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Chapter 6: Marginally Better Than a Broom Closet
There are three rules every bloke should know when facing a Quirky Girl horde: do not look them in the eye, stay 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.
It's all about perseverance. The mob's power is in its numbers—a mass of flailing arms paired with harpy mating calls can strike fear in the hardest heart—but it's also its downfall. The girls trample each other, fighting to be the first to touch him, the first to confess, the first to scar him for life. Squeezing the sweat out of his shirt is all well and nice, but who gets to keep it? In what quantity? Mobs have no time to mediate; punch and scream. When it's down to stragglers, he's home free.
Until then, run.
Albus is by the prefect's bathroom. Sweat builds at his 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, not the time—"
"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 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.
"He's at 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. The frozen idiot isn't even looking for a hiding spot.
I drag him in by the sleeve, 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. Along the wall, green curtains hang half-open on their rungs in front of each of the six changing stalls. I shove him into one of them, squeeze in myself, and shut the curtain.
The door bursts opens. Footsteps scatter across the stone. I glance around our tiny confines: three stone walls and a flimsy sheet with barely enough space within to turn around. There's 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.
"Is he here? Where is he?"
"Hey, there's someone—excuse me!"
Someone pokes the curtain and I, already jumpy, nearly smack it away.
"Very sorry, but did Albus Potter come in?"
"Er—" I begin, but the words stick in my 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. "He better not have; I'm bloody half-naked here!"
Albus, who's already flushed from all the running, turns the slightest bit redder.
There is murmuring deliberation; a face seems to press into the curtain and I nearly squeak. Finally, the grumbling search party leaves, and the peace returns more quiet than ever.
Albus sinks down, his head lolling against the wall. "They came out of nowhere," he pants. "All at once like they were possessed. I don't think I've seen it so bad before."
"Quirky Girls Anon. Unmerciful Merlin, you're in for some fun." I collapse on the seat beside him.
"You told them that I didn't have a girlfriend. Over-excited them."
"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. 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. And I saved his life—well, at the very least, his clothes. I suppose I could blackmail him and threaten to call the Quirkers back, but I'm glad enough that I'm alive, too.
"Yeah, I did."
I snort, kicking my robes up and off the floor. They're sticky and 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 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 much of a catch either, 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-by-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 this sort of thing.
Albus presses against the stall wall, peeking through the sliver-sized gap of the curtain. "Give it five, ten minutes. Better safe than sorry."
I stretch my legs. "So Potter, how's dating an imaginary girlfriend?"
"Just trying to be conversational."
"Don't be." He crosses his arms as if to create some personal barrier, but he only jabs my side with his elbow.
"Watch it!" I flip my hair off my face, only for the black fly-aways to land across my eyes. "I don't understand why you continue to deny our banter. Clearly you like it. Maybe saying that you don't makes you feel like you're better than me, but mostly it makes you a hypocrite. Like how you continue playing the girlfriend charade just to bait me."
He chuckles. "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. 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. Moving isn't an option. 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 don't like to.
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."
"I won that chess game!" But the sharpness he ended with suddenly makes me parched, and I swallow and lick my lips. "Think you've figured me out?" I say airily.
"I don't need to. It's your job to figure me out, isn't it, Editor-in-Chief?"
"If you think I'll treat you like some prize, you are sorely—"
"Aren't I one?" he interjects. "That's what you've made me by making stories out of private lives. So if you don't like it, you can stop."
"Don't even start. It's not me, it's shit like Quirky Girls. They'd be rabid for you whether I'm here or not."
"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; I musn't recoil.
"But that's how your precious cycle works," he continues and it is his even gaze 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."
I can 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 changing stall and he didn't insist on playing close and rough, I might not have noticed.
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?"
"Don't I?" He doesn't even hide the crooked grin that's been hanging off his face since his little speech.
"You don't." I cross my legs and my heel brushes against his trouser leg. He flinches on contact. Can't handle a little leg graze? "You don't hate me, or else you wouldn't give a fuck what I do. No, 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."
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 vacuumous silence, I know I've won. I'm the original prize. His shirt slips through my fingers with the barest touch when I let go.
It's enough to send him over.
His lips slam onto mine. I'd like to believe that I don't kiss him back, but I don't stop 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 changing stalls are not made for banter.
Our kiss is hungry, numbing, except for the shock of his touch. He pushes me back against the stone wall. Space scarce, I curl one leg underneath me and the other splays across his lap. 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 pull away, he growls, "Shut up, Fitzgerald," even though I don't say anything.
Letting this continue might be the worst idea since Pickett's last idea, but I'm enjoying this, and from his curving smile on my lips, he's enjoying 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 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've been thinking 'Just another second and I'll stop', but long enough that neither of us hear the door creak nor the approaching footsteps nor 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.
Changing stalls aren't 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 too high.
Albus hides 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.