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“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.
“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,
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…”
“Yeah. She’ll be really gone.”
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.
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.”
“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.
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