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Clash by shenanigan
Chapter 22 : Falling
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 52


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Like with many things, it all started in Defense Against the Dark Arts.

The class had been a rousing hour of sitting in boredom, listening to Professor Nott gripe about our 'awe-inspiring stupidity' and the 'nature-defying speed' at which we managed to 'swiftly and effectively' destroy all his faith in humanity. While Nott's rants were normally a drag to listen to, I was too happy to let it affect me. Because Freddy had finally relieved me of my obligations to his prank and his harebrained scheme.

I had been so happy to be done. Happy! Imagine that! Agatha Bennett, Queen of Teenage Angst, happy for once.

Ridiculous, I know.

And I must have been delirious that morning, or someone must have slipped something into my pumpkin juice during breakfast, because I had actually, foolishly carried out the next few hours believing Freddy would uphold his promise.

Silly me.

I had believed that things were going to work out. That no longer would I have to illegally trek through the castle anymore. That I was done fleeing from Filch and his broomhandle, breaking into school property and, most of all, getting into compromising positions with James Sirius Potter inside broom cupboards. I was a free woman.

Or so I had thought.

But then, while in the midst of leaving class after the hour was over, Freddy pulled me aside in the hall so we could "chat."

“Agatha,” he said. “This is a serious matter.”

That was when I first knew something was wrong. Freddy Weasley was never serious about anything.

“What’s up?” I shifted my weight from foot to foot, hooking my thumbs through the straps of my backpack. Around me, students were filtering out of Nott’s classroom, looking tired and weary from the hour of verbal abuse we’d all just endured. Everyone looked near tears, either from boredom or distress, I couldn't tell. I was impatient to get to Transfiguration before I showed up late and Professor McGonagall turned me into a can of Fancy Feast.

“It’s about the prank,” Fred said anxiously, lips quivering into a weak smile, and I snapped my attention back towards him. “Turns out, I still kind of need your help.”

The words hit me. Like really, hit me — that was the only way I could accurately describe the feeling. It was as if someone had taken a magic marker, written Freddy's words on their fist, and then punched me straight in the face.

I stared at him in shock, unblinking, all the breath gone from my chest. “Please tell me you're kidding.”

"Sorry, Aggs, but that's where I'll have to disappoint you," Freddy admitted, still smiling that half, uneasy smile.

"Is that a feeling you're familiar with? Disappointing others?" I said in a hollow tone, but I was too surprised to put the full force behind my snark.

Freddy winced. "I'm sorry."

“You want help.” I stated flatly, shaking my head from side to side.

Sheepishly, Fred nodded.

Help. He wanted help. With his stupid, juvenile, immature prank. As if I hadn’t already done enough! Who had been the one to break into the Potions cupboard and steal from school property? Who had been the one to blunder around the castle in the middle of the night, running from Filch like a sodding ex-convict? Honestly! I was a Prefect, for Merlin's sake. I was supposed to be preventing this kind of behavior, not... participating in it! How could he even think about doing this to me, when he had promised

“Aggy, I’m sorry. But it’s really important and you’re the only one who—”

“I seriously cannot believe this,” I muttered, more to myself than anything. And then I was jostling past Freddy, ignoring his cries for me to stop, just trying to get as far away as possible before I did something rash like hex all the kid's face off.

Anger. That was all I could feel, thrumming through my entire body. Anger at Fred, anger at Cooper, anger at this whole, stupid situation. Of course this would happen. I had known it would, deep down, known that at some point promises made to me would be broken just like they had been before. But I hadn’t expected it from Freddy.

Freddy, who was usually so good on his word. Freddy, who had actually seemed to understand my feelings about the whole prank business. Freddy, who I had even started to consider as a good friend...

I wiped that thought furiously from my mind as I rounded the corner, my head throbbing violently. This was just too, too much — I felt like I was going to explode.

I kept walking, trying not to think about Freddy and how he was probably still standing where I left him, no doubt trying to fit all the pieces together in this latest round of the Why Aggy’s Pissed Off game (also known as What Did I Do This Time?). He would most likely be attempting to figure out how angry and violent I was right now, and whether it would be safe to follow me (very, and it wouldn’t).

The thought made me quicken my pace angrily, angril the next corner at practically the speed of light. All of a sudden, there was a fleeting glimpse of unruly dark hair, a red gold tie — and then, I was colliding with someone.

Weightlessness, the world veering out of control, tilting topsy-turvy. Me, falling.

As the stone floor raced towards me in the epic battle of Aggy vs. Gravity (hint: gravity was winning), I braced myself for the inevitable impact, eyes squeezing shut in anticipation for the ensuing pain and dent to my dignity. But then, out of nowhere, my fall was suddenly stopped. I felt something — this unseen force — jerk me back and upwards and hold me there, frozen to the spot, dangling in mid-air. It was as if someone had pressed the pause button on reality — my body was now halted in space, inches from the floor.

I looked up.

Potter. He was staring at me, eyebrows raised, a cool expression on his annoyingly handsome face. His fingers were curled around the strap of my backpack, which he had lifted and, along with it, the person attached to the straps — me . His steady hand held me safely above the ground, and my eyes flickered from the floor to Potter to his hands as I quickly tried to make sense of what just happened.

I had been rounding the corner. Potter had been on the other side, doing that stupid, annoying thing he does where he goes off and... exists, and stuff. The inevitable happened, and we must have collided. And since I was Agatha Bennett, Bonafide Swag Master and all-around embodiment of grace, I had tripped over him and fell. And because he was James Potter, Pratface Douchepants and possessor of amazing Quidditch reflexes, he had simply and easily grabbed me by my backpack straps, stopping me in midair and effectively preventing my fall.

Ugh. The prick.

Yeah, yeah, I knew it was great he had helped me and everything. I mean, he probably did just save me a sprained ankle and an ice pack or two, but honestly? I’d rather have fallen. Because now Potter got to gloat and act all athletic and cool, while I had to — shudder — thank him.

Gross.

There was a long, frozen moment of nothing. My surprised gaze locked on to Potter’s cool one, and slowly, I straightened so that instead of just my toes grazing the floor, I was standing firmly on my own two legs. Potter let go. We stared at each other for a minute, and then:

“You are so irritating!” I blurted out, perhaps a little louder than necessary.

Potter quirked a dark eyebrow, hand falling to his side. “Excuse me?” For once, he looked caught off guard. Obviously, he had been expecting a gushing wave of gratitude (or at least a grudging ‘thanks’), and my unexpected response had surprised him.

“You heard me!” I threw my arms into the air, exasperated. I knew it was rude, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. First Freddy, now Potter — today was just not my day. “You’re irritating!”

“And what exactly about me,” Potter began slowly, looking unimpressed. "Is so irritating to you?"

“Ugh, I don’t know! You, you...” I stammered, flapping my hands around in a charmingly epileptic manner as I tried to form the right words. “Just you, alright?!”

“Oh, okay, then I'm sorry for — what would you call it? Existing?” Potter’s tone was anything but sincere. It was dripping with sarcasm, each word loaded with mockery.

“Sounds about right,” I spat back just as venomously.

“In that case, I apologize for my existence,” Potter said gallantly. “I’ll try and tone it down next time.”

“Please do,” I snapped back.

There was a heavy, angry silence.

“Jesus, Bennett,” Potter finally said, letting curiosity get the better of him. “What’s got your knickers in a twist today? You’re even pissier than usual.”

I could have insulted him again, but this time, I decided to play it cool. I didn't want Potter to have the satisfaction of getting to watch as I hysterically launched myself from one end of the human spectrum of emotion to the other. I was going to be composed.

“Thinking about my knickers, Potter?” I asked, raising a sole eyebrow.

Potter cringed, face twisted into a expression of over-exaggerated disgust. “Please, spare me — I just ate.”

“Oh, and how was your daily helping of children's souls and puppy dreams? Tasty, I hope.”

"It'd be even better if I didn’t feel like vomiting everything back up after seeing your face.”

"Mature."

"I know."

“Fuck off.”

“Gladly.”

Potter was just turning around, ready to leave, when suddenly, someone else dashed around the corner, slamming into my body and successfully sending me into another tailspin. I felt myself trip over some unknown object (Potter’s big ego, perhaps?), my body hurtling through the air at breakneck speed.

I was just about to greet my old chum, the Ground, with a friendly face-plant when, out of nowhere, I was jerked upwards and back onto my feet. Again.

Courtesy of Potter and his ‘look-at-me-I’m-so-fast-and-cool’ Quidditch Reflexes.

...For the second time today.

This is just getting ridiculous.

Potter released his hold on my backpack, not even looking at me as I stumbled to a stand, disgruntled, and turned around to face the person who had just zoomed around the corner and caused this whole ruckus.

Freddy.

Of course.

“Aggy.” Fred was panting. It was obvious that, after a lot of self-debating, he had decided to go after me and had sprinted all the way here. I watched as he bent over to put his hands on his knees, now completely out of breath.

“Aggy,” he gasped, “I just want to say that I’m sorry, and that I know you’re mad and everything, but can you please hear me out?”

I stared at him, silent.

“Okay, cool,” Fred prattled on, taking my sulking as wordless agreement. “Look, I’m just going to be honest here: I need you for this prank. And I’m really sorry to ask you for your help.”

I couldn’t help but let some of my previous anger leak through. “You promised—”

“I know, and I was wrong! I miscalculated! Believe me, I feel awful about it. I hate asking you for favors, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t absolutely have to. But that’s the thing—I do absolutely have to. If you don’t do this, Aggy, then the whole prank’s going to fall through. And then all of our work will have been a waste.”

He paused, taking in another deep breath. I didn’t say anything, just mulled over what he had said and allowed myself to concede that maybe Fred had a point. No matter how childish or petty I thought this whole ordeal was, Cooper did deserve at least some form of karmic payback. And if it would help Cooper get what he deserved, then maybe doing one more thing for the prank wouldn’t be that terrible...

“Please, Aggy,” Fred implored. Next to me, Potter said nothing, his expression completely blank.

“Well...” I began slowly, but I already knew I would relent. Who was I kidding? I was a sucker, and I always caved for these boys.

“It’ll only be one little thing,” Fred added hastily, holding up an arbitrary finger. “One little thing, and you’re done. For good, this time.”

For a silent moment, I simply let Freddy hang there in agonizing suspense.

“Oh, alright," I finally said.

Freddy breathed a huge sigh of relief, letting out a ‘whoop!’ of jubilation and pumping his fist into the air. Potter said nothing, as apathetic as ever, but I could see his shoulders tense ever so slightly underneath his white oxford.

“But on one condition,” I said, interrupting Fred in the middle of his celebratory victory dance.

“Anything,” Fred said boldly as he thrust his pelvis from side to side and wiggled his hips. “You name it, and it’s done.”

“I work with a partner,” I declared. If I was going down, then by god, someone was coming with me. I didn’t care who—Dom, Freddy, whoever—just so long as it wasn’t—

“I’ll go,” Potter interjected in his usual, obnoxious manner.

What? Immediately I whipped around, unable to do anything but stare in incredulity. Why would Potter willingly volunteer to work with me? He loathed me just as much as I loathed him, and it was an unspoken policy between the two of us that we always avoided each other unless we absolutely couldn't help it.

Had the kid gone mental? Did he not realize how poorly this would end if we teamed up?

But Potter wouldn’t meet my gaze. Instead, he was staring steadily at Freddy, his face completely inscrutable and leaving me to wonder what in Merlin’s name was going on on behind that thick skull of his.

I turned as well to look at Fred, straightening as I gazed at him in confidence. There was no way in hell Freddy would agree to Potter being my partner. As mastermind of the prank, he had final say, and he knew full well that Potter and I would not work effectively together. We would fight, argue, probably jeopardize everything. I mean, even though maths wasn’t exactly Fred's forte, he had to at least known that the basics, right? One plus one was two. Two plus two was four. Potter plus Aggy? Disaster.

Fred was going to say no. He had to. After all, what kind of brain-dead, idiotic moron would even think about agreeing to such a — ?

“Sure, sounds good to me!”

Oh bollocks.

—*—

And that was how—two tantrums and a whole lot of pointless bickering later—I found myself standing next to Potter outside the Gryffie common room, wearing all-black, carrying a large, shady-looking knapsack and ready to embark on yet another crazed, all-nighter mission through Hogwarts.

Except this time, it wasn’t just stealing from school property. No. This time, it was much, much worse.

We were catnapping.

I’m not talking about the brief, hour-long snoozes you take in the middle of the day. No, not that kind of catnap. What I'm talking about is something different. I am talking about actual, genuine feline abduction.

Tonight, Potter and I were going to kidnap a cat.

...Filch’s cat, specifically.

Yeah.

We were so going down.

Scowling not at anybody in particular, but rather at the general situation before me, I folded my arms across my chest and hugged myself against the brisk November air. Merlin’s knobby kneecaps, it was drafty in this castle. You'd think after a couple centuries of educating children, Hogwarts could figure out a bloody central heating system.

“You should relax, Bennett,” Potter said calmly from where he was standing next to me, eyes squinted as he surveyed the empty hallway.

Jerking out of my reverie, I swiveled around to point my scowl at Potter, arms still crossed defensively.

“I’m relaxed,” I said, shrugging over-casually, though I wasn’t so convincing with my voice an octave higher and my foot rapping incessantly against the ground.

For once, Potter didn’t reply. He simply shot me a doubtful look that said everything it needed to.

“What?” I asked, waving my arms in the air frantically to illustrate my point. “I am! I’m the picture of relaxed! The epitome of relaxed! The very definition of it! I’m relaxed!

Potter ducked swiftly as, in the midst of my indignant flapping, one of my spastic hands reached up to almost hit him in the face. "That's great, and I'm happy for you, Bennett," he said wryly as he straightened. "But do you think you could maybe 'be relaxed' over there by that corner? Out of arm's-length from me?"

I responded with a petty, albeit effective, eyeroll. “Oh, you think you’re so witty, don’t you?”

Actually—“

“Why are you doing this, Potter?” I blurted out suddenly, unable to contain myself any longer. “I can manage this job perfectly fine by myself!”

You were the one who asked for a partner.”

“Yeah, but I didn't mean you! Why on earth would you volunteer?"

“Well, someone has to be there for when you inevitably muck everything up!” And there it was. Out and in the open, the reason that gave sense to all of Potter's actions up to this point. The prat didn't trust me not to mess this up. He thought I was incompetent.

“Don’t you dare cast me into some weak, helpless Damsel in Distress stereotype,” I fumed, voice dangerously low, as I took an incensed step forward. “I’ll have you know that it’s derogatory and sexist and — ”

“ — insulting and archaic and blah blah blah,” Potter finished for me, practically taking the words out of my mouth. He had heard my anti-sexism rant many times before and could now probably recite it by heart. “Merlin, Bennett. I’m only stating a fact. No need to get in a strop.”

“I am not in a strop.” I was totally in a strop, but I’d be damned if I was going to let him know it.

“You’re talking fast and your left eye is twitching in the way it usually does when you're angry,” Potter stated flippantly, as if he knew me or something. “You are definitely in a strop.”

I glared at him.

He didn’t return my glare. Instead, he turned away and blew out an exasperated sigh, obviously annoyed at my 'unjustified anger.' I watched through slitted eyes as he pushed a had through his dark, tousled hair. “Are we really going to argue right now?”

“Oh, like it’s my fault!” I spat back, affronted.

“Well, maybe if you didn’t insist on contradicting everything I say—”

“Maybe if you didn't insist on acting like such a big-headed twat—”

“Look!” Potter wheeled around suddenly, his golden eyes blazing like two identical embers. He looked actually...angry. Not annoyed, or frustrated, or vexed. But angry. It was so unlike his cool, freakishly calm self that I inadvertently took a step back. “I’m not saying you’re weak or helpless or a damsel in distress, or anything like that!”

Despite his uncharacteristic and, quite frankly, surprising anger, I stood my ground. “Oh," I said coolly, folding my arms across my chest. "Then what are you saying?”

“You really want to know?”

“By all means, enlighten me!”

“I’m stating the simple fact that you’re clumsy and uncoordinated—”

“Excuse me?”

“—and that you have a very convenient knack of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that someone has to be there to drag you out of all the ridiculous situations you get yourself into!”

I had to take a moment to find my reply, struggling for the adequate words to express my ire. “I—You—Stop flattering yourself, Potter! I don’t need you to hover around me like some sodding bodyguard!”

“Well we’re stuck in this together, Bennett, so you don’t really have a choice. Now just shut up and bloody deal with it, will you?”

I snapped my mouth shut, furious that, like always, Potter was right, and that, like always, I couldn’t do a thing about it. Gritting my teeth together, I stormed forward through the corridor, legs moving at marathon power-walking pace, trying to put as much distance as possible between me and The Git.

Stupid Potter! Stupid, magnanimous, righteous... Gryffindor! I knew why he was doing this, of course. He felt obligated. By the sacred bonds of Bromance, he had to protect me, look out for me, just because I was the sister of his best mate.

Well, to hell with Bromance. And to hell with Potter!

We walked the rest of the way in a stiff silence, both of us stewing in quiet fury. I didn't trust myself to say another word for fear of starting an explose row, so I just settled for imagining all the different ways I could bring Potter to a slow and painful death. That made me feel a teensy bit better.

Finally, right before we neared Filch’s office, Potter stopped.

“You sure you know what to do?” Merlin, he was so patronizing.

“Yes, I know what to do,” I said through gritted teeth. My hand was clenched around the catnap-knapsack so hard, I was worried my fingers would break off.

Despite the fact that I was going on this insane mission, I still did not fully know what the Cooper Prank consisted of, exactly, or what kidnapping Filch's cat would serve for. I had asked Freddy to explain everything, but he had steadfastly refused, saying that the less I knew, the better for me. I believed him.

So all I understood, at the current moment, was what I was supposed to do, as Freddy had given me clear instructions for the task ahead of me. It wasn't a complicated process, actually. Disregarding the risk of getting caught by Filch and having my fingernails pried off one by one in his torture chamber, it was practically a piece of cake.

It was common knowledge throughout Hogwarts that Filch was totally bat-blind when he wasn't wearing his reading glasses. So, all that remained to be done was find a way to exploit that weakness. Eventually, we (or rather, Freddy’s deranged mind) came up with a solution.

In the knapsack I was carrying, there was a stuffed cat. Not the child's toy kind. No, an actual taxidermy cat — a real, ‘this-was-once-a-living-being’ cat.

...Yeah, I had no idea how Freddy procured it either. When I asked him, he simply responded with a shifty glance and mumbled something about EBay.

What was supposed to happen was this: Potter would set off a series of dungbombs throughout the corridor. He would then run into Filch’s office, pretending that he was some innocent bystander who heard the bombs go off and that he thought he knew which way the perpetrator had gone. Of course, Filch, thirsting for fresh adolescent blood, would demand for Potter to show him where. Potter would then lead Filch through a wild goose chase throughout the castle, which would hopefully give me the time to sneak into Filch’s office, steal his glasses, nab Mrs. Norris Jr., and leave the taxidermy version in it’s place.

Filch would come back to his office completely blind and would probably mistake the fake Mrs. Norris for the real one. He’d go on with his day, oblivious to what had transpired, until we would finally return the real cat a couple days later.

For a super-evil-revenge-plan, it was actually pretty simple.

"Bennett? Earth to Bennett?" Potter snapped his fingers in front of my face, and I jolted back to reality, blinking furiously in the dim light of the hallway. "Are you sure you're ready?"

I turned around, eyeballs flicking to the ceiling, and sighed. “Yeah.”

Potter nodded, his face hardened with determination. Raising a finger, he pointed to a nearby tapestry that looked about as old as McGonagall herself. “Alright. You hide behind that tapestry and wait until I get Filch out of the office. Then you can go inside and grab Mrs. Norris.”

“Aye aye, capitano.” I gave a sarcastic little salute, and Potter rolled his eyes as I turned on my heel towards the tapestry. While I ducked behind the musty fabric, I could hear Potter walk in the opposite direction. There was a rustling as he took a dungbomb out of his pocket, and then a satisfying little poof sound as he lobbed it inside an empty classroom.

The stench was immediate. Eager to put more distance between myself and the smell, (and Potter), I scurried further behind the tapestry. It was a pale blue colour, sprinkled with moth holes and worn with age. Retching from the dungbombs, I ducked inside.

The tapestry smelled worse.

Muttering angrily to myself (which was kind of hard to do when trying not to breathe too much), I crouched down in the dark and waited. Remind me why I was doing this again?

I remained silently behind the tapestry, knowing full well that with each second I was losing more and more self-respect, and that it wouldn't be long before my olfactory receptors started committing mass suicide. One minute later, and I was gnashing my teeth in fury. Two minutes later, and I was mentally cursing Potter, this prank, and this godforsaken tapestry. Five minutes later, and I was just about ready to pass out due to lack of oxygen.

But then I heard footsteps.

“I think he went this way, sir.” Potter. His voice was deep and clear, ringing throughout the narrow corridor, and I stiffened. My heartbeat faltered, stopped, and suddenly jerked into double-time.

They were right outside, possibly only a meter away. All Filch had to do was notice the odd, Aggy-shaped lump behind the tapestry, and we’d be caught.

“Are you sure?” Filch’s croaking rasp was unmistakable.

“Positive.”

“Well, hurry up, kid,” sneered our wonderfully charming caretaker. “Mrs. Norris and I were in the middle of our Song and Story Time before you barged in, and I’d like to get back.”

Deeply disturbed by this information (what the hell was Song and Story Time?), I shifted my weight and listened carefully as Potter and Filch’s footsteps faded away. When I was absolutely sure they were gone, I waited ten more seconds and then ducked out of the smothering tapestry.

Oh, oxygen! Clean, pure, dungbomb-scented oxygen! How I’d missed you!

Knapsack in hand, I scampered off, rounded the corner, and plastered myself quickly against the nearest stone wall. At an agonizingly slow rate, I inched towards the open door of Filch’s office, careful to not make even the slightest sound.

Believe it or not, but this was indeed my first cat abduction job, so I was feeling a little nervous. My palms were sweaty (attractive), my mouth as dry as cotton (charming), and I kept on having to fight off sudden urges to pee (convenient). By the time I reached the doorframe, I was a shaking, sweaty wreck.

Gulping in some deep breaths to collect myself, I craned my neck around and poked my head into the empty room. All clear.

I ducked inside, immediately dropping into one of those ninja-rolls that I'd always wanted to do but never got the chance (they're fun, okay?), and then quickly stood up. Filch’s office was cramped, full of strange but menacing contraptions that held mysterious purposes I was unaware of. I made sure to steer clear of those.

There was a desk at the far end of the room, and then a small, wooden door that, from what I could see through the adjacent small windows, led out to a balcony. I snorted in amusement. Really? Filch got a balcony? Was there a minifridge in the desk? A heart-shaped Jacuzzi in the bathroom?

The amusing thought made me relax a little. Now that I was inside the office and sure Potter wouldn't be coming until later, I wasn’t feeling so nervous (re: cripplingly terrified) anymore. Idly, I browsed around the room, looking through dusty bookshelves and cabinets, making sure to nab Filch's reading glasses off his desk, and then plant the taxidermy cat in one of the cobwebby corners.

Mission successful. Now, all I had to do was get the real cat.

I found it quick enough. It was sitting on the ledge of an open window that looked out towards the balcony and a dark night sky sprinkled with stars. The beautiful scenery behind her was a direct contrast to the skinny, haggard-looking bag of fleas and bones that was Mrs. Norris, Jr.

Her yellow eyes were narrow and unblinking. Even though I was several times bigger than her, I still couldn’t help the shiver of fear that glided down my spine.

“Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I cooed softly, holding out the empty knapsack. “It's Song and Story Time!”

No response. Mrs. Norris just looked at me like I was a Class A Idiot (which, to be honest, was exactly how I felt at the moment), and then went back to cleaning her paw.

Bollocks. Guess I had to use physical force here. With slow, careful steps, I advanced towards Mrs. Norris, clutching the knapsack like a lifeline and making cooing, kissy noises that had no effect.

I was almost there, only a couple centimeters away, when — looking almost cheeky — Mrs. Norris suddenly ducked out the window and onto the balcony outside.

Bloody—damnit! Cursing to every deity/god/spiritual being I could name, I quickly scrambled towards the balcony door and wrenched it open, cringing at the sudden gust of icy November air. I gritted my teeth, bracing myself, and stepped outside onto the paved grey stone. There was a sudden gust of wind, and then a loud slam as the door closed behind me.

Well. Hope it didn't lock.

Scowling in the chilly air, I looked up to see Mrs. Norris sauntering on a ledge that jutted out of the castle wall about two meters above my head. She—it—whatever was staring down at me with a smug expression on her furry face as she paced from left to right, tail swaying with a nonchalant, ‘bitches-can’t-touch-this’ air. Stupid cat.

Gritting my teeth, I craned my neck and stared at the ledge, knowing full well what I had to do. That cat was so going down.

I refused to give myself the time for doubt. Clenching the knapsack in my teeth, I used my newly freed hands to climb up the side of the wall, gripping the uneven stones that protruded from the surface for balance.

And that was how I, Agatha Bennett, ended up scaling the fucking side of the fucking castle of fucking Hogwarts, all in search of a fucking cat.

This made it official — I had lost my mind. I was like one of those deranged muggles who go off the deep end and start climbing up city buildings. All I needed right now was a discount-bought Spiderman costume and a long history of drug abuse, and I’d be golden.

What was the weirdest thing, though, was that I wasn’t even afraid at this point. I mean, there were a lot of things I was scared of (snakes, owls, Dom with a hangover), but heights wasn't one of them. For some reason, I felt perfectly at ease clinging to the wall of the castle, despite the fact that I was up possibly hundreds of feet in the air. I mean, granted, if I fell, it would just be onto the balcony a couple feet below, but still. I wasn't even the slightest bit nervous.

Eventually, after a lot of scraped knees, almost-slips, and the most creative cursing I’d done in years, I was finally able to clamber on top of the ledge, exhausting just about every muscle in both my arms to do so. The ledge was approximately two feet wide, so I still had to hold onto the wall in order to keep my balance, and like this I slowly shuffled towards the cat. She had curled up on the other end and was appearing to enjoy watching me flounder this entire time.

I held out my bag, calling to Mrs. Norris Jr. in a manner that was, at first, sugary sweet, and then desperate, and then just straight out vicious.

“Here, kitty cat! Over here! Please? Please come over here. I’m begging you!—Oi! Litterbreath! It's cold, I'm tired, this is stupid. Just get in the fucking bag before I turn you into a coat with matching gloves!”

This non-PETA-approved threatening seemed to finally get Mrs. Norris Jr.’s attention. She snapped her furry head up, fixing me with a peeved, scrutinizing stare, and remained firmly seated in her spot. Damnit. I needed to get closer, but the ledge was tapering into a point, getting more and more narrow with every step I took. What if I fell off? I’d have to start all over again—and the cold, hard stone of the balcony below did not look very welcoming.

That was when an idea hit me.

Dangling only a meter away, just within my arm’s reach, was one of the few thousand flags that Hogwarts hung to adorn its outer walls. The banner jutted out on its gleaming brass pole, its dark material swaying slightly in the wind. The flag itself was huge—bigger than me by far—and boldly displayed a giant, gleaming picture of the Hogwarts crest. I hastily shimmied towards it, ignoring Mrs. Norris’s piercing gaze, until I was close enough to grab onto the cloth. Then, with all the skill and expertise of a Girl Scout on crack, I managed to clumsily fumble a corner of the flag through the belt-loop of my pants, and then hastily tie it into something that vaguely resembled a knot.

Feeling much more secure now that I had an anchor, I continued to scoot along the stone. I was near Mrs. Norris now. She was on the very edge, with no where to escape, and I was almost there...

Like a striking King Cobra, I lashed out with my knapsack and—after a brief episode in which I had to frantically fend off a pair of claws going for my jugular—managed to get the cat in the bag. Success!

I straightened, sending a triumphant ‘whoop!’ into the icy air. Had I really just done that? Had I just successfully kidnapped Filch’s cat—without falling off the castle or getting one of my main arteries punctured by Mrs. Norris’s deadly talons? I could hardly believe it! It had almost been too easy.

The very minute that thought crossed my mind, however, the stone ledge underneath my feet gave way ever so slightly.

It happened so fast — too fast for me to register the real succession of events. One second, I was standing on the ledge, about to break out into a victory dance—and then the next, I was hurtling through the air, knapsack in hand, racing towards the stone of the balcony above head-first. All of a sudden I was falling towards the ground and everything was going hideously wrong.

I was bracing myself for impact when, all of a sudden, I jerked to a stop mid-fall in a manner terribly reminiscent of this morning, when Potter had grabbed me by my backpack straps. There was a jerking suspension of gravity, and then I found myself hanging in mid-air, suspended by the flag I had stupidly knotted to my pants.

And that was how I, Agatha Bennett, ended up dangling off the castle of Hogwarts, flipped upside down and held in place by nothing more than a very precariously-tied flag... All the while clutching a stolen cat.

I am unsure as to how this situation could get any worse.

“...That’s so weird, Professor. I could have sworn that whoever did it went that way...” I immediately froze at the sound of the deep, familiar voice, leaking through the window from within the office. Oh no. Oh no. Please don’t tell me that was Potter’s voice I heard. Please don’t tell me he was back right now. Please don’t tell me Potter and Filch were walking inside at this very moment, while I was dangling helplessly outside the window only a few meters away. Please, please, please.

But no. It was all actually happening. I watched through the open window, an expression of abject horror on my face, as Potter and Filch entered the office. For a moment, I was tempted to scream, to alert them both of my presence and give away everything. Somehow, though, I managed to keep my mouth clamped firmly shut as I watched Filch take a seat at his desk, his back (thankfully) turned towards me.

I was so dead.

Wincing, I wiggled around slightly, trying to somehow maneuver the flag so that it could swing me out of the window’s view... But no such luck. In fact, all the momentum just sent me into a complete tailspin, and I started frantically swinging back and forth, spinning through the air like some sort of demented human pendulum. The world began whirling around me in a dizzying blur of stars and stone and light, and inside the knapsack, Mrs. Norris Jr. yowled unhappily.

“Well, thanks for wasting my time, kid,” Filch’s sneering voice floated through the window, each word making my stomach clench tighter and tighter with fear. Oh god. I felt like I was going to be sick, though I wasn't sure if it was from the fear of Filch killing me or the fact that I was hurtling upside-down through the air at 30 miles per hour. “Teenagers these days... Useless...”

Potter stood in front of Filch’s desk, looking haughty and almost bored as Filch continued to grumble about the plague that was Hogwarts' latest generation of filthy miscreants. Potter hadn’t noticed me yet (weird—you’d think it’d be hard to miss the GIANT HUMAN PENDULUM SWINGING OUTSIDE THE WINDOW), so I started to wave my arm back and forth, hoping to catch his attention.

Potter seemed to be zoning out and I watched, unable to do anything, as his dark, gilded eyes drifted idly around the room, taking in his surroundings.

And that was when he saw me.

To his ever-lasting credit, Potter managed to keep his cool. For one, fleeting second, I could see a barrage of emotions—alarm, panic, horror—flicker across his face. And then they were gone as soon as they came, Potter's eyes quickly flicking away as he smoothed over his expression with an impressive mask of cool, arrogant indifference.

“Actually, Professor Filch,” I heard Potter say, and if his voice was sounding just a little bit strained, Filch didn't seem to notice. “I just remembered—a bunch of Ravenclaw kids have been stashing Firewhiskey in a cupboard near the Charms classroom.”

“Is that so, Potter?”

“Yeah. So isn’t it my duty as an, er, ex-Prefect to, uh, show you where it is? So you can confiscate everything?”

There was a pause. “Are you sure about this?” Filch finally rasped. I could practically see the emotions battling inside him—the reluctance to trust Potter versus Filch's burning desire to get some students in trouble.

Eventually, the latter won out. Filch stood from his desk, mouth turned downwards under his hooked, shiny nose, and followed Potter out of the room. I dangled in the air, watching them leave with a growing sense of dismay. What was going on?

As soon as they exited the room, I heard Potter murmur something. Bewildered, I strained my ears to hear what it was.

“Oh, one second—I think I forgot my wand inside. Just a moment.”

And then he was racing back into the office and bursting through the balcony door, ignoring its slam against the stone wall as he marched towards me, cheeks flushed, chest heaving. His eyes were blazing uncannily bright—he looked fit to murder. It was the most flustered I’d seen him since... Well, ever.

Because the fall had flipped me upside down, and because Potter was so bloody tall, I was now dangling at eye-level with his mouth. Any other time and I’d maybe find this fact distracting, but right now, I was actually sort of afraid. Because although Potter's lips were diverting and interesting to look at, they were also currently twisted into a scowl. A scowl that, I would be the first to admit, was a tad frightening.

“Are. You. Fucking. Insane?” Potter hissed, and I couldn’t stop myself from staring at the smooth way his mouth curved and shaped to form each word, the edge of his teeth scraping ever so slightly against his bottom lip to form the letter 'f.' "How did this happen?"

“Oh, you know,” I replied meekly, still unable to tear my eyes away. "Gravity and all that."

Potter looked like he was about to have an aneurysm. He gaped at me for a bit, and then turned swiftly on his heel. “I’m going to figure out a way to get rid of Filch so that I can come back and get you down. Try not to do anything fantastically stupid while I’m gone.”

He started to walk away, wrenching open the door so that light spilled out onto the balcony. “Wait!” I called frantically.

“What?” He stopped, annoyed, and swiveled back around to look at me.

“How long are you going to be gone?” I tried to keep my voice steady, but there was the slightest tremble of anxiety. I mean, I was suspended upside down, for Merlin's sake, in the middle of the air, clutching a cat in my hand. There was only so much longer I'd be able to hold on for.

Potter stared at me, the anger in his eyes fading away as his gaze took on a glint of sadistic amusement.

“Not long,” he said, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. He was getting satisfaction from watching me like this, I could tell. “Why don't you just try and... hang in there?”

“Hang in there. I get it. Ha ha, very funny,” I sarcastically grumbled, but Potter didn't respond, already walking back out the door.

Time seemed to tick by at a snail’s pace as I waited, swinging softly by the flag, Mrs. Norris squirming uncomfortably in my knapsack. It seemed like eons until Potter finally waltzed back into the office, Filch nowhere to be found. Oh, Merlin. Where was Filch? I knew it was ridiculous, but there was a small, irrational part of me that was kind of afraid Potter had killed him.

“Don’t move.” The second Potter walked out onto the balcony, he was by my side and tugging at the knot around my belt-loop.

“How’d you get rid of Filch?” I asked suspiciously, staring at Potter as he worked. He was biting his lip in concentration, eyes sharp and focused as he stared at my haphazard knot. I tried not to shiver when his fingers accidentally grazed the skin of my hipbone, which had been left exposed by the slipping hem of my shirt.

“Locked him in a broom cupboard,” Potter said offhandedly, not even bothering to look at me as his slender fingers wriggled into the knot.

“You what?”

“Locked him in a broom cupboard. Bennett, stop squirming so much.”

“Are you serio—” I began to exclaim, but I was suddenly cut off as the knot gave way. With a squawk of protest, I felt myself fall through the air...

...And into Potter’s arms.

My voice died in my throat as Potter caught me with ease, looking completely nonchalant and not freaked out in the slightest. I gaped, opening and closing my mouth uselessly, shocked into silence and unable to think of anything besides the fact that I was currently close enough to Potter to count the green flecks in his eyes.

Before I could say or do anything stupid, Potter swiftly set me down on my feet, with about as much concern as if he were handling a sack of potatoes. He was all business, completely oblivious to the tension I had been feeling between us, as he grabbed the knapsack from my hands and turned curtly on his heel.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said sharply, and too dazed to protest, I staggered around a bit, trying to regain my footing, before following Potter back into the office. We were almost to the door when, all of a sudden, we heard him.

“WHERE ARE YOU, YOU MISERABLE, GOOD-FER-NUTHIN’ CRETIN?”

Filch was back. And he was not happy.

Potter stopped walking immediately, his eyes fluttering shut, jaw working in mild consternation. “You've got to be kidding me," he bit out, voice suppressing barely-contained agitation.

I took this as my cue to launch into full panic mode. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god—Filch is back, we’re going to die, he's going to kill us and make rugs out of our skin, oh my god—”

I couldn’t believe it. We had come this far—I had dangled off the side of a castle, for Merlin’s sake—only to get caught now? I was starting to hyperventilate.

Potter wheeled around, grabbing me by the shoulders. “Bennett?”

“Yeah?” I gasped breathlessly, my eyes desperately searching his face for a sign that he had a solution to this mess, that everything was going to be okay.

“Shut up,” Potter said flatly. And then he wrenched open a nearby door and dragged me inside the dark, musty walk-in closet of Filch’s office.

The door swung closed behind me, and all of a sudden we were drowning in darkness. And because I was just oh-so-graceful (Bonafide Swag Master in the house!), I somehow managed to trip over one of the many random cleaning supplies (at least, I hope it was a cleaning supply) cluttering the floor. Desperate, I reached out to grab something to stop my fall and ended up settling for Potter’s shirt. Then we were both tumbling down, me on top of Potter, Mrs. Norris yowling somewhere in the background.

...And that was how I, Agatha Bennett, ended up straddling James Sirius Potter inside a broom cupboard.

Lucky me.

“Ow—Merlin, that hurt!”

“Fuck, Bennett!”

There was a huge, frenzied ruckus as we tried to detangle ourselves, limbs flying every which way in the darkness. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, I realized that if someone were to see us right now—scrambling frantically together in a cramped, dark broom cupboard—they would interpret the situation in a very different way, and the thought made the back of my neck tingle.

“Shit—”

“Get off me!”

“I’m trying to, you git!”

“Well try harder! Jesus, you’re heavy. What do you eat for breakfast? Cement mix?”

“Careful with what you say, Potter. My knee is very close to your groin right no—”

All of a sudden, Potter’s rough hand came flying over my mouth, muffling my threat, and I stiffened. Ears picking up the sound of Filch's footsteps, I froze in my awkward position sprawled over Potter's torso.

Shit.

In the dim, barely visible light, Potter and I stared at each other with wide, panicked eyes as Filch's footsteps grew louder and louder. Neither of us wanted to move for fear of Filch hearing us, and this made the situation all the more uncomfortable given the position we were currently in. Potter was lying flat on his back on the dusty ground of the cupboard. I was literally straddling him, one of my legs on either side of his hips, my hands planted on the wall behind his head. My dark red hair fell around us like a curtain, a few tendrils curling onto his chest. But most horrifyingly of all, however, was the fact that Potter’s warm hands were currently wrapped around my waist in an ill-fated effort to steady me.

Any other time, I would have slapped him upside the head and told him to get his slimy, disgusting hands off of me, thank you very much. But, here, inside this dark, quiet broom cupboard, I couldn’t do that. Filch was directly outside the door, so close that I didn’t dare breathe, let alone move, and Potter’s hands were pretty much the only thing keeping me from flopping right down on top of him.

This was wrong. So terribly wrong. I mean, I could actually feel Potter’s body underneath mine, warm and solid and—and—

I blinked rapidly, trying to clear my mind of any and all thought, and instead concentrated on the present. There was a very angry caretaker outside the door. If he found us, he would most likely try to dismember our bodies limb from limb. So I thought about that. I did not think about Potter’s hands burning through the flimsy material of my shirt, or the way his eyes were bright and sharp in the darkness.

The air seemed to thud against my ears as I closed my eyes and strained to listen to Filch’s pacing footsteps outside. For one horrifying moment, I really thought he was going to open the door and discover us. But then it passed, and Filch was walking away and leaving the office, and we were safe.

We waited a moment, breathless, until we were absolutely sure he had gone. And then I slowly, gingerly climbed off of Potter, the two of us unable to look at each other as we both struggled to a stand. The air hung thick and palpable around us, and I couldn't find it in myself to breathe a word.

Stiffly, Potter opened the door, making me wince as light washed over me and filled my vision with blinding brightness.

“Well,” he cleared his throat uncomfortably, reaching up to rub the back of his neck.

“Yeah.”

There was a pause, and we crept outside into the office. Potter's mouth was drawn into a flat line.

“We should probably get out of here — ”

"Yeah, definitely. "

"Right. Okay. "

"After you — "

"No, after you," Potter amended, striding over to gallantly swing the door open with a forced politeness that, I knew, in Potter's mind was somehow meant to compensate for the fact that his best friend's sister had just been straddling him in a broom cupboard.

I swallowed nervously, unable to even look at him any longer. We had been close. Too close for comfort, and we both seemed to recognize this, acknowledging the danger of the situation like in an unspoken agreement.

Gravity, it seemed, was just not on my side today.

Head ducked, face flushed, I stepped out into the dark, shadowy corridor. It had been a mission success — we'd nabbed the cat, after all — but for some reason it didn't feel that way as I began to walk down the hallway, conscious of Potter behind me trying to keep as much distance between the two of us as possible.


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