Chapter 25 : Tangles
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And that was how, five minutes later, Madame Pomfrey discovered a stampede of four breathless, wide-eyed teenagers bursting into her hospital wing in the middle of the night — unstoppable, hysterical, and knocking down everything in the way.
“Out, out! Family only!” Pomfrey shrieked, fluttering her hands in the air, but none of us seemed to hear her... Seeing as we had all gone a little mad.
Dom was alternating between hyperventilating and spontaneously collapsing on the floor in shock. Potter looked deep in thought as he furiously paced back and forth across the room, absentmindedly stepping over Dom’s crumpled body whenever he came across it. Fred was running around (Evelyn helplessly following after him) like an emotional chicken with its head cut off, throwing back the curtains of all the beds and screaming, “WHERE ARE YOU HIDING HIM, WOMAN?”
And I... I was just standing amidst all this chaos, not quite knowing what to do, trying to figure out what in the world had just happened.
I had kissed James Potter. Or rather, he had kissed me. Frankly, I wasn't too sure how that part went, since it had gone by in mostly just a blur of heat and anger and need and — and...
AS I WAS SAYING — Potter and I had kissed. Then, minutes later, my twin brother woke up from his two month-long coma.
And here I was, not sure if I should be happy or hysterical, not sure about anything, really, except for the fact that somehow my life had turned into a soap opera without me knowing it, and now we were living out what looked like a real-life episode of Jersey Shore, except with more teenage angst and everyone a lot paler-looking. Because England.
“You!” Madame Pomfrey bustled towards me, looking harried and absolutely fit to murder. I stared at her, dumbfounded, as she started to speak, watching her mouth open and close to form the words but not quite hearing what she was saying.
“...Chaos! Absolute chaos! This is a place of healing and peace, and you bring in these — these ruffians!” Pomfrey's livid face, already lined from old age, was etched with worry. Her hair was slipping out of its usually pristine bun. She seemed frazzled as she stepped towards me, gettin’ all up in my grill, looking like she was mere seconds away from wrapping her hands around my neck and throttling the living Merlin out of me.
I stepped back carefully. I quite liked air and would prefer to keep breathing it, thanks. “Madame — ”
“Hooligans! Deranged hooligans, all of you!” Pomfrey warbled, thrusting a shaky finger at my chest.
“Madame, can you please — ”
“ — vandals, hoodlums, scoundrels — ”
“DUDE! CHILL YOUR TITS!” I burst out, grabbing Pomfrey by the shoulders and giving her a rough shake. Okay, so perhaps that had been a smidge melodramatic. But hey, I was mere feet — mere seconds — away from seeing my twin brother... My twin brother who had just, in fact, woken from a coma. My twin brother who I’d been missing so much, I hadn’t even realized the extent of me missing him until now. My twin brother who... Come to think of it, probably hated my guts at the moment.
So cut me some slack, okay?
Pomfrey snapped her mouth shut, looking affronted, but I really couldn’t bring myself to care. The others had halted in their shenanigans and were now turned around, facing me, curious. Waiting.
After what seemed like forever, Pomfrey finally pushed my hands away, eyes sharp and murderous. She dusted herself off and straightened stiffly.
“Excuse me,” she said, voice prim and tight. "But that was out of line and highly inappropriate.”
Fred waggled his eyebrows knavishly, leering forward with a look he usually reserved for the table in the Grand Hall where all the Third Year Hufflepuff girls sat. “Damn skippy it was.”
There was a long pause in which everyone contemplated whether or not Freddy had really just tried to hit on Madame Pomfrey, and in which everyone seemed to individually reach the conclusion that, uh, yeah, he kind of had.
“...Wow. That was unnecessarily creepy,” Dom piped up from the floor.
“Damn skippy it — "
“Okay!” I exclaimed before anyone could respond and we were launched into a whole new round of chaos. “Madame Pomfrey, can you please take me to see my brother?”
Pomfrey blinked a few times, her face softening for an instant as she seemed to remember where we were and who exactly I was. She straightened and gave a curt nod. “I — yes, yes, of course.”
She turned around, patting her frizzing hair slightly, and started bustling past a row of neatly-made beds. The others quickly followed, and I could have sworn that, while she passed him, Fred threw a saucy wink towards Pomfrey.
Seriously? At a time like this? My whole existence was hanging in a delicate balance right now, and he was making passes at a woman who could be his grandmother?
I followed Madame Pomfrey through the labyrinth of bed and medical supplies, unsuccessfully trying to steady my heartbeat as I walked. For some reason, being in the Hospital Wing now reminded me of when I had first heard about Aidan's accident. I had run through the entirety of St. Mungo's trying to find him, completely out of control — I had socked Potter in the nose, for God's sake. What a complete contrast that was from now, with all five of us walking calmly towards the beds, taking our own sweet time. It seemed to last an eternity. Each footstep was agony, each second that ticked by a millennium.
And then finally, we were there. Behind me, Dom was sniffling. Fred’s hand was on my shoulder (it amazed me how he could go from creepy to comforting in two seconds flat). And Potter was standing right next to me, so close I could feel the warmth radiating from his body, the back of his hand barely brushing against mine, feather-light but enough for me to feel.
I took in a deep breath and prepared myself. Madame Pomfrey reached up and drew back the curtain...
And there he was.
Lying on the bed, healthy and breathing and miraculously awake. He looked the same as ever — boyish toffee-colored hair curling up around the ears. Warm, twinkling blue eyes. And that smile on his face — oh god, I had missed it so much. It felt like my whole body had compressed into one single, shuddering sliver of amazement, glowing with the impossibility of it all — here he was, awake, alive, amazing...
This was weird.
Like, really weird.
Maybe I had gone in to this with unrealistic expectations. Maybe the shock of it all was causing me to say and do all the wrong things. Maybe I had simply seen too many movie scenes of tearful reunions, and reality would never be able to compete with that. But I couldn't help but think that out of all the possible descriptors out there — joyful, miraculous, heartwarming — being with my brother for the first time after his accident was just... Well, weird.
After Dom had finished hyperventilating and Freddy had released Aidan from his twenty minute long bear-hug, Madame Poppy and the others had graciously left us alone so that Aidan and I could “chat.” They were probably expecting heartfelt declarations of sibling-love and joy, probably expecting me to collapse in a puddle of tears and emotional vulnerability. But that was not reality... Reality was two of us just sitting on Aidan's bed. In. Complete. Silence.
I couldn’t stop staring at him. It was amazing how much had changed, and yet, when my gaze was locked with Aidan's, there still remained underneath it all the enduring, unshakeable fact that I was tethered to him. Between us existed a bond, one that would always be there, even if I didn’t truly realize it. He was my brother. And as much pain and stress and heartbreak as he’d put me through, I couldn’t — literally, physically couldn’t — forget that.
“Hi,” I breathed.
There was a long, long pause. We didn’t break eye contact, just stared at each other, sitting together cross-legged on his hospital bed. Not touching. Tentative. Nervous. Quiet. We might as well have been meeting for the first time.
“Hi,” he said back, and oh god, it was Aidan. Talking. Smiling. With his fresh-laundry smell, and that dimple in his left cheek, and the sprinkling of freckles across his nose. With every little splash of detail I noticed, it was like a pleasant surprise, the resurfacing of some happy memory — like finding a galleon in your jeans pocket, or remembering the lines to a song you used to love a long time ago. I couldn’t get enough of him. All I could do was stare and stare and stare, unwilling to believe that this was truly happening, gulping in the vision in front of me.
Aidan. My Aidan.
We looked at each other some more. I hungrily drank in the features of his face, trying to memorize every freckle and dimple in case he ever left me again. God, I’d missed him. There was so much I had wanted to say, everything ranging from emotional proclamations of joy to a mum-style lecture about Quidditch safety, but now that I was finally faced with my brother, I was left blank.
Instead of words, I had only a singular memory of the two of us, stubbornly resurfacing to my mindseye. We had been seven years old. It had been summertime, I remember, and I had been getting ready for a dance recital after having taken a couple free ballet courses at the community center. It was right after my parents got divorced, and when you’re that young and your life changes like that, the little things — even stuff like crappy kid dance recitals — start to mean a lot.
I reminded my mom of it everyday, making her promise to take me. It was on a Sunday night, seven o’clock at the community theatre. I even hung up the flyer advertisement on our fridge. I was so excited, I practiced my bows and how I would wave to the audience.
But, as you'd probably guessed already, mum didn’t follow through. See, she’d taken the divorce pretty hard. Already a sensitive person, my mum had been left in tatters after my dad abandoned us. There had been a whole sixth-month long period in which she'd just suffer random, delirious breakdowns, bursting into tears while she was in the middle of doing something menial like sweeping the floor or folding our laundry. She would lock herself in her room for days on end, the blinds and door shut, refusing to come out unless for food. To this day, mum and dad still insist that their divorce had been a mutual decision. But Aidan and I knew better — dad left mum, and that had destroyed her.
For the next few months after the divorce, I had to take care of myself. And Aidan. I would pack our lunches, order take-out for dinner, even clean and go grocery-shopping. At the age of seven. Occasionally, Mum would decide to come out of her room and carry out the charade of the family unit for a bit longer, maybe do some dish-washing — her movements always so jerky and mechanical, that dazed look in her eyes — but she would either just give up half-way through, or, worse yet, smash whatever she washed into little pieces.
Yeah. Those few months, the Bennett Household hadn't been a very fun place to live.
Anyway, my dance recital. Like I said, mum was shut off in her own little word. I was distraught — I knew that she wasn’t going to take me or watch the show, hell, I had always known from the start that the thing was a lost cause. Which was why I'd been so surprised when Aidan showed up at my bedroom door, told me to “quit crying like a little baby,” and declared that he was taking me to the show.
Impossible, I had told him. After all, it was late on a Sunday, most of the buses had stopped running, and walking wasn’t an option since it was too far. We were doomed.
But then Aidan pulled out his shiny red bike. It was practically new — dad had bought it for him after the divorce in one of his lame attempts to appease his guilt and win us back over with shiny things. Aidan, Gryffindor through and through even back then, had refused to ride it on principle. But he made an exception for me.
Aidan was always making exceptions for me.
So that was how we got to the community theatre. Me on the handlebars of Aidan’s shiny red bike, wearing a ridiculously fluffy tutu, Aidan peddling furious behind me, the evening rushing past us in a blur of adrenaline and laughter and blue summer air. Several near spills, scraped knees, and minutes of bickering later, and we were there.
He watched the whole show, smiling from ear to ear like a proud parent, and when it finished, he'd jumped to his feet in a standing ovation.
I wasn't sure what this story had to do with what was happening now, or why it had even drifted to the surface of my memory. It just.... It just went to show, though, that we took care of each other, Aidan and I. That was just what we did.
First day of primary school, a teacher yelled at me for spilling glue on the desks. The next day, that same teacher mysteriously found all of her papers and supplies on the roof of the school, courtesy of my brother and a little bout of accidental magic.
When Bethany Rodman pushed Aidan into the sandbox in second grade, I put a living frog on her head. When we were ten, Aidan started learning how to skateboard. Consequently, I started learning first aid.
That was us in a nutshell. We sure as hell weren’t perfect, but we looked out for each other.
...And that wasn’t going to stop. Ever.
I looked at Aidan now, watched the way his eyes seemed to twinkle in the light, noticed the slight lilt of his mouth, the confused scrunching of his brow... and I knew that I had to get it out. I had to come clean.
“I didn’t visit you in the hospital,” I blurted out. I had no idea where the words came from, but strangely enough, they just seemed like the right thing to say.
There was a pause in which my brother took this in. Considered it. Mulled over the words in his head, like they were a new pair of jeans he was trying on for the first time. Finally, he nodded. “Okay,” he said solemnly, face uncharacteristically serious, and that was that.
But still, I felt the need to justify myself. "I just... I couldn't, Aidan. After you left, I was destroyed. And I know that sounds melodramatic and teenage-ish and stupid, but that's what it felt like." It was true. I hadn't been able to walk into a classroom without being pelted by pitiful glances. There was this... perpetual feeling of not ever being able to breath easy, It following my every footstep like some menacing, hulking shadow... I felt literally destroyed, every waking moment of every day.
"Anyway," I continued, taking in a deep breath and not meeting his eye. The back of my throat was stinging and even though I hated myself for it, my vision was beginning to blur with tears. "I just couldn't handle it. The thought of you lying in the hospital, the possibility of you... dying — "
All of a sudden, Aidan grabbed me by the shoulders, swiveling me around to meet his gaze, which was hard and icy with determination. "Aggy, look at me. Look at me. I'm sorry — "
" — no, I'm sorry. I was such a stubborn cow. I put Potter and the others through hell — "
" — that doesn't matter now. None of it does. I should be the one apologizing — I left you guys."
I shook my head fiercely. Aidan had already been through so much. I wasn't going to book him on a first-class guilt trip with Apology Airlines too. "Aidan, you didn't mean to leave us, it wasn't your fault. Fallon Cooper — "
"I know what Fallon Cooper did, and I'm prepared to forgive him for it." Aidan's grip on me tightened, his jaw set in a straight, firm line. I had never seen my flighty brother so passionate, so sure of something. For a brief moment, I wondered if the coma had changed him. If it had changed us all. "But that's not important. What's important is that I promise you, Agatha, that I will never leave you guys again."
I blinked dumbly for a moment, letting his words ring in my ears and allowing them to sink into recognition. Then, I shrugged Aidan's grip off. Hard. His hands dropped to the bed uselessly, surprise flickering across his face.
"I'm sorry, Aidan," I whispered quietly, tilting my head back and finally allowing the tears to fall. "But I can't believe that."
"Agatha — "
"I love you. But please, please — for my sake — don't make any promises you can't keep."
Aidan hesitated, and I could see in his eyes that he was probably thinking about the last time we had talked, when he had broken one of his biggest promises to me and consequently started the worst fight we'd ever had. It had been a nuclear, disastrous fight, and the only real reason why it still wasn't ongoing was because the coma had interrupted it. Even now, I could still feel the harsh words, the bitter resentments riding under the surface, bulky and noticeable, a hippogriff in the room. I was of course prepared to forgive Aidan for everything, but only if I could be sure that never again would he make another promise to me that he couldn't keep.
"Alright," he eventually said, face hard and unreadable. "Alright. I understand."
My smile was weak but grateful, and I reached up to touch Aidan on the shoulder, half-afraid that my hand would pass through him like a ghost's. But no. I could feel him. He was there, solid and alive.
I knew that what had happened with Aidan was far from being history, but now that he was awake, it was almost easy to pretend like the world had gone back to normal. Obviously there were things that were different, but that didn’t mean that we weren’t okay. Aidan was alive, for Merlin's sake. And for now, that was enough. What had happened in the past — the buried feelings, the hidden secrets and the angst-filled snogs with archenemies — were exactly that: the past. They could all be worked out later.
Speaking of angst-filled snogs — Potter and I would have to talk at some point. Right now, my feelings for him were coiled inside my chest in a clump of contradictions. On one end, there was resentment, anger, hatred. But on the other, there was grudging respect. Gratitude. and maybe eve a little bit of... attraction? At the moment it was impossible to tell, because in between those two ends of the spectrum, in between all our bickering and our make-ups and our interactions, there were a thousand undecipherable tangles of emotion that complicated everything, made it impossible to see the truth and decide what, exactly, were my real feelings for James Sirius Potter.
I shook my head, trying to get you-know-prat out of my head, and took a deep breath. I was here, in this moment with my brother, and for now that was all I needed.
“I love you, Aidan.”
“Love you too, Aggs.”
Even though life had been a horrible mess over the past few months, and the present continued to be not that different, there were a few things — Aidan’s smile, memories of summer nights and pink tutus, and most importantly, knowing we were back together in our little motley family — that made it all worth it.
It was the little things, really, that got us through the day. Seeing Dom hold Aidan’s hand. Watching Fred and Evelyn share a secret smile. Madame Pomfrey trying not to let on that she was tearing up when she saw us all reunited. Feeling Potter’s hand brush against mine and knowing that, whatever happened, whatever the two of us actually "were" (bitter arch enemies, semi-friends, occasional snog buddies), we were still, when it came down to it, stuck with each other, and I was prepared to live with that.
Those little things made all the confusion and anger and messes that came with life worth it. Because I knew now that I had Aidan, and he had me, and we had all our friends. And — cue corny ending — that was all that really matters.
Plus, it was my life. I was Agatha Bennett — a couple messes here and there were to be expected.
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