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Chapter 27: Inescapable
A/N: Alright guys, here's chapter 27 (finally)! I'm terribly sorry for the long wait, but as some of you know, I've been going through a tough month, what with APs, getting sick (twice), and prom and such, so thank you for your patience! Oh, and also the formatting for this might be a bit weird. I don't know why, but everytime I click the little 'preview' button, it automatically adds like, a bajillion empty lines between my paragraphs. Blurghhh. Oh well, what can you do?
Disclaimer: Nada belongs to me. It's all JK.
The Hogwarts Express is a cherry-red train that normally puffs out cheerful marshmallows of grey steam. It looks like the kind of train that could be Thomas the Tank Engine’s jolly best friend, the kind of train that takes you on a wonderful journey filled with double rainbows and baby kittens riding unicorns. It basically makes you feel like you belong on the front of a Girl Scout cookie box— wholesome, family-friendly and, most importantly, happy.
And at this moment, it’s also the train that is currently zooming me to my demise.
Shall I explain? Let me back up a little.
It all started with a letter.
I am writing this with about fifteen minutes to spare before your stepfather and I have to get on our Portkey to the Bahamas. Like I told you before, Arnold and I are going there for Christmas break. Of course, we’re both very excited (we’ve practically been counting down the days!) and I’ll have you know that I’ve been extremely organized in setting this all up. I bought the tickets, I made an itinerary, I even used your label-maker to put Arnold’s name on all of his boxer shorts (just in case he forgets them)! Can you believe it? Your scatterbrained, frazzled mother....Labelling things! You would be so proud, darling.
(Now, if only I could find my wand... I seem to have misplaced it somewhere last night... But no worries! I’ve sent Arnold on a hunt throughout the house to find it! Hopefully he will before we have to leave, otherwise... Well, let’s not think about otherwise.)
Anyway, enough of me rambling. The point of this letter is to let you know what’s going on this Christmas break. See, given everything that’s happened with your brother recently, I think it might be for the best that this year, the two of you spend Christmas break together. Just for safety’s sake. Obviously I trust Aidan, but you know how he can be... He’s always so... Careless. Absentminded. Forgetful, even. Honestly, I don’t know where he gets it from (har har!). I just think that everyone would feel much more at ease knowing you’ll be there to keep an eye on his health and make sure he’s recovering well. So please, I’m asking you—if it’s not too much trouble, would you mind spending break with Aidan?
Let’s pause for a bit.
Now, after reading the first half of this letter, I’m pretty sure you know where this is going, yeah? And if you don’t, you’re at least getting some creeping sense of foreboding. At the moment, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, ‘Oh, this can’t end well for our dear Aggy.’ And you’re right (because it never does).
You see, for every Christmas break since second year, our family has had a system. Mum and Arnold jet off to some beachy, tourist-trap location to get silly on fruity cocktails and rekindle their love (gag) while I spend my Christmas at Dom’s house, and Aidan stays over at the Potter house (sorry, mansion). That’s how it’s always been.
But not this year. No. This year, I’m spending my Christmas break with Aidan, which also means I’m spending it with Potter.
Because, yes, folks, my life is that predictable. In fact, it’s so predictable that I’ve written this formula for it:
Nearest terrible thing that could happen x Potter - any sort of fairness/mercy = Agatha Bennett’s Life.
Joy to the fucking world.
Honestly. I can’t decide whether my life is some sick joke and this is the punchline, or an epic, Macbeth-esque tragedy and this is the creepy foreshadowing of doom to come. I guess we’ll just have to see.
Anyways, on with the letter.
Now, I know the original plan for this Christmas break was for Arnold and I to go to the Bahama’s, Aidan stay at the Potter’s, and you stay with Dominique and her family. And I really would love to stick to that plan, seeing as everyone had been so happy with it...But...
Ah, yes. The elusive, golden ‘But.’ My life would be incomplete without it. In fact, these days, it seems like my whole life is one giant ‘but.’ I can never have anything good, can I? There’s always a string attached, or a fine print at the bottom.
So far, the universe has been a lot like this: “Hey Aggy, Ryan Fisher—also known as the guy of your dreams—is your perfect soulmate and he would totally go for you...But you’re not a dude.”
Or ‘Hey Aggy, we’re going to make you Prefect this year, seeing as that’s been your one goal throughout your whole academic career...But we’re also going to make your worst enemy one too!”
I bet if I won the lottery, the universe would probably say, ‘Hey Aggy, you can have all the money...But only in the form of coupons for free cat food!’
Which would probably be pretty convenient, actually, since we all know that at the rate I’m going, I’m probably gonna end up turning into some some crazy cat lady. At least when I die alone and unloved, I’ll die knowing that Mr. Fluffles Jr. and his furry friends never had to go a single day without food.
Anyway, I’m getting off topic, yeah? Sorry, that tends to happen when I find out my life has been ruined (again). On with the letter:
So, since Aidan will be staying at the Potters, I would like it if you’d join him there.
If you listen hard enough, I’m pretty sure you can hear the final nail being driven into my proverbial coffin. That’s right. I am going to be spending seven days—yes, you heard me. Seven. The number after six. The one that ate nine—at James Sirius Potter’s house. Living where he lives. Eating where he eats. Sleeping where he sleeps.
So I guess the formula now is:
Aggy + Potter’s house x two weeks vacation - any sort of possibility that this might turn out okay = disaster.
Eff my life.
I know that you and James share a sort of ‘dislike’ between you (I don’t know why, he’s a very nice boy—and handsome too! Wink wink!), but I’d like you two to at least try and get along, for Aidan’s sake. Alright?
Thank you so much, Aggy, you’re a star. You have no idea how much help you’re being.
And you, mother dearest, have no idea how much money this will cost you in future therapy bills. When they lock me away in that nice white-padded room, could you be a star and maybe send me a fruit basket now and then?
Oh, Arnold just called from downstairs to say that he’s found my wand! It was in the pantry, for some reason.
Hmm. I wonder how it got there? Odd.
Anyway, I suppose that’s my cue to leave. I’m sorry to change things up on you, Agatha, but I hope you understand it’s for the best. Give you brother my love and say hello to the Potters for me. Also, remember to use your please’s and thank you’s when you’re over there! Manners are important!
I’ll miss you, darling.
Lots of love,
I’ve obviously said it before, but there’s no harm in repeating it:
I hate my life.
I clutched the letter tighter in my fist as the train zoomed on, rattling like some heaving, merciless beast and making me wobble unsteadily as I made my way down the corridor.
Half an hour.
That was, roughly, the time left before this train pulled into King’s Cross’s platform 93/4 and I had to come face to face with the Potter family...and the reality that I’ll be staying with them for the next week.
For the train ride, I’d been sharing a compartment with our usual gang—Dom, Fred, Aidan, Potter—but not so much ‘sharing’ as in occasionally ‘popping my head in to see if Potter’s left and I could come in yet.’
Ever since the party last week, I’d been unable to stay in the same near vicinity as Potter for longer than five minutes, knowing what had happened between us. Every time we were together, it was like a full on torture session of trying not to stare at his mouth, or his arms, or the way his hand sometimes passed through his perfectly tousled, black hair (which I know from experience is very soft—stop it Agatha). It had gotten to the point where he couldn’t even say something without my face turning into a cherry tomato.
Not that it seemed to be bothering Potter. He obviously didn’t want anything to do with me now. During the past week, his hatred for me seemed to have moved into the realm of ‘bland indifference.’ Whenever we were together, his (always unimpressed) gaze passed right through my body, like I didn’t even exist. When he passed me in the hallway, he didn’t bother to offer a snide comment or give me a harder-than-usual shoulder shove like normal. No, he would just breeze by me like I was any other classmate, eyes trained forward, refusing to look at me.
Of course, our conversations were, as always, extremely riveting. From the thrilling, ‘Pass the salt,’ to the absolutely charming ‘You’re in my way,’ we just couldn’t shut up around each other.
Potter had said six, maybe seven, words to me in total. And that’s from the past week. While I used to think a silencio’d Potter would be a gift from god, it was actually...distressing.
So today, I gave it right back to him. For the past hour, I hadn’t bothered to actually sit and relax in our compartment. Not even once. Instead, I’d been mumbling excuses to go to the bathroom, or find the trolly cart—I’d even resorted to visiting other compartments (because I have oh so many other friends, insert sarcastic eyeroll here). Whenever I poked my head into our compartment and saw Potter sprawled all languid and smug-like on the bench, or playing exploding snap with Fred and Dom, I immediately ducked out again and left.
James Sirius Potter, meet my shoulder. It’s feeling a bit cold.
Though all of this didn’t change the fact that in half an hour, Potter was going to be inescapable. I was going to have to eat meals with him, spend Christmas with him—hell, we’d probably have to share a bathroom. A bathroom. God knows what kind of airborne diseases I could pick up just by doing that. At least I’ve had all my injections—fingers crossed that will help me ward off Potteritis (symptoms: excessive arrogance, pratness, and the propensity to snog innocent girls and then never talk to them again).
I viciously shook my head at the though and crumpled the letter in my hand, feeling satisfied with the ensuing papery crunch. Leaning against one of the smooth, panelled walls of the corridor for balance, I slowly staggered down the hallway, passing compartments of laughing first-years or gossiping Hufflepuffs. It was amazing, how carefree they were. Little did they know that I’d be meeting my death in thirty minutes time.
Not that I’m being dramatic, or anything.
Stumbling a little as the train gave a particularly rough lurch (hate you too, Hogwarts Express), I tried to quicken my pace. For this past round of The Avoid Potter Game, I had spent almost forty whole minutes wandering around the train, pretending like I was actually carrying through with my prefect orders. It’d been nice, though I would have to get back to the compartment sooner or later, or else Dom would surely get suspicious.... If she wasn’t already.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, FUCK YOU, YOU STUPID FUCKING FUCK!”
I gasped as the scream tore through my ear drums, making me wince involuntarily. What in the world? Turning around from side to side, I could see other kids in their compartments looking around bewilderingly, frowning to themselves. Obviously, they heard the shriek as well. Hell, the whole of Scotland probably heard it.
Immediately, though, I knew just where it was coming from. Only one person had a sound-barrier-shattering shriek (and cussing creativity) like that. And that person was Dominique Weasley.
Instinctively, I broke into a run, not caring about the less then steady train or the fact that people were looking. Thoughts flitted through my head—a dementor somehow broke into the compartment, or a giant tarantula with acid green venom dripping from its fangs, or Cooper Fallon—
Oh god. Cooper Fallon. I ran harder.
I knew where we were—second compartment to the last. Already, I could see a figure was standing in front of the door. Probably one of Cooper’s cronies, making sure no one gets in—or out. Fuck. If he does anything to my best friend, I swear to god I will—
I squinted, trying to see if it was a mistake, or an optical illusion. But it wasn’t. The closer I got, the clearer it became. No one else had the same rumpled hair, or perfect Chaser’s build—the intangible balance between lithe and muscular. The figure standing in front of the compartment was definitely, unarguably Potter.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Potter looked up from where he was leaning, all casual-like, on the door of the compartment, arms folded languidly across his chest. His eyes were squinted into lazy hazel slits, as if I had just suddenly stormed in and woken him from some peaceful slumber. How hypothetically rude of me.
“Open the door, Potter,” I barked before he could so much as blink. My whole body was jittery as I hopped on one foot to the other, trying to peek into the compartment through the window. It was no use, though, the shades were drawn. Damnit. “Whatever’s going on, whatever crazy, ridiculous prank you’re playing on Dom, I don’t care. Just open the fucking door.”
Shaking his head, Potter gave a short, almost disbelieving breath of laughter. He kicked himself off the wall, leaning forward as his face—bingo—finally assumed it’s usual expression of scorn.
“What’s this?” Voice loaded with mockery, he slapped an over-dramatic hand to his chest and turned in fake astonishment from side to side, pretending to check that it was actually him I was talking to. Cue: eye roll. “Agatha Bennett? Acknowledging my existence? Well this is definitely going in today’s diary entry!”
As soon as the sentence was out, he dropped his hand, abandoning the whole star-struck act, and eased back into his previous position of leaning against the door, all bored and insolent. “Don’t bother, Bennett. The door’s closed until I say so.”
Immediately, I felt my chest clench together in anger, spiking my breathing with hot irritation. Honestly! This was my compartment (sort of)! I had rights, okay? He couldn’t just parade around, blockading people from their rooms...It was unjust!
Eyes narrowed, teeth set, I forced myself to meet his flat gaze. “Okay, Potter, while you’re surely enjoying the power rush that comes from being the Super Special Guarder of the Door, I would like to get in. So move out of my way.”
Potter was obviously enjoying this. His chin was tilted upwards as he appraised me with a smug, satisfied gaze, bronzed eyes sparking with enjoyment.
I, on the other hand, was not so happy. I could feel fury, almost as if it were literally tearing through me, like a stinging white-hot gash across my chest. My fists clenched and my blood pounded. It was getting hard to breathe. I just wanted, once, to knock Potter off his high-horse, to win, to not feel so damn hopeless anymore.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! YOU BASTARD!”
Another scream from the compartment slashed through the air, and I knew I couldn’t waste my time anymore. I didn’t know what was actually happening in there (most likely some harmless but humiliating prank), but if Potter was involved, it couldn’t be good. I had to get in and come to my best friend’s rescue, she would do the same for me.
I went right. So did Potter. I dodged left. He did too. Finally, I made a snap-decision and just dived for the door handle, figuring the only way to pass Potter was to go through him.
This turned out to be a not-so-great idea.
In a flash of motion I could barely register, Potter grabbed my wrists and smoothly wheeled me around. I stumbled backwards, loosing balance, and my back crashed into the door. A muffled squeak of protest slipped out of my lips, my surprised gaze raising to lock with Potter’s cool one—
And I tried not to think about our close proximity... Or the last time this boy had me against a door.
Cue: hysterical internal-monologue.
Oh god. His face was right there. Right there. If I just maneuvered a little closer, I could graze my lips against his, just one last time, to feel that shooting star sailing through my body—Roman candles, chemical reactions, blazing meteors, gold sparks showering down like cosmic rain, like chips of sunlight.
Or... I could headbutt him.
Frankly, both options sounded quite tempting.
Potter, on the other hand, seemed completely unaffected by the situation. His expression was flat and bland, with a little hint of annoyance, as he spoke:
“Here’s a little tip: next time you want to pass someone, try not to lunge directly at them.” With that, he quickly released my wrists, stepping back as if I was something gross and contagious under the subway. I half expected him to wipe his hands on his shirt and Accio some Purell over for good measure.
For a moment, I just stood there, blinking at him dazedly. My mouth dry and scratchy like sandpaper.
Then, snapping to my senses, I shook my head, trying to act as disgruntled as possible. Like, seriously. Potter? And me? Totally gross. Totally.
I mean, even the very prospect makes me want to...um... gag. And stuff.
Since my hands were finally free, I took the opportunity to try the door-handle. It was locked. Surprise, surprise.
“Is this how you treat all your guests?” I bit out as I reached me behind me, viciously jangling the handle some more (to no avail).
He shrugged. “Just think of it as practice for when I lock you out of my actual house.”
I narrowed my eyes, giving up on my efforts to rip the door off its hinges and resorting to my normal arms folded, hip cocked stance. “And here I was thinking that somewhere, deep down, underneath all those layers of soot and dust, you had a heart. Oops, my bad.”
“Oh, burn.” Potter’s voice was bored and sarcastic as he shoved his hands into his pockets, the corner of his mouth tugging upwards into a derisive smirk—but there was annoyance in his eyes. “Now, tell me—this thing where you insult the person who you want something from—maybe it’s just me but how, exactly, do you expect that to work?”
My face twisted itself into a sneer. “It’s not exactly an insult if it’s true.”
His hazel eyes veered towards the ceiling. “You should really double-check your definition of ‘insult.’ And while you’re at it, ‘true.’”
I scoffed. How could this prat have a comeback for everything? It was impossible. And it made me want to hit him—hard. “Potter, you are so lucky I have morals. Otherwise—”
“Otherwise what?” Potter stepped forward, voice suddenly dark and smoky with interest. He placed a hand against the door I was leaning on, his languid gaze flicking almost suggestively down my body. In the overflowing sunlight of the train, his features looked like they were traced in gold, the amber sparks in his eyes flickering with fire. Almost imperceptibly, the shadow of a smirk was tugging at his lips.
“Otherwise—” I began, but suddenly it was hard to find my train of thought. Or, for that matter, my voice, because Potter was inches away, staring me down, golden gaze uncannily intense, mouth curved into that unfailingly, typical all-knowing smirk of his.
“Tell me, Bennett,” and then—oh god—he was reaching out, fingertips barely grazing my skin as he gently lifted my chin so that I would meet his gaze. Defiantly, I tilted my head back, eyes slits of annoyance, lips glued shut. “What would you do if those pesky morals weren’t in your way?”
His voice was a dark, tainted murmur, so quiet I could barely hear him. He was looking at me, head tilted slightly to the side, expression almost thoughtful. As if he was reading my every movement, trying to size me up. I was suddenly aware of every inch of space between us, every shivering molecule of bated, empty air. He was right there, all I had to do was tilt my head a little to the side, reach up slightly, curl my fingers around the collar of my shirt and pull him closer...
Cue: hormone implosion.
Everything was silent. The train continued to rumble underneath us.
Something was going to happen. I could feel it.
The smirk on Potter’s face was slowly slipping away, replaced by a darker, more serious expression. He looked almost...solemn. Like he was waiting for some giant shift in the earth’s rotation, a change to ignite and force us together. Like we were standing on the precipice of some big, tremendous thing, and he was debating between jumping or pushing me off first.
Only his eyes, which were still scanning my face restlessly, seemed to stay playful. They danced, bright and lively with anticipation, in the light, taking in my every moment, every flicker of feeling. I wanted to push him away, to tell him to stop staring, for god’s sakes, it was driving me crazy...
Just as the door I was leaning on swung open without any notice whatsoever.
Without anything to lean on anymore, I went tumbling backwards and into Dom, who was now, apparently, standing behind me, her mouth twisted and her slender eyebrows lilting in confusion.
Struggling to right myself, I wheeled around to see Fred and Aidan sitting in the back of the compartment, staring at us with a mixture of alarm and intrigue. This, plus Dom’s shrewd, ‘I-have-a-sixth-sense-about-these-things-and-I-know-you-were-just-two-minutes-away-from-snogging-my-pratty-cousin’ glare, was more than a little unnerving.
“Oh,” I said faintly. “Sup.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, Aggy was just in the middle of braiding me a friendship bracelet—” Potter began all obnoxiously, but I cut him off, not even bothering to look at him as I stepped brazenly into the compartment. Dom moved aside, still holding the door, eyebrows raised in expectation.
“I heard you screaming and I tried to get here as soon as I could to make sure you were okay, “ told her, surveying the compartment for usual signs of damage/fire/bloodshed. “You’re okay, right?”
At this, there was a thick silence. Dom’s face contorted from suspicious to annoyed. Fred and Aidan, who hadn’t uttered a word so far, both shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
“Well?” I demanded (at this point, I could practically feel Potter rolling his eyes behind me). “What happened?”
“He bit me.”
I paused for a moment, blinking rapidly as Dom’s words, angry and wounded, hung in the heavy air.
“I said,” Dom declared icily, swivelling her resentful gaze towards Freddy, who was still lounging, slightly sheepishly, in his seat. “He bit me. As in sunk his teeth into my skin.”
At this, Potter stifled a laugh, which quickly became a hasty cough when Dom shot him one of her famous stinkeyes. Aidan, who looked like he would rather be snogging a cheese grater rather than be here at this moment, averted his gaze, cheeks blooming pink.
“Um,” I said. “Why?”
Immediately, Freddy leaped to his feet in a frenzied, almost manic motion that had me taking a wary step back. “Aha! Funny you should ask that, Aggy, because has anyone bothered to hear my side of the story yet? Noooo. Of course not! You bite someone one time and all of a sudden you’re the villain.”
“Okay, can someone please explain to me why Freddy is biting people?” I cut off, raising my voice slightly.
Aidan, who was still blushing up a storm, suddenly jumped up from his chair as well. Jesus Christ, I need new friends. And siblings. Hey, I bet I could buy some on the internet—they sell everything on there. “It was terrible, Aggy! Terrible! He made me watch...MADE ME WATCH!” In a move that I found to be a bit unnecessary, Aidan collapsed to his knees, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. “THE THINGS I’VE SEEN, THE HORRORS I’VE LIVED!”
And with that, my fifteen-year-old brother curled himself into a fetal position and started to whimper. Yes. Whimper.
What is wrong with these people.
I took a deep breath. Honestly? I should get a medal for dealing with this insanity every day. “Okay, guys, this isn’t that hard. Just tell me what happened... All I want is a clear, detailed explanation—”
“It was all Dom’s fault, I was provoked!”
“Provoked? How were you provoked, you bloody moron? You attacked me!”
“What I did was justified!”
“THE GUILT! OH, THE GUILT! I CAN’T LIVE WITH IT ANYMORE! I JUST STOOD BY AND WATCHED! I’M A SHAME TO THE GRYFFINDOR NAME!”
“Aidan... Shut up already.”
“Hey, don’t tell him to shut up!
“I can do whatever I want, I was just mauled!”
“Oh, stop being so dramatic—”
I turned helplessly to Potter as all of a sudden, our compartment burst into chaos. Fred stormed up to Dom so that they were nose to nose, and both began screaming and gestulating wildly at each other in true Weasley style. Aidan was now plugging his ears and quietly singing the Barney theme song to himself as he rocked back and forth, obviously traumatized by this horrific biting incident. And Potter was watching all of this contentedly, having found himself a seat with a close-up view, his legs stretched out and his arms folded behind his head.
“Dramatic? You bloody eejit, I have teeth marks in my arm!”
“Yes, teeth marks of justice!”
“What the fuck are you talking about? You’re paying for my rabies shot!”
“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family....”
“For the last time, I do not have rabies! God, you get bit by a monkey at the zoo one time, and everyone starts assuming you have rabies! Why is that?”
“You sodding prat, it was two times! Don’t you ever learn?”
“Well how was I supposed to know it was vicious! It looked too darn cute!”
“You kept sticking your hands inside the bars and trying to tickle it! Of course it was going to bite you!”
“With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you...”
“STOP IT, EVERYONE STOP IT!” My shriek was eardrum-shattering. No lie. I’m pretty sure all of the birds in Scotland probably just took flight from their homes in the treetops, it was that loud.
Immediately, everything jolted to a halt. Dom froze, her hands inches from Freddy’s neck, fingers clawed into optimum strangling position. Aidan stopped rocking back and forth, looking like a scared animal in captivity. And Potter finally leaned forwards in his seat, eyebrows raised, watching all of this like it was a particularly amusing TV show.
“Look at yourselves,” I cried, crossing over to where Aidan was cowering. “Look what you’ve done to Aidan! You’ve broken him!”
More whimpering, courtesy of Aidan. There was a sheepish silence as Dom lowered her hands, clearing her throat, and Fred adverted his gaze, fixing his collar.
“Now, can someone please just explain to me what happened?”
Fred sighed, running an exasperated hand through his hair, his shoulders slumping forwards as he sat down. “Fine. If you really have to know, Aggy, here’s the full exciting story: Dom told Evelyn about my snoring/drooling issue-”
“I thought it would be funny!”
“And so—” Fred interrupted, gaze darkening, “We decided that she would have to pay.” Fred’s voice was taking on a scary, almost demonic tone to it. “There would have to be punishment for what she did.”
“So you locked her into a room... and bit her.” I said flatly, gaze flitting between the two crazy Weasleys.
“I regret nothing.” Fred shrugged, leaning back in his seat with his arms behind his head.
I stared at my friends, from Fred to Aidan to Dom to Potter, flicking between all their different levels of craziness. I was suddenly not amazed at all. Of course. Of course they would do something like this. I should expect it.
I felt a sense of resignation well inside me as Dom rubbed her sore arm, muttering some nasty words under her breath. Aidan, still in fetal position, started to relax slightly, the ‘scared animal look’ on his face fading a little. Potter, his desire from some good ol’ soap-opera action obviously fulfilled, leaned back contentedly. Suddenly, everything was calm. I looked around myself.
So. This was my life. And these were the people who I would have to deal with, most likely, for the rest of said life, seeing as insanity is like a parasite, or a really stubborn stray dog—once it’s in your life, it’s in. And there’s nothing you can do about it except surf the waves of its craziness, hope you don’t drown and that, occasionally, you get to hang ten once in a while.
And I guess I’ll just have to live with that.
By the time the train pulled into King’s Cross, my stomach was as tangled as a kindergartner's shoelaces. I literally felt nauseous as we slowly rolled into the platform, the blurry faces of all the friends and family members suddenly becoming all too clear.
The Hogwarts Express gave a sharp whistle and we yanked to a stop. Aidan, who had fallen asleep in his little corner, jolted awake. Potter cracked his neck obnoxiously as he stood up, earning him a dirty look from me (which he quickly countered with a cheeky grin of his own). Slowly, we all stood up, shaking ourselves off. In an example of poetic justice, Fred had fallen asleep on Dom and, much to her dismay and hysterical screams of surprise, drooled all over her new t-shirt.
You know that feeling when you get on a rollercoaster, and slowly you start ascending the tracks up the biggest drop on the ride? And as the tracks tick...tick...tick...underneath you, all you can feel is this creeping sense of dread, and the only thing that’s running through your head is ‘oh god, what have I done?’
Yeah, that is a lot like this moment.
As everyone filtered out, I stretched upwards, feeling my sweater ride uncomfortably up my back as I reached for my trunk, which was sitting on the top rung of the compartment’s shelf and just out of reach. I stretched and stretched, even doing a couple hops for good measure, but it was no use. My fingers would graze the worn leather but never find purchase. The trunk seemed to be mocking me in my silent agony, and really, this was just perfect. I couldn’t even get a stupid trunk down without making a fool of myself. Curse my shortness.
I was just starting to think of ways that this could be a metaphor for the futility of my life when, all of a sudden, a tan, callused hand reached up and grabbed the brass handle, yanking my trunk down as easily as though it was full of nothing but air.
And that was when I turned around to see Potter, wordlessly setting my trunk on the ground.
My lips parted. Our eyes met.
Great, and now the feeling of dread in my stomach is mixed with a hint of nausea.
Stupid, chivalrous Gryffindor.
So, of course, I decided to diffuse the tense situation with some awkward humor.
“Oh, my knight in shining armour, thank goodness you were here to save me from that evil trunk! I don’t know what my weak, trembling female arms would have done without you! Swoon! Sigh! Faint!” I slapped a hand to my forehead, stumbling around in a mock imitation of the Damsel in Distress.
And of course, like always, it didn’t work.
Potter tossed me a withering look over his shoulder as he reached up for his own trunk, and I couldn’t help but let my eyes graze slightly over the tensed muscles of his back. “You know, normal people just say thank you.”
He set his trunk down and straightened himself, staring at me expectantly, eyebrows raised in irritation. I blinked at him, trying to muster the appropriate amount of disgust on my face and act like I hadn’t just been ogling the more...er...noticible benefits of his Quidditch career (in my defense, Potter really shouldn’t wear t-shirts—they were far too thin and form-fitting. Really. It was just indecent;).
“Whatever.” With that, I grabbed the handle of my trunk and tried to march off, though the effect was slightly ruined by the fact that I had to half-drag my giant, Canada-sized trunk behind me.
He’s just trying to get under your skin, pull you back into another argument. Just ignore him.
Or, you know, not.
“Is this yours by any chance?” On Potters index finger dangled a slightly embarassing bra with dancing monkeys on the front. I startled, and then looked down to see that my trunk had fallen open. I had left a marvelous little trail of underwear behind me.
Potter tossed me the bra, one eyebrow cocked, obviously enjoying himself. I barely caught it before frantically stuffing it back in my trunk.
“Sorry, but my Knight in Shining Armour duties don’t include underwear pick-up. You’re on your own, m’Lady.” He gave a sarcastic, flourishing little bow and then grabbed his trunk, strolling out of the compartment and leaving me all alone to pick up my mess.
And they say chivalry is dead.
The first thing I noticed about Ginny Potter is that she raised her eyebrow exactly like Potter did—that perfect, smooth arch, rising up with so much ease it looked effortless. Whenever she cocked an eyebrow, she was the spitting image of Pratter. It was disturbing.
The second thing I noticed was that Ginny Potter is friendly. Extremely friendly.
“Agatha!” Without any forewarning whatsoever, I found myself being enveloped in a very stiff, very awkward hug (keep in mind—stiff and awkward because of me. I am not a hug person). ‘We are so glad to have you with us, you know you’re welcome at our house anytime!”
“Er, thanks,” I mumbled slightly as Mrs. Potter pulled back, her sheet of deep red hair swinging around her slender waist. It was unfair that someone like her could have red hair and look like a supermodel, while I, at the best of times, resembled a weasel with skin disease. Unfair.
“And Aidan,” smile widening, Mrs. Potter reached over and hugged Aidan, who looked all to happy to be pressed up against the woman who Witch Weekly had named Hottest Quidditch Star of 2015.
Potter coughed loudly. Aidan reluctantly stepped back, shooting Potter an apologetic look that obviously said something along the lines of, ‘Dude, sorry I just totally creeped on your mom.’
Potter retaliated with an admonishing glare that probably said, ‘Dude, it’s alright, just don’t do it again.’
And Aidan: ‘Dude, I won’t. Promise. Dude to dude.’
And that, my friends, is what we call bromance.
“So, is everyone here? Are we good to go?” Mrs. Potter ask, completely oblivious to the invisible conversation going on between her son and my brother. She surveyed the crowd, warm brown eyes narrowed and slightly anxious.
I nodded hastily. We were all standing in the middle of the platform, huddled together against the whirlwind of smiling faces and cheery greetings, and I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic.
Potter, who was standing next to me with his arms crossed, nodded curtly. “Yep. We’re all here. Can we go now?”
Mrs. Potter sighed. “Is that really the greeting I get from my long-lost son? I was expecting a few joyous tears at least.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Potter grinned, but already he was letting his mum pull him into a hug, which looked slightly awkward since Potter was so much taller than her. “Alright, enough. There are people watching.” There was a mock-stern tone in his voice, a kind of fond, light teasing that I had never heard before. “I can’t have you ruining my street cred.”
At this, Lily Potter, who had previously been expecting her nails in typical bored-teenage-girl fashion, gave a derisive snort. “Street cred? Please. Mum, if I promise not to laugh at that horrendously blatant lie, can I go say goodbye to my friends real quick?”
Woah, looks like Potter’s snarkiness is hereditary. And he’s also a Mama’s Boy. AndLily can do that weird eyebrow thing too. God, this is so strange.
Potter rolled his eyes, “And by friends, you mean the twitchy little kid you call your boyfriend, right?”
Lily’s mouth dropped open in outrage. “James! I do not have a boyfriend. And since when have you been so interested in my life?”
“She definitely has a boyfriend,” Potter muttered in a stage-whisper to Ginny, who gave an almost imperceptible smirk. “I saw them holding hands the other day. Lils, I hope you’re using protection. You must always remember to practice safe hand-holding—”
Lily gave him a sharp look, “You better shut up before I tell Mum about all the stuff youdo at school. And I’m not just talking about hand-holding.”
At this, I couldn’t help but feel a rash of heat crawling down my neck. This was so weird, listening to the family of the boy who I hated, and snogged (last weekend, in fact), throw witty banter around like it was nothing. Not to mention witty banter about his sex life. Not that Potter had a sex life. Well, actually, of course Potter had a sex life. He was Potter. But he didn’t have a sex life with me. We...we had an Occasional Random Snog Life, and that was it.
Mrs. Potter did the eyebrow thing again. Freaky. “James, is there anything I should know about?”
“Yes, mum,” Potter paused for dramatic affect, gravely staring into his mother’s eyes with an expression of utmost seriousness. “I’m pregnant.”
From next to me, Aidan snickered a ltitle.
Oh, dear brother, l bet if you knew what happened at that costume party a few weeks ago, you wouldn’t be laughing as much.
“As long as you name it after me, I’m fine with it,” Ginny’s lips were tugging upwards into a wry smile. “Anyways, we should probably get a move on before everyone else starts leaving and the parking lot becomes too crowded—come on, man slaves.” With that, she gestured to the two carts filled with all our luggage. Immediately, Potter and Aidan started to push them, being their good little Gryffindor selves.
“Oh, before we leave, did you see Albus go off with that friend of his?”
“Yeah, I don’t know why he hangs out with that Malfoy prat though.”
“Pot calling kettle black!” Lily trilled as we started to make our way towards the barrier.
“You’re like the biggest prat ever, James.”
Hey, I’m really starting to like this Lily kid. She seems like a cool gal.
“Don’t you have some hand-holding to do?”
“James, be nice.”
Potter met Ginny’s slightly amused glare with an impish grin before turning back to his sister. Aidan and I trailed behind the trio, entertained by their antics. “You do realize I’m going to meet this kid someday, right Lils?”
“No! Absolutely not!”
“Why not? Are you ashamed of your big brother, Lils? I’m hurt!” With the one arm he wasn’t using to push the cart, Potter pulled his sister into an uncomfortable-looking half-hug, keeping her close as she tried to squirm away.
“Stop it, you buffoon! And the reason you can’t meet him is because he’s completely terrified of you!”
“Why are you acting like that’s a bad thing? That’s a really good thing, right Mum?”
Ginny gave a half-laugh, half-scoff. “Leave me out of this.” She paused. “But yes, that’s a good thing. A really, really good thing.”
With that, Ginny glided, impossibly graceful, into the barrier between the Platform and Kings Cross. We quickly followed, not knowing what else to do.
It was so weird to see Potter in this setting, I mused as we followed Mrs. Potter to the parking-lot, acting all carefree and easygoing with his family. Of course, I’d been on the opposite end of his mockery before (loads of times), but I’ve never heard him do it in such a warm, teasing manner. It was so easy, the way they tossed insults back and forth, but you could tell there was an underlying sense of affection underneath it all.
We finally reached the Potter’s car, a sleek black sedan, and we piled our luggage into the magically enhanced trunk before slipping inside. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, squashed between Potter and Aidan (earlier, Lily had called shotgun and after much heated bickering in which Ginny had to step in multiple times, Potter had given it to her). I could feel the whole side of Potter’s body, pressing, warm and insistent, against mine. Our knees were grazing. He wasn’t paying any attention to me, though, he just stared out the window, expression unfathomable, as Ginny pulled out of the parking-lot.
The ride was long and uneventful, though luckily there weren’t many awkward silences, and Ginny was smart enough to know not to try and engage me in painful small talk. Instead, we all listened to Lily prattle on about her friends. She was full of restless energy, bouncing up and down in her seat, fiddling with the radio, leaning backwards to snip at Potter or ask Aidan and I something. She was completely different from her brother, who, I knew, could pass for a statue at times—unfazed, unruffled, unreadable.
Eventually, we pulled into a pretty, curving street that looked almost muggle-style. I’d heard about the Potter’s house many times from Aidan, but I’d never actually been there. When I finally saw it, though, there was no denying that it was breathtaking. Not small, but not too big either. It was a Victorian-style house with a white outside and pretty grey shutters. It looked like the kind of house that would have tons of nooks and crannies to hide in, the perfect house for curling up and reading a book while it thunderstormed outside. You could tell that the lawn in front, although it was now covered in snow, would be perfect for lazy summery nights. And even though I couldn’t see it, I heard rumors that the house had a Quidditch field and a pool in the back.
“Woah,” I breathed almost inaudibly, taking it all in. Ginny swerved sharply into the driveway (another thing about Ginny Potter: not the world’s best driver) and we jolted to a halt. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the house.
In fact, I was so absorbed in my staring that I almost didn’t notice Potter was staring at me. He was looking at me with a careful expression on his face, gauging my reaction.
The others unbuckled their seatbelts and slowly got (or in Lily’s case, literally leapt) out of the car. But I was left, frozen, my gaze locked in with Potter’s.
“What do you think?” He murmured, and I honestly had no idea what to make of him. His eyes were thoughtful, as if he really wanted to know. Some tendrils of his hair were slightly curling up at the sides. I couldn’t focus on my own thoughts. All I could do was stare and stare and stare.
“It’s beautiful,” I said finally, truthfully. “You’re lucky.”
Potter stared at me for a second, and then looked away, shaking his head, giving a breathless huff of laughter. “Lucky,” he repeated, almost incredulously. “Unbelievable.” And then he was getting out of the car and leaving me, once again, alone and confused.
Mr. Potter was away on an Auror-related business trip (darn, guess that signed autograph I wanted from him would have to wait), and Albus was staying at Scorpius’s, which left the guestroom for me. I didn’t mind this at all, seeing as the guest room was basically the equivalent of a five-star suite.
The minute I walked into the room, I went straight for the bed. It was king-sized, with a delicious-looking lavender comforter that squished around me when I belly-flopped on top of it.
“Ugnnnnnnnnh,” I moaned into one of the five goose-feather pillows. “I never want to leave.”
“You’re liking it, I’m taking it?” Aidan trailed in behind me, looking rather amused and considerably better after today’s traumatizing biting incident.
“The soft-as-a-cloud bed? Yes. The fact that I’m living in enemy territory? No.”
Aidan rolled his blue eyes, crossing his arms as he sat down on the edge of the bed. I stopped smothering my face into the marshmallow-like pillow to look up at him in annoyance, though it wasn’t like he was encroaching on my personal space or anything, the bed was so big.
“I don’t get why you insist on making this thing between Potter and you such a big deal.”
And it’s funny, the word ‘thing.’ Because it can have so many different definitions. A ‘thing’ could be a feud, a rivalry...even a...well, romantic ‘connection.’ And really, wasn’t it like Potter and I had all three? Not that our connection was necessarily romantic, but still, there was an undeniable spark between us, something that kept pushing us together again and again.
“I’m not making it a big deal,” I sighed, speaking slowly just for clarification. “That’s just how it is. He hates me, I hate him, the sun shines, dogs bark, etcetera etcetera.”
Just before Aidan could open his mouth to utter a surely witty reply, we were interrupted by a shout so loud it couldn’t possibly come from such a small lady like Ginny Potter.
“AIDAN! AGATHA! TIME FOR DINNER!”
I raised my head, heaving a giant sigh, and looked at Aidan. He looked at me. We seemed to share some kind of twin telepathy for a moment, where we both acknowledged how much we didn’t want to go to dinner, and how much we’d rather just stay here, together, quiet, peaceful.
But then, like all things, it was ruined. “We should probably go, you know,” Aidan mumbled. “Mrs. Potter isn’t the most patient of people.”
“But I’m so comfy,” I whimpered.
He shrugged, jumping to his feet and stretching. “I’ll meet you downstairs in a few then.”
“Allllright,” I mumbled.
After Aidan left, I just stayed like that, lying on the Heavenly Bed of Comfiness. I don’t know how long I stayed there, just revelling in the cushy softness of it all, but it was probably a while. Eventually, I figured that I better do the polite thing and go downstairs (plus my hunger was starting to overtake my tiredness in the Eternal Battle of My Pathetic Laziness Which Will Most Likely Lead to My Future Obesity), so I heaved myself out of the bed and staggered out into the hallway.
The house was huge, but still maintained a sense of comfiness with all the family pictures on the walls and the cool, cushy cream carpet underneath my feet. I shuffled my way to the giant, mahogany stairs but stopped dead in my tracks when I saw something.
A closed door.
Which, in a house like this, could only mean one thing:
I had seen him go into it when we settled in. I hadn’t gotten a good peak inside, seeing as the door had remained firmly shut for the past hour...But maybe now that he was downstairs and I was here, alone, curious...
I cracked open the door.
I opened it a little wider.
Silence. The deafening kind.
Slowly, I took one step in. And then the other. Nothing happened, nobody stopped me, Potter didn’t pop out from behind the door and scream ‘AHA, I CAUGHT YOU!”
No. Just silence.
Finally, I threw the door open all the way and stepped inside, flicking on the light-switch so that everything was suddenly illuminated.
And I stopped.
The first thing I saw was red and gold. A lot of it.
There were three deep crimson walls, and then one gold one. The bed was huge, like mine, but bare, with a simple black comforter. In fact, the whole room was bare. There was a wardrobe in the corner, a desk on the opposite side and a Gryffindor flag stuck to the wall, but that was it. Otherwise, it might as well have been empty. It looked like one of those rooms from furniture catalogs, where everything looks too neat and freakishly organized to be real.
I knew it was wrong, barging into Potter’s privacy like this, but I couldn’t help myself. Potter was just so closed off, so secretive, I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying to find out something more about him. Not that I would be able to find anything, judging by the looks of the room. This place was so boring, Professor Binns would be proud. Plus, Potter wasn’t exactly the type to have A Sooper Secret Diary that he’d just leave lying around.
I walked over to the wardrobe, curiously dragging a finger across the edge of it and half-expecting to come up with dust. But no, it was clean as ever. There was a small clutter of items—a mini broom model that was charmed to whizz around in circles, which I remembered Dom had given to him for his birthday last year, plus a couple untouched-looking textbooks...And then a picture.
I picked it up. It was, surprisingly enough, of the five of us. I didn’t know what I had expected—my face to be cut out, or with a black X scribbled over it—but it wasn’t what I got. I was included in that photo just like everyone else—the five of us laughing and smiling, standing right in front of Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. Aidan was smearing some of his ice cream cone on Dom’s nose, who was laughing with her arms slung around me and Potter. Fred was standing to the side, giving me bunny ears (so mature) with his fingers and grinning like a moron. It was just like any other photo of a group of teenaged kids. If a stranger looked at it, they could never have guessed, in a million years, the history between me and Potter that trembled underneath the surface.
I was just about to set the picture down and leave when, all of a sudden, I noticed something. A small flash of light, glinting off the surface of something shiny. For some reason, my heartbeat quickened. Upon further inspection, I found out that the mysterious object was another picture, hidden behind the first one. I set down the picture of us and picked it up.
It was a lot smaller and, strangely enough, a muggle photo, judging by the fact that its occupants didn’t move. A simple, silver frame, and in the picture, the most beautiful couple I’ve ever seen. Potter and...a blonde girl. She was gorgeous in the girl-next-door type of way, so wholesome and pretty and blond, it made me feel like a cow just looking at her. The thing about her beauty was that she wasn’t perfect—she obviously didn’t cake on makeup or do anything fancy to her hair. There was a slight gap in between her front two teeth. But it was the imperfections that made her so heart-wrenchingly, unfairly beautiful.
In the picture, Potter was kissing her cheek. Mystery-girl had her eyes squeezed tight, her mouth dropped open in a giant smile. Potter himself looked the happiest I’d ever seen him, the corners of his eyes scrunched slightly in laughter, his arm wrapped around this girl’s waist.
It took me a minute to realize that my hands were shaking—the photo in my hands was trembling so hard, I was surprised I hadn’t dropped it already. There was a loud noise thumping in my ears—oh wait, that was my heart beat. My stomach felt like something had clawed out everything inside, so that I was nothing but an empty, hollowed pit.
I couldn’t believe Potter had a girlfriend. Or, more importantly, Potter had a girlfriend and still snogged me. Twice. I mean, I know I called him a prat a lot, but I never would have thought that he’d stoop as low as cheating on someone.
I felt sick. Used. Trampled on.
People say Slytherins don’t have moral codes. If that’s true, then why do I feel like I’m about to throw up now?
Oh god, I was the other woman. And Potter's girlfriend—she was blond. Blond. Blond!!! How could I ever compete with that?
Not that I wanted to. Compete with that, I mean. What was I even talking about?
There was too much whirling through my brain, I couldn’t make sense of it. The nausea coursing through my veins, clawing at the inside of my throat, was slowly turning to anger. How could he do this to that girl? To me?
But of course, I should have expected it. I was the snog that Potter kept in his back pocket whenever he wanted it, while he had the real girlfriend back home. I was just... a slut, basically. A slut.
Oh god. I’m gonna throw up.
I whipped around, the frame in my hand falling to the ground as a startled squeak slipped out of my lips. What I saw was enough to make my heart stop completely.
Potter was standing in the hallway, one of his hands clenched around the door-frame, hazel eyes furious and cold, like chips of amber ice. He looked so angry—fear began to squirm inside my stomach, and it was suddenly very hard to remember how to breathe.
I wanted to hurl accusations at him, to unleash my fury, to let him have it. But I couldn’t. As I stared into Potter’s stony face, unable to tear my gaze away, all I could muster was a stuttering, “I s-swear I c-can explain.”
“Well then, explain.” Potter folded his arms across his chest, leaning against the doorframe. And I flitted my gaze, from him to the picture on the floor back to him, cheeks flaming red, no doubt in my mind that I was done for.