Disclaimer: I don’t own what you recognise. Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream belong to Shakespeare, date unknown. Celestina Warbeck was first mentioned in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
I was in Charms when I got the headache, and by Herbology it had gotten so bad that I could barely focus, the back of my head pounding dramatically and my eyes sore and pulsing with every movement they dared to make. So I went back to my dormitory and climbed into my bed, like my mother always had when she had a headache, and I sat with my back propped against the pillows and my socked feet rubbing together just over the blue throw, and I waited.
I could remember her clearer now, my mother, like someone had wiped away years of spots and dust from the tempered glass of a window. She was small, petite, with thin wrists and delicate collarbones. She wore her engagement and wedding ring on one finger, letting the bulk of the white gold and diamonds take up space all the way to her knuckle, and she had a silver necklace with a huge circular stone in it - sapphire or topaz or something - that she never took it off, always running the tips of her fingers over the reflective faces.
And she was calm, smooth and weathered like stones in an ocean. She liked cellos and jazz and gin; she smelled like lavender and sandalwood; she never raised her voice.
She was beautiful, now, in the way I reconstructed her features and routines. I’d never felt this way before - so connected to her, so void of the anger and hate and resentment I used to carry around like invisible sandbags on my shoulders. I felt released from it all, and as the peak of the headache began to flash up my spine and the hairs on my arm seemed to vibrate with electricity, I closed my eyes, at peace. Unafraid.
A man with grey hair, sitting alone in a small sitting room. An television set, a framed portrait of a dog, an old computer. Three men clad in black bursting in. The grey man’s hands raised slowly above his head, shaking. The smooth barrel of a gun. A ringing shot.
I sat up in my four poster bed, gasping for air. I had never seen this man, and yet I knew exactly who he was in the indescribable way where I would know exactly who someone was in dreams and what they meant to me, even if it wasn't the same in waking reality.
“Fuck,” I said to the emptiness of the room, and then again. “Fuck - Jesus Christ, fuck-”
The grey haired man was Katria Stevens’ father. And at first I thought that impossible - Katria was wealthy and a foreign Pureblood; her father surely couldn’t be a Muggle - but intrinsically I knew that whatever it was inside of my head would not lie to me - in fact, it scientifically couldn’t. Whatever the circumstance Katria’s father’s life was in peril, and Katria - who had insulted me, had plotted against my friends and tried to steal my boyfriend - had no idea.
I had managed to calm down my hands from shaking as I left the Common Room, but the moment Scorpius spotted my expression in the Transfiguration corridor he knew something was wrong and so wordlessly he pulled me into an empty classroom.
“It’s Katria,” I told him the moment the door was shut. “Her father. He’s going to be robbed at gunpoint and I don’t know if he’ll be okay.”
Scorpius pressed his thin lips together, closing his eyes briefly. “Corn…”
“Look,” I continued breathlessly, not wanting to hear what he had to say. “She told us she was Pureblood Austrian, that she was rich, but I think her dad’s a Muggle and they don’t come from much. And if he’s the one that makes all of their money-”
“Nellie, you can’t tell her!” Scorpius interrupted fiercely, his eyes flying open.
“She’s an awful, terrible person but she deserves to know-”
“But you can’t do anything about it!” Scorpius protested. “So telling her would just be mad and-and cruel, and you can’t do it. Look at me - you can’t do anything about this.”
And I knew he was right, I knew it, but something inside of me still felt so anxious and responsible that I said the words I was thinking even though I knew they would be received poorly.
“I could do something,” I whispered quietly, and although I knew I wouldn’t in this situation the thought still pressed into my mind - I could end my own life if I needed to, I could stop the after-
“Don’t even say that.” Scorpius’s voice cut harshly across the room and I flinched at the sound of it.
“I’m sorry,” I told him, and I was - not for speaking or thinking it, but for saying it even when I knew it would hurt him.
“Are you?” he asked hoarsely, and then his gaze hardened with purpose. “Every single time you see something you’re going to want to change it, but you have to promise me, Corn. Promise me you will never try to stop it. Not even if it’s of me.”
I was shaking my head before he even finished. “I can’t do that-”
“Promise me!” Scorpius bellowed, and because I’d only rarely seen him look like this I nodded quickly, just to ease his pain.
“Okay,” I said. “Okay, I won’t.”
Scorpius hugged me then, tight and unbreaking, but all I could think about was the empty words I had just surrendered.
It was late when I returned to the Common Room, and Willow was exactly where I expected her to be: in the chairs to the left of the fire, chewing the end of her quill as she worked through an Arithmancy problem set.
“Hey,” I plopped down in the armchair next to her, and Willow glanced up and smiled at me, her white blond hair done up in a top bun that somehow was the perfect combination of messy and cute. “Listen...did you know that Katria isn’t a Pureblood? Or even wealthy at all?”
Willow looked at me for a moment and then sighed, removing the rather soggy tip of her quill from her mouth slowly. “I found out Third Year. That’s one of the reasons I put up with her for so long.”
I nodded sagely. “You felt bad for her.”
“I understood her,” Willow corrected me. “Look, I have eight siblings and money can be tight. I understood the desire to want more. I even understood why she was so rude all of the time, but slowly I realised that that doesn’t give her any excuse for acting the way she does. There are so many other people who have it much, much worse than her and who don’t treat everyone like their Machiavellian playground, you know?”
“Definitely,” I said, but I had flicked some switch within Willow and she was leaning towards me fully now, her eyes blazing with a sort of resentment that I’d never seen before in her.
“The thing is, she’s not rich but she’s not poor, and I think that’s why she was always quite envious of you, Nellie, especially because you have all this status you want nothing to do with. But until Katria is the wealthiest person in the room she won’t ever be happy, and it’s sad, because she’ll get there. She’ll work her way up and be rich and whatever, but then she’ll realise that wealth is only as fulfilling as the people and the choices you’ve surrounded yourself with, and she’ll really have nothing.”
That made perfect sense to me, and it was interesting, in a way, how calm and good Willow was at articulating exactly what she needed to say. She and Albus were almost identical in the way they sort of paused a moment before speaking, the action careful and considerate, and suddenly I was overcome with the acute desire to make Willow realise just how perfect she could be with my enamored best friend.
“Albus said something similar to me, once,” I told her. “He’s really in tune with that sort of thing, have you noticed?”
“Yeah, I have,” said Willow, smiling at me with no other hints of emotion. “He really is.”
When I made my way up to the dormitory, only Georgina Rivier and Katria were inside, Georgina holed up behind the curtains of her bed like usual and Katria perched on the end of hers, glancing up when I walked in.
“Katria?” I asked softly from the doorway after a moment of standing there.
“What?” Katria looked up again, pronouncing every word in her posh accent that I now knew was learned rather than natural.
“I just wanted to say that I forgive you.”
Katria’s eyebrows flickered slightly, and then narrowed. “For what?”
“All of it,” I said, and I was truly honest. “Trying to use Albus, trying to date James, going behind my back with Cicely. I forgive you for it.”
Because everything made sense, now. Katria was obsessed with befriending and dating and using people she felt had some sort of societal status to make up for her hidden lack thereof. It had probably been ingrained in her from birth - she knew that she was the only one who could change her situation, so she relentlessly sought out ways to do so at the expense of everyone else.
Katria crossed her arms over her chest, but it wasn't angry; it was almost protective. “And, why would you do that?”
Shouts of the men in dark clothing. The blunt echo of a gunshot.
“Because I can.” I told her, and then we both retired to bed in silence.
The next morning, Katria and I awoke at the same time, the morning silence punctured only by Mia’s soft snores. Katria made for the bathroom like she usually did but then paused by the doorframe, her lower lip jutting out slightly and her eyebrows scrunched as if she were doing difficult maths.
“You can wash up first,” she finally spoke, and when I didn’t say anything out of sheer shock she rolled her eyes, tossing her face towel back onto her messy sheets. “Go.”
So I went, and when I returned into the open room of the dormitory Katria slipped behind me into the loo without another word.
It was later in the day that I made my way towards the Gryffindor Common Room with my study materials in hand, ready to begin buckling down for finals with James, who had so many NEWT preparations to cover that ‘studying’ together had recently just turned into actual studying. When I arrived there, though, James wasn’t in the Common Room like he said he would be, so I ventured up the long and winding stairs to the Seventh Year boys’ dormitory where we usually ended up doing our work. I was just about to push open the door when I heard two voices, serious enough to make me stop in my tracks.
“She’s different, Fred,” the first one said, and I backed away from the door slowly, freezing in the hallway.
“Yeah, I know. I’ve known since that day in the broom cupboard when you could barely look away from her.”
“Then why’d you let me act like an idiot?”
“Because you needed to figure things out yourself. And ‘cos it was funny.”
I heard James sighed. “Well, I did something stupid again.”
“Stupider than moaning on about your unimportant family problems while her dad was dying in the hospital?”
“Okay, okay. What’d you do?”
“When we were in the Forbidden Forest, I told her - erm, that I loved her. By accident.”
Fred whistled, low. “Does she remember?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. We were well crossed and she hasn’t mentioned it.”
“Well, do you?”
“Yes, I remember I told her that, I’m telling you right-”
“No, you prat - are you actually in love with her?”
And then I backed away from the door, because I wasn’t sure which answer was the one I wanted to hear. The staircase was a blur as I fled down it, the Fat Lady squawking as I pushed open the Porthole but I barely noticed her protests because I felt that same panicked sensation I had when James had forced me to discuss my mother but worse; the feeling seemed to crawl all the way up in my chest, clenching my lungs and sitting on top of them, refusing to release its hold.
Breathe, just breathe. Nellie, get a grip-
“Nellie!” someone exclaimed, and when I glanced up I saw Leta and Marley approaching, both of them smiling brightly. “Are you trying to get in?”
I fixed my expression and relaxed my shoulders even though my heart was still beating like a hammer. “Erm, yes,” I said, and then shrugged guiltily. “Forgot the password.”
“But you just-“ the Fat Lady began.
“Doxie droppings,” Leta interrupted her. “Merlin that’s a shite password - ha, get it? Shite-"
“Yes, very witty, Le,” Marley commented idly, and I forced a laugh as we entered into the red-clad Common Room, where James was lounging by the fire so casually it was like he had been there for hours.
“All right?” he grinned at me as he jumped up to meet us with an unusual bounce in his step, and I managed to smile back as he bumped his shoulder against mine. “Study upstairs, yeah?”
“Yeah,” I said, and with a small wave at Marley and Leta James led me up the boys’ spiral staircase.
We sat down on the small and rather stained little sofa the boys had shoved in front of the radiator. Celestina Warbeck was warbling on in the background from an old radio by the farthest nightstand (“When we met our wands sparked pink into the night sky…”) and even though we took out our study materials and began working in a subdued silence my mind was still racing.
“Burke,” said James suddenly a few moments later, and I jolted back into an awareness I hadn't realised I had lost. “What’s wrong with you?”
I still didn’t know how he was able to read me so well, but regardless I shrugged, keeping my eyes trained on the open textbook on my lap. “Just thinking.”
The background music seemed to be louder now, pressing itself into my eardrums. What we have between us will never die...we can see it is right like Mad Eyed Moody’s glass eye...And now my heart soars like a hippogriff...
“I rather gathered that,” said James drily. “Care to elaborate?”
And when you’re near my mind thinks in hieroglyphs...
“Can you turn off that radio?” I said suddenly, closing the book I had been reading with a bang.
James smirked at me, his muscled arm raising up to ruffle his hair just enough that I could see his Sirius tattoo. “What, Celestina Warbeck doesn’t do it for you?”
“Are you having a laugh? Her lyrics are disgusting,” I heard myself say, and suddenly the trapped feeling in my chest and lungs was back, encasing me with bitterness. “Love like that isn’t real.”
James paused in his wand movement to shut off the music. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that happy, ‘forever’ love never really exists. It’s fake, and if it’s not then it’s infatuation and it’ll peter out as quickly as it came on.”
“Oh, come one,” said James, but now his jaw was jutted and set, his eyebrows scrunched in a sort of annoyance. “You’re being such a hypocrite.”
My temper flared suddenly. “And why would that be?” I snapped, and James narrowed his eyes but then smirked.
“You like Shakespeare.” said James smugly.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream? C’mon. It’s all about romance!”
“It’s about how easily love can be fabricated and manipulated,” I rolled my eyes. “Did you even read it?”
I’ve never felt love like this before...
“Romeo and Juliet,” James said, an almost desperate edge to his tone. “You quote it all the time.”
More powerful than any gold on Gringotts’ floor…
“Romeo and Juliet is a lesson about how the mere idea of love destroys people, even though it’s actually about infatuation. Besides, the more important themes surround the notions of fate and Veronian society, not romance.”
I didn’t know why I was doing this, but somehow I completely did - the strangulation in my throat was not a reaction but a signal, showing me exactly where to go in order to alleviate the stress.
James stopped for a moment, then faced me again. “You’re serious,” he said, as if he were just only realising it.
“Of course I am,” I replied. “Love is never what it’s cracked up to be.”
My heart blossoms like a rose in good weather...
James sneered at me, his expression suddenly of a fighter. “And, how would you know?”
“How would I know?” I slammed the book I was holding shut, glaring at him through the hair that had fallen into my face. “I know because I saw love literally kill Scorpius’s mum. I know because I’ve seen how it tears people apart.” I know because it killed my mother, and her mother, and so many of the women before them. “It’s a liability, and it’s never enough.”
“That’s one bloody unlucky instance, Burke!” James protested. “You can’t define the rest of your life off of it!”
And you’ll hold me in your arms forever...
“God, turn it off!” I yelled, and when James did nothing but gape at me I flicked my wand aggressively, causing the radio to fly backwards and hit the wall, falling on the hardwood floors with a crash.
“What the fuck is the matter with you?” James leapt up from the small couch just as I did the same, and we stood there, breathing hard and staring at each other, and I had never felt like this before.
It was like something in me was shattering; I was gasping for air but it was like I could barely breathe, like my own shallow breaths were drowning me, and it was awful - I wanted to scratch at my skin and tear out my hair and somehow calm my heartbeat, but I couldn’t. But no, I had to stop - stop, Nellie, just calm down! - and look James Potter in the eye and act cold and angry, because as if a lightbulb had turned on over my head I suddenly understood exactly why my body was responding like this to such a conversation. The thought echoed in my head with its numbing wisdom, and as I realised James was talking once again I knew exactly what I had to say.
“Listen to me, Burke - are you really this cynical?” James was half-shouting, as he ran one of his hands through his hair. “Jesus, Cornelia, is that what you really think?”
Everything in me was screaming to say no, but the hold on my chest was decided, and it overpowered any other rational thoughts I had. “Yes,” I whispered.
James stopped for a moment and then swallowed, the movement tightening his jaw. “Well, that’s not what I do,” he said, and his voice was considerably lower, more controlled. “Because I think I love you, Burke.”
My heart stopped beating. The declaration hung unclaimed in the stifling air around us, the room much more quiet in the absence of the music.
“I can’t do this.” I said think I finally said as I half-blindly shoved materials into my bag, and I could hear tears hitting the canvas outside of it but I didn't bother wiping them away.
“Are you fucking serious-”
“I can’t,” I repeated, and I closed my eyes as I turned away so that I wouldn’t have to see his expression. “I’m sorry.”
When I walked out of the Porthole alone, I had a sensation similar to missing a step in the dark, my heart jumping abruptly into my throat, a thrill of panic and confusion and fear running through every capillary in my body all at once like a shot of adrenaline. But as soon as it had snatched my breath away it released its hold, leaving me with a strange sensation of emptiness. Like the fear was all I had, and once it was gone, I was left with nothing.
I didn’t see James Potter for four full days. It came as both a relief and a stressor - I didn’t want to see him, turned every corner with my heart in my throat until I could make sure he wasn’t in sight, and yet the fact that I didn’t run into him seemed to cause me more anxiety as if I really did want to catch even just a glimpse.
No one had been expecting it, Beck had told me. It was the biggest news around Hogwarts since the two of us first began hooking up, and even though stares and whispers followed me everywhere I went I didn't give into it or reveal any information about what had happened. In fact, the only time I had even mentioned it was right after it happened.
“Hey!” Mia had exclaimed the moment I walked into our dormitory. “Albus says if we go to the Tower tonight a little earlier we can - what’s wrong?”
“We broke up,” I told Mia from where I now sat on top of my bed, and then I pulled my curtains closed, letting the image of her gaping expression burn into the inside of my eyelids as I shut them tightly, turning my face into the cool surface of my pillow.
I had sat there for awhile after that as the sun went down and cast deep blue shadows around the chambers, and I didn’t know what to do. I had caused this inside of me; this hollow, empty feeling that seemed to sit on my chest, plaguing every breath I took with anxiety and every exhale with numb depression. I caused it, and so maybe I deserved to feel it.
It was some time later when my drapes were hesitantly opened.
“Hey,” said Mia quietly. Beck was by her side, Willow behind both of them with a slice of chocolate cake in each hand.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” I told them dully, and Mia nodded as if she had expected nothing less.
“That’s fine,” she said. “But still - there’s cake.”
So wordlessly, Beck had climbed into bed next to me with Willow and Mia by our feet and we ate, the silence only punctured by forks scraping and noisy swallowing.
“He told me he loves me,” I whispered finally, after spending minutes staring down at the patterns of smeared frosting against the white plates.
Beck glanced at Willow and Mia and then back to me. “And you were surprised?”
I frowned, glancing up at her. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because everyone else already knew that.” said Mia quietly, and she could tell by my expression that I didn’t want to hear that so she changed the subject, going on about how Longbottom had told her she needed an E on his practical to continue with the subject next year.
But that was then, and now it was five days later and because I still felt the same maybe I could finally admit that I was afraid. Afraid of myself, afraid of the future, but more afraid of him looking into my eyes and seeing the things I didn’t want him to like he so often was able. Because I did believe in love and romance and forever and all of it, but I couldn’t - not right now, not with him, not with a curse of death hanging above my head like a dagger, waiting for me to plunge it into my own heart.
So I repeated mantras over and over and over to myself for a sort of comfort. You had to do it, I would say, again and again and again until the words blurred into meaningless sounds and syllables. It was a comforting lie that kept me afloat so I clung to it with all of my willpower, because it would have had to end even if I hadn’t done it myself, right? He - I couldn’t bring myself to say the name - he was graduating in a couple of weeks, and then after the summer I would be at Hogwarts and he would be travelling the world and growing up and growing out of me, and all of this wouldn’t have mattered anyways. It wouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter. I had to do it.
But still, everything hurt. It hurt to get up in the morning and it look in the mirror and it hurt to think about him; it hurt to think his name - James Sirius Potter - hurt that every three seconds my mind would flicker to him, that every single thing reminded me of him and if something didn’t it reminded me of his absence.
It hurt but it was necessary, and whenever I felt those flashes of pain within me I thought about something my mother once said when I was a young girl. The less you have, the less you can lose, she told me after one of her headaches had finally gone away, and as I lay there now in my dormitory I finally understood what she meant. The less you take, the less can be taken from you. The less you love...
It was Friday when I finally was able to catch a glimpse of him as we made our way to classes on opposite sides of the Charm’s courtyard.
I spotted him immediately, and it was like a one way glass - he didn’t see me, but I could see everything: the dark hair that somehow looked messier than usual, the tie slung over his shoulder so annoyingly well, the laundered sleeves rolled up to his elbows, exposing the lean muscles of his forearm - and suddenly I wanted to run up to him. I wanted to chase him down and grab his hand and make him stop walking, even as he would turn reluctantly with a gaze so cold and intimidating that it could make a king falter.
“That’s not really what I think,” I would say to James Potter with no preface whatsoever. “About love.”
“Then why did you say it was?” he would ask. He would be unwilling to look at me at first, but the intensity of my grip would soon force his golden-flecked eyes to travel upwards to meet mine.
“I don’t know,” I would stammer, because I really didn’t - in that exact moment, I wouldn’t be able to remember the reality of the situation; I would have no idea why I previously chose to completely overreact and self-sabotage, to clip the wrong wire and explode the bomb on purpose.
“Jesus, Burke,” James would shake his head, face stony and unimpressed. “You have to stop being so scared of telling me things!”
“But that’s the thing, James!” I would yell, and tears would start stinging my eyes but I would let them. “I am scared!”
“Of what?” And that would be where the intensity of his gaze would become too much and I would have to look away past his head before responding.
“Everything! I’m scared of trusting people and the future and I’m scared that I’ll get hurt!”
He would be listening but stay silent, and though at first I would pause suddenly the vulnerabilities would come tumbling out all at once.
“I’m scared of being weak and I’m scared of losing you and I’m even more scared of you not wanting me anymore when you‘re gone, and I - and I’m scared of ending up like my mother.” I would finally say, and it would not only be an admission to him but to myself.
The words would hang in the air, raw and gritty and crude, and it would take him a moment to process them.
“Cornelia,” he would finally whisper, and wrap me up in his arms, safe and sound like a home. And all would be forgiven.
But it wasn’t, because I didn’t take those five steps towards him and close the distance between us. Instead, I let it crack open the ground beneath our feet and swallow us whole.
We had been practising five hours a night for two weeks just for today, and I couldn’t find my fucking vest. It wasn’t anywhere: not in my locker, not on the benches, not in the laundry, and after searching for at least three whole minutes I had fucking had enough.
“Where is it?” I screeched in a sound very unlike my normal tone, and in response I saw Kato raise his eyebrows at Beck so very annoyingly.
“Nellie,” Benjy put his hands on my shoulders before I could yell at Kato for his reaction. “Child. Darling.”
“You’re already wearing it, you plank,” said Jack Robinson snidely from behind Benjy, and I stared blankly at Jack for a moment, and then looked down at my chest, and then back up to Benjy, who was grimacing rather sympathetically down at me.
“Well this bodes well for the match!” said Benjy cheerfully, releasing me from his hold, and before I could say anything else he had plucked my helmet off my head and was tossing it to Kato, who caught it easily and held it high.
“Come and get it, Nels,” he taunted, and the moment I swiped for it he threw an around-the-back to Beck, who smirked at me.
"I hate you all so much," I growled, reaching out for it just as Beck switched hands.
“I don’t know why we never thought to practice with headgear,” mused Beck, lobbing it to Cicely who chucked it back the moment I reached out.
“Burke!” Moose poked his head out of the Captain’s office just as I was telling them all exactly where to shove it. “Get in here.”
“But they stole my-”
“Now.” Moose ordered, and so I had no choice but to relinquish my helmet salvation efforts and follow him inside the tiny room.
“I sincerely hope you’ll be better at finding the Snitch than your personal garments,” said Moose the moment the door was closed, and I glowered at him in response.
“First of all that probably wasn’t even my fault, I have half mind Benjy or Beck or someone casted a concealment charm on it like they did to Henry last year, so-"
“Burke, do you want to be Captain?” Moose interrupted me, his dark eyebrows raised slightly like if he were just a bit bored.
My mouth fell open. “What?”
“Do you want to be Captain?” he repeated slowly as if I was hard of hearing, but still my lips could not formulate an adequate response.
“I...” I had nothing to say yet, no answer made up in my mind, but I needed to be logical, just as I had earlier this week. What if I had a headache and couldn’t come to practise? What if I was still as distracted as I had been for the second half of this year? “I-I can’t-”
“I’m not asking you what you can or can’t do,” Moose glowered at me slightly. “I’m asking if you hypothetically want to do it.”
“Just answer the bloody question.” he broke in again, his eyes flickering down to his watch and then back up to mine like this conversation was barely worth his time.
I had a thousand excuses ready on the tip of my tongue, but when I opened my mouth none of them came out.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I would want that.”
Moose nodded, absolutely unsurprised by my answer even though I was taken aback by my own desires.
“Be great today,” he said.“Because you are fucking brilliant, and I know you know it too.”
“I’ll be great,” I told him, and by that I meant that I would be fucking brilliant. I had to be.
Five minutes later and we were all ready - brooms in hand, helmets on (mine had been retrieved moments ago with a well-timed Accio), and gathered in front of our leader, awaiting to hear his final speech before we followed him into battle.
“Today is the day,” Moose began like he always did, and I felt a sudden wave of melancholy nostalgia, the kind that sort of punches you in the lungs when you realise that something is about to change. And it was - regardless of if we won or lost, the seven of us would never again be in the same room like this; it was the last time we were going to hear one of Moose’s pep talks, the last time we would fly in the air as one cohesive team, and perhaps Moose felt the same way, because when he next opened his mouth the words were a far deviation from what we expected.
“It’s been the biggest honour of my life serving as your Captain,” he said. “I’ve watched each and every one of you grow, not only into the intelligent and fantastic players that you are, but into good, strong, wonderful people. Win or lose - and we better fucking win - I am so beyond proud of our team. Of all of you.”
There was a brief moment of silence that was only punctured by the muffled noises of the stadium.
“Bloody hell, Moose, I’m tearing up a bit,” Kato sniffed, and even though he was joking I could see some quality in his blue eyes that was seriously moved.
“Does anyone have a kerchief?” asked Cicely, and I honestly couldn’t tell if she was having a laugh or not until she added a fake sob.
“Mamma!” Benjy wailed, falling to his knees and banging both fists on the floor, and the rest of us dissolved into hysterics until Moose clapped his hands together.
“Okay, enough, you lot,” barked Moose, and we were back to no nonsense once again. “We’re lining up soon. Let’s take it home, Ravenclaw. Now - say it with me - wit beyond measure…”
“Is just a bit presumptuous, don’t you think?” amended Beck smoothly, and by the time Moose was finished yelling at her and we were all finished riling up Moose even more it really was time to line up.
“Ready?” Cicely asked us, her dark hair pleated into braids that strongly resembled the way Beck wore her hair every match.
“Of course,” Beck answered brusquely, but then her eyes flickered to Cicely’s eager gaze and something in her softened. “Let’s try that Jambowski move today, yeah? I think you’re ready for it.”
“Yeah, of course,” Cicely nodded, her movements barely containing her excitement, and Beck shot her a small smile before facing front again, leaving Cicely to look at the back of our heads.
“You’ll kill it today, Beck,” I told her quietly, and she snorted without turning around.
“I know,” said Beck, but then I could see her bite her lip as she tugged her hand on one of her braids. “Nellie,” she suddenly turned to me, her eyes bright, and even though she stopped as if unsure how to proceed, I somehow knew exactly what she was trying to convey.
“I know.” I told her. We both took a deep breath at the same time, in, out, and then as our straight line began to move forward she grasped my hand, squeezing it so hard that I could feel the rough calluses on her hands. Beck and I were sisters, in a way, and even though her hand dropped away from mine just as we walked into the blinding light, I knew that we’d always be connected in that beautifully incorporeal way.
It was a perfect day aside from the fact that we were playing Gryffindor for the Cup. The seven red-clad players were already lined up when we exited from under the stadium, and as we stopped across from them I could sense James Potter’s presence as apparent and as imposing as the tempo of my racing heart or the sun beating down across my face. It was painfully different than it had been the first time we faced Gryffindor this year: now instead of fighting against the intense electric magnetism between us I was yearning for that energy to somehow appear. But it was foolish to think in that way because the fire between us was like flame that had gone out - there were no hints of excitement or anticipation or recognition in the air between us. Nothing at all.
And though it killed me, I knew I couldn’t surrender even a sliver of the concentration that I had to save for the match. So just as I did the first game, I told myself that James Potter could exist as nothing more than a blank-faced player in my mind; an unworthy adversary, a distant wisp of an afterthought. A stranger.
I did not look up from the ground as Moose and James Potter went to shake hands. I didn’t break my stance when Madame Hopkins went over the rules one last time, not even when I was absolutely certain that his eyes had flickered to mine. I was centered and ready, and when the whistle finally came to signal the start of the match I took off into the air faster than anyone, almost relieved to be away from that internalised pressure.
Gryffindor had gotten into shape from the first time we had played them but still the score quickly went up in our favour. It was Kato and Beck, I think: it was their last match, their last chance to prove anything and everything to the school - the world - and they took their opportunity in stride, passing so smoothly and instantly with one another that it was like they were Legilimens.
Cicely was remarkable as well, and in a true showing of a mature player she took a step back from the game play, allowing Beck and Kato to rule the field when they could, and I could feel Moose’s palpable excitement from all the way on the other side of the Pitch even if he never cracked anything more than a slight smile.
And yet, the Gryffindor Captain (it was too distracting to say his name aloud in my mind) refused to call a timeout, even as we inched further and further along in the score - 30-0, 50-10, 90-20 - and I couldn’t tell if it was a strategic move for his players or merely the blinders of pride.
We needed to win by exactly two hundred and twenty points in order to secure the cup, and suddenly the moment we were ahead by exactly seventy I spotted the Snitch.
I couldn’t believe it. We were only a half hour into the game and championships usually lasted gruelling and hard fought hours but there it was, and suddenly I felt more excited and alive and just okay than I had in days because we were going to win.
I was in perfect position as I chased after the golden prize. Louis Weasley was coming at me from the opposite direction, and he stretched out his hand as if he were going to try to catch the Snitch as it barrelled towards him head on - and just as he almost reached us the Snitch and I had ducked slightly underneath him while he continued the other way from above, no longer a threat.
Nothing reached me then, not the announcer or the crowd or my teammates. I didn't feel the heat of the day or the sweat dripping down my back or the wind whipping my hair; it was just me and the Snitch, and I was reaching my hand out, stretching and stretching as I went faster and faster and faster and-
A Bludger came careening out of nowhere and smashed into my wrist like it was as fragile and delicate as a twig on a tree.
“Fuck!” I screamed, and I knew it was broken in the exact instant that it happened but I didn’t truly believe it until I saw my hand, already swollen and stuck at an odd angle. I barely felt myself land on the ground or heard the corresponding whistle, but before I knew it my entire team was around me and the Snitch was lost from view.
“Fuck,” said Kato, and his hands immediately went out to examine my arm, his gentle touch making me gasp with pain. “Nels-”
“I know,” I said, with my teeth gritted together to keep myself from whimpering, and I saw Benjy and Beck exchange a glance before Madame Hopkins flew over, hovering above our heads on her Nimbus 6000.
“Either Burke plays with her hand or you bring in an alternate,” Madame Hopkins called down to us before she shot back up, blowing her whistle as she did.
“I’ll play.” I told my teammates, and in my mind there wasn’t even another option. “I’m fine.”
“I can do this,” I said. “And none of you can look at me and tell me that I can’t. I’m still better than Weasley, and we’re all still better than Gryffindor. We will win, and our victory will be that much sweeter when we do because we’ll know we fought for it, hard. So I can do this and you all can do this and we all can, okay?”
There was a moment of silence.
“Aye, aye, Captain,” said Benjy, his eyebrows raised slightly, and I glanced over to Moose just in time for him to give me a small nod of approval, something not unlike pride burning in his gaze.
We flew back up into the air as a group. I was able to gingerly cradle my hand to my chest while my newly dominant hand grasped my broom, steadying my flight. But the wrist was screaming; it was the kind of pain that sort of built from one specific point out until it has stiffened all of the areas around it, and I knew it would only get harder to ignore as time went on.
We were still well ahead in the score, up by seventy points, but slowly Gryffindor began to make their way closer to us and the two teams switched off scoring every play, keeping us in range to catch the Snitch. 90-20, 100-30, 110-40...
As time went on and things became bloodier and more intense, I watched the gameplay as if through a screen. Dominique Weasley had the Quaffle within scoring distance but Cicely was covering her tightly, giving her no room to move, and Charlie Finnigan hit a well-timed Bludger towards Cicely just as Dominique managed to get past her. It collided with Cicely’s head with a dull thud, and as everyone watched her drop off her broom the Quaffle sailed through the leftmost hoop, Moose's expert goaltending successfully distracted by the hit.
Josh Danvers managed to catch Cicely right in his arms like she had been meant to fall exactly there, but it didn’t matter: Cicely Brown was out cold, and with my injured hand we were down to five and a half players to the Gryffindor’s full seven.
“What do we do?” Jack asked as we all huddled together on the ground, and for once he wasn’t sarcastic or joking or childish; he was intense, ready to be told what to do and then to follow through on it.
“We need a miracle,” Moose said, and then as he locked eyes with me I knew what he meant. “Now.”
Because this was it. The make or break. We needed one more goal for me to be able to catch the Snitch and win and we were down a Chaser, so whatever we needed to do it had to be now, before we grew too tired or discouraged or inept.
We flew back up into the air. Beck and Kato were talking quietly, trying to devise a new strategy, Jack jumping in every now and then to add commentary about their protection, while Moose took his gloves off and then put them on again, an action he preformed superstitiously whenever we were in a tight spot.
The whistle blew. Beck received the Quaffle, streaking down the field with it, and as she did by pure chance I happened to I glance up into the deep blue of the sky behind her. I could never say if it was a coincidence or godsend or whatever, but with that single fleeting look I spotted a beautiful shimmer of light.
Instinctively, I took off after it without question. Louis Weasley put it off as a feint since we were in such a poor strategic position, and as the rest of his teammates shouted their differing opinions at him I weaved around the end of the pitch, pushing my broom further and further with the one arm I could, using my abs and my thighs to stabilise my balance.
As I followed the Snitch Benjy began flying underneath me because he got it, too, what Moose had been saying - it needed to come down to this: someone putting the game before themselves, a selfless play, a sacrifice. Maybe what I was meant to do all along.
After only a few seconds the Snitch was well within my reach, but I tracked it still, partnering it in its dance while Louis Weasley dodged Jack's Bludgers behind me, both not fast enough nor in the right position to break my gaze away from the fluttering prize.
But as my right hand instinctively guided my broom, my eyes were now glued on the far end of the Pitch, where Beck was careening towards the goal, dodging players and a Bludger, passing to Kato before he quickly passed it back as defenders engulfed his form. She was like a lightning bolt - dark, powerful, and the air seemed to shiver and crackle with the anticipating electricity she created out of thin air.
She was near the Gryffindor goal posts now, and I could see it in her eyes - she wanted it bad, and like a portrait still she cocked her arm and let the Quaffle rest on the tips of her fingers, charged with potential energy.
“Go, Beck,” I screamed, as the Snitch and I took a sharp turn. “Come on!”
She released her weapon, and the Quaffle sailed through the top of the Gryffindor Keeper’s fingers and into the right hoop, and in the next second I had propelled myself forward towards the Snitch, reaching out with my good hand and allowing my broom to drop away from my knees. I was like that in midair for a moment - free - and then I was falling, falling, falling, landing on my back into the waiting salvation of Benjamin Waterson, his Beater’s bat dropping quickly to the ground as I would have if he hadn’t caught me.
For a moment, no one in the crowd took a breath. And then-
“YES!” I screamed, and right there in Benjy’s arms I punched my captive victim into the air like the trophy that it was.
“HOLY FUCK!” Benjy yelled, and then we were careening towards the ground, the rest of my team streaking past us to meet us there.
I heard the yells and cheers and whistles of the crowd; I heard the announcer’s glee and the exclamations of wonder, but none of it mattered compared to the way my heart felt as if it were going to burst out of my chest, that feeling of complete and total success and satisfaction and victory.
Beck and Benjy were hugging, and then Kato wrapped his arms around both of them which for some reason made them all laugh, and Jack was pounding his fists on his chest like a gorilla yelling some unknown war chant into the harmony of the audience’s screams, and Moose was crying, with big fat tears rolling down his pale face as he fell onto his knees gazed up towards the heavens, thanking the Quidditch Gods that he worshipped so devoutly.
But suddenly, all I cared about was James Potter, because through it all he was walking towards where I was standing with my fallen broom; his was gaze fixed and purposeful, and I didn’t dare move as he finally stopped in front of me.
For a moment, neither of us said anything, just looked and looked and looked, but then James glanced down towards the arm cradled into my chest, his eyebrows knitting together slightly before he smoothed them out.
“Your hand,” he said. “Is it okay?”
“It’s fine,” I said, and suddenly, I was replaying the scene I had imagined between us earlier - outlining everything I would say to him, predicting the way he would react, expecting a happy ending. “Listen-”
“Congratulations on the win.” James interrupted me. He betrayed no feeling or recognition, his indifference impressive and neutral and bland. It was worse than it was at the start of the year - at least that was emotion, even if it was fury, contempt. Now it was nothing at all.
“Thank you,” I said, and then before I could stop myself, “James-”
But he was already walking away, broom shouldered and back squared. He didn’t look back, not even once.
Author’s Note: SORRY for how long this took (finals murdered me) but I think everyone is going to hate me anyways for this chapter...What do you think about the way Nellie is thinking about her life and future? What about Katria? Moose’s question? James?
Also...three more chapters left. Each will take awhile to complete, because I need to get every last detail and plotline right before it ends. So bear with me, and I will respond to your reviews right after you post them instead of waiting to answer until the next chapter is posted!! And your reviews have seriously made me emotional so many times so thank you again for them - you don’t know how much they mean!!
Up next...A story of stolen hearts, family meetings, and twins.
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