Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise.
The room wasn’t anything special, really. It was rather messy, as most teenage boys rooms were, with clothes littered on the floor and an old couch in the corner and piles of unimportant memorabilia strewn over desk and wardrobe surfaces.
A poster of the Chudley Cannons was plastered to one wall, and, while the wall opposite appeared to have been charmed to show red and gold colours, a rather tattered Slytherin banner hung over it, complete with various burn marks and tears.
The room was peaceful, almost preserved, even as footsteps as loud as thunder hammered nearer and nearer, while I swayed in the center of the room like a flame flickering on a candle; sway, flicker, flicker, dim...
“James, I swear to God, if you just Apparated into my room...!” Albus warned, and then he was in the doorway, two others directly behind him.
“Hi,” I said meekly, attempting to fix my face into something resembling a smile, but I was panting, breathing hard, so it came out as a grimace.
“Corn?” Scorpius gasped, and I could see the colour drain from his cheeks as his gaze traveled from my eyes downward.
“I’m fine,” I said airily. As I said it, I could feel blood seeping through my collar and running down my back and soaking through my sleeve where I clutched my arm tightly, determined to stop the flow.
“What the hell happened?” Flynn pushed past Albus and Scorpius, who merely stood staring, to come over to me.
“Esmeralda,” I said bitterly, as an explanation, but none of them were focused on my words, and now I wasn’t either, because as someone said, Your neck is bleeding, and someone else said, No shit, Sherlock, a wave of dizziness hit me, so powerful that I instinctively dropped the hand clutching my wrist.
“Oh, my God,” said Scorpius shakily, and even though the room was spinning and and he was spinning and I was spinning I understood why. Because as I looked down, I could plainly see that the cut on my arm was not a cut, but rather a gash - a gash that began to gush blood down my hand and onto the floor with an alarming speed that wouldn’t slow, no matter how hard I tried to cover the wound again.
“Mum, get in here, now!” Albus yelled, and I felt my muscles give out just as Flynn reached out to hold me, and in another second I was on Al’s bed and Flynn was using one of the white linen sheets to wrap around my arm as tightly as he could manage.
“What, Al? Oh!” Ginny Potter appeared in the doorway, and I knew I must’ve looked worse than I thought. “Harry? Harry!”
“The sheet’s not helping,” said Flynn urgently, and suddenly there was so much going on as Albus pulled away the soaking red linens away from my wrist and turned pale, and Ginny called for her husband once again and Lily Potter sped in, her eyes wide, followed closely by Mr. Potter who was wearing a flannel pajama set and looking horrified.
“What happened?” he demanded as he took out his wand and knelt by Ginny, who was muttering healing spells as quickly as she could manage.
“Oh, no, no, I’m fine - it’s really nothing compared to what she did to Adam,” I babbled breathlessly, as I remembered huddling behind a door frame while my brother’s skin was slashed, again and again and again until he could hardly stand. “At least she spared my face, but I should’ve seen it coming.”
“At least?” Scorpius snarled, and I knew he was beyond angry about the situation I was in.
“What is she talking about?” Flynn asked urgently from where he was hovering somewhere near my head.
“I’m fine,” I tried to assure him, but I was taken aback by how little energy I had to get the words out. “I’m really okay."
“The one at her wrist hit the artery,” muttered Mr. Potter, just as there were two loud cracks from the floor below, one right after the other.
“Mum!” A voice floated up the stairs, and I stiffened at the sound. “Fred’s sleeping over!”
“Lily, go distract them,” ordered Mr. Potter, and Lily dutifully ran out the door and down the stairs.
“This is strong magic. These won’t stay closed for more than a couple of seconds.” Ginny spoke after a moment. I could see the look she exchanged with her husband, and I felt Scorpius’s grip on me tighten in response.
“Albus, Flynn,” Mr. Potter turned to his son, his voice so calm and steady that he could have merely been commenting on the weather. “Wait downstairs, please.”
“What? No!” They both protested, but Ginny brandished her wand and they were both sent flying out the door, leaving only Scorpius remaining as he clutched onto my hand like a lifeline - but who was the salvation for, me or him? I couldn’t look him in the eyes; they were too full of worry and pain, and as my vision blurred together like raindrops on a window I began to think that if I allowed myself to look at him, his eyes would be the last thing I would ever see.
“Nothing is working and she’s going to lose consciousness,” muttered Mr. Potter. “We need a Healer.”
“Angelina - we can have…FRED!” Ginny bellowed. “Get up here, now!”
There was a distant crack, and then with a loud bang Fred appeared in the middle of the room, just where I had a few moments ago.
“Yes, my dear Aunt - holy shit,” he said, his face draining of colour so quickly that instinctually my mind tried to tell my hands to reach out to him in case he fainted, even though my limbs didn’t respond to my brain’s command.
“Get your mother. Tell her Nellie was cut with dark magic and that we need lots of blood replenishing potions. Quickly!”
Fred nodded, glancing at me fearfully, and then with another bang he was gone.
“Oi! Mum! Did you just make Fred leave?” James yelled, pounding up some staircase that sounded strangely far away, like it was happening in a far off location and merely playing into my ears as an echo.
“Nellie, can you try to keep your eyes open?” Mr. Potter asked sharply, shaking me slightly. I hadn’t realised that they had fallen shut, but now the effort of prying them back open and keeping my head upright was becoming drastically more difficult.
From the hallway - “What are you two doing out here?” A pause. “Al, what’s going on?”
There was no response, and a few moments later the door burst open - and, through all the dark and light and bright neon colours that seemed to cloud my vision, there was James Potter; a beautiful marble statue in the doorway as he stared at me wordlessly, frozen with confusion and horror and something else I couldn’t quite place.
“What...?” he managed to choke out hoarsely, as I tried to open my mouth, I’m fine, go away, but as he took a hesitant step towards me I found that I could say nothing.
“Stay downstairs with your brother-”
“Oh my God - Is-is she-? Please tell me she’s - Mum, is she okay?”
“Corn, open your eyes,” Scorpius said urgently from my side, but I couldn’t; my eyelids were too heavy, too persistent in the way they forced themselves down, and besides, I had never been much of a fighter anyways.
“Cornelia!” James was by my head now; I could smell him but I couldn’t see, couldn’t control my mouth enough to tell him to leave, James, just go, but his hands were stroking my cheek - I could tell they were his by the warmth of them, by the way they lingered on my skin - and I was calm even as there was another crack and then a sharp voice.
“Get them out, now.”
“If he stays, I stay!”
“If you want her to live, then get out of the way!”
Their voices began to seem far away and muted; the only thing I could hear clearly were my breaths as they came out of my nose, more and more slowly, a tempo of waves crashing to the shore, in with the tide, and out again; in and out, in and out.
And then I opened my eyes again and I was in a bed with clean linen instead of bloodstained sheets. For a moment I was panicked - where the hell was I? - but then I remembered everything that had happened - the ball, Esmeralda, apparating to the place I knew Scorpius Malfoy would be.
But I certainly didn’t foresee the entire Potter family witnessing my injuries, or ending up in one of their guest rooms, from the look of it. The walls were painted a pale yellow, creating the illusion of light even as a glance out of the window told me it was still too early in the morning for the sun to be out, and as I sat up slightly I realised I was not alone.
He was sleeping in a rocking chair next to the far side of the large bed, his feet resting on a change of clothes from my trunk that had been folded neatly off to the side. For a little I just sort of watched him, because he looked so peaceful and unconcerned when he never was when he was awake, but after a few minutes I got bored of him snoring and I poked his foot with mine, my leg still under the comforter.
“Hey,” I nudged him again harder, and he shot up immediately. For a moment, we just stared at one another - him wide-eyed, me blearily, until he jumped out of the recliner and sprung into action.
“I’m supposed to have you drink this,” he said. He fumbled with the lid in his haste to get it open and then watched me drink silently, his pale blue eyes never once leaving my face.
“Was he home?” Scorpius asked after I’d set down the empty glass.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Probably not. But you know that wouldn’t matter.”
Scorpius exhaled slowly. His hair was messy and matted, and the bags around his eyes were startlingly purple against the rest of his skin. It reminded me of how he looked after I was hurt in Quidditch, and with a pang of guilt of I realised it was probably a déjà vu sort of experience for him, to see me almost die.
“You’re okay?” he asked finally, and as I looked back at him I nodded. This had been an outcome so inevitable that the question had never been if, but when. And now it was when, and although it was frightening, it was how we always knew it was going to go. If Adam hadn’t been evidence enough, then other families like ours were. This was the life we were forced to endure, and although Adam’s attack marked the end of his relations with our family I wasn’t naive enough to think that my accident had been enough to sever ties.
“So,” I said, after a couple more moments of silence. “You and Rose.”
Scorpius immediately grew anxious; I could see it in the lines around his mouth and the way his eyes grew large and fearful. “I’m so sorry-”
“Just tell me everything. Start with how it happened,” I suggested, when he didn’t respond at first.
“This summer. We’d always be arguing and then it would turn into us hooking up,” Scorpius explained, choosing his words very carefully. “And then, one day, I realised I enjoyed arguing with her, because it meant that I got to talk to her. Hold her attention. So I asked her to be my girlfriend, and after a whole, like, manifesto about feminism she agreed. And so we snuck around for months, always asking people to switch patrols so we could get some time alone, and in public we still pretended we hated each other.”
I considered this.
“I don’t understand why you didn’t just tell people. Why you didn’t tell me.”
“We wanted it to work,” Scorpius exhaled. “You know? Without the whispers. And at first we didn’t even know what we were doing, and it was just easier to hide rather than admit to ourselves that we actually cared about one another.”
“But you do care about her,” I said, and it wasn’t a question but it needed an affirmation.
Scorpius held my gaze as he nodded once, sharply. “Yes.”
“Do you love her?”
“Yes,” Scorpius answered again, so instantly that I couldn’t have doubted him if I tried. “I wouldn’t have done it like this if I didn’t.”
“I’m still mad you didn’t tell me,” I said.
He closed his eyes briefly. “I know.”
“I mean, you took away five months I could’ve been heckling you about going soft on me, and that’s absolutely unforgivable. Now I’m going to have to make up for lost time. Maybe take a leaf out of Flynn’s book and compile a list of ways to tease you.”
Scorpius’s eyes flew open as he laughed, and the sound was so surprised and relieved that it made me smile. “Thank you for understanding. I love you so much, Corn. I’m so sorry it happened like this.”
“I know. I’m happy for you, Scor.”
He looked up, so eagerly that it made him look like a child, sweet and innocent, hopeful. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” I murmured, and even though I could feel myself slipping back into unconsciousness I didn’t fight it.
I don’t know how long I was asleep for, but the next time I awoke sun was streaming in through the windows and it was not my cousin sitting in vigil by the side of my bed.
I could almost feel the energy radiating off of him. He knew I was awake, and I knew he could feel me staring at him, but he didn’t look up, not even as I sat up slowly.
“Hey,” I said, softly, and then I waited until he finally raised his head far enough to meet my gaze.
“You have a habit,” he said, “of scaring the shit out of me.”
“Sorry.” I couldn’t bring myself to argue it. My voice was sore from underuse, and I wondered how long I’d been unconscious for this time.
“This is the second time I’ve seen you almost die,” said James quietly. “I’d quite like to never again.”
“Weren't you admitted to the Hospital Wing something like twelve times last year?” I countered, and the slightest hint of a smirk flickered across his otherwise gaunt expression so quickly I wasn’t sure if it had really been there.
“I thought you said you never kept tabs on me,” James responded, still in that same dull tone.
“Oh, come on,” I rolled my eyes, determined to improve his foul mood. “Every time you got injured there would always be that whole group of girls who would go around, taking donations to get you peonies or something stupid like that.”
James just stared at me until his mouth straightened back out into a somber grimace. “How are you feeling?”
“Loads better, now that I'm not continuously bleeding out,” I said airily. I thought that some humour would do good to lighten the mood, but clearly I read the room wrong: at my comment, James closed his eyes as if in pain, and when he opened them he was more sympathetic than somber.
“I’m so sorry she did that to you.”
“It’s fine,” I said shortly. I don’t know why I felt so uncomfortable with the way James was looking at me - like I were something to be pitied - but I was, and I knew I had to say anything to get him to stop. “I only have to see her twice a year, anyways.”
“What will your parents say?”
“She controls them, too.” He didn’t respond to that, and I sighed. “Look, it’s just how it is with the Purebloods. Either you follow the patterns or face the consequences.”
“But why don’t you tell people things?” he asked abruptly, suddenly glaring at me. “You could’ve told me - anyone - that you were in real danger last night, but you didn’t. You didn’t want to tell your friends after Flint hurt you, either, and when your spleen was fucking exploding you tried to play it off like you were fine. Why are you so resistant to getting help?”
“Because I don’t need it,” I replied automatically.
“Oh, no,” James said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “No, you clearly manage just fine on your own.”
“Well, it’s not like you’re exactly the kind of person I’d want to act fragile around.” I retorted, brushing the stray hairs away from my eyes so I could glare right back at him.
“You think that’s what this is?” James asked incredulously, his dark eyebrows coming together in frustration. “Acting fragile? Asking for help is a necessity, not a weakness - Christ, Burke, why didn’t you fucking tell me? About any of this?”
He was angrier now, and I could tell that the more he knew the more his temper would grow out of hand, so I closed my eyes, hoping my apparent tranquility would cause him to act the same.
“There was nothing to tell.”
“I wouldn’t have left you. I would have brought you straight to our house in the first place-”
I forced my voice to be calm, even though I was anything but. “James, it was inevitable that this happened-”
“It wasn’t! You told me she would hurt you,” I couldn’t see him, but I knew him well enough to know how he was when he was stressed; he was pacing, his hands grabbing at the hair in the back of his head, pulling it hard. “I thought you were being fucking dramatic!”
“This isn’t your fault,” I snapped, opening my eyes again, and I was more than slightly annoyed that he had yet again managed to make something that didn’t concern him about himself.
“The hell it is!” James yelled, and then seemed to register that his temper was much too elevated and sat back down, glowering at the floor petulantly.
He was angry at me. That much was obvious. But I found the way he was furious at himself to be the most intriguing, not because I never thought him capable of self-loathing, but because he really did blame himself for my injuries, and I realised it was less about him acting self absorbed and more about him feeling guilty.
But that didn’t change the fact that I didn’t want to talk about my family or what had happened with him, and so I waited until his breathing was back to normal to change the subject.
“I have to get changed.”
“Well, I‘m not leaving,” said James stoutly, finally looking back up at me. “So change wherever you want, but I’m not going anywhere.”
I thought about arguing it, but I didn’t have enough energy to keep fighting with him. In fact, as I sat up a little more in bed I realised I was too weak even to stand on my own, so I was forced to merely turn my back on him and pull the shirt over my head slowly, every movement unwelcome and foreign to the muscles in my back.
As the loose shirt I had been dressed in came to rest on the mattress beside me, a low hiss escaped from James’s mouth.
“What, not as pretty as you imagined it to be?” I said bitingly, but he scoffed audibly enough for me to understand that wasn’t what he was reacting to.
“No- what are those bruises?” he snapped, as I reached for the sweatshirt on my right side, groping around blindly until James slid it to my fingers.
I shrugged, the movement feeling so stiff that I winced, and then was immediately glad that I wasn’t facing James. “Probably from when she blasted me against the wall.”
I worked to get the sweatshirt over my head, feeling strangely out of breath from the simple motion, and finally when it was on I faced James again.
“Can you just forget about this? Please?” I implored.
James stared at me a moment, before standing up and coming to sit carefully beside me on the bed. I hadn’t noticed it before, but the dark circles underneath his eyes were just as pronounced as Scorpius’s had been hours before, and his five o’clock shadow had grown out into something that could only be called a scruff.
“I will if you answer one question.” James said. His voice was low and hoarse, weighted with significance.
My mouth tightened, but I nodded. “Fine.”
He turned to look at me full on, and although I didn’t want to see the hurt in his eyes I could. “How much other stuff like this has happened to you? That you don’t talk about?”
I think he asked knowing he wouldn’t get an answer. That was the thing with James; he was a quick learner, but he always wanted to know more, wanted to figure every little detail out so it could fit nice and pretty into the cognitive schemas he created inside of his head. But I wasn’t made of neat lines and clean breaks so I didn’t respond, but perhaps that silence was more of an answer than my words could ever be.
“Cornelia,” James breathed, and then he was wrapping me up in his arms and leaning slowly back on the bed so that he could hug the entirety of my body from head to toe. He smelled like the sun and musk and James, and that’s how I fell asleep: in his arms, warm and comforted. Finally safe.
James was gone when I woke up, replaced with yet another visitor.
“Hi,” I said sleepily, and Albus looked up from the book he was reading, his eyebrows slightly raised like they always sort of were.
“Hey,” Al smiled slightly. “Do you want some water?”
I nodded, and as I reached out for the glass he was holding I noticed the bandages that were covering my arm had been removed.
“How am I already healed?” I asked in wonderment, holding my hand up to the light to gaze at my own smooth skin.
“Aunt Angelina found the right potion. She couldn’t get them not to scar though.”
I nodded, lowering my arm. I had expected that, seeing as how when Esmerelda got angry at Adam he was taken to Mungo’s and couldn’t get his fully away either.
“Where’s Flynn?” I remarked after sipping the glass of water, and Al grinned.
“He had to go home last night,” Al rolled his eyes. “His mum wanted him back before midnight. He did give me a letter to give you, though.”
Al handed it to me, and I skimmed through it quickly.
You’re a fucking idiot, Nels. You looked so bad when you almost died I seriously can’t believe I ever dated you. Scared the shit out of me though so don’t do that again or else Al will have another hell of a cleanup (my shite, not ur blood). Or if you do, have it be at Hogwarts so that I can try to use you as a pickup line again. Cheers mate see you soon! Xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo Flynn
“He has such a way with words,” I snorted, tossing the letter back onto the comforter, but his sentiments had strangely warmed my heart.
“Doesn’t he?” Al smirked. and then hesitated. I could tell he wanted to say something, but Al was perceptive and tactful; he could tell just from looking at me that it wouldn’t be received well, and so he merely rose to his feet and cleared his throat slightly.
“Erm, Lily is bringing you breakfast now. I ‘spect you want a few minutes to yourself?”
“You know me too well.” I smiled at him. We both knew I wasn’t just referring to his previous comment.
“I do,” said Albus, almost ruefully, just as Lily Potter came into view down the hall, holding a tray with juice, an omelette, pumpkin bread, and toast. Albus slipped out of the room just as Lily came to the door, but she didn’t go all the way in; instead she just sort of stood there, appraising me rather critically.
“You really didn’t have to do this,” I said to her, and she moved forward to set the tray down at the end of my bed. “I’m probably fine to walk around now, anyways.”
“My mum says you need to stay in bed for at least another few hours,” Lily told me, moving back to lean against the doorframe again. “And I really wouldn’t argue with her if I were you.”
“Oh, I won’t,” I promised quickly, since Ginny Weasley sort of scared the crap out of me.
Lily raised her eyebrows at me, but said nothing else, just kept staring. Her hair was red and silky and made for a stark contrast from the dark mess that her brothers had, but her eyes were the exact same shade as Al’s and her nose resembled that of James’s, making their relation obvious.
“Erm, thank you for the omelette,” I said. Lily didn’t move. “It’s really nice of you,” I tried again. No reaction. “Thanks for letting me bleed out in your house?”
“What’s going on with you and my brother?” Lily Potter asked bluntly, as if she hadn’t heard any of what I had just said.
“Nothing,” I sat up a little straighter. “Al’s one of my best friends-”
“No. The other brother.” Lily narrowed her eyes slightly.
“Oh.” I didn’t know what to say.
Lily moved, closing the door slightly with her foot and taking a step forward. “Do you want to know what I think?”
I didn’t really, but before I could tell her so she plowed on.
“I think that Al is one of your best friends, and he was freaked when you basically died on his bed, and Scorpius was absolutely distraught, but James? He practically had to be sedated. So, I think that there is something going on with my brother, and you don’t have to tell me I’m right or wrong - I know I’m right - just know that he’s not as cool as he makes himself out to be.”
It took me a moment to collect myself after such a declaration. “Cool?”
Lily rolled her eyes impatiently. “You know how he acts. He’s not really that cool,” she emphasised. “He always cares a little too much or too little. He’s not cool.”
I couldn’t see what she meant at all - James Potter was the definition of cool, with his icy distance and impenetrable demeanor - but still I felt like I should ask. “So which one do I fall under?”
“That’s a dumb question with an obvious answer,” Lily narrowed her eyes again. “Just be careful.”
I wasn’t pretending to be polite anymore as I leaned forward. “Be careful with what?”
“With him.” Lily shot me a final sharp look before slipping back out the door, allowing it to fall shut with a loud bang.
Although I didn’t particularly like Lily Potter, I had the notion that Beck Davidson would get along splendidly with her.
After breakfast and another couple of potions I felt strong enough to get out of bed and move around but Ginny Potter insisted I continue to rest, finally allowing Al and Scorpius to bring in a table and play Exploding Snap while I watched from atop the bed, fully dressed. I’d forgotten how much I just missed being around my cousin, and although it was under dire circumstances I was almost glad everything had worked up to us being able to sort things out.
It was early afternoon when Mr. Potter rapped on the door and politely asked Albus and Scorpius to bugger off so he could speak with me. At first I thought he was going to make me still lay in bed while he sat at one of the chairs, but instead he gestured towards the other and I stood on my own two feet for the first time since last night.
“I need an official statement, Nellie,” Mr. Potter started kindly once I sat down.
“I don’t have one to give,” I said softly, looking down at my hands. The damage had been done, and I wasn’t naive enough to think that something as small as this could even put a dent in the power of the English Purebloods. Whatever I said, Esmeralda Burke would refute with words and with gold, and that would be the unmistakable end of it. There was no point in filing any charges; she had said it herself - she wouldn’t quit unless either Adam or I changed our minds, and making such an incident public would only drag on the ordeal.
“Just, explain to me what happened,” Mr. Potter requested. “From when you left the Ministry Ball.”
I took a deep breath before looking Harry Potter square in the eyes. “There must have been an intruder in my home. I don’t remember anything after changing my clothing from the ball. I must have Apparated while nearly unconscious.”
Mr. Potter raised his eyebrows, then met my gaze with a pity that I neither wanted nor deserved. “That is the exact statement your brother made three years ago.”
I held his gaze, choosing my next words carefully. “And what has the Ministry done since then? To apprehend the accused?”
Mr. Potter knew exactly what I meant, that I was referring to the lack of power the government had against the families I was intertwined with, but instead of pressing it further, he merely sighed; the sound of it was heavy, like he had been carrying the world on his shoulders for years.
“You’re safe now, Nellie. We can help you-”
“It won’t be necessary.” I said clearly, and it was so convincing I nearly believed it myself.
Mr. Potter looked at me for a few moments before speaking again. “Over the years I’ve gotten to know Scorpius very well, and he has been very honest with me about the severity of your situation.” I didn’t say anything as he leaned forward. “If you ever need anything - a place to stay, protection, funds-”
“You’ve already done so much for me,” I broke in, not wanting to hear the rest of his generosity for fear that it would be too tempting. “Thank you.”
Mr. Potter nodded, evidently unsurprised by my refusal, but he appeared to be a bit more relaxed all the same. “Will you be returning to that home eventually?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “This summer, probably.”
“Hm,” Mr. Potter said, and although the tension returned to his shoulders he said nothing else.
There was another knock on the door for what felt like the fifteenth time that day, and Scorpius poked his head in, immediately followed by-
“Adam!” I squealed, and as soon as I stood up Adam was wrapping me in a bear hug so strong that my feet were lifted off of the ground for a moment.
“God, it's good to see you," Adam murmured into the thick material of my sweatshirt, and I squeezed him tightly before taking a step back so that I could see his face.
"I missed you," I said honestly.
“We both did,” said Scorpius, and Adam turned to him, clapping his hands upon Scor’s shoulders and looking him up and down.
“You’re definitely taller,” Adam pronounced, and Scorpius grinned proudly. “How’s Draco?”
“He’s good,” Scorpius nodded. “Wanted to know if you two wanted to come for dinner in a couple of days. He actually wanted me to ask you if he could move Nellie into the Manor, actually.”
Adam sort of paused at that, and then looked away from Scorpius and towards Harry Potter. “Can I have a moment alone with Nellie for a second?”
“Of course,” Mr. Potter nodded, and the two of them dutifully trailed out, Scorpius shooting me an indiscernible look as he shut the door behind him.
“When I told you to kiss a Muggleborn or a blood-traitor, I was joking,” Adam snapped the second the sounds of their retreating footsteps had faded, and I recoiled against his uncharacteristic anger. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“What was I - you ran away with a Muggleborn! I just danced with someone!”
“You know that doesn’t fucking matter,” Adam said harshly. “Jesus, I thought you were smarter than this, Corn!”
“And I thought you were on my side,” I retorted. “But I guess once you got out you didn’t care enough to help me get out, too.”
Adam exhaled, crossing his tan arms over his chest. “That’s not fair.” he said finally, voice considerably lower.
“It is, though.” I bit my lip, my voice as quiet as his. “I see you, what, three times a year? Maybe an extra few days during the holidays? And then you come here and try to lecture me?”
“I’m sorry,” Adam muttered, and his expression left no questions of sincerity. “I just didn’t want my decisions to influence yours. A part of me has always hoped you would just go along with the Purebloods, if that’s what would keep you safe.”
“I can’t do that any more than you could have,” I told him unwaveringly, and he nodded, his broad shoulders relaxing slightly as his arms dropped down to his side.
“I know. I wouldn’t want you to.”
I was about to say something else when there was a slight knock on the door before it was pushed open without hesitation.
“Adam,” Mr. Potter had already returned, his tone not unkind but not quite warm either. “May I speak to you for a moment?”
“I should really take Nellie home-” Adam began, but one look from Mr. Potter silenced him. As Adam followed Mr. Potter out, James slipped in, leaving the door slightly ajar behind him.
“Leaving Casa Potter so soon?” James leaned against the wall casually. He had washed up, from the looks of it, and I was suddenly overcome with the strangest of urges to run my hands in his damp hair and flatten it into something presentable instead of his usual artistic mess.
“I’ve been squatting rent free for a little too long,” I smiled wryly back.
“I like squatters,” James commented mildly, and then grew quiet, his eyes purposeful and searching. “Are you coming to Fred’s New Year’s party?”
“Yeah,” I said, having only just decided in that very moment, and I’d never noticed the way that the corners of his eyes crinkled up when he smiled until now.
“Good,” James told me, and from the way his eyes darkened and voice grew lower I could tell that he meant it. “I’m glad.”
I raised one eyebrow, the perfect picture of coy. “Are you, now?”
“Yeah,” he murmured, and he was stepping closer to me just as his father and Adam reappeared in the doorway.
“Ready to go, Corn?” Adam asked me, but from the way his eyes flickered to James I could tell he had seen the movement between us.
“I’m ready,” I told him, and then turned to Mr. Potter. “Thank you so much for everything. I really can’t put into words how much I appreciate you helping me and letting me stay as a guest.”
It was a lame expression of thanks, when in reality I don’t think I could ever find powerful enough words to acknowledge the amazing acts their family had done for me and my gratitude for them, but I think Mr. Potter knew what I was trying to get at.
“Anytime you need anything, just come by.” Mr. Potter responded, but strangely it sounded more like an appeal than a vacant offer.
“Good to see you, James,” Adam grinned. He clapped his hand on James’s shoulder hard, and then nudged me out the door, acting as a block between me and the eldest Potter, who merely smirked in goodbye at me from underneath Adam’s arm.
I bade farewell to Albus and Scorpius and thanked Ginny once again before Adam and I made it outside in the cold, walking a little ways down to Apparate. I was thankful that the Ministry had moved up the Apparition age to sixteen and even more so that all of our friends had enchantments on their homes so we could visit easily, but as I was still rather weak Adam insisted we walk outside the bounds of the Potter house so he could do Side-Along with me.
Adam waited until we were a good distance away from the home before speaking.
“Please, Nellie, don’t get involved with James Potter.”
“We’re already involved,” I told him, and it was true. I didn’t know what we were or what we were doing, but Lily Potter was right; something was going on, and it was both naive and futile to deny it any longer.
“Listen, Corn,” Adam stopped walking, and I reluctantly stopped too. “I played Quidditch with him for years. He’s my friend - I respect him - but he’s okay with hurting people. He’s done it before. And I don’t want that to be you.”
“I can take care of myself, Adam,” I said clippedly, even though a part of me twinged in response to his warning, but then I quickly pushed the feeling down, since Adam was last on a team with James almost four years ago.
“Can you?” Adam asked carefully, and I knew he was referring to the incidents of the night previous.
“I'm not doing this right now,” I snapped. “I’m tired, and I have a headache, and I just want to go to your flat, okay?”
A strange look flitted across Adam’s face.
“A headache? What does it feel like?” he asked, rather urgently. “Like, throbbing? Is there tingling down your back?”
“What?” I scrunched my face up. “It’s just a headache, Adam. I’m fine.”
He still looked troubled. “It’s almost January,” he muttered under his breath, seemingly more to himself than me, but I chose to respond anyways.
He only held my gaze for a couple of seconds before turning away, but it was enough for me to understand what he was hinting at.
“I don’t think about that.” I said flatly, shifting away from him slightly.
“It’s in three weeks and you don’t think about it?”
“No. I don’t.” I was now completely faced the other way as I hoisted my duffel bag over my shoulder once again. “Annabelle will wonder where we are.”
Adam sighed, but after a moment he offered me his arm and with a loud crack we were thrown into the uncomfortably tight vacuum of Apparition, a place of peace for me of late.
Author’s note: Wow I am really getting these out fast! The next two chapters are sort of a lead-up to Chapter 22, where everything really comes into light, but it’s also a place for Nellie and James’s relationship to develop (or to crumble. Who really knows with them). Let me know what you think with this chapter, especially on Nellie and James’s conversation! How are Ginny and Harry? Do you like Lily, or is she a brat? Reviewww!!
Up next...A story of the New Year, exes, and steak frites.
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