Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognize. Twilight: Stephanie Meyers; Little, Brown and Company. L’chaim is a toast meaning “to life” in Hebrew.
December had crawled into Hogwarts slowly, with no particular day or event being the sudden turnpoint between fall and winter, mild and cold. But now with the term nearly over it was objectively freezing, and so by default Mia and I were stationed in front of the fire in the Ravenclaw Common Room in order to warm up, our work ethic dramatically decreased by the imminence of break.
“For the last time, I’m not taking anyone to Hogsmeade,” I told Mia irritably, turning back to my Charms work since it suddenly seemed like a lesser trial than this conversation.
“Why not?” Mia pleaded. “You haven’t snogged anyone since-”
James Potter. Since we hooked up consistently and regularly enough for me to get my hopes up, only for him to humiliate and toss me aside like everyone told me he would.
“I think you just have terrible taste in men,” Mia continued conversationally. “I mean, we all know how shit Henry was to you, even if you never fully admitted it. And James is so obviously emotionally unavailable. You just really know how to pick ‘em, babe.”
“Comforting thought,” I muttered, and Mia patted my arm in a manner that I’m sure she thought was sympathetic but which so wasn’t.
Why had I been so upset about what happened? James and I hadn’t been anything defined. We weren't really anything at all - just two people whose planes had intersected more often than they had before. I didn't know anything about him, and I had forgotten that he crossed paths with everyone. What seemed significant to me was merely one of a hundred meaningless interactions for him.
But he did come to you after he slept with her, an obnoxious little voice in my head always reminded me. He did apologise, as if you two were something tangible, like it meant something to him.
But it clearly didn’t - not enough, anyways, and I realised all too late that that was a recurring theme with him. It was never enough - the pillowtalk and vibrancy and electricity didn’t balance out the egotism and selfishness, and so I came to the conclusion that it was best to let any thought of him go.
Potter wasn’t making that easy, though.
I didn’t see him other than occasionally in the Great Hall for meals or perhaps just as we were ending our Quidditch practice and he was starting his until I spotted him in a corridor one afternoon, his back leaning against the wall and gaze searching the masses of students like he was looking for someone.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see him straighten up as I neared, but I didn’t allow myself to change in demeanor, nor to respond physically at all when he spoke my name.
“Burke,” he said again as I passed, but I brushed by him without so much as a glance.
“Talk to me.” said James from behind me. His voice was demanding but some quality of it seemed more like a plea than a command, and as I kept walking like he wasn’t there at all without warning he grabbed my wrist and tugged me through a hidden door pretending to be a wall, leading us into a small spiral staircase.
“Get away from me,” I snapped, wrenching my arm away from his grasp. His own limbs dropped limply at his side immediately, making him look sort of deflated in a way.
“No.” The word was as cold and sharp as an icicle, and I knew he felt its sting as much as I did. I made to leave, but the door was hidden from me again, leaving me to grope uselessly around for some way to open it.
“You don’t get to call me that.” I said harshly, still attempting to find the door.
“Just don’t, Okay? I get it. I mean, she’s her and I’m just me-" The second it was out of my mouth I regretted how insecure and petty I sounded, and clearly James did too.
“Christ, Cornelia, that’s not it at all,” Potter snapped. “I just need to tell you how sorry I am, because-“
“Sorry for what? It’s not like we were anything.” The words seemed to trouble James as he took a step back, his eyes narrowing with displeasure, so I went on. “You’re free to do whatever you want to do, just as I’m free to do the same.”
“I wouldn’t have done anything if you hadn’t stormed out so bloody early-”
“Oh, so it’s my fault?”
“No!” he yelled, but I managed to push open the door and take off down the corridor before he could get another word in.
“We aren’t done,” James said urgently from behind me, his long strides easily catching up with mine.
“Oh, I think we are,” I called back, trying to keep my voice low so as to not attract unwanted attention.
“I’ll make a scene, right here in the corridor,” he warned, and I stopped my forward momentum reluctantly as he pinpointed the one thing that would make me willingly converse with him.
“Fine,” I muttered after a pause, and I really had no choice but to stalk into the nearest empty classroom with him right on my tail.
“If we weren’t anything then why are you so upset about it?” James asked without preface as soon as the door had fallen shut.
“We hooked up multiple times, you publicly declared that I was the object of your affections, and then came drunk to tell me that you JUST slept with someone else. Can you maybe imagine why I’d be upset?”
“Yes,” James nodded furiously, so obviously trying to backtrack his previous words. “Yes, I completely can, but you don’t know the whole-”
“What I can’t wrap my head around is why you felt the need to come to me directly after you finished with her. What, was it some bragging thing? Needed to boost your ego a bit with my reaction?”
“This must tie into your inferiority whatever-”
“Fucks sake, Burke, just listen to me!”
“You can’t always get what you want, Potter.” I quoted him from the broom cupboard a few weeks back, and it sounded especially vicious on my tongue.
His eyes burned into mine, mercurial and intensified. “I’m trying to tell you that I have, like, feelings for you and you won’t fucking listen-”
“None of that matters-” The words came out before I had registered what he said, and I stopped halfway through, my mouth hanging open with confusion.
James ran a hand through his hair and gave me the ghost of a smirk, the kind of face you make when you know you’re right and suddenly others do, too. “What, you’re not going to admit to fancying me?”
I recovered hastily, crossing my arms again.“Even if I did, it wouldn’t matter now, would it?”
“It would,” he said, and now there was no trace of humour anywhere in the way his sharp jawline was set. “I just need you to trust me-”
“I should trust you?” I asked, and I was certain he was deluded. “What, so you can shag Marina again and tell me it’s my fault?”
“You know what?” James took a step forward with a new vengeance. “Yeah. Maybe I will.”
“Good,” I spit like venom. “Fine.”
James nodded slowly. Just as his hand was on the doorknob, he turned back to me, his cold eyes burning.
“You’re a coward, Burke. You realise that, right? You’re pathetic.”
And I swear, I could feel my very bones rattle with the force of the slammed door.
“Most likely to get an O in Divination?”
“Milo-no, yeah. Definitely Al.”
“I’ve got one...Most likely to get bitten by a garden gnome and pretend it’s a dragon bite?”
“Didn’t he actually do that?”
“It was a really big gnome, okay!”
“Oh piss off, Klein-“
“Fine, you wankers - most likely to get bit by a dragon and pretend it’s a gnome bite!”
“Shut up,” I told everyone as they all pointed at me, lifting my head off of my arms so I could scowl at them in full view.
“Well, are we wrong?” asked Flynn lightly. “You pretended you weren’t injured when your bloody organs were shutting down.”
“I never pretended I wasn’t injured, I just was so injured I couldn’t even say anything,” I defended, and Albus sort of smirked so I pulled a face at him despite still half-leaning on my hands.
“Well, if the shoe fits,” Mia recited cheerily, and then smiled her little mischievous grin. “And it truly fucking does, babe.”
“Whatever,” I muttered, laying my throbbing skull back onto my arms gingerly so I wouldn’t exaggerate the pain further.
Milo prodded me with his quill. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I just have a headache,” I told him, and I tried to play my voice off as light and unconcerned, when in reality my head was pounding so violently that it took extra energy just to have my eyes open.
“Again?” Mia frowned, and she placed a hand to my forehead as if it would explain my condition. “How many has this been?”
“Two this week,” I glanced up again. “Four this month, thirteen this school year including the one on the Hogwarts Express.”
“Maybe you should go to Heldman,” Milo suggested. “Her headache remedy is infallible. It is made of kniffler dung, though.”
“Great,” I deadpanned, just as Scorpius sat down on Milo’s left. Immediately I straightened up, the muscles around my face tightening and pinching into something that was surely unpleasant, and I could almost feel the atmosphere at the table cool.
“So,” Mia said, awkwardly. I could sense Scorpius trying to make eye contact with me, but I stoutly refused to acknowledge him, just as I had been for the past week or so.
“Well, this is superbly fun,” Flynn exclaimed, after a moment of silence. “Nellie isn’t speaking to Scorpius, Scorpius isn’t speaking to Al, and Mia isn’t speaking to me.”
“And I have indigestion!” Milo added, not wanting to be excluded in any capacity.
“I’m speaking to Al,” Scorpius frowned. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because he basically told Nellie about you doing the devil’s dance with Miss Goodie Two-Shoes,” Flynn smirked, and Scorpius shot Flynn a deathly glare before glancing over to me.
“Now none of us are speaking to Flynn.” Albus muttered.
“Ah, Christmas,” sighed Flynn, contented and completely unbothered by the tenor of the conversation. “A holiday filled with tension and strife. I feel like I’m already home again!”
Flynn’s parents were divorced but still insisted on spending holidays together, an annual tradition that without fail caused immeasurable amounts of screaming matches and burning Christmas trees.
“Well, I better go get ready for tonight,” I said moodily, as everyone else was equally as unsure what to say or what to do or how to act.
“I’ll come with you,” Al offered purposefully, and Mia got up, too, probably to go see Will for a bit since it was undeniably much too early to actually begin preparing for tonight.
“Have fun!” Milo called after us, and when I turned around Scorpius had his head on his arms like I had moments earlier, Flynn patting him on the back as if with sympathy.
Albus, Mia, and I started our journey in silence, all with the same thing on our mind and none with any idea as to how to approach it.
“So you knew.” I started finally. Mia tactfully dropped to the side so that Albus and I were walking next to one another, but she wasn’t conscientious enough to leave us alone for such a talk.
“Not for the whole time,” Albus said to me, but it wasn’t defensive, more just a correction of a fact. “Since a few weeks ago.”
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
Albus looked at me, grimacing. “Rose asked me not to.”
That, I understood - if Scorpius had ever shared something private with me - not that he would, but if he had - then I would protect his secret at all costs, even if it meant hiding something important from Mia or Beck.
“But still, your best friend and your cousin pretended to hate one another and lied to you for months.” I pressed. “Does this not make either of you upset, even a little bit?”
“A bit, yes,” Albus admitted, and I knew that meant when he found out he must have been sore about it for at least a few days. As in tune as Al was with others’ emotions, he was usually so mild mannered that if he ever did approach a rare anger it usually petered out quickly and without dramatics. “But Rose and I don’t really talk about that stuff, so I was mostly upset with Scorpius.”
“What about you?” I turned to Mia, who had been so silent that I almost wondered if she were listening at all.
“I think I was a little hurt that Scorpius didn’t feel like he could trust us,” Mia said thoughtfully, and I was so surprised at her poised calm that I faltered a little. “I’m more upset for you, Nellie, because out of all of us he should have told you the second he even wanted it to happen. But...”
“But?” I asked warily. Buts were never good.
“But haven’t you noticed it?” Mia's eyes widened, and I blanched.
“Scorpius,” said Albus. “He’s so-"
“Happy,” Mia finished, Albus nodding reluctantly along with her. “Like, all of the time.”
I thought about that for a moment, as Mia bid us goodbye to go visit Will for a couple of minutes. Maybe I hadn’t seen it because I hung out with him less than usual this semester, or maybe I just really had been so absorbed with my own dealings that I’d truly overlooked it. But Albus and Mia were right; Scorpius had been lighter and happier this semester than any other, and suddenly I felt like the guilty one for not recognising it sooner.
It wasn’t until Albus and I were almost about to go in different directions that I spoke again.
“Are they good together?” The question was out of my mouth before I even registered that I had wanted to ask it. “Rose and Scorpius?”
Al stopped in the corridor. His black hair was sticking up in different directions like usual, but his green eyes betrayed such raw honesty that his lack of presentation didn’t seem to matter.
“Yeah,” he said, and the sound of it left no space for questioning or doubt. “They are.”
“I think I’m still a little sore with him,” I admitted, and Albus nodded, unconcerned with my lack of forgiveness.
“I would be surprised if you weren’t. I know it must be hard after all you two have gone through together. And...Scorpius mentioned that he said something bad when he got angry. About your family.”
Instinctively I glanced down and shifted my posture away from him, and I could tell he noticed from the way he stepped closer, like he was trying to corner me into admitting something.
“That doesn’t matter to me.” I deflected flatly, immediately annoyed by his intrusiveness.
“Are you sure? Scorpius says it was pretty harsh.”
“It doesn't matter, and I need to go get ready. See you in a bit.” I gave him a halfhearted wave without fully making eye contact, and as I turned the corner I could see Albus staring after me, his face furrowed into an expression I didn’t wish to decipher.
Mia and I arrived at Slughorn’s office about thirty minutes late, which was a success in and of itself seeing as how Mia usually ran hours behind schedule on a good day. My migraine thankfully disappeared the instant I began getting ready, and now I was dressed in a black form fitting dress, wearing a pair of Mia’s emerald green earrings as an accent. Everyone’s a slut for some colour-coordination, she had told me like it was an indisputable fact, but as I put on the earrings and observed the way they matched the exact shade of my eyes I had to agree with her.
The Slug Club Christmas Party was undeniably the most ostentatious and sought after event of every year, and Slughorn truly never disappointed. His office had been magically enlarged to fit what must’ve been at least a hundred guests, and the debonair aesthetic he usually prefered was gone, replaced with baubles and gold trimmings and mistletoe underneath every archway. Waiters dressed in white and gold uniforms perused the venue with smoking red drinks and intricate appetizers, and every so often a raucous bout of laughter would exult over the cheery chimes and bells of the music, exhibiting the mark of an already successful affair.
“I just think it’s so archaic to call it a Christmas party,” Mia sniffed as we both accepted a new glass of champagne, the waiter looking Mia up and down appreciatevely as we passed. “Like, Hogwarts is incredibly diverse. Not everyone celebrates Christian holidays, like me.”
Mia was half-Jewish, and although she actually did celebrate Christmas she was always throwing words like archaic and ethnocentric around to make her points.
“L’chaim,” I told her, raising my flute of champagne, and she beamed, slinging her arm around my waist and burrowing her head into the crook of my neck.
“I’m so glad you brought me as your date.” she told me. “You’re a knockout, babe.”
“Not standing next to you,” I snorted, and she swatted me reproachfully even though it was true. Mia was wearing a tight red cocktail dress, the kind that made her already large bosom and butt look larger and her waist as skinny as physically possible, and I envied her curves like nothing else.
“Don’t knock the priceless goods,” Mia reprimanded, and then looked me up and down again, her gaze settling on my chest. “And, wow do I mean priceless. Did you have Heldman grow them or something?”
“Shut up,” I muttered, crossing my arms, and Mia giggled and pulled my hands down so my front was back on full display.
“Nellie Burke!” someone squealed behind us, and while my first thought was of the Slytherins it turned out to only be Diana Jenkins - an annoying alternative but harmless nonetheless.
“Diana,” Mia and I both replied rather unenthusiastically, but as Diana's mouth was already moving she didn’t seem to notice.
“Wow, it’s been absolutely forever since I’ve seen either of you - Nellie, you missed the last Slug Club event and I swear to Merlin I was absolutely beside myself, I had no one to talk to and Phillip McSwain tried to sell me some love potions right as Slughorn was embarrassing Rose with a story about how her father had been poisoned by one, honestly it was mad-”
“I’m sorry I missed it,” I broke in helplessly, but Diana was turning to Mia, not even bothering to take a breath.
“And Mia! I can’t believe it - at the Slug Club before last I swear I told Nellie how William Davies and Ana Clearwater split up and now you’re dating him, how amazing is that?”
“Er...” Mia faltered, an unusual occurrence for her, and I could feel Diana shift from excitable acquaintance to journalist sniffing out a good story.
“Tell me all about it,” she leaned in forward, her dark hair nearly landing in my drink, which I hastily pulled away and downed in one gulp. “Is it strange dating a guy who just came out of a three year relationship? Is he as good of a boyfriend as he acts in public? Are you guys serious-serious?”
“We’re enjoying each other’s company,” Mia answered, diplomatically. With Diana it was almost like you were giving a high-stakes press interview: one wrong word and an exaggerated story could be the headline in the gossip circuit the next morning.
“You two are just so sweet together,” Diana gushed in the way she always did, excessive but genuine, and then turned to me with eyes as sharp as a hawk. “But Nellie, you and James Potter is even crazier than Mia and Will! I mean, the last Slug Club you two were at you were arguing like enemies, and now?”
“We’re still enemies.” I retorted, and I thought the way I said it left no room for questions but clearly I underestimated the prowess of Diana Jenkins.
“Enemies that snog at Gryffindor House parties?” she asked smoothly, and I cursed our previous lack of discretion in public.
“I really have no idea what you’re talking about,” I replied, Mia acting just as innocent beside me. “Anyways, it’s been so nice to see you, Diana, but I have to go find Albus for a moment.”
“Oh my God, it’s been so lovely to see you - we’ll talk later!” Diana squealed, waving goodbye with no sense of self-awareness or inhibition at all, and as we move past her I breathed a sigh of relief I wasn’t aware I had been holding.
“Jesus, that girl,” Mia muttered, and I was starting to agree with her just as I spotted a familiar dark head of curls right at the table of hors d'oeuvres opposite.
Oh, fuck me, I thought, and I turned around as quickly as I could manage but Fred was already moving towards us.
“Hey,” Fred Weasley called quickly, scrambling to get up from the barstool he was perched upon. “Nellie!”
“Hey,” I said warily, and I glanced over to my side for backup but Mia had already become sidetracked with some Ravenclaws in the year above - curse that girl’s popularity. “I didn’t know you were in the Slug Club.”
“I’m not; I’m here as James’s date,” he told me. “Speaking of which, you two need to talk.”
“Speaking of whom,” I corrected him despite the unpleasant pit that had just settled in my stomach. “And we have nothing to say to each other.”
“You know that’s a load of toad shite,” said Fred matter of factly, but his eyes narrowed slightly and I knew he wasn’t playing around like he usually did. “Yes, you guys were working up to something, and yes, James fucked it up and it was all completely his fault-”
“You’re not exactly helping your case, Fred.”
“But,” he continued. “It was a bit backwards for you not to say you liked him even when it’s so obvious that you do.”
“He seriously told you all of that?” I asked rather moodily, even though I had told Mia and Beck exactly the same thing.
Fred merely gave me a look, and it was such a motherly expression, full of a sort of cut the bullshit reproach that I almost felt guilty. “It’s obvious you have feelings for him, Nellie.”
“I don’t,” I said, and then again, more forcefully. “I don’t. Not like that.”
“Are you sure?” Fred asked me, not unkindly.
I nodded once. “Unequivocally.”
“Then come to my New Year’s party,” Fred offered rather smugly. “Over break. Al and Scorpius are already going, and you can bring Mia and whoever, I really don’t care. Just be there.”
Fucking hell, I’d underestimated Fred Weasley. If I lied and said that I couldn’t come, he’d know that I really did have feelings for Potter, so now I had to go to show that I actually didn’t care.
“Fine,” I said tersely, and Fred grinned widely: not quite gloating, but victorious enough for it to annoy me.
“See you later, then!” he called as I retreated back into the crowd, and I didn’t bother saying anything back to him.
We had only been at the party for an hour and already my energy was absolutely drained, even more so with the constant effort of avoiding people like Slughorn and Diana. I glanced around for Mia but she was nowhere to be found, and after a moment of that awful Oh My God I’m Alone At A Party Like A Loser panic I spotted Albus, leaning on the wall next to a large arrangement of seafood and sipping his drink every so often as he watched the scene.
“Having fun?” I asked him sarcastically once I was near, and in response he lifted up his glass of wine like a toast.
“This is my fifth, so yes,” Albus rolled his eyes but then unexpectedly grinned rather sloppily, and I giggled despite the foul mood I’d been in all day - all week, even. “You know, you really should try to drown your sorrows with alcohol more. I’ve found it very useful.”
“And what would your sorrows be?” I grabbed the glass out of Al’s hand and took a sip before he snatched it back, the greedy prat.
“Dress robes.” Al told me somberly, and I was laughing right as a red-haired girl around my height stopped in front of the two of us, wringing her hands nervously.
“Nellie,” Rose Weasley bit her lip, somehow not smearing her lipstick. “Can we talk for a moment?”
“Rose...” Albus warned, setting down his glass of wine on a nearby standing table, but she plowed ahead anyways without waiting to hear either Al or my responses.
“It’s my fault for not telling you so please forgive Scorpius, please,” she implored. “I didn’t know what I wanted for so long, and when I did I wasn’t ready for everyone to know so I made him sneak around and I am so sorry. It really wasn’t his fault and I don’t know how to make this up to you, I swear I’ve never done anything this awful-”
“It wasn’t awful,” I interrupted her hysterical rant. “And it’s not your fault.”
“No, it really is-” Rose pressed, eyes wild and beseeching, but I shook my head through her words.
“It’s not. And I’m happy for both of you. But Scorpius lied to me when he didn’t have to, and that’s on him, not you.”
Rose chewed her lip again, and she looked so dismayed that for a moment I thought she was about to cry. “Okay,” she nodded, finally. “I really am sorry, Nellie.”
“I know,” I smiled slightly, and in a truly Rose fashion she stepped forward and hugged me, wrapping her slim arms around my waist, and after a moment of discomfort I hugged her back, even though it just felt so weird.
“Nellie!” Mia appeared by my arm, right as Rose released me. “I swear there is a vampire over there, you know I’ve always wanted to meet one ever since I had that dream about Edward from Twilight-”
“Are you sure?” I tried to say, but Mia was already tugging me away all the way across the room and behind a thick curtain, where dessert was being served.
“There’s no vampire,” Mia said the moment we were out of sight from Albus and Rose, her voice a few octaves lower than before. “I just saw your expression and knew you wanted to get out of there.”
“Thank you,” I told her gratefully, taking a deep breath to steady myself from the conversation previous.
Mia looked at me, and her smile faltered a little. “Are you okay?”
“I just want to leave.” I muttered. Speaking to Diana and Fred had been wearisome enough, but the conversation with Rose had become the nail in the coffin. I didn’t want to drift around some stupid party with stupidly rich people like I knew I would have to in a couple of weeks anyways, and suddenly everything seemed rather pointless to me.
“Then let’s go.” said Mia simply. She was always down for a good time, but when you needed her she was steadfast and loyal, ready to drop anything for you at a moment’s notice, and all in a rush I just felt so thankful to have a best friend like Mia, someone who was so fierce and independent and yet could be so selfless when needed.
As we wove our way to the exit, I could hear typical partygoer sounds: silverware clinking, music swelling, Slughorn’s laugh bellowing over everything else, and one more unusual sound, my name whispered once, and then again from directly behind me.
“Yes?” I paused. My expression betrayed no hurt nor anger: just cold indifference, a strategy I had certainly learned from him over the past few months.
“Please dance with me.” James Potter asked, but his voice had a rather hoarse quality to it, like he hadn’t cleared his throat in awhile.
“Sorry.” I was already walking away, Mia a few steps in front of me, but this response required a pause and an over the shoulder glance with cinematic worthy line to follow it. “I’m too much of a coward.”
Author’s Note: I’m trying to get these out as fast as possible, and the next two are basically all written so they should be out very shortly. Please please please review, especially since the next chapter is sort of what I think as a shift in the plot and I want to hear what everyone’s thoughts are!! Thank you for reading!
Up next...A story of ballgowns, Sirius, and green eyes.
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