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More than a week had passed since the incident at the end of October. I was thankful that the news hadn’t spread like the usual wildfire, but the lack of conversation left me in a strangely paranoid state, where I kept expecting the story to suddenly gain prominence in the gossip circuit. But apparently, the tale reached some parts of the castle, because on my way to a double Potions Lyra Avery and Seph Selwyn approached me, pulling me away from the main corridor down a hallway I had never seen before.
“Nellie,” Lyra began, almost businesslike with her approach. “Christian told us what happened the other night. He says he’s sincerely sorry and hopes that this won’t disrupt your friendship.”
“Are you serious?” I asked, after a moment of pure shock.
“Are you okay?” Seph frowned, her heart shape face contorting into concern, but before I could respond Lyra stepped forward.
“Look, we’ve all had to deal with our fair shares of Christians,” she hissed, her voice low and harsher than I’d ever heard it. “And since he didn’t actually do anything to you anyways don’t go making anything a big deal, because I promise no one will listen.”
“I know,” I glared at her. “I’m not stupid. Just tell him to stay away.”
“Calli is taking care of it.” Lyra said briskly, and then continued down the corridor without another glance back, Seph trailing behind her nervously.
What Lyra had said was true; they all did have to deal with other people like Christian, and most of them didn’t have anyone to save them. Most didn’t even know that they could be saved, and the hopelessness of it all crashed over me like a tidal wave until I was able to take a few deep breaths and push it back down, like I always did.
So aside from that, the incident mostly vanished from conversation into the passing days, the only real reminder of it taking the form of Fred Weasley’s sweater, which sat at the bottom of my bag until I finally spotted him in the Charms courtyard one afternoon, almost a week after the party.
“Fred!” I called and he turned, immediately abandoning his conversation and bounding over to me, almost like an excitable puppy.
“Hey,” I said, just as Fred said, “We have to talk.”
We both paused for a second.
“Erm, what?” I asked finally.
“You need to report Flint to the Headmistress,” Fred said, seriously. “He needs to be stopped.”
“I just came to return your sweatshirt,” I said after another awkward beat of silence. I held it out, but Fred merely looked at it without making any attempts to take it.
“Nellie,” he implored instead. I slowly lowered my arm. “I know that you’re fine from what happened. I get that. But he could do it again, if not to you than someone else.”
“He won’t,” I said fimly, and I believed it. I did. I had to, or else I would have to face the possibility of real consequences for my lack of action. “My - his community is taking care of it. Trust me, he won’t.”
Fred stared at me. Finally, he exhaled. “As long as you’re sure.” he said, even though he didn’t sound it himself.
“Can you just take the sweatshirt?” I held it out again, but Fred grinned evilly, his familiar spark of mischief returned as if it had never even left.
“‘S not mine, it’s James’s. Return it to him yourself, hm?”
Fred was so painfully obvious about the whole thing, and yet I didn’t really mind all that much.
“Then I’ll just toss it in the bin,” I responded smoothly without missing a beat.
“I’ll let him know you have it,” Fred said, smiling vacantly, and I cursed the fact that he was a lot more cunning than I had originally given him credit for. “See you around soon?”
“Yeah,” I muttered, and when I looked back, Fred was beaming triumphantly.
We waited until the castle was completely dark before we went to the Tower, all six of us - Mia with the mulled mead, Flynn with the Firewhiskey, Scorpius and Al with elf wine and Milo with the Butterbeer. I had opted to bring Cauldron Cakes, an idea I thought was genius, really, but earned me a good amount of insults from everyone else until people were drunk enough to be hungry.
“Guys,” said Mia a little while later, crumbs of cake falling out of her mouth. “I’m pissed.”
“No you’re not,” Flynn scoffed. The moon was out tonight, and from up here Flynn’s auburn hair looked like it was practically glowing in certain places.
“I am too!” Mia protested by taking another swig of her wine. “More pissed than you!”
“Everyone’s more pissed than me,” Flynn said easily. “Everyone’s more pissed than you! Look at Nellie!”
“I am not pissed.” I told them stoutly, wrapping the blanket draped across my shoulders more tightly around my frame.
“Liar liar,” Scorpius tsked me, from where he was lying down next to Milo’s feet, and I aimed a kick at him but missed completely, nearly sending the handle of Firewhiskey toppling to the ground.
“Why’re you lying down?” Mia prodded Scorpius, completing the task I had failed at only moments earlier.
“Stars,” Scorpius replied, as his explanation, and evidently it was adequate because no one questioned him further.
“Do you lot ever think about what we’re going to do after Hogwarts?” Milo asked. It was a random inquiry but it didn't really seem like it was, because when we were pissed everything was a little random anyways.
Flynn snorted. “No.”
“Of course,” Mia responded, shooting Flynn a pointed look. “We’re Sixth Years. How could we not?”
“Flitwick has certainly shoved it up our arses enough,” Scor grunted, still on his back.
“Let me see if I can get everyone’s future careers right,” Albus held up his hands, and we all silenced. “Scorpius and I - Aurors or homeless mates. Milo - Healer or evil Herbologist. Mia - fashionista or famous fashionista. Flynn - fuck, I don’t know, mate. Same with you, Nels. Maybe real estate brokers.”
“Thanks!” I exclaimed sarcastically, snatching the Cauldron Cake that he had just tried to reach for away.
“Fashionista? Hm. Maybe I’ll be a beekeeper instead,” Mia mused, taking more of the mulled mead from the middle of our circle.
“Sorry?” Scorpius sat up, his pale face much more flushed than usual. “Like, you’ll grow bees?”
“I think it could be fun!” Mia exclaimed, to the skepticism of the rest of the group.
“Maybe you are pissed,” Albus told her, and she laughed, the sound tinkling and carefree.
“Mia Templeton, Queen Bee of the Bees,” Milo tested, and then nodded thoughtfully. “It’s not bad.”
“But what would you do with the bees, Mia?” Flynn asked in a patronisingly slow tone, but Mia responded accordingly.
“I would make honey, of course,” she replied immediately, and then shot a pointed look at Flynn. “And train them to attack all of my enemies on command.”
“They’d be overworked, then, wouldn’t they?” commented Flynn mildly, and Mia grinned and settled comfortably against his shoulder, and I was surprised to note that he didn’t push her off like he usually would.
“So we have a Healer, two Aurors, and a beekeeper. Looks like it’s just you and me, Nels,” Flynn smirked, and while any other time I would be offended to be grouped with Flynn in any category, right now it seemed okay. It was rather true, anyways - Flynn and I were the only ones who didn't have a clear career path or interest, and I was lucky that I was drunk enough for the topic not to give me a flash of panic or anxiety.
“Nellie can be my beekeeping assistant,” Mia offered, in a tone that implied she surely thought she was being generous.
“I cannot bee-lieve you wouldn’t make me your equal in this scenario,” I said, and everyone groaned and tried to slap me on the back of the neck which I dodged, laughter coming out of my lungs in little gasps.
It was so nice to be up here with everyone. The past couple of months had flown by much too fast and the entire year had felt a little strange, like our lives were balancing on a scale that was ever so slightly off kilter, but this was what all of us needed: repose, company, laughs, booze, and as we all went our separate ways to bed and then regrouped at breakfast, it was clear that the night had been uplifting and helpful for everyone.
In fact, throughout the day I was in such a good mood that I completely forgot about the events from the week previous, which had every day since then crept into my mind like an unwelcome pest. I had nearly wiped it out of my memory completely until I saw James Potter on the opposite end of the corridor I was walking down to Arithmancy. The second I saw him I looked away from him instantly as my whole body became tense and focused, and I wondered if I could pretend not to see him since I was sure if he saw me he would do the same. But then I realised I still needed to give him that stupid sweater back, and I was just debating whether or not to turn around or keep walking when the decision was made for me.
“Hey,” James Potter called, crossing the length of the hallway in easy strides. “Burke!”
Curious heads turned towards us almost instantaneously, but then like an absolute blessing from heaven the warning bell rang and people began hurrying off to class, James Potter intrigue forgotten.
“Hey,” I said, like a cautionary question. The sting of rejection from the night of the party still smarted, and I felt almost uncomfortable in my own skin, unsure of how to act around him.
Potter stopped in front of me, his tie slung over his shoulder in only a manner that he could pull off. “How are you?”
“Good, and you?”
“Good,” he nodded, and then jerked his head to indicate that we should keep walking. I was relieved to note that the frigid space that had been between us the night of the party didn’t seem to be present, but with him I could never be too sure which way our interaction would go.
There was a pause, the only noise the sound of our footsteps, strangely in time.
“Anyways,” I said awkwardly, rummaging through my bag until I pulled out the sweater. “I just wanted to return this.”
James glanced at it quickly before looking back up at me. “That’s not mine, it’s Fred’s.”
Wow, was I going to kill Fred Weasley.
“Well, would you mind taking it? I already tried to give it back to Fred and he told me it was yours.”
“Did he?” asked James mildly, mercifully accepting the bundled up fabric from my hand and putting it in his backpack. “Well, Fred says he’s colourblind so maybe that’s why.”
My lips quirked up into a sort of smile without meaning to. “Says he’s colourblind?”
“With Fred you never know,” James said easily, and then grew more somber. “But, erm, how are you really, Burke?”
“I’m fine,” I answered tersely, as we turned a corner.
“You don’t have to be,” James said quietly, and for some reason that irked me to no end.
“You know, you don’t have to treat me like this,” I snapped at him, crossing my arms over my chest.
Potter immediately grew defensive, and we stopped in the middle of the corridor. “Like what?”
“Like I’m fucking fragile!”
“Oh, well, excuse me for trying to be a decent human being,” he retorted, eyes blazing. “Godric forbid I actually act like I care about something other than myself for a change.”
I considered his words for a moment, and then nodded, my shoulders sloping down in defeat.
“Sorry,” I muttered. I had noticed it now, too, my tendency to accuse him of acting anything but cordial, and I was almost ashamed to have snapped at him like that.
“You’re really okay?” James whispered, just as the bell rang for a second time. Now the hallways were completely empty, and I felt a strange sort of thrill rush through me, an anticipation of something I wasn’t completely aware of yet.
“Yes,” I whispered back.
“Good,” he said, then he grinned abruptly, the left side of his mouth quirking up, and it was dazzling in a way. “Because I’ve missed our little conversations, Cornelia.”
Without any indication at all, he was speaking like he had in the Room of Requirement: relaxed, suggestive, flirtatious, and all at once, I felt the energy that had been present in that discussion rush back to us.
“They’re not conversations, they’re arguments,” I told him, crossing my arms again but not angrily this time.
“Slight philosophical disagreements,” James amended loosely.
“So now being insulting is just a metaphysical misunderstanding?” I challenged, and I had a Shakespeare quote in mind but I forced myself to save it for later.
“Are you calling me insulting or yourself?” he asked, rather amusedly.
I snorted. “What do you think?”
“Fine,” he said. He took a step towards me, and I mirrored him. “Do you want to know what I think? For real?”
I raised my eyebrows, inviting him to continue.
“I think that I think about you more often than I should, Burke.” James said, rather quietly.
The intensely building electricity had reached its peak, and even though a jolt cascaded through my body and all I wanted to do was some sort of jumpy victory dance, I held my ground. This wasn’t over, and I wasn’t going to let him win that easily. He held all of the power with that statement - now it was my turn to seize the controls.
“Do you?” I asked him. “I think that you think about me when it’s convenient. When you’re bored.”
“And why would you think that?” James’s expression never changed, but he as he shifted his weight to his left leg he took a miniscule step backwards, giving me all of the leverage I needed.
“Because,” I said. Step forward. “You like the chase I offer you. You’re turned on by the give and take, the banter. The fight for the upper hand.”
James’s eyes narrowed, not because he was angry, but because he understood the game I was playing. He was focused, purposeful, and instead of merely standing his ground, he edged closer as well, claiming some of the space that hovered in the No Man’s Land between us. “So now this is a power struggle?”
I cocked my head, surveying him. “Hasn’t it always been?” I asked carefully.
“Maybe it has. And, maybe,” he said huskily, taking another step towards me, “I am turned on by the fight.” Now I was backed up against the wall in the weaker position, and I cursed myself for not having stood on the other side of him.
“Maybe we’re too similar for our own good,” I said softly, and I was being deliberate about every little move I made. I bit the side of my lip lightly, I let some of my hair fall forwards into my face, I glanced up through my eyelashes - I was goading him, egging him on like I always did, and I could tell by the way his eyes darkened that it was working. But he must’ve been doing it too, because his muscular arm was against the wall near my head, trapping me in place, and his scent was absolutely encapsulating as it hit me in waves, and my breaths were coming in audible gasps as his body moved so close that I could feel his heat spreading out over my entire body and warming me from the inside out, like he was the sun on an early-spring day.
“Burke,” James Potter murmured, but it wasn’t annoyed or disapproving; it was of a raspy quality, husky with desire and longing.
“Potter,” I breathed.
His hand had found its way underneath the hem of my shirt, and as he ran his fingers slowly up my spine, my body betrayed me and shivered against my will. It was a battle of discipline now - who would bow to the temptation before the other, who would lose control, who would be the first to break.
With a slight moan, he grabbed my face between both of his hands and brought my mouth to his, and then we were kissing, kissing like I had never kissed anyone before. I wrapped my fingers in his hair, his stupid fucking perfect hair, and just let myself absolutely melt into his touch, like syrup or honey, something just as sweet and just as impossibly addicting.
And briefly I wondered if anyone could see us, but it didn’t matter compared to the feeling of my back pressed up against the cold stone, of his tongue tracing the outline of my lips, of his arm holding my waist while his other hand ran through my hair, behind my neck, down my back and then up again. I couldn’t help but wrap my legs around his frame, because I wanted more, more than he could give me in this tight space and upright position, and he responded fiercely, his hands exploring unmarked territories, pressing me into him as hard as he could, as if he was feeling the same way I was.
And then all at once, it was over as quickly as it had come. With no warning at all, Potter pushed me off of him slightly, taking a step back in the same movement.
“I don’t think about you when it’s convenient,” said Potter, and he sounded inexplicably angry as he ran one of his hands through his hair, grasping the strands tightly with his fingers, pulling on it like I had just done moments ago. “I think about you when it isn’t.”
And before I could respond, he had disappeared around the corner, leaving me suddenly cold in the absence of his heat.
Author’s Note: Well, it finally happened - sort of? Sorry for the briefness and filler quality of this chapter, but please please review - the next chapter is where it picks up!
Up next...A story of flower arrangements, pimping, and fire.
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