Author's Note: I told myself I wasn't going to post this until I had more than one chapter written, but I'm just embracing the chaos now. This is a companion fic to Playing with Fire. Both fics were written to stand on their own—you don't have to read them in any particular order, you don't even have to read both if you don't want to (although I'd love it if you did!).
I am not sure when the next chapter will be posted—I am going to continue to prioritize Playing with Fire and Delicate for updates, but this will likely be moving up in the queue once those are finished.
The title for this fic comes from the song "Burning Bridges," a demo that Jason Mraz recorded in the mid-aughts. People give Mraz a hard time for being a little cheesy, but I have always been a fan of his acoustic stuff. I've always liked this song in particular.
I love hearing from people, so please be sure to leave a review!
Burning Bridges by Blue Kat
Chapter 1: True About My Taste
And if anyone ever wondered why you did it,
You'd swear they'd never know you sold your soul
to the burning, burning, burning bridges.
- "Burning Bridges" (Jason Mraz)
I'm reluctant to start this account with the story of a shitty boyfriend. Shitty boyfriends have too many starring roles in too many stories as it is and I'm not particularly keen to contribute to that.
But when I untangle the thread of everything that happened between me and George Weasley, I continue to arrive at the same starting point. To pretend otherwise would be an outright lie—and if there's one thing that I like less than shitty boyfriends, it's an outright lie. So, I'll start with the truth, no matter how unpleasant I find it.
God. Barely a paragraph into this and it's already a mess.
When the Yule Ball rolled around in the winter of my sixth year at Hogwarts, I was about to start a relationship with a new shitty boyfriend, a boy named Devereux from Beauxbatons. It is very important to note that his name is Devereux and not Dev. Do not shorten his name to Dev, even if the reason you are shortening it is because you are really enjoying the way that he is kissing your neck and your brain can't process the formation of additional syllables. He will stop whatever it is he is doing (in this case, kissing your neck) to explain that actually, he prefers to go by Devereux and it's really quite important that you understand all of the factors that led him to this Very Important life decision. You will give him several subtle cues indicating that you would like him to stop talking and resume kissing your neck; he will ignore all of them in favor of delivering his monologue.
Don't misunderstand me—I fully agree that he should have agency over what he is called. I only took issue with the fact that he refused to show the same courtesy to other people. Case in point: I had only ever referred to myself as Bea; and yet, he had only ever called me Beatrice.
When I pointed this out to him, he informed me that he preferred Beatrice because he thought Bea sounded rather common.
This sort of lack of consideration was only one of Devereux's many irritating or objectionable qualities.
At this point, you probably have a reasonable understanding of why Devereux was a shitty boyfriend. You are probably wondering why I said yes when he asked me to the Yule Ball in the first place, as he certainly is not the sort to hide his bad qualities—you will probably be appalled to learn that I continued to date him for two months following the Yule Ball. You are probably wondering what positive qualities persuaded me to overlook so many glaring deficiencies and red flags.
The answer is relatively simple: Devereux had sea green eyes, deep dimples, and dark curly brown hair. He was very good at kissing.
This effectively sums up why Devereux was a shitty boyfriend: the preceding paragraph was the extent of my attraction to him. I knew from the beginning that our relationship would fail. I knew that I would not feel sad about sending him on his way; I knew I would not sigh and think longingly of the time we spent together.
But I also knew that I would feel sad about the fact that I routinely made these stupid, self-destructive choices. I knew that I would feel sad about the wasted time. I knew that I would wonder if our fling was an excuse for some other deep-seated insecurity or inability to be happy.
So I suppose that is why when Fred Weasley began an obvious flirtation with Charlotte, I became a little overinvested in its success.
Well, wait, that's a rather narrow view of the situation. There were other reasons why it was important. Charlotte is my best friend. She is the sort of person who is so sensible so early on in life that you half expect her to be Minister of Magic before the age of twenty. It was no surprise when she made prefect—in fact, I suspect that decision had been made by the end of her first month at Hogwarts—and being Head Girl seemed similarly inevitable. Charlotte's innate sense of responsibility also extended to a rather monkish existence that included no dating or kissing during the school year.
"I haven't got time for that," she had said on more than one occasion. "I can be stupid and have fun over the summer holidays. Besides, I don't think anyone would be interested."
You may suspect that Charlotte is the sort of person who is kinder to others than she is to herself.
You would be right.
Charlotte's assessment of her romantic prospects was not only grim, but inaccurate. She was tall and slim and blessed with the sort of classic English look that brought the heroines of Jane Austen novels to mind—rosy lips, blue eyes shaded by long lashes, and coffee colored hair that skimmed the bottom of her shoulder blades. She was pretty and smart and studiously oblivious to her admirers. Notable examples include: Aidan Kilbourne flirting with her for a good part of fourth and fifth year, Andrew Marconi's habit of making up reasons to ask her about assignments, and Sebastian Trubisky's tendency to go out of his way to compliment her. Charlotte, bless her, was none the wiser.
When the prospect of the Yule Ball came up, Charlotte approached it with the calculated sort of calm that I had come to expect from her. And of course, she had a predictably grim view of her prospects.
"I don't think anyone's going to ask me," she announced rather unexpectedly one day at lunch. "So, I suppose I should make arrangements."
I made a face. "That's a bit premature, don't you think? You've got a while yet."
"I'd rather have it sorted now rather than wait too long," she said, her tone matter-of-fact. "Like I said, I don't think anyone's going to ask me, so I might as well take matters into my own hands now while I still have some choice."
"Charlotte, I adore you, but you're mad."
"Does your Beauxbatons friend have any friends who might be available?"
"Trust me: you don't want to go with his friends. They're all rather awful. I'd go with Rodney before I'd go with one of them."
As Rodney's older sister, I am obligated to note that I love him very much and he can be quite funny, kind, and thoughtful; however, his excellent qualities are routinely eclipsed by the fact that almost everything he does can easily be classified as one of the top ten stupidest things he's ever done.
In other words: he was not the sort of person who was worthy of Charlotte, even as a platonic Yule Ball date.
"I suppose Rodney is an option," said Charlotte thoughtfully.
"That was a joke," I said, fixing her with a stern look. "Do you know what his latest detention was for? He copied another student's Transfiguration essay, which is stupid enough on its own, but McGonagall was able to work it out rather quickly because Rodney put the other student's name on his paper instead of his own."
Charlotte raised her eyebrows and sighed. "Well. I think he's my best option at the moment."
"Are you mad? You have plenty of time to explore literally all of the better options available to you."
She rolled her eyes and I could tell the topic was as good as closed. "Eh. It's a dance, it's not like we're getting married. I'd rather have this sorted out now than wait until the last minute, you know?"
Even in her worst ideas, Charlotte is relentlessly practical.
So that is how my beautiful and smart best friend ended up taking my wholly undeserving younger brother to the Yule Ball. She had outdone herself, donning an uncharacteristically bold red dress that drew so many long and lingering gazes that even she seemed to notice. Rodney, in a classically Rodney move, spent almost the entirety of the evening in the company of his Hufflepuff best friend, who I think was called Hank, a combination that resulted in Rodney spilling pickled herring down his front and Hank acquiring a fat lip.
Rodney later explained the particulars of this incident to me, but honestly, it was the sort of thing that was so convoluted and stupid that I don't even want to bother attempting to explain it here.
But despite those long and lingering looks from various admirers, Charlotte seemed a little sad throughout the evening. It was the sort of thing that was easy to miss—a slightly downturned lip, a far off look in her eye, smiles that didn't quite reach her eyes. It was an unsettling detail to notice from a person who was normally quite guarded and careful about the face that she presented to the world.
I was about to ask her what was wrong when Fred Weasley turned up like some sort of chaotic deux ex machina, his red hair slightly mussed and his eyes sparkling with laughter.
"Charlotte Lewis!" he shouted. "Don't tell me you're going to let this ball end without doing me the honor of a dance!"
Charlotte laughed as Fred swung her into a spirited dance and something in my heart lightened. It was the first genuine smile I'd seen from her that evening. And when a slow song immediately followed, Fred's hand stayed on her waist as he took her hand, his fingers threading through hers as he spoke to her in a low and quiet voice that required her to bend her head toward him so that she could hear.
I didn't want to read too much into a few dances at the Yule Ball (well…maybe I did), but the whole thing was so absurdly adorable that I found myself watching him like a hawk in the coming days, quietly cataloging all the little glances and smiles he sent in her direction, the transparent excuses he made up to speak with her. He fancied her—that was quite clear—but whether she knew that was a different issue entirely…and in fact, when I asked her about it, she had some sort of bland excuse: he's just being nice, he likes razzing me because I'm so serious, I'm just helping him with an essay. Never mind that Fred was better known for random acts of chaos than kindness, that his razzing of her seemed a lot closer to flirting, or that I'd never seen him ask anyone for help with an essay: Charlotte was absolutely certain it was platonic.
When I'd noticed other boys flirting with her—Aidan Kilbourne, Andrew Marconi, Sebastian Trubisky and the like—I hadn't intervened. They were all fine people—but they were boring. Certainly not Charlotte worthy. But Fred was different. I liked Fred—both he and his brother George were wickedly clever and quite funny. Did they spend half of their lives in detention for all manner of ill-advised stupidity? Yes. But not for anything so awful that it was disqualifying.
And there was a particular light in Fred's eyes when he looked at Charlotte. I liked that, too.
It would be good for her to date Fred, I decided. Like eating your vegetables, but whatever the romantic equivalent was.
Or maybe it was that Charlotte was vegetables and Fred was ice cream because you can't just live your life eating only vegetables.
This metaphor might need a bit of work.
Anyway. The point was that it was a brilliant idea.
I couldn't quite decide if the events at start of term one week later were an auspicious sign or not. On the one hand, Fred and George's poor behavior in class finally resulted in McGonagall realizing that most of the problem stemmed from the fact that they always sat together. And in a move straight from a romantic comedy, she sent Fred to sit with her most responsible student—a one Charlotte Victoria Lewis, prefect, conveniently single. There was a half second where I was able to truly appreciate this, biting back a gleeful cackle because it was absolutely adorable and perfect and maybe it would be enough to knock some sense into her.
Problem was, it put me in a rather unfortunate position: Charlotte and I always sat together in class. And if she got a new partner, that meant that I was also being reassigned.
So that is how I found myself dazedly gathering my books and going to sit next to George Weasley a few desks back.
George looked mostly unaffected by the fact that both he and his brother had just been scolded rather thoroughly in front of the entire class. He leaned back casually in his chair, his notebook open to a blank page, absolutely no quill in sight. I wondered if the entire notebook was blank. In fact, now that I thought about it, had I ever even seen either one of them take notes? I wasn't sure. I took out my own notebook and began copying down the diagram on the blackboard.
George's fingers drummed quietly against the desk. I looked again at the blank notebook, the absent quill. Maybe he didn't have a quill. He seemed like the sort who would forget to bring necessary supplies and I doubted he was motivated enough to transfigure something into a quill as a temporary solution.
I hesitated for a moment before taking a spare quill from my bag and setting it carefully on his side of the desk. I caught his eye for a moment, and he quirked an eyebrow at me, a slight smile playing at his lips, like he hadn't quite expected me to do that.
I scrawled a short message in the margin of my own notes. I waited until McGonagall had her back turned before tilting the paper toward him.
It's for taking notes, I'd written. In case you're unfamiliar with the concept.
George's lips twitched like he was holding back a smile.
George has often said that our friendship began with a threat. Generally, I will roll my eyes and say that he wouldn't be able to handle a proper threat from me.
The reality is that it began in that first Transfiguration class. After I'd given him the quill, he'd actually picked it up and began writing, head bent over the parchment. I didn't pay much mind to what he was doing, focusing instead on my own notes.
As I was packing up my bag at the end of class, he slid a folded piece of paper across the desk before sprinting off to join his brother in some other exercise of mayhem. I picked up the paper and unfolded it, mildly curious.
Instead of notes on the lecture, it was essentially an entire page of nonsense. The names of every person in the class written in alphabetical order. A recipe for banana bread. A nursery rhyme that I'm fairly certain he made up. An imaginary to do list for me (first item: "reflect on the excellence of George Weasley" which was simply not going to happen). A fairly respectable drawing of a hippogriff in a top hat.
"What's that?" asked Charlotte as she approached my desk.
I shook my head and stuffed the paper into the front cover of my textbook. "Nothing. Just some nonsense."
Unfortunately for me, our reassigned seats in Transfiguration marked the beginning of a trend, as other teachers heard about McGonagall's ingeniously simple solution and made identical adjustments to their seating charts. And so by the end of the week, I found myself partnered with George Weasley in every. Single. Class.
And at the end of every single class, George slipped another folded paper onto my desk with more of the same. A list of books he hadn't read (it was identical the books that were on our supply list for this year). Guesses at my middle name (all wrong). More drawings of the hippogriff, who, by the end of the week, had acquired a name (Smithers) and a rich backstory (shipwrecked on two separate occasions, filer of frivolous lawsuits, often bankrupt due to the previous point, fond of the ballet, allergic to mustard).
I expected him to fail spectacularly when it came time for the practical portions of our classes, but no. His work was anywhere from acceptable to annoyingly good, like he was somehow absorbing the information without actually paying attention.
At the end of the first week, he set the quill on my desk along with his final note—an elaborate comic about Smithers.
"Thanks for the quill, love," he said with a cheeky grin.
I kept my expression utterly impassive as he loped off. I'd loaned him a quill and he'd somehow turned that into an entire week of a quiet kind of troublemaking. This did not bode especially well for the rest of term.
I sighed, pressing my lips together in a firm line. I would need to take matters into my own hands.
George was rarely by himself, so I had to settle for cornering him in the common room after dinner.
"Right," I said, marching up to the table where he sat with Fred and sitting down in an empty chair as though I'd been invited, "you and I need to have a chat, George."
George's eyes twinkled. "Oh?"
"Yes. There are certain expectations that we need to discuss if I'm forced to be your partner."
George put his hand over his heart. "Bea, I'm hurt. I have dreamed of being your partner all these years, I've just been too shy to ask."
"It's true," said Fred solemnly. "He's written about it in his diary."
I pointed at Fred. "You stay out of this." My gaze flicked to Charlotte, who was watching all of this warily from where she was studying by the fire. "Go bother Charlotte, she may as well get used to having you in her hair."
Charlotte shot me a look that only became more aggrieved as Fred proclaimed that an excellent idea and stood to go speak with her. I felt a wave of giddiness on her behalf. When did Fred ever listen to what anyone said? He had it bad, clearly.
But I would have to think about that later: I had ultimatums to deliver.
"As I was saying," I said, clearing my throat and looking back at George, "there are certain expectations that we need to discuss."
"First: I don't care how you spend your time in class, but I will not be caught up in the fallout of your shenanigans."
A smile played at his lips. "Shenanigans?"
"If I get scolded or have points docked for something you've done, I will hex you six ways to Sunday and make it look like an accident," I continued. "If you get me detention, I will be your worst nightmare. I will live in your thoughts and haunt your dreams. You will have boils in unmentionable places and the boils will sprout their own boils until they reach a critical mass where you are more boil than human."
"I must confess, I do like your style," said George, "though it is rather terrifying."
"Oh, there's more?"
"—you will not do anything that will result in me getting marked down," I continued. "I expect you to make a good faith effort on anything that we're forced to work on together."
"You know, it's a good thing I had a healthy self-esteem going into this conversation," he said, still smiling. "Otherwise who knows what this would've done to my self-confidence."
"One, you could do to be knocked down a peg or two and two, don't try to distract me," I said. "I am terrifying and utterly undistractible. Do we have an understanding?"
Most people would be put off by that. Maybe they'd smile politely and agree just to get me to go away, but they wouldn't take it terribly seriously. George was different though, because even though I could tell he was somewhat amused by my slightly hyperbolic expectations (or "slightly unhinged rant," as Charlotte would later describe it), he didn't laugh me off or dismiss me. Instead, he offered me his hand and a slightly crooked grin and said, "you have my word," and I could tell that he meant it.
"Good." I looked over at Charlotte and Fred. "I suppose I ought to liberate Charlotte from your brother."
He glanced over at them and his gaze turned appraising, like he had maybe noticed that undercurrent of something that had been brewing between them since the Yule Ball.
"What d'you reckon is happening with that?" I asked.
"It's definitely something, at least from Fred's side. I can't get a read on Charlotte."
"She is a cipher, that one," I said, "but I'm feeling optimistic about it. Though I suspect it will be a while before anything happens."
He raised an eyebrow. "Care to make a wager on it?"
I gave him a look. "I hope you don't think I'm foolish enough to simply agree to a bet with you without a lot more information."
He grinned and stuck out his hand again. "One butterbeer says they go to Hogsmeade together."
I considered this for a moment. Something was likely to happen, but Hogsmeade was near enough and Charlotte was dense enough that the odds of it taking longer didn't seem insurmountable. And a butterbeer was a fairly reasonable wager, especially for George Weasley. I shook his hand for the second time that evening.