the seal on his, in order to preserve the sanctity of the envelope, and then the air fell perfectly silent as we read.



 

My dearest Cornelia,

 

You will be almost seventeen by the time this reaches you. You have undoubtedly blossomed into the beautiful, kind hearted, mature young woman I always knew you would become, and I am certain that you are making an impact on every person you meet.
 

In this letter, I want to tell you a story - or, rather, give you advice that at thirteen you were not ready to hear. When I was sixteen (can you even imagine me that young?), a war that had ravaged the lives of thousands had just ended, and suddenly my future was a real possibility again instead of a feeble perhaps. A year after the downfall of Voldemort I returned to Hogwarts, suddenly a Seventh Year even though when I had left for Ilvermorny I was a Fifth - and that was when I met Draco.
 

We didn’t get along at first - in fact, we used to absolutely loathe one another - but once he let down his guard and I let down mine, everything changed between us. But, as you know, I was plagued with the curse that has afflicted my family for generations: if I were to fall in love and have a child, I would become terminally ill and die the same painful death that all of the women before me had. I made a choice, Cornelia - not to surrender to some hopeless pattern, but to accept the curse and use it to embrace and cherish my time on earth with the people I loved.
 

I tell you this because now is your time, my darling girl. Not only to find love, but to embrace and to cherish. Soon you will come into your own and realise exactly who you are and what you must do with your life, and all I am asking you to do is not to surrender, but to accept. To fight. Even if you doubt yourself, it is crucial to know that you will succeed on whichever path you decided to pursue, for it is your destiny.

 

Just remember - no matter what, always choose to love or to be loved, especially when it seems impossible. I did, and I would make the same decision again a hundred - a thousand times over. I have no regrets, and I know it may be hard to understand that, but my life would never have meant anything without Draco and Scorpius, as well as you and Adam and Veronica. Embracing was worth it, just like it will be for you.

 

I love you, darling girl, and I will continue to love you from wherever I may be.
 

Always and forever,

 

Astoria



 

I skimmed it at first, letting the generalities sink in, and then I went line by line, letter by letter, letting the sound of her voice play in my head, sweet and gentle, over and over until her words echoed through my brain like a muffled phonograph on repeat.


 

After I was finished I glanced up at Scorpius, who was already looking up towards me. There was a delicate trail of a tear working his way down his cheek, and in response I clasped his hand tightly and leaned my head against his shoulder, burrowing my nose into the soft cloth of his shirt.


 

We never read one another’s letters. There was an unspoken agreement that each note was private and belonged to only the intended recipient. I knew Adam was somewhere far off reading his in the same manner that we had, only now that he had graduated he had no one to share his grief with.


 

“It’s been almost three years,” said Scorpius finally. When he spoke, his words wavered slightly, and he cleared his throat in a futile attempt to steady them. “How many did she write?”


 

“I don’t know,” I said, but my voice was strangled, emotion squeezing it as tightly as a boa constrictor, and I knew it would only be a matter of time before I cried, too.


 

“I want them to stop,” he said, shutting his eyes briefly and then letting them flutter back open. “But when they do, everything will be just…”


 

“Real?”


 

“Yeah. She’ll be really gone.”


 

“Untouchable.”


 

“Yeah.”


 

We were silent for a moment, lost in our thoughts, and I stared out the stained glass into the night. Astoria used to always have Scorpius and I count the birds that flew past the window by the kitchen sink in Malfoy Manor while we ate at the table. She said that they way birds moved with each other entertained her; but I think that was only because birds could move freely, and Astoria, crippled and cursed with her sickness, could not.


 

“Corn?”


 

I tore my gaze away from the window. “Hm?”


 

“I miss my mum,” Scorpius said plaintively, and for a moment I was hit with a wave of melancholic nostalgia as I remembered a younger version of him; when he was the Scorpius who grinned with missing teeth and cried when his ice cream melted too fast and spent afternoons searching for sticks that resembled wands so he could be just like his mother, like his beautiful, altruistic mother who always laughed and replaced his tears with smiles and knew exactly what to say, no matter what the circumstance.


 

I smiled sadly, leaning my head against his shoulder, and even though no words would be enough comfort or hold enough meaning, I said, “I know, Scor. I miss her too.”


 

He hesitated for a moment, then said, rather quickly, “I miss your mum.”


 

At that, a slight chill ran through my bones from head to toe; instinctively my jaw locked together in place as I tried to stay as still as possible, and although I felt like shouting, It’s not the same! She left on her own! I stayed silent like I always did.


 

Scorpius had known before he even had opened his mouth that he wouldn’t get a response, so when I didn’t say anything he merely sighed and let his shoulder blades relax against the hard panes of the windows, mirroring my position.


 

We sat there for a long time, Scorpius and I. Not speaking about anything of importance. Mostly not even speaking at all. We just needed to be in the other’s company; we needed to tangibly feel the last frayed thread of family that we had left and know that it was real. We watched the sun go down through the smoky skies and the dense forest, we listened to the wind shake the trees’ hands, we gazed at the stars, all of the beautiful, bright, faraway stars, and we wondered if she was out there, watching us like we were trying to watch her. We wondered.


 

Finally, once it became impossible to make out anything but silhouettes through the dusty panes, Scorpius slid off of the windowsill.


 

“I’m starved. Dinner?”


 

I hesitated, and then shook my head. “You go. I think I’m going to stay here for a little while longer.”


 

Scorpius nodded slowly, reaching out to clutch my hand tightly before he disappeared through the tapestry.


 

It always seemed to happen this way. Scorpius was good at dealing with his emotions in a timely manner and was always able to move on with his day, to keep going even when it was hard. He knew that he had to help himself, and he knew how to do that, and I envied his resolve. But me - I always needed to be alone to break down, if I could even allow myself the chance to, which wasn’t very often. Only when we got letters, really.


 

But this particular letter was peculiar in an almost indiscernible way, and as I reread it I realised that Astoria had said almost the same exact words to me right before I left for my Third Year at Hogwarts. One day you will realise exactly who you are and what you must do in this world, she had told me, and, darling, I know you’ll be ready for it.


 

Three years ago I hadn’t known what she had meant, and now I was still slightly perplexed by her particular phrasings, but perhaps there was no correlation at all - in the letter she was probably just referring to how I would be coming of age this year, and I silently admonished myself for reading too much into her writing.


 

Slowly, I allowed my finger to brush gently on the words, feeling where her quill had gently indented the paper. Maybe Astoria had touched the parchment just like this three years ago, just like I did right now. I hoped that she did.


 

But something was off about the underlying colouring, and I flipped the letter over only to find a series of ink scribbles, so deep that they must have indented the other side of the paper. Astoria had clearly scratched out a whole paragraph, and I peered closer, trying in vain to make out the underlying words, but Astoria’s diligence had won; it was completely intelligible.


 

I was rereading the letter for the fourth time when there was a giggle and a loud, throaty laugh. I glanced up just as a girl stumbled into the alcove I was huddled in, followed closely by her partner who remained shrouded by shadows.


 

“Oh,” the girl said, and even as I looked quickly down at my hands I recognised her to be Marina Belliveau, the Gryffindor Queen of popularity, partying, and Sun-in blonde hair. “Someone’s in here.”


 

“Sorry,” I spoke quickly. “I can, erm, leave-”


 

“Hold on,” said the male, and with a sinking feeling I realised who it was. “Burke?


 

I made sure my face was partially hidden by my hair before looking up. “Yeah.”


 

“We’re so sorry to bother you,” Marina smiled sympathetically at me and turned away. She motioned for James Potter to do the same, but his bright eyes were locked onto me with no intentions of moving them. It wasn’t like his wariness from earlier - no, this gaze was purposeful, omnipotent, meant to bore directly into my retinas and discover some quality or form that I didn’t want others to see.


 

“Can you meet me in the Common Room?” Potter said to Marina, all the while still staring at me. “I have to thank Burke for what she said at that Quidditch hearing.”


 

“Sure,” said Marina slowly. Her perfectly plucked eyebrows raised slightly as her eyes flickered from James to me, and she opened her mouth, as if to say something else, but evidently thought better of it as she turned around and disappeared from view.


 

“So, you got a letter,” James Potter stated casually from where he was leaning against the wall once Marina’s footsteps were merely echoes. I had expected him to ask me about the hearing like he said he would, and this new line of questioning was especially disconcerting. “Why’s that such a big deal that it makes my brother go running off with you?”


 

“It’s none of your business,” I said, clearing my throat so it didn’t sound so hoarse. “Why do you care, anyways?”


 

“I could care less, Burke,” he replied, in that bored tone that he frequently seemed to sport; the kind that made you feel like whatever you had to say was utterly daft and meaningless. “I just want to know.”


 

“It’s ‘I couldn’t care less,’” I scorned despite myself. “I could care less indicates that you do care.”


 

“Which I don’t.” Even though I couldn’t see his whole face through my curtain of hair I could just tell Potter had the left corner of his mouth raised up slightly in that obnoxious smirk he always managed to pull off; that much was easily discernible from the taunting lilt in his voice.


 

“Then why do you want to know?”


 

I heard him step forward slightly. “I’m curious.”


 

“Haven’t you heard?” I raised my head up enough to glare at him. “Curiosity can kill. Actually, keep being curious - maybe I’ll get lucky.”


 

Potter sneered. “Witty, Burke, but - have you been crying?


 

His tone took me by surprise. The confident bravado that had characterised his voice before was completely stripped away, leaving some sort of incredulous alarm in its wake, and he took another step towards me, this time hesitant and unsure in his movements.


 

“No,” I said harshly after a beat, glaring at him. “Can’t you just leave me alone and get back to your girlfriend?”


 

“She’s not my-” he broke of, rather troubled, but regained his composure in an instant. “What, did you get an E instead of an O on an essay?”


 

“Yeah, Potter. That’s it,” I slid off the windowsill. “Weren’t you supposed to be thanking me, or something?”


 

“You can’t distract me that easily,” Potter said, and when I didn’t respond he stepped in front of me, his eyebrows narrowed with annoyance. “Fine. Thank you for not lying at the disciplinary meeting. Now, talk to me.”


 

“No.” I said icily, striding past him, the thin piece of parchment clutched so tightly in my hand it began to wrinkle. “Have fun ruining another girl’s night tonight.”


 

“Wait!” he stepped in front of me again, blocking my exit. “Christ’s sake, Burke, c’mon. What’s wrong?”


 

“Nothing.” I swiped at my eyes conspicuously to erase any incriminating evidence of emotion, then turned to face him again.  


 

“You’re a shit liar, Burke. I’ve told you this before.” said Potter. He was frowning disapprovingly now - almost glaring at me, in fact, and I couldn’t for the life of me decipher his shift in mood. “Just tell me what the letter is about.”


 

“No.”


 

“Then let me guess,” he said. His eyebrows had quirked down with concentration - I would never mistake the expression for concern; after all, it was James Potter we were talking about - and remnants of his smirk had already begun to creep back.


 

“You wouldn’t get it right,” I said. “Admit it - you know absolutely nothing about me. So spend all the time you want trying to figure it out - just leave me alone.”


 

“You don’t really want that, do you, sweetheart?” James drawled, taking a calculated step forward, but I didn’t take the bait.


 

“I do. I’m not in the mood, Potter.” I said, and I could see his bravado falter as he realised that I was finally speaking the truth. Suddenly, he was the one at the disadvantage as he found himself in an emotional situation of which he had no leverage over, and although any other day I would have basked in the glory of beating him at his own game, right now I just couldn’t bring myself to care.


 

“Then tell me,” he said, rather desperately, as I began walking away. “I’ll just ask Albus!” he called, after I didn’t respond.


 

Let him, I thought. I didn’t turn around.

 

 

 




 

Author’s note: Well, Nellie’s mother has been mentioned for really the first time since the first chapter. Interesting. Hope you enjoy, please review!!

 


 

Up next...A story of broom cupboards, Weasleys, and knotty-pated fools.



Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: I don’t own what you recognize. And there is some Henry IV action in here, with all credits to William Shakespeare, and Mean Girls belongs to Paramount Pictures.

 

 





 

“You’ve never seen Mean Girls?” Mia screeched, sitting up so fast that her normally tanned skin looked a little red.


 

“Jesus fuck, Mia, will you speak in an inside voice?” Flynn snapped, even though we were all outside, enjoying a warm fall day under the huge beech tree by the lake. In some stroke of good fortune all of us apart from Scorpius had a free period, and so naturally we were sprawled over our bags and jackets, speaking in lazy phrases and blissfully disregarding the amount of work that we really should have been catching up on.


 

“Well, I’ve seen it,” said Albus, crunching a couple of leaves in his hand and letting the remains crumble to the ground, “and I thought it was next to rubbish.”


 

What?” Mia shrieked, somehow louder than the first time, and even Milo winced at the noise.


 

“It didn’t make sense!” Al insisted. “Why was the resolution of the story that the mean blonde one gets hit by a car and then everything is fine?”


 

“Are you serious?” Mia cried, evidently more distraught about this pop-culture defamation than the T she had just received on her Potions practical. “You have no taste! No class! No style!”


 

“No estrogen.” Flynn corrected, and Mia finally relaxed back against the large trunk of the tree, pulling a face at him.


 

“Wasn’t that movie about the girl that, like, lies to everyone and becomes really mean just to be cool?” Milo asked, and a rare hint of disdain marred his words. He was always dramatically adversed to anyone compromising moral character for popularity, a topic that had certainly caused its fair share of strife between him and Flynn.


 

“No, the moral of the movie was to never pretend to be less smart than you are just for a guy to like you,” Mia said piously, and Albus rolled his eyes discreetly.


 

“So then what sort of strategy are you using to convince Michael Corner that he’s anywhere near as fit as you?” I asked smoothly, and although I expected her to become put out by my words she just laughed slightly.


 

“Oh, God, I’ve moved way beyond the likes of him, darling. I’m actually talking to someone else, now.”


 

“Who?” asked Al, a little bemused, seeing as she had been excited about Michael only a couple of days ago.


 

Mia bit her lip slightly, but it wasn’t exactly her normal seductive look. She was chewing on it, as if somehow nervous to reveal her boy of the week, even though she was always overly eager to announce her potential partners.


 

“Spit it out,” Flynn barked after a moment of quiet, his mouth already set in a scowl.


 

“William Davies,” Mia finally admitted to us, and I couldn’t help but gasp.


 

“Didn’t he and Ana Clearwater just break up a few weeks ago?” Milo clarified, and Mia shrugged guiltily.


 

“Yeah, are you sure you’re not...you know…” I struggled, trying to maintain my sensitivity while appealing to Mia’s rationale (who was not usually very rational to begin with), but unfortunately Flynn didn’t read the mood as well as I had.


 

“The rebound?” Flynn supplied harshly, and Albus elbowed him.


 

“No, I really don’t think I am,” Mia said earnestly, and I could tell she actually believed it, which was all the more concerning. “I asked him the same thing and he swore that wasn’t what it was. I don’t know, I think he could be different.”


 

“Well, don’t come crying to us when he dumps you to get back together with Ana,” Flynn snapped, even more nastily than his previous statement, and Milo and I both shot scandalized looks at him.


 

“Why would you say that?” Mia asked after a wounded pause, and even though she was clearly upset I could tell she was trying to remain calm.


 

“Because I am so fucking sick of hearing how sad and heartbroken you are over some guy that you knew would treat you like shit anyways.” Flynn hissed, his eyes almost disappearing under the anger of his dark brows.


 

Mia’s mouth dropped open, and in an instant her hurt turned into the kind of unforgiving rage she rarely displayed.


 

“You’re one to talk!” Mia snapped. “You treat everyone like absolute rubbish and then you act surprised when people don’t like you!”


 

“At least my reputation isn’t built on a pile of discarded boyfriends!” Flynn shot back


 

Mia stood up, absolutely fuming over us. “Fuck you, Flynn. You are inconsiderate, rude, and vile, and I’m not putting up with it anymore.”


 

Flynn opened his mouth to retort something but Albus and Milo both scrambled up before he could; the resident peacemakers.


 

“Can you both just-”

 

 

No. And anyways, we have to get to Mermish.” Mia said hotly, and without further ado she stalked away with Milo and Albus trailing behind her, muttering weak goodbyes to Flynn and I, who had another free period after this one.


 

We sat there in a weighted silence for a moment, as Flynn’s heavy breathing returned to normal and I stared out into the vast glimmering lake, trying to figure out what to say. It had gotten a bit breezier, and I rubbed my hands absentmindedly over the bare skin of my arms, trying to warm myself up against the temperature drop.


 

Flynn glanced at me, and then away again. After a moment he sighed and shrugged off his sweater, wrapping it around my shoulders like a reluctant blanket.


 

“C’mon, Flynn,” I said quietly after he had sat back against the tree again, pulling the warm fabric tighter around me. “You know Mia. She really and truly believes that these guys will change for her.”


 

“Why can’t she learn from her mistakes?” Flynn complained, but I could hear real notes of frustration in his voice. “Then the rest of us wouldn’t have to deal with it.”


 

“She does learn,” I said. “She just trusts too fast. And, frankly, it’s better she trust too much than not at all.”


 

“I guess,” Flynn muttered, and I took it as an opportunity to lean to the side and fully look at him straight on.


 

“Don’t jump down my throat, but...do you have feelings for her?”


 

I’d expected him to immediately become defensive, but strangely enough he only exhaled slowly before speaking.


 

“I mean, I’ve thought about it before - who hasn’t?” He cast me a sidelong glance to check if I understood what he meant, and I did. It was impossible for us all to hang out all of the time and to have not thought about what it would be like to couple off with someone. Even I was guilty of wondering what it would be like if Albus and I dated, or of imagining hooking up with Flynn.


 

“But, no,” Flynn concluded. “I don’t feel like that - it’s just not right, you know?”


 

“Yeah,” I told him. “I know.”





 

 

“He definitely has feelings for her,” I said confidently, even as Al shook his head in adamant disagreement. We were in his dormitory working on a Herbology write up that we’d been assigned, and I had sidetracked us by bringing up the battle that had occurred earlier.


 

“He absolutely doesn’t,” Al insisted. “You know him and Mia, they’re always goading each other-”


 

“But why would he care so much who Mia goes out with?” I pressed, shifting slightly so I was more cross-legged on his plush mattress. “And he was especially mad that it was someone as good as Davies, because he feels threatened-”


 

“Look, you have to admit it’s a bit annoying to hear about Mia’s new boyfriends every week,” Al said pointedly, and I sort of shrugged at that because it bothered me in a different way than him. Every guy wanted Mia, and sometimes I couldn’t help the twinges of envy that passed through me, where I wished guys liked me or lusted after me or put in even an ounce of the effort that they put in for her.


 

“But he was just so angry-” I tried to say, but Albus shook his head again.


 

“Flynn is always angry,” Al reminded me, in that calm and ordered manner he always seemed to exude, and I pouted slightly, trying to think of a better way to make my argument.


 

“Who’s always angry?” someone remarked casually from the door, and I yelped in surprise, nearly sending all of the Herbology notes we had been going over onto the floor.


 

“Slughorn,” Al replied without missing a beat, and I felt myself relax. “He’s always going off on us in NEWTs.”


 

“See, that’s why I didn’t take that class,” Flynn said smartly, even though in reality Slughorn had told him under absolutely no circumstances would he be able to enroll in his course. “Couldn’t be arsed to go through all those head pains.”


 

“Wise, mate,” Albus smirked at him, and Flynn shrugged, flinging his school bag onto his bed and sliding off his shoes in the same movement.


 

“Hey, have you talked to Mia yet?” I asked Flynn innocently, even though Al shot me an indignant look.


 

Flynn stared at me until his face curled up into something unpleasant. “Wait - what the hell are you doing here?”


 

I immediately grew defensive. “What, I can’t hang out with Al, who happens to be my best friend too?”


 

“What?” Flynn’s face contorted again, this time into confusion. “No, you wanker - it’s thirty minutes past curfew!”


 

“Oh, shit,” I swore, glancing at my watch to double check his accuracy. “If Sinistra catches me out again this semester she’ll have my head!”


 

“I blame you for distracting us from Herbology,” Albus said smoothly, his eyebrow flicking up like the smug prat that he was, and I shot him a harried look as I stuffed everything I could manage back into my bag.


 

“It’s Scorpius on duty tonight, you should be fine,” yawned Flynn, collapsing onto his bed like a rag doll. “Go quick.”


 

“That’s who was on duty last time,” I muttered, but with a quick wave goodbye I took off through the door and made my way out of the eerily green dormitory in record time. And, even though I probably looked like some overly-anxious First Year going to classes on the first week of school, I absolutely sprinted through the corridors and up the staircases until I reached the Seventh Floor and let myself slow down.


 

I was only a few turns away from the Ravenclaw Common room when I heard the noise. It was low, in the cadences of whispers, and as I neared the broom cupboard in the middle of the corridor it only increased in volume.


 

“Who’s out there?” I think someone whispered, and although I couldn’t hear the response I kept approaching.

 

 

"Er, hello?" I asked to the empty hallway.


 

Get...now,” was all that I heard in response, and so I took another hesitant step forward until I was right in front of the cupboard.


 

“Is someone in there?”
 

 

Get in!” the voice sounded, louder than ever before, and without thinking I slowly reached for the handle, but before I could do anything the door swung open and an arm yanked me in so quickly that I didn’t even have time to yell for help.


 

“What the hell?” I hissed as the door slammed shut, my eyes searching the darkness for faces or figures or anything - God I was stupid, investigating something as sketchy as that by myself.


 

Fuck,” someone swore, and then, “Burke?”


 

Potter?” My eyes began to adjust, and as they did I found myself lodged in between not one but two people.


 

“Jesus,” James Potter groaned from my left, his head hitting the wall behind us with a dull thud. “You have this uncanny ability to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”


 

I wasn’t anywhere!” I whispered hotly. “You pulled me in!”


 

Because we had to!” he whispered back, just as heatedly.


 

“Well, I’ll just leave you to it, then.” I tried to back out of the cupboard, but the boy on my right grabbed my wrist, preventing me from leaving.


 

“Actually, Filch is coming this way, so we’re stuck here for a little bit.” he said, and then noticed my confusion. “‘Lo. Fred Weasley.” He stuck out his hand, but I merely stared at it, rather bewildered. It wasn't as if I didn't know who he was - everyone knew who he was - it was that I had never been so live and up close to him. His eyes were as dark as coal, but the way they darted across my features made the seem almost as bright and as lively as fireworks; his shoulders were broad and hair was short and curly, and for a strange second I was overcome with the urge to run my fingers through his locks, just to see how it would feel.


 

“Cat got your tongue, Burke?” Potter asked rather aggressively, as if something I had just done offended him.


 

“Cornelia,” I took Fred’s outstretched hand and shook it slowly. His grip was firm and slightly calloused, and I held onto his hand a moment longer than I should have.


 

“I thought your name was Nellie,” Potter said abruptly from my other side.


 

“It’s a nickname,” I rolled my eyes, finally turning away from Fred.


 

“Why don’t you go by Cornelia, then?”


 

“Because I don’t.”


 

“So, then, Nellie - I can call you Nellie, right?” Fred Weasley scooted slightly closer to me. He was grinning again, and his white teeth shone in a stark contrast against his skin.


 

“Er, yeah. Sure.”


 

“Right, so then, Nellie - I’ll just ask what we’ve all been wondering: are you really as clever as James says you are?”


 

“Never said she was clever, mate,” said Potter immediately, and even though he was clearly annoyed I could tell that Potter was the most relaxed when he was with his cousin.


 

“Then what did you say?” Fred asked innocently, settling back into the wall.


 

Potter shrugged, indifference rolling off of his shoulders. “Called her witty.”


 

“Are you sure? Because I seem to remember a ‘clever’ thrown around somewhere in there.”


 

“Nope,” said Potter easily, in the same light tone.


 

“And, why were you talking about me in the first place?” I broke in. There was a twinge deep in my stomach for a moment - Potter had been talking about me - but I pushed it back down before I could fully acknowledge it.


 

“Because James is intrigued by you,” said Fred, just as Potter said, “Because you’ve been a right pain in the arse.”


 

“Well,” I said hotly, and my breathing quickened slightly, although I had no idea why, “you’ve been a…knotty-pated fool!”


 

Both of them gaped at me, Fred with his mouth slightly open, Potter with a less than subtle hint of revulsion.


 

“What in Godric’s name is that supposed to mean?” Potter asked finally.


 

“It’s Shakespeare,” I told him disdainfully. “You know, reading? You ought to try it sometime. I hear it makes you smarter.”


 

“If it makes you smarter, what’s your excuse?”


 

“James!” Fred chastised before I could bite back with anything else. “That is no way to speak to a Ravenclaw, much less to Nellie Burke, my new friend!”


 

“Yeah, James,” I said, and Fred slung his arm around my shoulders and beamed at me. With anyone else, I would have been bothered by such a physical and bold action, but with Fred it felt natural, as if it were a second nature. He had a certain way and charisma about him that made you feel like you knew him for three years rather than three minutes, and I couldn’t help but feel comfortable in his presence.


 

“I don’t like you two all buddy-buddy,” James said sullenly, but Fred only grinned wider as he released me.


 

“Filch is gone. I’m going to go check the-” Fred cast a glance towards me. “The, er, thing.”


 

“Godspeed,” James nodded. With a salute, Fred tumbled out of the broom closet with the grace of an elephant, pulling the door shut with a bang so loud that even the Bloody Baron would be interested enough to come investigate.


 

We were enveloped in silence, the kind that sort of seemed to float around and then settle around the air as a solid, preventing any coherent thought or topic to come to mind.


 

“So,” James said conversationally, with no preface at all. “That’s your thing,”


 

I frowned. “My what?”


 

“Every Ravenclaw has some nerd thing going on. And I guess yours is Shakespeare.”


 

“Fuck off,” I said moodily, shifting slightly away from him as I scowled to myself.


 

“Not saying it’s a bad thing,” said James, with that same demeanor. “Just, you know. A thing.”


 

“So, liking something is a thing now?”


 

“Pretty much, yeah.”


 

“Then what’s your thing? Being an arse?”


 

“Precisely,” James drawled, and even though he probably couldn’t see it I rolled my eyes anyways.


 

“Speaking of things, what is Fred checking on?” I echoed Fred’s words, my nose wrinkling slightly.


 

James grinned a little. He settled back against the wall I was leaning on, his forearm so close to mine that I swear I could feel the heat it radiated.


 

“You ask a lot of questions, Burke.”


 

“No more than you. What is it?” I pressed on, undeterred by his comment.


 

“Nothing you should be concerned with. In fact, you can leave now.” His smirk grew wider. “I reckon the coast is clear.”


 

“No,” I said stubbornly. “I want to know what you’re doing.”


 

“Well, we can’t always get what we want, now, can we, love?” James clucked his tongue admonishingly.


 

“No, we can't, which is why I’m not leaving.” I countered.


 

“Witty,” James commented, and I think it was sarcastic but I didn’t really care either way.


 

“I daresay you can upgrade me to clever.” I said drily.


 

“I’ll consider it.” said James, and then looked down towards the floor and chuckled slightly before he glanced back up. “You know, you really are as stubborn as a stale Cauldron Cake.”


 

I was about to respond with something equally insulting, but something about his wording made me freeze and replay them in my head, trying to figure out what was off about it until it finally hit me.


 

“Wait,” I pronounced slowly after a moment. “Was it you?”


 

“Was it me what?”


 

“Who put a Cauldron Cake by my bedside? When I was in the hospital wing?”


 

“Now, Cornelia,” James Potter drawled, but the sound of it was taunting and unhurried, like he had all the time in the world to answer me. “Why on earth would I do that?”


 

“Nellie,” I said immediately. “Answer the question.”


 

Potter kept on grinning that lazy, presumptuous half smile I had come to expect. “You really don’t understand how unrealistic instant gratification is, don’t you?”


 

“Maybe I do, because I’m still not leaving,” I told him stoutly, my eyes darting across what I could make of his face to try and discern his expression, but it was futile in this position.


 

“Maybe that’s what I wanted in the first place,” said James, his voice low, and without warning the air was bursting with a new sort of energy - it wasn’t fiery or furious like normal, but slow and building, crackling with a strange anticipation that seemed to make the muscles in my lower abdomen clench together and my breath catch in my throat. “For you not to leave. This could all just be reverse psychology.”


 

“If that’s the case, then I will go.”


 

We were facing each other fully now, and through the faint light from the crack in the door I could finally make out the details of his face: the outline of his jaw, the slight angle to his nose, a scar above his right eyebrow, so thin that I’d never noticed it before.


 

“But maybe that’s what I really wanted,” James murmured. “Maybe this whole conversation is a ploy to get you to succumb to my bidding.”


 

“Maybe I don’t care.” The words left my mouth before I had even registered them as a conscious thought.


 

“What does that mean?” whispered James. His heat was enclosing me, wrapping around my senses until my thoughts were warped and my throat was dry.


 

“It means that maybe I don’t want to leave,” I whispered back, and in that moment I swear our gaze was eternally locked, like I couldn’t have looked away even if I’d wanted to.


 

But then of course, with perfect comedic timing the door burst open, and there was Fred Weasley, flanked on either side by Jase Knightly and Scorpius.


 

“I got caught.” Fred said simply.


 



 

Scorpius was tactful enough to wait until we were almost back to Ravenclaw to bring it up.


 

“So, do you want to tell me what you were doing in a broom cupboard with James Potter and Fred Weasley?” he asked, but even though his words were laced with mirth I could tell there were undertones of real confusion.


 

“Believe me, I was not there by choice,” I replied. “How’d you find Fred, anyways?”


 

Scorpius snorted. “When we walked past he just pretended to be a statue against the wall. Not all that hard to miss, really.”


 

Even though I had only known him for a brief three minutes, it seemed like just such a Fred thing to do that I couldn’t help but laugh. “What do you think he was up to? They wouldn’t tell me.”


 

“Trying to rig one the suits of arms to do the jig, I reckon. A few of them kept sort of barking out orders and stomping their heels really aggressively.”


 

“God,” I laughed again, but it trailed off a little too early, and Scorpius glanced over to me.


 

“What's on your mind?”  


 

“Nothing,” I said quickly. “Hey, have you started that Transfiguration essay?”


 

But as Scorpius began talking about the various laws of Vanishing large objects, I wasn’t thinking about anything to do with schoolwork or classes. No, I was thinking about the way Potter had slowed his stride to brush past me purposefully, and how he had murmured, “Sleep well, Cornelia,” so low that I had barely heard it, before he turned a corner and disappeared into the darkness of the night.


 


 

Author’s Note: Again, so sorry for the sparse nature of this chapter - it was completely necessary for the ones that follow, and I think the next 3-4 will really let the story take off. Please still review!  


 

Up next...A story of corridor interactions, Hamlet, and hot commodities.



Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Disclaimer: I do not own what you recognize. Hamlet belongs to William Shakespeare; Catcher in the Rye to J.D. Salinger with publishing by Little, Brown and Company.


 



 

It was a Wednesday, and so by pure unbiased definition of Wednesdays, it was not destined to be a good day. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad day - I hadn’t gotten a P on an exam or broken my arm or anything - it was just one of those days where insignificant events somehow mounted together to become unbearable nuisances. I had double Transfiguration until four plus Quidditch right after, and yesterday Moose had decided that that would be the day for him suddenly realise how close our next match was and he’d absolutely panicked at me, begging me to ask Adam for any of his notes on attack formations and passing feints, which was why I was now lugging four separate books and a folder of parchment that Adam had sent me because I didn't have time to get them from my dorm before practice since Moose scheduled it at four thirty and I hadn’t seen him yet to hand them off.


 

And I may or may not have been angrily muttering about this ideal situation to myself when I tripped over my own trainers and dropped all of those goddamn books including the leaflets onto the cold marble floor, and that was when it officially became a bad day.


 

“Oh, fucking hell!” I exclaimed loudly, drawing a few wary gazes, but at that point since I was already humbling myself by dropping onto the ground on my knees I didn’t really care.

 

 

“Hey, Nellie!” someone called, and when I glanced up I saw it to be Nathan Cromley, a Hufflepuff in the year above. “Need a hand?”


 

“Yes, please,” I told him gratefully, smiling slightly ruefully as he knelt down next to me to help gather all of the loose leafs of paper.


 

“How’ve you been?” he asked, glancing over at me while attempting to reorganize the stack of books.

 

 

“Oh, you know,” I gestured to the materials still scattered over the floor. “Great.”


 

“Rough day, then?” He grimaced sympathetically, and I nodded. “Well at least Hogsmeade is this weekend. You can have a bit of fun then, right?”


 

“Oh my God, I totally forgot about it!” I exclaimed, my previous weariness forgotten in a second. It had completely slipped my mind, and suddenly I was planning everything in my head - what I would wear, where we would go, who I would spend it with since Mia already had a date - did I want a date? Would anyone even ask me?


 

“Well, I hope your day turns up,” Nathan straightened up and I jolted back into attention and stood as well, brushing the ancient Hogwarts dust off of my pants.


 

“Thank you so much,” I told him, taking the books from him and balancing them back in my arms. Even though Mia used to have a crush on him, I’d never really thought about him as attractive until now, when I could clearly see the way his blond hair swooped down to his neck and his grey eyes made the expression on his face naturally look friendly.


 

“Wait!” he said, just before I made to walk past him. “How would you like to come to Hogsmeade with me this weekend?”


 

After a moment of pure surprise, I regained my composure. “I’d love to,” I replied.


 

“Cheers,” Nathan grinned. I smiled back.




 

 

 

“So,” said Beck, as we all sat down to lunch. “Have you two made up yet?”


 

“Yes,” Flynn and Mia said immediately, a little too quickly to be entirely truthful, and Beck shot a skeptical look that clearly told them she saw right through their act.


 

“Are you excited about Hogsmeade with Nathan?” Albus asked me, and even though I knew it was really more of a distraction from the Mia-Flynn tension, I took full advantage of his question.

 

 

“I just can’t believe he asked me,” I said, almost marveling, and Beck’s corresponding glare was full of reproach. She hated when I valued myself lower than other people, and so whenever I was excited someone was interested in me she always became exasperated. You shouldn’t be surprised by a guy’s interest, Nellie, she’d lectured me last year, when I was nervous about a date. You should expect it.


 

“Well, why wouldn’t Cromley want to take you?” asked Flynn, and then smirked. “You’re hot commodity right now, Nels.”


 

“It’s true,” Mia nodded, agreeing with Flynn about something for what felt like the first time in ages. “Your skin is glowing, your hair is perfect, your rack and arse have never looked better-“


 

“I second that,” Flynn agreed solemnly, and I aimed a kick in his direction which missed based on the flash of pain that flitted across Al’s face.


 

“Plus, you’ve got the whole eye thing going on,” chimed in Milo, and we all stared at him.


 

It was me who spoke first. “What eye thing?”


 

“You mean, the fact that she has eyes?” asked Al, amusedly.


 

“Yeah!” Milo exclaimed, then paused. “Wait, no. The green eye thing!”


 

“Good one, Milo!” said Flynn, over-encouragingly. “Point is, you’re fit and everyone knows it.”


 

“Can we maybe change the topic?” asked Scorpius rather moodily, sending a dark look towards Flynn, who was largely oblivious to the way my cousin resented anyone regarding me as anything but a mate.


 

“Anyways, this is good for you,” Mia continued on, as if she Scorpius hadn’t spoken at all. “You haven’t been on a date since Henry.”


 

“I said change the fucking topic.” Scorpius snapped, and since we all knew it was because of the mention of Henry no one could really blame him for it.


 

“Did anyone else notice the Herbology switch in syllabus?” Albus asked smoothly, but just then, a slight shadow fell over our table and we all glanced up.


 

“Hey guys,” Willow MacMillan smiled. Her light blond hair hair was not in its usual pin straight form; instead, she had let her natural beachy waves take over, and I liked it. “Can I sit here?”


 

“Of course,” I grinned, sliding over so that she could fit in between Albus and I. “We were just about to complain about Longbottom’s stupid material addition.”


 

“I’m sorry, but don’t you usually sit with Katria Stevens?” Flynn asked bluntly before Willow could respond to me, and Milo elbowed him without even an ounce of subtlety.


 

“Yeah,” Willow nodded, and I had to appreciate the way she stared at him straight on, with her chin up and mouth set like a challenge. “But she’s a right bint so I thought I'd go somewhere else for once.”


 

There was a beat of silence. Then -


 

“An enemy of Katria is a friend of mine,” Flynn pronounced solemnly, and he didn’t even hide how impressed he looked.


 

“Took you long enough,” Beck said rather brusquely, thumping her on the back.


 

“Welcome,” Albus raised his glass to her, and as Willow shot him a smile a faint tinge appeared on his cheeks and he glanced away from her quickly, as though he had been startled.


 

“I’m Milo!” said Milo eagerly. Willow looked at him as though he had just sprouted a second head.


 

“I know,” she said. “We’ve had classes together for six years.”


 

“Oh,” said Milo, slightly deflated. “Right.”


 

“Anyways,” Mia continued on as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “If Longbottom thinks I’m going to literally dig shit out of a Snarfalump, he is sorely mistaken.”


 

Sorely,” Beck emphasized, and Mia pulled a teasing nose wrinkle at her.


 

“Well, remember what happened the last time we used Snarfalumps?” Scorpius remarked. “Flynn kept provoking his plant’s tentacles-”


 

“And then the other nearby Snarfalumps caught on and all tried to strangle him!” I snapped my fingers, remembering. It had taken three teachers to free Flynn from the Snarfalumps’ hold, and afterwards he had strutted around the school showing off his bruises, claiming that he had single handedly fought them off.


 

“You were so proud of yourself,” Scorpius grinned. “Told everyone that you’d legally died for a moment, too.”


 

“Well, I technically could have!” Flynn defended, and Albus reached over to slap him on the back of his neck just as the warning bell sounded.


 

“Arithmancy!” Milo exclaimed, leaping up and gathering his belongings at lightning speed.


 

No!” Flynn groaned, dodging another blow from Scorpius. “I didn’t finish the Divination analysis, I’m fucked-”


 

“Sucks to suck,” said Mia loftily, and as Flynn glowered at her I knew I had to separate the two before they got into it again.


 

“Well, we’ve got Arithmancy, too,” I gestured to Mia and Willow. “Slytherin table for dinner?”


 

“After six, yeah. And, come again, though, eh?” Flynn raised his eyebrows at Willow, and she nodded, I think secretly a little pleased.


 

 




 

“So what was the final straw with Katria?” Mia asked Willow, as we made our way past the Entrance Hall and towards the Arithmancy corridor.


 

“Honestly, it was this whole Potter thing,” Willow admitted to us. “It was just absolutely insane, and I hated how she was dealing with you, Nellie.”


 

“Definitely not the nicest move,” I agreed, but I was careful not to say anything more damning. Willow had other close friends in Hufflepuff who still hung out with Katria, so there was still the danger of my words reaching her ears.


 

“I still can’t believe Katria would be willing to use Al like that,” Mia murmured, and although Milo looked rather perplexed he didn’t ask any questions, perhaps because he was so accustomed to confusion he more or less accepted a general lack of understanding.


 

“I know, it’s absolutely vile. Albus is the nicest guy in school. Anyways,” Willow continued. “It’s not like it would have worked. As if James Potter would ever even look at her.”


 

Just as she said it, my eyes focused on James in the distance of the hallway, seeing him for the second time that day, which was unusual. But it wasn’t like my route to classes had suddenly changed, or that he was purposefully passing me more frequently. I was just increasingly aware of him, much more attuned to search for his messy hair in the bustle of students, to recognize the subtleties of his voice in the indistinct hum of a crowd.


 

“Speak of the devil,” Milo whispered, and as soon as he said it it Potter’s head snapped towards us, as if he had heard him.


 

“Burke!”


 

“Oh, my God,” Willow hissed, her blue eyes wide. “Is he talking to you?”


 

“Just ignore him,” I barely moved my mouth to speak, but still he called my name again, and Milo’s eyebrows raised in panic.


 

“What are you doing?” Mia asked me frantically, as I continued walking.


 

“Oh, c’mon, Cornelia. I know you hear me,” Potter called from right behind us.


 

“Are you stalking me, or something?” I asked him irritably, refusing to slow my pace as he fell into place next to me, pushing Mia to my other side.


 

“Frailty, thy name is woman,” said Potter liltingly, but it was like someone had slammed down the brakes of my legs, that’s how abruptly I stopped walking, because he had just quoted a line from Hamlet.


 

While he grinned proudly all I did was stare at him until finally I managed to form words. “How did you-”


 

“What, are Ravenclaws the only ones allowed to read? Besides,” Potter continued, clearly taking great enjoyment in my shocked expression. “Why is it me stalking you? You walked past me, not the other way around. You knew I was going to be here, didn’t you?”


 

“I-what?” I spluttered.


 

James clucked his tongue to the roof of his mouth. “Seems to me you know my time table a little too well, sweetheart.”


 

“I am not stalking you!” I insisted, a little too loudly, and a couple of people in the nearby vicinity turned around.


 

“‘The lady doth protests too much, methinks,” Potter called as he started walking in the opposite direction. I could hear the smirk coating his voice, as thick and sugary as maple syrup.


 

There was a brief moment of silence. And then Milo, whose jaw had dropped nearly to the floor, whispered-


 

“I think Nellie just got out-Shakespeare’d by James Potter.”





 

“So, let’s run this over one more time,” said Beck. We had just returned from Quidditch practice, and we were sitting in my dormitory at the request of Mia, who insisted we analyse the earlier events in extreme depth. “You insult James Potter with Shakespeare - who does that though, Nellie? C’mon.”


 

“Nellie’s unfortunate quirks are beside the point,” said Mia briskly. “She insults him with Shakespeare, tells him he ought to read it-”


 

“And then he does,” said Beck, rather disinterestedly.


 

“Oh, that is just so romantic!” Mia squealed. “He definitely fancies you.”


 

I wrinkled my nose. “How is that romantic? He took a literature suggestion from me. That’s all.”


 

“Yeah, I agree with Nellie,” Beck yawned,. “Seems more like he wanted to show you up, anyways.”


 

Thank you,” I said emphatically, and Mia huffed with annoyance. She always hated to end up on the losing side of an argument - not necessarily the wrong side, just the one with less of the consensus.


 

“Well, as fun as this was, I’ve got to shower,” Beck slid off my bed and crossed our room in easy strides. “Anyways, even if you don’t get it, Mia, Nellie and I know what an absolute arse Potter is.”


 

“And I know how nice he can be!” Mia stubbornly called after her, but Beck only shook her head in exasperation as she slipped out of the room.


 

“I should shower, too,” I said a moment after the door shut. I began peeling off my Quidditch clothes, throwing them onto a heap on the ground instead of my hamper. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mia glance at me mischievously, and then away again, and then back towards me.


 

“What?” I snapped at her, grabbing my towel off of the rack near the bathroom and wrapping it around my front.


 

“Nothing,” she said innocently, and then glanced at me again, her impish little smile growing.


 

What?


 

“It’s just - you’re trying so hard.”  


 

“Trying hard?” I repeated. “To what?”


 

Mia cocked her head and held my gaze; the look was the kind that seemed to cut through any possible dishonesty or deception lingering in the air.


 

“Not to like him.” she said simply.


 



 

When I returned from my shower, the dormitory was empty except for the girl laying on her bed at the end of the room. As I pulled on my favorite pair of jeans, I really thought about ignoring her like I usually did, but after a second of consideration, I figured now was as good a time as any to confront her.


 

“Hey,” I said, and when she didn’t move, I said it again. “Hey. Katria.”


 

“Nellie.” Katria monotonised, flicking to another page in her magazine without a single glance towards me.


 

“The deal’s off,” I snapped, and she didn’t even blink as I continued. “I’m not doing your stupid bidding. I won’t deceive one of my best friends when I know you’re just trying to use him to get to his brother.”


 

Katria finally paused over her Witch Weekly and slowly looked up. I expected her to be mad or at least a little defensive, but instead she started to smile, almost incredulously.


 

“Oh, my God,” she snorted. “Have you seriously still not figured out who your cousin is fucking?”


 

That took me aback, but I plowed ahead before I could let her words fester in my head and unnerve me more than they already did.


 

“You know what I think?” I told her, as I grabbed a Tornados sweatshirt from on top of my trunk and pulled it on over my head. “I think you told me that just so I would fall right into your trap, and now you’re bitter that it didn’t work.”


 

Katria’s grin turned even more taunting. “I literally can’t believe you are this dim,” she laughed, and I hated the way it sounded so condescending, like I was beneath her in some way. “Why are you in this House, again?”


 

“I trust Scorpius a lot more than I trust you.” I retorted, and Katria finally grew more serious as she appraised me.


 

“You shouldn’t.” she said, almost as if she were slightly disappointed in me.


 

“If he wanted to tell me something, he would have by now.” I said harshly, while slamming my trainers onto my feet, but something deep inside of me twinged at that statement, making me doubt myself for just a split second.


 

“Are you sure about that?” Katria sat up further, and I could see her dark brown roots poking through her platinum dye. “Look, maybe my motives were hazy, but my facts were real. Just admit it: this is killing you inside.”


 

It had been bothering me, but it wasn’t killing me; instead, it had been resurfacing in the kind of way that I could manage to push down and ignore until it came back up. And because this conversation didn’t cleanse me of guilt or suspicion like I’d wanted it to, I was left in the same disposition as before: confused, unsure, frustrated, but still hopelessly loyal to my cousin.


 

“I believe him.” I muttered finally, and I didn’t wait to hear her response as I grabbed my bag from the corner and slid out the door.


 


 

 

It was almost ten o’clock by the time I finished my Arithmancy problem set. The population of the library was slowly dwindling in numbers, with the younger students having gone to bed an hour ago and the older ones leaving to make the 10:30 curfew.


 

It was when I was packing up my books and quill that I saw the flash of dark hair out of my peripherals. I took a breath to steady myself for a moment, but when I turned around I was face to face not with who I had thought it was, but with Calliope Yaxley.


 

“Yes?” I arched my brow at Calliope as she stepped forward, her expression too neutral for me to understand her intrusion.


 

“There is a historically Slytherin dinner tomorrow night. I expect you to be in attendance.”


 

Historically Slytherin was the new way of saying Pureblood. In a world where it was no longer socially acceptable to determine a societal rank by blood status, everyone could get by using generations of Houses as an excuse.


 

“I’m busy tomorrow,” I said harshly, slamming my Charms book shut. I had already had one relatively unpleasant conversation in the past couple of hours, and I wasn’t in the mood to entertain another.


 

“You really ought to join, Nellie,” Calliope pressed, in the haughty and careful speech she had perfected at such a young age. “It is undeniably in your best interests.”


 

“What do you even want from me?” I asked clippedly, not even bothering to speak in the normal Pureblood tone. “You haven't cared what I've done for the past six years - why now?”


 

“I've heard word that your grandmother has become increasingly desperate to keep you in line,” Calliope raised a perfectly plucked eyebrow, and although to an eavesdropper it would have sounded sympathetic, the intonations of her words didn’t meet her icy eyes. “After all, we can’t have you ending up like your brother, now, can we?”


 

“What I do is none of your business, Calliope, especially when we’re here at school.” I told her coldly, but she only smiled stonily, her grin showing all of her teeth, like a predator intimidating its play. She was undisputedly a powerful Alpha and she was completely unphased by my blatant lack of manners - in fact, I think she derived a sort of sick humour from them.


 

“As you wish. It’s not my neck on the line.” Calliope began walking away, her midnight hair perfectly straight down her back before she turned around to smile once more, a terrifyingly victorious expression. “Or, rather, under the guillotine.”


 

As she disappeared from view behind the stacks of books, all I wanted to tell her was that 'neck on the line’ literally meant ‘under the guillotine,’ but I didn’t. I always fought for the last word in arguments except any situation involving the Purebloods, because it never seemed worth it to antagonise a group of people that were already provoked by my general livelihood and daily decisions.


 

I waited a couple of minutes to be certain that Calliope was gone before I packed up my remaining belongings and slipped through the silent stacks of shelves and out into the dimly lit corridor.


 

I had only made it a few steps when I felt his presence electrifying the air around me. My hair stood on and end my breath hitched in my throat, and I turned the corner and he was there, leaning against the wall with his hands in his packets and his tie loose around his neck, the perfect portrait of indifference like he always was.


 

“So, you read Hamlet.” I said, with no preface or greeting.


 

He turned and smiled lazily at me, as if he’d been expecting me to find him all along. “I did.”


 

“And, what did you think of it?”


 

“I thought,” James Potter said musingly after a pause, “that it was full of torturous teenage angst.”


 

“That’s it?” I asked flatly, when he didn’t continue.


 

“Yep.” He popped the ‘P’. “Seems like it’d be right up your alley.”


 

I recoiled slightly. “What is that supposed to mean?”


 

“It means that you’re the type to pretend to be all angsty and artsy for the image. You’ll read something just to say that you read it.”


 

“Excuse me?” I asked incredulously, but Potter merely kept sneering at me, his expression disdainful and unchanged. “What makes you think that you can make incorrect assumptions about me like that?”


 

“You’re an open book, Burke. Not hard to read.” He could feel it, too, that the mood had shifted, and he didn’t flinch as I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms. We were in fighting stance now, and with a quick breath in, I began the battle.


 

“You don’t know me at all, Potter. We’ve only spoken a handful of times, all of which have involved you insulting me in some way-”


 

“You insult me first half the time-”


 

“For good reason! You’re practically obsessed with flaunting the fact that you’re a Potter!”


 

“Oh, really?” James stepped forward, his jaw squaring out. “Fine. I’d like to know what you would be - if anything - without being a Pureblood. Without being a Burke.”


 

“A hell of a lot better off,” I spat the words out like venom, but he went on like he didn’t feel their sting.


 

“Yeah, right,” he scoffed. “You say Potter like there’s so much more entitlement attached to it than being a Pureblood, but have you taken a look in the mirror? You’re a Catcher in the Rye level phony, Burke.”


 

What shocked me most about his statement wasn’t his insult, but his literature reference - and the fact that he had used it in a sentence more than adequately.


 

“You’ve read Catcher in the Rye?” I asked, quite stymied for a moment.


 

James shook his head incredulously at me, and now I could see it. That familiar flare of contempt was back, stronger than ever in the dip in corner of his mouth and darkening of his eyes, and I knew he would only get angrier from here. “See, this is what I’m talking about. You think you’re smarter than everyone, and that no one can be as pretentious or whatever, but you’re so hypocritical-”


 

“I don’t act pretentious, and I’m not a bloody hypocrite-”


 

“Oh, really?” Potter countered. “You claim to rebuke the Pureblood life, yet were you not just speaking with Calliope Yaxley?”


 

I opened my mouth and then just let it hang there as I searched for something to respond with.


 

“I have privilege,” he spat, his light eyes burning into mine, “but at least I’m not prancing around, pretending to be unrelatable and oblivious when in reality your life is so disgustingly easy it’s a joke and your mummy and daddy give you everything you fucking ask for.”


 

My mouth dropped open in absolute shock, but Potter took it as defeat rather than a bewilderment, an utter fucking bewilderment that someone could look me - me, Cornelia fucking Burke - straight in the face and say that I had an easy life.


 

“What, did I strike a nerve?” James Potter purred, so sure he had won, as my hands shook and my vision shook and I had to dig my nail into my palm to keep myself controlled, to stop myself from hexing him over and over and over again. “It’s hard being told that you’re an imposter, isn’t it, sweetheart?”


 

And just like that, the burning hot feeling in my stomach didn’t ignite any longer. My entire body had turned to ice, frozen the cells and the plasma in the very blood that ran through my capillaries. It was a protective instinct for me, to numb myself like this so I wouldn’t become overwhelmed with emotion, and right now I welcomed it. It let me distance myself from all of the reasons why what he had said were horrifically incorrect, and it helped me to form coherent words and phrases even as I was the most furious I could ever remember being.


 

So I stood tall, and I dug my nail deeper into the flesh of my skin before I took a deep breath and faced him directly.


 

“Do you even know how much trouble I could get in for who my friends are? I’m best friends with a Muggleborn and a Potter. I could be-” and at that, I broke off, because my voice was beginning to shake along with my hands and all I could see in my head was my brother Adam, as he was hit with curse after curse while I watched from behind the door, stuck in place by his protective spell. When I spoke next, my voice was low and lethal; it was no longer trembling with feeling, but quivering in anger. “You know nothing about me or my life or my family, so fuck you. Never speak to me again.”


 

“What?” James said rather dumbly, but as I spun on my heel and turned the corner, the only thought ringing through my head was an acute need to put a great distance between me and him. “Wait - no - Burke! Stop! Cornelia!


 

His voice bounced off the walls, echoing over and over into the empty space of the abandoned corridors, but I didn’t turn around, and he didn’t come after me.

 

 


 

 

 

Up next... A story of  The Twelfth Night, sweaters, and global warming.

 

 



Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: I don’t own what you recognize. Twelfth Night and A Winter’s Tale belongs to Shakespeare.


 




 

The dream was just as eerie the last one: indescribably fluid, yet somehow with more forward momentum and change. It felt as if I was floating through some vast amnesia until there was a hot weight upon my body, holding me down in place, and through the subtle consistency of the dream all I could do was flail about with my voice unheard. But then, as quickly as the fear had come it was gone, sucked into a tunnel of darkness, and when my vision returned only a pair hands remained, held out in front of me as if in a peace offering, pale and slightly unsteady. As I stared at them, my eyes were not drawn to the body that they were attached to, but instead to the splattered red that painted their palms, and when I awoke, I couldn’t shake the trepidation and anxiety that had paralysed me the entire night.

 

 


~   ~   ~ 


 

“You can’t be serious.”


 

“What?” I held up my favorite cable knit sweater out in front of me, inspecting it for stains.


 

“Nellie, at noon it’ll be almost twenty-four degrees out," Mia pressed.


 

“But, I get cold easily!”


 

“You cannot be anything but sweltering in twenty-four degree weather wearing both a blouse and a jumper!”


 

“I could be,” I protested, holding my desired top between my thumb and forefinger. “Besides, it’s practically November! It shouldn’t be this warm!”


 

“It’s an Indian summer.” Georgina Rivier piped up from inside of her four poster bed, not being able to resist an opportunity to sprout knowledge that she felt we didn’t know.


 

“Well, it is,” Mia crossed her arms, ignoring Georgina like we always did. “You can just Accio a sweater if you need one. Which you won’t.”


 

“But, remember the last time I Accio’d something to Hogsmeade? It got stuck on that tree near the Shrieking Shack and then we had to ask Al and Scorpius to go get it, and they got all weird and twitchy - remember? So, I might as well just wear the sweater and then take it off-"


 

“No. Wear this.” Mia flung a very low-cut blue top at me.


 

Christ, Mia, we’re going to the Three Broomsticks, not the Leaping Leprechaun!”


 

“It lightens your eyes!” Mia argued, attempting to grab me in order to illustrate the supposed likeness between the shirt and me. “And your hair contrasts so nicely with it! C’mon, you’re going on a date! Act like it!”


 

“Why don’t you wear it?” I grumbled, wrenching my braid from her grasp. “I’m sure Joshua Hadley would just love a sneak peek before you inevitably give him the full show tonight-”


 

Cornelia Burke!” Mia smacked me with what I truly do believe was unnecessary force, then went back to fixing her dark locks down her back. Usually, I would have objected to the use of my full name, but I sort of deserved it then. “You have Quidditch in a few minutes, yeah? You’ll see how warm it is. And besides, you’ll be coming directly from practice to Hogsmeade. You’d be way too hot to wear a sweater, anyways.”


 

I warily glanced back at Mia, who was staring me down with her mouth set in determination and her eyes brightly fierce: a look of triumph.


 

“Fine.” I grabbed the blue shirt from her and threw it in my Quidditch bag, where I had already packed away a short jean skirt for Hogsmeade later today. “You win. No jumper.”


 

“Victory is sweet,” she grinned, and then checked her watch. “Milo is probably thinking I abandoned him for breakfast."


 

“He can wait,” I rolled my eyes. “Even if he starts without you, you’d finish first. Remember that time it took him three hours to eat a piece of shepherd's pie?”


 

“Incredible,” agreed Mia, shaking her head as I rolled off of my bed and made to leave.


 

“Well, at any rate watching Milo dissect his oatmeal will be good for you,” I told her, pausing at the door of the dormitory. “You can finally learn the ancient art of patience.”


 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Mia waved me away dismissively, but as the door fell shut I heard her snort.


 

 




 

“No, no, no!” Moose screamed, flying over to where Jack and Benjy were using the Chasers as targets for their practice Bludgers. “Robinson, my great grandmother would have better hitting form than that! And Brown - what in Merlin’s name do you think that move would accomplish? You’re trying to avoid dropping the Quaffle and getting hit by the Bludger, not just the latter!”


 

“Maybe don’t aim them directly at me for an hour straight, then!” Cicely yelled back, pushing her sweaty hair from her eyes in frustration.


 

“Moose, we’re already thirty minutes over,” Benjy called, his Beater’s bat balanced lazily over his shoulder. “Can we please just call it?”


 

Moose’s face turned an unhealthy shade of puce, and I knew he was about to rip us a new one until Kato flew over to him.


 

“Mate, it’s Hogsmeade. If we don’t get there soon you’ll only be able to have three hours in British Quidditch Supplies.”


 

Moose’s breathing slowed down as he registered Kato’s intelligence. I noted with relief that his skin colour returned to its normal paleness.


 

“Fine,” Moose finally barked. “Robinson and Brown - you’re on clean-up with me. And thirty minutes extra tomorrow to make up for ending early today!”


 

“Can’t fucking wait!” Beck called bitterly as we landed on the ground, and even though Moose shot her a look as we began walking towards the lockers she gave him the evil eyes back, and he wouldn’t dare argue with the menace of a Davidson Glare.


 

“Oh, I love the first Hogsmeade trip of the year,” I said once we were far enough away from Moose, and the way I did sounded so much like Mia in its breathiness and positivity that Beck looked at me weirdly. But I was truly excited for the trip - not necessarily for my date, but just for the warmth and friendliness Hogsmeade always brought to students.


 

“I’m just looking forward enjoying a nice hot Butterbeer at The Three Broomsticks,” Benjy commented offhandedly, and Kato snorted.


 

“You mean, you’re excited to see Julianne.” Kato supplied. Julianne was the current barmaid at the establishment, and she was widely lusted after by the male population of Hogwarts for her infamous vodka tolerance and even more infamous...well, you know.  


 

“She’s a rare breed, mate,” replied Benjy, dreamily. “And mark my words - today is the day she’ll finally notice me.”


 

“Is that why you’re planning on wearing your yellow plaid vest?” Beck scorned him. “Is your theory that she’ll see you and be so disgusted she’ll finally internalise you in her long term memory?”


 

“No,” I shook my head, already grinning. “He’s trying to make her embarrassed for him so that she gives him a few pity drinks, see.”


 

“Well, you know what comes after pity drinks,” said Benjy, cheerfully. “Some pity fu-”


 

God,” I groaned, while Beck shook her head exasperatedly and tugged my arm towards the women’s rooms.  


 

“We’re getting changed and then going,” she told them. “After I meet Luke for a bit I’ll find you two.”


 

“We’re looking forward to it, Rebecca,” Kato winked at her, and she punched his arm playfully in response before we went inside. Beck has always been one of the boys, with Kato being her first friend at Hogwarts. It wasn’t until I joined the Quidditch team that she even had a close girl friend, and now other than Mia Ilana Darlington was really her only other good mate.


 

In record time, we were in the changing stalls, showering and performing drying spells in under ten minutes, a feat that I was certainly impressed by considering that I was known to take long luxurious showers.


 

“Are you excited for your date?” I asked Beck as I swiped on a brush of mascara in front of the mirror.


 

“I’m not dreading it,” she shrugged, and I shrugged back at her in agreement. Beck never entertained boys for too long; she got bored fairly easily, and it was always interesting to see what personality trait or quirk would be the final straw for her.


 

“How many times do you think Benjy is going to try with Julianne?” I snorted, capping my makeup, but Beck merely grunted and got to work on smoothing down her dark mane with some hair potion.


 

“Yoo hoo!” someone called through the locker room door, just as I had gone back into the changing room to put on my skirt. “We decided to come grab you so you wouldn’t have to walk all the way back up to the castle!”


 

“Splendid!” I called back, and Mia and Willow appeared in the locker room entrance just as I was exiting my stall.


 

“How was practice?” Willow asked, as Mia began to fret over the state of my hair with her wand.


 

“Fucking awful,” Beck replied from behind her changing room door. “I think Moose needs to get laid.”


 

“I volunteer Mia for the job,” I said immediately, and Mia pulled on the bit of my hair she was playing around with in response.


 

“Seeing as I’m dating the Captain of the Hufflepuff team, that might get a little sticky.” she replied breezily, and Willow laughed.


 

“Well, someone’s gotta do it,” Beck said as she opened the door, and then stopped, gaping at me for a second. “Jesus, Nellie, we’re going to Hogsmeade, not The Leaping Leprechaun!”


 

“That’s what I said!” I hissed, shooting a look at Mia and crossing my arms tightly over my chest as we made our way back outside.


 

“I’m kidding,” Beck rolled her eyes while tugging on my wrist. “You look great. Let those itty bitty lads breathe for once.”


 

“Lads?” Mia snorted. Beck shrugged innocently, while I scowled at the way she had characterised my cleavage, which wasn’t even that small, okay?


 

Milo and Flynn were waiting for us on top of the hill, evidently too lazy to walk all the way down to the lockers and then back up again.


 

“You look good,” Flynn told me, almost surprised, and I rolled my eyes through his compliment like I always did.


 

“You look normal," I responded lightly.


 

Flynn smirked, in that self-assured way he always did when he had a good insult. “Funny - my normal is at a much higher standard than yours."

 

“You know what’s really funny?” Beck retorted. “You lot have a total of zero dates, and yet just Mia alone has two.”


 

Milo laughed goodnaturedly, but Flynn scowled to himself moodily, and he was relatively quiet for a couple of minutes as we chattered while we trekked over the hill to reach the Hogsmeade below.


 

“This,” said Mia a couple of minutes later, panting slightly through her words. “This is what global warming is.”


 

“I reckon we learned about that in Muggle Studies,” remarked Flynn smartly, his previous displeasure evidently forgotten. “Cars and cows and Muggle stuff are making everything too hot, right?”


 

Cows?” asked Beck incredulously, wiping a bit of perspiration from the side of her temple.


 

“Yeah, when they fart it smells up the entire atmosphere-”


 

“No, no, they’re emitting greenhouse gases,” Mia corrected impatiently, as we finally reached the streets of the town.


 

“Greenhouses are the problem?” asked Willow, and then frowned with alarm. “But we have greenhouses here.”


 

“We should make a petition to stop Herbology!” Milo said excitedly. “It’s murdering the planet!”


 

“It’s not actual greenhouses, it’s just the gases from the pollution that people make.” I said with an air of disdain, but I had to double check that what I had even said was correct with a quick glance at Mia.


 

“Well, what happens if the world keeps getting hotter?” Milo asked us, clearly concerned.


 

Mia raised her eyebrows ominously, and both Willow and Flynn blanched.


 

“Oh, my God, the Muggles and cows are killing us all.” Flynn said hollowly.


 

“We’re all going to die! Die!” yelled Milo, and then again for emphasis.


 

“God, I love being Muggleborn,” Mia sighed contentedly as we arrived in front of the Three Broomsticks, which from the looks of it was already pretty crowded.


 

“Ah, we told Al we would stop in at the Hog’s Head with him and Scorpius for a bit,” Flynn grimaced, ruffling the hair behind is head so it stuck up in strange but rather endearing ways. “‘Parrently one of Abe’s goats died and he’s really cut up about it.”


 

“Whatever,” said Mia dismissively, entering the pub without another look behind her, and I caught a flash of annoyance on Flynn’s face before he turned away and set off in the other direction with Milo who waved enthusiastically, his previous concerns over the fate of humanity apparently forgotten.


 

“What’s up with you and Flynn lately?” I asked Mia once we had squeezed the four of us girls around a table meant for two.


 

“He’s just irritating.” Mia clipped, and the way she said it left no room for questions. “Nellie, would you be an absolutely angel and get us drinks?”


 

“Why me?” I complained.


 

“Because Beck got them last time, I got them the time before that, and Willow is new to our little entourage so she shouldn’t have to pay.”


 

“Her logic is unfortunately sound.” said Willow solemnly, and I made a face at her but still scooted my chair out and made my way back towards the way we had come, nudging myself into the bit of the bar where Julianne the barmaid was.


 

“Four Butterbeers, please,” I told her, and she nodded distractedly, handing a warlock squeezed in between two chairs to my left a purple drink that was emitting blue smoke.


 

For its impeccable quality of food and drink, the timeliness of The Three Broomstick's service was never something to be celebrated, and so I managed to deposit myself in the chair that was partially obscured by the warlock just as he left.


 

It must have been pure misfortune that he would be sitting right next to me. I knew it was him before I saw a flash of his artful hair in my peripherals, and I really wasn’t going to say anything, either, but soon enough curiosity gave out and I stole a quick glance over at him just as he was looking at me.


 

“Hey,” he said after a moment, after I had already turned away again.


 

“Hey,” I said coolly, directing my gaze just past his head as I responded to him.


 

“Hi!” Fred Weasley poked his head from around James Potter, eager to be made known. “How’s it going, Nellie?”


 

“Pretty good, and you?”


 

“Oh, it’s going spectacularly,” beamed Fred, and then gestured to the two boys on his other side further down the bar. “Have you met Q and X?”


 

“I told you, I’m not going by X,” said the one closest to Fred. He had curly hair and a wide jawline with a slight shadow of stubble going down to his neck, making him look almost rugged.


 

“But it’s cool!” Fred protested. “C’mon, try it on Nellie.”


 

The boy merely shook his head and turned towards me. “I’m Axle,” he said, extending his hand. “Axle. Not X.”


 

“I’m Quil,” said the second boy while I shook Axle’s hand. He was darker skinned than Fred, but had much lighter eyes, making his features rather startling. “AKA, Q.”


 

“Nice to meet you both,” I told them, but before either Axle or Q could respond Fred waved his hand on my face, calling my attention back to him.


 

“Nellie - tell me, am I pulling this off?”


 

“Pulling what-”


 

But Fred had already slid off of his seat and stepped towards me, revealing an ensemble of green tights with orange and white shamrocks printed down the sides, and for a moment I could do was I stare at him while I tried to discern any possible reason for him to be dressed in such a way.


 

“Why?” I finally asked, warily.


 

“I’m glad you asked!” Fred exclaimed. “I’m trying to bag Emilia Campbell - I mean, respectfully get Emilia Campbell to sleep with me-” I snorted; the phrasing was terrible either way, “-so I figured I would connect back to my roots, you know? Wave the proud colours high!”


 

“But...you’re not Irish.” I said slowly.


 

“Well, she is,” shrugged Fred. “Anyways,” he continued, glancing furtively at James, and that’s when I could tell Potter had told him all about our last encounter. Fred wasn’t exactly an unsubtle person - he wasn’t as bad as Milo, who simply didn’t pick up social cues - he was just more uninhibited; he didn’t care whether or not I saw his efforts, in fact, it seemed like he almost prefered me to. “I’ve got to go find her, so I’ll let you all…chat.”


 

“Mate, I am not letting you embarrass yourself like this,” said Q, jumping off of his stool after Fred. “C’mon, X,” he called, smirking slightly, and Axle slid off his seat too, nodding once in goodbye in my direction.


 

In the absence of conversation, I drummed my fingers on the smooth wood of the bar, tapping out a rhythm to nothing in particular, but every movement I made I was hyper aware that James Potter was watching.  

 

 

Out of my peripherals, I saw James run his hand through his hair and steal another glance in my direction. “About what I said the other night-”


 

“Forget about it,” I said immediately. I never wanted to think about unpleasantries; I’d always rather just forget them and move on instead of holding onto them as a grudge, where they could voluntarily take up space in my head and remind me of things I didn’t want to remember. Repression and ignorance was my survival instinct, and it worked so well for me that I couldn't imagine changing my strategy.


 

“No, I just really wanted to say-”


 

“It’s really fine.” I told him firmly, and after he knew I was telling the truth he broke into a wide smile.


 

“Great.” From the slightly distant look in his eye and flushed cheeks, he was already a couple of drinks in. “So, what did you really think of the tights?”


 

Awful,” I pronounced. “Why would Fred ever think that’s a good idea?”


 

“I may have convinced him it was,” James shrugged, but he was so clearly proud of his planning that the action came off as incredibly cocky, and for some bizarre reason I didn’t really mind. “Said that girls are really into meaningful gestures.”


 

“Well, maybe Emilia will see it as a melting pot metaphor,” I suggested, not able to help letting a little humour seep through my words. “I’m told Dubliners do love diversity.”


 

James tipped back his head and barked out a laugh, and the sound was so abrupt and startling that I couldn’t help but giggle a little, too.


 

“You’re funny, did you know that?” James scooted closer to me. I instinctively shifted as well, until our arms were almost touching.


 

“I did, actually,” I said, chancing another look at him. He was already staring at me, and as I stared back, with a jolt I realised that I didn’t really know him at all. I didn’t know what it meant when his eyebrows quirked together slightly, or when his tongue ran over the surface of his bottom lip, or when his eyes flitted down towards my - okay, I knew that one - but the thought that I wasn’t really a part of his life besides these brief, intermittent moments we occasionally shared suddenly really bothered me.


 

But maybe that was part of the draw everyone seemed to have to him. His life was immortalised in the public, flashed across tabloids and gossiped about openly, but you never really knew him until you did, never truly understood what would make him smirk or smile or just simply unbored until you experienced him in all his glory firsthand.


 

As I continued staring at him and James continued staring at me, he opened his mouth as if to say something, but-


 

“Hey, Nels,” Kato Millican draped his arm over my shoulders, effectively turning me away from James Potter.


 

“Hey. Did you even shower from practice?” I wrinkled my nose, shaking him off slightly. I honestly welcomed the distraction; I never liked to admit that interactions with James rendered me speechless.


 

“I’ll have you know that I rinsed and lathered twice,” Kato tousled his golden hair with one hand as he leaned against the bar with the other, resting in the space that the warlock had been positioned previously, right between Potter and I. “Anyways, have you seen Benjy? He seems to have disappeared, and we’re afraid he’s done something drastic to get Julianne’s attention.”


 

I shook my head, and as I did my gaze focused on a corner booth, where a Gryffindor in the year below me was watching us carefully, and as I spotted the jacket next to her in the seat I realised who she was waiting for.


 

“Sorry - no, I haven’t,” I refocused back on Kato. “But you could check Willy’s Plaid Emporium. I’m sure he’d just love to get some trousers to match that God-awful vest.”


 

“Funny, Nellie,” Benjy appeared from behind Kato, glowering at me. “I just went to the toilets. You didn't have to enact a bloody search party.”


 

"We were afraid you would try to climb into Julianne’s extendable purse again," Kato clapped Benjy on the shoulder and began to steer him away. "See you later, Nels."


 

“Bye,” I waved slightly, and then slowly, almost reluctantly, turned back to Potter. The spell that seemed to captivate me before had long been broken, and as I glanced around my surroundings a rush of stimuli came flooding at me, as if it were making up for the time I had lost earlier.


 

“It looks like your date misses you,” I used my head to gesture towards the corner, where the girl was still fixated on James as she sipped her drink from a straw, swirling it around with her tongue.


 

“She’s not my date,” grunted Potter, and I tried my best to ignore the strange swooping of content I felt at his words, even though they weren’t true.


 

“Well, she’s giving you the eyes.”


 

“Just like Millican was to you, Nels?" Potter’s head snapped up, and he glared at me with no ounce of friendliness.


 

“Excuse me?” I raised my eyebrows, a giggle ripping out of me before I could stop it. “Kato’s my teammate.”


 

“So?”


 

“So, he’s like family.” I said slowly, ignoring the twinge I felt at the lie. Although I had fully realised that the feelings I’d felt for Kato were fleeting and he would always be a brotherly figure in my mind, I still - objectively, of course - found him rather fit.


 

James snorted but didn’t say anything.


 

“She’s still looking,” I said, making one last attempt to lighten the conversation.


 

“Will you just leave it alone, Burke?” he snapped. “Jesus.”


 

What is your problem, Potter?” I crossed my arms. Had he been this curt five minutes ago?


 

“You.” he retorted, throwing some galleons onto the bar as Julianne set down my Butterbeers and his drink.


 

You. Real mature.


 

“Well, don’t let me bother you, then,” I said coolly, tossing my money as well, and without another glance towards him I grabbed the handles and stalked back to the crowded corner where our table was nestled.


 

“What’s gotten into you?” Mia looked rather alarmed as I slammed the drinks down onto the table, causing some of the frothy foam to splatter.


 

“What do you think?” I said irritably, jerking my head towards the front of the room, where Potter was bent over the bar, scowling down at his hands.


 

“Git,” said Beck conversationally as she wiped her blouse clean.


 

“What did he do?” asked Willow, frowning slightly as she glanced back towards the front of the pub.


 

“Just - the usual.” It was too frustrating and difficult to explain how quickly interactions between James Potter and I always went south.


 

“Well, from where I was sitting it looked like he was about to kiss you, or something,” Mia’s eyes widened suggestively, and I nearly choked on the sip of Butterbeer I had just taken.


 

“Are you already drunk?” I asked her, flicking a peanut from the bowl in the middle of the table at her, and Mia picked it up, threw it high in the air, and caught it cleanly in her open mouth.


 

“No, I’m really not,” she said smugly, cracking it loudly with her teeth, and I made a face at her. “And I seriously think he was about to ask you out.”


 

“I already have a date, you dolt,” I objected, but even though Beck and Willow both told Mia how ridiculous she was being, that omniscient glint never once disappeared from her eyes.


 

“When are you meeting Nathan?” asked Beck through a mouthful of chips, and briefly I wondered where she’d gotten them if we hadn’t ordered any.


 

I checked my watch. “He was going to meet me out front around now. I better get going.”


 

“Oh, I so hope it goes well!” Mia squealed, previous preoccupation with James Potter forgotten.


 

“Yeah, good luck,” Beck told me offhandedly, her hand already claiming my barely touched Butterbeer.


 

“Good luck with Luke, too,” I grinned at Beck. “Hope he measures up.”


 

“They rarely do,” she sighed, feigning melancholy, and as I began to walk away Mia snorted and threw a peanut at her.


 

“Bye!” Willow called, and I was turning back from waving at her when I collided face on with a solid mass.


 

“Woah,” the mass said, steadying my shoulders slightly, and as I took step back I realised I had just bodychecked none other than Christian Flint. “Easy there, Nellie.”


 

“Christian,” I squeaked, absolutely mortified. “I am so sorry-”


 

“Don’t be,” he smiled broadly, and as he did I felt a little more relaxed, like we were somehow friends. “And, can I just say that you look great? Or, sorry - may I?” he corrected himself, his grin turning into a bit of a smirk.


 

“You may,” I gave him a tentative smile back, as I recalled our interaction at the Amesbury Gala. It seemed so long ago, so strangely far away even though it was only seven weeks prior. “Thank you.”


 

“Did you just take my compliment without a clever denial?” Christian pretended to be shocked. “I’m honestly a little disappointed.”


 

“Well, better a witty fool than a foolish wit,” I said loftily, and then immediately outwardly cringed at my own awkwardness as Christian paused, his mouth slightly ajar. I braced myself for his ridicule, Merlin, why did that side of me always come out when I had nothing else to say?


 

“Is that a line from Twelfth Night?” Christian finally said, and even though I knew I must’ve looked like fish gulping for water with my jaw dropped open like that I couldn’t manage to close it.


 

“You know Shakespeare?” I asked after a missed beat, and I couldn’t succeed in keeping the awe out of my voice.


 

“It was on the recommended reading list,” Christian said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and I swear, it was like angels had descended from the heavens and placed a fucking halo on his head.


 

“That’s amazing,” I told him honestly. “I absolutely love his work.”


 

“Really?” Christian’s eyes lit up. I never noticed the way that his cheekbones lifted when he smiled, but when they did he just seemed so genuine and approachable that it made me want to smile too. “Have you read The Winter’s Tale?


 

“It's one of my favorites!” I exclaimed. “I just love how it’s such an impressive balance between a romantic comedy and intense psychological-”


 

“Burke,” someone barked from behind me, and suddenly I was face to face James Potter for the second time that day. “I need to talk to you.”


 

“You’ve already talked to me.” I told him frigidly, turning away, but he persisted.


 

“It’ll be quick. Just follow me.” James made to grab my arm just as Christian stepped forward, smiling amicably enough.


 

“Is there a problem, Potter?”


 

“I just need to ask Cornelia a question about my brother,” said James smoothly. “It’ll only take a second of her time.”


 

Before I had a chance to open my mouth, I was being led across the bar towards the bathrooms. Heads swiveled towards me one by one and for a moment I thought I had spilled something on my top, but then I realised it was because of the eligible bachelor attached to my wrist.


 

“Okay,” James glowered at me once we were hidden from view. “What the hell are you doing with Flint?”


 

“Excuse me?” I hissed. “I thought this was about Albus, or else I would’ve-”


 

“He’s not a good guy,” James continued, speaking so low and fast that I had to lean in to hear him. “Don’t go out with him.”


 

“It’s none of your business,” I replied scathingly, “but Christian Flint is not my date.”


 

“Oh,” an inexplicable expression of relief flooded through him. “That’s-”


 

“Nathan Cromley is.”


 

James’s features quickly transformed to a vision of disgust. “You can’t be serious.”


 

“Fuck off, Potter.” I snapped, making to move past him, but James put his hand on my arm lightly. His grip wasn’t what stopped me - it was the way I felt a slight shiver run through my body at the feeling of his fingertips on my bare skin.  


 

“Look,” said James, taking advantage of my obvious shock. “About how I acted earlier-”


 

“I don’t want to hear it.” I said, pulling my arm away and thus breaking the dazed trance that had unwillingly taken a hold of me.


 

“Yes, you do, Cornelia,” James’s gaze intensified as he took a deliberate step closer, closing me in with my back against the wall. “Every other girl would want to.”


 

I could feel my breaths become quicker and my pulse rising and my cheeks flushing, but it wasn’t enough. For weeks, I had been staring at James Potter for a moment too long and searching for him in the throng of crowds and subconsciously waiting for him to show some sign of interest in me - but now, as I could feel his heat encapsulating my body, as I could plainly see the way the golden flecks in his eyes darkened and lips parted ever so slightly - it wasn’t enough to distract from just how uncaring and self-righteous and insulting he had just been. It just wasn’t, however much I wanted it to be.


 

“Then save it for one of them.” I said, low and dangerous, as I pushed away from him and walked towards the front door, towards my friends and my date, who had just arrived. Back to the place I belonged.


 

 

 




 

Author’s Note: Thank you so much to those of you who have been reacting positively to my story! The next chapter is going to be a bit of a turning point in the series, where things start to get a bit more emotional and the actual plot develops, so stay tuned and please review!


 

Up next...A story of bloody palms, shattering silence, and Weasley sweaters.

 



Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]


 

Disclaimer: I don't own what you recognize. “Pollock” refers to the painter Jackson Pollock.

 

 

Trigger Warning: Depictions of sexual violence and assault. Please proceed with caution.


 

 


 

 

 

“Well,” said Mia rather glumly, lifting her shot of gillyrum so it was level with mine. “Here’s to getting drunk enough to forget the terrible dates we had today.”


 

“Hear, hear,” I responded in the same tone, and then it was quiet as we both pounded our drinks, shuddering slightly as they went down.


 

“At least Nathan didn’t ask you if your boobs were real,” groaned Mia, leaning back against the floor, dark hair fanned out over the hardwood. “Like, even if they weren’t, is it any of his goddamn business?”


 

“No,” I said fiercely, pouring both of us another. “No, it is not.”


 

“And of course William had to run into us, right while Josh decided it would be funny to fucking propose to me with a chocolate ring like a ten year old. I mean, honestly!”


 

Since Joshua Hadley had asked Mia to go to Hogsmeade before she and Will Davies had become a thing - and against all odds they had become one; it was some of the hottest gossip around school - Mia had decided to go through with the date and meet up with Will afterwards.


 

“You think that’s bad,” I countered, running my hands through my dirty blonde tangles in a futile attempt to tame them. “Nathan hardly paid any attention to me, even during lunch all he could talk about was how he stands to inherit his father’s stupid collection of vintage Wizard’s Chess sets.”


 

“Tonight will be better,” Mia sat  up, glaring at me determinedly. “I’ll be with Will again, and you will find some beautiful Seventh Year and make him fall in love with you.”


 

“Right,” I snorted, but my mind automatically flashed to a figure with dark hair, so quickly that it really only registered as a quick tug in the pit of my stomach.


 

“Hey,” Willow poked her head out of the bathroom, dressed in a tan skirt with a low cut white long sleeve. “Are you guys about to leave?”


 

“Let’s do it,” Mia said, holding out her hands so that Willow could pull her up, and then lifted me off the ground too.


 

“Nellie, I love your skirt,” Willow said as we began our trek to the Room of Requirement. I hadn’t thought it was anything special - just a short black thing that sort of flared out in a subtly flattering way - but her compliment secretly pleased me.


 

“Borrow it anytime as long as I can steal that top,” I told her and she grinned, holding out her arms wide as if to say, it’s already yours.


 

“How was the rest of your Hogsmeade trip?” Mia asked Willow as we passed a tapestry of unicorns in a circle.


 

“Pretty good. I hung out with Scorpius, Milo, and Albus for the most part, actually,” she said. “And then I found Olivia and people and went back with them.”


 

“Where was Flynn?” I wondered, noting her exclusion of his name.


 

“Found some date,” Willow shrugged. “They went off to Puddifoot's within five minutes of talking.”


 

Mia was silent for a moment. “Who?” she finally asked, much more softly than her usual eager ramblings.


 

“Tara Fletchley,” Willow widened her eyes, and I understood why. Tara was a Slytherin in the year below us who was known for being rather picky with dates, and now I was certain we would be pestered with Flynn’s inflated ego later in the night.


 

“Hm,” Mia frowned. “That’s not his usual type.”


 

“No,” I agreed.


 

“Hm.” she said again, and that was the last thing she said until we arrived at the party.


 

The Room of Requirement wasn’t at its usual club-like capacity yet, so the three of us were easily able to make our way through the crowd to the bar, where a couple of older Slytherins were serving drinks. Willow was immediately accosted by her Hufflepuff friends, and Mia and I stood off to the side waiting for our drinks until we spotted Rose Weasley and Catherine McDonough approaching us.


 

“Mia!” Rose squealed, and then came to me, hugging me with much more exuberance than she usually exhibited. “You will never believe what I just found out about you!”


 

“What?” Mia asked eagerly, and instead of Rose facing Mia like I thought she would she turned to me.


 

“I heard from Eleanor who heard from Amy who said that she overheard Christian Flint telling Andre Cabbot that he has a thing for you, Nellie!”


 

“Really?” I asked dumbly, but Rose was already chattering through my words excitedly.


 

“Oh my God, I knew it from that day on the train when he called you stunning in front of the entire Slug Club-”


 

Mia looked absolutely betrayed as she punched me in the arm, much harder than I’m sure she meant to. “You didn’t tell me that!”


 

“Wow, I’m so jealous,” Catherine moaned from beside Rose. “I mean, it’s Christian Flint!”


 

“He quoted Shakespeare at me today,” I admitted, a smile tugging at my lips, and at that Mia practically had a conniption.


 

“You,” she pronounced, “are going to hook up with him tonight.”


 

“I am not!” I insisted, taking another significantly larger sip of my drink.


 

“No, no, you’re right,” said Mia airily. “Because you’re going to fucking marry the bloke.”


 

Before I could protest any further Scorpius appeared by my arm, and the expression on Rose’s face shifted so quickly that if I had blinked I wouldn’t have seen it change at all.


 

“Weasley.” said Scorpius coldly, crossing his arms over his chest.


 

“Malfoy.” said Rose curtly, and without another word immediately turned on her heel and disappeared into another huddle of people.


 

“Can’t you at least try to be nice to her?” I asked tiredly, as Catherine McDonough followed Rose into the crowd, shooting Scorpius a look of disdain as she did.


 

“No,” said Scorpius shortly, grabbing my empty shot glass and reaching behind the bar to knick a handle of vodka.. “How were your dates?”


 

“Terrible,” I told him, just as Mia pretended to gag.


 

“See, you should’ve just hung out with me and Al - don’t say it, Corn-” and indeed, I had been ready to correct his sentence to Al and I. “Dates are for suckers.”


 

“I’ll drink to that,” said Mia, and we all raised our glasses, clinking them together with a little too much gusto and spilling at least a quarter of their contents onto the floor. After that, we settled into the normal party cool, where everything was louder and faster and more exciting than normal. Flynn and Milo arrived a little later and got us another round of gillyrum, and then after that Benjy and Kato came over with more shots, and by the time I drank everything that was in front of me I was already feeling the powerful buzz of alcohol running through my veins.


 

It was in this realm of disorganisation that I started to become aware of James Potter. I didn’t want to keep noticing that he was near the bar laughing with Fred, and then five minutes later was around the entrance, greeting people that came through. I didn’t want to keep track of him at all, but I was so acutely attuned to his presence that I couldn’t seem to focus on anything else.

 

 

So I looked away from the place I had seen him last and tried to focus all of my energy and attention on the crowd, where as I observed the people dancing around me I realised I had somehow lost everyone that I knew well, and I was sort of dizzy so I decided to try to make my way towards the outskirts of the room. And just as I had decided to do that and I had turned around, he was standing right behind me, so naturally that it was as if he had had been there all night.


 

“Hey,” he said, just like he had in The Three Broomsticks earlier today; softly, slightly warily.


 

“Hey,” I said back, just as carefully.


 

James took a slow sip of his drink. It looked like a gin and tonic, but I couldn’t be sure. “How was your date?”  


 

He seemed neutral enough but I raised my eyebrows slightly, unwilling to reveal intimate secrets first. “How was yours?”


 

“Fine,” he said, and I noticed that he wasn’t denying that he had, in fact, been on a date. “But I asked you first.”


 

“It was fine,” I told him, rolling my eyes up to the steep arched ceilings and then back down. “Great, even.”


 

“Was it?” James smirked at me. “Is that why you’re over here, already shattered, while your date is nowhere to be found?”


 

“Fine,” I waved my hand through the air and became distracted for a moment by the way it seemed to almost float through the empty space. “It was bad. He was boring. Happy?”


 

“Not quite,” said James, but his tone was light, and I found myself almost relaxed in his presence. The way we were speaking was unusual for us, but somehow it felt more natural than anything else I’d ever experienced.


 

“What would make you happy, then?” I asked, and I realised I was twirling a bit of my hair so I forced myself to stop.


 

Potter pretended to think for a moment. “World peace. Immortality. A Snitch-shaped Cauldron Cake.”


 

“Is that so?” I countered, but inside I was doing cartwheels, because he was the one who left me the gift after I got injured, and everything just sort of clicked at once: that he got me a Cauldron Cake, that he had read Hamlet, that he was choosing to talk with me right now instead of all his friends - and I began to think that maybe, just maybe, he was interested in me in some capacity.


 

“It is.” James chuckled, then he grew serious. “Look, I still feel really gutted about what I said to you the other night. And today at Hogsmeade, actually. I’ve been a bit of an arse.”


 

“I’ve told you, it’s fine,” I widened my eyes to emphasise my point. “If it makes you feel better I’ll call you an arse, but I’ve really forgotten all about it. ”


 

I expected him to joke back or at least drop it, but instead he frowned even further, almost like he was concentrating on something.


 

“I don’t want you to forget about it; I want you to forgive me for it,” James furrowed his brow, and as I was about to respond a torrent of brown hair whipped across my face just as something hard hit me from behind.


 

“Mia,” I groaned, holding my shoulder, but she just shot me an absolutely maniacal grin and turned to James.


 

“James Potter,” Mia pronounced, pointing her finger at him in what would have been a stern manner if she hadn’t been so obviously pissed. “I have decided that I do not like you.”


 

James pretended to look offended, and I giggled a laugh very unlike my own. “And, why is that, Mia Templeton?”


 

“Because,” Mia declared, “you make my best friend all moody.”


 

“Do I?” James laughed a full, hearty laugh, and although I’d never heard him laugh like that I decided that I loved the sound of it, and then after a long time of thinking about how much I loved it I realised that I hadn’t taken my gaze off of him in quite awhile, but even as Mia continued to talk at him in her usual unstoppable chatter his eyes only flickered off of mine every so often.  


 

“So,” James murmured, as Mia turned away mid-sentence, finally distracted by something or other like I knew she would be. “Why’ve you been staring at me?”


 

My mouth dropped open with surprise. “I wasn’t!” I protested weakly, the alcohol circulating my brain making it difficult to come up with something more intelligent.


 

“You were,” he grinned with absolute assurance, and the magnetic force that always seemed to pull between us flexed slightly, drawing my presence closer to his body.


 

“I was not - you’ve been staring at me!”


 

“Yep,” said James easily. “I have been. Your point?”


 

My mouth stayed open as I floundered for a response. I had never seen him like this - relaxed, openly flirtatious, daring - and it was strangely becoming.


 

"You're full of it, Potter,” I said finally.


 

“Can you blame me? You look amazing,” said James, and now his eyes weren’t on mine anymore, but had traveled downwards towards the rest of my body. “And I know you were angry at me earlier today - rightfully so, but, fuck, your legs - you have the best legs I’ve ever seen.”


 

“You’re drunk,” I shoved him a little, unable to keep the smile off my face, and he automatically reached out to steady me.


 

“So are you. Very drunk, in fact.” he said, but the way it came out was more of a question. Like he needed confirmation that I wasn’t in my right state of mind. But as he said it, he stepped closer with his hand still on my arm, an oddly bright quality gleaming in his eyes - his eyes, beautiful canvases that they were, seemed to hypnotise me, hold me to the ground, keep me afloat, pull me in.


 

“Well, you don’t see me moaning about your body,” I managed to get out as I teetered slightly, somehow managing to keep my balance by anchoring myself to his gaze. Focus on standing up, Nellie, Jesus!


 

“But you’re thinking it,” he murmured in my ear, and I blushed despite myself as his hot breath tickled me, sending light shivers down my spine. “And, I’m still thinking about your legs. And your eyes, quite honestly. And everything about you.”


 

He was kidding, now. That much was obvious to me, even in my hazy state. He was playing the game we played all too well; instead, his new tactic was using empty compliments instead of insults to wound my pride and ego. But, for a moment, I imagined he really did think that, about my body. I imagined him whispering in my ear, and running his hands up and down the curves of my skin, and pulling me closer, closer, until there was no space between us.


 

Ack. Stop it, you drunk twat. He was joking.


 

“Okay, okay. I get it.” I closed my eyes for a second - stupid, Nellie, falling for something like that. “That was good, too. I don’t have a comeback, so you win. Congratulations, Potter."


 

“What? No,” he said slowly, his eyebrows inching together with concentration. His hand was no longer on my arm, and I briefly wondered when he had removed it. “I-“


 

“Nellie,” someone spoke from behind me, and I turned to the distraction quickly, eager to escape the embarrassment


 

“Hi,” I said, rather breathlessly, as what Rose had said ran through my mind, and Christian Flint smiled down at me.


 

“I thought we could finish that Shakespeare conversation from earlier,” he suggested, running a hand through his honeycomb hair casually.


 

Before I could respond, James cleared his throat loudly from behind me.


 

“Oh - Potter, Marina Belliveau is looking for you,” said Christian easily. “She’s saying that you promised you’d walk her back to Gryffindor Tower?”


 

Marina Belliveau. The girl Potter had been with when he had found me in the alcove with my letter from Astoria. And all at once another wave of humiliation and disappointment washed over me, for I had almost let myself believe that James Potter could have ever been interested in me, a drastic mistake that certainly would have cost me my sanity and self respect.


 

“That’s bullshit,” scoffed James, stepping closer to me, but I shifted away from him.


 

“Is he bothering you again?” Christian asked me, and I could feel his muscled arm slipping around my waist in an almost protective manner.


 

I don’t know what made me do it. It could have been what James had said earlier, at the Three Broomsticks. Perhaps it was the way he had just made me feel so small and insignificant with a single sentence. But as I locked eyes with Potter I said, quite clearly, “Yeah. He is.”


 

I expected James to argue like he usually did, but he merely nodded slowly, muttered, “Whatever,” and disappeared back into the hectic middle of the crowd, back where he had come from. Back where he belonged, this time.




 

The night continued to progress at the sort of flickering speed that all drunken escapades did. There was dancing and laughter and who knows what else, as we all talked without listening to ourselves and misunderstood everything we were able to hear.


 

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Potter holding the waist of some Seventh Year Hufflepuff, his hand slipping lower and lower down her back, and I think he saw me looking but from his gaze I wouldn't be able to tell; it was cool, indifferent, as if he were staring directly through my body at the wall behind me. So I turned away, back to Christian, and I told myself that this was what I wanted, because it was Christian, the nice, intelligent man that I had things in common with; it was the guy who told me I looked pretty even when I was awkward and weird, the one who didn’t insult me or goad me or make me so angry I wanted to punch something.


 

But in all honesty, maybe it wasn’t any of that that made me accept Christian’s waiting arms a little later that night. Maybe I wanted to see what it would feel like, following the Pureblood conventions that my family abided by. Maybe it was as a result of the six drinks I’d had by then, all with varying levels of alcohol in them. Or maybe it was all because of James Potter; because no matter where I looked, I could see his arm on a different girl’s body; because I wanted to show him that I wasn’t as undesirable as he made me feel; because when I looked at him, really looked, I didn’t want to - no, I couldn’t look away. Maybe it was everything, because when Christian Flint kissed me, right there in a corner of the venue, I kissed him back.


 

The second my lips met his, the world transformed. It was like I was onstage with a spotlight shining directly on me, my other senses and surroundings shrouded by the deep shadows. The darkened boy underneath my lips felt like a prop, but James - James Potter was the only other bright orb in the world of dark, as he stood in some unknown place behind me, an imaginary sun illuminating him with its scattered rays. And as I kissed this boy, this puppet, the only thing I could think about was the spotlight, shining on to infinity lest I glance and shatter it: Schrodinger's hazel-eyed cat.


 

But paradoxes must come to definite realities eventually, and when I finally opened my eyes and realised that the glowing body I so deeply searched for was nowhere within eyesight, it felt like a seperate heartbreak on its own. So, when Christian jerked his head towards the doors, his gaze dark and lips still parted slightly, I allowed him to pull me away from the disappointment of the crowd.


 

 

 

“I’ve been thinking about you for awhile now,” Christian murmured in between kisses. We were on top of some desk in an empty classroom, and I could feel the unwelcome cold of the hardwood pressing into my shoulder blades. “About being with you like this.”


 

Even though I was drunk, I still didn’t really believe him. When I was sober guys never said I looked stunning or that they thought about me when I wasn’t around, so when they did when I was drunk I always knew it was nothing more than an overused line.


 

But, even so, here, in this empty classroom as Christian Flint ran his hands down the curve of my spine, it was better. Here, I didn’t think as much of pillow talk phrases, or the potential lack of truth that the words held, or of James Potter. I couldn’t imagine the depths of his irises or the smolder of his stare or the way his mouth curved up when he found something I said mildly amusing, so it was better here, because I was away from James Potter and away from the magnetic pull that he seemed to have over me.


 

It was better here, until I felt Christian’s hand slowly slipping beneath my skirt.


 

“No,” I said, but my mouth was moving slower than I wanted it to. “Not yet. Not right now.”


 

“Oh, come on,” Christian breathed in my ear, and the feeling of it sent a shiver down my spine and goosebumps running up my arms.


 

“Christian…”


 

“Don’t be a prude, Nellie.”


 

“I’m not,” I said rather defensively, shifting only slightly away from him.


 

“But, it’ll be fun,” he whispered, his voice low and feral, and that was it - that was what made the small hairs on my arm stand on end and the first thrill of fear jolt through me.


 

“Not right now,” I said again, and I shifted away from him once more but he followed my movements.


 

“You’ll like it.”


 

Stop it,” I said, but he tightened his grip on my arm, shifting his body weight on top of me so that I was pinned down in a way that could have been okay but right now was so not.


 

“It’ll be fun.” he repeated, and then the next few seconds - they were only seconds, although they felt like an eternity - became completely surreal.


 

Thinking back, I remember that I couldn’t see anything but the light that seeped through the cracks of his torso over my eyes, and I must have yelled at some point, but I’m still not sure because it felt like a nightmare, and nightmares weren’t real. I think I kept expecting to wake up in my dorm and have Mia crossly ask me if I’d had a bad dream and for Willow to throw a shoe at Mia and ask me if I was okay, and in those three or four seconds that felt frozen for a lifetime I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for it to happen but it didn’t.


 

The space between the before and after was ephemeral, but I can easily discern the abrupt end - his hand slashed harshly across my face, stinging my cheek with sweet relief, and the weight of his body was dramatically alleviated as a flash of light illuminated the dark room. I gasped for the air that I used to take for granted, the clean, fresh, private air, and I was breathing and straightening out my skirt before I even had a handle on my surroundings. I heard someone say my name - Fred Weasley - he said it again but I didn’t know how to respond, so I just stared into his eyes, his dark eyes that were so filled with worry and urgency and something else - what was it?


 

The stimuli in my environment finally began to reach me, and I was suddenly aware that I was in the midst of shouting and mayhem. I blinked just as Fred pulled me from the room, then he disappeared; there was more yelling, “Stop, you’ll kill him - STOP!” and I sank against the wall, flexing my fingers and toes to test if they still worked (they did), counting to ten and then back down, trying not to think about what just happened, or what would have happened if no one had come; I was also rather cold. My skirt was wrinkled, and I traced light circles onto the surface of my bare skin as the shouting and banging continued in the backdrop, like rain absentmindedly knocking against a windowpane.


 

It seemed to be only a few seconds before Fred reappeared, kneeling in front of me with one hand on on the ground and the other outstretched in midair.


 

“Nellie? Are you okay?”


 

I still didn’t know what to say, did not know how to describe the melange of consciousness I was experiencing, so I merely nodded as he reached out his arm slowly, cautiously.


 

“Can I touch you? You can say no.”


 

“‘S fine,” I said, my voice barely intelligible.


 

In a second, Fred had shrugged off his sweater and pulled it over my head, helping to push my wrists through the baggy armholes.


 

“Thanks,” I whispered. Vaguely, I registered the suddenly absence of noise; it was almost loud, as it pressed itself into my eardrums, but since everything else seemed to be fading in and out of frequency like a faulty radio it didn't seem to matter.


 

“What do you need right now?” asked Fred. He tried to smile encouragingly, but anxiety tugged at the ends of his lips, forming a grimace. “Mia? Scorpius? They’re still at the party, but I could-”


 

“No,” I reassured him, myself. “I’m really okay. Just give me a few minutes to...” To what? To calm down? To tell myself that I was fine? Was I fine?


 

Without preface, the door crashed open again, and there stood James Potter, towering above me like a dream, a vision, a beautiful, tortured statue of deity. His fists were clenched and his jaw was hardened into stone and his eyes were burning with fury and blood, with blood smeared on his hands and shirt and splattered like Pollock against his marble cheekbone.


 

“Cornelia,” James said weakly, and the divine illusion was shattered as he fell to his knees in front of me, his wand clattering lifelessly to the ground, mortal once more.


 

“Hi,” I said stupidly, because I didn’t know what else to say.


 

“How is she?” James turned to beseech Fred. Fred shook his head slightly, eyes wide.


 

“Your hands,” I said, but it only came out as a whisper. The tops of his fists were coated in red, and suddenly with that déja vu sort of jolt all I could feel that same indescribable aura and could see the exact arms from my dream the night before with blood all across them like paint on a canvas; they had reached out to me in the same manner, and on the knuckle, in the dream on the knuckle there had also been that same scar-


 

“We’re not going to hurt you, okay?” James said, wiping his arms onto his shirt and effectively shattering the intensity of the familiar aura. With a quick wave of his wand, Fred syphoned away the rest of the blood, leaving James’s hands pale and shaking slightly.


 

“I know,” I said, and a flicker of annoyance passed through me at how he was talking to me like I was fragile, but then I realised that perhaps I was.


 

“Are you hurt at all?” Fred asked. He looked strange, unusually empty when there wasn’t an etch of humour or mischief around his eyes or on his mouth.


 

“I think just the...” My fingers grazed over my skin lightly, following the pattern of the scratch from my cheek and neck, all the way down, down, down-


 

James grabbed my hand and gripped it tightly, forcing me to look up at him.


 

“Did he manage to - ?”


 

I shook my head, shook it over and over and over, allowing myself to fall into the rhythm of the world spinning - until James steadied my face with his hands. His eyes were wild, urgent as he searched my expression hungrily for answers that I didn’t know myself.


 

“Cornelia - breathe.” he demanded. His voice was level, but I could detect a hint of something - hysteria, maybe - in between his syllables that threatened to overrule his composure. “I’m going to ask you again, and please just say yes or no. Did he do anything to you without your consent?”


 

“No, he almost, but - no,” I choked out.


 

“Fuck,” James muttered. He was breathing hard, with his hands resting on top of his head like he had just run a sprint as he began to pace in front of me. “Shit. Okay. We have to get you to the Hospi-”


 

“What? No, I don’t want to go there,” I said. “I’m not hurt.”


 

“You are.” James glared at me. He ran both of his hands through his hair, tugging on it so hard that I was certain chunks of it would rip out.


 

“Nellie, you were just attacked,” Fred broke in. “You need medical help.”


 

“I don’t,” I mustered up the last bit of strength I had in order to sound convincing, pushing myself onto my knees for more conviction. “I’m not injured at all. I won’t go there.”


 

“Why not?” The first hint of frustration seeped into Fred’s voice.


 

“Because it’s my body,” I said. “I get to choose.” And, at that moment, all I really needed was to entertain the illusion that I had some control over what happened to me. Over who got to speak to me or touch me or do things for me, and I think Fred understood that, because as he looked at me he sighed, not in annoyance or frustration but in resignation.


 

“Okay. No Hospital Wing.”


 

“Are you mental?” James hissed immediately. “She needs-"


 

“It’s her decision,” said Fred steadily. “We’ll take her to Ravenclaw and have Scorpius and Mia meet us there.”


 

"She's been fucking pummeled! She’s scratched up, she’s in shock! She's not fit to judge something like this!"


 

“I’m fine,” I snapped. James’s insistence that he knew better than I did was beginning to anger me. “More fit to judge it than you right now.”


 

“Her Common Room is on the other side of the castle,” James continued to ignore me. He put his hands back on top his head and began pacing in front of us, back and forth, like a pendulum. “She’s still drunk; she can't make it walking.”


 

“I can,” I jumped up from the ground, only to find my face rapidly approaching the floor.


 

James caught me. His arms gripped mine tightly, pulling me towards him, and before I knew it I was against his hard chest and it was warm and I let myself breathe him in; his scent was an impossible concoction of sweet skin and summer sun and something vaguely floral that I couldn’t quite place.


 

“See?” he breathed as he righted me. His warm breath tickled my ear in a welcomely stark contrast to how Christian Flint’s had only a few minutes ago.


 

“Okay,” said Fred. “Get her to Ravenclaw while I find the others.”


 

“You really don’t have to worry them,” I said, but even Fred shook his head this time.


 

“If you don’t want to go to the Hospital Wing, then you need your friends.”


 

I stared at him for a long time before nodding. “What are you going to do with him?”


 

“We’ll deal with it.” Fred said shortly, and before I could press it further James was guiding me around the corner.


 

We walked slowly at first. James didn’t take his hand away from my waist until he was sure I was steady on my feet, and even then he kept it on the small of my back as we made our way through the grim corridors.


 

I was in a daze, almost. Everything had happened so fast, and even though technically nothing bad had actually occurred none of it felt real to me yet. I could still feel the hazy surreality of the alcohol, and now I found myself wishing that I were sober, if only to feel a sliver more control over something.


 

“Can we just...sit, for a minute?” I asked. James regarded me carefully, but finally nodded, leading me over to a nearby windowsill and setting me down carefully, like I was a China doll or elderly or some sort of breakable.


 

I leaned back against the cool glass and shut my eyes, focusing on the sensation of my lungs expanding and contracting, nice and evenly, in and out.


 

“Aren’t you going to tell me you told me so?” I asked, my eyes still closed. My voice was strangely flat from lack of energy, and it sounded nothing like my usually passionate speech.


 

“What? No,” James sounded troubled, and as I opened my eyes he was shifting closer to me. “Of course not.”


 

“You did warn me, and I didn’t listen. So go ahead. Do what we usually do. Tell me how right you were. Tear me apart. I know you want to.”


 

His frown only deepened as he picked up on the emptiness that seemed to cower in the open spaces in my vowels and linger in the harsh intonation of my consonants.


 

“It’s be so easy for you to do,” I continued, in the same manner. My hands fingered the slightly torn hem of my skirt absentmindedly, my eyes now determinedly fixed on them. “I mean, I kissed him back at first. I led him on, so-”


 

“This is not your fault. Not in the slightest.” said James, his voice much softer than it had been a few minutes ago.


 

I could feel him watching me, but I held out from meeting his gaze. Because what he’d said wasn’t true - it had been my fault. I’d wanted James’s attention so fucking badly that I tried to seek an equivalent of it in Christian, but I couldn’t tell him any of this, because how pathetic was it that I had caused this for myself?


 

“Thank you,” I looked up finally. “For helping me.”


 

James’s expression darkened. “You shouldn’t thank me. Fuck, if we had been ten seconds later-”


 

“But you weren’t.”


 

“We could have-”


 

“Just forget it,” I said, tiredly. “I’m okay.”


 

“Then, distract me,” said James, roughly. He was breathing heavily, his hands clenched so tightly into fists that his knuckles were a ghostly white. “So I won’t go back and fucking kill that son of a bitch.”


 

My mouth dropped open. “Kill him? Why?”


 

“I-” James began, but then he broke off and stood up again, pacing up and down along aimless trails, his fists gripping the hair on top of his head as if his life depended on it. “All I can see right now are his hands on you, and I want to murder him for even thinking he could so much as talk you without your consent, let alone do that.”


 

I was bewildered, but I still tried to calm him down. “James, I’m okay, I swear. A little shaken, but I’m okay. Just - calm down.”


 

“You were-”


 

“I’m fine.”


 

His eyes flashed dangerously. “Will you stop fucking saying that? Jesus, Burke, I’m not fine and it didn’t even happen to me!”


 

“So, it’s about you?” I snapped. “You know, you have this uncanny talent to turn any situation into the James Potter show.”


 

And, there it was. The place every single one of our extended conversations came back to. It was like a home base, for me, telling him that he was an egotist, but in this moment the instant the words left my mouth I regretted them.


 

“Are you quite done?” James asked coldly, and I felt my insides practically wilt with shame.


 

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, and I truly was, for everything that I had ruined that night.


 

James looked at me for a moment, then sighed deeply and rubbed his eyes with his hands before glancing back up.


 

“No. You were right. I’m sorry.” It was the first time he had ever apologised outright, and at first I thought he was being sarcastic. “I don't take criticism well,” he continued, sitting down next to me again. The way he spoke was somehow quieter than usual, his voice low with earnest instead of seduction or taunts, but with it brought more sincerity. “And I do have a habit of making things about me. Maybe it's because of how big of a family I have; maybe it's because you were right, what you said a month ago. That I do crave attention.”


 

I didn’t know how to respond to such an open revelation, so I just nodded and changed the subject.


 

“How did you find me?”


 

James looked away and for a moment I thought he wasn’t going to respond. But then he clenched his fists together once, as if to calm them, and began speaking.


 

“I obviously saw you talking with him, but I didn’t think you would...and then, people were saying that Flint took someone to his usual spot, and I asked Fred who but he wouldn’t tell me, so I asked Mia. And Flint has always been a creep, so I went to go look for you, but Fred found me first. He tried to stop me and said wherever you were was none of my business, but I kept going and we kept arguing and then we heard-”


 

He broke off mid sentence, his hands clenched into fists again.


 

“I just thought, ‘not her.’”


 

“Why?” My voice was barely intelligible, but for some ineffable reason, I needed an answer to this question more than any of the ones previous. “Why me?”


 

“I don’t know.” His voice was a dead weight, an anchor, sinking his words deep into the space around us, but finally he looked up again. “I’m usually more composed. I’ve never just lost control like that before. I don’t know why you make me like this.”


 

A slight thrill rushed through me at his words, electrifying and exciting,


 

James grabbed his head in between his hands, pulling at his hair. “I shouldn’t care as much as I do. I mean, it’s me, and you’re you-”


 

The previous feeling immediately disappeared. “What’s that supposed to mean?”


 

“I don’t know what it means,” said James, and then revised. “Nothing, okay? It means nothing.”


 

Nothing.

 

 

“I want to go to back, now,” I said plaintively after a moment. I felt small and rejected, and I hated the way he could make me feel so good and then so unworthy within a matter of seconds.

 

 

“Burke,” said James. He sounded pained, tortured, even, as he reached out his hand and grazed my cheek, going down my neck, following the hopscotched trails of scratches down my skin. His eyebrows were scrunched together in some worry, but the prevailing semblance of cool indifference had settled back down around his features, and as he let his arm fall limply back at his side he was James Potter once again: unavailable, unapproachable, unattainable. Mortal no more.


 

“I want to go.” I said again, more clearly this time, and the rest of the journey towards my dormitory was encased in a bleak silence.


 

When we got to Ravenclaw Tower and made it past the knocker, Mia and Scorpius were already waiting for us, sitting anxiously on the edge of the sofa cushions.


 

“Fucking hell, what took you so long?” Mia demanded, springing up from her seat and stepping towards me, but Scorpius beat her to it, wrapping his arms around me and pressing his head into my shoulder.


 

“Corn, I’m so sorry,” Scorpius mumbled into the thick sweatshirt I was still wearing. “I should’ve been near you, I should’ve protected you, you’re like my sister, how did I not protect you?”


 

“It’s okay,” I patted Scorpius on the back before he released me. His words were slurring into one another, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he passed out.


 

“You’re okay?” Mia demanded, pushing Scorpius away so she could look me up and down.


 

I nodded sharply, leaving no room for question in my movements. “Completely fine.”


 

“Where’s Fred and Albus?” James spoke up from behind us, his voice so indifferent that it almost made me flinch.


 

“They went to deal with Flint,” Scorpius grunted at him . “Do you want me to stay here tonight?”


 

“What? No,” I smiled slightly, trying to reassure him that I really was okay. “Go to bed. I’m just going to sleep it off.”


 

Scorpius nodded, slightly relieved I think, but the concern never disappeared from his tired eyes.


 

“Thank you.” I spoke again, my words directed at James Potter, but he wasn’t looking at me when he said, it was nothing, and he said it like it was nothing. And as he walked out towards the knocker, Scorpius following him to return to Slytherin, all I wanted was for him to look back at me for at least a millisecond, and when he did, for one fleeting moment I swear his perfect mask slipped ever so slightly. But perhaps I had only seen what I wanted to see.


 

“Oh, God, Nellie,” Mia cried, bringing my attention back to her. “I’m so sorry. I was with Will, and I-” she broke off desperately, beseeching me with her wide brown eyes.


 

“No, no, it’s not your fault,” I told her, and because I knew exactly whose fault it was I meant it completely.


 

I could tell she wasn’t convinced. “What exactly happened?”


 

I sighed, suddenly incredibly fatigued. “Look, it’s not that big a deal. He just got a bit aggressive with me, that’s all. Fred and James overreacted a bit. Let’s just go to bed, yeah?”


 

Mia stared at me for a moment, her brown eyes wide and concerned. “Babe,” she said, biting her lip, but thankfully she didn’t press me any more as we started up the tower stairs


 

Thankfully, only Georgina Rivers was back in our dormitory. As we walked in, she looked up curiously, and I couldn’t really blame her; I probably looked like a mess, with my hair tangled and that scratch on my neck and my skirt hopelessly wrinkled, but as Mia carefully guided me to my bed like a shepherd, rummaging through my trunk to find my favourite nightshirt, Georgina kept staring at the pair of us.


 

“Are you alright?” she asked finally, setting down whatever book she was reading.


 

“No, she is not!” said Mia rather hysterically, but I waved her off.


 

“I’m fine.”


 

Georgina glanced from Mia to me. Her eyes were so light they were almost silver, and the way they pierced directly into you seemed intrusive, as if you couldn’t keep any secrets from them.


 

“I think Mia’s right,” she said simply, and then went back to reading her book as if we hadn’t come in in the first place.

 

 


 



 

Author’s Note:

 

It wasn’t easy to write something like this, nor I am sure was it easy for you all to read. But I included this in the plot because I believe that it is something that needs to be recognised across all platforms of art, literature, and social media. In the United States where I attend university, one in five women will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime, and in four out of five cases, the victim is at least acquainted with the perpetrator. Other genders also experience assault at high rates and that should not be ignored, but as Nellie identifies as a cisgender woman I chose to focus on that angle.

 

I didn’t write this to be provocative, or to make Nellie into some kind of victim. I wrote it because assaults during previously consensual hookups are so common that not including any references to it in the entire story would have seemed somehow more wrong. I also want everyone to remember that while Nellie believes what happened was not "bad" and feels okay (this will not present itself as a major plotline), other individuals (such as myself) have more serious and damaging reactions to their own experiences, and all of that is totally valid. I fully understand how triggering and upsetting this can be for some readers, and I’d like to note that the topic won’t be discussed for more than a few sentences in later chapters. Please take care of yourselves and use self-care to the fullest, and let me know what you think of this. Love to all.

 

 

Up next... A story of towers, beekeepers, and philosophical disagreements. 

 

 



Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: I do not own what you recognise. 

 

 


 

 

 

More than a week had passed since the incident at the end of October. I was thankful that the news hadn’t spread like the usual wildfire, but the lack of conversation left me in a strangely paranoid state, where I kept expecting the story to suddenly gain prominence in the gossip circuit. But apparently, the tale reached some parts of the castle, because on my way to a double Potions Lyra Avery and Seph Selwyn approached me, pulling me away from the main corridor down a hallway I had never seen before.


 

“Nellie,” Lyra began, almost businesslike with her approach. “Christian told us what happened the other night. He says he’s sincerely sorry and hopes that this won’t disrupt your friendship.”


 

“Are you serious?” I asked, after a moment of pure shock.


 

“Are you okay?” Seph frowned, her heart shape face contorting into concern, but before I could respond Lyra stepped forward.


 

“Look, we’ve all had to deal with our fair shares of Christians,” she hissed, her voice low and harsher than I’d ever heard it. “And since he didn’t actually do anything to you anyways don’t go making anything a big deal, because I promise no one will listen.”


 

“I know,” I glared at her. “I’m not stupid. Just tell him to stay away.”


 

“Calli is taking care of it.” Lyra said briskly, and then continued down the corridor without another glance back, Seph trailing behind her nervously.


 

What Lyra had said was true; they all did have to deal with other people like Christian, and most of them didn’t have anyone to save them. Most didn’t even know that they could be saved, and the hopelessness of it all crashed over me like a tidal wave until I was able to take a few deep breaths and push it back down, like I always did.


 

So aside from that, the incident mostly vanished from conversation into the passing days, the only real reminder of it taking the form of Fred Weasley’s sweater, which sat at the bottom of my bag until I finally spotted him in the Charms courtyard one afternoon, almost a week after the party.


 

“Fred!” I called and he turned, immediately abandoning his conversation and bounding over to me, almost like an excitable puppy.


 

“Hey,” I said, just as Fred said, “We have to talk.”


 

We both paused for a second.


 

“Erm, what?” I asked finally.


 

“You need to report Flint to the Headmistress,” Fred said, seriously. “He needs to be stopped.”


 

“I just came to return your sweatshirt,” I said after another awkward beat of silence. I held it out, but Fred merely looked at it without making any attempts to take it.


 

“Nellie,” he implored instead. I slowly lowered my arm. “I know that you’re fine from what happened. I get that. But he could do it again, if not to you than someone else.”


 

“He won’t,” I said fimly, and I believed it. I did. I had to, or else I would have to face the possibility of real consequences for my lack of action. “My - his community is taking care of it. Trust me, he won’t.”


 

Fred stared at me. Finally, he exhaled. “As long as you’re sure.” he said, even though he didn’t sound it himself.


 

“Can you just take the sweatshirt?” I held it out again, but Fred grinned evilly, his familiar spark of mischief returned as if it had never even left.


 

“‘S not mine, it’s James’s. Return it to him yourself, hm?”


 

Fred was so painfully obvious about the whole thing, and yet I didn’t really mind all that much.


 

“Then I’ll just toss it in the bin,” I responded smoothly without missing a beat.


 

“I’ll let him know you have it,” Fred said, smiling vacantly, and I cursed the fact that he was a lot more cunning than I had originally given him credit for. “See you around soon?”


 

“Yeah,” I muttered, and when I looked back, Fred was beaming triumphantly.


 

 



 

 

We waited until the castle was completely dark before we went to the Tower, all six of us - Mia with the mulled mead, Flynn with the Firewhiskey, Scorpius and Al with elf wine and Milo with the Butterbeer. I had opted to bring Cauldron Cakes, an idea I thought was genius, really, but earned me a good amount of insults from everyone else until people were drunk enough to be hungry.


 

“Guys,” said Mia a little while later, crumbs of cake falling out of her mouth. “I’m pissed.”


 

“No you’re not,” Flynn scoffed. The moon was out tonight, and from up here Flynn’s auburn hair looked like it was practically glowing in certain places.


 

“I am too!” Mia protested by taking another swig of her wine. “More pissed than you!”


 

“Everyone’s more pissed than me,” Flynn said easily. “Everyone’s more pissed than you! Look at Nellie!”


 

“I am not pissed.” I told them stoutly, wrapping the blanket draped across my shoulders more tightly around my frame.


 

“Liar liar,” Scorpius tsked me, from where he was lying down next to Milo’s feet, and I aimed a kick at him but missed completely, nearly sending the handle of Firewhiskey toppling to the ground.


 

“Why’re you lying down?” Mia prodded Scorpius, completing the task I had failed at only moments earlier.


 

“Stars,” Scorpius replied, as his explanation, and evidently it was adequate because no one questioned him further.


 

“Do you lot ever think about what we’re going to do after Hogwarts?” Milo asked. It was a random inquiry but it didn't really seem like it was, because when we were pissed everything was a little random anyways.


 

Flynn snorted. “No.”


 

“Of course,” Mia responded, shooting Flynn a pointed look. “We’re Sixth Years. How could we not?”


 

“Flitwick has certainly shoved it up our arses enough,” Scor grunted, still on his back.


 

“Let me see if I can get everyone’s future careers right,” Albus held up his hands, and we all silenced. “Scorpius and I - Aurors or homeless mates. Milo - Healer or evil Herbologist. Mia - fashionista or famous fashionista. Flynn - fuck, I don’t know, mate. Same with you, Nels. Maybe real estate brokers.”


 

“Thanks!” I exclaimed sarcastically, snatching the Cauldron Cake that he had just tried to reach for away.


 

“Fashionista? Hm. Maybe I’ll be a beekeeper instead,” Mia mused, taking more of the mulled mead from the middle of our circle.


 

“Sorry?” Scorpius sat up, his pale face much more flushed than usual. “Like, you’ll grow bees?”


 

“I think it could be fun!” Mia exclaimed, to the skepticism of the rest of the group.


 

“Maybe you are pissed,” Albus told her, and she laughed, the sound tinkling and carefree.


 

“Mia Templeton, Queen Bee of the Bees,” Milo tested, and then nodded thoughtfully. “It’s not bad.”


 

“But what would you do with the bees, Mia?” Flynn asked in a patronisingly slow tone, but Mia responded accordingly.


 

“I would make honey, of course,” she replied immediately, and then shot a pointed look at Flynn. “And train them to attack all of my enemies on command.”


 

“They’d be overworked, then, wouldn’t they?” commented Flynn mildly, and Mia grinned and settled comfortably against his shoulder, and I was surprised to note that he didn’t push her off like he usually would.


 

“So we have a Healer, two Aurors, and a beekeeper. Looks like it’s just you and me, Nels,” Flynn smirked, and while any other time I would be offended to be grouped with Flynn in any category, right now it seemed okay. It was rather true, anyways - Flynn and I were the only ones who didn't have a clear career path or interest, and I was lucky that I was drunk enough for the topic not to give me a flash of panic or anxiety.


 

“Nellie can be my beekeeping assistant,” Mia offered, in a tone that implied she surely thought she was being generous.


 

“I cannot bee-lieve you wouldn’t make me your equal in this scenario,” I said, and everyone groaned and tried to slap me on the back of the neck which I dodged, laughter coming out of my lungs in little gasps.


 

It was so nice to be up here with everyone. The past couple of months had flown by much too fast and the entire year had felt a little strange, like our lives were balancing on a scale that was ever so slightly off kilter, but this was what all of us needed: repose, company, laughs, booze, and as we all went our separate ways to bed and then regrouped at breakfast, it was clear that the night had been uplifting and helpful for everyone.


 

In fact, throughout the day I was in such a good mood that I completely forgot about the events from the week previous, which had every day since then crept into my mind like an unwelcome pest. I had nearly wiped it out of my memory completely until I saw James Potter on the opposite end of the corridor I was walking down to Arithmancy. The second I saw him I looked away from him instantly as my whole body became tense and focused, and I wondered if I could pretend not to see him since I was sure if he saw me he would do the same. But then I realised I still needed to give him that stupid sweater back, and I was just debating whether or not to turn around or keep walking when the decision was made for me.


 

“Hey,” James Potter called, crossing the length of the hallway in easy strides. “Burke!”


 

Curious heads turned towards us almost instantaneously, but then like an absolute blessing from heaven the warning bell rang and people began hurrying off to class, James Potter intrigue forgotten.


 

“Hey,” I said, like a cautionary question. The sting of rejection from the night of the party still smarted, and I felt almost uncomfortable in my own skin, unsure of how to act around him.


 

Potter stopped in front of me, his tie slung over his shoulder in only a manner that he could pull off. “How are you?”


 

“Good, and you?”


 

“Good,” he nodded, and then jerked his head to indicate that we should keep walking. I was relieved to note that the frigid space that had been between us the night of the party didn’t seem to be present, but with him I could never be too sure which way our interaction would go.


 

There was a pause, the only noise the sound of our footsteps, strangely in time.


 

“Anyways,” I said awkwardly, rummaging through my bag until I pulled out the sweater. “I just wanted to return this.”


 

James glanced at it quickly before looking back up at me. “That’s not mine, it’s Fred’s.”


 

Wow, was I going to kill Fred Weasley.


 

“Well, would you mind taking it? I already tried to give it back to Fred and he told me it was yours.”


 

“Did he?” asked James mildly, mercifully accepting the bundled up fabric from my hand and putting it in his backpack. “Well, Fred says he’s colourblind so maybe that’s why.”


 

My lips quirked up into a sort of smile without meaning to. “Says he’s colourblind?”


 

“With Fred you never know,” James said easily, and then grew more somber. “But, erm, how are you really, Burke?”


 

“I’m fine,” I answered tersely, as we turned a corner.


 

“You don’t have to be,” James said quietly, and for some reason that irked me to no end.


 

“You know, you don’t have to treat me like this,” I snapped at him, crossing my arms over my chest.


 

Potter immediately grew defensive, and we stopped in the middle of the corridor. “Like what?”


 

“Like I’m fucking fragile!”


 

“Oh, well, excuse me for trying to be a decent human being,” he retorted, eyes blazing. “Godric forbid I actually act like I care about something other than myself for a change.”


 

I considered his words for a moment, and then nodded, my shoulders sloping down in defeat.


 

“Sorry,” I muttered. I had noticed it now, too, my tendency to accuse him of acting anything but cordial, and I was almost ashamed to have snapped at him like that.


 

“You’re really okay?” James whispered, just as the bell rang for a second time. Now the hallways were completely empty, and I felt a strange sort of thrill rush through me, an anticipation of something I wasn’t completely aware of yet.


 

“Yes,” I whispered back.  


 

“Good,” he said, then he grinned abruptly, the left side of his mouth quirking up, and it was dazzling in a way. “Because I’ve missed our little conversations, Cornelia.”


 

Without any indication at all, he was speaking like he had in the Room of Requirement: relaxed, suggestive, flirtatious, and all at once, I felt the energy that had been present in that discussion rush back to us.


 

“They’re not conversations, they’re arguments,” I told him, crossing my arms again but not angrily this time.


 

“Slight philosophical disagreements,” James amended loosely.


 

“So now being insulting is just a metaphysical misunderstanding?” I challenged, and I had a Shakespeare quote in mind but I forced myself to save it for later.


 

“Are you calling me insulting or yourself?” he asked, rather amusedly.


 

I snorted. “What do you think?”


 

“Fine,” he said. He took a step towards me, and I mirrored him. “Do you want to know what I think? For real?”


 

I raised my eyebrows, inviting him to continue.


 

“I think that I think about you more often than I should, Burke.” James said, rather quietly.


 

The intensely building electricity had reached its peak, and even though a jolt cascaded through my body and all I wanted to do was some sort of jumpy victory dance, I held my ground. This wasn’t over, and I wasn’t going to let him win that easily. He held all of the power with that statement - now it was my turn to seize the controls.


 

“Do you?” I asked him. “I think that you think about me when it’s convenient. When you’re bored.”


 

“And why would you think that?” James’s expression never changed, but he as he shifted his weight to his left leg he took a miniscule step backwards, giving me all of the leverage I needed.


 

“Because,” I said. Step forward. “You like the chase I offer you. You’re turned on by the give and take, the banter. The fight for the upper hand.”


 

James’s eyes narrowed, not because he was angry, but because he understood the game I was playing. He was focused, purposeful, and instead of merely standing his ground, he edged closer as well, claiming some of the space that hovered in the No Man’s Land between us. “So now this is a power struggle?”


 

I cocked my head, surveying him. “Hasn’t it always been?” I asked carefully.


 

“Maybe it has. And, maybe,” he said huskily, taking another step towards me, “I am turned on by the fight.” Now I was backed up against the wall in the weaker position, and I cursed myself for not having stood on the other side of him.


 

“Maybe we’re too similar for our own good,” I said softly, and I was being deliberate about every little move I made. I bit the side of my lip lightly, I let some of my hair fall forwards into my face, I glanced up through my eyelashes - I was goading him, egging him on like I always did, and I could tell by the way his eyes darkened that it was working. But he must’ve been doing it too, because his muscular arm was against the wall near my head, trapping me in place, and his scent was absolutely encapsulating as it hit me in waves, and my breaths were coming in audible gasps as his body moved so close that I could feel his heat spreading out over my entire body and warming me from the inside out, like he was the sun on an early-spring day.


 

“Burke,” James Potter murmured, but it wasn’t annoyed or disapproving; it was of a raspy quality, husky with desire and longing.


 

“Potter,” I breathed.


 

His hand had found its way underneath the hem of my shirt, and as he ran his fingers slowly up my spine, my body betrayed me and shivered against my will. It was a battle of discipline now - who would bow to the temptation before the other, who would lose control, who would be the first to break.


 

He was.


 

With a slight moan, he grabbed my face between both of his hands and brought my mouth to his, and then we were kissing, kissing like I had never kissed anyone before. I wrapped my fingers in his hair, his stupid fucking perfect hair, and just let myself absolutely melt into his touch, like syrup or honey, something just as sweet and just as impossibly addicting.


 

And briefly I wondered if anyone could see us, but it didn’t matter compared to the feeling of my back pressed up against the cold stone, of his tongue tracing the outline of my lips, of his arm holding my waist while his other hand ran through my hair, behind my neck, down my back and then up again. I couldn’t help but wrap my legs around his frame, because I wanted more, more than he could give me in this tight space and upright position, and he responded fiercely, his hands exploring unmarked territories, pressing me into him as hard as he could, as if he was feeling the same way I was.


 

And then all at once, it was over as quickly as it had come. With no warning at all, Potter pushed me off of him slightly, taking a step back in the same movement.


 

“I don’t think about you when it’s convenient,” said Potter, and he sounded inexplicably angry as he ran one of his hands through his hair, grasping the strands tightly with his fingers, pulling on it like I had just done moments ago. “I think about you when it isn’t.”


 

And before I could respond, he had disappeared around the corner, leaving me suddenly cold in the absence of his heat.



 



 

Author’s Note: Well, it finally happened - sort of? Sorry for the briefness and filler quality of this chapter, but please please review - the next chapter is where it picks up!


 

 

 

 

 

Up next...A story of flower arrangements, pimping, and fire.



Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 

Disclaimer: I don't own what you recognise.  

 

 

 



 

“Pink or white?” Mia asked me impatiently, and I jolted back into awareness. My mind had been elsewhere for the past hour, quill doodling meaningless lines and scratches instead of working on my Transfiguration homework, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this wasn’t the first time she had tried to get my attention.


 

“Er, white,” I told her hastily.


 

Mia made a note on the scrap piece of parchment she had been scribbling little notes on, and as I craned my neck to look at it she moved it slightly away.


 

I frowned. “Sorry - what’s this for?”


 

“Flower arrangements for your wedding with James Potter,” said Mia loftily, making another note. “White was a good choice.”


 

My mouth dropped open in horror. “You - give me that!”


 

“What do you want your first dance song to be?” Mia called over my protests, holding the paper above my head like bait. “I was thinking ‘A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love-’”


 

I shrieked and dived for the parchment but she dodged me neatly, rolling off of the couch in one move and hopping back on her feet in another. Finally I managed to pry the offending paper out of her smug grip and toss it in the fire, where it caught on flame with a satisfying sizzle.


 

“Will you just admit it?” Mia asked, once we had settled back into our seats and our breathing had returned to normal. “You’re dating James Potter!”


 

“We are not dating.” I said firmly, crossing my arms in emphasis, but she persisted.


 

“You could be-”


 

“We literally just kissed once a couple of days ago!”


 

“That means that-”


 

“You snogged Gerard Quentin last year, does that mean you two are together? What a lovely couple you would make - you could watch him tend to his flesh eating snail collection!”


 

“Okay, I get it,” Mia backtracked hastily. “Still, I think this is more than you’re making it out to be.”


 

“James and I can barely stand to be in the same room as one another for more than ten seconds,” I said, although I knew it was a lie; I constantly felt gravitated to the charisma that defined the enigmatic year above.


 

“But this was a sober kiss,” Mia insisted. “Sober first kisses mean so much more than drunk ones.”


 

She did have a point there, but there was no way in hell I would ever acknowledge it aloud.


 

“What about you and Davies?” I queried, and even though she tried not to, she immediately smiled, her eyes practically transforming into hearts.


 

“Will is just so different from any of the other boys I’ve dated,” she gushed. “He’s nice, and genuinely sweet, and kind, and - I don’t know, he just knows how to be a good boyfriend. He’s a man, seriously.”

 

 

“Well, I’m happy for you,” I told her, and she beamed at me, James Potter blissfully forgotten. “Hey, do you know where my Transfiguration notes from last Monday are?”


 

“I dunno,” she shrugged. “Go ask Milo upstairs; I think he had them last.”


 

“And, I don’t suppose you’d come with me?” I asked drily.


 

“No, you don’t.”said Mia loftily, and I rolled my eyes at her before sliding my chair back and retreating up the long staircase to the Sixth Year Boy’s dormitory.


 

The door to their bedroom was slightly ajar, and as I pushed it open I could see Milo crouched over a chest in the far corner of the dormitory, mumbling phrases at a speed so rapid that they were practically incoherent.


 

“Milo?” I rapped on the front of the door to get his attention, and he jumped, his lanky body straightening up immediately like he was a puppet and someone had tugged on his strings.


 

“Oh, hello, Ms. Cornelia Burke!” Milo exclaimed, but it wasn’t excitable; instead, his voice was high pitched and nervous. “Nellie, as your name may be, heh heh, heh heh!”


 

“Why are you talking like that?” I asked suspiciously, trying to peer around him, but to his credit he was so goddamn tall that it was easy for him to cloud my line of vision with his narrow frame.


 

“Like what?” Milo shrugged, and then chuckled again. “Heh heh, heh.”


 

“You’re doing your creepy laugh,” I furrowed my brow, once again attempting to look at whatever he had been huddled over when I first came in.


 

“No, I’m not,” Milo stepped towards me, blocking me even further. But, being a good deal shorter than him I had a much lower center of gravity, and so I was able to sidestep his attempt to shield and duck under his arms to whatever he had been standing over.


 

For a moment, nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary.


 

And then I looked down.


 

“Milo?” I said slowly, and then whipped around to turn to him. “Shit! Milo!


 

“I know!” he wailed, his hands coming up to wring the flat hairs on his head, making him appear rather maniacal.


 

“How do you have that? Why?”


 

“I didn’t know that’s what I bought, I swear to Merlin!” Milo cried. “Nellie, you have to believe me, I swear, I didn’t know! I thought it was a pygmy puff!”


 

“A pygmy puff?” I repeated hysterically, because there was no way on earth I could ever mistake that for a soft fluffy ball of love. The creature was hard and scaly, with claws like a crab and a body like a scorpion, and as it started to move I slammed the lid of the box shut, breathing hard.


 

“Nellie, I don’t know what to do,” Milo said panickedly. “Phillip McSwain sold the egg to me on the Hogwarts Express and it only hatched a couple of weeks ago! And now it’s bigger, and stings you, and shoots out fire-”


 

Fire?” I took a hasty step back.


 

“I don’t know what to do!” Milo repeated, his voice becoming increasingly distraught as he beseeched me desperately. “What do I do?”


 

While Milo’s head was always miles away from the rest of ours his heart needed to be the closest, and I could tell he was too worked up to formulate any type of rational plan to amend the situation.


 

“Okay,” I told him, touching his arm gently, and he relaxed slightly, his gaze never once leaving my face. “I’ll take care of it.”

 

 



 

Dusk was falling over the castle by the time we managed to set out across the grounds. Albus levitated the crate in front of him as I dropped bits of the roast beef that I had nicked from dinner into the slits of the box, taking care to keep my hands at a reasonable distance.


 

I had originally planned on handling the monster alone, but after nearly getting my eyebrows singed off from a burst of flames I decided that I needed help.


 

It hadn’t been too difficult to find him. His schedule was fairly predictable - study in library, have tea, screw around with Scorpius - and so it had only taken me a couple of minutes to track him down.


 

“Hey, Al,” I had called rather breathlessly, and he looked up from his rather slow gait down the hallway.


 

“What’s up?” he asked me, and I plowed on with no hesitation whatsoever.


 

“Remember that time a couple of years ago you asked me to do that thing for you, no questions asked? And you said if I ever needed anything, you’d do it?”


 

“Yeah?” said Albus, rather warily.


 

“Well,” I had said, stopping in front of him so that he was forced to stop walking too. “You owe me.”


 

 

So now we stopped together in front of the small cottage at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, united in this perilous task that didn’t really have much to do with us in the first place.

 

 

“Are you ready?” Albus asked me, and once I nodded he raised his hand and knocked on the huge wooden door twice.


 

In no time at all we heard heavy footsteps, and then -


 

“Albus!” Hagrid the Groundskeeper bellowed, sweeping him into a hug so tight that I didn’t know how Al’s ribs didn’t splinter on the spot.


 

“Hagrid, we’re so sorry for the intrusion-” Albus began once Hagrid had released him and we had been ushered inside the hut, but Hagrid waved his huge hand in the air dismissively.


 

“Codswallop! Look, yer brother decided ter stop in tonigh’, too!”


 

I don’t know how I didn’t spot them the moment we walked in, but sure enough at the table in the corner sat James Potter, across from him Rose Weasley, who waved exuberantly at us. Potter didn’t even glance up.


 

“Right, well, we have kind of an emergency,” said Al, barely even awarding his family members more than a quick nod, and I forced myself to focus solely on Hagrid. “One of our friends accidentally, erm, acquired this egg believing it was a pygmy puff, and, well…”


 

Hagrid leaned over the box, his huge frame almost buckling with the effort to peer down. “Wha’ is it?”


 

“It’s,” I struggled. “Erm-”


 

“Blimey,” Hagrid breathed before I could attempt to explain. “A blas’ ended screwt is wha’ that is! I haven’ seen one of those in years!”


 

Albus grimace. “We didn’t know what to do other than bring him to you-”  


 

“Nonsense! Yeh came ter the right place,” Hagrid beamed, his ruddy cheeks raising up so high that his eyes practically became slits. “I’ll take good care of this little fella.”


 

“Little?” I muttered. Rose stood up a little to try to peak in the crate, but Albus shifted so that he was blocking her view and she scowled.


 

“You’re the best, Hagrid. Thank you so much.” Albus said, and Hagrid sort of nodded and shuffled on his feet, like he was almost embarrassed by the appreciation.


 

“I’ll be righ’ back,” he told us, voice gruff with emotion, and then picked up the crate like it was as heavy as a bar of soap and carried it out through the door.


 

“Let me guess,” Rose turned to Al and I, as soon as the door had fallen shut. “Milo?”


 

“Who else?” Al smiled slightly. I allowed myself a second glance at James, but he was still staring stonily down at his chipped teacup, refusing to look up towards the rest of us.


 

“Never a dull moment with that boy,” Rose grinned, and then gasped so suddenly I thought the blasted screw-whatever had escaped from its cage. “Wait - I almost forgot! There’s a thing in Gryffindor tonight and you have to come!”


 

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Albus told her, and I smiled politely beside him, not sure if the invitation pertained to me completely. But then Rose turned to me earnestly, gripping my arm in a way that could only be described as forceful.


 

“Nellie,” she implored, clawing my biceps harder. “Please come with Mia and whoever. If Roxanne and I have to spend the night alone with Catherine McDonough again I’m going to scream.”


 

“I’ll try my best,” I promised her, and as Rose released my arm James Potter stood up from his seat, so suddenly that the chair squealed in protest against the dusty wood floors. He shot one look of pure contempt at Rose and then crossed the small space in two steps and left the hut, slamming the door behind him with enough force to rattle the giant-sized mugs hanging along the walls.


 

“Come tonight,” Rose turned back to me, as if nothing had happened. “Just come.”


 



 

“This is by far the worst idea you’ve ever had,” I groaned. We were standing in the corridor near the Gryffindor Common Room, preparing ourselves to go in. Or I was preparing myself. Mia was always ready for anything, and right now I could tell she wasn’t going to let me bow out.


 

“Stop being so dramatic,” Mia told me, which was slightly ironic since she was the most dramatic person I’d ever met. “Al and Scorpius will be here, and Will is coming too. We’ll have plenty of friends.”


 

“And apparently some foes,” I muttered, squeaking the toe of my trainers along the marble floor.


 

“James Potter is not a foe,” Mia emphasised. “He just doesn’t know how to handle his feelings for you.”


 

At that, I almost snorted, because of course James Potter didn’t have actual feelings for me - I was just always there, convenient and around, existing in his mind only when he wanted me to.


 

“I just - I feel like if I walk in there he’s going to slam the door in my face,” I told her quietly, and I knew Mia could tell that I really was anxious about it because she looked at me, long and hard.


 

“Then we go with our heads high and ignore the son of a bitch.” said Mia firmly, and she was pulling me down the corridor so fast that I couldn’t have responded if I’d tried.


 

The Fat Lady made a big huff about us knowing the password but she still let us in, where we found the party already in full swing: flashing lights, bottles everywhere, people dancing on tables - scratch that, Fred Weasley dancing on tables, his muscled bare chess illuminated every so often by the red and gold disco ball twirling on the ceiling. Fairly normal event by Gryffindor standards, honestly.


 

But even though we soon found Al and Scorpius, I found myself in a state of heightened anxiety that one, two, three drinks couldn’t seem to fix, nor the music nor dancing, and I was seriously thinking about leaving when someone spoke from behind me.


 

“You make me lose control.” Through all the voices and laughter and chaos I somehow just knew that it was James Potter, but I didn’t turn around until he said it again. “That’s why I’m so angry with you. Because you make me lose control.”


 

“I don’t understand...” I said slowly, but James was already shaking his head through my words.


 

“I’m not myself when I’m around you,” he pressed on. I could smell him now, intoxicating and sweet, and I had to try my best not to lean into his scent. “It’s like I have no power over my thoughts or actions. You make me lose control.”


 

It was an almost impossible thought to wrap my head around, that I somehow had an effect on him when in reality it could only have been the other way around. But with alcohol swirling around my blood I felt bold and confident; I felt like I could say things the way Mia did and maybe even be like her: flirtatious and daring, excited to take risks and even more to enjoy the freefall. So I cocked my head, appraising him, and in that moment, I swear I was fearless.


 

“So stop hanging onto it so tightly, then,” I told him. “Give in.”


 

“Give in?” James repeated, as if it were a foreign concept, and I nodded.


 

“Yeah,” I said, and I could feel the heat rising like a fever, the temperature swirling around us as pervasive and stifling as humidity. “Lose control.


 

“Cornelia, you’re drunk,” James shook his head, but still he took a step closer, his breathing shallow. “We can’t do this.”


 

“I want to,” I replied, and his hands wound around the small of my waist, slow and carefully, a calculated decision.


 

“You’re so drunk,” he said again. His forehead pressed into mine until we were touching, our noses bumping into one another in a rhythm of possibility.


 

“I want to.” I repeated, as I looked deep into his golden eyes and felt his hands tighten around my waist, and then I was falling, not down or towards the ground but into him, our lips crashing like waves, in, in, in, and we collapsed onto the couch or the floor or wherever we were, intertwined and tangled and together, and I didn’t regret a single thing, not a touch or a kiss or a whisper, not any of it.

 



 

The first time it happened, I was on my way to Charms with Milo, Willow, and Flynn.


 

“Cornelia,” said James lightly, falling into place next to me. “Having a good afternoon?”


 

“I am,” I replied carefully, not over the initial shock of him approaching me in a public setting. “Are you?”


 

“I am now,” he murmured, coming just close enough to brush his hand against mine purposefully before taking a sharp left down a different corridor, and Willow’s mouth dropped so wide open that Flynn had to remind her to close it.


 

But the next time it happened just Mia was by my side, and this time, I was ready for it.


 

“So, Burke - how does it feel to be the object of my affections?” James called as I made my way to the Great Hall, catching the attention of every student trying to push their way through the crowded hallway.


 

“I’m not an object, Potter,” I called back breezily, continuing my stride with Mia, and I swear I could hear his booming laugh even after I turned the corner.


 

“I heard she threatened Slughorn into brewing her a love potion,” one girl whispered while we sat down to lunch at the Slytherin table.


 

I heard she did it herself.” the girl’s friend replied, glancing at me sideways with an expression so fearfully awed that I couldn’t help the fit of laughter that overtook me.


 

“She’s blackmailing him,” I overheard another one say, a little while later while we were walking to Charms. “Albus Potter accidentally let a family secret slip, and now she’s using it to make James date her.”


 

“You know, I think you’re right,” Mia turned around abruptly, and the girls’ eyes widened when they saw the two of us. “Because instead of extorting one of the wealthiest families in the Wizarding World for their money, Nellie decided to force their eldest son to talk to her once in awhile.”

 

 

It was strange, in a way, to be hearing possible conspiracy theories about myself day in and day out. I had never paid too much attention to the gossip and intrigue around James, and now here I was right in the middle of it, the whisperers so widespread that by late afternoon the murmurings about James and I had traveled to the Quidditch pitch, too.


 

“You’re brilliant!” Moose yelled, lifting me off of the ground and swooping me up into a bear hug, swinging my legs around and around.


 

“Are you mad?” I pushed him off of me, but despite his wiry frame he was no weakling and it was a difficult task.


 

“You're dating Potter!” Moose whooped, stepping back slightly. “You can seduce all of his plays and strategies out of him! This is fantastic, this is Christmas-”


 

“Wait, no - Moose-”


 

“I knew you had it in you - and I was going to ask you or Beck to do something like this anyway but you thought of it all by yourself! Brilliant, Nellie, just absolutely-”


 

“I am not dating James Potter!” I cried, and Moose finally shut up for a moment.


 

“Just putting out for him,” Jack supplied, and I hexed him so quickly that he didn't even have time to yell.


 

“You were going to pimp out Nellie and I?” Beck asked Moose as Jack hopped around, his legs and mouth fused together as if they had been glued shut.


 

“Only if we lost to Slytherin,” he replied with no remorse whatsoever, and although Cicely looked extremely indignant Beck merely shrugged, as if she rather understood where he was coming from.


 

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint,” I rolled my eyes, and Moose sort of sighed, like he actually was really let down.


 

“It’s fine,” he told me, rather glumly, and then clapped his hands together. “Warm-ups! Two laps!”


 

We all began running except for Jack, who tried to take a step and then promptly landed face first in the mud.


 

“Nellie,” Kato called as we looped around the first goal posts, and I fell slightly back behind the rest of the group to meet him, pushing my two French braids out of my face as I did.


 

“What’s up?”


 

“You’re not serious, right?” Kato asked. His eyes were trained straight in front of him steadily as we ran, like he didn’t want to look at me, and I mirrored his body language as our pace matched up. “Like, Moose was joking. Right?”


 

“Erm,” I struggled, trying to come up with an appropriate answer.


 

“So you’re dating him.” Kato said flatly, and it didn’t take a Ravenclaw to detect the disdain in his voice.


 

“No! I barely even know him!”


 

“Then, Nellie,” said Kato, rather patronisingly. I resented his tone. “You can’t fraternise with the enemy like this.”


 

“I can,” I shot back, not denying that he was, in fact, the enemy.


 

“He’s tried to kill you!” Kato accused, as we slowed down from our laps. “He’s insulted and embarrassed you repeatedly!”


 

“Charlie Finnigan tried to kill me,” I said, but I didn’t deny the other two because I couldn’t, no matter how much I wished they weren’t true.


 

“Just - don’t date him.” Kato came out with finally, as we approached the rest of the group, where Beck and Benjy were heckling Jack and Moose was already yelling at Cicely about something.


 

“I won’t,” I said, but even as I said it I knew it was already a worthless promise, especially because not four hours after that I found myself journeying back from the Gryffindor Common Room, James Potter by my side like he had been for the past couple nights or so.


 

“That was fun,” he commented lightly, as we turned the corner into a dimly lit corridor I didn’t quite recognise.


 

“It was,” I said, and I meant it.  We had studied in his room, a task that was more unproductive than useful, but I didn't really care that I hadn't finished my work, not when the benefits of slacking in that situation so vastly outweighed the cons. 


 

“You know, there is a broom cupboard over there. We could continue what we-”


 

“Piss off,” I laughed, shoving him slightly, but he only smirked harder.


 

“I’m serious, Burke,” he said, and now I honestly couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not.


 

“Well, I-”


 

“No, Sirius,” James grinned, the kind of smile that was wide and uninhibited. “It’s my middle name. I’m Sirius.”


 

“How many times have you used that joke?” I asked drily.


 

“No more than twice this week.”


 

“You’re truly a revolutionary,” I deadpanned, and he shrugged as if to say, I just can’t help it.


 

“What’s your middle name?” James asked after a pause, and even though it was a simple question - innocent, really - my shoulders automatically tensed up and the previously relaxed corners of my mouth twitched down.


 

“Why do you want to know?”


 

James stopped walking and leaned back easily against the stone wall, his face illuminated by a nearby torch. “It’s getting a bit old just calling you Cornelia. I need something else to rile you up with.”


 

I stopped walking, too, cocking my head. “Well, you’re out of luck because I don’t have a middle name.”


 

James stared at me for a moment until a scowl settled across his face.


 

“Yes, you do,” he countered, and I hated the way he could always tell when I was lying.


 

“I don’t.” I crossed my arms. “Don’t ask me about it again.”


 

“Why?”


 

“Because,” I said as my answer, starting to walk down the corridor once again.


 

“Are you always this guarded, or is it only with me?” James accused, and his words were so sharp that I whipped around to glare at him.


 

“I’m not guarded at all.”


 

“You are,” he said. “I can read you better than you want me to, and you’re not someone who opens up easily to people, maybe even at all.”


 

“That’s not true-” I tried to protest it, but he was already stepping forward, his short temper ignited as quickly as tinder in a dry forest.


 

“It is. What about with the letter, when you were in that alcove?”


 

“That’s because that was fucking private-”


 

“But everything’s private to you, Cornelia, isn’t it?”


 

Screw you-”


 

“It’s a simple question, Burke.” Potter crossed his arms, mirroring my already defensive position.


 

“We both know it’s not,” I said angrily, and I didn’t know why I was so upset at his prying but I just was.


 

“Then just answer me. Why are you so closed off?”


 

James Potter could see right through me, see me more than anyone else ever had with so little time of knowing me, and because that scared me I continued to stare stonily at him, even as he took another step towards me.  


 

“There’s this dark side to you.“ His voice was now low and husky, and I could feel his breathing grow more ragged, eyes darkened and hooded. “What made you like this?”


 

Stop trying to paint me as your victim,” I said harshly, because it was true, truer than any other way I’d tried to peg him before. He was attracted to me because he saw my slight weaknesses, and God did they turn him on - they kindled something deep within him that would only be satisfied once he had fixed me or figured me out, whichever came first. I was nothing but an obsessive distraction to fend off boredom, a preoccupation with a jagged-edged puzzle that was supposed to come out as a pretty picture once it was put back together again, but I wasn’t the edges or the puzzle or the picture because I wasn’t going to allow myself to be his fucking metaphor.


 

“I'm not. Jesus,” he said harshly, but the tiny flick of his eyebrow gave way to the truth. “I just wanted to know more about you.”


 

“Really?” I asked coldly. “Or did you want to figure me out? You’ve said it before - something’s off about me. So, what is it, Sherlock? Solve the mystery yet?”


 

“Fine, Burke,” snapped James, and now he was just as angry as I was. “I don’t want to know anything about your life. Is that fucking better?”


 

“Yeah,” I retorted. “It is.”


 

“Good,” he spat.


 

“Fine,” I shot back.


 

“Fine,” he said, and before I could respond his lips were crushing against mine and I was pulling him to me with all my might, grabbing his hair, wrestling with his jaw for the upper hand even as my shoulder blades clashed against the hard stone of the wall: trapped and cornered, his all-too willing prey.


 

I had meant to resist. But he had known exactly what to say and what to do and how to sound, and once the heat of his skin was close enough to feel but far enough away to crave, that was it - the fuel to the fire.


 

The problem was that James and I - we were the fire, as we took up oxygen and burned skin with clenched fingers and brushed flames across cheeks, and we couldn’t be stopped or controlled - we didn’t want to be, and that strangely intimate passion and excitement was too enticing for me to turn away from, even though I should have, God, I should have.


 

But perhaps the thrill of it all wasn’t my undoing. Perhaps it was merely him; with his sharp tongue and soft whispers and the way he always seemed to come back, no matter how many times I told him not to. Perhaps it was the manner in which he held himself, the way his eyes lit up when he allowed my given name to spill from his lips, Cornelia, like honey from a beehive and smoke from a cigarette all at once. Perhaps it was all of this and more, so much more than what I could put into words, but it didn’t matter in the end. It was all of it; it was all of it; it was all.


 

 


Author's note: Two updates in one week?? Clearly I've had too much free time. The next one is a little bit of a shorter chapter but with a LOT new revelations and drama, and then after one after that is a bit longer. Until then, please please please review! It gives me so much inspiration!

 

 



 

Up next...A story of patrol partners, salads, and lover’s quarrels.



Chapter 16: Chapter Sixteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise.

 

 


 

It was the type of afternoon that just warranted laziness; the kind of sloth that was unhurried and sluggish, where everyone seemed to move slower and speak in deeper tones. I was no exception, perched contentedly in one of the blue soft armchairs of the Ravenclaw Common Room, my Herbology book open but words untouched by my distracted gaze.


 

Mia was laying out on one of the couches next to me, dark hair spread behind her like a fan, plump red lips and wandering eyes like an invitation, and it wasn’t hard to say why Will Davies, who was lying next to her, had become so enamoured in only a few weeks.


 

“I think we’ll have a good shot against Slytherin,” Will told me, while his arm around Mia absentmindedly stroked the bare skin on her exposed shoulder. “I mean, Gryffindor had a close match with them a few weeks ago, and we’re more than equal to them.”


 

“You do know we killed Slytherin, right?” I asked skeptically. The match a week ago had been an easy and uneventful task, Moose only instructing we drag it out awhile so that we could rack up a substantial amount of points to secure our spot as first for the Cup.


 

“All I’m saying is that a Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw final could be in the making,” said Will easily, and I had to admire how he didn’t get overly defensive like Moose would, or begin insulting me like a certain James Potter might.


 

“Slytherin will for sure come in last,” I agreed, but deep in my mind I was doubting his confidence in his team.


 

“This topic is seriously putting me to sleep,” Mia groaned, and she began to feign a yawn but somewhere in the middle it morphed into a real one, her mouth opening so wide that I reckon she could have fit her entire fist into it.


 

“Do you need me to wake you up?” Will smirked, his sandy hair falling into his eyes slightly as he moved his body slightly to the side, and Mia giggled, clutching his tanned biceps as he hovered above her.


 

“Okay,” I stood up, straightening out my skirt so it didn’t ride up. “I’m leaving. Have fun sucking face.”


 

“God, you’re so uncouth, Nellie,” Mia pronounced, but she was smiling despite herself, and as I drifted out of the Common Room I managed to glimpse Will tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear before kissing her slowly, the act so personal and intimate that I felt the need to immediately glance away, like I'd witnessed something I shouldn't have.


 


 

 

“Alright, Nellie,” Benjy pointed at me the moment I sat down at the Ravenclaw table for tea, more crumbs falling out of his moving mouth than were contained inside of it. “Settle this debate for us.”


 

“Benjy and I think Flitwick that would absolutely annihilate Slughorn in a fight,” Beck explained from across the table. “But the Snakes here think that somehow two-hundred year old Horace Slughorn could win.”


 

“Slughorn is just as skilled as Flitwick is!” Albus protested with Flynn nodding vigourously next to him, and I could tell from the way Beck rolled her eyes they had already aired these arguments multiple times. “Potions work is the hardest discipline there is!”


 

“But you’re forgetting that Flitwick’s specialty is charms,” Beck insisted. “As in spellwork. As in, he could knock Slughorn on his arse before he even decides what bloody potion to make!”


 

“So?” Benjy asked me eagerly. Everyone turned expectantly.


 

“I’m going to say Slughorn,” I admitted finally, and Beck and Benjy both groaned, Beck even slamming her fist down onto the table in frustration. “Only because he could just sit on Flitwick and end the match right there.”


 

“You have betrayed your own House.” Benjy told me darkly, and I shot him a sweet smile before changing the subject.


 

“What’s everyone doing tomorrow?” I asked brightly, reaching for a chocolate biscuit. “I think the Room of Requirement thing will be fun.”


 

“Isn’t a certain James Potter and co hosting that?” Beck asked wryly, not even bothering to mask her disapproval, and I shrugged off the question.


 

“Yeah, but he told me to come and bring whoever. ‘Spect it’ll be a big thing anyways.”


 

“So, are you going to go?” Benjy asked me. His straight dark hair was sticking up slightly, and as I looked at it he caught my gaze and began smoothing it down.


 

“Yeah, I think so,” I said, frowning slightly at his tone. “Why?”


 

Benjy and Beck exchanged looks, and my scowl deepened at their alliance.


 

“Sorry Al - but don’t be so thick, Nellie,” Beck said, and I know she didn’t mean for it to sound so harsh but it did. “Potter makes people feel like the center of his world and then changes his orbit just as fast. You know what a prick he is, so don’t fool yourself into thinking anything’s different, because it isn’t.”


 

“Do you think it’ll be like that?” I turned to Al next to me for a second opinion, my brain almost refusing to take Beck's words as the truth.  


 

Albus sighed. “I don’t know. James doesn’t usually get this...I don’t know, personal or invested with girls. But, no,” he said hurriedly, as Beck shot him a warning look. “Beck is right. I’m sorry, Nels.” he offered, as his final answer.


 

“So, you won’t go to the party?” I asked Beck instead of responding directly to Al’s comment. It had hurt more than I wanted to admit, and although I could keep telling myself over and over that I was just hooking up with the eldest Potter for fun and not for actual feelings, I knew it wasn’t really true.


 

“It’s a bloody party. Of course I’ll be there,” said Beck brusquely. “But I’m not going on James sodding Potter’s invite.”


 

“Yeah,” said Benjy, one of his signature grins already taking impish shape. “I wouldn’t even go with Albus sodding Potter, the tosser.”


 

“Heard he's a real git,” said Flynn solemnly, who had been uncharacteristically quiet throughout the whole James Potter conversation. 


 

“I kind of like the sound of that,” said Al, musingly. “Albus Sodding Potter. Makes for a better middle name than Severus.”


 

Everything makes for a better middle name than Severus,” Beck told him, and we all murmured in agreement, Albus himself even shrugging along with it.


 

“So we’re all going, then, right?” I asked, a few beats off of the current conversation but I didn’t really care.


 

“I will, as long as the She-Wolf unsucks her face from Davies for half a second,” Flynn muttered, disgust coating every word, and I groaned.


 

“Are you and Mia fighting again?” I asked him exasperatedly.


 

“When are they not?” Al muttered. Benjy grunted in affirmation.


 

“But you’ve been so civil lately!”


 

“Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted,” Flynn shot back at me rather nastily, and I made a face at him.


 

“Where is Mia, anyways?” asked Beck. Her dark hair was plaited into the French braids that she usually wore to Quidditch practice, but it suited her, accenting her high cheekbones and bringing all attention to her face.


 

“Still with Will, I think,” I said, and for some reason that made Flynn scowl even further into his tea.


 

“Hey,” Albus nudged me, as Beck started talking about something comical Longbottom did in Herbology, Benjy adding things in every once in awhile even though he wasn’t even in her class. “I need to tell you something.”


 

“What’s up?” I asked him, and an odd look crossed Al’s face before it disappeared and his eyes grew sharp and purposeful.


 

“Hey Catherine,” he called abruptly, turning away from me slightly towards the brunette sitting a little ways down from us with a couple of Ravenclaws in the year below. “Are you going to work on that Potion’s essay tonight?”


 

“What? No, I’m not even taking Potions!” Catherine McDonough exclaimed. “I’m so relieved, too - I hear NEWT level is torture.”


 

“It is brutal,” I agreed, glancing back at Albus and raising my eyebrows at him, but he was still focused on Catherine.


 

“So then you must have to do that Transfiguration assignment,” Al pressed on, strangely insistently. “Are you working on it tonight?”


 

“No, I’m on patrol,” Catherine frowned slightly in confusion. “Didn’t you see the schedule?”


 

“No, yeah, I did - I’m just asking because Rose told me I could borrow her notes on Animagus theory but she’s using them tonight.”


 

“Oh,” Catherine brightened. “Of course you can use mine! I’ll give them to you at supper!”


 

“Great,” Albus told her, warmly. “Thanks so much.”


 

“No problem!” Catherine grinned, and after shooting her a quick smile Al shifted back towards me, frowning to himself like he was concentrating on something difficult.


 

“Let’s go to the tower tonight,” Al told me abruptly, just as I opened my mouth to ask him what was going on. “Invite Scorpius when you see him in Study, okay?”


 

“Sure...” I told him, rather slowly. “Are you okay?”


 

“Yeah, yeah,” Al said, distractedly. “I’m fine.”


 

“Oi! Nels! Have you lot seen Diana Jerkins’ new hair colour?” Beck leaned forward, and as we all fought to input our opinions on it Albus’s strange countenance was lost for my mind. But I did remember his idea for later that evening, and so when I was with Scorpius walking back from our Study Hall I brought up what Al told me.


 

“Hey, want to go to the tower tonight?” I asked Scorpius, nudging his arm slightly. “We can go with Albus and whoever else. I think Al needs it; he’s in a weird mood.”


 

I expected Scorpius to be excited - we had barely spent time all together this semester, anyways - but instead his face sort of froze until he leaned his head back and groaned.


 

“Ah, no, I can’t,” he lamented. “I’ve got a bloody patrol tonight.”


 

“But…” I frowned, thinking back to the schedule that had been pinned up in the corner of Ravenclaw since the first week of school. “Tonight’s not your night, is it?”


 

“No,” he shook his head. “But Catherine made me switch again, something about having to do the essay for Potions.”


 

I was about to respond when I stopped, the words about to roll off of my tongue silenced into abrupt nothingness.


 

Catherine has just said that she was so thrilled she wasn’t taking a Potions NEWT - and then suddenly everything just sort of clicked together, as easily and as naturally as an old key turning a lock, because I knew exactly who Catherine’s patrol partner was.


 

“It’s Rose Weasley,” I told him, quietly. I could feel my shoulders sag with the disappointment of my own stupidity, because how did I not see it before? “She’s who you’ve been with. She’s your secret girlfriend.”

 

 

Scorpius merely stared at me, jaw unhinged, until he found something to say. ”What? No, that’s absurd-”


 

“Just fucking save it, Scorpius,” I said tiredly, because I was tired, so freaking exhausted of all the scheming and hazy relationships and lack of truthfulness that already seemed to characterise our Sixth Year at Hogwarts. “How long?”


 

I’d still been holding onto the tiniest sliver of hope that I was wrong, but as Scorpius looked away from me it disintegrated, leaving me with a pit in my stomach and a sour taste in my mouth.

 

 

“Since July.”


 

Five months?”


 

“I should’ve told you-”


 

“But why didn’t you?” I asked plaintively, and I think my sudden emotions caught him off guard, because when he next opened his mouth nothing came out. “After we’ve been through everything together you couldn’t tell me something this important?”


 

“I should have told you,” Scorpius repeated. His pale eyes were bright and earnest, but I couldn’t look straight into them; they had deceived me for so long that whatever emotion they conveyed could not be trusted. “I’m so sorry.”


 

I didn’t know what to say. I had no fucking idea what to say or what to do, because the person I loved and relied on most in the entire world was now a complete stranger to me by their own choosing.


 

“I’m so sorry. I just - I don’t know. There’s no excuse.”


 

No, there isn’t! I wanted to yell, but I couldn’t. I was frozen, in a way, in this state of indecision, my body and mind not yet knowing exactly how they wanted to react.


 

“I never wanted you to find out like this, I swear was going to tell you before Christmas break - I am so fucking sorry, Corn. I'm sorry. Corn, please just look at me!”


 

“What?” I snapped, finally glancing up, and he recoiled slightly at my expression.


 

“Can you just,” Scorpius gestured helplessly, then let his arms fall back down to his sides. “I don’t know, tell me what’s on your mind?”


 

“Why should I?” I responded coldly, and instead of hurt I could feel anger building up inside of me, hot and boiling, ready to lash out and poison everything it touched. Ready to hurt him back. “You don’t extend the same courtesy to me.”


 

His face crumpled. “I didn’t mean to-”


 

“To what? To lie repeatedly to my face? To sneak around behind my back? To deny everything when I asked you multiple times if something was going on?”


 

“Corn-”


 

“No. You know what? Have fun with the choices you’ve made. Hope they were worth it, because you clearly don’t care about anything else.”


 

“Are you kidding me?” Scorpius cried, the sound of it desperate and bordering on hysterical. “You know you’re the most important thing to me, ever-”


 

“Then why the fuck did you not tell me?” I yelled, and my anger turned to blind fury in a second, the kind of violent rage that was irrational and instigative.


 

I don’t know!


 

“Well, there had to be some reason why you decided to live a double life and keep everything hidden from me-”


 

“Oh, but when you never tell me anything it’s just fucking fine, then, is it?” Scorpius snapped, his eyes flashing with their cool silver anger. “You never let me in-“


 

“That is bullshit-“


 

“No it’s fucking not, Nellie! You’ve never opened up to me! You’ve never talked to me about anything! You’re the one who doesn’t care!”


 

“Oh, so now I’m callous - really, that’s fucking rich,” I spat. “At least I’ve never lied to all of my family and friends for five bloody months!”


 

“I did it for a reason-”


 

“For your own personal benefit! You know, you’ve become much more Pureblood than I ever thought you could, Malfoy,” I sneered, and I relished my own vindictive tone. “Your father would be proud.”


 

“Well at least my father is around enough to be proud,” he retorted. “And at least my mother didn’t-” And then he froze, the words halting so abruptly that if I hadn’t been looking at him I would’ve thought he was hit by a Stunner.


 

“At least your mother didn’t what?” I asked, low and dangerously.


 

Scorpius didn’t respond, just kept standing like a statue, like a scared, horrified, regretful statue, but after what he just said he didn’t deserve any of my sympathy. He didn’t deserve anything.


 

“Didn’t give fuck all about anything? Didn’t leave on her own? Didn’t fuck over her entire family?”


 

“Corn-“ Scorpius whispered, strangled and agonised, and he reached out slightly to touch me but I pulled away.


 

“Don’t talk to me.” I told him, and it was so unequivocal that he didn’t even try to follow me as I took off in the opposite direction, passing through halls and staircases and corridors that barely even registered in my disrupted consciousness.


 

Although in my life I was already accustomed to spending a great deal of time by myself, living in an empty home with ghosted hallways and locked doors, I had never felt more alone than I did right now.


 

 




 

I slept until one o’clock on Saturday, and I didn’t bother getting out of bed or showering until four in the afternoon, where I went right back into my bed afterwards to continue my isolation. I survived on leftover chocolate frogs Adam had sent a couple of months ago and a leftover bag of sugar quills, and I mindlessly read and doodled on spare pieces of parchment, not able to focus on anything much.


 

It was almost nine at night when the curtains on my Four Poster were pulled apart with enough force to send the empty boxes of sweets toppling off of the bed in my shock.


 

“Albus told us what happened,” Mia began carefully, Beck and Willow behind her. “Do you want to-”


 

“No.”


 

“Stop sulking and get drunk?” Beck finished for Mia, and Willow held up a bottle of Elfin Wine.


 

“Yes,” I said immediately, and then again. “God, yes.”


 

“Then, cheers,” Mia grinned, producing a glass or two out of thin air. “And get dressed, we’re leaving for the RoR soon.”


 

“Must you abbreviate everything?” I sighed, but I did as she said, mainly because in all of my rumination over the cousin situation I had completely forgotten about the potential for fun that the night held. And Beck had been right; I really did need to stop sulking around, and so I had a glass of wine and gossiped about some Seventh Year Beck liked and something stupid one of Willow’s twin brother’s did to earn him a week’s worth of detention. It was nice and fun, and I was really trying to be as in the mood as everyone else was, but even as we got to the Room of Requirement something was still off about me, like it took much more effort than usual to smile and laugh and interact in general.


 

As we began circulating and saying hello to everyone I noticed that Rose Weasley was missing. With a sickening pull in my stomach I realised that she was probably absent for the same reason that Scorpius was, and another wave of hurt and fury washed over me before I managed to push it down and leave it for later. Beck had shot off to the bar the second we walked in but now was already back, handing out shots like they candy canes on Christmas, and I accepted mine eagerly, hoping that maybe a bit more alcohol would boost my energy.


 

“How’d you get so many drinks so fast?” Willow marveled, already double-fisting two glasses like a pro. Her blond waves were settled easily down her back, and it was impossible not to be envious of how naturally enchanting she was without wearing any makeup or product.


 

“Isaiah Cromwell is on drinks,” Beck shrugged and gestured to the bar with her head, where the Slytherin Seventh Year was indeed at the liquor counter for the time being.


 

“You are an icon, Rebecca,” Mia pronounced, and then we all took our drink at the same time, wincing as it went down but feeling so much better once it did.


 

“I’m a revolutionary,” Beck told her, and then blanched, tapping Willow and Mia hurriedly. “Oh, shite, Nellie - Satan’s Love Children are on their way towards you - quick, escape before they attack!”


 

“Who?” I wrinkled my nose, but the three of them had already disappeared into the crowd, and once I turned around to face whatever threat they had run away from I cursed my lack of intelligence.


 

“Nellie!” Calliope Yaxley exclaimed, the sound of it somehow flat even as an epithet. “How wonderful to see you here!”


 

It was a bit strange to see the Slytherins at a party like this; usually the three of them only frequented their own events, deeming the other House parties unworthy, but since I knew that they had sought out my location in the venue I played along because I had to.  


 

Feigning quick surprise, I forced the stiff muscles in my cheeks up into a smile. “So wonderful! How are you all?”


 

“Trans-fig is murdering me,” Lyra groaned while somehow managing to fix her cleavage to be even more noticeable than it already was, and Seph gave me an ignorantly warm smile and exclaimed, “Great!”


 

“I’m sublime.” Calliope said, in her flat and unemotional affect, swirling the olive in her martini slowly. Of course she would choose such a classy drink at a party full of teenagers - she almost obsessively needed to portray the elegance and wealth of the Purebloods. “But, how is James Potter?”


 

I’d been stupid enough to hope that the rumors wouldn’t drift to the dungeons, but clearly that was a naive mindset.


 

“He’s so fit, Nellie,” Seph said kindly, whily Lyra simply glared at me, her dark painted nails tapping impatiently on her forearm, in time with the beat of the bass from the ear-splitting music.


 

Calliope stepped forward purposefully, her dark eyes unforgiving. “Can I give you some advice? Cousin to cousin?”


 

She knew I hated when she referred to me as her cousin, even though it was the truth, as it was with essentially all Pureblood families.


 

“Of course, Calliope.” I said in a clipped voice. Seph beamed at me.


 

Calliope narrowed her eyebrows further, the neon lights reacting strangely on her pale skin. I could smell her perfume now; it was sickly sweet and almost suffocating, like a thousand red roses had all been condensed into one drop.


 

“Maybe you should hold off on the sweets. They look nice, but they always do more harm than good. Better just stick with the greens.”


 

“The salads here are fantastic,” Lyra added, evidently not understanding the metaphor that Calliope had constructed.


 

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I told her coldly, and she nodded once curtly before continuing to walk past me towards the bar, Seph and Lyra trailing behind her like the obedient followers that they were.


 

“Well that didn’t exactly look friendly,” someone commented from behind me, and it was such a different tone from the Purebloods that I turned towards it quickly, perhaps too eagerly.


 

“Always so astute,” I raised my eyebrows at James Potter, and I felt that rush of adrenaline return like it always did whenever he was near, powerful and addictive in its excitement. I always tried not to fantasize about him and not to like him and not to wonder if we were a thing or not, but right now I was thinking about all of it, and I think wanted to be a thing even if I would never admit it until he did, and I so badly wanted him to say something indicative of our relationship.


 

“Aren’t I?” James responded, smirking. I’d forgotten how tall he was as he looked down at me, and the lights were shining in a way that made it difficult to see the expression in his eyes clearly. “How’s your night going?”


 

“It’s been better,” I told him, but even though I meant what I said I made my tone still sound light and happy.


 

“Well, that’s really too bad,” James Potter told me, but it was almost flat in the way he said it. “You should get some more drinks, then. Let loose. Have a good time."

 

 

"Maybe I should," I replied, brushing the hair out of my face slightly, and for some reason it made me think of Will and Mia yesterday, the way he touched her face so gently. 

 

 

James shrugged. "I mean, that's the point of parties, isn't it?" He wasn’t making any moves to touch me or even step relatively close to me, and before I could respond with something equally as un-flirtatious we were interrupted.


 

“Oi, Potter!” one of his friends called, and James turned around grinning, already reabsorbed into whatever he was doing, leaving me standing awkwardly behind him, waiting for him to continue the conversation.


 

He makes you feel like the center of his world and then changes his orbit.


 

I didn’t even wait to see if James would turn back around or finish with his friend, because I was already feeling so angry and frustrated about yet another person treating me like I meant nothing that I was done, done trying to capture the attention of someone who couldn’t be bothered to lend me it in the first place. So I walked over to the couch that Kato Millican was on and collapsed down next to him, grabbing the drink in his hand and finishing it in one gulp.


 

“Hey,” I said glumly after I swallowed, and Kato gave me a sympathetic grimace back, shifting his body so that he was looking at me full on.


 

“Hey,” he said, grimly, leaning in closer so he wouldn’t have to shout over the music. “Beck just told me about Scorpius and Rose Weasley. How’re you holding up?”


 

“Not well,” I muttered, and Kato frowned at my statement. “I can’t even look at him.”


 

Just then, a huge cheer erupted, and as we turned to see what the commotion was about I could plainly see James Potter standing on a table, throwing miniature nips of Firewhiskey to the adoring population on the ground beneath him. It reminded me of the way he had commanded attention in the compartment on the Hogwarts’ Express, and it made me more furious at him even though I really had no reason to be this upset in the first place.


 

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Kato roll his eyes at the spectacle, but when I faced him again he had fixed his expression back into neutral territory.


 

“Why not?” Kato resumed our conversation like it had never been interrupted, and I appreciated the way he always seemed to be so tactful.


 

“He lied to me for months,” I told him, and I don’t know why I suddenly felt like I needed to explain or justify my hurt, but I did. “I asked him so many times if something was going on and he kept saying no, and we’ve always told one another everything, and...I don't know, it just feels like the ultimate betrayal. Like it was purposefully against me, even if it wasn’t.”


 

“Nels,” Kato said sympathetically, and in another second he was pulling me into an embrace and I was letting him. I hadn’t realised that was what I really needed, just someone being a good friend, and so after we pulled away I smiled gratefully at him.

 

 

“Have you talked to him yet today?” Kato asked, leaning back against the couch. 


 

“I’m too upset about the lying to even listen to his point of view yet,” I told Kato, and he nodded like he understood, which he probably did. That was the thing about Kato; he was always fun and lively but he could calm down enough to show that he genuinely cared, and I remembered that last year when I was dating Henry I would always come and talk to him when things were rough.


 

“Well, you know what you can do in the meantime?" Kato grinned, and I caught onto where his energy was headed immediately. "Get fucking blacked."


 

“Oh, always,” I laughed, and he lifted me up easily to my feet and dragged me to the bar where Benjy and Moose were, Moose so ruddy-faced that he looked like he’d been hit with a Skin-Colouring hex. I ordered something fizzy and light while Kato ordered something tall and dark, and we joked about Quidditch and Jack Robinson’s attempts to grow facial hair and Hufflepuff assuredly losing to Gryffindor, and in all the fun and banter I almost forgot that Kato’s arm had been draped over my shoulder casually throughout most of it.


 

It must’ve been an hour later that I noticed James Potter glaring at me, and while Kato and Benjy started trying to balance shot glasses on their heads I walked over to him, despite everything in my brain screaming at me not to.


 

“Having a fun night?” Potter asked, but his tone was cold and steely, like he was somehow mad at me.


 

“What is that supposed to mean?” I was immediately on the defensive, and I crossed my arms just as James did the same. 


 

“Oh, I’m sure you know,” James continued in that same manner. “So, are you having a really super time?”


 

“Well, I was,” I retorted. I couldn’t understand where his anger was coming from - he was the one who had blown me off, and my anger started to build like it had so easily since my argument with Scorpius. “And you?”


 

“Oh, not bad,” James replied. “I mean, I turned around to talk to one person and then you disappeared for an hour, but other than that it's been great."


 

“Well, I figured your time was better spent commanding your disciples from on top of tables,” I bit back, and I knew that I shouldn’t stoop to his level but I was pissed enough not to care. “Isn’t that what you just love doing? Having people worship you every hour of every day?”


 

James stared at me, then ran both of his hands through his hair at once, so forcefully it was as if he were trying to rake through his scalp. “How does every conversation I have with you get so fucking personal?”


 

“No idea,” I said coldly. “I’m going to leave soon. Nothing here seems particularly appealing to me.”


 

“Have a great night, then!” Potter snapped, smiling in this fake, sarcastic, over-exaggerated manner that was somehow worse than if he had scowled at me like he usually did.


 

“Same to you!” I called, just as immaturely, and he gave me a petty salute as I stalked off in the opposite direction, so infuriated and just so so done that I didn't even care half of the school had probably witnessed that fight.


 

“Lover’s quarrel?” Calliope Yaxley asked snidely as I passed, her dark eyebrows raising up high.


 

Without a word, I pushed past her, away from the thick of the crowd and out the main exit, and when I looked back the door had molded into a wall once more, so dull and unremarkable that no one would ever to be able to tell what secrets truly lay inside there.


 

 




 

It was still early for a Saturday night by the time I returned to Ravenclaw. The public fight with James had seemingly put a damper on my already foul mood, and I wanted nothing more than to just put on leggings and a sweatshirt and curl up with a book on the sofa.


 

Mia was nowhere to be found, occupied with Will Davies, no doubt, and I knew Flynn and Milo must’ve be going back to Slytherin soon, where Milo would probably stay the night out of sheer laziness to walk back, so after I was changed I settled on the soft couch and observed the bluish flames flicker and flaunt, no rhyme or reason to the way they moved.


 

Maybe it was a result of the drinks I’d had earlier, but as I watched the hearth I began to think about how when I was young, I used to try to get my hands as close to the fire as I could without touching the flames, but I always believed I could go much closer than I actually could. And maybe that’s what had done with James Potter, but perhaps it wasn’t so implicit - I wasn’t Icarus, flying towards the brightest thing in the world with the obvious knowledge that it was hot; I was Cornelia, approaching the flame with the wishful notion that perhaps it wasn’t as dangerous or unkind as I thought it to be. And so I always got burned, not for lack of smarts, but for the strongest of desires to ignore them.

 

 

Sighing loudly to the empty room, I leaned back into the cushions of the stars and busied myself with watching the ceiling instead. The enchanted stars were out tonight, vast and glittering over the Common Room, and so I stared up at the thousands of constellations, finding my favorite ones in the comforting order I always did it in.

 

 

Orion’s belt. Ursa Major. Ursa Minor. Taurus. Gemini. Sirius. Canis Major...

 

 

Before long, I had drifted off into an accidental sleep. I was awoken some time later by the Raven’s Head chirping out a riddle (much too whimsically for the time of night), and instead of being answered immediately like it usually was, there was a groan and a long string of curse words.


 

“How the fuck’re we supposed to solve this?” someone asked, rather crossly. They were clearly male, and by the sounds of it not in Ravenclaw.


 

“We can...send Patronus?” a second voice suggested. He was also male, but unequivocally inebriated, and at the sound of it I sat up straight, fatigue forgotten.


 

“Mate, you are not in any shape to use your wand,” said the first voice. “C’mon, let’s just go back to the-”


 

“No! I need to - let me in!” the second voice shouted, pounding on the door, and with a jolt I knew exactly who was outside. “...need Cornelia Burke!”


 

Before I was aware of what I was doing, I was crossing the Common Room and wrenching open the door - and there was James Potter, being almost entirely supported by none other than Fred Weasley.


 

“James?” I gaped at the pair of them. “Fred? What are you doing here?”


 

“Cornelia?” James mumbled, reaching out for me half blindly.  


 

“I’m really sorry, Nellie,” said Fred, still holding him up. “He wouldn’t stop asking for you.”


 

I fought for something intelligent to say, but only came out with, “Why?


 

Fred shrugged helplessly. “After you left he kept drinking and - I really don’t know.”


 

“Put him over there, then.” I moved out of the way so Fred could drag James through the door, and with a surprising display of strength managed to deposit him on the couch, his head on the middle couch cushion and his legs draped over the end. I sat down next to his head at the top of the couch and in response James shifted slightly, laying his head down so it fell in my lap and grasping one of my hands tightly.


 

Fred smirked audibly, but when I glanced up at him he seemed sincere as he mouthed, “I’ll wait outside,” then disappeared in three long strides, leaving me alone with an utterly and completely pissed James Sirius Potter.


 

It was strange to see him so vulnerable in this way. He was always so collected and controlled and cool, so when he wasn’t it was almost as unnerving as it was adorable. Any anger that I’d been holding onto from earlier just sort of faded away, and even though it was almost natural in a way for us to be acting like this I couldn’t help but think that I finally had the irrefutable upper hand over him.


 

Perhaps James seemed to think so, too, because he squeezed my hand again and burrowed his head deeper into my side.


 

“You smell so good,” he mumbled. “I love how you smell. Like lavender and rain ‘n...honey.”


 

“Thank you,” I said carefully, but those simple words seemed to agitate him.


 

“No no no,” James began to shake his head. “No, don’t thank me.”


 

“Why not?”


 

“Because I messed up,” he slurred, now winding his fingers aimlessly through my hair. “I did something, and I’m sorry, ‘Nelia, I’m so sorry.”


 

“I’m sure whatever you did will be fine,” I said, trying to calm him down. I caught one of his hands in mine and squeezed and he squeezed back, so tightly it was like his life depended on it.


 

“Iss not fine,” said James. His grip grew slack and his head drooped down, lolling into my lap loosely as if it had become unhinged and he could no longer handle the weight of it, and for some inexplicable reason I began to feel nervous, as if I too were guilty of something.


 

“What did you do?” I asked carefully.


 

After a few moments, James looked up at me. His eyes were wide, as big as saucers, and the way his eyebrows curved up somehow made him look young and innocent, like the expression of a child who had let go of their new balloon, watching it go up and up and up, away and out of reach forever.


 

“What?" I asked again, more urgently.


 

James blinked at me. “Marina,” he said, finally. “I just slept with her.”


 

 



 

Author’s Note: Sorry I've been dying over finals but this one had TWO bombshells in one so I think I should be forgiven! The next chapter will be out shortly, and then after that comes one of my favourite chapters of the story. Please keep reviewing - it encourages me so much to read them - and I'll try to respond to them all soon! In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy!

 

 

 

Up next...A story of archaic parties, vampires, and cowards.



Chapter 17: Chapter Seventeen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognize. Twilight: Stephanie Meyers; Little, Brown and Company. L’chaim is a toast meaning “to life” in Hebrew.  


 


 

 

December had crawled into Hogwarts slowly, with no particular day or event being the sudden turnpoint between fall and winter, mild and cold. But now with the term nearly over it was objectively freezing, and so by default Mia and I were stationed in front of the fire in the Ravenclaw Common Room in order to warm up, our work ethic dramatically decreased by the imminence of break.


 

“For the last time, I’m not taking anyone to Hogsmeade,” I told Mia irritably, turning back to my Charms work since it suddenly seemed like a lesser trial than this conversation.


 

“Why not?” Mia pleaded. “You haven’t snogged anyone since-”


 

James Potter. Since we hooked up consistently and regularly enough for me to get my hopes up, only for him to humiliate and toss me aside like everyone told me he would.


 

“I think you just have terrible taste in men,” Mia continued conversationally. “I mean, we all know how shit Henry was to you, even if you never fully admitted it. And James is so obviously emotionally unavailable. You just really know how to pick ‘em, babe.”


 

“Comforting thought,” I muttered, and Mia patted my arm in a manner that I’m sure she thought was sympathetic but which so wasn’t.


 

Why had I been so upset about what happened? James and I hadn’t been anything defined. We weren't really anything at all - just two people whose planes had intersected more often than they had before. I didn't know anything about him, and I had forgotten that he crossed paths with everyone. What seemed significant to me was merely one of a hundred meaningless interactions for him.


 

But he did come to you after he slept with her, an obnoxious little voice in my head always reminded me. He did apologise, as if you two were something tangible, like it meant something to him.


 

But it clearly didn’t - not enough, anyways, and I realised all too late that that was a recurring theme with him. It was never enough - the pillowtalk and vibrancy and electricity didn’t balance out the egotism and selfishness, and so I came to the conclusion that it was best to let any thought of him go.


 

Potter wasn’t making that easy, though.


 

I didn’t see him other than occasionally in the Great Hall for meals or perhaps just as we were ending our Quidditch practice and he was starting his until I spotted him in a corridor one afternoon, his back leaning against the wall and gaze searching the masses of students like he was looking for someone.


 

Out of the corner of my eye I could see him straighten up as I neared, but I didn’t allow myself to change in demeanor, nor to respond physically at all when he spoke my name.


 

“Burke,” he said again as I passed, but I brushed by him without so much as a glance.


 

“Talk to me.” said James from behind me. His voice was demanding but some quality of it seemed more like a plea than a command, and as I kept walking like he wasn’t there at all without warning he grabbed my wrist and tugged me through a hidden door pretending to be a wall, leading us into a small spiral staircase.


 

“Get away from me,” I snapped, wrenching my arm away from his grasp. His own limbs dropped limply at his side immediately, making him look sort of deflated in a way.


 

“C’mon, just-”


 

No.” The word was as cold and sharp as an icicle, and I knew he felt its sting as much as I did. I made to leave, but the door was hidden from me again, leaving me to grope uselessly around for some way to open it.


 

“Cornelia-”


 

“You don’t get to call me that.” I said harshly, still attempting to find the door.


 

“Look, I-”


 

“Just don’t, Okay? I get it. I mean, she’s her and I’m just me-"  The second it was out of my mouth I regretted how insecure and petty I sounded, and clearly James did too.


 

“Christ, Cornelia, that’s not it at all,” Potter snapped. “I just need to tell you how sorry I am, because-“


 

“Sorry for what? It’s not like we were anything.” The words seemed to trouble James as he took a step back, his eyes narrowing with displeasure, so I went on. “You’re free to do whatever you want to do, just as I’m free to do the same.”


 

“I wouldn’t have done anything if you hadn’t stormed out so bloody early-”


 

“Oh, so it’s my fault?”


 

“No!” he yelled, but I managed to push open the door and take off down the corridor before he could get another word in.


 

“We aren’t done,” James said urgently from behind me, his long strides easily catching up with mine.


 

“Oh, I think we are,” I called back, trying to keep my voice low so as to not attract unwanted attention.


 

“I’ll make a scene, right here in the corridor,” he warned, and I stopped my forward momentum reluctantly as he pinpointed the one thing that would make me willingly converse with him.


 

“Fine,” I muttered after a pause, and I really had no choice but to stalk into the nearest empty classroom with him right on my tail.


 

“If we weren’t anything then why are you so upset about it?” James asked without preface as soon as the door had fallen shut.


 

“We hooked up multiple times, you publicly declared that I was the object of your affections, and then came drunk to tell me that you JUST slept with someone else. Can you maybe imagine why I’d be upset?”


 

“Yes,” James nodded furiously, so obviously trying to backtrack his previous words. “Yes, I completely can, but you don’t know the whole-”


 

“What I can’t wrap my head around is why you felt the need to come to me directly after you finished with her. What, was it some bragging thing? Needed to boost your ego a bit with my reaction?”


 

“No-”


 

“This must tie into your inferiority whatever-”


 

“Fucks sake, Burke, just listen to me!”


 

“You can’t always get what you want, Potter.” I quoted him from the broom cupboard a few weeks back, and it sounded especially vicious on my tongue.


 

His eyes burned into mine, mercurial and intensified. “I’m trying to tell you that I have, like, feelings for you and you won’t fucking listen-”


 

“None of that matters-” The words came out before I had registered what he said, and I stopped halfway through, my mouth hanging open with confusion.


 

James ran a hand through his hair and gave me the ghost of a smirk, the kind of face you make when you know you’re right and suddenly others do, too. “What, you’re not going to admit to fancying me?”


 

I recovered hastily, crossing my arms again.“Even if I did, it wouldn’t matter now, would it?”


 

“It would,” he said, and now there was no trace of humour anywhere in the way his sharp jawline was set. “I just need you to trust me-”


 

“I should trust you?” I asked, and I was certain he was deluded. “What, so you can shag Marina again and tell me it’s my fault?”


 

“You know what?” James took a step forward with a new vengeance. “Yeah. Maybe I will.”


 

“Good,” I spit like venom. “Fine.”


 

James nodded slowly. Just as his hand was on the doorknob, he turned back to me, his cold eyes burning.


 

“You’re a coward, Burke. You realise that, right? You’re pathetic.”


 

And I swear, I could feel my very bones rattle with the force of the slammed door.

 

 



 

“Most likely to get an O in Divination?”


 

“Al.”


 

“Albus.”


 

“Milo-no, yeah. Definitely Al.”


 

“I’ve got one...Most likely to get bitten by a garden gnome and pretend it’s a dragon bite?”


 

“Flynn.”


 

Obviously Flynn.”


 

“Didn’t he actually do that?”


 

“It was a really big gnome, okay!”


 

“Oh piss off, Klein-“


 

Fine, you wankers - most likely to get bit by a dragon and pretend it’s a gnome bite!”


 

“Ha!”


 

“Easy.”


 

“Shut up,” I told everyone as they all pointed at me, lifting my head off of my arms so I could scowl at them in full view.


 

“Well, are we wrong?” asked Flynn lightly. “You pretended you weren’t injured when your bloody organs were shutting down.”


 

“I never pretended I wasn’t injured, I just was so injured I couldn’t even say anything,” I defended, and Albus sort of smirked so I pulled a face at him despite still half-leaning on my hands.


 

“Well, if the shoe fits,” Mia recited cheerily, and then smiled her little mischievous grin. “And it truly fucking does, babe.”


 

“Whatever,” I muttered, laying my throbbing skull back onto my arms gingerly so I wouldn’t exaggerate the pain further.


 

Milo prodded me with his quill. “What’s wrong with you?”


 

“I just have a headache,” I told him, and I tried to play my voice off as light and unconcerned, when in reality my head was pounding so violently that it took extra energy just to have my eyes open.


 

“Again?” Mia frowned, and she placed a hand to my forehead as if it would explain my condition. “How many has this been?”


 

“Two this week,” I glanced up again. “Four this month, thirteen this school year including the one on the Hogwarts Express.”


 

“Maybe you should go to Heldman,” Milo suggested. “Her headache remedy is infallible. It is made of kniffler dung, though.”


 

“Great,” I deadpanned, just as Scorpius sat down on Milo’s left. Immediately I straightened up, the muscles around my face tightening and pinching into something that was surely unpleasant, and I could almost feel the atmosphere at the table cool.


 

“So,” Mia said, awkwardly. I could sense Scorpius trying to make eye contact with me, but I stoutly refused to acknowledge him, just as I had been for the past week or so.


 

“Well, this is superbly fun,” Flynn exclaimed, after a moment of silence. “Nellie isn’t speaking to Scorpius, Scorpius isn’t speaking to Al, and Mia isn’t speaking to me.”


 

“And I have indigestion!” Milo added, not wanting to be excluded in any capacity.


 

“I’m speaking to Al,” Scorpius frowned. “Why wouldn’t I be?”


 

“Because he basically told Nellie about you doing the devil’s dance with Miss Goodie Two-Shoes,” Flynn smirked, and Scorpius shot Flynn a deathly glare before glancing over to me.


 

“Now none of us are speaking to Flynn.” Albus muttered.


 

“Ah, Christmas,” sighed Flynn, contented and completely unbothered by the tenor of the conversation. “A holiday filled with tension and strife. I feel like I’m already home again!”


 

Flynn’s parents were divorced but still insisted on spending holidays together, an annual tradition that without fail caused immeasurable amounts of screaming matches and burning Christmas trees.


 

“Well, I better go get ready for tonight,” I said moodily, as everyone else was equally as unsure what to say or what to do or how to act.


 

“I’ll come with you,” Al offered purposefully, and Mia got up, too, probably to go see Will for a bit since it was undeniably much too early to actually begin preparing for tonight.


 

“Have fun!” Milo called after us, and when I turned around Scorpius had his head on his arms like I had moments earlier, Flynn patting him on the back as if with sympathy.

 

 

Albus, Mia, and I started our journey in silence, all with the same thing on our mind and none with any idea as to how to approach it.


 

“So you knew.” I started finally. Mia tactfully dropped to the side so that Albus and I were walking next to one another, but she wasn’t conscientious enough to leave us alone for such a talk.


 

“Not for the whole time,” Albus said to me, but it wasn’t defensive, more just a correction of a fact. “Since a few weeks ago.”


 

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”


 

Albus looked at me, grimacing. “Rose asked me not to.”


 

That, I understood - if Scorpius had ever shared something private with me - not that he would, but if he had - then I would protect his secret at all costs, even if it meant hiding something important from Mia or Beck.


 

“But still, your best friend and your cousin pretended to hate one another and lied to you for months.” I pressed. “Does this not make either of you upset, even a little bit?”  


 

“A bit, yes,” Albus admitted, and I knew that meant when he found out he must have been sore about it for at least a few days. As in tune as Al was with others’ emotions, he was usually so mild mannered that if he ever did approach a rare anger it usually petered out quickly and without dramatics. “But Rose and I don’t really talk about that stuff, so I was mostly upset with Scorpius.”


 

“What about you?” I turned to Mia, who had been so silent that I almost wondered if she were listening at all.


 

“I think I was a little hurt that Scorpius didn’t feel like he could trust us,” Mia said thoughtfully, and I was so surprised at her poised calm that I faltered a little. “I’m more upset for you, Nellie, because out of all of us he should have told you the second he even wanted it to happen. But...”


 

“But?” I asked warily. Buts were never good.


 

“But haven’t you noticed it?” Mia's eyes widened, and I blanched.


 

“Noticed what?”


 

“Scorpius,” said Albus. “He’s so-"


 

Happy,” Mia finished, Albus nodding reluctantly along with her. “Like, all of the time.”


 

I thought about that for a moment, as Mia bid us goodbye to go visit Will for a couple of minutes. Maybe I hadn’t seen it because I hung out with him less than usual this semester, or maybe I just really had been so absorbed with my own dealings that I’d truly overlooked it. But Albus and Mia were right; Scorpius had been lighter and happier this semester than any other, and suddenly I felt like the guilty one for not recognising it sooner.


 

It wasn’t until Albus and I were almost about to go in different directions that I spoke again.


 

“Are they good together?” The question was out of my mouth before I even registered that I had wanted to ask it. “Rose and Scorpius?”


 

Al stopped in the corridor. His black hair was sticking up in different directions like usual, but his green eyes betrayed such raw honesty that his lack of presentation didn’t seem to matter.


 

“Yeah,” he said, and the sound of it left no space for questioning or doubt. “They are.”


 

“I think I’m still a little sore with him,” I admitted, and Albus nodded, unconcerned with my lack of forgiveness.


 

“I would be surprised if you weren’t. I know it must be hard after all you two have gone through together. And...Scorpius mentioned that he said something bad when he got angry. About your family.”


 

Instinctively I glanced down and shifted my posture away from him, and I could tell he noticed from the way he stepped closer, like he was trying to corner me into admitting something.


 

“That doesn’t matter to me.” I deflected flatly, immediately annoyed by his intrusiveness.


 

“Are you sure? Scorpius says it was pretty harsh.”


 

“It doesn't matter, and I need to go get ready. See you in a bit.” I gave him a halfhearted wave without fully making eye contact, and as I turned the corner I could see Albus staring after me, his face furrowed into an expression I didn’t wish to decipher.

 

 



 

Mia and I arrived at Slughorn’s office about thirty minutes late, which was a success in and of itself seeing as how Mia usually ran hours behind schedule on a good day. My migraine thankfully disappeared the instant I began getting ready, and now I was dressed in a black form fitting dress, wearing a pair of Mia’s emerald green earrings as an accent. Everyone’s a slut for some colour-coordination, she had told me like it was an indisputable fact, but as I put on the earrings and observed the way they matched the exact shade of my eyes I had to agree with her.


 

The Slug Club Christmas Party was undeniably the most ostentatious and sought after event of every year, and Slughorn truly never disappointed. His office had been magically enlarged to fit what must’ve been at least a hundred guests, and the debonair aesthetic he usually prefered was gone, replaced with baubles and gold trimmings and mistletoe underneath every archway. Waiters dressed in white and gold uniforms perused the venue with smoking red drinks and intricate appetizers, and every so often a raucous bout of laughter would exult over the cheery chimes and bells of the music, exhibiting the mark of an already successful affair.

 

 

“I just think it’s so archaic to call it a Christmas party,” Mia sniffed as we both accepted a new glass of champagne, the waiter looking Mia up and down appreciatevely as we passed. “Like, Hogwarts is incredibly diverse. Not everyone celebrates Christian holidays, like me.”


 

Mia was half-Jewish, and although she actually did celebrate Christmas she was always throwing words like archaic and ethnocentric around to make her points.


 

L’chaim,” I told her, raising my flute of champagne, and she beamed, slinging her arm around my waist and burrowing her head into the crook of my neck.


 

“I’m so glad you brought me as your date.” she told me. “You’re a knockout, babe.”


 

“Not standing next to you,” I snorted, and she swatted me reproachfully even though it was true. Mia was wearing a tight red cocktail dress, the kind that made her already large bosom and butt look larger and her waist as skinny as physically possible, and I envied her curves like nothing else.


 

“Don’t knock the priceless goods,” Mia reprimanded, and then looked me up and down again, her gaze settling on my chest. “And, wow do I mean priceless. Did you have Heldman grow them or something?”


 

“Shut up,” I muttered, crossing my arms, and Mia giggled and pulled my hands down so my front was back on full display.


 

Nellie Burke!” someone squealed behind us, and while my first thought was of the Slytherins it turned out to only be Diana Jenkins - an annoying alternative but harmless nonetheless.


 

“Diana,” Mia and I both replied rather unenthusiastically, but as Diana's mouth was already moving she didn’t seem to notice.


 

“Wow, it’s been absolutely forever since I’ve seen either of you - Nellie, you missed the last Slug Club event and I swear to Merlin I was absolutely beside myself, I had no one to talk to and Phillip McSwain tried to sell me some love potions right as Slughorn was embarrassing Rose with a story about how her father had been poisoned by one, honestly it was mad-”


 

“I’m sorry I missed it,” I broke in helplessly, but Diana was turning to Mia, not even bothering to take a breath.


 

“And Mia! I can’t believe it - at the Slug Club before last I swear I told Nellie how William Davies and Ana Clearwater split up and now you’re dating him, how amazing is that?”


 

“Er...” Mia faltered, an unusual occurrence for her, and I could feel Diana shift from excitable acquaintance to journalist sniffing out a good story.


 

“Tell me all about it,” she leaned in forward, her dark hair nearly landing in my drink, which I hastily pulled away and downed in one gulp. “Is it strange dating a guy who just came out of a three year relationship? Is he as good of a boyfriend as he acts in public? Are you guys serious-serious?”


 

“We’re enjoying each other’s company,” Mia answered, diplomatically. With Diana it was almost like you were giving a high-stakes press interview: one wrong word and an exaggerated story could be the headline in the gossip circuit the next morning.  


 

“You two are just so sweet together,” Diana gushed in the way she always did, excessive but genuine, and then turned to me with eyes as sharp as a hawk. “But Nellie, you and James Potter is even crazier than Mia and Will! I mean, the last Slug Club you two were at you were arguing like enemies, and now?”


 

“We’re still enemies.” I retorted, and I thought the way I said it left no room for questions but clearly I underestimated the prowess of Diana Jenkins.


 

“Enemies that snog at Gryffindor House parties?” she asked smoothly, and I cursed our previous lack of discretion in public.


 

“I really have no idea what you’re talking about,” I replied, Mia acting just as innocent beside me. “Anyways, it’s been so nice to see you, Diana, but I have to go find Albus for a moment.”


 

“Oh my God, it’s been so lovely to see you - we’ll talk later!” Diana squealed, waving goodbye with no sense of self-awareness or inhibition at all, and as we move past her I breathed a sigh of relief I wasn’t aware I had been holding.


 

“Jesus, that girl,” Mia muttered, and I was starting to agree with her just as I spotted a familiar dark head of curls right at the table of hors d'oeuvres opposite.


 

Oh, fuck me, I thought, and I turned around as quickly as I could manage but Fred was already moving towards us.


 

“Hey,” Fred Weasley called quickly, scrambling to get up from the barstool he was perched upon. “Nellie!”


 

“Hey,” I said warily, and I glanced over to my side for backup but Mia had already become sidetracked with some Ravenclaws in the year above - curse that girl’s popularity. “I didn’t know you were in the Slug Club.”


 

“I’m not; I’m here as James’s date,” he told me. “Speaking of which, you two need to talk.”


 

“Speaking of whom,” I corrected him despite the unpleasant pit that had just settled in my stomach. “And we have nothing to say to each other.”


 

“You know that’s a load of toad shite,” said Fred matter of factly, but his eyes narrowed slightly and I knew he wasn’t playing around like he usually did. “Yes, you guys were working up to something, and yes, James fucked it up and it was all completely his fault-”


 

“You’re not exactly helping your case, Fred.”


 

But,” he continued. “It was a bit backwards for you not to say you liked him even when it’s so obvious that you do.”


 

“He seriously told you all of that?” I asked rather moodily, even though I had told Mia and Beck exactly the same thing.


 

Fred merely gave me a look, and it was such a motherly expression, full of a sort of cut the bullshit reproach that I almost felt guilty. “It’s obvious you have feelings for him, Nellie.”


 

“I don’t,” I said, and then again, more forcefully. “I don’t. Not like that.”


 

“Are you sure?” Fred asked me, not unkindly.


 

I nodded once. “Unequivocally.”


 

“Then come to my New Year’s party,” Fred offered rather smugly. “Over break. Al and Scorpius are already going, and you can bring Mia and whoever, I really don’t care. Just be there.”


 

Fucking hell, I’d underestimated Fred Weasley. If I lied and said that I couldn’t come, he’d know that I really did have feelings for Potter, so now I had to go to show that I actually didn’t care.


 

“Fine,” I said tersely, and Fred grinned widely: not quite gloating, but victorious enough for it to annoy me.


 

“See you later, then!” he called as I retreated back into the crowd, and I didn’t bother saying anything back to him.


 

We had only been at the party for an hour and already my energy was absolutely drained, even more so with the constant effort of avoiding people like Slughorn and Diana. I glanced around for Mia but she was nowhere to be found, and after a moment of that awful Oh My God I’m Alone At A Party Like A Loser panic I spotted Albus, leaning on the wall next to a large arrangement of seafood and sipping his drink every so often as he watched the scene.


 

“Having fun?” I asked him sarcastically once I was near, and in response he lifted up his glass of wine like a toast.


 

“This is my fifth, so yes,” Albus rolled his eyes but then unexpectedly grinned rather sloppily, and I giggled despite the foul mood I’d been in all day - all week, even. “You know, you really should try to drown your sorrows with alcohol more. I’ve found it very useful.”


 

“And what would your sorrows be?” I grabbed the glass out of Al’s hand and took a sip before he snatched it back, the greedy prat.


 

“Dress robes.” Al told me somberly, and I was laughing right as a red-haired girl around my height stopped in front of the two of us, wringing her hands nervously.


 

“Nellie,” Rose Weasley bit her lip, somehow not smearing her lipstick. “Can we talk for a moment?”


 

“Rose...” Albus warned, setting down his glass of wine on a nearby standing table, but she plowed ahead anyways without waiting to hear either Al or my responses.


 

“It’s my fault for not telling you so please forgive Scorpius, please,” she implored. “I didn’t know what I wanted for so long, and when I did I wasn’t ready for everyone to know so I made him sneak around and I am so sorry. It really wasn’t his fault and I don’t know how to make this up to you, I swear I’ve never done anything this awful-”


 

“It wasn’t awful,” I interrupted her hysterical rant. “And it’s not your fault.”


 

“No, it really is-” Rose pressed, eyes wild and beseeching, but I shook my head through her words.


 

“It’s not. And I’m happy for both of you. But Scorpius lied to me when he didn’t have to, and that’s on him, not you.”


 

Rose chewed her lip again, and she looked so dismayed that for a moment I thought she was about to cry. “Okay,” she nodded, finally. “I really am sorry, Nellie.”


 

“I know,” I smiled slightly, and in a truly Rose fashion she stepped forward and hugged me, wrapping her slim arms around my waist, and after a moment of discomfort I hugged her back, even though it just felt so weird.


 

“Nellie!” Mia appeared by my arm, right as Rose released me. “I swear there is a vampire over there, you know I’ve always wanted to meet one ever since I had that dream about Edward from Twilight-”


 

“Are you sure?” I tried to say, but Mia was already tugging me away all the way across the room and behind a thick curtain, where dessert was being served.


 

“There’s no vampire,” Mia said the moment we were out of sight from Albus and Rose, her voice a few octaves lower than before. “I just saw your expression and knew you wanted to get out of there.”


 

Thank  you,” I told her gratefully, taking a deep breath to steady myself from the conversation previous.


 

Mia looked at me, and her smile faltered a little. “Are you okay?”


 

“I just want to leave.” I muttered. Speaking to Diana and Fred had been wearisome enough, but the conversation with Rose had become the nail in the coffin. I didn’t want to drift around some stupid party with stupidly rich people like I knew I would have to in a couple of weeks anyways, and suddenly everything seemed rather pointless to me.


 

“Then let’s go.” said Mia simply. She was always down for a good time, but when you needed her she was steadfast and loyal, ready to drop anything for you at a moment’s notice, and all in a rush I just felt so thankful to have a best friend like Mia, someone who was so fierce and independent and yet could be so selfless when needed.


 

As we wove our way to the exit, I could hear typical partygoer sounds: silverware clinking, music swelling, Slughorn’s laugh bellowing over everything else, and one more unusual sound, my name whispered once, and then again from directly behind me.


 

“Yes?” I paused. My expression betrayed no hurt nor anger: just cold indifference, a strategy I had certainly learned from him over the past few months.


 

“Please dance with me.” James Potter asked, but his voice had a rather hoarse quality to it, like he hadn’t cleared his throat in awhile.


 

“Sorry.” I was already walking away, Mia a few steps in front of me, but this response required a pause and an over the shoulder glance with cinematic worthy line to follow it. “I’m too much of a coward.”


 



 

Author’s Note: I’m trying to get these out as fast as possible, and the next two are basically all written so they should be out very shortly. Please please please review, especially since the next chapter is sort of what I think as a shift in the plot and I want to hear what everyone’s thoughts are!! Thank you for reading!

 

 

 

Up next...A story of ballgowns, Sirius, and green eyes.



Chapter 18: Chapter Eighteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



 

Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise. Clark Kent is trademarked to DC comics.

 

 



 

I surveyed myself in my silver encrusted mirror one last time before going out into the foyer where my grandmother was surely already waiting for me. I was dressed in a floor length deep red velvet gown, with a rather low dip in the neckline and a backing that stopped only just above the curve of my lower back. It was undeniably more sexy than any of the dresses my grandmother had ever chosen for me, and with a sinking feeling I knew why: she was beginning to prepare me for finding a husband.


 

The thought sent a shiver down my spine, which was soon followed by another as the grating sound of Esmeralda Burke’s voice permeated through the thick walls and into my bedroom. I took a deep breath to steady myself - calm down, it’s just one night - but before I could ready myself to exit my room the door burst open of its own accord.


 

Fucking hell.


 

“Cornelia,” my grandmother clucked, and instead of a hello or another sort of greeting, she snapped, “What have you done to your hair? It looks dreadful.”


 

“I haven’t gotten it trimmed in a little while-” I started, and Esmeralda immediately tutted disapprovingly.  


 

“Madame Tremont will fix it right away as she does your makeup. Back straight, child. I hope you haven’t been slumping for four months straight.”


 

“I have,” I told her, and her lips puckered together slightly before she turned away. She was so distant and so mean that sometimes it was comical, and while I knew she was nowhere near funny - she was extremely dangerous on her best days - I couldn’t help but be a bit proud that I was able to successfully antagonise her just a little.


 

“Go to the West powder room where Madame Tremont is waiting. And tell her not to cut it too short; you are not a commoner.”


 

“Certainly,” I bowed my head obediently, but when she walked out I stuck out my tongue at her back like I used to do when I was a child, Adam usually making more obscene gestures along with me.


 

Madame Tremont bustled around me in her usual urgency, occasionally making small noises of disapproval or disdain which I chose to steadfastly ignore. Once she was done, my hair was a few inches shorter, curled slightly at a length just passed my shoulders. There were intricate braids crossing the back of my head and my face was pale and eyes fierce, with no sign of imperfections or weakness.


 

Like a true Pureblood.

 

 

We departed from the Manor at around eight thirty, even though the annual Christmas Ball held at the Ministry of Magic officially began at seven. This event was not as exclusive as the Amesbury Gala which was solely for a certain demographic of the European Purebloods, but it was just as important for families in my community - the increased diversity of guests offered more business opportunities and schmoozing rather than just simple gossip. To attend was a clear political move, and so for the decades that the Ball had been a tradition the Purebloods upheld.


 

The Ball was located in the Atrium, a wide ambient space decorated for the occasion with gold and black christmas ornaments and purple vines crisscrossing atop the ceiling. The moment we entered and found our table (conveniently adjacent to a couple of other Pureblood families) I spotted Scorpius on the other side of the huge room, sporting dark robes that contrasted brilliantly with his pale hair and skin, but strangely Draco was nowhere to be found, an exception I noted with disappointment. Behind Scorpius was Albus and surprisingly Flynn, who I was certain the Potters must have brought along as a plus one. But I thankfully didn’t see other Potter or Weasley children - in fact, I couldn’t recall any of them but Albus ever attending this, Al only making the exception because Scorpius and I used to beg him to come. At tables around the Potters were the usual participants: the Averys, the Rosiers, a Mulciber or two, and my eyes were still scanning the room when they landed upon a woman standing directly across from me.


 

She looked exactly the same as she did at the Amesbury Gala in August. Her hair was pulled back into a bun at the back of her head, dark skin smooth and accentuated by her sharply high cheekbones, dress robes a deep royal blue with gold accents. But it was never any of those features that captivated me; it was her eyes, those dark, foreboding eyes that seemed to stare into my soul and reveal secrets I wasn’t even aware of myself. Her gaze bore into me like a perceptive drill, and I was suddenly overcome with the acute need to speak to this mysterious woman, to understand why I seemed so drawn to her. Without even realising I took an unconscious step in her direction, but just as I did a hand came down on my arm, clawing and purposeful in its grip.


 

Cornelia,” Esmeralda pronounced, and the sound was so sickly sweet that my mind jumped back into a panicked attention. “You’ll be dancing now with a very suitable partner.”


 

She gestured to someone behind me, and when I turned around I was met with the sight of none other than Christian Flint.


 

“Nellie,” he said quietly, holding out his hand and refusing to look me in the eye. Robotically I extended my arm and he took it carefully, leading me out into the middle of the dance floor and then placing his hands so gingerly around my waist like I was a hot stove and he was afraid to be burned.


 

We swayed back and forth for a few seconds in silence. I glanced around the venue, scoping out the doors, and as I did I noticed that the strange woman was somehow gone, disappeared from all angles even though she had been nowhere near any of the exits.  


 

“Nellie,” Flint finally spoke, and I flinched internally at the sound of it. “I’m so very sorry if I hurt you in any way that night.”


 

I didn’t respond, just focused on the feeling of my feet on the ground, moving them in time with the music: back one step, over one, forward, back again.


 

“I was an idiot, okay? I was drunk, and I’d had a crush on you for so long-”


 

“That’s not how you treat a crush.” We met eyes for the first time, and he had the good sense to appear remorseful and ashamed.


 

“I know. I am incredibly sorry,” he pleaded. “And I would’ve stopped myself before anything bad happened, but I’m also glad someone else did.”


 

“You disgust me,” I said, but my voice shook slightly, revealing my weakness - and now that I knew how dangerous it was to appear weak in front of him, my panic began to rise. “If we weren’t in a room full of distinguished people, I would hex you until you couldn’t even remember your own name.”


 

“You wouldn’t,” he said, but it wasn’t malicious, more...beseeching. “Look, I know I was way out of line, and I’ve apologised profusely. Can we just put it past us?”


 

I opened my mouth, and then closed it.


 

“We’re going to have to, you know,” he continued. “We’re dancing for a reason, Nellie.”


 

My stomach dropped to the floor, and I felt unbelievably dizzy all of a sudden. “They’ve decided?” I asked hollowly, my vision blurring for a moment.


 

“No,” Flint shook his head. “Not yet. But soon.”


 

Another wave of dizziness hit me and I scrunched up my eyes and took a deep deep breath, trying to force it to pass.


 

What do you do, when you’re confronted with a situation like this? Forced to interact with someone who is so repugnant and vile that they take up space deep in the crevices of your thoughts and give you jolts of fear at even the slightest mention of them? Someone who was once a friend, who is human, who understands the wrong they’ve committed, who didn’t really do anything that bad, anyways, compared to all the other terrible things in life? What the fucking hell are you supposed to do?


 

“May I cut in?” A voice spoke from behind me, and my eyes flew open at once.


 

“I’m afraid I have this dance, Potter,” Flint replied. “I don’t think her family would be too happy if I left halfway through.”


 

Christian glanced at me, and if I hadn’t known better I would have thought he was concerned about my wellbeing. He couldn’t not be contemplating what I was - Esmeralda Burke, her infamous track record, the methods she threatened people with and the even more horrific ways she followed through on them - but he must’ve been only thinking about himself and what she could do to him or his family if we didn’t dance together like we were meant to.


 

But James - James Potter had no idea about any of that. And yet, his hand was on my arm with light pressure, and his thumb was rubbing methodical circles onto my skin, as if he knew how unnerved I was, and even as he was doing this he was speaking with such murder that he had to care about me - right?  


 

“Let go of her now,” James growled, “or I will turn in my memories from that night to the Headmistress and you’ll be expelled.”


 

Flint released me at once, and I felt a breath that I wasn’t aware I had been holding woosh out of me as he retreated through the thick crowd of couples, glancing back at me with an almost fearful gaze.


 

“I didn’t need saving,” I told James immediately, but my voice was still quiet with the hint of a distant tremble, and from the way his lips tightened together I could tell he disagreed with me. “Really,” I repeated, as he wound his hands around my waist and tugged me gently closer to his body. My legs felt strangely weak and all I wanted to do was to collapse into him fully, but I wouldn’t let myself act vulnerable any more tonight.


 

“It wasn’t about you,” said James, quietly. “It was about me. I couldn’t bear to see him touch you after what happened. Okay?”


 

My mouth opened slightly in surprise. Even after most of our interactions ended in a fight for the upper hand, James had let me take the power in this situation - in fact, he had just given it to me when I didn’t even deserve it - and it was always a bit startling how perceptive he was.


 

“Look, if you don’t want to dance with me, I get it. I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” he continued, and the way his tone was void of its usual swagger and importance made me glance. Real emotion flooded his words making them seem naked and translucent, and his eyes were so intense that I had to instead focus my gaze on anything other than them.


 

“It’s okay,” I assured him. “And I’m fine.”


 

James narrowed his eyes. “I’m not stupid.”


 

“Could’ve fooled me,” I retorted. I could feel him glowering at me, but I kept my eyes faithfully trained on the hollow of his neck.  


 

“Your hair is different,” he commented after a couple beats of silence.


 

I finally glanced up at him. “I cut it.”


 

“It’s nice.” he grunted. Now he was the one refusing to look at me as we continued our path around the dance floor, and as we did I slowly became more and more aware of the feeling of his hands on my sides and his chest close to mine. With every step I allowed him to pull me a little closer, and with every movement the energy between us seemed to build and build and build, sending heat into my cheeks and hollow pangs deep into my abdomen.


 

The song ended, but while the couples around us stepped back from their partners and bowed formally James didn’t let go, instead wrapping his arms tighter around my waist and letting his hand trail slightly downward onto the bare skin of my lower back.


 

“James, what-” I said, rather breathlessly.


 

“If you think for a second that I’d let you go tonight,” James murmured huskily, “you’re wrong.”


 

And now I could truly feel it, the desire and heat swirling in the air becoming more and more palpable with every breath I took and every second that went by, but I wasn't ready to give into its enticement yet.


 

“I still don't like you,” I told him, but he merely smirked; the action was so cocky and annoying, and yet I found myself so utterly and completely attracted to him that I really didn’t care.


 

“We’ll see about that.”


 

“Seems a bit presumptuous, don’t you think?”


 

James laughed a little, his teeth pearly white against the tanned olive of his skin. “Cornelia, you’re just too charming.”


 

“Oh, so now I’m charming?” I challenged. “Big step up from pathetic.”


 

“It is, isn’t it?” His lips twitched slightly, but then he grew serious once again. “I find you more disarming than charming, actually.”


 

I frowned despite myself. “Disarming?”


 

He nodded. “I think it’s your eyes.”


 

My eyes. My emerald coloured eyes, identical to the ones of my grandmother. And all at once, reality came rushing back to me - we were at a Ministry Ball, where every Pureblood family was, where my grandmother was, where wandering eyes were the norm and gossip the prefered mode of conversation.


 

“We can’t dance, James,” I told him, glancing around me. “Not here.”


 

James nodded, as if he had expected me to say that. “Then let’s just sit down and talk for a bit. Please.”


 

“No, I’m serious,” I pressed on. “If my grandmother or anyone sees me with you, I’m dead.”


 

“Better that than forced to dance with Flint-”


 

“No,” I shook my head as my thoughts flitted to Adam and the scars that painted his arms. “James, if she sees us, bad things will happen.”


 

James finally seemed to understand that I wasn’t kidding, and he took my hand gently.


 

“So, we don’t let her see us,” he said, and then we were twirling around again as he danced us through couples and people, straight to the opposite end of the venue and out one of the exits.


 

As James led me through empty hallways and past dark offices, we didn’t speak and we didn’t let go of our hands until we came to a secluded staircase and settled ourselves on the bottom steps. 


 

“I owe you an explanation, I think,” James began immediately, probably taking advantage of my unusual submission, and that’s when everything came rushing back and I remembered I was supposed to be angry at him.


 

I shrugged noncommittally, once again avoiding his gaze. “Only if there’s one to give.”


 

“There is. Look, so, it’s like this - I didn’t actually sleep with Marina.” 


 

Out of all the things I expected him to say, that was certainly not one of them. “Pardon?”


 

“Well, I did,” Potter amended, still in that hurried sort of speech, all jumbled up. “But I didn’t do anything with her. We were talking and I was so pissed I fell asleep and then I woke up and she didn’t have on all her clothes so I thought we had - you know - and then I left and found Fred and came straight to you because I was so upset with myself even though nothing actually happened.”


 

“I...don’t...understand." Every word was pronounced slowly, as if I were unsure of how to say them in the first place.


 

James exhaled. “Marina and I had been hooking up occasionally for more than a year. It’s never been anything serious; we’d play around when there was there was no one else we were interested in, and stop when there was. So when I was-” He stole a sideways glance at me, but I kept my face impassive. “She got jealous. Especially because I told her I didn’t want to do anything with her anymore. And, don’t get me wrong. She’s a good person. She just…she likes a certain image, and she’s very good at getting what she wants.”


 

“This doesn’t explain what happened.” I said quietly.


 

James shot me a look. “I’m getting there. On that night, after you left I was a bit...agitated, and I drank a lot. And she was there, and she told me she was sad about something and asked me to go back to her dorm so we could talk about it. And I followed, and I was so pissed that I ended up passing out mid conversation. And so I thought I had slept with her and I was so furious with myself that I just wanted to tell you, but when I asked her about it later she told me the truth - that she had just taken off her shirt so that word would spread we hooked up.”


 

“And you expect me to fall for that?” I asked, half offended he would expect me to believe such a tall tale, and half already taking his story as the truth.


 

“One of my best mates Marley lives with Marina, and she says I went from talking to sleeping in a second,” he defended, but it wasn’t aggressive, more him just stating evidence for the jury. “And there’s no way she would lie about anything like that. She hates Marina, actually.”


 

“So…” I frowned with the concentration of setting everything straight. “You came drunk to tell me you slept with someone else, but you didn’t really actually sleep with her, but everybody else still thinks you’ve done it?”


 

“Yes.” James Potter nodded once, the movement firm and without uncertainty.


 

“Hm.” It was a shockingly complex story, but it was even more shocking that I actually believed him. Maybe it was because I knew Albus so well and maybe it was because when I decided to trust James at the Quidditch hearing he had proved himself right, but as I looked at him I just knew he wasn’t lying to me.


 

“So,” James shifted slightly on the step, and I realised that he was actually nervous for my reaction. “Are we cool?”


 

“Yeah,” I told him after a moment, and I knew that I meant it. “We’re cool.”


 

“Cool,” he said, and I could tell that he meant it, too. We lapsed into silence for a moment, and it occurred to me that we never really were quiet, since we were always arguing or flirting or some ungodly mix of the two, and I wasn’t sure whether I appreciated the tranquility or needed to shatter it.


 

Perhaps the latter.


 

“I can’t believe we managed to sneak out of there,” I marveled, leaning back on the steps slightly. “Especially with the eyes that are always on you.”


 

James glanced at me, furrowing his eyebrows slightly. “What do you mean?”


 

“Oh, c’mon,” I rolled my eyes at him. “You are perfectly aware of how you look.”


 

James shrugged, in that nonchalant way men always do when they secretly agree with a compliment. “Are you aware?”


 

“Now you’re fishing for compliments?” I feigned shock. “Wow, you know, you’re also really just so modest-”


 

“No, about you,” James interrupted. “Are you aware of how you look?”


 

My confusion must’ve been evident, because he continued.


 

“Because when you yelled at me that first day on the Hogwarts Express, I swear every single person in the car’s eyes were on you.”


 

“And, what about your eyes?” I asked, low and weighted. “What were they on?”


 

“Fishing for compliments, now, are we?” James teased, but then he grew surprisingly serious. “I thought you were beautiful,” he shrugged. “And angry, which was hot.”


 

“Oh, good,” I snapped, but I wasn’t mad, not really. “I’m glad the validity of my anger really gets you going-”


 

“Oh, it so does,” he smirked at me, and then frowned slightly. “I wonder why we never crossed paths before this year. I mean, you’ve been best friends with Albus for ages.”


 

“I don’t know,” I said, thoughtfully. “I guess to me, you were just...loud.”


 

James wrinkled his nose. “Loud?


 

“Not in speech, but in personality. You would walk into a room full of a hundred people and become the centre of attention immediately. I don’t know. I think because it irks Albus it irked me, too.”


 

”It irks Albus?” James asked. I was slowly starting to understand his emotions through his reactions, just now beginning to recognise the brief flits of real emotion through his usually controlled expressions.


 

“It does,” I told him. “I think he’s felt so overshadowed that he hasn’t even wanted to try to be closer with you.”


 

James frowned again, deeper this time, and I was surprised at how seriously he was taking my words. “I’ll have to make more of an effort.”


 

I nodded, secretly pleased. “That could be good.”


 

James turned to look at me, full on. It was always a shock at how breathtaking he was, with his hard jaw and high cheekbones and light eyes, but somehow his beauty seemed less intimidating now more than ever.


 

“I like it when you’re honest, Burke,” he murmured. “Not many people are to me.”


 

“I like it when you don’t treat me like I’m less than the dirt on your shoes.”


 

I don’t know what made me say it. But I knew that I needed to, now, before anything went further, if not to protect my future self than to validate my own past concerns, and I think James understood that because he licked his lips once and sighed, the sound heavy with guilt.


 

“I do have a tendency to do that, don’t I?” he murmured.


 

“Yes,” I said, unwaveringly. “You do.”


 

James sighed once more and then nodded, as if he were thinking. “Okay,” he finally murmured.


 

“Okay?”


 

“Okay.” he whispered, and we sat in silence for a moment.


 

I could feel the heat in the air again, creeping into my veins and flushing my skin, and I knew he was feeling it too. Because we were always like this, hot and electric and addictive, and as he shifted closer and ducked his head towards me my anger was forgotten. And just like they always did, stupid butterflies in my stomach began swooping - soaring - and my heart rate was so much faster than normal, and I could feel his eyes traveling all over me but still I held out, savouring my last shred of self control before it was inevitably destroyed.


 

It felt like an eternity until I finally let my gaze meet his. The light was reflecting off of his eyes, igniting the gold flecks in his irises like embers in a fire; they burned with ferocity and desire and something else - some element that I couldn’t quite place - but it didn't matter, because his face was so close to mine I could see the cliff of every eyelash, the cracks of his lips, the field of pale freckles that stretched out over the bridge of his nose.


 

“If you ask me to kiss you, I will,” said James. His voice was low and strained as his light eyes searched mine for answers I didn’t have, and I could feel my body instinctively curve towards him. He stroked the inside of my wrists with his fingertips, and that simple action was all it took for my desire to overpower my rational thinking.


 

Kiss me.” I whispered.


 

Our hands found each other in the darkness, and although at first we touched in tiptoes and kissed in whispers, we soon became more confident, more bold in the way that we pushed ourselves into one another, craving to be closer and closer and closer even when there was no more space to take. There wasn’t much we could do, in ball gowns and dress robes, but still his hands coveted the small of my back like a prize; mine grabbed hungrily at the nape of his neck, stretching to clutch his hair in between my fingers.


 

And even though we were so cliche, hooking up in some deserted staircase in the middle of a party, it felt like something more, something important, something so vast that it would affect the way the world spun and the universe functioned for infinities to come.



 




 

“D’you know what you want to do after Hogwarts?” I asked him. We were still lying on the staircase, my head resting on his lap, his fingers entangled in my hair, playing with it gently so that the pins holding my hairdo together didn’t move out of place.


 

“Curse breaking. My Uncle Bill does it, and it’s absolutely wicked.”


 

“The Quidditch players of the professional world,” I pronounced and then smirked. “Why am I not surprised?”


 

So characteristic,” James agreed, but then he grew quieter, pronouncing each word as if he had thought individually about every single one. “It’s more than that, though. It’s - it’s the mystery of it. The ancient secrets of the ruins. I don’t know, it’s solving puzzles, but instead of all the pieces being laid out on a table it’s like you’re in a universe with a fourth dimension. You never know what’s going to happen, what properties you’re going to discover.”


 

Wow. The way he explained it was beautiful, in a way. I’d truly never found someone as silently brilliant as James Potter, and he was somehow more of a paradox to me than ever before.


 

James glanced down at me, and I realised I had yet to respond to him.


 

“That seems amazing,” I told him, and I think he could hear the awe in my voice even though I fought to keep it out. “Did your parents want you to play Quidditch?”


 

“Nah, they’ve known about curse breaking for awhile. But I know the rest of the world is expecting me to play.”


 

“Oh, what a burden,” I said dramatically, flinging my hand over my forehead. “You have to let down the entire world-”


 

“Piss off, Burke,” James said, but he was laughing, and this new sort of banter was so natural and easy that I couldn’t help but laugh too. “What do you want to do?”


 

“Not a clue yet,” I said honestly, and as I did James sat up a little, shrugging the dress robes off of his shoulder and revealing the most ridiculous garment I had ever seen anyone wear in all of my sixteen years.


 

“You’re kidding me.” I said flatly, because James Potter was somehow wearing a dress shirt with short fucking sleeves, like Clark Kent or some paper salesman or something equally as ludicrous.


 

“What? I get warm easily, I’m very hot, you see,” he smirked, and I rolled my eyes at his confidence. “And I may or may not have lost a bet with Fred to go out in public in this.”


 

“You definitely just wore that of your own accord,” I disputed, and then my eyes settled on something on his arm. I’d seen a little bit of it before, but it always managed to slip my mind whenever I thought to ask, so now I did just that. “What’s your tattoo of?”


 

James glanced down at his arm, almost in surprise. “You’ve never noticed it before?”


 

“I actually haven’t spent that much time staring at your biceps,” I noted drily, and he laughed, the sound of it full and free, a rare noise for him.


 

“Shame,” James pouted, as if he actually was disappointed, and then held out his arm towards me. “Well, then, see for yourself.”


 

It took me a moment before I recognised exactly what the dark shape was. But strangely enough it wasn’t gaudy or overdone; instead, it was fierce and strong, with dark lines and sharp eyes and just enough shading to look realistic but not overtake the entirety of his arm.


 

“A dog?” I asked after a moment, and then it dawned on me what it meant. “Oh, my God. Like Sirius, in the constellation?”


 

“Yeah,” James grinned. “Something like that.”


 

“So you got a tattoo of your own middle name,” I drawled. “And you get upset with me when I call you egotistical?”


 

“Well, technically it’s of Sirius Black’s name,” James corrected me, but his tone was light. “But it’s also my Patronus, and it means a lot to my dad. I thought he’d be mad when I got it, but he was actually really pleased.”


 

“Well, I really like it,” I admitted, and I think the way I was so transparently honest made him happy, because he smiled a little just as his eyes grew dark and hooded.


 

“Yeah?” he murmured, lifting me up slightly so I was upright again.


 

“Yeah,” I murmured back, and then I looked down almost bashfully, but as I did I happened to glance down at his watch and see the time. “Bullocks - we should get back. They’re probably missing me.”


 

“You’re not that popular, sweetheart,” James grinned, and even though I laughed and tried to poke him in the stomach, I began to pull him rather quickly from our hiding space, anxiety growing with every step.


 

Stupidly, foolishly, I had forgotten where we were. Who I was. And in retrospect, it was my fault for leaving the ball with James Potter in the first place, for allowing myself once again to be sucked into the strength of his magnetic field and lose sight of the things that were truly important. I was still so happy and flustered and giddy from the way the night had gone that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not have James’s hand in mind, which is perhaps why I kept holding it all the way back into the middle of the venue, where no sooner did I glance around did Calliope Yaxley appear in front of us. Seeing her was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart: I was suddenly wide awake again, heart racing, once more aware of my surroundings, and it was an utterly terrifying feeling.


 

“Why, hello, James!” Calliope exclaimed, before I could say anything. “And-” she paused, pretending to do a double take, mouth rounded in mock surprise. “Nellie! Last I saw, you were dancing with Christian! But, where is he?” Calliope looked to the left and then the right with fake wide eyes as the cold, calculated glint of her dark irises told a different story. “My, my, this is quite a turn of events, isn't it?”


 

“You're not going to tell, are you?” I asked, low and urgent, pleading, and even though I could feel James staring at the pair of us utterly lost, I could only focus on the girl standing in front of me, her midnight hair slicked back and her eyes steely and cold.


 

“I don’t think I have to.” And then Calliope smiled; it twisted her features with a sickening victory, and as I followed her gaze, past the ice sculpture and the the dancers, I was met with a pair of sharp, emerald green eyes.


 

“No,” I managed to whisper, as Calliope grinned wider and made to move past us.


 

“See you around, Nellie. Or, you know,” Calliope added as an afterthought, speaking from over her shoulder. “Not.”


 

“What was that about?” James asked. My hand was slack in James’s grip, but still he held on, squeezing it tightly so I was forced to look up at him.


 

“She saw,” I said hollowly, my lips barely moving. “Fuck.”


 

“Who saw what?”


 

“My grandmother saw us together - Fuck!” I hissed, as another wave of terror washed over me, sick and urgent in the way it seemed to press down on every cell in my body.  


 

“Why does it matter so much to her?"


 

“It just does, fuck I’m going to die-”


 

“Burke-”


 

“I need to find Scor-“ I began to say, and then I remembered that I was no longer speaking to him. But those trivial things didn’t seem to matter right now; in fact, they barely even registered as I glanced around the venue wildly, trying to locate just one friendly face.


 

“He, Al, and Flynn already went home with my parents,” said James. “Look, you need to calm down. It’s just your grandmother. Don’t be so theatrical.”


 

Theatrical?” I asked incredulously, ripping my hand away from his.


 

“Yeah,” James raised his voice to match mine. He was annoyed now, clearly, and his eyes were back to that cold, distant look that always made me feel so fucking inferior to him. “Theatrical.”


 

And though I knew he didn't know what my grandmother was like - who she was, what she had done, what she would inevitably do - I was still so furious, so offended that he could go from caring and talking to me and being a human one minute to his stupid unforgiving façade the next that the facts he was missing didn’t seem to matter.


 

“You know what? You’re right. I’m being theatrical, stupid, even, so have a nice, peaceful night, and I’ll see you when I see you.”


 

“What,” James laughed once as I turned my back on him and began walking quickly towards the exit of the venue; the sound was full of a cruel sort of derision. “You can call me egotistical every time you see me but you can’t handle me telling you you’re being a little melodramatic?”


 

“Oh, I can handle it!” I called. “Have a great night!”


 

“You, too!” he called back, just as sarcastic and childishly, and the sound of it made me want to scream, to ball my fists and stomp my foot and kick the fucking wall with all of my might.


 

But I didn’t. I nodded at those I recognised as I walked calmly across the floor to the exit. My posture was perfect; shoulders back, head tall, chin up. Pureblood and proud, the way I was meant to be.


 

The second I was out of view from the main party, I bolted. I was in a Floo and hurtling towards the East Library fireplace within seconds, and even though I tumbled out clumsily I scrambled up and sprinted into my bedroom, locking the door behind me as fast as I could.


 

Briefly, I thought about sending a Patronus to Adam, but I couldn’t even produce a strong enough one to send, and I couldn’t ask Adam to come back here and face Esmeralda again; I wasn’t that selfish. I was stronger than that.


 

So I decided to run.


 

I changed out of my gown in a flash, leaving the smooth fabric in a pile on the floor, the velvety red splashed against the dark floors like a bloodstain. As I pulled on my jeans and trainers I was thinking about what else I needed to pack as necessities - I would leave all of my Hogwarts things here to hopefully retrieve later - and as soon as I’d Accio’d everything I wanted I stowed my wand in the elastic of my waist for safekeeping.


 

I couldn’t go to Malfoy Manor - Draco loved me and would help, but I wouldn’t want to put him in that position of trying to hide me, not when he had already done so much for our family. No, I would go to Adam; even though he was away for Quidditch until just before New Years, he always kept his Floo gate unlocked - the idiot - but in that moment I was eternally grateful for his carelessness.


 

The library was as dark and as still as I’d left it five minutes before, and so without bothering to turn on the lights or take out my wand I made my way to the fireplace. But without warning that familiar sort of aura I seemed to get frequently hit me like a ton of bricks, and as everything fell into place I knew before she spoke that she was already in the room, and that something would go wrong very soon.


 

“Cornelia,” her voice drifted across the library like a canary’s warning, and I immediately stiffened.


 

“Grandmother,” I turned. She was sitting in one of the stiff armchairs in the corner, almost completely shrouded by the shadows, but I could see the outline of her form and the glint of her eyes: steely and unforgiving.


 

“The Flints are extremely interested to know why you left their son alone in the middle of a dance for a blood traitor’s son,” Esmeralda Burke said quietly. “They thought that you and Christian would make a fantastic pair, but now they’re not so sure.”


 

“I would never so much as touch him,” I said before I could stop myself, and I braced for the worst but Esmeralda only smiled.


 

“The Burke’s have had thousands of years of perfect lineage, and your brother has already destroyed the chance of continuing the legacy of our name. But,” she rose slowly out of the armchair, and I automatically took a step back. My wand was hot against my skin, as if it was urging me to use it, yet I didn’t make a move to grab it.


 

“But perhaps, when he sees what will become of you,” Esmeralda continued, “he will reconsider.”


 

“He won’t.”


 

“He will.” she restated, in that same calming voice that betrayed more danger than a yell ever could.


 

“I thought Adam ruined our family,” I said, almost desperately, just to keep her talking. “Why would you even want him to come back?”


 

Esmeralda’s expression grew dark, and with it the atmosphere of the room shifted; my wand was practically burning into my skin, now.


 

“It’s not him that was the original problem - it was your mother who selfishly besmirched our name irreparably.”


 

And at that I froze, since Esmeralda hadn’t mentioned my mother since she the day she dishonored us - and in my moment of pause her wand blurred through the air, and I had no time to react before I was flying, flying towards the wall opposite and hurtling into the cold stiff stone of the fireplace. I hit the ground with a thud hard enough to shake the tall bookcases around us, but in a flash I had pushed myself to a standing position and was reaching down my front to retrieve my wand, which had mercifully survived the fall.  


 

“Don’t you dare!” Esmeralda snapped, and I managed to duck as an orange flash of light shot right above my head, sizzling into the stone of the wall. “You will do as I say, Cornelia, do you hear me? You will continue-” another curse, to my left, “our legacy-” a third, closer to my waist, “or face the punishment!”


 

At that exact moment she sent out another beam of light, and as I turned my body slightly for protection at the last minute I realised that was my fatal mistake.


 

No!” I gasped, as the spell cut my neck, and before I had time to react another one had come my way. I felt the curse slash my wrist and I gripped the wound immediately, even as I screwed my eyes shut and concentrated on the only place I knew where someone I trusted was, and I was spinning on the spot just as another spell sizzled through the air and sliced in between my shoulder blades, and then the library was gone as I was thrown into a painful world of darkness - a black hole, a barren vacuum, a cold and empty universe.

 


 

 

Author's note: Well, there you go. Merry Christmas and please review, especially since the next chapter is clearly going to be exciting and with lots of revelations. Hope you enjoyed learning more about James (and realising he's not the worst person in the world after all)!

 

 


 

Up next...A story of  dark magic, Casa Potter, and cool.



Chapter 19: Chapter Nineteen
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise.


 


 

 

The room wasn’t anything special, really. It was rather messy, as most teenage boys rooms were, with clothes littered on the floor and an old couch in the corner and piles of unimportant memorabilia strewn over desk and wardrobe surfaces.


 

A poster of the Chudley Cannons was plastered to one wall, and, while the wall opposite appeared to have been charmed to show red and gold colours, a rather tattered Slytherin banner hung over it, complete with various burn marks and tears.


 

The room was peaceful, almost preserved, even as footsteps as loud as thunder hammered nearer and nearer, while I swayed in the center of the room like a flame flickering on a candle; sway, flicker, flicker, dim...


 

“James, I swear to God, if you just Apparated into my room...!” Albus warned, and then he was in the doorway, two others directly behind him.


 

“Hi,” I said meekly, attempting to fix my face into something resembling a smile, but I was panting, breathing hard, so it came out as a grimace.


 

“Corn?” Scorpius gasped, and I could see the colour drain from his cheeks as his gaze traveled from my eyes downward.


 

“I’m fine,” I said airily. As I said it, I could feel blood seeping through my collar and running down my back and soaking through my sleeve where I clutched my arm tightly, determined to stop the flow.


 

“What the hell happened?” Flynn pushed past Albus and Scorpius, who merely stood staring, to come over to me.


 

“Esmeralda,” I said bitterly, as an explanation, but none of them were focused on my words, and now I wasn’t either, because as someone said, Your neck is bleeding, and someone else said, No shit, Sherlock, a wave of dizziness hit me, so powerful that I instinctively dropped the hand clutching my wrist.


 

“Oh, my God,” said Scorpius shakily, and even though the room was spinning and and he was spinning and I was spinning I understood why. Because as I looked down, I could plainly see that the cut on my arm was not a cut, but rather a gash - a gash that began to gush blood down my hand and onto the floor with an alarming speed that wouldn’t slow, no matter how hard I tried to cover the wound again.


 

“Mum, get in here, now!” Albus yelled, and I felt my muscles give out just as Flynn reached out to hold me, and in another second I was on Al’s bed and Flynn was using one of the white linen sheets to wrap around my arm as tightly as he could manage.


 

“What, Al? Oh!” Ginny Potter appeared in the doorway, and I knew I must’ve looked worse than I thought. “Harry? Harry!


 

“The sheet’s not helping,” said Flynn urgently, and suddenly there was so much going on as Albus pulled away the soaking red linens away from my wrist and turned pale, and Ginny called for her husband once again and Lily Potter sped in, her eyes wide, followed closely by Mr. Potter who was wearing a flannel pajama set and looking horrified.


 

“What happened?” he demanded as he took out his wand and knelt by Ginny, who was muttering healing spells as quickly as she could manage.


 

“Oh, no, no, I’m fine - it’s really nothing compared to what she did to Adam,” I babbled breathlessly, as I remembered huddling behind a door frame while my brother’s skin was slashed, again and again and again until he could hardly stand. “At least she spared my face, but I should’ve seen it coming.”


 

“At least?” Scorpius snarled, and I knew he was beyond angry about the situation I was in.


 

“What is she talking about?” Flynn asked urgently from where he was hovering somewhere near my head.


 

“I’m fine,” I tried to assure him, but I was taken aback by how little energy I had to get the words out. “I’m really okay."


 

“You’re not-”


 

“The one at her wrist hit the artery,” muttered Mr. Potter, just as there were two loud cracks from the floor below, one right after the other.


 

“Mum!” A voice floated up the stairs, and I stiffened at the sound. “Fred’s sleeping over!”


 

“Lily, go distract them,” ordered Mr. Potter, and Lily dutifully ran out the door and down the stairs.


 

“This is strong magic. These won’t stay closed for more than a couple of seconds.” Ginny spoke after a moment. I could see the look she exchanged with her husband, and I felt Scorpius’s grip on me tighten in response.


 

“Albus, Flynn,” Mr. Potter turned to his son, his voice so calm and steady that he could have merely been commenting on the weather. “Wait downstairs, please.”


 

“What? No!” They both protested, but Ginny brandished her wand and they were both sent flying out the door, leaving only Scorpius remaining as he clutched onto my hand like a lifeline - but who was the salvation for, me or him? I couldn’t look him in the eyes; they were too full of worry and pain, and as my vision blurred together like raindrops on a window I began to think that if I allowed myself to look at him, his eyes would be the last thing I would ever see.


 

“Nothing is working and she’s going to lose consciousness,” muttered Mr. Potter. “We need a Healer.”


 

“Angelina - we can have…FRED!” Ginny bellowed. “Get up here, now!


 

There was a distant crack, and then with a loud bang Fred appeared in the middle of the room, just where I had a few moments ago.


 

Yes, my dear Aunt - holy shit,” he said, his face draining of colour so quickly that instinctually my mind tried to tell my hands to reach out to him in case he fainted, even though my limbs didn’t respond to my brain’s command.


 

“Get your mother. Tell her Nellie was cut with dark magic and that we need lots of blood replenishing potions. Quickly!”


 

Fred nodded, glancing at me fearfully, and then with another bang he was gone.


 

“Oi! Mum! Did you just make Fred leave?” James yelled, pounding up some staircase that sounded strangely far away, like it was happening in a far off location and merely playing into my ears as an echo.


 

“Nellie, can you try to keep your eyes open?” Mr. Potter asked sharply, shaking me slightly. I hadn’t realised that they had fallen shut, but now the effort of prying them back open and keeping my head upright was becoming drastically more difficult.


 

From the hallway - “What are you two doing out here?” A pause. “Al, what’s going on?”


 

There was no response, and a few moments later the door burst open - and, through all the dark and light and bright neon colours that seemed to cloud my vision, there was James Potter; a beautiful marble statue in the doorway as he stared at me wordlessly, frozen with confusion and horror and something else I couldn’t quite place.


 

“What...?” he managed to choke out hoarsely, as I tried to open my mouth, I’m fine, go away, but as he took a hesitant step towards me I found that I could say nothing.


 

“Stay downstairs with your brother-”


 

“Oh my God - Is-is she-? Please tell me she’s - Mum, is she okay?”


 

“James-”


 

“Corn, open your eyes,” Scorpius said urgently from my side, but I couldn’t; my eyelids were too heavy, too persistent in the way they forced themselves down, and besides, I had never been much of a fighter anyways.


 

Cornelia!” James was by my head now; I could smell him but I couldn’t see, couldn’t control my mouth enough to tell him to leave, James, just go, but his hands were stroking my cheek - I could tell they were his by the warmth of them, by the way they lingered on my skin - and I was calm even as there was another crack and then a sharp voice.


 

“Get them out, now.”


 

No!


 

“If he stays, I stay!”


 

“If you want her to live, then get out of the way!


 

Their voices began to seem far away and muted; the only thing I could hear clearly were my breaths as they came out of my nose, more and more slowly, a tempo of waves crashing to the shore, in with the tide, and out again; in and out, in and out.


 

And then I opened my eyes again and I was in a bed with clean linen instead of bloodstained sheets. For a moment I was panicked - where the hell was I? - but then I remembered everything that had happened - the ball, Esmeralda, apparating to the place I knew Scorpius Malfoy would be.


 

But I certainly didn’t foresee the entire Potter family witnessing my injuries, or ending up in one of their guest rooms, from the look of it. The walls were painted a pale yellow, creating the illusion of light even as a glance out of the window told me it was still too early in the morning for the sun to be out, and as I sat up slightly I realised I was not alone.


 

He was sleeping in a rocking chair next to the far side of the large bed, his feet resting on a change of clothes from my trunk that had been folded neatly off to the side. For a little I just sort of watched him, because he looked so peaceful and unconcerned when he never was when he was awake, but after a few minutes I got bored of him snoring and I poked his foot with mine, my leg still under the comforter.


 

“Hey,” I nudged him again harder, and he shot up immediately. For a moment, we just stared at one another - him wide-eyed, me blearily, until he jumped out of the recliner and sprung into action.


 

“I’m supposed to have you drink this,” he said. He fumbled with the lid in his haste to get it open and then watched me drink silently, his pale blue eyes never once leaving my face.


 

“Was he home?” Scorpius asked after I’d set down the empty glass.


 

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Probably not. But you know that wouldn’t matter.”


 

Scorpius exhaled slowly. His hair was messy and matted, and the bags around his eyes were startlingly purple against the rest of his skin. It reminded me of how he looked after I was hurt in Quidditch, and with a pang of guilt of I realised it was probably a déjà vu sort of experience for him, to see me almost die.


 

“You’re okay?” he asked finally, and as I looked back at him I nodded. This had been an outcome so inevitable that the question had never been if, but when. And now it was when, and although it was frightening, it was how we always knew it was going to go. If Adam hadn’t been evidence enough, then other families like ours were. This was the life we were forced to endure, and although Adam’s attack marked the end of his relations with our family I wasn’t naive enough to think that my accident had been enough to sever ties.


 

“So,” I said, after a couple more moments of silence. “You and Rose.”


 

Scorpius immediately grew anxious; I could see it in the lines around his mouth and the way his eyes grew large and fearful. “I’m so sorry-”


 

“Just tell me everything. Start with how it happened,” I suggested, when he didn’t respond at first.


 

“This summer. We’d always be arguing and then it would turn into us hooking up,” Scorpius explained, choosing his words very carefully. “And then, one day, I realised I enjoyed arguing with her, because it meant that I got to talk to her. Hold her attention. So I asked her to be my girlfriend, and after a whole, like, manifesto about feminism she agreed. And so we snuck around for months, always asking people to switch patrols so we could get some time alone, and in public we still pretended we hated each other.”


 

I considered this.


 

“I don’t understand why you didn’t just tell people. Why you didn’t tell me.”


 

“We wanted it to work,” Scorpius exhaled. “You know? Without the whispers. And at first we didn’t even know what we were doing, and it was just easier to hide rather than admit to ourselves that we actually cared about one another.”


 

“But you do care about her,” I said, and it wasn’t a question but it needed an affirmation.


 

Scorpius held my gaze as he nodded once, sharply. “Yes.”


 

“Do you love her?”


 

“Yes,” Scorpius answered again, so instantly that I couldn’t have doubted him if I tried. “I wouldn’t have done it like this if I didn’t.”


 

“I’m still mad you didn’t tell me,” I said.


 

He closed his eyes briefly. “I know.”


 

“I mean, you took away five months I could’ve been heckling you about going soft on me, and that’s absolutely unforgivable. Now I’m going to have to make up for lost time. Maybe take a leaf out of Flynn’s book and compile a list of ways to tease you.”


 

Scorpius’s eyes flew open as he laughed, and the sound was so surprised and relieved that it made me smile. “Thank you for understanding. I love you so much, Corn. I’m so sorry it happened like this.”


 

“I know. I’m happy for you, Scor.”


 

He looked up, so eagerly that it made him look like a child, sweet and innocent, hopeful. “Yeah?”


 

“Yeah.” I murmured, and even though I could feel myself slipping back into unconsciousness I didn’t fight it.

 

 


 

I don’t know how long I was asleep for, but the next time I awoke sun was streaming in through the windows and it was not my cousin sitting in vigil by the side of my bed.


 

I could almost feel the energy radiating off of him. He knew I was awake, and I knew he could feel me staring at him, but he didn’t look up, not even as I sat up slowly.


 

“Hey,” I said, softly, and then I waited until he finally raised his head far enough to meet my gaze.


 

“You have a habit,” he said, “of scaring the shit out of me.”


 

“Sorry.” I couldn’t bring myself to argue it. My voice was sore from underuse, and I wondered how long I’d been unconscious for this time.


 

“This is the second time I’ve seen you almost die,” said James quietly. “I’d quite like to never again.”


 

“Weren't you admitted to the Hospital Wing something like twelve times last year?” I countered, and the slightest hint of a smirk flickered across his otherwise gaunt expression so quickly I wasn’t sure if it had really been there.


 

“I thought you said you never kept tabs on me,” James responded, still in that same dull tone.


 

“Oh, come on,” I rolled my eyes, determined to improve his foul mood. “Every time you got injured there would always be that whole group of girls who would go around, taking donations to get you peonies or something stupid like that.”


 

James just stared at me until his mouth straightened back out into a somber grimace. “How are you feeling?”


 

“Loads better, now that I'm not continuously bleeding out,” I said airily. I thought that some humour would do good to lighten the mood, but clearly I read the room wrong: at my comment, James closed his eyes as if in pain, and when he opened them he was more sympathetic than somber.


 

“I’m so sorry she did that to you.”


 

“It’s fine,” I said shortly. I don’t know why I felt so uncomfortable with the way James was looking at me - like I were something to be pitied - but I was, and I knew I had to say anything to get him to stop. “I only have to see her twice a year, anyways.”


 

“What will your parents say?”


 

“She controls them, too.” He didn’t respond to that, and I sighed. “Look, it’s just how it is with the Purebloods. Either you follow the patterns or face the consequences.”


 

“But why don’t you tell people things?” he asked abruptly, suddenly glaring at me. “You could’ve told me - anyone - that you were in real danger last night, but you didn’t. You didn’t want to tell your friends after Flint hurt you, either, and when your spleen was fucking exploding you tried to play it off like you were fine. Why are you so resistant to getting help?”


 

“Because I don’t need it,” I replied automatically.


 

“Oh, no,” James said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “No, you clearly manage just fine on your own.”


 

“Well, it’s not like you’re exactly the kind of person I’d want to act fragile around.” I retorted, brushing the stray hairs away from my eyes so I could glare right back at him.


 

“You think that’s what this is?” James asked incredulously, his dark eyebrows coming together in frustration. “Acting fragile? Asking for help is a necessity, not a weakness - Christ, Burke, why didn’t you fucking tell me? About any of this?”


 

He was angrier now, and I could tell that the more he knew the more his temper would grow out of hand, so I closed my eyes, hoping my apparent tranquility would cause him to act the same.


 

“There was nothing to tell.”


 

“I wouldn’t have left you. I would have brought you straight to our house in the first place-”


 

I forced my voice to be calm, even though I was anything but. “James, it was inevitable that this happened-”


 

“It wasn’t! You told me she would hurt you,” I couldn’t see him, but I knew him well enough to know how he was when he was stressed; he was pacing, his hands grabbing at the hair in the back of his head, pulling it hard. “I thought you were being fucking dramatic!


 

“This isn’t your fault,” I snapped, opening my eyes again, and I was more than slightly annoyed that he had yet again managed to make something that didn’t concern him about himself.


 

“The hell it is!” James yelled, and then seemed to register that his temper was much too elevated and sat back down, glowering at the floor petulantly.


 

He was angry at me. That much was obvious. But I found the way he was furious at himself to be the most intriguing, not because I never thought him capable of self-loathing, but because he really did blame himself for my injuries, and I realised it was less about him acting self absorbed and more about him feeling guilty.


 

But that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t want to talk about my family or what had happened with him, and so I waited until his breathing was back to normal to change the subject.


 

“I have to get changed.”


 

“Well, I‘m not leaving,” said James stoutly, finally looking back up at me. “So change wherever you want, but I’m not going anywhere.”


 

I thought about arguing it, but I didn’t have enough energy to keep fighting with him. In fact, as I sat up a little more in bed I realised I was too weak even to stand on my own, so I was forced to merely turn my back on him and pull the shirt over my head slowly, every movement unwelcome and foreign to the muscles in my back.


 

As the loose shirt I had been dressed in came to rest on the mattress beside me, a low hiss escaped from James’s mouth.


 

“What, not as pretty as you imagined it to be?” I said bitingly, but he scoffed audibly enough for me to understand that wasn’t what he was reacting to.


 

“No- what are those bruises?” he snapped, as I reached for the sweatshirt on my right side, groping around blindly until James slid it to my fingers.


 

I shrugged, the movement feeling so stiff that I winced, and then was immediately glad that I wasn’t facing James. “Probably from when she blasted me against the wall.”


 

“She blasted-?”


 

I worked to get the sweatshirt over my head, feeling strangely out of breath from the simple motion, and finally when it was on I faced James again.


 

“Can you just forget about this? Please?” I implored.


 

James stared at me a moment, before standing up and coming to sit carefully beside me on the bed. I hadn’t noticed it before, but the dark circles underneath his eyes were just as pronounced as Scorpius’s had been hours before, and his five o’clock shadow had grown out into something that could only be called a scruff.


 

“I will if you answer one question.” James said. His voice was low and hoarse, weighted with significance.


 

My mouth tightened, but I nodded. “Fine.”


 

He turned to look at me full on, and although I didn’t want to see the hurt in his eyes I could. “How much other stuff like this has happened to you? That you don’t talk about?”


 

I think he asked knowing he wouldn’t get an answer. That was the thing with James; he was a quick learner, but he always wanted to know more, wanted to figure every little detail out so it could fit nice and pretty into the cognitive schemas he created inside of his head. But I wasn’t made of neat lines and clean breaks so I didn’t respond, but perhaps that silence was more of an answer than my words could ever be.


 

“Cornelia,” James breathed, and then he was wrapping me up in his arms and leaning slowly back on the bed so that he could hug the entirety of my body from head to toe. He smelled like the sun and musk and James, and that’s how I fell asleep: in his arms, warm and comforted. Finally safe.

 

 


 

James was gone when I woke up, replaced with yet another visitor.


 

“Hi,” I said sleepily, and Albus looked up from the book he was reading, his eyebrows slightly raised like they always sort of were.


 

“Hey,” Al smiled slightly. “Do you want some water?”


 

I nodded, and as I reached out for the glass he was holding I noticed the bandages that were covering my arm had been removed.


 

“How am I already healed?” I asked in wonderment, holding my hand up to the light to gaze at my own smooth skin.


 

“Aunt Angelina found the right potion. She couldn’t get them not to scar though.”


 

I nodded, lowering my arm. I had expected that, seeing as how when Esmerelda got angry at Adam he was taken to Mungo’s and couldn’t get his fully away either.


 

“Where’s Flynn?” I remarked after sipping the glass of water, and Al grinned.


 

“He had to go home last night,” Al rolled his eyes. “His mum wanted him back before midnight. He did give me a letter to give you, though.”


 

Al handed it to me, and I skimmed through it quickly.


 

You’re a fucking idiot, Nels. You looked so bad when you almost died I seriously can’t believe I ever dated you. Scared the shit out of me though so don’t do that again or else Al will have another hell of a cleanup (my shite, not ur blood). Or if you do, have it be at Hogwarts so that I can try to use you as a pickup line again. Cheers mate see you soon! Xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo Flynn


 

“He has such a way with words,” I snorted, tossing the letter back onto the comforter, but his sentiments had strangely warmed my heart.


 

“Doesn’t he?” Al smirked. and then hesitated. I could tell he wanted to say something, but Al was perceptive and tactful; he could tell just from looking at me that it wouldn’t be received well, and so he merely rose to his feet and cleared his throat slightly.


 

“Erm, Lily is bringing you breakfast now. I ‘spect you want a few minutes to yourself?”


 

“You know me too well.” I smiled at him. We both knew I wasn’t just referring to his previous comment.


 

“I do,” said Albus, almost ruefully, just as Lily Potter came into view down the hall, holding a tray with juice, an omelette, pumpkin bread, and toast. Albus slipped out of the room just as Lily came to the door, but she didn’t go all the way in; instead she just sort of stood there, appraising me rather critically.


 

“You really didn’t have to do this,” I said to her, and she moved forward to set the tray down at the end of my bed. “I’m probably fine to walk around now, anyways.”


 

“My mum says you need to stay in bed for at least another few hours,” Lily told me, moving back to lean against the doorframe again. “And I really wouldn’t argue with her if I were you.”


 

“Oh, I won’t,” I promised quickly, since Ginny Weasley sort of scared the crap out of me.


 

Lily raised her eyebrows at me, but said nothing else, just kept staring. Her hair was red and silky and made for a stark contrast from the dark mess that her brothers had, but her eyes were the exact same shade as Al’s and her nose resembled that of James’s, making their relation obvious.


 

“Erm, thank you for the omelette,” I said. Lily didn’t move. “It’s really nice of you,” I tried again. No reaction. “Thanks for letting me bleed out in your house?”


 

“What’s going on with you and my brother?” Lily Potter asked bluntly, as if she hadn’t heard any of what I had just said.


 

“Nothing,” I sat up a little straighter. “Al’s one of my best friends-”


 

“No. The other brother.” Lily narrowed her eyes slightly.


 

“Oh.” I didn’t know what to say.


 

Lily moved, closing the door slightly with her foot and taking a step forward. “Do you want to know what I think?”


 

I didn’t really, but before I could tell her so she plowed on.


 

“I think that Al is one of your best friends, and he was freaked when you basically died on his bed, and Scorpius was absolutely distraught, but James? He practically had to be sedated. So, I think that there is something going on with my brother, and you don’t have to tell me I’m right or wrong - I know I’m right - just know that he’s not as cool as he makes himself out to be.”


 

It took me a moment to collect myself after such a declaration. “Cool?”


 

Lily rolled her eyes impatiently. “You know how he acts. He’s not really that cool,” she emphasised. “He always cares a little too much or too little. He’s not cool.”


 

I couldn’t see what she meant at all - James Potter was the definition of cool, with his icy distance and impenetrable demeanor - but still I felt like I should ask. “So which one do I fall under?”


 

“That’s a dumb question with an obvious answer,” Lily narrowed her eyes again. “Just be careful.”


 

I wasn’t pretending to be polite anymore as I leaned forward. “Be careful with what?”


 

“With him.” Lily shot me a final sharp look before slipping back out the door, allowing it to fall shut with a loud bang.


 

Although I didn’t particularly like Lily Potter, I had the notion that Beck Davidson would get along splendidly with her.

 

 

 




 

After breakfast and another couple of potions I felt strong enough to get out of bed and move around but Ginny Potter insisted I continue to rest, finally allowing Al and Scorpius to bring in a table and play Exploding Snap while I watched from atop the bed, fully dressed. I’d forgotten how much I just missed being around my cousin, and although it was under dire circumstances I was almost glad everything had worked up to us being able to sort things out.


 

It was early afternoon when Mr. Potter rapped on the door and politely asked Albus and Scorpius to bugger off so he could speak with me. At first I thought he was going to make me still lay in bed while he sat at one of the chairs, but instead he gestured towards the other and I stood on my own two feet for the first time since last night.


 

“I need an official statement, Nellie,” Mr. Potter started kindly once I sat down.


 

“I don’t have one to give,” I said softly, looking down at my hands. The damage had been done, and I wasn’t naive enough to think that something as small as this could even put a dent in the power of the English Purebloods. Whatever I said, Esmeralda Burke would refute with words and with gold, and that would be the unmistakable end of it. There was no point in filing any charges; she had said it herself - she wouldn’t quit unless either Adam or I changed our minds, and making such an incident public would only drag on the ordeal.


 

“Just, explain to me what happened,” Mr. Potter requested. “From when you left the Ministry Ball.”


 

I took a deep breath before looking Harry Potter square in the eyes. “There must have been an intruder in my home. I don’t remember anything after changing my clothing from the ball. I must have Apparated while nearly unconscious.”


 

Mr. Potter raised his eyebrows, then met my gaze with a pity that I neither wanted nor deserved. “That is the exact statement your brother made three years ago.”


 

I held his gaze, choosing my next words carefully. “And what has the Ministry done since then? To apprehend the accused?”


 

Mr. Potter knew exactly what I meant, that I was referring to the lack of power the government had against the families I was intertwined with, but instead of pressing it further, he merely sighed; the sound of it was heavy, like he had been carrying the world on his shoulders for years.


 

“You’re safe now, Nellie. We can help you-”


 

“It won’t be necessary.” I said clearly, and it was so convincing I nearly believed it myself.


 

Mr. Potter looked at me for a few moments before speaking again. “Over the years I’ve gotten to know Scorpius very well, and he has been very honest with me about the severity of your situation.” I didn’t say anything as he leaned forward. “If you ever need anything - a place to stay, protection, funds-”


 

“You’ve already done so much for me,” I broke in, not wanting to hear the rest of his generosity for fear that it would be too tempting. “Thank you.”


 

Mr. Potter nodded, evidently unsurprised by my refusal, but he appeared to be a bit more relaxed all the same. “Will you be returning to that home eventually?”


 

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “This summer, probably.”


 

“Hm,” Mr. Potter said, and although the tension returned to his shoulders he said nothing else.


 

There was another knock on the door for what felt like the fifteenth time that day, and Scorpius poked his head in, immediately followed by-


 

“Adam!” I squealed, and as soon as I stood up Adam was wrapping me in a bear hug so strong that my feet were lifted off of the ground for a moment.


 

God, it's good to see you," Adam murmured into the thick material of my sweatshirt, and I squeezed him tightly before taking a step back so that I could see his face.

 

 

"I missed you," I said honestly.


 

“We both did,” said Scorpius, and Adam turned to him, clapping his hands upon Scor’s shoulders and looking him up and down.


 

“You’re definitely taller,” Adam pronounced, and Scorpius grinned proudly. “How’s Draco?”


 

“He’s good,” Scorpius nodded. “Wanted to know if you two wanted to come for dinner in a couple of days. He actually wanted me to ask you if he could move Nellie into the Manor, actually.”


 

Adam sort of paused at that, and then looked away from Scorpius and towards Harry Potter. “Can I have a moment alone with Nellie for a second?”


 

“Of course,” Mr. Potter nodded, and the two of them dutifully trailed out, Scorpius shooting me an indiscernible look as he shut the door behind him.


 

“When I told you to kiss a Muggleborn or a blood-traitor, I was joking,” Adam snapped the second the sounds of their retreating footsteps had faded, and I recoiled against his uncharacteristic anger. “What the hell were you thinking?”


 

“What was I - you ran away with a Muggleborn! I just danced with someone!”


 

“You know that doesn’t fucking matter,” Adam said harshly. “Jesus, I thought you were smarter than this, Corn!”


 

“And I thought you were on my side,” I retorted. “But I guess once you got out you didn’t care enough to help me get out, too.”


 

Adam exhaled, crossing his tan arms over his chest. “That’s not fair.” he said finally, voice considerably lower.


 

“It is, though.” I bit my lip, my voice as quiet as his. “I see you, what, three times a year? Maybe an extra few days during the holidays? And then you come here and try to lecture me?”


 

“I’m sorry,” Adam muttered, and his expression left no questions of sincerity. “I just didn’t want my decisions to influence yours. A part of me has always hoped you would just go along with the Purebloods, if that’s what would keep you safe.”


 

“I can’t do that any more than you could have,” I told him unwaveringly, and he nodded, his broad shoulders relaxing slightly as his arms dropped down to his side.


 

“I know. I wouldn’t want you to.”


 

I was about to say something else when there was a slight knock on the door before it was pushed open without hesitation.


 

“Adam,” Mr. Potter had already returned, his tone not unkind but not quite warm either. “May I speak to you for a moment?”


 

“I should really take Nellie home-” Adam began, but one look from Mr. Potter silenced him. As Adam followed Mr. Potter out, James slipped in, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him.


 

“Leaving Casa Potter so soon?” James leaned against the wall casually. He had washed up, from the looks of it, and I was suddenly overcome with the strangest of urges to run my hands in his damp hair and flatten it into something presentable instead of his usual artistic mess.


 

“I’ve been squatting rent free for a little too long,” I smiled wryly back.


 

“I like squatters,” James commented mildly, and then grew quiet, his eyes purposeful and searching. “Are you coming to Fred’s New Year’s party?”


 

“Yeah,” I said, having only just decided in that very moment, and I’d never noticed the way that the corners of his eyes crinkled up when he smiled until now.


 

“Good,” James told me, and from the way his eyes darkened and voice grew lower I could tell that he meant it. “I’m glad.”


 

I raised one eyebrow, the perfect picture of coy. “Are you, now?”


 

“Yeah,” he murmured, and he was stepping closer to me just as his father and Adam reappeared in the doorway.


 

“Ready to go, Corn?” Adam asked me, but from the way his eyes flickered to James I could tell he had seen the movement between us.


 

“I’m ready,” I told him, and then turned to Mr. Potter. “Thank you so much for everything. I really can’t put into words how much I appreciate you helping me and letting me stay as a guest.”


 

It was a lame expression of thanks, when in reality I don’t think I could ever find powerful enough words to acknowledge the amazing acts their family had done for me and my gratitude for them, but I think Mr. Potter knew what I was trying to get at.


 

“Anytime you need anything, just come by.” Mr. Potter responded, but strangely it sounded more like an appeal than a vacant offer.


 

“Good to see you, James,” Adam grinned.  He clapped his hand on James’s shoulder hard, and then nudged me out the door, acting as a block between me and the eldest Potter, who merely smirked in goodbye at me from underneath Adam’s arm.


 

I bade farewell to Albus and Scorpius and thanked Ginny once again before Adam and I made it outside in the cold, walking a little ways down to Apparate. I was thankful that the Ministry had moved up the Apparition age to sixteen and even more so that all of our friends had enchantments on their homes so we could visit easily, but as I was still rather weak Adam insisted we walk outside the bounds of the Potter house so he could do Side-Along with me.


 

Adam waited until we were a good distance away from the home before speaking.


 

“Please, Nellie, don’t get involved with James Potter.”


 

“We’re already involved,” I told him, and it was true. I didn’t know what we were or what we were doing, but Lily Potter was right; something was going on, and it was both naive and futile to deny it any longer.


 

“Listen, Corn,” Adam stopped walking, and I reluctantly stopped too. “I played Quidditch with him for years. He’s my friend - I respect him - but he’s okay with hurting people. He’s done it before. And I don’t want that to be you.”


 

“I can take care of myself, Adam,” I said clippedly, even though a part of me twinged in response to his warning, but then I quickly pushed the feeling down, since Adam was last on a team with James almost four years ago.


 

“Can you?” Adam asked carefully, and I knew he was referring to the incidents of the night previous.


 

“I'm not doing this right now,” I snapped. “I’m tired, and I have a headache, and I just want to go to your flat, okay?”


 

A strange look flitted across Adam’s face.


 

“A headache? What does it feel like?” he asked, rather urgently. “Like, throbbing? Is there tingling down your back?”


 

“What?” I scrunched my face up. “It’s just a headache, Adam. I’m fine.”


 

He still looked troubled. “It’s almost January,” he muttered under his breath, seemingly more to himself than me, but I chose to respond anyways.


 

“And?”

 

 

He only held my gaze for a couple of seconds before turning away, but it was enough for me to understand what he was hinting at.


 

“I don’t think about that.” I said flatly, shifting away from him slightly.


 

“It’s in three weeks and you don’t think about it?”


 

“No. I don’t.” I was now completely faced the other way as I hoisted my duffel bag over my shoulder once again. “Annabelle will wonder where we are.”


 

Adam sighed, but after a moment he offered me his arm and with a loud crack we were thrown into the uncomfortably tight vacuum of Apparition, a place of peace for me of late.

 

 

 



 

Author’s note: Wow I am really getting these out fast! The next two chapters are sort of a lead-up to Chapter 22, where everything really comes into light, but it’s also a place for Nellie and James’s relationship to develop (or to crumble. Who really knows with them). Let me know what you think with this chapter, especially on Nellie and James’s conversation! How are Ginny and Harry? Do you like Lily, or is she a brat? Reviewww!!

 

 


 

Up next...A story of the New Year, exes, and steak frites.

 



Chapter 20: Chapter Twenty
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise. Henry V  belongs to Shakespeare.

 



 

“Nellie?” Annabelle Sterling rapped her knuckles lightly on the guest room door, and I paused in the midst of throwing items in my overnight bag.


 

“Come in!” I shouted, and after a moment the door creaked open carefully and she stepped inside. Everything about Annabelle was soft, from her delicate smile to her warm brown eyes. She spoke in dulcet tones and even syllables, and with her tranquil bedside manner I knew she would one day be an excellent Healer.


 

“I have a couple of your things from the laundry,” she said, setting them on the bed all folded perfectly, and I had never appreciated her mothering tendencies more, since I hated doing laundry. 


 

“Thanks so much,” I told her, and she smiled as she backed out of the room once again, shutting the door just like she had opened it, gentle and precise.


 

Adam had started dating Annabelle his Seventh Year of Hogwarts when I was only a Third Year. It was a hard year for all of us including Scorpius, but Annabelle somehow managed to coax him out of his shell of grief and moodiness. She was good for him - she always had been - but as a result Adam had morphed into a more positive and responsible person, a change that perhaps I resented a little.


 

Now, as I exited the guest room I could hear the two of them talking, but when I moved to join them I heard Adam sigh, and the sound was so full of a stressed and resigned exhaustion that it made me stop in my tracks.


 

“I’m worried about her.”


 

“I know.” I could hear Annabelle, her voice matronly and soothing, and I could imagine that she was rubbing his arm comfortingly like she always did.


 

“She just...she’s never had a grip on it, and now everything is about to change and she doesn’t even know. I’m afraid she can’t handle it.”


 

“She’ll handle it just fine. Your mother did. Why should Nellie be any different?”


 

Adam responded, but his voice was too low for me to hear, and so I twisted the doorknob loudly and walked with heavy feet towards the main area in order to give them warning of my presence.


 

“Hey,” Adam grinned at me, none of the previous anxiety that I was so sure had coated his words anywhere etched onto the relaxed lines of his face. “What’re your plans for tonight?”


 

“I’m going to Fred Weasley’s New Years’ party,” I replied, forcing myself to smile. “While you two have a lame night staying in.”


 

Adam and Annabelle were such an old married couple that they had turned down attending the annual Quidditch League bash in Dublin in favour of sitting on the couch. It was shameful, really.


 

“Hey,” Adam protested. "It is not lame to eat cheesecake in our pajamas and fall asleep at ten-thirty!”


 

“I’m just calling the cauldron black,” I shrugged, and Annabelle laughed.  “Anyways, Mia’s waiting for me, so I’ll see you later.”


 

“See you next year!” Adam called, and I yelled something unseemly back, because not even I would make such a terrible joke.


 

Although a bit of distaste still sat in my stomach from the conversation I had overheard I forced myself to push it from my mind as I Apparated to Mia’s apartment in the city, a sprawling open-concept flat fit for a family of eight instead of the three Templetons.


 

“Nellie, dear,” Mrs. Templeton greeted me warmly, not even bothered by my sudden appearance in her kitchen. “Just Epparated in, now, did you?”


 

“Mum, it’s Apparate,” said Mia exasperatedly as she entered, no patience at all in her voice.


 

“Well, I was close enough,” Mrs. Templeton replied, continuing on icing her cake. She had dark hair like her daughter, and with her soft Spanish accent it was easy to imagine that she had been just as captivating when younger. “At least I make an effort to adapt to the Wizarding World, unlike some people in the reverse.”


 

“Hey, I went with you to the Goldman’s party the other night,” Mia countered, dipping her finger in the frosting before her mother swatted her away.


 

“You told Alana Goldman you would put a curse on her if she didn’t let you have the last macaroon!” Mrs. Templeton paused over her cake rather indignantly.


 

Mia turned to me grinning. “The cover story is that I go to some exclusive boarding school in the States, and their snotty daughter is so superstitious that I couldn’t help but tell her the school is haunted just to freak her out a little. But in my defense, the rest of them still do believe it’s a regular school.”


 

“Until at dinner when Raymond asked what your favorite subject was and you told him Herbology,” Mr. Templeton broke in from the sleek couch in the sitting room, glancing up from the midsized screen he was holding. “Mary Beth Goldman pulled me aside later and asked if I knew that you were studying marijuana at school.”


 

“It was worth the laughs for me,” Mia shrugged inconsequentially, and then tugged me down the hallway towards her bedroom. “We’re going out soon, so don’t wait up.”


 

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Mr. Templeton called airily, and I gave him a little wave as Mia shut her door.


 


 

“I can’t believe James slept in the same room as you!” Mia squealed, unwrapping her strands of hair she had been curling with her wand.


 

That’s what you got from the story?” I remarked, swiping on the last bit of my mascara. “Not me almost dying?”


 

“Well, did you want me to focus on that part?” Mia asked intuitively, and I realised she understood me almost better than I did myself sometimes. “Anyways, that’s really sweet. Who knew James Potter could be sweet?”

 

 

I certainly didn’t, but even though I was sure that his tender affect was strictly circumstantial, for the first time ever I was still confident that we would somehow end the night together.


 

“Let’s see how sweet he’ll be six drinks in,” I rolled my eyes as I stood up, my tall heels wobbling slightly as I did.


 

I was wearing a short shift silver dress held up by spaghetti straps; it was the shimmery kind which fell to the middle of my thighs, hugging my body at the top and subtly widening out at the end. Mia had straightened my hair and it fell in a sleek bob just past my shoulders, and with my matching silver heels I felt genuinely sexy for the first time in a long while.  


 

But of course Mia was an absolute vision; in her black fitted dress, she was all boob and skinny waist and lush curves, and even though I envied her I also for once appreciated my subtle slim.


 

“Where is this thing, anyways?” Mia asked, grabbing her little purse as she fluffed her hair in the mirror.


 

I repeated the address that Fred had owled me a couple of days ago, his invitation complete with multiple sexual innuendos and one rather heartfelt “get well soon” sentiment.


 

Mia frowned. “That can’t be his house, is it? I thought all of the Weasleys lived farther out.”


 

“No, it’s his cousin Victoire’s. She and her boyfriend are on some island so they’re letting him throw it in their flat.”


 

The Victoire Delacour-Weasley, the designer?” Mia’s eyes bulged. “Merlin, I bet their place is absolutely huge!


 

“You can sneak off and look in her closet,” I teased, and while Mia pulled a face at me I was sure she was legitimately thinking about doing just that.


 

In no time at all Mia had gathered Floo powder as was requested by Fred, and soon enough we were yelling out the address and spinning into the requested grate, our outfits and hair somehow unharmed by the soot and flames.


 

We entered into a wide space and I immediately could tell Mia was right in her predictions of grandeur. The flat was enormous, all glass walls and open concept and dark floors. An assortment of drinks stood by the grand piano in the corner, and just behind it double doors led out to a balcony overlooking the entire city. Down the hall I could hear music pounding, but so many people were just milling about in this space, most recognisable but many already-graduated Hogwarts students in the mix as well.


 

“You made it!” Flynn Klein roared before either of us had taken a step, and then he was gripping Mia into a forceful hug. As he grabbed me to do the same, I saw Mia step back, her face pink with surprise until she composed herself, taking a large sip of the drink that she somehow already had in her hand.


 

I’d almost forgotten that Flynn was quite attractive, but in the lighting of the party it was clear to see how he could be considered rather fit. He was tall and much more built than Scorpius or Albus, his auburn hair was dark enough to not be so startlingly ginger like Louis Weasley, and especially now when he was clearly much too pissed his sort of exuberance and charisma was contagious, and I found myself beaming back at him.


 

“Drink with us!” Flynn bellowed before Mia or I could say anything, then he was motioning us over to where Albus was standing around with Scorpius and Rose


 

“Happy New Year!” Scorpius hugged me, and then Rose, who looked a bit apprehensive but when I sent her a genuine smile she relaxed a bit.  


 

“This is amazing,” Mia marveled, handing me a glass of champagne from Albus, who hugged both of us as well.


 

“I know, I can’t believe Teddy is letting this happen,” Rose said in her normal emphatic manner, shaking her head. “I’ll bet Victoire has no idea this is going on.”


 

“Of course she knows,” Al rolled his eyes, and his tone took on that sort of snappiness that always came out when he argued with Rose. “Fred bribed her.”


 

“Oh, yeah?” Rose countered. “With what?


 

A smug look settled on Al’s face. “Promising not to pull anything during their wedding like he and James did at their engagement party.”


 

Rose faltered, and then shrugged after a moment in a rare moment of acquiescence. “Yeah, that’d do it.”


 

“Sorry - did you just give up on an argument?” Scorpius feigned mock shock, and Rose rolled her eyes and pushed him slightly, to which he grinned at. It was so weird to see them joking around and poking fun of one another when there wasn’t absolute loathing in their eyes, but I kind of liked to watch it. Strangely enough, they fit in well together, their mannerisms bouncing off one another and their movements somehow in synch, not physically touching but still aligned, always aligned.


 

But I knew they weren’t being touchy because of me, so after a head tilt from Mia we slipped away from the conversation and grabbed some of the jell-o shots from one of the tables, shivering as the cold jelly went down.


 

And as I set the plastic cup down, that’s when I saw James. He was already staring at me, mouth slightly ajar, gaze running up and down the length of my body hungrily before he finally met my eyes. His mouth opened into a lazy smirk - an invitation - and I sauntered over to him, somehow not nervous at all.

  
 

“I told you you have the best legs I’ve ever seen,” said James Potter. With my heels on I was much taller than normal, but even so James somehow still had a large advantage over me.


 

“You’re crazy,” I rolled my eyes but I was beaming despite myself, and Mia slipped away from my side just as James stepped closer.


 

“How’re you feeling?” asked James, but his hands had wound around my torso in that slow way that always managed to make me want more, and so bravely I kissed the side of his cheek, allowing my lips to graze against his skin lightly, at which a faint groan escaped from his mouth.


 

“Better now,” I whispered against the nape of his neck, and I felt a shiver run through his body before he tightened his grip on my waist, pulling my body towards him even more.


 

“Dance with me,” he said huskily, and as he led me towards the music I grabbed another shot, embracing the way it slid right down into my stomach and warmed it from the inside out.


 

The flat was all glass windows and smooth floors, and the room where the music was coming out of seemed like it could function under normal circumstances as a huge living room - but here, it could've easily passed as the hottest new club. It was dark with orbs of coloured lights floating and flashing above the crowd that pulsed to the beat of the music, and it was already so packed that it truly did feel like an actual venue.


 

“Nellie!” Fred bellowed the moment James and I entered the throng, and then he was twirling me around and around and around, finally setting my down on my feet and moving me like we were doing the salsa. He kept kicking his legs out dramatically and I couldn't stop laughing, my stomach starting to hurt with the hilarity of it all.


 

And then strong arms grabbed me and I was back with James, and we moved with just our chests touching at first, until I turned around and dropped down low, slowly working my way up with my backside against him. As soon as I was upright James put his hand lower and lower on the front of my waist, pulling me tightly into him, and as we kept dancing like this we were hot and sweaty and purely obsessed with each other, no room between us and no doubts to disrupt. Everything else lost its meaning when I was with him, reduced to nothing compared to the adrenaline through my veins and the way his eyes darkened when he looked at me, and I liked him, I liked him so much and somehow it finally felt okay for me to admit it to myself because maybe I finally trusted him a little.


 

We were shouting out the lyrics, now; everyone seemed to know them, and Mia was dancing with Will Davies, and Fred was handing us drink after drink, and Albus and Scorpius were shooting out lights with their wands from on top of the grand piano in the corner, and it was so invigorating and magical and happy that I could barely comprehend it at all.


 

It could have been minutes or hours that we danced like that, glowing with the freedom of our age, but after some time James led me back towards the room with all the drinks in it, my mixer from Fred still in my hand, spilling a bit as I stumbled over my own feet.


 

“Easy there, love,” James grinned, tightening his grip on me, and at that very moment I decided that I loved when he smiled like that at me, like I was the only person he could see in the entire world. He was so beautiful that I could hardly stand it, but of course I had to be as combative as usual; that was just the way we worked, and I could hardly believe it but it did work.


 

“I’ll have you know I am not easy,” I said stoutly, leaning against the counter.


 

“No, you’re not,” he agreed. “In fact, you’re famous for being quite hard to get, if I do recall.”


 

“Well, I would give all of my fame for a pot of ale and safety!” I declared, straight from Shakespeare’s Henry IV or Henry V or - who even knows, just one of the Henrys, and I reached for a shot with the hand not holding my drink but James blocked my action.


 

“I think we better cut you off for now,” he said, exchanging my glass with a cup of water so quickly that I couldn’t have even tried to get it back.


 

I pouted. “Why?”


 

“Because,” James grinned, snaking an arm around my waist, and I settled easily into the alcove of his shoulder like it was made for me, “you are hammered.”


 

“I am not!” I protested. “And, I’ll have you know, I am extremely offended by that accusation!”


 

“Are you, now?” he smirked down at me, and I played along.


 

“Extreeeemely,” I grinned, my smile wide and happy and my eyes sort of half closed.


 

James barked out a laugh; it was almost full of a delighted surprise as he shook his head. “I’m going to go get you something to eat before you meet some of my friends.”


 

“Cauldron Cakes?” I asked hopefully, and James laughed heartily along with me before squeezing my hand and disappearing back through the crowd. It was strange how natural it was to act like a couple with him, even though we technically weren’t one, it almost felt like we were. Were we?


 

Well, he was planning on introducing me to his friends and wanted me to make a good impression. That certainly meant something although I wasn’t quite sure what, and as I thought about all of this someone said my name from behind me.


 

“Nellie?”


 

I turned, and my mouth dropped open.


 

“H-henry,” I stuttered, and in my moment of confusion he had swooped me into a hug. Even in my fogginess I still felt it, that electric sort of zap I always got when I was near him, a rush that made me instantly crave more of the security of it.


 

“How’ve you been?” Henry Mulligan released my waist but still held me out with one hand as if he was inspecting me, and I took it as an opportunity to do the same to him. He looked exactly the same as he had in June when I last saw him: brown shaggy hair, deep blue eyes, bushy eyebrows, and as I stared I realised I had yet to respond to him so I blinked to focus myself.


 

“Good, you?”


 

“Good,” he said, and he took a step closer to me. “Listen, I’ve been meaning to-”


 

“Mulligan! How are you?” James had returned, and was thumping Henry on the back before he could finish whatever he was going to say.


 

“Potter! Good, mate, and you?”


 

“Excellent,” said James, and then he glanced to me and then back to Henry. “Henry, you know Nellie Burke, yeah?”


 

“We know each other,” I managed to say, and I tried to send warning eyes at Henry but he wasn’t looking at me anymore.


 

“Oh, really?”


 

“Quidditch,” I said, as Henry said, “We dated.”


 

Bullocks.


 

James’s mouth opened slightly as he glanced from me to Henry, but in a second it was gone as he clapped his hands together, grinning once more.


 

“Oh, right! You were on the Ravenclaw team!”


 

“Right you are. Had to keep up with this firecracker here,” nodded Henry, and from the way he looked at me I could just tell that he wasn’t over me, and I knew James saw it, too. “She has the best tracking instincts I’ve ever seen.”


 

“She really is amazing,” James agreed, and when his hand snuck around my waist this time I knew it was a calculated and purposeful move of a pawn instead of a simple gesture of drunken affection.


 

Henry opened his mouth but then just sort of held it there, emotions morphing from confusion to shock to hurt, all in a second. “Yeah...” he said slowly, and without a word of farewell he was making his way out of the kitchen and back through the dense crowd.


 

“I should go talk to him,” I untangled myself from James’s grip as quickly as I should manage with the fogginess in my brain.


 

James didn’t try to stop me, just narrowed his eyes, a rather cold glint to his gaze. “Seriously?”


 

“I’ll be two minutes,” I told him, and I didn’t wait to see what his response was as I turned around and made my way into the thick of the party.


 

It wasn’t hard to find him. He had gone out the glass doors to the balcony and was gazing out into the heart of London, and when I opened the doors and stepped outside he didn't even move, as if he had expected me to chase him down.


 

“Hey,” I said carefully, rubbing my arms against the frigid breeze. 


 

He glanced at me, and then back out to the city lights. “Hey.”


 

I walked over to the ledge and leaned over it slightly, mirroring his position. “How’s Sports Administration?”


 

“Cut the rubbish, Nels,” Henry turned to me, but it wasn’t unfriendly. “How long have you two been together?”


 

“We’re not,” I told him, but even as I said it I wasn’t quite certain myself.


 

Henry snorted. “Yeah,” he grimaced, and it had an almost sardonic tone to it. “Sure.


 

“Even if we were, it wouldn’t change anything.” I said quietly. We had both gone back to staring at the view, perhaps because it was easier to say the things we needed to when we didn’t have to look the other in the eyes.


 

“Wouldn’t it, though?” Henry pressed. “We were good together, I think. I know.”


 

I bit my lip, trying to find a constellation in the night sky like I always did. “I’m not so sure.”


 

Henry sighed,the sound of it long and tortured. “Well, I guess that’s what happens when you tell a girl you love her and she doesn’t say it back.”


 

“No, that’s what happens when a guy is manipulative and tells her he loves her as an apology for freaking out when her friend just hugs her,” I snapped, because I was so beyond past letting Henry act in the wounded animal role that he had wielded so expertly when we dated, and when I was drunk my already short temper was easily ignited.


 

“I guess you’ll always see it that way,” Henry murmured. “But I meant it, and I think you know that.”


 

I looked at him just as he looked at me, and as we held our gaze like that I realised that he did mean it, but only because he truly thought he meant it. But he had no idea what it was like to actually and unselfishly love someone just as I didn't either, and so his declarations could never be the actual truth. Never were, never would be. 

 

 

“Good luck with everything, Henry,” I said finally, turning away from him when I couldn't take his stare any longer.


 

He watched me walk back to the balcony doors, unsurprised by my response, and as I slipped through them I heard him say, “You too, Nels.”



 

It took me longer than expected to track down James again. I found Mia almost moments after I re-entered the party, dancing with Will Davies in a way that I truly didn’t care to witness, and Scorpius and Rose were locked an embrace that frankly seemed way too intimate for public, but finally I spotted that mess of dark hair, still in the kitchen where I'd left him a few minutes ago.


 

“Hey,” I said, coming to a stop in front of him, and for the first time all night I felt nervous. 

 

 

James looked at me and then away, his gaze settling onto something unseen past me, and even though part of his charm and mystery was that no one ever knew how to interpret his enigmatic looks, I knew what he was about to say before he snapped back into attention and opened his mouth.


 

“You and Mulligan dated?”


 

I leaned against the counter, staring at the floor. “Yeah.”


 

“For how long?”


 

I didn’t answer.


 

“Cornelia?”


 

“Eight months."  


 

“Wow,” James said, after a pause. “And you didn’t think to mention that?”


 

I immediately grew defensive. “Why should I? Have you told me about every girl you’ve been with?


 

“I mean, it’s kind of a long list,” he snapped.


 

“Yeah, I figured,” I bit back, and then we both sort of stopped as we realised we were entering into our usual battlefield territory, and as we stared at one another it seemed like for once, neither of us wanted to go there.


 

James ruffles the already messy hairs on his head with his hand. “It just doesn’t exactly bode well when you’re with a girl and suddenly she goes running after her ex-boyfriend.”


 

“I just had to explain to him what was going on. He feels emotions really...strongly, and I didn’t want to cause a scene later.”


 

“What do you mean, strongly?” James asked flatly, and I knew he had been picking up on the intonations I was trying to hide.


 

“He’s just always been very dramatic.”


 

“Hm,” James frowned slightly, and I knew I needed to stop him from thinking so hard, so I took a step closer to him, looking up through my lashes.


 

“But, I mean...” I wound my arms around his waist, pulling him in to me.”There’s kind of someone else I’m interested in right now.”


 

I could hear James smile in his voice as he reciprocated, his muscular arms holding me close. “Is that so?”


 

“Mmm.” I was tired all of a sudden, most likely due to the alcohol, and as I leaned my head against his sculpted chest James kissed the top of my head.


 

“Let me take you out,” James murmured, his lips still against my hair. “For real.”


 

I glanced up at him skeptically. “We go back to Hogwarts the day after next.”


 

“Next Sunday, then,” James straightened up, grinning. “We are going to Hogsmeade, and I’m going to buy you dinner, and it’ll be the best date of your life.”


 

A slow smile spread across my face. “I’m going to hold you to that, you know.” 


 

“Do,” he said, rather cheekily. “I just love when you hold me.”


 

“Oh, shut it,” I said, and then everything was back to normal, just like that. James had me eat a Cauldron Cake and then poured us a glass of champagne and we went to dance again, our bodies pressed close and our lips never too far apart. Henry was nowhere in sight and Mia and Will were dancing with us and Flynn was on the piano and Scorpius and Rose were doing some sort of jig, and everything felt right again, almost like it had never been off balance the first place.


 

It seemed like we’d only been at the party for a few minutes when people started yelling that it was almost time, and together we all counted down: five, four, three, two, one - Happy New Year!

 
 

Amid all the confetti and blowers and fluourescence, James and I kissed slowly, unhurried and savouring. We kissed like we had time.

 

 


 

 

My hair was arranged down my back in its normal slightly wavy fashion. I was wearing a black turtleneck and slim dark pants, a chic look that Willow had let me steal from her closet.  Mia tried to convince me to wear more makeup than usual, but I truly didn’t see the need to so I refused. If he still wants to go on a date after he saw me nearly bleed out on his brother’s bed than I don’t think he’ll mind a lack of eye shadow, I told Mia drily, and she had pouted rather petulantly at my logic.


 

So now I was on my way to the Gryffindor Common Room where I was to meet James before we went to Hogsmeade for dinner. He had chosen the restaurant and the time, only telling me to wear something nice and shrugging rather obnoxiously when I asked any other questions. I had to think this fit in with his usual personality trait of needing control, but in this case I was more than happy not to fight him for the upper hand.


 

James was waiting for me outside the portrait of the Fat Lady, leaning against the wall in his khakis and light button down. His hair was in its usual rockstar disarray, but with his suit jacket on and nice shoes he looked absolutely fit as fuck.


 

“Cornelia.” James smirked slightly once I reached him, his left corner of his mouth curving upwards in the way I always liked best.


 

“James.” I replied, my mouth rather dry all of a sudden. “Are you ever going to call me Nellie?”


 

“Oh, absolutely not,” said James, and instead of leading me down the corridor he led me to the open porthole door and helped me climb through it. “Our reservations aren’t for a bit so we can chill for a little here.”


 

The Gryffindor Common Room was at its usual Saturday night capacity with the seating around the fire occupied barring one loveseat, and although at first I thought we would go up to his dormitory James settled onto the smaller sofa easily, pulling me down with him.


 

“‘Sup, Nel?” Fred called from the armchair across from me as we sat down, and I realised a little too late that it was all of his friends surrounding us, and holy crap I was meeting all them for the first time.


 

“Hey Fred,” I tried my best to shoot him a smile, but whereas I hadn’t been nervous at all before suddenly anxiety was creeping into my demeanor. All eyes around the circle were on the two of us, although I recognised all of the boys the three girls opposite me were unfamiliar.


 

“Guys, this is Nellie,” said James, and I was greeted with a chorus of hello’s and one enthusiastic hi! from a girl with olive skin and dark hair.


 

“We’ve met before,” said Axle, and I nodded, remembering him from the Three Broomsticks a couple of months ago. His curly hair was a little shorter since the last time I’d seen him but his other features were still markedly the same: upturned nose, wide smile, brown eyes.


 

“Yeah, well, it’s not all about you, Peterson, is it?” the girl across from me retorted. She had one of those slightly round freckled faces that just looked so inherently friendly, and as she beamed at me I couldn’t help but smile back at her. “I’m Marley, and this is Riley-“ an angular blonde girl next to Marley gave me a slight nod, “Q-“ Q flashed me a full on grin, “and, of course-”


 

“Leta,” the girl with olive skin introduced herself from the chair next to me. “I’ve just been dying to meet you!”


 

“Jesus, Leta, you’ll scare her off,” Fred smirked from his horizontal position across the armchair, flicking her with his foot.


 

“If you haven’t already done that, I think we’re safe,” Leta responded, flicking him back, and everyone laughed easily.


 

James smirked from next to me. “To be fair, the first time Nellie met Fred he had just pulled her into a broom cupboard at eleven at night."


 

“You liked it, though, love, didn’t you?” Fred said to me cheekily, winking.


 

“I liked when you were caught by Prefects because you tried to pretend to be a statue,” I responded smoothly, and everyone laughed incredulously, but I couldn't tell whether it was at my comedic timing or Fred's idiotic mishap.


 

“Did you actually do that, Fred?” Marley groaned, and I could tell sorts of conversations like this one were customary surrounding Fred’s questionable actions.


 

“What can I say?” Fred grinned that devilish smile of his, his dark eyes glinting. “I think quickly on my feet.”


 

“Anyways, did you see what happened to Q in Herbology today?” James asked, pulling me slightly into his body. I liked how he claimed me in this way in front of all of his friends, and as I leaned into him I noticed the blond girl Riley shoot me a strange look.


 

Leta frowned. “No, what?”


 

“We were trimming Bubotuber leaves when my grandfather’s gold watch slipped off my wrist and into the neck of the plant-”


 

“And so then Q starts freaking out, moaning about how it’s his most prized possession-”


 

“It is!” Q interrupted James. “Anyways, I had to reach into the plant - elbows deep, mind you-“


 

Elbows Deep - title of Q’s sex tape.” said Fred immediately. Everyone ignored him.


 

“-and pull out mounds and mounds of rancid pus until I found my watch. I swear to Merlin I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more repulsive-”


 

Axle smirked at Q from across the couches. “What about the time that you got with Gulia Pionetti directly after she got her wisdom teeth out?”


 

“Oh, yeah. So much drool,” Q grimaced, and in response everyone made similar noises of disgust.


 

“You’re all going to make a bad impression on Nellie!” Leta admonished. “I swear, we’re not usually this vulgar.”


 

“Yeah, usually we make a joke about Leta and Fred shagging and then leave it at that,” said Marley innocently, and Leta smacked her while Fred leaned back and grinned proudly, his hands resting behind his head.


 

“Or we mention the Left Boob Incident of ‘23,” said Riley, speaking for the first time since I had arrived. Her voice was lower than I thought it’d be and had an almost husky quality to it, which alone was intimidating.


 

“We’ve been over this! My shirt malfunctioning was not my fault!” Marley protested, and James barked out a laugh, throwing a Chocolate Frog wrapper towards her hair. I liked seeing James in this setting; it humanised him, in a way, and suddenly he was just any other teenage boy relaxing with his friends, who were all refreshingly down to earth and balanced out his self-confidence nicely.


 

“Where are you guys going after this?” asked Leta, and I could tell her eagerness didn’t stem from malicion or jealousy but true excitement about us going on a date.


 

“Erm,” said James, and suddenly he seemed rather nervous as he glanced towards me and then back to Leta, his hand pausing in my hair. “La Bella.”


 

There was a moment of silence as all of his friends stared at him. Riley shot me a half curious, half distrustful look, but said nothing.


 

“Wait,” Axle said after a beat. “Really?”


 

“Why’s that so surprising?” asked James defensively, but even I was surprised we were going to La Bella, because it was undoubtedly the most expensive restaurant in Hogsmeade, and I had frankly anticipated a couple rounds of drinks at the Three Broomsticks.


 

“Because of your rule,” said Marley, and then immediately threw James a guilty look in response to his indignant one.


 

“What rule?” I asked, even though I knew I shouldn’t.


 

“Oh, look at the time - we should be going,” said James hastily, standing up and then pulling me onto my feet too, grabbing our coats in another movement.


 

“Oh, now you’ve done it, Marls,” smirked Axle, rather unbothered by the turn of events, and Q snickered from the corner while Leta tried to smack him.


 

“Sorry!” Marley squeaked, waving a little too enthusiastically as James ushered me through the Porthole. “Have fun!”


 

As the portrait of the Fat Lady shut, I could make out Fred’s lilting voice: “But not too much fun, you dirty slags.”

 

 



 

We made lighthearted small talk on our way to Hogsmeade, but by the time we were walking on the cobblestones of the main street, my curiosity got the best of me.


 

“So, what’s your rule?” I asked casually. Our hands swung by our sides as we walked, and ever so often they would collide into one another's more purposefully than not.


 

James glanced warily down at me before sighing. “Never spend more than five sickles on a girl.”


 

I  frowned. “Then, why are we going to La Bella?”


 

“I daresay you can determine that for yourself.” he said drily.


 

I pursed my lips self assuredly. “You fancy me.” I said confidently.


 

I wasn’t expecting him to do what he did next - to pull my waist in and kiss me so deeply that I forgot how to breathe for a moment - but it fit so perfectly in the scheme of things that I couldn’t imagine it any other way.


 

 

The restaurant was as nice as it sounded. It was all dim lighting and soft piano music, with candles on each table and each table so far apart that it was truly private. James made fun of me for ordering pasta, and then I made fun of him for not liking pasta, because who the hell doesn't like pasta? And then he ordered us wine - me white and him red - and we talked about everything we could think of, from our favourite professors to Puddlemere United's shit season to the time Fred had used the invisibility cloak that James and Al shared to torment Peeves and Filch alike.

 
 

“This is really nice,” I commented after we both sipped our wine, and I knew he could tell that I meant it.


 

James's eyes twinkled mischievously. “Thought I’d bring it up to the Pureblood standards.”


 

“Like your family isn’t used to good meals,” I rolled my eyes. Even though three months ago I would’ve cursed him out for referring to my family, now it was almost an inside joke between us.


 

“We’re not!” James protested. “Only because every time we go to a restaurant it turns into absolute mayhem.”


 

“Really?” I asked, as the waiter quietly set down our meals and then disappeared before I could thank him.


 

“Oh, yeah,” he nodded emphatically, taking another sip of wine. “There’s always at least two screaming matches usually involving at least one of the Delacours, and while Fred and I are prone to pulling pranks his dad George is even more so. It’s a right shitshow, I’d say.”


 

“That sounds kind of fun, though,” I said wistfully. I had never gotten to enjoy the environment of a large, hectic family, and I was always envious of Albus when he told us stories about his own. “Who’re you closest with?”


 

“Well, Fred, obviously,” said James immediately. “But Dominique is one of my favourite cousins, even though she's only a Fifth Year. And Lily is fucking annoying, but we’re the most similar, I think, except she's much more blunt and boisterous,” he said that word with a grin, and it was so apparent of how much he loved his family that I felt another little pang of jealousy.


 

I twirled my spaghetti carbonara with my fork. “What about Albus?”


 

James glanced up from cutting his steak. “You know what it’s like with us.”


 

I did. They weren’t particularly close and never really had been; Al was always exasperated by James’s antics and reputation, and James was always annoyed that Al was such a martyr. But they didn’t dislike each other, not nearly, and I’d always imagined them to have one of those relationships where they’d grow close a bit later in life.


 

“So what about you?” James asked, after we concentrated on our food for a moment. “What’s your family like?”


 

My breath sort of hitched at the question, but I fixed my face to be neutral and even, the perfect poker face.


 

“Well, my grandmother is my grandmother,” I started, and at the mention of her James immediately became stony faced so I hastily continued. “But having Adam as a brother is a complete handful, of course.”


 

“He’s been doing really well in the league, though, yeah?” asked James. “I’ve been following him.”


 

“Yeah,” I nodded proudly. “I think he’s going to be really great one day. And his girlfriend Annabelle is really sweet, too, and I have half mind they’ll get engaged in the next year or so.”


 

“Wow, you think?” his eyes popped open wide for a moment, then he shook his head. “That’s so weird. Like, we went to school with them a few years ago.”


 

“It’s so bizarre,” I agreed. “People leave school and just...grow up.”


 

“Let’s never do that,” James grinned at me, and I couldn’t help but beam back.


 

We settled into a comfortable quiet, eating and drinking, and I was about to ask him about curse breaking again when he spoke first.


 

“What’s your father like?” James asked, and then smirked. “Is he a big Shakespeare nerd, too?”


 

I had no idea if my father liked Shakespeare, or even if he knew who Shakespeare was, so I paused over the words, because how was I supposed to describe my situation to him? How was I supposed to tell him that I didn’t really have anyone but Adam, who was only four years my senior, as a parental figure? How do you tell someone that you grew up in an empty house, that the only words you’ve ever spoken to your father were vague pleasantries and questions left unanswered, that you’ve never really felt at home in your home?


 

It was the sort of saved by the bell situation that only happens in movies, except this one brought a fate worse than having to discuss my family.


 

“Nellie Burke!” someone called, and as James and I both glanced up we were met with the sight of none other that Professor Longbottom towering over us.


 

Fuck.


 

“Come with me. You too, James.”


 

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck-


 

“But, Neville,” said James lightly. “I haven’t even finished my steak frites!”


 

“Pay and let’s go.” Professor Longbottom ordered, unsmiling and grim, and I think my heart practically dropped to my feet. I had never gotten into trouble this badly ever, and I knew it would be bad - we were off school grounds, and we could get expelled for such a thing.


 

I stood up shakily, and James could tell that I was absolutely freaking the fuck out because he put his hand on my lower back and kept it there as Longbottom led us out of La Bella, the atmosphere of the restaurant suddenly seeming dark and somber instead of romantic.


 

“It’ll be fine, Burke, I promise,” he murmured to me, low and reassuring, just before Longbottom stuck out his arms at us, indicating we should grab them. When we appeared from the suffocating darkness, we were in the Headmistress’s office. I had never been in there before, but I knew enough about it to know what it looked like - cavernous spaces with various trinkets all around, posters of previous Headmasters lining the wall, and most curiously a scratching post for cats in the corner.


 

“Neville, this was all my fault,” said James immediately, and through my anxiety I managed to shoot him a bewildered gaze. “I was bringing Nellie on a date and I didn’t tell her it would be outside of Hogwarts.”


 

“Right now I’m going to overlook the fact that you were off grounds when you weren’t supposed to be,” said Professor Longbottom, strolling over to sit at the large desk, and at first I thought I’d heard him incorrectly until I heard James breathe a comically exaggerated sigh of relief. We weren’t to be expelled, and I almost laughed with the alleviation of it all.


 

Wooh. Thanks, Neville. Won’t happen again, I promise.”


 

James was smirking through all of his words, and so Longbottom shot him a look that clearly said I’m not an idiot and then turned to me, his expression inexplicably softening into what I could only interpret as concern.


 

“Nellie...I have some difficult news. Perhaps you should take a seat.”


 

The smirk slid off of James’s face instantaneously, and my whole body tensed up because I knew what had happened - it was Adam, something had gone wrong during Quidditch and he was hurt; the same thing had happened to Scorpius in Third Year, when Astoria had passed away: Professor Sinistra had come and said those exact words to him, I have some difficult news, and in that moment even though he knew what had happened, he still asked, “What is it?” just like I did now.


 

Professor Longbottom hesitated. “Do you want James to leave?”


 

“I don’t care,” I waved aside his question as quickly as my mouth would allow me to. “Just tell me.”


 

Longbottom glanced at James and then back to me, taking in a deep breath before saying, “It’s your father. It appears there was an accident while on duty, and he is at St. Mungo’s Hospital.”


 

James gasped slightly, his eyebrows pinching together in concern as he appraised my reaction, but the only thought that went through my head was that it wasn’t Adam.


 

“Oh,” I said slowly, and I tried unsuccessfully to hide the relief that coated my tone. “Is he okay?”


 

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” said Professor Longbottom gravely. “But he’s asking for you.”


 

My mouth opened slightly, and all I was able to do was squeak out, “Me?” because I hadn’t spoken to my father since September, and even that conversation was no more than ten seconds. There was no possible explanation for him requesting my presence at his bedside; if it hadn’t been standard policy to alert family members I doubt I would have even heard of his accident in the first place.


 

“Yes.”


 

I looked helplessly from James to Longbottom, suddenly wishing it had been Scorpius or Mia with me when I had gotten this news.


 

“Erm, okay,” I chose my words carefully. “I hope he feels better.”


 

Professor Longbottom frowned in confusion. “Don’t...you want to visit him?”  


 

“I have homework,” I said lamely, and at that James gaped openly at me.


 

“You’ll be excused from classes for as long as you need,” Longbottom said, and with the way James was looking at me I knew that there was no way out so I sighed, dully and resigned to my fate.


 

“When should I go?”


 

“Now, if you’d like. The Floo portal has already been activated for you,” Longbottom gestured towards the fireplace which was indeed flickering with green flames.


 

“Okay,” I bit my lip. “Can I just have a moment? To collect myself?”


 

James exchanged a look with Longbottom, who seemed to get the hint and exit the room


 

I sank down into the chair, my legs suddenly too shaky to hold my weight. I couldn’t fathom a reason my father would ever ask for me, considering that in the past three years we have said about a hundred words to each other, and the only possible explanation was that he was dying. My father was going to die, and while the thought of that still didn’t make me feel any emotion towards him, I was suddenly terrified for myself. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know how to react, so I breathed in and out and repeated soothing mantras, you’re fine, Nellie, it doesn’t matter, until my head was clearer.


 

After a couple of minutes of silence (breathe in, Nellie, you’re fine, you’re fine), James had had enough.


 

“Are you okay?”


 

“Yeah,” I glanced up at him. “I’m fine.”


 

“You don’t have to b-”


 

“I am.” I stood up, my legs still a little hollow, and made my way over to the far side of the room where the Floo was.


 

“But you would rather do schoolwork than visit your father while he’s in the hospital?” James asked incredulously, taking a step closer to where I was.


 

“Sorry not all families are as perfect as the Potters.” I turned away from him, instead facing the fireplace, where the flames were already green and inviting.


 

“You think my family is perfect?” James hissed, as the flames jumped a little higher, and I knew his firecracker temper had been ignited. “Is that what you seriously think?”


 

“Pretty much, yeah.” You’re fine, it doesn’t matter. Get it together.


 

“Fuck’s sake, Burke, I thought you were different.”


 

“I guess I’m not,” I said, but he was already going off on one of his tangents, and nothing I could have said or done would have stopped him.


 

“Do you know the kind of pressure I’m under? The kind of pressure we’re all under? Everything we do is publicised and criticised! My entire life has been up to speculation and no matter what I do, I’ll never live up to my parents - my grandparents! No matter what, I’m destined to be a failure!”


 

“I didn’t know,” I said, but somehow I had become more angry with him than ever before, and I had to fight to keep my voice level. You’re fine. It doesn’t matter. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to St. Mungo’s.”


 

“What, love, you’re not going to argue back? Claim your life is somehow harder than mine?” His voice was cruel and vindictive, saturated with sarcasm, but I didn’t take the bait. The arguments worth winning were the ones that you maybe shouldn’t have won at all, and if it came down to it this stupid, selfish dispute would go to me, no question about it. So I didn’t fight back. It wasn’t worth it.


 

“No,” I said finally. I didn’t raise my voice to meet his, didn’t challenge him with my tone, didn’t do anything to provoke the situation further. “It seems like you’re going through a lot. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with all of those expectations.”


 

James was taken aback. “I...thank you.”


 

“Tell Scorpius what happened,” I said, and before James could respond or grab my arm like he had reached out to do, I was stepping into the green flames and whirling through minute glimpses into lives and families and worlds that I would never be a part of, imagining the different conditions that could be affecting a man who had existed in my life as a vague constant for as long as I could remember. 


 



 

Author’s Note: This was supposed to be two individual chapters but I sort of smooshed them together, hence the length. Hope you enjoy, since the next two chapters are gonna get craaazzy! And please please review, I don’t think you understand how much they motivate me but I check them every day and it seriously makes me write faster and sometimes gives me actual ideas! Thank you!




 

Up next...A story of green meadows, knowledge, and warnings.

 



Chapter 21: Chapter Twenty-One
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: JKR owns what you recognise.

 

 



 

It was sunny. That’s what I remembered most about it. The light of the sky was nearly blinding, as it stretched out over the wide plains, and I put a hand over my eyes, shading them from the bright rays.


 

It was just us, my mother and Adam and I. Us alone with miles and miles of rolling hills, and God, I just remember being so exhilarated, out in the open fresh air like that. My mother had brought a picnic, and after Adam and I chased each other around we settled down on her red checkered blanket and ate ham sandwiches and crisps. Mother wiped some mustard from the side of Adam’s mouth and so he smeared more on with his fingers and she laughed and laughed, her head tilted back up to the sky like an angel looking up to heaven, free and unburdened.


 

And then there was a loud crack and the grass was disturbed in the spot where my father had appeared. He was wearing his purple robes, his glasses slightly askew from the Apparition, and as he locked eyes with my mother she rose immediately, crossing the meadow to meet him where he stood, tall unmoving like a statue.


 

She said something to him, and then all of a sudden he grabbed each of her hands and leaned his head into hers, pressing their foreheads together until their noses were touching. It was the first time I had ever seen them interact in a way that was so intimate, so voluntary, and I stopped whatever I was doing, transfixed by their embrace. But it only lasted a couple of seconds; a moment later my father had Apparated away and Adam was running around again, my mother joining in like nothing had happened. Shrieks of laughter, cookies for dessert; soon, the visit from my father was forgotten, almost as if he had never even been there at all.


 

This memory always seemed so out of place in my mind. Fake, even, like a splash of colour in a black and white movie: probably accidental, quite possibly an optical illusion, most likely merely a fabrication of the mind. But that scene - the blinding sun, the shamrock slopes, and my parents, grasping hands, closing their eyes, touching their foreheads together - that was the memory that scared me the most. Because it was much harder not to care about someone when you knew that they once made you feel so complete inside.


 


 

“Name?”


 

The woman on desk duty at reception didn’t even glance up from her crossword as she spoke to me, her voice a dull monotone, probably accustomed to saying that word hundreds of times a night.


 

“Burke,” I said. “Cor-”


 

But I didn’t get a chance to finish, because the second I had uttered my last name she was ushering me through a set of double doors. Being in the vortex of Hogwarts I had forgotten what it was like in the real world. How far a name could take you; how much fear and respect it could illicit.


 

The receptionist gestured into a large waiting room with soft furniture and bright magazines, and I sat down robotically at one of the chairs, right leg crossing over left knee automatically, foot already jiggling in the air.


 

“You’ll be able to visit soon, Miss Burke. Please wait here while I retrieve your father’s caregiver.”


 

I nodded dumbly, and the receptionist gave me a strange sort of bow and backed out of the space.


 

I don’t know how long I sat there, in that empty waiting room. It must’ve been hours - I fell asleep at one point, only to wake up to the same fluourescent lights and yellow walls, still alone - but finally the receptionist came back in, her eyes darting around nervously.


 

“Miss Burke - this way, please.”


 

Woodenly I stood, and she led me further down the corridor and into a small white room with no furniture, where a nurse in a white smock and shoes stood by the door opposite the one we entered. The receptionist went over to her and whispered something, and the nurse immediately stepped forward to me, the kindness of her face not meeting the apprehension in her eyes.


 

“You must be Cornelia,” the woman spoke. Her voice echoed around the empty room slightly, and a shiver ran through my body that had nothing to do with the chill in temperature. “Follow me.”


 

The door opened without either of us touching the knob, and the nurse set down another sterile corridor, the walls and floors all just as blindingly white as her outfit. I felt dirty and out of place in my black turtleneck and pants until we came to a room 357, where the nurse stopped.


 

“This is his room. You can go in, now. He’s just resting,” she explained when I didn’t move.


 

I continued staring at the door, my feet unwilling to take the first steps. “What’s...wrong with him?”


 

“The Healer on duty will explain everything,” she told me immediately, but the words were too fast and flat, as if they had been rehearsed. “I’ll give you a moment alone with him while I retrieve the medical staff.”


 

I walked in to the hospital room slowly, like a death sentence. Every step I took squeaked on the waxy linoleum, and I tried my best to walk on the balls of my feet to not disturb the patient in the middle of the room.


 

Andrew Burke looked peaceful, and he looked as healthy as he had when I last saw him in September. His gray hair was neat and in place, his glasses still on his nose like normal. I couldn’t see anything physically wrong with him at all besides the fact that he was unconscious.


 

The door fell shut behind me with a soft click, and as soon as it did my father’s eyes flew open, and he sat up to face me in such a swift movement that I took a step back in surprise.


 

“Cornelia,” he said, licking his lips quickly, his green eyes darting all around the room, to the door, to the window, back to me. “You need to listen very carefully. We don’t have much time before they come back.”


 

“W-what?” This was already more words than he had spoken to me the entire year previous, and I was still so in shock that he was awake and even alive that I had no idea what to say.


 

“Listen carefully,” he repeated, so quietly that I had to take a step closer to his bed to understand him completely. “My injury was purposeful so that I could speak with you because you need to know everything now in case something happens. I’ve been ordered not to discuss anything with you and this was the only way.”


 

I had no idea what he meant, but still I fought to discern the meaning of it. “Ordered? By Esmeralda?”


 

My father shook his head impatiently, never once taking his eyes off of me. “No, no. I know too much, and soon you will too. I’m protecting you, but once you turn seventeen, I can’t stop it.”


 

“Know what?” I asked urgently. “Stop what?”


 

"You have a gift," I had to lean all the way in to hear him now. "A gift of knowledge. You will see things, Cornelia, things that others cannot.”


 

I shook my head, bewildered. “I-I don’t understand…”


 

“The headaches have started, haven’t they?” He bore his gaze into mine, his words still coming out as fast as his lips could manage. “And the dreams, too?”


 

My mind immediately flashed to the migraines and the strange dreams that always seemed to mimic something that happened in consciousness, but none of the scattered pieces made the slightest of sense to me.


 

“Please, just tell me what’s going on-”


 

“I’m sorry,” he continued, as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “I was never a father, and perhaps it was because I couldn’t be, knowing this, but others know, and they will come to you.”


 

Tears of frustration began springing to my eyes as I moved even closer to him, the volume of my voice rising. “Who?”


 

“They will come to you.” he repeated. “They will come, but you mustn’t trust anyone who approaches; only those you see. I’m going to protect you as best I can, but there’s only so much I can do without raising suspicion.”


 

Protect me? You haven’t done anything for me since you created me, I could’ve said, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel those powerful emotions of abandonment or resentfulness or who knows what else because he was right - he had never been a father in my mind, the name only used as an obligatory title. I didn’t feel betrayed or deserted; I felt nothing but confusion and fear. Fear for myself.


 

“You need to tell me more.” I demanded, but all at once my father’s demeanor changed. He relaxed into his pillows, his eyes drifting halfway shut as if tired, and my hands fluttered lifelessly above him, unsure about what to do.


 

“I’m glad you’re doing well in school,” he said, just as I heard the doorknob turn. I saw his gaze flicker onto the people behind me and then back to me, and I knew our conversation was over, that I had to pretend it never even happened. “Thank you, Cornelia, for coming, but you should go. Can you stay with Adam for the night?”


 

My hands were shaking, but I composed myself.


 

"Does Adam know?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper. We both knew I wasn't talking about the circumstance that brought my father into the hospital.


 

"Yes," said Andrew Burke. "But perhaps I should owl him. Let him know you’re with me."


 

I nodded numbly.


 

“Oh - I believe I left something in the East library. Would you retrieve it for me? Adam will help you.”


 

“The East library,” I repeated, and suddenly I was on high alert again. “Of course.”


 

“Adam will wish you a happy birthday,” my father said, his eyes piercing into mine - green to green - and then the door was opening and I was being guided away by two men in Purple robes, unable to even say any sort of goodbye.


 

The one with dark hair spoke as soon as we were a little ways down the hallway. “I will be apparating you back to Hogwarts.”


 

My pulse was racing even though I had been standing still, and I stepped away from the both of them as if they were threats. “I was going to go stay with him a little longer-”


 

“Visiting hours are over.”


 

“My father told me to stay with my brother-”


 

“You will return to school at once. I will be accompanying you.”


 

“Can I go by my house for a moment?”


 

“You will be traveling directly back to Hogwarts.”


 

“But it’s late, I really do need to speak to my brother, see how he is-”


 

“Take my arm, please.”


 

“I was supposed to talk to the Healer, find out what’s wrong with my father-”


 

“Take my arm-”


 

“What did you do to him?” I screamed, my voice raw and hysterical, and then I was alone by the front gates of Hogwarts.


 

For a moment I just blinked, my breath huffing into a cloud in the freezing air, until my knees buckled beneath me and I sank down onto the frozen ground.

 

 

I know too much, and soon you will too. I’m protecting you, but once you turn seventeen, I can’t stop it. Others know, and they will come to you.

 

 

None of the pieces to what he said made any sense. Every sentence was so bizarre and vague and absolutely mad that there was no possible way I could discern the meaning of it, and as I sat there on the ground in a state of shock I began to think it must have something to do with the Purebloods, or else he would've said it with the Unspeakables in the room. But the most frightening part about the whole situation was that it couldn't have just been Andrew Burke being unjustifiably paranoid, since the moment the Unspeakables arrived in the room they shoved me out and made it clear they didn't want me to talk to Adam or even return to the manor. As much as I wished there weren't and as much as I was confused about it there was some truth or fact or meaning in whatever my father had said, and after considering this for a long while I finally managed to compose myself enough to push myself off the ground and tug my coat close, beginning the long walk back up to the security of the castle.



 

It was some time later that I made it back into the Ravenclaw Common Room, where only three people remained by the dying embers of the fire, their heads huddled in close with whispers until they turned at the sound of my entrance.


 

“Nellie!” Mia jumped up from the couch in the corner, Scorpius and Albus right behind her.


 

“Are you okay?” Scorpius asked immediately, and I felt a wave of relief that he did not question me about my father first.


 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, but it didn’t sound like my voice.


 

“What happened?” Albus demanded, guiding me over to the couch by the fire, and I realised I was still shaking, whether from shivers or stress I didn’t know.


 

“Some accident in the Department of Mysteries, I guess. He never told me what happened.”


 

“So Andrew was awake?” Scorpius frowned slightly, and although he didn’t want to press me too hard I could tell his curiosity would get the better of him. “And he was fine?”


 

“He was fine but he wasn’t fine,” I shook my head, and suddenly the pressure and confusion and fear from the hospital came crashing down on me and my voice began to climb in octave as my throat tightened. “He told me he got injured on purpose so he could talk to me, and he - he was talking like he was crazy, telling me that I know things no one else does and that people will come for me-”


 

“What?” Mia cried, but Scorpius paid her no mind as he leaned in further to hear what I was saying.


 

“-and he told me I mustn’t trust anyone and that he can’t stop them from coming for me, whoever they are.”


 

“Did he say anything else?” Scorpius was intent but still calm, even as Mia covered her mouth with her hand, eyes big and fearful.

 

 

“He said that he can’t protect me anymore and and he-” I was about to mention the dreams and the headaches, but I stopped myself abruptly, for reasons I couldn’t fully grasp yet, instead choosing to say something else, something I felt was much more important and peculier. “And he mentioned my birthday.”


 

Now Scorpius was bewildered, and even Al’s eyes widened slightly. “What?”


 

“He said that Adam would wish me a happy birthday,” I continued. “And then he told me to get something from the East Library, but then Unspeakables kicked me out and wouldn’t let me go home or to Adam, like they were trying to prevent me from talking to him.”


 

“This is weird,” Albus murmured. He stood up and began pacing like he always did when he was in deep thought, and he ruffled his hair just like James did when he was agitated.


 

James.


 

Through all that had happened, I completely forgot about him, forgot that not four hours earlier we had been on a date, laughing and kissing and speaking about inconsequentials because we could. But none of that seemed to matter now, and I couldn’t even conjure up enough headspace to devote any more of my thoughts to him.


 

“Why didn’t he just say happy birthday to you?” Scorpius asked, and I jolted into attention. “If it’s in-”


 

“I don’t know.” I shook my head, my arms wrapping around myself automatically, as if to protect myself from things I didn’t want to understand.


 

“What does it all mean?” he muttered, almost to himself.


 

I pressed the tips of my fingers into the back of my neck, trying to find some release from the tension in my muscles. “I don’t know,” I repeated.


 

“Why he would injure himself just to scare you like this?” Mia fretted, drawing her knees in close to her chest from where she sat behind me.


 

“I don’t know.”


 

“What can’t he protect you from? The people who will come for you?” Scorpius rose but didn't start walking lines like Albus, instead just standing there over me.


 

Albus stopped pacing and glanced up. “D’you think it could be people in the Department of Mysteries? But why you - What could you know that everyone else doesn’t?”


 

“I don’t know!” I yelled, and all three of them grew silent. “I don’t, okay? I haven’t talked to him ever about anything like this and suddenly he’s getting injured to have the opportunity to tell me that I’m being hunted or something, I really don’t fucking know!”


 

I was crying again, because it was so much, it had been so much in such a little space of time, and I was scared and confused and ready to just forget about it. To pretend it never happened and go along with my life like I always did, because that strategy worked, it worked so well and I didn’t know how to do it any other way.


 

Scorpius wrapped my in his arms before I could say anything else, and I clutched him like a lifeline, not realising how much I had needed him to do that. “It’s going to be okay, Corn.” he whispered, and after a moment I nodded and took a step back, wiping my eyes with the back of my hands like I was eleven years old again.


 

“You know, maybe your dad was just tripping on some really excellent shrooms,” Mia said thoughtfully, and I laughed weakly, also not realising how much I needed her to just be her, witty and unapologetic.


 

“That should be our next tower activity,” Albus proposed, and I honestly think he was absolutely serious. “Shrooms.”


 

“I’d rather not be around Milo Cunningham if he starts to have a bad trip,” Mia shuddered. “His hallucinations are surely to be surrounding evil plants, and that sounds like an absolute hastle to handle.”


 

We all laughed, and then laughed again as we actually imagined Milo on any drug more powerful than the tiniest bit of weed, and my inner turmoil of emotions began to calm down ever so slightly.


 

Scorpius cleared his throat slightly. “Corn, Longbottom told me you were excused from classes tomorrow.”


 

My temper was immediately ignited again, previous comedic relief forgotten. “I don’t need to-”


 

“It might be nice,” Albus broke in offhandedly, “to get a day off. For any reason, really, but since it’s approved I would milk it.”


 

I considered this. Albus always knew just what to say to calm not only me but everyone down, and finally I muttered my agreement, since on Mondays I had double Potions, anyways, and that was reason enough to skive off.


 

“Then let’s go to bed, yeah?” Mia tilted her head towards the girl’s staircase, and suddenly I was so tired I could barely hold my head up.


 

“Bed,” I agreed, and with a last nod to Scorpius and Albus I followed her up the stairs.

 

 



 

I slept until after one o’clock the next day, when I awoke to the sound of various thumps and crashes in the corner of our dormitory.


 

“What the hell are you doing?” I groaned, slinging my curtains open, only to find Katria Stevens standing right next to my bed.


 

“Forgot my Herbology book. If you’re sick, don’t fucking breathe on me,” Katria said snidely, and I managed to flip her off just as she flounced out the door.


 

Bint.



But it was good she had woken me up, because I had slept so late that if I didn't get ready now I was going to be late to Quidditch. So I hauled myself out of bed and doused myself under the hot stream of the shower until I felt awake enough to pull on my athletic wear and make my way down to the Pitch alone, since everyone else was going there from their last class of the day

 

“Hey!” I heard a voice call, and when I turned I was met with the sight of Leta and Marley, who I had only met the day before even though it seemed like eons ago.


 

“We heard about your dad,” Marley grimaced sympathetically, stopping in front of me, and my mind briefly flitted to James Potter before I managed to push any thought of him out of my mind. “Is he okay?”


 

“What happened?” Leta asked before I could respond, and Marley shot her a look at her insensitivity.


 

“I don’t know,” I said, sort of in response to both. “He’s an Unspeakable so they wouldn’t tell me anything.”


 

“Oh, man,” Marley breathed. “I’m so sorry.”


 

“But everything’s fine now?” Leta bit her bottom lip, tugging on it with her teeth.


 

“I’m not sure,” I said, trying to mix up the usual I don't know's I'd been saying every time anyone asked me something. “I really have to get to Quidditch, though, I’m late.”


 

“Yeah, of course,” Marley said, moving aside so I could keep walking. “I hope he feels better!”


 

I gave the two of them a small wave as I turned the corner, ignoring the way sympathy outlined every curve of their features.

 

 

 

 

 

"Yeah, well, I reckon I could beat you easily," Jack  boasted just as I walked in the pitch meeting room door, heading straight towards my broom locker.

 

 

"You're mad, Robinson!" Benjy scoffed as Kato roared with laughter on the bench beside him. "If you're so strong, then let's go right now!"

 

 

"Now?" Jack asked, his voice considerably lower, and Benjy grinned wickedly, standing up and advancing towards him like a predator stalking its prey.

 

 

"Do it, now!" Beck yelled, pumping her fist in the air. "Fight!"

 

 

And then the two boys lunged at each other, fists out, and began the most ferocious thumb war I had ever seen, complete with grunts and moans and even a few poorly aimed kicks from Jack.

 

 

"Oi!" Moose yelled, walking out of the captain's office. "If you lot aren't ready in thirty seconds the two of you are staying an extra hour tonight!"

 

 

"Nellie's not ready and she was late, what's her punishment, huh?" Jack yelled back, still focused on his battle with Benjy, and even though I glared at him he still shrugged, too obnoxious to care. 
 

 

Moose sort of froze, and then turned in a circle until he was finally facing where I stood partially hidden by the open door of my locker. “Burke?” he snapped, but it was more of a surprised bark than an order. “Flitwick told me you wouldn’t be here.”


 

“Well, I am.” I told him shortly, pulling my robes on over the athletic gear I was already dressed in.

 

 

For the first time ever, the entire locker room was silent; Benjy and Jack's thumbs even slowed.


 

“Is...is your father okay?” Cicely asked tentatively, and I had no idea how the news of what had happened had spread so fast but I was already sick of the question.


 

“I don’t know.” I snapped. “Aren’t you on equipment?”


 

Cicely flushed slightly and exited the Locker Room along with Jack, who had given up his thumb war and was sending me an almost sympathetic look - but perhaps it was more of an apology for selling me out to Moose.


 

“So what really happened?” Beck asked, her voice low, and Benjy and Kato leaned in as well.


 

I felt like screaming having to explain it again, but I tried my hardest to keep my calm. “I seriously don’t know. Something went wrong on the job I guess.”


 

“Fucker probably deserved it.” Beck muttered. She had never hidden her dislike for the way my father approached his parenting duties.


 

Kato frowned slightly. “Are you not close with your dad?”


 

I kept my eyes down as I tied my trainers. “He’s never been around. He’s an Unspeakable.”


 

As I looked up, Benjy and Kato pulled similar faces.


 

“Ah. Blokes never do learn how to socialise,” Benjy grimaced sympathetically, and I rolled my eyes slightly.


 

“That’s why they become Unspeakables in the first place,” I muttered, standing up and grabbing my broom in one motion.



"Okay, everyone, " Moose called. "Ten laps to warm up. Burke - c'mere."

 

 

Sighing loudly, I made my way over to where Moose was standing while the rest of the team filed out of the room, all taking care not to look in our direction.

 

 

"What?" I pursed my lips together, not caring at all that I probably looked very displeased and very constipated.

 

 

Moose sighed. “Look, I'm tough but I'm not a tyrant. If you need today off-”


 

“Would you?” I asked, and Moose knew I meant, If it were you, would you take the day off?  Of course Moose wouldn’t, not in a million years, and perhaps I was more similar to him than both of us had realised.


 

“Fifteen laps, then. You were late.” He nodded at me, and the movement was full of a sort of grim pride, like I had done something to earn his respect. Maybe I did.

 

 

The rest of practise Moose barely paid me any mind, seeing as how Jack kept trying to play offensively when he was supposed to be covering the Chasers and Beck got so frustrated with it that she grabbed his bat and knocked him on the head with it. But my concentration was just off all afternoon, and it felt like while everyone else was out in the open I was trapped behind a veil, forced to move slowly and think slowly and react even slower. I was removed from everything, and when even Jack asked what was going on with me as we walked up to the castle a couple of hours later I knew I had to make more of an effort to act present.


 

But I wasn’t present. My mind was still in Room 357 in St. Mungo’s Hospital, replaying the bewildering and brief conversation between my father and I over and over in my mind.


 

I can’t protect you. They will come for you.


 

“Burke!”


 

I jumped, and James Potter was right behind me. I had completely forgotten about our argument, but now it came rushing back to me, and I fought to keep my anger under control at the absolute callousness of his words.


 

“Hey,” I said quietly, as he stopped in front of me.


 

“Hey. Look, I’m so sorry for what happened last night. Everything I said was horrible. I mean, your dad was in the hospital, and I was going on about my own issues.”


 

If those were issues, I would gladly take them. I would take them and be grateful.


 

“It’s fine. You seem like you have a lot going on.” Minor inconveniences to life. Problems I would kill to have.


 

James said something else, but I wasn’t listening; I wasn’t really paying attention to anything, just staring at anything but him, waiting for the conversation to be over.


 

“Burke?”


 

I started. “Sorry, what?”


 

“How is he?” James repeated.


 

“How is who?”


 

James widened his light eyes exasperatedly. “Your dad.”


 

“Oh,” I said, dully. “He’s fine.”


 

James frowned, a piece of his dark hair flopping over his eye until he shook it away. “Listen, about last night-”


 

“I have to go,” I told him, and I tried to make my voice less monotonous but I don’t think it worked. “Can we talk later?”


 

“Yeah,” his eyebrows knitted together. He reached out a hand, as if to brush back a piece of my hair, but before he could I had ducked out of his reach and was rounding the corner, suddenly overcome with the acute need to escape him.


 

I didn’t want to talk to him. Not now or ever, because had a happy family and two devoted parents. He had pressure being put on him, sure, but he wasn't exactly shying away from the spotlight, and the hypocrisy of it made me furious.  


 

It had taken me nearly four months, but I finally saw James Potter for who he was: a privileged, self-centered child who would say or do anything for even the slightest bit of attention.


 



 

Author’s note: What do you think Nellie's father meant about the headaches and the dreams? What about protecting her? And what is the deal with Nellie’s birthday? Let me know what you think - and stay tuned for one of the most emotional and revealing chapters in the entire story in which Nellie's mother may or may not make an appearance of sorts.



 

Up next...a story of the sky, the stars, and the ground.


 



Chapter 22: Chapter Twenty-Two
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise. Hamlet belongs to Shakespeare. Warning: sensitive themes discussed. Please proceed with caution.


 

 


 


 

The night stretched out over our heads like a canvas, vast and undisturbed, as we sat beneath it on the West balcony.


 

“That one’s Orion’s Belt,” Astoria had said, pointing up with her slender fingers towards some indiscernible point in the night sky.


 

“No, it is not,” my mother scoffed. She had recoloured her hair that day, and as she craned her head to look at the stars the pureness of blonde seemed to practically glow in the evening ambience. When her hair was darker Astoria and Draco used to say we looked like twin sisters instead of mother and daughter. Now she didn’t look like me at all.


 

“It is!” Astoria insisted, brushing some of the dark hair obscuring her eyes back from her pale face. “See those three, all in a line?”


 

“I see the stars of Ursa Minor,” my mother replied in her soft Provencal accent, and then laughed, the sound somehow more tinkling and beautiful than her voice already was.


 

Astoria turned towards me, her blue eyes sparkling in the ambience of the evening lights. “Darling, do you see them?”


 

I frowned, searching the ordinary dots for any shapes or figures, but as much as I tried in vain I saw nothing that my mother and Astoria did. “No. I can’t.”


 

I hadn’t realised that I was upset until Astoria placed her cool hand upon my arm and I felt myself relax under her comforting touch. “Well, what do you see?”


 

All I saw was an endless terrain of blank space, an overwhelmingly distant landscape with no patterns or rhyme to the reason. But slowly, as I stared for long enough, I could make out outlines of shapes that the stars formed. I saw what was possibly a cat, and a flower, and maybe even a group of women - three of them, dancing in the sky with glowing borders and bright suns for eyes.  


 

“I see all of us!” I exclaimed, and Astoria laughed her delighted laugh, holding me tightly like a home.


 

And all at once everything changed.


 

“I have an headache,” my mother announced, and the distance I knew from her was returned immediately, surrounding the area of her body like a force field. Headache was the magic word for her; it excused her from having to interact with anyone, from handling any responsibilities or fulfilling any necessary duties. It was her shield, her buffer, and she wielded it wisely.


 

Astoria glanced at my mother, her smile fading, and both women stood up at the same time like puppets tied to the same string.


 

“Wait,” I called, as the two of them started inside. “What do you think is up there? In the stars?”


 

And each woman had hesitated, as if it were a riddling inquiry. I could see Astoria’s thin face crumbling under the weight of my naivety; even then, she looked sickly enough for me to understand that my time with her was limited.


 

But it had not been Astoria to speak first as I expected. Instead, my mother stepped forward, running her hand through her hair slowly as she turned to face me. Despite her tired, almost pained expression, her blue eyes pierced through mine sharply, as if they were desperate to capture my gaze and hold it there.


 

“Je crois qu’un jour, nous nous retrouverons dans les étoiles.”


 

Astoria met eyes with me as my mother disappeared into the unknown depths of the house, and just before she turned around she inclined her head, ever so slightly. Sometimes I imagined that little gesture as just a little a goodbye, a see-you-later. Other times it seemed like approval, like I had asked an important or worthwhile question. But in reality it had been more of a cock to Astoria’s head. A portrait of knowledge, regret and sorrow in its wake. A pity.


 

One day, we will find each other in the stars.


 

 





 

I didn’t sleep.


 

I had gone to bed late, anyways. Mia, Willow, and I had been doing a Charms revision, so by the time I got upstairs it was already nearing midnight. And then it was midnight - a new day - and although I had tried to block out what the date was, had tried over and over to just forget what it meant it came back to me, and once the realisation flitted through my mind it made itself a home there, refusing to leave.


 

I tried my best. In the morning, I got up like I usually did. My eyes were burning from exhaustion, but as I made my way to the bathroom I still managed to catch Mia watching me carefully from where she sat on the end of her bed, ready unusually early - perhaps to give me more time in the shower.


 

My body was cold even as the scalding hot water washed over me, and I stayed under the stream until moisture from the steam clouded the air, trying to feel some semblance of warmth or comfort from it even though it was futile.


 

But although I eventually dried up and robotically went through the motions of getting ready, the frigid feeling never disappeared. Even as I was sitting at a table surrounded by my best friends I felt removed, as if a glass wall had been placed between me and my surroundings, preventing me from interacting with the world completely.  


 

“Hello? Nellie?” Flynn waved his hand in front of my face impatiently, and I jolted, a sort of shiver going through me.


 

“Sorry, what?”


 

“Is it your birthday?”


 

The blood running through my veins instantly turned cold, and I whipped my head around to glare at Mia accusingly, but she seemed just as shocked as I did.


 

“Happy birthday, Nellie!” Milo exclaimed, rather surprised. “Why didn’t either of you tell us?”


 

“Because it’s not my birthday.” I said harshly, dropping my fork onto my untouched plate of food.


 

“Really? Because in all the time I’ve known you, we’ve never once celebrated your birthday,” Flynn narrowed his eyes, and I could see he was getting angry like he always did, but I really didn’t care. “So, if it’s not today then when is it?”


 

I crossed my arms, not in a defiant way, but to protect myself from the chill that was settling around my body once again. “Never.”


 

Milo frowned. “But-”


 

“Okay, it is her birthday,” Mia revised. “But Nellie hates birthdays, so it’s better for everyone if we just drop it.”


 

“Why do-” Flynn started.


 

Don’t.” Mia’s eyes flashed, and even Flynn knew better than to protest against her. 


 

“Seventeen is a big deal, though,” Milo sent an encouraging smile my way. “You’re of age, now!”


 

I swiveled towards him. He looked as hopeful and cheerful as he always did, his natural kindness always so clear to anyone that interacted with him. But Milo was so young and guileless in so many ways, and the look of oblivious innocence splashed across his pale face was just too much for me.


 

Once you turn seventeen, I can’t protect you anymore.


 

“Fuck off, Milo,” I hissed, taking a vindictive pleasure in seeing the shock and hurt ripple across his features before I got up and stalked away from the table.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

I had nowhere to go but to the alcove.


 

It was still only nine in the morning when I sat down on that hidden window seat, the same place where Scorpius and I went to open the letters. Frost had accumulated on the other side of the glass, trailing up the pane like constellations, and I leaned heavily against it, closing my eyes and for once embracing the biting of the cold against my numb skin.


 

When I felt someone sit down next to me some time later, I didn’t have to look to see who it was.


 

“You going to classes today?”


 

I shrugged offhandedly, my shoulder hitting the window slightly. What did it matter?


 

“I think I will. Maybe we both should.”


 

I didn’t say anything, and I could almost feel him switch his tactics.


 

“I miss her.” said Scorpius, in a sort of cracked whisper that would usually break my heart into pieces. I knew I should offer some words of comfort or consolation to him; maybe fix my face into something resembling concern and ask him how he was doing, but I couldn’t. I was empty and frozen, and I couldn’t find it in me to feel anything for either of us.


 

“It still doesn’t feel entirely real,” Scorpius continued. “Like, that I could wake up in the morning and she’d still be there.”


 

“I have to get to Transfiguration,” I muttered, after a silence.


 

“Corn,” Scorpius grabbed my arm before I could go anywhere. “I need to talk about it, and you do too. You never have, and I know it must be killing you-”


 

“I don’t.” I wrenched my arm out of his grip. “Just leave me alone, okay? I don’t feel like dealing with your emotions right now.”


 

The hurt was clear in his eyes, but I didn’t care. That seemed to be a trend of late.


 

No sooner had I taken off down various hallways did I spot Mia heading my way at the end of the corridor, undoubtedly on her way to the alcove in some sort of misguided attempt to talk to me out of my mood.


 

“Hey!” she called, her voice falsely bright and cheery. “Nellie! I was just looking for you!”


 

I kept walking as if I hadn’t heard her, and as her steps grew faster mine sped up, too.


 

“Nellie!” Mia yelled as I rounded the corner, pretense of happy abandoned. “Wait!


 

I didn’t slow down, but she managed to catch up with me all the same.


 

“Look,” she stopped in front of me, breathing hard. “Please, just talk to me. I know how much pain Scorpius is in, and I know you must be feeling so much right now too, but-”


 

“Can you not, Mia?” I cut her off, my irritation building. “God, when did you become so overbearing?”


 

“Nellie, I get that today sucks, but you have to stop taking it out on your friends!” Mia said shrilly, and I could hear a slight waver in her voice.


 

“Sorry,” I muttered, backing away from her, and as Mia called out for me again I turned back in the direction I had come from and slipped back around the corner, needing to escape from having to listen to anything else she could say. Normally, I would’ve instantly felt guilty - tormented, even - by the thought of someone angry at me, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t anything anymore, and it was working.


 



 

I didn’t go to Transfiguration like I was meant to. I knew Scorpius would be there, all wounded and concerned and depressed, and even though it was horrible I meant what I said about not wanting to handle his emotions. Any emotions, actually.


 

So I went for a fly.


 

It was brisk outside, typical weather for the tail end of January. The ground was perfectly hard, and as I kicked off of it and soared into the open sky I realised I hadn’t just flown for myself instead of for Moose or Quidditch in absolutely forever. I’d forgotten how flying always felt freeing and good and just so right to me, and I could remember Adam teaching Scorpius and I when we were younger, becoming so pleased and proud when I loved it instantly.


 

But maybe I truly loved flying because it forced me to concentrate solely on the things in front of me - the way the wind gently guided my broom, the angle of the sun behind lazy clouds, the glint of the goal posts in my peripheral vision. Maybe I loved it because it gave me a reprieve from having to focus on anything to do with myself or my life, became addicted to it for its sweet escape instead of its natural freedom.


 

I flew until my fingers were numb, and then I hauled myself back inside and to the kitchens, where House Elves bustled around in their usual frenzy as I drank hot cocoa in the corner and read the only thing I could remotely relate to in the moment.


 

Hamlet.


 

I read the play once, twice, again, and I lost track of time so drastically that when I finally left to go back to the Ravenclaw Common Room, the torches in the corridors had already been lit and supper was already started.


 

It was much harder than I had thought to waste the day away doing nothing while avoiding everyone, and so I found myself back in the alcove again, only to find Scorpius already sitting there, as if he had known I would return.


 

“Mia told me what happened,” Scorpius began as I sat down as far away from him as I could, already on edge.


 

“Nothing happened,” I replied automatically, and Scorpius immediately glared at me.


 

“God, Nellie, can you just stop?” he hissed. “You have to quit keeping everything in!”


 

“I don’t keep everything in-”


 

“Yes, you do,” Scorpius interrupted, and his eyes flashed in a way I’d only rarely seen them do. “You’ve always been like this - guarded and unemotional - and it’s fucking ridiculous. You’re human, and you’ve had to deal with loss. Just - I don’t know, deal with it, okay? Let yourself feel. You have to feel something. You do.”


 

I stared at him. He had bluish circles rimming around the delicate underneath of his eyes; his hair was matted and messy, lips cracked and dry. He was living and feeling, but with feeling came hurt and pain and hopelessness. All things that I never wanted to experience again, ever, if I could help it.


 

So I stood up, wrapping my arms across my body for protection, keeping myself close. “You know what? I’m just going to go to bed. Anything would be better than being awake right now.”


 

“Fine,” Scorpius shook his head. He had given up on me, just like Mia had. I had finally succeeded in pushing him away, but somehow, the victory was as empty as everything else. “Do that. Shove it down until next year. I hope it helps.”


 

“Fuck off.” I said before pushing my way through the tapestry and back down the corridor. I don’t think I could even count the amount of times I’d said that today.


 

But the strange thing was that I didn't care. Usually I overanalysed everything I said and experienced twinges of humiliation or shame or guilt for so many of the things I did or even almost did. And as I passed insignificant paintings and empty corridors, I tried to invoke those sorts of feelings, to remember the times when I had embarrassed myself with Shakespeare quotes or said something terrible to someone on accident, but I couldn’t connect to the overwhelming emotions that usually went along with those memories.


 

And that’s when I saw James Potter, alone at the end of the dimly lit corridor. All at once, the displaced anger that had been simmering underneath my skin for the entire day seemed to boil to the surface, because I hated him. I hated him so fucking much, and I hated myself because I was still so drawn to him; I was a moth to the light of his eyes, a bee to the honey of his lips, an alcoholic intoxicated by the burn of his fingers against my skin. I hated that I needed him and I hated that even though I couldn’t feel anything else I still felt something for him; I hated him I hated him I hated him, and as we neared one another I knew what I had to do.


 

“Hey,” he said as soon as I was close enough to him. “What's going on with-”


 

I pulled him to me in one movement and kissed him, one hand around his waist and one on the back of his neck. At first his mouth was slack with confusion, but as I began to deepen the movements he responded instinctively, parting his lips and kissing me harder, faster, with passion and heat and energy like fireworks. He was so good at snogging that it was almost unfair, and when his hands worked their way onto the bare skin of my back I moaned slightly into his mouth, the sound alone enough to send him over the edge.


 

“Stop,” James growled, panting, pressing my back against the wall. “You’re driving me crazy, fuck-” but I dragged his lips back to meet mine and he relented immediately, flexing his hips and running his hands up and down my body, clutching me close while biting my bottom lip with his teeth, closer and closer and closer.


 

And then without warning, he pushed himself off of me, taking a step back so that we were no longer touching. He stared at me for a moment, slightly dazed and shell-shocked, until his eyebrows furrowed together and features contorted into some sort of bewildered disgust.


 

“What is wrong with you?”


 

James Sirius Potter was smart and brilliant and cruel, and he saw straight through me. So I spun on my heel and disappeared, letting the way he called my name over and over behind me echo into nonexistence, a tree falling in a forest of deaf ears.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


 

The dormitory was empty; even Georgina Rivier was nowhere near her usual spot inside her four poster. It was nighttime now, and instead of disappearing behind the sanctuary of my curtains, on an impulse I grabbed a bottle full of amber liquid that had taken sanctuary under my bed around November and tucked it inside of my school bag, slipping back out the door like I’d never even been there at all.


 

It was cold out. The wind whipped around my face, stinging my exposed cheeks slightly, but I welcomed the sensation, because it was as close to feeling that I could get without antagonising all of the people around me and having to deal with the aftermath later. And no one would find me up here, sitting with my feet laying on the far part of the wide ledge on the side of the North tower, having had to walk out a bit and slide down some roof shingles to get there. I could be alone, and I could deal with my problems how the rest of my Pureblood lineage did: with a bad attitude and hard alcohol.

 

 

It took me awhile to pry the stopper off of the liquor, but once I did I drank and I drank, and I savoured the way it burned my insides because all I wanted to do was forget. Forget my father and the hospital and the warning, forget the hours and days and years, just forget every stupid fucking thing that had gone wrong in my stupid fucking life, and after awhile, it began to work, too. The sky was unfamiliar and transfixing, and I felt as if I could be in a different world; a place where tangible realities were merely whispers and dreams seemed to take the formative shape of truths.


 

“What are you doing?


 

I knew the voice immediately. I had subconsciously become attuned to it, unknowingly trained myself to search for it in the hum of a crowd or the buzz of a hallway, but right now it was the last thing I wanted to hear.


 

“How’d you find me?” I asked, not bothering to turn around. Instead, I continued to stare at the sky, the great metaphysical consciousness, spreading out to shelter all of existence and beyond.


 

“I have my ways.”


 

“Well, piss off!” I flourished my arms grandly, raising the hand not clutching the bottle like a lifeline into the air in an obscene gesture.


 

“No. What the bloody hell is wrong with you? I know I’ve been an arse lately and I want to apologise and, like, talk about it, but today is your special day, and you yell at your best friends, only talk to Scorpius - who for some reason thinks you’re sleeping right now - and then ambush me and leave? Seriously, what the fuck?


 

He sounded angry, repulsed, but all I wanted to focus on was the sound of the wind.


 

“It’s not my special day, Potter.” And as I listened to it, I began to understand that the wind was sky’s song, the way it could howl or flutter or be completely still, not moving or breathing or living at all. Just still.


 

“It’s your birthday, Burke. I know it is.”


 

“Not to me it isn't.” My speech was slurred but it didn’t matter, so I took another swig of my almost empty handle as I looked out over the ledge into the dark sky. It was so dark. Expansive. Endless. The sky was endless, as it stretched out over the mountains and wrapped around tree bark and filled up the cracks and crevices in between leaves, and the leaves themselves were so silently fragile, with their fractured veins cracking through their brittle shell. Like bones: brittle, fragile, fractured, cracked.


 

“So, what? You hate birthdays. You could’ve just told me that instead of brassing off your friends and getting hammered on the roof by yourself."


 

“I’m a shit person. I get it.” The sky was just so fucking endless, with no start or finish line; it encompassed everything - everything - and absolutely nothing at the same time. But what was it, really, other than an undefinable entity? A great amnesia, a vast illusion. A reflection, perhaps. A home. The place she needed to be.


 

“That’s not what I’m saying.” The tile crunched as he stepped forward slowly above the steep shingles of the roof. “What has gotten into you, Burke? What's wrong?”


 

“Maybe that’s why she did it.” Because I could feel her around me like I could feel the goosebumps stroking chills up my skin, and if I listened closely to the way the wind howled I could hear her, too. Come, she was saying, over and over again, a siren’s song to a sailor lost at sea. Join me.


 

“Fucks’ sake, Burke, who?


 

The sky seemed to be beckoning. Come. Join me, she said. There is nothing left for you here. You weren’t enough to save me from the sky. You weren’t enough to save yourself. Join me.


 

“If you’re going on about Marina again, I don’t know what to tell you because I thought we were done with that." A sigh, heavy and burdened. "Look, you must be absolutely freezing so let’s get you inside, yeah?”


 

“It wasn’t enough.” Because I was Hamlet, I was Prince Hamlet and I was holding the flesh of the skull, speaking to the sky as it spoke to me, relaying the orders of the ghost - Join me, she said. We will find each other in the stars. Come find me.


 

What wasn’t?” Impatience. “You’re so pissed that it's not even funny."


 

Slowly, I rose. My head spun, but my thoughts - they were steady and pure and translucent. I could see her, in all of her Ophelian beauty - face blue, curves dripping, red painting her porcelain canvas, and I could see she had been right. I wasn’t enough, in the end. Nothing was worth it, in a place like this. She had been right. I didn’t belong here. I belonged to the gasps of the sky, to the sighs of the dust motes. I belonged to the heart of the ground.


 

“Burke, what the hell are you doing?”


 

She’d told me, “Nous nous retrouverons dans les étoiles,” we will find each other in the stars we will find each other in the stars we will find each other in the stars-


 

“I don’t understand - Cornelia, can you get down from there, please?”


 

I could see the world clearer than ever now, as it greeted me with open arms. My body swayed with the breaths of the wind, and it pulled me in closer and closer, caressed my figure, held my hand, held me like she used to, and it was real, it was all real.


 

“Cornelia, fuck, do not move-”


 

“It was my fault.” I knew it now. I had waited too long to get to the stars, and now I needed everything to stop, if only for one moment; I needed to find her, and see her, and ask her why she did it; I needed to tell her I was sorry, that I was so incredibly sorry. I took a step. The wind howled. I took another step.


 

“I’m sure it wasn’t.” Panic. “Please - please, love, don’t move, okay? Let me reach you. Nellie, don’t move. Please. Nel-"


 

I spread my arms. Welcome.


 

“NO!"


 

And then the spell was broken as I was being pulled so roughly back that my arm felt like it was going to fall off, and I screamed, and everything was shattered - the sky, the wind, the edge - and I screamed again, because the sky had been taunting me. The stars had fooled me once again, and finally the whole thing of it was more truth than a lie because she wasn’t there, and perhaps she never had been. She had wanted nothingness, and maybe - just maybe - she’d found it.


 

“What the fuck are you doing?” James Potter yelled at me, his hands digging further into the flesh of my arms, and he shook me a little, hard enough that his face seemed to move and blur slightly in all directions.


 

“I don’t fucking know!” I yelled back, and I tried to squirm away but he grabbed me harder.


 

“You could have died!” he roared, somehow louder than me, and it only made me angrier, more determined to get away from his increasingly painful grip.


 

Maybe I don’t care!” I screamed, louder than I ever had before, and James stopped, his hands going momentarily slack, and I manage to use my brief leverage to twist out from him.


 

“You-you wanted to die?”


 

“She did this, okay?” I was so out of breath but I pressed on, needing to expel the words that had been draining the life out of me as they lived on inside my head. “She didn’t give a fuck, and neither do I. She was the worst fucking mother in the world but she was still my mother, and she made me like this too. I’m poisoned because of her, because she didn’t give a shit. She didn’t give a fuck!


 

I knew I was crying but I didn’t care, and I wasn’t standing up on my own but I didn’t care about that either, and I certainly didn’t care that James Potter was holding me and watching me become destroyed in front of him. I didn’t care about any of it anymore, and just then a wave of dizziness hit me, so comforting in its confusion, a reassurance that this day was finally going to end for me soon. Wait it out, I thought to myself, and everything blurred until I blinked again and I was laying on the stone of the ground, a body surrounding me.


 

“Christ,” the warmth holding me tightly said, and then again, broken and tormented. “Christ.”  


 

“I’m sorry,” I felt my lips move, and I could taste the sting of salt on the tip of my tongue, but I didn’t think I was crying anymore. “She lied to me.”


 

“Your mother?”


 

I could see her better now. She was immortalised in my memory, a crystallised stain on the lowest depths of my conscious mind. I didn’t remember her by the curve of her jaw or the freckles on her back or the hue of her eyes, I saw her in the way she wanted me to: ugly and raw, her hair spread out like a fan, her symmetrical decisions running down the soft underbelly of her forearms, the water slowly pulsing her limp form up and down gently, as if she still had a heartbeat.


 

“Where is your mother, Cornelia?” the body holding me asked carefully, but I was already sinking down, down, down, deep into some place that offered security; a safe realm of innocent ignorance. And yet, under the protection of my eyelids I could still picture that haunting meadow, as green and as clear as it had been the day we picnicked with Adam all those years ago. But now, the vibrant grass was perfectly serene and empty with no signs of life and excitement nor disturbance. Completely still, with no indication that anyone had ever even been there at all.


 

 

 


 


Author's Note: I don't think a single person guessed the truth about Nellie's mother. I've been so nervous to post this chapter since I have no idea how everyone is going to react, but now Nellie's family is finally revealed in full...sort of. Almost. Stay tuned. (Also if you haven't read Hamlet at least google a synopsis of it because the ~ symbolism ~ will make loads more sense if you have.)  Remember to utilise self-care, and thank you all for reading/hopefully reviewing.

 

 

 


 

Up next...A story of belated birthdays, "friends,and hidden books.

 



Chapter 23: Chapter Twenty-Three
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 

Disclaimer: JKR owns what you recognise.

 

 



 

In the before, things were clear and concise.


 

But in the after, mortality was merely an imitation of dreams, and dreams were nothing more than a wisp of truths. And it didn’t feel like a dream when it was happening, but maybe it had been - or perhaps it was just a limbo of sorts, leaving me partially pulled into the world of unconsciousness and partially stuck in some half-hearted reality. I couldn’t move or see, couldn’t speak, but all of my other senses were fully there, heightened, in a way. I could sense the cold air pinching my cheeks, feel my hair whipping across my face, and hear the sound of the wind, unfamiliar and cruel.


 

And I could feel the warmth beneath me shaking, too, quivering like a leaf in a storm. But as soon as the darkness hit, the voices sounded.


 

“James?”


 

“Oh my God, Nellie-”


 

“Corn!”


 

“Sh-sh-she’s - she’s out cold, there-there’s no use in sh-shaking her-”


 

“What the hell happened?”


 

“I don’t know.” His stutter seemed to have stopped, but the waver in his voice remained. “She just tried to jump off the roof.”


 

What?” I knew that was Scorpius, but it sounded so hollow and broken, so completely unlike him.


 

“You told me she was fine!” someone shrieked, and it must’ve been Mia based on how hysterical it was. “I tried and she told me to leave her alone and you said you would watch her!”


 

“She shut me out - she said she was going to bed - I thought you would go in there and make sure she-”


 

“It’s no one’s fault.” someone said evenly; Albus. “She’s going to be fine.”


 

“Just tell us what happened, James!”


 

“How did you know she was up here?” A second female voice, and although at first I couldn’t place its owner I soon discerned it was that of Rose Weasley.


 

“I saw on the map that she was on the North tower alone, so I went to go talk to her but she was pissed out of her mind, and then she started saying things that didn’t make sense and then just-just tried to pitch herself off the roof like she was diving into a fucking pool-Christ-


 

“What was she saying?” That was Scorpius; it was too demanding to be anyone else.


 

“She said that she wasn’t enough and something in French - but none of it sounded like she wanted to - and then she was just jumping, and I pulled her back and she was crying and then she just - I don’t know what I said wrong but she fucking jumped!


 

“It wasn’t about you, James, I promise.” Mia, but in between delicate sniffles.


 

There was silence. I thought I had crossed over to another consciousness, perhaps to the same place I had been where the strange whisperings of the wind seemed to transfix me, but then the familiar voices began to speak once again.


 

“I’ll take her from here.”


 

“Like hell you will!” James snarled, and I was surprised at the intensity of it. “If you were supposed to be watching her or whatever and she comes up here, what’ll happen next? I’m not letting you fuck up again-”


 

“James-”


 

Fuck you, Potter-”


 

“James, she’s my best friend and I promise you she didn’t really want to die-”


 

“Are you fucking stupid? She tried to kill herself, what part of that makes you think she didn’t?”


 

“Look - on this one day a year, Nellie changes into a completely different person,” Albus spoke, and the other sounds quieted. “She’s usually fine on any other day but today.”


 

“On her birthday? Why?”


 

Silence again.


 

“Why?” James repeated, pleading, his voice considerably softer than before. “Why today?”


 

“It’s not your concern-”


 

“I think it’s my concern now, considering that I just saved her from falling about a thousand feet!”


 

“She wouldn’t want you to know-”


 

“Look, she mentioned her mother,” said James quickly, and at that both Scorpius and Mia sort of inhaled.


 

“Exactly what did she say?”


 

“That she was poisoned because of her and that she didn’t give a fuck - I don’t know, she was so pissed I couldn’t understand most of it. Just, please, tell me. I - I care about her, so please.”


 

“He deserves to know,” said Mia quietly, after a pause.


 

“No, he doesn’t.”


 

“Scor…” Rose whispered.


 

“No. It’s nobody's fucking business but mine and Corn’s-”


 

“Nellie’s mum,” Albus began carefully, over the protests from Scorpius. “She committed suicide six years ago today.”


 

There was a weighted silence. And then, so softly that it barely reached my ears - “What?”


 

“On her eleventh birthday,” Mia spoke up. Her voice was constricted like she was crying. “Nellie was the one who found her.”


 

“How...did she...?”


 

“Slit her wrists in the bath,” Scorpius muttered, and the fight seemed to deflate out of his voice as he spoke. “Nellie only got in there because she was so excited to get her Hogwarts letter the bathroom door unlocked for her.”


 

“That’s…” James didn’t finish his sentence, and he didn’t have to. There were no words to describe something like that.


 

“After it happened, Nellie didn’t speak to anyone for an entire week,” Scorpius continued. “And then, one day, she just got out of bed and was fine."


 

“She’s never talked to any of us about it,” said Mia. “Not even to Adam. Never.”


 

“But, her father,” said James desperately, as if there were still a chance to save me. “Surely her dad must’ve-”


 

“Her father hasn’t mentioned it, either,” said Scorpius, gruffly. “He’s an Unspeakable and he’s never been around. Nellie only really has me, my father, and Adam as family. And my mother, until she died.”


 

On his last syllable his voice cracked, and as Rose started to murmur soothing sounds to him their voices became more and more distant, like they had moved away from the roof and back into the staircase.


 

“Jesus,” James choked out. “Fuck. I always went on about how she didn’t have any real problems - fuck-”


 

“You didn’t know,” said Mia, in that factual sort of way she always did. “Nellie’s so good at hiding. Too good.”


 

“I’m so sorry,” James whispered. I could feel him stroking my cheek with his thumb lightly, as a new darkness enveloped me, but this time it was friendly and soothing. Sleep, a welcome friend.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The owls swooped above our heads in hoards, squawking over the din of breakfast, and I had to raise my voice to be heard over the rest of the noise.


 

“Would someone please pass the butter?” I asked, drumming my knife on the top of my waffle impatiently.


 

“I just don’t see why it’s necessary, Flynn,” Mia was saying over my request, her arms already crossed with annoyance.


 

“I don’t see why you don’t see it’s necessary,” Flynn replied cattily, stabbing his eggs with his fork so hard it made an awful scraping sound against his plate.


 

“You actually think it’s appropriate to set off fireworks instead of taking your Transfiguration make-up exam?”


 

“I’m not prepared for it!” Flynn argued. “Fireworks always delay tests!”


 

“Can you pass the butter?” I requested again, to no response.


 

“Why don’t you just study for once, then?” Mia remarked snidely, tossing her hair back from her shoulders.


 

Flynn scoffed. “That’s for nerds-"


 

“That’s for the successful,” Mia shot back, mouth getting increasingly pinched and tight.


 

“Butter - please-”


 

“Scorpius barely studies and I don’t see you on his sodding case!”


 

“Because Scorpius is brilliant and gets good marks anyways!”


 

“Well, I wouldn’t say I’m brilliant-”


 

“Why can’t you just let me set off my bloody fireworks and leave me the fuck alone?”


 

“Because you always do these things and have absolutely no regard on how it might affect everyone else in the fucking world!”


 

“Oh, I have no regard? Really, that’s fucking-”


 

“For the love of God, just pass the bloody butter!” I yelled, and everyone sort of stopped, staring at me with a mix of apprehension and concern, as if they were still afraid I could snap at any moment.


 

Which I suppose I could understand. After the North Tower incident, it took a couple of weeks for everything to return to its usual atmosphere, and even now all of my friends were still walking on eggshells around me, much to my annoyance. But it was certainly not as bad as it used to be, especially the morning after it happened.


 

Mia was the first to talk to me. The moment I sat up in bed and opened my curtains, she was sitting across from me, bed already made and hands folded in her lap.


 

“Hi,” she said. Her voice was small and so unlike her usual impassioned speech, and I winced internally.


 

“Hi,” I croaked.


 

“How do you feel?”


 

I rubbed my eyes blearily. “Better than I deserve.”


 

She nodded, as if to herself. And then she was getting up and hugging me fiercely, her arms gripping me as if she were afraid to let go.

 

 

“You can never do that to me again,” she whispered hoarsely into my shoulder, and I nodded as fast as I could, my chin hitting her shoulder.

 

 

“I know. I know. I love you. I don’t know what happened, Mia, I swear. I'm so sorry.”


 

“Don't be sorry. We’ll talk about it,” Mia released her grip, still holding me out at an arms length by my shoulders. “For now, please just brush your teeth. For the greater good.”


 

And so I had hugged her again, because she was right - we would talk about it, for hours and hours a few days later - but for now she just needed reassurance that I was willing to discuss it. Mia and I, we worked so well simply because we were so strangely similar and so many ways, and since we understood ourselves we understood one another, giving way for unquestioned trust and safety.


 

Speaking with Scorpius was harder.


 

We met in the alcove a little while after I had showered and dressed (and yes, brushed my teeth). With Scorpius, there was always a weighted silence about conversations with him, but right now I think we both recognised that it was best not to speak right away. I’m not sure I could’ve found the words, anyways.


 

“Is that why you went up to the roof?” Scorpius finally asked, and although he refused to look straight at me I could see his eyes, dull and hollow, a portrait of grief. “To do the same thing as her?”


 

I shook my head vigorously. “No. No. I just wanted to get away from everyone - I had no intention at all of doing anything, it never even crossed my mind.”


 

Scorpius sort of snorted, still staring at the floor.“Well, clearly it did.”


 

“You don’t understand,” I shook my head again, like that movement would somehow help convince him. “Even as I was up there, it wasn’t about hurting myself.”


 

Scorpius’s expression didn’t change, but he managed to look me in the eyes for the first time. “Explain, then.”


 

“I just... went through the day in a fog. And then I got pissed, and when I was up there, it felt like...she was calling to me. I thought I could hear her voice in the wind, and it was telling me to join her in the stars.”


 

“Whose voice?” Scorpius asked, even though he knew the answer. He was going to make me say everything out loud, and I welcomed it because I knew if I did, he would believe me. Believe the truth.


 

“My mother’s,” I said. “It felt like I was under this spell of her voice. And she was part of the sky, and I just thought that was where I belonged, too - not dead, just in the stars. When I was on the ledge, I swear I wasn’t jumping to kill myself, I felt like it was to just step out into the sky and be able to see her again. To ask her why she left. I was so not myself, Scorpius.”


 

The way I said it made it clear that I was being honest, but even I didn’t understand the strange sensation that had overtaken me on the roof. Even now it sat in my memory as a sort of dream, but I still swear that I heard voices in the wind, as clear as any other sound.


 

“She didn’t leave, Corn,” Scorpius said, in the kind of harsh sort of way he did when he was upset. “We both always say she left, but she killed herself. Veronica killed herself. Just say it like it is.”


 

“She killed herself,” I repeated, and it hurt, it hurt so much but it felt okay at the same time. “But that’s not what I was trying to do at all, and you have to believe me. I wouldn’t lie to you about this.”


 

Scorpius tore his gaze away from me. His hands went up to massage his temples and then to rub his eyes, and I realised with a stab of guilt that he probably hadn't slept a wink.

 

 

“No. I can’t believe you, Corn. I can’t trust you at all. Because you’re so fucking good at lying to yourself about everything, and I honestly don’t know how good you are at lying to me, too.”


 

“I’m not lying,” I pleaded, my throat beginning to constrict with the threat of tears. “I swear that I’m not.”


 

Scorpius raised his head to look at me again. He looked so much the same as he had at eleven, but so different, too. He appeared to be nothing less than an adult, the stresses of life aging him quickly, and I suddenly felt sick to my stomach that I had caused some of the premature wrinkles on his forehead.


 

“Then prove it," Scorpius told me quietly, and then he was holding out his hand and uncurling his palm.


 

In it sat a small red bear, and I knew immediately that was a Veritaserum gummy, the kind that Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes had patented ages ago. It’s truth-revealing serum only lasted for a couple of minutes and didn’t compel the user to speak like normal Veritaserum would, but right now it would serve every purpose that we both needed it to.


 

So without hesitation I put it in my mouth, and in an instant I felt strangely relaxed, like the weight of everything had been lifted from my shoulders.


 

Scorpius took a deep breath, and I readied myself for his interrogation.


 

“Did you go on the roof with the purpose of hurting yourself?”


 

The moment I opened my mouth, the answer immediately sounded without any effort. “No.”


 

“Did you try to jump off the roof in order to hurt yourself?”


 

“No.”


 

“Do you ever want to hurt yourself now?”


 

I was almost relieved when the answer came out, loud and certain. “No.”


 

Scorpius closed his eyes briefly exhaled, and I could tell he was thankful beyond comparison, as was I, honestly. I thought he was done asking me questions until he opened his eyes, his gaze burning into mine with a purposeful quality I couldn’t quite understand.


 

“What’s your mother’s full name?”


 

My shoulders tensed up but still the response came. “Veronique Lavoiande Burke. Veronica."


 

“Do you miss her?”


 

“Yes.” It was tumbling from my lips before I even registered it was the truth, and grief flashed in my chest, hard and painful, before I was able to take a deep breath and let it dissipate.


 

“Okay,” Scorpius breathed, and then his entire posture was relaxing just as mine had. “Thank Merlin.”


 

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, and he put his arms on my shoulders, staring at me intently.

 

 

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” he said, and his eyes were welled up which made it that much harder to look at him. “Because you can’t leave me, Corn. I have you and my dad and Adam, and you can’t fucking leave me.”


 

“I won’t,” I insisted. “I would never. Scorpius, I would never.”


 

“But you almost did, and - Merlin, we were all so scared, Corn. I don’t think you’ll ever be able to understand how terrifying it was.”


 

“I think I understand.” I whispered, and Scorpius’s eyes widened as he realised that I was really the only person who did understand.


 

“Corn, I-”


 

“It’s fine,” I muttered, into his shoulder, so that I wouldn’t have to think about it any more, and we stayed in a proper hug like that for a few moments, our heart rates finally calming down from the stressors of the day.


 

Finally, Scorpius pulled back, eyes now dry. “Next time, we’re talking about it, okay?”


 

I nodded, and we both stood up to leave. “Yeah.”

 

 

Just as I was pushing back the tapestry, Scorpius spoke again.


 

“I told Adam,” he said, and at that I whipped around to stare at him accusingly. “You know I had to.”


 

“What did he say?” I demanded, lowering myself back down onto the window seat. My pulse had suddenly gone haywire, and I glanced around the alcove, as if Adam were hiding behind one of the hangings, waiting for his chance to yell at me.


 

Scorpius frowned slightly, as if he were concentrating on something he couldn’t seem to figure out. “He...told me not to worry.”


 

What?” I frowned.  Adam was always fiercely protective so for him to not be so was almost more concerning than what had happened. “Why? I mean good, because you shouldn’t, but why?


 

Scorpius fiddled with a loose string on the sleeve of his jumper before glancing up at me again. “He mentioned something. About your headaches.”


 

My entire body went cold.


 

“What did he say?”


 

“He asked me how many you’ve had, and he said it was normal for you to have an out of body experience on your seventeenth birthday. He said it was common in your family.”


 

I was silent as I processed this. Once you turn seventeen, I can’t stop it.


 

“Corn...Veronica always got headaches.”


 

“I know,” I said hoarsely. “And my father - he mentioned them, too. When I saw him. And I overheard Adam talking with Annabelle, saying that everything was about to change for me.”


 

“I don’t understand.” Scorpius said slowly, and we reached out at the same time to grip each others' hands, both perturbed by the vague unknowns that seemed to characterise the last couple of week of our lives.


 

I could have mentioned the dreams to him right then - I probably should have, in fact, but I didn’t. “I need to owl Adam-”


 

“No,” Scorpius said, and his voice was surprisingly forceful. “Adam told me you can’t.”


 

“I-what?”


 

“He said it might not be possible for you to owl him right now, and to just wait for him to send something to you.”


 

“Send what?” I queried rather urgently, but Scorpius had shaken his head as if to say, I don’t know any more than you do

 

 

And then we had shrugged the unsettling presence of all of it off, and Scorpius had gone to update Albus and Mia and Flynn and Milo, who had been briefed on everything as well. And I had been smothered with hugs and concern and a rather harsh admonishing from Flynn, but I knew it came straight out of love so I didn't really mind. And the next few days had been shaky, like we were all waiting for another shoe to drop, for another crisis to hit, but when it didn't everyone began to relax, and now we were back at Sunday breakfast together and everyone was largely back to normal - everyone but James Potter.

 

 

I hadn't spent much time with him lately.

 

 

The first chance I even saw him after the incident was three days later. I was walking from Transfiguration and he was coming in the opposite direction, and we both sort of stopped in the middle of the corridor with enough apprehension to stifle the atmosphere.


 

“Hey,” said James. He looked oddly pale and dulled, with dark circles under his eyes like he hadn’t been sleeping well, and I told myself it was because NEWT preparation was especially hard on Seventh Years right now.


 

“Hey,” I said back. “Listen-”


 

“You really scared me the other night.” he interrupted quietly. I'd never heard his voice stripped so much of its usual confidence and importance, and it was rather startling.


 

“I’m sorry,” I told him, rather desperately, but James Potter just nodded slightly and kept walking past me, down the hall and around the corner.


 

And I didn’t see or speak to him for more than a week.


 

It wasn’t like James Potter had ever been a part of my routine, but he would always pop up somewhere during the day unexpectedly, and without it I didn’t exactly know how to feel. So finally, a couple of nights ago when I was coming back from the library just before curfew, I was beyond started by a figure moving out of the shadows in the otherwise empty corridor. 


 

“Burke,” said James quietly, stopping in front of me, and my surprise quickly turned into a sour resentment. 


 

“So, you’re talking to me now?” I spoke rather bitterly despite my best attempts to act calm, but I stopped walking, too.


 

“I was never not talking to you,” James said. He shifted his weight slightly; an unconscious admission of guilt.


 

I snorted in response.


 

“I just didn’t know what to say. How to talk to you.”


 

A wave of shame and embarrassment washed over me. “I’m sorry.” When he didn’t reply, I continued. “What do I need to do? So you know how to talk to me again?”


 

“Would you just finally admit to yourself that you're not okay? Because you're not, Cornelia. And I don't think you have been in a long time.”


 

“I know I scared you,” I said to dodge his comment, but now James was shaking his head furiously, his dark hair flopping everywhere.


 

“No, you didn’t scare me, you-you fucking terrified me! I’ve never felt any sort of fear like that in my entire life - Jesus, I almost have a panic attack just remembering it!”


 

“Well, I’m fine now. Is that good enough for you?”


 

“No!” James yelled. “It’s not fucking good enough! You’ve been letting me blather on about these completely insignificant problems, and you were dealing with this? God, what is wrong with you?”


 

“What’s wrong with me?” I matched his volume. “What is wrong with you? You never cared enough to ask me in the first place!”


 

“I did care-”


 

“Yeah, when it was convenient for your little damsel-in-distress fantasy,” I retorted. “God, you know what I hate the most about you?”


 

“What is it?” James snapped back. His eyes were alight with a cold glint of fury that for some reason made me feel almost guilty. “What is it you hate about me?”


 

“You complain about the attention your family gets, but you’re still surrounded under unconditional love and support.”


 

“I knew it,” he said after a beat, laughing disbelievingly. “I knew you wouldn’t get it-”


 

“You’re right. I don’t. I don’t because my father was never a father and the only motherly figures in my life both fucking died, and you’re complaining about having literally the entire world care about you. It’s unfathomable.


 

“How the hell was I supposed to know you went through that if you lied to me?”


 

“I never lied about anything!”


 

“You let me believe you had no problems; you lied to me by omission!”


 

“I never said that! You were the one always telling me I had a perfect life!”


 

“Because you never told me otherwise!”


 

“I didn’t think I should have to!”


 

“You JUMPED!” he roared, and I sort of stepped back, shocked at the outburst, but James didn’t continue right away; he was breathing hard, pausing as if he needed a moment to collect himself from whatever emotions were running through his mind. “If I hadn’t pulled you back, you would’ve died. You would’ve-” he broke off, staring up at the ceiling until he finally locked eyes with me again. “I know I’m self-absorbed. I know I shouldn’t have assumed anything about your life, and I know I’ve been unfair to you. I know all of this, but I’m trying. I’m trying now and I was trying over holiday break and I was trying on the roof, and then you fucking jumped and I didn’t - I don’t know what to do.”


 

I let silence fill the air as I absorbed his words, and when I next spoke my voice was calm and steady. “I am so sorry that you had to deal with that situation. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for you, and I never wanted you to see me like that.”


 

“See you like what?” James asked. He had lowered his voice too, and was now rubbing the back of his neck. “See you finally opening up?”


 

“I understand you’re still angry at me for what happened-” I continued, but he was shaking his head before I could even finish the sentence.


 

“I was never angry at you,” said James. “I was...scared. Worried. I still am. I just wish I knew about everything earlier.”


 

“It wouldn’t have changed anything.”


 

“It would’ve,” James insisted. “I didn’t know what you needed.”


 

“I didn’t need anything,” I said automatically, and he snorted, the sound full of disbelief.


 

“Because you never do. Right?”


 

I didn’t respond, and after a moment he sighed, glancing back at me as he ruffled the back of his head.  


 

“Look, I’m so fucking sorry you went through what you went through, but you don’t have to go through this alone-”


 

“I’m not,” I said. I was suddenly tired of it - all of it: the arguments, the topic at hand, the reason for it in the first place. “I just don’t go through it with you.”


 

“You could,” he said, but I knew what had to happen now. It was glaringly clear, almost painfully obvious. We didn’t know anything about one another, James and I. We were just two people with a couple of chance encounters. Two lines on separate planes, heading in different directions but intersecting at one point, and it was time to keep going. To move away. To move on.


 

“Look, James, we barely know each other. We went from not caring the other existed to mortal enemies to what? A hookup now and then?”


 

“You know it was more than that,” James said darkly, but he was speaking in the past tense. “Don’t try to spin it like it wasn’t.”


 

“I don’t know what we were,” I said, but it was to avoid the confrontation of my own feelings; to dodge attempting to make sense of the confusing history into which the eldest Potter and I seemed to be constantly entwined.  


 

“What are you saying, then?” He knew where I was going with it. I could see it in his eyes. But he was going to make me spell it out, because he saw how much I didn’t want to.


 

“I’m saying we never got to know one another. You know, be friends.”


 

“Right,” laughed James bitterly, shaking his head in disbelief. “Friends.”


 

“It’s what’s best,” I said steadily, and I sounded so assured that I almost managed to convince myself of it.


 

James started at me, and without warning his expression shifted so that his face impassive and cool, cool like it always was.  “If that’s what you want.” he said.


 

“It is.” I told myself, long after he had already left. And I had repeated it to myself as I walked back to my Common Room and later that night as I fell asleep, and still kept convincing myself all the way up until breakfast this morning, saying that tired mantra to my stack of waffles that had finally been graced with the gift of butter.


 

“Oi! Nellie!” Flynn punched me in the arm, breaking my reverie. “You got a package!”


 

I glanced up, and he was right; a rectangular mass sat in front of me, an unfamiliar owl staring me down until it took off back out the window. As I picked it up, I immediately noticed the note. Pour ton anniversaire tardif, scrawled in hurried handwriting. For your belated birthday.


 

“Ooh, what is it?” Mia craned her neck to look at the gift, and I carefully slid it out of its thin brown wrappings, taking care not to rip the paper.


 

And there it was. The ancient, leather bound book Adam had retrieved the night after the Amesbury Gala, the one that had been lingering in the forefront of my dreams and in the back of my mind for so so long.


 

“What is that?” Mia gaped, as I picked it up, weighing it slightly with my hands. “God, it’s huge!

 

 

"That's what she said," Al said immediately, and Scorpius high fived him while Flynn looked put out that he didn't think to say the line.


 

“Who’s it from?” asked Milo, still solely focused on the gift, and of course I knew who it was from even with no signature - and as I locked eyes with Scorpius, I knew he knew, too.


 

“Adam,” I announced, and even Albus looked disbelieving.


 

“Adam gave you a book?


 

“What’s it about?” Mia frowned, sliding it towards her and beginning to flip through the old parchment papers.


 

“I don’t know,” I replied, because everything had suddenly fallen into place - the thing my father needed me to retrieve from the East Library, the reason why Adam hid it - all the answers were in that book. And I wasn’t ready to know them.


 

“The note is in French,” Flynn’s face was screwed up in concentration as he attempted to make sense of it. “What good is it to you?”


 

“I'm bilingual,” I said offhandedly, taking the note from where it had dropped idly from Flynn’s fingers dangerously close to a pumpkin juice spill on the table.


 

“You’re what?” Milo demanded, and I glanced up because he seemed angry, and that couldn't be true, Milo never got angry - but as I met his eyes he was inexplicably furious.


 

“I'm half French,” I said, rather shocked. “What-”


 

“Why the hell don't you tell us anything?” Milo hissed. “Or, maybe it's just me. Whatever,” he muttered, and without another word he had stalked away from the Ravenclaw table, his robes flapping indignantly from well above his ankles.


 

“What…?” I stared helplessly at Milo’s retreating back, at a loss for words, just as Flynn got up to leave, too.


 

“Give him time,” Flynn said quietly, putting his hand on my shoulder almost sympathetically. “I want to talk with you later, too.”


 

And then he was following Milo, and I knew Flynn was angry also, but he was somehow so calm about it all that I knew I was in some deep-


 

Shit,” I groaned, pressing my fingers into the sides of my temples as if that would alleviate the guilt forming a knot there.


 

“I think it’s hard for them finding out all this stuff about you when we already knew,” Albus remarked quietly.

 

 

“Nellie,” Mia tapped me, but Scorpius began to speak before I could respond to her.


 

“I think you need to have an honest conversation with them. Especially on why you didn't tell them."

 

 

"I know," I muttered, cutting a piece off of my waffle with the side of my fork.


 

“Nellie...”

 

 

"But I didn't mean to, like, hide it from them, you know? I just didn't even think to tell them, I guess. I mean, it's not like I really talk about it or-"

 

 

"Nellie!"


 

What?” I asked Mia rather irritably, breaking away my gaze from Scorpius and Al, and when she didn’t respond at first I lifted my head up from the table.


 

“Your book,” Mia said carefully. Her eyes were wide, wide open, and her expression was some introspective blend of awe and fear. “It’s - it’s for Seers.”


 

 


 

 

 

Author’s Note: Raise your hand if you absolutely expected that plot twist! Like most of you figured it out ages ago! But there’s some more information on that that will definitely differ from what you’re expecting, so as always, stay tuned! And REVIEW!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up next...A story of The Women, passion, and great abs.

 

 



Chapter 24: Chapter Twenty-Four
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: JKR owns what you recognise. High School Musical (Kenny Ortega) Disney Channel, 2006.


 


 

 

I must’ve been as young as five or six when my mother first told me the story of the Three Women.


 

Once upon a time there was a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter. The Grandmother was old and wise, but still as beautiful as a sunset. And she was unlike any other woman, for the Grandmother had a gift of knowledge which enabled her to understand the world in a way that could rival no others. And she lived in our world like this, seeing life and death and change as only she could, until one day she took her place amongst the stars, allowing her daughter the Mother to receive her special gifts in her place. And so the Mother began to see the world better than any other could, and was able to understand secrets of the universe. But as time went on, the mother grew weary and tired, and so finally she too took her place amongst the stars, leaving behind a young Daughter. The Daughter was beautiful and sweet and kind, and as she grew up she loved looking at the stars, but finally, once she was mature and adult, young and strong, her mother called out to her from the sky, granting her the same gift as the generations before her had inherited. And now the Daughter understood the world, and saw life and death and change, always change, and she still does. But one day, when the Daughter is ready, she will pass her gifts on to her own child, and once she has altered the world she will live happily forever with her Mother and Grandmother, forever immortalised by their sacrifice.


 

 

I was thinking about this just as Mia threw herself onto the floor by the fire next to Beck, Willow, and I with the kind of huff that predicted we were about to be distracted for a good amount of time.


 

“I just broke up with Will,” Mia began dramatically, and as she said it tears began to roll down her cheeks at an alarming rate.


 

“What?” I gasped, attention immediately averted. “Are you okay?”


 

“I’m fine!” Mia sobbed, nodding up and down with a gusto that didn’t quite match her despair. “I’m absolutely fine!”


 

Immediately my mind went into Mia-Mode. I had dealt with her heartbreaks more times than I could count, and so I began to run over the standard protocol: cathartic crying, chocolate fudge ice cream, angry plate smashing, rebound hook up, atonement.


 

“What happened?” Willow demanded, handing her a tissue. “I thought he was perfect!”


 

“He was!” Mia wailed, not even bothering to dab her eyes or lower her voice, which was attracting lots of attention from around the Common Room. “That was the problem!


 

Beck, Willow and I glanced at one another and then back to the girl streaming rivers out of her eyes in front of us. “I don’t follow-“


 

“It was too perfect! There was no excitement! I could never be angry or upset or anything because he made me so goddamn happy!


 

“You broke up with the best guy in Hogwarts because he made you too happy?” Beck wrinkled her nose with confusion, but somehow I understood exactly what Mia meant, even if I hadn’t recognised it in myself ever before.


 

“You want passion,” I said softly, and when I did Mia sort of calmed down, her tears thankfully halting.


 

Yes.” She nodded up and down exuberantly, her hair falling into her face. “I want passion and fire. I want intensity, I want - God, I don’t know. I just need to figure this out.”


 

“Well, if this is going to make you happier in the long run I think it was a good choice,” Willow said, and she smiled encouraging at Mia which made me grin at Willow. I loved how focused Willow was on her friends, and it still blew my mind that she had hung around with Katria Stevens for so long when she was the exact opposite of her: caring, compassionate, witty.


 

“A bit cruel that it was right before Valentine’s day, though,” Beck commented in her usual brusque manner, but luckily Mia was never phased by it anymore and didn’t take it as an accusation.


 

“Oh, I completely forgot about Valentine’s Day,” Mia lamented, leaning back into the base of the couch a bit dramatically. “At least we don’t get a Hogsmeade visit for it or else that could have been brutal.”


 

“You would’ve had another date by then, though,” Willow pointed out, Beck and I nodding beside her.


 

“No, I would not have!” Mia argued even though she totally knew we were right, and I rolled my eyes.


 

“Yeah, right. Phase four is the rebound, remember?”


 

“Usually, but not this time,” Mia pronounced, wiping away the last remains of her tears. “I’m seriously going to take time to think about what I want.”


 

“Well, I’m impressed,” I told her, and Beck shot me a look of mirth, her eyes clearly saying, I don’t believe Mia for a second, which I quite honestly related to a bit.


 

“What about you, Beck? Are you still getting with Carlos Topman?”


 

Beck was adamantly denying that that had ever happened (even though we all knew it so had) just as I spotted Milo walking in his long gait down the boy’s staircase and towards a chair in the corner of the room, his nose already buried in a book.


 

“Go,” Mia told me quietly with a subtle jerk of her head, so I rose, crossing the space in quite a few more steps than he had.


 

“Hey,” I said carefully, once I was stopped in front of him. “Can we talk?”


 

Milo glanced up at me and then nodded, gesturing for me to sit with him. Although he was by far the tallest student in Hogwarts he took up a surprisingly small amount of room on the armchair, and so I squeezed in next to him, folding my arm across my body to make sure that we both had enough room.


 

“I’m sorry,” I told him woefully, and Milo sighed, shutting his book on his finger to keep his place.


 

“I know,” he said softly. “But why didn’t you tell me about your mother? I could’ve been there for you.”


 

I leaned my head against his shoulder, and he leaned his head on top of mine. “I really don’t know. I guess I didn’t want you to look at me differently.”


 

“But you told Mia and Albus?”


 

I kept my eyes downcast to avoid witnessing his expression. “Mia found out in Third Year when Scorpius’s mum died and he kept saying how he wanted me to face what had happened to mine. And Scorpius told Al because - you know.”


 

He did. Albus and Scorpius were the ultimate best friends, just as Flynn and Milo were the closest with one another. It was just how we all worked, and it usually worked well until something like this happened where people were left out.


 

“Okay,” said Milo, carefully. “I think I understand.”


 

“You do?” I glanced at him, almost surprised. It took so much for Milo to get angry that I had assumed it would take loads of effort to earn forgiveness.


 

Milo shrugged. “You don’t talk about it.” he said simply, and he didn’t have to say anything else for me to know that he really did get that nothing about this was personal. That was the thing about Milo Cunningham: he was bumbling and missed social cues consistently, and yet somehow was one of the most intuitive people I had ever met.  


 

“I really am sorry,” I told him, not because I felt like I had to but because I still wanted to.


 

“Me too,” he grimaced rather sympathetically at me, and before I could get uncomfortable smoothed his face back out into his usual eager blankness.


 

“Dinner?” I proposed, and he nodded and then stood, pulling me up from the chair with his grip firm and strong, something I could always count on.


 



 

“I’ve decided to take up knitting.” Mia announced.


 

We all stared at her. The bread roll Al had just put in his mouth fell out onto the table with a dull thump.


 

“I think it’s really what I need right now. Something to ground me. Something to do while I think.”


 

Flynn leaned forward. “Are you sick? Dying? Did you accidentally swallow one of those aging potions Slughorn has?”


 

“No,” Mia huffed, pulling away from him while he tried to feel if her forehead was warm. “I’m just making a pact with myself to stay away from men for awhile.”


 

Scorpius blinked once. “And you need knitting to do that?”


 

“I think it’ll help!” Mia argued. “I’m taking a hiatus from dating that I will break under no circumstances, and if I’m knitting it’ll remind me to stay celibate.”


 

Flynn snorted derisively. “Under no circumstances?” 


 

“So, okay,” I spoke over Mia’s catty retort back. “What if that guy from that movie you showed me - the one with the school and bright shirts and the singing while playing that muggle game that’s like Quidditch but with only one hoop-”


 

High School Musical - Zac Efron.” Mia inserted automatically.


 

“Right, what if Zac falls from the sky and lands directly in front of you with flowers and chocolate and a bottle of rosé - then would you break your pact?”


 

I thought for certain I had her, but Mia just picked her fork back up, twirling it into her pasta with gusto.


 

“Nope. No men.” she said firmly, and while Flynn’s eyebrows were raised so high I could barely see them under his auburn hair, he surprisingly didn’t reply with anything argumentative.


 

“Speaking of no men, what happened with you and James Potter?” Milo turned to me eagerly, and I resented his smooth transition.


 

“Nothing happened,” I shrugged, taking care to be the perfect picture of blasé. “We agreed to be just friends is all.”


 

“Friends?” Milo’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline, making him resemble Flynn from a few moments ago. “Wouldn’t be able to tell that from the interactions you’re having.”


 

“Don’t you mean from the lack thereof?” said Mia slyly, and I shot her a dark look, to which she smiled innocently back.


 

“Well, it’s Rose’s birthday in a few hours,” Scorpius interjected. “So you can show everyone what fantastic mates you are there.”


 

Rose Weasley’s party. Scorpius and Al had been planning it for weeks, making frequent trips to Hogsmeade and stocking up on drinks, but somehow it had completely slipped my mind that it was tonight until now.


 

“‘Spect it’ll be a riot,” said Willow enthusiastically. “Didn’t you lot buy galleons worth of drinks?”


 

“Oh, yeah,” Scorpius grinned rather proudly. “Every alcohol known to man except tequila, ‘cause Rose absolutely hates it.”


 

Slowly, through Scorpius, I was beginning to learn small unexpected details about Rose Weasley: how she had never been to Wales, how she liked coffee but hated espresso, how one time she almost drowned because she convinced herself that she was a mermaid.


 

“You know, Scorpius,” remarked Flynn conversationally. “I’ve decided I’m really gutted about you and Rose.”


 

“Oh, yeah?” asked Scorpius with an air of mirth. “And why is that?”


 

Flynn shrugged, the movement sloping and full-bodied. “Ah, I dunno. I guess I always pictured you and Al growing old together. This sort of shatters the dream, you know?”


 

“And that truly is the dream,” Milo added.


 

“You know, I do see it,” Willow said thoughtfully, squinting across the table at the pair of them. “Really is quite a shame.”


 

“Are you sure you made the right choice, Scor?” I asked, my voice low and purposeful with feigned solemnity.


 

Scorpius nodded gravely, as if every movement pained him. “I’m afraid I am.”


 

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to get over you,” Al sighed, resting his head in his hands like a woeful schoolgirl.


 

“You two would have made a lovely child, you know,” commented Mia. “Imagine Scorpius’s jawline with Al’s eyes and nose. Amazing.”


 

“But then think of Scorpius’s hair colour with Al’s eyebrows and lips,” Flynn pretended to shudder. “Not so pretty.”


 

“Hey,” Al defended. “Scorpius and I would make a beautiful child-”


 

“It would be fitter than all of you combined,” Scorpius agreed, grasping Al’s hand on top of the table. “Way better than whatever monster Klein over here’ll create.”


 

“Oh, yeah? Just wait until Rose hears wind of your infidelity, Malfoy,” Flynn shot back. “She had went loony when you ate her last chocolate bar the other day, imagine what the monster within will look like when this hits.”


 

“She had gone loony,” I corrected immediately, and everyone shot me dirty looks, Scorpius and Al’s forbidden love forgotten as Milo flicked a pea at me, smiling triumphantly when it hit me right on the nose.


 

“Hey, Al - did you see what Hadley Stevenson was doing in Mermish?” Willow leaned forward. “Mia and Milo and I were dying-”


 

“Oh, he must’ve-” Mia began, but Albus interrupted her.


 

“No, I didn’t,” he replied, his face almost forcibly blank with just the right hint of interest, and I could immediately tell he was lying although I had no idea why. “Tell me.”


 

Willow leaned forward eagerly. When she was excited about something her light blue eyes lit up with every word she spoke, and Albus seemed to be captivated by everything that came out of her mouth, even as she was talking about an unfortunate circumstance in which Hadley had attempted to translate spells into Mermish and had set their professor on fire.


 

As the two of them kept talking  I began thinking about the story of the Three Women again, and I wasn't able to push it from my mind until nearly an hour later when I was done getting ready for the party.



But it didn't help that Mia took forever doing the same. You’re not even trying to impress anyone anymore, I told her irritably after her fifth outfit change, but she had just raised her nose in the air and sauntered past. I don’t dress for men, I dress for myself, she told me, and while I quite agreed with her attitude it still irked me that it took thirty extra minutes for her to complete her look.


 

“What’s this going to be like?” Willow asked, tugging her sweater around her body as we neared the Gryffindor porthole. “I mean, it’s only eight o’clock.”


 

“Knowing Al and Scorpius, this is the pregame,” Mia remarked drily, and then stopped in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady.“Tarantula.”


 

“Unfortunately,” the Fat Lady shuddered as she opened, and we clambered inside.


 

“Oi!” Flynn roared the moment we walked into the large space of the Common Room. “We’re playing the Captain!”


 

Now?” I gaped at him, but Scorpius was already handing me a half filled yard, and after a brief instance where I debated it spilling the entire thing onto the floor in forfeit, I accepted my fate and gripped it tighter.


 

“Same rules as always,” Albus called to all of us from atop a large table I assumed would be used for drinks later. Roxanne Weasley and Catherine McDonough and obviously Rose were all playing, as well as Milo and Flynn and Scorpius and a couple of other Gryffindors. “Rose is Captain first since it’s her birthday.”


 

“Let’s start, then!” Rose yelled, raising her glass into the air and we all mirrored her. “Where do we sail?”


 

Due North!” everyone yelled, and all at once I was scrambling to find a place next to the bookcases all the way across the room while making sure not to spill my drink, Willow and Milo behind me.


 

“Let’s see it!” Rose called. “Point me!


 

The wand sitting flat atop her palm slowly spun around and around until it finally was directed at the area in front of the fireplace, where Scorpius and Flynn had gone.


 

“Fuck,” Willow muttered, as more of ale appeared in our yards and Scorpius and Flynn took hearty sips of theirs. “I’m balls at this game.”


 

“You and me both,” I grimaced, looking woefully at the amount of alcohol left in our glass.


 

“Okay, hit the star deck for three sips!” shouted Rose, and all at once everyone was scrambling again to change locations, drinks spilling and people laughing already.


 

“Cheers to the Captain!” Albus yelled from where he stood on top of one of the armchairs.

 

 

“Cheers to the Captain!” we repeated, and finally I was able to down at least a little of my mountainous drink.


 

We continued on and on like this, with at least half of us getting to be the esteemed role of Captain. Flynn ended up being revealed as the White Whale and got another pint added into his drink, while Milo was forced to walk the plank and have his feet stuck together for a full twenty minutes, doing all of the challenges hopping around. No one truly knows when the Captain was created or how the rules came to be, but it was sort of a staple of Gryffindor, a nonsensically uproarious drinking game that got everyone pissed and happy and excited all at once.


 

We’d been playing for nearly an hour when Scorpius was the first to land on the deserted island, practically cementing his victory if he got to drink in the next turn.


 

“You cheated!” Rose yelled at him, stomping over to where he stood triumphantly on the little circle of pillows we had created.


 

“No, I didn’t!” Scorpius yelled back. “You just don’t think I could be better at you at this!”


 

“Do not!”


 

“Do too!”


 

“Do not!


 

For a moment I watched the pair of them, for this surely seemed like a fight - but slowly I noticed the playful light in Scorpius’s eyes that didn’t match his exaggerated scowl, and Rose’s presentation of an affronted attitude faltered with every involuntary twitch of a smile.


 

“And why don’t you think I could be better?”


 

“Because I won!” Rose screamed, and she produced her yard from behind her back which sure enough was absolutely empty down to the very last drop.


 

“Bloody hell,” Flynn groaned, banging his head against the wall behind him. “How the fuck did you do that?”


 

“I’m not even halfway done,” I complained, shaking the liquid in my yard for comparison, Mia and Al muttering dejectedly in the background.

 

 

"You're fucking mad, Weasley," Scorpius told Rose, but he was almost as proud as she was at the win, and by the little twitch of his hand I could tell he was itching to hug her.


 

“You lot know the rules,” Rose said smugly, and we all put our drinks to our mouths, waiting for her signal. “Drink by...Nellie!”


 

Fuck, she did that on purpose because she knew I was the worst at chugging and I had so much bloody ale left, so as everyone yelled, “Cheers to the Captain!” I put my drink to my mouth and tried my hardest to down it. Luckily, while it took me fifteen seconds to drink half of it that was enough for everyone else to finish theirs, so I was thankfully saved from a horrible fate.


 

It was around nine thirty, now, and more people were starting to arrive, trickling down from the staircase and in through the porthole, the Fat Lady’s irritated tones floating through the increasing party sounds every so often. With a flick of his wand Albus cleaned up the mess we had made, and I hadn’t even noticed that Scorpius had left but now he was back, levitating what did indeed look like a hundred galleons worth of alcohol out in front of him.


 

And suddenly, the event was in full blast, with music blaring and people dancing and layers of clothing coming off due to the increased temperature. As I was observing the rest of the room I saw Scorpius just watching Rose as she beamed while she was hugged by her guests, and he just looked so content, as if somehow her happiness made him fulfilled in some way that I could never understand.


 

“He must really love her,” I said quietly to Flynn, who was standing next to me by the bookcases.


 

“He does.” Flynn said back just as softly, and I glanced at him but he wasn’t looking at me. Instead, he seemed to be staring at where Mia was laughing and dancing with Milo and Albus, but before I could ask him what was wrong my eyes met a burning hazel gaze from across the room.

 

 

Instantly my heart stopped. The room stopped. The yelling, the music, the people - they were all gone, disappeared into nothing when I looked at James Potter, really looked. And he was looking back at me, looking looking looking, and I hadn’t realised I had taken a step towards him until I was aware that he had too. We never broke our gaze - I don’t think either of us could - and we closed the distance between us like this: two magnets, the force between them powerful and unbreakable, the only thing that seemed to matter.


 

And then we were right in front of each other, so close that his nose and my forehead were almost touching, almost almost almost.


 

We can’t just be friends, James Potter said softly, and as I could feel his hand pressing into mine, a pulse, a heart beating in my bare palm, I whispered, I know.


 

His grip tightened on my hand, other arm coming around to clutch my waist, and I grazed my fingers lightly up his chest over his tight-fitting shirt, tracing patterns on the shadows and ridges of his firm muscles. I could feel his breaths coming faster and shallower, and when I pressed my lips gently to the base of his neck, he groaned audibly.


 

“Christ, Cornelia,” he gasped and then roughly brought his lips to meet mine as if he had no control over the movements he was making, and I melted into him, because the way he was shaped with all his curves and inches and warmth fit my body’s form exactly, like we were two pieces of the same puzzle.


 

“I need you,” James said, and it came out as a growl. “Right now.”


 

“Now,” I said breathlessly in agreement, and without another word he pulled me up the stairs of the boy’s dormitory, the party still in full swing but suddenly rendered unimportant compared to the feeling of his skin against mine, warm and anticipatory.


 

We fell onto his bed, limbs tangled and mouths open and hair already messy. I had never wanted anyone like this before, ever, and we both clutched onto one another like our lives depended on it, lips not moving fast enough and always leaving us starving for more.


 

James grabbed my waist and pulled himself on top of me, grabbing wherever on my body that he could and holy bloody hell he was all I wanted, perhaps all that I had ever wanted, and I was just about to tell him this when he stopped, hovering above me with uncertainty, his face three inches too far from mine.


 

“Are you drunk?” he asked, and it was a sort of urgent that made me stop and understand the severity of the situation, understand why he would ask such a thing even if it would shatter the mood.


 

“Not really,” I admitted, and I bit my lip, because maybe this - whatever this was - was all due to James’s level of intoxication. “Are you?”


 

“Not really,” said James. And then he smirked down at me, his hair flopping in front of his eyes. “You know what this means, don’t you?”


 

I shifted underneath him but he tightened his grip on me, pulling my arms above my head and cementing them there. “What?”


 

“You fancy me.” he said, with all of the confidence and swagger in the world, and even though it was so annoying I couldn’t help but grin a little.

 

 

“Shut up,” I told him, and he leaned down and pecked my lips once, the kind of kiss that builds a little and then is snatched away before it can reach its full potential.


 

“Well,”  James Potter murmured, pushing a wisp of my hair behind my ear in a way I could only describe as tender. “Cornelia you-won’t-tell-me-your-middle-name Burke, I definitely fancy you.”


 

“Annaliese,” I said after a moment, just as he leaned down to suck on the part of my neck that he knew always drove me crazy.


 

He paused his nuzzling. “What?”


 

“My middle name is Annaliese. I’m half French.”


 

James kissed the top of my head, and then my nose and cheek, trailing all the way down to the base of my neck. “It’s beautiful,” he told me. And then he repeated it again and again and again until I told him to fuck off and started calling him “Siriusly annoying,” and then he said that “Anna-liese he wasn’t a cheese eating surrender monkey,” and it was right and perfect. Like instead of just being matching pieces, we were the puzzle itself, finally fit and together and complete. Exactly how it should be.



 



 

The dreams came most nights, now.


 

I wasn’t stupid. I knew what they meant. Every night they got a little clearer - I could see faces, places, and instead of just feeling indiscernible familiarity, and every time what they mimicked in reality occured I felt a little more panic. But I tried not to think about it. I didn’t write to my father or Adam, I didn’t touch the old book from where I had shoved it underneath my bed, I didn’t do anything. I was having fun with James, and everything was fine again with my friends, and I was happy, and that was all I wanted to focus on. So I did just that.


 

“You know, I knew from the start that your whole ‘friends’ ruse wouldn’t last long,” Mia insisted at me from across the table, her homework stretched out in front of her but still an untouched canvas.  


 

“Yeah, well.” I shrugged enigmatically, turning back to my Arithmancy because I knew it would drive her crazy.


 

“Okay. C'mon. It's been a few weeks of this hook-up whatever situation with James - tell me more!” Mia pled, grasping her hands out in front of her like a beggar. “I’ve taken an oath of abstinence here, I need something to tide me over!”


 

“Fine, fine,” I acquiesced, setting my quill down. “He's less of an arse than I thought he was. He even tutors the younger students for free."

 

 

"I don't care about his bloody charity work, give me the tea!" Mia demanded, and I couldn't help but lean forward a little.

 

 

"Okay, okay. I’ve never had a better snog than him. And he has amazing abs, like seriously picture perfect.”


 

Ooh. Are you guys, you know…” Mia waggled her eyebrows up and down, and I chose that moment to shut my book and throw my belongings into my bag.


 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I told her cheekily as I stood up, shouldering my things. “I’m off to Gryffindor, now, anyways.”


 

“Nellie, I need more!” Mia hissed, but I just gave her a little wave, a bit pleased that it was now my turn to dangle juicy tidbits rather than hers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

When I arrived in the Gryffindor Common Room, Fred, Leta, and James all had their Herbology books open but were ignoring them in favour of a loud debate.


 

“That’s just not even an argument,” James was saying as I sat down next to him, his arm immediately going over the back of the couch to rest easily over my shoulders.


 

“How is it not an argument?” Leta cried. “If McGonagall were eighty years younger she would surely still be a cougar!”


 

“She’s too classy for that!” James insisted. “She’s be too good for men her age much less a bloke younger than her-“


 

“She’s a dominant gal, mate!” Fred threw up his hands, and I couldn’t help but be amused at his intensity. “She needs to be in control! Her Animagus form is a cat for Merlin’s sake!”


 

James’s expression contoured into one of disgust. “What does that have to do with it?”


 

“Well cats are fierce, and since she’d be an absolute dagger in bed she’s definitely-“


 

“What do you think, Nellie?” Leta interrupted Fred, and I looked up from my Arithmancy book.


 

“I think I should stay out of it,” I grinned, and then paused. “But I can’t imagine Minnie ever with someone even a year older than her."


 

“HA!” Fred leaped up, pointing at James in such a J’accuse manner that his face looked a bit maniacal lit up with such fierce excitement.


 

“Et tu, Brute?” James groaned and leaned back on the couch as Fred and Leta began celebrating their victory by doing little dances in their seat.


 

“The truth has spoken,” I shrugged as if I had no control over the outcome, and although James leaned back dejectedly and Leta still kept dancing, I could tell he honestly agreed with our notion of McGonagall being a cougar but had just been too stubborn to admit it. Although I've always been able to read him quite well, it was a sudden change to not be doing it to win in competition or battle, and I sort of liked the difference. 


 

I continued to study and read while the rest of them kept talking. This has become sort of a normal ritual of sorts, perhaps highlighting the differences between Ravenclaws and Gryffindors at four in the afternoon, but I didn’t mind it at all.


 

A short while later, Fred and Leta went silent, and after a moment James tapped my shoulder.


 

“Cornelia?”


 

“James?” I said lazily, flipping a page in my book.


 

“Want to go snog in a few?”


 

“Aces,” I told him, and I could see him smirking in my peripherals but I ignored it.


 

I had just turned back to my book when he spoke again.


 

“Cornelia?”


 

I glanced up again. “James?”


 

“Want to snog right now?”


 

“You clearly don’t understand the concept of delayed gratification,” I told him drily, but he grinned wickedly, and in one movement had scooped me off of the couch and slung me over his shoulder, Fred and Leta whooping with delight as he made his way up the boys' staircase.


 

“That was truly subtle,” I remarked as he deposited me on his bed and then climbed on, too, immediately wrapping an arm around my waist.


 

“That’s another first for me,” he commented, smirking slightly. “Public displays of affection.”


 

“What other firsts have I been?” I turned on my side so that I was facing him, using my hand to prop up my cheek. “Oh, don’t tell me I was the first-“


 

“Sod off,” he laughed, since we both knew there was no way in hell that I had been. “Let’s see. You’re the first girl who’s really hated me, first one I’ve ever taken on a nice date, first one to apologise to multiple times for being a tosser…”


 

“That is a lot of firsts,” I agreed as he shifted closer to me, and although I sounded casual inside I was suddenly elated.


 

“Wait,” James spoke after a moment, the little dimple in his chin denting slightly. “I’ve been meaning to ask - what happened with you and Mulligan?”  


 

“That’s what you want to talk about right now?” I asked incredulously. “Me and Henry?


 

James sat up, and I did, too. “Was he bad to you?”


 

“No,” I said defensively, but then I reconsidered. “I don’t know. He was really good at making me feel like I was at fault for everything that went wrong in his life.”


 

James frowned slightly; it wrinkled the space between his eyebrows in an almost adorable manner. “Did you tell Mulligan about your family?”


 

I shrugged. “Vague details, yeah.”


 

“You could tell him and not me?” he demanded, and his eyes narrowed in that sharply unforgiving way I had grown to resent.


 

“I told him after we’d been together for four months when he wanted to meet my parents! We’re not even dating, James!”


 

“So then let’s date!” He raised his voice to match mine. “Be my girlfriend!”


 

“Fine!” I shouted back, and then we both sort of froze as we realised what we had just agreed to.


 

“Really?” he asked dumbly, the anger stripped from his voice at once.


 

“Yes,” I said, and then again, with certainty. “Yes. Of course.”


 

James smiled triumphantly, but it wasn’t gloating; it was the kind of victory that I shared, and we grabbed one another at the same time, falling onto the bed and touching and feeling, feeling everything we could possibly feel all at once, together. We were skin on skin, a beautiful tornado of heat and fire and flame, finally the right kind of kindling. We touched and we breathed and we felt, and my name spilled from his lips, “Cornelia,” as merciful as a prayer and as smooth as an alibi, and when every muscle fiber in our body had contracted and our breaths were merely gasps we finally relaxed, collapsed on one another, dazed and happy.


 

“What you do to me…” James murmured softly, kissing trails from my earlobe to my collarbone, and it felt perfect, so right and natural and unforced, until a girl with long, dark hair and a low-cut top strode into the Seventh Year Gryffindor dormitory, not bothering to knock or declare herself in any way.


 

“Hi,” she said, while James scrambled to cover himself and I emitted a little scream. “Can I borrow Nellie for a moment?”


 

“Mia, what the hell are you doing?” I cried, throwing the nearest object I could find (which happened to be my pants) at her head.


 

“I needed to talk to you!” Mia ducked neatly, absolutely unfazed.


 

“And it couldn’t’ve waited?”


 

“Well - you know, I suppose it could’ve,” Mia frowned in concentration, and then added hastily, “but I didn’t want it to!”


 

I honestly don’t think I’ve hated someone more in my life than I did Mia right at that moment.


 

“How-how did you get past the portrait?” James stammered, which he tended to do when he was taken aback, and it was always so endearing and refreshing to see him not his usual cool façade that I had to fight back the urge to kiss him - God, I was going to seriously kill her.


 

“The password was Godric, it wasn’t exactly difficult to guess,” the Hated One said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.


 

“Can you...come back later?” James suggested hesitantly. Mia’s eyes narrowed into slits.


 

“Listen,” she simpered, taking a step forward. James shrank back into me slightly, as if he wanted me to shelter him from the blow that was Mia’s wrath. “Since Nellie is my best friend, and you’re doing…things with her, it would probably be wise to get on my good side. Okay?”


 

We merely gaped at her.


 

“Well, hurry up! Here!” Mia threw my pants back to me, and I pulled them on quickly, hyper-aware that James was staring from me to Mia like a deer caught in headlights.


 

“I’ll see you tomorrow?” I said to James as Mia began physically dragging me from the room, and he nodded dumbly.


 

“Oh, and James,” Mia called, stopping with her hand on the doorknob. “Nellie was right - you do have great abs.”


 

And then, with a flash of her killer grin and a slam of the door, Mia Templeton had managed to render the great James Sirius Potter absolutely speechless.


 

 

 

“Was that really necessary?” I grumbled as soon as we had escaped the curious eyes of the Gryffindor Common Room.


 

“Yes,” Mia emphasised, and then snorted. “God, I knew you were shagging!”


 

“Well, we’re dating now,” I told her, and it sounded foreign in my mouth but so so strangely right. “Officially.”


 

Nellie,” Mia breathed, and then she was pulling me into a bear hug, squeezing me so tightly I think I lost consciousness for a moment. “Ohmigod. Yes. This is so, so good.”


 

“Yeah?” I glanced at her, a slow smile spreading across my face.


 

“Of course - I won the bet!” Mia squealed, clapping her hands together with glee.


 

“You bet on whether or not James and I would date?” I asked incredulously, and Mia shook her head, that patented sly smile playing across her plump lips.


 

“No, we bet on when you would date,” she corrected. “Flynn said this summer - idiot - Milo said January, Scorpius said never - also an idiot - and Albus said April.”


 

I raised my eyebrows, and I was going to act affronted but I decided against it. “So Al was technically the closest.”


 

“Yes, but it’s also still March so I won!” Mia pumped her fist in the air as if an imaginary crowd were celebrating her victory


 

“I’m really just so happy for you,” I told her, and Mia beamed and laughed, slinging her arm around my shoulders. “Anyways, what was so urgent that you needed to sneak into the Gryffindor  Common Room?”


 

“Oh. Right.” Leave it to Mia Templeton to entirely forget her urgent reasons for breaking and entering. “Albus needs to see you. He’s sort of freaking out.”


 

I frowned. “Al? Why?”


 

Mia turned to me, grinning like a jack-o-lantern. “He likes a girl!

 

 

 


Author's Note: SORRY this chapter took so long, I'm back at school and Orgo is actually brutal (especially at the school I go to...hint it is part of a well known group of 8 schools!). But I figured we needed some story development that wasn't depressing, since a lot of the rest of the story will be rather dark. Let me know what you think - did you expect Nellie and James to get together? What about the way Rose and Scorpius interact? And who the hell does Albus like? Stay tuned and thank you SO MUCH for being so supportive and leaving such amazing reviews!

 

 

 

 


 

 

Up next...A story of nice guys, good friends, and hair stroking.

 



Chapter 25: Chapter Twenty-Five
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

Disclaimer: I don’t own what you recognise.



 



 

“Okay, let’s run it through again,” I leaned back against Al’s pillows, scooching up a bit so I was in a more upright position. “You fancy Willow.”


 

“Yes,” nodded Albus, from where he was anxiously pacing back and forth in front of us.


 

“And you have for a long time.”


 

Yes!” Al emphasised. “Only I’ve only just now realised how much!”


 

“I simply don’t understand why you’re making such a fuss,” Mia commented idly from beside me, her hands playing with the tassles from the red blanket on the bedspread. “I mean, you’ve snogged loads of people before.”


 

“Yeah, but this is different!” Albus insisted. “I don’t want to just snog her, I want to like, stroke her hair or something!”


 

“You want to stroke her hair?” I opened my eyes wide in mock horror, but it only made Al bring his hands up to clutch his own atop his head, more agitated than before.


 

No - you know what I mean, Nellie!”


 

“I know, I know. You like her for real,” I said much more soothingly, and Albus paused his pacing for a moment, his hands still resting on his head.

 

 

“Do I, like, I don’t know, ask her out? What if she says no? What if she doesn’t like me at all, this is stupid-


 

“She once told me you were the nicest guy in school,” I smiled encouragingly at him, but instead of being happy Albus paled.


 

“No - that’s terrible, isn’t it? Nice guys always finish last, that’s what Flynn says-”


 

“You’re going to go with Flynn Klein’s advice over me, Mia Templeton, dater extraordinaire and girl?” Mia asked incredulously, and that seemed to calm him down a bit.


 

“Okay,” Al said after a moment, his voice finally less stressed. “Yeah. Okay. So what do I do?”


 

“Start by being her friend,” I suggested. “She already hangs out with us, anyways. Invite her to the Tower. Go to the library. Get to know her and let her get to know you in more of a one-on-one setting.“


 

“Everyone has at least a little bit of a crush on you, Al,” said Mia knowingly. “If she isn’t there already, she will be.”


 

“So take it slow,” Albus summarised, testing the words out for himself. “I like that. I’m good at that.”


 

“You and your brother, it seems,” Mia said purposefully, and then with a flitting glance at me, announced: “I won the bet.”


 

“You - really?” Al’s eyes popped open wide, rather alarmed. “You guys are dating, Nellie?”


 

“Erm, yeah. I guess.” I was suddenly as nervous as Al had looked before, but as I searched his gaze for any signs of hesitation or anger I found that I could discern none.


 

“Well, bullocks,” Albus said after a moment. “If you had held out for just a couple more days I would’ve won.”


 

“So...you’re okay with this?” I asked, tentatively. “Because if you’re not, it doesn’t have to happen at all. You’re my best friend, Al, I would never want to-”


 

“Nellie,” Albus broke in gently, coming to stand by the foot of the bed. “He’s different with you. Better, almost. I’m more than okay with it.”


 

How I ever got so lucky to have such a caring, understanding, amazing friend as Albus Potter was, I’ll never know.


 

“I love you, Al,” I told him, and I almost got a bit emotional just saying it.


 

“Love you, too, Nels,” Albus smiled, with that shy little quirk of a grin that made me so filled with a brotherly love I could hardly stand it.


 

“And I love both of you,” Mia declared, not one to be left out, and we both laughed, Mia and I sliding off the bed so we could have a nice group hug.


 

“Thank you,” Albus said. At first he was looking at Mia, but when he glanced at me I knew his gratitude was in reference to me being willing to put him over his brother - a mates before dates sort of philosophy.


 

“You’re welcome,” I replied. He smiled.


 

 




 

That night, I dreamt of the women from the Amesbury Gala. She was staring at me in that uncomfortably familiar way, and no matter where I walked her foreboding gaze followed me unbroken. She was wearing royal blue robes, her braided hair piled onto her head, and just as I stopped directly in front of her she opened her mouth, as if she were about to say something. And then -


 

“Nellie, you are LATE!” Mia yelled from the bathroom, and I awoke with a start, my bed drenched in sweat and my head pounding as if I had just run a marathon.


 

I went through the rest of morning with a vague headache and concrete foul mood. Perhaps the relationship was more of a resonance - the pain made me more surly and being surly gave me a bigger headache - but somehow all I could think about was how my mother used to get migraines, and how my father mentioned them, and how every answer to every one of my questions was right in front of me in that goddamn book that I still couldn’t bring myself to touch. I felt like a ticking time bomb with my head and dreams as the timer, but even as the clock was winding down I had no idea what would happen when I exploded.


 

And it made me paranoid, too. As I survived the entire day with my head hurting, every single corner I turned I kept expecting to see the strange woman, as if she would somehow materialise just because I had dreamed about her. I kept trying to convince myself that I was being stupid, but that notion just kept coming back into my mind, again and again and again, and then I turned the Charms corridor, and -


 

“Nellie Burke,” Calliope Yaxley said flatly, her dark nails tapping impatiently on her crossed arms. “We’re overdue for a little chat.”


 

“We’re overdue for nothing.” I pushed past her, but she held out a hand on my chest like a crossing guard to stop me.


 

“Publicly dating the eldest son of the biggest Blood Traitor family in Britain would constitute such a discussion, don't you think?” 


 

“Stay out of my fucking business, Calliope,” I snarled, and although this was the first time I’d ever been outwardly aggressive towards her she only smiled coldly as if she had expected me to snap all along.


 

“Your business is our business until we decide it isn’t.” she said in a low voice, and although she was just as unsmiling as I was there was something fiercely speculative in her eyes as she gave me one last look before turning down the corridor I had just come from. “Watch yourself.”


 

It wasn’t what she said that bothered me, but was the way she had said it. Because Calliope Yaxley didn’t say what she had to make a threat - she did to convey a legitimate warning.

 

 



 

I had just changed into my Quidditch things and was coming down from Ravenclaw Tower when I felt someone fall into step with me.


 

“So,” James Potter said without preface, already smirking way too much for my taste. “My abs?”


 

“What about them?” I asked casually. We were approaching a corner, and I strained to look down it - fucking stop it, Nellie, don’t be so para- oh thank Merlin it’s empty.


 

“Well, I think I should be asking you that.” he replied, nudging me slightly with his shoulder. “I hear you’ve been discussing them, see.”


 

I arched an eyebrow, the movement exacerbating the persistent pain in my head slightly. “Oh, really?”


 

“Really.”


 

I sighed, no energy left for our usual banter.  “Fine. They are great. Happy?”


 

“Unequivocally.” James replied buoyantly, now grinning much too victoriously, but I really couldn’t bring myself to care. “What did Mia want yesterday?”


 

“Oh, you know,” I said offhandedly, tugging my robes tighter around my body. “Just being Mia.”


 

I knew Albus wouldn’t want me to tell anyone, much less his older, more experienced brother about his crush, so I chose to remain vague and enigmatic, even though I knew it would probably antagonise James.


 

“What does that mean?”


 

I shrugged. “I dunno.”


 

James slowed, and instead of his eyes hardening like they usually did when he didn’t get a straight answer from me his eyebrows flitted together as if he were concerned. “What’s wrong?”


 

I fidgeted with my robes again, adjusting the back of the neckline. “Nothing.”


 

“Really?” he countered. “Because these past few weeks, you’ve barely been yourself,”


 

Recoiling, I crossed my arms over my chest. “And, how would you know what my usual self is? It’s not like you know me well.”


 

“Right,” James said coolly, his face slipping into a mask of cold indifference. “I keep forgetting I don’t know anything at all about you.”


 

“Sorry,” I muttered after a moment. “Habit.”


 

“Reflex,” James muttered back sourly, and I pretended not to hear him as we stopped in the corridor, prepared to part ways.


 

“Meet by the Entrance Hall after my practise?” I asked him, and although he was still scowling at the ground slightly he thankfully nodded.

 


 

 

“Burke!” Moose screamed, for what must have been the fortieth time. “What the bloody hell are you doing?”


 

“I’m sorry!” I yelled. I had found myself drifting in the center of the game play, only narrowly able to dodge Kato who had been charging at full steam towards the opposite goal post.

 

 

Moose flew over to me, signalling for the others to continue running the play. “Where is your fucking head today?” he hissed. “Or for the past few weeks, for that matter?”


 

“I don’t know,” I shook my head. “I’m really sorry.”


 

“Don’t be sorry, be better,” he snapped, and I think he could tell that I really wasn’t in the mood for one of his lectures, because when I didn’t respond all he did was sigh and push away his dark frizzy curls away from his eyes. “Our match against Hufflepuff is in a couple of weeks. If you’re distracted like this-”


 

“I won’t be.” I promised, my jaw set, and Moose stared at me long and hard before nodding once.


 

“Twenty laps. Go clear your head.”


 

I soared around the Pitch at a high enough altitude that the chaos below me was able to fade away into distant background noise. It was a beautiful evening, nearly April and fully spring, with the buds on the sprawling trees of Hogwarts almost ready to bloom. It was strange to think about how fast the year had gone with the end of the semester being only six or seven weeks away, but it was nearing with an almost increasing speed, the same sort of hurriedness that the entire year had felt like. And as I sped around the Pitch and watched Kato ruffle Beck's hair and Moose scream himself hoarse, I realised that we only had a few short weeks all together as a team. It was wistfully melancholy, in a way, and I was still in a sort of nostalgic mood when I landed on the ground, rejoined once again with my team as we walked to the lockers.


 

“So, I have an announcement,” Kato called the moment we were all in the training part of the locker room, and based on his expression I could tell he was absolutely bursting to get whatever he wanted to say out.


 

“Is it that your fly is down?” Beck asked smoothly, and Kato’s face paled for a moment as he glanced down in a panic, only to realise he wasn’t even wearing pants that had a zipper.


 

“Every time,” Benjy snickered, and Kato scowled slightly before clapping his hands together, his blue eyes sparkling.


 

“Okay - big news. I, erm...I’ve just received a full-time offer from the Quidditch League Headquarters in London for right after graduation - and I took it.”


 

WHAT?” Benjy bellowed, jumping up from where he had been taking his protective Beater's vest off.


 

“That’s amazing!” I squealed, and Kato wrapped his arms around me tightly before Moose began pounding him on the back and he released me.


 

“Well done, mate!” Moose crowed, who himself had had a job with the strategic team of the Wimbourne Wasps lined up for ages now.


 

“This is fucking BRILLIANT!” Benjy screamed, running and Kato, and the two of them did some weird chest bump thing that was too perfectly executed to have been the first time they had done it.


 

“Congrats - don’t fuck it up,” Beck told Kato proudly, and Kato flipped her off but he was laughing, even as Jack said something rather crude about the women that usually frequented Quidditch parties, earning him a slap in the neck by all of us close enough to reach him.


 

“Congratulations,” Cicely told Kato warmly once the Jack excitement had died down, and she hugged him quickly, her dark skin rather flushed as she stepped back.


 

“Thanks, Cely,” Kato grinned, using the nickname we had started to affectionately call her after she had abbreviated the word "celery" to that. Or at least that was why most of us called her that - Beck did it because she was absolutely certain she was celibate.


 

“We celebrate this weekend,” Benjy announced. “No - tonight! We celebrate TONIGHT!”


 

“We celebrate this weekend.” Moose barked, back into Captain-Mode.


 

“We celebrate this weekend!” Benjy repeated, absolutely undeterred, and the three of them began making plans with Beck while Jack, Cicely, and I went to change.


 

“That’s just so impressive,” Cicely marveled to the quiet of the room once it was just us in the women’s changing stalls. “He’s so amazing.”


 

I was about to agree with her when I thought back to all the times Cicely had blushed when Kato had touched her or looked at her or really done anything, really, and the realisation came to me so quickly that I nearly gasped.


 

“Wait - do you like Kato?” I asked incredulously, perhaps a little too loudly, and Cicely’s face went from horrified to panicked to desperate in a single second.


 

“Nellie!” she hissed. “No!


 

“You do!” I exclaimed triumphantly, pulling on my jacket, and Cicely glanced around wildly, as if Kato were going to burst out from behind a stall.


 

Please don’t tell anyone!”


 

“Of course I won’t,” I reassured her. “I think it’s kind of nice.”


 

“Really?” Cicely squeaked, her face still red.


 

“Well, yeah. He’s a bit loud and you’re a bit quiet - you’d balance one another out nicely.”


 

What I didn’t say was that I knew for sure Kato would never go for someone so much younger than him, because Cicely didn’t need to hear that. It was a schoolgirl crush, the kind that everyone gets on someone a bit older than them, and since I knew Cicely would never act on it there was really no harm in encouraging her a little.


 

“Well, I honestly used to think that you two sort of fancied each other,” Cicely told me, almost tentatively.


 

“What?” I asked incredulously, and something like uneasiness tugged in my stomach but I ignored it. “I have a b-Potter!”


 

“I know, but before,” Cicely shrugged, slinging her bag across her shoulders. “You guys always seemed so close.”


 

“Because we are close, but not like that,” I told her, and it was completely true so I felt no conflicting feelings about it. “But I swear I won’t tell anyone about your crush.”


 

We were both a bit more calmed down now, and so she shot me a grateful grin before we exited the women’s area out into the larger space of the lockers.


 

 




 

“You’re absolutely wrong,” Benjy told Beck a little while later, as we entered back into the castle.


 

“I’m not-


 

“You are!” Kato protested, even more vehemently than Benjy. “I hate to do this, but he’s right!”


 

“Yes!” Jack pumped his fist in the air in victory, his mousy brown hair flopping in front of his face slightly. “Suck that, Davidson!”


 

“Oh, fuck off, Robinson-”