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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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