Disclaimer: JKR owns what you recognise.
It was sunny. That’s what I remembered most about it. The light of the sky was nearly blinding, as it stretched out over the wide plains, and I put a hand over my eyes, shading them from the bright rays.
It was just us, my mother and Adam and I. Us alone with miles and miles of rolling hills, and God, I just remember being so exhilarated, out in the open fresh air like that. My mother had brought a picnic, and after Adam and I chased each other around we settled down on her red checkered blanket and ate ham sandwiches and crisps. Mother wiped some mustard from the side of Adam’s mouth and so he smeared more on with his fingers and she laughed and laughed, her head tilted back up to the sky like an angel looking up to heaven, free and unburdened.
And then there was a loud crack and the grass was disturbed in the spot where my father had appeared. He was wearing his purple robes, his glasses slightly askew from the Apparition, and as he locked eyes with my mother she rose immediately, crossing the meadow to meet him where he stood, tall unmoving like a statue.
She said something to him, and then all of a sudden he grabbed each of her hands and leaned his head into hers, pressing their foreheads together until their noses were touching. It was the first time I had ever seen them interact in a way that was so intimate, so voluntary, and I stopped whatever I was doing, transfixed by their embrace. But it only lasted a couple of seconds; a moment later my father had Apparated away and Adam was running around again, my mother joining in like nothing had happened. Shrieks of laughter, cookies for dessert; soon, the visit from my father was forgotten, almost as if he had never even been there at all.
This memory always seemed so out of place in my mind. Fake, even, like a splash of colour in a black and white movie: probably accidental, quite possibly an optical illusion, most likely merely a fabrication of the mind. But that scene - the blinding sun, the shamrock slopes, and my parents, grasping hands, closing their eyes, touching their foreheads together - that was the memory that scared me the most. Because it was much harder not to care about someone when you knew that they once made you feel so complete inside.
The woman on desk duty at reception didn’t even glance up from her crossword as she spoke to me, her voice a dull monotone, probably accustomed to saying that word hundreds of times a night.
“Burke,” I said. “Cor-”
But I didn’t get a chance to finish, because the second I had uttered my last name she was ushering me through a set of double doors. Being in the vortex of Hogwarts I had forgotten what it was like in the real world. How far a name could take you; how much fear and respect it could illicit.
The receptionist gestured into a large waiting room with soft furniture and bright magazines, and I sat down robotically at one of the chairs, right leg crossing over left knee automatically, foot already jiggling in the air.
“You’ll be able to visit soon, Miss Burke. Please wait here while I retrieve your father’s caregiver.”
I nodded dumbly, and the receptionist gave me a strange sort of bow and backed out of the space.
I don’t know how long I sat there, in that empty waiting room. It must’ve been hours - I fell asleep at one point, only to wake up to the same fluourescent lights and yellow walls, still alone - but finally the receptionist came back in, her eyes darting around nervously.
“Miss Burke - this way, please.”
Woodenly I stood, and she led me further down the corridor and into a small white room with no furniture, where a nurse in a white smock and shoes stood by the door opposite the one we entered. The receptionist went over to her and whispered something, and the nurse immediately stepped forward to me, the kindness of her face not meeting the apprehension in her eyes.
“You must be Cornelia,” the woman spoke. Her voice echoed around the empty room slightly, and a shiver ran through my body that had nothing to do with the chill in temperature. “Follow me.”
The door opened without either of us touching the knob, and the nurse set down another sterile corridor, the walls and floors all just as blindingly white as her outfit. I felt dirty and out of place in my black turtleneck and pants until we came to a room 357, where the nurse stopped.
“This is his room. You can go in, now. He’s just resting,” she explained when I didn’t move.
I continued staring at the door, my feet unwilling to take the first steps. “What’s...wrong with him?”
“The Healer on duty will explain everything,” she told me immediately, but the words were too fast and flat, as if they had been rehearsed. “I’ll give you a moment alone with him while I retrieve the medical staff.”
I walked in to the hospital room slowly, like a death sentence. Every step I took squeaked on the waxy linoleum, and I tried my best to walk on the balls of my feet to not disturb the patient in the middle of the room.
Andrew Burke looked peaceful, and he looked as healthy as he had when I last saw him in September. His gray hair was neat and in place, his glasses still on his nose like normal. I couldn’t see anything physically wrong with him at all besides the fact that he was unconscious.
The door fell shut behind me with a soft click, and as soon as it did my father’s eyes flew open, and he sat up to face me in such a swift movement that I took a step back in surprise.
“Cornelia,” he said, licking his lips quickly, his green eyes darting all around the room, to the door, to the window, back to me. “You need to listen very carefully. We don’t have much time before they come back.”
“W-what?” This was already more words than he had spoken to me the entire year previous, and I was still so in shock that he was awake and even alive that I had no idea what to say.
“Listen carefully,” he repeated, so quietly that I had to take a step closer to his bed to understand him completely. “My injury was purposeful so that I could speak with you because you need to know everything now in case something happens. I’ve been ordered not to discuss anything with you and this was the only way.”
I had no idea what he meant, but still I fought to discern the meaning of it. “Ordered? By Esmeralda?”
My father shook his head impatiently, never once taking his eyes off of me. “No, no. I know too much, and soon you will too. I’m protecting you, but once you turn seventeen, I can’t stop it.”
“Know what?” I asked urgently. “Stop what?”
"You have a gift," I had to lean all the way in to hear him now. "A gift of knowledge. You will see things, Cornelia, things that others cannot.”
I shook my head, bewildered. “I-I don’t understand…”
“The headaches have started, haven’t they?” He bore his gaze into mine, his words still coming out as fast as his lips could manage. “And the dreams, too?”
My mind immediately flashed to the migraines and the strange dreams that always seemed to mimic something that happened in consciousness, but none of the scattered pieces made the slightest of sense to me.
“Please, just tell me what’s going on-”
“I’m sorry,” he continued, as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “I was never a father, and perhaps it was because I couldn’t be, knowing this, but others know, and they will come to you.”
Tears of frustration began springing to my eyes as I moved even closer to him, the volume of my voice rising. “Who?”
“They will come to you.” he repeated. “They will come, but you mustn’t trust anyone who approaches; only those you see. I’m going to protect you as best I can, but there’s only so much I can do without raising suspicion.”
Protect me? You haven’t done anything for me since you created me, I could’ve said, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel those powerful emotions of abandonment or resentfulness or who knows what else because he was right - he had never been a father in my mind, the name only used as an obligatory title. I didn’t feel betrayed or deserted; I felt nothing but confusion and fear. Fear for myself.
“You need to tell me more.” I demanded, but all at once my father’s demeanor changed. He relaxed into his pillows, his eyes drifting halfway shut as if tired, and my hands fluttered lifelessly above him, unsure about what to do.
“I’m glad you’re doing well in school,” he said, just as I heard the doorknob turn. I saw his gaze flicker onto the people behind me and then back to me, and I knew our conversation was over, that I had to pretend it never even happened. “Thank you, Cornelia, for coming, but you should go. Can you stay with Adam for the night?”
My hands were shaking, but I composed myself.
"Does Adam know?" I asked, my voice barely above a whisper. We both knew I wasn't talking about the circumstance that brought my father into the hospital.
"Yes," said Andrew Burke. "But perhaps I should owl him. Let him know you’re with me."
I nodded numbly.
“Oh - I believe I left something in the East library. Would you retrieve it for me? Adam will help you.”
“The East library,” I repeated, and suddenly I was on high alert again. “Of course.”
“Adam will wish you a happy birthday,” my father said, his eyes piercing into mine - green to green - and then the door was opening and I was being guided away by two men in Purple robes, unable to even say any sort of goodbye.
The one with dark hair spoke as soon as we were a little ways down the hallway. “I will be apparating you back to Hogwarts.”
My pulse was racing even though I had been standing still, and I stepped away from the both of them as if they were threats. “I was going to go stay with him a little longer-”
“Visiting hours are over.”
“My father told me to stay with my brother-”
“You will return to school at once. I will be accompanying you.”
“Can I go by my house for a moment?”
“You will be traveling directly back to Hogwarts.”
“But it’s late, I really do need to speak to my brother, see how he is-”
“Take my arm, please.”
“I was supposed to talk to the Healer, find out what’s wrong with my father-”
“Take my arm-”
“What did you do to him?” I screamed, my voice raw and hysterical, and then I was alone by the front gates of Hogwarts.
For a moment I just blinked, my breath huffing into a cloud in the freezing air, until my knees buckled beneath me and I sank down onto the frozen ground.
I know too much, and soon you will too. I’m protecting you, but once you turn seventeen, I can’t stop it. Others know, and they will come to you.
None of the pieces to what he said made any sense. Every sentence was so bizarre and vague and absolutely mad that there was no possible way I could discern the meaning of it, and as I sat there on the ground in a state of shock I began to think it must have something to do with the Purebloods, or else he would've said it with the Unspeakables in the room. But the most frightening part about the whole situation was that it couldn't have just been Andrew Burke being unjustifiably paranoid, since the moment the Unspeakables arrived in the room they shoved me out and made it clear they didn't want me to talk to Adam or even return to the manor. As much as I wished there weren't and as much as I was confused about it there was some truth or fact or meaning in whatever my father had said, and after considering this for a long while I finally managed to compose myself enough to push myself off the ground and tug my coat close, beginning the long walk back up to the security of the castle.
It was some time later that I made it back into the Ravenclaw Common Room, where only three people remained by the dying embers of the fire, their heads huddled in close with whispers until they turned at the sound of my entrance.
“Nellie!” Mia jumped up from the couch in the corner, Scorpius and Albus right behind her.
“Are you okay?” Scorpius asked immediately, and I felt a wave of relief that he did not question me about my father first.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, but it didn’t sound like my voice.
“What happened?” Albus demanded, guiding me over to the couch by the fire, and I realised I was still shaking, whether from shivers or stress I didn’t know.
“Some accident in the Department of Mysteries, I guess. He never told me what happened.”
“So Andrew was awake?” Scorpius frowned slightly, and although he didn’t want to press me too hard I could tell his curiosity would get the better of him. “And he was fine?”
“He was fine but he wasn’t fine,” I shook my head, and suddenly the pressure and confusion and fear from the hospital came crashing down on me and my voice began to climb in octave as my throat tightened. “He told me he got injured on purpose so he could talk to me, and he - he was talking like he was crazy, telling me that I know things no one else does and that people will come for me-”
“What?” Mia cried, but Scorpius paid her no mind as he leaned in further to hear what I was saying.
“-and he told me I mustn’t trust anyone and that he can’t stop them from coming for me, whoever they are.”
“Did he say anything else?” Scorpius was intent but still calm, even as Mia covered her mouth with her hand, eyes big and fearful.
“He said that he can’t protect me anymore and and he-” I was about to mention the dreams and the headaches, but I stopped myself abruptly, for reasons I couldn’t fully grasp yet, instead choosing to say something else, something I felt was much more important and peculier. “And he mentioned my birthday.”
Now Scorpius was bewildered, and even Al’s eyes widened slightly. “What?”
“He said that Adam would wish me a happy birthday,” I continued. “And then he told me to get something from the East Library, but then Unspeakables kicked me out and wouldn’t let me go home or to Adam, like they were trying to prevent me from talking to him.”
“This is weird,” Albus murmured. He stood up and began pacing like he always did when he was in deep thought, and he ruffled his hair just like James did when he was agitated.
Through all that had happened, I completely forgot about him, forgot that not four hours earlier we had been on a date, laughing and kissing and speaking about inconsequentials because we could. But none of that seemed to matter now, and I couldn’t even conjure up enough headspace to devote any more of my thoughts to him.
“Why didn’t he just say happy birthday to you?” Scorpius asked, and I jolted into attention. “If it’s in-”
“I don’t know.” I shook my head, my arms wrapping around myself automatically, as if to protect myself from things I didn’t want to understand.
“What does it all mean?” he muttered, almost to himself.
I pressed the tips of my fingers into the back of my neck, trying to find some release from the tension in my muscles. “I don’t know,” I repeated.
“Why he would injure himself just to scare you like this?” Mia fretted, drawing her knees in close to her chest from where she sat behind me.
“I don’t know.”
“What can’t he protect you from? The people who will come for you?” Scorpius rose but didn't start walking lines like Albus, instead just standing there over me.
Albus stopped pacing and glanced up. “D’you think it could be people in the Department of Mysteries? But why you - What could you know that everyone else doesn’t?”
“I don’t know!” I yelled, and all three of them grew silent. “I don’t, okay? I haven’t talked to him ever about anything like this and suddenly he’s getting injured to have the opportunity to tell me that I’m being hunted or something, I really don’t fucking know!”
I was crying again, because it was so much, it had been so much in such a little space of time, and I was scared and confused and ready to just forget about it. To pretend it never happened and go along with my life like I always did, because that strategy worked, it worked so well and I didn’t know how to do it any other way.
Scorpius wrapped my in his arms before I could say anything else, and I clutched him like a lifeline, not realising how much I had needed him to do that. “It’s going to be okay, Corn.” he whispered, and after a moment I nodded and took a step back, wiping my eyes with the back of my hands like I was eleven years old again.
“You know, maybe your dad was just tripping on some really excellent shrooms,” Mia said thoughtfully, and I laughed weakly, also not realising how much I needed her to just be her, witty and unapologetic.
“That should be our next tower activity,” Albus proposed, and I honestly think he was absolutely serious. “Shrooms.”
“I’d rather not be around Milo Cunningham if he starts to have a bad trip,” Mia shuddered. “His hallucinations are surely to be surrounding evil plants, and that sounds like an absolute hastle to handle.”
We all laughed, and then laughed again as we actually imagined Milo on any drug more powerful than the tiniest bit of weed, and my inner turmoil of emotions began to calm down ever so slightly.
Scorpius cleared his throat slightly. “Corn, Longbottom told me you were excused from classes tomorrow.”
My temper was immediately ignited again, previous comedic relief forgotten. “I don’t need to-”
“It might be nice,” Albus broke in offhandedly, “to get a day off. For any reason, really, but since it’s approved I would milk it.”
I considered this. Albus always knew just what to say to calm not only me but everyone down, and finally I muttered my agreement, since on Mondays I had double Potions, anyways, and that was reason enough to skive off.
“Then let’s go to bed, yeah?” Mia tilted her head towards the girl’s staircase, and suddenly I was so tired I could barely hold my head up.
“Bed,” I agreed, and with a last nod to Scorpius and Albus I followed her up the stairs.
I slept until after one o’clock the next day, when I awoke to the sound of various thumps and crashes in the corner of our dormitory.
“What the hell are you doing?” I groaned, slinging my curtains open, only to find Katria Stevens standing right next to my bed.
“Forgot my Herbology book. If you’re sick, don’t fucking breathe on me,” Katria said snidely, and I managed to flip her off just as she flounced out the door.
But it was good she had woken me up, because I had slept so late that if I didn't get ready now I was going to be late to Quidditch. So I hauled myself out of bed and doused myself under the hot stream of the shower until I felt awake enough to pull on my athletic wear and make my way down to the Pitch alone, since everyone else was going there from their last class of the day
“Hey!” I heard a voice call, and when I turned I was met with the sight of Leta and Marley, who I had only met the day before even though it seemed like eons ago.
“We heard about your dad,” Marley grimaced sympathetically, stopping in front of me, and my mind briefly flitted to James Potter before I managed to push any thought of him out of my mind. “Is he okay?”
“What happened?” Leta asked before I could respond, and Marley shot her a look at her insensitivity.
“I don’t know,” I said, sort of in response to both. “He’s an Unspeakable so they wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“Oh, man,” Marley breathed. “I’m so sorry.”
“But everything’s fine now?” Leta bit her bottom lip, tugging on it with her teeth.
“I’m not sure,” I said, trying to mix up the usual I don't know's I'd been saying every time anyone asked me something. “I really have to get to Quidditch, though, I’m late.”
“Yeah, of course,” Marley said, moving aside so I could keep walking. “I hope he feels better!”
I gave the two of them a small wave as I turned the corner, ignoring the way sympathy outlined every curve of their features.
"Yeah, well, I reckon I could beat you easily," Jack boasted just as I walked in the pitch meeting room door, heading straight towards my broom locker.
"You're mad, Robinson!" Benjy scoffed as Kato roared with laughter on the bench beside him. "If you're so strong, then let's go right now!"
"Now?" Jack asked, his voice considerably lower, and Benjy grinned wickedly, standing up and advancing towards him like a predator stalking its prey.
"Do it, now!" Beck yelled, pumping her fist in the air. "Fight!"
And then the two boys lunged at each other, fists out, and began the most ferocious thumb war I had ever seen, complete with grunts and moans and even a few poorly aimed kicks from Jack.
"Oi!" Moose yelled, walking out of the captain's office. "If you lot aren't ready in thirty seconds the two of you are staying an extra hour tonight!"
"Nellie's not ready and she was late, what's her punishment, huh?" Jack yelled back, still focused on his battle with Benjy, and even though I glared at him he still shrugged, too obnoxious to care.
Moose sort of froze, and then turned in a circle until he was finally facing where I stood partially hidden by the open door of my locker. “Burke?” he snapped, but it was more of a surprised bark than an order. “Flitwick told me you wouldn’t be here.”
“Well, I am.” I told him shortly, pulling my robes on over the athletic gear I was already dressed in.
For the first time ever, the entire locker room was silent; Benjy and Jack's thumbs even slowed.
“Is...is your father okay?” Cicely asked tentatively, and I had no idea how the news of what had happened had spread so fast but I was already sick of the question.
“I don’t know.” I snapped. “Aren’t you on equipment?”
Cicely flushed slightly and exited the Locker Room along with Jack, who had given up his thumb war and was sending me an almost sympathetic look - but perhaps it was more of an apology for selling me out to Moose.
“So what really happened?” Beck asked, her voice low, and Benjy and Kato leaned in as well.
I felt like screaming having to explain it again, but I tried my hardest to keep my calm. “I seriously don’t know. Something went wrong on the job I guess.”
“Fucker probably deserved it.” Beck muttered. She had never hidden her dislike for the way my father approached his parenting duties.
Kato frowned slightly. “Are you not close with your dad?”
I kept my eyes down as I tied my trainers. “He’s never been around. He’s an Unspeakable.”
As I looked up, Benjy and Kato pulled similar faces.
“Ah. Blokes never do learn how to socialise,” Benjy grimaced sympathetically, and I rolled my eyes slightly.
“That’s why they become Unspeakables in the first place,” I muttered, standing up and grabbing my broom in one motion.
"Okay, everyone, " Moose called. "Ten laps to warm up. Burke - c'mere."
Sighing loudly, I made my way over to where Moose was standing while the rest of the team filed out of the room, all taking care not to look in our direction.
"What?" I pursed my lips together, not caring at all that I probably looked very displeased and very constipated.
Moose sighed. “Look, I'm tough but I'm not a tyrant. If you need today off-”
“Would you?” I asked, and Moose knew I meant, If it were you, would you take the day off? Of course Moose wouldn’t, not in a million years, and perhaps I was more similar to him than both of us had realised.
“Fifteen laps, then. You were late.” He nodded at me, and the movement was full of a sort of grim pride, like I had done something to earn his respect. Maybe I did.
The rest of practise Moose barely paid me any mind, seeing as how Jack kept trying to play offensively when he was supposed to be covering the Chasers and Beck got so frustrated with it that she grabbed his bat and knocked him on the head with it. But my concentration was just off all afternoon, and it felt like while everyone else was out in the open I was trapped behind a veil, forced to move slowly and think slowly and react even slower. I was removed from everything, and when even Jack asked what was going on with me as we walked up to the castle a couple of hours later I knew I had to make more of an effort to act present.
But I wasn’t present. My mind was still in Room 357 in St. Mungo’s Hospital, replaying the bewildering and brief conversation between my father and I over and over in my mind.
I can’t protect you. They will come for you.
I jumped, and James Potter was right behind me. I had completely forgotten about our argument, but now it came rushing back to me, and I fought to keep my anger under control at the absolute callousness of his words.
“Hey,” I said quietly, as he stopped in front of me.
“Hey. Look, I’m so sorry for what happened last night. Everything I said was horrible. I mean, your dad was in the hospital, and I was going on about my own issues.”
If those were issues, I would gladly take them. I would take them and be grateful.
“It’s fine. You seem like you have a lot going on.” Minor inconveniences to life. Problems I would kill to have.
James said something else, but I wasn’t listening; I wasn’t really paying attention to anything, just staring at anything but him, waiting for the conversation to be over.
I started. “Sorry, what?”
“How is he?” James repeated.
“How is who?”
James widened his light eyes exasperatedly. “Your dad.”
“Oh,” I said, dully. “He’s fine.”
James frowned, a piece of his dark hair flopping over his eye until he shook it away. “Listen, about last night-”
“I have to go,” I told him, and I tried to make my voice less monotonous but I don’t think it worked. “Can we talk later?”
“Yeah,” his eyebrows knitted together. He reached out a hand, as if to brush back a piece of my hair, but before he could I had ducked out of his reach and was rounding the corner, suddenly overcome with the acute need to escape him.
I didn’t want to talk to him. Not now or ever, because had a happy family and two devoted parents. He had pressure being put on him, sure, but he wasn't exactly shying away from the spotlight, and the hypocrisy of it made me furious.
It had taken me nearly four months, but I finally saw James Potter for who he was: a privileged, self-centered child who would say or do anything for even the slightest bit of attention.
Author’s note: What do you think Nellie's father meant about the headaches and the dreams? What about protecting her? And what is the deal with Nellie’s birthday? Let me know what you think - and stay tuned for one of the most emotional and revealing chapters in the entire story in which Nellie's mother may or may not make an appearance of sorts.
Up next...a story of the sky, the stars, and the ground.
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