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Chapter 22: Falling
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Okay, so here’s the thing:
You know how, earlier, Freddy had told us we didn’t have to worry about the Cooper Prank anymore?
Yeah, that was great, wasn’t it? Fantastic, really. I had been so relieved. I had even gone so far as to say that I was happy. Imagine that! Agatha Bennett, Queen of Teenage Angst, happy for once.
Redonkulous, I know.
Honestly. I must have been delirious, or someone must have slipped something into my pumpkin juice during breakfast, ‘cos I had actually, foolishly believed that Freddy would follow through.
Remember how, after Freddy told me all this, I had stupidly declared that life was good? That everything was finally working out, for once, ‘cos I didn’t have to illegally trek around the castle anymore? That I was done fleeing from Filch and breaking into school property and, most of all, getting into compromising positions with James Sirius Potter inside broom cupboards? Remember that?
Yeah. Well, I’m gonna have to take it all back.
That’s right. The fun’s not over yet, Ladies and Gentlewizards. Don’t you fret--we still have puh-lenty of torture and humiliation in store for our dear Aggy.
And, like with many things, it all started in Defence Against the Dark Arts class.
It had been a Monday, and DADA had been the first class of the morning. After a rather rousing hour of listening to Professor Nott gripe about our ‘awe-inspiring stupidity’ and the ‘nature-defying speed’ in which our class was able to ‘swiftly and effectively destroy all his faith in the future of humankind,’ Freddy pulled me aside in the hall so that we could have a chat.
“Agatha,” he said, “this is a gravely serious matter.”
Serious? That was when I first knew something was wrong. Freddy was never serious about anything.
“What’s up?” I shifted my weight from foot to foot nervously, hooking my thumbs through the straps of my backpack. I was impatient to get to Transfiguration. McGonagall could be terrifyingly strict—five minutes late to class and you’re pretty much a walking can of Fancy Feast.
Around me, students were filtering out of Nott’s classroom, looking tired and weary from the hour of verbal abuse that we’d all just endured. Half of them looked near tears, and the other half looked like they had just woken up from a rather long nap (which, come to think of it, they probably had).
“It’s about the prank,” Fred said anxiously, lips quivering into a weak smile. “Turns out, I still need your help.”
The words hit me. Like, literally hit me. As if someone had taken a magic marker, written all the words on their fist, and then punched me straight in the gut with it. I stared at Freddy in shock, unblinking, all the breath knocked right out of my chest. What? “You’re kidding me.”
“I wish I was,” Freddy admitted, still smiling that half, uneasy smile. “But I’m not.”
I shook my head. Scoffed. Laughed. It was a hollow, mirthless sound that echoed brashly against the stone walls.
“You want help.” I stated flatly.
Freddy winced, nodding.
Help. He wanted help. With his stupid, juvenile, immature prank. As if I hadn’t already done enough! Who had been the one to break into the Potion’s cupboard and steal from school property? Who had been the one to blunder around the castle, running from Filch like some sodding ex-convict? Honestly! I was a prefect, for god’s sake. I was supposed to be preventing this kind of behavior, not...participating in it! How could he even think about doing this to me, when he had promised—
“Aggy, I’m sorry. But it’s really important and you’re the only one who—”
“I seriously cannot believe this,” I muttered, shaking my head. And then I was jostling past him, ignoring his cries for me to stop, just trying to get as far away as possible.
Anger. That’s all I could feel, thrumming through my entire body like a shockwave. Anger at Fred, anger at Cooper, anger at this whole, stupid situation. Of course this would happen. I had known it would. I just hadn’t expected it from Freddy, of all people. Freddy, who was usually so good on his word. Freddy, who had actually seemed to understand my feelings about this whole prank business. Freddy, who I had even started to consider as a good friend...
I wiped that thought furiously from my mind as I rounded the corner. This was just too, too much. My head throbbed violently—I felt like I was about to explode.
I kept on walking, ignoring Freddy, who, I’m sure, was still standing where I left him, no doubt trying to fit all the pieces together in the giant puzzle of Why Aggy’s Pissed Off (also known as What Did I Do This Time?). He was probably trying to figure out how angry/violent I was right now, and whether it’d be safe to follow me (very, and it wouldn’t).
I quickened my pace, rounding a corner at the speed of light, when, all of a sudden, something confusing happened.
I rounded the corner. There was a fleeting flash of unruly dark hair. A red gold tie. And then, a collision.
Weightlessness, the world veering out of control, tilting topsy-turvy. Me, falling.
As the stone floor raced towards me in an epic battle of Aggy vs. Gravity (here’s a hint: gravity was winning), I braced myself for the inevitable impact, when, out of nowhere, my fall was suddenly stopped. I felt something—this unseen force—jerk me back and upwards and hold me there, frozen to the spot. It was as if someone had pressed the pause button—my body was now dangling in mid-air by an invisible thread, inches from the floor.
I looked up.
Potter. He was staring at me, eyebrows raised, a cool expression on his annoyingly handsome face. His fingers were curled around the strap of my backpack, holding me safely above the ground. My eyes darted from the floor to Potter to his hands, and I quickly put the pieces together in the giant puzzle of What Just Happened (also known as Why Quidditch Reflexes Can Really Come in Handy Sometimes).
I had been rounding the corner. Potter had been on the other side, doing that stupid, annoying thing he does where he goes off and...and exists, and stuff. One thing led to another, the inevitable happened, and we must have collided. And since I’m Agatha Bennett, Bona-fide Swag Master and all-around embodiment of grace, I tripped over him and fell. And because he’s James Potter, Pratface Douchepants and the giant pimple on the face of my life, he just had to go and grab me by my backpack straps, stopping me in midair and effectively preventing my fall. Ugh. Prick.
Yeah, yeah, I know it’s great he helped me and everything. I mean, he probably did just save me a sprained ankle and an ice pack or two, but honestly? I’d rather have fallen. ‘Cos now Potter gets to gloat and brush the dirt off his shoulder (in the figurative, ‘gangster’ sense, of course), while I have to act all grateful and—shudder—thank him.
There was a long, frozen moment of nothing. My surprised gaze locked on to Potter’s cool one, and slowly, I straightened, my feet landing back on the floor. We stared at each other for a minute, and then:
“You are so irritating!” I blurted out, perhaps a little louder than necessary.
Potter quirked a dark eyebrow, dropping his hand from my backpack. “Excuse me?” For once, he looked caught off guard. Obviously, he had been expecting a gushing wave of gratitude (or at least a grudging, ‘thanks’), and my unexpected response had surprised him.
“You heard me!” I threw my arms into the air, exasperated. I knew it was rude, but I really couldn’t bring myself to care. First Freddy, now Potter—today was just not my day. “You’re irritating!”
“And what, exactly,” Potter began slowly, “did I do that was so irritating?”
“Ugh, I don’t know! You...You...” I stammered, flapping my hands around in a charmingly epileptic manner as I tried to form the right words. “Just you, alright?!”
“Oh, okay, I’m sorry for...What was it I was doing, again? Existing?” Potter’s tone was anything but sincere. It was dripping with sarcasm, each word loaded with mockery.
“Pretty much,” I spat back just as venomously.
“Well, in that case, I apologize for my existence,” he said dryly, “I’ll try and tone it down a little.”
“It’s appreciated,” I snapped back.
There was a heavy, angry silence.
“Jesus, Bennett,” Potter finally said, curiosity getting the better of him. “What’s got your knickers in a twist today? You’re even pissier than usual.”
I could have insulted him again, but this time, I decided to go another route—playing it cool.
“Thinking about my knickers, Potter?” I asked, raising a sole eyebrow. The whole thing—the subtle, mocking comment, the icy tone it was said in, the eyebrow raising...It was all very Potter-esque.
He cringed, face twisted into a expression of over-exaggerated disgust. “Please, spare me—I just ate.”
“Oh, and how was your daily helping of children souls? Tasty, I hope.”
“Yup, and they’d be even better if I didn’t feel like regurgitating them every time I see your face.”
Potter was just turning around, about to leave, when suddenly, someone else dashed around the corner, slamming into my body and successfully sending me into another tailspin. I felt myself trip over some unknown object (Potter’s big ego, perhaps?), my body hurtling through the air at breakneck speed.
I was just about to greet my old chum, The Ground, with a friendly face-plant when, out of nowhere, I was jerked upwards and back onto my feet. Again.
Courtesy of Potter and his ‘look-at-me-I’m-so-fast-and-cool’ Quidditch Reflexes.
...For the second time today.
This is just getting ridiculous.
Potter released his hold on my backpack, face completely impassive, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. Like it was normal for him to just go around, grabbing unsuspecting girls by their backpacks and saving them from near-falls. He almost seemed bored. I mean, he wasn’t even looking at me, for Merlin’s sake!
No, he was too busy staring at the person who had just zoomed around thecorner—the one who had caused this whole ruckus.
“Aggy.” Fred was panting. It was obvious that, after a lot of self-debating, he had decided to go after me. But since he hadn’t known I was still talking to Potter, he had probably figured I was really far ahead. So feeling it was necessary to zoom around the school like Speed bloody Racer, he had sprinted all the way here and was now completely out of breath.
“Aggy,” he gasped, “I just want to say that I’m sorry, and that I know you’re mad and everything, but can you please hear me out?”
I stared at him, silent.
“Okay, cool,” Fred prattled on, taking my wordless sulking as a ‘yes.’ “Look, I’m just going to be honest here: I need you for this prank. And I’m really sorry to ask you for your help.”
I couldn’t help but let some of my previous anger leak through. “You promised—”
“I know, and I was wrong! I miscalculated! Believe me, I feel awful about it. I hate asking you for favors, and I wouldn’t be asking you if I didn’t absolutely have to. But that’s the thing—I do absolutely have to. If you don’t do this, Aggy, then the whole prank’s gonna fall through. And then all of our work will have gone to waste.”
He paused, taking in another deep breath. I didn’t say anything, just mulled over what he had said. Maybe Fred had a point. No matter how childish or petty I thought this whole ordeal was, Cooper did deserve at least some form of karmic payback. And if it would help Cooper get what he deserved, then maybe doing one more thing for the prank wouldn’t be that terrible...
“Please, Aggy,” Fred implored. Next to me, Potter said nothing, his expression completely blank.
“Well...” I began slowly.
“It’ll only be one little thing,” Fred added hastily, holding up an arbitrary finger. “One little thing, and you’re done. For good, this time.”
For a silent moment, I simply let Freddy hang there in agonizing suspense. Then, I finally relented. “Oh, alright.”
Freddy breathed a huge sigh of relief, letting out a ‘whoop!’ of jubilation. Potter said nothing, as apathetic as ever, but I could see his shoulders tense ever so slightly underneath his white oxford.
“But on one condition,” I said, interrupting Fred, who was in the middle of a celebratory victory dance.
“Anything,” Fred said boldly as he wiggled his hips in a poor imitation of The Macarena, “You name it, and it’s done.”
“I work with a partner,” I declared. If I was going down, then by god, someone was going down with me. I didn’t care who—Dom, Freddy, whatever—just so long as it wasn’t—
“I’ll go,” Potter interjected in his usual, obnoxious manner.
What? Immediately, I whipped around, unable to do anything but stare at him incredulously.
Why would Potter want to work with me? Was he insane? Did he not see how obvious of a recipe for disaster we were?
But Potter wouldn’t meet my gaze. Instead, he was staring steadily at Freddy, his face completely inscrutable. What in Merlin’s name was going on behind that thick skull of his?
Not that it really mattered. Fred’s answer to this was already obvious. There was no way in hell he was going to let Potter and I buddy up. It was a given. I mean, even though Maths wasn’t exactly the Fredster’s best subject, I’m sure he could at least figure this one out:
1 + 1 = 2.
2 + 2 = 4.
Me + Potter = A Great Fiery Explosion that Would Probably Destroy the Whole School and Everyone In It. The End.
Of course Fred was going to say no. After all, what kind of brain-dead idiot would even think about agreeing to such a thin—?
“Sure, sounds good to me!”
And that was how—two tantrums and a whole lot of pointless bickering later—I found myself standing next to Potter outside the Gryffie common room, wearing all-black, carrying a large, shady-looking knapsack, and ready to embark on yet another crazed, all-nighter mission throughout Hogwarts.
Except this time, it wasn’t just stealing from school property. No, this time, it was much, much worse.
We were catnapping.
...And no, I’m not talking about the brief, hour-long snoozes you take in the middle of the day. I am talking about something different. I am talking about actual, genuine feline abduction.
Tonight, Potter and I are going to kidnap a cat.
...Filch’s cat, specifically.
We are so going down.
Scowling at no one in particular, I folded my arms across my chest and hugged myself against the brisk, November air. Merlin’s knobby kneecaps, it was cold. I mean, come on. This school is like, what, a bajillion years old and we still haven’t figured out a way to keep everybody warm inside? Honestly? Not that hard, guys. It’s called a central heating system, Hogwarts, like hello!
“Relax, Bennett,” Potter said from where he was standing next to me.
Jerking out of my reverie, I swiveled around so that I was scowling at him, arms still crossed defensively.
“I’m relaxed,” I said, shrugging over-casually. But somehow, that wasn’t so convincing with my voice an octave higher and my foot rapping incessantly against the ground.
For once, Potter didn’t say anything. He simply shot me a doubtful look that said everything it needed to.
“What?” I asked, tossing my arms out in the air. “I am! I’m the picture of relaxed! The epitome of relaxed! The very definition of it! I’m relaxed!”
Eyebrows raised skeptically, Potter held out his hand in a mock gesture of meet and greet. “Hello, Relaxed. I’m Not Buying It. Pleased to meet you.”
I responded with a petty, albeit effective, eyeroll. “Oh, you think you’re so witty, don’t you?”
“Why are you doing this, Potter?” I blurted out suddenly, unable to contain myself any longer. “I can manage this perfectly fine by myself!”
“You were the one who asked for a partner.”
“Yeah, but not you!”
“Well, someone has to be there for when you inevitably muck everything up!”
“Don’t you dare cast me into that stereotype of the weak, helpless damsel in distress,” I fumed, voice dangerously low. “I’ll have you know that it’s derogatory and chauvinistic and—”
“—insulting and archaic and blah blah blah,” Potter finished for me, practically taking the words right out of my mouth. He had heard my anti-sexism rant many times before, and could now probably recite it by heart. “Merlin, Bennett. I’m only stating a fact. No need to get in a strop.”
“I am not in a strop.” I was totally in a strop, but I’d be damned if I was going to let him know it.
“You’re talking fast and using really big words,” Potter stated flippantly, as if he knew me or something. “You are definitely in a strop.”
I glared at him.
He didn’t return my glare. Instead, he turned away and blew out an exasperated sigh, obviously annoyed that we were bickering once again. I watched through slitted eyes as he pushed a frustrated had through his dark, tousled hair. “Are we really doing this right now?”
“Oh, like it’s my fault that we’re arguing!” I spat back, affronted.
“Well, maybe if you didn’t insist on contradicting everything I say—”
“Well, maybe if you didn’t insist on being so wrong all the time—”
“Look!” Potter wheeled around suddenly, his golden eyes blazing like two identical embers. He looked actually...angry. Not annoyed, or frustrated, or vexed. But angry. It was so unlike his cool, freakishly calm self that I inadvertently took a step back. “I’m not saying you’re a weak or helpless damsel in distress!”
Despite his uncharacteristic and, quite frankly, surprising anger, I stood my ground. “Oh, then what are you saying?”
“You really want to know?”
“By all means, enlighten me!”
“I’m saying that you’re clumsy and uncoordinated—”
“—and that you have a very convenient knack of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and maybe I’m the only person who can drag you out of all the ridiculous situations you get yourself into!”
I had to take a moment to find my reply; what he said had kind of caught me off guard. “I—You—Stop flattering yourself, Potter! I don’t need you to hover around me like some sodding bodyguard!”
“Well we’re stuck in this together, Bennett, so you don’t really have a choice! Just shut up and bloody deal with it, will you?”
I snapped my mouth shut, furious that, like always, he was right, and, like always, I couldn’t do a thing about it. Gritting my teeth together, I stormed forward through the corridor, legs moving at a marathon power-walking pace, trying to get as much distance as possible between me and The Git.
Stupid Potter! Stupid, magnanimous, righteous...ugh, Gryffindor! I knew why he was doing this, of course. He felt obligated. As if, by some invisible law, he was bound by The Code of Bromance to protect me, just because I was the sister of his comatose bestfriend. Arsehole. I mean, I didn’t need his help, okay? I was an independent woman living in the 21st century, wasn’t I?
We walked the rest of the way in a stiff, angry silence, both of us fuming with quiet fury. Finally, right before we neared Filch’s office, Potter stopped.
“So you know what to do?” Merlin, he was so patronizing.
“Yes, I know what to do,” I said through gritted teeth. My hand was clenched around the catnap-knapsack so hard, I was worried my fingers might fall off.
Despite the fact that I was going off on this insane mission, I still did not fully know what the Cooper Prank was, exactly. I had asked Freddy to explain it to me, but he had simply given me this creepy little smile and said something along the lines of, “You will see, young one. All in due time...all in due time...”
And that was when he burst into an evil laugh. But apparantly it wasn't evil or diabolical enough or something, because then he launched into a rambling tirade about which evil laugh was the best, and which sounded more menacing, and should he go for the classic, ‘mwahaha,’ or take a risk and try the more edgy, ‘bwhahaha’?
...Keep in mind that this was all taking place at supper in the Great Hall. So of course Freddy insisted on doing demonstrations for each laugh, which earned us about a thousand stares and quite a few offers to direct us to the nearest loony bin.
Anyway, long story short, I still don’t know what the Cooper Prank is. However, I do know what I’m supposed to do tonight, and that’s this:
See, in the knapsack I am carrying, there is a stuffed cat. And not just a children’s toy, stuffed animal cat, but an actual ‘this-was-once-a-living-being’ taxidermy cat.
Yeah, I have no idea how Freddy procured it. When I asked him about it, he simply responded with a shifty glance and a not-very-reassuring, “Everybody has their secrets, Aggy.”
I really need to get some new friends.
Anyways, you’re probably wondering. What has this got to do with everything? How can a taxirdermy cat possibly help in kidnapping a real cat?
Well, I’ll tell you.
It is common knowledge throughout Hogwarts that Filch is totally bat-blind without his reading glasses. So, all we had to do was find a way to exploit that. Eventually, we (or rather, Freddy’s deranged mind) came up with a solution. What happens is this: Potter sets off a series of dungbombs throughout the corridor. He then runs into Filch’s office, pretending that he just heard the bombs and that he thinks he knows which way the perpetrator went. Of course, Filch, thirsting for blood and probably eager for the kill, will demand Potter to show him where. Potter will then lead Filch through a wild goose chase throughout the castle, which will hopefully give me enough time to sneak into Filch’s office, steal his glasses, nab Mrs. Norris, Jr., and leave the taxidermy version in it’s place.
Filch will come back to his office, completely blind, and will probably mistake the fake Mrs. Norris for the real Mrs. Norris. He’ll go on, oblivious to what has happened, until we finally return the real cat a couple days later.
For a super-evil-revenge-plan, it was actually pretty simple.
I turned around, eyeballs flicking to the ceiling, and sighed. “Yeah.”
Potter nodded, his face hardened with determination. Raising a finger, he pointed to an nearby tapestry that looked about as old as McGonagall herself. “Alright. You hide behind that tapestry until after I get Filch out of the office. Then you can go inside and grab Mrs. Norris.”
“Aye aye, Oh Capitano.” I gave a sarcastic little salute and turned on my heel towards the tapestry. Rolling his eyes, Potter walked a couple meters in the opposite direction, took a dungbomb out of his pocket, and lobbed it inside an empty classroom.
The stench was immediate. It was pretty much a combination of the most awful smells in the world, including cat pee, old people (because, let’s be honest, they do have a distinct odor), and Aidan’s feet.
Nose-wrinkled in disgust, Potter kept on walking until he rounded the corner towards where Filch’s office was located. Eagar to get away from the smell (and Potter), I scurried over to the tapestry. It was a pale blue colour, sprinkled with moth holes and worn with age. Retching from the dungbombs, I hastily ducked underneath.
The tapestry smelled worse.
Muttering angrily to myself (which is kinda hard to do when you’re trying not to breathe too much), I crouched down behind the tapestry. Great, just great. Right now, I was pretty much facing two prospects: death by lack of air, or death by tapestry suffocation. Remind me why I was doing this again?
As I waited silently behind the tapestry while both my self-respect and sense of smell continued to slowly deteriorate away, there was only one thought on my mind:
I hate my life. I truly, truly do.
Seconds ticked by, and I kept on waiting. One minute later, and I was gnashing my teeth in fury. Two minutes later, and I was cursing Potter, this prank, and this godforsaken tapestry to Pluto and back. Five minutes later, I was just about ready to either a) leap out from behind the tapestry and run away, screaming like a deranged madwoman, or b) pass out due to lack of oxygen. But then, all of a sudden, I heard footsteps.
“I think he went this way, sir.” Potter. His voice was deep and clear, ringing throughout the corridor. I stiffened. My heartbeat faltered, stopped, and then suddenly jerked into doubletime.
They were right outside, possibly only a meter away. All Filch had to do was notice the odd, Aggy-shaped lump behind the tapestry, and we’d be caught.
“Are you sure?” Filch’s croaking rasp was unmistakable.
“Well, hurry up, kid,” sneered our wonderfully charming caretaker. “Mrs. Norris and I were in the middle of our Song and Story Time before you so rudely interrupted, and I’d like to get back soon.”
Deeply disturbed (what the hell is Song and Story Time?), I shifted my weight and listened carefully as Potter and Filch’s footsteps faded away. When I was absolutely sure they were gone, I waited ten more seconds and then ducked out of the smothering tapestry.
Oh, oxygen! Clean, pure, dungbomb-scented oxygen! How I’ve missed you!
Knapsack in hand, I scampered off, rounded the corner, and plastered myself quickly against the stone wall. At an agonizingly slow rate, I inched towards the open door of Filch’s office, careful to not make even the slightest sound.
Believe it or not, but this was my first cat-napping job, so I was quite nervous. My palms were sweaty (attractive), my mouth as dry as cotton (charming), and I kept on having to fight off sudden urges to pee (mind-blowingly sexy). By the time I reached the doorframe, I was a shaking, sweating wreck.
I took a couple of deep breaths to collect myself, and then craned my neck around, poking my head into the empty room. All clear.
I ducked inside, immediately dropping into a ninja-style roll (they’re fun, okay? Don’t judge me), and then quickly stood up. Filch’s office was cramped, full of strange but menacing contraptions with purposes that I was unaware of—I made sure to steer clear of those. I mean, it’s not like they were bloodstained or anything, but still. You never know.
There was a desk at the far end of the room, and then a small, wooden door that, from what I could see through a couple of small windows, led out to a balcony. I snorted in amusement. Really? A balcony? I mean, this was a bloody school, for Merlin’s sakes, not some beach island resort. Was there anything else I should expect? A minifridge in the desk? A heart-shaped Jacuzzi in the bathroom?
The thought made me chuckle quietly, which made me relax a little. Now that I was inside the office, I wasn’t feeling so nervous (read: cripplingly terrified) anymore. Idly, I browsed around the room, looking through dusty bookshelves and cabinets. I made sure to take Filch’s reading glasses off his desk, and then plant the taxidermy cat in one of the cobwebby corners.
Mission successful. Now, all I had to do was get that sodding cat.
I found it quick enough. It was sitting on the ledge of an open window, which looked out towards the balcony and a dark, night sky sprinkled with stars. The beautiful scenery was a direct contrast with the skinny, haggard-looking bag of fleas and bones that was Mrs. Norris Jr.
Its yellow eyes were narrow and unblinking. Even though I was six times bigger than it (or her, I guess), I still couldn’t help the shiver of fear that glided down my spine.
“Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I cooed softly, holding out the empty knapsack. “Time for Song and Story Time!”
No response. Mrs. Norris just looked at me like I was a Class A Eejit (which, to be honest, was exactly what I was feeling like at the moment), and then went back to cleaning her paw.
Bollocks. Guess I had to take matters into my own hands. With slow, careful steps, I advanced towards Mrs. Norris, clutching the knapsack like it was a lifeline.
I was almost there, only a couple centimeters away, when, looking almost cheeky, Mrs. Norris suddenly ducked out the window and into the balcony outside.
Bloody—damnit! Cursing to every deity/god/spiritual being I knew, I quickly scrambled towards the balcony door and wrenched it open, cringing as a sudden gust of icy November air washed over me. I gritted my teeth, bracing myself, and stepped outside onto the paved, grey stone of the balcony. There was a sudden gust of wind, and then a loud slam as the door closed behind me.
Whoops. Hope it didn't lock.
Scowling in the chilly air, I looked up to see Mrs. Norris sauntering on a ledge that jutted out of the castle wall about two meters above my head. She—it—whatever was staring down at me with a smug expression on her furry face as she paced from left to right, tail swaying with a nonchalant, ‘bitches-can’t-touch-this’ air. Stupid cat.
Gritting my teeth, I craned my neck and stared at the ledge, knowing what I had to do. I grimaced. Okay, Aggy. You can do this. You got this. That fucking cat is going fucking down.
Clenching the knapsack in my teeth, I used my newly freed hands to climb up the side of the wall, gripping the uneven, protuding stones of the wall for balance.
I know, it’s crazy. Me, Agatha Bennett, scaling the motherfucking side of the motherfucking castle of motherfucking Hogwarts. I have offically lost it, I think. I feel like one of those deranged people who go off the bend and start climbing up walls of muggle city buildings. All I needed right now was a Spiderman costume and a long history of drug abuse, and I’d be golden.
What was the weirdest though, was that I wasn’t afraid. I mean, there are a lot of things I’m scared of (snakes, owls, Dom with a hangover), but heights aren’t one of them. For some reason, I felt perfectly at ease clinging to the wall of a castle, despite the fact that I was up possibly hundreds of feet in the air. I mean, granted, if I fell, it would just be onto the balcony a couple feet below, but still. Shouldn’t I be at least somewhat nervous, or something?
Eventually, after a lot of scraped knees, almost-slips, and the most creative cursing I’ve done in years, I was finally able to clamber on to the top of the ledge. It was about two feet wide, so I still had to hold onto the wall in order to keep my balance. Slowly, I shuffled towards that stupid cat, calling to it in a manner that was, at first, sugary sweet, then pleading, and then just straight out vicious.
“Here, kitty cat! Over here! Please? Please come over here. I’m begging you!—Oi! Litterbreath! It's cold, I'm tired, this is stupid. Just get the bleedin' fuck over here before I turn you into a coat with matching gloves!”
This seemed to get Mrs. Norris Jr.’s attention. She snapped her furry head up, fixing me with a peeved, scrutinizing stare. One thing she didn't do, however, was move. Damnit. I needed to get closer, but the ledge was growing more and more narrow with every step I took. What if I fell off? I’d have to start all over again—not to mention the cold, hard stone of the balcony below did not look very comfy...
And then, an idea hit me.
Dangling only a meter away, just within my arm’s reach, was one of the few thousand flags that Hogwarts liked to decorate its outer walls with. It jutted out on a gleaming brass pole, the dark material swaying slightly in the wind. The flag itself was huge—bigger than me by far—and boldly displayed a giant, gleaming picture of the Hogwarts emblem. I hastily shimmied towards it, ignoring Mrs. Norris’s piercing gaze, until I was close enough to grab onto the cloth. Then, with all the skill and expertise of a Girl Scout on crack, I managed to clumsily fumble a corner of the flag through the belt-loop of my pants, and then hastily tie something that vaguely resembled a knot.
Feeling much more secure now that I had an anchor, I continued to scoot along. I was almost near Mrs. Norris now. She was on the very edge of the ledge, no where to escape... Almost there...
Like a striking King Cobra, I lashed out with my knapsack and—after a brief episode in which I had to frantically fend off a pair of sharp claws swiping for my jugular—managed to get the cat in the bag. Success!
I straightened, sending a triumphant ‘whoop!’ into the icy air. Did I just really do that? Did I just successfully kidnap Filch’s cat—without falling off the castle or getting one of my main arteries punctured by Mrs. Norris’s deadly talons? I could hardly believe it! That was almost too easy!
The minute that very thought crossed my mind, however, the stone ledge underneath my feet gave way ever so slightly... And then everything went hideously wrong.
It happened so fast—too fast for me to realize what was actually going on. One second, I was standing on the ledge, about to break out into a victory dance—and then the next, I was hurtling through the air, knapsack in hand, racing towards the stone of the balcony above.
I was bracing myself for impact when, all of a sudden, I jerked to a stop mid-fall in a manner that was terribly reminiscent of this morning, when Potter had grabbed me by the backpack straps. One second, I was hurtling towards my imminent doom, and the next, I was hanging in mid-air, suspended by the flag I had stupidly knotted to my pants.
...And that is how I ended up dangling in mid-air outside the castle of Hogwarts, flipped upside down and held in place by nothing more than a very precariously tied flag... All the while clutching a stolen cat.
I am in need of some serious life re-evaluation. Honestly. I don’t know how this situation could get any worse.
“...That’s so weird, Professor. I could have sworn that whoever did it went that way...”
A clear, deep voice leaked out through the open window, and I immediately froze. Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no. Please don’t tell me that’s Potter’s voice I hear. Please don’t tell me they’re back. Please don’t tell me Potter and Filch are walking inside right now, while I’m dangling helplessly outside the window only a few meters away. Please, please, please.
But no. It was actually happening. All of it. I watched through the open window, an expression of abject horror on my face, as Potter and Filch entered the office. For a moment, I was tempted to just scream, to alert them both of my presence and give away everything. Somehow, though, I managed to keep my mouth clamped firmly shut as I watched Filch take a seat at his desk, his back (thankfully) facing me.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Shit on a stick, shit with a brick... Just shit! I am so dead.
Wincing, I wiggled around slightly, trying to somehow maneuver the flag so that it could swing me out of the window’s view... But no such luck. Instead, all that momentum sent me into a complete tailspin so that I started frantically swinging back and forth, spinning around like some demented human pendulum. The world spun around me in a dizzying blur of stars and stone and light. Inside the knapsack, Mrs. Norris Jr. hissed.
“Well, thanks for wasting my time, kid,” Filch’s sneering voice floated through the window, each word making my stomach clench tighter and tighter with fear. Oh god. I think I’m going to be sick. “Teenagers these days... Useless...”
Potter stood in front of Filch’s desk, looking haughty and almost bored. He hadn’t noticed me yet (weird—you’d think it’d be hard to miss the GIANT HUMAN PENDULUM SWINGING OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW), so I used my free arm to wave around frantically, hoping to catch his attention.
Potter seemed to zone out as Filch continued to insult him, muttering on and on about our ‘newest generation of filthy miscreants,’ or whatever. I watched, unable to do anything, as Potter’s dark, gilded eyes drifted idly around the room, taking in his surroundings.
And that was when he saw me.
To his ever-lasting credit, Potter did manage to keep his cool. For one, fleeting second, I could see a barrage of emotions—alarm, panic, horror—flicker across his face. And then they were gone as soon as they came, smoothed over by his normal mask of cool, arrogant indifference.
“Actually, Professor Filch,” I heard him say, “I just remembered—a bunch of Ravenclaw kids have been stashing Firewhiskey in a cupboard near the Charms classroom.”
“Yeah. So isn’t it my duty as an, er, ex-prefect to, uh, show you where it is? So you can confiscate everything?”
There was a pause. “Are you sure about this?” Filch finally rasped. I could practically see the emotions battling inside him—the reluctance to trust Potter again versus the eagerness to get some students in trouble.
Eventually, the latter won. Filch stood from his desk and followed Potter out of the room. I dangled there, watching them leave with a growing sense of dismay. What was going on?
As soon as they exited the room, I heard Potter murmur something. Bewildered, I strained my ears to hear what it was.
“Oh, one second—I think I forgot something. Stay right here.”
And then he was racing back into the office and bursting through the balcony door, cheeks flushed, chest heaving. His eyes were blazing uncannily bright—he looked fit to murder. It was the most flustered I’d seen him since...well, ever.
Because the fall had flipped me upside down, and because Potter was so bleedin’ tall, I was now eye-level with his lips. Now, any other time and I’d be mesmerized (I mean, this is James Potter we’re talking about. Every part of him is attractive, including his lips—especially his lips), but right now, I was actually sort of afraid. Because although these lips were perfectly shaped and unfairly delicious-looking, they were also currently twisted into a scowl. A scowl that, I’ll admit, was a tad frightening.
“Are. You. Fucking. Insane?” Potter hissed, and I couldn’t stop myself from staring at the smooth way his mouth curved and shaped to form each word, the edge of his teeth scraping ever so slightly against his bottom lip to form the letter ‘F’...
“Er... Un pocco?” I replied in meek Spanish, still unable to tear my eyes away.
Potter looked like he was about to have an aneurysm. He gaped at me for a bit, and then turned swiftly on his heel. “I’m going to figure out a way to get rid of Filch. Try not to do anything fantastically stupid while I’m gone.”
He started to walk away, wrenching open the door so that light spilled out onto the balcony. “Wait!” I called frantically.
“What?” He stopped, annoyed, and swivelled back around to look at me.
“How long are you going to be gone?” I tried to keep my voice steady, but there was the slightest tremble of anxiety.
Potter stared at me, the anger in his eyes melting away, replaced by... amusement?
“Not long,” he said, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips, “Try and hang in there.”
Hang in there?! “Oh, haha, very punny, Potter!” I sarcastically called after him, but he was already out the door. Git.
I don’t know how long I waited. Time seemed to tick by at a snail’s pace as I hung there in mid-air, Mrs. Norris squirming uncomfortably in my arms. It seemed like eons until Potter finally waltzed back into the office, Filch nowhere to be found. Oh, Merlin. Where was Filch? I know it’s ridiculous, but there was a small, irrational part of me that was kind of afraid that Potter had killed him.
“Don’t move.” The second Potter walked out onto the balcony, he was by my side and tugging at the knot around my belt-loop.
“How’d you get rid of Filch?” I asked suspiciously, staring at Potter. He was biting his lips in concentration, eyes sharp and focused as he stared at my knot. I tried not to shiver when his fingers accidentally grazed the skin of my hipbone, which had been left exposed by the slipping hem of my shirt.
“Locked him in a broom cupboard,” Potter mumbled, his slender fingers still working to untie me.
“Locked him in a broom cupboard. Jesus, Bennett, stop squirming so much.”
“Are you serio—” I began to exclaim, but I was suddenly cut off as the knot gave way. With a squawk of protest, I felt myself fall through the air...
...And into Potter’s arms.
My voice died in my throat as Potter caught me with ease, looking completely nonchalant and not freaked out in the slightest (like me). I gaped a little, opening and closing my mouth uselessly, shocked into silence.
Right now, I was close enough to Potter to count the green flecks in his eyes.
This was not okay.
Before I could do anything stupid, however, Potter—who seemed completely oblivious to the tension in the air—swiftly set me down.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said sharply, grabbing the knapsack from my hands.
I staggered around a bit, trying to regain my footing, and then followed Potter back into the office. We were almost to the door when, all of a sudden, we heard him.
“WHERE ARE YOU, YOU MISERABLE, GOOD-FER-NUTHIN’ CRETIN?”
Filch was back. And he was not happy.
Potter stopped walking immediately, his eyes fluttering shut, hands clenching into fists. “Are you kidding me?” His voice was quiet, calm, lacking any inflection whatsoever.
I took this as my cue to launch into full panic mode. “Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod—he’s back, we’re gonna die, he’s gonna kill us and make rugs out of our skin, ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod—”
I couldn’t believe this. I honestly couldn’t. We had come this far—I had dangled off the side of a castle, for Merlin’s sake—only to get caught now? I think I was starting to hyperventilate.
Potter wheeled around, grabbing me by the shoulders. “Bennett?”
“Yeah?” I gasped breathlessly, my eyes desperately searching his face for a sign that he had a solution to this mess, that everything was going to be okay.
“Shut up,” Potter said flatly. And then he wrenched open a nearby door and dragged me inside the dark, musty walk-in closet of Filch’s office.
The door closed behind me, and all of a sudden we were drowning in darkness. And because I am just oh-so-graceful (Bonafide Swag Master in the hizz-houssseee!), I tripped over one of the many random cleaning supplies (at least, I think they were cleaning supplies) cluttering the floor. Desperate, I reached out to grab something to stop my fall and ended up finding Potter’s shirt. Then we were both tumbling down, me on top of Potter, Mrs. Norris yowling unhappily somewhere in the background.
...And that is how I ended up straddling James Sirius Potter inside a broom cupboard.
“Ow—Merlin, that hurt!”
There was a huge, frenzied ruckus as we tried to detangle ourselves, limbs flying everywhere in the darkness. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, I realized that if someone were to ever see us right now—scrambling frantically together in a cramped, dark broom cupboard—they would interpret the situation in a very different way. The thought made the back of my neck tingle.
“Get off me!”
“I’m trying to, you git!”
“Well try harder! Jesus, you’re heavy. What do you eat for breakfast? Cement mix?”
“Careful, Potter. My knee is dangerously close to your groin right no—”
All of a sudden, Potter’s rough hand came flying over my mouth, muffling my threat. Stiffening, I immediately froze as my ears picked up the sound of Filch’s footsteps entering the office.
In the dim, barely visible light, Potter and I stared at each other with wide, panicking eyes. But despite the immediate danger we were in, all I could think about was how wrong this was—the position we were in, I mean. Right now, Potter was lying flat on his back on the dusty ground of the cupboard. I was literally straddling him, one of my legs on either side of his hips, my hands planted on the wall behind his head. My dark red hair fell around us like a curtain, a few tendrils spilling onto his chest. Most horrifyingly of all, however, was the fact that Potter’s warm hands were currently wrapped around my waist in an ill-fated effort to steady me.
Any other time, Iwould have slapped him upside the head and told him to get his slimy, disgusting hands off of me, thank you very much. But, here, inside this dark, quiet broom cupboard, I couldn’t do that for two reasons: a) right now, Filch was directly outside the door, so close that I didn’t dare breathe, let alone move, and b) Potter’s hands were pretty much the only thing keeping me from falling and flopping right down on top of him.
This was wrong. So terribly wrong. I mean, I could actually feel Potter’s body underneath mine, warm and firm and—and—and...
I blinked rapidly, trying to get all those...thoughts out of my mind. Instead, I concentrated on the present. Focus, Agatha. There is a very angry caretaker outside the door. If he finds you, he will most likely kill/dismember/torture you. Think about that. Do not think about Potter’s hands burning through the thin, flimsy material of your shirt. Do not think about the way his eyes are glowing all molten-y and gooey in the darkness. And do not, under an circumstances, think about how you could easily lean down and—and—and...
The air seemed to thud against my ears as I closed my eyes, struggling to wipe my mind clean. Silently, I strained to listen to Filch’s pacing footsteps outside. For once horrifying moment, I really thought he was going to open the door and find us. But then the moment passed, and Filch was walking away and leaving the office, and we were safe.
We waited a moment, breathless, until we were absolutely sure he was gone. And then I slowly, gingerly climbed off of Potter. We both stood up, the air thick and palpable around us.
Potter opened the door, and I winced as light washed over me, filling my vision with blinding brightness. We crept outside into the office, the air around us thick and palpable with awkwardness.
“Well,” Potter cleared his throat uncomfortably, reaching up to rub the back of his neck.
There was a pause.
“We should probably get out of here.” Potter finally amended. I swallowed nervously, wondering what was going on in that head of his. Was he thinking—or rather, trying not to think—about how his bestfriend’s little sister, the girl he absolutely loathed, had just been straddling him? In a broom cupboard?
Or did he not even care? He was James Sirius Potter after all. Things like this were probably a regular occurrence for him.
I shook my head, knowing that if I tried to decipher Potter’s thoughts any longer, I was going to drive myself mental (or more mental than I already was, at least).
“Do you have the cat?” I quickly asked. Potter nodded, holding up the knapsack that contained one thoroughly disgruntled Mrs. Norris, Jr.
“Then let’s go,” I said, and together, we left the office, walking out into the dark, shadowy corridor and trying to keep as much distance between us as possible.
So there you have it! Chapter 22! Hope you guys liked it, and please don't forget to review. Those things keep me sane!
Fyi, 'un pocco' means 'a little' in Spanish. Just so you know.
Also, I'd like everyone to know that no cats, fictional or real, were harmed in the making of this chapter! Thanks :)
Lots of love,