Chapter 20 : Lost
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There is only one thing to do in a situation like this:
That is to say: exactly what I was doing at this very moment.
My lungs itched for air as I sprinted down the empty corridor, every fiber of my body focused on the simple, yet somehow excruciating, act of putting one foot in front of the other.
My surroundings had melted away into an indistinct smudge. Gone was my practical Slytherin logic. Gone was the coolheaded reasoning that I used to pride myself in. Judgment, rationality, common sense... All of it. Gone. The only thing remaining was the little voice in my brain, chanting the words 'faster faster faster! ' as I pushed my body to its limit. Despite my exhaustion, I didn't dare to even think about stopping.
“Run as fast as yeh can, I'll still catch yer, ye' filthy good fer nuthin’ hoodlums!” Filch’s voice boomed off the stone walls of the corridor, creating an echo effect that was both confusing and terrifying, and I picked up my pace. As much as I wanted to pause and marvel at the fact that I had just heard someone, in complete seriousness, use the word ‘hoodlum’ in an actual sentence, I knew I couldn't afford to. Filch was getting closer.
I trained my gaze on Potter, who was far ahead of me and still sprinting in long strides that each doubled one of mine. Merlin, how could the prat have not tired out by now? Stupid Quidditch advantage. After years of training and playing, this was probably like a bloody walk in the park for him.
I, on the other hand, was feeling what I'm pretty sure were the first few symptoms of cardiac arrest.
Seeing Potter so far in front of me was enough motivation to stoke my competitive streak. Gritting my teeth together, I pushed on, the muscles in my limbs stretching and contracting painfully with every stride. I could hear my heartbeat skittering frantically inside my ears, my breath coming out in a hitched, pathetic sort of wheezing. Right now, even the process of breathing — something I used to take for granted — was agonizing.
Potter threw a quick glance over his shoulder and stopped, his calculating hazel gaze taking in me and my struggling. As I caught up to him, I could just barely register the way his features shifted slightly, as something—an idea, maybe?—dawned on him. And then, in a swift flash of movement, he was grabbing my arm and hastily whipping me around a corner.
“Over here." Yanking a raggedy blue tapestry out of the way, Potter pushed me into a dark hole that had been crudely carved into the adjacent stone wall.
What happened next was a little confusing.
I'm not sure what came first — the sudden darkness, Potter's shove, or the upset in my equilibrium from our abrupt stop — yet regardless of order, all these factors resulted in my feet tripping, my body pitching forwards, and my face getting reacquainted with the ground.
“Oof,” I grunted on impact, mouth flooding immediately with dirt and soot and Merlin-knew-what littering the passageway floor. Struggling to an upright position, I spat out my lovely debris cocktail and stifled a groan. Face-planting onto rocky surfaces wasn't exactly my idea of fun.
And yet, I seemed to do it an awful lot.
Wincing, I picked myself up off the floor and did the customary once-over usually required after an Agatha Bennett Tumble. All thirty-two teeth? Check. No broken bones? Check. Sufficient damage to my self-respect and dignity? Check, check and check. We’re good to go.
Potter, I guess, had chosen to ignore my brilliant display of grace, turning around matter-of-factly and letting the tapestry fall closed behind him. Without the light from the hallway, we were suddenly submerged into total darkness.
For a minute, we just stood there, breathing heavily and trying to let our eyes adjust. Except for our exhausted panting, it was completely silent.
Then, I opened my mouth and let the million or so questions that had been buzzing in my head come spilling out.
“Where are we? What’s going on? What is this place? Did we lose Filch? Where’s Freddy? Where are the Venus Crystals?”
Even though I couldn’t see him, I could just tell that Potter was rolling his eyes. “Get walking, will you?”
I planted my feet firmly into the ground, which was not the usual stony texture of Hogwarts’ hallways, but rather consisting of dirt and small pebbles that made it quite easy to dig my heels in — both figuratively and literally, of course.
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said stubbornly. “Not until you tell me what’s going on.”
Potter sighed, irritated by my obstinacy. “Fine. We’ll walk and talk. Ladies first.” In true gentlemanly fashion (not), Potter gestured for me to lead with a sarcastic sweep of the hand. I could barely make out the movement with my slowly-adjusting eyes.
Carefully, I began to walk, and it soon became apparent that this hole was not, in fact, just a hole, but rather a tunnel, a corridor of darkness that stretched on into seeming infinity. The air was musty and thick, the walls huddling close together to exacerbate the suffocating feel.
I trailed my fingertips across the stone wall as I walked, using this as guidance through all the twists and turns. It was quiet save for Potter’s steady breathing and a faraway scuttling, scurrying noise that I was definitely not going to try and identify.
Finally, Potter began to speak. “This is a secret passageway that leads to the Gryffie Common Room. Fred and I found it last year.”
I nodded, more to myself than anything. “Speaking of Fred, where is the dolt?”
“We lost him when Filch was chasing us, but I’m pretty sure he went to find Dom.”
I nodded again. During this whole... debacle, Dom had been playing lookout by Slughorn’s office. It made sense that Freddy would want to go and check on her. Hopefully, both of them had managed to escape Filch’s clutches amidst all the chaos.
Potter spoke again, his deep voice ringing through the tunnel. “As for the Venus Crystals — well, I think Fred took them with him. I think.”
I groaned. “They’re in his hands now? Great.”
“Have some faith, Bennett,” Potter said wryly. “Fred’s smart. He’ll keep them safe.”
“You can't seriously think that. The Crystals are probably lost already. Why did we let Fred take them?" My voice was high with panic, but I couldn’t care less. All our hard work — breaking into the Potion’s cupboard, running from Filch, almost dying several times in the process — it would be in vain if Freddy lost the Crystals.
Potter’s cool reply sliced through my hysteria, his voice cutting and unimpressed. “I'd trust Fred with my life."
“Um, are we talking about the same bloke here? This is Fred Weasley — the guy who once tried to boogey board down the Entrance hall steps in Third Year. He’s reckless, rash, impulsive — ”
“ — stubborn, determined, brave. And the same bloke who, last year, managed to smuggle sixty or so dung-bombs into school right under Filch’s nose,” Potter retorted easily. “I think we’ll be okay.”
“Whatever.” I gritted my teeth together and quickened my pace, trying to ignore the palpable smugness that was seeping from the pores of Potter’s unfairly flawless skin.
How could he be acting so calm right now? We were sodding fugitives! Running from the law! Alright, maybe that was a slight exaggeration — it wasn't so much 'the law' we were running from as 'Filch armed with a broom-handle.' But still! We were running nonetheless!
“You know, it wouldn’t hurt for you to trust people once in a while, Bennett,” Potter called out, his words like annoying pokes at my back. I clenched my fists and tried to brush off the jab, which was obviously just a poorly-veiled attempt to bait me into another argument.
Unfortunately, it was working.
“I trust people!” I exclaimed, inwardly wincing at the defensive tone my voice took on.
The only reply was a deep, mocking chuckle.
I stopped walking, facial features setting to ‘Scowl Mode’ as Potter’s stupid guffawing echoed off the tunnel walls. This was the precise reason why I hated Potter. He was just so quick to make rash judgment calls. He didn't even know me, and yet he acted so — ergh — patronizing and — ugh — superior and — augh!
“What are you laughing at, exactly?” I snapped irritably as I wheeled around, foot beginning an incessant tap-tap-tap against the rocky ground. This was just so typical of Potter. He always did this, always said or did something cryptic — yet vaguely mocking — and then never bothered to explain himself.
Potter's laughter abruptly died. “Nothing," he said casually, voice far too innocent-sounding for my liking.
“No, it’s obviously not nothing, otherwise you wouldn’t be laughing your arse off like a bloody hyena! Tell me!”
“Touchy, aren't we?” He was chuckling again — that complete and utter arse.
"I am not touchy!"
"This behavior makes sense, though, what with all your trust issues."
“Wha — ? Just because I don't think Fred is a responsible person doesn't mean I have trust issues!"
"It's okay, Bennett. Don't feel like you have to justify yourself in front of me — this is who you are — "
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m a very trusting person!“
“It's okay. Embrace yourself, Bennett. We'll get through this together."
“I trust people all the time!“
“You can seek help, reach out, find others who are just like you...”
“Bloody — argh!” Vision clouded with a dangerously red haze, I marched towards Potter — or at least, the Potter-shaped blob that I could vaguely make out in the darkness — and crossed my arms, sticking out my hip and staring menacingly at his silhouette in front of me.
Cue Boxing Referee Voice: In one corner we have Potter! Coming in with a weight of 75 kilograms and a height of, er, tall, this five-time champion is certainly a formidable foe! He’s got mystery, he’s got wit — not to mention the fact that he’s a complete and utter arse! Any person daring enough to challenge this bloke is going to need skill, nerves, and a whole lot of luck!
In the other corner, we have... Agatha Bennett! Despite the fact that she weighs in at a measly 50 kilograms, this contender is not to be underestimated! She’s fiery! She’s tenacious! Cross her and you’ll wish you’d never been born. Nay, scratch that — cross her and you’ll wish your parents had never been born! She’s that scary, folks!
In the fight of the century, who will win?
I glared at Potter, practically burning holes into his skull — not an easy feat, mind you, giving its extreme thickness — and pursed my lips unhappily.
“I — do not — " I began, enunciating each word clearly and slowly. "Have trust issues."
"Sure, Bennett." Potter cocked his head to the side, voice a light and easy lilt. “Except that you totally do.”
I gaped at him, jaw open, blue eyes nothing but mere slits. “I do not!”
“Do not!” Somehow, the three foot or so distance that had been between us had, over the course of our bickering, shrunk to only a mere centimeter or two. We were now standing nose to nose (or nose to neck, if you factored in Potter’s annoying height) as I glared menacingly at Potter and tried to reign in my anger.
“I — do — not — !” Teeth gritted, I raised my finger and poked Potter in the chest three times. Each word was accompanied by a vicious jab, courtesy of me, myself, and my raging temper. I hoped the stupid git bruised easily.
“Okay, fine, fine! I was wrong! You don’t have trust issues,” Potter exclaimed, hands held up in a gesture of surrender. “You don’t have anything."
I turned away, satisfied, and began marching down the dark tunnel again. I was mid-stride when I heard Potter say something, his voice low but still loud enough for me to hear every single, unmistakable syllable.
“— except for a severe anger management problem.”
“What was that?”
By the time we finally reached the end of the tunnel, I was at my wits end. After quite a bit of bickering and squabbling and anger (which came, admittedly, mostly from my side), Potter and I had eventually settled into a terse silence. While Potter looked like he was completely at ease with himself, I was a different story. Teeth gritted, breathing sharp, fists clenched — every part of my body was on edge. My nerve endings were sparking with a volatile irritation that, at any moment, could be set off into a flurry of explosive rage. One wrong word from Potter, folks, and we would have a dead body on our hands.
When we finally arrived at the exit, I was just about ready to fall dramatically to my knees and start kissing the ground, thankful to be finally out of that confined, unbearable space with Potter. As the prat pushed aside the exit's tapestry, I half-expected some kind of heavenly display to greet us — clouds parting, bursts of celestial light, a glee club of angels in a Hallelujah chorus, jazz hands included...
Instead, Potter and I were simply met with the rather unexciting sight of yet another Hogwarts' hallway. Whatever. Still good enough for me.
Squinting my eyes in the new light, I scanned our surroundings. We appeared to be right outside the entrance to the Gryffindor Common Room. On a nearby wall, The Fat Lady was snoring peacefully in her portrait, her soft sighs drifting languidly through the air. A nearby clock declared it was almost four o’clock in the morning — so much for beauty sleep.
I clambered out of the hole, frantically pushing away a few errant locks of hair that had fallen into my face. Despite the numerous anti-frizz potions Dom had recently been forcing me to use, my tresses had morphed into an unrecognizable monster sometime during the night. My hair now orbited my head in an angry cloud of crimson frizz.
Potter climbed out after me, hazel eyes squinting in the light. From the looks of things, I wasn’t the only one suffering from a bad hair day. Potter could have passed for an electrocution victim. His hair looked just like mine, the only difference being that, despite appearing as if he had just received a zap from Pikachu, Potter still could have easily fit in on a Calvin Klein billboard, no questions asked.
Damn him and his stupid ability to get away with the whole rugged and disheveled look. I seriously loathed that stupid git.
Which was a good thing, really, because if — by some hideous twist of fate — Potter and I ever ended up married, our kids would have seriously fucked up hair. Just saying.
“Well,” Potter began slowly. He stretched his arms above his head, the movement languid and lazy, as if he had all the time in the world. “This night has been...interesting.”
“It sure has. Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go back to my dorm to record every enthralling second of it in my secret diary. Toodles!” My voice was coated with fake girlish enthusiasm, so sugary and sweet that, if you listened hard enough, you could hear the sound of a million cavities burrowing themselves into the molars of all the sleeping students within a thirty-foot radius.
Potter did not appreciate the sarcasm. “Yeah, sure, Bennett. You go do that — "
He suddenly stopped mid-word, face flickering in surprise.
“What?” I asked uneasily, taking an involuntary step backwards. Potter was staring intently at my forehead, and it was starting to creep me out.
“You’re bleeding, Bennett.” Potter murmured, a tiny line creasing the tan skin between his eyebrows.
Blinking in surprise, I reached up to touch my forehead and found a sticky gash in the skin matted with dirt and hair — a souvenir from my little spill in the tunnel, natch. As soon as I touched it, the pain registered instantly.
I sucked in a sharp breath through my teeth, wincing as the sting seared, red and hot, through my head. I glanced at my fingers, which were covered with a bright, scarlet coloured substance that I belatedly identified as blood.
“Oh,” I said rather intelligently. “Okay.”
Instead of being concerned, however, Potter simply looked annoyed — as if my injury was some giant inconvenience, like I had purposely fallen just to spite him.
“Wait here,” Potter said, a scowl twisting his lips. The crease between his eyebrows was gone, face smoothed into the same, unreadable mask that it always was.
I didn’t say anything, just continued to stare dazedly at my fingers, glazed in blood. I may have nodded.
After a minute or two, Potter came back. Not saying a word, he grabbed me by the shoulder and half-dragged me to the entrance of the Gryffie Common Room, which was now swinging open. I didn’t protest Potter’s manhandling, nor did I fully register the irritated grumbles of the freshly awoken Fat Lady. All I could do was let Potter haul me through the portrait hole, knowing he must have bargained with the irritable portraitress to bring me inside.
Everything was quiet in the Common Room. The only source of light being the cluster of softly fading embers glowing gently inside the fireplace. Of course, I’d been in the Gryffie Common Room many times before, but never in the middle of the night (or, to be more exact, morning). It all seemed much... dimmer. Cozier. As if the room itself was asleep.
“Be quiet,” Potter mouthed. Slowly, cautiously, he led me to a stone staircase that seemed to spiral upwards into darkness. I didn’t ask any questions, just followed in his silent footsteps.
After more climbing than I would have preferred, we finally reached a wooden door with the number ‘5’ crudely carved into its surface. Potter cracked it open, before slowly turning to me and putting a finger to his lips in the universal sign for ‘be quiet or else we're royally screwed.' I was surprised to see that he was smirking. In that moment, with his burnt-gold eyes glimmering and his finger pressed against his mouth, he looked oddly... mischievous. It was an expression that immediately had me on edge. And from it, I could guess that this wasn’t the first time Potter had snuck a girl up to his room.
Potter walked inside, pushing the door all the way open, and I was hit with an overwhelming stench that, I’m pretty sure, took about ten years off my life. It was a lethal combination of sweat and boy, with a hint of ‘dead troll’ thrown in for good measure. It forced its way into my nostrils, snaking down my windpipe and awakening my until-then-dormant gag reflex.
Once I got over the overwhelming smell (and the hacking coughing fit that it had brought on), I took a tentative step inside. Six beds took up most of the space in the room, all in varying states of messiness. They were each occupied by a sleeping inhabitant, all the curtains pulled shut. Which meant Fred had made it safely back and, during the long time it took for Potter and I to get here, had fallen sound asleep. I sighed in relief — if Fred had escaped Filch, that most likely meant Dom had, too.
One bed, however, remained conspicuously empty. Aidan's.
It was pretty dark, but Potter managed to navigate his way through the dorm easily. Unfortunately, I could not say the same for myself. As I followed Potter, I managed to trip over a grand total of four trunks, twelve schoolbooks, two broomsticks, and one unidentified cotton object. I picked up the scrap of fabric only to realize it was a pair of boxers, and quickly dropped it to the ground.
“Bennett, you coming or not?” Potter’s voice sliced through my thoughts (re: horror), and I turned around to see him standing by a poorly painted door on the opposite side of the room. Tearing my eyes away from the ground and the underclothing on it, I wound through the labyrinth of beds and wardrobes to make my way towards Potter.
Potter opened the door to — what I was guessing to be — the bathroom, and I was momentarily blinded as a rectangular chunk of dazzling light hit me square in the face. My eyelids fluttered shut, a squeak of surprise slipping through my lips, but Potter shoved me inside anyways. Eyes still shut, I stumbled helplessly around a bit until, firmly guiding me by my shoulder, Potter led me to the sinks.
“Sit,” Potter ordered and, cracking my eyes open wearily, I hauled myself onto the counter. The bathroom was surprisingly clean, with white walls, squeaky tiles and gold accents. Multicolored toothbrushes were clustered in a cup on the counter. For a moment, I just sat there awkwardly, legs dangling, still blinking child-like in the new light.
Twisting myself around, I was met with the somewhat horrifying sight of my own reflection. I jerked back in surprise and then leaned closer to stare at myself. Merlin, I looked a right mess. My skin was pale, my eyes bleary, my hair a lost cause. The wound on my forehead looked just as bad as it felt, and I was pretty sure that, given some special effects and the right lighting, someone could have made a decent horror film out of me.
I hastily turned back around, lest I started giving myself nightmares, to see Potter rummaging through a cabinet on one of the far walls. I watched him work, the muscles of his shoulders tightening underneath his grey t-shirt, and I was suddenly struck by how boyish Potter was. Rumpled hair, broad shoulders, a lean waist... He was all hard angles and straight lines.
It, er, worked for him, to say the least.
Blushing for some unknown reason, I fidgeted awkwardly from where I was sitting, biting my lip and wrapping my fingers around the cool edge of the counter. The silence was killing me. I just wanted to say something — anything — but I was at a loss for words. Finally, I resorted to simply averting my gaze and counting the tiles on the floor. Quite a fascinating task, as you can imagine. Almost as fun as watching paint dry.
I was on tile number thirty-eight when Potter finally re-appeared by my side, his hands full with an assortment of colorful potions bottles that he proceeded to dump on the counter.
“Hold still,” he ordered curtly, grimacing as he pulled the cork out of one of the bottles. It came loose with a loud ‘pop’ that echoed off the tiled walls.
Slowly, almost hesitantly, Potter poured some of the liquid on to a white cloth. I watched, a look of disgust on my face, as the bubblegum-pink medicine oozed out of the bottle. It — whatever it was — looked about as appetizing as Filch in his underwear.
“Um, what is that?” I asked apprehensively, ducking out of the way as Potter came towards me, cloth in hand.
“Bennett, I said hold still.” Potter snapped back exasperatedly, blatantly ignoring my question. Again, he reached out towards me with the cloth, and, again, I swerved out of the way.
“No! What is it?”
“It’s nothing,” Potter said, spitting the words out through clenched teeth. “Now hold still.”
“Nothing? What do you mean nothing?”
“Just antiseptic for your cut, okay?”
“Will it hurt?”
“I don’t know!”
“You don’t know?”
“Well, how about you hold still for one bloody second and we can find out?“
“Like hell! Will. It. Hurt?”
“Okay, it might sting a bit.”
“A bit? What is that supposed to mea — Ow! Merlin’s beard!”
I pushed Potter away from me, clutching dramatically at the stinging wound on my forehead. Somehow, in a totally unfair display of Quidditch agility, Potter had managed to pin my shoulders to the mirror, rendering me helpless as he swiped some medicine onto my cut.
I squeezed my eyes shut, gritting my teeth together as my forehead throbbed in agony. Damn Potter and his sneaky ninja ways! Merlin! It felt like someone had set my skin on fire and then rubbed sandpaper onto the third degree burn! How was that stuff even legal?
Potter remained unfazed by my suffering. He simply poured some more medicine onto the cloth, his jaw clenched as he slammed the bottle back onto the counter. “Stop being such a wimp, Bennett," he said evenly.
“A wimp? You just flipping tried to kill me!” Okay, so maybe I had a flair for dramatics. Sue me.
“Come on, it’s not that bad.” Potter rolled his eyes, still advancing towards me, cloth in hand. His eyes — normally bright swirls of colour — were now dark, gleaming with something determined. Something dangerous. “Now can you hold still —?“
“Are you kidding me?”
“ — just for one sodding second — “
“— while I apply some more!”
With that sweeping declaration, I leapt off the counter and, heart skittering in legitimate fear, made a break for it. At this point I didn’t care if I had to wake up all of Potter’s dorm mates. Hell, I didn’t care if I had to wake up the whole entire castle! I wasn’t going to go through anymore of this sadistic torture — I was done.
I started to sprint towards the door, but before I could really get anywhere, Potter had smoothly grabbed me by the right arm and halted me in my tracks. I struggled furiously, feet skidding helpless across the tile floor like one of those sodding cartoon characters that walk off a cliff and are left running in mid-air.
"Let go of me!"
"Merlin, Bennett — "
"I do not appreciate being man-handled!" Even as I was saying this, however, Potter was using his stupid Quidditch muscles to swing me firmly away from the exit. I went reeling backwards, freshly released from his grip, and my lower-back bumped the edge of the counter. Potter advanced menacingly, eyes narrowed with concentration, his medicine-holding arm raised and ready to strike again.
As if in slow-motion, I saw his hand come down, raised my own to block it — and soon enough we were engaged in a rather stupid-looking physical grapple, my hands gripping Potter's wrist as he pressed forward, my flimsy bicep muscles the only things standing between me and a smarting forehead.
"You're at risk for infection, Bennett!"
"You're at risk for getting your teeth kicked out!"
"Bennett, you can either keep on struggling, or you can sit down and play nice. Either way, this potion is going on your forehead," Potter growled irritably, and I could tell my his increasing proximity and my decreasing strength that he was right. "What’s it going to be?”
For a moment, I pondered the possibility of giving in. It would only take another minute, really, for Potter to apply the potion, and then we could all be on our merry way. But there was another side of me — the not so mature side, the one that liked to jump on beds and eat cookies before supper — that hated the thought of giving in. It was the same side of me that made me bawl like a baby everytime the nurse brought out a needle at the Healer’s office.
Suddenly, the answer was very clear: no way in hell was I going to succumb to Potter and his evil potion of death, which I was pretty sure had been made out of the crushed remnants of kitten souls. Nope. I was not going to go down without a fight.
Suddenly slackening my grip, I ducked out from under Potter's arms and made another dash for the exit. I was sorely foiled however, as Potter — realizing what I was about to do — lunged forward and grabbed me by the waist, hauling me off of the floor like a sodding sack of potatoes.
“Ack! Potter! What are you doing — ?“
“No! Let go of me!”
“Bloody hell — your hair's in my face. I can’t breathe!“
And then I was kicking and screaming, and Potter was struggling to dodge my flailing limbs, and the room was spinning around me in a dizzying swirl of tile and sinks and light, and I was just about ready to surrender and give up, when, all of a sudden, the door opened.
Voice dying in my throat, I craned my head around to see Fred Weasley stumble through the door, his face glazed over with a dim, dazed expression.
Dangling in mid-air, I stared at Fred with comically wide eye. In my peripheral vision, I could see that Potter, too, was completely motionless, his jaw slack. After all, we were in a slightly, er, compromising position, what with Potter’s arms wrapped around me from behind, me dangling in the air, mouth open mid-scream, one of my feet planted on the tiled wall... We were the perfect example of the medical condition known as stark raving mad.
And yet, Freddy didn’t utter a single word as he walked right past us, turned on one of the sinks, and started brushing his teeth.
We gaped at him incredulously, not knowing what to say. We were still frozen in our ridiculous position as Freddy continued on his merry way, mouth foaming with toothpaste. Like brushing his teeth in the middle of the night was a completely normal thing to do, like he didn't notice Potter and I standing (if you could use that word) right next to him.
And then I realized. Freddy actually didn't notice us. Because he wasn't awake right now. He was sleep-walking. Or, rather, sleep-brushing-his-teeth. Maybe this was a habit of his. Maybe he did this every night. Dental hygiene could be a big concern for Fred's subconscious. Who knew? It was Freddy, for Merlin’s sake. No one knew.
We watched as Freddy spat, rinsed, gargled and then, without another backwards glanced, shuffled out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Well, that was —
“Weird.” Potter remarked conversationally, his grip around my waist slackening. I fell to the ground, letting out a squawk of surprise that I'm sure was insanely attractive. “I never knew Freddy did that.”
I stumbled around a bit, disoriented, and then turned to face Potter. For a moment, I considered bolting for the door again. But Fred's interruption had seemed to put a damper on my will-power — I know longer had any fight left into me and, judging from the determined glint in Potter’s molten eyes, even if I did decide to run, I most likely wouldn’t get very far.
Still concentrated on the complete and utter weirdness of the situation, I didn’t even realize that Potter was guiding me to the counter until I had already sat down. I looked up, startled, and my gaze locked with his — blue on hazel, sapphire mingling with gold. He was staring at me intently, something that I found very unnerving. “Now that that's over with, Bennett," he said patiently, as if talking to a small child. "Will you please hold still?”
I could only nod, letting my eyes flutter shut.
Quietly, Potter pressed the cloth to my forehead, holding the back of my head lightly with his other hand. It was odd — his touch was slow, almost gentle, fingers feather light and soft.
It took a second for me to feel the potion, but when I did, I felt it. Oh man, did I feel it. Sucking in a breath, I bit down on the inside of my cheek, trying to stifle the squeak of pain clawing its way up my throat. We were witches and wizards, for Merlin’s sake! Shouldn’t we have made a good, painless antiseptic by now? One that didn’t make me want to set myself on fire, perhaps?
“Sorry,” Potter muttered.
I tensed, so surprised at Potter's reaction that I forgot about the pain for a split-second. Had that really just happened? Had Potter... apologized? To me? Agatha Bennett?
I opened my eyes, ready to make some snippy, snide remark — most likely along the lines of ‘You’re apologizing? Where’s the flying pig?’ — but the words died in my throat.
Because Potter was staring at me with the most curiously intense look in his eyes, his face inches from mine, and I could see every one of his annoyingly handsome features in detail. The dark, tousled hair. The faint scar slicing through his left eyebrow. The straight nose and completely unfair, Michelangelo-sculpted cheekbones. The lips that curved into a wry smirk. And the eyes.
Oh Merlin, the eyes. Describing them was impossible — any way I did it, it would just end up sounding clichéd and trite. But they really were kaleidoscopes of colour and swirling eddies of burnt liquid gold. And they really were smoldering and dusky and any other trashy-romance-novel adjective you could think of. They were all of that and more.
My brain cells seemed to fizzle into a slow, hormone-addled demise, and I felt my mouth go dry. Because okay yeah, I hated Potter, but I was also a girl. A girl who noticed things like high cheekbones and shoulder muscles and really, really nice eyes.
Potter seemed to notice my gaping, because the left corner of his lips quirked upwards. "Everything alright, Bennett?"
“Blurgh,” I responded.
Potter’s smirk widened, somehow becoming more smug than before. “One second.”
Reaching over, he grabbed a plaster from the assortment of first-aid stuff on the counter and then stuck it onto my forehead, using his thumb to smooth the adhesive into my skin. “There. All set.”
“Hnnnnnng,” I replied, just really sparkling with wit today.
Desperate to say something — anything — that didn’t make me sound like a mental patient, I hastily added: “You’re, um, very good at this. I mean, you seem to know what you’re doing, is all.”
My cheeks were blushing up a storm. Luckily, Potter had turned around to gather up all the potions bottles and hopefully hadn’t witnessed my quick transformation into a cherry tomato.
“Eh, I’m no Healer, that’s for sure.” Potter shrugged modestly as he stacked the potions back into the cabinet. “I just have to do it a lot, being Quidditch Captain and all. First-aid is kind of a requirement when you have Freddy on your team.”
I didn’t reply. Instead, I looked down at my lap and fiddled with my hands. There was a part of me — a very loud part — that wanted to know why Potter had been so insistent on fixing my cut, why he had gone so far just so that he could put a teensy bit of Potion on a weensy little scrape. For a moment, I almost considered asking him, but then I realized that I already knew the answer.
Yes, we hated each other with a burning passion. Yes, I was annoying and irritating to him. But I was the annoying and irritating sister of his best friend. The same best friend who was lying in a hospital bed at this very moment. Somewhere, deep inside Potter’s very chivalrous, very Gryffindor mind, he felt the need to...Protect me? No, that wasn't the right word. Look out for me, was more like it.
I didn’t like that idea. To Potter, I was just another pesky responsibility. A burden. I was the little sister that everyone in the family had to look out for.
On the other hand, this mentality did explain a lot about the way the whole group had recently been behaving — the worried and furtive looks between Freddy, Dom, and Potter, the way that they had been so quick to jump to my defense against Cooper...
“Oi, Bennett, you coming? Or are you just going to sit there for the rest of the night?”
I shook my head quickly, startled out of my thoughts, and looked up to see Potter standing by the door, his hands in his pockets.
“Um, yeah,” I mumbled, hopping off the counter and following Potter out of the bathroom.
Once we were inside the dormitory, I felt much better. Safer. It was dark and cool; snores and the sound of deep breathing drifted through the thick air. In here, it was harder for Potter to look at me, to judge and gauge my expression like he always did.
Daylight was slowly beginning to leak through the windows, illuminating an empty bed that sat near the end of the room. And like a moth to a flame, I was immediately drawn to it.
Ignoring Potter’s curious gaze on my back, I walked straight towards what I knew to be Aidan's bed. It was meticulously made, the crimson sheets smoothed and folded. It looked like it had never been slept in — like the person who it belonged to had never even existed.
My entire body was wound taut as I grazed my hand over the pillow. My knees seemed to have forgotten how to function — I was liable to melt into a human puddle on the floor in any minute. I could feel It stirring idly in the pit of my stomach, ready to awake and rear itself to full ugliness. Potter was watching me from the opposite side of the room, his gaze dark.
On the bedside table, there was a small, silver picture frame. The second I laid eyes on it, I recognized the photograph inside.
It was of the two of us. Aidan and I, no one else, grinning at the camera like there was no tomorrow.
It had been our First Year, I remember. We were standing in front of the Hogwarts Express; I think it had been Mum who had taken the picture. We were both so small — Aidan was all cowlicks and knobby knees and toothy smiles. I stood next to him, proud and beaming as I waved to the camera. Everything was so much simpler back then.
Back then, I could smile without feeling like I was about to fall to pieces. Back then, I still had my brother.
I looked up from the picture to see Potter standing by the dormitory entrance, his face completely serious.
“Yeah?” I tried clearing my throat, but my voice was still hoarse and thick with an unspoken emotion. Damn it. Act casual, Aggy. Nothing is wrong. It’s all okay.
“Why — why don’t you ever visit Aidan in the Hospital Wing?”
I reeled back as if the question had physically slapped me across the face. Setting the picture frame back on the table, I looked down, suddenly unable to meet Potter's accusatory question as I adjusted the buttons of my blouse.
“Because it’s none of your fucking business, that’s why.” I replied frostily, each word soaked in disdain. Stupid Potter with his stupid prying questions and his stupid knowing looks. He was completely insane if he thought I was going to suddenly start opening up to him, of all people. What did he expect me to say? ‘Hey, Potter, why don’t we talk about our feelings regarding this whole Aidan deal? And then afterwards, you can braid my hair and we can make friendship bracelets together!’
Not that the idea didn't sound absolutely riveting and all, but I’d rather do a cannonball off the Astronomy Tower than speak to Potter about how I was feeling at the moment.
I expected Potter to brush my comment off like he always did, but, to my surprise, a spark of legitimate anger flashed through his eyes. “See, that’s where you’re wrong, Bennett. Because it is my business.”
“Oh yeah, how so?”
“How so? Do you hear yourself? You weren’t the only one who lost him, you know. Dom, Freddy, your parents... Me.” His voice was quiet and infuriatingly calm, which somehow made the words he was saying sound that much worse. “How about you get off that high horse of yours and look around yourself for change?”
“I don’t need to stand here and take this from you!” With each word, my anger was growing stronger and stronger, and my voice was getting louder and louder. There was definitely a correlation between my temper and my volume — when one seemed to grow, so did the other. In fact, I was surprised that none of the Gryffie blokes hadn’t woken up to the lovely sounds of our fighting, yet. Honestly. What a wonderful way to start off the morning. The birds chirping, the sun shining, and — oh, yep, that’s Potter and Bennett arguing again.
“Then don’t!” Potter snapped, anger suddenly breaking through his maddening calmness. He actually looked pissed — his eyes were flashing a million different shades, his jaw clenched tight. He gestured outwards with his hands, taking a step in my direction. “No one’s asking you to! So why don’t you just leave? Run away! Because that’s what you do, isn’t it, Bennett? It’s the Slytherin M.O.! Run away and hide until the problem disappears on its own!”
“Oh, and what are you doing, Mr. Gryffindor? Are you going to save the day with your heroics and your pranks and your cavorting around the castle at midnight?!"
“It’s better than sitting around and doing nothing!”
“Newsflash: hospital visits and silly pranks aren’t going to bring him back!”
“And neither will your passive-aggressive behavior!”
"Oh, so we're diagnosing my behavior now? Funny, I don’t remember signing up for psychotherapy!”
“That’s weird, because you sure as bloody hell need it!”
I had no response to that. At that moment, all I could think about was Dr. Marina Marvona and her purple hair and her wheelie chair and that damn look in her eyes — sympathy and pity mixed with a little bit of sorrow — as she tried to talk to me. I bloody hated it how people thought they knew — knew what it was like, how I felt...
In any corny, teenage movie, this would be the part where I screamed, “NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME, I WISH I WERE NEVER BORN!” and then marched up the stairs to my bedroom.
Instead, however, I could only stare at Potter, my chest heaving up and down with fury. I felt like there was an honest-to-Merlin volcano inside my chest, spewing out lava and anger and any other venomous feeling. It was churning in my stomach, rising up my throat...
Potter, on the other hand, seemed to have checked himself.
He drew backward, the livid, frustrated expression on his face suddenly wiped clean as he averted his gaze, face blank.
"You should leave,” he muttered quietly. "Before we wake everyone up."
"Fine," I snapped, fed up with it all.
I marched past him, making sure to push past with as much rough force as possible, and slammed the door on my way out. I probably woke up the whole entire Gryffindor tower while doing so, but the anger flooding through my bloodstream made it physically impossible for me to care.
I stormed down the boys’ staircase, the clattering sound of my footsteps echoing through the air. How dare he! Confronting me like that, with his accusations and his finger-pointing... What did he know? Nothing! He knew nothing!
And yet, I could still hear his voice in the back of my head, mocking, haunting:
You weren’t the only one who lost him, you know.
Why did that stupid git always make things so complicated?
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