Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise. Clark Kent is trademarked to DC comics.
I surveyed myself in my silver encrusted mirror one last time before going out into the foyer where my grandmother was surely already waiting for me. I was dressed in a floor length deep red velvet gown, with a rather low dip in the neckline and a backing that stopped only just above the curve of my lower back. It was undeniably more sexy than any of the dresses my grandmother had ever chosen for me, and with a sinking feeling I knew why: she was beginning to prepare me for finding a husband.
The thought sent a shiver down my spine, which was soon followed by another as the grating sound of Esmeralda Burke’s voice permeated through the thick walls and into my bedroom. I took a deep breath to steady myself - calm down, it’s just one night - but before I could ready myself to exit my room the door burst open of its own accord.
“Cornelia,” my grandmother clucked, and instead of a hello or another sort of greeting, she snapped, “What have you done to your hair? It looks dreadful.”
“I haven’t gotten it trimmed in a little while-” I started, and Esmeralda immediately tutted disapprovingly.
“Madame Tremont will fix it right away as she does your makeup. Back straight, child. I hope you haven’t been slumping for four months straight.”
“I have,” I told her, and her lips puckered together slightly before she turned away. She was so distant and so mean that sometimes it was comical, and while I knew she was nowhere near funny - she was extremely dangerous on her best days - I couldn’t help but be a bit proud that I was able to successfully antagonise her just a little.
“Go to the West powder room where Madame Tremont is waiting. And tell her not to cut it too short; you are not a commoner.”
“Certainly,” I bowed my head obediently, but when she walked out I stuck out my tongue at her back like I used to do when I was a child, Adam usually making more obscene gestures along with me.
Madame Tremont bustled around me in her usual urgency, occasionally making small noises of disapproval or disdain which I chose to steadfastly ignore. Once she was done, my hair was a few inches shorter, curled slightly at a length just passed my shoulders. There were intricate braids crossing the back of my head and my face was pale and eyes fierce, with no sign of imperfections or weakness.
Like a true Pureblood.
We departed from the Manor at around eight thirty, even though the annual Christmas Ball held at the Ministry of Magic officially began at seven. This event was not as exclusive as the Amesbury Gala which was solely for a certain demographic of the European Purebloods, but it was just as important for families in my community - the increased diversity of guests offered more business opportunities and schmoozing rather than just simple gossip. To attend was a clear political move, and so for the decades that the Ball had been a tradition the Purebloods upheld.
The Ball was located in the Atrium, a wide ambient space decorated for the occasion with gold and black christmas ornaments and purple vines crisscrossing atop the ceiling. The moment we entered and found our table (conveniently adjacent to a couple of other Pureblood families) I spotted Scorpius on the other side of the huge room, sporting dark robes that contrasted brilliantly with his pale hair and skin, but strangely Draco was nowhere to be found, an exception I noted with disappointment. Behind Scorpius was Albus and surprisingly Flynn, who I was certain the Potters must have brought along as a plus one. But I thankfully didn’t see other Potter or Weasley children - in fact, I couldn’t recall any of them but Albus ever attending this, Al only making the exception because Scorpius and I used to beg him to come. At tables around the Potters were the usual participants: the Averys, the Rosiers, a Mulciber or two, and my eyes were still scanning the room when they landed upon a woman standing directly across from me.
She looked exactly the same as she did at the Amesbury Gala in August. Her hair was pulled back into a bun at the back of her head, dark skin smooth and accentuated by her sharply high cheekbones, dress robes a deep royal blue with gold accents. But it was never any of those features that captivated me; it was her eyes, those dark, foreboding eyes that seemed to stare into my soul and reveal secrets I wasn’t even aware of myself. Her gaze bore into me like a perceptive drill, and I was suddenly overcome with the acute need to speak to this mysterious woman, to understand why I seemed so drawn to her. Without even realising I took an unconscious step in her direction, but just as I did a hand came down on my arm, clawing and purposeful in its grip.
“Cornelia,” Esmeralda pronounced, and the sound was so sickly sweet that my mind jumped back into a panicked attention. “You’ll be dancing now with a very suitable partner.”
She gestured to someone behind me, and when I turned around I was met with the sight of none other than Christian Flint.
“Nellie,” he said quietly, holding out his hand and refusing to look me in the eye. Robotically I extended my arm and he took it carefully, leading me out into the middle of the dance floor and then placing his hands so gingerly around my waist like I was a hot stove and he was afraid to be burned.
We swayed back and forth for a few seconds in silence. I glanced around the venue, scoping out the doors, and as I did I noticed that the strange woman was somehow gone, disappeared from all angles even though she had been nowhere near any of the exits.
“Nellie,” Flint finally spoke, and I flinched internally at the sound of it. “I’m so very sorry if I hurt you in any way that night.”
I didn’t respond, just focused on the feeling of my feet on the ground, moving them in time with the music: back one step, over one, forward, back again.
“I was an idiot, okay? I was drunk, and I’d had a crush on you for so long-”
“That’s not how you treat a crush.” We met eyes for the first time, and he had the good sense to appear remorseful and ashamed.
“I know. I am incredibly sorry,” he pleaded. “And I would’ve stopped myself before anything bad happened, but I’m also glad someone else did.”
“You disgust me,” I said, but my voice shook slightly, revealing my weakness - and now that I knew how dangerous it was to appear weak in front of him, my panic began to rise. “If we weren’t in a room full of distinguished people, I would hex you until you couldn’t even remember your own name.”
“You wouldn’t,” he said, but it wasn’t malicious, more...beseeching. “Look, I know I was way out of line, and I’ve apologised profusely. Can we just put it past us?”
I opened my mouth, and then closed it.
“We’re going to have to, you know,” he continued. “We’re dancing for a reason, Nellie.”
My stomach dropped to the floor, and I felt unbelievably dizzy all of a sudden. “They’ve decided?” I asked hollowly, my vision blurring for a moment.
“No,” Flint shook his head. “Not yet. But soon.”
Another wave of dizziness hit me and I scrunched up my eyes and took a deep deep breath, trying to force it to pass.
What do you do, when you’re confronted with a situation like this? Forced to interact with someone who is so repugnant and vile that they take up space deep in the crevices of your thoughts and give you jolts of fear at even the slightest mention of them? Someone who was once a friend, who is human, who understands the wrong they’ve committed, who didn’t really do anything that bad, anyways, compared to all the other terrible things in life? What the fucking hell are you supposed to do?
“May I cut in?” A voice spoke from behind me, and my eyes flew open at once.
“I’m afraid I have this dance, Potter,” Flint replied. “I don’t think her family would be too happy if I left halfway through.”
Christian glanced at me, and if I hadn’t known better I would have thought he was concerned about my wellbeing. He couldn’t not be contemplating what I was - Esmeralda Burke, her infamous track record, the methods she threatened people with and the even more horrific ways she followed through on them - but he must’ve been only thinking about himself and what she could do to him or his family if we didn’t dance together like we were meant to.
But James - James Potter had no idea about any of that. And yet, his hand was on my arm with light pressure, and his thumb was rubbing methodical circles onto my skin, as if he knew how unnerved I was, and even as he was doing this he was speaking with such murder that he had to care about me - right?
“Let go of her now,” James growled, “or I will turn in my memories from that night to the Headmistress and you’ll be expelled.”
Flint released me at once, and I felt a breath that I wasn’t aware I had been holding woosh out of me as he retreated through the thick crowd of couples, glancing back at me with an almost fearful gaze.
“I didn’t need saving,” I told James immediately, but my voice was still quiet with the hint of a distant tremble, and from the way his lips tightened together I could tell he disagreed with me. “Really,” I repeated, as he wound his hands around my waist and tugged me gently closer to his body. My legs felt strangely weak and all I wanted to do was to collapse into him fully, but I wouldn’t let myself act vulnerable any more tonight.
“It wasn’t about you,” said James, quietly. “It was about me. I couldn’t bear to see him touch you after what happened. Okay?”
My mouth opened slightly in surprise. Even after most of our interactions ended in a fight for the upper hand, James had let me take the power in this situation - in fact, he had just given it to me when I didn’t even deserve it - and it was always a bit startling how perceptive he was.
“Look, if you don’t want to dance with me, I get it. I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” he continued, and the way his tone was void of its usual swagger and importance made me glance. Real emotion flooded his words making them seem naked and translucent, and his eyes were so intense that I had to instead focus my gaze on anything other than them.
“It’s okay,” I assured him. “And I’m fine.”
James narrowed his eyes. “I’m not stupid.”
“Could’ve fooled me,” I retorted. I could feel him glowering at me, but I kept my eyes faithfully trained on the hollow of his neck.
“Your hair is different,” he commented after a couple beats of silence.
I finally glanced up at him. “I cut it.”
“It’s nice.” he grunted. Now he was the one refusing to look at me as we continued our path around the dance floor, and as we did I slowly became more and more aware of the feeling of his hands on my sides and his chest close to mine. With every step I allowed him to pull me a little closer, and with every movement the energy between us seemed to build and build and build, sending heat into my cheeks and hollow pangs deep into my abdomen.
The song ended, but while the couples around us stepped back from their partners and bowed formally James didn’t let go, instead wrapping his arms tighter around my waist and letting his hand trail slightly downward onto the bare skin of my lower back.
“James, what-” I said, rather breathlessly.
“If you think for a second that I’d let you go tonight,” James murmured huskily, “you’re wrong.”
And now I could truly feel it, the desire and heat swirling in the air becoming more and more palpable with every breath I took and every second that went by, but I wasn't ready to give into its enticement yet.
“I still don't like you,” I told him, but he merely smirked; the action was so cocky and annoying, and yet I found myself so utterly and completely attracted to him that I really didn’t care.
“We’ll see about that.”
“Seems a bit presumptuous, don’t you think?”
James laughed a little, his teeth pearly white against the tanned olive of his skin. “Cornelia, you’re just too charming.”
“Oh, so now I’m charming?” I challenged. “Big step up from pathetic.”
“It is, isn’t it?” His lips twitched slightly, but then he grew serious once again. “I find you more disarming than charming, actually.”
I frowned despite myself. “Disarming?”
He nodded. “I think it’s your eyes.”
My eyes. My emerald coloured eyes, identical to the ones of my grandmother. And all at once, reality came rushing back to me - we were at a Ministry Ball, where every Pureblood family was, where my grandmother was, where wandering eyes were the norm and gossip the prefered mode of conversation.
“We can’t dance, James,” I told him, glancing around me. “Not here.”
James nodded, as if he had expected me to say that. “Then let’s just sit down and talk for a bit. Please.”
“No, I’m serious,” I pressed on. “If my grandmother or anyone sees me with you, I’m dead.”
“Better that than forced to dance with Flint-”
“No,” I shook my head as my thoughts flitted to Adam and the scars that painted his arms. “James, if she sees us, bad things will happen.”
James finally seemed to understand that I wasn’t kidding, and he took my hand gently.
“So, we don’t let her see us,” he said, and then we were twirling around again as he danced us through couples and people, straight to the opposite end of the venue and out one of the exits.
As James led me through empty hallways and past dark offices, we didn’t speak and we didn’t let go of our hands until we came to a secluded staircase and settled ourselves on the bottom steps.
“I owe you an explanation, I think,” James began immediately, probably taking advantage of my unusual submission, and that’s when everything came rushing back and I remembered I was supposed to be angry at him.
I shrugged noncommittally, once again avoiding his gaze. “Only if there’s one to give.”
“There is. Look, so, it’s like this - I didn’t actually sleep with Marina.”
Out of all the things I expected him to say, that was certainly not one of them. “Pardon?”
“Well, I did,” Potter amended, still in that hurried sort of speech, all jumbled up. “But I didn’t do anything with her. We were talking and I was so pissed I fell asleep and then I woke up and she didn’t have on all her clothes so I thought we had - you know - and then I left and found Fred and came straight to you because I was so upset with myself even though nothing actually happened.”
“I...don’t...understand." Every word was pronounced slowly, as if I were unsure of how to say them in the first place.
James exhaled. “Marina and I had been hooking up occasionally for more than a year. It’s never been anything serious; we’d play around when there was there was no one else we were interested in, and stop when there was. So when I was-” He stole a sideways glance at me, but I kept my face impassive. “She got jealous. Especially because I told her I didn’t want to do anything with her anymore. And, don’t get me wrong. She’s a good person. She just…she likes a certain image, and she’s very good at getting what she wants.”
“This doesn’t explain what happened.” I said quietly.
James shot me a look. “I’m getting there. On that night, after you left I was a bit...agitated, and I drank a lot. And she was there, and she told me she was sad about something and asked me to go back to her dorm so we could talk about it. And I followed, and I was so pissed that I ended up passing out mid conversation. And so I thought I had slept with her and I was so furious with myself that I just wanted to tell you, but when I asked her about it later she told me the truth - that she had just taken off her shirt so that word would spread we hooked up.”
“And you expect me to fall for that?” I asked, half offended he would expect me to believe such a tall tale, and half already taking his story as the truth.
“One of my best mates Marley lives with Marina, and she says I went from talking to sleeping in a second,” he defended, but it wasn’t aggressive, more him just stating evidence for the jury. “And there’s no way she would lie about anything like that. She hates Marina, actually.”
“So…” I frowned with the concentration of setting everything straight. “You came drunk to tell me you slept with someone else, but you didn’t really actually sleep with her, but everybody else still thinks you’ve done it?”
“Yes.” James Potter nodded once, the movement firm and without uncertainty.
“Hm.” It was a shockingly complex story, but it was even more shocking that I actually believed him. Maybe it was because I knew Albus so well and maybe it was because when I decided to trust James at the Quidditch hearing he had proved himself right, but as I looked at him I just knew he wasn’t lying to me.
“So,” James shifted slightly on the step, and I realised that he was actually nervous for my reaction. “Are we cool?”
“Yeah,” I told him after a moment, and I knew that I meant it. “We’re cool.”
“Cool,” he said, and I could tell that he meant it, too. We lapsed into silence for a moment, and it occurred to me that we never really were quiet, since we were always arguing or flirting or some ungodly mix of the two, and I wasn’t sure whether I appreciated the tranquility or needed to shatter it.
Perhaps the latter.
“I can’t believe we managed to sneak out of there,” I marveled, leaning back on the steps slightly. “Especially with the eyes that are always on you.”
James glanced at me, furrowing his eyebrows slightly. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, c’mon,” I rolled my eyes at him. “You are perfectly aware of how you look.”
James shrugged, in that nonchalant way men always do when they secretly agree with a compliment. “Are you aware?”
“Now you’re fishing for compliments?” I feigned shock. “Wow, you know, you’re also really just so modest-”
“No, about you,” James interrupted. “Are you aware of how you look?”
My confusion must’ve been evident, because he continued.
“Because when you yelled at me that first day on the Hogwarts Express, I swear every single person in the car’s eyes were on you.”
“And, what about your eyes?” I asked, low and weighted. “What were they on?”
“Fishing for compliments, now, are we?” James teased, but then he grew surprisingly serious. “I thought you were beautiful,” he shrugged. “And angry, which was hot.”
“Oh, good,” I snapped, but I wasn’t mad, not really. “I’m glad the validity of my anger really gets you going-”
“Oh, it so does,” he smirked at me, and then frowned slightly. “I wonder why we never crossed paths before this year. I mean, you’ve been best friends with Albus for ages.”
“I don’t know,” I said, thoughtfully. “I guess to me, you were just...loud.”
James wrinkled his nose. “Loud?”
“Not in speech, but in personality. You would walk into a room full of a hundred people and become the centre of attention immediately. I don’t know. I think because it irks Albus it irked me, too.”
”It irks Albus?” James asked. I was slowly starting to understand his emotions through his reactions, just now beginning to recognise the brief flits of real emotion through his usually controlled expressions.
“It does,” I told him. “I think he’s felt so overshadowed that he hasn’t even wanted to try to be closer with you.”
James frowned again, deeper this time, and I was surprised at how seriously he was taking my words. “I’ll have to make more of an effort.”
I nodded, secretly pleased. “That could be good.”
James turned to look at me, full on. It was always a shock at how breathtaking he was, with his hard jaw and high cheekbones and light eyes, but somehow his beauty seemed less intimidating now more than ever.
“I like it when you’re honest, Burke,” he murmured. “Not many people are to me.”
“I like it when you don’t treat me like I’m less than the dirt on your shoes.”
I don’t know what made me say it. But I knew that I needed to, now, before anything went further, if not to protect my future self than to validate my own past concerns, and I think James understood that because he licked his lips once and sighed, the sound heavy with guilt.
“I do have a tendency to do that, don’t I?” he murmured.
“Yes,” I said, unwaveringly. “You do.”
James sighed once more and then nodded, as if he were thinking. “Okay,” he finally murmured.
“Okay.” he whispered, and we sat in silence for a moment.
I could feel the heat in the air again, creeping into my veins and flushing my skin, and I knew he was feeling it too. Because we were always like this, hot and electric and addictive, and as he shifted closer and ducked his head towards me my anger was forgotten. And just like they always did, stupid butterflies in my stomach began swooping - soaring - and my heart rate was so much faster than normal, and I could feel his eyes traveling all over me but still I held out, savouring my last shred of self control before it was inevitably destroyed.
It felt like an eternity until I finally let my gaze meet his. The light was reflecting off of his eyes, igniting the gold flecks in his irises like embers in a fire; they burned with ferocity and desire and something else - some element that I couldn’t quite place - but it didn't matter, because his face was so close to mine I could see the cliff of every eyelash, the cracks of his lips, the field of pale freckles that stretched out over the bridge of his nose.
“If you ask me to kiss you, I will,” said James. His voice was low and strained as his light eyes searched mine for answers I didn’t have, and I could feel my body instinctively curve towards him. He stroked the inside of my wrists with his fingertips, and that simple action was all it took for my desire to overpower my rational thinking.
“Kiss me.” I whispered.
Our hands found each other in the darkness, and although at first we touched in tiptoes and kissed in whispers, we soon became more confident, more bold in the way that we pushed ourselves into one another, craving to be closer and closer and closer even when there was no more space to take. There wasn’t much we could do, in ball gowns and dress robes, but still his hands coveted the small of my back like a prize; mine grabbed hungrily at the nape of his neck, stretching to clutch his hair in between my fingers.
And even though we were so cliche, hooking up in some deserted staircase in the middle of a party, it felt like something more, something important, something so vast that it would affect the way the world spun and the universe functioned for infinities to come.
“D’you know what you want to do after Hogwarts?” I asked him. We were still lying on the staircase, my head resting on his lap, his fingers entangled in my hair, playing with it gently so that the pins holding my hairdo together didn’t move out of place.
“Curse breaking. My Uncle Bill does it, and it’s absolutely wicked.”
“The Quidditch players of the professional world,” I pronounced and then smirked. “Why am I not surprised?”
“So characteristic,” James agreed, but then he grew quieter, pronouncing each word as if he had thought individually about every single one. “It’s more than that, though. It’s - it’s the mystery of it. The ancient secrets of the ruins. I don’t know, it’s solving puzzles, but instead of all the pieces being laid out on a table it’s like you’re in a universe with a fourth dimension. You never know what’s going to happen, what properties you’re going to discover.”
Wow. The way he explained it was beautiful, in a way. I’d truly never found someone as silently brilliant as James Potter, and he was somehow more of a paradox to me than ever before.
James glanced down at me, and I realised I had yet to respond to him.
“That seems amazing,” I told him, and I think he could hear the awe in my voice even though I fought to keep it out. “Did your parents want you to play Quidditch?”
“Nah, they’ve known about curse breaking for awhile. But I know the rest of the world is expecting me to play.”
“Oh, what a burden,” I said dramatically, flinging my hand over my forehead. “You have to let down the entire world-”
“Piss off, Burke,” James said, but he was laughing, and this new sort of banter was so natural and easy that I couldn’t help but laugh too. “What do you want to do?”
“Not a clue yet,” I said honestly, and as I did James sat up a little, shrugging the dress robes off of his shoulder and revealing the most ridiculous garment I had ever seen anyone wear in all of my sixteen years.
“You’re kidding me.” I said flatly, because James Potter was somehow wearing a dress shirt with short fucking sleeves, like Clark Kent or some paper salesman or something equally as ludicrous.
“What? I get warm easily, I’m very hot, you see,” he smirked, and I rolled my eyes at his confidence. “And I may or may not have lost a bet with Fred to go out in public in this.”
“You definitely just wore that of your own accord,” I disputed, and then my eyes settled on something on his arm. I’d seen a little bit of it before, but it always managed to slip my mind whenever I thought to ask, so now I did just that. “What’s your tattoo of?”
James glanced down at his arm, almost in surprise. “You’ve never noticed it before?”
“I actually haven’t spent that much time staring at your biceps,” I noted drily, and he laughed, the sound of it full and free, a rare noise for him.
“Shame,” James pouted, as if he actually was disappointed, and then held out his arm towards me. “Well, then, see for yourself.”
It took me a moment before I recognised exactly what the dark shape was. But strangely enough it wasn’t gaudy or overdone; instead, it was fierce and strong, with dark lines and sharp eyes and just enough shading to look realistic but not overtake the entirety of his arm.
“A dog?” I asked after a moment, and then it dawned on me what it meant. “Oh, my God. Like Sirius, in the constellation?”
“Yeah,” James grinned. “Something like that.”
“So you got a tattoo of your own middle name,” I drawled. “And you get upset with me when I call you egotistical?”
“Well, technically it’s of Sirius Black’s name,” James corrected me, but his tone was light. “But it’s also my Patronus, and it means a lot to my dad. I thought he’d be mad when I got it, but he was actually really pleased.”
“Well, I really like it,” I admitted, and I think the way I was so transparently honest made him happy, because he smiled a little just as his eyes grew dark and hooded.
“Yeah?” he murmured, lifting me up slightly so I was upright again.
“Yeah,” I murmured back, and then I looked down almost bashfully, but as I did I happened to glance down at his watch and see the time. “Bullocks - we should get back. They’re probably missing me.”
“You’re not that popular, sweetheart,” James grinned, and even though I laughed and tried to poke him in the stomach, I began to pull him rather quickly from our hiding space, anxiety growing with every step.
Stupidly, foolishly, I had forgotten where we were. Who I was. And in retrospect, it was my fault for leaving the ball with James Potter in the first place, for allowing myself once again to be sucked into the strength of his magnetic field and lose sight of the things that were truly important. I was still so happy and flustered and giddy from the way the night had gone that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not have James’s hand in mind, which is perhaps why I kept holding it all the way back into the middle of the venue, where no sooner did I glance around did Calliope Yaxley appear in front of us. Seeing her was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart: I was suddenly wide awake again, heart racing, once more aware of my surroundings, and it was an utterly terrifying feeling.
“Why, hello, James!” Calliope exclaimed, before I could say anything. “And-” she paused, pretending to do a double take, mouth rounded in mock surprise. “Nellie! Last I saw, you were dancing with Christian! But, where is he?” Calliope looked to the left and then the right with fake wide eyes as the cold, calculated glint of her dark irises told a different story. “My, my, this is quite a turn of events, isn't it?”
“You're not going to tell, are you?” I asked, low and urgent, pleading, and even though I could feel James staring at the pair of us utterly lost, I could only focus on the girl standing in front of me, her midnight hair slicked back and her eyes steely and cold.
“I don’t think I have to.” And then Calliope smiled; it twisted her features with a sickening victory, and as I followed her gaze, past the ice sculpture and the the dancers, I was met with a pair of sharp, emerald green eyes.
“No,” I managed to whisper, as Calliope grinned wider and made to move past us.
“See you around, Nellie. Or, you know,” Calliope added as an afterthought, speaking from over her shoulder. “Not.”
“What was that about?” James asked. My hand was slack in James’s grip, but still he held on, squeezing it tightly so I was forced to look up at him.
“She saw,” I said hollowly, my lips barely moving. “Fuck.”
“Who saw what?”
“My grandmother saw us together - Fuck!” I hissed, as another wave of terror washed over me, sick and urgent in the way it seemed to press down on every cell in my body.
“Why does it matter so much to her?"
“It just does, fuck I’m going to die-”
“I need to find Scor-“ I began to say, and then I remembered that I was no longer speaking to him. But those trivial things didn’t seem to matter right now; in fact, they barely even registered as I glanced around the venue wildly, trying to locate just one friendly face.
“He, Al, and Flynn already went home with my parents,” said James. “Look, you need to calm down. It’s just your grandmother. Don’t be so theatrical.”
“Theatrical?” I asked incredulously, ripping my hand away from his.
“Yeah,” James raised his voice to match mine. He was annoyed now, clearly, and his eyes were back to that cold, distant look that always made me feel so fucking inferior to him. “Theatrical.”
And though I knew he didn't know what my grandmother was like - who she was, what she had done, what she would inevitably do - I was still so furious, so offended that he could go from caring and talking to me and being a human one minute to his stupid unforgiving façade the next that the facts he was missing didn’t seem to matter.
“You know what? You’re right. I’m being theatrical, stupid, even, so have a nice, peaceful night, and I’ll see you when I see you.”
“What,” James laughed once as I turned my back on him and began walking quickly towards the exit of the venue; the sound was full of a cruel sort of derision. “You can call me egotistical every time you see me but you can’t handle me telling you you’re being a little melodramatic?”
“Oh, I can handle it!” I called. “Have a great night!”
“You, too!” he called back, just as sarcastic and childishly, and the sound of it made me want to scream, to ball my fists and stomp my foot and kick the fucking wall with all of my might.
But I didn’t. I nodded at those I recognised as I walked calmly across the floor to the exit. My posture was perfect; shoulders back, head tall, chin up. Pureblood and proud, the way I was meant to be.
The second I was out of view from the main party, I bolted. I was in a Floo and hurtling towards the East Library fireplace within seconds, and even though I tumbled out clumsily I scrambled up and sprinted into my bedroom, locking the door behind me as fast as I could.
Briefly, I thought about sending a Patronus to Adam, but I couldn’t even produce a strong enough one to send, and I couldn’t ask Adam to come back here and face Esmeralda again; I wasn’t that selfish. I was stronger than that.
So I decided to run.
I changed out of my gown in a flash, leaving the smooth fabric in a pile on the floor, the velvety red splashed against the dark floors like a bloodstain. As I pulled on my jeans and trainers I was thinking about what else I needed to pack as necessities - I would leave all of my Hogwarts things here to hopefully retrieve later - and as soon as I’d Accio’d everything I wanted I stowed my wand in the elastic of my waist for safekeeping.
I couldn’t go to Malfoy Manor - Draco loved me and would help, but I wouldn’t want to put him in that position of trying to hide me, not when he had already done so much for our family. No, I would go to Adam; even though he was away for Quidditch until just before New Years, he always kept his Floo gate unlocked - the idiot - but in that moment I was eternally grateful for his carelessness.
The library was as dark and as still as I’d left it five minutes before, and so without bothering to turn on the lights or take out my wand I made my way to the fireplace. But without warning that familiar sort of aura I seemed to get frequently hit me like a ton of bricks, and as everything fell into place I knew before she spoke that she was already in the room, and that something would go wrong very soon.
“Cornelia,” her voice drifted across the library like a canary’s warning, and I immediately stiffened.
“Grandmother,” I turned. She was sitting in one of the stiff armchairs in the corner, almost completely shrouded by the shadows, but I could see the outline of her form and the glint of her eyes: steely and unforgiving.
“The Flints are extremely interested to know why you left their son alone in the middle of a dance for a blood traitor’s son,” Esmeralda Burke said quietly. “They thought that you and Christian would make a fantastic pair, but now they’re not so sure.”
“I would never so much as touch him,” I said before I could stop myself, and I braced for the worst but Esmeralda only smiled.
“The Burke’s have had thousands of years of perfect lineage, and your brother has already destroyed the chance of continuing the legacy of our name. But,” she rose slowly out of the armchair, and I automatically took a step back. My wand was hot against my skin, as if it was urging me to use it, yet I didn’t make a move to grab it.
“But perhaps, when he sees what will become of you,” Esmeralda continued, “he will reconsider.”
“He will.” she restated, in that same calming voice that betrayed more danger than a yell ever could.
“I thought Adam ruined our family,” I said, almost desperately, just to keep her talking. “Why would you even want him to come back?”
Esmeralda’s expression grew dark, and with it the atmosphere of the room shifted; my wand was practically burning into my skin, now.
“It’s not him that was the original problem - it was your mother who selfishly besmirched our name irreparably.”
And at that I froze, since Esmeralda hadn’t mentioned my mother since she the day she dishonored us - and in my moment of pause her wand blurred through the air, and I had no time to react before I was flying, flying towards the wall opposite and hurtling into the cold stiff stone of the fireplace. I hit the ground with a thud hard enough to shake the tall bookcases around us, but in a flash I had pushed myself to a standing position and was reaching down my front to retrieve my wand, which had mercifully survived the fall.
“Don’t you dare!” Esmeralda snapped, and I managed to duck as an orange flash of light shot right above my head, sizzling into the stone of the wall. “You will do as I say, Cornelia, do you hear me? You will continue-” another curse, to my left, “our legacy-” a third, closer to my waist, “or face the punishment!”
At that exact moment she sent out another beam of light, and as I turned my body slightly for protection at the last minute I realised that was my fatal mistake.
“No!” I gasped, as the spell cut my neck, and before I had time to react another one had come my way. I felt the curse slash my wrist and I gripped the wound immediately, even as I screwed my eyes shut and concentrated on the only place I knew where someone I trusted was, and I was spinning on the spot just as another spell sizzled through the air and sliced in between my shoulder blades, and then the library was gone as I was thrown into a painful world of darkness - a black hole, a barren vacuum, a cold and empty universe.
Author's note: Well, there you go. Merry Christmas and please review, especially since the next chapter is clearly going to be exciting and with lots of revelations. Hope you enjoyed learning more about James (and realising he's not the worst person in the world after all)!
Up next...A story of dark magic, Casa Potter, and cool.
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