Chapter 2 : Burnt
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“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,
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.
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