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Chapter 40: Sugarcoat
Ever been stuck in a broom cupboard?
It’s not fun.
Ever been stuck in a broom cupboard with four other people, one of whom is your mortal enemy, all of whom are somehow fighting with each other?
It’s extra not fun.
It’s so not fun, it’s like the opposite of fun. It’s unfun. Which sounds like funyuns, which is ironic, because funyuns are delicious and tasty and this situation is not.
We’d gathered here in one of Hogwarts’s many cupboards/snogging stations to host an emergency family meeting of sorts, away from all the curious eyes of everyone at the party. It was time to hash things out, put our heads together and try and come up with a solution. Also, Freddy had a lot of explaining to do.
I mean, honestly, who does that? Who just walks into a room and makes that kind of dramatic declaration without any preface or sugarcoating whatsoever, without a warning, without a ‘I have some bad news’ or ‘Oh hey, guys, you might want to sit down for this, because I’m about to rock your world with a motherfucking truthbomb’?!
Seriously. I really hope that Fred never has to break the news of a death to a loved one, because chances are he’d just be like ‘Hey, could you pass the salt? Oh, by the way, your uncle’s dead.”’
To make matters worse, Dominique has launched into the freak out to end all freak outs. Which is understandable, I guess, because as a Weasley Cousin, it’d been her duty to take care of Freddy... And now they were both screwed.
I got that, I really did, and I sympathised with Dom and even Potter. But... Did she have to be so loud? And her rants so long?
“How COULD YOU, Freddy? Do you know what’s going to happen when everyone finds out about this? Your mum’s going to kill you, and then Nana Molly’s going to kill your mum for killing you, and this is going to start off a mass Weasley murder-spree where everyone kills everyone, and then Nana Molly’s going to realize what’s happening and have a heart attack and die, and it’ll be all your fault, you... you Nana-killer!”
Introducing: Dom Weasley and the art of supporting a loved one in times of need.
Take notes, kids.
Freddy, in response to this, plunked down on a random cleaning bucket and - covering his face with his hands - began to make a very peculiar noise. It was like a cross between a kettle whistle and an angry cat giving birth.
It was commonly known as the Fred Weasley Distress Call - and we’d only heard it in two other very dire situations in the past. In 2014, when the Chudley Canon’s Seeker had lost the snitch during the Quidditch Cup, and another time in 2016, when Freddy found out that Honeydukes was discontinuing their line of bacon-flavoured chocolate. Both times had been equally disturbing as this one.
“Dom, stop it.” Potter seemed only mildly annoyed that his cousin had rendered his other cousin into nothing more than a human smoke alarm. He crouched down, snapping his fingers in front of Fred’s face, voice calm and authoritative. “Fred, you need to focus. Come on, Fred, you need to - damnit, Dom, you’ve broken him!”
“Nice going,” Aidan sneered unhelpfully from behind us, scorn in every syllable.
“No one asked for your opinion!” Dom snapped back shrilly, and I grimaced. We had come together to fix this mess, but it looked like we were all about to descend into bickermania instead.
And sure enough: “I have the right to say what I want, Dom!”
“Not when it’s something stupid and totally unhelpful! You’re making this crisis worse!”
“Um, you’re the one who told Freddy that his grandmother was going to die because of him!”
“Just shut it, will you?”
“Oh, good comeback. Did you think of that one all by yourself?!”
As Dom and Aidan continued to hurl unpleasantries at each other, I whipped around to face Potter, my eyebrows drawn together with desperation. He was sat down on an upside-down bucket, his face propped up by his hand as he stared flatly at Aidan and Dom. His mouth was quirked in a way that suggested he’d completely given up on the situation.
“Well?” I blurted out, incredulous. Was he really just going to sit there and not do anything?
“Well what?” Potter’s gaze slowly, languorously, moved to meet mine. His eyes were swimming with apathy and general boredom.
“Do something!” I hissed tersely, for lack of anything better to say. I was one foot-stomp away from sounding like a petulant child.
“Well that’s a vague command. What are you expecting, exactly? A magic trick? Tap dance routine?” Potter quipped lightly, stretching his arms behind his head like he had not a care in the world. “As a matter of fact, I am doing something right now. I’m converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, and I’m managing to annoy you at the same time. So in my book, the day’s already a success...”
“How are you being so calm about this?!” I shrieked, my mood plummeting from panic to anger. He was acting like everything was fine when, meanwhile, Fred was no longer legally allowed to attend school, and Aidan and Dom were doing fantastic impressions of the two angry hamsters that I once owned when I was seven: Fluffy and Raphael.
They ate each other in the end.
The hamsters, I mean. Not Dom and Aidan.
“Potter, you have four seconds to fix this before I flip a shitcake and headbutt something.” I growled, teeth gritted with forced patience. I couldn’t believe he was behaving like this.
Potter only shrugged. “I would, but this oxygen to carbon dioxide stuff is kind of tiring.” He cocked his chin to where Dom and Aidan were arguing (and by arguing, I mean attempting to strangle each other). “Just let them fight - they’ll tire out eventually.”
“Are you kidding me? Humans will have colonized Mars by that time!” I spat, incensed. Suddenly fed up, I wheeled around, almost stumbling over a wayward bucket as I marched towards our two favorite lovebirds. (Sidenote: Ironically, the broom cupboards of Hogwarts never actually have brooms. It’s always just buckets. Buckets... and dust. And possibly a few errant articles of underclothing here or there.)
Dom and Aidan were now nose to nose and shouting incomprehensibly at each other. Freddy was still on his bucket, unmoving, his face in his hands. Potter was silent, his gaze - amused and skeptical - trained on me the whole time. I opened my mouth, ready to command silence with my obviously authoritative and Martin-Luther-King-esque voice, when Aidan suddenly threw his hands up in the air.
“That’s it - I am done.” For once, there was raw emotion throbbing in his voice, and I think that’s what made Dom finally snap her mouth shut. “I’m not doing this anymore. I won’t put myself through your stupid little games any longer, Dominique. I’m sick of holding my breath whenever things are looking up for us - and then finding myself winded when it all comes crashing down.” Aidan shoved a hand through his hair, turning away, and I could have sworn I saw the smallest flicker of pain in his eyes. “I just... I can’t be around you anymore. It’s not fair.”
And that’s when Aidan crossed the cupboard in two sweeping steps and walked out, leaving us with nothing but the echoing slam of the door in our ears.
Nervously, I snapped my gaze to my bestfriend.
Dom was just standing there, apparently unable to process this new development, the fresh empty space in the room. The anger was slowly fading from her face, her wintergreen eyes round and blinking. And then - without another word, she stormed out the door as well, but this time heading in the opposite direction that Aidan went.
Just like that. Potter, Fred and I had watched everything - all the history and memories - between those two crumble into nothing in a matter of seconds. Just like that.
There was a pounding silence in the broom cupboard. Only then did I realize that I had my mouth gaping open like an idiot.
Fred, still hunched over on his bucket, had not reacted in the slightest to any part of this entire fiasco. His face was in his hands, his eyebrows scrunched in a way that made me want to smooth my thumb over his forehead. It was almost like he didn’t realize what was going on around him. In fact, he probably didn’t.
“Well,” Potter finally broke the deadly silence. There were no traces of amusement in his gaze anymore. Just flat, grim reality. “I should probably follow Aidan. You know, make sure he doesn’t wander off the roof of the Astronomy Tower and stuff.”
I stared at him, knowing full well that I looked like a helpless puppy. “You’re leaving me?” I croaked, hating myself for the begging tone in my voice. “With this mess?”
Our eyes flitted over to Fred’s sad, slouched figure. He still wasn’t moving.
I think it’s a universal law that, whenever there’s a certain level of unhappiness in a room, someone like Freddy just automatically has to shut down in order to protect themselves. A personality like his can’t exist in the same dimension as that much anger. It just can’t.
“What about Freddy?” I whispered, fear shadowing my voice.
“What about Aidan? What about Dom?” Potter countered as he stood up, dusting himself off. His left eyebrow quirked upwards. “They’re just as bad. And just as prone to doing something stupid or possibly illegal right now.”
I paused, remembering the time when Aidan, after a particularly bad fight with Dom in Fourth Year, tried to adopt a blast-ended skewert and make it his pet. He called it Princess Beyoncé, brought it to all his classes, and carried it around in one of those oversized, rhinestone-studded totes that celebrities put their chihuahuas in.
Four people were hospitalized with third degree burns.
I swallowed hard, rubbing my hands across my face. As much as I hated to admit it, Potter wasn’t entirely wrong. Dom and Aidan were so wrapped up in their own problems, they’d be of no help to the Freddy issue. In fact, the best we could hope of them right now was to not do something risky that would land them in Vespertine’s office. If we managed to get through the day with only one expulsion, I’d consider it a success.
“Potter?” My voice sounded strangely meek to my own ears. I couldn’t bring myself to face him, instead staring at the glittering flecks of dust drifting through the sleepy air.
He turned. There was no snark in his face, no condescension. He actually looked mildly interested in what I had to say.
“Why are all our friends so fucked up?” I asked, matter-of-fact. It was a genuine question, and I stared into Potter’s indecipherable face, looking for an answer.
He just shrugged. “None of the normal ones will hang out with us,” he deadpanned. When he saw me start to deflate at the answer, he quickly relented. “I don’t know, Bennett. That’s just how things are.”
I cast a glance over my shoulder at Freddy. Still no signs of life. His head was inside his hands, his mind somewhere far away.
It was finally starting to hit me, how everything had just collapsed all at once. Aidan was gone. Dom was gone. Evelyn was gone. Freddy was going. It was kind of impressive, how epically we had managed to destroy ourselves - and so fast, too. I bet we just set a record for that: Time it takes for a metaphorical friendship cookie to metaphorically crumble.
Potter cleared his throat, and I looked up to see that he was leaning his side against the doorframe, arms crossed, looking vaguely uncomfortable. I was almost surprised - I’d thought he left.
“You couldn’t have done anything, you know,” Potter said lowly, bright eyes refusing to betray any hint of feeling, any indication of what he might be thinking. “Everything would have played out like this anyway.”
“Not if you’d just helped in the first place.” I couldn’t help it - I snapped back. “How can you be so calm? Do you not care at all?”
Frustration seemed to flash across Potter’s face. It looked like he was about to open his mouth to say something, to argue, but then I guess he thought better of it. Just as well - our ‘Designated Bickering Couple’ role in the group had been replaced by Aidan and Dom.
Oh my god.
Aidan and Dom were the new Potter and me.
I bit down on my lip, feeling like the minute the ridiculousness of this situation wore off, I would burst into tears. “Just go, Potter. I’ll take care of Freddy.”
Potter must have noticed the tremble in my voice, though, because he seemed to stiffen a little, his anger dissipating.
“I’ll stay,” he offered, and I couldn’t tell if the gesture was sincere or not. “I mean, Aidan and Dom can take care of themselves. Worse comes to worse they commit a few acts of arson, possibly murder. They’ll be fine.”
Despite his words, there was no sarcasm in his voice. Potter’s eyes were soft as he stepped forward, shrugging casually. He was willing to help, I realized. Help me - the one who always had to clean up after everyone else, as all her friends thrashed through life without any worry for consequences.
But this time, I wasn’t alone.
I stepped forward too, breathing hitched. Then, in a movement that under no circumstances had been previously approved by my brain, I placed my hand on Potter’s arm.
For a moment, it seemed like we were the only ones in this cramped room - and I couldn’t help but think about the last time Potter and I were in a broom cupboard together. How intimitate that moment had been. How even closer we were now.
Chewing on the inside of my cheek, I flitted my eyes up to meet his. He bit his lip almost reflexively, gaze travelling across my face. “What’s going to happen, Potter?” My voice was hushed. “What are we going to do after all of this?”
He blinked, and my heart immediately skipped a few beats. Already, I was feeling dizzy just from just the bleedin’ potential of the moment. His mouth was literally a foot away from mine, and the air between us seemed to buzz.
James Potter was like half-boy, half-cocaine. He had a physical effect on me, something that I was not all too happy about, and around him, it was like a high. I couldn’t be responsible for what I did under his influence.
“We keep going,” Potter said simply. “And we’ll be alright.”
“I have two friends outside who are close to qualifying for suicide watch, and one friend in here who’s being as responsive as a particularly shy carrot,” I responded fiercely, narrowing my eyes as I dropped my arm. “We’re not going to be okay, Potter.”
“Look, Bennett, the last thing we need is for you to freak out too.” Potter shoved his hands into his pockets. “Just sit tight while I go look for Dom and Aidan, okay?”
I raked a hand through my hair, gritting my teeth as Potter began to turn away. “Fine, whatever,” I exclaimed, a little louder than necessary, at his retreating form. “It’s cool. I’ll just... stay here. And...stand.”
After the door was safely shut behind him, I flopped down on one of the many overturned buckets, my head swimming. I was in Fifth Year, for god’s sakes. The Official Year of OWLS and the Unofficial Year of Ravenclaws Having Mental Breakdowns in the Hallway, one of the toughest academic periods of my life. And yet my friends were still managing to stress me out more than my schoolwork.
“You’ve got to keep them together, Aggs.”
I jolted at the sound of Fred’s voice, my heart almost leaping out of my chest. He’d been quiet for so long, I’d forgotten he was in the cupboard with me. Clearing my throat, I scooted forward, my bucket scraping against the stone floor.
Fred was still crouched over, his elbows on his knees, but his face was turned towards me, and his gaze was determined.
“What was that, Fred?” I said softly, daring to brush my fingers against his shoulder. It was an instinctively protective motion, one that I didn’t even have to think about.
“You’ve got to keep them together,” Fred repeated slowly, enunciating every syllable with unusual seriousness. “When I leave, you have to make sure our group stays intact. Otherwise none of us will have any hope at all.”
“Ooookay,” I drew out the word, giving a nervous huff of laughter. “That felt weirdly like a quest. Are you giving me a quest? Are you an old wiseman living in a cave? Is this secretly the fifth Lord of the Rings movie?”
Fred shook his head vigorously, grabbing on to my chin. I stiffened at his firm grip. “I’m serious, Agatha. You’re going to have to be the glue that holds it all together.”
I stared at him for a minute, my resolve wavering, debating whether or not to take him seriously. And then, shaking my head, my voice trembling ever so slightly, I mumbled, “But I don’t want to do that.”
Fred, exasperated, dropped the hand holding my chin. “Look, Aggy, I know you’re basically like the Group Mom already, but they’re going to need you now more than ever. Promise me you’ll take care of them. Aidan, Dom, James - everyone.”
“Freddy...” I began.
I sighed. “Fine.”
“No, you have to say it.”
My gaze flattened. “Really? Do you want me to pinky swear too? Sign a contract in my own blood?”
“Fine, I solemnly swear I will not let our friends kill, maim and/or injure each other while you are gone. Satisfied?”
Apparently so. Fred smiled grimly, turned away and assumed his previous Mope Position.
There was silence for a while. I waited a gracious five minutes before asking the question that’d been burning through my mind ever since Freddy had given his announcement.
“Fred...” I began hesitantly, quietly. “Are they... Are they going to snap your wand?” It was a Hogwarts custom, one that’d been outdated and defamed for years, but it’d lasted to this very day. I just couldn’t bring myself to think of Freddy without a wand - without magic.
He exhaled slowly, dropping his head. “No. I’m not officially expelled. Vespertine called it an ‘indefinite suspension,’ which just means I’m suspended forever, basically, but--”
“--it’s the same thing,” I finished for him, eyes trained on his anguished face. “Freddy, I am so sorry. It’s not fair what they did to you. Vespertine must be off her rocker - I can try talking to her, if you want. I don’t have much influence but I’m a prefect and--”
“No.” Fred swiped his hand over his face, rubbing his eyes. “I’m not gonna let you fight my battles, Aggs.” Gryffindor Alert. “Besides, I need the time to think. Ever since I screwed stuff up with Eve...” He gave a breathless laugh, shaking his head. “Fuck.”
I leant forward, chocolate strands of hair swinging through the air, a frown creasing my brow. “What happened between you guys? You were so happy a couple days ago.”
Fred’s lips folded into an invisible line. “I don’t know,” he grunted. “She found out about how I staged the Cooper prank, and now she’s been avoiding me.” His mouth twisted wryly. “Guess I just made the job a whole lot easier for her.”
“Don’t talk like that, Freds.” I was being uncannily firm. There was actual confidence in my words for once. “We’re going to get you back here. Vespertine’s not going to get away with this. Someone’s going to appeal - your parents, a teacher - someone’s going to make it right.“
Fred stared at me, eyes wide. I glared back, expecting him to put up a fight, my next few words dangling on the tip of my tongue.
“Okay,” Freddy whispered, trust shining through his voice, and I deflated. In that moment, I could see in his face how scared he truly was. Despite the Class Clown title and the happy-go-lucky attitude and the fact that he was a sodding teenage boy who was supposed to stay strong, deep down, Freddy was scared out of his wits. So was I, for that matter. “I just hope it’s soon because I leave tomorrow morning, Aggy. And I don’t think I’m ready.”
“I know,” I whispered back, and the air seemed to shiver with the truth of it all. “None of us are.”
Freddy left, quietly, without any sort of commotion whatsoever, at six in the morning the next day. We stood outside with him, huddled together as his carriage waited patiently by the gates.
“Maybe a suspension’s not too bad,” Dom said with an attempt at cheeriness, shivering in her coat. “On the brightside, you’ll get to watch a lot of TV.”
Fred threw his cousin A Look which, unfortunately, only seemed to encourage her. Dom’s habit of rambling whenever she was in uncomfortable, emotional situations could be endearing... but only in times when no one was around to hear her or, you know, when she was surrounded by deaf people. Otherwise, it just sucked.
Example: “Didn’t your dad get expelled as well? Good on you for carrying out the family tradition!”
“Dom...” Potter warned, at the same time Aidan sneeringly mumbled, “Nice one.” I turned to give my brother a warning look, but he was too busy kicking the snowy ground to notice that a glare had attempted to penetrate his Teenaged Angsty Bubble of Teenage Angst.
Dom ignored them. “I mean, do you see Harry Fucking Potter graduating and getting a Hogwarts’ degree? Hells no! That’s because he’s Harry Fucking Potter and education is wack, yo!”
“Please shut up,” I said quickly. When Dom started speaking like a gangster rapper, that’s when you knew... It was time.
“Righty-o!” She squeaked and instantly began inspecting her shoe. Thank Merlin.
I stared at Fred. He looked so strange, standing there in his green peacoat with his trunk on the ground, snowflakes drifting onto his broad shoulders.
“I guess this is it,” he said uneasily, his breath puffing out in shivering clouds.
“It’s not goodbye, Freds,” I said softly, trying to keep the sadness out of my voice. “It’s just... a hiatus A BRB.”
“Yeah,” Potter agreed, and then quickly glanced at me, as if he was surprised that I’d said something worth agreeing to. “We’re going to get you back here.”
“Seriously, mate, someone’s going to realize that a school fun of children shouldn’t be run by a crazy lady. Then they’ll give Vespertine the boot and repeal all her crazy lady decisions,” Aidan said lightly, with full confidence. “You’ll see. It’ll all be fine.”
“And if not, there are always jobs at McDonald’s that pay, like, super well once you get to a manager position.” Dom, unfortunately, still hadn’t given up on her glass-is-half-full attitude. Freddy flinched at her words.
See, people, this is why Slytherins shouldn’t be optimists. We just end up creeping people out and making them feel vaguely depressed.
“Must you do that, Dominique?” Aidan blurted out, exasperation and anger mingling in his voice. For the past hour, he’d been steadily ignoring Dom, but I guess the reference to the hallowed mecca of Chicken McNuggets and diabetes was impossible to overlook.
“Do what? You mean console my cousin and friend? I happen to be a great comforter!” Dom jerked back, affronted, before looking around at the rest of us for backup. We all quickly averted our eyes.
Aidan scoffed. “If by great you mean awful, then you’d be somewhat right because you’re actually really awful.”
“How dare you!”
“I should probably go before this turns into a bickerfest,” Freddy said drily. He twisted his mouth into a semblance of a smile, then looked up at the snowy castle sprawled in front of us. There was a smudge of hope in his gaze - and I knew precisely why. It was for the same reason why he kept on stallling, why he was taking as much time as possible to get inside that carriage.
“Freddy,” I said gently, pity swelling in my chest. “I don’t think she’s gonna show.”
Fred locked gazes with me, seeming to deflate a bit. “Yeah,” he nodded. “Yeah. I guess not. Eve’s never been much for goodbyes anyways.”
“Hey, mate, it’s not a goodbye, remember?” Potter said bracingly, clapping his hand on Fred’s shoulder. They hugged - and there was none of that stupid macho stuff with the overly-exaggerated back-patting and the awkward, spring-away-as-fast-as-possible-once-the-hug-ends thing. It was just a simple hug, cousin to cousin, friend to friend.
Potter pulled away, half-grimacing, and it was my turn.
I basically charged into Freddy’s arms, my cheek squishing against his chest. I mean, I know that I always complained about how annoying the stupid goober was, but I was going to miss the fool. It was weird not knowing when I would see him next - I half-expected him to be at DADA class after lunch, sitting in his usual spot next to me, tattoo-ing my arm with doodles of Dom as a monkey.
“Promise me you’ll stay in touch, yeah?” I pulled away, staring seriously into Fred’s light eyes. The words were thick and heavy in my throat. “We can use Dom’s charmed coins, you can Wizbook me, whatever. Just don’t forget to check in once in a while so I know you’re alive. And stay safe. And keep warm. And...uh, eat your vegetables.”.
Fred chuckled a bit, wrinkling his nose, and it was nice to see genuine happiness on his face again. “Sure, mum. And remember what I told you, alright? Do your best.”
I gave him an awkward salute, and then slowly turned around, walking away. I spared one last glance behind me before quietly slipping through the front doors and back inside the castle. I didn’t want to stay for Dom and Aidan’s hugs. I didn’t want to watch Freddy climb into that carriage and disappear from us.
Inside the castle, it was warm and quiet. Floating candles bobbed merrily through the air. A ghost or a painting was humming a Christmas carol somewhere nearby.
I was heading up the Grand Staircase when I heard footsteps behind me.
“Not staying for the farewell fireworks?” Potter’s sardonic voice was so easily recognizable, I would have heard it in a crowd of a hundred. My spine straightened instantly and slowly, I turned around.
“I didn’t want to see him go,” I said, no trace of sarcasm or snark to be found.
Potter nodded, his hands stuffed into his pockets. From his position at the bottom of the stairs, he looked uncannily serious as he squinted up at me. “You alright?”
I decided not to answer. What an impossible question, after all. I mean, physically I was fine. Mentally, I’d say (most) therapists would declare me in good condition. Compared to those of serial killers and people who think crocs are a legitimate fashion choice, my mind was in tip-top shape.
But I didn’t feel alright. I felt like... like the rug had been pulled out from under me. My Fifth Year was not unfolding how it should have been, and I hadn’t expected any of this. It’s not like I could have, anyway. Life didn’t give you a contract to sign with all the bad, icky stuff laid out for you in the fine print. And I understood that, finally. Neurotic as I was (I mean, I color-coded my socks. The only way you can get more neurotic than that is if you make a genetic hybrid of Monica from Friends and Madame Pince), I couldn’t just expect life to follow my plans.
But at the same time, here I was, a Wizardring celebrity, my friend group of five years in ruins, the boy who had thwacked my brother into a coma still free to walk around my school. How was I supposed to have ever prepared myself for that?
“If you could do this year over...” All of a sudden, I was speaking without realizing it, letting the question on my brain fall from my tongue. My eyes snapped up to meet Potter’s curious hazel ones. “Would you change anything?”
He looked slightly taken aback, scanning my face to see if I was serious or not. Then - I don’t know why - he gave in.
“Probably,” he shrugged. “I would fix that Quidditch Match that caused the coma. I would change every single thing about that night at the Ministry. And I would stop Aidan from ever thinking that those romance novels he reads are okay.”
I gave a breathless chuckle at the last one, and Potter laughed along as well, ruffling the back of his hair almost sheepishly. It was almost like a moment of understanding. We drifted off into silence, and then:
“What about us, Potter?” I cocked my chin, resuming my pensiveness from before. I didn’t know where I had found the guts to ask such a brave question - maybe it was the adrenaline zipping through me, maybe my inner Fucks to Give supply had finally run out - but the words were out of my mouth before I could stop them.
Potter betrayed no sign of surprise except for a cool quirk of the eyebrow. “Is this a trick question?”
“Yes. No. Maybe.” I stared at him, knowing he was never going to give me a straight, non-cryptic answer. I didn’t want to hear it, anyways. “You know what’s weird, though? At the end of the day, out of all the shit that went down this year, you were one of the most normal things that happened to me.”
Potter’s face was unreadable, except for the slightest lilting of the left corner of his mouth. “Agreed.”
“But...” I began, biting my lip. There was a strange ache in my chest, one that I didn’t recognize nor particularly like. “You think we should stop, don’t you?” It wasn’t just a guess. It was a statement, a known fact, and I felt oddly calm uttering it as I stared down at Potter. It was weird being taller than him for once. “Stop this - whatever it is?”
And that this - that was the closest we’d ever gone to acknowledging what went on between us.
Which is kind of sad, if you think about it.
Potter looked up, eyes bright and alarmed. It wasn’t everyday that Surprise interrupted the daily slideshow of Scorn, Derision and Apathy that played itself on James Potter’s face, and I almost relished it. “I - What? How--”
“How’d I know?” I responded easily, smile wry. “I’ve had the feeling for awhile.”
It was true. Call it intuition, but I’d been expecting this moment ever since Potter realized that Aidan knew about us snogging. The guilt on his face that day had said it all. And, well, I figured it was better to drag the issue out in the open, to be the one who brought it up just so I could be prepared. Just so, at the very least, it ended with me being still somewhat in control, and not caught off guard by Potter pulling out the whole “Hey, it’s been real... But I think we should break up. And by break up, I mean stop making out at random inappropriate moments in time.”
There was a silence that seemed to cling to my skin. Potter looked at me, glanced away, and then looked back again, seeming like he wasn’t quite sure who I was.
“It’s just,” he began slowly, and the situation was so awkward, so so awkward, because here he was, wanting to break up with me (why do I keep calling it that?), and here I was, acknowledging it. “We’re being selfish. What with Aidan and Dom and Freddy - especially Aidan - I don’t think we should continue...whatever this is.”
Again with that this. I mean, it made sense, really. Why put a label on it when we can just be frustratingly, stupidly vague? After all, labels were for normal people who had functional relationships. Like that could ever be us! LOL!
“I know,” I nodded - and it’d be really convenient if my chest could stop feeling like it was about to cave in, thanks. “I know that. You’re right.” The words seemed to stick to the inside of my throat, and if it sounded like I was trying to convince myself that they were true, then that’s because...because I was tired! I mean, we woke up at six AM this morning. And when I don’t have enough sleep, I get into these moods - you know, those ‘sounding-like-you’re-trying-to-pathetically-convince-yourself-that-you’re-perfectly-fine-with-not-hooking-up-with-your-arch-enemy-anymore’ moods. Obviously.
“It’s just not right, you know? There’s too much going on and it wouldn’t be fair to Aidan. I mean, the situation would be different if we had actual feelings for each other,” Potter shrugged, continuing on with his ramble. There was guilt on his face, and that made me feel just the teensiest bit worse, “But--”
“I have feelings for you,” I blurted out. Oh, Jesus. Why did I just say that? Why? I wasn’t exactly sure where that even came from - but the overwhelming tribal war cry of WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WAS THAT ringing through my brain was enough to tell me that I’d said the wrong thing.
Potter startled, coming out of his rant-induced trance, and locked eyes with me. There was a heart-stopping second of pause. “What?” He echoed dumbly.
“I have feelings for you,” I repeated confidently, and it was weird how smooth I could be while on the inside I was floundering. “Granted, they’re mainly homicidal ones but...”
Potter’s mouth flattened into a scowl. I stifled a sigh of relief at the annoyance in his face. “That’s not what I meant. I meant if we liked each other. Do you like me, Bennett?” His voice was dry and the teensiest bit condescending, and finally, finally, I was able to recognize this Potter. It was the one I could hate without even the teensiest amount of effort, the one who made my life hell with his badgering remarks and snarky arrogance.
“Not in the slightest,” I responded easily. Too easily. It shouldn’t have been that easy, to just end things like that.
“Well then we’re in the clear,” Potter held out his arms sarcastically, and how was he being so blasé about this? Like having this conversation was just another chore he had to cross off his to-do list? “Congrats to us.”
“Indeed,” I chimed airily, and the queasiness inside my stomach was completely, definitely, absolutely unrelated to the fact that Potter was throwing away all we went through in the past three months without batting an eye. “So what now? Back to the usual rotation of arguing-hatred-insults?”
Potter shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets, and shook his head like my question wasn’t even worth acknowledging.
I hated him, hated him so much it made my heart throb, made me want to slap him just for existing, just for ever thinking it was okay to put his mouth on my mouth and his skin on my skin and then turn around and ask for it to never happen again.
Because, I mean, it’s not like I enjoyed hooking up with him. Or wanted to continue, for that matter. It was just... unfair that he thought he could go around and make all these exceuctive decisions. Yeah. That was it.
It felt like his molten gaze was lingering on me just a little too long, but that was probably my imagination. “I should go. See you around, Bennett.”
“See you, Potter,” was all that I could say. The words felt so hollow, I could store my entire life belongings in them.
Potter’s face was blank. He nodded, started to turn around - and with that, I watched James Potter walk away from me for the last time in our confusingly twisted, gray-area-dwelling, will-they-or-won’t-they, quasi-relationship.
You know in movies when something bad happens - like a natural disaster or a tragedy or a death - and it seems like all the main characters have hit rock-bottom? But then after a couple of sad-scene montages, the friends all band together and fight back and become tighter than ever? Like because of that one bad thing, everyone suddenly realizes that life is too short and finally comes together as one?
Yeah. That didn’t happen.
After Freddy left, everything just sort of... deteriorated.
The first to go was Dom. Now that her relationship with Xander was Wizbook official, she was spending more time than ever with him. She’d sit at his table, sneak out to the Ravenclaw dorms, even watch his Quidditch practices. They were always together. It was like she had a permanent, frat-boy-shaped shadow. It got to the point that the only time I’d see her consisted of an awkward wave in the hallway, or the silent five minutes in the dorm before we all fell asleep. Deep down, I knew she was avoiding me, and even deeper down, I knew it was because I reminded her of Aidan. It was sad that it had to be like this, but I didn’t let it get to me. Instead, I turned to schoolwork, clinging to the hope that, with space and time, Dom would heal and things would go back to normal.
Potter - torn between his cousin and his bestfriend - settled with seeing neither of them. Or me, for that matter. (Not that I cared.) Rather, he disappeared into other cliques - mostly Gryffindors or family. After all, Potter was a popular guy, and unlike us, he actually had friends outside the group. I’d see him around with Rose Weasley, or Albus, or even Kevin (who, judging by the way he always nervously scurried away whenever we saw each other, still hadn’t gotten over me drunkenly cussing him out at the RoR party).
...This by no means meant that I was keeping track of Potter, by the way. I just... Noticed these things. Out of the corner of my eye. I mean, you can practically feel his arrogance suffocate you from ten feet away - his head is so big, it threatens to break the ceiling and make the whole castle collapse. Really, I was just keeping an eye on him out of concern for general public safety.
And then there was Aidan. Aidan, over the course of a few weeks, had turned into a mother’s worse nightmare - which is basically the same thing as my worst nightmare. While Dom was off braiding daisy chains and naming her future children with Xander, and Potter was doing god-knows-what stuff (probably involving Quidditch. And Kevin), and I was burying myself in Prefect duties to distract myself... Aidan was partying.
There was a group of Seventh-Years at Hogwarts, notorious for being shrouded in a swirl of mystery and intrigue. They only seemed to come out night - for the longest time, I hadn’t known half of them actually went to the same school as me - and on the slim chance that you saw them during the day and they hadn’t, I don’t know, spontaneously combusted into flames from being caught in the sun, they were always clustered in a hangover huddle, nursing pots of coffee and glaring at everyone else.
While these Seventh-Years represented every facet of the word ‘cool,’ complete with the black sunglasses and total apathy, no one actually dared to go near them. They were known for being hardcore, for doing stuff that wasn’t just illegal but, “like, OMG, illegal illegal,” as Hufflepuff gossip guru, Missy Donovan, so eloquently explained once.
I’m talking drugs. Not just doing them, but selling them, buying them, whatever. They made our RoR bashes look like birthday parties at Chuck E Cheese. This group was always present at the seediest bars and clubs - you could recognize them by the glazed eyes and slightly sinister smirks always present on their faces.
Now, you might ask why I hadn’t stopped Aidan from hanging out with this group already, if they were such terrible influences... Well, the answer is that I wanted to, but it’s kind of hard to get someone to do something when they refuse to speak to you.
Yup, Aidan was officially giving me the classic Bennett Cold Shoulder. He still wasn’t over the betrayal of me not telling him about Xandanique (Hogwarts’s unfortunate nickname for the Dom and Xander power couple). Hence, I hadn’t seen or heard from my brother since we all said goodbye to Freddy.
There was a horrible, bitter little part of me (it was the same part that returned ugly Christmas gifts from relatives and secretly laughed at first-years falling in the hallway) that resented Aidan. I mean, seriously? He was going to hate me because of something Dom did? It was completely unfair. The minute I started thinking these thoughts, however, I usually stopped. After all, such resentment didn’t have much room in my busy schedule of prefect duties and not having friends.
Now, you must be thinking: well, things are bound to get better soon, right? I mean, it can’t get much worse than this. Something’s gotta give, something’s gotta happen so that everything will start sucking less.
In fact, the suckage factor of this situation seemed to be acting like a suckage magnet, attracting even more suckage, so that the suckage multiplied until it grew too big and collapsed on itself in a suckage black hole.
In short: things did get worse. By a lot.
“ARE YOU FUCKING MENTAL?”
I jerked up from my Astrology homework - which was sprawled in a jumble of textbooks and confusion across my bed - and almost tumbled over in surprise. What was this? Noise in the dormitory?
After everything that had happened, what with Evelyn hating Dom and Dom hating me and me hating life, I’d pretty much gotten used to the feeling of perpetually living in awkward silence. Everyone was refusing to speak to each other, after all. Hearing an actual sound in the dorm (other than the quiet whimper of all our friendships dying slow, painful deaths, that is) was completely foreign.
And so was the sight of Evelyn Stanford, storming into the room, blonde hair flying in a swish of golden silk. Followed by Dom Weasley, who was quite obviously shaking in rage and screaming bloody murder.
“HOW COULD YOU? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO HIM?” Dom bellowed, eyes a molten green, chest heaving rapidly.
Evelyn whipped around - looking just as incensed. Her face was glowing pink, her features screwed up in indignant rage. The two girls faced each other, the electricity of their combined glares enough to give static shock to the whole population of Britain.
The sight was like watching Godzilla fight a Hungarian Horntail. It was terrifying.
“Stay out of it, Weasley.” Evelyn’s voice was a low, guttural warning. Anyone else would have immediately obeyed, for fear of getting disemboweled, but not Dom.
No, Dom was already on a warpath, giving a hysterical shriek of scornful laughter at the the other girl’s words. “No, actually, I will not stay out of it! Thanks for asking politely though!”
“And why not, your highness?” Evelyn snarled back.
“Because fuck you, you abhorrent bitch! That’s why not!”
At this point, I was severely confused. Sitting on my bed with my mouth gaping open, I stared at the two witches, debating whether or not I should get start looking for something I could use as a shield just in case objects (or people) started flying.
“You have no right to come around here acting all high and mighty! You don’t even know me!” Evelyn was getting so intense, she was one sassy finger snap away from saying ‘hold mah earrings, gurl!’ It was honestly quite scary.
Dom scoffed. “I know what you did and that’s all that bloody counts!”
“Er, what exactly did she do--?” I asked meekly, and was of course happily ignored.
“Oh, yeah! You’re welcome for that, Dominique.” The sarcasm dripping off Evelyn’s words would have made Potter proud. “I know you’ve just been dying for a reason to think you’re better than me - well, here you go! A new picture you can put in your Why Dominique is the Superior Queen of Everyone Scrapbook!”
Dom’s tiny fists were clenched as she glared up at Evelyn, chest heaving. “I can’t believe you’re even trying to defend yourself right now. The killer part is that you have no excuse, Evelyn. Except for complete idiocy, that is. But there is nothing you can say that absolves you of this!”
“What did she do?!” I asked again, this time with more urgency. But the two girls didn’t even so much as look at me. That’s funny. I wasn’t aware there’d been a Silencio charm cast on me today.
Evelyn’s nose was scrunched in disgust. “I don’t need to give anyone an explanation for my actions. Especially not you! I’m not ashamed of what I did!”
“You know, you’re a fucking scientific marvel, Stanford. Seriously, it’s a medical miracle, the way you can just walk around and function without a brain in your head. Won’t be long before scientists lock you up in a lab and start doing tests!”
“WILL SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THE FLIP IS GOING ON?!” I couldn’t help it - I exploded. The frustration was stewing inside me like a PMS-ing volcano, building and building until I spewed lava and bitchiness everywhere.
Evelyn and Dom whipped around to face me, nostrils flared, looking eerily similar to a pair of angry cats.
...And this is the part where I immediately regret speaking.
Dom cocked her head in mock thought, turning to face Evelyn. “Yeah, that’s a good idea, actually.” There was vicious triumph flashing in her eyes, and I gulped. “Why don’t you tell her, Eve? Why don’t you tell Aggy what you did to her? To her brother?”
The feeling inside my body seemed to drain. I slammed my astronomy book shut, struggling to sit up. “What’s Aidan got to do with this?”
Evelyn was strangely silent. Her mint eyes were downcast and glassy, her lips pursed tightly.
There was a nasty smile on Dom’s face. Her voice was hoarse when she spoke again. “Dearest Eve is back together with her ex. The man of the hour: Fallon Cooper.”
Hearing those words - I don’t even know how to describe it.
Ever been punched in the chest?
By a sledgehammer? Wielded by Chuck Norris?
Because that was kind of what it was like.
There was a silence - the loudest silence I’ve ever heard - as the idea drifted through me, almost as if in a daze. Evelyn. Evelyn Stanford, Freddy’s girlfriend, my roommate and sort-of friend, was dating the boy who almost killed my brother.
“Why.” The word came out flat. It wasn’t a question. It was a demand for explanation, for apology.
Evelyn’s eyes flicked upwards to meet mine. The anger was melting from them - she almost looked sorry. “You don’t understand, Agatha. You don’t understand what I’ve been through, what Fallon’s been through,” she mumbled quietly. Hearing her say his first name made me feel queasy.
I thought of that day I bumped into Evelyn at the therapist’s office. The surprise and vulnerability in her eyes. Please don’t tell, they had said. No one can know.
I crossed my legs, chewing on the inside of my cheek. Strangely enough, the revelation didn’t feel like a betrayal. It felt almost like... like a joke. The idea was too ridiculous to even be taken seriously.
“You realize that if you keep dating him, you can never speak to me again, right?” I stated calmly. There wasn’t malice in my words - just straight truth.
Evelyn flushed. “I know.”
“And there’s nothing I can do to change your mind?” Might as well try.
“No. Nothing.” Evelyn’s voice was so quiet, she was almost mouthing her words.
“Okay then.” And with that, I clambered off my bed and started packing up my books. I hurled my bag over my shoulder, movements clumsy and hasty. I didn’t know where I was going, I just knew that I needed out. The room was so thick with guilt, we were all practically swimming in it. “Well, in that case, I’m leaving.”
Dom apparently didn’t approve of my (not so) dramatic exit, however. She looked blankly between Evelyn and I, incredulous. “Wait - that’s it?” She exclaimed loudly, stepping forward. “No yelling? No cursing? Not even a bitchslap?”
“Sorry to disappoint,” I said sardonically, bitter smile curling my mouth.
Dom gave a huff of astonishment, boring her eyes into mine. “You do realize what she did?”
“Yes, I do,” I said softly. “Seeing as I’m a mature adult with a full understanding of the English language and the mental facilities to process such information. You seem to possess both as well, though I’m a little unsure about the adult part.”
It wasn’t supposed to be mean, and I wasn’t supposed to enjoy the shocked hurt that flickered across Dom’s face. But, well. It kind of was, and I kind of did.
So there’s that.
Dom stepped aside, blinking, indignant. “I can’t believe you care so little.”
“And I can’t believe you care so much, seeing as you’re the one who dumped my brother for a glorified frat boy. You do realize he’s just one beer chugging contest away from a life of trailer park alcoholism, yeah?” Maybe it was hypocritical of me to say such a thing when, days ago, I’d given Xandanique my blessing. But I was an angry teenaged girl. Hypocritical was kind of my area of expertise.
I didn’t wait for a response. I just gave the two girls a lingering look, and then my feet were taking me out the door. I was sick of the drama, of the screaming, of the righteousness. Since when had we become The Real Housemates of Hogwarts?! And why was this development okay with everyone?
The door slammed soundly behind me. “What a bloody joke.” I could hear Dom mutter behind it. And for the first time in a while, I think we were all in full agreement.
So I realize that everything’s been a wee bit...depressing, of late. I know, I know, it’s one bad thing after the other, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that right now, you’re thinking something along the lines of ‘When are all these whiny kids going to get their collective shit together?’ In which case, I have no answer for you. Or you could be thinking, ‘This is pointless - everyone might as well just die already.’ In which case, I would recommend you lighten up a bit and perhaps eat some chocolate cake or cuddle a kitten or something. Lastly, you could be thinking ‘Wait, where are all the sparkly vampire and ill-advised teen marriages?’ In which case, you should probably know that you have us confused with a different angsty teen story. It happens.
ANYWAY. Because I feel so bad about depressing everyone with the drama-overdose that is my life, I’d like interrupt this pity parade with a message from our sponsors: puppies.
Yup. That’s right. Puppies have been a loyal sponsor of Agatha Bennett’s Life for the past fifteen years. In fact, just so that you don’t get too depressed at the moment, please take the time to imagine, right now, in your mind’s eye, a puppy. Yes. Think about it running. Think about it licking your face. Feel better? Less likely to have a mental meltdown? Good.
Puppies will always be there to provide endless love, furry adoration and entertaining Youtube videos. Puppies are awesome. We here at Agatha Bennett’s Life recommend that you pet a puppy at least once a day, as puppies have the special power of warding off the side-effects of the following:
a) Kissing pretty boys who eventually ditch you for guys named Kevin, b) all your friends hating each other, and c) reality.
Thank you for your time.
Now, back to the (shit) show.