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Chapter 4 : Love-struck
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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.
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.
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 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, was it a bad sign that my mum was so hell-bent on getting 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.
With her cane.
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.
“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?”
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.
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?
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?”
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.
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.
“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."
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