Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise. Hamlet belongs to Shakespeare. Warning: sensitive themes discussed. Please proceed with caution.
The night stretched out over our heads like a canvas, vast and undisturbed, as we sat beneath it on the West balcony.
“That one’s Orion’s Belt,” Astoria had said, pointing up with her slender fingers towards some indiscernible point in the night sky.
“No, it is not,” my mother scoffed. She had recoloured her hair that day, and as she craned her head to look at the stars the pureness of blonde seemed to practically glow in the evening ambience. When her hair was darker Astoria and Draco used to say we looked like twin sisters instead of mother and daughter. Now she didn’t look like me at all.
“It is!” Astoria insisted, brushing some of the dark hair obscuring her eyes back from her pale face. “See those three, all in a line?”
“I see the stars of Ursa Minor,” my mother replied in her soft Provencal accent, and then laughed, the sound somehow more tinkling and beautiful than her voice already was.
Astoria turned towards me, her blue eyes sparkling in the ambience of the evening lights. “Darling, do you see them?”
I frowned, searching the ordinary dots for any shapes or figures, but as much as I tried in vain I saw nothing that my mother and Astoria did. “No. I can’t.”
I hadn’t realised that I was upset until Astoria placed her cool hand upon my arm and I felt myself relax under her comforting touch. “Well, what do you see?”
All I saw was an endless terrain of blank space, an overwhelmingly distant landscape with no patterns or rhyme to the reason. But slowly, as I stared for long enough, I could make out outlines of shapes that the stars formed. I saw what was possibly a cat, and a flower, and maybe even a group of women - three of them, dancing in the sky with glowing borders and bright suns for eyes.
“I see all of us!” I exclaimed, and Astoria laughed her delighted laugh, holding me tightly like a home.
And all at once everything changed.
“I have an headache,” my mother announced, and the distance I knew from her was returned immediately, surrounding the area of her body like a force field. Headache was the magic word for her; it excused her from having to interact with anyone, from handling any responsibilities or fulfilling any necessary duties. It was her shield, her buffer, and she wielded it wisely.
Astoria glanced at my mother, her smile fading, and both women stood up at the same time like puppets tied to the same string.
“Wait,” I called, as the two of them started inside. “What do you think is up there? In the stars?”
And each woman had hesitated, as if it were a riddling inquiry. I could see Astoria’s thin face crumbling under the weight of my naivety; even then, she looked sickly enough for me to understand that my time with her was limited.
But it had not been Astoria to speak first as I expected. Instead, my mother stepped forward, running her hand through her hair slowly as she turned to face me. Despite her tired, almost pained expression, her blue eyes pierced through mine sharply, as if they were desperate to capture my gaze and hold it there.
“Je crois qu’un jour, nous nous retrouverons dans les étoiles.”
Astoria met eyes with me as my mother disappeared into the unknown depths of the house, and just before she turned around she inclined her head, ever so slightly. Sometimes I imagined that little gesture as just a little a goodbye, a see-you-later. Other times it seemed like approval, like I had asked an important or worthwhile question. But in reality it had been more of a cock to Astoria’s head. A portrait of knowledge, regret and sorrow in its wake. A pity.
One day, we will find each other in the stars.
I didn’t sleep.
I had gone to bed late, anyways. Mia, Willow, and I had been doing a Charms revision, so by the time I got upstairs it was already nearing midnight. And then it was midnight - a new day - and although I had tried to block out what the date was, had tried over and over to just forget what it meant it came back to me, and once the realisation flitted through my mind it made itself a home there, refusing to leave.
I tried my best. In the morning, I got up like I usually did. My eyes were burning from exhaustion, but as I made my way to the bathroom I still managed to catch Mia watching me carefully from where she sat on the end of her bed, ready unusually early - perhaps to give me more time in the shower.
My body was cold even as the scalding hot water washed over me, and I stayed under the stream until moisture from the steam clouded the air, trying to feel some semblance of warmth or comfort from it even though it was futile.
But although I eventually dried up and robotically went through the motions of getting ready, the frigid feeling never disappeared. Even as I was sitting at a table surrounded by my best friends I felt removed, as if a glass wall had been placed between me and my surroundings, preventing me from interacting with the world completely.
“Hello? Nellie?” Flynn waved his hand in front of my face impatiently, and I jolted, a sort of shiver going through me.
“Is it your birthday?”
The blood running through my veins instantly turned cold, and I whipped my head around to glare at Mia accusingly, but she seemed just as shocked as I did.
“Happy birthday, Nellie!” Milo exclaimed, rather surprised. “Why didn’t either of you tell us?”
“Because it’s not my birthday.” I said harshly, dropping my fork onto my untouched plate of food.
“Really? Because in all the time I’ve known you, we’ve never once celebrated your birthday,” Flynn narrowed his eyes, and I could see he was getting angry like he always did, but I really didn’t care. “So, if it’s not today then when is it?”
I crossed my arms, not in a defiant way, but to protect myself from the chill that was settling around my body once again. “Never.”
Milo frowned. “But-”
“Okay, it is her birthday,” Mia revised. “But Nellie hates birthdays, so it’s better for everyone if we just drop it.”
“Why do-” Flynn started.
“Don’t.” Mia’s eyes flashed, and even Flynn knew better than to protest against her.
“Seventeen is a big deal, though,” Milo sent an encouraging smile my way. “You’re of age, now!”
I swiveled towards him. He looked as hopeful and cheerful as he always did, his natural kindness always so clear to anyone that interacted with him. But Milo was so young and guileless in so many ways, and the look of oblivious innocence splashed across his pale face was just too much for me.
Once you turn seventeen, I can’t protect you anymore.
“Fuck off, Milo,” I hissed, taking a vindictive pleasure in seeing the shock and hurt ripple across his features before I got up and stalked away from the table.
I had nowhere to go but to the alcove.
It was still only nine in the morning when I sat down on that hidden window seat, the same place where Scorpius and I went to open the letters. Frost had accumulated on the other side of the glass, trailing up the pane like constellations, and I leaned heavily against it, closing my eyes and for once embracing the biting of the cold against my numb skin.
When I felt someone sit down next to me some time later, I didn’t have to look to see who it was.
“You going to classes today?”
I shrugged offhandedly, my shoulder hitting the window slightly. What did it matter?
“I think I will. Maybe we both should.”
I didn’t say anything, and I could almost feel him switch his tactics.
“I miss her.” said Scorpius, in a sort of cracked whisper that would usually break my heart into pieces. I knew I should offer some words of comfort or consolation to him; maybe fix my face into something resembling concern and ask him how he was doing, but I couldn’t. I was empty and frozen, and I couldn’t find it in me to feel anything for either of us.
“It still doesn’t feel entirely real,” Scorpius continued. “Like, that I could wake up in the morning and she’d still be there.”
“I have to get to Transfiguration,” I muttered, after a silence.
“Corn,” Scorpius grabbed my arm before I could go anywhere. “I need to talk about it, and you do too. You never have, and I know it must be killing you-”
“I don’t.” I wrenched my arm out of his grip. “Just leave me alone, okay? I don’t feel like dealing with your emotions right now.”
The hurt was clear in his eyes, but I didn’t care. That seemed to be a trend of late.
No sooner had I taken off down various hallways did I spot Mia heading my way at the end of the corridor, undoubtedly on her way to the alcove in some sort of misguided attempt to talk to me out of my mood.
“Hey!” she called, her voice falsely bright and cheery. “Nellie! I was just looking for you!”
I kept walking as if I hadn’t heard her, and as her steps grew faster mine sped up, too.
“Nellie!” Mia yelled as I rounded the corner, pretense of happy abandoned. “Wait!”
I didn’t slow down, but she managed to catch up with me all the same.
“Look,” she stopped in front of me, breathing hard. “Please, just talk to me. I know how much pain Scorpius is in, and I know you must be feeling so much right now too, but-”
“Can you not, Mia?” I cut her off, my irritation building. “God, when did you become so overbearing?”
“Nellie, I get that today sucks, but you have to stop taking it out on your friends!” Mia said shrilly, and I could hear a slight waver in her voice.
“Sorry,” I muttered, backing away from her, and as Mia called out for me again I turned back in the direction I had come from and slipped back around the corner, needing to escape from having to listen to anything else she could say. Normally, I would’ve instantly felt guilty - tormented, even - by the thought of someone angry at me, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t anything anymore, and it was working.
I didn’t go to Transfiguration like I was meant to. I knew Scorpius would be there, all wounded and concerned and depressed, and even though it was horrible I meant what I said about not wanting to handle his emotions. Any emotions, actually.
So I went for a fly.
It was brisk outside, typical weather for the tail end of January. The ground was perfectly hard, and as I kicked off of it and soared into the open sky I realised I hadn’t just flown for myself instead of for Moose or Quidditch in absolutely forever. I’d forgotten how flying always felt freeing and good and just so right to me, and I could remember Adam teaching Scorpius and I when we were younger, becoming so pleased and proud when I loved it instantly.
But maybe I truly loved flying because it forced me to concentrate solely on the things in front of me - the way the wind gently guided my broom, the angle of the sun behind lazy clouds, the glint of the goal posts in my peripheral vision. Maybe I loved it because it gave me a reprieve from having to focus on anything to do with myself or my life, became addicted to it for its sweet escape instead of its natural freedom.
I flew until my fingers were numb, and then I hauled myself back inside and to the kitchens, where House Elves bustled around in their usual frenzy as I drank hot cocoa in the corner and read the only thing I could remotely relate to in the moment.
I read the play once, twice, again, and I lost track of time so drastically that when I finally left to go back to the Ravenclaw Common Room, the torches in the corridors had already been lit and supper was already started.
It was much harder than I had thought to waste the day away doing nothing while avoiding everyone, and so I found myself back in the alcove again, only to find Scorpius already sitting there, as if he had known I would return.
“Mia told me what happened,” Scorpius began as I sat down as far away from him as I could, already on edge.
“Nothing happened,” I replied automatically, and Scorpius immediately glared at me.
“God, Nellie, can you just stop?” he hissed. “You have to quit keeping everything in!”
“I don’t keep everything in-”
“Yes, you do,” Scorpius interrupted, and his eyes flashed in a way I’d only rarely seen them do. “You’ve always been like this - guarded and unemotional - and it’s fucking ridiculous. You’re human, and you’ve had to deal with loss. Just - I don’t know, deal with it, okay? Let yourself feel. You have to feel something. You do.”
I stared at him. He had bluish circles rimming around the delicate underneath of his eyes; his hair was matted and messy, lips cracked and dry. He was living and feeling, but with feeling came hurt and pain and hopelessness. All things that I never wanted to experience again, ever, if I could help it.
So I stood up, wrapping my arms across my body for protection, keeping myself close. “You know what? I’m just going to go to bed. Anything would be better than being awake right now.”
“Fine,” Scorpius shook his head. He had given up on me, just like Mia had. I had finally succeeded in pushing him away, but somehow, the victory was as empty as everything else. “Do that. Shove it down until next year. I hope it helps.”
“Fuck off.” I said before pushing my way through the tapestry and back down the corridor. I don’t think I could even count the amount of times I’d said that today.
But the strange thing was that I didn't care. Usually I overanalysed everything I said and experienced twinges of humiliation or shame or guilt for so many of the things I did or even almost did. And as I passed insignificant paintings and empty corridors, I tried to invoke those sorts of feelings, to remember the times when I had embarrassed myself with Shakespeare quotes or said something terrible to someone on accident, but I couldn’t connect to the overwhelming emotions that usually went along with those memories.
And that’s when I saw James Potter, alone at the end of the dimly lit corridor. All at once, the displaced anger that had been simmering underneath my skin for the entire day seemed to boil to the surface, because I hated him. I hated him so fucking much, and I hated myself because I was still so drawn to him; I was a moth to the light of his eyes, a bee to the honey of his lips, an alcoholic intoxicated by the burn of his fingers against my skin. I hated that I needed him and I hated that even though I couldn’t feel anything else I still felt something for him; I hated him I hated him I hated him, and as we neared one another I knew what I had to do.
“Hey,” he said as soon as I was close enough to him. “What's going on with-”
I pulled him to me in one movement and kissed him, one hand around his waist and one on the back of his neck. At first his mouth was slack with confusion, but as I began to deepen the movements he responded instinctively, parting his lips and kissing me harder, faster, with passion and heat and energy like fireworks. He was so good at snogging that it was almost unfair, and when his hands worked their way onto the bare skin of my back I moaned slightly into his mouth, the sound alone enough to send him over the edge.
“Stop,” James growled, panting, pressing my back against the wall. “You’re driving me crazy, fuck-” but I dragged his lips back to meet mine and he relented immediately, flexing his hips and running his hands up and down my body, clutching me close while biting my bottom lip with his teeth, closer and closer and closer.
And then without warning, he pushed himself off of me, taking a step back so that we were no longer touching. He stared at me for a moment, slightly dazed and shell-shocked, until his eyebrows furrowed together and features contorted into some sort of bewildered disgust.
“What is wrong with you?”
James Sirius Potter was smart and brilliant and cruel, and he saw straight through me. So I spun on my heel and disappeared, letting the way he called my name over and over behind me echo into nonexistence, a tree falling in a forest of deaf ears.
The dormitory was empty; even Georgina Rivier was nowhere near her usual spot inside her four poster. It was nighttime now, and instead of disappearing behind the sanctuary of my curtains, on an impulse I grabbed a bottle full of amber liquid that had taken sanctuary under my bed around November and tucked it inside of my school bag, slipping back out the door like I’d never even been there at all.
It was cold out. The wind whipped around my face, stinging my exposed cheeks slightly, but I welcomed the sensation, because it was as close to feeling that I could get without antagonising all of the people around me and having to deal with the aftermath later. And no one would find me up here, sitting with my feet laying on the far part of the wide ledge on the side of the North tower, having had to walk out a bit and slide down some roof shingles to get there. I could be alone, and I could deal with my problems how the rest of my Pureblood lineage did: with a bad attitude and hard alcohol.
It took me awhile to pry the stopper off of the liquor, but once I did I drank and I drank, and I savoured the way it burned my insides because all I wanted to do was forget. Forget my father and the hospital and the warning, forget the hours and days and years, just forget every stupid fucking thing that had gone wrong in my stupid fucking life, and after awhile, it began to work, too. The sky was unfamiliar and transfixing, and I felt as if I could be in a different world; a place where tangible realities were merely whispers and dreams seemed to take the formative shape of truths.
“What are you doing?”
I knew the voice immediately. I had subconsciously become attuned to it, unknowingly trained myself to search for it in the hum of a crowd or the buzz of a hallway, but right now it was the last thing I wanted to hear.
“How’d you find me?” I asked, not bothering to turn around. Instead, I continued to stare at the sky, the great metaphysical consciousness, spreading out to shelter all of existence and beyond.
“I have my ways.”
“Well, piss off!” I flourished my arms grandly, raising the hand not clutching the bottle like a lifeline into the air in an obscene gesture.
“No. What the bloody hell is wrong with you? I know I’ve been an arse lately and I want to apologise and, like, talk about it, but today is your special day, and you yell at your best friends, only talk to Scorpius - who for some reason thinks you’re sleeping right now - and then ambush me and leave? Seriously, what the fuck?”
He sounded angry, repulsed, but all I wanted to focus on was the sound of the wind.
“It’s not my special day, Potter.” And as I listened to it, I began to understand that the wind was sky’s song, the way it could howl or flutter or be completely still, not moving or breathing or living at all. Just still.
“It’s your birthday, Burke. I know it is.”
“Not to me it isn't.” My speech was slurred but it didn’t matter, so I took another swig of my almost empty handle as I looked out over the ledge into the dark sky. It was so dark. Expansive. Endless. The sky was endless, as it stretched out over the mountains and wrapped around tree bark and filled up the cracks and crevices in between leaves, and the leaves themselves were so silently fragile, with their fractured veins cracking through their brittle shell. Like bones: brittle, fragile, fractured, cracked.
“So, what? You hate birthdays. You could’ve just told me that instead of brassing off your friends and getting hammered on the roof by yourself."
“I’m a shit person. I get it.” The sky was just so fucking endless, with no start or finish line; it encompassed everything - everything - and absolutely nothing at the same time. But what was it, really, other than an undefinable entity? A great amnesia, a vast illusion. A reflection, perhaps. A home. The place she needed to be.
“That’s not what I’m saying.” The tile crunched as he stepped forward slowly above the steep shingles of the roof. “What has gotten into you, Burke? What's wrong?”
“Maybe that’s why she did it.” Because I could feel her around me like I could feel the goosebumps stroking chills up my skin, and if I listened closely to the way the wind howled I could hear her, too. Come, she was saying, over and over again, a siren’s song to a sailor lost at sea. Join me.
“Fucks’ sake, Burke, who?”
The sky seemed to be beckoning. Come. Join me, she said. There is nothing left for you here. You weren’t enough to save me from the sky. You weren’t enough to save yourself. Join me.
“If you’re going on about Marina again, I don’t know what to tell you because I thought we were done with that." A sigh, heavy and burdened. "Look, you must be absolutely freezing so let’s get you inside, yeah?”
“It wasn’t enough.” Because I was Hamlet, I was Prince Hamlet and I was holding the flesh of the skull, speaking to the sky as it spoke to me, relaying the orders of the ghost - Join me, she said. We will find each other in the stars. Come find me.
“What wasn’t?” Impatience. “You’re so pissed that it's not even funny."
Slowly, I rose. My head spun, but my thoughts - they were steady and pure and translucent. I could see her, in all of her Ophelian beauty - face blue, curves dripping, red painting her porcelain canvas, and I could see she had been right. I wasn’t enough, in the end. Nothing was worth it, in a place like this. She had been right. I didn’t belong here. I belonged to the gasps of the sky, to the sighs of the dust motes. I belonged to the heart of the ground.
“Burke, what the hell are you doing?”
She’d told me, “Nous nous retrouverons dans les étoiles,” we will find each other in the stars we will find each other in the stars we will find each other in the stars-
“I don’t understand - Cornelia, can you get down from there, please?”
I could see the world clearer than ever now, as it greeted me with open arms. My body swayed with the breaths of the wind, and it pulled me in closer and closer, caressed my figure, held my hand, held me like she used to, and it was real, it was all real.
“Cornelia, fuck, do not move-”
“It was my fault.” I knew it now. I had waited too long to get to the stars, and now I needed everything to stop, if only for one moment; I needed to find her, and see her, and ask her why she did it; I needed to tell her I was sorry, that I was so incredibly sorry. I took a step. The wind howled. I took another step.
“I’m sure it wasn’t.” Panic. “Please - please, love, don’t move, okay? Let me reach you. Nellie, don’t move. Please. Nel-"
I spread my arms. Welcome.
And then the spell was broken as I was being pulled so roughly back that my arm felt like it was going to fall off, and I screamed, and everything was shattered - the sky, the wind, the edge - and I screamed again, because the sky had been taunting me. The stars had fooled me once again, and finally the whole thing of it was more truth than a lie because she wasn’t there, and perhaps she never had been. She had wanted nothingness, and maybe - just maybe - she’d found it.
“What the fuck are you doing?” James Potter yelled at me, his hands digging further into the flesh of my arms, and he shook me a little, hard enough that his face seemed to move and blur slightly in all directions.
“I don’t fucking know!” I yelled back, and I tried to squirm away but he grabbed me harder.
“You could have died!” he roared, somehow louder than me, and it only made me angrier, more determined to get away from his increasingly painful grip.
“Maybe I don’t care!” I screamed, louder than I ever had before, and James stopped, his hands going momentarily slack, and I manage to use my brief leverage to twist out from him.
“You-you wanted to die?”
“She did this, okay?” I was so out of breath but I pressed on, needing to expel the words that had been draining the life out of me as they lived on inside my head. “She didn’t give a fuck, and neither do I. She was the worst fucking mother in the world but she was still my mother, and she made me like this too. I’m poisoned because of her, because she didn’t give a shit. She didn’t give a fuck!”
I knew I was crying but I didn’t care, and I wasn’t standing up on my own but I didn’t care about that either, and I certainly didn’t care that James Potter was holding me and watching me become destroyed in front of him. I didn’t care about any of it anymore, and just then a wave of dizziness hit me, so comforting in its confusion, a reassurance that this day was finally going to end for me soon. Wait it out, I thought to myself, and everything blurred until I blinked again and I was laying on the stone of the ground, a body surrounding me.
“Christ,” the warmth holding me tightly said, and then again, broken and tormented. “Christ.”
“I’m sorry,” I felt my lips move, and I could taste the sting of salt on the tip of my tongue, but I didn’t think I was crying anymore. “She lied to me.”
I could see her better now. She was immortalised in my memory, a crystallised stain on the lowest depths of my conscious mind. I didn’t remember her by the curve of her jaw or the freckles on her back or the hue of her eyes, I saw her in the way she wanted me to: ugly and raw, her hair spread out like a fan, her symmetrical decisions running down the soft underbelly of her forearms, the water slowly pulsing her limp form up and down gently, as if she still had a heartbeat.
“Where is your mother, Cornelia?” the body holding me asked carefully, but I was already sinking down, down, down, deep into some place that offered security; a safe realm of innocent ignorance. And yet, under the protection of my eyelids I could still picture that haunting meadow, as green and as clear as it had been the day we picnicked with Adam all those years ago. But now, the vibrant grass was perfectly serene and empty with no signs of life and excitement nor disturbance. Completely still, with no indication that anyone had ever even been there at all.
Author's Note: I don't think a single person guessed the truth about Nellie's mother. I've been so nervous to post this chapter since I have no idea how everyone is going to react, but now Nellie's family is finally revealed in full...sort of. Almost. Stay tuned. (Also if you haven't read Hamlet at least google a synopsis of it because the ~ symbolism ~ will make loads more sense if you have.) Remember to utilise self-care, and thank you all for reading/hopefully reviewing.
Up next...A story of belated birthdays, "friends," and hidden books.
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