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“Pink or white?” Mia asked me impatiently, and I jolted back into awareness. My mind had been elsewhere for the past hour, quill doodling meaningless lines and scratches instead of working on my Transfiguration homework, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this wasn’t the first time she had tried to get my attention.


 

“Er, white,” I told her hastily.


 

Mia made a note on the scrap piece of parchment she had been scribbling little notes on, and as I craned my neck to look at it she moved it slightly away.


 

I frowned. “Sorry - what’s this for?”


 

“Flower arrangements for your wedding with James Potter,” said Mia loftily, making another note. “White was a good choice.”


 

My mouth dropped open in horror. “You - give me that!”


 

“What do you want your first dance song to be?” Mia called over my protests, holding the paper above my head like bait. “I was thinking ‘A Cauldron Full of Hot Strong Love-’”


 

I shrieked and dived for the parchment but she dodged me neatly, rolling off of the couch in one move and hopping back on her feet in another. Finally I managed to pry the offending paper out of her smug grip and toss it in the fire, where it caught on flame with a satisfying sizzle.


 

“Will you just admit it?” Mia asked, once we had settled back into our seats and our breathing had returned to normal. “You’re dating James Potter!”


 

“We are not dating.” I said firmly, crossing my arms in emphasis, but she persisted.


 

“You could be-”


 

“We literally just kissed once a couple of days ago!”


 

“That means that-”


 

“You snogged Gerard Quentin last year, does that mean you two are together? What a lovely couple you would make - you could watch him tend to his flesh eating snail collection!”


 

“Okay, I get it,” Mia backtracked hastily. “Still, I think this is more than you’re making it out to be.”


 

“James and I can barely stand to be in the same room as one another for more than ten seconds,” I said, although I knew it was a lie; I constantly felt gravitated to the charisma that defined the enigmatic year above.


 

“But this was a sober kiss,” Mia insisted. “Sober first kisses mean so much more than drunk ones.”


 

She did have a point there, but there was no way in hell I would ever acknowledge it aloud.


 

“What about you and Davies?” I queried, and even though she tried not to, she immediately smiled, her eyes practically transforming into hearts.


 

“Will is just so different from any of the other boys I’ve dated,” she gushed. “He’s nice, and genuinely sweet, and kind, and - I don’t know, he just knows how to be a good boyfriend. He’s a man, seriously.”

 

 

“Well, I’m happy for you,” I told her, and she beamed at me, James Potter blissfully forgotten. “Hey, do you know where my Transfiguration notes from last Monday are?”


 

“I dunno,” she shrugged. “Go ask Milo upstairs; I think he had them last.”


 

“And, I don’t suppose you’d come with me?” I asked drily.


 

“No, you don’t.”said Mia loftily, and I rolled my eyes at her before sliding my chair back and retreating up the long staircase to the Sixth Year Boy’s dormitory.


 

The door to their bedroom was slightly ajar, and as I pushed it open I could see Milo crouched over a chest in the far corner of the dormitory, mumbling phrases at a speed so rapid that they were practically incoherent.


 

“Milo?” I rapped on the front of the door to get his attention, and he jumped, his lanky body straightening up immediately like he was a puppet and someone had tugged on his strings.


 

“Oh, hello, Ms. Cornelia Burke!” Milo exclaimed, but it wasn’t excitable; instead, his voice was high pitched and nervous. “Nellie, as your name may be, heh heh, heh heh!”


 

“Why are you talking like that?” I asked suspiciously, trying to peer around him, but to his credit he was so goddamn tall that it was easy for him to cloud my line of vision with his narrow frame.


 

“Like what?” Milo shrugged, and then chuckled again. “Heh heh, heh.”


 

“You’re doing your creepy laugh,” I furrowed my brow, once again attempting to look at whatever he had been huddled over when I first came in.


 

“No, I’m not,” Milo stepped towards me, blocking me even further. But, being a good deal shorter than him I had a much lower center of gravity, and so I was able to sidestep his attempt to shield and duck under his arms to whatever he had been standing over.


 

For a moment, nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary.


 

And then I looked down.


 

“Milo?” I said slowly, and then whipped around to turn to him. “Shit! Milo!


 

“I know!” he wailed, his hands coming up to wring the flat hairs on his head, making him appear rather maniacal.


 

“How do you have that? Why?”


 

“I didn’t know that’s what I bought, I swear to Merlin!” Milo cried. “Nellie, you have to believe me, I swear, I didn’t know! I thought it was a pygmy puff!”


 

“A pygmy puff?” I repeated hysterically, because there was no way on earth I could ever mistake that for a soft fluffy ball of love. The creature was hard and scaly, with claws like a crab and a body like a scorpion, and as it started to move I slammed the lid of the box shut, breathing hard.


 

“Nellie, I don’t know what to do,” Milo said panickedly. “Phillip McSwain sold the egg to me on the Hogwarts Express and it only hatched a couple of weeks ago! And now it’s bigger, and stings you, and shoots out fire-”


 

Fire?” I took a hasty step back.


 

“I don’t know what to do!” Milo repeated, his voice becoming increasingly distraught as he beseeched me desperately. “What do I do?”


 

While Milo’s head was always miles away from the rest of ours his heart needed to be the closest, and I could tell he was too worked up to formulate any type of rational plan to amend the situation.


 

“Okay,” I told him, touching his arm gently, and he relaxed slightly, his gaze never once leaving my face. “I’ll take care of it.”

 

 



 

Dusk was falling over the castle by the time we managed to set out across the grounds. Albus levitated the crate in front of him as I dropped bits of the roast beef that I had nicked from dinner into the slits of the box, taking care to keep my hands at a reasonable distance.


 

I had originally planned on handling the monster alone, but after nearly getting my eyebrows singed off from a burst of flames I decided that I needed help.


 

It hadn’t been too difficult to find him. His schedule was fairly predictable - study in library, have tea, screw around with Scorpius - and so it had only taken me a couple of minutes to track him down.


 

“Hey, Al,” I had called rather breathlessly, and he looked up from his rather slow gait down the hallway.


 

“What’s up?” he asked me, and I plowed on with no hesitation whatsoever.


 

“Remember that time a couple of years ago you asked me to do that thing for you, no questions asked? And you said if I ever needed anything, you’d do it?”


 

“Yeah?” said Albus, rather warily.


 

“Well,” I had said, stopping in front of him so that he was forced to stop walking too. “You owe me.”


 

 

So now we stopped together in front of the small cottage at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, united in this perilous task that didn’t really have much to do with us in the first place.

 

 

“Are you ready?” Albus asked me, and once I nodded he raised his hand and knocked on the huge wooden door twice.


 

In no time at all we heard heavy footsteps, and then -


 

“Albus!” Hagrid the Groundskeeper bellowed, sweeping him into a hug so tight that I didn’t know how Al’s ribs didn’t splinter on the spot.


 

“Hagrid, we’re so sorry for the intrusion-” Albus began once Hagrid had released him and we had been ushered inside the hut, but Hagrid waved his huge hand in the air dismissively.


 

“Codswallop! Look, yer brother decided ter stop in tonigh’, too!”


 

I don’t know how I didn’t spot them the moment we walked in, but sure enough at the table in the corner sat James Potter, across from him Rose Weasley, who waved exuberantly at us. Potter didn’t even glance up.


 

“Right, well, we have kind of an emergency,” said Al, barely even awarding his family members more than a quick nod, and I forced myself to focus solely on Hagrid. “One of our friends accidentally, erm, acquired this egg believing it was a pygmy puff, and, well…”


 

Hagrid leaned over the box, his huge frame almost buckling with the effort to peer down. “Wha’ is it?”


 

“It’s,” I struggled. “Erm-”


 

“Blimey,” Hagrid breathed before I could attempt to explain. “A blas’ ended screwt is wha’ that is! I haven’ seen one of those in years!”


 

Albus grimace. “We didn’t know what to do other than bring him to you-”  


 

“Nonsense! Yeh came ter the right place,” Hagrid beamed, his ruddy cheeks raising up so high that his eyes practically became slits. “I’ll take good care of this little fella.”


 

“Little?” I muttered. Rose stood up a little to try to peak in the crate, but Albus shifted so that he was blocking her view and she scowled.


 

“You’re the best, Hagrid. Thank you so much.” Albus said, and Hagrid sort of nodded and shuffled on his feet, like he was almost embarrassed by the appreciation.


 

“I’ll be righ’ back,” he told us, voice gruff with emotion, and then picked up the crate like it was as heavy as a bar of soap and carried it out through the door.


 

“Let me guess,” Rose turned to Al and I, as soon as the door had fallen shut. “Milo?”


 

“Who else?” Al smiled slightly. I allowed myself a second glance at James, but he was still staring stonily down at his chipped teacup, refusing to look up towards the rest of us.


 

“Never a dull moment with that boy,” Rose grinned, and then gasped so suddenly I thought the blasted screw-whatever had escaped from its cage. “Wait - I almost forgot! There’s a thing in Gryffindor tonight and you have to come!”


 

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” Albus told her, and I smiled politely beside him, not sure if the invitation pertained to me completely. But then Rose turned to me earnestly, gripping my arm in a way that could only be described as forceful.


 

“Nellie,” she implored, clawing my biceps harder. “Please come with Mia and whoever. If Roxanne and I have to spend the night alone with Catherine McDonough again I’m going to scream.”


 

“I’ll try my best,” I promised her, and as Rose released my arm James Potter stood up from his seat, so suddenly that the chair squealed in protest against the dusty wood floors. He shot one look of pure contempt at Rose and then crossed the small space in two steps and left the hut, slamming the door behind him with enough force to rattle the giant-sized mugs hanging along the walls.


 

“Come tonight,” Rose turned back to me, as if nothing had happened. “Just come.”


 



 

“This is by far the worst idea you’ve ever had,” I groaned. We were standing in the corridor near the Gryffindor Common Room, preparing ourselves to go in. Or I was preparing myself. Mia was always ready for anything, and right now I could tell she wasn’t going to let me bow out.


 

“Stop being so dramatic,” Mia told me, which was slightly ironic since she was the most dramatic person I’d ever met. “Al and Scorpius will be here, and Will is coming too. We’ll have plenty of friends.”


 

“And apparently some foes,” I muttered, squeaking the toe of my trainers along the marble floor.


 

“James Potter is not a foe,” Mia emphasised. “He just doesn’t know how to handle his feelings for you.”


 

At that, I almost snorted, because of course James Potter didn’t have actual feelings for me - I was just always there, convenient and around, existing in his mind only when he wanted me to.


 

“I just - I feel like if I walk in there he’s going to slam the door in my face,” I told her quietly, and I knew Mia could tell that I really was anxious about it because she looked at me, long and hard.


 

“Then we go with our heads high and ignore the son of a bitch.” said Mia firmly, and she was pulling me down the corridor so fast that I couldn’t have responded if I’d tried.


 

The Fat Lady made a big huff about us knowing the password but she still let us in, where we found the party already in full swing: flashing lights, bottles everywhere, people dancing on tables - scratch that, Fred Weasley dancing on tables, his muscled bare chess illuminated every so often by the red and gold disco ball twirling on the ceiling. Fairly normal event by Gryffindor standards, honestly.


 

But even though we soon found Al and Scorpius, I found myself in a state of heightened anxiety that one, two, three drinks couldn’t seem to fix, nor the music nor dancing, and I was seriously thinking about leaving when someone spoke from behind me.


 

“You make me lose control.” Through all the voices and laughter and chaos I somehow just knew that it was James Potter, but I didn’t turn around until he said it again. “That’s why I’m so angry with you. Because you make me lose control.”


 

“I don’t understand...” I said slowly, but James was already shaking his head through my words.


 

“I’m not myself when I’m around you,” he pressed on. I could smell him now, intoxicating and sweet, and I had to try my best not to lean into his scent. “It’s like I have no power over my thoughts or actions. You make me lose control.”


 

It was an almost impossible thought to wrap my head around, that I somehow had an effect on him when in reality it could only have been the other way around. But with alcohol swirling around my blood I felt bold and confident; I felt like I could say things the way Mia did and maybe even be like her: flirtatious and daring, excited to take risks and even more to enjoy the freefall. So I cocked my head, appraising him, and in that moment, I swear I was fearless.


 

“So stop hanging onto it so tightly, then,” I told him. “Give in.”


 

“Give in?” James repeated, as if it were a foreign concept, and I nodded.


 

“Yeah,” I said, and I could feel the heat rising like a fever, the temperature swirling around us as pervasive and stifling as humidity. “Lose control.


 

“Cornelia, you’re drunk,” James shook his head, but still he took a step closer, his breathing shallow. “We can’t do this.”


 

“I want to,” I replied, and his hands wound around the small of my waist, slow and carefully, a calculated decision.


 

“You’re so drunk,” he said again. His forehead pressed into mine until we were touching, our noses bumping into one another in a rhythm of possibility.


 

“I want to.” I repeated, as I looked deep into his golden eyes and felt his hands tighten around my waist, and then I was falling, not down or towards the ground but into him, our lips crashing like waves, in, in, in, and we collapsed onto the couch or the floor or wherever we were, intertwined and tangled and together, and I didn’t regret a single thing, not a touch or a kiss or a whisper, not any of it.

 



 

The first time it happened, I was on my way to Charms with Milo, Willow, and Flynn.


 

“Cornelia,” said James lightly, falling into place next to me. “Having a good afternoon?”


 

“I am,” I replied carefully, not over the initial shock of him approaching me in a public setting. “Are you?”


 

“I am now,” he murmured, coming just close enough to brush his hand against mine purposefully before taking a sharp left down a different corridor, and Willow’s mouth dropped so wide open that Flynn had to remind her to close it.


 

But the next time it happened just Mia was by my side, and this time, I was ready for it.


 

“So, Burke - how does it feel to be the object of my affections?” James called as I made my way to the Great Hall, catching the attention of every student trying to push their way through the crowded hallway.


 

“I’m not an object, Potter,” I called back breezily, continuing my stride with Mia, and I swear I could hear his booming laugh even after I turned the corner.


 

“I heard she threatened Slughorn into brewing her a love potion,” one girl whispered while we sat down to lunch at the Slytherin table.


 

I heard she did it herself.” the girl’s friend replied, glancing at me sideways with an expression so fearfully awed that I couldn’t help the fit of laughter that overtook me.


 

“She’s blackmailing him,” I overheard another one say, a little while later while we were walking to Charms. “Albus Potter accidentally let a family secret slip, and now she’s using it to make James date her.”


 

“You know, I think you’re right,” Mia turned around abruptly, and the girls’ eyes widened when they saw the two of us. “Because instead of extorting one of the wealthiest families in the Wizarding World for their money, Nellie decided to force their eldest son to talk to her once in awhile.”

 

 

It was strange, in a way, to be hearing possible conspiracy theories about myself day in and day out. I had never paid too much attention to the gossip and intrigue around James, and now here I was right in the middle of it, the whisperers so widespread that by late afternoon the murmurings about James and I had traveled to the Quidditch pitch, too.


 

“You’re brilliant!” Moose yelled, lifting me off of the ground and swooping me up into a bear hug, swinging my legs around and around.


 

“Are you mad?” I pushed him off of me, but despite his wiry frame he was no weakling and it was a difficult task.


 

“You're dating Potter!” Moose whooped, stepping back slightly. “You can seduce all of his plays and strategies out of him! This is fantastic, this is Christmas-”


 

“Wait, no - Moose-”


 

“I knew you had it in you - and I was going to ask you or Beck to do something like this anyway but you thought of it all by yourself! Brilliant, Nellie, just absolutely-”


 

“I am not dating James Potter!” I cried, and Moose finally shut up for a moment.


 

“Just putting out for him,” Jack supplied, and I hexed him so quickly that he didn't even have time to yell.


 

“You were going to pimp out Nellie and I?” Beck asked Moose as Jack hopped around, his legs and mouth fused together as if they had been glued shut.


 

“Only if we lost to Slytherin,” he replied with no remorse whatsoever, and although Cicely looked extremely indignant Beck merely shrugged, as if she rather understood where he was coming from.


 

“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint,” I rolled my eyes, and Moose sort of sighed, like he actually was really let down.


 

“It’s fine,” he told me, rather glumly, and then clapped his hands together. “Warm-ups! Two laps!”


 

We all began running except for Jack, who tried to take a step and then promptly landed face first in the mud.


 

“Nellie,” Kato called as we looped around the first goal posts, and I fell slightly back behind the rest of the group to meet him, pushing my two French braids out of my face as I did.


 

“What’s up?”


 

“You’re not serious, right?” Kato asked. His eyes were trained straight in front of him steadily as we ran, like he didn’t want to look at me, and I mirrored his body language as our pace matched up. “Like, Moose was joking. Right?”


 

“Erm,” I struggled, trying to come up with an appropriate answer.


 

“So you’re dating him.” Kato said flatly, and it didn’t take a Ravenclaw to detect the disdain in his voice.


 

“No! I barely even know him!”


 

“Then, Nellie,” said Kato, rather patronisingly. I resented his tone. “You can’t fraternise with the enemy like this.”


 

“I can,” I shot back, not denying that he was, in fact, the enemy.


 

“He’s tried to kill you!” Kato accused, as we slowed down from our laps. “He’s insulted and embarrassed you repeatedly!”


 

“Charlie Finnigan tried to kill me,” I said, but I didn’t deny the other two because I couldn’t, no matter how much I wished they weren’t true.


 

“Just - don’t date him.” Kato came out with finally, as we approached the rest of the group, where Beck and Benjy were heckling Jack and Moose was already yelling at Cicely about something.


 

“I won’t,” I said, but even as I said it I knew it was already a worthless promise, especially because not four hours after that I found myself journeying back from the Gryffindor Common Room, James Potter by my side like he had been for the past couple nights or so.


 

“That was fun,” he commented lightly, as we turned the corner into a dimly lit corridor I didn’t quite recognise.


 

“It was,” I said, and I meant it.  We had studied in his room, a task that was more unproductive than useful, but I didn't really care that I hadn't finished my work, not when the benefits of slacking in that situation so vastly outweighed the cons. 


 

“You know, there is a broom cupboard over there. We could continue what we-”


 

“Piss off,” I laughed, shoving him slightly, but he only smirked harder.


 

“I’m serious, Burke,” he said, and now I honestly couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not.


 

“Well, I-”


 

“No, Sirius,” James grinned, the kind of smile that was wide and uninhibited. “It’s my middle name. I’m Sirius.”


 

“How many times have you used that joke?” I asked drily.


 

“No more than twice this week.”


 

“You’re truly a revolutionary,” I deadpanned, and he shrugged as if to say, I just can’t help it.


 

“What’s your middle name?” James asked after a pause, and even though it was a simple question - innocent, really - my shoulders automatically tensed up and the previously relaxed corners of my mouth twitched down.


 

“Why do you want to know?”


 

James stopped walking and leaned back easily against the stone wall, his face illuminated by a nearby torch. “It’s getting a bit old just calling you Cornelia. I need something else to rile you up with.”


 

I stopped walking, too, cocking my head. “Well, you’re out of luck because I don’t have a middle name.”


 

James stared at me for a moment until a scowl settled across his face.


 

“Yes, you do,” he countered, and I hated the way he could always tell when I was lying.


 

“I don’t.” I crossed my arms. “Don’t ask me about it again.”


 

“Why?”


 

“Because,” I said as my answer, starting to walk down the corridor once again.


 

“Are you always this guarded, or is it only with me?” James accused, and his words were so sharp that I whipped around to glare at him.


 

“I’m not guarded at all.”


 

“You are,” he said. “I can read you better than you want me to, and you’re not someone who opens up easily to people, maybe even at all.”


 

“That’s not true-” I tried to protest it, but he was already stepping forward, his short temper ignited as quickly as tinder in a dry forest.


 

“It is. What about with the letter, when you were in that alcove?”


 

“That’s because that was fucking private-”


 

“But everything’s private to you, Cornelia, isn’t it?”


 

Screw you-”


 

“It’s a simple question, Burke.” Potter crossed his arms, mirroring my already defensive position.


 

“We both know it’s not,” I said angrily, and I didn’t know why I was so upset at his prying but I just was.


 

“Then just answer me. Why are you so closed off?”


 

James Potter could see right through me, see me more than anyone else ever had with so little time of knowing me, and because that scared me I continued to stare stonily at him, even as he took another step towards me.  


 

“There’s this dark side to you.“ His voice was now low and husky, and I could feel his breathing grow more ragged, eyes darkened and hooded. “What made you like this?”


 

Stop trying to paint me as your victim,” I said harshly, because it was true, truer than any other way I’d tried to peg him before. He was attracted to me because he saw my slight weaknesses, and God did they turn him on - they kindled something deep within him that would only be satisfied once he had fixed me or figured me out, whichever came first. I was nothing but an obsessive distraction to fend off boredom, a preoccupation with a jagged-edged puzzle that was supposed to come out as a pretty picture once it was put back together again, but I wasn’t the edges or the puzzle or the picture because I wasn’t going to allow myself to be his fucking metaphor.


 

“I'm not. Jesus,” he said harshly, but the tiny flick of his eyebrow gave way to the truth. “I just wanted to know more about you.”


 

“Really?” I asked coldly. “Or did you want to figure me out? You’ve said it before - something’s off about me. So, what is it, Sherlock? Solve the mystery yet?”


 

“Fine, Burke,” snapped James, and now he was just as angry as I was. “I don’t want to know anything about your life. Is that fucking better?”


 

“Yeah,” I retorted. “It is.”


 

“Good,” he spat.


 

“Fine,” I shot back.


 

“Fine,” he said, and before I could respond his lips were crushing against mine and I was pulling him to me with all my might, grabbing his hair, wrestling with his jaw for the upper hand even as my shoulder blades clashed against the hard stone of the wall: trapped and cornered, his all-too willing prey.


 

I had meant to resist. But he had known exactly what to say and what to do and how to sound, and once the heat of his skin was close enough to feel but far enough away to crave, that was it - the fuel to the fire.


 

The problem was that James and I - we were the fire, as we took up oxygen and burned skin with clenched fingers and brushed flames across cheeks, and we couldn’t be stopped or controlled - we didn’t want to be, and that strangely intimate passion and excitement was too enticing for me to turn away from, even though I should have, God, I should have.


 

But perhaps the thrill of it all wasn’t my undoing. Perhaps it was merely him; with his sharp tongue and soft whispers and the way he always seemed to come back, no matter how many times I told him not to. Perhaps it was the manner in which he held himself, the way his eyes lit up when he allowed my given name to spill from his lips, Cornelia, like honey from a beehive and smoke from a cigarette all at once. Perhaps it was all of this and more, so much more than what I could put into words, but it didn’t matter in the end. It was all of it; it was all of it; it was all.


 

 


Author's note: Two updates in one week?? Clearly I've had too much free time. The next one is a little bit of a shorter chapter but with a LOT new revelations and drama, and then after one after that is a bit longer. Until then, please please please review! It gives me so much inspiration!

 

 



 

Up next...A story of patrol partners, salads, and lover’s quarrels.

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