Disclaimer: I only own what you do not recognise; the rest belongs to J.K. Rowling, without whom this story would not be possible. King Lear ("The wheel is come full circle: I am here.") and Romeo and Juliet are written by Shakespeare; the excerpts from the poem “If I should die (52)” belongs to Emily Dickinson. Once again, “The Hollow Men” is by T.S. Eliot.
Warning: Sensitive themes and topics. Please proceed with caution.
I am so sorry for the way I am about to leave you, and Adam, and this earth. I am so sorry it has to be like this, but it does.
If you are reading this, it means that it is now your time to shoulder the weight of the curse on our bloodline. It also means that you have grown up confused and angry at my passing. I knew you would hate me, as I hated my mother when I believed her death was solely her selfish prerogative. Now I am hoping you see things differently.
When I first inherited these talents, I was told by my father that there was no way for me to help the people I knew in the visions. But as I found out, and as you may already know, there is a way to alter the future: you must sacrifice your own life in order to prevent whatever “after” you have seen. This is the only way, and this is how my mother and her mother and hers met their ends. And me, I suppose. All of us to save another.
When I began this letter, I was not set on telling you exactly why I chose to alter the after, but now I believe that I must. My mother never told me, but I have had countless sleepless nights wondering what scenario spurred her decision and I do not want this fate for you.
My vision was of you, darling Cornelia. I tell you this without placing any blame or embitterment upon your conscience, and I implore that you don’t direct any onto yourself. The vision was of you climbing in the bath to shower and slipping on the wet tiles. You fell right into the handle, and as I saw your eyes, blank and unseeing, I decided my own fate. In a few hours, I will be gone, but you will be safe. And you must be safe, because you deserve to live a happy, wonderful life, even if it is a cursed one.
Ma chérie, I cannot implore you not to make the same choice as I have, because what if it is your daughter, or your dearest friend, or your sweet brother? I wish you would not do this, but I understand if you must.
But still remember that the world is yours to take, and you must take it and live even when others do not. Astoria will have at least a few more years to watch over and love you. I know Draco loves you, too. And your father. Your father chose to become an Unspeakable in order to protect me and his future daughter. He loved you before you were even created.
You need not pity me, nor wish that things could have been different. I’ve been tired for a long time. I’m ready to rest.
I will see you one day in the stars. Be brave, ma chérie. Je t’aime.
With all the love of the universe,
The letter had helped me through the past months, the words almost fully memorised in my head like the lyrics to a favourite song. But instead of reciting them in my mind I now pictured my mother looking down on me as I folded up the parchment and tucked back away inside of the ancient book. I imagined that she was sad, but happy that the curse would end with me, if I did it right. And I had to do it right, or else all would be lost.
It was strangely ironic that a superbly divine being such as James Potter would be sentenced to a horrifically mortal death. It didn’t seem fitting in any way, like there was some glitch in the matrix of the universe that decided these things. Like there had been a mistake - it must be a mistake, it must be it must be it must be.
And I repeated that to myself until I could no longer deny the things I had seen in my very head only an hour ago. Because they were truths and they were the indisputable future, and that future was nearer than any of the flashes I’d had before ever were. It was three-thirty in the morning right now, and although the vision took place underneath the early rays of the sun I just knew that it was today, in the same incomprehensible areas of my mind that had known who Katria’s father was or that Celeste was a Seer.
My hands were beginning to shake so I clenched them tightly into fists, allowing my nails to dig into the flesh and settle into the creases across my palm. Mia and I used to examine one another’s hands, looking for clues to our destinies and summarisations of our character in the arching lines. Now it made me wonder if the answers to my future had been with me all along.
Without warning, there was a startling crack of Apparition in the middle of the living room and I started, my heart jumping into my throat when I saw the head of messy hair and then slowing when I realised exactly who it was.
“Nellie!” Albus Potter exclaimed, and before I could say anything his face split into a wide grin. “Holy fuck Nellie, I can’t thank you enough for telling Willow!”
“Al,” I said hoarsely, my voice barely loud enough to hear. “I-“
“We kissed - sorry, you knew that - and then we talked for so long and we’re going out tomorrow - well, I guess today, actually - but I just can’t believe I wasted all this time!” Albus continued in his rambling, not stopping to take a breath. “I was too scared to make a move but now everything’s exactly right, perfect, even, and - what’s wrong?”
He had just caught sight of my face, which I was sure was frozen into some sort of horrified mask of what was building inside of me.
“I had a vision,” I whispered, for once unable to lie. “Of James. He was getting hit by a Muggle bus. And he-”
I couldn’t finish the sentence, but Al knew exactly what I meant and his legs partially gave out, his hands coming up to grip the sides of Adam’s countertop until his knuckles were white.
“When?” Al croaked, the colour practically disappeared from his face.
“Soon,” I told him, and then cleared my throat, my voice suddenly strong and with purpose - a decision made. “Soon, so we have to act now.”
And as Albus was still sagged against the kitchen counter, I grabbed the scroll from where it was laying on the marble island and thrust it towards him as Celeste’s words played in my mind - do not let it fall into the wrong hands.
“Take this and keep it in a safe place. Go to James and just tell him not to go outside until the sun is all the way up, okay? To not go anywhere. Make sure he doesn’t go near a street.”
“I thought they couldn’t be stopped,” Albus said frantically, but he grabbed the parchment from my hand anyways, his face still ghostly white.
“There is a way,” I told him, just as urgently as he had spoken. “And I can’t tell you how, but it’s all in the writing, okay?”
Albus had taken Ancient Runes but the class never went into anything as complex as the scroll, and I was counting on that. I needed Albus to be too late in figuring out what was about to happen. I needed everyone to be.
“Okay,” Al nodded, his movements too quick and jerky to be reassuring. “But, Nellie, you should know that James-”
“Go!” I cried, and as the resounding crack from his Apparition echoed around the room, I realised I had just seen Albus Potter for the last time in my mortal life.
The flat was almost completely quiet again, and as I stood there with my heavy breaths shattering the tranquility of it one thought permeated through my shell-shocked brain.
James Potter is not going to die today. I am.
As if controlled by some unseen force, robotically I grabbed a pen and pad of paper from Annabelle’s neat arrangement on the coffee table and began scrawling out two notes - one to Scorpius and one to Adam. Because I loved them, I loved them so fucking much but I also knew how strong they were. They had been through everything and they had done it both together and alone, and they could do it again. They could get through this. They would.
And strangely, I didn’t care if they never forgave me - I just needed them to forgive themselves. To not relive what they lived with when Veronica’s time came. To be free of any lingering ghosts staining what should be their bright futures.
I finished the letters and put them on the kitchen counter next to one another, neat and aligned as if that would somehow make all of this easier or cleaner.
For a moment I stared at them, all the right angles perfectly parallel. And then I grabbed the pen again, gripping it like a lifeline as it met the pad of paper again and again.
To Mia. Devoted and true, a believer of tough love and unconditional support. The best friend I could have ever imagined. She would be one of my hardest goodbyes.
To Albus. Fair, patient, sensitive. The most incredibly kind person who deserved infinitely more than the world could ever given him. It was only right to thank him for everything he had done for me.
To Flynn. To Milo. To Beck. All wildly different, all immeasurably wonderful. Beck with her sharp tongue and secret warmth; Milo with his vocabulary and stories and eagerness to be good; Flynn with his rude manners and fierce companionship. They were the most loyal friends I had ever had, and they needed to know it.
To James. He deserved one too. Because even if he didn’t want me I couldn’t imagine he would ever want me to die, especially not like this. And he couldn’t know why I was doing what I was - he would hate himself for it, let the guilt swallow him whole - but he still deserved to know that none of it wasn’t his fault. Because it wasn’t. Only mine.
I’d thought about death a lot, recently, especially after I’d met with Celeste. I thought when the time came I would be frightened, or hesitant, or even sad. But right now, as I stood there and let the pen fall out of my limp fingers I didn’t feel anything. Nothing but urgency to save James Potter’s life.
And strangely, I wasn’t even really thinking about death as it loomed so close that I could nearly taste it; instead, I let my imagination swirl around in the lobes of my brain, calmly and evenly formed. I imagined what my heart looked like in that exact moment as it pumped and pulsed and pushed my warm blood into arteries and capillaries and out of veins. I imagined my ancestors, a line of brave women all burdened with the consequence of making the same decision. And finally, I imagined the three women I had thought I’d seen in the constellations on the eve of my eleventh birthday. Astoria Greengrass and Veronica Lavoiande Burke; they were amongst the stars, watching and waiting. Now it was my turn.
Back and forth, I paced. I was not wearing shoes or socks, and I thought about the feeling of my sticky feet on the smooth wood floors, the way little specks of dust stuck to the bare soles, the way my toes could feel the lines and indents and microscopic divets in the boards. I let one of my hands fall open faced by my side, allowing the air to brush up against as I walked, and in the other hand I memorised the sensation of the smooth glass of the bottle Celeste had given me, cool and soothing against my heated skin. How small it was compared to the giant of my fist. Breakable.
My legs stopped as my feet came together all at once, the bones protruding from my ankles clacking together with a thump of finality.
It was time now, and I was ready.
"The wheel is come full circle: I am here." I said clearly, to the emptiness of the room. And then I tipped the contents of the vial into my open mouth, letting the poison wash over my tongue before swallowing. I’d expected something that causes death to be bitter or revolting, but it merely tasted like what lilacs smelled like: sweet, overpowering, fresh. Like I was drinking flowers.
Feeling rather foolish, I laid down on the ground. I placed my hands by my side, and then clasped them together on my legs, and then finally crossed them over my chest, as if the floor were a casket and I were its corpse.
As I lay there, nothing seemed to change. I could hear the faint chirps of early morning birds, the soothing water splashing as pots washed themselves in the sink, the occasional sound of traffic or movement in the city below. The earth spun uninterrupted and that very thought was quite comforting to me as my eyes began to feel heavy and burdened and the sitting room slowly darkened from my vision.
If I should die,
And you should live,
And time would gurgle on...
And gurgle on it will, I thought, as I felt my body sigh the remaining life from my numbed body.
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn
As has usually done...
A wispy chorus of hollow voices now, far away but getting closer and closer and louder.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends...
It seemed as though the dark waves had only pulled me under for a moment until I was resurfacing in a new place, somewhere beyond the realm of life and living and earthly beings.
Everything was much too bright and oversaturated as I opened my eyes, glancing around. I was in a space that looked exactly identical to Adam’s flat, complete with the sweatshirt I’d thrown on the couch a week ago, the picture of Annabelle and Adam at a Tornadoes party, the pile of hastily written letters on the kitchen island, flapping with the wind from the slightly ajar window.
So, this is it, I heard myself say clearly as I sat up. My voice sounded the same. There were no tinkling bells, no puffy white clouds, no visions of angels or otherwise in sight.
Cornelia, a figure next to me said, and it sounded like relief, oh, God, but as I stared at him, at his perfect freckled skin and beautiful hazel eyes and messy hair that was without the quintessential halo above him, I could not listen to a word he said.
“You’re here?” I asked slowly, horrified. “No. No!”
“What?” The ghost of James Sirius Potter asked, and it sounded so much like it did when he was alive that if my heart had still been beating, it would have stopped.
“It didn’t work! You still died, even though I tried, I-”
“No!” the ghost of James insisted. “Hey, hey, look at me. It’s okay. Al and Scorpius told me everything. It’s okay now.”
“It’s not!” I screeched, and I was hysterical because I had killed James Potter and I had killed myself and now we were stuck in some in-between state - the purgatory of Adam’s flat. “I was too late! I killed us both!”
“We’re alive,” James tried to speak over me. “Look at me, Cornelia.”
“I don’t want to see you dead.” I said, and although I shut my eyes the ghost of James Potter forced me to open them again.
“Do you need me to fucking pinch you?” Ghost James snapped. “You’re alive, Burke.”
I shook my head harder and harder, trying to blur my surroundings into nonexistence. “I can’t be-”
And then Ghost James leaned over and squeezed the skin on my leg hard with his fingernails, and as I gasped at the pain my confusion of reality fell back into place.
“Ow,” I said with wonder, and then sort of froze, confused. “I’m...alive?”
“Yes, you git,” James opened his eyes wide with exasperation, slumping back against the back of the sofa he had been leaning on.
“I...stopped the after? Without dying? And you’re alive?”
James raised his eyebrows in affirmation.
“But that’s impossible,” I muttered.
“Well, apparently it’s not,” said James, and then pointed to my chest.
I looked down. The bright blue pendulum that had sat in the middle of my collar bone for the couple of days I'd had it was inexplicably burned, the stone reduced to a mere blackened orb.
I looked back up to find James still staring at me more intensely than he ever had before.
“You’re alive,” I repeated rather dumbly. “How? How did you even know about this?”
His mouth tightened into a dangerously thin line, the sides of it threatening to betray other emotions that seemed to be fighting their way to the surface. “Al had the scroll that you gave him.”
“But how did you read them? They’re not the kind taught in Ancient Runes-”
“They had Gaelic origins and I’m training to be a curse-breaker,” said James, and as he kept speaking his hands went up to clutch the hair on his head. “The programme’s been making us study Runes for months now. Albus had no idea what it said, but when I read it I knew exactly what was about to happen. What you were about to do.”
But the scroll couldn’t have said everything, right?
“I-I don’t understand how you-“
James released his hair from his frenzied grasp, letting his hands sink down onto the floor. “Scorpius told me a few days ago about your family curse, okay?”
“Scorpius?” I repeated. “How? Why?”
“He came to dinner and asked to talk to me with Al,” said James. “They thought I should know. So I knew about your curse, and then an hour ago Albus came into my flat and told me I couldn’t leave and he had that scroll with him, and I knew you were having a vision or whatever but I had no idea what you were going to do to stop it until I read it.”
“So you just...came here?” I asked him, and he nodded.
“I Floo’d here, and you were just lying there-” his voice cracked, and I noticed for the first time that the golden flecks in his irises were surrounded by red eyes. “Give me a minute, okay?”
“Okay,” I whispered. I wanted to reach out and touch him so badly to make sure he was real, but we both kept our distance. I still was in a state of sort of shock; my breaths were uneven and I kept shivering, as if I would suddenly realise that I had been right the first time, that I really was dead.
“You were there on the floor, and I had a bezoar in my breaker training pack but it didn’t work. You were still just-just dead, but then I saw the vial of what you had taken and once I smelled it I figured it out.”
I paused, my eyebrows wrinkling with confusion. “Figured what out?”
“It was Warlock’s Tears,” James’s eyebrows knit together at my question. “It stops your heart for a bit and then wakes you up.”
“What?” I shook my head slowly, the information too much to process at first. “No! I thought it was poison! That I would die instantly!”
“You-you what?” James whispered hoarsely, his face suddenly so pale and eyes so dangerous that I shrank back. “You were going to die to save me?”
“Of course,” I frowned at the absurdity of the question. “Why-”
Without warning, he seized me by the shoulders and shook me, his hold so hard that I winced slightly under his grip. “Your life is worth a thousand of mine! How idiotic - how fucking stupid - Jesus, Burke, do you think I would have even wanted to live if you were dead?”
“I-I don’t understand,” I stammered, and he released me from his painful hold, his hands falling limply to his sides.
“God, you’re the stupidest Ravenclaw I’ve ever met,” James muttered, and then reached up to clutch his hair again, struggling to push out his next words. “After this year, I could never live in a world without you, even if I’m supposed to be acting like I’m over you and I don’t give a shit and all of that rubbish.”
“I thought you were over me,” I said, and my head was fully spinning now: I was alive, James wasn’t dead, Celeste had not given me poison, James still had feelings for me.
James shook his head, his sharp jaw rippling with tension until it went slack. “I’m done with playing this game,” he told me tiredly. “You just died and - I can’t do it anymore. I can’t fake this. Of course I wasn’t over you, no matter how hard I ignored you or pretended or tried to convince myself. Not even for a second.“
“But-” I said with wonderment. “At the Leprechaun, you told me-”
“I know what I said,” James interrupted. “I didn’t mean it. I wanted to, but I didn’t.”
I struggled to compartmentalise this information with the previous knowledge I had. “But - but you’re with Ana Clearwater!”
“I’m not,” he grimaced, and I could tell he felt badly about it from the way his eyes were cast down slightly. “We barely went out for a week and a half. I just told Albus we stayed together because I knew he would tell you. I wanted you to think I had moved on.”
I considered this for a moment. “You wanted to hurt me.”
“Like I had hurt you.”
“Hm.” I was fatigued all of a sudden, and I slumped against the back of the couch, my muscles almost too weary to hold my neck in place so I cradled it in my hands.
“Look, Burke, I already thought I’d lost you once,” James said, and I knew he was referring to the birthday incident on the North Tower. It felt like it had happened long ago, to someone else instead of me. “And even though I didn’t know how strongly I felt for you then, it was the worst moment of my entire life. But, when I just saw you lying there and your death was a certainty, I- I can’t even describe to you what I was feeling - what I am feeling. And the whole time I just kept thinking that if we had still been together your death could have somehow been prevented, and that made it so much worse because I knew everything was my fault.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” I raised my head out of my hands. “James, none of it was your fault.”
“Why did you end it, then?” James asked, and as I looked at him I realised that he knew. He knew me well enough to understand how my mind worked, and even though he surely understood why I had made that decision now that he had all the facts about the curse, he needed to be reassured that that was really the reason. It was like Lily Potter had said: James Potter wasn’t as cool as he made himself out to be, and although I had always put him up in my mind on a shining pedestal of greatness he too was afflicted with the occasional bout of insecurity and fear.
“I couldn’t tell you about the curse,” I said quietly. ”I just - I didn’t want to put you through that. It would have been selfish of me, and I just knew that something bad would happen in the future and I didn’t want to hurt you through it, too. And...even then, I knew I would sacrifice myself for someone I cared about if it came down to it. I thought I was being selfless by letting you go. Doing the right thing, even.”
“Like your mum did,” said James. “Kept her distance to protect you.”
I looked down and then back up at him, the ambiguous hazel of his eyes boring into mine. “Yeah.”
“But I told you I loved you and you didn’t say anything,” James continued. “And I’ve never said that before to anyone, Burke, except for like my mum and family and shit. You only told me you loved me when you were pissed in a bar when I supposedly had a girlfriend. What was I supposed to do with that?”
“I told you,” I whispered. I think I’d always known, what had been said that night we went camping in the Forbidden Forest, and I just don’t think I was ready to admit it until now. “But you were asleep.”
James gaped at me for a moment, and then without warning grinned. It was dazzling in a way - the sun coming out from behind a cloud after a cold and barren winter - and it immediately warmed me from the inside out.
“Fat load of good that did.” he snorted, his head resting on the back of the couch in a mirror of my position.
“No good at all,” I murmured, and then we were silent. My hand had stretched out slightly, the tips of it almost touching his hand, and I could see the tiny bones of his metacarpals flex out as he moved his fingertips slightly towards me. And then all at once we both reached out and wove our fingers together; they fit just right, and as I could feel the leathery roughness of his calluses and smooth of his skin and warmth of his body I finally knew for sure that this was real, that we weren’t dead.
“I’m alive, and you’re alive,” said James, as if he had known what I was thinking. His grip tightened around my hand, and I held him back.
“We’re alive,” I agreed. “And you don’t despise me, and you’re not over me, and I’m not over you.”
“And you’re in love with me.” he told me confidently, as if it were an undisputed fact. This was it, somehow a bigger leap than the choice I had made not even an hour ago, but I knew that I had to take it.
“I am.” I said clearly, the sound ringing out in the empty flat like bells.
James turned towards me then, and the way he looked at me could have made the world stop spinning on its very axis. “I’ve cared about you for a very long time, Burke,” he said, and our other hands found each other as our bodies faced each other full on, aligned at last.
“Maybe Romeo and Juliet had something right after all,” I said, and then pronounced dramatically: “My only love sprung from my only hate!”
“Oh, shut up,” James told me roughly, and then he was sliding me towards him, one hand around my waist and the other gripping the back of my neck, and even though we had just felt enough emotions for a century this one was the only one that mattered. It was like rain after a long drought; refreshing and sweet, so poignant as it lingered in the newly baptised air around us. As powerful as gravity.
Beautiful and familiar as memory, the plains were saturated with summer, stretching across our vision like Eden with fertile and unburdened life.
The rest of them came all at once at high noon. It took about thirty minutes to appease Mia who was hysterical, to explain to Albus why I didn’t tell him my plan, and to hug Scorpius with all of my might because I had promised him I wouldn’t try to change the After in the first place. Flynn and Milo were both moderately horrified at the events that had just transpired, but with some careful rhetoric they too calmed down, enough for Milo to dry his eyes and for Flynn to call me a myriad of nasty insults like he always did when he was sort of relieved about something.
We sat around on the picnic blanket Mia had brought after that, eating stale crisps and speaking in low tones even though the outside world felt open and boundless, like we were the only ones around for miles and miles and miles.
“I just don’t understand why dying was what stops the event in the vision from happening,” said Albus, breaking the silence that had fallen over us for the past few minutes. “Or why you dying for even an hour worked.”
I had been wondering about that too, but I think I’d worked it out. “My father mentioned something - he said that the visions sort of created the future instead of just predicted it.”
“I think it’s like this,” Milo spoke up, oblivious to the crumbs falling out of his mouth like a waterfall. “Nellie, your Sight is like an electrical shockwave, except instead of being a result of electromagnetic activity in the atmosphere it was actually causing the activity in the first place. So when you have a vision, it’s not really a vision, it’s the creation of a new reality. And in order to break that cycle your relatives cut off their own brain wave electricity by dying, which worked until the next generation inherited the Sight. But it seems that killing the electricity in your brain even for a couple of minutes was a strong enough depletion for reality not to be permanently altered, thus saving the future and overriding your own system which in turn effectively overrode the curse.”
“What the bloody fuck is an electromagnet?” Flynn asked crossly after a moment’s pause, but I rather understood the theory that Milo was getting at.
“How did the Seer know that Warlocks’ Tears would work, though?” asked Scorpius. He had been relatively quiet throughout this whole conversation, but when I shot him a questioning look he gave me a small grimace, his pale eyes still red and pained. I knew I would have to work to earn his trust back, but I wasn’t worried. We’d overcome bigger hurdles than that.
“I don’t think she did,” I answered him. “I think this was her last ditch attempt. But she seemed to know that the curse would end with me, so maybe she thought either the fake poison would work or I would just die anyways.”
“Maybe there was a Prophecy?” Milo suggested, and I shrugged, because maybe there was - either way, it didn’t really matter. That was the beauty of Prophecies - they were the undisputed Schrodinger's cat of the future; know what they said and their words would be fulfilled; have no idea they existed and the world would continue to spin on as it always had, illusion unshattered.
“I guess I’ll have to ask my father,” I told him, and although it was strange saying that sentence I thought it might finally be true.
Flynn leaned back on the blanket, his elbows propping his chest up. “At least the Department of Mysteries can’t touch you now, the bloody creeps.”
“How did they propose to use you, anyways?” Albus frowned, and I knew he was thinking about it from more of an ethical standpoint but I answered differently.
“I think it’s along the lines of what Milo was saying,” I replied. “I think the Unspeakables thought if they could disrupt those electro-whatever waves and create something in my mind it would come true in the future. I think they wanted to use me to alter things the way they wanted to.”
“You could’ve been a Seer Spy,” said Milo, and then gasped so suddenly I at first thought he had choked. “That should be a comic book-”
“Like, God,” said Mia dramatically, interrupting him. “I know it must’ve been scary and awful and whatever, but I just really wish I was there to meet the Olsen twins.”
“It wasn’t really them, Mia,” I rolled my eyes at her but she only sat up further, her warm brown eyes alight.
‘But what if it was!” she insisted, and James snorted quietly. “Just hear me out-”
“No more conspiracy theories!” Albus broke in so vehemently I was sure he had been a recent victim to one of Mia’s alien landing speeches.
“It’s not a conspiracy theory! It’s just a normal, reasonable hypothesis-”
“It’s not reasonable because it wasn’t them!” Flynn interrupted her.
“Flynn, they were actresses and now they’re never seen in the Muggle public-”
“And bloody Santa is never seen in public either but I don’t run up to every white-bearded chunker begging him for presents-”
“Okay, okay!” Mia threw up her hands in acquiescence and then we were all silent again, the air a cooling breeze in the warmth of the open sun.
“So it’s over?” asked Albus after a minute, the wind blowing his already messy hair around. “The curse?”
I touched the burnt pendulum, my fingers skating over the charred stone. “It’s over.”
Scorpius was first to hug me, then Mia, followed by Milo and and Albus and Flynn, and finally James, who kept his hand on the small of my back, a constant in a world previously saturated with variables.
It was over.
Hours later, we lay on the bare sod, James and I, watching the others toss around a Quaffle in the air. Mia and Milo were both teetering precariously on their brooms but Flynn, Rose, and Willow were holding up surprisingly well, Willow going as far as to nab the ball out of the air after a weak toss from Scorpius, Al’s fingers still outstretched to catch it.
“She did it for me,” I said quietly. The wind rustled the grass and I grazed my fingertips atop it as I spoke, letting the tall blades tickle my palm. “Veronica. If she hadn’t done what she did, I would have slipped in the bath and died. So she sacrificed herself for me. That was the vision she chose to change.”
“She loved you so much, Cornelia,” James murmured after a moment of quiet. He didn’t have to say the other thing he was thinking - that it couldn’t have been different and she shouldn’t have been saved - but I knew. I sometimes thought the same thing, too.
“But I think if it wasn’t me it would have been someone else,” I glanced up at him. “I understand her now. She was scared to live, but she wanted others to. She was selfless.”
“As selfless as you.” said James steadily. I let my head fall onto his chest and he brought his hand up to hold me close, and we laid like that until there was a loud crack in the middle of the planes, the peace of the scenery shattered for a moment until the newly arrived figure turned around and began staggering towards me.
“Adam,” I stood up on shaky legs, my eyes suddenly filled with the sting of tears.
“Nellie!” he shouted, and then he was sweeping me into a hug and spinning me around and around and around, laughing and crying and celebrating like we never had before. “You did it! You broke the curse!”
“It’s broken,” I told him, and as he took a step back to look at me I could see my life reflected in him; my vitality, the core of my being, and it was there and alive, so exquisitely alive.
“You’re saved,” he said, over and over until he believed it. “We’re all saved.”
“We are.” I said softly, and he stepped forward to hug me again. My brother, forever.
As we existed like this out in the open air I could finally see the human experience as I never had before. A tear fallen and dried, a shout heard and forgotten, an inhale, an exhale, a full-bottomed breath. The translucent edges of a petal’s skin, curling and rotting and wilting; the delicate imprisonment of a crystalised sleeve; the scent of renewed birth, of primitive beginnings; a hollow man no more. The world progressed in this way and we were the disciples of it all: order and disorder; change and stagnation; anger and forgiveness and sacrifice; abdication. Eternity moved in circles of life and death and we moved with it, a repetitive and beautiful harmony.
Over the hills behind us, the sun set in a magnificent style, streaking cotton orange and pink across the expansive sky like Monet. And the night progressed like film, dark and beautiful and attoned, with all the patchwork edges and shutter speeds of a memory forged. But I think what I remembered most was the way James gripped my hand as I knew he would for ages to come, steady and strong and soft. I think he had always been my After, before I even knew it myself. Before anyone did.
Above the contours of our silhouettes, the stars shone bright, twinkling unapologetically in the summer night sky. Free to exist in peace at last.
Well, that’s it. Read this last little bit slowly with the score The Friends by Nicholas Hooper (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince) in mind (1:06 at the start of “over the hills”) and perhaps you’ll have as indescribable of a reaction to the completion of The After Before as I did.
This has been a story of love and loss, humour and strife, but most importantly this is a story of the unbreakable bond of friendship. Thank you to everyone who followed me on this journey - I’ve loved the characters and emotions and lives that I have created, and I hope you feel the same way. I have written an epilogue, but this seems so final I’m not sure it belongs anywhere but scrawled into the notes section of my phone.
Although I will still be on the site reading and responding to all of your reviews, this is my last fanfiction (apart from maybe some James POV scenes I wrote when I was bored once). I have loved writing stories in the fantastical world of Harry Potter, but now it is time for me to create my own universes and realities. I’m excited to say that I have been working on a couple novels that will at some point hopefully be published for the entire world to see, but I can never express how much this story has done for me, and how all of your kind words and thoughts and reactions have done even more.
So thank you. Thank you so very much. Every last one of you.
“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
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