Too tired to leave a proper A/N. Will come back and edit this later when I'm not a sleep-deprived zombie.
I leaned forward in my seat, jaw dropping, eyes widening, brows knitting - the universal expression for 'you have got to be shitting me' - and gaped at the (completely loony)
woman in front of me. It wasn't a very attractive look, I'll admit, and yet I couldn't help myself - the shock that was rippling over my features was uncontrollable. And as you might have already gathered, while some people
(here's a hint, his name rhymes with 'otter') might be good at hiding their feelings behind cool masks of disintrest... I wasn't one of them.
Headmistress Vespertine quirked a dark eyebrow, elegant hands clasped together on top of her shiny mahogany desk. Judging by her unimpressed expression, she wasn't in the mood for my disbelief.
Well excuse me,
Headmistress Vespertine. I'm sorry if you find my attitude irritating, it's just that I've kind of been having a tough week, you see, what with my twin brother being in a coma and everything.
"You heard me, Miss Bennett. A counselor." Vespertine's gaze bore into mine, her steely grey eyes hardened with resolve, and I resisted the urge to gulp.
"You want me to see a shrink." I stated flatly, brow wrinkling in distaste.
"Agatha," Vespertine sighed, dropping the whole 'last name' business. "You have been through a great deal of trauma lately, and given the circumstances, I think it would be wise if you had someone to talk to. Someone you can rely on."
Well, Headmistress, I do
have someone. In fact, I have several someones. They're called friends,
you see. They're nice, funny, cool, smart... and the best thing about them? I don't have to pay them
to listen to me whine. They do it for free.
"Headmistress, thank you very much for your concern, but I really don't think it's necessary." I gave a small, uncomfortable laugh, fidgeting in my wooden chair. "I'm managing just fine."
Vespertine frowned, her eyes hinting at a spark of annoyance. "Even so, Agatha, I insist that you talk to our school counselor for at least one session. I believe that you would truly benefit from it."
"I didn't even know we had a school counselor." I said, disbelief still clouding my voice.
Vespertine's frown stiffened, her voice turning firm and clipped. "Well we do, and I would like for you to see her. I know you're reluctant, Agatha, but trust me, I only have your best interests in mind."
Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I smiled sweetly at the woman in front of me, knowing full well that the day I saw the school counselor was the day Filch started his career as a professional underwear model - a.k.a. never. I knew that Vespertine was trying to look out for me, but honestly, I was fine
. The last thing I needed was some "counselor" analyzing my every thought and putting words in my mouth. I got enough of that from Potter already.
Headmistress Vespertine was nice, she really was, but she must have been a couple braincells short if she thought that I was actually
going to see a shrink.
I mean, honestly. A shrink?
"So you're seeing a shrink?"
I gave a disgruntled huff, mouth twisting into a bitter scowl as I stormed - that's right, stormed. Not strolled, not walked, not sauntered... stormed - down the corridor to my next class, fists clenched tightly by my sides.
If you haven't already gathered, my conversation with Vespertine had not worked out as planned. Turns out that, as Headmistress/Our High and Mighty Dictator of Hogwarts, Vespertine had last word in anything and everything. You don't want to spend an hour per week sitting inside a therapist's office? Well, that's just too bloody bad for you. Vespertine's orders are final.
So it's off to the Loony Doctor I go. Needless to say, I'm just ecstatic.
"I... It's not like that."
Fred Weasley, who was the main reason for my currently pissy mood (and had been for the past morning), looked at me in a way that can only be described as a leer. His light eyes were glimmering, his mouth quirked in mirth, thick eyebrows waggling. "Oh, then what's it like?"
"I'm not seeing a shrink." I stated, throwing my hands in the air with more vehemance than was perhaps necessary (Freddy had to duck in order to avoid being smacked in the face). "I'm seeing a couneslor. There's a difference."
"Riiiiiight." Fred drawled, stretching the word out like elastic.
I rolled my eyes, giving him a playful shove in the shoulder. "Hey, can't I get a little support here? Honestly. Some friend you are."
"What are you talking about?" Fred pouted as he stumbled backwards, rubbing the spot where I had pushed him like it was a fatal battle wound. "I'm a perfectly good friend."
"Yeah right. Sometimes I think I'd be better off with a talking monkey on my shoulder."
"Hey! I'm potty-trained and I have a basic understanding of the English language. What more do you want?"
Despite myself, I couldn't quell the laugh bubbling up my throat. "Guess that's the most I can expect out of you, isn't it?"
Fred slung an arm around my shoulder, grinning a grin that would put the Cheshire Cat to shame. "That, and an endless supply of charm and wit."
Together, the two of us ambled down the hallway, bantering and laughing and pretending that we didn't notice the burning glances of other students. It was easiar that way. Pretending, I mean. We both felt the stares, heard the whispers, saw the pity etched on every passing face - but we never acknowledged it.
After all, life goes on. I mean, after we came back to Hogwarts, it was surprisingly easy just to settle back in the flow of things. And honestly, I was fine. Of course, circumstances right now weren't exactly ideal... But I didn't need the sympathy from other people, much less a shrink.
I was fine. Okay, maybe somedays it's a bit difficult getting out of bed. And alright, every now and then it does feel like my stomach has suddenly gone MIA. And occasionally I do feel... you know... It, creeping up my spine, slithering into my lungs, wrapping around my chest...
But other than that, I was fine.
We turned a corner, passing a crumbling statue of Humphrey the Humorous, and I suddenly realized where we were heading. Instantly - right as the thought registered inside my head - I stopped dead in my tracks, my halt so abrupt that I pratically left skid marks on the marble floor.
Fred turned around to look at me, face puzzled, his eyebrows having disappered into the mysterious regions of his hairline.
I blinked, hands clenching and unclenching spasmodically by my sides. The previously light and happy atmosphere that had surrounded us was completely gone, and all that was left was a thick cloud of tension draped heavily above our heads.
"Where are we going?" I asked, each word rattling and shaking with anxiety.
"Uh, well I was thinking that we could stop by the Hospital Wing on the way to lunch, maybe visit Aidan for a bit." Fred shrugged, "We haven't seen him since he was transfered from St. Mun - "
I could actually feel all the colour drain out of my face. Slowly, as if I were facing a very big, very hungry animal, I began to back away. "Actually, I have to go."
"I - What? Why?"
"I have a Potions Essay." I said, forcing myself to meet Fred's confusion-clouded gaze. 'I have a Potions Essay', although not very inventive, was like the Go To Excuse. Simple and easy, it was a great lie to tell when nothing else came to mind. Don't want to hang out with annoying friend? Sorry, I can't - 800 words on the properties of Murtlap. You know how it is. Don't want to run errands with your Mum? Honestly, I wish I could, it's just that Slughorn's been really stepping it up with the assigments. Don't want to visit your comatose brother?
Well, you get the picture.
"Aggy, are you okay?"
I looked at Fred, saw the confusion and concern - an emotion I'd never seen him wear before - swirling in his eyes. And it wasn't that I didn't want to visit Aidan. It's just... I didn't want to disturb Madame Pomfrey. And I truly did have a lot of work to do.
Fred looked at me, obviously very perplexed. He was wearing the exact same face he usually reserved for Ancient Runes class, and his mouth was open but no words were coming out. In any other situation, his expression would have been comical.
"I'm sorry. I really wish I could." I said weakly, and before Freddy could even figure out how to reply, I was spinning on my heel and running off.
That night, I didn't sleep.
I lay in bed, staring at the velvety, emerald canopy spread above me like a starless sky, and listened. I could hear the faint snores of my roommates. I could hear groans and creaks and other strange nighttime noises that I didn't care to identify. And then I could hear Dom.
Every night, when she thinks that we've all fallen asleep, Dom cries. It lasts a good hour or so, and when she finally falls asleep (and really, 'falls' is the only word for it. Falling, plunging, somersaulting into the darkness of slumber) she has nightmares. More than once, I've woken up to the sounds of her terror. She thrashes and she kicks and sometimes, when it gets really bad, she screams. I don't know if Evelyn or the others notice. If so, they haven't mentioned it.
I don't either. Mention it, I mean. Usually, I just lie in bed and let it happen, let it haunt me. Maybe I'm a horrible friend, but I don't know what else to do.
Tonight, it was the typical nightmare. Kicking, tossing, turning. I lay - paralyzed and frigid - and did nothing as it washed over me. I feel each of the whimpers slipping out of her mouth like kicks to the stomach, but I didn't do anything.
After about an hour, I had had enough. Without really thinking, I threw my covers off and jumped out of bed, my skin flooding with goosebumps. Pulling a sweatshirt over my head, I stumbled through the dark room, bumping into trunks and bedposts along the way, and then down the stairs.
It was a terrifically stupid thing to do - meandering around the castle after hours. I could get caught by a patrolling prefect or, even worse, a detention-happy Filch. But there was no other option. The dorm room was cramped, packed too full with all of Dom's lurking nightmares, bursting at the seams, threatening to explode and - and I couldn't take it anymore.
Outside of the common room, the air was fresh and cool. I suddenly felt so small, like this huge, dark castle could just swallow me up and I'd disappear forever.
Somehow, the night made everything more real.
During the daytime, it was easy to be normal, to go through the simple motions of daily life and act like nothing was wrong. But now, with moonlight leaking out windows and shadows staining the walls, it all felt so much more... raw.
I let my feet carry me wherever they wanted, and pretty soon I found myself standing outside a portrait of a bowl of fruit. My hand seemed to have a mind of it's own - without any direction from my brain, it reached up and gave the pear a little tickle - an old trick that I had learned from the Tweedle Trio a few years back.
I walked into the kitchens of Hogwarts.
Inside, everything gleamed seductively in the moonlight. The sinks glistened, the tiles sparkled, and I couldn't help myself. Slowly, I skimmed my fingers over a rack of glittering pots that were hanging from the ceiling. The feel of cool metal was nice against my hot skin.
"Good evening, Agatha Bennett."
My bloodstream froze to ice. Yelping in surprise, I jumped at the sound of the raspy voice and then - Oh bollocks -
went rigid with fear. Convinced that Filch was behind me with a detention notice in one hand and a blood-stained torture device in the other, I did what could only be described as a half-dance, half-seizure, and arms flailing, whipped around to meet my certain doom.
Of course, what I hadn't realized was that my left hand was still stuck in the middle of a row of hanging pots.
What followed was a series of metallic crashes that must have woken up the whole castle. Pots clanged together like windchimes, a couple even falling to the floor, as I turned around and - preparing for the worst - saw that ...no one was there.
I looked to my left, and then to my right, but no Filch. No anyone, in fact. All I saw was empty air.
"Oh, my apologies, Mistress! Pipsqueak did not mean to frighten you!"
And then I looked down.
Staring up at me, wearing an expression that indicated complete and utter bliss, was a small houseelf that looked anything but frightening. It was wrinkly, like it had too much skin for it's frail frame. It's big, bulbous eyes were silvery like the moon, and filled with an unwavering adoration that I found to be - frankly - kind of creepy. On top of it's bald head sat a lumpy piece of cloth that, in some parallel universe, might have passed for a hat.
"Please forgive Pipsqueak, Agatha Bennett!" Before I could so much as open my mouth, Pipsqueak the Houseelf was wrapping his skinny little arms around me and burrowing his face into my legs. "Pipsqueak is so, so sorry!"
I blinked in surprise, rather unsure of what to do about this odd new growth that had sprouted from my kneecaps. "Er - um. That's quite alright. But can you please get off?"
Pipsqueak detangled himself from my limbs, dabbing tears out of the corner of his huge, bludger-sized eyes. "Sorry, Agatha Bennett. Pipsqueak is often told that he has... er... how do you say it? 'Personal space issues'"
"Now," He rasped cheerfully, face regaining it's previous expression of bliss - bloody hell, the little bugger looked like he had reached Nirvana or something, "How may Pipsqueak help Agatha Bennett?"
"Um. Well, I was just looking for some food, really." I said, backing away a bit. Pipsqueak looked a bit too
eagar to help. It was a little unnerving. "And how do you know my name?"
"Pipsqueak makes sure to learn the names of everyone at Hogwarts." The houseelf said, puffing his chest out rather proudly.
'That's... er... impressive."
"Agatha Bennett thinks that Pipsqueak is - " Gasp
"- impressive?" Pipsqueak stared up at me, his big eyes getting even bigger. He looked like he was in danger of stroking.
"Yes. Agatha Bennet thinks Pipsqueak is very impressive." I said, eyes darting from side to side. Okay, this was getting a little weird. "But, Agatha Bennett has to go now. So, er, if you excuse me, I think I'll just be on my way..." Slowly, I pushed past the tiny houseelf, making my way to the door. Right, so maybe going to the kitchens hadn't been the best of ideas...
Mentally cursing myself, I turned around, half-expecting the house-elf to ask me for my autograph or something. "Yes?"
With a flourish, Pipsqueak produced a chocolate bar from underneat his hat. He presented it to me, holding it in his palms with a kind of reverence that is usually reserved for important artifacts and religious leaders. "For Agatha Bennett."
"I, um, don't know what to say." I said, taking the bar from Pipsqueaks gnarled fingers. "Thank you."
Pipsqueak grinned, eyes sparkling, and nodded furiously. "Anytime, Agatha Bennett, Anytime."
After that rather creepy - and yet sort of flattering - incident, I left the kitchens and made my way back towards The Common Room. Taking my own sweet time, I ambled down hallways and up staircases, munching on my chocolate bar as I walked.
Turning a corner, I started to walk down another empty corridor. On one side, the wall was only half-way tall. It was lined with a row of curving, open arches, and, through them, night air poured inside, spelling sharply and sweetly of November.
"Why is it so cold?" I muttered to myself, wrapping my sweatshirt tigther around my frame. Honestly, Hogwarts, it's called a heating system. Get one.
"Oh, I don't know. Might have something to do with the season. Coldness tends to happen during winter, I've noticed."
For the second time that night, I jumped at the sound of a hidden voice. Getting rather tired of this whole act, I turned around to see a shadowed, obviously male figure sitting ontop of the half-wall, his feet dangling over the edge. It had been so dark, and he - whoever he
was - had been so quiet... I'd walked right past him and hadn't even noticed.
"Jesus!" I exclaimed, slapping a hand over my thudding heart.
A cigarrette was dangling between his fingers, it's tip glowing red like an ember. "Close, but no."
I squinted, making out broad shoulders, narrowing into a lean waist, and a disheveled head of hair. While the physical qualities were hard to go by, I could've recognized that snarky tone anywhere. "Potter?"
"There you go!" He said, mock-enthusiasm dripping off every word. "Knew you'd get it eventually... Gold star for you, Bennett!"
Even in the near darkness, I could make out his self-satisfied smirk. Rolling my eyes, I walked over to where Potter was until I was standing next to him, arms crossed and scowl in place.
"What are you doing here?"
He looked up at me, squinting in the moonlight.
I blinked back my surprise. I had expected him to duck and avoid my question, to shoot back some cryptic, nonsensical answer. His honesty was...well, weird.
"Same." I found myself saying, and all of a sudden I was sitting down next to him, legs dangling over the edge. Beneath my feet, it was only a metre-long drop to the courtyard below, but I was careful nevertheless. After all, I didn't really fancy a little tumble during this time of the night.
We sat in silence for a while. Potter smoked, I shivered. I knew that I was going to regret this little escapade in the morning - it was 3:00 AM right now, and I had yet to get a wink of sleep - but I just didn't feel like going back to the dorm. Not yet.
"Vespertine is making me see a shrink." I blurted out randomly, words wavering uncertainly in the air.
Potter turned to me, sharp eyes scanning my expression, and even the simple look
he was giving me was enough to cause It
to rise up in my stomach again, turning my skin to ice, flooding my blood with nausea.
His stare was so searing, so completely, absolutely serious. He leaned in closer, closer, closer... His hazel eyes glimmered, and I could practically see
the ghosts and demons swirling inside of them.
For a moment, I thought he was going to say something profound. Something meaningful. Something...nice.
And then, he snorted. "Good. Merlin knows you need it."
Really, why do I even bother hoping?
I scowled, rolling my eyes to the ceiling, and supressed the surge of insults that were trying to fight their way out of my mouth. A snappy retort would only lead to bickering, and I just wasn't in the mood. Hopping off the wall, I dusted my pajama pants off and turned away.
"Well, I'm off to bed." I said airily.
Slowly, I began to walk away. After a few strides, however, I stopped.
For a brief moment, I struggled over what I should say next.
Sparing a glance over my shoulder, I spoke. My voice was so quiet, I didn't even know if he could hear me. "Goodnight, Potter."
There was a pause. And then:
"Sleep tight, Bennett."
I walked away, fully aware that I was going to do anything but that.