Chapter 3 : Shadow
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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!”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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?"
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.
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