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Chapter 13: A Lesson in Persuasion
"What the hell are you doing here?"
Albus cocks his head. I expect an immediate answer, some rehearsed speech that he has prepared for this moment. 'Just passing through. Decided to take the grand tour of Hogwarts starting with obscure rooms behind tapestries.'
But instead he takes his time, gaze unwaveringly on mine as he plays with a letter block in his free hand, juggling it over his knuckles until they become black. Elbow on the corner of the printing press, sleeve rolled up, his shirt's barely an inch away from inked ruin. The more his eyes bore into me, the more I want to see that white fabric stained.
He flips the block into the air and it lands into his palm. He sets it alongside the others on the press. "You didn't show," he finally says.
I nearly forgot about the little Astronomy Tower meeting that I ditched, though ditch would imply that I at least considered showing up. Honestly, if he wants a late-night tryst, think of my calves. Not all of us can be privileged with our seventh-floor towers. Some of us have to slum it in the dungeons.
"I recall telling you very clearly: piss off," I say. Striding forward, hand on my hip, I commandeer the space that's mine. Might I remind Potter that this is my territory, and he's putting his feet up like it's teatime with Trelawney? Those green eyes can go charm someone else like—oh, I don't know, Peeves. Poltergeists get lonely. They can bond over their hobby of showing up where they're not welcome.
The stool legs creak as Albus stands. "You're avoiding me." He takes his time to meet me in the center of the room, my book swinging in his grip.
"See previous statement: piss off. Now answer the fucking question or—do I need to say it again?"
"Just because you hid the door doesn't make this room your property. I have as much right to be here as you do." He's close enough that I have to look up. The tightrope stretches thin. "I only have one thing to ask, anyway."
"Save it for someone who cares. Get out."
"We're just going to pretend like it never happened?" Without warning, his words gain an edge, and if I were anyone else, I would think it meant something to him.
"It was only the heat of the moment," I say, putting him out of his misery.
"We seem to have a lot of those."
"Well, you initiate a lot of them."
"It's a two-way street, dear."
"Don't you dear me, buttercup." My arms drop to my side and I hook my thumbs into my pockets. "Look, you want to talk about our little date? Fine. You were using me. End of story."
His mouth closes tight and dour, maybe even a little hurt, but I mean nothing to him and I remind myself of that every time I come close to thinking otherwise. The fact is, plain and simple, Potter and I will always be adversaries. We believe in different principles and clip out the meaning of compromise from dictionaries. He may seem like he cares, and he may even believe it himself, but I'm just someone for him to fix.
And that really grates me.
Girls who are well-versed in LaFolle's profound observations of romance might coo, Sometimes you hate someone so much that you fall in love with them, because that's infallible logic. Maybe if I start a hot enough fire, it'll start shitting ice cubes. Love is love. Hate is hate. For us, it's about neither. It's about respect and power, which is why on any day, he'd rather see me humbled than kiss me goodnight.
So I tell this to his pretty little brooding face. "I'm your backup plan. You can't take me down, so you want me to help you take Q.G.A. down, and when I won't do that, you figure I might be at least good enough for a romp. Don't try to spin it otherwise."
"So?" Albus crosses his arms and tucks the Charms text underneath. Contrary to what self-proclaimed psychologists educated by Witch Weekly's 'Fifty-Seven Ways to Decipher His Body Language' say, there's nothing defensive about his stance. If anything, he's ready to fight, jutting out his elbows, flexing until the veins crawl out. "So what? I'm clearly not a threat then. Getting rid of those Quirkers are for your own good, too. I want it to be for the whole school's good."
"It's the principle of it."
"What's that?" He cups a hand to his ear. "You don't want to admit I'm right? The Quirkers are catching on, too, aren't they? I hear Witchy Business is... less than credible these days."
Potter heard Caroline's moos; how cute. "Double check your sources. Witchy Business is doing fine."
As I reach over to grab my book, Albus blocks me and my fingers catch on his sleeve, our first contact.
"'A Bash to Bash All Bashes'" He scoffs right through the article title. "Was that the best you had? 'Albus Potter held a surprise auction for an exclusive date, raising money for the Endangered Spotted Kneazle foundation.'"
"Well, it's not like anyone wants to save the Wart-Eyed Spiders. You've got to give them something cute and fuzzy." I resist lunging for the prize; he's easily got faster reflexes, and really, throwing myself at him doesn't seem like the greatest plan. I can understand a changing room and an invisibility cloak, but if I manage to get pressed against him in a spacious place like this, that's called a chronic problem.
"Spotted Kneazles aren't even endangered, and that's not the only hole in the story. People aren't daft, Fitzgerald. They'll figure out the truth."
Honeying up my smile, I resist the urge to scoff at how utterly serious he is. "Thank you for your concern. Witchy Business dearly values its readers' opinions. Now if that's all, you've overstayed your welcome. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but alas." I wave and then graciously direct him toward the door. "And give me my book back."
He doesn't move. He doesn't even hand over my book. "So we are pretending like it never happened."
I step toward him, patting him on the arm as I go retrieve what's mine, and the slight tensing of his brow doesn't escape me. "All right, we're going to have to upgrade our pronouns for a bit, because I'm pretty certain we just addressed all of 'it' unless 'it' is your inability to accept a no."
As soon as I brush the leather-bound cover, Albus holds me off by the shoulder, and the book slips from its place. Before I can hear it hit the ground, he pulls my lips to his.
Scratch that: extremely chronic problem.
He doesn't force the kiss; it begins almost like a question—a hesitant draw in his breath, thumbs sliding under my chin—and he only lingers long enough for a taste.
I wouldn't be annoyed with this if I put up a fight, especially since Potter is gentleman enough to understand 'no' in this context, but these snog-related moments are also coincidentally when the wires between my body and mind fizzle out.
I feel him smile—it's impossible not to with my bottom lip in his possession—and I swear I'm about to stop him when his fingers bury into my hair. Apparently, I'm a bit sensitive behind my ears, something I learn when he draws a circle around that very spot, and instead of 'Stop that right now', the words that comes out of my mouth have far fewer syllables and sounds suspiciously like a moan.
As his mouth drags down my jaw, he finally gives me a chance to breathe and re-circuit my brain. "Potter, what—"
"We have a thing for each other whether we agree or not." He dips down to my collarbone. "This is going to keep happening."
"No, it won't." I try to push him away. Sort of. Like a tap on the shoulder.
"The heart wants what the heart wants."
"I don't have a—"
Albus shuts me up with another kiss, and by the end of it, our arms have wound around each other and my feet have lost contact with the floor. His lidded gaze seem to twinkle, and I suddenly realize we're in motion. He's carrying me. Could he always do that?
Meanwhile, my indignation sits like a rock in my gut, increasingly displeased as I ignore it. Bad ideas are either very repulsive or very tempting, and the pendulum has swung far to the latter side, but the only thing that actually worries me is the possibility of Dom walking in on instant evidence for her in-denial theory. My stomach's done enough backflips to fill a circus act—sixteen years of sexual frustration detonating all at once. That doesn't make it any less appalling, but at least it isn't—forgive me if I sneeze—feelings.
Albus sets me down on a table, hands sliding down to its surface, and with nowhere for my arms to go, I rest them around his collar, which is no longer pristine white. His shirt is smudged with my tell-tale fingerprints, inked at some point in our frenzy; there's no denying how willingly we're entwined with each other.
"We could keep this up. Regularly," he murmurs into my lips, and it's flutteringly unsettling how enamored he sounds.
"Are you dense?" I try not to smile because, again, I'm annoyed. I have principles. Lots of principles. "And you said you wanted to save me from the crazies."
"No one has to know but us. This isn't serious. It's just..." His fingers crawl under my shirt.
Flattening my gaze, I push him away, though not before his touch burns into my ribs. "Shag buddies? Really? Because that always turns out well."
It's obvious from his lazy grin, tipsy with heat, that Albus isn't thinking with his head. "Worried about heartbreak? But you don't have a heart, right?"
I roll my eyes. I can't believe we're even discussing this. "Figure of speech but yes—"
He presses a kiss to the side of my neck, too quick for me to dodge. "Or someone changes their mind and wants a relationship later." The heady ardor in his voice is almost liquid-thick. "But neither of us do and who's more stubborn than us?"
"Point taken, but we"—he's found the spot behind my ear again, and I bite my lip—"stop that." Or don't. Where I was primed to push him away once more, I seize tighter instead. Circe, this is how people end up on my headlines. "Potter, we don't even like each other."
"That's not true. We just don't agree on everything."
"Important things." Jabbing my elbows underneath his arms and using them as a lever, I force enough distance between us to prevent further torture. My irritation finally gets a chance to manifest, even if it's of the hot and bothered and hair-all-over flavor. "Didn't you have principles, Potter?"
He wipes his thumb across his lip. "And where are yours now?"
I'd been doing fairly well ignoring my utter betrayal of myself; I switch the subject back to him. "So between revenge plots and snogging me, you actually choose to snog me."
"That's got nothing to do with this. I'll still get you to bring down the Quirkers." He directs his amused smile down at my straining arms. The lengths I have to go through to keep him off me. "Until then, I'm okay with this."
The side of my face twitches at his arrogance, but for a second, I do consider it. Hell, he's right; these erupting sexual tension sessions have a habit of occurring, whether we keep arguing or not—particularly if we keep arguing—and they're... well, I'm not opposed to them. At the same time, the whole idea of being officially no-strings-attached rubs me the wrong way. I might not care much about feelings and fucks, but I think I should care, and it makes a difference, oddly enough.
Someone clears his throat by the door.
Pickett is leaned against the doorframe, enjoying our show with an intensely critical gaze, and from the stroke of his chin, he rates us around a B+. "Should I leave a sock on the knob for you two or...?"
I can't untangle fast enough from Albus. "He was just leaving."
Albus straightens his shirt, which is more of a lost cause than I first thought. Ink stains all over. It shouldn't be so appealing.
"As long as you weren't defiling Ol' Bessie." Pickett's name for the table. "This is a shared space, you know."
Pressing my palm to my forehead, I could kill either of them right now—Pickett for his commentary and Albus for making me such an easy target.
Lover boy flips his collar back in the right direction and leans in slightly. "Think it over. Think about toppling the Q.G.A. too if you have time."
I glare. "I can't be persuaded like this."
"I'm not trying to persuade you. But we'll see." With that, Albus turns around. He strides past Pickett, nodding. "Henry."
Albus raises his brow. He doesn't see me flip Pickett off.
When he's gone, I slide off the table, rubbing my temples until I glance down and groan, remembering the ink on my own hands. I pick up my Charms book, what I came here for originally once upon a time. Picket sidles next to me.
"You fancy him then?"
"It's complicated." I've always scoffed at that term because, really, how complicated can our lives get before Apparition age?
"Oh I see, you're still in—"
"Don't you dare say it."
Pickett holds the whole word in. Freezes in place, in fact, grin and all. I keep my glare on him until I head out the door. Just before we break eye contact, he sings it out.
A little friskiness in the newsroom isn't the end of the world, but the apocalypse is nigh—and it's color-coded.
Even though this is Witchy Business break week as we catch up on schoolwork, I oversleep my Monday morning nap anyway.
Bad idea. Worse hair.
On my rush to D.A.D.A., a bad feeling latches on me. There's something wrong with the hallway's burble of activity, thicker and louder than usual.
I can't place it until I reach a good vantage point on the staircase and I see the crowd as a whole. It's red and purple shirts as far as my eye can see, like an ominous cranberry-grape swirl.Those are not happy flavors.
As students spill out of their classes, a good half of the crowd is wearing one of these team shirts, girls and boys alike. I finally spot a friendly face in Janey, who's squeezed in the middle of a Team Rose pack. She struggles to reach me, faltering hand extended and I grab her just in time to pull her out before she's lost to the sea.
We huddle close to the wall as she catches her breath. Shirt-wearers stare at us up and down.
"Janey, I hope you've arrived with an explanation for this," I hiss as we shuffle to avoid the traffic jam.
"I have." Lovely girl, always on top of things. She adjusts her tilted glasses, frowning at the smudges. "Couple of Gryffs got in a huge tiff over Dom-or-Rose-for-Scorpius yesterday. That led to a big rally for both sides—to y'know, show their pride. Shirt production shot way up. Wristbands, too. Anyway, they got the whole tower on one side or the other by the morning."
Circe, Dom must be cackling wherever she is. Probably was too excited to bother waking me up, that bint.
"I didn't think it'd spread so fast," Janey says, "but apparently Hufflepuff's fully converted and they're working on us blues and greens right now."
"Merlin's bearded cousin." Fangirl mobs and now this. Hogwarts might be prepared for another onslaught of dark lords or dementors, but what they really need a quarantine plan for against their own student body.
Mind, it hasn't quite hit the roof of the loony bin yet, but the hourglass has to run out eventually.
Janey and I split to our respective classes none too optimistically. I arrive just before Monsieur Breech taps on his elevated lectern. Dom looks particularly cheery today. Looking around the room, it's easy to know why. Purple outnumbers red. Rose is on the opposite end, surrounded by her color. Chin up, she doesn't seem troubled, but that's half the rule of war: show no weakness, show no mercy.
I rub my neck of the sudden jolt that runs through when I catch Albus' gaze not too far behind her. My eyes snap forward.
Breeches' rehash of our last lesson in wand theory takes up most of the class; he can't resist the sound of his own voice. At last we get to pair up, but when I look to my right, Dom's not there.
Instead, both she and Rose are walking over to Scorpius, and both colors of the crowd surge in after them, waiting for his choice. Usually, Potter's his partner, but he's being accosted by a Quirker, and now the poor blondie doesn't even look like he knows what's going on. I can't help but feel bad, even though it's patently hilarious watching a six-foot stud quake. Everything can be scary in large numbers. Lions. Tween girls. Smiley-face chips.
Sighing—because I'm ever so nice and rather not encourage another mob so soon—I dash over to Scorpius' side as Dom and Rose open their mouths. "Oi, Scorp-o boy! You look like you need a partner."
I throw my arm around his shoulder, straining to match his height. He stares at me perplexedly, as do Dom and Rose and everyone else trailing them.
"I—I do," he stutters, catching on with a small smile.
The crowd disperses. Dom and Rose aren't pleased, but a draw is better than outright losing. Dom sticks her tongue out at me and pairs with a shirt buddy.
"Thanks, Clemence," says Scorpius after we get into position across from each other.
"You're a nice bloke. Shame if you got killed."
He chuckles nervously.
The spells start flying. After a few run-throughs of counters, Scorpius lowers his wand. "So this whole Team-Rose-Team-Dom thing..."
"I'm not on any side, don't worry." I throw a hex, which he doesn't bother shielding but just dodges, and it hits Lindy's bum behind him. She glares at me. Bulls-eye.
"I've got something to do with it?" he asks, and I balk at him.
"Blondie, you're the whole issue."
"So I learned. But it's just one of their things. Rose and Dom's. I didn't think I ought to get between them." He fiddles with his collar. Blindingly attractive he may be, he's not quite as bright as his best mate. "I don't know what other girls are saying, but I didn't think it'd get this crazy. They know I'm not interested in either of them."
"What?" I blink, all other thoughts careen to a halt. "Hold on, Dom and Rose both know you're not interested in either of them?"
He blinks back. "Yeah."
Then what the hell is this all about? "You're sure?"
"I made that clear."
"Very clear? Clearer than air?"
He frowns, looking from side to side like chiseled goldfish. "Yeah."
"But Dom said..."
"What'd she say?"
"I mean, nothing but I thought..." I never forgot that time I caught them talking in the hallway, even after Dom said that it was nothing. But Dom does flirt with everyone, and Scorpius is one of those blokes who are so charming and polite that he probably doesn't know what he's saying half the time. Flash a smile and say hello, and he could be courting the whole room.
"We're just friends," he says.
Maybe this stupid feud can be nipped in the bud after all. I don't know what's going on, but I wouldn't be surprised if Dom and Rose started something just because they're bored and overconfident. Poor Malfoy. He didn't know what he was signing up for with the Weasley cousins; they took his hand and dragged it across the signature line.
"Can I quote you on this?" Dom's going to kill me for hijacking her turf.
"Actually, I was hoping you would. This is... I just want it to stop." Scorpius rubs his neck. "I don't know what to do."
"Don't worry." I'd pinch his cheeks, but I'd probably cut myself. "People listen to what I say."
He manages a smile, at which point, three girls swoon to the floor (they got petrified, but it was well-timed).
Scorpius leaves the class in high-spirits, and so do I, because it is pretty nice to help someone when I can. And Potter thinks Witchy Business doesn't do good for the world.
I miss Dom in the crowd, but we've got different classes anyway; I'll catch her at lunch. Walking down the hall, I hear snippets about Dom-this, Rose-that. My ears perk up at a one whisper: "She swears she saw them leave the same hallway. Clothes all mussed up too." Were they talking about—?
But I can't find the owner of the voice amidst the red and purple. I make my way to the next hall, and then my heart drops.
Duplicates of my Quirker Bash article are plastered along the walls so thickly that they fall in large sheets, stuck together. I pick one up from the floor, trying not to shake, as the few people loitering turn to stare. On every single flyer, scrawled with pink lipstick, is a big fat 'LIAR'.
Blood beating fast, I almost don't hear the footsteps near behind me. He stops just close enough for me to feel the heat.
"Welcome to the spotlight," Albus drawls. "Wear sunglasses."
I swallow hard, rubbing the lipstick onto my finger. Glitter. "You better have a damn good plan, Potter."
"The best, buttercup."
"parting is such sweet sorrow" is from Romeo and Juliet
A/N PHEW. Okay, so it's a bit sizzling hot off the press 'cause I've got exams coming up, and I rushed right through this. Forgive me for any spelling/grammar derps. Also updated within TWO WEEKS. Haa, that's like a recent record. I haven't done that in ages.
Thanks for reading! Hope you could follow the crazy ♥ and reviews would be lovely, as always!