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Clash by shenanigan

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 50
Word Count: 354,463
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Slash (same-sex pairing), Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Humor, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Albus, Hugo, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Scorpius, Teddy, Victoire, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 11/29/2008
Last Chapter: 08/30/2014
Last Updated: 08/30/2014

Summary:
Shiny banner by justonemorefic at TDA!
Dobby Winner for Best Novel 2012 | Runner-up for Best Next Gen 2011


Sanity is overrated.

Undergoing edits


Chapter 1: Prologue
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A/N: Hey there,  welcome to my first little fanfic, 'Clash'!

There's not much to really say here. I hope you enjoy, and please review if you get the chance. It really means a lot :) Thanks!

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling. 

 



 


If there is one thing that I hate—truly, truly hate with every red hot, blazing nerve of my body—it is alarm clocks.

They are, in my opinion, the world’s most evil invention. Forget the atomic bomb, forget nuclear weapons... I am entirely convinced that alarm clocks are where all the universe’s problems lie.

I mean, imagine a planet Earth free of alarm clocks. Imagine! People would be happier, crime rates would go down, relationships would flourish, and most importantly—

BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.


I would get some damn sleep, for once.

BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP.


It was like my hand had a life of its own. Without even the slightest signal from my brain, my arm flew up and slammed down on my bedside table, fumbling hopelessly for that stupid, rattling little Contraption Of Hell before, after quite a bit of desperate searching, my fingers finally found the (glorious, oh so magnificent) snooze button and pressed down. Hard.

Ah, silence.

I rolled over in my bed, burying my face deeper into the covers in a (vain) attempt to shield my eyes from the prying rays of the sun. But of course, I was already wide awake and unable to fall asleep again. Typical.

My name is Agatha Bennett, and besides being an avid alarm-clock hater, I’m also a fifteen year old Hogwarts student. Right now, during the summer, I live with my mother and my stepfather, Arnold, who is, incidentally, the winner of The World’s Dullest Man Award and the record holder for ‘fastest time it takes to bore someone to sleep’.

Seriously. I made him a certificate and everything... When I gave it to him though, he just chuckled, said something about ‘the youth of today and their whimsical notions’ and then went back to finishing his Sudoku puzzle.

Arnold’s strange like that.

Anyway.

I also have a twin brother, Aidan. Except I usually just refer to him as ‘the annoying tosser (who I bear no genetic resemblance to) that likes to stay at our house’.

We’re quite close, my brother and I.

It’s not that we hate each other—we used to be inseparable, actually, and even now I spend most of my time looking out for the stupid ninny. It’s just that...well, we’re complete opposites.

I’m quite academic-minded. I like to read ahead in my text-books. Aidan’s more...mischievous. He likes to turn people (a.k.a. the Slytherin Quidditch team) into farm animals and then pretend he’s “lost the antidote”. I’m not exaggerating. Aidan has been inside Professor McGonagall’s office so many times, he might as well just move his bed in there.

What’s worse is that about 99.9% of the female population at Hogwarts find my brother’s antics...charming.

Seriously. He’s like some sort of demigod to them. Don’t ask me why, I personally can’t find anything appealing about someone with the brain capacity of an eggplant, but...whatever. Usually I just try to ignore all of it.

It’s more than slightly uncomfortable, though, when you walk in on your brother snogging your best friend. On your bed. During your thirteenth birthday party.

Yeah. Not the best of days.

I think Aidan takes after my mother. She’s a bit of a free spirit, if you know what I mean. There was this one time where she had tried to sign up for Tai-Chi Classes at the local community centre. This, through a series of rather unfortunate events, led to our entire family being banned from the centre for the rest of eternity. My mother still maintains the defense that it wasn't her fault. After all, how was she supposed to know that Tai Chi isn't done naked--they should have specified on the form, for Merlin's sake! 

That's what she keeps saying, any

Anyway, I’m more like my dad, I guess. I have his red hair and everything. Unfortunately enough, though, I did inherit one thing from my mother—her perpetual lack of grace.

Take last year, for example. During my fourth year at Hogwarts, I had single-handedly exploded nineteen cauldrons (a personal best, I might add), gotten locked out of the Slytherin Common Room thirty-two times (bloody password... I'm always forgetting it), broken three bones (my arm, my leg, and James Potter's nose), and set my bed on fire...twice.

…Keep in mind that all these things were accidental.

Well, maybe not Potter’s nose, but let’s face it, he had it coming.

That leads me to another thing: James Sirius Potter is the bane of my existence. He’s arrogant, infuriating, ignominious, vile, and just an all around scumbag.

People say hate is a strong word but they don’t know, really. They don’t get it. Coffee is strong. Weightlifters are strong. Hate...is different. It’s not this giant wave that immediately crashes over you or something. No. It’s subtler than that. It creeps up on you, slow and hot, and everything around you becomes so muddled and sticky that you can’t breathe. Your head pounds and your teeth grind...and...and...

Have you ever gotten a really bad pimple that, no matter how hard you push and prod, will just never go away? Like, you’ll squeeze and squeeze but it’ll always be there, lurking on the tip of your nose, and it’s so noticeable that Evelyn Stanford, this really terrible girl in your year, has got everyone calling you Rudolph (after the Red-Nosed Reindeer, of course) for a whole month?

Yeah, well, that’s Potter.

He’s always parading around like some sort of king. And what’s worse is that everyone at Hogwarts practically worships the ground he walks on, which inflates his overly large head even more. It’s so irritating, watching him walk around with that smug, holier-than-thou smirk on his irritatingly perfect face, his stupid cavalcade of morons trailing after him like zombie-clones.

The worst part is that Potter and Aidan are buddies. Best friends, in fact! It’s terrible!

I mean, Aidan invites Potter to our house (well, during summer vacation at least). Our house. IT’S WHERE I LIVE! How am I supposed to sleep at night knowing that Potter has violated and contaminated my own home?

What’s more is that my best friend, Dominique Weasley, is Potter’s cousin. Seriously, it’s like Six Degrees of Potter. Everything I do, every person I meet... Without fail, it always leads back to His Pratness. It’s...it's worse than alarm clocks, for Neptune's sake! And that's saying something!

But the cherry on top of the Sundae of Suck that is my life? Yeah, I’ve just been made a Prefect. And this would be dandy and all, really... Except for one, not-so-tiny, not-so-insignificant detail:

Potter’s a Prefect too.

Joy.

I groaned to myself, rolling over in bed as the thought of my Prefect’s badge—which was currently glimmering, untouched, on top of my wardrobe dresser—pushed itself stubbornly to the front of my mind. Ever since I found out—via Aidan—that Potter was going to be a Prefect as well, I had refused to even go near the stupid badge, no matter how much it taunted me from its permanent spot on the dresser. It was soiled now. Tainted. Never again could I look at it and not think about...him.

Mouth twisting itself into a grimace, I reluctantly heaved myself out of bed and furiously rubbed at my bleary eyes, as if the very action would erase the thought of Potter from my mind.  It was proving to be easier said than done.

I shuffled to the other side of my room, sliding my gauzy, light blue curtains open and peering dumbly at the outside world. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. Mr. Emerson from down the street was chasing the children off his property again with his rifle. Ah, I could hear their screams of terror from all the way over here. What a wonderful start to a wonderful day.

Sighing to myself, I left my room and went downstairs, ready for breakfast. I could hear that someone was already in the kitchen, banging pots and pans around. It was probably Mum, making (or burning) waffles for breakfast.
 
I pushed our swinging kitchen door open and started when I realized that the noise I had heard was not, in fact, my mother cooking breakfast, but rather none other than James Sirius Potter.

Eating cereal…

...In my kitchen.

He was sitting at the table, his dark hair ruffled and unruly, and his legs, clad in plaid pyjama pants, stretched out languidly before him. Just seeing him—all annoying and...there—made me grit my teeth together.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I blurted out without thinking. Hey, there's a complete stranger (okay, well not a stranger...but still an unwelcomed guest, nevertheless) in my kitchen! So sue me if I'm a little alarmed.

Potter looked up from his cereal, startled. When he saw it was me, his eyes narrowed into sharp, hazel slits. “Good morning to you too, sunshine.”

Did I mention that this whole hate thing I have going on for Potter...? Yeah, it’s sort of mutual.

Our kitchen was spacious and open, with old-fashioned looking white furniture, pretty crystal windows, and perpetually sun-stained walls. Normally, it was one of my favourite places in the house. But now, I wanted nothing more to leave.

Unfortunately though, I was hungry.

I stalked past Potter to the cupboards and grabbed a box of Captain Charms cereal ("They're deliciously magical!”).  Breathing heavily, I slammed a bowl onto the counter (perhaps a bit too forcefully, I think I heard a crack), poured in the cereal and some milk before walking back to the wooden table Potter was seated at.

I plunked myself down next to him and dug into my cereal viciously, ready to finish my breakfast as soon as possible. “Seriously though, what in the name of Merlin’s pink knee socks are you doing here?”

Potter finished the last of his cereal—taking his time to do so, I might add—and then pushed the bowl away from him.

“Aidan invited me to sleep over,” he said and I felt a sudden, inexplicable surge of anger wash over my body. I mean, honestly, I haven’t been awake for more than thirty minutes and he was already ruining my day!

“Oooh. Sounds like fun,” I said. “Did you paint each other’s nails and talk until the wee hours of the morning?” Ah, sarcasm, my native language.

“Tell me, Bennett. Are you this hostile to everyone you know, or is it just me?”

I gritted my teeth together at Potter’s retort, almost biting off my tongue in the process. You see, the most annoying thing about Potter was that he was so...unflappable. No matter how much I insulted him, no matter how hard I pushed his buttons... He never got angry. I mean, truly angry. Sure, he got annoyed, but he always managed to shoot back one of his own remarks, never blanching from that cool, apathetic mask he always wore on his face. Just once, I wanted to see a flash of raw... feeling. Something to prove that Potter was, indeed, a human being, and not just some genetically programmed alien robot sent down to earth in order to destroy my life (and my sanity along with it).
 
“Don’t be silly,” I said, voice sickly sweet. “You know I always save the special treatment for you.”

Potter was saved from replying by the kitchen door, which had swung open forcefully as, suddenly, my brother pushed his way into the kitchen. He looked tired. His toffee-colored hair was completely smooth except for one part in the back, which was sticking straight up in a ridiculous fashion. It would have been comical if I wasn't so angry.

“Good morning,” he mumbled, his voice muffling slightly as he yawned. The kitchen door was still swinging back and forth frantically behind him, but he paid it no attention.

“Wrong, Aidan,” I snapped, and my brother jolted, the lines in his body tensing as he turned to look at me for the first time. “It is not a good morning. Not at all. Would you like to know why?”

Aidan’s face, already weary from lack of sleep, melted into an expression of dread. “Why?” he asked, rather unenthusiastically.

“Because Potter’s here,” I said, crossing my arms and leaning backwards. Across from me, the prat in question displayed no emotion except for mild interest and maybe a little amusement. “Eating breakfast.”

“I know that,” Aidan replied, speaking slowly. “I invited him.”

“Why?” I exclaimed, slamming my hands down on the table and making the silverware rattle. “You know I can’t stand him! Seriously, Aidan. We might as well just invite...oh, I dunno, Hitler over instead.  Or Voldemort! Or maybe a ravaging cannibal! Oh, I know! We can have a little tea party, all of us together—Hitler, Voldemort, the cannibals...hell, let's throw in a couple of serial killers while we're at it! Doesn't that just sound like a dandy time?"

Before Aidan could reply to my hysterical ranting, however, Potter interrupted in classic Potter fashion, “Um, a) Both Hitler and Voldemort are dead. So it would be impossible to invite them over for tea, seeing as none of their bodily organs would be functioning and they would therefore be unable to eat. And b), you do realize I’m sitting next to you, right? I mean, I can hear everything you’re saying about me.”

“Shut up, Potter! This isn’t about you!”

“Actually, I believe it is...”

I growled in frustration, my eyes flashing dangerously. “You lot are so unbelievable. I just...just...argh!”

Right as I was about to stand up and leave, however, a tall, caramel-skinned bloke by the name of Fred Weasley waltzed in through the kitchen door.

“Morning, all,” he greeted, pratically singing the words. Fred was one of the most laidback, easygoing blokes I've ever met. Whenever he walked into a room, you could bet your bottom dollar that he'd be smiling. I've never seen him angry, or even remotely upset. He was pratically a walking musical—I half-expected a group of woodland creatures to pop their furry heads through the windows and start singing at the sight of him, a la Snow White.

Of course, Freddy's 'morning person-ness' only served to annoy me even more.

“You invited Fred, too?” My mouth dropped open, and I wheeled around to face Aidan. “Why? Isn’t one idiot enough, without having to make it two? I mean, seriously, Aidan. Was there some sort of 'Buy one get the other free!' special at Moron-mart?"

If you haven't guessed already, Freddy is another one of my brother’s idiotic mates. He’s also Potter’s cousin (I know, it seems like everyone these days is related to Potter, but bear with me). Fred's by far the more tolerable of the two, but he still possesses the ability to irritate someone—specifically, me—to the ends of the earth.

"Gee, Aggy, if I didn’t know better, it would almost sound like you didn’t want me here,” Fred said cheerfully as he strolled over to the table and sat on the other side of Potter, giving my hair a playful ruffle as he passed me.

“Piss off, Fred,” I growled, crossing my arms and glowering at the three of them.

He chuckled, the sound so deep and rich that it sounded foreign in our wispy-light kitchen. I screwed up my face in outrage—how dare he be laughing right now!—but Aidan interrupted me before I could say anything.
 
“Agatha,” he said suddenly, his voice falsely polite. “May I please have a word with you? Alone?”

There was a slight pause where I briefly considered refusing him and just walking away. But after a moment of contemplation, I relented.

“Whatever,” I mumbled sulkily, standing up from my seat.

Aidan pulled me aside to the corner of the kitchen so we were out of hearing range from Potter and Fred. “Agatha,” he whispered harshly. “I can invite over whoever I want and you know that, so stop acting like a stroppy cow.”

“Well can’t you invite people besides Tweedledee and Tweedledum?” I hissed back just as callously. “They’re bloody annoying.”

"Aw, come on, Aggy,” Aidan said, running a hand through his hair. “Fred and James aren’t that bad.”

“Are you kidding me? Look at them! They’re imbeciles!”

I turned around to face where Fred and Potter were sitting next to each other at the table. Fred currently had his finger stuck up his nose and was digging for gold, and Potter was gazing off into space, his mouth wide open and a stupid expression on his face.

"Okay, so maybe they’re a little slow in the morning,” Aidan admitted, shrugging his shoulders in a “so-sue-me” way as we watched Fred and Potter, “but they’re good mates.”

Freddy had now pulled out a titanic-sized bogey from the mysterious, dark caverns of his nostrils, and was staring at it confusedly, as if he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. After examining it for a bit, he then turned around and wiped it on Potter’s shirt. Potter yelped, and then punched Fred in the shoulder, who, in a display of undeniable grace, fell off his chair.

I turned back to my brother, a fake smile on my face, “Gee, Aidan. You’re right. I wish I had friends who were half-troll.”

My statement was punctuated by a tap-tap-tap noise that seemed to come from outside, and we both turned around mid-argument to see a tawny brown owl at the kitchen window, its claws clicking against the glass.

I hurried over to the window and opened the hatch, making sure to step back as the owl flew into the room, landed on the marble counter, and shook off its feathers. A pink envelope was caught in between its beak.

I made a disgusted face. “Gross,” I muttered. Aidan snickered.

See, here’s the thing: I hate owls. They’re disgusting, unhygienic, savage...And I may or may not have had a bad childhood experience with one when I was younger. I don’t want to talk about it (it’s quite a painful memory to relive), but let’s just say that owls are very attracted to bright colours. Especially red hair.

"Er...You can get the letter, Aidan," I said.

Aidan shot me a grin, the expression of annoyance that had previously tightened his face completely dissolving away into nothing (see, that’s the thing with my brother...he can never stay mad at anyone for too long). “Whatever you say, Aggy.”

He eased the letter out of the owl’s beak. It squawked indignantly but flew out of the kitchen nevertheless. I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I had been holding and closed the window shut.

“Who’s it for?” Fred asked, suddenly interested.

Aidan’s blue eyes (only a shade darker than my own), flitted over the front of the envelope. “Agatha.”

I grinned triumphantly as my brother tossed me the letter, catching it and opening the flap smoothly with my finger.
 

AGATHA,
As you know, it’s my birthday next week. My parents are having a small little get-together at the Burrow as a celebration. It’s going to be friends and family only.  You’re invited, of course, but I was wondering if you could come early to help decorate and set up and such.
I’m excited to see you there!
Lots of love,
DOMINIQUE

PS. Aidan can come too, if he wants.


Shitake mushrooms!” I exclaimed, eyes wide with panic. “I totally forgot it was Dom’s birthday next week!” I sank down on a seat next to Freddy, clutching the letter. “What am I going to get her?”

Fred grabbed the letter from me and read it over, eyebrows furroed in thought. 

“How come James and I aren’t invited to this little shindig?” Fred asked, passing the letter to Potter.

"You probably are,” I said. “She just hasn’t sent out the invitations yet, that’s all.”

Fred shrugged and, without another word, went back to inhaling his cereal. 

Potter’s hazel eyes scanned over the letter quickly, his hand reaching up to unconsciously ruffle his hair as he read. Just that small, insignificant gesture was enough to make me ball my fists in irritation.

“Looks like Dom wants you to come along, Aidan,” Potter said, referring to the P.S. portion of the letter.

“What? Lemme see.” Aidan hurried over to where we were sitting and leaned forward, reading over Potter’s shoulder. When he got to the last part, his cheeks flushed red and he straightened stiffly. Everyone else in the room grinned knowingly.

“Shut up,” Aidan muttered, even though none of us had said anything. “That doesn’t mean anything...”

“Riiiiiight.” I smirked, getting up from my chair and snatching the letter from Potter as I breezed past him. “Now as much as I would love to spend my Sunday morning with you three nitwits, I’ve got some work to do. Sayonara, guys.” I started to saunter out of the kitchen, head held high and rather proud at myself for such a cool, dignified exit.

“Wait, Bennett! One thing before you go...” Potter said, stood up from his chair and made his way towards me, lips pulled into a devilish grin that I did not like at all.

“Yeah?” I inquired, arching an unimpressed eyebrow as I turned around.

Potter didn't say anything. He just planted his hands on my shoulders, leaning towards me until we were inches apart and I could see the countless golden flecks that were sprinkled throughout his gleaming hazel eyes.

There was a long, tense, moment where we just stared at each other. And then…

“Nice pyjamas, Bennett.” Potter grinned, winked, and then was pushing past me and out the kitchen door.

“What on earth are you talking ab—?”

My mouth abruptly shut closed when I looked down to see that I was wearing my Hello Kitty pajamas. The ones I had owned since the ripe age of thirteen. They consisted of a tank top proclaiming “Viva La Kitty!” in glittery cursive, and matching pants. Matching pants, I tell you. Matching. Pants.

As Aidan and Fred roared with laughter, all I could do was stand there, blushing furiously and feverishly praying for Merlin to have mercy on me and just hurl a meteorite at our house... or create a human-swallowing abyss in the middle of the kitchen floor. Something nice like that.

Damn Potter.

 



 

A/N: Sooo....how'd you like it?? Since this is the first chapter, I would be eternally grateful if you reviewed or favorited (as long as you like it, I mean).  Constructive criticism or corrections are great!

Muchas gracias!
shenanigan


Chapter 2: Dark
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Disclaimer: None o' this is mine. It all belongs to JK.

 



“Would you like some toast, Agatha?”
      
I glanced down at the plate that my mother had just set down on the table, a look of poorly hidden disgust on my face. It was a well-known fact that my mother couldn’t cook for beans, and the badly burnt toast that she had just offered me was proof right under my nose. The poor pieces of bread were literally singed. Charred. Scorched.

Breakfast (or any meal, for the matter) with my Mum is always a hazardous occasion. People who want (or—ahem—are forced) to eat her cooking need to proceed with caution, because if they’re not careful, they can usually end up moaning on a toilet — or better yet — retching into one. Yeah, fun times.

“Well?” Mum said impatiently as she turned her back to me, wiping the kitchen counter clean with a grungy towel. “I made it just for you, Agatha.”

“Um,” I said warily, from where I sat at the kitchen table. “Don’t you think the toast looks a bit ...burnt?”

“Nonsense.” My dear ol’ maternal progenitor scoffed, “It’s just a little well done.”

Yeah, if by ‘well-done’ you mean burnt to a crisp.

“Uh,” I mumbled, pushing the dejected plate of toast farther away from me. “I think I’ll pass.”

Mum turned around, her eyebrows knitting together in plain confusion. “Why? You love toast!”

I did, but not the kind that looked like it had been BBQ’d over a grill. I mean, the toast was literally black! That’s just not natural. 

"Really Mum, I’m okay.” I said.

Mum’s face adopted a stern look as she planted her hands on her hips, turning towards me with an arched brow that meant trouble. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, Agatha. You shouldn’t skip it.”

“I’m not hungry,” I insisted. But of course, just after the words left my mouth, my stomach — with perfect timing — growled. Noisily. 

Mum sighed in a strange manner, wiping her hands on her shirt and taking a seat across from me. She reached over the wooden table and placed her hand on mine in what she probably thought was a caring manner.

“Agatha,” Mum said slowly, “I’m concerned. You haven’t been eating this past week...” She paused, looking into my eyes gravely. “Are you developing anorexia?”

The question completely took me from surprise, and I jerked my hand away from hers in shock. “What?” I said, stunned. “Of course not!”

Mum’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t lie to me, Agatha. Last night you didn’t eat a bite for dinner. And I had cooked spaghetti, too! One of your favorites, and you didn’t eat a thing!”

Mum was getting upset. Her eyebrows were scrunched together, and she was shaking her head in that parental, 'I’m-so-disappointed-in-you-where-did-I-go-wrong?' way. It was a look I was familiar with, but not because I'd ever received it before. Usually, the person on the other end of it was Aidan, and I was the innocent spectator, standing on the sidelines and watching with glee as my brother got into trouble.  But not this time, apparently.

 “I don’t understand, Agatha. I mean, was there something wrong with the spaghetti? Aidan ate it!"

Aidan would eat a rock if he were hungry enough, but that was beside the point. “No, Mum, there wasn’t anything wrong with it,” I lied. “It’s just... I wasn’t hungry.”

Truth is, Mum’s spaghetti had been horrendous. I had tried one bite and was practically keeling over on the floor, ready to die.  So instead of eating it, I had waited until after Mum and Arnold were asleep to order a Chinese takeaway and then scarf it down in my room.

So yeah, technically speaking, I had eaten... just not Mum’s disgusting, non-FDA-approved cooking.
  
I didn’t want to tell Mum this and hurt her feelings, though, because she really does make an effort to feed the family. And it’s not always that bad. I mean, the worst that usually happens after her cooking is a quick trip to the ER room and than a wee bit of intensive medical care. No one’s actually died... yet.

And besides, Mum’s cooking can have its benefits. I mean, by now I’ve trained myself to completely suppress my gag reflex... which is a pretty neat trick, if you ask me. And if I wanted to, I could probably get on those shows like Survivor or Fear Factor and eat cockroaches and stuff for loads of money.

“Agatha. Tell me the truth,” Mum said, boring her uncannily stern gaze into my eyes. “Are you anorexic?”

 “No, Mum, I swear —“ I began desperately.

But I was cut off as Mum continued on with her rant. “Are you sure? Because it’s important for you to know that you are a beautiful girl. In today’s society, a lot of young woman feel like they’re not good enough because of the images they see from the media, and I don’t want you to look at yourself that way—“

“Mum, seriously, I’m no—"

 “—And I know that teen girls like you often feel pressured to look “ideal” or “perfect”, but it’s impossible! I mean, I know you’re not the skinniest girl out there—"

 “Gee, thanks, Mum.”

“—But you’re still a beautiful, healthy, young lady. And you know what? Some boys like the voluptuous type. I mean, take me for example! I’m curvy, and look how well I’ve faired!”

Yeah, Dad, who you divorced, and Arnold, who could take on Professor Binns in a Worlds Most Boring Man contest. Seriously. Nice catches, Mum.

I rolled my eyes, and glanced at the ceiling as Mum rambled on. Honestly, that woman could talk the ears off anyone. Over the past few years, though, I’d learned how to successively tune her out whilst still looking like I was paying attention. It was great. She could talk herself hoarse while I just drift off into La La Land. She never realizes, either. I think it’s because she gets so caught up in what she’s saying that she doesn’t even notice no one's listening to her. It’s not that hard to fool her, though. I mean, all you have to do is smile and nod at all the right places and you’re golden.

Finally, Mum finished her big spiel with a grand finale of, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts, sweetie, and you’re beautiful both inside and out!” and I stood up to go.

“Okay, Mum," I said tiredly. "That was.... great. Thanks. Really, thanks. I’m glad we had that conversation.” Dear God, why couldn’t I have been born into a nice, normal family?

She nodded solemnly, eyes still bright with worry, and I surpressed a sigh. Mum loved to worry — and once she got one of her paranoid theories into her head, she never let go. It would be a long time before I'd be able to convince her anything else. 

“Er... alrighty,” I finally said, unable to take the grave silence. “Well, I’m just going to go... now.”

My mother nodded, looking at me in a way that made me feel like I was a tiny, paste-eating six-year-old again.

I fled the kitchen, running as fast as my legs could carry me.

—*—

When I got upstairs, my brother and the Tweedle Twins were waiting for me in my bedroom.

Aidan was pacing up and down my room, his face scrunched up in seriousness, as Fred and Potter watched him from where they were sitting on my bed. They were all acting as if it was perfectly normal, like them lounging around my room was a daily occurrence.

 “What the French toast are you guys doing here?” I said.

 None of them bothered to open their fat gobs to explain themselves, of course. As a respone, Potter bent down to pick up one of the many pieces of junk that littered my bedroom floor.

...Which happened to be a bra. My bra, in case you were wondering. The one Dom had charmed little cartoon monkeys to dance around on as a joke.

 “You’re a 36B, Bennett? Really? I always had you pegged for a 32C...” Potter said, his smirk even more condescending than usual as the stupid bra dangled tauntingly from his fingers.

 “Oh my God. Get out. Get out,” I hissed, just about ready to open a fat can of Avada Kedavra on all three of their sorry arses.

The three of them sniggered, but didn’t budge. I marched over to Potter and snatched the bra from his grimy hands. “Why are you even here in the first place?” I snapped waspishly as I tossed the offending piece of underwear across the room.

 “Aidan needs help,” Fred said.

 “Well, I’ve got the number of a great therapist he can talk to if he wants,” I said, crossing my arms and raising an eyebrow (something I secretly liked to refer to as my Baditude Pose).

“Not that kind of help,” Aidan finally spoke up. “I need your help.”

I rolled my eyes. “With what? What in Sweet Neptune’s name could I possibly help you with?”

There was a long silence, and then, his face grave and solemn as if he was announcing that someone had died, Aidan finally spoke,

 “Fashion.”

—*—

Five minutes later, the four of us were in Aidan's room, rifling through his closet drawers. Random pieces of clothing littered the area, strewn over the bed and the floor and even the ceiling fan. It looked like vandals had just ransacked the men's section of Old Navy.

“Dom’s party is in a few hours and I still don’t have a thing to wear!” Aidan whined. “What am I going to do?”

“You are such a girl, Aidan,” I said, rolling my eyes as I tossed a pair of Bermuda shorts across the room.

“I don’t care! I need to make a good impression on Dom and her family!”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Fred chimed in, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. “Aidan needs to impress his lady o’ lurrve.”

I rolled my eyes. “Dom and Aidan aren’t even going out. You dumped her at the beginning of summer holidays for Sally the Slutbag, remember, Aidan?”

Potter, who was sprawled out lazily on Aidan’s bed, snorted in amusement at this.

“Ah yes,” Aidan said, forgetting about his fashion crisis for a moment to reminisce. “Sally Perkins... She was always a good laugh. Not the most virtuous of girls, though...”

“Yeah, your relationship was pretty short-lived... You lasted two weeks before Sally dumped you to move on to her next victim—ah, I mean, boyfriend,” I said.

“What goes around comes around, I suppose,” Aidan said, shrugging as he picked up a shirt, stared at it, and then threw it behind him. “I don’t really care though. I’ve moved on from Sally. Now, I’ve finally realized that Dom is my one and only... and soon she will see it too and take me back! Then we’ll date on and off for the rest of our Hogwarts career...until we go our separate ways after graduation. Two years later, we’ll meet again at a deserted bar in downtown London. She’ll be some sort of high-flying executive in the Ministry, and I’ll be a famous Quidditch star tired of living life in the fast lane and wishing to settle down. We go home from the bar and have a passionate one night stand, after which Dom will immediately realize that I’ve always been the one for her, and, three months later, I’ll propose to her on a balcony underneath the full moon and twinkling stars... We’ll have a small wedding on the beach with only close friends and family attending. You can be Maid of Honor if you want, Agatha.”

“Er, sure,” I said, only slightly disturbed by my brother’s delusional behavior.

“We’re going to have two children,” Aidan said, a dreamy smile on his face. “The first, Aidan Jr., is going to have Dom's beautiful sea green eyes and my amazing bone structure. He—"

“Ooh!” Fred said, interrupting Aidan’s tirade. “How about this?” He pulled out a white tuxedo from the depths of Aidan’s closet and displayed it with a flourish.

I wasn’t in anyway some sort of fashonista, but even I knew that wearing that to Dom’s party would be an epic no-no.

“A) That’s hideous and tacky, b) It’s not a fancy-dress party, and c) Why do you even own a white suit, Aidan?” I said, raising my eyebrows in disgust.

“It was from Auntie Prudence's fourth wedding, remember?” Aidan said, grimacing. “She had requested I wear one.”

Aidan and I shuddered simultaneously at the memory. Oh, I remembered... Perhaps a little too well. I had been a bridesmaid, and dear ol' Prudence had forced me to wear the most repulsive dress. It had been pink and frilly and sparkly and... Ugh. I had looked like a woodland fairy on drugs.  It was so hideous that I trashed thing almost immediately after the reception... I had never been too fond of Auntie Prudence, anyway.

Fred pouted and shoved the tux back into Aidan’s closet. He rummaged through it for a moment before pulling out something else.

“What about this?” He said, holding up a lumpy sweater decorated with smiling cats.

“No. That’s just creepy,” I said. Potter barked a laugh from where he was lying on the bed.
“Well, since you’re so fashion-savvy, what do you think Aidan should wear?” Fred said snidely, obviously offended.

“I was thinking more along the lines of a t-shirt and jeans...?” I said.

“Okay, I can do that,” Aidan said, as Fred set the sweater down dejectedly.

Aidan fumbled through his closet for a bit until he took out a Puddlemere United shirt. “How about this?”

“Sure, if you want to get flogged by a million Chudley Cannon fans,” I said. “We’re going to the Weasleys’, remember? Besides, Puddlemere sucks,” I said.
 
 “Amen,” Freddy said, raising his hand solemnly in the air.

“They do not!” Aidan cried, extremely offended.

“Oh, okay, don’t even start with me, Aidan,” I said.

See, my brother and I have this sort of ongoing a rivalry. He’s a Puddlemere fan and I’m a Chudley Cannons’ fan. Our arguments can get pretty fierce sometimes. I once pushed Aidan into the Black Lake at school because he had said that the Cannons’ captain, Octavio Oddvar, couldn’t save a goal for his life. It was sort of true—Oddvar’s a terrible Keeper—but I pushed him in anyways. He deserved it.

“Whatever,” Aidan said crossly, tossing the shirt back into his messy closet.

I pulled out a vintage Weird Sisters shirt from a drawer and tossed it to Aidan.

“Here,” I said. “Wear this.”

“The Weird Sisters?” Potter said sceptically from where he was sitting on the bed. “Really?”

 “Well I don’t see you throwing out any bright ideas,” I snapped back.

Potter shrugged. “This is pointless. It’s obvious Dom’s not going to take Aidan back... She’s hated him ever since he dumped her for Sally, and no amount of fashion sense will change that.”

Aidan looked heartbroken at this, and I felt a pang of sympathy for my twin brother, helpless as he was.

“You know Potter, it really couldn’t hurt to be supportive of your friend once in a while!” I shot back as I snatched the shirt from Aidan. “Why do you always have to be so hell-bent on bringing everyone down all the time, anyways?”

“I’m not bringing anyone down,” Potter snapped. “I’m just being reasonable.”

“Reasonable? Reasonable?” I exclaimed. “You’re a real prat, you know that, Potter?” I stood up furiously, my fist unconsciously clenching around the Weird Sisters shirt.

Potter stood up from his lazy position on the bed to meet my eyes, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow. “Well, at least not giving Aidan false hope for something that will never happen!”

“You don’t know that,” I said, voice dangerously low as I stepped closer to Potter, trying to look as menacing as possible. He towered over me by at least a head, but whatever. I still looked pretty damn scary.

A long, tense silence lingered in the air as Potter and I glowered at each other. He had abandoned his calm and careless attitude for a new, angrier one. His hazel eyes were alight with fury, his jaw squared determinedly.

I felt anger surge through my body like a tidal wave, forceful and strong and unwavering. There was just something about Potter that made my chest automatically tighten and my fists curl... He was just so...so...ugh. I couldn't describe it.

I glared into Potter's eyes, refusing to be the one that turned away, the one that lost...

“Um, guys?” Freddy broke the tension. “Calm down. It’s just a shirt.”

But it wasn’t just a shirt, and both Potter and I knew that. It was a contest, a challenge, another competition that needed to be won.

“Whatever,” I spat, turning away from Potter. I threw the shirt at my brother forcefully.

“Wear it, Aidan,” I said, and then before anyone could protest, I left the room, slamming the door smoothly shut behind me.



A/N: So...how'd ya like it? Any suggestions? Say, here's an idea: how about you scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on that cute little box thing? Yeah, that one. And how about typing your thoughts into it? Yup, just like that... Yeah, uh-huh, keep on typing... Wow, you're practically a pro at this!


 


Chapter 3: Shadow
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Disclaimer: This all belongs to J. K. Rowling!



By the time I arrived at one o'clock sharp, the Burrow was already descending into complete mayhem.

Dom’s entire family was scrambling around the house, frantically attempting to make last-minute preparations for the party. Everything was in disorder: the decorations were sloppily hung, the cake was burning in the oven, and worst of all, Dominique and Victoire were fighting. Again.

As I trudged up the grassy path to the Burrow's front door, I could already hear Dom wailing in hysteria, her trilling tone somewhat muffled from inside the walls of the house.

"THERE IS NO WAY, VICTOIRE!" My best friend’s voice boomed out, echoing through the Burrow's grounds and no doubt causing all the birds in the immediate vicinity to take flight from the treetops. "I WON'T ALLOW IT!"

My skin immediately flooded with goosebumps — having known the girl for five years, Dom's screeching had become a familiar sound to me, and by now my body had developed some innate, natural instinct to register fear whenever I heard it. Dom's screaming was kind of like a mating call in that way, except instead of drawing you in closer, it had the exact opposite effect and instead made you want to run away very, very fast.

"ALLOW IT?!" And of course, the only person who could out-scream Dom was the same person currently fighting with her: Victoire Weasley. I winced at the sound of Victoire's telltale tone, screeching thin with hysteria and immediately recognizable. The two sisters were like a pair of banshees on steroids, honestly.

Issuing a quick mental apology to my own eardrums in advance, I took a deep breath and swung open the door. There, standing in the foyer, looking remarkably like a National Geographic special I'd once seen about meerkats in territorial fights, were Dom and Victoire Weasley.

Dom had her entire upper body lunging towards her sister, eyes alight with green fury. Victoire, meanwhile, stood by with her arms crossed in frosty irritation, nose turned snippily to the ceiling.

"Er, hey guys — " I began, but my entrance was decidedly ignored, lost to the heady vitriol cloaking the room.

"You think you can boss me around, don't you?" Victoire was sneering, acidic gaze zeroed in on Dom and Dom only. "I can't believe how selfish you are!"

I reared back, mouth snapping shut, and somewhat caught off guard by the hostility between the two girls. Dom was unfazed, however, huffing out a harsh, bitter laugh as her eyes narrowed into menacing slits.

"You are not doing this to me, Vic," she seethed. "This is my sodding birthday — "

"What's going on?!" I cried, my confusion twanging with frustration. I immediately regretted my interjection, however, when both sisters rounded on me with their furious gazes, apparently just noticing I was there.

Dom didn’t even bother to say hello; her chest was heaving up and down as she regarded my presence, probably wondering how she could carry on with murdering her sister now that there was a witness present.

“Victoire wants to announce her engagement to Teddy," she blurted out, voice so strangled with anger it came out a senseless gargle. "Tonight! At my party! She's going to steal my thunder!"

“You’re getting engaged, Victoire?" I repeated, missing the point completely. “Congrats!"

I quickly realized this had been the wrong thing to say, however, when Dom's face deepened into a brilliant crimson color. Her eyes practically bulged out of her head at my traitorous statement.

Victoire, meanwhile, was grinning nastily, her gaze gleaming with a gloating triumph. "Thank you, Agatha," she said primly, crossing her arms before shooting Dom a very pointed glare. "I'm glad someone here is happy for me."

Dom's nostrils flared. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"What you think it means," Victoire snapped back, swiveling to face her sister head-on with an icy scowl. "That you're too much of a jealous twit to be a supportive sister!"

Dom inhaled sharply, slapping a dramatic hand across her chest and looking for all the world as if she'd just been physically shot. "I AM NOT JEALOUS!"

“THEN WHY WON’T YOU LET ME ANNOUNCE MY ENGAGEMENT?” Victoire hollered, voice gaining volume with each furious word. Her question boomed throughout the foyer, reverberating off the wall in a terrifying echo effect.

“Because it's my special day, you stupid bint!" Dom spat back vehemently. "And I'm not going to give that up just because you want a little attention, Victoire!"

“I don't give a damn if it's your birthday — " Victoire began to say, but I was already slicing through her (admittedly pretty harsh) answer.

“Okay, okay, guys!” I interrupted, raising my hands in my best attempt at pacification. “Let's calm down and think rationally for a second."

Victoire pursed her lips and huffed a couple silvery strands of hair from her face. Dom, looking unimpressed with my suggestion, crossed her arms and clamped her lips shut. For two girls who hated each other so much, they shared some serious family resemblance (especially when they were both bloody furious).

“Right,” I began in a soothing tone, trying my best to think of a solution that wouldn't ruffle either of the sisters' very ruffable feathers. My brow furrowed in concentration as I tried to piece every aspect of the situation into a complete picture. So, Victoire was getting engaged to her long-time boyfriend, Teddy Lupin, and wanted to break this news tonight during Dom's party. Dom obviously had a huge problem with this, seeing as it would mean all the attention refocusing onto her sister.

Huh. This was a sticky pickle.

“Now," I began slowly, almost a bit fearfully as I swiveled my gaze between the two sulking sisters. "It’s obvious that Dom’s party today means a lot to her —” at this, Dom nodded vigorously — "and it is her birthday, after all. Why can't you just announce your engagement another day, Vic?”

“Because it’s more convenient to do it now that the whole family's together!” Victoire explained, at the same time Dom muttered, “Because she’s an obnoxious little bitch!”

Oh Merlin.

Victoire immediately turned white at Dom's snarky retort, her rosebud mouth falling into a shocked 'o' shape. "WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY HERE, DOM?"

“WHAT I'M SAYING,” Dom roared back, her face turning an interesting shade of purple (mauve, maybe?) “IS THAT YOU WILL NOT ANNOUNCE YOUR ENGAGEMENT AT MY PARTY!"

There was something really, really terrifying about the sight of Dom and Victoire fighting. After all, not only were they both part-Veela, but they also possessed the Great Weasley Temper and were just catty, emotional females in general — it was like the Holy Trinity of anger.

“WHAT — ?” But before Victoire could even finish what she was about to say, sweet salvation arrived in the form of Louis Delacour-Weasley.

“What’s going on?” Dom's little brother asked bewilderedly as he walked in from the living room, raking a hand through his silvery hair. "It sounds like someone’s trying to strangle a banshee in here!”

Both Dominique and Victoire stopped their screaming long enough to turn towards the new intruder in the room. I took a deep breath, eardrums rejoicing at the sudden silence. “Victoire and Dom are having a fight," I observed pretty astutely.

“Oh,” Louis shrugged, as if this was a common occurrence for him (which, come to think of it, it probably was). He leaned resignedly against the wall casually, crossing his arms over his skinny chest. “What’s it about this time?”

Before I could explain, Dom had stomped her foot on the ground, tossing her red-gold hair back in a spectacular display of female teenaged angst. "I wouldn't expect you to understand, Louis!" she snarled. "Nobody in this family understands!"

Dom, it seemed, was hell-bent on turning this birthday party into a pity party.

"Well maybe we'd understand you more if you didn't act so sodding unreasonable all the time," Victoire declared exasperatedly, rolling her almond-shaped eyes to the ceiling.

"The only unreasonable one here is you, Vic!" Dom snapped back ferociously, and with that particularly melodramatic declaration, my best friend wheeled around on her heel and stormed out of the foyer, leaving behind a disgruntled Victoire and a very confused Louis in her wake.

"Bloody hell," Louis mused in awe, slowly blinking his wide eyes. "Sometimes I wish there was more testosterone in this family."

As if to punctuate his statement, there sounded a series of vicious thumps from overhead that indicated Dom thundering angrily upstairs to her room. This was followed by a frustrated shriek and a door slam that caused the foundations of the Burrow to shudder.

"Bollocks," Louis grumbled after a moments pause. "She sounds really upset. Someone should probably go follow her and make sure she doesn't, you know, try to burn the house down or anything."

Victoire held up her hands defensively, a grumpy scowl still twisting her pretty face. "Don't look at me. She's probably sticking pins into a Victoire voodoo doll as we speak."

"Well someone's got to do it," Louis shot back snippily.

Nobody moved.

“I said," Louis repeated loudly, drawing out each word in a slow emphasis. "Someone's got to do it." He accompanied this statement with a very pointed look towards me. Victoire, cottoning on, also turned to arch an expectant eyebrow my way.

I threw my hands upwards in an indignant manner. “What are you looking at me for?”

“You’re her best friend,” Louis pointed out with a casual shrug.

I scoffed disbelievingly. “And you’re her brother!”

"Yeah," Louis began patiently, as if he were explaining a very simple concept to a very stupid child. "But it's not my fault that shit's in my gene pool. You, on the other hand, associate with Dom by choice." He crossed his arms, obviously satisfied with this argument, and I sighed.

The kid had a point.

“Fine,” I sight reluctantly. “I’ll do it.”

This better get me some serious karma brownie points.

—*—

TOP THREE REASONS WHY IT IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA TO HANG OUT WITH DOMINIQUE DELACOUR-WEASLEY WHILE SHE'S ANGRY

1. Dom becomes very unreasonable when she’s mad. Her already vehement emotions are whipped into frenzy, leaving no room for logic or hindsight, as Dom stews over every way that she's been wronged and makes acidic declarations about the culprits. If Dom's in "one of her moods," there is absolutely no chance of reasoning with her.

There is, however, a lot of angry ranting on her part. And passionate gesticulating. And the occasional broken glass or shattered plate.

In fact, when Dom is angry it's generally wise to keep her away from fragile, breakable goods, including any of the bones in your body that you'd prefer to keep intact.

Which leads me to:

2. If Dom feels like her pride or reputation has somehow been insulted, she can become prone to impulsive, violent behavior. More than once, I've had to drag my best friend away from a brewing fight. And I'm not talking about a classy wizarding duel. No, I'm talking a hair-pulling, nail-scratching, hold-my-earrings catfight. Needless to say, those are not pretty.

And the last reason why you should never hang out with a pissed-off Dom Weasley?

3. She cries. A lot.

“Why, Merlin, why?" My best friend of five years sobbed into my shoulder, smearing a lovely concoction of snot and tears all over my new shirt. “Why me?"

Funny you should say that Dom, because I was just asking myself the exact same thing.

I stared dully ahead as my best friend blubbered away, raising my future dry cleaner's bill one snot stain at a time. Dom was inconsolable — the floodgates had opened, and now no soothing word or hey-look-on-the-brightside could stop her sobbing. I had resigned myself to this fact long ago, and was now sitting on her bed, unmoving, as I simply waited for my best friend to cry herself out.

"I hate my life," she was warbling through the tears, self-pity tugging at every syllable. Ever the drama queen, this one. "It's terrible. No one understands, Aggy, no one."

"Of course Dom," I droned thoughtlessly — which pretty much summed up my own role during these past thirty minutes. "You're absolutely right. Everyone's horrible."

"I can't ever show my face again!" she gasped through more fierce, shuddering sobs. "I'll have to be a recluse!"

"Life is so hard, isn't it," I said flatly, emotionlessly. After having been reduced to repeating the same five stock sentences over and over again over the last half hour, I'd kind of lost my enthusiasm for this comforting endeavor. My voice had no 'oomph' anymore, my words unconvincing and bland. "We should start a charity for you, Dom."

My best friend nodded seriously, not picking up on the sarcasm in my tone. "Knowing Victoire, she'd just find some way to steal that from me too," she grumbled pettily, and I tried to stifle an eye-roll.

Reaching across the bed, I plucked a tissue from Dom's bedside table and offered it to her, tone pleading. "Here, just take this. Please, for your sake." And my T-shirt's.

My sniffling best friend accepted the Kleenex, blowing her nose into it with a semi-truck-esque 'honking' sound and a mumbled thanks. I watched my dainty, five-foot-one, 110-pound best friend clear out all the snot in her body. My vague look of disgust only deepened when Dom, hiccupping slightly, made to hand the tissue back to me.

"Er, no thanks — you can keep it," I said in a somewhat strangled voice, staring warily at the now snot-covered tissue dangling dangerously close to my shoulder.

Dom, oblivious to my revulsion, dropped her hand into her lap dejectedly as she sighed, tissue crumpling in her fist. "I'm sorry I'm being such a downer, Aggy. It's just that — urg — Victoire can really piss me off sometimes. She always does this." Dom's face darkened, voice taking on a dangerous quality as she seemed to slip back into her earlier vexation. "Despite the fact that she's already the family favorite, despite the fact that she's older and smarter and more accomplished, she still feels the need to upstage me every chance she gets."

Now that I thought about it, I could see how Dom might feel she was getting the short end of the genetic stick. Victoire, after all, was a veritable Hogwarts Prom Queen. With her trademark silvery hair and delicate features, she'd been every bloke's fantasy while she was at school. That's not to say Dom wasn't beautiful — she definitely was, in that untamable, wild-haired way. Yet Victoire was more... refined. Victoire drank tea and read Russian novels. Dom played Quidditch and yelled obscenities at terrified first-years. Victoire had smooth, porcelain skin. Dom’s complexion was sprinkled with countless Weasley freckles. Victoire's twinkling giggle could charm even the coldest heart. Dom... Well, Dom snorted when she laughed.

"Dom," I murmured sympathetically, rubbing my friend across her bony shoulders, but I didn't know what to say.

Dom merely shook her head, spring green gaze — no doubt still blurry with tears — trained on her bedroom floor. "I know it seems silly to freak out over a birthday party," she confessed in a gutsy exhale. "But this was supposed to be my one day, you know? And if Victoire announces her engagement, everyone will be too busy fawning over her and the news to even remember that I exist."

"Come on, Dom, you know that's not true," I protested, though my tone sounded unconvincing even to my own ears.

“No, Aggy — I know this because it's happened before. Remember my First Year at Hogwarts?” Dom asked suddenly, voice taking on a bitter edge at the memory. “That had been a big deal for me. But nobody else in my family had cared, because it was beautiful, perfect Victoire's Fifth Year, and she was just made Prefect! And then she had to go and get 9 Outstandings during her OWLs! That was all anyone could talk about for days!" Dom shook her head morosely. "What am I compared to her?"

"You're you," I said fiercely, giving Dom's shoulders a gentle shake as I felt a sudden swell of pity overtake me. "You're Dominique Weasley, and you don't take shit from nobody. You're brave, you're a star Chaser, and any bloke would be lucky to take you out."

Despite herself, Dom allowed a small smile to flit across her face at my pep-talk. Taking this as a sign of encouragement, I rambled on:

“And besides, I think that you’re loads more fun to be around than Victoire,” I insisted. "All she talks about are her cuticles and whatever happened on last week's episode of Real Housewives of Hogsmeade."

At this, Dom couldn't help herself; she laughed out loud, voice meek and watery but somewhat cheered nonethe less. "Thanks, Aggy."

I grinned, enveloping my best friend into a squeezing hug. “Of course."

When Dom pulled away, she was still sniffling, but her posture was straighter and her smile just a smidge more convincing. “I still don't know what I'm going to do about Victoire," she mumbled, brow collapsing into a worried frown. "I know she's just going to announce the engagement anyways, no matter what I say."

I scowled at the thought. “Don’t worry about it, Dom. I won't let her."

Dom looked at me affectionately. "You're too good to me, Aggs."

In response, I only flashed her an encouraging smile. Already, though, my mind was whirling a mile a minute at the prospect of the night before us. I couldn't help but feel intuitively that there was only one way this night would end, and that was 'poorly.'

—*—

At about eight in the evening, a somewhat inebriated Bill Weasley presided over the large family table at the Burrow, misty-eyed but cheerful as he regaled the rest of us with tales of Dominique from her childhood. He had started out attempting to give a speech about his daughter's birthday but — thanks to the alcohol in his system, it seemed — this had quickly degenerated into a long, rambling saga of some of Dom's most embarrassing moments as a youngster.

Luckily for the birthday girl, however, no one else in the Burrow's dining room, — which had the capacity to fit and feed a small army — seemed to be paying attention. This was because they were all very, very drunk.

Around the table sat all of Dom's relatives — an endless cast of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents — laughing and chattering boisterously, passing huge plates of food back and forth, the telltale tinkle of a glass breaking every five minutes or so thanks to someone's drunken grip. If some unsuspecting bystander had walked into the Burrow right now, he would have probably thought he was witnessing some sort of National Red-Hair Convention in which all the attendees had been mysterious drugged.

Aidan and I sat at a corner of the table, in between Louis and Roxanne Weasley and somewhat bewildered by the overwhelming volume and energy of the room. Everyone's current level of intoxication may or may not have had anything to do with Fred and James spiking the punch bowl earlier. And by "spiking," I mean they blatantly walked up to it and unceremoniously dumped about half a liter of Firewhiskey inside.

As a result of this, Fred's dad and one of the Weasley uncles were now bellowing out the last verse to For He's a Jolly Good Fellow; Dom's grandmother was sitting red-faced in the corner, clutching a glass of wine and hiccupping to herself; And Ron Weasley — esteemed war-hero and one of the Ministry's head Aurors — was slurring a very dirty joke to his children, while his wife, the Brightest Witch of Her Age, was loudly demanding for someone to make her a grilled cheese.

It was so weird to me to see Dom's family — many of whom were featured in my school history books — behaving in this kind of state but, hey. That was a Weasley Get-together for you.

Dom herself looked pretty tipsy as she swayed in her seat, showing no reaction whatsoever as one of her cousins repeatedly blew a plastic noisemaker in her face. A combination of different factors — among them, a desire to alleviate her anxiety over Victoire and Fred's trusty pocket flask of vodka — had now reduced Dom to a state of drunken bliss. She had a dopey smile on her face as she watched her uproarious relatives around her. Atop her head sat a paper crown with the words 'Queen Witch' on it, though someone had scribbled out the W and replaced it with a B.

Meanwhile, a slightly tipsy Fleur Delacour-Weasley was trying, and failing, to light the candles on an impressive, three-tiered chocolate cake that had been set down in the middle of the table.

“Happy birthday, mon chéri," she was hiccupping, French accent considerably thicker after a couple glasses of wine. Before Dom could even blow out the flaming inferno of candles on the cake before her, the table had roused together for a very raucous and off-tune chorus of Happy Birthday.

Dom, her paper crown now dangling off one ear, managed to blow out all the candles in one go, and everyone launched into applauses and whoops and wolf-whistles. Certain people — my brother maybe among them — even went so far as to loudly proclaim their love for the birthday girl, although nobody really noticed this except for Bill Weasley, who continued to glare at Aidan for the rest of the night with a very dangerous, very murder-y look in his eye.

Ding ding ding!

I looked up from my own generous plate of cake to see Victoire across the table, stumbling to a somewhat tipsy stand, a knife in one hand and a wine glass in the other. She wobbled and banged the utensil on her goblet once more, dainty features flushed as she cleared her throat and tried to quiet her raucous family members around the table.

Ding ding ding!

“Attention, everyone!" Victoire’s tinkering voice was calling out over the din, and with an unpleasant lurch in my stomach, I gradually realized what she was about to do. “I would like to make an announcement!”

My heart sunk. Further down the table, Dom was squinting blearily up at her sister, expression bewildered but slowly dawning with realization.

Victoire’s face practically glowed, her body poised and elegant as the ruckus of table gradually trailed off into a silence — or at least, the Weasley definition of silence, which wasn't very silent at all. Everyone was regarding Victoire with curiosity as they murmured comments and remarks to each other; no one had a clue to what she could possibly want to say.

No one, that is, except for Dom and me.

"Sorry to interrupt, everyone," Victoire simpered apologetically, and whether her cheeks were flushed from triumph or alcohol, I couldn't tell. "I have some news I'd like to share."

At this, Victoire paused dramatically, icy eyes flitting slyly over to Dom, before snapping back to travel and linger across the table in front of her. Dom, now fully understanding what her sister was trying to do, had clenched her fist tightly around her napkin.

I looked at the cake in front of me, dread flooding my mouth with a sour, metallic taste. Oh Merlin — I should have known Victoire would take advantage of Dom's tipsy mood right now. She had lulled us all into a false sense of security, made us let loose and think she wouldn't do anything, and then she had struck.

I glanced back up at the bride-to-be across the table, already dreading her next few words.

“As you know, Teddy and I have been dating seriously for a while,” Victoire continued gleefully, and I looked down at my plate of cake, brow furrowing in consternation. “About two years now, actually. That is, if I'm calculating correctly. — " I looked back up at Victoire. " — And we've been living together for half that time." I looked back down at the cake.

An idea was slowly forming inside my head.

Dom was sitting, frozen and stiff, her bright eyes glued on her sister. I felt sympathy swell inside me as I remembered her tearful proclamations back in her bedrooms, the way her lip had trembled with barely-suppressed anguish.

My idea was a crazy one. It was stupid, childish, and terrifically rash. But it might also stop Victoire from making her announcement before it was too late, and if that meant a happy birthday for my best friend, I was willing to take the plunge.

I looked at Victoire. I looked at my cake.

"And it's been an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least," Victoire babbled on, and as the rest of the table chuckled in agreement, my eyes snapped back and forth from the pretty Veela to the dessert on my plate. Cake. Victoire. Cake. Victoire. My pupils darted back and forth like I was watching some sort of fast-paced tennis game. Cake. Victoire. Cake. Victoire.

I swallowed and picked up my plate from the table.

"It's been a hectic two years," Victoire was still rambling imperiously, enjoying her time in the spotlight. "And I love Teddy, I really do —"

My heart was pounding in my ears. Victoire was only a couple feet away. My idea was crazy, but it might also be the only way to effectively shut her up.

“Which is why,” Victoire drew out her words, savoring them as she got closer and closer to her speech's conclusion. "I'm really, really happy to announce that — "

Victoire did not get to reveal what she was "really, really happy" to announce however, because in a swift flash of moment, I had stood up, plate in hand...

— and smashed my chocolate cake into Victoire's face.

I felt the cake go squish against the pretty blonde's face, heard her voice die, guttural and surprised, in her throat. My trembling hands released the plate, which made a pathetic splat when it hit the table.

A stunned silence ensued.

Everyone stared at Victoire, at the chocolate now encrusting all her features and the empty plate on the table. No one said a single word. No one breathed.

A glob of icing slid off Victoire’s chin and landed on the tablecloth. Fleur hiccupped quietly in the background.

I couldn't what had just happened. My heart was pounding in my ears at an inhuman speed, my hands unable to stop shaking. It felt like something had just possessed me, my arms and hands had moving on their own accord. Like for one split second, I had transformed into some sort of engagement-ruining, cake-hurling psychopath and then abruptly switched back to my normal self.

I stared at Victoire. Her mouth was hanging open in blank shock. Her blue eyes squinted at me through thick, gooey layers of icing, and I recognized the expression on her face, as I had seen it many times on her sister. I knew what was coming.

Three.

Two.

One —

“EAUUUUUGHHHHHH!” Victoire, her face and hair covered in chocolate, screamed so loudly and so shrilly, it felt like my eardrums might burst. Bill Weasley's wine glass broke in his hand. “YOU LITTLE — “

But before Victoire could finish, Fred Weasley was already hopping up from his seat.

"AWESOME! WAY TO GO, AGGY!" he cried jubilantly, fist swinging passionately in the air. "I LOVE FOOD FIGHTS!” And then, expression one of unrestrained glee, he threw his own slice of cake across the room.

Where it hit Aidan. Square in the face.

Chaos erupted.

Before I knew it, the room was in uproar as teenagers and adults began flinging their cake at one another, gobs of dessert soaring back and forth, the sounds of broken glass tinkling vaguely in the background and mingling with shouts of shock. "I've been hit! I've been sodding hit!" someone was moaning dramatically. George Weasley had already taken the opportunity to shove his wife's face into his plate. Victoire was still standing in the center of the room, wailing her head off. And Aidan now had two slices in each hand, issuing a loud war-cry as he charged at one of the Weasley cousins. The only person who wasn’t frantically panicking was Arthur Weasley, who had fallen asleep at some point in the night and was snoring in his chair, oblivious to the pieces of cake that were whizzing overhead.

I ducked as a glob of icing few past me, grazing my left cheek ever-so-slightly. “Shit!" I moaned while I took in the fighting around me, my entire body prickling with hot shame. The entire room had descended into a bedlam of whizzing icing and smeared crumbs, and it was entirely my fault. What was wrong with me?

Dom had dumped her glass of milk onto her father, who looked somewhat crazed as he hollered over the noise and attempted to reinstate order but to no avail. Fleur, her hair streaked with chocolate and her expression distraught, was ducking under flying chunks of food while screeching about her baking being wasted.

And of course, the cherry on top of the catastrophe sundae: James Potter, nonchalant as ever, was sitting casually in his chair, having casted a protective shield bubble around him. He watched everything unfold with an amused smirk on his face, chair balancing precariously on its hind two legs.

I was so dead.

—*—

After about two hour and four massive tantrums later, the food-fighting had died out, the dining room had been hosed down, and Dom's sister successfully persuaded not to kill me through the efforts of about half of Dom's extended family.

It was not yet time to go home, so I was still stuck at the Burrow for a couple more hours. Thinking it'd be best if I put as much distance between myself and Victoire right now, I had crept out of the backdoor to find some peace and quiet in the backyard. Icing still clinging to my hair, I prowled the grounds before settling for a nice spot under a small oak tree, where I could freak-out alone with only the chilly night air and the crackling cicadas for company.

Back-propped up against the tree, staring moodily into the midnight sky, I tried not to dwell over what a sodding idiot I'd been, and the extent of the damage I'd just inflicted on Dom's party. I'd only wanted to help my best friend — I'd had no idea things would spiral out of control and end up in such a (literal) mess.

"I have to say — I didn't know you had it in you, Bennett."

I whipped my head up to see Potter trudging through the long grass of the backyard, his hair ruffling slightly in the evening breeze, his hands shoved nonchalantly into his back pockets.

My face immediately twisted into a scowl. Of course the git would want to come out here and gloat in the face of what I'd done. I couldn't even properly guilt-trip myself without him somehow ruining it for me.

"What do you want, Potter?" I snapped irritably, in no mood for another bickerfest.

But Potter simply shrugged amicably as he came to a stop at the tree's roots, forcing me to squint up at him because of his unfairly tall height. "I just wanted to congratulate you on your spectacular... display tonight. It was pretty impressive."

He looked at me, taking in my morose scowl and my hunched posture with a gaze that was surprisingly frank and judgment-free. It was more...curious than anything.

"Shut it," I snarled, voice acidic. I was in no mood to put up with Potter, who always acted like I was some mildly entertaining TV show to watch. I bloody loathed it whenever he turned me into a spectacle.

The left side of Potter's mouth quirked upwards in amused satisfaction at my hostility. For a moment, he just wordlessly looked at me a little longer, and then he was taking out a cigarette pack from his jeans pocket and rapping it against the heel of his palm.

"Relax, Bennett," Potter murmured, and I hated the laughing edge just barely hidden, tucked away, in his tone. "I come in peace." He took a cigarette from his pack and slid it into his mouth, and I watched the fluid action with blatant distaste.

"Smoking's bad for you," I informed him snottily, hoping to deflect the attention off of me. I watched silently as Potter lit the thing and smoke began to curl into the air, twisting and turning and forming gnarled shapes that I could trace with my eyes. "And can't you just leave me alone, Potter? For once?"

Potter didn't take the bait, however; his unfazed gaze held mine, still glinting with that maddening amusement. "I'll leave you alone, Bennett, if you can tell me one thing."

I leveled him with a snooty glare, frustrated by how calm and unflappable he could act. "I'm not going to tell you where babies come from, if that's what you want," I said mockingly, each word drenched in a false, sugary sweetness.

Potter's eyes sparked; he enjoyed my snarkiness, it seemed — most likely because he knew that it was only a mask for the defensive edginess lying underneath. Prat.

"I want to know why you did it, Bennett," Potter said evenly, pouring out a stream of smoke into the night air.

I blinked up at him, pretty sure I knew what he was referring to but wanting to play dumb all the same. "Did what?"

"Oh, I don't know," Potter drawled sardonically, expression wry. "Wreck havoc among my extended family by starting a massive cake fight, maybe?"

I glowered at Potter for a long moment. He stared back unflinchingly, face inscrutable.

"Why'd you do it, Bennett?" he finally said, voice low, his hazel gaze surprisingly intent as it locked with my own. "Why'd you throw cake into Vic's face?"

I stared at Potter for a long moment, wondering if he was genuinely curious, if he was sincere or somehow trying to get this information to use against me.

Then — maybe it was because of my exhaustion, maybe because this whole sodding night had felt so surreal — I surrendered.

"Victoire was about to announce her engagement to Teddy tonight," I said flatly, tone void of emotion. Potter cocked a cool eyebrow in surprise, and I continued: "She was going to ruin Dom's birthday party, and I knew Dom would be upset, so... Well, chocolate cake in the face had seemed like a good tactic at the time."

I bent my knees to my chest, wrapping my arms around them protectively as I let my last word sink into the air. Potter didn't say anything to this, continued smoking his cigarette, expression one of dark amusement. For some reason, his silence really bothered me. It was almost worse than if he'd just laughed me off, told me my reason was idiotic or pointless.

This silence — this incalculable, inexplicable silence — it pissed me off.

"You don't understand," I finally blurted out, my frustration getting the better of me. I could just tell Potter thought Dom to be silly for making such a big deal out of a party, and I felt my inner best friend instincts rise to defend her. "You don't understand what it's like to be constantly overshadowed by someone, and that's how Dom feels when it comes to Victoire. She deserved one night, at least, with the attention focused on her."

No response. Just more silence. Potter's face had lost some of its nonchalant amusement, however, his brow crumpling into a more serious frown as he took another drag. His eyes were bright, narrowed.

"Forget it," I mumbled, more to myself than anything. "Wouldn't expect you to understand, of all people."

And how could he? Potter was Potter, for Merlin's sake. Quidditch star, one of the more popular blokes in our year notorious in looks and charm. He had the whole package.

“And you do?” he asked neutrally, raising an eyebrow. "You know what it's like?"

“Um, do you know who my brother is?" I bit out, exasperated. “I've been living in Aidan's shadow since we were born."

“Alright," Potter said slowly, taking the cigarette from his mouth and methodically flicking its ash onto the ground. "And you don't think I know what it's like? To be in someone else's shadow? To have to match someone's reputation?"

“No," I retorted, perhaps more forcefully than necessary. "No, you don't."

Potter didn't say anything, his eyebrows raised incredulously. And then he gave an abrupt, breathless laugh. It was a dark and rich sound, tinged with just the slightest hint of bitterness. "Alright, Bennett," Potter said easily. "When was the last time your father saved the world?"

Oh.

I stared at him, agape, realizing I had no answer for his question. "You — " I began, but faltered. Never would I have considered Potter's situation in that particular light. I snapped my mouth shut, effectively rendered speechless.

“That’s what I thought,” Potter finally said grimly. He dropped the cigarette and stubbed it out with the toe of his converse. "See you around, Bennett."

And with that, he turned around and was walking away into the summer night, leaving me alone, more frustrated and exasperated than I'd already been.

Bollocks.

—*—

When I got home around one hour later, exhausted and cake-covered, I saw that Mum had left a couple of pamphlets about teenage eating disorders on my bed.

I took the papers, ripped them in half, and then shoved it all into the bottom of my sock drawer.

What a life.

Chapter 4: Love-struck
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Disclaimer: All HP-verse is J.K. Rowling's.



August 31st.

Sighing, I stared at the shiny, white paper of my calendar, its little black dates blurring together as my eyes unfocused. Picking up a red Sharpie from my desk, I uncapped it and pointed the marker at the last square of the month, my hand shaking slightly as it hovered over the paper. August 31st. Slowly, I drew a neat ‘X’ across the date, the marker squeaking as it skidded against the glossy surface.

I capped the Sharpie and tossed it across the room, where it landed on my dresser with a clatter. One more day. One more day of summer, then I’d be off to Hogwarts for yet another year of schoolwork and tests. Except this time around, I was going to be a Prefect. With Potter.

Strangely enough, I did not find this prospect the least bit exciting.

I rolled off my bed and ambled over to my school trunk, which was lying open on the floor. Inside, all my clothes were folded neatly, my books placed carefully on top in alphabetical order. Everything was packed, color-coded and organized, and the corresponding inventory that I had written was cross-referenced for optimum efficiency.

Yet I still had a tiny, nagging feeling that I was forgetting something — the only problem was that I didn’t know what.

Scowling, I tapped my foot against the hardwood floor of my bedroom, gazing up to the ceiling in mild consternation. What could it be? I had all my clothes, my toiletries, my shoes, my schoolbooks...

And then I remembered: My Quidditch Through the Ages book! I had lent it to Aidan over the summer, and he had never given it back. Well, duh.

With this new mission in mind, I hastily left my room and bustled down the hallway, determined to find Aidan and my book. Knowing him, he was probably in his room watching TV or something, pushing off the chore of packing until the very last minute.

When I reached it, the door to his bedroom was shut. I could hear angry rock music blaring loudly from the inside. I rolled my eyes and knocked.

No answer. I knocked again, and then a third time for good measure.

The loud music came to an abrupt stop, and then I heard Aidan curse. Loudly. There was a long pause, followed by some odd scuffling noises and yet another string of creative curse words.

I arched an eyebrow. What was that kid doing in there?

After some more scuffling noises and creative cursing, the door finally swung open halfway, revealing a very discomforted Aidan glaring at me, his face flushed beet red.

“What do you want?” he snapped.

“What are you doing in there?” I stood up on my tiptoes, decidedly ignoring his question as I attempted to peek into Aidan’s room over his shoulder. He hastily stepped sideways, blocking my view.

“N-nothing.” Aidan shrugged, leaning causally against the doorframe. But his shaky stutter betrayed his unease. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, I just heard some funny noises, and I was wondering — "

“Cleaning,” Aidan blurted out, cutting me off abruptly. He let out a suspicious, trembling laugh. “I was just, uh, cleaning.”

“Cleaning?” I repeated skeptically.

Aidan flushed, running a hand nervously through his hair. “Yeah. Cleaning. You know. To make things... Er, clean."

My eyebrows flattened into a frown of cynical disbelief at this ridiculous explanation. “You’re lying,” I observed dryly. I always knew when Aidan wasn’t being exactly truthful with me. Call it a weird, twin telepathy thing.

Or maybe Aidan was just a shitty liar.

I leveled Aidan with a scrutinizing stare, my eyebrows arched defiantly. "You never clean, Aidan. Why would you start now?"

“What are you talking about?” Aidan blustered, fidgeting with a piece of string from his shirt. “I love to clean.”

“Aidan, your room hasn’t been clean since the Dark Ages. Your room is so filled with crap, Amelia Earhart could be hiding in there for all we know."

Aidan glanced exasperatedly down to the floor, and then up at the ceiling in a pitiful, why-God-why fashion. He huffed a dramatic sigh. “Whatever, Agatha. Can you please just tell me what you want so you can leave?”

I plastered on a simpering smile. “My Quidditch Through the Ages, please.”

“Hold on.” The door slammed shut, and I heard some more shuffling noises, which probably meant that Aidan was searching amidst the mountainous piles of junk in his room for my poor book. I drummed my fingers against the mahogany doorframe impatiently.

A few minutes later, the door swung open again. I looked up, surprise barely flickering across my face when Aidan, looking harried, shoved my book into my hands.

“Okay. Here you go!" he exclaimed, voice too bright and casual to be natural. "See-you-Aggy-later-bye!"

I opened my mouth, but he didn't even give me the time to complain about the now-worn state of the novel in my hands (he had dog-eared the pages! Dog-eared them!), because all of a sudden Aidan was swinging the door shut again.

I jerked back at the sound of the ensuing slam echoing down the deserted hall, and stared at the smooth wood of the door in front of me.

I frowned. Okay, I knew Aidan was weird, but he was never that weird. Something wasn’t right.

I sighed, running my fingers over the cover of my book, and ambled back to my room, all the time wondering what Aidan could possibly be up to, knowing that I'd probably find out soon enough.

—*—

September 1st.

I stared at the calendar before me, my forehead creased into a small, incredulous frown. With my trusty red marker I etched an ‘X’ across the date, shaking my head disbelievingly.

Today, I would be going to Hogwarts. Today — in a few minutes, really — I would be saying goodbye to my parents, and to the house, and to summer.

This thought filled me with a strange mix of sadness and excitement. I flopped back down on my bed, silent, and stared at the calendar as I tried to absorb all my emotions. Fear. Excitement. Anxiety. It was OWLs years, after all, and this meant a larger slew of obligations and stress. There was more to be responsible for, and more on the line.

“AGATHA!”

I jerked out of my reverie at my mother’s screeching voice, which was ringing out operatically through the house, and winced in pain. Well, there goes my hearing. Too bad — I'd kind of liked having five senses.

“AGATHA! AIDAN! LET’S GO! WE’RE GOING TO BE LATE!”

My lips curled into a scowl as I heaved myself off the bed. “COMING! Merlin, don’t get your knickers into a twist.” I walked over to my trunk, latched it shut, and then grabbed its brass handle. Inhaling sharply, I summoned all the strength in my body (read: very little) and dragged the trunk out my bedroom and (clumsily) down the stairs, my body straining against its weight.

Aidan and my mum were already waiting by the front door, Aidan’s trunk lying next to their feet as they looked up at me in mild impatience. Aidan was holding a purple backpack, his arms wrapped around it protectively like it was a small child.

"Where's Arnold?" I asked, referring to my daft and incredibly dull stepfather.

"He's at his Crossword Convention this weekend, I told you that," Mum said absentmindedly. She looked stressed and agitated, her forehead creased into a frown and her hair frizzy around her face. "But he wishes you the best. Ready to go?”

Shrugging nonchalantly at each other, Aidan and I grabbed our trunks as my mum practically ripped the front door of its hinges in her efforts to open it.

I went first, hauling my trunk down the front steps of our house and struggling with its clunky weight. Mum hastened to help, grabbing the other handle of the heavy crate and lifting it with me. Together, we carried my trunk down the pathway of our house and to the car, parked conveniently in the driveway.

“I don’t — see why — we can’t — just use magic!” I grunted as we stumbled towards the car, struggling tremendously.

“Oh, stop whining, Agatha,” Mum berated, obviously having none of my sass today as she unlocked the car with her key-chain. “You know why. What would one of the neighbors think if they saw a trunk hovering in mid-air?!”

I rolled my eyes and tossed the trunk in the car, glad to be finally rid of its weight. Sometimes living with muggles could be a real drag.

“Argh!” I turned around to see Aidan, groaning helplessly as he struggled to carry both his trunk and his backpack out of the house. The stubborn idiot was determined to get his stuff to the car in only one trip, and as such he could barely get out of the front door.

“Oh, Aidan!” My mother chirped, scampering eagerly up the pathway to where my brother still struggled. “Let me help!”

I rolled my eyes, knowing that my mum's fretful coddling and Aidan's Gryffindor man-pride were not about to make for a good match. My brother hated being helped, and was always maniacally determined to perform every little task, every little job on his own. Honestly, I had no idea where he got his stubbornness from. It, er, definitely wasn't a family trait.

“Here, sweetie." Mum was offering as she reached Aidan, extending her arms out for his purple bag. "Let me take your knapsack, and you can carry your trunk."

“No!” Aidan refused forcefully, arms squeezing tighter around the backpack. His eyes were wide and adamant, jaw jutted out as, with his other arm, he attempted to yank his trunk onto the path. It now looked like he had gotten into a one-sided fight with the doorframe, and was pathetically losing. “It’s okay! I’ve got it!”

“Don’t be silly, Aidan," my mum said, exasperation now tingeing her pleas to help. "Honey, just let me help you!”

She reached for the backpack once more but my brother hastily swiveled around, effectively blocking her arm.

“No!” he said, louder this time, and I could hear something else in his tone besides simple insistence. A strange edge of protective... panic. “Seriously Mum, I’m fine!”

“No you’re not! You can’t possibly manage all of that!”

“I told you, I can do it!”

“No, you can't!”

“Yes, I can't!”

“No, you can't! Just give me the backpack!"

“No — "

“Aidan — "

Oh for the love of — I felt my rage peak sharply as my family's bickering reached a high, nerve-grating crescendo.

“WILL YOU TWO JUST SHUT UP AND GET IN THE SODDING CAR ALREADY?!” I hollered, feeling my patience suddenly dissolve into explosive frustration. Time was ticking, we were going to be late, and meanwhile Pinky and the Brain over here couldn't figure out how to cross a bloody twenty-foot distance to the car. Seriously. How hard could it be?

Both Aidan and Mum froze in their spots, Aidan with a fierce, defensive snarl on his face, my mother still reaching desperately for his back. Scandalized, they turned their heads to look at me, and I sheepishly clamped my mouth shut. Realizing that I could probably benefit from reigning in the anger a little, lest the neighbors get curious, I inhaled sharply and flushed bright red.

He he he.” My laughter was high-pitched and shrill and horribly strained. My jaw clenched painfully as I forced my tone into one of refined politeness. “Ahem. Sorry. What I meant to say is that it would be great — fantastic, really — if you guys would stop arguing so that we could get a move on. Please.”

Aidan and my mother were silent for a moment. Then, my brother relented, stiff posture relaxing somewhat as he hugged his bag to his chest. “Fine. Just let me get my stuff in the car on my own, okay?"

“Are you sure?” My mum worried, predictably starting to fuss again. “That bag looks really heavy. You could hurt your back, Aidan — "

“I’m fine,” Aidan proclaimed resolutely once more, and I briefly wondered what was so precious in that backpack of his that was making him behave so strangely. A secret diary? Hard drugs? A million dollars in cash? “Really, I’m fine.”

“Just give me it, Aidan — "

“I’m fine!”

I closed my eyes and gnashed my teeth together, furiously willing myself to calm down before I went utterly ballistic on my entire family. Just breathe, Agatha, instructed a calming voice in my head. Inhale, exhale. Remember: these are the people you love. You do not want to hurt the people you love. They're the ones who will be in charge of taking care of you in your old age —

“Mum. Aidan,” I said through my mounting anger, trying unsuccessfully to phrase my next few words politely. “I would really, really appreciate it if you guys could please just GET IN THE BLOODY CAR ALREADY!”

Mum reared back in surprise, dropping her arms to the side, her tug-of-war with Aidan over the backpack apparently forgotten. “Goodness, Agatha," she gasped, thoroughly appalled. "There's no need to yell like that. Honestly, you need to work on our temper. I’m beginning to think that I should sign you up for some anger management classes!”

“No, no, no, no! That won’t be necessary,” I said firmly, heartbeat thudding wildly in my ears. Merlin, first the Eating Disorder pamphlets, now anger management? Was it a bad thing that my mum was constantly trying to get me professional help?

“Are you sure?" Mum tilted her head knowingly at me, mouth pulled into a flat, sympathetic line. Forever on the path to self-improvement, my mum was already really warming up to the idea. "You could really benefit, Aggy. Or better yet, we can all go together. Like group therapy!" Mum seemed to brighten at this prospect, turning to my brother in cheery enthusiasm. "What do you think, Aidan? About therapy?"

Aidan, who had been too busy fiddling with his backpack to pay any attention to our conversation, looked up at my mum, suddenly startled. “Er, what did you just say? There’s a bee?" He began flapping his arms erratically in the air, twisting from side to side like a confused Golden Retriever. "Where? Where’s the bee?”

Go to your happy place, Agatha. Go to your happy place.

I relaxed my posture, shoulders slumping downwards as I recognized that I was fighting a losing battle here. Time to switch tactics. “You know what, mum?” I humored her gently, voice adopting a forced, but nonetheless agreeable, tone. “Therapy sounds great. How about we discuss the details in the car?”

“Good idea, Agatha,” My mum agreed, obviously pleased with my consent to her stupid idea, and nodded decisively. I blew a gutsy sigh of relief as she started to head down the path. Finally.

She stopped. “But first — " oh no "— we need to get Aidan sorted out." She turned to my brother one more, and I inwardly screamed in a slow-burning agony. "Here, honey, let me help you with your backpack...”

I sighed, opened the car door, and slid inside the vehicle as my mother and my brother began to bicker again.

Maybe I had been adopted at an early age, I mused as I glared witheringly through the windshield. Yeah, that must be it. Maybe my so-called "mum" had just found me on her doorstep one day and decided to pass me off as her child. Maybe I had no biological relation to these crazy people whatsoever.

...One could only hope.

—*—

When we finally got there, King’s Cross was in a state of chaos. Trollies piled with luggage veered and knocked into each other like bumper-cars-gone-wrong. People hastily hurried to their platforms, frantically checking their tickets with the Departure boards. And of course, the hopelessly daft magical families — most probably Purebloods who had absolutely no idea how the muggle world worked — were trampling through the hustle-bustle in all their owl-squawking, strange-robes-wearing glory.

Given the thick crowds, Mum decided to say her goodbyes outside the brick barrier that led onto Platform 9 and 3/4. After a few tearful pleas for us to stay healthy and eat our vegetables, as well as a couple unwilling photos ("Oh, sweetie, which button is the flash again?" "Mum, do we really have to do this?") she released us and was swept back into the crowd.

Platform 9 and 3/4 was no less packed. Children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and every other bloody unnecessary family member were standing in obstructive huddles, their forgotten trunks forming veritable hurdles for anyone trying to walk past. There were so many people — crying, laughing, shouting people. I could barely stand it all.

If there was one thing anyone should know about me, it was that I hated crowds. I had a mildly claustrophobic streak, and couldn't tolerate being shoved up against too many sweaty, shouting people. It was so horrible — your feet got trampled on, someone always elbowed you in the gut, and there was inevitably that one overweight guy pressed up against you with body odor that could stun a yak.

Yeah. I wasn't a fan.

Thanks to all the people, Aidan and I immediately ended up getting separated — he was sucked into one cluster of people, and I dragged in another direction. I grappled with all the groups of strangers, the families saying goodbye, friends saying hello in an overwhelming deluge of human bodies.

“Excuse me! Sorry! Really, excuse me! Um, hi, could you move?” I called out as I pushed my cart through the throngs of people, stumbling over feet and trunks and owl (ew — owls) cages. I stood on my tiptoes, trying to spot Aidan in the sea of bobbing heads, but to no avail.

Pressed between one particularly loud Hufflepuff and his even louder mother, I felt like I was about to suffocate in this crowd. Oh Merlin, what if I didn’t make it? What if I just disappeared amongst all these people, never to be seen again? What would happen then? Who would feed Aidan and make sure he took a shower at least once every week? Who would be there to comfort Dom after she watched The Notebook for the thirty-thousandth time?

“Ow! Bloody — "

At the sudden expletive, I whipped around to see a little boy behind me, bent over and clutching his left foot in what appeared to be severe pain. He looked to be about seven-years-old, with an unfortunate bowl-cut that flapped erratically as he hoped on his one good foot.

“Ow! Owww!" he was groaning, eyes screwed shut.

I abandoned my trolley, leaving it behind as I marched quickly towards the kid. He looked like he could be seriously hurt and as a Prefect, I had some sort of responsibility to make sure he'd be alright.

“Are you okay?” I asked, concerned, and I crouched down to meet his height. “Where are your parents?’

The boy's eyes flashed open as he leveled me with a glare surprising in its acidity. “You bitch!” He squeaked at me, face turning red as he hopped around. I jerked back in shock. “You ran over my sodding toe with your sodding trolley! You sodding bitch!”

My eyebrows shot up disbelievingly. What did this kid just call me? Were boys his age even supposed to use that kind of language? I most definitely had not known words like that when I was seven! Though granted, all I had really done back then was sit around and eat play-doh...

“I’m sorry!” I stuttered, still completely taken aback by the vehemence of this strange character in front of me. “I — I didn’t mean to — "

“Dennis! Dennis! Are you alright?” I turned to see an old, tottering lady with a wooden cane hobbling towards us, pushing her way through the crowds and confusion as her shrewd, wrinkled gaze zeroed in on my form. She threw her arms around the small boy protectively when she reached him. “What happened?”

Dennis raised a shaking hand, his face pulled into a classic Kicked Puppy Look, and pointed his finger at me. “She did it, Gran. That mean lady rolled over my toe with her trolley! On purpose!”

That was when Dennis began to cry, his chubby face turning a bright beet red as he wailed. I gaped, too astonished to even protest.

'Gran' marched up to me, waving her cane madly in the air in a vaguely threatening manner. I took an instinctive step backwards. “How dare you?” She was exclaiming in a shaky, warbling voice, wrinkled face livid. “How dare you do such a thing to a young, helpless little child!”

And then — and then she proceeded to beat me with her cane.

Yup.

Beat me.

With her cane.

Hard.

Gran advanced forward, wielding her cane like a sodding weapon (which, now that it was rushing through the air towards my face, it kind of was) and hitting every part of me she could reach. I reflexively threw up my hands to block the blows, voice squeaky with outrage.

“Ouch! No! It wasn’t on purpose! Ow! Get off of me!" Gran was smacking me with such surprising ferocity — it was definitely going to be Bruise City tomorrow. I cowered frantically, unable to do anything but just let the horrible bludgeoning happen. I mean, it wasn’t like I could do anything to defend myself! I couldn't hit an old lady — no matter how surprisingly athletic said old lady turned out to be.

Gran dropped her cane for a few blessed seconds, but before I could rejoice in this sudden surrender, she was already taking a step backwards and then charging at me like a mad-bull.

"Ack, please no — Just stop — What are you doing? Ahhhhhh!” I screamed as Gran tackled me to the floor in a body-slam so painful, any respectable pro-wrestler would have been impressed. Several passersby shouted in surprise. I think one of them cheered.

This was just my luck, I bemoaned as Gran clambered off of me, white curls bouncing atop her head, and stooped to pick her cane back up. "That'll show you to be more careful in a crowd next time," she said curtly.

And then, apparently satisfied with her particularly effective attack, Gran sniffed, patted her curls in a dignified manner, and grabbed Dennis' hand. The two waddled off without another word, leaving me in a contorted heap on the ground.

Merlin. Leave it to me to piss off the one grandmother that, apparently, trained for bloody decathlons in her spare time. The Fates must just really have it out for me, though I had no idea what kind of karmic misdeed I could have performed to deserve their wrath — I wasn't a serial killer, or a vandal, or even a 'buy-it-wear-it-then-return-it' person.

In fact, I was a pretty moral, decent human being. I was a hard worker, I recycled when the bin was on my side of the room, I tried to reign in any and all homicidal urges when around Potter... I did what I could!

Lying in my crumpled position on the ground, I waited for some kind student around me to bend down, help me up or ask if I were alright. But to no avail — the platform's activity continued to move just as before, people paying me no heed as they stepped over (and in some cases, on) me. I sighed (typical) and heaved myself to a stand, wincing in pain as I returned to my trolley and started to push, agonizingly, through the crowd again. I would check for any internal bleeding later.

It would be pointless to try and find Aidan now. The train was about to leave soon, and he was either on it, or surrounded by some protective posse of giggling girls, or both. I should just focus on the single — and apparently deceptively hard — goal of getting myself out of this crowd alive.

After about ten minutes of navigating through more hoards of people, I finally popped out of an opening in the crowd. I stumbled forward and looked up to see the cherry-red metal of the Hogwarts Express looming above me. I stopped, taking in the train in all its cheerful, surprisingly large glory. It was a breathtaking sight, really.

Abandoning my trolley, I took out my trunk and hauled it up the metal steps of the train, my heartbeat skittering with too much excitement for me to register the ache in my arms. Finally. Finally, after a whole summer of my crazy, scatterbrained mother, after enduring the crowds and psychotic grandmothers of King's Cross. Finally, I was on my way to Hogwarts.

The inside of the train was cool compared to the heat of the platform, and much quieter. All I wanted to do now was find a nice, empty compartment where I could collapse in exhaustion, rest a bit, and maybe check to see if all 206 of my bones had survived The Epic Painful Cane Wrath of Gran. But I knew that, sadly, this wouldn't be possible for a while — I had my stupid Prefects’ meeting first. With stupid Potter. Ick.

I heaved my trunk onto one of the luggage racks, glancing at my watch as I did so. 10:53 AM. The train would depart at 11:00, which was also when the Prefects’ meeting as set to start. Sighing and grumbling to myself about psycho-grandmas and blunt force trauma, I made my way to the Prefects’ compartment near the front of the train.

The Hogwarts Express was crowded, but not to the unbearable extent of the Platform. Students were running up and down the corridors, frantic friends laughing and chatting, reunited couples wrapped in each other’s arms. Everyone was filled with jittery excitement over the fact that soon we would be leaving. Soon, we would see Hogwarts again.

When I finally arrived at the prefects’ compartment, the door was closed, the curtains drawn mysteriously shut. I hesitated nervously outside in the hallway, my fingertips tingling as my hand hovered over the silver handle of the door.

But the door swung open before I could even properly work up the courage to make myself move.

Standing in the entrance of the compartment was a perky blonde by the name of Elsie Van Hollander, a seventh-year who, judging by the gold badge shining proudly on her chest, had been made Head Girl this year.

“Oh good, Agatha!” Elsie chirped in her usual over-enthusiastic voice, and I was a bit surprised she knew my name. “You’re here!”

Elsie Van Cooper was the type of girl who was always perpetually, unfailingly, obnoxiously happy. You could tell her that Russia and England had just gone to nuclear war, and she would probably respond with her trademark catchphrase: "Well, isn't that just dandy?!"

The Head Boy, I discovered as I walked into the compartment, was Jacob Fareweld. No surprise there, seeing as Jacob was one of the smartest students at Hogwarts. He was a snob, though, and looked down on anybody who wasn’t nearly as intellectually-gifted as him (which would be, wait for it, everyone other than Jacob).

The Prefects’ carriage looked pretty pimped out, much fancier than the regular compartments with cushy benches, gilded accents on the walls, and a silver platter of fancy fingers sandwiches on a table in the center. My mouth watered at the sight (I was sucker for food in miniature form) but I refrained from taking one, as it seemed that nobody else had.

I crossed the compartment and flopped down next to some vaguely recognizable Hufflepuff girl, Helen Something-Or-Other. She smiled at and whispered hello, her voice lowered to match the hushed silence of the compartment.

I smiled blandly back at Helen Whatsherface, and then glanced around the rest of the compartment, scanning the tense atmosphere and row of impatient faces. Everyone was fidgeting in their seats, waiting anxiously for the meeting to officially start. The sixth- and seventh-year prefects were lounging by the windows, looking cool and disinterested, the sentiment 'I'd rather be anywhere but here,' scrawled plainly across their faces.

I belatedly realized that Potter was nowhere to be seen, and I grinned smugly to myself. So far, so good.

There were about five other fifth-year prefects: A scrawny Asian boy from Hufflepuff. A caramel-skinned girl and a gangly boy from Ravenclaw. A beautiful brunette Gryffindor who I recognized to be Margaret Corner, one of the more popular girls in our year. And lastly, my Slytherin counterpart. Ryan Fisher.

My stomach dropped. My heart skipped. My cliché clichéd. Ryan Fisher was possibly the most handsome boy in our year, in my totally objective opinion. His ashy blonde hair and grey eyes made girls literally swoon, had them using idiotic, trashy-romance-novel words like 'dreamy' and 'smoldering.' And while I wasn't one for hormonal daydreaming, even I had to admit Ryan was fit.

The two of us had talked several times already, seeing as we did run into each other, being from the same House. But he had never showed any interest beyond that of an affable acquaintance, and I wouldn't have tried to pursue him even if I'd known how. It was a widely-accepted fact around Hogwarts that Ryan Fisher never dated, which just made him all the more desirable.

Ryan caught my eye and smiled, showing off a set of perfect, white teeth that were practically a Colgate commercial in the making. I nearly melted into a puddle of human goo right then and there.

My heartbeat ringing in my ears, I turned away just in time to see the compartment door swing open and Potter amble in.

I grimaced.

“Sorry,” he greeted, flashing Elsie a 'charming' smile that made me want to gag. “Am I late?”

“No, you’re all good.” Elsie grinned warmly, and then glanced over her clipboard again to make an over-exaggerated check mark with her pencil. “So, I guess that's everyone. Isn’t that just dandy?!”

No one answered. On the way towards his seat, Potter casually, nonchalantly plucked a tiny sandwich from the plate and popped it in his mouth.

I clenched my jaw.

“Now that we’re all here,” Elsie began, “I’d like to start off by introducing —"

She was cut off by the sound of the train's high-pitched whistle, signaling that the Hogwarts Express was about to depart. The train lurched, and so did my stomach as I felt us start to roll out the station.

It was finally registering that we were actually leaving. Outside the window, the tearful faces of the families and friends on the platform became nothing but indistinct blurs as the train gathered speed, hurtling us through the countryside.

"Guess we're heading out! Okay, now to business," Elsie chimed, and with that, we launched into the giant snooze-a-thon that was the Prefects meeting. Elsie rambled on about prefect duties, occasionally throwing in an “Isn’t that just dandy?!” here and there while everyone else just nodded blankly. Jacob sat in the back, looking disinterested and smart.

I spent most of the meeting alternatively sneaking glances at Ryan and the sandwiches, confused as to how it was possible to even be that good-looking. (Ryan, I mean, not the sandwiches. Though those were pretty damn attractive too.) The bloke had matured well over the summer — his shoulders were broader, his skin tanner. He was looking at Elsie as she spoke, brow furrowed with an intent concentration that I found adorable.

“After the start of year feast, it is expected of the fifth-year prefects to lead the first-years to their dorms. Think of it as your... initiation, kind of.” Elsie’s blue-green eyes swept across the room, and she flashed a smile that was supposed to be encouraging. “Even though the task might seem intimidating, I’m sure you’ll do fine.”

“This is your patrol schedule,” Elsie said, as Jacob unenthusiastically started to pass out sheets of paper to everyone in the room. “Each of you will have at least three mandatory days when you are required to patrol a certain part of the castle at a certain time. Oh, and also, the passwords to your respective common rooms are written on top.”

I accepted my schedule with a quiet thanks and started to examine it. On Mondays, it looked like I had patrol with Ryan. Yes! I resisted the urge to jump onto my seat and start doing the Macarena.

But when I saw the rest of the schedule, however, my stomach twisted unpleasantly.

Because on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM, I would be patrolling the halls with none other than James Sirius Potter.

Just my bloody luck.

I glanced up from my schedule to see Potter looking at me, a wry grin on his face.

“Well,” he said, voice mocking and amused. “Isn’t that just dandy?”

...Bollocks.

—*—

By the time Elsie and Jacob finally dismissed us, I was in a very bad mood.

I exited the Prefects’ carriage hurriedly, legs carrying me as swiftly as possible. I wanted to get far away from Potter and the unpleasant thought of Prefect's patrol with him, as if distancing myself might make both disappear forever.

I was making considerable headway, peeking into different compartments to look for Dom or Aidan, when a voice stopped me in my tracks.

“Hey, Agatha!”

I turned and saw that it was Ryan who'd called my name, waving his hand genially as he advanced towards me. Ryan Fisher. I blinked back my surprise, trying to quell the surge of nauseous excitement that rose in my stomach at the sight of his handsome face.

“Oh,” I said, voice overly bright. “Hey, Ryan! Long time no see."

He grinned a grin that made my heart leap. “So I guess we’re patrol partners on Mondays, eh?”

“Um. Yeah.” Um. Yeah? Was that all I could come up with? Come on, brain! Be witty and enchanting — or at least not monosyllabic!

Somewhat mortified, I turned once more to walk down the corridor of the train, Ryan falling in easy step with me.

“So, how were your summer hols?” he asked good-naturedly, his grey eyes sparkling.

Come on Agatha, Ryan Fisher is speaking to you. You have to respond. Say something... Say something!

“They were pretty uneventful, which is just how I like them." Yes, go Aggy — you said something! And it was in English and everything! Well done! “How about yours, Ryan?”

“Pretty nice — it’s weird to be back at school, eh?” he said thoughtfully, glancing at me with a wry smile. He suddenly stopped in his tracks, tilting his head apologetically at the compartment next to him. "This is my stop, so I'll have to leave you here. But I'll see you soon, Aggy! I'm excited to get started on our patrols!"

“Okay,” I smiled, trying to peer between the compartment's curtains to see who was inside. In a totally un-stalkerish way, obviously. “See you around."

“Yeah,” he grinned, opening the door to the compartment to let out a burst of excited chatter and laughter coming from inside. “See you around.”

The compartment door slammed close, and then I was left in silence, a stupefied, love-struck smile on my face. Shaking myself from my daydreams, I was just about to start walking again when I realized that... I had nowhere to go. Where was Dom? Where was Aidan? And bollocks, were there even any empty compartments left?

Bang!

I jumped as the door to a compartment a few feet away flew open, and (speak of the devil) out marched Dom, her green eyes wide as saucers and gleaming in excitement.

“Was that Ryan Fisher you were just talking to?” she demanded, green gaze boring insistently into mine as she advanced.

“Nice to see you too, Dominique," I quipped drily, but was silenced when Dom grabbed me by the arm and, shushing my protests, hauled me inside her empty compartment, hastily slamming the door shut behind her.

"I do not appreciate being manhandled, you know — " I started to grumble, rubbing the spot where Dom had gripped by arm.

My best friend resolutely ignored my complaint, rounding on me excitably with triumph gleaming in her eyes and a shameless Cheshire grin curling at her mouth. “It was! You were just talking to Ryan Fisher, weren’t you?!”

“Er, maybe?” I said, kind of frightened by my best friend's ferocious intensity.

“Yes you were!" Dom jabbed the air with a volatile finger, hopping slightly from the vehemence of the motion. "I saw the whole thing through my compartment window!”

My brow flattened. “That’s not creepy at all, Dom.”

But Dom paid no heed to my drawling exasperation. She was already launching into her own personal world of boys and romance and relationships, face taking on an unnerving look of complete bliss. “Oh my God, I can’t believe you were talking to Ryan Fisher! He is so fit!”

“You know, you don’t always have to refer to him by his full name — "

“Ryan Fisher!” Dom shrieked, making me jump. “Is he a Prefect too?”

“Yes," I said somewhat warily, though there were the beginnings of a smile twitching at my mouth. I tried to look casual and unfazed as I took a seat, admitting: "I have patrol with him on Mondays.”

“You do? Oh man," Dom moaned, yanking two hands through her hair. "What I wouldn't give to spend some alone time with that dish! I wish I was a Prefect!”

I snorted at the thought. “Yeah, like you could ever be a Prefect."

“What are you on about?” Dom grinned playfully as she plunked down across from me, wiggling into her seat and stretching her legs out. “I would make a great Prefect!”

“Dom, you use first-years as your own personal lackeys.”

“I do not!”

“You make them carry your books and fetch you food!”

"It builds character! I'm doing them a favour!"

But before Dom could fully articulate her no doubt, very logically sound argument, the door to our compartment flew open with yet another bang, and in marched Aidan and his gitty friends.

“Why hello there," Fred greeted jovially, spreading his arms out grandly before him. "How are you lovely ladies faring this fine morning?”

Aidan (still carrying his backpack — seriously, he wouldn't let that thing out of his sight) swaggered inside, closely followed by an amused-looking Potter. I rolled my eyes at the sight of them, all boyish ease and carefree arrogance.

“If it isn’t the Tweedle Trio,” I spat irritably, crossing my arms.

“The Tweedle Trio?” Fred asked, dumbfounded, eyebrows already making their way to his hairline.

“Yeah,” I affirmed, voice bright with mock cheer. “You know — Tweedledee, Tweedledum and Tweedledumber.” I pointed to Potter, Aidan, and Fred respectively, enjoying the way that their faces all immediately flattened into unimpressed scowls.

“I believe that was a burn,” Dominique pointed out matter-of-factly as she reached over to give me a gloating high-five.

“Sticks and stones,” Aidan sing-songed. He plunked himself down next to me and twisted his torso around, facing me eagerly. “So how’s it going, sis?”

My eyes narrowed in wary suspicion. "Fine.”

“Fine? Fine? Your beloved twin — your own flesh and blood — asks how you are and all you can give him is one measly, pathetic 'fine'?” Aidan gasped, slapping a melodramatic hand over his heart. “Shameful! Just absolutely shameful!”

“It’s disgusting, is what it is,” Fred agreed solemnly. Potter stifled a snort.

I rolled my eyes (funny, I'd been doing that a lot, lately) and sighed in exasperation. “What do you lot want?”

“Why, we only desire your marvelous and delightful company, my dear Agatha," Aidan pronounced all too innocently, as if me entertaining any other theories was absurd. "Can’t a brother visit his favorite sister once in a while without being suspected of wicked intentions?”

“You want money for the sweets trolley, don’t you?”

“Please?”

I sighed and dug through my pockets, sifting through my coins before tossing Aidan a couple. “Enjoy,” I said flatly, hoping they would then leave me and Dom in peace.

But, of course, they didn’t.

Much to my dismay, Fred and Potter sat down next t o Dom, making themselves comfortable as they immediately launched into a laughably serious discussion about their stupid Back to School Prank (or Idiot-palooza, as I liked to call it). It was a tradition of theirs that, on the first week of every school year, the three gits would dream up some deranged, horribly devised prank to roll in the semester, terrorizing the first-years and raising McGonagall's blood pressure in the process.

“I’m telling you!" Freddy was arguing to Aidan, gesturing vehemently in protest. "Giving them pink hair would be hilarious!"

"Yeah, mate, but we did that last year,” Potter pointed out. Next to him, Dom shot me a pointed, this-is-bloody-annoying look that I could fully sympathize with.

"Well then, what else can we do?"

“Maybe we could go with the Jell-O Idea?”

The Jell-O Idea? My brow crumpled. What was the Jell-O Idea?

Actually, never mind. I was better off not knowing.

The Tweedle Trio's obnoxious bickering and slow deterioration of my IQ, however, was luckily cut short by the arrival of the Trolley Lady — one of Hogwarts' unsung heroes and currently my favorite person ever.

"Cauldron Cakes! Chocolate Frogs! Sugar Quills!" She warbled out in our doorway, benign grandmotherly smile in place, and we all (Freddy especially) perked up.

Standing, we shook our legs out and swarmed the trolley, each buying a load of sweets that, in total, was probably enough to make the trolley significantly lighter and Britain's diabetes average significantly higher.

We settled back down, the room gradually trailing into silence, except for the occasional wrapper rustle, as we gorged ourselves on Pumpkin Pasties and Chocolate Frogs. It was a comfortable silence, one of relaxed companionship, and the kind that could only come about from knowing each other for five years.

Cheep, cheep, cheep.

I stopped munching on my Cauldron Cake, frowning at the strange, chirping sound I had just heard from somewhere in the compartment. Did I just imagine that? Swallowing, I looked around, swiveling my perplexed gaze from side to side. “Did anyone else hear that?”

“Hrrrrear fwat?” Aidan said eloquently, mouth stuffed chocolate.

Cheep, cheep, cheep.

My brow collapsed into a frown. “That! That weird chirping noise?”

“Yeah,” Dom agreed, nodding vaguely as she sucked thoughtfully on a Sugar Quill. “I heard it too. It almost sounded like some sort of... Bird or mouse, or something.”

Aidan froze, mid-chew, and paled visibly. “What?”

Cheep, cheep, cheep.

My brother's face had adopted a suspicious expression of panic as he fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat, looking very much like the kid with his hand in the cookie jar. He angled himself almost imperceptibly to exchange a significant look with Potter and Fred — a look that I failed to miss, jaw setting as I started to develop the growing sense that something was not right.

“W-what are you talking about?” Aidan stuttered anxious, swallowing down his chocolate with an audible gulp. One of his hands fell, unconsciously protective, onto the purple bag in his lap. “I didn’t, uh, hear anything.”

“Yeah,” Potter agreed, obviously a much better liar, as he shook his head. “You guys must be imagining things.

Cheep, cheep, cheep.

I glanced at Aidan once more, gaze tapering into blue slits. Huh. That was strange. It almost seemed like the sound was coming... from him.

“Aidan,” I said slowly, shrewdly. “What’s inside your backpack?” My voice was too high and tense to sound legitimately curious.

“Nothing,” Aidan immediately replied, the word snapping out of his mouth in a burst of barely-restrained terror. He clamped his lips shut, swinging his head left and right viciously.

I stood up, my arched eyebrows a warning. “Give me your backpack, Aidan.”

Aidan clutched the bag to his chest, shirking backwards with a look of horror at the mere thought. “Never,” he said scathingly.

But this only hardened my resolve. "Give it, Aidan.”

“No!” Aidan stood up defiantly, expression dark and mutinous as he hugged the backpack closer to him.

"Aidan — "

“Bennett, there’s nothing in that backpack — “ Potter began to stand up too, but was effectively cut off by my voice, low and clipped and threatening.

“Aidan, don’t be difficult. Give me your backpack!” It was eerie how much I sounded like my mother at that moment.

“No! Never —“

“EUAGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” With a scary war-cry that was, perhaps, a little bit overkill, I launched myself at Aidan. We landed on the wooden floors of the compartment with a spectacular thud, me on top of him, Aidan writhing beneath me in squawking protest. Quickly, before my brother could get his bearings and remember that he was the considerably taller, stronger, and more athletic sibling, I wrenched the backpack free from Aidan’s arms and scrambled to a standing position.

I was just about to unzip the bag to have a look when a heavy force collided into the back of my legs, making them buckle and crumple like paper. I toppled backwards onto the floor, the breath effectively knocked out of my lungs as my back made contact with the hard ground.

Staring at the ceiling, I realized that Aidan had kicked my legs out from behind.

That little, dirty-fighting, horrid piece of — “Ow,” I moaned, wincing a bit as I clutched the back of my head.

But already, my brother was scrambling triumphantly to a stand, breathing rather heavily as he reached down to snatch the bag away.

“No — don’t — Aidan!” But it was too late, he already had the prize. He thrust the purple knapsack in the air victoriously, stumbling backwards from me somewhat woozily as he wrenched open the door to the compartment.

“See you later, suckers!" my brother cried, sounding only slightly unhinged, and for a moment it looked like he really would make his dramatic exit — but then Dom stepped in.

“Oh no you don’t!” My best friend had immediately jumped to my defense. Muttering a rather colorful stream of profanities, she lunged at Aidan to try and snatch the bag away.

But Aidan wouldn’t let go, and instead the two became haplessly embroiled in a demented Tug of War match, the purple bag yanked helplessly between them, Dom shrieking all the while.

...Until Fred Weasley, apparently, deciding enough was enough, clambered to a stand on his seat, yelled out "BATTLE ROYALE!" and then proceeded to hurl himself at the two of them in an attempt to grab the bag.

Chaos descended.

Immediately, the compartment was filled with screams and shouts (and a lot of swearing) as Dom, Aidan and Fred scrabbled and fought at each other, the purple backpack the sole prize, the all-important goal. At one point, it was knocked from Dom’s hands by one of Aidan's poorly-aimed lunges, the bag sent flying across to the other side of the room —

— where Potter and his stupid Quidditch reflexes caught it with ease.

“Got it!" Potter shouted jubilantly. But before he could do anything further, I had clambered onto my own seat Freddy-style and was launching myself at his back.

"Bloody — !" He yelped, teetering backwards and forwards as I latched on to him like a demented koala, yelling profanities in his ear all the while. Potter tried to throw me off by spinning swiftly around. But I wouldn’t — I refused — to fall.

“Give me — the bag — Potter!” I screamed wildly as he whirled in another nauseating circle. The compartment room spun around and around, like a horribly deranged rollercoaster ride, and I felt sick to my stomach.

“NO!” Potter shouted, holding the bag in the air above my head. I tried to grab for it with one hand, but it was out of my reach, dangling in front of me like the bloody carrot in front of the bloody donkey.

“GIVE IT!”

“I WILL NEVER SURRENDER!”

“EUAGHHHH!" Suddenly, Dominique threw herself at the both of us in a shrieking charge of red-gold hair and sheer fury, knocking our already precarious equilibrium off-kilter. I fell off Potter’s back and landed on the floor with a yelp, and Potter, taken by surprise, dropped the bag.

It was as if everything had turned to slow motion, that’s how clearly I saw what happened next. I watched the bag drop to the floor — watched it fall, fall, and fall — and almost as if it were a reflex, threw my hands out in front of me.

And, to my astonishment, caught the bag.

There was a period of hushed silence.

No one seemed to be able to move, frozen in various absurd positions around the compartment as they saw the purple backpack in my hands and recognized that it was over.

I scrambled to sit upright, hastily unzipping the backpack, and, my heart racing, saw what was inside.

"Oh my god."


Chapter 5: Discovery
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A/N:
Hey everyone! I know, I know, the wait was terrible, and I apologize for that. But anyways, I hope you enjoy the chapter, and I would really appreciate it if you could review after reading. Even if it's just a simple "I like you story", it still means a lot.

Enjoy!

Disclaimer: None of it is mine!

Lovely chapter image by jetaway at The Dark Arts.




 





“Now, Agatha, I can explain! This is not what it looks like.”

“NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE?”

“No, it’s not! Just...just don’t freak out, okay?”

“DON’T FREAK OUT?”

“It’s not that big of a deal!”

“NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL?”

“You’re being unreasonable...”

“UNREASONABLE?”

“Okay, Agatha, you are going to have to stop repeating everything I say like that. It’s getting annoying.”

“IT’S GETTING ANNOYIN—? UGH!”

I glared at my brother, face burning with fury. This was...this was...terrible! Horrific! Inexcusable! How could my brother do this? How could he be so stupid?

I tried to steady my voice, tried to stop my fists from shaking too much as I spoke. “Aidan,” I said through clenched teeth. “You are... This is... I can’t... ARGH!”  Aidan’s blue eyes darted unsurely around the compartment, as if he was looking for a way to escape.

“Agatha, just please... Calm dow—“

“CALM DOWN??? CALM DOWN?” I threw my hands into the hair, furious. “AIDAN, YOU ARE TRYING TO SMUGGLE A GERBIL INTO OUR SCHOOL, AND YOU EXPECT ME TO CALM DOWN?!?!”

...That’s right.

You heard correctly, ladies and gentlemen.

The little mystery item in Aidan’s backpack? The one that’s been causing all this drama?

It’s a gerbil. You know, the oversized rats with the twitchy noses and the fondness for carrots? Yeah, those things.

Dom gasped from where she was standing next to me. “Ohmigod, is that what’s in there?” She grabbed the backpack from my hands and peeked into it, her light green eyes widening as she saw the animal inside.

“Eee! It’s so cute!”  she squealed.

“CUTE?” I bellowed. “CUTE?” I snatched the backpack from Dom, shaking it at her a little, which I doubt could be good for the creature inside, but whatever. I was angry. “Do you people realize how much trouble we could get in if we get caught? Only owls, frogs and cats are allowed at Hogwarts! Any other animal is...is...unheard of! Not to mention illegal!”

“Agatha, please, just don’t tell anyone!” Aidan fell to the floor until he was in his customary Groveling Position, which was a pose he always assumed whenever I found out about something and he didn’t want me to tell (on his knees, hands clasped in prayer, and of course—my favorite part—face pulled into classic Puppy Dog look).

I shook my head disbelievingly. This was...ridiculous. Sure, my brother’s done some stupid stuff...but this...this...this takes the ice cream sundae.

Can I please just say that gerbils are possibly the lamest member of the rodent family? They’re too small to be a decent pet, yet they’re too fat and big to be considered cute. They’re just...just...gerbils.

Gerbils are what parents buy when they think that their child can’t handle the responsibility of a dog or a cat. Gerbils are a cop-out pet. The only thing worse then gerbils would be fish. Or possibly parakeets.

In other words, out of all the prohibited animals my brother could possibly want to bring into our school, he chose a glorified hamster.

Why couldn’t he have opted for something cooler, like a Blast-Ended Skrewt or a jaguar cub? Why, god, why did it have to be a gerbil?

My brother is a fucking imbecile. It is a wonder we come from the same planet, let alone the same uterus.

“Oh, Merlin, Agatha,” Fred, obviously unable to contain himself any longer, finally spoke up. He slid to the floor next to Aidan, assuming the Groveling Position as well. “Please don’t tell anyone! We’ll do anything!”

“We?” I exclaimed, incredulous. “You were aware of this?”

Fred nodded sheepishly, eyes downcast. I sighed and turned to Potter, who was still in his seat and hadn’t resorted to the Groveling Position (he seemed to have a lot more dignity than the other two). “And you?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.

Potter crossed his arms and smirked, refusing to say a word. That was all the answer I needed.

So Fred and Potter were in on it too! Ugh, they’re shameless, the three of them. Shameless. I can’t believe this!

Well, actually... I can... But still!

They knew about it. They probably even helped, for Merlin’s sake! And let me tell you, when Potter and Aidan and Fred are collaborating together, the outcome is never good.

You see, the Tweedle Trio have a reputation at Hogwarts. They’re known for being pranksters. Tricksters. Mischief-makers.

They’re always pulling pranks. Left and right, wherever you look, there’s bound to be mayhem. And I’ll admit it: some of their jokes are amusing, even clever. The three of them have a knack for it, and their pranks never fail to make the students of Hogwarts laugh. I’ve even seen a few of the teachers smirking at some of their antics.

But here’s the thing: they always get caught.

And, of course, everytime Aidan ends up in trouble for doing something bad, it’s up to me to help him out of whatever hole he’s dug himself into.

Not very fun.

But if Aidan seriously thinks that he’s going to suck me into this, then he’s crazy. In no way am I going to get involved with him and that gerbil. I know nothing.

“This is...ridiculous. I can’t believe you guys! You, especially, Potter! You’re a prefect. You’re supposed to stop this kind of thing...not...participate in it!” I sounded like my mother, or McGonagall, but I didn’t care. I was too pissed.

“Agatha,” Aidan said tiredly, standing up and dusting himself off. “Can you please just save the lecture for another time...? We already know, okay? We don’t need you to tell us.”

I snapped my mouth shut, furious. This was... this was... an outrage! Unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable! A gerbil!

“Please, Aggy. Don’t tell anyone about Rufus. We’re begging you,” Fred said pitifully.

I raised my eyebrows, sputtering a little in shock. “Rufus? You named it?”

“Yes,” Aidan said, matter-of-factly. “Yeah, well, Fred wanted to name it ‘Sir Cuddles’, but we thought Rufus had a nicer ring to it. Don’t you think?”

...Their stupidity is astounding.

I can’t even be angry anymore. I’m just too shocked that the human intelligence can sink this far.

I turned around to face Dom. “What do you think of this?”

She shrugged, grimacing a little. “Well, it’s not like we can do anything. I mean, the thing’s already on the train. We don’t really have a choice.”

I swallowed, chancing a glance into the backpack, which I was still holding. There it was (I refused to use its stupid excuse for a “name”)—with its long whiskers and twitching nose. It stared up at me, its eyes like a pair of black marbles, and I felt my heart melt a little. Dom was right. It was kind of cute.

Get a hold of yourself, Agatha. This is wrong, no matter how big and round its eyes are, or how adorable its twitchy, little nose is, or—


No.

Must. Resist. The. Cuteness.


I took a deep breath and tore my eyes away from the backpack. “Where did you even find a gerbil, Aidan?”

“Well, you know the pet shop down the road from our house?” Aidan asked, his voice small.

“Yes...” I said slowly, not liking where this was going.

“Well, I was in there one day, just looking around, when the owner told me that the shop was closing. For good! They were going out of business... And all the animals would be going to the pound if they weren’t sold soon enough! And, well I couldn’t stand the fact of some poor animal cooped up in a dingy little pound! I had to do something! I had to take action! I had to make a stand for animal rights!”

“So you bought a gerbil,” I said flatly.

“Yes!” Aidan exclaimed.

“Aidan,” I began, trying to use my "indoor voice". “You can’t just smuggle in a gerbil and expect to get away with it! What if someone sees you? You’d get in so much trouble!”

“Please, Agatha. Just don’t tell anyone, and it’ll be fine! You won’t even notice we have it... Promise!”

I turned away from Aidan’s pleading expression to Fred’s identical one and then to Potter, who hadn’t said anything during this whole conversation. He was staring at me, leaning back in his seat, his face unreadable. It almost seemed as if he was testing me, seeing what I would do. It was... unnerving, to say the least.

I bit my lip and peered into the backpack again. Black marble eyes stared up at me, curious and bit apprehensive.

It twitched its tiny nose. Its tiny, little button nose...and that was what killed me. I felt my resolve crumble.

 Maybe it would be alright to keep it. Just for a little while, that is. Like Dom said, there wasn’t much we could do, now that the gerbil was already on the train. Besides, how much harm could one little gerbil inflict?

I sighed. “Okay, we can keep it—“

Fred and Aidan cheered at the news, pumped their fists into the air, did a little victory dance, and then chest-bumped each other like a couple of idiots (which they are). Potter’s lips twitched upwards, and I had the weirdest feeling that, somehow, I had passed the test.

“On a few conditions,” I finished, and the cheering and chest-bumping and rampant stupidity came to an abrupt halt.

“What conditions?” Potter said cautiously, speaking for the first time in a long while.

“One: you guys have to take care of it. I’m not letting some poor, innocent little creature die just because you lot are incapable of upholding any sort of responsibility. You need to find a place to keep it, a cage, and food.”

“Done, done, done,” Aidan said easily. “We’re going to keep it in our dorm. And Fred has a cage and food.”

“You sure your dorm mates won’t mind?” Dom asked, her eyebrows raised.

“Nah, they’re pretty easy-going.” Fred nodded.

“Alright then... Now, here’s my second condition,” I said. “You guys can not suck Dom and me into this, alright? We are tired of having to help you three out every time you get into trouble. Deal?”

“Deal,” Aidan said. We shook hands for a moment, neither one of us willing to be the first to let go.

I pulled my hand away from his and handed him the backpack. “I trust you, Aidan,” I said seriously. “Don’t mess it up.”

“Agatha, stop worrying,” Fred said confidently. “When have we ever let you down?”

....Oh boy.






So here’s the thing: I have always been a cautious child. Always.

Even when I was young, while Aidan and the other kids would be doing flips and dives at the local swimming pool, I would be sitting on the deck, afraid to go in the water, meticulously applying my third layer of sunscreen. When the other children in the area would go outside with their skateboards and bicycles, braving the summer heat and the hard, unforgiving concrete of the pavement, I would be in my room, thumbing through glossy pages of an encyclopedia or dictionary.

I took the extra, unnecessary precautions many others did not, such as wearing a seat belt, or applying antiseptic to even the smallest cut. I did not like to take any chances, not even when I was a little child. It made me feel uneasy, nauseous almost.

Aidan and my mother certainly did not help, what with their careless and constantly forgetful nature. It was always up to me to be responsible, logical, serious. Even when I was six, my role in our family was clear—I was The Sensible One. It was my job to remind everyone else of their obligations, to look out for them.

Not that my mother didn’t do a decent job of raising Aidan and me. She was a good Mum... it’s just... she was scatterbrained. And emotional. Like, sometimes she forgot where she’d put her car keys, and I’d have to tell her where they were. Or sometimes she forgot to water the plants, and I had to do it... Or she would forget the electricity bill, and I’d have to go out and buy candles and flashlights.... you know, little stuff like that.

I was the rational one. The one you could always rely on to be reasonable. I was like my father. I observed, I hypothesized, I analyzed. Aidan was like my mother, rash and quick to jump to conclusions.

So yeah, as a kid, I was very careful. I wanted security, I liked to be safe. I was responsible. I didn’t break the rules. Aidan had always been the daring one, the one who was willing to take the jump from the high dive, or do a flip off his bicycle.

I just don’t like the instability of a chance, the probability that I can fail. It’s just not in my nature.

Which is why, that night, I sat at the Slytherin table during the Hogwarts Sorting with an especially queasy feeling in my stomach. The queasiness, the nausea...It was something I felt whenever I knew that Aidan was about to make a mistake.

...Which is basically all the time, come to think of it.

The Great Hall, as always, looked almost majestic that night. The ceiling above us was a nebulous dark blue, hazy and smudged with clouds. Stars twinkled in an almost lazy manner, and no moon could be seen.

Candles flickered above everyone’s heads, casting an amber glow that made the golden plates on the long tables glint. The Hall was completely silent, as one by one, the first-years stepped up and were sorted into their respective houses. Excitement and anxiousness made the atmosphere tingle.

Ever since the end of the Dark War, students were not required to sit by house. Hufflepuffs, Gryffindors, Slytherins, Ravenclaws...we all sat together now. The only exception was the Sorting Ceremony, when everyone sat with their house for tradition’s sake.

So Dominique and I sat at the Slytherin table that night, Dominique looking perfectly relaxed as she watched the sorting take place, while I, however, couldn’t stop fidgeting. I was unable to concentrate on McGonagall, or the Sorting Hat, or the petrified faces of the first-years. All I could do was clap automatically whenever someone got sorted into Slytherin, and even then, my hands moved on their own accord. The queasiness was working its way up my body now, making my throat tighten and my mouth dry out.

“Relax.” Dom was a mind reader. “They’re not going to get in trouble.”

“I hope not,” I said darkly. “Or else I’ll kill him.” By him, I wasn’t sure if I meant Potter, Aidan, or Fred. Maybe all three?

“Not if Mickey G gets there first. She would go ballistic if she found out.” Dom cackled. When she noticed my expression, however, she sobered. “Not helping. Sorry.”

“It’s just, I worry about Aidan sometimes, you know?” I said as the hat declared Cathy Hansinger a Hufflepuff. “He’s so... so...”

“Yeah,” Dominique said, and I knew she understood completely.

We sat in silence as the rest of the sorting continued. I found my eyes occasionally wandering towards the opposite end of the room, where Freddy, Potter and Aidan sat at the Gyrffindor table. The purple backpack was placed innocently in Aidan’s lap, unnoticed by all.

Finally, after Karen Zachary was sorted into Gryffindor, Headmistress Vespertine stood up to make her customary sorting speech.

Professor Vespertine has been headmistress since I was a third year, after McGonagall retired. Now, before you start getting you’re panties in a twist, Mickey G is still at Hogwarts. So don’t worry, even though she’s not Headmistress anymore, her position as Head of Gryffindor, along with her fun little ability to instill terror into any student’s heart, remains. And of course, she still teaches Transfiguration, too.

Anyway, Professor Vespertine is a very accomplished woman. She had been a prominent member of The Wizengamont, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and had even run for Minister (Ministress?) of Magic in 2018, following Kingsley Shaklebolt resignation. She lost though (a man named Eros Humdudgeon was awarded the position), and instead came to Hogwarts to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, and then later became Headmistress.

Professor Vespertine was an intimidating, no-nonsense woman. No one is exactly sure of her real age, it could range from 30 to 50. She was tall, with rigid posture and an elegant, yet strong, sort of grace about her. Her features were striking-- dark blue-black hair that framed a sharp face, uncannily bright steel eyes, and lips that were always pursed into a straight line. Her voice was clear and ringing, commanding, almost. She was strict, but she was also fair.

“Hello and good evening everyone, I hope you’ve had a good summer. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Professor Vespertine. I will be guiding and helping you throughout your career here at Hogwarts,” Vespertine called out, and all eyes were immediately trained on the teachers’ table, where she stood. “At Hogwarts, we hope you will excel and grow, both academically... and as a person.” Her smile was tense and thin, but still a smile nonetheless. “We have a great year ahead of us.”

“Now, I know that you are hungry, but I would just like to say a few things before the feast begins.” A few students groaned quietly, clutching their grumbling stomachs. “First off, the Forbidden Forest, as it clearly states in the name, is forbidden. Any student caught there will immediately be faced with detention and possibly even expulsion.” My eyes flitted over to where Potter, Aidan and Fred were sitting, and I could see that they were all wearing identical smirks. I rolled my eyes. “Secondly, Mr. Filch would like all students to know that any items purchased from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes are strictly prohibited at Hogwarts. Any student found with one will face punishment, and the item will be confiscated.” The boys’ smirks grew wider. They looked like a trio of Cheshire Cats, for Merlin’s sake. “For a complete list of all The Prohibited Items here at Hogwarts, please see Filch.” I sighed. Well, at least she didn’t mention anything about gerbils...

“Lastly, I am happy to announce that we have a new addition to the teaching staff.” Whispers broke out among the students. “Please welcome our new Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, Theodore Nott.”

My mouth fell open. Next to me, Dominique choked on her own spit. Theodore Nott?

Murmurs rippled through the entire crowd as Professor Vespertine gestured to a man sitting next to her, someone who I hadn’t noticed before. He was grim looking, with dark blonde hair and a gaunt face... There seemed to be something old about him, even though he couldn’t have been more than forty.

“Is that—“

“—Theodore Nott?”

“I heard he was a Death Eater, back in the day.”

“Well, I heard that he was arrested for attempting to assassinate the Prime Minister of Belgium.”

“No, that was the King of France.”

“I heard he’s got a record deal in Japan.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Victor Krum asked him for his autograph.”


I glanced at the Gryffindor Table to see Aidan’s reaction to all of this. He wore a frown on his face, forehead creased, navy eyes dark. Next to him, Potter and Fred had identical looks of complete outrage on their faces. I snorted quietly to myself. Typical Gryffindor pride.

You see, Theodore Nott was a controversial choice as a DADA professor for many reasons. First off, although Theodore hadn’t been a Death Eater, his father had, and there was still speculation, even to this day, as to whether or not Theodore had supported Voldemort during the War.

Secondly, in 2016, Theodore’s wife had gone missing... And the prime suspect had been Mr. Nott himself. However, despite many intense investigations, Eileen Nott was never found, the case had been dropped, and no one ever discovered who did it. But there were still grim whispers, suspicious glances, accusing fingers... and they were all directed at Theodore.

Personally, I didn’t have any objection to this. After all, there was no proof that Theodore had actually been a Death Eater, nor any that he killed or harmed his wife. In fact, Theodore Nott was actually quite an accomplished and respected man amongst the wizarding scholar community. He was famous for inventing several spells, such as the Transparency Charm and the Flummoxing Jinx, and has also developed Nott’s Theorem on the Seven Ways to Resist the Veritaserum Potion (this theorem, ironically, was actually the reason the aurors were unable to decide whether or not Theodore was guilty of killing his wife, seeing as nobody knew when he was--or wasn’t--telling the truth).

It was eerily quiet in the Great Hall as everyone stared at the new DADA professor. Finally, after a long, painful moment of tense silent, Professor Vespertine cleared her throat. It was obvious, from the look on her face, that she had been expecting this reaction from her students. “Well then, that will be all for now, students. Enjoy the feast!”

I heard the customary gasps from the first-years as our food suddenly appeared on our plates, and immediately, the Great Hall switched back to its normal, noisy self as students began to chatter with each other again, most likely about the jarring news we had just received.

“Can you believe it?” Dom asked, her eyes wide with excitement as she stabbed a piece of chicken with her fork and popped it into her mouth. “I mean... Wow. Theodore Nott.”

I shrugged, still more concerned about the rodent in Aidan’s backpack rather than our new DADA teacher. “I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“The big deal? The big deal? He was almost sent to Azkaban!”

“They couldn’t prove anything, Dom.”

“Still...” Dom’s eyes moved swiftly across the room until they found their target. She sat for a moment, staring in thoughtful silence, before speaking. “He’s kind of hot, actually, in a broody, mysterious way.” Her grin was secretive, almost cat-like. “Don’t you think?”

“You’re sick, Dom. He’s old enough to be your father!”

Her eyes glittered in the candlelight, coquettish and sly. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll need some extra help in Defense some day. I bet he could teach me a few things. If you catch my drift...”

“Ugh, seriously, Dom!”

“You think he’s any good with his wand?”

“You’re worse than my brother!”

She licked her lips and winked in an over-exaggerated manner. I groaned, exasperated. “You are such a flirt.”

“No, I’m charming.”

I dug my spoon into my mashed potatoes and grinned knowingly. “Sure, Dommy. Whatever you say, whatever you say.”




“Ugh. I’m so full... I could explode.” Dom moaned as she clutched her belly. I nodded feverishly in agreement.

“Me too,” I said. My stomach felt like it was about to burst. “I think that last treacle tart did it for me.”

“Eurrrrghhhh... Don’t even mention treacle tarts to me right now. I had five. Five. Treacle. Tarts. Do you know what that can do to one’s digestive system?”

We were still sitting at our table in the Great Hall, waiting for everyone to finish dinner so that Vespertine could dismiss us. I yawned—now that my belly was satisfied, all I really wanted to do was retire to bed for a nice, long sleep.

“Ah—I’m so tired...”

“Me too,” Dom said, her eyes drooping shut. “I can’t wait to go to bed...”

“Bollocks!” I exclaimed, suddenly remembering my obligations as a prefect. “I have to take the first-years to their dorms!”

“Haha. Sucker.”

“Thanks for your support and sympathy, best friend.”

“Anytime. Anytime.”

I smiled to myself. Well, on the bright side, at least I had Ryan to help me. Ah, Ryan (insert dreamy sigh here). With his blonde hair and stormy eyes and—

“You’re thinking about Ryan Fisher, aren’t you?” Dom asked shrewdly.

“No, of course not!” I said shiftily. “I’m just thinking about... um—the duty and responsibility I am required to uphold as a diligent, hard-working prefect. That’s all.”

“You want to jump his bones.”

“I do not!”

“Don’t deny it... you want to get you’re freak awnnn.”

“Okay, firstly: Never again. Secondly: I only think of Ryan in a purely platonic way. We’re acquaintances!”

“Yeah, and McGonagall favorite hobby is roller disco-ing.” Dom snorted. “Face it, you just really want to—“

“Attention, students!” Professor Vespertine stood up and began to speak in her loud, clear voice (effectively silencing Dom as she did so—thank Merlin). “You may now retire to your dorms for the night. Remember: have a good rest, you don’t want to be tired for lessons tomorrow! Thank you, and goodnight.”

Professor Vespertine sat back down, and immediately the hall was filled with the clamor of screeching benches and clapping footsteps. I sighed dejectedly and stood up from my seat.

 “Dom, I’m going to go find the first—“ I was interrupted by a tap-tap-tap on my shoulder, however, and I twisted around to come face to face with Ryan Fisher. He was looking very distressed, and he had his arm around a small first-year whose face was turning an unpleasant shade of green.

“Oh... Ryan! Hi,” I squeaked, my eyes widening slightly. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry, but this little guy’s really sick. Something about having too many treacle tarts—” Dom groaned as she heard this, clutching her stomach and slamming her forehead onto the table. “I’m going to have to take him to the Hospital Wing... Do you think you can handle the first-years by yourself?”

My heart sank, but I forced a smile on my face. “Sure, Ryan. No problem.”

“Thanks a million,” he said, flashing me a grin that made my legs turn gooey. The first-year groaned loudly and sagged to the floor. “Ah, crap. I better get a move on before he starts vomi—nevermind. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Bye,“ I said wistfully as I watched him walk away, dragging the poor kid along with him.

“You love him...” Dom sing-songed annoyingly, still clutching her stomach.

“Shut up.”

She cackled—and yes, it did actually sound like a cackle—and stood up to go, swinging her leg over the bench in a very unlady-like fashion. “I’ll meet you back at the dorm. Good luck with the munchkin people!” She flounced off, merging into the sea of people who were slowly filtering out the door.

I sighed. Well, better get this over with.

“First-years!” I called as I waved my arm in the air. “First-years, over here please!”

But no one heard me over the chatter and footsteps. I gritted my teeth together in irritation.

“First-years!” I said louder, this time. “First-years! First-years! Over here!”

No one came.

I growled. My patience was wearing thin. I mean, come on, I was tired and it was crowded and I was overwhelmed and I just wanted to sleep, for God’s sake.

“First-years... First-yea— OI!” I shrieked, finally loosing it. “MUNCHKINS! OVER HERE! NOW!”

It was amazing, how quickly they appeared. It was like Whac-a-Mole. One minute, they were no where to be seen, and then the next—poof!—they were popping out of the ground, frightened and blinking in the daylight.
 
“Oh,” I said, staring at their frightened faces. There were nine of them. Nine snivelly, trembling, ickle little first years. I cleared my throat. “Hi. I’m...er...I’m your prefect. I’ll be showing you where your dorms are.”

They stared.

“Uh... Yeah. Shall we... um... get a move on? Just, er, form a line behind me,” I said, feeling a bit mortified as they continued to stare at me. I towered over them, at least a head taller. Surely I wasn’t that small when I was a first year.

I led them out of the Great Hall, making sure that they were all following me. The crowds had really thinned out--everyone was already in their respective dorms—and there was no one else as we walked down the corridors and to the dungeons in our solemn, straight line.

“So,” I said, feeling an urgent need to fill the awkward silence. “Just so you guys know, you now have to refer to me as Commander Cool at all times.”

No response. The munchkins looked bewildered.

“Um, just kidding... You don’t really have to...call... me...that...”

Silence.

I cleared my throat. “Um. Well. Yes. Anyways... We’re going to turn left here, and then we just take the stairs to the dungeons... Which is where the Slytherin Common Room is. Yeah... That’s it. Oh, watch out for that trick step. Those are nastly little buggers... Um, okay just down this hallway—“

We were silently shuffling down the corridor, towards the stone wall that hid the entrance to the Slytherin Common Room, Common Room, when all of a sudden I abruptly stopped walking. One of the first years, not looking where he was going, bumped in to me with a squeaky “Oof!”

I didn’t notice though, because I was to busy staring, transfixed, ahead of me, at something that made my blood run cold and my heart stop beating.

“Peeves,” I said under my breath, the way someone would utter a particularly nasty curse word.

And there he was, floating in the air, right in front of the entrance to the Slytherin Common Room, a malicious smile on his impish face. My heart sank to my knees. So much for a good night’s sleep...

“Oooh, what have we got here?” he cackled, swooping down towards us. Several of the first-years whimpered from behind me. “Ickle firsties? Fresh meat? How fun!”

“Peeves,” I said, trying to sound as menacing as I could. “Leave. Us. Alone.... Or else.”

He cackled, circling in the air above us like a hungry shark.

“Awe, the ickle wee prefect ain’t up for some fun
 In fact she’s getting upset,
Methinks ‘tis time for a proper Peeves welcome,
First-years, prepare to get wet!”


And with that, Peeves took out a water gun—yes, a water gun—from the rather large pocket of his purple tuxedo jacket and pulled the trigger... spraying me right in the face.

All hell broke loose.

The first-years started running around like chickens with their heads cut off, screaming and shrieking as I desperately tried to control them. Peeves flew above us, doing back flips and somersaults in the air as he sprayed the walls, floors, and first-years with icy cold water.  I slipped and skidded, unable to keep my balance as I frantically tried to calm everyone down. It was chaos, pandemonium. It was like Seaworld gone terribly, terribly wrong.

“No! Stay calm! It’s alright! Just—” I felt panic wind its way around my chest like a hot, metal cord, making it harder to breath... “PEEVES! PEEVES! STOP IT!”

A first-year was starting to cry, screams and shouts were echoing off the stone walls in a confusing, chaotic manner, and it was obvious that Peeves was having the time of his life, screeching and cackling as he aimed his water gun.

I ran to the sobbing first-year. ”Don’t cry, it’s going to be ok—OOF!” I slipped on a puddle of water, landing on the cold stone floor with a painful ‘thud’.

Why? Why me? Out of all the hundreds of corridors in this blasted castle, why did Peeves have to choose this one?  I hate my life... I’m a failure! Why did Vespertine make me a prefect? Was she drinking at the time? She must have been if she had thought that I would be able to ...to...handle this!

I bet Potter isn’t having this much difficulty! I bet his first-years are all safe and tucked in bed now, sleeping soundly, not getting terrorized by a senile poltergeist and his water gun of doom.

I sat in my puddle, arms around my knees; unable to do anything as I watched Peeves assault the first-years with his water gun.

“Aggy slipped and fell,
and now she’s on her bum,
Look at her, she seems so sad
And also kind of dumb!”


“PEEVES!” I screamed, struggling to a stand. “GO AWAY! GO AWAY...OR ELSE!”

Peeves cackled, obviously amused. “Or else what?”

“Or else...or else... I’ll...I’ll—“

“What is going on here?” A voice, so blood-chilling and eerie that it sent shivers down my spine, suddenly slid into my ear. I snapped my mouth shut and turned around to come face to face with the translucent form of the Bloody Baron.

Peeves lowered his water gun, the smile falling of his face almost instantly.

It was as if someone had hit the Pause button. The first-years were frozen, unmoving as they stared, awestruck, at the Bloody Baron. I felt goosebumps pebble my skin.

After a few minutes of just silence, Peeves, his voice tight, finally exclaimed, “Oh...Mr. Bloody Baron! Long time no talk! How are you, sir? Good, I hope, yes? Lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it? I just love it this time of year... Just the perfect temperature, not to warm, not to chilly, either— ”

The Bloody Baron’s gruesome face betrayed no emotion or feeling. He almost looked bored, as if this situation was a natural occurrence for him. As if it was everyday that Peeves flew around spraying innocent first-years and equally as innocent prefects with water guns. “You didn’t answer my question, Peeves. What are you doing?”

“Oh, nothing at all, your Bloodiness,” Peeves said nervously, fluttering and waving his hands about. “Nothing of any importance... I’m just, er, having a little bit of fun! We’re all having fun, in fact...Right, kiddies?”

No one replied.

The Bloody Baron’s pale gaze moved swiftly from Peeves, to his water gun, and then to the shivering figures of the first-years, who were dripping wet and clinging on to each other in a miserable fashion.

“Fun,” The Baron repeated flatly. “I see.”

He turned to me, and I felt a cold, undescribable feeling wrap around my heart. Even though the Bloody Baron had been the Slytherin patron ghost for the past four years, I was still afraid of him.

He didn’t say anything, just kept looking at me with those dead, hollow eyes. I didn’t know what to do...so I just kind of stared at the floor. It felt like he could see through me, could see into me, could see everything.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the Bloody Baron, his gaze not straying away from me, said, “Go make a nuisance of yourself somewhere else, Peeves. Leave these people in peace.” His voice was raspy, terrifying.

“Oh yes, of course, your Bloodiness, sir! Absolutely...yes, yes! Anything, for you!” Peeves stuttered, obviously flustered. He bowed so low his nose was practically brushing his shoes, and then, in a blink of an eye, was gone, zooming down the corridor.

A long silence stretched out, as the Bloody Baron just floated there, and the first-years gaped stupidly. I was surprised none of them had tried to escape yet. If I were them, I would have run off screaming like a madwoman as soon as I had gotten the chance.

“Er, thank you. Mr. Bloody Baron,” I finally said, trying as hard as possible to look anywhere besides the blood on his robes, or the chains dangling from his silver arms.

He didn’t say anything. Just looked at me, his eyes unreadable, and then turned around and floated off, melting into the nearest wall and disappearing.

I closed my eyes, my heart racing. That hadn’t happened, I told myself. None of this is real.

Maybe I was dreaming. Maybe Peeves...the watergun...the Bloody Baron...it was all just a bad nightmare. Maybe I had eaten too much cold pizza before going to bed, or something. Maybe, just maybe, if I closed my eyes long enough.... I would wake up and—

“Er, excuse me?” A small voice squeaked, and I felt a tug on the sleeve of my shirt. I snapped opened my eyes and glanced down to see a small first-year boy, eyes wide, hair dripping with water. “Commander Cool, can you...  can you...please show us to our dorms now?”
 
 “Er, yeah,” I said, not bothering to correct him about the nickname. Of course. This was real life. Not a dream. Who was I kidding?

Therapy is starting to sound like a really good idea right now.


Chapter 6: Ice
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A/N: Well, here's Chapter Six! This chapter is not beta'd or edited.. (that is, unless you count Spelling and Grammar Check on Word as 'editing'). So I apologize in advance for all the errors and such. I just wanted to submit this while the queue was so short... Anyways, I hope you enjoy! Please, please, please review! It really encourages me to continue and write more! Thanks!

A/N.2: Okay, well this chapter is finally beta'd, thanks to my lovely beta PenguinsWillReignSupreme. So, enjoy!

Disclaimer: Nothing is mine. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero. You get the picture.

Chapter image by jetaway at TDA!



  





I opened the door very quietly, trying as hard as possible not to make any noise in case my dorm mates were all asleep.

To my relief, they weren’t. In fact, my dorm room was completely empty. I smiled to myself. Ah, peace and quiet.

Our dorm room, although kind of gloomy at times, was—when it came down to it—a pretty nice place to live. It was a wide, open space, with plenty of room and windows. Big windows, actually, with crystal panes and intricate wrought iron that wove in patterns in front of the glass. The kind of windows you would see in a church, or a gothic style building.

I sighed and slid the door shut behind me. I was so tired, I felt like my bones were made out of lead. All I wanted to do was just collapse on some soft piece of furniture and sleep.

I made my way through the room towards my bed, which was at the very back. Our dorm was already messy, even though we hadn’t even been back a full day.

Six mahogany four-poster beds were placed strategically around our room, complete with green duvets and silver sheets. I weaved my way through them, trying to avoid bumping into anything in my sleepy haze. The area was illuminated by a silver chandelier dripping with emerald crystals, and each girl had her own wardrobe, which was, of course, painted a rich green with ivory accents. Yeah, I know. Green chandelier, green bed...green wardrobe... I’m sensing there’s a pretty set color scheme to this room. I guess whoever designed it hadn’t been too creative...

I was assuming that my dorm mates were either in the bathroom or changing as they got ready for bed. I groaned inwardly at the thought. I was ready to spontaneously combust with exhaustion at the moment... My limbs were literally so tired they were numb. The last thing I wanted to do right now was get my jammies on.

The dark, wooden floor boards creaked under my feet as I walked over to my bed, pleased to see that my trunk was already underneath it. I flopped down on top of the mattress, sighing contentedly as I felt the duvet poof up around me. I rolled onto my stomach so my face was smothered into my cool, soft pillow. Five minutes passed where I just lay on my bed, breathing deeply and appreciating the heavenly comfort my mattress had to offer.

“Herrrr.”

I startled, before turning around and looking up from my position on the bed to see Dom looming over me, an orange toothbrush in her mouth.

“What?” I asked, confused by her mumbling.

She took the toothbrush out of her mouth and grinned, revealing a mouthful of foaming toothpaste. I grimaced.

“Hey,” she said once more, clearer this time. “How were the First Years? And why are you all wet?”

“Peeves,” I said, cringing at the memory. Dom did not reply, and instead ambled back to the bathroom, presumably to spit out her toothpaste. She came back moments later dressed in a nightgown.

“Where is everyone else?” I asked, not really wanting to know.

“Bathroom.”

I sighed. I should probably be in there too getting ready for bed and stuff but I couldn’t bring myself to get up. My body simply refused... it was too tired.

So I just lay there, in my wet school uniform, on top of possibly the comfiest bed in the universe. Dom, realizing that I wasn’t going to be speaking anytime soon and would therefore make for very boring company, sighed at my obviously pitiful condition and, with a flourish of gold-red hair, went flouncing back to the bathroom. I grinned to myself—finally!—and allowed my eyelids to flutter shut. For a blissful, happy moment, I felt myself start to slowly slip into sleep, deeper and deeper, like I was falling down a dark chasm. But not a bad chasm. A friendly one, filled with...good things, like rainbows and flowers and unicorns...

My thoughts drifted to the Prefect disaster, and then quickly to my dorm mates. As always, with every year, there was that kind of inevitable awkwardness of seeing my dorm mates after three months of summer. I mean, my dorm mates and I aren’t really that close...especially...well, certain people.

First off, there’s Evilyn—ahem, sorry, I meant Evelyn—Stanford, the most annoying little bint to step foot on this earth, not to mention the official President of the Sexy Chicks Against Bennett Club (SCAB). And yes, she did actually create this club in First Year. I remember four other people joined. They held meetings and everything.

Evelyn and I have a pretty simple relationship: she doesn’t like me, and I definitely do not like her. It’s almost like a balance, really. It’s what keeps us in order. And it hasn’t changed for five years.

I know what you’re probably thinking—yeah right, Agatha’s just being a jealous cow. Evelyn is probably a really sweet, nice person once you dig deep beneath her extremely malicious and coldhearted ‘Puppy Kicker’ exterior and get to know her. In fact, Evelyn was probably mistreated as a child and that’s why she has this profound psychological barrier that keeps her from trusting people and making friends. Right?

Wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

There is no psychological barrier. Evelyn is just a bitch. Sorry. Game over.

There’s just no way to excuse it... There’s no reason. It’s impossible to explain why she is the way she is. But, you know, I’ve speculated a bit, over the years...

I mean, it can’t be helped really. You just look at Evelyn and wonder, ‘What went wrong there?’ It’s a mystery. Unsolvable...Not to say that I haven’t come up with a few theories during the time I’ve known her...


TOP FIVE THEORIES THAT EXPLAIN WHY EVILYN STANFORD IS “THE WAY SHE IS” (i.e. a bitch):


1. There is some error in Evelyn’s genetic makeup that causes her to lack all the emotions or feelings a normal human being usually possesses.

2. She is actually a robot created by some Russian mad scientist named Ivan who is hell-bent on destroying the world. She is just currently masquerading as an innocent school girl, quietly biding her time, until finally one day she can reveal herself and unleash her hellish robot warfare (I’m thinking laser beams and flame throwers) onto the world.

3. Every night before Evelyn goes to bed, she peels off her amazingly realistic human mask to expose what she truly is—REPTAR! (This theory is similar to number 2—see above).

4. Evelyn is actually just really insecure inside, and even though she wants to make friends, she is just too scared of the rejection she might (cough INEVITABLY cough) receive. So instead, she pushes people away and uses her cruel and malicious bitchiness as a defense mechanism so that she can protect her crippling low self esteem.

To help Evelyn, I should just reach out to her and apologize, so we can make up, cry together over all the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and then proceed to have one-on-one heartfelt, four hour long conversations where, whilst French-braiding each other’s hair, we discuss our goals, our fears, and of course, our hopes and dreams for the future. Then we’ll go outside and dance in the rain and sing campfire songs. And don’t forget the quilt that we’ll make together (in which each stitch will be a representation of our beautiful and amazing friendship)!

Hahahahah. Not.

5. Three words: Spawn. Of. Satan.

Yeah, okay, so now that I’ve given you a basic idea of what Evilyn is really like, let’s move on, shall we? Talking (or thinking) about her too much gives me heartburn.

Let’s see...who else is there? Oh yeah, there’s Marlene Simmons: Evilyn’s Own Personal Lackey and owner of an intellect rivaled only by garden tools. She’s as dumb as a pile of bricks. And that is seriously no exaggeration. Holding a conversation with Marlene is slightly less painful then eating nails.

There’s also Caroline Kinley, Evilyn’s best friend. I would pity Caroline— really, I would—except for the fact that she is such a bitch. Seriously, it rivals Evilyn, and that is saying something.

Aidan calls Caroline ‘Scare-o-line’ because he thinks she’s creepy. Which I kind of get, to be honest. There’s just something about her that’s really...frightening. And not in an ooh-monsters-under-the-bed way. More like a if-i’m-not-nice-to-you-you’re-going-to-rip-out-all-my-internal-organs-and-feed-them-to-the-Giant-Squid way.

Evilyn, Marlene, and Caroline all kind of intimidate their way into making friends (or followers, actually). Everyone is terrified of them. But it’s okay, really, because we all know that Evilyn and Caroline secretly hate each other even though they’re “BFFL”s, and the day will come when all that pent-up loathing will cause the two of them to get into a massive bitch fight and attempt to strangle each other...until one of them breaks a nail, or whatever.

Thank the heavens for Dominique. I mean, seriously, she’s like only sane one in this dorm...

Well, actually, now that I think about it... ‘sane’ might be stretching it a little.

I mean, it’s pretty safe to say that Dom has her weird moments...

But she’s still normal...ish... Right?

She’s just—er—a bit on the kooky side, that’s all.

...Well, maybe more than a bit.

Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. Dom might as well be an escapee from a mental institute. But I still love her.

When she’s not being obnoxious.

And dramatic.

And loud...

And embarass—

BAM!

I startled as the door to the dormitory burst open, jarring me from my thoughts and daydreams, and in marched—speak of the devil (and yes, literally, the devil)—Evilyn Stanford, wearing a flowery nightgown and curlers in her hair. She marched right by my bed, her stupid ski-slope nose permanently turned up towards the ceiling, and made a little disapproving ‘hmpfff’ sound as she passed me.

I rolled my eyes.

“Hey, Evelyn!” I called out to her, voice filled with sugary sarcasm. “Oh, wow, it’s nice to see you, too! Yeah, I had a great summer holiday, thanks for asking, how about you?”

No reply from Reptar. She just gave me a snooty look and instead took out a can of air freshener from her tacky pink trunk, looked at me pointedly, and then began spraying the air around her.

“Hint taken,” I said, finally mustering up the strength to roll off my bed.  “I’m going to go take a shower. Bye Evelyn! It was so nice catching up with you! We should totally do this more often.”

I knelt down, unlatched my trunk, and fished out my toiletries and a pair of pajamas.

Evilyn gave me a scathing look as she watched me, her beady eyes narrowing into her signature Death Glare. She remained silent though, (thankfully).

“What’s that, Evelyn?” I asked as I began walking out the dorm. I cupped my ear with my hand in an over-exaggerated fashion. “You missed me over the summer? Aw, that’s so sweet! I missed you too!”

And with that, I walked swiftly out of the room.

“Bitch.” I heard Evilyn mutter right before the door closed shut behind me.

She’s a charming one, that girl.




The next day, Dom and I rolled out of bed (with some difficulty) at around 7:30 to get breakfast.   We walked to the Great Hall together, me constantly yawning (six in a row is the record), and Dominique rambling on and on about her PS (Professor Sexycheeks—a name I was secretly using to refer to Nott in my head).

 “You know, I bet anything that Professor Nott’s an undercover secret agent...probably spying for the Russians or something. I mean, he’s so mysterious. And smoking. Smoking hot. Those eyes...They're just so filled with wisdom and knowledge. It's sooo sexy.”

I rolled my own sexy and wisdom-filled eyes at Dom’s incessant babbling. It takes a few minutes for her to wake up each morning, but after she does, Dom never stops talking. I, on the other hand, am not that chatty. I prefer some nice and peaceful silence during the AM, thank you very much.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting some anytime soon.

"Cheese and rice, Dom, will you just shut up about PS for a second? I mean, he's old enough to be your father!"

"PS? Who's PS?"

"Professor Sexycheeks."

"Nice, I like it."

"So glad you approve."

“Yeah. Anyways, as I was saying...I’m really starting to see the appeal of older men, you know?” Dom blabbed on as we rounded the corner. “They’re just so mature... And they have experienc—OW, what was that for?“

I had slapped Dom over the shoulder (effectively cutting off her perverted fantasizing about PS) for, right in front of us, there was some sort of...traffic jam: a brigade of people blocking the entrance to the Great Hall. A pushing, shoving, shouting brigade of people.

“Er, what’s going on?” Dom asked, stunned, as she stood on her tiptoes to peer over the crowd and into the Great Hall. It was no use though; there were too many people. We couldn’t see a thing, only squirming, impatient, restless bodies.

My Prefect instincts kicking in (for once), I immediately charged forward and plunged myself into the mass of human bodies, Dom’s protests fading as I was swallowed by the crowd. Taking a deep breath, I pushed my way farther into the angry mob, jostling and sidestepping people along the way.

“Sorry, excuse me—“ I said as I passed Merriam “the Mobster” Turner, a particularly heavyset Ravenclaw girl who was known around the school for her violence and all-around scariness.  “I need to get to the front—Excuse me, sorry...”

“Hey! Watch where you’re going!” Merriam replied, shoving me with her two hands. I stumbled back into someone from behind me, who grunted and pushed me away. I tripped and almost flew straight into Merriam again.

“Yes, sorry, sorry, er, I’m a Prefect, please don’t shove!” I said, desperately looking around for a way out (did I mention I’m claustrophobic? and that I just really, really hate crowds?)

“Oh, I see. You’re a Prefect, so you think you can cut, eh?” Merriam leered, her voice rising over the din of the mob. “You think that being a brown-nosing arse-kisser gets you special privileges, am I right?”

“No, no, it’s not that...I just need to see what’s going on—“

“MOVE IT! COMING THROUGH! GET IN THE WAY AND YOU WILL BE ANNIHILATED! OI, DON’T SHOVE, YOU LITTLE... OH YEAH? WELL, I’LL HAVE YOU KNOW THAT I’M THE BEST FRIEND OF A PREFECT, AND SHE WILL DOCK POINTS FASTER THAN YOU CAN COUNT TO TWENTY! ” Dom suddenly burst into view, pushing and shoving her way through everyone like a madwoman with a mission. She finally reached me and I watched with astonishment as she, quite forcefully, I might add, shoved Merriam in the shoulder, who, in turn, grunted in a very manly way and fell to the floor (taking down two first years with her). The whole scene was very akin to Godzilla falling on top of Tokyo.
 
It seemed to take a few minutes for Merriam to realize that she had just been side-checked by a 110 pound, 5”4 Dominque Weasley, who was almost half her size.

Confusion, then surprise, briefly flitted across Merriam’s face.

Quickly followed by understanding.

...And then fury.

Oh dear.

“ARGHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Merriam roared from her position on the floor, face scrunched in rage. Her beefy hands reached out towards us, snatching at thin air.

Dom’s face paled considerably as she realized what she had just done. Merriam was never especially pleasant...but when she was angry with you...it was terrifying, and not to mention very, very painful.

“FLEE, AGATHA!” Dom screamed as she pushed past a couple of third years who were in the way. “FLEEEEEE FOR YOUR LIFE!”

Great idea, Dom. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Heart beating rapidly, I dashed after my best friend, squeaking in a very frightened and undignified manner.

Merriam growled as she finally lurched to a stand. Face maroon with anger, she thundered after Dom and I, pushing through everyone else in order to reach her prey (aka, us).

She swiped at me with her huge arms, nearly missing my shoulder by an inch, and I swear I almost wet msyelf. Shoving an unsuspecting bystander to the side, I desperately searched for an exit out of the crowd, trying to escape Merriam and her evil clutches.

Dom and I twisted and turned our way through the crowd, Merriam hot on our heels. It was Cat vs. Mice, Lion vs. Gazelles, Monster vs. Scooby-doo and Shaggy.

Dom suddenly made a sharp right, and, thinking fast, I followed suit. Luckily for us, the Killer Whale (aka Merriam) was unable to turn quickly enough, and crashed into a couple of second years.


(Question: Merriam is to Second Years as Bowling Ball is to ___.

Answer: Pins).


Exhaling a ginormous breath of relief, I silently said a prayer of thanks to God. But I didn’t stop running. I needed out of this crowd.

Dom pushed past a couple of Hufflepuffs, turned a left, and I imitated her. Ahead of the two of us, in the far distance, I could see a tiny sliver of light, an exit, a way out...

My pace quickened. I ran through a cluster of Gryffindors, ignoring their surprised squawks of protest, and followed Dom’s conspicuous head of golden-red hair like a beacon, until finally—yes!—we broke free from the crowd.

And stopped short.

Because, right in front of us, was the Great Hall. Except...it wasn’t the Great Hall anymore. It was completely...different. Completely...transformed.

“What. The. Hell?” Dom asked, her face completely blank with shock.

The tables and the benches were gone. Instead, it was just an empty room, save for...a giant Christmas tree? I squinted in disbelief, but yes, it was true. A magnificent green fir, at least 20 meters tall, was standing proudly in the middle of the “Great Hall”, glittering and positively dripping with ornaments that flashed and gleamed in the light. I shook my head to myself. What the fudge brownies was a Christmas tree doing in the Great Hall...at the beginning of September?

I spotted holly and mistletoe strung from the ceilings and around the walls in complex and intricate patterns. A cheery Christmas carol was playing but the source of the music was hidden from view. Judging by the goose bumps on my arm, the temperature had been lowered by quite a few degrees. And...were those snowflakes falling from the ceiling?

Right next to me was a cluster of coat racks, laden with a colorful array of wool scarves, coats, earmuffs, mittens...and ice skates?! This was so...strange. I shook my head confusedly, trying to comprehend the situation.

And then I looked down.  

My heart stopped beating. My breath caught in my throat. My jaw fell to the floor (metaphorically, of course).

Because, instead of the normal wooden floorboards of the Great Hall... there was ice. Glittering, blindingly-bright ice.

The Great Hall had been transformed into an ice rink.

My brain was whirling. I couldn’t grasp the situation, couldn’t understand. Why was this all happening? I stared at the glittering ice, my face resembling that of a perplexed fish. What the fudge sundae was going on?

“HO! HO! HO! MERRY CHRISTMAS!” I whipped around to see none other than my own brother, Aidan Bennett, decked in full winter gear—wearing ice skates—hobbling through the crowd. Everyone, realizing who it was (“Ohmigod, it’s Aidan Bennett!!”) respectfully parted to let him through.

He passed by me, shooting Dom and I a charming grin, and, with the whole of Hogwarts watching, stepped on to the ice.

There was one shivering second of silence as Aidan just stood there, wobbling on his skates, the whole entirety of the Great Hall in front of him, holding its breath. And then...

“WOOHOO!” Aidan raised his hands—which were clad in bright red mittens—to the sky, and instantly, the crowd began cheering.

My jaw dropped lower to the ground—something I hadn’t thought possible.

“Aidan—ice—Great Hall—skating...” was all I could stutter as I watched my brother carve a perfect figure ‘8’ into the ice. This wasn’t happening...this was...I had gone... crazy...

I looked at Dom to see her reaction. Her mouth was formed into a comical ‘O’, her yellow-green eyes as wide as saucers.

“Dom...what...how...why—“

“MERRY FLIPPIN’ X-MAS, MUCKER FUDGERS” But I was interrupted by the loud voice of Fred Weasley, who was currently charging through the crowd, going remarkably fast for someone who was wearing ice skates... Fred, was of course, followed by none other than Potter, who was smirking as he ambled along at a slower, more leisurely pace, his hands shoved into his pockets and his ice skates glittering on his feet.

And suddenly I understood.



(Q: Aidan/Fred/Potter + The Great Hall + An Incredibly Stupid Idea =

A: First Day of School Prank).


They had truly outdone themselves. McGonagall was going to pee herself.

“I can’t believe this...” Dom muttered—more to herself than anyone else—as Potter, Aidan, and Fred began to skate in circles around the ice rink. The crowd was cheering them on, shouting and clapping...the noise was deafening.

So this is what a heart attack feels like...

Suddenly, Potter held up his hand, effectively silencing everyone. He was smirking this insufferable smirk...a smirk that made me feel like he knew something I didn’t.

“Greetings, fellow Hogwartians! My friends Fred and Aidan, along with myself, of course, have decided that we want to have a little bit of harmless fun before the start of term—“

“And, well, what could possibly be more fun than Christmas, right?” Fred added jovially.

“So throw on a scarf, a hat, and a pair of ice skates and join us in the celebration of Baby Jesus’ birthday!” Aidan concluded. “Merry Early Christmas, everyone!”

They’ve gone insane! Mad, bonkers, senile, loco in the coco! Merry early Christmas? Baby Jesus? This was.... absurd! Unreal...I can’t even begin to make sense of this!

Dom, however, was already jumping onto the bandwagon, figuratively speaking. She had grabbed my hand and yanked me towards the coat racks, laughing uncontrollably now that her previous shock was gone.

“This is so cool!” She exclaimed as she yanked a scarf off the rack and threw it at me. It hit me in the face and fell to the floor. I was too astonished to pick it up.

Dom shoved a hat over her mass of strawberry blonde hair, still chattering away, and I briefly wondered how three measly coat racks were going to supply the entire school with winter apparel.

Gingerly, I picked another scarf off one of the pegs of the coat racks, and then almost gasped in surprise. For once I took the scarf off the rack, a pair of woolen mittens magically materialised in its place.

How had they managed to do that? The charm work to achieve a coat rack that would continue to conjure up so many articles of clothing... Well, it was unimaginably complicated, not to mention advanced. I blinked several times. It must have taken hours to get the spell right.

Almost in a daze, I wrapped the scarf around my neck. As amazing as the spell work was, the prank would have to be stopped. It was against the rules, for Merlin’s sake! Aidan, Fred and Potter couldn’t just go prancing around, turning rooms into ice rinks!... Next thing you know, we’re going to have a beach in our classrooms, or a waterfall in the Astronomy Tower.

Frowning determinably, I yanked a pair of ice skates off the coat rack, (watching with slight astonishment as a hat appeared in its place). Dom did the same, and together we laced up. I hadn’t been ice-skating since I was six, but I probably still remembered. I mean, it was like riding a bike, right? You never forget.

Wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

The minute Dom and I stepped onto the ice, I lost my balance. My ice skates slipped and slid on the icy surface in a mad fashion and, blindly, I grabbed at something to prevent myself from falling. This something, it turns out, just happened to be Dom’s robes.

“Dom, I’m going to—fa—fa—FALL!”

“WHAT THE—NUTTERBUTTERS!”

Crash.

We fell onto the hard ice, landing in a very elegant heap of tangled limbs.

"OW! Aggy, you're on my arm! I need that for Quidditch, you know! Gerroff me!"

"Yeah, well it would be great if you could please remove your FOOT from my NOSTRIL first, Dom."

"Oh. Right. Sorry."

I rolled off of Dominique and on to my back, only to look up and see none other than James Potter standing right above us, the corners of his lips twitching.

“Still as graceful as ever, I see.”

“Shut up, Potter,” was my very lame reply.

Potter extended a hand, which I very calmly ignored, and I scrambled to a stand (with some difficulty). Dusting myself off, I tried my best not to flinch in pain. It was all very dignified, I must say.

 Dom accepted Potter’s hand and he pulled her up. She smiled at him with gratitude.

"Heya, cus. How’s it going?” He grinned at her, patting his hand on her shoulder.

“This is amazing, James. I mean, really just fantastic. You three have really outdone yourselves,” Dom babbled, scanning her surroundings. Already at least fifty people were on the ice, skating around to the Christmas music and admiring the giant tree. “This is ...wow. Just, wow.”

Traitor.

“Thanks, Dom.” Potter grinned. “Glad you enjoy.”

She beamed at Potter and then turned to face me. “I’m going to go find Aidan and Fred. Wanna come, Aggy?"

On one hand, I wanted to. On the other, I wasn't exactly sure if I'd be able to skate another five feet without breaking all of the bones in my body.

Dominique saw my hesitation and smirked (honestly, she's just like Potter). "I understand." She hugged me, "Try not to kill each other."

Kill each other? What did she mean by—

Oh right. Potter.

And then Dom was skating away, her hair flowing behind her in golden-red ribbons. I grimaced. Of course she had to leave me with him.

There was an awkward silence, where neither Potter nor I spoke a word, and I suddenly started to wish that I had followed Dominique in her search of Fred and Aidan.

“So...” Potter was obviously enjoying my discomfort with being on the ice. He was eying my shaky legs and wobbling arms with amusement. “What do you think of everything, Bennett?”

My eyes narrowed and my lips twisted into an unfriendly scowl.  Suddenly, all my words came tumbling out in an angry rant. “What do I think? What do I think? Well, here’s what I think... This is all foolish, idiotic, and completely and utterly reckless!” I said, listing off the words with my fingers. “You’re breaking the rules! You should be... ashamed of yourself! You’re a Prefect, for sweet Neptune’s sake!”

Potter shrugged. He looked like a child at that moment. His dark hair was peeking out of his winter hat, falling gently to his eyes. His cheeks were flushed from the cold. Snowflakes clung to his eyelashes.

For a brief moment, I felt a pang of jealousy flash through me. I envied the way Potter could be so carefree. I envied the excitement and happiness that danced in his eyes, the way he was positively beaming with accomplishment. I envied the way Potter could just march in to Hogwarts and start pulling pranks left and right. All of a sudden, I found myself wishing that I could be mischievous. That I could joke and fool around like that.

And then I remembered that I wasn’t five years old anymore.

Potter smirked, and it was obvious that he found my disdain amusing. “Oh, stop being such a killjoy, Bennett. Besides, there’s no rule stating that you can’t turn the Great Hall into a giant ice rink.  We checked.”

Irritation seeped into my body, constricting my chest and clenching my fists. “I would think that such a thing would go without saying,“ I said, trying to keep my tone civil.

Potter’s smirk seemed to have been glued to his face with a permanent sticking charm. “Don’t deny you think it’s amazing.”

It was true. The spell work was astounding. The sight of it all—everyone skating, the glittering Christmas tree, the snow falling—was awe inspiring. Potter and the others had every right to proud of themselves.

Yet I couldn’t admit it. There was just something about Potter’s cocky smirk, the way his eyes were shining with smugness and self-satisfaction... I couldn’t do it.

“I think it’s incredibly stupid,” I said firmly.

Potter grinned mockingly. “Now, now, Bennett. Just because you can’t skate doesn’t mean you should start acting all bitter—“

“Wha—? Hey, I can skate!” I sputtered indignantly. My face was flushing, turning an embarrassing shade of red to match my hair.

Potter snorted. “Bennett, I know you. You hate anything you’re not good at. That’s why you hate Quidditch, why you hate Potions... And why you hate this.”

"What? That's...ridiculous! Completely ridiculous! I am quite good at Quidditch, I'll have you know! I just don't like to play, is all... And as for Potions... Well, I'm not good at Potions. But you know what? It's a stupid subject, anyways! And Slughorn is biased... He hates me for no reason! I mean, it's not my fault I accidentally set fire to his mustache. It was only one time... Okay. Two times. But that thing is a freaking fire hazard. It should not be allowed in the classroo—" I suddenly stopped mid-word, looking over to see Potter hunched over, shaking with surpressed laughter.

"What, Potter?"

He just shook his head and straigtened, still chuckling. "You're just so predictable, Bennett."

I narrowed my eyes. "Don’t act like you know me, Potter,” I growled, my voice dangerously low. “Because you don’t.”

“Um, actually, I think I do.” Potter sing-songed as he expertly skated around me in taunting circles. “Tell me, Bennett. Does it bother you? That I can skate around you like this...while you’re completely helpless and incompetent? Does it make you mad that I’m better at you then something? Does it enrage you, that for once, the infallible Agatha Bennett is... incapable?”

“You’re despicable,” I hissed. “I’m leaving.” I began to hobble away, but unfortunately, Potter was right. I couldn’t skate for beans. My skates were wobbling dangerously underneath me. I felt myself lose balance, felt myself slowly start to slip...

And then warm hands were on my waist, steadying me. I stiffened.

“Careful there, Aggy,” Potter murmered, his lips dangerously close to my ear. “Wouldn’t want you falling, now would we?

“Don’t call me that. And I don’t need your help.” I said, but for some reason, I didn’t push him away.

I could see from my peripheral vision that Potter was smirking wickedly. “The trick is,” he said quietly. “To lean on one foot and push off with the other.”

He pulled away, leaving the place where he had held my waist feeling strangely cold, and skated in front of me, before twisting around so he was facing me and skating backwards.

“Lean on one foot, push with the other,” he said. I complied, and suddenly, I felt myself moving.

“That’s right. Hold out your hands to balance yourself.”

This was so strange. I was skating in the Great Hall, with Potter as my instructor.

I felt like Bambi, wobbling around on my skates, my legs too clumsy and gangly. A small smile flickered across Potter’s face.

“There you go. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?”

“Shut up.”

“You can thank me anytime, you know.”

“Shut up.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Shut—“

“WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!?”

I whipped around, my eyes landing on the sight of Professor McGonagall practically flying through the doors of the Great Hall, her robes billowing out behind her in a mad fashion.

She didn’t even need to ask who did it. It was plainly obvious who the perpetrators were.

“POTTER! WEASLEY! BENNETT!”

Grinning, I turned back around to tell Potter that he was in for it, that he was done for.

But he had disappeared.

I sighed. Typical.


CURRENT SCORE:
Me:
1
James Flippin' Potter:  3


 





A/N: You know what to do... (cough REVIEW cough!)


Chapter 7: Scattered
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A/N: Okay, so I'm leaving today for vacation (it'll last approx. three weeks), and I'm not sure I'm going to have computer access where I'm going. So updates after this are going to take awhile. Please review! It means a lot and really keeps me going. Also, this chapter is not beta'd.

A/N.2: This chapter is officially beta'd :)

Disclaimer: None of it is mine.

Chapter image by jetaway at TDA.



 


(Hector Bagley)


Three days passed after what has come to be known as 'The Ice Rink Episode'. I gradually became accustomed to the flow of things, the endless blur of homework and classes and studying. It was quickly becoming apparent that the Slave Drivers (teachers) were not showing any mercy when it came to schoolwork. Everyone was starting to prepare for OWLS, even though it was just the beginning of the year.

Prefect rounds were difficult. With Ryan, I often found myself stumbling over my own words and just making a fool out of myself in general. With Potter, we bickered and argued and never got anything done. We just couldn’t work together, it was literally impossible.

Aidan was still trying to woo Dominique, but to no avail. She seemed determined to hate his guts, and honestly, I couldn’t blame her.

But still, Aidan was not deterred, he wouldn’t give up. Every day, he seemed to be coming up with new inventive ways to hit on Dom. On Tuesday, he gave her flowers. On Wednesday, he had the house elves bake a cake. On Thursday, he shot fireworks into the sky, proclaiming the words “You are my one and only, Dominique Florence Weasley!” in glittery handwriting. (Needless to say, Dominique did not appreciate the extravagant skywriting, nor did she appreciate the revelation of her middle name, which, it has to be said, is quite fugly.)

On Friday morning, Dominique and I trudged down to the Great Hall, already dreading what disastrous plan Aidan’s sick mind had been twisted and warped enough to come up with today. That morning, the Great Hall was quiet, save for the clatter of silverware and rustle of Daily Prophets. It appeared as though the entire population of Hogwarts was just too exhausted to say anything; everyone was eerily quiet. The atmosphere was worn and gloomy, the ceiling above an insipid shade of gray.

As I have previously mentioned before, ever since the war, all the Houses sat together. Hufflepuffs with Slytherins, Ravenclaws with Gryffindors, etcetera etcetera. Usually, Dom and I sat with the Tweedle Trio at our “regular table” (the second one from the left). Today was no different.

The guys were already there, looking tired and worn, save for Aidan, who had a very evil and satisfied smile on his face. We made our way over to them, and I plopped down next to Fred and immediately began spooning some scrambled eggs onto my plate. Dom, shooting a wary glance at Aidan, sat next to Potter.

No one said a word.

Potter’s eyes were drooping closed. Fred’s elbow was in his cereal. 

We ate in silence, Aidan and Dominique occasionally sneaking glances at one another, nobody breathing a word. For a moment, for one, beautiful, glorious moment, I had started to think that maybe Aidan didn’t want to proclaim his “undying” love for Dom today. Maybe, possibly, Aidan was content with just sitting pretty and letting the morning pass without any incidents.

“Attention! I have an announcement to make!”

...Or not.

I looked up from my rubbery (and rather unsatisfying) pile of eggs to see Aidan, standing on the table, a goblet and fork in his hand. He was currently tapping the piece of silverware against the glass, the tinkling sound echoing throughout the Great Hall.

Everyone in the room went still. The Great Hall became even quieter than it already had been. All eyes were directed to my idiotic buffoon of a brother, standing on the table.

“Jumpin' Jahoesaphat,” Freddy whispered from where he was sitting next to me. “What is that boy doing?”

I didn’t answer, instead just stared up at Aidan with a mixture of horror and fascination on my face.

“Sorry for disturbing your breakfast, but I would just like to perform this rap that I wrote...” Aidan began.

I frowned. Did I hear correctly? Aidan wanted to...rap?

Dominique’s face turned an unflattering shade of purple, yet Aidan, taking no notice, continued on with his introductory speech. “The rap took hours to make, and it’s about my dearest, most sweetest love, Dominique—“

“Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it,” Dominique muttered, her eyes closed and fists clenched.

“—Florence Weasley.”

With a groan, Dominique slammed her head on the table. This action went unnoticed by Aidan.

“I hope you like it, Dommy. Give me a beat, Tim!” Aidan said, pointing to a small Hufflepuff at the table next to us.

Tim-the-Hufflepuff began to cup his hands over his mouth and make these undistinguishable noises that I guess were supposed to be beats. As the rest of the Great Hall stared on in astonishment, Aidan took a piece of parchment out of his pocket, cleared his throat...and then the rap/Unbearable Ear Torture began.

“Dominique Weasley,
I love you very easily
This rap rings true
Ev’ry word from me to you


You have really pretty hair
And a very scary glare
But it’s still sort of nice-y
Even though it’s quite icy.”


My brother has gone insane. First the gerbil, then the ice-rink, now he’s convinced he’s some sort of bona fide rapper. Which, judging by his terrible rhyming and grammar, he is most definitely not.

“I miss you like teeth miss braces
and a shoe misses laces
I miss you like rock misses roll
and a stripper misses her pole


Your eyes are green glass
and you have a nice...smile
You’re an amazing lass
For you I’ll walk a mile.


This is the end of this rap
So now all you peeps should clap
Cause it took me  time
To come up with all these rhymes.”


Everyone in the Great Hall started cheering and clapping. Potter wolf-whistled, Fred wiped away mock tears. Dominique looked like she had just gone into cardiac arrest.

“Word to your mother
I’m the Freaky Funk Brother


Fressshhhhh.”

The Great Hall was positively ringing with applause. The professors at the Staff Table looked mildly bemused, as if they didn’t quite believe what had just happened. Aidan bowed several times, thanking his audience politely, and then sat back down, a passive expression cloaking his face.

Dom opened her mouth. Closed it. Opened, closed, opened, closed.

My hand inched slowly towards her fork, which was sitting next to her bowl of cereal. It’s (very pointy, I might add) prongs gleamed in the light, and I shifted nervously before grabbing the utensil and moving it a safe distance away. It might seem a little extreme, but it was probably best that Dom was kept away from all sharp objects at the moment.

Hey, you never know. Just saying.

“So,” Aidan finally said, clearing his throat. “What do you think, Dommy?” The question was phrased in an oddly casual manner, as if he was asking her which tie he should wear to a party, or something.

Dom did not reply... just simply sat there, staring at Aidan like he was the craziest boy in Hogwarts (which, come to think of it, he kind of is). And then, all of a sudden—with this weird look on her face—she stood up so abruptly the table shook, turned on her heel, and ran out of the room.

The Great Hall quieted as everyone realized that Aidan’s rap—although sensitive, romantic, and brilliantly crafted (sarcasm)—had not worked. Oddly enough, people seemed surprised that Dominique had not immediately thrown herself at Aidan in a frenzy of grateful sobs and sloppy kisses. Whispers and sniggers rippled throughout the entire room.

Fred, Potter, Aidan and I were silent as we all stared at one another. The awkwardness was so thick I could taste it.

Finally, I said, “Um, I think we should...you know...“

“...Yeah. Probably.”

“Okay. Let’s do that.”

We all stood up and left the Great Hall in search of one Very Distressed Dominique. I briefly wondered if it was a good idea that Aidan was coming along with us, seeing as he had caused the whole ordeal in the first place, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him to leave and he probably wouldn’t have listened to me even if I had.

We didn’t have to look very far, seeing as Dom was standing in the corridor just outside the Great Hall leaning against the wall and hyperventilating. For a moment, the four of us just stared at her stupidly as she attempted to suck in as much oxygen as possible, waving her hands madly in the air. And then Potter, coming to his senses, conjured up a paper bag and handed it to her.

There was a long moment where Dominique just inhaled and exhaled, the paper bag convulsing with her respiration. After about five minutes or so, her breathing slowed to a normal, steady pace, and Dominique finally pulled away from the bag, her face beet red.

There was a long, pregnant pause.

And then Aidan said, tone hopeful, “So, did you like it?”

Dominique’s face deepened in color. Fred, Potter and I winced, instinctively taking a step back in fear. Aidan, however, remained oblivious.

And then she exploded.

“WHAT IN THE NAME OF SWEET MERLIN’S PREPUBESCENT WHISKERS WERE YOU THINKING, YOU BLOODY TWAT? HUMILIATING ME IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE SCHOOL? YOU’RE A COMPLETE AND UTTER WANKER, YOU KNOW THAT?.... I MEAN, SWEET CIRCE, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?! I AM....JUST...SO....ARGH!!”

During this whole entire tirade, Dominique had been advancing towards Aidan—who was now looking extremely terrified—until he was completely backed up against the wall. Fred, Potter and I said nothing, unwilling spectators to this whole fiasco.

“So...er...I take it you didn’t like it...?”

“Didn’t like it? DIDN”T LIKE IT? That was the biggest pile of butt-pudding I have ever heard in my life, and that’s saying something because I BOUGHT TAYLOR SWIFT’S FIRST ALBUM AND HATED IT!”

“I’m sorry,” Aidan said mildly. “That must have been a terrible waste of money.”

“Yes it was! I was extremely disappoi—HEY, THIS IS NOT RELEVANT TO THIS CONVERSATION! STOP EFFING CHANGING THE EFFING TOPIC, YOU EFFING—”

And then, for some inexplicable reason that I cannot possibly fathom, he kissed her.

My brother, Aidan Bennett, kissed my best friend Dominique Weasley.

...And then ran away.

Dominique stood there—stock still and speechless—for a long moment. I was starting to wonder if I should call for some medical assistance, when all of a sudden, her face changing from maroon to white to purple, Dominique screeched,

“AIDAN—KISS—WANKER—ARGH!” And then promptly sprinted after my brother, most likely in search for violent revenge.

There was a long, heavy silence as Fred, Potter and I stared at each other, in complete shock of what had just happened.

And then Fred, in an oddly cheery voice, said, “Well... Ten Galleons Aidan’s in the Hospital Wing by four o’clock.”

“Deal,” Potter said, and they shook on it.

I sighed.




Hours later, I sat nervously in the Potions dungeons, fidgeting in my seat as Slughorn’s dull voice hummed in my ear like an annoying, incessant fly. Potions was my third subject of the day, and Dom had not bothered to show up.  She hadn't attended the second class of the day (Charms), or the first (Transfiguration) either. It was...disconcerting, to say the least.

Knowing her, she was either, a) breaking all 206 bones in Aidan’s poor body or b) furiously snogging him in a broom closet. I wasn’t sure which one was worse. A naive, optimistic part of me was hoping for c) none of the above. But that wasn’t likely to happen.

I tapped my fingers on the wooden desk, the noise irritating my already shot nerves. Part of me wanted to comb the castle, looking for her, but another part of me knew that I had to stay here and pay attention. I was torn.

“Miss Bennett, would you please explain to me what you have been daydreaming about for the past half hour? I’m finding it hard to imagine what could possibly be interesting enough to distract you from my lesson.” I looked up to see a giant, grey moustache looming in front of my eyes, followed shortly by the rest of Slughorn’s inflated face. I winced. Craparoni. “I just instructed the entire class to pair up five minutes ago, yet you seem to not have heard.”

I looked around the classroom. Indeed, it was true. The rest of the students were all partnered into groups of two, sitting at their tables with boiling cauldrons and racks of colorful ingredients—obviously preparing to make a potion. Everyone seemed to be sniggering at my misfortune, amused at the predicament I’ve gotten myself into.

I swallowed. “Uh... Well... You see, I was just... thinking...”

“Thinking? Miss Bennett, there is no time for thinking in this class!” Slughorn hissed, spit flying everywhere. After a few seconds, he must have realized his mistake, because he hastily corrected himself. “Er, I mean thinking about other things besides Potions, of course.” Several students giggled into their palms.

I barely stifled an eye-roll. Slughorn had no idea how stupid he sounded sometimes.

“Right. I apologize...for my thinking, sir.” My tone was dry and sardonic, sarcasm clinging to every syllable, but Sluggy didn’t notice.

“Well, it’s quite alright,” he said, puffing his chest out. “Just don’t do it again or I’ll be forced to deduct points. Now, if you would be so kind as to take a seat next to Mr. Bagley over there, we can begin brewing our potions.”

“Yes sir,” I said, having no idea what potion he was talking about or how on Jupiter we would go about making it.

I picked up my books and walked over to the desk Slughorn had pointed at, face an embarrassing shade of red. There sat Hector Bagley, Resident Ravenclaw whiz kid and one of the few people in this godforsaken school whom I could actually stand.

“Hey Hector,” I greeted him, setting my books down on the table. “How was your summer?”

Hector Bagley can basically be described as a mad genius, except for the mad part. He was incredibly smart but had few friends, apparently preferring the easy, simple companionship of books rather than people. He was known for spouting off random facts at any moment in time. I didn’t know why he did it...perhaps it was some sort of coping mechanism. It probably calmed him, or something

“Giraffes are mainly homosexual in nature,” Hector stated automatically, voice matter-of-fact. “Hello, Agatha. My summer was fine, thank you for asking. How was yours?”

“Er.” I blinked twice. “It was...good.”’

“That’s nice.” Hector had eerily large, blue eyes that sort of made him look like a giant insect. When confronted with them, it’s hard not to back away or flinched.

“So... Er... What potion are we making?” I asked, feeling incredibly stupid.

“We’re brewing the Draught of Peace, a potion that calms anxiety and sooths agitation. Necessary ingredients are powdered moonstone, hellebore syrup, daisy root and lovage leaves. Side effects include, but are not limited to, falling asleep at random moments of time, not being able to concentrate, and headaches. People should not take this potion if they are experiencing heart difficulty, smoking, or pregnant.” He paused for a moment, staring at a spot on the table. “Did you know that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear?”

“No, Hector. I did not know that... Thanks,” I said, half afraid and half impressed.

“You’re welcome.”

There was a long silence. It was getting awkward. Fast.

“So... Er...how about you go fetch the ingredients as I’ll set up the cauldron, yeah?” I asked, nervously picking at a thread in my shirt.

Hector consented, nodding and scurrying away. I busied myself by pouring some water into our cauldron and charming it to boil, the water bubbling and gurgling cheerfully. When Hector finally came back, arms loaded with an assortment of colorful ingredients, we immediately began setting up.

Potions was my worst subject. I mean, I was great at the theory part of it (I aced all of my essays, worksheets, or written tests), but the potion making itself? Yeah, not so much. I’ve been known to explode a few cauldrons. Okay, maybe not just a ‘few’. More like three. Or four. Or nineteen. But, you know, that’s just a rough estimate.

Anyways, I was very thankful to have Hector by my side, since he was amazing at Potions, coming second in our year only to (grr...) Potter, who, it has to be said, is some sort of freakish, Potion-making machine.

Yes, I know. Potter is actually good at something besides Quidditch and picking up girls. It surprises me too.

We worked in silence. Hector was very exact and meticulous, measuring everything once, twice, even three times. I mainly just stood there and watched, careful not to screw anything up. By the time Potions was over, our potion was an iridescent, shimmering white color, as it was supposed to be. I capped it and turned it into Slughorn, face smug. Surely we would get at least an E.

The rest of the day passed by with no incident, save for Evilyn “accidentally” turning Sandra Macucci’s hair a sickly green color in Transfiguration. Dom and Aidan did not show up for any of their classes. Neither did they show up for dinner. I was beginning to worry, and I tried to distract myself with some homework, but to no avail. I felt scattered, like my brain was somewhere off in space, taking a trip to Neptune or something.

That evening, I stood outside the Charms classroom, where Potter and I were supposed to meet for patrol, my mind still occupied with thoughts of Aidan and Dominique. I mean, did he really miss her that much? Or did he just want her because she was unattainable?

A part of me—the selfish part—didn’t want them dating. For many reasons, really, but mostly because it was disgusting. And weird. And I had to hear about it from both of them.

I mean, in Third Year, I remember distinctly that for two whole months (after a particularly nasty break up), they only talked to each other through me. Mostly, our conversations would play out like this:

[Try to recall that this is all happening while we’re SITTING NEXT TO EACH OTHER]

Aidan: Agatha, will you please tell Dominique to pass the butter?

Me: Dom, will you pass the butter?

Dominique: Aggy, tell Aidan that I will NOT pass the butter, and that he should take a short walk off a long pier, or whatever.

Me: Er, Dominique says she’s not passing the butter.

Aidan: Well, tell her that’s okay, ‘cause I don’t need butter and my waffle tastes perfectly fine without it. Butter’s over-rated, anyway.

Dominique: Well, tell Aidan that the butter’s glad it’s not needed, since the waffle is AN OBNOXIOUS, SELF-OBSESSED PRICK!

Me: Um.

Aidan: Tell Dominique that butter is gross and FATTENING!

Dominique: Well tell Aidan that waffles are bland and nobody likes them!

Aidan: Tell Dominique that waffles are for sophisticated people with good taste, which she obviously does not have!

Dominique: Tell Aidan that butter is moving on to bigger and better things, like PANCAKES!

And so on.

Eventually, I’d just leave and they wouldn’t even notice which is kind of sad, if you think about it.

But anyways, after that nice little trip down memory lane, I think it’s safe to say that Dominique and Aidan are an exasperating pair to be in the company of...especially when they’re mad at each other.

Maybe I’m a bad person for not wanting them to get together. It’s just that...them dating complicates things, you know? I liked it better when everything was simple. When everything was—

“Bennett.”

I yelped in surprise and jumped about five feet into the air. Heart racing, I whipped around to see Potter, who was leaning against the wall, arms crossed and a crooked smirk on his face.

“William H. Macy!” I cried, resting a hand over my thumping heart. “You scared me, Potter!”

“Sorry,” he said, shrugging.

“Don’t do that again!”

“I won’t!” 

“Next time, it’s just polite to tap a person on the shoulder, okay? Instead of...hollering their name from behind! Learn some etiquette!” I said, my heart still beating at a faster pace than must be normal.

“Oh calm down, Bennett. It’s not like I jumped out of the shadows and attacked you.”

“Um, you may as well have!”

Potter threw his hands in the air in surrender. “Whatever. Can we just start patrolling? I want to get this over with so I can go to bed.”

“Wow, don’t get too excited about it. You might have an accident.”

Potter ignored me. “Let’s patrol this level and then go up to the fourth floor. Then we can call it a day, alright?” He started to walk away, his hands shoved in his pockets, not even waiting for my consent.

“Wait!” I called, speed-walking after him, “I thought we were supposed to patrol this level and then go down to the second floor.”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s the fourth floor.”

“We’re supposed to patrol the second floor, Potter!” I insisted. “It says so on the sheet!”

“Oh, and do you have said sheet with you?”

“Er...well. I don't physically have it. But it's with me in spirit!”

“I see.”

“Just trust me on this one, okay, Potter? We’re supposed to patrol the second floor,” I said firmly, pursing my lips together.

“No, we’re supposed to patrol the fourth floor!” Potter said slowly, as if he were speaking to a particularly slow child.

“Second!”

“Fourth!”

“Second!”

“Fourth!”

“Sec—Okay, you know what, we’re not getting anywhere with this.” I sighed. “Here, how about I patrol the second floor, and you patrol the fourth floor?”

Rather pleased with myself for coming up with such a brilliant idea, I swiveled around and—not bothering to wait for a reply—began to walk away.

But before I could get far, a warm hand grabbed my shoulder, spinning me around. I looked up to see Potter, his eyes flashing dangerously. “Hold up, princess. We are not splitting up.”

“Why not?” I said, jutting my chin out stubbornly.

“Because I don’t want to be responsible for whatever catastrophe you would...inevitably get yourself into.”

“Catastrophe? What are you talking about?” I said, backing away from Potter. “I am perfectly capable of patrolling by myself, thank you very much.”

Potter snorted, crossing his arms. “I don’t think so.”

“I will have you know that I am an independent, skilled young woman, and I am fully able to handle any difficult situations that might be thrown my way—“

“Oh, so what about that incident with Peeves and the water gun? Were you “fully able” to handle that?”

I gaped at him. “H-how did you know...?” I sputtered. I didn’t need to ask though. I already knew the answer...

“Dominique.” We both said at the same time, although in considerably different tones.

“Well, whatever,” I said curtly, mentally kicking myself for my stupidity. “That was once. And a long time ago. It’s irrelevant now.”

“Agatha Bennett,” Potter said, shaking his head, hands in his pockets as he lazily took a step forward. “You are clumsy, foolish, and, it must be said, quite lacking in the hand-eye co-ordination department. I’m sorry, but letting you go patrol by yourself would be like letting a hippogriff loose in a china shop.”

Potter stepped forward once more. I stumbled backwards, but found myself unable to go very far since I had been, unwittingly, backed up against a wall.

He slowly placed his hands on the wall on either side of my head, trapping me. Uh oh. I swallowed, craning my neck to look up at him. Slowly, he leaned forwards until our noses were almost touching.

Um...this...Potter...close...not...wow...um...interesting...really... My breathing hitched, and my skin suddenly felt like ice.

“Besides,” his voice was nothing more than a murmur, velvety and soft, “you never know what sort of things are out there... Things that go bump in the night...”

There were goose bumps on my arms. I was standing so close to Potter, if I leaned any closer, my eyelashes would brush against his cheek.

I averted my eyes, refusing to have to look up at him, and instead focused on a spot directly in front of me. Which was a bad idea, really. A very bad idea indeed, since that spot was Potter’s chest. His very...nice chest. I mean, Potter isn’t exactly Mr. Muscle here, but he’s lean... and toned.

And....fun...to look at. Sometimes. Speaking objectively, of course.

I mean, I’m not saying that Potter isn’t good-looking. Because he is, to be honest. Saying that he’s ugly would just be a flat out lie. He’s a git and everything, but he’s attractive, I’ll grant him that. He has this... messy, dark hair. That contrasts nicely with his—

(creamysmoothflawlessreallyreallyreallytouchable

—skin. And his eyes are...colorful. Bright. With swirls of brown and dark green and amber...and these golden flecks that kind of look like shards of broken glass.

You know. Objectively...speaking.

Potter blinked, eyelashes dark and unbelievably long. So long, it was feminine, almost. I made a mental note to add that to my list of Things to Ridicule Potter About (below ‘Coming second best to me in Transfiguration’ and above ‘Not being able to stay in a relationship for longer than the time it takes Aidan to finish off an entire Shepherd’s Pie, a.k.a. six minutes’). 

There was a long moment where I just stared at him, not breathing, my eyes widened in an almost bewildered fashion, until finally, Potter, tone musical, spoke:

“Stop undressing me with your eyes, Bennett.”

“Wha—I’m—Huh? No!” I sputtered, mortified. The left corner of Potter’s lips quirked upwards into a skeptical smirk. I felt the compelling urge to slap it off my face.

“Oh come on, Bennett. You’re not fooling anyone...we all know what you’re thinking about.”

My mouth fell open. “What are you implying?”

“That you’re a promiscuous sex fiend, of course,“ Potter replied, face remarkably innocent.

It took a moment for me to realize that he was joking. And then I scowled, feeling the hot fingers of embarrassment slide down my neck as my face bloomed crimson.

“You’re unbelievable.” I shoved him with all the strength in my body and he stumbled backwards, still grinning in that insufferable manner. I whipped around and began to walk away, fists clenched. But, once again, Potter caught me, his hand enclosing around my wrist and preventing me from any further movement.

“Let go, Potter!” I hissed, attempting to yank my arm from his grasp. But he was too strong. “You... infuriating prat! Let go!’

“I don’t think so,” he said, eyebrows raised.

And then... I sort of lost it.

“Why you little, obnoxious, vile, impertinent...ugh, there are no words for it! I hate you, you awful prick! You are the most contemptible person I have ever had the misfortune to meet! Day after day I ask myself what I could have possibly done to deserve ever knowing you! Sometimes, I think I must have been some... serial puppy killer in my past life! And you know what? That kind of makes me hate puppies!” My voice was high with hysteria, but I couldn’t stop myself. “And that, you idiot, is sad, because hating a puppy is practically one of the worst sins a human could ever wish to commit in his or her lifetime! So there, you arrogant arse, there you have it! You. Make. Me. Hate. Puppies. Are you satisfied now? I hope you’re happy, you evil little toerag.  Because, it’s not just puppies. You make me hate everything! You make me doubt my faith in humanity! You make me want to drop kick a baby, okay? That is how terrible of a person you are. And you know what else, Potter? You have girly eyelashes. So take that, you...you...argh!”

I was breathing heavily, my chest rising up and down. Potter looked at me blankly, no expression on his face. There was a long moment where we just stared each other down, as I silently dared Potter to retaliate, to yell at me as well...

I was this close to just going bonkers and ripping out all the hair from my head. He was so...so... ARGH! Words could not describe it; except for the fact that now, I was so furious I wanted to punch something. Preferably Potter himself.

I narrowed my eyes at him, until they were nothing but thin slits. Potter looked back, hazel gaze unwavering, face completely serious except for the slightest upturn of the left side of his lips. Glowering, I took a menacing step forward, but he didn’t even flinch, nor did he release my arm.

We were so close to each other, almost as close as we had been before... But neither one of us was about to back down...

CRASH! BANG!

We jumped away from each other at the sudden, strange noise, and Potter, caught off guard, let go of my wrist. My previous irritation (okay, fury) vanished almost completely as my eyes darted back and forth, searching for the source of the racket. Potter, too, was frowning.

“Hey, did you—“

“Hear that?”

BANG! CRASH! BANG BANG!

I frowned, stiffening. “It sounded like it was coming from—“

“That direction,” Potter interrupted, pointing down the corridor we were standing in. It led into an eerie, inky blackness, dark save for the occasional fluttering light of the torches on the wall. The sight was spooky enough to give me shivers.

“Yeah,” I agreed (wow, call the press... Agatha Bennett, actually agreeing with Potter the Prat!). “We should probably—“

“Check it out.”

“Potter,” I sighed, exasperated. “Will you stop trying to—“

“Finish your sentences?” Potter’s face broke out into a full-fledged smirk. I gritted my teeth.

“Yes. That,” I bit out, voice strained.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

Although I didn’t appreciate Potter ordering me around, I let him take the lead as we speed-walked down the hallway. After all, I was a little bit more than freaked out (I mean, spooky noises in the middle of the night? Hello? Can you not see the teen slasher film just waiting to happen?), and hey, if Potter wanted to be the first one to walk down the Creepy Death Corridor, then that was fine by me.

We rounded a corner and suddenly came across a suit of armor. It was lying on the ground, glowing amber in the torch light, its metallic limbs scattered across the stone floor, almost looking like a—

Don’t say it, Agatha, don’t say it...

Dismembered body.

My breathing hitched.

Okay, so, this was sufficiently creepy.

I looked up to see Potter pacing around the suit of armor, his brow furrowed with concentration. I walked up to him, hands shaking.

“Um, Potter?” I asked, voice small as I tugged on his sleeve. “Maybe we should go back—?”

“Merlin, Bennett. Are you seriously afraid?”

I scoffed. “I’m not afraid! I just think that perhaps it would be wise to head back and find a teacher, or somethi—“

His hazel eyes rolled to the ceiling. “Oh yeah? Well what’s happened to that ‘it’s our duty as Prefects to protect the school and all its students inside’ bullshit that you’re always blabbering about?”

“Well it depends on the situation, you see. I mean, as smart, upstanding students, we should report this to the professors.“

“Yeah but as diligent prefects, we should investigate to see what’s going on,” Potter pointed out.

“Well as a human being, I would like to live to see daylight,” I snapped back.

He chuckled. “Relax, Bennett. Nothing’s going to happen.”

“Potter, you say that now but later—“

“You trust me, don’t you?”

“Of course not! Are you stupid?”

"Eh, fair enough.” He grabbed me by the arm and began to walk forward. I resisted.

"Potter, I’m really not comfortable with this... I don’t think it’s a good idea—“ But I stopped talking, because all of a sudden, I heard it:

Muffled giggling.

My blood ran cold. Potter’s eyes narrowed. He dropped my arm, marching forward as he followed the noise.

“Potter, wait—“ Pushing aside the Slytherin self-preservation instincts that were currently screaming at me to turn around and run away like a crazy woman, I followed Potter. We hurried down the corridor, rounded another corner and then—

Stopped.
 
Because right in front of us stood Scorpius Malfoy and Rose Weasley...

Snogging.

They were in some sort of passionate, hormone-induced, furious embrace, sucking each other’s faces off like there was no tomorrow, hands...er...everywhere. Obviously, they had been the ones who had knocked down the suit of armor in the midst of all their...er, fervor.

I choked on my own saliva, which I’m sure must have looked very attractive. A Malfoy and a Weasley? Together? Like, together together? That was...unheard of. In fact, it was just plain strange.

“ROSE? ROSE?” Potter’s face was priceless. He looked like Filch had just stupefied him while wearing a tutu. I wish I could have caught it on camera.

The two lovers (ick, I hate that word...it’s so sleazy. It always reminds me of Russian guys and chest hair) broke apart, faces horrified. Upon seeing who had just yelled her name, Rose Weasley’s face turned a brilliant shade of purple. Scorpius, on the other hand, paled to a fantastic beige color.

“Er...this is going to be hard to explain...”

Oh boy.






A/N: Please review!


Chapter 8: Always
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Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or The Notebook, which is property of Avery Pix.



After seeing Rose with Scorpius, Potter went sort of... insane. Not the fun, dancing-around-naked-and-talking-to-fruit kind of insane, mind you. No. A different kind of insane. A much more violent kind. I had been forced to personally hold Potter down as Scorpius fled for his life. And let me tell you, Potter was really strong. I needed to sit on his chest in order to administer any sort of restraint.

Maybe this was a sign from the universe that it was really time for me to start working out some more. I could take up those kick-boxing/yoga/dance/water aerobics classes Mum was always going to. I bet these types of situations would be a lot easier to handle if I were more physically fit.

Or this could be a sign that I needed to seriously re-evaluate my life. I mean, the number of physical confrontations (Dom’s birthday, Peeves, Merriam, etc.) I had encountered over the past 30 days exceeded the number of dates I’d been on... ever. Now that was rock-bottom.

Anyways, after Scorpius ran away, I had to endure a sixty-minute long rant from Potter as he raved on to Rose about “house loyalty” and “family duty” and whatnot. It was mad boring, but I couldn’t leave in case Potter lapsed into another bout of temporary insanity, decided to go on an angry rampage and break all the wood furniture in the castle. Or bones in Scorpius' body. You know, whichever.

So, long story short, by the time I finally got back to the dorm, it was way past midnight and I was exhausted.

I cracked the door open, making sure to tiptoe inside so that I wouldn’t wake anyone, because if there was ever a demographic you did not want to deprive of sleep, it would be teenaged Slytherin girls.

It was almost completely dark in the dorm, save for the moonlight that leaked through the window and spilled onto the floor like melted ivory. All of the beds had their curtains drawn and the rhythmic, soothing sound of deep breathing floated through the air.

Walking through my dorm room was like going through a giant, unfriendly obstacle course. There were trunks, clothing, books, and other random items (hey, my Herbology textbook! I’d been looking for it all week!) strewn across the floor. You practically needed a machete, a compass and a sherpa to get out alive, but somehow I managed.

I was really, really looking forward to flopping down on my bed and just slipping into the heavenly, joyous paradise that was sleep... In fact, I was more than just looking forward to it. I was excited. To put it simply, my feelings about my mattress were almost identical to a soccer mom's feelings about a khaki sale at a department store. Which was kind of pathetic, if you thought about it. I mean, the best part of my day was when I went to sleep. I actually looked forward to sleeping. How sad was that?

Much to my surprise, though, when I got to my bed I saw there was a person lying in it. At first, I thought that one of my roommates, Marlene (also Evelyn's best friend), had forgotten which bed was hers again and fell asleep mine (not the brightest bean in the Bertie Box, that girl). But upon closer inspection, I discovered that the mystery person was not Marlene, as I had presumed, but rather Dominique — best friend and woman missing-in-action for the past 12 hours.

She was lying on top of my duvet, her body completely rigid and still save the slow rising and falling of her chest. She could have been asleep except for the fact that her eyes were open, green and glassy as they stared above at my dark velvet canopy.

I looked at her, unsure of what to do. I could try to attempt conversation, but attempting conversation with Dom meant talking to Dom, and we all knew that talking to Dom, in reality, translated into listening to Dom as she ranted on about her life. And that entailed a whole lot of nodding and ‘mhmm’ing sympathetically until your brain turned into goo and your ears fell off.

In short, I didn’t want to listen to the crazy bint whine.

But on the other foot, Dom had been missing for 12 hours, a long period of time during which god-knows-what could have happened and, let’s face it, I was curious as to what she'd been doing. After all, it would be kind of nice to know whether my brother was still alive or not...

After a long moment of internal conflict, I decided to speak.

“Well. Long time no see.”

My best friend slowly turned her head to face me but did not reply. I had to admit, the way she was acting crept me out a little. I mean, she looked...terrible. There were purple bags under her eyes, her skin was papery thin, flimsy and translucent... And there was this certain dazed quality about her, as if she had no idea where she was or how she got there. It was unsettling.

“Hi,” she croaked.

A million questions were buzzing through my head (where’ve you been? What happened with Aidan? Will we be having to bury a dead body tonight?) but I didn’t voice them. It seemed like a good idea to save the interrogation for later, when Dominique was thinking straight. Or thinking at all, for that matter.

“So...” I said, rocking back and forth on my heels, my hands shoved into my robes’ pockets. “What’s up?”

Dominique blinked at me, face confused as if she didn’t quite understand what was going on. Then she abruptly swung her legs over the bed and stood, wobbling a bit on her bare feet in the soft moonlight.

I took a cautionary step backwards, waiting for whatever imminent explosion that was about to come.

But instead of combusting into a human wreckage of tears and emotion like I thought she would, Dom simply looked at me and said: “I want pumpkin pie. Do you want pumpkin pie?”

Her voice was dazed, high with hysteria. “I want pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie sounds nice.”

I gaped at her.

“Er. Maybe you should sit down, Dom." I reached out to feel her temperature, but my best friend impatiently swatted my hand away. "Are you feeling well?”

“Pumpkin pie... I’m going to get some pumpkin pie,” she muttered, more to herself then to anyone else. “Yes, yes. Pumpkin pie. I have to find pumpkin pie...”.

And then, giving me a bewildered sort of smile, she shoved past me and walked out of the room.

I stared after her, my eyes wide in astonishment, watching until the dorm room door swugn shut and Dom disappeared from view.

Uh-oh. This was not good. Not good at all.

Because Dom always asked for pie during times of crisis. That was usually how I knew if she was feeling depressed or angry, and if I had to maintain my distance from her while she worked things out on her own. It was a norm for us, her requesting different kinds of pies depending on what mood she was in, me sneaking down to the kitchens with her if she needed me.

In fact, throughout the years we had managed to come up with a scale of the different flavors Dom would ask for, ranked according to the dire nature of the situation. For example, if Dom broke a nail or was having a bad hair day, she'd usually ask for key lime pie. And if something more serious happened, say Dom having another fight with Aidan, key lime was the way to go.

For quick reference, I had comprised a complete list.

THE CORRELATION BETWEEN PIE FLAVOURS AND THE DANGER LEVEL OF DOMINIQUE WEASLEY’S “FREAK-OUTS," AS OBSERVED AND RECORDED BY AGATHA BENNETT:

1. Apple Pie: Almost non-existent danger level. Usually requested after a tough day as a little pick-me-up. Nothing to worry about, just give Dom a slice and everyone's on their merry way.

2. Pecan Pie: Low danger level. Called for whenever Dom is having a Moment of Self-Doubt (e.g. thinks she's not "good" enough, "smart" enough, "pretty" enough, etc.) or has somehow messed up during an important occasion, like a Quidditch game. Best served with a side of vanilla ice cream.

3. Key Lime Pie (also known as Aidan Pie): Medium danger level.Mandatory after any argument or fight concerning Aidan Bennett. Also helps to have tissues and The Notebook nearby.

5. Blueberry Pie: High danger level. Usually required after an argument with her parents or a failed exam. Keep Dom away from any object that could be used as a weapon (including, but not limited to: tooth brushes, snow globes, chess sets, materials that can be filed down to a sharp point, etc.). Also keep her away from any breakable things, such as glass, wood furniture, and YOUR LEFT ARM (let the record show we are speaking from experience here).

6. Pumpkin Pie: Extremely high danger level. Evacuate the premises immediately. Pray for a miracle — or, at the very least, the Royal Navy.

I sighed to myself and fell backwards on to my bed. This was bad — really bad. I wanted to go and follow Dom to make sure she was all right, but I knew that it would be wiser to leave her alone for a little. After all, the girl was a walking nervous breakdown waiting to happen, and I didn’t want to be there when she snapped.

Plus, I already knew Dom’s routine. She would go down to the kitchens and demand pie. After eating as much as her tiny stomach could hold, she would come back here to fall into her usual comatose-like sleep. To be honest, it would be useless to confront her now when her brain wasn’t functioning right, and all efforts and capabilities of said brain were singularly devoted to a slice of bloody dessert.

I let my eyes slip closed, exhaling sharply. Since when had everything become so messed up? Dom wanted pumpkin pie, Potter was going insane, Aidan was, in all likelihood, lying in a shallow grave somewhere, and Fred... Well, Fred was probably asleep right now and therefore had no idea what the hell was going on, but that wasn't the point.

The point was... Since when had my life become so filled with drama? The only goals I had set for my Fifth Year at Hogwarts involved being a good Prefect, doing well on my OWLs, and maybe pushing Potter into the Black Lake if I could find the spare time. But now I was breaking up fights and managing my brother’s love life. Honestly. Couldn’t a girl catch a break around here?

I rolled over so that I was lying on my stomach, smothering my face into the cool smushiness of my pillow. A few minutes passed like that, with me just lying there and thinking in the silence, and as time ticked on, my thoughts grew shorter and more fragmented until they were barely thoughts at all. I felt myself slowly start to drift, felt my body grow heavier as it seemed to melt into my mattress, until finally — finally — on top of my bed covers, still dressed in my school uniform, I fell asleep.

The next morning was going to be a bad one.

—*—

When I woke up, the dormitory was deserted.

There was a blissful moment in which, as I lay in bed staring blankly at my headboard, I was completely and totally oblivious. For one second, I hadn't remembered anything about the previous night. My mind was beautifully blank.

But then it came flooding back to me. Rose and Scorpius. Aidan. Dom. Potter. The pumpkin pie. It all hit me like the freaking Hogwarts Express. Everything, in one mad rush, in a wave that crashed over my body and washed me with realization.

I groaned, rolling over onto my side.

I knew that I should probably get out of bed and attempt some sort of damage control. You know, try to fix things up a little. Buy a straight jacket for Potter, start planning Aidan’s funeral, find a defense lawyer for Dom... My friends needed me, and I was obligated to help them in turn (or at least Dom and Aidan).

But then again, I was tired. And I could never function properly when I was tired. Sprawled across the mattress, I briefly entertained the thought of just rolling over and going back to sleep. After all, wasn't it essential for teenagers to get a healthy night’s rest? Well, I didn't feel very rested. Yeah. I should probably sleep for another hour. Or, you know, five.

Sighing to myself, I stretched, yawned, and then rolled over again, preparing myself for another satisfying round of snoozing. But as I turned, my gaze fell to the clock on my nightstand.

It read 11:00 AM. I stopped breathing.

Oh no.

Oh no, no, no, no.

I was late for class. Not just late-late, but astronomically-late. They were going to give me a detention. And take away my Prefect’s badge. Oh God. Unexplained absences were a serious offense at this school. I was going to be expelled, wasn’t I? I was never going to get my Hogwarts education. No one would want to hire me, my family shunning me for being such failure... I would have to live in a cardboard box for the rest of my life. Or join a gang! Oh God. I couldn't join a gang! I was inept!

“Shit!” I fell — quite literally — out of bed, picked myself up off the floor, and, with a kind of speed and agility that was quite out of the norm for me, grabbed my backpack and ran frantically out of the room.

I was halfway down the stairs when I realized that I needed my Prefect’s badge, so I wheeled around and sprinted back into the dorm. The badge wasn’t in its usual spot on my nightstand, though, so — my panic rising — I ran around the room for a good ten minutes trying to find it. I looked under dressers and beds, rummaged through drawers, shook out my backpack... Until finally I realized that a) I was wearing it, and b) today was a Saturday.

...I hate my life.

Slowly, I sat back down on my bed, half-relieved and half-annoyed that I had acted like such an idiot when I didn't even have class.

Then I thought of Dom and Aidan. The need to help them was an itch inside me, nagging at the back of my brain, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to fully relax until both of them were okay. After all, Dom had asked for pumpkin pie. She hadn’t done that since... Well, since Victoire was made Head Girl over two years ago.

I sighed, swinging my legs over the side of the bed with finality, and stood.

I knew what I had to do.

—*—

“Potter. I need your help.”

“No.”

“It’s important.”

“No.”

“Really, really important.”

“No.”

“But — “

“Bennett, can’t you see that I’m busy here?”

I narrowed my eyes as I felt my anger pulse inside of me like a living thing, temper steadily climbing higher and higher like a thermometer in mid-July. Here I was, my pride and dignity in shambles at my feet, asking Potter for help, and he was rejecting me? I mean, it wasn't like I enjoyed asking people for help. Least of all from a Gryffindor. Least of all from Potter.

We were in the Great Hall, sitting across from each other at our usual table. Potter had The Daily Prophet opened up in front of him, blocking my face from his view. A bowl of half finished cereal sat by his elbow. His fingers were ink-stained, probably from writing (or just starting, more likely) our huge DADA essay due on Monday.

I stared at the newspaper in front of me, at the black and bold letters that jumbled together to form sentences and paragraphs, and sighed. This, I had a feeling, was not going to be easy.

“Potter. I'm serious."

He didn’t reply.

“Potter. Please.

There was a pause, and then Potter lowered the paper so that I could see his annoyingly attractive face. He looked tired, which wasn’t that big of surprise. Violently charging at your cousin’s boyfriend can really take it out of you, I’d heard.

He opened his mouth to speak, and — foolishly — I felt my spirits lift with naive hope. Maybe he actually would help me. Maybe for once, Potter could be mature about this. Maybe—

“BENNETT, FOR THE LAST TIME, I WILL NOT HAVE SEX WITH YOU!” Potter suddenly shouted, making sure his voice was cheery and loud enough for everyone in the Great Hall could hear him. “NOW STOP BEGGING, IT’S MAKING ME UNCOMFORTABLE.”

My mouth dropped open as several people nearby snickered, their eyebrows raised in spiteful amusement at us. Embarrassment flooding through my body, and I vaguely felt something in my forehead twitched. A rupturing artery, most likely.

Obviously satisfied with my public humiliation, Potter went back to reading the paper, opening it in front of him to signify the conversation was over.

“Potter—I can’t—You—Ungh.” I ran a hand through my hair exasperatedly, unable to find the right words to fully articulate how pissed off I was. Merlin, this was annoying. “Look,” I snapped, voice slightly above a harsh whisper. “It’s about Aidan and Dom.”

The paper rustled.

“I think there’s something wrong.”

“With you? I concur," Potter said, voice nonchalant as he turned the page.

“Have you seen Aidan?” I demanded, choosing to ignore his stupid remark as I leaned forward. “Do you know where he is?”

Silence.

“Well, do you?”

“Huh. It says here that they appointed a new Head of The Department of Mysteries,” Potter said, completely ignoring my question as he turned the page. “That’s interesting. Did you know that, Bennett? That they appointed a new Head of The Department of Mysteries?"

I exhaled sharply through my teeth as I felt my anger reach its boiling point. Head pounding, I slapped my hand on the table to make all the plates and silverware jump and rattle. “Potter! This is important”

He sighed from behind the paper. “Bennett.” His voice was monotone, as if he had said this all before and now he was bored with it. “Stop meddling in Aidan’s business. You’re not doing him any good.”

I rolled my eyes. Even though he couldn’t see the action, what with the paper in between us and all, it still felt satisfying.

“I’m not meddling!” I insisted. "It's a known fact that it doesn't count as meddling if you're related to the person. Duh."

“Right," Potter hummed skeptically, still refusing to look at me.

Enough. I reached out and yanked the paper away from Potter, and he shot me a look of only faint exasperation in response, as though my antics were like those of a mildly annoying child.

“I’m going to ask you one more time, Potter. Have. You. Seen. Aidan?”

He sighed once more, obviously irritated. “No. When I got back to the dormitory, everyone was asleep. And when I woke up, Aidan wasn’t there. Can I have my paper back?”

But I wasn’t satisfied. Ignoring Potter’s outstretched hand, I shook my head and pursed my lips. “This is serious.” I paused for dramatic effect. “Dom asked for pumpkin pie.”

There was a beat. Potter’s expression flickered. “Pumpkin pie?”

“Yes. Pumpkin pie.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Dom hasn’t asked for pumpkin pie since — “

“Victoire was made Head Girl. I know.”

There was a long silence.

“Alright,” he finally relented, mouth pulled into an unhappy line. “How do you want to do this?”

I couldn’t stop myself from grinning widely as the feeling of sweet, sweet triumph swelled inside my chest. “The usual. I get Aidan, you cover Dom?”

“Fine,” he snapped, obviously irritated with himself for giving in.

“And afterwards we should meet to exchange notes. Say... Around one o’clock?”

“Oh for Merlin’s sake, Bennett. Notes? It’s not a fucking science experiment.”

I swung my legs over the bench and stood up, leaving The Daily Prophet on the table. “You know what I mean.”

“Nope,” he said, reaching over and picking up the paper again. “I never do.”

I left the Great Hall with a huge, victorious smile on my face.

—*—

After I left Potter, it took only ten minutes to find Aidan. It wasn’t hard, after all, given Aidan's limited circuit. There were pretty much only two places my brother went whenever he was distressed—the kitchens, or the Quidditch pitch.

I decided to go to the Quidditch pitch first, and ended up being right. I had lucked out. There, in the chilly autumn air, my brother sat pensively in the stands, not looking at me or the pitch but rather at the blue-grey swirl of the sky. He looked lonely and small up there, a blotch of color on the wide, wooden expanse of the stands.

It was really windy, and the rich jade grass of the massive pitch flickered and swayed beneath my feet. I clutched my robe closer to my body, hugging myself tight as my hair rippled and fluttered in the breeze, and I struggled to push it out of my face.

I could see Aidan’s tall, slightly scrawny figure from where I was standing in the center of the pitch. He was sitting in the stands, on the very top row. He didn’t appear to have noticed me, and he looked deep in thought — something I never took as a good sign when it involved my brother.

I climbed the stand to meet him, the slapping sound of my shoes against the steps hollow to my ears. Aidan, apparently having heard me, looked up from his seated position, his honey brown hair tousled in the wind. He was leaning his elbows on his legs, and his palms were pressed together like in prayer. A glum expression tugged at his handsome face.

I reached the top row and stood next to Aidan, the hem of my black robe quivering in the breeze. He smiled up at me, and it was at that moment when I noticed how tired he looked.

“Hey.” His voice was raw, sad.

“Hi.”

I sat down next to my brother, unsure of how to begin. A long and silent moment stretched between us, in which the only thing I could hear was the wind rushing and roaring around me. And then, slowly — almost reluctantly — Aidan leant down and gingerly placed his head on my shoulder.

I smiled.

“You know,” Aidan began, voice so quiet I could barely hear him. “You kind of look like your head’s on fire. What with your red hair in the wind and all.”

“Yup. Hot-headed,” I said. “That’s me.”

He cracked an unsteady grin. “You’re punny.”

There was a beat. And then I said, voice matter-of-fact: “What’s wrong, Aidan?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Nothing at all. Why would you think that?” Ah, flat out lying — one of Aidan’s specialties. Too bad he was never good at it.

“My twin senses are tingling.”

He didn’t reply.

“Okay,” I said. “So. There’s nothing wrong. But say, hypothetically — theoretically — if there were—”

“Dom broke up with me.” His voice was faint, tinged with incredulity. The way he said it, it was like Aidan couldn’t believe the fact himself.

I glanced at him, surprised. First of all, I didn't understand how Dom could have broken up Aidan when they weren’t even going out in the first place. And secondly, Aidan never got this depressed about break ups. Not even the violent ones (and trust me, those could get messy). It just wasn’t like him to be depressed and dejected about that kind of stuff, especially when there were always Freddy and Potter (usually with whiskey bottles in hand) to cheer him up. What made this time so special?

“After the rap, after I kissed her and ran away,” Aidan continued, hesitant. “She found me.” Of course she found him. That girl was like a freaking niffler. “And she told me that... We were over. Like, forever over. No getting back together. No on-and-off. No Dom and Aidan. Over. Done. So that's what's wrong with me.” He paused. “Hypothetically, I mean.”

“Aidan," I said, trying to keep my voice soothing and patient. "Dom has said all those things before. She was probably just panicking and overacting, like she always does.” To be honest, I was feeling myself become a little exasperated. It was the same every time with these two. Why was Aidan choosing to freak about it now?

“S’not like those times. She was crying.” He winced. “And... She gave me back the Snitch.” Aidan held out his left hand, which had been previously tightened into a fist, and unfurled it. Inside was the plastic, golden Snitch Aidan had given Dominique for her thirteenth birthday. He had gotten it from one of those sweet machines for two sickles, and Dominique had been furious when she had opened up the tiny black box — expecting jewelry or a watch — to find a cheap toy. But still. She had kept it, throughout all the break-ups, all the fights, and had never let it leave her possession. It was like...their love token or something.

I plucked the Snitch out of Aidan’s hand with two of my fingers and held it closer to my face. It was looking pretty worse for wear — the garish, gold paint was chipping, one of the wings looked close to falling off... But I could tell it held a lot of meaning in its tiny, plastic, two-Sickle body.

“So you think she’s serious?”

“Yep,” Aidan said grimly.

Not knowing what to say, I gave the Snitch back to Aidan and watched as he pocketed it. The thought of Aidan and Dom not dating was like the thought of a fish growing legs. Or Freddy reading. Or Potter not pissing me off every chance he got. It just...wasn’t natural. It had to mean some change in the universe's precariously synchronized routine, as if some meteor had crashed into the earth and knocked the planet off its axis. It wasn’t right.

“It’s strange,” Aidan said tiredly. “Even though we always fought, always argued and broke up and stuff, I knew that she was, like — not my soulmate, because that’s creepy — but... She was — ungh. I don’t know how to explain it. She was just it, you know? Like, I always came back to her. I always wanted to be with her. I always thought about her." He paused, as if suddenly coming to some deep, important revelation. "She was my always.”

“I’m sorry, Aidan,” I said truthfully.

Aidan didn't acknowledge the apology, just continued staring at the sky with his brow collapsed into angry wrinkles. “Do you think she’ll start dating someone else?” he asked very quickly.

“I don’t know.” I couldn’t picture Dom with anyone but my brother. A moment passed as we both pondered the possibility. The wind tugged on my hair, making red snap in the peripheries of my vision.

“Aidan,” I began unsurely. I didn’t know if he would get mad at me for asking this, but I had to know. “Were you in love with her? Like, I know you always said you were, but were you really?”

My brother paused, thinking over the question for a long moment.

“Well... I’m selfish, aren’t I? I mean, I was constantly putting myself before her. Hurting her. And I was always... wanting. I want her back, I want to break up, I want to stop seeing each other, but I want her to still pine after me..." He shook his head in a combination of disgust and remorse, lip curled upwards to reveal bared, white teeth. "I want, I want, I want. Selfish. And love isn’t about being selfish. Right?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted once more.

“But then I think about her laugh. You know. Not the polite one she does around adults and important people. But, like, her real laugh. When she does that weird snorting thing, and it's just so fucking endearing, and that makes me feel like, yeah, maybe I do love her. Or at least I could learn to.” He paused, dragging his hands down his face. “I don’t know. I’m stupid. I’m fifteen.”

There was a small, trembling silence in which neither of us spoke. And then:

“I’m sad,” my borther said, as if he was stating a simple fact about the weather or the color of his shoes.

"Aidan," I said.

He didn’t reply.

So we sat there, the two of us, brother and sister. Together. Nobody else. With the wind and the sadness and the Quidditch pitch sprawled out before us, a massive expanse of rolling, moving green, forever and always.

I knew that Aidan could be an idiot, and that maybe he didn't deserve sympathy, given everything he had put Dom through. And I knew that he was reckless and foolish and that wherever he went, trouble seemed to follow. But he was my brother. Born two minutes before me. We had shared a uterus, for Merlin's sake. You couldn't get much closer than that. And if there had been a way for me to take away all the pain, to even transfer it to myself, I would have done it in a heartbeat.

“I wish none of this had ever happened,” my brother murmured.

I sighed, clasping my hands as if in prayer, and kept quiet.

If only life were that simple.

—*—

At one, I met up with Potter in the Great Hall to discuss the state of our two friends, and whether or not it would be necessary to take emergency measures (re: sneak out to Hogsmeade and buy an extra stock of pumpkin pie). While I had been consoling Aidan, Potter had been having a nice little chat with Dom (whom he had — oddly enough — found wandering aimlessly around the Hufflepuff common room). Apparently, things weren't much better from her side. She and Aidan had been dating for a long time, after all. The idea of them not being together anymore wasn't only a loss, but it was also a fundamental shift in how they were, in who they were.

This whole situation was just one big pile of butt-pudding, in my educated opinion. My brother was depressed, my best friend in need of some mental rehabilitation, Potter was refusing co-operate, and Freddy was still probably asleep with no idea about what had happened.

Oh, and I had a DADA essay due on Monday.

Yeah.

I really hoped the kitchens had more pumpkin pie. The next few days were not going to be easy.


Chapter 9: Wither
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A/N: ALRIGHT! FINALLY! I know the wait was terrible, but school's started, and everything has been so, so hectic. But it's out now! That's all that matters.

Some things you should know:

Professor Nott is a HUGE part of this chapter. If you don't remember, Nott is the newly appointed DADA professor. Everyone is making a big fuss over him because, a) they think that he might have been a Voldy-supporter, and b) a couple years ago, his wife went missing, and he was a prime suspect in the case. Of course, the case was never closed, nobody could prove Nott did anything, and to this day the mystery remains unsolved... (Dun dun dun). So. Yeah, there's your little mini-bio on Nott.

Also, Ryan Fisher is in this chapter. He's one of Aggy's patrol partners, and, if you can recall, she has a HUGE crush on him.

Now, onwards :)

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K.!



News about The Split (note the capital letters — this was a serious matter) traveled alarmingly fast throughout Hogwarts. Thanks to the school's ever-churning rumor mill, it soon became common knowledge that Aidan and Dom’s infamous relationship was now completely and absolutely finito. Even though we had tried to keep it quiet, somehow, people just found out. But, see, that was the thing with Hogwarts: even the walls have eyes (and I mean that as literally as possible — The Fat Lady was one of the most notorious gossips out there).

In what shall now be known as The Aftermath of The Split (again—capital letters, people), chaos reigned. The world had gone topsy-turvy — the previous certitude that was 'Dom and Aidan' had been rendered void. It was dissolved, and, along with it, all other notions of comfort and stability and permanence. In response, everyone reacted brilliantly and appropriately by veering into Panic Mode. Aidan now refused to get out of bed unless we bribed him with something shiny. Dom was on the brink of insanity and teetering over the edge. Freddy still had no clue what was going on — and not to mention the groupies.

You see, The Split had given rise to a new hope for the female population of Hogwarts. Now that he was officially “on the market," my brother was not on the list of desirable, eligible bachelors and his name on doodled-over cover of every Hufflepuff girl's Transfig notebook. Third-year girls would follow him around, claiming to be big Quidditch fans and asking for autographs. We had to check Aidan’s dinner every night to make sure it hadn't been spiked with a love potion. On more than one occasion, giggling Hufflepuffs approached me, asking what Aidan’s favorite movie is (he always says its Rocky, but it’s actually Miss Congeniality), or what his favorite fruit is (pineapple), or whether or not he'd ever want to have children in the future (yes — six, to be exact, enough for a traveling Bennett Family Quidditch Team-slash-Rock Band. Yeah, the bloke was kind of an idiot).

But Aidan wasn’t enjoying the attention — if anything, he had shied away from it, adamantly maintaining that the only girl he wanted was Dom. And, well, that obviously wasn’t an option. So instead, Aidan had to satisfy himself with shutting himself up in his dorm room and never seeing daylight again. The poor kid was miserable.

The most frightening part of it all, however, was Aidan’s newfound passion for reading trashy, paperback romance novels. He claimed he liked them because he could “relate to the underlying themes and motifs" — whatever that meant. I, personally, thought it was exceedingly weird. I mean, besides the fact that it was just plain creepy for a fifteen-year-old boy to be reading books with covers that bared men with hairy chests and titles like “A Captive to Passion” and “My Forbidden Paradise," the novels themselves were terrible. Each and every one of them was an insult to the collective intellect of humanity. The main heroines of the story were all ditzy and foolish, swooning over every Tall, Dark And Handsome that walked by. One novel even featured a character who fell in love with a vampire — ridiculous and implausible.. Like anyone in their right mind would ever want to read that.

After thumbing through a few pages of his books, I was fairly certain that I had lost not only my will to live, but also a couple of IQ points as well.

Aidan, however, wasn’t the only depressed one prone to weird behaviour. Dom hasn’t been taking The Split well either, even though she was the one who initiated it. The amount of pumpkin pie we’d gone through over the past few days had reached astronomical proportions — like, 'Guinness World Book of Records' proportions.

Dom had gone bonkers. Seriously. Last night, I found her (along with—ahem—two empty bottles of Firewhiskey) in the girl’s bathroom on the Third Floor. When she noticed I was there (which actually took about fifteen minutes), she proceeded to serenade me with a nice little medley of Aretha Franklin songs (my favorite was “I Will Survive”), complete with dance moves and everything.

And when she finished, she turned around and drunkenly tried to high-five her reflection.

She missed. All 17 times.

So, in short: the world was about to end, my brother had turned into a middle-aged Book Club housewife, and I was in desperate need of some new friends. Preferably ones who had at least a pretense of mental stability.

I was entertaining the thought of holding auditions or interviews. You know, hand out fliers in the corridors, advertising my friendship and stuff. I could pass them around the Great Hall at lunch...

Are you a normal? Do you like to spend your days doing average, regular-people activities (preferably ones that don’t involve seducing my twin brother)? Is your sanity still intact?

If you answered yes to all the questions above, then have we got the job for you!

Introducing AGATHA BENNETT’S NEW BEST FRIEND, now open for applicants!

Requirements:
— Human
— Mentally stable
— Clean criminal record preferred, but not mandatory

If you are interested, please contact AGATHA BENNETT and hand her your résumé. She can be found at the Slytherin Common Room, in the library, or curled into a fetal position underneath her own bed. Have a nice day!


Oh, how I cracked myself up.

Seriously though. Quests for new friendships aside, something had to be done concerning the situation, and fast. Everyone was imploding on themselves, collapsing underneath the weight of their own crazy, and standing by to watch was like seeing a train veer uncontrollably off its tracks. And if things weren't returned to normal soon... Well, I shuddered to think what other bad habits Aidan might start adopting.

—*—

The next day, I had been on my way to Potions, mulling over the various ways I could bribe Aidan to leave his dorm room and actually attend his classes (A chocolate bar? Five galleons? The invaluable gift of my everlasting respect?), when someone called my name.

“Aggy-Aggy-Aggster!”

I wheeled around, red tresses flying into my face, to see who it was requesting my attention. Squinting, I barely made out a disheveled figure hurtling through the corridor, waving his arm madly in the air like he just didn’t care.

Fred Weasley.

I watched, grimacing, as Fred pushed a group of second-years out of the way in order to get to me. The corridor we were in was already packed with students, chattering and bustling to their next classes, and Freddy charging through everyone like a clumsy Hippogriff wasn't helping matters.

Finally he reached me, out of breath, bronzed skin flushed and glowing. His shirt was rumpled and untucked, his tie hastily thrown over his left shoulder, and in his arms was a disorganized pile of papers that I assumed to be Freddy’s definition of the word 'homework,' a few of which already littered the floor behind him.

“Freddy-Freddy-er, Fred,” I responded, eyeing him warily.

“What’s up? What’s down? What’s all around?” The boy in question grinned his signature hundred-watt grin (Freddy never did things half-heartedly) and reached down to ruffle my hair. My grimace grew.

“Not much,” I answered curtly. “You?”

Fred's grin widened, something I hadn’t thought possible, as he began to walk forward and I fell into step next to him. “Going to Arithmancy. I’m so excited. Today’s going to be the day, Aggy. I can feel it in my bones. He’s finally going to crack.”

Stifling a groan, I tried to ignore the dread welling up inside me at Fred’s words.

Fred, since the beginning of time, had been carrying a sort of...unspoken vendetta against Hogwarts' Arithmancy teacher, Professor Fritz. I didn't know how it happened, or when it began. It was just... there, like how the sky was blue or Quidditch was popular. No one questioned it.

Professor Fritz was a nervous man who seriously lacked in the social skills department. His signature blonde comb-over, perpetually red face, and unfortunate speech impediment only seemed to add to his jumpy, anxious persona. This and the fact that he was obviously terrified of his very own students made him kind of like a teaching punchline here at Hogwarts.

However, it had to be said that Fritz, during all his years of teaching, had never lost his cool. Not even once. He was possibly the most irritatingly patient person that I had ever come across. I could probably murder someone in front of the guy, and he wouldn’t care in the slightest. In fact, he would probably offer to help me bag the body. He was unfailingly calm.

And this, apparently, annoyed Freddy to no end.

During his entire career at Hogwarts, Fred had one single academic-related goal, and that was to make Professor Fritz “crack." Fred wanted to see Fritz freak, launch into some nervous breakdown — even just show a sliver of emotion.

And believe me, Fred had employed a number of tactics — all different in their models but equal in their craziness — in order to do this. For example, he once convinced our entire class to speak in Australian accents. For the entire year. But Professor Fritz hadn't even blinked or made a comment — in fact, I don't think he noticed the anything was off. Refusing to surrender, however, the semester after, Fred organized auditions for the Official Hogwarts Yodeling Enthusiasts Club (which didn't exist) and, on the pamphlets he handed out (yes, there were pamphlets), listed Professor Fritz’s classroom as the venue. And that had been bad. I mean, having to listen to Aidan yodel for two straight hours would be enough to drive anyone insane.

However, all the torment and pranks seemed to have little effect on Fritz. He remained as soul-crushingly boring as always and, this, unfortunately, only seemed to strengthen Fred’s resolve.

Personally, I thought this whole idea was bad news. I mean, who knew what kind of uncontrollable rage Fritz was hiding beneath his fidgety, wimpy exterior? If he was pushed hard enough, he could lose his mind and start going on some sort of mad rampage — like Dominique at the shopping center that one time, when she had found out those boots she liked didn't come in her size. Only, you know, less hair.

“What about you, Aggy? Where are you going?” Freddy asked, jarring me from my thoughts as we came to a stop in front of the Arithmancy classroom. Already through the window of the door, I could see Professor Fritz inside — scribbling on the blackboard — his blonde comb-over doing some sort of excited dance atop his head.

“Potions,” I said, shifting my weight from one foot to another. Several students jostled past as they walked by, too busy gossiping with their neighbors to utter any apologies.

Freddy made a half-disgusted, half-sympathetic face. “Well then, see you in DADA, I guess. Tell Sluggy hello for me.”

“Will do,” I said, nodding. "Hey, Fred?"

Fred turned from where he had been peering, eyes narrowed with scary determination, at Fritz through the window. "Yeah? What's up?"

I heaved a big breath. "Have you seen Aidan today? He wasn't at breakfast this morning."

Fred seemed to sober at my words, his expression turning grim and drawn. "Yeah, I spoke with him." He paused and then fixed me with a sympathetic look, mouth pulled into a wan line. "He's not coming to class today."

My eyes fluttered shut as I let the information sink in. This was what I had expected, wasn't it? So what was this dread doing, heavy and leaden in my stomach?

"Figured as much," I said dully. And with one last glance of pity, Freddy opened the door and went inside, leaving me alone — in the middle of the corridor — with the chatter and laugher of the other students around me ringing in my ears.

—*—

Potions passed without incident. I spent the entire hour peering over a cauldron of Strengthening Solution with Hector sitting next to me, spewing uselessly random facts that passed through one ear and out the other. Nothing exploded that lesson, however, and the fatal injuries were kept to a minimum, so I guess the day was better than most.

Dom, already at work paving the road for future alcoholics everywhere, didn’t show for class. She was in all likelihood nursing a hangover, lying in bed with a pounding headache and a cranky attitude to match. I thought it wise not to disturb her... After all, it was a bad idea to mess with Dom when she was in a strop. She kept her nails that long for a reason, you know.

By the time Potions had ended, I was ready to go back to the dorm room and just sleep off the bad day. Unfortunately I couldn’t. I had one more class, DADA, and than patrol with Ryan.

DADA was one of my least favorite classes. It seemed as though Professor Nott channeled all his energy into two simple actions: hating his students, and making it clear that he hated his students. He spent the entire lesson sitting at his desk, glaring at everyone, not even attempting to pretend to teach us anything. He just made us read a couple of pages in the textbook and then write essays to pass the time until class was over. And if we didn’t finish the essays during class, we’d have to do them for homework. It was boring as hell, not to mention superbly irritating.

When I entered the DADA classroom, it was almost full. The noise was deafening, a cacophony of boisterous laughter and screeching chairs. Nott sat at the front of the room, his legs propped up on his desk, a scowl on his lined, albeit handsome, face. The image alone — of our Professor sitting at the front of his room, looking all dark and rugged and glowering — would have been enough to make Dom take a break from her hangover to go into cardiac arrest for a little bit.

I spotted an empty table and made my way towards it, avoiding any randomly strewn backpacks or chairs. I was almost to my spot when all of a sudden, I tripped over some obstacle in my path — a pair of outstretched legs, it seemed — and was flying through the air.

Face, meet floor. Floor, meet face. You’re going to become fast friends.

I scrambled off the floor, dusting myself off as I tried to ignore the snickers from some of the students who had noticed my little tumble. Furtively I looked around and realized that the owner of the mysterious legs I had tripped over was none other than the infamous Fallon Cooper, who had been too busy to realize what had happened, let alone utter any sort of apology.

Fallon Cooper was a seventh year Slytherin, so what he was doing in a fifth year DADA class, stretching his appendages all over the place for innocent bystanders like myself to stumble over, was beyond me.

But then the reason quickly became apparent when my eyes shifted over to the person on top of Cooper.

Evelyn.

See, Cooper and Evelyn have been dating since I was in my third year. They were the Golden Couple, even more notorious than Dom and Aidan. As Captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team, Fallon was prime swooning material though, personally, I didn’t trust his slicked back hair, or his cold, laughing eyes. Not to mention his wandering hands.

Evelyn was currently sitting on Cooper’s lap, her mouth grotesquely melded to his as if they were in some sort of barren desert and his saliva was her only source of hydration. In front of the class, in front of Professor Nott and everything. The two had no shame. I had to look away as I limped past them because the indecency of it all was making me blush.

I sat down and began unpacking my things. On the blackboard in front of me was today’s assignment — pages 271-286, and then a paragraph-long summary of the chapter. Ugh.

The class was starting to settle down. Professor Nott didn’t say anything, just scowled at us from his perch at his desk, a quill twiddling between two, nimble fingers. I gritted my teeth and opened my book, ready to start numbing my mind with some good ole, compelling textbook-writing, when the door to the classroom bust open with a bang.

I jerked around to see the door to see Fred and Potter stumbling into the room. Fred was keeled over, his chest rising up and down with each gasping, rattling breath, and Potter was leaning against the doorframe, obviously exhausted, his skin—already tan from Quidditch—flushed a slight pink color.

"Sorry — we're late — Professor — won't — happen again," Freddy rasped.

Nott raised his eyebrows, sitting up and taking his legs off his desk, but didn't say anything. He simply gestured to some empty seats with a lazy flick of his hand.

Fred sat down behind me, his breathing already slowing but still audible and wheezy, and left the only remaining empty seat next to me. Realizing this unfortunate fact, Potter scowled and plunked down in the chair, face dark.

I looked at Potter. Potter looked at me. Instinctively and at the same exact time, we scooted our chairs away from each other, making sure there was as much distance as possible between us. After all, who knew if Potter’s stupidity was contagious?

One could never be too careful.

I set to work, beginning to read. Cooper, having detached himself from Evelyn's face, ambled out of the classroom, and we students fell into an uneasy silence, save for the occasional flip of a page or scratch of a quill. Twenty minutes or so passed, and I was almost to the last page when —

Pssssst.

There was no mistaking Freddy’s voice, even when it was lowered into a barely audible whisper. Still, I kept on reading, clenching and unclenching my jaw as I ignored the boy behind me.

“Aggy! Pssssttt.

I could sense Potter’s gaze flicker towards me. Freddy tapped my shoulder, but I stared determinedly at my book, refusing to give in.

PSSSSSTTT.

What.” I turned around, glare murderous, to see Freddy looking at me, eyes sparkling playfully.

“Hi,” He said simply. I waited for him to continue, to tell me what, exactly, had been so urgent and important that he just had to disturb me while I was reading, but he said nothing else. Just smiled and went back to his book.

I resisted the urge to scream.

“Hi,” I spat back, though my tone seemed more appropriate for a death threat than a greeting. At this point, there was nothing I wanted more than to hurl my body over the desk and rip off every single strand of Fred’s perfect glossy dark hair from his thick skull, one by one.

There was a long pause. Potter was looking at us curiously through the corner of his eye. Freddy was smiling.

Stifling a sigh, I asked the question that I knew Fred had been waiting for: “So, did you make Fritz crack?”

“No.” Freddy’s smile seemed to slide off his face as he sighed glumly. “And I even got everyone to do the Macarena on top of their desks.”

“Sucks,” I hummed, trying (re: failing) to sound sympathetic.

“Yeah. Though I swear I saw his eye twitch once.”

“Awesome. Making progress.” I paused, took a deep breath, and then asked the question that had been burning in the back of my brain ever since Freddy entered the classroom: “And Aidan? Any news?"

Fred grimaced. “He’s still in his hermit cave. Won’t come out, unless it’s to get food or another one of his girl books.” He wrinkled his nose in obvious disgust.

I rolled my eyes. “They’re not girl books, Freddy. Honestly. The stereotype is borderline idiotic."

Fred looked genuinely confused. “What are you talking about? I thought girls loved that stuff. You know, romance and frills and shirtless Italian men on the cover and what not.”

“Well I don’t read those books, and I’m a girl,” I pointed out.

Potter snorted beside me, obviously unable to resist butting in. “Well, the second part's debatable.”

I whipped around, about to retort with a witty and self esteem-crushing insult of my own (most likely something along the lines of, “Yeah? Well... whatever, Potter”), but before I could even open my mouth, I was interrupted.

“Hey, you. Red hair,” Nott commanded from his High Imperial Desk at the front of the room, pointing to me. “No talking.”

I don’t know why, but for some reason, the fact that Nott said this made me very, very angry.

Maybe it was because Nott thought he could order me around, even though he was the crummiest excuse for a teacher that I’d ever met during my entire stay at Hogwarts (and that was saying something, because I had Fritz in third year). Or maybe it was because he had yelled at only me, while Freddy and Potter were spared the humiliation. Or maybe it was simply the fact that he even didn’t know my name, for Merlin's sake, although he’d been teaching me for almost a month.

The words were out of my mouth before my brain could even process them. "Well, maybe we wouldn’t have to talk if we were actually learning something here. I mean, this is a school, in case you haven’t noticed.”

The reaction was immediate. Potter’s mouth twisted into a smirk as he leaned back, obviously getting himself ready for a show. Freddy let out a low, impressed whistle. And I think someone in the back of the classroom started slow-clapping.

However, to be honest, I was probably the most surprised person out of everyone. I had never, ever been outwardly rude to a teacher before. Never. The minute the words were out of my mouth, I wanted to grab them out of the air and shove them back inside. My heart seemed to be racing a marathon inside my chest cavity.

I bit down, hard, on my lower lip, bracing myself for the inevitable punishment. Two weeks detention. Thirty points docked. A suspension from prefect duties.

But Nott did nothing, merely raised his eyebrows and stood up from his position at the desk, rubbing his hands together.

“Oh, so little Miss Goody Two Shoes wants to learn something here, does she?” He said, tone light and musical, as if, by suggesting that we learn at school, I had made some ridiculous and far-fetched request.

He strode towards me, hands in his pockets, and I automatically leaned back, slightly afraid. “Alright. What do you want to learn?”

My throat was dry. “I want to learn... Defense,” I said, before adding rather lamely and unnecessarily: “Against the Dark Arts.”

Nott laughed. Actually laughed, and somehow, that made me feel angrier. Which, in turn, made me feel braver.

“But why, Two Shoes?” Nott said, the sarcasm obvious in his caustic tone. “It’s not like you’re going to need it. Harry Potter’s already saved the world and laid the smack-down on every one of those mean, nasty, Mouldymort bullies. Sure, a countless number of people died in the process. And sure, maybe discrimination and prejudice is still as rampant as ever. But the world’s sunshine and daisies, now, isn’t it?”

Everyone in the room seemed to be holding their breath. Even Evelyn perked up from her notebook, apparently somewhat interested.

I looked at Potter, but his face showed no emotion at the mention of his father. He was completely impassive, as if he had no idea what or whom Nott was talking about. He looked bored, almost.

Freddy, obviously having struggled and failed to contain himself, suddenly exclaimed, “What are you talking about, Professor? There’s no discrimination anymore! The war got rid of that!”

Nott grinned a wicked, spiteful grin, as if he knew some nasty joke we didn’t. His eyes — pale, blue-green ice — flickered to Fred. “Maybe not the kind of discrimination you’re thinking about.”

Before Freddy could reply, I butted in. Conversations about discrimination and prejudice and principles were all well and good, but beside the point. "Professor, I'd still like to learn," I said clearly, drawing on my steadily-depleting reservoir of bravery. "Just in case."

“Just in case what? Voldemort pops out of his coffin and starts doing the hokey pokey? Face it, Two Shoes. This class is about as useful as tits on a nun.”

My jaw dropped open a little. “That is not... Appropriate.”

“Appropriate?” Nott raised his eyebrows. “I think I lost my capacity to be 'appropriate' after my second Court Order.” He paused, tilting his head in mock thoughtfulness. “Or maybe it was my third...”

Someone in the room snickered. Nott's history was another familiar piece of gossip around the castle. Our professor, it seemed, had a shady past. Beside the father was had been a supporter of Voldemort, and that Nott himself had strong ties to the Pureblood Slytherin world, there had also been an incident involving his wife, who had gone missing a couple years back. For the longest time, Nott had been a known suspect, though nobody had been able to prove anything definite. Cleared of any charges, the Hogwarts administration had apparently experienced a lapse in sanity and decided to hire him. This would be shocking anywhere else, but we were talking about the school that once had on its faculty a man with Voldemort's face hiding inside a turban.

I glowered. “That doesn’t matter, Professor. I still want to — "

“Learn?”

“Yes,” I said, my courage (or stupidity, depending on how you look at it) finally returning.

“Why? So that, if the opportunity arises, you can be the hero? Save the day?”

“No.” I snapped back, my patience waning. “So that, if I’m ever dueling someone or caught in a dark alley or encountering someone trying to break into my home, I can stay alive.”

Nott paused, his eyes taking in my green and silver tie with an almost appreciative glint. Then he said, so randomly it sort of jarred me a bit, “Who wrote your textbook?”

“Excuse me?”

“Who wrote your textbook?”

I glanced down at the hardcover sitting on my desk. “Penelope Trimble. Why?”

“Do you think this Penelope Trimble was happy?” He asked

I paused. “Um. Well, she dedicated her life to writing school textbooks — "

“So she was miserable, then."

“I didn’t say that!”

“It's what you implied."

"No, it's what you interpreted."

Nott raised his eyebrows derisively. “Alright. Fine. There’s Penelope Trimble’s contribution to society. A five hundred-page textbook that makes students around the world want to hang themselves by their toes. Boy. She must have been ecstatic with herself.”

I didn’t say anything.

“You want to know something, Two Shoes?” Nott said, placing his hands on my desk and leaning towards me. His eyes were two, identical winter nights, crisp and frigid. “Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants to matter. But, guess what? Nobody ever does.” He took my book from my desk, turning it around in his hands, and then tapped it against the edge of my desk. Thud. Thud. Thud. “I mean, sure, you’ve got your exceptions, like Harry Potter and whatnot, but other than that, we all just end up withering away, with nothing left to prove we existed except a bunch of old,” Thud. “yellowing,” Thud. “textbooks.” Thud.

I looked at Nott, unsure of what his nihilistic ranting had to do with DADA. And then I thought about his missing wife, and about the criminal charges leveled against him and those DADA textbooks, stacked on top of each other, sad and lonely with no one there to read them.

A long silence overtook the whole class. No one breathed a word.

After forever, Nott pulled away and glanced at his watch. “Well,” he said, tone too casual as he tossed my book to me. I barely caught it. “There you go, Two Shoes. That's what you have to learn. Class is over.”

And than he sat down, folding his hands together as his face assumed his signature scowl, like nothing had happened.

I didn’t know what to say, so I settled for nothing.

—*—

“Can you believe him? I mean, really! He basically told us our lives aren’t worth living! Some teacher he is! Honestly, I don’t even know how he got hired. Vespertine could not have been sober. Who in their right mind would want him in a school...A round small children, no less?”

Apparently, my little encounter with Nott had really loosened my tongue, because that night while on patrol, I found myself ranting and raving about him in front of none other than Ryan Fisher. That’s right — the Ryan Fisher, the one who could make any female he met generate enough drool for the Atlantic Ocean, was listening to me. Me! Griping about our DADA professor!

Usually, on my patrols with Ryan, I was too worried about making a complete and utter fool out of myself (which, believe me, was a legitimate fear) to even think about voicing my opinions. But Nott had made so angry that I just had to vent... Like a dam breaking, everything just came gushing out.

Ryan was a great listener. He nodded at all the right parts, his eyes squinted with a kind of thoughtfulness that — until then — I hadn’t though existed within the male gender. He had an amused sort of smile on his face, but it wasn't a condescending amusement. No, it was gentler. Understanding.

We were walking up and down the Third Floor corridor, occasionally checking into quiet, grey classrooms and musty broom closets. The hallways were dark save for the torches fastened to the walls, their flames casting eerie, grinning shadows on the stone floor. Our footsteps were loud and metallic, ringing off the stone as we walked.

I was trying really hard not to have another one of my full-blown Girls Gone Mental episodes (as Potter liked to dub them) in front of Ryan, but I couldn’t help it. I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier by the second, Nott’s jeering, holier-than-thou words playing through my mind on an endless loop.

I took a deep breath, mentally counting to ten in an attempt to calm myself down. When that didn't work, I tried it again in Spanish. Uno. Dos. Tres. Cuatro...

“I’m sorry, Ryan.” I finally said when my heart rate returned to normal, smiling slightly sheepishly. “I don’t mean to get all worked up about this. It’s just... He makes me really mad.”

Ryan let out a deep and velvety chuckle that made my stomach clench. “No, it’s completely fine. In fact, its entertaining. You make me laugh, Agatha.”

I frowned slightly, unsure of what to make of this new revelation. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

He smiled, grey eyes crinkling at the corners. “Good. Definitely good.”

I raised my eyebrows in a sort of cool-calm-and-collected fashion, although on the inside, I was doing cartwheels and handstands. Uno. Dos...Tres. Cuatro. “Well, thanks then.”

Ryan nodded, still smiling. A comfortable moment of silence passed, and then he said: “So, besides the whole crazy professor ordeal, how was your day?”

I want to carry your future children inside me. “Fine,” I said. “Yours?”

“Pretty good. Except I've been having a lot of trouble with Transfiguration recently. You know that test we got back today? Yeah, didn’t do so well. McGonagall thinks I should get some extra help.” He raked a hand through his (golden, perfect, luminous) hair and shook his head, obviously distraught.

And here is where I saw my opportunity.

“Oh!” I exclaimed, a little too loudly and a little too excitedly. “I’m at Transfiguration good! I mean—Good at Transfiguration I am! I mean—” Instantly, all common sense (and, it seemed, knowledge of the English language) left my body as I started stumbling through my words in eagerness. Merlin, I was pathetic. All it takes is for Ryan to be in my presence, and then instantly I turn into some sort of redhead, socially-inept version of Yoda.

Ryan was grinning ear-to-ear.

“I’m good at Transfiguration.” Yay! A coherent sentence! I was wondering when one of those would show up. “And you know, er, transfigurizing stuff," I added lamely after a second's pause.

“I see,” Ryan said, somewhat slyly. “So do you think you might be able to tutor me, or something? Because I really need some help with my... transfigurizing.”

Uno dos tres cuatro — “Yeah! Of course! Um. When are you free?’

“How about next Wednesday? Is that good for you?”

I could be getting open heart surgery on that day, and I’d still push it back to tutor Ryan.

“Yeah! Wednesdays are great!” I said brightly. This was it. This was my karmic reward for putting up with Aidan's dumb friends and suffering through school and all the other horrible things I had to tolerate. I was finally getting my due.

“Thanks, Agatha,” Ryan said, smiling warmly. “You have no idea how big of a help this is for me.”

“Oh it’s no trouble. Not at all.” I was on top of the world. No, scratch that, I was on top of the universe. I was standing on the moon, and somebody had filled my oxygen tank with laughing gas. That was how delirious I was.

Ryan frowned. “Um, there’s just one little problem, though," he began, his tone almost sheepish.

My heart stopped. My face fell. Oh no. “Er, what?”

“Well,” Ryan said. “I might not get everything at once, so we could have to do more than one session. Is that okay?”

YES. YES. YES.

“Oh, well, I’m not sure. But that should be fine, yeah.” UNO DOS TRES CUATRO CINCO SEIS SIETE OCHO NUEVE DIEZ! DIEZ! DIEZ!

Ryan looked immensely relieved, and, as we began walking down the cold, empty corridor one last time, he said: “Thanks, Agatha. I totally owe you.”

This was very, very good.



Chapter 10: Awake
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Disclaimer: I own none of HP-verse — that all belongs to the wonder J.K. Rowling.


When I was seven years old, I received the most amazing, magnificent lunchbox for Christmas.

It was a Chudley Cannon's lunchbox. Beautiful, rectangular — with a picture of all the players on it waving in a group photo, their gorgeous orange robes flapping in the wind. It soon became the envy of every playground, every schoolyard. For years that lunchbox had been my most cherished, most prized possession. I took it everywhere with me, caring for it with the kind of fierce, irrevocable love that a mother has for a newborn child.

Then, when I was nine years old, my father wrote Aidan, Mum, and I in order to announce his engagement to Debbie the Dictator, my then step-mum to be. Even though my parents had divorced over four years ago, the news still had not been welcome.

My mother was especially unhappy. In a fit of unadulterated anger, she took the nearest thing she saw and threw it out of the open kitchen window, which she had been standing by at the time.

This unfortunate item just so happened to be — you guessed it — my Cannon’s lunchbox. I was left distraught, unable to do anything but watch in horror as my beloved lunchbox went sailing through the open window and landed in the middle of the street outside our house.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been so horrible if the story had just ended there. I could have run outside, grabbed the lunchbox, and polished off the dirt with one of the handy sanitizing wipes I always kept nearby (yes, I was a neat-freak even then). We would have all heaved a sigh of relief and moved on with our lives. Everything would have been just fine.

Except for what happened next:

You see, every Saturday afternoon at exactly three o’clock, a public transportation bus would come down our street and make a stop near the corner. Usually no one would get on — well, except for Mrs. Bakowski, the old Polish lady three houses down who always rifled through people's trash and pretended not to know English when we confronted her about it. But that's not the point.

The point is, as I’m sure you've already guessed, that fateful day happened to a Saturday, and the time three o'clock, sharp. I ran outside, hastily throwing on my jacket as I pushed open the front door, praying that I could save my lunchbox in time.

But I was too late. Already, the bus was hurtling down the street, going at a speed too fast to be considered safe. My lunchbox sat in the middle of its path, the players on it smiling and waving cheerfully, unaware of the fate about to befall them. Mrs. Bakowski stood on the corner of the street, an evil smile on her wrinkled face, obviously taking some kind of sadistic joy in watching my favorite childhood possession meet its doom.

I stood dumbly on the sidewalk, frozen to the spot. Time seemed to slow to a snail’s pace when, in reality, it must have taken only a couple seconds for the bus to zoom by, churning a gust of air that ruffled my hair as it passed, and flatten my Chudley Cannon’s lunchbox into a Chudley Cannon’s pancake.

Gone. Just like that. Time of death: 3:01 PM. I could still hear the sickening, metallic crunch in my nightmares.

I was inconsolable. My mother apologized profusely and promised to buy me a new one, but it just wasn't the same. It wouldn't have been my Chudley Cannon's lunchbox — going out to buy a cheap replacement would have just been plain indecent.

The moral to this very painful story, the reason I still carried the memory with me now, is that that day had been my first, true induction into the giant mass of suck that is life. From then on, I was no longer the naive, optimistic child of my youth. No, I'd finally had my first brush (or slap, more like) with reality. I was tainted. My happy-go-lucky childhood had packed up its bags and hitched a ride to Nizhnekamsk, Russia, and I would never see it again. From that point on, it would be all downhill.

Nothing in my life ever seemeed to go just how I'd imagined it would. There was always some unpleasant surprise, some crushed-lunchbox-equivalent of an accident or mistake to ruin my day. Misfortune trailed after me wherever I went.

Which was why I had been so incredibly surprised to discover that — believe it or not — my new tutoring sessions with Ryan Fisher actually went well. Despite the overall suckosity of my life, despite the fact that the Fates were always taking every presented opportunity to contaminate the good in my world, I was actually having a nice time... With Ryan Fisher, of all people! Five minutes into our first session, everything just seemed to click. Interacting with Ryan was just easy, automatic.

Not to mention I always felt secure in my element since I was teaching Transfiguration, a subject I knew well. Finally, I could be around Ryan without making a complete fool out of myself.

And you know what? We got along great. Not to mention we were accomplishing quite a bit. I could tell Ryan had actually learned some helpful tips that Wednesday. And the Wednesday after that, and the Wednesday after that, and the Wednesday after that...

Nothing romantic has actually happened (yet) except for the occasional bout of flirting (at least, I'm pretty it was flirting), but hey, I was optimistic. It was only a matter of time before something had to give, right?

Granted, this was usually the part of the story in which the heroine messes up and the too-good-to-be-true guy ends up running for the hills (or at least some intensive therapy), but that was totally not the case here. Life was actually being nice to me, for once, and I wasn't going to let my lucky streak end anytime soon.

Even in regards to The Split, which was unfortunately still in effect, we had seen some marked improvements. Aidan was actually venturing out of his dorm room to face the world every once and a while, and Dom was laying off the Firewhiskey. Which for me, meant less mornings spent holding back her hair as she presented her offerings (last night's dinner) to the Porcelain Gods (the toilet). So, yeah. Hooray for sobriety.

My relationship with Dom had taken a weird turn off the Friendship Highway as of late. After all, there was no easy way to deal with this type of situation. You couldn't discuss it without choosing sides, and you couldn't exactly laugh it off either. 'Oh ha ha, you dumped my brother and how he's so heartbroken he hasn't seen daylight in six days, ha ha, isn't that a knee-slapper?'

No. Instead, Dom and I preferred to just avoid the topic altogether. Besides — we had dedicated ourselves to better, more substantial things, such as fanatically objectifying the scrumptious piece of man-candy that was Ryan Fisher.

Ever since I told Dom about our tutoring sessions, she had devoted all her attention and efforts to the idea of Ryan and I getting together. When she found out that a Hogsmeade outing was set for this weekend, she made it her personal mission to ensure Ryan asked me out by then. It was a little unnerving.

Don't get me wrong — I appreciated the help and probably needed it. But to be honest, it felt just the slightest bit like she was trying to live vicariously through me, and that was unhealthy. I mean, the woman was so determined, it was scary.

Exhibit A: Today, she woke me up at six AM. Six AM. Completely unbelievable, seeing as the only person who loved sleep more than I did was Dom. Or pre-Split Dom, at least.

The reason for this act of insanity (if it even deserved the respectable label of a reason) was that Dom wanted to give me a makeover.

Now, I was not an unfortunate-looking person. Sure, I'd had my fair share of bad hair-days and I wasn't the girliest girl out there, but still — my features were more or less in the right place, and I could still tell the difference between a fashion do and a fashion don't. Whenever I bothered to put on some mascara and do my hair so it didn't look too much like a dying weasel, I could actually come across as quite attractive.

But no matter how much I tried to convince Dom of this, she remained undeterred. Which is why I found myself awake on an early, early Tuesday morning, being poked and prodded and plucked by Dom and her torture-devices-oops-I-mean-make-up-tools within an inch of my life.

"If you want Ryan Fisher to take you to Hogsmeade, you've got to do something about that hair, Agatha," my bestfriend sing-songed, unnervingly cheerful, as she clambered onto my bed with a brush in one hand and a weird-looking bottle of beauty product in the other. That — and the crazy, manic glint in her eyes — had me already feeling a bit on edge.

I self-consciously patted my head, sitting up groggily in bed. "What's wrong with my hair? I mean, sure, it's a little bushy — "

But before I could even finish my sentence, Dom had emptied the entire bottle of goopy product onto my head. The whole bottle of cold, wet goopy product. On to my head.

The screaming that ensued was loud enough to wake the entire castle. Luckily for me and my slumbering dormmates, Dom had casted a fortuitous Muffliato around my bed. Otherwise, Hogwarts surely would have been treated to a lovely natural alarm clock, courtesy of my vocal cords.

I couldn't stay outraged for long, however. Soon Dom was quite-literally dragging me into the shower, where she told me to get in and wash all the product out of my hair.

...Which seemed to completely defeat the point of dumping the stuff in there in the first place, but whatever. I said nothing as she handed me about five quadrillion bottles of soap, shampoo and conditioner, instructing me to use all of them. Apparently, I was going to be stepping out of this shower smelling like an entire field of daisies (and roses and peonies and lilies and lavender...), whether I liked it or not.

However, I think the cinch, the pièce de résistance was when Dom handed me some weird sort of gizmo that looked like it was better suited for grooming horses than humans, and told me to exfoliate my feet with it.

"Exfoliate my feet?" I screamed over the sound of scaldingly hot water drumming onto the bathroom tiles. "How am I supposed to exfoliate my feet with this?"

Dom sighed from where she stood on the other side of the forest green shower curtain, obviously exasperated with my pitiful lack of expertise in the realm of foot exfoliation. "For the last time, it's a pumice stone exfoliator, and you're supposed to rub the soles of your feet with it. It remoooves the dead skin cells."

"It looks like someone just glued a rock onto a piece of wood. Are you sure this is safe?"

"Of course it's safe! I paid two galleons for it!"

"Two galleons? For a foot exfoliator?" I exclaimed as, gingerly, I rubbed the strange-looking instrument against the bottom of my foot and tried not to slip across the slick tiles. "Why the bloody hell would you do that?"

"It's handy!" She retorted defensively.

"Dom, somewhere out there is a family that doesn't even have enough money for supper, and here you are with foot exfoliators up the wazoo," I said, sputtering out water and shampoo and whatever else I had in my scalp at the moment. "Don't you see the injustice in this?"

Dom snorted. "Oh that's rich coming from the girl who paid an extra five galleons for the leather-bound edition of Hogwarts: A History. You're just as bad as I am, except nerdier!"

"That was an investment!" I cried indignantly. "You can't put a price on knowledge!"

"Whatever, Aggy. Someday, you'll thank me for this."

"Yeah, right. I highly doubt Ryan's going to care whether or not my feet are exfoliated."

"You never know," came the maddening reply. "He might have some weird sort of fetish you don't know about."

"Ew, I'd rather not think about that." I said flatly as I switched to my other foot, hopping around on the slippery tiles of the shower and trying not to face-plant. "Besides, he hasn't even asked me to Hogsmeade yet. Who knows? Maybe he's not interested in me that way."

"Of course he'll ask you! You two are destined to be together!" Dom exclaimed, an edge of hysteria creeping into her voice. "Believe me, I can tell. You guys will go out on a date, fall in love, and live happily ever after! He's going to be your Prince Charming, okay? Your own and only!"

"Yeah, sure. I'll believe that when we ride off together on his white horse," I grumbled, spitting out a glob of soap that had managed to find its way into my mouth. "Until then, let's stick with reality, okay?"

"Oh, stop being such a Negative Nelly, Agatha," Dom snapped. There was a pause, in which she probably checked the time on her watch, and then she was speaking again, all brusque and business-like. "Alright, turn off the shower. It's time for Phase Three."

Oh Godric. She'd made phases. Of my makeover. The girl had officially gone cuckoo.

I clambered out of the shower, wrapping my shivering body in a nice, fluffy towel, and we quietly tiptoed our way back into the still-dark dorm room. There Dom tossed me my uniform (which, with a few flicks of her wand, she had altered to "hug and flatter" my "silhouette" — whatever that meant), and I hastily threw it on.

Then it was time for the worst, most dreaded part: the make up.

To be fair, I tried to fend her off. I really did. But Dominique played Quidditch, and my muscles were always really weak in the morning. I had a distinct disadvantage. She was just too strong; she overpowered me.

I could do nothing as, helpless, I was plucked and powdered to death. My eyebrows were shaped, my nails filed... By the time she was finished, it was an hour later, and I was just about ready to snap and rip all my pillows to shreds.

"Alright, Aggy, I think we're done here," Dom said gravely and dramatically, as if she were a head surgeon finishing up a ten hour-long heart transplant. She grabbed the hand-mirror off her bedside table and, with a tiny flourish, presented it to me, eyes gleaming eagerly.

I jerked back from my reflection, surprised. Granted, the girl in front of me wasn't a completely different or unrecognizable person. This wasn't a B-rated romantic comedy from the 80s where the heroine gets some makeover and turns into a total bombshell, after all. It had been a subtle transformation, but nevertheless, the changes were still enough to surprise even me. My hair was glossier, my complexion smoother, my clothes just a tidbit tighter. Of course Dom had made me put lipstick on, too, despite my ardent protesting. But it didn't look half-bad, actually.

"Woah," I allowed, somewhat impressed.

"Right?" Dom smirked evilly, before shoo-ing me off my seat on her bed. "Now come on, time to go to breakfast and show you off."

As we made our way down the dormitory and through the Common Room, I couldn't help but notice the people staring as we walked past. My House mates, lounging in various positions on armchairs and couches, squinted at Dom and I curiously, most likely all wondering where the dead weasel on Agatha Bennett's head went.

The Great Hall was full of activity that morning, bubbly chatter and the tinkling sound of silverware echoing throughout the cavernous atrium. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Even Monty Schwitzheiner (the weird surly Huflepuff who always tucked the bottom of his pants into his socks and sat in the back of classrooms eating paper) seemed to be enjoying himself, all smiley and jolly as he munched on last week's Charms homework.

Dom and I snagged seats next to a couple of first-years at the nearest table to the door. I spooned some scrambled eggs onto my plate and, casually, glanced over to where Aidan was sitting with Potter and Fred two tables down. The three of them were laughing together, joking around and pretending not to notice the various looks they were receiving from those around them — glances that ranged from curiosity to envy to flat-out adoration. I couldn't help but roll my eyes as one Hufflepuff girl swooned so viciously she smacked her friend's face into a bowl of porridge.

Oh, young love.

I sighed in my seat, fidgeting uncomfortably with the new taut feeling of my uniform, not paying Dom any attention as she prattled on about the day's latest gossip.

Now that we were under the harsh light of the Great Hall, my makeover seemed hopelessly silly. Did I really think I'd be able to catch Ryan Fisher's attention with nothing more than red lips and straighter hair?

No, I had to face it: I was destined for singledom. I didn't know how to behave around blokes, how to flirt properly and, as much as I mentally ridiculed the Hufflepuff bimbos that fawned over the Tweedle Trio, I envied their seductive saviness.

Honestly, I should just get it over with and escape to some French covenant to become a nun. Sister Agatha. Yes, that had a nice ring. I could wear one of those hat thingies and teach at a catholic school, where I'd whack all the misbehaving students with my meter ruler. It would be kind of fun, actually. Hitting children with sticks always provided for a good time.

Then again, Dom always said the colour black washed me out. And of course, there was a slight complication in regards to the whole... religion thing, which I didn't quite know how to do (was that the right word for it? Could you 'do' religion?). The only time Mum ever took me to church was six years ago, and that had been by accident. (Long story — we were driving by, Aidan really needed to use the bathroom, you know how it is).

"Uh-oh. Do you smell that, Aggy?" Dom suddenly perked up, yanking me out of my moody day-dreaming. She had frozen with her spoon in mid-air and her glare fixed on something in the near-distance.

I followed her gaze to see Evilyn Stanford and her posse making their way towards us, Evelyn’s perfect cloud of voluminous blonde hair floating behind her in all its eternal shiny-ness.

"Yeah," I said warily in response to Dom's question. "It smells like — "

" — eau de bitch," Dom said bluntly, and I couldn't help but agree as a big, sugary whiff of Evelyness forced its way inside my nostrils. Ick. What did Evelyn do — take baths in her own perfume? Or was it just her natural scent, an involuntary warning emitted so that all the small children and animals in the vicinity knew when to hide?

I raised my eyes to the pastel-blue ceiling above me, silently issuing a prayer that Evelyn would just keep walking past and ignore us. But of course, the Fates seemed to be hosting some sort of 'Who Can Inconvenience Agatha Bennett the Most' competition this morning, because just as Evelyn reached where we were sitting, she took notice of us and, like a wolf catching a fleeting sight of its prey, abruptly halted, back straightening stiffly.

Great.

Evelyn's two friends/bodyguards, Marlene Simmons and Caroline Kinley, stopped as well, coming to stand behind Evelyn so that they formed some sort of evil triangle of bitchiness. Idly, I wondered it they arranged it that way on purpose. Like, did Evelyn have to instruct them where to stand for maximum intimidation? Or was it just some sort of natural-born instinct for them?

I glanced meekly down at my plate, not wanting any trouble, but I could feel Evelyn's frosty glare on the top of my head. She stood right before me, the dining table forming a barrier between us. I was glad for it, seeing as the table would provide a convenient obstacle in the case of Evelyn suddenly deciding to lunge at me and suck the soul from my body.

The first-years sitting nearby suddenly went quiet; they obviously sensed an impending show-down. Dom lowered her spoon onto the table, setting it down firmly with her yellow-green gaze fixed on Evelyn.

"Agatha," Evelyn cooed, in that fake sort of voice that just made all your internal organs want to shrivel up and stop working. "You finally managed to tame your hair! You actually look human, for once. How nice."

Ugh. I hated when Evelyn did this. It was like her strategy. She would always dole out a compliment, but then twist it into an actual slap-in-the-face in disguise. And I could never call her out on it, either, since she would just blink all innocent and say, "Who, me?"

Yeah, this girl-fighting business was rough. A lot like guerrilla warfare, if you thought about. Sneaky, full of deceit, and you always had to be careful where you stepped, or else — BOOM! — landmine.

Caroline and Marlene snickered like Evelyn had just said the funniest thing they'd ever heard, and I silently glowered. Metaphorical smoke was billowing out of my ears. Where did Evelyn manage to find such willing minions, ready to obey and perform her every command? Did she train them? Buy them? Was there some sort of RENT-A-DRONE business I didn't know about?

I raised my head, tilting it ever so slightly to the side, and smiled an alarmingly cheerful smile. If Evelyn wanted to do it this way, then fine. I would play her game. I'd play her game and win.

"Evelyn!" I exclaimed in false cheer, as if I'd just been reunited with my long lost sister, or something. "What a surprise, seeing you out and about at this hour... We all thought you were allergic to daylight." I paused, savouring the way Evelyn’s eyes narrowed at the jab. "And happiness. And compassion. And, you know, basically all human emotion in general."

Dom let out a bout of throaty, unrestrained laughter, and we exchanged a victorious high-five under the table.

Evelyn’s syrupy smile did not waver, but her left eye twitched ever so slightly. The drones looked at each other, confused by this subtle humor.

"Agatha, you are so funny. Always cracking jokes. It's so... cute." Her words were dripping with disdain and sarcasm, a stark contrast to the manic smile that was still glued to her face. I made a face at the word 'cute', knowing that she had chosen it specifically to sound patronizing and superior.

Dom, however, was unfazed. She shook her head in mock-sadness, a pitying expression pulling at her face. "Yes. It's a shame you don't understand any of them. But don't worry, pet. You'll get there eventually, once you finish learning your ABCs."

Yes! Beautiful execution, amazing delivery! And, oh, what was that I heard? Why, I believe that to be the sound of sweet, sweet victory! Or maybe just the overwhelming chorus of "DANG!"s and "OH, BURN!"s from the kids sitting next to us.

I love first-years.

Dream Team: 2
Evil & Co.: 0

Evelyn's face seemed to pinch together, making her look like she had smelled something particularly foul. For a moment, I foolishly believed that we had won the argument, that she'd been officially rendered speechless. Then Evelyn's face changed. It went from annoyed to smug in two seconds flat, her lips pursing in a glossed, cat-that-caught-the-canary smile..

"Dominique, I'm surprised you're acting so cheerful," she said sweetly, smirk curling her lips upwards. "You know, given the... circumstances."

The temperature in the room seemed to take a sudden drop. I glanced nervously over to Dom, whose fingers were curling over the edge of the table.

"What. Circumstances." It wasn't a question, it was a demand. Dom's eyes were narrowed into little slits, her teeth gritted together as she fixed Evelyn with a shrewd stare. I was suddenly struck with how freaking terrifying my best friend could be.

Evelyn made a sympathetic clucking noise with her tongue, widening her eyes innocently and shaking her head. "You mean you haven't heard yet? Oh, you poor thing. I thought you knew."

I rolled my eyes, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling that was gathering in the pit of my stomach. "Forget about it, Dom. She's probably just — "

"Aidan asked Margaret Corner to Hogsmeade," Evelyn announced loudly, effectively cutting me off.

Silence. The first-years all exchanged surprised looks, eyebrows raised, as this shocking new information sunk in. Evelyn shot a knowing, smug look to her co-conspirators.

Meanwhile, my jaw had found a nice comfy position on the floor, and a scarily large vein was starting to throb in Dom's forehead.

I gave an uneasy laugh. "Well. That's just untrue."

The comment went ignored. Evelyn and Dom seemed not to have heard me, locked in some personal glowerfest as they glared at each other so fiercely, I was surprised they didn't start burning holes in each other's skulls.

Dom was the first one to break away. She looked quickly to the side, a bitter smile tugging at her lips, her expression remarkably smooth. "Why do you think I care about who Aidan's taking to Hogsmeade, Evelyn? It's not like we're dating," she spat out the word as if it were the most ridiculous notion in the world, as if the idea of Dom and Aidan together was some distant, outlandish idea.

"Oh, well. I just thought you might want to know," Evelyn simpered coolly. With a delicate flick of her hand, she tossed her shiny hair behind her shoulder, the action casual and stunning all at once. I grimaced. If I ever tried to do something like that, it would probably just make me look like I had a nervous twitch.

Dom smiled forcibly. "I appreciate your concern, Evelyn, but what — or who — Aidan does in his spare time is of no interest to me."

"Of course not," Evelyn said, sounding completely unconvinced. She returned the smile, but it looked more like a baring of teeth than anything. "Now if you don't mind, I've got to scamper. It's been nice catching up and everything, but ‚ you know how it is. Things to do, people to see."

"Puppies to kick, little children's' souls to devour," I finished for her.

But Evelyn acted as if she hadn't heard. She simply widened her smile and gave a cute little wave, polished fingers wiggling at us in a mocking fashion. "Ta-ta. Lovely talking to you two."

And then, with a twirl of brilliant gold hair, she was gone. Smirking, her two minions stalked mechanically after her.

For a long moment, Dom and I didn't speak. We simply stared at the spot Evelyn had been, unable to do anything but gape and blink. How had Evelyn gotten the last word in that conversation? The Evelyns of the world were not supposed to get the last word in anything. The Evelyns of this world were supposed be 300 pounds overweight and sleeping on their mother's futons.

Apparently, the world was an unfair place. Guess I missed the memo.

"Look Dom," I finally said. "That thing about Aidan probably isn't even true. Evilyn was lying to get under your skin or something. We should just — "

"Push her down the stairs and make it look like an accident?"

"I was going to say 'ignore her,' but that works too."

Dom smiled bitterly, shaking her head. "You know, call me crazy but I hadn't expected him to move on that quickly. Aidan, I mean. I'd actually thought I meant something to him. Is that incredibly selfish of me?"

"Of course you meant something to him," I said, awkwardly patting Dom on the back. "He, he uh—" Loved you? Adored you? "Liked you a lot."

She snorted. "Nice."

"Dom — "

"I know what you mean," she said, eyes deep and serious. "I just can't believe he's doing this."

"Maybe he isn't," I pointed out. "Like I said, Evelyn could be lying just to freak you out."

She paused, looking thoughtful and unsure. "I don't know, Aggy. What if he is actually taking Margaret Corner?"

I grimaced. Margaret Corner was one of the nicest people at Hogwarts. She was popular, but not in the superior, holier-than-thou way that Evil & Co. were. No, Margaret was the type of girl who would lend you her last quill, give you half her lunch, help you with your Charms homework. The complete opposite of Dom, who laughed whenever she saw old people fall and held the belief that children were — I quote — "like broken limbs: annoying, useless, and often caused by accidents."

"Well," I began cautiously. "Even if he is taking her, it's just Hogsmeade. It's not like they're getting married."

Dom groaned sulkily, pressing her fingers to her forehead as she brooded. "Ugh, this is all giving me a headache. I think I need to lie down for a minute." She stood up abruptly. "I'll see you later, Aggy."

And before I could even utter the words, "But we have class in five minutes," she was gone.

Well then, guess I'd be braving Professor McGonagall alone.

I sighed to myself, finishing off the last of my eggs and then standing up to sling my backpack over my shoulder. Someone had a lot of explaining to do.

—*—

Transfiguration passed by slowly, a mind-numbing eternity of me flicking my wand miserably at the same annoyingly obstinate ladybug, desperately waiting for it to transform into a shiny button. My efforts were in vain, however. I was usually best in class, but today all I managed to achieve was a sore wrist and a slightly irritated insect.

As soon as the lesson ended, I fled the classroom in desperate search for Aidan. He had Herbology next period, and I wanted to talk to him about this alleged Hogsmeade date before he left for the Greenhouses.

I made my way down the corridor, searching for my brother amid the thrumming masses of people that flooded the halls between classes. I couldn't find him, though — no tuft of toffee hair or impish blue gaze to be found. Either he had already left, or I'd missed him.

I was about to just give up and head to Ancient Runes, grumbling to myself about idiot brothers and emotionally-unstable bestfriends, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted a familiar shock of stubbornly messy, ink-dark hair.

Potter.

With an uncharacteristic amount of agility, I wheeled around and pushed my way through the mob of students, eyes set determinedly on my target. Potter was heading towards the doors, his shirt rumpled and untucked and his hair sticking out in sixty different directions. He was talking to someone — a Ravenclaw sixth-year, I think — and he was laughing in an amiable way that seemed, not surprisingly, unfamiliar to me. In fact, it came as a strange jolt to see Carefree Happy Potter when I was so used to the Annoying-Sarcastic-Scathing Potter we all knew and loved.

"Hey!" I called out over the roar of chatter and laughter. "Potter! Wait up!"

Upon hearing his name, Potter twisted around, eyebrows raised in expectant curiosity. When he saw it was me, however, his smile fell off his face so quickly it was almost a reflex.

I quickened my pace to meet him, pushing past a group of whispering girls until I was only about twenty feet away. Potter scowled, noticing the determined nature of my warpath, and turned to mutter something to his Ravenclaw friend, who nodded and scurried away to leave us alone.

I was slightly out of breath by the time I reached Potter a few seconds later. I panted, my skin flushed and blotchy in what I assumed must have been an extremely attractive way.

"Potter!" I spat out in between heaving breaths. "I — You — ah bollocks —"

"What is it, Bennett?" Potter quirked a brow and crossed his arms in front of his chest, angling his body so that he was leaning against a nearby wall. His foot rapped against the marble floor restlessly, the tap-tap-tap puncturing the air between us.

The crowds of students continued to rush by, pushing and jostling us as they passed. Their laughter and babble seemed to slowly fade though, until it was nothing but background sound, a dull roar of white noise. All I could focus on was the person (if he could be called that) in front of me, who was still — come to think of it — impatiently waiting for me to form a semi-coherent sentence.

"I need to talk to you," I finally managed.

Potter twisted his face into a mock expression of shock, slapping his hand over his heart in an over-dramatized fashion. "You're breaking up with me, aren't you?"

I shot him A Look. "This is serious, Potter."

"Fine," he drawled, a lazy smile curling his lips upwards. "What is it, then?"

"Well," I began, "It's about Dom. See, there's this rumor going around that Aidan — "

"Bennett," Potter suddenly interrupted. "What's wrong with your face?"

It took me a moment to figure out what he'd just said.

I reared back, gaping at him and his completely insolent, out-of-the-blue question until I finally understood. The makeover. In light of all that had happened, I had completely forgotten about my odd little metamorphosis. It came as a complete surprise to me that... Well, Potter actually noticed.

My face flushed maraschino-cherry red, my eyes dropping hastily to the floor. Now that I was on the receiving end of Potter's curiosity, my makeover suddenly seemed all the more silly and embarrassing. I knew that if I actually confessed the truth, I'd never hear the end of it.

"What's wrong with your face?" I shot back, trying to sound casual and unperturbed.

Potter's smile widened as realization seemed to dawn. "You're wearing makeup, aren't you?"

"No."

"Don't lie," he said, hazel eyes flickering with blatant delight. "Your lips are all shiny. And you're hair looks weirdly... normal. You're wearing makeup!"

"Weirdly normal?" I said lightly in an obvious attempt to sidestep the topic. "Isn't that an oxymoron?"

"Stop deflecting."

"I'm not deflecting!"

There was a long pause in which we stared each other down, hazel and blue colliding head-on. The air crackled overhead. We were sizing each other up, both of us refusing to look away, our gazes locked and our jaws clenched.

The crowd of people in the hall had thinned out over the past few minutes, leaving only a few harried stragglers hastily scurrying to their class. As I looked at Potter, the world around me suddenly seemed to swell into this huge, incredibly silent place. It felt like the two of us were the only people in this ginormous castle, in the entire universe. My nerves were throbbing with energy and adrenaline, the need to trump Potter pounding through every cell of body.

Finally I looked away, blinking furiously. "Fine, so maybe I am wearing makeup. What's the big deal? Why do you care anyways?"

Potter leaned in closer to me, still smiling, and gave an indifferent shrug. "You just don't seem like someone who'd be bothered with that kind of stuff, is all."

"Stuff like my appearance, hygiene, and general well-being?" I snapped back, irritated by his wry, knowing smile. Why did Potter always have to act like I was some bloody source of entertainment? I should smack that stupid smirk right off his face.

Potter whistled lowly. "Are you always this touchy?"

"Are you always this intolerable?"

He didn't deign to answer the question, and there followed a long pause. Potter was still smiling.

"I'm late for Ancient Runes" I finally mumbled, tone somewhat accusatory. I looked down at my feet, hating how Potter could always make me feel so small and stupid. It was sodding belittling.

Potter shrugged. "Then leave."

"But I still have to talk to you," I insisted, stepping forward as I once more remembered Dom and Margaret Corner.

"About what?" Potter asked, looking he couldn't care less what I had to say.

I sighed, deciding to just spit it out before he could interrupt me again and change the subject. "Is Aidan taking to Margaret Corner to Hogsmeade?"

Potter's amused expression flitted off his face, soon to be replaced by something much more guarded, much less readable. His analytical gaze made me feel more than a bit uncomfortable. After all, Potter could be strangely perceptive at times (an example of this would be, oh, five minutes ago), and under his scrutiny I felt like every flaw, every gap in my armor was exposed.

"Maybe you should ask him yourself," Potter said, unhelpfully cryptic as always. "Better yet, maybe Dom should ask him. The two could use a talk."

My heart dropped from its place in my chest and landed with a splash inside my stomach. I flinched, taking Potter's response as implicit agreement. "So that's a yes, then?"

"It's not anything," Potter said, face still as impassive as ever. "I'm just saying Dom and Aidan could use a talk, that's all."

I opened my mouth to reply, but Potter just shook his head firmly and turned around on his heel.

I said nothing, wordlessly watching as Potter walked away from me, strolling down the corridor in that unhurried, 'I've-got-all-the-time-in-the-world' way of his. Sighing in exasperation, I turned and pressed my forehead against the wall Potter had been leaning on.

So, Aidan was taking Margaret Corner to Hogsmeade.

Well, that certainly complicated things.

Eyes squeezing shut at the unpleasant thought, I stayed still for a moment and reveled in the cool stone against my skin, mistakenly believing to have been finally left alone.

"Hey, Bennett!"

My eyes flashed open to see Potter standing at the end of the hallway, his gaze curiously dark and muted. His face was void of any previous derision or amusement — he looked sincere and intent as he met my gaze.

"Yeah?"

"Don't wear lipstick," he said simply. "It clashes with your hair."

And then he was gone.

Chapter 11: Maybes
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A/N: Alright, I'm sorry there was such a long wait, but here it finally is, Chapter Eleven! I had a lot of fun writing this, so I hope you enjoyed it. However, there are some sensative topics in the chapter, and I'm worreid I went a bit overboard and crossed the line in some parts (you'll see what I mean once you read the chappy). Please, leave me a review and tell me if you think I'm being too brash and insensitive, and I'll be happy to go back and re-edit everything. Thanks :)

This chapter has not been beta'd.

Disclaimer: I own nothing (sob).







Beautiful chapter image by laylaycitababy at TDA!





"Do you know that the dot above an 'i' is called a tittle?"




...And so my day begins.




Wonderful.



Don't get me wrong, I liked Hector. I really did. Sure, he was a little on the 'strange' side, but hey, he was drama-free, he didn't borrow my clothes without asking, and most importantly of all, he wasn't currently attempting to court my twin brother. So yeah, he was considered pretty cool in my book.


But honestly, If I hear one more useless fact come out of that kid's pie-hole, I will be forced to take action. Specifically, violent action.


Because I seriously do not care that ingrown toenails are hereditary, or that polar bears are mostly left-handed. I do not care that John Lennon's first girlfriend was named Thelma Pickles, or a duck's quack does not echo. I. Do. Not. Care.


Say it with me. I. Do. Not. Care.



"Do you know tha—"


"Hector?"


"Yeah?"


"Be quiet."


"Bu—"


"No."


"Ah—"


"Hector, seriously. Unless you're face wants to have a friendly little chat with my butter knife, I suggest that you stop talking. Like, now."


Eyes wide, Hector allowed his mouth to clench shut. My ear drums (and the few ounces of sanity that I had left) rejoiced.


The Great Hall that morning was eerily quiet. It was a Wednesday, and, as was custom for the middle of the week, everybody was in a tired, dull mood. The ceiling above was cloudy and dismal, and there was little noise except for the  clinking of silverware and the occasional, hushed murmur.



I gingerly pushed my strips of bacon around my plate, and, with the other hand, rubbed my aching temples with two fingers.  Last night, Dom had kept me up moaning about how Margaret Corner had grazed Aidan's arm in Potions class today, and even though I had pointed out that it was probably accidental, since Margaret had been in the process of reaching over to grab a quill when this scandalous 'graze' had taken place, Dom had refused to listen. She had said it was a very romantic graze, and there was something behind it. I was a bit confused by this, so I asked her what the difference between a romantic graze and a normal graze was, and she just looked at me like I was stupid and said that it was not the graze itself, but the reaction the male specimen had to it. Apparently, Aidan had not recoiled and leaped off his chair, screaming in horror at the mere thought of being touched by a member of the opposite sex like Dom had expected him to. And according to Dom's twisted, warped way of thinking, this meant that Aidan and Margaret Corner were having a lusty, passionate affair, and currently making regular visits to broom cupboards, if you know what I mean.



Which I don't even get in the first place, because I have never, ever met someone who does...well...it in a broom cupboard. I just can't see how anyone would find it appealing. Unless you're idea of fun is catching Meningitis from a bunch of dusty, hundred year old cleaning supplies as both you're clothes and dignity are stripped from you, than hey, whatever floats you're boat. As for me, I think I'll pass on that one, thanks.


"Agatha?"


I blinked a couple of times and shook my head, shoving away my tangential thoughts into the corner of my mind for another time. Hector, who was currently sitting next to me at one of the tables, was waving and gesturing frantically with his arms as he called for my attention.


I turned to him and sighed. "Yes, Hector?"


"May I talk now?"


"Well you already are, aren't you?" I said, quirking an eyebrow at him (a skill which, believe it or not, took one whole summer to master).


Hector cocked his head, his giant tuft of Jimmy-Neutron-esque hair swaying slightly with the movement. "I suppose so."


I stifled an eye-roll and did not respond. Hector didn't say anything either, and we fell into an awkward, uneasy silence. I desperately wished that someone would come and break the ice, but alas, Dom was still in the dorm room, sleeping, and the Tweedle Trio were no where to be found.



Finally, after a lot of wracking my brain, I managed to find a few words that I could string together into a coherent sentence. "So Hector, are you excited for Hogsmeade this Saturday?"


"Most definitely." Hector said, nodding profusely. "In fact, I have asked a lovely female friend to accompany me during the trip."


My eyebrows flew up to somewhere near my hair line. Hector? A date? That was...interesting. "Who?"


"Beatrice Goldstein. I've been courting her for a few weeks, actually. She's the head of the Charms Club, and quite fetching, if I can say so myself."


"Ah." I said. Beatrice was the type of person who paid other people so she could do their homework. Hector and her were a match made in nerd heaven. "That's wonderful, Hector. I'm sure you'll have a good time."


"Oh yes, indubitably." Hector said. "I'm going to bring my Murphey McMurphey's Complete Volume of Wizarding Crossword Puzzles though, just in case things get dull."


"Smart." I grinned, shoving the last remaining pieces of bacon into my mouth. "Well, I hate to say it, but I have to go and wake up Dom the Sleeping Beauty. But I'll see you around, Hector."


He nodded, and I swung my legs over the bench and stood up. Just as I was about to walk away though, I heard him turn to the person next to him and utter one, final, "Did you know that..."



I shook my head and smiled, leaving the Great Hall.











"No, no, no. You've got it all wrong. It's a swish, not a wave."


"What's the difference between a swish and a wave?"


"Er... One's more...swishy. And the other's more...wave-like."


"...Thanks."


I sighed, grabbing hold of Ryan's hand, which was clenched firmly around his wand, and guiding it in the right direction. "See... it's like a short, flicking motion. Just really quick. Swish."


"Swish."
He repeated, drawing his perfect eyebrows into each other in an adorably quizzical sort of way. I tried to ignore the warmth of his skin, smooth and flawless underneath my own hands. Merlin. His skin was so soft. Well, of course it was soft. He was perfect. "Swish."

"Yeah. Exactly." I said, letting go—with some difficulty—of his hand. "Swish."

In case you haven't realized it, yet, Ryan and I were having another tutoring session. Another glorious, wonderful, amazing tutoring session. I honestly believe God purposely created the subject of Transfiguration in order to make up for all the bad things in this world. War, poverty, death, my hair... It's all forgiven now.


For today, we decided to use an empty classroom for our session. Usually, we went to the library, but Madam Pince (yes, the librazilla is still here) looks like she's on the verge of an aneurysm whenever we walk in there (this may or may not be because I accidentally knocked down the Biography, A-L bookshelf last Tuesday).


Anyway.


The classroom we were in was wide and spacious, with a tall ceiling, an elegant marble floor, and gaping, arched windows. It had been my idea to push all of the desks and chairs towards the walls of the room, so that we could have a space in the middle to work with. At the moment, I was trying to teach Ryan how to change a quill into a rose. It was one of the more difficult spells, and Ryan just couldn't seem to get the wand movement right.


The windows were open, and I could hear that it was quiet outside, save for the melancholy chirping of a bird or two in the distance. The day had passed by fast, and now it was almost dinner time. Light from the setting sun streamed into the room in orange, gold, and pale pink ribbons, illuminating everything with a warm, rosy glow.


In an act of raw exasperation, I yanked my fingers through my hair, and then quickly withdrew my hand as if I'd been shocked. Ever since Dom's little makeover extravaganza, my tresses were now permanently soft, sleek, and just all around Dominique-ified. I was still surprised when, every time I touched my scalp, I found actual, normal hair, and not the mass of tangles I was used to. It was a bit of a strange sensation, but at least I didn't resemble Frankenstein's bride anymore.


"Okay," I said, trying to keep the edge of frustration from creeping into my voice. "Just try one more time. Swish. Swi—"


Ryan heaved a sigh and sat on nearby desk, shoving his wand into his robe's pocket. "Forget it." He mumbled, dragging his two hands down his (perfect, beautiful, look-directly-at-it-and-you'll-be-blinded-forever) face. "This is hopeless."


"No!" I said, protesting eagerly. "You'll get it eventually. It just takes a lot of practice. And time. You have to be patient, Ryan."


His eyes flickered towards me, a wry smile twisting at his lips. Scooting over, he patted the space by his leg, and I obeyed, sitting down next to him as the rate of my heartbeat seemed to double in speed.


There was a beat where he just looked at me, those soulful blue eyes like...like...a pair of...er, soulful blue things. I fidgeted, slightly uncomfortable with the attention.


"What?" I said, swinging my legs back and forth, unable to keep myself from forming a grin of my own.


He chuckled a rich, deep chuckle. "It's just, you're hair... Looks amazing in the light."


I felt my face flush. "Um, thanks."


There was a long moment of pure silence. I looked towards the ceiling, biting into my lower lip, as—for the second time that day—I desperately searched my mind for something to say.


Finally, Ryan spoke. "Agatha, there's something I've been meaning to tell you."


My heart took a free-fall and landed somewhere near my stomach region.


"I...W-what?"


Could this be it? What I've been waiting, desperately wishing for these past months? Dom had told me it would happen, but I'd always waved it off, telling her not to get my hopes up. But maybe...just maybe... this could be the moment where Ryan sweeps me into his arms and professes his undying, ever-lasting love for me and says that he wouldn't be able to bear another, torturous second without me.



Or, you know, ask me to Hogsmeade. That would work to.




This had to be it. What else could he want to say? He was going to ask me to Hogsmeade, I know it. And then we were going to fall in love and get married and have beautiful, soft-skinned babies together.


Oh Merlin, I hope I look okay. Is there stuff in my teeth? What about my hair? Where should I put my hands? In my pockets? No, that's too casual. In my lap? No, too awkward. Holy cow. Holy cow. WHERE SHOULD I PUT MY HANDS?



"Agatha." Ryan said, taking a deep breath.


I looked at him, swallowing. This was it. This was going to be the beginning of my wonderful, new, Ryan-filled life.



"Yes, Ryan?" I tried to say it in a coquettish sort of voice, batting my eyelashes like I've seen Dom do to thousands of blokes.



"I'm gay."




Yes! Yessss! Ryan Fisher just asked ME to Hogsmeade! Oh, Merlin. This was wonderful. No, this was more than wonderful. This was like Christmas morning plus my birthday plus a Spice Girls' reunion concert all rolled into one. This was the most amazing, perfect day in the history of amazing, perfect days!



And now, I believe it is time for some good ol' fashioned gloating time:



Ryan Fisher asked me to Hogsmeade! Ryan. Fisher. Asked. Me. To. Hogsmeade! Na na na na na! Me! Not Evilyn, not Dom, not anyone else. Me! He asked me! Ryan Fisher as—





...Wait a second.




WHAT did he just say?



"Agatha?" Ryan was looking at me curiously. He flapped his hand in front of my face, peering into my eyes. "Earth to Agatha?"




No...He couldn't have... He asked me to Hogsmeade! ...Right?




"Um." I croaked. "What did you just say?"



"I'm gay."







...No.





No.



No no no no no no.



This had to be some sort of bad dream. This was a mistake. Ryan Fisher did not just say 'I'm gay'. No...he must have said something else. Like 'I'm sleigh' or "I'm buffet' or 'Agatha Bennett I love you so much, please bear my future children...ay." He couldn't have...have...



"What?"



"I'm gay."



This isn't happening. This can't be happening. I'm hallucinating. The lack of sleep must be messing with my brain, or something! There has to be some logical explanation for this...I mean, gay also means 'happy', right? Yeah. He was just trying to express how happy he was. That had to be it. It had to be.



"Ohhh..." I said, realization dawning. "I get it. You're happy! I understand now...! That's so sweet, Ryan. I mean, sure, it's a bit of a weird word choice, but I'm...er...gay too!" Okay, this would be the part where I stop talking. "Yeah, in fact, I'm really gay!" STOP. TALKING. STOP. TALKING. "In fact, you...uh...make me...uh...really...gay, Ryan. I'm having a real, gay time sitting here with you now." 



Please. Kill me now.



Ryan's forehead creased together. "No, I didn't mean it like that, Agatha. I meant gay, as in... homosexual."



This is a cruel joke. In a few minutes, Ashton Kutcher is going to pop out behind the door and go all, "Haha, you've just been Punk'd!" And then we'll just laugh it off and go get some tea. Me, Ryan, and Ashton Kutcher. Drinking tea.



"No..." I said, stupidly. "You're not."



Ryan made a sympathetic face. "Yes, Agatha. I am. And I know it's a lot of information to take in, but... I mean, we're good friends, yeah? And you just seem like the kind of girl who'd be really cool about it. I feel like I can trust you."



HOW IS HE BEING SO FLIPPANT ABOUT THIS? DOES HE NOT REALIZE WHAT A TRAGEDY THIS IS FOR THE FEMALE KIND?



I blinked a couple of times. Inhaled. Exhaled. Tried to remember where my brain was located. Tried to remember what I had done to deserve this. The sixty thousand puppies I had killed in my past life must have been three-legged or blind or something, because this wasn't just any other, run-of-the-mill karmic payback. No. This was something something the Gods of Fate had designed specifically for me.



Ryan sighed, then continued. "I get it. You're surprised. Most people are, when I tell them. But it's not that big of a deal, I promise. I hope this won't affect our friendship, Agatha." He took my hand in his and leaned closer to me. I blinked again. "Because...well, I really like you."



Okay. There should be some sort of limit on the amount of irony one person can take. I mean, even I think this is too much.




"Um," I said, shaking my head. I slipped off the desk, pulling my hand away from Ryan's. "Yes. No. I mean, it won't...you know, affect us." My voice was unnaturally high. "I just...er...need some time to think this through."



Ryan nodded furiously. "Of course."




I started to stumble away, still frowning. How is this possible? How had I not seen this coming?



"Um." I said, turning around. "See you gayter." I stumbled into a random desk, the crashing noise echoing throughout the room as my cheeks blossomed pink. "Shit. I mean, see you later. Not...not... Um. I'm going to... go... Now. Have a good gay. I mean—day! Crap.. I...um..." I bumped into a chair, tripping slightly and regaining my footing in the nick of time. Ryan looked at me, bemused.



"Bye." My idiot brain finally managed. "Okay. Yeah. Bye."



Dear Merlin,

You suck. A lot. 

Sincerely,
Agatha Bennett.







"No."


"Yes."


"No."


"Yes."


"
Does he not realize what a tragedy this is for the female kind?"


"THAT'S WHAT I SAID!"


Dominique Weasley flopped backwards onto my bed, the silky comforter poofing up around her. Her hair billowed out around her head like the explosion of a firework, reaching out in all possible directions, vibrant against her pale skin.


I leaned against the bedpost, wrapping my arms around the wood as I groaned to myself in defeat. Maybe I should just stay here. Never come down. People would call be the Bedpost Girl, and I'd be able to do anything I wanted, to just go about on my bedposting ways until eventually someone called in the Cuckoo Doctors. And even that wouldn't be too bad. A sedative or two, maybe some electro-shock therapy, and I'd be back on my feet in no time...


Dom huffed a sigh, shaking her head. "Somewhere out there, my gob is being smacked. My flabber is being gasted. My flum is being moxed. My—"


"Okay," I said, interrupting her. "That's enough."


"You're right. I pushed that too far."


"Yes."


There was a silence. And then...


"My dumb is being found."


"Stop."


"My thunder is being struck!"


"Dom. Seriously. It's starting to get painful."






She laughed her trademark Dom laugh, complete with snorts and everything. I unwound myself from the bedpost and lay down on the bed next to her, unable to stifle the sigh of relief that had opened like a flower inside my chest. I love mattresses. Even in the worst of situations, you could always rely on them to be there for you. Warm, soft, cuddly...They were like hugs for lonely people.


Dom spoke first.


"I hate men."




"That's a blatant lie, and you know it."


She stretched her leg out, and then lifted it so her big toe grazed the dark green canopy of the bed. "Yeah."


I gave a little, pathetic whimper, inching closer to my best friend. "I wanted to kiss him, Dom. I wanted to kiss him, and I wanted to hold his hand, and I wanted to wear his sweaters and go to his Quidditch games and forget his birthday and..."


My lower lip trembled as I thought of all those opportunities, all those moments that I had spent nights upon nights wishing for. Where would they go, now? Were they like the birthday balloons set free by careless children? Did they just float up and up into the sky, until they were nothing but tiny, little pinpricks, sprinkled across the mass expanse of blue? Or did they belong to someone else now? Were they another girls' daydreams, another boys' maybes?


All that time...


Dom sighed, heaving her body of the bed. She turned around and grabbed my limp arms. "C'mon, you." She said, pulling me to a stand. "Somewhere, downstairs, is a pint of chocolate ice cream with your name on it. Let's go."


I nodded dumbly and followed her out the dorm, mentally preparing myself for a few hours of anti-male ranting, chocolate ice cream, and trying (but failing) to forget about Ryan Fisher and the holes he had created in the sky.






The next day, I was walking to Transfiguration (sob), when all of a sudden, I saw him.


No, not Ryan.



Potter.


He was leaning against the corridor wall, his shirt untucked, and talking to some Gryffindor bimbo with a bra size bigger than her IQ. She was all giggly and flirty as she reached out,  fluttered her eyelashes, and grazed his arm with her dainty figures.


Potter's lips twitched knowingly, and he subconsciously leaned towards the girl, his tall frame towering over her short one.



And for some reason, this made me very, very angry.


I don't know why. Maybe it was because Potter was probably going to end up taking this girl (and five others) to Hogsmeade this Saturday, while I was going to be stuck in the alone library, pathetic and dateless. Or maybe it was because Potter was so friendly, so amiable to this bint, yet he acted like I was the scum under his shoe. Or maybe it was simply because Potter was happy, and I wasn't.



Either way, I was pissed.



Before I could think twice, I marched right up towards the two lovebirds, pushing my way through the crowd of people, until I had stopped directly in front of Potter. My foot rapped incessantly against the ground, a staccato beat that drummed equally as fast as my heart. I placed my hands on my hips and cocked an unimpressed eyebrow. Baditude Pose, activated.


"Potter." I declared in a loud voice that sounded much more confident than I actually was. "Your shirt is untucked."


He tore his eyes away from the girl to look at me. The dancing light in his eyes seemed to freeze over as his mouth set into a thin, straight line. I irritated him.


And I liked it.


The girl shot me a glare worthy of Evilyn, but I refused to even acknowledge her. My eyes were set dead straight on Potter.


"Yes." He drawled. "And the sky is blue. Any other fantastically observant remarks you want to make, or is Captain Obvious done for the day?"


Wow. He was being even more snarky than usual. He must be in a really bad mood.


I should remember to thank whoever had made him so angry.


Then again, it was probably me.


"Oh, actually, I think I have one." I paused, scratching my chin in mock thought. "Hmm...what was it...Oh yeah! Untucking your shirt is against the dresscode, Potter." I said, in a tone so scathing, even I was surprised. "Five points from Gryffindor."


Potter's eyes flashed, his jaw dropping open in outrage. "Are you kidding me? That's a blatant abuse of prefect power!" He looked to the bimbo for confirmation, and she nodded eagerly.


"Hey," I said, smirking victoriously. "I'm just doing my job."


I turned around to go, shooting him a nasty look over my shoulder. But Potter obviously wasn't done just yet. He marched after me, and even though I tried to quicken my pace, his strides were almost twice as long as mine. The bimbo, long forgotten, scowled and scurried away in the opposite direction.


"Fine." He said, not seeming to have noticed that his groupie was gone. "If that's the way you want to play it, then five points from Slytherin."


I gasped, stopped in the middle of the corridor, and wheeled around. Several people jostled past us, hurrying to their classes. "For what?"

His eyes scanned me over slowly, up and down, and I shifted from foot to foot as his gaze traced the lines of my body. His eyes finally rested on my blouse, near my collarbone. I crossed my arms, nervous. He smirked, noticing my discomfort.


"For leaving your shirt's top button unbuttoned."


"I—What? Everyone does that!"


"Hey," He said, throwing his arms up into the air. "I'm just doing my job."


"Okay...well...um... Five points from Gryffindor for lollygagging in the hallway!"


"Five points from Slytherin for using the word 'lollygagging!'"


I gaped. "Wh—You can't...!"


His eyes glinted nastily. "I. Just. Did."


Something inside me snapped, and I started to speak without even meaning to. "Five points from Gryffindor for being an egotistical, selfish, rude, despicable prat!"

"Five points from Slytherin for...having blue eyes!"


"Five points from Gryffindor for not wearing your school robes!"


"Five points from Slytherin for being too short!"


"Five points from Gryffindor for being too tall!"


"Five points from Slytherin for...wearing ugly shoes!"


What? My shoes are not ugly! They're sensible. "Five points from Gryffindor for never brushing your hair!"


"Five points from Slytherin for being left-handed!"


"Five points from Gryffindor for not being left-handed!" We were shouting now, and beginning to attract some attention from the students passing by. Potter's hand was clenched around his wand, his chest rising up and down rapidly. I was red in the face, breathing equally as hard. My head was throbbing with anger, my entire body quaking and shuddering like there was something about to...explode, a ticking bomb inside of my body.


Potter raised his wand and pressed it under my chin, poking the soft flesh there and making me back away half a centimeter.


I pulled my own wand out from my robes' pocket and pointed it directly towards his chest. "I don't think you want to go there, Potter."


I had no idea where this was coming from. All I knew was that I had never felt this way before. I mean, sure, I've been angry. Loads of times, in fact. But not...not...this sort of angry. It was feral. It was overwhelming. It was raging inside of me, pulsing, almost, like a second heart, clouding my vision with red. Before, I had been angry because I wanted to be angry. But now...I was angry because...because...



...Because there was nothing left.


"You don't know what I'm capable of." Potter hissed, his eyes flashing a thousand different shades of green.


"Then show me." I snarled back.


And then all of a sudden, we were shooting hexes at each other. Swirls of jewel-colored lights set the hallway aglow as bystanders cheered us on, placing bets on who would win, who would lose. But they just faded into obscurity, along with the rest of the background. All that mattered to me was speaking the next incantation, performing the next spell. I had to win this. I had to.


Potter and I worked like a machine. Aiming at all the right places, dodging just in the nick of time. Neither of us had been hit, yet. We knew what the other was going to do before they did it, probably a product of knowing (and most importantly, hating) each other for such a long time. We were evenly matched. Potter had his Quidditch reflexes, but I had sheer determination.



And then, something terrible happened.


"Densaugeo!"

I watched as my spell bloomed from the tip of my wand and streamed down the corridor. Potter saw it coming, too, and he leaped nimbly out of the way just in time for the jinx to miss him and hit...


Professor Nott, who had been standing, arms crossed, right in the spells' path.



Oh no.



Oh no no no.


My wand clattered to the floor. The corridor turned silent. Even Potter stopped moving.



Nott turned to me, the veins in his forehead throbbing, his teeth already starting to lengthen in size—that was what the spell did, in case you didn't know. It made your teeth grow. Sort of a silly, if you thought about it, but (apparently) very effective.


There was a long pause. The crowd of bystanders dispersed, obviously not wanting to get in trouble. They muttered to themselves as they left, hastening away until it was only be, Potter, and Professor Nott. Alone. In the corridor. With no witnesses present.


Again: Oh no.


"Professor Nott! I can explain!" I finally cried, breaking the silence.


He advanced towards me, fixing me with a steely glare that made my blood freeze over. Despite the complete and utter pants-wettingness of the situation, I was suddenly struck with the absurd idea that Nott resembled a very angry, over-sized chipmunk.


"Office. Now." He said, except, because his teeth were already growing past his chin, it sounded more like "Othifizz, Naww".




And so I did the only thing that I could think to do:



I laughed.





...I am so dead.

Chapter 12: Dizzying
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A/N: So it's 1:09 AM in the morning right now, and I have FINISHED THIS CHAPTER! Wahoo! Be proud guys, be proud.


I hope you guys like it! Please read and review!


Disclaimer: None of it is mine :)









Beautiful chapter image by laylaycitababy at TDA!





I wonder if it will hurt.


Getting brutally murdered by my DADA professor, I mean.


Seriously. Will I feel anything? Will there be a tunnel of light, some pearly white gates, the whole shebang? Or will it just be me, dead, my body rotting in the ground for the rest of eternity?


Actually, come to think of it, I want to be cremated. Yes, that sounds good. I could have a ceremony, or something. Friends and family could come and watch as my ashes are spread majestically over the ocean. Then, if this was a movie, there would be a little video montage of everybody elses' lives falling apart without me, accompanied by a Journey song playing in the background. My mother would fall into depression, Dom would become a raging alcoholic, and my brother would attempt to avenge my murder but, of course, fail and get thrown into Azkaban, where he would inevitably wind up becoming some ex-gang member's "bitch" because, let's face it, Aidan is definitely not suited for the dog-eat-dog lifestyle of the slammer.


Cut to the scene where, twenty years later, Ryan Fisher is sitting on his bed, weeping in despair as he gazes longingly at a smiling picture of me. Blackout. End of movie. Credits roll.


Really, dying wouldn't be so bad. At least its better than just sitting here in Nott's office, waiting for him to come back and decide what sort of cruel and agonizing punishment he's going to inflict upon my helpless soul. Honestly, I don't think I'm going to be able to go like this any longer.


I knew something was wrong the minute we walked into his office. He had been so blase' about the whole thing, simply gesturing for Potter and I to take a seat, and then—calmly, silently—he had just turned around and left the room, locking the door behind him.


He's probably sharpening his murder weapon as we speak.


Oh, well.


Trying to be as discreet as possible, I shot a wayward glance at Potter, who was sitting in an identical chair to the right of me. So far, he hadn't shown any sign of worry or concern about my well-being. In fact, he looked almost bored.


I wonder if Potter will try and help when (because, let's be honest, it's going to happen sooner or later) Nott attacks me with his butcher's knife/chainsaw/bare hands. Maybe he will. Maybe he'll like, realize that our fighting is petty and meaningless when it comes down to it, and step in and be the hero, save the day.


Who am I kidding? He'll probably just stand there and laugh as I got bludgeoned to death.


Which is okay, really. I've come to terms with my death.


Sort of.



"So, who's ready to meet their demise?"



Oh Merlin.


I wheeled around to see Nott, standing in the doorway—teeth returned to normal size—with an alarming, cheery smile on his face. His hands were clapped together, his expression sarcastically eager.


Neither of us replied.


Nott strode into his office, his posture relaxed and comfortable. He languidly paced the length of the small room, his hands behind his back and the same, strange grin on his face.


"C'mon, Two Shoes." He said, not even glancing at me as he took a seat behind his shiny, mahogany desk. His two feet seemed to fly up on their own accord, slamming down on the wood surface where his polished shoes left ugly, white scuff marks. I winced at the blatant show of furniture abuse and tried to keep my eye from twitching. "'Fess up. Who's responsible for all of this?"


"I-I—" It seemed as though my brain had packed up all its bags and left my body with nothing more than a hasty wave and a 'See you, sucker!' farewell. I couldn't speak. I couldn't even breathe.


I was going to be killed. Or worse, expelled.


"Um..."


"Don't worry." He said brightly, folding his hands behind his head. "I'm not going to murder you. Just your run o' the mill medieval torture, fifty or so lashes, some time in the dungeons...And then you'll be free to go."



I was too busy trying to regain control of my bladder to reply.



"So." Nott dropped his feet off the desk and leaned in, a wry smile on his face. "Who started it?'


I did! I wanted to scream. It's all my fault, just kill me now and spare me the misery!  But of course, my vocal cords seemed to have gotten themselves twisted into a nice, convenient little knot, and my mouth was about as dry as Potter's sense of humor.


Dear God, you could have given me blond hair. Or a  cool talent, like singing or drawing or playing Quidditch. But no... You decide to grant me a crippling fear of authority figures instead. So, for that, I would like to say thanks, buddy. Really. I couldn't have done any of this without you.


Nott looked pointedly from me to Potter, who was slouched in his chair (his shirt still untucked!) with an unimpressed look on his face. I had to hand it to him, Potter was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.



I think it's the latter.



"Well? Who?"


I opened my mouth to speak. This was it, I had to do the right thing. The urge to confess was gnawing at me from the inside. Must. Help. Teacher.


"Professor—"



"I did it."



Nott's expression of shock was a mirror image of my own face as, simultaneously, the both of us swivelled our heads around to stared at Potter, who was looking all casual and relaxed as he leaned on the back legs of his chair, a quill twiddling between two fingers.


"What?" I croaked.


"I did it." Potter repeated, shifting his weight forward. The front legs of the chair fell back to the ground with a thud, and Potter slid the quill behind his ear in one fluid, flawless motion. "It was my fault... Bennett had nothing to do with it."


Okay, someone please hit me.


For the eleventyth time that day, I turned around to look at Potter. His shirt was rolled up to his elbows (honestly, I think this kid is having a contest to see how many dress-code rules he can break at once—or, how high he can get my blood pressure, is more like it), his arms were crossed, and one of his eyebrows was quirked upwards ever-so-slightly. He looked like the picture-perfect example of calm. It was unnerving. I mean, so far, I could only think of two possible explanations for this madness: a) Potter was stupider than I'd previously thought, or b) this was all part of some elaborate plan to...confuse me to death, or something.


Either way: what in sweet Circe's name was going on?


Nott seemed to take a few minutes to compose himself. I think that, like me, he had assumed that I would be the one to crack first and 'fess up. And, like me, he was now in a state of paralyzing shock.


Finally, our professor opened his mouth to speak. "Potter, yo--"


But before I could stop myself, I was talking again. I mean, I knew nothing good could ever come from me speaking, but it wasn't like that was going to stop me.


"Are you insane?"


"Well," Potter sounded amused. "The subject of insanity is all a bit relative, don't you think? I mean, if you put me next to, say, Professor McGonagall or Headmistress Vespertine, than the answer would be yeah, a little. But compared to someone like you? No. No, I'm not."


I blinked twice. "I'm taking that as a definite, resounding yes."


Nott, all the meanwhile, was sitting at his desk, growing increasingly frustrated with us hooligans. "That's enough!" He finally barked. "Now, Potter—"


"I know, I know." Potter said, sounding bored. "30 points docked from Gryffindor, two weeks worth of detention, and a suspension from Prefect duties. Can I go now?"


Our DADA professor gaped at us. "I—er—Two Shoes!" He snapped, his expression hardening in determination. "You can leave. But I want to..have a talk with you, Potter."


I stood shakily up from my chair, casting a last, hesitant glance at the two of them as I left the room. Potter taking the blame for me? Nott dismissing me without either verbally abusing me/docking points first? This was all so strange...What kind of parallel universe had I landed myself in?


I waited outside the door for Potter because of two reasons: number one, I was curious to see if he was going to come out with all of his limbs still intact, and number two, I was kind of planning to ambush him when he walked out of the office. You never know, maybe he'd get caught by surprise and...oh, I dunno, actually explain some of this to me.


It seemed like I had to wait forever and a day. When the mahogany door to Nott's office finally opened, I sprung out of the shadows (surprisingly agile) and pounced on Potter, like a graceful lioness leaping out of the grass to capture her prey, only...you know, less Lion King and more...uh, Annoyed Hormonal Teenage Girl (which I think is, in a way, even scarier).


Potter did not look impressed.


I stood in front of him, assuming my best Cat Woman stance, and gave him the mightiest You Die Now glare that I could muster.


He still did not look impressed.


"Bennett." He said, not even blinking as he closed the door behind him. "I knew you'd be here."


"Why did you do that?" I exclaimed before I could stop myself. The words were shriller and louder than I had intended them to be, and they echoed brashly off the stone walls of the corridor. I cringed on the inside, slightly embarrassed by my volume.


"Do what?" Potter asked. For someone with a one-digit IQ, he could feign innocence remarkably well.


"Oh, don't play stupid with me. I mean, I know you're good at it, but seriously. Spare me the grief."


Without bothering to reply, Potter began to walk down the corridor, an obnoxious, barely noticeable smirk tugging at his lips. I followed him, quickening my pace so that I could catch up with his long strides.


It was now officially dark out. The navy-cobalt sky shone through nearby windows, staining the cracked stone floors with a cool, almost translucent shade of blue. Shadows crept out of corners, sinister and hulking as they slowly leaked into sight, and the moon dangled precariously above the horizon, yellow and bloated.


The entire castle suddenly seemed to turn quiet in an eerie, muffled sort of way. Each sound was muted and dim, creaks and cracks no longer sharp and crisp, but instead softened, as if someone was smothering all the noises with a pillow in an effort to silence them. It gave me the urge to tiptoe, to be soft and delicate and whisper lullabies.


"Potter." I said firmly, tearing through the strange quietness in order to speak. "What was that back there, in Nott's office? Why...why did you do that?"


He didn't reply, just quickened his pace and kept on walking. Together but apart, we pushed through the dark, shadowy corridors, sloshing through puddles of moonlight as we tried to find our way amidst the countless number of twists and turns.


"Potter." I repeated in a more demanding tone.


He didn't reply.


"Potter." I hissed again, this time giving him a nice shove in the shoulder for added emphasis.


He stopped abruptly and sighed. "Look Bennett, I know you're not good at this whole 'social interactions' thing, but when a person continues to ignore you for a long period of time, it generally means that they want you to stop talking. Like now, for example."


"Har dee har har. Have you ever tried stand-up comedy before, Potter? You'd be good at it."


He gave  a little shrug. "Well, I'm good at everything, so..."


"Answer the question."


"Why should I?"


"Why should you? Why should you?" I spluttered. "Because—because... you have to! You..."


He sighed, "Let it go, Bennett."


"No!" For some reason, I couldn't just 'let it go'. I had to know. Maybe it was silly, but my gut was telling my brain that this was important.


"Okay, fine, Bennett. You want to know why?"


"Um, yes!" Wasn't that what I had been telling him all along?


"It's because I'm in love with you."








"What?"









 Before I could properly react, Potter had suddenly closed the distance between us and was cupping my face in his hands. I could feel his palms, calloused but warm, against my skin, and I was suddenly aware that every detail of his face was visible to me now. The tiny scar above his eyebrow, thrown into clarity by the silver moonlight... His hazel eyes, dark and bright all at the same time... I was motionless. I couldn't even blink.


"That's right." Potter murmured, and his eyes seemed to...liquefy, almost. "For years, I have been yearning for you, Agatha Bennett. And I had hoped that if I gallantly swooped in and saved you from the wrath of our DADA professor, you would realize your undying love for me. And then you'd throw yourself into my arms, and we'd elope from the castle and go to some place like Tahiti, where we would have an impromptu wedding on the beach shortly before riding away into the ocean the backs of two dolphins. Not porpoises, mind you. Dolphins."


"Wh—?" I began to say, but Potter placed a slender finger on my lips and leaned in closer. It was from combined effects of Potter's finger on my lips and the proximity of our faces that I promptly shut up.


"Shh." He said, his voice taking on a strange, dramatic—almost romantic—quality to it. "Before you say anything, let me just tell you this. The way your bushy hair seems to come alive in the moonlight, the way you always act like you've smelled something foul whenever I come in close contact with you..." He paused, and then his voice changed back to it's normal, sarcastic tone. "It's a big turn on. Really."


And then he was letting go of me and walking away.



It took me a minute to realize that he had been kidding this whole time.



And then I got angry.


"Potter!" I said, hurrying to catch up with him. "I can't believe you, you...you..."


He stopped and wheeled around to look at me. "Prat? Prick? Idiot? Moron? Take your pick."


"I—Ugh, I hate you!"


"Good. We're on the same page, then." He said offhandedly, beginning to walk away again. I didn't follow after him, this time. Instead, I just stood there in the middle of the corridor like an idiot, my heartbeat ringing furiously in my ears.


"You know what, Potter?" I shouted after him. "You are the most annoying, thoughtless person I have ever met! You only care about yourself, never about how anyone else is feeling! You're selfish and mean and I--I hope you fall off a cliff! No, I hope y—"


But I stopped because, all of a sudden, Potter was turning around and marching right back towards me. There was a determined, sort of angry glint glowing inside his eyes, and it was so vivid that it made me take a few step backwards.


"You want to know the real reason why I saved your arse in there, Bennett?" He snapped, his face twisting with malice.


"Yes!" I snarled, throwing my hands in the air. "Enlighten me!"


He was now standing in front of me, almost as close as we had been before. But I didn't back away this time. I stared up at him determinedly, my fists clenched by my sides as I tried to hide my confusion.


"It's because I'm a nice human being."


"Huh?" What was Potter talking about? I could barely imagine him as a human being, let alone the 'nice' part.


Potter's jaw was clenched, his eyes burning bright. The lines of his face seemed harsher almost, etched in silver from the milky light that shone out of a nearby window.


For a minute, he looked like he was going to yell at me. Like, seriously yell and scream and shout at me. But then, Potter seemed to sort of just....deflate a little. The anger on his face melted away, and he composed himself a bit. When he spoke, his voice was softer. "You care more than I do." He said. "About points, and detentions, and prefect duties. You actually think it's important. I don't. I figured that if you got in trouble and had your prefects' badge taken away, you'd be...well, crushed, really. And as I said, I don't really care about that stuff, and you do...so...do you see where I'm coming from, Bennett?"


There was something crackling in the air. I could feel it. Energy, really, pulsing and thrumming and alive. It danced, tingly and effervescent, on top my skin. The world was in perfect alignment as we stood there, held in our places by the force that shivered between us.


"What are you saying, Potter? That you did this...for me?" I asked weakly. "So that I wouldn't get...in trouble?"


"Merlin, you're daft. Of course that's what I'm saying!"


So he took one for the team. Well, for me, really. I had thought that Potter had been hiding some secret agenda, an evil plot or a malicious scheme...But I had been wrong. Way wrong.


I couldn't think of anything to say. Potter could have just stood by and watched as I crashed and burned in Nott's office...but he didn't. He...he...


"You helped me." I said, ever-so-intelligently.


"Jesus, Bennett. Stop looking at me like I'm a fucking martyr or something. I know it's hard to remember sometimes, but I'm human, you know. I am capable of compassion."


Well, that's news to me.


There was a slight pause before I spoke again. "Um, er, are you still a prefect?" I asked.


He laughed coldly, his expression shifting to a bitter sort of grimness. "No, not anymore."


So, Potter wasn't a prefect. He would have to hand his badge back. A letter was going to be sent home. No more patrolling, no more docking points. All that would be left to remind anyone of Potter's prefect days would be a little, tiny blip on his academic record.


That could have happened to me. It should have happened to me.


I wanted to say something nasty. Maybe insulting Potter would make me feel less...Guilty. Ashamed. But when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. The usual mass of comebacks and insults that I kept at hand when Potter was around was gone.


"I...Thank you."


He rolled his eyes. "You're welcome. Just...don't let it get to your head. This doesn't mean that I tolerate you, or anything."


And with that, he turned around and walked away from me for the last time that evening.







The next couple of days passed by in a blur, until, finally, Hogsmeade weekend arrived.


Dom, it turns out, had found a date. Foster Matthews. I didn't know much about him, except for the fact that he was a Hufflepuff Sixth Year. I wasn't really that thrilled about the whole situation (it would mean that I'd have to spend Hogsmeade alone and pathetic-looking) but Dom herself was over the moon. It gave her some leverage over Aidan, she said. Whatever that meant.


It was really blustery and windy that day. After being poked, prodded, and just basically flat-out assaulted by Mr. Filch, us students trudged down the path towards Hogsmeade Village, our scarves wrapped hastily around our faces in order to banish out the cold.


I slipped and skidded on slippery red leaves, huddling into myself as the wind dragged my hair free from it's hat. Dom had disappeared a few minutes ago, probably in search of her date, so I was left to brave the walk alone.


"Yo! Aggy!'


Well, sort of alone.


I felt a warm hand grab my shoulder, and tilted my head to see Aidan's jovial face peering down at me. His blue eyes (only one shade darker than mine) were bright and dancing.


"Hey, Aidan." I said, slightly tiredly. "How goes it?"


He smiled, but the light in his eyes seemed to dim a little. "Good."


Since there was nothing I could truly say back, I just sort of nodded awkwardly and continued to walk down the path, Aidan falling in step next to me.


"So..." My brother said, clearing his throat. "I heard Dom has a date to Hogsmeade..."


I rolled my eyes. Of course. I haven't seen my brother in days, and when he finally decides to speak to me, its only because I'm the sole person out there who has enough patience (and tuning-out ability) to listen to his Dominique-obsessed ranting.


Really, I shouldn't have expected anything else.


"Look, Aidan, not to sound rude or anything but...Why do you care?"


Aidan's lips stretched into a thin, straight line, the way they always did when he was annoyed. "I don't. It's just that...you know, it was a bit of a surprise to see her move on that quickly."


Slowly, I felt myself getting more and more irritated. On behalf of Dom, on behalf of myself, on behalf of everything... "So? You're one to talk. You have a date with Margaret Corner."


Aidan blinked, his face slackening. "Um. No...I don't."



Uh-oh.



"You don't?"


"No. Why would you think that?"


"Well, s-someone told us that you were, and... you, er, grazed her arm in Potions that one day, and w-we had thought y-you..." Now that I could hear the words come stumbling out of my mouth, everything seemed so silly all of a sudden. I felt a warm blush creep across my cheeks, and I fidgeted uncomfortably with the collar of my jacket. Why had I been so quick to jump to conclusions? Merlin, I was an idiot.


Realization seemed to dawn on Aidan. Slowly, his eyebrows tilted upwards in a display of understanding. "I'm not, Agatha. I'm not taking Margaret to Hogsmeade."


Before I could open my mouth to spew forth that hasty string of apologies that sat heavily on my tongue, Aidan was already speaking again.



"But, you know, that gives me an idea..." He said, a small smile growing on his face.



My stomach dropped. Oh great. Usually, Aidan's ideas meant one of the following: a) physical injury/hospitalization, b) emotional scarring, c) jail time, or d) someone getting covered in food. I mean, I have found myself the accessory--the unwilling partner-in-crime--for Aidan and his crazy whims on a countless number of occasions. Let's see...there had been that one time where we had tried to throw a surprise party for our high-blood pressured neighbor (that had been letter a), or the 'episode' (that was what the police had called it) with the girl scout cookies (letter b)...and also the Great Cantaloupe Incident of 2015 (letter d).


None of these things had ended spectacularly for any of us. So you can see why I wasn't too thrilled about the proverbial light bulb going off above Aidan's head at the moment.


But before I could even protest, Aidan was jogging away, the cogs in his mind whirling with thoughts that were too troublesome--and too abundant--for their own good.










An hour later, I trudged—all by my lonesome—through the cobblestone streets of the Hogsmeade Village, hugging my coat to my frame as I shivered in the cold.


I had spent most of my time in Scrivenshaft's, buying a few new quills and some parchment. But after my shopping had finished, I had no real place to go. The Three Broomsticks
offered no refuge from the cold—it was far too crowded in there, and the Hogs Head was a bit too shady for my liking. And don't even get me started on Madam Puddifoots. Yeah, right.


So I strolled (well, more like slipped and slid) down the winding Hogsmeade path, gazing aimlessly at shop windows and the random couples that wandered by hand-in-hand. Briefly, I wondered how Dom's date was going, and what Aidan was scheming. But then I pushed those unnerving thought sout of my brain, trying to focus on more happy subjects. Subjects that wouldn't induce a case of early onset cardiac arrest.


I was about to just give up, turn around, and brave the Hog's Head, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted two figures standing by the forest.


You see, there's an area at the edge of Hogsmeade that is just purely woods. Usually no one goes near it, since there isn't much except trees, trees, some grass, and more trees. So it was slightly strange, you can probably imagine, to see two people—tall and boyish-looking people—loitering near the forest's edge. In fact, it was so strange that, my prefect's senses kicking in, I swivelled around and started walking towards the area, just to...you know, check it out and stuff.


It only took me a few minutes to recognize two figures as none other than Freddy and Potter. Which didn't surprise me, really. Of course they were up to no good...The only question was...where was Aidan?


The two of them were huddled behind a tree, their backs facing me. They seemed to be conversing in hushed, rapid tones, their whispers floating in the air between them, dancing on the verge of clarity before melting back into that same, quiet murmur. I hastened to them, pushing my hair out of my face and trying to look as brusque and business-like as possible.


"Fred? Potter?" I called. "What's going on?"


The two of them whipped around, lightning fast, at the sound of my voice. Fred's face betrayed his guilt, but Potter's expression was as cold and unassuming as possible.


"Nothing." They chorused at the same time, so ridiculously simultaneous that it was almost as if they had practised.


I shot them A Look. "Yeah right. Where's Aidan?"


Fred's rigid posture relaxed. "He ditched us awhile back. He said he had some plan or idea or something."


Potter nodded. "You can probably find him at the Hogs Head."


Translation: Leave. Now.

I ignored his subliminal messaging, and instead inched forward, trying to peer over one of the boys' shoulders. But of course, I couldn't see. Drats. When had they gotten so tall?


"So... Whatcha guys doing?" I said, trying to sound as cheerful and innocent as possible.


"Nothing." Fred said nervously, twitching slightly. "Well, not completely nothing. I mean, we're breathing, aren't we?" The fidgeting increased as he rambled on, his pupils darting back and forth and landing on everything but me. "Actually, the process of respiration is incredibly complicated. You see, the oxygen flows down the trachea, going towards the bronchi and bronchioles, before—WE'RE SPYING ON ROSE AND SCORPIUS, PLEASE DON'T HURT US!"


Potter sighed and muttered a very swear bad word. I stared at the both of them, arching an eyebrow.


"Um, what?"


Potter grimaced. Obviously, the jig was up for the both of them. Placing my hands on my hips, I tapped my foot against the ground and turned my glare from the boys to the trees of the forest.


Finally, Fred decided to elaborate. "Rose and Scorpius. They were on a date...and the slimy git took her to the forest! So we decided to go follow and spy on them. You know, to make sure he doesn't try anything fishy." He paused, a frown creasing his smooth brow. "Except we can't see them properly, 'cause of all the trees... Curse you, foliage. Always getting in the way..." He muttered the last part under his breath angrily, as if he had some sort of long-standing, personal vendetta.


Speaking of which, who even uses the word 'foliage' (besides Freddy, of course)? I mean, are you really so snooty that you need to over-complicate and snob-ify such a simple concept as the word 'trees'?



Honestly.



I opened my mouth to retort, but Potter had interrupted us (of course).



"Mate," He said. "Who even uses the word foliage?"



While I tried to ignore the complete and total weirdness of what had just happened, Fred shook his head eagerly, his lips pursed in a thoughtful manner.


"If only there was some way we could see above everything." Freddy said, his words lingering and deliberately drawn out. "Maybe if one of us climbed a tree..."


He turned to look at Potter pointedly, his eyebrows arched meaningfully. Potter, in turn, threw his hands up in the air and took a step backwards.


"Don't look at me. These tree's are flimsy..."


He was right. The trees—if they could even be called that...they were more like little sticks poking out of the ground than anything else—were frail and brittle, probably from old age and the arriving autumn season. If Fred or Potter tried to climb one of those things, well, the outcome would not be good.


I tilted my head to the ground and smiled to myself, internally chuckling at the two buffoons' and their predicament. Honestly. It was just Rose and Scorpius. They were Third Years, for Jupiters' sake. The worst thing Scorpius would be able to do was probably teach Rose a scandalous swear word or two.


Still staring at the ground beneath me, I frowned. It had gotten eerily quiet, all of a sudden. Too quiet. Whipping my head upwards, I realized that both Fred and Potter were staring at me with identical, very-very-bad looks on their faces.


"James, ol' chap... Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"


I looked at them incredulously. "You want me to climb those trees? Are you kidding?"


I was about to turn around and march away, when all of a sudden Potter sighed. "See? I knew she'd never go for it."


I stopped in my tracks and swivelled around to face Potter. "What is that supposed to mean?"


"Nothing," Potter shrugged as Fred snickered besides him. "It's just that...well, you're a Slytherin, is all."


The way he said the word 'Slytherin' as if it was some sort of disease made my blood boil with anger. He was acting as if being a Slytherin was the wort possible position to be in... It made me so angry, hearing him say those things in that smug tone of his...


I gritted my teeth together, trying to quench my fury. 'Forget it,' I told myself, 'He's just trying to get under your skin...'


'And it's working...'
The logical part of my brain hissed into my ear, it's slithering voice dripping with a sick, sadistic sort of pleasure in being correct (as usual). I shivered, trying to ignore it all, but couldn't get Potter's nagging words out of my head.


He thought I was a coward. He thought I was incapable.


"Just forget it," Potter sighed. "She'd never—"


But Potter stopped speaking because all of a sudden, I was marching past him and Freddy and grabbing onto the lowest branch of the first tree behind them. Placing my right foot on the trunk, I pushed off and used that momentum to hurl myself upward.


I don't know why I was doing it. Maybe it was because I wanted to prove Potter wrong. Or maybe it was because Potter had saved me back there in Nott's office, and I didn't feel like owing him. Either way, I suddenly found myself shimmying up a tree trunk in nothing but ratty old jeans and a wool coat. I had to admit, I felt a little ridiculous, but the shell-shocked expressions that pulled on Potter and Fred's faces as they gazed up at me were so worth it.


I gripped the frail, delicate branches of the tree gingerly, trying to find my way among all the dangling leaves and wiry twigs. My breath came out in short gasps, fogging up in the cool, crisp air. I'd never really climbed a tree before, but I'd watched Aidan do it millions of times and knew what to do. Stick to the sturdier branches. Find good footholds. Always stay near the trunk.


Finally, when I was as far up as I could possibly go, I peered down at the view spread out beneath me and smiled. There was a sense of triumph welling up inside me, at finally being able to defy Potter's expectations. In that moment, it was my tree, my Hogsmeade, my world. I could do anything.


Squinting my eyes, I could spot Rose and Scorpius standing somewhere deeper into the forest. The sunlight glinted off Scorpius' ridiculous helmet hair like a beacon. From what I could see, they both looked relaxed and happy. Scorpius was sticking true to the old-school kindergarten rule and keeping his hands to himself. Potter and Fred had nothing to worry about.


I was about to start climbing down, when, suddenly, a sickening, cracking noise splintered through the air.



Time seemed to freeze, and then I was tumbling through the air. Down, down, down, everything around me a haze of blue and green, earth veering out of control.



I landed on the ground with a harsh thud and a loud yelp of pain. Wincing, I lay there for a moment, motionless as I stared straight ahead. Six different versions of the sky swam in front of me in a dizzying, swirling pattern. Owww...



I heard the distant sound of footfalls and groaned. It was probably Fred and Potter, coming to gloat and laugh. I was never going to live this down...


"What the—?"

 
At the sound of a voice, I slowly glanced upwards to see four Rose Weasleys and two Scorpius Malfoys peering at me in what I think was a concerned manner. I dunno, I was sort of too disorientated from all the pain and agony to tell.


"Agatha Bennett? What are you doing here?"




Sweet Merlin's bowel movements, how do I get myself into these situations?









A/N: Woah, so it's like Characters Gone Wild in this chapter!


I'm serious... What did you think of Potter's completely out of blue—gasp!—niceness? And Agatha's crazy urge to climb trees? Wacky, eh?


I'm really sorry for the terrible wait, but school has just been so hectic lately. Hopefully, updates will become more frequent as I get used to the flow of things.


Also, I just created a Meet the Author page. So...you know, if you have enough time you can hop on over and ask me a question. Or...you know, don't. That's cool too. ;)



Anyways, thanks for reading and (hopefully) reviewing!
Adios, amigos!
shenanigan

Chapter 13: Manners
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Disclaimer: HP-verse is J.K Rowling's.


There are some moments in life when you just know: no matter what you do, no matter how you react, no matter who you blame — you are completely, thoroughly, unquestionably... Screwed.

"Agatha Bennett? What are you doing here?"

This is one of them.

Scorpius Malfoy peered at me, grey eyes peeking out through the gel-product travesty of his hair, a quizzical expression clenching at his pointy face. Fair eyebrows tilted upward, crease in the middle of his forehead and — most tellingly — the typical slack jaw that one normally acquires after witnessing a teenage girl suddenly fall from the sky. He was, to put it succinctly, the picture-perfect image of 'confused.'

Rose Weasley, too, looked like she was at a slight loss. Her eyes were wide with surprise, her thin lips sagging into a round 'o.' She glanced around her, sweeping an expectant gaze from left to right as if looking for an explanation on a nearby street sign. If I hadn't been in such pain, it would have been almost comical.

"What's — what's going on? What are you doing here?" This, of course, coming from Scorpius. He bemusedly cocked his head to the side, and for a moment I was temporarily blinded by the glare of the sun refracting off of his hair.

Shielding my face with my hand, I groaned in protest as my corneas burnt and shriveled into crisp nothings. "Ow — bloody hell." No offense to Scorpius, he was a nice kid and everything, but he could seriously do without the eighteen or so pots of hair-gel.

Once I regained the power of sight, I caught a glimpse of the two thoroughly confused love-birds still peering at me expectantly. Oh, bollocks. They were clearly waiting for me to bestow upon them an explanation as to my sudden appearance, and I was coming up short.

Dom always said that, in situations like this one, it was best to settle for the hostile approach. According to my best friend, years of dealing with mischievous Wealseys taught you that, when you're caught doing something wrong, acting defensives only raise suspicions. Just like in Quidditch, it was wiser to attack rather than deflect.

I'd never been caught doing something wrong, seeing as how I'd never before done something wrong in the first place. But now that I was here, faced with two very confused fourth-years and a frightening lack of viable excuses, something was telling me to take Dom's advice. After all, moving the accusations onto Rose and Scorpius would refocus the attention on them. If I could just figure out a way to change the course of this conversation, by some amazing Hanukah miracle I might get out of tihs unscathed.

That settled it. Without a second more of hesitation, I quickly sprang to my feet (a strong cause for complaint, according to my aching limbs) and stumbled backwards — the muscles in my body screaming in protest.

Slowly, straightening my posture into the best imitation of dignity I could muster, I raised an aggressive, albeit shaky finger at Scorpius. My features settled into a confident expression of authority, though my eyes couldn't tear themselves away from his hair. It was just so... shiny.

"What am I doing here? What am I doing here? Why, I could ask you the very same thing, you bastard!" I said, more loudly than perhaps necessary. "You — you impertinent scum-loving ass-bag!"

Ass-bag?! Was that even a word? Oh Merlin. Judging by the ensuing silence and the astonishment on Scorpius' face — astonishment mingled with fear — it was obvious I'd just taken things too far. The aggressive approach turned out not to be very effective when you misjudged how aggressive to act. Reign it in, Aggy. Reign it in.

In the long pause that followed, both Rose and Scorpius seemed to individually arrive at the conclusion that I was, in fact, clinically insane. It was a move I couldn't blame them for. After all, who even used the word "ass-bag"?

Besides me, that is.

"Er, alright?" Scorpius ventured warily, holding up his hands in a pacifying gesture of defense. "Forget I even asked."

Floundering at this evident failure of my tactic, I wavered and opened my mouth, ready to spew forth the same, time-tested excuse I always told when there was nothing else left (the one involving a raccoon and lost German tourists — worked every time), when all of a sudden, there was a strange rustling noise and two figures emerged from a cluster of trees a few meters away.

Fred and Potter.

They appeared remarkably cheerful and nonchalant, as if they had just been taking a happy stroll through the woods prior to finding us. When Fred spotted me, his face morphed into an exaggerated expression of relief, eyes widening to the size of tea saucers.

"Oh, Agatha, thank Merlin we found you!" he declared loudly as he hastened over towards us, briskly grabbing me by the arm and ignoring my crinkled expression of confusion. "Are you alright, pet?"

"I'm so sorry," Potter said, indeed sounding quiet apologetic. At first, I thought he was speaking to me — seeing as this entire situation had been his fault — but then he turned to face Scorpius and Rose. In response to their gaping astonishment, he said: "Was she bothering you? She's a bit... unstable, if you know what I mean." He twirled his finger in a circle next to his ear, making the universal sign that stood for 'cuckoo,' and my mouth dropped open in outrage.

"Unstable?" I cried, affronted. "What are you on about? I'm not unstable!"

My protest was undermined, perhaps, by the fact that I was screaming it at a very high, hysterical pitch.

Not even bothering to glance in my direction, Fred nodded in grave consensus to Potter's statement.

"Truly sorry. She's been this way ever since..." he paused, lowering his voice dramatically. “The accident." He gave my arm a slight squeeze, evidently trying to convey something along the lines of, 'play along, we're saving your arse here'.

But I was having none of it.

"Oi!" I exclaimed indignantly. "I am fine. Seriously. Scorpius, Rose — you've got to believe me. These guys are the unstable ones!"

Fred began to gently drag me away, hushing my grumbling as he did so. "Shh, it's alright, pet. Everything will be okay. We're just going to get you home for a snack, your medication, and maybe a nice little nappy-poo. How does that sound?"

"Medication? Nappy-poo? What on bloody earth are you talking about — "

"It's all quite sad, really." Potter said loudly over my cursing and struggling. He gave a pitying shake of the head before turning to Rose and Scorpius again, who were watching this spectacle in bemused silence. “Er, this is a little embarrassing, but she hasn't urinated on anyone here, has she?"

Okay, now they were just being ridiculous.

"Potter!" I yelped, struggling in Fred's iron-fisted grip. I turned to Rose and Scorpius, shaking my head furiously. "That's not true, don't listen to him! I don't pee on people! I have full control of my bladder, I swear! Full control! I do kegels!"

Scorpius and Rose looked unconvinced.

Continuing along with his impressively well-portrayed caretaker act, Potter sighed dramatically. "Such delusional behavior..."

"Potter, you prick! I swear when we get back to the castle — Ack!" I let out a startled squawk as, prior to any sort of warning, Freddy grabbed me by the waist and threw me over his shoulder without a second of pause.

My vision turned a dangerous shade of red. Oh Merlin, the indignity of it all! This was my reputation they were trashing! I was a prefect, and Potter and Fred were undermining my authority and very clearly enjoying doing so!

Muttering a slew of angry curses, I wriggled relentlessly in Freddy's grasp but to no avail. It was painfully obvious that resistance was futile — Fred was a Quidditch player, after all, and his arms were generously blessed with actual muscle. Meanwhile, the most exercise I ever got was when I reached across the Great Hall's table for the dessert plate.

It was like struggling against a rhino, or a particularly stubborn manticore. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't break free. It was a bit pathetic.

Okay. It was really pathetic.

Grudgingly, I accepted my defeat and stopped squirming, instead settling for the petty — but much easier — route: vision tilted upside-down, my arteries bursting with rage, I shot my mightiest death glare at Potter. He responded with nothing but a tiny, barely-visible smirk.

"I hope she didn't bother you too much," Fred was saying in his deep, rumbling tenor. I gnashed my teeth together, furious. Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut —

"Oh, no." Scorpius, obviously intimidated by the two (older, stronger, bigger) relatives of his girlfriend, shook his head profusely. "She didn't bother us. It's fine, really. All cool, man."

As Scorpius managed to ascend to whole new levels of kiss-arse (all by himself, too! Rose should be proud), I rolled my eyes to myself and gave a loud, disgruntled huff. Those stupid pricks — when I got my hands on them —

"Thank you." Potter said, clasping his palms together in convincing gratitude. "It's nice to finally meet someone who's willing to be so understanding."

Fred nodded. "Now if you don't mind, we have to go. Aggy's in need of some rest — it's been a very strenuous day for her, and this kind of thing can take a toll on her...er, rather delicate sensibilities."

"I'll show you delicate sensibilities, you good for nothing — "

"Oh, but before we leave," Potter piped up casually, obviously not ready to let the humiliation end just yet. "We want you to know that we're raising money for Agatha's cause. We're hoping that one day, magic and modern technology can come together and we'll find a cure for her unfortunate state." From the pocket of his sweatshirt, Potter pulled out a small purple bag, the silk material glinting in the light. “Now, you don't have to, but if you happen to have any funds to spare..."

Merlin's knobby kneecaps! Was destroying my reputation, lying about my mental capabilities and publicly humiliating me not enough? Did they really have to make a profit from it as well?!

How were these boys not in Slytherin?

Gaping incredulously, I could do nothing but watch on as Scorpius and Rose both nodded eagerly and, sparing me sympathetic glances all the while, slipped a few golden coins into the bag. I opened my mouth to protest, but all that came out was a slightly indignant squeak.

"Thank you." Potter grinned wickedly, slipping the, I'm sure, now considerably heavier pouch back in his pocket. The money would probably go to alcohol and prank materials and other illicit activities. "Your generosity is appreciated."

"Now, if you'll excuse us—" Fred began.

" — we have to go."

And with that, all I could do was grumble and scowl as the two idiots trudged away, me thrown carelessly over Freddy's back the whole while.

Damn it, he was strong.

—*—

"I hate you."

Fred turned to Potter, raising his eyebrows at my dramatic, passionately-professed declaration of loathing, and sighed.

"No gratitude, this one," he complained.

Potter, joining in on the woe-is-us, disappointed-parent-shtick, shook his head morosely. "After all we've done, too."

Fred clucked his tongue. "We save her from that mess — "

"Oi! The mess you got me into!" I hollered from where I was trudging, thankfully on my own two feet, in front of the gits. I was dutifully ignored.

" — and she repays us by saying she hates us," Potter finished, and I rolled my eyes. Their back-and-forth routine was getting old, fast.

"Typical."

"So typical."

"Honestly, James, I'm feeling a little antagonized."

"Me too, Fred. I would even go so far as to say hurt."

"Dismayed."

"Appalled."

"Oi, Abbott and Costello!" I threw out irately, unable to resist butting in despite knowing that a reaction only added fuel to the very pratty fire. "Ever consider that maybe I'm not feeling 'grateful' because there's nothing to be grateful for?!"

Potter and Fred paused, seemingly to contemplate what I'd just said. Then:

"Shows no respect for her elders," Fred said in melodramatic disapproval, and I felt my anger peak. Bloody hell, I was going to murder them both. Both! They already gave you life in Azkaban for homicide — why not make it a '2-for-1' deal while I was at it? "It's a disgrace is what it is."

"Seriously." Potter agreed amicably, and I could practically feel the triumphant smugness oozing from the pores of his unfairly attractive physique. "S'not like we're asking for much. Just a simple thank you would suffice."

"Box of chocolates wouldn't hurt either."

I gritted my teeth together and kept walking, trying to ignore the ridiculous conversation going on behind me. Potter and Fred were obviously saying these things just to irk me, and even though it was working I wouldn't grant them the satisfaction of knowing it.

After we had emerged from the forest (and Fred oh-so-graciously decided to set me back down on earth), I had tried as hard as possible to get away from the two gits. I really had. But they seemed determined to stick around and prolong the misery, prodding me closer and closer to the edge of my patience.

It was like they had a contest or something. See who could make Agatha Bennett snap first. The more hysterical she gets, the higher your score. Bonus points for tears.

No matter where I went, no matter what winding path I chose, they followed. I was pretty sure the only way I'd be able to shake them was if I popped into Madam Puddifoots, and even then, I wasn't that desperate (yet). What certainly didn't help was the fact that Fred and Potter's annoyingly tall forms made their strides twice as long as mine. I could power-walk all I wanted, but they would always be trailing behind, relaxed and casual and annoyingly still there.

And so I hastened my way through the cobblestone streets of Hogsmeade. Despite the chilly temperatures, the village was alive and bustling, people in and out of restaurants, chatting aimlessly as they passed by glittery shop windows. The whistling wind provided a perpetual soundtrack, riding quietly underneath the noisy babble of the swarming crowd.

"Oi, Aggy!" Fred called out jovially. "Where are we going?"

"Don't talk to me. I hate you, remember?"

"Manners, Bennett."

I stopped abruptly and turned around, glowering wrathfully at Potter and Fred with all my might. In the corner of my eye, I could see myself reflected off an adjacent shop window, and even I had to admit — I looked pretty scary. My blue eyes, normally nebulous and misty with their swirls of grey, were clear and flashing. I might as well have been shooting tiny little lightning bolts out of them. My fists were clenched by my sides, and my mouth was set into a thin, straight line to rival McGonagall's.

Fred held his hands up in a surrendering gesture, taking a step backwards at the volatile expression on my face. "Hey, Aggy, relax. It was just a joke."

"Just a joke?" I seethed. "Just a joke?! Now thanks to you two eejits, Rose and Scorpius think I'm a card-carrying member of the local asylum! You think that's funny?"

There was a pause.

"Well, yeah."

"Kind of."

I chose not to deign that with a response.

I wheeled around and set off walking again, mind whirring with a furious barrage of less-than-cheerful thoughts. My head pounded, the tips of my ears icy in the cold, and I couldn't help but grit my teeth together. Merlin, I really needed to blow off some steam.

The Three Broomsticks was just around the corner, and even though it was probably teeming with people and rowdy students, a warm, sloshing Butterbeer sounded really nice. And maybe — just maybe — if I was lucky and if it was crowded enough, I'd be able to lose Potter and Fred in there.

I quickened my pace, hurtling past a couple of shoppers and wrapping my sweater tighter around myself. The gnawing wind pressed against me, dragging my hair out of its bun and making me grimace.

The minute I stepped through the door of The Three Broomsticks, however, the atmosphere changed. Inside, heat and noise swirled together, everything glowing richly in flushes of orange and gold and brilliant warmth. The room swelled and throbbed with people.

Bright colours pushed forcefully against the feathery black shadows of the cozy, darker nooks of the quaint bar. Brash chatter rang in my ears, ripped apart by the sound of scraping chairs and clinking silverware. Behind me, the bell on top of the door jingled as Potter and Fred entered.

"Holy claustrophobia, Batman!" Fred exclaimed, his eyebrows practically reaching his hairline. "This place is packed!"

I ignored him, instead walking deeper into the calamity in order to find an open seat. I was just about to snag a spot by the window when Potter nudged me with his elbow.

"Hey, is that Dom?"

Setting aside my annoyance with the git for a split-second, I looked to where Potter was pointing and squinted my eyes in bemusement. In a secluded booth near the back, there sat my best friend Dominique Weasley, frantically waving us over like there was no tomorrow. She was practically falling out of her seat in order to get our attention.

"Maybe we should go over there?" I asked uncertainly.

Potter shrugged, grabbed Fred (who had been chatting up a simpering waitress) by the coat-sleeve, and began ambling towards Dom. Not really knowing what else to do, I followed as well.

"Guys!" Dom cried once we were in hearing range. "Fancy seeing you here!"

"Yeah," Potter said slowly, drawing out the word carefully as he took in his cousin's strange appearance. Dom's face was pulled into an expression of desperate relief, pleading eyebrows hitched upwards, an artificial smile stretching her cheeks. "Fancy seeing you here," he said. "At one of the most popular destinations in Hogsmeade. During a Hogsmeade outing."

Dom's smile grew considerably more forced. "Yes. Fancy that. Why don't you guys join us? We owe it to the coincidence, don't we?" Then catching my eye, her smile faltered slightly as she darted her gaze conspicuously to the side.

That's when I saw the tall boy sitting across from her, and it all came together. Neatly-combed chestnut hair, broad shoulders and a square jaw — this must be Foster Matthews, the bloke supposedly taking Dom to Hogsmeade. And evidently, the date was not going well.

Matthews did not look perturbed in the slightest that we were crashing this two-person party. In fact, he was standing up and greeting us all with... Handshakes?

"Foster Matthews," he said, all brusque and pretentious-like as he pumped Freddy's arm. "Sixth-year. Ravenclaw. Pleasure."

I was quietly wondering to myself if Foster Matthews always talked in one-to-two word increments when suddenly, the boy in question grabbed my hand and pressed his lips against it.

I blinked in the dim amber light, head jerking backwards in slight disbelief as Matthews continued to molest the back of my hand with his lips. Freddy barked out a laugh that he hastily turned into a cough. Dom dropped her head into her hands, squeezing her eyes in scrunched-up dismay.

When Matthews finally surfaced for air, he had a suave sort of gleam in his gaze. "Why, such a dainty, lovely hand I see before me! May I ask who it belongs to?"

I was too busy feeling weirded-out to devise a decent or semi-coherent reply, so instead I settled for just standing there and gaping intelligently. After a beat of silence, Potter smoothly cut in for me.

"Her name's Agatha Bennett," he said with stiff polite-ness. "And it's 'whom,' actually."

"Pardon?" inquired The Hand Molester.

"Whom," Potter said with finality, irritation sparking in his gaze. "Whom it belongs to. Not who — whom."

There was a pause. Something in the air seemed to crackle sharply between Potter and Matthews, and then it was gone.

"Well," Dom interjected brightly, although there was an edge of tension barely discernible in her voice. "Take a seat, you guys!"

Reluctantly, exchanging a dark glance with Freddy, I slid into the booth next to Dom.

My bestfriend grabbed my arm and shot me a meaningful look, gaze finding mine in a wordless attempt at communicating — something along the lines of 'this is the worst date ever make it stop oh god please make it stop,' I was guessing. Her face appeared dark, almost foreboding... and then the expression was gone as quickly as it came.

Switching her demeanor instantly, she transformed from grim to perky in about .02 seconds, smiling brightly as she picked a menu off the table and opened it.

"I'm thinking about a Butterbeer. How about you guys?" quipped Bipolar Dom.

"Er, yeah. Sounds great," Freddy mumbled uncertainly as he slid into the booth next to me. Potter, his face completely impassive, sat down across from us next to Matthews.

We quickly flagged down a waitress (more flirting for Freddy) and ordered our drinks, the lingering awkwardness in the air still palpable. The only person who didn't seem to be feeling the tension, in fact, was the direct cause of it: Matthews. He was chattering on aimlessly, rambling about this and that, impervious to everyone else's unwillingness to be a participant of this situation. And throughout his entire running monologue, it was rapidly becoming apparent that he...er, thought quite highly of himself, to say the least.

"Now, I've only won about seventeen awards," he professed. "But they've all been rather prestigious, if I do say so myself. There was the Junior Ministry of Magic Excellence Award — that had been presented by Eros Humdudgeon himself — "

"Yeah, you've mentioned," Dom sliced in boredly, before lowering her voice to add: "About a bajillion sodding times."

Matthews raved on. "Oh, and let's not forget the National Leadership Certificate I won at Hogwarts last year! That was a good one, have the plaque hanging on my bedroom wall back home. Let's see. What else? I have a large range of talents and interests, so sometimes it can be difficult to recall all my accomplishments — "

"And yet you always manage to, somehow!" Dom exclaimed, left eye twitching maniacally. I gulped.

"Ah, yes!" Matthews perked up, jabbing a pointer finger into the air and thoroughly ignoring his date's interjection. "Last spring I won first place at Diagon Alley's Music Festival for my mastery of the fine art of baton-twirling."

"Baton-twirling? You don't say?" Potter said, the corners of his lips twitching as his gaze landed on a rather mortified Dom. Next to me, Freddy was eyeing a leggy Hufflepuff across the room and paying no attention whatsoever to this one-sided conversation.

"Why yes, of course. Like I said, I have a wide range of talents, Potter," Matthews said somewhat impatiently.

"You seem like a regular Renaissance man," Potter agreed affably, though the glint of sardonic amusement in his eyes gave him away.

Matthews didn't notice, however — he was too busy turning into a human résumé. We listened on, unable to do anything but sip on the Butterbeers that one of the waitresses set down for us.

"And I will say I made quite a splash at this year's Japanese Culture Enthusiasts Convention," Matthews was saying. "One of my haikus received third place at the Poetry Event. Granted, there were only four contestants, but still! It was quite the achievement. Would you like to hear the poem?"

"Actually — "

"It goes like this." Matthews cleared his throat and then, with the grave, dignified air of someone delivering a eulogy, began to recite:

"I enjoy grapefruits,
I devour one ev'ry day,
Oh ouch! My poor knees!
"

There followed a remarkably long silence as Matthews inclined his head benevolently at the rest of us, perhaps waiting for some kind of applause. No one seemed to know what to say.

"That was, um," I began, brain scrambling for an appropriate adjective and settling on the only truthful one I could find. "...English."

"Was it?" Potter muttered into his Butterbeer, eyebrows raised, and despite myself I snorted in amusement.

I turned to glance at Dom, who was zoning out with her elbow on the table and her face smushed against her palm. She didn't look very enthralled by Matthews' nonsensical poetry (a bit of drool was dangling from her mouth). Freddy, on my other side, had completely turned away from the table, devoting himself to the noble pursuit of eye-shagging the aforementioned leggy Hufflepuff.

"Of course," Matthews continued, blissfully unaware that nobody was paying any sort of attention to him. "There was a bit of a foofaraw over whether or not 'ev'ry' had two syllables or three, but eventually, the judges conceded. What can I say? Justice won that day."

"Justice," I repeated flatly.

"Yes!" Matthews exclaimed, and then cocked his head to the side, tapping a thoughtful finger against his chin as he attempted to think of yet another amazing achievement. Dear Merlin, make it stop. "Now what else was there? Oh yes! My artwork has been doing well as of late."

"You're an artist?" I said weakly, hopeful that we'd finally found a viable topic of conversation — something that wasn't baton-twirling or poetry-reciting, please god.

"Of course!" Matthews cried excitably, positively ecstatic. "My magnum opus was a recent papier-mâché sculpture I made in the likeness of our family cat, Sir Baron Von Whiskers. It was featured at a neighborhood art gallery."

"Wish it'd been featured in the neighborhood dumpster," Dom muttered, but went largely unheard.

"Yes, very innovative indeed." Matthews nodded solemnly, acting as if no one had spoken. "I glued actual fur from The Baron himself onto the statue. Everybody loved it." He flashed a streak of white teeth in a two-second smile, and then was talking again. "I try not to let all the fame and the accolades affect me, because it can certainly get over-the-top! People are saying that I'm the next Harry Potter of crafting — "

I almost choked on my Butterbeer.

" — but it can be so hard. Oh, Sir Baron Von Whiskers," Matthews mused fondly, lifting his own mug in a mournful salute. "Back in his heyday, he was the defending champion of our district's Annual Pet Show, five times in a row. What can I say? Always came out on top just like his owner. Did I tell you that he once did a Friskies commercial? It was a cinematic masterpiece — "

I looked at Potter, who was trying to hide a mocking smile behind a sip of Butterbeer, and then at Dom, who could have been catatonic for all the effort she was putting in to this conversation. And lastly I tried to find Freddy, but somewhere between Matthew's haiku and Whiskers' heyday, he had disappeared.

I gritted my teeth together and sighed. This was going to be a long day.

Chapter 14: Shatter
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A/N: Okay, let me first start off by saying that I am so, so sorry for the wait. It was horrendous, I know - but I do have a semi-acceptable excuse. You see, I had this entire chapter written out, and I was about to post it when, due to an unfortunate cut-and-paste mishap, I lost ALL of it. It was... terrible, to say the least. I'm pretty sure I stared at my computer for a good fifteen minutes (in complete disbelief, of course) after it happened. Of course, the most frustrating part was that it was all entirely my fault.

Yeah, after that discouraging little episode, it took me about a month to muster up some motivation to rewrite this entire chapter AGAIN. So, yes, I know you all probably want to stab me with various sharp objects right now, but believe me when I'm say I'm really, really sorry.

Another note about this chapter: it's not as funny as the other ones. In fact, I don't think it's very funny at all. But it is essential - and I mean essential - to the plot of this story (yes, this collection of ramblings does have a plot, surprisingly), so it's really important that you read the whole thing.

Anyways, I think that's all I have to say, so without further ado, I present you (if there are any of you left, that is) with Chapter 14! Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I own nothing.



"Please, Agatha?"

"No."

"Please?"

"Nope."

"Pretty please? With sprinkles and copious amounts of hot fudge on top?"

"Well, when you put it that way — no."

"Agatha! Please?"

I shifted in my seat — grimacing at the rigidness of the hardback chair I was sitting in — and sighed dramatically. All I had wanted was some peace and quiet, a nice atmosphere to study in. Being the naive idealist I was, I had assumed that the library would be a good place for that.

I now realized how foolish of me that was. Studying? In the library? Absurd.

"Agatha, I am asking you for just this one favor. One tiny, minuscule, teeny-weeny favor. I'm on my proverbial knees, here. Please."

"Nuh-uh. Negativo. No way José,"

My brother and I were currently sitting across from each other at a table in the secluded autobiography section, testing our luck (and Madame Pince's hearing) as we argued in hushed tones over my History of Magic textbook. Well, it wasn't so much arguing as Aidan pathetically begging while I engaged in the creative exercise of seeing all the different ways I could say the word 'no,' but there you had it. The poor sod wanted me to do his homework for him, and for once, I was putting my foot down.

"You're a cruel person, Agatha." My brother leaned back in his chair as he shook the toffee-colored hair out of his eyes, face drawn into an exaggerated 'woe-is-me' expression. "A cruel, cruel person."

I sighed, turning a page of my textbook with a flick that was, perhaps, more aggressive than usual. "Think of it this way, Aidan: if it weren't for my rejecting you every once in a while, your head would get so big, it'd probably swell and fill the whole school to the point of suffocating everyone inside. I'm not being cruel — I'm looking out for the general wellbeing of the public."


"What about my general well-being?" Aidan whined, choosing to ignore the persuasive power of my very logically-sound, very rational comeback. "Agatha. Please."

At this, my brother clasped his hands together, widening his eyes and jutting out his lower lip in an expression I'd seen countless times before. Ah, the Aidan Puppy Dog Face. Too bad I became immune to that years ago.

"For the last time, Aidan," I said as I pointedly turned back to my book. "I'm not doing your Transfiguration essay for you. Now leave me alone, and let me do my reading in peace."

Aidan abandoned the Puppy Dog Face, reverting back to an expression of brotherly exasperation as he flopped against his chair, lips twisting together in a scowl. "You're killing me here, sis."

"I highly doubt that me not doing your homework 'is killing you,'" I said drily, not even bothering to look up from the page I was on. I heard Aidan give a prim, disapproving sniff.

"You don't know that," he said. "My life could depend on this."

"Does it?" I looked up to cock a beseeching eyebrow my brother's way. He only shrugged.

"Well, McGonagall has been very stressed lately. We all think it's only a matter of time before she snaps. Not turning in this assignment could send her over the edge, and for a woman of her age and physique, she can be surprisingly strong..."

"Aidan," I scoffed. "McGonagall is not going to murder you."

"You don't know that!" My brother cried, blue eyes clouding with misty melodrama. "She is a scary, scary lady! I'm practically a walking can of Friskies Delight right now!"

I raised my head over the dusty cover of my textbook, choosing this moment to test out the latest version of my patented Be Reasonable Glare.™ I had been tweaking it for the past month and it was pretty refined by now. Wouldn't be long before I released it to the global marker. The Be Reasonable Glare™ — coming to an exasperated sister near you!

"Agatha," my brother said, returning my glare with equal intensity. Frosted sunlight leaked through the dusty library windows and caught the lighter strands of his hair. I noticed the way the rays seemed to gild his skin white-gold, making his eyes glow bluer than usual, and inwardly, I shook my fist at Aidan's good looks — golden brow and all. It seemed horribly unfair to me that he could pass for some Greek sun god while I walked around with weasel fur for hair.

"The answer is a no," I bit out, shaking my head firmly.

"It'll only be just this once — "

"That's what you always say."

"But I mean it this time — "

"You say that, too."

He sighed. Before I could respond, The Puppy Dog Face was making a reappearance, to be quickly shot down by another Be Reasonable Glare.™

This was how our relationship worked. Aidan pouted, I disapproved. It was a beautiful system, really.

"Aidan," I said, trying to keep the edge of exasperation out of my voice. "Why don't you just do the essay right now? You have an hour. That's plenty of time."

My brother glanced down at the table. "Er, about that..." He muttered, picking at a thread in his khakis. "I would — I really would — it's just that I don't know what the assignment is. I've sort of been, um, falling asleep in class. You know. For the past two or six days."

"Aidan!" I exclaimed, throwing my arms in the air as frustration flushed itself across my cheeks. "You know better than that!"

"I'm sorry!" My brother said morosely, dragging his hands down his face to display the true tragedy of his position. "But it's not my fault! Blame Freddy! He's the one who's keeping me up all night. Him and his stupid sneezing..."

"Sneezing?" I repeated blankly.

"Yeah!" Aidan was getting really worked up. His face had turned a ripe beet color, and he was gesturing frantically with his hands as he tried to form a coherent explanation. "Ever since the start of the year, there's been something wrong with Freddy — like allergies or a cold or whatever. He stays up all night, sneezing until the hippogriffs come home. We can never get any sleep."

I frowned. "Whenever I'm around him, I don't notice anything."

Aidan shrugged, blue eyes widening with innocence. "I'm not lying, I swear. You can ask him yourself."

Frustrated, I gave a loud exhale and crossed my arms in front of me, leaning back in my chair as I mulled this over. Aidan groaned, exasperated. "Aggy, what's it going to take for you to believe me?"

I didn't reply and, squinting my eyes, stared at my brother in an effort to gauge the truth in his words. Usually I could tell when my brother was lying — after all, he wasn't very good at it. Yet as outlandish as Aidan's excuse was, I couldn't find any of the telltale signs (flushing, blinking, fidgeting) that normally gave his fibs away.

And now that he'd mention it, Aidan did seem awfully tired. There were purple bruises under his eyes, and his skin was pale to the point of being translucent.

"Aggy, I need your help," Aidan pleaded. "We have a Quidditch Match tomorrow against Slytherin and I should be practicing and just — please, Agatha-a-a..." Mid-sentence, a yawn blossomed out of my brother's mouth, and I felt my resolve crumble.

Groaning, I held out a grudging hand. "Alright. Give me your textbook."

My brother's countenance changed so abruptly, it was like someone had flicked a switch. "Really? Merlin, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are the best sister ever, Aggy. There should be songs written about you! Novels composed! Pictures painted! A monument dedicated in your honor! A street in your name — Agatha Road! No, Agatha Avenue! No, Agatha Bouleva — "

"Aidan," I said tiredly, rubbing my temples. "Just give me the book."

My brother jumped out of his seat and roughly unzipped his backpack, all the while muttering words of praise under his breath. "Of course. Just let me find it — It's in here somewhere, I know it is — "

I rolled my eyes as Aidan continued his frantic searching until, finally, he found the toddler-sized textbook and shoved it in my hands. "Thanks, sis. I'll make it up to you, I promise!"

And with that, he swung his backpack over his shoulder and, after pulling me into a lung-smashing, rib-crushing hug, practically skipped out of the library, leaving me alone with a half-opened mouth and an unfinished assignment in my hands.

Crap.

—*—

Time crawled as I worked on Aidan's essay, accompanied by nothing but the minutes ticking into hours, and the scratch of my quill etching at the silence around me. Outside the sun played hide-and-seek behind the clouds, and occasional orange blossoms of light would burst through the window, washing the castle stone in color before the shadows slunk back to reclaim their place again.

"Agatha."

Startled, I glanced up from page four of Aidan's essay to see none other than Dominique Weasley. She stood in front of me, her hands placed firmly on the table I was toiling over, hair fanned out in spirals. Her mouth was a straight line. She did not look like a happy camper.

"Yeah?" I said, gaping up at her rather attractively.

"Are you busy right now?"

"Well, I have this essay — "

"Good." Without further ado, Dom pulled out a wooden chair and plunked herself down, ignoring my quiet meep of protest. "I need to talk to you. About Aidan."

"Er, now's not really a good tim — "

"The thing is, I hate his guts."

I paused, quill hovering in mid-air, and allowed this very obvious, very evident information to sink in. Dom came all the way to declare this?

"Yeah," I said, tone slightly bemused. "I could kind of tell by the way you avoid him all day and just generally reject his entire existence. Also, that rumor you spread about him having syphilis."

Dom brushed away my dry quip, getting settled in her chair and clearing her throat. "Yeah, but now I hate him more."

I sighed, putting down my quill, and folding my hands together. "Okay, I'll bite. Why?"

"He ruined my date with Foster Matthews," she said, and then punctuated her grand statement with a menacing look, as if daring me to contradict her or something.

I arched an eyebrow. "How did he manage to do that? Fred and Potter and I were with you two the whole time."

"Not the whole time," Dom pointed out quickly. "After we all had lunch and said goodbye to you guys, Matthews insisted on bringing me to tea at Madame Puddifoot's — "

Together, the two of us paused in order to do the customary Blech Shudder usually required after the word 'Puddifoot's' was mentioned.

"— And we were having an okay time, " Dom continued. "Chatting and joking around, when all of a sudden, guess who walked in?"

"Er — " I began, cringing with dread.

"Aidan. With Margaret Corner, of all people. And guess what they do?"

"Well — "

"They sit down at our table! As if we were on some sick, twisted double-date! Do you know how awkward that was, Aggy? How humiliating?"

I deflated, sinking back into my chair as my mouth crumpled into a sympathetic grimace. "I'm sorry, Dom. I really am."

Dom nodded, but didn't show any outward sign of either rejecting or accepting my condolences. She just continued looking at me pointedly, gesturing vaguely with her hands as if instructing me to continue.

My pupils darted from side to side in uncertainty. I didn't have anything left to say. I mean, what did Dom expect me to do? Go find Aidan and send him to bed without supper?

"Well?" My best friend asked, eyes widening impatiently.

"Well what? I won't deny that what Aidan did was dumb and immature, Dom, but that's just who he is and there's nothing I can do about it," I explained only slightly defensively.

"Of course there is!" Dom cried, immediately indignant. "He's your brother!"

"Exactly. He's my brother, not my dog! I don't own him." For some reason, I felt myself getting peeved. Dom was acting as if Aidan was some puppy that had just peed all over her new sofa, and I was the one who had to clean everything up. "Look, why don't you talk to him yourself?"

"Are you serious?" Dom's face was turning an frustrated pink, her yellow-green eyes flashing with volatility. My best friend was getting angry, and from years of experience — as well as the basic human instinct for self-preservation — I knew this was a bad thing. "He singlehandedly ruined my Hogsmeade Weekend, and you want me to talk to him?"

"It's better than what you usually do!" Despite Dom's growing anger (and my growing fear), I couldn't help but throw my hands in the air, retorting with the first thing in my head.

Dom inhaled sharply through her nose, voice dipping into a dangerous growl. "Oh, and what is that?"

"You know how you've been acting, Dom." I rolled my eyes. "I mean, you pretty much dive under the nearest table every time he walks into a room! Why don't you just stop running away?"

Dom pulled back, staring at me uncomprehendingly for a long moment. And then she scoffed, smiling in an ironic kind of disbelief as she shook her head from side to side. "I should have known this would happen. I should have known you'd take his side."

"What — ? I'm not trying to take his side! Dom, you're being unreasonable."

"Unreasonable? How about you take a look at yourself, Aggs? You're practically Aidan's doormat!"

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"You know what it means! You always clean up his messes. Always do 'little favours' for him! Don't bother lying —" she added upon seeing my mouth drop open in protest. "You complain about it all the time! Yet the funny thing is, right after you stop whinging, you go back to coddling him like a baby. He gets away with murder, thanks to you!"

"Excuse me for trying to be a supportive sister!" I snapped back. Somewhere in the course of this conversation, we had gone from 'quiet-library voices' to 'barely-acceptable-indoor voices' to 'I'm-going-to-smash-your-thick-skull-in voices,' and now I was shouting. Loudly.

"He's ruining other people's lives, Aggy."

"Oh, stop being so dramatic. IHe ruins dates, not lives — "

"Merlin, you are so blind. Face it. Aidan is selfish. Simple as that — he's selfish."

"No he isn't —"

"Yes he is! He barges into people's lives, has his fun and breaks some hearts, and when he's done he just leaves without a backwards glance. He ruins people, Agatha." Dom's voice trembled, her chin quivered. "He ruins them and you let him."

"I — "

Without warning, Dom stood up so abruptly, her chair tipped over behind her. "Why can't you take my side, for once?" Her voice had lowered into a hoarse whisper, and her eyes were all wide and terribly shiny-looking. "Why do you always choose him?"

I fumbled hopelessly for words, choking on syllables and letters and empty excuses, desperate for something — anything — to say.

My best friend shook her head, giving a ringing, scornful laugh that made my stomach clench. "You know what, Agatha?" she said with a calmness that was a remarkable change from her previous tone. "You are a great sister. Wonderful, really. But why don't you try being a good friend, for a change?

And with that, she turned around and walked away. She didn't even bother to right her chair before she stormed out.

I sat there simmering in silence for awhile, trying to steady my shaky hands. What had just happened? How had Dom and I gone from chatting to fighting in one simple, harmless conversation?

As much as I tried to muster up the appropriate anger, I couldn't. Now that she had left, I realized, with a sinking dread, the complete and utter... rightness of Dom's words. After all, how many times had I stayed up all night, finishing an essay or an assignment for my brother? How many favors had I done for him, only to be given nothing in return? How many times had I turned a blind eye whenever he broke the rules? Too many to count, that was for sure.

Almost unwillingly, I glanced at the essay in front of me. 'Aidan Bennett' read the top. I had even charmed it to look like his handwriting.

Maybe Dom had a point.

—*—

I left the library, essay in hand, with my thoughts swirling in a muddled swamp of confusion. I had set out for the Great Hall, just to have the purpose of going somewhere, at least, when suddenly my name was called.

"Aggy!"

I turned around to see Freddy jogging towards me, his Quidditch robes rippling out behind him in a flutter of crimson and gold. When he met my eye, he smiled a very disconcerting smile and dragged a hasty hand through his dark hair.

"Hey, Aggy!" he greeted, voice still a shout even though he had already reached me. "Guess what?"

"Er — ?" I began rather unenthusiastically.

"We figured it out!" Fred's face was positively beaming with pride.

"Figured what out?"

"You know..." Fred intoned, giving some vague hand gestures that made me glad Fred's life had never depended on a game of charades before. I shook my head, brow drawn in a frown.

"No, Freddy. I'm afraid I really don't."

"My sneezing!"

"Your sneezing?"

"Well, we prefer to call it my 'Tissue Issue,' but you know. Whatever." He paused, puffing his chest out with pride, and flipped the collar of his robes. "A few minutes ago, Aidan and I were talking about it — he said he'd already told you about the situation — and we figured it out! Well, Aidan did, rather. But still! Aren't you excited?"

"Ecstatic," I deadpanned. "So what was the problem, then?"

"Rufus!"

"What's a rufus?"

Fred looked around the corridor, casting surreptitious glances even though it was so completely deserted, I half-expected a tumbleweed to blow by.

"You know," He said quietly (although, let's be honest, Fred's 'quiet' wasn't very quiet at all). "Rufus. Our gerbil."

"You mean the one my brother illegally smuggled into our school?"

"The very one!" Fred responded brightly. "Apparently, I'm allergic to its dander or whatever."

"Oh," I said, somewhat surprised that the boys had actually come to a logical conclusion. "That does make sense."

"Yeah." Freddy said, cocking a shoulder upwards in a carefree shrug. "Anyways, Aidan and I were talking and... Well, we have a favor for you."

No.

Not this. Not again.

My heart skidded to as stop, teeth grinding together as I leveled my gaze with Freddy's and tried to keep Dom's words from floating through my head. "What?" I bit out, almost painfully.

"Do you think you could take Rufus? For the year?"

I blinked, astounded. On the inside, it felt like someone had started playing jump rope with my small intestines. "As in keep it?"

Fred nodded, unperturbed by my strange behavior, as I just stared and stared. He obviously did not find this to be as big of a deal as I did.

I couldn't believe it. Aidan. Asking a favor, again. The idiot. The stupid, bleeding idiot.

No. I was the idiot.

Without bothering to answer, I wheeled around on my heel and ran — literally ran — down the corridor, ignoring Freddy's confused cries of surprise. My body just needed to move, to put as much distance between itself and the situation as possible. I couldn't stay any longer.

It became a rhythm, a simple process of sound and movement — one foot after the other, breathing in, breathing out, moving, always moving. Soon, Freddy was long gone behind me, out of sight though not quite out of mind, and the corridor stretched before me in a streaming blur of marble and light. It felt good to run, to hear the slap of shoes against stone, to feel my lungs itch with a need for more oxygen. There was something coursing inside of me, an endless stream of bubbling, shimmering energy. I could feel it, pushing against the thin surface of my skin. No matter what, I had to keep going. I felt like I would explode into a million, brilliant pieces if I didn't.

How had I expected anything less? Of course Aidan would come to me with this. Even after I had just finished his bloody Transfiguration essay. It just made sense. He would ask me for a favor, and then another, and another, and another... I should have seen it coming.

Except.

For some reason, I had thought he would have waited before this one. Usually, there was a grace period between one request and the next, but now I guess Aidan had walked over me enough times that such a courtesy wasn't necessary anymore. What was worse was the fact that he hadn't even asked me himself. He had gotten Fred to do it, as if I were some menial, insignificant task that he couldn't fit into his own busy schedule. Merlin, I was an idiot.

When I let him keep the gerbil, he'd promised me he wouldn't drag me into it. He'd promised. And now here I was, standing in front of yet another one of his messes with mop and broom in hand, ready for the clean up. Just like always.

To him, I was nothing more than a maid, a doormat. Dom was right. Merlin, Dom! Dom, who I had fought with. Dom, who probably hated me now. And all because of him.

Suddenly exhausted, I stopped running and — head spinning — leaned against a nearby pillar. The cool stone felt nice against my burning skin as I caught my breath. It was almost three o' clock and, silently, I watched as classes began to empty and students flooded into the corridor. Chatting, joking, laughing. The noise faded into an endless babble. I caught slight snippets — everyone was talking about the Quidditch Match tomorrow — but the words drifted into nothing.

I had to find Aidan. I didn't know what I was going to do once I did — tell him off? Scream? Throw a tantrum? — but that didn't matter. I just had to find him.

I let my feet lead the way, pushing through the crowd as I turned corners and stumbled down stairs, finally arriving by some unknown instinct at the Great Hall.

And there he was. Sitting at a table, surrounded by a posse of girls with negative IQs-to-bra-size ratios, in his Quidditch robes. His eyes were clear and blue, and I watched as he leaned forward, gesticulating wildly in the midst of some obviously grand story. His groupies giggled and cooed, hanging on to every golden word, and Aidan gave a toothy grin. For some reason, the exchange made me nauseous.

"Aidan," I said calmly when I had reached him. My voice wasn't angry. It was flat, quiet.

My brother looked up, a smile still lingering on his face. "Aggy! How's my favorite sister doing?"

I shook my head and didn't respond. I just stared at him quietly, my face heating with an intensity I'd never felt before.

Slowly, the grin slipped away. "What?"

"I can't believe you." My voice was shaking. I tried to steady myself, but my head was spinning too fast for me to concentrate any energy into one singular action.

"I — What are you on about, Aggy?" Aidan said slowly, giving the groupies a 'Don't Mind Her, She's Obviously Nutty' look. They tittered back, glancing at me underneath long, mascaraed lashes, and I felt my cheeks glow.

"You don't even know? Merlin, you are so daft. Dom's right! You, Aidan Bennett, are selfish. Self-centered, self-serving, self-indulgent. You do whatever you want and — "

"Aggy — "

"— and I let you get away with it!" I lowered my voice, feeling the anger throb inside me like a living thing. It was weird, but I'd never felt something so strongly before. Sure, I got mad at Potter — furious, even. But this... This was different, somehow. It was more subtle. Tinged with betrayal.

"You promised, Aidan," I said, so quietly I wondered if he would hear. The groupies were gawking, but I couldn't bring myself to care. "You promised me. Does that mean nothing to you? God! Sometimes — sometimes, I think I hate you!"

"Agatha! I have no idea what you're talking about — "

"You know what? Forget it." Hastily, I shoved my hands into my robe pocket and took out his essay, smoothing out its crumples as I slammed the paper down on the table. "Here's your stupid homework. I think it'd be wise if we didn't speak with one another for a while." I nodded in a curt, almost formal manner before turning on my heel. "Goodbye, Aidan."

And then, without another word or backwards glance, I did something I'd never done before: I walked out on my brother.

—*—

I spent the next day moping around in self-pity mode. Everyone else in the castle was fussing about some upcoming Quidditch Match between Slytherin and Gryffindor — who would win, who would lose — but I couldn't muster an iota of excitement or House spirit. Just the thought of Aidan out there, flying around the Quidditch Pitch, not a care in the world as his fans cheered on... It made my stomach hurt.

On top of it all, Dom was avoiding me. Whenever I walked into the dorms, she would give a very loud sniff and turn to leave. Seeing me in the hallways, she would immediately head in the other direction. I couldn't get a hold of her, not even to apologize, and this only served to make me feel worse.

I stayed inside during the match. I couldn't make myself go out and cheer with the others, so instead I perused the Hogwarts halls, roaming around and trying not to look out any windows in case I caught an unwanted glimpse of the Quidditch Pitch. The corridors and classrooms were silent — I was utterly alone, and this suited me just fine.

Seconds ticked by, bleeding into minutes and then hours, as I wandered aimlessly about, glancing at statues and striking up the occasional conversation with a portrait. Every noise, even the slightest rustle, seemed to echo on forever.

"Agatha Bennett?"

I stiffened at the unfamiliar voice, mouth pulling into an immediate pout. A voice meant another human being, and another human being meant socializing. I had not planned for this.

I turned around to see a young boy behind me, probably a second- or third-year, with rosy cheeks and a head of curly brown hair. He looked like he had been running and was currently doubled over in exhaustion.

"Are you — " Gasp. "Agatha —" Wheeze. "Bennett?"

I blinked back my surprise. "Er, yeah. Can I help you?"

The boy looked up at me — he had startlingly blue eyes, I noticed — and all of a sudden, I felt a strange sensation overcome me. Dread. It crept up my arms, slithered in my chest, until it finally clenched cold fingers around my heart and squeezed... hard.

Something was very, very wrong.

"What is it?" I demanded, the urgency of my voice surprising even myself.

"I — Well..." The boy said, fumbling for words.

It was like the world around me had frozen. I couldn't describe it, but somehow I just knew. Everything turned to glittering, blinding ice, so delicate and fragile. The slightest move of a hand could cause it all to shatter. And somehow, I knew that this boy's next few words would change everything.

"Agatha, there's been an accident."

Chapter 15: Collide
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A/N: Okay, Chapter 15 is finally here! I have nothing to say except that none of Potterverse is mine, and I hope you enjoy!


People were talking. Their voices floated away, disappearing into the air, into nothingness. Babble. Incomprehensible, endless babble.

There was white. A lot of it. Bed sheets, curtains, the tiles. Squeaking under my feet. White, white, white. And I was running, letting all that white smudge into an infinite, limitless blank. Someone was yelling — stop, stop — but their voice was nothing more than a soft and muffled sound. Like a feather, drifting away.

I was at St. Mungo's.

And he was there too. Lying on a bed, and I didn't understand — why wasn't he moving? Why were his eyes closed? He was pale, and oh Merlin oh please no. Everything was disintegrating. Shuddering apart. Spindling away.

White.

There was a voice, my voice. It tore through the air, seemingly faraway from my own mouth. Come on, Aidan. Wake up, Aidan. Please, Aidan.

I was shaking him — why was I shaking him?

And then, someone or something began to drag me away, and I found myself resisting, floundering and flailing until my hand came in contact with a solid thing. A muttered oath of pain. Warm hands, wrapping insistently around my shoulders. They pulled and pulled until I was grasping at air. Grasping for air. I couldn't breathe. Oh god, I couldn't breathe.

"Bennett — Bennett. Calm down."

The world was beginning to bleed into focus, sounds snapping back to their proper edges and boundaries, shuddering like rubber, and I was all of a sudden treading into a wave of comprehension. Words hardened and crystallized until I could understand them again. My vision sharpened. I realized where I was — a small room, ugly walls, an ugly hospital bed. My brother, in it. Unmoving. Healers were swarmed around him like insects, and a monitor was beeping. Somewhere, in the hallway, I heard hustle and bustle and the squeak of shoes against linoleum.

And Potter was there, looking at me, inches from my face. His hands were digging into my shoulders enough for me to belatedly realize that, ouch, that hurt — and I glanced around and realized he was pressing me into a wall. Restraining me.

"Calm down." He bit out slowly. "Or the Healers will sedate you."

His face was smeared with grime and dust, his hair matted to his forehead with dried sweat. He was still wearing his Quidditch kit, and his nose was bleeding. Had I caused that or the Quidditch? Things were getting fuzzy again.

I blinked at Potter. Inhaled. "Okay."

Potter let go and stepped away, hand coming up to clutch at his nose. "Christ, Bennett. Next time, try not to go for the face, okay?" His voice was casual, too casual, but there was a steely tone riding underneath. Sharp-edged and grim, it made my stomach clench.

"Potter," I said, and suddenly I had to lean against the wall because my knees had forgotten how to function. "What's going on?"

He looked up and stared at me, and for one, fleeting second, his eyes flickered with the barest sort of uncertainty.

Then the lines of his face hardened, and his expression was nothing but blank calculation and steeled edges. Blood trickled down his chin in a glistening web of crimson. I glanced away, watched the Healers buzz and swarm.

"Just calm down, Bennett." All the creases of his voice — all the inflections or catches that could have possibly given him away — were smoothed over, carefully tucked beneath the surface. "Everything's going to be okay."

The truth was all too clear. It stared me in the face, blinding and irrevocable and ugly:

For once in his lifetime, James Sirius Potter was wrong.

—*—

Healer Bartleby Bogglish was old, wrinkled, and the possessor of a very bad toupée. It sat on his head like a long-extinct animal, swaying and quivering with his every movement. I stared at it as he spoke to me.

Wasn't it funny that, despite all the accomplishments the wizarding world of science and medicine had achieved, we still had not found a cure for baldness?

"Your brother has slipped into a coma caused by severe trauma to the head, sustained during a Quidditch accident. We are keeping him here for a 24-hour observation period so that we may monitor his behavior. If we determine him to be stable enough, we will move him to the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts, where your school nurse will be able to care for him there."

Coma. What a funny word. All it took was one superfluous letter or strange accent and someone would be able to say, your brother has slipped into a comma.

I found that oddly hilarious, for some reason.

—*—

I sat in the room. I didn't know what else to do, so I sat and sat and sat. I stared at everything — the walls, the ceiling, the white — everything but the unrecognizable figure, just a stranger, really, lying motionless in the bed before me. Potter sat too. But then he was told to leave.

And then, my parents arrived.

"Agatha! I got here as soon as I could—what's happened? Is Aidan okay? Oh my god, Agatha." Mum.

"Can someone please explain to me what the hell is going on here? Where is our Healer? Hey! You! Nurse! Where is our Healer?" Dad.

"Sir, please calm down. Healer Bogglish is a very busy man — "

"I don't care if he's the bloody Virgin Mary! Get him now. I need to know what's happened to my son!"

"Sir, please — "

"Someone tell us what's going on!"

"Sir, please calm down."

"Don't you fucking dare tell me to calm down when my son is — "

"There's no need to be hostile —"

"What's going on? Oh god, can someone please just tell us what's going on?"

"Ma’am, your son has slipped into a coma caused by severe trauma to the head, sustained during a Quidditch accident. We are keeping him here for a 24-hour observation period so we..."

I left the room. I just couldn't. I couldn't.

Outside in the waiting area, my step-father Arnold, Dom, and Fred were slumped over in flimsy plastic chairs. It had been eons — centuries and wars and earthquakes ago — since I had seen Dom and Fred. They were both sleeping, still in their Quidditch uniforms, Fred's head resting on Arnold's shoulder with his mouth slightly ajar.

I grabbed a passing nurse by the elbow. "Excuse me, do you know what time it is?"

"Six o'clock, miss." Her voice was heavily accented, curving and dipping in all the wrong places.

"That can't be right." Had we been at this hospital for that long?

"Time never lies, hun." The nurse's face was soft and fleshy, and I relinquished my hold on the her elbow, taking a step back.

"Okay, thank you."

There was something inside of me, something hot and angry and inhuman. It. Sticking to me like a second skin that I couldn't rid myself of, It was everywhere — sloshing in my stomach, lodged in my throat, heavy and thudding in my ribcage. It dribbled down the back of my throat and curled inside my ears, hot and acrid whispers that told me to surrender.

And I was tempted. So, so tempted. The thought of surrendering, of folding and crumpling in the middle of the hallway. It would be so easy...

But I couldn't. If I did, I would lose everything. Every ounce of self-control that I had collected and hoarded and clung to over the past few hours like grains of sand. It would take over, and this numbness that I was feeling now, this nice, bland numbness, would crumble away. And I didn't want to find out what would be left. If I allowed It to take control... Who knew what would happen?

All I wanted to do was clutch at myself, to scrape skin and cloth and make sure I was still in my own body, to give out.

But instead, I kept walking. I ignored It, the slithering inside my stomach, and just kept walking, one foot in front of the other. Right-left. Right-left. Co-ma. Co-ma.

I just kept walking.

—*—

The cafeteria of St. Mungo's was a big, spacey room with giant floor-to-ceiling windows. It was also deserted, which was why I sat myself down at one of the long metal tables and decided that I wouldn't be moving for a very, very long time.

Or at least, until someone else showed up.

"Hey."

I glanced up, and there was Potter standing in front of me. He had changed — he was wearing a simple blue t-shirt and jeans — and showered, but his hair was still a mess. And it was the simplest thing, really. Of course Potter would find me. Of course he would sit down without asking permission and pull me out of my momentary bout of peace, the meager silence that I had. Of course.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, monotone.

"Last time I checked, this wasn't Agatha Bennett's Special Secret Tree House. The cafeteria is open to everyone, you know." His words were as snarky as ever, but they weren't delivered with the customary tone of irritated scorn. As he spoke, he tossed me something small and round. I barely caught it and peered at the plastic container.

"Pudding?"

"I thought you might be hungry." He shrugged, as if it were perfectly normal for him to be thinking about me and the state of my stomach, and then slid a spoon across the table. The scraping noise of metal against metal echoed through the cavernous room.

"Well?" He said, looking pointedly at my untouched gift, his peace offering.

"Well what?"

"Bennett, it's been thirteen hours since we got here. You have to eat something."

I stared at him, refusing to touch the spoon. "Since when have you been so charitable?"

"Since now. Eat."

Rolling my eyes, I ripped open the container and dug in. I hadn't noticed or felt any hunger up until that point, but when I peeled off the tinfoil wrapping, I turned suddenly ravenous. It seemed weird that, at a time like this, my body could carry on. I still got hungry, I still got thirsty. It was the end of the world, and yet all my internal organs — my brain, my lungs, my heart —functioned like any other day.

The sun was setting outside, and ribbons of twinkling light spiraled through the gigantic windows to stain the entire cafeteria with a rosy glaze. The white walls blushed pink. The metal tables gleamed. The world had exploded into a million, glistening bursts of gold and pink and red, and there we were, sitting in the middle of it all, two shards of glass in a tumbling kaleidoscope.

"Bennett."

My gaze snapped back to Potter, taking in the grim line of his mouth, the seriousness of his gaze. "Yeah?"

He stared at me for a long moment, eyes green in the dying sunlight. "I'm sorry."

I didn't know how to respond to such a statement, so I just shook my head uncomprehendingly at the table, voice lurching from the back of my throat to speak.

"How did it happen, Potter? How?"

He was silent, and for a moment, it seemed as if he wasn't going to answer me. But then all of a sudden, he was opening his mouth and the words that were coming out were jumbled and sharp-edged and hard to hear, hard to understand.

"We were tied 80-80, when I think Aidan saw the Snitch. It was really foggy out, and in the middle of the search he just sort of... Disappeared, higher up in the clouds. A while passed by, no one saw him, and then Dom started screaming. We turned around and... and he was falling."

I could feel It, rearing its ugly head in the pit of my stomach, sucking all the oxygen out of my lungs until all that was left was a dry, burning itch. Bile rose up my throat, and I was beginning to regret ever asking him the question.

Slowly, I took a deep, long breath. I squashed It back down to the pit of my stomach and piled on top a mountain of indifference and numbness and blank. I swallowed the bile. Regained control.

"Oh," I said.

There was an unbearable silence.

Suddenly — abruptly — Potter stood, the metal bench screeching backwards behind him.

I blinked, confused. "What are you doing?"

"We're leaving. We're getting Dom and Freddy, and we're leaving." Potter's voice was so sure, so confident — it echoed loud and clear as if he were stating something we'd previously agreed upon.

I put down my pudding cup, gaping with incredulity. "The hospital?"

He nodded.

"I — You're insane."

He didn't respond. Just looked at me with searing sunlit-green eyes, impatient, face edged with hardness.

The sun outside was trickling into dim, glittering rivets of gold, and I knew the purple fog of dusk was coming. For a moment, I just sat and sat, and Potter waited and waited, as the room sank into darkness.

Maybe it was a trick of the eye, but it seemed like even after it had abandoned everything else, the sunlight held on just a little bit longer to Potter's face. As if it was reluctant to let him go. For one strange, trembling moment, Potter glowed, fast and fleeting, like a glint of something bright underwater.

And then the sun dipped below the horizon, and we were thrown into darkness.

When I spoke, my voice was nothing more but a whisper, a rustle.

"Okay."

—*—

After Potter shook Fred and Dom awake, all it took was a little persuading — which he was admittedly rather good at — for them to agree to his crazy whim. So Potter and I waited as the two of them changed out of their Quidditch gear, and then we left. Just like that. We didn't tell my parents. We didn't tell the Healer. We simply... left. One moment, we were in the hospital, choking on the smell of bleach and the walls that were too white and too close, and then all of a sudden, we were outside, among the slick pavement and the night air and the blooming, golden light of the streetlamps.

The city was shaking itself awake. People bustled. Cars honked and grumbled. It had recently rained, and the jeweled lights of buildings reflected off the gleaming obsidian of the streets. Everything was shimmering and dazzling and fresh. It amazed me that for other people, this was just another ordinary day.

Fred and Dom were bleary-eyed. Potter was silent. There was a raw feeling between all of us, an unspoken agreement that too much had happened and now meager words just weren't enough.

So we stayed quiet. And we walked on, not really together and not really apart. After a while of searching, we found a muggle bar that was shady enough to let us in without any suspicious questions or second glances. I knew that what we were doing was wrong — and not all that smart — but I didn't protest as I followed Potter inside.

Everything was drowned in black-light, making my white blouse and everyone's teeth glow wanly in the dark. The walls were splattered with neon paint, and the room seemed to spin around me in a blitz of thumping, techno music, shifting bodies and streaks of vivid colour. It was crowded and thick with smoke and the perfect place to get lost in, and for some reason, it was a thousand times better than the hospital. It just felt good to be one of the masses. To not count. To blend in.

Potter walked confidently ahead of me, winding smoothly through the hordes of thrumming bodies, just another tall silhouette in the black-light. Eventually, we caught a secluded booth in the corner and piled in.

The music echoed in my ears, matching my pounding heartbeat. Dom sat next to me, nothing more than a ghost, her skin white and paper-thin. She hadn't spoken a word, I hadn't even heard her voice since our argument in the library. She was holding on to the sleeve of Freddy's jacket like it was the only material thing in the world.

Potter left, then came back with four small glasses and a bottle of some unidentifiable amber drink. Fred immediately filled his glass, the liquid sloshing over the lip a little, and downed it. He grabbed another one. Clinked his glass against Potter's, and then they both drank.

Potter was always so fluid in his motions. The lift of a drink to his lips, the tilt of his head backwards, the way his jaw shifted ever so slightly, his arm coming down to slam the empty glass back on his table... It was a practiced sequence. Elegant, almost.

I, on the other hand, was awkward and ungraceful. I curled up in the corner of the booth, my arms around my knees, the fingers of my right hand twisted in my hair, and watched the three of them drink. Dom was going too fast, too many in too little time, but I didn't have the heart or words to stop her.

Suddenly, Fred started laughing. Not his normal, boisterous laugh. No — this laugh was hollow and strange, and his shoulders were shaking too hard for it to be considered casual.

"This is all a dream, right?" he asked, taking a swig of his drink. Another grim terrible laugh dribbled from his lips. "I mean, tomorrow I'm going to wake up and find out that this — this — it didn't happen. It didn't happen, right?"

"Yeah," Potter said, and I couldn't tell if there was malice in his sarcasm or not. "It's all a dream, Freddy."

Fred nodded, his eyes unfocused and distracted. "It's all a dream," he croaked to himself, before throwing back another shot.

I said nothing, watching the three cousins as they simmered, separately, in their own black thoughts. Dom's face was slack, her eyelids heavy and drooping as she stared straight ahead.

Her red lips parted, drooping open as if by accident, and we all waited for her to speak. The lights of the club passed across her face, a dancing menagerie of translucent colour, but her expression remained stony, unchanging. For a moment, it seemed like she wasn't going to say anything at all. And then:

"Shut up."

Fred blinked. "What?"

"For fuck's sake, Freddy, just shut up and stop fooling yourself," Dom spat. "This isn't a dream. Aidan is in a coma, everything's gone to shit, and this isn't a dream." She clenched her right hand into a fist and shook her head, oblivious to our speechless incredulity. "That stupid idiot... Getting himself knocked into a coma. Of course. What a typical Aidan thing to do — he is so, so selfish. Fuck!" This was punctuated by a sharp crack as Dom slammed her glass on the table. "Just shut up already, Fred!"

"Merlin, Dom, how can you even say that? It's not like Aidan chose for this to happen — "

"Shut up, will you? Just shut up, shut up, shut up! You don't really know him!" She said, even though he did. We all did. "He's selfish —"

"Don't say that about him!"

"— he was being careless, he wasn't thinking, thinking about all the other people around him, who cared about him, who would be affected if he — if he got hurt, and he left us. Merlin, he should have been more careful. Why wasn't he more careful? The idiot —"

"Dom."

Potter's voice was quiet but effective. Dom clamped her lips shut, and there was a sudden silence. Averting her eyes, she poured herself another drink, the neck of the bottle rattling against the glass as her hands shook and liquid spilled over the rim, onto the table. No one bothered to mop it up.

We sat there, the four of us. The music pulsed on.

"We should dance," I suddenly blurted at random. The three of them looked up, faces displaying varying degrees of incredulity.

"What?"

"Come on." I grabbed Dom's glass out of her hand before it reached her lips, and swallowed the rest of whatever was inside. This was a very bad idea, since drinking alcohol, it turns out , is a similar sensation to setting your own esophagus on fire.

I winced and coughed, avoiding the others and their curious stares, then stood up, swaying slightly on my feet. I had the sudden impulse to do something, to move my body through this thick, watery air and have my feelings limited to moving and moving alone. "We're dancing."

I grabbed Freddy's arm and dragged him onto the dance floor, where we quickly melted into the sweaty mass of jumping bodies. I guess Potter and Dom followed suit, since I caught a fleeting glance of rumpled black hair before I was swallowed into the crowd.

Standing still in the middle of a dance floor felt like standing on the floor of a rocking boat. My surroundings dipped and swayed, heat and darkness pressing closer, the techno music pounding into my skull. Everyone else was oblivious to my presence, and the sensation was strangely freeing.

"Hey." I turned around to see Potter, silhouetted by the flashing lights behind him, his hands shoved in his pocket in that familiar way of his.

"Potter," I bleated mechanically, and then, as if my body were acting on its own accord, I saw my hands reach out to grab him by the jacket and pull closer. "Let's dance." The bassline thrummed under my feet, and for a moment, I didn't care that Potter and I were on less-than-friendly terms with each other, or that normally I wouldn't be caught dead in a place like this. Right now, the loud music and thick darkness was enough to make me forget everything but the physical sensations around me, and I — frantically, manically — wanted to keep that going. I wanted to stay numb, and dancing up to the boy I hated seemed, for some reason, like a good way to do that. The music pounded, people around us jumping up and down and bumping into my back. The shot I'd downed was now warm in my belly. For all we knew, Freddy might have been right. This could all be just a dream.

"Bennett." There was a line of concern etched between Potter's eyebrows; his gaze was wary and unnaturally bright as his hands came up to meet mine and peel them off his collar. "Bennett, you're obviously not in your right mind right now — "

"Shut up," I said flippantly, insistently pulling us closer. "Just shut up."

Potter obliged, his mouth snapping shut while his eyes still continued with their careful journey over my face. He seemed to realize that, as the person who had brought us here in the first place, he was in no position to talk about my 'right mind.' In fact, he shouldn't talk at all.

I glanced over to see Dom, her eyes closed, jumping up and down to the music. Her face looked ethereal, the tinge of each light splaying across her translucent skin, beads of sweat trickling from her temples. Fred was back at the table, doing some damage to the bottle we'd left behind.

My eyes snapped back to Potter. He'd been watching me this whole time, his lips parted slightly, and I suddenly realized how close we were standing, my hands still clutching his collar.

And then, I felt It surge inside me, crawling up my throat. Everything around me seemed to lurch in one big chaotic tumble of noise and heat —it was suddenly too much. I felt like I was going to keel over. Black spots speckled my vision, and I knew I was in danger — of slipping, of surrendering, of losing control. I could feel It, thrashing against my chest, all the emotion packed inside about to burst free. It hummed in my veins with discontent, churning in my blood, an acrid flood of nausea that made my cheeks flush. I was slipping, letting go, losing control...

I pulled Potter closer, my feverish forehead coming to meet his, as I tried to quell the sickness inside me. I could feel it burning at my throat. I winced, eyes squeezing shut, a ragged gasp rattling at my chest, and the dance floor tilted to the left, violet and black and neon smudging together. Sweaty bodies bumped into me, the music made the bones in my body chatter and vibrate...

Potter grabbed me by the waist, stumbling backwards a little as he caught his balance. His hands burned through the thin material of my shirt. "Bennett, you okay?"

I flashed open my eyes and jumped a little, startled by both our proximity and his concern. We were too close. It was too hot. Everything was too, too much.

My shallow breath was coming in quick, rapid bursts, and I looked up to see hazel eyes staring down, hard and alert. I pulled away, trying to regain my grip on the world. "No. Yes. I — Sorry."

"Bennett —" Before Potter could finish (or even start), I was wheeling around and stumbling away, trying my best to ignore his hot gaze on the back of my head as I pushed through the jumping mass of people.

Except I couldn't help myself. Slowly, I spared a glance at him over my shoulder. Our eyes met, and for one, infinitely long second, it was hazel frozen with ice, blue tarnished by gold. And then I turned back around and walked away, letting the greedy crowd swallow me whole.

—*—

I staggered my way to the bathroom, heaving the heavy black door open without a thought. I needed a place to think, to gather myself, and the loo seemed like the only option.

It was a cramped space, with red and yellow mosaic tile floors and three dingy, untrustworthy stalls. Everything was muffled. I could dimly hear the pounding bass of the music outside.

A dirty, rectangular mirror was stretched out on the wall across from me, and I stared at my reflection, blinking. I was unearthly pale — more so then usual — and my eyes were bloodshot and owlish. My hair — well, I didn't even want to go there.

I was on edge. Every molecule inside my body was bouncing and jittery with an unceasing, anxious energy. Atoms colliding, fingers quivering, knees knocking. I couldn't stand still.

I turned towards the stalls. It looked like one was already occupied, so I took the other one next to it. Closing the door behind me, I fumbled with the lock for a moment before slamming the lid of the toilet down and —heaving out a long, tired sigh — plunking down on top of it. I dug my elbows into my knees and buried my hands in my hair, grimacing at my own clichéd patheticness.

I stared at the stall door in front of me — my eyes raking over the scrawled profanity, the ugly rusted lock — and waited for the waterworks to come. If there was a time to break down in tears, now would be it. After all, in the movies, this was usually the part where the heroine started sobbing uncontrollably — shouldn't I be doing the same right about now?

And yet — I couldn't. I just couldn't cry. It was the funniest thing, really, but despite all that had happened, I couldn't squeeze out one, tiny, miserable tear. It was like there was a block, something stopping my tear ducts from functioning like normal. I wanted so badly — needed, in fact — to cry... And yet I couldn't. It was like standing on the edge of a cliff and knowing it was crumbling, but never being able to actually jump off.

"Shit," I said out loud, and that was that.

"Aggy?"

I started, whipping my head around at the sound of my name. It had sounded like it was coming from the stall next to me. In fact, it sounded a lot like...

"Dom?"

There was a pause. And then:

"Hey."

"Hi."

Another long silence. It seemed to stretch on forever, growing and expanding and filling the air with emptiness. We sat, two girls, sitting on opposite sides of a grimy bathroom stall wall, together but separate and so, so afraid.

"Agatha?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry."

"It’s okay."

"I didn't mean any of it. What I said, earlier, when we fought. About Aidan."

"I know."

"I was scared."

"I know."

"I'm still scared."

"I know."

"Can we... Can we go home? Please?" Her voice was warbly and weak, so different from the fiery, strong Dominique that I knew.

Slowly, I nodded my head. It was a pointless move since she couldn't see me, but it felt like it was the only thing I could do. Words were failing me.

Home sounded nice. Home, a steaming shower, and a warm bed that I could burrow myself into. The only trouble was... I had no idea where home was. Hogwarts? My mother's house? My dad's? There was a part of me that wanted so badly to leave this bar, but there was another part that knew if I did... I wouldn't have anywhere to go.

I took a deep breath, steadying my voice, and gathered my courage.

"Okay, Dom. Let's go home."




A/N: Sooo. What did you think? I know it was really long and dramatic and a big change from what the normal chapters are like, but hopefully you guys liked it :) I'm sorry for such the long wait, but school's been hectic lately, and a lot of my time has been taken up by working on my new Dominique one-shot The Silence of the Night, which is actually up on my Author's Page now! So if you want to check it out, that would mean a lot to me! I think it's actually one of my better writings :D
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Alright, guys, I hope you enjoyed everything, and if you have the time/energy, please tell me what you think!

Zoey

Chapter 16: Somersault
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"What?"

I leaned forward in my seat — jaw dropping, eyes widening, brows knitting into the universal expression for 'you have got to be shitting me' — and gaped at the (completely loony) woman in front of me. It wasn't a very attractive look, I'll admit, yet I couldn't help myself — the shock that was rippling over my features was uncontrollable. And while some people (hint: his name rhymes with 'otter') may be good at hiding their feelings behind cool masks of disinterest, I wasn't one of them.

Headmistress Vespertine quirked a dark eyebrow and clasped her elegant hands together, resting them on top of her shiny mahogany desk. Judging by the unimpressed expression tugging at her stern features, she wasn't in the mood for my disbelief.

Well excuse me, Vespertine, if you find my attitude irritating — it's just that I've been having kind of a tough week and all, what with my twin brother slipping into a life-threatening, indefinitely long coma. I know that's no valid excuse, but — oh no, wait — that's totally a valid excuse. Fuck you.

"You heard me, Miss Bennett. A counselor," Vespertine said firmly, pulling me back into reality. She tilted her head forward, boring her steely grey eyes into mine, face lined with hardened resolve.

"You want me to see a shrink." I stated flatly, brow wrinkling in distaste. Vespertine had been pushing the point for the past hour and I'd been rejecting it for just as long, but that didn't make the idea seem any less surreal. A school counselor, really? Me? I'd always thought that out of everyone in our friend group, Freddy would be the first one forced to seek psychiatric help.

"A counselor, Agatha." Vespertine corrected. She heaved a reproving sigh, looking like a mother who had to deal with a very petulant, very tiresome child. "You've been through a great deal of trauma lately and given the circumstances, I think it wise for you to have someone to talk to. Someone you can rely on."

I do have someone to rely on. In fact, I have several someones. They're called friends, you see — they're nice, funny, cool, smart, and the best thing about them? I don't have to pay them to listen to me whine. They do it for free.

"Headmistress," I began cautiously, not wishing to antagonize Vespertine any more than I already had. "Thank you for your concern, but I really don't think this is necessary. I'm managing just fine." As if to prove my point, I fidgeted in my stiff chair and gave a small, entirely unconvincing laugh.

Vespertine frowned. I could sense the annoyance simmering in her gaze, and with a sinking dread, realized she wasn't about to let the matter go anytime soon. "Even so, Agatha," she implored. "I insist you talk to our school counselor for at least one session. I think you'd truly benefit from it."

"I didn't even know Hogwarts had a school counselor," I said quietly, disbelief still clouding my voice.

Vespertine's frown stiffened at my continued impertinence, her voice turning firm and clipped. "Well we do, and I would like for you to see her. I know you're reluctant, but trust me. I only have your best interests in mind."

That's what they all said. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I smiled sweetly at the woman in front of me, knowing full well that the day I saw the school counselor was the day Filch began his professional career as a Calvin Klein underwear model.

I knew Vespertine was only trying to look out for her students, but honestly, I was fine. Fine! Yes, Aidan was in the Hospital Wing. Yes, his medical situation remained in a static, frustrating limbo. Yes, everywhere I went I was somehow reminded of his horrible accident. But that was my reality now. I could handle it. I didn't need pity or adult supervision, and I especially didn't need some "counselor" analyzing my every thought and putting words into my mouth. I got enough of that from Potter already.

Vespertine was a considerate Head of Hogwarts, she really was, but she must have been a couple braincells short if she thought that I would actually agree to her request. I was not going to see a shrink.

—*—

"So you're seeing a shrink?"

I gave a disgruntled huff, mouth twisting into a bitter scowl as I stormed — not strolled, not walked, not sauntered: stormed — down the corridor to my next class, fists clenched tightly by my sides.

"Not a shrink, Freddy — a counselor. There's a difference," I corrected, and Fred Weasley, my walking partner/general life's nuisance this morning, responded with a look that could only be described as a leer.

"Of course," he said innocently. "Counselors are much more respectable. Their straightjackets are Armani."

I glowered. Back in Vespertine's office, I had foolishly thought that noble protests and sheer free will alone were enough to get out of seeing the counselor. But then reality (as it always did) so stubbornly insisted on asserting itself, and my dreams were dashed.

Turned out that, as our Headmistress/High and Mighty Dictator of Hogwarts, Vespertine retained the final say in any and every matter.

Her decisions were incontestable. Democracy was a fallacy. I was seeing the counselor.

The fact that this was all happening against my will didn't seem to be an issue. Don't want to waste an hour per week in a therapist's office? Too bloody bad. Off to Dr. Loony Tunes you go.

I glanced warily at Fred, who still had on that smarmy, all-too-knowing expression of his.

"Stop it," I said in response to his... er, face. "It's not what you think."

Freddy's light eyes were glimmering, mouth quirked in mirth and thick eyebrows cocked. The expression was so typical for him, so familiar, that it almost felt like old times.

Over the past couple days, Fred had been determined to stay upbeat, to behave positively in the face of what was happening. He was ever the class clown, that bloke, and once we got back to Hogwarts he'd adopted for himself the role of Group Morale Booster. Constantly cracking jokes, pulling theatrical faces — it was his way of dealing with the accident, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't the teensiest bit grateful for it.

After all — despite the hard time Fred was currently giving me, it was nice to hang out with someone who could act normal for once.

"Well, Aggy, can't say it hasn't been a long time coming," Freddy was saying gleefully, practically skipping as we made our way down the bustling corridor. "We've all known you needed a shrink."

"For the last time, it's not a shrink!" I stated, throwing my hands in the air with more vehemence than perhaps necessary (Fred had to duck to avoid getting smacked in the face). "It's a counselor."

"Riiiiiight," Fred drawled, stretching the word out like elastic. "And it's not a lemon, it's a yellow citrus-y fruit."

I rolled my eyes, giving him a playful shove in the shoulder. "Some friend you are."

"What are you talking about?" Fred pouted as he stumbled backwards, rubbing the spot where I'd pushed him like it was some fatal battle wound. "I'm a perfectly good friend."

"Honestly?" I grumbled. "Sometimes I think I'd be better off with a talking monkey on my shoulder."

"Hey! I'm potty-trained and I have a basic understanding of the English language." Fred retorted defensively. "What more can you want?"

Despite myself, I couldn't quell the laugh bubbling up my throat. "Guess that's all I can expect out of you, isn't it?"

Fred slung an arm around my shoulder, grinning a grin that would put the Cheshire Cat to shame. "That and an endless supply of charm and wit."

"Lucky me."

"Ain't that the truth."

Together, the two of us ambled down the hallway, bantering and laughing and pretending that we didn't notice the burning glances of other students around us. It was easier that way. Pretending, I mean. We both felt the stares, heard the whispers, saw the pity etched on every passing face — but we never acknowledged it.

After all, life went on. After we came back to Hogwarts, it had been surprisingly easy to settle into routine, to throw oneself into a flurry of homework and obligations and normalcy. Hogwarts has been many things for people — a safe haven, a second home, a terrifying hotbed of monsters and giant snakes — but for me, it was a distraction. After a couple days, I had managed to clamber back onto my feet, and now I was doing fine.

And okay, maybe some days it was difficult to get out of bed. And alright, every now and then I'd be overcome with the sudden urge to scream, to throw up, to curl into a tiny ball and squeeze my eyes shut. And occasionally I did still feel It, creeping up my spine and slithering into my lungs, that same sensation from the hospital when I had first seen him...

But other than that I was fine.

Really.

"Honestly, I don't know why Vespertine thinks I need a shrink," I muttered. "It's completely superfluous."

"Hey," Fred pointed out wryly. "I thought it was called 'a counselor.'"

"Just shut it, you."

"I resent that."

Bickering good-naturedly, Freddy and I turned the corner and passed the familiar crumbling statue of Humphrey the Humorous — and that was when I suddenly realized where we were heading.

Instantly — right as the thought registered inside my addled head — I stopped dead in my tracks, my halt so abrupt that I practically left skid marks on the marble floor.

Fred turned around to look at me, face puzzled and eyebrows disappearing into the mysterious regions of his hairline. "What is it?"

I blinked, hands clenching and unclenching spasmodically by my sides. The previously light and happy atmosphere that had surrounded us was completely gone, all that was left a thick, draping cloud of tension.

"Where are you leading us?" I asked, each word rattling and shaking with anxiety.

"Uh, well I was thinking that we could stop by the Hospital Wing on the way to class. We have a few minutes, maybe we could visit Aidan for a bit." Fred shrugged, "We haven't seen him since he was transferred from St. Mun — "

I could actually feel all the colour drain from my face. Slowly, as if I were facing a very big, very hungry animal, I began to back away. "Actually, I have to go."

"I — What? Why?"

"I have, er, a Potions Essay to work on," I said, forcing myself to meet Fred's confusion-clouded gaze. "I have a Potions Essay," although not incredibly inventive, was the Go To Excuse. Simple and easy, it was a great lie to tell when nothing else came to mind. Don't want to hang out with that annoying friend? Sorry, I can't — 800 words on the properties of Murtlap. Don't want to run errands with your Mum? Honestly, I wish I could, it's just that Slughorn's been stepping it up with the assignments lately. Don't want to visit your comatose brother?

Well, you get the picture.

"Aggy, are you okay?"

I looked at Fred, saw the confusion and concern — an emotion I'd never seen him wear before — swirling in his eyes. And it wasn't that I didn't want to visit Aidan. I just... wasn't ready and besides, I truly did have a lot of work to do.

Fred gazed at me perplexedly, wearing the exact same face he usually reserved for Ancient Runes class. His mouth was open with no words coming out, his head cocked Golden Retriever-style. In any other situation, his expression would have been comical.

"I'm sorry. I really wish I could." I said weakly, and before Freddy could even figure out how to reply, I was spinning on my heel and running off.

—*—

That night, I didn't sleep.

Eyes tracing the dark velvety swoops of my bed's emerald canopy, I lay in bed and thought of Freddy's earlier confusion today, the disappointment etched in his features. I had hated leaving him abandoned in the middle of the hallway, but seeing Aidan like... that was out of the question.

I lay quietly, pushing the thought from my head, and listened to the soft noises drifting around me. I could hear the hear the faint snores of my roommates, the groans and creaks and other strange sounds of nighttime that I didn't care to identify. And then I could hear Dom.

Every night, once she thought we were all asleep, Dom would cry. It always lasted a good hour or so, and when she finally fell asleep afterwards (and really, 'fall' is the only word for it — falling, plunging, somersaulting into the darkness of slumber) she had nightmares. More than once over the past few days, I'd woken up to the sounds of her terror. She would thrash and kick and sometimes, when it got really bad, she would whimper. I didn't know if Evelyn or the others had noticed. If so, they hadn't mentioned it.

I never did either — mention it, that is. Usually, I would just lie in bed and let the noises happen, let them haunt me. Come morning I never brought it up. Maybe under the normal definition of friendship, that made me a bad person. But Dom and I didn't work under the normal definition of friendship. We were Slytherins, and we had our pride. Our definition was to never show weakness, never make the other feel vulnerable. If I brought up her nightmares, the conversation would be humiliating for the both of us.

Tonight it was the usual. Kicking, tossing, turning. I lay — paralyzed and frigid —doing nothing as it washed over me. I felt each sound that slipped out of her mouth like kicks to the stomach.

After ten more agonizing minutes, I decided I'd had enough. Without any sort of plan or forethought whatsoever, I threw my covers off me and jumped out of bed, my skin erupting in a flutter of goosebumps. Pulling a sweatshirt over my head, I stumbled through the dark obstacle course that was our room, bumping into trunks and bedposts along the way, and then down the stairs to the Common Room.

It was a terrifically stupid thing to do, meandering around the castle after hours. I could get caught by a patrolling prefect or, even worse, a detention-happy Filch. But for once I couldn't care. The dorm room was cramped, packed too full with Dom's lurking nightmares, bursting at the walls, threatening to explode and — and I couldn't take it anymore.

Outside of the Common Room, the air felt fresh and cool. The endless dark stone and halls of the castle sprawled out before me, seeming so big and I, so small. Like I could be swallowed up by this huge expansive structure, swallowed into its nooks and crannies at any moment.

Somehow, the nighttime made everything that much more real. During the day, it was easy to be normal, to go through the simple motions of life and act like nothing was wrong. But now, with moonlight leaking through windows and shadows staining the walls, it all felt so much more... raw.

I let my feet carry me on instinct, wandering down the corridors and the staircases that were surprisingly still at this hour. Pretty soon, I found myself standing before an oil-painting of a bowl of fruit — arguably one of the most representative images of Hogwarts, a symbol immortalized for any late-night wanderer (or snacker) at this school.

My hand seemed to have a mind of it's own — without any direction from my brain whatsoever, it reached up and gave the pear a little tickle — an old trick that I had learned from the Tweedle Trio a few years back.

I walked into the Kitchens of Hogwarts.

Inside, everything gleamed seductively in the moonlight, porcelain sinks glistening, slick tiles sparkling. It was a system of silvered shadows and winking light, and I couldn't help myself. Slowly, I skimmed my fingers over a rack of glittering pots that were hanging from the ceiling, enjoying the cool feel of metal against my hot skin.

"Good evening, Agatha Bennett."

My bloodstream froze to ice. Back stiffening and eyes squeezing shut — oh bollocks — I instantly went rigid with fear.

I should have expected this, really. I was no Potter or Fred, of course I'd get caught. This was amateur hour.

Convinced that Filch was behind me with a detention notice in one hand and a blood-stained torture device in the other, I did what could only be described as a half-whirl, half-seizure, and arms flailing, whipped around to meet my certain doom.

Of course, what I hadn't realized was that my left hand had still been stuck in the middle of a row of hanging pots.

What followed was a series of metallic crashes that must have woken up the entire castle. Pots clanged together like windchimes, a couple even dropping to the floor. For future reference, of the many different noises you don't want to make when sneaking through the castle, 'metal cacophony of cooking tools' is one of them.
My stomach twisted in dismay. I turned around and — preparing for the worst — saw that... No one was there.

Huh.

"Hello?" I looked to my left and then to my right, but no Filch. No anyone. In fact, all I saw was empty air.

"Oh my apologies, Mistress! Pipsqueak did not mean to frighten you!"

And then I looked down.

Staring up at me, wearing an expression that indicated complete and utter bliss, was a small house-elf who looked anything but frightening. He was wrinkly, with too much skin for his frail frame and big, bulbous eyes that were silvery like the moon, filled with an unwavering adoration I found to be — frankly — kind of creepy. On top of his bald head sat a lumpy piece of cloth that, in some parallel universe, might have passed for a hat.

"Please forgive Pipsqueak, Agatha Bennett!" Before I could so much as open my mouth, Pipsqueak the House-elf was wrapping his skinny little arms around me and burrowing his face into my legs. "Pipsqueak is so, so sorry!"

My eyebrows shot upwards as I looked down, rather unsure what to do with this odd new growth sprouting from my kneecaps. "Er — um. That's quite alright."

Pipsqueak humbly detangled himself from my limbs, dabbing tears out of the corner of his huge, Bludger-sized eyes. "Sorry, Agatha Bennett. Pipsqueak is often told that he has... er, what do you call them? 'Personal space issues?'"

Raised eyebrows still rendezvousing with my hairline, I nodded faintly. "You don't say."

"Now," Pipsqueak rasped, cheerfully ignoring my cynical tone, face assuming its previous expression of bliss. Bloody hell, the little bugger looked like he'd just reached self-actualization. "How may Pipsqueak help Agatha Bennett?"

"Well, I was just looking for some food, really." I said cautiously, now beginning to doubt the dire necessity of that 2 AM Ben and Jerry's. Pipsqueak looked a bit too eager to help, and I found it a little unnerving. "Also, how do you know my name?"

"Pipsqueak makes sure to learn the names of everyone at Hogwarts," The house-elf said solemnly, puffing his chest out in pride.

'That's... er, impressive," I conceded and then, after seeing the immediate reaction my words brought on, immediately regretted it.

"Agatha Bennett thinks that Pipsqueak is — " Gasp. "— impressive?" Pipsqueak stared up at me, big eyes getting even bigger, looking in danger of stroking out. Before you could so much as say 'restraining order,' he flung himself at my legs once more, giving them a joyous squeeze.

"Yes. Agatha Bennett thinks Pipsqueak is very impressive," I said, gently trying to the elf off. This was getting weird. "But Agatha Bennett has to go now. So, er, if you excuse me, I think I'll just be on my way..." Slowly, I pushed past the tiny house-elf, making my way to the door and abandoning all hunger cravings. Just as well. I was better off without those frozen calories anyway...

"Wait!"

Mentally cursing myself, this school, and whoever it was that invented New York Super Fudge Chunk, I turned around and prepared myself for the worst. I half-expected Pipsqueak to ask me for my autograph or something. "Yes?"

With a happy flourish, Pipsqueak produced a chocolate bar from underneath his hat. Oh. He presented the small rectangle to me, holding it in his palms with a kind of reverence usually shown to important artifacts and religious gurus. "For Agatha Bennett."

"I, um, don't know what to say," I said truthfully, taking the bar from Pipsqueak's gnarled fingers. "Thank you."

Pipsqueak grinned, eyes sparkling, and nodded furiously. "Agatha Bennett looked like she needed it."

—*—

After that rather creepy-and-yet-sort-of-flattering incident, I left the Kitchens and set out for the Slytherin Common Room. Taking my own sweet time, I ambled down hallways and up staircases, munching on my chocolate bar as I walked. I'd had my fill of undercover adventuring now, and had decided to restrict any future late-nighters to the library from now own.

I turned a corner on another empty corridor, shivering at the sudden gust of assaultingly cold air. The wall to my right side was only half-way tall, opening up onto the adjacent courtyard and consequently letting the crisp November air pour in.

Honestly, Hogwarts, it's called a central heating system — get one. "Why is it so bloody cold?" I muttered to myself, wrapping my sweatshirt tighter around my shivering frame.

"Might have something to do with the season," came a dry voice. "Cold, winter — the two can be related, I hear."

For the second time that night, I jumped at the sound of a foreign voice behind me. Seriously? I was getting rather tired of this whole 'let's-give-Aggy-a-heart-attack' shtick.

I turned to see a shadowed, obviously male figure sitting on top of the half-wall, his feet dangling over the edge. It had been so dark, and he — whoever he was — had been so quiet... I'd walked right past and hadn't even noticed.

"God!" I exclaimed, slapping a hand over my thudding heart.

"Close, but no." The figure raised his hand slightly, ashing what I soon realized to be the orange tip of a cigarette over the stone ledge. "Don't worry. We get mixed up all the time."

I squinted, and was able to make out broad shoulders narrowing into a lean waist and a disheveled head of hair. While the physical qualities were hard to go by, I could've recognized that snarky tone anywhere. "Potter?"

"Gold star, Bennett," Potter drawled, and even in the near darkness, I could make out his typical self-satisfied smirk. Rolling my eyes, I walked over to where he sat until I was standing next to him, arms crossed and scowl in place.

"What are you doing? It's after hours and you shouldn't be out," I said somewhat crossly, conveniently glossing over the part where I, too, was supposed to be in bed.

Potter glanced up to meet my gaze, face inscrutable, hazel eyes squinting in the moonlight.

"Can't sleep," he answered duly, sweeping his gaze to the darkened courtyard before him. His legs, clad in flannel pajama pants, swung in a barely discernible one-two, one-two rhythm, heels kicking at the stone.

I blinked back my shock at the frankness in Potter's voice. I had expected him to duck and avoid the question, to shoot back some cryptic, nonsensical answer. His honesty was...Well, weird.

"Same." I found myself saying, and without any prior approval from my brain, my body was suddenly sitting down next to Potter, legs swinging over the edge with care. It was only a mere meter drop to the courtyard below, but I didn't fancy a tumble this time of night.

Potter gave a mirthless laugh, taking a bitter drag from his cigarette. I stared, marveling at how someone as textbook-smart as he was could have such a stupid, stupid habit.

"Every time in the past, when I and Freddy or Aidan snuck out after-hours, we would always be so careful," Potter said, tone still employing that same brand of odd sincerity. "And now the one time I'm blatant about breaking the rules, Filch is nowhere to be found. Strange, isn't it?"

"Almost as strange as house-elves with chocolate and boundary issues," I said stiffly, glumly. Potter's brow collapsed into a frown of half-confusion, half-amusement, and his gaze darted slyly to me.

"I'm not going to ask," he drawled.

"You don't want to," I responded, ending our surprisingly affable exchange. We sat in silence for a while, Potter smoking, me shivering, the castle hushed around us. I knew that I was going to regret this little escapade in the morning — it was 3 AM right now, and I had yet to get a wink of sleep — but I wasn't ready to go back to the dorm. Not yet.

"Vespertine is making me see a shrink," I blurted out randomly, words wavering uncertainly in the air. I had no idea where that confession came from — perhaps the same mysterious place as Potter's honesty — but it was out there now. I couldn't take it back.

Potter turned, face betraying his surprise at the news. He looked at me for a moment head-on, golden eyes inscrutable and intent. "

Aren't they called counselors now?" he finally said. His voice was neutral, no value-judgment or derision to be found.

I stifled an ironic smile. "Does it make a difference?"

Potter cocked a shoulder in a lazy half-shrug. "You're the patient," he said quietly, sweeping his gaze back to the courtyard. "So you're the one who gets to decide. If there's a difference. If you need the sessions." He paused, gaze flicking to me once more. "If they'll help."

A surprisingly wise answer from a surprisingly sincere Potter. I reared back, the corners of my mouth quirked downwards in a thoughtful frown. I hadn't expected Potter to give me sound, valuable advice, yet what he said... Actually made sense.

"Well," I ventured after a long pause. "I've decided it's a waste of time."

Potter stubbed out the cigarette, grinding its end into the blunt stone. "Okay. Then that's what it is."

I narrowed my eyes and peered shrewdly at Potter, who had his concentration zeroed in on the sparks skittering from his dying cigarette. Something about the current dynamic between us... it wasn't normal. It wasn't right.

"Stop it," I said finally.

Potter glanced up, eyebrows cocked. "Sorry?"

"Stop it," I repeated once more, voice flat, blue eyes tapering into even smaller slits. "I said stop."

"Stop what, Bennett?" Potter asked, mild exasperation mingling with confusion on his features. His tone remained calm and even, however revealing an anchored and unflappable composure.

"Stop — " I began, voice faltering. "Stop not being mean to me."

Potter slowly shook his head, chucking the cigarette butt into the courtyard and causing my inner-prefect to seize at the blatant display of littering. When he turned back to me again, his mouth was pulled into a biting, sardonic smile.

"Didn't peg you for the masochistic type," he said with that same infuriating calm. "Maybe you do need that shrink, Bennett."

"Stuff it, Potter," I snapped, my voice edged with an unexpected, startling element of hostility. There was a dull pounding in the back of my head, and the ache caused my words to tumble out with hasty ease. "This whole sodding school has been tip-toeing around me ever since we got back, and I'm so bloody — argh." My irritation spiked as the pounding in my head seemed to get louder, more insistent. I could feel It rising in my stomach again, a panging jolt of nausea that had my throat constricting.

"I'm so bloody sick of people staring and speaking to me like a zoo exhibit," I growled, body tightening at the thought. "The last thing I need is for you, Potter, to join the sodding peanut gallery as well. Can someone please just treat me like normal for once?! Like I'm not going to fucking shatter to pieces at any given moment?! I am fed up, Potter, I am fed up!"

Ever the over-achiever, I finished on a high note. My voice, which had been climbing steadily over the course of my speech, cracked spectacularly in a grand finale that had the ensuing taut silence throbbing around us.

My chest was heaving rapidly. The rant had come on so strongly and so suddenly — I hadn't even been aware of my frustration until it was barreling out of my own mouth.
Potter stared wordlessly at me, neither his gaze or expression betraying what he felt.

There was just the slightest thoughtful squint in his gaze, the tiniest lilt of his mouth. I stared back, somewhat defiant, somewhat abashed at my own intensity.

After a few lingering moments, he swept his gaze back to the courtyard, heels kicking against the stone wall beneath him. "You should get some sleep, Bennett," he finally said to the darkness. "You look like you need it."

There followed a long silence as I gawked at his profile, etched silver in the moonlight. Both his response and tone were astonishing. I couldn't discern any kind of motive behind them, be it mocking scorn or restrained concern, but he hadn't risen to the bait of my anger. He'd stayed miraculously calm.

Resigned, I turned away. A snappy retort would only lead to arguing, and I suddenly felt sapped of energy. "You do too, Potter," I muttered in a voice so quiet, I barely heard myself.

Joints creaking and popping obnoxiously, I clambered off the wall and angled myself to face the dark corridor before me. I was suddenly exhausted.

Not even bothering to spare a glance over my shoulder, I directed my next words to the long stretch of shadow and hallway before me. "Goodnight, Potter."

There was a pause. And then:

"Sleep tight, Bennett."

I began to walk away, fully aware that we both would do anything but that.

Chapter 17: Shrink
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Disclaimer: Nothing HP-verse is mine. It all belongs to the wonderful J.K. Rowling.



Dr. Marina Marvona was not what I had expected.

She was, to say the least, far from your stereotypical therapist — the complete opposite from any representation of profession in the movies, in books, or on TV. She didn't wear pantsuits or horn-rimmed glasses. There were no heavy psychology tomes lining the walls of her office, and not a tweed-jacket or elbow patch in sight. And she had lavender-colored hair. Sprouting from her scalp, upwards and outwards in about fifty different angles, it looked like a sea anemone attached to her skull.

Most surprisingly of all, however, was that Marina Marvona was young.

Marvona must have been in her late-twenties, with an easy, disarming smile and slouching posture. When I walked inside her disorderly office — which looked more like a teenage boy's bedroom than anything — the first thing I saw were her feet clad in a pair of patent leather, cherry-colored combat boots. They were propped on her desk, which was laden with pens and papers and half-open soda cans.

Following a pair of acid-washed jean and the hem of a raggedy wool sweater, my eyes finally landed on Marvona herself. She was chewing bubblegum. She greeted me with one, simple word:

"Yo."

"Er... Hello?" I said, swinging my backpack off of my shoulder and dropping it to the floor with a thud. I didn't quite know what to say. Standing in a therapist's office and faced with a woman who looked like she could pass for the lead singer of an '80s punk rock band, I was feeling a little... caught off guard, to say the least.

The young woman leaned forward, checking a sheet of paper on her desk. "Are you Agatha Bennett?"

"Yeah," I replied, eyes darting from the Hello Kitty clock on her desk to the assortment of posters on the wall behind her. One proclaimed the slogan, Friends Don't Let Friends Drink and Apparate! in cheery, yellow cursive, another boasted the brilliant line, Amortentia? Try Amor-consent-tia! and the last was a band poster for The Misfits, its script written in jagged, red font underneath.

What was this place?

Marvona popped her gum, eyes blatantly flitting up and down my figure. "Ghastly name, no offense."

If I had been in any other situation, I would have been offended by the insult. But 'offended' wasn't really on my Feelings Chart at the moment. 'Shocked' and 'weirded out' maybe, but not offended.

When I had walked into this office, I had expected a Vespertine-approved, middle-aged woman with crowfeet. I had not expected some barely-older-than me Dr. Hipster who looked like she'd bought her degree at the local mall.

"Take a seat," Marvona gestured to a chair in front of her messy desk, and I complied. "Welcome to my office, girl! Can I take your order?"

"Uh, what?" I said, dumbfounded.

Marvona rolled her eyes, though she was grinning good-naturedly, and twisted around to open a... mini fridge (and I repeat: what was this place?) sitting underneath her desk. "I have Butterbeer and... more Butterbeer. Oh!" She paused and inched off her chair, screwing up her face as she dug through the back pockets of her ripped jeans, "I also have a couple mints. They're a little old and warm because I've been sitting on them all day, but if you're really hungry I reckon they're okay to eat — "

"I'm fine." I interrupted hastily. "Really."

"Suit yourself." Dr. Marvona shrugged, withdrew her hands from her pockets, and resumed her previous pose of feet on desk and hands clasped behind head. "I like to offer my guests — I don't call them patients, mind you, you guys are my guests — refreshments when they drop by. Helps break the ice."

"I see," was all I could say.

There was a long silence in which the Hello Kitty clock ticked on, I scanned the office uneasily, and Marvona looked at me expectantly.

"Well?" The therapist demanded, widening her eyes. She made a funny little gesture with her hand as if to signal me to speak, but I had nothing to say.

"Well what?" Now that my shock had subsided, I was beginning to feel a little irritated. After all, I had taken time out of my day to see this shrink — against my will, by the way — and she wanted me to do all the work? To speak? She was the one with the expertise! She was the shrink! Shouldn't she be...er, shrinking me by now, or something?

Dr. Marvona simply smiled, head tilted amiably to the right as her playful gaze took in my obvious discomfort. "I read your file, Agatha, and I have to say — you've been dealt a shite hand. I'm really sorry."

My eyes narrowed. While I appreciated the sympathy, I didn't quite understand what Marvona was getting at. If we were just going to sit around talking about how much it sucked to currently be me right now, then this session was pointless. I did that enough, already, on my own.

Marvona waited for me to reply patiently, then smiled again when I said nothing. "Do you want to talk about it?"

My eyes flicked to my lap, where my fingers were currently wringing together restlessly. "There's nothing to talk about. I — I don't even know why I'm here. It's not like there's anything wrong with me."

Marvona gave an abrupt, barking loud. The abrasive sound grated on my nerves, making my shoulders stiffen suddenly. "Sweetheart, there's something wrong with everyone."

I said nothing. The clock ticked on.

Marvona heaved a long sigh, the amusement fading from her face. "Look, Agatha," she said flatly. "Judging by your posture and the scowl on your face, you obviously don't want to be here. So that must mean that Vespertine forced you to come. And if Vespertine forced you, there really is something wrong. See what I'm getting at, here?"

I remained silent, my insides burning with a slow-growing irritation.

Marvona heaved another sigh, and for a moment, I thought she was going to give up. But then her heavily-lined eyes — sharp with determination — focused on me. "Agatha, do you know what the best part of my job is?"

I shrugged, face impassive, still refusing to say anything and give either Marvona or Vespertine the satisfaction. Neither could possibly understand what I was going through — I barely understood it myself — so how did they expect to help?

"The best part of my job is," Marvona began, leaning back as she folded her hands together in front of her chest. Her eyes twinkled knowingly, mysteriously, as if she was about to let me on to some big, life-shattering secret.

"I get a wheelie chair."

I blinked back my disbelief. A wheelie chair?

"Yes," Marvona said, face and tone completely serious. "A wheelie chair. A Grand Throne of Wheeliness."

As if to demonstrate, Marvona used her hands to push away from her desk, sending her chair flying backwards across the wooden floor. Speechless, I could only watch as my shrink — my obviously insane shrink — spun in dizzying circles on her Grand Throne of Wheeliness. She whirled around and around in little loops, becoming nothing more than a blur of black clothes and lilac hair. "Wheee! Wheee!"

This went on for a good five minutes.

I gaped, unable to react. Dr. Marina Marvona was obviously bonkers — completely, utterly, indisputably bonkers — and Vespertine had sent me to dissect my psyche with her? Leave it to me to have a shrink who needed a shrink. Just my bloody luck.

Finally, right as I was beginning to contemplate just standing up and leaving Marvona spinning there like a depraved, purple merry-go-round, the doctor stopped spinning. She clutched at her desk, eyes unfocused, wobbling a little as she tried to regain equilibrium.

I watched, gaping, as Marvona then cleared her throat, clasped her hands together, and smiled serenely. As if she hadn't just spent the last couple of minutes spinning around like a child. As if she wasn't completely and utterly bananas.

"That was fun," She quipped, a little breathless.

I stared.

"Now, Marina," She muttered to herself, cocking her head to the side. "What was the point of that?"

Apparently in addition to spinning around on wheelie chairs, my shrink also enjoyed talking to herself. Wonderful.

I watched as Marvona squinted at the ceiling, face hardening with the effort to recall her train of thought. And she perked up. I could practically see the light bulb flicking on above her head. "Oh! I remember!"

Well then please, by all means, enlighten me.

Marvona crossed her legs and wiggled to a comfortable seated position in her Grande Throne of Wheeliness, face adopting a solemn expression that I simply could not take seriously. "I told you what my favorite thing about my job is, right?" she said easily. "Well, now I want to tell you what my second favorite thing is."

Marvona paused dramatically, eyes scanning the room, and then began to speak.

"I get to help people, Agatha," she said matter-of-factly. "And okay, maybe I'm not smart enough to be a Healer, and yeah, I mostly have to deal with sulky teenagers who look like they'd rather swan dive off The Astronomy Tower than listen to me and alright, frankly, the pay sucks." She took a deep breath, exhaling all the air out of her lungs in a loud whooshing sound. "But regardless, I get to help people. People like you. And that's what makes it all worth it."

"When I was little," she prattled on. "I would spend my time taking apart my brother's action figures and putting them back together again. Because I liked the feeling of fixing stuff. I liked the thought of piecing things back together again. And Agatha, call me crazy," — too late, I already had — "but I've got a feeling you need piecing together."

Marvona leveled me with her heavily made-up gaze, sincerity just barely visible under all that eyeliner. "So let's talk about your brother."

All I could do was sit and stare. At the mention of Aidan and the prospect of actually speaking about his accident, I suddenly felt It swell inside of me like an expanding balloon. Something sour and tangy was rising up my throat. My body felt like it had been sliced open, and everything inside — my heart, my lungs, even my kidneys — scooped out. The backs of my eyeballs were prickling, but I didn't cry. I couldn't cry.

Marvona smiled at me, mistaking my speechless panic for acquiescence. She nodded sagely, "It was a great speech, I know. You can clap if you want."

"I'm sorry," I whispered quietly. "I can't."

"Of course you can! It's not that hard, all you have to do is smack your hands together — "

"No," I cut through, shaking my head fiercely. "I can't talk. About my brother. And I can't be here."

Before I could fully register Marvona's reaction, I was leaping out of my chair and slinging my bag on my shoulder. I didn't fully comprehend what I was doing, but there was an important voice inside me — important and loud — telling me that I had to get out of here. I had to leave.

"Wait!" Marvona exclaimed, leaning forward in her chair. She ran a hand through her ridiculous lavender hair, eyes pleading. "Agatha! Are you — are you leaving?"

"I'm sorry." It was all I could say. The words were gushing out my mouth in a harried whisper, and even though I felt guilty — Marvona just wanted to help, after all — I knew staying put in that chair was out of the question. "I have to go."

Marvona fell back in her own chair, saddened, but obviously unwilling to try and restrain me from leaving. She gave a small, crestfallen shrug. "Alright. Just... wait a second."

Holding up a placating hand, she bent down and opened her mini fridge. After briefly rummaging through its contents, she finally resurfaced with a curvy purple bottle, the glass steaming ominously in the fresh air.

"Here, take this." She pressed the bottle into my hands; its surface was cool against my flushed skin. "You look tired. I know how things like this can affect your sleep patterns. If you're ever experiencing any insomnia or night terrors, this is a non-habit-forming potion you can take to help you sleep. Just read its label, okay? Be careful of any side effects. Also, if you do change your mind and ever want to talk, I'm here."

I clutched the bottle to my chest, nodding vaguely at her senseless words, only really understanding about half of what she'd said. Dazedly, I swiveled around, without sparing another glance, and took two long, hasty strides to the exit. I twisted the knob, opened the door...

And jumped back in surprise when I came face to face with Evelyn Stanford.

"Wha — ?"

"Agatha?"

"Evelyn?"

There was a long, tense moment as we stared at each other, our shock mirrored in each other's faces. Evelyn looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Her mint green eyes were wide and brimming with disbelief, her eyebrows rising to her golden hairline. Her rosebud mouth — which was normally twisted into a sneer — had dropped open to form a little 'o' of surprise. It was the first time I had seen anything but hate and disgust on Evelyn's face, and it was so strange that for a brief moment, I forgot we were, indeed, standing in a therapist's office.

A therapist's office.

We were standing in a therapist's office.

...And according to my brilliant, ever-so-insightful deductive reasoning, that meant Evelyn must see a therapist.

"I — " I stuttered, blinking rapidly. "You — "

Evelyn Stanford saw a shrink. Why? What could possibly be wrong in her life? She was beautiful, popular, not to mention dating one of the most popular guys at Hogwarts, Fallon Cooper (not only a Seventh Year, but also star of the Slytherin Quidditch Team). She lived the charmed life. What could possibly be wrong with her?

Not saying a word, I pushed past Evelyn and half-ran, half-stumbled out of the office, a slew of questions buzzing through my mind as I walked back to the Slytherin Common Room. Who knew that Evelyn Stanford was... Well, an actual human being? With feelings?

And a therapist?

—*—

I spent the next day cooped up in the library — avoiding Dom, avoiding Potter, especially avoiding Evelyn. I didn't want to deal with any of it, so instead I threw myself into my studies, point-blank refusing to dwell on petty relationships and extraneous distractions. Transfiguration? Made sense. My life? Not so much.

Honestly, why did everything and everyone insist on being so damn complicated all the time? My brother in a coma? Adoring house-elves adoring me? My arch-nemesis seeing the same shrink I did?

I needed a break, a purge, an opportunity to rant it all out. If I wanted any chance of actually focusing on my external obligations and surviving the day, then I needed to press pause and just... cram all the frustration, all the confusion, all the woe-is-bloody-me in my life into five indulgent seconds of Teenage Angst. Just get it all out there. Like the emotional equivalent of a juice cleanse.

Alright, here goes nothing:

I HATE MY LIFE.

NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME.

WHY, MERLIN, WHY?

I WISH I WERE NEVER BORN.

EVERYTHING SUCKS. A LOT.

ANGST ANGST ANGST, ETC.

RAGE, AND SO ON.

Whew, this really felt good. I bet if everyone ranted like this once a month, we'd have a lot less warfare on a global scale.

"Hey, Agatha!"

I started, glancing up from my Transfiguration homework to see none other than Ryan Fisher sliding into the seat across from mine. Summoning myself from my emotional crisis, I mustered as realistic a smile as I could before giving a tiny wave.

"'Lo, Ryan." I greeted half-heartedly, voice distant. "How's life?"

"Pretty good." Ryan nodded, stretching his (beautiful) mouth into a fleeting smile. It quickly faded, though, to be replaced by a grim expression that was a remarkable shift from his usual cheer. His hands, stretched on the table in front of him, were fidgeting. "Listen, Agatha, I need to talk to you."

I dropped my brow into a crumple of mild consternation, unable to imagine what Ryan could possibly want to discuss so seriously. Unless, of course, it was what everyone wanted to discuss with me these days. I gave a barely-audible sigh. Please don't be about Aidan, please don't be about Aidan, please don't be about Aidan...

"It's about Aidan."

Damn it.

"Yeah?" I asked innocently, glancing back down at my homework as I felt my stomach sink in trepidation.

"Yeah, Aggy," Ryan responded firmly, the pity already shining through his eyes. "I'm really sorry about what happened."

I pulled a wan smile, trying to show my friend appreciation for his concern but feeling unnerved all the same. I was sick of hearing that people were "sorry about what happened." I knew they were only being nice, but their apologies and fidgeting and obvious discomfort only served to make me feel worse. Plus, it forced me to respond with insincere gratitude, and then they had to respond with something else, and the interaction was just awkward for everyone involved.

But Ryan, it seemed, wasn't content with only formalities. He was already talking once more, his eyes growing stony with determination. "Look, I — I don't really k-know how to put this, but —" Ryan stuttered, wincing a little at the sound of his own voice. He was obviously anxious to get it — whatever it was — out, and yet had no clue how. "There's something else. To do with Aidan, I mean."

"Well in that case, just tell me, Ryan," I murmured distractedly, still staring at the papers in front of me. Refusing to look up at my friend, I dipped my quill into its inkpot and dotted a random 'i' on my essay. "Whatever it is, you can say it."

Ryan sighed, twisting his fingers together timidly. It was the first time I'd seen him nervous. In fact, it was the first time I'd seen him looking anything but affable and easygoing like the happy prefect he was. "Regarding Aidan's... er, accident, there's something you should know."

"Okay?"

"See," Ryan paused, sucking in a deep breath, and I suddenly realized how scared he looked, how serious this matter must be. "Aggy, it wasn't exactly an accident."

"What?"

Chapter 18: Electric
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"I really shouldn't be telling you this." Ryan stared pensively into the calm, glassy surface of the Black Lake, his face tight with worry. Shoulders slumping in sudden exasperation, he dragged an aggravated hand down his forehead. "Oh man, I really shouldn't be telling you this."

The two of us had left the Library (and Vulture Pince's laser glare) for a nicer, scenic walk around the Hogwarts Grounds.

The castle was too stuffy, too crowded, Ryan had said, and his next few words necessitated the utmost privacy. So we escaped to somewhere outside, far away from any possible eavesdroppers. Whatever it was that Ryan Really Shouldn't Be Telling Me But Was Going to Anyways, it was strictly confidential.

This whole time, Ryan was acting really strange. His shady behavior, in fact, was causing my imagination to run rampant. Part of me half-wondered if Ryan was about to bring up some alien conspiracy or, like, reveal that he was a surprisingly young-looking thirty-year-old spy working undercover for the government. Or maybe he'd had a run-in with the law, and was now fleeing Britain as an escaped convict and wanted me to come with him.

Actually, I rather liked that last idea. Running away with Ryan, I mean. We could start afresh, move to some rural, unpronounceable city in Mongolia and build new lives together. We'd live in the countryside. Maybe buy some small mud hut, learn the language, earn lucrative livelihoods as yak-herders. There was yak in Mongolia, right?

Yeah, that sounded pretty decent. Just me and Ryan and the Mongolian countryside. Like eloping together, except no romance.

And with yak.

"Just tell me, Ryan," I finally said, shaking my head to clear it of daydreams. I squinted at my friend's face, noting his pale, wobbly expression. "You're really starting to freak me out."

Ryan cracked an awkward smile, looking like he was finally about to say something. But then his mouth snapped closed once more and, with a frustrated sigh, he turned away.

For a moment we were both quiet, absorbed into our own thoughts as we stared into the Black Lake. From the looks of Ryan's crumpled frown and pursed lips, he could have been pondering the meaning of life, the existence of a benevolent god, the fragility of human connection, etc.

I, on the other hand, was thinking about how much money a yak-herder made per hour. Was there minimum wage in Mongolia?

The water was completely still, save for the occasional pink tentacle that popped above the surface and wiggled around as if to wave at us. It was strange, really — the Black Lake was never really black. It was more of a purplish color than anything, though I suppose Hogwarts couldn't very well change the name to the Purplish Lake. Didn't quite have the same ring to it.

"Okay, here goes," Ryan finally said, ruffling a hand through his hair, and I turned to him expectantly. "I'm just going to get it out with."

I nodded, prompting him with a hand to continue. "Go on."

Ryan wouldn't meet my eyes, restless grey gaze landing anywhere but on me. "You know how I said that Aidan's accident wasn't an accident?"

"Yeah," I said slowly, feeling a creeping sense of trepidation.

Ryan's mouth was a flat line. "Well, I meant it in the most literal sense possible." He paused, obviously struggling to gather the courage that would help him form his next words.

"What happened to Aidan," Ryan said firmly. "It was done on purpose. Someone made Aidan fall off his broom and caused him to slip in that coma."

You know how, in mystery novels and thrillers, authors usually write about a character's blood going cold in order to convey the proper sense of fear or shock that person's feeling? Well, it's not just a literary tactic. It's real. It happens.

And it was happening to me.

I stared at Ryan in horror, feeling as if glacial water was running through my veins. His words seemed to throb throughout the empty spaces of my head. Someone had caused the accident. Someone was at fault for this.

Someone had wanted Aidan to fall.


Ryan was looking at me, eyes brimming with concern as they traveled the length of my face. "I am so, so sorry Agatha. I wish it weren't true."

I had to take a moment to reattach my jaw to the rest of my face. "What did you just say?" I whispered, voice deathly quiet.

"It was Fallon Cooper." Now that the words were out in the open, Ryan seemed to have recovered his courage. He was looking at me with urgency in his frank gaze, hands coming up to grip my shoulders. "Agatha, it is so important that you know this. Fallon Cooper, Captain of our Quidditch team, made Aidan fall. He is the one responsible."

"Fallon Cooper? Evelyn Stanford's boyfriend?" I wasn't able to look at Ryan, instead gazing beyond his shoulder into the shadowy, hulking forms of the trees across the lake. My voice was a flat sound, lacking any sort of inflection at all. Ryan's presence — and for that matter, my own — felt so unreal. As if this whole conversation had been dreamed up, a work of my imagination, a scrap of silly make-believe. This wasn't happening. It couldn't be happening.

"Yes, Fallon Cooper," Ryan nodded bitterly, eyes dark, each syllable enunciated crisp and sharp. "When Aidan was looking for The Snitch, Cooper followed him to where he knew they'd be high enough for the clouds to hide them. And then he knocked your brother off his broom, Agatha, he hit Aidan in the head with his Beaters Bat and — "

"Stop," I gasped, stumbling backwards out of Ryan's grip. "Stop."

There followed a silence in which Ryan stared, guilty and pitying, and I shivered in the cold November wind. My skin flooded with goosebumps, and I was suddenly struck with the random, laughably irrelevant thought that I should have brought a sweater.

"I'm sorry," Ryan said once more. His grey eyes were sad and mournful. "I should have told you this sooner."

I shook my head, unable to form words or sentences or even thoughts. None of this could be true. None of this.

How? How could anyone do such a thing? What Ryan was telling me — it had to be some kind of sick joke. Who would possibly want to hurt my brother like that? Who would possibly want to hurt another human being like that?

Who would go so far for a stupid Quidditch game?

But deep inside, though I hated to admit it, there lived an answer in the darkest nooks of my brain. It grappled for attention, loud and nagging and refusing to be ignored.

A Slytherin. A Slytherin would.

And Fallon Cooper was the worst kind of Slytherin. I had seen the way he treated others, whether it be professors or first-years in his own House. Normally I steered clear of the bloke. I'd never interacted with him outside of the occasional awkward run-in when he was with Evelyn — but I knew his type. Cunning, slick, impervious to any kind of sentimentality or human empathy — he had seen his chance for glory whizzing across the sky, and he had taken it. He had shoved my brother to the ground.

Then again, I was in Slytherin and you never saw me running around, knocking people off their brooms wily-nily. I mean, no matter how much Potter made me doubt my moral opposition to homicide, I'd never actually hurt someone. Self-control, people.

But that didn't matter, because the Fallon Coopers and Tom Riddles and Bellatrix Lestranges of the world always gave us good Slytherins a bad name.

Honestly. This was going to be fantastic PR for the House. Now not only were we a bunch of muggle-hating Voldy supporters, but we were a bunch of muggle-hating Voldy supporters who liked to bash people's heads in with bats. Excellent. Welcome to the Slytherin House. Our motto? We're not murderers. We're just really misunderstood.

Sometimes I really wish I'd been sorted into Hufflepuff. Sure they were all daft and annoying, but at least none of them had ever tried to execute a genocide plot.

I jerked my head upwards to look at Ryan, mind clearing of any flimsy musings as I took in his serious expression and solemn eyes. Before I did anything rash, I needed to know: "Are you — are you sure?"

"Positive," Ryan said grimly. "Cooper was bragging about it in the locker rooms, saying he'd "won us the match.'" Ryan pulled a disgusted face. I appreciated his support, but it still wasn't enough to alleviate my growing nausea, or stop me from feeling like today's breakfast would soon make an encore. That second-helping of pancakes had been a really bad idea.

"Ryan," I began, growing sicker and sicker by the minute. "I have to go. I can't — I just — I can't right now."

And with that display of educated eloquence, I turned on my heel and began to make my way to the nearest castle entrance, huddling into myself in a effort to stay warm. I prayed Ryan wouldn't follow, knowing that me interacting with another person right now was out of the question. I needed solitude. I needed to be alone with my thoughts, needed to get to the privacy of my own room and reflect on what I'd heard — you know, do some journaling, meditate, smash all the windows in the dorm and set fire my bed or something.

"Hold on!" Ryan was hollering from behind me, and grimacing, I turned to meet his incredulous gaze.

Standing by the Lake, looking unsure and frightened, he seemed so young.

"That's — that's all you have to say?" he asked. "Nothing else?"

Impassive and stoic, I flicked my gaze away to the silhouette of the castle, tracing its dark, sharp lines and spikes. Hogwarts' lights blazed, hanging in the bright blue night like a thousand paper lanterns. Finally, I turned to face Ryan.

His eyes shone like quicksilver in the light.

"Yeah," I said. "Nothing else."

—*—

The next day was like any other.

Despite — or maybe because of — the fact that I felt like my brain was about to implode on itself, I threw myself into the endless flurry of routine. I went to class, ate my meals, chatted with Dom — all the while pretending as if nothing was wrong. It felt good to melt into the masses, to become just another student sitting through the minutes and hours of class, holding their breath for the weekend.

I was doing alright. I was getting through the day, just looking forward to when I could finally get back to the dorms and begin to process all of what I'd learned.

And then... I snapped.

Now, before you start getting mental pictures of me running down the halls naked and singing the national anthem, perhaps I should clarify. I didn't lose control of my mental faculties; I never, at any point, lapsed into a nervous breakdown. I remained fully aware and in control of my actions the whole day.

No, perhaps 'snapped' wasn't the best word for what happened. After all, seeing as I associate with crazy people (re: my friends) on a daily basis, I'd say I'm more than qualified to define what "snapping" is.

"Snapping" is Freddy Weasley in Third Year, after the Chudley Canons lost the World Cup to the Wasps in a spectacular defeat. Unable to grapple with this incredible blow to morale, Freddy had just sort of... gone berserk one day. As a coping mechanism, he had slipped into this delusional, alternate reality in which he convinced himself he was the grand leader of some country that nobody else — except for him — knew about.

Yeah, no lie. He called his kingdom Weasleyland and started going around school, screaming "Off with your head!" at random intervals, usually to no one in particular. He also started to "banish" people for strange arbitrary crimes, such as "not showing adequate support for the Canons," "wearing the color green" and — I quote — "being fugly."

Yeah, needless to say, it had gotten pretty serious. We had to stage an intervention before he started enslaving all the first-years.

So no, I did not snap. Not in the strict psychological sense of the word, at least. What I did, rather, could be described as me simply releasing all my repressed, pent-up emotions in a violent outburst. Yeah. Much better than snapping.

Dom and I had been wandering aimlessly through the castle when it happened.

We had tried to take a shortcut to the Commons but, despite having lived in this school for the past five years, somehow gotten lost. After an hour of navigating narrow detours and random passageways, we resigned ourselves to roaming the halls until someone could point us in the right direction. We didn't mind. We weren't missing any classes — we both had our free periods — so we took our own sweet time trying to find our way back.

We were walking together, chatting inanely (the Oh So Important Topic of the Day: Should Dom switch face creams? If she did switch face creams, what kind should she get? What if the new cream turned out to be defected and caused her to break into ugly, disfiguring purple boils? Did Dom have anything in her closet that went with purple? Should she buy some new clothes to match this hideous skin disease in case it occurred?), when all of a sudden, I saw him.

Fallon Cooper.

I stared, not believing my eyes. It seemed unreasonable to me that someone who had committed a crime like Cooper had could just... walk around freely, with such impunity.

There he was, loitering at the end of the corridor with two other Slytherin seventh-years who, as expected, had clustered around to give him their undivided attention, orbiting Cooper like a ring of arse-kissing planets. They seemed to be telling cruel, jeering jokes, laughing and nudging at each other. Occasionally, Cooper would turn away to boredly flick his wand and send a spark of light flying at the stone walls.

At the sight of him, all my blood rushed to my ears in a dull, brash roar. I felt something in my chest, hot and tight and coiled, spring free.

I snapped.

And then without really thinking, I was striding swiftly towards Cooper, my gait an awkward half-run, half-walk like the kind people do when they try to cross the street and the light's about to turn red. My hands were shaking, and I tried to steady them, tried to keep myself together, but I couldn't stop my quick steps or racing heartbeat.

Cooper, meanwhile, hadn't noticed me. He was laughing at something one of his cronies said, teeth gleaming, black hair slick and shiny in the November sunlight. I picked up my pace, shoes slapping against the marble floor, ignoring the tiny voice in my head telling me to turn back.

"Aggy? What are you doing?" Dom had abruptly stopped in her Purple Boils Rant. She stood dumbfounded, watching with mouth open as I charged ahead at one of the most popular boys at our school.

I had no plan, no idea what I would do once I reached Cooper — I was running on sole instinct alone. There was a feeling inside of my gut, an overwhelming, irrepressible force telling me: left right left right, one foot in front of the other.

I pushed past both of Cooper's little cronies, and then I was looking at him, staring straight at him. Simple as that — face to face. Slytherin to Slytherin. Puny Little Fifth Year Girl to Considerably Bigger Seventh Year Boy.

Surprise briefly flitted over Cooper's chiseled features — he was probably wondering who in Merlin's pink booty shorts I was, and how I had such nerve to approach him out-of-the-blue without soliciting his time first.

As if in slow-motion, I saw him open his mouth to say something. But I didn't let him finish.

No. Apparently, I had eaten an extra helping of stupid for breakfast that day, because all of a sudden I was reaching out and pushing Fallon — Fallon Cooper — into the wall behind him.

Cooper stumbled. Dom yelped. The cronies gasped.

"What did you do to my brother" I said, and I was quite surprised to hear that I wasn't, in fact, saying it at all. I was yelling. Loudly.

I pushed him again. "What the hell did you do to my brother?" It felt as if my blood was shuddering inside me, rioting against the skin of my body, foaming hot like oil. I was combusting into flames. I was going to kill him.

"Answer me! What did you do?" Before I knew it, I was taking out my wand — my hand acting on its own accord — and pressing it against the hollow of Cooper's neck. "Answer or so help me — "

"Agatha! Stop! What are you doing?" And suddenly Dom was pushing through the cronies, her hand settling on my left arm as she insistently tried to tug me away. Despite her hysteria, Cooper appeared calm and almost dignified, the surprise long gone from his face. His gaze was trained on me, thin lips stretched into a malevolent, ugly sneer.

"Agatha Bennett," he quipped lightly, as if this was an everyday occurrence. "Should have known I'd be seeing you around."

"What. Did. You. Do?"

When Ryan had told me the truth about Aidan, I hadn't reacted with anger. Shock, maybe, but not anger. Which wasn't normal or even remotely natural, because who wouldn't be angry if confronted with that kind of information? It was the logical thing to be.

But now... Now I knew where that missing anger had been: inside me all along, stewing in the pit of my stomach, waiting for the right moment to appear. It was like I had misplaced my anger and now, upon seeing Cooper with his stupid slick-backed hair and malicious sneer, I had found it again.

Boy, had I found it.

I wasn't just angry — I was livid. Furious. Seething.

...Which probably had something to do with that fact that Cooper was currently pressed into a wall with a wand at his throat.

One of the cronies lunged towards me, obviously no longer able to tolerate this sudden threat to his leader (as tiny and inexperienced in dueling as this threat might be). Eyes menacing, face red, this crony was roughly the size and shape of a refrigerator. He was so large, in fact, I'm pretty sure he had his own gravitational pull.

As if his sheer stature wasn't terrifying enough, even the bloke's face was scary to look at. With his brute features and furry brow, he looked like the type of guy who spent his free time strangling newborn puppies.

In other words, his hands were puppy-strangler hands. Puppy-strangler hands currently reaching out towards me.

...And this was when I realized that — maybe, just maybe — assaulting Hogwarts' Slytherin Underlord and his Crew of Puppy Stranglers in an abandoned hallway had not been the best of ideas.

"What's going on here?!"

The crony paused mid-charge, Cooper blinked, and Dom froze with wand already half out of pocket. Immediately, the lot of us all turned in the same, jerking motion to identify the source of the foreign voice.

Potter and Fred were heading towards us quickly, backs stiff and shoulders tight with alarm. Mid-walk, Potter was already slinging off his messenger back and dumping it to the floor, Fred rolling up his sleeves with his jaw clenched. They knew Cooper, knew what type of bloke he was, and no doubt seeing me and Dom in close proximity to him — not to mention intense, emotionally-charged proximity — was a sure cause for concern.

Despite knowing I'd just been saved from a Puppy Strangler demise, I couldn't help but internally groan. Of all the hallways in all the schools in all of Scotland, Freddy and Potter just had to choose this one...

"Fallon Cooper?" Fred was exclaiming, voice incredulous and edged with hostility. "Aggy, what are you doing? With him?"

Even without knowing what Cooper had done, Freddy wasn't exactly the Slytherin Quidditch Captain's Number One Fan. And maybe it was the scowl of unbridled disgust, or the murderous, 'I-want-to-kill-you-and-feed-each-of-your-organs-to-different-kinds-of-animals' glare, but his dislike was made somewhat obvious.

Cooper took one look at two-thirds of the Tweedle Trio and snorted, amusement dancing in his steel eyes. "Reinforcements of yours?"

He craned his neck — the only movement allowed by the point of my wand against his neck — and regarded the Puppy Strangler with a benevolent, unbothered smile. "It's alright, Goyle. You can stand down. I'd like to see where this goes."

Expression much the same as when he'd been about to attack me, the Puppy Strangler fell back, cracking his knuckles menacingly. Next to me, Dom gulped.

"What's going on here?" Freddy repeated once more, slightly out of breath as he reached us. He sidled up to my side, Potter standing silent and stoic behind him.

"Oh, nothing." Cooper waved his hand airily, voice casual, as if there wasn't a wand currently being held to his throat. "Agatha and I were just having a little chat." My grip tightened on my wand. "See, I was telling her all about the importance of Quidditch safety." He leveled his gaze on me, dark eyes gleaming, lips stretched into a frightening smile. "I'm sure we can both agree your brother could stand to learn a few things, don't we? For one, he should really be more careful when — "

But he was cut off when, in a flash of confusion and noise, three things happened in very quick succession:

1. My wand fell to the floor, the clattering noise echoing through the hallway. I drew my hand back, ready to lash out —

2. But was quite literally beaten to the punch by Dom, who, despite having remained calm up until this point, must have lost it at the mention of Aidan. A half-scream, half-growl ripping from her throat, she suddenly launched herself at Cooper, throwing me backwards as she did so.

3. Before my best friend could reach her target, however, Goyle was stepping forward and — reflexes lightning fast — had slashed his wand in a wordless hex that sent my bestfriend flying into the nearest wall.

A sickening noise, not quite a crack and not quite a thud, reverberated off the stone walls. All I could register was Dom's suddenly slack form crumpling to the ground, head lolling to the side, before my vision clouded in a furious blur of red. I lost sight of everything as suddenly, this huge wave of I-don't-know-what washed over me. It was rage. It was murderous.

And then my vision suddenly cleared, and I could see everything unfolding before my eyes — Freddy lunging at Goyle, Dom curling into a ball and holding her head, Cooper smirking — but I couldn't hear a thing. It was as if all sound had been sucked from the air.

First my vision, then my hearing — my anger was causing me to lose my senses one by one. I could see Freddy's mouth dropping open, lips forming soundless shapes (which were no doubt a series of creative cuss words), but I couldn't hear his voice. I couldn't hear Cooper's dark chuckle, or Dom's surprised yelp of pain. It had all been muted. The only noise remaining was my heartbeat, loud and sharp and ringing in my ears.

Cooper and I locked gazes, and before I knew it, I was charging towards him, not even caring that he was withdrawing his wand as I did so. All I could feel was the anger churning inside me, sparking every nerve, tightening my chest with fiery, blazing bloodlust. It rendered me breathless.

But before I could reach Cooper, I was suddenly thrown backwards by some unseen force which, upon further revelation, turned out to be Potter, who had flung out his arm in my path and basically clotheslined me in the chest, causing me to go reeling backwards.

I stumbled, the breath gone from my lungs, and watched speechlessly as Potter took his own wand out and sent a beam of something blue and shimmery at Cooper. Cooper deflected it with a flick of his wrist, eyes narrowed in concentration, lips curled triumphantly.

No. I'd be damned if I was going to let Potter have all the fun. Cooper was mine.

Gritting my teeth, I hurtled towards Potter, pushing him out of the way without a word of explanation.

He stumbled backwards, jaw dropping open in silent protest, and a jet of purple light streamed from his wand to ricochet off the wall. It zinged back at an odd angle and narrowly missed Freddy, who had his wand out and was flicking spells at Goyle and the other crony.

Goyle, face sweaty with seemingly arduous concentration, shot back a yellow jinx at Potter, and all of a sudden they were embroiled in a duel. Cooper turned his head to watch, and I took his momentary distraction as the perfect opportunity to hurl myself into him.

We landed on the floor with a heavy thud, Cooper sprawled across the stone and completely caught off guard. I was working on primal instinct only, my wand forgotten on the floor. Magic required thought, concentration, skill — none of which I had at the moment. No. Physical violence was the way to go. Already I was reaching out by pure instinct, clawed fingers scratching and tearing at anything I could get my hands on.

With a howl of pain, Cooper, sneer finally wiped off his face, reached out to block my blows but then, when that proved unsuccessful, wrapped his hands around my neck.

I'd never been deprived so unpleasantly and so suddenly of oxygen before. Finally accustomed to my weight, Cooper had been able to lift his torso slightly off the ground, keeping me at an arm's length as his fingers curled over my throat.

Gasping for air, my arms reached helplessly towards Cooper's face in an effort to do something — anything to stop him from choking me — but I could only graze his nose.

For a split-second, I was clawing frantically at his arms, not knowing what to do, writhing around like an addict deprived of a favorite drug. And then, without even really meaning to, I jerked my leg upwards and kneed Cooper in his groin.

Hard.

He groaned — a sound I didn't hear due to my heartbeat thudding in my ears like a perpetual drum solo — and, eyes glazing over, released his boa-constrictor grip on my neck.

Oxygen — sweet, blissful oxygen — poured into my lungs. I coughed, eyes tearing up, ready to resume my attack when all of a sudden, I was viciously yanked backwards by none-other-than Potter.

He had his arms around my waist and was swinging me off Cooper like a sack of potatoes. For a moment I was in the air, squawking in protest, and then Potter was setting me down on my feet a safe distance away from motionless Cooper.

I went stumbling backwards, equilibrium upset by this sudden change in position. I barely had time to right myself when Potter's hands were wrapping themselves around my shoulders as he advanced angrily forward and, with considerable strength, pushed me into the nearest wall.

"Are you crazy?" He was saying, all up in my face, expression livid. All the noise that had been muted came suddenly rushing into my ears. I could hear Cooper cursing on the floor and Dom stumbling to a stand to join Fred in his duel against the other Slytherins. It was chaos. Loud, uncontrollable chaos.

"Let go — of me — " I bit out, wiggling against Potter's grip. It was no use, however; he had me totally pinned.

"Bloody hell I'll let go of you!' Potter snarled, eyes flashing a million shades of gold. He looked furious. "You'll get yourself killed! What were you thinking, going against Cooper like that?"

"You're not my bodyguard, Potter!"

"Well have you considered getting one, seeing as you're obviously insane?!"

"Let go of me!

"No effing way — Ow! Fuck! Bloody — Bennett!" Despite the swift kick in the shin I'd just delivered Potter, he stayed admirably composed, his hold still on my shoulders, teeth gritting together in pain.

Glaring, I raised my knee again — ready to give Potter a little taste of the medicine I'd just doled out to Cooper — but he was two steps ahead of me. With reflexes that could only be cultivated from years of Quidditch, Potter let go of one of my shoulders to grab my thigh, holding it in mid-air between us.

A look of surprise flitted over my face, but I quickly replaced it with a withering glare.

"Honestly, Bennett," Potter drawled sardonically, obviously unimpressed by my antics. "If you want to touch me there, all you have to do is ask."

Heat flooded my face. I tried to ignore the proximity of our noses, the sensation of his fingers burning against my bare leg, and bared my teeth in what I hoped was a menacing manner. "Go to hell." I spat, reaching out with my newly-freed arm to shove Potter away.

Conceding me this small, surprising victory, Potter stepped backwards with ease, hands held up in wry defense. I directed a withering glare at him and began to push forward, ready to kick Cooper while he was down (and I mean literally kick Cooper repeatedly in the stomach while he was still on the ground and I had the chance). But before I could get any further, Potter reached out once more and suddenly had me by the wrist.

I jerked to a stop, turning in consternation.

"Wait," Potter warned.

"What?" I snapped. I was impatient to go help Freddy and Dom fight, though not before I subjected Cooper to a good ol' fashioned Bat Bogey Hex.

Potter simply looked at me, hazel eyes imploring. "Don't, Bennett. He's not worth it."

We stared at each other, held in this position by some invisible energy crackling in the air between us, something that I couldn't exactly describe or identify. It was fast and sharp like a whip, making my stomach clench.

Potter let go of my wrist — a mistake on his part, really, because as soon as he released me, I set off for Cooper, who was now stirring and groaning on the ground before me. I was going to kill that sodding prick.

Potter apparently foresaw this, however, because with a flick of his wand and a hasty "Protego!" he had sent an icy blue shield to bloom across the room.

I stumbled back, pushed by the sheer energy of the magic produced, unable to cross the blue enchantment before me. Freddy and Dom, who had gone flying apart from their crony counterparts at the spell, landed in an assortment of surprised 'oof's and 'ow's by my feet.

I looked up. There was now a shimmery force-field dividing the hall — Potter, Dom, Fred and I on one side, the rest on the other. Nobody could cross now.

"Bloody hell," Fred groaned, thoroughly stupefied. He clambered to a stand while Dom cursed next to him in the background, on the ground for the second time that day. "What was that?"

"I told you," Potter bit out evenly to me. "It's not worth it."

"Yeah, listen to him, Agatha," a voice was saying, and I turned my head to see Cooper wobbling to a stand from his position on the floor, swaying back and forth as he approached us, his image slightly colored by the blue film slicing the hallway in two.

"I'm not worth it," he sing-songed, mouth twisted into something resembling a smile. He was bleeding above his right eyebrow. "Better safe than sorry. You wouldn't want to end up in the Hospital Wing just like your brother, now would you?"

"What's he on about?" Dom grumbled, but Fred shushed her, his wary green gaze intently fixed on Cooper.

I jerked towards the Slytherin, but I couldn't reach him through the shield between us. Even so, Potter calmly grabbed my shoulder to restrain me. "Watch your mouth, Cooper," he said calmly, as if he was asking someone to pass the butter.

Cooper merely leered, drawing his wand from his pocket and aiming it unsteadily at me, squinting a little as he did so. "I'm afraid you really shouldn't have done that, Agatha. Because now — well, now we have a debt to settle. You owe me something." His gaze, I hated to admit, was kind of frightening. I felt a chill zip down my spine as I cocked my head to the side, holding my stance.

"What do I owe you, exactly?" I snorted with as much nonchalance as I could muster. "Your manhood, your dignity? Your ability to conceive children?"

"No," Cooper growled, advancing towards the blue shield. "Your pain."

Potter let go of my shoulder, stepping quickly in between Cooper and me so that his broad shoulders completely obscured me from my view. "Not a good idea, Cooper."

The Slytherin merely laughed — a cold, burning sound. "That's fine. Hide behind your shield charms and your friends now. You're forgetting we go to the same school, Agatha, and I can find you no anywhere."

"Touch her, and you'll wish you'd never been born," Potter replied, voice eerily quiet, before adding as an afterthought: “Just like anyone else who's ever had the misfortune of meeting you."

"Hilarious," Cooper snarled. I stepped out from Potter to lock my angered gaze on the git, taking in his rumpled gelled hair and worse-for-wear form.
"You know, I always heard about how witty you are, Potter," Cooper continued, face a nasty sneer. "I guess the rumors are true. James Potter truly is too clever for his own House. A shame you hang around those Gryffindor oafs — now, if you excuse me."

Cooper made to advance towards me, but Potter held his ground.

"I'm pretty sure you don't want to do that," he said coolly, eyes narrowed. Cooper glowered in response.

I gaped, glare alternating between an irritated Cooper and a darkly furious Potter. A sense of indignant irritation was swelling inside my chest, stoked by the thought that Potter was acting like he could just waltz in and "rescue" me as if I were some helpless damsel in distress.

Over my dead body.

"As much as I appreciate the thought," I said dryly from where I stood, shunted to the side. I crossed my arms in a clear gesture of defiance. "I don't need you to fight my battles for me, Potter."

"Oh, Merlin," Fred groaned quietly in the background, at the same time Dom — the eye-roll practically audible in her voice — muttered: "Of bloody course."

Potter turned, shooting me a warning glare that plainly said, "Shut up, I'm trying to help you for once."

And I responded with a look of my own, saying, "You're an idiot! Get out of my way!"

Even when we were on the same side, Potter and I still found a way to bicker with each other, even if it had to be telepathically. Go figure.

"Hear that?" Cooper practically screeched, voice mocking and filled with delight. "The girl doesn't need you, Potter. So how about we step aside and save the heroics for the Quidditch Pitch?"

But Potter was refusing to budge. "Leave, Cooper." Potter turned away from me to frankly lock gazes with the boy in front of him, voice firm and authoritative. "And take your friends with you."

There was a beat of silence. Cooper and Potter seemed to be mired in a strange showdown, some sort of wordless, macho language beaming between them. The air shivered in tense anticipation, and I looked between the two, on edge.

And then, much to my amazement, Cooper surrendered. With a whistle, he summoned the other two Slytherins, who had been watching this whole spectacle with folded arms and glowering faces.

"Fine." He shrugged, stepping backwards with ease. His face glowed eerily in the wavering blue light. "Suit yourself. Just remember to watch your backs."

I gave an incredulous "Ha!" of disbelief, unable to help myself. "Yeah right," I burst, leaning forward menacingly. "Like we're going to let you get away with anything. I'm telling Vespertine what you did. Not just here but to Aidan, too."

Cooper smiled, baring a row of shiny white teeth. "And how do you think that will play out, Agatha? It's my word against yours. Who do you think they're going to believe? The crazy sister distressed with grief or the upstanding Quidditch captain? After all, I can be awfully convincing when I want to." His voice was soft and taunting, each word digging under my skin like a tiny needle.

"I have a source." I insisted, ignoring Potter's confused gaze. "He can vouch for me."

"And whoever 'he' is, I'll make his life a living hell. Do you really want that, Agatha?"

I thought of Ryan, who had seemed so worried and concerned about me. Ryan, who was so sweet and kind and considerate.

And for once in my life, I stayed quiet.

Cooper scoffed, face glowing with triumph. "I didn't think so." Without another word to me or Potter, he turned swiftly to his cronies. "Goyle! Murray!"

Like a pair of trained dogs, the Slytherins scurried to Cooper's side, shooting a bemused Fred and Dom nasty glares as they did so. Cooper turned to me, his grey eyes glittering. "I'll be seeing you around, Agatha."

I half-expected him to throw his head back and give an evil cackle, but he simply walked away instead, Goyle and Murray trailing close behind.

And then they were gone.

There was a long moment of silence.

"What in the name of Merlin's left nut was that all about?" Freddy cried, apparently no longer willing to just stand by and watch patiently. He stepped forward, his expression emphatic and demanding answers.

"Yeah," Dom said as she scrambled to a stand, rubbing her head and wincing as she did so. "Tell us, Aggy. And don't you dare leave anything out. We want the whole story."

Turning to Dom, I suddenly remembered that none of my friends had any idea what Cooper had done to Aidan. They had simply jumped to my defense against the other Slytherins, not even asking for a reason.

I suddenly felt a warm feeling spread through my chest, as if I had just drunk a whole gallon of Butterbeer. I looked from Fred to Dom to Potter, my mouth open but no sound coming out. I almost felt like crying.

"Explain," Potter said.

And so I did.

Huddled in a circle around me, they listened as I told them everything. Starting from Ryan's confession to seeing Cooper in the hallway, it all came pouring out like water from a broken damn.

When I finally finished, we stewed in silence for a while, absorbing the full reality of the situation.
"Blimey, Aggy," Fred mumbled, gobsmacked as his eyes widened with realization. "This is so surreal."

"I know," I said, shooting a wary glance at Potter. He was standing with his shoulders tightened stiffly, his mouth pressed into a thin, inscrutable line, and his gaze dark. I was wary of Potter's reaction — knowing his temper, it would be rash and even dangerous.

Dom's face furrowed into a painful-looking frown as she cocked her hip to the side, voicing the one question that had been running through all our heads: "So what should we do?"

"We tell Vespertine, of course." I said firmly, not even considering any other options.

"No," Potter finally spoke, swiftly shaking his head. "We can't. She won't believe us."

I grimaced.

Even though I hated to admit it, I knew Potter's words held a grain of truth. Vespertine would think we were insane if we told her the true story, and Cooper would be able to laugh off any accusations we threw at him. According to Magical Law, a Headmaster or Headmistress of Hogwarts wasn't allowed to administer Veritaserum to a student, so truth-telling serum was out of the question. And without any concrete evidence from us... Well, it was pointless, really.

I mean, there was always Ryan to vouch for us. But I knew that as soon as I brought him into this, his life could be in danger as well. Not to sound overly-dramatic, but Cooper probably had his ways of keeping people quiet. Whether it be from force or manipulation... Who knew? And, when it came down to it, who really cared? Cooper was Cooper. He would do anything to have his way, and I refused to put Ryan at risk for me. He didn't deserve that.

Freddy spoke quietly, startling me out of my thoughts, "James is right, Aggy. This calls for something else."

My gaze flitted from Fred to Potter and then back to Fred again. I could sense an idea growing between the two, an idea that had their brows darkening and their eyes glinting.

"Like what?" Dom arched an eyebrow, face quizzical.

Potter's gaze gleamed wickedly, the sides his lips quirking upwards. I could practically see all the cogs shifting in that calculating brain of his. Before he opened his mouth, I already knew what he was going to say:

"Like revenge."


Chapter 19: Cramped
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Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. I also do not own Pantene, Teletubbies, James Bond, Mission Impossible, Herbal Essences, the Mafia... Or anything else that I've missed, for a matter of fact.


TOP TEN REASONS WHY I AM IN A BAD/GRUMPY/SOMEWHAT HOMICIDAL MOOD TODAY:

1. Professor Nott had made it his mission to bury me alive under my own personal Mt. Everest of extra coursework, assignments and readings. This may or may not be due to the fact that he'd heard me (not so) quietly refer to him as Professor Douchepants under my breath the other day. Oops.

2. Dom had another one of her nightmares last night and, after waking up from all the noise she was making, I felt too anxious to fall back asleep. Thus I got about four hours of sleep, and now my face showed just how exhausted I was. I looked as bad as a zombie — no, actually, I was past that point. I looked like... like whatever you got when you killed a zombie and brought that back to life. Yeah. Horrid.

3. Pipsqueak the House-elf had taken a special liking to me and now refused to leave me alone. Whether it's leaving little baked goods on my pillow, or popping up at random, inopportune moments in time whenever I was trying to study, the bugger had been forging new frontiers in the name of creepydom everywhere. He was obsessed. I half-expected him to start writing a biography about me. Agatha Bennett: The Sad Story of A Young Girl's Descent into Madness. Nice ring to it.

4. Fred and I had been assigned to work together on a Charms project and, because of his chronic laziness and refusal to work, we still hadn't gotten anything done. The first time I suggested we get started, Fred had waved me aside and muttered some lame excuse involving the words 'pet squirrel' and 'bubble bath.' The second time I mentioned it, he responded with an irrelevant comment about the length (or rather, lack thereof) of Hufflepuff Missy O’Mara’s skirt that day. The third and last time I tried asking, Fred simply looked me dead in the eyes and started to laugh.

5. I had a zit on my forehead that was currently the size of Potter's ego.

6. Ryan had started to notice that I'd been avoiding him. I felt really bad about the cold shoulder, but after what he'd told me, I just hadn't been able to look him in the eye. It was safer that we maintained our distance, anyway, given that Cooper was still walking free. Though this knowledge didn't make any of Ryan's curious, somewhat wounded glances in my direction easier to tolerate.

7. In a sort of half-hearted compromise among the group, we gave Rufus the Gerbil to Pipsqueak as a pet to take care of. Not only had this increased Pipsqueak's adoration for me, but now Fred wouldn't stop complaining about missing his 'baby.' He was being so melodramatic, it was like he didn't realize this 'baby' of his was a glorified hamster-rodent living only a couple floors away in the Kitchens.

8. Dom, Potter and Fred would not stop badgering me to visit Aidan. And every time I refused, they would just give each other these 'looks' that were supposed to be meaningful and discreet but only managed to really bloody annoy me.

9. No matter how much I tried to squash it down, I could still feel It, rising in my stomach and clenching at my throat whenever I thought of Aidan and the accident. I couldn't escape. It was always there, wherever I went, like a second skin that wouldn't peel off. Sometimes, when I'd be busy doing homework or talking to Dom, I could swear it was gone. But then my distraction would leave and It would come back again, stronger than ever before.

10. And last, but certainly not least: the kicker. The worst of it all. The pièce de résistance...

Something had happened. Something that I thought would never, not in a million years, occur. Something that topped flying pigs and frozen infernos:

I'd started to feel bad for Evelyn Stanford.

Here's why:

—*—

Our plan to destroy Fallon Cooper started out easily enough.

The first step, according to Potter, was to go around and dig for dirt on Cooper — secrets, weaknesses, anything that could possibly be used against him. Now, I wasn't normally one for rumors or gossip. I could honestly care less about the who's-with-who and the who's-doing-what of Hogwarts. I found it all pointless at best, malicious at worst — so it was hard for me to take Potter's request seriously.

Dom, on the other hand, had immediately launched into Full Gossip Mode. And believe me, when my best friend was on the hunt for information, nothing could be kept from her — she left no stone unturned, no illicit affair untold, no incriminating WizBook photo unsaved. She investigated all.

I really had no idea how she did it. Her mind was a reservoir for any scrap of emotional blackmail or sordid tale concerning the Hogwarts population. She was like Nancy Drew, if Nancy Drew was horribly invasive and knew every private detail of your family's medical history.

And sure enough, after only a few days of research, Dom had found something. Or rather, someone.

His name was Bertram Kinley, and he was a first-year Hufflepuff. He was also the younger brother of Caroline Kinley, one of our dormmates and, more importantly, Evelyn's "bestfriend" — if your personal definition of "bestfriend" stretched to include minion, sycophantic puppet and human embodiment of an echo. All Caroline ever did was follow Evelyn around, nod at everything she said, and occasionally rub her two sole brain-cells together to produce enough spark to say something along the lines of, 'Evelyn, you are so right,' or 'Is there such thing as zero-calorie hairspray?'

Not very bright, that girl.

Anyway — somehow, through means which I knew not, Dom had managed to get her hands on a note between Bertram and one of his fellow first-years. In the note, Bertram explicitly mentioned that his sister had embarked on a secret relationship with Fallon Cooper; the two had been seeing each other since the end of the summer. Bertram knew this because he'd witnessed the tryst live and in action over the holidays, having had the spectacular misfortune of walking in on the two fooling around in his parent's guest bedroom.

This was an incredible betrayal, of course, given the fact that Evelyn was dating Cooper and had been since her third-year. The couple was practically a Hogwarts institution. Never in my life would I have thought Caroline capable of betraying her friend like this (then again, never in my life would I have thought Caroline capable of reciting the alphabet). This shocking piece of information, of course, warranted immediate action. We needed to talk to Bertram face to face, extract further details and perhaps something we could use against Cooper.

So, employing a combination of feminine wiles and old Honeydukes candy, Dom lured Bertram into an empty hallway, kidnapped him, and then locked the poor boy in a classroom for a two-hour long interrogation.

Yeah. I am not even kidding.

To be honest, if the idea behind it hadn't been so bloody insane, I would have considered the whole ordeal to be impressive. I mean, full-scale abduction was a big deal. Just by pulling it off, Dom managed to break about 37 Hogwarts rules (and also, I'm pretty certain, quite a few federal laws). The girl was scarily devoted to the cause.

Anyway, once we got Bertram in the room with us, the interrogation quickly deteriorated. Dom had really committed to her role of aggressive inquisitor, it seemed, having even brought along a muggle lamp to shine into Bertram's eyes as she pummeled him with questions. To top it off, she had somehow coerced me into playing good cop to her unbelievably frightening bad cop.

Our "interrogation" went a little like this:

Dom: (In a really, really bad Mafia accent to Bertram) Look-y here, you smug sonuvabitch. I'm gonna say this one time, and a-one time only: if you don't co-operate with us, we're gonna make your life a living hell.

Me: Dom, don't you think that's being a little... (vague hand gestures to indicate she should tone it down), you know?

Dom: Point taken. Let me start over.

(Bertram and I sigh in relief.)

Dom: Look-y here, you smug son of a bitch. I'm gonna say this two times, and two times only: if you don't co-operate with us, we're not just gonna make your life a living hell. No. Hell will look like a five-star beach resort compared to what's going to happen to you.

Me: Dude, I meant be less harsh, not more!

Dom: (Ignoring me completely) By the time we're finished with you, Bertram, you'll be in so much pain, you won't even know who you are.

Bertram: (Terrified) P-please d-don't hurt me! I-I'll do a-anything!

Dom: (After a dramatic pause) Aggy, do you know what I hate the most? Out of everything in the universe?

Me: (Inching towards the exit) Uh... I don't know?

Dom: What I hate the most in the world, what I loathe with every fiber of my being... are snot-nosed, punk-faced bitchweiners.

Me: Dear Merlin.

Dom: (Shooting a menacing glare at Bertram) And I believe that you, sir, are a bitchweiner.

Bertram: (Close to tears) N-no! I'm not, I swear! Please don't hurt me!

Dom: Do you know what I do to bitchweiners like yourself, huh? HUH, BERTRAM? I eat them for breakfast. I eat them for tea. I eat them for supper. Hell, I even eat them for a midnight snack.

Me: Lord help us all.

Dom: That's right. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Bertram: I-I'll give you a-anything you want, just please don't eat me! I-I'll co-operate, I swear!

Dom: You better! Because if you don't... Do you know what I'll do to you, Bertram? First, I'll build a box. Then, I'll shove you in that box. Then I'll ship the box to India and back. Then I'll go to the local supermarket and buy myself a big, sharp butcher's knife. Then I'll open that box... (Dramatic pause) And punch you in the face.

(Bertram bursts into tears.)

Me: Dom! Look what you've done! Shit! Please don't cry, Bertram! She didn't mean it like that! Dom just... er has a very weird sense of humor! Yeah, that's it! You have a weird sense of humor, don't you, Dom?

Dom: (Staring at Bertram) That's right, you little baby. Cry those bitchweiner tears. That's nothing compared to the Viagra Falls —

Me: Niagra.

Dom: — Niagra Falls you'll be sobbing when we're done with you.

Me: Okay, this is ridiculous. I'm done here.

Dom: (momentarily breaking out of the bad Mafia accent) Wait! Where are you going?

Me: I can't go on with this. I can't be your accomplice anymore! This is sick!

Dom: But who's gonna be my good cop?

And so on.

After I refused to participate, Dom continued on with her good-cop-bad-cop routine, only this time playing both parts by herself. Her schizophrenic act managed to scare Bertram even more and, quite frankly, frighten me as well.

Eventually, after thirty minutes, sixteen very colourful threats, and an uncountable amount of tears from Bertram, we finally got the information we needed.

According to Bertram, Cooper and Caroline could be found every Friday at two o'clock in the afternoon, hooking up in the library near the auto-biography section.

This was, of course, a travesty in my opinion. The library was a sacred place for learning and knowledge, not teenage trysts behind bookshelves!

The others didn't seem to care about Cooper and Caroline's meeting place of choice, however. Once Freddy got over the initial shock of there being a library at our school, he (and Dom and Potter) just kind of shrugged it off.

Anyway, despite my blatant disapproval, the information could still be very useful. Because once Evelyn found out about the little escapades happening between her bestfriend and her boyfriend... Well, Cooper would be done for. Evilyn would make sure of it.

Equipped with this helpful tidbit of gossip, our group carefully devised a fool-proof plan — fool-proof to the point of being Freddy-proof, in fact.

Pretending to be Cooper, Dom forged a note to Evelyn instructing her to be at the library that Friday at two o'clock under the pretense of meeting for a chat.

There, if everything went according to plan, Evelyn would bump into Cooper and Caroline and hopefully catch them in the act. After that... Well, we could leave the rest up to Evelyn and her violent, bitchtastic ways.

Friday morning came, and we thought the matter had been settled perfectly. Cooper would get his comeuppance, and we would soon enough get our vicarious revenge via a proxy-Evelyn.

But as with all things, our plan had some unexpected consequences.

That afternoon, Freddy and I were walking to Transfiguration class and wondering whether the plan had been carried out successfully yet, when all of a sudden we heard a great commotion near the Entrance Hall.

Curious, Freddy insisted on dragging me to see what all the ruckus was about. With jostling elbows and some annoyed cursing, we struggled our way through the crowded corridor to the center of the noise — only to be met with the sight of Cooper, Caroline Kinley and Evelyn surrounded by a crowd of gaping onlookers.

Evelyn had her hands balled into fists, her chest heaving up and down raggedly. Cooper was standing with his arm wrapped — blatantly — around Caroline's shoulders, a slimy smirk on his face.

I blanched, screwing up my eyes and then opening them once more just to make sure the content expression on Cooper's face was, indeed, what I was seeing and not some horrible mirage. How could Cooper be... happy right now?

Evelyn, on the other hand, looked the very opposite of content. She was screeching at her (ex?)-boyfriend and (ex?)-best friend in front of her, eyes bright and livid, expression fit to murder. From the looks of things, she'd obviously found out about the affair.

"FINE, SEE IF I CARE!" she bellowed, and I was pretty sure I heard the discreet 'pop' of the sound barrier breaking at the sheer volume of her voice. “I DON'T NEED YOU TWO!"

Caroline and Cooper exchanged knowing, smiling looks — unashamed and seemingly invulnerable to her every word. Cooper didn't look worried that his first girlfriend had caught him with his second girlfriend. Standing there with his shoulders thrust back, chin tilted cockily, he almost seemed to be enjoying himself.

It was like watching a scene from a parallel universe, a grotesque and twisted imitation of reality. Instead of throwing himself across the floor and begging for Evelyn's forgiveness like he was supposed to, Cooper simply appeared cool and comfortable and unperturbed. Caroline, meanwhile, stood haughtily by his side, clearly his replacement for Evelyn, a happy version 2.0.

"It was about time you found out, love," Cooper said, voice coated in false sympathy. "I'm sorry, but you've been holding me back. In Caroline I've found a better fit, a better life." He paused and, if I had previously held any doubts that Cooper was the devil incarnate, they were quickly erased with his next three words. "A better you."

The crowd made a collective noise, similar to the one sports spectators make when they watch an athlete get hit. Face blank with shock, Evelyn opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it once more. Her brows were slanted at scary angles over her eyes, her lower lip trembling.

Desperation scrawled across her face, she seemed naked and lost as, before everyone's eyes, her role as half of Hogwarts Most Infamous Couple was snatched away.

"I'm never speaking to either of you again," she said quietly, furiously, and if it was her dignity or her social capital in shambles at her feet, I couldn't tell.

Without another word, she wheeled around and began to stalk off, hair swishing all over the place in a Pantene-esque bounce. Cooper, his arm still wrapped around a smug Caroline, scoffed audibly.

"Good luck with that, love," he called, voice dripping with superiority, and Caroline simpered in agreement. "We're all you have, and you know it."

Evelyn stopped dead in her tracks.

Her back was turned to Cooper and Caroline, but I could see the look of veritable terror that flitted over her face. It was at that moment when I — along with everyone else in the hallway — came to the realization that Queen Bee Evelyn had been officially dethroned.

Mouth quivering in an awful manner, Evelyn tossed her head once more and stalked off, leaving a victorious Cooper and a satisfied Caroline in her wake.

Typical Evelyn. Even when being publicly humiliated by her bestfriend and boyfriend, she still went out with a bang — or, in this case, a damn good hair-flip.

Released from Evelyn's presence, the crowd was free to turn in on itself, Hogwarts' very own Greek Chorus humming with their whispered thoughts, their gleeful conjectures. No one could believe what had happened, including myself.

"Did you see that?"

"How could they just do this to her?

"How could they not? Evelyn was such a bitch. Go Team Caroline!"

"Nah, Team Evelyn all the way! She's fit as hell, son."

Freddy and I shared a glance, the same sentiment floating through both our brains: ruh-roh. According to the plan, Cooper was supposed to have taken the plunge down the school's social ladder — not his ex-girlfriend. How had Evelyn been the victim in this situation? How had Cooper slimed his way out of this one?

I was suddenly struck with the memory of Evelyn's face when I had bumped into her at the therapist's office — the surprise, the vulnerability, even the faint twinge of embarrassment in her gaze...

A pang of guilt zinged through me, fast and hot like a repentant meteor. Okay, yeah, I didn't like Evelyn — in fact, I bloody loathed her. But did she really deserve being turned into collateral damage?

Did she deserve the public humiliation, the betrayal from both her best friend and her boyfriend?

"Shit," Fred said, and all I could do was nod in agreement.

"Well said, Freddy," I murmured softly, my gaze lingering on the spot where Evelyn had previously stood. Of all the things that girl had made me feel over the course of our stay at Hogwarts— anger, hurt, hatred — guilt had never been one of them.

Until now.

—*—

"This is not good."

The four of us were hanging out in the Gryffindor Common Room, Potter, Fred and Dom lounging across various pieces of cushy furniture while I stood in front of the fireplace. Well, "stood" wasn't exactly the right word for it. "Furiously paced" was more like it. I was walking back and forth so fast, I wouldn't be surprised if the sheer friction of my movement had burned a hole in the already-worn carpet.

"This is not good," I said once more, voice louder and considerably more anxious. "Not good. Not good at all."

A derisive snort came from one of the maroon sofas nearby, and I stopped my pacing to see Potter, arms crossed and expression unimpressed, leaning back like we were on some sort of bloody Mediterranean cruise ship.

"Merlin, Bennett," he scoffed imperiously. "Aren't you observant today?"

Maybe it was Potter's supercilious tone, maybe it was his languid posture, but I felt irritation suddenly shudder to life inside my chest. After all, we were in crisis mode right now, and he was making sarcastic remarks and smirking about nothing and just being a general annoyance! Was a little bit of civil co-operation too much to ask?

Abandoning my restless pacing, I whipped around and shot Potter a glare that would make McGonagall tremble in her boots. "And aren't you exceedingly unhelpful today?" I hissed, causing Potter to shrug cockily.

"Hey, I'm just happy to be here."

"You are contributing nothing. Nobody thinks you're funny, not even Dom — "

"Oi! Don't drag me into this!"

"— so why don't you just crawl back into whatever noxious, lava-spewing hole you came out of?

"Oh, my achy-breaky heart. Bennett, you're killing me."

"I'll show you an 'achy breaky' nose, you stupid, inconsiderate — "

"Okay, okay!" Fred announced loudly, holding his hands up from where he was sitting in a plum-colored armchair. "How about we all calm down for a second? Can we do that, please?"

I clenched my jaw, teeth grinding to enamel dust as I shot Potter one last withering glare.

Every nerve in my body was incensed, anger sweeping through me in hot, nauseating waves. I was getting way too worked up over some tiny bout of bickering, but I couldn't care less. Being angry at Potter felt good.

It felt more than good, in fact. It felt bloody fantastic. For the past few days, everything had been so weird, so topsy-turvy... Arguing with Potter was a relief from that, a way to pound out all the stress currently churning inside my body.

For a heated moment, Potter and I regarded each other with narrowed eyes. The fire crackled and popped nearby, throwing a warm glow across his face that illuminated every obnoxiously handsome feature. His eyes were burning with dark amusement, one eyebrow quirked into his mess of dark hair.

I tore my gaze away, a sense of satisfaction swelling inside of me. Despite his smirking, I could tell that deep down Potter was irritated. My work here was done.

"Okay, now that we've stopped arguing," Dom ventured tactfully from where she was curled up, cat-like, on an armchair. "Why don't we put our heads together and think for a change? Since our Evelyn plot didn't work, we should come up with another game plan."

Fred shrugged. "Well, the next step's obvious, isn't it?"

I placed my hands on my hips, raising my eyebrows as I swiveled towards Freddy impatiently. "Oh, and what would that be?"

Exchanging a significant glance with Potter (Merlin, I really hated when they did that), Freddy smiled, the corners of his lips curling upwards in an almost — no, scratch that — definitely sinister manner.

"We prank him."

—*—

At night, the dungeons of Hogwarts were eerily quiet. So eerily quiet, in fact, that one might get just the teeniest bit creeped out if one were to, hypothetically, sneak through said dungeons at say, two o'clock in the morning, wearing all black and with no one for company besides a silent Potter and a very maniacal Weasley.

You know. Hypothetically.

Just for clarification, since the label 'maniacal Weasley' could apply to several different individuals here — I'm talking about Fred.

"Doo da doo doo, doo da doo — "

"Honestly, Fred, do you think this is really necessary?"

"Ba da bee doo ba doo — "

I could do nothing but shake my head in dismay as Freddy crept stealthily down the hallway, wearing all black (complete with matching face paint) and humming the beginning refrain to the Mission Impossible theme.

He leapt from statue to suit of armor, suit of armor to tapestry, striking a variety of complicated poses that all seemed to push the very limits of human flexibility. The whole effect was slightly reminiscent of James Bond. If James Bond did yoga. And was on a lot of hard drugs.

"It could be worse," Potter remarked easily, unbothered, as he ambled forward with his hands in his pockets. Unlike Freddy, he had decided to go for the less-crazed route and was wearing a pair of jeans and a simple gray t-shirt, face thankfully devoid of face paint.

"How?" I asked as Freddy's humming reached a horribly off-key crescendo. "How could this possibly be any worse?"

"He could be singing The Final Countdown instead."

I watched as Fred pirouetted out from behind another statue, brandishing the walkie-talkie he had magically altered to circumvent the castle's 'no technology' wards. He gave a furtive look around, scanning his surroundings with a gaze that screamed paranoia, before pressing the button on his gadget. "Silverfox to Nighthawk. We're in the clear."

"Roger that." Dom's voice crackled over the speaker. "Everything's good on my end."

Fred pocketed the walkie-talkie, turning around to fix Potter and I with a fiercely determined gaze that was, quite frankly, a little frightening.

"Alright," he said, clearing his throat authoritatively. "Here's the game plan. You guys will go into the cupboard to get the goods, and I'll stay out here to stand guard — "

"Woah there, cowboy," I interrupted hastily, holding my hands out. Before we had set out, Fred had conveniently neglected to tell me anything about his so-called prank. I was therefore in the dark and now somewhat taken aback by all the present instructions. "What exactly do you mean by 'cupboard' and 'goods?'"

Potter and Fred locked gazes, giving each other another one of those Significant Cousin Looks that I adored oh-so-much. Potter, apparently, had been privy to all the details of this fun little expedition that had been kept from me.

What exactly did Fred mean by 'cupboard'? Was he talking about a broom cupboard? There was only one real cupboard I knew of at this school, and that was —

"The Potions Cupboard," Fred clarified, and I swear to Merlin my stomach plummeted right down to the soles of my penny loafers. "You see, Agatha, in order to properly prank Cooper, we need certain supplies — "

"Oh no. No no no no no," I spat out, the edge of hysteria in my voice growing stronger and stronger with every word. "There is absolutely, irrevocably, unequivocally — "

"Oh come on, Aggy!"

"— no way that I am going to break into the Potions Cupboard, which is school property, by the way — "

"James and I have done it loads of times before!"

"— violating about a gazillion rules in the process—"

"It's for a good cause!"

"— and risking detention, suspension, or even expulsion if we're caught!"

"Bennett." Potter's voice firmly sliced through my babbling. He stepped forward, an air of barely-restrained urgency about him as he leveled me with a commanding gaze completely opposite from Freddy's desperate, pleading one. "You have to do it."

"No," I snipped pettily, my tone curt and final.

"For Aidan," Potter bit out through gritted teeth, this time a little more adamant.

There was a long, pregnant pause. Chest clenching in a very peculiar way, I glanced at the ground and tried to ignore the feeling of Potter's calculating gaze. It had been so long since I had heard his name said out loud... Just that one word was enough to inspire a huge hurricane of emotions charging through me. I could feel It creeping back, clogging my throat again, making it harder to breathe...

"Come on, Aggy," Freddy said quietly. "He would have wanted this."

I met Potter's amber eyes and squashed It down to the pits of my stomach, where it would fester and stew until the next appearance. Faced with Potter's frank expression, I felt my resolve start to crumble.

"Okay, fine," I sighed. "Let's go."

I was going to regret this, I just knew it.

—*—

And that was how I found myself, five minutes later, trapped in a small cupboard with James Sirius Potter for company, not knowing which to bemoan more — the confined quarters of this room, or the fact that I was sharing said confined quarters with my arch-nemesis.

Bollocks.

Potter and I stood stiffly inside the dimly lit cupboard, not breathing a word to each other, the tension thick and palpable in the air. Well, I stood. Potter actually made himself useful by browsing through the racks and racks of colourful ingredients, searching for whatever it was he and Fred needed.

I, meanwhile, was stewing in my own personal little swamp of regret. I regretted agreeing to Fred's harebrained scheme; I regretted ever allowing this prank mess to happen; and I regretted even meeting Potter and Fred in the first place. It was all such bollocks.

I stayed rooted to the spot, my whole body clenched with terror at the thought of us getting caught. At any moment now, Slughorn could just waltz in and find us ransacking his beloved Potions supplies cupboard. And then where would we be? I mean, Potter could probably smooth-talk his way out of any punishment, but I... I was done for.

"I can't believe we're doing this," I mumbled, more to myself than anything, as I stared directly ahead at the mahogany door in front of me. Goosebumps flooded my skin, anxiety causing my teeth to chatter with nervous energy.

"Relax, Bennett," Potter murmured as he picked up a jar of hellebore, inspected its contents, and then set it back down again. He seemed to be working under whatever mysterious instructions Fred had given him, looking for something unerringly specific. "We're not going to get caught."

"That's what you say now, but when we're hanging by the shackles of Filch's torture chamber..." I trailed off, shaking my head fiercely. “Can you please just hurry up so we can leave?"

"You know, Bennett, it wouldn't kill you to loosen up every now and then, stop caring so much about the rules — "

"Oh, right, because I should really be taking life advice from the person illegally ransacking school property right now!"

"And you officially just proved my point, Bennett. Christ, you're so bleeding uptight all the time." Potter set down a jar of unidentifiable herbs, tossing me a smirk over his shoulder as he did so. "And to think Dom always wonders why you've never had a boyfriend."

At Potter's patronizing tone, I felt a fresh burst of anger surge through my body, hot and blinding. My fists clenched immediately, nails digging red half-moons into my skin as I tried to ignore the mocking edge riding through Potter's jeer. But I couldn't do it. Ignoring him would mean letting him get the last word, and I could not allow that to happen.

Slowly, blue eyes practically spitting sparks, I locked gazes with Potter. The left corner of his lips was quirked in a smirk, his golden eyes swirling with triumph at having found one of my sensitive spots.

"For your information, there's nothing wrong with me choosing to be single," I gritted out. "Sorry I refuse to be easy like the slags you date... Oh, and I use the term 'date' in the loosest way possible, by the way."

With that, I gave a quick sarcastic smile and turned around, ready to go back to ignoring the stupid git now that I'd had my say.

Unfortunately, ignoring James Sirius Potter was easier said than done.

"Is that a hint of jealousy I detect in your tone, Bennett?"

I wheeled back aground. "As if! Sorry to disappoint, Potter, but you are not what I look for. I usually go for guys who are a little more — how should I put this? Human."

Potter cocked his head thoughtfully, brow crumpling with condescending mock-concern. "Don't you think that's aiming a little high, love?"

"Oh har har, you just think you're so clever, don't you?"

"As a matter of fact — " Before Potter could finish his sentence, however, his eyes were suddenly snapping to something directly above my head, expression shifting from smarmy insolence to sudden intrigue. His gaze seemed to change, somehow, grow darker and more... determined.

"What?" I asked impatiently, eager to continue the fight. I turned around to follow Potter's stare, but could see nothing except for rows and rows of dusty shelves. "What is it?"

"There," Potter said matter-of-factly, pointing to the highest shelf. "That's what we need."

Tucked away in a dark, shadowy corner on the shelf was a jar of little pink crystals that, despite being covered in cobwebs and grime and Merlin-knows-what-else, seemed to emit an ethereal sort of glow in the murky darkness.

"Oh," I said, surprised. From countless pictures and diagrams I'd seen in my Potions textbook, I knew I was looking at a jar of Venus Crystals — a common ingredient in love potions and any other concoctions that altered the emotions.

Hmm. I wonder what Freddy could possibly want with those?

"So how are we doing this?" I said brusquely, turning to Potter with a demanding, expectant look. Just from eyeballing the distance, I knew that neither of us would be able to reach the jar. Regardless of Potter's annoyingly tall height, the crystals were situated too high up, the jar's lid nearly touching the ceiling. There was no way.

Before I could even mention this tiny little problemo, though, Potter was already slipping his wand out from his pocket and giving it a lazy wave. "Accio Venus Crystals."

Oh yeah. Use magic. At Hogwarts. Duh.

We both waited in eager expectation for the spell to take effect, but nothing happened. The jar simply shuddered a little bit and then stopped, stubbornly refusing to move from its position on the shelf.

There was a beat of silence.

"Well, try again!" I demanded, impatient.

"It's no use." Potter gave a swift shake of the head. "Slughorn probably has some protective charm cast on the cupboard to void any spell. He'd want to make sure no one tries to magically alter anything."

I folded my arms at this surprisingly reasonable explanation. "Just try again!"

Veering his hazel eyes into a roll, Potter obliged. Once again, the jar shook a little — crystals glimmering in a manner that was almost cheeky — before going completely still. Potter sighed, mumbling something along the lines of, "of course," and pocketed his wand.

He turned towards me, gaze matter-of-fact. "Get on my shoulders, Bennett."

I stared back dumbly, eyebrows making their way to my hairline. "Come again?"

Potter crouched down and gestured towards his back, sighing again at my apparent stupidity. "You have to get on my shoulders so we can reach the shelf."

"Are you serious — ?"

"Do you want to do this or not?"

Looking at the jar of Venus Crystals, and acknowledging the absence of any nearby step-stool or ladder, I knew I didn't have any other choice.

Tentatively (and a bit awkwardly), I clambered on top of Potter's shoulders, placing my hands on his head for balance and trying to ignore the utter weirdness of the position.

And then, before I could even get myself fully settled, Potter was standing in one swift, easy motion. Caught unawares, I started falling backwards.

I gave a loud yelp and, immediately, Potter's hands shot up to steady me, his fingers wrapping themselves over the bare skin of my legs. Flushing from both the feeling of Potter's touch and the embarrassment of almost dying, I tightened my grip onto Potter's (extremely thick) skull and teetered precariously in the air.

There was a pregnant pause. "Are you alright?" Potter finally, grudgingly asked, and I could actually feel his voice, deep and slow, rumbling through his body.

It was a good thing I was on his shoulders, or else Potter would have seen me blushing up a storm. I was completely monochromatic. Red hair, red skin — I might as well have been a Teletubby.

"Um, yeah, I'm fine," I squeaked, voice too high and thin to be normal. I couldn't help but notice that, for a boy, Potter had incredibly soft hair.

But that was just, you know, a small observation. Nothing important or anything.

...Seriously, though. What shampoo did he use? Herbal Essences? Pantene?

Ahem. Not the time, Aggy. Not the time.

Potter took a couple steps towards the shelf and, slowly accustoming myself to the jerking sensation, I felt confident enough to release my grip on Potter's head and reach out for the jar.

My fingers came in contact with the glass, wrapping around the cool surface. I stared in awe at the tiny crystals inside. They were so... pretty, sparkling and winking seductively. I was suddenly overcome with the silly desire to eat one just to see how it would taste.

"Got it?"

"Yeah," I said, still staring at the jar I was clutching in my hands.

Potter shifted me slightly, his fingers unwittingly grazing up my leg in the process... And that was all it took to break my concentration.

"Woah!" I yelped. Completely startled by Potter's graze, I flung out a hand and grabbed onto the nearby shelf for balance. For a heart-stopping moment I wobbled vertiginously, feeling like I really was going to fall.

But then, muttering a series of creative expletives, Potter somehow managed to steady me, his (rough, warm) fingers pressing deeper into my skin. I regained equilibrium somewhat sheepishly, face flushing furiously with heat.

I sincerely hoped that Potter wouldn't deduce the reason behind my break in concentration. The last thing I needed was for him to think I was some stupid, swooning girl who went around, practically fainting every time a bloke made physical contact.

"Hold on, Bennett." Slowly, Potter began to crouch down. Convincing myself that my rapid heartbeat was due to the near fall and not Potter's warm skin on mine, I clumsily scrambled off his shoulders and onto safe territory.

Potter, straightening to his full height, grabbed my shoulders to steady me.

There was an awkward pause in which my eyes flitted from his hands to the jar in my grip and then, finally, to his expression. It was a surprisingly open combination of frank curiosity and slight discomfort, and it made me feel uneasy in response.

Neither of us said anything, the whole cupboard seeming to pulse with an invisible kind of tension. Silently, Potter took the jar from my hands, his hazel gaze oddly intense.

He cleared his throat. "You good?"

"Yeah," I said a little breathlessly, shaking my head to rid myself of any jittery nerves. Potter and I had never been in such close contact before, and the proximity was... unnerving.

"I'm fine," I straightened, cheeks puffing as I blew out a gusty exhale. "I just... Wow. I can't believe we actually pulled that off."

"You're telling me," Potter agreed seriously. He seemed to regain control a little, his face shifting into its normal disinterested mask of cool superiority. "We should probably go."

"Yeah. Definitely." My gaze flitted to the floor awkwardly and, almost shyly, I glanced back up at Potter. As if I couldn't help myself, a triumphant smile grew across my face. "But hey, we actually did it. Mission success."

Potter nodded, just a hint of a returning smile twitching at his lips. "Freddy would be proud."

Meow.

The temperature in the room seemed to take a sudden nosedive at the mysterious animal sound, which had come from some hidden source by the doorway. Immediately, simultaneously, Potter and I froze at the foreign noise.

Uh-oh. A cat's meow at a time like this, in a place like this, could never mean anything good.

Slowly, we both reluctantly turned around to identify the culprit responsible for the interruption. And then, after a bit of horrible searching through the darkness... my eyes landed on something that made my stomach flood with dread.

I recognized it immediately. This particular cat was every Hogwarts students' worst nightmare. A monster, a hideous demon — the stuff of horror stories and urban legends. It was hell incarnated in tabby fur and whiskers.

And somehow, it had managed to get inside this cupboard and find us. I didn't question how. It had its ways. It always did.

Suddenly, Freddy burst through the cupboard door with a loud bang, panting extremely loudly, a crazed look in his panic-ridden eyes. He didn't even bother to acknowledge the jar in Potter's hands as he fixed us with a terrified expression, chest heaving up and down rapidly. "I JUST SAW FILCH IN THE HALLWAYS! ABORT MISSION, I REPEAT, ABORT MISSION!"

But all Potter and I could do was stare back at Freddy, motionless with terror.

"It's too late, Freddy," I whispered, voice a mere croak. "We're done for."

Freddy's eyes darted around the room, face turning about five shades paler when his gaze finally landed on what Potter and I were staring so fearfully at. And then, voice nothing but a hoarse squeak, Freddy said the three words that struck terror into every Hogwarts student's heart:

"Mrs. Norris, Jr."

Chapter 20: Lost
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A/N: Hey guys, it's 1:12 AM in the morn' right now, and I've just finished editing Chapter 20! Yay! I don't have much to say about this one, except sorry for the long wait and I hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, Calvin Klein, Pikachu, Hello Kitty, Kodak... Or anything else I might have missed, for that matter :)






There is only one thing to do in a situation like this:


Run.


And that is exactly what I was doing at this very moment.


My lungs itched for air as I sprinted down the empty corridor. All I could focus on was running, one foot in front of the other, never even daring to stop. Everything else had faded away into an indistinct smudge. Gone was my normal, Slytherin logic. Gone was the coolheaded reasoning that I used to pride myself in. Judgment, rationality, common sense... All of it. Gone. The only thing left was the little voice in my brain, chanting the words 'faster faster faster!' as I pushed my body to its limit.


“You can run but you can’t hide, you filthy good fer nuthin’ hoodlums!” Filch’s voice boomed off the stone walls of the corridor, creating an echo effect that was both confusing and terrifying at once. Despite my amazement at the fact that Filch had just used the word ‘hoodlum’ in an actual sentence, I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop.


I focused my gaze on Potter, who was far ahead of me and still sprinting. Merlin, how could he have not tired out by now? Stupid Quidditch advantage. After years of training and playing, this was probably like a bloody walk in the park for him. I, on the other hand, was starting to experience the first sure signs of cardiac arrest.


Seeing Potter so far in front of me was the motivation I needed. Gritting my teeth together, I pushed harder, the muscles in my limbs stretching and contracting painfully with every stride. I could hear my heartbeat skittering frantically inside my ears, my breath coming out in short pants. Every time I even tried to inhale, my chest would squeeze together painfully, as if my lungs themselves were dying. Right now, even the simple process of breathing—something that I used to take for granted—was agonizing.


Potter casted a quick glance over his shoulder, his hazel eyes calculating. I could just barely register the way his features shifted slightly, as if something—an idea, maybe?—had dawned on him. And then, in a swift flash of movement, he was grabbing my arm and whipping me around a corner.


“Over here,” Yanking a blue, raggedy tapestry out of the way, Potter pushed me into a dark hole that had been crudely carved into the stone wall. Being the graceful ballerina that I was, I tripped in the sudden darkness, and my face got to have a lovely chat with the ground.


“Oof,” I grunted, spitting out a delicious assortment of dirt, pebbles and other random debris. Despite what my track record may tell you, face-planting on rocky surfaces isn’t exactly my idea of fun. And yet, I seem to do it an awful lot...


I picked myself up off the floor and did the customary look-over that was always necessary after an Agatha Bennett Tumble. All thirty-two teeth? Check. No broken bones? Check. Sufficient damage to my self-respect and dignity? Check, check and check. Alright, we’re good to go.


Potter, I guess, had chosen to ignore my brilliant display of grace. Instead, he simply turned around without another word and let the tapestry fall closed behind him. Without the light from the hallway, we were submerged into total darkness.


For a minute, we just stood there, breathing heavily and trying to let our eyes adjust. Except for our exhausted panting, it was completely silent. Then, I opened my mouth and, all of a sudden, the million or so questions that had been buzzing through my head came spilling out.


“Where are we? What’s going on? What is this place? Did we lose Filch? Where’s Freddy? Where are the Venus Crystals?”


Even though I couldn’t see him, I knew that Potter was rolling his eyes. “Just walk, will you?”


I planted my feet firmly into the ground, which was not the usual stony texture of Hogwarts’ hallways, but actually covered with dirt and small pebbles. Thus, it was quite easy to dig my heels in—both figuratively and literally, of course.


“I’m not going anywhere,” I said stubbornly. “Not until you tell me what’s going on.”


He sighed, irritated by my obstinacy. “Fine. We’ll walk and talk. Ladies first.” In true gentlemanly fashion (not), Potter gave a sarcastic little bow and, sweeping his hand out, gestured for me to start walking. I could barely make out the action with my newly-adjusted eyes.


Carefully, I started to walk, and it soon became apparent that this hole was not, in fact, just a hole, but rather a tunnel. It was pretty narrow, and the air inside was musty and heavy. The whole time I walked, I kept my left hand on the wall, using it as a way to guide me through all the twists and turns. It was quiet, save for Potter’s steady breathing and a scuttling, scurrying noise that I was definitely not going to try and identify.


Finally, Potter started to talk. “This is a secret passageway that leads to the Gryffie Common Room. Fred and I found it last year.”


I nodded, more to myself than anything. “Speaking of Fred... Where is he?”


“We lost him when Filch was chasing us, but I’m pretty sure he went to find Dom.”


I nodded again. During this whole...debacle, Dom had been playing lookout by Slughorn’s office. It made sense that Freddy would want to go and check on her. Hopefully, both of them had managed to escape Filch’s clutches amidst all the chaos.


Potter spoke again, his deep voice ringing throughout the tunnel. “As for the Venus Crystals... Well, I think Fred took them with him. I think.”


I groaned. “They’re in his hands now? Great.”


“Have some faith, Bennett,” Potter said wryly. “Fred’s smart. He’ll keep them safe.”


“Um, are we talking about the same person here? You know, Fred Weasley? Tall, dark-hair, tan... Ringing any bells yet?” My voice was high with panic, but I couldn’t care less. All of that work—breaking into the Potion’s cupboard, sitting on Potter’s shoulders, running from Filch—it would all be a waste if Freddy lost the Crystals.


Potter’s cool reply sliced through my hysteria, his voice cutting and unimpressed. “Just calm down, will you? We’ll be fine.”


“Do you realize who we’re talking about here? This is Fred Weasley—the guy who tried to boogey board down the Entrance hall steps during third year. He’s reckless, rash, impulsive...”


“Stubborn, determined, brave... And the same bloke who, last year, managed to smuggle sixty or so dung bombs into school right under Filch’s nose,” Potter retorted easily. “I think we’ll be okay.”

 
“Whatever.” I gritted my teeth together and quickened my pace, trying to ignore the palpable smugness that was seeping from the pores of Potter’s unfairly flawless skin. How could he be acting so calm right now? We were sodding fugitives! Running from the law! And okay, maybe I’m exaggerating—it’s not really the law we’re running from, just Filch armed with a broom-handle... But still! We’re running nonetheless! 


“You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to trust people once in a while.” Potter called out, his words like annoying pokes to the gut. I clenched my fists, trying to brush off the jab. The insult was obviously just a poorly-veiled attempt to bait me into another argument.


Unfortunately, it was working.


“I trust people!” I exclaimed, inwardly wincing at the defensive tone my voice took on.


My only reply was a deep, mocking chuckle.


I stopped walking, my facial features setting to ‘Scowl Mode’ as Potter’s stupid guffawing echoed off the tunnel walls. How dare he laugh at me like that! This was the precise reason why I hated Potter. He was just so—ergh—patronizing and—ugh—superior and—augh!


“What?” I snapped, irritated, my foot tapping against the rocky ground. This was just so typical of him. He always does this—starts something and then never bothers to finish it.


“Nothing.”


“No, it’s obviously something, otherwise you wouldn’t be laughing your arse off like a bloody hyena! Tell me!”


“Touchy, are we?” Still chuckling—that complete and utter arse. “But I guess that would make sense, what with your trust issues and all...”


“I do not have trust issues!”


“Just embrace it, Bennett. It’s who you are.”


“Embrace it? What the—? I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m a very trusting person!“


“Don’t worry, love, we can work through it together.”


“I trust people all the time!“


“You can seek help, reach out, find others who are just like you...”


“Bloody—argh!” Vision clouded with a dangerously red haze, I marched towards Potter—or at least, the Potter-shaped blob that I could vaguely make out in the darkness—and crossed my arms, sticking out my hip in what I secretly liked to refer to as The Baditude Pose.


There is only word that can aptly describe what I did next:


I seethed.


That’s right. Seethed. And let me tell you, I am a certified expert on Seething. I am a Grade A Seether. I make Seething look like child’s play.


I am, to put it shortly, a Seething Sensei.


I stared at The Potter-Blob, my chest rising up and down with short, rapid breaths. Even in the darkness, I could see the stupid, self-satisfied smirk twisting on his lips.


And cue Boxing Referee Voice: In one corner we have... The Potter-Blob! Coming in with a weight of 75 kilograms and a height of...er... tall, this five-time champion is certainly a formidable foe! He’s got mystery, he’s got wit—not to mention the fact that he’s a complete and utter arse! Any person daring enough to challenge this bloke is going to need skill, nerves, and a whole lot of luck!


In the other corner, we have... The Seething Sensei! Despite the fact that she weighs in at a measly 50 kilograms, this contender is not to be underestimated! She’s fiery! She’s tenacious! Cross her and you’ll wish you’d never been born. Nay, scratch that. Cross her and you’ll wish your parents had never been born!  She’s that scary, folks!



In the fight of the century, who will win?



I glared at Potter, practically burning holes into his skull—not an easy feat, mind you, seeing as it’s extremely thick and dense.


“I. Do. Not. Have. Trust. Issues.”


He cocked his head to the side, as if contemplating this for a moment. “Except for the fact that you actually do.”


I gaped at him, jaw open, blue eyes nothing but mere slits. The Seething Sensei was not happy. Not at all. “I do not!”


“Do too.”


“Do not!”


“Do too.”


“Do not!” Somehow, the three foot or so distance that had been between us had shrank to only a mere centimeter or two. We were now standing nose to nose. Or nose to neck, if you factored in Potter’s annoying height.


Despite the fact that I’d been repeating myself for the past five minutes, I decided I needed a way to drive the point home. Teeth gritted, I raised my finger and poked Potter in the chest three times.


“I—do—not—!” Each word was accompanied by a vicious jab, courtesy of me, myself, and my raging temper. Ha! Take that, you stupid git! I hope that bruises!


“Okay, fine, fine! I was wrong! You don’t have trust issues!” Potter exclaimed, hands held up in a gesture of surrender. “You don’t have anything!”


I turned away, satisfied, and began marching down the dark tunnel again. I was mid-stride when I heard Potter say something. It was under his breath, but still loud enough so that I could hear every single, unmistakable word.


“Except for an anger management problem.”


“What was that?”








By the time we finally reached the end of the tunnel, I was at my wits end. After a lot of bickering and squabbling, Potter and I had eventually settled into a tense, angry silence. While Potter looked like he was completely at ease with himself, I was a different story. Teeth gritted, breathing sharp, fists clenched—every part of my body was on edge. My nerve endings were sparking with a volatile irritation that, at any moment, could be set off into a flurry of explosive rage. One wrong word from Potter, and we would have a dead body on our hands.


When we arrived at the exit, I was just about ready to fall dramatically to my knees and start kissing the ground. As Potter pushed aside the tapestry, I half-expected some kind of heavenly display to greet us—you know, clouds parting, bursts of celestial light, a glee club of angels singing ‘Hallelujah,’ complete with jazz fingers and all....


Instead, Potter and I were met with the oh-so-spectacular sight of yet another Hogwarts' hallway.


Yay for us.


Squinting my eyes in the new light, I scanned our surroundings. It appeared that we were right outside the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room. The Fat Lady was snoring peacefully in her portrait, her soft sighs drifting lazily through the air. A nearby clock told us that it was almost four o’clock in the morning. So much for beauty sleep.


I clambered out of the hole, frantically pushing away a few errant locks of hair that had fallen into my face. Despite the numerous anti-frizz potions Dom had leant me, my tresses had morphed into an unrecognizable monster sometime during the night. It now orbited my head like an angry cloud of crimson frizz, threatening to swallow anything within a two-meter radius.


Potter climbed out after me, hazel eyes squinting in the light. From the looks of things, I wasn’t the only one suffering from a bad hair day. Potter could have passed for an electrocution victim. His hair was just like mine, the only difference being that, despite looking like he had just received a zap from Pikachu, Potter still could have easily been put on a Calvin Klein billboard, no questions asked. So the whole thing balanced out, really.


Damn him and his stupid ability to get away with the whole rugged and disheveled look. I seriously loathe that stupid git.


Which is a good thing, really, because if—by some hideous twist of fate—Potter and I ever ended up getting married, our kids would have seriously messed up hair. Just saying.


“Well...” Potter began slowly. He stretched his arms above his head, the movement languid and lazy, as if he had all the time in the world. “This night has been...interesting.”


“Sure has. Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go back to my dorm and record every enthralling second of it in my diary. Toodles!” Fake, girlish enthusiasm coated my voice, so sugary and sweet that, if you listened hard enough, you could hear the sound of a million cavities burrowing themselves into the molars of all the good, sleeping students of Hogwarts.


Potter did not appreciate the sarcasm. “Has anyone told you how hilarious you are, Bennett? You should be a comedia—“


He stopped mid-word, face flickering with an unreadable expression. 


“What?” I asked uneasily, taking an involuntary step backwards. Potter was staring intently at my forehead, and it was creeping me out.


“You’re bleeding, Bennett.” Potter murmured, a tiny line creasing the tan skin between his eyebrows.


Blinking in surprise, I reached up to touch my forehead and found a sticky gash in the skin, matted with dirt and hair—a souvenir from my little spill in the tunnel. As soon as I touched it, the pain registered instantly.


I sucked in a sharp breath through my teeth, wincing as the sting seared, red and hot, through my body. I glanced at my fingers, which were covered with a bright, scarlet coloured substance that I belatedly identified as ‘blood.’


“Oh,” I said rather intelligently. “Okay.”


Instead of looking concerned, however, Potter simply seemed annoyed. As if my injury was some giant inconvenience, like I had purposely fallen just to spite him.


“Wait here,” Potter said, a scowl twisting his lips. The crease between his eyebrows was gone, smoothed away until his face was the same, unreadable mask that it always was.


I didn’t say anything, just continued to stare dazedly at my fingers, which were still coated in blood. I think I may have nodded—I wasn’t sure.


After a minute or two, Potter came back. Not saying a word, he grabbed me by the shoulder and half-dragged me to the entrance of the Gryffie Common Room, which was now open. I didn’t protest Potter’s manhandling, nor did I fully register the irritated grumbles of the freshly awoken Fat Lady. All I could do was let Potter haul me through the portrait hole.


Inside, everything was quiet. The only source of light was the cluster of softly fading embers glowing gently inside the fireplace. Of course, I’d been in the Gryffie Common Room many times before, but never in the middle of the night (or, to be more exact, morning). It all seemed much... dimmer. As if the room itself was sleeping.


“Be quiet,” Potter mouthed. Slowly, cautiously, he led me to a stone staircase that seemed to spiral upwards into darkness. I didn’t ask any questions, just followed in his silent footsteps.


After a lot of climbing, we finally reached a wooden door with the number ‘5’ crudely carved into the surface. Potter cracked it open, before slowly turning to me and putting a finger to his lips in the universal sign for ‘be quiet, or else we're royally screwed.' I was surprised to see that he was smirking. In that moment, with his burnt-gold eyes glimmering and his finger pressed against his mouth, he looked oddly... mischievous. It was an expression I hadn’t seen him wear since... well, since the coma.


And from it, I could guess that this wasn’t the first time Potter had snuck a girl up to his room. Strangely enough, the thought made my stomach clench.


Potter stood between the doorway and me, his (stupidly broad) shoulders blocking my view of the dorm. But judging from the earthquake-esque snores coming from the room, I could tell that whatever it was inside, it definitely wasn’t Sleeping Beauty and the rest of her Disney Princess friends. That was for bloody sure.


Potter walked inside, pushing the door all the way open, and I was hit with this overwhelming stench that, I’m pretty sure, took about ten years off my life. It was a lethal combination of sweat and boy, with a hint of ‘dead troll’ thrown in for good measure. It forced it’s way into my nostrils, snaking down my windpipe and awakening my until-then-dormant gag reflex.


Once I got over the overwhelming smell (and the coughing fit that it had brought on), I took a tentative step inside. Six beds took up most of the space in the room. All were in varying states of messiness. Most of them were occupied by a sleeping inhabitant, including Fred’s. I sighed in relief—if Fred had escaped Filch, that most likely meant that Dom had, too.


One bed, however, was conspicuously empty. Aidan's.


It was pretty dark, but Potter managed to navigate his way through the dorm successfully. Unfortunately, I could not say the same. As I followed Potter, I managed to trip over a grand total of four trunks, twelve schoolbooks, two broomsticks, and one giant, fluffy pink thing. After further inspection, I recognized said giant fluffy thing to be Trunkers, the stuffed elephant that Fred had kept since he was four.


I don’t know why. Maybe it was the fact that one of it’s button eyes were missing, or that there was stuffing coming out from it’s ears, but the sight of it, all lonely and abandoned on the floor, made me sad. So I found Fred’s bed (it wasn’t hard, I just had to follow the loudest snoring) and snuck Trunkers inside the covers with him.


For a moment, I couldn’t help but stare. The sight was so ridiculous. Fred, sprawled out across his bed with his left foot dangling out from underneath the covers, snoozing peacefully next to Trunkers the Elephant. It was all so innocent and... ridiculously simple. It made me want to laugh and cry at the same time.


“Bennett, you coming or not?” Potter’s voice sliced through my thoughts, and I turned around to see him standing by a poorly painted door on the opposite side of the room. Tearing my eyes away from Fred’s sleeping form, I made my way towards Potter, winding through the labyrinth of beds and wardrobes.


Potter opened the door to—what I was guessing to be—the bathroom, and I was momentarily blinded as a rectangular chunk of dazzling light hit me square in the face. My eyelids fluttered shut, a squeak of surprise slipping through my lips, but Potter shoved me inside anyways. Eyes still shut, I stumbled around a bit until, guiding me by my shoulder, Potter led me to the sinks.


“Sit,” Potter ordered and, cracking my eyes open wearily, I hauled myself up on top of the counter. The bathroom was surprisingly clean, with white walls, squeaky tiles and gold accents. Multicolored toothbrushes littered the counter. For a moment, I just sat there awkwardly, legs dangling, still blinking in the new light.


Twisting myself around, I was met with the somewhat horrifying sight of my own reflection. Jerking back in surprise, I stared at myself. Jiminy Cricket, I looked a right mess. My skin was pale, my eyes bleary, my hair a lost cause. The wound on my forehead looked just as bad as it felt, and I was pretty sure that, if given some special effects and just the right lighting, someone could have made a decent horror film out of me. Yes, it was that bad.


I hastily turned back around, lest I started giving myself nightmares, to see Potter rummaging through a cabinet on one of the far walls. I watched him work, the muscles of his shoulders rippling underneath grey t-shirt, and I was suddenly struck by how boyish Potter was. Rumpled hair, broad shoulders, a lean waist... He was all hard angles and straight lines.


It... um... worked for him, to say the least.


Blushing, I fidgeted awkwardly from where I was sitting, biting my lip and wrapping my fingers around the cool edge of the counter. The silence was killing me. I just wanted to say something—anything—but I was at a loss for words. Finally, I resorted to simply averting my gaze and counting the tiles on the floor. Quite a fascinating task, as you can imagine. It was almost as fun as watching paint dry.


I was on tile number thirty-eight when Potter finally appeared by my side, his hands full with an assortment of colorful potions bottles, all of which he set on the counter.


“Hold still.” Potter ordered, grimacing as he pulled the cork out of one of the bottles. It came loose with a loud ‘pop’ that echoed off the tiled walls.


Slowly, almost hesitantly, Potter poured some of the liquid on to a white cloth. I watched, a look of disgust on my face, as the bubblegum-pink medicine oozed out of the bottle. It—whatever it was—looked about as appetizing as Filch in his underwear.


“Um, what is that?” I asked apprehensively, ducking out of the way as Potter came towards me, cloth in hand.


“Bennett, I said hold still.” Potter snapped back, blatantly ignoring my question. Again, he reached out towards me with the cloth, and, again, I swerved out of the way.


“No! What is it?”


“It’s nothing,” Potter said, spitting the words out through clenched teeth. “Now hold still.”


“Nothing?  What do you mean nothing?”


“It’s just something for your cut, okay?”


“Will it hurt?”


“I don’t know!”


“You don’t know?”


“Well how about you hold still for one bloody second and we can find out?“


“Like hell! Will. It. Hurt?”


“Er... Maybe it will sting a little bit.”


“A little bit? What is that supposed to mea—Ow! Merlin’s beard!”


I pushed Potter away from me, clutching dramatically at the wound on my forehead. Somehow, in a totally unfair display of Quidditch agility, Potter had managed to pin my shoulders to the mirror, thus rendering me helpless as he applied the medicine to my cut. Damn him and his sneaky ninja ways!


I squeezed my eyes shut, gritting my teeth together as my forehead throbbed in agony. Merlin! It felt like someone had set my skin on fire, and then rubbed sandpaper on the third degree burn! How was that stuff even legal?


Potter did not look fazed by suffering. He simply poured some more medicine onto the cloth, his jaw clenched as he slammed the bottle back onto the counter. “Stop being such a wimp, Bennett.”


“A wimp? You just flippin’ tried to kill me!” Okay, so maybe I have a flair for dramatics. Sue me.


“Oh, come on, it’s not that bad.” Potter said, still advancing towards me, cloth in hand. His eyes—normally swirls of bright colour—were now dark, gleaming with something strange. Something dangerous. “Now can you at least hold still—?“


“Are you kidding me?”


“—for one more sodding second—“


“No!”


“—need to apply more medicine!”


“NEVER!”


With that, I leapt off the counter and, heart skittering with legitimate fear, made a break for it. At this point, I didn’t care if I had to wake up all of Potter’s dorm mates. Hell, I didn’t care if I had to wake up the whole entire castle! I wasn’t going to go through anymore of this sadistic torture—I was done.


I started to sprint towards the door, but before I could get anywhere, Potter grabbed me by the waist and hauled me backwards, basically throwing me behind him. My hips slammed into the edge of the counter, and a gasp of surprise slipped out my mouth.


“Wha—?”


“Look, Bennett. You can either keep on struggling, or you can sit down and play nice. Either way, this potion is going on your forehead.” A deep, rough voice growled in my ear, and I instantly stiffened when I realized that Potter was standing right behind me, the front of his body flattened against the back of mine. “So what’s it going to be?”


I looked up, gaze skitterish, and was met with the sight of my own reflection in the sink mirror. I looked frazzled—my hair was an explosion of bountiful curls, my eyes were sharp and flashing, my cheeks slightly flushed. Behind me, Potter had bent his head to look at me, his hands firmly planted on the counter on either side of me. I was trapped.


For a moment, I just stared at my reflection, pondering over the two choices inside my head. Reason told me that I would have to put on the potion sooner or later. Even though I hated to admit it, it was for my own good. And I knew that Potter—the stubborn Gryffindor that he was—wasn’t going to give up until the potion was on, and there was a nice, Hello Kitty Band-Aid plastered firmly over my ickle little boo-boo.


There was another side of me, though, that wasn’t so mature. It was the same, petulant part of me that still that liked to jump on beds and eat cookies before supper. And it was the same part of me that bawled like a baby every time the nurse brought out a needle at the Healer’s office.


Suddenly, the answer was very clear: no way in hell was I going to succumb to Potter and that evil potion of death, which, by the way, I was pretty sure was made out of the crushed remnant’s of kitten souls. Nope. Nuh-uh. I was not going to go down without a fight. 


So, using all the strength I could muster up in my tiny body, I elbowed Potter in the chest.


He didn’t even blink. I might as well have been elbowing a brick wall, he was so unfazed. Instead, he simply grumbled an annoyed “...that’s what I thought,’ and then, wrapping his arms around my waist, picked me off the floor.


Chaos ensued.


“Ack! What are you doi—?“


“Stop flailing!”


“No! Let go of me!”


“Bloody hell—your hair—can’t breathe!“


“Good!”


And then I was kicking and screaming, and Potter was struggling to dodge my flailing limbs, and the room was spinning around me in a dizzying swirl of tile and sinks and light,  and I was just about ready to surrender and give up, when, all of a sudden, the door opened.


We froze.


Voice dying in my throat, I craned my head around to see Fred Weasley stumble through the door, his face glazed over with a dim, sleepy expression. I stared at him, eyes comically wide, ready to spew forth a plethora of excuses and apologies. In my peripheral vision, I could see that Potter, too, was completely motionless, his jaw slack. After all, we were in a slightly... er... compromising position, what with Potter’s arms wrapped around me from behind, me dangling in the air, mouth open in mid-scream, one of my feet planted on the tiled wall... We were the perfect example of the medical condition known as stark raving mad.


And yet, Freddy didn’t utter a single word as he walked right past us, turned on one of the sinks, and started brushing his teeth.


We gaped at him incredulously, still frozen in our ridiculous position. But Freddy just continued on his merry way, his mouth foaming with toothpaste, as if brushing his teeth in the middle of the night was a completely normal thing to do.


And then it occurred to me—maybe it was the norm. Or for him, at least. Maybe this was his version of... of... Sleepwalking. Maybe dental hygiene was a big concern for Freddy the Somnambulist. Who knew? It was Freddy, for Merlin’s sake. No one knew.


We watched as Freddy spat, rinsed, gargled and then, without another backwards glanced, shuffled out of the room, closing the door behind him.


Well, that was...


“Weird.” Potter remarked conversationally, his grip around my waist loosening. I fell to the ground, letting out a squawk of surprise that I'm sure was insanely attractive.. “I never knew Freddy did that.”


I stumbled around a bit, disoriented, and then turned around to face Potter. For a moment, I considered bolting to the door. But, judging from the determined glint in Potter’s molten eyes, even if I did decide to run, I most likely wouldn’t get very far.


Still focusing on the complete and utter weirdness of the situation, I didn’t even realize that Potter was guiding me to the counter until I had already sat down. I looked up, startled, and my gaze locked with his—blue on hazel, sapphire mingling with gold. He was staring at me intently, something that I found unnerving. His expression was strange—almost paternal, as if I were some small, injured child. “Now, will you please hold still?”


I could only nod, letting my eyes flutter shut.


Quietly, Potter pressed the cloth to my forehead, holding the back of my head with his other hand. It was odd—his touch was slow, almost gentle, fingers feather light and soft.


It took a second for the potion to take effect, but when I did, I felt it. Oh man, did I feel it. Sucking in a breath, I bit down on the inside of my cheek, trying to stifle the squeak of pain that was clawing its way up my throat. We were witches and wizards, for Merlin’s sake! Shouldn’t we have made a good, painless antiseptic by now? One that didn’t make me want to set myself on fire, perhaps?


“Sorry,” Potter muttered.


I was so surprised, I forgot about the pain for a second. Did that really happen?  Did Potter just... apologize? To me? Agatha Bennett?


Well, butter me on both sides and call me a biscuit! If this isn’t a true Kodak moment, then I don’t know what is! Please, someone needs to document this!


I opened my eyes, ready to make some snippy, snide remark—most likely along the lines of ‘You’re apologizing? Where’s the flying pig?’—but the words died in my throat.


Because Potter was staring at me with the most curiously intense look in his eyes, his face inches from mine, and I could see every one of his annoyingly handsome features in detail. The dark, tousled hair. The faint scar slicing through his left eyebrow. The straight nose and completely unfair, Michelangelo-sculpted cheekbones. The lips that curved into a wry smirk. And the eyes.


Oh Merlin, the eyes. Describing them was impossible—anyway I did it, it would just end up sounding clichéd and overdone. But, oh Merlin. They really were kaleidoscopes of colour and swirling eddies of burnt, liquid gold. And they really were smoldering and dusky and any other trashy-romance-novel word you want. And they really did make my brain cells fizzle and my mouth go dry, because, okay, yeah, I hated Potter, but I was also a girl. A girl who noticed things like high cheekbones and shoulder muscles and really, really nice eyes.


“Blurgh,” I said, ever so intelligently. Sweet Merlin, I think a little drool came out.


Potter’s smirk widened, somehow becoming more smug than before. “One second.”


Reaching over, he grabbed a plaster that was, unfortunately, not Hello Kitty patterned, and then stuck it onto my forehead, using his thumb to smooth it into my skin. “There. All set.”


“Uhnnnng,” I replied. Wow, I’m just really sparkling with wit today. I should get my own radio show.


Desperate to say something—anything—that didn’t make me sound like a mental patient, I added: “You’re, um, very good at this. I mean, you seem to know what you’re doing, is all.”


My cheeks were blushing up a storm. Luckily, Potter had turned around and was now gathering up all the potion’s bottles—hopefully he hadn’t witnessed my transformation into a cherry tomato.


“Eh, I’m no Healer, that’s for sure.” Potter shrugged as he stacked the Potions back into the cabinet. “I just have to do it a lot, being Quidditch Captain and all. First-aid is kind of a requirement when you have Freddy on your team.”


I didn’t reply. Instead, I looked down at my lap, fiddling with my hands. There was a part of me—a very loud part—that wanted to know why Potter had been so insistent on fixing my cut, why he had gone so far just so that he could put a teensy bit of Potion on a weensy little scrape. For a moment, I almost considered asking him, but then I realized that I already knew the answer.


Yes, I was annoying and irritating (well, to him, at least). But I was the annoying and irritating sister of his best friend. The same best friend who was lying in a hospital bed at this very moment. Somewhere, deep inside Potter’s very chivalrous, very Gryffindor mind, he felt the need to... I don’t know. Protect me? That sounded wrong. Look out for me, is more like it.


I didn’t like that idea. To Potter, I was another pesky responsibility. A burden. I was the little sister that everyone in the family had to look out for. However, on the other hand, it did explain a lot—the furtive looks between Freddy, Dom, and Potter, the way that they had been so quick to jump to my defense against Cooper...


“Oi, Bennett, you coming? Or are you just going to sit there for the rest of the night?”


I shook my head quickly, startled out of my thoughts, and looked up to see Potter standing by the door, his hands in his pockets.


“Um, yeah,” I mumbled, hopping off the counter and following Potter out of the bathroom.


Once we were inside the dormitory, I felt much better. Safer. It was dark and cool; snores and the sound of deep breathing drifted through the thick air. Daylight was slowly beginning to leak through the windows, illuminating an empty bed that sat near the end of the room.


Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to it. Ignoring Potter’s curious gaze on my back, I walked straight towards what I knew to be Aidan's bed. It was meticulously made, it’s crimson sheets smoothed and folded. It looked like it had never been slept in—like the person who it belonged to had never even existed.


My entire body was shaking as I grazed my hand over the pillow. My knees must have forgotten how to function—any minute now, I was in danger of melting into a human puddle on the floor. I could feel It stirring idly in the pit of my stomach, ready to awake and consume me whole. Potter was watching me from the opposite side of the room, his gaze dark.


On the bedside table, there was a small, silver picture frame. The second I lay eyes on it, I recognized the photograph inside.


It was of the two of us. Aidan and I, no one else, grinning at the camera like there was no tomorrow. Like the world would end if we ever stopped smiling.


It had been our First Year, I remember. We were standing in front of the Hogwarts Express; I think it had been Mum who had taken the picture. We were both so small–Aidan was all cowlicks and knobby knees and toothy smiles. I stood next to him, proud and beaming as I waved to the camera. Everything was so much simpler back then. Back then, I could smile without feeling like I was about to fall to pieces. Back then, I still had my brother.


“Bennett.”


I looked up from the picture to see Potter standing by the door, his face completely serious.


“Yeah?” I tried clearing my throat, but my voice was still hoarse and thick with an unspoken emotion. Damn it. Act casual, Aggy. Nothing’s wrong. It’s all okay.


“Why... Why don’t you ever visit Aidan in the Hospital Wing?”


I reeled back, as if the question had physically slapped me across the face. Setting the picture frame back on the table, I looked down, adjusting the buttons of my blouse.


“Because it’s none of your fucking business, that’s why.” I replied frostily, disdain dripping off every word. Stupid Potter with his stupid prying questions and his stupid knowing looks. He was completely insane if he thought I was going to suddenly start opening up to him, of all people.  What did he expect me to say? ‘Sure, Potter, why don’t we talk about our feelings on this whole Aidan deal? And then afterwards, you can braid my hair and we can make friendship bracelets together!’


Not that the idea doesn’t sound absolutely riveting and all, but I’d honestly rather do a cannonball off the Astronomy Tower.


I expected Potter to brush my comment off like he always did, but, to my surprise, a spark of legitimate anger flashed through his eyes. “See, that’s where you’re wrong, Bennett. Because it is my business.”


“Oh yeah, how so?”


“How so? Do you hear yourself? You weren’t the only one who lost him, you know. Dom, Freddy, your parents...” His voice was quiet and infuriatingly calm, which somehow made the words he was saying sound that much worse. “How about you get off that high horse of yours and look around yourself for change?”


“You know what? I don’t need to stand here and take this from you!” With each word, my anger was growing higher and higher, and my voice was getting louder and louder. There was definitely a correlation between my temper and my volume—when one grew, so did the other. In fact, I was surprised that none of the Gryffie blokes hadn’t woken up to the lovely sounds of our fighting, yet. Honestly. What a wonderful way to start off the morning. The birds chirping, the sun shining, and—oh, yep, that’s Potter and Bennett arguing again.


“Then don’t!” Potter snapped, anger suddenly breaking through his maddening calmness. He actually looked pissed—his eyes were flashing a million different shades, his jaw was clenched tight. He gestured wildly with his hands, taking a step in my direction. “No one’s asking you to! So why don’t you just leave? Run away! Because that’s what you do, isn’t it, Bennett? It’s the Slytherin M.O.! Run away and hide until the problem disappears on its own!”


“Oh, and what are you doing, Mr. Gryffindor? Are you going to save the day with your heroics? Do you really think pranking Cooper is going to help anything?”


“It’s better than sitting around and doing nothing!”


“Newsflash: hospital visits and silly pranks aren’t going to bring him back!”


“And neither will your passive-aggressive tendencies!”


“I’m sorry, but I don’t remember signing up for therapy sessions!”


“That’s weird, because, you sure as bloody hell need them!”


I had no response to that. At that moment, all I could think about was Dr. Marina Marvona and her pink hair and her wheelie chair and that damn look in her eyes—sympathy and pity mixed with a little bit of sorrow—as she tried to talk to me. I bloody hated it how people thought they knew... knew what it was like, how I felt...


In any corny, teenage movie, this would be the part where I scream, “NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME, I WISH I WERE NEVER BORN!” and then march up the stairs to my bedroom.


Instead, however, I could only stare at Potter, my chest heaving up and down with fury. I felt like there was an honest-to-Merlin volcano inside my chest, spewing out lava and anger and other venomous feelings. It was starting to awaken, churning in my stomach, rising up my throat...


Potter, on the other hand, seemed to check himself. The livid, frustrated expression on his face was suddenly wiped clean as he averted his gaze, face blank.


“Maybe you should leave,” he muttered.


So I did.


I marched past him, making sure to push past him with as much rough force as possible, and slammed the door on my way out. I probably woke up the whole entire Gryffindor tower while I was at it, but the anger flooding through my bloodstream made it physically impossible for me to care.


I stormed down the boys’ staircase, the clattering sound of my footsteps echoing through the air. How dare he! Confronting me like that, with his accusations and his finger-pointing... What did he know? Nothing! He knew nothing!


And yet... I could still hear his voice in the back of my head, mocking, haunting:


You weren’t the only one who lost him, you know.




Why did that stupid git always insist on making things so complicated?




CURRENT SCORE:
Me: 4
Potter:  10




Chapter 21: Fearless
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Disclaimer: I do not own HP or Mean Girls, which inspired one of the lines in this chapter and is owned by Paramount Pictures.



The next morning, I woke up feeling surprisingly refreshed. Despite the fact that I’d just slept a grand total of two hours, and despite the fact that I’d spent the majority of the previous night illegally traipsing around the castle with Freddy, Potter and Dom, I was still feeling surprisingly... Content. Against all odds, we had pulled off our mission — Freddy had the Venus Crystals, Cooper was oblivious, and no one was getting their limbs gruesomely pulled off in Filch’s secret underground torture chamber. It was a good day.

In fact, Freddy had explicitly promised Dom and I that we would no longer have to worry about the Cooper Prank, that he wouldn't be roping us into any more of his foolhardy schemes. Now that Freddy had the Venus Crystals, our work here was done, and we could sit back, relax and, as Freddy said, "leave it to the experts" — whatever that meant.

That meant no more embarking on silly missions throughout the castle. No more breaking into school property. No more getting into compromising positions with James Potter inside broom cupboards. The prank was history — for all intents and purposes, it had never even happened in the first place. In fact, the only evidence of my involvement in it was the tiny, barely noticeable cut on my forehead.

Well, that and the slight faint homicidal urge I felt whenever I thought about Potter’s smarmy face. After all, our argument — fight, row, whatever — was still simmering fresh in my mind, and now I wanted nothing more than to take all the stupid, condescending things he had said, shove them down his throat, and watch him choke to death on his own words as I sat by with a jumbo bucket of buttery popcorn.

But other than that, I was feeling just peachy.

Honestly. Murderous intentions be damned, for once I was in a good mood, and I wasn’t about to let you-know-prat spoil it. I’d put some serious thought into the matter, and I’d finally come to the realization that I could do or say whatever I wanted, but Potter would never apologize. There was no use confronting him. Most likely, he’d just say some other pratty thing that would leave me speechless and fuming, and I’d be left off even worse.

No, I wasn’t going to waste the time. For now, I would simply ignore what had happened and take a drive down the high road — or, as I liked to call it, ‘push-all-emotions-into-the-back-of-your-brain-where-they’ll-fester-as-mental-illnesses’ boulevard. It was much easier — not to mention smarter — than approaching Potter and risking the chance of possibly strangling him.

Today, I was going to relax, stay calm, and ride out the wonderful wave of sunshine-y cheer that I was currently on. It was a beautiful morning, the birds were chirping, the autumn sky was a crisp, beautiful blue and, for once, I was feeling happy.

Dom, however, wasn’t so chipper.

“I fucking hate my fucking life.”

I grinned to myself as Dom and I walked into the Great Hall, the savory smell of breakfast wafting through the air. The only thing that made me feel better than a Hogwarts breakfast was a Hogwarts breakfast with the ever so entertaining one-woman show that was a sleep-deprived Dom Weasley.

For some reason, Dom never functioned properly if she didn't get her healthy eight hours in. By some biological malfunction, she always lost two important things: her ability to tolerate even the slightest annoyance, and the little filter thing that all normal humans have between their brains and their mouths. The result was a slew of snarky comments, creative cursing, and the occasional bout of verbal abuse directed towards some trembly first-year who Dom always said "deserved it" because she "didn't like his face."

I could see Freddy sitting at a table towards the end of the Great Hall, and I began to make my way in that direction, Dom shuffling her feet behind me in some semblance of a walking motion.

"Morning," Fred greeted, glancing up from his pancakes as I bounded up to the table, sliding onto the bench across from him.

"Good morning," I replied brightly, snatching a piece of golden toast off his plate and nibbling on it.

Fred raised his eyebrows, too surprised to object to me nicking his food. "You're awfully cheerful today."

"You're awfully observant today," I shot back, but the comment couldn't achieve the normal level of snark I had been aiming for. I was too happy. Humming to myself, I reached over and started loading my plate with anything and everything in my reach. Crispy bacon, buttery pancakes, golden slices of toast and colourful globs of jelly... For the first time in a long, long while, I actually had an appetite.

I looked up from my overflowing plate to see Fred gaping at me, mouth dropped open, his eyebrows climbing higher and higher on their ascent to Mt. Fred's Hairline. THere was the faintest hint of a grin twitching at his lips.

My lips curled into an unsure smile. "What?"

"And here we see," Freddy began in a comically deep 'tour guide' voice, holding his fist up to his mouth in an invisible microphone. "The ever-elusive creature, the Agatha Bennett Smile! Thought to be long extinct, this creature has evaded the eyes and notebooks of scientists everywhere, along with its peers: the yeti and the Loch Ness monster. But now we do have concrete proof that, yes, folks, it does indeed exist! And it’s making an appearance before noon, no less! Careful folks, we don't want to scare it off!"

I shot Freddy a look, but my lips were still twitching annoyingly upwards. "Are you quite finished?"

Fred opened his mouth to retort, but was interrupted as Dom plunked herself down next to him, apparently having finished her long and treacherous journey across the Great Hall.

"Morning," Fred said brightly, but she simply replied with a nasty look and a Frankenstein-esque groan.

At this, Freddy immediately grinned, obviously familiar with his cousin's lovely morning persona. His caramel eyes took on a sly, mischievous glimmer. "A little cranky today, are we?"

Dom mumbled back something unintelligible (but probably insulting) and grabbed the nearest pot of coffee, sloshing about a gallon of the black liquid into her goblet.

"Woah, easy there, tiger. Save some for the rest of us!"

"Go away."

Fred's grin widened, his lips curling devilishly at the corners. "Ah, there's the Dom we all know and love."

Wordlessly, Dom snatched her goblet and took a guzzling sip of coffee, draining every last drop of caffeine. Apparently it was exactly what she needed to give her that extra energy boost. Bitch-o-meter freshly filled, she slammed the goblet back down onto the table and shot Freddy a sarcastically sweet smile that could make your skin crawl.

"Hey, Freddy."

"Yeah?"

"Guess what?"

"What?"

“I got a new pet bird.”

Fred frowned, his eyebrows scrunching together in bewilderment. “A bird?”

“Yeah.” Dom nodded over-enthusiastically, psycho smile still plastered across her face. “Wanna see it?"

Before Fred could answer, Dom raised her hand and flashed her middle finger at him, waving it directly in front of his face.

Lovely — granted, it wasn't very sophisticated, but she earned points for creativity.

"Har har, I get it, flipping the 'bird,'" Fred nodded, a condescending smile of his own splayed across his face. "Very witty of you, cousin dearest."

“Just fuck off,” Dom spat back, suddenly incensed, and Fred and I immediately reared back. Dom's sudden flares in temper were normal on mornings like this, but that didn't make them any less scary. My best friend's golden-green eyes were practically sputtering with sparks, and I had to marvel at how her mood could swing from ‘living-dead’ to ‘human volcano’ in the span of seconds. It was a bit scary, actually.

“Now, Dom," Fred began, holding his hands up in mock-truce. "There’s no need to be such a grumpy-pants...”

Grumpy-pants? Are we in third grade?" Dom scoffed, voice brazenly loud as she sloshed more coffee into her goblet, spraying drops of it on some nearby unsuspecting bystanders.

“Crabapple,” Fred sing-songed in that maddening, know-it-all tone of his. Dom arched an eyebrow, unimpressed.

“Seriously?”

“Cranky-face.”

"Go away, Fred. I can't handle you or your vocabulary right now."

“Grouchosaurus Rex!”

I sighed to myself, glancing down at my plate and impaling a piece of sausage onto my fork. Once Freddy and Dom got started, they could go on for hours — especially if Dom was suffering from sleep deprivation. I knew that they wouldn’t quit until one of them was successfully rendered speechless, be that from a particularly scathing comment, actual physical violence, or a damn good silencing charm... It really didn’t matter. Neither would quit unless the other had effectively shut up.

“I’ll show you cranky-face, you little — “

“Ow! Merlin's balls — !”

“Yeah, take that!”

I looked up from my plate to see that Dom currently had Freddy in a headlock and was attempting to shove his face into a bowl of porridge. “Say it!”

“No!”

“Say it!”

“Never!”

“SAY IT!”

“Ow — okay, okay!” Fred sighed, wincing in pain as Dom thrust his face even closer to the porridge. “I’m a little girl!”

“And?”

“And I like to dress up in my mommy’s clothes!”

“And?”

Fred grimaced. These lines had a rehearsed air about them, and it was evident this wasn't the first time Freddy had been forced to recite them. Dom applied more pressure, and the tip of Freddy's nose came down to graze the thick, gooey substance. I couldn’t help but feel a little twinge of pity for the poor bloke. “No.“

“Say it!”

Eyes filled with self-loathing, Freddy mumbled, "I have to use — "

"Louder!" Dom barked, tightening her boa-constrictor grip on Freddy's head.

“No!”

“LOUDER!” With a vicious yank, Dom twisted her hand in Freddy’s precious locks and pulled. Hard. Merlin, she was terrifying.

“Ow! Okay, okay, careful with the 'do! It’s delicate!” Freddy flinched, finally relenting. “I use — “

“I said LOUDER!”

"I USE SUPER JUMBO TAMPONS BECAUSE I HAVE A HEAVY FLOW AND A WIDE-SET — "

You know those moments when you say something out-of-place, maybe even a little inappropriate, and everyone in the room happens to go silent at the exact same time?

Yeah. This was one of them.

The Great Hall suddenly hushed as students and teachers alike turned to stare, eyebrows raised and jaws dropped at the spectacle that was a Weasley Cousin quarrel. A resounding silence seemed to travel through the room, the air heavy with tension, as everyone stared at Fred, and Fred stared at the porridge in front of his nose.

" — er, pashmina," he finished weakly.

McGonagall, who had been standing at the staff table with a dangerous look on her face, grudgingly sat back down. Dom released her vice-like grip on Freddy and nodded, looking satisfied with herself.

"That's right," she said, before turning back to stab at her eggs as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. "That's right."

Fred straightened, half-grimacing and half-smiling at his audience, and gave a cheeky little wave to the entirety of the Great Hall. "Alright, people," he said loudly. "Nothing to see here, just my cousin at work obliterating all my dignity and sense of self-respect. Carry on, carry on."

Gradually, everyone stopped staring and turned around, most likely to chat with their neighbors about what they had just witnessed. I glanced at Freddy, mouth pulled into a sympathetic line. "Tough break."

"This isn't the first time it's happened. I'll bounce back." Fred shrugged, not seeming fazed. It was just like him. Fred was, in truth, the most easy-going person I had ever met. He was never angry, never ashamed, never embarrassed... He was just Freddy.

Dom snorted at this, but before she could utter whatever snarky comment she was surely about to make, a loud, fluttering noise was heard overhead. We all glanced upwards to see a huge cluster of owls streaking over the ceiling of the Great Hall, their feathery wings flapping rhythmically, and I shuddered. Ugh — owls. I hated owls.

I mean, it wasn't like I was scared of them or anything. No, not at all. They were just. gross. And unhygienic. And...

Okay, maybe their eyes crept me out a little. But that wasn't my fault! They were just so beady and piercing, like they could stare into your soul!

One of the owls dropped two identical, elegant-looking letters in front of Freddy and Dom, unfortunately missing its target and sending the papers plunging into the bowl of porridge Fred had just so dramatically managed to avoid.

"Ugh, lovely," Dom muttered, fishing her letter out and shaking it off.

"Hey, it looks like an invite to Vic and Ted's wedding!" Freddy exclaimed. Dom's sister, Victoire Weasley, had somehow managed to ensnare a poor, unsuspecting bloke by the name of Teddy Lupin into her well-manicured clutches. He was now doomed to marry her and suffer as her slave-cum-personal doormat for the rest of his miserable life. Needless to say, we were all very happy for them.

"Joy unbounded." Rolling her eyes, Dom snapped the letter shut and tossed it back into the bowl of porridge.

"I'm guessing I'm not invited," I said dryly. There had been an incident over the summer at Dom's birthday party — Victoire had tried to announce her engagement and upstage Dom, I'd tried to stop her, chocolate cake had been involved... Long story short, Victoire wasn't a huge fan of me.

"No, I don't think you are." Dom shrugged. "But I'll sneak you in anyway."

See, that was the thing about Dominique Weasley. She might be a colossal bitch, but she used her colossal bitch powers for good. She was kind of like Superman. Except with, you know, a manicure and PMS.

I should get her a cape.

Grinning, I raised my goblet and tilted it towards my best friend in mock salute, but she didn't seem to be paying attention. She was already deep in thought, swirling in her own little Dom Land of clothes and fashion and shoe shopping. "I'll have to buy a dress for the reception," she was mumbling. "There's no way in hell I'll stay in whatever horrible bridesmaid get-up Victoire puts me in. But what to buy? I always look good in a sweetheart neckline, but that might be too playful for the occasion — "

Fred groaned, sensing that this conversation was heading in the direction of fashion and clothes and not liking it all. "Can you two save this topic of discussion for a later time? When I'm not around, maybe?"

"You could go strap-less," I suggested, partly to appease Dom and partly to upset Freddy.

"I could, but then I wouldn't know what kind of skirt to pair it with. I don't like the flow-y cut, but I also don't want anything too tight-fitting — "

"Is this necessary?" Fred complained, but he was duly ignored.

"And then there's the color. I need something appropriate for spring. Maybe a nice lilac? I'll have to be careful with my make-up, pastels always wash me out — "

"Wow, I can actually feel my testosterone count dwindling with every word," Fred remarked, seemingly to nobody in particular.

"And then there's the shoes — "

"Please god make it stop."

"I think a trip to Madame Malkin's is definitely in order. Oh, that reminds me! Hogsmeade is next weekend and I have not a thing to wear — "

Fred stood up so quickly, the movement was barely perceptible to the human eye. "I can't take anymore of this. I'm going to class."

I grinned, eyebrows waggling conspiratorially. Did it say something bad about me that Fred's inner agony was a source of joy for me this morning? Probably. "We'll walk with you, Fred," I said brightly, lips pulled into a smirk that was only slightly sadistic. "We all have DADA, so we'll be going to the same place anyway. Right, Dom?"

"...I mean, I could wear that orange sweater I just bought, but I dunno. It kind of clashes with my hai — What? Oh, yeah, sure."

I could see all the emotions flicker across Fred's face — surprise, panic, dread — as he struggled for some kind of excuse but, ultimately, failed. Glumly, he adjusted the strap to his messenger bag and nodded, looking like someone who'd just been told he was about to be publicly executed. It was comical.

What can I say? I was a Slytherin at heart.

Together, the three of us made our way out of the Great Hall, Fred and I walking as we listened to Dom blather on about V-neck shirts and floral patterns and the like. Nott didn't ever care if we showed up late (or if we showed up at all, for that matter), so we took our time winding through throngs of bustling students and strolling up shifting staircases. It was bright out, and crisp, November sunlight streamed in through the dusty windows, pooling into the centuries-old cracks inside the stone floors. Cheery portraits greeted us, tipping their hats and flashing us oil-paint smiles. It was a nice day, and I felt my mood brighten with every step.

"Aggy! Oi, earth to space cadet!"

I snapped out of my reverie, pulling myself back to reality just in time to see Dom standing before me, her lips pressed into a straight, angry line. She was hopping around impatiently from one foot to the other like a puppy looking for attention from its owner. A very angry, very unpleased puppy.

"Well?" She thrust her face towards mine, leaning in way too close and basically gettin' all up in my grill. For a moment, the only thing I could see were two huge, bulbous green eyes.

Personal space boundaries? Who needed those pesky things when you were Dominique Weasley?

"Um..." Quick, Aggy! Say something vague and general so that she'll think you were listening ! "I completely and totally agree with everything you just said — ?"

The two green eyes narrowed into angry slits. Fred snickered from where he was standing next to me, obviously pleased to discover that the concept of karmic retribution did indeed exist, and that it was now my turn to suffer at the hands of Dom Weasley. "Try again," my best friend hissed.

"Er, no those pants don't make you look fat?" I offered. If possible, the green slits got even angrier and smaller.

"Strike two," Fred mouthed.

I ignored him, wracking my brain for the right thing to say. "You've lost weight, haven't you?"

Dom sighed, pulling away from me and pursing her lips. Freddy grinned, eyes glimmering, looking like the kid who had just watched his sibling get in trouble with the angry parent.

"No one listens to me! I was saying that — " But before Dom could finish whatever wise, all-important thing she was going to tell me, a sudden crashing noise sounded from behind us.

Slowly, we turned around to see none other than Evelyn Stanford sprawled out before us, the contents of her bag scattered across the floor. There were books open at random pages, inkwells rolling around frantically, quills drifting towards the ground. Her shiny blonde hair was splayed everywhere, and for a moment, I couldn't help but stare. It was just so weird to see Evelyn looking anything else besides her usual, presentable self.

She must have tripped — or rather, someone must have tripped her, with a passing jinx, probably. Several onlookers were snickering. No one came forward to help Evelyn up like they would have two weeks ago, when she had still been the reigning Queen Bee of Hogwarts. Now, I guess she was just a nobody like the rest of us.

I quickly averted my eyes, ready to drag Fred and Dom away from the scene of the crime, but someone, apparently, had other ideas.

With swift, light strides, Fred rushed over to Evelyn, bent down, and gallantly began gathering up her books. "Are you alright?"

Dom and I stared at him, incredulous. Did he not see who he was talking to? This was Evilyn Stanford, for Merlin's sake! The girl who had made the past few years of our lives a living hell! Thanks to her, I would probably spend the better part of my adult life in therapy, trying to undo the damage she'd wrecked on my self-esteem! This was the girl who, in Third Year, poured maple syrup into my shampoo bottle. How could Freddy even think about helping her?

Freddy, it seemed, simply didn't understand the finer concepts of female warfare. And how could he, really? He was one of the most popular guys at Hogwarts. He had never been the victim of Evelyn's cruel comments, or her one-woman rumor mill. He didn't see Evelyn for who she truly was — a mean girl, with a heart roughly the size and temperature of a polar bear's left testicle.

Evelyn looked up from her pathetic position on the floor, strands of golden hair falling into her pinched, flushed face. "Leave me alone," she muttered fiercely, scrambling around for her belongings and cramming them haphazardly into her bag.

Fred stood up, shrugging as he handed her the contents of her bag. "Just trying to do my job as a Good Samaritan," he said, flashing an amiable grin.

"Yeah, well, you can go be a 'Good Samaritan' somewhere else. I don't need your help," Evelyn literally growled. She snatched her bag and stood up hastily, mint green eyes landing on anything other than Fred's face.

Fred didn't reply. He simply quirked his lips into a small half-smile as Evelyn jostled past him, an idea simmering thoughtfully in his light gaze. For a moment, it looked as though he was just going to let her walk away. But then he turned around and, cupping his hand around his mouth, shouted at her retreating frame:

"Hey, Stanford!"

Evelyn whipped around, impatience etched in the lines in her face.

"Go out with me," Fred said simply, as if he were requesting for someone to pass him the salt and not asking one of the most terrifying girls at Hogwarts on a date. For one ephemeral moment, Evelyn's face was not tight and snarling with anger. She simply looked like... A girl. A very shocked, very startled girl who had just been caught off guard by a very nice, very unflappable guy.

But then she rearranged her features into a sneer and hitched her bag higher up her arm. "Like hell," she growled.

Freddy only shook his head, the same jovial smile still on his face. "You know that thing you do, Stanford?" he said, loud enough for the words to travel down the hall and, consequently, draw everyone else's attention. "Where you intimidate everyone into being afraid of you? Yeah, it's not going to work on me." He shrugged, holding up his hands. "You don't scare me, Evelyn Stanford."

And I actually believed it. Freddy Weasley was not an easily intimidated bloke, after all. He was absolutely fearless, the sod, and he refused to let himself be scared of anything. I remember one summer, when the five of us had been on a hike through a forest by Shell Cottage. A huge black snake had slithered onto our path and, naturally, we had all freaked out. Dom had jumped into my arms, Aidan had jumped into Potter's... The only one who had remained unfazed was Freddy, who picked up the snake with a branch and named it 'Albert.'

Evelyn's scowl deepened as she raised her arm to shoot Freddy the middle finger, successfully making it the second time this morning Fred had been flipped off by a member of the opposite sex. Then, in a sudden flourish of glimmering gold hair, she twirled back around and stalked off, leaving the poor bloke standing there with a goofy grin on his face.

Dom and I gaped, two incredulous bystanders to this very strange incident, as Fred shrugged, glanced up at the ceiling, and sighed. Dreamily.

"She totally wants me."

This could not end well.



A/N: Alrighty, so I know that this chapter is shamefully short and has absolutely no plot in it whatsoever, but I'm going away on vacation for two weeks and I wanted to give you guys at least something to read before I left. Hopefully you enjoyed!


Chapter 22: Falling
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Like with many things, it all started in Defense Against the Dark Arts.

The class had been a rousing hour of sitting in boredom, listening to Professor Nott gripe about our 'awe-inspiring stupidity' and the 'nature-defying speed' at which we managed to 'swiftly and effectively' destroy all his faith in humanity. While Nott's rants were normally a drag to listen to, I was too happy to let it affect me. Because Freddy had finally relieved me of my obligations to his prank and his harebrained scheme.

I had been so happy to be done. Happy! Imagine that! Agatha Bennett, Queen of Teenage Angst, happy for once.

Ridiculous, I know.

And I must have been delirious that morning, or someone must have slipped something into my pumpkin juice during breakfast, because I had actually, foolishly carried out the next few hours believing Freddy would uphold his promise.

Silly me.

I had believed that things were going to work out. That no longer would I have to illegally trek through the castle anymore. That I was done fleeing from Filch and his broomhandle, breaking into school property and, most of all, getting into compromising positions with James Sirius Potter inside broom cupboards. I was a free woman.

Or so I had thought.

But then, while in the midst of leaving class after the hour was over, Freddy pulled me aside in the hall so we could "chat."

“Agatha,” he said. “This is a serious matter.”

That was when I first knew something was wrong. Freddy Weasley was never serious about anything.

“What’s up?” I shifted my weight from foot to foot, hooking my thumbs through the straps of my backpack. Around me, students were filtering out of Nott’s classroom, looking tired and weary from the hour of verbal abuse we’d all just endured. Everyone looked near tears, either from boredom or distress, I couldn't tell. I was impatient to get to Transfiguration before I showed up late and Professor McGonagall turned me into a can of Fancy Feast.

“It’s about the prank,” Fred said anxiously, lips quivering into a weak smile, and I snapped my attention back towards him. “Turns out, I still kind of need your help.”

The words hit me. Like really, hit me — that was the only way I could accurately describe the feeling. It was as if someone had taken a magic marker, written Freddy's words on their fist, and then punched me straight in the face.

I stared at him in shock, unblinking, all the breath gone from my chest. “Please tell me you're kidding.”

"Sorry, Aggs, but that's where I'll have to disappoint you," Freddy admitted, still smiling that half, uneasy smile.

"Is that a feeling you're familiar with? Disappointing others?" I said in a hollow tone, but I was too surprised to put the full force behind my snark.

Freddy winced. "I'm sorry."

“You want help.” I stated flatly, shaking my head from side to side.

Sheepishly, Fred nodded.

Help. He wanted help. With his stupid, juvenile, immature prank. As if I hadn’t already done enough! Who had been the one to break into the Potions cupboard and steal from school property? Who had been the one to blunder around the castle in the middle of the night, running from Filch like a sodding ex-convict? Honestly! I was a Prefect, for Merlin's sake. I was supposed to be preventing this kind of behavior, not... participating in it! How could he even think about doing this to me, when he had promised

“Aggy, I’m sorry. But it’s really important and you’re the only one who—”

“I seriously cannot believe this,” I muttered, more to myself than anything. And then I was jostling past Freddy, ignoring his cries for me to stop, just trying to get as far away as possible before I did something rash like hex all the kid's face off.

Anger. That was all I could feel, thrumming through my entire body. Anger at Fred, anger at Cooper, anger at this whole, stupid situation. Of course this would happen. I had known it would, deep down, known that at some point promises made to me would be broken just like they had been before. But I hadn’t expected it from Freddy.

Freddy, who was usually so good on his word. Freddy, who had actually seemed to understand my feelings about the whole prank business. Freddy, who I had even started to consider as a good friend...

I wiped that thought furiously from my mind as I rounded the corner, my head throbbing violently. This was just too, too much — I felt like I was going to explode.

I kept walking, trying not to think about Freddy and how he was probably still standing where I left him, no doubt trying to fit all the pieces together in this latest round of the Why Aggy’s Pissed Off game (also known as What Did I Do This Time?). He would most likely be attempting to figure out how angry and violent I was right now, and whether it would be safe to follow me (very, and it wouldn’t).

The thought made me quicken my pace angrily, angril the next corner at practically the speed of light. All of a sudden, there was a fleeting glimpse of unruly dark hair, a red gold tie — and then, I was colliding with someone.

Weightlessness, the world veering out of control, tilting topsy-turvy. Me, falling.

As the stone floor raced towards me in the epic battle of Aggy vs. Gravity (hint: gravity was winning), I braced myself for the inevitable impact, eyes squeezing shut in anticipation for the ensuing pain and dent to my dignity. But then, out of nowhere, my fall was suddenly stopped. I felt something — this unseen force — jerk me back and upwards and hold me there, frozen to the spot, dangling in mid-air. It was as if someone had pressed the pause button on reality — my body was now halted in space, inches from the floor.

I looked up.

Potter. He was staring at me, eyebrows raised, a cool expression on his annoyingly handsome face. His fingers were curled around the strap of my backpack, which he had lifted and, along with it, the person attached to the straps — me . His steady hand held me safely above the ground, and my eyes flickered from the floor to Potter to his hands as I quickly tried to make sense of what just happened.

I had been rounding the corner. Potter had been on the other side, doing that stupid, annoying thing he does where he goes off and... exists, and stuff. The inevitable happened, and we must have collided. And since I was Agatha Bennett, Bonafide Swag Master and all-around embodiment of grace, I had tripped over him and fell. And because he was James Potter, Pratface Douchepants and possessor of amazing Quidditch reflexes, he had simply and easily grabbed me by my backpack straps, stopping me in midair and effectively preventing my fall.

Ugh. The prick.

Yeah, yeah, I knew it was great he had helped me and everything. I mean, he probably did just save me a sprained ankle and an ice pack or two, but honestly? I’d rather have fallen. Because now Potter got to gloat and act all athletic and cool, while I had to — shudder — thank him.

Gross.

There was a long, frozen moment of nothing. My surprised gaze locked on to Potter’s cool one, and slowly, I straightened so that instead of just my toes grazing the floor, I was standing firmly on my own two legs. Potter let go. We stared at each other for a minute, and then:

“You are so irritating!” I blurted out, perhaps a little louder than necessary.

Potter quirked a dark eyebrow, hand falling to his side. “Excuse me?” For once, he looked caught off guard. Obviously, he had been expecting a gushing wave of gratitude (or at least a grudging ‘thanks’), and my unexpected response had surprised him.

“You heard me!” I threw my arms into the air, exasperated. I knew it was rude, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. First Freddy, now Potter — today was just not my day. “You’re irritating!”

“And what exactly about me,” Potter began slowly, looking unimpressed. "Is so irritating to you?"

“Ugh, I don’t know! You, you...” I stammered, flapping my hands around in a charmingly epileptic manner as I tried to form the right words. “Just you, alright?!”

“Oh, okay, then I'm sorry for — what would you call it? Existing?” Potter’s tone was anything but sincere. It was dripping with sarcasm, each word loaded with mockery.

“Sounds about right,” I spat back just as venomously.

“In that case, I apologize for my existence,” Potter said gallantly. “I’ll try and tone it down next time.”

“Please do,” I snapped back.

There was a heavy, angry silence.

“Jesus, Bennett,” Potter finally said, letting curiosity get the better of him. “What’s got your knickers in a twist today? You’re even pissier than usual.”

I could have insulted him again, but this time, I decided to play it cool. I didn't want Potter to have the satisfaction of getting to watch as I hysterically launched myself from one end of the human spectrum of emotion to the other. I was going to be composed.

“Thinking about my knickers, Potter?” I asked, raising a sole eyebrow.

Potter cringed, face twisted into a expression of over-exaggerated disgust. “Please, spare me — I just ate.”

“Oh, and how was your daily helping of children's souls and puppy dreams? Tasty, I hope.”

"It'd be even better if I didn’t feel like vomiting everything back up after seeing your face.”

"Mature."

"I know."

“Fuck off.”

“Gladly.”

Potter was just turning around, ready to leave, when suddenly, someone else dashed around the corner, slamming into my body and successfully sending me into another tailspin. I felt myself trip over some unknown object (Potter’s big ego, perhaps?), my body hurtling through the air at breakneck speed.

I was just about to greet my old chum, the Ground, with a friendly face-plant when, out of nowhere, I was jerked upwards and back onto my feet. Again.

Courtesy of Potter and his ‘look-at-me-I’m-so-fast-and-cool’ Quidditch Reflexes.

...For the second time today.

This is just getting ridiculous.

Potter released his hold on my backpack, not even looking at me as I stumbled to a stand, disgruntled, and turned around to face the person who had just zoomed around the corner and caused this whole ruckus.

Freddy.

Of course.

“Aggy.” Fred was panting. It was obvious that, after a lot of self-debating, he had decided to go after me and had sprinted all the way here. I watched as he bent over to put his hands on his knees, now completely out of breath.

“Aggy,” he gasped, “I just want to say that I’m sorry, and that I know you’re mad and everything, but can you please hear me out?”

I stared at him, silent.

“Okay, cool,” Fred prattled on, taking my sulking as wordless agreement. “Look, I’m just going to be honest here: I need you for this prank. And I’m really sorry to ask you for your help.”

I couldn’t help but let some of my previous anger leak through. “You promised—”

“I know, and I was wrong! I miscalculated! Believe me, I feel awful about it. I hate asking you for favors, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t absolutely have to. But that’s the thing—I do absolutely have to. If you don’t do this, Aggy, then the whole prank’s going to fall through. And then all of our work will have been a waste.”

He paused, taking in another deep breath. I didn’t say anything, just mulled over what he had said and allowed myself to concede that maybe Fred had a point. No matter how childish or petty I thought this whole ordeal was, Cooper did deserve at least some form of karmic payback. And if it would help Cooper get what he deserved, then maybe doing one more thing for the prank wouldn’t be that terrible...

“Please, Aggy,” Fred implored. Next to me, Potter said nothing, his expression completely blank.

“Well...” I began slowly, but I already knew I would relent. Who was I kidding? I was a sucker, and I always caved for these boys.

“It’ll only be one little thing,” Fred added hastily, holding up an arbitrary finger. “One little thing, and you’re done. For good, this time.”

For a silent moment, I simply let Freddy hang there in agonizing suspense.

“Oh, alright," I finally said.

Freddy breathed a huge sigh of relief, letting out a ‘whoop!’ of jubilation and pumping his fist into the air. Potter said nothing, as apathetic as ever, but I could see his shoulders tense ever so slightly underneath his white oxford.

“But on one condition,” I said, interrupting Fred in the middle of his celebratory victory dance.

“Anything,” Fred said boldly as he thrust his pelvis from side to side and wiggled his hips. “You name it, and it’s done.”

“I work with a partner,” I declared. If I was going down, then by god, someone was coming with me. I didn’t care who—Dom, Freddy, whoever—just so long as it wasn’t—

“I’ll go,” Potter interjected in his usual, obnoxious manner.

What? Immediately I whipped around, unable to do anything but stare in incredulity. Why would Potter willingly volunteer to work with me? He loathed me just as much as I loathed him, and it was an unspoken policy between the two of us that we always avoided each other unless we absolutely couldn't help it.

Had the kid gone mental? Did he not realize how poorly this would end if we teamed up?

But Potter wouldn’t meet my gaze. Instead, he was staring steadily at Freddy, his face completely inscrutable and leaving me to wonder what in Merlin’s name was going on on behind that thick skull of his.

I turned as well to look at Fred, straightening as I gazed at him in confidence. There was no way in hell Freddy would agree to Potter being my partner. As mastermind of the prank, he had final say, and he knew full well that Potter and I would not work effectively together. We would fight, argue, probably jeopardize everything. I mean, even though maths wasn’t exactly Fred's forte, he had to at least known that the basics, right? One plus one was two. Two plus two was four. Potter plus Aggy? Disaster.

Fred was going to say no. He had to. After all, what kind of brain-dead, idiotic moron would even think about agreeing to such a — ?

“Sure, sounds good to me!”

Oh bollocks.

—*—

And that was how—two tantrums and a whole lot of pointless bickering later—I found myself standing next to Potter outside the Gryffie common room, wearing all-black, carrying a large, shady-looking knapsack and ready to embark on yet another crazed, all-nighter mission through Hogwarts.

Except this time, it wasn’t just stealing from school property. No. This time, it was much, much worse.

We were catnapping.

I’m not talking about the brief, hour-long snoozes you take in the middle of the day. No, not that kind of catnap. What I'm talking about is something different. I am talking about actual, genuine feline abduction.

Tonight, Potter and I were going to kidnap a cat.

...Filch’s cat, specifically.

Yeah.

We were so going down.

Scowling not at anybody in particular, but rather at the general situation before me, I folded my arms across my chest and hugged myself against the brisk November air. Merlin’s knobby kneecaps, it was drafty in this castle. You'd think after a couple centuries of educating children, Hogwarts could figure out a bloody central heating system.

“You should relax, Bennett,” Potter said calmly from where he was standing next to me, eyes squinted as he surveyed the empty hallway.

Jerking out of my reverie, I swiveled around to point my scowl at Potter, arms still crossed defensively.

“I’m relaxed,” I said, shrugging over-casually, though I wasn’t so convincing with my voice an octave higher and my foot rapping incessantly against the ground.

For once, Potter didn’t reply. He simply shot me a doubtful look that said everything it needed to.

“What?” I asked, waving my arms in the air frantically to illustrate my point. “I am! I’m the picture of relaxed! The epitome of relaxed! The very definition of it! I’m relaxed!

Potter ducked swiftly as, in the midst of my indignant flapping, one of my spastic hands reached up to almost hit him in the face. "That's great, and I'm happy for you, Bennett," he said wryly as he straightened. "But do you think you could maybe 'be relaxed' over there by that corner? Out of arm's-length from me?"

I responded with a petty, albeit effective, eyeroll. “Oh, you think you’re so witty, don’t you?”

Actually—“

“Why are you doing this, Potter?” I blurted out suddenly, unable to contain myself any longer. “I can manage this job perfectly fine by myself!”

You were the one who asked for a partner.”

“Yeah, but I didn't mean you! Why on earth would you volunteer?"

“Well, someone has to be there for when you inevitably muck everything up!” And there it was. Out and in the open, the reason that gave sense to all of Potter's actions up to this point. The prat didn't trust me not to mess this up. He thought I was incompetent.

“Don’t you dare cast me into some weak, helpless Damsel in Distress stereotype,” I fumed, voice dangerously low, as I took an incensed step forward. “I’ll have you know that it’s derogatory and sexist and — ”

“ — insulting and archaic and blah blah blah,” Potter finished for me, practically taking the words out of my mouth. He had heard my anti-sexism rant many times before and could now probably recite it by heart. “Merlin, Bennett. I’m only stating a fact. No need to get in a strop.”

“I am not in a strop.” I was totally in a strop, but I’d be damned if I was going to let him know it.

“You’re talking fast and your left eye is twitching in the way it usually does when you're angry,” Potter stated flippantly, as if he knew me or something. “You are definitely in a strop.”

I glared at him.

He didn’t return my glare. Instead, he turned away and blew out an exasperated sigh, obviously annoyed at my 'unjustified anger.' I watched through slitted eyes as he pushed a had through his dark, tousled hair. “Are we really going to argue right now?”

“Oh, like it’s my fault!” I spat back, affronted.

“Well, maybe if you didn’t insist on contradicting everything I say—”

“Maybe if you didn't insist on acting like such a big-headed twat—”

“Look!” Potter wheeled around suddenly, his golden eyes blazing like two identical embers. He looked actually...angry. Not annoyed, or frustrated, or vexed. But angry. It was so unlike his cool, freakishly calm self that I inadvertently took a step back. “I’m not saying you’re weak or helpless or a damsel in distress, or anything like that!”

Despite his uncharacteristic and, quite frankly, surprising anger, I stood my ground. “Oh," I said coolly, folding my arms across my chest. "Then what are you saying?”

“You really want to know?”

“By all means, enlighten me!”

“I’m stating the simple fact that you’re clumsy and uncoordinated—”

“Excuse me?”

“—and that you have a very convenient knack of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that someone has to be there to drag you out of all the ridiculous situations you get yourself into!”

I had to take a moment to find my reply, struggling for the adequate words to express my ire. “I—You—Stop flattering yourself, Potter! I don’t need you to hover around me like some sodding bodyguard!”

“Well we’re stuck in this together, Bennett, so you don’t really have a choice. Now just shut up and bloody deal with it, will you?”

I snapped my mouth shut, furious that, like always, Potter was right, and that, like always, I couldn’t do a thing about it. Gritting my teeth together, I stormed forward through the corridor, legs moving at marathon power-walking pace, trying to put as much distance as possible between me and The Git.

Stupid Potter! Stupid, magnanimous, righteous... Gryffindor! I knew why he was doing this, of course. He felt obligated. By the sacred bonds of Bromance, he had to protect me, look out for me, just because I was the sister of his best mate.

Well, to hell with Bromance. And to hell with Potter!

We walked the rest of the way in a stiff silence, both of us stewing in quiet fury. I didn't trust myself to say another word for fear of starting an explose row, so I just settled for imagining all the different ways I could bring Potter to a slow and painful death. That made me feel a teensy bit better.

Finally, right before we neared Filch’s office, Potter stopped.

“You sure you know what to do?” Merlin, he was so patronizing.

“Yes, I know what to do,” I said through gritted teeth. My hand was clenched around the catnap-knapsack so hard, I was worried my fingers would break off.

Despite the fact that I was going on this insane mission, I still did not fully know what the Cooper Prank consisted of, exactly, or what kidnapping Filch's cat would serve for. I had asked Freddy to explain everything, but he had steadfastly refused, saying that the less I knew, the better for me. I believed him.

So all I understood, at the current moment, was what I was supposed to do, as Freddy had given me clear instructions for the task ahead of me. It wasn't a complicated process, actually. Disregarding the risk of getting caught by Filch and having my fingernails pried off one by one in his torture chamber, it was practically a piece of cake.

It was common knowledge throughout Hogwarts that Filch was totally bat-blind when he wasn't wearing his reading glasses. So, all that remained to be done was find a way to exploit that weakness. Eventually, we (or rather, Freddy’s deranged mind) came up with a solution.

In the knapsack I was carrying, there was a stuffed cat. Not the child's toy kind. No, an actual taxidermy cat — a real, ‘this-was-once-a-living-being’ cat.

...Yeah, I had no idea how Freddy procured it either. When I asked him, he simply responded with a shifty glance and mumbled something about EBay.

What was supposed to happen was this: Potter would set off a series of dungbombs throughout the corridor. He would then run into Filch’s office, pretending that he was some innocent bystander who heard the bombs go off and that he thought he knew which way the perpetrator had gone. Of course, Filch, thirsting for fresh adolescent blood, would demand for Potter to show him where. Potter would then lead Filch through a wild goose chase throughout the castle, which would hopefully give me the time to sneak into Filch’s office, steal his glasses, nab Mrs. Norris Jr., and leave the taxidermy version in it’s place.

Filch would come back to his office completely blind and would probably mistake the fake Mrs. Norris for the real one. He’d go on with his day, oblivious to what had transpired, until we would finally return the real cat a couple days later.

For a super-evil-revenge-plan, it was actually pretty simple.

"Bennett? Earth to Bennett?" Potter snapped his fingers in front of my face, and I jolted back to reality, blinking furiously in the dim light of the hallway. "Are you sure you're ready?"

I turned around, eyeballs flicking to the ceiling, and sighed. “Yeah.”

Potter nodded, his face hardened with determination. Raising a finger, he pointed to a nearby tapestry that looked about as old as McGonagall herself. “Alright. You hide behind that tapestry and wait until I get Filch out of the office. Then you can go inside and grab Mrs. Norris.”

“Aye aye, capitano.” I gave a sarcastic little salute, and Potter rolled his eyes as I turned on my heel towards the tapestry. While I ducked behind the musty fabric, I could hear Potter walk in the opposite direction. There was a rustling as he took a dungbomb out of his pocket, and then a satisfying little poof sound as he lobbed it inside an empty classroom.

The stench was immediate. Eager to put more distance between myself and the smell, (and Potter), I scurried further behind the tapestry. It was a pale blue colour, sprinkled with moth holes and worn with age. Retching from the dungbombs, I ducked inside.

The tapestry smelled worse.

Muttering angrily to myself (which was kind of hard to do when trying not to breathe too much), I crouched down in the dark and waited. Remind me why I was doing this again?

I remained silently behind the tapestry, knowing full well that with each second I was losing more and more self-respect, and that it wouldn't be long before my olfactory receptors started committing mass suicide. One minute later, and I was gnashing my teeth in fury. Two minutes later, and I was mentally cursing Potter, this prank, and this godforsaken tapestry. Five minutes later, and I was just about ready to pass out due to lack of oxygen.

But then I heard footsteps.

“I think he went this way, sir.” Potter. His voice was deep and clear, ringing throughout the narrow corridor, and I stiffened. My heartbeat faltered, stopped, and suddenly jerked into double-time.

They were right outside, possibly only a meter away. All Filch had to do was notice the odd, Aggy-shaped lump behind the tapestry, and we’d be caught.

“Are you sure?” Filch’s croaking rasp was unmistakable.

“Positive.”

“Well, hurry up, kid,” sneered our wonderfully charming caretaker. “Mrs. Norris and I were in the middle of our Song and Story Time before you barged in, and I’d like to get back.”

Deeply disturbed by this information (what the hell was Song and Story Time?), I shifted my weight and listened carefully as Potter and Filch’s footsteps faded away. When I was absolutely sure they were gone, I waited ten more seconds and then ducked out of the smothering tapestry.

Oh, oxygen! Clean, pure, dungbomb-scented oxygen! How I’d missed you!

Knapsack in hand, I scampered off, rounded the corner, and plastered myself quickly against the nearest stone wall. At an agonizingly slow rate, I inched towards the open door of Filch’s office, careful to not make even the slightest sound.

Believe it or not, but this was indeed my first cat abduction job, so I was feeling a little nervous. My palms were sweaty (attractive), my mouth as dry as cotton (charming), and I kept on having to fight off sudden urges to pee (convenient). By the time I reached the doorframe, I was a shaking, sweaty wreck.

Gulping in some deep breaths to collect myself, I craned my neck around and poked my head into the empty room. All clear.

I ducked inside, immediately dropping into one of those ninja-rolls that I'd always wanted to do but never got the chance (they're fun, okay?), and then quickly stood up. Filch’s office was cramped, full of strange but menacing contraptions that held mysterious purposes I was unaware of. I made sure to steer clear of those.

There was a desk at the far end of the room, and then a small, wooden door that, from what I could see through the adjacent small windows, led out to a balcony. I snorted in amusement. Really? Filch got a balcony? Was there a minifridge in the desk? A heart-shaped Jacuzzi in the bathroom?

The amusing thought made me relax a little. Now that I was inside the office and sure Potter wouldn't be coming until later, I wasn’t feeling so nervous (re: cripplingly terrified) anymore. Idly, I browsed around the room, looking through dusty bookshelves and cabinets, making sure to nab Filch's reading glasses off his desk, and then plant the taxidermy cat in one of the cobwebby corners.

Mission successful. Now, all I had to do was get the real cat.

I found it quick enough. It was sitting on the ledge of an open window that looked out towards the balcony and a dark night sky sprinkled with stars. The beautiful scenery behind her was a direct contrast to the skinny, haggard-looking bag of fleas and bones that was Mrs. Norris, Jr.

Her yellow eyes were narrow and unblinking. Even though I was several times bigger than her, I still couldn’t help the shiver of fear that glided down my spine.

“Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I cooed softly, holding out the empty knapsack. “It's Song and Story Time!”

No response. Mrs. Norris just looked at me like I was a Class A Idiot (which, to be honest, was exactly how I felt at the moment), and then went back to cleaning her paw.

Bollocks. Guess I had to use physical force here. With slow, careful steps, I advanced towards Mrs. Norris, clutching the knapsack like a lifeline and making cooing, kissy noises that had no effect.

I was almost there, only a couple centimeters away, when — looking almost cheeky — Mrs. Norris suddenly ducked out the window and onto the balcony outside.

Bloody—damnit! Cursing to every deity/god/spiritual being I could name, I quickly scrambled towards the balcony door and wrenched it open, cringing at the sudden gust of icy November air. I gritted my teeth, bracing myself, and stepped outside onto the paved grey stone. There was a sudden gust of wind, and then a loud slam as the door closed behind me.

Well. Hope it didn't lock.

Scowling in the chilly air, I looked up to see Mrs. Norris sauntering on a ledge that jutted out of the castle wall about two meters above my head. She—it—whatever was staring down at me with a smug expression on her furry face as she paced from left to right, tail swaying with a nonchalant, ‘bitches-can’t-touch-this’ air. Stupid cat.

Gritting my teeth, I craned my neck and stared at the ledge, knowing full well what I had to do. That cat was so going down.

I refused to give myself the time for doubt. Clenching the knapsack in my teeth, I used my newly freed hands to climb up the side of the wall, gripping the uneven stones that protruded from the surface for balance.

And that was how I, Agatha Bennett, ended up scaling the fucking side of the fucking castle of fucking Hogwarts, all in search of a fucking cat.

This made it official — I had lost my mind. I was like one of those deranged muggles who go off the deep end and start climbing up city buildings. All I needed right now was a discount-bought Spiderman costume and a long history of drug abuse, and I’d be golden.

What was the weirdest thing, though, was that I wasn’t even afraid at this point. I mean, there were a lot of things I was scared of (snakes, owls, Dom with a hangover), but heights wasn't one of them. For some reason, I felt perfectly at ease clinging to the wall of the castle, despite the fact that I was up possibly hundreds of feet in the air. I mean, granted, if I fell, it would just be onto the balcony a couple feet below, but still. I wasn't even the slightest bit nervous.

Eventually, after a lot of scraped knees, almost-slips, and the most creative cursing I’d done in years, I was finally able to clamber on top of the ledge, exhausting just about every muscle in both my arms to do so. The ledge was approximately two feet wide, so I still had to hold onto the wall in order to keep my balance, and like this I slowly shuffled towards the cat. She had curled up on the other end and was appearing to enjoy watching me flounder this entire time.

I held out my bag, calling to Mrs. Norris Jr. in a manner that was, at first, sugary sweet, and then desperate, and then just straight out vicious.

“Here, kitty cat! Over here! Please? Please come over here. I’m begging you!—Oi! Litterbreath! It's cold, I'm tired, this is stupid. Just get in the fucking bag before I turn you into a coat with matching gloves!”

This non-PETA-approved threatening seemed to finally get Mrs. Norris Jr.’s attention. She snapped her furry head up, fixing me with a peeved, scrutinizing stare, and remained firmly seated in her spot. Damnit. I needed to get closer, but the ledge was tapering into a point, getting more and more narrow with every step I took. What if I fell off? I’d have to start all over again—and the cold, hard stone of the balcony below did not look very welcoming.

That was when an idea hit me.

Dangling only a meter away, just within my arm’s reach, was one of the few thousand flags that Hogwarts hung to adorn its outer walls. The banner jutted out on its gleaming brass pole, its dark material swaying slightly in the wind. The flag itself was huge—bigger than me by far—and boldly displayed a giant, gleaming picture of the Hogwarts crest. I hastily shimmied towards it, ignoring Mrs. Norris’s piercing gaze, until I was close enough to grab onto the cloth. Then, with all the skill and expertise of a Girl Scout on crack, I managed to clumsily fumble a corner of the flag through the belt-loop of my pants, and then hastily tie it into something that vaguely resembled a knot.

Feeling much more secure now that I had an anchor, I continued to scoot along the stone. I was near Mrs. Norris now. She was on the very edge, with no where to escape, and I was almost there...

Like a striking King Cobra, I lashed out with my knapsack and—after a brief episode in which I had to frantically fend off a pair of claws going for my jugular—managed to get the cat in the bag. Success!

I straightened, sending a triumphant ‘whoop!’ into the icy air. Had I really just done that? Had I just successfully kidnapped Filch’s cat—without falling off the castle or getting one of my main arteries punctured by Mrs. Norris’s deadly talons? I could hardly believe it! It had almost been too easy.

The very minute that thought crossed my mind, however, the stone ledge underneath my feet gave way ever so slightly.

It happened so fast — too fast for me to register the real succession of events. One second, I was standing on the ledge, about to break out into a victory dance—and then the next, I was hurtling through the air, knapsack in hand, racing towards the stone of the balcony above head-first. All of a sudden I was falling towards the ground and everything was going hideously wrong.

I was bracing myself for impact when, all of a sudden, I jerked to a stop mid-fall in a manner terribly reminiscent of this morning, when Potter had grabbed me by my backpack straps. There was a jerking suspension of gravity, and then I found myself hanging in mid-air, suspended by the flag I had stupidly knotted to my pants.

And that was how I, Agatha Bennett, ended up dangling off the castle of Hogwarts, flipped upside down and held in place by nothing more than a very precariously-tied flag... All the while clutching a stolen cat.

I am unsure as to how this situation could get any worse.

“...That’s so weird, Professor. I could have sworn that whoever did it went that way...” I immediately froze at the sound of the deep, familiar voice, leaking through the window from within the office. Oh no. Oh no. Please don’t tell me that was Potter’s voice I heard. Please don’t tell me he was back right now. Please don’t tell me Potter and Filch were walking inside at this very moment, while I was dangling helplessly outside the window only a few meters away. Please, please, please.

But no. It was all actually happening. I watched through the open window, an expression of abject horror on my face, as Potter and Filch entered the office. For a moment, I was tempted to scream, to alert them both of my presence and give away everything. Somehow, though, I managed to keep my mouth clamped firmly shut as I watched Filch take a seat at his desk, his back (thankfully) turned towards me.

I was so dead.

Wincing, I wiggled around slightly, trying to somehow maneuver the flag so that it could swing me out of the window’s view... But no such luck. In fact, all the momentum just sent me into a complete tailspin, and I started frantically swinging back and forth, spinning through the air like some sort of demented human pendulum. The world began whirling around me in a dizzying blur of stars and stone and light, and inside the knapsack, Mrs. Norris Jr. yowled unhappily.

“Well, thanks for wasting my time, kid,” Filch’s sneering voice floated through the window, each word making my stomach clench tighter and tighter with fear. Oh god. I felt like I was going to be sick, though I wasn't sure if it was from the fear of Filch killing me or the fact that I was hurtling upside-down through the air at 30 miles per hour. “Teenagers these days... Useless...”

Potter stood in front of Filch’s desk, looking haughty and almost bored as Filch continued to grumble about the plague that was Hogwarts' latest generation of filthy miscreants. Potter hadn’t noticed me yet (weird—you’d think it’d be hard to miss the GIANT HUMAN PENDULUM SWINGING OUTSIDE THE WINDOW), so I started to wave my arm back and forth, hoping to catch his attention.

Potter seemed to be zoning out and I watched, unable to do anything, as his dark, gilded eyes drifted idly around the room, taking in his surroundings.

And that was when he saw me.

To his ever-lasting credit, Potter managed to keep his cool. For one, fleeting second, I could see a barrage of emotions—alarm, panic, horror—flicker across his face. And then they were gone as soon as they came, Potter's eyes quickly flicking away as he smoothed over his expression with an impressive mask of cool, arrogant indifference.

“Actually, Professor Filch,” I heard Potter say, and if his voice was sounding just a little bit strained, Filch didn't seem to notice. “I just remembered—a bunch of Ravenclaw kids have been stashing Firewhiskey in a cupboard near the Charms classroom.”

“Is that so, Potter?”

“Yeah. So isn’t it my duty as an, er, ex-Prefect to, uh, show you where it is? So you can confiscate everything?”

There was a pause. “Are you sure about this?” Filch finally rasped. I could practically see the emotions battling inside him—the reluctance to trust Potter versus Filch's burning desire to get some students in trouble.

Eventually, the latter won out. Filch stood from his desk, mouth turned downwards under his hooked, shiny nose, and followed Potter out of the room. I dangled in the air, watching them leave with a growing sense of dismay. What was going on?

As soon as they exited the room, I heard Potter murmur something. Bewildered, I strained my ears to hear what it was.

“Oh, one second—I think I forgot my wand inside. Just a moment.”

And then he was racing back into the office and bursting through the balcony door, ignoring its slam against the stone wall as he marched towards me, cheeks flushed, chest heaving. His eyes were blazing uncannily bright—he looked fit to murder. It was the most flustered I’d seen him since... Well, ever.

Because the fall had flipped me upside down, and because Potter was so bloody tall, I was now dangling at eye-level with his mouth. Any other time and I’d maybe find this fact distracting, but right now, I was actually sort of afraid. Because although Potter's lips were diverting and interesting to look at, they were also currently twisted into a scowl. A scowl that, I would be the first to admit, was a tad frightening.

“Are. You. Fucking. Insane?” Potter hissed, and I couldn’t stop myself from staring at the smooth way his mouth curved and shaped to form each word, the edge of his teeth scraping ever so slightly against his bottom lip to form the letter 'f.' "How did this happen?"

“Oh, you know,” I replied meekly, still unable to tear my eyes away. "Gravity and all that."

Potter looked like he was about to have an aneurysm. He gaped at me for a bit, and then turned swiftly on his heel. “I’m going to figure out a way to get rid of Filch so that I can come back and get you down. Try not to do anything fantastically stupid while I’m gone.”

He started to walk away, wrenching open the door so that light spilled out onto the balcony. “Wait!” I called frantically.

“What?” He stopped, annoyed, and swiveled back around to look at me.

“How long are you going to be gone?” I tried to keep my voice steady, but there was the slightest tremble of anxiety. I mean, I was suspended upside down, for Merlin's sake, in the middle of the air, clutching a cat in my hand. There was only so much longer I'd be able to hold on for.

Potter stared at me, the anger in his eyes fading away as his gaze took on a glint of sadistic amusement.

“Not long,” he said, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. He was getting satisfaction from watching me like this, I could tell. “Why don't you just try and... hang in there?”

“Hang in there. I get it. Ha ha, very funny,” I sarcastically grumbled, but Potter didn't respond, already walking back out the door.

Time seemed to tick by at a snail’s pace as I waited, swinging softly by the flag, Mrs. Norris squirming uncomfortably in my knapsack. It seemed like eons until Potter finally waltzed back into the office, Filch nowhere to be found. Oh, Merlin. Where was Filch? I knew it was ridiculous, but there was a small, irrational part of me that was kind of afraid Potter had killed him.

“Don’t move.” The second Potter walked out onto the balcony, he was by my side and tugging at the knot around my belt-loop.

“How’d you get rid of Filch?” I asked suspiciously, staring at Potter as he worked. He was biting his lip in concentration, eyes sharp and focused as he stared at my haphazard knot. I tried not to shiver when his fingers accidentally grazed the skin of my hipbone, which had been left exposed by the slipping hem of my shirt.

“Locked him in a broom cupboard,” Potter said offhandedly, not even bothering to look at me as his slender fingers wriggled into the knot.

“You what?”

“Locked him in a broom cupboard. Bennett, stop squirming so much.”

“Are you serio—” I began to exclaim, but I was suddenly cut off as the knot gave way. With a squawk of protest, I felt myself fall through the air...

...And into Potter’s arms.

My voice died in my throat as Potter caught me with ease, looking completely nonchalant and not freaked out in the slightest. I gaped, opening and closing my mouth uselessly, shocked into silence and unable to think of anything besides the fact that I was currently close enough to Potter to count the green flecks in his eyes.

Before I could say or do anything stupid, Potter swiftly set me down on my feet, with about as much concern as if he were handling a sack of potatoes. He was all business, completely oblivious to the tension I had been feeling between us, as he grabbed the knapsack from my hands and turned curtly on his heel.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said sharply, and too dazed to protest, I staggered around a bit, trying to regain my footing, before following Potter back into the office. We were almost to the door when, all of a sudden, we heard him.

“WHERE ARE YOU, YOU MISERABLE, GOOD-FER-NUTHIN’ CRETIN?”

Filch was back. And he was not happy.

Potter stopped walking immediately, his eyes fluttering shut, jaw working in mild consternation. “You've got to be kidding me," he bit out, voice suppressing barely-contained agitation.

I took this as my cue to launch into full panic mode. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god—Filch is back, we’re going to die, he's going to kill us and make rugs out of our skin, oh my god—”

I couldn’t believe it. We had come this far—I had dangled off the side of a castle, for Merlin’s sake—only to get caught now? I was starting to hyperventilate.

Potter wheeled around, grabbing me by the shoulders. “Bennett?”

“Yeah?” I gasped breathlessly, my eyes desperately searching his face for a sign that he had a solution to this mess, that everything was going to be okay.

“Shut up,” Potter said flatly. And then he wrenched open a nearby door and dragged me inside the dark, musty walk-in closet of Filch’s office.

The door swung closed behind me, and all of a sudden we were drowning in darkness. And because I was just oh-so-graceful (Bonafide Swag Master in the house!), I somehow managed to trip over one of the many random cleaning supplies (at least, I hope it was a cleaning supply) cluttering the floor. Desperate, I reached out to grab something to stop my fall and ended up settling for Potter’s shirt. Then we were both tumbling down, me on top of Potter, Mrs. Norris yowling somewhere in the background.

...And that was how I, Agatha Bennett, ended up straddling James Sirius Potter inside a broom cupboard.

Lucky me.

“Ow—Merlin, that hurt!”

“Fuck, Bennett!”

There was a huge, frenzied ruckus as we tried to detangle ourselves, limbs flying every which way in the darkness. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, I realized that if someone were to see us right now—scrambling frantically together in a cramped, dark broom cupboard—they would interpret the situation in a very different way, and the thought made the back of my neck tingle.

“Shit—”

“Get off me!”

“I’m trying to, you git!”

“Well try harder! Jesus, you’re heavy. What do you eat for breakfast? Cement mix?”

“Careful with what you say, Potter. My knee is very close to your groin right no—”

All of a sudden, Potter’s rough hand came flying over my mouth, muffling my threat, and I stiffened. Ears picking up the sound of Filch's footsteps, I froze in my awkward position sprawled over Potter's torso.

Shit.

In the dim, barely visible light, Potter and I stared at each other with wide, panicked eyes as Filch's footsteps grew louder and louder. Neither of us wanted to move for fear of Filch hearing us, and this made the situation all the more uncomfortable given the position we were currently in. Potter was lying flat on his back on the dusty ground of the cupboard. I was literally straddling him, one of my legs on either side of his hips, my hands planted on the wall behind his head. My dark red hair fell around us like a curtain, a few tendrils curling onto his chest. But most horrifyingly of all, however, was the fact that Potter’s warm hands were currently wrapped around my waist in an ill-fated effort to steady me.

Any other time, I would have slapped him upside the head and told him to get his slimy, disgusting hands off of me, thank you very much. But, here, inside this dark, quiet broom cupboard, I couldn’t do that. Filch was directly outside the door, so close that I didn’t dare breathe, let alone move, and Potter’s hands were pretty much the only thing keeping me from flopping right down on top of him.

This was wrong. So terribly wrong. I mean, I could actually feel Potter’s body underneath mine, warm and solid and—and—

I blinked rapidly, trying to clear my mind of any and all thought, and instead concentrated on the present. There was a very angry caretaker outside the door. If he found us, he would most likely try to dismember our bodies limb from limb. So I thought about that. I did not think about Potter’s hands burning through the flimsy material of my shirt, or the way his eyes were bright and sharp in the darkness.

The air seemed to thud against my ears as I closed my eyes and strained to listen to Filch’s pacing footsteps outside. For one horrifying moment, I really thought he was going to open the door and discover us. But then it passed, and Filch was walking away and leaving the office, and we were safe.

We waited a moment, breathless, until we were absolutely sure he had gone. And then I slowly, gingerly climbed off of Potter, the two of us unable to look at each other as we both struggled to a stand. The air hung thick and palpable around us, and I couldn't find it in myself to breathe a word.

Stiffly, Potter opened the door, making me wince as light washed over me and filled my vision with blinding brightness.

“Well,” he cleared his throat uncomfortably, reaching up to rub the back of his neck.

“Yeah.”

There was a pause, and we crept outside into the office. Potter's mouth was drawn into a flat line.

“We should probably get out of here — ”

"Yeah, definitely. "

"Right. Okay. "

"After you — "

"No, after you," Potter amended, striding over to gallantly swing the door open with a forced politeness that, I knew, in Potter's mind was somehow meant to compensate for the fact that his best friend's sister had just been straddling him in a broom cupboard.

I swallowed nervously, unable to even look at him any longer. We had been close. Too close for comfort, and we both seemed to recognize this, acknowledging the danger of the situation like in an unspoken agreement.

Gravity, it seemed, was just not on my side today.

Head ducked, face flushed, I stepped out into the dark, shadowy corridor. It had been a mission success — we'd nabbed the cat, after all — but for some reason it didn't feel that way as I began to walk down the hallway, conscious of Potter behind me trying to keep as much distance between the two of us as possible.


Chapter 23: Ache
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“I don’t understand.”

I stared blankly at the grave, somber faces of the three people speaking in front of me, unable to comprehend a word. They sat with sad eyes and patient, horribly kind smiles, pitying my confusion, and I felt my agitation spike. They were just trying to be nice, of course, and yet I found them inexplicably, overwhelmingly irritating.

I knew that this was important, that Headmistress Vespertine had called me into her office for a mandatory meeting with Aidan’s healers and lawyers and that I should be carefully scribbling down every scrap of information they offered me, and yet I just couldn’t bring myself to pay attention. I was trying — really, I was — but each droning word and legal term seemed to go in one ear and out the other.

And thanks to years of retaining my status as Dominique Weasley’s Official Best Friend, I had successfully mastered the art of pretending to pay attention. It was quite simple, really. There were three steps, and three steps only:

1. Smile

2. Nod

3. Make vague affirmative noises like, “Mhmm” or “Uh-uh,” or even, if you’re feeling particularly daring: “I see what you mean and I completely agree."

All three of these steps were put into action the minute one of Aidan’s doctors had begun talking. A plump man with a bowtie, the healer had an air of pompousness and, if you looked closely enough, a pair of beady eyes that were barely visible beneath a vast amount of furry facial hair.

He was about as attention-grabbing as my left thumb.

“Miss Bennett, you have to understand that Aidan’s condition right now is at a stasis. He’s stable, but he isn’t getting any better...”

“Mhmm.” Not registering a word this man was saying.

“Because of this, we thought it wise to call a meeting...”

“Uh-huh.” Wow, this dude had really long nose hairs. He should think about investing in a good pair of tweezers.

“Of course, nothing is set in stone right now...”

“I see what you mean and I completely agree.” Could you pluck nose hairs? Maybe you had to shave them.

“But I still believe that it would be wise to convene together, just to throw some ideas out in the open...”

“Right.” Wow, I was really glad I didn't have nose hairs.

“So it’s quite important that you pay attention and listen carefully.”

“Of course.” Wait, did I? Shit. I bet I did and I just hadn't noticed them yet. The hairs were probably lying in wait, biding their time until the perfect moment when they could sprout out and into the open. That would be just my luck.

“Now, you see, my colleagues and I have been discussing a few options, and we believe that...”

As Healer FurryFace (Ph.D. in boring) continued to ramble on, I leaned forward and attempted to get a peek at myself in the reflective surface of Headmistress Vespertine's mahogany desk. Did I have nose hairs? Maybe I did, and up until now, all of my friends had just been too polite to mention it. I tilted my head from left to right, flaring my nostrils erratically in an attempt to garner a good look at the offending nasal invaders. The whole effect was vaguely ‘self-conscious schoolgirl' meets ‘constipated orangutan.’

“Do you agree, Miss Bennett? Miss Bennett? Miss Bennett?"

I startled and gave a shocked little yelp in my uncomfortable wooden seat, jolting suddenly and unpleasantly back to reality. “I DON’T HAVE NOSEHAIRS — uh, what?"

There was a slight pause in the conversation. Dr. FurryFace shifted in his chair, expression scrunched into a half-disapproving, half-confused frown. Professor Vespertine, who was standing quietly in the corner, smiled in a way that was confusingly both gentle and condescending at once.

"Agatha," she said pointedly, gesturing with her head to the healer.

I coughed, tugging meekly at my collar. Headmistress Vespertine already thought I was “mentally disturbed” — she had been the one to send me to the bloody school counselor in the first place — and after that little display of complete what-the-fuckery, she was probably going to start scouting the neighborhood for the nearest loony bin. Wonderful. I should just buy my own straightjacket while I was at it. At least that way I could make sure it was the correct size.

"Right," I coughed. "Paying attention. Sorry."

FurryFace cleared his throat, his moustache bristling slightly in irritation. It looked like a small, hairy little ferret. On his face. And all the nose hairs were baby ferrets. It was just one big, hairy ferret family. “Anyway, back to what I was saying. Miss Bennett, your brother has been comatose for almost two months, and we think it may be time to start taking some...precautionary measures, in case—“

“Wait,” I held up a hand, effectively cutting him off mid-sentence. “Be kind, rewind—what did you just say?”

The healer blinked owlishly, slightly taken aback by my sudden interest in the conversation. “I... I w-was saying that it might be advisable if... as a family, you and your parents began to take some precautionary measures concerning Aidan—“

“What do you mean precautionary measures?” I demanded, slicing through FurryFace’s monotone.

“Precautionary measures such as establishing a good life-insurance plan for your brother, sorting out his trust funds, maybe even creating a will—“

“A will?”

“Deciding whether, if the time comes, Aidan could serve as an organ donor—“

“If the time comes? What time? Organ donor?”

My head was starting to spin. There was this low buzz humming in my ears, growing louder and louder with every word out of this dull man's mouth. I could feel It stirring in the pit of my stomach, hot and acrid and—and...

FurryFace sighed. “I know this is difficult to hear, Agatha, but at this point in time we must take into account the possibility of Aidan’s death.”

And there it was. The very word that had been haunting me, every minute of every day. The very word that I’d been too scared to speak or hear or even think about. Laid out on the table, just like that.

I was going to be sick.

I jolted to my feet, my chair screeching backwards and toppling over with a clumsy thud. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.”

Professor Vespertine’s head snapped up, her features slack with surprise. FurryFace gaped and stuttered for words, “B-But Miss Bennett, this is important—”

“I don’t care!” I suddenly blurted out. “I just... I can’t do this, okay?”

I didn’t bother to wait for an answer to my question. Instead, I wheeled around on my heel and, trying to ignore the scalded expressions of Vespertine and the healers, strode with quick steps out the office.

The door slammed loudly on my way out. I couldn’t find it in me to care.

The second I was out of that hot, stuffy office, I already began to feel loads better. Around me, the air was fresh and crisp and, through the wrought iron windows of the castle, I could see the murky blue shimmer of twilight. Students were probably flooding the Great Hall right now, ready for dinner, chatting about mundane things like homework and classes and Quidditch...

But I couldn’t bear to try and join them. I needed to be alone. It was still writhing and squirming under my skin, and I had to get it out. I had to forget.

And I knew exactly to go.

—*—

The Hogwarts' Kitchens were bustling during dinnertime. House-elves scrambled from steaming pot to smoking oven, too busy to even acknowledge the small, shivering redhead girl who walked through the door. Not that I minded. It was nice to be alone and not have to deal with —

“Miss Agatha Bennett! Miss Agatha Bennett! Thank Potter you’re here! You’ve come for Pipsqueak, haven’t you?”

Crap.

My stomach—or what was left of it since that conversation in Vespertine's office—immediately plummeted to the soles of my shoes. Of course. Of bloody course.

I glanced down at Pipsqueak the House-elf, somehow stretching the muscles in my face into a horribly artificial smile. “Pipsqueak! What a surprise! Fancy seeing you here, uh, in the kitchens. Where you work.”

Pipsqueak nodded furiously, his bulbous eyes round and shining with a slightly disturbing glint of adoration. “Yes, yes, Pipsqueak can always be found in the kitchens. Or at least when he’s not cleaning the Commons or dusting the shelves or watching you sleep—“

“Pardon?”

“Or stirring the fire or whatever else Hogwarts has Pipsqueak do! Yes, yes, indeed! Pipsqueak loves his work!"

So, I had a coma patient for a brother, a Potter for an arch enemy, and a house-elf for a stalker. No wonder I was spiraling. Hey, I might as well just embrace the crazy while I was still lucid enough to do so. Honestly, my life was currently such a pit of chaos and mental instability, I could probably start charging people to watch me flounder. It'd be entertaining, at least. I could make flyers and everything.

AGATHA BENNETT, ONE WOMAN FREAKSHOW.
Embrace the Crazy!
(Tickets $15 online, $20 at the door. You may take pictures, but please turn the flash off because bright lights and sudden movements will frighten the skittish Aggy. Do not feed the Aggy. Do not attempt to pet the Aggy. We are not responsible if the Aggy lashes out at you, bites you, or if one of your personal possessions gets lost in her hair.)

“Miss? Miss?” Pipsqueak’s voice floated into my ears, jerking me down to reality, and I gave my head a firm shake to clear it out. Merlin, I really need to stop with the daydreams. “What’s wrong?”

“Er, nothing," I said distractedly. "Just, Pipsqueak, you should know that you can be a bit over-bearing at times."

“Ah, yes. Occasionally people tell Pipsqueak that he has... uh—how do you say—issues with personal space. But Pipsqueak does not mind. Just so long as his friends are safe.” Pipsqueak paused, his luminous eyes traveling across my face. "Have you been feeling well lately, miss?"

I gaped at him, unable to comprehend how a house-elf like Pipsqueak could exist in the same world as war and terrorism and other generally bad things. “I... well, yeah," I said, so caught off guard I found myself telling the truth. "I've been taking a sleeping potion this counselor prescribed me, and it's been working. There are some side effects, apparently, but I haven't noticed anything."

Pipsqueak’s eyes widened in shock. “Is Agatha Bennett saying that she has been poppin’ bottles?”

“Poppin — what? Excuse me?”

“Poppin’ bottles,” Pipsqueak replied with utmost seriousness. “Getting crunk in da club with the biddies."

“Pipsqueak, what on earth are you talking about?”

“Oh! You see, Pipsqueak has recently purchased a muggle mp3 device with his Hogwarts salary.” The house-elf nodded furiously, sounding almost proud. “It is great fun. Pipsqueak especially enjoys the songs by rapper 50 Centaur.”

“Okay, I can’t handle anymore of this,” I announced, shaking my head furiously in astonishment. What a world it was we lived in. “Could you please just get me a bottle of Butterbeer or something?’

“Fo’ rizzle, home dawg.” Pipsqueak stated primly, and then he was off, disappearing into the heat of the kitchen and the bustling mob of the other house-elves.

Merlin, I needed to get my head checked.

—*—

Six butterbeers later, and I wasn’t feeling too good.

Over the course of draining each bottle and ignoring Pipsqueak's pleas for me to 'slow down,' the strangest thing had happened — whenever I walked one way, the world began to tilt the other. Objects took on the strange tendency of magically duplicating themselves whenever I looked at them. And it was suddenly really, really hard to stand straight without feeling like I was about to tip over.

It was odd.

But kind of cool.

I giggled to myself as I stumbled down a random poorly-lit hallway, free of the humid underground murk of the kitchens. It was midnight, and I was out wandering the halls. Being bad. Well, not really bad. I was just wandering harmlessly around, tipping over the occasional suit of armor (by accident, of course — they would just appear out of nowhere!) and making conversation with some of the portraits. But still. It was after curfews, against the rules—and it was fun.

I made my way down the hall, my head spinning and my movements jerky as I stumbled. This was so weird. I’d only had six — or was it eight? nine? eleventeen? — butterbeers, and yet I was feeling like I was...well, drunk. Silly Aggy! How could that be? Butterbeers didn’t make you drunk.

And yet I suddenly had the urge to make out with someone and/or start doing the Macarena.

Hmm. I really wanted some pudding right now. Yes. Pudding sounded nice. We should get pudding.

I immediately turned on my heel, not registering that the fast motion had been too much for my dizzy brain to handle until it was too late and I found myself sprawled face-down on the floor, legs spread akimbo. Oww.

Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so good. Suddenly, pudding didn’t sound so appetizing. Suddenly, I felt sick.

It was rearing its ugly head again and, in my state, I felt its grip on me tighten tenfold. The nausea, the pain — it was all magnified, and I half-crawled, half-lumbered to the nearest bathroom, not caring if it was girls or boys. My head seemed to spin and swim at the same time, my stomach doing unpleasant little somersaults. And It was crawling back up all the while, ready to take over, swallow me whole — and with the room swimming around me like this, I found myself unable to maintain the control I usually did.

I was almost to the sinks when my knees gave out, and I surrendered. I surrendered to the cold tiles on the floor, to the reality of my conversation with Aidan's healers. I surrendered to It.

—*—

“Bennett.”

A voice. Poking me. Jabbing me. Loud in my ear. Merlin, it hurt.

Ughhhh, I hurt.

“Bennett," that same voice said, oddly familiar in the haze, and I squeezed my eyes shut as whoever it was kept on talking. Well, not really talking. It was more cursing than anything — a stream of really creative, explicit cursing grumbled under the breath. But still. Annoying all the same.

“Urghhhh...”

A voice. My voice? What was going on?

Someone was shaking me. Nooo, mum. Five more minutes.

"Bennett," the voice said again.

Gingerly, I pried my eyes open, only to immediately regret doing so a couple seconds later. Because swimming in my vision was a dark, tousled shock of hair, a pair of brightly incensed hazel eyes, and, of course, a red and gold striped tie.

Potter. Looking really, really pissed.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty.”

Fuck.

I blinked twice, choosing to ignore Potter's lovely little salutation and instead scanning the fluorescent lighting and glimmering tiles of my surroundings. “Where am I? What time is it?”

“The Third Floor boys’ bathroom. Roughly, ah — " His eyes flicked briefly towards his watch, “— 12:30 in the morning.”

I didn’t say anything. Summoning all the willpower in my small body, I slowly struggled to a stand in a feat that I personally felt deserved a medal from the Tour de France committee. My joints popping obnoxiously, I rubbed my aching head and looked anywhere but at Potter. Despite my 30-minute cat nap, I didn’t feel any better. In fact, I felt worse. My head was throbbing, my throat scratchy, and my stomach still churning with nausea.

Potter studied me for a minute from where he was crouching by where I had been sprawled out. Then he stood up, face unreadable, and fixed me with his bright stare. “I found you lying by the sinks and mumbling something about pudding. Care to explain?”

“Not really.”

He stared at me, his jaw working. I stared back, silently daring him to challenge me. Let him argue. See if I cared. I was beyond caring, now.

Instead, Potter just shrugged his stupidly broad shoulders and said, “Fair enough. Let’s get you back to your Common Room.”

I gaped at him, shaking my head in disbelief. Potter? Back down from a fight? Never, in all the agony-and-bickering-filled years that I had known Potter, had I ever seen him just let something go so... easily.

And then I looked at him. Really looked at him. I saw his disheveled hair, the grim line his mouth was pulled in, and the dark glint of his eyes, like two coals that still burn faintly after a fire goes out. And then I realized that maybe I wasn’t the only one who was past caring.

Aidan’s coma had aged us. Some days I looked at Freddy and saw the bags under his eyes, or the way his smile flickered a little, as if he was trying to keep it in place. Some days I looked at Dom and realized how different she was now, how her shoulders almost seemed to curve inwards, how my sassy, unstoppable best friend had somehow turned into a mere shadow of herself. And I knew that — no matter what happened in the future — none of us could ever be fully the same again. We were grown up now.

Potter and I locked eyes, and I suddenly felt like crying. Like forgetting, just for a moment, that he was my sworn enemy, and pulling him close to me and pressing my face into the clean, smooth linen of his shirt, just so that his arms would come around me, just so someone's arms would come around me.

There was something sour rising up my throat, and I suddenly felt very hot.

Potter squinted at me. "You alright, Bennett?"

“I’m fine,” I said quietly, mostly just to convince myself. “I don’t need your help.”

This statement was punctuated by me turning a nice shade of puce after I said it, and then running to the nearest toilet to offer it this afternoon's lunch.

I heard Potter sigh, calmly and quietly, as he conjured a glass and filled it with water from the tap. His footsteps echoed off the shining tile as he walked closer, growing louder and louder.

The muscles of my back tensed and, furiously, I wiped at my mouth with the back of my hand. Damnit. The last thing I needed right now was for Potter to see me like this. Miserable, broken, and defected, someone who couldn't even keep it together.

I felt warm hands press against my shoulders, gently pulling me back, and then there was Potter crouching besides me, face hard and unreadable as he handed me the water.

Glaring up at him, I took it. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.” Potter shot back, stubborn as ever. “Bennett—“

“What?” I snapped, embarrassment flooding my face. I felt like something inside me had broken, and all of a sudden I was furious. "What is it?"

Potter matched my anger, emotion flaring in his gaze. “I found you lying on the floor, for fuck’s sake!”

“I don’t need your lectures right now — "

“No! Listen to me!” Potter was standing up, his eyes bright again with roiling anger. “I found you lying on the floor. I thought you were — you could have been — Jesus, Bennett. Do you know what that was like?”

“Oh drop the fucking act, already!” I sneered, standing up to meet his gaze and swaying slightly on wobbly legs. “Stop pretending like you actually care — “

“You think I don’t care — ?”

“I know you don’t!”

“Christ, Bennett, you’re my best friend’s sister!”

“Exactly! I’m your best friend’s sister. You don’t care about me. And if you did, it’d only be out of obligation, or pity, or guilt — “

“I’ve known you for five years!”

“Yeah, known and hated. This isn't how our relationship works, Potter. You don’t get to care about me.”

Potter gave a harsh, barking laugh. "You're oblivious. Bennett, when are you going to stop acting like a kid and realize that there are people out there who—for completely unfathomable reasons—actually care about you—?“

“Oh, and I’m guessing you’re one of those 'people'?”

“And what if I am?” Potter bellowed, wildly throwing his hands up in the air. His voice echoed against the tiled walls, each reverberation coming at me like a punch to the gut.

I flinched, snapping my mouth shut. I knew my feelings were flicking across my face plain and clear as day, feelings I wasn’t supposed to show to anyone, least of all Potter, but I couldn’t help it. The air around us pulsed with an unseen energy as the two of us stared at each other, both breathing heavily, our faces flushed. It was amazing how we could instantly go from exploding — meteorites bursting, stars combusting — to a sudden, static silence.

“You care about me?” I asked quietly, eyes brimming with a mixture of disbelief and surprise.

“I — of course, Bennett.” Potter’s voice was weary, tired. He had given up. “How could you even ask that?”

I couldn’t handle this. Potter barging in here and mucking everything up, telling me that he cared about me and causing me to reevaluate the order of how our relationship had been for the past five years. No. Impossible.

Right now, Potter and I’s relationship was the one anchor I had, the one certainty in my otherwise volatile life. And now he was changing everything, upsetting the balance and... It was too much.

“I can’t do this right now,” I said hastily, pushing past him as I stumbled towards the exit.

Potter threw his head back in exasperation, eyes fluttering shut. “Bennett — “

“Don’t.”

Amazingly, he kept quiet and let me go.

I staggered towards the doorway, my head still spinning, my breathing ragged and jittery. All of that screaming had worn me out. I'd been weak before I'd thrown up, and now it was worse, my legs like limp noodles, my muscles heavy like metal. Not to mention the pesky black dots that kept on popping into my vision...

I made it two meters out the door before collapsing, succumbing to darkness for the second time that evening.

Bollocks.

—*—

I woke in a dark room on an unfamiliar bed. It took a moment for me to remember what had happened, that something had even happened in the first place, but then the memory came hurtling back to me, hitting me with as much force as the Hogwarts’ Express.

Passing out. The bathroom. Potter. Our fight.

Where was I now?

I looked around. Surrounding me were other beds, but I couldn’t make out their occupants in the hazy darkness. Then I jolted in surprise; Potter was lying asleep in a nearby chair, his feat propped up on my new bed.

Wait.

Other beds. Other beds... Did he...?

Did he take me to the Hospital Wing?

No. He couldn’t have. He’d know better than that, right? I mean, he couldn’t have taken me here! Where... Aidan was staying! The one place I'd been avoiding like death for the past two months! No. No no no no no.

It was becoming hard to breath. I gasped frantically for oxygen, but it was like my heart was beating too fast for my lungs to catch up. My tiny, ragged pants punctured the air, the noise only increasing my mounting panic.

It was too hot. I kicked off the covers, jostling Potter’s legs in the process. Oh god. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t be here. Near Aidan. Aidan. Oh god, no.

“Bennett?” Potter’s voice was heavy with sleep as he came to. He blinked, straightening in his chair and squinting at me. But I ignored him, too busy struggling for air to pay him any heed.

“Bennett? What’s wrong?” Potter was standing up now, grabbing me by the shoulders and forcefully turning me towards him. I couldn’t reply, not enough air in my lungs to breath, let alone speak. I wanted to push him away, to get out of here, but my legs seemed to have mysteriously turned into stone while I'd been asleep. There was a metallic taste in my mouth. My heartbeat thudded furiously in my ears and I felt unbearably dizzy, like the world itself was spiraling out of control.

Suddenly I was thrashing, kicking and flailing and wild, my voice a weak panting between gasps. I had no power over my own body any longer. I was going berserk, but I couldn’t stop myself. The world was spiraling away from me, and I couldn’t stop myself. It was taking over, consuming me, swallowing me whole —

I got about two good kicks in before Potter finally managed to subdue me, my spastic flailing no match for his physical strength as, cursing, he used one hand to press my shoulder into the mattress and the other to grab my chin, swinging my face around to look at him so that we were practically nose to nose.

“Agatha,” Potter said urgently but calmly, his grip tightening. “Calm down. Listen to me. You’re okay. You’re here, in my dorm. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

I went instantly rigid at the word 'dorm,' and then my body suddenly was slack as relief seemed to course from my toes to the top of my head. Dorm. Not Hospital Wing. I relaxed, my mind inwardly chanting Potter’s words like a mantra.

Somehow, I managed to catch my breath and my body became limp and tired once more. Slowly, cautiously gauging my expression for any sign of hysteria, Potter pulled away.

We stared at each other for a moment.

And then I promptly burst into tears.

It was strange. This whole time, with Aidan being in a coma and everything, I hadn’t cried once. And here I was, in Potter’s dorm — probably in Potter’s bed — and I was sobbing my bloody eyes out.

They weren’t loud. They were the soft, whimpering kind, the pathetic kind, and I just sort of curled myself into a little ball and started shaking for a bit as I let them out. I stayed like that for a while, crying, not making a sound.

Potter didn’t try and rub my back or tell me everything was going to be alright—something that I appreciated. He just sat on the edge of the mattress next to me silently, jaw working, his eyes trained on me in a look of neither pity nor contempt but something else entirely, something slow-burning and hard. And then, when I had stopped crying, he conjured a couple of tissues and handed them to me, expression unreadable as always. I buried my sniffling face in them, feeling utterly mortified.

This couldn’t be happening. Right now, Potter was witnessing me at my weakest, most vulnerable state, with my eyes all puffy and an absolutely charming combo of snot and tears smeared across my face. I crumpled the tissues in my fists, looking up at Potter. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be," he said quietly.

I nodded and looked away, staring at the maroon comforter draped across my legs. There wasn't much to say. “So I’m in your dorm?”

Potter shrugged. “Yeah. I couldn’t carry you to the Slytherin commons, because I don’t know the password, so I just brought you here.”

I closed my eyes, shaking my head from side to side, and dabbed at my face once more with the tissues. “I can't believe you put up with me."

Potter was silent for so long that I didn’t think he was going to reply. He wasn’t meeting my eyes, instead staring off into the darkness of the room. “You don’t have to always be so strong, you know," he said quietly, so the others wouldn't hear. "It’s okay to fall apart sometimes.”

“But I have to be strong. For Dom and Freddy and my mum and...”

Potter turned around and looked at me for a long while, his topaz eyes narrowed in careful concentration, the white line of his teeth cutting into his lower lip. Then he reached up and, with a flick of his fingers, brushed a tear off my cheekbone. Innocent. I blinked, and his fingers stayed there for a moment, on my cheekbone, skin touching skin as we looked breathlessly at each other.

Then suddenly, unexpectedly, Potter drummed his fingers lightly against my cheek — just that, a slight, one-two-three motion that was both surprisingly intimate and earth-shattering all at once. It was a motion that didn't seem to belong to this world or the people in it. It was a motion that happened so quickly, it didn't even register, and then Potter was dropping his hand back down to his lap and looking away.

There was a long silence.

Potter rubbed the back of his neck, and then cleared his throat. “Your mum and Dom and Aidan," he said lowly. "They're not here. You don’t have to be strong for them right now.”

It felt like Potter’s fingertips had left a trail of fire across my skin. Our faces had been inches apart. Everything was quiet, and then he turned to me again, his eyes sprinkled with the silver moonlight slanting through the windows. There was something important about this moment. Something fragile and delicate and shuddering just beneath the surface.

“You’re here,” I whispered, not daring to speak any louder.

Potter's lips quirked upwards in an ironic, small smile. “I won’t tell.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but thought better of it.

Fuck it. There was something that I had to get off my chest, and what the hell, why not tell Potter, of all people? I could never breathe a word to Dom, or Freddy, or my mum... But something about Potter. I didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was the fact that he had just watched me burst into tears. Maybe it was the fact that he could see past the Prefect, goody-goody act I put up and recognize that I was human. Maybe I was just crazy. But I was going to tell him.

"There's something inside me," I said hesitantly to the dark air in front of me. "A feeling. And I call this feeling It, and everyday, when I'm going to class or just walking down the hallway or brushing my teeth, It will show up. And it's like standing on the edge of a pit when the dirt is crumbling underneath your feet. Sometimes I'm able to control myself, to not let myself fall, but I fear... I fear that I'm losing the power to do so."

Potter didn’t say anything for a long moment, letting me stew in mild regret and embarrassment as I waited for him to say something. Oh, Merlin. Please say something. He must have thought I was talking absolute nonsense, that I needed to be locked up somewhere with padded walls and people who confiscated any and all pointy objects. In a brief flash of mortification, I considered just tumbling out of the bed and scurrying out the room in shame.

But then he said, quietly, "I know what you mean."

I looked up at him, features slackening in amazement, and saw that Potter's frown was furrowed and his mouth drawn and unhappy and his eyes tired but, also, more importantly, burning with sincerity. He had felt it too, I realized. He understood and had maybe experienced what I hadn't even been able to put into words.

It was like his confession had filled my entire body with warm air. I looked at Potter in amazement, wondering if he would reach out again, do that thing with his fingers on my cheekbone that I had liked so much. I wanted him too and, realizing this, I sighed and leaned down on the mattress. I felt drained. There was nothing left inside of me to offer.

Potter was just about to stand up and leave when I grabbed him by the shirtsleeve.

“Wait,” I mumbled and he blanched, looking almost caught off guard. I got the words out fast, before I could regret them. "Will you stay with me? Tonight? I just. I can’t be alone right now.”

Potter paused. I couldn’t read his face in those few, agonizing seconds until finally, he nodded. “Alright.”

The moment he lay down next to me, I scooted towards him. I didn’t need to actually touch him, but just get close enough so that I knew he was there. He was warm, breathing steady and slow, and in the murky light of dawn struggling through the windows, I realized that there was a sudden absence inside of me.

It was gone and, instinctively, I knew that it wouldn't be coming back.

Sleep swallowed me in an instant.


Chapter 24: Explode
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The way I see it, it could be worse.

I mean, I could be naked.

Seriously. It’s not that bad. So I had a monumental freak-out. So it was big enough to rival the time Dom went shopping for last year’s Yule Ball, found out the dress she wanted didn’t come in her size, and ended up biting the sales employee in a fit of rage. So James Sirius Potter witnessed said freak-out and, twelve hours later, I’m now waking up in his bed. Next to him. So what?

It’s no biggie.

Really. I’m okay. Totally chill. It’s like whatever, dude.

I mean, yeah okay, Potter and I do hate each other with a burning, fiery-hot passion. And alright, waking up in the same bed as him is, for me, basically on par with murdering a puppy or kicking my grandmother. But truthfully? I’m okay.

'Cos like I said, I could be naked.

It’s kind of an accomplishment, if you think about it. After all, not many women out there get to say that have slept in the same bed as James Sirius Potter while still managing to stay fully clothed. I should actually be congratulated for such willpower.

Yup. And I definitely should not be freaking out about this whole situation in the slightest. Nope. Not even one tiny bit. 'Cos brah, I am totally chill.

Chill, dude. Chill.

I incessantly repeated that phrase in my head as, slowly, I half-rolled, half-fell out of Potter’s bed, trying my best not to wake him. He was currently sprawled out across the mattress, half his stupidly attractive face smushed into his pillow, limps thrown in every which way. Bloody tosser had taken up the bed the whole night. Go figure. Even when he’s unconscious, Potter’s a git.

But I wasn’t thinking about that now. And I definitely wasn’t thinking about how his hair is kind of sickeningly adorable when it’s all mussed up with sleep, or how the morning light makes his stupid cheekbones even more defined and drool-worthy. Nope. Not at all. Because I have willpower.

Yup.

Slowly, I made my way through the black hole of clutter that was the Fifth Year Boys’ Dormitory. I know it sounds silly, but I decided that crawling across the floor was my best option. I mean, this was enemy territory. There was junk everywhere. Clothes, broomsticks, textbooks (the only objects in this godforsaken place that didn’t look used and battered to death)—all potential obstacles for me to trip over. I figured the closer I was to the ground, the better.

As I made my way to the door, I contemplated my recent life-choices. Here I was, esteemed prefect, proud Slytherin, and all around headcase, crawling military style across the floor of the boys’ Fifth Year Gryffindor Dorm, my dignity in shambles and my left shoe missing.

I’m in need of some serious life-reevaluation. And maybe a couple disinfectant wipes while I’m at it. God knows what’s been spilled, left, or living on this floor.

By the time I finally—thank Merlin—reached the door, my heart was thudding furiously in my chest, the thought ‘oh-my-god-what-have-you-done?' was racing incessantly through my head, and I kept on throwing glances over my shoulder at Potter, who was still sprawled out on his bed and, thankfully, sound asleep.

I was so screwed.

I mean, I slept with—no, next to—James Sirius Potter. In his bed. This was the boy who, in Third Year, hexed my hair pink for a week. This was the boy who insulted me practically every chance he got. This was the boy who I hated, loathed, absolutely despised—

And who last night, picked my broken pieces off the bathroom floor and somehow managed to put me back together again. Temporarily, at least.

He had watched me utterly and completely break down. He had seen my hidden insecurities, my buried weaknesses. He had watched me cry—something I hadn’t done since I was in diapers, for Neptune’s sake.

So how could I face him now?

No, I silently reprimanded myself as I stood up, dusted myself off, and opened the door. I wasn’t going to freak out about this. I was going to stay calm, and figure this all out. After all, I was Agatha Bennett—esteemed prefect, proud Slytherin, and all around headcase. I could handle anything, right? Even a mortal enemy who had all of a sudden turned into a naptime buddy.

And above all, I was not going to start freaking out about this.









“I am so freaking out about this.”

Dominique Weasley rolled her eyes and shaped her petal-pink lips into a perfect ‘o,’ letting out a stream of cigarette smoke into the chilly air. “Oh, relax. So you guys slept together—"

“Next to each other. Next to each other!

“Technicalities.” She shrugged her slim shoulders (she had gotten so thin lately), and took another drag of her cigarette, eyes unfocused and staring into the stormy distance. “Either way, it’s nothing to have a strop about.”

The two of us were currently perched on the cluster of jagged rocks near the Black Lake, enjoying the wonderfully arctic weather and the self-satisfying feeling that comes from a good ol’fashioned brood. We were on the brink of a thunderstorm. Up above, the grey sky looked like it was about to crack in half, the chilly air around us charged and humming with electricity. The Black Lake swirled and crashed, it’s torrential nature matching our moods. Dom sucked on a cigarette, looking tired and unhappy, while I sat next to her, looking...well, just unhappy.

“Nothing to have a strop about?” I exclaimed. “Dom, it’s Potter. And me. In the same bed.”

She smirked, eyebrows wiggling rakishly. “I always thought you two would make a cute couple.”

I gasped loudly, as if she had just uttered something completely blasphemous. Which, to be honest, she kind of had. “How could you even say such a thing? That’s like—like a dead puppy joke. Sick, twisted, and only funny if you have a really morbid sense of humor.”

“I’m being serious. You’ve got that whole ‘sexual tension’ thing going on.”

I snorted. “Yeah, if by 'sexual tension' you mean the uncontrollable urge to strangle each other.”

“Kinky.”

“Not kinky. Homicidal.” I waspishly corrected, before quickly snatching away Dom’s stupid cigarette. “And gimme that—do you want to die by the age of twenty? 'Cos if so, I’d be happy to make the funeral arrangements.”

Dom gave me a withering look as I chucked the cancer stick into the swirling, slate abyss of the Black Lake. “That’s littering, you know.”

“And that was underage smoking. So I think we’re even.”

The minute the last word left my mouth, something in my brain seemed to suddenly click together—a huge shift, like a giant puzzle finally being put in place. Even. I let my jaw drop, my eyes widening slightly as the epiphany hit. Of course! Why hadn't I thought of it earlier?

Dom waved her hand in front of my face, annoyed. “Hello? Earth to Space Cadet? Are you having a Freddy moment?”

Slowly, I turned to Dom, an awed grin spreading itself over my face. “Tell me I’m a genius.”

“You’re a genius,” she deadpanned, pausing before quickly adding, “and I’m a liar. What gives?”

“I have a plan.”  

“Uh oh—spacing out, delusions of grandeur, impulsive planning... You are definitely having a Freddy moment.”

Dom was looking at me like I had just expressed a hidden desire to join a nudist’s colony—her eyebrows were quirked together, her lips pursed in that skeptical way I’d gotten so used to over the years. She definitely thought I was losing my mind (that is, if she even believed I had one in the first place) but I couldn’t bring myself to care. I was having a goddamned epiphany, son. An actual epiphany. I thought these things only happened in history books and on House M.D., but no! It was happening right now—to me!

I scrambled to a stand, slinging my bag over my shoulder and trying not to slip on the wet surface of the rocks. "Igottago, seeyouatlunchloveyoubye!”

And with that, I left my best friend sitting there, obviously perplexed, and started to half-jog, half-walk back to the castle. Dom and her sexual tension theory could suck it.

I knew what I had to do. I knew how I was going to fix this.









Two hours later and I was standing outside the History of Magic classroom, my foot tapping impatiently and my fingers fiddling with a shiny gold badge.

I had done it. I had actually done it. Granted, it had taken a lot of begging, groveling, and none-too-sincere complimenting (“your nose hairs look especially...er, luscious today, professor!”), but for once in my life, I had actually achieved what I’d been aiming for.

Drum roll, please....


I had gotten Potter’s badge back.

That’s right. And not just the badge. I had successfully reinstated Potter’s position as a Hogwarts prefect. And all it had taken was an hour, some expertly done butt-kissing aimed towards one Professor Nott, and a bit (okay, a lot) of my already-crumbling dignity.

But that’s okay! After all, dignity, sanity... Those are just the little things in life. Right?

See, the reason why I wanted Potter’s badge was simple—to even out the playing field. Right now, I owed Potter. A lot. He had helped me after The Freak Out, he had consoled me during my worst moment, and—as far as I knew—he hadn’t told a soul about it.

I owed him so much for that.

And I hated owing people. I hated walking around with that hanging over my head. I hated feeling my heart jump and my guilt peak every time I saw someone with black hair or a red-and-gold tie walk past. I hated having that nagging thought in the back of my head, telling me that I was needy, that I was weak, that I had to be picked up and put back together.

So I got his badge back. I figured the plan was pretty simple—get Potter his badge, give it back to him (hopefully in a way that doesn’t require seeing his face), and never speak to the git again. Perfect.

That way, I will have finally returned the favor. Nobody will owe anybody. Potter and I can move on with our separate lives and The Freak Out will just be nothing but a tiny blip on our otherwise spotless record of hatred and quarreling.

“Bennett?”

I practically jumped out of my skin at the voice—deep, lilting, and a bit amused—tearing through my thoughts. Heart a-skittering, I wheeled around to come face to face with Potter, who had spotted me after exiting the History of Magic classroom—just like I had known he would.

Don’t look at me like that. I’m not creepy, okay? The only way I knew Potter would be in HoM was because I had asked all the Third Year girls who have his schedule memorized. If anything, they’re the creepy ones.

Potter looked all sleepy and mussed, like he had just woken up from a long nap (which he probably had). His white button down was crinkled in some places, the sleeves hastily pushed up to expose tanned forearms. Tanned forearms with muscles that rippled and tensed whenever he adjusted his bag, or ran his hand through his hair, or—okay, I’ll stop now.

“What are you doing here?”

“I—uh—erm,” I said oh-so-eloquently, trying my best to rip my gaze away from Potter’s biceps (I have a thing for arms, okay?). “I just came here to give you this.”

I held out the badge, giving a half-sheepish, half-’yeah I know I’m awesome whatcha gonna do about it?’ shrug.

However, instead of gleefully accepting it, showering me in thanks (perhaps ripping his shirt off in the process), and professing his admiration for me like I’d thought he would, Potter simply stared at the badge, one eyebrow quirked skeptically.

“What is it?”

“What do you mean what is it?” I huffed exasperatedly, thrusting the badge under his nose with more force than was maybe necessary. “It’s your prefect's badge. I got it back for you.”

“Why?” Potter shot back.

Just as I was about to open my mouth and give him some bullshit excuse (probably along the lines of “because I’m a good person and I pity you, now take off your shirt and leave me alone”), Potter’s face was suddenly illuminated with a look of understanding. A look I did not like at all.

“You’re trying to make us even.” Potter crossed his arms, leaning languidly against the doorframe of the classroom. Several nearby Hufflepuff girls (and I think one bloke) sighed dreamily at the movement. “This is about last night.”

I shuddered at his words—the way he had phrased that made it seem like ‘last night’ was something more than it...er...actually was. “Not at all!”

He rolled his eyes at my obvious lie, still refusing to accept the bloody badge. “Bennett, when are you going to stop running away and actually confront what’s right in front of your face?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do!” Potter seemed to be getting more and more frustrated by the minute. He was tugging his hand through his hair and clenching his jaw, just like he always did when he was agitated. “Do I have to spell it out for you? Aidan’s in the hospital. You're too scared to actually cope with the fact—”

“Will you just take the badge already?”

“So you run away. Last night—”

“People have different ways of dealing with things!”

“I found you lying on the bathroom floor, drunk, hysterical... I—You scared the living hell out of me, Bennett.”

“Don’t.” I hated how he was acting like this. Like he actually cared about me. No doubt he was just enjoying the whole situation, watching me act all helpless and needy while he stood by, superior and smug.

“And now, instead of talking about it, you’re trying to make things better by giving me a fucking prefect’s badge? How about a gold star and a pat on the head while you’re at it?” He scoffed, pushing himself off the doorframe and coming closer—much too closer—to me. His eyes were bright and incensed—amber slits that simmered with so much anger, so much feeling, I inadvertently took a step back. “When are you going to face the truth and stop hiding from everything?”

“Probably around the same time you stop acting like a self-righteous bastard,” I shot back, seething.

I was amazed at how quickly the mood had changed. This smoldering, furious Potter was so different from the gentle, quiet Potter, the one who had tucked my hair behind my ears and told me it was okay to be scared, it was okay to want to fall apart. Last night... things had been different. The line between us, the one that separated us as enemies, had been blurred. I had confessed things to Potter that I hadn’t dared breathe to anyone else. And now here we were, that very same line back and stronger than ever, bickering and quarreling and fighting just like old times. It was like last night had never even happened.

“You know what? I’m done.” Potter pushed past me, lips curled in disgust, eyes flashing. “You can keep the fucking badge.”

And he walked away. Just like that, leaving me standing there, alone, holding nothing but a glittering gold badge—a badge that was all of a sudden starting to feel a lot heavier.








I like heights.

A lot.

I mean, I’m scared of a lot of things—spiders, commitment, little children... But, strangely enough, I’m not scared of heights.

I like the feeling of being high above, of being withdrawn from the world. I like being able to take a step back and survey my surroundings. It gives me time to think and room to breathe.

So that night, I found myself standing by North window of the Astronomy tower, staring out at the dark cobalt sky spread out before me. It was that weird ‘limbo’ time of evening—the sun had just finished setting, it wasn’t daytime, but not quite nighttime either. A thin feather of light still clung to the horizon, fading into an otherwise flawless sapphire sky.

The French had a name for it—this time of evening, I mean. L’heure bleu. Literally translated, it meant ‘the hour blue.’ It was kind of sort of beautiful.

I swallowed hard, pushing my rippling hair out of my eyes. It was really windy out—and cold. The kind of cold that gnaws at your bones, digs under your skin, and lingers there—even after you go back inside and chug a gallon of hot cocoa. It was the kind of cold that haunts you.

Below me, I could see Hogsmeade, it’s twinkling lights peeking sleepily underneath a haze of snow and dark sky.  Oh yeah. Snow. It had snowed. Wow. I had been locked up in this castle for so long, going absolutely bonkers, I hadn’t even realized that there was an outside world.

Speaking of... It was Hogsmeade Weekend, wasn’t it? I remembered Dom had mentioned something during lunch about Fred taking Evelyn. Yes, our very own Evilyn Stanford. It was a miracle that she had even said yes to him. It would be an even bigger miracle if she survived the date—knowing Fred, he was probably going to take her ‘ice-fishing’ or ‘naked-sledding’ or something crazy like that.

I sighed, leaning forwards onto the ledge of the window (which really wasn’t a window but rather a giant, rectangle of empty space that took up the whole upper-half of the wall). All my friends were down there, laughing, talking, and trying to forget. And here I was, looking down on them, alone and trapped in my own thoughts. And whose fault was that?

Maybe Potter was right. Maybe I needed to finally face things.

But it was jut...too painful. Every time I even thought about...him, It seemed to dig in a little deeper, piercing my chest, crawling underneath my skin like ice. It was too much. Better to shove all those feelings into the back of my head and leave them there.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

I jumped at the familiar voice and turned around to face—who else?—Potter. He was leaning against the far wall, half his face obscured by shadow, arms crossed over his broad chest.

“You scared me.” I finally bit out.

Potter was silent for a moment, face unreadable. For a while, there was nothing but the sound of the wind howling, my heart thumping furiously, and then:

“The French have a name for it.” Potter kicked himself off the wall and came closer to me, his face finally thrown into the light. I frowned. There was something...off about him, something that seemed different.

His eyes were uncannily bright, his words slurring together at the ends. He wasn’t as put together, as collected. His clothes were disheveled and, most alarmingly, I could actually—for once—read the emotions on his face. Contempt. Bitterness. And a kind of a hollow amusement—as if he was finding this whole ordeal funny in a twisted, morbid way.

“L’heure bleu.” I finished quietly. “Potter, are you drunk?”

He smirked. “Whas’t to you?”

“Potter, you shouldn’t be—“

“What was it you said earlier?  Everybody has different ways of dealing with things?”

I snapped my mouth shut—gaze flattening into a glare—frustrated at how, even when drunk, he still managed to out-argue me.

“What do you want, Potter?” I tried to snap, but my voice was too weary and tired to carry any effect.

He kept on walking, staggering forward until we were almost nose-to-nose. “I want... to tell you something.” He slurred, voice as slow and thick as molasses, sending a wave of shivers down my spine.

I licked my dry lips and looked up, refusing to let go of Potter’s black-gold gaze. “What?”

“You... are a coward.”

The words hit me like a train, for some reason. I mean, I shouldn’t have been surprised. What else would Potter have said? 'I think you're really cool and pretty and we should braid each other's hair while Ke$ha plays in the background?' Not bloody likely. But still...somehow those words hurt a lot more than I thought they would've.

I stepped back.

He stepped forward, refusing to let me back out of this. The torchlight of the tower fell on his face, etching in detail the smooth line of his jaw, his tousled shock of black hair, the specks of gold in his eyes.

We stared at each other for a moment, hostile blue meeting complacent gold. I was breathing heavily, my heartbeat ringing in my ears, mingling with the sound of the howling wind...

“You’re a coward. You run away, pull back from the people who care about you. You think that will solve things, right? You think that, if you hide any weaknesses and act like everything’s okay, then everything will be okay. But it’s not.”

He paused, obviously savoring this moment. His eyes glinted with a kind of malice that I’d never seen before. I mean, sure, Potter and I hated each other. We fought and bickered and used every tactic in the book to get under the other's skin. But it had just been a game we played. Push each other to the limit and see who can make the other back down first. Never, in all of our arguments or pranks, had Potter actually gone out of his way to hurt me like this. These words...they weren’t part of a game anymore. They were real and true and painful

“You’re crumbling from the inside out, Bennett, and he isn’t getting any better—“

“Stop.” My facade was cracking. I could feel my lower lip trembling, the back of my throat stinging with a strange, bitter ache.

“No, I’m not going to stop. Just grow up, will you?” Potter’s voice was slowly getting louder and louder. I had never seen him like this, so intense, so raw, so fervent with feeling. “Just admit it. You’re a coward—“

“Just back off, okay?!”

“No.” The word echoed, lingering meaningfully in the silent air. “Not until you admit it.”

“You just... you don’t understand.” I said meekly. I felt trapped, like Potter had backed me into this invisible corner with no way out. My cheeks felt hot and feverish, my hands were shaking. But he still pressed on, features twisted into a cruel scowl.

“You think I don’t understand? You think I don’t know what it’s like, Bennett? You don’t think I feel guilty too? I was up there with him, that game. I was their Captain. I should have—been there, or saved him or something...” 

He trailed off, golden eyes dimming slightly. I could tell that, like me, he was trying to cover it all up, trying to put on his usual mask of indifference and apathy. But it was too late. He was drunk, tired, fed up...And I could see every emotion on his face—regret. Sorrow. Remorse.

Never, in all this time, had I known that Potter felt this way. Yes, I was Aidan’s sister. But Potter had been there, during the accident. What was it called again...? Survivor's Guilt.
 
“Potter.” I reached out to...I dunno, put a hand on his shoulder, draw him closer, anything—but all of a sudden he was pulling away.

“Too late," he shook his head, backing away, eyes glinting gold.

“Wha—?” I watched with horror as Potter suddenly turned around and climbed onto the ledge of the window, surprisingly agile for being so drunk. My stomach plummeted, my heart started beating so hard it hurt. “What are you doing?”

“You’re not a coward, Bennett?” Potter was smiling in a strange, rueful kind of way. He held his arms out in a mock version of a tightrope walker, putting one foot carefully in front of the other as he walked the length of the ledge. “Prove it.” He said, his hazel eyes burning into my skin, daring me to do something about it.

“I—don’t—you—“ I stuttered incompetently. My mind was racing furiously, and yet I couldn’t seem to figure out what to say. Dread’s icy cold fingers were raking down my spine, it’s frigid chill a direct contrast from my sweating skin. Oh god, no. This couldn’t be happening. Potter. On the ledge. Of the Astronomy Tower. One misstep, one stumble, and he’d be dead. Just like that.

My muscles were screaming for me to do something, anything, but it was like I was paralyzed. I was unable to do anything but watch with a mixture of terror and morbid fascination as Potter carelessly ambled from one end to the other.

“What?” he spun on one foot as he turned around in a fluid, natural motion, nearly causing me a heart attack in the process. Fear, panic, hysteria all battled inside my chest, clawing at me from the inside out—I felt dizzy, sick. “Cat got your tongue?

I was suddenly aware of tears burning hot tracks down my face. I tried to say something, anything, but it was like my throat was closing up. I was being strangled by my own voice. “Please, Potter...” I whimpered.

“Scared yet, Bennett?”

He was playing with me, toying with my fear for his own cruel amusement. It was so unlike him... I mean, yes, we hated each other. But even through all those years of bickering and fighting, Potter had still managed to be like a brother to me. A very annoying, very inconvenient brother, but a brother all the same. Like I said...this whole hatred business, it was just a game. When it came down to it, when it really mattered, Potter would never do anything to deliberately hurt me. After all, he was a Gryffindor through and through. Chivalrous and noble to the core, even with me—the girl he despised above all. I mean, last night, he had been my rock, my anchor. I had held onto him, of all people, when it had felt like the rest of the world was slipping away.

But at the moment, last night seemed like forever ago, a parallel universe with a parallel universe Potter. Because right now, Potter was standing in front of me, on a ledge two-hundred metres above the ground, twisted and warped by alcohol into some cruel, malicious person I didn’t know. 

Potter eyes locked with mine, and immediately, my gaze hardened over. I knew what I had to do. If he wanted to play dirty, then fine, we could play dirty.

“No.” I straightened, trying to keep my voice from shaking. The wind had dried my tears. Yes, I was trembling head to toe, but I was still standing and I wasn’t backing down, no matter how far the arsehole pushed me. “I’m not scared.”

Potter stared at me for a moment, gauging my expression. And then slowly, the left corner of his lips tilted upwards in a smirk. He knew what I was doing. And he liked it.

He hopped off the ledge and staggered towards me, still smirking. Inadvertently, I took a step back, only to have to have my back come in contact with the wall behind me. Without me knowing it, he had backed me against the wall.

I watched through angry eyes as Potter placed both hands on the wall near my head, trapping me, and leaned in close. We were basically nose-to-nose, or rather nose-to-sternum since he was so tall. Either way, it was far too close for comfort.

Reaching out, he slowly tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. The movement was so similar to what he had done last night, but with an entirely different meaning behind it.

“How about now?” He murmured softly.

I resisted the urge to shiver. It was like all of my senses were tingling with a renewed awareness. Everything suddenly seemed sharper, more vivid as I stared into Potter’s bright hazel eyes and shook my head.

“Nope.” I shot back, flashing a wavering smirk of my own.

And then Potter did something I was totally unprepared for. Eyes darkening and smirk widening, he reached down and—slowly, so slowly—drew a feather-light line from my left jawbone to my mouth, tracing with agonizing slowness the outline of my lips with his finger. The movement was so simple and yet so totally mesmerizing, I didn’t even think of backing away.

I simply stared at him like a deer caught in the headlights, waiting with bated breath until he finally stopped and withdrew his finger, placing his hand back on the wall and leaning in even closer to me.
 
 “Now?” Potter asked, cocking his head to the side in mock curiosity.

Oh my god. My entire body was trembling, every nerve fizzling with energy. What Potter had done—plus the fact that it had been Potter doing it—had left my heart seizing and my brain cells incoherent.

What we were playing right now was, essentially, a game of chicken. Just like old times. Push each other to the limit, see who cracks first. Whoever backed down would be the loser.

Except this time, with higher stakes.

“No...?” I bit out, voice strangled.

I tilted my chin up, trying to appear smooth and confident, but Potter didn’t seem to notice... since he was too busy doing the exact same thing as before, except this time—oh god, oh fuck—with his lips.

Holy naked Merlin, what the hell was happening? My eyes fluttered closed, a feeble gasp escaping my mouth as Potter’s lips—soft and so, so, light—trailed across my jaw, across my own skin. My nerve-endings weren’t just fizzling anymore—they were bloody on fire. My legs had forgotted how to function. I practically collapsed against the wall as my heart pulsed furiously, pumping heat and fire through my bloodstream, making my head spin, my toes curl, my nerves spark...

“What about now?” He murmured against my skin, and I practically dissolved right then and there. This was too much. This couldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be happening. We hated each other. He was drunk. I was distraught. There were too many built-up emotions right now, raw and dangerous like live wires, at any moment ready to...

Explode. Oh god, oh Merlin, I couldn’t even think right now, my surroundings were clouded with this hazy, muddled heat. Potter was going deliberately slow, I knew, as he made his way up and down my jawline and then, fuck, I could hardly even breathe, because all of a sudden his mouth was barely brushing against mine, teeth scraping lip, the synapses in my brain exploding, my stomach fluttering, my skin on fire—

All of a sudden, my hands were reaching out of their own accord and scrabbling until they found purchase on his chest. Before I knew it, I was pushing him away, and then there was air, and I was opening my eyes, and the world was still spinning but slower, now, slower...

Potter and I stared at each other. His eyes were darker than ever, molten black gold, completely unreadable and almost... hungry-looking. I flicked my gaze to the ground.

We were both breathing heavily. My cheeks were flushed, my heart racing a mile a minute. Despite my relief at finally pushing him away, I was also...almost disappointed. My skin suddenly felt cold, empty, aching.

I locked eyes with Potter again...

There was a beat of silence that seemed to last forever, the air around us pulsing with an unseen energy...

 
"I'm not a coward," I breathed, but it was so hard to lie and sound convincing when I was staring into Potter's knowing hazel eyes, my skin aching for his, the world tumbling out of control.

"Prove it," he snarled back.

...And then all of a sudden he was pulling me towards him and his lips were on mine and we were kissing each other, the world exploding, the universe splitting at it’s seams, hell freezing over underneath our feet as we lost ourselves in a tangle of mouth on mouth and skin on skin and heat on heat.

It wasn’t anything sweet or tender, like in those romance novels where the Tall, Dark and Handsome sweeps the Damsel in Distress off her feet. It was rough and intense and urgent and all different kinds of wrong. It was my nails digging into his shoulders and his hands yanking through my hair and me against a wall and his tongue doing that and oh, god, people say they feel fireworks when they get kissed but I was feeling goddamn nuclear explosions...

Snogging Potter, it turned out, was a lot like fighting with him. Angry, aggressive, and a little bit violent. Each of us pushing the other to the limit, battling for dominance, for the upper hand. And it wasn’t just that, either. It was pounding our emotions out—all that frustration, all that anger and bitterness and hurt, all poured into one, single kiss.

It seemed to last for a second and an eternity at the same time. Somewhere, in the back of my head, I knew I ought to be disgusted, that I should be pushing him away and giving him a good slap across the head. But that was easier said than done, especially when James Sirius Potter's lips and tongue and hands are making your head whirl, clouding everything over with this sweet, hazy heat... 

The frigid wind howled around us, making me subconsciously draw him closer. With every movement, it felt like Potter was pushing me closer and closer to the brink of insanity. The world was spinning, my head was spinning, everything was spinning. His hands went from cupping my face to running through my hair to pressing insistently against my hips, all the while streaking trails of fire and sparks across my skin. His mouth seared hot on mine as our bodies frantically tangled closer, every inch between us an abomination, a crime. I felt like I was exploding, splitting apart, like everything I had ever known was being turned inside out and backwards...

And then he was pulling away, breaking our kiss, and I was suddenly left there feeling cold and strangely hollow, wanting more. Both of us were panting heavily, staring at each other with bright, disbelieving eyes, skin flushed and hot. My mouth tingled with a curious mixture of hot and cold. My gaze flitted from the ceiling to the floor, landing on anywhere but Potter.

Finally, I looked up and we locked eyes. There was a silence that seemed to close in on us, empty and quiet and unbearable. Potter’s jaw was set, his eyes glinting determinately.

“I—“ I began, but my voice was drowned out as all of a sudden, Freddy burst through the door, eyes wide and panicked, carrying what looked like a map of some sort, and oh god, this whole day was like a freaking episode of The freaking Twilight Zone.

“Aggy, James—“ Fred suddenly keeled over, chest heaving. He had obviously just been running a great deal. There was snow in his curly hair, and two girls were standing behind him—an anxious-looking Evelyn and a stricken-looking Dom.

For one terrible second, I thought they had seen, or that they somehow could read our thoughts and knew what had just happened. But no. Freddy looked like he was wrapped too deep in his own feelings to even suspect something weird between Potter and I.

“I—What?” Potter’s voice was thick and hoarse, but at least he wasn’t slurring his words like before. Maybe the kiss had had an opposite effect on him. Whereas for me, it had hazed everything over with this sweet fog of blurriness, it seemed like it had actually sobered him up—a slap from reality. He was back to the regular Potter, emotions reigned in, face expressionless and apathetic as always.

“Aggy, James—“ Fred began again, but Dom impatiently pushed past him, stepping into the torch-light, her movements brusque but, at the same time, almost meek-looking. She drew in a shaky breath, and somehow, I knew what she was going to say before she actually said it:

“Aidan’s awake.”
 
 





A/N: WOAHHHH WHERE DID THAT COME FROM. WHAT JUST HAPPENED. I CAN'T EVEN. I DON'T EVEN. JAMES/AGGY ACTION AND IT ONLY TOOK LIKE TWENTY-FOUR CHAPTERS WHAAAAAAAAT.
 Haha I'm probably going to go back and edit this later 'cos it's totally random and cliched and corny but it's 2:45 AM in the morning and I LOVE IT RIGHT NOW. sooooo yeah! this chapter is really improtant to me, pleeeeeeeeease leave a review! kay love you all thanks for putting up with my late night spazziness, haha.


Chapter 25: Tangles
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Disclaimer: Nothing from Potterverse is mine.



And that was how, five minutes later, Madame Pomfrey discovered a stampede of four breathless, wide-eyed teenagers bursting into her hospital wing in the middle of the night — unstoppable, hysterical, and knocking down everything in the way.

“Out, out! Family only!” Pomfrey shrieked, fluttering her hands in the air, but none of us seemed to hear her... Seeing as we had all gone a little mad.

Dom was alternating between hyperventilating and spontaneously collapsing on the floor in shock. Potter looked deep in thought as he furiously paced back and forth across the room, absentmindedly stepping over Dom’s crumpled body whenever he came across it. Fred was running around (Evelyn helplessly following after him) like an emotional chicken with its head cut off, throwing back the curtains of all the beds and screaming, “WHERE ARE YOU HIDING HIM, WOMAN?”

And I... I was just standing amidst all this chaos, not quite knowing what to do, trying to figure out what in the world had just happened.

I had kissed James Potter. Or rather, he had kissed me. Frankly, I wasn't too sure how that part went, since it had gone by in mostly just a blur of heat and anger and need and — and...

AS I WAS SAYING — Potter and I had kissed. Then, minutes later, my twin brother woke up from his two month-long coma.

And here I was, not sure if I should be happy or hysterical, not sure about anything, really, except for the fact that somehow my life had turned into a soap opera without me knowing it, and now we were living out what looked like a real-life episode of Jersey Shore, except with more teenage angst and everyone a lot paler-looking. Because England.

“You!” Madame Pomfrey bustled towards me, looking harried and absolutely fit to murder. I stared at her, dumbfounded, as she started to speak, watching her mouth open and close to form the words but not quite hearing what she was saying.

“...Chaos! Absolute chaos! This is a place of healing and peace, and you bring in these — these ruffians!” Pomfrey's livid face, already lined from old age, was etched with worry. Her hair was slipping out of its usually pristine bun. She seemed frazzled as she stepped towards me, gettin’ all up in my grill, looking like she was mere seconds away from wrapping her hands around my neck and throttling the living Merlin out of me.

I stepped back carefully. I quite liked air and would prefer to keep breathing it, thanks. “Madame — ”

“Hooligans! Deranged hooligans, all of you!” Pomfrey warbled, thrusting a shaky finger at my chest.

“Madame, can you please — ”

“ — vandals, hoodlums, scoundrels — ”

“DUDE! CHILL YOUR TITS!” I burst out, grabbing Pomfrey by the shoulders and giving her a rough shake. Okay, so perhaps that had been a smidge melodramatic. But hey, I was mere feet — mere seconds — away from seeing my twin brother... My twin brother who had just, in fact, woken from a coma. My twin brother who I’d been missing so much, I hadn’t even realized the extent of me missing him until now. My twin brother who... Come to think of it, probably hated my guts at the moment.

So cut me some slack, okay?

Pomfrey snapped her mouth shut, looking affronted, but I really couldn’t bring myself to care. The others had halted in their shenanigans and were now turned around, facing me, curious. Waiting.

After what seemed like forever, Pomfrey finally pushed my hands away, eyes sharp and murderous. She dusted herself off and straightened stiffly.

“Excuse me,” she said, voice prim and tight. "But that was out of line and highly inappropriate.”

Fred waggled his eyebrows knavishly, leering forward with a look he usually reserved for the table in the Grand Hall where all the Third Year Hufflepuff girls sat. “Damn skippy it was.”

There was a long pause in which everyone contemplated whether or not Freddy had really just tried to hit on Madame Pomfrey, and in which everyone seemed to individually reach the conclusion that, uh, yeah, he kind of had.

“...Wow. That was unnecessarily creepy,” Dom piped up from the floor.

“Damn skippy it — "

“Okay!” I exclaimed before anyone could respond and we were launched into a whole new round of chaos. “Madame Pomfrey, can you please take me to see my brother?”

Pomfrey blinked a few times, her face softening for an instant as she seemed to remember where we were and who exactly I was. She straightened and gave a curt nod. “I — yes, yes, of course.”

She turned around, patting her frizzing hair slightly, and started bustling past a row of neatly-made beds. The others quickly followed, and I could have sworn that, while she passed him, Fred threw a saucy wink towards Pomfrey.

Seriously? At a time like this? My whole existence was hanging in a delicate balance right now, and he was making passes at a woman who could be his grandmother?

I followed Madame Pomfrey through the labyrinth of bed and medical supplies, unsuccessfully trying to steady my heartbeat as I walked. For some reason, being in the Hospital Wing now reminded me of when I had first heard about Aidan's accident. I had run through the entirety of St. Mungo's trying to find him, completely out of control — I had socked Potter in the nose, for God's sake. What a complete contrast that was from now, with all five of us walking calmly towards the beds, taking our own sweet time. It seemed to last an eternity. Each footstep was agony, each second that ticked by a millennium.

And then finally, we were there. Behind me, Dom was sniffling. Fred’s hand was on my shoulder (it amazed me how he could go from creepy to comforting in two seconds flat). And Potter was standing right next to me, so close I could feel the warmth radiating from his body, the back of his hand barely brushing against mine, feather-light but enough for me to feel.

I took in a deep breath and prepared myself. Madame Pomfrey reached up and drew back the curtain...

And there he was.

Lying on the bed, healthy and breathing and miraculously awake. He looked the same as ever — boyish toffee-colored hair curling up around the ears. Warm, twinkling blue eyes. And that smile on his face — oh god, I had missed it so much. It felt like my whole body had compressed into one single, shuddering sliver of amazement, glowing with the impossibility of it all — here he was, awake, alive, amazing...

Aidan.

“Hey, sis.”

—*—

This was weird.

Like, really weird.

Maybe I had gone in to this with unrealistic expectations. Maybe the shock of it all was causing me to say and do all the wrong things. Maybe I had simply seen too many movie scenes of tearful reunions, and reality would never be able to compete with that. But I couldn't help but think that out of all the possible descriptors out there — joyful, miraculous, heartwarming — being with my brother for the first time after his accident was just... Well, weird.

After Dom had finished hyperventilating and Freddy had released Aidan from his twenty minute long bear-hug, Madame Poppy and the others had graciously left us alone so that Aidan and I could “chat.” They were probably expecting heartfelt declarations of sibling-love and joy, probably expecting me to collapse in a puddle of tears and emotional vulnerability. But that was not reality... Reality was two of us just sitting on Aidan's bed. In. Complete. Silence.

I couldn’t stop staring at him. It was amazing how much had changed, and yet, when my gaze was locked with Aidan's, there still remained underneath it all the enduring, unshakeable fact that I was tethered to him. Between us existed a bond, one that would always be there, even if I didn’t truly realize it. He was my brother. And as much pain and stress and heartbreak as he’d put me through, I couldn’t — literally, physically couldn’t — forget that.

“Hi,” I breathed.

There was a long, long pause. We didn’t break eye contact, just stared at each other, sitting together cross-legged on his hospital bed. Not touching. Tentative. Nervous. Quiet. We might as well have been meeting for the first time.

“Hi,” he said back, and oh god, it was Aidan. Talking. Smiling. With his fresh-laundry smell, and that dimple in his left cheek, and the sprinkling of freckles across his nose. With every little splash of detail I noticed, it was like a pleasant surprise, the resurfacing of some happy memory — like finding a galleon in your jeans pocket, or remembering the lines to a song you used to love a long time ago. I couldn’t get enough of him. All I could do was stare and stare and stare, unwilling to believe that this was truly happening, gulping in the vision in front of me.

Aidan. My Aidan.

We looked at each other some more. I hungrily drank in the features of his face, trying to memorize every freckle and dimple in case he ever left me again. God, I’d missed him. There was so much I had wanted to say, everything ranging from emotional proclamations of joy to a mum-style lecture about Quidditch safety, but now that I was finally faced with my brother, I was left blank.

Instead of words, I had only a singular memory of the two of us, stubbornly resurfacing to my mindseye. We had been seven years old. It had been summertime, I remember, and I had been getting ready for a dance recital after having taken a couple free ballet courses at the community center. It was right after my parents got divorced, and when you’re that young and your life changes like that, the little things — even stuff like crappy kid dance recitals — start to mean a lot.

I reminded my mom of it everyday, making her promise to take me. It was on a Sunday night, seven o’clock at the community theatre. I even hung up the flyer advertisement on our fridge. I was so excited, I practiced my bows and how I would wave to the audience.

But, as you'd probably guessed already, mum didn’t follow through. See, she’d taken the divorce pretty hard. Already a sensitive person, my mum had been left in tatters after my dad abandoned us. There had been a whole sixth-month long period in which she'd just suffer random, delirious breakdowns, bursting into tears while she was in the middle of doing something menial like sweeping the floor or folding our laundry. She would lock herself in her room for days on end, the blinds and door shut, refusing to come out unless for food. To this day, mum and dad still insist that their divorce had been a mutual decision. But Aidan and I knew better — dad left mum, and that had destroyed her.

For the next few months after the divorce, I had to take care of myself. And Aidan. I would pack our lunches, order take-out for dinner, even clean and go grocery-shopping. At the age of seven. Occasionally, Mum would decide to come out of her room and carry out the charade of the family unit for a bit longer, maybe do some dish-washing — her movements always so jerky and mechanical, that dazed look in her eyes — but she would either just give up half-way through, or, worse yet, smash whatever she washed into little pieces.

Yeah. Those few months, the Bennett Household hadn't been a very fun place to live.

Anyway, my dance recital. Like I said, mum was shut off in her own little word. I was distraught — I knew that she wasn’t going to take me or watch the show, hell, I had always known from the start that the thing was a lost cause. Which was why I'd been so surprised when Aidan showed up at my bedroom door, told me to “quit crying like a little baby,” and declared that he was taking me to the show.

Impossible, I had told him. After all, it was late on a Sunday, most of the buses had stopped running, and walking wasn’t an option since it was too far. We were doomed.

But then Aidan pulled out his shiny red bike. It was practically new — dad had bought it for him after the divorce in one of his lame attempts to appease his guilt and win us back over with shiny things. Aidan, Gryffindor through and through even back then, had refused to ride it on principle. But he made an exception for me.

Aidan was always making exceptions for me.

So that was how we got to the community theatre. Me on the handlebars of Aidan’s shiny red bike, wearing a ridiculously fluffy tutu, Aidan peddling furious behind me, the evening rushing past us in a blur of adrenaline and laughter and blue summer air. Several near spills, scraped knees, and minutes of bickering later, and we were there.

He watched the whole show, smiling from ear to ear like a proud parent, and when it finished, he'd jumped to his feet in a standing ovation.

I wasn't sure what this story had to do with what was happening now, or why it had even drifted to the surface of my memory. It just.... It just went to show, though, that we took care of each other, Aidan and I. That was just what we did.

First day of primary school, a teacher yelled at me for spilling glue on the desks. The next day, that same teacher mysteriously found all of her papers and supplies on the roof of the school, courtesy of my brother and a little bout of accidental magic.

When Bethany Rodman pushed Aidan into the sandbox in second grade, I put a living frog on her head. When we were ten, Aidan started learning how to skateboard. Consequently, I started learning first aid.

That was us in a nutshell. We sure as hell weren’t perfect, but we looked out for each other.

...And that wasn’t going to stop. Ever.

I looked at Aidan now, watched the way his eyes seemed to twinkle in the light, noticed the slight lilt of his mouth, the confused scrunching of his brow... and I knew that I had to get it out. I had to come clean.

“I didn’t visit you in the hospital,” I blurted out. I had no idea where the words came from, but strangely enough, they just seemed like the right thing to say.

There was a pause in which my brother took this in. Considered it. Mulled over the words in his head, like they were a new pair of jeans he was trying on for the first time. Finally, he nodded. “Okay,” he said solemnly, face uncharacteristically serious, and that was that.

But still, I felt the need to justify myself. "I just... I couldn't, Aidan. After you left, I was destroyed. And I know that sounds melodramatic and teenage-ish and stupid, but that's what it felt like." It was true. I hadn't been able to walk into a classroom without being pelted by pitiful glances. There was this... perpetual feeling of not ever being able to breath easy, It following my every footstep like some menacing, hulking shadow... I felt literally destroyed, every waking moment of every day.

"Anyway," I continued, taking in a deep breath and not meeting his eye. The back of my throat was stinging and even though I hated myself for it, my vision was beginning to blur with tears. "I just couldn't handle it. The thought of you lying in the hospital, the possibility of you... dying — "

All of a sudden, Aidan grabbed me by the shoulders, swiveling me around to meet his gaze, which was hard and icy with determination. "Aggy, look at me. Look at me. I'm sorry — "

" — no, I'm sorry. I was such a stubborn cow. I put Potter and the others through hell — "

" — that doesn't matter now. None of it does. I should be the one apologizing — I left you guys."

I shook my head fiercely. Aidan had already been through so much. I wasn't going to book him on a first-class guilt trip with Apology Airlines too. "Aidan, you didn't mean to leave us, it wasn't your fault. Fallon Cooper — "

"I know what Fallon Cooper did, and I'm prepared to forgive him for it." Aidan's grip on me tightened, his jaw set in a straight, firm line. I had never seen my flighty brother so passionate, so sure of something. For a brief moment, I wondered if the coma had changed him. If it had changed us all. "But that's not important. What's important is that I promise you, Agatha, that I will never leave you guys again."

I blinked dumbly for a moment, letting his words ring in my ears and allowing them to sink into recognition. Then, I shrugged Aidan's grip off. Hard. His hands dropped to the bed uselessly, surprise flickering across his face.

"I'm sorry, Aidan," I whispered quietly, tilting my head back and finally allowing the tears to fall. "But I can't believe that."

"Agatha — "

"I love you. But please, please — for my sake — don't make any promises you can't keep."

Aidan hesitated, and I could see in his eyes that he was probably thinking about the last time we had talked, when he had broken one of his biggest promises to me and consequently started the worst fight we'd ever had. It had been a nuclear, disastrous fight, and the only real reason why it still wasn't ongoing was because the coma had interrupted it. Even now, I could still feel the harsh words, the bitter resentments riding under the surface, bulky and noticeable, a hippogriff in the room. I was of course prepared to forgive Aidan for everything, but only if I could be sure that never again would he make another promise to me that he couldn't keep.

"Alright," he eventually said, face hard and unreadable. "Alright. I understand."

My smile was weak but grateful, and I reached up to touch Aidan on the shoulder, half-afraid that my hand would pass through him like a ghost's. But no. I could feel him. He was there, solid and alive.

I knew that what had happened with Aidan was far from being history, but now that he was awake, it was almost easy to pretend like the world had gone back to normal. Obviously there were things that were different, but that didn’t mean that we weren’t okay. Aidan was alive, for Merlin's sake. And for now, that was enough. What had happened in the past — the buried feelings, the hidden secrets and the angst-filled snogs with archenemies — were exactly that: the past. They could all be worked out later.

Speaking of angst-filled snogs — Potter and I would have to talk at some point. Right now, my feelings for him were coiled inside my chest in a clump of contradictions. On one end, there was resentment, anger, hatred. But on the other, there was grudging respect. Gratitude. and maybe eve a little bit of... attraction? At the moment it was impossible to tell, because in between those two ends of the spectrum, in between all our bickering and our make-ups and our interactions, there were a thousand undecipherable tangles of emotion that complicated everything, made it impossible to see the truth and decide what, exactly, were my real feelings for James Sirius Potter.

I shook my head, trying to get you-know-prat out of my head, and took a deep breath. I was here, in this moment with my brother, and for now that was all I needed.

“I love you, Aidan.”

“Love you too, Aggs.”

Even though life had been a horrible mess over the past few months, and the present continued to be not that different, there were a few things — Aidan’s smile, memories of summer nights and pink tutus, and most importantly, knowing we were back together in our little motley family — that made it all worth it.

It was the little things, really, that got us through the day. Seeing Dom hold Aidan’s hand. Watching Fred and Evelyn share a secret smile. Madame Pomfrey trying not to let on that she was tearing up when she saw us all reunited. Feeling Potter’s hand brush against mine and knowing that, whatever happened, whatever the two of us actually "were" (bitter arch enemies, semi-friends, occasional snog buddies), we were still, when it came down to it, stuck with each other, and I was prepared to live with that.

Those little things made all the confusion and anger and messes that came with life worth it. Because I knew now that I had Aidan, and he had me, and we had all our friends. And — cue corny ending — that was all that really matters.

Plus, it was my life. I was Agatha Bennett — a couple messes here and there were to be expected.

Chapter 26: Off-kilter
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Before we knew it, the news of Aidan’s awakening had spread around the castle like a bad case of herpes. We had barely stepped foot outside of the Hospital Wing, and yet it seemed like everyone already knew that Hogwarts' Resident Heartbreaker was back in—not to mention ready for—action. I didn't know how it happened, it just did.

Everywhere you went, there were bets being lost (yes, actual bets had been placed on my brother’s almost-fatal coma), tears of gratitude shed (mostly by third-year girls) and, more importantly, celebrations planned.

And by celebrations, I mean a string of ridiculous, ill-fated RoR parties in which everyone consumed buckets of alcohol, did a countless number of YouTube-worthy, terrifically stupid things (I vaguely remember Freddy last night, dancing Macarena whilst wearing nothing except for a very strategically-placed party hat), and then later threw up half the liquid content in their bodies.

What fun.

To me, these parties sounded about as enjoyable as playing charades with an epileptic troll... but Dom had badgered me so much to come with her that eventually, I had relented.

So I would get all gussied up in my jeans and t-shirt and let myself get dragged along from drunken party to drunken party, where I usually spent most my time loitering by the drinks table, sipping on Butterbeer and quietly observing as my friends made complete tossers out of themselves.

There was one memorable moment when everyone hoisted Aidan up on their shoulders and carried him around, only to accidentally drop him on some unfortunate first-year minutes later. There was the other time when Fred and Potter organized a sixty-people game of drunken Duck Duck Goose (which later had to be ended after someone slipped and fell in their own throw up—gross). Then there was the episode when Dom stole a lamp from one of the Common Rooms, started calling it her best friend and screaming at anyone who dared touch it (halfway through the night, Mr. Lampy had to be pried out of Dom’s grasp while she clung to it, singing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from the movie Titanic in between sobs—I have to say, I’ve known Dom for about five years... that would have to be one of her low moments).

“I don’t see why we can’t just have a simple sit down dinner like normal people,” I huffed moodily one day as the five of us trekked to the Greenhouses for Herbology. “I mean, an ice sculpture, Dom? Was that really necessary?”

It was a beautiful morning—snowing those fat, fluffy flakes that you just can’t help but ooh and ahh at because they were so pretty. The giant fir trees that surrounded the castle looked sleepy, all covered in white and drooping with sparkling icicles. Everything was peaceful as we marched across the Grounds, stomping through giant dollops of pure, frosting-esque snow, our breaths little puffs in front of us.

This Hogwarts’ winter wonderland, however, was lost on all my friends. It was the night after one of our biggest parties yet, in which Dom had conjured a life-size ice statue of Aidan’s face, resulting in numerous incidents of people getting their tongues (and...erm, other body parts) stuck to the freezing sculpture throughout the night. Needless to say, it had been a complete disaster.

When I so kindly pointed this out though, Dom’s pear green eyes widened to the shape of saucers, and she stopped right in her tracks, giving a shrieking gasp of outrage. This set off a chain reaction in which Aidan, Freddy and Potter all winced, clutched their heads, and groaned. Simultaneously.

Huh.

Apparently, hangovers and loud noises don’t mix. Who would have thought?

“Jesus Christ, Dom!”

“Yeah, indoor voices please—”

“—we’re outdoors, you moron—”

“I don’t bloody care. Just please, I’m begging you, for the sake of humanity... shut the fuck up.”

Dom did the classic ‘roll-the-eyes-and-toss-the-hair’ move, shaking out a sprinkling of white flurries from her honey-red tresses. “Wimps,” she scoffed, and except for a couple of scathing glares, the Tweedle Trio didn’t reply.

While Dom was hangover-free and as chipper as a chipmunk, the boys seemed to be experiencing Dante’s fourth circle of hell right now, Aidan was reduced to monosyllabic words and the occasional grunt, Potter was wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses because the "fucking sun was too fucking bright for my fucking eyes," and Freddy was incapable of any physical exertion except for breathing... very, very gently.

Dom, however, was hopping around like a member of the Lollypop clan on acid, which even I found annoying despite the fact that, last night, the only thing I had consumed had been about nine packs of Capri Suns.

What can I say? I’m a party animal.

Some nights, I even go to bed at nine... thirty. Yeah, watch out.

“All I’m saying,” I huffed defensively as we continued to trudge along, “is that we probably could have done without the giant frozen replica of Aidan’s face. Just saying.”

Aidan nodded profusely, his cheeks flushed from the chill, snowflakes clinging to his tousled mop of hair. Even though I had insisted on him bundling up in about fifteen layers (and two scarves), he still looked cold.

“Yeah, no more ice sculptures. The things I saw done to my face...” He gave a jerky shudder. “Never before have I felt so violated.”

Potter's lips quirked upwards. “Alright then,” he began, voice husky and a little rougher than usual, “all in favor of no ice sculptures next time, say aye.”

“Aye,” everyone but Dom chorused together.

“You guys just don’t know the meaning of class,” she grumbled, kicking a nearby mound of snow and sending swirls of cold powder everywhere. As Dom continued to march forward, evidently distressed over us revoking her party planning rights, I couldn't help but chuckle. With friends like these, who needs a loony bin?

Evidently, I wasn’t the only one amused by Dom's temper tantrum. Potter had given a little snort of laughter, and for one brief, terrifying second, we locked eyes, a beam of understanding stretching between us. Something inside my chest gave a little twitch.

Confused and a bit dazed, I quickly flitted my gaze to the ground and tried to hide the beet red of my cheeks. But Potter didn’t stop staring, just continued to bore white-hot holes through the back of my skull, his face unreadable behind his sunglasses. Damn it all.

This little exchange had gone unnoticed by the rest of the group, which was just as well, because so had all of Potter and I’s other awkward, tension-laden interactions. Like a couple days ago, when we had been eating breakfast and Potter’s knee accidentally knocked into mine under the table. I had sent a mouthful of orange juice spewing everywhere, and while everyone else dried themselves off, attributing the incident to another ‘Spaztastic Aggy Moment,’ Potter had caught my gaze and shot me a tiny, baneful, knowing little smirk.

Ever since the snog, I’d decided to go the tried-and-tested ‘avoid all problems until they blow up in your face’ route. So while Potter remained about as cool as a cucumber, I was ducking down random corridors and using first years as human shields whenever I spotted a shock of tousled black hair, or a red-and-gold tie. I was jumpy, paranoid, jittery... And despite all my duck-and-cover precautions, I still couldn’t avoid Potter forever because Aidan was back, and that meant the five of us were hanging out... All. The. Time.

So Potter and I would lock eyes, and I’d choke on my drink. Or he’d accidentally brush his arm against mine, and I’d jump away like I’d just received a 3000-volt shock—which, incidentally, was what skin-on-skin contact with him actually felt like. And while Potter seemed to be enjoying himself immensely (I swear he was doing some of these things on purpose, just to watch me squirm), I was about two days away from a mental breakdown.

We had to talk, that much I knew. Because I was driving myself crazy with all of these unknowns running through my head, analyzing every glance, every word that passed between us. Not to mention the fact that I was still sorting out my feelings—a feat easier said than done, let me tell you. I was angry and shocked and panicky and just...confused. I mean, how could we have gone from hating each other to snogging each other just like that? No prelude, no warning... Just like that. It didn’t make even a modicum of sense. And why was Potter so...unfazed? It was like what happened didn’t mean anything to him, whereas I was barely struggling through the aftermath of it all.

And while my Slytherin non-confrontational side was dreading the thought of walking up to Potter and striking up a conversation (I mean, what was I going to say... ‘Hey, so we snogged a couple days ago and I’m just wondering what you thought about it? Or if you even remembered it at all?’), I knew it had to be done. There was only one other option: spiraling downwards into insanity.

Dom suddenly jumped up in front of me, jerking me out of my little mental-tirade. She gave a sharp gasp—I could practically see the light bulb going off in her head—and snapped her fingers. “I’ve got it! I have an idea for the next party!”

The rest of us stopped in our tracks, exchanging wary glances. This could not be good. A look of solemn concern on his face, Freddy cleared his throat and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Dom,” he said gently, “We already told you—we’re not getting a moon bounce.”

She shook her head furiously, “No, no, I’m talking about something bigger. Something better than a moon bounce.”

Aidan’s eyebrows crept up his forehead in apprehension. “Er, better than a moon bounce? Is that possible?”

Dom nodded, a demonic smile slowly stretching across her face. Suddenly, the air around us seemed to get much colder. I could practically feel everyone hold their breath as we all waited, hesitantly, for my best friend to announce her next psychotic scheme.

“Yes, Freddy,” she purred. “I’m talking about a costume party.”

—*—

Six hours later, Dom was already regretting her proclamation.

“Too tacky! Too bland! Too—argh! I haven’t a thing to wear! I might as well just go naked!”

I watched, poker-faced, as my best friend threw the entire contents of her wardrobe into the air in frustration. Brightly-colored scraps of lace, satin, sequins — and oh Merlin, was that white pleather? — all fluttered through the air in a quasi-whirlwind of clothing... And in the eye of the storm was Dominique Weasley, her face glowing pink with distress, wearing nothing but a wonder-bra, a pair of booty shorts and, curiously enough, a pink feather boa.

During The Great Typhoon of Dom’s Wardrobe, a sheer camisole thing had fallen on my head. I picked it off and let it drop to the ground. “Dom, calm down. We’ll find you something.”

“No we won’t! I’m a fat ugly troll and nothing will look good on me! Whose idea was it to have a bloody costume party anyway?”

I decided that saying ‘umm... yours?’ would probably not be beneficial to Dom’s crisis right now, so I just sat tight from my perch on her bed, my lips zipped closed.

Turns out, though, that I didn’t have to say anything, because she suddenly sprung upwards excitedly, an idea dawning her. “Oh, I’ve got it! I’ll just wear my black leotard and go as catwoman! Yes, I’m a genius!”

I wanted to say something encouraging to this, but all I could manage was, “You own a leotard?’

“Yeah, it’s leather.”

“Leather?” I choked, “What would you even do with a leather leotard?” But my disbelief went unheard as Dom started to search frantically throughout our dormitory like a mother who had just lost her child in a supermarket, muttering furiously to herself all the meanwhile. She overturned chairs, looked under beds, behind dressers...all in search for this beloved leather leotard.

What has my life come to. Seriously. I would like to know.

“Got it!” Dom emerged, victorious, from behind her dresser, clutching some shiny, slick-looking material. She waved it about, dangling it in front of my face. “What do you think?”

The leotard simply screamed 'Dom.' ‘Ta-da!’ it seemed to say, glinting coquettishly in the light like a disco ball. One only needed to imagine the jazz-hands and Cabernet music that went with it, and the whole spectacle was complete.

But if there was anyone who could pull it off, it’d be Dominique Weasley.

“Perfect,” I said.

Dom winked, cocking a saucy hip, and grinned. “I know.”

As she wiggled into her costume, I flopped backwards on the bed, huffing an exasperated sigh. It was ten o’ clock, thirty minutes before the party was supposed to start, and I still hadn’t decided what I was going to wear. While Dom could show up wearing nothing but a barrel and some tube socks and still look gorgeous, I was utterly clueless to this whole ‘sexy-sultry thing.’ Plus, I didn’t own a costume, nor was I creative enough to think up of an original idea.

In short, I was screwed.

I stayed like that for a while, sprawled across Dom's bed, staring at the velvety, emerald green canopy above me, as my best friend did her makeup and put the finishing touches on her catwoman costume—a tail, some ears, even a cute pink nose. When she was finally done, it was about ten twenty. I still didn't have a costume but Dom—her eyes all sultry and smudged with silver eye shadow, skin exfoliated and moisturized to a sheen, peachy glow, and honey and rose tresses spiraling into perfect, so-shiny-I-can-see-my-reflection waves—looked absolutely stunning.

I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy, which provided a nice accompaniment to the tidal wave of dread currently churning around in my stomach. Potter was going to be at this party, no doubt in some ridiculous getup, being doted on by a bunch of giggly girls wearing skimpy costumes... In comparison to them, I might as well go to the party dressed like a hobgoblin.

Dom, who had been glued to the mirror for the past twenty minutes while trying to perfect her eyeliner, suddenly whipped around. “Aggy!” she cried out, realization dawning. “You’re not dressed yet!”

“Nope,” I said matter-of-factly from my spread-eagled position on her bed.

“Well what are you going to wear?”

“Nooooo idea.” Okay, so maybe I wasn’t exactly putting my 110% effort into this. Sue me. There were dozens and dozens of girls out there who could out-gorgeous, not to mention out-slut, me in so many ways. I mean, they probably knew all the makeup tricks in the book, while I could barely put on eyeliner without blinding myself. I'd never been interested in make up, though I had nothing against girls who were — I'd just always felt like there were more important things besides mascara wands in life (like real wands, for instance).

Dom, in one valiant sweep, cast aside her eyeliner and marched up to the bed, grabbing my wrists and tugging. “Unacceptable. You are getting your lazy-arse over here because we need to find the perfect, just-slutty-enough skirt to show it off. Capiche?”

“Nothing is going to be “showing off” my arse,” I said adamantly, but already Dom had pulled me to a standing position and was rummaging through The Fashion Ground Zero that was our dormitory, looking for something appropriate (or rather, inappropriate) enough for me to wear.

“I know I have something here...” she murmured to herself, tossing clothes hitherto and thitherto. It was really no use though. Just one look at Dom’s perfect hour-glass physique, clad in leather and fishnets, and I knew it was over.

“Really Dom, it’s okay... You don’t need to get me anything. I’m fine the way I am.”

She stopped in her hunt, turning around to shoot me a no nonsense glare. “Don’t be stupid, Agatha. I’ll find something”

“No, seriously, don’t even bother—”

“—no, I said I’ll find something, just wait a sec—”

“Really, it’s no big deal, I can just—”

“Need some help?”

Both of us startled at the familiar voice. Dom dropped the pile of clothes she was holding, straightening up with a ridiculous squeak of leather. “Who’s there?” she said sharply.

Evelyn Stanford’s glossy blonde head peeked out from the drawn curtains of her bed, which Dom and I had previously mistaken to be empty. Her face was thoughtful, eyebrows drawn together, eyes eager and ready to help.

“Is that you, Stanford?” I said unnecessarily, eyebrow raised. My tone was reigned in, not to its full potential of hostility, but there was still an edge to it. An edge that, I’m sure, Evelyn didn’t hesitate to pick up.

“No, it’s Santa Claus,” she snapped back, before swiveling her pointed glare to Dom (or, more specifically, her barely-there outfit), “Ho, ho, ho.”

“Ah, now there’s the Evilyn we know and hate,” Dom retaliated, unfazed by the jab at her virtue, “What does her bitchiness want today?"

Evelyn gave a humorless laugh, pushing back her curtains and stepping daintily onto the hardwood floors. “My senses are picking up a fashion crisis here, and I’d like to offer my assistance.”

“You’re kidding me,” I said flatly. For a minute, I almost considered rushing towards the window to see if there was a herd of pigs flying out there, perhaps playing a casual game of pick-up Quidditch. “You want to help us.”

Evelyn gave an exasperated sigh, obviously fed up with our dim-witted idiocy. She shook out her glossy sheet of hair, cocking a hip—and for a ridiculous moment, I was reminded of Dom from five minutes ago.

“Look,” she began, voice high and snotty like usual. “I know that, for some unfathomable reason, you two seem to share a... dislike of me — ” I snorted at this. “ — but... Well, now that I’m with Freddy, I’d like to... Start over. Make amends. You know. Whatever.”

Oh yeah. Freddy. The guy who not only attempted to expose Cooper Fallon, her then-boyfriend, as a lying, conniving criminal mastermind, but also managed to completely destroy Evelyn's entire social life in the process.

Wow. Until now, I hadn’t truly realized that Freddy had been the inadvertent cause of Evelyn’s exile to Social Siberia. I briefly wondered how he was going to explain that one.

As Dom and Evelyn began arguing over various outfit choices, I slumped down onto the bed, gazing vacantly into the canopy's thick, endless sea of emerald. I felt tired. Not just physically, but emotionally. I felt like a roaring whirlpool of feelings, and like there was no one out there with whom I could talk. Not even Dom, not Freddy, especially not Aidan. I mean, I could barely understand my feelings right now... So how could anyone else? I wasn't a fan of the age-old ‘I’m-an-angsty-teenager-and-nobody-gets-me-blah-blah-blah’ cliché, but that was honestly what it felt like at the moment.

Ever since that kiss, everything had become unbalanced, off-kilter. Potter and I used to have a hate-filled, terribly unhealthy relationship — and I was happy with it. It could have stayed that way and I would have been utterly dandy. But noooo, he just had to go and muck it up like he always did. That seemed to be Potter’s main priority in life. Mucking things up—’things’ being my life, sanity and general well-being, of course. And he was bloody good at it, too. Aidan had just woken up. My friends and my life were finally being pieced back together...And yet here I was, in a perpetual state of inner rant, agonizing over one, simple little snog. Honestly, only Potter could turn a kiss into some kind of psychological warfare tactic. That took skill.

Everything was supposed to be good right now, and yet I was unhappy.

I couldn't keep up with this vicious cycle of... Of whatever you could call this. I mean, I was about to 'go and get my slut on' (Dom’s words, not mine) so that I could attend a drunken teenage party and make drunken, terribly stupid decisions. I was about to have fun. I wanted to throw caution to the wind, let loose, go wild. No more thinking about Potter or snogs or pointless, troubling feelings. I was fed up with that stuff. There was only thing I wanted to say right now, and that was:

Fuck it.

Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. That was my mantra for the night.

“Potter and I snogged.”

Like I said, fuck it.

Dom and Evelyn, who had been bickering and seemed to be embroiled in some sort of tug-of-war with a red satin skirt, suddenly froze.

I couldn’t look at either of them. I just sat there, staring intently at my cuticles, waiting for the impending explosion. Dom was going to have a fit, of course. Things were going to thrown, glass about to be broken... The dormitory would be a mess after this. The poor house-elves wouldn't know what hit them.

After what seemed like ten agonizing hours, I finally looked up, trying to gauge their expressions. Evelyn’s perfectly arched eyebrows were raised in surprise, her minty green eyes bright and—dare I say it—looking a little impressed. Dom, on the other hand, was completely expressionless. For a moment, her face looked clenched together, just a pile of separate, blank parts that had been constructed into some sort of facade.

And then:

“Oh, cool.”

My heart leaped in amazement as, just like that, Dom shrugged everything off as if it were no big deal and went back to yanking on that red skirt. Evelyn shrugged too and pulled back, and once again they were engaged in that same stupid little game of tug-of-war, grunting and hissing and cussing at each other as if nothing had even happened.

“What?” I said loudly over their endless stream of profanity, rising from the bed. “That’s it?”

I stuck my hands to my hips and turned to my best friend, fixing her with a full-on glare. I mean, was one single exclamation of surprise too much to ask for?

Evelyn’s eyes flickered towards Dom as well, oddly curious, and for a moment we both stared at her. Waiting. I mean, it was no secret that Dominique Weasley had a temper—in fact, I had fully expected her to go all Real Housewives of Orange County on my ass. But here she was, as cool as a cucumber... She’d just found out that I’d snogged my archenemy—and her cousin—without even batting a lash.

“You’re not going to say anything?” Evelyn said, finally letting go of the flimsy garment in her hands. Dom stumbled backwards a bit, as her arm raised to the sky, triumphantly waving her prize.

“No, of course not," Dom remarked as she nonchalantly smoothed out the skirt and revealed it to possess a hemline so short, I could hear my mother cringing from miles away. "I mean, it was about time. Your sexual tension was through the roof. We’ve all seen it coming."

“So you’re not mad?” I asked, voice high with incredulity. I knew I was pushing my luck here, and that I should just accept Dom’s blasé attitude seeing as I’d been expecting much worse. But I couldn’t let it go. It amazed me that Little Miss Drama Queen, the girl who practically went through a three-act tragedy whenever she broke a nail, was acting... cool about this.

“Mad? Why would I be mad? Fred owes me three galleons now!”

“Three gall—Wait, what?” My mouth dropped open as, from next to me, Evelyn guffawed. “Are you telling me you guys bet on this happening?”

"Well, I bet on this happening. Fred thought it would take another two years before you guys finally succumbed to your hormones," Dom shrugged casually. "Hence, three galleons."

There was a long moment as I grappled for words, looking between Dom and Evelyn, trying to make sense of it all. Finally, I grabbed my best friend by the shoulders, turning her roughly to me so I could look her dead in the eye. “Dom, I don’t think you understand.”

“What’s there to understand?” She scoffed. “You guys smooched, I get three galleons, those dragon-hide boots on sale at Madam Malkin's are now finally mine. End of story. Now can we please get back to outfit-planning?”

“Outfit-planning? How can you be thinking of outfit-planning at a time like this?”

“Well, I for one do not want to show up at this party looking like Drabby McGrannyPanties. I mean, Aidan’s going to be there. And Potter...! Don’t you want to get dressed up for your man, Aggy?”

Evelyn snorted at this.

“My man? No, no, no... no! I don’t think you understand, Dom. Potter isn’t my man.”

“So he’s just your snog-buddy then?”

“I—no! Shut it, Evelyn!”

“Just trying to help, you don't need to have a cow...”

“The only cow around here is you!” Okay, not my best comeback, but it was the best I could do on short-term notice.

Before Evelyn and I could dissolve into more bickering, Dom gently peeled my hands off her shoulders, clasping them together in her own. Surprised by the strangely maternal nature of this action, I suddenly fell silent.

“Look, Agatha.” Her pear-green eyes were, for once, gentle and soft. “I know that you and Potter are...complicated. And I know that, what with everything that’s been happening lately, things are all different and muddled and scary for you... But tonight’s not the night to worry about that. Tonight’s the night to do something crazy, like dance drunkenly on a table, or take fashion advice from Evelyn Stanford. And trust me, that's the pinnacle of craziness."

“Offence taken,” Evelyn piped up dryly, eyebrow cocked in flat disdain.

“What I’m trying to say here," Dom continued, shooting Evelyn a withering glance. "Is that sometimes you just have to forget about the big stuff and be someone else for a while."

Apparently, 'someone else' in this situation meant 'sexy Halloween kitten.' Needless to say, this did not have me feeling very reassured.

“Dom —” I began, but was cut off as Evelyn smoothly intercepted.

"Look, as tender and wonderful as this Best Friend moment is," she said, words paper-dry with irony. “The party’s about to start. So why don't we move this conversation to the Room of Requirement — or, more specifically, the bar inside the Room of Requirement? Because I seriously need a Firewhiskey in my hand if I'm going to listen to you two whine on and on for the rest of the night."

“Oh right!” I exclaimed, feeling my spirits suddenly stir with hope. Evelyn's words had just given me the perfect idea for a way out of this party. “As much as I hate to admit it, Evelyn’s right. The party starts in five minutes, and I still have no idea what to wear. So how about you guys go ahead, and I'll catch up with you later — ?"

Dom turned towards Evelyn, a slow grin creeping across her face. Much to my amazement — and fear (seriously, were they really bonding over this?) — the two shared a look. A look that I did not like at all.

“Not so fast, Aggy. We have just the thing for you...”

I should probably be worried. I mean, best case scenario, they were going to put me in a super tiny outfit that had my arse hanging out one end and my cleavage bursting out the other. I was probably going to spend the night fidgeting in a too-tight, too-short dress as random blokes ogled at me and Aidan looked up the names and addresses of all the different nunneries in our immediate area.

I should probably be worried.

But as I watched Dom and Evelyn start to frantically whisper to each other, no doubt planning out the next steps of my slutty metamorphosis, I found myself not caring. In fact, I was almost growing a little...giddy. I mean, here I was, healthy, alive, with two of the craziest girls in all of Hogwarts (one of whom was wearing a leather leotard), and the night just beginning. We were about to go to a party and see our friends and, more importantly, I was about to see Potter.

Honestly, I had no idea what was in store for the three of us, but all of a sudden I was looking forward to finding out.

—*—

First rule of RoR parties:

Don't talk about RoR parties.

Second rule: once you’re in a RoR party, you’re in. There’s no coming out unless you are completely one-hundred-percent sober (trust me, there are tests). We wouldn’t want Filch to find some drunken teenager roaming around the castle at two thirty in the morning, now would we? That’d just be poor taste. Please keep the drunken wanderings within the pre-approved confines of the premises.

Last, and most important, rule: what happens in a RoR party stays in a RoR party. You hooked up with so-and-so’s boyfriend last night? Gave a third-year an inebriated, impromptu lap-dance while everyone else cheered on? Too bad. Next morning, no one’s going to want to hear about it. Don’t mention it in class, in the hallways, in the Great Hall during breakfast (everyone’s too hung-over to speak anyways). No one. Wants. To. Hear. It. Anything that goes down in the RoR is left in the RoR, and that’s just the way it is.

Most of the time, anyway.

I had to hand it to the Tweedle Trio (god, I'd missed calling them that), they knew how to throw a party. Walking into the Room of Requirement was a transformative experience. The only way I could describe it was that it was like getting concussed, if concussions involved flashing lights, thumping dance music and screaming intoxicated youth.

The room was cavernously huge, high-ceilinged with old-fashioned, Gothic arches that contrasted starkly with the rave-style interior decoration. There was a giant banner stretching from one wall to the other, proclaiming, ‘CONGRATS ON NOT BEING DEAD, AIDAN!’ in glow-in-the-dark, flashing letters. But it was barely visible, seeing as the entire room had been bathed in black-light. Which basically meant that you couldn’t see a thing, save for the occasional flash of white clothing or neon paint, which was conveniently splattered everywhere—on the walls, on the floor—people were even squirting it at each other in little ‘paint battles.’

Above us sprawled a replica of a starry sky, except instead of giving off the normal serene ‘twinkle-twinkle, each star was a miniature strobe light that pulsed wildly to music, flashing white light onto the top of peoples’ heads, outstretched arms and drink glasses. Everyone danced together, bumping and gyrating in a highly inappropriate fashion. A techno beat grinded out from invisible speakers, so loud it made my skull shake and my thoughts rattle.

As we entered the room, Evelyn let loose a very loud expletive, her sharp eyes taking in our surroundings, but it went unheard over all the music. Next to her, Dom whistled slowly. “Merlin’s Beard, how many people do you think are here?”

I couldn’t bother counting. First of all, it was too dark. And second of all, the pulsing crowd was so big it’d be impossible to do so. “No idea,” I yelled over the music, “I didn’t know this many people actually went to Hogwarts.”

“Fuckin’ A,” Evelyn nodded in agreement, “Now lets go get some drinks.”

We started to make our way across the room towards the RoR’s giant, gleaming bar. It was very chic-looking, what with it’s eye-assaultingly bright violet colour and the so-cool-I’m-bored-right-now seventh year who was standing behind it, juggling vodka bottles in front of a crowd of squealing fourth-year girls.

But before we could make it to what seemed like Hogwarts’ secret end-of-the-world stash of hoarded alcohol, we were intercepted by Freddy and Aidan, who had appeared out of nowhere and, by the looks of it, were completely hammered.

“Ladies!” Aidan roared, whipping an arm around Dom’s shoulders and practically tipping over in the process. “What a pleasure to see you guys, hope you enjoy the party and OH MY GOD AGATHA, FOR MERLIN’S SAKES COVER YOURSELF!”

“Shit, dude!” Fred exclaimed, taking in my outfit in one, appreciative glance. My mouth dropped open, not in outrage, but in a grim, scoffing smile. I had expected this.

“Nice to see you too,” I said coolly, cocking my head to the side. I knew I was wearing one of the most ridiculous get-ups in the world, but I refused to be self-conscious about it. Dom was right. Today, I was going to be someone else. I was going to be...

“A Sexy Librarian?” Aidan moaned, slapping an exaggerated hand to his forehead, “Seriously?”

Yes, seriously. The costume had been Evelyn's—she'd dug it up from her wardrobe after a couple minutes of searching—so of course it was skimpy, absurd and managed to cover about as much skin as a lingerie set, or two strategically-placed handkerchiefs.

As of now, I was wearing a low cut button-down shirt, which by itself would have been fine... Except that it was tucked inside a clingy, so-tight-it-might-as-well-be-painted-on black skirt. Of course, this wasn’t enough. We just had to amp it up to the next level...Literally. So the aforementioned skirt was not only sinfully tight, but also sinfully short — hiked up far enough to reveal two lacy black garters and a pair of stockings, which then streamlined down my waxed, exfoliated, and tanned legs to meet a pair of the tallest, most lethal, most incapacitating stilettos I’d ever seen. Or worn, for that matter.

To top off the whole look, Evelyn had pinned a fake, miniature tie to my collar. The tie served no purpose, though I guess its teeny size was keeping in theme with the rest of the outfit.

“Doesn’t it suit her? Isn’t ‘sexy librarian’ just perfect for Aggy?” Dom giggled, ducking underneath Aidan’s arm to come and spin me around. Reluctantly, I let her, mostly because I was too tired to put up a fight, but also because if I made any sudden movements in these heels, I would most likely kill myself. And all those around me.

“Aren’t you guys proud?” Evelyn glided up next to Dom and held out her arms, displaying me in a grand gesture a lá Ivana White. The movement actually went well with her costume, which was ‘1920s Hollywood Star.’ Wearing a slinky, midnight blue gown with just the right amount of skin shown, and her hair in perfect, sultry waves, Evelyn looked dewy and fresh and beautiful. I swear, the chick must drink protein shakes made with unicorn piss and the blood of young virgins every morning, because there was no way her skin could look that clear on its own.
Ever the catwoman, Dom gave a coquettish smile, wiggling her hips a little. “It’s absolutely purrrrfect...”

As everyone else groaned at the joke—seriously, purrfect? In the vast world of cat-related humor, could she do no better?—Aidan shook his head, exasperated. Though I guess the movement was too much to handle in his intoxicated state, because without Dom there for support, he went stumbling backwards, trying to regain footing and a sense of physio-spatial awareness. “I still — hic — can’t believe — hic — you’re wearing that, Aggy.”

“And what are you wearing?” I shot back. It was a completely legitimate question, because I honestly had no idea. It looked like my brother had cut a hole in a big sheet, painted some giant polka dots on it, and then decided to wear it like a rain poncho. Needless to say, I was left a bit bewildered.

Aidan held out his arms, affronted. “I’m Twister!”

“What?”

“Allow me to explain.” Fred stepped forward, carrying a bottle of Firewhiskey and looking suave in a tux and bow tie—James Bond, I was guessing. “You know Twister, right? The famous muggle game and pastime? Also known as the best thing to happen to birthday parties since the humble piñata? Well...That's Aidan.”

Aidan nodded vigorously. “Twister!”

I couldn’t help but laugh. It was a silly idea, sure, but I was in too good of a mood to be pissy about it. Sure, if my mother saw what I looked like right now she'd probably have a myocardial infarction, but I wasn't going to worry about that. My schoolmates were here, dancing their arses off, and I was about to join them. Everything was okay... or going to be, at least. “Are you serious?”

“Are you? I can’t believe you’re actually wearing that,” Freddy remarked conversationally as he slowly gravitated towards Evelyn, wrapping an arm around her waist and nestling his chin on her shoulder. Evelyn smiled contentedly at the action—like an actual, real smile—and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little at the sickening cuteness.

I shrugged. “Sorry, Mr. 007. But I can safely say that I was held under duress the whole time. I had no choice but to comply.”

“Is that so?” Fred murmured, turning his head and cocking a knowing eyebrow at Evelyn, who responded with a devilish smile.

“Yeah,” she said softly, reaching up on her tiptoes to gently press her lips against his. He kissed back for a moment, before pulling away slightly to turn her body more towards him so they could resume in a full-out snog.

“Ew, kissing! Gross!”

“Seriously, get a room.”

“Yeah, if we wanted an up-close-and-personal with Fred's salivary glands, we’d just go and watch him sleep. He drools, you know.”

“Oi! Do you mind? I’m trying to kiss my girlfriend!”

“Whatever, mate.”

Fred and Evelyn soon drifted off, presumably to play a hearty round of tonsil-tennis, which left me, Dom and Aidan.

“Well, I’m going to go dance! Bye!” And with that, Dom bounded off too, her cat tail wiggling in the air.

“Guess it’s just you and me, sis.” Aidan slung an arm over my shoulder, dragging me towards him. His breath smelled like fruity alcohol, his hair rumpled and disheveled.

“Guess so.”

“I still can’t believe you’re wearing that. Sexy Librarian, Jesus Christ.”

“Your bloodstream is probably 80% Firewhiskey right now,” I said dryly. “It’s not like you’re going to remember any of this tomorrow morning.”

“Lucky Aidan,” a voice interjected, and we both turned around to see Potter, wearing a pair of dark jeans and a grey shirt, ambling towards us. He was referring to my get-up, obviously, and the expression on his face was a picture-perfect example of the word 'derision' and all its synonyms.

I tried not to flush, aware that, under any normal circumstances, this would be my cue to blush, fidget uncomfortably, and then storm off in a huff. But nothing about this party was normal. So instead, I looked Potter in the eye and straightened, changing the topic in a very transparent (but effective) attempt at deflecting attention. "And what are you supposed to be, Potter?"

Potter held out his arms as if it should be obvious, but I just stared blankly at him. Despite the confusion, I had to admit he looked good. His hair was carelessly tousled to the perfect degree of disheveledness. The sleeves to his shirt were rolled up, revealing tanned forearms, his shoulders a wordless endorsement for five years of hard Quidditch training.

“I’m a muggle,” Potter stated simply.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Aidan nodded along faintly, obviously tuning out the details and, uh, subtler tensions of the conversation “Genius, innit? Anyway, I have to go... I see a couple of fourth-year girls who might need help, ah, with directions and whatnot. Smell ya later, Aggs!”

And with that, my brother stumbled off, wrapping his arms around the aforementioned fourth-years and exclaiming loudly, "Now which one of you ladies wants to put their right hand on green?”

Wow. Glad to know that’s in my gene pool.

There was a moment of silence as Potter and I stood there, sizing each other up with hard jaws and squinty eyes. For a moment, I considered running off like Dom had... But I knew that I had to face this. I mean, this was why I was here. To talk to him. Right?

"Nice miniature tie," Potter finally quipped as he swilled around the half-empty drink in his hand. "Didn't know librarians normally wore those."

"But the garters and five-inch stilettos you found believable," I grumbled, in no mood for another verbal-fencing match.

The left side of Potter's mouth tilted upwards. "Nope," he said, drawing out the syllable to pop the 'p.'

"Not objectionable in the slightest?" I pressed on drily.

Potter leaned against a nearby wall, shoving his free hand into his pocket as he adopted a mock-somber look on his face. "I never object to garters and five-inch stilettos, Bennett."

My eyes narrowed at the flirty undertone, just detectable, in his comment. What exactly was this kid playing at here? For the past few days, he had been pushing the boundaries, enjoying watching me squirm at any passing graze or accidental eye-contact between us. I was an easy target for him; while he obviously didn't give our kiss a second thought, I was making my discomfort plainly visible.

"James! Aggy!"

The two of us turned around as Fred and Evelyn, evidently having sucked face to satisfaction, bounded over to us hand-in-hand. In their costumes, they looked years older, like the type of classy couple that might host fancy dinner parties for international diplomats and famous artists. They looked sophisticated.

"What are you guys doing just standing around? Time to do some shots, bitches!"

Nevermind.

The only thing that sounded worse than 'a shot,' right now, was 'shots' plural. I hastily backed away, as if the prospect were something physical in front of me, palms held upwards defensively and trying my best to maintain equilibrium on the tiny soles of Evelyn's stilettos.

"I'm not really a shots kind of gal, you guys," I said with as much cheeriness as I could muster, but Fred was already giving me that look — the very same look he acquired whenever he thought of a great prank idea, the same look that once, in third-year, ended us up in the Shrieking Shack with a stolen goat, five metric tons of bleu cheese and an arrest warrant in Freddy's name. Don't ask.

"It's happening, Aggy," Freddy said seriously.

I gulped, suddenly recalling those PSA commercials about peer pressure that they used to show in primary school. 'Just say no' didn't seem like it would work on Freddy Weasley. After all, Fred had a pretty limited vocabulary aready, most of which was composed of singular syllables and words that Fred liked to make up ("If you can be disgruntled, why can't you also just be 'gruntled?'). Unfortunately for me and the nation's War Against Drugs, 'no' was not a part of aforementioned vocabulary.

In contrast to my inner freak-out, Potter did not seem to have a problem with these new developments. Calm and cool like always, he downed whatever was left in his glass in one quick, easy tilt. "What are we drinking?" he asked, and his nonchalance only served to make me more anxious.

I was able to do nothing as Freddy grabbed me and Potter by the arm and all but frog-marched us to the bar, Evelyn trailing behind us as she boredly inspected her nail beds. I looked on with the same vague sense of horror as a bystander at a car accident while Fred ordered four shots of tequila from the seventh-year behind the bar. Oh Merlin. This could only end in trouble. Trouble, and vomit.

Fred passed around the shot glasses, lime slices and salt shaker, his light green eyes glowing eerily in the black-light. I'd never taken a tequila shot before, and was thrown off by the extra ingredients and what seemed like an over-complication of a, theoretically, pretty simple process. I hadn't thought alcohol involved any other steps besides 1) Drink it and 2) Try to keep it down and 3) Repeat steps one and two.

I tried my best to follow Freddy's lead, aware that Potter was watching, his eyes slanted towards me in amusement. Salt on one hand, tequila in the other, lime in the... Wait, I'd run out of hands. This whole process was almost ritualistic in how many steps it had. Like a religious ceremony. Except with, you know, binge-drinking.

And I'd be damned if I were going to make a fool out of myself in front of Potter.

Fred held out his shot glass, exuberant. "To a good night," he exclaimed. Hand trembling only slightly, I raised mine to meet his, and we all cheers'd, and before I knew it the alcohol was suddenly not in the glass and now in my mouth.

Disgusting. It tasted like someone had taken fermented apple juice, added cayenne peppers and a little bit of hot sauce, and then thrown out the concoction and decided to slap a tequila label on a bottle of lighter fluid instead. I somehow choked it down, feeling a tiny bit dribble down my chin, and my eyes watered.

Evelyn slammed her glass down on the bar, grinning coquettishly, almost as if she liked the feeling of her esophagus being singed to bits. Potter set his down next, then Freddy, who was muttering a creative mix of expletives.

I gingerly placed my glass on the counter, wiping at my mouth with the back of my hand. I could not seem to rearrange my face back into its normal expression.

"Did you like?" Fred heartily clapped me on the back, which did not feel good for my already-traumatized throat. I nodded, trying not to throw up my trachea. Whenever I heard people say 'keep it down' in relation to alcohol, I always just thought they meant the alcohol. I didn't know internal organs would be involved.

"Yeah, Bennett, did you like it?" Potter raised his eyebrows. The mocking tone in his voice was barely discernible.

I swallowed. "Mmm, yeah," I lied, fully aware that I sounded like a recording of The Batman's voice getting tossed down a garbage disposal. "Alcohol is... great. I love alcohol. I would like another alcohol, please."

Potter's eyes met mine. His gaze was coal-dark, his mouth curved into a dangerous half-smile. I held his stare, determined not to let him see my doubt, my fear. Like Dom said, now was the time to forget about my troubles, to be someone else. That someone else turned out to be Aggy the Sexy Librarian, and Aggy the Sexy Librarian would not back down from a challenge.

"Great," Potter said, before turning back to the bar. "We'll have two more rounds."

...Crap.

—*—

An hour later and I was stumbling through the crowd, trying and failing to remember who the current Queen of England was and also my middle name. Somewhere between shots numbers four and five, I had ditched the others and managed to find Dom. This was not an improvement, as Dom seemed just as dedicated to plying me with drinks in the name of teenage delinquency. But she had also dragged me to the dance floor and there, amid the grinding bass and other joyous party-goers, I had found myself enjoying things despite the tequila (and rum, and vodka, and Firewhiskey) sloshing in my stomach.

After about two straight hours of dancing, Dom and I had decided to take a break. We stumbled out of the crowd, gulping for air and laughing hysterically about some comment Dom had made that I wouldn't realize wasn't actually funny until the next day. Those shots — combined with the throbbing beat of the music — were making my head spin.

“I’m going to get us more to drink.” Dom giggled.

“No, you can’t!” I shook my head frantically, then stopped when I realized that 'alcohol' and 'sudden movements' were not a good mix.

“No, I have to! It's a matter of life and debt! Er, wife and death! No — life and death!” Dom rambled drunkenly as I tried to grab her and drag her back.

In what I was pretty sure was a combination of Quidditch strength-training and sheer will, Dom suddenly lunged forward and broke free of my grip, sending me reeling backwards and landing with an ungraceful ‘oomph!’ on the floor.

Sprawled out on my back on the floor, I blinked several times, vaguely acknowledging the fact that I should be feeling pain right now but wasn't, and that this was probably not a good sign. The artificial stars on the ceiling swam above me, and my eyelids drooped downwards as Dom wandered off towards the bar, either not knowing or not caring that I had fallen. I couldn't find it in myself to be mad at her for abandoning me. This actually felt... nice. Lying beneath the stars... How romantic.

“Well isn’t this just charming?”

I opened eyes to see two shiny black shoes, and then a pair of pinstripe slacks. The rest was shrouded in darkness.

I struggled to prop myself up on the elbows, but apparently I didn’t need to, because all of a sudden the mysterious figure bent down, grabbing me by the arms, and hoisted me up in one sweeping movement.

“Hey, don’t woman-handle me!” I cried indignantly, but my voice suddenly died in my throat as I came face to face with Fallon Cooper.

No.

This was not good.

Cooper was wearing a fedora, a cigarette dangling lazily out of his mouth. Stuck to the lapel of his pinstripe blazer was a red rose. He had dressed as a mafia member, one of the Godfather characters. And while I would normally find a costume like that to be laughably stupid... Right now, it was downright terrifying.

Because I knew what Cooper was capable of. And it was definitely very Godfather-esque.

"Let go of me,” I croaked.

Smirking, Cooper released his grip on me, holding out his hands in surrender, and I went staggering backwards. “Why so serious, Agatha?" he jeered. "You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

“What do you want?” My voice was trembling. I desired nothing more than to just turn around and walk away, but I couldn’t.

Something kept me there, rooted to the spot. Maybe it was the need to prove that I wasn’t afraid, that he couldn’t faze Aggy the Sexy Librarian. Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was sheer stupidity. Or a combination of all the above. But whatever it was had me frozen, paralyzed.

Cooper came closer to me, his harsh, angular face obscuring my vision. His breath smelled like stale smoke, his mouth was twisted into an ugly leer. “I think you know what I want, Agatha.”

I stared at him, jutting my chin out in a half-arsed attempt at defiance. “No, actually, I don’t.”

He gave a quiet laugh that made my stomach clench. “For a Slytherin, you sure are naive. Don’t you realize, Agatha? Your brother might be safe for now, but that doesn’t mean you are.”

My stomach plummeted as fear, so cold it was hot, crept up my legs. Quickly, my eyes darted around in search of a saviour, someone who could pull me out of this situation (shouldn’t Dom be back by now?). They landed on Potter a few feet away, joking and talking in a rowdy circle with his Quidditch teammates. As saviours went, Potter would not be ideal. His bad temper, and the almost-empty drink glass currently in his hand, were two indicators of that.

As if he could feel my gaze like a tangible, heavy thing, Potter turned around, and we made eye contact. It took him two seconds to register the conversation in front of him and its participants. My dismay took on a new dimension as his easygoing smile began to fade and he handed his drink to the bloke next to him, beginning to walk in our direction, jaw set in a way that meant trouble. Cooper seemed to notice too, as he had followed my gaze and a grimace began to curl at his mouth.

"Is there a problem?" Potter’s expression voice was casual, but his posture was rigidly set, shoulders tight and alert as he came to stand by me.

Cooper glowered, his face turning scarily dark. He glanced angrily between Potter and I. It was plainly evident that he did not want to pick a fight around Potter, and for a strange, fleeting moment, he looked like he was about to scream. Or hit one of us. But he simply gave me a scathing look that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and then turned around to walk away.

Once his back was to us, I whipped around to face Potter. I sincerely hoped my slitted eyes and clenched jaw would be enough to mask the fear roiling in my stomach.

"What are you doing, Potter? I have the situation under control."

"That wasn't what it looked like."

"You're drunk right now."

"You're drunk right now."

"I — you're drunk right now!"

"Good point."

Sick of our pointless arguing, I prepared myself to turn around and leave when, suddenly, Cooper halted in his tracks. Potter and I both snapped our mouths shut, suddenly stiff and wary as Cooper turned around and began calmly striding back towards us. This could not be good.

He planted himself right in front of me, his tall figure hulking over my small one, and I tried not to flinch while he looked me up and down, spat on the ground in front of my shoes, and hissed, “Slag.”

Big mistake.

It was a lightening fast movement. One second, Potter was standing across from me as we bantered, the next, the small smirk had slid off his face and he had Cooper against the wall, expression contorted with fury.

“What did you just say?” he said, voice tight. Cooper gave a half-yelp, struggling to escape, but it was no use.

My heart leaped in my chest. Never before had I seen Potter look so serious. He was glowering, his jaw set in stone. “Potter!" I blurted out, not knowing what else to say. But it was like he hadn’t even heard me. I stood uselessly to the side, not knowing whether I should stop this or just stand by and let my archenemy throttle the living shit out of... Well, my other archenemy.

“You even look at her the wrong way, and I will fucking kill you,” Potter said matter-of-factly, and it was the calmness, the completely practical tone in his voice, that made him so freaking terrifying.

“Why so protective of the little whore, Potter? She putting out for you?”

Wrong thing to say. In a flash, Potter let go of Cooper, drew back his arm... And then Fallon Cooper was on the floor, clutching a bleeding nose, while Potter stood above him, looking so scary it was almost ethereal, rubbing the already-bruising knuckles of his right hand.

“Potter! Just leave it!” I cried almost hysterically. I could feel my heartbeat pounding furiously inside my head. Around us, people were starting to stare. They had finally taken notice.

Cooper stumbled to a stand, something dark and rust-colored dribbling down his face, and swung at Potter. Potter ducked, swung back, and soon enough there was a full-on fight breaking out.

I tried to get to Potter, to pull him back, but it was no use. All of a sudden I was swallowed by a mob of people rushing towards the scene, eager to watch two of the most infamous boys at Hogwarts fight it out. Some were trying to break it up, others were cheering and screaming... But I couldn’t see any of it, my vision obscured by heads and backs and shoulders. I was getting pushed backwards, shoved away, and I was screaming, screaming for Potter, panic surging up my throat, trying to figure out what was going on, what the hell was going on...

I turned around and started running. My brain had been swiped clean and blank, and there was no thought, just the sudden urge to leave. All of a sudden I found myself racing outside of the RoR, not stopping until I was outside, down the corridor, and had safely locked myself in one of the numerous broom cupboards of Hogwarts.

I couldn’t breathe. I was panicking. Hands shaking, I yanked my hair down from its mussed up-do, letting it spill down my shoulders. I kicked off my high heels, almost moaning in relief as I finally set my poor feet free from the confines of their strappy, stiletto prisons.

...And then I slumped against the wall, sliding down until I was on the floor, my arms wrapped protectively around my bent knees.

Everything had all happened so fast. Stupid Potter and his rash, Gryffindor decision-making. He had no concept of personal safety, no consideration for the way his actions might affect others. Take shots, throw punches, who cared?

He was an idiot.

Inside the broom cupboard, it was cool and dark, a nice change from the hectic, throbbing heat of the RoR. There was no noise except for the ringing in my ears, and my short, shallow breathing.

Fuck.

Did Potter not know the meaning of hate? Ever since our kiss, he had been acting differently. He wasn't following our usual script of insults and mockery! For Merlin's sakes, he had just tried to defend my honor in a brawl! Oh Merlin... A brawl! He was out there, right now, pummeling Cooper to the ground because of me! And here I was, hiding like a little coward in a broom cupboard... What was wrong with me?

I was going insane. I had to do something. Take action and storm back inside the RoR, grab Potter by the collar and drag him to safety... Where I could slap him hard upside the head for being such a chivalrous, brave, noble, idiot.

When had things gotten so complicated?

I knew that lying in fetal position inside a broom cupboard and asking myself rhetorical questions wasn’t going to help anything. But I just couldn’t imagine myself going out there and facing all of that.... So instead, I decided to stay in my pathetic position for just a wee bit longer—curled in a little ball, my heart racing, mentally berating myself for being such a sodding coward.

I don’t know how much time passed, it seemed like hours and minutes all at once, but eventually I had enough. I was tired, exhausted. All I wanted to do was go to the Prefect’s bathroom, take a scalding hot bath, and then crawl into bed and sleep.

I was just about to make myself stand up, however, when all of a sudden the door was flung open.

"Bennett?"

Great.

Just great.

How is it that Potter always manages to find me at such inconvenient times?

"Do you have a radar, or something?" I asked weakly from the floor.

Potter, silhouetted by the light in the hallway behind him, stepped inside. I wondered how intoxicated he was. "Huh?"

"A radar," I repeated dully. "That tells you when and where to find me whenever I'm at my most pathetic."

Potter bent down and rubbed the side of his ribcage with his right hand, wincing. "I borrowed the Marauder's Map from Fred, Bennett. I wanted to make sure you were alright."

"Alright?! How drunk are you right now?" I stood up quickly, and Potter's hazel eyes warily followed me as I rose up to full height. I didn't know what freaked me out more — the fact that Potter had just embroiled himself in a fight with a murderous, seventh-year Slytherin, or the fact that he was even worried about my well-being.

I was about to say something, probably along the lines of ‘Go away, you sodding fucking idiot,’ but my voice suddenly died in my throat. Because Potter had straightened as well so that he could lift up the hem of his shirt and observe, with an odd, detached kind of curiosity, the massive bruise blooming across his rib cage.

Shit.

It was an ugly blotch of purple and red, marring the otherwise tan skin of his abdomen. It did not look good. At all. In fact, it looked like one of his ribs might be broken.

“Potter, are you okay?” I blurted out, and he dropped the hem of his shirt, rubbing the spot.

I wasn't about to wait for an answer. I walked towards him, crossing the cupboard in two swift strides so we were face to face. I could barely make out his features in the hazy dark, but I knew he was there. Silent. Waiting. I couldn't tell if I felt guilty or furious at the moment.

I stared at the spot where the bruise had been. I couldn’t make myself look away. “Was that...” I paused, sucking in a deep breath, “Because of me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Bennett," Potter said lightly, but I could hear the wince of pain in his voice. "Are we done here?" He reached behind himself, grappling for the doorknob, but I stopped him.

“Don’t,” I grabbed his hand, and surprise flickered across his face. “Potter...”

There was a long, bated silence. Something in my chest seemed to give a funny little jump. We were standing so close...

He leaned back against the door. “Bennett,” he said flatly, and that was answer enough. One word, one single acquiescence...But it seemed to fall between us like a brick.

“You shouldn’t have... have...” I began, but there was nothing left to say.

Slowly, cautiously, I reached up, aware that my body seemed to be rebelling against the orders coming from my frazzled mind, and I kissed him. Very, very lightly. My lips, barely grazing his. Me on tippy toes and him leaning against the door, eyes fluttered shut.

I didn't know why, but at the time, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

It was hot and fast and fleeting, like a shooting star. It didn’t last very long, but I felt it. Oh, I felt it. That kiss pulled at me from the inside, made my chest clench and my throat ache. It was... different from last time. Scarier. More intimate. Just my body against his, our hearts beating so close together, everything silent inside that tiny broom cupboard except for our breathing.

I pulled away, letting go of his hand. He was staring at me. And I could tell, just by looking at his eyes, that he had felt it too. That strange feeling of being empty and full at the same time. That shooting star.

He leaned back, his head gently thumping against the door. It was eerily quiet, save for my heartbeat, which was sputtering inside my chest.

“Bennett,” he said quietly. “What are we doing?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but he didn’t give me the chance. Because all of the sudden Potter was swiveling us around with surprising speed, pushing me back so that I was the one against the door...and then he was kissing me.

It was more intense this time. Potter’s urgent mouth found mine, his hands clasping my face. It was fast and hard and pure need. And I wanted it. Wanted him. Being this close to him, with my hands against his chest, feeling his heartbeat thrum against my palm... This was the only time when Potter actually felt human to me.

I parted my lips, allowing him to deepen the kiss as his tongue slid between my teeth. We grappled desperately at each other, trying to get as close as possible, tangling together in a hot blur of lips and tongue and touch, all intertwined. I wrapped my arms around his neck, pulling myself towards him. My head was spinning with that same, heated dizziness that only Potter could make me feel. He was pressing me so hard against the door, I thought we might break it.

I knew what we were doing was wrong, that this wasn’t how I was supposed to fix things, but I couldn’t help it. I was drawn towards him, addicted and intoxicated by the haze and muted heat between us. I needed it, craved it, wanted it...

Then all too soon, Potter was pulling away, his breathing raggedy, eyes dark. We both stared at each other for a second, gasping for air, our lips swollen — the telling giveaway of a good snog.

My mind was trying to catch up with my body. It was moving sluggishly, trying to make sense of what happened. I wish I could find out what Potter was thinking. Finally, after a while of staring, I murmured, “I should go.”

Potter nodded. “Probably.”

For a moment, I lingered, wondering if he was going to stop me. When he didn’t, I turned away and opened the door, slipping into the cool air of the corridor without a backwards glance.



Chapter 27: Inescapable
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A/N: Alright guys, here's chapter 27 (finally)! I'm terribly sorry for the long wait, but as some of you know, I've been going through a tough month, what with APs, getting sick (twice), and prom and such, so thank you for your patience! Oh, and also the formatting for this might be a bit weird. I don't know why, but everytime I click the little 'preview' button, it automatically adds like, a bajillion empty lines between my paragraphs. Blurghhh. Oh well, what can you do?



The Hogwarts Express was a cherry-red train that puffed out cheerful marshmallows of grey steam and shuttled happy school-children between their school and their loving families. It looked like the kind of train that could be Thomas the Tank Engine’s jolly best friend, the kind of train that took you on wonderful journeys filled with double rainbows and baby kittens feeding you Girl Scout cookies. It made you feel wholesome, family-friendly and, most importantly, happy.

And at this moment, it was also the train currently zooming me to my demise.

Should I explain? Let me back up a little.

You see, it all started with a letter.

—*—

Dear Agatha,

I am writing this with about fifteen minutes to spare before your stepfather and I have to get on our Portkey to the Bahamas. Like I told you before, Arnold and I are so excited to be going there for the holidays. We've practically been counting down the days! Also, I’ll have you know that I’ve been extremely organized in setting this all up. I bought the tickets, made an itinerary, even used your label-maker to put Arnold’s name on all of his boxer shorts (just in case he forgets them)! Can you believe it? Your scatterbrained, frazzled mother.... Labeling things! You would be so proud, darling.

(Now, if only I could find my wand. I misplaced it somewhere last night and haven't seen it since... )

Anyway, enough of me rambling. The point of this letter is to let you know the plan for the holidays. See, given everything that’s happened with your brother recently, I think it might be for the best that this year, the two of you spend Christmas break together. Just for safety’s sake. Obviously I trust Aidan, but you know how he can be. He’s always so... Careless. Absentminded. Forgetful. Honestly, I don’t know where he gets it from.

I just think that everyone would feel much more at ease knowing you'd be there to keep an eye on his health and make sure he’s recovering well. So please, I’m asking you—if it’s not too much trouble, would you mind spending break with Aidan?


Hold on.

Let us pause for a bit.

Now, after reading the first half of this letter, I’m pretty sure you know where this is going, yeah? And if you don’t, you’re at least getting some creeping sense of foreboding, a faint inkling that this can not turn out well for dear Aggy. And you'd be right (because it never does).

You see, since second-year, our family had developed a system for every Christmas break. Mum and Arnold would jet off to some beachy locale to get silly on fruit cocktails and rekindle their love (gag), while I would spend my Christmas at Dom’s. Aidan, of course, would stay over at the Potter house (sorry, mansion), and that was how it had always been.

But not this year. No. This year, I would be spending my Christmas break with Aidan, which also meant I would be spending it with Potter.

Because, yes, folks, my life was that predictable. Once you stripped away all the pesky details and irrelevant facts, you could basically boil my existence down to one unfortunate formula.

(Nearest terrible thing that could happen x Potter) — any sort of fairness/mercy = the life of Agatha Bennett.

Rinse and repeat.

Honestly. I couldn't decide whether my life was some sick joke and this letter was the punchline, or an epic, Macbeth-esque tragedy with this as the creepy foreshadowing of more doom to come. I guess we would just have to see.

Anyway. On with the letter.

Now, I know the original plan for this Christmas was for Arnold and I to go to the Bahamas, Aidan stay at the Potter’s, and you stay with Dominique and her family. And I really would love to stick to that plan, seeing as everyone had been so happy with it. But...

Ah, yes. The elusive ‘but.’ My life would be incomplete without it. In fact, these days, it seemed like I was encountering a new ‘but’ everyday. I could never just have anything good, could I? There was always a string attached, an asterisk tacked on, or a fine print at the bottom.

For example:

'Hey Aggy, Ryan Fisher — also known as the guy of your dreams — is your perfect soulmate and your Prefect partner and he would totally go for you... But you’re not a dude.'

Or, ‘Hey Aggy, we’re going to make you Prefect this year, seeing as that’s been your one goal throughout your whole academic career... But we’re also going to make your worst enemy one too!”

I bet if I were to one day win the lottery, the universe would probably be like, ‘Hey Aggy, you can have all these billions of dollars... But only in the form of vouchers for free cat food! Have fun!’

Anyway, I’m getting off topic, yeah? Sorry, that tends to happen when I find out my life has been ruined (again). Continuing with the letter:

So, since Aidan will be staying at the Potters, I would like it if you’d join him there.

If you listened hard enough, you could actually hear the final nail being driven into my proverbial coffin. I was going to be spending seven days—yes, you heard me. Seven. The number after six. The one that ate nine—at James Sirius Potter’s house. Living where he lived. Eating where he ate. Sleeping where he slept.

So I guess now the formula should be changed to:

Aggy + (Potter’s house x two weeks vacation) — any sort of possibility that this might turn out okay = unmitigated disaster.

The letter went on:

I know that you and James share a sort of ‘dislike’ between you (I don’t know why, he’s a very nice boy—and handsome too! Wink wink!), but I’d like you two to at least try and get along, for Aidan’s sake. Sounds good?

Thank you so much, Aggy, you’re a star. You have no idea how much help you’re being.


And you, mother dearest, have no idea how much money this will cost you in future psychotherapy bills. When they lock me away in that nice white-padded room, could you be a star and maybe send me a fruit basket every now and then?

Oh, Arnold just called from downstairs to say that he’s found my wand! It was in the pantry, for some reason.

I wonder how it got there? Odd.

Anyway, I suppose that’s my cue to leave. I’m sorry to change things up on you, Agatha, but I hope you understand it’s for the best. Give your brother my love and say hello to the Potters for me. Also, remember to use your please’s and thank you’s when you’re over there! Manners are important!

I’ll miss you, darling.

Lots of love,

Mum.


I’ve obviously said it before, but there's no harm in a little repetition for emphasis:

I hate my life.

—*—

I clutched the letter tighter in my fist as the train zoomed on through the verdant Scottish countryside, rattling like a heaving, asthmatic beast and causing me to wobble unsteadily as I made my way down the corridor.

Half an hour.

That was, roughly, the time left before this train pulled into Kings Cross and I would be forced to come face to face with the Potter family... And the reality that I’d be staying with them for the next week.

For the train ride, I’d taken to wandering the hallways on half-hearted Prefect patrols, preferring to catch up on my duties rather than sit in a compartment with the rest of the group and have to deal with Potter's presence in such a confined space.

Ever since the party last week, I’d been unable to stay in the same vicinity as him for longer than five minutes — not when I was still grappling with the fact that our kiss, something I had promised myself would be a one-time occurrence, had turned out to be definitively not a one-time occurrence. This was distressing news, and every time Potter and I were together, it was like a full on torture session of trying to act normal, to not stare at his mouth, or his arms, or the way his hand sometimes passed through his black hair (which I knew from experience was very soft—stop it, Agatha). It had gotten to the point where he couldn’t even say something in my general direction without my face turning into a cherry tomato.

Not that it seemed to be bothering Potter in the slightest. During the past week, Potter had regarded me with simple, bland indifference, betraying no sign that he had thought about the two of us. This was different from the usual slew of snark and insults that I usually received from Potter. Now, it was as if he simply didn't notice me. Whenever we were together, his (always unimpressed) gaze would pass through my body like I didn’t exist. When he walked by me in the hallway, he didn’t bother to offer a snide comment or a shoulder shove like normal. No, he would just breeze by me like I was any other classmate, eyes trained forward.

And our conversations were, as always, riveting. From the thrilling, ‘Pass the salt,’ to the absolutely charming, ‘You’re in my way,’ we just couldn’t shut up around each other.

Not.

Potter had said six, maybe seven, words to me in total. And that was from the entire past week. While I used to think a silencio’d Potter would be a gift from the heavens, it was actually... Distressing.

So today, I gave it right back to him. For the past hour, I hadn’t bothered to actually sit and relax in our compartment. Not even once. Instead, I’d been mumbling excuses to go to the bathroom, or find the trolly cart, or visit other Prefects. Whenever I poked my head into our compartment and saw Potter reclined all casual and languid-like on the bench, or playing Exploding Snap with Fred and Dom, I immediately ducked out again and left.

James Sirius Potter, meet my shoulder. It’s feeling a bit cold.

Though all of this didn’t change the fact that in half an hour, Potter was going to be inescapable. I was going to have to eat meals with him, spend Christmas with him — hell, we’d probably have to share a bathroom. A bathroom. God knows what kind of airborne diseases I could pick up. At least I'd already had all my injections — fingers crossed that would help me ward off Potteritis (symptoms: excessive arrogance, pratiness, and the propensity to snog innocent girls and then never talk to them again).

I viciously shook my head at the thought and crumpled the letter in my hand, feeling satisfied with its ensuing papery crunch. Leaning against one of the smooth, paneled walls of the corridor for balance, I slowly staggered down the hallway, passing compartments of laughing first-years or gossiping Hufflepuffs. It was amazing how carefree they were. Little did they know that I’d be meeting my demise in thirty minutes time.

Not that I was being dramatic or anything.

Stumbling a little as the train gave a particularly rough lurch (hate you too, Hogwarts Express), I tried to quicken my pace. For this past round of The Avoid Potter Game, I had spent almost forty whole minutes wandering around the train, pretending like I was actually carrying through with my prefect orders. It’d been nice, though I would have to get back to the compartment sooner or later, or else Dom would surely get suspicious.... If she wasn’t already.

“AHHHHH, FUCK YOU, YOU STUPID FUCKING FUCK!”

I gasped as a sudden, far-away scream tore through my ear drums, making me wince involuntarily. What in the world? Turning around from side to side, I could see other kids in their compartments looking around bewilderingly, frowning to themselves.

Immediately, though, I knew just where it had came from. Only one person had a sound-barrier-shattering shriek (and cussing creativity) like that. And that person was Dominique Weasley.

Instinctively, I broke into a run, not caring about the less then steady train or the fact that people were looking. Worst case scenarios flitted through my head — a dementor somehow broke into the compartment, or a band of robbers, or Fallon Cooper —

Oh god. Fallon Cooper. I ran faster.

I knew where we were — second compartment to the last, our usual. Already, I could see a figure was standing in front of the door. Probably one of Cooper’s cronies, making sure no one could get in — or out. Fuck. If he did anything to my best friend, I swear to god I would —

Potter.

I squinted, trying to see if I was mistaken, or being taunted by an optical illusion. But I wasn’t. The closer I got, the clearer it became. No one else had the same rumpled hair or perfect Chaser’s build — the intangible balance between lithe and muscular. The figure standing in front of the compartment was definitely, unarguably Potter.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Potter looked up from where he was leaning, nonchalant, on the door of the compartment, arms folded languidly across his chest. His eyes were squinted into hazel slits, his mouth a lazy, lopsided curve.

“Open the door, Potter,” I barked before he could so much as blink. My whole body was jittery with anxiety as I hopped from one foot to the other, trying to peek into the compartment through the window. It was no use, though, the shades were drawn. Damnit. “Whatever’s going on, whatever crazy, ridiculous prank you’re playing on Dom, I don’t care. Just open the fucking door.”

Shaking his head, Potter gave a short, almost disbelieving breath of laughter. He kicked himself off the wall, leaning forward as his face — bingo — finally assumed its usual expression of scorn.

“What’s this?” Voice loaded with mockery, he slapped an over-dramatic hand to his chest and turned in fake astonishment from side to side, pretending to check that it was actually him I was talking to. “Agatha Bennett? Acknowledging my existence? Well this is definitely going in today’s diary entry!”

As soon as the sentence was out, he dropped his hand, abandoning the whole star-struck act, and eased back into his previous position of leaning against the door, all bored and insolent. “Don’t bother, Bennett. The door’s closed until I say so.”

Immediately, I felt my chest clench tight in anger, my breathing shallow with hot irritation. "What are you doing in there?" Honestly! This was my compartment too (sort of)! I had rights, okay? He couldn’t just parade around, blockading people from their rooms...It was unjust!

Eyes narrowed, teeth set, I forced myself to meet his flat gaze. “Okay, Potter, while you’re surely enjoying the power rush that comes from being the Super Special Guarder of the Door, I would like to get in. So move out of my way.”

“Make me.”

Arrrrrrrgh.

Potter was obviously enjoying this. His chin was tilted upwards as he appraised me with a smug, satisfied gaze, bronzed eyes sparking with enjoyment.

I, on the other hand, was not so happy. I could feel fury, almost as if it were literally tearing through me, like a stinging white-hot gash across my chest. My fists clenched and my blood pounded. It was getting hard to breathe. I just wanted, once, to knock Potter off his high-horse, to win, to not feel so damn helpless anymore.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! YOU BASTARD!”

Another scream from the compartment sliced through the air, and I knew I couldn’t waste my time anymore. I didn’t know what was actually happening in there (most likely some harmless but humiliating prank courtesy of the Tweedle Trio), but if Potter was involved, it couldn’t be good. I had to get in and come to my best friend’s rescue — she would do the same for me.

I went right. So did Potter. I dodged left. He did too. Finally, I made a snap-decision and just dived for the door handle, figuring the only way to pass Potter was to go through him.

This turned out to be a not-so-great idea.

In a flash of motion I could barely register, Potter grabbed my wrists and smoothly wheeled me around. I stumbled backwards, losing balance, and my back crashed into the door. A muffled squeak of protest slipped from my lips, my surprised gaze raising to lock with Potter’s cool one —

And I tried my hardest not to think about our close proximity... Or about the last time this boy had me against a door.

Um.

Cue: hysterical internal-monologue.

Oh god. His face was right there. Right there. If I just maneuvered a little closer, I could graze my lips against his, one last time, to feel that shooting star sailing through my body — Roman candles, chemical reactions, blazing meteors, gold sparks showering down like cosmic rain, like chips of sunlight.

Or... I could headbutt him.

Frankly, both options sounded quite tempting.

Potter, on the other hand, seemed completely unaffected by the situation. His expression was flat and bland, though I could see the first signs of annoyance at my aggression, as he spoke:

“Here’s a little tip, Bennett: next time you want to pass someone, try not to lunge directly at them.” With that, he quickly released my wrists, stepping back as if I was something contagious under the subway. I half expected him to wipe his hands on his shirt and Accio some Purell over for good measure.

For a moment, I just stood there, blinking at him dazedly. My mouth dry and scratchy like sandpaper. Since my hands were finally free, I took the opportunity to try the door-handle. It was locked. Surprise, surprise.

“Is this how you treat all your guests?” I bit out as I reached behind me, viciously jangling the handle some more, to no avail.

He shrugged. “Just think of it as practice for when I lock you out of my actual house.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Wanna bet?”

I narrowed my eyes, giving up on my efforts to rip the door off its hinges and resorting to my normal arms-folded, hip-cocked stance. First he was kissing me, than he was ignoring me, now he was threatening me with eviction. I couldn't keep up with Potter's emotional acrobatics, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what went on inside that boy's head.

“And here I was thinking that somewhere deep down, underneath all those layers of soot and dust, you had a heart," I hissed. "Oops, my bad.”

“Oh, burn.” Potter’s voice was bored and sarcastic as he shoved his hands into his pockets, the corner of his mouth tugging upwards — but there was irritation in his eyes. “Now, tell me — this thing where you insult the person whom you want something from — does it work often?"

My face twisted itself into a sneer. “It’s not exactly an insult if it’s true.”

His hazel eyes veered towards the ceiling. “You should really double-check your definition of ‘insult.’ And while you’re at it, ‘true.’”

I scoffed. How could this prat have a comeback for everything? It was impossible. And it made me want to throttle him — hard. “Potter, you are so lucky I have morals. Otherwise — ”

“Otherwise what?” Potter stepped forward, voice suddenly dark and smoky with interest. He placed a hand against the door I was leaning on, his languid gaze flicking almost suggestively down my body. In the overflowing sunlight of the train, his features looked like they were traced in gold, the amber sparks in his eyes flickering with fire. Almost imperceptibly, the shadow of a smirk tugged at his lips.

“Otherwise — ” I began, but suddenly it was hard to find my train of thought. Or, for that matter, my voice, because Potter was inches away, staring me down with his uncannily intense golden gaze. I was uncomfortable, and Potter could see this. Argh, why was he so hell-bent on messing with me like this?

I was suddenly aware of every inch of space between us, every shivering molecule of bated, empty air. He was right there, waiting to hear what, exactly, I would do without my pesky morals. All I had to do was tilt my head a little to the side, reach up slightly, curl my fingers around the collar of my shirt and pull him closer...

Cue: hormone implosion.

Everything was silent. The train continued to rumble underneath us.

Potter was playing with me, pushing and probing at all the spots that made me squirm. I was aware of this, and he was aware that I was aware, but none of that made it any less harder to stop fidgeting. Ever since our kiss, Potter had found a new way to get the upperhand — care less. I made it so obvious that this new, physical dimension of our relationship bothered me; I couldn't hide my embarrassment over the kisses, or my regret that they had happened. Potter, on the other hand, maintained his cool. He just smirked and stood by — no, stepped closer — simply because he was strong enough to not let it get to him.

Meanwhile, on the inside, I was brimming with questions and angst. I had so much I wanted to ask. I had no doubt that Potter had a few questions of his own, but he wasn't invested or curious enough to ask them. And we both knew the first person to break down and admit fear or doubt was the loser.

I was just about to cave and push Potter away when, all of a sudden, the door behind me opened.

“Aggy?”

Without anything to lean on anymore, I went tumbling backwards and into Dom, whose hand was on the door and whose mouth twisted in a confused scowl.

Struggling to right myself, I wheeled around to see Fred and Aidan sitting in the back of the compartment, staring at Potter and me with a mixture of alarm and intrigue. This, plus Dom’s shrewd, ‘I-have-a-sixth-sense-about-these-things-and-I-know-you-were-just-five-inches-and-two-sexual-tension-charged-insults-away-from-snogging-my-pratty-cousin’ glare, was more than a little unnerving.

“Oh,” I said faintly. “Dom. You're alive.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Well Bennett was just in the middle of braiding me a friendship bracelet — ” Potter began all obnoxiously, but I cut him off, not even bothering to look at him as I stepped brazenly into the compartment. Dom moved aside, still holding the door, eyebrows raised in expectation.

“I heard you screaming and I tried to get here as soon as I could," I told her, surveying the compartment for the usual signs of damage/fire/bloodshed. “You’re okay, right?”

At this, there was a thick silence. Dom’s expression contorted from one of suspicion to annoyance, and Fred and Aidan, who hadn’t uttered a word so far, both shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

“Well?” I demanded (at this point, I could practically feel Potter rolling his eyes behind me). “What happened?”

More silence.

Then, finally —

“He bit me.”

I paused for a moment, blinking rapidly as Dom’s words, bitter and wounded, hung in the heavy air.

“Come again?”

“I said,” Dom declared icily, swiveling her resentful gaze towards Freddy, who was still lounging, slightly sheepishly, in his seat. “He bit me. As in sunk his teeth into my skin.”

At this, Potter stifled a laugh, which quickly became a hasty cough when Dom shot him one of her famous stink-eyes. Aidan, who looked like he would rather be snogging a cheese grater than be here at this moment, averted his gaze, cheeks blooming pink.

“Um,” I said. “Why?”

Immediately, Freddy leaped to his feet in a frenzied, almost manic motion that had me taking a wary step back. “Aha! Funny you should ask that, Aggy, because has anyone bothered to hear my side of the story yet? Noooo. Of course not! You bite someone and all of a sudden you’re the villain — ”

“Okay, can someone please explain to me why Freddy is biting people?” I cut off, raising my voice slightly.

Aidan, who was still blushing up a storm, suddenly jumped up from his chair as well and dramatically started to shake his fist at the air in typical Shakespearean manner. Oh Merlin, I needed new friends. And siblings.. “It was terrible, Aggy! Terrible! He made me watch... MADE ME WATCH!” In a move that I found to be slightly over-the-top, Aidan collapsed to his knees, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes. “THE THINGS I’VE SEEN! THE HORRORS I’VE LIVED!”

And with that, my fifteen-year-old brother curled himself into a fetal position and started to whimper. Yes. Whimper.

What is wrong with these people.

I should get a medal for dealing with this insanity every day. “Okay, guys, this isn’t that hard. Just tell me what happened... All I want is a clear, detailed explanation — ”

“It was all Dom’s fault, I was provoked!”

“Provoked? How were you provoked, you bloody moron? You attacked me!”

“What I did was justified!”

“THE GUILT! OH, THE GUILT! I CAN’T LIVE WITH IT ANYMORE! I JUST STOOD BY AND WATCHED! I’M A SHAME TO THE GRYFFINDOR NAME!”

“Aidan, shut up already.”

“Hey, don’t you dare tell him to shut up, Dom!

“I can do whatever I want, I was just mauled!”

“Oh, stop being so dramatic — ”

I turned helplessly to Potter as all of a sudden, our compartment launched into chaos. Fred stormed up to Dom so that they were nose to nose, and both began screaming and gesticulating wildly at each other in a manner that I had seen many times before, at Weasley Family Reunions and whenever the two cousins fought at home over who got rights to the telly remote. Aidan was now plugging his ears and quietly singing to himself as he rocked back and forth, apparently traumatized by the horrific biting incident. And Potter was watching all of this contentedly, having found himself a seat with a close-up view, his legs stretched out and his arms folded behind his head.

“Dramatic? You bloody eejit, I have teeth marks in my arm!”

“Yes, teeth marks of justice!”

“What the fuck are you talking about? You’re paying for my rabies shot!”

“For the last time, I do not have rabies! God, you get bit by a monkey at the zoo one time, and everyone starts assuming you have rabies! Why is that?”

“You sodding prat, it was two times! Don’t you ever learn?”

“Well how was I supposed to know it was vicious! It looked so darn cute!”

“You kept sticking your hands inside the bars and trying to tickle it! Of course it — you know what — THIS CONVERSATION IS TAKING A WEIRD TURN!”

“STOP IT! EVERYONE STOP IT!” My shriek was ear-drum-shattering. I was pretty sure all of the birds in Scotland just took flight from their homes in the treetops, it was that loud.

Immediately, everything jolted to a halt. Dom froze, her hands inches away from Freddy’s neck, fingers already clawed into optimum strangling form. Aidan stopped rocking back and forth, looking like a scared animal in captivity. And Potter finally leaned forwards in his seat, eyebrows raised, watching all of this like it was a particularly amusing telly show.

“Look at yourselves!” I cried, crossing over to where Aidan was cowering. “Look what you’ve done to Aidan! You’ve broken him!”

More whimpering, courtesy of Aidan. There was a sheepish silence as Dom lowered her hands, clearing her throat, and Fred adverted his gaze to fix his collar.

Surveying the compartment to make sure I had everyone's full attention, I took a shaky breath and tried venturing once more into the unfamiliar territory of Common Sense and Reason. “Now, can someone please just explain to me what happened?”

Fred sighed, running an exasperated hand through his hair, his shoulders slumping forwards as he sat down. “Fine. If you really have to know, Aggy, here’s the full exciting story: Dom told Evelyn about my snoring/drooling issue, which was supremely embarrassing — "

“I thought it would be funny!”

“And so — ” Fred interrupted, gaze darkening. “We decided that she would have to pay. No one can just get away with something like that. No one!” Fred’s voice had taken on a scary, almost demonic tone to it. “There would have to be punishment for what she did.”

“So you locked her into a train compartment... And bit her.” I said flatly, gaze flitting between the two crazy Weasleys.

“Eye for an eye. I regret nothing.” Fred shrugged, leaning back in his seat with his arms behind his head.

I stared at my friends, from Fred to Aidan to Dom to Potter, flicking between all their different levels of craziness. I was suddenly not amazed at all. Of course. Of course they would do something like this. I should have expected it.

I felt a sense of resignation well inside me as Dom rubbed her sore arm, muttering nasty words under her breath, and took a seat. Aidan started to uncurl out of his trembling fetal position, and Potter, his desire for some good old soap-opera action obviously fulfilled, leaned back contentedly in his seat. Suddenly, everything was calm again. Just like that. Like nothing had ever happened in the first place.

I looked around myself. With a vague sense of dread, I realized that I would probably have to deal with these people for the rest of my life. Insanity was like a parasite, or a stubborn stray dog — once it found you, there was no getting away.

You were stuck for good.

"I've had my vengeance," Fred announced to nobody in particular. "And am satisfied. The balance of the universe has been restored."

Merlin help us all.

—*—

By the time the train pulled into Kings Cross, the insides of my stomach felt as tangled as a kindergartner's shoelaces. I literally felt sick as we slowly rolled into the platform, the blurry faces of all the friends and family members suddenly becoming all too clear.

The Hogwarts Express gave a sharp whistle and we yanked to a stop. Aidan, who had fallen asleep in his little corner, jolted awake with a yelp. Potter cracked his neck in an obnoxiously loud manner as he stood up, earning him a dirty look from me. Slowly, we all got to our feet, shaking ourselves off. In a true example of poetic justice, Fred had fallen asleep on Dom and, much to her dismay, drooled all over her new t-shirt.

You know that feeling when you get on a rollercoaster, and slowly you start ascending the tracks up the biggest drop on the ride? And as the tracks tick-tick-tick underneath you, all you can feel is this creeping sense of dread, this knowledge that something terrible is about to happen?

Yeah, that was kind of how I was feeling right about now.

As everyone filtered out, I stretched upwards, feeling my sweater ride uncomfortably up my back as I reached for my trunk, which was sitting on the top rung of the compartment’s shelf and just out of reach.

I stretched and stretched, even doing a couple hops for good measure, but it was no use. My fingers grazed the worn leather but couldn't find purchase. Sitting up high beyond my grasp, the trunk seemed to be mocking me in my silent agony. Really, this was just perfect. I couldn’t even get a stupid trunk down without making a fool of myself.

I was just starting to think of all the ways in which this situation could be an apt metaphor for my entire life when, all of a sudden, a tan, calloused hand reached up and grabbed the brass handle, yanking my trunk down as easily as though it was full of nothing but air.

And that was when I turned around to see Potter, wordlessly setting my trunk on the ground.

My lips parted. Our eyes met.

Great, and now the feeling of dread in my stomach was starting to mix with a hint of nausea.

Stupid, chivalrous Gryffindor.

I had no idea what to say. This was the first time we had been left alone together since the RoR party, and I didn't know the exact protocol for being around your brother's best friend after you'd snogged him.

So, of course, I decided to diffuse the situation with some awkward humor.

“Oh, my knight in shining armor, thank goodness you were here to save me from that evil trunk! I don’t know what my weak, trembling female arms would have done without you! Swoon! Sigh! Faint!” I slapped a hand to my forehead and, much to Potter's unamusement, stumbled around in a mock imitation of the Damsel in Distress.

Potter tossed me a look over his shoulder as he reached up for his own trunk, and I couldn’t help but let my eyes graze slightly over the tensed muscles of his back. “You know, normal people just say thank you.”

He set his trunk down and straightened himself, staring at me expectantly, eyebrows raised in irritation. I blinked at him, trying to muster the appropriate amount of disgust on my face and act like I hadn’t just been ogling the more... Er, noticeable benefits of his Quidditch career (in my defense, Potter really shouldn’t wear t-shirts — the fabric was, er, far too thin. Really. It was just indecent).

“Whatever.” With that, I grabbed the handle of my trunk and tried to march off, though the effect was slightly ruined by the fact that I had to half-drag my giant, Canada-sized trunk behind me.

“Hey, Bennett!”

He’s just trying to get under your skin, pull you back into another argument. Just ignore him.

“What?”

Or, you know, not.

“Is this yours by any chance?” On Potters index finger dangled a somewhat embarrassing bra with dancing monkeys on the front. I started, and then looked down to see that my trunk had fallen open and that I had left a marvelous little trail of underwear behind me.

Potter tossed me the bra, one eyebrow cocked, obviously enjoying himself. I barely caught it before frantically stuffing it back in my trunk.

“Sorry, but my Knight in Shining Armor duties don’t include underwear pick-up. You’re on your own, m’Lady.” He gave a sarcastic, flourishing little bow and then grabbed his trunk, ambling out of the compartment and leaving me all alone to pick up my mess.

And they say chivalry is dead.

—*—

The first thing I noticed about Ginny Potter was that she raised her eyebrow exactly like Potter did — in a perfect, smooth arch, with so much ease it looked effortless. She was his spitting image, and I found that really disturbing.

The second thing I noticed was that Ginny Potter was friendly. So friendly, it caught me off guard.

“Agatha!” Without any forewarning whatsoever, I found myself enveloped in a very tight, rib-crushing hug. ‘We are so glad to have you with us — you know you’re welcome at our house anytime!”

“Er, thanks,” I mumbled, slightly chagrined, as Mrs. Potter pulled back, her sheet of dark red hair swinging around her slender waist. It did not seem just that someone like her could have red hair and still look like a supermodel, while I, at the best of times, resembled a weasel with skin disease. Unfair.

“And Aidan!” Smile widening, Mrs. Potter reached over and hugged Aidan, who looked all too happy to be pressed up against the woman who Witch Weekly had named Hottest Quidditch Star of 2015.

Potter coughed loudly. Aidan reluctantly stepped back, shooting Potter an apologetic look that obviously meant something along the lines of, ‘Dude, sorry I just totally creeped on your mom.’

Potter retaliated with an admonishing glare that probably said, ‘Dude, it’s alright, just don’t do it again.’

And Aidan: ‘Dude, I won’t. Promise. Dude to dude.’

‘Dude, cool.’

'Dude.'

And that, my friends, is what we call bromance.

“So, is everyone here? Are we good to go?” Mrs. Potter asked, completely oblivious to the invisible conversation going on between her son and my brother. She surveyed the crowd, warm brown eyes narrowed and slightly anxious.

I nodded hastily. We were all standing in the middle of the platform, huddled together against the whirlwind of smiling faces and cheery greetings, and I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic.

Potter, who was standing next to me with his arms crossed, nodded curtly. “Yep. We’re all here. Can we go now?”

Mrs. Potter sighed. “Is that really the greeting I get from my long-lost son? I was expecting a few tears of joy at least.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Potter grinned, but already he was letting his mum pull him into a hug, which looked slightly awkward since Potter was so much taller than her. “Alright, enough. There are people watching.” There was a mock-stern tone in his voice, a kind of fond, light teasing that I had never heard before. “I can't be seen with my mum here. You'll ruin my street cred.”

At this, Lily Potter, who was standing next to Ginny and had previously been glancing at her nails in typical bored-teenage-girl fashion, gave a derisive snort. “Street cred? Please. Mum, I don't think I can be around James' delusions any longer. They're making me sad. Can I go say goodbye to my friends one more time real quick?”

Woah, looked like Potter’s snarkiness was hereditary. And he was also somewhat of a Mama’s Boy. And Lily could do that weird eyebrow thing too. God, this was all so strange.

Potter rolled his eyes. “By friends, you mean the twitchy little kid you call your boyfriend, right?”

Lily’s mouth dropped open in outrage. “James! I do not have a boyfriend! And since when have you been so interested in my love life?”

“She definitely has a boyfriend,” Potter muttered in a stage-whisper to Ginny, who allowed an almost imperceptible smirk to flit across her face. “I saw them holding hands the other day. Lils, I hope you’re using protection. You must always remember to practice safe hand-holding — ”

Lily gave him a sharp look, “You better shut up before I tell Mum about all the stuff you do at school. And I’m not just talking about hand-holding.”

At this, I couldn’t help but feel a rash of heat crawl down my neck. This was so weird, listening to the family of the boy who I hated and snogged (last weekend, in fact), throw witty banter around like it was nothing. Not to mention witty banter about his sex life. Not that Potter had a sex life. Well, actually, of course Potter had a sex life. He was Potter. But he didn’t have a sex life with me. We... we had an Occasional Random Snog Life, and that was it.

Mrs. Potter did the eyebrow thing again. Freaky. “James, is there anything I should know about?”

“Yes, mum,” Potter paused for dramatic affect, gravely staring into his mother’s eyes with an expression of utmost seriousness. “I’m pregnant.”

From next to me, Aidan snickered a little.

Oh, dear brother, l bet if you knew what had happened at that costume party a few weeks ago, you would not be laughing as much.

“As long as you name it after me, I’m fine with it.” Ginny’s lips were tugging upwards into a wry smile. “Anyways, we should probably get a move on before everyone else starts leaving and the parking lot becomes too crowded — come on, man slaves.” With that, she gestured to the two carts filled with all our possessions, and immediately, Potter and Aidan started to push them, being their good little Gryffindor selves.

“Oh, before we leave — did you see Albus go off with that friend of his, Scorpius? He's spending Christmas at his place.”

“Yeah, though I don’t know why he hangs out with that Malfoy prat all the time.”

“Did you just call Malfoy a prat? Um, pot and kettle, much?” Lily trilled as we started to make our way towards the barrier.

Hey, I was really starting to like this Lily kid. She seemed like a cool gal.

“Don’t you have some more scandalous hand-holding to do?”

“Mum!”

“James, be nice.”

Potter met Ginny’s slightly amused glare with an impish grin before turning back to his sister. Aidan and I trailed behind the trio, entertained by their antics. “You do realize I’m going to have to meet this kid someday, right, Lils?”

“No! Absolutely not!”

“Why not? Are you ashamed of your big brother, Lils? I’m hurt!” With the one arm he wasn’t using to push the cart, Potter pulled his sister into an uncomfortable-looking half-hug, keeping her close as she tried to squirm away.

“Stop it, you buffoon! And the reason you can’t meet him is because he’s completely terrified of you!”

“Why are you acting like that’s bad? That’s a good thing, right Mum?”

Ginny gave a half-laugh, half-scoff. “Leave me out of this.” She paused. “But yes, that’s a good thing. A really, really good thing.”

With that, Ginny glided, impossibly graceful, into the barrier between the Platform and Kings Cross. We quickly followed, not knowing what else to do.

It was so weird to see Potter in this setting, I mused as we followed Mrs. Potter to the parking-lot. To see him acting all carefree and easygoing with his family... Of course, I’d been on the opposite end of his mockery before (loads of times), but I’d never heard him do it in such a warm, teasing manner. It was so easy, the way they tossed insults back and forth, but you could tell there was an underlying sense of affection underneath it all.

We finally reached the Potter’s car, a sleek black sedan, and we piled our luggage into the magically enhanced trunk before slipping inside. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, squashed between Potter and Aidan (earlier, Lily had called shotgun and after much heated bickering in which Ginny had to step in multiple times to referee, Potter had relinquished it to her). I could feel the whole side of Potter’s body, pressing, warm and insistent, against mine. Our knees were grazing. He wasn’t paying any attention to me, though, he just stared out the window, expression unfathomable, as Ginny pulled out of the parking-lot.

The ride was long and uneventful, livened up by Lily's ramblings as she prattled on about her friends, her classes, the Harpies-Canons match tomorrow. She was full of restless energy, bouncing up and down in her seat and fiddling with the radio, occasionally leaning backwards to snip at Potter or ask Aidan and I something. She was completely different from her brother, who, I knew, could pass for a statue at times — unfazed, unruffled, unreadable.

Eventually, we pulled into a pretty, curving street that looked almost muggle-style. I’d heard about the Potter’s house many times from Aidan, but I’d never actually visited. When I finally saw it, though, there was no denying that it was breathtaking. Not small, but not grotesquely big either. It was a Victorian-style house with a white outside and pretty grey shutters. It looked like the kind of house that would have tons of nooks and crannies to hide in, the perfect house for curling up and reading a book while it thunder-stormed outside. You could tell that the lawn in front, although it was now covered in snow, would be perfect for lazy summery nights. And even though I couldn’t see it, I had heard rumors that the house had a Quidditch field and a pool in the back.

“Woah,” I breathed almost inaudibly, taking it all in. Ginny swerved sharply into the driveway (another thing about Ginny Potter: not the world’s best driver) and we jolted to a halt. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the house looming in front of me.

In fact, I was so absorbed in my staring that I almost didn’t notice Potter was looking at me. He was observing me with a careful expression as he gauged my reaction, his own expression closed-off and guarded.

The others unbuckled their seatbelts and slowly got (or in Lily’s case, literally leapt) out of the car. But I was left, frozen, my gaze locked on to Potter’s.

“What do you think?” He said neutrally, and I honestly had no idea what to make of him. His eyes were thoughtful, as if he really wanted to know. Some tendrils of his hair were curling up ever so slightly at the tops of his ears.

“It’s beautiful,” I said finally, truthfully. “You’re lucky.”

Potter stared at me for a second, and then looked away, shaking his head, giving a breathless huff of laughter. “Lucky,” he repeated, almost incredulously, and I had no idea what he was thinking. And then he was getting out of the car and leaving me, once again, alone and confused.

—*—

Mr. Potter was away on an Auror-related business trip (darn, guess that signed autograph would have to wait), and Albus was staying at Scorpius’ house, which left the guestroom for me. I didn’t mind this at all, seeing as the guest room was basically the equivalent of a suite at a five-star hotel.

The minute I walked into the room, I went straight for the bed. It was king-sized, with a delicious-looking lavender comforter that squished around me when I belly-flopped on top of it.

“Ugnnnnnnnnh,” I moaned into one of the five goose-feather pillows. “I never want to leave.”

“You’re liking it, I take it?” Aidan trailed in behind me, looking rather amused and considerably better after today’s traumatizing biting incident.

“The soft-as-a-cloud bed? Yes. The fact that I’m living in enemy territory? No.”

Aidan rolled his blue eyes, crossing his arms as he sat down on the edge of the bed. I stopped smothering my face into the marshmallow-like pillow to look up at him in annoyance, though it wasn’t like he was encroaching on my personal space or anything, the bed was so big.

“I don’t get why you insist on making this thing between Potter and you such a big deal.”

And it’s funny, the word ‘thing.’ Because it could encapsulate so many different definitions. A ‘thing’ could be a feud, a rivalry, even a...Well, romantic-natured relationship (as in, we had a 'thing' but then I realized he was a giant effing prat). And really, wasn’t it like Potter and I were all three definitions? Not that our connection was necessarily romantic, but still, there was an undeniable spark between us, something that kept pushing us together again and again.

“I’m not making it a big deal,” I sighed, speaking slowly for clarification. “That’s just how it is. He hates me, I hate him, the sun shines, dogs bark, etcetera etcetera.”

Just before Aidan could open his mouth to utter a surely witty reply, we were interrupted by a shout so loud it couldn’t possibly come from such a small lady like Ginny Potter.

“AIDAN! AGATHA! TIME FOR DINNER!”

I raised my head, heaving a giant sigh, and looked at Aidan. He glanced at me. We seemed to share some kind of twin telepathy for a moment, where we both acknowledged how much we didn’t want to go to dinner, and how much we’d rather just stay here, together, quiet, peaceful.

But then, like all things, it was ruined. “We should probably go, you know,” Aidan mumbled. “Mrs. Potter isn’t the most patient of people.”

“But I’m so comfy,” I whimpered.

He shrugged, jumping to his feet and stretching. “I’ll meet you downstairs in a few then.”

“Alright,” I mumbled.

After Aidan left, I just stayed like that, lying on the Heavenly Bed of Comfiness. I don’t know how long I stayed there, just reveling in the cushy softness of it all, but it was probably a while. Eventually, I figured that I better do the polite thing and go downstairs (plus, the smells coming from the kitchen were tantalizing, and hunger was starting to win out in my life's eternal struggle of Need for Sleep vs. Need for Food), so I heaved myself out of the bed and staggered into the hallway.

The house was huge, but still maintained a sense of coziness, what with all the family pictures on the walls and the cool, cushy cream carpet underneath my feet. I shuffled my way to the giant, mahogany staircase, but stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed something.

A closed door.

Which, in a house like this, could only mean one thing:

Potter’s room.

I had seen him go into it when we settled in. I hadn’t gotten a good peak inside, seeing as the door had remained firmly shut for the past hour... But maybe now that he was downstairs and I was here, alone, curious...

I cracked open the door.

Silence.

I opened it a little wider.

Silence. The deafening kind.

Slowly, I took one step in. And then another. Nothing happened, nobody stopped me, Potter didn’t pop out from behind the door and scream ‘AHA, I CAUGHT YOU!”

No. Just silence.

Finally, I threw the door open all the way and stepped inside, flicking on the light-switch so that everything was suddenly illuminated.

And I stopped.

The first thing I saw was red and gold. A lot of it.

There were three deep crimson walls, and then one gold one. The bed was huge, like mine, but bare, with a simple black comforter. In fact, the whole room was bare. There was a wardrobe in the corner, a desk on the opposite side and a Gryffindor flag stuck to the wall, but that was it. Otherwise, it might as well have been empty. It looked like one of those rooms from furniture catalogs, where everything's too neat and freakishly organized to be real.

I knew it was wrong, barging into Potter’s privacy like this, but I couldn’t help myself. Potter was just so closed off, so secretive, I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying to find out something more about him. Not that I would be able to find anything, judging by the looks of the room. This place was so boring, Professor Binns would be proud. Plus, Potter wasn’t exactly the type to have A Sooper Secret Diary that he’d just leave lying around.

I walked over to the wardrobe, curiously dragging a finger across the edge of it and half-expecting to come up with dust. But no, it was clean as ever. There was a small clutter of items—a mini broom model that was charmed to whizz around in circles, which I remembered Dom had given to him for his birthday last year, plus a couple untouched-looking textbooks, a stack of worn Hemmingways and Capotes... And then a picture.

I picked it up. It was, surprisingly enough, of the five of us. I didn’t know what I had expected—my face to be cut out, or a black X scribbled over it—but it wasn’t what I got. I was included in that photo just like everyone else—the five of us laughing and smiling, standing right in front of Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. Aidan was smearing some of his ice cream cone on Dom’s nose, who was giggling with her arms slung around Potter and me. Fred was standing to the side, giving me bunny ears (so mature) and grinning like a moron. It was just like any other photo of a group of teenaged kids. If a stranger looked at it, they could never have guessed, in a million years, the history between me and Potter that trembled underneath the surface.

I was just about to set the picture down and leave when, all of a sudden, I noticed something. A small flash of light, glinting off a reflective surface. For some reason, my heartbeat quickened. Upon further inspection, I found out that the mysterious object was another picture, hidden behind the first one. I set down the picture of us and picked it up.

It was a lot smaller and, strangely enough, a muggle photo, judging by the fact that its occupants didn’t move. A simple, silver frame, and in the picture, the most beautiful couple I’d ever seen. Potter and...a blonde girl. She was gorgeous in the girl-next-door type of way, so wholesome and pretty and blond, it made me feel like a cow just looking at her. The thing about her beauty was that she wasn’t perfect—she obviously didn’t cake on makeup or do anything fancy to her hair. There was a slight gap in between her front two teeth. But it was the imperfections that made her so heart-wrenchingly, unfairly beautiful.

In the picture, Potter was kissing her cheek. Mystery-girl had her eyes squeezed tight, her mouth dropped open in a giant smile. Potter himself looked the happiest I’d ever seen him, the corners of his eyes scrunched slightly in laughter, his arm wrapped around this girl’s waist.

It took me a minute to realize that my hands were shaking—the photo in my hands was trembling so hard, I was surprised I hadn’t dropped it already. There was a loud noise thumping in my ears—oh wait, that was my heart beat—and my stomach felt like something had clawed out everything until I was nothing but an empty, hollowed pit.

I couldn’t believe Potter had a girlfriend. Or, more importantly, Potter had a girlfriend and still snogged me. Twice. I mean, I knew I called him a prat a lot, but I never would have thought that he’d stoop as low as cheating on someone. With me.

I felt sick. Used. Trampled on.

People say Slytherins don’t have moral codes. If that’s true, then why do I feel like I’m about to throw up right now?

Oh god, I was the other woman. And Potter's girlfriend — she was blond. Blond. Blond! How could I ever compete with that?

Not that I wanted to. Compete with that, I mean. What was I even talking about?

There was too much whirling through my brain, I couldn’t make sense of it. The nausea coursing through my veins, clawing at the inside of my throat, was slowly turning to anger. How could he do this to that girl? To me?

But of course, I should have expected it. I was the snog that Potter kept in his back pocket whenever he wanted it, while he had the real girlfriend back home. I was just... a slut, basically. A slut.

Oh god. I was about to throw up.

“Bennett?”

I whipped around, the frame in my hand falling to the ground as a startled squeak slipped out of my lips. What I saw was enough to make my heart stop completely.

Potter was standing in the hallway, one of his hands clenched around the door-frame, hazel eyes furious and cold, like chips of amber ice. He looked so angry—and for the first time in weeks, I saw emotion breaking through his usual placid apathy. Fear began to squirm inside my stomach, and it was suddenly very hard to remember how to breathe.

I wanted to hurl accusations at him, to hurl fists at him, to unleash my fury and let him have it. But I couldn’t. As I stared into Potter’s stony face, unable to tear my gaze away, all I could muster was a stuttering, “I s-swear I c-can explain.”

“Well then, explain.” Potter folded his arms across his chest, leaning against the doorframe. And I flitted my gaze, from him to the picture on the floor back to him, cheeks flaming red, no doubt in my mind that I was done for.

Chapter 28: Swirl
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A/N: Not too bad of a wait, eh?? I hope you guys enjoy this chapter! Please review if you get the chance :)

Disclaimer: I own nothing. 



“Well then, explain.”

I had experienced a temporary loss of sanity. That must be it — like those people who go into blind killing sprees, or suddenly decide getting a mullet is a good idea. That was the only way I could explain this... this situation. What else would have possibly made me think I could snoop through Potter's room without getting caught? I was Agatha Bennett, for god's sakes. Of course I was going to get caught! When it came to matters of the universe, I was Public Enemy Number One — the gods of fate probably had my face on a Most Wanted poster. If there was a wrong place, you bet your bottom galleon that I’d be there—at exactly the wrong time.

How could I have been so stupid?

I stared into Potter’s burnished gold eyes, willing myself not to start hyperventilating. I mean, I’d always prided myself on my quick-thinking. I was a Slytherin, after all. We were supposed to be cunning and sly, always prepared with a healthy dose of charm to grease us out of any sticky situation. But right now, my silver tongue felt a little tarnished. It sat in my mouth, heavy and fat and useless, as I waited for some slippery lie, a convincing excuse, to come to my brain. But nothing happened. My mind, at this moment in time, was completely empty.

Well, except for the mental image I had of a toy monkey playing the cymbals... But that was always there.

I was so screwed.

“Bennett,” Potter bit out in warning, his gaze darkening scarily. I could tell that, with each ticking second, he was becoming more and more pissed. Currently, his anger level probably hovered somewhere between ‘simmering’ and ‘volcanic.’ His jaw was locked, his arms tightly folded across his chest. One more minute, and I was pretty sure I’d be facing the nasty prospect of one of Potter's famous Bat Bogey Hexes.

"Um," I said brilliantly, in what was probably Troll for something along the lines of, 'Please don't kill me.'

Potter shook his head roughly, and I was surprised to see that there was a hollow sort of smile tugging at his lips. “You know what, Agatha?” he gave a humorless laugh that was almost as scary as the fact that he had just used my first name. My first name. “Forget about it. I’m not interested in whatever idiotic excuse you can come up with this time.”

Woah. Hold up. I was a lot of things. Morally corrupt. A ginger. Possibly lacking a soul. But I was not idiotic, and Potter (who spent his free time hanging out with two blokes who once tried to build a Slip n’ Slide down the hallways of Hogwarts) did not have the right to call me that.

“Look, Potter—"

“Don’t want to hear it,” he cut through, tone final. "Just leave, will you?"

Why was he being such a prat? I mean, I knew I had invaded his sacred right to personal privacy and all that, but honestly. Interrupting me? Ruuuude. “Potter—”

“Sorry,” he declared loudly, throwing open his door with a flourish. “The Unofficial Tour of James Potter’s room is now over. Hope you enjoyed your stay and got some good pictures in. Stop by the gift shop and maybe—” his voice suddenly turned nasty. “—you can buy yourself some common fucking decency on the way out.”

I gaped at him for a bit, unable to formulate an adequate comeback to the stinging insult—or even just a coherent sentence, for that matter. Honestly. This was just like him. I found a picture of a girl—girlfriend, most likely—in his room, just days after we... you know, but somehow I was the one who had to end up explaining. Typical.

I felt a spark of frustration flare inside my chest. Watching Potter in all his high-and-mightiness, it was hard not to get annoyed. And alright, maybe I was feeling a teensy smidge of guilt, but it wasn't like I had done anything terrible. There were puppy-killers out there! Grandma-muggers! When you put things into perspective, taking a little peek into someone else’s room wasn’t that terrible of a sin.

There was nothing I could do, though. Nothing I could say that might convince Potter to see things from my point of view —that of harmless curiosity. Obviously, I had to be the villain in this situation. I always had to be the villain.

I should really invest in a fluffy white cat that I could carry around and pet menacingly all the time. It would make the act a whole mot more authentic.

“You know what,” I spat, feeling absolutely, self-righteously indignant for myself. Potter quirked a dark eyebrow into the tousled mess of his hair, betraying surprise at my tone. “Fine. I’ll leave. It’s obvious that no matter what I say, it won’t make a difference.”

“Finally, she catches on,” he drawled, cool gaze following me as I made my way to the door. Just the lazy, all-knowing tone of his voice made me grit my teeth. I sucked in a deep breath, though my lungs were so squeezed tight with anger, I might as well have been gasping at smoke.

“Piss off,” I snarled, shoving my way past him and out the door. See, this is why Potter and I could never be anything more than... well, whatever we were now. I mean, even the thought of us actually being in anything remotely smelling of romantic was laughable. I couldn’t imagine us on a date — one that didn’t end in a trip to some hospital's Intensive Care Unit, at least.

My left foot was out the door when, suddenly, I stopped.

No.

I couldn’t just slink away, bashful and ashamed with my tail between my legs. Not while Potter got to prance around on his stupid pedestal of self-righteousness. Because no matter how wrong it was for me to poke around his room, he was the one who had cheated on his girlfriend (possibly). With me! So that meant I wasn’t the only immoral one, and he was (again, possibly) just as bad as I was. Even worse.

Slowly, I spun around, shaking my head. “No.”

“What?” Potter had one hand on the door, ready to slam it shut behind me.

“No,” I said, clearer this time “No. You can yell at me all you want, Potter,” I continued, voice growing louder and stronger with each word. “I know what I did was wrong. But I deserve an explanation. You don’t get to act like you’re the better person, especially not when you have a picture of your girlfriend—”

“Which you found by playing Nancy Drew in my room,” Potter sliced across, his voice rising to meet mine. I could tell, just by the classic warning signs (my shortness of breath, Potter’s eyes spitting hazel sparks) that we were getting dangerously close to a full on shouting match. Ah, just like old times.

I almost choked. “So you admit it! She is your girlfriend then?”

“I never said that.”

"You basically confessed.”

“Either way, it’s none of your fucking business!”

“Um, yeah it is!” I cried. I had officially gone off the deep end, I could tell. My hands were waving around in the air, willy-nilly, my voice stopping just short of Banshee pitch. I could feel my eyebrow slowly climbing up my forehead in incredulity at his complete thick-headedness. “Hate to break it to you, Potter, but I kind of have the right to know whether or not you have a girlfriend, seeing as at the party we—”

Suddenly, without even meaning to, I stopped short of the next word. For some reason, I couldn’t choke out the letters. I wanted to say it—desperately, in fact—but my voice box was stubbornly refusing to cooperate with my brain. It was like I couldn’t bring myself to utter the word—kissed. Which was ridiculous, really, because it was just a word. Six letters. One syllable. Easy.

But I couldn’t do it.

There was a heavy moment of silence. A bitter smile was pulling at Potter’s lips.

“You can't say it, can you?” Potter seemed to be enjoying himself, savoring my newly mute discomfort. A wry sort of humor had crept into his voice. He knew just what I had been going to say, and that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to say it. The very thought made my knees weaken. “You can't even mention what happened without going into convulsions. Jesus, you're immature."

That, I felt, was a rather unfair assessment.

I mean, okay, I would be the first to admit that I didn't like thinking about our kiss, much less talking about it. But it wasn't like Potter had been eager to bring up the past, either!

“I, um, well—” My windpipes were petrified, my brain slowly chugging to a halt as I scrambled for words. The monkey with the cymbals played on.

“That’s what I thought,” he said, satisfied, his hazel eyes gleaming. He crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the doorframe as he once-overed me with narrowed eyes. “Now are you done yet?”

Oh no, he wasn’t ducking the topic that easily. What did he think he was trying to pull? I was a Slytherin, Queen of Deflection. I knew every trick in the book. With that bolstering thought, I found my voice again. “You didn’t answer me, Potter. She’s your girlfriend, isn’t she?”

As much as I hated myself for it, my voice wavered at the end, vulnerable and tinged with worry.

There was a silence. My words hung in the air, trembling.

“No,” Potter finally said, definitively. “Not anymore.”

I waited for further elaboration.

“We broke up,” he added. “A while ago. Happy?”

His expression was unreadable, eyes hard and cold. I stared at him, expecting relief to start flooding through me at the knowledge that, thank God, Potter hadn’t cheated on someone me. But there was nothing. I just felt anger — white hot, pounding, stifling anger — and an accompanying twinge of guilt.

“Ecstatic,” I said frostily, “One question, though: if you two broke up, why do you still keep her picture?”

For once, Potter seemed to not have an answer. He met my gaze, mouth a firm, stubborn line, unrelenting. He obviously didn’t want to talk about it.

Then, a horrible thought occurred to me:

“Do you still love her?” The question was out of my mouth before I could even stop myself. And much to my annoyance, my voice didn’t sound as uncaring and casual as I’d have liked it to. I didn't know why, but suddenly my face was flushing. Just the thought of Potter in love with someone else—I hadn’t known he was capable of human feeling in the first place—for some reason, it made me feel...sick.

Potter gave a mirthless laugh. “Wow, Bennett, you really don’t understand the concept of personal privacy, do you? First you barge into my room, then you—”

“Stop deflecting. Just tell me—do you still love her?”

“Why is it any of your business?”

I sighed gutsily, throwing my hands in the air. “I don’t know, Potter! It just is! You want to know why I was snooping around your room in the first place? I was curious. You never talk about yourself. I mean, I’ve known you for five years, for Merlin’s sake, and this whole girlfriend thing is complete news to me! You.... You read me like an open book, but then you get to walk around like Mr. Tall, Dark and Mysterious! Tell me, how is that fair?”

Potter scoffed, eyes brimming with disgust. “I don’t bloody care about being fair, okay, Bennett? This is my life, my business. Stay out of it."

“So you’re not going to tell me anything about her, then? Not even her name?” I hated the desperation clinging to my voice. I sounded like the psycho-jealous girlfriend who kept a serial-killer wall with photos of all her boyfriend's exes. I had turned into a sodding cliché.

“No,” he bit out, jaw clenching and unclenching, his gilded gaze averted. “I’m not.”

Five years, and not even a name. Wow. “Why not?”

“Because we’re not friends!” Potter's gaze, suddenly fired with anger, snapped back to meet mine. I was almost thrown by its force. “Alright, Bennett? I don’t know which parallel universe is the one where we walk around like best friends, shopping and gossiping and splitting iced mocha lattes, or whatever, but guess what? We're not living in it. This is reality, and we are not friends. I'm not Dom. I don't know if hanging out with Fred and Aidan made you think otherwise, but you don't get to look through my shit, or hear every detail of my personal life. Understand?"

Pounding silence followed his words. Potter’s eyes were molten gold, his jaw clenching tightly in anger. He had just given me the talking-to of my life, and yet I couldn't find it in myself to acknowledge the significance of his words. For some reason, even in the face of all his hostility and agitation, all I could think to say was:

"Is that really your idea of what friendship is? Shopping and mocha lattes?"

"Get out, Bennett."

"Who even splits a mocha latte? I believe you're thinking of a milkshake, Potter — "

"Out."

"I'm just saying — know your dessert beverages, alright?"

“Hey guys, what’s going on?!”

Both Potter and I stiffened like scared cats as, seemingly out of nowhere, Aidan came up behind us, slinging a carefree arm around my shoulder. He was smiling, dark sapphire eyes brightly oblivious to the tension hanging between us. “Ginny—Uh, I mean, Mrs. Potter wants to know if you guys are coming down for dinner. The lasagna’s getting cold.”

Silence. Potter and I stared at each other, our faces flushed, breathing heavy.

“Um...” Aidan’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He looked a bit scared. “Is there something going on?”

“No,” I said flatly, crossing my arms, refusing to tear my gaze away from Potter. “There’s nothing going on.”

He sighed. “You guys got into another fight, didn’t you?”

A muscle in Potter’s jaw jumped. My chest tightened. “No, no...” I said, but the lie was evident in my voice. Jesus. We were like the two divorced parents who tried to cover up their fighting in front of their kid. “We were just talking. About, er..." My roving eyes landed on Potter's bedroom window curtains. "Upholstery.”

“Upholstery,” Aidan repeated flatly, deadpan.

“Upholstery." And because I knew nothing at all about upholstery, I couldn't elaborate. A long pause ensued.

Finally, Potter relented, rolling his amber eyes to the ceiling. “We got into another fight.”

Aidan nodded, unsurprised. “Ah. Well, do you guys think we could maybe bury the hatchet? I'm hungry, and that lasagna smells really good. How about we just let bygones be bygones?"

Tense silence. Potter and I both turned to shoot Aidan identical scathing looks.

“Or not,” he added mildly.

I sighed, shaking my head. I was just so sick of this. All the mind-games, all the fighting, all the agonizing over what he said or how he said it. It was so stupid.

How was I supposed to reconcile this Potter — the angry, furious Potter — with the one who had picked me up off a bathroom floor once and carried me to bed? He was so hot and cold, and I had had enough of it.

Not caring that my brother was simply an innocent bystander in this whole ordeal, I roughly shoved past him and out of Potter’s room. Enough was enough. I could feel Potter (bitterly) and Aidan (curiously) staring after me, but I didn’t bother to look back as I marched down the hallway and into my room, not uttering a word.

“So I’m taking that as a no then...?” I could hear Aidan trail off in the hallway.

I could tell that my brother was probably shooting Potter a quizzical look, and I knew without seeing, that Potter was shaking his head in response, expression defiantly smooth.

“Forget it, mate,” I heard him say.

And then there was the sound of Potter’s door slamming. And Aidan sighing. And silence, once more.

I leaned against the wall of my room and waited, heart thumping dangerously hard, until I finally heard my brother’s footsteps down the stairs—the signal that I was alone, finally, inside this empty room, in this empty house, my ears ringing with empty silence and Potter’s haunting words.

Bollocks.

—*—

“Knock knock.”

I woke suddenly, snorting attractively as I jolted from my sprawled position on the bed. Like a freight train, the past twenty-four hours came barreling into me.

The Potter Manor. The not-girlfriend. My fight with You-Know-Prat and how I had promptly collapsed into bed afterwards, exhausted.

Oh yeah.

I rolled around, stifling a groan as several of my joints popped, and peered through the red haze of my bedhead to glance at the clock. 11:38 PM. Huh. Was it really that early? It felt like I had been asleep for days.

“Alright if I come in? I brought some lasagna. It’s kind of cold but, well... Still good.”

I jolted again, looking up to see Aidan poking his head inside the doorway, his hopeful eyes contrasting with the nervous smile pulling his mouth taut. He had been responsible for waking me up and, from years of experience, understood that this was not a pleasant position to be in.

I sighed, knowing that I was facing two choices. I could either act like a nice sister and welcome him in, or be the Dragonlady I truly was and banish him from my lair forever. I debated between the two, but eventually, my conscience (and stomach) won out. Nice sister, then.

“Yeah,” I said tiredly, nuzzling my forehead into my pillow. “Come on in.”

Aidan grinned that boyish grin of his and swiftly crossed over, setting the lasagna on the bedside table and flopping down next to me on the cushy mattress. I stared at him, face half-buried in blankets, gaze tinged with annoyance.

“So,” he said, still grinning.

“So,” I mumbled back, suspicious. I knew my brother. He hadn’t come all the way to ply me with lasagna for nothing. There was a motive behind that plate of tomato-y and cheesy deliciousness, and I had a sinking feeling I was going to find out what it was soon enough.

“Well?” Aidan waggled both his eyebrows, as if signaling for me to speak.

I scowled. “Well what?”

Aidan heaved a sigh, as if I were purposely being thickheaded just to annoy him. “Don’t you want to talk about it?”

I knew, immediately, that he was referring to Potter and I’s little spat. I sighed. If I really wanted to participate in a pointless, unimportant conversation, I would ask Freddy about his action figure collection, not have a Sharing Circle with my brother. I didn’t need this.

“Look, Aidan,” I began, throwing the covers off my body and reaching over his torso to grab the lasagna. As soon as I got my hands on the plate, I dug in, stuffing my mouth attractively as if I hadn’t seen food for days. “I appreciate the effort, but I’m really not in the mood right now.”

Except, since my mouth was stuffed with cheese, it came out more like, “I appweetheate th’ efthwat, buth I’m fweally nawth in da mooth ri’ now.”

My brother, being a fifteen-year-old male who ate like a barbarian and hung out with other fifteen-year-old males who also ate like barbarians, understood me perfectly. “Aggy, it’s not healthy for you to bottle up these feelings. Especially if said feelings happen to be of the homicidal nature. You really have to let them out.” He paused, gently taking my fork—which was halfway on its journey to my mouth—and setting it down. “Just this once.”

I gave him a withering looks. "Since when have you been so in touch with your emotions? I think those romance novels you read are really getting to you, Aidan."

Aidan smiled ruefully at my transparent attempt to change the subject. “I really don’t get why you hate Potter so much. He’s a good guy.”

Debatable. “He’s a prat, Aidan! Did you know he had a girlfriend back home? A muggle girlfriend? And he didn’t tell us?”

Okay, so a lot of this was speculation. I didn’t know if The Mysterious Girlfriend was actually a muggle or if she lived in the neighborhood. But still. Since Potter was withdrawing all this information, I believed I was allowed some creative license on my part.

I looked up to gauge Aidan’s reaction, expecting him to jump up/gasp dramatically/fall off the bed in shock, but I didn’t get any of that. Instead, I was met with an unsurprised expression, tinged with guilt.

My mouth dropped open. Indignation charged through me, and the lasagna fork clattered as I slammed it down on the plate. “You knew!”

“Well, of course I knew,” Aidan mumbled sheepishly. “I’m his best mate.”

“You’re also my brother! And you didn’t even tell me?”

“Why would I? I didn’t think you would be interested in his love-life!”

Lucky for me, Aidan was too busy being ashamed to notice me blushing fire-engine red. Shit. Play it cool, Aggy. There’s no way he could possibly know about what happened between you and Potter. Just stay calm.

“Besides,” Aidan continued, fortunately still oblivious. “It doesn’t matter now. They’re not together anymore.”

"Yeah, I know that now,"I grumbled, before suddenly frowning to myself as I mulled over his words. Something else had occurred to me. “Did Dom and Freddy know about this?”

Aidan looked down, fiddling with a thread on the comforter. “Maybe...”

Wow. Okay. I shouldn’t have been surprised, really, but despite myself, a part of me felt hurt. I mean, I knew that Potter and I weren’t exactly the best of chums, but was it really necessary for the whole group to keep a secret from me for his sake? I felt so...Dumb. This had all been going on under my nose, and I hadn’t even noticed it.

I sighed, shaking my head clear. “When did they break up?”

“Break up?” Aidan blinked, expression wiped clean with confusion. “Who? Potter and his girlfriend?”

“No, Freddy and Dom,” I snapped sarcastically. “Of course Potter and his girlfriend!”

“Oh—Oh,” My brother roughly shook his head, realization falling upon him like a loony-tunes-style anvil. “They... um, broke up last year. Towards the end of the summer holidays.”

“What’s this girl’s name?” I prodded.

“Um. Nora. Her name’s Nora,” Aidan bobbed his head, obviously feeling ill at ease. I ignored his comfort, sinking into my own swirling thoughts.

Nora. It was a pretty name. Simple. A name you could crawl inside, a name that would swallow you up whole in a four-lettered embrace. Nora.

“Have you met her?” For some reason, I found myself growing curious. I wanted to know more about this girl, the one who had managed to break past all of Potter’s barriers, dig beneath the apathy and snark. What was it that made him like her?

She probably had big boobs.

“Yeah,” Aidan said, snapping me out of my internal-grumbling, “I have.”

“Is she nice?” At least a c-cup. At least.

“Yeah. She’s lovely, really. One of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve met.”
I frowned to myself, digesting this information. Nora sounded like the kind of a girl who probably volunteered at the local homeless shelter during the weekend. The kind of girl that liked to read to blind, three-legged puppies. The kind of girl who didn’t have a sarcastic bone in her body. Not the kind of girl who goes snooping through her arch-nemesis’s room.

Ugh. And now... I officially hate myself.

“Look, Aggy, I know you’re upset. Don’t try and deny it—” Aidan began, raising his eyebrows as I opened my mouth to protest. “But...Well, it’s not like Potter didn’t want to tell you. He's just a private bloke."

And McGonagall’s the new Crocodile Hunter. Right.

“You know what, Aidan?” I half-grimaced, half-smiled, dropping the newly bare plate of lasagna down on the floor. “It’s getting late—” I faked a yawn. “I—I think I’m going to go to bed.”

Taking the hint, Aidan nodded sagely as if he had been expecting this. “Alright. Just... holler if you need anything.”

I gave him an awkward, two-fingered salute in acknowledgement and he hopped off the bed, bending down to scoop up the lasagna plate. “Goodnight, Aggy.”

“Night.”

He was almost at the door when he stopped and turned around. His face was pinched and thoughtful. Just by looking at him, I could tell that he was about to say something pensive and cryptic and totally annoying.

“You know... Potter may be secretive and private and all that stuff. But...it’s for a reason. A really good reason. You’ll find out soon enough.”

And, leaving those ominous words hanging in the air, he turned around and left, clicking the door shut behind him. With him disappeared the warm, honeyed light of the hallway, and I was suddenly thrown into complete darkness.

I flopped back on the bed, dragging the covers to my chin and returning to my previous cycle of thinking about Potter, thinking about Potter’s girlfriend, and hating myself. Rinse, repeat, etcetera.

At this rate, I’d never get any sleep.

Self-loathing: it’s a blast.

—*—

By the time I finally managed to doze off, it was barely past the—as dear ol’ Dom charmingly likes to say—arse crack of dawn. When I finally woke up, feeling like I'd just been the victim of a stampede, Lion King-style, it was around ten in the morning and my tummy was grumbling for sustenance.

Shielding my eyes from the blinding rays of the sun, I threw the covers off, rolled over—

— And promptly fell out the bed. Right onto the hardwood floor.

It was going to be a great day. I could just tell.

Slowly, I managed to pick myself and my dignity off the floor and shuffle to the bathroom—or rather, my bathroom, seeing as it came attached to the guest room. Trying not to look at the mirror if I could avoid it (the bedhead was particularly bad this morning), I went through the motions—brushing my teeth, thinking about Potter, washing my face, thinking about Potter, combing my hair, thinking about Pott—

Wait a second.

Thinking about Potter?

Oh no.

I as not allowed to be having thoughts about Potter. Not unless those thoughts include acts of violence, or centered around my usual fantasy of shaving his head and force-feeding him his own hair, lock by precious lock. I mean, what, just because I found out he had—used to have—a girlfriend, I was suddenly about to start obsessing? No. No, no, no. That wasn’t going to cut it.

I hated him! Couldn’t care less about his life, really, as long as it didn’t involve me!

So what was he doing inside my brain?

I much preferred the monkey with the cymbals.

I was fine. Fine. It was really no big deal. I was probably just still angry from our fight last night, and that leftover anger was manifesting itself in a weird way. We had another argument, so I was thinking about him. Simple as that. It wasn't like I was daydreaming about our wedding and doodling his name on the cover of my Runes textbook. Nothing to freak out about, honestly. It just took me by surprise.

Get a grip on yourself, Aggy.

Shaking my head, I threw on some clean clothes and trudged downstairs, where the sizzling sound and smell of bacon awaited me. Mmm. At my own house, I knew that instead of a homey breakfast, I would have met the sound of the smoke detector going off as my mum, once again, set fire to our kitchen curtains in another ill-fated attempt to make beans on toast.

I liked this better.

It took me a while to find the kitchen, seeing as the house was so ginormous. When I finally walked inside, however, I almost fell over my own feet. Because the kitchen... was huge. Granite and stainless steel and even a pizza oven, with a fridge the size of a small boat. It was like a set from one of those cooking shows on the telly. I half-expected to hear the applause of cheering housewives in their forties as I walked through the door.

But no. There was simply Ginny Weasley, looking like a boss in a flattering powersuit (which, until now, I had believed to be an oxymoron), her pretty face obscured by the Daily Prophet she held in front of her.

Lily, face composed in its usual expression of bored teenage girldom, was at the stove making bacon.

“Any plans, Agatha?”

There was no way that Ginny had been able to see me behind her paper, and yet she had addressed me as soon as I walked towards the fridge... How?

More than a little freaked out, I paused, my palm on the cool, metal handle. “Er, I was thinking about going out, maybe doing a little shopping.” Merlin knew I needed to get out of the house.

Twenty-four hours and I was already going loco, thinking about Potter, getting freaked out by his mum's innocent questions... Yeah, I definitely needed an escape.

“Fantastic.” Ginny casually flipped a page, not taking her eyes off the paper. “James can take you. He’s going to the shopping center anyways because he’s babysitting one of the neighbors' kids. He’s taking her to the arcade there.”

At first, I actually laughed. Because I truly, sincerely thought Ginny was kidding, as if her suggestion had been a particularly morbid joke.

Because honestly, the thought of Potter and I spending a whole day together with a child was so horrible, it was funny.

But then I realized she was serious.

And my laughter promptly stopped.

Uh-oh. Panic. Lie, Agatha, lie. “Um, actually... I was thinking of going to the center all the way downtown. You know. Far, far away. From here.” And Potter.

There was a rustle. Slowly, Ginny put down the paper and looked at me for the first time this morning, cocking a suspicious eyebrow. “Why would you want to do that when there’s a perfectly good mall half an hour away? Not to mention, James can give you a ride.”

Oh god. Potter. And I. Confined in a car. Half an hour. Not happening.

“Well, I just really like travelling to far places. It’s all about the journey, not the destination, and so on..." I trailed off meekly, fumbling around for words. Over by the stove, Lily snickered quietly. She, unlike her mum, was a Hogwarts student. And being a Hogwarts student meant she was perfectly aware of Potter and I’s infamous rivalry. She knew the real reason why I didn’t want to go with Potter—because I couldn’t stand him. Well, also because I was embarrassed about him finding me in his room, but nobody else had to know that.

“Agatha,” Mrs. Potter smiled. It was obvious that she was trying to be kind, which only made me feel worse. “Don’t be silly. James would be happy to take you.” No, I could safely say he really, really wouldn’t. “And I'd feel better knowing that you were with someone instead of running around downtown on your own. Sorry, but I really don’t fancy writing your mum to tell her you’ve been abducted, or anything like that.”

I stared at Mrs. Potter’s kind, chocolate eyes, and I knew I was stuck. There was no way I could say no to her. I mean, it was Ginny Potter. No one said no to Ginny Potter.

And it wasn't like I could tell Mrs. Potter the truth and be like, 'hey, you’re a nice lady and all, but I kind of hate your son.’ Because that was just rude. She was letting me stay at her house, after all.

So I did the only thing I could do: smile and nod. “Sure, Mrs. Potter, sounds great.”

“Cool.” Mrs. Potter was probably the only adult I knew who could pull off the word ‘cool’ without sounding lame or geeky. Standing up, she folded the paper and grabbed her mug of coffee from the kitch