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Clash by shenanigan
Chapter 12 : Dizzying
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 49


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Disclaimer: HP-verse is property of J.K. Rowling!



I wonder if it will hurt.

Getting brutally murdered by my DADA professor, I mean.

What will the afterlife be like? Will there be a tunnel of light, some pearly white gates, a glee club of angels singing 'Hallelujah' upon my arrival?

Or will it just be me — dead, my body rotting in the ground for the rest of eternity?

Come to think of it, I would rather be cremated. Yes, that sounded preferable. Better that then being shunted away in a box for the rest of eternity, at least.

My friends and family could make a nice ceremony out of it. They would come together one last time, watching as my ashes were scattered majestically across the ocean. And then they'd all go home, and there would be a typical movie-montage — with a sad Journey ballad playing the background — of everyone's lives falling apart in the wake of my death. My mother would slip into a deep depression, Dom would turn to drinking to numb the pain of my memory, my brother would spend the rest of his life furiously plotting to avenge my murder, doing pull-ups in his room and getting scary tattoos of my face on his chest.

Cut to the scene in which, twenty years later, Ryan Fisher is sitting on his bed as an old man. He takes out a photo of me from his bedside drawer and gazes longingly at my immortalized face. He smiles, and a single tear trickles down his face. Cut to black. End of movie. Credits roll.

No, dying wouldn't be so bad. Honestly, it would certainly be better than this — sitting here in Nott's office, waiting for him to come back and decide what sort of cruel, agonizing punishment he wanted to inflict upon my helpless soul.

I knew something was wrong the minute we had walked in. He had been so restrained about the whole thing, his movements jerky with formal stiffness as he gestured for Potter and I to take a seat, and then — calmly, silently — turned around to leave the room, locking the door behind him.

He was probably sharpening the murder weapon at this very moment.

Oh, Merlin.

As discreetly as possible, I lowered my gaze and shot a wayward glance at Potter, who was sitting in an identical chair to the right of me. So far he hadn't betrayed any worry or concern about the current state of affairs. In fact, he looked almost bored.

I wondered if Potter was going to try and help when Nott came back to attack me with a butcher's knife/chainsaw/his bare hands. Maybe he would. Maybe Potter would realize how petty and meaningless our fighting was and step in on my behalf — be the hero, save the day.

Who was I kidding? Potter was going to stand there and let Nott bludgeon me to death. He'd probably applaud at the end.

"So, looks like the Day of Reckoning is finally here."

Oh Merlin.

I wheeled around to see Nott standing in the doorway — teeth returned to normal size — with a psychotically cheerful smile on his face. His hands were clapped together, expression sarcastically eager.

Neither of us spoke. Potter remained slouched in his chair, unimpressed, while I struggled silently to regain control of my own bladder.

Nott strode into his office, his posture relaxed and comfortable, and I struggled to decipher the thoughts behind his calm composure. Potter and I watched — me considerably more nervous — as our professor languidly paced the length of the small room, his hands behind his back and the same, strange grin on his face.

"Miss Bennett," he said, not even glancing at me as he took a seat behind his shiny oak desk. He slammed his feet down on its wood surface, where his polished shoes left ugly, white scuff marks.

I winced at the sight, then refocused my concentration on Nott — despite my disapproval of such a blatant display of furniture abuse, there were more pressing matters at hand.

Matters such as my imminent demise.

"Why don't you start by telling us who, exactly, is responsible for this?" At 'this,' Nott gestured vaguely between Potter and I, his eyebrows raised in irate expectancy. The smile was long gone, replaced by waspish pursed lips.

"Um," I said intelligently. I couldn't speak. I couldn't even breathe. It seemed as though my brain had somehow mysteriously abandoned my body, leaving behind nothing but the sound of chirping crickets and a strong, heady fear.

I was going to be killed. Or worse, expelled.

"Something wrong, Miss Bennett?" Nott drawled upon seeing the terrified expression on my face. He folded his hands behind his head, eyes gleaming with wicked humor. "Honestly, you're acting like I'm going to murder you. I can assure you, the worst you'll get is a little medieval torture. Fifty or so lashes, some run-of-the-mill flogging... Then you'll be free to go."

I stared in response. My left eye began to twitch.

"So." Nott dropped his feet off his desk and leaned forward, gaze narrowed threateningly. "Who started it?'

He was met with resolute silence from Potter and terrified gaping from me.

I did! I wanted to scream. It's all my fault, just kill me now and spare me the misery! But my vocal cords seemed to have twisted themselves into a nice, convenient knot, and my mouth was about as dry as Potter's sense of humor.

Dear Merlin. I could have been blessed with a cool talent, a knack for singing or drawing or the ability to do the splits. But no. Instead, I just had to get the crippling fear of authority figures.

Nott looked pointedly from me to Potter, who was slouched in his chair (his shirt still untucked!) with a look of heavy-lidded apathy on his face. I had to hand it to him, Potter was either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

Probably the latter.

"Well?" Nott demanded impatiently. "Would someone like to tell me, or will I have to Crucio it out of one of you?"

He had to be joking. Of course he was joking! Right? Right?!

Merlin, our professor was a sadist.

I opened my mouth to speak, the urge to confess gnawing vehemently at me from the inside. I had to tell the truth. It was like an instinct inside of me, assuming control of all my mental capacities and decision-making properties. Must. Help. Teacher.

"Professor — "

"I did."

Nott's expression of shock was a mirror image of my own as, simultaneously, the two of us swiveled our heads to stare at Potter, who had just spoken for the first time since entering this room. He seemed casual and relaxed as he balanced on the back legs of his chair, wand twirling between two fingers.

"What?" I croaked disbelievingly.

"I did," Potter repeated neutrally, leaning forwards. The front legs of his chair fell to the ground with a thud, and Potter slid his wand behind his ear in a fluid, flawless motion. "I started it, Professor. It was my fault. I provoked Bennett, she acted in self-defense. She had nothing to do with any of it, really."

Okay, someone please hit me.

For the eleventieth-bajillion time that day, I turned around to gape at Potter like a confused idiot. He was certainly a sight to see, his mouth quirked noncommittally, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows (honestly, I think this kid had a personal contest to see how many dress-code rules he could break at once — or, how high he could get my blood pressure, more like it). He had his arms crossed, and one of his eyebrows was cocked upwards ever so slightly in a challenging manner. He looked like the picture-perfect example of calm. It was unnerving, how unruffled he was.

He had just confessed, I realized belatedly. Potter had just flounced all the natural laws of the known universe and had actually... done something nice for me, actually taken the fall.

I could only think of two possible explanations for such madness. Either Potter was stupider than I'd previously thought, or this was all part of some elaborate plan to — to confuse me to death, or something.

Either way: what in sweet Merlin's name was going on?

Nott seemed to be just as baffled as I was. He paused uncertainly, taking a few arduous minutes to compose himself and process this information. Like me, he had assumed I would be the first to crack and 'fess up. And like me, he was now in a state of total and paralyzing shock.

Finally, our professor opened his mouth to speak. "Potter, are you — "

But before he could finish his question, I was speaking. Now, if there was any moral lesson that we could take away from the past 24 hours, it was that nothing good ever came from me opening my fat mouth. And yet I apparently seemed to forget this as, twisting my whole body in my chair, I fixed Potter with an imploring glare and cried:

"Are you stupid?!"

"Well," Potter said lightly, obviously amused by my stunned reaction. "Intelligence is a relative concept, isn't it? Put me next to McGonagall or Headmistress Vespertine, and I'm sure I don't look very smart. But compare to someone like you? Well."

I blinked twice. "I'm taking that as a definite, resounding yes."

Nott, meanwhile, was still sitting at his desk, and growing increasingly frustrated with us hooligans. "That's enough!" he finally barked. "Now, Potter — "

"I know, I know." Potter droned on impassively, one of his shoulders hitching upwards in an apathetic shrug."30 points from Gryffindor, two weeks-worth of detention, a suspension from Prefect duties. Can I go now, or do you have some other punishment in mind?"

Our DADA professor gaped at Potter, taken aback either by his complete lack of fear or his extensive familiarity of Hogwarts disciplinary system, I wasn't sure which. "I — er — Miss Bennett!" he finally snapped, regaining some sense of his surly attitude. His expression hardened in determination. "You can leave. But I want to have a talk with you, Potter."

Mechanically, shakily, I stood from my chair and cast one last hesitant glance behind me as I left the room. Potter taking the blame? Nott dismissing me without any form of verbal abuse or docking of points first? What kind of parallel universe had I landed myself in?

I dawdled outside in the dark hallway, anxiously watching the closed door to Nott's office as if I would suddenly develop X-Ray vision and see everything unfolding inside. I had decided to wait for Potter, mostly for two separate reasons — one, I was curious to see if Potter would leave still in the possession of all his limbs, and two, I wanted to ambush him right as he walked out of the office so I could batter him with questions and interrogations. Maybe this would catch him off guard and he would... oh, I don't know, actually explain some of this to me.

It seemed like I had to wait forever and a day. When the mahogany door to Nott's office finally creaked open, I sprung out of the shadows (surprisingly agile) and pounced on Potter like a graceful lioness leaping for her prey. Only, you know, less Lion King and more Annoyed Hormonal Teenage Girl.

Potter jerked his head back, then blinked at me with cool, narrowed eyes. He did not look impressed.

I stood in front of him, assuming my best authoritative stance, and gave him the mightiest You Die Now glare that I could muster.

He still did not look impressed.

"Bennett," he remarked, not even looking at me as he closed the door behind him. "I knew you'd be here."

"Why did you do that?" I exclaimed furiously before Potter could say anything else. The words were shriller and louder than I had intended, and they echoed brashly off the stone walls of the corridor.

"Do what?" Potter asked nonchalantly. For someone with a single digit IQ, he could feign innocence remarkably well.

"Oh, don't play stupid with me," I hissed, lunging forward in barely-suppressed vehemence. "I know you're an expert on stupid, but still. Spare me the grief."

Without bothering to reply, Potter began to walk down the corridor, an obnoxious, barely-noticeable smirk tugging at his lips. I hastily followed, quickening my pace so that I could catch up with his unfairly long strides.

The sun had set while we'd been undergoing our pseudo-inquisition in Nott's office, and now the dusky cobalt sky shone through nearby windows, staining the stone floors with a cool, almost translucent shade of blue. Shadows slowly crept out of corners, sinister and hulking as they leaked into sight. Through a stained glass window, I could see the moon hanging in the sky, yellow and bloated.

With most students at dinner or in their dorms, the castle seemed quiet in an eerie, muffled sort of way. Each sound was muted, creaks and cracks no longer as crisp. It gave the impression of being in a fishbowl, of being completely alone in this entire, expansive universe.

"Potter," I said firmly, tearing through the strange quietness in order to speak. "What was that back there, in Nott's office? Why — why did you do that?"

Potter didn't reply, just quickened his pace and kept on walking, staring resolutely ahead. Together but apart, we pushed through the dark shadowy corridors, sloshing through puddles of moonlight as we tried to find our way amidst the countless number of twists and turns.

"Potter," I repeated in a more demanding tone.

He didn't reply.

"Potter," I hissed again, this time giving him a nice shove in the shoulder for added emphasis.

The prat stopped abruptly, wheeling on me with an impatient, exasperated sigh. "Look, Bennett," he said, words light and quick and uncaring. "I know you're not good at this whole socializing thing, so let me give you a hint: when a person continues to ignore you for a long period of time, it generally means they don't want to speak to you. Like now, for instance."

"Har har," I snapped, feeling my cheeks redden furiously. "So witty. Have you ever tried stand-up comedy before, Potter? You'd be good at it."

He gave a tiny, baleful shrug. "Well I'm good at everything, so — "

"Answer the question."

"Why should I?"

"Why should you? Why should you?" I spluttered. "Because — because... you have to! You..."

He sighed irritably, looking like someone who had to deal with a very persistent, very annoying puppy. "Just let it go, Bennett."

"No!" For some reason, I couldn't just 'let it go.' I had to know why Potter had done this for me. After all, he couldn't behave so counter-instinctively, so abnormally, and expect me not to question it! What he'd done floated in the face of every rule that governed our caustic re-hate-tionship. How could he expect me to just let it go?

"Why, Potter, why?" I pestered, shoving him in the shoulder once more, irritated by his steadfast refusal to look at me. "Why do that for me? Why take the fall when it was obviously my fault in the first place?!"

"Okay, fine, Bennett," Potter finally snapped tetchily, just the slightest sign of irritation edging into his voice. He swung his gaze to me, evidently sick of my badgering. "You want to know why I helped you out in there?"

"Um, yes!" Wasn't that what I had been telling him all along?

"It's because I'm in love with you."

"What?"

Before I could properly react, Potter was suddenly closing the distance between us, stepping forward in two smooth, quick strides until we were nose-to-nose. His hands came to cup the sides of my face, gripping with surprising passion as his forehead bent gently to almost touch mine. I could feel his palms warm and calloused against my skin, and I was suddenly, freakishly aware of every detail of his face: the tiny scar slicing through his eyebrow, thrown into clarity by the silver moonlight; his hazel eyes, impossibly dark and bright at the same time... I was motionless. My throat had constricted in surprise, leaving me too incredulous to even blink.

"That's right." Potter murmured, and his words were coming out rapid and precise, dispassionately clear, no disruptive strain of emotion riding through his tone. "For years I have been yearning for you, Agatha Bennett. I had hoped that if I gallantly swooped in and saved you from the wrath of our DADA professor, you would realize your undying love for me and throw yourself into my arms... Then we'd elope from Hogwarts to some vacation destination like Tahiti, where we'd have an impromptu wedding on the beach shortly before riding away to our happy ending on the backs of two dolphins. Not porpoises, mind you. Dolphins."

"What — ?" I began to say, but Potter hastily pressed a slender finger against my lips and leaned in closer. It was from combined effects of Potter's touch and the proximity of our faces that I promptly shut up.

"Shh," he murmured, his voice taking on a strange, dramatic — almost romantic — quality to it. "Before you say anything, let me just tell you this: the way your bushy hair seems to come alive in the moonlight, the way you always act like you've smelled something foul whenever I come in close contact with you..." He paused, and then his voice snapped back to its normal, sarcastic tone and reality came crashing down. "It's a big turn on. Really."

And then he was letting go of me and walking away.

It took me a minute to realize that Potter had been kidding this whole time.

He'd been messing with me, had delivered that entire speech (and still, I couldn't believe how quick-witted Potter was, how calmly and unflappably he could speak!) just to mess with me.

That's when I got angry.

"Potter!" I said, hurrying to catch up with him. "I can't believe you, you — you — "

He stopped and wheeled around to look at me. "Prat? Prick? Idiot? Take your pick. You usually go with 'arse,' but might I suggest going with something new for the occasion? Maybe douchebag? Or git. Can't go wrong with git."

I gaped, half disbelieving, half too furious for words. "I — Ugh, I hate you!"

"Good. We're on the same page, then, " he quipped offhandedly, beginning to walk away again. I didn't follow this time. Instead, I just stood there in the middle of the corridor like an idiot, my heartbeat ringing furiously in my ears.

"You know what, Potter?" I shouted spitefully after him, finally coming to my senses as my anger took charge again. “You are the most annoying, thoughtless person I've ever met! I'm not exaggerating! You think you're so mysterious, don't you, being all cryptic and unnecessarily difficult all the time! Well guess what — you're not, and it's annoying as hell! I hope you realize that, you moron! No, I hope you... you fall off a cliff — "

Potter, who had been steadily walking away throughout the duration of my zealous rant, suddenly stopped in the hallway, his shoulders stiffening almost imperceptibly. I barely registered the straightening of his posture before all of a sudden he was turning around and marching back towards me, eyes glinting and suddenly incensed.

There was a determination about him, taut and barely restrained, that cased my voice to suddenly die in my throat. He had finally had enough. Something I'd said finally got a reaction out of him, and I belatedly realized he was fed up.

"You want to know the real reason why I saved your arse in there, Bennett?" he snapped loudly when he reached me, face twisting in intense malice.

I rearranged my face into a snarl, trying to mask my surprise at his sudden vehemence. "Yes!" I threw my hands into the air. "By all means, bloody enlighten me!"

We were standing almost as close as we had been before, but with a considerably different tension now beaming between us. I refused to back away, staring into Potter's fed-up face, the clenched jaw, the narrowed eyes. I clenched my fists by my sides as I tried not to waver, tried to hide my confusion.

"It's because," Potter finally said scathingly, words clipped and biting. "I'm a nice human being."

"What?" I spat incredulously. I could barely imagine Potter as a human being, let alone the 'nice' part.

Potter's jaw was clenched, his eyes burning bright and vivid. The lines of his face seemed harsher, almost, etched in silver from the milky light that shone through a nearby window.

For a moment he looked like he was struggling with something on the inside, agitation splayed across his features as he opened and closed his mouth several times.

Then, looking away in resignation, he managed to compose himself . His shoulders relaxed, face swiping blank and clear of any emotion as the anger melted from it. When he spoke, his voice was softer.

"You care more than I do," he said quietly, lowly. "About points, about detentions, about prefect duties. You actually think it's important. I don't. I figured that if you got in trouble and had your prefects' badge taken away, you'd be, well, crushed. And like I said, I don't care about that stuff, and you do so — do you see where I'm going with this, Bennett?"

There was something crackling in the air between us. Energy, really, pulsing and thrumming and alive. It danced, tingly and effervescent, on top my skin. The world felt like it was in perfect alignment as we stood there, held in our places by the forces that shivered between us.

"What are you saying, Potter? That you did this for me?" I asked weakly, feeling my own anger dwindle quietly away. "So that I wouldn't get in trouble?"

"Merlin, you're daft." Potter rolled his eyes, and just like that, the mysterious enchantment between us seemed to somehow disappear. "Of course that's what I'm saying."

So he took the fall for me for actual... benevolent reasons. Out of kindness alone. Merlin, I had thought Potter was hiding some secret agenda, an evil plot or a malicious scheme, but I had been wrong. Way wrong.

I didn't know what to say.

Potter could have just stood by and watched as I crashed and burned in Nott's office, but he didn't. He — he —

"You helped me." I said, ever-so-intelligently.

"Jesus, Bennett, stop looking at me like I'm a fucking martyr or something." Potter wrinkled his nose in disgust, glancing away dismissively. "I know it's hard to believe, but I am human, you know. I am capable of compassion."

News to me.

Given that Potter had just done a favor for me, however — a surprising and uncharacteristic favor, but a favor all the same — I decided to keep my skepticism to myself. There was a heavy silence before I spoke again.

"So, er, what exactly did Nott do to you?" I ventured cautiously, already dreading the answer. "Are you still a prefect?"

Potter gave a bitter huff of laughter, his expression shifting into sardonic grimness. "No, not anymore," he said stoically. "So congrats — you won't have to put up with me on patrols any longer."

I blinked, gradually absorbing the news. Potter wasn't a prefect. He would have to hand his badge back. A letter would be sent home. No more patrolling, no more docking points. All that would be left would be a tiny, tiny blip on Potter's academic record.

That could have happened to me. It should have happened to me.

I didn't know how to respond. My instinct was telling me to say something nasty, to insult him, yell at him, berate him — anything to make me feel less guilty, to lighten the pit currently pressing against my stomach lining. But when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. My usual reservoir of comebacks had been depleted.

So instead I settled for sincere gratitude.

"Thank you," I said meekly, voice very small. "Thanks, Potter."

He rolled his eyes once more. "You're welcome. Just — just don't let it get to your head. This doesn't mean I tolerate you or anything."

And with that, he turned swiftly around and walked away from me for the last time that evening.

—*—

The next couple of days passed by in a haze of classes and dull assignments, until, finally, Hogsmeade weekend arrived.

In light of recent develops regarding Aidan's new Hogsmeade... er, companion, Dom decided that she, too, needed a date. This was no longer about foo-foo feelings or hurt sentimentalities — it was a matter of pride, of competition. Dom had to save face.

So, in what could only be described as a tactic of guerilla dating, Dom wrangled a bloke by the name of Foster Matthews into taking her out. I didn't know much about the bloke, except for the fact that he was a Ravenclaw sixth-year, but I did know that I wasn't thrilled. Not only would Dom taking a date probably bring about an unnecessary response from Aidan, further escalating the situation, but it also meant I would have to go to Hogsmeade without my best friend.

But I shut up and didn't complain. Dom was over the moon — she finally had her leverage over Aidan — and everyone else was happy. Given such contentment was rare for our group, I let Dom's decision slide without comment.

It was a blustery, windy day when we set out for Hogsmeade. After being poked, prodded, and basically flat-out accosted by Filch looking for any illegal contraband or spare dignity, us students trudged down the path towards Hogsmeade Village, our scarves wrapped hastily around our faces in order to banish out the cold.

I slipped and skidded on slippery red leaves, huddling into myself as the wind dragged my hair free from its hat. Dom had disappeared a few minutes ago, probably in search of her date, so I was left to brave the walk alone.

"Yo! Aggy!'

Well, sort of alone.

I felt a warm hand land on my shoulder as Aidan came up from behind me, loping gate catching up to mine. Tilting my head, I looked up to see my brother's jovial face peering down; his blue eyes — only a shade darker than my own — were bright and dancing playfully.

"Hey, Aidan!" I said, surprised to see my brother so happy and, also, so conspicuously alone. "Where are you heading off to?"

He smiled, as easy-going as ever. "Well, rumor has it that Zonko's is having a half-off sale today. You know what that means."

I nodded grimly — Aidan was a valued customer of the shop; his purchases probably financed at least 80 percent the owner's livelihood. "Filch is going to be having a rough couple of weeks."

My brother smirked in what I took to be implied assent, and I rolled my eyes. We continued trudging down the path in comfortable silence, Aidan slowing his pace so that I could walk alongside him (how thoughtful).

"So," my brother spoke again, somewhat awkwardly. He cleared his throat. "I heard Dom has a date."

My eyebrows flattened in barely-concealed annoyance. Of course. I hadn't seen my brother in days, and when he finally decided to grace me with his presence, it was to wheedle out information.

"Yes, Aidan," I began in somewhat defensive exasperation. "Why does it matter?"

Aidan's lips stretched into a thin, straight line. "It doesn't," he replied, equally as defensive. "It was just a bit of a shock, you know. To see her move on that quickly."

At this, I felt my irritation grow. Er, hypocritical much? When Aidan asked out Margaret Corner, he had basically forfeited every right to feel "surprised" if Dom got a date of her own. Him moping about it was just unfair.

I was becoming more and more indignant — on behalf of Dom, on behalf of myself, on behalf of everything. "So?" I said pointedly. "You're one to talk. You have a date with Margaret Corner."

Aidan blinked, his face slackening in surprise. "Um. No, I don't."

Uh-oh.

"You don't?"

"No. Why would you think that?"

"Well," I began rather helplessly, floundering for words. "Someone told us that you were, and in Potions the other day you, er, grazed her arm and we thought that meant — " Now that I could hear my own words stumbling out of my mouth, it all seemed so ridiculous. I felt a warm blush creep across my cheeks, and I fidgeted uncomfortably with the collar of my jacket. Why had I been so quick to jump to conclusions? Merlin, we were idiots.

Meanwhile, realization seemed to be dawning on Aidan. Slowly, his eyebrows tilted upwards in a display of understanding. "I'm not, Agatha. I'm not taking Margaret to Hogsmeade."

Before I could open my mouth to spew forth the hasty string of apologies sitting heavily on my tongue, Aidan was already speaking again. A small smile was growing on his face.

"But, you know, that gives me an idea," he murmured rakishly, and my stomach dropped.

Oh great. Aidan's ideas always resulted in one of the following: a) physical injury, b) emotional scarring, or c) someone getting covered in food. As a usual unwilling accessory to my brother and his crazy whims, I knew that Aidan's crazy determination to carry things through often ended up doing more harm than good.

I could think of many examples of his ill-fated stupidity that proved just that — there was the one time he'd roped me into stealing our mum's car, resulting in a sixth-month grounding for both of us. Or the "episode" (that's what the police had called it, at least) with the Girl Scout Cookies... Oh, and let's not forget the Great Cantaloupe Incident of 2015.

None of these events had ended well for anyone. Which was why I wasn't too thrilled about the proverbial light bulb going off above Aidan's head at the moment.

But before I could even begin to protest this new "idea," Aidan was jogging away with a hasty, "See ya later, Aggs!," the cogs in his mind whirling with thoughts that were no doubt too troublesome — and too abundant — for his own good.

Bollocks.

—*—

An hour later, I was trudging through the cobblestone streets of Hogsmeade Village, hugging my coat to my frame as I shivered in the cold and tried to think of somewhere to go. Having spent most of my time at Scrivenshaft's with some of the other Prefects, I now had a plastic bag full of new booty to take with me back to Hogwarts — a few quills, my favorite turquoise ink and some fresh parchment. Mmm. Fresh parchment.

After parting with the others, I had set off with no real destination in mind. The Three Broomsticks didn't offer any refuge — it was far too crowded in there, and The Hog's Head was a bit too shady for my liking. Madame Puddifoot's was out of the question, unless I wanted a personal viewing of the salivary glands of half the PDA-happy couples at Hogwarts.

So I strolled (well, more like slipped and slid) down the winding Hogsmeade path, gazing aimlessly at shop windows and the random couples that wandered by hand-in-hand. Briefly, I wondered how Dom's date was going and what Aidan was scheming. But then I pushed such unnerving musings from my brain, trying to focus on more happy subjects.

I was about to just give up, turn around, and brave The Hog's Head, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted two figures standing by edge of the forest lining the paved path.

The woodsy parts of Hogsmeade were rarely frequented by its residents, as there usually wasn't much to see except for trees, trees, grass, and more trees. So it seemed quite out of the ordinary, really, that there would be two people — tall and boyish-looking people — loitering by the forest's edge.

Frowning, I swiveled in their direction and began walking towards that area, Prefect's senses tingling. As I neared them, I recognized the two figures as none other than Freddy and Potter. Which failed to surprise me, really. Of course they were up to no good. The only question was — where was Aidan?

Freddy and Potter were huddled together behind a tree, their backs facing me as they conversed in hushed, rapid tones. Their whispers would float in the air between them, dancing on the verge of clarity before melting back into that same, quiet murmur. I hastened to their spot, pushing my hair out of my face and trying to appear as brusque and business-like as possible.

"Fred? Potter?" I demanded. "What's going on?"

The two of them whipped around, lightning-fast, at the sound of my voice. Fred's face immediately betrayed his guilt, but Potter's expression was kept as cold and impassive as possible.

"Nothing." They chorused at the same time, so ridiculously in sync that it was almost as if they had practised.

I shot them A Glare, trying to assess how worth the trouble it'd be to get in between them and whatever they were plotting. "Yeah right. Where's Aidan?"

Fred's rigid posture relaxed somewhat, making it obvious how very glad he was to have my query focused on someone else. "Oh, Aidan? He ditched us awhile back. Said he had some plan or idea or something."

Potter nodded. "You can probably find him at Zonko's."

Translation: leave now.

Ignoring Potter's subliminal messaging, I inched forward and attempted to peer over one of the boys' shoulders to see if there was anything behind them. But of course, I couldn't see. Bollocks. When had they gotten so tall?

"So... What are you doing?" I asked, trying to sound as cheerful and innocent as possible.

"Nothing." Fred said nervously, twitching slightly, face adopting the same constipated expression it always did when he was trying to hide something. Freddy hated lying and, consequently, was never good at it. "Well, not completely nothing. I mean, we are breathing, aren't we?" The fidgeting increased as he rambled, pupils darting back and forth and landing on everything but me. Sweat was gleaming on his forehead, and I knew it wouldn't be long before he cracked. "Actually, the process of respiration is incredibly complicated. You see, the oxygen flows down the trachea, going towards the bronchi and bronchioles, before WE'RE SPYING ON ROSE AND SCORPIUS, PLEASE DON'T YELL AT US!"

Potter sighed, muttering a very swear bad word as he scuffed his shoe against the ground. I stared at the two of them, somewhat taken aback by Fred's sudden confession, and arched an eyebrow.

"Sorry?"

Potter grimaced, and Fred looked guiltily to the floor. It was clear the jig was up for the both of them. So, placing my hands on my hips, I tapped my foot and turned my glare from the boys to the trees of the forest.

"Elaborate," I insisted.

Fred swallowed visibly, looking quite glum indeed. "Rose and Scorpius. They were on a date, and the slimy git took her to the forest! So we decided to follow them. You know, make sure he doesn't try anything fishy," he paused, a frown creasing his smooth brow. "Except now we can't see them properly because of all the trees. Curse you, foliage — you win this time." This last part was muttered in a vindictive undertone, accompanied by Freddy shaking his fist bitterly at the sky.

My face flattened into an expression somewhere between wariness and disbelief. I didn't know what was more ridiculous — the two gits' harebrained scheme or how Fred had just used the word foliage in complete and utter seriousness.

Before I could say anything, however, Fred was already speaking again, his lips pursed in a thoughtful manner.

"If only there was some way we could see above everything," he said glumly, words lingering and deliberately drawn out. "Maybe if one of us climbed a tree..."

He turned to pointedly look at Potter, eyebrows arched meaningfully. Potter, in turn, gave a swift, definitive shake of the head.

"We discussed this, Fred," he said firmly. "Those trees won't hold our weight."

He was right. The trees — if they could even be called that, they were more like little sticks poking out of the ground than anything else — were frail and brittle, probably from old age and the arriving winter. If Fred or Potter tried to climb one, well, the outcome would not be good.

I flicked my gaze to the ground and smiled to myself, internally chuckling at the two buffoons and their predicament. Honestly. Were they really going through such lengths for Rose and Scorpius? They were two fourth-years, for Merlin's sakes. The worst thing Scorpius could do was probably teach Rose a scandalous swear word or two.

My face, however, abruptly fell into a frown as I came back to my surroundings. It had become eerily quiet, all of a sudden. Too quiet. Whipping my head upwards, my confusion-addled gaze landed on Fred and Potter, who were currently staring at me with very mischievous, very bad gleams in their eyes.

"James, my old friend," Freddy was saying, face taking on a sly, enlightened expression that I did not like at all. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"I don't know, mate," Potter said, voice lilting musically with amusement. "She probably won't go for it."

I looked at the two gits incredulously as the meaning of their words hit.

And then:

"You want me to climb those trees? Are you kidding?"

Fred shrugged casually. "Couldn't hurt to try."

"Uh, yeah it could, you absolutely moron," I said, voice still breathless with disbelief. "If I fell and died."

Merlin, Fred's singular braincell must get really lonely up there in that vast, spacious head of his. Rolling my eyes, I was just about to turn around and march away when I heard Potter mutter, ever so dryly: "See? I knew she'd never go for it."

I stopped in my tracks.

Face flushing, I swiveled around to fix Potter with my shrewdest, most paralysing stare. The git always acted as if he could predict my every move, and sometimes it got to an insufferable point.

I was not predictable, okay? Once, for example, I turned in a library book three days late. Three days.

I cocked a hip, gaze narrowing in an intimidating manner. "What's that supposed to mean, Potter?" I hissed caustically, but the prat merely shrugged.

"Nothing," he said innocently, Fred snickering next to him. "It's just that — well, you're a Slytherin, is all."

The way he said the word Slytherin, as if it were some kind of sodding disease, some ailment — it made my blood boil. Potter always acted like being a Slytherin was something to be ashamed of, our House inferior to the bastion of moral goodness and bravery that was Gryffindork. And honestly, if anyone else had said the same thing, it might not have bothered me so much. But to hear those words in that smug tone of his —

I gritted my teeth together, trying to quell my fury.

He thought I was a coward. He thought I was incapable.

Forget it, Aggy, I berated myself. He's just trying to get under your skin...

But it was working.

"Don't worry about it, Bennett," Potter said with a what-can-you-do shrug. "It's not your fault you were born the way you are — "

But he was cut off when, all of a sudden, I marched past him and Freddy and, breathing rather harshly, delved into the woods behind them. Single-minded in my resolve, I crunched over the dead fallen leaves and errant twigs until I found a suitable looking tree and grabbed its lowest branch. I'd show Potter. I'd show him good.

With my right foot planted firmly on the trunk, I pushed off and used the momentum to swing myself upward.

"Well I'll be damned." I heard Fred mutter from below, and I was gratified by his surprise.

I didn't know precisely why, exactly, it mattered so much to climb this tree — I just knew I had to do it. Maybe I wanted to prove Potter wrong. Or maybe it was because Potter had saved me back there in Nott's office, and I didn't feel like owing him. Either way, I suddenly found myself shimmying up a tree trunk in nothing but ratty old jeans and a wool coat. The shell-shocked expressions that pulled on Potter and Fred's faces as they gazed up at me were so worth it.

I gripped the frail, delicate branches of the tree gingerly, trying to find my way among all the dangling leaves and wiry twigs. I never used to climb trees as a kid, but I knew the basics of what to do, having watched Aidan climb so many times. Stick to the sturdier branches. Find good footholds. Always stay near the trunk.

Finally, when I was as far up as I could possibly go, my breath shimmering in grey puffs before me, I peered down at the — admittedly very pretty — view spread out below. I smiled. Surrounded by the sinewy treetops around me, I felt a sense of triumph at finally being able to defy Potter's expectations.

It didn't take long to spot Scorpius. The sunlight glinted off his ridiculously gelled hair, turning his head into a bright blonde beacon where he stood, below, a couple meters away.

Squinting my eyes, I tried to make out the forms of the two fourth-years. From what I could see, they both seemed relax and happy. Scorpius was sticking to the age-old kindergarten rule of keeping his hands to himself — Potter and Fred had nothing to worry about.

I was just about to start climbing down when, suddenly, the sickening, unmistakable noise of wood cracking splintered through the air.

Time froze.

My brain had only a split-second to register two fleeting, panicked words — oh bollocks — before the branch beneath me gave way and I was suddenly tumbling through the air. Down, down, down, everything around me a haze of blue and green, earth veering out of control.

I landed on the ground with a harsh thud, the air immediately swooping out of my lungs from the impact of hard earth on my back. Bloody hell, that had hurt.

Wincing, I lay there for a moment, motionless as I stared ahead uncomprehendingly. Six different versions of the sky swam in front of me in a dizzying, swirling pattern. In my adrenaline-addled shock, I could hear the distant sound of footfall. Probably Freddy and Potter, coming to find me... Oh Merlin, I was never going to live this down.

"What the — ?"

At the sound of the foreign voice, I slowly glanced up to see four Rose Weasleys and three Scorpius Malfoys peering at me in what I could vaguely discern to be a concerned manner. Even through the pain and the agony, I still faintly recognized that them finding me was not a good thing.

"Agatha Bennett? What are you doing here?"

No, not a good thing indeed.


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