Chapter 23 : Ache
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I stared blankly at the grave, somber faces of the three people in front of me, unable to comprehend a word they were saying. They gazed back with sad eyes and patient, horribly kind smiles, and I felt my agitation spike. They were just trying to be nice, of course, and yet I found them inexplicably, overwhelmingly irritating.
I knew that this was important, that Headmistress Vespertine had called me into her office for an important meeting with Aidan’s doctors and lawyers, and yet I just couldn’t bring myself to pay attention. I was trying, really, I was, but every droning word these people were saying seemed to go in one ear and out the other.
Thanks to years of being Dominique Weasley’s BFF, I have successfully mastered the art of pretending to pay attention. It’s quite simple, really. There are three steps:
3. Make vague, affirmative noises like, “Mhmm” or “Uhuh,” or even, if you’re feeling daring, “I see, and how do you feel about this?”
All three of these steps were put into action the minute one of Aidan’s doctors started talking. He was a plump man with a bowtie, an air of pompousness and, if you looked closely enough, a pair of beady eyes that were barely visible beneath a vast amount of furry facial hair. Needless to say, he was about as riveting as my left thumb.
“Agatha, you have to understand that Aidan’s condition right now is at a stagnate. He’s stable, but he isn’t getting any better...”
“Mhmm.” Not registering a word this man was saying.
“Because of this, we thought it wise to call in a meeting...”
“Uhuh.” Wow, this dude has really long nose hairs. He should shave them.
“Of course, nothing is set in stone right now...”
“I see.” Can you shave nose hairs? Maybe you have to pluck them out.
“But I still believe that it would be wise to convene together, just to throw some ideas out in the open...”
“Right.” Wow, I’m really glad I don’t have nose hairs.
“So it’s quite important that you pay attention and listen carefully.”
“Of course.” Wait, do I? Shit. I bet I do. That would be just my luck.
“Now, you see, my colleagues and I have been discussing a few options, and we believe that...”
As I tried to peek at myself in the shiny, reflective surface of one of Professor Vespertine’s flower vase, Dr. McFurryFace (PHD in boring) continued to ramble on. I tilted my head from left to right, flaring my nostrils erratically. The whole effect was vaguely ‘self-conscious rhinoceros’ meets ‘constipated orangutan.’
“Do you agree, Miss Bennett? Miss Bennett? MISS BENNETT?!”
Jolted back to reality, I gave a shocked yelp and jumped in my seat, turning around spastically, “I DON’T HAVE NOSEHAIRS!”
There was an awkward silence. Dr. McFurryFace shifted in his chair, expression scrunched into a half-disapproving, half-confused frown.
Professor Vespertine, who was standing quietly in the corner, smiled gently. “Nobody is saying you do, Agatha...”
I coughed, tugging meekly at my collar. Headmistress Vespertine already thought I was “mentally disturbed”—she was the one who made me see the bloody school counsellor in the first place. After that little display of complete what-the-fuckery, she was probably ready to start searching the area for the nearest loony bin. Wonderful. I should just buy my own straightjacket while I’m at it. “Right. Sorry.”
McFurryFace cleared his throat, his moustache bristling slightly in irritation. It looked like a small, hairy little ferret. On his face. “Anyway, back to what I was saying. Miss Bennett, your brother has been comatose for almost a month, and we think that it may be time to start taking some...precautionary measures in case—“
“Wait, what?” I held up a hand, effectively cutting him off mid-sentence. “Be kind, rewind—what did you just say?”
FurryFace blinked owlishly, slightly taken aback. “I-I w-was saying that it might be advisable if... as a family... you and your parents began to take some precautionary measures concerning Aidan—“
“What do you mean precautionary measures?” I blurted out, slicing through FurryFace’s droning voice.
“Precautionary measures such as establishing a good life-insurance plan for your brother, sorting out his trust funds, maybe even creating a will—“
“Deciding whether, if the time comes, Aidan could serve as an organ donor—“
“If the time comes? What time? Organ donor?”
My head was starting to spin. There was this low buzz humming inside my ears, growing louder and louder with every second. I could feel It stirring in the pit of my stomach, hot and acrid and—and...
FurryFace sighed. “I know this is difficult to hear, Agatha, but we must take into account the possibility of Aidan’s death.”
And there it was. The very word that had been haunting me, every minute of every day. The very word that I’d been too scared to speak or hear or even think about. Laid out on the table, just like that.
I was going to be sick.
I jolted to my feet, my chair screeching backwards and toppling over. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.”
Professor Vespertine’s head snapped up, her features slack with shock. FurryFace gaped and stuttered for words, “B-But Agatha, this is important—”
“I don’t care!” I suddenly blurted out. “I just... I can’t do this, okay?”
I didn’t bother to wait for the answer to that question. Instead, I just wheeled around and, trying to ignore the scalded glares of Vespertine and the Healers, stormed out of the office.
The door slammed loudly on my way out. I couldn’t find it in me to care.
The second I was out of that hot, stuffy office, I felt loads better. Around me, the air was fresh and crisp. Through the wrought iron windows of the castle, I could see the murky blue of twilight. Students were probably flooding the Great Hall right now, ready for dinner, but I couldn’t bear to try and join them... I needed to be alone.
It was still writhing and squirming under my skin. I had to get it out. I had to forget.
And I knew exactly where I had to go.
The Hogwart’s Kitchens were bustling during dinnertime. House-elves scrambled from steaming pot to smoking oven, too busy to even acknowledge me when I walked through the door. Not that I minded. It was nice to be alone and not have to deal with—
“Miss Agatha Benentt! Miss Agatha Bennett! Thank Potter you’re here! You’ve come for Pipsqueak, haven’t you?”
My stomach—or what was left of it, since It seemed to have torn most of my internal organs to shreds—immediately plummeted to the soles of my shoes. Of course. Of bloody course. Well this was just sodding shitastic, wasn’t it?
I glanced down at Pipsqueak the House-elf, somehow stretching the muscles in my face into a horribly fake smile. “Pipsqueak! What a surprise! Fancy seeing you here, in the...er...kitchens.”
Pipsqueak nodded furiously, his bulbous eyes round and shining with a slightly disturbing ecstasy. “Yes, yes, Pipsqueak can always be found in the kitchens. Or, at least when he’s not cleaning the Commons or dusting the shelves or mopping the floors or watching you sleep—“
“Or stirring the fire or do—oh, yes. Pipsqueak occasionally likes to watch Mistress Aggy sleep. To make sure she is safe, of course.”
Well, that was...worrying. I stared at Pipsqueak for a bit, unable to think of anything to say.
...So I have nose hairs, my Headmistress thinks I’m insane, and a house-elf likes to watch me sleep at night.
This is my life. Jealous yet?
I shook my head, trying to convince myself that this really wasn’t happening. “I—Wha—? Wait, were you the one leaving cookies by my bed? I thought those were from the Nom Nom Fairies!”
“Yes, ‘twas I!” Pipsqueak puffed out his chest, as if he was expecting some sort of Nobel Prize in Extreme Creepiness, or something. “But I is confused. What are Nom Nom Fairies?”
Nom Nom Fairies are, in my imagination, whimsical sprites who like to leave delicious snacks around random places for us human beings to find. You know when you’re digging through the pockets of an old pair of jeans, and you find a piece of candy or something? Yeah, that’s the handiwork of the Nom Nom Fairies.
I have a very active imagination, okay?
Yeah, I know I’m a weird. It’s best if you just accept it and embrace the crazy. Take photos if you want. A freakshow like this is a rare thing, people.
Wow, I should really set up my own circus.
AGATHA BENNETT, ONE WOMAN FREAKSHOW.
Embrace the Crazy!
(Tickets are 15$ online, 20$ at the door. You may take pictures, but please turn the flash off because bright lights (as well as sudden movements, loud noises, and men who wear pinkie rings) will frighten the skittish Aggy creature. Please do not feed the Aggy. Please do not attempt to pet the Aggy. We are not responsible if the Aggy lashes out at you, bites you, or one of your personal possessions gets lost in her hair.)
“Miss? Miss?” Pipsqueak’s voice floated into my ears, jerking me down to reality. Merlin, I really need to stop with the daydreams. “What’s wrong?”
“Er... nothing. You’re really creepy, you know that?” I said.
“Yes. Occasionally the peoples tell Pipsqueak that he has...uh—how do you say—issues with personal space. But Pipsqueak does not mind. Just as long as his friends are safe.” Pipsqueak paused, his luminous eyes suddenly dimming. “Mistress Aggy has nightmares. Sometimes she cries. It makes Pipsqueak sad.”
I gaped at him, unable to marvel at how a House-elf like Pipsqueak could exist in a world with violence and war and terrorism. Shouldn’t they, like, cancel each other out or something? “I... Well, I’ve been taking a sleeping potion. That might have something to do with it. Side effects, and stuff.” I said quickly. It wasn’t a lie, either. Recently, I’d been drinking that stuff that the school counsellor gave me. Apparently, it was working.
Pipsqueak’s eyes widened in shock. “Is Agatha Bennett saying that she has been poppin’ bottles?”
“Poppin—What? Excuse me?”
“Poppin’ bottles, yo,” Pipsqueak replied with utmost seriousness. “Getting crunk. Making wasted.”
“Making wasted? What are you talking about?”
“Oh! You see, Pipsqueak has recently purchased a muggle mp3 device.” The house-elf nodded furiously, sounding almost proud. “It is great fun. Pipsqueak especially enjoys the songs of rap variety.”
“Okay, I can’t handle this.” I announced, shaking my head furiously. “Can you please just get me a bottle of Butterbeer or something?’
“Fo’ rizzle mah nizzle.” Pipsqueak stated primly, and then he was off, disappearing into the bustling mob of house-elves.
I stared after at him in amazement. Had that really just happened?
Merlin, I need to get my head checked.
Six butterbeers later, and I wasn’t feeling too good.
I don’t know why, but it was the strangest thing—whenever I walked one way, the world seemed to tilt the other. Objects had a strange tendency of magically duplicating themselves. And it was suddenly really, really hard to stand straight without feeling like I was about to tip over.
It was odd.
But kind of cool.
I giggled to myself as I stumbled down a random, poorly lit hallway. It was midnight, past curfew, and I was out. Being bad. Well, not really bad. I was actually just wandering around, tipping over the occasional suit of armour (by accident, of course. They just seemed to appear out of nowhere!) and making conversation with some of the portraits. But still. It was against the rules—and fun.
I made my way down the hall, my head spinning and my movements jerky and uncontrolled. This was so weird. I’d only had six—or was it eight? nine? eleventeen?—butterbeers, and yet I was feeling like I was...well, drunk. Silly Aggykins! How could that be? Butterbeers didn’t make you drunk.
And yet I suddenly had the urge to start doing the Macarena. While making a fort. Out of ...candy. With a pudding moat and a graham cracker draw-bridge.
Oh my god.
I could become Queen Frostine, like in Candyland! OH MY GOD THAT IS ALL I HAVE EVER WANTED IN LIFE.
I have to find some pudding. Now.
I immediately turned on my heel, not realizing that the fast motion would be too much for my dizzy brain to handle. And all of a sudden, I found myself face to face to the floor.
Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so good. Suddenly pudding didn’t sound so yummy. Suddenly I felt sick.
I half-crawled, half-lumbered to the nearest bathroom, not caring if it was girl’s or boy’s. My head seemed to spin and swim at the same time. My stomach was doing unpleasant somersaults. And It was crawling back up, ready to take over and swallow me whole...
I was almost to the sinks when, all of a sudden, everything went dark.
Poking me. Jabbing me. Ouch, that hurt.
Ughhhh, I hurt.
That same voice, but this time, whoever it belonged to kept on talking. Well, not really talking. It was more of like a stream of really creative cursing. But still. Annoying all the same.
A voice. My voice?
Damn. What was going on?
Someone was shaking me. Nooo...Five more minutes, please...
Gingerly, I pried my eyes open. Only to immediately regret doing so a couple seconds later.
Because I immediately came face to face with a dark, tousled shock of hair, a pair of brightly incensed hazel eyes, and, of course, a red and gold striped tie.
Potter. Looking really, really pissed.
“Morning, Sleeping Beauty.”
I blinked twice, choosing to ignore his lovely little greeting and instead scanning my surroundings. “Where am I? What time is it?”
“The Third Floor boys’ bathroom. Roughly, ah—“ his eyes flicked briefly towards his watch—“12:30 in the morning.”
I didn’t say anything. Instead, I got up, some of my joints popping obnoxiously, and rubbed my aching head. Despite my 30-minute cat nap, I still didn’t feel better. In fact, I felt worse. My head was throbbing, my throat scratchy, and my stomach still churning with nausea.
Potter studied me for a minute. “I found you lying by the sinks and mumbling something about pudding. Care to explain?”
He stared at me, his jaw clenched with obvious irritation. I stared back, silently daring him to challenge me. Let him argue. See if I care. I’m beyond caring, now.
Instead, he just shrugged his stupidly broad shoulders and said, “Fair enough. Let’s get you back to your Common Room.”
I gaped at him, shaking my head in disbelief. Potter? Back down from a fight? Never, in all the agonizing, bickering-filled years that I have known Potter, have I seen him just let everything go so...easily.
And then I looked at him. Really looked at him. I saw his disheveled hair, the grim line his mouth was pulled in, and the dark glint of his eyes, like coals still faintly smouldering after a fire goes out. And then I realized that maybe I wasn’t the only one who was past caring. Aidan’s coma... It had aged us. Some days I looked at Freddy and saw the bags under his eyes, or the way his smile flickered a little, as if he was trying to force it in place. Somedays I looked at Dom and realized how different she was now, how her shoulders almost seemed to curve inwards--as if she was bearing the whole weight of the world on them--how my sassy, unstoppable best friend had somehow turned into a mere shadow of herself, . And I knew that—no matter what happened—none of us could never be fully the same again. We were grown up now.
Potter and I locked eyes, and I suddenly felt like crying. Like pulling him close to me and pressing my face into the clean, smooth linen of his shirt and just sobbing.
The thought made my stomach clench, which made me feel even worse. There was something sour rising up my throat, and I suddenly felt very hot.
“I’m fine,” I said quietly, mostly just to convince myself. “I don’t need your help.”
This statement was nicely punctuated by the fact that, as I was saying it, I was running to the nearest toilet and offering it yesterday’s lunch.
I heard Potter sigh. I heard him stand up and conjure a glass, filling it with water from the tap. I heard him come towards me, his steps decisive and firm.
The muscles of my back tensed together as, furiously, I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. Damnit. The last thing I needed right now was for Potter to see me like this. Miserable. Broken. Defected.
I felt warm hands press against my shoulders, gently pulling me back. Potter was looking at me, face hard and unreadable as he gave me the water.
Glaring up at him, I took it. “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not.” Potter shot back, stubborn as ever. “Bennett, I—“
“What?” I snapped, suddenly furious. “You what?”
“I... I found you lying on the floor, for fuck’s sake!”
“I don’t need your help—“
“No! Listen to me!” Potter was standing up, his eyes bright again, his face stony. “I found you lying on the floor. I thought you were—You could have been—Jesus, Bennett. Do you know what that was like?”
“Oh drop the fucking act, already!” I sneered, standing up to meet his gaze. “Stop pretending like you actually care—“
“You think I don’t care—?”
“I know you don’t!”
“Jesus Christ, Bennett, you’re my best friend’s sister!”
“Exactly! I’m your best friend’s sister. You don’t care about me. And if you did, it’d only be out of pity, or out of guilt—“
“Or maybe it might be because I’ve known you for five years!”
“Yeah, known and hated. That’s not how this relationship works, Potter. You don’t care about me.”
“You are so...oblivious.”
“Oblivious? What do you mean oblivious?”
“Bennett, when are you going to stop acting like a kid and realize that there are people out there who—for some completely unfathomable reason—actually care about you—?“
“Oh, and I’m guessing you’re supposed to be one of those “people,” right?”
“And what if I am?” Potter bellowed, wildly throwing his hands up in the air. His voice echoed against the tiled walls, each reverberation hitting like a punch to the gut.
I snapped my mouth shut, stepping back in shock. I knew my feelings were flicking across my face, feelings I wasn’t supposed to show, but I couldn’t help it. The air around us pulsed with an unseen energy as Potter and I stared at each other, both of us breathing heavily, our faces flushed. It was amazing how we could instantly go from exploding—meteorites bursting, stars combusting—to a sudden, static-filled silence.
“You care about me?” I asked quietly, eyes brimming with a mixture of disbelief and surprise.
“I—of course, Bennett.” Potter’s voice was weary, tired. He had given up. “How could you even ask that?”
I couldn’t handle this. Potter barging in here and mucking everything up and telling me that he cared about me? No. Impossible. It just... No.
Right now, Potter and I’s relationship was the one anchor I had, the one certainty I was absolutely sure of. And now he was changing everything, upsetting the balance and... It was too much.
“I can’t do this right now,” I said hastily, pushing past him as I stumbled towards the exit.
Potter threw his head back in exasperation, eyes fluttering shut. “Bennett—“
Amazingly, he kept quiet and let me go.
I staggered towards the doorway, my head still spinning, my breathing ragged and jittery. All of that fighting had really worn me out. I felt weak now, my legs like limp noodles, my muscles heavy like led. Not to mention these pesky black dots kept on popping up in my vision...
I made it two metres out the door before finally collapsing, succumbing to the darkness once more.
I woke up in a dark room, lying in an unfamiliar bed. It took a moment for me to remember, but then it all came back to me, hitting me with as much force as the Hogwarts’ Express.
Passing out. The bathroom. Potter. Our fight.
Where was I now?
I looked around. Surrounding me were other beds, but I couldn’t really make out their occupants in the hazy darkness. Potter was lying, asleep, in a nearby chair, his feat propped up on my new bed.
Other beds. Other beds... Did he...?
Did he take me to the Hospital Wing?
No. He couldn’t have. He’d know better than that, right? I mean, he couldn’t have taken me here! Where....Aidan was staying! No. No no no no no.
It was becoming hard to breath. I gasped frantically for oxygen, but it was like my heart was beating too fast for my lungs to catch up. My tiny, ragged pants punctured the air, the noise only increasing my mounting panic.
It was too hot. I kicked off the covers, jostling Potter’s legs in the process. Oh god. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t be here. Near Aidan. Aidan. Oh god, no. Please no.
“Bennett?” Potter’s voice was heavy with sleep. He blinked, straightening in his chair and squinting at me. But I ignored him. I really couldn’t care.
“Bennett? What’s wrong?” Potter was standing up now, grabbing me by the shoulders and forcefully turning me towards him.
I couldn’t reply, not enough air in my lungs to breath, let alone speak. I wanted to push him away, to get out of here, but I couldn’t. It was like one of those nightmares where you have to run away from the bad guys, but all of the sudden your legs are frozen to the ground. My heartbeat was thudding furiously in my ears. I felt unbearably dizzy, like the world itself was spiralling out of control.
Suddenly I was thrashing, kicking and flailing and screaming, wild, out of control. I didn’t even know what I was doing. It was like I had no power over my own body. I was going berserk, but I couldn’t stop myself. The world was spiralling away from me, and I couldn’t stop myself. It was taking over, consuming me, swallowing me whole.
Potter cursed harshly, wasting no time in casting a quick silencing charm and then pushing me down on the bed, using his own weight to restrain me.
I got about two good kicks in before Potter finally managed to subdue me, my spastic flailing no match for his physical strength. He used one hand to press my shoulder in the mattress and the other to grab my chin, forcing me to look at him so that we were practically nose to nose.
“Agatha,” Potter said urgently, his grip on me tightening. “Calm down. Listen to me. You’re okay. You’re here, in my dorm. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”
I instantly went rigid as a sudden wave of relief washed over me. His dorm? I relaxed, my mind inwardly chanting Potter’s words like a mantra.
In his dorm. In his dorm. In his dorm. I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.
We weren’t in the hospital wing. We were in his dorm. I was okay.
Somehow, I managed to catch my breath. My body instantly stilled, becoming limp and tired again. Slowly, cautiously gauging my expression for any sign of hysteria, Potter got off of me.
We stared at each other for a moment.
And then I promptly burst into tears.
They weren’t loud. I just sort of curled up into a little ball and started shaking for a bit, pressing the heels of my palms into my eyes. I stayed like that for a while, simply crying.
It was strange. This whole time, with Aidan being in a coma and everything, I hadn’t cried once. And here I was, in Potter’s dorm—probably in Potter’s bed, for all I knew—sobbing my bloody eyes out.
Potter didn’t try and rub my back or tell me everything was going to be alright—something that I appreciated. He just sat by me silently until, slowly, eventually, I stopped crying. When my sobs had ceased and everything was quiet, he conjured a couple of tissues and handed them to me, expression unreadable as always. I buried my sniffling face in them, feeling utterly mortified.
This couldn’t be happening. Right now, Potter was witnessing me at my weakest, most vulnerable state. I’m sure I looked really attractive right now with my eyes all puffy and an absolutely charming combo of snot and tears running down my face. Yum.
I crumpled the tissues in my fists, looking up at Potter’s blank, calculating face. “Sorry.”
I nodded, giving a small, watery chuckle. There wasn’t really much to say. “So... I’m in your dorm?”
Potter shrugged. “Yeah. I couldn’t carry you to the Slytherin commons, because I don’t know the password, so I just brought you here.”
I closed my eyes, shaking my head from side to side. “God, I’m such a mess. I just... I don’t want to sound dramatic or anything, but I feel like I’m just...falling apart.”
Potter was silent for so long that I didn’t think he was going to reply. He wasn’t meeting my eyes, instead staring off into the darkness of the room. “You don’t have to always be so strong, you know. It’s okay to fall apart sometimes.”
“But I have to be strong. For Dom and Freddy and my mom and...”
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Potter turned around, brushing his fingers across my cheekbone and tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear. “They’re not here. You don’t have to be strong for them right now.”
I don’t know why, but in that moment, it felt like Potter’s fingertips had left a trail of fire across my skin. Our faces were inches away. Everything was quiet. His eyes were sprinkled with the silver moonlight that was shining through the windows. We were so close... There was something important about this moment. Something fragile and delicate and hidden just beneath the surface.
“You’re here,” I whispered, not daring to speak any louder.
“I won’t tell.”
I started to open my mouth to form another argument, but then decided against it. Fuck it. There was something that I had to get off my chest, and what the hell, why not tell Potter, of all people? I could never tell Dom, or Freddy, or my mom...But something about Potter. I didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was the fact that he had just watched me burst into tears. Maybe it was the fact that he could see past all of the prefect, goody-goody acts I put up and recognize that I was a human, that I was flawed and made mistakes. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t have to be strong for him. Maybe it was the fact that he was broken too, like me—I could tell. Maybe I was just crazy. But something about him made me know that I could trust him.
“Right before Aidan got into his accident...I told him something. Something I shouldn’t have.”
Potter didn’t say anything, didn’t pry or question. I continued.
“I told him that I...I hated him. And... and that’s not true. Because I don’t. I love him so much, and I hope he knew that, because I don’t think I could live with myself if he didn’t...”
“Of course he knew,” Potter said quietly.
“I just... I’m so tired. And scared.”
“I just want to forget everything.”
“No, you don’t, okay? You don’t know. Stop being so nice to me! I don’t deserve it.”
Potter paused. “Okay.”
I sighed, slowly laying back down. I felt drained. Like there was nothing left inside of me to give. Honestly, I just wanted to sleep.
Potter stood up and then, almost hesitantly, covered me with the duvet, like a parent tucking their kid in. I clutched at the blanket, feeling very small and childish all of a sudden.
He was just about to turn around and leave when I grabbed him by the shirtsleeve.
“Wait,” I mumbled.
“Will you... stay with me? Tonight? I just... I can’t be alone right now.”
He paused. I couldn’t read his face in those few, agonizing seconds until finally, he nodded. “Alright.”
The moment he lay down next to me, I scooted towards him. I didn’t need to actually touch him, but just get close enough so that I knew he was there. He was warm, breathing steady and slow.
For once, sleep swallowed me in an instant.
A/N: Woah, where did that come from?Haha, randomness! I hope you guys enjoyed, and please review if you get the chance!
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