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.
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-”
“-which allow the person utilising it to be propelled-”
“-ascended, really, against even the strongest of currents-”
“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!”
“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!
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