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.
“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.
“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.
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