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Chapter 6: Marginally Better Than a Broom Closet
There are three basic rules every bloke should know when facing a Quirky Girl horde: do not look them in the eye, stay far away from those foaming at the mouth, and for Circe's sake, don't take off your clothes if it gets hot. It only makes them run faster.
Otherwise, it's a matter of perseverance and outlasting the majority. The mob's power is in its numbers. A mass of flailing arms combined with harpy-like mating calls can strike fear in the hardest heart — but it's also its downfall. They'll trample each other, fighting over who gets to smell his clothes first. Once it's down to stragglers, he's home free.
Until then, run.
When I catch up to Albus, he's by the prefect's bathroom, sweat building at the brow as he frantically whispers 'King's Hippo' and jiggles the handle. I shove him out of the way and into Boris the Bewildered's statue, who looks properly bewildered as the shrieking love declarations increase in volume.
"Fitzgerald, now is not the time for your tricks — "
"Queen's Hippo," I say, throwing Albus a hard glare as the entrance scrapes open. The desperate joy of deliverance shuts him up. He ducks in after me and slams the door shut.
I lean against it, safe for the moment but then I think — could that flimsy wooden thing, even magically enhanced, keep out a dozen determined girls?
Potter's gone rigid like a hunted rabbit as the patter of feet near and the shrieks grow frenzied.
"The bath! The prefect's bath!"
The door begins to rattle, louder and louder. It's only a matter of time before someone who knows the password gets to the front.
His eyes grow wide. "Shit. Shit!" The frozen idiot isn't even looking for a hiding spot. It's up to me.
Thankfully, no one is in the girl's dressing area when I drag him into a stall, and surprisingly, he doesn't resist. I suppose trusting me is a better option than getting his hair harvested by fangirls who want to keep pieces of him by their bedside at night.
I hear the word 'password' thrown around outside, and I glance around our tiny confines: three stone walls and a green curtain with barely enough space inside to turn around. Drat — there's still one too many pairs of feet inside.
"Potter," I hiss, "get up on the bench and keep your head down!"
He catches on immediately and does what I say. I kick off my shoes and throw my robe to the floor, hoping that anyone who sees will think I'm just another bather, not some Potter-harborer.
The door bursts opens. Footsteps scatter across the stone.
"Is he here? Where is he?"
"Hey, there's someone — excuse me!"
Someone pokes the curtain and I, already jumpy, nearly smack it away.
"Er — " I begin, but the words stick in my tense throat. Albus sucks in a sharp breath. I pull my jumper over my head and do a dance, making a show of the rustling fabric. "What do you want? I'm bloody half-naked here!"
Albus, who's already flushed from all the running, turns the slightest bit redder. I grin cheekily.
"Very sorry, but did you see Albus Potter?"
"Oh, hell if I know!" I snap in my most ferocious snarl and the girl scurries back. Over-the-top, but it works. "Why would you look for him in the girls' section anyway?"
Another, softer-pitched voice whispers, "She's got a point."
The footsteps leave for the other end of the bath. I can tell when they reach the boys' side when I hear raucous yowling and splashing and then fleeing giggles. Finally, after the last of the grumbling search party leaves, the peace returns more quiet than ever.
Albus sinks down, his head lolling against the wall. "They came out of nowhere," he pants, half-delirious. "All at once like they were possessed. I don't think I've seen it so bad before."
"Quirky Girls Anon. Unmerciful Merlin, it's the only group that can raise such a frenzy." I collapse on the seat beside him, the incident having taken more out of me than I would have expected. It's like battling one of the ten plagues.
After catching his breath, he turns to me. "You told them that I didn't have a girlfriend."
"I — " Then I remember what I had told Appy. "I said it was an unconfirmed rumor whether you did or not."
"Never get tired of unconfirmed rumors, do you?" He pushes a hand through his hair, as if it could get any more messy. His brows furrow together as a faint bewilderment strikes his eyes. "You saved me."
It doesn't sink in until this post-hysteria slump that I am sitting in a changing booth meant for one with Albus Potter, wonder boy, whose life I just arguably saved — well, at the very least, saved from getting his clothes clawed off. I suppose I could blackmail him and threaten to call back the girls back, but I'm glad enough that I'm alive too.
"So I did."
I snort, kicking my robes up and off the floor. They've got an odd sticky feel to them, damp from the bath's air. "Are you kidding? I wouldn't wish that mob on the Dark Lord himself."
He coughs — I think he's trying to laugh. "Never would've thought we'd agree on something."
"S'not hard to agree," I mutter. As if these girls don't muck up the generation enough. They aren't dumb in the traditional sense, which makes it particularly disturbing; they're future Healers, Professors, and Ministry officials. I certainly don't feel safe knowing they'd drop me by the pavement and dash after a boy given the opportunity.
It's not like Albus is that much of a catch either, not when he's related to James. Certainly, I find him more interesting than his older brother, but James has got the genes of his namesake to a tee — and by that I mean he's fit as hell. If you compare him side to side to the photo of James Potter I in the trophy room, he's looks exactly the same, sans plaid and bell-bottoms.
But I suppose there's only so many famous sons of Harry Potter to go around. If James is out of their league, unfortunately-named Albus makes a sufficient consolation prize.
Drumming my fingers against the hollow wood of my seat, I ask, "You think there's still girls in the hall?" He is the expert in these sorts of things.
Albus presses against the stall wall to get a better peek through the sliver-sized gap of the curtain. "Give it five, ten minutes? Better safe than sorry."
Time to stretch my legs out. "So Potter, how's dating an imaginary girlfriend?"
He chuckles. "Nice try. I'm not answering that."
"Just trying to be conversational."
"Don't." He crosses his arms as if to create some personal barrier, but he only ends up jabbing my side with an elbow.
"Watch it!" I flip my hair off my face. "I don't understand why you continue to deny our banter. Clearly you like it. Maybe saying you don't makes you feel like you're better than me, but mostly it makes you a hypocrite." I smirk and he chuckles sneeringly back. "Like how you continue playing the girlfriend charade just to bait me."
"I never said it's a charade."
"You never denied it. Please, don't even try to retract it. She's obviously imaginary."
"Maybe imaginary," he corrects. "You're not sure. If you were sure, you wouldn't keep bringing her up; you'd already have your story. Albus Potter: Imaginary Girlfriend."
His crossed arms loosen when he sits up straighter, and I become conscious of exactly how cramped this bench is when I can only see him in my vision. Moving isn't an option either. I either bump into him or jam my shoulder against the wall.
This is why banter isn't meant for close quarters. Wit goes out the window and it becomes more about jostling elbows, intimidation tactics, who's less edgy with personal space. I can play that game, but I prefer not to. This time, I lack options.
I twirl a finger in the air and dig it into his chest. "This isn't about the girlfriend." I catch the cocky glint in his eye, and he must think I'm trying to change the subject to cover my failed bluff. He would be correct. "Not the girlfriend or the banter or even my newspaper. This is about which one of us is more stubborn."
He's not the least bit fazed. No, his smile even broadens a little. It's different close up. I can see every muscle twitch, every shift in demeanor, every drop of self-satisfaction. "You talk a lot, Fitzgerald. But you don't really say anything." He lifts my finger and pushes it away with a shockingly cool palm. "Like how you duel and play chess. Make a lot of fancy moves to distract your opponent — keep them guessing — and if you stall long enough, maybe you'll have an actual attack in mind."
The sharpness he ends with suddenly makes me parched, and I swallow and lick my lips. "Think you've figured me out?" I say airily.
"No. I don't have to. It's your job to figure me out, isn't it, Head Editor?"
"If you think I'll treat you like some prize, you are sorely — "
"Am I not one?" he interjects. "Because that's what you've made me by making stories out of private lives. So if you don't like it, you can stop."
I should have seen that coming. "Don't even start. It's not me, it's shit like Quirky Girls. I could go away and they'd still be there."
"Blame others. You like to do that, too." He points a finger straight where my heart would be, if I had one. "It's never your fault — it's the public's fault. You're only there to meet their demands."
A foreign quiver beats in the palm of my hand: fear. He shifts forward, knowing he has the edge; I musn't recoil.
"But that's how your precious cycle works," he continues and it is his smooth composure that perturbs me. This is calculated — he's been waiting to make this speech. "Make celebrities to make stories to make a loving readership. Until the whole bloody school is overrun with hormonal freaks, because they don't know how to be anything else. But you know that, don't you? That's what you're taking advantage of."
The silence slams down after his words and I can practically hear the sweat trickle down my brow. "Shut up, Potter."
"What? No comeback? You could be brilliant, Fitzgerald. You're clever. But you choose to roll in the mud. And I've got no respect for that."
There it is again — the flicker of satisfaction in his eyes that says, 'Gotcha'. If we weren't in a bloody dressing stall and he didn't insist on playing close and rough, I might not have noticed.
And that's when the revelation crashes into my mind.
He's trying to change me.
No, he's obsessed with trying to change me.
I push him away and he lets me; he thinks he's already won. "So you don't respect me. Would you say you hate me, Potter?"
He doesn't even hide the crooked grin that's been hanging off his face since his little speech. Tut tut, pride is making you messy.
"You don't hate me, or else you wouldn't give a fuck what I do." I cross my legs and my heel brushes against his trouser leg. He flinches on contact — the first sign of worry. Oh, so now you worry, Potter. Can't handle a little leg graze?
"No," I continue, "this little fascination with me is just your sojourn in the dark side. Satisfy a little curiosity... trying to fix the little problem — " I lay my hand where I had pushed him away and my fingers fan out, smoothing out his shirt, and his breathing becomes shallow " — of being attracted to me."
Like a vacuum, there is no sound, not even a breath — just the barest heave of his chest inches away. We're playing on the edge of a cliff with no harness; one shove and we both tumble down.
In the second of silence, I know I've already won. The satisfaction of knowing I'm the original prize lingers in my smirk and I let it implant in his memory as I release him. His shirt slips through my fingers with the barest touch when I let go, but it's enough to send him over — and this is my mistake.
In a flash, his lips slam onto mine.
I'd like to believe that I don't kiss him back, but I'm not stopping him. Not when his hand trails behind my neck, not when he pulls me closer, not when I follow suit and grab him by the collar.
This is why dressing booths are not made for banter.
His lips move over mine, hungry, numbing all feeling except the shock of his touch. So suddenly drained of thought, I barely notice the stone jabbing my shoulder as he pushes me back until we are two bodies against a wall. Space scarce, I curl one leg underneath me and the other is splayed across his lap. His hand explores my spine, tracing every bone.
Maybe it's the residual hormones floating in the air from the Quirky girls, but good Godric, Potter knows how to kiss and move his hands and do whatever he's doing right now, and when I try to draw back, he growls, "Shut up, Fitzgerald," even though I don't say anything and kisses me harder.
Letting this continue might be the worst idea since Pickett's last idea, but I'm enjoying this, and from his curving smirk on my lips, he's enjoying the fact that I'm enjoying this.
I lose my fingers in his hair and an errant sigh escapes when he presses the small of my back. It's slightly terrifying to find that Potter can take charge like this, how okay I am with letting him do what he wants and how oddly fit he is under that scrawny frame. He still might not give James a run for his money in that department, but James also isn't flush against me, skimming his fingers at the edge of my shirt, and making it hard not to moan.
If he asks nicely later, I might consider today's argument a stalemate.
I don't know how long I had been thinking 'Just another second and I'll stop', but long enough so that neither of us hear the door creak nor the approaching footsteps and I barely register Dom sliding open the curtains.
"Clemen — oh my god!"
With a gasp, Albus and I break apart, knees knocking and elbows bruising. My head hits a brick above and I nearly kick him in the face.
This is why dressing booths are not made for snogging either.
Dom is only now peeking back in. "Um..." She looks as flustered as we do. Her eyes are at the floor at my discarded robes and jumper. "What is going on?"
I brush my hair back and pat my cheeks as if it's supposed to stop it from reddening. "Investigative journalism?" My voice is a note higher than usual.
Despite my snappy reply, Dom continues to stare open-jawed at me and then at Albus, who's hidden himself behind a knee and is completely rumpled from hair to shirt. If my head hadn't cleared up, I could almost grab him for another snog.
Dom can't see the smirk playing on his lips but I can — he regrets nothing.
I shrug at her. "Well, he clearly doesn't have a girlfriend."
A/N One of the things I've always wanted to write is that classically-cliched broom closet style scene. It never really fit in any of my other fics, but at last! I get my wish :D -steeple hands- It's been ages since I've written a kiss scene xD I think I had a little too much fun with this one.