Disclaimer: JKR owns everything you recognise. Full House belongs to ABC. “Not with a bang but a whimper” is the ending line to one of my favourite poems of all time “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot.
“Hey,” said Mia from where she was rummaging through her trunk for a shirt.
I grunted in response from the bathroom.
“Saw you talking to James for a moment there after you won.”
I ran a comb down my part for the last time, refusing to meet her eyes in the mirror. “It was nothing.”
“Didn’t look like nothing-”
“He wants nothing to do with me.”
Silence. And then -
“Well you did break up with him after he told you he loves you...”
“He doesn’t actually love me, Mia,” I turned around irritably only to find that Mia was just as annoyed as I was, and at that statement her eyes rolled in a very aggravated manner.
“Are you fucking serious?” she snapped, and after days worth of dulcet tones and soothing affirmations from her it was quite a shock.
I put the comb down on the sink and reentered the space of the dormitory, crossing my arms. “Listen-”
“No, you listen, Nellie,” Mia interrupted. “You don’t notice these things, and sometimes it makes me want to just shake your brain into making sense, or something! Back in the fall, you thought you and James were arguing all the time when the rest of us knew it was blatant and really rather disgusting flirting! And when you starting hooking up it was always more than just a hookup, everyone in the bloody school knew it and don’t you dare look at me and say you didn’t know because you did.
“And you weren’t there that on your birthday at the North Tower,” Mia continued, and then revised. “Well, you were there but not really, and God, Nellie, James was...broken. I’ve never seen anything like it from anyone, not even Scorpius. And then afterwards when you pushed him away he told you that he wished you had explained everything because he wanted to be there for you, which is exactly what he would’ve said if you just told him about the bloody curse in the first place! So I’m not going to hear you say that James Potter doesn’t really love you or he can’t or any more absolute rubbish because it’s not fucking true!”
There was a beat of silence, as Mia stood there breathing hard, her hair in front of her eyes and her eyes still glaring at me.
“Okay,” I said finally, sitting down on the end of my bed, and my voice was dull enough that she knew I was waving a white flag. “Okay, I’m sorry.”
Mia stared at me for a moment and then bit her lip, sitting down next to me. “No, I’m sorry too. Because I know why you did it, and I understand it. I do, Nellie.”
I rubbed my thumb against my arm absentmindedly, staring at the dark wood floors. “I don’t even know why I did it.”
Mia smiled sadly. “You did it because you do love him. You do. And even though you know he’d be nothing but supportive if you told him what was going on, you won’t admit that to yourself because you’re scared of hurting him later.”
For a moment my breath caught in my throat - had Scorpius somehow told her the way to alter the after? - but then Mia, noticing my confused expression, added, “You think in the future it’ll be too hard or stressful or whatever for him when you have headaches and potentially see bad things happen to the people around you. And you don’t have to tell me if I’m right about all of this - I know I am - but...you’re not your mother, Nellie, okay? You’re not. You deserve to be happy.”
“We just won the Cup, okay?” I stood up after a moment, pulling my mini skirt down and checking my reflection in the hanging mirror one last time. “Can we just celebrate that? Please?”
“Of course,” Mia nodded a little too quickly to be genuine. “Obviously, you know I’m just so proud of you!”
“I hear music,” I said as a deflection. “I’m going to go down now, Beck said everyone was going early anyways.”
“Okay!” said Mia brightly, her voice just slightly off enough for me to notice. “See you in a minute!”
As I went to the door I caught a glimpse of her expression. Her face was raised slightly to the ceiling, teeth tugging the side of her lip into a frown, eyes distant and made glassy by the way her eyebrows gently curved down as if they were a burden to her forehead.
I left before I had to look at her any longer.
The Common Room was beginning to fill up as I made my way down the staircase. Music was pounding, people were laughing (clearly the drinks table was already fully functioning), and some Fifth Years were finishing up the Common Room decorations, complete with huge cutouts of all of our faces plastered onto the statue of Rowena Ravenclaw. As I entered people shouted my name - Nellie! Nellie Burke! - so I smiled and played my part by making the rounds and beaming and laughing and accepting drinks, and even though Mia’s words still pricked painfully in my head I was able to push them out and just enjoy the success.
“Nellie!” someone yelled, and then I was being twirled in the air by none other than Milo Cunningham. “Congratulations, we’re so proud-”
“Yeah, well fucking done, mate,” said Flynn, who must’ve just arrived with Albus and Scorpius and Rose. “You know, you’ve mucked up a lot of things in your life-”
“Are you joking, Flynn?” said Mia immediately, having materialised by my elbow just in time to catch that comment.
Flynn scowled. “I was going to bloody say that she didn’t muck this up!”
“A beautiful sentiment,” said Albus serenely. Rose snorted.
“Can’t you just be happy and excited for your best friend for once?” Mia hissed.
“Oh, I am extremely happy and excited!” said Flynn loudly. “This is just how I show it!”
“Oh, fuck off!” Mia yelled, and then they were snogging again, of course, and the rest of us moved away where we were safe from having to watch or listen to our two friends defile one another.
“You know, it’s taking less and less for them to resort to physicalities,” Scorpius commented idly, taking a sip of his blue coloured drink and grimacing slightly when it went down.
“I know,” replied Albus. “I’m a bit worried the next time they have a row they’ll begin to undress each other.”
“Don’t be stupid, Al,” Rose scoffed. “They’ll obviously just do hand stuff underneath the clothes, Mia would never appear so indecent in public-”
“She’s absolutely right, you know,” I told Al, and he was just coming up with a sharp rebuttal when Willow landed by my side and his mouth grew slack as he stared at her.
“Hey!” Willow said brightly, wrapping her slender arms around me in a brief hug. “Congrats, Nellie, you were amazing!”
“She was the highlight of the match,” Scorpius said proudly, resting his arm on top of my head, and I ducked out of his hold rather embarrassed by his comment.
“Oi!” Milo exclaimed, returning to the group with magical darts clenched tightly in his fist. “Who wants to go for a round or two? Scorpius? Willow?”
“Oh,” Willow looked from the dartboard to Milo and then to Albus, smiling a bit sheepishly. “I’ve never actually played.”
“Al can teach you,” I jumped in before anyone could say anything. “He’s rather brilliant at it.”
“A really stupid talent to have, honestly,” said Flynn, who was apparently done with snogging Mia who had disappeared. “Too bad Al isn’t good at anything useful, like school or wand work or potions-”
“Oh, wait!” cried Scorpius dramatically. “He’s good at all of those things, what an absolute revolutionary-”
“Every day, my parents wish they had given birth to Al instead of me,” said Rose, wiping away a fake tear from her deep brown eyes. “I just don’t have those Potter genes, I guess-”
“Everyone fuck off,” Al interjected, and even though his ears were bright red he was still rolling his eyes good naturedly, Willow laughing right next to him.
“Darts, though,” said Milo, not to be forgotten, and as everyone began figuring out who was playing Albus nudged Willow, his ears still red.
“Want to be a team?”
“Oh, absolutely,” she grinned warmly, nudging him back, and as I walked away towards where I had just spotted Kato Al began explaining how to play, positioning the dart in Willow’s fingers and guiding her hand to throw it.
“Hey,” I said to Kato once I had reached him by the drinks table. “What-”
“You’re HERE!” Kato exclaimed, then pulled me towards the statue with our faces on it and then lifted his newly full pint of beer into the air, Moose and Benjy right beside him with Cicely and Jack on his other side. “Everyone, let’s say huzzah to Nellie Burke, Hero of Ravenclaw, who caught the Snitch with a broken hand!”
“Huzzah!” Benjy cried, lifting his glass into the air as Kato had. “And huzzah to Cicely Brown, who is magically healed and awakened once more!”
“Huzzah!” Moose bellowed, face already ruddy, while Cicely glanced from him to Benjy to Kato, rather alarmed.
“And, look!” Benjy pointed to Beck who was beside me now, her arms crossed and eyebrows arched at the scene unfolding. “There is the fair maiden Rebecca - the most beautiful Quidditch savant in all of the land!”
“Oh, Jesus,” Beck muttered, but she was smirking despite herself even as she wiped off the droplets of ale that had been splashed onto her with gusto.
“What do we say to her, o’ kindly gentlemen?” Benjy asked, and all three of them raised their glasses into the air once more, Moose’s spilling over the top with exuberance. “Huzzah!”
“You’re stupid,” Beck told Benjy, who grinned sloppily at her, his brown hair flopping in front of his eye.
“You love it,” he told her back. And then he was snogging her - Beck Davidson - on the mouth, and she was snogging him back, pulling his waist closer and grinning through his kiss like she loved it, too.
“Oh, my God,” I think I said, while Kato guffawed and wolf whistled and Jack made noises of disgust and turned away like a child whose parents started getting off in front of him.
“Oi! Waterson!” Moose barked, and I was sure they were in for it until he split into a wide grin. “Get a room, will you?”
Beck unstuck her face from Benjy’s as she rolled her eyes at Moose, and then Benjy took a sip of his beer behind her head and she swatted him away, still smirking.
“Beck, what?” I exclaimed, my mouth so completely ajar that Kato had to reach over and push my jaw shut.
“I should’ve told you earlier,” she said, and she was smiling but also looked almost nervous, like she was waiting on my reaction. “We were just sort of hooking up, and then-”
“I stole her heart,” Benjy pronounced proudly, resting his long arms on her shoulders, and as she rolled her eyes up at him but let him kiss her again, the slow lingering kind that betrayed more intimacy than lust.
Like the sudden prick of a needle I felt a familiar twinge of the pain that made your heart stop and smile falter for just a moment, but I think I recovered well, fixing my expression and taking a deep breath to push the feeling away.
“I seriously still can’t believe it,” Kato was saying, and Moose handed me a full glass of the blue alcohol and I took a sip of it gratefully. “Honestly, I didn’t think you had it in you, Waterson.”
“Can I just ask one question?” said Jack, and even though everyone said no he kept talking. “Who the fuck wears the pants in this relationship?”
“Easy,” said Benjy as we all laughed, Beck aiming a kick for Jack’s left shin. “We both wear dresses.”
“What say you about all of this, Nellie Burke?” Moose asked loudly with a burp in the middle, swaying slightly.
I had a different answer in mind, but suddenly I realised that Beck and Benjy in a relationship was almost as right and natural as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. They were dramatically different - Beck tough and clever, Benjy goofy and fun - but somehow when they were together they seemed more similar than ever, Beck softening around the edges and Benjy sharpening up.
“I say,” I pronounced, “that this might be even better than winning the cup.”
Beck and Benjy both beamed, Beck reaching out her pinky finger to grasp mine as Kato thrust his glass above his head.
“TO THE CUP!” Kato roared, and somehow everyone in the Common Room heard him and raised their drinks in the air, all united as one House.
“TO THE CUP!” we all screamed, and then we were drinking and the music was somehow louder than before and it was truly a celebration not just of winning and Quidditch, but of all of us as Ravenclaws.
The night progressed on and on, but after a couple of hours I suddenly found myself quite alone even as I was surrounded by a hundred bodies. Albus and Willow were still playing darts, Willow missing the board all of her shots and the two of them dissolving into laughter, Willow clutching onto Al’s arm for support. Mia and Flynn were back to arguing, Mia’s mouth quirking into a slight smile every so often before she managed to fix her expression back to one of distaste. Beck and Benjy were dancing exuberantly in the middle of the common room, their limbs flailing and feet stepping over the others, and Scorpius and Rose were right beside them, twirling around and around until neither of them could walk straight. Everyone was happy, growing and evolving and connecting, and I felt like the only one still stuck in the same place, forced down into the mud by factors I felt like I could not control.
But although I felt stagnate time still went on, and my Sixth Year of schooling ended not with a bang but a whimper. We had slowly come down from the high that a second Quidditch Championship had awarded us except for Jack, who still paraded the corridors with his chest puffed out as proud as a hippogriff. Exams had come and gone in their usual flurry of activity, Mia, Willow, and I cramming while Milo, Al and Scorpius (who never needed to study) and Flynn (who really really needed to study) played an Exploding Snap tournament, Flynn coming out victorious in true testament to where his priorities lay.
And then it was our last day at Hogwarts, and I was lounging outside with Benjy and Moose when I saw James Potter, arm loosely around the shoulders of none other than Ana Clearwater underneath the large beech tree overlooking the lake. They were with a group of people and everyone was laughing; Q was telling one of his stories and Marley was interrupting and Leta and Fred were throwing clumps of grass and dirt at one another. I had been there once, invited into the warmth and ease of that group, and now my spot had been replaced by the most perfect girl at Hogwarts.
So he was over me, and while that thought should’ve comforted me - I had done the right thing - I suddenly felt so fucking inferior for still feeling so strongly for him when he clearly didn’t feel the same. But maybe that was just the effect of James Sirius Potter - he was the light to which all others flocked, the unquestionable center of so many people’s universe. Now I was far out of his orbit, cast away into the cold, empty void of space, resigned to float through time unmoving while the stars shone on, brighter and brighter and brighter. It was a law that the earth revolved around the greatness sun, not the other way around - I just had tried my best not to see it.
I found Albus in the study hall, finishing up a final paper he had for Divination due later that day. The two of us hadn’t spoken about his brother even once - Al had been tactful enough not to mention it to me - but right now it was all that I could think about so I just had to bring it up.
“When were you going to tell me?” I said without preface as I came to a stop in front of Albus. “About him and Ana Clearwater?”
I so badly wanted Al to be confused, perplexed. To be comforting, to tell me that I was overreacting, that it was nothing of importance, but instead he sighed slowly, his gaze slowly traveling up to meet mine.
“You saw them?”
“I-” I started, and then stopped, my voice considerably lower. “By the beech tree.”
Albus bit his lip slightly, staring at his parchment, then glanced up at me unwaveringly. “He asked her out a few days ago. They’ve been hanging out lately.”
I knew hanging out for Ana Clearwater actually meant just hanging out, but somehow that was worse than if they were just hooking up. I had fully expected James to rebound just as I had sort of expected myself to, but for him to go straight into another emotional connection with someone like the time we had spent together was nothing hurt more than anything else ever could.
“So he tells me he loves me and then three weeks later is with someone else,” I said, and my emotions morphed my tone into something I didn’t like, bitter and sarcastic and shrill. “That’s really fucking great. What a stellar guy he is.”
Albus sighed, setting down his quill. “I’m not getting in the middle of this-”
“I’m not asking you to-”
“But you are, Nellie,” Al interrupted, and it was uncharacteristically harsh. “You’re one of my best friends, but James is my brother and you’re the one who hurt him, not the other way around.”
I opened my mouth to argue but then stopped when I realised I couldn’t. “I know,” I whispered miserably, and it hurt, it hurt so fucking badly but I wound my arms around my sides as if that action would be the thing that allowed me to hold myself together.
“Shit.” said Albus after a moment of watching me. “Fuck, Nellie, this wasn’t about seeing and stuff, was it? Did you break up with James because of the family curse?”
My silence was enough of an answer.
“Jesus, Nellie,” Albus groaned. “You’re in love with him, aren’t you? And you ended it to protect him or something, oh Merlin-”
“I had no choice,” I told him, and I didn’t outwardly deny the first part of his sentence because I couldn’t anymore, as much as I wanted to. “It’s not fair to put anyone else through that. I need to minimise the damage. Besides, he’s moved on. It was the right decision.”
“Everything you said is wrong,” Albus said softly, but he could see that my mind would not be changed so he didn’t say anything else on the subject.
We went to the Tower at an hour to midnight like we usually did. It was a beautiful night - warm and sultry with the sweet taste of pollen and summer lingering in the air - but the skies were dusty with clouds, making the world seem that much more like a cage we could not break out of.
We drank and we ate as usual, our conversations mostly surrounding exams and the rather inappropriate comments made by Slughorn during our Potions practical, but soon a sort of silence fell over us, large and imposing in the way it pressed itself into our eardrums.
“Can you believe everything that’s happened?” Albus spoke finally, his voice subdued by the stillness of the air. He had somehow grown into his long limbs and body this year, and I hadn’t noticed exactly when it happened but now he was more muscular and mature in his figure, resembling his brother even more.
“God, there was so much,” Mia emphasised, and I caught her rapid glance towards me before she looked away as quickly as she could. It was obvious that I was existing as the giant elephant in the room, with my family curse and James Potter and everything that had occured over the past months, but just as everyone else tactfully did not acknowledge it, I pretended not to think about it either.
“Remember when you made me spy on Scorpius with you past curfew?” Flynn flicked me in the head. “And then I heard Sinistra coming and ran-”
“And I got a detention? Yes, you gormless little git,” I shoved his shoulder. “God, if you were ever to fight in a war you would be the first deserter.”
Flynn shrugged, unbothered by my assertion. “I have my priorities.”
“You know, you two literally caught me and Rose - fuck’s sake, Corn, Rose and I - and still didn’t suspect anything between us.” Scorpius smirked, and Mia not liking when Scorpius looked so proud tossed a chocolate wrapper at him.
“That’s because you were meant to hate her,” I told him as I took another swig of my drink, and he pulled a face at me but then broke in the middle of it, grinning.
"Remember when Flynn almost got Kinsley McDermott to go out with him when he pretended Nellie was dying after the first Quidditch match?" Al contributed, leaning back on his arms.
"Nearly worked, too," Scorpius grinned. "She was a bit put off when he told her that if she went out with him he wouldn't care about Corn, though."
"It just warms my heart to see how much you value me and our friendship!" I told Flynn as everyone else laughed.
"Ah, come off it, Nels, you know you're my favourite," said Flynn, and then he was reaching over to plant a wet kiss on my cheek as I shrieked and tried to wipe it off.
"You know, you are a terrible, disgusting, terrible person," Mia told Flynn once he had settled back down, and as Flynn opened his mouth to retort Milo broke in.
“Hey,” said Milo, unprompted as usual. “Remember when Mia and Flynn kissed?”
“Hm,” said Albus, catching on to what Milo was trying to do. “You know, I’m having a wee bit of trouble picturing the exact instance you’re referring to.”
“That’s because it’s happened so many times, Milo,” Scorpius jumped in sagely. “They’re hard to discern in the mind, you see.”
“Will you all kindly piss off?” said Flynn grumpily as he took another swig of his drink - firewhiskey mixed with pumpkin juice, by the looks of it.
“Will you kindly define the relationship?” I shot back at him smoothly, and Mia turned practically white, hissing my name reaching over to slap my leg.
“Confabulation,” said Milo. We all stared at him until he continued. “That’s what the term is for blending events and creating a false memory.”
There was another pause.
“Anyways,” said Scorpius. “Mad how fast this year has gone.”
“Truly,” I agreed, and as I looked around our little circle I could see that everyone felt the same. “It seems like yesterday that we were doing this on the first week of school.”
And it did seem like yesterday, as if last week were September and we still had the entire year stretching out in front of us with its infinite possibilities. Perhaps it felt this way because our Seventh Year of schooling seemed to creep up on us like shadows at sunset; slow and even yet quite jarring when we suddenly realised the time had arrived. But we were young where nothing was permanent, and this evolved from our freedom to our prison because everything was fleeting - days, beauty, warmth, youth - and so we clung onto the bare threads of every night we had together, grasping at uncapturable wisps of time.
After hours that felt like minutes the sun had risen over our bleary eyes, stretching sleepy rays and morning dew across the castle grounds. And we had slumped back inside, gone back to our respective dormitories to nap until it was imperative that we finished packing, which we all did just in time. And before I knew it I was in a train car with everyone including Benjy and minus Rose and Albus who were staying the extra days for the graduation ceremony, on my way back to the rather bleak reality that usually encased my summers.
It had been decided weeks before. I would stay in the manor for a couple of days so I could pack up what I needed, and then move into Adam’s spare bedroom in London for the time being, alternating between living there and with Mia and Scorpius when they’d have me. Draco had written a letter to me weeks ago offering to move everything I owned into Malfoy Manor, but Scorpius, Adam, and I had all agreed that it was best I involve him as little as possible.
No one met me at King’s Cross. Goodbyes were exchanged even though we would all see one another the following week, Mia wiping away stray tears while Flynn mocked her sensitivity. And then one by one parents came to claim their children until Scorpius and I were alone, sitting on a bench outside of the station together, watching the nighttime traffic.
“You could still come home with me,” offered Scorpius, but I shook my head just as he knew I would. Being in the manor for a couple of days was never really an issue for me; I enjoyed having time to myself for a bit, as I would also have when I moved in with Adam since he was going on holiday with Annabelle.
“You’ll see me soon enough,” I told him, leaning my head onto his shoulder slightly. “We’re all going to the Leprechaun next week anyways.”
Scorpius shrugged; the action raised and lowered my neck slightly. “I’ll still miss you,” he said quietly.
I raised my head up so that I could look him in the eyes, and we stared at one another, emerald green to pale blue. “I’ll miss you, too.”
We walked back inside together, back onto Platform 9 and ¾, and then we Apparated away.
The manor looked as it always did, unchanged for a century and a half. The grass on the front lawn was manicured and lush, the hedges trimmed and intimidating, the fountains and various pillars marble white and perfectly clean. It did not impress me in the slightest.
When I arrived inside I headed straight for the East Wing while my trunk thumped ungracefully behind me. By chance, I looked down the end of the hall and into the library - and there was Esmeralda Burke, sitting in a chair by a large bookcase and sipping a delicate cup of tea.
“Cornelia,” my grandmother glanced up before I could disappear into my bedroom or Apparate or something. ”You’re late.”
“Grandmother,” I replied as I entered the library, and immediately my wand was held out in front of me and I was reciting shielding incantations in my mind, ready for a blitz attack.
“Put that away, child,” Esmeralda waved her hand dismissively, barely even awarding my attack position a second glance. “This is not the hour for duel.”
“But last time was?” I countered, glancing purposefully over to where she had slammed me into the stones above the fireplace, and her mouth curved into an expression of displeasure
“A miscalculation on my part,” Esmeralda pursed her thin lips together. “Sit down, Cornelia.”
She gestured to the chair opposite, and slowly I lowered myself into it, my hand still clutching my wand tightly.
“I understand you are no longer acquainted with the Potter boy,” she raised her plucked eyebrows, the slenderness of them making her appear more severe. “I will be lenient and consider this a redeeming decision for you.”
I didn’t say anything.
“But let me make myself clear,” my grandmother set down her tea, and all pretenses of generosity were gone. “The moment you choose to do such things again, you will no longer reap any of the benefits of your name. Your vault in Gringotts will be liquidated. You will not be allowed back onto manor property or to attend esteemed events. All contact with any members of this family will be forbidden.”
“You should know by now that none of that matters to me,” I told her bravely, and she fixed her hawk green eyes on me before looking away.
Slowly, Esmeralda stood, crossing the empty space to the large arched windows on either side of the fireplace, “You must understand,” she said finally, her eyes still fixed on some point out the window. “We survived two wars with this family intact.”
“You were on the wrong side-”
“It was still a war.” Her voice cut through the air with more emotion than I’d ever heard from her. “And we still fought, and grieved, and bled just as everyone else did, regardless of sides.
“Before your grandfather was captured, he told me that it was my duty to continue our legacy if anything were to happen to him. And I am not a fool, Cornelia,” she continued. “I know you don’t believe that any of this applies to you. But this is your family, and it will always be your history. Remember that, child.”
It was a powerful sentiment, a movie-worthy line - except for one problem. Esmeralda Burke was never concerned about the topics of war nor about the toll it took on her family or the rest of the world. Sure, she despised Muggles and Muggleborns, but not for what they were, just what they represented: a lower class rebellion, a threat to a previously pure family tree. And during the wars she didn’t even care about whether members of our family lived our died - in fact, she was the one who gave up her husband Thelonious Burke unprompted after the Battle of Hogwarts. No, all that ever truly mattered to Esmeralda Burke was maintaining the purity and power of the blood that ran through the veins of our bloodline. Anything that sullied it must be dealt with swiftly and without forgiveness, and I was thinking about this a couple of days later as I sat down at one of my favorite cafes in the town nearest to the manor and ordered tea and pound cake.
It was called the Royal Cafe, but it wasn’t fancy in the slightest; instead it felt like someone’s home, with warm colours and mismatched dining sets and a mat to wipe your feet on at the door. I always liked to sit by the picture of the owner’s cat Marvin, and when I was younger I used to pretend that they were my parents and Marvin and I lived there together, right in the shop. It used to provide a welcome escape from the discomfort and loneliness I felt in my own home, but now it was where I came to read.
I had been at my favourite table for a couple of hours sinking into King Lear when a shadow fell over the pages.
“Nellie Burke?” someone asked, and when I looked up I was met with the sight of two women - identical twins, by the look of it. They were petite and angular, with choppy white blonde hair and huge but rather startled blue eyes, and they reminded me of a pair of twins who acted in a Muggle show Mia used to make me watch called Full House.
“We’ve been looking for you,” the second one spoke, her voice a little lower than the first’s, and immediately I gripped my wand underneath my sweater, my heart rate immediately skyrocketing.
“Don’t be scared, love,” the first one put out her hand, almost touching my arm but not quite. Their English voices were strangely accented with something I couldn’t place that sounded vaguely European - Holland? Switzerland? “I am Audrey and this is Alexandra. We knew Veronica.”
Slowly, I relaxed the tense grip on my wand as the two women pulled over chairs and sat down across from me, both resting their hands on top of the table as if to show me that they meant no harm.
“We understand this is a little alarming,” the one who had been introduced as Alexandra smiled encouragingly at me. “But we knew we wanted to speak with you as soon as we could.”
“You knew my mother?” I asked after a beat of silence, and as I did a strange sense began creeping into my arms, pricking underneath the skin of my palms and tingling up through the nerves into the tips of my fingers.
“Yes,” Audrey nodded quickly, her blonde hair bobbing up and down. “We grew up in Amsterdam and we were a few years behind her in Beauxbatons, but we all became very close through our shared similar experience.”
“Talents, we should say,” Alexandra corrected, and from the way the two of them raised their eyebrows slightly as they stared at me, I realised what they were trying to tell me.
“You’re both Seers?” I asked, and in order to quell the bizarre sensation I sat on my hands, hoping that they would settle.
“We are,” Audrey nodded again in that rapidly bobbing way. “And I know Veronica and you aren’t truly Seers, but we bonded all the same. She was like our triplet.”
The feeling in my hands continued, sending the hairs on my arm raised high, and suddenly I realised exactly why my body was so tense and on high alert.
“Did she ever take you to where she grew up in Paris?” I asked, fixing my face into something that hopefully appeared eager and slightly melancholy.
“Oh, yes,” Audrey nodded again and smiled smiled, exchanging a reminiscent glance with Alexandra. “It was beautiful.”
I smiled indulgently as I finished the last of the tea in my cup, but inside my mind was screaming.
My mother had grown up in Marseille.
“Well,” I set my cup down on the table and checked my watch for good measure. “I must be off, but it was lovely meeting both of you,” I said, and I stood up even though this had been my table.
“Let’s talk for a little while more, yes?” Alexandra suggested, Audrey once again nodding exuberantly in agreement.
“I really do have to go,” I grimaced with regret, and I was clutching my wand behind my back again just in case. “But I would love to talk some other time.”
“We haven’t even gotten to the most important topics,” Audrey insisted, and the two of them stood up at once. “Like about Veronica's flashes and how she handled them.”
“And about the reason why she died.” Alexandra said, her voice low as her gaze bore into mine.
That made me falter for a moment - how could they know? - but then all of the sudden thick black clouds of smoke were filling up in the cafe and obscuring everything from my vision, and before I could fight or scream or do anything a hand was over my mouth and I was being squeezed into the tight tunnel of Apparition.
“What the fucking fuck was that?” I screamed once I could feel my feet on solid ground again, and my wand was out and I was prepared to fight for my life until I realised exactly who was in front of me and my wand clattered to the ground in shock.
“Hello, Cornelia,” Andrew Burke said grimly, bending over to pick up my fallen wand from the floor of Adam’s apartment. “I’m glad you heeded my previous warnings.”
“They will come, but you mustn’t trust anyone who approaches; only those you see.” That was what my father had told me when I visited him in his hospital bed, and as bizarre and confusing as it had sounded five months ago, he had been right.
“Who were they?” I asked, dropping into the leather chair in the middle of the living room of that Adam loved and Annabelle hated.
My father grimaced, handing me my wand as he stood above me. “My subordinates.”
“Unspeakables?” I gaped at him, but suddenly everything fell into place: why the Unspeakables hadn't wanted me to know anything, why he had warned me, why Adam had used anonymous owls to send me the curse book and told me not to write him first. “And they’re Seers?”
My father shook his head, reaching out towards the purple robes that had been resting on the kitchen island. “A lie,” he said. “They have as much Sight as the Cliffs of Dover. When you meet a Seer, you will know.”
I considered this, and then frowned. “But, why were they pretending, then? What did they want from me?”
My father straightened out the collar of his robes silently until he stopped, facing me full on with his piercing gaze. “It’s widely known that there is a Prophecy room in the Department of Mysteries.”
“So you deal with other forms of future prediction?” I surmised, and my father’s eyebrows raised slightly before he shook his head.
“Most of that information is classified,” he replied, and it was such a common sentence for him to say that I almost laughed. “But a program was started decades ago designed to target people with a talent like you.”
My forehead wrinkled with confusion. “But I’m not a Seer,” I told him, and it sounded a bit like a question the way my voice raised with uncertainty at the end.
“No,” my father agreed, his lips coming together in a wry smile. “You’re much more powerful than that, Cornelia.”
“How?” I shook my head. “I can’t even stop the future-”
“Because you create the future,” he told me. “And the theory is if we can alter your mind and trigger or invent a vision, it will come true in reality.”
It felt like my heart was slowing into a stutter as my breaths were increasing in tempo, and I looked at him for awhile before speaking, just trying to process what he had said. “I don’t understand how that works.”
“I don’t have time to explain,” Andrew Burke said, reaching out for his wand and straightening his robes one last time. “Just be vigilant and only trust those you have seen. Oh-” and then he was pressing a small key into my palm, and although I immediately knew what it was I had no idea why he was giving it to me. “This is yours.”
“Why?” I asked, but he was already stepping away, his spectacles reflecting oddly off of the light and obscuring the depths of his eyes.
“Be safe, Cornelia. And remember Marseille,” he said, and a moment later he was gone.
Author’s Note: A lot is packed into this chapter - what do you think of Beck and Benjy? Mia and Flynn? What about the Department of Mysteries' involvement - how could Nellie possibly create the future?
Also, since it’s been thirty chapters I figured I would say a little about myself, since I feel like I know so many of you and yet not at all. I’m currently a student at (one of you did actually guess this) an Ivy League school in the United States! I’m actually planning on going to medical school, but if I’m being completely honest if I could ever make it as a writer that is 10000%% what I’d want to do. Anyways I’d love to hear any little tidbits about your lives as well so feel free to tell me about yourselves in the comments!! Thanks so much for reading again! Two chapters left!
Up next...A story of gold, pendants, and one night stands.
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