Chapter 23 : Ache
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I stared blankly at the grave, somber faces of the three people speaking in front of me, unable to comprehend a word. They sat with sad eyes and patient, horribly kind smiles, pitying my confusion, 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 a mandatory meeting with Aidan’s healers and lawyers and that I should be carefully scribbling down every scrap of information they offered me, and yet I just couldn’t bring myself to pay attention. I was trying — really, I was — but each droning word and legal term seemed to go in one ear and out the other.
And thanks to years of retaining my status as Dominique Weasley’s Official Best Friend, I had successfully mastered the art of pretending to pay attention. It was quite simple, really. There were three steps, and three steps only:
3. Make vague affirmative noises like, “Mhmm” or “Uh-uh,” or even, if you’re feeling particularly daring: “I see what you mean and I completely agree."
All three of these steps were put into action the minute one of Aidan’s doctors had begun talking. A plump man with a bowtie, the healer had 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.
He was about as attention-grabbing as my left thumb.
“Miss Bennett, you have to understand that Aidan’s condition right now is at a stasis. 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 a meeting...”
“Uh-huh.” Wow, this dude had really long nose hairs. He should think about investing in a good pair of tweezers.
“Of course, nothing is set in stone right now...”
“I see what you mean and I completely agree.” Could you pluck nose hairs? Maybe you had to shave them.
“But I still believe that it would be wise to convene together, just to throw some ideas out in the open...”
“Right.” Wow, I was really glad I didn't have nose hairs.
“So it’s quite important that you pay attention and listen carefully.”
“Of course.” Wait, did I? Shit. I bet I did and I just hadn't noticed them yet. The hairs were probably lying in wait, biding their time until the perfect moment when they could sprout out and into the open. That would be just my luck.
“Now, you see, my colleagues and I have been discussing a few options, and we believe that...”
As Healer FurryFace (Ph.D. in boring) continued to ramble on, I leaned forward and attempted to get a peek at myself in the reflective surface of Headmistress Vespertine's mahogany desk. Did I have nose hairs? Maybe I did, and up until now, all of my friends had just been too polite to mention it. I tilted my head from left to right, flaring my nostrils erratically in an attempt to garner a good look at the offending nasal invaders. The whole effect was vaguely ‘self-conscious schoolgirl' meets ‘constipated orangutan.’
“Do you agree, Miss Bennett? Miss Bennett? Miss Bennett?"
I startled and gave a shocked little yelp in my uncomfortable wooden seat, jolting suddenly and unpleasantly back to reality. “I DON’T HAVE NOSEHAIRS — uh, what?"
There was a slight pause in the conversation. Dr. FurryFace shifted in his chair, expression scrunched into a half-disapproving, half-confused frown. Professor Vespertine, who was standing quietly in the corner, smiled in a way that was confusingly both gentle and condescending at once.
"Agatha," she said pointedly, gesturing with her head to the healer.
I coughed, tugging meekly at my collar. Headmistress Vespertine already thought I was “mentally disturbed” — she had been the one to send me to the bloody school counselor in the first place — and after that little display of complete what-the-fuckery, she was probably going to start scouting the neighborhood for the nearest loony bin. Wonderful. I should just buy my own straightjacket while I was at it. At least that way I could make sure it was the correct size.
"Right," I coughed. "Paying attention. Sorry."
FurryFace cleared his throat, his moustache bristling slightly in irritation. It looked like a small, hairy little ferret. On his face. And all the nose hairs were baby ferrets. It was just one big, hairy ferret family. “Anyway, back to what I was saying. Miss Bennett, your brother has been comatose for almost two months, and we think it may be time to start taking some...precautionary measures, in case—“
“Wait,” I held up a hand, effectively cutting him off mid-sentence. “Be kind, rewind—what did you just say?”
The healer blinked owlishly, slightly taken aback by my sudden interest in the conversation. “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 demanded, slicing through FurryFace’s monotone.
“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 in my ears, growing louder and louder with every word out of this dull man's mouth. 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 at this point in time 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 with a clumsy thud. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.”
Professor Vespertine’s head snapped up, her features slack with surprise. FurryFace gaped and stuttered for words, “B-But Miss Bennett, 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 an answer to my question. Instead, I wheeled around on my heel and, trying to ignore the scalded expressions of Vespertine and the healers, strode with quick steps out 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 already began to feel loads better. Around me, the air was fresh and crisp and, through the wrought iron windows of the castle, I could see the murky blue shimmer of twilight. Students were probably flooding the Great Hall right now, ready for dinner, chatting about mundane things like homework and classes and Quidditch...
But I couldn’t bear to try and join them. I needed to be alone. It was still writhing and squirming under my skin, and I had to get it out. I had to forget.
And I knew exactly to go.
The Hogwarts' Kitchens were bustling during dinnertime. House-elves scrambled from steaming pot to smoking oven, too busy to even acknowledge the small, shivering redhead girl who walked through the door. Not that I minded. It was nice to be alone and not have to deal with —
“Miss Agatha Bennett! 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 that conversation in Vespertine's office—immediately plummeted to the soles of my shoes. Of course. Of bloody course.
I glanced down at Pipsqueak the House-elf, somehow stretching the muscles in my face into a horribly artificial smile. “Pipsqueak! What a surprise! Fancy seeing you here, uh, in the kitchens. Where you work.”
Pipsqueak nodded furiously, his bulbous eyes round and shining with a slightly disturbing glint of adoration. “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 watching you sleep—“
“Or stirring the fire or whatever else Hogwarts has Pipsqueak do! Yes, yes, indeed! Pipsqueak loves his work!"
So, I had a coma patient for a brother, a Potter for an arch enemy, and a house-elf for a stalker. No wonder I was spiraling. Hey, I might as well just embrace the crazy while I was still lucid enough to do so. Honestly, my life was currently such a pit of chaos and mental instability, I could probably start charging people to watch me flounder. It'd be entertaining, at least. I could make flyers and everything.
AGATHA BENNETT, ONE WOMAN FREAKSHOW.
Embrace the Crazy!
(Tickets $15 online, $20 at the door. You may take pictures, but please turn the flash off because bright lights and sudden movements will frighten the skittish Aggy. Do not feed the Aggy. Do not attempt to pet the Aggy. We are not responsible if the Aggy lashes out at you, bites you, or if one of your personal possessions gets lost in her hair.)
“Miss? Miss?” Pipsqueak’s voice floated into my ears, jerking me down to reality, and I gave my head a firm shake to clear it out. Merlin, I really need to stop with the daydreams. “What’s wrong?”
“Er, nothing," I said distractedly. "Just, Pipsqueak, you should know that you can be a bit over-bearing at times."
“Ah, yes. Occasionally people tell Pipsqueak that he has... uh—how do you say—issues with personal space. But Pipsqueak does not mind. Just so long as his friends are safe.” Pipsqueak paused, his luminous eyes traveling across my face. "Have you been feeling well lately, miss?"
I gaped at him, unable to comprehend how a house-elf like Pipsqueak could exist in the same world as war and terrorism and other generally bad things. “I... well, yeah," I said, so caught off guard I found myself telling the truth. "I've been taking a sleeping potion this counselor prescribed me, and it's been working. There are some side effects, apparently, but I haven't noticed anything."
Pipsqueak’s eyes widened in shock. “Is Agatha Bennett saying that she has been poppin’ bottles?”
“Poppin — what? Excuse me?”
“Poppin’ bottles,” Pipsqueak replied with utmost seriousness. “Getting crunk in da club with the biddies."
“Pipsqueak, what on earth are you talking about?”
“Oh! You see, Pipsqueak has recently purchased a muggle mp3 device with his Hogwarts salary.” The house-elf nodded furiously, sounding almost proud. “It is great fun. Pipsqueak especially enjoys the songs by rapper 50 Centaur.”
“Okay, I can’t handle anymore of this,” I announced, shaking my head furiously in astonishment. What a world it was we lived in. “Could you please just get me a bottle of Butterbeer or something?’
“Fo’ rizzle, home dawg.” Pipsqueak stated primly, and then he was off, disappearing into the heat of the kitchen and the bustling mob of the other house-elves.
Merlin, I needed to get my head checked.
Six butterbeers later, and I wasn’t feeling too good.
Over the course of draining each bottle and ignoring Pipsqueak's pleas for me to 'slow down,' the strangest thing had happened — whenever I walked one way, the world began to tilt the other. Objects took on the strange tendency of magically duplicating themselves whenever I looked at them. 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, free of the humid underground murk of the kitchens. It was midnight, and I was out wandering the halls. Being bad. Well, not really bad. I was just wandering harmlessly around, tipping over the occasional suit of armor (by accident, of course — they would just appear out of nowhere!) and making conversation with some of the portraits. But still. It was after curfews, against the rules—and it was fun.
I made my way down the hall, my head spinning and my movements jerky as I stumbled. 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 Aggy! How could that be? Butterbeers didn’t make you drunk.
And yet I suddenly had the urge to make out with someone and/or start doing the Macarena.
Hmm. I really wanted some pudding right now. Yes. Pudding sounded nice. We should get pudding.
I immediately turned on my heel, not registering that the fast motion had been too much for my dizzy brain to handle until it was too late and I found myself sprawled face-down on the floor, legs spread akimbo. Oww.
Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so good. Suddenly, pudding didn’t sound so appetizing. Suddenly, I felt sick.
It was rearing its ugly head again and, in my state, I felt its grip on me tighten tenfold. The nausea, the pain — it was all magnified, and I half-crawled, half-lumbered to the nearest bathroom, not caring if it was girls or boys. My head seemed to spin and swim at the same time, my stomach doing unpleasant little somersaults. And It was crawling back up all the while, ready to take over, swallow me whole — and with the room swimming around me like this, I found myself unable to maintain the control I usually did.
I was almost to the sinks when my knees gave out, and I surrendered. I surrendered to the cold tiles on the floor, to the reality of my conversation with Aidan's healers. I surrendered to It.
A voice. Poking me. Jabbing me. Loud in my ear. Merlin, it hurt.
Ughhhh, I hurt.
“Bennett," that same voice said, oddly familiar in the haze, and I squeezed my eyes shut as whoever it was kept on talking. Well, not really talking. It was more cursing than anything — a stream of really creative, explicit cursing grumbled under the breath. But still. Annoying all the same.
A voice. My voice? What was going on?
Someone was shaking me. Nooo, mum. Five more minutes.
"Bennett," the voice said again.
Gingerly, I pried my eyes open, only to immediately regret doing so a couple seconds later. Because swimming in my vision was 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 Potter's lovely little salutation and instead scanning the fluorescent lighting and glimmering tiles of 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. Summoning all the willpower in my small body, I slowly struggled to a stand in a feat that I personally felt deserved a medal from the Tour de France committee. My joints popping obnoxiously, I rubbed my aching head and looked anywhere but at Potter. Despite my 30-minute cat nap, I didn’t feel any 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 from where he was crouching by where I had been sprawled out. Then he stood up, face unreadable, and fixed me with his bright stare. “I found you lying by the sinks and mumbling something about pudding. Care to explain?”
He stared at me, his jaw working. I stared back, silently daring him to challenge me. Let him argue. See if I cared. I was beyond caring, now.
Instead, Potter 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 agony-and-bickering-filled years that I had known Potter, had I ever seen him just let something 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 two coals that still burn faintly after a fire goes out. And then I realized that maybe I wasn’t the only one who was past caring.
Aidan’s coma 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 keep it in place. Some days I looked at Dom and realized how different she was now, how her shoulders almost seemed to curve inwards, how my sassy, unstoppable best friend had somehow turned into a mere shadow of herself. And I knew that — no matter what happened in the future — none of us could ever be fully the same again. We were grown up now.
Potter and I locked eyes, and I suddenly felt like crying. Like forgetting, just for a moment, that he was my sworn enemy, and pulling him close to me and pressing my face into the clean, smooth linen of his shirt, just so that his arms would come around me, just so someone's arms would come around me.
There was something sour rising up my throat, and I suddenly felt very hot.
Potter squinted at me. "You alright, Bennett?"
“I’m fine,” I said quietly, mostly just to convince myself. “I don’t need your help.”
This statement was punctuated by me turning a nice shade of puce after I said it, and then running to the nearest toilet to offer it this afternoon's lunch.
I heard Potter sigh, calmly and quietly, as he conjured a glass and filled it with water from the tap. His footsteps echoed off the shining tile as he walked closer, growing louder and louder.
The muscles of my back tensed and, furiously, I wiped at 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, and defected, someone who couldn't even keep it together.
I felt warm hands press against my shoulders, gently pulling me back, and then there was Potter crouching besides me, face hard and unreadable as he handed me the water.
Glaring up at him, I took it. “I’m fine.”
“No, you’re not.” Potter shot back, stubborn as ever. “Bennett—“
“What?” I snapped, embarrassment flooding my face. I felt like something inside me had broken, and all of a sudden I was furious. "What is it?"
Potter matched my anger, emotion flaring in his gaze. “I found you lying on the floor, for fuck’s sake!”
“I don’t need your lectures right now — "
“No! Listen to me!” Potter was standing up, his eyes bright again with roiling anger. “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 and swaying slightly on wobbly legs. “Stop pretending like you actually care — “
“You think I don’t care — ?”
“I know you don’t!”
“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 obligation, or pity, or guilt — “
“I’ve known you for five years!”
“Yeah, known and hated. This isn't how our relationship works, Potter. You don’t get to care about me.”
Potter gave a harsh, barking laugh. "You're oblivious. Bennett, when are you going to stop acting like a kid and realize that there are people out there who—for completely unfathomable reasons—actually care about you—?“
“Oh, and I’m guessing you’re one of those 'people'?”
“And what if I am?” Potter bellowed, wildly throwing his hands up in the air. His voice echoed against the tiled walls, each reverberation coming at me like a punch to the gut.
I flinched, snapping my mouth shut. I knew my feelings were flicking across my face plain and clear as day, feelings I wasn’t supposed to show to anyone, least of all Potter, but I couldn’t help it. The air around us pulsed with an unseen energy as the two of us stared at each other, both breathing heavily, our faces flushed. It was amazing how we could instantly go from exploding — meteorites bursting, stars combusting — to a sudden, static 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, telling me that he cared about me and causing me to reevaluate the order of how our relationship had been for the past five years. No. Impossible.
Right now, Potter and I’s relationship was the one anchor I had, the one certainty in my otherwise volatile life. 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 screaming had worn me out. I'd been weak before I'd thrown up, and now it was worse, my legs like limp noodles, my muscles heavy like metal. Not to mention the pesky black dots that kept on popping into my vision...
I made it two meters out the door before collapsing, succumbing to darkness for the second time that evening.
I woke in a dark room on an unfamiliar bed. It took a moment for me to remember what had happened, that something had even happened in the first place, but then the memory came hurtling 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 make out their occupants in the hazy darkness. Then I jolted in surprise; 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! The one place I'd been avoiding like death for the past two months! 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.
“Bennett?” Potter’s voice was heavy with sleep as he came to. He blinked, straightening in his chair and squinting at me. But I ignored him, too busy struggling for air to pay him any heed.
“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 my legs seemed to have mysteriously turned into stone while I'd been asleep. There was a metallic taste in my mouth. My heartbeat thudded furiously in my ears and I felt unbearably dizzy, like the world itself was spiraling out of control.
Suddenly I was thrashing, kicking and flailing and wild, my voice a weak panting between gasps. I had no power over my own body any longer. I was going berserk, but I couldn’t stop myself. The world was spiraling away from me, and I couldn’t stop myself. It was taking over, consuming me, swallowing me whole —
I got about two good kicks in before Potter finally managed to subdue me, my spastic flailing no match for his physical strength as, cursing, he used one hand to press my shoulder into the mattress and the other to grab my chin, swinging my face around to look at him so that we were practically nose to nose.
“Agatha,” Potter said urgently but calmly, his grip 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 went instantly rigid at the word 'dorm,' and then my body suddenly was slack as relief seemed to course from my toes to the top of my head. Dorm. Not Hospital Wing. I relaxed, my mind inwardly chanting Potter’s words like a mantra.
Somehow, I managed to catch my breath and my body became limp and tired once more. Slowly, cautiously gauging my expression for any sign of hysteria, Potter pulled away.
We stared at each other for a moment.
And then I promptly burst into tears.
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 — and I was sobbing my bloody eyes out.
They weren’t loud. They were the soft, whimpering kind, the pathetic kind, and I just sort of curled myself into a little ball and started shaking for a bit as I let them out. I stayed like that for a while, crying, not making a sound.
Potter didn’t try and rub my back or tell me everything was going to be alright—something that I appreciated. He just sat on the edge of the mattress next to me silently, jaw working, his eyes trained on me in a look of neither pity nor contempt but something else entirely, something slow-burning and hard. And then, when I had stopped crying, 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, with my eyes all puffy and an absolutely charming combo of snot and tears smeared across my face. I crumpled the tissues in my fists, looking up at Potter. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be," he said quietly.
I nodded and looked away, staring at the maroon comforter draped across my legs. There wasn't 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, and dabbed at my face once more with the tissues. “I can't believe you put up with me."
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," he said quietly, so the others wouldn't hear. "It’s okay to fall apart sometimes.”
“But I have to be strong. For Dom and Freddy and my mum and...”
Potter turned around and looked at me for a long while, his topaz eyes narrowed in careful concentration, the white line of his teeth cutting into his lower lip. Then he reached up and, with a flick of his fingers, brushed a tear off my cheekbone. Innocent. I blinked, and his fingers stayed there for a moment, on my cheekbone, skin touching skin as we looked breathlessly at each other.
Then suddenly, unexpectedly, Potter drummed his fingers lightly against my cheek — just that, a slight, one-two-three motion that was both surprisingly intimate and earth-shattering all at once. It was a motion that didn't seem to belong to this world or the people in it. It was a motion that happened so quickly, it didn't even register, and then Potter was dropping his hand back down to his lap and looking away.
There was a long silence.
Potter rubbed the back of his neck, and then cleared his throat. “Your mum and Dom and Aidan," he said lowly. "They're not here. You don’t have to be strong for them right now.”
It felt like Potter’s fingertips had left a trail of fire across my skin. Our faces had been inches apart. Everything was quiet, and then he turned to me again, his eyes sprinkled with the silver moonlight slanting through the windows. There was something important about this moment. Something fragile and delicate and shuddering just beneath the surface.
“You’re here,” I whispered, not daring to speak any louder.
Potter's lips quirked upwards in an ironic, small smile. “I won’t tell.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but thought better of 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 breathe a word to Dom, or Freddy, or my mum... 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 the Prefect, goody-goody act I put up and recognize that I was human. Maybe I was just crazy. But I was going to tell him.
"There's something inside me," I said hesitantly to the dark air in front of me. "A feeling. And I call this feeling It, and everyday, when I'm going to class or just walking down the hallway or brushing my teeth, It will show up. And it's like standing on the edge of a pit when the dirt is crumbling underneath your feet. Sometimes I'm able to control myself, to not let myself fall, but I fear... I fear that I'm losing the power to do so."
Potter didn’t say anything for a long moment, letting me stew in mild regret and embarrassment as I waited for him to say something. Oh, Merlin. Please say something. He must have thought I was talking absolute nonsense, that I needed to be locked up somewhere with padded walls and people who confiscated any and all pointy objects. In a brief flash of mortification, I considered just tumbling out of the bed and scurrying out the room in shame.
But then he said, quietly, "I know what you mean."
I looked up at him, features slackening in amazement, and saw that Potter's frown was furrowed and his mouth drawn and unhappy and his eyes tired but, also, more importantly, burning with sincerity. He had felt it too, I realized. He understood and had maybe experienced what I hadn't even been able to put into words.
It was like his confession had filled my entire body with warm air. I looked at Potter in amazement, wondering if he would reach out again, do that thing with his fingers on my cheekbone that I had liked so much. I wanted him too and, realizing this, I sighed and leaned down on the mattress. I felt drained. There was nothing left inside of me to offer.
Potter was just about to stand up and leave when I grabbed him by the shirtsleeve.
“Wait,” I mumbled and he blanched, looking almost caught off guard. I got the words out fast, before I could regret them. "Will you stay with me? Tonight? I just. I can’t be alone right now.”
Potter 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, and in the murky light of dawn struggling through the windows, I realized that there was a sudden absence inside of me.
It was gone and, instinctively, I knew that it wouldn't be coming back.
Sleep swallowed me in an instant.
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