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Clash by shenanigan
Chapter 24 : Explode
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 131


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The way I saw it, this situation could be a lot worse.

For example: I could be naked.

Seriously — everything was totally fine. So I had a monumental freak-out. So it was big enough to rival the time Dom went shopping for last year’s Yule Ball, discovered the dress she wanted didn’t come in her size, and ended up biting the sales employee in a fit of rage. So James Sirius Potter witnessed said freak-out and, twelve hours later, I was now waking up in his bed. So what?

It was no biggie.

Really. I was fine with it — totally chill. Like whatever, dude.

I mean, okay, Potter and I did hate each other with a burning, fiery-hot passion. And alright, admittedly, waking up in the same bed as him was a huge betrayal to my personal values and fiercely-held principles. But truthfully? I was okay.

Because like I said, I could be naked.

It was kind of an accomplishment, if you thought about it. After all, not many girls at this school could brag about sleeping in the same bed as James Sirius Potter while still managing to stay fully clothed. I should actually be congratulated for such will-power.

And I definitely should not be freaking out about this whole situation in the slightest. Nope. Not even one tiny bit. Because I was totally chill.

Chill, dude. Chill.

I incessantly repeated this phrase in my head as, slowly, I half-rolled, half-fell out of Potter’s bed, trying my best not to wake the still-sleeping prat himself. He was currently sprawled out across the mattress, half his stupidly attractive face smushed into his pillow, limbs thrown in every which way. Bloody tosser had taken up the whole bed. Go figure. Even when unconscious, Potter managed to still be a git.

I tore my gaze from his unconscious form, jaw gritting resolutely. Over my dead body would I get caught staring at James bloody Potter while he slept. Nor would I let anyone see me gawking at the sickeningly adorable way Potter's hair had been mussed with sleep, or the golden patterns the morning light made on his cheekbones, or the tiny smattering of freckles on his nose. Nope. I wasn't looking at any of that. Because I had will-power.

At a pain-staking pace, I crouched down to all four knees and began crawling my way through the nuclear implosion of clutter that was the Fifth-Year Boys' Dormitory. As ridiculous as I felt on the ground, I knew that the sprawl of books and broomsticks in front of me would make for a sodding obstacle course if I were standing. And the last thing I wanted was to wake Potter with the graceful sounds of another classic Agatha Bennett Tumble. No. Best to stay close to the ground — this was enemy territory after all.

And so I headed for the door, contemplating my current life's position the whole way. Here I was, esteemed Prefect and proud Slytherin, crawling army-style across the floor of the boys’ Fifth Year Gryffindor Dorm with both my dignity and my left shoe mysteriously missing.

It was a time for a serious re-evaluation of some of my life-choices. And perhaps a couple disinfectant wipes as well — Merlin knew what had been spilled, left or living on this floor.

By the time I finally — thank Merlin — reached the door, my heart was thudding furiously in my chest,my entire body taut with anxiety at the prospect of waking Potter or any of his dorm-mates. I clambered to a stand, throwing a glance over my shoulder at Potter, who was still sprawled out on his bed and thankfully, peacefully asleep.

I was so screwed.

It seemed to hit me all at once, my forced attempts at calm dissolving in the face of reality. I had slept with — next to, next to — James Sirius Potter. In his bed. This was the boy who, in Third Year, hexed my hair green for a week. This was the boy who insulted me practically every chance he got. This was the boy who I hated, loathed, absolutely despised —

And who last night, had picked me up off a bathroom floor and somehow managed to put me back together again.

He had watched me utterly and completely break down. He had seen all my hidden insecurities, my buried weaknesses. He had watched me cry, for Merlin's sake. I didn't even cry in front of people I liked, let alone the ones I hated.

So how could I face him now?

No, I silently reprimanded as I dusted myself off, sharply exhaled and cracked open the dormitory door. I wasn’t going to freak out about this. I was going to reign in my neuroses and stay calm as I tried to figure out a solution to this mess. After all, I was Agatha Bennett — esteemed Prefect and proud Slytherin. I could handle anything. Even a mortal enemy who had suddenly turned into a naptime buddy.

I was not going to start freaking out about this.

—*—

“I am so freaking out about this.”

Dominique Weasley rolled her eyes at my vehement proclamation, petal-pink lips shaping into a letter ‘o,’ as she poured a stream of cigarette smoke out into the chilly air. “Oh, relax. So you guys slept together — "

“Next to each other. Next to each other!

“Technicalities.” Dom shrugged her slim shoulders and took another drag of her cigarette, eyes unfocusing as she stared moodily into the stormy distance. “Either way, it’s nothing to have a strop about.”

The two of us had perched ourselves on a cluster of jagged rocks near the Black Lake, enjoying the wonderfully arctic weather and the self-satisfying feeling of a good ol’ fashioned brood. The sky above looked to be on the brink of a thunderstorm, the chilly air around us charged and humming with electricity. Sprawled out before us, the Black Lake swirled and crashed in a temperamental fashion that fantastically matched our collective mood. Dom sucked on a cigarette, looking tired and unhappy, while I sat next to her, looking...well, just unhappy.

“Nothing to have a strop about?” I exclaimed to the open air, throwing my arms out heatedly. “Dom, it’s Potter. And me. In the same bed.”

She smirked and rakishly wiggled her eyebrows, though her eyes were still trained carefully on the water. “I always thought you two would make a cute couple.”

I inhaled sharply, unable to believe the blasphemy I was hearing. “How could you even say such a thing?"

“I’m being serious." Dom looked darkly amused as she flicked the ash off her cigarette. "You’ve got that whole ‘sexual tension’ thing going on.”

I snorted. “Yeah, if by 'sexual tension' you mean the uncontrollable urge to strangle each other.”

Wrong thing to say. Dom simply chuckled and threw a coquettish wink my way. “Kinky.”

“Not kinky. Homicidal,” I waspishly corrected, before quickly plucking Dom’s stupid cigarette from between her two fingers. “And give me that — do you want to die by the age of twenty? Because if so, please do remember we promised each other back in Third Year that whoever dies first has to leave behind all her clothes to the other."

Dom didn't reply, shooting me a withering look as I chucked the cancer- stick into the swirling, slate abyss of the Black Lake. “That’s littering, you know.”

“And that was smoking on Hogwarts Grounds," I pointed out helpfully. "So I think we’re even.”

The minute that last word left my mouth, however, something in my brain seemed to suddenly click together. I froze, back stiffening as the strange mental shift, like a giant puzzle finally being put in place, had my brain start humming excitably. Even. I let my jaw drop, eyes widening slightly as the epiphany hit. Of course! Why hadn't I thought of it earlier?

Dom was peering at me with an air of vague concern, flapping a hand in front of my face. “Hello?" she snapped impatiently. "Earth to Aggy? Are we having a Freddy moment here?”

I slowly turned to Dom, an awed grin spreading itself across my face. “Tell me I’m a genius.”

“You’re a genius,” she deadpanned, pausing before quickly adding: “And I’m a liar. What gives?”

“I have a plan," I announced proudly, feeling my mood lift considerably for the first time in a a while. "I know how to fix this Potter... mishap."

“Uh oh." Dom rolled her spearmint eyes, no longer interested in what I had to say. "Spacing out, delusions of grandeur, impulsive planning... You are definitely having a Freddy moment.”

My best friend was looking at me like I had just expressed a hidden desire to eat my own sock — her eyebrows were quirked together, lips pursed in a skeptical way that practically came with its own free sassy finger snap. She definitely thought I was losing my mind (if she even believed I had one in the first place), yet I couldn’t bring myself to care. I was having a goddamned epiphany, son. An actual epiphany! I thought those only happened in history books and on House M.D., but no! It was happening right now — to me!

I scrambled to a stand, suddenly equipped with absolute certitude as to what I had to do and where I had to go. "Dom, I have to go," I announced and, not even giving her the time to act properly bewildered, I slung my bag over my shoulder and tried not to slip on the wet surface of the rocks as I clambered my way to firm ground. "See you later!"

And with that, I left my best friend sitting there, obviously perplexed, and started to half-jog, half-walk back to the castle.

Dom and her sexual tension theory could suck it.

I knew what I had to do. I knew how I was going to fix this.

—*—

Two hours later and I found myself standing outside the History of Magic classroom, foot tapping impatiently and fingers fiddling with a shiny gold badge.

I had done it — I had actually done it. Granted, it had taken a lot of begging, groveling, and some none-too-sincere complimenting ("Your nose hairs look especially... luscious today, Professor!”), but for once in my life, I had actually pulled something off with minimum humiliation involved.

Drum roll, please....


I had gotten Potter’s Prefect's badge back.

And not just the badge. I had successfully reinstated Potter’s position as a Hogwarts Prefect. All it had required was time, some expertly executed butt-kissing towards one somewhat-bemused Professor Nott, and a lot of my already-crumbling dignity.

But that was okay! The point was that I'd achieved what I'd been aiming for, and now I was one step closer to alleviating the weird emotional tension now strung between Potter and I.

See, the reason why I wanted Potter’s badge was simple — to even out the playing field. After all, I owed Potter right now. He had helped me after The Freak Out, had consoled me during my worst moment, and — as far as I knew — hadn’t told a soul about what'd happened.

I owed him so much for that.

And I hated owing people. I hated walking around with that hanging over my head, feeling my heart jump guiltily out my chest every time I so much as caught a flash of tousled black hair or a red-and-gold tie in the hallway. Besides, Potter and I's strange relationship wasn't equipped to handle big emotional debts. We had a system of easy, automatic hate, and any sort of weird past favors or good deeds messed that system up.

So I did this one thing for Potter, hoping it could balance out the scales. The plan was pretty simple — get Potter his badge, give it back (hopefully in a manner that didn't invovle actually interacting with him), and never speak to the git again. Perfect.

This way, I would have finally returned the favor. Nobody would owe anybody. Potter and I could move on with our separate lives and The Freak Out would just be nothing but a tiny blip on our otherwise spotless record of hatred and quarreling.

“Bennett?”

I practically jumped out of my skin at the voice — deep, lilting, and a bit confused — tearing through my thoughts. Heart a-skittering, I wheeled around to come face to face with Potter, having just spotted me after exiting the History of Magic classroom, where I'd known he would be.

...Er, in a totally unstalkerish way, that is. I'd found out Potter had HoM by asking some of the smitten third-year girls who had his schedule memorized. If anything, they were the creepy ones.

Potter looked all sleepy and mussed as he regarded me with bewilderment, like he had just woken up from a long nap (which, given the class he'd just been in, he probably had). His white button down was crinkled in some places, the sleeves hastily pushed up to expose tanned forearms. Tanned forearms with muscles that rippled and tensed whenever he adjusted his bag, or ran his hand through his hair, or — okay, stopping now.

“What are you doing here?” Potter asked, brow furrowing. He looked completely composed and normal, his demeanor devoid of any sign of last night's... er, activities.

“I — uh — erm,” I said oh-so-eloquently, trying my best to rip my gaze away from Potter’s biceps (I had a thing for arms, okay?). Snapping myself into reality: “I just came here to give you this.”

I thrust out the badge, giving a half-sheepish, half-’yeah I know I’m awesome whare are you gonna do about it?’ shrug. But Potter simply stared blankly at me.

I frowned. According to the detailed game-plan in my head, this was supposed to be the point where Potter gleefully accepted my gift, showered me in thanks and words of praised, and perhaps ripped his shirt off in a passionate display of gratitude. Instead, he was simply staring at the golden badge in my hand, one eyebrow quirked skeptically.

“What is it?”

“What do you mean what is it?” I huffed exasperatedly, shoving the badge under his nose as if that would make him appreciate it more. “It’s your prefect's badge. I got it back for you.”

“You got it back for me?” Potter shot back quickly, then — hazel eyes hardening with realization — seemed to finally understand the implications of my statement. "Wait, Bennett. Did you — ?"

"Yup," I said, unable to keep the edge of pride from creeping into my voice. "I got your position re-instated. You're officially a Prefect again."

Potter stared at me for a long moment, gaze flat and unfazed. "Why?"

Just as I was about to open my mouth to give Potter some bullshit excuse (probably along the lines of, “Because I’m a good person and I pity you, now shut up, take off your shirt and leave me alone”), Potter’s face suddenly brightened, illuminating with a look of realization. A look I did not like at all.

“You’re trying to make us even.” Potter crossed his arms, leaning languidly against the doorframe of the classroom and arching a brow. Several nearby Hufflepuff girls (and I think one bloke) sighed dreamily at the movement. “This is about last night.”

I shuddered at his words — the way he had phrased that made it seem like ‘last night’ was something more than it... er, actually was. “Not at all!”

He rolled his eyes at my obvious lie, still refusing to accept the bloody badge now resting rather uselessly in my hand. “Bennett, when are you going to stop running away and actually confront what’s right in front of your face?”

I stiffened defensively, sensing that my act of goodwill was starting to backfire on me. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do!” Potter seemed to be getting more and more frustrated by the minute. He was tugging his hand through his hair and clenching his jaw, just like he always did when he got agitated. “Do I have to spell it out for you? Aidan’s in the hospital. You're too scared to actually cope with the fact — ”

“Will you just take the badge already?”

“So you run away. Last night — ”

“Everyone has different ways of dealing with things!”

“I found you lying on the bathroom floor, drunk, hysterical... I — You scared the living hell out of me, Bennett.”

“Don’t.” I hated how Potter could act like this. Like he actually cared about my well-being, like he was worried about me. No doubt he secretly just enjoyed the whole state of things, watching me act all helpless and needy while he got to stand by, superior and smug.

But Potter was already ranting on, leaving me no time to stew in my self-righteous anger. “And now, Bennett, instead of talking about it, you’re trying to make things better by giving me a fucking prefect’s badge! How about a gold star and a pat on the head while you’re at it?” He scoffed, pushing himself off the doorframe and coming close — much too close — to where I stood. His eyes were bright and incensed — amber slits that simmered with so much anger, so much feeling, I inadvertently took a step back. “When are you going to face the truth and stop hiding from everything?”

“Probably around the same time you stop acting like a self-righteous bastard,” I shot back, grappling to regain control over my emotions.

I was amazed at how quickly the mood had changed. This smoldering, furious Potter was so different from the gentle, quiet Potter from last night, the one who had tucked my hair behind my ears and told me it was okay to be scared, it was okay to want to fall apart. Last night... things had been so different. The line between us, the one that usually separated us as enemies, had blurred. I had confessed things to Potter that I hadn’t dared breathe to anyone else. And now here we were, that very same line carved once more, deeper than ever, bickering and quarreling and fighting just like old times. It was like last night had never even happened.

“You know what? I’m done with your denial, Bennett.” Potter pushed past me, lips curled in disgust, eyes flashing with surprising intensity. “You can keep the fucking badge.”

And then he walked away. Just like that, leaving me standing there alone, holding nothing but a glittering gold badge that, all of a sudden, was starting to feel a lot heavier.

—*—

I liked heights.

A lot.

As a diehard Slytherin, I was scared of a lot of things — spiders, commitment, little children, owls — but strangely enough, I'd never been scared of heights.

I actually enjoyed the feeling of being high above my surroundings, of being withdrawn from the world. I liked being able to take a step back and survey the landscape. It gave me time to think and room to breathe.

So that night, I found myself standing by the North window of the Astronomy tower, staring out at the dark cobalt sky spread before me. It was that weird ‘limbo’ time of evening — the sun had just finished setting, and it wasn’t daytime, but not quite nighttime either. A thin feather of light still clung to the horizon, fading into an otherwise flawless sapphire sky.

The French had a name for it, actually, this strange time of day. L'heure bleu. Literally translated, it meant 'the hour blue.' It was a sentiment that seemed to perfectly encapsulate the beautiful simplicity, the glittering mysticism of this half-step between sunset and dusk.

I swallowed hard, pushing my rippling hair out of my eyes, and shook myself from my thoughts. It was pretty windy out — and cold. The kind of cold that gnawed at your bones, dug under your skin, and lingered there even after you went back inside to drown it with a gallon of hot cocoa. A haunting cold.

Below me, I could see as far as Hogsmeade, its twinkling lights peeking sleepily underneath a haze of snow and dark sky. Oh yeah. Snow. It had snowed. Wow. I had been locked up in this castle for so long, going absolutely bonkers, I hadn’t even realized that there was an outside world with changing seasons and everything.

Speaking of... Hadn't there been a Hogsmeade Outing recently? I remembered Dom had mentioned something during lunch about Fred taking Evelyn. Yes, the one and only Evilyn Stanford. It was a miracle that she had even said yes to the bloke. And it would be a bigger miracle if it turned out she had actually survived the date — knowing Fred, he had probably tried to get her to do something crazy like ‘ice-fishing’ or ‘naked-sledding’ or whatever else his twisted brain could come up with.

I sighed, leaning onto the ledge of the half-wall that separated me from a lurching, unpleasant drop of Merlin-knows-how-many feet. All my friends were somewhere in the castle, laughing, talking, and trying to forget. And here I was looking down into the darkness, alone and trapped in my own thoughts. And whose fault was that?

Maybe Potter was right. Maybe I needed to finally face things.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

I jumped at the familiar voice. Steeling myself, I turned around to face — who else? — Potter, who was standing nonchalantly in the doorway of the Tower. Half his face was obscured by shadow, and he had his hands shoved into his backpockets.

“Merlin! You scared me," I bit out accusingly, heart practically leaping out of my chest.

Potter didn't reply, his face unreadable partly because of the shadow, and partly because that's how he always sodding was. For a while, there was nothing but the sound of the wind howling between us, my heart thumping furiously, and then:

“The French have a name for it.” Potter stepped closer, and his expression was finally thrown into the light. I took in the intense, liquid amber of his eyes, the clenched jaw that seemed to hold some barely-surpressed emotion, and frowned. There was something...off about him right now, something that seemed different.

His eyes were uncannily bright, his words slurring together at their ends. He wasn’t as put together, as collected as usual. His clothes were disheveled and, most alarmingly, there was a contempt, a stark bitterness twisting his expression into a snarl tinged with hollow amusement — as if he was finding this whole ordeal funny in a strange, morbid way.

“L’heure bleu.” I finished quietly. “Potter, are you drunk?”

He smirked. “What's it to you?”

“Potter, you shouldn’t be — “

“What was it you said earlier? Everybody has different ways of dealing with things?”

I snapped my mouth shut — gaze flattening into a glare at having my own words thrown in my face. It was so sodding typical of Potter that, even when drunk, he would somehow try to out-argue me.

“What do you want? Why are you hear?” I tried to snap, but my voice was too weary and too tired to carry the intended acidic edge.

Potter simply kept walking, staggering forward until we were almost nose-to-nose.

His eyes seemed to soften slightly when they met mine, the derision on his face melting away for a heart-stopping second. “I want to tell you something," he murmured quietly, voice as slow and thick as molasses.

A wave of shivers was undulating down my spine. I licked my dry lips and looked up, refusing to let go of Potter’s black-gold gaze. “What?”

Potter stared at me for a moment, openly, frankly, eyes shockingly sincere — and then his expression hardened, snapping back to its usual harsh brand of superiority and annoyance. He flicked his derisive gaze over me in a judgmental once-over, mouth twisting unpleasantly. "You're a coward, Bennett," he said flatly, and his tone was sharp and unforgiving.

The words hit me hard, for some reason, and I reared back as if I'd just been slapped. Though I shouldn't have been surprised — what else would Potter have said? "I think you're really cool and pretty and I hope you like the friendship bracelet I braided for you"? Not bloody likely.

Still, though. Somehow those words hurt a lot more than I thought they would. Maybe it was because of the completely detached scorn in Potter's gaze. Confronted with it, I felt like I wasn't even deserving of being his best mate's annoying prude-sister. I felt like less than that. He'd looked at me as if I were a nothing, as if I disgusted him.

I stepped back, unable to tolerate Potter's hot gaze any longer.

...And he stepped forward, evidently refusing to let me back away from the confrontation. The torchlight of the tower fell across his face, etching in detail the smooth line of his jaw, his tousled shock of black hair, the specks of gold in his eyes.

We stared at each other, hostile blue meeting contemptuous gold. I was breathing heavily, my heartbeat ringing deliriously in my ears, mingling with the sound of the howling wind...

“You’re a coward, Bennett," Potter reiterated simply, angrily, not holding back a single drop of loathing. "You run away, pull back from the people who care about you. You think that will solve things, right?"His voice was a murmur, words light and precise and dizzyingly quick ."You think that, if you hide any weaknesses and act like everything’s okay, then everything will be okay. But it’s not.”

He paused, obviously savoring this moment, eyes glinting with a kind of malice that I’d never seen before. Sure, Potter and I obviously hated each other. We fought and bickered and used every tactic in the book to get under the other's skin. But it had just been a game we played. Push each other to the limit and see who could make the other back down first. Never, in all of our arguments or pranks, had Potter actually gone out of his way to hurt me like this. These words... they weren’t part of a game anymore. They were real and true and chosen specifically to dig at all my sore spots.

“You’re crumbling from the inside out, Bennett," Potter was continuing frankly, with no regard for the growing horror on my face. "And he isn’t getting any better — “

“Stop.” My facade was cracking. I could feel my lower lip trembling, the back of my throat stinging in a strange, bitter ache.

“No, I’m not going to stop. Just grow up, will you?” Potter’s voice was slowly getting louder and louder, edged with frustration. I had never seen him like this, so intense, so raw, so fervent with feeling. “Just admit it. You’re a coward — “

I shirked away. “Back off, will you?!”

“No.” The word echoed, lingering meaningfully in the silent air. “Not until you admit it.”

“You — you don’t understand," I said meekly. I felt trapped, like Potter had backed me into an invisible mental corner with no way out. My cheeks were hot and feverish, my hands shaking. But still he pressed on, features twisted into a cruel scowl.

“You really think I don’t understand?" At this, Potter let out a quiet, grim laugh, shaking his head in mocking incredulity. "You think I don’t know what it’s like, Bennett? You don’t think I feel guilty too? I was up there with him, that game. I'm the sodding Captain. I should have been there to stop what happened, should have known what Cooper was planning — "

He trailed off, golden eyes dimming slightly as he seemed to withdraw from the present, sinking back into that long-ago memory. And I suddenly realized that, just like me, Potter was going through hell each day to cover it all up, to put on the usual mask of indifference and apathy and get on with life. But it was too late. He was drunk and fed up, and I could see every emotion on his face — Regret. Sorrow. Remorse.

Never, in all this time, would I have guessed Potter could feel this way. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Yes, I was Aidan’s sister. But Potter was his best friend, and he had been there during the accident, watched it happen. Despite myself, despite everything Potter had said to me in the past few minutes, I still felt guilty understanding swell inside of me. That must have been truly awful.

“Potter.” I reached out to put a hand on his shoulder, grab his arm, do anything to convey my empathy — but all of a sudden he was pulling away, leaving the space before me feeling oddly cold.

“No, Bennett," he shook his head, eyes alight with a sudden spark of anger. "No. Your pity's not going to work — "

“Potter — ” I began exasperatedly, but my voice broke off when he wheeled around and I watched, in horror, as he walked away and climbed onto the ledge of the Tower wall, surprisingly agile for being so drunk. My stomach plummeted, my heart started beating so hard it hurt. “What are you doing?”

“You’re not a coward, Bennett?” Potter was smiling in a strange, rueful kind of way. He held his arms out in a mock version of a tightrope walker, putting one foot carefully in front of the other as he walked the length of the ledge. The ledge that opened up to nothing but the sky and a neck-breaking fall.

“Prove it," Potter said, hazel eyes burning into my skin, triumphant with the knowledge that he was playing with his life and daring me to do something about it.

“I — don’t — you —“ I stuttered incompetently. My mind was racing furiously, and yet I couldn’t seem to figure out what to say. Dread’s icy cold fingers were raking down my spine, its frigid chill a direct contrast from my sweating skin. Oh god, no. This couldn’t be happening. Potter. On the ledge. Of the Astronomy Tower. One misstep, one stumble, and he’d be dead.

My muscles were screaming for me to do something, anything, but it was like I was paralyzed. I was unable to do anything but watch with a mixture of terror and morbid fascination as Potter carelessly, tauntingly ambled from one end to the other.

“What?” he spun on one foot as he turned around in a quick, fluid motion that nearly gave me a heart attack. Fear, panic, hysteria all battled inside my chest, clawing at me from the inside out — I felt dizzy, sick. “Cat got your tongue?

I was suddenly aware of tears burning hot in the corners of my eyes. I tried to say something, anything, but it was like my throat had closed up. I was being strangled by my own voice. “Please, Potter —” I whimpered.

“Scared yet, Bennett?”

He was playing with me, toying with my fear for his own cruel amusement, which was so unlike him. I mean, yes, we hated each other. But even through all those years of bickering and fighting, Potter had still managed to be like a brother to me. A very annoying, very inconvenient brother, but a brother all the same. Like I said, this whole hatred business — it was just a game. When it came down to it, when it really mattered, Potter would never do anything to deliberately hurt me. After all, he was a Gryffindor through and through. Chivalrous and noble to a fault, even with me, the girl he despised above all. Nothing had demonstrated that better than last night, when Potter had been my rock, my anchor. I had held onto him, of all people, while it had felt like the rest of the world was slipping away.

But right now, last night seemed like forever ago, a parallel universe with its own parallel universe Potter. Because here this Potter was standing in front of me, on a ledge two-hundred metres above the ground, twisted and warped by anger and alcohol and whatever-else into some cruel, malicious person I didn’t know.

Potter eyes locked with mine, and immediately, my gaze hardened over. I suddenly knew what I had to do, and the realization made me stiffen with resolve. If he wanted to play dirty, then fine, we could play dirty.

“No.” I straightened, trying my best to keep my voice from shaking. The wind had dried my tears. Yes, I was trembling head to toe, but I was still standing and I wasn’t backing down no matter how far the arsehole pushed me. “I’m not scared.”

Potter stared at me for a moment, gauging my expression with thoughtful interest. And then slowly, the left corner of his lips tilted upwards in a smirk. He understood what I was doing. And he liked it.

He hopped off the ledge and staggered towards me, still smirking in an implicit acceptance of my challenge. I took a step back, only to feel my back inadvertantly bump into the wall behind me. Without me knowing it, Potter had backed me against the wall.

I watched with angry eyes as, realizing this as well, Potter placed both hands on the stone wall on either side of my head, effectively trapping me, and leaned in provocatively close. We were basically nose-to-nose, and this was far too close for comfort for me.

Expression one of dark amusement, Potter slowly reached out and gently tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. The movement was so similar to what he had done last night, but with an entirely different context to it.

“How about now?” he murmured softly. "Are you scared now, Bennett?"

I resisted the urge to shiver. It was like all of my senses were tingling with a dizzying, renewed awareness of reality. Everything suddenly seemed sharper, more vivid as I stared into Potter’s bright hazel eyes and shook my head.

“No, I'm not,” I gritted out, flashing a wavering smirk of my own.

And then Potter did something I was totally unprepared for. The smirk seemed to fall from his face, replaced by something intent and almost curious as, eyes darkening, he reached down and — slowly, so slowly — drew a feather-light line from my left jawbone to my mouth, tracing with agonizing slowness the outline of my lips with his finger. The movement was so simple and yet so totally mesmerizing, I couldn't even think of backing away.

I simply stared at Potter like a deer caught in the headlights, waiting with bated breath until he finally stopped at my cupid's bow, squinting inscrutably at me.

“Now?” Potter murmured, his finger still on my skin.

Oh my god. My entire body was trembling, every nerve fizzling with energy. What Potter had done — plus the fact that it had been Potter doing it — had left my heart seizing and my brain cells incoherent.

What we were playing right now was, essentially, a game of chicken. Just like old times, except with entirely new stakes. The rules were simple: push each other to the limit, see who cracked first, who betrayed their discomfort. The person that backed down first would be the loser.

“No," I bit out, but my voice sounded strangled and unconvincing. This was entirely new territory for the two of us — this was flirtation and attraction and toe-ing the line. This was dangerous.

I tilted my chin, trying to appear confident as possible, but Potter didn’t seem to notice... Since he was too busy doing the exact same thing as before, except this time — oh god, oh fuck — with his lips.

Holy naked Merlin, what the hell was happening? My eyes fluttered closed, a feeble gasp escaping my mouth as Potter’s lips — soft and so, so, light — brushed against my jaw, trailing across my own skin as his left hand came up to cup the side of my face. My nerve-endings weren’t just fizzling anymore — they were bloody on fire. My legs had forgotted how to function. I was practically collapsed against the wall as my heart pulsed furiously, pumping heat and fire through my bloodstream, making my head spin, my toes curl, my nerves spark...

“What about now?” he murmured against my skin, and I practically dissolved right then and there. This was too much. This couldn’t be happening. This shouldn’t be happening. We hated each other. He was drunk. I was emotional. There were too many built-up feelings right now, raw and dangerous like live wires, at any moment ready to...

Explode. Oh god, oh Merlin, I couldn’t even think right now, my surroundings clouded with a hazy, muddled heat. Potter was going deliberately slow, I knew, as he made his way up and down my jawline and then, fuck, I could hardly even breathe, because all of a sudden his mouth was barely brushing mine, teeth scraping lip, the synapses in my brain exploding, my stomach fluttering, my skin on fire —

All of a sudden, my hands were reaching out of their own accord and scrabbling across his chest until they found purchase. Before I knew it, I was pushing Potter away, and then there was air, and I was opening my eyes, and the world was still spinning but slower, now, slower...

Potter and I stared at each other, his eyes darker than ever, molten black gold, completely unreadable and almost... hungry-looking. I flicked my gaze to the ground.

We were both breathing heavily. My cheeks were flushed, my heart racing a mile a minute. Despite my relief at finally having pushed him away, I was also...almost put out. My skin suddenly felt cold, empty.

I locked eyes with Potter again. His gaze was heady and intense as he regarded my stunned expression head-on, no hesitancy, no fear in his demeanor, just the angry determination clenched in his jaw.

There was a beat of silence that seemed to last forever, the air around us pulsing with an unseen energy, our ragged breathing puncturing the quiet.

"I'm not a coward," I finally snapped, voice adamant and dangerous. But it was so hard to lie and sound convincing when I was staring into Potter's knowing hazel eyes, my skin aching for his, the world tumbling out of control.

"Prove it," he snarled back.

...And then all of a sudden I was stepping towards him and he was shoving his hands into my hair and we were kissing each other, the world exploding, the universe splitting at its seams, hell freezing under our feet as we lost ourselves in a tangle of mouth on mouth and skin on skin and heat on heat.

It wasn’t anything sweet or tender, like in those romance novels where the Tall-Dark-and-Handsome sweeps the Damsel in Distress off her feet. It was rough and intense and urgent and all different kinds of wrong. It was my nails digging into his shoulders and my hair tangled in his hands and me against a wall and his tongue doing that and oh, god, people always said they felt fireworks when they get kissed but I was feeling goddamn nuclear explosions...

Snogging Potter, it turned out, was a lot like fighting with him. Angry, aggressive, and a little bit violent. Each of us pushing the other to the limit, battling for dominance, for the upper-hand. It was pounding out our emotions — all that frustration, all that anger and bitterness and hurt, all poured into one, single kiss.

It seemed to last for a second and an eternity at once. Somewhere, in the back of my head, I knew I ought to be disgusted, that I should be pushing Potter away and slapping him in outrage. But that was easier said than done, especially when James Sirius Potter's lips and tongue and hands are making your head whirl, clouding everything over with this sweet, hazy heat...

The frigid wind howled around us, a stark contrast to the heat of our bodies, and the sensation made me subconsciously draw him closer until I was pressed flusha gainst him. With every movement, it felt like Potter was pushing me closer and closer to the brink of insanity. The world was spinning, my head spinning, everything spinning. His hands went from cupping my face to running through my hair to pressing insistently against my hips, all the while streaking trails of fire and sparks across my skin. His mouth seared hot on mine as our bodies frantically tangled closer, every inch between us an abomination, a crime. I felt like I was exploding, splitting apart, like everything I had ever known was being turned inside out and backwards...

And then he was pulling away, breaking our kiss, and I was suddenly left there feeling cold and strangely hollow, wanting more. Both of us were panting heavily, staring at each other with bright, disbelieving eyes, skin flushed and hot. My mouth tingled with a curious mixture of hot and cold. My gaze flitted from the ceiling to the floor, landing on anywhere but Potter.

Finally, I looked up and we locked eyes. There was a silence that seemed to close in on us, empty and quiet and unbearable. Potter’s jaw was set, his eyes glinting with unreadable emotion.

“I—“ I began.

But my voice was drowned out as all of a sudden, Freddy burst through the door, eyes wide and panicked and carrying what looked like a map of some sort, and oh god, this whole day was like a freaking episode of The freaking Twilight Zone.

“Aggy, James — “ Fred suddenly keeled over, chest heaving, blissfully oblivious to the shivering tension between Potter and I. He had obviously just been running a great deal. There was snow in his curly hair, and two girls were standing behind him — an anxious-looking Evelyn and a stricken-looking Dom.

For one terrible second, I thought that they had seen, or that they somehow could read our thoughts and knew what had just happened. But no. Freddy looked like he was wrapped too deep in his own feelings to even suspect something.

“I — What?” Potter’s voice was thick and hoarse, but at least he wasn’t slurring his words like before. Maybe the kiss had had an opposite effect on him. Whereas for me, it had hazed everything over in this sweet fog of blurriness, it seemed like it had actually sobered him up — a slap from reality. He was back to the regular Potter, emotions reigned in, face expressionless and guarded as always.

“Aggy, James — “ Fred began again, but Dom impatiently pushed past him, stepping into the torch-light, her movements brusque but, at the same time, almost meek-looking. She drew in a shaky breath, and somehow, I knew what she was going to say before she actually said it:

“Aidan’s awake.”


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